Saturday, January 28, 2006 

File-sharing shame.

I hope that Mr Justice Lawrence Collins is thoroughly ashamed of himself. Imposing ridiculous fines on file sharers who would not have bought the music in the first place and giving over money to the record companies who have fleeced fans and musicians for decades seems to sum up our plutocratic society:

A high court ruling has forced two men to stop sharing pirated songs on the internet, with a judge warning that ignorance of the law is no defence. The men were ordered to pay thousands of pounds in damages and costs after refusing to settle their civil cases with the trade body the British Phonographic Industry. Cases against three other people are pending.

The first defendant, from Kings Lynn in Norfolk, argued the BPI had no direct evidence of any infringement. His defence was rejected and he was ordered to pay £5,000 immediately, with his total bill likely to top £13,500.

A Brighton postman's argument that he was unaware that what he was doing was illegal and that he did not seek to gain financially was dismissed by Mr Justice Lawrence Collins who said: "Ignorance is not a defence." He was ordered to make a immediate payment of £1,500, pending a decision on costs and damages.

The majority of the 139 cases launched against illegal filesharers since October 2004 have been settled before reaching court, with those accused paying fines of up to £6,500 and promising to stop sharing songs over the internet.

Those on the receiving end of the latest tranche of 51 cases, launched in December, have until the end of the month to settle. A number have had to settle on behalf of their children, despite being unaware that they were breaking the law.

The record industry only points to the collapse in singles sales, as it knows full well that album sales at least in the UK have grown over the last couple of years. The decline of the single can be linked to the imposition of rules on how long they could be in order to qualify for the singles chart. As a result, companies often issue two CDs for just one song to cover b-sides and remixes, charging twice for what they would have once charged for just once. Along with the rise of crap manufactured pop, and records only ever staying on top for one week, people lost their interest in singles and instead focused on albums. Only now are singles starting to come out of their decline, thanks to the rise of new UK indie rock and amazingly, the 7" vinyl making a come back.

The BPI also ignores how many bands and artists have themselves encouraged file sharing or have admitted to using it. Obviously their own stars are excused. The last straw in the BPI's argument should be the rise of Arctic Monkeys, who established themselves through file-sharing of their demo and their online presence. The only thing motivating the BPI is pure greed, and for a Judge to impose such uneccesary fines will only encourage them further.

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Friday, January 27, 2006 

Hamas election victory: The revenge of Sheikh Yassin.

When two years ago, as Chris McGreal opens his Guardian report, Ariel Sharon ordered an Israeli F16 to fire a hellfire missile at Hamas's spiritual leader, a man who was disabled, blind and in a wheelchair, he described it as the beginning of the end of Hamas. How very wrong he was, and how ironic it must be as Sharon lies on his own death bed that the cowardly murder of Yassin was just one of the many things that helped Hamas win an astonishing election for the Palestinian legislature, winning 76 seats to Fatah's 43.

Such a victory has been an understandable shock to many people, as the only Hamas they know of is the one that sent suicide bombers into Israel, targeting civilians with the bodies of the young and impressionable. At the same time many forget that nearly every attack by the Palestinian armed wings was either in retaliation for an Israeli attack or action. That does not excuse them, nor does it excuse their ideology which is to create a theocratic state, and which does also not recognise Israel's right to exist. However, it's worth looking into what created Hamas itself.

During the 70s, when Israel was desperate to both stop the Palestinians from becoming the supposed victims of the conflict, it was also desperate to marginalise the PLO, headed by Arafat. Their idea? Allow Islamists to set up their own presence in the occupied territories, allow them to receive donations from abroad and to set up their own centres to deal with life under occupation. Israel even allowed Sheikh Yassin to serve only a year of his 14 year sentence for smuggling and hiding weapons, as they thought that he and his supporters would be a useful bulwark against the nationalist Fatah, which has always had a much more liberal social outlook. It was in 1987, with the launch of the first intifada against Israel that Yassin created Hamas as we know it today.

