Bartlett's Bizarre Bazaar

Comment, Comics and the Contrary. Contact: aj_bartlett1977*at*yahoo*dot*co*dot*uk
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Sunday, November 27, 2005


More 'comedy'

Channel 4 will soon enter a new competitor into the ‘reality’ TV arena. Space Cadets. What can I say? Only that, given that the ‘candidates’ for the show were systematically selected for their gullibility and lack of knowledge and then exposed to a training course that deliberately filled the gaps in these people’s knowledge with lies, the claim that this show will be a tremendous hoax is pretty weak. Indeed, it is not a hoax at all. A hoax fools people who ought to know better – such as people in authority for whom there is a duty to know better – or whole, undifferentiated populations. Space Cadets is not a hoax, rather, it shares more in common with a deception, a con. It is the television equivalent of the people who convince, against any responsible judgement, old ladies that they need to pay thousands of pounds to update their burglar alarms or fuse-boxes. Masters of capitalism, I call these people, with their highly effective exploitation of a niche market, but our law calls them con-men. Why, given the MO of the programme, did the programme makers not select a group of mentally disabled people and play practical jokes on them? Or even give up of the idea of fooling the intellectually weak and simple go for slapstick involving the physically weak? Let us push over old people and obstacles in the path of the blind. Why would the makers of Space Cadets not make these programmes? Because those would be immoral, they might claim. But the truth, given their lack of scruples in exploiting the weak, is that they do not make these programmes because the television audience retains enough sense of decency to reject these. For now. I hope. But we ought to reject Space Cadets, or at least hope that it ends the careers of all the ‘professionals’ involved.

Exploitation entertainment; from X-Factor, a programme that has built its success on exposing and ridiculing the tragic ambitions of people who lack any sense of personal affirmation without celebrity (ensuring its own survival by feeding this pathology) to Space Cadets. From the standard theme of modern porn (no longer hiding the exploitation of women behind plot and glamour, but celebrating it) to Bum Fight, a successful American programme in which the destitute are paid measly amounts of money in exchange for them engaging in their own mutilation for the entertainment of people higher up the economic order.

In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels wrote that capitalism leaves as the only “nexus between man and man… [that of] naked self-interest… callous ‘cash payment’”. Everything is swept aside leaving only “egotistical calculation”. “[P]ersonal worth [is transformed] into exchange value” and freedoms are replaced by Free Trade. Veiled exploitation is substituted by “naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation”. They predicted (and hoped) that this process would lead to an awakening of revolutionary consciousness. Rather, we buy naked exploitation as entertainment with as easy a conscience as we purchase our sweat-shopped clothes.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


I piped music

Music affects our moods. Music affects our thoughts. So what is the effect of walking around all day with music being piped into our ears? Might it not encourage some sort of disconnect between a person and their sensory experience of the world. More than no sound, a person listening to music through headphones hears carefully composed and arranged sound that has no connection with events in the rest of his or her experience.

Just a thought. I am certainly not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing. A little otherworldliness can be a good thing.

[this post was composed under the influence iPod piped Demon Days by Gorillaz]

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Democracy and war

First, let me say this. That the democratic polis of one nation decides, or acquiesces, to the instigation of a war does not, in itself, give that war the barest of justification when people outside that polis are considered. Consider the analogy; an internally democratic revolutionary party agrees after several debates and a series of votes to begin a programme of terrorism to bring about its political goals. This process is entirely democratic – in so far as consideration of the members of the parties goes. It is not democratic externally, as indeed no decisions can be. For people outside the polis (of the party, or the nation) any programme of action (whether war or not) need be justified by reference to features of the action other than the democratic nature of the decision making of the instigators.

Now, let me move on the idea that democracy produces a pacific world. Norman Geras, the resident academic of the ‘decent left’, asks:

“Is it now the case that the Western democracies cannot fight wars unless these are short and very sparing of the lives of their own soldiers? That any war that becomes too long and too costly in these terms will quickly lose support within an electorate whose impulses become more self-centred (in the national sense) the more badly the war goes?”

