Wednesday 29 September 2010

I'm on holiday

Back next month. No parties while I'm away, OK?

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Ed's inspiration?

"Let the word go forth from this time and place ... that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans"

JFK, Friday 20 January, 1961.

"Let the message go out, a new generation has taken charge of Labour."

Ed Miliband, Tuesday 28 September, 2010.

Richard Littlejohn is a lying sack of shit

Richard Littlejohn. Two words to strike fear into the heart of any right-thinking individual, but two words that never cease to provide media-watching bloggers with an endless stream of material.

Littlejohn's usual form involves taking some fairly innocent real-life event, removing a few key facts, then using it to support his twisted world-view: "gypsies given com-pen-say-shun to buy free mobile phones under elf-N-safety rules to protect Yuman Rites because of Cherie Blair", that kind of thing.

today's column he gives up on such subtleties and instead opts for being what can best be described as a "lying sack of shit".

"During the General Election campaign, David Cameron promised that his government would help people who did the right thing. How does that square with the news that Lance Corporal Craig Baker and his family have been refused a council house after he returned home to Bracknell ­following a tour of duty in Afghanistan? Especially as any Afghan climbing off the back of a lorry in Dover goes automatically to the top of the housing list."
Really Richard? Really? "Any Afghan climbing off the back of a lorry in Dover goes automatically to the top of the housing list"? This isn't even twisting the truth, this is simply making things up. And if you make something up, know it's not true but present it as if it is, that makes you a liar. Not a journalist, not a commentator, a liar.

When our hypothetical Afghan jumps off the back of a lorry in Dover, he's not allowed to go on the council housing list. That's because in 2001 responsibility for housing asylum seekers was taken away from councils and handed to the UK Border Agency. UKBA "has a contract with housing providers rather than tenancy agreements with asylum seekers, who are excluded from social housing lists".

In other words, the Afghan arriving in Dover will not even be on the same list as Lance Corporal Baker, let alone able to automatically go to the top of it. So the plight of the Baker family and the status of the Afghan have literally nothing in common. They are totally unrelated. The fact that the UKBA will try to find somewhere for the Afghan to live temporarily while his asylum application is handled will have absolutely no bearing on whether or not Bracknell Council find the Bakers a suitable home.

But let's give Littlejohn the benefit of the doubt and say he was talking about the longer term. What then? Well, if our Afghan friend's asylum application was successful - and as the Immigration and Asylum Tribunal ruled last year that the level of "indiscriminate violence" in Afghanistan was not enough to permit Afghans to claim general humanitarian protection in the United Kingdom it's far from a given that refugee status will be granted - he could then apply for council housing under the same system as Lance Corporal Baker and his family.

How would he get to the top of the council housing list? By waiting, just like everyone else. There is no legal way for any kind of immigrant to "automatically" get priority over anybody else on the list, other than by fulfilling the same factors that apply to everyone else, British, European, Afghan or whatever. To say otherwise isn't just distorting the truth, it's lying.

In order to be accurate, Littlejohn should have written:
"During the General Election campaign, David Cameron promised that his government would help people who did the right thing. How does that square with the news that Lance Corporal Craig Baker and his family have been refused a council house after he returned home to Bracknell ­following a tour of duty in Afghanistan? Especially as any Afghan climbing off the back of a lorry in Dover can be added to the council housing list and treated like everyone else on it provided he successfully applies for refugee status. While his asylum application is pending he would be temporarily housed under a system that has nothing to do with the one Lance Corporal Baker is applying under."
But that wouldn't have supported his narrative. It wouldn't have pandered to the prejudices of his readership. It wouldn't have been his "unique style".

The PCC are always reluctant to take action against columnists on matters of accuracy as people know when they read a column they are getting opinion rather than news. But on this occassion Littlejohn has simply made something up, and done so in a clear attempt to create a "them and us" society and reinforce urban myths about foreigners. Such lies would not be out of place in a BNP leaflet, yet here they are in one of Britain's best-known and longest-running newspapers.

David English must be turning in his grave.

I've just submitted a complaint to the PCC. Full text is below, I'll keep you posted on any reply I receive:

In his column published on Tuesday 28 September, Richard Littlejohn mentions the case of a former soldier who has been unable to secure council housing from his local authority. In the article he states that: "any Afghan climbing off the back of a lorry in Dover goes automatically to the top of the housing list."

