Saturday, August 12, 2006 

War is peace.

Lebanese woman lies injured in hospital after a missile attack on her car; Israeli citizens in Haifa run as sirens warn of a rocket attack.

No one honestly expected that the passing of a UN resolution calling for a "full cessation of hostilities" would instantly end the Israel-Lebanese conflict, having now raged for over a month. Even the most cynical though thought it unlikely that Israel would have the audacity not only to almost entirely ignore its passing, but continue in the collective punishment of the entire Lebanese nation. On Friday the Israelis destroyed one of the last remaining bridges to Syria, this time in the far north of the country. They also bombed "power facilities" in the port town of Sidon, which had so far emerged relatively unscathed. A convoy of refugees, escorted by UN peacekeepers was also hit, killing at least 4 people, with other sources saying 7. The Israelis had been informed, and had agreed to its passing, yet it was still attacked. An Israeli spokesman said that the raid had been a "mistake", which obviously makes everything a-ok.

While Olmert has stated that he will put the UN resolution plan for a ceasefire to his cabinet on Sunday and argue for it be accepted, whether even that will bring a quick end to the fighting is in question. The ordering of the major ground offensive, with the emphasis appearing to be on getting to the Litani river as quickly as possible, suggests that Israel has no intention of leaving the south of Lebanon until at the very least the Lebanese army deploys its 15,000 troops, as stipulated in Resolution 1701. That the Litani river continues to play such a major part in the conflict reflects one of the other issues affecting Israel: the arid nature of the region, and the drying up of the remaining resources of water available to the country. The strategic benefits of controlling the river are both obvious and may become increasingly important, as the shortage of water looks likely only to get worse.

For their part, Hizbullah's leader Nasrallah has already said that the militia will abide by the ceasefire, once that all the Israeli troops have left Lebanese territory. Seeing as that doesn't seem to be something that'll happen quickly, the horrible spectre of yet more atrocities being committed on both sides remains.

While some apologists for Hizbullah have been pointing out how their rockets are being launched at legitimate targets, such as army bases within Israel, the very nature of the katyusha rockets, being both old and very inaccurate, as well as filled with ball bearings, means that innocent civilians are always going to be hit. That their missiles have also been just as likely to kill Arab Israelis, with some also landing and killing Palestinians in the West Bank, shows how futile and counter-productive the majority of the Hizbullah attacks on Israel itself have been.

Not that this in any way mitigates for the crimes which have been visited on Lebanon from the air. The Guardian reports on how at least 61 Lebanese were killed on Monday in a strike on the Shiyyah district of southern Beirut. That's 20 more than the entire number of Israeli civilians killed, and far outstrips the massacre in Qana as one of the worst, if not the worst, Israeli atrocity of the war. The destruction of numerous power plants, in one case leading to an environmental disaster which threatens to be as devastating to the Lebanese coastline as the Exxon-Valdez spillage was in Alaska, shows in its true light just what Israeli "self-defense" means. 1,020 civilians are dead. Thousands of homes have been destroyed. And for what?

If anything, the resolution leaves Hizbullah stronger than ever before. Even if now rightly forced to disarm, it's likely to become an even bigger force in politics in Lebanon, with the recognition from around the Arab world that it held off and struck a blow against Israel. In Israel, the opposite is the case. The bombardment of Lebanon will leave it with even fewer friends around the globe, sickened by the disproportionate nature of its response to an attack which was unjustifiable, but clearly aimed at showing solidarity with the Palestinian fighting which continues in the Gaza strip. If anything is to be learned from the disaster, it's that the military option no longer works. It should re-energise the Israeli left into realising that the unilateral settlement proposed by Olmert is dead in the water. Their supposed pacifist hero, Amir Peretz, has been just as bloodthirsty as his predecessors. The way forward is for a negotiated peace, involving both Hamas and Abu Mazen. Both Israel and the Palestinians (especially Hamas) will have to make sacrficies, but both must now accept that persistent conflict only leaves a legacy of hatred and grievance that cannot be easily diminished, forgiven, or forgotten.

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Friday, August 11, 2006 

From the ridiculous to the ridiculous.

On grounds of pure tastelessness, today's Daily Mail front page couldn't have been much more potentially offensive, even if they'd asked Bernard Manning to tell one of his "jokes" and photographed him wearing his underpants.

