I want to make a couple of observations on Breitbart choosing to report that events outside the Oslo Synagogue are a “media hoax”. I want to comment on it, because it is being shared by a lot of people I respect – which surprises me, as hitherto I had considered Breitbart to be something like The Onion, but without the wit. But, I guess, there’s no bias like confirmation bias.
So, Breitbart reports that Reuters, AP, AFP and all other traditional outlets got it wrong when they reported that 1,000 Muslims formed a ring around the synagogue. Breitbart says it was more like 20, “according to an eyewitness” a number to which they keep returning to. “Photos pulled off of social media”, says Breitbart, “appear to corroborate the narrative that only twenty or so people formed the “peace ring.”” So, I tried to find what was Breitbart’s source for the original eyewitness account. It wasn’t easy, but after several clicks I found the original source. It is one anonymous commenter on a reddit message board.
What is more, the eyewitness account doesn’t even say what Breitbart report it as saying. He says: “It actually was 1300 people in total, of which most looked like ethnic Norwegians. They [the police] had set up barriers in front and allowed 10-20 muslims inside the barriers to hold hands.” He continues: “I don’t know how many muslims were present, but I’d estimate about 100 Arabs/Africans.”
Therefore, when AP reports that “More than 1,000 people have formed a “ring of peace” outside Oslo’s main synagogue at the initiative of a group of young Muslims”, they are, in fact absolutely correct and totally consistent with the eyewitness account. I guess you could quibble about the geometrical shape, if the crowd did not go all the way around the Synagogue. Maybe it should have been reported as a “barrier of peace” or a “semi-circle of peace”.
Ultimately, Breitbart’s aim seems to me to be not to discredit the reports, but to somehow fling mud on a very noble initiative. Because, ultimately, as a symbolic gesture of solidarity, why would it matter if this was 20 or 100 or 1,000 Muslims? It wouldn’t. Unless one is promoting a narrative of all Muslims as bloodthirsty jihadists, in which case you would want to suggest this is an exception to the rule and make the exception as small as possible.
As this story appeared more and more on twitter and Facebook timelines around me, I began to wonder whether that was a narrative people are increasingly comfortable to sign up to. “More power to them [Breitbart]”, read one comment; “it does show how poor mainstream journalism has become, no independent verification, no fact checking, the news is now basically Chinese whispers!” When I explained that the primary materials for the Breitbart piece were, at best, sketchy and, at worst, misrepresented, the response came: “We all know how the press distort the truth, anyone remember the Hillsborough disaster?”
I guess, post-Hillsborough we can all choose whatever stories to believe without the application of any critical function. I thought the Hillsborough lesson had been entirely the opposite – check sources, put brain into gear.
Apparently, demonstrators chanted: “No to anti-Semitism, no to Islamophobia”. The only way Breitbart can make sense of this is by mocking them for “conflating criticism of Islam and hatred of Jews”. Because nobody could actually be critical of more than one type of prejudice.
I am what you might call “actively single”. I generally feel pretty perky about my status, even with 14 February upon us. I consider the lack of a partner a necessary cut in these times of austerity. I mostly blame the mess we inherited from Labour.
A number of newspapers and magazines, however, have taken to publishing lists of healthy ways for singles to spend the day. They include delightful, therapist-approved suggestions such as, I kid you not, “take yourself out on a date”. Take myself out on a date… That’s their suggestion? That on the very day restaurants are filled to the brim with fawning couples, I should be in the midst of them having dinner alone. Which will, presumably, be followed by seducing yourself, spooning yourself, cooking yourself a romantic breakfast then promising to call yourself but bitterly disappointing yourself.
I have a counter-proposal for anyone who considers this to be the best route to mental health: Why don’t you skip the date altogether and just go &#!% yourself? I have compiled my own list of alternative suggestions:
1. Imagine that you are in a relationship with someone truly vile (like Mel Philips or Jeremy Clarkson) and you are, in fact, successfully hiding in order to avoid them.
2. Dress yourself in an adult diaper and run around the West End, chasing terrified couples with a real bow and real arrows.
3. Sit on the floor next to a coffee table, listening to Madame Butterfly, switching a table lamp on and off, rocking gently back and forth and muttering to yourself “I won’t be ignored, Dan”.
4. Walk into an expensive restaurant and identify a particularly annoying couple. Approach one of the two victims and say “I thought you were at a conference”. Meet their protestations with a thoroughly unconvincing “My apologies, I must be mistaken”. As you walk out, turn and mouth the words “CALL ME”.
6. Make a detailed spreadsheet of all the money you would have spent if you weren’t single (new outfit, dinner, gift, flowers, card). Use the money that you have saved on something constructive. Like a donation to Amnesty International. Or cake. I think mainly cake.
