Saturday, August 11, 2007 

The grief industry.

In today's Guardian, Ian Jack recalls the end of summer 10 years ago:

It is worth recalling that first week of September 10 years ago, when 10,000 tonnes of flowers were dumped outside the royal palaces and Gordon Brown was said to be seriously considering a proposal to rename August bank holiday "Diana Day". I knew few people who felt as the crowds did, but this minority (or perhaps majority) largely remained silent and invisible to the media: in the climate of those days, to be sceptical was to be labelled unfeeling. A few brave people wrote to the newspapers to say they were disturbed by the dominant mood. Later in September, writing a piece for Granta on reactions to the Diana's death, I tracked down and interviewed eight or nine of them. Ten years later, what they said bears repeating. Peter Ghosh, an Oxford historian: "We kept being told that the country was united, which it was in the sense that we were all watching the same television programme. But in any other sense - that divisions of class and race were being healed, for example - well, it's crap, obviously."

Maggie Winkworth, a psychologist in Chiswick: "I'd call it mass hysteria, a kind of mania. You saw the power of the crowd. To me, those pictures of mounds of flowers were quite repulsive ... It seemed a kind of floral fascism ... a country controlled by the grief police." How many people felt like this? I suspect many millions more than were apparent at the time.

Jack doesn't mention whether some of those who questioned the mass-mourning which occurred then came under the same opprobrium which poured down upon the head of Professor Anthony O'Hear when the Social Affairs Unit published a book which contained an essay of his on the public reaction to the death of Diana, but it's probably safe to assume that they were replied to voluminously in the press.

O'Hear's essay, which also considered the sentimentality and general mawkishness exhibited at the time, was in fact far less of an aggressive critique than that offered by Winkworth. As Francis Wheen noted at the time (reproduced in Hoo-Hahs and Passing Frenzies, pp 68-70) O'Hear only went so far as to suggest that the grieving had lacked a sense of proportion. Nevertheless, this didn't stop the Mirror from calling him a "rat-faced little loser" and Tony Blair describing him as an "old-fashioned snob." Even a Guardian editorial suggested that the Social Affairs Unit as a whole was a "slightly fogeyish bunch."

Even if the events of this week have suggested something of a backlash against the McCanns, you get the same sort of feeling reading today's press coverage of the 100th day since Madeleine has disappeared. After 3 months of an unending media campaign, it has come to precisely naught. The only thing we still know for certain is that Madeleine, on the evening of May the 3rd, disappeared from the McCanns' apartment of the Mark Warner Ocean Club complex in the Portuguese resort of
Praia da Luz. Everything else is still conjecture.

Not that this has stopped the press here at home pointing the finger variously at paedophiles and then the only declared suspect, Robert Murat, with gradually decreasing credibility. The Portuguese press, for its own part, has spent much of the last week speculating, along with police leaks reminiscent of those to the Sun in similar cases, that either the McCanns themselves or friends of theirs on holiday with them were now under suspicion. No one seems to have been able to strike the right balance; the British press and media being utterly craven, for which see this hagiographic account of the last 100 days in today's Sun, papers running front page splashes condemning a German reporter who dared to question whether the McCanns themselves might have been involved in some way, while the Portuguese press have been apparently happy to publish innuendo which appears to have absolutely no foundation. Even those sections of the media we usually depend upon to rise above the clamour and shrieks of the gutter press don't seem to have been immune to the image of a pretty missing white girl: the Grauniad running an interview with the McCanns which tells you absolutely nothing, and today's Telegraph, featuring another interview with the two.

It started with the equivalent of emotional pornography, coverage by turns both mawkish and pointless, urging the public to pray for "Maddie" and then to wear yellow, as if either could in any way possibly do anything to help the investigation, a display of fake empathy, or even possibly real, with hardened hacks going native in their refusal to even examine any alternative possibilities. The results of such coverage were displayed in comments on the Sun's own website: if they're to be believed, some seemed closer to a complete breakdown than the McCanns themselves have. After a couple of weeks, it mutated into something much more familiar: coverage for the sake of coverage, designed purely to try to boost sales, without offering any real support, while still indignant about anything negative directed towards the sainted couple. The Express, which was has probably featured Diana on the front page more since she died than before (see Daily Mail Watch), changed from the Diana Express into the Daily Maddie, the cynicism behind such blanket splashes being only too visible. Today's coverage has then come full circle: back to the Scum opening up "books of support" rather than books of condolence.

The main difference between the atmosphere of then and now is that in 1997 there was hardly no one who dared to raise their head above the parapet and suggest that this was all a little over the top. Private Eye's front cover jibe about the press coverage being revolting resulted in WHSmith temporarily removing it from their shelves. Major mass usage of the internet was also still in its infancy; while Usenet quickly started to buzz with conspiracy theories, debate and resistance to the rolling coverage was still mostly absent. This time round it's been very different: forums have been full of threads either critical of the McCanns or even suggesting that they have the most questions to answer. Whereas those nonplussed by Diana's untimely death and the reaction to it were underrepresented in the media then, with 44% apparently feeling alienated by the BBC's coverage of it according to their own research, the internet has now allowed those with a very different opinion to that dominating the mainstream to raise their own flags. It's not surprising that this change has left some of mainstream media both confused and angry by their failure to monopolise public opinion: the Sun describes the McCanns today as the victims of a "vicious smear campaign", something it ought to know about considering the number of ones that it itself has run in the past.