As a result, Hamas has always had more social funding from its partners in the Middle East and from other charities. This has enabled it to operate its renowned social centres and hospital, and create close to what is a minor welfare state. Arafat on the other hand had to rely on funding from the US and EU, after his funds were cut off from most other Arab leaders following his support for Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf war. (Saddam returned the favour not to Arafat so much as to the families of suicide bombers, who he infamously rewarded.)

Of course, Hamas is by no means the first terrorist organisation to grace the land of Palestine. Israel itself was founded on terror, as is well known. Israeli right-wing extremists repeatedly threatened Sharon following the pullout from Gaza, and Yitzak Rabin paid with his life for daring to try reach peace with the Oslo accords. For a long time Israel itself did not recognise that the Palestinians even existed, and has recently itself decided upon a two-state solution, although not one based on the 1967 agreed borders.

And it's there where Hamas's real power has come from. Sharon's insistence that there was no partner for peace to deal with has propelled Hamas into the Palestinian conciousness as the real freedom fighters. They stood by and watched as Sharon invaded the West Bank in 2001/2002, devastating Jenin and bombing Arafat's headquarters. He was kept there until his death, a broken man who could only speak to the media in person when the Israelis let him. They watched as Fatah became more and more moribund and corrupt, with its leaders being arrested and imprisoned. Then came the final realisation that it was the armed resistance, not peace talks, that was what was freeing them from the occupation. The withdrawal from Gaza, where Hamas had taken over and where most of its leaders were stationed seemed to have been directly due to their shooting of Qassam rockets into Israeli border towns. While the real reason was undoubtedly the innate stupidity of protecting the homes of a few crazy Jewish settlers from hundreds of thousands of Palestinians surrounding them, mired in poverty, with Israeli lives being lost as the two clashed, it seemed as if Hamas had delivered the victory against the Zionists. Little wonder that along with all the other factors, as well as the media themselves constantly reporting about Hamas's rise, that the people voted for them in their droves. It became almost something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Hamas now has to demonstrate that it can govern, and govern well. Since the Israeli withdrawl from Gaza, the enclave has become mired in kidnappings, shoot-outs and clan warfare. That must not happen in the West Bank. Hamas must make entirely clear that it recognises Israel's right to exist within the 1967 borders. It does not yet have to give up armed resistance by any means, but once you've turned to the ballot box it's increasingly difficult then to once more turn to the bullets. Once this has happened, the EU and the US must put pressure on Israel to come and talk to Hamas, whether it wishes to deal with "terrorists" or not. What must not be allowed to happen is further unilateral disengagements, with the excuse that there is no partner for peace. If further settlement withdrawals happen, Israel must not enforce the security wall as its new de facto border. All that will do is stir up the hatred for the next generation. Unless both Hamas and Israel makes some big compromises, the bloodshed will continue as it has done for 50 years. And with Hamas and the Palestinian demographic in the ascendent, it may be Israel this time that has the more to lose.

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Sir Ian Blair: "Media is institutionally racist".

It hurts to defend Sir Ian Blair, when he has spent most of his time as head of the Met either scaremongering or spreading lies/misinformation, but I'm going to do it.

He is entirely right to highlight that the media is in some cases incredibly selective in the stories they choose to highlight and get angry about. Notably, there have been a few exceptions. Stephen Lawrence, Damilola Taylor, Anthony Walker and the girls who were shot on New Year's Eve in Birmingham a couple of years ago come to mind, but compared to the number of white middle class victims of crime that have been obsessed over, they're hardly a blip on the radar. Ian Blair's main comparison, that of the white middle class city lawyer who was murdered on his way home, compared to that of the death of an Asian man, Balbir Matharu who was dragged to his death trying to shop thieves from stealing his van's stereo, shows up the tabloid press especially. The difference between the amount of words that the cases prompted in the press was just less than 1,000, but the real difference was when just examining the tabloids. According to the Guardian, the ap Rhys Price story was mentioned 98 times, while that of Matharu was mentioned just 18 times. The difference could be put down to the fact that ap Rhys Price's attackers have apparently been arrested, while Matharu's are still at large, but even then it's quite a huge gap.

