Saturday, August 04, 2007 

(sort of) Quote of the week.

But engineers insisted yesterday that the relatively low death toll vindicated the bridge design.

I'm sure that'll be a great comfort to those who lost their loved ones.

At least those caught up in the Minnesota bridge collapse can be glad they got some media coverage. Last night's 10 O'Clock News on BBC1 had a report lasting a full 30 seconds on the floods
on the Indian subcontinent which have killed at least 1,100 and forced 19 million people to flee their homes. Immediately following it was the report on the bridge collapse, which occupied a slot at least 3 minutes long.

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Friday, August 03, 2007 

de Menezes: The backlash commences.

The day after the IPCC report ought to have destroyed Andy Hayman's police career, it would have been expected that sections of the gutter press would have set out to attack the man (the IPCC) and not the ball as it were, but for the Guardian to join in is something that shows just how deep the apologism for the police's actions on that day has infected the media.

More on that further on in the piece, but first to the Scum, the police's eternal friend, so long as they're not investigating Tony Blair, which has some of the most disgraceful coverage of the aftermath of the report in quite some time:

One senior Met source blasted the inquiry, saying: “This has been a 21-month witch hunt that was determined to find a scapegoat.

“The shooting is something the Met profoundly regrets but what the IPCC never took into account was that on that day we were fighting a war. It feels like being left on the battlefield wounded. Scavengers, watching from the sidelines, have come along afterwards and stabbed the injured.”

Except the IPCC hasn't managed to even find a scapegoat, has it? Hayman, as the Scum article presents, despite being a liar personally responsible for the smearing of de Menezes, has been supported by Ian Blair, Jacqui Smith and Ken Livingstone, the latter of whom really should know better, but because of his personal admiration for Blair and his "reforms" has chosen to blot all the unpleasantness surrounding the shooting out of his memory.

To try and pretend that the IPCC never took the situation the police were facing that day into account is a joke. The report itself makes this clear in its very introduction. It's rather fitting that the "source" has chosen to put what was happening on the 22nd of July into the context of a war, as the Scum leader also does. Through this prism, you can either see de Menezes as a victim of friendly fire or as collateral damage, depending on your view. The point is that when fighting a war, you do everything you possibly can to avoid killing either those on your own side or innocents, something which the Met abjectly failed to do. When the police themselves think that they were fighting "a war" rather than trying to catch 4 attempted murders as quickly as was possible, it's little surprise that de Menezes' death was treated as something regrettable (collateral damage will always happen) rather than as a result of systemic failure. He was just another unfortunate who got in the way, rather than a living breathing person in the wrong place at the wrong time. To compare the IPCC to scavengers stabbing the injured is just as laughable. The two officers who shot de Menezes were back on duty before it was even decided if disciplinary action was necessary. Andy Hayman, responsible not just for the lies on that day, but also for the handling of the Forest Gate raid, was handed a CBE. Cressida Dick, who gave the order that resulted in de Menezes' death, was promoted.

Former Met Deputy Assistant Commissioner Alan Given, in charge of firearms operations during the July 2005 bombings, also defended AC Hayman.

He said: “The IPCC has come up with a few criticisms based on the language that was used in communications. It seems a long time and a lot of public money to have achieved that.”

Which proves that Given hasn't even bothered to read the report.

To the Scum's leader:

ANDY HAYMAN’S brilliant leadership in the fight against terrorism has saved dozens of lives.

He is admired by his men just as he is feared by the terrorist scum determined to destroy our way of life.

And also resulted in the end of at least one and in the destruction of others. Still, that's OK, because he's saved dozens of lives of innocents, not people like de Menezes or the Kamal family. I doubt any of the "terrorist scum" even know he is, let alone fear him. As defined by their very act, suicide bombers are generally without much fear or morals, as both tend to get in the way of ending your own life by the method of explosive backpack.

The Queen awarded him a CBE for his handling of the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings which tore the life from 52 innocent commuters in London two years ago.

Yet the Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner had his name dragged through mud yesterday after an inquiry by the academics and do-gooders of the Independent Police Complaints Committee.

His crime? He was late in telling his boss, Met Commissioner Sir Ian Blair, a man shot dead at Stockwell Tube station was not one of a group of madmen who tried to repeat the 7/7 carnage a fortnight later.

It's a commission, not a committee. Secondly, just a couple of weeks ago the Scum was in hysterics
after the BBC owned up to misleading the public over phone-in competitions. Hayman not only didn't inform Blair, he, to quote the IPCC report:

AC Hayman either misled the public when he briefed the CRA that the deceased was not one of the four or when he allowed the 18:44hrs 22 July press release to state that it was not known if the deceased was one of the four. He could not have believed both inconsistent statements were true.

When the BBC does it, there needs to be root and branch reform. When a top-ranking police office lies to the public, his name gets dragged through the mud for no good reason.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone was right yesterday when he ridiculed the idea that Assistant Commissioner Hayman was responsible for some “catastrophic error of judgment”.

