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Archive for the month “August, 2014”

Tungsten Carbide Drills? Tungsten Carbide Drills?

Where do I start with the stories?

It could be with Little Annie, I guess. Her husband used to hit her from pillar to post. In ’84 she joined the Miner’s Wives Support Group. In ’85 she got a divorce.

There was Tom. Tom hadn’t seen his dad for the best part of a decade – a combination of night shifts and “well, I gotta go out with the lads on the weekend. Friday Night. Saturday Night. Pub, isn’t it?”. Over a year’s enforced lay-off, dad and Tom started going fishing together. Up the lake, in the park. Just for something to do, to be honest. To get out of the house, the TV drove Tom’s dad mad. When the year was over, those weekends out drinking were truncated a bit. Dad would spend Saturday with Tom fishing. Just a minor adjustment. A small victory.

Maybe Johnny. Johnny’s mother was a school-teacher. She chucked him out when he was 17, after he came out to her. Steve and Cheryl from down the street took him in. They’d met a couple of gay activists on the marches. They’d never really thought about it before, not really. Maybe make the odd off colour joke, thought how glad they were that their kids weren’t that way, but never thought about what it all meant. They did now.

Sammy was 13. When he was walking through London on a rally he got talking to a couple of blokes selling a newspaper. His mother whispered to come away from them. They were terrorists. They weren’t terrorists. They were from Kirkuk, and they talked to him like a little adult, something which appealed to his 13 year old sense of self. They explained to him about the resettlement and the crackdown from the government, how it had pushed them further and further away until they had fled the country they were born in. Kurds, these boys. Hard left, like a lot of the Kurds. Decent lads. Later Sammy joined the army and was in the Gulf. He didn’t like what happened there much, and he realised he wasn’t really cut out for that kind of thing, but he also remembered those two, they stayed with him, so he never really joined in the barrack room banter about the brown skinned.

Julie was in her 30s. Mother of 2. Husband down the pit. Come ’84, she met the love of her life – another woman, a lecturer in sociology from the local Uni. They’ve lived together for the past 30 years. Her ex-husband – still friends with them both – stood in place of her dead father and gave her away, when her and her partner got married.

Names have been changed above, but things like this happened in that year. All across the coalfields, all across the country, in my experience and that of millions of others, these things happened.

On Thursday, Brendan O’Neill in the Telegraph played a variant on his old, poisonous theme. A new film – Pride – about the relationship between the striking miners and the gay community in London was all about prettifying up the struggle and seeing it all through metrosexual, liberal eyes. He had a bit of a problem with his thesis, which he kinda glossed over, which is the story the film is based on is true. It happened. Yeah, of course, it’s been turned into a broad comedy cum heartwarming feel-good movie, and no doubt it drips of cinematic cliche about gayness and the struggle, but the essentials of the film happened. And not just that.

Not just that. Because the hidden, underlying truth that O’Neill completely ignored in his vile little tirade against the poisonous gays “patronising” the mining communities is that year changed those communities in many ways. The experiences and the solidarity, the relationships formed with different people all over the country opened them up. Gender roles changed. Views on the world changed. No doubt, after it, the communities still contained small c conservative views, and they hardly turned into Islington overnight, but just as after a war, the end of the strike left the social norms in those communities altered. And while part of me often has a nostalgic yearning for the way things were before, and still a bitter regret over the result, I wouldn’t for the life of me lose that experience I and my generation had – that growth. That feeling of all around me, people were learning, of bonds of solidarity growing while at the same time that chains of conformity were shed.

O’Neill – still, one assumes – claims to be a Marxist. And in his occasional diatribes (which, uniquely for a Marxist, appear to pander to red meat, right wing, homophobic and racist Telegraph readers, who work themselves up into a righteous Santorum-like froth below the line of his columns. This – I would guess – tells you a lot more about O’Neill’s Marxism, than it does about Marxism) about the metropolitan liberal elite, and their “obsession” with gay politics and rights, he makes a big show of standing up for the working class – abandoned by the left who spend their time pursuing some vague agenda of wafty homosexual rights, the poor working man sits seething in his provincial hell. All he wants is to be treated with the same respect the gays are. But this won’t happen. Not until the latte liberals realise the error of their ways.

But Brendan isn’t really sticking up for the working class. Else, for instance, he might have noticed that the working class contains just as many LBGT people as any other class. He might have noticed how – due in no great part to the ideas of those very metropolitan liberals with their fancy ideas that he hates – in the past 30 years, life has got a deal more bearable for those LBGT members of the working class. He could have picked up that – instead of being preserved in aspic, their social attitudes unchanged from the late 70s – the attitude of the working class on issues is pretty much, well, in line with the metropolitan liberals that he hates. Because we, you know, we have LGBT kids, LGBT friends, some of our class even, you know, are LGBT. Shocking, I know.