As I understood it, this was the very principle on which the idea of democratisation as security policy stood; the democratic nations do not go to war easily. If Norm seriously laments this feature of democracies, then is he abandoning this part, this plank central to the ‘project’ of liberal bombing? Or is the idea of democracy bringing peace based on unelucidated mythic thinking?

Norm, it seems, would like to see more bloodthirsty democracies, and in this he hopes to see democracies that would shatter the very principle for which, in public at least, Iraqi lives and bodies have been smashed, splintered and shattered.

In the post from Norm that I have linked to above he argues that there can be no exit from Iraq. I have already pointed out how much of the discourse on this subject is a reheating of the rhetoric of the dog days of colonialism. Even Ann Clwyd – a woman who cries for victims of torture, so long at they were the victims of Saddam, while taking tea with the butchers of Central America – has resorted to this; we must teach Iraqis about human rights. We are, it seems, bringing civilisation to ‘the darkies’ by the force of the gun. All over again.

“Getting behind it - in the sense of actively debating how that battle can now best be fought, previous errors best be corrected and remedied, the expertise and resources of other members of the community of nations most effectively be drawn on, and so forth. A common discourse, in other words, across those who supported and those who opposed the war, and for the sake of common liberal and democratic objectives in Iraq. That would be quite something, no?”

It would, yes. But how can we correct the errors when the errors are inherent in the project. First, we have the problems inherent in the notion of an invasion for democracy. But more, what fool liberal or leftist thought that he or she could unproblematically harness the power of the American state, a state in the hands of people who murdered their way through the Cold War in the name of American power, and put it to work on a humanitarian project? The leftists and liberals held no power but the power of anointment; to legitimate whatever project these right-wing thugs decided upon. The track record of the men the ‘decent left’ ran ‘humanitarian’ cover for should have disbarred them from heading any mission for human rights, much less one operating on the basis of overwhelming firepower. But lo! and behold, one of the worst of a bad lot is appointed to run Iraq, the ‘Salvador Option’ is touted as a solution and imprisonment and torture are facts of life. Couple this with bans of Iraqi trade unions and the privatisation of the wealth of Iraq, and the pressing problem of a people resisting military governance by a pair of foreign powers and I ask, what did a ‘decent leftist’ imagine would happen.

So what previous errors need be corrected, Norm? Well, given that we have launched a multi-billion dollar war that has damaged democracies at home and shattered lives by the hundred thousand in Iraq, all in the name of the crimes of Saddam Hussein, the first thing that we could do is arrange for a squad car to pull up outside the houses of Rumsfeld, Cheney and Negroponte (at the very least) and put these men on trial for their crimes against humanity. No need for war, just a squad car. But that will not happen, will it? This is why Norm’s call for unity is nothing more than another smokescreen cast to cover the crimes of those he supported and the mistakes he made in legitimating them.

Finally, a little more on democracy and war; while the democracy involved in a decision to prosecute war cannot legitimate that action beyond the boundaries of the polis, the lack of democracy in the decision can certainly make such an action illegitimate from the perspective of those within the polis.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


The joke has curdled and become poisonous

I have to say that I am coming to agree with Johan Hari. At least on one thing. His piece on Little Britain is very persuasive. Faced with the sort of criticisms levelled at the show by Hari, I have heard someone moan; “So who can we laugh at?” I think that this sums up Little Britain’s misanthropy. The ‘who’ in that moan refers not to an individual character, to a complex empathetic human being, but to classes and categories of people. ‘Who’ can we laugh at? You can laugh at whoever you want, but I prefer that my comedy is not built on appeals to my misanthropy by making whole groups of people seem alien, foolish or wicked.

