Saturday, December 23, 2006 

War ain't over.

OK, I nicked this from Guido, and it's by Banksy, but it seems appropriate.

Oh, and I've been memed (ugh). I'll find a way of fitting that in when I do my masturbatory post on the best/worst music of the year in a couple of days. Until then, have a happy Christmas. I'm sure I won't.


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Friday, December 22, 2006 

Who will rid of us this meddlesome commissioner?

"Sir" Ian Blair really doesn't know when to shut up. When he's not making speeches urging 90 days detention for terrorist "suspects" be reintroduced, he's giving interviews in which he either lies through his teeth or exaggerates the "threat" without any regard for historical reality.

Defending the high security levels which have been maintained in London, Sir Ian said the threat of terrorism was "far graver" than those faced during World War II, the Cold War or the IRA.

It's not clear whether Blair is suggesting that the threat of terrorism now is worse than threat we faced during World War II, or whether he actually means that the threat of terrorism is worse now than it was in the past. If he's seriously trying to suggest that the threat we face now is worse than that from the Nazis in 1940-41, when close to 30,000 were killed in the Battle of Britain, or that from the Soviet Union, where our cities actually were potentially hours away from being vapourised, then he is a either a knave or a fool. Judging by his speech to the Urban Age summit in Berlin, he's not a fool. The only rational conclusion that can be reached is that his scaremongering is designed purely to further the police's demands for 90 days to be reintroduced, a demand that the attorney general and even Dr Demento himself have concluded there is no evidence to support.

Oh, and to add the icing on the cake:

However, he said there was "no specific intelligence" about an imminent attack but the threat was "ever present".

This really though is just a continuation of John Reid's previous remarks that there may be an attack before Christmas. We have no evidence that anyone is planning anything, but you know, you never really know with these exploding brown young men, do you?

Sir Ian said: "I'd say this: I, for my own part, I am quite confident that I will not face any kind of misconduct... in relation to Stockwell."

When questioned about his confidence, he added: "I'll just say that I'm confident, shall we leave it at that?"

Misconduct no. The fact that senior officers didn't want to "depress" their boss with bad news, or were involved in a cover-up not involving the commissioner though are two other distinct possibilities.

And he defended an anti-terror raid in Forest Gate claiming the shooting of a man during the raid was an accident.

Oh, that's all right then. The fact that the Koyair brothers were smeared relentlessly in the tabloid press while they were under arrest, most likely by those on "Sir" Ian Blair's force, with some even possibly involved in a elaborate plot to convict one of the brothers with possessing child pornography, which itself was leaked to the News of the Screws, obviously isn't worthy of a mention.

"We have learnt a lot from Forest Gate and you saw that in the way we handled the airline plot."

Yes, exaggerate wildly the true threat which those arrested posed, then quietly later release some without charge, while the authorities in Pakistan throw out terrorism charges against the alleged ringleader.

Back in March I suggested that we might be better with the devil we know, having Ian Blair as the Met's commissioner. I was wrong. There is not a snowflake's chance that anyone could be worse than this politicised, lying, mendacious shit. One Blair is bad enough, but two is hell itself.

Update: the Guardian's report on the interview is a lot more clear on what Blair actually said than the BBC report was. According to them:

"The level of threat is of an unparalleled nature and growing," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "In terms of civilians - you would have to go back to probably either the second world war or cold war for that threat.

"The IRA, with very few exceptions, did not want to carry out mass atrocities, they didn't want to die, they gave warnings and they were heavily penetrated by the intelligence services. None of those apply with al-Qaida and its affiliates."

This isn't necessarily true though either. The Madrid bombings were not suicide attacks although the bombers did later kill themselves when the net had closed in, and the main explosion in Bali in 2002 was from a car bomb, although a suicide attacker was involved in causing people to flee into the path of the larger explosion. These groups can be infiltrated, and the methods used by such Islamist groups will not always involve suicide, but whichever is deemed more appropriate. Adjusting to this new threat is going to take time, but for now vastly exaggerating the true threat to the public and politicising the debate over terrorism will only increase cynicism and disbelief. This is something the government and police have still yet to take heed of.

Speaking of which:

Sir Ian suggested the threat raised questions about the need to extend further the detention period for suspects.

And we're back to square one yet again.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006 

Scum and Express-watch: Veiled abuse.