Responding back in April 1998 to O'Hear's essay, the Sun not only described grief as "a vital safety valve", it also told readers it was perfectly OK to "keep grieving". It shouldn't surprise you that the paper's leader now is full of similar sentiments, ending with:

As another day of torment passes, Sun readers will hope and pray for a new landmark. When Maddie is back with her loving parents.

It seems unlikely that the grief industry will be slowing down its production, online opposition or not, any time soon.

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Friday, August 10, 2007 

Another petition.

Via Justin and Tim W:
“I will boycott any company that wins a contract to deliver the National ID card but only if 500 other people will do the same.”

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The inhumanity of one "anti-imperialist".

I began this week by writing a piece about the ructions on the pro-war left, linked in with Johann Hari's attack on Nick Cohen's polemic on the failures of the left and Oliver Kamm's article on the same day claiming that the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki shouldn't be viewed as a crime. I'd never of imagined (although I perhaps should have) that by the end of this week I'd be writing about how one anti-war supposed leftist seems to have been trying his best to be as inhumane as those who cheered on the "shock and awe" in the first place.

It's well known that Neil Clark, rather than being an anti-imperialist as he describes himself, has a tendency to be apologetic towards such human rights defenders as Slobodan Milosevic, but even by his low-grade of rhetorical standards today's piece on Comment is Free scrapes the very bottom of the reactionary, unpleasant, nauseating barrel. Titled "Keep these quislings out", it's the first, and probably will be the only article to attack the growing campaign for Iraqi employees of the British armed forces to be given refuge here.

The entire basis of the article seems to be based on the mind-numbing, idiotic belief that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Despite the fact that the blogging campaign for the Iraqi employees' plight to be recognised was started by Dan Hardie, who opposed the war and opposes the continuing presence of British troops in Iraq, and that the vast majority who have wrote about it were all anti-war, the simple fact that some of those who supported the war are also now supporting the campaign has been enough for Mr Clark to aim his limp arrows against the translators in their entirety. There's nothing wrong with chucking vitriol at Harry's Placers or that fat turd Stephen Pollard, but doing so for the purpose of denying those with the threat of murder hanging over their heads is the moral equivalent of refusing to even piss on someone who's on fire because you don't like them.

Clark then compounds the insult by referring to those who have worked with the British forces as both "quislings" and "collaborators". It's quite clear what Clark's pointing towards: that those who dared to believe they could rebuild Iraq, regardless of how Saddam was overthrown, are the modern equivalent of the fascist apologists and enablers of the 1940s. This is all the more hypocritical because of a recent posting on Clark's own blog, entitled "There was only one Nazi Germany", where he agrees with Jonathan Cook that it's impossible to paint Iran as a modern-day fascist state. It seems it's fine to bring up the inescapable Nazis after all, as long as they help along your own twisted argument. Perhaps Clark ought to have read the accounts of three interpreters who were interviewed in yesterday's Guardian, especially the first:

I chose to work for the British because I love their democracy and passion for human rights and I want to see it in Iraq.

And who could possibly disagree with those sentiments, even if you disagree with the method which brought the British into Iraq? Iraq is a hellhole now, and it's a hellhole of our own making, but what kind of inhumane bastard would deny the Iraqis the opportunity to rebuild their country in our image purely because of who supported the war in the first place, or as the case is, their escape from murderers who share none of the democratic sentiments they do? It's also not as if Clark has only recently taken to throwing the "quisling" tag around: back in 2003, he wrote a comment piece on the murder of the Serbian prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, calling him the quisling of Belgrade.

Clark ends his flatulence with this especially noxious, illogical blast of wind:

If that means some [the Iraqi employees] of them may lose their lives, then the responsibility lies with those who planned and supported this wicked, deceitful and catastrophic war, and not those of us who tried all we could to stop it.

But this is a false dichotomy. The responsibility doesn't just lie with the warmongers, it also lies with the murderers executing those they see as collaborators, a view that Clark himself seems to share. It's up to those of us who tried to stop it to now redirect our efforts to ensure that as few more people die as a result of what was done in our name as possible. Clark instead would prefer that more blood is spilt rather than giving "self-centred mercenaries who betrayed their fellow countrymen and women for financial gain out of Britain" the opportunity of a life away from the constant threat of death purely because of the job they chose. As Jamie points out, if you don't oppose cold-blooded murder, how can you oppose war? Or is it, to come back again to the quisling charge, that Clark views such men and women as untermensch?

As others have suggested, maybe it's a good thing that such a disgusting, despicable piece of writing appeared on CiF. If this doesn't motivate more people to sign the petition and write to their MPs on behalf of those we've abandoned to a unimaginable future, then very little else will.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007 

Preaching hate and dealing with it part 2.

Who then, to trust out of the dispiriting choice of Channel 4 and the police/crown prosecution service? The original Dispatches documentary, Undercover Mosque, which I didn't see but read the available transcript of, was certainly an eye-opener, and made many who saw it reconsider just how far radical Wahhabism had succeeded in infiltrating mosques over here. It also attracted the usual amount of naysayers, as well as those in denial about just what was being preached in some mosques.

