Friday, August 25, 2006

Welcome to Hitler's. Would you like to see today's specials?

A newly opened restaurant in Mumbai has decided to change its name after a mass of complaints. Understandably, the local Jewish community (and, I suspect, most right thinking people) obejcted to the name "Hitler's Cross".

One of the managers acknowledged that naming a restaurant after Hitler was "most inappropriate". Really? Do you think so? What was the thought process at work here? "OK, we're opening a new restaurant. We need a name that's catchy, one that will really bring the punters in. Oh, I've got it! Let's name it after Hitler. You know, because of that whole restaurant-food-Nazi connection. Perfect!" Sack the marketing company I reckon.

I'm eager to know what name they come up with as a replacement. Hitler's Cross is kind of a tough one to follow. Stalin's Diner perhaps? Pol Pot's Brasserie?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Putting the 'mad' in Madonna

As pop icons go, Madonna is hard to beat. Pretty much at the top of her game for over two decades now (creatively barren spell in the mid 1990s notwithstanding; nor will we mention the hideousness of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina – we all cried, Madge. We all cried.), she has a veritable cannon of pop classics for the casual listener to choose from. I, for one, have very fond memories of driving down to Brighton with Citizeness Sane a few years back listening to Immaculate Collection. Borderline was always my favourite. Even now, after a few nips of cooking sherry, I am occasionally known to bellow “Madge!” when asked what we should listen to next. Because there are times when only some quality Madge will suffice. And I speak as an unreconstructed, overgrown indie-boy.

But she should definitely stick to music, as anyone who has watched any of her films would surely agree. And she definitely shouldn’t get involved in political lobbying for, alas, it seems she has. As adherents of the ‘religion’ known as Kabbalah, Madge and husband Guy Ritchie are reported to have approached the government and nuclear industry a couple of years ago, proposing an initiative to rid the world of nuclear waste by the wonderful magical powers of Kabbalah fluid. Apparently, this special elixir has successfully neutralised dangerous nuclear waste in Ukraine. According to one official party to the conversation: “It was like a crank call… the scientific mechanisms and principles were just bollocks, basically.” Surely not?

The Kabbalah Centre (based in California – of course – and founded by former insurance salesman Philip Berg in 1984) believes that water is a uniquely important substance (which, to be fair, cannot be denied. Should their followers ever doubt this, I recommend they try to live without it for a week or two. No, really. Try.) that can be given magic healing powers (oh dear) through “meditations and the consciousness of sharing”. The consciousness of sharing? This makes no sense. Not even semantically.

It gets funnier. According to insider reports at Kabbalah Centre meetings, Berg leads with chants of “Chernobyl” and other nuclear power plants, which other cult members believe is instrumental in healing the problem of nuclear waste. Both Madge and Guy have been seen taking part in this event, incanting the name while facing east. Which makes sense: it would never work if you faced the other way. That would just be a waste of time.

Oh mercy!

Madge, please stop trying to save the world with this horseshit and stick to what you do best: making pop music and irritating the church. And Guy? Ditto. Although I’m not sure what that is, now the bottom has fallen out of the market for ‘geezer’ gangster films. Perhaps you should get Phillip Berg to lead a chant of “Guy” from Kabbalah HQ whilst looking over the Hollywoood hills? Perhaps that will drum up enough positive energy to reinvigorate your flagging directing career? Oh, to be rich, famous and stupid.

How to halve your blog's readership in one swift move

Transfer over to the new Blogger Beta.

It seems that since making the change, all the traffic that used to come via Google has disappeared. Until last week, searching for "liberal elite" on Google.com would be the top result. But now? Not a sign. The same goes for any other search that was previously bringing people here. Dammit.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Euston Manifesto

I have just signed up to the Euston Manifesto. Launched to considerable fanfare in April, it is an organisation of leftist academics, journalists and activists committed to re-stating the principles of the democratic left. It is an attempt to distance themselves from the quagmire of much of what passes for left wing 'thought' these days, which is so often consumed with blind hatred for America, Israel and the West generally, not to mention the more insidious recent alignment with the forces of extreme Islamism which, as I have argued many times, is an abhorrent and un-natural marriage of convenience between two movements that, opposition to US and UK foreign policy aside, share no common ground whatsoever.

Amongst the Manifesto's statement of principles are commitments to spreading democracy, refusal to apologise for tyrants, human rights for all, equality, development for freedom, opposing anti-Americanism, a two state solution for Israel and Palestine, combating racism, opposition to terror, fostering internationalism, critical openness, historical truth and freedom of ideas.

Which all sounds good to me and I like to think that much of what I write here covers similar ground.

Norman Geras and Nick Cohen were among the founding members. Other signatories include Oliver Kamm, Francis Wheen and Harry Hatchett of Harry’s Place, so I consider myself in good company. Suffice to say, George Galloway has not signed up.

You can read the manifesto for yourself here.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Is the unthinkable becoming more likely?

