Wednesday, November 30, 2005

ORFTORFU

ORFTORFU is a Freedmanslife acronym for One Rule For Them, One Rule For Us. It is usually applied on those occasions of rank hypocrisy when Israel or the Jews are judged by a different - and usually more stringent - set of rules than the other 200 or so independent states in the world.

In recent days, a possible example of ORFTORFU has occurred in our usually upstanding and fair courts. The brother and sister of the failed suicide-bomber who attempted to murder Israelis at Mike's Bar in Tel Aviv were found not guilty of failing to notify authorities of a potential act of terrorism. The case hinged on a number of emails, full transcripts of which can be found here.

Whilst they do not refer to terrorism or anything specific enough to know what Omar Sharif intended, the emails are clearly cryptic and not what one might think of as normal correspondence between siblings. References are made to disposing of material that may prove problematic and deleting the emails themselves. There are goodbye messages to his children and supportive comments on the righteousness of his mission from his wife.

Whilst this is circumstantial and subject to interpretation, I think it worth questioning what would happen if, in a few months' time, we find that the siblings or spouses of any of the July 7th bombers exchanged similar emails with the murderers.

Would the British public be as happy that they could have had no inkling of what was intended? I sincerely doubt it. But then, ORFTORFU.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

From Best to worst and back

We will remember George Best for his life, but we should also remember him for his passing.

On the field, we will remember him for his flamboyance, selfishness, daring and innovation. He tried stuff that nobody else thought possible. But we will not remember him for his passing to team-mates when there was a new trick to try out.

Off the field, we will remember him for his stylishness, womanising, quick wits and alcoholism. He drank quantities that nobody else thought possible. But we will not remember him for his passing on a pint, whatever the time of day.

Bodie asked me whether I was upset that he had died. I said I was not so much upset that he had died, but that it had taken his drawn-out, horrible death for him to become an example to youngsters not to drink, and to show the celebrity-mad world that the constant scrutiny causes an auto-iconoclasm in those who crave attention and resent its absence.

So we should remember him for his passing - the point where he knew he was not long for this world, and asked for pictures of his greying, emaciated body, lying helpless on a gurney, to be published so all the world could know the misery of alcohol abuse, and the manner in which he struggled for two days after doctors gave him hours to live, before slipping away.

In these two final acts, he gave us his most valuable gifts of all. I will remember him for his contrition, bravery and long-absent sense of responsibility. He showed characteristics that nobody else thought he possessed. I will remember him for his passing, as much as for the joys he gave us (and himself) in abundance, in his living.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Why Freedmanslife hates Big Britain

So by now I trust you have all read Johann Hari's article very thoroughly ahead of the test I am setting in the monthly digest. Here's the conclusion he reaches, by way of revision:

"But the blame for Little Britain lies out here in Big Britain. When the show first started, it was not the bile-fest it is today. There was a gentler, absurdist edge to the first series, but it soon became clear that the viewers preferred a comedy of jeering and sneering. The jokes curdled and became poisonous - and Walliams and Lucas were simply responding to market forces. So what does it say about us that we are a nation that pines for gags about stupid, poor people and old women pissing themselves in public?"

I agree entirely. In discussion with friends, I coined the phrase "culture of poverty". It turns out that it was already coined by Oscar Lewis and expanded upon by Charles Murray. I also coined the phrase "revelling in their mediocrity" but it seems many others have been minting that for a while too.

Etymology aside, these two phrases are at the core of my belief that Johann Hari is spot-on in his analysis. We are a nation that laughed uncomfortably in the first series because the characters struck remarkably close to the bone. By the third series, market forces have required Walliams and Lucas to make us feel comfortable that there are people dumber, poorer, fatter and more incontinent than we are.

The earlier series made it clear that the chav-like behaviour of our sub-class, and the abuse of the system and our values by benefit cheats, is unacceptable. This is entirely valid, and should be above criticism by our damnable PC society. It was funny, and done with the charm of other middle-class performers such as the Monty Python Yorkshiremen sketch, performed by a group of posh graduates of Cambridge Footlights.

My main criticism of the new series is that it has lost this sense of artistic integrity, because it has caved in to the lowest common denominator (emphasis on "common"). And I level a parallel criticism at our society, which has lost its integrity in much the same way.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Why Johann Hari hates Little Britain

Johann Hari is a decent young writer for the Independent - a bit lefty but he knows that anti-Zionism is usually a form of anti-Semitism, so I guess that makes him ok. He wrote the article below, and I have a good answer for the question he poses (wait until Thursday when I've typed it up!). The original can be found here along with some of his other musings.

