Saturday 7 November 2009

Neil Clark on the GDR

It had to happen, Neil Clark has defended the defunct German Democratic Republic, more accurately known as East Germany.

After the police monitoring of political protesters was revealed a fortnight ago, Neil Clark's response was to suggest his opponents should be substituted. He is not against police surveillance of legal activity.

Perhaps he should have included an explicit defence of the Stasi in the article.

Tuesday 3 November 2009

To err is human

When selecting Liz Truss as the candidate for South West Norfolk, no member of the Conservative Association in the constituency would seem to have used Google. Had they pursued an online enquiry they would have easily discovered this Mail article from three-and-a-half years ago revealing her affair with another married individual. And a demonstration of Cameron's pretence that the Tories are now a modern party, rather than a reactionary one, might have remained unknown.

Instead they have openly displayed themselves at their worst, and she is under the threat of deselection for what is a safe Conservative seat. Unsurprisingly, the sitting MP is standing down after the expenses scandal revealed he is a tree hugger at public expense.

According to The Sunday Times, Liz Truss was a radical Lib Dem while at university and attacked the monarchy at that party's annual conference. One cannot help wondering what happened to change her. Those old sentiments though, from more than a decade ago, have been enough for one nominally non-conservative blogger, possibly still writing online for the Telegraph, to finger her as a "Trot". While some Tories, such as Iain Dale, are responding sensibly, one can finally only agree with Tanya Gold's comments.

Saturday 31 October 2009


Simon Heffer has been writing about unfashionable foods:
I must admit I have never been able to bring myself to eat tripe, though I did once have the honour of watching the late J Enoch Powell demolish a plate of it in a restaurant about 20 years ago. It had been a much-prized dish in the Black Country in Enoch's childhood, and he never lost the taste for it.
That figures.

Friday 30 October 2009

At Shiraz Socialist

About the trial of Radovan Karadžić Jim Denham wrote a few days ago:
It will be interesting to see whether the “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” school of supposed “left-wingers” rally to the genocidal Karadzic, as they did to Milosevic. The loathsome Neil Clark, in the Morning Star (September 21 2009), for instance, listed 10 “leftist leaders who did not betray“, including “Some, such as Salvadore Allende and Slobodan Milosevic (who) ended up losing their lives on account of not sacrificing their principles…”

Clark is a particularly crass and disgusting power-worshipper who seems to get a kick out of glorifying mass murder and genocide. But the Morning Star is a quite widely-read publication supported by most British trade unions, regardless of their formal politics. Will the Star (with or without the sicko Clark) be defending Karadzic?
We wait and wonder. So far the latest hearings have only been referred to as part of a "World in Brief" item.

Update: OK, it is a newspaper with limited pagination, but this is equally brief.

Zsuzsanna Clark keeps digging

It is a rare occurrence for an article in the Mail on Sunday, discussed here, to inspire a subsequent piece in the Morning Star.

In Hungary apparently:
Kadar won public support with his liberalising reforms and his likeable [sic], modest manner.
How do we know?
The critics usually claim that their opposition was due to "human rights," but I believe a large part of their anti-communism can be explained by a single word. Snobbery.
That is a novel argument, the most credible reason is the absence of democracy in the former Soviet bloc and the other communist countries. The scare quote is not reassuring.
But for the snobs, the wrong class of people was in charge.
This is supposed to be a defence of a socialist country! Mrs Clark asserts the Chess Grandmaster
[Lajos] Portisch believes that had Kadar not had to leave school and take up an apprenticeship at an early age, he too could have become a chess grand master.
So his own loss was the workers' gain? When the Queen Mother died in 2002, A.N. Wilson came up with a similar argument about how she could have been a significant cultural figure under different circumstances. The word for this kind of approach is hagiography:
I regarded Kadar as a relative, like a favourite uncle or grandfather. I liked the way he talked - he was never pompous or condescending and never arrogant.
Almost a saint then.
As the respected British historian Eric Hobsbawm has stated, Kadar was "the most successful ruler of Hungary in the 20th century."
Hobsbawm is hardly a neutral observer. He was on the 'other' side in the Morning Star-CPB/Marxism Today-CPGB split more than twenty years ago. Which leads me to think describing him as "respected", for this readership, might have been a mistake. If so, what a shame.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Latest - Journalism has declined - Neil Clark

He has not been so unintentionally hilarious for a while. In a new First Post article Neil Clark has a pop at various journalists who have shocked him.
[T]oday, with the very future of print journalism under threat, there is an increased urgency to grab readers' attention. And that means out with mature, reflective and nuanced articles which deal with important issues, and in with gratuitously offensive columns which set out to raise readers' blood pressure. The number of complaints or hostile comments a piece generates doesn't matter - the main thing is that the article, and the newspaper in question, receives the maximum publicity.
Ofcause he is quite right to attack A.A. Gill and Jan Moir, but Clark forgets one journalist whose Comment is Free contribution offended so many people readers' responses had to be ended within three hours of the article being posted.

His own efforts cannot be excluded from what he describes.

Sunday 25 October 2009

Same old BNP!

Following the 'successful' resolution of the E&HRC case over the ban in the BNP's constitution of non-whites from party membership, this article from Comment is Free remains unsurprising.

Who would have thought the BNP capable of double standards?

Thursday 22 October 2009

Neil Clark's Fleet Street Letter piece from 2002

Further evidence of Neil Clark's ambivalent attitude to the BNP, rather than the hostility one would expect from someone genuinely of the left.

In an article from 2002 entitled "Democracy Is Under Threat From The EU, Not The Far Right" we find the following passage:
All over the continent it seems, so-called extreme rightwing parties are springing up and gaining votes from the older, more established mainstream political groupings. Even at home, the BNP is winning local election seats and increasing its national profile.
It would be easy to accept the liberal elite’s interpretation of these events and seek to dismiss all these so-called ‘new-wave’ parties as racists or even fascists, and crudely try to play on people’s fear of immigrants as the reason for their growing success. To do so would, I believe, be a grave mistake.
His thesis is that far-right parties have gained support because of their 'sovereigntist' inclinations and their support for the death penalty. He concludes:
Far from being indicative of a crisis of democracy, the growth of the new-wave parties may in fact help to save democracy. It may finally jolt the Euro elite into listening to its people and delivering the kind of Europe they want to see.
In Clark's opinion "[n]o longer should we think in simple terms of left and right." To be fair, Václav Havel, one of his bête noires, has said something similar, but Clark's article reads like an attempt at softening opposition to the far-right.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Why is Neil Clark soft on the BNP?

Last June an article by Neil Clark for The First Post contained the following passage:
In the last few weeks in Britain we have been bombarded with articles from the liberal elite and Church leaders lecturing the plebs on the dangers of voting for the BNP. In spite of that - or possibly partly because it - the BNP now has two seats in the European Parliament.
As I have written before, this piece was in no way critic of the BNP. Perhaps Clark assumed his readers would be unaware that opposition to the BNP is not restricted to the "liberal elite". It is a phrase which the BNP leader Nick Griffin is inclined to use too, along with an assortment of right-wing Tories.

Yet Bob Crow, leader of the RMT union and a prominent member of the 800 strong Communist Party of Britain, someone Clark admires, has today put his name to a letter in The Guardian objecting to the appearance of Nick Griffin on tomorrow's edition of the Question Time television programme, a missive in which the politics of the British National Party are also found repugnant. I wonder if Neil Clark will now consider Crow to be a liberal.