Unfortunately, Sir Ian Blair commented about the case of the Soham school girls, which is what the media who should be embarrassed about the above have focused on to take the glare off them. He said:
"If you look at the murders in Soham, almost nobody can understand why that dreadful story became the biggest story in Britain,"

Well, it's quite obvious why it did. It happened during the silly season in August, it involved two pretty young white middle class girls, and the media was provided with a photo of them taken just that day in their Manchester United football shirts. The rolling news channels came into their own, with constant coverage of every little detail reported. It highlighted one of the main parental worries; their children either going missing or being abducted by strangers. As it turned out, they were murdered by someone they knew, which is much more likely than the above. Can the media honestly say that if it had been two boys, say from up in Newcastle or Scotland rather than Cambridgeshire, that they would have given it the same amount of coverage? It seems doubtful. Nevertheless, Soham has become a sacred cow in the media world, much like the killing of James Bulger or Diana, and any criticism or outspokenness about it is dealt with severely, as Ian Blair has found out today. It's worth pointing out however that now points to the Cambridgeshire police website.

Veronica Wadley, editor of the Evening Standard doesn't seem to think that the media is institutionally racist, and she also doesn't find it somewhat odd that she's set-up an appeal for Mr ap Rhys Price's family, even though he was a city lawyer and most likely making a decent wage. Then again, she knows which way her bread's buttered, and it was the Daily Mail (sister paper of the Evening Standard) which led the outrage towards Blair's remarks about Soham with a front page splash. They know that they and the Express are the papers that Blair was really commenting on, and they weren't going to take it lying down.

I've commented many times here on the front pages of news papers and made fun of their lack of news values, so it's nice to see that some in the upper echelons of life feel the same way. If "Sir" Ian Blair now would only stop the scaremongering about terrorism and tell the truth about what happened to Jean Charles de Menezes, I'm sure he would instantly rise back up a lot of people's estimations.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006 

Sun-watch: Outting by force.

Congratulations then to the Sun, who managed to blackmail Simon Hughes into admitting he has had homosexual relationships. Apparently having proof either of Hughes' activity on gay web sites or chat lines, they most likely phoned him up and said, "we'll go easy on if you give us the exclusive etc". So Hughes and the Lib Dems become another victim of a press scoop, and the sense of crisis becomes even more apparent.

To quote:

The MP for Bermondsey in South London said: “It is not just me. There are lots of people who have tried to keep their private lives private.

“I wasn’t just doing it for me but for many others who are in the same boat.”

Apparently because he's came out as having both homosexual and heterosexual relationships, that makes him a hypocrite and a liar, except:

Asked by the Independent last week whether he was gay, he said: "The answer is no, as it happens. But if it was the case, which it isn't, I hope that would not become an issue."

Asked again by the Guardian for an article on Tuesday whether he was homosexual, he said: "I'm a single guy, which is why I guess it's easy for people to speculate."

"I'm not going to go into details of relationships but I made a statement, made it clearly and it hasn't changed since last week."

Neither of which was a lie, nor were they particularly misleading. He isn't gay, he's bisexual, if anything. The other claim that he was a hypocrite is that he lead a previous campaign against Peter Tatchell, when he was running for Labour. Tatchell is openly gay and runs the outspoken gay-rights group OutRage! Hughes was described as the "straight choice", which does have very overt homophobic overtones. However, Tatchell doesn't seem particularly bothered, and Hughes publicly apologised about it only this week:

He told BBC2's Newsnight that he accepted some elements of his party's campaign to defeat gay rights activist Peter Tatchell had been "unacceptable", although he pointed out that Mr Tatchell blamed the media and Labour colleagues more.

"I have never been comfortable about the whole of that campaign as Peter knows, and I said that to him in the past privately and publicly," he said.