Especially considering that Stephen Wright has now been charged with the murders of all five prostitutes, today's tabloid reporting on the man has been an absolute disgrace. As well as being linked to other alleged deaths, he's been accused of being a cross-dresser, and a ex-wife has jumped at the chance to grab some money from both the Sun and the Mirror. If this now doesn't cease, as you hope and expect that it will, then the attorney general should start looking into doing something other than simply kindly asking the editors to mind what they print, as they have up to now took no notice whatsoever.

It's the veil though that is once again causing "outrage" in both the Scum and Sexpress. There has been absolutely no evidence presented by anyone that
Mustaf Jama actually did manage to flee the country wearing the niqab, but as is as usual in the gutter press this doesn't matter one jot, as neither the Scum nor Express have even bothered reporting the statement from a police spokesman that Jama may have been wearing a pantomime horse costume for all they knew.

The Express front page also hints that the farce has continued, suggesting as it does that someone wearing the niqab was able to get on board a plane without first having her identity checked. They present no evidence of this, and clearly haven't tested whether someone wearing a niqab would now have their identity checked, presumably because this would a: cost money that Richard "Dirty" Desmond would rather be paying himself (having made £52 million last year) and b: it's easier just to pretend that the same old system is carrying on as normal, even though the adverse publicity would suggest that airlines would be extra vigilant as a result; and with the number of flights being canceled due to the fog enveloping many parts of Britain, staff not dealing with keeping passengers informed would be more free to make extra checks on the reduced number of those actually boarding flights.

Nonetheless, the Scum has decided to start up another of its usually incredibly successful campaigns:

THE Sun today launches a campaign to close the veil loophole making a mockery of Britain’s airport security.

We told yesterday how a member of the gang which killed WPC Sharon Beshenivsky sneaked out of Heathrow by donning a Muslim niqab, with just a slit for eyes.

Now we are calling on Home Secretary John Reid to turn passport control at every airport in the country into a veil-free zone.

MPs too are urging action after it emerged that hard-pressed staff carry out only RANDOM passport checks on passengers leaving Britain.

We want these checks to be COMPULSORY with veils lifted in a private area.

If more resources are needed they must be found. Otherwise criminals — and terrorists — are sure to exploit the weakness in future.

You mean exploit the weakness to flee the country? I thought you lot were all for deporting these people?

Seriously though, this is making a humongous mountain out of the tiniest of molehills. I can't find any figures even detailing the number of women who actually wear the niqab in Britain (if anyone has any then I'd appreciate seeing them) but I doubt it numbers more than the low-to-mid tens of thousands. The Express however, seems to have a different idea. In today's article it suggests that "dozens of veil wearers passed unchecked through ... airports", but of course doesn't provide any evidence to back up this claim. The numbers of niqab wearers which pass through airports every day has to be assumed to be extremely low. The suggestion that women would even have to lift their veils for their identity to be ascertained is ludicrous. Talking to them while examining their passport should be enough on its own to make sure the wearer of the niqab actually is female, and at the same time the colour of their eyes, the facial features that can be made out etc, could be checked. Only then if there are any doubts would it be necessary for the woman to actually lift her veil. Rather than every single niqab wearer having to lift her veil, taking up extra time, this would a much sensibler and more realistic scheme to follow. Whether we would want to check every niqab wearer entering the country rather than exiting is a different matter.

Both Mr Davis and Mr Malik called for an inquiry into how gang member Mustaf Jama, 26, an asylum seeker, fled disguised as a Muslim woman with a stolen passport.

And the reason there won't be one will be because the police are hardly likely to present their seemingly less than overwhelming evidence that he actually did. Better to blame an item of religious dress that's been in the news of late for all the wrong reasons, as well as airport staff, than to recognise their own failings in letting Jama get away in the first place.

Then we get down to the real reason that the newspapers are so angry about this. Sharon Beshenivsky's friends and relatives have been quite reasonably expressing their anger about the failure for Jama to be deported. Having come to Britain in 1993 as an asylum seeker from Somalia, Jama had been imprisoned for a number of crimes, but instead of being deported as is meant to be the case for someone here on a visa or otherwise from overseas, it has been determined, rightly in my view, that it's not safe for anyone to be forcibly deported back to Somalia.

Even the Sun hints at the anarchy which has ensued across the country since 1991, describing it in the campaign article as "war-torn" and "lawless". There are no such caveats though in the Scum's leader column, which is mainly an unwarranted attack on the Labour immigration minister:

Absurdly, they are allowed to stay because it would breach their human rights to send them home.