Sunday 18 October 2009

Just Fancy That (2)

Last July Oliver Kamm found Neil Clark indulging in plagiarism. Zsuzsanna Clark, Neil's wife, has now done the same in an encomium for her native Hungary during the Soviet period. When the internet makes this practice easier to detect, it is really very, very foolish.

From an article dated 2 November 2002 in The Guardian:
When people ask me what it was like growing up in Hungary in the 1970s and 80s, most expect to hear tales of secret police, bread queues and other nasty manifestations of life in a one-party state. They are invariably disappointed when I tell them that the reality was quite different and that communist Hungary, far from being hell on earth, was in fact rather a good place to live.
From a Mail on Sunday article published today:
When people ask me what it was like growing up behind the Iron Curtain in Hungary in the Seventies and Eighties, most expect to hear tales of secret police, bread queues and other nasty manifestations of life in a one-party state.

They are invariably disappointed when I explain that the reality was quite different, and communist Hungary, far from being hell on earth, was in fact, rather a fun place to live.
Clark's still forthcoming book on growing up in Hungary has been in preparation for at least seven years, but she seems unable to check the limited amount she has published on the subject. Very silly. As yet, the book is unlisted on any publisher's website.

In the article itself she manages to imply János Kádár government was the result of the 1956 Revolution rather than a Soviet imposition after the tanks rolled in. Clark almost managed to get this point right in a 2006 First Post article, so why not now? Presumably Mail on Sunday readers can be more easily misled. The most telling omission of her writings is that during détente, Zsuzsanna Clark was born in 1968, the Kádár government was propped up by loans from western banks. The system was unable to sustain itself.

Clark's outline of television in Hungary also has a familiar ring to it. From a New Statesman article of 21 July 2003:
Saturday night when I was growing up meant a Jules Verne adventure, a variety show and a Chekhov drama. Foreign imports included The Forsyte Saga and David Attenborough documentaries. One of the most popular and talked-about programmes of the entire period was Poetry for Everyone, in which, each night, a famous actor or actress would recite a different poem.
Back to the Mail on Sunday:
When I was a teenager, Saturday night primetime viewing typically meant a Jules Verne adventure, a poetry recital, a variety show, a live theatre performance, or an easy Bud Spencer film.

Much of Hungarian television was home-produced, but quality programmes were imported, not just from other Eastern Bloc countries but from the West, too.

Hungarians in the early Seventies followed the trials and tribulations of Soames Forsyte in The Forsyte Saga just as avidly as British viewers had done a few years earlier. The Onedin Line was another popular BBC series I enjoyed watching, along with David Attenborough documentaries.
Admittedly an improvement, but we might assume western imports were restricted to just two series, plus the work of a zoologist? Was 'quality' material from the United States like Ellery Queen, to pick a series at random, never shown?

Just one more comparison from the writings of Zsuzsanna Clark. In a Guardian article from February 26 2007 on the Hungarian Pioneer movement, we find the following:
Our motto as Pioneers was Together for Each Other. It was not an empty slogan: it was how we were encouraged to think.
Back to the Mail on Sunday piece once again:
'Together for each other' was our slogan, and that was how we were encouraged to think.
Oh dear!

Update: Oliver Kamm also finds her account feeble.

Friday 16 October 2009

The Spectator Parliamentarian of the year

It's the time of year for nominations. This comment caught my eye:
While one plucky soul, Neil Clark, nominates George Galloway for being ‘one of the few MPs not tied to the neocon/neoliberal junta that has dominated British politics for so long and which has embroiled us in a series of catastrophic and very costly wars’. It’s fair to say that Neil’s is a fairly solitary voice in the voting so far.
Clark asked for the mild derision in this suggestion for a Conservative publication's award, though admittedly members of other parties have won in the past. Galloway's voting record is one of the worst of all MPs. Surely Clark is either "solitary" or "almost solitary" rather than "fairly solitary?"

But wait, a day after Clark's "junta" comment was published, an article appeared on The First Post website lamenting the overthrow of Hungarian communism twenty years ago. The author, needless to say, is Neil Clark.

Update: BobFromBrockley gives Galloway a good going over.

Thursday 1 October 2009

Socialist Unity poster nauseates again

I commented here that the Socialist Unity blog sometimes has worthwhile articles when its authors are not defending dictatorships. This piece is a particularly blinkered example from the later category:
Today is the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the Peoples’ Republic of China. Shown here are just some of the thousands of people who will be celebrating in Tiananmen Square.
Relatives of the hundreds murdered by the regime in June 1989 are doubtless not so jubilant.
It was one of the great historical achievements of the Twentieth century to throw out the Japanese, and Western colonialists, and unite the country. The problems that faced China were staggering - and even today they struggle with poverty.
Mao deliberately created famine, glorified hard labour and blighted the country's civil society more thoroughly than Stalin did in the Soviet Union.
Modern China has achieved great things to become the world’s second largest economy, but it is still a developing country where rural areas have levels of development and poverty closer to Bangladesh than Germany.

It is easy to criticise China, but much of the criticism doesn’t take into account the historical context of their development, and the urgent requirement for economic growth as a precondition for social justice and progress. Nor do the critics acknowledge the degree to which the Communist Party of China is self-aware of the difficulties and negative aspects of Chinese society - but there are often no easy answers to solve problems overnight.
The article began as a commemoration of 'glorious rule' over sixty years. The article's author, Andy Newman, digs deeper in the comments section. He makes the following claim at comment 24: "At no time has China ever had anything comparable to Stalin’s great terror". And this at no.30:
What would be the social function of an “opposition party” in China, where the leading role of the CPC is embodied in the functioning of government? As of course you know, there are several independent political parties in China, represented in the Peoples’s Congress, and who have access to think tanks etc. These are similar to the old “bloc parties” in East Germany.
So that is alright then. Newman behaved in a crass way two months ago over the Gary McKinnon case, and looks like alienating his readers again.

Tuesday 29 September 2009

A putative Brown and Cameron General Election debate

The PM programme this evening discussed the merit of a radio debate between the party leaders over a television screening of an exchange.

The journalist Andrew Billen suggested a radio debate would be Any Questions? at best or The Moral Maze at worst. Which is about right.

Unfortunately, on a television debate Gordon Brown risks coming over like Richard Nixon in the American 1960 Presidential debates. In fact, there were four, the first from September 26 is on YouTube.

Monday 28 September 2009

Neil Clark on censorship

In a 2003 Daily Telegraph article Neil Clark wrote:
As an up-and-coming Labour backbencher, [Roy] Jenkins had written, in the late 1950s, a tract entitled Is Britain Civilised?, in which he attacked Britain's "archaic" laws on censorship, homosexuality, divorce and abortion
So censorship, interpreting Clark's scare quote, is justified? Actually, Clark is referring to the last chapter (merely p135-140) of Jenkins' short book The Labour Case, one of three Penguin Specials written by representatives of the main parties for the 1959 General Election, rather than a complete work. Clark refers to Jenkins' first period as Home Secretary:
Now it was full steam ahead to give support to private members' Bills to decriminalise abortion and homosexuality, relax censorship and make divorce easier.
The anti-censorship Bill he is thinking of became the Theatres Act 1968; the republican Clark presumably believes a member of the Royal Household should have continued to censor play scripts. The Obscene Publications Act of 1959, Jenkins had been involved in its parliamentary passage, had already led to suppressed works being published in the UK for the first time, albeit sometimes following a court case.

