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Today’s Guardian carries an article by Charles Arthur entitled ‘Did the Tories and Lib Dems live up to their 2010 tech manifesto pledges?

In usual Guardian preachy style, Arthur offers up a scorecard. At least, he calls it a scorecard but there are no scores on it – merely a commentary. One or two of his observations bear closer scrutiny.

On scrapping ID cards, he offers the following bizarre criticism of the commitment in the Conservative manifesto, failing to even acknowledge that it was also in the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto:

‘There were no ID cards to scrap. No national ID register was set up.’

Oh?

It must be an alternate universe where The Guardian reported on 27 May 2010:

‘The 15,000 identity cards already issued are to be cancelled without any refund of the £30 fee to holders within a month of the legislation reaching the statute book.’

Or where The Guardian on 10 Feb 2011 showed images of Damian Green shredding hard drives with the caption ‘Minister helps destroys the national identity register’.

If he could be arsed to read the Annual Report and Accounts of the Identity and Passport Service 2010-2011, he would see that it cost taxpayers rather a lot of money to scrap a scheme that apparently didn’t exist. (Note 2a on page 41 if you are really interested – which incidentally suggests the figure of cards issued wasn’t 15,000, as reported by The Guardian.)

Arthur makes the following disingenuous statement about the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act:

‘The use of RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act) by councils to spy on people was forestalled to some extent, but the coalition tried to introduce an extensive surveillance act in July 2014 – leaning on RIPA – that outraged privacy campaigners, especially in the light of the Snowden revelations over surveillance by GCHQ and the NSA of internet communications.’

Arthur misrepresents what actually made it to the statute book, using the weaselly form of words ‘tried to introduce’, whilst failing to report any of the safeguards that were secured by the Liberal Democrats and reported in – guess where? – The Guardian on 10 July 2014:

Those measures that could prove crucial in the longer term include:

• The “tip to toe” review of Ripa, the foundation stone of the surveillance state, to be completed by 2016, could prove particularly potent in ensuring that such state snooping in the name of counter-terrorism and serious crime is brought strictly under control. Debate is still going on whether it should be an “expert review” led by David Anderson, the counter-terror law watchdog, or a joint committee of peers and MPs.

It will issue an interim report before the general election on whether there are sufficient privacy safeguards in the post-Snowden age and whether there should be a major shakeup of the oversight regime for the security services.

• The creation of a US-style privacy and civil liberties board to ensure that civil liberties are a foundation stone of counter-terrorism legislation, rather than an afterthought. Bolstered by annual transparency reports from the state agencies, it could be the alarm system that the current oversight regime has failed to provide. It will effectively be a major expansion of the current one-man role of David Anderson.

• The appointment of a senior diplomat to lead discussions with the US government and companies to establish a new international agreement for sharing data across boundaries is also significant. This would smooth the way where US wiretap laws conflict with UK Ripa laws but also could provide a way of expanding the existing mutual legal assistance treaty rather than a “snooper’s charter” that sees British ministers issuing demands that US companies hand over ever more personal data on UK citizens.

This is a major package, albeit rushed, that will shape how we live and work in the digital world. It may just “safeguard the existing position” – these powers have been in use in Britain since 2009 – but it also provides an opportunity to introduce some civil liberties elements that up until now were missing.

Funny how there is no mention of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board by Arthur, perhaps one of the most significant legislative developments as far as surveillance goes. This is the body that The Guardian itself described on 16 October 2014 as one of ‘several embryonic cautiously hopeful signs’ in the wake of the Snowden affair – and was duly legislated for this year. A more constructive use of column inches might have been to challenge the next government to put those provisions into action.

In specific criticism of the Liberal Democrats Arthur claims there was no Freedoms Bill – omitting entirely to visit the Protection of Freedoms Act from 2010-12. If you care to look at the Act and Arthur’s criticisms, you will see that a substantial number are addressed.

Ros Taylor, former editor of guardian.co.uk/law described the Protection of Freedoms Act as a ‘a small but significant piece of legislation':

‘This assortment of measures was intended to allay fears about DNA retention, CCTV, police and local authority powers and a number of other infringements of individual liberty (including, and very laudably, the right of men convicted of buggery to have their conviction disregarded).’

Where can you find Taylor’s comments? In The Guardian on 10 May 2012.

Arthur also states that ‘Fingerprinting of children continues, but parents can opt out of having their children take part.’ Our manifesto commitment – which he quotes just before – said ‘stop children being fingerprinted at school without their parents’ permission’. I struggle to see how what we did is inconsistent with what we committed to.

