Feast of fools

In homage to the day, I have decided to introduce our non-UK readers to a sample of British fools. Not “fools” in a good way, as are so many characters in fantasy fiction – such the Fool in Robin Hobb’s books. But these are “fools” in a “paid-good-money to spread idiocy” way.

I have to start with Richard Littlejohn. He is the archetypal right-wing newspaper ranter. He would be a shock-jock if he had a Midwest radio show. Which would be tough for the Midwest but would probably raise the IQ of the average Daily Mail or Sun reader by 5 points.

His website claims that

His twice-weekly columns in the Daily Mail and the Sun earned him a place in the inaugural Newspaper Hall of Fame as one of the most influential journalists of the past 40 years.

Shudder. Be very afraid. “Most influential journalist”……… His home page has a modest quote from the Observer.

He’s a distant, bastard cousin of Thomas Nash, Daniel Defoe and Alexander Pope.

No idea who Thomas Nash was, but surely Defoe and Pope are the Premier League to his Sunday 5-a-side League in Droitwich. (*Soccer reference*) Trim the last nine words and the word “distant”.

Apart from the self-promotion, his website exists mainly to sell his books. So it was quite entertaining to come across the transcript of an old radio programme, where Will Self – although not really on his best form – dismissed his work in a Will-Self-signature haughty manner.

Mail stablemate of Littlejohn is Peter Hitchens, about whom we’ve ranted before. His mind seems to be that of a true conspiracy theory nut. The world is simplified for him into a monolithic conglomeration of everything he dislikes, witness his most recent Mail column. It starts:

This week we have a rare glimpse of the true agenda of our new, modernised rulers. They have disclosed their secret, virulent loathing of fatherhood.

This is deduced from the government’s alleged hatred of marriage (expressed by the words on a form), the wording of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (because it says “supportive parenting”).

In fact, the change – never openly argued for by its supporters – is a revolutionary blow at the foundations of British society. It is driven by the thinking of a few Marxist weirdos, including Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse

The idea that government ministers and civil servants have even heard of Wilhelm Reich or Herbert Marcuse, let alone read their works, stops me in my tracks. Are they directing social policy from beyond the grave? Did they have bizarrely prescient views on the HFEA Bill?

(It appears from his next paragraph that the government were idle students 40 years ago and must therefore have imbibed their ideas……)

He next insults the founder of the Brook Advisory clinics that provide contraceptive advice, complaining bitterly that a Conservative government gave her an honour in 1980.  She is accused of somehow having caused a rise in the number of unplanned pregnancies and abortions. (By providing contraception? Uh?)

Then, he blames banning people hitting their kids. (I am ashamed, as an English person, to say that this one isn’t even true. Shockingly.)

The outcome is the surveillance state, which is supposedly the result of replacing parental authority with state power. I am at least as much against the surveillance society as Littlejohn, but I completely fail to see a connection between the rest of his rant and its conclusion..

I kid you not. This might sound like the opinionated drunk ranting in your local pub or the person with mild Alzheimer’s who collars you at at a bus stop. But it’s what passes for a Daily Mail column.

Which makes one suspect that a disturbingly large section of the British public – who actually buy and read this stuff – is several bells short of even the most minimal fool’s cap.

Fools cap

The other Hitchens rants again

It’s not easy to see Peter Hitchens – the personification of the Daily Mail mindset – as a devout Christian. But here he is, furious about the fact that betting shops can now open on Good Friday. The headline:

Our braying, Godless land where Easter is another day at the bookies

As opposed to “another day” in which a newspaper’s main headline contrives to add to the grief of the mother of a 15 year-old murdered girl, by implying that the fact that the girl drank alcohol was somehow a reason for the girl’s murder and therefore the mother’s fault? Good example of Christian charity, that paper? Oh, blow me down with a feather, is that the Daily Mail?

Pause to reflect on the meaning of “braying” in Hitchens’ headline. Can’t find one. Assume, uncharitably, that is must be there to make “godless” seem more threatening. As with the unusual capital letter on “Godless”.

I must confess to not knowing that bookies were previously closed at Easter, (not being a gambler) so I start from a bit of a disadvantage. Nonetheless, I can’t see what the opening hours of betting shops have to do with morality, at all. There might be (unconvincing to me) moral argument for banning betting but how can there be a moral argument for banning betting on certain days?