I bring all this up because Clark has an article in the current New Statesmen in which he complains about new censorship laws in Serbia. Apparently under them, opponents will be blocked from making derogatory comments about the government. Of cause, it is really yet another retrospective defence of his hero, Slobodan Milošević. One recalls the Serbian authorities banning the independent B92 radio station in 1991 and 1996 and other interferences in the operation of a free press. A paper on this subject was written for the hearings of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague (.pdf file or Google html conversion). Clark really condemns in order to condone. On p15 of the ICTY document, there is a summary:
A careful review of media coverage in Serbia [from 1987 onwards] demonstrates that the "need" to expel the non-Serbs is a recurrent theme in the media - whether the message is conveyed by politicians, intellectuals, military personnel, journalists etc. The entire press repeated systematically and all together the inflammatory declarations referring to the dangers confronting the Serbian peoples and explicitly or implicitly threatening the non-Serbs with reprisals. [For simplicity, I have removed references from this passage.]
Not exactly a pluralist media.

Strange though how he comes over all liberal when he is defending people he admires. Only last week in the Morning Star, writing about "leftists who didn't sell out", Clark was referring to the "liberal brand of communism" pursued by another of his heroes, János Kádár, who was imposed by the Soviets after their overthrow of the Imre Nagy government in 1956. Clark's article has been rubbished by Andrew Coates and Captainjako of Frank Owen's Paintbrush (here and here).

Monday 14 September 2009

An appeal

It is important as much information as possible is freely available on the internet, and easily accessible too. In this context I was saddened to discover that the Wikipedia article on the British journalist Neil Clark is up for deletion again. A previous attempt in the summer of 2007 was successful, but the article rightly reappeared a few months later.

I urge readers to oppose the deletion of the article on Neil Clark. If you do not have a Wikipedia account, they can be created quickly. The Afd (Article for deletion) tag was added to the article today, and will be carried out in a week's time unless there is sufficient opposition. A pity if the article should go, because Clark's peculiar politics need to be detailed, and he is more than significant enough to be the subject of one article out of three million. An interest should be declared, the present writer heavily contributed to the article under discussion.

Tuesday 1 September 2009

Peter Hitchens on World War II

This Daily Mail article has to be read to be believed. The counterfactual form takes a ridiculous turn; nowhere does Hitchens' accept that the Third Reich had to be destroyed. And he follows an argument Diana and Oswald Mosley made that leaving Hitler with a free hand in continental Europe would have saved the British Empire. As if it was worth saving.


Monday 31 August 2009

Does the BBC have a liberal bias?

About time someone took apart the BBC has a 'liberal bias' argument, which Mehdi Hasan does in this week's New Statesman. Responding to a piece on Peter Hitchens' blog, Hasan issued a challenge to him, Hasan has now deconstructed Hitchens' posting.

By the way, Hitchens original article in the Statesman is here.

Thursday 27 August 2009

Just fancy that!

Peter Hitchens, referring to people who have used his unpleasant nickname, gave this response in a 2005 Guardian interview:
I don't like being called 'bonkers' and I think to some extent it demeans people who use phrases like that. But I take comfort from the fact that most totalitarian regimes tend to classify their opponents as mentally disordered.
And lock them up too, but Hitchens, in at least the form he was quoted, failed to make the distinction.

On Monday, Hitchens headed an entry on his blog: "The growing need for medical tests to determine which side politicians are on." Having spent years trying to label New Labour figures as marxist, it is not surprising he fails to recognise Michael Gove's reasons for admiring Tony Blair as consistent with a Conservative viewpoint, and to see it as being a disorder. Blair once had to deny being a neo-conservative himself, a label Gove happily accepts.

So what kind of regime would be likely to meet Peter Hitchens' "need?"

Tuesday 25 August 2009

The BNP don't like it up 'em!

Yesterday, I referred indirectly to the discriminatory practices the BNP uses towards 'potential' members. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is taking them to court.

One court action which deserves to succeed.

Monday 24 August 2009

Rod Liddle's misogynistic offensiveness

The veracity of The Spectator's Rod Liddle is unclear, but his talent to amuse is non-existent. A few months ago Liddle was staying in a hotel somewhere in the middle east "which is renowned for its profusion and diversity of whores." He continues:
This is all a problem for me, because while I would like to talk to some of these whores — just to be companionable — there are also plenty of normal non-whore women staying in the hotel.
Why stay in a hotel with such a "problem?" Rod, why should you want to talk to women who are not "normal?"
And it is impossible for me to tell these two very different classes of people apart: they seem to me to be dressed identically.
A contradiction?
I daresay for someone more observant there would be differences of nuance, but nothing that I can discern. What should I do? Mistake some middle-class fraulein for a 30 quid an hour slapper and I could be in serious trouble.
So you want to be more than "companionable?" Rod, what is it you want to do?
They should have little plastic ID tags, the whores, like the ones worn by people attending conferences about dental hygiene and what have you.
How would that help resolve your confusion? The women with the tags would be thrown out of the hotel.

The rest of the article is not quite so awful, though his claim that Islam consists of "poisonous sexism" and "misogyny", and government responses to Islam "end up being illiberal, bullying and devoid of principle", is difficult to stomach when Liddle's writing displays just those qualities.

A favourite female target is the Labour Party's deputy leader Harriet Harman. Last April, Liddle was revolting rather than satirical:
Harriet Harman’s plan to remove the wombs from all British women and force them to go to work as stockbrokers and hedge-fund managers in the City of London. How she intends to remove the wombs, and what she will do with 30 million of them when she is done, has not yet been decided.
Earlier this month, he had another pop at Harman in an article charmingly titled "Harriet Harman is either thick or criminally disingenuous." It is based on the assumption that Harman, 60 next year, may soon be Labour leader. Unlikely, but that has never stopped anyone filing their copy before.

Liddle opens with his 'doing it' obsession, though rejecting the reader's presumptive option:
I think you have more self-respect, a greater sense of self-worth, no matter how much you’ve had to drink. I think you’d make your excuses and leave, just as the first bars of ‘Me Myself I’ strike up. I think you’d do the same with most of the babes who were once, or are now, on the government front bench.
Labour women, in Liddle's estimation, are 'lower' than the women he was writing about six weeks earlier. Is it likely any of them would fancy him? The musical reference is to Joan Armatrading's "Me Myself I" jazz fans, not Billie Holiday's "Me, myself and I." Liddle goes on to (un)intentionally sustain objections by feminists that female politicians are assessed on the basis of their looks.

A few weeks ago, Peter Hitchens closed his Mail on Sunday column with a lament:
As long as people think types like Jeremy Clarkson are the voice of conservative patriotism, the cause of Britain is doomed.
One could add other oafs to this list, like A. A Gill and Liddle himself, whose not unsympathetic articles about the BNP are pretty disgusting too.

Tariq Ramadan sacked in Rotterdam

Andrew Coates (whose blog I should have placed on this list) reproduces part of a French news report and cites this article from a Swiss English language site.

Stalin and the left

James Marson has a piece on Stalin and the left at 'Comment is Free', which I pretty much agree with. The appeal of Stalin in the UK is limited, but the developments in Russia and the former soviet republics, which Marson mainly discusses, are worrying. This report from last month, concerning the suppression of online material in Russia, is also worth reading. Defenders of the Putin/Medvedev government can be found in the UK's press occasionally.