"Let me tell you a hilarious joke. The other day, I saw an incontinent old woman in a supermarket, and she pissed herself. OK, here's another. I saw a man get up out of his wheelchair, and he was so mentally disabled he just walked into a wall. Wait, I know this might kill you but there's one more. I saw a teenage single mum who was wearing a shell-suit and she was so thick she barely knew her own name. And she had three children. Did I mention she was thick? And fat? And spotty? Did I say she lived on benefits?

Welcome to the spleen-rupturing hilarity of Little Britain. This is a golden age of British TV comedy - The Thick of It, Chris Morris, Nighty Night, Ricky Gervais, Peep Show, Peter Kay, John Sullivan, David Renwick, Coronation Street - so it is disturbing to me that this sadistic, unfunny piece of spite has captured the public imagination. Little Britain has been a vehicle for two rich kids to make themselves into multimillionaires by mocking the weakest people in Britain. Their targets are almost invariably the easiest, cheapest groups to mock: the disabled, poor, elderly, gay or fat. In one fell swoop, they have demolished protections against mocking the weak that took decades to build up.

Look at Vicky Pollard, the thieving, scrounging single mum who swaps her baby for a Westlife CD. She is a walking, smoking Richard Littlejohn column, a compendium of every prejudice ever spewed towards single parents. (No wonder Littlebrain describes the show as "brilliant" and uses Vicky as a shorthand to abuse all single mums everywhere).

A few years ago, the bilious 1990s backlash against single parents living on crumbling estates - like my sister - was slowly receding. Then Vicky was born. Matt Lucas and David Walliams used the clothes worn by poor people (Kappa, Burberry) and even the names they give their children (Destiny, Shannon, Bethany) as cheap punchlines. They unwittingly incited their armies of child fans to hunt down the Vickys in their playground.

Imagine a comedy where a British Asian wearing a sari, or naming their child Apu or Karim or Gita, was the joke and the punchline. It's (rightly) unthinkable. But abusing the white working class is rewarded with viewing figures topping 10 million. We look back on Jim Davidson blacking up as a head-scratching, imbecile black man with horror. But why is a public schoolboy dressing up as a head-scratching, imbecile single mother any better?

Walliams has tried to defend himself by saying: "These characters are fun. You want to spend time with them. You don't despise them. You're laughing with them, not at them."

Has he ever logged on to one of his own fan-sites? Listen to one typical message: "Down here in Bristol, we have an area called Southmead [one of the most deprived parts of Britain], which is absolutely packed with Vickys wearing their fluorescent track-suits. I was coming home on the bus today and, as always, there were millions sat at the back all holding their babies that they had when they were 12 and every other word was f**k this and f**k that and that's just the babies! They all have council flats and not a GCSE to their name. Do the Vickys out there not watch television, because if they do surely they would have seen Vicky on TV and thought, that's me! Do they not realise we are taking the piss out of them?"

This is one of the more publishable comments. The people who supposedly like Vicky and want to spend time with her are mysteriously silent, drowned out with people recounting how they hate the "slags" and "whores" and "idiots" who resemble her. A typical recurring theme on the Little Britain discussion boards is the hilarity of poor people wearing fake designer clothes. Here's a side-splitting thought I'd like to offer: they wear fake designer clothes because they can't afford to nip into House of Fraser to buy the real ones. They're too poor. Oh, my aching sides.

True, there were some posh characters who were also ridiculed in the first series - but they have slowly died away as Lucas and Walliams give us, the British public, what we want: an excuse to mock the vulnerable.

The surviving characters are barely any better. There's Daffyd, "the only gay in the village", who is based on one endlessly repeated comic premise: there is no prejudice against gay people in Britain any more, but shrieking gay misery-queens like Daffyd are so obsessed with being victims they obsessively see prejudice where there is none. Sweet old ladies point him towards the Local Fisting Club while he insists he is surrounded by homophobes.

The figure of Daffyd is now routinely used by anti-gay right-wingers - step forward again, Littlejohn - to ridicule people like Peter Tatchell. Why are you talking about the victims of homophobia when this is already a pro-gay paradise? What are you, the only gay in the village? I know Matt Lucas is gay (although he is still so conflicted about his sexuality he almost never discusses it publicly). And I know he is not responsible for how idiots might twist his jokes for their own agenda -- but the problem is, they didn't have to do much twisting. The show is cluttered with ugly prejudices, and they are not ancillary to the jokes: they are the joke.