He hit the nail on the head when he said it was all very well for the complaints panel to criticise while sitting safely in their office but “you try doing it when you’re waiting for the next bomb to go off.”

He wasn't responsible for a catastrophic error of judgment, he was personally responsible for misleading not just those around him, but for lying to the public when the probabilities suggested the man shot dead was innocent. Either you don't give a running commentary to the press, or you make damn sure that what you tell them is right to the best of your knowledge at that time. He comprehensively failed to do this, resulting in the continuing belief right down to this day that de Menezes ran from the officers when he did no such thing, as shown in the comments on the Scum's article.

And that is what those who make a living from the civil rights lobby would like us to forget.

That when the unfortunate Jean Charles de Menezes was shot by police, four would-be bombers were on the loose and London faced another disaster.

The cops who shot Mr de Menezes were in a “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” situation where a moment’s hesitation could have led to a repeat mass murder.

"Unfortunate", rather than tragic. The cops were not in any sort of damned if they do situation; de Menezes was being held down on the ground with his arms behind his back when he was shot, meaning he would have been completely unable to trigger any explosive even if he had been carrying one. That there was four bombers on the loose is no excuse for the numerous failures of that day which led to his death.

The IPCC spent £300,000 on this investigation into one small aspect of what happened on July 22, 2005.

All they managed to do was make a mountain out of a molehill.

One small aspect? This goes to the very heart of what happened and what went wrong: that the Met was responsible for lying statements and for attacks on Menezes' own character, which were only corrected when an outraged IPCC worker leaked them to ITV News. We wouldn't have known the truth for possibly over a year if she hadn't done so; her reward was having her door broken down at dawn.

It is time we let Andy Hayman get on with hunting our enemies.

Further raking over of this sad incident would lead to the charge of wasting police time.

And giving comfort to the enemy.

I agree with the second statement. If Hayman won't resign, he should be fired. The police's actions on that day were the only comfort to the "enemy"; if they fail to kill anyone, they can at least rely on the police to do their job for them.

The Guardian's leader, while at least acknowledging that mistakes were made, fails to even mention Andy Hayman, concentrating instead on Ian Blair. After attempting to excuse the police in the same manner as the Sun does because of the "context" of what was going on that day, it then instead turns its fire squarely on the IPCC:

However, yesterday also poses questions about the IPCC itself. Its report examines inconsistencies in the way the police processed information during a frantic 36 hours, at the end of which the Met got the essential facts right and owned up to them in public - and it has never subsequently wavered from them.

This is patently untrue, as examined above. The Met continued to maintain its own version of events until the evidence which exposed the reality were leaked.

Yesterday's report is long and detailed. It comes more than two years after the events it examines. It cost at least £300,000. The public is entitled to ask if this is proportionate to the problem, and whether it could have been done more quickly and less expensively. Independent police complaints procedures are important and necessary. But this has not been the finest hour of the police, nor of those who watch over them.

The IPCC then, having done all the hard work of getting to the very bottom of what happened, having been sued by officers for daring to even think of criticising them, gets just as much blame as the Met itself. It's little wonder that the police thought themselves so above this that those in charge on that day were promoted: even the Guardian won't dare to raise its voice loud enough against them.

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The Facebook fascists and those adverts.

Reading the news stories about major firms pulling their advertising from Facebook because it happens to appear on the British National Party's profile, just as it does on everyone else's, I was instantly reminded of Oliver Burkeman's amusing piece on silly season stories in yesterday's Grauniad:

August 18

New website is latest online sensation

A brightly coloured new website has become enormously popular with teenagers because it allows them to perform a fairly mundane aspect of their lives - such as discussing music, or shouting abuse at others - via the internet. The website has 230 million members in Britain alone, but some critics are worried that it could be used by bad people. It was designed by some Americans, and is estimated to be worth approximately £1bn. Celebrity members include David Miliband.

It really is a complete non-story and a typical overreaction by advertising firms/companies scared shitless that somehow the fact that their annoying banner ads appear on a profile advocating a legitimate if despicable political party will make the average idiot browsing Facebook think that they support them. It's condescending and ignorant by all measures - assuming that you can't work out that the ads are across the site rather than on just one page, and imbecilic on the behalf of the companies themselves - surely they realised that like on all of these sites that dip into the nether region of hell which is the human psyche, there are some profiles that are bound to be offensive or distasteful to some individual somewhere?

In fact, to be fair to them, it isn't entirely their fault. This is one of the only regions where the allegations of political correctness could possibly be considered plausible, based on the activities of a good number of the organisations opposed to the likes of the BNP. Rather than wanting to engage, challenge them and expose their lies, they instead try to institute a sort of boycott, denying them the right to both speak and be heard, in some cases almost pretending that they don't even exist. This is just the sort of contempt for the "average" person that the BNP loves to focus on; like some of those who support the actions of the takfiri jihadis, they thrive on a sense of false victimhood, claiming their right to freedom of expression is being denied by the liberal elite. It's complete and utter nonsense, as reading almost any tabloid will quickly expose you to just the sort of hate and misinformation which the BNP preaches, but it also has a ring of truth to it. The perfect example of how not to go about tackling the BNP was made by those who decided to protest outside the theatre where the "BNP ballerina" Simone Clarke performed back in January, when she hadn't done anything whatsoever to promote the party other than defending herself in an interview after she was exposed as a member. Shouting empty slogans against a misguided woman's political beliefs was little short of cowardly, not to say counter-productive.

