Wednesday 30 December 2015

All generalisations are racist but some generalisations are more racist than others

As Lemmy of Motorhead, he became known for his fast and furious bass guitar playing and gravelly voice.Rest In Peace Lemmy. A hell of a man who suffered no foolsThe band added: "We cannot begin to express our shock and sadness, there aren't words."

There aren’t words? Well, there are; all day yesterday on the BBC, Sky and, for all I know, al Jazeera and Press TV.   (p’raps not.)
Alas, poor Lemmy. I never knew him, Horatio; a fellow of fast and furious guitar noise.

On the plus side, the BBC has stopped carpet-bombing us with sad news about that infinite gravelly voice, and  on the minus side, they’ve replaced it with on-the-hour reports of historic racist remarks of Oliver Letwin. Like, all day. 

Oliver Letwin’s racist remarks were uttered in 1985 (and Motorhead was formed in 1975)
They say the past is a different country.  Historic events need to be put in context, but hey, they won’t be.

What terrible thing did Oliver Letwin say in 1985? 
“In a newly-released memo, Oliver Letwin - then adviser to Margaret Thatcher - blamed unrest on "bad moral attitudes".
He also dismissed plans to encourage black entrepreneurs, saying they would set up in the "disco and drug trade". 

What is he like? A Tory Toff or something?  “Disco and drug trade” how quare. “Rappers  and dealers” or something contemporaneously cool, surely.  

The Broadwater Farm riots were apparently sparked off by the death of Cynthia Jarrett, a black lady who had a fatal heart attack when four policemen raided her home looking for stolen property, which they did not find. 
“Mrs Jarrett's death sparked riots in which more than 230 police officers were injured and PC Keith Blakelock was killed after being stabbed 43 times.”

This event was a kind of British precursor of the current race/police problems in the US between black communities and allegedly trigger-happy racist cops.

In 1985 present-day politically correct inhibitions on speaking (wrong) words were in their infancy. Of course every generalisation covers the odd exception or two, but generalising over certain demographics was fairly acceptable with the proviso that certain indicators were present. Behavioural patterns concerning crime, attitudes to police, defiance of authority, disregard for convention, lack of social responsibility for example.

Not now.  Now it’s racist to jump to conclusions, or for that matter, to come to any generalised conclusion at all. Not cautiously, not stealthily, not with overwhelming evidence, a smoking gun and a trail of bloody fingerprints all the way to X-marks-the-spot.  Whatever your lyin’ eyes say, thou must not generalise. 

“Mr Letwin said parts of the private memo were "badly worded and wrong".
His statement came amid mounting calls from senior Labour figures for him to apologise.The party's deputy leader, Tom Watson, said the comments were evidence of "an ignorant and deeply racist view of the world", while MP Chuka Umunna said attitudes in the memo were "disgusting and appalling".

What was actually wrong, though? 

I mean Diane Abbott, whose opinion was sought on the airwaves continually throughout the BBC’s Oliver Letwin day, was the very one who made that infamous generalisation about ‘black mothers”. (The best mothers)

What is Chuka Umunna on about? What does Chuka think about the moral attitudes of black communities in 1985? What does David Lammy think is behind  “the appalling relations between black youths and the police". Chicken and egg, maybe, but if they were ‘appalling’ that’s a generalisation and a half, with strongly racist implications. 
“Social decay” Lammy cites, yet:
 “The 1985 memo, written by Mr Letwin and future Conservative MP Hartley Booth, urged Mrs Thatcher to ignore claims that rioting in mainly black inner city areas was caused by social deprivation and racism. 
"The root of social malaise is not poor housing, or youth 'alienation', or the lack of a middle class," they wrote in the document, which has been released by the National Archives.the memo states:"Lower-class, unemployed white people lived for years in appalling slums without a breakdown of public order on anything like the present scale; in the midst of the depression, people in Brixton went out, leaving their grocery money in a bag at the front door, and expecting to see groceries there when they got back. 
"Riots, criminality and social disintegration are caused solely by individual characters and attitudes. So long as bad moral attitudes remain, all efforts to improve the inner cities will founder."
Sociological generalisations all round. Racist and non-racist. Not that people of any race living in appalling slums is anything for a government minister to boast about. We’re as prone to generalisations, racist and non-racist as we ever were, and probably ever will be. Not a real issue.

“But a government source told the BBC it was a "historical" document "written by a policy team whose main task was to challenge orthodox views".  Quite so.

  Here’s a blog on a related topic in the US. "How the BBC conducts an interview"
It includes an egregious example of the BBC’s loaded questioning. This time it’s Razia Iqbal  interviewing Marin Alsop, the American conductor who recently performed at the proms.

Alsop was speaking about the mentoring programme she had introduced to promote the study of music among Baltimore’s deprived (mainly African-American) community. Alsop’s comments about the success of the programme prompted the following extraordinary and revealing statements from Iqbal: 

 “This would surprise a lot of people for whom Baltimore means the television series The Wire or the Baltimore that people see in real life depicted in our news bulletins of young African-American men being gunned down by the State. I wonder how you reconcile those things in your mind?” 