Who honestly thought that the infamous photo of one of the planes crashing into the World Trade Centre was either relevant or suitable to illustrate a disrupted terror plot? Notice also the paper promises a "15 page special". Why not go the whole way and call it a souvenir issue?
Over on the Sexpress, things are a little calmer, but not by much. 24 suspects all British may not be very good English, but it otherwise simply parrots the official line of what we've been told so far. Nice of them to show us what a plane looks like though, as I'd forgotten.
The Mirror uses a huge photo of one the suspects, who allegedly only converted to Islam six months ago. Whether the naming of the suspects and publishing of their photographs is going to be helpful in the long run is unclear; those arrested may yet be released without charge, as has happened in the past. One of the confusing things seems to the number of apparent planes that were to blow up. The Guardian front page refers to the police saying up to twelve were to be targeted, the Sexpress and Star report 10, with the Mirror and Sun going for nine.
Speaking of the Scum, their take on this is "BOTTLE BOMBERS", which by their past standards of "PLOT TO KILL YOU" is rather tame. Rebekah Wade, or whichever moron it was that wrote the leader column though just can't let a great opportunity like this go to waste. Yep, it's time to attack the Human Rights Act again!

But while commending his appeal to Britain’s famous “stiff upper lip”, The Sun has a couple of questions.

What happened to Tony Blair’s 12-point anti-terror campaign announced with fanfare after last year’s London Tube bombs?

Why have we ditched plans to fast-track extradition of terror suspects, shut extremist mosques and deport preachers of hate?

Most important of all, why have ministers refused point blank to change or scrap the human rights laws which offer sanctuary to the fanatics who wish us harm?

Had the bombers triumphed over the Atlantic, nobody would be worrying about wrecked holidays.

They would be demanding to know why these promised – and desperately needed – national security measures were not already in place to protect us.

What happened to it? Parts of it were dropped because they were horribly unworkable. In the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings, Charles Clarke had kept in contact with the other home affairs spokesman, keeping open a dialogue about whether new laws were necessary. Both David Davis and Mark Oaten responded favourably. This though wasn't good enough for the Sun - it screamed about how it hoped the terrorists were away on holiday as well, as parliament broke up for its long break. In response, Blair made his "rules of the game are changing" speech, waiting until Clarke had gone off on holiday himself, in the process undermining and destroying his work in creating a cross-party consensus.

As for the Sun's individual points, the government has deported some extremist clerics, or in the case of Bakri Mohammad stopped him from re-entering the county. Other suspects are awaiting deportation, while the "memorandums of understanding" with countries that are known to practice torture are sorted out. Whether these will ever be acceptable in a court of law is unknown, and the government would be better off taking the accused men to trial. An insight into the mindset of some of these being held under anti-terror laws is reported in today's Grauniad. According to a Council of Europe investigation team, 3 of the former Belmarsh detainees have been admitted to Broadmoor, apparently suffering mental breakdowns. Another has been bailed to house arrest for health reasons. The team's report also warns of the possibility of multiple suicides. Not something the Sun would shed any tears over, but it shows the mental duress that those accused of something that they can't even defend themselves against undergo.

The plans to shut "extremist" mosques were rejected as unworkable, mainly because of the effect such closures would have on community relations. Even the Finchley Park mosque was eventually rid of Abu Hamza, showing that even if there are mosques which have extremist preachers, there is usually a power struggle between more moderate elements within them.

On to the best bit, the same old nonsense that the Human Rights Act offers sanctuary to fanatics. It doesn't. What the Human Rights Act does is strike a fine balance between the rights of the public, and between those of the accused. John Reid's failure to accept that some control orders breach the right to liberty and to a fair trial is the result of this government railroading through "tough" measures when they were repeatedly warned that doing so would be both counter-productive and fall foul of the Human Rights Act. Instead of recognising they were wrong, the politicians have instead turned to attacking one of New Labour's finest achievements, mainly because it's an easy scapegoat. The Scum is more than happy to oblige in this kicking of the smeared underdog, while blaming the government it has been so slavish in supporting in the past. Anyway, where do you start in changing the Human Rights Act? Do you remove the prohibition of torture, the right to a fair trial, or the right to liberty or security? Maybe the Sun would like to elaborate?
Finally then we come to the Star, which still manages to find space for a Big Brother story, which predictably involves one of the female contestants wearing as little clothing as possible, as "life goes on". That was certainly the message of the Big Brother contestants last year, who on being told of the 7/7 attacks on leaving the house apparently couldn't have cared less. Oh, and apparently everyone is saying "UP YOURS". No doubt the other evil-doers ready to murder us all in the name of Islamic fascism are shaking with fear at the Star's defiance. "Murdering scum foiled" is the other mantra of the day. Speaking of fascism, Richard "Dirty" Desmond, Sexpress and Star proprietor knows plenty about it, having in the past said that "all Germans are fucking Nazis", goose-stepped and led a stirring rendition of "Deutschland Uber Alles" during a meeting with Telegraph executives.