Well yes, generally sending someone back to a country which they fled from in fear of their lives, especially one which now appears to be close to total war, where according to the CIA factbook major infectious diseases are also listed as being of very high risk, could "absurdly" breach their right to life. The various elements of human rights law which can on occasion seem absurd have to be balanced against the benefits that they have also given us: such as protecting the right to protest, the right not to be held indefinitely without charge, and requiring the setting up of inquests into deaths where the authorities themselves may be implicated in the death. While no one may be happy about Jama not being deported, would we feel the same way if we knew that an asylum seeker who had committed a minor crime had been deported and ended up being tortured or killed in their home country? Would the Sun also deport asylum seekers convicted of crime or those here on visas/illegally under similar circumstances back to Zimbabwe, Iran or North Korea?

Meanwhile, over in the Express, the Tory MP David Davies (not David Davis, the shadow home secretary, although he has similar views) was more than happy to do the Express's dirty work for them in suggesting the right to wear the niqab should be curtailed:
Fellow Tory David Davies said the manner of Jama’s escape furthered his belief that the Government must begin examining ways to discourage or even outlaw the wearing of the full veil in public.

“Many European countries, and indeed Muslim countries, have taken steps to ban the wearing of the veil in public,” said the Monmouth MP.

“One example is Tunisia. They take the view that the wearing of the veil is not stipulated by the Koran, it is a political act.
Davies is echoing previous arguments made by the Express itself, but let's take them apart again anyway.

The only European country heading towards a total ban in public is the Netherlands, and whether it will ever actually pass is in doubt. France has a ban on the wearing of all religious symbols in state buildings; several municipalities in Belgium have banned the wearing of the niqab or burqa in public; a similar ban to the one in France exists in several German states. As for Tunisia, what's the government there like? Democracy is it? Err, no. A quick trip over to Wikipedia reveals:

Tunisia is a republic with a strong presidential system dominated by a single political party. President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has been in office since 1987, the year he deposed Habib Bourguiba in a bloodless coup. The constitution has been changed twice to allow Ben Ali to remain in power: initially from two to three terms, then from three to five. The ruling party, the Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD), was the sole legal party for 25 years, known previously as the Socialist Destourian Party (PSD). The RCD still dominates political life.

Facing virtually no opposition, the President is elected to 5-year terms. He appoints a Prime Minister and cabinet, who play a strong role in the execution of policy. Regional governors and local administrators also are appointed by the central government. Largely consultative mayors and municipal councils are elected. There is a unicameral legislative body, the Chamber of Deputies, which has 182 seats, 20% of which are reserved for the opposition parties. It plays a growing role as an arena for debate on national policy but never originates legislation. The Chamber virtually always passes bills presented by the executive with only one minor change. The judiciary is nominally independent but responds to executive direction, especially in political cases. The military is professional and does not play a role in politics.

Tunisia is noteworthy for its lack of public political discourse. Tunisia's precise political situation is hard to determine due to a strong level of silence and lack of transparency maintained by the government. There is compelling evidence that dissidents are routinely arrested, for crimes as minor as viewing banned web sites. There are currently six legal opposition parties all with their own newspapers. However, the Committee to Protect Journalists, in its 2005 country report on Tunisia, details a persistent record of harassment, persecution, imprisonment, and physical harm perpetrated on journalists critical of the government. Even Western journalists, when writing on Tunisian soil, are not spared this fate[1].

David Davies was also recently taken to task by Unity.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006 

Scum-watch: Can we get Wade arrested for this?

At 4:30pm on Tuesday this article was published on the Guardian's website:

Suffolk Constabulary has written to editors asking them not to identify any individuals involved in its investigation into the murder of five women in Ipswich, despite nearly every major news outlet naming the first arrested man.

The Suffolk chief constable, Alastair McWhirter, wrote to editors reminding them that legal proceedings were now active in its investigation.

"We would ask that the media do not publish any material that may hinder the investigation, especially where identification might be an issue, or may prejudice the right of anyone to a fair trial at a future date," he wrote.

"The editor who chooses to make public any material that prejudices the right of any potential defendant to a fair trial will carry a heavy burden, should that person be acquitted as a consequence of that prejudice.

"I put you on notice that Suffolk Constabulary will take all necessary legal steps to ensure the integrity of all future legal proceedings.

"We strongly advise you to take legal advice before naming any individual or individuals."

