I Read It in the Daily Mail

The Daily Mail this week achieved what seemed like an impossible goal – to be roundly criticized by all three major political parties in the UK. Yes, Labour, Liberal Democrats, and Conservative leaders are all disgusted by the vile attack on Ralph Miliband, father of the present Labour leader, Ed Miliband. The article, by Geoffrey Levy, calls him a Marxist, which is fine because he was, but also says he “hated Britain.” This is doubly bizarre because Ralph Miliband came here as a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, and joined the Royal Navy to fight against the Nazis.

The Guardian has the main article here, among others exploring the developing story. Ed Miliband demanded space in the Mail to respond to Levy’s libel, and its editor, Paul Dacre, was forced to accede with ill grace. Miliband’s response is here, accompanied by the Mail’s reiteration of Levy’s accusations and an editorial in which it refuses to apologize.

The Mail’s behaviour is despicable because they’re attacking Miliband’s father as a way of attacking Miliband himself, who they called “Red Ed” right from the moment he was elected leader of the Labour Party. If only their fevered imaginations saw clearly. In truth, he has shamefully accepted large chunks of the Tory agenda, but he’s still the only hope of reversing the lurch to a Victorian past.

What makes it worse is the paper’s antisemitic history, supporting Mosley’s Blackshirts in the 1930s, sympathizing with Hitler right up to the start of war, and demonizing Jewish refugees. See this telling blog post on Pride’s Purge, with a clipping from the paper headlined, “German Jews Pouring Into This Country.” That would be the result of the actions of a certain Mr A. Hitler, good friend of the Mail’s owner, Lord Rothermere.

So who “hates Britain” now?

The Daily Mail is a truly evil, hate-spewing rag, and not just because of this issue. They hate immigrants (Muslims are the new Jews), the unemployed, poor, feminists, single mothers, atheists, secularists, and so on ad absurdum. The following video is the ultimate take-down, demonstrating exactly why the Mail is evil, starting with their penchant for drooling over photos of under-age girls.

TED Talks: Maz Jobrani on being an Iranian-American

A weekly post featuring talks by innovative thinkers, sponsored by TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design). This is what the internet was made for – to allow challenging ideas to escape from their academic ghettoes and hang out in a place where they can talk to each other.

Maz Jobrani is an Iranian-American stand-up comic, part of the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour. His work is about the absurdities and contradictions of being born in a country widely regarded as evil, while living as an American citizen. He’s funny, astute, and you should watch this because he blows away all the stereotypes.

Rain City Superheroes

America takes its superheroes seriously. They’ve become icons of American exceptionalism, personifying perceived national values like freedom, capitalism, and democracy. It’s true that in these ironic times superheroes are allowed to have their darker aspects, as in Michael Keaton’s portrayal of a brooding Caped Crusader in Batman. Tim Burton seems to be a sort of licensed Hollywood court jester who is allowed to go where other directors fear to tread. But they’ve usually been portrayed in films as a fairly wholesome bunch.

Another, more radical, interpretation is provided by the splendid 2010 black comedy, Kick-Ass. This is about Do It Yourself, aspirational superheroes, where a geeky high school kid puts on a silly costume and goes out to kick ass, suffering bone-crunching injuries before he learns to dish it out to the bad guys himself. It’s also notable for the foul-mouthed 11 year old girl he teams up with, who teaches him the tricks of the trade. Even then, he’s still a geeky kid at heart.

Which brings me to Rain City Superheroes, a group of 10 wannabe superheroes who patrol Seattle’s mean streets and glory in such personas as Phoenix Jones, Mr. Xtreme, Urban Avenger, Pitch Black, Knight Owl, and Ghost. Here’s a news report featuring Phoenix Jones, their spokesman, and couple of his cohorts.

But every superhero needs a villain and, not surprisingly, one has popped up to challenge Phoenix Jones. This is Rex Velvet, a faux-British sort of chap, who comes over as an evil, demented John Steed. I’m impressed. Can’t wait to see Phoenix Jones and Rex Velvet go head to head.

Where Rex Velvet is obviously a satirical poke at the Rain City Superhero Movement, I’m actually a bit worried about Phoenix Jones and the “superheroes” who are taking this seriously. We have enough vigilantes already, what with the likes of  George Zimmerman provoking confrontations based on the dubious stand your ground laws, now being endorsed by the NRA.

What happens when “superheroes” carry concealed firearms, as they are perfectly entitled to under the crazy American laws on gun ownership? What is now an entertaining clown show could turn into something tragic.

Well, the cheek of it!

Saddam Hussein’s statue, that is, last seen being pulled down in Baghdad in 2003. Apparently one buttock, which escaped being melted down, was acquired by a Derbyshire man who has now fallen foul of the Iraq (United Nations Sanctions) Order 2003. Thus becoming the butt of a thousand jokes. You can get to the bottom of the story in this Guardian article.

I promise not make any more buns – puns! – for the rest of this post. Bloggers, and possibly their readers, are so easily amused.

