Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Speaking of elections. . .


. . . does anyone know what Gwyneth Paltrow is doing running for presidency in the Ukraine? You'd think she'd be busy enough what with her movie career, rock star husband, young baby and another on the way. And all on a macrobiotic diet too!

I don't know. These modern women.

Israeli elections

So the Israeli elections are a wrap. Kadima, as expected, emerged with the biggest share of the votes, securing 28 of the 120 seats in the Knesset (great word, that). They are now expected to form a coalition with second-placed Labour and some of the smaller parties.

Perhaps the Liberal Elite Israeli contingent (yes, both of you) would like to explain what this is likely to mean. Is the path to talks for a two state solution now assured? Will Hamas ever co-operate? Judging by the response from Mahmoud Abbas, I suspect not. Is this a good thing? Whither Binyamin Netanyahu? And why, for what must be the most crucial election for many years, was the turnout so low? (It was 62.3%, which is still fairly respectable – higher than the UK turnout last year if I recall – but low by Israel’s standards.)

Please enlighten us!

Monday, March 27, 2006

France 'to be avoided'

The Foreign Office has warned UK citizens to exercise extreme caution if visiting France, going so far as to say that the country should be avoided altogether for the foreseeable future. Visitors can expect large numbers of aggressive, hostile, belligerent people out on the streets, complaining about their government.

“We recommend that all British citizens exercise extreme caution if visiting France,” said a Foreign Office statement.

But enough of this general advice, it appears there are a lot of riots taking place all over the country too. So do be careful.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

I know I believe in nothing, but it is my nothing

According to a recent study by the University of Minnesota, I belong to the minority group most mistrusted by the average American. A group that comes below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians in “sharing their vision of American society”. What is this monstrous group to which I belong? Atheists, apparently.

The level of religiosity in the United States always astonishes me: polls put the number of non-believers in the US at between 5-10%, while here in the decadent and faithless UK it’s more 35-40%. And now, it would seem, the majority of American citizens would be highly suspicious of me because of my lack – in the face of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary of course – of belief in any god whatsoever. Moreover, I wouldn’t be welcome to marry their daughter. A sentiment which is wholly reciprocated, I assure you.

I’ve always found adherence to faith baffling in the extreme. Even if I were to overlook the fact that there is no evidence to support any of them, not a single one (which I can’t, fussy empiricist that I am) the sheer choice is just overwhelming. As Homer said to Marge when defending his decision to stop going to church in the classic episode Homer the Heretic: “What if we’ve picked the wrong religion? Every week, we’re just making God madder and madder!” I get flustered enough choosing washing powder at the supermarket – this one’s kinder to the environment, but this one is tough on all stains, ooh this one’s half price – so how could I possibly settle down with one all-encompassing faith and value system?

Fear and mistrust of atheists is predicated on the age-old lie that only religion can ensure a coherent morality system; that religion gives us morality, ergo atheists are amoral. Wrong way round. Morality existed long before religion: religion is an offshoot of an already embedded morality system.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Cruise control

Religious dimwits seem to be taking offence and attempting to block freedom of expression everywhere of late. Christians trying to stop the BBC broadcasting a popular musical. Sikhs bullying theatres into closing down productions. Muslims rioting over cartoons in Denmark. These are just the obvious examples over the last year or so. But now, it would seem, even Hollywood megastars are getting in on the act: Tom Cruise has been accused of getting an episode of South Park pulled because it makes fun of Scientology – the ‘faith’ to which he famously adheres. Rumour has it that Tom met with Viacom bigwigs and threatened to refuse to take part in any promotion of the upcoming blockbuster yawnathon Mission Impossible: 3 if the show was ever repeated (Viacom own both the Comedy Channel, which shows South Park, and Paramount Pictures, the studio behind MI:3). Isaac Hayes – another Scientologist and the voice of Chef in the show - also walked out last week in protest.

