2013: Morons of the Year!

Sorry for being fashionably late, but I’ve been suffering somewhat from WTFDISS (“where the fuck do I start?” syndrome). Although I still (perhaps optimistically) believe global moronitude to be in long-term decline, we do appear to be experiencing an upswing at present. One can only hope this is short-lived.

I’ve also decided, for reasons of fairness, that this year’s prize should not be awarded to the American right, although they may well deserve it. Including them in a moron competition is akin to inviting Kenyans to join the Milton Keynes charity half-marathon. It doesn’t seem quite fair.

However, no round-up of moronic outbursts would be complete without America’s Craziest, so let’s start there.

Oklahoma Tornado Madness

Extreme weather in the US always brings out the morons. The increase in extreme weather events couldn’t – of course – be caused by greenhouse gases. What kind of gullible fool would believe what scientists say? So obviously, the explanation for the tornadoes in May that killed dozens of people, including 20 children in a school, lies elsewhere. Take your pick: our old friends at the Westboro Baptist Church said God did it because basketball player Jason Collins revealed he was gay. Another old friend, Pat Robertson, agreed that God did it, but because the people of Oklahoma weren’t praying enough. And conspiracy loon Alex Jones said the government has the capability to create and steer tornadoes, but (modestly) said he wasn’t sure if that’s what had happened in this case.

White-ish Supremacist in North Dakota

The tiny town of Leith, North Dakota, which has one black resident, was shocked when Craig Cobb, a white supremacist, moved there with the stated aim of turning the place into a haven for anti-Semitism and white supremacy. His plans began to unravel when he was DNA-tested for a TV show and discovered he was 14% black, after which his home was attacked by white supremacists. He was then arrested after staging an armed patrol of the town with his remaining supporter.

A New Pro-Life Twist

A Republican congressman from Texas, Michael Burgess, found a new reason to reduce the abortion time limit, claiming that foetuses begin to masturbate from 15 weeks, and so can experience pleasure. Although, since God slew Onan for spilling his seed on the ground, one wonders why Burgess would show mercy to a sinful foetus.

Megyn Kelly and White Santa

Megyn Kelly, Fox News presenter and serial moron, claimed, in a standard piece of Fox race-baiting, that Jesus and Santa were both white, before rapidly backtracking and saying it had been a joke. As ever, Jon Stewart delivered. It was pointed out to me on Twitter that Jesus was Semitic and Santa is based on Saint Nicholas, who was Turkish, so technically Kelly was right; however, since when did Fox News and its moronic, Muslim-bashing presenters accept Semites (Palestinians, for example) and Turks as white people?

Government Shutdown

Having failed to overturn Obamacare by democratic means, the Republicans, led by idiot Tea Party Senator Ted Cruz, decided to act like petulant toddlers and close down the US government, costing the US economy an estimated $24 billion and threatening to unleash global economic havoc if the US had been forced to default on its debts. The tactic was not just moronic for being economic suicide, but because it would clearly backfire on the Republican Party. World leaders and markets watched in fascinated horror as semi-literate Tea Party baboons dragged the economy to the brink of disaster; panic was only avoided because nobody actually believed Cruz and his followers could really be that crazy. The Republicans were forced to back down after 16 days. Scarily, Cruz is seen as something of a rising star in his home state of Texas; watch this space for more fun and games.

NSA and GCHQ

Thanks to the bravery of Edward Snowden, a contractor at the National Security Agency, as well as the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, we discovered what we had long suspected: “our” spies are spying on us. All of us. The extent of the spying was awesome (in a bad way), exceeding the guesswork of all but the most paranoid observers. The NSA, and GCHQ in the UK, are demanding vast amounts of data from email providers, tapping into key Internet connections, and breaking encryption that was previously assumed to be safe. As Greenwald comments, the NSA can literally watch every keystroke we make. Our data – phone calls, texts, emails and more – are being warehoused for future uses – whatever they might be.

North Korea and East Germany had previously been held up as the ultimate surveillance states, but the extent of the spying by the US and UK goes far further; only Orwell, in his book 1984, had accurately predicted what is now happening. While many world leaders reacted with horror, the British government merely tried to reassure us that we were being spied on for our own good. The endless stream of scare stories about paedophiles, immigrants and terrorists, from David Cameron and his ministers, is perhaps spurred by the need to build an even greater level of fear among morons in order to justify this new state terror.

The Labour Party once again proved itself worthless at defending civil liberties. In parliament, the Labour MP Keith Vaz, in almost fascistic terms, questioned the “patriotism” of Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger in choosing to make the information public. And sadly, the average British moron-in-the-street shows little interest in questioning or challenging the state’s right to watch what we are doing.

Israel

Once upon a time, it was accepted that stronger tribes could expand and take land from weaker ones; thankfully, such situations these days are extremely rare, but Israel’s genocidal treatment of the Palestinians and Bedouin stands out as a rare modern-day example of primitive land robbery, as well as unimaginable cruelty. While the world pretends not to notice, Israel has turned Gaza into a hellish prison camp, which is on the verge of collapse, deliberately deprived of clean water and power, and swimming in sewage. The US and EU avert their gaze rather than intervene to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. Separately, Israel is rounding up tens of thousands of native Bedouin people from the Negev desert and putting them into government-built towns away from their homeland.

Netanyahu, however, is increasingly being recognised for the dangerous moron he really is, and is becoming marginalised on the world stage – so much so, that he decided not to attend the Mandela funeral, using the flimsy excuse that the trip would be too expensive. Israel has long been resisting the “Apartheid state” label, but it is losing that battle, and attending Mandela’s funeral would have tempted comparisons that Netanyahu is desperate to avoid.