Victoria Wood (a genuinely great comedian) was right to recently dub Little Britain "very misogynistic". Dozens of sketches hinge upon the ugliness of female flesh, and barely a woman is shown without the actors playing her being padded into monstrous fat-suits. It's hard to escape the conclusion this is a gay man's woman-hatred with a laughter track, a sketch-long recoil from breasts and vaginas.

Perhaps a tiny sliver of this would be forgivable if the show was actually funny, but it is as entertaining as a burning orphanage. Little Britain represents the return of catchphrase comedy, which actually trumps sarcasm as the lowest form of wit. Catchphrases are humour for people without a sense of humour: you can watch a sketch waiting for the dull, repeated phrase - "yeahbutnobutyeah", "I don't want it" - and feel like you've Got It and you are In On the Joke without any mental dexterity or understanding. (That's why it is so popular with children). The shining light of Noughties comedy is as sophisticated as the British policeman from 'Allo 'Allo, guaranteed a laugh for bleating "Good moaning".

But the blame for Little Britain lies out here in Big Britain. When the show first started, it was not the bile-fest it is today. There was a gentler, absurdist edge to the first series, but it soon became clear that the viewers preferred a comedy of jeering and sneering. The jokes curdled and became poisonous - and Walliams and Lucas were simply responding to market forces. So what does it say about us that we are a nation that pines for gags about stupid, poor people and old women pissing themselves in public?"

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Jews in modern music shock

Firstly you are all thoroughly recommended to visit Matisyahu the rapping reggae rabbi for an enlightening performance. Watch for the halachically-ambiguous crowd-surfing scene! (hat tip: Bar)

Secondly, something cool and Jewish in Pinner? Surely some mistake! At last it has happened. No more schlepping to Hampstead, no driving to Edgware for one drink, no tubing it to town to spend a fortune on not very much!

It's Disco Cake at Pinner Shul. A classy party for Jewish over 21s on 21st January. For just £12.50 (Pinner Synagogue Members) or £15 (non-members) you could have a fun time dancing the night away to one of the best Jewish DJs around. Mention Freedmanslife and get absolutely no discount and a blank look.



Tickets will include two free drinks, delicious desserts from Cinnamon, nibbles and a chance to shake your bootie with all your friends AND meet new people too!

For tickets and further information drop me a note or a line, contact the organisers as per the flyer, and be sure to let your friends know!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The bits that work

It took a bout of something very nasty, that has resulted in me losing about 10 lb in a most unpleasant manner, to find a part of our cherished National Health Service I cannot complain about. But in NHS Direct, we have a world-class service. Simply by visiting their website or calling their hotline (0845 46 47 if you were wondering), and going through a process of elimination of your symptoms, a trip to the GP or Casualty can be avoided and hypochondria soothed.

You are connected to a trained operator, then a nurse calls you back, then a local GP on call rings as well if the problem is deemed serious enough. Options and treatments are explained, and staff are very understanding when you explain that it really is too tense down there to insert anything they might recommend you.

The most impressive thing is that it represents a victory for joined-up thinking. Systems and people talk to each other and seem to transfer smoothly. For example, on the next GP visit, all your records have been neatly updated remotely by the NHS Direct operator. They do what they say they will, calling back within a given window, and apologising profusely if it takes a little longer than they expected.

The rest of the NHS is still largely crap, wasteful and bureaucratic, but I thought it was worthwhile to mention the bits that work. Anyone else with positive experiences of the NHS system, please let us know!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

A jahrzeit, a political death, and some hope

Three deaths in the Middle East give me pause for thought this week. It's the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin, the final knell for the occasionally illustrious political career of Shimon Peres, and the accidental killing of a 12 year old Palestinian boy called Ahmed Khatib.

Whatever one's opinion of Yitzchak Rabin, there can be no question of his important (if often controversial) role in Israel's history. A brilliant tactician on the battlefield and in the political arena, able to ride out storms over personal scandal and political imbroglios, he was a heavyweight respected by his colleagues and opponents in domestic politics and international affairs.

He made decisions that seemed instinctively to be right to him at the time, at personal risk. His choice to bring Arafat in from the cold and offer him partnership through the ill-fated Oslo Accords was not the first such move. He was also responsible for the decision to bring the force of arms against fellow Jews bringing illegal weapons shipments into pre-1948 Palestine.