The ‘young African-American men being gunned down by the State’ is clearly a reference to the Freddie Gray case – see here for BBC reports on that – a death in custody in the back of a police van, not by shooting, for which an African-American officer was tried for manslaughter and who faces a retrial. 
Here the sweeping generalisation is being made by the BBC’s Razia Iqbal. In this particular case the policeman / perpetrator also happens to be black. But it’s a generalisation about relations between African Americans and the state / police, and the implication is that it’s a race issue, and let’s politely say that Razia is not on the side of the police.
......Marin Alsop takes Iqbal’s cue and responds with the following, which seems to be an equally jaw-dropping, assertion: 
It’s heartbreaking that we haven’t dealt with these issues, that it requires violence, which I think it does require, to be honest, to change this equation. Inequality and injustice is unacceptable. I mean sadly this has been the most violent year we’ve had in Baltimore, we’ve had over 300 people murdered. it’s a cry for help.”
Is Alsop actually calling for violence? asks blogger Denry.  Is Razia Iqbal offending against the BBC’s charter obligations? (Impartiality, remember.) 

The BBC has made up its mind. It’s nothing to do with racism, but generalised criticism of black people is taboo while the flawlessness of black people is to be emoted/promoted/ generalised over at every opportunity.
This principle, which has nothing to do with Islam, also applies to the Muslims. Adulation of late lamented, drug-addled heavy metal icons is de rigueur, as is generalised denigration of Tory toffs.

New man

Last night I watched Gareth Malone  (great Choir reunion: Episode 1.)

Now before opining on matters I know nothing about, as we keyboard warriors are apt to do, I thought I’d better see what I could find about Gareth Malone on t’internet.

Or as they say on agenda-driven documentaries these days “I wanted to find out (whatever it is)” when they really mean they wanted to ferret out confirmation of a pre-existing bias. 

I was searching for evidence of hypocrisy, insincerity, lefty luvvyism and cynical manipulation by TV commissioning editors and producers to boost ratings through over sentimentalised emoting. (you know, featuring characters with the heartbreaking back-story, the overcoming of crippling shyness/ stammering / disability - i.e., triumphing over adversity. 
There you have the pre-existing bias with which I approached Google.

One thing I will say about Gareth. Over the past ten years he has sported a wide and eccentric variety of images,  outfits and hairstyles. The worst look, since you asked, was the beard, but I’m not a fan of beards. Luckily he was clean-shaven for the latest episode. 

Despite the elephantine presence of all the factors I mentioned in my last but one paragraph, I enjoyed watching Gareth’s early programmes, though the shine has worn off  recently. But I think, despite all those in-your-face, tricksy editing devices, there was a genuine message about the uplifting effect of the classical / pop choir. It did draw together people of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds, and succeeded in uniting them in one collective objective. And it showed how any of us might actually achieve quite ambitious aspirations through effort and self discipline.

So, anyway, what did I find?
Well, he’s not gay. A little camp, but who isn’t? He’s got a wife and two kids with retro names and at one stage he wanted to be an actor. He was trained at the Royal Academy of Music and I know how hard classical musicians train.

Here’s a really mean article in the Independent from 2012, boldly and exclusively stating that bears shit in the woods.

A “dishonest” reality show?  Whatever next?

But Mr Chaloner, 48, told Radio Times that, while he enjoyed singing, the filming was "a pain in the arse". He said: "The programme makers knew exactly how they were going to play this. They'd put different people in different stereotypes in order to display how we all come together in an example of wonderful musicianship. 
"They would play on me being a surgeon, pretending that I'm some sort of Lancelot Spratt-type character [the fearsome chief surgeon from the 1954 film Doctor in the House]. I think it's dishonest, actually." Mr Chaloner added: "It will purport to show reality but it's not reality at all, I'm afraid.
Here’s where you push your tongue between your bottom teeth and your lower lip and go  “egh” like kids do to indicate you’ve just made a superfluous statement of the bleedin’ obvious. (Perhaps kids do something else nowadays, but that move was very effective)

In other words, of course “reality” TV does this, as any fule kno, and you do have to take it into consideration when watching - but  really, by pitching this piece in this way, the Indy was doing the exact same thing. Sensationalising / cherry-picking for the sake of it. In fact if you persevere with this article you’ll see that it ends up admitting that the programme did what it set out to do - brought people together and made them happy.

Anyway, I couldn’t find anything particularly interesting about Gareth in my research. He wasn’t a drug dealer, a member of StWC or a friend of Hamas, and his military wives thing indicates that he’s not institutionally pacifist.

But you know what? (I really hate that expression, so I threw it in for an experiment) There was something that really really disturbed me about that otherwise uplifting episode. In the original programme - about ten years ago - one of the featured schools (Lancaster School in Leicester)  had a particularly difficult group of boys to win over. The beat box boys. Too cool to sing in choirs. However, Gareth won them round as you knew he would. 

beautiful boy

Imran (“I do my own thing” ) had a beautiful voice.(31:49)  At 37:02 he sings,  and at the Albert Hall at 39:39

Back to the present. Gareth tracks him down on YouTube.  He’s a beat box singer. he’s a devout Muslim. Still with a beautiful voice, but unfortunately he can’t join the reunion.

Personally, my baggage makes me think that is shocking. It’s appalling. But, should the fact that Imran (who’s decided to change his name to Khaled) has travelled in what I see as the wrong direction, be something that Gareth would find troubling in any way at all? 

New man

Here’s the conversation that took place on the phone.

Hi, it’s Gareth Malone.


I found your music really moving. Really wonderful What have you been up to? `

(Voice over) “Now 23 and a senior care officer, Imran has changed his name to Khaled, as a devout Muslim his faith has helped him leave his troubled schooldays behind him”

On film, still handsome but with straggly beard:

“I feel like I became a better person, so when I was 16 I wanted to give that better person a new name. I didn’t feel I was Imran any more, and to become Khaled, so in the really big transition I have been so caught up in, my ego as to where I feel like i’m at now, where I just kind of focus on spirituality and God and things like that.

