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Saturday, November 23, 2002

Pub pays the price for patrons' inebriated shuffling

This is all over the place.

Just consider this: there are people whose job it is to enforce these rules. They get up in the morning, go to whatever dingy little council dungeon they work in and sit down to consider matters such as whether people in a pub indulged in "rhythmic moving" last Friday night. They conduct investigations, write reports and recommend penalties. Procedure is followed rigourously. People spend their time doing this. How dismal, how pitiable are these souls, consigned to Purgatory, their intellectual efforts confined to the grim grey filing cabinet of regulation?

Do you feel better about your job now?

Friday, November 22, 2002

My Name Is Lukashenko

Quotitis strikes again. The Guardian is quite taken with President Alexander Lukashenko of Belurus and considers his snubbing by NATO to be vindictive. John Laughland thinks that far from being Eastern Europe's resident retro-tyrant, he's actually a bit of a hero:

The reasons given for the west's hostility towards Belarus are that Lukashenko is authoritarian and a "dictator". This is an odd charge, given that the losing candidates in last September's presidential elections conceded that the incumbent president had won more votes than them.

What's so odd about the charge? Why the irony hazard lights? Lukashenko's regime is indeed a dictatorship, as indicated here, here, and here.

But Laughland doesn't think Belarus's human rights record is worth addressing as long as Lukashenko is busy defying the capitalist West:

The real reason why the west hates Lukashenko has nothing to do with concern for democracy or human rights. It is instead that, as a genuinely popular politician who has preserved his country from the worst ravages which economic reform has inflicted on its neighbours, Lukashenko is not given to taking orders.

A dictatorship isn't mitigated by being elected anyway. Hitler won more votes than his opponents but nobody's going to dust off the quotations for him.

Clearly Laughland considers criticism of NATO and America to be of supreme importance, and he's content to be an apologist for a dictator as long as it serves that end.

Via AtlanticBlog, Cinderella Bloggerfeller and everyone else with an ounce of sense.


Thursday, November 21, 2002

Too Kurt For Comfort

Andrew Sullivan brings us Newsweek's reluctance to reprint certain segments of Kurt Cobain's diaries. It's understandably cagey about including delightful observations such as: "I like to make incisions into the belly of infants then ---- the incisions until the child dies." The bowdlerised version still contains plenty of Cobain's morbid musings about how awful everything is, but they're not half as exciting without a musical accompaniment.

It's a real pity that the gloomy grunger has been elevated to the status of cultural icon because this inevitably sanitises his reputation. If you ask anyone about Kurt Cobain nowadays you'll probably hear him described as a "tortured genius" - the somewhat petulant Van Gogh of rock. The standard picture is of the dreamy-eyed artist, too sincere to survive in a hypocritical world. As the early 1990s recede into nostalgia it's possible to forget how unpalatable Cobain's rage was. It's ironic that the thing that irked him the most - the co-opting of his image into a media-friendly presentation - has proceeded apace since his death. His lionisation is something he would have abhorred.

When I was seventeen years old I thought Nirvana was exactly what rock music needed - a blast of fresh air. I never bought into the hero-worship of Cobain, because I saw Nirvana's music as a joint effort, not an extension of Cobain's ego. However, many people thought Nirvana were the saviours of rock music, sweeping away the pop-metal fakeness of late eighties commercial metal. They certainly helped cause a seismic change in the musical landscape, and it was quite amusing to watch the appalling bands and styles of the day being culled without mercy. One year poodle-haired glam bands were playing arenas, the next they were dropped from their labels - spandex trousers, hair extensions and all - wondering what the hell happened?

When I was twenty, and Kurt Cobain died, I started to wonder who was going to save rock music from Nirvana. More precisely, who was going to save it from Nirvana's anodyne, MTV-friendly imitators. The mass extinction of the rock dinosaurs was probably long overdue, but the musical landscape which survived the meteor - and which endures to this day - is scarcely more interesting. I simply refuse to believe that the nu-metal nonsense of Limp Bizkit and the pretend-punk of Sum 41 represent anything more than formulaic, carefully packaged rebellion. But what do I know? By the standards of their audiences I'm a dinosaur myself.


