Bartlett's Bizarre Bazaar
Comment, Comics and the Contrary.
Friday, August 26, 2005
Digby Jones, and more
Digby Jones is leader of the bosses’ organisation the CBI. I find him an utterly odious man, and I have written about him before. Yesterday he was a guest on BBC One’s Breakfast programme. He was there to talk about exam results. But, like so many commentators on education, he only proved himself to be a fool. Discussing the rise in the pass rate, he said (and I paraphrase but I do not misrepresent):
“Employers are not concerned with the grade on a piece of paper. They want to know, ‘does this person have the necessary skills?’”
Almost without a breath he then said:
“In light of these exam results, employers are very concerned.”
So which is it? Are employers interested in the grades on pieces of paper? Or aren’t they? I know what he is trying to argue, but this is not a great argument for his position. And bad arguments corrupt thinking. Corrupt thinking leads to corrupted democracy. I say deport Digby Jones – he is a danger to our society. He obviously hates ‘the West’, why else would he mock the virtues of the Enlightenment so?
It reminds me of the anti-piracy advert currently running in cinemas. One of the reasons given for why it is better to watch a film in a cinema rather on a pirate copy is that, when watching a pirate copy you have the screen blocked by anyone who needs the toilet. Well, d’uh! That is because the pirate copy was filmed in a cinema. There are arguments against watching films on pirate copies, and there are arguments in favour of ‘the cinema experience’. But when a bunch of millionaires ask us to protect their profits, using stupid, damaging arguments to persuade us, I have to say I have little sympathy when Fantastic Four loses its makers money.
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Spinning De Menezes in his grave
That Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead on the tube is in itself a tragedy that demands the reappraisal of the procedures of armed policing. But this alone is not the source of my anger. Rather, it is the fact that, after de Menezes was killed, what can only be described as a pack of lies was told about him, his actions and those of the police involved. This pack of lies undermines democracy, as do all secrets and lies, and especially the secrets and lies of those in power, by inhibiting our ability to act as citizen politicians. To govern ourselves.
The shooting Jean Charles de Menezes was a crime against a person that has implications for all us. The lies that followed were crimes against us all.
Of course, the defenders of the police have been pushed into a difficult position. They can no longer defend the actions of the police, not during the shooting and certainly not after the shooting. So, rather than do this, to engage in an argument that they would surely lose, they have begun to spin the corpse of Jean Charles de Menezes.
We have, over the past few days, seen attacks on the credibility of the experienced campaigners who have joined Justice4Jean. These attacks ought to be seen as incompetent by anyone with a dash of intelligence. That they have not is a sign of how depoliticised we have been become, how we have been inculturated to see our status quo as unproblematically the natural state of affairs. How else could a Tory politician condemn the campaigners for Justice4Jean as ‘having an agenda’? Does he not have an agenda of his own? Is he some kind of political tabula rasa? Of course not, as such a state of mind could only be possessed by a person of terrible mental incapacity. Okay, he is a Tory politician, but still. Lenin’s Tomb
, an ever-improving blog, has some more details on his own nasty and narrow-minded agenda. As Meaders, the author of that post writes:
“Thank heavens for Brian Coleman. The last thing any Londoner would want is for those murdered by our brave defenders of the British way of life to be represented by competent
campaigners, pushing their sinister "extreme left-wing agenda" of holding the police to account.”
But the spins moves on. Now, complaining about the conduct of the police is, in itself, ‘a bad thing’, no matter what your ‘agenda’ might be. We had version one of this where the supernaturally stupid argument ran, ‘The police have made a monumental cock-up, at the very least. We accept that. But, in order to keep Britain safe, we must back these people 100%. Never mind that they are utterly incompetent, in the most generous explanation of events.’ For examples of this argument, see the defences of Ian Blair in any British paper.