Voice-over: “But Khaled has never forgotten his time with Gareth.”

Imran/Khaled, watching a clip of his younger self with Gareth:

“Here you can see that I was a teenager working out where I fitted in life, so his role that he played in me. embracing singing more, was definitely a vital one, and who knows if I’d still be singing today if it wasn’t for what he did.”


“Despite his enduring love of music, Khaled’s beliefs mean he doesn’t feel he can sing in the reunion choir.”

Khaled, (first on film, then cutting to Gareth’s conversation with him on the phone:)

“Choirs don’t come from Islam. They come from Christianity. Most choirs sing in churches. Not all of them but the majority of where it stems from. Unfortunately I don’t think I’d wanna be...”
Gareth, on the phone:
“That’s fine. That’s absolutely fine”

“Indecipherable.....I wish you  the best that could possibly happen”.

“Alright, all the best, it’s so lovely to hear your voice. Bye bye Khaled, Bye.” Gareth hangs up, with a sad face, shaking his head.
To camera: 
“Wow” My goodness. That’s not the boy that I knew. That is the most dramatic change of everyone. I mean I know some of them have grown beards and cut their and got muscley ... but he has changed to the core. And you could see it there, and I’m so happy that he’s gone down - that he’s gone down a positive route. He’s found religion and it’s given him something that’s given him focus in his life.”

Oh dear. Gareth is so happy that Imran with the lovely voice has turned into Khaled the Muslim whose faith has prevented him from doing something he thinks is associated with Christianity, and in which he must not participate. 

Well, I’m not happy about it, and I’m not really happy that Gareth is happy about it, and I don’t know if the happiness genuine on Gareth’s part, or if it’s that manipulative editing that  the BBC producers use to promote political correctness, inclusivity, social cohesion and to assert that the divisive practices of devout Islam are an asset to a country formerly known as “Christian.” 

On the positive side at least his religion hasn’t taught him that all music is unIslamic. What a waste of musical ability that notion is. I’d hope Gareth would agree.

Monday 28 December 2015

On this year's 'Today' guest editors

The first of Today's guest presenters, actor Michael Sheen, did 'his thing' this morning (as the young folks say)

His left-wing credentials certainly shone through, as did his interest in science

Some of the left-wing Twitterati went into absolute ecstasy over his guest editorship...

...but other members of the self-same left-wing Twitterati went instead into a contrasting frenzy of 'BBC bias' accusations. 


Well, partly because of "posh" Sarah Montague's laughing attempt to stop Mr Sheen's closing tirade against the present Conservative government (not that he actually explicitly named them).

That certainly got some people's goat.

But it was really Nick Robinson's emphatic closing comment that Michael Sheen's comments were just his (Michael Sheen's) opinions and that other opinions would be offered by other Today guest presenters later in the week that really infuriated the (easily-offended) Left and started the latest Twitter-storm against 'Tory' Nick Robinson and the 'Tory' BBC.

Should Nick have distanced the Today programme from guest editor Michael Sheen's left-wing opinions in such an emphatic way?

Well, why shouldn't he have done so? Isn't it his 'impartial' duty as a BBC presenter to say something like that after a guest editor has sounded off in such a (fairly) partisan way?


In contrast to all of this Twitter nonsense from the Left, others have wondered about the choice of lefty luvvie Michael Sheen - and, more reasonably, the choice of this year's Today guest editors in general

The other guest presenters this year are exemplary bike-rider Sir Bradley Wiggins, ex-Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg's spouse Miriam González Durántez, former BP boss (and crossbench peer) Lord Browne, Tanzanian-born British architect David Adjaye, and disabled human rights campaigner (and crossbench peer) Baroness Campbell of Surbiton.

That is a very middle-of-the-road, left-liberal selection, isn't it?

It's nicely 'socially inclusive' for starters. And Lord Browne gets in by being famously gay {so to speak}.

That said, the absence of an obvious right-winger in that list has been partly met by having former David Cameron adviser Rohan Silva, a tech entrepreneur, assume the role of Today business editor for the entire week.

Still, we are definitely in the territory of the safe, fairly 'establishment' middle ground aren't we here?

And that's a pro-establishment bias, as well as a strongly PC bias, isn't it?

Answer: Yes,

Sunday 27 December 2015

Right-Wing Papers, Paddy, Climate Change and Clemency

Nicholas Right-Wing Papers

It's not yet New Year, but my blogging resolution for 2016 - if I can maintain it (and if I can keep on blogging) - is to go back to the starting point of this very blog and "say it how it see it, without fear or favour" (ever so politely, of course).

In that spirit...

I was watching last night's paper review on the BBC News Channel and, entirely correctly, the first subject up for discussion was the terrible flooding afflicting many of Morecambe's neighbours - to our immediate north, east and south (though not west, as that's the Irish Sea). 

The BBC presenter was Nicholas Owen. 

Now it might be my because of my intense long-term focus (shall we say?) on BBC bias but whenever I see Nicholas Owen I don't think of his long and distinguished career at ITN or even his appearance on Strictly Come Dancing. 

No, without fail, whenever I see him on the BBC News Channel I recall the single occasion when I saw him (on that very BBC channel) calling certain newspapers "the right-wing papers". 

("I bet he'd never call the Graun, the Indie and the Mirror 'the left-wing papers'", I thought).

Thereafter, whenever I see Nicholas Owen, and before I can even remember his name, I always think "Oh, it's Right-Wing Papers!"


Unfortunately for someone (whether it's for him or for me), that really is true.


