Tag Archives: propaganda

Give Me Some Truth

I discovered a collection of essays by George Orwell on Project Gutenberg Australia this morning, some familiar and some new to me, so everything else I was planning to do today has pretty much gone out of the window.

Not for the first time, I find myself wondering what he would make of recent events, when the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee is being called out on a speech which contain more lies than facts, and the same campaign’s pollster can espouse a breezy disregard for those who seek some kind of factual basis for the claims made in political advertisements.

It looks like the era of ‘spin’ is finally over, not with a return to honesty, but because politicians have realised that they don’t have to give much more than a slight appearance of sincerity. Lie with a knowing wink, the loyal base believes whatever matches their own set of values and prejudices, the other side howls and the partisan bun-fight continues for another news cycle.

Forty years go by and you realise how little has changed:

Truth has now become such a debased currency, relative to who is making the claim and who to, that I almost hesitate to recommend an article which takes as its headline ‘The Truth About Mitt Romney and Bain Capital‘. Yet Taibbi’s writing about the antics of Wall Street – before and since what he calls The Great Recession – has been consistent, long after other commentators have ducked out of an examination of what went wrong.

In this latest article, he shows how Wall Street darlings such as Bain Capital operated – with a ruthless sensibility – closing previously healthy businesses, paying huge bonuses despite looming bankruptcy and never being unafraid to take a government bail-out:

A takeover artist all his life, Romney is now trying to take over America itself. And if his own history is any guide, we’ll all end up paying for the acquisition.

It is the exact opposite to the image the candidate projects and one I doubt many avowed Republicans will be able to stomach, instead preferring to attack the bias of the writer, as evidenced by the comments section below the article. We all hear what we want to hear and disregard the rest, as Paul Simon sang. So it looks as if the short-haired, yellow-bellied sons of Tricky Dicky will be with us for some time to come.

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On repeat

Perhaps this should come as little surprise.  A new study has discovered that the popularity of far-right groups is on the rise across Europe, even in the parts previously considered too enlightened to go in for that sort of thing, such as Scandinavia and the Netherlands.

Of particular concern is that the responses were gathered in July and August, so before Europe’s financial position performed an even more graceless nose-dive.  As the situation worsens, these parties are likely to increase in attractiveness and should – according to the study – experience little difficulty in translating their online support into ballots.

In evaluating possible responses to this news, perhaps we are in a way lucky.  We have a wealth of historical information and experience to call on and can have no doubts over the results of appeasing fascists.  Jamie Bartlett of the Demos think-tank who carried out the study, is right to say:

Politicians across the continent need to sit up, listen and respond.

But the response of non-politicians will be of greater importance.  Sitting back and letting fascism rise unchecked while we assume someone else will take care of it ends in a place no-one should be keen to revisit.  So the question must be, what can be done?

Knowing the enemy is essential.  While a lot about them remains the same as the 1930s, today’s fascists have shifted their attention from International Jewry to Islam, as well as tweaking their message for the new era.  Expert Matthew Goodwin from Nottingham University, quoted in The Guardian’s story, notes that:

What some parties are trying to do is frame opposition to immigration in a way that is acceptable to large numbers of people. Voters now are turned off by crude, blatant racism – we know that from a series of surveys and polls.

[They are] saying to voters: it’s not racist to oppose these groups if you’re doing it from the point of view of defending your domestic traditions.

Yet underneath this seemingly ‘acceptable’ message lies a well-established truth.  Fascism has never been solely a racist agenda.  For fascists, racism, xenophobia and nationalism are tools, they are not of themselves the final aim.  In an essential essay on the ‘Property is Theft’ website, Phil Dickens quotes militant anti-fascists Antifa:

The reason fascist groups tend to attack ethnic minorities and immigrants in this way are because they want to divide the working class. By sowing the seeds of division, fragmentation and suspicion in working class communities they undermine notions of solidarity and cooperation thus strengthening the status quo and perpetuating existing inequalities in society.

And so it naturally follows that the English Defence League in Liverpool have recently made:

…an open declaration of war against organised workers willing to stand up for their interests

by attacking workers protesting against job cuts.  When fascists lay claim to addressing the concerns of a working class they accuse other political parties of abandoning, this real agenda must always be thrown back at them.  They pay lip-service to worries over issues like housing, welfare and jobs, but their economic and social policies show that they remain a party of the bosses, not the workers.

It is down to all of us who love freedom and hate bigotry to tackle fascism in all its forms.  Whether it is that friend you haven’t seen for years posting a Facebook status about ‘them’ stealing ‘our’ jobs, or the EDL planning a march through your town, this is the time to stand up for what you know to be right.  Their propaganda must be countered and their shows of strength combatted, until they get the message:

They shall not pass.

Picture borrowed from here.

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The truth

It is difficult to imagine the emotions that the families of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough Disaster must be feeling today, at the news that all government papers – including uncensored cabinet meeting minutes – are to be made available to the independent panel chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool.