Marson's conclusion is worth stressing:
It is a bitter pill for some on the left to swallow that what Stalin did in the name of apparently laudable goals was horrific. Maybe some politicians are using the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and comparisons between Stalin and Hitler to smear the left and Russia. But to my mind, if the left, along with the Russian leadership, is still unwilling to face the horrors of Stalinism and the devastation it wrought across central and Eastern Europe, it is smearing itself.
The defence of authoritarian regimes is unlikely to appeal to more than a tiny portion of the electorate here, but enough of the organised left still has the capacity to defend such regimes to prevent the emergence of any credible alternative to New Labour. Some people though, have split loyalties.

The BNP entertains

Two other blogs (here and here) have already discussed this story* from yesterday's News of the World on the BNP's "Red White and Blue 'fun' weekend" event.

One incident described is a mock trial of a golliwog named Winston and the burning of the effigy. The paper offers a link to a BNP video of the burning; the Screws is trying to have it both ways, but that is the way of tabloids on this kind of story.

It does offer more of the 'real' paranoid Nick Griffin though. In this passage he responds to potential anti-discrimination legislation to force the BNP to accept non-white members:
"Since if we want to survive we will be forced to let them in, the key will be before we do so to change the party - to ensure that whoever's coming in doesn't have any control."
Clumsy syntax for a member of the 'master race'. It is not very likely anyone from the groups the BNP detest would join, and Griffin temporarily forgets the history of white moles in the far-right, of which Ray Hill is the best known.

They have contempt for those they claim to represent:
Greater London Authority member Richard Barnbrook joked about BLACKING himself up.

The deputy opposition leader of Barking and Dagenham council boasted: "I've got balls made of steel. In my own ward, if I go around naked, and put boot polish on my face, they'd still love me."
And attempt to normalize their offensive neanderthal attitudes:
"P*ki means pure. So why do you get offended when all that they're doing is calling you pure?" he whined. "You get called a P*ki, how can you get offended by that?"
They do not like non-national whites either, and would-be psycopaths were present:
Marshall said: "The Lithuanians and Czechs are sneaking in because they're white. You find the f***ers on the doorstep."

Bev added: "These guys from Poland came into Cotmanhay and did a car wash. Somebody wrote BNP on their sign - once that was there they were gone . . . guess who that was? Me and Danny. I wrote BNP."

Elsewhere another man moaned: "If things don't become any better, and I become older, so I'm 70 or 75, I'll take a GPMG (machine gun) - seriously, I'm not joking here - and I'm going to f***ing destroy lots of people."
Not the kind of people any real 'law and order' conservative would contrive to defend.

*Apologies if you have stumbled across this piece via Google after Rupert Murdoch's imposition of website charges, but the two other blogs have different quotations from the original article.

Sunday 23 August 2009

Catherine Bennett hits the nail...

One recent particularly telling entry on the Lenin's Tomb blog concerned the threat to the continued publication of The Observer newspaper. Apparently, Richard Seymour considers its closure would not be much of a loss because of the journalists it employs and its demographics, which display a bias towards high earners. One could be mischievous and suggest the reference to its journalists does not allow for the defence of any 'capitalist' newspaper which might be under threat now or in the future. Those newspapers at the top end of the market tend to be the least unreadable, regardless of their politics.

My most incendiary reader (numerous clues in the drop-down lists on the right) will doubtless be surprised that I have had very mixed feelings about Nick Cohen's columns for some years. Usually though, the mouse button is pressed on the link to his articles. One Observer columnist who is invariably readable is Catherine Bennett, who this week writes on John Cleese's recent divorce settlement. Bennett is right to mock Michael Winner's snobbery about Alyce Faye Eichelberger Cleese's former residence in a London council flat ("Perhaps he worries that she will spend all the money on scratch cards and pizza"), and quite rightly choose to highlight Cleese's rather chauvinist response to his ex-wife ("I got off lightly. Think what I’d have had to pay Alyce if she had contributed anything to the relationship"). Cleese seems to have lost any connection to the real world: "At least I will know in future if I go out with a lady they will not be after me for my money." He is still worth about £10 million.

Catherine Bennett concludes:
The tale of Mr Cleese and Ms Eichelberger makes Woody Allen look like a really brilliant advertisement for psychotherapy.
Non, c'est moi.

The British People's Alliance rises again

What is the British People's Alliance you may ask? Its genesis dates from 2007 when it was created by a blogger named David Lindsay, and it was temporarily registered with the Electoral Commission. Like god, it does not really exist, except in the imagination: Lindsay is the organisation's only known member. Following the debacle with official registration, He is now trying to enlist the support of independents (though He allows for candidates from real political parties) who share His principles and intend to stand in the general election next year. The current version of the manifesto was published online recently and is worth a look if you want a good laugh.

It is organised like an examination paper, but as a candidate, in place of answering questions, you have to sign for a compulsory opening section, and eight of the twelve assertions in the second section which follows. So in practice, as an approved candidate, one would be agreeing to a series of written oaths in order for the chief examiner (Lindsay) to pass you as a fit member of his network.

You can start now.
We seek to build a network including one parliamentary candidate (of any party or none) in each constituency, on the following basis.
OK, adding the emphasis was irresistible. The use of "we" is, of cause, used in the Royal sense. The repetition of "I fight" in the compulsory section is somewhat troubling, quite apart from the absence of the word "will", but as there is no penalty for skipping all of it, I shall.

Lindsay is a former Labour parish councillor in Co. Durham, now sitting as an independent, and He is trying to appeal to a labour movement folk memory, one which happens to be unique to Himself. Mysteriously, He also blogs for The American Conservative magazine, whose co-founder was one Pat Buchanan. David Lindsay is keeping His options open.

Sunday 16 August 2009

Peter Hitchens and death

Peter Hitchens, in his Mail on Sunday column, contrasts David Cameron's put downs of Tory MEP Daniel Hannan and MP Alan Duncan. In defending Hannan over Duncan, "a keen supporter of the sexual and cultural revolution" (he is in a civil partnership), Hitchens makes the following point:
I happen to think that we make too much of a fetish about health care, here and in America, because we’re all anxious to keep death at a distance and pretend it doesn’t exist.
Well, we would! Understandably, most people want to live for as long as possible, and usually feel for those who do not enjoy a healthy life. I think Hitchens wants to leave it all to god.
The truth is that doctors can patch us up if we injure ourselves, cure a rather limited number of diseases with pills or surgery, and comfort us if we feel rotten – but most of our ills are caused by the way we live, and many are the inevitable results of age.

Politics has no answer to this.
Really? Medical science is fixed forever, and the allocation of resources across the country and throughout the population is not an issue? A fortnight ago, Hitchens objected to the Asquith government being "pioneers of the welfare state". So in fact politics has a solution Hitchens' dislikes, but he is trying to avoid admitting he thinks in this way. In fact, some of the Asquith government's policies on welfare were motivated by the shocking physical health of recruits during the Boer war, rather than from basic human decency or 'left-wing' politics.

Saturday 8 August 2009

Press TV

Looking for something else online, I stumbled across "Press TV peddles pernicious tosh" by Oliver Kamm in The Jewish Chronicle, which includes this:
In other programmes, the choice of guests extends to the bizarrely insignificant. One recent commentator was a pro-Milosevic blogger known for faking laudatory comments about himself under female pseudonyms on third-party websites.
Now who might that be?

Thursday 30 July 2009

Favourite Blogs

If polls in such things had any real credibility (Clark managed to win his category on a mere 26%, 1,100 votes or so, in the poll for 2007) mine would be:

1. Dave's Part
2. Harpymarx
3. Shiraz Socialist
4. Stroppyblog
5. Adam MacQueen
6. Normblog
7. Oliver Kamm
8. Harry's Place

Other blogs I read, are not really recommendable, though Socialist Unity manages to avoid being an apologist for dictatorships some of the time, Lenin's Tomb contains the odd nugget and Peter Hitchens is worth it for the entertainment value.