There's been very little said about the planned attacks today, except for 19 of the men being named and having their assets frozen by the Bank of England. No one else has been arrested, no explosives or materials which could have been turned into bombs have yet been found, although Pakistan is inferring that there are "indications of an "Afghanistan-based al-Qaida connection", something which has long been alleged of last year's bombs, but never proven. CNN is reporting that the men had not bought tickets, but were perusing internet sites and planning a dry run. As with all such information coming out, it should be taken with a pinch of salt. CNN also claims that two suspects had left "martyrdom tapes", without saying whether they had done this in Pakistan or Britain.
Whether these are the tapes of the kind that Mohammad Siddique Khan and Hamas suicide bombers routinely made or propaganda videos of the type freely available on the internet is unclear.

In other news, 35 people died in an actual terrorist attack yesterday.
The Guardian gave less than 100 words to its report of the explosion in the Iraqi city of Najaf. Six were also killed in a bomb attack in southern Baghdad. Ehud Olmert has given the go-ahead to an expansion of the ground invasion of southern Lebanon, while the US and France have just agreed on a revised text of the UN resolution, wrangling that has been going on for more than two weeks now, according to the BBC ticker. You don't need to be clairvoyant though to know what story is going to be leading the news tonight and in the morning's papers.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006 

It's brown trousers time! (Again.)

Coincidences happen. That's a fact. Not every single coincidence is inextricably linked to something more sinister, even in politics and the world of terrorism. You don't need to calculate the tiny chance of happening to bump into an old friend you haven't seen for years while you're on holiday to know that. Also, the coincidence is the biggest friend of the conspiracy theorist. Connect A to B, and you'll get C, or in most cases, X.

Today though, you may as well throw all that out the window and start wondering just how much dear old John Reid knew about the supposed threat which for a while shut down all the airports in the country. Yesterday Reid gave what can only be described as a rant to the thinktank Demos, about of all things, the terrorist threat to Britain. This wasn't just to outline where he thought there needed to be changes in thinking, or where laws need to be tightened. This was an attack, an arrogant and one-sided bullying speech, designed only to please the likes of the Sun and Melanie Philips. As the Guardian reports, the talk firmly placed the blame not on the "fascist individuals" who threaten our safety, but on those opposed to the government's attacks on civil liberties:

· Politicians who opposed the anti-terror measures the police and security services said were necessary to combat the threat.

· European judges who passed the "Chahal judgment" that prohibited the home secretary from weighing the security of millions of British people if a suspected terrorist remained in the UK against the risk he faced if deported back to his own country.

· The media commentators who "apparently give more prominence to the views of Islamist terrorists rather than democratically elected Muslim politicians like premier Maliki of Iraq or President Karzai of Afghanstan".

This isn't just bollocks, it is dangerous, reactionary, highly politically motivated attacks on those who challenge the government's policy on the war on terror and in foreign affairs. Reid almost entirely adopts the viewpoint of the Sun, which in the aftermath of the defeat of legislation which would have seen terrorist suspects held for up to 90 days without charge, called those who voted against "traitors".
In Reid's view, the government, the police and the security services have to be trusted, and we have to bow down to their every whim when it comes to fighting terrorism. This ignores the spectacular failures that have happened over the last couple of years, such as the ricin plot that never was and the Forest Gate fiasco. Those with longer memories will remember the tanks sent to Heathrow just before the huge demonstration against the Iraq war, which was threatened at one stage because ministers were worried that the demonstration might damage the grass in the park. We never learned anything else about the supposed threat that led to their deployment.

Reid justifies what he thinks might be needed to fight terror by saying that Britain today faces "probably the most sustained period of severe threat since the end of the second world war." Really? Did everyone just suddenly forget about that lumbering giant, the Soviet Union? Didn't they have, uh, big shiny nuclear missiles pointing right at our cities, ready to be launched at a moment's notice? Weren't we warned to be ready with bin bags to pick up what was left of our friends and relatives after the nuclear holocaust? We can but surmise, but maybe Reid's forgetfulness might have something to do with him once being a member of the Communist party. It also could be related to the fact he was an alcoholic, like Alastair Campbell, now reformed and cruising for a fight that makes up for the lack of the sweet amber nectar. And who could possibly forget his charming pal, Radovan Karidizic?

In a rare part of eloquence in the speech, Reid makes a somewhat decent argument, but not one that can't be picked apart:

Sometimes we may have to modify some of our own freedoms in the short term in order to prevent their misuse and abuse by those who oppose our fundamental values and would destroy all of our freedoms in the modern world,

The problem with "modifying" freedoms in the short term is that once you've given something up, it's increasingly difficult to get them back. As well as this, we've seen law after law passed in this country which has been abused and used against those which it wasn't designed for. The Protection from Harassment Act, designed to target stalkers, has been used against protestors. Section 44 of the Terrorism Act of 2000 is notorious for numerous reasons. Reid's arguments also ignores the possibility that freedoms given up today could be exploited by a government even less scrupulous than New Labour. Finally, and perhaps most powerfully, giving up our freedoms to fight terrorism is doing exactly what "they", whoever they are, wants: They want to make us afraid. They want to scare us to death. They want to make you fear the unknown. Another problem with this is that governments both here and abroad have continually used the terror threat for their own purposes. Many suspect the random changing of threat levels to be politically motivated, and cynical.

