Monday, April 30, 2007 

Forever delayed.

They say that good things (or in this case, depressing but motivating things) come to those that wait, or at least that advertisement for a particularly foul beer does, but the news accompanied by the conviction of 5 men for plotting what would have been far more devastating explosions than 7/7, was that, as had been well rumoured, they had links to two of the bombers that killed themselves and murdered dozens of others on that day now known only as two numbers.

These links were not just passing acquaintances, that they'd both encountered some of the plotters on internet forums and had been flagged up as possible co-conspirators. These links were, as Peter Clarke or John Reid would not doubt tell us if they weren't horribly on the back foot, extensive, detailed and authoritative, or do those terms only apply to sexed up dossiers?

One of the revelations is genuinely astounding: Khyam, alleged to be the ringleader in the plot which never came to fruition, and where it's not even clear where they would have struck, drove Mohammad Siddique Khan, the alleged ringleader on 7/7, for hours on the motorway while MI5 listened in. Rather than being, as we were told, that these were "clean skins" and that it was a complete bolt from the blue, from the very minute that the bombers were positively identified MI5 have worked to at least keep this information from coming out, whether because it was "subjudice" or rather because it was an unpleasant fact that the public didn't need to know about.

Within a week of 7/7 there were allegations being made that MSK was known to the intelligence services, and indeed had been missed in the Crevice raid, or at least had links to that investigation, facts that have taken close to two full years to finally emerge. The desperation of the spinning by MI5 is quite mind-boggling to see. The Spook on First Post suggested a month ago that the security service was going to produce a document entitled 'Rumours and Realities', and lo and behold, there's a document on MI5's website entitled Rumours and reality.

As the newly installed head Jonathan Evans is at pains to point out, "The Security Service will never have the capacity to investigate everyone who appears on the periphery of every operation", which is quite true. The trouble with this statement is that MSK was considered such a peripheral player that he was put under surveillance, that it was known he had gone and trained in Pakistan, that everything about him now known suggests that he was a committed jihadist, and that even then it was clear he was considering killing himself and others for his perverse, wicked cause.

There is of course, as the cliché goes, nothing quite like hindsight, and as with most clichés, it has a ring of truth around it. Why though go to all the trouble of being at pains to show how deadly and enduring the threat we now face is, as the terrorists are complete unknowns, when they knew full well even then that it was nonsense?

This is exactly why there now needs to be a full, independent inquiry into what happened both on that day, before that day and then after that day. The government's tired, facile argument that this would take away vital resources from those who are so earnestly protecting our lives is exactly that; disingenuous and worthy of contempt. They treated us with contempt when they lied to us, when they continue to overstate the nature of the threat, when they relentlessly scaremonger moments after telling us to do exactly the opposite, and tell the leakers to stop leaking when the biggest leaks are often from them. Terrorism can be defeated, but only if our governments and protectors are honest with us will it encourage us to be honest with ourselves. They could do much to kick-start the beginning of such a culture by ordering the inquiry.

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The Daily Express: dead horses beaten daily.

Sometimes, I just completely and utterly despair. The Express pretends to be a newspaper. Its owner pretends to be a philanthropic, caring man who donates to hospitals, while paying himself £52 million a year from the profits of his hate-filled rags, celebrity magazines and softcore pornography television channels.

In case you couldn't guess, Muslims are not getting their own laws in Britain, and they're not getting them now, either. Inayat Bunglawala, in one of a rare as rocking horse excrement decent posts on CiF, thoroughly destroys the article. It's true, as some have pointed to, that a judge in a German court recently made a shocking, dismissal worthy decision that a Muslim woman could not have a divorce because her husband had been beating her, as the Koran states that the husband is allowed to beat his wife (a scripture which is predictably controversial and highly debated), but there's no evidence that the setting up of entirely voluntary courts is going to lead to anything as disgraceful as that happening here.

To add insult to injury, the Express illustrates the story online with that now infamous photograph of 3 Muslim women, all wearing the niqab, with one flashing a two-fingered salute at the man behind the camera. That this was taken during the "beheading" raids in Birmingham, when the community as a whole was more than entitled to feel under siege, isn't worthy of a mention.


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Saturday, April 28, 2007 

Sun in printing humourous story which isn't true shocker.

In case you couldn't tell by its sheer ridiculousness, the Sun's story that the Japanese are being fleeced (groan) by being sold sheep when they thinking they're buying poodles, as featured on last night's Have I Got News for You, is complete and utter ovine shit.

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All our heroes are dead or corrupt.

If we're to go by the diary of a soldier from the months after the beginning of the occupation of Iraq, Harry doesn't so much have the insurgents chopping his ears off to look forward to, but rather the intense pleasure of throwing "Ali Babas" into the Shat al Arab, killing two others and getting a beer as a reward, battering an Iraqi who threw a punch from head to toe, beating up more "Ali Babas" with sticks while filming it and finally referring to the death of a man who they tortured as "what a shame".

This was of course what the Sun referred to as a "so-called crime". Truly, these men are heroes.

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Friday, April 27, 2007 

Scum-watch: If in doubt, turn the emotion up to 11.

After a couple of weeks of silence over the faltering Sun campaign to introduce Sarah's law, the paper's decided to turn the emotion and sympathy factor up to 11. It today interviews the parents' of the girl abducted and raped by Craig Sweeney, who was last year at the centre of the Scum's outrage at "soft" judges, after he was sentenced to life with a minimum term of 5 years. Their bilious response, which John Reid responded to like a dog to a whistle, most likely directly led to the attorney general not increasing Sweeney's sentence. In fact, this isn't the first time the parents of "J" have talked to the Sun about their plight; they did so back in February as well.

ANGELA fights back a torrent of tears as she places two photographs of her precious daughter side by side.

The first, taken in 2005, is a cameo of childhood innocence — sparkling blue eyes looking out from a beautiful, beaming face.

The second, taken a year later, is a terrible testament to the horrific ordeal suffered by the youngster — referred to here as “J” to protect her identity.

Her smile has been replaced by a haunted grimace and dark circles sit under her eyes.

Angela says: “I wish the world could see these pictures so people could understand how this monster devastated our little girl’s life.

“People have said her experience was not dissimilar to that of Sarah Payne, Holly Wells or Jessica Chapman — but because J survived she seems to be forgotten.”

Well, no, she hasn't been forgotten, mainly because the Sun especially has felt the need to keep reminding us that Sweeney was personally found with the blood of J on his hands. It clearly was a horrific case, and one for which Sweeney shouldn't and I would assume won't be released as a result for a very long time, despite his minimum tariff. Why keep reminding both yourselves and your daughter herself of the tragedy though? The very thing that will help J to recover from this experience is to deal with it and then move on - you can be angry about it, you can want to change the law, as they seem to want to, but it's not going to change what's happened, and it's not going to help her recover unless they themselves are prepared to consider that bringing it up constantly is anathema to trying to forget, even if you are highlighting the seeming individual mistakes and errors which have occurred.

Angela, 35, is referring to J’s abduction by convicted paedophile Craig Sweeney.

He snatched the tot, then aged three, from her home on January 2 last year and drove her 12 miles to his bail hostel in Newport. He then sexually assaulted her before driving east down the M4 and attacking her again in a lay-by near Swindon then again in the town.

He eventually lost control of the car on the A4 nearly 90 miles from J’s home during a high-speed chase with police. She was thrown from the vehicle just before it overturned and plunged down an embankment.

It's worth wondering then, considering that Sweeney was living 12 miles away, whether the family would have been informed about his release under the proposed Sarah's law that the Sun is campaigning for. On the basis of the Sun's own questionnaire, which it used to try to canvass support for Sarah's law, seeing as J was yet to go to school and Sweeney wasn't living next door or in the immediate surroundings of where they lived, he wouldn't have been known to them. Even if an exact replica of Megan's law were to be introduced, her parents would have either have had to hear the news that Sweeney was back in the area through word of mouth, an article in the local paper or searching on the internet itself. This is of course all being wise after the fact: it's simply impossible to know whether a version of Megan's law would have stopped Sweeney from snatching J.

Angela recalls the fateful winter evening which ended normal family life.

She says: “I’d known Sweeney since he was a lad. He used to do odd jobs for us and I hadn’t seen him for years, but this night he knocked on the door and said he was calling on old friends.

“We now know he had been in prison for child sex offences — but then I had no idea what sort of person he really was.

Which suggests that Sweeney's actions were premeditated, targeting those he'd known while young that wouldn't suspect anything. It also makes it likely, seeing as they weren't aware of his convictions, which would have almost certainly appeared in the local press, that they wouldn't have known any different if a form of Sarah's law had been enshrined in law, unless the details had been plastered everywhere, something that even the Home Office doesn't seem to be in favour of.

Angela and her partner James, 36, a self-employed businessman, dialled 999, giving police Sweeney’s name and car details.

A simple touch of a computer key should have flagged up his serious sex offender status.

But the couple later learned a detective misspelled “Sweeney”, rendering the checks useless.

A simple police mistake then tragically delayed the response. There's not much we can do about human error.

Failings in the police investigation were admitted last week after a long battle by J’s parents.

A superintendent and an inspector from South Wales Police were formally reprimanded.

It goes on, describing the disturbed state of J now, and the failings to even get her into treatment. It seems she might benefit from seeing a child psychiatrist rather than a counsellor, at least at first, which could be reasonably quickly arranged if they went to her GP, but whether they've tried to do so or not is unclear.

James says: “Critics say it would send paedophiles underground but probation services aren’t monitoring them properly at the moment anyway.

“Because Sweeney was loosely known to us we would undoubtedly have been made aware of his previous convictions for child abuse long before he got to J.

“If nothing else, Sarah’s Law would make offenders think twice about what they are about to do.”

That seems doubtful; someone who's as prepared and as blatant as Sweeney was is always going to be difficult to stop, with a law such as Sarah's or not.

As is usual with such articles on the Sun, we're then treated to perfect examples of what might well happen to alleged paedophiles if a law like that the Sun is campaigning for is introduced:

If that evil piece of **** ever gets out of prison, I hope you raise a fund to pay for a mercinary/bounty hunter/anyone to kill him, But do it slowly so that he dies slowly and in the worst pain Imaginable, Sweeney is a danger who cant be corrected and there is no point keeping him in jail for ever, so the best option is to put him to death, But inflict pain doing it so that he has some Idea of the pain he has caused to his victims, An innocent child and her family.

Castration using 2 house bricks then a lobotomy before locking this ******* up for life is still too lenient.

Why not go the whole hog and gouge his eyes out, sew his testicles into the sockets and tattoo "NONCE" on his forehead?

Or invent a collar that electrocutes there bits as soon as they get aroused that will show em.

Mongrels like this should be left to rot in a very deep hole somewhere! The critics who oppose Sarah's law (god rest her wee soul & that of Holly & Jessica) make me wonder why they oppose it, their excuse is that it'll drive those amoeba's underground?

Could it not be the case that they're against it more for their own interests?

Obviously. There's a five-year-old boy fellating me as I type this. The same reason is undoubtedly why Barnardo's and the NSPCC oppose Sarah's law as well.
Microchip them and put mc readers on sale (10+ meters reach). That way every parent who wants to know will be able to find out where the danger is.
this man should be locked away in a cell all to himself and the government should let each one the little girls family members take it in turn to show him PAIN

Don't know how anyone cud hav done this to a 3 year old girl sick ****.. If he does get out everyone should remember his face then teach him a lesson if they see him n i dont just mean beat him up.. i mean really abuse the **** n see how he likes it then kill him after wards its wat he deserves and if the law wont do it someone else should..

I wouldn't have any objection to Sarah's law if it had been objectively shown that it helps to protect children; as it is, all the evidence from America suggests that it further encourages vigilantism, puts children at more risk as less sex offenders comply with their probation restrictions as a result, and potentially puts the innocent at risk through the potential to be misidentified. We've recently learned that the investigations behind Operation Ore have been allegedly fatally flawed, with potentially hundreds of men the victims of miscarriages of justice. These are the same people that would find themselves named and shamed as a result of their convictions, further ruining their lives. To the Sun readers' who write such detailed descriptions of exactly what they'd do to a paedophile if they ever had one in a locked room, and indeed the editor herself, who has never shown any concern over what happened as a result of her previous naming and shaming escapade, it seems that this would be of little concern.

Elsewhere, the Scum willfully decides to mislead the public of the true level of crime:

Robberies are UP. Vandalism is UP. Drug offences are UP.

But if you believe police records, the crime rate is DOWN.

Reported offences have fallen over the last three months, with 4,000 fewer acts of violence.

The figures have been welcomed by ministers.

Interestingly, they usually prefer the British Crime Survey of householders which gives a softer impression of criminal activity.

But the latest poll shows levels of violence unchanged — while vandalism is up by 11 per cent.

The survey also reveals the chances of becoming a victim of crime have risen.

Yes, by a whopping 1% (PDF), which was the same percentage chance as the previous quarter of the year. The Sun decides not to bother to mention that the chance of being a victim of crime as recorded by the BCS is still at a historic low: it was 40% in 1995, now it's 24%. Gun crime, one of the issues that the Sun doesn't waste an opportunity to launch a moral panic about, was also shown to have dropped by 16% over the year, a decrease of 1,761 offences, to 9,513.

Next, let's undermine both the police and BCS figures purely because it fits the Sun's tough on crime agenda:

So who do you believe?

The answer is neither.

The British Crime Survey is flawed because it excludes murder, sex attacks and crimes against shops.

This is plain bullshit. It excludes murder and sex attacks for the simple reason that they're rare, and are better recorded as a result by the police themselves, while crimes against shops are not crimes against the person, as personal experience of crime is what the whole methodology of the BCS is based on.

As for police records, thousands of punters no longer bother to report muggings or assaults.

They rarely result in a charge, still less a courtroom conviction.

Punters? Surely citizens? As for not reporting them, shouldn't the Sun be urging the public to do so regardless so that we do get a true picture of crime in the country?

So if your impression is that crime is rising, you are probably right

Which goes some way to explaining why faith in the criminal justice system is shown by the BCS to be declining. Ministers say it needs re-balancing, the tabloids scream that the judges are soft, those working within it become demoralised, and so we have a self-fulfilling prophecy. All in a day's work.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007 

Lives are at risk.

In an age when we have vast amounts of information available at the click of a mouse, the reasons for denying the free flow of potentially sensitive or controversial data have become ever more questionable. Witness the way the government continues to try to cut the Freedom of Information Act it introduced down to size - first by being completely open about it, if arrogant and willfully ignorant, and then by subterfuge, hiding behind a useful idiot Tory MP's attempts to exempt parliament from the act.

The most continually repeated argument behind not releasing information of late though is also one of the most contemptible. Last year, when this blog along with others republished photographs of the News of the World "journalist" Mazher Mahmood after he tried to entrap George Galloway, one of his responses was that the images could lead to him being targeted because of the many "criminals" he had exposed; in essence, his life was at risk because a few websites had published public domain pictures of his ugly mug. As it happened, he was laughed out of court, with both him and his lawyers humiliated, but this seems to be one of the rare cases where the argument wasn't taken seriously.

Take the current trial involving the civil servant David Keogh and MP's researcher Leo O'Connor. The two men are accused of breaking the Official Secrets Act by leaking a memo detailing the discussions of George Bush and Tony Blair, in which it's widely assumed that Bush advocated bombing the headquarters of the television news network Al-Jazeera, due to its coverage of the American assault on the city of Fallujah. Blair is believed to have talked him out of it, although the response from the Americans when the existence of the memo was first discovered was that Bush had been "joking". Yesterday, "Sir" Nigel Sheinwald argued that the open publishing of the memo "could have put lives in danger", with "UK forces at risk". To say this is a despicable argument would be to give too much credit to it: it first assumes that UK forces are not at risk in the first place, when they most certainly are as a direct result of the foreign policy that Sheinwald has advised upon, and secondly it ignores the fact that if the contents of the memo are as they are believed, that the President of the United States was considering launching a military strike that would have broken the Geneva Convention, killed journalists doing their jobs, and put the lives of his own servicemen at risk through his own petulant dismay at a television station daring to report on the brutality of what was happening on the ground. If that's not playing fast and loose with the lives of potentially hundreds, if not thousands of people, then Sheinwald ought to inform us otherwise.

At least with the Al-Jazeera memo trial there are genuine questions over what can and cannot be leaked, especially over whether the public have a right to know about discussions at the very height of government over issues which are highly controversial. The same cannot be said for the MoD, which is appealing against an order for its staff directory of the defence export services organisation (DESO) to be released to the Grauniad. In a similar self-serving style to that taken by Sheinwald, David Wray, the MoD's director of information, an Orwellian job title if there ever was one, claimed that releasing the directory could lead to staff being harassed at home, all the way up to workers in Saudi Arabia possibly being the target of terrorist attacks, even though all those associated with the al-Yamanah arms deal are to be removed for the directory. This was despite the MoD admitting that 2,000 copies of the directory have been distributed, with 3 going to journalists, apparently ones that the MoD can trust not to turn over to the evil terrorists.

Peter Clarke too used "the lives are at risk" gambit in his speech on Tuesday, condemning leaks which may well have come from within his own organisation, as the Grauniad reports today. Clarke of course though doesn't actually care about what the very real consequences of such leaks are on those who are arrested and later released without charge, where their lives may be ruined or put at risk by such briefings, but rather on the sources of the intelligence in the first place, who are highly unlikely to be put at risk by such leaks. In some cases, as we know, the intelligence itself has come from those whose lives certainly are at risk, as it was tortured out of them.

As Craig Murray notes today, the sources of such leaks that are helpful towards the government or the police in their endless fight against terror are hardly ever prosecuted. He uses the example of this weekend's report in the Sunday Times, where if the journalist hasn't made it all up, there has been a potentially major breach of the Official Secrets Act, as JTAC reports are sometimes top secret and always classified.

There is a contradiction within the whole "lives at risk" argument that is a mile wide. No one wants anyone to die as a result of something as potentially inconsequential as the release of a directory of workers within the Ministry of Defence, yet when people do die as a result of the actions of the government or the police, dead men can tell no tales. Jean Charles de Menezes couldn't inform us that he didn't jump that barrier and that he wasn't wearing a heavy coat. The soldiers in Iraq that would have been threatened further by the release of the al-Jazeera memo or, if some right-wing commentators are to be believed, by the broadcasting of dramas such as the Mark of Cain, can tell us what they really feel about their mission on message boards like ARRSE, but their dead comrades killed purely because of Blair's "liberal interventionism" can't tell us what their feelings were about being in Iraq in the first place, or whether they were achieving anything other than simply becoming more hated by the day.

We do everything to protect ourselves from things that we don't want to hear, but to those who have to suffer the consequences either way, we have little to offer other than platitudes. But didn't you hear? If we were to be brutally honest, lives would be at risk.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007 

We don't want to scaremonger, but there are some really nasty men out there...

