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On the turning away…

I doubt this is the first post you’ve read today on this subject and I’m sure it won’t be the last, so maybe that means I shouldn’t even bother.

You might even see what it’s about and scroll on past. After all, I’m sure you all have busy lives and you only have so much time to spend on the internet.

“Compassion fatigue”, I think that’s the phrase somebody once coined to describe the phenomenon.
In a world so filled with tragedy and injustice, we, as a society, merely the more fortunate spectators of other people’s distress, become hardened and inured to their suffering, somehow managing to push them to the back of our minds, just another unpleasant statistic.

But the situation in which Europe finds itself today is not something we can turn our faces away from, the sheer weight of human destitution and degradation that plays out on our television screens daily cannot be ignored or shrugged off as “not our problem”, not when we are all supposed to be part of the same global community.

The refugee crisis that now faces our world is second only to the evacuation of civilians during the holocaust of the second world war, when millions of people were tortured, murdered and persecuted under the Nazi and Soviet regimes.
During that time, public opinion was so strong that a huge mobilisation of aid began, culminating in the formation of the Kindertransport, a series of humanitarian rescue missions which brought up to 10,000 children across war-torn Europe to the safety of the UK.
These innocent victims, many of them Jews who had escaped extermination by Hitler’s death squads, had already suffered terribly at the hands of the advancing forces which had invaded their homelands and the majority of them would never see their families again, their parents murdered in places with names that will forever live in international infamy;  Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka.

The children, most of whom arrived by train at London’s Liverpool Street station, were welcomed by a charitable nation, now itself at war with Germany, were clothed, fed, educated and cared for, staying with volunteer foster families or at hostels which were set up in hotels, farms and schools around Britain.
Not only were these refugees given respite from the suffering they had endured in their native countries, but after the war they were allowed to remain here permanently and were given British citizenship, or relocated to Canada, Israel, America and Australia where they were finally able to make new lives for themselves, albeit as orphans from the most destructive conflict in human history.

Fast forward seventy years and look at how far we’ve come since those days:
We no longer live in the blitz-ravaged and impoverished post-war nation we inhabited back then; despite the minor inconvenience of enforced “austerity” brought about by the worldwide financial meltdown of a few years ago, we are still a prosperous country which benefits from all the material trappings of western civilisation; our lives, for the most part, are comparatively easy and trouble-free, our needs catered for by a welfare state that so many brave men and women died to protect from those who would enslave us.
And yet the spirit of global charity and accepted duty of care that we once showed to others less fortunate than ourselves seems to have declined exponentially in relation to our increase in wealth and prosperity.

At least that would appear to be the case if some of the right-wing press and hate-filled posts on social media are to be believed.

The number of vitriolic newspaper headlines, status updates and rabble-rousing political speeches denouncing displaced migrants and refugees as “lazy spongers”, “scroungers”, “benefit cheats” and, paradoxically, undeserving recipients of “British jobs” grows every day, despite the compelling evidence that a great many of those requesting asylum are fleeing persecution, incarceration, torture or even death in their own countries.

The weasel words of politicians and journalists, who claim the country is “full” and therefore unable to accept a few thousand extra members into our already rich, multi-cultural society, most of whom are simply looking for a safe place to work hard and raise families, make me almost ashamed to be British sometimes.

Many of those children who were rescued by the Kindertransport in Europe’s darkest days not only went on to become valuable and hard working members of society, some actually volunteered for the armed forces and died fighting for the country that had taken them in during their hour of need.
Any of those that survived, looking at their adopted country now, must despair at the neglect and misanthropy shown by some that share the land they swore to defend.

It seems that only in the last few days has the enormity of the crisis sunk in to the national consciousness, and then only at the price of adding one more innocent life to the toll of those needlessly sacrificed, this time on a beach usually thronged by holidaying tourists.
Aylan Kurdi, a three year old boy who travelled to Turkey with his family to escape ISIS and the brutal situation in Syria, drowned in his father’s arms, along with his five year old brother and their mother, when their small boat capsized on the final leg of a journey that should have saved them from a life most of us cannot imagine.

Only the heartbreaking photo of an aid worker carrying Aylan’s lifeless body away from the spot where he was found, washed up on the shore of a foreign land he knew nothing about, now seems to have galvanised our unforgivably slow-moving government (finally bowing to an increasing public outcry) into taking action.

Too little, too late.

It has once more fallen to private citizens and charity organisations to take on the responsibilities that we would usually expect to be shouldered by the state; many UK families and local authorities unilaterally offering places for refugees to stay and settling up collections of basic essentials, to be distributed amongst those still trapped in the transit camps, both in the middle east and Europe.

{The problem isn’t only in Europe, see a report on another disturbing story HERE}

The next step should be doing something about the estimated 11 MILLION empty properties, enough to put a huge dent in not only the current refugee crisis but also the domestic homelessness problem that has plagued many countries on the continent for years.

In the seventy years since the end of a war that decimated whole countries in Europe, I don’t believe that the charitable spirit of the British people which demanded the humanitarian rescue of holocaust victims has deteriorated to the point of not caring about displaced and persecuted refugees, but the continuous drip-drip-drip of negativity in the press and the rise of bigoted hate groups, especially on social media, has had the knock-on effect of making us question the legitimacy of genuine claims for asylum, no matter how horrific evidence to the contrary may be.

