Saturday, September 29, 2007 

Scum-watch: Irresponsible vagueness, referendum tedium and the return of seeing no ships.

According to the Grauniad, the detectives investigating the murder of Rhys Jones are still a long way from having the evidence necessary to be able to bring charges against a suspect who has now been named 12 times by different individuals as the person caught on CCTV prior to Jones' death.

What possibly better time then for the Scum to publish a photograph of the alleged killer on its front page, even suitably masked?

THE prime suspect in the killing of Rhys Jones is said to be a tearaway “mummy’s boy”.

Twelve people identified the teenager after seeing CCTV footage on Wednesday’s BBC Crimewatch show about the shooting of Rhys, 11.

It showed a hoodie-wearing youth on a bike at the murder scene on the night Rhys was shot in Liverpool.

The suspect, pictured today for the first time, cannot be identified for legal reasons.

He is a football-mad youngster — just as Everton fan Rhys was.

But he is also said to be a gang member who makes money running drugs.

Except he, whoever he is, isn't even a suspect yet; according to the Scum article, he was one of those arrested and released on bail. Isn't this the exact same newspaper decrying the treatment of the McCanns, who have been named as official suspects, now more than happy to splash completely unverifiable information about a "suspect" in another high-profile case? Indeed, they're loving being able to have it both ways: today's article about the McCanns, also on the front page, repeats the latest "slur" by the Portuguese police about Madeleine's disappearance, then condemns them for it. The McCanns are at least able to defend themselves, having the lucky support of millionaires and a former BBC journalist acting as their spokesman; whoever this child is has no way of denying the allegations printed about him.

In actual fact, the supposed details about him are so vague as to be even more potentially discriminatory. There are no doubt dozens of kids on the two estates that fit the description of being football mad, supporting Liverpool, and possibly involved in dropping off drugs. While it's true that the community might well already know who the killer is, the Guardian reporting earlier in the week that the name has been written on walls, all this article is likely to do is increase the possibility of the perpetrator deciding that it's time to make a run for it. Perhaps again the fact that the paper is still widely loathed in Liverpool has gone into the decision to print, although if it was, the fact the article is freely available online means that anyone not wanting to hand over money to the Murdoch empire can still read it and draw their own conclusions. At best this is shaky, questionable reporting and at worst it's downright irresponsible. Not that that's ever stopped the Sun before.

Elsewhere, the campaign for a vote on the EU reform treaty rumbles tediously on:

Even Girls Aloud want to vote

SHE may be in the world’s sexiest girl band but Nicola Roberts is more concerned about Britain’s future than her nails or make up. The Girls Aloud star recently voiced her dismay at the younger generation’s disregard for politics.

Here she explains why it is crucial Britain has a referendum on Something Kinda EU.

And so for 330 mealy-mouthed, no doubt Sun hack ghosted words, Roberts informs us of how vital it is we have a vote. Either she's an avid reader of the Sun, or she shares an uncanny knack of being able to write in a style incredibly similar to that of the average Sun galley-slave:

Personally I’m against us signing up under the terms being suggested because it means we will be handing over so many powers to unelected representatives in Europe.

It will mean they could bring in new laws and dictate the way we lead our lives in Britain. That’s why I think that, if we do get a referendum, we should vote No.

How right you are Nicola, and your view is certainly not undermined by the following:

If young people today don’t know anything about the EU constitution they should go and educate themselves and find out how it could affect them because it’s important.

As perhaps you should instead of prostituting yourself to the Murdoch shilling. If Roberts is genuine about young people getting involved and informed about political issues, she's hardly a shining example by shamelessly parroting the line of the newspaper which just happens to be featuring "her" warblings, or indeed giving the impression that the Sun will educate you about anything other than tits.

Moving on, an older member of a Girls Aloud tribute band has also been sounding off, at least after consulting her psychiatrists:

LADY Thatcher last night sensationally backed The Sun’s campaign for an EU Treaty referendum.

Yes, truly sensational. Old Conservative Eurosceptic prime minister favours a referendum. Hold the front page! It's worth remembering of course that it was her stance on Europe which finally helped bring her down, and which has also helped keep her party out of power for the last 10 years. Apart from that though, really amazing.

Finally, if you wanted any further proof that Brown is either no change to Blair or is moving even further to the right, we've got yet another resurrection of an old failed policy:

FRANTIC Jack Straw has finally bowed to The Sun’s campaign to bring in a PRISON SHIP — as jail overcrowding hit an all-time high.

The Justice Minister was last night deciding which of three suitable vessels will be most cost-effective.

Just in case you need reminding, the last prison ship was sold off after if it was condemned by the head of the prison inspectorate, Anne Owers. Amongst the problems with it was that it was "unacceptably cramped and claustrophobic" and had "no access to fresh air". Despite being meant to be a training prison, "jobs for inmates were "very limited"". How these problems, inherent with ships' design will be overcome is predictably unexplained.

With the Daily Mail already successfully wooed, don't be surprised if this is the first part of the offensive to get the Sun even further on side. If Brown does call an election this coming week, it'll hardly be a huge shock if he decides to change tack and announce there will be a referendum on the EU reform treaty after all.

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Officially the 195th worst UK political blog.

Iain Dale's list of the top 500 political blogs in the UK has been published, and the results are broadly in line with what I expected. I came 195th, which certainly isn't bad, and again, thanks to those who voted for me. You're the reason I keep going.

I'm not going to bitch too much (Oh yeah? Ed.) about some of the selections and placings, but Lenin's Tomb at 206, on traffic alone should no way be below myself, whatever your thoughts about the political views expressed there. Prague Tory, which actually went into hibernation a while ago, seems far too high at 19, and I'm sure the same could be said for Caroline Hunt at 24. Pickled Politics ought to be higher than 34; Rachel seems relatively low at 49; Bloggerheads has fell massively, probably due to the rift with Iain and Guido, to 57; WebCameron? Fucking WebCameron at 66?; Stumbling and Mumbling deserves better than 70; Luke Akehurst, the Hazel Blears of the online world, is a laughable 72; Mad Melanie Philips, the conspiracy theorist acceptable to the middle classes and the lunatic right-wingers makes 81; the insufferably pompous Noam Chomsky obsessed hedge funder who hasn't managed to get a thing right in years, Oliver Kamm, is 97th; and, which isn't even a blog but rather an archive of his Grauniad articles, makes 129; Not Saussure, if not for his disappearance from the online world, would surely be higher than 160, as would be A Big Stick, Small Carrot, one suspects; Europhobia is low at 168; and finally, Flying Rodent ought to be far, far higher than a shockingly low 252.

Slight update: I got so involved in my whine that I forgot to actually link to the post. Durr.

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Friday, September 28, 2007 

Killing field.

I haven't written anything else about the Burmese protests and brutal crackdown, as there really doesn't seem to be much to add that isn't already being said and said better. With the military apparently having severed the remaining internet access, mobile networks down and phone lines also dead, it's difficult to know exactly what's happened today, although it seems that the protests were sparser and less well attended, for obvious reasons. Some reports are mentioning that snipers, in addition to the vast numbers of soldiers, are being brought in to Rangoon.

The Grauniad reported yesterday that elements within the army were siding with the monks, and that has been somewhat confirmed by a report from Mizzima which suggests that two light battalions have been fighting amongst themselves. Irrawaddy, which is loading incredibly slowly, suggests that Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye, the second-in-command and commander-in-chief of the army has disagreed with the crackdown order by the junta's chief, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, and that he's scheduled to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, which would be an incredibly welcome development if true. The Democratic Voice of Burma has obtained a photograph of a dead Burmese man, apparently shot dead, which would suggest that the claims of only 9 deaths are well short of the mark, as various politicians have been stating. Mask of Anarchy has some links to al-Jazeera's coverage of the uprising, while Blood and Treasure has more news of the battalions fighting.

Irrawaddy's subtitle seems to sum it all up at the moment: killing field. This is always encouraging though:

Men were shouting at the soldiers in English:
"Fuck you. Go fuck yourself."

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Even more immigrants are coming!

As Five Chinese Crackers has noted, there's been something of an upsurge again recently in the (scare) stories about immigration, with the Mail alone publishing an astonishing 24 in just 7 days. While he noted that there's a chance of an election and that the Labour conference has been on, with various members of not so new Labour literally falling over themselves to suck up to the Daily Mail, it might well be because next month sees the publishing of the first official comprehensive analysis of the impact of immigration. Prior to that though, the Office of National Statistics has helpfully given the tabloids something additional to shriek about:

Immigrants will swell the British population by almost two million in the next decade, according to official predictions.

Whitehall now believes the record immigration levels of the past few years are likely to continue.

The projection drew an immediate admission from the Government that it has "worries" over migration.

The new estimate by the Office for National Statistics - that numbers will grow by 190,000 a year - is 30 per cent higher than previous figures.

The ONS went back to the drawing board
(PDF) after it factored in the much higher rates of migration in 2004 and 2005 (although it also states that better ways of counting may have had a bigger impact), upping its estimate from earlier in the year from 145,000 to 190,000. This itself makes a nonsense of the Mail's claim on its front page that "the government has massively underestimated" immigration, as the ONS had actually underestimated the estimate, guesstimate, projection, prediction, whatever you want to call it, based on the current net figures, immigrants less emigrants. As any fule will know, you trust such estimates with extreme caution, especially this government's. It's quite possible, because this is a projection all the way up to 2031, which is not just a very, very long time in politics, but also in world events, that these figures will end up way out of whack, and not necessarily as an underestimate, but an overestimate. Due to the figures being based on 2004 and 2005, which were the first major years' of eastern European migration, they may well distort a pattern which could already be on the turn. Both of the sets of figures released so far this year suggest that migration from Poland, etc has reached its likely peak, and while the tabloids love to quote the 700,000 figure who have come so far, we simply don't know how many of those have since returned home: the vast majority state on their applications that they intend to stay less than a year, meaning we see them enter but we don't see them leave.

Andrew Green has as usual been sticking his nose in:

Migrationwatch chief Sir Andrew Green said yesterday: "This new assumption at last recognises that the present very high levels of immigration are likely to continue unless the Government moves from rhetoric to really effective measures."

He said the figures mean the population will have increased by 8.7million between 2004 and 2031, of which 7.2million will be due to immigration, including the children of migrants.

What Green has done here is... well, I don't know what he's done here, because none of the calculations I've done (and I'll admit maths isn't my strong point) involving the updated figures have managed to add up to 7.2 million. He seems to have taken the estimate that the net migration will total 145,000 each year (from 2004), then multiplied that by the new figure included for the long-term average number of children per woman, which is 1.84. 145,000 x 27 = 3,915,000 x 1.84 = 7,203,600. I can't tell if this is his actual working, even though it seems to be, as it isn't even explained properly on the Migration Watch website. If this is his calculation, it's completely up the spout, as it's firstly using the outdated figures, then treating every single net migrant as a woman, who's going to have the exactly average number of children. This seems to have been where the Express has got its front page splash that "Immigration will add 7 million to our population", which of course is completely out of any context whatsoever, but makes for a nice little frightener. I may quite easily have got the figures completely wrong, so if you see any obvious mistakes, let me know. I've emailed Migration Watch and asked for Green's working in any case.

Perhaps more interesting though is that the Mail is showing signs of being wooed, not just by the new Dear Leader, but also by Liam Byrne's explanation that this may well require action:

In a sign that the open-door era of Mr Blair is over, Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said: "This shows what could happen unless we take action now.

"Frankly it underlines the need for swift and sweeping changes to the immigration system in the next 12 months."

He admitted: "Migration is bringing new wealth but also new worries to Britain."

The statement contrasted sharply with the past attitude of Labour ministers, who have stressed the benefits of immigration and cast doubt on the motives of those who warned it was too high.

Home Office officials said the action promised by Mr Byrne refers to policies already announced.

These include the points-based immigration system for migrants from outside the EU beginning next year.

Christ, if Brown's managed to sate even the Daily Mail, it really must be nearing election time.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007 

The same old shit, rehashed, reheated and served up for all to devour.

If this week's Labour conference was meant to impress upon us how wonderfully different, changed and confident the government is and how they most certainly deserve to be re-elected, then they've done the equivalent of Darren Murphy and fell flat on their faces. From Brown's dirge on Monday to Miliband's miserable monotony on Tuesday, this is a government not just lacking in new ideas, but just as prepared to clamp down on dissension as the old one was. With the spineless unions acquiescing and deciding that those embarrassing critical motions only brought trouble, the votes have disappeared and so has the passion with it. Blair hasn't just been airbrushed out of the picture as so many others have noted, all his policies have been either been getting a kicking even though they haven't been changed or are even being prepared for change, while the rest have been completely ignored, meaning Iraq and Afghanistan have hardly been mentioned, while the "rules of the gaming are changing" turning point has been rubbished even though the ministers have no intentions of actually going back on what came directly from that speech.

According to Tony McNulty then, the rules of the game haven't changed. One would assume from that that it would mean the end of trying to deport "terrorist suspects" back to countries where torture is endemic, articles of understanding or not, the admittance that we have been involved up to the neck in "extraordinary rendition", despite constant laughable denials, and that such flights will never be used nor allowed to land here again, the instant repealing of the ban on unauthorised protests within 1km of parliament, the declaration that 28 days detention without charge is plenty of time for the police to build a case against "terrorist suspects" and that intercept evidence ought to be made admissible, as long as a thorough review gives the OK. As so often with this government, they can when they think it's useful sweet talk their nominal opponents, even Shami Chakrabati, who supposedly called McNulty's rhetoric "music to my ears". Too bad then that Jacqui Smith today yet again brought up the phantom of "seek[ing] consensus on new measures to counter the threat of terrorism", which in other words means they're going to try to ram through a doubling of the time limit like they've always said they would.

Such double-speak seems to have been the order of the day. Jack Straw's sudden decision to review the laws regarding "have-a-go-heroes" is a classic of the gesture politics genre, broadly comparable to the reviewing last year of whether a "Megan's Law" could be introduced here, to which the predictable answer was no. Prosecutions over someone defending themselves, especially in their own home or place of work are incredibly rare because the law already covers acts that are proportionate and reasonable, which quite rightly doesn't cover shooting burglars that are running away in the back. His talking up of his own experiences in stopping crime, which I'm pretty sure every single one of us have at least one, seems to be an attempt to conjure up a tough man image which he never had while Home Secretary before and isn't going to gain now. Besides, what better way to get the Mail and Scum interested than tell them that they can do whatever the hell they like to an intruder or mugger? It'll come to nothing, but it might help in the short term.

The same logic seems to be behind Jacqui Smith's mentioning of zero tolerance, which was all the rage about a month ago in the tabloids when Rhys Jones' murder predictably caused a session of why-oh-whying and how cracking down on youths' hanging around on corners and spitting on the street will naturally mean that they'll be too scared to shoot one another. She drops in a reference on drug treatment to make it slightly more amenable to the wet liberals like my good self, but it all sounds so laughable when the prisons are full of those unable to get on those programmes, as a result wasting away in cells, stuck in the recidivist cycle. For any sort of zero tolerance to be implemented, prison places would have to vastly extended even further than already proposed, itself unlikely to backed up with the necessary cash from the Treasury, not to mention the overcrowding chaos which is already exacerbating re-offending. Even more draconian sentencing for minor offences will only make the situation worse. Additionally, at a time when we learn that there are over 800,000 DNA profiles from children aged between 10 and 17 on the database, we can only imagine how the rolling out of "mobile fingerprinting devices" will quickly even further extend the database with the data of those who are never actually charged. Smith ought to know better than to ask "what sort of politics is it to incite fear and alarm?" of the Tories, because after all, that's been Labour's job for the last 10 years.

The strength to change Britain, the tagline of this soporific conference, seems to involve all the effort of going to the microwave and heating up a takeaway left over from the night before, drunkenly forgotten about. The reheating of old, forgotten or rightly discarded policies for the on message comrades might be enough, but for the rest of us it's just a reminder of a party that still doesn't know where it wants to stand and is terrified of being denounced for choosing.

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Scum-watch: They're kidding, right?

The Scum is continuing its campaign for a referendum in its usual, completely hysterically hypocritical completely non-self aware way:

An untruth does not become true by constant repetition.

Propagandists have used such techniques — known as the Big Lie — through the ages.

The assumption is that if the porky is huge and complex enough, people will believe it simply because they cannot believe anyone would have the nerve to make it up.

The Sun should know, because it's one of the chief practitioners of the Big Lie. Monday's original leader on Europe was so full to the brim with deceptions, mistruths and out of context quotes that it would have shamed the writers of Pravda, as have previous articles on the reform treaty. It's told so many blatant lies about the "hated" Human Rights Act that many people do indeed now believe that it is a terrorists' and criminals' charter, which means that police have to take buckets of chicken to crime suspects refusing to come down from a roof, and aren't able to issue photographs of convicted murderers that have absconded from open prisons. It's only very occasionally that its smear jobs get shattered by being forced into issuing apologies, like that given to the Kalam family, which came a year and a month after the original articles were published.

As David Clark notes on CiF
, the Times has also been been ragging on Brown this week, with its pitiful front page story today with its shocking revelation that politicians sometimes say things that sound mighty similar, and a bizarre leader column arguing that Brown's underwhelming speech on Monday was somehow a lurch to the left. This isn't down to a campaign to "weaken Brown and prevent him from securing a strong mandate of his own" though, it's rather one of the periodical reminders from Murdoch if he so feels like it, he can unleash an outburst of critical reporting that'll leave Brown spinning so much he won't know here is when it finally comes to a stop.

Mostly this is down to Brown's enthusiastic wooing of the Daily Mail, and especially Paul Dacre, who Brown's struck up an unlikely, or rather dispiriting alliance with. Both seem to hold the view that the 50s, that rose-tinted decade of shortages, slums and squalor is an ideal model for modern Britain, where the poor and lower classes were still deferential, the extended nuclear family ruled and all those unpleasant parts of modern life were forced underground. Murdoch more than feels threatened by this dalliance with the Daily Mail, as he was Blair's only true lover, thanks to Blair's Faustian pact which guaranteed him the support of the Times and Sun, but also more helped with his downfall, thanks to Murdoch's unrelenting support for all things proposed by the Bush administration. He's now having to deal with the impertinence of his bitch going off and talking to other men under his nose, flirting disgracefully with the enemy. This week's campaign in the Sun and the Times' critical noises is meant to remind Brown that he is the one who still really has his balls in a vice; and he can turn the screw and crush them any time he feels like.

Clark finishes his article by saying that if Brown wins an election he could put Murdoch in his place as a result. This is pure wishful thinking. Even if Brown went to the polls and gained a slightly larger majority, the real opportunity to crush both Murdoch and the Mail was back in 1997, but Blair either squandered his chance or never had any notions of doing that, when he had the public behind him and was capable of doing so. None of our current politicians have either the courage of the backing of a majority of the electorate to be able to destroy our poisonous press once and for all, and they may well never will.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007 


It's hardly been a great week for speeches at the Labour conference, and yesterday's effort by David Miliband, the foreign secretary, was completely dismal. Unlike Brown, who does attempt to weave something of a narrative and talks in a way that makes grammatical sense, Miliband is from the Blair school of verb-less sentences, endless apparent rhetorical questions and dramatic, overly long pauses. Blair though at least usually had something of interest to say, whether you agreed with it or wished to be in the same room so that you could throttle him; Miliband, urged by ultra-Blairites to run against Brown as potential leader, simply didn't have either the message or the power of rhetoric to get more than a stifled yawn.

Strange then that it managed to at least somewhat excite the leader writers on the Grauniad. They headed their piece, Not yet a doctrine, but a vision, but it wasn't even that. It was rather an extended collection of statements of the bleeding obvious, with nothing whatsoever to tie them all together. He might have admitted that the Iraq war was divisive, and that there were rights and wrongs over it, but the word mistake, either connected to the decision to join the United States' in the initial invasion or the innumerable disasters that have occurred since the beginning of the occupation never so much as passed his lips. There was no mention of when we might finally be getting out of Iraq; that was instead left to Des Browne, who hinted that we might be able to fully hand over security responsibility to the Iraqis in Basra shortly.

