Saturday, January 31, 2009

I'm sure someone else has recognised this but...



... have you noticed the remarkable similarity between Willie Frazer, the idiotic county Armagh culchie redneck who considers himself far more important than he really is, and Family Guy's Peter Griffin? Striking resemblance but they're unlikely to be related due to the latter's well documented Roman Catholicism.

Hamas and Likud - best of friends

It looks as if the ceasefire declared a couple of weeks ago between Israel and Hamas really is the sort of truce that Lindsey German of the StWC had in mind when she spoke at a rally in London. Following the killing of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants on Wednesday, now yet another rocket launched from Gaza has exploded in southern Israel, this time near Ashkelon. With Israelis currently in the middle of a general election campaign I think we all know which political elements in that country will benefit from the continuing insistence of some in the occupied territory to ignore the cessation. No doubt the people firing these ineffective homemade devices are well aware of who they are helping too.

Binyamin Netanyahu must be loving it every minute of it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Manufacturing offence

I can understand why a large section of the general public is angry with the Beeb's decision not to screen the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal for donations to help their humanitarian mission in Gaza. The images being captured by the international media show us a place that has been completely devastated by the recent war between Israel and Hamas. Nevertheless, our subject here is not the pity of war but, not for the first time over the past year, the nature of public service broadcasting.

It should be clear to everyone that once this DEC topic was transformed into a huge issue in the national press that no matter what rabbits Mark Thompson and friends pulled out of the hat nothing would satisfy the Middle East addicts that are currently bombarding the BBC's complaints department. Do nothing and they would be accused of being puppets of Zionism, broadcast the appeal and they would be labelled left-leaning and pro-Palestinian. I suppose a hideous and cringeworthy third way alternative could have been moulded by showing the Palestinian appeal and then 'striking a balance' by doing something similar for people in southern Israel, though this would have opened up that old can of worms about proportionality.

In short, Auntie was (to use a much hated cliché) caught between a rock and a hard place - damned if they do, damned if they don't. As the Director General explained in a statement:

"Gaza remains a major ongoing news story, in which humanitarian issues – the suffering and distress of civilians and combatants on both sides of the conflict, the debate about who is responsible for causing it and what should be done about it – are both at the heart of the story and contentious… After looking at all of the circumstances, and in particular after seeking advice from senior leaders in BBC Journalism, we concluded that we could not broadcast a free-standing appeal, no matter how carefully constructed, without running the risk of reducing public confidence in the BBC's impartiality in its wider coverage of the story. Inevitably an appeal would use pictures which are the same or similar to those we would be using in our news programmes but would do so with the objective of encouraging public donations. The danger for the BBC is that this could be interpreted as taking a political stance on an ongoing story."

Short and snappy it isn't but I agree with the jist of what Thompson says. As idealistic as it may sound, impartiality is one of the cornerstones of BBC news reporting and anything being proposed for broadcast that might possibly even be interpreted as compromising that is best left alone.

Just who would want to be a member of BBC management these days? In a time when the Beeb is becoming better known for making featuring in the news headlines rather than reporting them, it seems that there is a daily barrage of items in the tabloids going on the offensive against them. After the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand affair, one can only wonder whereabouts the next piece of manufactured offence will spring from.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"The party has increasingly become sectionally narrower and ideologically narrower"

Last week I commented on an interesting discussion involving Andrew Sullivan and Reihan Salam on the BBC's Newsnight programme and made a few remarks about how the Republican Party should not react in these opening years of the Obama era. I've seen such discussions repeated a couple of times in recent days. Tom Davis of the Republican Main Street Partnership was mulling over these questions on Washington Journal on Sunday. Rudy Giuliani has as well, as the video below shows. Both men lament the fact that the Republicans have become a take-it-or-leave-it private members club rather than the kind of broad coalition that is required to win elections. Whether the Grand Old Party is ready at this moment in time to embrace Giuliani's talk of a more "socially moderate" brand of politics remains to be seen. If they do decide on a retreat into a hard right cul-de-sac then they'd better get used to being out of power and out in the cold:


Hat Tip: But, I am a Liberal!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Things that annoy Johnny: No. 457

People who go on holiday and have photographs taken of themselves standing awkwardly next to a famous landmark for no other reason than to prove that they were there.


Above: an unidentified individual obscures an otherwise excellent view of a fine piece of late nineteenth century French architecture.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Digging up the past

While I can't say that I was ever a huge fan of the Consultative Group on the Past to begin with, the proposals expected to be put forward next week by the committee are unlikely to make me warm to the CGP in any shape or form. Although their final report has not yet been released it is believed that the group’s findings will advocate government payments of £12,000 to the families of all those murdered during the Troubles. It is claimed that the Eames-Bradley proposals will suggest that this one-off payment should also be made available to the families of members of terrorist organisations killed during the conflict. The reaction so far to these ideas has been far from welcoming. Unionists have been universally hostile. Alliance have said that the proposals could "overshadow" any good work done by the group. The SDLP have refused to comment until the CGP findings are officially released, while Sinn Fein have uttered similar sentiments.

Yet no matter what the findings of the CGP are, there will be something in this week's report to upset everyone. Already the DUP are complaining about this report equating the life of a British soldier or an RUC officer with the life of an IRA member, while in this week’s An Phoblacht Gerry Adams has spoken of his fears that the role of the British state as "protagonists" rather than "innocent observers" will not be recognised. It is because this kind of response was predictable from the outset that I feel the Consultative Group on the Past has been a useless addition - a hindrance even - to political life here. Had the CGP never been set up I find it highly unlikely that people would have been taking to the streets in protest over its absence. A problem has now been created where one did not really exist. Aside from opening up the 'hierarchy of victims' can of worms, one is also left wondering about just how the Eames and co arrived at the £12,000 figure. It was encouraging then to read that I was not the only one taken aback by the concept of valuing a human life at a mere twelve grand. This morning's Sunday Times editorial states:

"Even the notion of £12,000 a family for genuine victims of the Troubles is badly flawed. Those who have lost loved ones at the hands of terrorists do not want a government cheque. Does £12,000 cover the cost of grief and the suffering of the lives of survivors? Many will regard it as an insult. What they want, if anything, is genuine remorse and assurance that this will never happen again."