I am proud of what my own party, which has civil liberties at its core, achieved during five years of government with less than 60 MPs out of 650. Critics should remember: we were in coalition with a party that isn’t known first and foremost for its whole-hearted embrace of civil liberties, following thirteen years of a Labour government that had no regard for personal freedom and made us one of the most surveilled countries in the western world.

I have no problem when someone wishes to challenge the record of parties in government. I have no problem with someone who wishes to challenge me as a Liberal Democrat on my party’s record.

However, when readers rely on ‘quality’ newspapers to be informed, there is no excuse for such shoddy and misleading journalism in a paper that proudly boasts to the world that it won the Pulitzer prize for journalism in 2014.

More Mail misogyny

The appalling Daily Mail is at it again.

‘At what?’ you might ask, wearily. True, there are probably dozens of things they are writing about that deserve opprobrium. On this occasion, however, it is the links on their site.

Beneath one particular story on their website were a series of links. One was to ‘27 Horribly AGED Celebrities’.

I should know by now that the Daily Mail is basically a cesspit that cynically trades on the base prejudices and curiosities of its readers. The link confirmed exactly that, with the first page a picture of Brigitte Bardot, firstly at the height of her popularity and fame, and secondly today. The caption read: ‘Brigitte Bardot was one of the most beautiful women that ever lived. Now she is crazy, old and looks like she smells of cat urine.’

Really?

It will come as no surprise that of the twenty-seven celebrities listed, twenty are women. Of course the likes of Axl Rose and Russell Crowe are included, but the list is largely another example of the casual misogyny that defines rags like the Mail.

It does cause you to wonder if this is what the great British free press is all about. After all, after the outrage about Leveson, particularly from the Mail, you might think they would use their platform to talk about things that really matter. But no – there’s more click-thru cash in promoting sites that mock women in their 80s for not looking as they did in their 20s.

bpwilliams72:

I came to know of Razan – and know her a little – through my friendship with Kamal al-Labwani. Alongside Kamal, she is one of my political heroes.

Originally posted on Tahrir-ICN:

FreeRazanBy Karam Nachar

There was a time, not too long ago, when a young woman headed one of the largest networks of Syrian activists working against the Assad regime. She had blue eyes and uncovered blond hair; she spoke English and held a degree in law; and she was a staunch secularist. But Razan Zaitouneh was utterly uninterested in showcasing any of these ‘qualities’, or in becoming an international icon. She believed in the universality of freedom and human rights, but it was only through very local battles that she thought such values could acquire life and meaning.

View original 833 more words

Emotion and truth

‘Reality doesn’t interest me,’ said Leni Riefenstahl in a piece in Der Spiegel in August 1997 (Leni Riefenstahl über ihre Filme, ihr Schönheitsideal, ihre NS-Verstrickung und Hitlers Wirkung auf die Menschen Spiegel 18.08.1997).

Hitler’s favourite film-maker died in 2003 aged 101 and this quote, usually lifted out of context, did nothing to mitigate her notoriety. Her statement was an answer to the following question: ‘When you photograph a Greek temple and at the side there is a pile of rubbish, would you leave the rubbish out?’ ‘Definitely, I am not interested in reality,’ Riefenstahl replied.

My immediate reaction is ‘But wouldn’t we all leave the rubbish out?’

It is the sort of self-editing that most of us engage in when we are taking holiday photographs. We compose our shots to leave out the construction site that marrs the view of the old town, the unknown family that spoils our white-sanded beach, the cars that intrude into the sense of loneliness we want to capture on a coastal path.

My second reaction is ‘But what is the purpose of those pictures?’

If I am taking holiday snaps to remind me of how a place resonated with me, that allows me to be transported back there when I look at them, I am looking to take pictures that evoke an emotional response. I want to capture scenes that evoke memories of how beautiful a place was, how bleak it was, how peaceful it was. I am not looking to capture the essential truth of the place except in so far as that emotion is concerned.

Of course, there are other photographs I might be wanting to take – ones that document how disingenuous the holiday brochure was, how crowded the beach was, how the traffic crashed in on you at every moment. These may not evoke the same memories or feelings when I look at them, but they are ‘true’ in a way that those I self-edit aren’t. When we look at photographs in a newspaper, or we watch a documentary film, we place some trust in the film-maker that, whatever our emotional response, what we are seeing is ‘true’.

The power of Riefenstahl’s National Socialist propaganda film-making, as seen in the likes of Triumph of the Will, came from creating images and using soundscapes designed to evoke a powerful emotional response, whilst presenting them as documentary truth – even though some of the scenes were rehearsed fifty times, camera shots were distorted to create senses of scale and it allows a sense of party, state and people being a single united entity to emerge as unchallenged fact, exactly as her Nazi paymasters wanted.