"Simon benefited from these dirty tricks, but that was 23 years ago - I don't hold a grudge," said Mr Tatchell.

"Based on information [my campaign] received we had a very strong suspicion that Simon was gay despite the homophobic campaign against me."

Mr Tatchell said he welcomed Mr Hughes' belated admission: "Although it is a pity Simon was, even recently, denying being gay, it is great that he has now come out."

"I don't support the Lib Dems, but if I was a member I would vote for Simon as leader."

So err, not exactly damning testimony.

The Sun being the Sun, it couldn't resist referring to the Lib Dems as the "Limp-Dems" (geddit?!?!?!) and along the bottom linking to the pages with "another one bites the pillow", which seems a rather tasteless joke to say the least. It also says that "another confesses", somehow trying to link Mark Oaten into the story. Except Simon Hughes wasn't "living a lie" and hasn't tried to conceal his sexuality from anyone, least of all his own family.

Hughes is perfectly entitled to a private life, and though he has now done the honourable thing, it's a shame that he was forced into doing this by a newspaper which has been virulently homophobic throughout its history. It's also likely that following his statement that others are secretly gay that they'll be a scrum now to try to attempt to uncover them. However, even some Sun readers seem to not give a damn about any politicians sexuality, as the comments at the bottom of their story show:

What is wrong with this country? Since when did the sexuality of a politician affect their ability to do the job? I don’t care whether Simon Hughes is homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual – since he’s never persecuted others for their sexual orientation.

This isn’t a matter about being truthful. All of us lie about some things in life. How many of us would be prepared to admit publicly the full details of our sex lives?

We shouldn’t expect more of our politicians than we do of ourselves.

If it doesn’t affect the way they do their jobs, it shouldn’t be an issue.

Patrick Mahon

It's a shame he had to lie about it for so long especially when the majority of us (who even care) guessed he was gay anyway.

Peter Atkinson

It does not matter on iota whether Simon Hughes is gay, bisexual or heterosexual.

We we are living in the 21st century and questions of this kind are irrelevant and quite frankly a waste of time.

What is important is whether Simon Hughes can do the job of leading the Liberal Democrats or not.

It is a pity that someone in this day and age has to hide their sexuality. Mr. Hughes was right to try and keep it.

I have no reservations about his ability to do the job of leading the Lib Dems. His bedtime habits are of no interest to me.

David Markham-Dorney

The British public has nothing to do with Hughes’ sexual preferences, nor with any individual’s sexual preferences, for that matter – as long as they don’t hurt other people.


Let's hope this signals the final nail in the coffin for those who think that politician's private lives when they're hurting no one except themselves are a cause for public dissemination. Gay or not, like Tatchell, if I was a Lib Dem, Hughes would have my vote.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006 

Don't be ethical.

And so Google commits the ultimate carnal sin. Like the previous post about Jodie Marsh, the search engine has jumped into bed with someone without thinking of the consequences. Or rather, they have, but have come up with the wrong answer.

Yes, Google is launching a search engine in China which will be self-censored. It's following in the footsteps of Microsoft and Yahoo!, which even gave details to the Chinese authorities about a dissident which led to his arrest, but Google supposedly has ethics at its heart. It's motto is "don't be evil." Yet apparently working with a kleptocratic state which gives its citizens hardly any human rights and stops free speech at the grassroots is a-ok. What makes it even worse is that compared to its business in the US and other free countries, the Chinese market would be worth a rather paltry $151 million.

Google also justifies itself by saying that Chinese users can use instead of Except that, err, is blocked by the Chinese firewalls, along with a huge number of other sites. What makes this even more silly is that while Google launches in China, it seems to be stalling in the US, where it is remarkably and rightly holding out against a US government request regarding an investigation into pornography.