This is a breach of section 1 clause 1 of the Code of Practice:
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

Littlejohn's comments are clearly inaccurate and misleading.

No "Afghan climbing off the back of a lorry in Dover" will "automatically" be moved to the front of the queue for a council house. For one thing, asylum seekers are not even allowed to join a council's housing list until their application has been processed and they have been granted permission to remain in the country. Even after that has happened, there is no mechanism for them to be "automatically" given priority over anybody else.

To state otherwise is inaccurate. This is not a case of a commentator expressing an opinion that some people may be uncomfortable with; Littlejohn's claim has absolutely no basis in truth, and is therefore in breach of the Code.

In addition, publishing such a grossly inaccurate statment flies in the face of the Commission's own guidance to editiors on the issue of asylum seekers: "the Commission – in previous adjudications under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code – has underlined the danger that inaccurate, misleading or distorted reporting may generate an atmosphere of fear and hostility that is not borne out by the facts."

Monday 27 September 2010

Daily Mail gets its priorities right

Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition has a new leader! Exciting times for wonks and wonkettes everywhere - will Ed M take Labour back to the Left? Will his elder brother want to stick around and work with him? Will he be beholden to to the unions?

All complex questions. Fortunately, you can rely on the Daily Mail to highlight the really important facts:
Ed Miliband becomes first British political leader of a major party to be living with his family out of wedlock
It's also worth remembering that, as Sunder Katwala pointed out in spectacular style last year, the Daily Mail thinks you're not really British if you're the child - or even grandchild - of immigrants. The paper wasn't shy about asking "Is there ANYTHING British about Nick Clegg?" back when they thought the Lib-Dems were a BAD THING. The DPM's mother is Dutch, but his dad (who is half Russian) was born and bred in Buckinghamshire; what on earth will Dacre's mob make of a Labour leader whose dad was born in Belgium (and entered Britain illegally!) and whose mother is Polish?

Honestly, those foreigners. They come over here and steal our political parties...

Friday 24 September 2010

Jan Moir, crusader for equality

Reading the work of Daily Mail columnists is dangerous work, especially while drinking hot coffee. While flicking through Jan Moir's latest missive on the train this morning I fired a a steaming jet of Starbucks out of my nose when she criticised assorted MPs for fostering inequality.

Commenting on the unseemly slanging match that kicked off between Angela Eagle and Nadine Dorries on Wednesday's Newsnight (they were supposed to be debating women's rights), Moir sarcastically says:
"Well done all round girls. Together we are really moving forward on the equality agenda."
You read correctly. That's Jan Moir - the "journalist" who holds the proud record of penning the single most-complained about column in the history of British newspapers - complaining about other people not doing enough to foster a culture of equality in this country.

What a strange and troubling thing for her to say. It must have been anything but natural for her to write it...

Tuesday 21 September 2010

How journalism works: sins of omission

I have several friends and friends-of-friends who work in Civil Service press offices. In the pub on Saturday night one of them mentioned, with a groan, that the Mail on Sunday had spent the second half of the week ringing round every single government department asking them how much of the meat in their staff canteens was halal.

As a life-long vegetarian I applaud the Mail group for developing a sudden interest in the finer points of animal welfare - obviously this story has NOTHING to do with the fact that halal meat is something Muslims eat. No no no. It's all about how inhumane the halal slaughter process is. To prove it, there's even an angry quote from someone at animal rights group Viva!, an organisation the Mail has not previously expressed a great deal of love for as one of its leading lights is Heather Mills. She got the full Jan Moir treatment in July when the Mail's resident hate-monger visited her vegan cafe on the south coast.

Anyhow, it turned out that the vast majority of canteens in government buildings don't actually serve any halal meat as a matter of course, although most can order it in if required for specific functions and events.

However, I found this out by speaking to some government press officers. You wouldn't have found it out by reading the Mail on Sunday. Its story simply listed all the places that DO serve halal meat - Wembley Stadium, some pub chains, a few hospitals and some schools - in order to prove that we're living in what the headline calls "Halal Britain"

Had it emerged that every building in Whitehall was stocked to the rafters with ritually slaughtered sheep and cows, you can bet that it would have been right there in the headline. However, in Mail World if a fact doesn't fit the story, it's always best to leave it out.