While he predictably angered the Sun by sticking by the decision not to hold a referendum on the EU reform treaty, his other main point about the union was that Turkey should be admitted as soon as possible, which is hardly a new policy, as welcome as it is. His positioning over military action, that victory does not mean a solution isn't even the message coming from the Americans any longer, let alone from our own generals who have for a while based their own pronouncements in realism rather than in the fantasy world previously inhabited by Blair and the hopeless Margaret Beckett. Iran only gets mentioned as part of his optimistic/pipe dream section, saying that ten years' down the line it might be a democratic paradise helping in the war against terror, which ignores not just that Iran is hell of a lot more democratic than another of our great allies, Saudi Arabia, but also that Iran did just that when it helped with the overthrow of the Taliban, only for it become to the new enemy regardless of any previous cooperation.

He ends the speech with a flourish, remarking that the "second wave" of Labour foreign policy is all about "progress" and to "[make] more people better educated, better fed, better off, better able to make their own history", but without convincing how he's going to achieve any of that. Pessimism for the moment remains the dominant emotion.

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Usmanov-watch: The tide continues to turn.

Major kudos go out to both Peter Hill-Wood, Arsenal chairman who has strongly come out and said that neither does he want nor does the club need Usmanov's money, and to the Grauniad, which is continuing to follow up on the actions and reverberations started by Usmanov and his legal shysters, Schillings, attempting to silence Craig Murray and numerous other bloggers.

The article also provides this confirmation that Schillings realise they can't disprove Murray's accusations, but they sure can try to stop them from being read and disseminated:

Laura Tyler, of Schillings, said they did not intend to sue Murray directly because they did not want to give him a platform to express his views.

Considering how much a joke our libel laws are, leaving the defendant to prove their allegations rather than the litigant to prove that the allegations are defamatory, one would have thought that Schillings would be more than happy to go to court and potentially ruin Murray. That they have no intention of doing so speaks volumes.

Tim meanwhile has set up temporary shop to deal with the whole saga here. Matt Wardman also has the speech made by MEP Tom Wise last night, which thanks to parliamentary privilege should be able to be freely reported without any legal difficulties, but don't expect that to make any difference. Unity also writes a first of series of posts on rewriting the libel laws.

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Where in the world is Madeleine McCann?

In what other country would a grainy, out of focus holiday photograph of a woman carrying a child become front page news except in one where the hacks have apparently lost not just all sense of enduring news values, but of all their collective journalistic skills?

Did it not even slightly occur to the editors on not just the four tabloids, but also on the Times and Telegraph, which also used the photograph on their respective front pages that, believe it or not, there are hundreds of thousands if not millions of blonde-haired little white girls out there that when not photographed directly are likely to bear a remarkable resemblance to one which has disappeared? Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the photograph was taken in Morocco, where after all, the kids shouldn't be white, so there must be something in it.

Cue major surprise then when it turns out that the child, when seen up close, doesn't even look slightly like Madeleine. It's not right to blame the photographer, Clara Torres, for being suspicious though. As Mike Power suggests, the media greatly encourages this sort of thing, and especially when you're either emotionally involved in a case or have been affected by it in some way, you're even more likely to see something that isn't really there. I know this from personal experience: the number of times you think you've seen someone, sometimes only for a couple of seconds and not long enough to be absolutely sure is still enough for you to psychologically conclude that it is that person. Mr Power mentions Lord Lucan as well as his example of another blonde woman, and another case would probably be Richey Edwards, guitarist and lyricist with the Manic Street Preachers, who vanished over 10 years ago but is still regularly sighted and has been spotted as far a field as Lanzarote and Goa, even when the most likely explanation was that he committed suicide by jumping from the Severn bridge, even if his family have not decided to declare him legally dead.

That however is no excuse for newspapers to go weak at the knees when presented with such an unlikely scenario as that presented in the photograph. Is it even slightly conceivable that all those pictured would be in on the abduction of the child, as they would need to have been? It was so piss-weak that even the most naive trainee hack could have shot a dozen holes in it. The Madeleine McCann disappearance now though is not just a news story, it's become a money-making circus. It's hardly been off the front page of the tabloids ever since the McCanns returned from Portugal, even though there have been almost no new leads except for the judge deciding that they didn't have to return as yet for further questioning. Today's jolly jape will make up tomorrow's stories though, so that's that sorted. If it had been the BBC that had been handed the photograph, the tabloids would have ruthlessly attacked it for raising the hopes of the McCanns unnecessarily, while they can tomorrow instead write about how they tracked down the reality of the news story, with a nary a word of apology about their own ignorant lack of a mea culpa. Such is the parasitical nature of the tabloid media in this country, which only seems to get worse over time.

The photograph also kept the far more interesting, important and humanitarian concerns over the Burma crackdown off the front pages of all but the Guardian, Independent and FT, but then monks and citizens fighting for their right to be free of tyranny just doesn't sell as well as laughable photographs of little missing white girls. (Mr E incidentally has a number of links for those wanting to keep up on developments there.)

Slight update: As Mellomeh points out in the comments, and eric the fish also notes, the Mail still has a poll up which even now has 53% of the vote saying that it is Madeleine.

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Beau Bo D'Or on Murdoch and the Scum.

Simply brilliant.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007 

Blogroll updated.

Just added a veritable boatload of links to the old blogroll, some of whom should have been added a while ago. If for some unfathomable reason I've forgotten yours, feel free to call me a bunch of names in the comments.

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The saffron revolution.

Inspiring as the protests in Burma being led by the monks are, it's hard not to be apprehensive of just how the crackdown, now seemingly fully in effect might pan out. After all, there's not just the 1988 8888 uprising which resulted in the deaths of thousands to consider, but also another military massacre from the following year: Tiananmen Square.

China's role in what now happens may well be key. Isabel Hilton argues that China doesn't want to see itself get the blame for another atrocity, especially as we fast approach next year's Olympics, but there's also another factor in all of this, that being the response of China's own population. While apart from the ever increasing number of localised protests there seems to be little national resistance to the nominally Communist leadership, the very last thing that the cadres would like to see is an example of an uprising being dealt with brutally, a potential reminder of 1989 and their own failure to force change through protest. A second bloodbath could conceivably rile China's own sleeping subversives.

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Brass Eye moment.

Chris Morris would approve. The Telegraph notes that the same gallery currently holding an exhibition of Nan Goldin's work, from which a supposedly explicit photograph has been seized lest any aspiring paedophiles see it and thus aroused decide to rape a passing child, contains the following:

The Liverpool-born artist's has pictures of a naked woman whose head is replaced by household objects in the images.

Which is something of a reprise of Morris' breaking "works of art" in half during the Brass Eye special and combining different photographs in an attempt to produce something the expert would declare "obscene". Mr Eugenides plays on another riff from the show over the revelation that paedophiles have different brains to the rest of us.

Speaking of which, the Sun is currently holding an essential discussion on the difficulties of dealing with paedophiles: summarised nicely as "help them or hang them?". Would it be glib or a straw man to mention that the BNP's 2005 manifesto advocated bringing back the death penalty for paedophiles?

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The downfall of humanity inexorably approaches.

For those who like to believe that there's some sort of equilibrium that ensures that for every attack there is an act of defense, they'll have doubtless enjoyed the juxtaposition of a judge denouncing the Jeremy Kyle show for its "human bear-baiting":

He said: "I have had the misfortune, very recently, of viewing the Jeremy Kyle show. It seems to me that the purpose of this show is to effect a morbid and depressing display of dysfunctional people whose lives are in turmoil ... for the purposes of titillating bored members of the public who have nothing better to do in the morning than watch this trash on TV.

with the revelation that Jordan's latest "novel", Crystal, has sold more copies than the entire Booker shortlist combined. Kerry Katona, probably Jordan's main rival, has announced that "her" first novel is also shortly to be released.

On one level, you have to admire the diligence, inventiveness and sheer success of the PR firms that have managed to so skillfully sculpture and buff these very ordinary individuals into apparently multi-talented superstars who can turn their hands to seemingly anything. Monitoring the Sun as I do for my sad, creepy purposes, there's hardly a day goes by when there isn't some sort of story about either of these pneumatic women, whether it's yet another outspoken, vacuous assault on some other celebrity and their misdeeds, or alternatively a flash of their bodily assets which long since lost any of their already feeble allure. For all its inherent vileness, a recent headline on one of the celebrity magazines featuring Katona was perhaps the greatest example of the horrible hole at the centre of their work: announcing the birth of her latest baby, which had been born premature, she described it as looking like a frozen chicken from Iceland, plugging the supermarket that has featured her in its adverts. That to describe a living, breathing child as looking like a frozen dead bird shows a remarkable lack of apparent humanity was neither here nor there; far more important was repaying her dues to the company which has doubtless poured wads of cash into her bank account.

All of their work though is directed at exploiting the very people which the newspapers which print their releases are meant to be speaking for, and/or protecting. Despite all the fury recently directed at the BBC and other channels for various fakery and deceptions on their programmes, such manufactured phony characters are still to be feted, celebrated and endlessly pursued. Not a single one of Jordan's books has actually been written by her, and as Hadley Freeman points out in the article, while autobiographies are widely known to be ghosted, this latest development, the fictional book from a celebrity is trying its hardest to keep the reality from the actual readers. Rebecca Farnworth is the ghost behind the bust of Jordan, but the only mention you'll find of her anywhere in Jordan's supposed novel is on the copyright page.

Does it really make any difference that such books are vastly outselling the works of literature which are plucked from usual relative obscurity to be feted as a novel of the year? After all, as widely despised as Dan Brown and his equivalent of taking a shit on the manuscript of Ulysses or Crime and Punishment the Da Vinci Code is, at least it's got people who usually wouldn't read to pick up a book, or at least the argument goes. You could also argue that the reason that Jordan's opus has sold so many copies is probably because it's been both heavily pushed and heavily discounted, while the Booker shortlisted works are mostly still in hardback and as much as £4 more expensive, at least going by Amazon's prices.

None of this however explains why a woman known only for her numerous breast augmentations and widely considered to have around as much grey matter between her ears as a rocking horse does can somehow even begin to be able to sell copies of a book that widely mirrors her own attempts to become a singer, except one suspects that in the novel "Crystal" succeeds where Jordan has notably failed, especially when she has not one but two autobiographies, presumably for the same reason as the Queen has two birthdays. Rather, it suggests what perhaps some of us have long feared: that these women, fucked up blow-up dolls rather than anything approaching human are not just becoming role models but that their contempt for anything outside their own tiny little world is spreading. Why bother to expand your mind when you can expand your breasts? Why take something a little challenging to the beach when you can read another fatuous tale along the lines of the television programmes and magazines that you read at home?

I realise I'm being melodramatic and overstating my case. The rise of the idiots though is certainly real, and they're being helped along in their rise through those who most certainly aren't stupid: they're just another cog in the system of contempt for the average person which isn't the preserve of the metropolitan elite as the right likes to have it, but by the magazines and celebrity filled rags that are inextricably linked to the most powerful in our society. Their preference is certainly for compliant rather than questioning, and this latest branching out is certainly helping with the former.

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Monday, September 24, 2007 

Strength to keep Britain much the same.

As Gordon Brown walked into the Labour conference hall in Bournemouth to the pounding, mystifying choice of Reef's Place Your Hands, it was difficult to know just who he wanted to be. Hadn't we just got rid of the first celebrity prime minister, who seemingly spent his early days more eager to glad hand washed up pop stars than he was to actually settle on any distinctive change from the 18 year reign of the Tories? This was less the dour, sulking, "shy" and plotting Scotsman than it was the equivalent of one of the more vulgar American presidential candidates rallies, some of the delegates apparently so over-joyed to see the new Dear Leader that they almost swooned after Brown shook their hands upon his entrance, grinning ear to ear. As comedians have already noted, it's a frightening sight: while Blair's smile always looked suspicious, and cartoonists soon had him as the cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland, Brown's smile looks as if it's about to break his jaw, such is the tension created by the muscles being required to do something they haven't in years. His hair, too, had been swept back, making him look almost eerily like an older, grizzled and more rotund David Cameron.

That echo of the Conservative leader was perhaps indicative of the speech to come, but for a while the intensely personal nature of the lecture, mentioning his upbringing for the umpteenth time, talking about his (broken) moral compass and his status as a conviction politician only brought back the old jibes of Stalinism. Private Eye has been parodying his utterances as being the equivalent of old Soviet propaganda announcements, and it was difficult, with the stage itself advertising the "Strength required to change Britain" and Brown banging on about those mystical British values to get past it. He stands for this, he stands for that, but we don't really know what he doesn't stand for, apart from apparently migrants who come here and take vital work away from our homegrown drug dealers, who'll be deported back to wherever they came from, and guns, which are an unthinkable evil except when used by an army that discharges them in a ethical and difficult but certainly not illegal situation.

Speaking of which, Iraq and Afghanistan merited one mention each, with our troops apparently working for security, political reconciliation and economic reconstruction, all three of which our continued presence in Iraq is doing nothing whatsoever to help. This wasn't a day for bringing up the old inconveniences left over by the previous accursed rule of Brown's predecessor, but for making clear just how safe Middle Britain would be in the capable hands of not flash Gordon. Students previously angered by top-up fees will have new grants available, little ones will be protected from the filth and fury of the internet thanks to a psychologist recruited from shows only masochists watch on BBC3, while schools previously pumping out illiterate hoodlums will be transformed thanks to wonderfully named programmes such as "Every Child a Reader". On education tuition and tutors were the watchwords, in all their various forms, from one to one tuition to small group tuition through to personal tuition. The promise of financing not from 5 to 16 but from 5 to 21 was impressive, but in a country where class and the improbability/impossibility of rising through the class system seems to becoming even more of an issue, the idea of a class-free society being more than a slogan seems to verge on the delusional.

Which was just where the speech was really lacking. He reeled off the usual statistics of 600,000 children lifted out of poverty, even when we know that 200,000 last year fell back into it. Child benefits and maternity allowances might have doubled and trebled, and 6 million families might be claiming tax credits, but how many of them have either struggled with the scheme or had to pay money back through no fault of their own? He digged at Cameron's discriminatory policy of favouring marriage in the tax system, but the solutions sounded more or less the same, with the wonderful voluntary sector sorting out families and teenagers in trouble just like that. There was so little here directed at those struggling: the minimum wage might be going up, but it still isn't a living wage, while he praised the flexibility of the economy which has become so overbalanced in favour of the bosses that we're now the poor man of Europe when it comes to workers' rights, with a supposed Labour government unwilling to have it any other way.

There was no mention of any proposal to extend the current 28-day detention limit for "terrorist suspects", but that itself seemed to just be the odd one out that didn't get included. We were told about the human rights of those in Burma, Zimbabwe and Sudan, while our own civil liberties, chipped away over the Blair years weren't worthy of a mention. It was in line with the punitive, in places almost puritanical bent which Brown spoke of crime and anti-social behaviour in this country; the evil of drug pushers, how "drugs" will never be decriminalised, even after the moral panic on skunk has been well and truly punctured, and the three words on which "strong" communities are founded: discipline, respect and responsibility. If Brown was trying to sound like an old-fashioned headmaster, he succeeded, but the out-of-touch almost naïveté of that same character was more than evident in the laughable "call on the [drinks] industry" to advertise the dangers of teen drinking, which they more than adequately already do with those fucking WKD commercials.

It all sounded very familiar, and as a collection of policy "achievements" and of those to come it was a good summary, but this was meant to be a speech, not a recital or an actual manifesto. The best that can be said for it is that he didn't panic over today's Sun front page and change his mind instantly over the EU treaty, or pander too much to the Paul Dacre constituency which he's steadily built at the Mail over the years. If your outlook is for anything less rigid than unstinting "British values", where the dead end of "meritocracy" reigns supreme and where the status quo appears to be not just the preserve of the Conservatives but now also of Labour, you seem to have come to the wrong party. He might have pledged to stand up for you; but just who are you? Brown seems to have no inclination whatsoever to find out.

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Who do you think you are kidding Mr Murdoch?

It'd be nice if the Sun decided to make up its mind on just what exactly is the biggest threat to this nation since WW2. Back in July it decided that the terrorist threat was the greatest since WW2, as part of its justification for extending the current 28-day detention limit for "terrorist suspects". I'm not going to pretend to be old enough to remember what the Sun's attitude towards the Soviet Union was, even during its decline and eventual fall, but I'm betting that there was slightly more reverence for the Russian bear than it's convenient to mention today.

The Scum doesn't expect its readers' to remember what the paper said yesterday though, let alone two months ago, as after all, they're working class illiterate morons, so it's more than happy to contradict itself, especially when it's involved in such a major lie and disinformation campaign as it is today.

They say that patriotism is the last refuge of a scandal, and online, we have another law, Godwin's. The Sun breaks both within a couple of lines of its extended leader column:

Wake up Britain! Our proud nation faces the greatest threat as an independent sovereign state since the dark days of World War II.

We won that titanic struggle against the roaring guns of Nazi Germany.

So, err, to indulge the Sun for a second, just how many lives are going to be lost fighting this threat? We lost just less than half a million in WW2; how many is the EU constitution going to cost us?

I'll leave that brainteaser for you to decide.

Unless we start that fight today, Gordon Brown will sign and ratify the EU Constitution — the blueprint for a United States of Europe — within weeks.

The reform treaty of course isn't anything like a blueprint for an actual "United States of Europe"; if it was, then you could rest assured that almost every single politician across Europe would be kicking up a stink. Sovereignty is just as much an issue abroad as it is here, and if they thought that the constitution was about to make their own parliaments redundant, they'd be even more noise about referendums than there already is.

We will no longer have control over relations with other countries, the defence of our nation or the right to run our own police and law courts.

Utter nonsense. Does the Sun really honestly think that its readers are going to believe that we're about to leave our own defence to the cheese-eating surrender monkeys over on the continent? Oh, wait...

As Nosemonkey points out, we retained the opt-outs over control of our own police and law courts, as the Sun puts it.

This takeover bid will consign Britain to a bit part in a 27-nation federal state permanently governed from Brussels by unelected officials and unaccountable politicians.

Oh yeah, those European MPs we elect every so often don't do anything, I forgot about that.

Centuries of parliamentary democracy will be consigned to history.

Of course, keep taking the pills Rebekah.

The Labour government’s record on the loathed Constitution is one of promises made — and promises broken.

See, this is what this is really all about. Back in 2004, it's widely rumoured that Rupert Murdoch gave Blair an option: either he promise a referendum on the EU constitution, or the Scum and the Times would switch their support to Michael Howard. Blair promised a referendum. In the event, the French and Dutch votes meant that one wasn't needed, although one was promised in the 2005 Labour manifesto. With Brown about to give his triumphant address to today's Labour party conference, the Scum has just had to remind him that it's still more than prepared to extract its pound of flesh in return for its continuing support. Technically, Brown isn't breaking any promises, as the manifesto promise was on a referendum on a constitution, while this is a reforming treaty which does much the same as that document would have, but still isn't a constitution.

As ever, it's all about power -- and just about how much Rupert Murdoch can enforce his own views not just on politicians, but as nations as a whole, through his newspapers which claim to speak for the average man in the street but which at the same time lie through their teeth and distort to those very people in order to earn their support. The leader goes on to quote numerous European leaders speaking about how little difference there is between the constitution and the reform treaty, not informing its readers of the context of them: Spain's prime minister's remarks are reproduced liberally, without mention of how his enthusiasm for the treaty's lack of difference to the constitution might be because his own population overwhelmingly voted yes in its own referendum on it (albeit on a low turnout). While Angela Merkel wasn't in power when the treaty was ratified, the result of the vote in the Bundestag was a landslide, 569 for to 23 against. People might often disagree with their elected representatives, but it would be churlish to suggest that there wasn't at least majority backing among the actual electorate behind such a vote.

