Episode # - shit I’ve lost count - in the new reality show that’s sweeping the nation, the commentariat -vs- bloggerati, and it’s time for the Indy’s Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to wade into the fray on the side of the pro’s…
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Hounded by assaults from cyberspace
Where do blog writers find the time? Do they never go to the theatre, read books, make love?
Since the train bombings in Mumbai, the Indian government has barred access to designated blogs, apparently in order to prevent intercommunal eruptions. Blogging aficionados are most upset by this restrictive intervention, which they claim is an infringement of their rights. One condemns the action as "fundamentally wrong and morally reprehensible". Is it really?
Democrats have to be watchful of government censorship, but after Rwanda, when broadcasters incited Hutus to massacre Tutsis, even the most fundamentalist libertarian surely must understand the need for restraint during exceptional times or when crimes are involved. The internet has already become a coffee shop for paedophiles and violent fantasists. Most of us don’t think this freedom is a wonderful liberation, not even if it remains in the realms of ideas and unfulfilled hideous desires. Most free countries already have sensible (and minimal) laws to curtail rabid expression. The internet - which opens up the skies of knowledge and exchange - is harder to monitor and even harder to constrain. Attempts to discuss the chaotic fallout are foiled or silenced.
I’d usually offer up a link, but like the rest of her colleagues at the Indy she’s safely tucked away behind the Indy’s pay-per-view firewall where us nasty wickle bloggers can’t get to her…
…and has any one else noticed how, with the exception of Nick Robinson’s recent bout of tetchyness over the Prescott story, it’s mostly the female commentarati that’s doing most of the whinging about bloggers?
I’ll get back to that observation in a while, but first we really ought to see what Yasmin’s whining about…
… which, sorry, doesn’t really amount to much.
Moan number one, as you’ll see from the intro, is about Indian bloggers getting pissed-off about ISP’s rolling over in the face of demands from the Indian government that the block access to a few somewhat inflammatory blogs in the aftermath of the Mumbai train bombings…
…except Yasmin rather missed the whole point of this story, which wasn’t just about a small number of [allegedly] extremist bloggers getting officially unpersoned but about the screw up by ISPs, who were falling over themselves to do their govenment’s bidding, in which access was blocked not just to a few individual blogs but entire domains, including Blogger and Typepad, temporarily blocking access to thousands, if not millions, of otherwise inoffensive blogs.
Still, never being one to let the facts get in the way of a good old moan, especially when one can throw in a few damning irrelevancies along the way…
The internet has already become a coffee shop for paedophiles and violent fantasists. Most of us don’t think this freedom is a wonderful liberation, not even if it remains in the realms of ideas and unfulfilled hideous desires. Most free countries already have sensible (and minimal) laws to curtail rabid expression. The internet - which opens up the skies of knowledge and exchange - is harder to monitor and even harder to constrain. Attempts to discuss the chaotic fallout are foiled or silenced.
You’ll notice, already, that one of the classic fallbacks of the professional commentator has already brought into play; the sweeping generalisation - Most of us don’t think this freedom is a wonderful liberation, not even if it remains in the realms of ideas and unfulfilled hideous desires. Quite how Yasmin knows the thoughts of ‘most’ people is not made clear, but not to worry, this is an opinion piece and one should never allow trivial matters like an absence of facts and supporting evidence to get in the way of a ‘good’ opinion, should one.
And as for this - The internet - which opens up the skies of knowledge and exchange - is harder to monitor and even harder to constrain. Attempts to discuss the chaotic fallout are foiled or silenced. - one has to wonder quite how it is that one could silences efforts to discuss the ‘chaotic fallout’ of a largely unconstrained medium when that medium is… well… largely unconstrained. Even without the benefit of a personal online ‘history’ stretching back to the days when Usenet was king, one should be able to see the inherent contradictions in suggesting that discussion of any topic could be prevented, let alone when that topic is censorship, a subject of constant debate amongst internet users since its very earliest days.