The dignity with which the families have fought the official version of events, while coping with the sudden and shocking loss of their relatives, is an inspiration.  It is perhaps testament to their bravery that many of the MPs who spoke in Monday’s debate on the release of the papers were fighting back tears.  Although with emotions running so high, it was also fitting that Labour MP for Walton in Liverpool, Steve Rotherham opened his address by saying:

I have been careful not to base my account of events on emotion. I have ensured that I have clear and referenced evidence to support all my contentions.

He went on to talk about what the release of the papers will mean to those who have been campaigning for justice:

Misdirection, obfuscation and damned lies were all used as smokescreens to deflect attention away from the guilty. Institutional complacency and gross negligence, coupled with an establishment cover-up, have added to the sense that there was an orchestrated campaign to shift blame from those who were really responsible on to the shoulders of Liverpool fans. Many myths have been perpetrated about the events of 15 April 1989.

It is incredible that the families of the 96 have had to wait 22 years for these smokescreens to lift, and with an estimated 300,000 documents to be released there is still a long road to travel, but I hope that with this announcement we move another step closer to finding out the real truth of what happened that day.

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Home strange home

I have been back in the UK for eight days and so far I have been unable to listen to any soundbite or speech by any politician all the way through.  It is a sad state of affairs for a political junkie.  Maybe I could blame the dulling effects of the jet lag, or maybe it is the vacuum where the moral authority should be that renders their words so jarring.  It is difficult to stomach a bunch of people who got the taxpayer to fund their plasma TVs and duck-houses when they start blethering about zero tolerance for criminality.  It is even harder to take from former members of a club with a reputation for smashing stuff up:

Presumably the main error the rioters made was in not being able to pay for the damage at the end of the evening.

Eight days ago, Southern England looked so English from 20,000 feet up.  The fields, houses and shopping centres were so resolutely un-Asian.  Everything looked so big – people included – it all felt familiar and alien at the same time.  We sat in the garden amongst wildflowers with wine and talked it all through, concluding that a complex mix of genuine grievance, political incompetence and the desire to get new stuff had driven the riots.  That there would be no easy, knee-jerk solution seemed obvious.

So it is also difficult to believe, as Caitlin Moran wrote on Saturday in The Times about the decision to close public libraries, that my country has taken a decision to be more stupid.  But that is what it feels like when any attempt to try to understand what has gone on is painted as a justification.  The shrill hysteria of the nightly news leaves me bewildered.  And I’m left to wonder, through a head foggy with tiredness and tea, if this will ever feel entirely like home again, this fractured, fractious country of mine.

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Rebuilding Japan under uncertainty

It is depressing but not surprising to learn from those back home that Japan has been largely ignored by the news recently, in favour of stories of footballers doing something somewhere to someone no-one can tell you anything about.

Meanwhile back in reality, as the clear up and relief efforts continue, others wonder what follows for the coastal regions of Tohoku and their vanished communities.  Architectural practice Bakoko this week considered the options for rebuilding available to the Japanese government, asking three critical questions:

  1. Rebuild on higher land at higher cost in a new location?
  2. Rebuild flood-proof buildings on existing plots?
  3. Rebuild as before and put faith in higher sea walls?

Returning to shoreline homes may seem inconceivable to many having seen the devastation inflicted on them on 11 March.  As Bakoku notes, if your life and that of preceding generations has been tied to the ocean, it may not be so simple to turn your back on the shore, even when the ocean has treated you so brutally.  Few people can live close to the sea for long without gaining respect for its power and love for its variability.  Those ties, coupled with the high cost of available land in Japan, are likely to mean that many will choose to return.

That being the case, the architects emphasise the importance of good evacuation procedures and drills.  Many people believed that they were safe on low-lying land because those areas had escaped previous tsunami damage.  Preventable deaths were also caused by a lack of wheelchair access at shelters.  In a country with so many elderly people, this seems little short of murder.  The son of the woman mentioned in the story is likely to have been in his 60s or 70s himself, faced with a terrible choice by the failure of the authorities to provide adequate facilities.

Rebuilding homes and workplaces is of prime importance, yet it will be useless without the regeneration of communities.  Education geared towards a better state of preparedness is also crucial.  It is my hope that in future situations such as this, which appeared in the Daily Yomiuri’s Troubleshooter column last week, can be avoided:

I tried to escape with my grandmother as the earthquake and tsunami hit our town. But at one point she sat down and said she couldn’t run anymore. I wanted to carry her, but she firmly refused, and angrily told me, “Go, go!”

I ran away alone, apologizing for leaving her. Three days later, her body was found some distance from where we had separated.

My heart goes out to all those who had such heartbreaking decisions to make, given brief moments to decide whether to run and save themselves or to stay and perish with their loved ones.  I have heard of and read so many similar stories since 11 March, yet their effects do not diminish.  Rebuilding efforts for towns and buildings must go hand-in-hand with care and support for the less-visible damage to the hearts and minds of the survivors, if it is to achieve anything at all worth having.