The best way to "deal with the legacy of the past" (as the CGP claims it is doing) is to stop dwelling on it and move on. I don't mean this to sound cold. I am not for one moment suggesting that the past be swept under the carpet or simply forgotten about, not that there would ever be any chance of that happening. We live in a society addicted to graveside orations and the commemoration of past battles so no one need worry about a sudden bout of mass amnesia hitting the province. However, the endless stream of costly committees and inquiries dealing with controversial elements of our past are achieving nothing other than keeping old wounds open.

As I said at the end of the last post, time to move on methinks.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Watch yer mouth big lad

Just when you thought it had gone away, its back. Yup, that old debate about the link between retail therapy and the love of nation has returned and this time it's even uglier. Ever since certain individuals in the political establishment south of border last year called into question the patriotism of Freestaters who choose to buy their goods in the black north, a petty little war of words has been taking place between figures from both parts of the island.

For the most part this has been a relatively inoffensive affair, if a totally pointless one (though we're used to our leaders wasting time on trivial issues here so we're cool with that). However, yesterday things took a nasty little turn for the worse. Speaking to the press about this subject prior to a meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council, Martin McGuinness stated:

"I think there are a number of tremendous evils in our society: one is racism, the other sectarianism. And I think an evil also is partitionism."

When I first heard the Deputy First Minister utter this on Radio Ulster at lunchtime on Friday I was genuinely astonished. Over the past few years McGuinness has become something of a smooth operator, particularly since teaming up for those smile-filled double acts with Papa Doc and Peter Robinson. Everyone has an off-day though and clearly yesterday's comments had not been thought through beforehand - or to borrow a local phrase, this was an example of a bad case of the head staggers on the Derry man's part.

What is 'partitionism' anyway? Is it even a word? Perhaps it comes straight out of that party line dictionary that was written in a smoke-filled room in Sevastapol Street by the same faceless Provo apparatchik who a few years back advocated the practically endless use of the term 'securocrat'. Whatever its origins I would assume (though I’ll be glad for any Shinner reading to correct me on this) that a prime example of an upholder of partitionism would be either a) a southerner with little interest in a united Ireland or b) a unionist. Now, I have nothing against Marty having his disagreements with either group but for him to place them in the same category as racists and sectarian bigots is just a wee bit OTT.

Yet while I was astounded by McGuinness's remark on yesterday's midday news, at the same time I was not really surprised. My shock lay only in the fact that the Sinn Fein man would say such a thing out loud nowadays in this era of photo shoots and handshakes. Once the layers of glossy PR material and slick image management are stripped away the Provisional gospel remains essentially the same as it always has. The idea that supporting partition constitutes a "tremendous evil" springs from that same part of the republican psyche that to this day sees nothing wrong in absurdly comparing Northern Ireland with apartheid South Africa or Nazi Germany. Sinn Fein have come a long way in recent years but they should ditch the ridiculous notion that to advocate partition in Ireland somehow makes you inherently "evil" or puts you on a par with racists.

All of this should not cloud the fact that this shopping-and-patriotism row is a non-issue. Martin McGuinness is at least right in one sense; people from the Republic should be able to shop wherever they want and not have to worry about their political leaders trying to make them feel guilty as a result. And, if at some stage in the future goods in the south happen to be remarkably cheaper than those in this end of the island, then the folks at Stormont should equally be prepared to shut up and let us nordies do as we please.

Time to move on methinks.

Friday, January 23, 2009

For what it's worth

Each year I always intend to intend to cast a vote in the Irish Blog Awards yet each year I never do. Due to deplorable laziness on my part the motivation just never seems to be there. To be honest there are only a handful of Irish sites that I actually check out on a regular basis. In fact, when I took a look through the various categories I quickly realised that, even if I had have got the nomination form in on time, I wouldn't have been able to fill up all of the categories. Had I managed to get up off my arse and nominate my favourites this is what it would have looked like:

Best Popculture Blog - Unarocks

Best Blog from a Journalist - The Devenport Diaries

Best Food/Drink Blog - Well Done Fillet

Best Arts and Culture Blog - The Film Talk

Best Political Blog - Three Thousand Versts of Loneliness

Best Group Blog - Cedar Lounge Revolution

Best Sport and Recreation Blog - Green and Red

Best News/Current Affairs Blog - Three Thousand Versts of Loneliness

Best Specialist Blog - Irish Taxi

Best Newcomer - Garibaldy Blog

Best Music Blog - Unarocks

Best Humour Blog - Why, That's Delightful

Best Photo Blog - Iced Coffee

Best Blog Post - Splintered Sunrise: Додик: Сарајево кључа од жеље за осветом

Aside from the above, there were also categories for the best blogs in the fields of fashion, technology, business and Irish language. As an unfashionable, technically inept, monolingual creature with no entrepreneurial instinct I am not all that familiar with blogs in these areas so I decided to pass on them. There was also a Best Personal Blog category which I didn’t really get as I always assumed most blogs were personal affairs.

