Saturday, September 01, 2007 

Mike Jackson's written a book!

You know it's a slow news day when all 5 of the BBC's top stories are less than serious, currently taken up with "celebrity" breaches of restraining orders, a Republican sex scandal and a competition for those endowed with facial hair. It'd be nice then to think that the former head of the British army had actually said something of worth to fill the void, except for stating the obvious. No such luck:

General Sir Mike Jackson, the head of the British Army during the invasion of Iraq, has launched a scathing attack on the United States for the way it handled the post-war administration of the country.

The former chief of the general staff said the approach taken by Donald Rumsfeld, the then US defence secretary, was "intellectually bankrupt", describing his claim that US forces "don't do nation-building" as "nonsensical".

All soon becomes clear why Jackson has risen out of his previous slumber to antagonise the Americans, who always respond by chucking their rattles' out of the pram:

Sir Mike's comments - made in his forthcoming autobiography Soldier, serialised exclusively in The Daily Telegraph - represent the most outspoken criticism of American military policy in Iraq to come from a senior British officer.

Jolly good - he's wrote a book! It's slightly reminiscent of Jeremy Greenstock, who alongside Jack Straw was involved in the bullying and bribing of the other security council members back in 2003 during the attempts to gain a second resolution, only once he had been involved in the invasion to write a book which was highly critical of both of the Americans and the failure to plan for the aftermath. According to newspaper reports, Greenstock described the US decision to go to war as "politically illegitimate", but that sure didn't stop him from going along with it and supporting and arguing for the war in public. Greenstock's book however was blocked - apparently for divulging sensitive discussions between Blair and others, and has never been published. Mike Jackson however satisfied himself that the war was legal:

Sir Mike says he satisfied himself on the legality of invading Iraq by careful study of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and concluded that action was "legitimate under international law without a 'second' resolution.

Not that it isn't pleasant to see the Americans getting criticised for once - the spiteful, ridiculous remarks by certain army figures about the UK's role in Basra showed how much they appreciate the backing they've received since 2003, as does the refusal to cooperate with inquests into the deaths of UK servicemen from "friendly fire". Special relationship? More like an abusive marriage with our cowardly politicians too scared to file for divorce.

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Friday, August 31, 2007 

10 years of turning in the grave.

As tempting as it is to ignore the whole sorry spectacle of today's ostentatious yet banal processions of manufactured grief and remembrance, or dismiss it with a post like "10 years on: Diana still dead", it's hard not to conclude that Diana's death really did change Britain, although not in the way that either the tabloids or most of the more serious pontificating hacks have tried to claim.

Like a decade ago, it's Private Eye's front cover that's provided an alternative narrative to the more mainstream one. Then it punctured the lachrymose, sanctimonious and overbearing mood which most of the press were attempting to enforce on the nation, pointing out the most base hypocrisy of a media which had spent most of its time criticising the Princess, sometimes in the most strident of terms, only then to beatify her once she can no longer actually respond to it, so much so that it was temporarily removed from some shops for daring to speak up for those alienated and appalled by the turn of events. This week it's again both poked fun at and pointed the finger at the media, having exploited her image for their own ill-gotten gains for the last 10 years, with Diana saying she hopes that they haven't just used one of her well-worn photographs to sell more copies.

While it's just a coincidence, it's also intuitive that the latest series of that other tedious behemoth, Big Brother, comes to a close tonight. Just as some celebrate the notion that Diana's death brought us together, made us more comfortable with expressing our emotions and established a new era of understanding and openness which has resurfaced recently with the desperate cases of Madeleine McCann and Rhys Jones, she also did more than anyone else, or rather the media's endless pursuit of her did, to establish the cult of celebrity. While Helen of Troy may have launched a thousand ships, it was Diana that has helped launch thousands of magazines, books and other paraphernalia, an avalanche of low culture which even now shows no signs of abating.