It’s a sad day indeed when it takes the hopeless grief of a broken father, burying his entire family in the full glare of the news media, to make us remember that we need to remain human and compassionate, despite the inescapable fact that, if not for an accident of birth, that could have been you or I, paying the ultimate price for the sake of freedom.

I will leave the last word to Pink Floyd and the song from which I borrowed the title of this post: “On The Turning Away”.

[Should you wish to assist in the aid effort, please consider donating to The Red Cross or to the independent charity Calaid, set up to help refugees still caught up in the transit camps in Calais.]

 

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Keep poking the elephants…

Why do we write?

Why do we feel the need to make ourselves heard, we who call ourselves bloggers, journalists, pundits, satirists, topical commentators and cartoonists?

Why do we choose to broadcast our inner thoughts to the world, assuming the mantle of unelected spokesmen for those who remain silent?
Do we have the right to speak for them, just because they won’t speak for themselves, or are we ascribing a set of values to the silent majority that they simply do not share?

After all, we don’t all claim great socio-political insights or expertise in current affairs, (at least I don’t) most of us are just like everyone else who feels outraged by the unjustified and cowardly actions of despots, dictators, terrorists and murderers.The only difference is that when something in the news pisses us off, we use our posts, columns, pictures and words to fight back, registering our displeasure, pointing out injustice, or paying our respects in the best way we can.

Whether that means railing against the perversion of religious ideologies for twisted personal agendas, highlighting the ineptitude, stupidity and corruption of our political overlords, or simply pointing out the idiotic and offensive behaviour of those individuals in our society that we would rather not be associated with, one thing we all have in common is the wish to share our beliefs and ideas with anyone who has the time and inclination to read, watch or listen to them.

But should this need to be heard by the world at large mark us out as legitimate targets for the ones at whom we’re directing our unsolicited opinions, or should we, like medics on a battlefield, be considered neutral and somehow immune to the violent attentions of our persecutors?

I can barely even begin to imagine the abject terror that must have been felt by the Charlie Hebdo staff and their police protectors, whose lives were brutally cut short by men who so clearly fail to represent the values of a religion they claim they are defending.
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The idea that the teachings of any faith would allow for the indiscriminate slaughter of unarmed civilians, just because they were able to see the funny side of outdated theistic dogma, strikes me as the ultimate insult to the belief system they are allegedly defending.
Surely if you were to consult with almost any religious leader, irrespective of their denomination, they would all cite inclusion and love as the primary building blocks of their faith.
Islamic scholar, Dr. Khaled Hanafy, was in fact today quoted as saying;
” I call on Muslims to stage demonstrations that denounce this aggression. I urge Muslim Imams and leaders to take all the necessary actions to denounce the incident, to reassure the Europe community, to actively participate in protecting Europe media institutions against any threat and to denounce extremism and terror.”

We should by now be far beyond the point at which we need to violently disagree with something as nebulous as personal faith, force others to hold similar beliefs to ourselves, or deny them the right to question belief in whatever deity we choose to worship, because that only serves to increase and accentuate the divide between different cultures.
That diversity is something which will only get more widespread as our communities absorb more diverse colours, creeds and religions, making it a richer and ever more fascinating society in which to live.

The need that some of us have to broadcast our views on these topics, in a rational, non-confrontational and humorous way, should in no way be proscribed by the ones responsible for preaching the words of their chosen religion, no matter how much they disapprove of our arguments, for only through open discussion can we hope to achieve any understanding of how others see the world.

So I for one will never give in to the bullying tactics of zealots or fundamentalists, be they religious, social or political.
Not that I’m comparing myself to the courageous and dedicated staff of Charlie Hebdo or other publications that routinely brave the irrational hatred of the evil minority, but I will continue to proudly wave the flag for those of us that who aren’t afraid to occasionally poke the elephant in the room with a long pointy stick.

And I hope you’ll all keep doing the same.

 
 

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The politics of duncing…

{For tenuously linked post soundtrack CLICK HERE}

“Bloody (insert generic racial stereotype here), coming over here, stealing our jobs, preying on the livelihood of the honest British workers…” goes the well worn diatribe, rolled out whenever a news story claims we’re about to be invaded by a hoard of recently emboldened foreign nationals, supposedly arriving on our shores to annex whole corners of the employment market.

Such is the voice of the people that some politicians claim to represent, whilst they simultaneously try to impose their views and prejudices on the masses, presumably following some sort of retrospective logic that allows them to believe they are supporting a perceived opinion they themselves generated.
And I suppose to a large extent, that’s their job.

As long as they conform to the same standards they would have us live by, that is.

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UKIP chief buffoon, Nigel Farage, has just launched a two-pronged hypocrisy campaign, centred on the issue of (mainly eastern European) immigrants that are apparently about to take England to the brink of economic collapse by flooding the country with cheap labour.

The hysteria-mongering that surrounded the arrival in the UK of Victor Spirescu and his non-existent companions (Victor was the only Romanian migrant to arrive at Luton airport on January 1st, to be met by a wall of press journalists and tv crews, there to witness the predicted invasion) was just the start of a concerted drive by Farage and his “I’m-not-a-racist-but…” cohorts to persuade us that our very way of life was under threat from an EU conspiracy.

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Hmm, is this a trick question?