Anyhow, this pointless belated nomination task is now at an end (though I suppose it did provide me with a good excuse to publish a photo of the lovely Kate Winslet). All that's left for me now is to say a genuine thanks to anyone who nominated me in the Best Political Blog category. yourfriendinthenorth doesn't have the Mick Fealtys or the David Vances of this island quaking in their shoes when it comes to daily viewing figures, but its nice to know someone is reading... damn, I hate being nice.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Crystal ball time

Did you happen to catch Tuesday evening's Newsnight discussion on the inauguration of the new US President? Take a trip over to the Beeb's website if you didn't. It is certainly worth a glance as it features three shrewd observers of the American political scene (and Chuck D). Chaired by good old Jeremy Paxman, the debate includes contributions from Christopher Hitchens, Andrew Sullivan, Reihan Salam and the aforementioned New York rapper. While neither the Hitch nor the former Public Enemy frontman uttered anything of note, the two conservative panellists did make some salient points about what lies ahead for the United States. Particularly impressive was the Republican journalist Salam who hit the nail on the head when he stated:

"There is going to be a lot of tension and a lot of frustration and a lot of disappointment among Barack Obama's most ardent supporters. They have very, very high hopes for him. They believe that he embodies their liberal aspirations but in fact he is a very pragmatic politician who believes in process… I think that so many people want to see great things from Barack Obama that I think they are going to forgive a lot of backsliding, they are going to forgive that this is in many repsects a fairly conservative Presidency. If you look at Iraq, you look at Afghanistan and a whole spectrum of issues, Obama is doing what frankly a lot of neoconservatives want him to do."

Reihan Salam is not the first person to recognise Obama's relatively conservative agenda yet hearing such a thing voiced out loud remains something of a rarity, especially on British television where the new President's policies are conveniently ignored in favour of endless hours of news coverage on the historic nature of him assuming power. There are a lot of people, not all of whom are politically naïve impressionable youngsters, that have over the course of the past year or two been swept away by the Obama bandwagon. The whiff of radicalism created by the mix of their candidate's race and eight years of the Republicans in power will in the coming months ebb away when it is slowly realised that he is not the revolutionary some seem to have taken him for.

I should add that this is not a criticism of Obama. I am genuinely quite optimistic about the next four years. Domestically the new man in the White House will offer a much more progressive agenda than that of his predecessor, while abroad he presents a programme that mixes the best elements of the Bush Administration with some intriguing new departures (readers of the Weekly Standard will sleep easier than those of the American Conservative in the coming term). Whether the previously politically disconnected individuals who latched onto the Illinois Senator because of his enigmatic 'Yes We Can' slogan and glitzy campaign rallies will stick by him once tough decisions on Afghanistan, terrorism and the economy have to be made remains to be seen.

I thought Andrew Sullivan also made a decent point when he stated that "for the Republicans it is '97 for the Tories." He could of course have just as easily added that the Democrats are at the same point that Tony Blair was at in 1997 because, just as it was for New Labour back in those golden days of yore, Obama is going through the celebrated honeymoon period where form still holds weight over content. That won't last long. Lofty chatter about historic moments and landmark events will soon subside and in its place people will be a desire for something more - and not just from the chosen one either. The Republicans have lost the White House and constitute a minority in both the Senate and House of Representatives. In the coming years people will look as much to them to provide constructive opposition as they will look to Barack Obama to deliver competent leadership.

So, how can Republicans provide such opposition and put themselves back in contention? Well, they could make a start by taking Sullivan's 1997 analogy and peering across the Atlantic to their closest allies, the British Conservative Party. From this they may gain a clue as how not to commence your period of out of power. The mistake made by the Tories in the immediate aftermath of that historic election of twelve years ago was that they responded to a crushing defeat by moving swiftly to the right. After almost half a decade in opposition the Conservatives under William Hague failed to make any inroads into the Labour vote as they assumed a position that appealed only to the heartlands. Blathering on about Brussels and fox hunting may win you support amongst the sort of people that write letters to the Daily Telegraph moaning about the use of the metric system but it will not win you elections. While the US and UK are extremely different places politically, the GOP should still take note. Just as Europe and foxes didn't get Hague and co into power, the blend of God, guns and gays will not be the basis for a resurgent Republican Party. If stateside conservatives are to get themselves back on track they will most likely do it by looking to people like Reihan Salam and Andrew Sullivan for guidance rather than the hard right. Indeed, the latter's 2006 publication The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How To Get It Back could be a good starting point.

But all of that can wait. For now it still feels as if we are in a kind of limbo - the Bush era over but the Obama one not really begun. Let's see how this new era begins to take shape in the following days, weeks and months. In the meantime, God bless America.

Things that annoy Johnny: No. 126

People who shout "yeeesss!" in an unconvincing manner or pretend to celebrate whenever they get evicted from Celebrity Big Brother.

Excuse me, but if you didn't want to be there why the fuck did you go onto the show in the first place you fame-hungry, money-grabbing prick? Now, piss off back to obscurity. Yes, that's you Tommy Sheridan.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Punk is dead

Well, it's been dead for quite a while now. Further evidence if it were needed though:

Half truths, "must watch" massacres and the Stoppers

This is the second day this week that the Stop the War Coalition has popped up on this blog. On Monday it was Lindsey German and her ridiculous views on what she considered to be a proper ceasefire in Gaza. Today it is an article from the homepage of the organization's website that has been getting on my nerves. The piece in question accompanies a report taken from the al-Jazeera television station which covers the plight of Aboul Aish, a physician living in the Gaza Strip who has in the past worked in Israel. It states:

After weeks of reporting from Gaza in Hebrew on Israeli television, he is interviewed just after the Israeli army shelled his home, on the day before Israel announced a ceasefire, killing his three daughters and two grandsons. The whole of Israel saw this on television, but there have been no public protests. This is just one out of countless such crimes. This is a must watch video, capturing Israeli barbarism in the desperate cries of a father.

What irked me here was the assertion that the "whole of Israel" saw this yet "there have been no public protests." This is bullshit for a number of reasons. Firstly, does the Stop the War Coalition seriously believe that out of all the bombs that have fallen in Gaza and southern Israel over the course of the past month that this one in particular, regardless of how appalling it was, should have been the spur for mass demonstrations? If they do then it does sound exceptionally peculiar.

Secondly, it is a barefaced lie to say that there have been no public protests in Israel. Back on January 3rd 10,000 people marched through Tel Aviv in a protest against the conflict in Gaza. Smaller demonstrations, ranging in size from a few hundred to several thousand, have been taking place on a daily basis in various parts of the country. These rallies have included participation by student groups, trade unionists, peace groups like Gush Shalom and Peace Now, small left wing parties such as Hadash and ordinary Arabs and Jews that took part in the superbly titled coexistence rally last Saturday (how we could have been doing with a few more coexistence rallies in these islands in recent weeks).