Propaganda as a word is Italian in origin, taken from the modern Latin: ‘Congregatio de Propaganda Fide’ or ‘Congregation for Propagation of the Faith’. This was the committee of cardinals charged by Pope Gregory XV in 1622 with overseeing evangelical foreign missions and ensuring uniformity of teaching and interpretation – of ‘truth’. Its modern political interpretation emerged in the early twentieth century, encapsulating Riefenstahl’s style of film-making perfectly.

Yet bending the truth in film is not the preserve of dictators and repressive regimes.

War and lies

The Battle of San Pietro is a documentary film made by acclaimed director John Huston, apparently showing the Battle of San Pietro Infine as it happens, Huston claiming that the cameramen, who were attached to the U.S. Army’s 143rd Regiment of the 6th Division, filmed alongside soldiers as they fought their way up hill towards San Pietro. Later research by Peter Maslowski, in his book Armed With Cameras, demonstrated that this was false.  Once again, those watching were led to believe that the events recorded were as they happened. And elements of course were true – the body bags, the distraught Italians coming home. However, crucially, large elements were re-enactment. Or, to put it less generously, made-up.

The viewer doesn’t know where truth ends and fiction begins.

More recently, Canadian Michael Jorgensen made the controversial film Unclaimed, seeking to substantiate the oft-repeated claim (reinforced by various Hollywood blockbusters including Rambo: First Blood Part II), that some troops listed by the U.S. government as MIA were actually POWs held long after the cessation of military action.

Jorgensen’s film seeks to tell the story of former Special Forces Green Beret Master Sgt. John Hartley Robertson, who, shot down over Laos and listed as MIA, but who was allegedly actually imprisoned and tortured by the North Vietnamese. After a year, it is claimed, he was released and married a Vietnamese woman, living in a remote village in south-central Vietnam. Robertson forgot how to speak English and forgot the names of his American children.

It is a powerful piece of film-making, including at-first-sight reunions and was intended as a device to reunite Robertson with his family.

Again, however, its central claim had considerable doubt cast upon it. The Independent newspaper carried an extensive report debunking the claims:

‘According to a memo sent to a UK news organisation yesterday evening, the man claiming to be Sgt Robertson is in fact Dang Tan Ngoc – a 76-year-old Vietnamese citizen of French origin who has a history of pretending to be US army veterans.

The memo, taken from a Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office report in 2009, apparently says Ngoc first came to the attention of the US military in 2006 when he started telling people he was Sgt John Hartley Robertson.

He was apparently questioned about the claims but quickly admitted he had been lying and was in fact Vietnamese.

In 2008 Ngoc apparently began claiming to be Sgt Robertson once again, and he was taken to a US embassy in Cambodia to be fingerprinted. It was quickly established that the fingerprints did not match those of the missing army veteran.’

Later in 2013, a DNA test conducted reluctantly by the family showed that the man who was presented as Robertson was unrelated to Robertson’s nephew.

Of course, questions remain about the story of John Hartley Robertson, and who the man in the jungle is, but the ‘truth’ is certainly not as presented in Jorgensen’s film, just as it may not be as is presented by the Department of Defense (this article explores those questions further).

Modern falsehoods

Jump forward to November 2014.

On Armistice Day, Metro, the free paper handed out on the tube, carried an incredible story entitled ‘Hero Syrian boy ‘braves sniper fire’ to rescue girl in amazing video’. It described how a Syrian boy, under fire from snipers, rescues his friend, a young girl, and pulls her to safety. Incredibly, the whole thing had been captured on film.

It is an extraordinarily powerful piece of film-making.

It was Armistice Day. I had recently written about my great, great uncle. Every morning for a month I had disembarked at Fenchurch Street and seen the crowds building to see the incredible poppy installation at the Tower of London. I remember how I felt reading that story against a backdrop of reflections on war, evil and loss. This small victory of tremendous youthful bravery over evil created a sense of defiant hope. I remember thinking that I should find a moment to blog it.

The trouble is, it has emerged that not a single frame of it is true.

The millions of us who viewed that film, that reacted to it, who wondered on the fate of the two children after they escaped the sniper’s bullets, were duped by Lars Klevberg, a 34 year-old film-maker from Norway. In a piece for the BBC he said:

‘If I could make a film and pretend it was real, people would share it and react with hope,’ he said. ‘We shot it in Malta in May this year on a set that was used for other famous movies like Troy and Gladiator,’ Klevberg said. ‘The little boy and girl are professional actors from Malta. The voices in the background are Syrian refugees living in Malta.’