Moving rapidly on past a few grudging panegyrics to past glories - the online scalping of Trett Lott and the oh-so-brave bloggers of Iran and China, we finally get back to the whinging…
But with 35 million bloggers worldwide, there is also a glut of pathetic drivel and idiocy. And increasingly, anonymous blackmail and intimidation is appearing. Individuals and groups are vulnerable, even if they can create a counter-blog and play the un-winnable game.
Yes, the commentarati have finally noticed the existence of anonymous internet trolls, and being professionals, this is a completely new phenomenon that couldn’t possibly have existed until they deigned to grace us all with their online presence- it has to be otherwise they’d have noticed it before now, wouldn’t they…
…and Yasmin hasn’t finished there as she goes one to say…
Sometimes I wish we could turn off this global mayhem. In the last 10 days, I have found myself plunged into blogland, an even more perplexing warren than Alice’s wonderland.
Yes, there’s finally a point coming…
A week ago on Sunday my phone came alive for hours. A foxy blogger had claimed I was being interviewed by the police over the cash-for-questions investigation.
Cash-for-questions? Surely you mean loans-for-peerages, that or you’re having an acid-flashback to 1994.
Oh dear, naughty old Guido strikes again - that’ll mean another round of door-widening in the Fawkes household…
Yep, t’was Guido what did it, by posting this on his site…
Yasmin Albhai-Brown Talks to the Yard
Some say she has committed many serious crimes against reason, but the police actually wanted to speak to her about the evidence she withheld when she was in front of the Select Committee on Public Administration.
According to Guido, what Yates of the Yard wanted to talk to Yasmin about was the following section of here testimony to the Public Administration Committee.
Q356 Kevin Brennan: But you have got a big bee in your bonnet and what I am saying to you is that that is fair enough, but are you saying that things are worse in this country than they are in comparable western democracies? I am not trying to make a comparison with a country that might be run by a dictatorship.
Ms Alibhai-Brown: Why does that matter? We can do better. We should do better. We are in the 21st century. It does not matter if Italian politicians are more corrupt than ours in a different way from ours. I think the level of unwholesome influence is greater than perhaps people realise and it is not just money. There are, for example, votes. If you go to certain localities in our country where there is supposed to be a proper democracy where people make individual choices about where they want to vote, henchmen deliver votes en masse and often they find themselves honoured or given all sorts of very privileged positions.
Q357 Kevin Brennan: Could you give me an example of that?
Ms Alibhai-Brown: In the last election I went to all of our northern towns during the whole ten days of the election and followed the candidates. It was a very interesting experience because of the kinds of deals that were being done, and because I speak a number of Asian languages they could talk to me in those languages while they were saying something else publicly. All the public meetings were entirely male. Deals were being done as you watched, that "We will deliver all these votes to this particular party". I asked some of the women whose homes I went into, "Who do you want to vote for? Who would you like to vote for in this?" "Oh, it is not up to us". It is up to not the husband but, if you like, the henchmen who are constantly being named. Some of those henchmen have done very important deals one way or another. I think it should disturb us that we are not as good as we could be.
Q358 Kevin Brennan: But could you give us the name of a henchman who has received an honour after corruptly delivering votes to the Asian community?
Ms Alibhai-Brown: I cannot do that but you can look at some of the people who have done well since the election. I cannot do that, obviously: put a name down. There is confidentiality.
Q359 Kevin Brennan: Why not?
Ms Alibhai-Brown: No, but it seems very clear to me that lots of politicians—and they know who they are—in certain localities are privileging—
Q360 Kevin Brennan: Do you not think you do have a responsibility if you make a serious accusation of that kind?
Ms Alibhai-Brown: It is what I observed. I observed it; I interviewed people.
Q361 Kevin Brennan: It is a serious matter, possibly criminal.
Ms Alibhai-Brown: I have written what I have observed in my columns many times.
Q362 Kevin Brennan: But you will not say who is responsible?