In fact, there's so much nonsense in the leader it would require a post longer than it deserves to deal with all the falsehoods. It claims we're going to lose our permanent UN security council seat; presumably France will be giving up theirs as well, not to mention Germany, which also wants its own when the council is eventually reformed. It suggests that this is not a simple issue of in or out, then mentions Keith Vaz wants a referendum, without bothering to point out that err, he in fact wants a vote on staying in or out in order to "shut-up" anti-Europeans. It deliberately obfuscates the TUC's position, saying that they think the treaty doesn't go far enough, when they in fact want the EU's charter of fundamental rights' workers' protections to apply here, one of the red lines that Blair obtained which the Scum pretends is worthless.

In fact, that is just one of the two supreme ironies of the Sun's argument and positioning. The very people who would most benefit from the treaty, the British workers who are currently denied the privileges and rights which are already available on mainland Europe are also those most likely to read the Sun. No doubt that betrayal of the working class is more than amusing to the proprietor with a notorious history of union-busting and cost cutting. It's also bitterly appropriate that the Sun uses war imagery and the memory of Churchill in its rhetoric, when you can make a more than decent argument that the EU and its predecessor organisations are at least partly responsible for western Europe's past 60 years' of peace.

The Sun though has helped to convince me. We ought to call its bluff and fight to win the referendum, whether it's on just the treaty or on staying in Europe altogether. Its very own poll shows that it's far more possible than a lot of the pessimists would imagine, with 32% saying they would vote yes against 38% voting no, with up to 30% undecided to either vote or how to vote. What better victory would there be than to defeat the right-wing press consensus and prove all the naysayers wrong?

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Official - this blog sucks 72 more times than the average.

Reading Iain Dale's list on the top 100 "left of centre" blogs and discovering that your humble narrator is ranked 72nd, I'm reminded of Jack Garner's comment on the American vice-presidency: that it wasn't worth a warm bucket of spit.

Thanks to all those who voted for me - you're more than kind.


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Saturday, September 22, 2007 

Dannatt ain't a donut.

(Apologies for the appalling title.)

General Sir Richard Dannatt's speech yesterday to the Institute for Strategic Studies was notable for a number of reasons. Firstly, for his supreme honesty and refusal to generalise: when describing the "enemy" in both Iraq and Afghanistan he makes clear that the vast majority of those they are fighting/fought are not fanatical jihadists or Iranian-backed militants, but in the case of Iraq mostly nationalists and in Afghanistan, not simply the Taliban but "those who are fighting with the Taliban for financial, social and tribal reasons."

Secondly, he sets out only too clearly how all this is only a means to an end. Although he does include a "dark futures" section of the speech, he also recognises that the army increasingly needs to win the old chestnut of "hearts and minds", not just abroad, but also here at home. It's strange then that he can't quite bring himself to note that the very reason the army has lost support, if it has, as polls suggest that most of the public still is hugely supportive if not of the mission then of the men, is because as he himself put it last year, "we're exacerbating the security problems" and we should get out of southern Iraq very soon. A year later, we're still there, even if we've now withdrew to Basra airport. It also doesn't help when the army covers-up the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, either.

His suggestions for how we can show more appreciation are the weak link of the whole lecture. We've gone past the age of military parades, which we now more associate with "rogue states", and besides, apart from their return, there's no actual end as it were to the conflicts that they've returned from, making celebration about it doubly difficult. Dannatt's claim that the military is "the instrument of foreign policy conducted by a democratically elected Government acting in the name of the people" also isn't very convincing when Labour only earned the support of 22% of the population at the last general election, or indeed when it seems not just to the public, but also to the average Tommy Atkins that we're operating as a minor arm of American, rather than British foreign policy. It does however seem that we've got as a good a head of the army as we might conceivably have.

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Scum-watch: Ignoring the PCC's guidelines on suicide.

In January last year, the Sun, Times and Evening Standard published photographs of a lawyer jumping to her death from a window ledge, resulting in condemnation not just from a friend of a woman, who complained to the PCC, but also the Samaritans, which recommended that reports covering suicide should avoid "explicit details of method and should in particular 'avoid the use of dramatic photographs or images related to suicide." While the PCC did not uphold the complaints, it did lead to a direct change in its code of practice to section 5, dealing with intrusion into grief or shock, which states that "care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used."

So much for that. While last year's photographs of the death of Katherine Ward were only printed in black and white, the Scum today prints a full-colour, sharp, detailed photograph of a "tormented guest" at the Park Lane Hilton hotel, tottering dangerously on the edge of a window ledge, the window of which has been smashed by the man. Despite the Sun blanking out his face, a large quantity of blood is clearly visible on the window and ledge, apparently from the man slashing his wrists on the broken glass. He later fell to his death.

If the paper had only printed the actual article and not the photograph it would be fair enough, as voyeuristic and intrusive as it is; with it, it takes on a whole other dimension of crudeness and insensitivity. Just to rub salt into the wound, the online editor decided to allow comments on the piece, welcoming in a number of predictable responses.

Unlike in the previous case, it seems the only the Sun has covered the man's death in as much detail, at least after I performed a quick number of searches on other newspaper websites. Only the Times seems to have reported it, and that was in a news in brief. A complaint to the PCC about the article might well be in order.

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Friday, September 21, 2007 

Scum-watch: More Facebook pervs.

Just a quick one today, although if you want a good giggle at how abysmal Sun journalism can be, you can have a look at the hilariously bad faux-conversation between Jon Gaunt and Lorraine Kelly over the McCanns which plumbs new depths of stating the obvious and filling space.

Cop is gun-mad Facebook perv

A COP has quit after his web profile on Facebook exposed him as a gun-toting pervert.

Fellow officers were stunned when they logged on to the social networking site to see 29-year-old Simon Purcell proudly brandishing an MI6 semi-automatic rifle.

The police community support officer went on to list his hobbies as “making sex toys for all the ladies” and “spying on doggers”. Other interests included “women, masturbation, any order I don’t mind.” Among his favourite films he put simply: “Porn”.

All very well of course, although the officer himself claims that "a friend" set-up the profile and put up the series of "perverted" claims.

Strange though when you consider that the other most popular social-networking site, MySpace, recently admitted that over 30,000 sex offenders with profiles had been discovered only months after it had last removed a previous load. The Sun, uniquely among the British press, failed to report it. Naturally, the fact that MySpace is owned by a certain R. Murdoch had nothing whatsoever to do with it.

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New lies fiasco shames Daily Mail (shurley shome mishtake?).

Out of all the supposed scandals over deception, the latest crime committed by Blue Peter in lying to small children also has to be one of the most mystifying. As is the tradition, a new pet was introduced, in this case a cat. They provided a vote on what the new kitten should be called: among the options were Socks and Cookie, with the programme revealing the winner as Socks. Only err, it seems it might have not been.

Or was it? According to MediaGrauniad, the editor sacked over the "deception" was actually correcting what he and others thought had been a rigged poll, with mass-voting shortly before it closed for "Cookie". Initial reports suggested that the proposed name was "inappropriate", hence why it was changed, causing much confusion when the name was revealed to be Cookie. Is this another case of political correctness gone mad, with the BBC concerned that children might be encouraged to eat more biscuits if the cat was thusly named? Or was it that they were worried that Cookie is apparently slang for the private parts of the fairer sex? I've never heard of that particular definition, and I don't have a copy of Viz's Profanisaurus to hand, so we'll have to go with urbandictionary on this one. Either way, it seems unlikely that many 8-10 year olds would have heard of it if it had been the latter, and we'll have to hope that it certainly isn't the former.

Whatever the explanation, it's not exactly front page news, and nor are the other three examples that have now been revealed, mostly repetitions of the other "the show must go on" type errors that were exposed in the previous trawl. The naming of the cat as Socks rather than Cookie, while not completely honest, was hardly the equivalent of an infamous Daily Mail deception, namely the Zinoviev letter, which helped to bring down the first Labour government, or more modern examples such as the constant misinformation on immigrants exposed almost every other day on FCC. Blue Peter to make up for the mistake has introduced another new kitten, this one named Cookie regardless of any cunnilingus-type connotations, and is again going to apologise for its error. Case closed.

Although it doesn't seem to be. The witch-hunt for the slightest of errors, whipped up by a press which prints lies left right and centre every day of the week, seems to have gone out of control with more lowly staff now taking the blame rather than the executives that must have known what was going on. None of the BBC's errors, and remember that the Queen editing example was the fault of RDF, have come even close to matching GMTV's or Richard and Judy's defrauding of premium rate phoneline callers to their competitions. In those cases no one has actually been sacked, except for the companies that ran the competitions, and none have taken on the sackcloth and ashes in quite the way that the BBC has, promising to send its employees on the equivalent of re-education courses. The BBC has to be aware of the dangers of constantly whacking itself on the back in penitence; it tends to only invite others to join in.

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Usmanov and Schillings-watch: The web bites back.

I said on yesterday's post that Schillings really didn't know who they were messing with, and the overwhelming response from bloggers not just here in the UK but across the globe has rather vindicated it. Justin is already tracking 121 blogs that have posted on the actions of Usmanov's lackeying legal losers, and there are likely to be dozens more which haven't been identified yet.

Only MediaGrauniad and the Mirror (in the form of a Kevin Maguire blog post) have so far picked up on it from the MSM, but there's bound to be other pieces in tomorrow's press following the story up, especially considering that Boris Johnson has denounced the fact that his blog, set up by Tim and Clive, is among those to have been brought down by Fasthosts capitulation. Their claim that Tim and Clive had failed to remove the content in question is laughable; both Tim and Clive had more than accommodated Schillings' requests over what had to be removed. Quite simply, this had moved on from being a matter based on the posting of so-called defamatory material to a vendetta against the web-hosts. Schillings' problem is that it knows full well that Craig Murray has plenty of evidence to back up his original allegations, and the fact that they haven't served him personally with a writ, as he has requested, only proves the shallowness of their actions. They couldn't get the ball, so they decided to take out the men instead. Their reputation, backed up on their website by the laughable case studies currently being mocked across the "blogosphere", was at stake: too bad that they cared too much about that to notice that other well-known political figures were being hosted by Tim and Clive.

Indeed, if there was ever an example of blogging blowback, this is it. Dozens more blogs are now mirroring Craig's original post which started this whole mess; Arsenal fans and others who previously wouldn't have come across some of the unsavoury information about the possible future owner are now able to see him for the freedom of speech denying obese toad that he is; and the mainstream media itself, previously threatened before it had even printed a word about Usmanov are able to point their readers' in the direction of information they otherwise wouldn't have mentioned.

More pertinently to the legal side of things, it's understandably caused a commendable discussion about the ridiculous and discriminatory nature of our libel laws, now notorious for being a beacon for every tycoon, tyrant and half-wit with a grievance about an unpleasant article/book written about themselves to come and try their luck through our court system. Unity suggests that if any of us are ever called to serve on a libel jury, we move to return a not guilty verdict on the grounds that the law is an ass, as previously used during the Clive Ponting trial. Others are talking of a campaign along the lines of the current one over Iraqi employees of the armed forces. Others still are remarking on Usmanov's suitability to become Arsenal owner, should he succeed in an eventual takeover bid, something he's now raised the possibility of, noting the FA's recently adopted rules.

Now the cat's out of the bag, Schillings are going to quickly learn that it's going to be next to impossible to put this particularly agile, modern and digital pussy back in.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007 

Liberals, conservatives, Trots, fascists: embrace the BBC.

As Unity notes, Sunny most certainly opened a hornet's nest when he called on CiF for liberals to abandon the BBC, sparking a response by Iain Dale and a heated discussion in the comments, in which I have to admit I didn't quite have my finest hour, suggesting that "geezer" needed to see a psychiatrist.

Sunny has since outlined his exact thinking in more detail, but it's still worth examining the initial CiF article:

Let me be clear on one point: I believed in the BBC not because of its supposed liberal bias but because I view it as as serving the public good. A vibrant democracy needs independent and non-commercial media outlets driven by a commitment to editorial balance. It may be imperfect and its licence fee may be a tax, but using the latter argument to favour privatisation is feeble, since we pay a whole variety of taxes to incompetent institutions that are supposed to enshrine the public good.

There's not much to disagree with here, but as one person pointed out on the Dale thread, it is a little much that we get single mothers and students amongst others getting threatened for not coughing up their £130 quid every year. As much as it pains me to agree with those likening the licence fee to the poll tax, especially as they were probably amongst some of those who originally supported it and might also have an interest in other flat taxes, there most certainly need to be concessions made for those on benefits. This might require cuts, it's true, but more on that later.

The BBC has always come under attack from the political right and left for its supposed bias towards the other side. But the rise of rightwing blogs in the US and UK has encouraged a more shrill atmosphere, where a vast leftwing conspiracy is assumed to exist at every corner.

If you seriously doubt that this is the view of some, you need to read geezer's comments on Iain Dale's thread. There are dangers in seeing conspiracies where there clearly are none; as partisan as some of the attacks on the BBC are, Iain Dale is also right when he suggests that sometimes they have more than a point. The recent BBC reporting on John Redwood's policy group wasn't its finest hour, even if Helen Boaden did sort of apologise, if a little disingenuously, as Private Eye pointed out. It was more indicative though of the way that political reporting in general has gone: whenever a policy annoucement is made, or a new policy thought up by any of the main parties, all the others understandably line up to denounce it, cutting down on the time of actually explaining the proposal, and already setting minds against it, regardless of its merits. A great recent example was the Lib Dem proposal for a selective amnesty for illegal immigrants, which Liam Byrne responded to by saying that those here illegally should go home. Added nothing, was breathtaking in its inanity, but was duly reported.

Sunny goes on to mention the canceling of "Planet Relief" as one of those alleged victories for the right. If it was, then thank goodness for it. It wasn't that it was potentially a breach of the BBC's impartiality that so produced a general reaction of the rolling of eyes, but that it was such an abysmal, pointless idea, another chance for those long missed characters Ricky Gervais and Graham Norton to fill our screens with their wearying presence. Comic Relief and Children in Need, good causes aside, long ago became less about what they were raising money for and much more about showcasing the talent or lack of it of numerous BBC presenters, doing either wacky or silly things in a pathetic attempt at entertainment. Planet Relief would have been worse, except with the added idiocy of watching a show dedicated to raising awareness about climate change (as if anymore was needed) while your plasma flatscreen pumps out however many kilos of carbon while doing so. There was meant to be a proposed mass-turning off to make a point: if it had gone ahead, we could have protested by switching off from the very beginning.

Sunny's second point, about the cries that the BBC is institutionally biased is highly valid, much to Iain Dale's embarrassment.

Thirdly, he mentions the recent furore over Newsround's page explaining 9/11 to the young. The Biased BBC crew (and indeed, a Torygraph blogger and even Roy Greenslade) managed to get the original changed, most significantly changed the What Happened? page from "On 11 September 2001 armed people hijacked four planes that were flying above the US" to "On 11 September 2001 Islamic fanatics hijacked four planes that were flying above the US". That seemed to be a victory for bad English more than anything else, as you can be fanatical about something without committing mass murder in a suicide attack about it. It's since been changed to "Islamic extremists", which is slightly better. As Sunny mentions, the Whiskey Priest rather punctured Biased BBC's argument after he pointed out that the initial Newsround explanation somewhat matched that given by the 9/11 Commission, which hardly blamed the attacks on the America itself, as they were trying to argue the BBC were doing.

Rightwing bloggers and the growing number of newspaper commentators who support them are not interested in editorial balance. As Unity pointed out a few months ago: "... one of the ways in which [the BBC] does serve the public is as a kind of large scale bullshit detector; one that places curbs and limitations on [the right's] ability to push their propaganda through Britain's mainstream media."

There couldn't really be much of a better example of the BBC's occasional attempt at grasping this "bullshit detector" mantle than last night's 10 O'Clock News report on the comments of Cambridgeshire police's chief constable, which set out that this wasn't exactly an explosion in crime as the Daily Mail had it yesterday (see FCC) or the Express today claiming that the police can't cope with rise in "immigrant crime", when all Spence was doing was asking for an increasing in funding. It was decent, balanced and unsensational reporting, examining all sides without passing comment. For once the Sun's reporting on this was decent, even if its leader isn't. The argument of the right is often that the left gets on its high horse over reporting from organisations which don't hide their political affiliation and that to complain about it misses the point, but this itself is to miss it. There's one thing to be a right-wing newspaper and comment on it honestly through their chosen political prism, it's quite another to either then lie in those comments or to let that prism reflect on the reporting, as this site and others have pointed out time and time again. This is how the right-wing media here tries to distort and influence, not through its arguments, but through its news pages.

Secondly, BBC editors themselves seem to have collectively lost their cojones, or at least their editorial guidelines. The first sign of an outraged rightwing blogging campaign leads editors to hurriedly make changes while simultaneously releasing statements that any accusations of bias had nothing to do with it. Who is that going to fool? I would be the first to criticise a Planet Relief full of hapless celebrities pretending they are right-on about climate change as they jet around in private planes. But did BBC editors not bother consulting the guidelines when they first conceived the idea?

To be fair to the BBC, this is also a result of their attempts, post-Hutton to try and be far more accountable than they used to be. Editors' Blog posts, the Newswatch site etc, all are developments that are to be welcomed. If only certain right-wing newspapers followed the example, the exact same ones that attack the BBC time and again whilst dumping the PCC's adjucations on their reporting on a deep inside page, we might be getting somewhere. In recent years the BBC has bent over backwards to be all things to all men, and to an extent this is part of the problem. Posts about the BBC's admitted mistakes are soon followed up by dozens of comments on how left-wing and evil the corporation is, whereas if you tried to do the same on other news sites such comments simply wouldn't be accepted, or they'd be deleted. Compare this to the Daily Mail's comment sections for example on its reporting, which are moderated up to the eyeballs and where there might be a token criticism let through. This gives the impression that these commentators are right when they often couldn't be more wrong. The BBC does need more balls, to occasionally bite back rather than always be craven, but the last thing it should do is cut down on its conversations with its critics.

Now, to my main point. For many of us on the liberal left, the BBC is a useful if somewhat increasingly dumbed-down antidote to the hard-right propaganda of most of the press. It keeps us vaguely sane, so we support it.

Iain Dale thought this "revealing", while as explained two paragraphs up it's actually the real reason the BBC's news outage is worth supporting; not because it's biased, but because it does the job of covering all sides that is often woefully lacking in most other media.

It is only obvious then, that those on the liberal left should stop supporting the BBC. Instead we should continually attack it and expose its rightwing bias. Supporting the corporation or focusing on editorial balance only seems to result in the centre ground shifting further to the right, since they are the only ones complaining.

This is where I completely part with Sunny. The very last thing the BBC needs is to be continually attacked, especially when the campaigns against it are reaching fever pitch and some are licking their lips with anticipation about finally get somewhere. It's one thing to call it on it when it does lean to the right (and for those wondering, MediaLens already does do this somewhat), quite another to withdraw all support and go completely on the offensive when it's often trying its hardest. Sunny responded to my initial framing of this argument by saying "where has it got us?", and while he does have something of a point, to drop our support from an institution that is not just still working here, but is also a beacon worldwide and deeply respected for it is I feel potentially dangerous.

Sunny is entirely right though that we need to be far more critical of the BBC, not just of its news output, but of all of its output. We could start from the basis of Jeremy Paxman's excellent recent lecture not just on the BBC's problems, but with the media's general state at the moment. He identified that rather than trying to be different, the BBC has increasingly followed the herd mentality: rushing off to Portugal on numerous occasions because of the McCanns, which was completely pointless but continued because everyone else was doing it, and commissioning the same old crap reality TV shows regardless of any of their actual merits. Just how many more dancing variants is the corporation going to dream up, for example?