It's somewhat odd that it's taken the comments of Peter Clarke, about an incident which took place two months ago, for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to pull their heads out of the sand and start asking pertinent and important questions about where the briefings about the alleged plot to behead a serving British Muslim soldier came from. At the time there were articles in the Guardian, outrage from the West Midlands police themselves and press releases from Liberty, yet little was said. One has to suspect that party political concerns, with the local and regional elections fast approaching, are one aspect behind it.

As seems to happen every so often, and thanks partly to the splitting of the Home Office, we're currently going through another round of being reminded just how deadly, enduring and frightening the "threat" is. Clarke's speech is part of this, and is full of the familiar justifications that the police have come up with for botched raids, leaks of their own and downright lies about some of those who have been arrested, tried and convicted.

He starts off by comparing the threat posed by the IRA to the threat now posed by "al-Qaida and its associated groups", covering the usual territory. It's when he breaks down what's happened during the years past that it starts getting interesting:

During that year, 2002, we focussed on groups of North Africans, mainly Algerians, to find out whether they were engaged solely in support, fund raising and the like, or whether they posed a real threat to the UK itself. We followed a trail of petty fraud and false identity documents across the country. Eventually that trail took us to Thetford, where in the unlikely surroundings of rural Norfolk we found the first real indication since 9/11 of operational terrorist activity here in the UK - recipes for ricin and other poisons. That led us eventually to Wood Green and the chemicals, the Finsbury Park Mosque, and of course the terrible murder of Detective Constable Stephen Oake in Manchester in January 2003.

Chemicals? What chemicals? There were no chemicals found at Wood Green, and there was certainly no ricin either. There were indeed recipes for ricin found, but they were crude forgeries from which ricin could not have been manufactured. Even if the recipes had been legitimate, Kamel Bourgass had planned to smear the poison on car door handles and doorknobs, when ricin has to pierce the skin in order to work. It was an embarrassing cock-up which both the US and UK governments exploited for their own purposes. Bourgass additionally had no links whatsoever to al-Qaida, and the evidence against his co-defendants who were acquitted only to be later re-arrested and detained was acquired through torture in Algeria.

That case taught us many things, not least about our ability to operate across borders, both within the UK and overseas. It showed us the difficulties that international terrorist conspiracies pose for our domestic judicial system. For the police, it also marked the beginning of our understanding of the impact that the emerging distrust of intelligence in early 2003 would have on our relationship with the media and therefore the public. This was the first time, in my experience, that the police service had been accused of exaggerating the threat posed by terrorists in order, it was alleged, to help the government justify its foreign policy.

Why accuse the police service when we can point the finger directly at Peter Clarke himself? After Bourgass was convicted, Clarke had this to say:

"This was a hugely serious plot because what it had the potential to do was to cause real panic, fear, disruption and possibly even death," said Peter Clarke, the head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch. "This was no more, no less than a plot to poison the public."

Except, well, there was no chance of there being any poisoning. The panic, fear and disruption were created by the media who were wrongly briefed that ricin had been found when none existed.

He goes on:

In terms of the broad development of the threat, it is frustrating that I cannot describe in more detail much of what we have discovered during the course of investigations, but suffice it to say that the alleged plot to bring down airliners last year was yet another step in what seems an inexorable trend towards more ambitious and more destructive attack planning.

Quite. It's going to be fascinating to see exactly what was found as a result of the "liquid bomb" plot raids; Craig Murray reported last December that after searching woods in High Wycombe for 5 months, they had found, err, nothing. Clarke's own press conference only mentioned that hydrogen peroxide had been found, which is certainly not a liquid explosive and which could not have been concealed like the bombs partly made of hydrogen peroxide used on 7/7 and 21/7. An article on Raw Story, based on an ex-British Army expert on explosives' testimony, claimed that the whole plot as described in the media was a "fiction".

He then explains how the intelligence services and the police are now working hand in hand as a result of having to intervene earlier. He can't avoid having to mention the Forest Gate fiasco:

Sometimes this inevitably means that there will not be enough evidence to prosecute, and then we face the criticism that we are being indiscriminate in our activities. The operation in Forest Gate in June 2006 is often held up as an example of this. If anyone seriously believes that we, and here I mean the police, would embark on an operation such as that lightly, or not genuinely believing it to be necessary, they are quite simply wrong. Sadly, I can't go into the full background of the case, but if anyone is interested I would refer them to the Independent Police Complaint's Commission Report. The Commission came to the clear conclusion, having seen the intelligence, that the operation was necessary and proportionate.

Which is quite true, they did. The report was however critical of the police's conduct of the raid and of the treatment given to both the families involved. The IPCC were only allowed to see the intelligence on a "confidential" basis, so we still don't exactly what the police were meant to be looking for in the first place, or whether the intelligence was believable. Somehow, the idea of a suicide vest spraying out poison, which was what some papers reported was what the police were looking for, doesn't stand up to much scrutiny.

Forest Gate also helps to illustrate the rank hypocrisy of Clarke and the police themselves in denouncing the leaks which occurred during the Birmingham raids in February. The whole Forest Gate operation was punctuated by unsubstantiated leaks to the press which could only have come from the police. The News of the World claimed that one brother had shot the other in trying to grab the gun held by a police officer, later proved to be completely untrue by the IPCC, while the Sun splashed with the story that the home had £38,000 in cash in it, ignoring completely the family's explanation that they didn't use bank accounts because of the Islamic belief in money not accruing interest. Even then they weren't finished with the Koyair brothers; taking the "evidence" that one of them had child pornography straight to the News of the World, only for no charges to be brought.

Clarke goes on:

This is not going to be easy. We must increase the flow of intelligence coming from communities. Almost all of our prosecutions have their origins in intelligence that came from overseas, the intelligence agencies or from technical means. Few have yet originated from what is sometimes called 'community intelligence.' This is something we are working hard to change.

It's widely rumoured that the intelligence about the Forest Gate raid did indeed come from within the community, and we know how wrong it was quickly proved. This doesn't exactly inspire confidence either in the police's contacts, or within communities where grudges and rivalries can play a part in briefings.

We must maintain that trust. But how to do so? I have no doubt that the operational and political independence of the police is the key to this. The communities must believe, and it must be reality, that the police stand aside from politics in the exercise of their powers. That is why the allegations of political partiality that seem to have been made so lightly in recent times are so damaging. They undermine the relationship between police and public.

Surely the solution is simple: stop the briefing before anyone has so much has been in custody for hours, let alone before they are charged. The media do play their part, it's true, but it's the police that seem to be the source for much of the wrong information which has found its way into the papers in the aftermath of raids under the terrorism acts. Either stop the briefing, suggest who it is if it isn't the police, or expect to find yourselves sneered at when arrests are made when so little hard evidence seems to have been collected.

He then goes on about 90 days:

When asked by how much the period of detention should be increased, we suggested a maximum of 90 days, subject to judicial oversight. We were asking not for a police power, but for a power to be vested in the courts on application from the police or the Crown Prosecution Service.

This is an attempt at obfuscation that doesn't work. It's quite true that the police have to put the case for having a further detention period to a judge, but there are few judges who are going to go directly against the wishes of the police or incur the wrath of the tabloids when a deadly terrorist might be released as a result.

As we all know, the ensuing debate, both in Parliament and elsewhere was a little lively. I know there have been concerns expressed about the role of the police service in that debate, and whether we overstepped the mark in terms of political neutrality - but I find this slightly puzzling. If we are asked for our professional opinion, and we express it, and the Government brings forward legislation, are we supposed to be silent the moment a draft Bill is published? We were accused of being politically partial, but I reject that.

It wasn't so much that the police as a whole were openly supporting the bill, it was more that local police officials were being encouraged to ring up their MPs and tell them of their support for it which angered politicians themselves. Clarke seems to be suggesting that the police support for 90 days should be beyond reproach, that they had only good intentions in proposing it, even though they have only had to use the full 28 days so far once, and that seemed to be more aimed at making a point than in having to do so for lack of evidence to charge. Clarke ought to have known that such a lengthy period of detention without charge, in effect a six-month prison sentence, was going to raise passionate opposition and support, and that politically partiality, especially the way in which the police and this government have operated at times almost in tandem, was going to be a factor. To be puzzled by it seems to show a willful naivety.

After all of this (and more) he finally gets to the remarks which have got the political parties off their backsides:

I am not referring to the normal day to day discourse that occurs between journalists and their contacts. What I am talking about is the deliberate leaking of highly sensitive operational intelligence, often classified, and the unauthorised release of which can be a criminal offence. I make no allegations about the source of leaks or about individual cases. What is clear is that there are a number, a small number I am sure, of misguided individuals who betray confidences. Perhaps they look to curry favour with certain journalists, or to squeeze out some short term presentational advantage - I do not know what motivates them. The people who do this either do not know or do not care what damage they do. If they do know, then they are beneath contempt. If they do not know, then let me tell them. They compromise investigations. They reveal sources of life saving intelligence. In the worst cases they put lives at risk. I wonder if they simply do not care.

The recent investigation in Birmingham into an allegation that a British serviceman had been targeted by a terrorist network is but one example of this. On the morning of the arrests, almost before the detainees had arrived at the police stations to which they were being taken for questioning, it was clear that key details of the investigation and the evidence had been leaked. This damaged the interview strategy of the investigators, and undoubtedly raised community tensions. I have no idea where the leaks came from, but whoever was responsible should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

The implication being from all of this is that the Home Office was responsible, as the Guardian reported at the time. Notice that despite all this, there's still no apology to those who were caught up in the raid and who weren't even questioned about anything to do with the plot which was leaked to the Sun before the police had nearly even so much as acted.

It's worth noting however that nowhere in Clarke's entire speech does he so much as mention the most noteworthy gaping sore which did so much to undermine faith in the police: Jean Charles de Menezes. The police then were either involved in openly smearing him, claiming that he was acting suspiciously, wearing heavy clothes, jumping the barrier, etc, when he did none of those things, or failed to act in dispelling these untruths when it quickly became clear that an innocent man had been shot dead. That he's not worthy of even being discussed as a reason for why the police are little trusted seems to sum up the contempt with which he was treated both on that day and since.

Speaking of summing up, John Reid did his best today to show the very worst of his government. One minute he laughably called for an end to scaremongering over the terrorist threat, something that his government has exploited time and again, then in the next breath he was orgasmic in warning of how al-Qaida intends to "bankrupt" us through attacking financial markets or energy supplies, without explaining how they would manage to do either. He even talked about the long-held myth of al-Qaida somehow being able to bring the internet to its knees, as if they are a whole waiting army of extremist Islamist hackers about to stop the wider public from visiting MurdochSpace and bidding on eBay. Despite their differences over leaking, Clarke and Reid appear to be a match made in heaven.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007 

So who the hell do I vote for?

With the local elections fast approaching, I'm faced with something of a quandary. I have the misfortune to live in a ward which is essentially a modern day rotten borough, in that the Conservatives have held the seat for decades, with a winning margin usually in the region of a 1000 votes over the nearest candidate.

The other parties standing are Labour, the Lib Dems and UKIP, with the Greens apparently not thinking it worthwhile to even attempt to put up a candidate. I wouldn't piss on UKIP if they were on fire, so that leaves me with the choice between the first two.

To say I'm frustrated with what Labour has done nationally is a understatement; the giving in to corruption by ordering the SFO to abandon the probe into BAE, the continuing mass wastage of taxpayers' money in PFI schemes, the constant, worthless reforms being imposed on the NHS, the idiotic appeasement of the tabloids on crime and the lunacy of our foreign policy has all meant that I vowed not to vote Labour ever again, even though I'm sure I'll probably end up eating my words at some point.

The council up until recently was Liberal Democrat run, and while they haven't done too bad a job, they haven't exactly been impressive either. Nationally, I might well end up voting Lib Dem at the next election, simply because if they promise to bring in PR it'll hopefully mean the end to the ridiculous vacuousness of so-called "radical centrism" which currently infects and stifles politics. The rest of their policies though have always come across to me as Blairism with a slightly kinder face, even if their opposition to the war was welcome. With the abolition of their most noteworthy policies at their conference last year, it's worth wondering what exactly they are for.

On a personal basis, I sort of know the Labour candidate and he's a decent sort that I'd normally be more than happy to vote for. As it is, I'm finding it difficult to do so, even though my vote will be more or less worthless either way.

Do I then ignore national politics altogether and vote Labour? Vote for the Lib Dems knowing that whatever I do doesn't matter? Spoil my ballot to make a similarly pointless gesture about the lack of genuine choice? Not even bother wasting my time? Your input is welcome.


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Monday, April 23, 2007 

That scaremongering round-up in full.

The propaganda war against Iran seems to continue to heat up. Yesterday's Sunday Times was the latest to be slipped an "intelligence report" which is preaching doom about the almost undoubtedly improbable links between Iran and some of the insurgent groups in Iraq:

AL-QAEDA leaders in Iraq are planning the first “large-scale” terrorist attacks on Britain and other western targets with the help of supporters in Iran, according to a leaked intelligence report.

Spy chiefs warn that one operative had said he was planning an attack on “a par with Hiroshima and Nagasaki” in an attempt to “shake the Roman throne”, a reference to the West.

Another plot could be timed to coincide with Tony Blair stepping down as prime minister, an event described by Al-Qaeda planners as a “change in the head of the company”.

The report, produced earlier this month and seen by The Sunday Times, appears to provide evidence that Al-Qaeda is active in Iran and has ambitions far beyond the improvised attacks it has been waging against British and American soldiers in Iraq.

It's difficult to know where to begin with this assertion. Al-Qaida in Iraq has openly declared that it considers Shia Muslims kafir, in difference to al-Qaida itself, which for the moment wants to unite rather than divide and rule, which may come later. This was related by Zawahiri to Zarqawi before he was killed, rebuking him for the suicide bombings which targeted and continue to target Shias. Zarqawi and the subsequent leadership of al-Qaida in Iraq have ignored this advice, continuing to target innocent Shia while not personally claiming responsibility for outrages such as that which killed 150 in a Baghdad market last week. It does however openly claim responsibility for attacks on both the Badr organisation, which is openly backed by Iran as the militia or former militia of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and on the Mahdi army, which may be receiving some help from figures inside Iran, although nothing has been comprehensively proved.

The article predictably goes on:

There is no evidence of a formal relationship between Al-Qaeda, a Sunni group, and the Shi’ite regime of President Mah-moud Ahmadinejad, but experts suggest that Iran’s leaders may be turning a blind eye to the terrorist organisation’s activities.

This is the usual step of making you think that something is happening, then somewhat denying it without completely dispelling the notion. As it happens, this is almost certainly complete nonsense, for al-Qaida in Iraq does pose a threat to Iran, due entirely to the brutal attacks on the Shia. Iran is not a passive bystander in Iraq, as we all know. The last thing Iran wants is a fundamentalist "Islamic" state in northern Iraq, breeding hatred which could easily be transferred into suicide bombings in Iran itself. Al-Qaida in Iraq has already most likely carried out a bombing in Jordan, which backfired enormously, hopefully putting paid to any further attacks outside of Iraq for a while, but Iran is unlikely to be taking any such chances. There is of course the possibility that al-Qaida in Iraq supporters are in Iran and operating from there, as they are from other countries in the region, but the chances of there being any actual backing by the state is little short of ludicrous.

The intelligence report also makes it clear that senior Al-Qaeda figures in the region have been in recent contact with operatives in Britain.

It follows revelations last year that up to 150 Britons had travelled to Iraq to fight as part of Al-Qaeda’s “foreign legion”. A number are thought to have returned to the UK, after receiving terrorist training, to form sleeper cells.

Again, it's impossible to judge the veracity of these claims. It's likely that some jihadis have gone to fight in Iraq, and one who wanted to was placed under a control order, but how many is always going to be difficult to judge. Most of the foreign fighters in Iraq are from Algeria and Syria, a report from 2005 stated, and it's unlikely that the frequency has changed much since then, judging by al-Qaida's own recent parades of foreign "martyrs" (WMV), which mainly seem to feature Syrians, Saudis and Egyptians. It was always going to be likely that some from this country would go to fight, and indeed that some would return trained. The head of the "Islamic State" himself last week proclaimed that Iraq was becoming a "university for terrorism", and while self-aggrandisement plays a part, he's also probably right, as the intelligence agencies warned before the war.

“A member of this network is reportedly involved in an operation which he believes requires AQ Core authorisation. He claims the operation will be on ‘a par with Hiroshima and Naga-saki’ and will ‘shake the Roman throne’. We assess that this operation is most likely to be a large-scale, mass casualty attack against the West.”

The report says there is “no indication” this attack would specifically target Britain, “although we are aware that AQI . . . networks are active in the UK”.

So again, there's no evidence that this is even going to target Britain if it isn't indeed crying wolf to begin with, but you can never be too sure in letting these documents out to the Sunday Times just in case.

Despite aspiring to a nuclear capability, Al-Qaeda is not thought to have acquired weapons grade material. However, several plots involving “dirty bombs” - conventional explosive devices surrounded by radioactive material - have been foiled.

More rubbish. There have been no actual foiled plots which would have involved so-called "dirty bombs", unless you include Jose Padilla, where the charges were subsequently dropped, or the fantasist Dhiren Barot, who had no funding, no materials and only the laughable idea of setting fire to or exploding 10,000 smoke alarms. The truth, as the al-Qaida leadership no doubt itself knows, is that dirty bombs are almost entirely useless, likely to only increase the chances of developing cancer to the level of those who came in near contact with the polonium used to assassinate Litveninko, and even that's uncertain. Their use would be mainly for the extra fear effect, as the use of the chlorine in recent attacks in Iraq has illustrated.

There was further stretching of credulity at the weekend when the US claimed that it had intercepted a shipment of Iranian arms which had been destined for the Taliban. That the Iranians had long supported the Northern Alliance, and welcomed the downfall of the Taliban is quickly forgotten once the new enemy has emerged. As the NYT article itself stretches, the only possible gain Iran could get for arming the Taliban would be as a part of a region-wide attempt to further tie down American forces, and would suggest a complete change in policy. The US military instead seems to be pointing the finger and letting others place the blame, when the most likely explanation would be it was again a private shipment by supporters within Iran rather than anything associated with the regime.

Finally, we were also told that Prince Harry is going to be ruthlessly targeted by the evil insurgents, who in one case want to send him back to the Queen, minus his ears:

Together the testimonies suggest that Shia and Sunni paramilitary forces, traditionally sworn enemies, have joined forces to try to capture Harry, a deeply disquieting development for British senior officers.