Advertisers and companies are notoriously fickle when it comes to any possibility that their precious little brand might be affected by a controversy, and Vodafone may have a point when they say they don't want to support any political party, but it's still grandstanding over something incredibly petty. If I could be bothered enough to sign up to Facebook, I could probably find profiles representing things far more potentially offensive than a racist political party in a matter of minutes, doubtless with the same adverts appearing on those pages as on those of the profiles of middle class young people and aging politicos desperate to get down with the kids that infest the site.

In any case, do people really still browse the internet without an ad blocker? The other day mine stopped working for some reason and the sheer offensiveness of the deluge of ads which swamp you upon visiting almost any site is enough to make you want to extract your own teeth with a pair of rusty pliers than have to put up with them for more than a matter of seconds. If you're using Firefox and don't have an adblocking extension, go and install Adblock Plus and then subscribe to the EasyList and EasyElement filter sets, and you'll be unlikely to see the vast majority of ads ever again.

As for the British National Party, doubtless they'll again be delighted with getting yet more publicity because their views are regarded as beyond the pale. They indeed are, but you don't fight back against them by acting as if everyone who thinks they might have a point is an idiot. The more people think they are being victimised purely because of their political views, the more they'll be able to recruit from the similarly disaffected.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007 

de Menezes: The most comprehensive account, but still no comfort.

As I mentioned when the 21st of July bombers were sentenced, the only casualty of their chappati flour and hydrogen peroxide mix was a man who had the misfortune of living close to where some of the suspects had taken up residence. While it took a length of time for the death of Jean Charles de Menezes to be almost forgotten, few reports on the bombers mentioned that the only victim of that day's events was killed the next day, and not by them, but by bungling police officers.

Reading the second IPCC report (PDF), investigating what senior officers knew and when they knew it in conjunction with the statements put out by the Metropolitan Police Authority which were subsequently discovered to be strewn with inaccuracies which effectively smeared de Menezes, you quickly understand why one police officer subsequently described the events of that day as "a complete and utter fuck-up". The main abiding image is not one of collusion, or deception, although that does certainly occur, but of confusion and general incompetence.

While we are still likely some way of from acquiring a copy of the first IPCC report into exactly what happened and what went wrong that led to the shooting of de Menezes in the first place, this second report provides us with the most comprehensive summary of what happened and when yet released. Within minutes, as you would expect, it was discovered that de Menezes was not carrying any sort of explosives, yet this in itself was never made clear in the subsequent press releases by the MPA. At 11:22 hrs, just over an hour and fifteen minutes after police officers had initially informed Scotland Yard that a man had been shot dead, D/Supt. Kavanagh, working under assistant commissioner Brown, who was responsible for the strategic response to the previous day's attempted attacks, informed D/Supt Levett, who had been appointed to investigate the shooting that a lone "Pakistani male" had been shot; that he had not been carrying a bomb; and that he was in possession of a mobile phone.

Rather than basing the identification of de Menezes on his skin colour, which ought to have told anyone with more than six braincells that he was almost certainly not of Pakistani descent, it seems that this initial identification was based on the fact that de Menezes had been carrying a Pakistani business card. This was despite the fact that de Menezes had also been carrying both a wallet containing identification which confirmed he was of Brazilian origin and a mobile phone which had a photograph of himself on it, as well as other numbers which ought to have punctured the Pakistani connection fairly quickly. In any case, none of the four bombers were Pakistani in origin; all were of African descent. The fact that de Menezes, brutally shot 7 times in the head and once (correction 3/08/07: once, not 3 times as originally stated) in the shoulder with dum-dum bullets, was left with such substantial injuries (one would imagine there was little left of his head) made it more difficult to make a quick identification, but this is little excuse for mistaking him for Pakistani.

It was not until 14:47, more than 5 hours after de Menezes had been killed that the wallet, put on a seat in the tube train (we're not informed whether it was browsed before this time) was finally removed. This delay is put down to the need for both the area to be declared free of explosives and also secured and forensically analysed. Regardless, by then the news channels had been running interviews with witnesses, who made understandable mistakes about what had happened, in some cases mistaking the officers running to intercept de Menezes as the bomber himself, which is where the jumping the barrier myth came from. The police, if they had wanted, could have quickly corrected these mistakes, but did not do so and indeed, included them in their press releases, describing de Menezes as having behaved suspiciously and not obeyed a warning to stop, one which he was never given. Even with the wallet finally removed from the scene, which made it obvious that the man who had been shot dead was most likely of Latin American origin, Kavanagh still bizarrely informed AC Brown that he appeared to be of Eastern European ethnicity.