Anyhow, Right-Wing Papers was presenting the paper review on the BBC News Channel last night and his first guest (agony aunt Anna Raeburn) was talking about the devastating and widespread nature of the floods "to an extent that we haven't seen for years and years and years" (as, indeed, we haven't) and wondering whether the authorities have really done enough, as they claim, in advance of the floods.

Right-Wing Papers, turning to his other guest (Robert Fox of the Telegraph), chipped in, "but the climate's changing, isn't it, and that's the real problem, surely, isn't it?"

Mr Fox ignored Nick's question and, like Anna Raeburn, worried about our "first-line responders" instead, comparing our "very, very fragile" civil defences to other European countries, such as Italy (which I hope isn't the case). 

To those who don't believe in man-made climate change (believing climate change to be overwhelmingly natural) or who think that the dangers of man-made climate change have been grossly exaggerated, this will seem like another classic example of engrained, knee-jerk BBC bias on the issue. 

It seemed pretty 'knee-jerk' to me too, as I watched it.


Paddy O'Lunacy

Now, in stark contrast to that, the next discussion I heard on the subject (on the BBC) was on this morning's Broadcasting House on Radio 4.

Paddy O'Connell was giving Conservative minister Liz Truss a medium-temperature grilling over the government's responsibilities regarding the floods, preceded by talk of cuts to her department's funding.

Despite pressing her (mildly) on those 'cuts', Paddy didn't mention climate change once. Instead he called the floods a "once-in-a-lifetime" event. 

Now, from listening to Feedback, I'm pretty sure that Paddy's refusal to mention 'climate change' there and his assertion that these floods are nothing new will inevitably result in complaints from AGW-believing activists to Uncle Roger Bolton.

Would that be a case of 'complaints from both sides' proving the BBC to be impartial?

Hardly. The BBC's position on this is in doubt to no one except the most hardline online (or offline) eco-warrior.

But, still, it would be a complicating factor for 'people like me' who blog about BBC bias, wouldn't it?

According to 'us', the BBC is always propagandising in favour of the 'warmists', aren't they?


This kind of thought was provoked by something else I heard on this morning's Broadcasting House. 

For several years I was Paddy O'Connell's sharpest critic (if I say so myself!). I supplied post after post, piece of evidence after piece of evidence, gotcha after gotcha, proving him - and his programme - to be left-wing-biased. 

I'd often cite examples of him forcefully countering and then cutting off critics of the then-Labour government of Gordon Brown - hence my re-christening of his programme as 'Gordcasting House'.

I occasionally look back on those posts and I think they still look wholly kosher....


....(to the disgust of at least one reader over the years!) I've pointed out before that I've failed to see any evidence of egregious party political bias on Paddy's part over the past two or three years - if not necessarily his programme's part, or (on his part) other kinds of bias (such as over matters related to the migration crisis or the 'Arab Spring', etc).

In fact, I've seen example after example of Paddy (very probably playing devil's advocate) sticking up for UKIP or the Conservatives against his guests. 

Frankly it's all been pretty disconcerting - if rather pleasing. 

Was I wrong about Paddy in 2010? Or has Paddy seriously sharpened up his act and given up his previous left-wing bias in favour of strict devil's advocacy (party politics-wise) and - dare I say? - BBC impartiality?

I don't know. I really don't. For my sake, I strongly hope it's the second option there.

And it may well be...

...and, pleasingly for me, I think it is and that I'm safe here. (Woo-hoo for me!! - if I also say so myself!)


Well, I think Paddy has become a much better presenter, in the round, over the past five years. I enjoy listening to him now. I like him personally, and I like listening to his programme. I think he's become the 'consummate professional' in fact, and that BH has become much less 'agitprop' over the years....and if you disagree with me about that then I disagree with you over this (even if I might agree with you about much else).


Clemency Burton-Nepotism

This morning his BBC colleague, Radio 3's Clemency Burton-Hill (daughter of that great BBC stalwart Humphrey Burton) was sounding off at considerable length, and with some fervour (in 'impartial BBC presenter' fashion), against the Tories over their knighthood for Tory election strategist Lynton Crosby when Paddy intervened................:
Paddy: I suppose the point is, made by Dan there, that the system of rewarding in politics is absolutely the point of the honours system. That's going back for fifty...
Clemency (interrupting): No, I think the point of this is about rewarding....
Paddy (interrupting): No, well I know you...this report is...
Clemency (continuing):dedicated public service...
Paddy (continuing): ...but I think...
Clemency (continuing): ...did Lynton Crosby perform a dedicated public service?...
Paddy (interrupting): in dispute, but have people been awarded honours in politics before who are close to people who have won elections? The answer is 'yes' to answer that question, but just...I get the sense that you are don't like it here but the answer is 'yes', it has been. But can I move on on that note?
Now, that is exactly the kind of thing I'd had used against him in the past if he'd been doing in against a critic of Gordon Brown's Labour Party, and yet here's Paddy now, doing exactly the same thing against a (fellow BBC) critic of David Cameron's Conservative Party, implying that all government parties have done it before (as, indeed, they have! - especially New Labour).

Is this proof that Paddy O'Connell is a paragon of BBC impartiality, after all I used to say about him? Or, as I've now said, proof that he's mended his ways?


Another feature of this edition of BH was a deeply involving discussion about the recent Afghan War - and our soldiers' continuing role in Afghanistan. 

It featured an officer who served in that war and the proud father of one of the fallen heroes of that war, neither of whom disrespected our military's role in Afghanistan and both of whom were willing to countenance (if needs be) further British military involvement there, against the Taliban and Islamic State. 