Well, that's certainly not something Dr John Reid can be accused of. For, oh, a whole day after he made his vomit-inducing masturbatory pre-emptive strike on the pinkos who believe in civil liberties rather than living on their knees, the whole country is alerted that terrorists are once again in our midst. Terrorists, which George Bush has already described as "Islamic fascists", apparently planned to blow-up 10 transatlantic flights with "liquid explosives", possibly hidden in baby milk or drinks cans. Heathrow shuts down. Travel chaos takes over. The government's patented doom-o-meter, introduced only last week, goes up to "critical", meaning an attack is expected "imminently". This is despite the attack apparently being foiled, as it's possible there could be a back-up plan. The Americans, who jump at any chance to put the threat level up, react by putting their own risk of death calculator to its highest level.

The plan itself, as much as we've been told so far, is highly reminiscent of a plot
masterminded by Ramzi Yousef, called "Project Bojinka". The plan, or at least the first part, was to blow up 11 jets as they were over the Pacific, as Yousef and his partner in crime, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were in the Philippines at the time. The bombs were going to use liquid nitroglycerin, with Casio watches as timers. Being the sort who wanted to make sure that these things actually worked, and there's nothing to suggest that this plan involved suicide, Yousef planted one on a flight from Manila to Tokyo on December the 11th, 1994. It exploded, killing the man sitting in the seat which Yousef had vacated on a stop-over, but the pilots managed to guide the plane down safely. Yousef was now left to try to make the explosive more potent. The second part of "Project Bojinka" was to involve martyrdom operations, with, you've guessed it, terrorists piloting jets into large buildings. The first part of "Project Bojinka" was disrupted when the apartment they were staying in caught fire.

Whether today's terrorists were influenced directly by this plot or came up with something of their volition which is remarkably similar doesn't really matter. What matters is that it was disrupted. The question that remains unanswered is how much John Reid knew about this before making his speech yesterday. The Guardian reports:

"This wasn't supposed to happen today," a US official who asked not to be named, told the Washington Post. "It was supposed to happen several days from now. We hear the British lost track of one or two guys. They had to move."

In other words, he must have known. Would a politician really exploit the public by making a speech about the terrorist threat, knowing full well that one such plot was about to be foiled? You bet a man of the stature of John Reid would. You also to have to wonder if the raid was brought forward by a couple of days because of the political difficulties the government has found itself in. 150 MPs were calling for parliament to be recalled over the Lebanon conflict. A PPS yesterday resigned in protest at the government's appalling handling of the crisis. As Craig Murray notes in an excellent post, there'll be no dead Lebanese children on the news today, or if there are, they'll be after the 20 minutes or so of coverage of people stuck in airports, demanding that we feel sorry for them.

The reporting of the arrests and apparent plot have been suitably breathless. Lenin on the comments at the Tomb described them as "orgasmic", and I couldn't have put it better myself. There's something about a terrorist plot that means even the best journalists that hate sensationalism start spouting the most ridiculous things, or believing the most ridiculous things. The Forest Gate raid was evidence of that. As yet, there seems to have been no explosives found. That might well change. We should reserve our judgment, and wait. It's just that this government has cried wolf so many times, has demanded that we obey their thinking that only they can protect us from the evil mongrel Islamic hordes that want to slit our throats and boil our children, and remember, this involves locking up suspects for 90 days and deporting others to countries where torture is endemic, rejecting calls for them to be tried here, or for wiretap evidence to be introduced.

Once everything dies down, and it will, although the Sun and its followers will no doubt inform us tomorrow that this justifies everything Blair and Reid have ever said, and that terrorists dressed as clowns are waiting on the street corner to hit us with custard pies flavoured with anthrax, those of us who honestly care about civil liberties need to decide how best to oppose the government's plans, which now will likely be accelerated. We can either say no more anti-terror laws full stop, or demand that if they really are telling the truth and that we need to suspend some freedoms, that we get some carrots in return. Wiretap evidence must be made admissible. The security services must have a watchdog. The attacks on the Human Rights Act must cease. The government should accept that trial here is better than deporting someone to where they face torture. It's only then we should perhaps listen to their plans. Until that happens, no more new anti-terror laws.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006 

Schadenfreude is my best friend.

Another Screws journalist not known for his honest methods.

