April 2005


American politics&British politics&Europe&Gender&Global politics12 Apr 2005 05:55 pm

Andrea Dworkin, probably one of the most controversial social theorists in recent history, has died aged 58.

I always thought I disagreed with the majority of her theories. I thought she was an extremist, a woman whose attitude to men was an equal, opposite counterpart to the misogyny she deplored.

I’ve just spent much of the afternoon browsing her major work online, to find proof of this unworkable extremism. And I’ve discovered to my surprise that I can finally understand what she was saying. Not just that, but her views were not really what I (or a lot of people) initially thought. We mistook her uncompromising attitude for vengeful militance. Or, at least, I did. Now I still might not agree 100%, but I at least see what she was getting at.

In memoriam, then, here’s an excerpt of one of her feminist texts:

“I renounce masculinist art. It is not art which illuminates the human condition–it illuminates only, and to men’s final and everlasting shame, the masculinist world–and as we look around us, that world is not one to be proud of. Masculinist art, the art of centuries of men, is not universal, or the final explication of what being in the world is. It is, in the end, descriptive only of a world in which women are subjugated, submissive, enslaved, robbed of full becoming, distinguished only by carnality, demeaned. I say, my life is not trivial; my sensibility is not trivial; my struggle is not trivial. Nor was my mother’s, or her mother’s before her. I renounce those who hate women, who have contempt for women, who ridicule and demean women, and when I do, I renounce most of the art, masculinist art, ever made.

As feminists, we inhabit the world in a new way. We see the world in a new way. We threaten to turn it upside down and inside out. We intend to change it so totally that someday the texts of masculinist writers will be anthropological curiosities. What was that Mailer talking about, our descendants will ask, should they come upon his work in some obscure archive. And they will wonder–bewildered, sad–at the masculinist glorification of war; the masculinist mystifications around killing, maiming, violence, and pain; the tortured masks of phallic heroism; the vain arrogance of phallic supremacy; the impoverished renderings of mothers and daughters, and so of life itself. They will ask, did those people really believe in those gods?”

Andrea Dworkin, Our Blood: Prophesies and Discourses on Sexual Politics (1974)

British politics&Human rights12 Apr 2005 12:51 pm

And, in a week where two aristocratic divorcees made each other very happy, gay rights campaigners made an important point. If the heir to the throne can now re-marry – unthinkable just 50 years ago – then why can’t gay couples marry even once?

This is a sensible question, and one which should receive urgent attention from legislators. To continue to deny the right of marriage to a large chunk of society, based only on the sex of the person they happen to love, is clearly an absurd violation of the notion of equality. Marriage should be available to everyone, or no-one. Preferably everyone.

Her Majesty’s police force responded by detaining Peter Tatchell and two other OutRage activists under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act.

Well, it’s not like the police have got criminals to find or anything. For crying out loud.

I’ve taken the liberty of drafting an open letter to the Met by way of response:

Dear Metropolitan Police,

What do we pay you people for exactly?

Yours sincerely,

Urban Fox

American politics11 Apr 2005 04:17 pm

“Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.”

– Michael Ledeen, former Reagan administration intelligence officer and current resident scholar in the Freedom Chair (seriously) at the American Enterprise Institute.

“This is a man who has helped shape American foreign policy at its highest levels.”

– Conclusion of Wall Street Journal profile of Michael Ledeen, for whom he also writes (see last paragraph).

This is what the lovely fellow looks like:

Here’s where he writes the majority of his published articles:
National Review

And here’s all about him:

Right wing version
Left wing version
Right wing publication comparing his views to fascism

One to watch, I suspect.

Gender08 Apr 2005 11:46 am

OK. I don’t normally write about the royal family, and it would be clinically impossible for anyone to care less about their love lives than me. Nonetheless, this post is about Charles and Camilla. Sorry.

Let’s establish one thing: neither one of them looks like a 22 year old supermodel. Neither of them. Are we agreed? Good.

Then why do the constant “Camilla looks like a horse” / “Poor Mrs Parker-Bowles and her unfortunate appearance” / “Ugh, Camilla mings” / “Poor old Charles, marrying a heifer like her” / “Imagine shagging that after you’ve had Diana” / “Good job they delayed the Grand National on the day of the royal wedding – Camilla’s odds on to win” type jibes skate across mainstream society without comment?

For anyone who considers feminism has won the day, consider the number of times Camilla is lampooned for her looks, compared with the number of times her fiance is jeered at for the same reason.