That the police and the CPS, having acquired the unexpurgated footage of the undercover recording with a view to possibly prosecuting the preachers with inciting racial hatred, were not only to come to the conclusion that there was no chance of any such prosecutions succeeding, but then to turn the tables and accuse Channel 4 of "completely distorting" what they had said in the first place is truly extraordinary. The transcript, full of references to the "kuffar" and why not to trust them, and in at least one case praising those who killed a British Muslim soldier in Afghanistan, seems so authoritative and in-context that it's difficult to see how seeing their speeches in full would change the meaning of what they said. With the possible exception of some of the references to jihad, which might possibly refer to it in its spiritual meaning, this seemed irrefutable.

Let's not pretend however that either the police or the CPS have suddenly become, as the neo-cons like to refer to people who don't see the threat from Islamic extremism, dhimmis. We also shouldn't forget that this is the same Channel 4 which was exposed as hiding footage from Celebrity Big Brother which proved that overt racism had indeed occurred during the show in January. Those taking part in the infamous Danish embassy protest have been jailed for up to six years for shouting slogans and carrying placards which were not that far removed from some of the content featured in Undercover Mosque. The idea that the police have criticised Channel 4 rather than the preachers themselves because of fear over the possibility of unrest in Birmingham itself is just as ridiculous. Why would they have simply not announced that no changes were due to brought due to insufficient evidence, even if such a decision was likely to come under criticism?

There's a simple way for this to be resolved, and it's up to each side to decide on how much they believe their position is the right one. If Channel 4 is so certain of defending what indeed was an important piece of investigative journalism, why doesn't it release the footage in full or transcripts? Equally, if the police/CPS are so certain that what the preachers said was misconstrued, they can do the same, having acquired access to the apparent 56 hours of footage which was edited down into a programme of less than an hour when you take adverts into account.

Missing from this debate has been the point that even if the preachers were misquoted or had their remarks taken out of context, what they said still needs to be condemned. The explanation that they were outlining how things would work in "an ideal Islamic society" in line with some of their comments simply doesn't wash. It also underlined how the fundamentalist Islam funded and spread by Saudi Arabia, one of our main allies in the "war on terror" is by far the most insidious and rejectionist. While we arm them to the teeth with every weaponry they could ever lust after, they in return are personally responsible for most of the indoctrination which goes in the mainstream mosques. We shouldn't get ahead of ourselves and blame them for everything, as all the evidence suggests that those who have gone on to commit terrorist attacks have not been "brainwashed" by the local imam, but rather have done their own research online, met like-minded people as a result, or travelled to see notorious clerics out of their own volition. Such extremist preaching such as that seen in the documentary however may well turn out to be the initial spark that sets off the interest. The programme also reminds us that it's the sale of DVDs and CDs of such speeches and lectures is also just as important as personally attending them.

The very last thing we must do is start believing that every mosque is a hotbed of such radicalism, or that imams, as the Sun puts it, "are trying to stir up murderous feelings by turning gullible young Muslims into killing machines", making it sound as if they're too stupid to realise what's happening, when all the evidence suggests that it's the more intelligent and inquisitive with a good education that are far more likely to be involved in such sympathising and even support. The police or Channel 4 now have to prove their respective cases.

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Tales made of Straw.

Lucrative contracts worth up to £500m each have been put out to tender today for the government's controversial identity card scheme.

Five firms will be chosen to supply computer equipment and manage the application and issuing of ID cards.

So much then for those highly optimistic planted stories about how Brown and Straw were going to at the very least implement a review of the hated scheme.

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Genocidal tyrant says it's all so unfair.

Rupert Murdoch has complained that his victorious three-month battle to buy the Wall Street Journal involved fending off criticism bearing a degree of vitriol usually reserved for "genocidal tyrants".

Diddums! It's a bugger when you can't always control what journalists write about you, isn't it? Murdoch has got so used to being able to either respond to criticism through tit-for-tat attacks in his own papers, or as the recent spiking by the Grauniad of a profile of his wife Wendi Deng showed, being able to stop publication through pure fear of what his own minions might do in return that for a long time he's been almost immune from any personal criticism whatsoever.

Why though is he so surprised that he should come in for such vitriol? While he may not personally be a tyrant, although hacks within News International may think different, he's certainly had plenty of experience in kow-towing to them when it comes to advancing both his business interests and personal fortune, especially in China. As for genocidal, as a direct response of every single one of his newspapers supporting the Iraq war, with the New York Post and The Sun especially involved in cheerleading for it and smearing its opponents, he has a fair share of the blood of 650,000 Iraqis on his hands. Was it worth it for that $20 barrel of oil? Oh, wait...

P.S. Would you believe there's no mention in today's Scum of the fact that their great white shark exclusive ripped out of a local newspaper has been exposed as a hoax? What was all that about the journalists on the BBC being "crooks and liars" again?

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007 

Can I get some of what Neal Lawson's been smoking?

Has someone been spiking Neal Lawson's cheerios? I honestly can't think of any other explanation for why he's chosen now, after 10 years of Labour government, to suddenly have an absurd epiphany about the possibilities of a "seismic" shift towards the left.