I’ve never liked Tom Cruise. First and foremost, you cannot trust short men. Hitler, Stalin, Napoleon, Mao Tse Tung, Ghengis Khan, Dennis Wise, jockeys. . . the list of diminutive types with evil intentions is long and noted. Then just look at the endless stream of shite Cruise has appeared in. Top Gun, where he starred as the cocky, rule breaking pilot. Days of Thunder, where he starred as the cocky, rule breaking racing driver. A Few Good Men, where he starred as the cocky, rule breaking lawyer. Jerry Maguire where he starred as the cocky, rule breaking sports agent. Clearly, his range is as small as his inside leg measurement.

Then there was that incident last summer when, as part of a prank for a Channel 4 ‘comedy’ called Balls of Steel, he was squirted in the face with water from a fake microphone at the London premiere for War of the Worlds. The sheer indignation and lack of humour he displayed following the incident (he even pressed charges for ‘assault’, though these were later dropped) was ridiculous. You’d think someone had thrown a bucket of excrement over Mother Teresa for all the fuss he made. Tom, you star in vacuous Hollywood drivel for millions of dollars per film: you’re not feeding the starving of Africa or developing a cure for cancer. You are a laughable caricature of stardom and you are ripe for ridicule.

But most objectionable of all has to be his devotion to the bonkers money-raising cult known to its adherents as the ‘Church of Scientology’. I’ve been looking into what they believe but, after doing some preliminary reading, I honestly don’t know where to begin. You’d be hard pushed to come up with a bigger pile of horsewank if you tried. In fact, you could imbibe your body weight in mind altering hallucinogens after fasting for a month and you would still be more intelligible. The whole ‘religion’ reads like a bad episode of Battlestar Galactica.

Wikipedia, as ever, is a great resource: read all about it for yourself here. In particular I enjoyed the section that deals with Xenu, the galactic tyrant who kidnapped billions of people from across the universe who he deemed to be ‘excess population’, then transported them by rockets – in a frozen state, of course- to the planet we call Earth. Then he dropped them into volcanoes. Then he blew them all up with hydrogen bombs. Oh, and then he brainwashed them with a huge motion picture for 36 days (sort of like watching U2’s Zoo TV show in the mid-nineties, only not as expensive and with less chance of Salman Rushdie walking onstage halfway) to really traumatise them. These tortured souls (‘body thetans’) then inhabited our bodies as human life evolved and are the root cause of all our anxieties, fears and insecurities.

Scientology can remove these, apparently, but at a cost. Meanwhile, our old chum Xenu (if anyone’s still interested) is believed to still be alive, but is imprisoned in a mountain by an eternal force field. And he’s watched over by a benevolent spirit called Eckyeckyecky Flambola III. (Actually, I made that last line up myself, but who would know?)

Anyway, back to South Park. The episode in question – Trapped in the Closet – was originally broadcast in the US last November. Scheduled for a repeat last week, it mysteriously wasn’t shown in its scheduled timeslot, rumours started flying of censorship at Viacom and an internet campaign has kicked off to get it televised again. It has never been shown in the UK and perhaps never will as our libel laws would allow Tom Cruise to sue. Because as well as lampooning Scientology, the show also has fun with the longstanding rumours about Cruise's sexuality. The episode features a scene where Tom hides in Stan’s closet and won’t come out. Cue the predictable (but very funny) sequence of people banging on the door and saying: “Mr Cruise, you can’t stay in the closet. You need to come out. Everyone is waiting for you to come out of the closet.” Hilarious. Alas, we won’t see it on UK television but you can watch the whole episode here. I did, and thoroughly recommend it. Just don’t tell Tom Cruise.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Time to step aside

The Economist argues that Tony Blair should stand down as soon as possible. It's difficult to disagree because, until he does, British politics is in stasis. Having already pledged to step aside before the next election, the uncertainty about when and how this will happen overhangs every government decision. Blair's popularity within his own party has probably never been lower and there are parallels with Maggie Thatcher in 1990: weakened by the hated poll tax, struggling to hold her authority over the party and no longer seen as a vote winner, it didn't take long for the Conservatives to give her the boot. Blair has Iraq instead of the poll tax, he's struggling to push through his reforms (the Education and Inspections Bill only passed through the Commons last week because the Conservatives backed it) and now faces, for the first time in his tenure as leader, a credible and popular opponent in David Cameron (who in many ways is a mirror of Blair ten years ago). Add to that an increasing number of sleaze allegations and it feels very much like this is a government in need of serious renewal.