The fact that a powerful man has chosen a partner on the basis of something other than looks appears to be a source of never-ending astonishment to the public, the media and every columnist from here to Zaire. Why not have a pretty little thing, Chas? Why would you choose personality over looks? Why would the heir to the throne put up with a middle aged, non-facelifted woman when his money and status could easily pull a surgically-enhanced twentysomething?

I’m willing to bet you read or see some “comical” cartoon, quip or gag about Camilla’s appearance most days. And yet, she and Charles are more or less equivalent in age and appearance, and apparently very compatible. Far more so than Charles and Diana, for a start.

What it all boils down to is this: women are still judged primarily on their looks, to the extent where the assumption exists completely unnoticed by the mainstream. Is it surprising more and more women are succumbing to eating disorders, undergoing extreme surgery and – here’s the important bit – spending their (still unequal) salaries on a slew of clothes, shoes and beauty products?

Cinema audiences will readily accept the prospect of Sean Connery snaring Catherine Zeta-Jones. Can you imagine the reaction to a romantic film starring a 70-year-old woman and a leading man in his 20s? I have a feeling it wouldn’t be a mainstream hit. (Don’t bring up Harold and Maude, I’m talking mainstream and contemporary.)

There are one or two exceptions – Joan Collins and her young husbands, perhaps – but, by and large, women in the public eye are expected to be primarily ornamental. Their value is correspondingly decreased if they move away from that main function. Even now. It’s not even controversial. It’s simply the way things are, in every area of public life.

Actually, I don’t think Camilla’s “below” Charles’ “level”. If anything, she’s out of his league.

Ditch him, Cam! You’re a wealthy, famous woman! You don’t need to settle for that saggy old goat! I hear Brad Pitt’s free!

See, it seems ridiculous the other way round. I feel like I’m stating the obvious here. But if it’s still considered acceptable to sneer at a woman for not being a sex symbol, I suppose I’m not.

Self07 Apr 2005 02:52 am

Disclaimer:

It’s just been brought to my attention that there is a journalist operating on the Times website using the name Urban Fox. To clear up any strange misapprehensions, this is not me. I am pleased to confirm that I have no connection whatsoever with any NewsCorp company and have never written for any of that corporation’s publications. That’s probably self-evident to anyone who has read this blog, so this statement is just for those who skim the byline and disappear again.

I do, however, plan to install a Page 3 section on here soon. This will provide a range of GM-free fairly traded breasts from exploited countries worldwide, offering a much-needed counterpart to Rupert’s unethical capitalist bosoms.

(Can’t wait to see what sort of visitors Google will bring me now.)

British politics&News media&Race05 Apr 2005 11:39 pm

This Indymedia article describes an anti-racism march taking place on Saturday in support of the rights of travellers.

At the end of the piece, the author mentions that the Press Complaints Commission have informed her/him that The Sun newspaper is currently being investigated by police for “incitement to racial hatred”.

At last.

No doubt a guilty verdict would only mean a fine, at best. But if it’s a significant amount, or has a detrimental effect on advertising revenue, it could encourage NewsCorp (and the loathsome Daily Mail/Daily Express) to curb their xenophobic bile.

“Zero Tolerance: We Love It.”

Stick that up your headline, Murdoch.

British politics05 Apr 2005 12:51 pm

Tony Blair has now announced the general election will take place on Tuesday 5 May.

I’m preparing my own Urban Fox Manifesto in honour of the occasion, so that’ll appear here soon. In the meantime, let’s play the Election Pledge game! 10 points every time a politician promises to drop taxes, 10 points every time one promises to increase spending on schools, hospitals or pensioners. Double bonus points if you catch Gordon Brown making veiled remarks about becoming Prime Minister in a couple of months’ time. 2 points per trite soundbite (e.g. “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” or “Education, education, education”). Triple bonus points if you spot a senior politician with an amusing new “credible” election haircut.

Alternatively, we could ignore the establishment-friendly, status quo-perpetuating charade altogether and let the bickering middle aged white men get on with it.

Tough call, I know.

British politics&Pop culture&Race05 Apr 2005 12:50 am

I’ve just watched the Channel 4 documentary Kilroy’s Week With The Gypsies. It followed idiotic hobby politician Robert Kilroy-Silk’s week-long expedition onto a gypsy residential site. The gypsies in question were about to be evicted.

Kilroy, fresh from writing one of his inflammatory newspaper articles on travelling communities, went along to “experience a gypsy lifestyle from the inside”. This seemed to be rather the wrong way round, but better late than never.