The most ridiculous for me, no he is merely appalling, is surely this gent from deepest County Durham.

Monday 27 July 2009

Neil Clark and Aldous Huxley

A passage from yesterday's entry on Neil Clark's blog is an absolute classic:
[Aldous] Huxley also believed that modern marketing techniques, advertising and other forms of brainwashing used by the ruling elite to maintain their control would pose a far greater threat to human freedom- and humanity in general than the ‘old-style’ dictatorships that relied on terror.
Dictatorships relying on terror are still around, and Clark defends quite a few of them. Quite why he finds "modern marketing techniques" worse than "‘old-style’ dictatorships", when his rather naff and populist tastes are a product of them, is inexplicable.

Apparently Clark agrees with Huxley "that intelligence and kindness are inextricably linked"...

Thursday 23 July 2009

The death penalty in Iran and Neil Clark

An excellent piece by Peter Tatchell on the use of this form of state power, unaccompanied by any form of evidence, is on The Guardian's 'Comment is Free' site.

Neil Clark, a supporter of the death penalty and an opponent of Amnesty International's campaign against the practice, wrote the following in 2002:
If we know anything at all about moral issues, it is that they are extremely difficult to resolve, are inevitably marked by disagreement, and that different cultural premises lead to startlingly different moral conclusions. Understanding this is important, as it underlies the whole idea of self-determination by societies, cultural groups or nation states. Only these groupings can determine what political structures they take to be moral and what privileges they acknowledge as rights.
Clark is inclined to dismiss open societies two page earlier, in his attack on Human Rights Watch, so this is really another of his defences of dictatorship, quite apart from being an example of moral relativism. He transposes absolutist assumptions onto his opponents of a kind which he endlessly displays himself.

In an article the previous year, advocating a return to the death penalty, Clark had this to say:
Inevitably, miscarriages of justice did occur when Britain had the death penalty, but their number was tiny and must be set against the considerably larger number of people saved from violent death by the much lower homicide rate. [Hardly as convincing as he thinks.] Now, though, there is the very real breakthrough of DNA-testing, which narrows the odds of wrong conviction to one million to one. That still may not be good enough for Paul Foot and Ludovic Kennedy, but it is for me and, I expect, for most other people.
Obviously not the case in Iran, where 'beyond a reasonable doubt' is not the criteria for executions. Clark objects to a universalist stance on human rights, but 'divide and rule' methods, as Tatchell is basically arguing is the case in Iran, were hardly alien to the Milosevic regime of which Clark is a particularly notorious apologist.

So the likelihood he will cease his advocacy of Ahmadinejad's cause and embrace the abolition of the death penalty is rather remote. The rest of us can therefore continue to question his dubious attitudes.

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Now the BNP turn inventive

What a pity Richard Barnbrook of the BNP, a London Assembly member since May last year, has managed to evade a hearing over bringing his office into disrepute. A tribunal has been presented with evidence that Barnbrook, also a councillor on Barking and Dagenham council, claimed three knife related murders had occurred over a three week period in the outer London borough and knew this to be false at the time. His inability to provide any defence against a complaint made last September looks like an admission of guilt.

A ghastly person with no integrity whatsoever.

Monday 20 July 2009

Peter Hitchens and Bob Ainsworth's Trotskyist past

Peter Hitchens was attacking the new Secretary of State for Defence in yesterday's Mail on Sunday for being a 'candidate member' (provisional so to speak) of the International Marxist Group in the early 1980s. Particularly making my Wikipedia acquaintance spit with fury was the IMG's support for the IRA. The IMG was a wholly legal organisation, even if the IRA was not, like the International Socialists (now SWP) of which Hitchens was a member between 1969 and 1975. But what I find in an official 1975 history of the group by Ian Birchall, under the heading "1969-1970: Towards a Workers’ Party", is the following: "IS’s position was always one of unconditional support for the IRA in the struggle against imperialism".

Oh dear!

Wednesday 15 July 2009

Neil Clark, the universal franchise and the BNP

This is a very serious post, and it seems appropriate to drop the tag previously applied to Neil Clark.

He might attack New Labour for ignoring the wishes of a majority of the electorate over the war in Iraq. More generally, he might point out the apparent contradiction between polling data in which the public favour the reintroduction of the death penalty and it is resisted by parliamentarians. Despite his claim to be a "democratic socialist", Clark's own commitment to the universal franchise can be doubted. His socialism is actually non-existent.

Not once voicing any criticism of the BNP in his First Post article of June 8 2009, he claimed:
Since the 1960s, as European Left parties have gradually become more middle class, they have gradually lost their link with their indigenous working-class voters.
So the main party of the Left in the UK should not have identified with people of overseas descent who, naturalized or born here, also have the vote? Now constituting about 8% of the population, often in urban seats which Labour will need to hold onto in the 2010 general election, or to whom the Conservatives will need to appeal if they are to form a government, Clark blithely ignores a section of the population which a genuine 'leftie', unreconstructed or otherwise, would not do.

Perhaps he thinks ethnic groups are second class citizens who should not be allowed to vote. This is a fair conclusion to draw as we shall see. Clark supports the attitude peddled by the BNP that it "[combines] traditional left-wing anti-capitalist and anti-globalist economic policies, with unequivocal opposition to mass immigration". This is quite wrong. For 'old Labour', immigration was an economic policy. The British Nationality Act 1948, which allowed the right of settlement, was passed during a labour shortage.

Clark’s opinion of his readers is so low he assumes we will not do some digging, or remember what he has written. He writes uncritically of the Hungarian ‘Jobbik’, as an example of a party reconnecting with the working class. He complains that the self-styled 'Movement for a Better Hungary', is denounced as "'neo-fascist'" by its opponents, and implying the left should be more like this party, wrote that it “attacked finance-driven globalisation and the 'unpatriotic' pro-globalist elite, in a way which clearly resonated with ordinary people”. In fact, it is denounced as "neo-fascist" because there are good grounds to sustain the label. It is an organisation with a paramilitary wing, supposedly being wound up under government order, which is actually being recreated under a new name. It virulently attacks ‘Roma’ in Hungary and also denounces Jews. In a visit to London in May, representatives of the party met Nick Griffin (dubious link) of the BNP. Apparently “similarities between the two parties and their aims are a promising start for co-operation between the BNP and Jobbik in the future.” Since then, according to a report on Channel Four News, relations have cooled and the two parties will not sit in the same group in the European Parliament.

What difference left-wing parties might have from those of the right is unclear, if indeed anything should really separate them at all. So we have a supposed leftist, suggesting means for left-of-centre parties to regain voters, who identifies his politics with a blatantly far-right party, but hopes no one notices. For a long time, Clark has had difficulties with political labels; in order to sustain his argument in favour of the death penalty, he once had to classify Paul Foot, the journalist and revolutionary socialist, as a “left-liberal”. It is about time Clark stopped burning his candle at both ends and dropped his pretence. It is obvious where he is on the political spectrum, and astonishing the Morning Star and the New Statesman are still prepared to publish his copy.

Update: After posting this article, I toned it down slightly to avoid comments which might be difficult to sustain and fearful of libel. I need not have bothered. Clark has an article on the 'Jobbik' website, a reprint of a First Post article on Hungary is here.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

According to "Comrade Neil Clark", Ahmadinejad might be an ally

Well Clark would see a holocaust denier as a potentially reliable ally wouldn't he?

