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.

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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.

How The Religious Right Censored The UK Media

Beyonce Dancing
Does This Image Damage Your Children?

Although the Internet’s roots lie in defence and academic research projects in the 50s and 60s, it only exploded into the public consciousness in the mid-90s, after Tim Berners-Lee created the technologies behind the Worldwide Web.This was, not only in hindsight but widely recognised at the time, a hugely significant moment in human development; a point at which anyone, with a little technical skill and a little cash, could share their thoughts, beliefs, ideas, or products with a global audience. The control of publishing and broadcasting had always been concentrated in the hands of an elite. These few had a stranglehold on deciding what constituted acceptable culture, and what ideas should be kept away from the masses. They defined the consensus.

Now, ideas deemed “dangerous”, “immoral”, “obscene” or otherwise previously unacceptable could be publicly aired. Publishers could choose, if they wished, to remain anonymous. The implications were enormous – and given the benefit of hindsight, the predictions of the day weren’t overblown; the effect of the new communication medium has been social dynamite.

Given that the peoples of the developed world could, for the first time, choose exactly what content to consume, the Internet could be seen as a measure of repression; people would naturally use it to fill vacuums previously unoccupied by other, censored, media. How would people use the Net?

We quickly found the answer; although there was of course a true explosion of creativity, bringing us services from Amazon to Hotmail, the overwhelming majority of network bandwidth was used by people downloading pornographic imagery. There was a simultaneous exponential rise in the use of anonymous “dating” services to find sexual partners, either to engage in cybersex or to meet “in real life”. The Internet had provided the first unbiased survey of what the world was thinking; and what the world had on its mind was Sex. Few had realised how ruthlessly sex had been censored from human discourse in the preceding decades and centuries; only when all censorship was removed did we find out just how controlled our lives had been prior to the Web.

From day one, it was inevitable that the authorities would catch up with this turn of events and try to crush it; surely, our rulers hadn’t spent centuries pushing sexuality underground, only to have the whole project die in a few short years. The American religious right was quickly on the case; it had been funding academic research since the 1980s trying to prove that porn in some way caused harm to people and society. The religious right was joined in its efforts to stigmatise porn (and other open expression of sexuality) by a new strand of feminism; this time, instead of fighting for the rights of women to enjoy their sexuality without stigma, these new feminists were insistent that free sexuality was harmful to women. Collectively, I refer to the religious right and neo-feminists as the New Puritans.

With no academic research to back up their claims, the New Puritans took to establishing myths in the public consciousness. The Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels is famous for his observation that a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth. There are many “facts” about porn and sexual imagery that many liberal-minded people have accepted as true with little thought: sexual imagery “objectifies” women; the free expression of sexuality somehow benefits men and subjugates women; porn is “linked to” misogynistic thinking; porn is “linked to” sexual violence; sexual freedom is “damaging to” relationships.

It may come as a surprise to many people who have heard these ideas that none of these “facts” is backed by any research whatsoever. Indeed, attempts by the New Puritans to find “smoking guns” have failed dismally, after more than two decades of trying. The research that does exist suggests the opposite to what is claimed by the New Puritans. Most remarkably, in those societies that have embraced sexual freedom in its many forms, rates of sexual violence have fallen massively. Porn video first became widely available in the United States with the widespread adoption of VHS in the late-1970s. In 2006, the Washington Post reported that the incidence of rape in America had fallen by 85% from 1979 to 2004. Of course, availability of porn was one of many social changes taking place in the US during this period, but the conclusion seems to be that greater sexual freedom in society makes women (and almost certainly children) safer from sexual violence.

Scientific research has firmly dismissed the “porn causes harm” myths, with the publication Scientific American recently reporting on a number of studies that seemed to show the opposite – that porn use is correlated with positive outcomes. In the UK, researcher Clarissa Smith has studied the effects of porn over 20 years and has come to similar conclusions (her research is soon to be published).

So, game over for the puritans? Of course not; freeing sexuality means less money for religions that reap the benefits of sexual guilt; there’s also money in selling “cures” to the (probably imaginary) ailment of porn addiction and writing books about the evils of pornography.

With the election of a Conservative government in the UK in May 2010, the New Puritans saw new opportunities. Claire Perry, a right-wing MP, began a parliamentary enquiry into “protecting children online”. Simultaneously, a Christian lobby group known as the Mothers’ Union began a media campaign to convince people that children were being “sexualised”. This was a good, old-fashioned attack on “permissive media”, packaged into a fancy new term. Pretty soon, even level-headed people were believing that children were being “sexualised”, without any clear idea of what that meant. So far, so predictable.

Then it gets weird; David Cameron appoints an “expert” to carry out a review into sexualisation; this expert is none other than Reg Bailey, Chief Executive of the Mothers’ Union. So without public consultation, representatives of the religious right are writing policy proposals at the request of the British Government. In response to this absurd coup, the media outcry was… non-existent. An incident which should be treated as a political scandal has been ignored or even applauded. The very notion that children are being “sexualised” or that something should be done about it has been passed on without question in the mainstream press.

Reg Bailey published a report which was swallowed without comment by the government (I wrote about this in June). It stated, without being backed by research, that children were being sexualised, and that widespread media censorship should take place, from billboards to music videos to the sale of children’s clothing. Having now established religious prejudice as fact in the mind of the British government and media, a raft of censorship measures is beginning to be implemented.

The latest measure was announced this week when the government came to an agreement with large ISPs that consumers would be asked whether they want the ability to see porn when they sign up for a home Internet connection. This is done in the name of “protecting children”, although filtering solutions for children already exist (and have done for many years), and the effect of blocking an entire household can only be to prevent adults from watching porn. Although the measure is voluntary, there have already been attempts to stigmatise parents who are too “permissive” with their children; Clarissa Smith (mentioned above) says that parliamentary committees are already talking about “bad parents” who choose not to block porn to their household. Undoubtedly the next step will come when religious lobbyists report to MPs that parents are (shock, horror) choosing to remove the ISP block and watch porn in their own homes. Homes that have children in them!!!

The UK government has taken its first, definitive step into Internet censorship – something it has castigated other governments for in the past. It has been unclear about exactly what content is considered “unsuitable for children”; undoubtedly this definition will become ever broader with time. Undoubtedly too, the voluntary block will be under review, and the New Puritans will be demanding more sites to be blocked, and measures to make it harder (or impossible) for adults to access certain types of content via their home connections.

The response of the mainstream media has been almost non-existent. Most disappointingly, The Guardian writes in Daily Mail-esque terms about “the destructive effects of pornography on relationships and values, harming not just children but also adults” while blissfully ignoring that the claims of harm exist nowhere but in right-wing propaganda, and are not backed anywhere by research. In any other field of interest, The Guardian would undoubtedly investigate such claims, something that in the areas of laws related to sex and drugs, it repeatedly fails to do.

It was clear even 15 years ago that governments and corporations would never allow the Internet to continue as an uncensored medium; too many powerful vested interested are harmed by an open network. The US at least has the first amendment, making it harder to introduce censorship. But there’s little doubt that the Mothers’ Union, fresh from its success at turning the UK into a flagship for its “sexualisation” idea, will use us as a case study to campaign for similar measure elsewhere.