Were they comfortable making a film that potentially deceived millions of people? ‘I was not uncomfortable,’ Klevberg said. ‘By publishing a clip that could appear to be authentic we hoped to take advantage of a tool that’s often used in war; make a video that claims to be real. We wanted to see if the film would get attention and spur debate, first and foremost about children and war. We also wanted to see how the media would respond to such a video.’

Klevberg’s audacity is breath-taking and his intentions, surely, dubious at best. It is possible to generate a debate about war without faking footage and misleading people.

Zero Dark Thirty is a powerful piece of film-making which purports to show the events that lead up to the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Director Kathryn Bigelow often uses documentary-style camera shots to create a sense of immediacy and reality, reflecting the sorts of camera shots we see in contemporary news reports. At no point, however, does she claim that the film is documentary truth. The viewer is able to make a judgement as to whether or not the events were as depicted because we know this is a Hollywood film.

Klevberg’s clip is particularly insidious. It plays on the emotions that we have about children, especially children in war. It uses the sorts of footage that we have come to associate with documentary film-making and news reports. It depicts scenes that we imagine and that we have read about. Some of us have friends in Syria who are living this hell day in and day out. Yet Klevberg’s footage is entirely fake.

Who had heard of Lars Klevberg outside his native Norway before this emotionally-manipulative stunt? No-one beyond a small group of aficionados. Now he has trended worldwide on social media. For all of his protestations, it is difficult to see this as anything other than a cynical device for self-promotion, to register with a world hungry for some sense of hope in a conflict whose manifestations of evil affect us on a very primal level.

Deception and destabilisation

I think its effect is more dangerous.

It is a deliberate lie that reinforces our scepticism about everything we see. Many will argue that is a good thing. However, at a time when it hard enough to discern truth in the images we are presented with, when videos of IS terrorists committing murder for worldwide audiences of billions have to be ‘verified’, Klevberg’s actions seem utterly irresponsible, even to this liberal who instinctively distrusts power and questions constantly the evidence he is presented with. Scepticism built on a deliberate lie is as misleadingly useless as blind faith in authority.

Klevberg has done nothing to further confidence in documentary film-making and journalism. At best he has cast aspersions on his profession. At worst he has deliberately sought to manipulate emotion, mislead a worldwide public and construct events in a manner that fundamentally undermines trust. In doing so, he reinforces terrorist claims that what we see on our TV screens is nothing but Western propaganda.

We can be forgiven a creeping sense of déjà vu.

Gravestone - Robert DewarThe Battle of the Somme lasted from the 1st July 1916 until 18th November 1916. To help advance Allied objectives, on the 19th July, having postponed for 24 hours, the Australian 5th Division, under the command of Major General J. W. McCay, began their assault on the ‘Sugerloaf’ at Fromelles, a salient held by German forces. It had been identified as an objective whose capture would divert German attention from Allied troops attacking elsewhere.

Among the soldiers serving in the 5th division was 3047 Private Robert Dewar, my great, great uncle. Assigned to the 55th Battalion, which in turn was assigned to the 14th Brigade, part of the 5th Division, Fromelles was the first engagement of the war for the 55th Battalion and so the first engagement for Robert. When the 14th Brigade attacked at 6pm on the 19th, hundreds of soldiers were mown down by German machine gunners whose commanders had realised the attack was merely intended as a feint.  Robert and his comrades in the 55th Batallion were initially held in reserve, but, as the assault began to go horrifically wrong, they were ordered to provide a rearguard for the initial assault troops. The result was a catastrophic failure.

The Battle of Fromelles as been described ‘the worst 24 hours in Australia’s entire history.’ The 5th Australian Division suffered 5,533 casualties, rendering it unable to engage in offensive operations for many months. 1,717 of those casualties were in the 14th Brigade. Robert was among them.

Identifying the remains of soldiers who died at Fromelles has been a priority for the Australian Army in the guise of The Fromelles Project. So far, 144 soldiers have been identified. Robert, in 2010, was one of the first, with my family providing DNA samples. On the 5th October 2014, just before dusk, Robert’s name was the eighth read out at the Tower of London in the moving Roll of Honour.

Tim Lycett’s book Fromelles: The Final Chapter contains a fascinating few paragraphs about Robert, describing how he came to be at Fromelles as well as his last moments. Over sixteen million people perished in World War One. Lycett reminds us that each one of those deaths was a tragedy, a life ripped out of a fabric of family, friends and ambitions:

Robert Dewar was born in London to a family with a long international maritime history. His father, also called Robert, was a very capable ship’s chief engineer of forty years’ experience and had been fortunate to survive the Volturno disaster in 1913, when a ship caught fire in the middle of a storm as it conveyed passengers – mostly immigrants – from Rotterdam to the United States. (Although several ships came to its rescue, the gale was too fierce and they were helpless to reach the stricken vessel until the sea had calmed. By then, approximately 135 people had died.)

