Suitable tale for Hallowe’en

According to the BBC

Five women were paraded naked, beaten and forced to eat human excrement by villagers after being branded as witches in India’s Jharkhand state.
Local police said the victims were Muslim widows who had been labelled as witches by a local cleric. (from the BBC)

This poses an interesting question. Does Islam have “witches?” Are they mentioned in the Koran? (I have no idea. I am too idle to googleit even)

The BBC has a video but I’m such a wuss that the warning that it contains disturbing footage was enough to stop me playing it. The video has understandably outraged people in India.

According to more links on that BBC page, witch persecution is not uncommon in India today. For instance, the BBC story “Witch family killed” reported the deaths of four people, who were stoned and buried alive in June 2008.

More than 500 people have been killed in Assam – and half as many in neighbouring West Bengal – in the past few years because their neighbours thought they were witches.
A study on these killings by a Bengal police officer, Asit Baran Choudhury, suggests that most of those accused of practising witchcraft and then killed are “isolated families” with some landed property.
He says most of those killed are widows.
“Powerful people in the community target them to acquire the land,” says the study. (from the BBC, 12 June 2008)

These horrific tales don’t need commenting on. It’s blindingly obvious what’s going on here. I could refer you to the mountains of anthropological literature about persecution of “witches”. The European witch trials were so similar in terms of targetting widows and grabbing property. But any mention of “anthropology” or “history” places this sort of madness in a conceptual realm that’s outside our own experience – in the distant past or in some “superstitious” alien society that is nothing like the modern world (Ha.)

In any case, I tend to assume that most readers are halfway sane so I won’t do this to death. Feel free to work up your own outrage. I’m getting a bit tired at expressing outrage at things so WRONG that they defy any sense of innate human decency. And I choose not to go down that road, as a matter of principle.

How monumentally convenient for someone who is jealous of another’s good fortune to make up insane accusations and convince the gullible that they are true.

Fiddling while Rome burns

There are more than enough depressing/infuriating/worrying news items to rant about here – climate change; wars; torture; erosion of civil liberties; random shootings; economic chaos; and so on ad nauseam. Which is why it’s all the more satisfying to be able to indulge in a completely irrelevant piece of spleen-venting, about someone that I’ll never meet and about a subject that is of no importance to the rest of the world.

Julie Myerson is a well-paid and successful writer who threw out her 17-year-old son, leaving him homeless and penniless. Then she wrote a novel about him and what a bad lot he was. Which got loads of publicity (to which I am foolishly contributing) as it turned out that lad, now 19, was less than pleased. It was also revealed in today’s Guardian that she was also the writer of a drivelly column (in the routinely unread Family Saturday supplement) about living with teenagers.

Her excuse for this throwing-a-child-on-the-street action – which would surely have brought normal people to the attention of Social Services – was his alleged addiction to smoking weed. (I kid you not)

Since then, she has been in all the tabloids. Her stance has been seen by some as “tough love” and plenty of other parents have been moved to tell their stories in the media. In the course of this media spectacle, the boy has even been allowed to express some of his feelings about his adolescence having being treated as book-promoting fodder.

Unfortunately, he’s not a professional writer so he hasn’t had the privileged access to the media. He’s only been able to talk about what the theft of his life has meant. He hasn’t been able to discuss how he feels about being so massively let down by the people who were supposed to care for him, for instance. Unlike his mother, he hasn’t been interviewed sympathetically on shows like BBC Breakfast. Unlike his mother, he’s the one whose prospects of getting accepted – by his peers, potential employers, and so on – as an autonomous adult have been shattered.

Now, this letter in today’s Guardian expressed, much better than I can, exactly what you would assume any sane person would feel about this, so I’m repeating it in full:

I worked for many years as a child psychologist and never came across any examples of severe behavioural problems in adolescents caused by cannabis use. What I did come across constantly were adults with appalling parenting skills who wished to attribute their children’s behavioural difficulties to food additives, ADHD, peer-group pressures or anything else which might distract from their own responsibility for the situation. Some teenagers do indeed become hard to handle as they get older. Some lose interest in satisfying their parents’ aspirations. Some listen to loud music. In general trying to get along with them as best one can and making sure they get plenty to eat is the best policy. Splattering complaints all over the media, inventing addictions and throwing the young person onto the streets is generally less successful. I would not recommend any parent to take the Myerson’s advice on bringing up children.
(from Greg McMillanrey Edinburgh)(I added the bold)

But this seems to be something of a minority view. For instance, A Smith says

I would like to thank Julie Myerson for having the courage to talk about an ordeal that is shared by probably thousands of loving families in this country.

Well, Julie, here’s some “tough love” from me – OK, this might just seem like unsought destructive verbal abuse, but I may have to refer to “pots” and “kettles.” (“You can dish it out but you can’t take it” and so on.)