As it happens, I agree with Clark on the Iraqi elections in 2005, but someone who once wrote what amounts to a defence of the one party state (de facto or actual) is adopting a stance of "political contingency" over elections now. In 2002, Clark commented in of all places, The Spectator magazine:
After the signing of the Helsinki Accords in 1975, the US was understandably keen to use the issue of human rights as a way of weakening the Soviet Union and its control over Eastern Europe. Human Rights Watch, set up in 1978 as Helsinki Rights Watch by the publishing tycoon Bob Bernstein, was to be the vehicle for achieving this. Over the next ten years the organisation was to play a key role in publicising human-rights breaches behind the Iron Curtain and helping dissident groups there to organise and eventually grow into opposition parties. Vaclav Havel, the Czech President, recognises the debt that he and many others owe to the organisation, and is on record as stating that without Human Rights Watch there would have been no Velvet Revolution in his country.
No doubt the conservative Spectator finds it useful to keep a 'left-wing' autocrat on its roster of contributors from time to time. Just to remind its readers of the worst attitudes the 'left' can come up with.

Update: Plagiarism by Clark in yesterday's First Post article.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

The latest humbug of "Comrade Neil Clark"

I might have to rename this blog "Neil Clark Watch" at some future juncture.

At The First Post Clark defends the comments of Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone in his recent Times interview, in which Ecclestone defended despotism, spoke positively of Adolf Hitler and disparaged democracy. A self-proclaimed "socialist", Clark sides with a billionaire:
The procedure is usually works like this [sic]: a public figure expresses opinions to which the New McCarthyites take exception. The public figure, fearing his livelihood will be threatened by the whipped-up hysteria his comments have generated, is pressurised into making an embarrassing - and completely unwarranted - apology for what they have said.
For Clark then it alright to make positive comments about Hitler, and no one can say anything in response. Clark, in this case and Bryan Ferry's comments two years ago, is rather exercised by Jewish groups and individuals expressing an opinion. Clearly people Clark disapproves of, like Denis MacShane and Greville Janner, should shut up. Particularly people "outside the UK" who dare to criticise a British national in charge of companies with an international reach.

Perhaps someone who came close to defending the assassination of Zoran Djindjic or the potential murder of Iraqi translators had himself in mind when he typed the following:
Democracy should mean encouraging people to voice opinions freely and without fear. And it certainly shouldn't mean only being allowed to express opinions which the political elite or certain lobbies and pressure groups deem to be 'acceptable'.
So who stopped Ecclestone from expressing his nonsense? The Times published it. The First Post website publishes Clark. The man protests too much. Clark needless to say is totally incapable of tolerating criticism of himself.

Following the European Parliamentary elections last month, when the British National Party gained two MEPs, Clark the "socialist" identified some of his own hobby horses with the other side:
It's clear that a large percentage of working-class protest votes across Europe have gone to populist parties of the 'far-Right', [note the scare quotes as though Clark disputes the tag] who combine traditional left-wing anti-capitalist and anti-globalist economic policies, with unequivocal opposition to mass immigration and an uncompromising stance on law and order.
Clark in practice advocates that the Left should be like the Right, and proposes his own version of Blairite 'triangulation':
If the European Left is to claw back working-class votes from the far-Right, it not only needs to oppose the neo-liberal model of globalisation, but to jettison its politically correct approach to issues like immigration and law and order and adopt policies which are popular with its core constituency - the working class.
Note how Clark projects his bigotry on to a large section of the population; we are still talking about a small minority who voted BNP. Mixed-origin couples are disproportionately from lower income groups

Clark continues:
Since the 1960s, as European Left parties have gradually become more middle class, they have gradually lost their link with their indigenous [ie, white] working-class voters. ... [The Left] has to acknowledge the innate social conservatism of most working-class voters and drop its aggressively liberal approach to social issues which anger so many.
Well Neil Clark and contributors to the Conservative Daily Mail and the Conservative Daily Telegraph anyway. But in reality this is another case of Clark's capacity for projection. A report in The Times last month gave an encouraging indication of how public attitudes to homosexuality are changing for the better.

Clark might condemn neo-conservative lies, but he is quite capable of his own deceit in backing the worst kind of elite discourse.

Update July 9: I posted the following on Clark's comment page yesterday evening: "Has anyone suggested Ecclestone & co. belong in a police cell? Now who, claiming 'harassment', has advocated his critics belong in custody?" Clark has now allowed the first comments to the posting of his First Post article on Ecclestone, with my submission unsurprisingly omitted, as is his right as blog moderator. He has issued threats of a "police cell" in copy and paste responses at 3:41 PM (comments to 20 May post) and 3:32 PM (comments to 26 May post). Charming man. While Clark may well have suffered unjust abuse, the law on harassment he cites relates to the stalking of individuals, and not at all to the internet.

Looking over the article just now, I found the earlier First Post article had not been directly cited. This has been corrected; two minor changes over last night's posting have also been made.

Norman Geras on Sarkozy's proposed burqa ban

I touched on this subject a fortnight ago, but Norman Geras has an excellent piece on the basic illiberality of the proposal.

Wednesday 1 July 2009

"Comrade Neil Clark" and his neocon doubles

Clark writes on David Cameron and the coterie around him at The First Post. Being effective as a journalist rather depends on having cleaner hands than those one attacks, and in this article Clark advocated his own form of "shock and awe".

Friday 26 June 2009

I'm neutral, but I bet this reads like pomposity

Michael Jackson died yesterday.

My familiarity with his music is limited to overhearing it, I have a neutral response to the news of his death. Neutrality also being the most appropriate response when a complete bête noire dies. I might be thinking of a certain (female) former UK Prime Minister as an eventual example.

Thursday 25 June 2009


To borrow a construction from Groucho Marx, I would not want to marry any woman who wished to take my surname. Michele Hanson has a brief article in today's Guardian on the decision of the former Rebekah Wade, present editor of The Sun, to take her second husband's surname.

Wednesday 24 June 2009


Excellent cover on the new issue of Private Eye on the Iraq war inquiry with 'Private' almost blanked out with the bubbles reproducing the following exchange:

Andrew Marr: Why hold it in secret?
Gordon Brown: I'm afraid I can't tell you that.

As so often with the Eye's best covers, there is a secondary reference; the bubbles could be reversed.


The end of a conversation with my psychiatrist some time ago:
"Do you have any questions for me, _______?" she asked
I shook my head in confusion and she laughed.

Then a year of folly as it appeared a relationship, which had an unusual path, was not beyond rescue. Her wish was to marry me and she was for years before the unknowing subject of my dreams. She knows me at second hand rather well: it is the complete reverse for him. This may read like a fable, but is not untrue; the double negative was the only verbal confirmation of her love anyone ever gave me. Unhelpful if you have been a victim of physical and mental bullying, have adjusted to that predicament so well you can only behave in difficult circumstances as though you are being bullied at that moment and Asperger‘s Syndrome (then undiagnosed) had made it impossible to correctly interpret her non-verbal cues.

They treated me as if I had no personal issues which would make it difficult for me to develop a relationship: my sick notes at the time gave “anxiety/depression” as a diagnosis. A psychiatric nurse had told me I could be married in two years if I wanted it, long ago now; he said it at a point when I would not make a direct connection, and my feelings about her were unstated. The thought of marriage scared me to death.