Although in the years following his murder, we have found out what Yigal Amir and his supporters insisted at the time, that Arafat was betraying Rabin from the outset, his actions were borne of a desire to sit with the enemy and break bread. Rabin tired of the constant bloodshed, just as Sharon and Begin, men of the Right, did before making their own concessions of previously sacrosanct land and principles.

The lessons we should learn from Rabin's murder are twofold. Firstly, all parts of the political spectrum must unite in the understanding that violence of Jew against Jew resolves neither our internal or external conflicts - a recent reminder was the Disengagement, where ultimately peaceful resistance and debate resonated much more powerfully and allowed a divided nation to heal. Secondly, for Rabin not to have died in vain, we have to learn the lessons both of what he was attempting (dialogue with our enemies, however unpalatable) and of the reality of his actions (hope and work for a just and warm peace, but plan for your own stability and security as a priority).

This brings us onto Shimon Peres, Rabin's sidekick in so many of his activities. Peres managed an impressive 10 election defeats in 10 attempts, yet maintained his place at the top table of Israeli politics for 5 decades. The old-guard middle class Ashkenazi pragmatic left-centrist's electoral defeat to the younger, working class Sephardi socialist Amir Peretz represents a change in the political dynamics of Israel, and perhaps is a sign of Sharon's success, that he has succeeded in conquering the centre ground and driving the main opposition party to the left.

Unfortunately, Peretz represents the same kind of soft-centred left wing that has proven ill-equipped to handle modern economies in Germany and France, and spineless in its stance against terror as in Spain and on the back benches of the UK's own Labour Party. Peace with Israel's neighbours relies increasingly on economic prosperity creating an urge for trading ties, which are the strongest foundations for a "warm peace". Even under the forward-thinking, investor-friendly leadership of the current Likud government, with policies that appeared painful but are already proving successful as drivers of investment and wealth generation, too many concepts are scuppered by the Histadrut and their allies.

If Peretz wishes to alienate the burgeoning middle class as well as the religious right and those who believe in Sharon's policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians, he could entirely sink the Labour movement. Better the doveish pragmatism and compromise of Peres and Rabin than the albatross-like leftism that the rest of the developing world has come to reject.

So Rabin is commemorated, and Peres passes from political life. Of the three winners of that infamous Nobel Peace Prize, one paid with his life, one paid with the lives and livelihoods of his own people, and one is still paying with humiliation and defeat.

In this moment of circumspection, a message of hope. Golda Meir famously said that "we will have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us." This week, a rare example of a Palestinian family showing that their love for life exceeds the seething hate and resentment generated by the culture that surrounds them. Ahmed Khatib was accidentally shot by Israeli soldiers in Jenin, and later died in hospital of his wounds, after being spotted with what appeared to be a rifle and transpired to be a toy.

Rather than the usual recriminations, his parents accepted the explanation of the IDF and saw their attempts to treat him once they realised their mistake. After seeing Israeli children being treated in the same Haifa hospital ward as their son, they chose to make a different poster-child of their son from the "martyrs" pasted up on the walls of Gaza and Nablus, and donated his organs to any who needed them. Recipients included Israeli Jews and Arabs, all of whom are reported to be making good progress.

From the legacies of Yitzchak Rabin and Ahmed Khatib, we must recognise that our differences are mere excuse, and that dialogue with each other and our neighbours, however painful and alien it may seem, is ultimately our only hope.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

"It's civil liberties in our time!"

Thank goodness for the brave Labour backbenchers and Opposition parties, who yesterday dealt such a great blow for our civil liberties! Their triumph over the sinister will of Blair and his acolytes in the police is a magnificent victory for the British way of life. We will truly have civil liberties in our time.

Indeed. The British way of life has become one of appeasement and blinkeredness, in which Blair is to be instantly distrusted, and anyone sharing his views to be ignored regardless of their qualification.

Civil liberties are vitally important. They are like Human Rights. I notice that there are two things - human rights and Human Rights. The former is a simple expression that each individual is entitled to their dignity and due process before a reasonable law. The latter is a political weapon wielded by the wild-eyed Left and the usual collection of prattling nouveau liberals who suddenly grow a conscience when anyone with some skin pigmentation gets a little chafing when they are handcuffed, but who have nothing much to say when the heads of Jews, Americans and other infidels are cut off in Iraq or Pakistan, or blown off in Israel.