Whether you ascribe to the theory that the media "killed" Diana or not, whether through the paparazzi who chased her through the Paris streets into that fateful tunnel, or just the editors' who demanded the never ending stream of photographs which meant she was followed wherever she went, it's not that far a leap from the cameras stalking one woman to the cameras watching contestants out for a fast buck, both being used as cash cows while pretending to care for their wellbeing. Diana was a real-life soap opera, her Panorama interview the most cathartic episode in its history, only to be overshadowed by a killing off that some doom-mongers may have predicted but was never expected to actually happen. What else is reality television if not the controlled chaos of throwing numerous incompatible people together and seeing what happens? Doom-mongers like myself have long been predicting that this most unethical and distasteful of junk programming will eventually end in a preventable tragedy; while it is yet to happen, judging by how this latest series of BB has been denounced as both the worst and most boring yet, you almost imagine that the producers would actually have liked something similar to happen. They only have themselves to blame: what do you expect when you throw photogenic but completely empty and self-absorbed, mostly young individuals together? Then again, who else would want to go on such shows? It's like flies trying to stop themselves from sitting on shit.

At the very least, Diana occasionally had something of interest to say, or a cause to support that others in her position wouldn't have touched with a bargepole. The very fact that she was far from perfect, a flawed person just like all the rest of us, made her both great friends and great enemies. When her death brought about the biggest reverse ferret in tabloid history, it showed how if there's one thing that riles up the gutter press, it's someone who doesn't always get things right. They hated her because while she indulged them, she also knew when to draw the line, as well as the fact that she was more popular than they could ever possibly be. Only in death could they truly love her, as only then was every little detail about her profitable: while she could object, answer back or tell her side, they couldn't get away with printing the crap they've spent the last ten years selling and producing.

Rather than learning from this model though, today's celebrities have gone the other way entirely; doing everything they possibly can to suck up to the media, even though it holds the key to both their success and their potential destruction. Without Diana, there could have been no Jordan or Kerry Katona, or all the other hideous, talentless morons that have filled the vacuum of the last ten years. Does it saying something about us or about our popular culture that a former glamour model with expandable on command breasts could be worth millions, producing a perfume, lingerie, "writing" novels and have cameras follow her everywhere without anyone suggesting that this is the most facile, vapid, ridiculous and obnoxious of insults to collective intelligence yet seen?

In actuality, the last decade has seen the media learn how to both exploit and even engineer breakdowns and personal problems. While some of this is cynically produced by the women's gossip magazines who are in cahoots with the celebrities themselves, flagging up every slight wobble in a relationship, some of it is voyeurism bordering on the morbid. The recent obsession with Amy Winehouse, a young, somewhat talented woman obviously addicted both to drugs and her husband, with the paparazzi following her every movement, from alleged fights to the beach, has surely been reminiscent how Diana was chased around during her last summer. That some have made reference to "Sid and Nancy" almost makes you wonder whether they'd actually like history to repeat itself so that they can sell some more newspapers and say "I told you so". Something similar has gone on with Pete Doherty and Kate Moss, although both are far less sympathetic figures. Rebekah Wade's blast against her hacks for their failure to get an interview with Doherty, saying that they had "lost any journalistic ability they had ever had" was indicative of just what has happened to tabloid journalism: no longer for the people, but for the rich to tell their sob stories to.

We shouldn't be surprised then that the Daily Express, on today of all days, can't even hold back from splashing its bottomless barrel of conspiracy theories on its front page, while the Daily Mail had a guide to today's service, which if the Grauniad is to be believed, had a hand in making Camilla decide not to attend, having read a "devastating" article by Diana's "close friend" Rosa Monckton in the Mail on Sunday. Monckton was no doubt in attendance today, although Paul Burrell, having apparently offended everyone with his money making through his books wasn't invited. If that same principle had been extended to the press, Monckton herself, who has wrote a children's book associated with Diana, and countless others, no one would have been there. Everyone with as much as a passing acquittance with her has filled their boots, and why not, when that great example the Daily Mail abandoned its pledge to never buy paparazzi pictures again with a matter of days? Quite why both the BBC and ITV had to show the "service of thanksgiving", a classic example of the aristocracy pretending that it cares while still doing its best to stick two fingers up to everyone with a difference of opinion, shows how the broadcasters can't cope with the loss of ratings even on a Friday morning in August.

If there is to be anything gained from bringing up this whole regrettable torrent of sentimentality, it ought to be that from now on we let the poor woman rest in peace. If the media continue to bombard us with her image, if writers continue to produce sordid memoirs revealing nothing new except their abject lack of originality and desire to earn some quick cash and if Mohamed Al-Fayed and friends continue to spout their debunked and discredited theories, all deserve to have mass boycotts imposed upon them. We shouldn't let a media at least partly responsible for her death continue to profit from it, without demanding that they reform themselves so something similar never occurs again. That all of this is a pipe dream, an impossibility, doesn't mean that it isn't true or necessary. After all, who's responsible? You (we) fucking are.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007 

The state of Iraq.