Nelson Mandela

I had long been bracing for morons to revel in the death of Nelson Mandela, and of course they were ready to scream “terrorist” at the top of their voices. But when the moment came, there was nothing the morons could do: Mandela’s legacy as the greatest leader of his era was set in stone. His former enemies went to pay tribute, fake smiles on their post-colonial faces. The African “terrorist” had secured his place in history ranking far above the “great” white Western leaders who had hated him. In dying a hero rather than a terrorist, Mandela cast new light on Ronald Reagan’s legacy of terrorism conducted in the name of “freedom”.

The attendance of America’s black President at the funeral of a great black world leader sent America’s “not at all racist” racists into a frenzy, and a meme quickly spread via right-wing commentators, especially Rush Limbaugh: why did Obama attend Mandela’s funeral but not Thatcher’s? To which the quick answers were: 1) Thatcher wasn’t a head of state and 2) Her much-disputed legacy pales next to that of Mandela.

Welcome Africa!

Speaking of Africa… the arrival of high-speed digital communications on the continent has had two major results: the fast-growing African economy gets a new boost as it connects to the global economy; and a whole new legion of morons joins the global conversation. For moron-watchers, the highlight of the Mandela funeral was the signer who didn’t know sign language, but perhaps should be nominated as mime artist of the year, as well as winning a story-telling award for claiming he had been under the spell of a schizophrenic episode (although he had been repeatedly hired previously for ANC events).

As I blogged in January, President Jammeh of Gambia probably should win the most-moronic-African-leader award in a highly competitive field. His recent achievements are legion, including the enforcement of a four-day working week for schools and public employees as an encouragement to attend mosque on Fridays.

As the year came to a close, Uganda’s parliament passed a law that would jail people for life for the crime of “aggravated homosexuality”. The law was first drafted four years ago but was shelved under threat of the loss of Western aid. As in other parts of Africa, the race card had been heavily played, with the fight against homosexuality being described as a war against immoral Western values. In his inauguration speech after being re-elected, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe took swipes at his two favourite targets: whites and gays.

War on Drugs

For most countries, 2013 was yet another year in one of mankind’s most moronic achievements to date: the so-called war on drugs. However, a few places deserve plaudits for beginning to resist the idiotic tide. Uruguay became the first nation in history to fully legalise cannabis, and the US states of Colorado and Washington followed suit. These examples look to be the start of an unstoppable movement. Those states that decriminalise and tax recreational drugs will quickly reap economic advantages over those that do not.

Morons are naturally outraged by the move towards legalisation – they tend to be allergic to common sense in any form – and were quick to spread a spoof story about a spate of “marijuana overdoses” in Colorado. It is, of course, effectively impossible to overdose on cannabis, but morons and facts are like oil and water, especially when it comes to drugs.

So we enter 2014 with most of the world still pursuing stupid, expensive and dangerous policies against substances which are mostly safe; the world is still around 99% crazy, but a small chink of sanity has appeared.

Woolwich and UK Nationalism

In May, an off-duty soldier, Lee Rigby, was brutally hacked to death in Woolwich, London. The murder became a terrorist act when the killers asked passers-by to film it and the aftermath on their mobile phones. Terrorism only works if morons are terrorised, and on that measure, this attack was immensely successful, helping to further feed a growing tide of nationalism and racism in the UK. The attack was undoubtedly one of the events that has helped UKIP gain support; it may not make sense that a murder could lead to a rise in anti-EU sentiment, but morons rarely make sense.

One might observe that the attack was tiny – one dead, zero injured; or that it was only the second fatal terrorist attack in the UK in the 11 years since British troops have been stationed in Afghanistan. The attack highlights the lack of a serious “terrorist threat”, rather than the existence of one. But morons have now swallowed the threat’s existence, and it is being used to erode a range of British freedoms.

eu

The Ascent of the UKIP Monkey

UKIP, presenting an “acceptable” (although judging from the appearance of its candidates, deeply inbred) face of nationalism, have drained the pool that the BNP and EDL swam in, and drawn away nationalistic supporters from both the main parties. Their arguments are laughable and based largely on false numbers, deep misunderstandings of economics and scare stories that play to closet racism. This year, the party made great mileage by claiming that there were 600,000 unemployed EU migrants in the UK – a false story run in various tabloids and quickly debunked. The Sun ran a small apology (see right), but the damage was done, and UKIP were in no hurry to admit their lie (the story is still on their site).

It may seem odd to conflate the issues of terrorism and the EU, but that is exactly what the nationalistic right are doing. In the absence of hard facts, a drumbeat goes on which is luring in morons in large numbers: “Terrorism… immigrants… EU… our jobs… housing shortage…” It may be an idiotic message, but it is still a potent one.

The idea that immigration causes economic problems is the reverse of the truth; when you do encounter economically-illiterate UKIP monkeys, it’s worth sharing this lovely video with them.

Will Norman Tebbit Marry His Son?

The gay marriage issue was firmly on the agenda, but the tide is now flowing strongly in the right direction. Both France and the UK legalised same-sex marriage in 2013. In France (which despite its “secular” label is still deeply Catholic and conservative) the move prompted large protests, but not so in Britain. Instead, we were entertained by the ageing Thatcherite loon, Norman Tebbit, who mused about whether he might be able to marry his son and avoid inheritance tax (answer: No) and also asked the important question: “When we have a queen who is a lesbian and she marries another lady and then decides she would like to have a child and someone donates sperm and she gives birth to a child, is that child heir to the throne?”