Closing something because people don't like it = health and safety madness

Earlier this week David Cameron trailed an announcement about "the end of health and safety madness", which was predictably lapped up by the tabloids. Richard Littlejohn was clearly worried that this might leave him with nothing to write about*, as he makes clear in his latest column:
"For the past 15 years, this column has made a good living out of elf'n'safety. Now, though, the Government is promising to put an end to the madness, scrapping the stupid rules and risk assessments, and derailing the spiv lawyers cashing in on the com-pen-say-shun culture. No one has told Lancaster City Council, which has banned revellers from watching the city's annual fireworks display from Castle Hill, citing - you guessed - elf'n'safety."
Something else you can probably guess is that Littlejohn isn't telling the whole story. As is so often the case you have to go to the local paper to get some actual journalism with a bit of balance. Over in the Lancaster Guardian we learn that:
"Lancaster City Council has decided not to allow people into the Castle and Priory area on November 6, citing negative feedback from visitors last year and potential safety issues."
Right from the off they're clear that the dreaded safety issues are just one of the factors in play, but Littlejohn overlooks this as it doesn't fit his narrative. The Lancaster Guardian also spoke to the council’s "assistant head of community engagement", Gill Hague who said:
"Visitors told us that the castle precinct was cramped and is not a particularly good area from which to view the fireworks due to its historic layout. Many people found that their view of the fireworks was blocked by spectators, buildings and trees. Last year we experimented with limiting numbers at the castle but we received similar comments.”
Which begins to make it sound like the primary reason for closing the hill is not "elf and safety" at all - it's just not a great place to watch fireworks from something that the council learned by SPEAKING TO THE PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY WENT THERE, something highly paid migrant Richard Littlejohn can't be arsed to do.

The only mention of safety comes when Ms Hague states that

"...People's safety was one consideration."
So not the only consideration. Yet even if it WAS the only consideration, is this necessarily a bad thing? Littlejohn trots out the favourite line of the "common sense brigade" when he states that
" has taken place for the past 18 years without anyone getting hurt."
But is this really relevant? As the Lancaster Guardian states:
"the event has grown in popularity over recent years, making it increasingly difficult for people to get into the Castle area and see the event."

So if more people are coming to watch than in previous years, the area will become more overcrowded and hence more dangerous - especially in the dark, in potentially bad weather and with lots of small children, all of which are expected at bonfire night displays. The council isn't banning fireworks, it's not stopping the display, it's not insisting that kids wear goggles in case fireworks fall out of the sky and impale them. It's just closing one viewing area that is getting too crowded for people to enjoy and too crowded to be policed safely.

If this is the sort of elf-and-safety gone mad that David Cameron wants to ban, we may be in more trouble than I thought...

*Apart from the Muslims and the gays and the immigrants and the gay muslim immigrants, obviously. Oh, and the feminists - bunch of lesbians, the lot of them.

Tuesday 14 September 2010

It's wrong. Are you?

The Independent's gossip column, High Street Ken (do you see what they've done there? They're based on Kensington High Street! Their nearest Tube station is High Street Kensington! Oh, the roffle-inducing hilarity of it all) is clearly suffering due to its author's inability to locate gossip.

Highlights of today's column include Clive Anderson saying nothing in particular about Piers Morgan getting a new job, and George Galloway (remember him?) getting paid slightly less than he was expecting for an appearance on a TV programme. Hot stuff.

The best (worst?) item is another attempt at hilarity, one that is undermined both by its total lack of humour and a schoolboy factual error. Here's the offending item in full:

In her role as Minister for Women and Equalities, Theresa May reminded George Osborne that his budget could face an "equality audit" under rules implemented by the last government. Yet Ms May, in her other role as Home Secretary, is herself responsible for a brutal gender bias in the prison system. In a written reply to the Commons, the Justice minister Crispin Blunt revealed details of the satellite TV packages available to prisoners under an "enhanced privileges" scheme.

"In the 62 establishments where digital channels are available," Blunt said, "prisoners have access to nine free-to-view channels in-cell. These are BBC1, BBC2, ITV1, Channel 4, Channel Five, Sky Sports News (E4 in female prisons), ITV3, Viva and Film4." "E4 in female prisons"? So, while their male counterparts enjoy the many pleasures of Soccer Saturday with Jeff Stelling, female jailbirds are forced to endure endless re-runs of Friends? Cruel and inhuman, surely.