Paddy didn't once seek to undermine their views. He just coaxed them into giving their views - just as a proper BBC interviewer ought to do.


I'd hope that no one would object to me saying that I think Paddy O'Connell has seriously upped his game in recent years or that I think that Paddy has also proved himself to being seriously trying to be unbiased. 

(His scepticism about the honours system and his interest in 'the cuts' (at the expense of the present government) may have somewhat shown his genuine {lefty} views though - and you are welcome to make much more of this than I have, if you so choose!). 

Similarly, I'd hope that no BBC defender would object to me having changed my mind about Paddy. 

Of course, Paddy was engaging in what might be called a 'blue-on-blue' incident with BBC Radio 3's Clemency Burton-Hill there. Clemency was doing what 'people like us' would expect a BBC person to do. Paddy attempted to counter her.

Given Right-Wing Papers's 'climate change' interjection and Clem-from-BBC-Radio-3's 'Tory bashing', maybe Paddy was simply proving himself to be the exception to the rule (at least on party political matters).

An 'exception to the rule' is rarely a good thing for a rule-bound organisation - and the BBC is notoriously nothing if not a rule-bound organisation...


And on that bombshell, good night!....

...and as both Sue and me are, variously, likely to be away for the next few days...

....and just in case neither of us have time to post anything before 2016 begins (and for a day or so after)...

Happy New Year!

More on Yolande Knell's shepherds

Please read the ever-excellent Daphne Anson's take on it - The BBC & the ABC's Sophie McNeill Have Themselves A Merry Little Christmas:
The Christmas story, with its cast of supporting characters, has again given the BBC (step forward Yolande Knell and Co.) the chance to spin some anti-Israel propaganda lite via a series of specially made videos with modern residents of Bethlehem standing in for those in the familiar narrative. 
The people selected are no doubt good and worthy individuals, but it is the propagandistic use to which the BBC intentionally puts the interviews that sticks in the craw like a swallowed sixpence from a traditional Christmas pudding. 
The propaganda shows this year in the interview with the "shepherd" and the "wise man" where the BBC has fun with its "Israel says" that comes up on screen.  It's as if to tell the audience: "Nudge, wink, well they would say that, but we don't believe them, do we?" 
The interview with the shepherd is hardly balanced, with its male reporter saying: "Look how much injustice and grievance there has been on this land"... 
It would be wrong to claim that the BBC never draws attention to the plight of persecuted Christians around the world. 
But it seldom does so. 
Yet, by contrast, it never misses an opportunity, at this time of the year, to air the grievances, real and imagined, of Christians in Bethlehem, because that provides as much fodder as Joseph's donkey could eat for a week in providing nourishment for the Israel-bashing cause.

And Hadar at BBC Watch also gives it both barrels. It's not just the title of her piece, BBC’s Knell yet again politicises Christmas in Bethlehem report, that doesn't pull its punches:
The Christmas season inevitably brings with it opportunistic, politicised messaging from the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau and this year was no different. Apparently short on fresh ideas, Yolande Knell casts local residents in the role of nativity story figures in her report titled “Christmas in Bethlehem: Hopes and fears for the future” (December 24th, BBC News website Middle East page) – a device she previously used in her 2011 seasonal report. 
Including both text and video clips, the report promotes the themes of a low-key Christmas and economic hardship for Bethlehem residents. No mention is made of the Palestinian Authority’s instructions to municipalities to dampen this year’s celebrations or the Council of Churches’ similar dictate......
......Yolande Knell’s selective portrayal of Christmas in Bethlehem is clearly designed to promote a political agenda and there is no reason to be surprised about that given her past record and her openly displayed identification with such political causes. Amazingly for a media organization supposedly committed to accurate and impartial reporting, the BBC continues to countenance her annual exploitation of Christmas for the opportunistic force-feeding of its audiences with trite anti-Israel delegitimisation.

A jeremiad from Andrew Marr

Andrew Marr has an interesting piece in The Sunday Timesheadlined 'We were once the fierce and terrible zealots but now have only shallow gods'. 

His point is that we in the Christian West used to be exactly like Islamic State & Co. back in the day. In the name of our religion, in the medieval and early modern period especially, we did many of the insanely brutal things that IS is doing now, from irrational punishments to unspeakably cruel wars, via cruelty towards woman and gays and vicious theological quibbling:
It sometimes seems to me that Britons of the 21st century are being attacked not by something “out there” but by our earlier selves, the angriest Scots and English of the 17th century — as if, ghostlike, our own persecuting, fanatical forebears had returned to modern streets. We went through the Enlightenment, of course, but in key ways this is less a war between parts of the Middle East and parts of the West than a war between 2015 and, say, 1536 (the year William Tyndale went to the stake).
The problem for us now, he goes on, is that our modern Western society now has little to counter such people. We have lost our faith and our fire. Our society has become a mere husk of itself, "an almost wholly material civilisation", thoroughly "shallow" and "sleazy", engaged in little more than "frantic consumption".

Against our "thin gruel" (a gruel spiced with "daft fantasy", "conspiracy theories" and "extreme politics"), they - the Islamists - offer the "excitement" of "a bigger, more dramatic, more meaningful narrative" and a world of meaning:
We simply see the blood and screaming. They see the world throwing up brighter colours and harsher, desert shadows.
The problem with Andrew Marr's jeremiad (or rant) - as he himself must surely have realised? - is that, even if we accept his own bright colours and harsh, desert shadows here, he offers no solutions whatsoever, preferring a mere counsel of despair instead.

