Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Jon Of Cant

I went to the barbers yesterday, and while there, did something I almost never do; I picked up 'The Sun'. In it was a column by Jon 'Gaunty' Gaunt, which contains so much wrong-headedness it needs to be seen to be believed. By the way, I didn't make up his nickname - his email address is If you're as amazed by his penmanship as I, why not drop him a congratulatory line?

Starting off small, our man moans about Banksy. 'I know that he is talented but I am afraid he is also a vandal and there is no way we should be celebrating or promoting the painting and defacing of other people's property. Other less talented yobs follow the example of this "anonymous rebel" and have made our cities hell-holes to live in as they spray their "tags" like feral cats across every available wall or train carriage.'

One - whatever happened to the humble comma?
Two - how hilariously po-faced is this?
Three - I've never seen a feral cat spray a "tag", and I don't believe they're capable of doing so.
Four - not to nitpick, but surely if Banksy is 'talented', then he very much isn't a 'pain in the art'.

Example No 2: (Later In The Same Column)
A complaint about 'Jocks'*. 'While we're on the subject of the awards, I was also dismayed that three of my Scottish colleagues decided not to stand up with the rest of the audience to give David Beckham a standing ovation. They laughed and giggled while we paid this great BRITON the respect he deserved for all his charity work with young kids. When I asked them why they sat on their hands, their reply was: "It would be just wrong - he's English." I replied: "I know but he's also a Brit and we were celebrating Britain." Why the hell do Jocks who come from such a very, very small country carry such a huge chip? Grow up.'

I have two complaints here. Firstly, he doesn't seem to realise that when it comes to football (which is, after all, what Beckham is famous for), England and Scotland are separate nations with separate football associations and a long and bitter rivalry. (Incidentally, this situation - multiple FIFA nations that are actually all part of a bigger nation - explicitly contravenes FIFA rules. Any other semi-autonomous region in the world - say, Transnistria for instance - would be rejected if it tried to apply). I lied above. Clearly he must know that they are bitter rivals, so why the phony outrage? Secondly, how dim do you have to be to not see the irony in going to an award ceremony celebrating Britishness and then write a column about it insulting 'chippy' 'Jocks' from a 'very very small country'?

Example No 3: 'A HARD LESSON'
Hear dear Jon starts getting serious, and the trouble really starts. Writing about the disappearance of 'Maddie' McCann (and on a day in which it looks increasingly likely that she will either never be found or not be found alive), he intones: 'I have enormous sympathy for their loss but I am afraid they were wrong to leave the kids. They were wrong not to use the childcare facilities. They were wrong not to leave the door unlocked. Wrong to leave them unchecked for 50 minutes and wrong to take the "hundred million to one" chance of this happening. They and the Press are also wrong to criticise those of us who have had the balls to voice astonishment that middle-class parents would do such a thing. Since being the first columnist to make this point, my mailbag has been full of support for my stance and I have yet to meet a parent who disagrees with me.'

Oh dear oh dear. Let us ignore for the moment the crass insensitivity of writing this at this point in time, and instead focus on the nightmarish world 'Gaunty' imagines for us - in which parents must be by their childrens sides, every minute of every day, forever panicking about even taking their eyes off them. Of course, this position fits nicely with the Paedogeddon view of modern life all Sun columnists are contractually obliged to take. Also note his 'astonishment that middle-class parents would do such a thing', casually implying he wouldn't be surprised at all if working-class parents did. Finally, he states that he has 'yet to meet a parent who disagrees with me'. He may not have met any parents who disagree, but a simple glance at the Times would have revealed a Mick Hume (parent) 'Notebook' column bemoaning 'crusaders [who] blame the Portuguese for not sharing Britain’s heightened state of paedophile-phobia. Others question why the British parents dared to leave their children asleep in a locked apartment while having dinner.' (Note the disagreement over whether it was locked or not). Obviously not everybody is going to agree with such a paranoid worldview, but why acknowledge nuance when you can allege unanimous support instead?

And now finally, we get to the worst column of all (titled 'Shut up, Hain') which is just repellent. Let's take a look:

'Just whose side is that perma-tanned prat Peter Hain really on?'

One sentence in and we are asked to choose between good and evil (perma-tans obviously hinting at evil, though with the obvious exception for Robert Kilroy-Silk).

'I only ask because his hysterical and irresponsible reaction to yesterday's suggestion that the police need tougher stop-and-search laws was worthy of the ranting of some scruffy anti-war marcher.'

Yeah, because we all know how wrong those scruffy anti-war marchers turned out to be!

'Why the hell is a man who wants to be deputy leader of this country siding with the hand-wringing human rights brigade?' (emphasis in original)

Oh, I don't know. Political conviction? A respect for civil liberties? A knowledge that extensive, racially targeted use of stop-and-search powers has led to race riots in the past?

'These are the politically correct fools who stopped the Government detaining suspicious individuals and instead forced them to come up with the ridiculous idea of control orders for suspected terrorists.'

This is a novel interpretation of history. The BBC News website has its first story on control orders for suspected terrorists on 2nd February 2005; the 90-day detention debate took place on 9th November 2005. It was really hard proving that lie wrong! Also, the civil liberties lobby didn't 'force' the Government to do anything - quite apart from the historically unprecedented third term majority the Government enjoys, and the fact that they have consistently ignored the civil liberties lobby for years, I would think that lobby would prefer neither measure to be in force.

'Which at least five madmen have ignored and run away from and are hell-bent on killing our boys in uniform.'

How does he know?

'The old cliche that if you've got nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear has never been truer.'