Thirdly, the way the StWC has chosen to word part of the piece - "the whole of Israel saw this on television, but there have been no public protests" - seems like an attempt to smear the entire Israeli people as somehow being collectively responsible for what has happened in Gaza by not getting off their backsides to show their revulsion. Again, such garbage should be rejected.

Fourthly, I found the description of the embedded film which accompanied this piece as a "must watch video" just a touch sickening. A few days ago I referred to a post which spoke of anti-war liberals and leftists as "struggle junkies" who treated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a "spectator sport." With footage of a brutal and tragic incident in Gaza now being treated as a "must watch video" one really has to wonder whether certain people genuinely care about what is happening to the ordinary people of that region or whether such things are merely glorified snuff movies that provide them with the visual propaganda/pornography to score points over their political rivals.

Clearly there is very little to be optimistic about at the present time, but at least with the arrival of the ceasefires called by both sides at the weekend the people of southern Israel and the Gaza Strip can look forward to a period of peace. We shall have to see whether these cessations will provide the chance to finally kickstart a real peace process or if it is simply a pause before yet another outbreak of bloodshed. For the time being the struggle junkies will have to find a new hobby to keep them occupied.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

For totalitarianism. Against democratic socialism.

Sean Matgamna of the much-maligned Alliance for Workers Liberty gives the pro-Islamist lefties what for in an article currently being carried the group's website. Despite whatever other failings the AWL may possess at least they have provided a decent left wing analysis of the situation in the Middle East over the past four weeks and for that they should be applauded. Seanie says:

"The kitsch-left has a lot to answer for over the last decade. There is no way of measuring exactly what could have been done to wean sections of Muslim youth away from political Islam, but if the 'left' - in the first place the SWP - had maintained a principled working-class socialist, internationalist, secularist stand, and combined that with defending Muslims against racism and discrimination, for sure more people of Muslim background could have been won to socialism. The clerical fascists would not have had the virtually unchallenged political ride they have had, and still have… The kitsch-left committed political hara-kiri, coloured itself Islamic green - and did its best to help ensure the domination of conservative, reactionary, Islamic-chauvinist politics in the Muslim communities. It has done everything it can to boost Islamic clerical fascism, promote it, and render it politically respectable in the labour movement. We are probably far from seeing the full consequences of the politicisation of sections of the Muslim communities under clerical-fascist hegemony that has taken place and continues now."

Gloomy stuff indeed, but then this is what occurs when you adopt a position as simplistic and crude as that taken by the Socialist Workers Party and the Stop the War Coalition. An example of just how bad things have got for people on the left continuing to preach the traditional values of working class unity came in Sheffield on Saturday when a man holding a placard saying 'NO TO IDF - NO TO HAMAS' and 'Solidarity with women, workers and the left' had the sign taken off him and subsequently destroyed by the chair of the local Palestine Solidarity Campaign and some members of the SWP. Well, if it looks like fascism and it smells like fascism...

"Making the world a better place"

A couple of years back I wrote a post here about an email which I received from a friendly chap called Alex Robinson who was not in anyway involved with those dastardly Nigerian scams, though admittedly he did say that he wanted my name, my address, my bank account details and my telephone number so that he could sort out some financial difficulties that were bothering him back in his native Burkina Faso. I couldn't help Alex. I wonder will anyone be kind enough to help Koffi. Let's hope not.

Hat Tip: Neo-Neocon

Monday, January 19, 2009

Stop the War (on one side) Coalition

Lindsey German saying something stupid wouldn't normally warrant a mention but the downright idiocy of her utterances at a rally in Trafalgar Square on Saturday surpasses even her usual levels of foolishness. On the ceasefire in Gaza:

"This ceasefire is not a ceasefire in any meaningful sense if the Palestinians don't have the right to defend themselves... they have to have that right to defend themselves when they are under such attack... self defence is no offence, and that applies to the people of Gaza more than to anyone else in the world today."

Tom Miller uses a useful analogy of similar truces negotiated by his mother in the past to defuse tensions between himself and his little brother. As Tom points out, the basis for these cessations of hostilities lasting was the understanding that neither brother would attack the other. While the Miller household is most likely a very different place to the Middle East, the point being made here still holds: a ceasefire can only be a ceasefire if both camps commit to ending their violence. This is basic stuff, Lindsey.

And to think that I once bothered my arse reading Sex, Class and Socialism.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Attention struggle junkies!

Thinking of popping out for a spot of protesting today? Well, before you do take a few minutes of your time to read Max Dunbar's excellent piece about the anti-Israeli demonstrations presently taking place across the UK and further afield. As we are currently going through one of those stages where, to paraphrase a reliable old friend, restating the obvious has become something of a necessary act for anyone with an ounce of wit, it is reassuring to know that there are still many on the left that refuse to side with an antisemitic theocratic terrorist organisation. The excerpt from an article penned by David T of Harry's Place is also worth mulling over for a few seconds:

"Gaza has become, in effect, a spectator sport for those on the far Left. They stand on the sidelines, cheering their side. Whatever the outcome, it makes no difference to them. This is entertainment, for struggle-junkies."

Entertainment for struggle junkies? Could there be an element of truth to this? Has getting involved in Middle East demos become something of a past time for a part of our population? Do they want to have some stories to tell their kids when they get older? Did the bullying of Jewish workers by Irish republicans in Belfast last Saturday provide éirígí members with a bit of craic before they went to the pub to watch Celtic play Dundee? Possibly. Protesting certainly does have a social element; when I was growing up I knew plenty of lads who loved chucking petrol bombs and stones at the British Army and the RUC, not because of injustice or a feeling of alienation, but simply because it was good fun. I have no doubt that similarly simplistic motives exist with many of those burning flags and smashing up coffee shops.

Still, if you are planning some protesting later on do wrap up warm because the weather forecast is quite nasty. And do try to be home in time for tea. Take care.