Sigh. As again, see above. There are few Sunni paramilitary forces operating in the south for the obvious reason that there'd be quickly turned out by the Shia themselves, and as Juan Cole notes, the Observer has wrongly suggested that Thar Allah is Sunni when it's Shiite, and he can neither find any evidence that what the article refers to as the Malik Ibn Al Ashtar Brigade is even anything to do with the Mahdi army. As it is, it seems another load of scaremongering which does disservice to the other British troops whom are facing the real threat for no discernible reason, while Harry is likely to be permanently covered in any case.

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Just how much madder can Mad Mel get?

In years to come, it's hard to dismiss the possibility that Melanie Philips' trajectory from seeming sanity into abject madness won't be a well established case-study for psychology students. Unlike those who slowly lose their minds over time for no apparent reason, or descend into psychosis as a result of imprisonment or abuse, Ms Philips is providing the whole world with the evidence of how someone utterly convinced in their own righteousness will use any evidence, however disreputable or clearly unfounded to prove their wider aims.

Mel herself of course denies that she is batshit crazy. When told disarmingly by Jackie Ashley that some of the ideas she espouses in her Londonistan diatribe come across as "bonkers", she spat back that to say so was akin to the tactics of Stalin, and reminiscent of the treatment of Jews in 1930s Germany, who were ignored when they raised the alarm about what was taking place. This feeds from Mel's obsession with the Holocaust; she believes that a second genocide is either taking place, or is about to take place, and that anyone who dares to criticise Israeli policy is helping it to happen. Her response to the setting up of Independent Jewish Voices was to call them Jews for Genocide.

Even by her standards, her latest investigations into the missing Iraqi weapons of mass destruction are incredible. Writing in the Spectator, presumably because even the Daily Mail wouldn't print such staggering inanity, she has almost single-handedly found where they went. Amazingly, it seems that she was right all along in believing that the weapons were secretly smuggled out to Syria, which is a nice bonus:

It’s a fair bet that you have never heard of a guy called Dave Gaubatz. It’s also a fair bet that you think the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has found absolutely nothing, nada, zilch; and that therefore there never were any WMD programmes in Saddam’s Iraq to justify the war ostensibly waged to protect the world from Saddam’s use of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

Between March and July 2003, he says, he was taken to four sites in southern Iraq— two within Nasariyah, one 20 miles south and one near Basra — which, he was told by numerous Iraqi sources, contained biological and chemical weapons, material for a nuclear programme and UN-proscribed missiles. He was, he says, in no doubt whatever that this was true.

This was in the first place because of the massive size of these sites and the extreme lengths to which the Iraqis had gone to conceal them. Three of them were bunkers buried 20-30 feet beneath the Euphrates. They had been constructed through building dams which were removed after the huge subterranean vaults had been excavated so that these were concealed beneath the river bed. The bunker walls were made of reinforced concrete five feet thick.

Mr Gaubatz verbally told the ISG of his findings, and asked them to come with heavy equipment to breach the concrete of the bunkers and uncover their sealed contents. But to his consternation, the ISG told him they didn’t have the manpower or equipment to do it and that it would be ‘unsafe’ to try.

‘The problem was that the ISG were concentrating their efforts in looking for WMD in northern Iraq and this was in the south’, says Mr Gaubatz. ‘They were just swept up by reports of WMD in so many different locations. But we told them if they didn’t excavate these sites, others would’.

That, he says, is precisely what happened. He subsequently learned from Iraqi, CIA and British intelligence that the WMD buried in the four sites were excavated by Iraqis and Syrians, with help from the Russians, and moved to Syria. The location in Syria of this material, he says, is also known to these intelligence agencies. The worst-case scenario has now come about. Saddam’s nuclear, biological and chemical material is in the hands of a rogue terrorist state — and one with close links to Iran.

It's perhaps worth the reading the Wikipedia entry on the Iraq Survey Group, which is reasonably extensive. This seems to directly contradict Gaubatz's account on at least one count: there were three separate sectors, based in the north, around Baghdad and in south, so his claims that the ISG weren't interested due to their apparent immobility seem to be nonsense. The entry also mentions how they were in fact remarkably successful in moving around, only suffering very minor losses, although this was well before the insurgency had reached the strength which it's at today. As Not Saussure also notes, in order for these great bunkers to have been built, it seems that they would have had to diverted the course of the Euphrates, something which might just have been noticed from a country which was one of the most monitored from the air for well over a decade.

All of this begs the obvious question: if such WMD stockpiles had existed, wouldn't a Bush administration desperate to justify its aggression have done the obvious thing and done everything in its power to make it known that the war had been worth fighting after all? Well, as it turns out, Mel has the answer to that as well:

The Republicans won’t touch this because it would reveal the incompetence of the Bush administration in failing to neutralise the danger of Iraqi WMD. The Democrats won’t touch it because it would show President Bush was right to invade Iraq in the first place. It is an axis of embarrassment.

Incompetence sure hasn't stopped the Republicans from doing, well, anything, over the last 7 years. As for the Democrats, wouldn't the more hawkish among them, notably Hilary Clinton, love to able to prove that she was right to support it after all, as well as being able to blast the Republicans for allowing the Syrians to get their hands on Saddam's most deadly weaponry, making the Middle East yet more dangerous?

In fact, it's even worse than we thought. Mel has the testimony of John Loftus that there's an even bigger conspiracy taking shape:

Saddam’s nuclear research, scientists and equipment, he says, have all been relocated to Syria, where US satellite intelligence confirms that uranium centrifuges are now operating — in a country which is not supposed to have any nuclear programme. There is now a nuclear axis, he says, between Iran, Syria and North Korea — with Russia and China helping to build an Islamic bomb against the West. And of course, with assistance from American negligence.

‘Apparently Saddam had the last laugh and donated his secret stockpile to benefit Iran’s nuclear weapons programme. With a little technical advice from Beijing, Syria is now enriching the uranium, Iran is making the missiles, North Korea is testing the warheads, and the White House is hiding its head in the sand.’

You would have thought if such activity was taking place in Syria that we would have heard about it, and that indeed, Israel would be even more concerned about it than it is about Iran, seeing as it shares a border with the country. It's also somehow difficult to imagine how Saddam and the mullahs, implacable enemies, would even in defeat have decided to share the hidden spoils of his labour with them.

In order to further her argument, Mel then published in full the memo from which she quotes John Loftus. It's incredibly lengthy, so I'll leave it to Glenn Greenwald from Salon to sum it up:

On her blog today, Phillips expounds on her article by printing a lengthy Memorandum which claims that: (a) John Negroponte is persecuting various groups which are trying to bring the WMD conspiracy to light because (b) Negroponte is part of what they call the "Red Team" in the U.S. government, which is exceedingly loyal to China, which is crucial given that (c) the stolen-WMD-plot involved the subsequent transfer of "Saddam's WMD technology to Syria and Iran" and that all happened (d) "because the Chinese Army created an international consortium of rogue states to develop the Islamic Bomb" (and Negroponte, it implies, is concealing that by persecuting these groups because he is an agent of China).

John Loftus shares a world-view with Melanie Philips. He too believes that al-Qaida, Hamas, etc are the new Arab equivalent of the Nazis, and that a second Holocaust is a real possibility. One has to wonder if this apparent group-think, with Philips apparently believing anyone as long as they share her own unshakable ideology (Dave Gaubatz now runs a website dedicated to keeping tabs on Muslims across America, and heads a group amusingly called SANE, which in its mission statement says it stands for "A strong commitment to preserve and to protect America’s Judeo-Christian content and moral grounding", which is almost exactly what Mel claims to be doing here in poor Blighty) is what is really behind this phenomenal exclusive. To Mel, anyone who believes that the moral decay in society is a result of multiculturalism and the supposed loosening of our Judeo-Christian shared values is worthy of supporting, even if they come up with such ignorant, conspiratorial, paranoid rot as the above.

As instructive as this is in measuring Mel's sanity, it's also illustrative of the malaise affecting the neo-con right. Its war has become a disaster worse than even the most pessimistic opponent could have predicted, yet it's still so obsessed with proving its righteousness that it will turn to the most improbable and laughable claims and demand that they be investigated. It draws upon on the slightest clink of light, the never completely debunked although daft theory that the weapons were moved into Syria before or after the war, and is willing to believe any construct which takes advantage of it.

And it isn't just on this that they're completely opportunistic. From the second that the first news came from Virginia that Cho had gone his rampage, right-wing bloggers have been desperate to try and link his anger to Islam. Mel's friend Gaubatz did exactly this. So did Debbie Schlussel, who runs what I can only describe as possibly the worst blog I've seen since Little Green Footballs. This all links back to another spree-killer, who just happened to be Muslim, who committed "extroverted suicide" in a mall in Salt Lake City. His apparent martyrdom is explained to us by... Gaubatz.

Mel then keeps what can only be described as good company. She does at least try somewhat to cover her back, mentioning in each article that she doesn't know whether the allegations of Gaubatz and Loftus are true, and tries and fails to self-deprecate at the beginning:

You may be tempted to dismiss this as yet another dodgy claim from a warmongering lackey of the world Zionist neocon conspiracy giving credence to yet another crank pushing US propaganda. If so, perhaps you might pause before throwing this article at the cat. Mr Gaubatz is not some marginal figure. He’s pretty well as near to the horse’s mouth as you can get.

Mel is far too dismissive of herself. She's not a lackey, she's one of the arch propagandists in this country for the neo-con world outlook. She might object to us calling her mad, but we ought to take her no-nonsense, politically correctness-baiting attitude and throw it back at her. Why call a mad animal that looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck anything other than a mad duck?

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Saturday, April 21, 2007 

Immigrants ate my baby.

Immigration is "ruining the British way of life" screams the Express. David Davis tells the Torygraph that the effect of the government's "inability to get a grip on immigration" is "destablising" British society. The Sun, which agrees with the Home Secretary that unless immigration is seen to be under control that some may turn to extremists such as the BNP, ignoring its own role in demonising Muslims and immigrants in general, also mentions the report which has started the latest soul-searching about the end of life in Britain as we know it.

A quick trip over to the think-tank's website, which promises "classic liberal comment" but which links to such well-known liberals as David Frum, EU Referendum, Mark Steyn, Melanie Philips and Stephen "Vicky" Pollard, soon makes you wonder just how impartial and independent this report produced by David Conway is. In fact, the think-tank is so impartial that it recommends you visit those other well-known totally impartial immigration warriors, MigrationWatchUK.

I rest my case.

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Friday, April 20, 2007 

And so the blame game commences.

The blood has been washed off, the funerals are beginning, classes recommence on Monday, so it's time to move on from the pictures of the bullet-ridden pretty girls and on to finding something to blame. With Columbine, instead of wondering where the parents had been and how the teenagers had been able to get their hands on their arsenal, they quickly found out that Marilyn Manson was most definitely the one who was really responsible, despite the boys' both disliking his music, as well as the first-person-shooter Doom, which the boys had at least played.

The Daily Mail then has started the ball rolling by noting the striking similarities between some of the poses struck by Cho and by two of the characters in the Korean film Oldboy, directed by Chan-wook Park. Notice that? It's a Korean film, and Cho was Korean. QED, right? QED! The whole article is a sensationalist, over-the-top joke:

He wouldn't have drawn much attention as he strolled across the campus.

Cho Seung-Hui was just another anonymous face that morning among the scores of people criss-crossing the sweeping lawns and wide, sunlit streets of Virginia Tech university.

It was approaching 9am and everyone was preparing for the start of the college week.

But the 23-year-old Korean was on a mission. He had just killed the teenage brunette with whom he is thought to have been infatuated, and blasted to death the college prefect who appears to have come to her aid.

Now he was about to play the leading role in a sickening finale to what would become America's most devastating gun massacre.

In his twisted mind he carried images of a violent Korean movie that appears to have scripted his thoughts.

Just a slight problem here. Cho was a 23-year-old college student suffering from mental illness. In Oldboy, Oh Dae-Su is imprisoned for 15 years without knowing the reason, then released and given 5 days to find out why. The only use of guns in the film is the image depicted on the front page of the Mail, which also coincidentally spoils part of the ending. It does feature cathartic and visceral violence, but the wider themes of redemption, forgiveness and the eventual emptiness of the revenge itself are just as prominent. Cho's stance with the hammer does seem similar to that of Oh Dae-Su played by Min-sik Choi, but Dae-Su also eats a live octopus in one scene, something that Cho has yet to have been proved to have done.

With whom exactly is Cho supposed to have identified with? Oh Dae-Su, who spends 15 years wondering who he damaged so much that they'd pay to have him locked up, or with Woo-jin Lee, the character that's tormented by his involvement with the death of his sister while they were both teenagers? Woo-jin Lee, as Peter Bradshaw wrote in his review of the film, is so Bond villain-esque that it seems difficult that Cho would have sympathised with his plight; indeed, despite his stunning good looks, he's a broken man of appearances. Cho was most certainly broken, but it seems more likely by his own failure to fit in and his whole subsequent avoidance from the world and reality as a whole. It really is a case of seeing resemblances and clutching at straws.

As he turned the gun on himself, it is difficult to imagine that he didn't allow himself a rare smile.

For while police scrambled hopelessly to bring his killing spree to an end, he still held the power to control the finale from beyond the grave, which is precisely what he wanted.

Seldom have 28 poor-quality video clips and the monotone rantings of a deluded maniac been given so much air time.

Oh, I don't know. Richard Littlejohn used to have a TV show on Sky.

Speaking of clutching at straws, Lenin identifies how the usual suspects have already tried to link Cho's murderous rampage to Islam. Elsewhere, this blog rounds up all the current blaming that's started and that's probably yet to get into full swing.

Update: Oh God. Gerald Kaufman, the obnoxious Labour MP, has also been pointing the finger at Oldboy, even though he describes it as a splatter film, which it certainly is not, which ought to make you wonder whether he's even seen it. As someone commenting mentions, this is the guy who's Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. Thankfully, the Telegraph has provided its own fisk.

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Take one hijab or two into the sauna part two.

Remember the woman who offended the sensitivities of other members of the leisure centre in Oxford by going swimming in what the Sun called "full hijab robes"? Well, she's spoken out to the Grauniad and guess what, her story is remarkably different to that provided by the biggest selling paper in the land:

One Sunday last month I went for my afternoon swim at my local David Lloyd's fitness club wearing the Islamic-style swimsuit I have been wearing for years. The swimsuit has recently been celebrated by media outlets from Newsweek to National Geographic as an innovative way for Muslim women to become more active. As an American-Muslim woman, I have always been determined to be active without compromising my faith. I have been swimming in capital cities across the world from Rio de Janeiro to Washington DC to Kuala Lumpur, and now London. Although I get curious stares, I have never had any awkward moments when I head out for a swim.

That is, until I came to Oxford.

As I was getting ready to head home from my Sunday swim, I heard a loud voice from a man stating that he needed to speak to the manager about dress code. I picked up on it, but didn't really give it too much thought, until I heard him yelling about "that woman over there" who was wearing the "burkini", the gist of what he was saying seemingly being that it was inappropriate. What the hell is that? The burkini? I could feel a rising indignation at the man's audacity in singling me out in this way. Who had died and declared him the pool police? There were several lifeguards on duty who had seen me swimming there over the previous six months, and none had objected to the swimsuit. It's been nearly a year since I moved to Oxford, and frankly, I had had enough of the anti-Muslim rhetoric in British political life. Now that I was in the middle of it, I refused to stand on the sidelines.

I walked up to the burly, middle-aged man who had been pointing at me a minute before and asked, "Are you guys talking about me?"

He turned towards me, and waved a dismissive hand: "This has nothing to do with you."

"Are you talking about me? Because if you are, this has everything to do with me."

He then confirmed he was indeed talking about me, but not talking to me. He was talking to the manager.

By this time I was irate, and the fact that he was using his dirty shoes as a pointer while he was yelling at me didn't help the situation. "But you have just singled me out in front of everyone, and in a voice loud enough for me to hear. How can this have nothing to do with me?"

At this point he referred to me as a "silly little girl", which I found amusing, considering that I am a 32-year-old, 5ft 10in, professional senior manager for an international NGO. This man was clearly a closed-minded bigot and a sexist to boot, and there wasn't much I could do to change that.


Now, I realise that my swimsuit stands out a bit. And I know it's quite unusual: the week before last I lost my swimsuit and I did feel a bit awkward answering the receptionist's question - one piece or two pieces? "Well, actually, it's a five-piece," I said. The woman across the desk stared back at me in disbelief. I described it as a long wetsuit with a very short mini-dress on top. (It turned up a few days later.)

I admit, it's different. Some people might think it's overkill. But it's my choice. I choose to wear the hijab in my daily life, and it has never stopped me from being active, and this Muslim swimsuit was the perfect solution. I was so excited when I saw it for sale online.

Yet that's not how the journalist at the local newspaper in Oxford, the Oxford Mail, decided to approach the issue. Her article was titled "Row over fully dressed woman in sauna". The main interview in the article was with Ian Caldwell, the man who verbally attacked me in the lobby. There was no attempt to find out the full story. A so-called "Muslim community leader" called Taj Hargey called it "political correctness gone crazy".

At no point had the journalist contacted me. She seemed to have decided to take a similar approach to the man in the swimming pool - talking about me, not to me. As did David Lloyd's, which had backed up his story without consulting me. At no point did they bother to inform me, a paying member, that such an article was being written. I contacted the Oxford Mail, offering them my side of the story. I never heard back.

Of course, that would have destroyed the theme of the article. Nobody in Oxford would be interested in new swimming suits with hi-tech material, but a crazy Muslim woman jumping into a pool fully clothed and potentially suffocating in the sauna was much more interesting. Since when have facts been important to journalists covering stories involving Muslims?

It turns out that rather than wearing a jilbab or a chador, Manal Omar was in fact wearing a specially designed "modest" swimsuit, looking much like this one:

It's also obvious why Caldwell didn't bother providing us with what Omar said to him when he questioned her wearing the outfit in the sauna: he was too busy humiliating her and treating her like a child to listen.

Needless to say, I was shocked to find out a week later that my swimming habits had caused not only a "row", but a huge online debate. Perhaps the most daunting part of the experience was the strong reactions from those who read the article. It was the website's "most viewed article" even two weeks after the incident. The comments ranged from attacks on me (from both Muslims and non-Muslims) to full xenophobic attacks on all immigrants in Europe. At no point did any of the readers question Caldwell's version of events; nor did the majority of readers question his motivation for highlighting the issue. There was a blind acceptance that some random Muslim woman had done something, as one commentator described it, "a bit stupid". British Muslims piped up in apologetic tones, and everyone else openly attacked.

If she'd looked around a bit further, she would have found at least some support and questioning about the Sun article and the motives behind it, but even I fell into the trap of describing her apparent actions as "bizarre", because I didn't question the very basis of the report: that a woman had seemingly bathed in traditional robes when she had in fact been wearing something entirely different.