Can things get any worse for the News of the World? Within days of losing the libel action brought against the paper by the Scottish Socialist Tommy Sheridan, the paper's royal editor is still in police custody, after the plod were given longer to question him and another man, presumed to be another Screws journalist, over an 8-month long investigation into phone-tapping at Clarence House, Prince Charles's residence. Another man, not thought to be a News International employee, has been released on bail. The Screws offices in Wapping have also been raided by Inspector Knacker.

Rumours are already starting to fly. Guido wonders whether others bugged could include Boris Johnson and Michael Portillo, both recently exposed by the Screws as having affairs or relationships with women. Tom Brady, the ITV political editor, speaking on the 12:30 bulletin today, suggested that anti-terrorist IT specialists had discovered that others bugged could include cabinet ministers. It was the News of the Screws that broke the news of David Blunkett's affair with Kimberley Quinn, which could possibly mean that the bugging has been going on for years. Presumably John Prescott was not one of those potentially bugged, as his affair was exposed by the Mirror.

The arrests cap a miserable few months for the UK's worst newspaper. Mazher Mahmood was found to be a lying fantasist, as the "red mercury" case collapsed around his ears, fresh from being exposed by Galloway as a... lying fantasist. Mahmood also faces another libel trial over the Victoria Beckham kidnap plot that never was, after his partner in entrapment, Florim Ghasi, changed sides. The cheque-book journalism which results in numerous kiss 'n' tell stories every Sunday was left looking like the corrupt practice it is, as a jury in Scotland decided that the Screws' witnesses were lying while Sheridan wasn't. Sheridan's speech afterwards, lambasting the journalism carried out by the likes of the Screws would have been better if he hadn't sold his story straight afterwards to the Daily Record, owned by the same people as the muck-raking Sunday Mirror and People.

What's most amusing is that it's usually the Screws which contacts the police with some crime they've uncovered, or the police which leak stuff to News International for money; perhaps the royal editor will experience similar feelings to those set up by Mahmood when they've only been guilty of being gullible. For once the boot is on the other foot. Either way, anything that's a set-back to the Murdoch papers is to be celebrated. Schadenfreude is once again the enemies of the Screws' best friend.

P.S. - There's nothing in today's Sun about the arrests, something that they'd usually be all over like a rash, although there is a story about a goat dying after being taken for a joyride. Why could that possibly be?

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Can't we burn her on a funeral pyre?

The deep affection felt for Margaret Thatcher by some of the media and elements of the Tory party appears to have been reawakened of late. This may be down to the election of David "Dave" Cameron, and his quest to turn his party into a touchy-feely bunch of tree huggers, as evidenced by their apparent change of logo. There was outrage in the Mail on Sunday after Jonathan Ross asked Cameron whether he had ever fantasised about Hilda while masturbating. Now the Telegraph and a couple of Tory MPs are angry that Thatcher might not get the state funeral which she so clearly deserves.

Tony Blair was accused last night of appeasing Left-wing Labour MPs after Downing Street confirmed that it did not intend to recommend a state funeral for Lady Thatcher, the country's first woman prime minister.

Senior Conservative MPs expressed anger over a letter from one of Mr Blair's aides to a Labour backbencher setting out No 10's position.

They accused Mr Blair of provoking an "unseemly" political row by entering into a discussion about Lady Thatcher's funeral arrangements at a time when she was in good health.

Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, said there were "lots of reasons" why Lady Thatcher should become the first prime minister since Winston Churchill to be accorded a state funeral.

She turned round the British economy and victory in the Falklands conflict restored the country's international prestige, he said.

Gerald Howarth, the Tory MP for Aldershot and Lady Thatcher's former parliamentary aide, said that the No 10 letter showed that when Mr Blair was in trouble with his party he made a gesture to appease his Left-wing MPs - such as the ban on foxhunting.

"That is Blair all over," Mr Howarth said. "It is contemptible. He claimed the mantle of Thatcher but when the going gets tough with Labour MPs, he throws them a bone."

Much as one loves to hate Tony, whatever he did here he'd end up getting criticised. If his private secretary hadn't ruled out the funeral entirely (which he hasn't, simply saying "that there are no such plans"), then the same Tories and Torygraph would be indignant that they weren't confirming what they clearly want, with Blair avoiding questions as usual. Instead he's now accused of being "unseemly", simply for answering a question and giving a response which doesn't much please the Torygraph.