Version two is much nastier. Version two involves dragging out relatives of people who were killed in the July 7th bombings to up the grief stakes. Ian Blair himself attempted to use this argument when he suggested that we should not get too upset about one death in fifty-three. He actually tried to slip this number up to fifty-seven, including the four bombers. Presumably he reasoned that the more deaths he could place on the other side of the scales from de Menezes, the more insignificant his death would seem. But now we have the relatives of the bomb victims arguing that asking for the police to be accountable undermines their ability to fight terror. Never mind that this is the way to a police state. Is anyone questioning their agenda? The agenda of the people that have put them in touch with journalists? The agenda of the journalists? You ought not get a free ticket simply as the result of personal tragedy, nor does your mind become a political tabula rasa. The concentration on the agendas of one side of this ‘argument’ (and argument that ought to be pretty straightforward; the police lied, or the police, who investigate allegations of crime to arrive at ‘truth’, are so incapable of telling truth from convenient falsehood that they ought to be sacked) betrays the agenda of a tremendous block of power.
Corrupted power, defending those who used their power to shoot an innocent man and then lie about it.
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Is that a big surprise? To some people, I guess that it is. “If you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear” I hear people say. What planet are they living on? Plainly, one in which perfectly designed robots are invested with the power of the state, not fallible human beings. Human beings who are capable of being hateful and prejudiced, stupid and corrupt. Human beings who are also capable of being good, even great people. That said, we cannot dismiss out-of-hand the suggestion that the police service, and other institutions that grant their members great power, both attract a greater proportion of shits and shape those who are not yet into shits. This certainly was the case in the past, and is certainly the case abroad. Are we so special, by some virtue of Britishness, or some peculiarity of this point in history, that we are a people apart from the world as it exists and history as it happened? Plainly not, though some fools seem happy to suggest that we are.
So, where did the police lie? Or more accurately, so this does not become some gargantuan index of corruption and murder, where have the police just lied in a high profile case? Well, the shooting of Mr De Menezes, that is where. Lenin
and China Mieville
have posted more than adequately on the report by ITN
that the circumstances of the shooting of Mr De Menezes appear to be completely add odds with the police reports of the events. Will this silence the disturbingly blood-thirsty advocates of shoot-to-kill policies? I would gamble my mortgage that it would not. Some people are shits, and others are stupid. Jon
has a good post on just how we are persuaded to accept police impunity, while this exchange, culled from the comments boxes at Conservative Commentary
, shows just how stupid, or shitty, some people can be:
Number of potential bombers shot: 1
Possible lives saved: 100+
Life lost: 1
Lets see who the statistics support now, hrm?
Perhaps the police should just start picking off potential bombers at random at the Tube entrance; think of all those possible lives saved.
So, the lessons that I have learned over the past few weeks are this: when anyone complains about how something is done in Britain, for example, when they ask for a more draconian criminal justice system, moan about liberalism or demand that we adopt the working practices of exploited Third World workers, the appropriate response is; “Get the fuck out of Britain if you hate it.” That seems to pass for reason on the right. And two, if I knock someone down, or otherwise harm them, I can use the other favourite argument of the right and reactionary left; “They could have been a suicide bomber – you should thank me.”
Shits. And I have not even started on Gate Gourmet yet.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Empirical Majesty #1 – reviewed
Empirical Majesty chapter one has been reviewed in Comics International (August 2005, #187).
“This attractive comic takes the form of a 16-page booklet with the cover in the style of a 1930s Penguin novel. Secret agent Kelvin Vijay Brooke is the hero of a spy drama set in an alternate history in which the twentieth century begins with Britain as a republic founded upon scientific reason, and America is ruled by the irrational exiled Hanoverian monarchy. Glimpses of Victoriana nicely evoke the age of empire.” (9/10)
So, a good score, though I think the review could have done with a little more hyperbole. In the same issue of Comics International there is the second “Independent Comics for Independent Minds” advert. Unfortunately, I don’t have any comics to promote on the next one, but I am working – slowly it has to be said – on a new comic with Dave Evans
(I am sure that he has forgotten) called Praxis! and Journeys into Fantasy with Michael Trimble, an artist I met at the Bristol Comics Festival. I also have three stories ready for a still untitled anthology I am putting together Brian Janchez [one page strip here
In the meantime I have to write a paper and organise an academic conference. Nothing to do with comics either.