Similarly, Omar wasn't making a statement by wearing her suit, as Taj Hargey argued, but was forced into making one in order to set the record straight once her behaviour was questioned, purely because she was exercising her right to wear something that some would find strange but which was perfectly acceptable until someone decided to make a point about it.

None of us come well out of this. The journalists involved at all levels, who only heard what they wanted to and wrote the story regardless of its news-worthiness and the agendas behind it, those of us who commented who went along with the woman acting bizarrely and not perfectly rationally, and the others who'll jump at any excuse to bash a community and a religion as a whole because of the actions of one person. At times you easily forget that there is an actual person at the bottom of all this.

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Baghdad burning.

IraqSlogger has some of those images that the news networks often inform us are "too gruesome" or "too disturbing" to show when reporting on the aftermath of suicide bombings. As you might expect, the link has images that you might find distressing. They're meant to be; if we can't look the carnage we have helped create in Iraq in the eye, then we shouldn't be there.

Oh, and another 20 Iraqis were murdered by the self-proclaimed "Islamic State of Iraq", an umbrella mujahideen group which includes al-Qaida in Iraq. May they rest in peace.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007 

A secular "martyr".

When Lionel Shriver, author of a novel on a child that becomes a spree killer, wrote on Tuesday that "[A]nonymity is the last thing most of his fellow campus shooters have sought" she didn't know just how quickly Cho Seung-hui was posthumously going to prove her right. Proving beyond doubt that Cho's subsequent rampage was planned in advance, his "manifesto" as NBC termed it, last night appeared on the network news channel in all its unedifying, blood-spattered ignominy.

He wasn't the first to try to justify his actions in such a way, nor will he by any means be the last. Most notoriously, and most like an actual manifesto, Theodore Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, wrote a 35,000 word paper entitled the "Industrial Society and Its Future", which both the New York Times and Washington Post published, out of concern that further bombings would take place otherwise, and out of the hope that his writing style would help him to be identified. His brother recognized his prose, but not before a professor from the University of Wisconsin stated that:

It's good prose. The sentences flow well into one another, the paragraphs are coherent. The Unabomber even knows how to punctuate, and that's a very rare gift.

Cho's own message from beyond the grave bears little resemblance to the Unabomber's own verbosity. It soon becomes apparent, even from viewing the few parts made available from the full 28 video clips, that Cho was almost certainly influenced by those other martyrdom tapes which we've seen over the last few years, even though radical Islamist ideology appears to have played no part in his actual thinking. For that's what this most definitely is: a martyrdom video, albeit a secular one that makes clear his own inadequacy, insecurity and twisted reasoning. Some of his monologues more than reflect the reasons given by suicide bombers for their own atrocities, only with added profanity:

I didn't have to do this. I could have left. I could have fled. But no, I will no longer run. It's not for me. For my children, for my brothers and sisters that you fucked. I did it for them.

We can't say for certain just what Cho was suffering from, as a doctor diagnosed him back in 2005 with depression, but the severe form of it seems most likely. Apart from the above speech, which he seems to have motivated himself up for, in other clips he appears apathetic, speaking in a monotone, as if crushed by the world. He was however obviously planning for this event, and the reference to the two teenagers who carried out the massacre at Columbine, the 8th anniversary of which is tomorrow, will ignite speculation over whether it was in fact meant to happen tomorrow in a further "tribute" to them; the first shootings seeming out of place, especially as it was probably more down to luck and a failure of communication than anything else that he wasn't caught before he went on to kill 30 more students and teachers, his aim almost certainly being a mass killing spree.

While NBC is now coming in for heavy criticism for broadcasting extracts of the "manifesto" it was "lucky" enough to receive, it's perhaps better that it came out now rather than later, only to reignite the misery and pain suffered by those who lost loved ones for a second time. While it's been dealt with in the sensationalist style most associated with American TV news, one of the presenters tastelessly referring to it as "a legacy to NBC", it's doubtful if he'd chosen another network that they would have treated it any differently. The contents most certainly are sensational, even if it needn't be dealt with in a such a way. While Shriver argues that these massacres are all copycat crimes, and she has more than a point, it's difficult to criticise the media's coverage, other than for the way it's predictably demonised a man who seemingly could have been intercepted and treated well before he reached the point of no return. His two short plays especially, which have been described as disturbing, instead seem adolescent, puerile and attempts at dark humour which fail due to their stilted nature, and if they're meant to be frightening as some say, then there's a lot of people out there who should never go near the writings of say, Peter Sotos or even Chuck Palahniuk.

Dismissing him in this way seems part of the way of avoiding the questioning of modern culture itself. There have always been serial killers, murderers and terrorists, but never before have young men and teenagers in such a short space of time carried out such wanton acts of carnage against their own peers in the corridors of their schools. The easy availability of such lethal weaponry plays its part, but it doesn't explain why this epidemic has erupted in such a way, especially in the last decade. Teenage angst, alienation, mental illness and a thirst for revenge against both perceived and actual slights help us to understand why, but they don't tell the full story. These may be extroverted suicides, as Shriver also argues, and Oliver James seems to concur, but there are thousands who kill themselves and who want to end it all without taking dozens of others with them. We have to examine whether the pressures being put on children everywhere to succeed whatever the costs, especially in a dog eat dog world which seems to grow crueler and nastier by the year, and where failing and even being "different" is worthy of ridicule is helping to contribute to the malaise which is afflicting youngsters, even if very few of them are going to slaughter their classmates as a result.

The one thing that's for certain is that it will happen again, and next time the killer will most likely be trying to topple Cho's macabre record. Cho has spilt his blood, and to a certain subculture he probably will be a martyr. Most kids will grow out of it, but it's hard to predict who won't, and even then if they'll try their own luck at infamy, succeeding in one thing even if they failed at everything else. I don't have the solution or the answer, but if there is one thing that perhaps would help, it would be for more understanding both for those who suffer from mental ill-health and more attention to be given to those who do suffer from their own private demons while young. It just might prevent more re-runs of the current grieving than is necessary.

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Scum-watch: More "political correctness" gone mad bullshit is, err, bullshit.

I missed the original article in this case, and for once it seems to have been removed from the archive (unlike the fantasy Muslim yobs story, which is still freely available and uncorrected) but here's today's suitably buried correction and apology for another completely untrue report:

We have been asked to make clear that Councillor Pruw Boswell, Mayor of Totnes, Devon, did not order a ban on prayers at the town’s council meetings for fear of offending other religions, as we reported on January 11.

Prayers continue to take place at the start of each meeting, although in a different format, after a decision taken by the entire council.

The Sun regrets any confusion and apologises for the distress caused.

A similar article remains uncorrected and without an apology on the Daily Mail's site, and as it's from the day before, it seems likely that the Sun ripped it off, likely taking even more liberties with the non-story, as per usual.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007 

Scum-watch: Neverending deja vu.

Would you trust this woman?

It's a pretty thankless task being a tabloid hack. According to last year's poll conducted on behalf of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, a massive 7% of the population trust tabloid journalists (PDF), yet the vast majority of newspapers sold in this country are those very same journals which those untrustworthy hacks contribute to. As it doesn't look like the public are suddenly going to see the light and all start buying a broad or an ex-broad, the solution is surely for tabloid journalists to either stop making the news up, and distorting/misreporting the news.

Of course, this isn't going to happen due to the very nature of tabloid newspapers; the editors in charge, and the proprietors themselves. Hence the cycle continues, and when looking at the same shit day after day I suffer from eternal deja-vu.

Today is no exception. The Sun loves it when a "soft" judge opens his mouth, for it gives them an excuse to try and make the public believe that we aren't the most criminally punitive country in Europe, and that prison does indeed work. Or rather, it loves it because it can distort what the "soft" judge actually said and make it look as though he's an idiot who shouldn't be left in charge of a guinea pig, let alone be sending "villains" down the Scrubs. Previous case studies include Lord Philips, who made a scholarly speech discussing the implications of mandatory sentencing, which the Sun twisted into "Top judge: Let killers out of jail". Lord Woolf, who was giving evidence to the Home Affairs select committee, is today's victim.

Woolf in a 'go soft' jail plea

BRITAIN’S former top judge yesterday called for a sentencing shake-up that would put FEWER criminals in jail.

Lord Woolf told MPs that prison should be reserved for “those that really deserve it”.

He told a Commons committee that NO new jails should be built, adding: “We have many people in prisons now who don’t need to be there.”

He also blamed prison overcrowding for high re-offending rates.

His evidence is yet to be posted in full on the select committee website, so I can't go through exactly what he did say. However, piecing it together through the reports in the Grauniad, Torygraph and Times, it becomes quickly apparent that he was predictably putting across a far more nuanced argument:

Lord Woolf said that there were two solutions to the prison overcrowding crisis: to build more prisons or to reduce the prison population.

But putting more resources into new prisons, he added, would not solve the problme (sic) long-term: it was expensive, and unconstructive.

“What we should be doing is to make greater progress to make more effective non-custodial sentences.”

Meanwhile prison places should be reserved only for “those who really deserve it and need it”.

He said overcrowding was a major barrier to rehabilitation, and the country could not afford to keep building new prisons.

“We have not got over the message just how expensive incarceration is. The cost of sentences should be set out in clear and realistic terms.”

He added: “The primary use of prisons must be for violent offences.”

Lord Woolf said prison places were so expensive that they needed to be reserved only for those who "really deserve and need it". He suggested that the Sentencing Guidelines Council should be told by the government how much money was available for prisons for the next five years and asked to draw up guidelines that keep the prison population within those resources.He said: "The judge should know how much the sentence he is imposing will cost the public, and if there is a suitable cheaper option then he should choose that. We have not got over the message just how expensive incarceration is. The cost of sentences should be set out in clear and realistic terms." Lord Woolf, who sat as a judge in the criminal courts for 25 years, acknowledged that the confidence of judges and magistrates in community punishments had deteriorated, partly because of an overstretched probation service. He accepted that violent crime had to be dealt with severely, and denied that he was as "out of touch" as some tabloid newspaper editors had claimed.

A cap should be placed on the prison population to reduce overcrowding, the former Lord Chief Justice said yesterday.

Lord Woolf, who retired last year, said jail should be reserved only for "those who really deserve it and need it".

He said overcrowding was a major barrier to rehabilitation, and the country could not afford to keep building new prisons.

It's quite clear then that Woolf was in fact making the argument that simply building more prisons will not solve overcrowding as the current emphasis on custodial sentences will mean that they will be filled as quickly as they can be built. Additionally, that emphasis on sentencing and the overcrowding which is the result is in fact making the public less safe, as re-offending rates are going up as a result, from 51% in 1992 to 67% now. He didn't in fact say that no new jails should be built, but instead that the cost needs to be considered. It costs a mesmerising £40,000 to keep a person in prison for a year - money which would surely be better spent in a good number of the cases in which someone serves a year or under on community punishments instead. Consider the "gran from hell" sentenced to 6 months in jail at 81, which'll cost £20,000, when there almost certainly most have been a better solution than locking her away.

Woolf has then been successfully proved to be saying that judges "should go soft", so it's time to remind the readers' that the Sun opposes these liberal morons:

UK prisons are at bursting point with a population over 80,000. The Sun has called for more jails to be built and for judges to hand down tougher sentences to criminals.

Home Secretary John Reid has failed to deliver on a promise to turn old Army camps into jails.

Which was completely unworkable and proposed by... the Sun itself!

Here's the leader:

LORD Woolf has learned nothing since retiring as Britain’s top judge.

What's he supposed to learn? That the Sun's right and he's wrong and that's that?

In office, he constantly pleaded for softer sentences and cushier jails.

Now, in his dotage, he wants criminals set loose and plans for new jails scrapped.

That's exactly what he said, yes.

The daft old bird thinks that despite soaring rates of violent crime, we should put fewer convicted offenders behind bars.

Except that he said that "violent crime needed to be dealt with severely". Places are always going to be there for violent offenders; Woolf's point was that we needed to think about how other offenders are managed.

He may have a point that some petty criminals do not deserve to be locked up.

But those are well and truly outnumbered by the villains who are a menace to society and are being set free by wishy-washy liberal judges like Lord Woolf.

Right. Judges have been shown to be in fact getting ever harsher, and the prisons wouldn't be overcrowded if these violent criminals were being set free, but oh, what's the point?

Elsewhere in today's Scum, there's a slight difference in the reporting on two separate cases involving sex:

Lad's 100s of romps with Miss

AN ex-schoolboy told a court yesterday he romped with a married woman class assistant in car parks, hotels and at her home.

He was 15 when he began the alleged fling with Jeni Saville-King.

The lad, now 18, claimed sex acts occurred “hundreds of times” but they did not have full intercourse until he turned 16.

Jurors were told Saville-King, 29, became PREGNANT during the year-long affair but she assured him her husband was the father.

If this had been a man, he'd be denounced as a pervert, a sicko and as abusing his position of trust. As it involves a rather pretty 29-year-old woman, it's instead a semi-jokey, lad's dream come true. Contrast this report with this article on a man only sentenced for theft and admitting to having a problem with a sexual fetish:

Shoe perv walks free


Oh, and one of the finalists in a talent show previously got her tits out (nudity, obviously). Amazing news. Hopefully we'll adopt a similar attitude to reality TV to that taking hold in the States in regard to American Idol: they're voting for the worst.

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This blog loves schadenfreude.

How to look a tit in 3 easy steps:

1. Rip off Andrew Neil's mentioning that Greg Dyke "might" be considering standing as a London mayoral candidate by claiming it as an "exclusive" after you've consulted with your friends in the Tory party.

2. Don't bother to check this story with err, Greg Dyke, and play down the idea without mentioning that you support your mate Nick Boles, while still quoting his "spokesman".

3. Insult Greg Dyke by saying he gave a "cringeworthy performance" and that he is "all over the place and the Conservatives should have nothing to do with him" when he clarifies the story, thereby covering your embarrassment in starting the whole sorry debacle in the first place.

Yep, Iain Dale truly is a blogging expert, at least in making the rest of us look stupid.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007 

The war against twat.

We've become so used to the Labour party's servile attitude towards the Bush administration that when a minister like Hilary Benn makes an obvious but decent point about the general vacuity of the phrase "war on terror", it comes as a welcome refreshment.

From the beginning, the whole idea of a war on an abstract noun has been rightly sneered at. While in response to 9/11 it did have a certain ring of truth around it, as long as you believe that the war on Afghanistan was to remove the training camps and not to create a satellite state more receptive to Western interests, it's since become a grotesque simplification of the actual situation, whatever the particular situation it's being applied to.

Any remaining credibility the term had died once "shock and awe" started descending on Baghdad. While the war was never sold here as a direct part of the "war on terror", one of the justifications Blair did use on occasion was that Saddam could, for some bizarre, suicidal reason, decide to hand over his non-existent WMD to terrorists. In America, the inference was far clearer, whether down to the sycophantic media coverage which made a decent proportion of viewers believe that Saddam was behind 9/11, or down to the attempts to link al-Qaida to Saddam, all of which have been proved to have no basis whatsoever in fact.

One of the greatest ironies of the war in Iraq has been that where there were no terrorist groups, or in the case of Ansar al-Islam, one which was based in the semi-autonomous Kurdish north, there are now at least a dozen jihadist groups operating in and north of Baghdad. This failure of the US/UK invasion has in fact turned into a useful self-fulfilling prophecy for both the Bush administration and Blair. Blair claims that British troops are remaining in Iraq in part to fight "terrorists", while Bush says that failure in Iraq will mean terrorists bringing the carnage of Iraq to the streets of America. That the invasion has only helped exacerbate the threat from jihadists, giving them a further grievance, as well as helping to radicalise some of our own population is the unspoken and angrily denied elephant in the room.

The threat now posed by jihadists, while exaggerated, is still far worse as a result of the Iraq war than it was beforehand, as MI5 indeed warned it would become. This is where the phrase the "war on terror" becomes so laughable: we cannot drop bombs on our citizens, we can't shoot them in their homes without at least smearing them afterwards, and we can't make all of them disappear through the extraordinary rendition system. As Benn argues, the war at home cannot be a war. We have to understand why our own citizens have become both so alienated and radicalised that they're willing to strap bombs to themselves and kill their next-door neighbours, and dismissing them as being brainwashed or after 72 virgins in paradise just doesn't suffice. The winning of hearts and minds can also only go so far. This isn't just a battle between competing ideologies, as Blair has tried to argue in the past, it also involves removing the legitimate grievances which are held. Confrontation and demonisation, which are inherent in any war, whether it's a war of ideas or a war involving weapons, are not only helpful, they're counter-productive. Yes, we have to condemn the barbarity of the suicide bombers in Iraq and the ideology spreading it, but not without realising that doing so is only a means to end, rather than washing our hands of our role in creating the culture that has led to the exact situation.

Benn is right that the whole phraseology has meant that murderers have been able to pose as "soldiers". Mohammad Siddique Khan's chilling, childish, churlish finger-wagging martyrdom video was the purest example you could come across. You only have to read the "press release" blog of the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq to see how they regard themselves as the soldiers of God himself. By dignifying these people as warriors rather than what they really are, which is indiscriminate killers, we help them create their own mythology, where spilling blood is something desirable rather than despicable. Denying them their status as heroes can be one of the first steps in breaking the wider hold they have within their own subculture.

If you wanted a further example of why Benn needs supporting, and how vital this change of stance is, then here's the Scum's editorial on the matter:

LEFTIE minister Hilary Benn wants us to scrap the War on Terror.

He claims it legitimises the coalition of murderous fanatics who threaten our way of life.

But that’s precisely what we are up against — a deadly al-Qaeda guerilla war on the West.

And any attempt to downgrade it should be seen for what it is — a grubby bid for Labour’s deputy leadership.

Except there is no coalition, and there is no al-Qaida "guerilla" war on the West. The whole emphasis on bin Laden's group has led to the setting up of franchises which have no real link to his organisation, the latest being the changing name of the Algerian Salafist Group for Prayer and Combat to Al-Qaida's Committee in the Islamic Maghreb. They're fighting their own disparate wars for various different causes, and through our desire to see everything through the prism of war against the West, they've decided to take us on at our game. We're not up against al-Qaida, we're up against the ideology which led to the 9/11 attacks, which thanks to our reaction to it has been spread far further than bin Laden himself could ever have imagined. Defeating and downgrading that ideology is the real struggle, not destroying al-Qaida itself.

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That massacre in quotes.

"Walking into a school hall and shooting people is clearly against the law"

- President Bush's spokeswoman explains that killing other members of the public is a criminal offense.