Journalist arrested for talking sense

The next time you wonder why the Police are making no headway catching the louts who broke into your car or nicked your mobile phone, remember they've got the time for this.

This is where we're headed, folks, and in a Western democracy too. "Hate speech" legislation is the broom that will be used to beat you if your opinions inconvenience those in command of the political agenda. It doesn't matter how reasonable your arguments are or how eloquently you articulate them. Your freedom to speak is subject to the proviso that anyone who claims to be offended can accuse you of bigotry - and the state will investigate you.

We deserve better.


The Filth and the Fury

Julia Magnet endures an unpleasant whiff of nostalgia in today's Telegraph. London today reminds her of New York in the 1980s, This is not good:

When I moved to London, I moved back in time 15 years. Back to the pre-Giuliani New York of the 1980s - the filthy, graffiti-covered streets, the homeless in residence in subways, the youths drinking on corners, pot-smoke suffusing underground stations and innumerable muggings. Last year, there were more than a million reported crimes in London; higher than the 430,460 crimes reported in New York in 1993, before Rudolph Giuliani came to power. The present New York figure is 161,956. For the first time in years, I'm scared to walk alone in a city, and I have become increasingly angry.

Blair is recycling Giuliani's rhetoric on law and order but unfortunately not his tactics. For all his tough talk about rebuilding a strong civic society Blair has not demonstrated a commitment towards doing anything about it. The government is again leaning towards centralised control and ever-expanding bureaucracy, suggesting "voluntary agreements" between shopkeepers to sell less spray paint and licensing private landlords. It's managing the neat trick of bolstering regulation while passing some of its responsibility for law and order onto the rest of us.

The merits of zero-tolerance policing really can't be ignored. It's vital that police use existing laws to tear into quality of life offences with a vengeance. Going after vandals, litterbugs and people who urinate on the street isn't high-profile but it reaps a reward in the shape of increased intelligence on higher-level street crime. Special non-999 emergency numbers can help distinguish these crimes from more violent offences while ensuring that they are still followed up. The police need to be encouraged to lock people up for minor public order offences, time and time again.

I can imagine the appalled reaction of liberals (and some conservatives) to these ideas, and I can't see them being adopted any time soon. But how far do things have to deteriorate before the government starts taking its responsibilities seriously?

A few comments have suggested that zero-tolerance is just another excuse for big government intrusiveness, but I think it's worth making a distinction between policing the public arena and infringing the individual's rights. I don't see anything inherently intrusive about zero-tolerance because it mainly concerns itself with behaviour in the public sphere.

Adopting the strategy means adjusting law enforcement efforts to meet changed priorities without the need for further legislation. The laws are already there - what's needed is the will to apply them more stringently. A more visible, targeted, managed police presence has got to be better than the creepy network of surveillance that has spread all over the country, accountable to no-one and no use to anyone. If anything can be said for zero-tolerance it's that it has worked.

UPDATE: Iain Murray has some sensible observations about this piece. Applying a blanket strategy without regard to the needs of specific areas obviously isn't a good idea, but I don't think Magnet was suggesting this. The phrase "zero-tolerance" attracts controversy about what it means or what it should mean in its purest form, and that's a pity because trying to pin down a single definition is unhelpful. Zero-tolerance is best thought of as an amalgam of specific local strategies, but one thing they have in common is the element of quality of life policing. Without this, measures to ban the sale of spray paint cans or license landlords are of little consequence here or in America.


Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Crimewatch

I'm enjoying the criminality debate between Peter Briffa, Chris Bertram and Iain Murray. I suppose my take on it is a bit of a cop-out, but I think people basically commit crimes because they can. I think the whole "how did we get here" (or "should we blame the leftie intellectuals") argument isn't all that gripping compared to the question what do we do now. I'm willing to entertain the possibility that the social traditions prevalent until the 1960s might be gone for good and no amount of engineering, education, incentives or disincentives can revive them.

I know this isn't exactly a cheerful picture but I'm not trying to be gloomy. There are dozens of ways the government can improve the fight against violent crime, property crime and vandalism (one kind of environmental damage I wish we heard more about). It can start by removing its finger from its backside. Then it implement the zero-tolerance policies used by William Bratton in New York during the 1990s. It can invest in new courts instead of recklessly abridging the procedures used by existing ones. Most important of all, it must overhaul sentencing policy and ditch lunacies like imprisoning people for non-payment of fines and possession of soft drugs. Honestly, I couldn't give a fig whether or not prison "works" as long as we have enough room for the appropriate offenders.