By 16:00, AC Brown was chairing a meeting to consider the community impact of the shooting, with the knowledge that the man was likely a Brazilian, although this had not yet been confirmed.

It's only now that those accused of misconduct come into view. Assistant Commissioner Hayman was due to address the Crime Reporters Association with what had occurred that morning. According to multiple accounts of those present, he informed the CRA that the man shot dead was not one of the four being sought. Strangely, when interviewed by the IPCC, Hayman couldn't remember what he had briefed the CRA.

The real, most egregious deception occurred next. At 17:00 hours the Management Board held a sub-meeting, at which, according to notes made by Ms Murdoch, the commissioner's chief of staff, AC Hayman made the following comments about what should be presented to the media regarding the shooting:

AC HAYMAN: There is press running that the person shot is not one of the four bombers. We need to present this that he is believed to be. This is different to confirming that he is. On the balance of probabilities, it isn’t. To have this for offer would be low risk.

Keep in mind that this is the same man that had already briefed the CRA that the man shot dead was not one of the four bombers; he had started the rumour, which he was now going to try to shut down. Knowing full well that it was unlikely that de Menezes had been connected in any way, not just that he was most definitely not one of the bombers, he and those at the meeting agreed that he should continue to be presented as having been one of the four, even though "the balance of probabilities" suggested he wasn't. As for the offer being low risk, if there is now any justice, Hayman must resign for failing both to inform Ian Blair of what had occurred, and for continuing to inform the media that the man was one of the bombers when on the balance of probabilities he wasn't. Nor was either of the meetings which took place at this time informed of the recovery of de Menezes' wallet, his mobile or his quickly emerging identity.

Where then was Sir Ian Blair in all of this? The report comes to the conclusion that as he has always stated, he had no idea that an innocent man had been shot dead until the next day, the 23rd of July. Indeed, the IPCC found no direct evidence that he even knew about the emerging identify of de Menezes, the recovery of any of the items from his body, and the likelihood that he was not involved in any way with the attacks of the previous day. As Blood and Treasure notes, it seems that everyone other than Blair within the higher ranks of the MPA knew that the man was most likely not one of the suicide bombers by the end of the 22nd of July, and most certainly did by 9am the following day. The only contradictory evidence is that of Brian Paddick, who came forward after Blair gave an interview with the News of the Screws in which he claimed he didn't know. Quoting from the report:

16.14.3 On 22 August 2005, DAC Paddick went to the Commissioner’s office and told him that he had had been concerned since he had heard him (the Commissioner) state at the press conference that the deceased was directly linked to the anti-terrorist operation. He explained to the Commissioner that he had been in the Commissioner’s Staff Officer’s office when the Commissioner had walked past on his way to the press conference and that he had been told by the Commissioner’s Staff Officer and Chief of Staff that the MPS had shot a Brazilian tourist (DAC Paddick does not suggest that the Commissioner was party to or even heard this conversation). He states that the Commissioner disputed this and said he had checked with Ms Murdoch and it was about 19:00hrs when he knew the deceased was Brazilian. DAC Paddick states that the Commissioner told him that the fact that the deceased was Brazilian did not mean that he could not have been a terrorist. He states the Commissioner cited the case of an Argentinean who had been found with a hand grenade at Gatwick Airport.

Blair, in his interview with the IPCC, disputes this and claims that he only knew that the dead man was Brazilian when briefed by AC Brown on the 23rd of July between 10:15 and 10:30. In its findings, the IPCC states:

The evidence of DAC Paddick and the Commissioner in relation to their meeting on the 22 August 2005 cannot be reconciled. DAC Paddick maintains that the Commissioner told him that he knew by 19:00hrs on 22 July that the deceased was Brazilian and the Commissioner maintains that he did not. DAC Paddick is supported by the notes that he made of the meeting and the Commissioner is supported by Ms Murdoch who states that she does not recollect ever concluding with the Commissioner that he knew of Mr de Menezes’ nationality by 19:00hrs. The weight of evidence supports that the Commissioner did not know anything of the emerging identity by the time he left NSY.

When it comes down to it, it doesn't really make much difference whether he knew the man shot dead was Brazilian or not. The real point is that he was either out of the loop, not informed by his staff of their suspicions which were increasing by the hour, or not paying proper attention, as the evidence of the Management Board sub-meeting suggests, when none of those present disagreed with Hayman's gambit that the balance of probabilities suggested the man shot dead was not one of the suicide bombings and that it needed to be presented to the press that he in fact was. Despite apparently not lying, Blair needs to explain why he was held in either such apparent contempt or feared by those around him that they didn't bother to inform him of their concerns. The previous attempt at doing so, that Blair tended to take bad news badly, most certainly does not cut it.

Despite all of this, the de Menezes family still has no closure. Their son, shot dead in the most distressing circumstances imaginable by a body of the state that felt it was perfectly acceptable to subsequently smear the man they killed in cold blood when there was not even any need to have done so, has still not received justice. The original report on what went wrong remains inaccessible, its findings and conclusions ignored and ridiculed by the police on the grounds that the situation on the 22nd of July justified the decision to shoot to kill, regardless of the innumerable mistakes made. The Health and Safety prosecution is a joke doomed to fail, while those responsible have all so far got off without so much as a slap on the wrist. The exposing of Hayman's lies and deception is no comfort whatsoever.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007 

Arms around Iran.