Increasingly, if the corporation is going to survive, it needs to offer something different to everything else that is out there. This doesn't mean abandoning what's popular and just instantly going for the highbrow, but it does necessitate taking a step backwards and examining everything it's currently doing and wondering whether it is just a pale knock-off of something else. There are some things, for instance, that the only the BBC will do and that if it disappeared a significant minority would miss terribly: it gets criticised for the Asian Network and 1Xtra for example, both for being politically correct and for ghettoing their content, but who else would run such nationally available content? They simply wouldn't. The current coverage of the party conferences is also laudable mainly because while the vast majority will view the proceedings as incredibly dull and are probably right, it's about the only time of the year when the parties get to expand their policy proposals in full without being told that they're wrong instantaneously, and it's refreshing for it, something that any other broadcaster wouldn't touch with a barge pole. The opposite could be said of the vast majority of the output of BBC3 for example, aimed at younger demographic but which actually just treats them like morons, something which isn't confined to the BBC, it has to be said. Would anyone really miss it if was shut down, with its most popular shows transferred to BBC2?

Most of all though, its news and current affairs coverage, which could be boosted considerably with no further cutbacks if BBC3 were to be shut down, something the corporation has rejected, needs to regain the indefatigable culture it had prior to Hutton. It's easy to forget that just four years ago it was Andrew Gilligan, hardly a left-winger incidentally, which dared to suggest the government had been less than truthful over the dossiers now instantly remembered as dodgy. Would it do the same if we were to repeat the whole charade of Iran? I somehow doubt it. It's recently cutback on giving voices to Islamist radicals when it would rightly not give the same airtime to the BNP, which was a horrible habit it had fell into, and it could move on from there to really trying its hardest to showcase the full spectrum of views (although not those that are incessantly hateful), something which is often so lacking. It could dedicate itself to getting behind the story presented elsewhere, instead of following the herd. With our support, the BBC could yet vastly improve. Without it, it's only likely to fall further into the abyss.

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Usmanov-watch: A pyrrhic victory.

Alisher Usmanov and his shower of lackeying legal cunts, Schillings, have finally pulled off a very pyrrhic victory. Despite comprehensively failing to remove Craig Murray's original blog post about Usmanov, which is still around if you know where to look, they've managed to spook Tim Ireland's webhost so much that they've pulled the plug on Tim and Clive's cluster of sites, also including Bob Piper, Boris Johnson and Craig Murray's blogs.

My advice to anyone thinking of starting a blog is to get it hosted with a US-based company. Not only are their rates usually remarkably cheaper than anything you'll be offered over here, but legal firms find it difficult to get anything removed, thanks to the good old first amendment. Won't stop them threatening you personally of course, but your webhosts themselves couldn't care less, as neither time have I been threatened has Dreamhost even bothered to contact me.

Knowing Tim, not to mention Craig and the others, Schillings really have picked the wrong people to start a fight with.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007 

Moral relativism isn't dead, it's just resting.

Last week Martin Amis attempted to convince us that liberal relativists would choose Osama bin Laden over George Bush, and as a consequence become an appeaser of every evil in the modern world, apart from seemingly paedophilia, although if he could have worked that in he probably would have.

On a similar line, Judea Pearl, the father of the murdered journalist Daniel Pearl today writes in the Guardian on what he calls the death of relativism:

I used to believe that the world essentially divided into two types of people: those who were broadly tolerant, and those who felt threatened by differences. If only the former ruled the earth, I reasoned, the world might know some measure of peace. But there was a problem with my theory, and it was never clearer than in a conversation I had with a Pakistani friend who told me that he loathed people like George Bush who insisted on dividing the world into "us" and "them". My friend did not realise that he was in fact falling straight into the camp of people he loathed.

Fair enough, he has something of a point here. There's plenty of reasons for disliking Dubya, and one of the weakest is his declaration that you can either be with us or with the terrorists. That was a false dichotomy then, and loathing Bush for that reason is reasonably lame.

This is a political version of a famous paradox formulated by Bertrand Russell. The stronger you insist on the necessity of tolerance, the more intolerant you become toward those who disagree. The moral lesson is that there is no such thing as unqualified tolerance; ultimately, one must be able to expound intolerance of certain ideologies without surrendering the moral high ground normally linked to tolerance.

Quite right too. It's therefore strange that Pearl then takes this distinction and then throws it right out the window.

Which brings me to my son, Daniel Pearl. Thanks to the release of A Mighty Heart, the Angelina Jolie movie which premieres in the UK this week, Danny's legacy is once again receiving attention. Of course, no movie could ever capture exactly that magical combination of humour and integrity, gentleness and resilience, that made Danny admired by so many. Still, traces of these qualities are certainly evident in A Mighty Heart, and viewers will leave the cinema inspired by them.

At the same time, I am worried that the film falls into a trap Russell would have recognised: the paradox of moral equivalence, of seeking to extend the logic of tolerance a step too far. You can see traces of this logic in the film's comparison of Danny's abduction with Guantánamo (it opens with pictures from the prison) and of al-Qaida militants with CIA agents. You can also see it in the comments of the movie's director, Michael Winterbottom, who wrote in the Washington Post that A Mighty Heart and his previous film, The Road to Guantanamo, were very similar: "There are extremists on both sides who want to ratchet up the levels of violence and hundreds of thousands of people have died because of this."

Apart from the bewildering choice of Angelina Jolie to play Pearl's wife Mariane (when she is non-white and Jolie most certainly isn't), Winterbottom does indeed have form in not telling the full truth, especially when it comes to the film the Road to Guantanamo, which took the claims of the Tipton Three that they were traveling to a wedding and to experience Afghan cuisine at face value, claims since debunked by the appearance of two of them on Lie Lab. Nevertheless, there also isn't much wrong with Winterbottom's statement: who could disagree that there are indeed extremists on both sides, one side currently agitating for the insanity of launching an attack on Iran, while the takfirist jihadists in Iraq itself continue their savage, barbaric attacks both on civilians and those standing up to their own brand of tyranny?

Drawing a comparison between Danny's murder and the detention of suspects in Guantánamo is precisely what the killers wanted, as expressed in both their emails and the murder video. Indeed, following an advance screening of A Mighty Heart in Los Angeles, a representative of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said: "We need to end the culture of bombs, torture, occupation, and violence. This is the message to take from the film."

There's something though that Pearl isn't mentioning which most likely has a bearing on his comments. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged murderer of Pearl's son is currently being held at Guantanamo as an "enemy combatant", having been rendered to Jordan and also likely to another CIA "black site" before his transfer to Cuba.. Rather than denying the possibility that KSM was tortured during his detention, ABC reported that those who interrogated KSM were impressed by his ability to withstand "water boarding" for up to two and a half minutes before he began to talk.

Let's be clear here: Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was almost certainly a top member of al-Qaida, and as such is responsible for mass murder, let alone the heinous crime of beheading Pearl. None of that however justifies either his apparent mistreatment while in US custody, especially as the US has always denied and continues to deny that it has ever used torture, or his continued detention without trial at Gitmo, when he could have been deported from Pakistan upon his capture and tried in a US court on the charges he is accused of. Pearl is right that there is no comparing murder with indefinite detention without charge, but one does not justify the other. This is not to be relativist, but to realise that the current methods with which the US has fought the so-called "war on terror" have been highly counter-productive.

Yet the message that angry youngsters are hearing from such blanket generalisation is predictable: all forms of violence are equally evil; therefore, as long as one persists, others should not be ruled out. This is precisely the logic used by Mohammed Siddique Khan, one of the London suicide bombers, in his video. "Your democratically elected government," he told his fellow Britons, "continues to perpetrate atrocities against my people ... [We] will not stop."

But this is a logical fallacy. If all forms of violence are equally evil, then no forms of violence are therefore justifiable; it doesn't mean the exact opposite, that because one act of violence is evil that reacting to it with another act of evil is therefore justifiable. All of this is simplistic nonsense: as appealing a doctrine as pacifism is, violence is sometimes necessary as a temporary means to an end, for example to overthrow a tyrannical government when all the other peaceful options have been fully exhausted. While we can understand why Mohammad Siddique Khan and his three companions did what they did, both through their own distorted prism reacting to an action and through their morally bankrupt religious justification, to suggest that "relativists" are somehow defending or even through their condemnation of both Guantanamo and terrorist murderers justifying further violence by those very takfirists is a great fat straw man.

Danny's tragedy demands an end to this logic. There can be no comparison between those who take pride in the killing of an unarmed journalist and those who vow to end such acts. Moral relativism died with Daniel Pearl, in Karachi, on January 31 2002.

It's unclear exactly what Pearl means here. Is he saying that Guantanamo, which is a device used by "those who vow to end such acts", can therefore not be criticised purely because of the good intentions of those behind that vow? What about the rendition programme as a whole, which has produced little tangible results in terms of usable intelligence to prevent attacks, but which has shown the West's claims to occupy the moral high ground are dubious at best and disgraceful at worst? Or is it that he simply wants an end to the silly but confined to a few view that because we invaded Iraq we should expect to be attacked as a result, and that it is indeed also justified?

Hopefully it's the second and I've misunderstood him. His final paragraph at least is a fine one:

My son had the courage to examine all sides. He was a genuine listener and a champion of dialogue. Yet he also had principles and red lines. He was tolerant but not mindlessly so. I hope viewers of A Mighty Heart will remember this.

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Pretty tough on immigrants.

There's not really that much to add to Five Chinese Crackers' skilled dissection of the Daily Mail's take on the comments of Cambridgeshire's chief constable Julie Spence's measured call for more resources from the government to deal with the challenges of the influx of eastern European migrants, although Jon Cruddas also makes a number of salient points on CiF.

It's interesting though to note, especially in the aftermath of the mini-tremor caused by Sunny's post on CiF (which I'll come to tomorrow, blame Tiscali for my connection being down most of today) that the BBC, apparently a television version of the Guardian which seeks to brainwash the general public into becoming politically correct gay loving limp-wristed liberals (I may paraphrase slightly, but that seems to be what some of the commenters' on Iain Dale's post on Sunny's CiF piece are suggesting) has given almost blanket coverage to Spence's comments and the ramifications of them. BBC Radio 2 and Five Live have been running the story either as the first or second report on their news bulletins all day; the 10 O'Clock News had it third; and Newsnight gave it top billing, complete with discussion afterwards with Sir Andrew Green spouting his usual bilious nonsense. Not bad for an organisation that has ignored immigration and is meant to be unquestionably in favour of it.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007 

Put it under your bed in a Northern Sock.

As Mike Power also suggests, it's not often that I can find something to agree with the Scum on. Today's leader on Northern Rock, or at least the latter part, has it entirely right:

Here are the facts: Northern Rock will not collapse — the Bank of England will not let it. And now the Government has guaranteed all your savings.

So there you are. Whether you continue to panic is up to you.

The real threat to Northern Rock was not probably in actual fact from its temporary lack of liquidity, which the Bank of England provided help with on Thursday evening, but from its savers who rushed to take their money out at the first sight of banner headlines and and the 10 O'Clock News's exclusive. Who could possibly have blamed them though? It's very easy for those of us with little in our own bank accounts to point the figure and either laugh or imitate the crying of fire, but who could begrudge those with their life savings potentially under threat acting prudently, if not rationally? Many of those questioned why they didn't trust what Darling/Brown were saying mentioned Iraq, and again who could pass denunciation?

Speaking of prudence, there was very little of it on show when Alistair Darling made his statement that the government would underwrite not just the deposits of savers in Northern Rock, but any bank affected by the current "financial instability" kicked off by the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the United States. It was probably the right move in the circumstances, but was the equivalent of a kick in the face for those who lost their pensions whom the government have refused to reimburse, at far less the potential cost of bailing out NR or the other banks' if it comes to that. You could caricature it as a panicked reaction to err, a panicked reaction and you might have more than something of a point, but faced with rows of those most likely to vote Labour queuing outside their local branches (especially considering its base in the north) and that bastion of knee-jerkers, the city, losing their nerve in the usual fashion, there was little else they could have done, and the other political parties have been critical more over the time it took than it was done at all.

While it's absolute nonsense that the last few days have been anything like "Black Wednesday", especially seeing that no one except shareholders in NR and those subsequently mugged/burgled of their money on the way home has lost anything at all, it's the first real major dent in Labour's previously uncrackable economic facade, and for what exactly? Essentially, what Labour has done is not just a sign a blank cheque, but informed the banking sector that they can continue to take on vast amounts of debt and that if it all falls apart, it'll be alright because the taxpayer will pick up the pieces for everyone affected, including chief executives paying themselves £1.4 million a year. We're not just living beyond our means environmentally, but also fundamentally economically as well. To come full circle, it's also not going to be very often that I agree with the Burning Our Money blog, but Wat Tyler's right: we're going to be the ones paying for it all.

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Usmanov-watch: More purchasing of shares, as well as paintings.

Great friend of this blog Alisher Usmanov is continuing his purchasing of Arsenal shares, with the BBC reporting that he now possesses 21% through his Red and White Holdings company, set up in conjunction with Farhad Moshiri. Danny Fizman is now the only remaining shareholder to own a higher percentage, of 24%.

All this has been going on while Usmanov's lawyers, Schillings, no doubt being handsomely renumerated for their "hard" work threatening bloggers, have been sending out cease and desist letters to anyone daring to criticise Usmanov, especially to newspapers, who have been informed that Usmanov's spell in prison during Soviet times was "politically motivated" and that he was pardoned by Gorbachev. Craig Murray's post on all things Usmanov is still available if you know where to look.

Usmanov's relationship with Uzbekistan's current brutal dictator, Islom Karimov, whose security services have been known to rape prisoners with broken bottles, not to mention the odd case or two of boiling to death, seems to be the basis for Usmanov's current attempts to further woo Putin and the Russian ruling class in general, despite owning the nominally liberal and oppositional Kommersant newspaper. Yesterday Usmanov paid over £25m to stop a Sotheby's auction of the art collection of the late Mstistlav Rostropovich, delighting the Russian government agency for culture, Roskultura, which described the collection as "invaluable". According to the Grauniad, Sotheby's initially refused to name the purchaser, only giving it once prompted, which seems to continue Usmanov's choice to stay in the shadows and send his legal attack dogs in first, despite the fact that his purchase of Arsenal shares is a cause of concern to the tens of thousands of fans across the world. Buying culture to impress the authoritarian Putin is one thing, buying a football club is quite another.

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First things first: cut the heart out.

What did you think then would be Rupert Murdoch's first move upon acquiring Dow Jones, the parent company of the Wall Street Journal? Reassure the staff that he has no intentions of interfering in the everyday running of both the editorial and news sections of the paper, as he has previously done when he purchased the Times and Sunday Times? Promise that their jobs are safe? Demand that the third page instantly institutes a topless lovely and that Wendi Deng gets a seat on the board of directors?

Rupert Murdoch is looking to make $100m (£50m) in savings at the Wall Street Journal's parent company, Dow Jones.

Expect a lot of journalists not too fond of Mr Murdoch to take either early retirement or hefty redundancy payments.

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Monday, September 17, 2007 

Reefer sanity.

The unpublished results of authoritative research into cannabis confirm the "skunk" now on sale in England is stronger than it was a decade ago, but demolish claims that a new "super-strength skunk" - which is 20 times more powerful - is dominating the market.

Two studies due to be published later this year, which together analysed nearly 550 samples of skunk seized by the police, both conclude that the average content of the main psychoactive agent in skunk strains of cannabis, THC, has doubled from 7% in 1995 to 14% in 2005.

But the findings of the two studies to be reported in Druglink, the drugs charity magazine, contradict recent claims that most of the skunk on sale in Britain now routinely has a THC-content of more than 30%. One of the studies showed that only 4% of the skunk that had been seized by the police had a strength level higher than 20%.

Usually moral panics are started by the tabloids and then enter the public consciousness, forcing the other media to cover them. While the Daily Mail has had a significant role in the recent resurgence in nonsense being written about cannabis or "skunk", it was given additional credibility by the Independent on Sunday, which reversed its campaign for cannabis to legalised, with the former editor Rosie Boycott informing us that skunk is "30 times stronger", although she does still believe all drugs should be legalised. The main article, as Transform wrote, was all over the place with its facts, or rather lack thereof.

It's hardly likely though that the Grauniad article is going to change minds that have already been made up with all the fearmongering. Today this article was in the Mirror:

Cannabis is fuelling a youth crime wave - with 90 per cent of teen offenders using it.

Yes, because cannabis is almost certainly the cause and not coincidental.

A survey of England's Youth Offending Teams, which deal with lawless teenagers, adds that cannabis use had gone up by 75 per cent since it was downgraded to class C in 2004.

Possibly, although the other figures suggest that use of cannabis among the general populace has actually fell since 2004.

And a separate study by King's College, London, reveals 25 per cent of users have turned to crime to fund their habit.

Sounds laughable, considering how cheap cannabis is. Strange also that the Grauniad didn't mention that figure.

Having said that, cannabis is not harmless, and pretending that it isn't only damages the case of those who would like to see it go further towards the legalisation route. Those under 18 shouldn't be using it because of the increased potential damage to both their mental and physical health, as with numerous other drugs. The evidence simply isn't there however for the drug to even be considered for reclassification at Class B: do the Youth Offending Teams want the children they're dealing with to have further convictions for possession of drugs, increasing further the potential strain on the system? There's enough complaints from the police already about their time being wasted with excess bureaucracy and paperwork; do they want to be back with having to bring to book every person they stop who happens to be carrying a tiny amount of cannabis for personal use? The recent Lancet study which attempted to develop a rational scale to assess the harm of drugs placed cannabis as the 11th most dangerous drug out of the 20 they examined, with alcohol fifth and tobacco ninth.

Is it really so much to ask for a coherent, evidence-based policy? Oh, yeah, this is Britain.

Stumbling and Mumbling sums up the ideology of panic over Northern Rock
, while the Times reports on another interpreter murdered in Basra. The we can't turn them away campaign gets ever more vital.

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Scum-watch: More benefit bullshit and other stories.

Proving that you can never have enough of a good thing, today's Scum returns to Saturday's theme of the Polish stealing all our benefits:

MIGRANTS from the new EU countries are claiming at least £250,000 A WEEK in UK child benefit — even though their kids still live abroad.

Sounds a lot on the face of it, doesn't it? Let's delve in further:

Child benefit — designed to help out parents with food and clothing bills — is worth £18.10 a week for the eldest child and £12.10 for each other child.

Tories last night calculated that if each migrant claims for just one child the annual bill to UK taxpayers would reach £13million — or around £250,000 a week.

Right, so in other words we're talking about peanuts in relation to the annual sum that is paid out in benefits as a whole, not to even begin bringing in the annual government expenditure as a whole.

Skipping backwards for a second:

Around 14,000 workers, mainly from Eastern Europe, are legitimately receiving the handouts, official figures reveal.

And there is NO requirement for them to send the money home to their families.

Oh, so instead of sending the money back as most eastern European migrants do, which is nearly universally the reason they come here to work in the first place (either that or to make enough to take home at the end of their stay) they're instead presumably going to be spending it on the lash or waste it in other ways. Completely unlike our own citizens, of course. Nice inference there, Michael Lea.

But the true cost is likely to be far higher depending on how many children each claimant has. The findings come after separate figures showed that 200,000 more British children are living in poverty than a year ago.

Shadow Treasury Chief Secretary Philip Hammond, who uncovered the figures, said: “Child benefit is a vital weapon in the fight against child poverty. So why is Gordon Brown sending thousands of pounds every week to children who don’t live here and who may never have visited the UK?”

Way to connect together two completely unconnected things. Presumably those 200,000 more children who are living in poverty already have parents' claiming child benefit; if not, then they ought to be made more aware of their right to it. What both the Scum and Mr Hammond are trying to construe is that it's somehow the fault of the relatively tiny amount of migrants who are claiming child benefit that our own citizens are becoming destitute. This isn't just nonsense, it's potentially dangerous nonsense. The tabloids in all these articles scaremongering about the benefits that temporary migrants are claiming never so much as mention the inconvenient truth that the amounts they're claiming back are far, far outweighed by the tax they're paying to the exchequer.