The Global War on Sex Workers

While conservatives are being forced to concede on gay rights as well as racial issues, perhaps (as I blogged in August) the new civil rights front-line is being defined by sex workers. Sex worker advocates have long campaigned for the trade to be brought out of the shadows into the mainstream, where female and male sex workers can benefit from the full protection of the law, as experienced by most of the rest of society. Instead, in countries around the world, prostitutes are treated as lesser beings. Moralists of the religious right attack sex commerce as ungodly, while moralists of the left claim they want to “rescue” the workers – without, of course, first checking whether they want to be rescued.

In America, police in various states were found to be using the possession of condoms as evidence of sex work, and so prostitutes have been forced to work without them, and HIV rates have risen. Perhaps this year’s most shocking case of official hatred of sex workers involved a Texan man who shot a prostitute for refusing to sleep with him; and was acquitted of murder.

Sweden has implemented a “progressive” attack on sex work, known as the “Nordic Model”, whereby the client rather than the vendor is criminalised. But the end result is the same: prostitutes are considered to be working underground, and do not receive the full protection of the law, or respect from the authorities; this was demonstrated in July by the murder of Swedish prostitute and sex work campaigner Petite Jasmine by her ex-partner, who had previously been given custody of their children.

Undaunted by the failure of the Nordic Model to protect workers, France set out this year to do the same thing, cheered on by neo-moralists across Europe, notably the once-liberal Guardian. The Rescue Industry has declared a full-frontal assault on the rights and incomes of prostitutes; attacking their right to work while claiming to “save” them. in practise, they’re being “saved” for lower paid work, or for deportation as illegal immigrants.

In Britain too, brothels were raided to “rescue trafficked women”, but as ever, no “trafficking victims” were found; instead the raids were used to deport illegal immigrants and clean up Soho for gentrification.

In Canada however, the Supreme Court struck down the country’s anti-prostitution laws on the grounds that they endanger sex workers. It is unlikely that Canada’s insanely right-wing government will accept this situation, however: watch for more laws soon, probably couched in “anti-trafficking” language.

Miley The Slut

“Progressive” moralists were also in full voice this year to bully Miley Cyrus, who had the brass nerve to grow up from a sweet little girl into a young woman unafraid of flaunting her sexuality. She even dared to twerk and to employ black backing dancers! Which obviously makes her racist, right?

This was one of many moments in the year when conservative and liberal commentators became almost indistinguishable from each other in their joint hatred of sluttish behaviour, with the Guardian again excelling in couching conservative attitudes in liberal terms. Expect more attempts in 2014, from left and right, to push female sexuality back into the box from which it was liberated in the 1960s. Burqas for popstars, anyone?

And The Winner Is…

Commentators have asked in recent years whether Britain is sleepwalking into censorship. These days the debate is about whether we are sleepwalking, or running headlong.

big-brotherIn the summer, David Cameron announced an agreement with ISPs to introduce “porn filters”. Those who had watched the rising moral panic over “sexualisation” were in little doubt that the filters were a big step towards full-blown censorship of the British Internet. Sure enough, when the filters were rolled out in December, they blocked – either deliberately or accidentally – vast amounts of content, and almost none of it was pornographic. BT’s list of “adult” categories ranged from dating to drug information to sex education.

The filters are based on the premise that teenagers and children are the same thing, and thus block most “edgy” information that teenagers may want or need to access as they discover the world. The Internet had been a safe place for teens to explore their sexualities and psyches, but no longer. Whether parents have the moral right to block their children’s access to this information is unclear; but the cowardly ISPs, who (with one honourable exception) gave in to Cameron’s demands, have given them the ability anyway.

The initiative has caused concern globally, with exasperated American free speech advocates declaring the birth of the Great Firewall of Britain. As of now, many British people no longer have access from home to millions of websites. World censorship leaders, the Chinese have expressed their admiration for the UK’s plans.

Claire Perry, the MP who campaigned for the filters, had vigorously argued that no overblocking would occur; so it was with deep joy that campaigners discovered Perry’s own site had been blocked – presumably due to her obsession with pornography.

Ironically, the filters are very easy to work around; which means that teens will have no problem still accessing the pornography, sex education, drug information, “obscene and tasteless” and other content they wish to see, while their parents live in ignorant bliss.

So 2013′s joint Moron Award winners, for their attempts to censor the UK Internet, their encouragement of censorship worldwide, and their attempt to turn Britain back into a safe, 1970s-style (Jimmy Savile anyone?) pre-Internet nation are David Cameron, Claire Perry, and the leading UK ISPs – BT, Sky, Virgin and TalkTalk – who agreed to go along with their plans.

From Our Aussie Correspondent

More from our intrepid Aussie reporter Georgia Lewis as she chronicles Australia’s recent attempts to win the World’s Dumbest Nation award.

I’ve just come back from three weeks in my home country of Australia – and it was a time of friends, family, beer, beaches, more rain than you might expect, a road trip, a lot of seafood and, in between the merriment, there were plenty of morons to watch. Here is a handpicked selection from Federal politics.

The obvious moron to watch is Tony Abbott, the newly elected Prime Minister and leader of the conservative Liberal Party. The Liberal Party is in power in coalition with the National Party, a right-leaning party that focuses on rural interests. At least this coalition makes ideological sense, unlike the shambolic Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition but a car crash has ensued since the election.