All hail the return of realpolitik. After the most cynical exercise in promoting democracy in the Middle East imaginable turned rather sour, with Hamas being elected in Palestine and dozens of Muslim Brotherhood candidates running as independents gaining seats in Egypt, the United States has quite understandably decided that demanding even piecemeal reform before handing over the bombs is like so 2003.

By far the most tyrannical regime in the region, which also happens to be the home to wealthy individuals who keep the various jihadist battles ticking over with their private funding, Saudi Arabia therefore receives a cool $20m arms package. This would be the country floating on a sea of oil which finds it no difficulty to pay for the laughable Eurofighter and other weaponry provided by our very own BAe Systems, as long as they sweeten the deal with the odd $1bn bung here and there. The very same regime which is so chauvinistic that it doesn't even allow women to drive is being provided with a massive amount of armory by the country that pretended that women's rights was one of the reasons why the Taliban must be defeated at all costs. Egypt gets $13bn, while Israel, already subsidised up its ears with American handouts, gets $30bn.

What then is the existential threat which requires such vast sums to be paid out to the regimes that remain friendly to American power regardless of their failures to institute political reform? It must be al-Qaida, right? After all, President Bush recently mentioned the group 95 times in a speech on why failure in Iraq will mean the inevitability of carnage returning to US streets. Only on Monday Bush declared that Gordon Brown understands the war that the US is waging against al-Qaida and everything that it stands for.

Well, it isn't. The reason why the Saudis and friends need even more cash to spend on the United States' finest weapon manufacturers is Iran. According to Condoleeza Rice:

There isn't a doubt that Iran constitutes the single most important single-country strategic challenge to the United States and to the kind of Middle East that we want to see.

Not a failed Iraqi state which becomes a new haven for jihadis already doing their respective degrees in car bombing, IED planting and the preparation of explosives, or indeed Pakistan, the newest concern for the neo-cons, but rather Iran, the only regime outside of the Palestinian territories which has even a semblance of democracy. Iran, the nation meant to be arming not just the Shia militias involved in the sectarian conflict within Iraq, but also, according to both the US and the insurgent groupings diametrically opposed to al-Qaida, the terrorist organisation that has declared that Shia are "kuffar", as well as the Taliban, the very movement which Iran co-operated with the US in overthrowing originally.

Let's not pretend that Iran is something that it isn't. Despite its "Islamic democracy", the real power lies with the supreme leader, who most certainly isn't going to be going before the country's people any time soon. Its human rights record is still appalling, as epitomised by the recent arrest and detention of Iranian-Americans accused of spying and espionage. In 2006 it was the second highest user of capital punishment after China, even executing those accused of adultery, and also continues to practice stoning. Social repression has increased as Ahmadinejad's other political failings have been exposed. It continues to defy UN resolutions on enriching uranium, which it claims is for purely peaceful purposes despite not having any nuclear power plants. It's the main source of funds to Hizbullah, the Lebanese Shia militant organisation that committed war crimes during last year's war with Israel.

Despite all this, it still remains the main bulwark in the region against the Salafism of Sunni fundamentalists, resulting recently in the "Islamic State of Iraq" directly threatening Iran with an insurgency of its own. A meeting last week between US and Iranian officials in Iraq recognised the threat posed to all three nations, with Iran holding the potential olive branch of increased co-operation, possibly in exchange for the five Iranians the US has held in Iraq since January. At the very bottom of the whole issue is that Iran has greatly benefited from the US invasion, something else which Rumsfeld and co either forgot or simply didn't bother to plan for. Iran in 2003 was a place where it seemed possible that the liberal reformists were in the ascendancy: removing Saddam was a dream come true for conservatives, as has been the rise of the long repressed Shia majority in Iraq once their tormentor was removed. At the same time, the resulting encirclement of the country by the US has also enabled the hardliners to play the Great Satan card.

No one is pretending that both the United States and Iran are about to end over 20 years of animosity and bury the hatchet. Both though already recognise the common threats they face. It takes some chutzpah on the behalf of the United States to claim that it's Iran destablising the region, but it's only the crazies that are still thinking that Iran's nuclear programme necessitates a pre-emptive strike. This latest round of sabre-rattling and pork barrel politics only highlights the political bankruptcy of both countries' foreign policy, and how the continuing rise of irrationality shows no signs of even beginning to falter.

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The paper that cried shark.

Suddenly, it all becomes apparent why the Scum is yet again leading with its spurious nonsense on sharks, with quite possibly the least amusing front page of the year (source: it sent Steve Wright and friends on Radio 2 into hysterics this afternoon). It's a great excuse to print a photo of two gorgeous young, pouting damsels in distress! (Not reproduced here you filthy perverts.) Thank the black baby Jesus that "hero" Joe Miller (26) saved Hannah (student, 23) and her sister Freya (20) from certain death at the hands (surely fins? Ed.) of err, most likely a basking shark. Freya informs us:

“I was shocked and scared. But at the same time it was quite exciting.”

