Friday, March 10, 2006

back to reality

Although I do touch on politics a fair bit here, I have usually managed to avoid creating any sort of fuss about it. Not many people read this and those that do are usually tolerant of my excitable and badly argued political opinons, even if they do disagree with them. I've just had a rather odd week at a training centre in Surrey doing endless case studies and being given the hypothetical power to turn around ailing publishing companies with a wave of my hand, and one consequence is that - bleary with facts and weary with alcohol (publishers drink quite a lot, I notice) - I've not had time to catch up with the news, much less have the opportunity to rant about abortion in South Dakota or the increasingly alarming relations between the US and Iran. And if you want any proof that exposure to news is addictive, a week without the papers was actually rather restful. I realise how much time I spend obsessing over current affairs.

Anyway, I get back to two interesting things, each political in a sense but not much to do with politics in another. I watched, with mounting discomfort, Michael Winterbottom's very interesting film about the disgraceful treatment on prisoners in Guantanomo Bay last night, moved by some fine direction and sensitive acting, and thoroughly appalled by the abuse which the imagery depicted. I'm a bit of a crier anyway (managed it a couple of times to Eastenders last month and once to a RSPCA advert. Oh, and to the bit in 'The Parent Trap' where Linsay Lohan meets her estranged twin sister. I know.) But only in a faintly-ridiculous, god-I'm-being-manipulated-by-Richard-Curtis way.

But I got through about an hour and half of last night's film before I suddenly found myself bursting into tears; possibly the result of being knackered and hungover after a long week, I'm tempted to think, but I suspect it has more to do with the fact that I seem to share the same sense of misery at the way some people are treated that I think we all feel sometimes. Certainly there's no shortage of people amongst my friends who find the abuses which have accompanied the West's treatment of civilians (and indeed suspected terrorists) in recent years utterly appalling. Neither are there many, incidentally, who don't feel that George Bush and Tony Blair should be held directly accountable for much of this, but I'm not going to go into that right now.

Except to say that the second thing, Iast night, which grabbed my attention, was that Andrew has posted a glut of interesting stuff on his blog over the last week and attracted a remarkable amount of criticism for doing so. Bloggers4Labour is a project which I think is really interesting, and the site has gone from being a service (it syndicates Labour-supporting blogs - so I'm not included) to one of the more interesting places for online comment and conversation. Obviously Andrew is a good friend of mine, which perhaps explains why I'm not in the slightest bit tempted to regard him, as some others apparently do, as a cynical party hack or a brainless Blairite. Bloggers4Labour is always interesting, and often provocative, especially to those who have made it their job to paint Tony Blair as the devil.

As a consequence the likes of Blairwatch and the readership associated with that blog have started steaming over to Andrew's page and leaving a slew of sarcastic and often ridiculous comments. Now, first off, let's be clear. Andrew has decided that in some cases he will reserve the right to delete messages which he considers offensive or time-wasting. He is right to do this, because it's his blog and he can do what the fuck he likes. Fairly straightfoward, you'd think.

Much of the comment has been directed at Andrew's refusal to condemn Blair for invoking - when asked pretty directly - God in talking about how he makes decisions. And much else at Andrew's well-informed opinion that there remains a good moral case for the war on Iraq. I think he's absolutely right in the first instance and I disagree with him on the latter; we both know this, we both chat cheerfully about it and frankly, couldn't really care less that we don't agree. No-one listens to us anyway, although perhaps the reaction is proof that more do than we suspect. I suspect the truth is simply that people form pretty hilarious ideas of what other people are like when all they do is read their blog. Either way, it's more evidence of the frantic emotional tug which politics and especially war has on us all. And either way, I'm totally tired of the ridiculous sniping that goes on in the increasingly macho world of blogging and so would like to ask everyone to please shut the hell up and listen to and respect each other's opinions.

Okay, feel free to be horrible about me in the comments box, I don't mind.

Anyway. Michael Winterbottom's film was beautifully shot and incredibly moving; it made me quite furious at the continuing acceptance of the UK government towards US activities in Cuba and the middle East. It did, on the other hand, completely fudge the issue of how four young men, who certainly weren't terrorists, came to spend two and a half weeks 'chilling out' in South Afghanistan while bombs dropped all around them. Winterbottom is doubtless confident that the boys are innocent. I'm sure he's right. But it's a shame he didn't find it necessary to demand a little candour from them in return for giving such an eloquent and passionate case for their defence. Whatever happened to the supposed marriage? Why didn't they leave Afghanistan earlier? What did they mean when they professed that they wanted to 'help'? It was all a bit opaque. But either way, they weren't terrorists and they didn't deserve the treatment they received in Afghanistan and Guantanomo Bay, and Winterbottom's film deserves serious consideration, as do Andrew's serious and well thought-out comments on related issues on his blog.

Hooray, it's the weekend. Meanwhile.

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