5 hours later, and this (I'm not going to reproduce the front page on this occasion) rolls off the presses at Wapping.

Now, the argument can convincingly be made, given the coverage of the arrest of the second man, that his partner and friends had already put his name into the public domain by giving interviews and making clear their belief in his innocence.

The Sun's front page today though is quite clearly out of order. Whether it potentially does make a conviction more or less likely is open to debate, but it's the kind of potentially prejudicial news reporting that ought to be much more carefully thought about before being published. The article itself is also a typically breathless Sun piece, with all the details seemingly being fed to them by a police source, with the details of the suspect from a ex-wife who has likely trousered a hefty cheque. It's worth noting that two of the journalists responsible, Julie Moult and Mike Sullivan, have been involved in previous Scum stories which have been thoroughly debunked. Moult was one of those that reported on the imaginary "Muslim yobs" which vandalised a house soldiers had looked into moving into, and never responded to an email from Unity to explain herself, while Sullivan wrote complete bollocks about the house of horrors that, err, wasn't and had a hand in the still uncorrected Rochelle Holness story, as well as other articles of dubious accuracy.

For comparison's sake, today's Mirror also publishes a photo of the suspect on its front page, but blocks out his face, which is more sensible, but do we really need to see a photograph of the man at all until he's charged? He was arrested without resisting, and was not a fugitive or wanted for questioning before he entered the police's inquiries, which would be the two defenses for publishing the photographs of those suspected of criminal activity. Most of the rest of the media has given the suspect's name, and I don't think there's much wrong with that, although the police request is reasonable and should be taken seriously by all.

Elsewhere, MySpace has been defending its decision to remove Tom Stephens profile:

"We have taken down the profile and preserved the data should it be useful for law enforcement in their investigation," said Hemanshu Nigam, chief security officer at MySpace.

"While we cannot go into detail about the case because it is an ongoing investigation, we can say that since the site's inception, MySpace has met with law enforcement officials around the globe to solicit their viewpoints on how we can enhance our cooperation with law enforcement and increase user security," Mr Nigam added.

"In this particular case, we have taken action to preserve the account for law enforcement purposes and in order to provide information to investigators through the appropriate legal channels."
This isn't exactly convincing. Only those who were on Stephens' friend list could have altered the page in any way, unless there was someone else who had access to Stephens' account. Considering that he lived alone, and that his house is being apparently taken apart by the police, no one was that likely to. Anyway, doesn't MySpace have caches of pages themselves? Mirrors of the page also exist in the Google archive, so there were plenty of potential other available copies for the police, should any of the information on the profile be of any relevance, which seems doubtful itself. Unless MySpace were directly asked by the police to remove the page, then the embarrassment factor still seems to be the most rational reason for why his profile was hastily removed.

Update: This blog has more on the MySpace aspect.

Elsewhere still, Not Saussure, BlairWatch and Five Chinese Crackers have all been examining the dubious claims that Mustaf Jamma, wanted for the murder of PC Sharon Beshenivsky, fled the country with his sister's passport while wearing the niqab. The police themselves aren't convinced:

Asked whether Mustaf Jama had used a full Muslim veil to evade checks, a spokesman for West Yorkshire police said: "It's a possibility. He could have been wearing a pantomime horse outfit as well. But until we get him, we won't know for sure."

No further comment necessary.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006 

Littlejohn-watch: They were whores and it's all the liberals fault...

Fisking Littlejohn is even less rigorous than taking on a Sun-article, but by God if today's piece isn't the most despicable little rant from a little man that I've read in a long time:

Let's get the caveat out of the way from the off. The five women murdered in Ipswich were tragic, lost souls who met a grisly end. I sincerely hope whoever killed them is caught, charged and convicted.

That's nice of you. Why is this so reminiscent of the infamous: I'm not a racist, BUT..

And I know this might sound frightfully callous in the current hysterical, emotional climate, but we're not all guilty.

We do not share in the responsibility for either their grubby little existences or their murders. Society isn't to blame.

It might not be fashionable, or even acceptable in some quarters, to say so, but in their chosen field of "work'=", death by strangulation is an occupational hazard.

That doesn't make it justifiable homicide, but in the scheme of things the deaths of these five women is no great loss.