Ms Alibhai-Brown: I cannot do that in an open meeting, but it is very clear to me. It is not just money. We like to think of ourselves as not as bad as A, B, C, D, but I think we should be very careful.
Q363 Kevin Brennan: You have parliamentary privilege while you are here. It is a good opportunity.
Ms Alibhai-Brown: No, I cannot. But as an example and without prejudice, I would like to know, what was the reason for Lord Patel getting his position.
Now on this occasion it seems that Guido was a bit wide of the mark but then, reading the testimony, one has to think that the more interest question is here is not whether she was interviewed in connection with the current loans-for-peerages investigation but quite why Mr Plod hasn’t taken more of an interest is her comments in light of the several documented cases of a electoral fraud in and around Asian communities in recent years, which is what she is actually referring to here, especially as there are those, like myself, who tend to be inclined to consider the possibility of honours begin doled out as rewards for gerrymandering to be just a tad more serious than simply buying your way into a day out at Buck House.
But never mind all that, Yasmin has rather more than a few phone calls from nosey journos on her mind…
Then on two live radio broadcasts, I found myself arguing with fanatic [sic] Islamicists. One barked: "You cannot talk about this, you are a Bahai, a secret Bahai, we all know you are not a reel (I spell his pronunciation) Muslim."
Bloggers apparently have put this misconception about.
Okay, first thing’s first - Yasmin isn’t a Baha’i, in fact she doesn’t appear to be able to spell it properly (unless that’s a sub-editor’s error). However, you’ll note she says that bloggers apparently have put this misconception about - in other words having had a moan at Guido for not checking his facts, she hasn’t bothered to check herself whether bloggers have really ‘fingered’ her as a secret Baha’i, she merely repeats a rumour that she’s heard…
…which rather undermines her complaint about Guido’s behaviour as searches on both Google and Technorati for any blog post - or anything at all - linking her to the Baha’i faith turn up a big fat zero.
Good morning, Mr Kettle. Hello there, Mr Pot.
From here on in Planet Yasmin gets even more bizarre…
Other Muslim bloggers are trying to discredit a story I wrote about a woman in a burkha who followed me home. She was covered up to to hide the most appalling attacks on her by her father and two brothers.
The story she’s referring to here was published in the Evening Standard and on her website here…
…and while I’ve no reason to doubt the veracity of the story in this article, which is sadly all too plausible, what I have been able to look into is the assertion that Muslim bloggers are trying to discredit this story.
And guess what?
Yet again, neither Google nor Technorati have turned up a single blog or even forum article referencing this particular piece either by searching for the URL of the article or by a combination of her name and the words ‘burka’ and ‘niqab’ used in the article, other than for a few fawning ‘Yasmin, Fuck Yeah!’ comments at Harry’s Place and Dhimmiwatch.
Now that doesn’t prove that Muslim bloggers aren’t trying to discredit Yasmin’s story but if they have been trying to do that then any discussion on the subject certainly hasn’t been conducted in English. On this point I’d have to be honest and say the jury’s still out, but I would be interested to know if anyone’s spotted this story being discussed on any of the Arabic or Asian language blogs, just to satisfy myself on this one way or another.
It’s worth noting that Yasmin’s also in a bit of snit about the reaction to last week’s spectacularly ill-considered piece on Zionism and Anti-Arab racism which, apparently, led to an explosion of abusive blog denunciations.
On reading this, I recalled that Norman Geras had a few things to say on this particular article.
In the Independent on Monday, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown posed the question ‘how the Israelis can do what they do’. Her answer: ‘it is racism’. Money quote (subscription required, but see here):
[T]he politicians, generals and soldiers on this mission, and their supporters, are consumed with burning revulsion for all their non-Jewish Semite neighbours. Serbian killers who turned on Muslims in Bosnia were similarly hate-filled, as were the Hutus who massacred Tutsis in Rwanda, and the murderous Muslims who want to destroy every Jew on the planet. In 1935, Goebbels said: "Many intellectuals are trying to help the Jews with the ancient phrase, ‘The Jew is also a man.’ Yes, he is a man, but what sort of man? The flea is also an animal." Today, Semites treat the Arab brother as the flea, or the "other".