From Channel 4’s point of view, it was commissioned in the not unfounded hope that Kilroy would say lots of bigoted and stupid remarks on camera. But the subject himself was clearly approaching it as a PR opportunity. He reined in his outspoken views wherever possible, though some seeped out at the edges.

Kilroy was visibly shaken by the fact that he was expected to sleep in a caravan, so he opted to spend most nights in a local hotel instead. Let’s face it, the absence of an on-site sunbed was always going to cause problems. But he did bunk down one night, after complaining about everything from the water pressure to the length of the fold-out bed. Claustrophobia was unavoidable – imagine having to squeeze such a colossal ego into a confined space! – but he struggled on gamely. The big orange hero.

The main thrust of his Romany hosts’ complaint was that they were being evicted from land they’d bought, on the whims of planning laws. His response was predictably simplistic and ill-conceived – “Well, why don’t you just buy houses instead?” – and in the end, the families were evicted.

Evicted from their own land, remember. Not squatting. Not using public land for residential purposes. They had just contravened planning regulations by parking caravans on the site which they owned outright. It is evidently easier for Tesco to get planning permission to build yet another superstore than it is for a Romany community to plant their temporary living structures on empty land which they have paid for in full. Go, as they say across the Atlantic, figure.

In response to this bizarre interpretation of property laws, travelling communities have requested that councils designate areas for them to stay. If they can’t just buy their own land and use that, what else can they do? Unfortunately for them, councils have been under no legal obligation to provide sites since 1994. Guess what? That means they don’t bother.

Now there are too many Romany families chasing too few sites. Those who are evicted from the land they legally own are forced to park on roadsides or borrow friends’ back yards. They’re unwelcome with the tabloid-baited locals, who fear the unknown and “the mess”, and entirely abandoned by the local authorities which are supposed to serve all British residents.

I’m sure the fact that nomadic people live outside the tax and electoral roll structures has absolutely nothing to do with governmental indifference to their welfare. Just as I’m quite sure the hatemongering tabloids don’t pick on gypsies, immigrants and those below the poverty line solely because they’re groups without the financial clout or consumerist inclinations to matter to their advertisers.

Oh wait, no. I do think that.

You know, our world is packed with cruel ironies. (Terri Schiavo, a woman who fell into a coma as a result of severe bulimia, was starved to death by court order.)

It’s also full of frankly incomprehensible decision-making. (Michael Howard, a man whose own parents fled Hitler’s death camps for asylum in Britain, is Britain’s highest profile anti-immigration politician.)

And at the end of Kilroy’s PR-thirsty documentary, a voiceover told us that Nottingham Council had spent £500,000 in court proceedings to evict that single group of gypsy settlers from their very own land. That’s half a million quid. (Americans, we’re talking about not much change from a million dollars here.)

Did it occur to anyone at the council to:

(a) spend that cash on a designated site for the travelling community, as requested;

or

(b) waive those biased planning laws in cases where they are clearly ludicrous, to prevent the pointless expense of evicting families from land they have owned and occupied peacefully for years?

Apparently it did not. Vacancy at Nottingham City Council for someone with a triple figure IQ, then.

I don’t live in that council tax catchment area, but I’m pretty sure that my own council would have squandered my contributions in the same way. I’m ashamed that my tax can be used to persecute a group of people who choose to live outside the prescription of tabloid-sanctioned society. I’m ashamed at the despicable way in which the corporate media and the Tory party are manipulating public feelings about travellers, with scarcely a murmur of dissent from the usually garrulous Guardian-reading middle class. I’m ashamed that, in 2005, it’s still possible to openly discriminate against an ethnic group with a non-mainstream lifestyle and remain inside the law.

Is it just me?

American politics&Middle East&Pop culture01 Apr 2005 05:20 pm

I thought I’d spotted one of the BBC’s traditional April fool joke stories here:

US army to produce mid-East comic

The article describes how America’s latest propaganda efforts in the Middle East are targeted at young people. It claims a US government website is seeking storylines:

“In order to achieve long-term peace and stability in the Middle East, the youth need to be reached… A series of comic books provides the opportunity for youth to learn lessons, develop role models and improve their education.”

Ha ha, oh yes, very funny. Comics to brainwash the young! Arf. Satirical and close to the bone, but obviously not true. Nice try, Beeb. You nearly had me there. April Fool! (etc)

Then I noticed the story was dated 31 March.

Oh.

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