Quite a lot of people make arguments based on old cliches, but it's pretty rare to read a columnist boasting about it.

'What's the alternative? Do nothing? Appease the madmen?'

Like most of the column, this is the argumentative fallacy of false dilemma.

'As a result of this, more young Asians are going to be stopped. But to suggest that this will drive a wedge between them and the authorities is nonsense and just gives succour to the enemies within.'

Police abuse of sus laws is generally regarded to have been a contributing factor in the Toxteth and Brixton riots in 1981, mostly because the Police were stopping and harrassing disproportionately large numbers of young black men, and often appeared to be doing so for no reason other than malice and the pleasure of disrupting people. This is fairly recent history - presumably Mr Gaunt is aware of it, but of course thinking back to a recent historical example of stop-and-search powers being abused to harrass young men leading to conflict and rioting helps purvey the 'nonsense' view that the Police might abuse new stop-and-search powers to harrass young men, leading to conflict and rioting.

'Hain is almost becoming the Islamist Lord Haw-Haw.'

That would be an accurate analogy, because of course one sees Mr Hain on al-Arabiya making propaganda broadcasts on behalf of Osama all the time.

'He's doing the enemy's propaganda work for them.'

Yeah, because by sticking up for civil liberties, Hain is really playing into the hands of Taliban-style Islamists who famously really respect civil . . . wait, something's not quite right with this argument . . .

'If that means they get stopped more often they will have to live with it and realise that it is a necessary evil until we defeat the terrorist scum who want to blow us all up regardless of our faith.'

Note the delight with which the 'necessary evil' is being propagandised. One might almost believe he doesn't think it an evil at all! Note too the language used - just 'have to live with it' - the sort of language an exasperated spouse would use to refer to a partners head cold.

'He should forget about the human rights of the enemy . . .'

Since human rights, by definition, apply to all humans, that might be difficult. Also note the sly rhetorical elision - by implication, all of the people stopped by the Police under these powers will be 'the enemy', and the Police will never make a mistake, ever.

'. . . and start protecting the decent tax-paying Brits who pay his wages.'

Here confusion takes over. Having been bust discussing the 'enemy within', Gaunt now contrasts that enemy with 'decent tax-paying Brits', although all the suicide bombers had British passports and paid taxes. Of course, in reality, 'Brits' in this context is synonymous with 'whites', as we can see in the line 'as a result of this, more young Asians are going to be stopped.' Whether by accident of design, Gaunt lets the guard down a moment and admits the obvious racial element to these new Police powers. Telling.

Jon of Gaunt: Purveyore of moste respectable cante for readers of 'The Fierie Cellestial Orbe' newspapere.

At the end of 'Richard II', Shakespeare gives the historical figure John of Gaunt the most famous speech:

'This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear'd by their breed and famous by their birth . . .'

By contrast, here is the 1st Duke of Lancaster's near-namesake enlivening the national dialectic several centuries later:

'Yesterday's picture in The Sun of the 75-stone hog that was shot by the young lad in Alabama, and it's comparison to Porky Prescott, was unfair, unkind and a real insult to . . .'

What's that coming over the hill, is it a punchline, is it a punchline?

'. . . to the pig.'

Oh, be still, my aching sides.

It would seem that history does repeat itself. John of Gaunt was Richard II's uncle, and effectively acted as Regent during his period as King when he was a minor. In the modern day, it would seem that Richard 'the Blackheart' Littlejohn has provided a nice 'intellectual' regency for 'King' Jon to follow on. I only hope he loses his crown jewels in the wash. Better still, he might be able to follow on exactly in Littlejohn's footsteps, and write an allegedly execrable novel that did at least inspire the funniest debate ever on Five Live and the funniest book review I've ever read.

*Note for American readers: 'Jocks' in this context is a derogatory insult for Scottish people, not somebody who is good at sports.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Hooking The Punters

The following review - by Matt Glasby - almost made me want to go and see 'Zizek!', a documentary about Slovenian cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek:

'If you only watch one film about an insane Slovenian boffin with a weighty god complex and an even weightier speech impediment, make sure it's this one.'

You've got to admit, that's a good one.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


Ten More Years For Tony!

It's hard to understand what possessed Neil Clark to write this piece, in which he looks back upon the ten glorious years of Tony's premiership - Tony Benn's, that is. It's well worth reading, if only to boggle at a man who has managed to get a bizarre piece of adolescent wish-fulfilment on to what is supposed to be Britain's premier group blog. It's unintentionally very funny indeed. I was going to try and parody it, but alas, I haven't the skill.

Apparently, 'the renationalisation of the railways, carried out in the first months of the Benn government, has been a great success', which is good to hear. Still, that achievement pales into insignificance when compared to 'Britain's implacable opposition to Nato military action that led to a peaceful solution to the incipient civil war in Kosovo'. Yeah, I hear everyone in Kosovo was hanging on to every word of the debate in Britain before committing themselves.

Tom Hamilton is of course right when he states that this mythical Prime Minister, 'unlike every Prime Minister in my lifetime . . . just gets to do whatever the hell they feel like, without ever having any need to make political compromises or take unpopular decisions, and without ever being placed in a position where bad consequences are inevitable whatever they choose', and that this is wholly unmoored from reality, as surely a child could divine. The real question is not why Clark wants Tony Benn to be Prime Minister, but how such nonsense can possibly appear on a blog like Comment Is Free, which is in theory supposed to be a sort of Brains Trust of the finest minds in the land turning out quality and well considered blog posts. Fat chance.

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