When I saw you on today’s BBC Breakfast, I instantly thought how much I would hate to be trapped in a lift with you. You seemed completely self-obsessed, not to mention on the verge of a breakdown. You seemed so manically self-justifying, that I would have been sympathetic, were it not for the fact that you still don’t understand that you have done anything wrong to your son. You were just having a “me, me, poor me” fest. It was disturbing and baffling that people were emailing and ringing to support you, as if lots of shit parents were trying to block their innate awareness of their responsibilities by all joining in to make the blatant shittiness seem normal.

I can’t believe that you ever took your son’s real feelings into account at any stage in his life. I think you and your husband can’t relate to anything that doesn’t fit into your “perfect family” fantasy world. (Oh, we’re such a wacky family! Aren’t we lovably chaotic? So child-centred. We’re always pushed for time. And our teenagers swear! Tee Hee! And it all revolves around ME. )

As soon as your son started becoming an adolescent, it threatened your control of this imaginary world. So you scapegoated him for pretty average adolescent behaviour, then you decided that there was no blame to be attached anywhere except for the fact that he smoked weed.

Picking on one family member and making them bear the responsibility for any conflict in the home is using a scapegoat to dump all your own problems. This is pretty disgusting bullying in any circumstance. It’s indefensible if you do it to your own kids. Why did you give birth, ffs, if you weren’t going to respect your offspring?

Emotional abuse is emotional abuse, no matter how middle-class and well-paid you are and no matter how skillful you are at using the media to carry out your abuse and to collude in it, it’s still abuse.

Cameron is a consonant, vowel, consonant, consonant

There must be a word for people who turn other people’s tragedies to their own benefit. That is, a word that wouldn’t set publicity-hungry Daily Mail readers into a full-blown “Fury”, if it appeared in an Nintendo version of Scrabble. I stole the phrase above from a TV comedian. (Sorry, I forget who it was. I’ll credit him or her if I remember.) It has the advantage that you can fit quite a few cusswords into the template and still be sure that you’ve made an accurate judgment.

In this case, Cameron is speaking to the Daily Mail readers. (consonant, vowel, consonant, consonants to the power of 1 million or so) The topical prop for his speech is the case of Shannon Matthews. Shannon became Maddie-level famous when she was “abducted.” Her mother made tearful TV pleas for her return, sobbing to camera, while clutching a cuddly toy. Oh, and tried to get the sort of millionaires who stumped up for the Madeleine McCann appeal to give her loads of money. Her use of the people around her and the media was as masterly as you’d expect from a Jeremy Kyle devotee. (Sobs, props, appeals to class and community loyalty, going straight for the emotional jugular every time.)

Only it turned out that the mother had planned the whole scheme. The child was being hidden, drugged, in the mother’s boyfriend’s flat a few streets away from her home. Mother and boyfriend were arrested. The child was reportedly much happier being looked after by the kidnapper than her mother or current father-substitute.

Hell seems to have no fury like a tabloid tricked. Shannon’s mother has now become the archetypal underclass hate figure. And if the right-wing tabloids and their ideological chums in the Conservative Party (and New Labour, sadly) have been made to look like gullible consonant, vowel, consonant, consonants by one poor person, the poor are surely going to have to pay.

Hence Cameron’s bizarre column in the Daily Mail
DAVID CAMERON: There are 5 million people on benefits in Britain. How do we stop them turning into Karen Matthews?

As if that is an ever-present danger…. One in 5 million. That seems like a very very low ratio of “Karen Matthews” to “people on benefits.” Unless she has some strange epidemic condition and isn’t so much going to jail as getting put into quarantine.

As far as I can see that makes 4,999,999 people on benefits who haven’t kidnapped anyone. Who somehow manage to survive almost on air alone and still don’t feel the need to drug their own children to keep them quiet in their kidnap-den.

Why stop at people in benefits? Karen Matthews was female. How do we stop x million women turning into Karen Matthews. Well, they’d have to have children. How do you stop a lower-value-of-x people turning into Karen Matthews? Or Northerners? Or people whose first names start with K?

It turns out that Cameron has strung together a few isolated and horrible incidents involving children, (spread over a couple of years) to say that Britain is b0rked. And the solution is – guess what – not expanding the life opportunities or providing better support for kids on the edge- but

And, yes, we do need tougher punishment, longer sentences and more prison places. But it’s not enough just to treat the symptoms of social breakdown – we need to treat its causes.
The Conservative plan starts with supporting families. ….. ”

By cutting benefits, if you read past the rest of the waffle.

If that’s being supportive, I’d hate to see what constitutes undermining.

The Guardian/Observer website has a report on the Tory benefits plans.

Tories to probe long-term jobless
Out-of-work families face close scrutiny of their children and home life under new opposition proposals

Blimey, it’s almost worth celebrating the massive recession we are apparently entering, if only because lots of Mail-reading people might suddenly find themselves forced to experience what it is really like to survive on benefits. To become “scroungers”, even 🙂

One for the scapegoating record book

I am kicking myself for not running an online gambling book on how long it would take to find a scapegoat for banking crisis. But then, less than a week would have seemed too short a time, so, as the bookmaker, I might have actually lost out on this one.