Not exactly Oscar Wilde on the wit front. And not exactly what you'd hope a "quality" national newspaper would aspire to on the accuracy front, either. As anyone with even a passing interest in Westminster knows, the Home Secretary isn't responsible for prisons and hasn't been since 2007 when the Ministry of Justice was created. Perhaps High Street Ken should stick to breaking major stories about how actor Michael Sheen looks a bit like embattled former BP chief Tony Hayward.

Monday 13 September 2010

Who's furious, exactly?

You know what you're getting with the Daily Star and progressive liberalism it ain't, so complaining about the horrendous way it reported a "story" about transsexual prisoners being allowed to request a strip search by a member of staff who shares their adopted gender seems rather redundant. Let's just say that the paper ran with the headline*:

Tranny strip-search fury

...and that it all went downhill from there, even managing refer to people whose:

"meat and two veg are still intact"
Classy. As I said, complaining about the use of language such as "trannies" in a Daily Star story is somewhat pointless. Suffice to say it wouldn't pass muster with the good people at Trans Media Watch. So let's ignore the bigotry (and the, er, interesting choice of photo on the website) and focus on the facts, starting with that headline. There's "fury" about these new rules, apparently. As the first sentence says:

"Female prison officers are angry at new rules which mean they may ordered to strip search transexual [sic] lags"
Further down we're told that;

"The move is creating unrest among female prison officers reluctant to strip-search male inmates."
But the only quote in the story, direct or otherwise, comes from a spokesman for the Ministry of Justice who, somewhat predictably, points out that these are not "new rules" but draft guidelines that have yet to be approved or implemented. Nowhere is there any evidence whatsoever of "angry" prison officers reacting with "fury". There's no quote from a named or anonymous prison officer expressing any opinion at all. There's not even that tabloid staple, the made-up quote that perfectly matches the paper's editorial line using language only ever deployed by tabloid hacks. They can't even get a response out of the Prison Officers Association, who are never shy about generating a media profile.

In short, there's absolutely no evidence of anyone being "furious" or "angry" about the proposed guidelines. Yet the Star manages to put "fury" in the sub-head, "angry" in the opening sentence and "unrest" further down the story.

Surely if prison officers up and down the land are up in arms, as the paper suggests, they'd be able to find at least ONE person who could actually say so?

*That's in the paper itself - the website used the slightly tamer "Female guards may be forced to search male trannies"

Friday 10 September 2010

Is the Daily Mail publishing child porn?

it was 2007 when the media first really discovered the power of Facebook. When a disgruntled student shot 32 people and himself at Virgina Tech, journalists around the world suddenly added themselves to the university's Facebook network, allowing them to view the profiles and (crucially) photographs of the victims. A picture of a "pretty" female victim wearing a revealing toga at fancy-dress party was used over and over again, the post-massacre equivalent of A-level results day.

Ever since then I've had a nagging fear that, if I die in some tragic or unusual manner, picture editors will plunder my Facebook profile for pictures and that the world will remember me looking absolutely hammered as I sit on the floor of a nightclub with a bottle of tequila in each hand. It's the 21st century version of your mum worrying that you won't be wearing clean underpants if you get run over.

The Daily Mail hates social networking sites generally and Facebook in particular, but isn't shy of exploiting it when it serves a purpose. Such as when a suddenly famous woman has sold her story to a rival paper and you need to dish some dirt on her and, crucially, track down some photos.

Our case study for today is Jennifer Thompson, best-known for sleeping with Wayne Rooney. One recent story on the Mail website included a staggering 19 photos of the woman, including fairly innocent shots of her in a bikini while apparently on holiday, many of which appear to have been lifted from her Facebook profile.

Which is interesting, as earlier this week the Mail quoted one "friend" from her schooldays who said Ms Thompson:
"...Craved attention and used to put pictures of herself in the bath and in tiny bikinis on her Bebo and Facebook sites. The boys at school used to laugh at them."

The paper also notes that when she was 17 Miss Thompson slept with footballer El Hadji Diouf, and posted pictures of the two together on her Bebo page. One of the photos used in the 19-picture epic shows a fresh-faced Thompson with the Bolton spit-machine / striker. I'm guessing this is a lift of the Bebo picutre; if so, experience tells me that many of the other pictures will have come from Thompson's social media pages too. The paper states that the Hadji Diouf pic was taken when Thompson was only 17 - do you think the Mail carefully checked all the bikini pictures to make sure they were taken after she turned 18, or has the paper been publishing revealing shots of children again?