  The young Robert left England for Australia in 1907 as an unassisted immigrant and upon arrival took up a position as a tramway conductor in Sydney. Enlisting in late 1915, he embarked for Egypt just before Christmas. At the same time, Robert’s father was serving on troop transports in the Mediterranean. In June 1916, a few days before Robert sailed for France, father and son had a chance encounter at Port Said. They had not seen each other for nearly nine years, and the surprise reunion may have seemed like a good omen.

  It’s highly likely that Robert Dewar Snr was the last parent of all the Australians killed at Fromelles to see his son alive.

  On the night of 19th July, Private Robert Dewar was attached to the 55th Battalion’s prisoner guard, but when the situation became desperate, he was ordered forward to support the weakening Australian line. As reinforcements for the battered 53rd Battalion, Dewar and the 55th fought hard to repel German counter-attacks, even conducting a bayonet charge. Unfortunately, they were not able to restrain the Germans for long.

  It was approaching morning when they finally realised their position was untenable and that withdrawal was the only option. As Dewar was returning to the Australian line, a shell burst close to him and, according to a witness, he was ‘knocked about a lot’ and killed.

  Identifying Robert’s descendants was astonishingly simple. A Google search of his name yielded a website about the Volturno disaster. At that stage we weren’t sure what we were looking at, but we were delighted to discover it contained a great deal of information about Robert’s father and a relatively detailed biography. All we had to do then was email the website creator, who graciously forwarded our message of introduction, and in no time at all we had made contact with a living descendant in England who was more than happy to help.

  It was our first search, but compared to many searches to come it was also, unfortunately, an exception to the rule.

One man who survived the Battle of Fromelles and indeed the whole war, returning to Australia in 1919, was Herbert Henry Harris, another private in the 55th Battalion. I wonder if Henry and Robert knew each other, perhaps sharing stories of back home, wondering what on earth they were doing in the mud and horror of France. Henry’s diary has been transcribed. His entries for the 17th to 21st July 1916 make for particularly poignant reading for me, knowing that it was when Robert died (the text is as written, the layout edited to make it easier to read and to remove non-chronological entries):

July 17/16
off to night to big battle Trust to God that I come through all right.

have not been paid since last entry so amount owing to me now is £2-9-1 to date with defferred pay 10.7-0. making £12-16.1 all told so I hope the wife gets it if I pass out. It promises to be worse than the other night.

was out there this morning carrying ammunitions. 5 miles out & 5 back & about 1 mile to Trenches did two trips

feel tired & hardly fit for what is in front of us, but its no use not being fit you have just got to do it

Good Bye Nell & Boys, Viv, Jean Syd Arthur Mary & Walter & Kate & all Friends hope it is only Au revoir.

A lot of the Boys have promised to send this diary on if I get knocked, am sure you will get something interesting out of it besides knowing that my thoughts have been with You & the Boys in every situation I have found myself. Write or get Tony to do so to Auntie Lucy & give her a summary of my adventures as well as Vivs, who bye the way has not joined us yet
9. p.m. Flaubeux is the name of the place where we were bombarded.

July 18/16
am writing this not 100 yds from our guns which are shelling the germs. & they are sending them in wholesale, its wonderful how any thing can live under them when the burst.

am on munition carrying again & it is a dangerous game, not knowing any minute when a shell will burst here.

The big thing did not come off last night as expected & dont know when it will.

July 19/16
Got letter from Willie Stewart last night

was out carrying munitions all day 60 lb Bombs etc am now out here again & the shells are flying round like ants its awful this is the big day & God knows how many of us will come out of it alive.

July 20/16
Thank god I am still alive and not wounded except for slight Bang on the finger from splinter of shell. My Steel Helmet saved me five times & how many escapes I had could not be counted
& if any man was thankful for his safety from such a hell I am he.

Nearly all our officers are dead or wounded & the Batallion is about half a company Batallion now.

the sights I saw will never be forgotten it was like a butchers shop the 53rd lost their Colonel, Major & Adjutant nearly all our Lieutenants are gone also our Sergeants & corporals
could you see the remnants of the Brigade eating Bread & cheese etc on the road side it would make you cry

of the 54th Batallion about 200 are left & they died like heroes every one of them. There are some Prisoners but we took about 200 germans so equalised that way.
We look a sorry crowd covered with mud from head to foot arms, legs, eyes, noses, fingers bound up. Yes by hell we caught it & those who think this war is nearly over are in for some surprises I give it another 2 years at the least.