As T-W said yesterday, the UK immigration minister has stepped up to meet our government’s desire to get re-elected at any cost, by announcing a “clampdown” on immigration. This lurch towards shamelessness has been predictably attacked by the Tories – whose natural constituency is the HYS nutter and the Daily Mail reader – as not being tough enough (garbage) and stealing their policies (true)

Mr Grieve [the Tory equivalent to the immigration minister] said Labour were matching Tory policies on setting immigration limits. (from the BBC)

I have a picture of someone who finds that they have lost their housekeys and believes that beating the crap out of their next door neighbour will magically get them inside their own front door.

I.e Does not compute. This sort of thing bears about as much relation to reality as something dreamed up in an alcoholic stupor by someone who has had their frontal lobe removed.

In any case, (apart from the use of “immigrant” as if it means “black person”) the “immigration” that gets little England so irate is immigration from Eastern Europe, over which the UK government can have no control, under EC rules. So the only immigration that they can control involves a tiny number of people from the commonwealth countries and people seeking asylum.

The treatment of asylum-seekers is already a scandal. Is it possible that the government plans to make it even worse, so that people impoverished by the financial collapse will feel they’ve got their money’s worth?

Does anyone seriously believe that they are about to lose their job or their home because of “immigrants”, rather than because of the economic meltdown? Such people are clearly too stupid to walk and chew gum at the same time. How on earth do they manage to survive anyway?

As I write this, the unpleasant immigration minister is on the Politics Show saying that stronger immigration controls will lessen racism, indeed that it is the ethnic minority population that’s calling for it…..

Back to my conceptual online betting scheme. What are the odds that the minister would claim that tougher immigration controls would actually counter racism? (less than evens) What are the odds that this is true? Basically zero.

Daily Mail redirects Bank of Toyland rage

As usual, the Daily Mail has been busy rousing Little England’s rage. Not against short-sellers or hedge-fund managers or inept financial regulators, of course. Against “scroungers”.

Blimey, not just any old scroungers – but immigrant scroungers, black single mother scroungers, and families-with-ten-kids scroungers. If the Mail has a News Topic Bingo card, this may constitute a full house.

Mail readers are finding that their imaginary property fortunes have all but disappeared and that they might lose their jobs and pensions. And they need someone to blame. So step forward, handy scrounger targets.

The jobless couple who rake in £32k a year in benefits and still aren’t happy.

The article is deeply unpleasant sneering attack. (No surprises there) For example:

And it seems that she does not have the time for housework.
The walls of her home are dirty and peeling and the floor is covered in videos and magazines.

Would the Daily Mail prefer to see these 10 kids homeless and starving, then, to make their parents pay for their perceived improvidence? Would spotless paintwork have allayed some of their spite or annoyed the Mail even more?

Single mother lives in Britain’s most expensive council house.

This story defies belief. This woman has been temporarily housed in an expensive empty council property while her own house is being repaired. What possible benefit could the house’s market value be to this woman? Would the Daily Mail be happy to see her and her child rehoused in a modest cardboard box, regarding that as more appropriate to her single-parent status?

How about the Afghani family living in a £1.2 million house? With a big screen plasma TV, in case the Mail readers aren’t already frothing at the mouth. Again, this isn’t their home, nor – despite the misleading heading – is it a council house. Their private landlord charges huge amounts of rent (£12,458 per month) and Housing Benefit is currently paying this. Apart from that, the only evidence that this woman with 7 kids is any better off than anyone else on benefits is the presence of games consoles and a plasma tv. All of these have been costed at top brand-new shop prices by the Mail, which has unaccountably never heard of second-hand goods or market stalls.

This family are castigated for not living in a shabby home. The first family was castigated for living in one. The second family was insulted for having the temerity to get moved into an empty council property.

The Mail doesn’t actually suggest that any of these people has done anything wrong, what with libel laws being as they are… Instead, the Mail just holds them up to be hated. To make its readers – who are worrying about the effect of economic meltdown on their own income – feel doubly hard done to. To redirect the readers’ rage and fear towards handy individual hate-targets and against the “system” that appears to penalise them but reward the undeserving.

As an example of the Mail’s hypocrisy, some of the children’s faces are pixellated out. It’s not as if their locations and the full names and images of their parents wouldn’t identify them to anyone who knows them…. People who don’t know them aren’t going to be insulting them in the street or beating them up in the playground, in any case.

One distasteful aspect of the story of family A is that the Mail reports that the woman is being insulted in the street as a scrounger. (I can’t actually say that the newspaper takes any pleasure in this fact or that they are subtly suggesting this action to their readers. I can of course hint at it, in a Daily Mail style way.)