Friday, January 16, 2009

For the sake argument: "History will show that George W. Bush was right"

One of the most encouraging things that will finally go come the end of the Bush Administration in a few days time will be the pleasant demise of nine years of irritating 'Bushisms'. These Dubya quotations (which I've already moaned about previously this week in relation to an unimaginative item on the BBC website) have formed the basis of the only opinion on contemporary politics held by many dim people - namely that Bush is, like, a dumbass and shit. How good it is then to see someone, and particularly someone resident in these islands, stick their head above the parapet and lavish praise on the outgoing President. An admirer of GWB or an ideological bedfellow of the "extremely right wing" historian Andrew Roberts I most certainly am not, but I do love a good argument and his piece in yesterday's Daily Telegraph certainly has the potential to ignite one of those. One of the few consistent supporters of the Texan in the UK since his election back in 2000, Roberts will no doubt be the target of several shoes if he chooses to venture into Trafalgar Square this Saturday afternoon:

"Iraq has been a victory for the US-led coalition, a fact that the Bush-haters will have to deal with when perspective finally – perhaps years from now – lends objectivity to this fine man's record."

As disappointing as it may be for some, Iraq has indeed been a victory for the United States and its allies. According to President-elect Obama he is committed to finishing off the job against the Taleban and al-Qaeda. I am quietly confident that he will stay true to his word. For the last few years I have been of the opinion that (in an ideal world) it would have been preferable for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the global fight against terrorism to have been handled under a competent Democratic Presidency. At least now we face the possibility of this campaign being concluded during one.

Hating George W. Bush was of course frightfully easy. Disliking Obama during the 2008 Presidential campaign was virtually impossible for anyone living outside of the USA. One now waits to see what the reaction will be from anti-war liberals and leftists when their beloved one orders the first troop surge or air strikes of his Administration. Now, that will be interesting.

All the President's dull mainstream musicians

Though I am deeply ashamed to have to admit to it, I once saw Duran Duran play live in Belfast. Sad, I know. However, the concert organised for this weekend to kick off several days of inauguration festivities in Washington is worse. Much worse. Sting. Bono (obviously). Garth Brooks. Doesn't Barack Obama deserve something a tad better than this after all those months of campaigning? Maybe there is a hell after all. At least Simon Le Bon won't be there though. Will he?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

How many fascists does it take to burn a flag?

Answer: quite a few. A handful of Belfast thugs struggle with trying to set the Star of David alight outside City Hall during Saturday's demonstration. I actually feel a wee bit embarrassed for the poor guys in the tracksuit bottoms who, after two minutes of fucking around trying to get the flag on fire, decide to drop it and walk off while all the time attempting to preserve their hardman façade. Bless:



But even less amusing than the shambles above was their actions in the CastleCourt shopping centre earlier that same day when they targeted a group of young Israeli workers who were manning the Sea Spa Skin Care stall in the middle of the mall. According to Mark McGregor over at Slugger O'Toole: "They were focusing on the Spa products stall in the mall staffed by Israeli's who have the difficult job of accosting shoppers and trying to get them interested in their products. The products are sourced from the Dead Sea. éirígí members threw lots leaflets from the gallery above over the stall and around 30 surrounded it waving Palestinian flags, throwing more leaflets and chanting 'boycott Israeli' goods."

And that, comrades, is what an Israeli boycott really looks like when it finally moves from the relatively harmless territory of the websites, the blog links and the mailshots and manifests itself on the streets: bullying young workers at a skin care stall in a shopping centre. More Kristallnacht than Karl Marx, but then does that really surprise you?


UPDATE: I originally stated at the beginning of this post that the men featured in the video above were "aligned to the Irish republican éirígí organisation." This line has now been removed. According to the abovementioned Mark McGregor from Slugger O'Toole none of the individuals attempting to set fire to the flag were members of éirígí. However, the organisation has acknowledged its involvement in the protests at the CastleCourt shopping centre and Marks and Spencer. Apologies for the confusion.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Left-wing fascism: an infantile disorder

"Then, in Italy, the trade union Flaica-Cub called for a boycott of all Jewish shops in Rome in solidarity with the citizens of Gaza. According to their spokesman Giancarlo Desiderati, there should be 'a boycott of all shops in central Rome linked to the Israelite community.' They have handed out flyers warning customers that anything they buy in Jewish owned shops 'are tainted by blood.' But, of course, he was quick to point out that he wasn't being anti-Semitic, just anti-Israeli."

Ian O'Doherty
Irish Independent
January 12th 2008

"Don't be going to Marks and Spencer," I overheard a colleague utter to a friend last week during one of the many poorly informed exchanges going on in my workplace regarding the continuing crisis in the Middle East. When the baffled co-worker asked why he should refrain from purchasing goods from Marksy's he was greeted with a fairly terse response: "They're Jews."

Like my friend above I also choose not to shop at Marks and Spencer, though not for the reasons that motivated a handful of fools to hold a protest at the chain's branch in central Belfast at the weekend. I think its worth establishing this now just in case you are under the impression that this blog has been in existence for the best part of two and a half years simply to promote over-priced food and clothing for middle class people who don't want to share aisles with the kind of reprobates that push their trolleys around Tesco. Aside from the sumptuous dulcet tones of the delectable Dervla Kirwan in their advertisements, M&S don't really float my boat. Whether or not the chief executives of the company attend synagogue regularly tends not to keep me awake at night.

Unfortunately such details probably do keep the pro-Iranian Islamists who run the Boycott Israel Campaign website awake into the early hours. I first came across this site via the link provided to it on the reactionary Catholic nationalist blog Balrog. While most anti-Israeli boycott campaigners like their propaganda material to incorporate a shrewdly worded justification of their position to avoid being smeared with the dreaded antisemitism label, the BIC evidently don't give a damn what folks think of them.