As the long-awaited September 15th report to Congress by General Petraeus on the progress of the so-called "surge" gets ever closer, likely to be somewhat optimistic over a slight drop in sectarian violence but highly critical over the Iraqi government's failure to meet the goals set down to it, the rhetoric, propaganda and downright lies of the Bush administration have been ratcheted up accordingly.

Last week saw the quite incredible sight of a man who did everything he could to avoid going to Vietnam using the blood spilled on both sides of that disastrous war to justify the continued presence of US troops in Iraq. Even Christoper Hitchens was moved to condemn it. This mangled, ahistorical account of events, in effect claiming that the US withdrawal led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, when in fact the spreading of the war into Cambodia through mass-bombing raids was almost certainly the trigger for the overthrow of the government as those targeted joined Pol Pot's insurgency, ought to have been expected from an administration that doesn't just misunderstand history, but has from the beginning wanted to create its own reality. As the unnamed Bush administration aide told Ron Suskind, "we're an empire now". Four years on, thousands of dead American servicemen later, the administration in its desperation continues to try to make its own unreality, only to be brought down by its own imperial hubris.

When fatuous, intellectually bankrupt allusions to past horrors fail to enthuse the American public and the "Defeatocrats" continue to call for a withdrawal as quickly as possible, it was inevitable that the next bogeyman had to be pulled out of the president's battered hat. To accuse Iran, although no innocent party in Iraq of "murderous activities" may just be ever so slightly rich coming from the man personally responsible for the disaster that has led, directly or indirectly to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents. Iran probably has supplied some of the Shia militias with weapons; it'd be more surprising if they'd stood idly by and watched as their neighbour and once most feared enemy was removed, especially as thousands of jihadists, some of whom have denounced the Shia as "kuffar", and a result just as much a threat to Iran as to America, moved into the vacuum of power. Why on earth though would the Sunni insurgent groups want the help of the hated mullahs of Iran when they can just buy the weapons supplied to the Iraqi army and police by the US on the black-market, almost 190,000 of them? Besides, Saddam and his army, handily disbanded by Paul Bremer, had also left behind vast stockpiles of both explosives and weaponry in caches across the country, giving the insurgents more than enough to be going on with, at least up until recently.

For all the claims, both from the Bush administration, General Petraeus and some sections of the media that the surge has worked or at least been working, the security situation outside of Baghdad, where most of the extra troops have deployed, has deteriorated accordingly. Call it the Fallujah effect: like how the majority of the insurgents moved out of the city on both occasions when it was laid surge to by American forces, the fighters get out of an area about to be specifically targeted and move elsewhere, leaving pockets of resistance behind which fight on. Where the insurgency was once strongest in Anbar province and Baghdad, it's moved now to Diyala and up towards Mosul, regrouping and reconstituting. The barbaric slaughter of the Yezidis in multiple suicide bombings, killing over 500, almost certainly carried out by the "Islamic State of Iraq", was only the most visible statement of their ability to attack anywhere and nearly anyone. Despite the surge, June saw the highest average number of daily attacks on US troops since the beginning of the war, reaching 177. As Juan Cole has pointed out, this has happened during the stifling heat of the summer months, when it becomes almost too hot to do anything during the day.

Keeping cool in temperatures approaching 120F has in fact got even worse. The power in Baghdad is now barely on for more than an hour a day, sometimes for 2 if they're lucky. The near collapse of the power grid doesn't just affect the obvious, it's also making the sewage situation in the Iraqi cities even worse, and the news that cholera has broken out in northern regions of Iraq is only surprising in that it's occurred there and not further south. The queues for fuel are just as bad as ever, if not worse, according to IraqSlogger, sadly soon to go subscription only.

Despite encouraging signs that al-Qaida in Iraq (now the self-proclaimed "Islamic State of Iraq") was increasingly being turned on, both by local populations formerly supportive, in the form of the Anbar Salvation Council for one, and also by other insurgent groupings sickened by the repeated attacks on innocent civilians, leading to the formation of the "Reform and Jihad Front", led mainly by the Islamic Army in Iraq, there appears to be little sign of the organisation losing its ability both to attract jihadis from overseas and willing suicide bombers, or its ability to launch deadly attacks. The animosity between the IAI and the ISI may well have been overstated by both reporters and the US for obvious reasons: there was a reported truce (there have been others, only for them also to quickly break down), only to be followed by a suicide bombing apparently targeting the local IAI leadership in Fallujah. As almost all the suicide bombings are carried out by the ISI (Ansar-al Sunnah and the newly formed and little known "Shield of Islam" have carried out others), it's highly likely to have been the latest, and quite possibly the most serious fratricidal attack between two of the Sunni insurgent groups so far. Evan F. Kohlmann has produced a vital, highly in-depth report on the state of the Sunni insurgency, well worth reading, which is available here (PDF).