You see, not merely ‘burning revulsion’, not even merely racism - but genocidal racism as in Rwanda and Nazi Germany. Alibhai-Brown tries to reinforce herself somewhat by linking her own view to the words, first, of a Jewish mentor and those, second, of a Jewish friend. But that these two were and are Jewish doesn’t render the above paragraph any less poisonous, or any more valid. She gives no serious evidence for what she says there. Of course, Alibhai-Brown isn’t among the brightest of the daughters of the morning. So perhaps one should just laugh it off (I’d rather be an ‘other’ than a flea, etc). But this appears in a major national newspaper, where presumably some editorial control operates. The discourse of Israel as a genocidal state takes another step towards the centre of acceptable left-liberal discourse.
A reponse which, for Norm, i pretty much as irate as he generally gets.
If that’s Norm’s reaction then I think it fair to say that explosion of abusive blog denunciations is likely to be a pretty fair description of the reaction of other less gentile supporters of Israel, so she maybe has a bit of point here…
…except that the kind of reaction that one is likely to get when one starts equating Israel’s treatement of Palestinian Arabs with the Serbs in Bosnia and the Hutu’s in Rwanda is - or certainly should be - a known quantity to most bloggers, just as anyone whose ever spent time on American political forums knows full well that the quickest way to kick of an unholy row is to suggest that the reference to ‘militia’ in the US second amendment (which cofes the right to bear arms) means that Jefferson et al had the National Guard in mind not widespread public gun ownership.
Comments like that are generally referred to as ‘trollbait’ because everyone knows damn well what kind of ruck will kick off as soon as such a comment appears - except Yasmin, seemingly - which is why I’ve got no real sympathy for her complaint on this one.
As the saying goes, if you stick your dick in a hornet’s nest then you’re going to get stung, and right now the whole situation in the Middle East is about as big a hornet’s nest as you’ll find anywhere.
What this shows is one of the more obvious differences between bloggers and the professional commentariatt. The interactive nature of blogging means that you learn very quickly which topics serve as almost guaranteed trollbait (abortion being another big favourite) and adjust accordingly. Bloggers will either steer clear of such contentious subjects or, alternatively, write about them in the full knowledge that they’re in for a fight and will need to mount a robust defence of their views and just get on with things without whining about the reaction they provoke.
That seems to be a lesson that some in the professional commentariat, like Yasmin, are having problems coming to terms with and which, I strongly suspect, has much to do with the current spate of whining about blogs in the MSM.
After another short whinge about blogs and gossip - The truth is out there. Like Hell it is - Yasmin makes a frankly extraordinary statement.
Bloggers disseminate stories that are trusted by millions. Newspapers and broadcasters are vastly less respected, although they are carriers of checked facts and considered opinion. As the public gets mistrustful of politicians and the media - with some justification - the can believe conspiracists, mavericks and feed their inclinations to anxiety and disbelief.
I’m beginning to wonder whether she hasn’t been spending a bit too much time hanging out with Mad Mel, but do go on…
The people who believe the Da Vinci code is the truth, and the fiction a lie the writer was obliged to veil it in, will believe almost anything. They are like scared little old ladies who buy unnecessary security systems from blackguards because they have convinced themselves they can trust nobody.
Yes, there are a lot of dumb people out there who will believe even the most bizarre stories… but what’s that got to do with bloggers?
Soap operas are watched by millions of people, some of whom believe that what they see on the TV is real and act accordingly - rarely does a meaty storyline go by in Corrie or Eastenders without the ‘villain’ of the piece turning up on daytime TV with an ‘amusing’ anecdote about how they were attacked in the supermarket by some confused old dear who can’t tell the difference between real life and TV drama.