But it appears, according to the rabid one, that the new testament provides the justification:

……this is the first generation in centuries that does not know that the soldiers cast lots at the foot of the Cross, ignoring the groans of the crucified Jesus and the weeping of his mother, to decide which of them should have Christ’s seamless garment.

Betting makes the baby Jesus cry? But only at Easter?

Hitchens then argues that:

“paintings of the Crucifixion by the great Flemish Masters such as Hieronymus Bosch and you will see, baying or sneering at Golgotha, exactly the same snarling, contorted, heedless faces you find on the drunken streets of our country.”

What? I thought this was rant against betting on Good Friday, rather than against angry drunks. Is a bad-tempered drunk in the street somehow mocking the crucifixion? Is the (conceptual) guy putting a Five pound Yankee twist forecast on the fourth race at Cheltenham somehow responsible for another (mythical) guy betting on an old t-shirt 2000 years ago?

Falling for Hitchens’ usual rhetorical trick of arousing emotion by association of ideas, I confess that I now picture Hitchens as some sort of Bosch demon. I definitely picture him “snarling” at the keyboard as he types his column.

Oh, it turns out the cause of society’s ongoing tumble into the Pit isn’t gambling on the first “Sunday after the first fourteenth day of the moon (the Paschal Full Moon) that is on or after the ecclesiastical vernal equinox.” (Wikipedia) Nor is it people who look ugly when drunk in public. It’s single parents, according to the next few paragraphs.

This is actually what people such as me have been warning of for years, while being dismissed loftily as puritans and bigots and falsely described as believers in a past “golden age”.

Please let me join in the lofty dismissal. May I add ranting, fear-mongering, hate-spreading, self-satisfied, unable to present a halfway coherent argument?

He’s supposed to be a committed Anglican, according to his Wikipedia biography.

That’s “committed” used in a sense other than that which it has when it’s coupled with “should be”.

And that is “Anglican” used in a sense that is so unlike that brand of Christianity of Giles Fraser, the vicar of Putney, as to make you wonder if the Trades Descriptions Act might usefully be applied to religion.

Agreeing with Peter Hitchens! Oh Noes!

By Zeus, it must be time for me to kill myself. I have obviously suffered some kind of brain injury and am clinging on to reality by the thinnest of threads. Today, not only did I actually buy the Mail on Sunday (*), but I found myself agreeing with the obnoxious Peter Hitchens’ commentary. I will report to the euthanasia centre forthwith.

In a piece titled “Nothing to hide, but plenty to fear from Ms ID Card“, Annoying Hitchens makes some actually good, valid points:

She says we “need” to “prove who we are”. But mainly we need to do this because the Government has spun a spider’s web of silly rules, which snags the law-abiding and spares real troublemakers.

I agree. Hitchens continues by identifying some of the future strictures ID cards will place upon us then the bit I agree with most:

These precautions are useless against real money-launderers, paedophiles, gangsters and terrorists, who laugh at them. But they make people like Ms Smith look and feel as if they are doing something.

This is the whole problem with the idea. The implementation of ID cards is useless for its stated aims — criminals will not be inconvenienced by them in anyway. It is a shame I agree with Hitchens on something, but for now I have just put it down to his rabid hatred of the Labour government — if ID cards had been a Conservative party idea, he would be behind them all the way.

Back on the subject of ID cards, proper though — another point I neglected last time I ranted is the madness that ID cards can work if less than every member of society carries one. As long as they are optional, they are pointless for pretty much any of the ideas Ms Smith suggests they could be used for. If an immigrant is challenged and they say “I am not an immigrant” what could the government do about it? As they claim to not be a non-EU migrant, they wouldn’t be expected to carry an ID card therefore you can’t demand to see their ID card…

What passes for Logic in Ms Smiths world amazes me.

(*) In my defence it did have a good “free” music CD, which is the real reason I bought it. Odin only knows why I actually opened the “newspaper” (in the loosest sense of the word) and read anything.

Self Defence or Self Delusion? (long)

Today’s Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 was almost made to infuriate me. It was almost as if the researchers read my mind and found some topics that would be guaranteed to get on my wick, and better still would be certain to get the amazing collection of people who ring in, to ring in and add to the nonsense being debated. Well, it worked like a treat. It really did. If it wasn’t frowned upon to use work telephones to phone radio shows and call every one idiots, I would have done so today. Really. And I do hate myself for it, because it means I am another one of the brain addled fools who rings in to rant.