She added: “I hope it hasn’t put me off swimming — but next time I’m not going too far from the beach.”

Which hopefully the Sun can capture and print on tomorrow's front page. Incidentally, all this happened off the err, Plymouth coast, nowhere near to where the Scum's phony "great white" has been sighted.

But fear not! The Scum just might have managed to find someone who really has sighted and photographed a great white! Only problem being that err, this shark, identified by Doug Herdson (who does actually appear to be an expert this time) as having the markings consistent with a great white was sighted off Newquay, which again, is not St. Ives. Whether we should believe Keeble's story about taking it two weeks ago and only now presenting it after all the Scum's hype is another matter. The Newquay Guardian doesn't seem to have an online entity, although this appears to be their story.

Elsewhere, the Scum does indeed deserve some credit for reporting on Robert Cottage's sentence, complete with photographs of his stockpile and weaponry, even if it is written in tabloidese. It's the comments that you could have predicted:

10 years ago I would have said he was potty but today I think he's got a point.

Your not wrong england7777 the government should be in the dock for treason

For letting illegal immigrants into the country, or not shooting Tony Blair? I report, you decide.

Fly87 has it in a nutshell.

Come back Mr powell the country needs you...

And so forth.

Meanwhile, over in Daily Mail land, Sue Turton, the Channel 4 News reporter goosed live on air is presented in the spot usually given over to the fruity unfortunately dead young woman. Just to prove that the Mail, despite having the largest female reader base of any newspaper is in no way misogynistic or demeaning to those who suffer the indignity of being either abused or mauled in public by the opposite sex, she's described as a "newsgirl". Not a female reporter, newslady or newswoman then.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007 

Wither the Tories?

There's a joke somewhere about David Cameron giving a typically specious speech on school discipline (solution: send 'em out to the voluntary sector) at the same time as some members of his own party are doing the equivalent of shouting out without putting their hands up first and then talking over the teacher, but I'm not sure I know what it is.

There are two conclusions you can come to about why the Tories, after having led in the polls by various margins for over a year, at one point even coming ahead of Labour when asked how they rated the parties on the NHS, are now once again flatlining. The first is that this is just a trough, with Brown getting the expected bounce everyone always thought he would, and that once Brown has been in the job for longer than a month, the Tories will once again find themselves gaining on Labour. After all, the local council elections, discounting the two by-election results in two safe Labour seats, showed that the party was getting back towards the support it needed in order to win the next general election. Factor into this that up until some of the recent reports on policy which Cameron ordered when he became leader that the party had almost no discernible, concrete policies whatsoever, apart from mutterings about the environment and understanding young people more, and things look even better. Once the party finally gets into the minutiae of what it proposes, the gap will lengthen ever further.

The second is that the first is bunkum. The problem, despite all the scandals, cock-ups and outrages of last year wasn't Labour itself: it was simply the tosser who was still prime minister. It was Blair's vanity, his attempt to hang on no matter how much damage it did to his party, that was what the public really objected most to. Despite Gordon Brown being next door for 10 years, having personal involvement of much of what went wrong, the man who signed the cheques that made the Iraq war possible, the lack of a contest within the Labour party over his ascent, and all the attempts by the Tories to smear him as the past and the "roadblock to reform", a change at the top was all that was needed. There are still tough times to come, but David Cameron is now no longer the "new man". If anything, he's now a reminder of all of Blair's worst qualities, defined by the image of him cycling into Westminster while a car carrying his documents follows behind him.

The reality, as it always seems to be, is most likely somewhere in between the two. The Cameron bubble has most certainly burst: the murmurings against him from within the Tory ranks were always there, but while they were ahead in the polls and seemingly back on top, most were reasonably content. Cameron's mistake was in starting to think that he was bigger than the party itself: putting the party down as "Cameron's Conservatives" in the Ealing Southall by-election was a ploy which horribly backfired, making Dave seem like a self-aggrandising narcissist who had single-handedly turned the corner for the party. Selecting Tony Lit as the candidate, hoping that a somewhat well-known telegenic local would bring in the votes needed was the kind of short-sighted stunt which deservedly also came back and bit him in the ass, after those photos emerged and details of a donation to Labour came out. More damaging and hurtful to the party's activists was the grammar school fiasco: whether it was an attempt to create a clause 4 moment, or something which the top brass felt that would appeal to the average voter who overwhelmingly disapproves of grammar schooling and selection, they ought to have realised this was the equivalent of poking a napping rottweiler in the eye with a pointy stick, and the resulting savaging could have been foreseen.

