Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Orwellian Thoughts On Being Kicked Off An Internet Forum For Using A Four Letter Word

Back in 1984 the arrest would have been done differently. 

In those days the inmates followed a code of conduct that any idiot could understand.  Break one of those rules and all that remained were those few seconds grace they allowed for the mad transgressor to stare at the computer and mutter stupidly to himself, "We are the dead".  He got to repeat the line once more before the screen suddenly went dark and the iron voice everyone feared most barked out - "You are the dead".  Then they came and dragged him away.

A quarter of a century later they've done away with the rigmarole.    All that happens nowadays is the appearance of a polite note on screen saying - "account suspended".  There's no explanation, no voice shouting at you from a hidden loudspeaker and no sign of those black-suited men from the Ministry of Love breaking down the door to make the arrest.  It's all very civilised.  And it's very different.  Today,  Mr O'Brien doesn't lock you up in his asylum - he locks you out!

The suspended nincompoop is summarily flung out of the cuckoo's nest head-first onto the cold pavement and the giant Forum doors are slammed shut in his face.  Think about it.  You're a typical Forum regular -  mad as a fruitcake, almost certainly institutionalised, drug dependent with a need to regularly post poppycock, the wife/husband/partner might just as well be living abroad for the amount you speak to them, your friends only exist in print - and there are enemies galore queuing up to poke invective in the general direction of your laptop.  It's a good job Forum addicts aren't quite normal else they'd all do something desperate to themselves - and some do.

Looking skywards from his lonely gutter, the newly-exiled addict often hears a twittering in the trees on the other side of the wall as some of the inmates - a bit like pigeons - look around and about and up and down and behind and across and forwards and backwards - and then realise via a garbled  message from the pea which serves as their brain - that someone's not where he should be. 

A few of the pigeons then squawk madly and flutter straight to their keyboards to create a new thread - shaking their claws at Mr O'Brien and demanding the immediate return of the 'missing one'.  Some go off to study the rulebook and busy themselves posting theories as to why BB had seen fit to pull the plug on the sad offender - or why BB should show mercy and reinstate him.  In another corner, a few of the most deeply troubled inmates attend evensong and sing out in praise of BB for his almighty wisdom in dealing harshly with all who offend, whilst others flap their wings in glee at seeing the back of a name they've always hated because he once said something vaguely nasty about them.  And some are so sanctimoniously drenched in goodness that they shake knowing beaks in orchestrated disapproval - whilst taking the opportunity to confirm in print that the offending culprit wasn't part of their inner or outer personal dinner circle.   But soon the hubbub dies down and the Forum returns to normality.

All alone with his guilt, the wretched outcast recollects spelling out a four letter word in an innocuous posting that same morning.  It began with an eff and then a you, followed by a see and ended with a kay.  But he hadn't aimed it at anyone.  Then he googles the banned word - just to check if his was a lone voice - and is offered 176 million sites in which to ponder samples of its everyday use.  But sadly it then occurs to him that the desperately humourless BB would  be quite  happy to offer anyone a free masterclass on how to shut a stable door some considerable while after the horse had bolted.

And anyway, he thought, as he read a posting from another pigeon  in which quotes were used thus: I'm f***ed, you're f***ed, we're all f***ing  f***ed!  - what sort of a contradictory world is this when the pigeon who posted such a consummate example of immoderation was spared by the axeman and still lives to tell the tale? 

He muses upon this.  When a star replaces a letter but leaves an unambiguous impression of exactly which letter it stands for - is this not equally as offensive as putting the letter down in the first place?  Or indeed, is it not - in its coyness and Forum-wise cowardice - actually very much more offensive.  And isn't the Cuckoo's Nest saturated in such barely disguised illiterate obscenity?   He makes a vow to never again swear in print on the Forum.  But as he continues to contemplate all acts of censorship and the massive power wielded by O'Brien he realises - for the first time - that he has been thinking about, with certain knowledge, a member of the Thought Police.