Of course, Gordon Brown won't be instigating anything. As the inevitable incumbent, the last thing he wants is a civil war. But he must be itching to finally take the helm and go head to head with Cameron, as he will have to in the next election. In the meantime, he'll just have to sit there with ever decreasing patience, fuming in his inimitable Presbyterian way.

Tone has held the reins for just under nine years now: that is quite long enough for anyone to remain leader (I would personally prefer fixed term governments, with a maximum of eight years for any one person, like they have in the US). He should quit while he's still (just about) ahead, because at this point the only way is down.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Lord Sane?

Dear Tony Blair,

Please find enclosed a cheque for £1.37. Consider it a loan to the party, if you get my drift. Nudge nudge, wink wink, etc.

Obviously - other than a competitive rate of interest - I don’t expect anything in return. Nope, not a thing.

*coughs*

Mind you, I’ve always been quite partial to the feel of red leather. If you get my drift. I hear the House of Lords has plenty of red leather seats. And I’ve always seen myself as nobility. Lord Sane has a certain ring to it, don’t you think?

Anyway, no pressure.

All the best (I think you’re going to need it),
Citizen Sane

P.S. If you’d properly reformed the House of Lords you wouldn’t be having this controversy now. We’d elect members of the upper chamber, not handpick them. Just a thought.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Clarity versus incoherence in the Iraq debate

Two very different viewpoints on Iraq today.

Firstly, an unapologetic piece by the essential Oliver Kamm: We were right to invade Iraq. (This article also appears in today’s Guardian.) Kamm is always an intriguing read, being a self-declared left-wing supporter of neo-Conservative strategy. He’s even written a book about it. So while there’s nothing surprising about the content of this latest article, it’s still well worth reading.

Money quotes:

"Saddam allowed intrusive inspections only because of the threat of force. Containment of his regime would have meant continuous military deployment in neighbouring states and the no-fly zones; intensified economic sanctions; inspections coercive enough to withstand Saddam's intimidation and fraud; and the support of France and Russia. Even with personalities of greater competence than Hans Blix and higher morals than Jacques Chirac, that commitment would have been inconceivable. Of the permanent members of the security council, only the US and UK could have been relied on."

- - -

"Recall also the alacrity with which some commentators attributed the 7/7 bombings to the provocation of the Iraq war. Disgracefully, the New Statesman carried a cover picture of a rucksack with the caption "Blair's bombs". But containment would have meant persisting with what most outraged Osama bin Laden: western troops in Saudi Arabia - and Bin Laden urges "Muslims to prepare as much force as possible to terrorise the enemies of God".

- - -

"The failures of the occupation are legion: delayed elections, inadequate security, eroding infrastructure, complacency over the tortures at Abu Ghraib, and a heavy death toll among Iraqi civilians and our troops. But had we allowed Saddam's regime to persist, in defiance of its obligations under 17 UN security council resolutions, the consequences would have been an unalloyed catastrophe. The Uday-Qusay dynasty would have ensured further extreme oppression, unless and until the regime collapsed in chaos. It is a fine judgment whether a rogue state or a failed state, prey to the barbarities that jihadists are trying to inflict on Iraq now but without hindrance, would have been the worse prospect. The notion that terrorism has been brought to Iraq uniquely by the west's overthrow of Saddam, who bankrolled it and was the most likely conduit for Islamist groups to obtain WMD, is astonishingly ahistorical."

I’ve posted significant chunks of it here, but could easily have quoted it all.

Meanwhile, on The Guardian’s new Comment Is Free site, Gary Younge puts forward the opposite viewpoint in his post Marching into the mainstream. The premise of his argument is that “It's becoming apparent that the supporters of the Iraq war are morally and politically bankrupt. But when will the anti-war movement take advantage of its own position of strength?”