Google sadly seems to be slipping from its original stated aims. Like most businesses, it values money over principles. Some say that this is what the market forces companies into doing. This is patently false. You only to look to examples such as the Co-operative network, and especially their bank, which refuses custom from those it considers either breach human rights or otherwise are damaging. In short, there are no justifications for Google's actions. Sure, we need to reach out to the Chinese and start a dialogue, but that does not involve self-censoring just for a quick dollar.

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Jodie Marsh: Of Guardians and girls.

The Guardian seems to have developed something of a worrying obsession of caring for vacuous young greedy women. Since the start of Celebrity Big Brother, the Guardian has carried a larger number than usual of stories about programme, mainly because of George Galloway's involvement, but also because the entire series seems to have been the nastiest, and involving the most dysfunctional set of "celebrities" they could actually bring together.

To start with, I haven't been watching the show, and have only either seen the little adverts on Channel 4 with snippets of the upcoming programme or seen some goings-on when flicking through the channels. I was unfortunate enough to do this last night during what seemed to have been a huge set-to between Galloway and Barrymore, over which one of them was actually the most self-obsessed. Pete Burns, a man who if they were ever to be someone who should be sectioned just for what they look like, fits the bill, stuck his oar in, while Chantelle and Preston, two non-entities who seem to share the personality and brains of a soggy cardboard box, also clamoured and shouted. The only ones who seemed to be disgusted with what was going on, were amazingly Dennis Rodman, who seemed sickened with the argument, and Maggot, the rapper in Goldie Looking Chain, who seemed concerned for Barrymore's well-being. Maybe I'm just getting old, but is the whole show like that? I switched it over and felt dirty just by watching about 5 minutes of it.

But I digress. Jodie Marsh was the first to be evicted from the show. She was apparently bullied somewhat by Galloway, Barrymore and Burns, to the extent that Germaine Greer wrote a comment piece defending her. Greer also alleges that the producers of Big Brother edited the show as to make Marsh look vain, miserable and envious. Today's Guardian features an interview with Marsh by Laura Barton, in which she is given a very sympathetic benefit of the doubt, but which ignores both her own hypocrisy and her startling greed.

The piece starts by mentioning a brief history of her "celebrity". She first appeared on another reality show, and has built herself up to be a rival to Jordan, the blow-up glamour model. Laura Barton seems to consider that she's superior, because, err, her breasts are real. I'm not sure how that matters in the world of things, as Jordan's were originally quite big before she had numerous augmentations, but hell, apparently that makes her better. Nevermind though, because Marsh is clearly on a different intellectual plane to those who she rivals. She has 11 A and A+ GCSEs, along with 3 A A-Levels, apparently. Why when she had such good results she decided to use her body instead of her brain is explained quite easily: money.

But I've taken the quickest and easiest route to making as much money as I can, and having as much fun as I can, and I don't regret that." She has, she points out, recently bought herself a splendid new home, she has worked in Australia and Cyprus and Barbados, she has made a lot of money and written a book. "You can't knock that."

In other words, she's taking the incredibly easy route to greed. After all, if you've got the assets, flaunt them, right? But then she wonders why she's been knocked by the tabloids and called a slag in the streets. Could it be that, as the beginning of the article states, she went out in an outfit involving 3 belts? Could it be that she's told the tabloids about numerous relationships with other men? Could it be that the book she's supposedly written (I'm willing to bet it was ghosted) is full, apart from her memories of childhood, with numerous tales of orgies and her sexual antics? Marsh grins in the article about being paid the most amount ever for a page 3 shot. Nevermind that though, her final thought is about why men who sleep with a lot of women are called studs while women who do the same are slags:

It's like that old thing, if a man has slept with loads and loads of women, he's a stud. But if a woman has slept with loads of boys, she's a slag. Well, why? Why? What makes a man a stud 'cos he's pulled loads of women? And what makes me a slag 'cos I've slept with more than 10 men? It's ridiculous!" She rumples her tanned brow in despair, and blows out an angry stream of smoke. Jodie Marsh: unlikely feminist bitch.