Then we have the determination of the self styled quiet man, Mr Iain Duncan Smith. According to him, Thatcher turned round the economy, which would come as a surprise to the millions of unemployed who lived the early 80s in misery. The economy in fact went through its usual boom and bust during the decade, only calming down in the aftermath of Black Wednesday. Then we have the curious remark that the Falklands war, quite possibly the most pointless conflict the UK has ever participated in, helped restore our international prestige. What it actually did was show the world how to fight a war in a near-media blackout, with almost all information controlled by the government. The sinking of the Belgrano, while it was outside the 200-mile exclusion zone and sailing even further away from it, remains controversial to this day. With an almost entirely pliant media, helped along the way by the Scum's complete obeisance to "Our Boys" and its infamous "Gotcha!" headline, the country united behind Thatcher and returned her to office in 1983 (The longest suicide note in history, aka the 1983 Labour manifesto and the SDP-Liberal pact also played their part) with an increased majority. Duncan Smith also doesn't mention those other foreign policy triumphs of the Thatcher years - supporting the mujahadein in Afghanistan against the Soviets, which then turned its guns and bombs against the west, and selling weapons to Saddam Hussein, as well supporting Iraq in the war with Iran, which cost a million lives.

Howarth is spouting similar nonsense. Could anyone imagine a Labour prime minister, even Blair, giving Thatcher a state funeral? You may as well reintroduce the poll tax, because the response from the public at large, not just the left, would be similar. He mentions the ban on fox hunting as appeasing the left at a time of trouble - but Labour had promised a free vote on banning hunting with hounds since the 1997 manifesto. He's right that Blair modelled himself on Thatcher, but can any Tory now deny that Cameron is a clone of Blair, except newer, younger and more green?

Obsolete therefore thinks that we can come to a compromise. When Thatcher keels over, let's have an open-air cremation in parliament square. It can be both a state funeral, pleasing the Tory diehards, and also delight the left, which has long ached for the dreadful woman to be burnt at the stake.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006 

Bourgeois superficiality.

Two articles from July/August's Adbusters (Click to enlarge.). Advert for Vogue in today's Guardian.

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What is it good for? More sales of Powerpoint to the military.

Blood stains the walls in the Lebanese village of Brital; relative of 3 women killed in a Hizbullah rocket attack on Arab el Aramsheh collapses with shock; man killed after an Israel drone fired a missile at a motorcycle in Tyre.

What's become most chilling about the war in Lebanon has been how Israel has repeatedly ratcheted up the rhetoric. Every day the conflict is "escalated". Today is no exception.

This might be because the diplomatic end-game is in sight, and Israel has still completely failed to stop Hizbullah from launching their katyushas into Northern Israel. For a ceasefire or "cessation of hostilities" to take hold, Israel has got to at least look as if it has got something out of this otherwise pointless conflict. All they've got to show at the moment is a lot of dead soldiers and civilians on their own side, and the near full-scale destruction of the southern half of Lebanon, something that is not going to be quickly forgotten by the wider world. From claiming at the beginning that they would destroy Hizbullah, the militia has instead held out against the IDF for longer than an Arab army ever did. The Lebanese army might be deployed to southern Lebanon, but will Hizbullah be forced to disarm immediately? It seems highly unlikely.

The other possibility is as George Monbiot and others over the last few weeks have suggested, that this war was pre-meditated and planned in advance, with Israel waiting for the right time to launch the destruction of Hizbullah and most of the country's infrastructure. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, a three-week campaign was planned for. The officer's power-point demonstration of how the war would be fought is almost an exact replica of how the Israeli bombing and military action has panned out:

The first week concentrated on destroying Hezbollah's heavier long-range missiles, bombing its command-and-control centers, and disrupting transportation and communication arteries. In the second week, the focus shifted to attacks on individual sites of rocket launchers or weapons stores. In the third week, ground forces in large numbers would be introduced, but only in order to knock out targets discovered during reconnaissance missions as the campaign unfolded. There was no plan, according to this scenario, to reoccupy southern Lebanon on a long-term basis.

In the New Statesman, John Kampfner reveals how the actions of Blair and Beckett in not calling for an immediate ceasefire have all been a part of how Britain knew in advance of Israel's planned attack. It's only now that the 3 weeks are up that the diplomatic stance has changed, with Blair today jetting of on holiday, hopeful that the UN resolution will be quickly passed.

Unfortunately for Israel, those 3 weeks have not been enough. The missiles continue to rain down on Haifa, 250,000 have fled the north of the country, and anyone remaining in the town of Kiryat Shmona is to be evacuated. Yet even this is now in dispute. On CNN on Sunday, the Washington Post journalist Thomas Ricks went on CNN and told the show's host, Howard Kurtz, that Israel was purposefully not destroying some Hizbullah rocket launchers, so that the offensive in Lebanon could continue to be justified.