Well it seems that UKIP’s sledgehammer tactics have had somewhat the reverse of the desired effect.
Having suffered unwanted press attention for several weeks subsequent to his arrival on new year’s day, resulting in him losing at least one job to date, and experiencing first-hand the English right wing “bullies”,  Victor has used his minor local celebrity status to help promote the pro EU Europeans Party.

As for Nasty Nigel himself, his insistence that the first choice of British jobs go to British workers backfired amusingly when he was asked by the BBC’s Nick Robinson why it was that Farage’s wife, (who is German) was employed as his assistant, at a salary of £25,000, paid by an EU allowance, instead of giving the job to a local worker.
Nige’s response that his efficient German wife was the only one who could do the job, what with the long unsociable hours and having to write up his notes and daily schedule late at night, didn’t do his cause many favours. He claimed that he didn’t know of anyone else who would have the stamina for the work involved.
Although the thought of taking dictation from Farage, as he flosses his teeth before bed in his Union Jack underpants, sighing sadly as he shaves off the shadow of a toothbrush moustache he’s left until last, it strikes me that it can’t be much of a loss to the British jobs market so we’ll allow him that small victory.

A slightly more high profile Doh! moment in UKIP’s recent catalogue of PR cock-ups directly involved their latest poster campaign, namely this one, featuring a beggar dressed in work clothes, accompanied by a pretty unambiguous anti-EU message:

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The only problem with this is that it was soon revealed that the part of the out of work British victim of European economic migration in the poster was in fact played by an Irish actor, and Ireland will still be able to trade freely with Europe, even if Nigel and his mates convince the rest of the UK to pull up the drawbridge.

In an extra twist, another news story from recent days, the Cornish being granted minority status, has spawned a parody of the UKIP poster.
Living as we do in neighboring Devon and visiting Cornwall as often as we do, I’ll refrain from any comment.

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Not all the stupidity, small-mindedness and ineptitude has been provided by UKIP this week though (well, not so far as we know so far) but Whitehall has had a little more egg on its collective face, due to the spiteful interjection of some wag on Wikipedia.

It has emerged that the page of the publicly-edited, inaccuracy-strewn online encyclopedia devoted to the Hillsborough football disaster has come under attack from a troll who has changed passages of the tribute page; “You’ll Never Walk Alone” for instance was changed to “You’ll Never Walk Again” and the “This Is Anfield” banner was altered to read “This Is A Shithole”, while the phrase “Blame Liverpool fans” was added to an entry on the tragedy that claimed 96 lives in 1989.
The editor responsible has not yet been tracked down, although that is apparently only a matter of time. What is known however, is that the IP address of the computer that made the edit originated in offices of Whitehall.
Not only that, it has since come to light that a large number of other malicious alterations to Wikipedia have been traced to government computers, several of them violently racist.

Many of the edits are of course simply mischievous, my own personal favourite being the one that changed the article for American, vomit-inducing-medical-saccharine-a-thon Grey’s Anatomy to describe the hit TV series as “overrated” and a “euphemism for an old mans netherregions”.

The voice of the people indeed…

 
6 Comments

Posted by on April 27, 2014 in Blogging, Humour, News, Social comment, TV

 

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Rainbow warriors…

[Today’s post was written in collaboration with Mr Adam Pain from the excellent blog, A World Of Pain. Check it out for articulate and acerbic wit, searching insight and more.]

I doubt even the inhabitants of Camden Town in London could name too many historic events that have occurred in their Bohemian neighbourhood – but today that changed significantly, in a blaze of technicolored publicity. Mind you, this is Camden we’re talking about. The strength of some of the weed on the streets these days has probably rendered a good percentage of Camden’s most notorious residents barely able to remember all of their vowels.

At one minute past midnight this morning, Sean Adl-Tabatabai and Sinclair Gray Treadway made history by being (probably) the very first same-sex couple to get married in the UK. They tied the knot in Camden Town Hall, one of many couples around the country who rushed to be among the first to take advantage of new legislation, passed last year in the House of Commons by 400 votes to 175, allowing gay and lesbian couples full married rights under UK law for the first time.
(Watch Sean and Sinclair’s historic ceremony here.)

That we have taken such a ridiculous length of time to reach this stage in our social evolution is somewhat bewildering. I mean, given that the (even then, long overdue) Sexual Offences Act finally decriminalised homosexuality in 1967 – and therefore society in general was presumably at least vaguely aware that behaviour among some consenting adults which was previously considered “unnatural” or “unacceptable” was to be viewed with a new tolerance – why has it taken another 47 years to allow those same accepted members of society the same rights as the rest of “us”?

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Insert inappropriate “Getting it up” gag here.

Religion, of course, is largely the answer to that.
But theological arguments briefly aside, the fact that the simple act of legally recognising a loving relationship is seen as such a huge milestone in our social history only serves to highlight the continuing prejudice and persecution of the LGBT community in general.

For example, two other less edifying stories that have picked up attention from a media attuned to the controversial or salacious, both feature the sort of comic-horror hate figure who regularly make the news such a jaw-dropping spectacle.

There has been worldwide condemnation of Uganda’s record on gay rights abuses, (sentences range from seven years imprisonment to torture and death) but less well known is the part played by American evangelist and candidate for Governor of Massachusetts, Scott Lively, in influencing it. He’s a complete charmer, in case you hadn’t guessed.