7. Go to Samoa, which is 12 hours behind, then hop on a plane to Fiji, which is 12 hours ahead. With carefully planned flights, you can avoid 14 February altogether and get a tan.
WARNING: If you’re thick enough to execute these suggestions, there is a good chance you may end up in prison, where dates will be – I am sure – plentiful. A win-win, really. Happy Valentine’s!
This piece first appear in the Huffington Post.
This, I think, is the most important development in Greece and it is being lost in the white noise. Trying to shoehorn a lot of narrative into preconceived forms makes for easily digestible, but largely opaque reporting.
Greece is effectively refusing to negotiate with the troika (the triumvirate of European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund) or separately with Germany – as first and sole ports of call. This is a distinct break from the past – it is what every incoming Greek government has done in the last few years (and to an extent, Spanish, Irish, Portuguese, Italian governments), under threat of penury.
This attitude does not mean Greece is eschewing its obligations or destabilising the union, despite what some hysterical reporting would have you believe. It simply means Greece will discuss its obligations and the best way to discharge them through democratic EU structures (Council of Ministers, European Parliament), rather than bureaucratic EU structures. Which is entirely proper. That it will treat Germany as an equal partner, with say proportional to their influence. Which is entirely proper. That it will discuss the mandate, democratically handed to a new government by the Greek people, with other democratic representatives. Greece is simply reclaiming its seat at the adults’ table.
If there is a feeling that Greece (and Spain, Italy, Ireland or Protugal) does not deserve this seat – and I understand why there might be that feeling from certain quarters – then let the rest of the partners relegate it. Openly, democratically, officially. Not by administrative guile.
We should all take note of how this is presented as strange and radical. We should take note of how uncommon it has become. The troika is the unquestioned EU gatekeeper in such matters. It is in place, evidently, only to assess progress. More often than not, however, it acts as the jobs-worth who says “computer says no” to any request for flexibility – however circumstances may have changed – and even refuses entry to those with the authority to discuss it. We should take note at how rarely this position of absolute power of three entirely undemocratic structures is questioned.
I said a few days ago, that Greece had much more support than analysts estimated. That a lot of entities were quite pissed off at Germany’s and the troika’s autocracy. Many derided me. Within the last few days, a former IMF director, the Bank of England and the US President, are all shaking the pom-poms of Keynesian economics, like lovestruck cheerleaders, at Tsipras. Yes, austerity may not have been the way to go, they all concede. They do now, anyway. Had the Greek people not voted for change, would they?
All these shows of international support and softening of hard positions are partly theatre, of course. If Tsipras fails with the whole world against him, the result will be more anger, more riots, more instability. If Tsipras fails with the whole world rooting for him, then the Greek people only have themselves to blame (again) and progressives everywhere should take careful note. They want him to be a cautionary tale; not a martyr.
The truth remains that dealing directly with each other as partner nations is what all EU member states should be doing, on all top level matters, all the time. Voting things through the European Parliament, ditto. Running directly to Merkel, Juncker, Draghi and Lagarde, as soon as one is elected, to kiss papal rings and plead for mercy and then trust that them to impose whatever was agreed behind closed doors by force on all the other partners, is precisely what is at the heart of rising anti-EU sentiment across this continent.
Everyone needs to understand this. Especially those four.
What a headache, I said
You brought a glass of olive oil
A pack of gum
And kissed my forehead
The soul urges action
The head forgets method
I feign participation
Tomorrow will be better
I tell myself
A few very quick words on this, as I have had this conversation many times and it seems sensible to pin it down. Do not expect subtlety – this isn’t an essay.
Hysteria over a Greek default, restructuring, haircut – whatever you want to call it – is in part manufactured and in part stoked by ignorant and sensationalist media. We’ve been told several times over the last few years that the world is about to stop turning. It hasn’t and won’t. Such alarmism is deeply unhelpful and entirely counterproductive. We really shouldn’t feed that particular beast.
Debt default, restructuring or partial write-off (a haircut) is, of course, not a good thing. But neither is it the end of the world. It is completely part and parcel of lending. It is explicitly expressed in the rate of interest. The reason entity A can borrow at 5% while entity B can only borrow at 20% is because B is seen as much more likely to default than A. That is how it works. So, let us not act like it is some unprecedented act of economic vandalism. It isn’t.
Then there is the issue of ‘moral hazard’ – the idea that if entities can take risks with no consequences this would act as incentive for more reckless risk-taking. This is a massive red herring in the Greek context. The idea that anybody might look at what has happened in Greece in the last six years and think “yeah, I’ll have me a bit of that, let’s borrow lots of money” is manifestly ludicrous. The consequences have been dramatic. Greece is, if anything, a cautionary tale on unbalanced budgets, however the remaining debt payments are now handled.
So, let’s keep a cool head and not propagate tabloid-style analysis full of chewing-gum terms, simply because it sounds good and gives a boring moment in our lives a little frisson.