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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