Friday, August 12, 2011

It's the way 'e tells 'em...

If you're feeling brave enough, let me take you by the hand and lead you away from the comforting inanity of Labour Hame, and back to the scary right-wing swamp that is Political Betting in its current state. Now, long-term readers of this blog may recall me referring in the past to 'Chris g00', one of the thoroughbred PB nutjobs. He once 'interrogated' me for hours, nay days, on why the SNP had "reneged" on its 2003 manifesto promise to hold an independence referendum. The answer was of course remarkably straightforward, ie. "the SNP lost the 2003 election", and as you'll appreciate it didn't change much no matter how many different ways he found of posing the question. But the poor chap was genuinely labouring under the misapprehension that he had me on the ropes, and repeatedly returned to the subject whenever he spotted me posting on the site in an effort to "embarrass" me. This delusional pattern has repeated itself in a number of slightly different forms ever since. But last night really took the biscuit, not least for the fact that one or two of the ostensibly saner Tory contributers to PB (including the Deputy Editor, no less) piled in on Mr g00's behalf, apparently unaware or unconcerned that they had become cheerleaders for a familiar and truly cretinous repertoire.

It started when g00 made this comment -

"Black youths beating English youths right now on virginmedia channel 525"

I immediately asked him if by "English" he really meant "white" - ie. was it impossible for black people to be English in his eyes? A different poster called 'Notme' immediately jumped in and claimed that English was indeed an exclusively ethnic identity, and that black people could be British, but not English. He even made the extraordinary claim that the English are "the indigenous ethnic group of these islands", before swiftly spotting the difficulty of trying to persuade a Scotsman to accept such a nonsensical line of argument.

And then Mr. g00 returned to the fray. He triumphantly informed me that he had not in fact been making a comment about black youths beating white youths in English cities, but had instead been making a joke about the Nigerian under-20 football team beating England.

Boom boom.

Now of course, this changed absolutely nothing - the 'humour' in his thoroughly tasteless joke hinged entirely on an assumed clear distinction between 'English' people and 'black' people. If you don't feel there's such a distinction, the joke would never occur to you in the first place, and if you didn't expect to share that world view with others you wouldn't tell them the joke, because it wouldn't work. But in classic g00 fashion, all that mattered to him was that I had "fallen into his trap", and my queries about how the joke could possibly work (as he claimed) on an entirely "non-racial basis" were swatted away with the observation that I was continuing to dig a hole for myself and it was all highly entertaining. He promised to gloat about his little triumph at regular intervals over the coming days (just as he had done with my "inability to explain why the SNP had reneged on its 2003 manifesto pledges") - but then put that wizard plan on hold for a little while in favour of some shuteye.

Things then took a distinctly ugly turn as a number of g00's fellow Tory posters refused to countenance even the vaguest possibility that one of their own had told a tasteless joke, and claimed that the real issue was my own lack of a sense of humour. One of them eventually tried to "pull rank" on me by declaring that he was an Asian, that he found the joke funny, and that I should therefore "get over myself". I replied that his opinion of the joke was a matter for him, just as it would be if he also found Bernard Manning a riot. I was then informed that simply by mentioning the words "Bernard Manning" I had implied that the poster in question was a "coconut" and an "Uncle Tom". At some point "implied" mutated into "said", and by the morning it was an accepted truth among the PB Tory fraternity that I had not merely "called" an Asian poster a coconut, but that I had "racially insulted him". Just when I thought things couldn't get any better, the ever-delightful Mr g00 awoke from his slumber, determined to keep his promise to show me up at every opportunity for having fallen into his 'hilarious' trap.

Well, naturally I'm not a shrinking violet in such situations, so whenever he posted something like this...

"I don’t need to try, given posters on left and right all found fault with your response. Not a single person decided that on balance you had a point, and as I said the conversation ended with most calling you humourless, and two believing you racially offensive. Not bad for a nights work."

...I immediately fired back with something like this...

"Rubbish. Every single person who disagreed with me was a Tory, apart from one very brief and indirect comment from Nick Palmer which didn’t even mention me.

The classic PB syndrome : my Tory chums all agree with me, therefore I’ve been proved right."

And unsurprisingly his chums (the usual headbanger tendency) continued to support him, and I responded to them in robust fashion as well. But what really shocked me (although it shouldn't have done) was this spectacularly ill-judged and one-sided intervention from PB's Deputy Editor David Herdson, which had the distinct feel of a semi-official reprimand about it -

"You made yourself look silly last night when most people were sensibly asleep. You’re now making yourself look silly this morning and spamming up the thread.

You’re right in your assertions about the joke. Given, however, that you were the one who misinterpreted it on racial and ethnic lines, despite all the evidence being there to work out what it was talking about, I’d suggest you have a deep look at your own instincts as regards race and identity."