I say "again" because of their well-documented coverage of various other children in states of undress.

Littlejohn's bonfire inanities

Oh dear. Richard Littlejohn has decided to tackle the thorny issue of "International Burn a Koran Day". He seems to start off rather well, calling pastor Terry Jones "crass". But he's a man who knows what his readers think, so once he's done just enough mild condemnation to avoid being accused of agreeing with Jones, he reverts to type and launches into yet another attack on Islam.

"the last time anyone looked evangelical Christians from Gainesville weren’t flying hijacked airliners into skyscrapers and blowing themselves up on crowded railway trains."
True. But Christians have killed plenty of people in terrorist attacks - just look at the murders of abortion doctors, the bombings carried out by Eric Rudolph in the USA, the wholesale relgious violence of Northern Ireland, the actions of the National Liberation Front of Tripura in India and, worst of all, the actions of The Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda. However, as I'm not an complete idiot I'm able to recognise that none of the actions of these individuals or groups can be used to "prove" that most Christians are homicidal maniacs.

"The other part of the conundrum is the fact that the tolerance America and Christians throughout the West extend to other religions is not reflected back. For instance, there are no Christian churches or symbols allowed in Saudi Arabia, where possession of a Bible is a criminal offence. Bibles are confiscated, shredded and, yes, burned by the Saudi authorities."
I've never understood this argument. It's wrong that the brutal totalitarian regime in Saudi Arabia does not allow religious diversity and to show how wrong it is we should do the same? It's some kind of intellectual lowest common denominator, like saying "they have vigilante justice in backward third-world countries, so we should have it here, too". Although actually the Mail is pretty cool with that.
"Across parts of the Muslim world, every day is Burn-A-Bible Day."
Really? Any examples to prove that rather wild claim? Any evidence? Any detail, even, of which these "parts of the world" are? No? And even if it were true, is Littlejohn saying that this is wrong (in which case burning a Koran must be wrong also) or is fine with the idea (in which case he's a bit of a twunt)? I guess we'll never know, because the Mail's noted theological scholar is taking the rhetoric a step further:
"Under the more extreme interpretations of Islam, the punishment for any Muslim who converts to Christianity is death."
Under the more extreme interpretations of pretty much anything you can come up with similar stuff. That's what makes it an extreme interpretation, you see. The clue's in the word "extreme". It doesn't mean "normal," or "mainstream". To demonstrate, have a think about extreme interpretations of the following Bible passages:
"But for the cowardly and UNBELIEVING and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."
Revelation 21:8

"He who is not believing the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God doth remain upon him."
John 3:36

"The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Matthew 13:49

"His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
Matthew 13:12

But because Littlejohn's narrative is that Muslims are somehow asking to be treated like shit, he doesn't note that extreme interpretations of Christianity (or some pretty literal ones, based on John 3:36) can lead to conclusion that non-believers should be put to death or, at the very least, face eternity burning in hell. Back to Littlejohn's rantings:
"If a rural vicar tried burning an effigy of Osama Bin Laden on ­Bonfire Night in Britain, he’d be banged up for incitement to ­religious hatred."
Except they wouldn't. In November 2001 the people of Lewes burned an effigy of the al-Qaeda leader, but mass arrests did not follow. In fact, I've done a bit of research and can find no media reports of anyone ever being arrested for burning an effigy of the world's most-wanted mass murderer. Perhaps everyone's just too scared of the consequences if they do.

In any case, what does Osama Bin Laden have to do with this? The equivalent in this country would surely be a rural vicar burning a pile of Korans, but that wouldn't let Littlejohn to both trot out his tired "political correctness gone mad" line - "You can't even say you hate Osama Bin Laden without Harriet Harman arresting your for being anti-Muslim!" - and draw an implicit link between Islam and terrorism.

The whole column underlines the Mail's consistent approach to Muslims, the idea that there's one rule for "them" and one for "us". "They" get treated differently, "they" get offended at everything "we" do... There's never any evidence given for this, never any proof. Counter-arguments can be safely brushed under the carpet as "political correctness".