As time seems to be running out, Israel is going to even greater lengths to "finish" the job before it is forced to. Yesterday they told the UN that engineers sent to fix a bridge between Beirut and Sidon that they'd be targeted if they did so. A further curfew is now imposed on the area below the Litani river - any vehicle on the road is now a target. Anyone remaining in the area is left with a wonderful choice - remain where you are and face the possibility of being blown up in your house, like countless others across the country have, or be blown up trying to flee. In an attack that'll be familiar to those in Afghanistan, where firing into the air has brought out the US F16s, a funeral parade was blown up in the town of Ghaziyeh. Reports differ on the amount killed, with ynetnews suggesting 14, and 1 killed in another raid 5 minutes later, while the Guardian says it could be either 6 or 1. The BBC has also finally got round to reporting on the environmental disaster facing Lebanon's coastline, known about for at least a week but only dealt with in-depth now.

As Blair sets off to wherever it is he's going, he can at least know that's he got one more friend to add to his ever shortening list. Binyamin Netanyahu, former prime minister, has saluted what Bush would most likely call his "moral courage":

He said Hezbollah regarded Israel as "the first step on the way to an Islamic empire" and "would not last a day without Iran, where its fighters are trained".

"It is a mad wisdom and it should not be dismissed because it's mad, just as Hitler - he started off as an attack on the Jews and this is the same thing," he said.

Who could possibly disagree with that analysis? Anyone who opposes what's going in Lebanon, as Stephen Pollard has already shown, clearly wants all the Jews in the region to die in a second Holocaust. Even Netanyahu is moderate compared to this guy though:

Israel should have given Lebanon an ultimatum like this: "Until our abducted soldiers are returned and the rocket fire at our communities ends, we will destroy the communities of southern Lebanon via aerial bombardment, methodically going from south to north, and we will begin within 24 hours." In this way, we would not have endangered even one soldiers in battle.

It's not genocide and ethnic cleansing when Israel does it. Honest.

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August is traditionally the leanest month, both on sales and news for media organisations. The broadsheets deal with this by using any old crap they can get their hands on, usually surveys or research which otherwise would have been left out in the cold. The Guardian today reports on a study involving youths in the United States by the RAND Corporation, which comes to the conclusion that those who listen to music with "raunchy" lyrics have sex earlier. Almost certainly bollocks, as it ignores everything other than the individual's music taste, but it fills some space up.

For the tabloids, things are a bit different. Even with a war going on in the Middle East, August provides an opportunity for them to retreat and stare at their navels, examining in detail their own individual obsessions and beliefs. Today's papers are a prime example of this in action.

The Mail and Express then leap at the chance given to them by the Local Government Association. In a letter to the Home Secretary, the body expresses concern that failure to properly monitor the number of legal migrants coming to the country from the EU may lead to a rise in council tax, due to additional funding needed for the services the migrants use not being forthcoming.

What the Mail and Express want you to think is that these people are purely coming here to "skive" - when in fact the LGA in its letter points out how many migrants have registered themselves in Slough for national insurance payments. It's certainly by no means a country wide problem either, although 25 councils think they may have problems, which isn't a tiny number by any stretch of the imagination. Nowhere does the letter suggest that they're struggling to cope, as the Express claims - the furthest it goes is "there are a number of local authorities for whom the current system of measuring the number of migrants in specific council areas is failing to ensure adequate funding to keep council services to local people maintained." Now this is out in the open though, it's bound to be used as a useful scapegoat for overspending or ill-calculating councils for when the rises are announced, migrants or not, which will probably lead to more council tax "martyrs", like Josephine Rooney being given publicity by the bastions of Middle England.

The Sun goes with the story of the convicted paedophile Leslie Ford-Thrussell, whose former house and garden police are planning to excavate, after allegations in a letter that there are two children buried there. The paper links Fred West in, even though he killed at least 12 people, and only one of his victims was under the age of ten. Above that, the paper reports on the "crisis" engulfing Big Brother. The Star goes with the same thing, although inevitably illustrates the story with a photograph of Nikki, her modesty only protected by her hair. The complaints have poured in after the producers of the show had the brilliant idea of bringing back a whole bunch of already evicted housemates - which the watchers of the show had already paid money to get rid of through their phone/text voting.

It's rather difficult to feel sorry or have much sympathy for those complaining. After all, the whole show is manipulated and a con to begin with; the most likeable characters are identified in the first week/s of the show, while the others become demonised by the show's producers in order to increase the tension inside the house and to get the morons who watch it passionate enough about what's going on to actually participate in the evictions. If you're stupid enough to watch a show which features the absolute dregs of modern society and complain when you personally get shafted by a show that shafts almost everyone foolish enough to go on it, then you deserve what you get.

Speaking of which, there's something incredibly creepy about Nikki, the Series 6 poster girl, despite being as dull as dishwater both mentally and physically. (She's also surgically enhanced of course, and since being evicted she has appeared in a state of undress for both Nuts and Zoo, despite saying in the house that she wouldn't). It's the eyes: in all the photographs of her there is absolutely nothing behind them. It's like staring into a dark abyss, which then in turn starts to swallow you into it, trying to steal your soul to replace the one she was born without. The worrying thing is that something demonic will fill the void, resulting in Nikki masturbating with a crucifix and projectile vomiting everywhere, although seeing as other ex-Big Brother female contestants have gone into soft pornography, that might be tempting fate.