It's at this point that the distraught exile buries his head in his hands and wrings his memory in the last hope of discovering in some dusty corner a shred of evidence that might explain why Mr O'Brien had become so deeply upset.  As he does this and as he studies the Code of Conduct which demands everyone must post in their real name, it occurs to him with considerable irony, that had this been 1949 and had it been a certain D Cameron or E Miliband posting on some ancient Forum under the false name of George Orwell - at least that person would have known exactly what he'd done so wrong.

Thankfully, by the time it got to this stage, nothing mattered because the glorious moment of release had finally arrived.  Which is a rather topsy-turvy way of saying he was being admitted back into the asylum.   It had taken a long while and a great deal of corrective thought.  But now, as two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose, he knew that everything would at last be alright.  The struggle was over.  He had learned how to love Big Brother - without telling him in public precisely what he fucking well thought of him.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Can't Smell No Holocaust Gas At Auschwitz?

Englishman David Irving creates headlines as a holocaust denier posing as an historian.

By sheer coincidence, Colonel & Juanita Juan have just returned from a visit to Auschwitz. Below is the Colonel's report. Written as an apology to Poland for Irving's offensive and unpardonable activities. And a guide to others who might, one day, follow the trail to visit the infamous Death Camp..

I didn't exactly plan a trip to Auschwitz. Although I knew I was soon to be relatively close. Like a few hundred miles away.

It was early September and I'd arrived to spend three weeks in and around Lviv, capital of the Western Ukraine.

Lviv is beautiful. Take my word for it. A dilapidated, crumbling, fascinating drop-dead gorgeous gem of a city. Cobbled streets. Trams. Glorious architecture. Krakow, eat your heart out (sorry Poland).

Except there's no need to apologise to the Poles.

Because Lviv was once one of theirs. Part of Poland. As it was once part of Germany when it was called Lemberg. As it was also once part of the Communist Soviet Empire, going under the Russian name of Lvov or Lwow.

For Lviv is a place that has unluckily straddled one of the greatest political fault-lines to have ever divided Europe.

Over hundreds of years, whenever the tectonic plates have shifted, Lviv has been a city that has learned what it's like to wake up one morning and discover someone else is in charge.

As happened several times over, in the run-up and aftermath of WW2.

First, in the 1930's it was a Polish city. Then, in 1939 it was taken over by Stalin under the terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. At which point Ukrainian dissidents, nationalists and intellectuals were rounded-up and murdered by the thousand.

Until July 1941. When Hitler's Nazi Germany invaded. And remained for three long years. The period this article is about. A time never to be forgotten.

These were the years of the Holocaust. The so-called 'Final Solution' to the Jewish problem. The darkest hours of mankind's existence on planet Earth.

Back to my holiday.

A few days in, with me in desperate need of a glass of Georgian Red wine, we stumbled on a fascinating restaurant called 'Under the Golden Rose'. Inside was a TV screen showing newsreel of Lviv in the 1930s. It turned out to be a Jewish restaurant. And we were eating and drinking on the site of the Golden Rose Synagogue. Which had been burned down by the Nazis in 1943.

Everything about Lviv suddenly began to make sense. Obvious! The rest quickly fell into place as we remembered our history.

In the 1930's this place was riddled with Polish Jews. As we watched the TV screen and drank our wine we understood we were sitting right in the heart of Holocaust country. From which over 300,000 people had been deported to Auschwitz alone.

Inside Lviv and in every town around, are signs of the old Jewish ghettos. Immaculate memorial gardens with fresh flowers and hundreds of names carved in granite. It's a land where pilgrims, particularly Americans, come to honour their murdered ancestors.

A few days later, just as hundreds of thousands did nearly seventy years previously, me and my 20 year old daughter boarded the midnight sleeper train to Krakow en route to Oswiecim and Auschwitz-Birkenau.