In a sense, Littlejohn is right. For those of us who have never experienced drug addiction, or had to sell our bodies in order to obtain the money to feed that addiction, we can't even begin to enter into the mindset of those who do it every single day of the year. Instead, we block it out. These people aren't human. They don't exist. If the women had been murdered over a period of years, for instance, rather than in the space of one or two months, and in different ways than through apparent strangulation, then the national media wouldn't so much have touched the case. It might have merited a local TV news report, or the odd paragraph in the local paper. It's easier to pretend these things don't happen. As soon as the word "prostitute" is mentioned to describe the person who has gone missing, they're written off, especially when there are cases of young, attractive, white women who have been killed or gone missing to report instead, who might not so much have sucked a dick, let alone been paid to do so.

This is what Littlejohn is suggesting. Rather than every life being equal, the fact that these women were paying for their drug habits through sex work instantly lowers them below the tragedy of a "normal" person being killed by a serial killer. As some have suggested in recent days, it was only once Peter Sutcliffe had attacked "normal" women that the public really took notice. That this has changed is to be celebrated. Instead, comfortable right wing hacks like Littlejohn are given pages to try to turn back the tide.

They weren't going to discover a cure for cancer or embark on missionary work in Darfur. The only kind of missionary position they undertook was in the back seat of a car.

No, and neither are the vast, vast majority of the population of this country. Is Littlejohn suggesting that their deaths would also be "no great loss"? No, this is just a conceit so that he can get a crude joke in.

Of course their friends and families are grieving. That's what friends and families do. But they should also be asking themselves if there was anything they could have done to prevent what happened.

If you discovered your daughter had gone on the game to feed her heroin habit, wouldn't you move heaven and earth to get her off it?

Well, surprise surprise, Tania Nichol's parents didn't know she was working on the streets, so whether they knew that she was also on drugs is doubtful. Neither did Gemma Adams', and they had tried to help her, but apparently failed. Anneli Alderton had been on drug treatment programmes but failed in her attempts to get off. Paula Clennell's father didn't know she was "on the game". Annette Nichols' cousin had tried to get her off prostitution and drugs, but had also failed.

All of which underlines just the kind of place which street prostitutes find themselves in. They end up there because there usually is nowhere else for them. Their parents may have disowned them, or have similar problems themselves. They may have tried to help but failed. For Littlejohn to just dismissively complain that they should have done more is insulting. By their own nature, most prostitutes are ashamed of what they are reduced to. They often don't want the people who are closest to them, especially relatives, to know what they do.

Frankly, I'm tired of the lame excuses about how they all fell victim to ruthless pimps who plied them with drugs. These women were on the streets because they wanted to be.

We are all capable of free will. At any time, one or all of them could have sought help from the police, or the church, or a charity, or a government agency specifically established to deal with heroin addicts. They chose not to.

As noted above, it looks as if some of them did have help, or attempted to get some. Any person who has battled nicotine addiction will know how difficult it is to give up. Crack cocaine addiction is almost certainly far worse. In a study on monkeys, even when starving and with food in the cage, they would instead use the drug.

Littlejohn is right though that they were on the streets because they wanted to be. As interviews by the media have made clear, they have almost no alternative to doing so. The sad fact is that unless any of those organisations that he mentions had been willing to get any of them straight away onto programmes, then they would have just walked back out. The funding is simply not there, and waiting lists are long, as they are in the prisons as well. Unless treatment becomes as plentiful as the drugs are, the situation will remain the same.

The tortuous twistings of the sisterhood over the past week have been a joy to behold. The 30-yearold Spare Rib T-shirts have been brought out of mothballs and we've been treated to the All Men Are Bastards/Rapists/Murderers mantra from assorted Glendas who ought to be old enough to know better.

As opposed to the Taxi Driver/White Van Man stereotype that Littlejohn lives up to. Besides, at least one Glenda, Carole Malone, has already been out following the line of Littlejohn, rather than the "sisterhood". It also may be something to do with the fact that male commentators, such as AN Wilson, Simon Heffer and Leo McKinstry have already been out blaming the liberals and political correctness.

We've heard the well-rehearsed arguments for legalised and regulated prostitution, as if we were living under the Taliban. The fact is, we've already got de facto legal brothels on every High Street.

They're call saunas or massage parlours.

As I remarked when the Labour MP Joe Ashton was once caught in a Siamese "sauna" in Northampton, he must have been the only man in Britain ever to go to a massage parlour for a massage. It doesn't get much more glamorous than that.

All of this depends on the local police force and local council. Some inevitably turn a blind eye, while others are a lot more hardline. Besides Mr Littlejohn, how is it you know so much about this?