In certain sections of their site you can purchase a wide range of Islamist goodies, ranging from artwork from the 1979 Iranian Revolution to a disturbing 'Islamic Fun' CD-ROM for children featuring a Hezbollah video game in which you "are a farmer in South Lebanon who has joined the Islamic Resistance to defend your land and family from the invading Zionists." Fun indeed. The site provides a list of fatwas issued by Islamic scholars plus an enlightening perspective on how so many Jewish people left Arab countries during the course of the 20th century. It is stated that "Jews from Islamic lands did not emigrate willingly to Israel; that, to force them to leave, Jews killed Jews." For analysis on goings on in Iraq the website features a speech from Sheikh Hassan Zargani, a spokesperson for Muqtada al-Sadr's sectarian Sadrist Movement. All in all, not the sort of stuff any progressive minded individual would want to be associated with.

Although a regrettably large section of the far left have now deteriorated into cheerleaders for clerical bigots and anyone else willing to brand themselves anti-western, it is encouraging to know that there at least remain some Marxists prepared to defend secular principles. The Alliance for Workers Liberty has consistently opposed the sort of counterproductive knee-jerk calls for boycotts that so many trade unions, student organisations and ultra leftists have demanded. As well as this they have argued robustly against attempts to draw comparisons between Israel and some of the more unsavoury regimes of yesteryear. In a leaflet distributed at the protests in London on Saturday they outlined their position on how socialists should approach the State of Israel. It is hard to fault:

"(Israel) is NOT fascist. There are legal strikes and protests (including in support of the Palestinians) in Israel; there are free elections, and Arab members of the Knesset. Anyone who thinks Israel is a fascist state should wise up, fast.

It is NOT carrying out a Holocaust. Israel's oppression of the Palestinians is an outrage, but it should not be necessary to point out why it is not comparable to the Nazis mass, industrialized slaughter of European Jews. The comparison is designed to be offensive.

It is NOT an apartheid state. The South African regime was based on a white caste exploiting the labour of the black workers; Israel is a nation, with its own exploited working class, which occupies another nation and treats it as a colony. Both apartheid and colonialism are brutal, but the solutions are clearly different. Israel discriminates against non-Jewish citizens (but also Jews of Arab origin), which we oppose – but most capitalist states discriminate against minorities; that does not make them apartheid states."

The leaflet goes on to correctly highlight the fact that "many Jewish people worldwide see themselves as Zionist while also supporting the Palestinians" and adds that the AWL does not "go along with the demonization of 'Zionists', as if Israeli nationalism were intrinsically worse than other nationalisms."

Despite being a fairly insignificant sect, the Alliance for Workers Liberty has a history of challenging the inclination of the British left to unthinkingly rush to adopt sloppy anti-Israeli views and once more the position they have assumed on the current crisis is commendable. Rather than jump on the bandwagon of giving easy sympathy to Palestinians while unconditionally denouncing everything about Israel the AWL have provided a recognisably left wing analysis of the situation by attacking both the military assault on Gaza and condemning the Islamist movement that has turned that area into a terrorist-run gremlin state. They have also stressed the necessity for solidarity with workers on both sides of the divide while emphasising the reality of a two state solution in the region. How reassuring it is too to see people willing to reject inane garbage comparing Israel's war with Hamas to the Holocaust. This distasteful comparison no doubt comes from the same individuals who complain about the disproportionate response by the IDF to the firing of Qassam rockets at Sderot and other areas. Surely though even they are bound to recognise the disproportionate nature of their comparison between what is going on in Gaza today and the organised extermination of millions of Jews in Nazi death camps.

We are currently in the midst of a carnival for absurd comments on the Middle East. Some of them could, if you were feeling kind, be excused as heat of the moment remarks. However, no defence should be offered for those so-called socialists, republicans and progressives that enthusiastically give their backing to theocratic fascist thugs or lend their support to Islamist-led boycotts of Israeli goods. No matter how they choose their words they are doing the entire left a great disservice. The sooner they realise that the better.

I still won't be buying my Yorkshire puddings from M&S though.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Must try harder

Have the lads and lassies running the BBC website become a wee bit lazy in the past few days? With us now in the first month of the year 2009 I really cannot think of anything less imaginative than compiling a comprehensive list of so-called Bushisms and then passing it off as an original article. The Beeb's website is generally reliable enough but this particular item is frankly unforgivable. Or am I the only person who stopped finding these little quips funny many, many years ago?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sexy? No, no, no

Rejoice! Lucy Pinder has been given the boot from Celebrity Big Brother. I would love to say I haven't seen a single second of this year's edition of CBB but if I was to tell you that I'd be peddling a filthy big lie. Its not that I don't make attempts to avoid it. Honest. Every evening for the past few days I've usually found myself flicking around Freeview no man's land (that 71-channel space between BBC FOUR and BBC News that only ever appears to broadcast endless repeats of Top Gear and Friends) searching in vain for something to inform educate brainlessly entertain me when suddenly the sight of a former weather girl, a dwarf, a rapper and a Scottish lefty chatting to a crown-wearing Terry Christian forces me to down my remote control.

However, far from accidentally stumbling upon the programme in a hopeless bout of midweek station surfing last night I tuned into Channel 4 (on purpose) to see who would be first to be evicted from the Big Brother house: Ulrika Jonsson or Lucy Pinder. I can’t say that prior to this week I would have had a preference for either of these talent-free individuals but then there came a moment which tipped me towards the Swedish lassie. Earlier this week the glamour model Pinder announced, much to the delight if Iain Dale, that she was "a bit of a Tory Bird… best not to put me in with any bleeding heart liberals." While Mr Dale greeted this with an annoying "go girl" statement of solidarity, the always reliable Charlie Brooker took a more rational approach to the worthless tart:

"Pinder, meanwhile, went from "sexy" to "plain" in a nanosecond: as soon as she mentioned her Tory outlook in her introductory VT, you could hear intelligent penises shrivelling across the nation. I've got nothing against curvy, booby glamour girls, but the moment they start banging on about the Conservative party they turn into ugly, soulless dolls. As a result, she could don lingerie and spend the rest of the week doing rude aerobics, and it still wouldn't help. Now you know what's in her head, the exterior's been rendered so unattractive she might as well be excreting dog food from her presumably shaved and talcum-powdered orifices. Seriously, only a psychopath could find that attractive. And when you're supposed to be sexy for a living, that's a major problem."

