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.