The question from my psychiatrist was posed many times. Usually without a response from me out of a despair of no probable resolution. I thought at the time it would take me a decade to work out the truth and my pessimism was not misplaced. When the complete despair had stopped me referring to her for long enough, trying led me to loose my temper when I came against their brick wall, she thought I no longer loved her. Not her fault and she is completely blameless. She moved so far away it is unlikely we will meet again: it would probably cause both of us pain. I only know where she is thanks to the internet: if it were left to them, I might still wonder if she had died.

With thanks to Thomas Pynchon, wherever he is, for coming up with the word ‘shrink’ in The Crying of Lot 49 (1966).

Nadine + John

Although his political journey is not that different to mine, I do not warm to John Bercow, the new Speaker of the House of Commons, but I thought the article by Nadine Dorries in the last Mail on Sunday was particularly ill-considered:
There is a strong view among Conservatives that John came within a whisker of ‘crossing the floor’ and joining Labour when Gordon Brown became PM.

People in a better position than me to know what was going on say that John considered defecting at the same time as another Tory, Quentin Davies. John denied it, but I vividly recall his reaction when Quentin took his seat with Labour for the first time.
Oh dear. So someone who vacillates between the two main parties is not a credible candidate for a post in which he has to be impartial? (The article was published the day before Bercow was elected Speaker.)

Dorries, whose sanity is often questioned, really asks for derision here:
His mystifying journey from the far Right to the Left after his marriage to a Labour activist begs the question of stability, as does his lack of almost a single friend on the Tory benches.
Less common than the other way around, it is not altogether unknown. Tam Dalyell and Phillip Whitehead are two Labour politicians who made the journey. Not being a paragon of mental health myself might demonstrate Dorries point, if one knew nothing of scientific method. Never as right-wing as Bercow once was, thirty years ago my politics were probably quite similar to Andrew Neil's, I thought then of joining the Young Conservatives only to join the Labour Party a decade later.

Hat tip: Harry's Place

Tuesday 23 June 2009

If "Comrade Neil Clark" is a man of the Left..., Part 94

My old sparing partner has a new article at The First Post. Antipathetic to every left-wing cause, except for his ardour over public ownership and his opposition to wars pursued by the west, Clark writes on the latest attempt by a French government to victimize Muslim women who choose to wear the burqa. Clark's contempt for left-wing opinion and his admiration of Sarkozy's cynical craving for votes would make Tony Blair proud.

A "few thousand women" in the whole of France are thought to wear the full veil, but this has not stopped Nicolas Sarkozy or Clark from risking the physical assault of the tiny minority who do. No advocacy of "cultural relativism" is intended here; universal human rights and secularism should be encouraged. While it is quite possible women are being coerced into wearing the burqa, no evidence has emerged to confirm this proposition, purely philosophical discourse is taking precedence.

Clark though is being disingenuous, he does not support human rights or secularism. The former is a particularly "middle class" preoccupation, as though the Metropolitan Police's fatal assault of newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson or the shooting of electrician Jean Charles de Menezes can be written off as "bourgeois" concerns. His attitude to Slobodan Milošević, his "prisoner of conscience", receives plenty of critical attention elsewhere, well deserved, and easy to find on the web.

Clark might argue he is merely defending the form secularism takes in the Fifth Republic, rather than putting forward his own considered opinion. This would be quite honest by Clark's standards. When it suits him, he is far from being a secularist, making a case for the complete opposite in a different context. This bizarre creed might be called "formal theocratic socialism":
The biggest mistake of the socialist regimes in Eastern Europe was not building an alliance with the Church. I know there were valid historical reasons for socialist antipathy to organised religion- but if an arrangement could have been reached, a much more widespread popular support for socialism could have been achieved.
This is fantasy, clumsily written. Evidently a separation of church and state can be jettisoned if one is sympathetic to the regime. The problem with the old Soviet bloc for Clark were not its repression or its shaky economies, but its inability to maintain more control over the people.

Elections for Clark are a means whereby populations affirm the validity of his flexible preferences, as his comments on Ahmadinejad's disputed victory suggest, not for governments to be freely chosen. Supporting Sarkozy on the grounds of women's rights looks opportunist; normally Clark has nothing to say about feminism and admits to sharing the social conservatism of Peter Hitchens. His politics in this area place him well to the right of Oliver Kamm, his nemesis. The treatmant of women for Clark is irrelevant if the regime is fanatically anti-American.

His opposition to immigration, not explicitly stated here, is another issue where he is to the right of Kamm, who shares the attitude of leftists like Nigel Harris in favouring the abolition of immigration controls. To return to Neil Clark:
The fact is that the left - not just in France, but in Europe generally - is in a dilemma over the issues raised by large-scale Islamic immigration to the continent.
Quite so, but another dilemma is why anyone should take Neil Clark seriously. It is undeniable the terrorists responsible for flying two airliners into the World Trade Centre, or the London bombers in 2005, were Muslims with European connections. Clark, however, is flexible over Muslim regimes with terrorist links. He regrets the freeze on relations with the hereditary Assad regime in Syria, thought to be responsible for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988 and more recent atrocities. So what exactly does Clark find tricky about Muslims living in Europe?

He expressed his pro-Syrian outlook in the noted left-wing periodical The American Conservative last year. Not officially online, Clark has reproduced the piece in two parts here and here.

Mark Lawson's Black and White

This is a late response to his comments on black and white images in The Guardian of May 28. For someone who is one of the remaining 28,540 UK householders with a black and white television set, it was of particular interest.

At first the reason was financial. I preferred to use the balance between the monochrome and colour licence on books, and my weekly benefit entitlement was alone roughly equivalent to the cost of a monochrome television licence. Subsequently, I passed from being part of the "undeserving" to the "deserving poor", even though it was only caused by the authorities changed perception of me rather than any specific developments in my life. After I bought my first home computer in 2001, having ensured it did not have a TV card, time spent watching television rapidly declined. I do not bother with it at all now; the set has needed a new plug for the last eighteen months, but I have not managed to motivate myself to fix it or to get rid of the thing.

My dislike of television is partly a response to a misspent youth. My parents took The Sun when I was a child, with the result that my awareness of potential stimuli was restricted; being an only child with the life-long Asperger's Syndrome, which could not have been diagnosed then, were other reasons. I am certain watching too much television damaged my academic development. But trying to drastically reduce my dependence on popular culture when I had to resit O-levels in the early 1980s, which isolated me, helped lead to my first mental crisis in 1984. By then I was no longer considered ‘thick’; my schools had invariably placed me in the bottom or remedial class when they followed streaming. No doubt the notorious fixation on sex of The Sun when my male hormones were at their most rampant helped me to discover foreign language films quite early, it was a relief to find something similar occurred to one of my favourite bloggers. Now in my mid-forties, I am regularly irritated by my recall of forgotten television programmes from my youth when facts which are of more value to me now are difficult to recall with such ease.

The trivia which still fills my brain is useful in my work on Wikipedia, and interest in an unstressful pastime might well help motivate the young into an area which will help them gain a better formal education than I had, and a career. If the singularity of information technology leads to the reduction of peer pressure to fit in, that will help. As an anti-illiberal, I do not begrudge the pleasure other people gain from watching television, Peter Hitchens' persistent failure to recognise this obvious fact in his own tele-phobia is revealing, but my frustrated life course leads to my own personal animosity. Even so, Hitchens attack on colour television, in The Abolition of Britain, is particularly loopy.