Some will say; “But it is just entertainment – it is free speech!” To which I would reply; “Entertainment? That is debatable. And seriously? Speech has power, which is the basis on which we demand the right to free speech. But some people have louder voices than others, and in this case a couple of men have a much louder say than the millions of people who are the object of their ridicule. If they defend it by saying that it has no impact, then that ought be taken as a damning condemnation of the use to which they have put their privileged position. More, to defend ‘speech’ by arguing that it has no impact is to undermine the very foundations of free speech; why do we need the right to something that is no longer the foundation of political, social and civic freedom, but rather a mere economic (and show-business, no more) activity? But that is wrong; speech is powerful, speech is special. And the onus is always on the speaker to consider the effect that their words, magnified by the volume of their voices and refracted through the imaginations of their listeners, might have.”

My suggestion: watch Phoenix Nights for some comedy built on genuine empathy for the characters and the people they represent.

Friday, November 18, 2005


Arming the police: rapid response

There have been just a few hours since the shooting of a police officer in Bradford and we have already had calls for the police to be armed. On the 10 O’clock News tonight the BBC presented a set of misleading figures. They provided us with the number of police officers killed on duty over the past few years. In the context of the instant debate that was already underway, the presentation of these figures contained the implied suggestion that had the police been armed these deaths would not have occurred, or their numbers would have been reduced. Is this the case?

Having a gun does not stop you being shot, stabbed or run down by a car. And this is part of the problem with presenting those statistics. How would a gun save the life of police officers killed when their car is rammed? How would they protect the police officer killed when an arrested suspect slips free and stabs the officer at close quarters? Is it the case that simply inserting a holstered gun into these scenarios and running them as counterfactuals would have saved any of these officers? I doubt that, considered on the basis of these scenarios, armed police would, in themselves, change the existing outcomes.

But any argument that suggests that by giving all our police officers guns we will reduce the rate of police deaths is not, if it is serious, an argument that suggests the outcome of existing individual scenarios would have been altered. If it is serious it is an argument that by arming the police aspects of our policing and public culture will change. And realising this we should be wary of those who use the example of individual cases as emotive ammunition to load the guns of the police.

Being called to a robbery in which there was no prior knowledge on the part of the police that the robbers were armed, how would armed police have prevented the death of the police officer tonight? Presumably, the police would have approached with guns drawn. So far so good, in so much as we are only considering this existing individual scenario. But that is quite simply the wrong approach. What of all the scenarios where the police are called to other events and occurrences? Shall the police approach all their calls with guns drawn? How ready should they be to shoot? If they do not have their weapons in hand are not ready to shoot on suspicion then it is difficult to see how many of these tragic cases could have been avoided. More, we know that even when the only police officers to be armed are extremely well-trained, when they are specifically chosen for the role and when the order to fire passes through a highly regulated chain of command terrible mistakes (at best) are made with alarming regularity.

But that is not all. Not only will we have the police shooting people without the oversight that accompanies the discharge of firearms in contemporary Britain; an effective extra-judicial death penalty distributed on ‘sus’. Perhaps well-founded ‘sus’, but ‘sus’ all the same. No, there is more. There may well be a ramping up of the level of armed criminals. And then what? Are the police safer? Are we all safer?

Abel, in Iain Banks’ A Song of Stone says; “guns have many uses, multifarious effects. Perhaps they alter minds as well as anatomies… Do they determine more than those who fire them?”

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Why do you hate America?

That question is directed at Bill O’Reilly (via Larry of the amusingly nauseating blog name).

Bill O’Reilly, who is, depending on your perspective, either a ‘lying liar’ or is ‘fair and balanced’, responded to a democratically enacted measure to prohibit military recruiters from operating on the campuses of public high schools and colleges by spewing:

“…if Al Qaeda comes in here and blows you up, we're not going to do anything about it. We're going to say, look, every other place in America is off limits to you, except San Francisco. You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead.”

Why does he hate America? Is it because they are free?