Thing is, I agree with the basic premise of the article. I don't think that migrants who haven't brought their children with them to live here shouldn't be able to claim benefit for them. It's a loophole that ought to be closed. The article doesn't just provide the relative context though, it uses it as an excuse to further bash migrants, and even if it doesn't do it completely openly, its inference by comparing the increasing poverty among children in here, as if the sum of £13 million would go anywhere near tackling the 200,000 increase is that they're taking
our money at the expense of our people. It may be more subtle than usual, but it's still the same familiar poison.

The figures will embarrass ministers, who had claimed migrants were likely to be young men with no interest in handouts.

Seeing as 84% of migrants from the eastern European countries are claiming no benefits whatsoever, it would seem that the ministers are in fact overwhelming correct.

Sir Andrew Green, of think tank Migrationwatch, said a Pole claiming for three children would earn more in UK benefits than the minimum wage in his homeland. He said: “It is ridiculous that the taxpayer should finance child benefit for children that have never set foot in this country.”

Seeing as "Sir" Andrew Green has more than a tendency to talk out of his nether regions, I decided to check. The Polish monthly minimum wage is 936 Polish zlotys, which works out at roughly £171. Child benefit for 3 children works out at £169 a month (
1 GBP = 5.44506 PLN, from, so no, a Pole claiming for 3 children wouldn't quite earn the Polish minimum wage for simply coming here and working while claiming child benefit. Remember the figures we're talking about here. Just how many of those 14,000 claiming child benefit are going to have 3 children? For argument's sake, let's say a third of those have 3 children and are claiming child benefit at £169 a month or £2,030 a year. The cost to the taxpayer would be £9,471,980 a year for those roughly 4,666 claimants. If we then say that another third have two children and the last have just one, that would be at a cost of £7,327,486 (£1,570 a year) and £4,391,639 (£941) respectively, adding up as a total to £21,119,100. Say we close the loophole, and seeing how the Tories are suddenly so concerned about child poverty, redistribute the money saved directly to those 200,000 children. They'd get £105 each, which sounds reasonable, until you also cut it down to a rise in child benefit per week. That'd be a real rise of slightly over £2 a week. I'll say again: this is a loophole that must be closed, but this is a relative drop in the ocean compared not just to government expenditure as a whole, but also to the amount paid out in benefits every year. It doesn't make it any less wasteful, but it's also worth getting it into perspective.

Matthew Elliott, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “This makes a mockery of our welfare system.”

Much like Matthew Elliot's organisation makes a mockery out of all of us actual taxpayers.

Moving on to the Scum's leader:

HUMAN rights laws are endangering millions of lives. They make it impossible to fight terrorists on our own soil.

That’s the startling confession by John Reid.

Oh yes, that's right, because the 21/7 plotters haven't been imprisoned for life, have they? Neither have those who were arrested during Operation Crevice, or indeed those arrested for last year's alleged "liquid bombs" plot, or even the student today convicted for threatening to blow himself up, amongst other offences. Reid would instead love to have been able to have locked up "terrorist suspects" indefinitely without charge in our version of Guantanamo Bay, struck down by the law lords (although their decision was not actually binding), and to have imposed round the clock control orders, also ruled to be unlawful as they amounted to house arrest, but neither would have done anything to prevent any of the plots which have been either broken up or in the case of 7/7, succeeded, as none of those involved had been targeted by either.

This Sun's argument is so ridiculous that it could only have came from either John Reid or a Murdoch tabloid newspaper hack, which is unsurprisingly where this came from; Reid's laughable but despicable call for the very piece of legislation which protects us from numerous abuses of power, not to mention the one that is likely to help the survivors of 7/7 to seek an independent inquiry into what went wrong on that day, was in yesterday's News of the Screws. The Screws' website is hopeless, and doesn't appear to have it up anyway, so we'll have to rely on a BBC report that suggests Reid's article said the following:

"Too often we are fighting crime and terrorism with one hand behind our back."

Where have I heard that before?

The 28-day detention limit has left them working with one hand tied behind their backs, cops’ leader Ken Jones warned yesterday.

Would you believe it was in a Scum leader column?

Today's continues:

For years, The Sun has demanded the Human Rights Act be torn up.

When Mr Reid was Home Secretary he defended it. Yet all the time he knew it was putting the nation in peril.

Why didn’t he act when he had the power, and the Prime Minister’s ear?

How many more ministers are hiding the facts — and waiting until they quit to tell the truth?

In actual fact, this is unfair to Reid. Back in May he threatened to derogate from the European Convention of Human Rights after three men who had been on lighter control orders had fled, presumably to join the insurgency in Iraq. Why Reid has gone the whole hog now though is obvious - if he even wrote the article in yesterday's Screws, he most certainly got paid for it - and by the very "news organisation" that is now why oh whying over his previous reticence.

Finally, there's nothing like some good old fashioned Scum humbug:

A 12-YEAR-OLD girl has caused a storm by modelling at one of the world’s largest fashion shows.

Maddison Gabriel wore a string of revealing outfits after being crowned the face of Gold Coast Fashion Week in Australia.

And for all those paedo-pervs out there that are the scourge of modern life, the Sun has kindly reproduced a photograph of Maddison wearing one of those revealing outfits: a bikini. No real surprise though: the Scum, where hardly a day goes by without a sex offender's wicked deeds being reported to the outraged nation, failed to report last week's news that FHM had published a photograph of a 14-year-old girl topless without her permission. As Peter Wilby suggests, it may just have something to do with the fact the Sun too fears being caught out in a similar fashion.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007 

Scum-watch: Those thieving migrant scrounging sponging scum...

Horror of horrors! You know what those Poles are doing now? Only writing in their newspapers about how easy it is to claim benefits!

THE biggest Polish newspaper in Britain has run a special edition bragging how easy it is to claim benefits.

And it describes the simple ways immigrants can grab a cheap home with free furniture and child benefits.

The piece in this week’s edition of The Polish Express is even illustrated with a picture of a couple with a pushchair being showered in bank notes.

It takes quite something for the king of gutter journalism to turn its sights on others, but the Scum is nothing if not brazen.

The front-page article, headlined Benefit Hunters, reads: “The longer we are in Great Britain, the more rights to social security we are given and the better we are at taking advantage of them.”

Other pictures show a woman holding a set of keys and a model of a house, and a child clutching coins.

Another photo shows a man entering a Jobcentre with the caption: “Poles are visiting the Jobcentre more and more often — not to find a job, but in order to get benefit.”

It says: “You can apply for benefits as soon you take up a job in Great Britain.

“You can apply for the remaining benefits after working in the UK for a few months or a year.

“The formalities concerning an application for social security are extremely simple. Do not delay in submitting an application.”

In other words then, all the Polish Express is doing is informing its readers of their rights as they currently stand. Still, with a helpful coating of Sun hyperbole you can soon turn such a story into a migrants stealing our benefits extravangaza.

The paper features a case study of “Pete”, a Pole who came to Britain two years ago and settled in a Welsh seaside town. Unlike the 1.6million Brits waiting for homes on council housing lists, he was given a two-bedroom house with a garden straightaway.

Pete is quoted as saying: “The house in which I rented a room was falling apart.” When he went to a housing association he was told to register with the Home Office as a person working in the UK to get a National Insurance number.

He says: “Never in my life did I expect the whole process to last such a short time.

“They just gave me the keys and told me to move in. They did not even want any deposit.”

He adds: “They asked me if I had furniture. I didn’t, so they sent a lorry with a brand new bed, table, chairs and a cooker. They even brought it all in!”

The paper explains he pays £60 rent a week for a two-bedroom house with a garden.

After living there for two years, he will be able to buy the property at a discount on its market value.

What's that I smell? It couldn't be bullshit, could it? Considering earlier in the year, after Margaret Hodge's outburst about migrants taking all the houses the government came up with figures that showed actually only 2% of all lettings last year had gone to foreign nationals (around 2,200 houses in total), it might just be that "Pete" or the Express have rather embellished their account.

It is estimated around 112,000 migrants who came to the UK to work are currently claiming state benefits — up from 46,620 last year.

The Scum naturally doesn't bother to present a breakdown of those figures. Thankfully, a slightly less egregious newspaper but one which is still wholly disingenuous has previously done the job for us:

If you bother to do the working out, it actually works out that 84% of eastern European migrants aren't claiming any benefits; and those that are are almost universally taking advantage of benefits that as taxpayers' every other person in the United Kingdom is automatically entitled to. The £125 million figure though is complete bollocks, as is most of the article other than the stats, as Five Chinese Crackers pointed out.

Next up we have the usual rent-a-quote suspects spouting out their indignation at how appalling this all is:

Shadow home secretary Mr Davis said: “Statistics like these show why the Government’s claims that numbers coming here would be low — and restrictions would be placed on benefits — were just more spin. The public will want to know what action Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is taking.”

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migration Watch, attacked the newspaper article last night.

He said: “It’s appalling that Polish immigrants should be encouraged to live off our taxes even if they have to work for a year before the whole system is wide open to them.

“The Government claimed to close off the welfare system to ‘benefit shoppers’.

“But it looks as though some people are finding their way through these checks at our expense.

“The money employers save on lower salaries will be paid out by taxpayers funding benefits.”

Which only just goes to show that the supposed head of an anti-immigration thinktank hasn't got the slightest clue what he's talking about. If he had even browsed the recent figures he'd know that what he's saying simply isn't true, meaning that he's either lying or doesn't have the adequate knowledge to be able to comment on the Scum's article. Not that that usually stops anyone else.

But Polish Express editor Adam Skorupinski was unrepentant.

He said: “It was not our intention to encourage Polish people to seek benefits. We definitely think there’s a problem with benefit hunters from Poland and Eastern Europe — but it’s not such a big problem that it’s hurting the British public.”

As the figures for those claiming out-of-work benefits more than bear out.

The Scum couldn't resist commenting this in its editorial column:

IT’S bad enough that Britain has turned into a haven for Europe’s scroungers.

Yes, of course it has Rebekah my dear, keep taking the medicine.

Now a Polish immigrant newspaper adds insult to injury by cheerily telling its readers how best to squeeze handouts from British taxpayers.

Or, err, considering that they're also paying tax, how to claim benefits they're entitled to.
It cites one extraordinary case of a Pole given a two-bedroom house and a truckload of new furniture with practically no questions asked.

Extraordinary in its lack of truthfulness, one suspects.

Its front page pictures a couple pushing a pram while being showered in British bank notes.

Less painful than being hit with pound coins I suppose - although if that was the case the Scum could have made a joke about golden showers.

Many immigrants, Poles especially, do enrich our country through hard work.

Really? Reading the Sun you would have thought they'd come here to do everything but, seeing as we're the haven for Europe's scroungers.

But others have come here solely to milk the over-generous benefits system which is the talk of Europe’s spongers.

As the figures bear out. Oh, wait...

The Polish newspaper has a right to free speech, however disgraceful its message.

Quite right too. The Sun can just direct its hatred at the Polish themselves instead.

The fault lies with the Government that allows this gravy train to roll on and on.

Who could possibly disagree?

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Friday, September 14, 2007 

Cowardly assassination of a real resistance fighter.

I'm not one to make liberal use of the word "cowardly" when describing attacks by terrorist groups, especially those that result, either purposely or accidentally in the death of the perpetrator himself. Whatever we think of the motives behind suicide attackers, or what personal inadequacies or perverse thinking leads them to make such a unjustifiable decision, the act itself of ending your own life, in essence for what you believe in, even if you believe that the act itself will result in your installment in paradise, is not one which can be described as "cowardly". While suicide has for a long time been caricatured as taking the cowards' way out, and we can criticise the person for not caring about the mess that their death will both leave behind and create, the taking of ones own life requires strength that can never be dismissed as being easy to achieve or as an essentially empty act.

This is why the spectre of suicide bombers on the loose is so viscerally terrifying; the cliche of "them" loving death while we love life does have some merit to it. We do everything we can, not just to escape death, but to prolong our lives and to halt the visible signs of aging, while their attachment to at least this plane of existence is so flimsy that they'll sacrifice everything for something completely unachievable and take numerous innocents with them in the bargain.
Susan Sontag's comments just after September the 11th, that "cowardly" would be a term better applied to those who also make use of planes but who rather than using the machines themselves as weapons drop their explosive cargo from a great, safe height, have never lost their resonance.

The assassination of Abdul Sattar Abu Reesha, the leader of the Anbar Salvation Council, most likely by a improvised explosive device planted in his car by al-Qaida fighters disguised as petitioners who visited the Sheikh yesterday on the first day of Ramadan, was however most certainly a cowardly act. Rather than killing him using a suicide bomber, as al-Qaida in Iraq's calling card has been, they used their weakest and lamest tactic, used to kill dozens of American soldiers, as well as countless other innocent Iraqis.

We shouldn't overplay the significance of the emergence of the Anbar Salvation Council, which is exactly what Petraeus did earlier in the week in his statements to Congress and the Senate, but the rising up against the "Islamic State of Iraq" has always been the most welcome development to occur in Iraq in years. It showed that no longer were the Iraqis prepared to exchange one tyranny for another, from Saddam's secular police state to al-Qaida's extremist implementation of Sharia law, which had for a time prospered amongst the Iraqi tribes that had the most to lose from Saddam's overthrow. Their tactics may have at times been no better than that of the fighters they turned against, but they remain the best hope of eradicating the "Islamic State", something that the Americans can never possibly imagine to achieve.

While Abu Reesha's death shows just how deep the problems in Iraq still are, away from the rosy image presented this week, it by no means marks the blowing apart of the hopes of pacifying Iraq, as Patrick Cockburn writes. If anything, Reesha's death is likely only to galvanise those opposing the takfirists into being ever more determined to eject the murderers that set-up home after the invasion.

Another welcome development was contained in an interview with the spokesman for the Islamic Army in Iraq, who made clear that his group, unlike al-Qaida, are prepared to negotiate with the Americans. It can't be coincidence that as al-Qaida continues its barbarism, exemplified by the indefensible attacks on the Yezidis, the other insurgent groups continue to move towards a position of opposing the "Islamic State" while being prepared to end their own struggle, as long as the Americans themselves also withdrawal. As the release of another new report suggests that the death toll since 2003 could be even higher than previously feared, the need to bring the conflict to an end becomes more urgent than ever.

Similarly, the deteriorating situation in Basra, as reported by the Times which makes clear just how unsafe former employees of the British army now are, necessitates that we quickly identify all those we owe a debt of service to and offer them sanctuary, even if only temporarily. You can still make your voice heard by contacting your MP and informing them of the "we can't turn them away" campaign.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007 

We're all doomed part 94.

Even the Grauniad on occasion likes to try and scare its readers: what other reason for plastering "Al-Qaida has revived, spread and is capable of a spectacular" in a font bigger than the masthead across its front page?

The alarm bells ought to start ringing when the article notes, around 300 words in, that the International Institute for Strategic Studies's director of transnational threats and political risk is one Nigel Inkster, a former spook who was in the frame for becoming the head of MI6 three years ago before he left. Unsurprisingly then, he goes further than the report itself in stating without hesitation that "al-Qaida" is stronger than it was prior to 9/11 and capable of carrying out a similarly spectacular attack.

The proof behind this? Very little. Apparently, the mere fact that a planned attack was foiled last week in Germany involving vast amounts of hydrogen peroxide, and that last summer's "liquid bombs" plot was similarly stopped shows that al-Qaida still has the ambition to carry out spectaculars. We shouldn't let the facts get in the way of the IISS's certainty: that the group allegedly behind the German plot was the "Islamic Jihad Union", a group meant to have split from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, although Craig Murray relates that he was never able to find any proof that the IJU had even existed. It's quite true that IMU has found something of a safe haven in Waziristan, the same Pakistani tribal area where the Taliban have been regrouping and where it's most likely that the real al-Qaida itself is slowly regenerating, but this plot involved two home-grown Germans, rather than all involving foreigners. As for the liquid bombs plot, we're no nearer to discovering whether the attacks were even viable, let alone whether those arrested have established links to al-Qaida.

Where the report does it get it right is in suggesting that al-Qaida's ideology is taking root: this is sadly the case, and most certainly 9/11's real legacy. The threat it also likely to get worse before it does get better: that threat however does not necessarily come from al-Qaida itself, but through those highly influenced by the same takfirist ideology who take matters into their own hands. It also places too much emphasis on the fact that the al-Qaida brand is taking off across the world: that the GSPC has changed its name matters not one jot, except to Algerians themselves. The real danger remains that when the US does finally withdraw from Iraq, we're going to have a lot of redundant mujahideen much more globalised in their thinking than they were either at the end of Soviet invasion of Afghanistan or from Bosnia. Some are likely to join other struggles wherever they are then, but others are also going to turn their attention to the West. Such experienced fighters are always going to be far more dangerous than the idiots who try to blow up airports with patio gas canisters, petrol and matches.

What the report doesn't say is that we are ourselves are getting far better, both at tackling radicalisation and at spotting the dangers themselves. The defection by Maajid Nawaz, formerly of Hizb-ut-Tahrir to arguing against the politicisation of Islam as practiced by the group is incredibly welcome, especially as unlike Ed Husain he isn't calling for its banning and recognises that most of those within it are actually just typically young: angry and alienated rather than potential terrorists. Someone with his authority tackling the message of such groups, and doing so theologically rather than just rhetorically is the biggest threat which those who prosper on ignorance and one interpretation face, far beyond anything that the government's policies on cohesion can produce.

As Jason Burke also identifies, the report also mentions how climate change has the potential to have an effect similar to nuclear war, far beyond anything that any terrorist group can ever achieve. Putting too much stock in immediate rather than gradual doom may have been around for centuries, but it's still no less virulent today.

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Nice report, we'll take it!

Be honest - did you really believe that David Cameron was in the slightest bit sincere about his quickly found love for green issues? Admittedly, in a world where you can be lectured on the environment by Joss Stone, who so profoundly informed us during Live Earth that all you have to do is replace your light bulbs, plant a tree and "it's done", it doesn't take much more knowledge than that to be taken seriously, and rightly mocking articles about Cameron's bike riding exploits with his documents following behind him in a car aside, his repositioning of the Tories over the issue has forced both of the other parties into taking the pressing danger of climate change far more seriously than they would have otherwise.

Even so, it's still a shock that the Conservative party, of all parties, has put together such a well-thought out, reasonably radical highly credible action plan that isn't afraid to slay a few of the parties' sacred cows. True, it most likely doesn't go far enough: the Lib Dems have set the incredibly ambitious target of a zero-carbon Britain by 2050, but as yet their policies on achieving that are rudimentary to non-existent. The Tories' "Blueprint for a green economy" (PDF), chaired by John Gummer and Zac Goldsmith, is mostly made of proposals that can either be implemented almost immediately or within a matter of years. It's by far the most serious attempt by any political party other than the Greens themselves to address what is the most urgent issue we face.

Little surprise then that it's been welcomed by most of the Conservative party in the same way as they would a wind farm in their back garden. Mr Eugendies at least kept things succinct. Tory MEP Roger Helmer suggested that they had to pick between being "supply-side tax cutters" i.e. morons only interested in preserving the current status quo and only worrying when London is underwater, and "socio-environmental tinkerers and interventionists", i.e. crazies who want us all to exclusively eat a diet of lentils and fine beans. Brian Wilson, chairman of "Flying Matters", brought up the same spurious argument that putting VAT on an airline seat would penalise the families who only fly once a year while letting frequent fliers off free, as it's been shown that the huge expansion of low cost airlines has come not thanks to working families queuing up to fly but rather through those have always flown flying more often. Anything that is denounced by the "TaxPayers' Alliance", an organisation worthy of constant derision for the fact that it's run not in favour of "TaxPayers" but rather of the narrow interest of those who set it up in the first place masquerading as being represenatative of the huge cross-section of taxpayers ought to be worth supporting, and this certainly is.

For once, a Labour response to the document is actually worth repeating. Andy Burnham is quite right that this report and John Redwood's recent policy review are almost wholly incompatible; they're either going to have to do one or the other, or cherry pick from each. Cameron has supposedly pledged that "much" of that in today's report will be in the next Conservative manifesto, but we should believe that when we see it. To judge by the initial reaction, if anything's likely to further the revolt against Cameron, this document is likely to be it.