What is it about fuckwit page 3 models and reactionary politics? Remember Danielle Lloyd? She was one of the idiots caught up in the racism row in CBB back in 2007. Lloyd, who infamously remarked that fellow contestant Shilpa Shetty should "fuck off home", stated in in an interview with the Independent that if she was a politicians she would "get more people into work and stop people coming into the country. There's so many people who come into England because they know they can get benefits. People who already live here should get the jobs. But I don't really know much about politics." No shit. At least that section of the population that can be bothered to vote in reality TV competitions don't seem to be swayed by candidates and their right wing views.

Still, if Celebrity Big Brother isn't your cup of tea, or like me you just feel a tad guilty for devoting several minutes of your day to the show, then perhaps you should click here for a small sign that maybe there is still some hope for humanity. Maybe.

Fáilte go Béal Feirste*

Hezbollah flags on display. Israeli flags being burned. Yes, its yet another misleadingly titled 'anti-war' protest in Belfast city centre. This all came on the same day as thousands of demonstrators marched through London with some allies from the British left holding up a range of pro-Hamas and pro-al-Qaeda flags and banners. Here are a couple of photos from my own city of a thousand welcomes:



Meanwhile, earlier today in Israel hundreds of Arabs and Jews formed a human chain along Highway 65 in what was termed a coexistence rally. Oddly only one sign - which read "Hand in Hand - Neighbours for Peace" - was visible at the protest. But sure what would these dupes of imperialism know? They only live there. They've probably never heard of Eamonn McCann or Annie Lennox:


Hat Tips: BBC Northern Ireland and Harry's Place

*Or alternatively: Walcome tae Bilfawst. If you're that way inclined. Don't want to be sectarian or anything like.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Woah there David!

David Vance seems like an affable old reactionary but every now and again he does appear to let the success of his extremely popular A Tangled Web blog go to his head. Here's a comment by the man himself from an ATW post last week concerning the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East:

"I suppose I am amongst the most forthright critics of Hamas here in the UK, and suffer more than a few slings and arrows for my bother."

A forthright critic of Hamas and other Islamofascists Vancey certainly is, but one of the most prominent in the United Kingdom? OK, he probably is one of the top dogs in Northern Ireland. He definitely is Hamas’s main opponent in Donaghcloney. Yet in UK-wide terms I still tend to think of Melanie Phillips or Oliver Kamm or David Aaronovitch or, in blogging terms, the lads over at Harry's Place when it comes to giving Islamists a good thrashing on a regular basis.

Since David Aaronovitch has been mentioned its also probably not a bad time to digress and direct you to his most recent article in which he repudiates all that bullshit currently emanating from the Gallowayite/Mosleyite 'left' drawing comparisons between what is happening today in Gaza and what happened during the Nazi Holocaust in the 1940s. Proper order, David.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Fancy threads

What does the Northern Ireland international football team and the Russian avant-garde art movement have in common? Answer: bugger all. Well, almost. The t-shirt worn by the pretty girl above is one of a handful of equally lovely garments currently being flogged over at notbrazil.co.uk, website of the excellent Happy Days fanzine. As you can see, they have borrowed my Blogger profile picture Alexander Rodchenko's iconic and much imitated 1924 poster for the Gosizdat publishing house (though as the chick on the tee is not Lilya Brik its probably more accurate to say they have borrowed from a Franz Ferdinand album cover, but lets not be pedantic). Still, nice t-shirt. Beats those England ones on Philosophy Football. And only £4 too. Sure at the very least it'll keep you warm during the credit crunch. What it can’t do is improve on a FIFA world ranking of 52.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Shaddap you face

"It is, of course, much easier to shout, abuse, and howl than to attempt to relate, to explain."

Lenin
April Theses

A clash of the titans it most certainly was not but George Galloway's 'interview' with Oliver Kamm on talkSPORT at the weekend is still worth a listen to, if only to see just how pitifully poor a host the gorgeous one really is. This actually could have been quite an interesting exchange. I recall seeing Kamm on BBC Northern Ireland's Hearts and Minds show last year when he debated the legacy of Che Guevara with the Socialist Workers Party's Eamonn McCann. While nobody will be pushing the Beeb to release DVDs of that particular encounter, the Noel Thompson-chaired discussion was at least conducted in a mature fashion. Not the same here. With talkSPORT, like all talk radio, content and quality is not the name of the game. Entertainment and ratings are what they're chasing. Essentially what you end up with is a slightly more articulate version of the kind of row you would find in your local pub on a Friday night. The listeners and the people who phone in (all most all of whom are implausibly stupid) want nothing more than a good row and the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow is only too happy to give them one.

From the outset Galloway makes clear that he doesn't like Kamm and later emphasises that the Times journalist was "not my choice" to be a guest on the programme. Evidently George would have been more content wowing idiotic drunks with his remarkable vocabulary than getting drawn into the messier business of conducting a debate with someone who might be a tad more cerebral than his good self (which may be another reason why he hardly ever turns up at Westminster).