The arguments for regulating and legalising prostitution also go a lot deeper than this, as he well knows. The Observer at the weekend reported that Blair vetoed the attempts by Blunkett, in one of his only sane moves, to introduce regulated "red light zones", which have worked in the Netherlands and Germany. No prostitute has been killed in such zones which have been introduced overseas. Such regulated zones could also be useful in cracking down on human trafficking, meaning that modern day sex slavery could be almost entirely avoided. Littlejohn dismisses all these various suggestions and plans in one swipe of his pen, or tap on his keyboard.

These five women were on the streets because even the filthiest, most disreputable back-alley "sauna" above a kebab shop wouldn't give them house room.

Again, not necessarily. As the pictures of the women have also shown, none of them were the stereotype of a hard-faced, drug-battered old prostitute which so many have of street girls. Diane Taylor has also reported that the police attitude towards prostitutes in Ipswich was not among the most liberal. Really though, this is just Littlejohn attacking the women for being the lowest of the low, an attempt to make the reader feel contempt for them rather than sympathy. They weren't even good enough to work in a mangy brothel, don't you get it?

The men who used them were either too mean to fork out whatever a massage parlour charges, or simply weren't fussy. Some men are actually turned on by disgusting, drug-addled street whores. Where there's demand, there'll always be supply.

Or that some would rather go to an area where it's less likely they'll be caught by someone they know. Most "saunas" are now in areas of high-level CCTV. Down by Ipswich's Portman Road stadium there was none, as the police have found to their disadvantage. Men will always go where they know the working girls are. For some, sex is just sex. It doesn't matter what the woman looks like. Men can also get stung in massage parlours, some of which resemble places like those in Soho where the naive get trapped. Those working on the street are often more honest. As above, this is just another swipe at the women involved. Notice how the men are only insulted for being mean, while the women themselves are "disgusting".

This wasn't a case of women going on the game to put bread on the table, or to look after their "babies". That's what the welfare state is for. They did it for drugs.

No shit? I thought you were meant to tell it like it is, not state the obvious.

The gormless Guardianistas simply refuse to confront this blindingly obvious reality. They would rather deify celebrity druggies such as Kate Moss and Will Self than face the truth that hard drugs wreck lives.

Ah, now we get down to insulting the liberals. It's the gormless Guardianistas that are responsible for these women being on smack. The tabloids which Littlejohn has worked for never so much as cover the lives of celebrity smackheads like Pete Doherty, do they? Besides, this is a false argument. What kind of person looks up to Doherty for being a drug addict? They might for his music, not for the way he's killing himself. How many young people would have even heard of Will Self? "Drug chic", if it does actually exist, which is far from proved, is more evident amongst the celebrity mags and gutter press than it is among the the liberal Guardian and Independent readers. The chattering classes that read the Daily Mail and love their dinner parties are similarly likely to regard cocaine use as aspirational rather than something to look down upon.

Contrary to Littlejohn's liberal insults, as has been noticed, it's been the attitudes of the tabloids towards both tolerance zones and towards treatment programmes that mean they often don't see the light of day, so we don't know whether they would work or not. When Howard Roberts, deputy chief constable of Nottinghamshire police earlier in the year suggested giving heroin to addicts, he was jumped on by the same people who have now jumped to blaming liberals. They want to blame and decry at the same time, without offering any solution themselves other than the current one which is so evidently failing.

What I find most objectionable about all this is the attempt to make us all feel responsible for the murders. There is a nasty whiff of Lady Di about the enforced mood of mourning, with even the Old Bill coming across like hand-wringing archbishops.

This is nothing to do though with the women themselves, or the "liberal" media; it's been the tabloids and TV that have been driving it, as they always have and always did. It's a case of great public interest, and when five young women have been killed, everyone wants the perpetrator to be found, and quickly. The police have learned their mistakes from their past, in the way they dealt with Peter Sutcliffe, and the tone struck by them has been just the right one. This is nothing like the huge, mindless gnashing of teeth that followed Diana's death, which was genuinely enforced mourning on a grand scale.

At Ipswich Town's home game on Saturday, there was a minute's silence. We were supposed to believe that this was a true reflection of the community's sympathy.

I don't buy it. Most people went along with it in the spirit of emotional correctness and through fear of getting their heads kicked in if they didn't.