While there’s a germ of a point in the idea that the left has abandoned economics for identity politics (I’ve often wondered who thinks we can’t address both things – equality for groups who have had to struggle and economic improvement for those shat on by the system aren’t exactly, well…they aren’t hugely different things, are they?), and I, nervously casting an eye at my overdraft, would certainly like to see a deal more emphasis on the economic, Brendan – you’ll note – never actually makes much of an argument in favour of any left wing economics. You never really hear of him making a case for a policy that helps us, economically. Almost as though his concern for the working class is – at best – merely a stick to beat his enemies with. Almost as though he wants to use our alleged bigotries and betrayal to justify his rather curious attitudes to sexuality. Almost as though his “Marxism” is merely a disdain for liberalism, an excuse to pickle his prejudices. I’d just prefer it, next time, if he didn’t choose to use my history as a vehicle for it.


Making shit up

In my early days on social media, way back at the fag-end of the last decade, a couple of friends and I came up with an idea. We’d spent our time in the trenches, arguing with racist boneheads of various stripes (whose fixation, then as now, woz the Muzzies) and we’d become wearily and warily amused by their inability to discern fantasy from fact.

So there we were, blackly cynical and somewhat despairing, when one of us – I’d claim it as me, but I can’t be 100% – came up with the idea “let’s make up something to get them angry”. We decided to invent a ludicrous story – “COUNCILS BAN CHEWING GUM BECAUSE IT OFFENDS MUSLIMS”, mock up a few tabloid headlines in photoshop (“Wriggle Off! Hands off our gum say patriots!”), fill in a backstory using some concocted Hadith that x got from y that got from x that saw the Prophet exclaim ‘the idolator chews the cud like the calf’, set up a Facebook group advertising this outrage, sit back and wait. When it hit critical mass, and thousands of knuckle-draggers had joined to vent their rage at the demonic, chewing-gum-banning ‘other’, we’d change the name of the group to “I’m a gullible racist idiot”, and reveal loudly in every post that we made this shit up. Haha! Fooled you, RACISTS!

At some point in our brainstorming, one of us – not me, oh, not me, I was drunk on the heady grape of fabulising – gently pointed out that no matter how often we told these people that their treasured “fact” was made up, they never actually accepted it, so why would this instance be any different? We could, in essence, be creating a monster, in fact, they’d probably incorporate it into their victimology – the lefties are trying to hide the truth about the muslim plot against chewing gum!

That sobered us up quite quickly, and in the spirit of social responsibility, we dropped the idea – a little regretfully on my part, me always having had a slight wish to troll the world.

I guess, in that brief moment, I felt a little what it must be like to be Abosamir Albaidani.

You probably don’t know who he is. There’s no reason for you to. But if you’ve been surfing social media of any sort for the past 4 to 6 weeks, you’ve encountered what appears to be his work*

Buzz Buzz

Yeah, you’ve probably seen it. “Hornet’s Nest” ring any bells? It’s been bouncing back and forth between social media and Middle Eastern news agencies, conspiracist sites and social media, in an ever growing feedback loop since around the beginning of July. Here’s a summary, from the marvellously un-woo Global Research (imagine my voice dripping with sarcasm as I say that last sentence):-

The former employee at US National Security Agency (NSA), Edward Snowden, has revealed that the British and American intelligence and the Mossad worked together to create the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Snowden said intelligence services of three countries created a terrorist organisation that is able to attract all extremists of the world to one place, using a strategy called “the hornet’s nest”.

NSA documents refer to recent implementation of the hornet’s nest to protect the Zionist entity by creating religious and Islamic slogans.

According to documents released by Snowden, “The only solution for the protection of the Jewish state “is to create an enemy near its borders”.

Leaks revealed that ISIS leader and cleric Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi took intensive military training for a whole year in the hands of Mossad, besides courses in theology and the art of speech.

It’s easy to make fun of conspiracy theories. I’ve done it a lot in my time, and I guess I will again, but to make fun of them is perhaps to gloss over the fact that we are all susceptible to a little bit of conspiracist thinking. One of the most rational men I have ever encountered, for instance, is a climate change skeptic, and I admit I find it baffling how he can on the one hand demolish woo-thinking and on the other hand subscribe to a belief system which has all the classic architecture of a conspiracy theory**.

And this one has it all, for everyone. You can be stupid, or you can be clever. You can be a cynic who mistrusts your governments intentions; a “Realist” who thinks “this is the way of the world”; Someone who feels superior at their incompetence; you can be a muslim who wants to wash away the shame of your religion being associated with such nutjobs, a leftist or a liberal who wants to lay all the blame of the world at the feet of the west; a howling mad anti-semitic right-winger; this conspiracy theory has it all. Boxes ticked left, right and centre.

The only problem is, I’ve never yet encountered a conspiracy theory so successful that renders itself implausible so damn quickly.

Let’s start at the top – Edward Snowden has revealed.