"all the school shootings that have ended abruptly in the last ten years were stopped because a law-abiding citizen—a potential victim—had a gun"

- Larry Pratt,
a thoroughly applicable name, the executive director of Gun Owners of America, comes up with a utterly convincing argument for even more guns. Presumably, if everyone had to bear arms by law this wouldn't have happened. Also, if we twisted the constitution and armed bears, installing one on every campus, it would have quickly have stopped the killer in his tracks.

"The Queen is shocked and saddened at the shootings"
"Can I first say how appalled everyone is by the terrible news from Virginia.
"Our deepest sympathy and our condolences of course go to that community and to all of those whose families are directly affected."
"I would like to express, on behalf of Britain and the British people, our profound sadness at what has happened and to send the American people, and most especially of course the families of the victims, our sympathy and our prayers."

- The Queen, Margaret Beckett and Tony Blair all express how utterly shocked they are at an act of wanton violence. If all three had to apologise for every attack that takes place in Iraq as a direct result of the actions of her government/their policies, they'd never stop informing us of their faux concern.

"People are pretty upset," Johnson said. "He's a monster; he can't be normal. I can't believe I said 'hi' to him in the hall and then he killed all those people."

Obviously. No one seems to have found an entry for him on a social networking site yet, a sure sign of a mass-murderer in waiting.

"Today America is stunned and heartbroken at so many lost young lives. We share their grief."

The Scum joins in with the crocodile tears, with 12 articles alone on the shooting on its current news page. That's more than it's probably dedicated to the victims of the war which it propagandised for in the last year. As Juan Cole points out, a Baghdad university recently suffered its own equivalent of the massacre at Virginia Tech, except the suicide bomber succeeded in killing 41 people.

"A Lovely Divine Irony And Righteous Judgment Against This Impudent Nation"

The Westboro Baptist Church, via, weighs in. At least you know that they really do mean it. Site appears to be currently down, which most likely means it's getting DDoSed more than usual as a result.

"Cho Seung-Hui Was Inspired By Islam. His Suicide Note Signed Ismail-X

Just heard it on Fox News. Cho Seung-Hui left a suicide note and signed it as Ismael-AX (or Ismail-AX as the media published just now). Ismael is the Arabic for Ishmael the father of the Arabs, the son of Abraham and the one that Muhammad the founder of Islam favored above Isaac the father of the Jews. This terror seems to have indeed been motivated by Islam."

A fascist over at There's plenty more of them on the already legendary in knuckle-dragging racist terms Stormfront thread.

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Monday, April 16, 2007 

Why we hate Cosmo Landesman.

Is there a connection between having a stupid name and being, well, stupid? A couple of weeks back we were treated to a MurdochSpace post in the form of a Grauniad column by Peaches Geldof, which plumbed the depths of sheer awfulness. Today, following on from Gordon Brown's weekend interview with the Grauniad in claiming that we were "moving on" from the celebrity culture, we have Cosmo Landesman telling us why we all love Kerry Katona.

Cosmo Landesman. Is it short for Cosmopolitan or Cosmos? If it's the former, then maybe he ought to get his second name changed by deed poll to "Girl", which would more or less sum up the depth of the latter part of today's article. Having heard his name before, but not knowing why he should be preaching at me on the joys of celebrities, a quick Google informs us that he was previously married to Julie Burchill, the harridan ex-Stalinist upmarket Glenda Slagg from hell, which just about sums up what we ought to expect.

In actual fact, the first part of the article is fairly solid. He's right that people have long been claiming the end of celebrity culture, and have been comprehensively proved wrong. In fact, all the signs point to it getting worse: ever more magazines; newspapers becoming daily versions of said magazines, dedicated to building their profile, then chewing them up and spitting them out; and the celebrities themselves getting ever more desperate in their behaviour and outlandish in their sheer chutzpah, with the adoption of children from Africa or other deprived countries seeming to become the latest fashion accessory while also telling us how much they "care".

No, it's when he starts informing us of why and how these said characters of our everyday lives are famous that he becomes horribly unstuck. You have to hope that he's being ironic, with this remark of complete fatuousness:

The end of celebrity culture isn't going to happen for reasons that have to do with the nature of modern life and aspirations. The first one is very hard for these critics to grasp: people actually like this stuff! They enjoy reading about Kylie, Liz, Robbie and Jordan. There are many sane and decent people who think that the life of former Atomic Kitten singer Kerry Katona is not only enviable and glamorous, but fascinating. She is the Virginia Woolf of the Heat generation.

Just try and get your head round that. Yes, the man is somehow trying to compare Virginia Woolf, one of the greatest female writers of all time, to that fucking soulless cunt best known for appearing in Iceland adverts and for winning I'm A Celebrity a few years back. Even claiming her as the Woolf of the Heat generation is too much. She did use to sing, but produced nothing except the sort of bland worthless shit which clogs the charts like pubic hairs do the sink. In short, she's never done anything, and I can confidently predict will never do anything that will be remembered in 20 years time, let alone in centuries when Woolf still will be. Let's not be too hasty though, for perhaps we can hope that she will emulate Woolf in one way: maybe she'll too decide to end her existence by walking into a river with her pockets full of stones, or with them in her mouth, in which she could probably fit twice as many as weighed down Woolf, or indeed her nose, judging by her copious cocaine habit, a sure signifier of an oxygen thief.

People may like this stuff, and judging by the sales of the magazines, they might increasingly do. This isn't necessarily because of a vacuum otherwise in their lives, but because of the way in which this stupefying crap is constantly thrust down their throats. It's hard to escape: try walking into any shop which sells magazines without seeing the same hideously airbrushed faces leering right into your eyeballs, their phony "problems" and lives endlessly detailed, right down to how many times a day they void their bowels. These people aren't normal, they aren't talented, they're freaks of nature, with breasts the size of balloons and brains the size of bottle-tops. Landesman claims that they're liked because they offer a "human" form of entertainment; contrary to popular belief, there is nothing human about being in constant over-hyped feuds, always battling non-existent demons and toasting ready-made triumphs.

If you dig beneath the veneer of this celebrity diarrhea, you'll quickly discover that none of it is real, that this whole shallow continuing circle is an illusion being created as a license to print money for the laughing corporate suits that are behind it. Any person walking down the street at any given time has more depth than any of these so-called celebrities. The emperor has no clothes, but because of the structure of the media, anyone who mocks celebrities is in fact often paying tribute to them. Bo Selecta! was a case in point: beginning as making fun of both Big Brother and celebrities, it quickly became the thing that it started out satirising. If you were to attack them without any proviso, you'd quickly find yourself being shunned. Sure, celebrities go through bad patches when the media turns on them for some reason, but it's only if they've done something truly "evil" i.e, paedophilia or murder that they're cast aside. Often they emerge from it stronger: see Kate Moss, Madonna, etc.

Those who, like Gordon Brown, claim that these people are "only famous for being famous", are simply uttering a cliched tautology. In fact, they're famous because they represent things that are at the very heart of modern consumer capitalism: social mobility, fashion, the body, sex, and the need for affirmation.

Bollocks. Landesman's love for Kerry Katona would not have happened had she not been chosen to be in a manufactured pop band to begin with. That's not "social mobility", that's being plucked out for being suitably dumb and stupid but being good-looking and not entirely tone deaf with it. She might, just might, have emerged on a show like Big Brother, but it seems doubtful. There's a whole army of young women just like her out there, and only one or two might reach her level of fame. Jordan is only famous because of the size of her breasts and because tabloid newspapers think that their male readers are interested in tits, tits and more tits; sadly, they're somewhat right. Only a few become famous though, and only a few in reality care: it's because the media thinks it's what the public wants that they inform us for hour after hour that truly unremarkable young people are no longer an item. See the response on the BBC boards when they asked for comments: there was a torrent of anger at the level of exposure it was given when yet more people were being ripped apart in Iraq. Celebrity culture may not be about to end, but there is a rising level of contempt for it among a significant number of the population, especially due to the sheer talentlessness of the current participants of it.

It was Susan Sontag who said that being a dandy was a way of being an individual in an age of mass culture. The problem today is how to be an individual in an age of mass individualism, when the usual means of status - clothes, cars, consumer goods - are within the grasp of a majority of the population, at least in the west. The answer is: celebrity. You want celebrity culture to die? Kill capitalism first and then we'll talk.

Landesman has to be joking. This isn't the age of mass individualism; this is the age of mass trends, where a certain group of people all look the same, think the same and
are the same. You only have to look at any of the social networking sites to see the evidence for this. True liberation comes from attempting to break free from these social definitions and groupings. Kerry Katona is not an individual. Jordan is not an individual. Most celebrities are not individuals. They are the embodiment of everything wrong with the group that they define, and it's the likes of Landesman perpetuating these myths which is helping ensure that their hegemony continues.

He's right on one thing. Killing capitalism is a good idea, as long as he's one of the first up against the wall.

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Scum-watch: Any case will do to justify Sarah's law.

Today's Scum goes all out in another effort to try to justify Sarah's law, highlighting a troubling crime, but not one that in any way helps to make the case for the naming and shaming law:

A PAEDOPHILE teacher sacked for sex attacks on two pupils got a job as a SCHOOL BUS DRIVER and went on to molest four other boys.

Vile Neil Scott, 57, was on List 99, which stopped him working in schools.

He had been sacked from Holmewood House public school in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, in 1986 and spent four years teaching abroad.

When he returned he got a job as a bus driver. But the Heritage bus firm did not have any work for schools at the time, and his background was not checked, Guildford Crown Court heard.

When the company won a contract to ferry pupils in Crawley, West Sussex, he was put straight on the school run without any further checks.

Right, so if it's anyone's fault, it's the failure of the company to check the background of its employees once it had gained such a contract. How a law based on Megan's law would have helped is unclear. Parents rarely have any contact with school bus drivers, and they often don't live in the areas where the children themselves do. There cannot be eyes everywhere all of the time; this is why background checks on those seeking jobs working with children are far more important that a blunt law which the Sun wants.

The editorial takes it a step further:

YET another paedophile slips through the net to land a job driving a school bus.

But the latest case — the third The Sun has exposed this year — is particularly shocking.

Actually, this is the only case in which the driver has abused children. The other two cases the Sun highlighted were only of drivers that had previous offenses but had not taken advantage of their position in any way. The second driver exposed was especially controversial, as he had committed his offense when he was either 17 or 18, and the victim had been under 14 (probably meaning she was 13), with the driver now aged 35.

He was on a list of banned teachers — but his bus firm knew nothing about that, and the checks they made turned up nothing.

This directly contradicts the Scum's own report. Which is it?

The kind of openness a fully-fledged Sarah’s Law would bring about would prevent paedophiles from sneaking into jobs where they can prey on children.

The watered-down version the Government favours will not offer our kids the same protection.

In fact, as the experience from the US shows us, Sarah's law would most likely encourage even more secrecy. The Sun is proposing Sarah's law as if it would be a panacea, when there is absolutely no evidence to suggest it would be. Rebekah Wade may have her heart in the right place, but the obsession with protecting children at all costs, while building hysteria and fear at the same time does nothing whatsoever to deal with the real problem of what to do both to prevent abuse and then to deal with both the abused and the abusers.

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Baha Mousa: the injustice continues.

For the family of Baha Mousa, the man beaten to death by British troops in Iraq, the injustice continues unabated. His father was today meant to attend a press conference at the House of Commons, to present 46 previously unseen photographs further detailing the 93 separate injuries that were inflicted on him.

Instead, he was absent. According to Mousa's lawyer, Phil Shiner, he had suffered "visa issues", having been unable to obtain one from the British embassy in Damascus.

One can only speculate as to why.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007 

The slow death of free speech.

It's one of the least edifying rivalries there could be. In the ex-red corner we have Vladimir Putin, the man who may well have launched his brutal war in Chechnya with the help of a false flag terror operation (one of a number of allegations put forward by the assassinated Alexander Litvinenko) and whom since then has been busy reversing the democratic reforms introduced in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union, while in the blue corner is Boris Berezovsky, one of the robber-baron oligarchs who made his loot (estimated at £850m) cheap in the 90s and then subsequently fled when turned on by Putin. It's one of those fights where you hope that they both manage to do enough damage to each other to neuter both of their ambitions.

You could call the war of words between the Russian authorities and Berezovsky a phony one, but that would probably be doing a disservice to Berezovsky, for he certainly does deserve asylum, if only because of the obsessional desire for him to be repatriated. He might well be a crook, but it's more than obvious that the Kremlin wants him back, not out of his financial dealings, but because he poses a political threat, much like the other oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, currently languishing in a cell in Siberia. The arrest today of another political figure, former chess champion Garry Kasparov, who leads one of the few Russian opposition political parties still standing up to Putin, is another sign of the widening crackdown on protests of any kind.

The latest outburst from Berezovsky, who told the Grauniad that he is actively organising for a coup against Putin was only to be expected. He has made similar statements in the past, and the murder of Litvinenko will have done nothing to dissuade him that the only solution now is revolution.

What should more concern us here in Britain though is the slow but apparent death of free speech, for Berezovsky is now apparently to be investigated by the police, as well as being condemned for his impertinence by the Foreign Office. There was very little in what Berezovsky said that is objectionable: it's difficult to disagree with his claim that change is impossible through democracy itself, as Putin continues to ban opposition parties and it's widely seen that the last elections in 2004 were far from free and fair. He's also right in saying that few authoritarian regimes are brought down without at least some blood being spilt, even if it's the regime itself that tries to stay power through violence.

These days though, with terror bill after terror bill, and with violence viewed as abhorrent even if it's only ever targeted against a government which cannot be displaced through any other method than armed struggle, government officials inform us it would be "inconceivable" if the police did not investigate them. After all, what if an evil Islamist had called for our current government to be overthrown through violence, Blair and the Queen to be stoned to death or beheaded, with a council of clerics introduced in their place? Such a thing could not go unchallenged by our thought police. Blair himself has of course been investigated previously for supposedly making comments about the "fucking Welsh"; if you can't even say that without fear of having a file drawn up, then Berezovsky is most definitely in trouble.

As ever though, there are humongous double standards here. The very nerve of the Foreign Office, at least partly responsible for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, issuing a statement "deploring any call for the violent overthrow of a sovereign state", is hard to fathom. That wasn't regime change, that was "liberation", which makes all the difference. How many would disagree with someone calling for the overthrow of Robert Mugabe, even by violent means? His thugs are out dispensing their own form of justice to the opposition or anyone who gets in the way, but if you were to do so it would apparently be "inconceivable" if you weren't investigated as a result.

This insanity was warned of last year, as the "glorifying" terrorism part of the larger act was implemented despite substantial Lords and media opposition. As Not Saussure points out, the definition is drawn so widely that you could potentially be caught under it if you called for a country-wide smashing of Starbucks' windows, so Berezovsky would find it incredibly difficult to escape.

While we then witness the death of democracy in Russia, one of the last major remaining opponents to that attack is going to find himself raked over the coals in a still functioning (just) democracy for remarks that few other than an hypocritical Foreign Office find beyond the pale. The real terrorists must be unable to contain their mirth.

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Oh, fuck off.

It's the end of the world as we know it. Nothing will ever be the same again. I can scarcely believe it. This is shocking, deeply, mortally wounding. No one ever thought it possible.

A young man has ended his relationship with a young woman.

A truly world-shaking, seismic, belief-undermining news event. How can we ever recover from this blow?

In other news, more innocents have been slaughtered in Iraq and we continue to watch the slow but inexorable death of democracy in Russia. Frankly though, who cares, on this day that will live in infamy?

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Friday, April 13, 2007 

Hypocrisy and hysteria smother everything.

And what am I bid for this historic, traumatised headscarf?

For those who often, and on occasion quite rightly attack Polly Toynbee for her more vapid rantings, today's piece was one of those rare ones where she more or less gets it right. Sure, she overplays her hand in claiming we have the worst press in the western world when she should have instead said we have the worst "popular" press, as the broadsheet media is rightly seen by comparison as one which gives space to a wide range of different voices, whether you agree with them or not, but apart from that and the final paragraph which it could do without, there's little to quibble with.

It's always nice to have your suspicions confirmed, and to discover that the Daily Mail is indeed as hypocritical as you thought it was is uplifting, at least for a few minutes. If they hadn't tried to acquire Turney's story, as we know now for certain they did, then their anger which has been thrown towards the government would have at least had some legitimacy. Instead, the whole charade of making as much as possible out of the fuck-up just seems humourous, which is the attitude which ought to be taken towards the rag in the first place.

That said, equally amusing is how the Sun has now called on Randy McNob (© Alan Partridge) to defend both the newspaper and Turney herself. Some choice cuttings from this tale of woe are:

THEY volunteered to serve Britain by patrolling some of the world’s most dangerous waters.

This is complete nonsense. By the MoD's own admission, HMS Cornwall was mainly there to stop the smuggling of, err, cars. Truly a vital enterprise, and one which involves keeping your wits about you at all times, as Arthur Batchelor's angst about having his iPod stolen showed.

One of their most senior reporters offered a “very substantial sum” but Faye wanted to go with The Sun. The Sun is the Forces’ paper, the one most soldiers read. Many officers won’t even have the Mail in the mess.

Quite right, which is why the good people of ARRSE were referring to the Sun as the err, Scum.

I was in Afghanistan on Wednesday and the attitude of our troops there was, “Good on you, Faye.”

Yeah, well, I was in Basra on Tuesday and they all thought she was just grabbing the green.

In fact, it was the MoD who suggested Faye receive a fee for describing her ordeal in the first place.

Because the papers weren't already offering vast cheques to their families and relatives were they, one of the main reasons why the navy made the decision in the first place. Oh no, this is all the MoD's fault! The Sun was a mere bystander, the £60,000 just magically appearing in Turney's back-pocket without anyone so much as talking about payment.

It's times like this when you have to hand it to the Sun readers', or at least those that leave comments. They might come across as right-wing lunatics on some of the articles, but they can also spot a pile of excrement when they read it:


Yes McNabbs book was more fiction than fact. In fact an ex SAS seageant fron the good old days of the Radfan battles, followed his footsteps and found out the truth from some locals, like one of the fire fights was an old bloke with an AK thought someone was trying to pinch his goats and started firing in their direction.

Andy Mcknob believes it's right for her to sell the story beacuse he did the same, though his stories ususlly involve magic beans & kingdoms far, far away.

It's hard not to sympathise with the Scum though when the Mail is printing such hysterical tripe as this from another ex-General they've bought off:

Leading Seaman Faye Turney and her 14 fellow captives were 'distinctly un-Nelsonic' in the way they failed to fight back and behaved as though they were on a 'Mediterranean cruise', he says.

Actually, there are more similarities between Nelson and Turney than you think. Both saw no ships, at least until it was too late in the latter's case.

'But as Wellington said, to live in disgrace is the worst thing of all. To die glorious is something to be envied.'