I'd agree if it had been at football grounds across the land, but this was at Ipswich Town's stadium, very close to the area from where the women disappeared. I heard the minute's silence on the radio, preceded by a moving prayer from a local minister, and it was observed impeccably, with everyone applauding when it was over. The population of Ipswich might know their mood better than a gor blimey hack who probably only read about the silence, rather than heard it.

There was only one thing missing, but don't bet against it.

When Blair gets back from saving the Middle East, don't be surprised if he turns up at the funeral of one of these unfortunate women to deliver a lip-trembling, tear-stained eulogy: "She was the People's Prostitute".

There we go, the obligatory Blair insult. The cherry on the cake of an offensive, heartless piece, a true reflection on the writer himself.

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MySpace-watch: The disappearing profile mystery.

Tom Stephens MySpace page before it was deleted, taken from the Google archive.

The decision to remove the first man arrested in connection with the Suffolk murders MySpace page is curious, to say the least. While it remained up until at least late last night, it's since disappeared, to be replaced with MySpace's generic 404 page.

The Scum, which ought to know why it's gone missing, as both are a part of Murdoch's empire, suggests:

Stephens, a Tesco trolley attendant, kept a profile page on the website On it, he called himself The Bishop after a cartoon character and listed his interests as keep fit and 80s music. He said he was 5ft 11ins and athletic.

The page and his entry on Friends Reunited were last night deleted after hate messages poured in.

Which is disingenuous at best. As any fule no, you can only leave a message on someone's MySpace page if they've got you in their friend list. This wouldn't have stopped private messages from flooding in, obviously, but if MySpace knew this was happening, as it apparently did, it could have deleted them without deleting the actual page.

Stranger still is that MySpace doesn't even delete pages if the person who created it dies. has been chronicling those who have died for a while now. Most of the pages turn into tributes to the person, which is one reason why they aren't disposed of.

One can then only assume that MySpace/the Murdoch empire was embarrassed by the revelation that a suspect in the Suffolk prostitute murders inquiry had a profile on their site from hell, which doesn't bode well for the future independence of the site.

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Monday, December 18, 2006 

Cause and effects.

Despite some disdainful remarks towards the chances of Tony Blair's tour of the Middle East actually achieving anything, there in actuality could be no better time for him to visit the Palestinian people, in order to see the actual effects of his policies.

Making his journey as he is during the season of goodwill, the boycott imposed on the Palestinian people for making their legitimate democratic choice is close to reaching what is its only logical conclusion: civil war. Even if the situation in the occupied territories has not yet descended to its lowest point, then the people themselves are suffering almost as they never have before, and by Palestinian standards, that's quite something. 160,000 government workers have largely gone unpaid since March; two-thirds of the 4 million Palestinians are living below the poverty line; Gaza, despite the continuing ceasefire between those firing Qassams and Israel holding, remains the world's largest open-air prison, with the border checkpoints both into Israel and Egypt remaining closed for inordinate lengths of time, mostly justified on "security grounds", despite agreements previously agreed with the backing of the EU and the US.

Blair's comments at his press conference with Mahmoud Abbas were, as has become natural for him, willfully ignorant and blase:
"I hope we will be in a position over these coming weeks to put together an initiative that allows that support for reconstruction and development and to alleviate the plight and suffering of the Palestinian people and also, crucially, give a political framework to move forward to a two-state solution.

That it has been the boycott set-up in response to the election of Hamas, a decision made by a people fed up with the corruption and ineffectiveness of Fatah, that has grossly exacerbated the plight and suffering is completely glossed over. As long as the Palestinian people change their minds from a decision made only 12 months ago, then they will get the support for reconstruction. This is the carrot and stick approach taken to new extremes: we seem to be prepared to take the Palestinian people to the edge of the abyss, only to offer them salvation while pretending that we didn't push them to the precipice in the first place.

All this said, it's hard not to agree with Mahmoud Abbas's decision to call fresh elections. While Abu Mazen's move may well be illegal, it is not as some are suggesting a coup attempt. It would be easier to sympathise with Hamas's situation if its year of governing had not been such an unmitigated disaster. Its continued refusal to so much as share power with Fatah just to end the boycott has sentenced the people they are representing to a life few of us can imagine. They have every right to continue to not recognise Israel, but their alternatives, such as a period of hudna, are no alternative to a negotiated peace settlement, however far off that seems.