Could it be that those that do don't tell the newspapers and write books about it? Could it be because that those few men that do probably have some idea of personal privacy? Irony to Jodie Marsh seems to be something she also doesn't understand:

Big Brother, Marsh says through drags on a cigarette, was full of "the most fake, hideous people I've ever met"

Well, congratulations on realising that years after everyone else did. Except that she fits the bill perfectly as well. She goes on tell about how she's gone back to brunette after being blonde. She spent most of the show coarsening and talking about sex, exactly as she did in her book and the tabloids before-hand. She thinks she knows why this is though:

She talks about "feminist bitch women" in the press "who don't like glamorous girls who don't like intelligent women - they want to be the one and only intelligent powerful woman, and they don't like anyone who can challenge that or rival that."

Except that, err, the most famous "feminist bitch woman" in the country, Germaine Greer wrote an article defending her, even if she said that eventually Marsh would drop the pretence and wash off the fake tan and realise that's she been very silly. I'm sorry Germaine, but this article shows that's she nowhere near that stage yet, and it seems to show that's she's an incredibly stubborn woman who can't face up to what her own individual actions have brought on her. Charlie Brooker, in his often very funny piece on television in the saturday Guardian Guide said exactly the same thing.

Jodie Marsh obviously does have some intelligence. Perhaps one day she will grow up, get her hideous lower back tattoo removed (having one of these seems to have become a ritual for girls, especially in America, when they turn 18, and horrifically seems to be catching on over here) perhaps go to university and get a decent job and be ashamed of her past. At the moment, she is doing herself no favours. The Guardian should know better than to give space to people who so obviously need help, especially when it seems to be encouraging her to carry on in her ways. Still, perhaps she could replace Zoe Williams as a comment page writer, as I'm sure she could still manage to do a better job.

Oh, and it was almost impossible to find a picture of her in which she isn't either in a state of undress, her underwear, or completely topless.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006 


The above is the search queries answered yesterday. A lot of people seem desperate to know if Mark Oaten was also indulging in activities involving "scat" with his male prostitute friend. Scat, for those of you who might not be aware, is the fetish involving, err, faeces. The News of the Screws did allude to a sexual activity it said was too vile to print, and there have been rumours circulating that scat was what it was, with Popbitch apparently originally spreading the rumours. You're all a bunch of inquisitive voyeurs, but it seems to sell both papers and this blog.

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More surveillance, more restrictions.

Britain already has the unenviable accolade of having the most CCTV cameras in operation in the entire world, and with ID cards still set to be introduced, you'd think that the government would be satisfied for a while with the huge amounts of data is collecting on its own people. Obviously not though, as it sets about keeping even more information and obtaining more under the auspices of counter-terrorism and organised crime:

The police and security services are to be given access to advanced travel details on more than 40 million passengers a year who travel on domestic flights and ferries within Britain under legislation to be announced tomorrow.

The new power in the police and justice bill will give the authorities the ability to screen and track the movements of suspected terrorists and serious criminals within Britain for the first time.

It is expected that airlines will have to provide the personal online details of all passengers as they book seats and subsequently check in at the airport. There are discussions with the travel industry over what documents passengers will have to show before they can board a flight in Britain.

The new system will enable them to check names against watchlists for terror suspects and wanted criminals and to develop a "profiling system" of those worthy of further scrutiny. It is hoped that the system will help the security services develop a picture of terror and crime suspects' travel patterns and networks.

On specified routes where there is considered to be a major threat, the police will be able to demand the provision of "bulk data" - blanket passenger and crew lists - on all flights travelling on that route before departure. The Liberal Democrats said last night that they were extremely concerned about the routine surveillance of domestic passengers and claimed that Britain was now building a surveillance infrastructure unparalleled in the free world.

The home secretary, Charles Clarke, is to announce that he intends to extend these powers to all domestic passengers travelling on flights and ferries. Airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet already insist on photo-ID before a passenger boards a domestic flight. Some airlines have expressed concerns that the demand for online information will extend existing check-in times.