In the space of three months, he has presided over Australia-Indonesia relations reaching a new low over spying allegations, a Burmese asylum seeker from the seriously persecutedRohingya minority getting sent back to a detention centre four days after giving birth to a sick baby by c-section (Abbott is meant to be the pro-family, pro-motherhood, prolife Prime Minister…), a policy to buy boats of people smugglers resulting in no boats being bought from people smugglers, a revolt by state governments of all political stripes over a broken promise on school education funding, an Australian government no-show at COP19, the United Nation’s annual climate change summit, and the giving of gun boats to the human rights-abusing Sri Lankan government at CHOGM.

But obviously Abbott isn’t doing all this by himself. He is being ably assisted in these endeavours by the likes of foreign minister, Julie Bishop (the only woman in his cabinet), his Gove-like education minister Christopher Pyne, and Bronwyn Bishop, the new Speaker of the House of Representatives (the Aussie equivalent of the House of Commons) who has busied herself setting new standards in bias. It’s brilliant!

Now, about these spying allegations… The Australian government has probably been snooping on Indonesia well before Abbott was the PM. But the problem is that now Australia has been busted, the diplomacy by Abbott and Julie Bishop has been pitiful. In this instance, a humble apology by Abbott probably wouldn’t have led to Australia cutting back on its surveillance (please let us not be naive here…), but here’s the thing about diplomacy – it stops countries bombing the crap out of each other and it is important for maintaining trade relations, which any you’d think a capitalism-loving government would be keen to do.

Instead, we have an embarrassing regional spat. As a result, Indonesia is not really keen to help Abbott with his “STOP THE BOATS!” policy on asylum seekers arriving by sea. FYI it’s a policy that is basically a load of shouty, vote-grabbing rhetoric. And none of this nonsense does a damn thing to stop people smugglers, or to improve the lives of people who do take desperate measures to get away from awful situations (such as the Burmese woman who had a c-section and is now back in detention…), or to solve the problem of people who arrive in Australia illegally by plane, or the thousands of British and American people who are in Australia illegally and far outnumber asylum seekers from Afghanistan.

The Australian no-show at this year’s COP19 climate change conference in Warsaw was also pretty special. Admittedly, it was probably a tad excessive of Kevin Rudd, the former PM, to send 114 people to last year’s COP18 in Qatar in taxpayer expense. But to send nobody was pretty moronic on Abbott’s part.

Having been to COP17 and COP18 in the line of duty, I can indeed confirm that there is much hot air generated in terms of endless discussions on climate change and emissions targets. But if you want your country to have a say in agreements that have far-reaching implications for business, the economy and industry, it’s wise to send someone along. Hell, if Abbott stands by his climate change-denying views, what better place for him to try and convince the world to come around to his way of thinking than at an international forum?

But Abbott’s idea is being part of the international community is to attend CHOGM without questioning the human rights record of the host country, Sri Lanka, and giving them a couple of boats at a cost to the Australian taxpayer of $2 million to help them prevent people from leaving a frequently terrible regime.

But moronic behaviour is not reserved for the government. Kevin Rudd, as the losing PM in the last election, has decided to quit politics. He won his seat in the election so he could always try representing his constituents with dedication and dignity for this current parliamentary term. But he has thrown his toys out of the pram and now the people in his seat will have to go back to the polls for a by-election at further taxpayer expense.

Sigh… I’ve barely scratched the surface of Australian political morons. I am reserving judgement on whether billionaire Clive Palmer will be a moron MP until he actually says a bit more in the House. Then there is Gina Rinehart, the mining billionairess, who may as well be in Parliament for the influence she is currently wielding. And billionaire James Packer who has plans to build a high rollers’ casino in exchange for a $60 million “arts gift” for Sydney and the promise that it will not degenerate into yet another low-rent gambling venue full of poker machines…

Meanwhile, in overgoverned Australia, there are always morons to watch at state and local government level, there is all the fun of successive governments having no idea how to sort out public transport in Sydney, corrupt councils and nanny state road signs. Then again, I have come back to Britain and it’s moronic business as usual in the House of Commons here too.

A Guide to the Morons of the Australian Election (Part 1)

Australia’s election is approaching, and the campaign is even more moronic than one might expect. We asked our Australian correspondent Georgia Lewis (who actually lives in London, and also blogs here) to stop drinking Fosters for a moment, and explain what is going on; she told us that one blog post would not be enough to summarise the stupidity; so here is the first half of Georgia’s Aussie election report.

At the time of writing, I am reflecting on the very real possibility that this time next week, opposition leader, Tony Abbott will be the new Prime Minister of Australia. This is the man who rose to global fame after former Prime Minister Julia Gillard tore him a new one over his ongoing, tiresome misogyny and the video went viral. He has also amused people around the world this year by saying “suppository of wisdom”. Abbott is leader of the Australian equivalent of the Tories, the mis-named Liberal Party.

The current Prime Minister is Kevin Rudd. He is also the former Prime Minister. He defeated John Howard in 2007. Then Julia Gillard ousted him as leader. Then he ousted her this year in a bid to not lose the election quite so badly. Rudd represents the Labor Party. Yes, that’s how we spell the party name in Australia. I think it’s to detract attention away from the party’s union connections but it’s not very effective. Maybe Ed Milliband could try that here?

But here’s the thing about the Australian election this year – the two leaders are not actually morons. Not in the academic sense anyway. Abbott was a Rhodes scholar and the equally well-educated Rudd speaks Mandarin-Chinese. And it is pretty obvious what they are both doing when it comes to trying to win the September 7 election. They are appealing to morons.