Lively travelled to Uganda on a lecture tour, his extreme views on homosexuality coming to the attention of the government, keen for any new “evidence” to strengthen their case for more draconian laws to be introduced.

He claims to be on a crusade to “protect civilisation from homosexuality”, something he believes is bent on a mission to “defeat marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity”. That’s an astonishing opinion, given the Greek’s input in actual creating civilisation and their inconveniently liberal views on homosexuality.
Although, bear in mind that this is from the same man who claims to have invented a “Gay Scale” which lists various levels of gayness, all the way up to Monster and Super Macho, the two categories that he says are most commonly occupied by serial killers, paedophiles and, interestingly, Nazis. They just sound like Nintendo bonus characters to me.
His justification for this, believe it or not, is that;

“only homosexuals would have the personality traits required to run the gas chambers”

WHAT?! What did he say?!
Yep, he said that.
He also said that the Rwandan genocide, over the border from Uganda, was instigated by a Gay Conspiracy.
Not only that, when confronted with the question of Barak Obama’s condemnation of Uganda’s mistreatment of its LGBT citizens, he said;
“I think Mr Obama may well be a homosexual himself, he’s certainly a radical homosexualist”
by which made up term he apparently means that;
“He (Obama) is lending the weight of his office to a movement that’s goal is to overthrow the Judean/Christian sexual ethic and replace it with the gay ethic of sexual anarchy”

This of course fails to take into consideration that many of those dreadful gay people are produced by previously untainted, straight Christian couples, presumably as a punishment for some unspecified sin.

Lucky for us, we have Scott Lively to protect civilisation.

And this man is running for Governor?!

If he gets elected, set a stopwatch – because the precedent set by similar bigoted, evangelical bigmouths isn’t exactly encouraging. Who else reckons it will be no more than eighteen months, before this sociopathic hypocrite turns up with his ratty little tail between his legs, having been ‘scooped’ by the National Enquirer? Photographed in a seedy motel, wearing nothing but ass-less chaps and a Ronald Reagan mask, riding a bored looking rent boy like a rodeo veteran. 

Finally we have the demise of someone who will hopefully completely fail to leave even an unpleasant greasy stain on the pages of history to record his existence, the founder of odious hate-mongers and pseudo-religious nutjobs, The Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps.

The “church”, whose mission it is to picket US soldiers’ funerals waving placards displaying such slogans as “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “God Hates Fags” have asked for respect to be paid to their founding father, his daughter Shirley saying;
“It would be in extremely poor taste if someone were to protest my father’s funeral just because they disagreed with him. Everyone is entitled to respect in death. What monster would go out of their way to upset my family when we’re grieving?”

I’m sorry, what?

That would have been like Ed Gein’s family attempting to ban leather jackets outside his funeral, out of a feigned respect for the American tannery industry.

Oh hang on, I’m forgetting what a decent fellow ol’ Fred was when he was at home with his family, maybe we should leave the last moving words to his grieving daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper;
“My father was a great man who did no harm to anyone. So what if he beat his own wife and children? Doesn’t any good, loving father do that?”

Well, quite.

Especially if your paternal role models are all to be found languishing in the desert five thousand years ago, delirious from communicable disease, starvation, heat exhaustion and all that smiting in God’s all loving name.

Only one song seems suitably apt to play out this post I think.
Take it away Tom…

PLAY VIDEO

 
14 Comments

Posted by on March 29, 2014 in Humour, Music, News, Social comment

 

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The stupidity of bureaucracy – The life and tragic death of Alois Dvorzac…

Every now and then a news story comes along that makes me angry.
They aren’t all massive, sensational stories about genocides, child murders, ignorant racist thugs or institutional human rights abuses either.
Some of them are about the small horrors, the ones which fall through the gaps in our busy attention spans, the stories that barely register on the radar of a society more interested in the dalliances of pop stars and the contents of Fat Cats’ bonus packages.

In other words, the very personal tales of everyday neglect and insensitivity that quietly chip away at my faith in human nature.

Born in Maribor, Slovenia in 1928, Alois Dvorzac was not a prize winning scientist or famous war hero, he wouldn’t go on to invent a cure for cancer or discover a new galaxy, he was just an ordinary man with a commitment to his country who wished to live an ordinary life.

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Alois’ father died when he was two years old, but despite this he had a reasonably happy childhood, even allowing for the German occupation, growing up in a large house with his mother and three sisters. He did well at school, receiving glowing plaudits from his teachers in every subject (his report cards all stamped “sehr gut” by the Nazi authorities) and going on to teach himself English in his own time whilst at university in the capital, Ljubljana. His mother and sisters were very proud as he was the first in his family to attend higher education.

So far, so normal. But as the war was ending he joined the Slovenian partisans, marking him out to the occupying forces as someone for them to keep an eye on.
When the Germans withdrew after the war, Dvorzac became increasingly disillusioned with the ruling communist system and made the difficult decision to relocate to the West, planning on escaping the oppressive dictatorship that had replaced the old regime by travelling across Europe and attempting to make a life for himself in the far off promised land of Canada.
One of his few surviving relatives, his cousin Zlatka Hoceevar who still lives in Alois’ childhood home, said recently that;

“…the political system crushed talented people. Those that stayed here, had their wings clipped.”