The skilfully engineered bounce witnessed in the first days of Gordon Brown's premiership could be turned into something more: a political earthquake. The time is ripe not just for a better Labour government but for a shift in the centre of gravity of politics decisively to the left. Brown could be the first Labour leader since Clement Attlee to recast British society - not by taking small steps but giant leaps. This is why.

Even if this was slightly plausible, is Gordon Brown the man to do it? The same Brown who didn't just take on the left and win crushingly, but instead patronisingly rose to the leadership unchallenged while insulting those who had dared to suggest there might be some within the party with different views? This isn't to suggest that John McDonnell was the man to lead Labour; none of us who supported his candidacy even dreamed that he could win. It was about the exchange and debate of ideas - of which there was none because of the way that Brown's clique crushed any opposition.

Secondly, to think that now is the time for a shift is ridiculous. The opportunity to shift the centre of political gravity radically towards the left was in 1997 - with the Tories destroyed and moribund. The last 10 years, while not entirely wasted, have just been one long missed chance.

Once in every generation a political revolution takes place in which thinking and behaviour shifts not just by degrees but qualitatively. It happened in 1945 under Labour, as the experience of the war and the economic depression before it heralded the centralised welfare state. It happened again 30 years later under Thatcher as the free market counter-revolution swept all before it. Greed became good.

All of this is true. What though makes 2007 a better year for another dramatic shift than 1997 was? The Brown bounce is just that - a bounce. The Tories might currently be in a kind of disarray, and they've panicked at the very first serious challenge since Cameron became leader, but to believe that they'll stay this way long is naive. They've got the whole of the summer to regroup before their conference, and it still looks highly unlikely that Brown will risk a snap election in October. The opinion poll leads are likely to diminish swiftly once everyone forgets the joy of Blair being gone and realise that the same tired Labour government is still lording it up.

Today the free market is not the solution, it is the problem. Every pressing issue we face demands a collective response - climate change and flooding, terrorism, the housing crisis, insecurity at work, immigration and the ageing population. Neoliberalism promised a utopia but has failed to deliver. Britain has become a hideously unequal society. The poor are not treading water but sinking beneath the rising tide of the rich. But the middle classes are struggling, too. Insecurity and anxiety abound. Working harder to keep up on the treadmill of the learn-to-earn consumer society is deepening our social recession. We are at a tipping point.

As much as I agree with most of what Lawson writes, to think that the apparent rise of the super-rich at the expense of the middle classes is a tipping point is a joke. They're not really struggling, they're just moaning even more than usual while almost never having it so good. The Mail might be getting steaming about the fat cats, but the tide certainly hasn't turned yet. If a change comes, it will likely be because of rising interest rates, and those feeling the pinch aren't going to suddenly take to the streets waving red flags, they're going to be blaming Labour. Hardly the optimum moment for a seismic shift towards the left.

At these moments of rupture, the rules of electoral politics can be ripped up because parties are no longer required to win from the centre. Instead, majorities can be formed by offering reassurance from quite radical positions. Thatcherism's electoral success was not built on the soggy consensus of the centre but through a decisive break with the postwar settlement. Reassurance was offered by unleashing market forces in a way that seemed impossible just a few years before.

People want reassurance once more, but this time it's that globalisation can be tamed, climate change averted and social cohesion created. This demands new forms of collective action.

What does all of this even mean? Exactly what sort of "collective action" are we talking about? Are we all going to start wearing "Make Thatcherism History" wristbands and hope that's enough? This seems like bollocks aimed at filling space.

It is this new social mood that is causing the Conservatives such trouble. David Cameron has failed to make a breakthrough in the polls and his party is starting to rebel against his modernising agenda because the times are against them. It is a moment for democratic state-building in the knowledge that we only flourish as individuals in strong societies, not more watered-down Thatcherism. As Cameron's bubble finally bursts, the Mail and Murdoch are left without a negotiating card in their battle to influence Brown. At last we can stop pandering to their reactionary agenda as it increasingly looks as if they have nowhere else to go.

Yet this completely ignores what the past 10 years has taught us. The Mail and Murdoch were without anyone to get behind up until around 2003, but it didn't make any difference. Was this because Blair was too timid and too right-wing himself or because the Mail and Murdoch are so powerful that they themselves can be the opposition? The evidence points towards the latter. All Murdoch has to do is whistle and world leaders, whoever they are, come running. Brown is no different, as the wooing lunches with Wade and sharing of a platform with the man himself showed. The time for rejecting them both was 1997, but it needed a leader with both the courage and the political belief to do so. Even if Brown wanted to stop pandering to them, the Tories would squeal about a shift back to the left, and the papers would likely this time go with it. If there's one thing more likely to get the tabloids in a lather than Muslims/asylum seekers/the eating of swans, it's any suggestion that they might be about to get snubbed.

Looked at in this light, New Labour's 1997 election victory becomes a false dawn, not a new one. A moment still mired in the possessive individualism of the 1980s. Instead of being the fag-end of New Labour, Brown becomes potentially the premier to oversee the transformation of British society. A totally new and exciting narrative opens up in which reassurance comes from the left, not the right, for the first time since the postwar settlement was founded.