When it comes to policy on asylum seekers – “boat people” – there is no real difference between the two parties. Both have lurched so far to the right on this one, it won’t matter who you vote for. Either way, if people arrive in leaky boats seeking asylum in Australia, there will be no change to mandatory detention, there will be further reliance on under-resourced neighbouring countries for “processing” and nobody is willing to allow asylum seekers currently in detention to be allowed to work while they wait for a decision on refugee status. Abbot’s “Stop the boats!” rhetoric is proving effective. He knows it is simplistic and populist just as Rudd knows that as more progressive approach isn’t necessarily a vote winner either.

I do not know of any Australians who have been personally inconvenienced by asylum seekers in any way, shape or form, but this does not stop the border control fear-mongering from being successful for both leaders.

Abbott has also achieved bonus fear about the Australian economy. That’d be the one that survived the global financial crisis probably better than any other nation on the planet. But apparently it will all be so much better under an Abbott government. This is when his moron behaviour starts to creep in. Among his fine examples of promised economic management is a very generous maternity leave scheme – except that it will be paid for with a 1.5% levy for all companies with a turnover of $5 million or more. These same companies have been given a tax cut. Of 1.5%. Genius!

Christopher Pyne, the likely education minister in an Abbott government, told Lateline, the Aussie equivalent of Newsnight, that Australia had become “obsessed” with class size and that Australia should look towards countries where schools with class sizes of 40 were not unusual as an example.

So the man who will probably be the next Education Minister has no issue with a policy that will create more idiocy in Australia. Brilliant! Still, more morons is probably a good way to ensure these buffoons stay in power. Keep ‘em dumb!

And speaking of dumb, Tony Abbott can’t help but let his religious views creep into policy either. When he was Health Minister, he was no fan of Gardasil, the HPV vaccine. Despite being a prolife Roman Catholic, he wasn’t sure Australia needed a vaccine that would save the lives of women. Of course, this did not stop him crowing about it being finally included on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme even though this happened because of pressure from the likes of then-Prime Minister John Howard.

Abbott’s views on Gardasil and, in turn, women, are more accurately reflected in this comment he made on the vaccine: “I won’t be rushing out to get my daughters vaccinated, maybe that’s because I’m a cruel, callow, heartless bastard but, look, I won’t be.”

Just in case he looked like he was appealing a bit too much to the anti-science, off-the-wall, Jenny McCarthy-endorsed anti-vaccine lobby, he quickly qualified that statement with a hurried addendum: “If there is a national immunisation programme, I certainly will be making sure that they get vaccinated [with Gardasil] under the programme.”

But, let’s face it, he already opened his damn fool mouth to reveal he thinks that it’s a slut shot – just one jab and your daughters will be instant harlots!

In contrast, apart from an embarrassing incident in which Rudd was caught on camera picking wax out of his ear, he is not quite as gaffe-prone as Abbott. Then again, he does not wear his religion on his sleeve and, unlike Abbott, he did not tell the media that one of the party’s candidates for the election has sex appeal. But that has been regarded as a storm in a C-cup and, hell, it’ll probably make him appear more like a knockabout Aussie bloke to the electorate.

Instead, Rudd has a reputation for being ruthless and difficult to work with – personally, that still sounds better than sexist and a bit creepy, but the Australian voters will probably disagree with me next weekend. And it seems Rudd is now weary – resigned to electoral defeat, unsure what his future holds. That will depend on how badly Labor loses the election. Absurd asylum seeker policy aside, Rudd has not run a particularly moronic campaign. It has had predictable flashes of populism designed to appeal to morons but in a head-to-head battle for supreme idiocy, Abbott keeps coming up trumps.

In the last week of campaigning, Abbott got in one last blast to appeal to the redneck voters. He spoke out about how he finds the burqa “confronting” and “not the sort of attire I would like to see widespread in our streets”. This was in defence of one of his candidates, Ray King, saying it was a “sign of oppression.”

Now, technically, a burqa is actually a mask worn across the nose, made of either stiffened cloth or metal, that does not cover the entire face. King actually mean “niqab” but, hey, all that Muslamic clothing looks the same! It is not compulsory for Australian women, Muslim or otherwise, to cover their whole faces, it is not a common sight in Australia, and neither party has a policy on Islamic attire but I guess it’s good to know where two men stand on this issue apropos of nothing.

King also gets a few more bonus moron points for the time he proposed a policing system whereby suspects would be injected with satellite-trackable microchips that would be fired from a “high-powered sniper rifle.”

Abbott’s nuanced take on the situation in Syria is that is “baddies versus baddies.” With insights like that, he will have so much to offer on the world stage in the coming months if he wins the election. Which I am pretty sure he will. Moron watchers of the world should be on red alert – things can only get dumber Down Under.

My Abu Dhabi Ramadan

The Muslim fasting period of Ramadan has been coming and going for centuries, but never before have Muslim minorities in the West been under such scrutiny. This year’s Ramadan starts tomorrow. The UK’s Channel 4 TV channel has cleverly launched a set of what it calls “provocative” programming around Ramadan, including tonight’s Documentary, A Very British Ramadan, and a call to prayer to be broadcast each morning at 3am.

It’s strange that programmes about an ancient religious festival should be seen as provocative at all, but there is now a hardcore Muslim-hating minority across the Western World that never wastes an opportunity to throw hatred at Muslims, much as monkeys in the zoo enjoying throwing shit. Thus, the Channel 4 decision to run Ramadan-themed programmes is a great piece of trolling, designed in part to provoke bigots who think Islam has no place in British society. And it seems to be working.