Younge sets his piece around the results of a CNN/USA Today poll showing that 57% of Americans now consider going to Iraq to have been a bad idea. All well and good, but if we’re talking statistics, nearly all polls conducted in Iraq show that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis are glad that Saddam and his psychotic henchmen have been driven out, arrested or killed. So where does that leave his argument? Nowhere, because he doesn’t actually have one. While Oliver Kamm has set out a well reasoned defence of a position that has become increasingly difficult to defend (you’d have to be deaf, dumb, blind and stupid to support the war but not acknowledge how disastrous much of the post-invasion strategy has been), Gary Younge just trots out once more the bland protestations of the anti-war movement. I’ve yet to read a convincing anti-war piece because they all peddle the same insubstantial, self-satisfied arguments, posited around one or all of the following: “It’s all about the oil”; “It’s all for Halliburton’s benefit”; “It’s American imperialism”; “It’s a crusade against Muslims”; “Blair is just Bush’s poodle”, etc, etc, etc. The other old classic is the claim that ‘we’ armed Saddam in the first place. Actually, ‘we’ didn’t arm Iraq to any great extent at all (the vast majority of their weaponry was bought from France and the Soviet Union*), this is just another falsehood that has been repeated so often it’s become accepted as a fact in many quarters.

A principled objection to war is one thing, but I’ve never come across anything written by anybody who opposed the invasion explaining why removing the tyrant of an imploding rogue state, who menaced the whole region for decades, is a bad thing. If anyone thinks they can point me in the right direction then, please, enlighten me.

Younge, meanwhile, signs off with the following:

"As the situation in Iraq moves to the next level so should we. The marches are important; but what we need now is a movement."

No. What you need, what you have always needed, is a coherent argument.


* According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which conducts research in these areas. A list of arms sold to Iraq from 1970-2004, by country, can be read here (.pdf).

Comment Is Free - über blog

I don’t think this is even officially live yet (I picked it up via Andrew Sullivan), but The Guardian have launched Comment Is Free, a new blog-based comment and analysis section of their website. It’s being described as a British Huffington Post and will eventually feature up to 200 different writers. Looks quite interesting, but I hope the range of contributors and content are a bit more varied than they are in the paper itself. Still, it's good to see a major mainstream media outlet taking blogging seriously rather than contemptuously dismissing the phenomenon, as is so often the case.

UPDATE 1.19pm Then again, look who's listed as a contributor. Jesus wept.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Guess who's back, back again?

Damn! How did I miss this? It seems our old chum George Galloway has been given his own slot on Talksport radio and the first show went out on Saturday. Good to see yet more steadfast commitment to his responsibilities to the people of Bethnal Green and Bow.

Here’s some blurb from Talksport’s website, babbling excitedly about their sensational signing:
‘Gorgeous’ George has shared company with some of the world’s most colorful (sic) figures like former president of Iraq, Suddam (sic) Hussein, and Cuban chief, Fidel Castro and will tackle both political and non-political topics during the two-hour current affairs programme, inviting listeners to join in and air their views.
Invading neighbouring countries, gassing your own population and overseeing a brutal police state make you a ‘colourful’ figure? The sheer incongruity of this facile drivel leaves me lost for words. Check out the spelling mistakes too: clearly there are some real intellectual heavyweights at this station.

Meanwhile, according to Egregious George:
"I intend to make this the most talked-about talk show on radio - I think I have a pretty good track record of stimulating debate. . . . . Most politicians - and most politics - are boring. I don't think even my worst enemy could call me that."
Perhaps not. But we could call you a boorish, moustachioed fuckwit.

Galloway can be heard on Talksport 1089/1053AM every Saturday and Sunday 8pm-10pm, should anyone take leave of their senses and fancy listening to his Trotskyist horseshit.

Personally I’d rather take a hammer to my own knees.

That's one less genocidal murderer on the planet

So Slobodan Milosevic is dead. It couldn’t happen to a nicer genocidal butcher. Long may he rot. Nice though it would have been to see the trial concluded and justice done, in reality he was likely to have been acquitted of many offences owing to the sheer complexity of the charges and the difficulty in successfully pinning them to him. Still, only Serbian nationalists and Harold Pinter will be mourning today*.