While these are all legitimate grievances as it were, the continuing dissent seems more of the petulant variety than that which is terminal. The hand-over of power has gone better than expected for Labour and the Tories' attempts to try and unnerve Brown have failed, but to get rid of Cameron now or to lurch back to the right would be an act of sheer lunacy, panicking at the very first hurdle. The last two elections have shown that they can no longer win simply by being harder on immigration, crime and Europe and the same economically as Labour when there's little to separate the parties on everything else. The problem with this is that there are already two parties on the centre/centre-right ground; leaving not just traditional Tory voters but also most of the left essentially disenfranchised.

Cameron's solution has been to try to pander to both those sympathetically liberal with his emphasis on the environment and toning down of the rhetoric on crime, as well as a rediscovering of the libertarianism the party was founded on in response to terrorism, while moving back towards the right socially, advocating marriage, talking of a broken society and now demanding that discipline be re-established in schools. While some of the latter is designed to appeal to the Daily Mail set, and he's got the response he was hoping for, it's that well, first no one believes him on the environment, and the socially conservative stuff looks to everyone else as the same old back to basics nonsense about bashing the single mum and lauding the family that neither works any longer or is likely to bring over the floating voter. Some of the other demands about what Cameron should be doing are similarly daft: Graham Brady, who resigned from the shadow cabinet over the grammar school mistake said that Cameron should be focusing "on a grittier, more relevant message to the inner city communities worried about crime". That's all well and good, but those same people are still never going to vote Tory, whatever he says about their fears.

It may all come down to just how much the Tories want to win. However much some of us may dislike it, Blair won thanks to the hatred and boredom which 18 years of Tory government had brought, the sheer desire for power at any cost by those who emerged after the death of John Smith, and finally, by shafting the left and making a pact with the Murdoch press. He didn't need to continue with the radical centrism once he and New Labour was securely in power, but everyone had underestimated just how much he had actually meant what he said. The nightmare for the Tory grassroots, and indeed, many others, is that the Tory urge become inexorable, but that Cameron too means what he says. He might have written the 2005 Tory manifesto, but everything suggests that he really does want to be the heir to Blair. When Brown calls the next election for may well turn out to be the real defining moment.

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Bomb bomb UK!

After two trials, with the juries in both cases failing to reach a verdict, Robert Cottage has finally been sentenced after he pleaded guilty to possessing explosives. A collection of explosive chemicals which were, according to the initial police statement, the largest haul they'd ever seized from a house. Oh, and did I mention that Cottage, by his own admission, had ordered and stored these chemicals because he believed a race war was imminent due to immigration? Rather than using them to make the sort of bombs that explode and slam white hot pieces of shrapnel into those unlucky enough to be in the vicinity's bodies, severing limbs, decapitating heads and generally causing a nuisance, Cottage instead planned to use his chemicals to create bangers which would cause flashes, and scare off any of the rampaging brown/black/Polish people running about looting. Or at least that's what his lawyers argued. Given that the prosecution, according to Postman Patel, admitted that only a "squib" could be produced from his stockpile, he may well be telling the truth. In an age in which innocent brothers get shot and smeared for looking a bit dodgy and possibly having bombs which spray out poison though, it all looks a little like double standards.

The judge, probably more because he pleaded guilty than anything else, took Cottage at his word. I quote:

"I am satisfied it was Cottage's views on how he put it 'the evils of uncontrolled immigration' would lead to civil war which would be imminent and inevitable.

"I accept the intention was to hold these chemicals until the outbreak of civil unrest. That was a criminal and potentially dangerous act.

In other words, he was certainly not the next David Copeland. Remember that. Would it be too cynical to think that if Cottage had brown skin and was called Mohammad that the judge might not have accepted his excuse? Or indeed, that the media coverage of the initial raid and the trials might have been slightly up the news agenda?

Cottage was sentenced to two and a half years, which is probably about right. As he's already spent 10 months in custody, he may only have to serve another 6 or so months. Tom on BlairWatch goes through how long some other terrorists without any equipment are currently spending at Her Majesty's Pleasure, which again just might put this case into some sort of perspective. Gathering explosive material and planning for a civil war it seems is also less of an offence than spending an afternoon with other ignorant goons shouting stupid, inflammatory slogans. Welcome then to modern Britain.

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Scum-watch: Wade found floating off St. Ives.

Has such tedious, idiotic, hyperbolic nonsense ever occupied a newspaper's front page for three days straight? No, I'm not talking about the Star's Big Brother obsession, or the Express' various fixations on Diana and Madeleine, although both could equally apply, but the Scum's continuing insistence that there really is a great white shark currently swimming off the coast of St. Ives. Oh, and it's female, and most likely has a mate nearby.

That's the latest stone tablet to be delivered by today's Scum, quoting this time
"Leading Aussie shark watcher Dave “Sharkman” Baxter":

“That’s definitely a Great White — probably an adult female about 12ft long. Her mate will be close by.”

Incidentally, this leading Aussie shark watcher is so famous that searching for him on Google only brings up the various news articles currently quoting him and his expert insight, oh and one forum post.

Quite why the Scum is continuing with this charade is difficult to fathom. Their original source for it possibly being a great white has decided that it isn't, as noted yesterday, and now David Sims, who leads the only scientific study of large sharks in the UK (and does appear on Google) has ridiculed the coverage by saying that the first film shows either dolphins or porpoises, while the second is a basking shark, as others from the start pointed out it was most likely to be.