By this time Alois had met and married Dana, the woman who would become his one constant companion and love of his life, the one who would accompany him on his long journey to freedom and happiness on a strange new continent, so far from everything they had previously known.
They traveled overland, spent a short time in Austria (the one and only time in his life that Alois Dvorzac could be even remotely considered an “illegal alien”) eventually arriving in Canada, where he and his bride soon became naturalized citizens and settled down to make a new life for themselves.

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Alois used his love of science and mathematics to help him make a successful career as an engineer, carving out a comfortable existence for himself and his beloved Dana in the self-imposed exile they had chosen, sadly losing contact with family and friends in his homeland, something which he would later come to regret, but tragically never manage to reconcile.

They never had children of their own, but you only have to see the look of devotion on their faces in this photo, taken shortly before Dana died a few years ago, to see how happy they had become in their life together.

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Now alone in his adopted country and beginning to suffer the onset of Alzheimer’s, Alois finally decided last year that he would make the long trip back to Slovenia, to reconnect with his family there and possibly settle in his native country for the remainder of his life.
So he got on a plane in Canada, bound for the home he left so long ago, no doubt dreaming of an emotional reunion with those he’d left behind.

On landing at Gatwick airport for a connecting flight however, he found himself detained by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) on some sort of technicality.
We still don’t know what prompted the bureaucracy-bound officials to single him out. Was it the fact that he hadn’t got the right documentation? Was it simply that, suffering from an episode of confusion brought on by his illness, he wasn’t able to explain his situation to airport authorities’ satisfaction?
What we do know is that this quietly dignified man, having survived the wartime Nazi occupation, the communist rule of his beloved Slovenia and a life-changing journey of thousands of miles across the globe, ended up incarcerated at the UKBA Immigration Removal Centre at Harmondsworth in London on January 23rd 2013.

Examined by an independent doctor whilst at the facility, 84 year-old Dvorzac was declared “Vulnerable, frail and unfit for detention” and despite that doctor’s evaluation, the UKBA refused to release him, giving no adequate explanation as to why he was being held.
Indeed, when the doctor requested her supervisor to intervene on his behalf, they were told by the Border Agency that they “would not make that information available as it is none of your business”

Alois Dvorzac was kept in a lonely government holding cell, for much of the time handcuffed and chained to his bed until, alone and frightened two weeks later, struggling to breathe and without even the comfort of his loved ones around him, his heart finally gave out and he died, never to complete his final journey home.

The Canadian High Commission, contacted by the doctor who examined him, had only this to say on hearing of his tragic demise;

“We take the well-being of our citizens very seriously and look forward to the outcome of the investigation of the prisons and probation ombudsman into the circumstances surrounding Mr Dvorzac’s death. To protect the privacy of the individual concerned, further comments on this case cannot be provided.”

The UK Border Agency have released a weasel-worded statement that reads;

“The recent report by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons on Harmondsworth made it clear that performance by the contractor running the centre has been below the high standard expected.

“It made a number of recommendations that we are taking forward and we are scrutinising our contractor’s performance closely. Clear instructions have been issued to staff making clear that restraint should only happen where absolutely necessary.”

When I saw this story on the news this week, I could only think of what I would feel if this had been one of my relatives, how enraged I would be at the brutal treatment of a man whose only crime was to  dream of a better life, somewhere a world away from all that he had known.

If this is how we treat those in society who merely strive to enrich their lives, no matter what the odds stacked against them, whether they live in foreign lands under the yoke of oppression or are simply passing through our own supposedly free country, then I think it’s about time we looked long and hard at the way our society determines who benefits from that freedom.
Because until we do, tragic cases like that of Alois Dvorzac will continue to appear in quickly-forgotten corners of the news media, a sign that we are unwilling to learn the lessons from history that we should have learnt many years ago.

 
14 Comments

Posted by on March 23, 2014 in News, Social comment

 

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A warning from the present…

After my assertion that I would try to provide you with an antidote to all the dreadfullness on the internet in my last post, I have tried my best to avoid the sleazy, the odious and the downright awful that the web seems intent on forcing us to experience whenever we are drawn to that glowing hypnotic square.
But human nature being what it is, we can’t help being drawn to the sort of story that causes that little vein in our collective temple to start throbbing and the communal jaw muscles to clench involuntarily, because awful though some of it is, looking away sometimes just isn’t the right thing to do.
I have always believed that anyone ignorant of the Nazi holocaust should seek out those appalling stories and even more atrocious, harrowing pictures, however upsetting they may be, because they truly are a “warning from history”. In the same way that I don’t think anyone living through our current period of religious and cultural upheaval should shy away from confronting the horrors of what we as a race are capable of perpetrating on each other.

The dreadful things people are capable of never ceases to astound me and for that reason I feel the need to relate some reports that have come to my attention this week.
You may not think that you need more horror in your lives, what with the economic and weather related news stories that fill the TV schedules of late, but if we don’t stand witness to the folly of our times how will we ever learn to restrain ourselves from making the same mistakes again and again.