It's quite obvious therefore what the opposition parties ought to do if Cameron doesn't keep his word: steal it for themselves. The fact that Gordon Brown has spent the afternoon in a meeting with the milk snatcher herself, just by chance on the same day as Dave's released the report most likely to cause misgivings amongst the not so faithful, isn't exactly a positive sign, and it also shows how Brown's promise of an end to spin is worth about as much as those dossiers were. This week's patriotic, transparent garbage at the TUC from Brown was hardly the high point of his tenure so far either. Co-opting the Tories' best policy ideas in years if they fail to do so themselves might finally put some flesh on the otherwise bare bones of "change".

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007 

9/11, 7/7 and inquiry fatigue.

Peter Tatchell, for reasons unknown, has brought up yet again the supposed unanswered questions surrounding the 9/11 attacks. Sunny mentions, quite reasonably, that to even do this opens you up to the accusation of being a conspiracy theorist, but while true, it's not really much excuse for just giving the tin-foil hat brigade yet another excuse to rear their ugly heads with their delusional ravings of how it was either a controlled demolition, a missile that hit the Pentagon, or even in fact a projected hologram, and err, didn't really happen at all.

Even though some questions do remain unanswered about 9/11, the inquiries into what happened that day have been far more exhaustive than anything we've seen so far into 7/7. We know exactly who did it, how they did it, where they lived previously and their justifications for doing so. The main conspirator that plotted the attacks has been caught. al-Qaida, unlike over 7/7, 21/7 or the Madrid bombings, has claimed responsibility and only yesterday released the latest videotape containing one of the hijackers' living will. What we don't know is whether the attacks could have been prevented had either the Bush administration been more focused on the terrorist threat or if the warnings of the FBI and CIA had been acted upon.

More to the point, the fallout from 9/11 is now much more important than the attacks themselves were, and the continuing questions about them are. They happened; there's nothing we can do about that now, except learn from the lessons they've given. You don't have to be a cynical bastard to note that the Bush administration chose this week for the report to the Senate and Congress on the Iraqi surge: what better time to accuse those of wanting to end the nightmare in Iraq of being unpatriotic? The Bush line on Iraq is that they're fighting the terrorists there so that they don't have to do so in America. It's a laughable argument based on sophistry, but in a nation where 33% still believe Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11, it's one that still holds some weight. Also prevalent in the report by Petraeus were yet more accusations about Iran's involvement, while Rice today scaremongered about Ahmadinejad's pledge to fill the vacuum. The announcement that an American base, you know, the ones that are all going to be dismantled once the US withdraws, is going to be built within 4 miles of the Iranian border just shows where all that is inexorably leading to: another confrontation, more needless deaths, and the threat of yet more collateral damage through blowback.

As Simon Jenkins points out though, at least American democracy has somewhat attempted to hold those in charge of the Iraq war to account. Back here the contempt with which the opposing view has been held both by Tony Blair and now Gordon Brown has meant that we haven't even had the slightest voice in determining how much longer our own troops stay in the country. An attempt to hold an inquiry was voted down by Labour backbenchers too cowardly to listen to the overwhelming view of the public who have long wanted to know how we were dragged into this mess in the first place. Meanwhile, the families and relatives of those caught up in 7/7 are reduced to resorting to legal action to obtain a full independent inquiry into the events of that day and the acquaintances that the bombers had with other now convicted terrorist plotters. Compared to the inquiries and inquest into 9/11, we know next to nothing about where they came from, where they trained and who they had contact with. They deserve so much better.

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How to be witless in just over 1000 words.

Not to come over all Alastair Campbell, criticising cartoons, but the one on the fifth page of today's Private Eye (1193), comparing Citizen Kane to "Citizen Journalist", while somewhat true, takes the usual position that all blogging is "witless".

On the same page, the Eye lays into the true witlessness of the summer: the incessant, ignorant, complicit reporting of the Madeleine McCann case. For every useless, highly skippable blog post, you can point to the amount of dead trees used to print the acres of instantly throwaway, endlessly speculating and empty stories that have been haunting the nation. Despite some of the more thoughtful hacks taking a step back, examining just what has happened and why and how they as the media have been involved since the beginning, most of the coverage is still on the level of this abysmal abortion put together by the Mail's latest Glenda Slagg, Allison Pearson:

The past few days of Kate McCann's life may have rewritten the definition of hell.

I don't know: personally, I think I'd rather be in her position than burning for the rest of eternity, forever condemned to listening to Kate Nash's album over and over again while one of Satan's minions' sodomises me with a rusty knife. Each to their own though. Everyone's definition of hell is different; it can't be rewritten every time a tabloid journalist feels the latest situation means it has to be.

Skipping nearly 200 words of how terribly awful and unfair it all is to this unimpeachable couple:

Imagine how thrilled those literally clueless Portuguese cops were to be handed some inconclusive DNA evidence they could talk up to scapegoat the British visitors who had become such a pain in the backside.

Breathtaking, isn't it? The police are dressed up as the villains in Pearson's narrative of woe, rather than simply doing their jobs; the DNA evidence, collected and analysed by the British Forensic Service rather than any nasty clueless foreign types, is inconclusive; and the British visitors are being scapegoated because they'd "become a pain in the backside". Almost all the coverage has treated the McCanns with kid gloves, willingly blind to almost any possibility that they could have been involved, but this kind of myopia could only have been written by someone who's spent the last few days under the American regime of sensory deprivation. Some have accused those who suspect the McCanns of twisting the truth and the reality of what happened; this goes far beyond any of that, seeing an organised conspiracy not just involving the Portuguese authorities but also the British team who've done all the forensic legwork.

Overnight, Gerry and Kate found themselves trapped in a nightmare straight out of Franz Kafka. A world where lack of hard evidence is taken as proof of guilt and innocent explanations are twisted to fit our darkest suspicions.

Pearson perhaps out to reread, or even read for the first time Kafka. The whole point of the Trial is that K. cannot clear his name because he never knows what he's accused of, comes up against a bureaucracy that hinders his every movement towards discovering what it is the case is about, and finds that he is mocked and even more ruthlessly targeted by the authorities for continuing to maintain his innocence. It's a story about the tyranny of everyday life as well as being about the horrors of the totalitarian and unaccountable state. The control order regime is Kafkaesque, where some of those held under what is essentially house arrest never know what it is their meant to have done, and can't as a result fight back and defend themselves; the situation that the McCanns face is nothing of the sort. For someone who's just twisted the events of the last few weeks into a grand conspiracy, it's ever so slightly rich for Pearson to then suggest that the McCanns' innocent explanations are being twisted by some to fit suspicions.

Now Kate and Gerry have been named as official suspects, it suddenly feels as if it's open season on the doctors from Leicestershire.

Really? Unless you count the Desmond papers, which seem to have decided that going with the opposite of the rest of the press might attract a few more readers to their disgusting publications, the press has almost uniformly been completely behind the McCanns. It's only been the internet, predictably, where others have been suggesting otherwise.

In this post-Diana age, people want proof of grief. They don't want dignity or faith or an attempt to keep up appearances, even if you are collapsing inside.

And just who's to blame for this I wonder?

That Gerry and Kate, devoted parents by all accounts, loaded Madeleine's decaying body into the boot of a hire car four weeks later while they were busy courting the international media to help find their child?

Can you credit it? Of course not. The allegation is not just revolting. It is surreal.

Completely unlike the events of the last four months then. Absolutely nothing has made any sense, and it still doesn't. How does someone, within the period of around half an hour go almost completely unnoticed through a bustling holiday resort, manage to get into a locked apartment without leaving almost any prominent clues, take a 3-year-old girl without waking up her brother and sister and carry her off into the dark, never to be seen again, with only a friend of the family seeing a man from behind carrying what appeared to be a child in blankets over his shoulder?

Whatever you may think about the error they made in leaving their children alone that night, these people are not Fred and Rose West.

The deed the McCanns are accused of would have required such black, cold-hearted evil that I refuse to believe they are guilty unless overwhelming evidence is uncovered.

Nonsense. If the McCanns are guilty, and I have no idea, as pointed out before whether they are or not, the most likely explanation seems to be that whatever happened to Madeleine was a tragic accident. Out of self-preservation, probably because they feared losing their two other children as a result, they planned a cover-up, one that was for a few months surprisingly successful. They have probably been completely overwhelmed by the media coverage of the event, as almost everyone else has been. Nothing they've done is evil, or even instantly condemnable; how do we know we wouldn't have done the same thing in their position?

This is the prism through which the tabloids, and some of the other press have to see absolutely everything through. Every murderer is instantly evil, a monster whose actions are eminently unexplainable. One suspects that the media, if the McCanns were to be eventually found guilty, wouldn't vilify them for what they'd done to their daughter, but rather because they had the audacity to play them for fools for so long.

The one point that nearly all the commentators have failed to make, whether because they're unwilling to because of their own role in it or because they quite like their jobs, is that the media has been complicit in this from the very beginning. Everything was staged and created for maximum publicity, the McCanns both using and being used by the media, each out of their own motives. Is it little wonder after all of that they're unwilling to countenance the possibility they could even be slightly involved? It would be the equivalent of admitting that they'd conspired in it all themselves.

So please, spare us the cartoons about the witless blogs. The tabloid press, and especially the commentators within it are the ones currently being exposed as vacuous.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007 

The poverty of prohibition.

It was a weekend of bad ideas, as Alan Johnson's bung for mums illustrated, but on the scale of denseness it's hard to beat the currently only being floated as part of a longer-term action against prostitution idea of making the buying/paying of sex illegal.

Putting aside for a moment there's a reason why women selling their bodies is known as the world's oldest profession, this idea takes its cue directly from the deeply discredited and fatally flawed part of radical feminist ideology that maintains every woman working in the sex trade, whether involved in producing pornography or working the streets is a victim of some sort. Like all the usual strong but deeply misguided ideological positions, it has more than a merit of truth to it: you only had to see the five murdered prostitutes in Ipswich last December, all addicted to one or more drugs, to see that they were victims who needed help. To apply this universally though is naive, discriminatory and even possibly misogynistic. Cast your way through any local newspaper's classifieds, and you're bound to find a whole cavalcade of advertisements for saunas, escorts and women working from flats, almost all of them selling sex, and the vast majority also doing it out of choice.

Radical feminism in general doesn't have an answer for why these women choose to do what they do, so it more or less treats them as though they either don't exist or as traitors to the cause, in it for the money. The irony of this is that those women are the ones with the most to gain from any ban on the buying or the selling of sex; the ones who don't need to walk the streets, hidden away from the gaze of CCTV cameras and the police are already the ones doing the best out of their work, reasonably to excellently paid and able to argue out their own terms. A ban, as well as naming and shaming, also proposed, would only drive the curious kerb-crawler far away from those women who survive by selling their wares on the streets, leaving them far more vulnerable than they already were. If trade dries up, their drug habits or men demanding money don't, pushing them to shoplift or commit other crimes, only making it more likely that they'll become the latest additions to our already overcrowded prison system.

This policy isn't just based around the notion of victimhood though, it's also based on the farcical assumption that you can somehow control human urges through legislation, and also that the selling of sex itself is morally wrong. You can't outlaw the fact that some men either can't or won't develop normal relationships and so use prostitutes on that basis, nor can you stop the philandering bored husband from visiting the local massage parlour, let alone the increasing fad for stag parties to visit European capitals famed for their red light districts. In fact, it's wrong to assume that it's just men using women; while it's on nowhere near the scale of female prostitution, there are more than enough male escorts out there, available for use by both men and women.

After all, it's not necessarily that men are exploiting women; in some cases it's quite the opposite. What is heterosexual pornography if it isn't a woman using what she either was given or bought to extract money from males who simply can't help themselves? It's them taking the money off idiot males who go goggle-eyed at the mention of all those acronyms that make up the specialist end of the market, rather than being exploited by the men invariably involved in running the actual business. The American pornography industry is remarkably self-regulating, thanks to measures brought in during the 80s after the Traci Lords scandal, and the notion that women are being forced into doing anything they don't want to over there is laughable.

Primarily, the government is concerned by figures that supposedly show that 85% of women working in brothels are from foreign countries, and takes this as proof that forced trafficking is endemic. On the contrary, it rather shows that some of these women know full well that they can make decent sums of money in a relatively short time, far beyond what they'd ever earn if they did the menial jobs most of the other migrants from within the EU are coming here to do, and without any of the stigma of walking the streets back in their home country and without their families knowing what they're actually doing. It's undeniable that some women are being effectively kidnapped and then forced into prostitution by gangs who bring them here, but the numbers are tiny compared to those who are actually more than willing to come here for similar purposes.

It's hard not to imagine that as well as appealing to the more feminist thinking members of the cabinet, it's also something that Brown and his "moral compass" couldn't help but be attracted to. Previous plans by the government that suggested allowing women to set-up mini-brothels where three could work, away from both the streets and predators of all kinds were predictably loudly condemned by the usual suspects, i.e. the Daily Mail, etc. Out the window goes Blair's lack of any principles and in comes the clunking fist's crackdown on vice, whether it be in the form of gambling, drinking or sex.

As Diane Taylor points out, the very last thing that will change the current landscape of prostitution, except for the worst will be the criminalising of men who pay for sex. Prostitution is such an intractable problem, without any obvious solution that it's easy to jump to the obvious reactionary position. Until we start valuing drug treatment programmes as much as we do prison cells, and providing real alternatives to street walking as we do to the thump of the gavel, nothing will be any different. And you're sure as hell not going to stop men from seeking out sex, unless you castrate them all at birth, which brings with it other problems.

Related post:
Stumbling and Mumbling - New Labour's misogyny

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Never forget straw-man day.

What better way to commemorate the passing of another anniversary of The Day The World Changed Forever than sitting down with a nice cup of tea and reading Martin Amis's latest dispatch on how the liberal relativists are traitorous bastards?

I admit, I paraphrase slightly. But only slightly. Amis, who last regaled us with his views on Islamic terrorism, the "long war" and the inadequacies of the leader of the 9/11 attacks, Mohammad Atta, in a fictionalised account of that morning and in a lengthy essay titled the Age of Horrorism, on err, September the 10th last year, today has his latest attempt published in the Times, presumably because even the Observer is tired of his tedious, tendentious ramblings.

Titled "9/11 and the cult of death", Amis travels down the same weary, familiar trail that he has passed along numerous times before. For a man once considered and still thought of by some as our greatest living novelist, it's quite odd how he can't get beyond, like many others, simply and disingenuously comparing takfirist jihadism to either Nazism or Bolshevism. His main link, rather than any real analysis of how these movements became popular and took power, is that all three are at their very heart irrational, against modernity and hark back to a romanticised past which in actuality never existed which they want to recreate.

Thing is, Amis has tried this before, and got burned while doing it. His 2002 book, Koba the Dread, both a memoir and an account of Stalinist crimes, was widely panned because he failed to recognise the difference between Trotskyism and Stalinism, deciding after doing huge amounts of research that both were equally responsible for the crimes committed between 1917 and 1953. Indeed, he even refers to Trotsky as a "fucking liar and a nun-killer", which he may well have been, but does little to prove his point. Even more puzzlingly, Amis in the book quotes Orlando Figes eloquently explaining the difference between Nazism and the Russian revolution, with fascism "spitting in the face of the enlightenment" while communism was "an experiment which the human race was bound to make", yet he still could not see how one has become the embodiment of evil while Stalinism, responsible for possibly more deaths than Nazi Germany, has entered history condemned but with nowhere near as much ignominy. Whatever we think today of Stalin and the Soviet Union, it's hard to forget that without Hitler's greatest mistake of invading Russia and the huge blood sacrifice of the millions of Soviet citizens, the war might still have been lost.

Not learning this lesson, Amis promptly compares today's Islamic death cult to both the Nazi and Bolshevist variants, without worrying about the ahistoricism of such a weak argument. Not content with just that, he then relates a recent experience of when he appeared on Question Time, and after giving what he thought was a centrist argument on the war on terror is loudly shouted down by someone making the ignorant point that because American armed the mujahideen in Afghanistan that it should be bombing itself. Amis takes this, and the audience's apparent "unanimous" applause to mean that if they were given

the choice between George Bush and Osama bin Laden, the liberal relativist, it seems, is obliged to plump for the Saudi, thus becoming the appeaser of an armed doctrine with the following tenets: it is racist, misogynist, homophobic, totalitarian, inquisitional, imperialist, and genocidal.

Not only is this a false dichotomy, it's a fallacious straw man as well. Amis, perhaps unaware of it, appears to be channelling George Bush himself, who said in the days after September the 11th that you're either with us or you're with the terrorists. Amazingly enough, you can both oppose all the above tenets, the murderous rampages against innocent civilians by the "Islamic State of Iraq" and the original war itself, sold on lies and misinformation without having to choose between either. For once, Tony Blair was right: there is a third way, and that Amis and others don't see it is only going to entrench the failure of the so-called war on terror so far.

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Monday, September 10, 2007 

Scum-watch: McCann sycophancy and scummy mummies.

A relatively quick breeze then through today's Scum leader column:

KATE and Gerry McCann must have thought the nightmare couldn’t get worse after their daughter Madeleine vanished.


First, there was the apparent lack of interest from the bungling Portuguese police. Then came the vile rumours about them in the local press.

While there could certainly be something to be said about the slow reaction from the Portuguese police in failing to close or notify the Spain/Portugal border, to call it a lack of interest is nothing short of a slur. They conducted searches throughout the area of Praia da Luz, interviewed everyone involved and shortly declared a man to be a suspect. It was only then that the trail went cold, which isn't exactly their fault. The very nature of the McCanns' media campaign could be just as responsible, resulting in the kidnapper going to ground and keeping Madeleine locked away from wherever anyone could see or find her. It was always a difficult decision to make, and we may never know whether it was the right one.

Now, after receiving dubious forensic reports, they are being treated as “suspects” in the case.

Naturally, if this case had involved terrorist suspects, someone accused of abducting a child or almost anyone else in this country, it seems unlikely that the Scum would be referring to forensic reports against them, compiled by the British Forensic Service, as dubious.

No wonder the McCanns were anxious to be back in the bosom of supportive relatives and friends.

But they would be more reassured if detectives in Portugal concentrated on trying to find Maddie.

In their pursuit of the McCanns they seem to have forgotten even to go through the motions of hunting the kidnapper who might still have the four-year-old in his clutches.

Uh, that was what they were doing up until they first apparently started to suspect the McCanns themselves, wasn't it? So believing of the McCanns, not willing to accept for a moment they just might have something to do with Madeleine's disappearance, the Sun's left with trying to accuse the detectives of not continuing the search for her. The reason they're no longer going through the motions appears to be obvious: they no longer think that she has been kidnapped, concluding that she's dead, either at the hands of her parents as the result of an accident or otherwise. It's one thing to accuse them of "bungling"; another to suggest that they've given up completely.


ALL pregnant mums are to get £120 of YOUR money in the hope they will spend it on healthy food.

Christ, MY money? I'm broke as it is!

Yet wealthy “yummy mummies” don’t need the cash, and already put food under the microscope.

“Scummy mummies” at the bottom of the heap will just spend the hand-out on booze and fags.

Lovely. Considering the very fact that the Sun itself is a caricature, it's not exactly surprising that it's using them in such a crude way here. It does however though say something about the Sun itself: a supposed working class publication, one of its biggest hatreds is of its very readers', condemned as "chavs", "yobs", "scroungers", leftie trade union dinosaurs and now as "scummy mummies". The very fact that the paper of choice amongst such people is likely to be the Sun has never entered into it. Even so, it's quite true that Alan Johnson's idea is a complete and utter clusterfuck, an obvious bribe, as others have expanded upon.