I'm more reminded of the old Italian man in Catch-22 who told Nately he had Zapata's quote backwards. He knew that it's better to live on your feet than die on your knees, as Rose would apparently have had the 15 sailors end their days for no discernible reason whatsoever other than "glory" or "heroism". There isn't anything noble about coming home in a body bag for Blair, as the families of those who did die last week know only too well.

We may have to wait a while for the Catch-22 of the Iraq war to emerge, although the madness of war, and especially this war, could not be more apparent when reading the tabloids tearing chunks off of each other because of the meaningless, moronic stories which they were prepared to pay far too much for. They'd rather regal us with those than actually act to bring the troops they claim to support home, instead only abusing their pointless deaths when it means they can bash the government over something inconsequential, especially to a war which has killed so many and done so much harm. As Toynbee said, death, particularly when it's not "ours", is boring. The screaming souls of Iraq are left to screech only to an empty sky.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007 

Hostage was tortured - doesn't sell story.

Today's Grauniad cartoon by Martin Rowson couldn't have got the clamour surrounding Des Browne more right. It seems utterly grotesque that he might have to resign over a decision which was essentially made by the navy, which I can't see the Tories or anyone else would have disagreed with had they been in power, while the bodies of soldiers who died because of the unforgivable stupidity of staying in Iraq are returned home. This is, and always has been the real scandal. We joined in an illegal war, justified by deception and lies which has killed possibly 655,000 Iraqis as a result, and for some reason the government is currently being damned by the same media that not only snaffled up the stories of the two sailors, but also believed and propagated the distorted and wrong intelligence in the first place.

Here then is a story which is unlikely to be featured in the Sun tomorrow. The Iranian diplomat Jalal Sharafi, who was released shortly before the sailors were, possibly as part of some sort of deal, has gone public with the wounds he suffered during his own captivity. Unlike our own brave servicemen and woman, who had to endure the indignity of not washing for days, having to sleep on dirty blankets and being called names, Sharafi instead allegedly had the soles of his feet beaten with cables, as well as having his ankles drilled, wounds which have partially healed as they were inflicted at the beginning of his captivity. His back was also slashed, and he claims that his nose was broken. An official from the Red Cross confirmed that his injuries had been inflicted during his detention.

The United States has denied that it had anything to do with the apparent mistreatment, despite Sharafi's claims that an official connected with the US embassy was present during some of his interrogations, hilariously welcoming his release and return to Iran. One thing's for certain though: he sure won't be getting £100,000 in return for telling everyone "the story from his side, to see what he went through."

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Scum-watch: Even more mendacious than a banana republic.

Will anyone take today's Sun front page seriously? Seeing as it couldn't exactly splash on the continuing fallout surrounding the decision to allow the captured sailors to sell their stories, it was left to highlight the truly amazing response to its online poll, which resulted in according to the article, 99% of respondents "demanding" Sarah's law.

As noted yesterday, the poll was hardly going to deliver any other outcome than the one that Wade wanted. Not only were the questions loaded so heavily that if you disagreed with them you ended up looking like an apologist for child abuse or just an idiot, but there wasn't even a don't know option offered so that you could disagree entirely with the methodology used.

It's often noted that a 99% result in favour of one motion or party is a sure sign of a dictatorship or a banana republic, with either vote rigging or plain mendacity being involved, and there's certainly nothing here to suggest that the Sun should not be tarred with the same brush. The one surprise of the poll is that only 84% felt that the human rights of paedophiles mattered less than their "potential" victims, which either goes to show that Sun readers' are more in favour of universal human rights than most would think, that those opposed to Sarah's law tried to skew the results, or that the Sun thought that they couldn't have a 99% result to all the questions: after all, that would just make people mock the sheep mentality. Most damning of all is that the Sun doesn't provide any figures for those who took part in the poll: for all we know, it could be 99% of 100 "demanding" Sarah's law. For a newspaper that sells 3 million copies a day and which claims a total readership of around 8 million, shouldn't they be boasting of how many thousands support Sarah's law?

Perhaps that might be left to the coming days, for the Sun has now started a petition calling for the full implementation of a law based on Megan's law:

We the undersigned want 'Sarah's law' - a law that would reveal perverts' whereabouts.

This petition, signed below, is For Sarah and For All Our Children.

You can add your name to our list by filling in the boxes below.*

As there is no way to even register your opposition this time, I signed it with my name as "I oppose Sarah's law" and address as "for the same reason the NSPCC does: there is no evidence that Sarah's law would make children safer." You might want to do something similar, even if it's a worthless gesture. The previous survey is also still open.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007 

Won't someone please think of the paedophiles?

More photoshopped stereotypes.

There are few more emotive and controversial issues than the rights and wrongs of dealing with both paedophiles and child abuse. When it was announced last year, shortly after John Reid had ascended to the home secretaryship, that he was to send a minister to America to investigate how "Megan's Law" had been implemented, most assumed that it would quickly be forgotten once the hysteria over the case of Craig Sweeney had died down. It was therefore something of a surprise when a sympathetic, previously obscure Labour MP David Norris emerged at the weekend, leaking to the News of the Screws that a trial of a British version was to be implemented in his constituency and a couple of others.

As it turns out, it seems that either Norris got ahead of himself, wrongly briefed by the Home Office, or that the instant criticism even of the trial has meant that it has been somewhat watered down even further. The Home Office is claiming that no decision has yet been reached. The trials themselves therefore may involve single mothers being able to request information from the police on whether prospective partners are on the sex offenders register. The reasoning behind this is that predatory paedophiles are increasingly targeting vulnerable single mothers since they provide relatively easy, trusting access to children.

Even this relatively slight measure has a number of problems with it. It seems unlikely that a single mother, on finding that a man she's been associating with has a conviction for child abuse, is going to keep the information to herself. In fact, she's bound to inform anyone and everyone, including the local media that a sick pervert has been trying to get to her kids through her, even if he in fact wasn't. While this may well be an acceptable outcome in some way, unless the man is then able to be prosecuted for doing so, especially when he can quite reasonably claim that his motives were in fact pure, then the problem is simply magnified, with him either forced into moving away, or becoming an outcast who as a result is even more likely to attack a child on their own, making children even less safe. Unless we are then prepared to lock such potentially dangerous men away, possibly for the rest of their lives, then such a scheme seems to provide little actual comfort, except giving a single mother a false sense of security when her new love turns out to not have a past. It's also encouraging suspicion where there might not have been any in the first place.

The watered down version of Megan's Law which the Home Office denies has been approved yet is little better. Instead of giving the names of offenders in the area and exactly where they live, parents would instead be able to request the number of sex offenders that are living in the local area. It seems unclear just what parents are then meant to do with this information, other than potentially shit themselves and never let their children out of their sight again. It almost seems designed to increase fear of strangers, and of men especially. In the internet age, armed with the number of paedophiles in the area, research is bound to be easy enough to carry out in order to identify exactly who the faces behind the numbers are, therefore negating the whole premise behind restricting the full information in the first place.

Indeed, it makes you wonder if such a scheme does eventually go ahead whether it's a precursor to a full-version of Sarah's law being introduced shortly afterward, with the government forced into going further as a result of the concerned citizens' legitimate and understandable efforts to identify the perverts in their midst. Cynical, maybe, but the Sun, edited by Rebekah Wade, who started the original hysteria back in 2000, is already campaigning for the real deal, "canvassing" their readers, asking them to reply to an insultingly leading questionnaire:

1. If a convicted paedophile was living next door to you, should you have the right to know?

2. If a convicted paedophile was living near your child's school, should you have a right to know?

Durr, let me think. Headteachers are already being informed about paedophiles living near schools, as the Guardian article makes clear. Most convicted sex offenders recently released from prison are dealt with by MAPPA, with the various agencies within it deciding on a case by case basis whether locals need to be informed. It's in fact their hard-work which goes unnoticed in all of this.

3. Are the human rights of a convicted paedophile more important than those of potential victim?

Unsurprisingly, there isn't a box to tick where the human rights of a convicted paedophile not to be kicked to death by rampaging vigilantes or to be allowed to get on with their lives when they are complying with all the conditions of their release and aren't considered a danger to the public are balanced against the human rights of the potential victim. Or even, God forbid, where the human rights of a convicted but reformed paedophile (the Sun denies there is such a thing, even though there have been successful isolated schemes, Circles of Support and Accountability, where none of paedophiles on the course have re-offended as a result) are just as important as every other citizen's.

4. Should police resources be directed at protecting children rather than convicted paedophiles?

This is a daft question. Resources have to be spread between protecting children, and the groups that monitor sex offenders in the community, not either one or the other.

5. Would you feel your family was safer if Sarah's Law was introduced in Britain now?

Another stupid question, as we don't know what the effects of Sarah's law would be. If the results mirror those after the introduction of Megan Law's in the US, then we should expect vigilante attacks to go up and the number of convicted paedophiles currently complying with registration regulations to drop. The figure in the UK at the moment is that 97% of those released do so. Only 80% now do in the States.

Maybe if such evidence was given to Sun readers', they might come to a different conclusion to the one that the newspaper wants them to. As it is, they instead only provide the views of the sympathetic Labour MP, and one of the workers at the charity started by Sara Payne, both of whom support Sarah's law. The information about how Megan's law "works" also doesn't feature any criticisms of the scheme. Yesterday the Sun only bothered to report how Kidscape, a children's charity, supports at least the idea of single mothers being given information, without reporting how the head of Barnardo's and former head of the prison service, Martin Narey, made clear how he thinks it'll in fact make the current threat more insidious through offenders going underground. The NSPCC has also investigated whether Megan's law makes children safer, and found no evidence to suggest it does.

Instead, the Sun's readers' will instead have to make do with the views of Rebekah Wade:

IT’S good — but it’s only a start.

On closer examination the experimental new Sarah’s Law, while welcome, falls short of its successful American counterpart.

Only those directly at risk, such as single mums, will be entitled to ask if someone they suspect as a paedophile is already on police records.

The wider community, whatever their suspicions, must remain in the dark.

Considering the ferocious and preposterous opposition from the civil liberties brigade, this limited right to know is an important step forward.

I didn't realise that the NSPCC, Barnardo's and indeed, even this government, were members of the civil liberties brigade. Welcome brothers!

But it can only be a first step. More must follow if we are to provide our children with the protection they need.

The Sun hopes ministers will look hard at the results of the Reader Referendum we are conducting today.

Our readers have always wanted the whole neighbourhood to have the right to know if a child sex monster is living near them or a school.

They know these ruthless perverts rarely respond to counselling or treatment and remain paedophiles all their lives.

Err, so if you already know the results of this "referendum", why are you even bothering carrying it out?

As it stands, the proposed new law is unlikely to prevent avoidable attacks on young victims.

When it comes to choosing between the human rights of a child and those of a sexual predator, there IS no choice.

Let us decide once and for all whose rights matter the most.

This is a false dichotomy. Rights are universal; they apply to everyone, even "sexual predators", or at least those that aren't breaching the conditions of their original release. We can't pick and choose who has human rights and who doesn't, especially as I wasn't even sure that the Sun believed in human rights. It certainly doesn't in the Human Rights Act itself, which provides the very measures that allows for the relatives of victims of sexual predators to get inquests into the death of their loved ones.

It would be a shame then if the results of the Sun's referendum were skewed by those concerned of the dangers of introducing Sarah's law in full. The poll is here, although I obviously cannot condone the actions of anyone attempting to do such a thing.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007 

Pass the sick bags.

It's hard to judge just who is the most nauseating in the continuing battle over the selling by some of the 15 hostages of their stories to the tabloids. The Grauniad leader gets it mostly right by saying that nobody comes out of it well. It was always to be expected that a few days' long civil war would break out between the newspapers that were successful in getting the "exclusives" and those that weren't; it happens every time a big story like this comes along - remember how Paul Burrell was attacked after selling his story to the Mirror? Even by the usual low standards of our press though this is an abysmal trough.

If the hostages had told us anything, absolutely anything slightly interesting or insightful about their brief imprisonment, then maybe the obscene payouts would have been at least somewhat justified. As it happens, they've told us even less than was revealed at the staged MoD press conference last Friday. The closest Turney has come to telling us something new was that she supposedly had a more charged conversation with Ahmadinejad than that which appeared on the news. The treatment which they received, while not pleasant, was certainly not anything which they shouldn't have perhaps expected if they were to have been captured. The staged photographs on the front page of the Sun this morning, mother and daughter kissing, happy to be reunited, meant to make you feel pleased at the outcome of this whole sorry affair, instead leave a sour taste in the mouth. Some of the details just make you wince - that Turney will be keeping a doll given to her in the "goody bags" they received from the Iranians, but only after it was checked for explosives, as you can never be too sure about those extremist suicide bombing plastic Islamic warriors.

The Sun has then set about attempting to defend itself. Turney makes clear that the money is not going to be spent on her - it's instead going into a trust fund for her daughter, with some going to the HMS Cornwall benevolent fund, although she predictably doesn't reveal how much. It also launches an attack on two ex-army figures who went public with their concerns whom apparently received fees themselves for doing so, enlisting Andy McNab, who obviously won't be getting any money for his own appearance to denounce them. That the fees given to them will have been next to negligible, while Turney will be receiving a quoted £100,000 through her deal with the Sun and Tonight with Trevor McDonald, doesn't affect the Sun's righteous outrage.

All this said, it's hard to not feel somewhat sorry for Turney when you read the disgusting bilious reaction of everyone's favourite blowhard, Richard Littlejohn. Almost half the front page of the Daily Hate is given over to advertising his attack on Turney and the others, liberally sprinkling in insults about Blair and Labour in general, as if the Tories would have handled things differently if they'd been in power. I mean, does Turney really deserve this revolting passage from Littlejohn?

How long before the ludicrous Faye Turney pops up on Celebrity Fat Club? I bet they didn't let her get in the dinghy first. This is a woman who is capable of capsizing the Ark Royal if she shifts her weight to the wrong cheek.

Take that, you dumb overweight bitch! In fact, the whole of Littlejohn's piece sets out to belittle the whole incident. He doesn't criticise them for the contents of their interviews, except to make fun of Batchelor for being a "wimp", as if Littlejohn himself would dare to go out to Iraq in the first place, but for the whole selling of the story and their conduct while in captivity. If Turney had sold her story to the Daily Mail, then the boot would be on the other foot. As it is, Littlejohn is more than happy to oblige in attacking Turney for making the wrong choice. That the Mail was at the forefront of the why-oh-whying about Turney even being out in the disputed waters in the first place doesn't seem to have made them reflect on why she rejected them.

Littlejohn does have a point about emotion and drama being used and abused more than ever. This isn't the fault of the sailors, but the sensationalist media which Littlejohn himself works for which has created that very culture. He often makes mocking references to the cult which surrounded the death of Princess Diana, but the Mail was one of the chief culprits in elevating her from a flawed, ordinary woman who married a member of the royal family into a modern day saint purely because of her untimely death.

As a result, every news story has to be ever more hard-hitting, every death is always an avoidable tragedy, every mourning mother needs to have her anguish documented, otherwise no one will care. Turney's time in an Iranian jail is therefore an ordeal, her 13 days mental agony, or even torture. Words, as we know, are weapons. Simon Jenkins wonders, quite legitimately, how all this hate being directed towards Tehran is going to affect the chances of the only solution to their alleged pursuit of a nuclear weapons program, a diplomatic one.

Does Turney then deserve a medal, as the Sun's discussion board rather optimistically asks? Does she deserve to be called a fat ass by a man known disparagingly for the alleged shortness of his own appendage? It's hard not to reflect that this whole outbreak of mass idiocy wouldn't have occurred if we hadn't already dealt with the equal stupidity of staying in southern Iraq for no particular reason. Until then, I think I'm going to go sit in the corner with a sick bag over my head, just in case.

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Monday, April 09, 2007 

Those amazing exclusives in full.

Faye Turney:

Arthur Batchelor:

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Oliver Kamm is not a blogger.

There has to be a certain amount of irony in Oliver Kamm writing an attack on political blogs for the Grauniad. Firstly, he himself runs something which many would consider to be a political blog. He obviously rises above the stinking sewer which the rest of us proles in the lower-"blogosphere" inhabit. Secondly, he's writing for the newspaper which has done much to encourage political blogging in this country: the first to launch a site dedicated to comment which includes pieces from those who have made their name purely through word of mouth on the interbutts.

He BEGINS (yes I actually previously had beings here rather than begins) by focusing on the shadowy appearance of Guido Fawkes/Paul Staines on Newsnight:

Political blogging has come of age. At least, that was the idea behind the BBC's Newsnight screening of a report by a high-profile blogger who writes under the pseudonym Guido Fawkes. His film argued that blogs provided more acute and independent political analysis than traditional journalism, owing to the absence of an editor, proprietor or regulator. Theatrically insisting on being filmed in darkness to maintain his supposed anonymity, "Fawkes" debated his thesis with Michael White of this newspaper.

It was a catastrophic performance, mainly because the blogger required continual correction on points of fact. He thereby illustrated blogging's central characteristic danger. It is a democratic medium, allowing anyone to participate in political debate without an intermediary, at little or no cost. But it is a direct and not deliberative form of democracy. You need no competence to join in.

From what we know of Staines' past, he's wrote papers for thinktanks etc, so it's hardly that he isn't competent. It's just that he was simply out of his depth, faced with two seasoned performers in Michael White and Jeremy Paxman, and hoisted himself by his own petard by agreeing only to take part if he was shrouded in darkness. It was a cock-up which made all political bloggers look daft.

Guido Fawkes is as Tim Ireland tries to point out, hardly representative of political blogging as a whole, even if he is the most successful, as he never tires of informing us. His blog is dedicated to gossip, naked speculation and some would argue smear attacks. There isn't anything particularly wrong with filling this kind of newspaper diarist void on the net: Guido does it reasonably well, but there are legions of other blogs where the last thing they are interested in is gossip.

This is where Kamm's pants begin to fall down. He claims that blogging requires little to no competence, and judging by how some blogs simply link to stories while the comments fill with outrage, he does have something of a point. The best blogs however are those that are fiercely independent, that do go in-depth and that then encourage discussion rather than throwing a cordon around any dissension. Ministry of Truth, Not Saussure, Pickled Politics are ones that instantly spring to mind. Kamm instead would prefer to ignore that these blogs don't exist: his own has no comment facility, because of the amount of people who vehemently disagree with him and his virulent pushing of a neo-conservative foreign policy, as well as his other interests, mainly insulting old communists and attacking Noam Chomsky. Out of all the "left" supporters of the war in Iraq, he's the only one who hasn't at the least expressed regret, or admitted with a heavy heart that had he known what would happen in the 4 years after the invasion, that he would have at least not openly supported the inexorable march to war. This is much the same reason why Melanie Philips (currently calling the Iranian regime "genocidal") and her ilk don't have comments enabled on their "blogs"; they're afraid of being challenged and made to look bad, if not wrong. The Daily Mail website is an example of how comments can on the other hand be a bad thing: they're so heavily moderated that hardly any dissent from the line the article is spinning is allowed, lest it start to look silly. This covert censorship is probably far worse than no interaction at all.