One operator has estimated that the process will add 40 seconds to the 60-second average check-in time, but that included manually typing in the home address and place of birth of each passenger. It is anticipated that identity documents will contain, sooner rather than later, such information on a machine readable strip.

The police say that a combination of operational experience, specific intelligence and historical analysis will be used to build up pictures of suspect passengers and patterns of travel behaviour. They claim this will enable them to develop a more targeted approach which will reduce the likelihood of innocent travellers being stopped and incorrect intelligence reports being filed. But such "profiling" of passengers has proved highly controversial in the United States.

I find it rather amusing that the airlines only seeming objection to these plans seem to be that they'll add 40 seconds to check in time. Privacy isn't one of their main concerns it seems, although it has to be said that they wouldn't be keen on one of their planes being used to crash into some tall building, however unlikely that is. The whole thing seems to be based on the US system, where numerous passengers have been ordered off planes, planes have been diverted to other airports to remove passengers who are unfortunate enough to have a name matching one on a terrorist watch-list, where children have been refused access to air travel because of their name, and where Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam) was briefly arrested for suspected terrorist sympathies/funding terrorist groups. In short, there will no doubt be a number of monumental fuck-ups, to quote an unconnected police source.

The most worrying thing though is the amount of information and data that the government now is able to hold on the individual. This law will increase the government's capability to follow anyone nearly wherever they go - and there is already such a system in place in Bradford, which can track car number plates throughout the city. All of this has gone on with hardly any public consultation. Maybe it's because CCTV has been credited with making people feel safer, and the opposition to it has tapered off remarkably in recent years. Maybe it's because people are now prepared to sacrifice their privacy for their "safety". Or maybe it's because the government, local councils and businesses have not listened to the public when they have stated they have wanted privacy. As it is, it seems to hard disagree with the Lib Dems when they say the government is building a surveillance infrastructure - watching what the citizens are doing while ignoring what the CIA is doing in the skies.

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Sophristy from the government of the highest order; report says "a great deal" of evidence points to "outsourcing" of torture.

Blair in his press conference yesterday made a rather shocking but unsurprising statement when asked about rendition. You might not have read it or heard about it, as the Guardian in their report on rendition didn't bother to mention it. (Thanks to Curious Hamster for this.)

Question: You have not made enquiries as to whether people have been illegally transported through this country from Place A to B?

Prime Minister: No.

So, err, just what has the UK being investigating about rendition all this time? It seems all they've done is make sure that the United States hasn't actually asked permission to use UK airports and airspace when they have been transporting those they've kidnapped. That has never been the issue. The issue was that the US is using our airspace and airports to break international law, while the UK has either been complicit in not asking any questions, or wasn't informed by the security services. This explains why the foreign office secretary was so desperate in trying to get the politicians to "move the issue" on. Too much dwelling on the topic and the reality might actually come out. The need for an inquiry is now greater than ever.

And that inquiry has become more necessary after the EU report by Dick Marty found that "a great deal" of evidence had led him to believe that the US has been operating a system of outsourcing torture.

"It has been proved that individuals have been abducted, deprived of their liberty and all rights and transported to different destinations in Europe, to be handed over to countries in which they have suffered degrading treatment and torture," he told the council's assembly in Strasbourg.

"The entire continent is involved. It is highly unlikely that European governments, or at least their intelligence services, were unaware."

His report said that "there is a great deal of coherent, convergent evidence pointing to the existence of a system of 'relocation' or 'outsourcing' of torture".

It also said that extraordinary rendition - the transfer of terror suspects to countries where they may face torture or ill treatment - "seems to have concerned more than a hundred persons in recent years".

Mr Marty also expressed his frustration that in the face of enormous pressure to come up with evidence of secret CIA prisons, he had received little help from the Council of Europe or governments.

"I am not a judicial authority, I have no means of investigation, the logistical support available to me is very limited," he said.