This point is so misconceived on so many levels that it's difficult to know where to start. It was literally impossible to 'misinterpret' the joke on racial or ethnic lines because there is no joke without the assumption that 'black' and 'English' are mutually-exclusive concepts. It works by assuming the listener will instantly accept that "black youths beating English youths" is a perfectly natural description of what has been happening on recent nights in many cities. If that acceptance is forthcoming, then it indeed probably is a sign that the listener needs to "look deeply at his instincts regarding race and identity". But did I instinctively accept that description as natural? No, Mr Herdson, what I instead did was challenge it - immediately. And in any case the purpose of the joke's punchline is not to spark a period of mature reflection on the part of the listener about any racist instincts which have just been exposed - the 'humour' instead lies in a kind of pleasurable complicity between the teller of the joke and the recipient, ie. "we both know what you were thinking, and why you were thinking it".

Dear God. Only in PB World could it be the person who challenged the racist premise of a joke who needs to "examine their instincts", rather than the person who told the joke or the people who found it funny. And only in PB World could it be the person who rebuts Mr g00's endless cretinous gloating that receives the semi-official reprimand for "spamming up the thread", rather than Mr g00 himself. I'm pleased to say that one or two posters did eventually offer a degree of support for the points I made, but all in all this episode is yet another sad example of what has gone so terribly wrong with that once fine website.


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  2. PB seems a little like “The Scotsman” used to be in the days when (briefly) I frequented it.

    I always had the feeling that I was engaging in debate with a crowd of people with IQs just over the 100 level.

    I remember in particular the case, reported in that august organ, of the Somali man who had contracted a strain of TB which was drug resistant, and was being cared for in a Scottish hospital.

    One charmless oaf called "William" wanted him sent back to Somalia immediately, despite his being in ICU. These beds, according to the oaf, should be kept for British people.

    When I protested that it would be inhumane to do this, he, and his friends, decided that I personally should foot the not inconsiderable bill for this man's treatment, something that if I'd had the resources I's have happily done. He (the Somali) had not, you see, made any contribution himself, unlike these good decent upstanding white people who were making their odious argument for his immediate deportation. They displayed an incredible lack of knowledge about where Somalia was, its political and economic situation, and the UK's relationship to and with it.

    William in particular, obviously unaware of the existence of the name ‘Tristan’, and not noticing that there was no "h" at the end of its shortened form, had taken to referring to me as "she", presumably in the mistaken notion that my name was ‘Trish’.

    He had concluded too, presumably because I demonstrated that I had had brief encounters with such phenomena as commas and reflexive pronouns, and knew how the past tenses of the verb "to be" was conjugated, that I was a student and might see sense when I ‘grew up’.

    The number of people who piled in on his side of the race argument was quite frightening, and left me with an unpleasant taste in my mouth.

    Just like on PB, there was strength and safety in numbers. Clearly they felt that just because they had a crowd of fellow travellers, they were right. Dangerous assumption.

    For what it is worth, I totally agree with your stance. If it was a joke, it was in appalling taste. Clearly, following the example of the un-fragrant Mrs Nicholas Winterton, the Tories haven't moved into the 20th century yet. Lord only knows what they think of gays...oh no, wait, they probably inventively call them "fruits" or "pansies".

    I expect that the kindest thing that one can say about Chris g00 is that (s)he is probably elderly and having trouble moving with the times.

  3. James,

    I admire your persistence with these racists and I can’t add anything to what you’ve said that would improve it. But I’m afraid that you’re never going to dissuade them or even make them think twice about their racist beliefs. Why? Because they are consumed with hate. Their hate is what gets them out of bed in the morning.

    They hate black people, of course, and they’ll target any black ‘folk-devil’ who has the misfortune to enter their narrow field of vision. But for the same reasons that I don’t share a platform with the Labour Shamers, I choose not to share a platform with racists, you’re not going to shift the opinions of these people because, for them, hate will always be a much stronger emotion than love.

    This may not be as far removed then, from what you call the “comforting inanity” of Labour Shame. Let me explain. I got an interesting email from an old leftie pal of mine from London this morning. He’s a genuine leftie. That is, he would cut off one of his limbs before he would vote Labour and, for years, he’s ribbed me, in a comradely, good-humoured kind of way, about my support for the SNP.

    In his lengthy email, he said a number of interesting things about the riots. But he said one thing, in particular, that made me think about the politics of this, including those in Scotland, like the Labour Shamers, who are trying to take the Scottish dimension of the politics of the riots out of this. He won’t mind if I briefly quote him, what he said was this:

    “You lot are lucky up there, at least you’ve got the SNP, down here we’ve got nothing”.

    Both of us are too long in the tooth to believe that the sun shines out of Alex Salmond’s bottom. But that’s not what he meant. What he meant was that, for all its faults, the SNP – often, I think, without us truly appreciating this ourselves - has given us a cause to believe in, a cause to fight for, that simply has no equivalent in England.

    I’m not arguing here, of course, that the reason Torcuil’s “Neds” haven’t rioted is because they’re all card-carrying members of the SNP! Apart from anything else, most of Torcuil’s “Neds” aren’t old enough to vote and, even if they were, they wouldn’t bother to exercise the right. What I’m arguing here is that, contrary to Torcuil’s cracker-barrel philosophy, the “geography of the border” is important. For what the SNP has created in Scotland is a kind of good faith (in the Sartrean sense), and it is this that is really getting under the skin of the Labour Shamers. The Labour Shamers need to turn this in to the bad faith that people in Scotland, after thirteen years of New Labour, now associate with Labour, hence their relentless assault on the credibility of Salmond in particular.