In the meantime, here is the advert from CI#187:
You can buy Empirical Majesty – Chapter One for 75p including p&p. E-mail me at aj_bartlett1977(at)yahoo(dot)co(dot)uk for more details. Payment can be made by PayPal (inc. credit card payments) or by cheque.
Tales of the Contrary is also available for £2 (or £2.50 together with Empirical Majesty #1) including p&p. Tales of the Contrary reviewedBuy Tales of the Contrary and Empirical Majesty
Most of all, many thanks to Paul Scott (of Solar Wind
) a still growing giant of the British small-press scene, for organizing these adverts.
Saturday, August 06, 2005
Britishness? (part two)
First, the word ‘Britishness’ is not, according my spellchecker, a real word. It offers me the option of replacing ‘Britishness’ with ‘Brutishness’, which, I admit, would be an accurate description of Gerald Howarth
and those who share his thuggish ideas of what it means to be British.
Second, when David Davis calls for Britain to adopt the American model
, he makes a whole handful of mistakes. On a simple level it seems that he thinks that Britishness can be imported. I have no problem taking good ideas from beyond our borders. But then I do not express reverence for the Britishness of values. On a more serious level, we cannot be sure whether he is speaking of the reality or the myth of US integration policies. Does he mean the US where people routinely describe themselves as Italian-American, African-American, Irish-American and so on? Or does he mean the US of myth, an immigrant nation where successive waves of new immigrants did not simply assimilate into some native population (who were kept out of the way on reservations), but took an active part in shaping the cultural, social, economic and intellectual landscape of the developing nation? I think that David Davis is talking about neither. I think that he is calling for us to adopt the ‘American model’ is merely a rhetorical trick. He calls on ethnic minorities to “respect the British way of life”. No description of how, as Britons, they will take part in shaping ‘the British way of life’. So does he mean the ethnic identification that is a routine part of American life? No, he criticises the promotion of “distinctive identities”. So which America model is it that Davis is speaking of? None whatsoever, except the one that he has invented through his imaginative powers to serve his political purposes - an invention that mirrors the creation of definitions of Britishness.
Third, we have the Liam Fox
on the Today Programme stating that adherence to the idea of a free market economy is an essential part of British values. Well, that rules me out of being British then. When you have a nominally socialist party in power, to state that an adherence to the idea of a free market economy is an essential part of being British is to make a tremendous number of people within the borders of Britain non-British. Or even anti-British. Traitors, as Gerald Howarth calls them*.
But then, these are two sides of the same coin. Howarth is, after all, a resolute defender of General Pincohet, who certainly made an adherence to a certain brand of free-market values a requirement for living as a free Chilean.
This is the problem with the debate about what it means to be British – it is necessarily exclusionary, and as the debate is a political one it is very far from being an attempt at arriving at an objective statement of what Britishness IS, but a statement of what Britishness OUGHT to be. This must exclude people, marking them as un-British solely on the basis of a definition that conforms to the desires of political and media opinion formers. We ARE British. Britishness is what we do. British values are those that we hold. Any other definition, any definition that attempts to paint some British people – including me, it seems – outside the borders of Britain is an exercise is wicked political rhetoric. To even take part in the debate, except to point out the absurdity of this brand of discourse, even if your aim is to express a liberal view of Britishness, is to bolster the legitimacy of exclusionary definitions.