Finally then, the Mirror continues to bore the entire country with yet more talk of McCartney n' Mills' split, as they seem to be following every twist and turn after revealing the break-up to start with. Quite frankly, who gives a fuck?

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Monday, August 07, 2006 

"Let The Jews Die".


It's taken them a while, but the smear merchants against the huge demonstation in London on Saturday are starting to come out into the open.

Fighting on the side of good thinking moderates such as Melanie Philips, we have Stephen Pollard, who has rather unfairly in the past been compared in the looks department to another Pollard, namely Vicky. He came across Lenin's Tomb, which he calls "awful", but that's nothing compared to the photographs which Lenin took that showed the mass of people calling for an immediate ceasefire. They are apparently "obscene". I quite agree, the placards showing the children killed in Israeli air strikes are obscene. In the eyes and minds of numerous Israeli ministers, who said that anyone remaining in the south would be considered a terrorist, and that the clock was going to be turned back 20 years, then those children and everyone remaining are Hizbullah. Hence those of us who oppose the collective punishment imposed on Lebanon are more than willing to take on the same moniker. I'm an atheist, I condemn Hizbullah for their original action, I condemn them for killing innocent Israeli civilians, but to some I'm still Hizbullah. That's fine.

There's similar thinking going on in the mind of Steve Tobias, from sunny Houston, Texas, on the Guardian's letters page.

As an American, watching British media is like viewing events in a parallel universe. There has been incredulity at the Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer's comparison of the Hizbullah assault on Israel to the London Blitz. As I recall south London took some 2,800 hits during all ofthe second world war, which is about what Israel has absorbed in the last three weeks.

Isn't it awful that an American has to remind us Brits of the horror of the Blitz? Have we really forgotten so quickly? It's all well and good talking about how London and Israel have taken so many hits, but perhaps we should look instead at something else, such as how many died. According to Wikipedia, 38 Israeli civilians have died so far in Hizbullah rocket attacks, with 1300 "shocked" or wounded. The blitz, according to the same source, killed an estimated 43,000, with 139,000 injured.
The two things are completely incomparable, but fatuous historical parallels are a favourite thing of the right. On Comment is Free, numerous posters have mentioned the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in order to show that "disproportionate" actions sometimes have merit. It'd be a decent point, if you completely ignore the history both of the lead up to the second world war and the constant skirmishes between Israel and Hizbullah, which in the past haven't led to such destructive and despicable uses of force. It also ignores how the horror of WW2 directly led to the setting up of the Geneva Conventions. Everyone recognised then that there are certain things, even in the time of war, that are completely unacceptable. Those who think that they need to be abandoned to fight the war on terror are one and the same with the commentators that perform such hysterical apologetics for Israeli war crimes, while condemning Hizbullah for exactly the same thing.

Over on everyone's favourite cruise missile "left" site, Harry comes out of retirement once more to quote Andrew Murray, saying that there is no way that STWC should become a support group for Hizbullah. Quite right too. Harry then links to some more photos of the demo, prominently showing the few Hizbullah supporters/flag wavers who were on the march. Murray is therefore a stinking hypocrite, surely? Well, if you were actually at the march demanding a ceasefire, as this blog was, then maybe you'd have seen how few Hizbullah supporters there were. As there were at least 50,000 on the march, with it being quite possible that they were 100,000 as claimed, the tiny amount of those waving their flags of resistance were overwhelming outnumbered. Every movement or grouping has a number of blowhards, and Harry's Place is no different.

Out in the real world, another 24 Lebanese civilians have died today. Israel destroyed the last road into Tyre, meaning that the city is now completely cut off, with aid unable to reach those who still remain behind, unless Israel allows ships to enter the port. The UN resolution, which has been roundly rejected by Arab countries, Lebanon and Hizbullah, is still a decent starting point for a settlement. Hilariously though, the revisionism has already begun. Condoleezza Rice, who only a couple of weeks ago was spouting "there cannot be a return to the status quo ante!" now says "We're going to know who really did want to stop the violence and who didn't." Yes, we are. You didn't, and now that you've helped manufacture a resolution which Israel couldn't have dreamed of being better, those who have been calling for a ceasefire are apparently obstacles to peace. The position of the US, along with the ample support of Blair and acquiesence of those around him has meant that the Jews talked about by Pollard have continued to die. Hundreds of Lebanese civilians have died. Still, why focus on the big picture when you can attack those who wanted peace from the beginning?

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