It does however bear comparing to another recent bung; the Tories' policy commitment to recognising marriage in the tax system. Both are aimed at achieving similar supposedly laudatory measure, in the case of the "health in pregnancy" grant narrowing the disparity between the rich and poor in health terms, while the Tories' pledge is in encouraging commitment in relationships and promoting the family as a way of tackling Britian's "broken society". Both are also completely spurious arguments, based on politics and narrow interests. The difference is that Labour's is meant to help the poorest: the Tories' on the other hand, despite all the bluster, is so opaque that an 8-year-old could see through it, an open bribe at middle class families already married. It's interesting then to note that while the Sun (and numerous other right-wingers) fully supported the Tories' idea, it completely rejects the Labour one, even though they're both idiotic. Could it be possibly be something to do with which class each is aimed at? No, that couldn't possibly be it; only the left indulges in class warfare.

While the cost to the taxpayer would be £120 for each pregnant woman, the Tories have raised the figure of around a £20 a week saving for married couples. Do the math: that's a lot more money to those who really don't need it courtesy of the fiscally sound Tories than it is from the stealth taxing, wasteful Labour.

As the Scum says:

It is this sort of expensive gimmick that drives taxpayers crazy.

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Setting up franchises.

US soldiers pose with former insurgents, allegedly from Hamas in Iraq in a village on the outskirts of Baghdad.

In his "The Solution" diatribe, released at the weekend (PDF), rather than pointing the finger at the decadent lifestyles of those that inhabit the "West", a familiar bugbear of Islamist takfiris, bin Laden instead targeted, of all things, capitalism. Coming from someone who used his family's wealth and connections from the very beginning of his radicalisation to finance the various causes he's espoused over the years, not to mention how he now relies on the donations of rich Saudis, to suggest this is ever so slightly hypocritical is akin to remarking that Julian Clary is only a little camp.

Rather than capitalism itself though, bin Laden retains the majority of his fire for corporations, who he describes as the "real tyrannical terrorists". While you can't help thinking that he might not survive telling that to the faces of the families of the thousands murdered by jihadis in Iraq in "martyrdom operations", bin Laden and his mostly autonomous organisation have actually themselves drew on one of the most successful, but also tyrannical business innovations of the 20th century. To quote Tyler in Fight Club, after hearing the narrator explain how he never really knew his father because he'd left and only knew him by the fact that he traveled around a lot, leaving behind women who subsequently had children in different cities, "the fucker's setting up franchises."

Which is exactly the method that al-Qaida is using to further scare the citizens of the West, who go into spasms of terror on hearing of the latest bombing claimed in their name wherever in the world.

The first, inevitable franchise that al-Qaida has managed to set-up is in Iraq. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, originally in Iraq prior to the invasion with the Kurdish-based Ansar al-Islam group, first split from them (Ansar al-Islam was eventually to become Ansar al-Sunnah) and set-up his own terrorist group, which went through various names, eventually settling on Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, or the Group of Monotheism and the Holy Struggle. Quickly becoming both notorious for its brutality, such as the suicide bombing on the UN's headquarters and the beheading of various Western hostages on video, subsequently distributed on the internet, al-Zarqawi, having formerly been believed to have been a potential rival to bin Laden, apparently swore allegiance to him, and his group subsequently became known as al-Qaida in Iraq, or the Organization of Jihad's Base in the Country of the Two Rivers. While the name has not stayed the same, with al-Qaida subsequently becoming a "coalition", first in the Mujahideen Shura Council and currently within the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq, the die was cast. That the original group was never Iraqi-based, and still now relies heavily on foreign jihadists, has made little difference to those sympathetic towards the Salafist militant ideology, with the group being by far the most popular
terrorist/insurgent/resistance group in Iraq among the online jihadist community.

Apparently seeing a good thing going on, partly because it suits both the United States, the Iraqi government and al-Qaida itself to blame/claim almost all the insurgent attacks on/for bin Laden's original organisation, it's recently been an idea that has been expanded. Back in May, the previously unheard of al-Qaida in al-Sham (the Levant region, containing Lebanon, Syria and Jordan) released a video of a man wearing a suicide vest and a khaffiya, who delivered a typically bloodcurdling speech of threats against the region's Christians:

“we will tear out your hearts with traps and surround your places with explosive canisters, and target all your businesses, beginning with tourism and ending with other rotten industries... We warn you for the last time, and after it there will only be rivers of blood.”

That would be quite something, coming from a group that previously hadn't existed, and which probably actually really doesn't exist as of yet, except for propaganda purposes. While Fatah al-Islam, recently defeated after the Lebanese army almost completely destroyed Nahr al-Bared refugee camp was an apparent believer in the takfirist ideology, there's little to suggest that there are really any existing groups that AQiAS will be built around, at least as of yet.

The situation is entirely different in Algeria however. While most of the fighters who took part in the civil war have put down their weapons, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat has continued the fight to the present day. A group cut down to its very base, estimated to have around 300 active members back in 2003, it serves both their and al-Qaida's purpose, sharing an ideology and an enemy, to harmonise their wars. Following contact with al-Zahawiri last year, the group formally swore allegiance to bin Laden back in January, and since then has carried out its most deadly attacks in years, all with al-Qaida's name attached to them. While it's true that this has likely increased both the numbers of potential recruits and funding, it's giving al-Qaida far too much credit, and the media, including the Guardian, which does at least mention the group's past in its report, really ought to know better than just give bin Laden's group the "honours".

Just like corporations and their franchises inspire boycotts and opposition though, the same is true of bin Laden's. Up until early 2006 the insurgency in Iraq, despite being both takfirist and nationalist in nature and with many disparate groupings, was mostly united against a common enemy: the Americans and what they considered as the illegitimate Iraqi government and its police and army. Since then, the continued murderous nature of al-Qaida in Iraq's attacks on civilians and its ridiculously harsh interpretation of Sharia law in the places where it had control, often with tribal backing, has finally led to the long predicted backlash, both from the tribal groups themselves, with the setting up of savior councils both in Anbar and in Diyala province, and also from its once erstwhile allies, especially from the Islamic Army in Iraq and the 1920 Revolution Brigades, both of which have now set up their own "umbrella" groupings with other insurgent groups, opposed to the "Islamic State". The 1920RB itself split in half after its leader was killed by al-Qaida; one section, calling itself "Hamas in Iraq" has aligned completely with the American forces in an attempt to drive them out.

If al-Qaida is to become a truly global phenomenon, there are going to have to be a lot more setting up of these franchises. The thing is, while al-Qaida is by no means universal, the ideology behind it most certainly is. At the moment, there's no real need for the formal formation of al-Qaida in Europe or al-Qaida in North America; individuals, not necessarily connected to "the base", as established by both by the attacks in Madrid and Kamel Bourgass, neither of whom have ever been proved to have a link to al-Qaida, have acted under their own steam or with the help of other sympathetic groupings. That, and of course the fact that whenever anything so much as pops the media are screaming "AL-QAIDA" means for the moment that bin Laden has no need to bring the base of jihad to either these or American shores.

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Anyone got a Schilling update.

Schillings have finally this afternoon deigned to reply to my two messages sent on Thursday evening. They requested that I remove their "copyrighted" letter, which I have done, not because I either want to, have to or feel the need to, but because I see no reason to prolong this pointless encounter. They and I consider the matter closed.

This whole affair has only once again highlighted how once a supposedly libelous article/post is out there online, it's incredibly difficult for it be removed, and not even Schillings, according to the drivel on their website about how they're the most feared and leading law firm, are likely to succeed in removing it from all the other sites it has subsequently spread to. Going after bloggers' only linking to articles is also one of the most cowardly and indefensible actions that these parasites, earning vast amounts of money working for some of the most unsavoury characters around spend their time doing. I do indeed hope that they sleep well at night.

Update: Added "Alisher Usmanov" to the labels so that this post will show up on the page currently being linked to by numerous bloggers explaining the temporary disappearance of Bloggerheads and other sites, thanks to Alisher Usmanov and his band of arse-lickers, Schillings.

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Saturday, September 08, 2007 

Bin Laden fetishism.

Out of all the well-known figures to make reference to your work, one of them you perhaps wouldn't choose to do so would have to be Osama bin Laden. In a previous video he made reference to Robert Fisk, who he said he regarded as impartial, having previously been interviewed by him. This time round he mentions Noam Chomsky, who perhaps won't see the same boost in sales as when Hugo Chavez praised his work, and Michael Scheuer, a former CIA agent and ex-head of the search for bin Laden himself, author of a couple of excellent books on how the current approach to the so-called "war on terror" is failing.

Then again, if there was any sense or justice it wouldn't make any difference. Bin Laden is a complete irrelevance, and has been since the failure to capture him in late 2001 in Afghanistan. His latest lecture to America (PDF), focusing on the evils of capitalism, and urging the world to convert to Islam, isn't exactly going to change minds. The only real significance of the video is that despite all the rumours, he is most certainly still alive (if he was dead he'd have been instantly hailed as a martyr by a group not afraid to admit when its "heroes" are killed), and in tune as always with world politics and international developments, despite supposedly being a fugitive with a massive bounty on his head. Embarrassing as this is to the Bush administration, it makes very little difference either to the international jihadist movement, or indeed to almost anything else.

Bin Laden's only real remaining purpose is as the figurehead and inspiration of that movement. While Ayman al-Zawahiri, the spiritual leader of al-Qaida and also most probably the real leader due to bin Laden's evident failure to get any new messages or video released since January 2006 up until now has released half a dozen videos this year, he lacks the charisma and romance associated with the Saudi-born 50-year-old. While Zawahiri is respected, his moniker of the Doctor says it all: his coldness, rather than his theological background makes him a far lesser potential leader of men.

In any case, the very fact that bin Laden has failed to release a steady stream of messages has meant that his own star has somewhat faded. While most jihadists are focused on the insurgency in Iraq and elsewhere, his distance from that conflict, and indeed, the failure to address it, kept up in this newest message by only stating that the war will continue, has done little to engage those less interested in bombastic propaganda against America and more fascinated by what he has to say to them. In fact, the failure of al-Qaida in Iraq to gain mass support in that country is surely the biggest signifier of his own inability to influence things there. Yesterday saw the establishment of another coalition of jihadist/resistance Sunni groups, the "Front for Jihad and Change", the most notable groups within the front being the 1920 Revolution Brigades and Jaish al-Rashideen. The "Islamic State of Iraq", while responsible for the vast majority of suicide bombings and for some of the most spectacular attacks, relies heavily on foreign fighters, especially as the "martyrs" themselves. It's also now highly rumoured that the supposed Iraqi "emir" of the group, Omar al-Baghdadi, is one and the same as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the successor to al-Zarqawi as the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, an Egyptian protege of al-Zahawiri, undermining the supposed Iraqi base to the group. With three different coalitions of resistance groups now operating, two of them increasingly opposed to the self-proclaimed "Islamic State", the possibility of an Algerian style conflict between them looms ever larger.

Bin Laden's bloody legacy was assured as soon as that first plane hit the twin towers on the 11th of September. His awakening and spreading of the message of extremist, militant Salafist Islam has probably succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, but even so, it has not the slightest hope of ever achieving its self-proclaimed goals, liberating Jerusalem and eventually establishing a caliphate. If he was to die tomorrow, it would make no difference whatsoever either to the conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia or to the possibility of further attacks here or in America. He's served whatever purpose he had; it's now time to stop treating him as if he has any control whatsoever over anything.

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Still failing to get the balance right.

Witnessing the current rush to defend the McCanns by the vast majority of the British media, it's hard not to think of just how daft they're going to look if they move from being suspects to being charged. The previous biggest reverse ferret in history was the death of Diana; this could yet far surpass it.

From the very beginning, the coverage of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, at first highly manipulative, the equivalent of emotional pornography when there was very little that anyone in this country could do to help, has struck almost entirely the wrong note consistently. The lack of desire to examine any alternative theories, the attacks on the German radio journalist who dared to ask one of the first difficult questions directly of the couple, all of it has been so utterly craven and so completely untypical of this countries' tabloid media. The one supposed saving grace of the tabloid culture is its indefatigability; it is unrestrained, unafraid to think the unthinkable, and uses all of its critical muster, often for ill. Numerous previous cases have shown how it loves to think the very worst: see Colin Stagg, smeared, libeled, pursued and attacked for years until he was finally cleared of all involvement in the murder of Rachel Nickell; Maxine Carr, smeared and attacked for lying for the man she both loved and was in fear of, forced to be given a new identity because of the hate that the tabloids, especially the Sun threw at her; and a paedophile whose former garden was dug up last year after a tip-off, with the Sun screaming about a new "house of horrors", a reference to the bodies buried on the property of Fred and Rosemary West, only for the entire story to completely disappear and never be mentioned again after no human remains were discovered.

All of this has been thrown out of the window when it's come to the McCanns. The unwillingness to think any ill of them whatsoever, and now to treat the Portuguese decision to make both Gerry and Kate suspects as evidence of a plot to fit them up because of the police's own incompetence suggests that many journalists have completely lost the faculty to report the story with any modicum of independence. It's ever so slightly reminiscent of the case of Louise Woodward, also a Brit abroad, who was almost universally held by the tabloids to be innocent, regardless of the merits of the defense or prosecution case.

To call it strange would be by no means overplaying the atmosphere currently prevailing. The mood of the close to six past years in the new age of terror has been to presume guilt until innocence has been proved, as the attitude towards the Kamal family showed. With the McCanns it's been the absolute opposite. It'd be a welcome development if this was shown to all those suspected of crime, but somehow I can't imagine it'll spread. As with everything, there has to be a balance, and it's been as sorely missing as ever.

I have no idea whether the McCanns have anything to do with the disappearance of Madeleine, but to completely discount the possibility, especially in line with the forensic evidence, examined not by the Portuguese police remember but by the Forensic Science Service in this country would be foolhardy, considering the complete lack of any other suspects apart from Robert Murat, himself the victim of heavy speculation to begin with. The so-called feral beasts, when made to decide between a middle-class British couple and a foreign police force, have already made their choice.

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Friday, September 07, 2007 

"Hate on the state" and "hardline takeovers".

After a slight hiatus, the past week has seen something of a renewed desire to try to make mountains out of molehills. First up, Newsnight on Wednesday dwelled heavily on a report (PDF) from the Centre of Social Cohesion, itself an off-shoot of the right-wing thinktank Civitas, which discovered that libraries tend to have books in them. Yeah, I was surprised as well: I'd assumed that they'd been abolished a few years back in favour of filling the buildings with DVDs, CDs, computers plugged into the internet and coffee shops.

To be serious for a second, the most eye-catching part of the report was that they'd found two books by Abu Hamza and one by Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal in Tower Hamlets' Islamic collection. Both men are currently serving time for incitement to murder. Let's get the condemnation out of the way: it ought to be obvious to anyone that books by those two perhaps shouldn't be on the shelves, as likely as they are to cause gratuitous offense, and at the very least they should perhaps be kept back and only loaned out on specific request. Where, however, do you draw the line? Throughout the discussion, politicians and commentators alike couldn't get enough references and comparions to Mein Kampf in, yet we have no problems with that remaining on the library shelves. One of my more optimistic sixth-form history teachers even suggested at one point that we read it. I think we declined her kind offer.

The rest of the report mainly dealt with the fact that the Tower Hamlets council's Islamic collection (the report itself also deals with what it found on the shelves of Waltham Forest and Birmingham council's collection) also had 11 copies of Sayid Qutb's Milestones, a well-known radical text which has influenced jihadists as well as the Muslim Brotherhood which Qutb belonged to, and also books by Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab and Muhammad Jamil Zino, which contained such charming theoretical questions and answers as:

"Is it allowed to support and love disbelievers?" he asks. The answer is simply "no".

Well, there go my chances of copping off with an niqab-wearing babe.

The problem is, as Douglas Murray, co-author of the report admits on his blog posting responding to the council's responses, many of the writings are historic and scholarly works. One of the first places to go to understand the jihadi mindset is to read Qutb, who famously went to America in the late 40s, had a woman come on to him and recoiled like a teenager caught looking at pornography by his mother. It's one thing discarding "Women who deserve to go to hell", curiously written by the armless Hamza, quite another to then start accusing libraries of providing "Hate on the State" by stocking Qutb. Incidentally, in case some of you were wondering, Murray is indeed the same Murray who has recently popped up on Question Time and been roundly disliked for having all the personality and charm of a randy rhino, and he has his own humourous literary creation, Neoconseservatism: Why We Need It, filling up remainder buckets as you read this.

To be clear, it's not as though Murray and his cohorts are advocating removing such books from the shelves altogether, just that they need to be balanced with more liberal scholarly interpretations of Islam, which is a decent aim. It does however seem something of a cheap shot, being purely used to bash the liberal consensus with. It's not as if books/speeches by all the above are not freely available online: Qutb's Wikipedia page links directly to Milestones, provided by err, an anti-Islamist website. It's also well known, despite constant attempts to suggest otherwise, that the vast majority of radicalisation is not currently occurring either in mosques or universities, but online, through personal research or meeting like-minds. It's that we have to quickly learn how to tackle, not keep watch on who's taking out semi-coherent rants by bearded fanatics.

Today's story in the Times is broadly similar, except ever so slightly more hysterical:

Hardline takeover of British mosques

Almost half of Britain’s mosques are under the control of a hardline Islamic sect whose leading preacher loathes Western values and has called on Muslims to “shed blood” for Allah, an investigation by The Times has found.

Riyadh ul Haq, who supports armed jihad and preaches contempt for Jews, Christians and Hindus, is in line to become the spiritual leader of the Deobandi sect in Britain. The ultra-conservative movement, which gave birth to the Taleban in Afghanistan, now runs more than 600 of Britain’s 1,350 mosques, according to a police report seen by The Times.

Ignore the bit about hardline takeover of British mosques; it's bollocks. The Deobandi "sect" has long been popular in this country, and saying it gave birth to the Taliban, while strictly true, is similar to suggesting that the co-operative movement gave birth to Stalinism.

Rather what the Times has uncovered is that Riyadh ul Haq, now predicted to become the spiritual leader of the Deobandis in the UK by becoming the head of the influential Bury seminary, has made a series of speeches which vary from the idiotic (calling New York "Jew York") to those similar to the remarks featured in the Dispatches documentary Undercover Mosque (“Allah has warned us in the Koran, do not befriend the kuffar [unbelievers], do not align yourselves with the kuffar”). Unlike the Channel 4 documentary, the Times has avoided the accusation of selectively quoting or taking the remarks out of context, publishing 5 of the speeches in full.

It appears then that ul Haq is, to quote one of David T from Harry's Place's comments on CiF:

- preaching the nastiest racism about jews and calling for god to punish jews.

- praising the Taliban

- telling muslims not to be friends with, or behave in any way like, non-muslims

Which does pretty much sum it up. It is also highly disconcerting that this man, with such views once he's out of earshot or sight of "non-Muslims", is apparently about to take over as the spiritual leader of the Deobandis in this country. His views need to be condemned, ridiculed and contradicted, as does those at least of two of his students, also quoted making similar comments.

Let's not give into a fantasy however that this is what is being preached in all 600 of those mosques every Friday. The Times does attempt to cover its bases by including interviews with two other graduates of the Bury seminary who repudiate ul-Haq's speeches, saying in the original article that "It is not suggested that all British Muslims who worship at Deobandi mosques subscribe to the isolationist message preached by Mr ul Haq" and in a second article going out of its way to be as reasonable as possible, mentioning that "in one talk, Mr ul Haq tells British Muslims that he is 'not suggesting that we should rise here - I'm sure we are all sensible enough to know that" and "we will not endanger the life of any innocent person" but at its core this is still a piece designed to cause not just concern, but anger, dismay and fear at what is potentially being preached throughout the country. It comes at a time when, as Sunny writes today on Pickled Politics, ever more disparate but liberal brown voices are making themselves heard, and when the government itself admits that it hasn't been listening widely and broadly enough. The last thing we need is to get back into the cycle from last year where for a time there seemed to be a free for all in in attacking Muslims as a whole.

This is not to underestimate the seriousness that the views of a minority can pose. This though is an example of how a well-sourced, balanced article quickly gets turned on its head, containing none of the caveats of the original:

Hate sect runs 600 mosques

NEARLY half of Britain’s mosques are run by an Islamic sect that orders followers to “shed blood” for Allah, it emerged last night.

