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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