Of course, the average Muslim-hater has little or no contact with Muslims or the Muslim world. They live in a fantasy land where Muslim countries teem with extremists, and are dangerous places to visit. I admit that I too had preconceived ideas about Muslim countries, especially Arab ones.

Being British and Jewish, I was nervous when I won some contract work in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, in the mid 1990s. I had previously been to Turkey, but the UAE was a more intimidating prospect. The airport welcome was friendly though, and I easily got a cab, with a talkative driver, to my downtown hotel. The UAE is a fairly conservative country, although moderate by the standards of its neighbour, Saudi Arabia. I found that as a foreigner, I could order beer in the hotel, and wasted no time in doing so.

I then learned that Ramadan would begin two days into my visit, and wondered what this would mean. I soon discovered that no food or drink, even water, was served during daylight hours. The office I was working in adjusted its hours to make life easier for its employees, beginning at 7am and ending at 2pm, so that people didn’t become too hungry or thirsty during the working day.

At one point, I was in a meeting with an Arab manager, and said I was thirsty. Without thinking, he reached into his desk and produced a bottle of water for me. As I started to drink, he suddenly remembered it was Ramadan, and asked me to drink the water out of sight of the office, in the stairwell. I was discovering that for Arab Muslims, just like for my own Jewish family, religious rules are made to be twisted and broken. People of all origins enjoy their traditions, usually without thinking a great deal about their origins.

The hotel served breakfast early, so that people could eat before sunrise. And people did eat. A lot. Likewise, after sunset, a huge Iftar buffet was laid on to break the fast. Although Ramadan is supposed to be a time of fasting, in fact Muslims tend to eat more during this time than the rest of the year. A huge meal tends to be taken after sunset, and another huge breakfast before the sun rises. As I said, religious rules are made for twisting.

One of the most amusing sights I saw was in the pastry and ice cream shops around the city. In the few minutes before sunset, people would grab a table and peruse the menu. Waiters would stand to attention, waiting. And as the call to prayer began to echo through the city, the waiters rushed out and people shouted their orders. Soon, huge slices of cake and towering ice cream sundaes were being served and devoured.

More entertainment was provided by an ongoing debate over whether nicotine patches were allowed during daylight. Many Emiratis were heavy smokers, and smoking was haraam during daylight, because the smoke was taken orally. The UAE’s top mullahs pondered this deep theological problem as the nervous smokers waited; and then, to general relief, they announced that the daytime use of nicotine patches was halal.

My time in Abu Dhabi blew away preconceptions I had about Arab culture. For sure the country is run by a dictatorship, and is a deeply conservative culture. It isn’t the kind of place I could have considered staying in long-term – my party lifestyle would have been too severely compromised. Yet the people were among the friendliest I had encountered – more so than most European or American strangers I had met in my travels. As for my being of Jewish origin; after a few days I was confident enough to tell locals this fact, and met no hostility at all; the strongest reactions were along the lines of “Ah! If only the Israelis and Palestinians could work together. They are the smartest peoples in the Middle East.”

I welcome the Channel 4 experiment in Ramadan programming. For most, open-minded people, it represents the chance to learn something. And anyone who is upset by the coverage deserves to be upset: morons will be morons.

The Loss Of British Culture

There are a number of approaches taken by the anti-immigration movement to demonstrate that mass immigration is a bad thing. One is economic: it stands to reason (dunnit) that the more people in the country, the more thinly spread are the economic benefits. Naturally, this doesn’t actually stand to reason. If it did, Ireland and Portugal would be celebrating the mass exodus caused by their economic troubles. But I’ll leave others to argue the economic benefits of immigration.

The more pernicious arguments revolve around the cultural effects of immigration. While I’ve always suspected that “culture” in this context is simply a coded reference for race, I’m always prepared to hear people justify the viewpoint that we somehow “lose” or “weaken” our culture by accepting immigrants who bring other cultural ideas with them. Whenever I’m confronted with these claims, I always ask the same question: exactly what has Britain lost from its culture by accepting immigrants? Despite asking repeatedly, I’ve not been given a single example that makes sense. Perhaps the least-nonsensical replies I’ve had are along the lines of “Come on – you surely don’t believe immigration hasn’t harmed our culture do you?” to which I answer, “Yes, I really believe immigration hasn’t harmed our culture”.

In truly religious style, the anti-immigration camp always expect others to prove a negative. It would surely be easy to demonstrate that British culture has lost something: a single example would suffice. Perhaps some people remember Cockney street urchins reading the works of Dickens or quoting Shakespeare at every opportunity? Maybe, the influx of Pakistanis, Czechs and Jamaicans somehow put an end to these things? Could it be that Yardie gangsters or Islamist militants harassed and intimidated British youth until they no longer dared played the music of Benjamin Britten in public? Do Polish thugs jump on anybody who recites the poetry of Wilfred Owen? Not that I’ve noticed.

I’m given general hints like “We’ve lost London. We don’t want to lose the rest of the country”. However, last time I checked (about half an hour ago) London was still here. Although (and I think this is what they’re getting at) there are certainly more brown faces visible, and a wider variety of languages can be heard spoken in the streets, than in the past.