At the start of the week we were told of a British jihadist who allegedly committed a suicide attack in Syria by driving a truckload of explosives into a prison compound, a story shocking enough in itself, yet we seem so inured to the terror of war that it passes almost unnoticed across our screens, just another episode in the continuing horror story of our rolling news-fixated existence.
But surely nobody can ignore the utter awfulness of the story so eloquently related by Adam Pain on his blog today.
It may not be current (the report is from 2002) but the genuine shock I felt when I read the story this afternoon quite literally left me speechless.
15 innocent schoolgirls, forced back into a burning building by the so-called “religious police” in Saudi Arabia for failing to adhere to an archaic dress code, murdered by the state for failing to cover their hair and faces in their desperation to escape the fire.
I cannot begin to imagine the terror and betrayal they must have felt as they faced the stony faces of their executioners, the justification for their senseless deaths nothing more than something called “religion”.

Religion may bring peace and succor to those who practice it, but there is no excuse for using it as a stick to beat an entire generation or society into submission.

In yet another example of the savagery that lives beneath the surface of faith, another man in the war torn country of Syria made a choice that few of us will ever have to make.
When faced with the terrible choice of whether to surrender his family to the brutal rape and murder threatened by marauding terrorists in his home town of Adra, Nizar chose instead to detonate grenades, killing not only the invaders but also his family.
The thought of being forced to make this kind of horrendous choice fills me with a kind of rage at the human race in general that we should never have to feel.

When I first thought of writing this post, I had planned on using a report of a bungled lesson in suicide bombing carried out at a fundamentalist training camp near Baghdad, in which a teacher somehow managed to accidentally blow up himself and his whole class.
Initially I thought I could use it as a flippant aside to why aliens, after scanning our transmissions, decided we were too stupid to bother visiting because we couldn’t even manage to kill each other properly, let alone be much of a threat to visiting ambassadors from another world.
However, having rediscovered our propensity for horror and violence in the service of hate and intolerance, it seems insensitive.
After all, no matter how misguided the students at the world’s worst school for scoundrels were, they were all someone’s sons, someone’s daughters, someone’s parents, and we should try and remember that it’s the world that made them this way.
It’s everyone’s duty to make sure the next generation don’t have a reason to continue the cycle of violence.

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2014 in Blogging, News, Social comment

 

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And on the eighth day…

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Entering the second week in the company of Tenuous Tina and her Lynx of Love, I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever again have a thought which I don’t automatically try to connect to another by way of a tortuous route through cultural references trawled from my memory banks.

That being said, I’ve found some excellent stuff that I would not usually have come across in the normal course of writing a blog post, so I’m not complaining.

And today’s collection of multimedia nuggets are no exception; the full first episode of yet another of my TV highlights from 2013; the original ’80s pilot of one of my absolute, no competition, hands down, top TV shows of all time (no, not Twin Peaks this time); a hit single by the star of that same show AND two complete audio books by one of my favourite authors.

Don’t say I never do anything for you.

If I remember rightly, we ended yesterday on Boss, the drama in which Kelsey Grammer chews up the scenery as the mayor of Chicago.
So today;

A real life mayor who has been in the news of late and possibly the year’s most honest and frank politician, Toronto mayor Rob Ford admitted to smoking crack, although he did point out that he only did so whilst in an “alcoholic stupor”.
Well that’s okay then.
He was interviewed on television by Conrad Black, who was born in Canada but has a British peerage (he is officially Baron Black of Crossharbour)
Orphan Black was a top new science fiction series from this year and it was filmed in Canada but made by the very British BBC..
…and co-stars Matt Frewer, possibly best known as the man behind the glitching rubber mask of neurotic sci-fi cyber-clown Max Headroom and his real world alter-ego, Edison Carter.
Max Headroom provided the vocals for The Art of Noise’s hit single Paranomia and I think that’s the cue for a song.
Take it away Max…

Paranomia is a song about not being able to get to sleep, or insomnia, as the condition is known. Insomnia is also the title of a novel by Stephen King and you can listen to the whole audio book right here.

Bringing me to a much anticipated literary event, the launch of Dr Sleep, King’s long-awaited sequel to The Shining.

So at Christmas, when the turkey has been stripped to the bone and you can’t move from eating too many mince pies, settle into your favourite chair, plug in your headphones, close your eyes and listen to Will Patton read the latest chilling masterpiece from one of the world’s greatest writers.

You’re welcome.

Wow, there was some good stuff in there!
Make sure you check out the Max Headroom link to discover the origin of a cult TV comedy legend and I’ll see you tomorrow for more exhaustively researched randomness.

 

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Watching the defectives…

As Adam Pain’s Golden Face Palms are only two short weeks away, I have been trying to work out who I shall be accepting the award on behalf of.

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Not that there is any shortage of nominations you understand, but I did make a case for two individuals in particular and I’m intrigued as to which one gets the “honour” of a GFP being bestowed upon them. (I’m thinking that, considering the number of votes both of my nominations subsequently received via other people nominating them, whichever one I don’t pick up the award for won’t miss out anyway)

I feel sure the event is going to be a blast, pitched as it is as a fund raising piss-take of public numptiness.
But for every head-slapping story of inanity, insanity and ineptitude perpetrated by high profile d-list dullards, there are many other, equally deserving ordinary everyday morons members of the public who deserve a mention, locally, nationally and worldwide.

It could be something as simple as the bloke at work who, in an attempt to win favour with our new site manager, went to the trouble of opening a LinkedIn account so he could send the boss an invitation. When the top man accepted, the scoundrel proceeded to use the business networking site to grass up his workmates for talking, using their mobile phones when they should be working and spending too long in the toilet.