Last October I wrote a piece postulating on the possibility of ever voting for the Conservative Party one day. The conclusion was that, in all probability, this would not happen, because of the unlikelihood of that particular animal being attractive to me. Since then, of course, the party has elected David Cameron as its leader (one of the conditions for me ever being able to stomach them in the first place), who has embarked on a major charm offensive. Recognising that his party has, for many years, made stomachs turn, he has gone to great lengths to re-engineer the entire Tory (even that is now a dirty word) ethos, and drag them to the centre. So much so that he is now going toe-to-toe with Tony Blair in virtually every way.

It’s the summer, so most politicians are meant to be on holiday somewhere, enjoying the enormous break they all receive at this time of year courtesy of us, the generous taxpayers. But not Big Dave. He’s doing the rounds, trying to keep himself in the papers and the public eye. Yesterday he was criticising the government’s efforts at combating Islamic terrorism in the UK. Today, he’s gone to the trouble of revealing a mini-manifesto. Which was nice of him. Let’s go through the key points and see how they measure up to the wish list I put together last year:

"Flatter and simpler" taxes and deregulation for industry
Yes, I have long liked the idea of a flat tax. Simplification of our sprawling and complex tax system, reducing the need for an army of overpaid bureaucrats at the Inland Revenue and closing tax loops exploited by the rich and their clever accountants? Definitely worth investigation.

Reducing means testing for pensioners, paid for by raising the retirement age
A great vote winner for the Tories. After all, most of their base is over sixty. Raising the retirement age is, unfortunately, a requirement for whoever gets in power. The pension deficit isn’t getting any smaller.

A "huge increase" in drug rehabilitation places for young offenders
Part of Cameron’s infamous “hug a hoodie” initiative I suppose. But I agree. Sending drug abusers to prison is like sending gamblers to Las Vegas.

"Binding annual targets" for carbon emissions
Easily said, not easily done. But again, I can’t fault the logic.

Ending the "culture of top down centralisation and targets" in the NHS
Ironic, seeing as his party introduced the idea in the first place, but still…

More "streaming and setting" in schools
Nothing wrong with pushing smarter kids up the ladder. As long as the others aren’t completely given up on of course. Nothing wrong with testing kids either and (gosh) occasionally failing them if they’re not up to standard.

Creating a "unified border police" and a homeland security minister
Like, whatever.

A New Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act
I like the idea in principle – I’ve always supported constitutional reform and an enshrined Bill of Rights would be a part of that. Getting out of the European Human Rights Act wouldn’t be an easy task though.

Scrapping the government's proposed ID card scheme and unelected regional assemblies
Definitely scrap the ID card. It will cost billions, go over budget, then cost billions more. It would be cheaper to simply let the benefit fraud that it would supposedly eliminate continue. It wouldn’t make any difference in fighting terrorism. As we’ve seen in the last year, our biggest threat comes from naturalised British citizens.

It has to be said, the blueprint set out here comes closer to matching the sort of liberal policies I would like to see our government represent than anything else I have seen recently. There is nothing here that would offend me. Of course, he’s got to sell the idea to the rest of his party – and there are still some hoary old monsters in there – not to mention their elderly membership, for the transformation to continue. But so far, so good. Big Dave, you’ve got me listening. It will be interesting to see where you go from here. My vote is very much up for grabs, I have little regard for any of the parties these days. If you could just take another look at your party’s name. The Conservatives. I just don’t like it. Would you consider changing it to something more agreeable? The Liberal Party, perhaps? Then you’d really have my attention.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Terrorism, foreign policy and accountability

The events of Thursday served as a timely reminder that there will probably never again be a time where the threat of a major terrorist incident is not a routine part of British life. Although you could argue that we have never lived in such a world: after all, it wasn’t so long ago that London and other UK cities were frequent targets for the IRA. But the threat we face now is an altogether different animal. The IRA, at least, had a political face (of sorts), a stated, tangible objective and, more often than not, gave an advance warning to clear the targeted area of civilians before detonating their bombs. Now the biggest domestic threat we face is predominantly home grown and wishes to inflict the highest death count possible in the name of medieval religious fanaticism. Was anybody surprised to learn that the people arrested in those police raids are all British citizens? After 7/7, I certainly wasn’t.

What is attracting young British Muslims to such murderous ideology? Many speak of the ‘alienation’ they feel, but why should it be more acute in this particular minority? Where are the Sikh suicide bombers? The Hindus? The Buddhists? The Mormons? There are fewer barriers to integration in British society than ever before and racism, while still undoubtedly a problem, is far less common in the UK than in many other countries in Europe. Look at France, where racism manifests itself in many more pernicious ways than here (they only got their first black TV newsreader this year – it was a huge national story), and they have the largest Muslim population on the continent. Last year saw the huge outbreaks of riots by a frustrated and dispossessed underclass, but still no suicide bombers in their midst. Moreover, a far higher percentage of French Muslims place their national identity before their religious affiliation than here in Britain. According to a recent Pew poll of Muslims worldwide, 81% of Muslims in the UK identify themselves by their religion above their country of residence; in France the figure was 46%. Only in Pakistan was this figure higher than the UK, AT 87%.