God, writing this I feel like a vicious, humourless little pedant, so that must mean that I'm about the same as usual. Does the fact that it's not a serious news story though make any difference when the newspaper is quite possibly purposefully misleading the nation?

The paper is though asking for suggestions for what the shark should be called. How could it be known by any other moniker than "Rebekah"? It's phony, pretending to be something it isn't, and tends to lash out after spending all day drinking.

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Monday, July 30, 2007 

Mr Brown goes to Washington.

After the "terror attacks" and the torrents of water cascading from the sky, Gordon Brown might well think that going to visit George Bush would be a doddle by comparison. The difficulty was always going to be in knowing the right balance to strike - the apparent instant friendship that flowered when Blair 'n' Bush first met, kindred spirits if they ever were two, was never going to be on the agenda. At the same time, with the Scum already howling about the "special relationship", he also can't afford to be anything less than always on-message, even if the tone is going to be very different.

The whole meeting should, and deserves to be strained on all levels. Bush is not just a lame duck, he's a dead duck, festering before the entire planet as he and his neo-con cohorts desperately try to shore up some kind of legacy, and possibly even attempt to draw Iraq out long enough so that if a Democrat manages to win in 08, voting machines and lists aside, that the victor is bequeathed with a gift that no one would ever want. If Brown had really wanted to set out the change in the relationship from being the doormat to being the poodle that bites back, he could, as Ming Campbell pointed out, more than capably have been able to make his agenda clear, urging that Guantanamo Bay be closed down and that Britain has finished with Iraq, getting out within a matter of months, if not weeks. While the hard right here may shout about betrayal, Brown could afford to kick Bush in to touch, even possibly helping towards his and the Republicans' downfall by getting out of Iraq now. The surge is failing, the country is somehow in a worse state after four years of occupation and supposed reconstruction than it was under Saddam and sanctions which contributed towards the deaths of 500,000 children, and yet still our politicians somehow can't dare to anger those who took us into this disaster in the first place.

We can at least be glad that the infectious idiocy which Bush seems to radiate somehow hasn't managed to infect our new Dear Leader. The grimace on his face as Bush drove him round in the golf buggy, not managing like Tony would have done to have grinned uneasily through it, was refreshing in itself. The whole press conference where as usual we learned absolutely nothing, was just as tepid. Bush, still after 7 years doing the same act of attempting to be the class clown without the intelligence to pull it off, speaking in the same achingly slow drawl, which you would take for sarcastic if you didn't know it was the way he always speaks, was attempting to be effervescent, while alongside Brown was almost trying not to be noticed, again, like he was at his first prime minister's questions, visibly nervous. He wasn't exactly icy, but it certainly was someone who was uncomfortable in his skin and rigid in his speech.

This was undoubtedly the way it was always going to be, and like everything that has gone on since Blair's exit, while most things have continued as were, the very fact that it isn't the same grating, agitating bastard manning the helm has changed the situation, and judging by the opinion polls, most of the public's minds as well. Aggravating as such blanket statements made by Brown about how the world should be thankful for the American response to 9/11, this again seems to have been made purely to reassure the already weary and suspicious Republicans after the speech by Douglas Alexander and the interview by Mark Malloch-Brown, who seems to be more than happy to anger the usual suspects that are already biased against him.

Changing the terminology used about the war on terror, or whatever it is we're calling it this week, is one of the subtle, some might suggest cowardly ways of doing things differently while actually doing nothing. It helps that it pisses off the likes of Melanie Philips, but does really suggesting that what salafist takfiris are waging is a war of inhumanity change anything whatsoever, other than changing the original absurd abstract noun? In fact, what others have long been calling the "twat", a war against bullshit, makes more sense, both in the way that dropping bombs on people doesn't tend to help them, and that what we're fighting, if we're fighting anything, is a war against the insanity and inanity of restoring a mythical, religious age of purity through acts which are expressly against that belief system in the first place. We've got more than enough of that here already.

Nothing then that we didn't expect, and nothing of the unexpected. Whereas previously we would have hated every excruciating moment of the press conference, now, despite the apparent status quo continuing, there's enough for most people that they won't fly into the same rage as they would have done. Brown's biggest problem right now is that it simply can't last.

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Various things.

First up, Andrew Dismore and the Joint Committee on Human Rights thoroughly eviscerates the government's "case" for doubling the detention without charge period for terrorist suspects.

Sarfraz Manzoor, in his article on British Asians (much discussion of the report underlying it over on Pickled Politics) and success talks of "coconut" as being the British equivalent of the insult "Oreo". It's no doubt a regional thing, but the insult here has always been similarly junk food based, with those thought of trying too hard to fit in being called a "Bounty".

Finally, with the Scum yet again leading on their brilliant expose of how sharks are going to infiltrate our schools and start eating children, Richard Peirce bursts the bubble by suggesting it's far more likely to be either a porbeagle or a mako shark.

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