Kamm, who to his credit did at least appear to have been up for a proper debate, doesn't get much of a chance to even get started as Galloway reduces the level of dialogue to petty name calling and trivial sniping at his guest. He hisses at him for being a "banker" (sounds like wanker, get it?) and pulls him up for using the term interlocutor twice (this from the man who brought you indefatigability). Listeners can also quite clearly hear Oliver Kamm being faded out at points where he is obviously trying to speak, something which he has commented on at his Times blog here and here. Even so, despite being cut off and shut up by his host he still manages to come out of his looking far better. George just appears like a rambling old fool. Olly even managed to find a way of shutting the Scot up. He mentioned Christopher Hitchens:

Monday, January 05, 2009

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Hamas move against collaborators (i.e. people not in Hamas)

What a truly odd beast Hamas is. A report in today's Jerusalem Post sheds some light on how the organisation has been acting towards its fellow Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in the days from when Operation Cast Lead commenced up to the beginning of yesterday evening's ground offensive by the IDF. According to Fatah officials in Ramallah, 75 of their Gaza-based members were shot in the legs by Hamas while a number of others had their hands broken. One man, Wisam Abu Jalhoum, was shot last week for apparently welcoming the air strikes. 35 other Gazans have also been executed in recent days due to fears they were conspiring with Israel to topple the Islamist movement. A senior figure from Mahmoud Abbas's organisation has stated that "Hamas is very nervous because they feel that their end is nearing. They have been waging a brutal campaign against Fatah members in the Gaza Strip."

Along with Arafat's rejection of the peace proposals at Camp David and Ariel Sharon's election as Israeli Prime Minister in 2001, the rise to prominence of Hamas in the occupied territories has been one of the worst setbacks for peace and an independent Palestinian state in recent times. The fact that they would even at this stage use the events of the past week to settle old scores and prolong the mini civil war within the Palestinian community proves just how devastating they have been for their own people.

I certainly will not shed any tears for them if we are now witnessing the beginning of their downfall. Given the choice between (an admittedly flawed) Fatah and a clerical fascist organisation that continue to uphold the ludicrous demand for the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic state in Palestine I would much rather opt for the former. Whether the end of Hamas is nearing remains to be seen. Only time will tell.

Who are we again?

If Eamon Gilmore is looking to come up with a form of words that will shift the Labour Party out of the rut they've been stuck in for more than ten years now he's really going to have to come up with something slightly more inspirational than the quote that currently sits proudly on top of the party's homepage. I'm sure Comrade Gilmore is a nice bloke but MLK he ain't. They aren't Fianna Fail you know:

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Hey lads, what could possibly go wrong?

I wonder precisely what was going through Tommy Sheridan's head when he decided that it would be a good idea to take up the offer of going onto Celebrity Big Brother? He must surely be conscious of the fact that absolutely no good whatsoever can come out of this. At best the most Sheridan can hope for is to leave the Channel 4 show just slightly less embarrassed than another certain Scot who took up the same invitation a couple of years back. At worst… well, anything is possible. The question is has our Tommy gone totally insane? Has he become so desperate for exposure that he now believes in that old Wildean quip about the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about? Perhaps he's looking to launch a new career outside politics like that other ex-Millie Derek Hatton. Or maybe, just maybe, he's a wee bit thick. I suppose it could be a mixture of all of these. Whatever his motivations, it will be difficult to feel one single iota of sympathy for Tommy when the whole fiasco blows up in his face.

We've been here before of course. Back in 2006 George Galloway entered the Celebrity Big Brother house and subsequently made himself and the entire RESPECT party look like a pack of complete tits in the process (though it did give us that magnificent moment in which the SWP's John Rees appeared on Newsnight to justify GG's decision to slurp milk with Rula Lenska). But while Galloway can at least brush his experience off as a gamble that went horribly wrong, Sheridan can have no such excuse - he knows what he's in for. And anyway, shouldn't Tommy be somewhere else at the moment?

With the current crisis in the Gaza Strip ongoing - and perhaps even about to escalate with a potential Israeli ground assault - shouldn't the leader of "Scotland's Socialist Movement" (their words, not mine) be providing a voice for his Tartan comrades in the global struggle against Zionism? Realising that some of Solidarity's more serious members may object to their leader cavorting around on a reality TV show with a former rapper, an ex member of the Sugababes, Ulrika Jonsson and a dwarf recently caught up in a sex tape scandal (well, at least he'll have someone to chat with) while hundreds of people are dying in the Middle East, the organisation last night put out a statement which "neither endorses nor condemns this TV appearance" and added:

"Tommy has circulated a statement to Solidarity members outlining his reasons for choosing to participate in the programme. For Solidarity, January will be a busy month as our members step up the protests against Israel's slaughter in Gaza, and advance our initiative for left unity in the next elections. Tommy might miss some of these events due to him working away for up to three weeks. Solidarity will continue as normal in the meantime, as we do when any member, including Tommy, is unavailable. We wish Tommy all the best and hope to see him back soon."

I would love to see this note which he has circulated to Solidarity members justifying his entry onto Celebrity Big Brother. RESPECT tried to defend Gorgeous George's infamous adventure by saying it would give UK-wide publicity to a group that did not have the same level of access to the airwaves as the establishment parties. In the end there turned out to be very little discussion about RESPECT manifestos or policies (though that reality TV editing can be a bugger sometimes). No doubt Sheridan will try and sell this narcissistic voyage to the grassroots as a potential platform to promote radical left politics to the masses or some such bollocks. We shall see. I also like how they describe this as him "working away." Nice work if you can get it.

A couple of years ago Tommy Sheridan was accusing both his old comrades and the Rupert Murdoch press of being part of an MI5 conspiracy to destroy him. Now, as he spends his first night living the belly of the trash media beast, one wonders what part of the capitalist order the Glaswegian will point the finger at after this whole sorry affair. You know, you could almost feel a wee bit sorry for him. Almost.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Deliver us from evil

Michael Newdow has once again embarked on his commendable but ultimately futile quadrennial attempt to have superstitious, irrational and archaic references to higher beings removed from the Pledge of Allegiance taken by the most powerful man on the planet. This will of course inevitably fail and in four years time Newdow will inevitably repeat the same thing over again with the same inevitable results. I may even be writing a post similar to this come January 2013. Still, god we all love a tryer.

Something undoubtedly more avoidable than the pledge of office that Barack Obama will take on January 20th is the godbothering, reactionary, bigoted, anti-Semitic, anti-gay, anti-choice, dictatorship worshipping Christian rip-off merchant Rick Warren who will unfortunately be present at the inauguration. For more on this vermin check out here and here. First, Jeremiah Wright. Now this prick. Someone really needs to have a word the President-elect.