1997 was a false dawn, not because it wasn't the opportunity, but because it was. All the changes Brown has instigated so far have been almost purely cosmetic. Sure, we've had a change of tone over the response to terror, a return to consensus government and Brown has been mostly assured since he became leader, but dig beneath the surface and all the same policies are there, just buried because of the leadership change.

Skipping a quoting of Gramsci and a load of rhetorical questions:

The doom-mongers are right to highlight the private finance initiative, flexible labour markets and Iraq. But unlike Blair, with Brown we can agree to disagree on the basis that there might be a set of shared underlying principles. While the jury is out, the democratic left should do everything in its power to influence the verdict.

Well yes, but Brown completely refused to listen during the nomination process. Why would he do so now he's successfully installed?

In one sense Brown has already laid out the route map - he calls it the progressive consensus. It's a belief that the left must build beyond Labour and reach out to social movement such as unions, NGOs, charities, progressive academics and, crucially, a revived Labour party capable of campaigning for change in every community in the country.

All of which is very noble, but isn't this the same Brown that has just stiffed the unions, not only by refusing to sign the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, but also by appointing a true cunt of capitalism in Digby Jones as trade minister? Would a Brown really interested in campaigning for change in ever community have appointed the ghastly Blairite automaton Hazel Blears as the minister for them? She might be enthusiastic, but she rubs everyone other than those like her up the wrong way. The so-called "Big Conversation", which was in reality a conversation where one of those taking part it in had cotton wool stuffed in their ears, isn't exactly a good omen of Labour listening to people and learning. Besides, as someone recently pointed out, what does progressive even mean? When someone like Hillary Clinton can describe herself as such, does it really describe the true Labour grassroots? Or is it another of these meaningless words loved by the likes of Peter Mandelson because it means they can pretend that they too are "one of us"?

The job of the pragmatic left is to pick the issues on which to build such a consensus and to go further and faster than Brown now dares. Take one possible example, the promise to match state school spending to that of private education. We must show how this can be achieved and build pressure and support for its enactment. We could start by focusing on English and maths or targeting poorer children with free school meals and make a breakthrough that would build public support for extra redistribution. Brown says he has a moral compass; we must hold him to it.

Or you know, we could perhaps reconsider our currently destructive foreign policy, retreat and rectify the attacks on civil liberties, call a moratorium on private sector involvement in the public services, especially the hugely wasteful PFI, emphasise the need for more council housing, and think about the best way to reduce increasing inequality. Education is important, but for God's sake, let's point out where Labour has gone disastrously wrong.

We don't have to buy into Brown or simply wait to yell "sell out". Every government is a balance sheet of good and bad. Brown's will be no different. What matters, though, are the strategic decisions that build the forces and ideas to seize this potentially historic political moment. This is a difficult balancing act; neither cheerleaders nor oppositionalists, but walking the tightrope of constructive criticism.

Why does this remind me of a Blair speech, or of Hazel Blears and her vacuous, disingenuous nonsense about there being no more Blairites and Brownites?

A different world starts with a better world. The forward march of Labour may not have resumed, but this could be the moment to get it kickstarted. To quote Gramsci once more: "The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions, without becoming disillusioned."

It's a good quote, but it's just that. 1997 was the year, and the best we can hope for is that Brown's decent start continues. Pessimistic maybe, but also realistic.

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Making up your own insults.

This is most likely the perfect Daily Express front page. It combines the former People's Princess and her memory with the new People's Missing Child: Our Angel and Missing Guiding Light. One thoroughly beaten dead horse (in more than one sense) and another shortly to become a dead horse, together as one. Forever.

What then is this new, improved, all purpose, biggest ever, longest lasting insult to the People's Princesses memory? Has someone dug up her corpse, fucked it, fed it to the swine on a nearby farm, then reburied the coffin with the body of an asylum seeker who was wearing a niqab in it as the replacement? Did a small child run up to Prince Harry while he was out drinking, shout "Your mum's dead!", laugh and then run away? Did Gerry McCann say that Madeleine was bigger than that dead phony bitch? Was Gordon Brown heard to say that "Tony went a little over-the-top when Diana died"? Or was it that Diana is now remembered not for her good work, but rather the fact that Mohammad Al-Fayed has used her death to pursue his own campaign against the establishment in this country because he's never been given a passport? How about that her memory is now a laughing stock because "THE WORLD'S GREATEST NEWSPAPER" has been using her for years as a convenient front page story when there aren't any Muslims to bash or house prices to crow/panic about?

Sadly, it's none of these things. Apparently the biggest ever insult to her memory is that Camilla Parker-Bowles will be attending the memorial service (yes, another one) on August the 31st. Excuse me if I don't suddenly storm out onto the streets and start screaming about the injustice of it all.

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Scum-watch: Could you possibly believe it?

Remember last week's amazing Scum exclusive that a great white shark really had been sighted off the shores of Cornwall, and that it had the picture to prove it? Having nicked the story from the Newquay Guardian, which ran it on its front page, it opened its account of this dramatic personal experience thusly:

GREAT White shark fever gripped the West Country last night — amid claims that ANOTHER of the maneaters has been sighted.