While it's obvious that a full withdrawal may well temporarily cause casualties to escalate, the presence of the US is only now making the security situation worse, and the longer they stay the longer it will take for the Iraqi army and police to stand up on their own. While much of the insurgency is being kept going only by the presence of US troops, it's also certain that the Islamic State of Iraq, links to the actual leadership of al-Qaida or not, is going to continue its guerrilla war against whoever is nominally in power. The removal of the US from the equation may actually galvanise the groups opposed to al-Qaida into fully facing up to its distortion both of Islam and of humanity; while the US cannot destroy it, the Iraqis themselves certainly can. Whether the US leaves next year, in 5 years or 10 years, the re-awakened tensions between Sunni and Shia are also going to play out regardless, and the drop in sectarian violence, rather than being down to American pressure, might be more due to both factions gradually coming to their senses. As for the British presence, we need to get out, and now. It's that simple.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007 

Scum-watch: Keeping the explicit images at bay.

Incredible news over on the Sun's website, where the paper is pretending to be outraged over Jonathan Yeo's collage of George Bush made out of over 100 top-shelf magazines. Before you get out the hand lotion, the Sun has kindly put up a disclaimer:

The Sun has obscured the most explicit images in the piece.

Quite right too, as you never know when younger readers might be browsing the website. Strange then that the paper's sidebar navigation provides links to plenty of other places where you can get your rocks off. Clicking on virals, the Sun happily presents the avid masturbator with that oft-presented online sight, women covered in body paint, although at least the lady on the left has had her nipples obscured by some well-placed stars. Next down is slideshows, almost entirely dedicated to a collection of images of various celebrities, some in states of undress. Then there's Ibiza Exposed, with yet more scantily-clad young ladies, although many of these seem to breaking the Sun's usual stance on the consumption of recreational drugs. Finally, how could we possibly forgot, where two clicks will provide you with today's latest gorgeous pouting glamour girl, along with videos from the Scum's less classy nationwide wet t-shirt competition, from the exotic locations of Watford and Chelmsford amongst others.

Then again, we could have just looked at the front page itself, where just above the story on Yeo's collage the newspaper aptly illustrates a silly season study that British women are more likely to have cosmetic surgery to please partners than their counterparts in the US with a typically pneumatic woman in a bikini top. Alongside the main story, we're informed that Kate (who she?) has a great carear (geddit?!). Finally, beanpole cocaine hoover Tara Palmer-Tompkinson and Sharon Marshall (who she?) provide advice on how to be "very, very naughty":

BEING a sexy, single and naughty girl is the most fun you’ll ever have. But only if you get out there and enjoy it. If you go out less often than the Olympic Flame then you haven’t made the most of it.

Even if your flat is a lovely, peaceful, shiny and fluffy pussycat-filled heaven, we want you out of it sometimes. At least twice a week. In high heels and (gusset-free) hosiery, please.

Men have broken our hearts. Sharon got so fat from sulking she ended up doing a TV dieting show (Celebrity Fit Club).

Tara got so thin, the paparazzi needed magnifying glasses to find her. We’ve each been at our lowest ebb. But it was time to pull up our stockings.

Forget the 12 steps to recovery, we’ve gone straight to step 13 – the naughty step. Bye bye Miss Goody Two-Shoes, hello Miss Sh*g Me Shoes And Stockings.

Thank God they censored shag; someone might otherwise have been offended.

Elsewhere, the Sun is poised to carry out a totally unique piece of investigative journalism, but first they need your help:

IF your name is KATIE PRICE we need you!

We are planning a feature and need to speak to women all around the country who share their name with glamour model Katie Price, AKA Jordan.

WHATEVER your age we need your help and will pay you for your time if you agree to take part in this amazing Sun feature.

If you are not called Katie Price but you know someone who is, whether it be your grandma or granddaughter, tell them to get in touch before they miss out on this exciting opportunity.