One narrow escape I had. 3 of us were taking shelter from shells with our backs against a Trench island when a shell plumped right into the island shoving the dirt up against our backs but did not explode, if that was not Providence I dont know what is for had it exploded the 3 of us would be just about ready for cemertry by now.

It was a ghastly night stepping over the dead men in the trenches some of them being only half there a lot of my chums are gone & I can only account for 3 out of my section of 12.
We were highly complimented on the way in which we charged & fought & the Colonel said we were magnificent

the General was awfully pleased & said that the attack was done just as it was desired & that it was a feint to draw the Germans from the Somme front.
it succeeded alright & we took 200 Prisoners, some of the Boys got helmets & all sorts of things

We are away from the firing line & all done up & going to bed I dont want such an awful experience again & dread another battle, all our nerves are unstrung & the roar of the guns has deafened a lot of us, again Thanks to God for bringing me threw such a shambles.

We have hardly any officers left so have to be reorganised. I cant help the feeling that mother is interseeding for me, when the shells are bursting all around me & over me I get this thought into my brain, how I wish I could be the man she wanted me to be.

have not been paid yet so they owe me £2-12-1. & the amount to date now with deferred pay is £13-2-1.

July 21/16
7. am. all around me sleeping exhausted men, some moaning & others talking, the events of the last two days seem like some bad nightmare, if it hadn’t been for their marvellous Artillery we would have gone through the huns like a dose of salts when we got amongst them with the Bayonette they threw up their hands & howled for mercy or cleared for their lives & its certain that if we could only get them on the run it would soon be over they had with them 3 regiments of the Prussian guards but that made no difference to us. Our fellows went right through them & had they been supported would now hold their trenches & have taken thousands of prisoners. This is the third time these Trenches have been assaulted. The Tommies & Indians, & the Canadians & New Zers tried to take them but could do nothing

we took them but could not hold them a great feather in our cap.

now that I can calmly look back on the affair it seems simply a miracle that any of us came out of it unwounded.

The huns have been here two years & know our trenches as well as they know their own so could shell us when they liked.

I suppose there is some small report in the papers about it this morning it wont be much I’ll bet.

Just got two letters from Nell & Jack they still think am in Egypt wish I was. Shall answer Nells to day may be the last.

had a Roll call just now. I am the only one in 9 section & there are 9 in the Platoon we muster about ½ of a Company all told in A. the others likewise.

All my chums are dead or wounded & the guns are still Booming about 1 ½ miles away.

We are shifting again this morning farther away

should see Viv today or Tomorrow as the reinforcements are coming up.

Our poor Lieutenant Mendleson must have felt some premonition of being killed so he left a case of comforts to us 3 Platoon in case of his death & they are dividing it out now as we are only a handful & are sharing it with the rest

Just having tea & the shells are flying over our heads you dont know when you are out of danger here, the Planes are flying about & the enemy guns are firing at him, how long I wonder will this continue. A Hun Prisoner says the war will be over in August I hope he is not a liar.

We are all scattered about in little groups discussing the event & telling one another about this one gone and that one wounded its almost unbelievable to think of fellows with us a day ago & now, in the cemetry.

Expect to go back into the firing line Tomorrow night.

Below is a picture of Robert Dewar. His parents were Robert and Kate Dewar, who lived in a very ordinary suburban house at 700 Barking Road, Plaistow, London, England. I imagine Robert growing up there, playing in the garden, dreaming of adventures on the other side of the world. I imagine, too, that neither he nor his parents imagined that one day he would die in France in the most terrifying of circumstances.

Robert Dewar

Triptych

A triptych is a work of art usually divided into three pieces. Typically, in a painting, the central panel is larger and flanked by two smaller, related panels. I wrote the following three poems inspired by the memory of Robert Dewar, those like him who gave their lives – and those they left behind.

The Solider

He left her with a kiss,
Whistling Roses of Picardy,
And telling her he would be
Home by Christmas.
Before he climbed aboard
The clanking train, in
Swirls of coal smoke
And hissing steam,
He damped her eyes, his
Hanky soaked with tears,
Not blood, not yet,
And brushed her hair with
Hands that tilled earth,
That tied corn in sheaves,
That loosed rabbits from
Snares and made bread.
Young love, they agreed,
Proud and defiant,
Would win out and, in
Years to come, they would
tell their children the
Old tales of foreign lands,
Recalling the camaraderie
Of war and the ache
They shared in those
Brief months of parting.

The Fallen

They lie entombed in clay, cold and still,
Six feet under Belgian fields or
Broken-limbed beneath French meadows.
They kept no portrait in the attic,
But the years grind on without them,
Their worm-chewed bones tangled in
The roots of snowdrops and celandine.
They fell and not once since have known
That caress of soft sea breezes, nor
The bright slant of morning light that
Cuts its angles in the dust of books,
Nor the chill kiss of November’s dusk.