Free Speech On Ivy League Campus Shock

Glenn Reynolds reveals that President Ruth Simmons of Brown University is encouraging students to debate openly like adults:

Simmons issued a warning: "If you've come to this place for comfort, I urge you to rise, walk through yonder gate, and don't look back." For the rest, she concluded, "Welcome to this quarrelsome enterprise that we call a university. Enjoy."

Quite right too. I've been knocked over by some of the stories I've read on political correctness in American campuses. It looks like students all over the US are suffocating in a swamp of senstivity-training and political orthodoxy. This culture is incredibly damaging because vigourous debate is one of the cornerstones of democratic society, and it's essential to encourage the best and the brightest to engage in it. This is how it has to work: you get the chance to express yourself freely and in return you sometimes have to put up with opinions you find offensive or even threatening. If somebody's views offend you then tough. Get over it. Kick back and show up their arguments instead of moaning about it.

People of any political stripe should be able to rise to the challenge of discussion and use reason and persuasion as their tools instead of imposing speech codes on others. This is the best kind of preparation colleges can provide for the messy, confrontational world undergraduates will eventually face.

For more tales of nonsense in academia have a look at Erin O'Connor's excellent Critical Mass. There's an absolutely spot-on segment on poet Tom Paulin's "disinvitation" from a poetry reading at Harvard which makes it clear that free speech has to swing both ways. Personally, I thought Tom Paulin's comment regarding Jewish settlers was loathsome, but Harvard's decision to withdraw hospitality was completely gutless. The University missed an opportunity for a heated debate in which Paulin could have aired his views and students could have questioned, tested and ridiculed them. This is cowardice, and it doesn't befit an institution committed to the pursuit of knowledge.


Monday, November 18, 2002

Tina Brown needs to up her medication or cut it out altogether, judging by her Times column. Tina says "sinister alien toadstools are sprouting on First Avenue". Sure, Tina. We believe you. Her theory on why American society is going to hell on a handcart covers diverse topics like her daughter's AOL message alerts, the dot-com collapse, corporate fraud, Emily Watson's hairstyle, Jackass: The Movie, Robert De Niro's outburst about Saddam Hussein, the Democratic Party's defeat in the midterms and (according to her friend) the nation's inexorable drift towards right-wing dictatorship.

It's the sort of piece that darts around between completely unrelated subjects making scattershot observations about anything and everything in the hope that readers will pause, stroke their chinhairs and go "mmm, that's profound." When you listen to shopping list records like R.E.M.'s It's The End Of The World As We Know It you might get to hear a good tune. No such joy with shopping list journalism.


Sunday, November 17, 2002

Theodore Dalrymple provides the last word in the debate over Myra Hindley's punishment. It is irrelevant whether she felt remorse. Her life sentence was a punishment, not a curative treatment. In the cases of the most awful murders remorse just can't be used as a counterweight to the seriousness of the crime. Some crimes are beyond human forgiveness.


Foxy Lady

Tim Blair points out the latest PETA stunt: Its members rushed up onto the stage at a Victoria's Secret show carrying anti-fur slogans as Gisele Bundchen walked down the catwalk. They shouted at Gisele for a while and waved their placards around in front of the bemused audience until they got hauled off. The picture almost looks as though Victoria's Secret was unveiling a new line of clothing for dowdy, hectoring activists beside its usual gear.

PETA enjoys the support of quite a few celebrities. One of their sites, furisdead.com shows the lovely Sophie-Ellis Bextor holding a "dead, skinned fox in her hand" (well I should hope it's dead if it's in that state). Says the blurb:

Singer Sophie Ellis Bextor’s dance hit 'Murder on the Dancefloor' skyrocketed to the top of the charts, and she’s been nominated for Best Dance Act at this year’s European MTV Awards. But it’s her refusal to kill animals for fur that has caring fans all over the world singing the praises of the sultry songbird.