Find out more by calling 0207 782 4344 or email NOW

Through my contacts I've been able to obtain a copy of the questionnaire that the Sun's hacks will be using to interview all those who get in contact. Keep this under your hats folks:

1. Is your name Katie Price?
2. What are your vital statistics?
3. Will you let us take photographs of your breasts for a comparison feature in Britain's number one newspaper?

A Pulitzer prize is no doubt on its way.

P.S. The Sun is succeeding in establishing a culture of suspicion in its readers' when it comes to the evil of child pornography. From a comment on the George Bush story:

Ok so the creator of this insult has a sick mind and is a porn junkie, has the image been checked for child porn images?

You can never be too careful.

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The Daily Moolah.

Despite the Daily Mail's new found concern about how the gap between the ultra-rich and the poor might lead to riots, Paul Dacre's decision to go after the feckless rich has unsurprisingly not spread to the boardroom. According to the Guardian's pay survey of the FTSE 100 companies, Padraic M Fallon, one of the Daily Mail and General Trust plc's executive directors received a cash bonus of £2,006,000 last year, placing him tenth in the top ten employees' cash bonuses chart. The Viscount Rothermere also makes the top ten chairmen chart, taking home a cool £827,284. Futhermore, Paul Dacre himself, the new scourge of the fat cats and champion of the downtrodden middle classes, according to Private Eye earned a salary and bonuses totalling £1.23 million. While many of the readers of his newspaper might find themselves with little in their pension pot, Mr Dacre himself has no such worries, as the Guardian puts him in a very select club of people who will be able to call upon a yearly fund of up to £500,000 following his retirement. Not bad work for scaring your customers senseless every day of the week.

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Comedy moment of the day.

Irony continues to smother everything, even an impromptu prison officers strike:

Affected prisons include:

Cardiff prison where inmates locked in their cells have taunted a picket line in the car park with shouts of "You're breaking the law"

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007 

Scrabbling over the bodies for political gain.

If you wanted an example of just how polarised Britain is over crime, you need look no further than today's poll in the Grauniad. 49% now believe that prison doesn't work, an astounding figure when you take into account the overwhelming view of the media is directly the opposite. Accordingly, 51% think that building prisons is the wrong way to go, and that an alternative has to be found to punish criminals and deter crime. 46% believe that the answer is to build yet more. Even so, 77% still want judges to pass ever tougher sentences, a finding that only adds to the thinking that the public in general wants to have its cake and eat it.

Perhaps if the Guardian's poll had been published at the weekend, it might have given the Tories some pause for thought before outlining yet another package for tackling what they're calling "Britian's Crime Crisis" (PDF). More a hodge podge bringing together all their recent thinking on how crime has to be tackled than any radically new thinking, it's clear that the Tories have decided that there's the equivalent of political money to be made out of the blood recently spilt on Britain's streets.

That would be unpleasant enough on its own, but it's also apparent that this is Cameron's attempt to turn the death of Rhys Jones into his own "Bulger" moment. While James Bulger's murder was a horrifying anomaly, the death of Jones does at its root have much to say about modern life in Britain in 2007. Even so, it by no means proves that we're living in a broken society, no more than Bulger's death back in 1993 said that we were a sick society. His death was however though the excuse or cue needed for political opportunism on all sides, leading directly to Michael Howard's "prison works!" speech to his party's conference, Blair's "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime", which was actually Gordon Brown's soundbite, and Lib Dem David Alton's thankfully failed attempt to ban all films with a certificate higher than 12 from being released on video. Appropriately, you can find elements of all three knee-jerk reactions in Cameron's own knee-jerk response to Labour's knee-jerking over the last 10 years.