Erich Von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods sold millions of copies, as did Baigent, Leign and Lincoln’s ‘The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail’, on which the Da Vinci code is loosely-based - both have been demonstrably debunked over the years, as has much of the work of Carlos Castaneda, who still remains popular in ‘new age’ circles and don’t even get me started on Whitley Streiber and the whole business of alien abduction.
I mean come on. Tom Cruise is a scientologist, FFS, what more proof does one need that PT Barnum was right on the money when he observed that there’s a sucker born every minute.
There may be bloggers out here who post the kind of crap that fuels the delusions of the terminally stupid, but then there are easily as many spending their time challenging and debunking that same crap - internet users have even evolved their own ‘language’ to describe such scenarios - wingnut, moonbat, fisk, idiotarian and the ever popular tinfoil helmet are all terms that relate directly to a culture of disbelief amongst bloggers which directly challenges the wingnuts, moonbats and idiotarians to back up their tinfoil-helmeted ramblings with facts and logical, rational arguments.
There is a curious sense of inversion about Yasmin’s comments here. I doubt very much that bloggers are genuinely trusted by millions - very few of us get that kind of audience with the exception of the Drudge’s and Kos’s of this world, and few of us would, I suspect, have any real pretensions of being trusted to that extent - Guido may be the one major exception amongst the Brit-crowd. Rather it seems to be the professional commentariat, Yasmin and her contemporiaries, who expect their opinions to be trusted by millions only to be rather taken aback when that doesn’t happen and the great unwashed start answering back.
We’re into the home strech, now, in which Yasmin runs through all the usual stuff…
- Where do bloggers find the time to blog?
All the usual why aren’t they doing x, y and z instead and doesn’t make them look like a bunch of sad bastards who need to get a life crap that invariably turns up when a columnist runs out of arguments with another 250 or so words to fill to keep the editor happy - yes you;ve seen it all before.
- And, of course, that other old chestnut the ‘who’s interested in the views of ordinary people anyway’ which is no more than the usual ‘But I get paid for my opinions’ professional snobbery that we’ve heard before.
And would be that, we it not for the fact that Yasmin’s still a couple of paragraphs short of an article and has time to take a bit of shot at a current ‘celebrity’ blogger - no, not Guido but La Petite Anglaise, who’s currently making the news for being fired for blogging…
A young Englishwoman in Paris has been sacked by her firm for her internet thoughts on life and sex. Yet her readers seem to love this kind of pap: "The Frog won’t marry me [and] owns a baa-ing sheep thong… sadly he doesn’t have time to read this blog too often."
I guess Yasmin’s non-too-keen on ‘pap’ like Bridget Jones’ Diary - the latest installment of which is currently being serialised weekly by…
… the Independent - which also runs a weekly second-tier ‘Sex in the City-of-London’ dating column on Tuesdays, just in case your personal tastes run to a weekly infusion of ’shagging and the single journalist’.
She also appears to think that the most successful bloggers are ex-politicians or very well known public figures afflicted by insufferable vanity, which I would guess is, in part, a bit of veiled shot at Iain Dale who, by complete coincidence, noticed another of the Indy’s commentators, Janet Street-Porter, taking her own shot at bloggers (and presumably getting in some practice for the next series of ‘Grumpy Old Women’) in yesterday’s Independent on Sunday (again from safely behing the PPV firewall)…
But at least Peter Preston doesn’t fall into the trap Janet Street-Porter has tripped into today teeth first.
She devotes her column in theIndependent on Sunday to sneering down her ample nose at the whole concept of blogging. She reckons "blogs are for anoraks who couldn’t get published any other way." She desribes the blogosphere as "the verbal diarrhoea of the under-educated and the banal." Hmmm. Well I suppose I must plead guilty to having had a comprehensive school education and got a 2-1 degree from the University of
Easy AccessEast Anglia.