He rules out a mass return to the Christian faith as impossible ("You can’t unwrite Darwin, you can’t unthink Einstein or forget Galileo") but offers nothing in its place. He simply contents himself with  bitterly lamenting the state of our society and its morals and suggesting, Private Fraser-style, that we're doomed, doomed:
It’s funny — except that we really are at war. With all its revolting brutality, fascist Islamism knows the blindspots and weaknesses in western culture. There is a sleazy, materialistic shallowness about it that we don’t much enjoy, either. Those bastards really are medieval — that’s the point — but they have found us out.
It's a thought-provoking piece though, in that there's obviously some truth in what he's saying. We haven't got a grip at the moment, and we need to get one. 

Being a good deal less apologetic about ourselves might be a good starting point. We have a long, broad, deep, often breathtakingly beautiful culture built on Judeo-Christian foundations that we should be strongly proud of for starters. Our history of science is just as glorious. Our history has been a complex tale of triumph over adversity, worthy of continued (though not blind) celebration. We are also the birthplace and cornerstone of ancient and modern democracy, the least bad system of government ever devised. And so on...


Anyhow, returning to the main subject of this blog...

Here's another paragraph from Andrew Marr's article which I think is highly characteristic of BBC on the subject of the benefits of mass immigration (and Donald Trump!):
Like the Muslim version now, those wars provoked vast, history-changing migrations of desperate refugees. These transformed Britain for the better, because we got the Huguenots with their technical and mercantile skills; and on a rather larger scale, it provoked the first great European migration to North America, leading eventually to Donald Trump.  

A Candle in the Dark

As flood waters engulf swathes of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cumbria (again) and certain places lose power as a result, there was a timely edition of Something Understood on Radio 4 early this morning. Its subject was 'The Candle'. 

(Last week's edition had a similarly timely subject - darkness!)

Something Understood has been uniformly excellent in recent weeks and, in the midst of all my complaining about the BBC, it feels right to say so. I wouldn't go so far as to say it justifies the license fee for me - as others do when praising such programmes! - but it does help me personally to feel a little less disgruntled about paying the damn thing, in spite of all that pesky BBC bias. 

There were some lovely pieces of music today - ranging from a beautiful Bruckner motet to a particularly fine Willie Nelson song. I even heard a piece of Vivaldi that struck me as being a cut above his usual routine - part of his Nisi Dominus:

There were some fascinating readings too - delivered by Joanna David and Henry Goodman no less! - though I wouldn't have been able to make head nor tail of the Sylvia Plath poem Nick and the Candlestick ("Black bat airs/Wrap me, raggy shawls,/Cold homicides./They weld to me like plums") had the presenter, Sarah Cuddon, not sketched what it was about in advance!

The most moving reading came, perhaps inevitably, from the diary of Anne Frank:
Dearest Kitty, 
When I looked into the candle tonight I felt calm and happy again. It seems Grandma is in that candle and it's Grandma who watches over and protects me and makes me feel happy again. I still haven't got over my fear of planes and shooting and I crawl into Father's bed nearly every night for comfort. I know it sounds childish but wait till it happens to you. The AKAK guns make so much noise you can't hear you own voice. It didn't seem nearly as bad by candlelight as it did in the dark. 
I was shivering as if I had a temperature and begged Father to relight the candle. He was adamant there was to be no light. Suddenly we heard a burst of machine gun fire, and that's ten times worse than anti-aircraft guns. Mother jumped out of bed and to Pym's great annoyance lit the candle. Her resolute answer to his grumbling was, "After all Anne is not an ex-soldier". And that was the end of that. 
Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.
Isn't that extraordinary writing, regardless of her extraordinary circumstances and her age?

There was also a touching interview with FT writer Matthew Engel, author of Engel's England, whose son died of cancer at the age of 13. (I can only imagine his grief). Coming from a Jewish-Anglican background, he has recently been to every one of England's 41 Anglican cathedrals, lighting a candle in each of them in memory of his son. I can see why he did it now. 

What especially made the programme for me though was its writer/presenter's poetic and, I think, rather insightful commentaries..., hats off to Sarah Cuddon!! 

And here are some transcriptions of what Sarah said on today's Something Understood for the delight of posterity (especially after the programme has had its 'Out, out, brief candle!' moment after 30 days on the BBC iPlayer):
When my lights flickered out at home recently a mini-blackout left me fumbling around in the cupboards looking for emergency candles. When I lit the room with them it was a reminder of the special intensity and quiet of candlelight. The world is stilled with a candle. I felt myself becoming more alert to the sounds and the shapes around me. Things are no longer black and white. They shimmer orange and gold......
We love the symbolism of a candle for celebration, memorial or for romance but....fundamentally candles are for comfort. They push against the shadows and stave off a basic human fear of the unknown......
Something in Sylvia Plath's image of the candle gulping and recovering its small altitude captures the fragility of candle light but also its ascension skywards as if that small flame is reaching for the heavens. And if the solitary candle somehow represents a single soul, the votive candle rack in a church or cathedral brings departed souls together......
Perhaps more than anything else the candle is our most important way of memorialising. A candlelit vigil allows us to commune together, united in the silence of the flames. As Matthew Engel knows, in a moment of profound feeling candlelight seems more suitable than words as an expression of something vital......
It is a cliché: candles and romance. But in the dark, with just the flickering of the candle, we do move closer together. We become conspiratorial, fold into each other and into the softness of the light......
There is inevitably something slightly deceptive about the romance of candlelight though. A candle bends and gilds the shadows with gold, it intensifies intimacy but it also conceals things which broad daylight cannot. That night the lights went out at home I didn't really want them to come back on again. The world was more beautiful by candlelight and there was little I could do but sit still.
How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.