Whoops! As I commented at the time, it seemed ever so slightly convenient that Kevin Kebble, having supposedly taken the photograph two weeks earlier, only took it upon himself to contact one of his local papers' with the news that he'd snapped a shot of one of these terrifying sea creatures once the Scum had been spreading the idiocy across the nation nation. Today he confessed to the Newquay Grauniad's rival, the Voice:

"I took the picture while I was on a fishing trip in Cape Town and just sent it in as a joke," Kevin Keeble told the Newquay Voice newspaper. "I didn't expect anyone to take be daft enough to take it seriously.

"I can't believe the story went so big in the first place. I didn't even get any money out of it. If I'd have made a few quid then maybe I could have gone on another fishing trip to South Africa."

Oh dear. Coming so shortly after its rants against the perfidious BBC and its faking of competitions, it's little wonder that the newspaper declined to comment.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007 

Oh, the irony.

The US is considering a request from the British Foreign Office to release five former UK residents from Guantanamo Bay detention centre.

A senior US official said Washington would seek guarantees that the men would be treated humanely and would not be allowed to pose a security threat.

Welcome as this news is, the overwhelming urge to punch whichever smart arse US official thought it would be funny to seek a guarantee that the five prisoners would be treated humanely after spending years in a modern gulag with in some cases the detainees being force-fed after going on hunger strike can't be overstated. Whatever these men are alleged to have done, we have always had a responsibility towards them that we shamefully declined to act upon. That's it taken this long and a change of prime ministers for it to come about has blackened our name further. It's also doubtful, especially now, that they pose any kind of security threat. All the former British detainees held at Guantanamo were released without any charge, and have attempted to rebuild their lives, much as these five are now likely to do.

The government now has to do the similarly decent thing and provide refuge to any Iraqis who have worked with the British forces, endangering themselves and their families in the process. Anything less is just as much a betrayal.

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Silly season continues.

Today's Daily Mail has taken the opportunity to resurrect another of those hoary old mythical stories, this time about supposed eastern European migrants eating all our blessed swans. FCC takes them to task in usual style with two top posts. The closest these repetitive stories have ever come to being true was when a Muslim man supposedly hungry after his Ramadan fast stabbed a swan. The rest have all been hokum.

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Scum-watch: 1 compared to 29,000.

Remember how the Scum comprehensively failed to report on the news that MySpace (prop. R Murdoch) was found to be teeming with sex offenders, with 29,000 having their profiles deleted? Well, it finally got round today to reporting on how one man had used a social networking site for his perverted needs:

A SEX beast was jailed indefinitely yesterday for abusing two girls he met on the Facebook website.

Jonathan Percy, 29, posed as a 15-year-old to groom the girls, aged 12 and 13, then plied them with alcopops and took them to a wood for sex.

Percy, of Mannington, Dorset — jailed in 2003 for a similar offence — pleaded guilty at Bournemouth Crown Court.

He must serve at least three years before he is eligible for parole, and was banned from using a computer.

Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that this also didn't involve MySpace. Surprising, huh? The article itself is followed by the usual array of user comments about castration involving two bricks, etc, and about the length of the sentence, even though Percy has been jailed under an IPP. Judging by how the prison system currently can't cope with the number being given the new indeterminate sentences, with the courses that those sentenced under them have to complete before even being considered for release being hopelessly oversubscribed, with those unable to get on them likely to have to stay inside long after their tariff has passed, it seems unlikely that he'll be out within 3 years, even if he's no longer considered a danger to the public, something also doubtful, as it's his second offence.

Elsewhere, the Scum is having yet another go at Malloch Brown, Brown's appointment as foreign minister, who you might remember as being the man who gave Fox News a tongue-lashing and as result is person non grata in the Murdoch press:

TROUBLESOME foreign minister Mark Malloch-Brown wants Brussels to take Britain’s seat at the UN top table — and the sooner the better.

Downing Street insists this is a personal viewpoint, not policy.

But Malloch-Brown is no junior upstart who has not learned to guard his tongue.

He is one of Gordon Brown’s closest friends whose pungent views were known before he was catapulted into the Lords and ministerial rank.

He is a vain and arrogant man, accustomed to speaking as if he were in charge of British policy, not Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

Just one problem with all this: Malloch-Brown's comments on the EU taking a permanent security council seat were made last October, while he was still deputy security-general. Are he and Brown really so close? Not according to this Grauniad profile, which doesn't even mention his relationship to the new prime minister. Notice how the Scum leader also makes it look as though Malloch-Brown had made his comments now, rather than nearly over a year ago.

So while we condemn Malloch-Brown’s outburst, we must thank him for blowing the gaffe.

Gordon Brown is now exposed as the fervent pro-European it seems he has always been. Indeed there is not a sceptical bone in his Government’s body.

Please stop! It hurts! Could this fervent pro-European Brown be the same one that stopped Blair from taking the UK into the Euro with the five economic tests? The same one that went on the warpath when Blair acquiesced with Sarkozy's apparent attempt to water down the free-market aspects of the reform treaty? The same Brown that holidayed every summer in the United States, and had by far the most links with other politicos in that country? The same Brown that Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European commission last year challenged to set out his true priorities over Europe, because he and others feared that Brown was a natural Atlanticist because he rarely bothered turning up for EU meetings? The same Brown with a reputation for being highly suspicious towards Europe? The Scum isn't usually either this disingenuous or obtuse when it comes to politics, making one wonder whether the usual leader writer is away. Either way, the conclusion is the same as usual:

That, more than anything else, makes it essential for him to deliver the referendum he promised.