Anyway, admissions over with, on to the rant. Today’s “show” began with a call in about the expulsion of four Russian diplomats following the Russian refusal to extradite the man suspected of killing Litvinenko (news). This was reasonably tepid – at the end of the day it is the sort of thing which is done in international politics. It strikes me as reasonable for the UK government to demand his extradition. It is almost reasonable for Russia to resist, and if the UK had a punishment regime which was worse than in Russia (death sentence etc), then I would certainly back their refusal. As it stands, we don’t.

I was only half listening to this, the callers were generally only calling so they could go on air and criticise the UK government over something, logical consistency was nicely ignored. A few messages read out were along the lines of people accusing the UK of “punching above its weight” etc and saying we should just keep quiet and not hassle the Russians over this. Odd standards, but there you go. It didn’t rile me that much.

Next came the best bit. The middle debate was about some “research” which apparently shows 1 in 3 British people sleep with a weapon by their bed. Mostly these are things like baseball bats and hammers. Now, as I don’t know anyone who does this there is implication that entire cities are full of people who go to bed armed to the teeth.

The basic premise was debated initially by the guy who is an ex-burglar and now a BBC1 TV “personality” showing people how to prevent break-ins (cant remember his name), and “Daily Mail Columnist” Peter Hitchens. Instantly you can see this is going to make the blood boil. The Mail describe him as having an “uncompromising blog” when in reality he spouts out pure nonsense. Often it is ill informed nonsense, sometimes it is offensive nonsense, but it is always nonsense.

Anyway, the ex-Burglar chappie made some reasonable comments along the lines of hiding a weapon by your bed will not deter thieves and if you batter the burglar you are likely to face prosecution. He went on to suggest better ways of preventing burglary. FoolHitchens replied to this by saying it was a policy of fear and assumed burglary was always going to happen. He then went on to spout out some fanciful claims about how it was “better 30 – 40 years ago” and that it was all societies fault that people were too frightened to sleep without a hammer next to their bed.

Showing either his mastery of irony, or more likely his lack of any idea of logical conclusion, Hitchens continued to create an argument from despair about declining moral standards and how the law was at fault. Etc. It was pure sound bite designed to cater to his selection of Mail readers, he even went as far as to lament how it is always the middle class (of which he seems proud to include himself 1) who have to suffer, how they are the only law abiding people and so on. If you can get the listen again bit to play (I cant tonight for some reason) it kicks in at about 35 – 45 min point and you can hear him head down the road of quoting imaginary statistics. He really is an annoying *****.

Despite his claims to know about criminology, it seems on this subject as so many others, Hitchen is a poor student. For a start, despite his ideas that there was a golden age x years ago (it changes depending on what he is writing for etc), this really is not the case. Burglary is a poor one for him to try and pin on the social decline because it is one of the few crimes which is easy to track over the years. Looking at both the British Crime Survey and the reports from the ACPO, burglary is on the decline and has been since 1999. Going back more than two decades and it was much higher during the halcyon years he lusts after – in the late seventies and eighties it was significantly greater than today.

Add to this the reality that most people subjected to burglary are poor people who live in poor neighbourhoods and you can see he has built an argument on foundations of quicksand. The incidents of burglars (normally poor people themselves) travelling to “middle class” neighbourhoods to do a spot of pilfering is low to say the least. Despite the Daily Mail’s scare stories, “middle class” areas have a greater police presence, higher incidence of home alarms etc. All of these go towards protecting the property. If you doubt this, try to find some insurance quotes. Try for a poor, run down, inner city area and compare that with the same – or larger – property in a “nice” postcode area. As someone who has lived in both areas, I can tell you the difference is staggering.

Fundamentally, this talk show and especially Hitchens pure nonsense, speaks more of a segment of society which has (for whatever reason) allowed itself to become frightened of ghosts. This middle class who read the mail and listen to idiotHitchens are being tricked into thinking there is much more of a risk than there actually is. Note: I am not downplaying the risk or saying burglary is not a terrible thing to be subjected to. It strikes me this current furore over the subject is a result of Kerry Katona getting held up at knife point in her own home (news). Now her circumstances were terrible. You wouldn’t wish it upon your worst enemy but they certainly are not indicative of the experiences of “normal” people. Three men sledgehammered their way into her house and held a knife to her neck. They did this because she was very rich (not middle class). It is not a typical event. It is so atypical it made the news headlines.

As this was a “phone in” show, you can imagine the comedy value from the callers. Worryingly, every one I heard said they did, indeed, sleep with a weapon next to their bed. Now, this may be an artefact caused by the researchers selection process but it is still disturbing.