Her refusal to kill animals? You'd think Sophie had been conscripted into a nightmarish seal-clubbing brigade but had torn up her draft card chanting "Hell no, I won't go! Skinning fills me full of woe!" or some such thing...

UPDATE: Right Thinking and Blogs of War are having great fun with the PETA photo.


Is that really Germaine?

Every now and again an opinion piece comes along that's so astonishingly, unintentionally hilarious that when you read it you just sit there, amazed. This week the Guardian brought us Germaine Greer's thoughts on the general uselessness of men. Germaine Greer is a respected writer and a common sense feminist. But here she appears to blow a fuse and fly into a screeching, hyperactive frenzy, smoke bellowing everywhere:

The truth is out. Men are much more trouble than they're worth. Sisters are doing it for themselves. Discarded males of all ages loiter in the streets, looking for trouble to get into and finding no lack of it. Male security guards shoot male football fans in Bratislava, male fans howl racist abuse and hurl chairs at each other, males train as suicide bombers, male heads of state stroll about discussing whether they could get away with another shooting war on the women and children of Iraq, and their male flunkies zoom around the world trying to talk other males into joining in. The Beltway Sniper turned out to be a man. And those "children" ejected from school for threatening to kill their teachers are actually boys. It doesn't do to say so. A kind of mad squeamishness prevents us from quantifying the nuisance value of maleness, possibly because if you actually tell men that they are damned nuisances, they are likely to behave even worse.

Um....yes, Germaine. The Beltway sniper turned out to be a man. This was a surprise because we expected the sniper to be a lemur.

There's screeds more on how men are biologically redundant and how males of other species are thoughtless, brutal ne'er-do-wells. What animals. From this Greer draws the conclusion that "We daily observe symbolic versions of this leader-fucks-all behaviour when we see Blair accompanied by his receptive female at all times, while the henchmen he is grooming for future office trot beside him spouseless. The implication is that they're all expendable, and so with each cabinet shuffle do all but a few shrewd campaigners prove to be."

I wonder if Cherie Blair read that. Is she feeling receptive to Germaine Greer right now? To Greer there's no difference between the political machinations in a democracy and the power struggle amidst a pack of gorillas. You and me baby ain't nothing but mammals. And it's not just Blair's cabinet that's made up of apes. International politics can be reduced to an expression of chest-beating too:

It is men, not women, who perceive that the number of men on the planet is vastly surplus to requirements; male-dominated human societies have always devised strategies for neutralising as many males as possible. Senior males have always seen clearly that if law and order were to prevail, the majority of men had to be controlled. The obvious way to control them was to draft them into armies under the command of senior males who had the power to kill them if they mutinied, and then to use those armies to dominate or annihilate the rest.

Here was me thinking wars arose from ideological, ethnic and territorial conflicts. How silly of me. It turns out that the generals were eliminating their rivals for the really hot chicks.

It goes without saying that we are marching towards a dark, militaristic future. Well, actually no, it doesn't go without saying at all because Germaine Greer says it:

Authoritarianism and militarism have returned; civil rights are in the process of suspension and the nurturing of the poor and needy, inadequate as it always was, is being abandoned. While women and children were playing in the glow of dawning freedom, new methods of tracking and control were being devised.

Our new chains aren't identity chips or surveillence cameras but the accoutrements of modern life: "bank accounts, credit cards, social security numbers, car registration, insurance, mortgage and debt." This is another revelation for me, because I was under the impression that these things were voluntary responsibilities. I'll be sure to let the building society know that I'm missing next month's mortgage payment to protest against the way it oppresses me. I'm sure they'll dig it.

To finish, Germaine wonders at the way men react to her statements:

Men get angry when I describe them as "freaks of nature, fragile, fantastic, bizarre", as idiots savants, "full of queer obsessions about fetishistic activities and arbitrary goals, doomed to competition and injustice not merely towards females, but towards children, animals and other men".

You think?

I wonder how angry Germaine Greer would get if I described her as "an increasingly hysterical relic of sixties feminism, a shrieking harridan fixated on simplistic theories of biological determinism, obsessed with promoting them in the haughtiest possible way in whatever pseudo-intellectual waste of paper cares to publish them".

Now I'm not normally one for name-calling, but in this case I think I should give as good as I get...


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