Kamm next has a go at the Tories:

But political bloggers are not the required type of crowd. They are, by definition, a self-selecting group of the politically motivated who have time on their hands. In his speech, Osborne commended the work of Conservative-supporting bloggers. The notion that a political party becomes credible by being responsive to its activists is an error that Labour disastrously adopted in the 1980s. Political blogging is a new vehicle for an enduring force: what James Madison, in the Federalist Papers, termed "the mischief of faction".

It's quite true that Conservative, or nominally conservative supporter bloggers are definitely in the ascendant in the UK. Whether this is down to the fact that the party is in opposition and has had to attempt to renew itself, much like how Democrat bloggers rule the roost in the US or not is a debate that could be had endlessly. Kamm though misses a trick here: most of the Conservative bloggers, or at least the most popular, are generally further to the right than Cameron's Conservatives are trying to be. Iain Dale, although loyal to Cameron, was David Davis's chief of staff during his leadership campaign, and is often critical of the Cameron agenda. ConservativeHome is noted for its hard right stance. As the opinion polls also suggest, Cameron hasn't needed to be responsive to the activists, as New Labour has instead been imploding, with Blair destroying the party through his own selfishness in staying on.

Blogs are providers not of news but of comment. This would be a good thing if blogs extended the range of available opinion in the public sphere. But they do not; paradoxically, they narrow it. This happens because blogs typically do not add to the available stock of commentary: they are purely parasitic on the stories and opinions that traditional media provide. If, say, Polly Toynbee or Nick Cohen did not exist, a significant part of the blogosphere (a grimly pretentious neologism) would have no purpose and nothing to react to.

This is rubbish. For every blog there is that focuses on the latest outpourings of Polly Toynbee, there's another that takes apart the day's real news from a stance that simply isn't given room in the papers; Stumbling and Mumbling, Flying Rodent, etc. This is also to ignore the stories that blogs have broken, and the way especially within the more authoritarian regimes across the globe that they can break the censor's monopoly on what can and can't be read and said.

The great innovation of web-based commentary is that readers may select minutely the material they are exposed to. The corollary is that they may filter out views they find uncongenial. This is a problem for a healthy democracy, which depends on a forum for competing views.

Judging by Kamm's blog roll, he's not much of one to talk. Almost the entirity of his links are given over to "muscular liberals" whose views are much like his own. He even used to link to Little Green Footballs, one of the most distasteful one-sided blogs there is. Comment is Free is one of the better places online where intelligent and reasoned discussion does occasionally take place, but Kamm never wastes much time in damning the Grauniad for whichever stance or writer it's published this week which he disagrees with.

In its paucity of coverage and predictability of conclusions, the blogosphere provides a parody of democratic deliberation. But it gets worse. Politics, wrote the philosopher Michael Oakeshott, is a conversation, not an argument. The conversation bloggers have with their readers is more like an echo chamber, in which conclusions are pre-specified and targets selected. The outcome is horrifying. The intention of drawing readers into the conversation by means of a facility for adding comments results in an immense volume of abusive material directed - and recorded for posterity - at public figures.

Or, as Kamm discovered, results in having to publish the opinions of those who don't agree with his diatribes against Noam Chomsky, who he managed to mention 1,052 times in less than a year and six months. There's no point denying that the amount of vitriol thrown around on some blogs or in the comment sections is unpleasant, and that some "swear blogs" are just nasty rather than amusing, but again, this is to see blogging through a distorted lens that only sees the bad.

The blogosphere, in short, is a reliable vehicle for the coagulation of opinion and the poisoning of debate. It is a fact of civic life that is changing how politics is conducted - overwhelmingly for the worse, and with no one accountable for the decline.

This is close in some ways to the arguments made by Tim Ireland towards something like a blogging code of conduct, or general etiquette. Blogs can be for the bad, especially when those running them are themselves fundamentally dishonest, or not prepared to let dissenting voices to interfere, but overwhelmingly the many are for the good. Speaking purely for myself, sometimes the measures being announced or proposed are so completely ridiculous or illiberal that they need to abused and poisoned in this way. Kamm claims that you don't need to be competent to be a blogger, but when faced with politicians like Hazel Blears attempting to become the deputy leader of the Labour party, it's more than apparent that you don't need to be anything other than a spouting, brainless ass-kissing robot to be a minister either. Politics may be a conversation, but if it's one in which the other person proposes bringing back flogging or making sandcastles illegal then they need to be told where to take their ideas.

In any case, bloggers are not responsible for the contempt and general cynicism about politics and politicians. This has been created thanks both to Labour's spin machine and to the wholesale breakdown of deference in society itself. They can certainly add to it, and they can distort the view of bloggers as a whole, but the media itself certainly isn't blameless either. Why else would so many publish articles such as this if they weren't in some way threatened?

Kamm then perhaps ought to try and be an actual blogger. Rather than being involved in a conversation, as he thinks political debate should be, he instead talks at you, and he's rather smug about that. Take for instance his fatuous comparison of the Communist Party of GB with the British Union of Fascists, where he insults an 94-year-old woman for having "scant imagination", while the real debate about the post occurs on a blog other than his own because of his own cowardice in not enabling comments. Forgive me if I don't take Kamm's criticisms of blogging as seriously as he seems to take himself.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007 

Losing the moral high ground.

Sensory deprivation, as practiced on US terrorism suspect Jose Padilla.

We shouldn't play down the apparent ill-treatment suffered by the 15 captured British sailors while in Iranian custody. By any measure, a mock execution, whether authorised by those in charge of "looking after" those arrested or simply the guards themselves messing around, is a traumatic and unpleasant experience. Being blindfolded, especially for a long period of time, leaves the mind to fill the visual gap, replaying images which the brain would normally suppress. Separating Faye Turney from her comrades and telling her they had been sent home was an odious psychological trick, whether she believed it or not. Sleep deprivation quickly leads to hallucinations, lethargy and compliance.

And yet, it's difficult or even impossible to fully denounce such treatment as inhumane, degrading and illegal purely as a result of this government's very own record and our general complicity in far worse acts of torture and ill-treatment. We learned
earlier in the week of how MI5, having been rebuffed by Jamil el-Banna after attempting to recruit him to spy on Abu Qutada, then told the CIA that he and his business partner Bisher al-Rawi were carrying bomb parts. This resulted in them being swooped on in Gambia and then being rendered, first to Bagram airbase in Afghanistan and then on to Guantanamo Bay. While al-Rawi has finally been freed after his help in keeping tabs on Abu Qutada for MI5 had come to light, el-Banna, despite being a British resident, is still being denied any help by the authorities here. Amnesty International additionally reported this week that if anything, conditions in Guantanamo are getting even worse. The sensory deprivation that is enforced both at Guantanamo Bay and other CIA-run black sites is designed to send the detainees mad, and in many cases it seems to have succeeded.

We have to remember that our own treatment of those arrested in Iraq has been at times less than exemplary, without even mentioning what our coalition partners get up to. For a time in the aftermath of the invasion, "conditioning", a practice banned by the army since the early 70s, was authorised as being acceptable. This involves the use of stress positions, forcing prisoners to stand with their arms outstretched and hands cuffed, as well as hooding and sleep deprivation. The most notable victim of this decision by the military hierarchy was Baha Mousa, who died after 36 hours in British custody in Basra. A post-mortem found that he had 93 separate injuries. The one person to admit to being involved in the abuse meted out to Mousa and those arrested at the same time, Corporal Payne, was accused of playing the detainees like a choir, kicking and punching them one after another, relishing their cries. Others were involved in the ill-treatment which led to his death, but a closing of ranks and an outbreak of amnesia has meant that everyone else has for now escaped justice.

The other open sore is our role in extraordinary rendition. Our elected representatives continue to either deny all knowledge or play down the fact that over 100 CIA flights landed at airports in the UK, whether to refuel or otherwise. Those unlucky enough to be on those planes, under the same sensory deprivation techniques used at Guantanamo so that they have no idea where they are or where they're being taken, would soon be welcomed either at CIA-run black site prison or by the security services in friendly (and sometimes unfriendly, as some have been rendered to Syria) countries who would then carry out torture, such as that performed on Benyam Mohammed, who had his penis slashed multiple times. He may well have been one of the lucky ones, as he doesn't seem to have undergone such other notorious methods as waterboarding.

This is why such predictably angry responses to yesterday's press conference, exemplified by Iain Dale, seem out of place. Our servicemen did indeed suffer, and they are now likely to be reimbursed for it as the MoD has lifted the ban on the selling of their stories. For those with British residence/leave to remain still languishing in Guantanamo Bay, there will be no such compensation.

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Friday, April 06, 2007 

Happy Easter, war is starting.

It's a well-known fact that no one takes much notice of newspapers on bank holidays. News itself tends to be in short supply, and as we all know, no news is a perfect opportunity to make it up. "Good" Friday has turned out to be no exception.

The Scum then takes the "revelation" that the 7/7 bombers had been on a "reconnaissance" mission, supposedly staking out targets, to mean that they were, err, going to "bomb the Queen". This doesn't make sense in the slightest - the whole point of suicide attacks is to cause as many casualties as possible, not something that's going to be achieved by a single bomber blowing himself up outside the gates of Buckingham Palace. A truck or car bomb would have been different, but they clearly hadn't planned or had the resources for such an attack, although a viable device was left in the car abandoned by the bombers in the Luton train station car park, presumably as a booby trap as the police don't believe another bombing was planned. The only point of an attack by a single bomber would be to show that nowhere would be safe, and while there is a seemingly endless supply of "martyrs" willing to kill themselves in Iraq, that is certainly not the case here. The article then goes on to say that the blasts were planned 7 months in advance, which somewhat seems to contradict the idea that they hadn't decided where to bomb only nine days before the actual attacks.

The Telegraph seems to have fallen for the exact same story, except they claim that the bombers changed their plans at "the last minute". One has to wonder if the men were going through the motions, examining the possibility of bombing such landmarks but deciding not to pursue it when attacking the public transport network would both be far easier, create more casualties and strike just as much fear into the public as symbolic attacks would.

The other question has to be why it's taken close to two years for the three men now alleged to have been involved with the plot to be charged. We're told that the footage of the men on their "reconnaissance" mission was discovered shortly after the attacks in the initial investigation. Even considering the supposed lack of help forthcoming from the community in Beeston, for it to take 21 months for the men to be either formally identified or sufficiently proved to be involved for the CPS to prosecute seems extraordinary. It has to be assumed that they were not deemed to be prepared to take part in suicide attacks themselves, because otherwise the public seems to have been left at considerable risk.

The other coincidence with the timing of the arrests and the charges is that of the end of the trial of those arrested under Operation Crevice; the jury still seems to be out, considering the charges against the men. We know that once the jury has a reached a verdict there are meant to be forthcoming revelations involving the 7/7 attacks, things which currently can't be reported due to subjudice. Rachel suggests that the charges won't affect these from coming out, but that words will have to be considered carefully. Again, this seems to blow any chance of an inquiry into the bombings even further into the long-grass.

Elsewhere, the right-wing press takes its cue from Blair to blame Iran for the deaths of the four soldiers killed by a roadside bomb, regardless of any evidence whatsoever to prove it.

The Scum takes it even further, directly blaming

But this smirking creep is no reality game show host. He is a murderous tyrant who tortures and kills his own people.

While he basked in a major public relations coup, terrorists acting with his blessing were blowing up four Brits in Basra — two of them women.

Seeing as it's not even certain who was responsible for the IED, the only evidence being circumstantial in that it took place in an area where the Mahdi army are well-supported, and as Juan Cole points out, Iran and the Mahdi army aren't the greatest of friends (the Badr brigades, the militia of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq are the ones directly supported by Iran), this is an allegation too far.

The Mail and the Express are instead insulted by the Iraqis who dared to visit the place where our heroes were blown up, smiling as they hold up the detritus left behind. Why aren't these people grateful? We've given them freedom down the barrel of a gun, bombed their country for 16 years, killed thousands of men and women, enforced sanctions responsible for the deaths of 500,000 children, and still they rejoice when the British die! It's almost as if they don't want us there.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007 

Carry on regardless.

The bizarre futility of the continued British presence is southern Iraq could not have been more obvious when the release of the 15 sailors held by Iran is compared with the pointless death of 4 more soldiers. After close to two weeks of posturing, including taking the matter to the UN Security Council, it was quiet diplomacy rather than threats or sanctions that freed the soldiers.

Whether a deal was in someone done we may never know, but it seems more than a coincidence that the "Irbil 5" have apparently been given access to an envoy from the Iranian embassay, as well as howa an Iranian diplomat mysteriously kidnapped by gunmen in Iraqi government uniforms (which would suggest either it was at the request of the US or by insurgents in disguise, with the release of the diplomat making the latter unlikely) was released a day earlier. This makes Blair's talk of "no negotiations" look silly, as it does Bush's suggestion that there would be "no quid pro quo", as movement on the "Irbil 5" would have been impossible without express US approval.

The whole capture of the soldiers has turned out to be nothing more than an extended game, one which Iran has more than convincingly won. When a quick climb-down, however humiliating it may have been in the short term could have freed them shortly after the beginning of their "mandatory vacation", we instead had to sit back and endure two weeks of inept pointlessness, the soldiers themselves patiently playing along with what they were told to do by the Iranians. Only Faye Turney during the experience looked uncomfortable, and she was undoubtedly the one who was used and abused the most, but little more than the UK press themselves did, their mock concern as vomit-inducing as the letters that had been dictated to her. She'll also be glad to read now she's home a pathetic little rant in the Sunday Moron from Carole Malone who chastised her like a true feminist for daring to leave her 3-year-old daughter with her partner while she went off to war.

Ahmadinejad was the one who was left looking magnanimous. Meeting the soldiers themselves was a masterstroke, their joy at being let go apparent, again playing along with the narrative that the Iranians had been weaving from the beginning, joking along with him, whatever was really going through their heads.

It was only to be expected that once the troops were safely home that we could get back into the usual routine of blaming them for everything and anything, whether there's any evidence or not. It doesn't seem to matter that it's just as likely that the insurgents are using US or Israeli made weapons: that, after all, shows that the free market's working. Instead we're left with the images of tyrants, the uncivilised world and the biggest threat to world peace letting their booty go, while the free, democratic Iraq spirals ever more into the mire.

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Pot kettle black attack.

Prince Harry is "dangerously becoming an embarrassment to this country", a veteran royal photographer has said.

Arthur Edwards,
who works for the Sun newspaper, called Harry "a fabulous young man", but said he should be "behaving a lot better".

Like making stories up about those evil Muslims, like a proper inbred little twerp.

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Comment moderation.

Is on while some old friends of mine remind me why we long went our separate ways.


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Wednesday, April 04, 2007 

Film review: 300.

Out of all those influenced or inspired by the Battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans allied with 700 Thespian volunteers managed for three days to hold back the overwhelming Persian forces, the most infamous was how it was exploited by the Nazi propaganda ministry in the lead-up to the fall of Berlin, trying to inspire an already broken German people to further resist when all was already lost. Hitler, deluded to the last, wanted to take the entire German nation down with him.

Politics then are always going to play at least some part in any re-imagining of a battle that enabled the Greek empire to regroup and repulse the Persian invasion. A previous attempt at filming it,
the 300 Spartans, made with the co-operation of the Greek government was noted for its cold war overtones. Based on a comic by Frank Miller, not noted for his political sensitivities or his subtlety (his Sin City, filmed by Robert Rodriguez, involved one of the heroes rescuing a little girl who repays him once she's grown up into Jessica Alba by banging him) the omens were perhaps not good from the start.

The one bright spot was that Zack Snyder, who previously directed the Dawn of the Dead remake which eschewed the consumer society eating itself satire of Romero's original to go for full-on zombie action instead, was signed up to do the honours. Unlike his Dawn however, 300 doesn't just make the subtext obvious like it was in Romero's Dawn; it slices your head off and then screams it down your neck.

For 300 is so completely overbearing in apparent modern day "war on terror" clash of civilisations subtext, something that Snyder himself less than convincingly denies, that it stifles everything else in the film. The Spartans, led by King Leonidas, played reasonably well given what he has to work with by Gerard Butler, aren't just holy, beautiful, Western warriors, fighting for freedom, justice and presumably the Greek equivalent of apple pie against barbarian, ugly, mystic Asian hordes who want to overthrow the only bastion of rationalism and modernity in the world, they're the only remaining hope for humanity as we know it.

Did I mention that the Persians are hideous? For they are; in fact the only somewhat decent-looking Persian depicted here is Xerxes himself, and that's in a homoerotic, body-pierced, hulking giant form of beauty. Played by the Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro, he stands at least two foot taller than Leonidas, his sculpted pectorals not quite as pronounced as the Spartans' own heavily digitally enhanced chests, but still definitely the closest that Spartans come to a mirror to themselves, albeit a greyed, evil version. The rest of the Persians are either black, smirking Arabs with strange facial hair and more piercings who quickly meet a unsavory end, masked warriors whose choice of facial covering more than resembles that of modern-day mujahideen, or the deformed Immortals, who wear steel Scream-type masks to hide their leper like faces.

There is no in-between when it comes to good and the bad, the attractive and the imperfect. The good, righteous Spartans are universally beautiful, their bodies sculpted to either being perfectly muscular or waif-like, depending on their sex, the exceptions being the elephant-man like Ephilates who betrays Leonidas for rejecting him from the frontline due to his inability to raise his shield and the traitorous, peace-mongering priests who tell Leonidas not to go to war after consulting the gorgeous, auburn-haired, nude Oracle. The Persians instead are the opposite, as described above, with even their women being bulky, their bodies pierced, and decidedly brown compared to the pale but bronzed Spartans.

The little dialogue that there is, substituted instead to get as much blood-drenched, limb-flaying, head-chopping carnage on screen as possible in the two-hour running time is dedicated to shouted impassioned pleas for/to Sparta, defending freedom while everyone else sits back and just lets these throwbacks enslave the whole of Greece. This couldn't be more symbolised by how Leonidas refers to the culture of Athens being devoted to "philosophers and boy-lovers", while the treacherous politician Theron, opposed to Grecian deployment to support Leonidas, pledges to do the opposite, but only if Leonidas' Queen Gogo submits to him sexually. Just to rub it in, he not only seemingly sodomises her, but tells her that "this will not be quick, you will not enjoy this." War, slaughter and blood-letting are for heroes, who'll be immortalised forever as the beautiful people, while those who oppose it are cowardly traitors, defined either by being in the pay of the enemy or by their resemblance to mutants.