We were to return. They didn't!

There's no ideal way to visit Auschwitz. It isn't a happy place. So a visit isn't meant to be fun. Neither should it be.

In that mood, we were glad to be suffering the minor discomforts of an ancient Soviet style overnight train. One should suffer a bit, we thought.

Far more appropriate than taking a City break to Krakow, staying at a 5 star hotel, then catching one of the numerous plush coaches that offer return tourist tours to the Death Camp with breakfast included!

Particularly for us non Jews. What better way of showing our respect than to arrive by train. Keeping up ancient traditions.

So, after surviving attempted blackmail by a Ukrainian border guard and a fractured few hours sleep, we spilled out at dawn into the main square of sleepy Krakow.

Three hours later, after a hotel breakfast and a quick wash, we were off again. On the two hour train journey through Eastern Poland that would finally take us to Oswiecim - the remote village the Nazis called Auschwitz. Quite literally, the end of the line!

We talked. A brilliant 20 year old university student with her old man, raised in London suburbia during the baby-boom years immediately after the war.

As I watched the birch forests rushing past, I tried to tell her what this adventure was about. In reality, she knew it all too well. So we shared our thoughts. About Racism. Bigotry. Bullying. Intolerance. Sadists. Communism. Fascism. Pig ignorance. Nick Griffin. The BNP. Holocaust denial. Europe today.

And we remembered Brecht's chilling warning about Adolf Hitler: particularly the final words of his play The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui - [i]"The Bitch That Bore Him Is Still On Heat!"[/i]

Nothing prepares you for Auschwitz-Birkenau. It doesn't matter how much you've read. Or how many documentaries you've watched. Being there is different.

But not for everyone!

There are those who rush about. Pushing prams. Out on a day trip from Krakow. Having seen the castle and cathedral and now with time to spare before the plane home.

Pointing their mobile phone cameras at gas chambers. Or yard after yard of human hair. Whizzing past piles of long forgotten shoes. Staring blankly at a massive pile of pre-war artificial limbs. Gawping at chimneys down which cans of Zyklon-B were emptied onto countless unsuspecting souls waiting for a shower. Photos of naked women and children. Striped uniforms stained with blood and much else beyond description. Passing a walled room without so much as a twitch - a room with just enough space for four bodies to stand up when they are squeezed tightly together. Before the door is closed. Forever.

Having their photo taken - smiling happily in front of the famous sign saying 'Work Makes You Free'. Or on the rail platform at Birkenau with a background view down to the infamous 'Gate of Death'. Looking for bullet holes at the horrendous wall, before which thousands of tottering skeletons stood for a final time. Before a bored Nazi with a smoking gun pulled the trigger.

But no. That's not fair.

Perhaps this is their way of trying to comprehend something so bestial, so barbaric that it's way beyond natural 21st Century understanding.

A modern, semi-detached, TV generation's reaction to something so far removed from the X Factor that it's way beyond the imagination. Anyway. Who am I to say? And who am I to condemn?

Anna showed us round. A Polish mother of two who wouldn't be alive today had not an SS guard in 1943 accepted a gold watch from her grandfather as a bribe that saved her grandma from the cattle-train to Birkenau.

We were lucky. Anna was a marvellous guide who knew her facts. The only thing that worried me was that she kept going on and on justifying the very things we could clearly see with our own eyes.

So much so that eventually I asked her:

"Anna. Why do you keep on trying to substantiate what you're showing us? We can all see it. We believe it happened. Why are you taking such trouble to legitimize the history of Auschwitz? Are you really that concerned about Neo-Nazi Holocaust denial?"

"Yes", she replied.

"They're out there everywhere. They'll never go away. Which is the main reason for our Museum."

Which takes us back to the exact place we began.

With bogus English historian David Irving.

And the whispering ashes of countless murder victims, scattered anywhere and everywhere across this chilling landscape in a secluded corner of Eastern Poland.