These pillocks, who represent - for once - a small minority of public opinion (as few as 1 in 7 according to some polls), are apparently over-represented in Parliament. MPs ignored the advice from the police, which was based on worldwide data on intelligence-gathering around suspects, and concluded that it can take as much as 90 days (Sir Ian Blair actually wanted 120) to build a good case against terror suspects. Blair did not particularly ask for this clause to be put in; he did so on the advice of senior police and counter-terrorism experts.

I join those who say unequivocally to the Tory and Lib Dem MPs, and especially the rebel Labour MPs who voted against this clause: if anyone dies in a terror attack that could have been prevented by those extra few weeks in detention whilst a case was built against them, the blood of those innocents will be on your hands.

It is as commendable that Sir Peter Tapsell (Con., Louth & Hardcastle) was brave enough to vote against his party line on this as it is disgusting and disappointing that the current and future leadership of a party that claims to be "tough on crime" voted against it. They and Kennedy's moral stragglers claimed it was a matter of civil liberties. This simply is not the case. The number of checks and balances that ensure detention for the 28 days they did vote for merely increases and repeats every 7 days up to a maximum of 90 days. The civil liberties of the detainee would clearly be taken into account.

Meanwhile the civil liberties of the general public seem remarkably unimportant. Surely the Tories, leadership contenders among them, can't be pandering to the Left-Liberal-Muslim vote? Perhaps they should heed the response of an actual Left Liberal Muslim, Shahid Malik (Lab., Dewsbury):

"It is not the Government who have lost tonight, it is the British people. I think the Tories and Liberal Democrats have got to examine their consciences on this issue. The reality is we have denied the police and security services the tools they say they need to keep the country safe."

He was even more spot-on before the vote, for those misguided do-gooders who thought the whole Bill was a piece of Blairite Islamophobia. In answer to the usual leading questions from the BBC, angling for a Muslim MP to tell a tale of woe and betrayal of his co-religionists by the evil Bliar, Malik put them properly in their place. He would be voting in favour, with the support of most of the 18% of his constituents who are Muslims, because the proposal only deals with those against whom there are serious concerns of terrorist activity, and why after all should this be more anti-Muslim than anything else?!

We can only hope that for once the rebel and Opposition MPs will listen to public opinion and find a way to reconsider.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Dream Ticket To Down Brown

From Guest Blogger Bison:

By today most of the conservative party’s 300,000 members will have received their ballots giving them the choice between a young, Blair-esque liberal and a grey haired, weathered traditional candidate as their future leader. Much has been written about the views, policies and distinctly unimportant private lives of these two men, but has the membership considered that, given the situation, there shouldn’t be a contest at all?

Perhaps it was only Mr Freedman and I that noticed, but whilst watching the extremely enlightening debate between the two leadership hopefuls on the BBC’s Question Time on Thursday night, it became quite apparent that they are both very capable prime ministers in waiting. Indeed, if it weren’t for the conservative party’s inbred short-sightedness, the two MPs would’ve banded together by now on a dream ticket hell bent on limiting the damage Gordon Brown will soon unleash on the country by beating him at the next opportunity. However, even if they both realised what this powerful union could achieve, would they be trusted (a la Blair & Brown’s deal) to agree on who should lead the party to success now, and who should bide his time to assume leadership later on?

My initial opinions on the two led me to firmly back David Cameron as THE man to beat Gordon Brown. They were formed mostly by the Tory party conference speeches where David Davis put us all to sleep and Mr Cameron seemed like a breath of fresh air. But when it came to the aforementioned debate on television I realised that Davis, naturally, had bags more experience than Cameron and this reassured me, and no doubt the public in general. He simply gives off the impression that he really knows what he’s doing, whereas the wet behind the ears Cameron was exposed as an articulate and charming puppet who could be a fantastic Prime minister, but like a good cheese, needs maturing.

So, if the voters in this contest can see past their dreams of taking back the reigns with a Blair-like figure (which the country would see through anyway), they should elect David Davis with Cameron as his apprentice, ready to fight against the fiscally irresponsible Gordon Brown and really give the country a distinct and obvious choice.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Best Mate

Not often that I care that much about something in the horse-racing world, but Best Mate, three-times winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, collapsed and died yesterday after a race at Exeter. Somehow he epitomised all of that equine nobility, at the same time as having a unique relationship with the weird humans who put him in lorries to strange places, then made him bolt along big stretches of grass, with loud noises and cheers on all sides. There were some wonderful pieces of footage showing him playing to the crowd, and enjoying himself in the moment. These are rare moments of connection between the Animal Kingdom, still relatively simple, and our own complicated world. So long Best Mate, gone to the great racecourse in the sky.