The document opens with an introduction by none other than David Cameron himself, which means we can directly accuse him of scrabbling over the dead for his own political gain. "Deaths by fists, knives and guns are becoming a regular feature of British news" - they haven't always been? "It is simply unacceptable -- a moral reproach to our country -- that someone should have the opportunity and inclination to kill an 11-year-old child with a handgun" - seeing as we don't know whether Jones was the target of the shooting yet or not, hadn't we ought to concentrate on the facts rather than start issuing blanket statements on the state of the nation before anyone has even been charged, yet alone tried? Next he tries to accuse Labour of failing to understand the problem, quoting Blair when he said that it was a "specific problem within a specific criminal culture", without bothering to mention the fact he was talking about gun crime and not violent crime in general, and most likely also trying to blame it all on black youths, as he subsequently did later in the year. Then comes the selective use of statistics that back up what the Tories are saying: that violent crime has doubled in ten years, without acknowledging that the British Crime Survey, regarded as more authoritative, says the opposite; that gun-violence has increased four-fold, dealt with by Unity here; and that knife crime has doubled in the last two years alone, without mentioning that this is robberies involving knives and that it's on disputed figures when the actual research hasn't even been released yet. Then we get the American "example" shoved down our throats yet again, also involving either some faulty quoting of statistics or a deliberate mistake: the murder rate did indeed fall between the years 1990 and 98, but it was from 2,246 to 924, not 2,245 to 633. The most recent figures recorded 874 murders in New York in 2005, which is still more than in both England and Wales as a whole. The least said about the ridiculous "Social Covenant" that Cameron's come up with, a patronising document more familiar to school children than responsible adults the better.

What then are then Cameron's great new ideas to solve our crime crisis? The actions with supposed immediate effect are thus: firstly, he wants to abolish the police stop form, which has to be filled out whenever a police officer stops someone, although one gets the feeling that this is hardly followed to the letter. More controversially is the extending of stop and search, even though some police officers have already raised concerns that the powers they already have are being abused. This would give ordinary constables the power to seal off any area where they believed that someone was carrying or hiding firearms for up to 48 hours. Seeing as black and Asian men are already those most likely stopped under stop and search, you can imagine where this will most end up getting used. The Tories want a review that would examine what restrictions would be necessary to prevent excessive use or abuse of such power, but one hardly expects that it would come up with much. Next up is "permanent police visibility", which as we know is no panacea and can increase the fear of crime rather than necessarily reassure, but it's a simple and popular measure. They also want to reform the police, but don't exactly overburden us with details on either how or why. Penultimately they bring up last week's suggestion that magistrates remove or suspend the right to a driving license, which is unlikely to affect the average gang-member who doesn't have the money to either learn or own a car, and besides, if they're really that involved in such low-level crime, why should they care either about bothering to get a license or getting their own car when there's others out there to steal? Last is the idiotic scrapping of the early release scheme, even though there's no extra prison places which can be used or brought on stream quickly. The suggestion that prison ships or camps should be used is an example of the Tories stealing John Reid's most Sun-pleasing and ridiculous policies, which he realised he couldn't actually achieve once they were looked into. Still, what does that matter to a Tory party that's still in opposition and doesn't actually have to be good to its word? Cameron's speech on the matter also showed his own personal ignorance: he suggested that cells should be used by two inmates rather than one, even though that's exactly what is happening right now. The very reason the early release scheme was brought in was because the prisons chief executive rejected the idea of putting three inmates into a cell meant for one, knowing it was a recipe for riots and even more violence and suicides.

The actions with medium-term effect aren't much better. Enforcing school discipline is easier said than done, and naturally, the Tories' suggest making home-school contracts enforceable. Us lucky adults get a social covenant, the kids get a junior version which if disobeyed can lead directly to their exclusion. Lastly, the ever popular voluntary and independent sector has to have a hand in helping those expelled. Next to come under fire is alcohol licensing, even though the real effect of the introduction of the changes in November 2005 has yet to be properly established in any real fashion. The problem with alcohol isn't when or how it's available, it's down to how the people themselves consume it, which is predictably forgotten because that is something that will take a lot longer to tackle. Local control over policing might be the only worthwhile suggestion out of this whole sorry lot, although local people really want yet another election for a local "Crime Commissioner" (which is an Orwellian term if there ever was one), who would hold the local chief constable to public account is another matter. The Tories claim they'll restore honesty to sentencing, which seems to amount to ordering judges to hand down both a minimum and a maximum sentence, just to confuse things even further, with no one released on parole before the end of the minimum. Considering the way the tabloids etc responded to the minimum sentences handed down to Learco Chindamo, Craig Sweeney et al, this might not be the cure all the Tories think it will be. Magistrates will be given the power to send someone down for a year, also announced last week. They also promise to build more prison places, while also "ensuring appropriate provision for the mentally ill and offenders with drug problems", something that Labour has been promising for years and has spectacularly failed to follow up on. There's no reason to think the Tories will fare any better. Finally, the Tories will introduce that wonderful border police force we're all crying out for, and rip up the "hated" Human Rights Act, for no other reason than it'll please the Daily Mail and Sun while destroying some of Churchill's legacy. How times change.