And give ALL sides the chance to add their voices to this crucial debate.


Finally, deport 'em all:

FOURTEEN foreign criminals are still loose after breaking out of a centre where they were “awaiting deportation”.

Why were they waiting?

Having abused our hospitality by committing serious crimes, they should have had their bags packed as they completed their sentences.

The most "serious crime" any of them had committed was robbery
. As other reports suggested that some of those being held at the centre were in limbo, with at least one having spent a year at the detention centre, it's hard not to fault them for taking the opportunity to leg it once it had arose.

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Stating the obvious.

From today's Grauniad letters page:

Facebook should immediately terminate all BNP-related pages and groups from its site, which is used by millions of young people of all backgrounds (Firms pull Facebook ads, August 3). The pages are in clear breach of the Facebook users' terms and conditions, as they contain racist and Islamophobic material. We welcome the action by Vodafone, First Direct and other advertisers which pulled their advertising from Facebook.
Gemma Tumelty

National Union of Students

Denis Fernando

Unite Against Fascism

Milena Buyum

National Assembly Against Racism

Lee Billingham

Love Music Hate Racism

Christ, the BNP page contains racist and Islamophobic material? There I was thinking that it would be promoting how all of us can live together in harmony without resorting to basing our prejudices on the colour of each other's skin. Whatever next? celebrating the unique festival where participants compete to see who can ejaculate the most, rather than showcasing this week's video where another naive, misguided teenager gets paid for debasing both herself and those who've paid to watch it? giving advice on what to do if you suffer an anal prolapse rather than just presenting a photograph of a man demonstrating exactly what happens?

Has it ever possibly occurred to the idiots in charge of these decent if at times counter-productive groups that the very fact that the British National Party has such material on its Facebook page is likely to make those who visit it without much knowledge of the party come to their own conclusions? They'd rather reach straight for the ban hammer instead of exposing that information for what it is, a pack of knuckle-dragging lies. The not getting it just doesn't seem to end.

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Tonight the streets are ours.

Encouraging news from the United States, where Lily Allen has had her work visa revoked after the unfortunate incident where she was cautioned for common assault earlier this year in London.

Is there any reason why we can't take similar action against Allen and her sort of partner in musical crime, Amy Winehouse? If we can deport suspected terrorists for "not being conducive to the public good", I'm sure we can apply the same standards to Allen. After all, what is her oeuvre if not an musical assault against the ears, aimed at terrorising the average listener into smashing their radio whenever her insipid, overrated jarring compositions, complete with hilariously awful lyrics start floating across the airwaves? Additionally, her body of work has succeeded in brainwashing both record company executives and hopefuls themselves into thinking that they can emulate her unwarranted success, unsurprisingly resulting in the arrival of even less talented knock-offs, such as Kate Nash. Her most inspired, profound, life-affirming lyric?

Why you being a dickhead for? Stop being a dickhead Why you being a dickhead for? You're just fucking up situations

If that's not quite your cup of tea, how about her other crack at conquering the poetic brilliance of our most acclaimed songwriters? Behold the "Shit Song":

Darling don't give me shit Cos I know that you're full of it (you're full of shit, you're full of shit) Darling don't give me shit Cos I know that you're full of it (you're full of it, you're full of it)

Quite clearly, thanks to the actions of Lily 'n' Amy, we're facing an epidemic of worthless, tuneless morons taking over. If their music is not glorifying terrorism against the ear lobes, what is?

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Monday, August 06, 2007 

Gerry's blog/diary.

I'm probably late to the party on this one, but shocked's viciously funny parody of Gerry McCann's diary on (now complete with Bryan Adams song as soon as you load it up) is almost Craig Brown-esque.

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Iraq, Hiroshima and the pro-war left.

It's interesting to note that just a day after another high-profile Iraq war supporter has took to wearing sackcloth and ashes, one of the few remaining defenders of the war has moved on from justifying the on-going disaster there to even greater rhetorical flights of fancy, taking the opportunity that the anniversary of the dropping of the first atom bomb provides to reappraise the long-prevailing view that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were crimes. Just as Oliver Kamm has never convinced anyone other than himself that he's right, his piece for the Grauniad isn't likely to change any minds.

At least with Hiroshima and Nagasaki we have the benefit of historical hindsight, the numerous sources that the last 60 years have provided us with and the on-going suffering still continuing from which to make a judgment as to its righteousness. However much we debate whether the hundreds of thousands sacrificed in the two blasts were preferable to the possibility of millions more deaths on both sides, or indeed the similarly horrific firebombing of both Japanese and German cities, such as the March the 9th 1945 attack on Tokyo which quite possibly killed more than the numbers who died at Hiroshima, it nearly always comes down to a war of numbers, as the CiF debate shows; mention the atomic bombs, and you get Nanking and the entire brutal invasion of China back in return. It has to be said they have a point: while Germany has been exemplary in coming to terms with those twelve years of fascism, some in Japan continue to engage in denial and apologism over the numerous crimes committed by the military. It isn't too much to perhaps link the unashamed slaughter, torture and atrocities committed in China, meticulously documented and photographed, summary beheadings and all, with the new vogue for both the grunts working at Abu Ghraib and the insurgents to record and revel in their own depravity. War and crimes do of course go together like love and marriage, and the second world war, with the Holocaust, the Wehrmacht's assault on Russia and the eventual Soviet revenge after the hell of Stalingrad was only what many would argue was the inevitable conclusion of both a total war footing and the dehumanising ever-present propaganda, but this was on a scale never before reached and will hopefully never be reached again.