A post about art

This morning's Sunday on Radio 4 was a special focusing on the relationship between religion and art and had a guest presenter, freelance writer Cole Morton

I thought Cole did a very good job and made for a refreshing change.

I laughed, for instance, at his obvious bewilderment at one of artist Maggi Hambling's more nebulous assertions about art: "Hang on. Life and death at the same time, that's what art's all about. What do you mean?"

It was all very interesting - and quite thought-provoking (even if quite often in an 'eye-rolling' kind of way).

There were interviews with people from the Church, with artists and with the odd academic - specifically Sunday's favourite academic, Linda Woodhead from the fine University of Lancaster (or the University of Morecambe, as I like to think of it).

I drew several instant, doubtless deeply superficial conclusions about what church art is about these days from what they said today:
  1. that major cathedrals favour commissioning high-profile modern artists - like Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, the Chapman Brothers and Antony Gormley
  2. that little of the high-profile stuff is traditional in form or religious subject matter
  3. that a lot of the less high-profile art has a strong social message (especially, at the moment it seems, concerning the need to be welcoming towards refugees and migrants)
  4. that a lot of effort is being put into interfaith outreach (eg to local temples and mosques), using that art
The problem with talking about art on the radio obvious one: you can't see the pictures. But, out of curiosity, I Googled them all.

All of the high-profile modern artists listed above produced exactly the kind of artworks you'd have expected from them. Antony Gormley, for example, did another of his life-sized-men for Winchester Cathedral (which looks quite effective to me)...:

...and Tracey Emin produced the following neon sign above the door at Liverpool Cathedral (which, however effective it may be [especially as a Scouse kind of thing], doesn't enhance my appreciation of her art):

There was a discussion of more traditional art at the start of the programme as Cole interviewed Dr Aaron Rosen of King's College, London about his top three religious works of art (to put it crudely). Dr Rosen listed:

Piero della Francesca's The Baptism of Christ, Poussin's Adoration of the Golden Calf and Cezanne's The Grand Bathers (even though that's not a traditional religious work of art either). 

Here's where having a blog comes in handy because I can now take issue with Cole Morton for some of his his descriptions of Piero's Baptism - for no one's benefit other than my own.

Cole described the painting as showing Christ looking down at the floor and the angels as grimacing. I disagree. I think Christ was looking down but he wasn't looking at the floor. He was more 'lost in thought' and looking at a point above ground level:

And I don't think the angels were grimacing either. That's not the right word at all.

Quite what the right word is to describe their unsmiling expression though I really can't think. Can you?

(All I know if that if three of the angels at the party I was attending had that look on I'd strongly suspect the party wasn't proving to be a roaring success). 

We should do more pointless, half-baked posts about art here, shouldn't we? (Is that a 'Yes', I hear?) 


Oh, and Sunday also featured an interview with a Muslim graffiti artist called Mohammed Ali - the Muslim Banksy apparently (not to be confused with the boxer of the same name). 

His art speaks to the street at street level, making social and political points and often using Islamic motifs and Arabic writing. Here's an example of his work:

I have to say, his spray-painting of the women at the bottom left hand corner of the painting is rather good, in it? Very realistic. It's almost as if you're actually seeing women from Hamas-run Gaza before your very eyes, dressed in the misogynistic clothes demanded of them by the oppressive Hamas patriarchy. Chilling.

Free Gaza indeed!

Saturday 26 December 2015

"Yes, you can stay in this stable because Islam welcomes all faiths"

A proud moment

Given the recent Eastenders plot line involving Nancy and her nice Muslim boyfriend Tamwar storyline - where (so far) Tam has got to deliver a nice-if-somewhat-truncated verse from the Koran on one episode and Nancy has praised Islam for giving Tam "simplicity, peace and answers" on another episode - let's engage in a little Boxing Day fun and imagine a Christmas Eve Eastenders episode showing a Nativity play, involving the children of Albert Square. How would that turn out?

Something like this maybe?:
Mary: I'm tired. I need to sleep.
Joseph: Don't worry, Mary! We'll get a room at Bethlehem. There's a B&B over there. Let me see if there's anywhere for us.
Innkeeper 1: No.
Innkeeper 2: No.
Innkeeper 3: No.
Joseph: All the rooms are full.
Mary: Why don't you ask that innkeeper over there? See if he has free wi-fi? What did he say?
Joseph: Yes, you can stay in this stable because Islam welcomes all faiths.
Mary: A stable?!
Joseph: The one with the bright shining star above it.
That, if you didn't see it, is exactly what did happen. When 'Mary' asked 'Joseph' what the innkeeper said, 'Joseph' did indeed reply, "Yes, you can stay in this stable because Islam welcomes all faiths".

Now, that turned out to be a little tweak to the script by a Muslim Eastenders character, who was shown enjoying her little triumph before the camera showed the other parents beaming on, blithely accepting this little moment of pro-Islamic 'agitprop'. 

No Eastender heckled. No one cried, 'Oi, leave it ahhhtt!!'. No one even pointed out that Islam wasn't actually around at the time of Mary and Joseph - and wouldn't be around for another 600 years either.

What that Eastenders character did is precisely mirrored by what the Eastenders writers who wrote that scene were doing. They were doing to their audience (the BBC audience) just what their character was doing to her audience (the audience at the nativity play). They were cheerfully propagandising on behalf of Islam and hoping everyone would beam on, blithely accepting the Eastenders writers' own little moment of pro-Islamic 'agitprop'.