They were young men, mostly, fine
Sons and brothers ripped from time,
Dropped with holes in their skulls
In the darkest, loneliest hells.
Butchers, bakers, farmers, teachers,
Doctors, farriers, clerks, sweeps,
Blacksmiths, shipwrights, thieves,
Husbands, lovers, all the same,
Levelled by serge wool tunics and
Brass buttons and puttees strapped
To hobnailed ammunition boots procured
By flat-footed clerks in Woolwich.

Now, still rotting in a foreign soil,
Some as yet unknown or lost,
We remember men who laughed
On Sunday afternoons, who drank
Beer with friends and hoped for
Fine things on their wedding day.
And those we knew who loved them
Now rest, too, in gentler graves,
Freed from their empty years,
From that pain born on the day
That love was stolen with bullets
Made in Essen by girls with dreams.

The Lover

She watched him leave,
Remembering strong arms
That lifted her from
The apple tree and held
Her tight when night
Gnawed her fingers
With cold teeth.
She had never heard of
Picardy, but she knew
Roses and the thorns
Lying hidden beneath
Beauty’s velvet folds,
The prick that draws
A bloody tear and lays
A pain far greater than
Might be thought fair
Or even possible.
The letter came as
He had attested,
Regrets and honour –
The deepest sympathy;
And when his watch and
buttons arrived, she wept,
And left them on the
Mantelpiece: a plain
Memorial to love now lost.

I always find myself horrified and enthralled in equal measure when list of new words are approved for inclusion in the dictionary. Oxford Dictionaries, which is not the Oxford English Dictionary, has released the latest additions to the English language.

In twenty years I am sure we’ll be using many of them without even thinking. Now, though, most feel alien, intruders into a lexicon which is morphing and evolving faster and faster as technology drives wordplay and we require more and different ways to describe the things we do.

I decided to write a nonsense poem with some of the latest.

Love Vax In A Hexacopter

you are so very adorbs, the way you

humblebrag about the way we got hooked.

we were nailed on from the start, I reckon,

when you called me hench and I said ‘you’re cray!’

 

ICYMI we near screwed it up

when i said your selfies were just clickbait

and you got bare mad and called me neckbeard

and raised my mansplaining douchebaggery.

 

‘FML’ i said, ‘i’m not catfishing.’

you side-eyed me and called me a hot mess,

but we’re hyperconnected doncha know,

so my air punch made you smile despite you.

 

and now – SMH – we’re cotching through life:

love lived in silico, spoken into

hot mics, needing pharmacovigilance.

YOLO. WDYT? amazeballs, yeah?

When I was told about it I thought my partner had made it up.

But no, as various newspaper stories and a quick search of Facebook confirm, there is a Facebook page dedicated to the posting of pictures of women eating on the tube.

Not people. Women.

I don’t like watching people eat on trains. I often get the late night ‘vomit comet’ out of Fenchurch Street and there’s little worse than the stench of stale beer, warm wine and Burger King on a hot summer’s night.

But this site is not about people. It is about women.

Funnily enough, according to Sara Nelson on the Huffington Post, the page’s creator, Tony Burke, claims that the aspect of gender is purely a coincidence. The site’s profile text says:

‘WWEOT is observational not judgemental. It doesn’t intimidate nor bully.

Subjects are embraced and cherished. We celebrate and encourage women eating food on tubes, we do not marginalise them. We always look for the story in the picture. We don’t swear.’

Really? That’s clearly not how some of the subjects feel. Perhaps the mere fact of posting the picture might be felt by some to be bullying or intimidating. Or do bullying and intimidation only occur if the perpetrator deems it so? Journalist Sophie Wilkinson posted about her experiences in a post entitled ‘Stranger shaming: how one public meal got me 12,000 online haters’:

‘I’m not exactly fond of necking a mayonnaise-sloshed pasta salad on a bumpy Metropolitan line, but I know I’m never going to eat on the tube again. I don’t even want to wear that outfit again – or read the book that the poster commented I was then ‘tucking into’ – because I’m nervous that people from the Facebook group might recognise me. Every time a man I don’t know – because so many of the commenters are men – so much as glances at me on the tube I wonder if he’s in on the joke.’

And it’s all just a joke, right, and Wilkinson should get a sense of humour? Those of us who don’t like it don’t get it and we should just leave them to their quirky little game?