Kamm's article on Hiroshima is only part of the malaise currently afflicting those referred to as the pro-war left, the "muscular liberals" and many other less than complimentary epithets. Johann Hari, formerly a proud member of the squad has in the last few weeks been causing major ructions after he reviewed Nick Cohen's book-length polemic on the failings of the left, and treated it with a disdain that few would have thought he previously would have shown. A flurry of replies from others sympathetic to the cause followed, with Harry's Place, the online home of the pro-war left removing a post after the possible involvement of Suue, Grabbit and Runne was invoked. Hari himself was one of the first of the gang to recant his support; as he points out in his opening, others such as David Aaronovitch and Norman Geras have also reluctantly admitted that they were wrong. Only Christopher Hitchens, Kamm and Cohen himself are among those sticking to their initial guns.

I suspect many of us who were anti-war would never have been opposed to the conflict if we had believed that the intentions of the "coalition of the willing" had been as pure as the pro-war left either decided they were. The thing was, the history both of Iraq, of occupations, the region and of total displays of power all pointed towards a potential for the situation now on the ground. Everyone could agree that Saddam was a mass-murderer who needed to be overthrown; where we differed was over how and when it could be achieved. The pro-war left never cared much for the weapons of mass destruction argument, except in the same way as both the US and UK cared for it, as a fig-leaf. While the motives behind the invasion are still not much clearer now, the passion displayed behind the pro-war intellectual argument was, as Hari writes, down to the suffering of the Iraqi people and Saddam's "fascism". Never mind that much of this was down, not to Saddam and his torture chambers, but instead to the crippling sanctions that impoverished most of those outside of Saddam's favoured circle, and the in-effect non-stop war from the sky, which cruelly but successfully contained his aspirations, this was the liberal interventionism which Blair had preached from his pulpit in Chicago, and to some it did indeed for a while become a sort of religion. While much of it has petered out as the blood has been spilt in Iraq, you can still see the embers of it burning in the demands for action on Darfur.

Even if the pro-war left had ignored the previous 12 years of policy on Iraq, they still ought to have seen, both in the US boasts about how "shock and awe" was about to descend on Baghdad, and in the vigour and vulgarity of the media support in the States for war, with pro-war protests organised by media companies just how this was going to end. Hari points out how every misdemanour committed by Saddam and then apologised for or minimised by the anti-war movement was seized upon by the muscular liberals, yet when these same atrocities or offences were committed either by the United States, in using chemical weapons in Fallujah and in the widespread use of torture, the pro-war lobby was either silent, or just as apologetic themselves. The nadir came when rather than recognising that the between 1 and 2 million that marched in London on Feburary 15th were a mass movement which represented the whole of British society, they instead continued to bleat about how the left was prostituting itself either to the Muslim organisations which shared none of their values which were signed up to the Stop the War coalition, or to either the unreformed communists or Trotskyists of the Socialist Workers' Party which also made up the bulk of those behind the coalition. They have always been more comfortable in attacking the left for its supposed dalliances and mistakes rather than extracting the hefty rafters from their own eyes. Even Hari himself can't pass up the opportunity to have a dig at Lenin's Tomb, with a spectacularly disingenuous and ill-informed attack.

Despite all the venom that has passed between the commentators who consider themselves on the left who supported the war and those against, I don't think many of us ever doubted the purity of their motives in doing so. Like with the politicians who pushed it through themselves, it was their methods of doing so that have rankled most. Again, like the politicians, those who did support it have also found themselves majorly discredited, Hitchens perhaps becoming the worst off. What was once a brilliant mind has become ever more sodden with the booze and fags, with his latest rant against religion, although a throwback to his younger days, still a very pale imitation of his former self. Cohen, once considered one of the best left-wing writers on where New Labour had gone wrong, finds himself increasingly detested and according to Private Eye had his column half swiped and given over to an ex-Express hack when he refused to give over some of it to writing about celebrities. Not that he's used the space left any better: he recently declared that the likes of Abu Qutada must be deported back to their home countries regardless of any conditions about the possibility of torture and ill-treatment. Kamm of course has always been a joke, a founder of a hedge fund obsessed with Noam Chomsky, pretending to be left-wing while writing most for the Murdoch press, yet even he seems to be descending into self-parody.

Will we in 56 years' time be having the same debate about Iraq that we're now having about Hiroshima? Most of those mentioned above will very likely by then be dead, and I'm not holding out any hopes that I'll be here either. How that debate will then be framed very much still matters now on what happens next. The war, both on ideological and military terms, is still far from over.

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