    This isn’t the kind of good faith that governs the behaviour of the “Neds” (it would be absurd to argue that), rather, it’s the kind of good faith that is in the air, it creates a sense of purpose, a sense of hope and a belief that that hope can be translated into change. Many of the parents and friends of the “Neds’” will have a sense of this good faith and, in subtle, even indiscernible ways, may have transmitted it to the “Neds”. That, and the strong resolve of many of the “Neds” themselves not to be associated with England under any circumstances, might provide one partial explanation as to why the riots haven’t spread to Scotland though, as ever, it’s much more complicated than this.

    One final point. I’ve never known my pal to be as pessimistic about England’s future as he is now. I first met him on the picket lines at Wapping (it’s a long story), and we’ve participated in many struggles against both Thatcherism and New Labour over the years. But it occurs to me that if someone like him, who’s forgotten more about politics than people like Torcuil and the other Labour Shamers will ever know, is so pessimistic about England’s future, I can understand why a young kid in London, of whatever race, might think that, in the current environment, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to kick in a shop window and nick a mobile phone.

  4. James,

    Looking at the nationalist comments on the English riots thread on Labour Shame, I suspect it's beginning to dawn on the Labour Shamers that maybe setting up their own blog wasn't such a good idea.

    That begs the question: what do you think will happen first? Will Labour Shame be removed from the blogosphere or will Ed Miliband be replaced as leader? It's too close to call I'd say.

  5. "William in particular, obviously unaware of the existence of the name ‘Tristan’, and not noticing that there was no "h" at the end of its shortened form, had taken to referring to me as "she", presumably in the mistaken notion that my name was ‘Trish’.

    He had concluded too, presumably because I demonstrated that I had had brief encounters with such phenomena as commas and reflexive pronouns, and knew how the past tenses of the verb "to be" was conjugated, that I was a student and might see sense when I ‘grew up’."

    Superb! I used to post on the Scotsman as well, so I remember what it was like. Although strangely enough the worst problems I had were with Americans who couldn't bear to hear the slightest criticism of Israeli military policy without concluding that I must be an anti-Semite or a "Hezboo lover".

    Anon, I feel the same way about the SNP - I have absolutely no idea what I would do if I lived in England. I'd probably support the Greens if they had a candidate, but if they didn't I'd be totally stuck. Now that the Lib Dems have moved so far to the right, Labour have probably reverted to being the most left-wing party by default, but they're still horrifically authoritarian.

  6. Labour Hame has again closed comments on two threads after failing to win debates initiated by Torcuil 'I predict a riot' Crichton and Tom 'Admin' Harris. Crichton seemed upset and bewildered that Scotland failed to produce a riot, and Mr Harris had launched another poorly thought out ad hominem attack on the FM.

    Tom Harris really needs to learn to stop this behaviour. He comes awy with a bloody nose every time. It is only his indefatigable lack of self-awareness that allows him to declare victory every time he retreats from the field in disarray. Tom Harris, is he the 21st century Johnny Cope, or a reincarnation of Monty Python's Black Knight?

  7. Richard, he could perhaps have chosen a better moment to close the Torcuil Crichton thread. The last words on it will now forever more be these -

    "Alex Salmond was absolutely factually correct by saying we are a different society, we are and always have been different to England. That is not to boast or gloat but to state a simple fact. We have our problems and the SNP are dealing with them very effectively, and to quote Lord Foulkes, “they are doing it deliberately.”"

  8. Richard Lucas,

    LOL. Labour Shame has only been in existence for a few months but, already, it’s provided more laughs than a whole series of Monty Python sketches. It’s their earnestness on the most absurd points that always gets me. On the English riots thread, they were eventually reduced to discussing Alex Salmond’s “body language”.....on radio!

    On this thread, in their insistence that these were ‘UK’ riots, the Labour Shamers reminded me of those audiences who, seeing Magritte’s painting ‘This is not a Pipe’ for the first time insisted, ‘But it is a pipe’!

    I hope that this isn’t the last we’ve heard from Torcuil Crichton on Labour Shame though. This guy’s a hoot, but he’s wasted at the Daily Record, he should be on the stage doing stand-up. In fact, if Torcuil wants to do his own show at next year’s fringe – ‘Torcuil’s Scotland’ – I’d guarantee him at least one sold ticket.

    Labour Shame. This is what politics would look like if the Early Learning Centre did politics.

  9. The Scottish Government was actually ready to provide even more help than it did. After the 250 riot-trained police were sent south, a second tranche of officers was told to prepare themselves to go down to Manchester. My son was one of them. He's also one of the thousand extra cops that Labour still insist don't really exist.

    Labour's constant denigration of all things Scottish Is bizarre.

    I agree with you, Anon, about Torcuil Crichton. His unique insights really would be funny if they didn't involve such serious matters.