The long-term actions are just as underwhelming. The Tories will discriminate in favour of families, bribing the middle classes while sticking one up to the single mother in standard fashion, while also introducing flexible working for those with children, which should please the CBI no end. Cameron's favoured bugbear, hip hop and rap music, will apparently be tackled by the party having a "regular process of consultation" with music producers. Considering that most of the music he's so disgusted by is American in origin, no doubt there'll be regular trips across the Atlantic, presumably on a boat so as not to affect his carbon footprint. Also coming under fire, in a direct parallel to Bulger's death are films and video games, even though the BBFC is still one of the strictest censorship bodies in the western world, as the banning of Manhunt 2 has shown. The problem isn't with films/games getting more violent, it's with the parents that are buying them for their darling children despite the certificates they've been given. As ever, children are used as a justification to stop adults from making their own decisions about what they want to watch or play. Lastly, the Tories will reform welfare by, you've guessed it, handing it over to the independent, voluntary and commercial organisations to sort out the feckless jobless. Nothing about tackling inequality or poverty, but just what did you expect?

Just then as the public comes to the realisation that prison really doesn't work, that the endless crackdowns and knee-jerk responses have failed, the Tories outline their own detailed, badly thought out and highly discriminatory reflex to end all reflexes. Our society is broken, but don't worry, the Tories have come up with the quickest sticking plaster "solution" of all time. Whether the families of those killed will be receptive to the Tories' use of their dead relatives for their own political benefit remains to be seen.

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Monday, August 27, 2007 

When a picture says more than thousands of words.

Out of the thousands of words that have been expelled (including by myself) on the murder of Rhys Jones, it's perhaps fitting that it's a cartoon that's come closest to saying the most while using the least amount of syllables.

Whether we blame the parents, gang culture, the search for (and lack of) respect, educational failure, crushing poverty, braggadocio, the police, Thatcherism, Blairism, violence in popular culture, little green men, political correctness, alienation, single mothers, the Cheeky Girls, all or none of these things, or even the person who fired the gun, I think we can all agree that Jones' parents shouldn't keep subjecting themselves to going in front of the camera, trying to shame the perpetrator into coming forward or not. They need to go and grieve in peace, and the media has to let them.

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Utterly shameless.

How then did the Daily Express respond to Gerry McCann's request for the media to stop bombarding the general public with images of his daughter and to scale down the coverage of the search for her? By reproducing yet more unsubstantiated reports from the Portuguese press on the front page, while somehow pretending to be outraged by their very existence, naturally.

Just how much longer is this going to go on for? In a decade's time, is the Express still going to be screaming about supposed new revelations about her disappearance? Is it going to be informing us for the umpteenth time that she really was pregnant when she went missing, honest? Or that the Duke of Edinburgh, allied with MI6, conspired to kidnap her from her bed because she was about to bring down the monarchy through a roll of film stuffed inside her cuddle cat that proved Diana was murdered? I spend most of the time here wittering endlessly and complaining about the stranglehold that the Murdoch press has over both the public and political mood in this country, but not even the Scum is so disgustingly blatant in its futile attempts to boost its circulation through lies, conjecture and downright abuse of those unlucky enough to either have died or gone missing in suspicious circumstances. It's worth remembering that Dirty Desmond was helped along in his purchase of the Express/Star titles through donating £100,000 to the Labour party, meaning we have this government to partially thank for the excuse for journalism which adorns the newsagent shelves every morning.

Speaking of disgustingly futile attempts to boost circulation, something suddenly hit me earlier, and for a change it wasn't someone who had randomly abused me for having the temerity to walk down the same side of the street as them.

POSTERS about The Sun’s £100,000 reward for information that helps catch Rhys’s killer have gone up around Liverpool.

Really? In the same city where the Sun has never been forgiven, nor will it ever be forgiven for its appalling coverage of the Hillsborough disaster? Where the unofficial boycott of the paper has never been lifted? Am I being far too cynical when I think that the Sun's offering of such a reward might be more than just a selfless gesture in response to a shocking crime? If Wikipedia is to be believed, then circulation of the Scum in Liverpool was at around 12,000 in 2004, a fall from 200,000 prior to Hillsborough. The newspaper it seems has plenty to gain and little to lose from offering such a reward. After all, who would ever accuse it of having anything other than the very best motives at heart?

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