Right at the very end of the column, Littlejohn writes:
"In a perfect world, everyone would have written off Pastor Terry as a crank and ignored him."
I'd suggest that Dicky do everyone a favour and ignore Jones himself. But then, in a perfect world, there would be no Littlejohn, either.

Thursday 9 September 2010

Daily Mail readers and Koran-burning: what do the advertisers think?

There's been an awful lot of coverage of "International Burn A Koran Day" this week. US 'reverend' Terry Jones plans to lead a mass burning of Korans this weekend to mark the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks - they obviously affected him deeply, taking place as they did a mere thousand miles or so from his Florida parish.

Even the Daily Mail seems to think he's going a bit far. It's readers, however, have no such qualms. The most popular comment on the story has a net green arrow score of more than TWO THOUSAND, way, way higher than the average Mail story. I was going to write a proper post dismantling some of the comments, but they're so horrendous I can't really add anything. Here are some of the highlights, with the most "popular" ones first - remember that all of these have been moderated and approved prior to publication.

Over the years we have seen on the news many times Muslims burning bibles, flags, effigies of world leaders or anyone else they don't like. They've threatened to kill aid workers who are helping Muslims in distress (Pakistan floods) etc. etc. etc. and there is NO condemnation by Clinton, NATO, the church etc. but when it's ONE church planning to burn a few Koran's there's no end to the condemnation!
martin, leeds, england

Burn a Koran and the senior U S politicians shout and complain about it. Burn bibles, your countrys flag, behead, stone and flog people to death and its ok because its 'diversity'. Fly aircraft into 2 highrise buildings full of people and be allowed to build a Mosque nearby to rub your countrys nose in it. Something doesnt seem quite fair there.
Pete, Lanark

Muslims brought down the Twin Towers and we are repeatedly told, don't blame all Muslims as they were just a few fanatics yet the authorities are saying it is quite understandable if, because of the burning of these religious books, Muslims across the world start killing Christians because of a few Christian fanatics.
Jon, Cleveland. UK

So if he burns the Koran it's war between Muslims and non-Muslims is it? So what have the past 9 years been about then, a tiff over who didn't pay the bill at a restaurant. Muslim's declared war on us a long time ago, when they started calling us the devil, the great satan and the infidel. They will not stop until every man, woman and child on this planet is Muslim or dead. If that is not a war, then I don't know what is.
Chris Carr, Southampton

Elaine, Birmingham UK says... "People forget the innocent Muslims died in those towers too, one of them being a good friend of mine." Elaine! what you should never forget is that, although there was some co-lateral damage, the priciple target of those who carried out the terrorist outrages were: White! Christian! Western... In their own words Infidel or Khufar (me and probably you). While your good friend may have been a victim, the offence was carried out by people who did in his/her name...
Macca, New Town,

WELL DONE TERRY, At last an American prepared to stand up for their country, this country could do with a few more like you, instead we have a spineless Goverment just like yours ...
Dave, Southampton

And what do the enlighted readers of the Mail award more red arrows of disaspproval to than any other post? With a net negative score of more than 700:
This is actually so disgraceful and i am personally hurt by this I am a muslim myself, to hear news of this kind is disgusting likewise with the 9/11 attacks..that was a disgrace, the people that plotted that attack who call themselves so called 'muslims' cannot be muslims! They killed innocent people who lost their lives, to kill people in islam its a GREAT sin, they shall be punished in hell, Allah will judge them on judgement day. And also in the 9/11 attacks, other muslims died too!
Sharmin, Portsmouth

Because how dare someone defend ordinary Muslims? Especially someone with a foreign-sounding name like "Sharmin".

This page full of hate-filled bile also features three adverts, plugging Virgin Media, M&S and WeightWatchers. I'm going to write to all three companies to ask what they think of their products being advertised alongside this kind of commentary - I'll report back once they reply...

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Boris strikes out over Tube stoppages

If you live in London you've probably noticed that there's a Tube strike on today - giveaways include grumpy commuters shouting angrily at the TfL staff who ARE working, a seven-fold increase in the number of cyclists wobbling around the capital and a thousands of car owners who haven't driven in rush hour traffic since the last Tube strike clogging London's roads. Note to commuters - as Sharon O'Dea pointed out on Twitter, you could try walking for a change. Zone one is not that big...