Likewise, Blair's moves for peace would be easier to be optimistic about, let alone support, if we knew that Israel felt the same way about proper negotiations. Olmert's few words are from a big enough shift to suggest that their is substance beneath them. Before the Palestinian elections in January, Mahmoud Abbas had for months been pleading for direct talks. Instead Sharon continued with his disengagement plans, thinking that leaving the Palestinians with a shell of a West Bank would somehow lead to peace. This summer's war with Hizbullah has showed that only a full settlement can even start to remove the hatred and grievances which have built up over the years; otherwise, you leave behind an embittered people waiting for their time to come. Israel's apologists will always claim that the Palestinians don't want peace, but the continued building of settlements and establishing of yet more checkpoints, designed to disrupt the lives of Palestinians as much as they possibly can, suggests that successive Israeli governments are not yet prepared to face up to the backlash from the extremist settlers which will come when it becomes clear that their outposts have to be removed for peace to have a chance of flourishing.

The overwhelming support that has been given to Abbas from both Blair and others is also naive in a region still smarting from the refusal of Britain to join the others in the EU in calling for an immediate ceasefire during the summer Lebanon war. While there may be good, clean motives behind doing so, it simply makes it even easier for Hamas to cry about western backed coups. Their apparent decision to boycott the polls seems unlikely to backfire, and if Abbas was simply aiming to get Hamas to return to negotiations over a national unity government, then he appears to have succeeded only in making Hamas even more recalcitrant.

As it is so often in the Israel-Palestine conflict, the only thing can be hoped for is that the worst doesn't happen. The ceasefire between Hamas and Fatah is likely to remain shaky, and there could be no bigger disaster than a civil war, even it only involves those with direct party affiliation rather the wider populace. Blair, the lame duck, would be better putting his energies into getting the boycott lifted or cut down to size, as its only effect so far has been to entrench Hamas's power, as well as sending them even further into the arms of Iran, unless that of course was the intention of Israel and the wider international community in the first place.

Related posts:
Lenin's Tomb - The politics of the Palestinian 'civil war'.
Mask of Anarchy - US backed groups force fresh elections in Palestine.

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More complete coincidences.

As other blogs have already noticed, another piece of news to be buried on Thursday was Eliza Manningham-Buller's decision to step down as head of MI5 earlier than expected, although they've since been keen to stress that Buller apparently made the decision prior to the 7/7 bombings. Strange how they forgot to make the announcement until last Thursday, eh?

Her announcement naturally also has nothing to do with what appears to be soon to emerge new information about those behind the bombings. The Sunday Times reports that they and other media are being blocked by court order from revealing the true scale of the intelligence that MI5 had on those who were previously described as "cleanskins", while the Daily Wail has further details, via Rachel:

Intelligence sources say the men were first seen in early 2004, nearly 18 months before the suicide attacks in London, which left 52 people dead on three Underground lines and a bus.

On one occasion, Khan was monitored driving his car with suspects in it and on another was recorded talking to them about training for jihad.

They also talked about carrying out financial frauds, which helped persuade MI5 that they were not interested in attacks in the UK.

All this is hard to square with the government's own continuing line that a full public inquiry into 7/7 would divert resources or tell us little that we don't already know. While the inquiry into the death of Diana probably isn't the best example and doesn't really compare to what a full investigation into 7/7 would be like, Lord Stevens' comprehensively demolished all the conspiracy theories, whether their proponents are conceding or not. As those of us who frequent blogs know all too well, there are still some people who think that 7/7 was an inside job. While an inquiry would be unlikely to convince the hardcore of fantasists, it would help destroy their arguments.

Along with the need for full closure, a proper and honest summary of what the intelligence services did and didn't know desperately needs to be made public. This doesn't need to be about blaming them, more showing us properly what we are up against. For the moment we're stuck with the hysterical mumblings of politicians who have done their utmost to make "the threat" a party issue; this undermines trust both in them and in the honesty of the spooks and police.

Instead, the government seems to be determined to leave us either entirely in the dark, or buying us off with occasional tidbit, which will only drive the hunger for a full inquiry in the long run.

As for Manningham-Bullshitter herself, she's off to live in the country with her alpacas. Whether she will "treat" us to her memoirs, as did Stella Rimington, who spent her time overseeing the infiltration of those dangerous subversives in CND and breaking the miners strike but actually wrote very little about those things because she was right and we're all wrong, remains to be seen.

P.S. You can sign the Downing Street petition for an inquiry here.

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