[The citation for that line goes to the futuristically monikered 01-811-8055 in Larry’s comments boxes.]

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Little white [phosphorus] lies

Lies, eh? How the Orwell-quoting ‘decent-left’ love them. Have they misunderstood the point of Orwell, his place in our intellectual heritage? When we say that something is ‘Orwellian’, we are not commending it for truthfulness. But, all the while people are killed and tortured at the command of men who have no interest in democracy (as anything other than a veneer of justification rather than a radical empowerment of the populace), the ‘decent left’ appropriate Orwell’s name to legitimate their position as cheerleaders for muscular capitalism. And not just in Iraq, but also in South America and, even, here at home.

So it makes you laugh, with tears in your eyes, when, on the same day that the Independent publishes a letter from the American ambassador to Britain stating, categorically, that the US does not use white phosphorus as a weapon, the US military are forced to admit that it does. This, after a determined process of vigorously rejecting any claims that they have done so. Now, no doubt, the PRopaganda tack will switch to arguing that there is nothing wrong in using white phosphorus as a weapon. But that no longer matters, at least, even if the US successfully defends its use of white phosphorus there is another non-trivial matter. This being that, once again, the cabal of security, military and industrial interests involved in prosecuting and profiting from the ‘War on Terror’ (now that is Orwellian) have lied. Lies damage democracy, they poison it. Yet lies, the most anti-democratic of crimes, seem to carry no consequences, at least for the teller. Regardless of the justice of any of these actions; the war, the carve up of Iraq’s (or Britain’s) national wealth, detention, torture, the use of white phosphorus, the operation of a shoot-to-kill policy; every democrat should be horrified at the interplay of secrets, misinformation and lies that have been used to justify these actions and absolve those responsible, and, under the cover of defending democracy, poison its very lifeblood – an informed decision-making polis.

Perhaps the ‘decent left’ can take on one aspect of Orwell’s intellectual programme, rather than simply wrap themselves, and hide themselves, in the cloak offered by an emotive name. Mind you, this will not stop the ‘decent left’; war for peace my boys, capitalism for equality. Hurrah!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


In them we must trust

We must trust the police, says Tony Blair. If the police say that they need new powers, then we must give them those powers. They are professionals, and thus they know best. Therefore, we must give the police the power to detain people for 90 days.

I could use this post to damn the politicians who counter accusations of there being a lack of democratic argument by saying, “if you had seen the dossier I have seen…”, or “if you were at the meeting that I was at…”. I saw Hazel Blears, I think, say to a journalist, “you obviously weren’t at the meeting we had with the security services…”. No, Hazel, obviously not. And when decisions are made out of sight they are not democratic decisions. They might be made in the interests of the people, but we cannot assess whether this is the case, nor even if we accept that a decision has been made in the interests of the people that it was a good decision. But that is as much damning of that aspect of the case for control orders.

Now, I could use this thread to list miscarriages of justice. I need not separate between mistakes and malign conspiracy, as both of these sources of injustice would find new outlets with new powers. And such an argumentative move, though persuasive, would hold for any new powers the government might propose. But it does need to be borne in mind, for the issue here is government by trust.

The first aspect of this is that we must trust the police and give them the powers that they ask for. Is that really the case? Can Tony Blair or any of his cheerleaders imagine a scenario where they would act against the advice of the police? I am not asking for whacked-out scenarios, but rather ones consistent with the society and history we inhabit. If they cannot imagine a scenario where a government would, or ought to, act against the advice of the police, then not only are our governing politicians hopelessly naïve, we already have a police state. It might be benign, but if the police get what they want – whether through unworldly trust, misinformation or through fear – then they are ultimately the governing class.