Also Twittering away is Mr Boris Johnson, proudly declaring that a third of trains are running despite the RMT's fun and frolics. The thing is, based on Borisian Logic there shouldn't be a strike at all.

Back in early 2008, when Ken was still in charge of the Giant Glass Testicle By The Thames, mayoral candidate Boris condemned everyone's favourite newt-fancying lothario for failing to stop Tube strikes. On 3 March that year he published a transport manifesto in which he promised to:

"...look to reduce the disruption caused by strikes on the Tube by negotiating a no-strike deal, in good faith, with the Tube unions. In return for agreeing not to strike, the unions will get the security provided by having the pay negotiations conducted by an independent arbiter, whose final decision will be binding on both parties."
Two years down the line (pun not entirely unintended, sorry about that) and more than halfway through his term as Mayor, has Boris delivered on his promise of a no-strike deal?

The long lines of people waiting 45 minutes to catch a bus in order to make a journey that would take them 30 minutes to walk suggests progress has been limited at best.

Other highlights from "Getting London Moving" include "halting the proposed Tube ticket office closures" (today's strike was triggered by plans to close Tube ticket offices), "re-instating the tidal flow in the Blackwall Tunnel at the earliest opportunity" (apparently that opportunity has yet to arise) and "getting the Tube open one hour later on Friday and Saturday nights" (ha ha ha).

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Indisputable evidence of gayness

Today's Telegraph covers the Guido-powered rumour that William Hague is secretly gay and is having an affair with his special adviser. What evidence does journalist Martin Beckford - he of "Pope has Catholic views" fame - have to back up this allegation?

"Rumours about their closeness had been swirling around Westminster and the internet after photographs were published showing Mr Hague and Mr Myers walking and laughing together, dressed casually and wearing sunglasses."
Well. That proves it then.

UPDATE: The spad in question has now quit, citing the unbearable pressure the groundless speculation was having on his family. Hague himself has released an absolutely heartbreaking statement in which he reveals that he and his wife would dearly love to start a family but keep suffering miscarriages. I do hope the scumbags who suggested his lack of kids was evidence of a sham marriage feel proud of themselves. Tomorrow's papers will go to town on this and every single one, including the Telegraph, will point the finger of blame at "bloggers". I'm willing to bet that the Telegraph will not hold its hands up and admit contributing to the shitstorm in today's paper.

Boris encourages cycling by closing cycle facilities

The first step to acknowledge you've got a problem, so here goes: my name's Primly and I'm a cyclist. There, I admitted it. Four years of daily back-and-forth across London, plus some nice long trips every now and then. And before you say anything, I don't jump red lights, or ride on the pavement, or go the wrong-way down one-way streets.

While pedalling home last night I was making use of the off-road cycle path that runs along the north side of the Mall. Or at least I was, until I reached the point halfway along where it crosses the junction with Marlborough Road, complete with bicycle-specific traffic lights and everything. Usually the path carries on down the other side, allowing you to avoid the Mall, the Buckingham Palace roundabout and the thundering traffic of Constitution Hill, instead taking you around the junction and up a cycle path through Green Park to Hyde Park Corner.

Except yesterday, without warning, the cycle path was closed after Marlborough Road. Sealed off. Big trucks parked up, man in high-viz jacket barring the way. So I had to pull out onto the Mall again (not easy in rush hour), negotiate the multi-lane junction outside Buck House (lots of tooting from cabbies) and then dodge the traffic to try and get back into the cycle path system before being spat out onto Hyde Park Corner. Not easy.

But why, I hear you ask, was this handy (and well-used) little route abruptly closed to cycle traffic? So that the set-up can begin for this weekend's "Mayor of London's Sky Ride", in which certain streets in central London are closed to traffic and thrown open to cyclists. Just so long as those cyclists have registered and are wearing a high-viz advert for Sky TV, obviously.

I have mixed feelings about the Sky Ride concept. It's always good to see more people on bikes, and this event encourage whole families to get cycling, which can only be a good thing. But it also encourages the entirely false notion that cycling in London in only safe and enjoyable if the roads are closed to cars and the cyclists need to be kept away from motorised traffic at all costs rather than treated like road users.

But whatever the rights and wrongs of the event, surely it doesn't take a genius (or even a Boris) to figure out that closing a busy cycle route is not the best way to encourage cycling?