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Or it could be the Keystone Spooks story about the security services and jihadi wannabe, Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed, accused of membership of Somali terrorist group al-Shabab and fitted with an electronic tag as part of the restrictive TPIM (Terrorism Prevention Investigation Measures) imposed on him.
Not only did he manage to somehow remove his tracking tag, but he also outwitted his watchers by entering a mosque and, after changing into a full-length woman’s burka, walked straight out under their noses like something out of a satirical remake of Some Like it Hot.

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And while we’re on the topic of inappropriate disguises, how about this for a bit of jaw-dropping stupidity from across the pond.

The ironically named Jessica Black of Craigsville, Virginia thought it would be perfectly acceptable to continue the “family tradition” of dressing up her 7-year-old son, Jackson, in a Ku Klux Klan costume and sending him out Trick or Treating on Halloween, much to the indignation of her neighbours.

You can watch her blithely defending her decision to turn her offspring into a social pariah in this clip from the local news.

But without doubt the prize for the most staggering and serious mishandling of a situation has to go to the police force of West Auckland, New Zealand.

For 2 years Auckland police have known about a deeply unpleasant group of local teenage boys calling themselves the “Roast Busters” whose idea of a good time is getting local underage girls drunk, gang-raping them and then uploading the results to YouTube and Facebook in order to humiliate the girls into keeping quiet.
They even have supporters who set up a fan page to follow their conquests.

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A couple of Roasters. Calm down ladies, you’re not drunk enough.

As if this isn’t atrocious enough, the attitude of those tasked with protecting and serving the community is almost too callous to be believed.

Detective Inspector Bruce Scott is quoted as saying that;
“None of the girls have been brave enough to make formal statements to us so we can take that to a prosecution stage”

I’m sorry, the girls haven’t been brave enough? Are you fucking kidding me?

But I’m sure you came down on the little bastards like the proverbial ton of bricks didn’t you Inspector, cowardly rape victims notwithstanding?
This is what our law enforcing hero had to say on the matter;
“We’ve told them their behaviour is verging on criminal if not criminal, and suggested it cease”

Verging on criminal”?
Suggested it cease”?
Are you out of your tiny mind?

However, I expect the odious little antipodean cassanovas are suitably contrite since their horrible activities have been made public?

Hardly.

Here’s a quote from one of the apparently unfazed members of the gang, responding to accusations that he is, not to put too fine a point on it, a complete scumbag;
“You try and get with the amount of girls we do. This is hard, it’s a job, we don’t do this shit for pleasure.”

Ah bless, you poor thing. It must be awful for you, spending all your pocket money on cheap booze, only to have those ungrateful little trollops get all upset when they wake up with a hangover and no virginity or self respect.
You probably tell them you feel terrible and promise to make amends don’t you?

No?

No. What he actually likes to tell his distraught victims is;
”Go ahead, call the cops, they can’t un-rape you.”

Unbelievable.
Or is it?
Bearing in mind that the delightfully named Roast Busters are made up of, amongst others, the sons of policeman and in one case, the son of a Hollywood movie star, (Anthony Ray Parker, who played “Dozer” in The Matrix) it seems unlikely that they will be brought to justice anytime soon.
Although New Zealand’s 3 News has begun a crusade to publicise their activities, so they may yet have a case to answer.

Come to think of it, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to inaugurate a worldwide Golden Face Palms ceremony to highlight the sort of outrageous and incomprehensible behaviour this type of cretin engages in, if only to bring it to the attention of those with some power to deal with them, or at the very least to galvanise public opinion against them.

For now I think the inestimable Mr Pain has enough on his plate, but you never know, there’s always next year…

 
9 Comments

Posted by on November 8, 2013 in Awards, Blogging, News, Social comment, TV

 

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Intermission: Brand new world…

I’m not in the habit of doing short posts attached to viral videos, on the basis that if it’s that good, you’ve probably seen it already. 

But as the clip in question involves Russell Brand, someone I’ve become increasingly fond of over recent years – and who I have featured in a previous post –  (surely some sort of post-ironic national treasure status can’t be far away) and he does such a sterling job of disarming the BBC’s resident news rottweiler, Jeremy Paxman, I could hardly resist posting this interview.

For those of you unfamiliar with Mr Paxman, he is the BBC’s most notorious politician-savager, although here he appears in slightly more relaxed mode. Perhaps it’s the effect of the cuddly beard.

And if you don’t know who Russell is by now,….. how did you manage to find the Internet today?

Apart from anything else, Mr Brand talks a lot of sense and very nicely articulates what a lot of people think about the state of our current political system.

Watch and learn (and laugh)

 
4 Comments

Posted by on October 25, 2013 in Blogging, Humour, News, Social comment, TV

 

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The Nobel and the not so noble…

I’ve now started this post four times.
Each time, the introduction was very sincere and thoughtfully articulated (you’ll have to take my word for it) and featured words like “freedom” and “oppression” and even “cohabitation”, but in the end what it boils down to is this;

Some people make me wish I could resign from the human race, whilst there are others whose modesty and integrity almost take my breath away.

And in the last few days, there have been a number of news stories that nicely illustrate this contrast in human nature.