It’s true that, using coercion, cultures can be warped and damaged. The Yiddish culture (and language) of my great grandparents is almost extinct, courtesy of the Holocaust. Kurdish culture has been suppressed in Iraq, Turkey and Iran, as they try to destroy the Kurdish sense of nationhood. But no such coercion has happened, or could possibly happen to British culture in Britain. Sure, the Indians came here, bringing their foreign cultural values. Like cricket. And chicken tikka masala (now declared Britain’s unofficial national dish). And a taste for mathematics.

In the absence of coercion, cultures are additive. People pick the best that they encounter, and blend with what they already know. As a music lover, the strengthening effects of cultural mixing are immediately obvious to me. I would argue London has been the most musically creative city on the planet for the past couple of decades. The music made here is definitively our own, and is exported globally. London creates not just musical talent but entire new genres; the latest of many London creations is dubstep, and this has already been exported around the globe (forgive me if I’ve missed a new genre or two since dubstep – it takes a while for us older ones to notice these things). London is lucky enough to have immigration from, and thus links with, some of the deepest musical cultures on the planet – particularly West Africa and its offshoot in Jamaica.

White working class culture has long welcomed and absorbed foreign musical influences, perhaps starting with the black American troops who brought swing with them during WWII, followed by soul music in the 1960s and reggae in the 70s. Once Britain had absorbed a critical mass of immigrants, British music became truly turbo-charged, and began to flow outwards rather than simply absorb and repeat influences we heard elsewhere. The 1970s generation that tried to sound Jamaican by playing reggae was succeeded by generations that took reggae, hip-hop, house and techno, and created something new and amazing with them. Before dubstep, London made British soul, jungle, drum and bass, garage and grime. How many other cities on Earth could claim to have added so much to world music culture?

There was no tradition of British popular music prior to mass immigration, and that’s why racists can’t find any examples of anything that’s been lost. If you want to remember what European popular music sounds like without the help of immigrants, just tune into Eurovision. It’s not a spoof; that really is the best that most European countries can come up with.

Beyond music, the same points apply. We still have our fish and chips, but we also have our curry goat, lamb vindaloo and shawarmas. My local fish and chip shop is staffed by Poles, and the customers come from all over the world. Oh, and fish and chips were probably introduced by Jewish immigrants anyway.

It saddens me that, if the swivel-eyed anti-immigration loons hold sway, London may give up our hard-won cultural prize to other places. It’s tragic that Daily Mail readers and UKIP voters, in total ignorance of what constitutes modern British culture, may destroy our unique creativity, without ever noticing or caring. Those people who care least  for what British culture represents are the ones claiming to be defending it from “threats”.

All we’ve “lost” is the right to walk down the street without seeing a brown face. I’m happy to surrender that “right” in exchange for living in the most culturally exciting city on Earth. The day people from all over the world stop wanting to live in London is the day it’s no longer worth living here.

What actually defines British culture? We are an outward-looking nation, which is why the British Empire became what it was: not only a tool of global robbery and brutality, but also a giant, borderless superstate that allowed British people, Africans and Indians to travel, mix and learn from each other. British culture is multicultural, and has been for centuries. No other nation in Europe has the ability to embrace and learn from other cultures like the British, which is why this small island with less than 1% of the global population can so consistently punch above its weight. The only thing that could seriously threaten our culture would be to close our borders. That would bring to an end a story that began when the first British ship set out to explore the world.

Ann Coulter and the Return of the Bell Curve

Before 9/11, when Muslims suddenly became to blame for everything, there were still morons; it’s just that they believed different myths back then. Right-wing Americans, who hadn’t yet been fed the “Islam is evil” myth, needed somebody to hate; and in general they chose to hate black people. White Supremacy, which went quieter after 9/11, and quieter still after Obama’s election, was the right-wing American moron’s prejudice of choice.

I spent a lot of time online in debate with some of these people. They had rehearsed their arguments well, but once the cracks in their reasoning were exposed, the whole edifice crumbled quickly. Their fundamental claim was that black people were genetically inferior to whites. This was old orthodoxy that had survived unchanged since the same argument was used to justify the slave trade, centuries earlier.

The racists made good use of a 1994 book called The Bell Curve, which examined both genetic and environmental factors in intelligence. However, noticing that intelligence is partly dependent on genes isn’t the same as noticing significant differences between races – something the authors themselves made clear, although the racist morons chose to ignore this point. They also made use of IQ test scores which showed black populations in America significantly under-performing whites. Claims of “white supremacy”, however, were dented by the fact that Chinese and Indian IQ scores were above those of whites. The poor supremacists were forced to accept Asians as their intellectual superiors, as the price of “proving” that blacks were their inferiors.

The argument was fairly easy to dismantle. IQ scores have been steadily rising since the tests were invented over a century ago, demonstrating that education is a major factor in IQ. In fact, the gap between today’s white people and whites a century ago is far wider than the gap between any two racial groups today; to claim that modern whites are genetically much different from their great-great-grandparents would be nonsensical. Additionally, black IQ scores are rising faster than white ones. Again, this rules out a genetic factor.

The race-based arguments are further undermined by breaking the racial groups into smaller subgroups. For example, in the UK, black immigrants from Africa educationally outperform those from the West Indies; and Indians do better than those from Bangladesh.  The arguments are old and thoroughly discredited.

So imagine my surprise when I was informed this morning that racist far-right American nut-job Ann Coulter was tweeting about a study about Hispanic “inferiority”.

This claim just happens to come at a time when a debate about amnesty for illegal Hispanic immigrants is raging. Which is convenient.