What is it with the Street-Porters of this world that they feel they are so intellectually superior to the rest of the population? In twenty years I have never heard her express a view whcih has changed my mind on anything. In fact I can’t recall ever reading anything she’s written which has stimulated me to think further on the subject or find out more. But I can think of several blogs which have done that.
The only think Street-Porter has achieved by her attack on blogs and new media in general is to ingratiate herself with her editor Simon Kelner, who is also doubtful about the relevance of the internet to the future of newspapers. He made a SPEECH this week to a Press Gazette dinner in which he criticised the Guardian for putting stories on its website first, rather than in the printed newspaper. Kelner admits that he may be viewed as a Luddite, but he reckons it would be madness for the Independent to go down that road. He may be right, but his rivals on The Times and Telegraph are pouring money into their online operations in a belated attempt to vcatch up with The Guardian. From what I have seen so far, not a lot has changed.
As I mentioned right at the start of this piece, the curious thing in all this is that muchof the generic and mostly ill-informed whinging about bloggers seems to be emanating from the female of the [commentariat] species - long before JSP and Yasmin decided to get in the on the act both Jackie Ashley and La Toynbee took their own shots at bloggers through Comment is Free, the latter being notable both for shooting herself in the foot by referring to Tim Worstall as a ‘Pendant’:
"Tim Worstall you pendant, what on earth is your life and view of the world? Do you ever see the light of day?"
A comment that Polly has since erased, entirely, from her article - which is altogether considered bad form amongst bloggers who tend to have no problem in openly acknowledging their errors, especially when they come in the form of inadvertant but highly amusing typos - in case you haven’t figured it out, she meant ‘pedant’.
Again there seem to be a bit of curious inversion going on here.
It would certainly be fair to say, I think, that the likes of La Toynbee, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and other female members of the professional commentariat do tend to attract quite a bit of flak from bloggers, perhaps more so than most male commentators with the odd notable exceptions like Robert Fisk, Noam Chomksy and George Monbiot.
Is this just the innate sexism of a male dominated medium, a thought which you suspect will have crossed the minds of Polly Pot et al at some point?
I’m not so sure. You see while it may be true that professional female commentators do appear to get a bit of rough time all around, that doesn’t really follow through that much onto female bloggers - but for the occasional spat about gender politics - many of whom, like Rachel North, tend to held in pretty high regard by other bloggers.
I wonder if that says something not about bloggers but about the MSM and the kind of things that they look for in, particularly, female columnists, where it does sometimes seem as though the ability to piss people off is prized rather more highly than the ability to construct a reasoned and logical argument of a kind that makes you think things through.
One of the great shames of the Indy’s PPV firewall, BTW, is that one of the best columnists around at the moment, Dominic Lawson, rarely gets much of a mention on blogs - I can’t say, presonally, that I agree with him most of the time, but I do enjoy reading his material as he does have the knack of puting up arguments that are both concise and logically argued.
It is interesting to note that the female side of the professional commentariat does tend to throw up more than its fair share of professional irritants, not just Polly Pot, Yasmin, JSP and, of course, Mad Mel Phillips, whose febrile rantings are often so far out there that she gets left alone by bloggers - just in case whatever she’s got is catching? - but there’s also Julie Bindel, who seems to make a habit of pissing people off, and on the US side you have Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter, who are possibly the only women on the planet who make Mad Mel look sane.
Why that should be the case, possibly only the newspaper proprietors know for sure but with all their recent whining about bloggers one can’t help but find oneself thinking that maybe, just maybe, if you were to wander in particularwine bar somewhere in Central London at just the right time and on just the right day of the month - probably a Friday - one might just come across a gathering of female newspaper columnists, including Polly, Yasmin, Julie and Janet, all getting slowly pissed out of their faces while regaling the other punters with a stirring rendition of that old Millwall classic…
…No one likes us. We don’t care…
UPDATE - Over at Bloggerheads, Tim Ireland’s also noticed that the Indy’s in a bit of snit about bloggers…