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Picture the scene – a kindly looking, bespectacled elderly gentleman sits enjoying a relaxed pub lunch in Leith, Scotland.
Maybe he’s doing the Times crossword, maybe he’s reading the latest copy of New Scientist magazine, maybe he’s thinking about particle physics.

This last option is a distinct possibility, because the kindly old gent in question is none other than Professor Peter Higgs, eminent physicist and co-discoverer (with Belgian scientist, Francois Englert) of the Higgs Boson or “God particle”.

Now picture the Nobel prize committee, eager to bestow their award on one of the greatest scientific minds of our generation. Making increasingly frantic phone calls to try and locate the latest inductee into the world’s most exclusive club, they finally have to delay the presentation after realising the publicity-shy professor doesn’t own a mobile phone.

We return to Leith where professor Higgs, now strolling down the high street, is stopped by a passing ex-neighbour and is congratulated on his wonderful news.
“What news is that?” he asks politely.
At which point the neighbour tells him that he should probably ring the office.

Apparently he was originally going to spend the week in the Scottish Highlands to avoid any fuss people might make about one of the greatest scientific discoveries in recent years.
Such is the unassuming nature of someone who could quite rightly blow their own trumpet until the cows come home, a perfect example of good old British understatement.

Peter Higgs, Britain salutes you.
Whether you like it or not.

Isn’t it sad then, that in the same week we have to put up with the frankly vomit-inducing sight of the man who once flaunted a tattoo of a mosque with the word BOOM across it on television, seemingly having some kind of media-fuelled damascene moment and leaving the odious EDL (English Defence League) that he founded and led for four years to join an anti-extremist movement.

Yes, Tommy Robinson has hung up his swastika-spurred jackboots and seen the error of his ways.

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Nothing to do with the fact that he’s currently under investigation for obstructing the police during an anti-Islamic demonstration following the death of soldier Lee Rigby, or that by his own admission he’s getting ostracised by other parents at his childrens’ school.

No, it’s because he’s realised what a silly man he was at all those rallies and demos, threatening the Muslim community at large with retribution should any harm befall other British subjects and making himself look like an ill-informed dick on Newsnight.

I shan’t give him any more coverage than that, except to share the twitterati’s amusing take on the matter.

The third story that caught my attention was reported by a fellow blogger.
Sting of the Scorpion posted a piece the other day about everyone’s favorite hate-mongering cult-of-no-personality, the Westboro Baptist Church.

Unbelievably, this “church” enjoys tax-exemption status, despite the fact that a petition to classify them as a hate group (defined by the FBI as one whose “primary purpose is to promote animosity, hostility, and malice against persons belonging to a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin which differs from that of the members of the organization.”) has many times more signatures than originally required.
It seems as if a certain Mr Obama is reluctant to recognise their bile-filled sermons and bigoted street corner abuse shouting sessions for the racist and homophobic rants they so obviously are.

Whether or not public opinion on this matter will reach a point at which it can no longer be ignored by those in charge remains to be seen, but as long as the notion of complete freedom of speech is abused by moronic minorities like this, it can only serve to cause more restrictions to be placed on those who have something genuinely worthwhile to say.

But in a country where the Southern Poverty Law Centre finds it necessary to publish a “hate map” of all the groups of extremists, organised by type of hatred (one category is simply called “general hate”) I don’t hold out much hope.

You can read the Scorpion Sting’s whole excellent article right here, and I shall just include this, my favourite moment of WBC bashing.

Here’s English scarecrow dandy, Russell Brand, giving them a friendly talking to.

Which brings me full circle, so to speak, as we return to the 2013 Nobel prizes and a story of incredible courage and dignity which proves that no matter how bad the cruelty and oppression inflicted, some people have a strength of character that is almost inconceivable to me.

Five years ago a BBC journalist was reporting from the Taliban-controlled Swat Valley in northern Pakistan.
This was the sort of area where it wasn’t uncommon to see the headless corpses of policemen hanging from lampposts in the town square, where all music and TV was banned and where any education for women was expressly forbidden.

As part of his story on the plight of women under the Taliban, the reporter tried to get female school teachers to write about their experiences but none were willing to go on record.
However, to his surprise an eleven year old girl named Malala Yousafzai wanted to write a diary of her life, would the BBC publish it?

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Over the next few weeks Malala passed hand-written notes to the journalist, which were posted on the BBC’s urdu language website under the anonymous title of Diary of a Pakistani school girl.
By the time she was 14 she was speaking out publicly about the rights of girls to get an education even though it was now common knowledge that she was being targeted by Taliban death squads.

If you don’t watch anything else today, watch as Malala leaves motor-mouthed US TV satirist Jon Stewart totally stunned by her response to hearing about the threats to her life…

Not long after learning of the death threats, she was travelling to school when she was ambushed by gunmen who shot her in the head.

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Miraculously, after leaving Pakistan for emergency surgery she survived and embarked on a campaign fighting for the right to an education for girls and women around the world.
And today she narrowly missed out on being the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel peace prize (pipped at the post by the Syrian chemical weapons inspectors).

Hearing Malala Yousafzai talk, you would think she was twice her 16 years, showing more poise and integrity than many of our allegedly civilised Western politicians.
I would highly recommend watching the full version of her interview with Jon Stewart via this link.

On balance, I think that if you judged the current state of human decency on just those four stories from the past week, we’d still just come out ahead.

 
 

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