*The Conservative Party appears to be doing a clumsy job of disassociating themselves from Howarth’s comments
. While stressing that Howarth was expressing a personal opinion rather than a party position, Tory HQ have performed a cack-handed defence of his ‘traitors’ remarks by saying that he was speaking solely about suicide bombers themselves, not Muslims who may hold critical opinions of British society. Of course, this is nonsense, and more than that is nonsense spoken in the full knowledge that the speaker is peddling a line in pap.
He said; “If they don’t like our way of life, there is a simple remedy – go to another country, get out.” With regard to the British born; “Tough. If you don’t give allegiance to this country, the leave. // There are plenty of other countries whose way of life would appear to be more conducive to what they aspire to. They would be happy and we would be happy.” Do these sound like comments aimed at suicide bombers? No, these comments are clearly aimed at people who are critical of the British way of life. And, as I said before, Gerald Howarth is one.
Friday, August 05, 2005
Reading the Guardian’s press review of multiculturalism
, I was struck by the utter lack of self-awareness displayed by most of the columnists quoted in the review.
For example, the editorial in the Herald reads:
“In Britain ... there is almost a sense of embarrassment about our Britishness… It may all sound rather American but perhaps the time has come to abandon our usual British reserve about our own cherished values… it is time to accentuate our shared Britishness.”
So, let me get this straight. We accentuate our Britishness by abandoning one of our traditional national characteristics?
While the George Kerevan in the Scotsman writes:
“According to Mr Howarth - the hitherto faceless shadow defence spokesperson - those Muslims who object to the 'British way of life' should pack up and leave ... Even if we ignore Mr Howarth's synthetic political spleen, it is still a fair question to ask why anyone would want to stay here if they hate it so much that they want to set off random bombs on the London underground.”
Hang on just on second. Those who set of the bombs in London are, by definition (as the people who set off the bombs are now dead), not the same people as other Muslims who may object to our liberal values. Indeed, what we should point out is that it is not just radical Muslims who object to our liberal values, but mainstream politicians such as Mr Howarth. The response to Mr Howarth should be “why don’t you go and live in America?” given that, when faced with people who do not share his values, that appears to be the most complex and considered type of argument that he can muster.
All these calls to abandon traditional aspects of British tolerance are, necessarily, expressions of disdain for British society. And there is nothing wrong with that. It is not perfect – far from it – and we should be allowed to criticise it, even condemn it if we think it so bad. But it is an offence against reason to demand that those who condemn Britain and British values, previously tolerated by British society, should be criminalized, as the very nature of this argument demands that this criminalisation must be selective, allowing Howarth and Davis and other conservatives* to voice their displeasure with the values of Britain. Not only that, in calling for legal action to be taken they are implicitly calling for violent acts to be taken in the demolition of the British values of tolerance, though these violent acts will be undertaken by the police and security services.
Tony Blair, when he says that “the rules of the game are changing”, is an enemy of British values, by this simple-headed calculus. And indeed, he is an enemy of what I would hope would be the British values that are worth preserving. Why are the rules changing? Are we facing an existential threat? The answer to this question is, categorically, no. The rules are changing because he wants them to change, and we allow him to change them. I have been arguing for some time that while terrorists may kill a few people, the greater danger to our liberal, humane society is our own political class. There will not be Sharia law in Britain any time in the next few centuries, despite the rantings of some on the right/reactionary ‘left’. But the re/action of our own political class to the opportunities found in the fear created by terrorism may very well lead us down a nasty authoritarian path, from which there may be no turning back.
So I will ask again – these new terrorist laws that will make it an offence to indirectly incite violence, will they prohibit all indirect incitement equally? If it is to be on offence to say that a suicide bomber was a martyr, will it also be an offence to call for internment camps, for detention without trial, for torture, for war? These are far more direct incitements, and they are found everyday springing from the mouths and the media that align themselves with Tony Blair and ‘British values’. If those are British values, I spit on them.
*And also challenging ‘British values’ are those battling racism, those fighting for gay rights, equality for women, a more just distribution of wealth and so on.