In other words, they've set up an inquiry and then not bothered to actually help him. Is it possible that all the countries in Europe were not aware, or were aware that this has been going on? Seeing as the CIA and MI6 pool a lot of their intelligence, and other European intelligence agencies do the same, it seems unlikely that every single country is in the dark on this. What is more likely is that either the intelligence agencies have not bothered informing their governments, or that those who are afraid of snubbing America just rolled over and played dead, hence the alleged but not proved prisons in both Poland and Romania. All the while, most countries can also claim that they were not aware through the conceit of plausible deniability, so as both not to offend the US by condemning what they have been doing and also fooling the majority into thinking that either nothing has been going on, or that they really didn't know.

Are we ever going to get to the bottom of this? It really does seem entirely unlikely. Blair's spokesman in response to today's report said that "there are no new facts". Of course, and they're going to do their damndest to make sure that it stays that way.

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Monday, January 23, 2006 

Mark Oaten: You stupid boy.

Mark Oaten was an excellent Home Affairs spokesman for the Lib Dems. He spoke out for many of us when along with his party he opposed ID cards, further "anti-terrorist" legislation and the imposition of the heavily abused anti-social behaviour orders. He was perhaps a little too much like Icarus when he tried to run for Lib Dem leader, as it soon became apparent that he did not have the support of the parliamentary party, although his stance and performance on the Lib Dem front bench had won him many admirers among the grassroots and around the country. It's all such a shame that such a promising MP has had his career finished thanks in part to his own stupidity and to the gutter journalism of the News of the Screws.

Mark Oaten did not do anything that countless men and yes, women, do on a regular basis. While we obviously don't know what was going through his head and whether he is actually gay or not or just curious, he surely should have known better than to go through the Gaydar website in finding a partner. Chris Bryant, a New Labour loyalist to the extent that he'd probably take a bullet for Blair, was himself under the spotlight when a picture of him in just his underpants was found on that website. That should have been enough to warn Oaten off his urges, but obviously not. Whether he was having marital problems or not, such a revelation, especially one forced by a tabloid newspaper of the lowest calibre, will have caused huge pain to his family. What they didn't need was such a vile frontpage from the Daily Mail today, a typical piece of low blow journalism from the paper aimed at women but written by women-haters.

The fact that Oaten's infidelity was with both a prostitute and a man makes it even more of a scandal, even in these times when taboos are thankfully being broken and when really such details shouldn't make any difference. It comes as a surprise that a sex scandal has once again effectively ended a politician's career, especially after the twin sex-scandals of the Spectator, neither of which directly cost David Blunkett or Boris Johnson their jobs. While it still isn't on the level of
Alan Clark's infamous coven, in which he had his way with both the mother and her two daughters (again exposed by the News of the Screws) it still is a pretty high ranking but puerile expose.

Which brings us to the main questions. Does the whole thing really matter, is such a story in the public interest, and does it really sell papers? The answer to the first two questions is no. The answer to the third sadly appears to be yes. While no doubt many of the News of the Screws readers would have had little idea of who Mark Oaten is, I would say it's likely that it would have added to yesterday's circulation thanks to its prior publicity. When David Blunkett's affair was first exposed, the Guardian along with some of the other serious papers at first published no details of it at all, citing that it was not in the public interest. Once it became clear that Blunkett's judgment, conduct and work were being undermined by the affair and its subsequent break-up, it did become a public interest story. That seems a pretty good measure of when a story does actually become newsworthy. Despite what some other blogs and newspapers have said, Oaten was not being hypocritical on prostitution, nor was he really being dishonest by starting his leadership campaign by sitting down with his family. How many other politicians have used the same tactic regardless? David Cameron emphasised his family and especially his wife, despite his obvious previous experience with drugs, which some thought questioned his morals.

Sadly then, the News of the Screws has claimed another scalp, another scoop, and another politician's life most likely lays in ruins. While I feel a lot of sympathy for him, to quote a certain captain's catchphrase, "you stupid boy!".

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