* Pinter is a member of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic, which maintains that Milosevic is innocent of all charges and should be released. For more information, read this great piece by Johann Hari.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Life, liberty and property. Oh, and exorbitant taxes. (A rant about the cost of moving house.)

I’m currently in the process of selling my flat and buying a house with Citizeness Sane (we need to make space for her shoes). It’s going to be great: we will have such luxuries as (gasp!) a garden! And an upstairs! And a second bedroom! And we’ll own it outright too, so no more lease management company charging me six hundred pounds a year for nothing.

But it’s a damn expensive process, moving house. Solicitor fees, mortgage broker fees, estate agent commission (“here, have 2% of the value of the property for doing fuck all”), surveyor fees, removal costs, etc. Oh, and stamp duty. Stamp duty. Don’t get me started on stamp duty.

Couple:
We’re going to buy a house.

Government:
That’s great! Exactly the sort of thing we want to encourage. Now please make out a cheque for one per cent of the value of the property you are buying.

Couple:
Err, excuse me?

Government:
Well, you’re buying a house. So it stands to reason that you should give us a couple of thousand pounds. So cough up you little tax bitches, or we’ll send the bailiffs round.

It’s sickening. We’ve already been screwed by the value of property in this country, especially in London. To then have to hand money over like this makes me foam at the mouth with rage. If I ever meet Gordon Brown I’ll stick his ‘stamp duty’ up his fat arse. In gold bullion.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Giving good headline

We like a good heading here at Liberal Elite. I don’t care what anyone says, you can’t whack a good pun.

So seeing as today is the blog's first anniversary, and in the spirit of nostalgia, here are ten of my favourites from the last year.

On the deportation of ten Islamic extremists (August 05):
"Abu, Abu Qatada, I wanna reach out and grab ya"

On the porn crackdown (August 05):
Marquis de Barred

On overhauling Gordon Brown’s public image (September 2005):
Never a frown with Gordon Brown

On WMDs (November 05):
Lies, damn lies and ballistics

On the Conservative Party leadership debates (November 05):
Two Davids but no Goliath

The Catholic Church’s attitude to homosexuality (November 05):
Ah, men

On civil partnerships for gays in the UK (December 05):
The sun’ll come out, Gomorrah!

On Simon Hughes coming out of the closet (January 2006):
Hughes a pretty boy?

On the smoking ban (January 2006):
Yeah butt, no butt

And finally, my favourite (although unfortunately a lot of people didn’t get it) has to be the one about sharia law for Muslim communities (February 2006):
How do you solve a problem like sharia?

I will not celebrate meaningless milestones

It was 365 days ago today. . . Oh yes, Liberal Elite is one year old. Happy birthday, many happy returns, fetch the cakes, etc, etc.

It’s interesting re-reading the first ever post – Liberal Elite’s ‘mission statement’. I still pretty much stand by what I wrote on that day. Although I won’t be reinstating the slogan ‘Because You’re Wrong’ any time soon, amusing though it was at the time. It was only ever intended to be tongue-in-cheek anyway, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned writing this blog over the last year it’s that opinions should be constantly addressed and challenged and that you can find common ground with the most unlikely people sometimes. Additionally, you can often find yourself vehemently disagreeing with those you thought shared many of your beliefs.

It’s a funny old world.

So what were The Realist (RIP) and myself scribbling about way back in March 2005? Hot topics of the month were: Sinn Fein fundraising in the US, an alternative to Red Nose Day, debt cancellation and the Catholic Church’s complicity in African poverty and ignorance, the Pope’s terminal illness, the ethics of listening to Michael Jackson’s music should he be found guilty, the Catholic Church on The Da Vinci Code, non-Irish people ‘celebrating’ St. Patrick’s Day, Labour’s inevitable third electoral victory and the Catholic Church on abortion. Plus some other stuff. Hmmm. Glad the blog isn’t quite so obsessed with the Vatican these days.

Still, good times, good times. Here’s to many more years of ranting, raving and (occasionally) reasoned debate.