Mark Lawson had a decent education, at UCL (University College, London), has a successful career, but still manages to come over as a complete ignoramus in a field where the competence of an arts journalist might be expected. Black and white were not only the "shades of early cinema" (he means "tonal range"); American colour films were in the minority until the mid-fifties and only became the majority elsewhere a decade later. If the excellent DVD releases of East European cinema by secondrun are any guide, colour films were scarce there until the beginning of the 1970s. Apparently, Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon "set during the first world war – conforms to the belief among film directors that black-and-white stock lends historical authenticity". That is unlikely to be a widely held attitude; even historical films shot in black and white are a tiny minority. Colour is not completely "omitted" from Schindler's List, as he seems to think.

This passage is particularly underdeveloped:
But, except when the intention is to parody or invoke a type of movie from the bleached-out period – such as Young Frankenstein, Ed Wood or the Coen brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There – the use of the less popular stock can seem self-advertising or distracting. It can make the film seem less realistic, not more so, because viewers are even more aware than usual of the director's intervention.
Lawson has an eight-hundred word limit for this article; this passage manages to leave a maddening number of things unresolved. Cannot realism be played with? Is realism the only quality a film can have? Isn't “self-advertising or distracting” a quality more common in garishly coloured pop videos and advertisements? Why should black and white over colour make viewers more “aware” of a director’s intentions? It is reductionist to say films are one or the other; they are many other things as well. Does Lawson ever venture into the avant-garde cinema where directorial intentions are more oblique? On the 1928 black and white film The Seashell and the Clergyman an internal report of the British Board of Film Censors (as it was then) made the infamous comment: "Apparently meaningless, but if it has any meaning it is doubtless objectionable".

Lawson thinks artists "could reasonably point out that black and white are also colours". Well if you start out being thinking in terms of pigmentation, as Lawson does, this is a confusion with skin colour. Black and white play a negligible role on artists' colour wheels. He should try crafting his articles more.

Why do the press and broadcasters appoint people like Mark Lawson?

Monday 22 June 2009

Bloggers not recognised

The spell check programme highlights the word 'bloggers' (in both upper and lower case). Isn't technology flexible?

Why are comments disallowed?

The block on readers adding comments to a blog with the name of Anti-illiberal may seem paradoxical. A solution would be to start your own blog and disagree with me, say where I go wrong or take me to pieces. Starting this blog was not difficult and it costs me nothing.

The main reason for doing so is to enable me to communicate. I am a very isolated man, talk to no one and have spent the last five years editing Wikipedia on most days. I hope to write about my life, and frankly trolls would be likely to abuse and discourage me. Bullying at school and the professional code of psychiatrists has pretty much destroyed my capacity to live life. These are extenuating circumstances.

An individual who disagrees with the opinion of the the blogger and most of their other respondents is liable to come over as a troll, even though that person might have perfectly rational opinions. To a degree, I have been there with several illiberal bloggers and it is not pleasant. So am I saving readers from themselves?

Cultural internationalism and the dilemmas of liberalism

I wonder if Peter Hitchens of the Mail on Sunday considers it a liberal plot that the Polish film Katyn (2007) has not yet received the level of attention gained by Ashes and Diamonds (1958)? Hitchens tends to elide the whole liberal to left spectrum, the earlier film was made under Communism, so it is not complete facetiousness to put across this suggestion.

The two war films share a director in Andrzej Wajda, but the perpetrators and victims of military action are reversed. Katyn details the massacre of 22,000 Poles by Soviet troops in 1940, while Ashes and Diamonds concerns the assassination of a Communist in 1945. Hitchens came close to suggesting something sinister in the delayed UK release of Katyn when he first mentioned it last January, though Wajda’s eminence would make its eventual distribution in the UK very likely, and the general release of foreign language films often takes time. Anything to fill space in suggesting something dubious perhaps or maybe Hitchens was pulling a conscious fast one. Alas, a tabloid journalist like Hitchens can safely assume his readers will be unfamiliar with the name of Andrzej Wajda.

Hitchens two references to Katyn have been in passing, but it is remarkable the film is referred to at all in the Mail on Sunday; it is unlikely to appeal to “middle England.” When there is a need to maximise newspaper circulation or the number of viewers in order to maintain profits, the newspaper industry is in decline and satellite stations are ever increasing in number, pluralism in content is likely to be an exception, difference cannot be communicated or known about.

A comparison of the delay between the domestic premiere and its release outside Poland of Katyn with Ashes and Diamonds though, does not suggest the validity of a putative Hitchens’ conspiracy theory. More seriously, the attack by Paul Dacre, editor-in-chief of the two Mail titles, on the "metropolitan" values of the London media in his Cudlipp lecture in January 2007 was also an attack on the more internationalist culture Londoners enjoy, and Katyn is likely to be seen by a higher proportion of Londoners, still depressingly small, than the population of any other part of the UK. As Hitchens attacks any audio-visual technology later than the film projector, one wonders if he has realised the audience ("the liberal elite") who will see Katyn in his preferred context are the people he most detests?

For those unable to see Katyn in a cinema, the DVD player will be an enabler, but Hitchens has no time for information technology, except when he can promote his appearances on YouTube. As subtitled films, and he refers to them from time to time, are now virtually extinct on terrestrial television channels and scarce on satellite, as television has become a wasteland, the DVD is the main way for many to view something they hope will be of value to them. Years ago, foreign language films were not infrequently screened on BBC2 and Channel 4, and because those channels are "free at the point of use", Katyn would have received a much larger audience than it will today. Yet Hitchens regrets the introduction of television, and evidently thinks it should have been stopped (The Abolition of Britain, 2000 ed., p135-36). In fairness it is the habit of watching television which he finds objectionable, and the habit may legitimize programming of questionable value, but Hitchens sees the quality of programming as no defence. He wrote of Katyn on June 21,2009: “if it is showing near you, I recommend you make the effort to see it”, but Hitchens can suggest no solution if it is not.

Hitchens, the devout anglican, shares the prejudices of his other ultimate boss, and the references to 'Cultural Marxism' in Dacre’s Cudlipp lecture might seem familiar enough to Hitchens’ critical readers to ponder whether he had a hand in it. The provincial populism associated with such Conservative ‘anti-elitists‘ as Dacre and Hitchens does not exactly encourage cultural internationalism, modern “little Englanders” can scarcely be expected to consider it desirable, but the anglocentrism of the liberal Mark Lawson at The Guardian is no better.

The rise of Hollywood relative to the cinema of the rest of the world is much commented upon, and the economic liberalism which has allowed it to do so is in conflict with other liberal values. If 'liberal' can be defined as the limitation of restraint, economic liberalism can become positively illiberal because it restricts people’s openness to new experiences. Of cause, the inverse can also be true: following the liberation of France in 1944, the adolescents who later became the nouvelle vague film makers were inspired by the American movies they had been denied.

Blaming ‘the system’, or less crudely the ‘mainstream media’ for the lack of pluralism, a practice of the editors of the medialens website in their coverage of contemporary events, risks defending or advocating something much worse; they use the Manufacturing Consent model associated with Noam Chomsky which is notably singular, and medialens recent piece criticising the British media’s coverage of North Korea demonstrates its capacity for the perverse.

The objective observer might well conclude that what one defends might bear a remarkable similarity to the policies one would follow given the opportunity. For this reason, it is unsurprising the ‘socialism in one country’ form of economic autarky (leave the EU, antipathy to immigration) still advocated by Bob Crow of the RMT union, which turns into a particularly repugnant form of nationalism on the blog of Neil Clark, received such a derisive level of support in the European Parliamentary elections on June 4.