The only problem we have with this is, well…

Back when the Snowden story first broke I started following it. It was quite interesting, after the revelations, being told by someone “the conspiracy theorists had it right”, because, well, it wasn’t that shocking. His revelations were a mix of the “well, we’ve already been told that in some shape or other, but I’m slightly alarmed by the scope of it”, the “well, it isn’t as though I expected any different” and the “d’uh? What the hell do you think spies do?”. The former were mainly to do with domestic surveillance, and while elements of it had been explained in various news stories over the past decade, the context of the War on Terror and the Patriot Act and all our extraordinary measures over this side of the pond meant that there had never really been a proper societal debate around how much surveillance we think is acceptable, and where the parameters lie. The latter stuff? Shock horror, spies spy on other governments. We were meant to be surprised by this?

Anyway, as I said, the former stuff needed airing, and discussing. I did tend to notice then, though, that Snowden, and especially his minder Glenn Greenwald, rather over-egged the pudding on a number of occasions – for example, there was one story about how the NSA allowed agents to act without a warrant, which was shocking, until you read the document Glenn was extrapolating from, which said something along the lines of “in the case of a life or death, absolute emergency situation, you can act without a warrant, but you better be ready to justify it to a disciplinary committee afterwards” (I paraphrase). Glenn, of course, read that “the NSA will always act without a warrant”.

The above point made, it remains a mystery to me why Glenn never trumpeted, shouted from the rooftops, even mildly declaimed, at any point, an interview where he revealed that ED HAD EVIDENCE THAT THE CIA AND MOSSAD WERE BEHIND ISIS!!! No. He hasn’t. In fact, if you head over to Twitter, where Glenn does most of his public pronouncing, when asked on the subject, Glenn has said the exact opposite – that no such interview ever happened, and that Snowden never told him any such thing.

Hmmmmmm. Curious.

Even more puzzling is part II of my query. Why precisely Ed Snowden is revealing this to us? You see, the thing is, Ed worked for the NSA. The NSA, well, they bug. They listen in. They intercept. They monitor. They don’t at any point recruit Iraqis to become deep-cover insurgents pretending to be jihadists but in actualite acting on behalf of their zionist paymasters. That’s more CIA territory, I would guess. So, unless Ed was listening in on the CIA or Mossad (again, a subject for Glenn to trumpet from the rooftops. He hasn’t, by the way, just to fill you in), then how precisely would a guy whose job it is to monitor email know about this fiendish plot?

Hmmmmmm. Curiouser.

And then comes the kicker. You see, back when I was telling the story about our imaginary Muslim OUTRAGE, you will notice we built into it some little details. These curlicues on the tale would be what made the hoax plausible – a mocked up tabloid headline, a Hadith or Koranic verse, maybe a quote from a fictitious PC councillor. They didn’t have to be water-tight, but they did have to be, well, believable.

I’ll hold my hand up here and say I’m not a great expert on the inner workings of the intelligence world – I’ve read the official history of MI5, as well as a book on the CIA (“Legacy of Ashes” by Tim Weiner, highly recommended) and the odd spy novel – but the one thing I do know is that when intelligence agencies plan an operation, they give it a codename (as with the military) that doesn’t really mean anything, or relate to the action in hand. Think D-Day and Overlord? Or, indeed, think of the overthrow of the Mossadegh in Iran (Operation Ajax in the US, Operation Boot in the UK). And so forth. What they don’t tend to do – in my, admittedly, limited understanding – is codename a mission so it sounds exactly like the thing they are planning to do. HEY WE WANT TO STIR UP A HORNET’S NEST? LET’S CALL IT “OPERATION HORNET’S NEST”! That’ll be covert!

I don’t want to be particularly pious about this – I get that we all have that urge to mistrust our governments and leaders. I do it regularly myself. But when something medieval, straight out of the dark ages, combines with the nihilistic urges of the Khmer Rouge, adds the media savvy of people raised in Internet 2.0 era and goes ravaging around the Middle East, beheading and raping, murdering and defiling, perhaps now isn’t the best time to be indulging in the fantasies you picked up watching the Bourne movies, or heading off to websites that suspiciously never link to any of the evidence they claim to have. Perhaps, maybe, a bit of attention on the real matter in hand may be an idea?

*I say appears, we can’t definitively say he was Hoaxer Zero, as the sterling detective behind this blog points out, but we can at least say he’s the first one we can track down:-

**Said gentleman is of the right, who, back in the day, were the repository of conspiracism, as pointed out in the magnificent essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”. Such halcyon days are gone now, though, and you are as likely to find wibble on the left as the right. I’ve gnawed over why the left currently seem so likely to fall for such nonsense, this is my tribe after all, and the answer I can come up with is something to do with the whole stuff about the grand movements of societies and class is all well and good, but people simplify it in their mind. It’s all well and good Marx thundering on about “class struggle”, in a sense he’s talking in the abstract – the struggle is there but it isn’t conscious – classes pursue their interests because, well, classes pursue their interests. Grand, but the human mind needs to simplify. It has to become a “they”. And they have to be working consciously.

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