So why are the police feeling this man’s collar? The Iraq (United Nations Sanctions) Order 2003 forbids the illegal removal of Iraqi cultural property. But since the rest of the statue was melted down for scrap, and it was never of great artistic value, the police investigation does seem like an overreaction.

Amazingly, the Iraqi government want the buttock back. As the ex-soldier who rescued it in 2003 said, it’s “like the Elgin Marbles with attitude.” I can understand why to some extent. To live under a dictatorship, and then have your country trashed by your liberators, entails a devastating loss of history. It will be written by the dictator, and then the invaders, to justify their actions. To control your own history is an essential element of national pride, and perhaps even Saddam Hussein’s buttock is part of the jigsaw that will make them whole again.

And the comfort that people sometimes derive from dictators should not be underestimated. They make the trains run on time and absolve us of the hard decisions. This 2007 Daily Mail article is telling. One of the men who happily pulled down that statue in 2003 is regretting the fall of Saddam Hussein: “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.”

Alternatively, I could be over-thinking this. Perhaps they want it back to show what a complete arse the man was.

Colbert for President 2012

The Guardian reported yesterday that Stephen Colbert has taken the first step to running in the Republican primaries. On his show, The Colbert Report, he signed over authority to Jon Stewart to raise funds on his behalf. Thus opening the way to creating a super PAC, which can raise as much money as it likes for a candidate, as long as it’s not co-ordinating directly with the candidate.

The Blue Meanies won’t let me play or share clips from Friday’s show, but I do have Colbert’s epiphany on the Thursday show. A poll shows that, were he to run, he would get 5% of the Republican vote as against Jon Huntsman’s 4%. Watch Colbert struggling to make a decision in this video.

Obviously it’s satire, but American politics in general, and Republican politics in particular, are a parody of the democratic system. They are fueled by obscene amounts of corporate political donations, which were given a legal rubber stamp by the Supreme Court decision in the case of Citizens United.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 08-205 (2010), 558 U.S. ––––, 130 S.Ct. 876 (January 21, 2010), was a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court holding that the First Amendment prohibits government from placing limits on independent spending for political purposes by corporations and unions.

The creeping notion of corporate personhood has reached its apotheosis in this insane ruling, with dire consequences for American democracy, which wasn’t in great shape to begin with.

So if Colbert can draw attention to the absurdity of the situation by pretending to run for “President of South Carolina,” then he’s a hero. This what news media should be talking about, not leaving it up to a comedian.

A few suggestions for Colbert’s campaign:

1) Pronounce the last syllable of your name to rhyme with shirt. Republicans hate the French.

2) Choose Tina Fey as your running mate. She already has the Sarah Palin vote sewn up.

3) Adopt this campaign slogan: Colbert/Fey Go All The Way!!! Really, it’s a winner.

I hope that helps.

Jesus and Mo: Storm in a Beer Mug?

Good news for University College London’s Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society. They put this cartoon on a FaceBook page, advertising a society event, but the Student Union wanted it taken down. The atheists stuck to their guns, and the Student Union have now backed off. See the Guardian article for a complete account of the brouhaha.

So, a victory for freedom of expression. I’m genuinely surprised there was so much fuss about what is a rather charming cartoon about two friends having a pint together. How do I know they’re friends? Because the cartoon is the second frame in a strip. All 4 frames are drawn the same, but the first has the caption, Today Jesus, Mo, and the barmaid have pledged not to say anything which might cause one of them to be offended. The fourth frame has Mo saying, This is nice, isn’t it? Gentle satire on the stupidity of religious conflict, with a sideswipe at political correctness.

Jesus and Mo is a series. Behind the personae of verbally sparring college room-mates, they are the mouthpieces of Christianity and Islam. They also spend a lot of time in the pub, debating among themselves and with the barmaid, who always wins the argument.

Now let’s turn to a far nastier cartoon. The Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy is well-known, and I don’t need to rehash it here. The cartoon on the right is the most egregious of them all, and I’m including it only to illustrate my point.

To be completely clear, I’m a atheist, I think all religions are doctrinal nonsense, and none of them should be allowed any institutional power. No belief should be immune from criticism, and I firmly believe that no-one has the right not to be offended.

That said, the devil’s in the motivation. To my mind, the Danish cartoons spring from bigotry, as does the burqa ban in France. Just in case anyone should think I want to condemn Muslim women to living in a sack, there is provision for a fine and imprisonment if convicted of forcing them to wear it. See my previous blog post here for further thoughts on the subject.

It’s telling that while most newspapers recognized the bigotry, and did not reprint the Danish cartoons, the media that thrive on bigotry pounced on them with glee. I give you, reluctantly, Human Events, which glories in the likes of Ann CoulterNewt Gingrich, and Pat Buchanan. The last thing we need is propaganda.

Jesus and Mo, in contrast, is a humane take on religious belief, bringing it right back to human beings where it belongs. Better yet, it’s funny. Exactly what the debate needs, rather than hatred masquerading as fundamentalist principle.