Meanwhile, British Muslim groups (among them, three Muslim MPs) have written to the Prime Minister calling for a reassessment of British foreign policy towards the Middle East which, they claim, is exacerbating unrest and putting British lives in danger. Well, British foreign policy over the last five years has been predominantly a response to post-9/11 reality, so this would appear to be a cart-before-horse situation. I’d take this letter a lot more seriously if it unequivocally condemned the actions of Muslim extremists who see the murdering and maiming of civilians as a divine mission. If it showed some sort of commitment to tackling the cancer within their own faith. But there is no mention of this, other than the bland platitude that “Attacking civilians is never justified”. Moreover, while urging the PM to “do more to fight against all those who target civilians with violence, whenever and wherever that happens”, it doesn’t occur to them that the Prime Minister believes he is pursuing such a strategy. They clearly disagree with the methods employed, but offer no alternative vision, nor any clarification of how a change to British foreign policy might make any difference to the civil war that is raging within the Islamic faith between the forces of moderation and the deranged fantasists intent on killing all non-believers. Foreign Office minister Kim Howells has responded to the letter, calling it ‘facile’. I’d go one further and say they are making a casual assumption and dressing it up as fact that there is a direct link between government policy and young men blowing themselves up. Such an argument is dangerous and counter-productive. This critique of British foreign policy seems to be based purely on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan too, both comparatively recent events. This leader in The Observer was a surprise to read, arguing (correctly) that there is no ‘war against Islam’ being raged by Britain and the United States and that, in fact, two of the highest profile international policies of the last ten years were undertaken to protect Muslims: the NATO interventions in the Balkans to protect Muslims from genocide in Bosnia and Kosovo (something that Tony Blair was instrumental in, to his credit); and the ongoing diplomatic efforts of the Clinton administration to forge a workable peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Neither of which made any difference to the planning and implementation of 9/11, so where is the evidence of a link between foreign policy and Islamic terrorism there? Such acts have occurred and will continue to occur regardless of British and American foreign policy. Any claim to the contrary is specious in the extreme.

Going back to that Pew poll, another interesting statistic is shown: only 22% of the British Muslims polled want to adopt national customs, 64% wish to remain distinct from society. This is the real problem here. Far from being ‘alienated’ from the rest of the country, nearly two-thirds of Muslims in the UK wish to live exclusively in their own communities amongst followers of their own faith, and to resist the characteristics of life in a modern liberal democracy. Another failing of the orthodoxy of modern multiculturalism.

Lord Stevens, the former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has today written in the News of the World that the issue of Islamic terrorism is a problem for the Muslim community to deal with, and that it is time to take some ownership. These words will undoubtedly provoke cries of anguish from politically correct mandarins, but there is a lot of truth to his argument. This is not to condemn the entire Muslim community in this country – far from it. But the best way to stamp out this kind of extremism is within the very communities from which they emerge. Based on the hand-wringing letter sent to the prime minister by senior members of the Muslim community, we are a long way from seeing that happening.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Hezbollocks

I had no idea anti-Israeli/anti-Semitic sentiment ran so high beyond the confines of the hard left and the extreme right (what an interesting coalescence that is). Not to mention that toxic dwarf Mel Gibson. In the last week I’ve experienced (well, endured would be a more accurate description) several conversations, with people I consider to be reasonable and intelligent human beings, about the current conflict in Israel and Lebanon and found myself aghast at their position on the subject. One argument was functional: "the Israeli response is disproportionate to the threat they face, too many innocent people are being killed and nobody has ever been successful in a campaign against a guerrilla army". Another was, quite frankly, disgusting: "the Israeli response is disproportionate and, in any case, the country has no right to exist."

The latter isn’t even worthy of response, but for the first I would ask this: how, exactly, should a country respond when a terrorist organisation committed to your eradication starts firing hundreds of rockets at your civilians from beyond your national borders? Rockets provided mostly by Iran – a theocratic dinosaur with nuclear ambitions - whose fanatical leader has also expressed his wish to see your country removed from the map? Then, to compound matters further, said terrorist organisation blend their weapons and 'soldiers' amongst their host nation’s civilian population? You certainly cannot negotiate – the people you are fighting do not even recognise your right to exist – and there are no military targets to specifically go after because they have purposefully integrated into residential areas to both hide themselves and ensure as high a death count as possible in the hope that it will trigger a pan-Islamic response.

Israel has unquestionably made some tactical errors, and innocent lives have been tragically lost, but I lay all blame squarely at the feet of Hezbollah and their Iranian/Syrian backers. And these people who see equivalence between the actions of the state of Israel and those of a terrorist organisation essentially bankrolled by a fascist dictatorship are seriously deluded.

“We are all Hezbollah now”, read one of the placards on the anti-war demo in London last weekend. Oh, how low some on the left have sunk. There’s a huge debate raging over at The Guardian’s Comment is Free blog right now, prompted by a post from Harold Evans criticising those who are comfortable to share a platform with these people. It’s worth a read, if only for the rarity value of a comment piece in The Guardian that doesn’t instinctively take an anti-Israel position.