This exchange – chosen at random on a random photograph – is extremely revealing. It is all men. The one woman who offers a counter view is told to take herself off to North Korea. Depressingly, the commentators repeatedly fail to recognise that bullying and harassment doesn’t have to be sexual. In one comment, one Tom Moore attempts to tackle the issue of why the photographs are of women and not men head on:

Because it wouldn’t be funny if it were all people eating on the tube. That doesn’t mean it necessarily has anything to do with it being women – that’s the point you don’t seem to get. It’s funny because it is obtuse, mundane and totally and utterly trivial. There is no hidden misogyny or unspoken sexism and the the fact that you try and force your preconceived notions upon it is so mystifying and frustrating for everyone who actually gets it. No sexist or sexual comments are harboured and no offensive comments are permitted.

Just because it is ‘obtuse, mundane and totally and utterly trivial’ doesn’t mean there is no ‘unspoken sexism’. And why is it funny to laugh at women but not all people? It is also difficult to claim that there isn’t sexism on a site dedicated solely to the presentation of women in ways that make at least some of the subjects feel ashamed. This isn’t some academic exercise in ‘preconceived notions’ and I am sorry that you find it ‘mystifying and frustrating’ that some of us take offence.

Let’s just go over this again.

A woman is photographed eating on a tube train, all without her knowledge or consent. The location is noted and the time. This is then all posted on the Internet without her knowledge or consent for people to ‘celebrate’ and comment on.

And those of us who find that bloody creepy don’t get it?

If you are still not convinced that the main motivator for this is men mocking women, consider the basic gender demography of the group. According to the website womeninbusiness.com, women in the U.S. using Facebook now outnumber men. I can’t imagine that those statistics are far behind in the UK. However, a cursory look at the front page list of members for the Women Who Eat on Tubes page revealed that of the 96 members shown, 77 were men and just 19 were women.

Clearly, women just don’t get the joke like men do.

In The Telegraph, Burke professes to not knowing why women feel threatened.

Perhaps it is because, as a man, he doesn’t face the intrusion into personal space that so many women experience. Because, as a man, he isn’t objectified, judged and defined by size, dress and appearance in the same way as women (unless, of course, he is pretending that the Daily Mail doesn’t exist). Because Tony Burke feels he is entitled to do whatever he likes, regardless of the offence it causes.

Celia Walden, also writing in The Telegraph, tries to portray those who criticise the group as hypocritical, alluding to an apparent contradiction between modern feminism and the use of social media. Her point appears to be about the selfie, though uses the most extraordinary generalisation to justify her critique:

‘ If any one of those “Women Who Eat On Tubes” has ever posted a “selfie” or Tweeted “I’m about to tuck into a lamb korma”, I’m inclined to believe that they have surrendered a right to the privacy of their own image.’

Really? And what about those countless women pictured who haven’t?

And why does an individual’s choice to post a picture of themselves mean they have surrendered a right to the privacy of their own image? The extension of that argument is that posting a selfie of yourself legitimises you as a target for revenge porn. After all, you have surrendered a right to the privacy of your image.

What Burke and Walden fail to appreciate is that this is not just causing outrage amongst groups that self-identify as feminist. It is offensive to many people who do not appreciate seeing women photographed in a way that many find humiliating.

And it is causing hurt.

If you have been humiliated because of your size, if you have been made to feel ashamed for doing something as basic as eating, if you have been the victim of sexual harassment (or have had to put up with the daily comments and jokes, all gender-based but just ‘a bit of fun’ and never intended to hurt), then you may well recognise this for what it is: bullying. And you may well recognise the clever people with their in-jokes for what they are: sad inadequates (predominantly, though not exclusively, men) who dress up their nastiness in buffoonery as they take pleasure in belittling and mocking women.

As men often do when defending the offensive, Burke resorts to reductio ad absurdum, implying that contesting his decision to post these pictures of women eating somehow equates to state censorship: “They’re in a public place. That’s the risk that you take. Let’s not live in this ridiculous nanny state where nothing’s allowed to exist in case it upsets someone.”

Sorry Tony. Just as it is your right to post your pictures regardless of the offence you cause, it is my right to judge you a misogynistic coward, regardless of how that offends you.

I’ve no interest in the state banning your group. I am, however, quite at liberty to lobby a private social media platform to remove content that I find offensive. I am also quite content to see people exercise their free speech to call you and your sad band of devotees out for being distasteful creeps.

I hope they do.

Further reading:

Nell Frizzell (@NellFrizzell) in the Guardian: ‘Women Who Eat On Tubes Sticks In My Throat’

Radhika Sanghani (@radhikasanghani) in The Telegraph: ‘Why this man takes photos of ‘Women Who Eat On Tubes’. He promises he isn’t a ‘weird deviant”

Celia Walden in The Telegraph: ‘There’s no need to be shy about scoffing on the tube’

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