Ann is a genuine moron, but falls into the small group of morons who are just smart enough to make a good living from scaring those even dumber than themselves. She regularly pops up in the right-wing media to make racist and otherwise stupid comments that are calculated to get morons all hot and excited. The fact that she is blonde, and could be described as attractive (externally, rather than in her dark soul), if you like that sort of thing, certainly helps her win TV appearances and viewers. No doubt, Kleenex sales rise in Bible Belt states whenever she appears and calls for some country to be nuked, or calls Arabs “ragheads”. Or whatever.

I wish Ann was a little more considerate. Now she’s sent those tweets, my timeline will be filled by morons repeating the claims for the rest of the day. Sigh… and I was hoping for a quiet Friday.

UKIP: Playing Nazi Bingo

Fascism became a little bit discredited after the whole holocaust thing. Britain’s fascist movement had never got off to a great start, but after the second world war, Oswald Moseley’s attempt to come back (with blacks rather than Jews as a new, improved scapegoat), was never likely to succeed.

But the far-right has had a long time to evolve since the 1940s. It has regularly reappeared in new configurations. Most people tend to associate fascism with street thuggery, but these gangs are only the most visible part of the far-right (and the section most likely to cause panic among the middle classes). Hitler came to power with the support of the conservative middle classes, and corporate finance. If fascism is ever to be respectable again, its core constituency won’t consist of angry young white working class men, but the conservative middle classes.

Real British fascism is corporate power cloaked in ultra-conservative values designed to lure the most middle of middle Englanders. It attracts those who don’t think too much about politics, but when they do, they think society has changed too much, too quickly. They yearn for the Britain that their parents told them about when they were growing up; a largely mythical Christian Britain; where naughty youngsters were given a clip round the ear by the local bobby; where gays didn’t exist; and of course, where everyone spoke English, and everybody was white.

A real fascist party has two layers of policies: one set designed to recruit votes from the bigoted, social conservative, and another designed to raise finance from wealthy individuals and companies. The British National Party (BNP) looked, for a while, like it may be the first “respectable” fascist party in the UK. In 1993, it caused shock by winning the first ever far-right council seat, in East London. For over a decade, it looked like a genuine threat, but it has faded in recent years, and few people think of it as a mainstream party.

The English Defence League (EDL) attempted to fill the far-right vacuum, but it manifested as a working class street movement, so alienated middle class conservatives, and could never be taken seriously by corporate backers. Now, the vacuum has instead been filled by the UK Independence Party (UKIP) – and this time, for the first time since Mosley, far-right politics seem to have found a place in the mainstream.

Many low-information voters (to borrow an American term for morons) get a thrill from UKIP’s populist positions: leaving the European Union (because it costs money, doesn’t it?), cutting immigration (because we’re “full”, right?) and attacking benefits (lazy scroungers…) are all designed to appeal to the Daily Mail’s core, nasty, constituency of people who worry that somehow, somewhere, someone is having a better life than they are.

The problem for any fascist organisation trying to present itself as mainstream is that it becomes increasingly hard to keep candidates “on message”. UKIP has attracted fascists to its membership, and this is reflected in a number of extreme outbursts from its candidates. Their anti-immigrant line has somehow morphed to include attacks on British Muslims – to the extent that the EDL are backing UKIP in elections, and are clearly pitching to become their thuggish wing, just as the SA “Brownshirts” became the street enforcers for the Nazi party.

I recently played a game of “fascist bingo” on Twitter when I was encouraged to see if candidates ticked all the standard far-right boxes. Anti-immigration (standard fare to attract racists-who-aren’t-racist)? Check! Muslim-baiting? Check! Gays? The party is opposed to gay marriage (it’s hard to see what that has to do with opposing the European Union) and on cue, UKIP candidate John Sullivan was recently caught applauding Russian attacks on gay rights, and calling for more physical exercise in schools as a cure for gayness. Check!

To win a fascist bingo game though, we need evidence of hatred for Jews and the disabled. On cue, here comes UKIP candidate Anne-Marie Crampton with an anti-Semitic outburst that any Nazi would be proud of, raking up the anti-Semitic hoax “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, and blaming Zionists for the second world war and the Holocaust (rather than those poor, misunderstood, European Christians who tend to get blamed for it). Check! And the disabled? Google came to my aid and found me Geoffrey Clark, who called for compulsory abortions of disabled foetuses. HOUSE!

UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage has succeeded in presenting far-right politics as palatable, to a greater extent than anyone since the second world war. He has attracted support from the racist right of the Tory party – those people who see David Cameron as a dangerous leftie. UKIP reaped a protest vote in last week’s local elections, largely from people who had little idea what they actually stood for. What is lacking from British politics is an active opposition to fascist ideologies; Labour’s capitulation by “accepting the immigration problem” leaves a landscape devoid of an anti-fascist force, and plays into the hands of the far-right.

With the BNP and EDL approaching the status of “laughing-stock”, UKIP are the ones to watch; their strong showing in the elections may be a flash in the pan, but they have cleverly divided the Conservative Party, and if the Tories panic, they may shift rightwards. In the long-term, that way lies irrelevancy, as demonstrated by the US Republicans, who embraced a racist electoral strategy in a nation where racism was in slow decline.

Put in perspective, the local election results demonstrated that a quarter of voters in the most conservative parts of the country will respond to a bigoted, populist message. The whitest parts of the nation are the most afraid of immigration. That’s not so surprising, though it is disappointing. The UKIP result gives little reason to panic, but it’s a reminder that “British tolerance” is not a given. Tolerance had to be fought for and won, but no battle ever stays won; victories need to be defended. Now which political party will take a stand against the rise of fascist values?