As for the look of the film, Snyder couldn't have piled it on more thickly or monotonously. Everything is meant to make you permanently alert, at least one of the battles is introduced with hardcore power chords, and it all becomes enormously tiresome. The battles are at least to begin with competently shot, although the constant fast cutting soon overstays its welcome.

It's wrong however to see 300 as directly being a plea for war against Iran, against modern-day Iranian culture or in any way supporting President Bush: doing this in the same sledgehammer way as the film's lust for war would have been too much and take too long. What's more than apparent though is that it certainly is at the least a paean to neo-conservative ideology: might is right, defending our values of democracy in the battlefield to the death is noble, heroic, and in no way counter-productive. Anyone who opposes it is worthy of derision. In fact, 300's portrayal of martyrdom is actually closer to the fundamentalist Islamic love of death, designed to send a message to the corrupt kafir Muslims to rise themselves up in the holy jihad. It certainly couldn't be further from the dark, ugly side of American might we saw put into practice by the grunts at Abu Ghraib.

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6079 Smith W.! Yes, you! Bend lower, please!

The most frightening thing about Britain's descent into authoritarianism isn't that it hasn't been widely predicted (it has) or how the public is prepared to accept it when crime has been falling for over a decade, but the speed with which its progressed.

When Labour came to power in 1997, the eternal soundbite "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" still ringing in the ears, you would have been laughed at if you'd been told that within 10 short years that very same Labour government would have introduced 3,000 new criminal offences, in effect suspended habeas corpus when it came to foreigners, built the largest DNA database in the world, attempted to ram through 90 day detention without charge for "terrorist suspects", settling instead for 28, introduced legislation designed to implement a national ID card program, with those refusing to join threatened with jail, acquiesced or actively encouraged the building of a CCTV system that can identify every "citizen" through their car, and is now proposing that the police be allowed to take the fingerprints and DNA of absolutely anyone for any reason.

Nothing though sums up the general contempt the government has for its own population like the latest scheme, announced by the thug in a suit John Reid. CCTV cameras with speakers, voiced by children(!) are to be deployed into 20 more areas across the country, having apparently been a "success" in Middlesbrough. It's so nakedly Orwellian that it's almost as if the government has been reading Nineteen Eighty-Four with the intention of using its most chilling methods of surveillance as a base to work on. The cameras and microphones in 1984 at least aren't voiced by children -- children in the novel are so indoctrinated by Ingsoc propaganda that they denounce their own parents -- instead what Orwell describes as a iron voice informs Winston and Julia as they are arrested that they are the dead.

While the scheme may well work in embarrassing litter droppers into putting their rubbish in a bin, one of Reid's chief justifications was that it would help counter "gangs from congregating", which last time I checked wasn't a crime. We've already had machines installed across the country which emit a low-frequency which only annoys those under 25 in a bid to stop groups of youths from getting together outside shops and the like, now cameras are going to shout at them to go home and stop frightening old people. As intimidating as a group of hooded youths can be, making life as difficult as possible for them to meet is not going to stop them from doing it where there aren't cameras, or solve the initial problem of why they're on the streets in the first place. One week we're concerned that we're the worst place in the West to bring up children, the next ever more crackdowns on the slightest sign of "anti-social behaviour" are announced.

As others have noted, it's a fitting metaphor for the Blair years. An all-seeing eye that shouts at you, telling you what to do and is always right, but is completely deaf itself, both to criticism and dissent. If this doesn't galvanize the mounting concern over the ten years of attacks on civil liberties into something approaching an opposition movement, then who knows what will.

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Scum-watch: Reverse ferret over the evil Ayatollahs.

There's a fascinating about face in today's Sun editorial. From previously fulminating about "Sick Mullahs" and "evil Ayatollahs" who had "insulted the whole world" and demanding an apology, as well as saying that satellites showed their boats were in Iraqi waters, the Sun toned the rhetoric right down:

THE disputed waterways of the Arabian Gulf flow across constantly shifting sands.

Frontiers are hotly contested and impossible to verify.

Much like the diplomatic wrangling over the 15 British hostages grabbed by Tehran’s Republican Guard.

Both sides could be right — or wrong — by just half a nautical mile.

But Iran is not keen to raise the international temperature by staging a show trial. And we can’t even consider military action to free our personnel.

So let’s accept these are muddied waters where mistakes can be made.

And bring those servicemen home in time for Easter.

Now, this could simply be down to the encouraging signs which emerged late last night following contact with Iran's chief negotiator, Dr Ali Larijani. Craig Murray, who almost singlehandedly challenged the spin from Blair and co that the arrests most definitely took place in Iraqi waters, noted yesterday that the FCO was coming round to this view, probably as an attempt to bring the crisis to an end through compromise.

Even so, the tone of the Sun leader seems remarkably different, almost confident that there definitely was going to be movement today. Could it be possible that Downing Street knew last night that their release today was almost certain -- and briefed the Sun but told them not to go, err, overboard? Stranger things have happened.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007 

The building of a moral panic.

Following on from coverage last month of the conviction of Tom Palmer for murder, today's Daily Mail appears to be attempting to raise the stakes in the growing hysteria about the ill-effects of "skunk" cannabis.

This latest case concerns 17-year-old Ezekiel Maxwell, a paranoid schizophrenic who stabbed grandmother Carmelita Tulloch 7 times in an unprovoked and motiveless attack. The Daily Mail claims that he had been smoking cannabis
and skunk since he was 14, as well as taking cocaine.

As is nearly always universal in these supposed cases however, the evidence is by no means clear cut. Maxwell himself claims that he started to hear voices after smoking the drug. It's quite possible that smoking skunk could have triggered or exacerbated his apparent descent into schizophrenia, but we have to take into consideration what else was happening in his life at the time, as well as whether the illness would have developed if he hadn't been smoking cannabis. The Daily Mail article provides few details about his family life, other than the fact that he was additionally "obsessed" with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. We also don't know just how "heavy" his use of skunk/cannabis was; a Torygraph report mentions that the psychiatric reports simply say that they believe his condition was exacerbated by heavy use of skunk.

Somewhat buried in the Mail article is a fact that is probably far more of an explanation for the murder. Last June he had been referred by his GP to his local mental health team, who had prescribed anti-psychotic drugs. His case had been reviewed four times, and was due to be considered again the day after he stabbed Tulloch to death. Maxwell had not taken his medicine for two weeks. Countless previous cases of paranoid schizophrenics committing violent acts have documented the dangers of sudden stopping in the taking of medication, often being found to be the trigger or the explanation for changes in behaviour. It was only after handing himself in that he was definitively diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, something that had been missed in his previous sessions with the psychiatric team.

Also worthy of mention is his "addiction" to Grand Theft Auto. The Mail mentions that Carl Johnson, who you play as in GTA:SA carries a knife, which is true. You can also carry an AK-47, a chainsaw, a pool cue, a samurai sword, grenades and countless other guns as well. As the game progresses you can also pilot a US fighter jet and shoot down other planes on exercises, but that doesn't really enter into what Maxwell did quite as well. The prosecution also states that Maxwell had been playing the game almost exclusively in the months before the murder. This doesn't necessarily suggest that he was obsessed with it: GTA:SA is a lengthy, time-consuming game. It took me around a month to "complete" the in-game missions, and then afterwards you're given free-reign to roam a vast area modeled on Los Angeles in the early 90s, where much of the repeat playing fun comes from.

There's no denying that the GTA series of games are violent, but it's up to you how you play it: hacking down/shooting everyone on the streets not only draws the attention of the police, but also rival gangs. The character you play as only tends to kill in the game as revenge; it's not a bloodthirsty gore fest, however the media would like to paint it. The game also has an 18 certificate for a reason: Maxwell, being 17 at the time of the murder, shouldn't have been playing it.

The whole highlighting of GTA is reminiscent of how violent horror films were often blamed or linked to murders during the 80s and early 90s. The Sun in one case reported of how "mad Michael", the killer in the Halloween series of films had "talked" to a paranoid schizophrenic and told him to kill. That Michael Myers in the films is a mute escapee from a psychiatric ward didn't enter into it. How Maxwell's own lawyer described it is thus:

"The game allows the player to take on the role of a criminal in a big city. This persuaded him to stab someone. He was powerless to resist."

Just how much Maxwell was genuinely influenced by playing GTA is again unclear. The reports by his psychiatrists have not been properly presented in their write-ups by either the Mail or the Telegraph, so we have to rely on what was produced in court by both his own lawyers and the prosecution. The prosecution says that he believed he was Carl Johnson, and his own lawyer that he "powerless" to resist the voices in his head. One has to wonder whether if he'd been taking his medication these thoughts would have become so overwhelming and irresistible.

While the Telegraph focuses more on GTA, the Mail goes overboard with the references to skunk. It says this case highlights the dangers of skunk: it rather highlights the danger of smoking cannabis while not taking prescribed anti-psychotic medicines poses. You have to wonder whether the mental health charities commenting on the case are also doing more harm than good -- the more cannabis gets the blame the more "normally" developing mental illness gets swept under the carpet. Statistics may well be useless, but it ought to remembered that 1 in 4 will suffer from some form of mental ill-health during their lifetime. We also have to remember just how the Mail and others are building a wave of hysteria over cannabis when the evidence for the massively increased potency of cannabis is itself simply a myth, as the ever-excellent Ben Goldacre set out in a recent Bad Science column. It was also only a couple of weeks ago that the Lancet presented its own detailed investigation into the actual harm posed by various drugs: it unsurprisingly found that heroin and cocaine (especially crack) are by far the most dangerous, while ecstasy and cannabis were less relatively harmful than both alcohol and tobacco, findings which are examined here by Transform.

As with the Tom Palmer case, skunk may indeed have exacerbated Maxwell's descent into schizophrenia. This however shouldn't be used to build a wave of panic over brain-meltingly strong weed that's inflicting mental illness on our teenagers when there is absolutely no evidence to support such a thing. Instead, the apparent failings both in the treatment of Maxwell, and his own failure to take his prescribed medicine are buried while his quite possibly incidental "addictions" to both skunk and GTA are over-hyped. The threats from all drugs are relative: we only have to see town centres at the weekend, another favourite of the Daily Mail, to see that binge drinking is far more destructive than cannabis is. Instead, perspective is thrown out in the window in the rush to scare middle England into yet more worry about just what their children are doing.

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Denying the undeniable and teaching it.

The headline says "Schools drop Holocaust lessons", and that's just the Grauniad. As almost always when reporting large-scale studies and reports, in this case Teaching Emotive and Controversial History, prepared by the Historical Association, some of the nuances are dropped.

It's true that the report does mention that in one northern school it was decided that the Holocaust should be avoided as a subject for GCSE coursework for fear of confronting anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial among Muslim pupils. Another did teach the Holocaust but avoided the Crusades because they felt their balanced view of the topic would have directly challenged what had been taught in the local mosques.

The first thing that occurs to you is that this is indeed awful. If teachers won't challenge Holocaust denial directly by teaching the historical truth, then what is the point of them? Schools are the very places where basic racism and prejudice need to be tackled, and there's little better place to do that than in the history classroom itself.

The report itself though lists the very reasons for why emotive and controversial history is avoided. Personal teacher avoidance is sixth on the list; first is time and status of the subject, second is "safe" content selection, pedagogy and official guidance, third inadequate teacher access to high-quality training, fourth paucity of resources, fifth lack of teacher subject knowledge, seventh lack of balance, and eighth teacher avoidance of risk-taking. Secondly, these examples may well be one-offs. Then there's also this paragraph from the discussion of problems at the Key Stage 3 level, which went unreported:

As with other key stages, teachers lack incentives to take risks even when they recognise the relevance of addressing emotive and controversial content and themes, such as Islamic history. Recent events have heightened tensions both within the Muslim community and between Muslims and between Muslims and non-Muslims. Yet never has an understanding of Islamic history seemed more vital. At present “Islamic civilisations” (from 7th to 16th centuries) is an optional choice for a “world study before 1900”. Few choose it. Many schools have considered Islamic history too difficult, alien or complex to teach. Most pupils do not study Islamic history at all, other than a glance at the Crusades from a western perspective. Schools with Muslim pupils face particular challenges in negotiating the interface between community history and school history. Not all Muslims are happy with the idea of Islamic history being taught by non-Muslims. The relationship between a communal, mythologised history adhering to one narrative sits uncomfortably with a critical history that is open to multiple interpretations and perspectives.

It's also to be remembered that it wasn't so long back that History teachers were being knocked for being obsessed with the Nazis, although it has to be said by the time I finished A-level History I was thoroughly sick of the self-absorbed machinations and organised chaos of Hitler and his henchmen. The Grauniad report also points out that teaching the Holocaust is expected to be made compulsory next year.

Even so, and even if it is only in isolated cases, the worst thing you can do is let ignorance and bigotry prosper simply through being afraid of challenging it, whatever the circumstances. The reason why Holocaust denial is both so outrageous and sickening is that it has been so well documented and shown to be accurate, and that it only happened less than a lifetime ago. Those who stick their heads in the sand, whether they're the BNP or religious, have to be taken on and properly put in their place. It certainly doesn't help matters when the Muslim Council of Britain refuses to attend Holocaust memorial day events because it would prefer that the event focused on "all" acts of genocide. However bad the situation in Palestine is, and taking into consideration all the other mass slaughters in history, none was as bad, as centrally planned and as shocking as what happened between 1941-45, and hopefully the MCB are coming round to realising the very obvious reasons why the Jewish holocaust is chiefly commemorated.

You just have to hope that this report helps keep everyone alert to this threat.

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Monday, April 02, 2007 

Facing death.

Suicide, despite the song, is most certainly not painless. When someone you know decides to take their own life, especially when it's completely unexpected, it's only natural to go through a period of soul-searching, trying to figure out if there was something you could have done or something you should have done that might of altered that person's state of mind. Even when a note is left, it can only go so far in explaining the real motives behind the person's actions. Hardly any taking of one's own life is down to one sole, simple reason: despite common perceptions, there are usually multiple reasons behind someone taking their own life, at least in the way that we most associate with someone committing suicide. If you want to get into the more sociological reasons and motives behind suicide, then Emile Durkheim, one of the founding fathers of modern sociology, wrote a seminal and still highly applicable study which is worth glancing over. (Although many would blanch at how suicide bombers would under his definition probably be understood as altruistic suicides.)

It's with this in mind that we ought to approach the plea from the family of Kevin Whitrick, who hung himself on his web cam in front of a chat-room of other people, to stop the distribution of the screen grab which shows Whitrick ending his own life:

Today his brother Malcolm said: “I would appeal to anybody not to circulate these awful images.

“I cannot understand what satisfaction anyone would get out of wanting to see them, edit them or pass them around.”

Well, this at least is pretty easy to answer. It's the same satisfaction which leads to drivers on a motorway slowing down when an accident's happened on the opposite side of the road, hoping to catch a glimpse of the carnage. It's the same inquisitive nature which explains the existence of websites such as Ogrish, or the front page of True, those two seem to delight in the ghoulish rather than simply peer into it, but they also serve a purpose other than to excite the gorehounds among us: they let us see and experience death without going near it ourselves.

A lot of the comment surrounding Whitrick's death was that some of the users of the chat room had encouraged him or goaded him on, even suggesting that some of those responsible could be tried as accessories. Assuming that the image I've seen is authentic, and which I also assume has now been passed around the internet 20 times over, it should be noted that the vast majority of the users who were still there as it happened appear to have been extremely distressed and sickened once they realised that Whitrick's talk was for real.

Additionally, it's worth pointing out the very nature of the chat room which Whitrick chose to broadcast his death to, named Kel's FRIENDLY insult chat for evryone (sic). It doesn't seem that Whitrick was a regular, although some in the room knew who he was. Whether he joined in order to psyche himself up to do it, or simply because he had every intention of committing suicide and broadcasting his death to a channel not noted for being the most welcoming and understanding we will probably never know. Looking at the comments that went before they realised that he was about to kill himself, they're not out of the ordinary with what often goes on in forums or chatrooms where people who are suicidal have discussed their feelings. What has to be understood is that the very nature of the anonymity of the internet means that a lot of people are instinctively either more combative, jaded or dismissive than they would be were the same events taking place in real life. There are so many trolls, downright liars or attention whores online that a similar response may well have taken place in any room, not just an "insult" channel.

We can't know what was going through Whitrick's mind, whether he had been depressed, or whether it was a spur of the moment thing, however crude that sounds. His family suggests that he had been involved in a car crash which he hadn't fully recovered from, and that he had separated from his wife and children. There is however everything to suggest that he had at least intended to make an attempt on his life, whether he was going to broadcast it potentially to the world or not. Bringing it back to the point of how or why anyone could get satisfaction out of distributing or searching for the images of the moment of death, for many there is always going to be the simple curiosity of wondering what happens when someone dies. It's an event which few of us are going to face at least until we're considerably older, if at all before we ourselves expire.

Our bodies and our minds are normally designed to resist death at absolutely all costs. What death feels like, or what happens when we die is the other great question alongside the meaning of life itself. It's one which no one can effectively describe, and there are very few that return as it were to tell the tale. Fear of death is just as much a part of this as being designed to resist it; it's only when suitably conditioned, or depressed enough that you are no longer afraid of ceasing to be. Having suffered from severe depression, there was a time when I wasn't afraid of death: in fact more in lust with it than terrified and horrified by it. You can go to sleep wishing, praying that you don't wake up in the morning, only to be disappointed and just as angry and frustrated when you do. The very nature of severe, suicidal depression is that there are moments when you can laugh like a drain, but still be wishing that you were dead at the same time. Rather like being constantly afraid of dying, you become constantly preoccupied with dying. It's only when you've recovered from feeling that way, restored to the equilibrium of once again fearing the reaper, that you can properly understand what it is that drives some to kill themselves, as well as appreciate just how special and precious this brief, turmoiled and occasionally oppressive but undeniably exhilirating thing called life can be.

This is why I find it hard to feel too angry or bemused by those who look, read or try to experience death without going through it themselves. Better that they see it that way than actually wanting to end it all. We are meant to be repulsed by death, we are meant to be curious about it, we are always going to want to see it and see the bloody mess left of those who lose their lives, whether through tragic suicide, in a car crash, beheadings by terrorists or through natural causes while asleep. We look at it, and then we put it away again, knowing it will happen to us one day but desperately hoping that it wont. If Kevin Whitrick's decision to end his life in a very public matter means that someone else who's suicidal seeks help, or if it helps prick the conscience of some of the worst offenders when it comes to being blase about life, especially online, then it will have served some sort of purpose. As for his family's appeal, hopefully with time, once their wounds have healed, as difficult as it is, they'll understand why it is that his final moments are likely to be distributed around the internet for a long time to come.

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