The callers were all saying how they kept baseball bats, hammers (even one had a crossbow, a pilum and a sword to hand …) in case their home was invaded and they needed to fight to defend their property. Blimey. A nation of ninjas. In the past I have ranted about firearms and it may be easy to guess that I am not a big fan of people taking this route towards home defence. There are many issues, but the main one I have problem with, is it is ludicrous to say the least.

Among the callers were a few women and what sounded like an older than middle aged man. Now, without going into too much detail I am fairly confident I have at least an average understanding of what is involved in a claws out fight with weapons to hand(2). I am also 100% confident that if some one attacked me with a hammer, without knowing the best way to wield this particular weapon, I could take it off them and inflict major damage on them. This is the basic thing for people who try to defend themselves like this to realise. As soon as they confront the burglar with the weapon the stakes are raised. Lots of callers were saying that they challenged a burglar with a butter knife (or whatever) and he ran off. What would happen if he hadn’t run off though?

Sticking with the hammer as an example (although the same applies to most “household” weapons), most people attacking a burglar will do the adrenalin inspired thing and swing it at the burglars head. Great if he isn’t looking and doesn’t know you are there – you may hit him. If he is aware of your presence, it really is unlikely you will get a solid blow anywhere it counts. Now, the important bit is if you miss. This can be trouble. Most swinging weapons tend to encourage people to swing them full force – this is especially the case if “frail” people are using them as they seem to want to get their bodyweight behind it. When the weapon fails to connect, the person swinging will often be forced to carry on with the swing until they can either bring it under control, or it hits something (often the floor or wall). While this is going on, most people are largely unable to do anything – other than get beaten or killed by the intruder who now (rightly) fears for his or her own life.

Baseball bats, for example, are often more effective used as a poking weapon rather than swinging, but I doubt any of the people who called in, proud they have one, would use it like this if an intruder was in their house. If that first swing fails to totally disable the attacker, it is unlikely the home-defender will come away from the situation in a “nice way.”

More worryingly, there was the idea that this (weapons by the bed) was a good idea for the elderly and women alone with small children. Blimey. The worst categories. Sadly, illusions aside, most of the middle class homeowners are unlikely to be well versed in the raw aggression and violence a fight like this can produce. If the burglar is the stereotypical 40 – 50 year old “career burglar” then fine, they may well run off. If the intruder is young, a hardened criminal (fighting in prison is a good way to learn close in skills) or a desperate drug addict, the chances are the office-working home owner will be given a sadly firm lesson in self defence.

There really is only one sensible course of action if you are in your house when a burglar breaks in. Lock yourself in a room and call the police. If you try to challenge the intruder you are risking everything. If there is more than one of them, or they don’t flee immediately things are going to get a LOT worse for you. Remember you can replace property. Your nose, bones or even your life are more important.

A weapon by the bed does not make you any safer than a lock on your bedroom door. The weapon, no matter how much it may “reassure” you is actually more likely to ensure you are hurt rather than robbed. It will not act as a deterrent to the thief, as he has to be in your house before he knows it is there.

One last point – if a burglar breaks in while you are home, it is less likely that he is the “career burglar” mentioned above, so really think twice before trying to be the hero. Despite this, the chances of being burgled are low, and the chances of it happening while you are at home is even lower. If you really are that worried, check your insurance policy – it is the best defence to losing things you have.

Sadly, I have spent so long ranting about this nonsense I no longer have the energy to pick up on the last piece of the show which was about Imaginary Friends. What a gift that would have been 🙂 .

[tags]Crime, Society, Peter Hitchens, Philosophy, Self Defence, Middle Class, Burglary, Nonsense, Madness, Woo, Culture, Fear, Imaginary Friend, Belief, Ideas, Media, Daily Mail, BBC, BBC2, Radio, Knives, Weapons[/tags]

1 – It should be noted that the wiki page for his brother has this to say:

Hitchens was educated at The Leys School, Cambridge (his mother arguing that ‘If there is going to be an upper class in this country, then Christopher is going to be in it.’) [13], and Balliol College, Oxford, where he read Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. During his years as a student at Oxford, he was tutored by Steven Lukes.

Unless the family were particularly spoiling Christopher rather than Peter, I can only assume both went to Oxford. Not the normal “Middle Class” behaviour.

2 – For my sins, I have spent a period of my life teaching people how to fight like this and also teaching people how to secure their property.