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Hillsborough: another year passes

I was a little kid in 1989.  Smaller than some of the ones I now teach, a bit of a geek, perhaps too fond of my Kate Bush cassettes, spending school holidays watching Star Wars on video over and over again with my brother until we could recite whole chunks off by heart and knowing that Liverpool Football Club would always be the best in the world.

I hadn’t been to Anfield yet but thrillingly, my Dad had taken my brother to Wembley the year before.  And although that trip had literally ended in tears, I was promised that this year if we got into the FA Cup Final, it would be my turn.  I couldn’t wait.

Of course, it wasn’t to be.

I never imagined that 22 years later we would still need to be writing about what happened on 15 April 1989 in any other terms than as a memorial to those who died and to mark the date’s passing.  I couldn’t have known that the families of the 96 victims killed in the Hillsborough Disaster would still be searching for answers to crucial questions about what happened to their relatives, without which I am sure they can have no hope of finding peace.

I don’t like to use the word justice. I prefer to say that we want the full truth, and accountability. Even now, it would make a difference, alleviate some of the hurt and betrayal we have suffered for 20 years

Margaret Aspinall, Hillsborough Family Support Group, quoted in the Guardian in 2009.  Her 18 year-old son James died in the disaster

The scars caused by the events of 22 years ago are still raw and need attention if they are ever to heal.  Liverpool fan Mike Bracken wrote of his feelings of guilt and remorse at what he witnessed, in the Guardian’s extensive reports to mark the twentieth anniversary:

The terrible images of dying fans being lifted over the fences on to the pitch are now well known – but at the back of those crowded pens, away from the cameras, I witnessed more horrors. Behind the West Stand, bodies were laid out behind and to the right of the tunnel. The injured lay with the dead. Unable to administer help or determine the extent of injuries, I panicked and vainly tried to attract help

He writes of the difficulties of coming to terms with the guilt of surviving when so many others didn’t, a common factor in post-traumatic stress disorder.  A number of suicides have been reported among those who witnessed the disaster, including one of a Nottingham Forest fan watching from the opposite end of the ground.  Sheila Coleman of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign notes:

Any feelings of relief at escaping the carnage of Hillsborough were very quickly replaced by feelings of guilt. In many cases, this guilt led to people suppressing the feelings they were experiencing – almost as if they had no right to label themselves victims

22 years later I still hear from fans of other clubs and people who should know better, that these fans indeed have little right to use that word.  They tell me that it was our fault, that we were hooligans, that we were drunk and fighting, and they refuse to listen to the facts.  The newspapers reported it that way, they tell me, so there must be some truth to the stories, there’s no smoke without fire.

And that is why Hillsborough still matters, as Liverpool musician Pete Wylie said in an interview with the NME.  Read the interview and then take a look at the comments below, where these same old accusations get thrown at us again.  That is why we can’t rest until we have Justice for the 96, until their names are completely cleared.  Until any taint of suspicion is removed from them, until it is acknowledged that the only ‘crime’ committed was one we have all been guilty of, that of attending a sporting event and putting our trust in the authorities to keep us safe and bring us home again.

Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool manager then and now, says that the release of new evidence may finally give the families justice.  I hope that he is right and that their campaign doesn’t have to mark too many more anniversaries.

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Cause: earthquake

Teacher, where were you… when big earthquake…?

In case I’m not sure what they mean, the student helpfully makes a motion to demonstrate the shaking with their hands at this point in the question.  I was only halfway through my first week back at work when I began to run out of new ways to tell the same stories.  Friday 11 March was like a terrible film on almost constant loop in my head.

The students are lucky, in a way, because they only have to tell theirs once.  Japanese stoicism being what it is, I suppose this might be their only opportunity to speak out loud and I don’t begrudge them taking it at all.  I reflect that I am also in quite a privileged position, being able to listen to voices that aren’t often heard by gaijin.  Students have voiced criticisms to me that I doubt they would tell a spouse or a parent if the normal rules hadn’t been suspended for a short time by the crisis.

They tell me of having to sleep in the office, on a piece of cardboard or in a family restaurant because of suspended trains.  Of taking in family members from the North who have left everything behind.  Of their disbelief at US news outlets thinking Sendai is located in Kyushu in the West.  Or they speak of how business is being disrupted, the usual routine thrown into disarray by colleagues relocating, shipments being delayed and a thousand other factors.  Everyone is busy, working hard, worrying about the future and where it might lead.

Japan feels alone…

…one student tells me, fearful that tourists – rare even in better times due to the yen’s strength – will no longer want to come because of the radiation.  So I mention that I have family about to arrive and they are so happy to hear the news, we talk of places my relatives should visit while they are here and it is a relief to turn to a less fraught topic of conversation for a short while.  It seems such a small crumb of comfort to be able to offer when what is needed is a feast.

Picture from the Yamanote line, Saturday 12 March

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