But this is not the case, merely the logical end of Blair’s argument that decisions made in secret by people with great power must be accepted on trust. Of course, granting Blair and his supporters some measure of normal human intelligence and accepting that they are not delusional, I must expect that, were they honest, they would be able to point out occasions where they [would] have gone against the advice of the police. They would, if they were honest, accept that trust is simply not enough, it cannot be, and there must also be argument. But the argument is not made. Rather, we are asked to trust professionals (note that this government is not so happy to trust teachers or doctors or lawyers) who have a collective interest in the increase of their powers. Democracy indeed.

The second aspect of this rhetorical demand for trust in the police is that it undermines the safeguards we are promised, or mollified by, in the revised versions of this legislation. A judge will oversee the detention every 7 days. There are several problems with this. We will skip over the fact that the evidence the police will be presenting will necessarily be short of the quality that would be required in order to press charges, and we will not ask just how a judge is meant to assess the need for detention based on such scanty evidence. We will not spend any space discussing the fact that the detained (most definitely not ‘the accused’) has no opportunity to challenge his justification for detention. No, the problem here is that the demand explicit in this legislation is that the police must be trusted. How could any judge refuse a request from the police for a person to be held detention?

They must accept it, don’t you ‘get it’? The world has changed. Our security services are the brave men and women protecting us from evil as we sleep. They must be trusted implicitly. Oversight? Impossible in an atmosphere for trust.

By all means trust them. I suggest that we all trust Ian ‘destroy the brain, utterly, instantly’ Blair. A proven, professional liar. Now suggesting that he needs to power to detain people without charge, without the right to challenge the ‘evidence’ against them not for 90 days but for 4 months.

Friday, November 04, 2005


In transit

Ken MacLeod has an excellent little piece on our Western ‘enlightened’ governments’ complicity in torture. Click on the link below to read the whole piece.

“The jet has finished refuelling. The hoses are disconnected. Through the seat, a man feels the vibration as the engines start. Through silent headphones the rising sound comes through, like a scream. He's on his way.”

It is necessary, don’tcha know, to protect democracy. Why is it necessary? Oh, that is secret.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


Decadent, obscene Rome

The BBC mini-series Rome begins tonight on BBC Two. I doubt that I will have time to watch it. What I do find the time to watch is the morning news, and this morning the BBC used their Breakfast programme to run an extended newsvertisment plugging Rome. This series has already been shown in America, where it has been well received. It was, apparently, a little controversial. What could be the source of this controversy? Perhaps the BBC News could tell us. Well, it did not, at least not directly. Perhaps it was the relatively rough English and Scottish accents that these BBC Romans possessed? No, probably not. In the course of this newsvertisment we were shown men being stabbed, slashed and whipped. This did not raise a comment. But then we see a clip of a woman in a bath. She stands, and her body is censored by a post-production blur. We presume that she is naked. This, apparently, is the controversy.

Did you know that people were naked under their clothes during the first century BC? Did you know that people in both the crumbling Roman Republic and, subsequently, the Roman Empire, enjoyed having sex? Controversial, I know.

Murder and torture are palatable it seems, compatible with the entertainment tastes of America and Britain. Nakedness and sexual pleasure are shameful, obscenities to be censored. The latter are both beautiful and part of, we hope, our lives; joyful and affirmative. The former involve the destruction and degradation of life; negations of our humanity.

In my cruellest moments, I wish that all those people who have complained about the nudity and the sex in programmes that are otherwise packed with murder and torture were subjected to a whipping. They could keep their shirts on, of course.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Tales of the Contrary reviewed at Silver Bullet Comics

Back from Mega City One I find that Tales of the Contrary has received a very favourable review over at Silver Bullet Comics. At least, that is how it reads to me. Go and read it on their site – and check out the rest of their reviews too – it would be bad form indeed for me to reproduce it here.

I have plenty to say on the domestic news over the time that I was away. Well, I say NEWs, but I thought that I had dealt with Tory idiocy over self-defence here and here. I hope to address the apparently intoxicated reasoning involved in Labour plans to legislate against drink/ing on public transport soon.


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