As our reader Gareth notes (and a big hat-tip goes out to him for pointing this example of BBC bias out to us), this was broadcast on the same day that three more Muslim countries (Brunei, Somalia and Tajikistan) banned Christmas celebrations to protect Islam.

"Of course it is not as simple as that"

From this morning's Today programme on BBC Radio 4:
Katya Adler (BBC Europe editor): It feels at the end of this year like a Europe closing in on itself. Also emotionally and politically, because the effect of this chaotic manner that refugees and others have flooded across Europe, the feeling that millions more are coming, the terrorist attacks, it has led a lot of people to look at migrants with suspicion - especially since at least two of the gunmen in Paris appear to have come back into Europe by pretending to be refugees. Also an awareness that most of these attackers are Europeans. 
So people are beginning to look...particularly in Paris, I was just now women wearing veils or men who look North African with suspicion. So Islamophobia is on the rise.  
And there is a growing attraction for political parties of the far-right who seem to have easy answers - keep out the foreigner, close down your borders.  
Of course it is not as simple as that.   
Mishal Husain: No.

And there were BBC journalists abiding in the fields...

Some Christmas traditions - decking the halls with boughs of holly; singing old carols; eating, drinking and being merry; complaining that Christmas has become too commercialised; watching The Queen and Morecambe and Wise, etc - have been around for many a long year now. 

Others are more recent, such as BBC Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell's pre-Christmas piece from Bethlehem where she uses the Christmas story to paint Israel as the modern-day Herod.

It first got going four years ago when she did a heart-tugging piece called Bethlehem's modern-day nativity characters featuring present-day Palestinians as Mary, Joseph, the Innkeeper, a Shepherd and a Wise Man. Here's a flavour of it:

Other smaller pieces have followed in the intervening years, but this year she's revived the whole thing again in all its festive, Israel-bashing glory:
Here's this year's 'Shepherd' piece:

The one difference between this year and 2011 is that in 2011 Yolande Knell wasn't the only one using the Christmas story to score points against Israel. She had Jon Donnison with her back then. 

On the same day she posted her 2011 effort (Christmas Eve), he posted the following:

It does appear to be something of a compulsion for BBC correspondents to try to associate Palestinian shepherds today with the Judean shepherds of the New Testament - and, thereby, inevitably with the affectionate feelings which the mere thought of those Biblical folk abiding in the fields, watching their flocks by night, arouses in many a Christian's heart (believing or otherwise). It's as if they are deliberately seeking to generate sympathy for the present-day Palestinians by making this connection in so emotive and one-sided a fashion.

A Review of Newsnight's 2015


Newsnight's final edition of the year was a look-back at 2015.  

Its choice of panel says a good deal about the programme under former Guardian deputy editor Ian Katz, being strikingly left-leaning and having a pronounced arts bias. 

It consisted of Germaine Greer, Gary Younge of the Guardian, Labour-supporting Josie Rourke of the Donmar Warehouse, and Conservative peer and Times columnist Lord Finkelstein. 

With three of the guests holding views that ranged across pretty similar parts of the contemporary Left and just one representing the Right (and doing so from a firmly pro-Cameron, centre-right standpoint), the spread of opinions offered wasn't exactly wide - and certainly wasn't very balanced. 

On the migration crisis, for example, the resultant views ranged from the 'It's all about white racism' shtick of Gary Younge through to the cautious but generally pro-immigration comments of Danny Finkelstein, passing through Josie Rourke's compassion along the way. The views of a large chunk of British public opinion on the matter were, therefore, missing from the debate. 

The others topics chosen for discussion were the political situation in 2015, concentrating heavily on the Corbyn factor, and Germaine Greer's views on transgender issue - and that says even more about Ian Katz's Newsnight, doesn't it? 

To spend a sizeable chunk of a half-hour end of year review programme deliberately re-hashing one of Twitter/The Guardian's biggest 'Bubble' rows of the year - and, thus, knowingly stirring it up again - shows the mindset at work here I think. Mr Katz's Newsnight has been obsessed with that kind of a story from the very start.


Of course, things aren't looking too bright for Newsnight as we pass from 2015 to 2016. BBC One's aggressive expansion of News at Ten to take on ITV's revamped News at Ten threatens to eat into Newsnight's starting audience - especially unhelpful given that Newsnight's viewing figures have continued to crumble on Ian Katz's watch (with a further fall of 3-5% just last year). 

If this continues, and if Newsnight itself continues (as it most likely will), by this time next year there might only be me left as a viewer, with just a handful of transgender Greerophobes, a few remaining Corbynistas on Twitter (busily spewing abuse), the odd Mumsnet founder (standing by her man), plus a few dozen die-hard Emily Maitlis fans (all men) for company.

With Allegra Stratton and Duncan Weldon taking to the hills too, it just gets worse for the programme.

It has tried though. It's plugged away at its very fews 'scoops' for what seems like most of the year - especially Kids Company. (At times it's seemed as if Newsnight has been just one long Kids Company special this year). It's as if that was all they'd got as a big 'scoop' - and they went on and on and on and on about it. (Their coverage of the Saudi-UK relationship and the Yemen conflict has been another such topic).

And over the past month the programme has clearly been trying very hard to project itself as more serious and substantial, with a series of 'harrowing' and 'moving' reports ["Contains upsetting scenes"] - though, to me, that's only made it appear even more like the Guardian at its most self-important. 

And that's all I have to say about it. (Probably more than enough for most people!)