A probe by The Times revealed more than 600 out of 1,350 mosques are controlled by the extremist Deobandi sect, which helped create the Taliban in Afghanistan.

One of the movement’s most senior clerics is British-born Riyadh Ul Haq, a hardline preacher once quizzed by cops over a fatal shooting in Leicester in 2003. He has branded New York “Jew York” in sermons and has also warned followers they should distance themselves from the “kuffar” (non-believers).

In another sermon, about Israel, Ul Haq warned: “We will consider it an honour and a privilege to shed blood.”

And so on. Where is this rewriting of the original from? From within the same building.

We have to be better at countering this than just issuing damp apologetics, as both Ajmal Masroor and Inayat Bunglawala do on CiF. We have to ask why we don't already know about how such views are being preached at such a high level. We can't pretend it isn't there, or that it will go away. What we can do is found out why this isn't such common knowledge, and move on from there into countering such a message. At the same time, we have to remember, that this is the view of 99%, as elucidated by Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra:

I don’t see why my creator would want me not to live in peace and harmony with my non-Muslim neighbours. This is a country which allows me to be a Muslim and which gives us so many freedoms. My Government has done some things that I’m not proud of, but a lot more that I am very proud of. I would not wish to live anywhere else.

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Compare and contrast.

Sometimes, all you have to do is contrast two articles:

SYDNEY, Australia -- President Bush had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day at the Sydney Opera House.

He'd only reached the third sentence of Friday's speech to business leaders, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, when he committed his first gaffe.

"Thank you for being such a fine host for the OPEC summit," Bush said to Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

Oops. That would be APEC, the annual meeting of leaders from 21 Pacific Rim nations, not OPEC, the cartel of 12 major oil producers.

Bush quickly corrected himself. "APEC summit," he said forcefully, joking that Howard had invited him to the OPEC summit next year (for the record, an impossibility, since neither Australia nor the U.S. are OPEC members).

The president's next goof went uncorrected - by him anyway. Talking about Howard's visit to Iraq last year to thank his country's soldiers serving there, Bush called them "Austrian troops."

That one was fixed for him. Though tapes of the speech clearly show Bush saying "Austrian," the official text released by the White House switched it to "Australian."

Then, speech done, Bush confidently headed out - the wrong way.

He strode away from the lectern on a path that would have sent him over a steep drop. Howard and others redirected the president to center stage, where there were steps leading down to the floor of the theater.

The medics had 20 minutes’ warning. A soldier badly wounded by a roadside bomb was coming in. It was only after the helicopter landed at the 28th Combat Support Hospital inside Baghdad’s green zone that they realised quite how badly.

As they cut away his blood-sodden bandages in the trauma ward they found that all four limbs had either been severed or were attached by little more than skin. He had 70 per cent burns to what was left of his body.

They worked frantically to keep him alive. All his remaining limbs were amputated except for the top of one arm. Within hours he was air-borne again – this time bound for Germany and an onward flight to the Brooke Army Medical Centre in Texas.

There, some time soon, he will wake to realise that life as he knew it is over.

While President Bush will still have a lifetime of gaffes to make.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007 

Let sunshine (and volunteering) win the day.

Err, so anyway, where was I?

In just how many different ways can you write that David Cameron is an idiot? Each new idea he presents is somehow spectacularly worse than the last: let's have a debate between the three party leaders before an election to see just how little difference there is between the three of them! Give police the power to stop and search whoever the hell they like! Hand out £20 a week to middle-class families who'll vote for us whatever happens, but it isn't a bribe, oh no! Destroy the Human Rights Act, the hated legacy of err, Winston Churchill!

After getting it in the neck from Michael Ancram earlier in the week, what then would be a policy that would instantly cause all the usual right-wing types to do the equivalent of dropping their panties and throwing them at Dave's lovable cheeky pink face? How many times do we hear it? Bring back national service!

And so it was done. Well, sort of. Dave's policy isn't for all 16-year-olds to get suited and booted, strap on a backpack and learn how to fix a bayonet on a sandbag, although that might conceivably make up a whole week of the six that he's declared that they should all willing give up for the love of their country, but they will be heavily encouraged to do "voluntary" work and spend at least two weeks away from home. After all, what better way to encourage our youngsters to love their glorious country than make them walk up a bloody great hill with other people they don't know and will probably loathe on sight?

Presenting his plans to that august organ of good taste, sanity and fair play, the Sun, Cameron admits that his plans haven't been costed, but after all, it'll pay for itself! Just think:

But he insists it will SAVE the nation money by slashing the numbers of kids turning into yobs. Crime will fall and many of the nation’s costly social problems will be reduced, he says.

Right, let's get this straight. After 11 years of school, education, association with your peers and citizenship classes, what's really going to stop our errant, feckless youth from knifing each other, getting together in gangs with stupid names like the "Burger Bar Boyz" and congregating on street corners being a general nuisance is a voluntary scheme with a sort of bribe, half going to the organisation worked for and half to the charity of choice of the teenager at the end of it. All that's required is to ship them off to a third world country, see some real suffering, get them to sing the national anthem and pledge allegiance to our clearly not undemocratic monarch, and those about to turn to yobbery will instead see the error of their ways, start reading the Daily Telegraph and take a vow of chastity. Problem sorted.

There just might be a few chinks in the armour of this plan. Cameron admits it's uncosted; how much is such an ambitious scheme, potentially involving the around 150,000 kids turning 16 every year going to work out at? A lot, that's for sure. Then there's the obvious other flaw: what's the point if it isn't going to be compulsory? As others have spent the rest of the day pointing out, the vast majority of schools already offer similar schemes such as the Duke of Edinburgh award, while there are already other voluntary volunteering schemes, including ones set up by this very government. For those who haven't succeeded or have struggled, there's the Prince's Trust. Aren't the Tories meant to be big on the voluntary and private sector sorting things out rather than the state, or is that the point, with this being farmed out to those very organisations?

This doesn't just smack of not being properly thought through, it's completely and utterly threadbare. It doesn't take into account the main failure of the Duke of Edinburgh scheme: that it's mainly the middle class kids, already in the Scouts or similar that take part while all the rest sit it out, either because of lack of money or because they don't much fancy doing something that doesn't count for hardly anything unless you bother going for the gold award, which requires a ridiculous amount of work. The Duke of Edinburgh scheme at the least usually takes place during term time, while this is meant to happen during the summer, just after the teenagers have gone through probably the most stressful time of their lives. They're not going to be interested in traipsing through the countryside or helping old ladies across roads, they're going to want to relax and wait for their GCSE results in relative peace.

Which also brings us to the something else overlooked. 16-year-olds, relatively free, tend to think about two things: getting drunk and getting laid. What better way to bring together those two things than by taking them away from home for two weeks? The teenage version of Big Brother for once painted a fairly accurate picture of life when two of the housemates got it on far more eagerly than they tend to in the adult version. You can just imagine the tabloid headlines if things predictably get a little out of control at one of these camps.

Seeing as we're currently pretending to be in the spirit of seeking consensus, listening to everyone's views and then deciding policy on the basis of that, perhaps it would be a good idea to actually ask some teenagers what they'd like to do or what they think of Mr Cameron's plans. The response might be all too illuminating. Amazingly, the Sun's leader writer has also decided that not all young people are so bad after all:

But hang on — not all youngsters are tearaways looking for someone to mug. The vast majority are decent, considerate and appalled by bad behaviour.

Really? What tabloid reader would have thought that? The paper then unwittingly demolishes the whole policy accidentally:

The Boy Scouts offered this sort of community training for more than half a century.

The Duke of Edinburgh scheme and Outward Bound courses have been amazingly successful.

What then is the point if it isn't compulsory?

The answer came there none.

Related post:
Bob Piper - The good old days are gone

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Anyone got a Schilling?

Stop! You can't link to that!

There's very little quite like the joy on returning home of an evening to find that you've been legally threatened in your absence. Last year this involved an injunction from the "dangerously deceitful, ruthless, exploitative and corrupt" Mr Mahzer Mahmood, courtesy of his lawyers, Farrer and Co. Imagine my excitement on finding the following in my inbox, this time from Schillings, acting on behalf of a certain Alisher Usmanov (you'll have to click to enlarge:)

Update: letter removed, not because I feel the need to bow to Schillings request that it be taken down or have to, but because I see no reason to prolong this pointless little affair.

I'm not the first to receive the delightful threats from Schillings on behalf of their client, nor probably the last: Julian Bond, owner of the UK blog aggregator also had Schillings on the phone telling him to remove Murray's post. His site had reproduced it verbatim: my original post, now edited to remove Craig's "false, indefensible and grossly defamatory" comments, only linked to Craig's while using his title as the hyperlink. It now only links to Craig's post. Having emailed Tim at Bloggerheads, it seems that Schillings have also now contacted Craig himself.

Schillings themselves aren't exactly very bright: here they are having apparently mailed/faxed a letter out to Dreamhost, based in the good old land of the free, and they're citing a legal precedent set in this country in order to threaten them. Good job Schillings; unless Mr Usmanov intends to sue Dreamhost in this country, I don't think you're going to get very far.

In any case, I've phoned up Schillings, discovered that those responsible for Mr Usmanov have left the office, and talked to the apparent work experience kid, who will relate my edits to the "false, indefensible and grossly defamatory" post to his superiors. There are however just a few other points to make:

1. Considering I currently have to my name somewhere in the region of £150.00 and no collateral whatsoever, neither Schillings nor Mr Usmanov if they pursued their action would get very rich off me.

2. That going after bloggers simply linking to a post because your big baby of a client has thrown his rattle out of the pram has to make you one of the most insufferable, sycophantic, brown-nosing little toadies on the face of the planet. Oh, I forgot, "you're only doing your job".

3. I would like to refer Schillings, although not their client, as he seems the kind who might be offended, to the precedent set by Arkell vs Pressdram, or indeed, to any of the legal responses from the Pirate Bay, such as this one. Thank you.

Update: Craig's original post has been temporarily removed pending legal advice.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007 

Cascading immigrants from the Express, pontificating pop singers in the Sun.

It's not difficult to become a "scholar" of the Daily Express. The front pages have at most 5 themes, to be exchanged and trotted out as and when is necessary. Firstly, the weather, that hardy perennial; next house prices; then Princess Diana, or the new Diana, whichever currently missing/dead young girl/woman, at the moment Madeleine McCann; immigration or asylum, and finally, whichever latest crime/insult/outrage/abduction Muslims/the Polish/aliens have been deemed to have committed.

Today, after most likely wearing out every possible lead on the people's Madeleine, and probably still smarting from the call for Diana to be finally laid to rest, it's time to pick on another dead horse: migrant skivers flooding into our green and pleasant land from France.

THOUSANDS of illegal immigrants were last night queueing to sneak into Britain – and officials in France are preparing to help them on their way, the Daily Express can reveal.

Ah yes, the perfidious French, always wanting to do one over on les
ros bifs.

French politicians are plotting to build a new Sangatte-style camp in the port of Cherbourg in north-west France.

Last night riot police were placed on stand-by as scores of refugees headed to a squalid shanty town in hills overlooking the docks.

For French politicians, read one French politician, the mayor of Cherbourg, who has called for proper facilities to be established, and not anywhere near the actual port, as the article admits further on in, but somewhere it would be easier to control what those at the camp were doing. Naturally, we're provided with quotes from the usual suspects:

Sir Andrew Green, of the think-tank MigrationWatch, told the Daily Express: “This looks like another Sangatte on the horizon.

“We will not tackle this problem until Britain ceases to be a soft touch.

“But yet again there is no reason why these people do not claim asylum in France.”

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: “Some years ago David Blunkett promised the British ­people that he had reached a solution to this problem.

“Now we are finding out just how short-lived that solution was, and we are likely to see ever more Sangatte-style camps established.

All of which might be slightly familiar to the few remaining readers of the Express. Last month the paper printed an article almost exactly the same, except scaremongering about the possibility of people traffickers' operating from Cherbourg. It too featured, you guessed it, rent-a-quotes from "Sir" Andrew Green and David Davis:

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: “The Government has long since lost control of our borders. It is no good increasing security measures at one port, then leaving gaps elsewhere along our borders.

Sir Andrew Green, of pressure group MigrationWatch UK, said: “The Government has made a great deal of the new precautions it has put in place on the Calais to Dover route. It was only a matter of time before people- smugglers sought to try a different route. This looks like evidence that they have done so.”

If at first you don't succeed, you might as well try again, slightly altering the article, consulting the same people and then submitting the article to the savouring editor. The journalist responsible in this case is Nick Fagge.

In fact, the horror of a new Sangatte has been a recurring theme in the Express. Back on the 14th of April the Express screamed about the creation of a "new Sangatte", this time back in Calais, only for that to come to nothing, but not before the Express shouted about "ANOTHER FRENCH BETRAYAL." In June, in an report written by none other than Nick Fagge, it claimed to have obtained the blueprints for "Sangatte 2", a facility soon to open which it compares to the Big Brother house, while the article features quotes from "Sir" Andrew Green and the Tories' immigration spokesman, Damian Green. The centre was said to be open within weeks; it appears to be yet to do so.

A quick recap then: immigrants haven't found a new way into Britain; politicians aren't plotting to help them on their way, rather they're trying to deal with the numbers of refugees; and David Davis and Andrew Green are still repetitive, brain-addled morons.

Meanwhile, over at the Sun, (somewhat via
Tim) things aren't going much better. After lambasting her hacks for failing to get an interview with Pete Doherty, Rebekah Wade seems to have been ordered by Murdoch to keep the Scum's headline sales above the 3 million mark whatever the cost, leading to the price in the south east and London being slashed to 20 pence, and street vendors being recruited and ordered out onto the streets themselves. According to the Grauniad, this is all down to the London freesheets, especially the Metro. That must really hurt; have you ever actually picked up a copy of the Metro? There's about as much news in each copy as there is on the back of a fag packet, usually badly written and presented, but alongside all the usual celebrity tosh that fills up the pages of the Mail/Scum etc. When you can't compete with that, it really may be time to pack it all in.

Fortunately, the Scum lets those of us who wouldn't touch its actual pages without gloves on read it, warts and all, online. Where else could you read such delightful stories about Facebook without obvious disclaimers about the Sun's own interest in social-networking sites due to News Corporation's ownership of MySpace?
PRIVACY fears have been raised after Facebook opened up its membership database to other web search engines.

At present, Facebook members can only be found by other members by searching on the website's homepage.

But the company has begun to send out messages to members to say that non-members, using engines such as Google and Yahoo, will soon be able to find their names and profile pictures.

The move is likely to worry some members who choose Facebook for its privacy protections.

A year ago, the site was embroiled in a privacy storm among students over changes that exposed users' postings to their friends.

And controversy surrounded the site recently after it was revealed that potential employers and universities could use Facebook to look at candidates.

Well, quite. Just one single, small point to make: MySpace is already wide open to anyone who wants to search it, both from its own site, without membership, and from other search engines. While the article mentions all the foibles associated with Facebook,
it doesn't deign to note the fact that MurdochSpace was found to have 29,000 registered sex offenders with profiles, only a few months after all of them were meant to have been deleted. Indeed, the Sun has never reported the fact, although virtually every other newspaper did.

Next up, we're informed of the political views of one of the members of Girls Aloud, that well-known social commentating pop group:

Speaking to The Sun as part of a series of exclusive interviews to mark Girls Aloud’s big comeback, Nicola says: “I can’t believe what happened to that little boy.

“I’ve got an 11-year-old brother and it just makes my blood go cold thinking about it.

"It could have been anywhere, in any city. I’m disgusted by it and just pray they can catch whoever did it.

“And I blame TONY BLAIR and GORDON BROWN. We don’t have tough enough laws — the people that did this to Rhys need to be locked up.

“They are bound to have committed other crimes but no one can do anything about it because the laws aren’t in place to get them put away.

"We should lock up more people. I know the prisons are full, just build more!

“Young criminals now think they can get away with committing crimes. I can’t believe the state of this country.

“I can understand some people are in a vicious circle, coming from a difficult background, but they don’t have to become criminals.

“You have got to look at the parents too — how are they bringing up their children?”

Breathtaking common sense! This is what we need, not Jacqui Smith, but Nicola Roberts as the home secretary! In fact, the Sun has kindly provided a comparison between the two, asking readers would they'd vote for. It's easy to see why Rebekah Wade is attracted to Ms Roberts' political viewpoints: they're both gorgeous pouting redheads, not afraid to say what they think, and although Roberts hasn't smacked anyone yet, like band-mate Cheryl Cole was previously alleged to have done, she probably has a stinging right hook to boot.

She's also got business nous to put alongside the musical achievements:

Nicola says: “I feel much more settled and confident now. I’m spending my money on houses rather than wasting it on silly things.

"When I was first in the band I didn’t even know what the word mortgage meant.”

Of course, if Roberts had said the complete opposite of the above,
that she felt like a thin majority of the public that prison doesn't work and that it's not the fault of the politicians who have already put into place over 3,000 new criminal offences since they came to power, the Sun would have doubtlessly printed it up and ran highly approving comments on a young woman who was politically aware. Still, you can always rely on the comments to bring some levity to the situation:

shes the ugly 1 frm the sexiest band in the world, but i'd still do her.

The Scum's leader also approves of what one commentator refers to as Ms Roberts' enormous political acumen, experience and insight:

As Girls Aloud’s Nicola Roberts declares, there’s an easy solution to prison overcrowding: build more jails.

It’s come to something when a pop singer speaks more sense on tackling crime than the Government.

If only they'd thought of it before!

Someone kill me.

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The usual Mercury nonsense.

Is anyone really that surprised that the Mercury judges picked a relative outsider for this year's prize? It's not as if they haven't made a habit of it in the past; picking M People in 1994 against Parklife and more than decent albums by both the Prodigy and Pulp; Roni Size's drum and bass excursion in 1997 against OK Computer; Talvin Singh in 1999; Ms Dynamite in 2002 instead of the Coral's top 10 of the decade debut, as well as Doves' finest album and the Electric Soft Parade's exhilarating Holes in the Wall; and then Antony and the Johnsons two years ago. Last year's selection of the Arctic Monkeys was safe and disappointing, especially considering how their follow-up this year is so much better in all departments, and when it was up against entries from Guillemots, Hot Chip and Thom Yorke.

All of which is to be a little unfair to the Klaxons. They have never been "new rave", which was a term dreamt up by the NME to summarise a number of bands that had emerged that had taken to using synths and whom unlike other recent indie groups didn't sneer at "dance music" in general. Only really Atlantis to Interzone, Magick and the (poor) cover of Grace's Not Over Yet have been influenced by "rave". The real "new rave" movement is being lead by Justice, Digitalism and Simian Mobile Disco (James Ford, half of SMD, did incidentally produce Myths of the Near Future, but he also twiddled the knobs on Favourite Worst Nightmare) and arguably, bands like CSS and New Young Pony Club, who owe much more to dance music than the Klaxons ever have.

Much chortling
has been going on over the Grauniad's rather mean review which gave Myths one star, especially considering that it's a solid debut, led by the brilliant singles. It's just that the other tracks are more than a little dull; most of the remixes have been far better. If effort alone was the deciding factor, then Maps' We Can Create, created in James Chapman's Northampton bedroom would have been the run-away winner, a thrillingly melodic trip through shoegaze, noise and My Bloody Valentine-ism. Other worthy candidates should have been Bat for Lashes, which was the favourite with the bookmakers, the Arctics for coming up with a far superior record to their debut within a year and the Young Knives, whose album I, err, previously described thusly:

Never forgetting that wit and humour have just as much of a place in music as they have in everything else, the Knives' debut is filled with the sort of infectious melodies and riffing that the Libertines followers have utterly missed. The singles, The Decision, She's Attracted To and Here Comes The Rumour Mill are joined by the insanely catchy chorus of Mystic Energy, the slow-burning In The Pink and the ode to dead towns that is Loughborough Suicide. That they're great live too is simply a bonus.

A nomination for ¡Forward, Russia!'s self-financed debut, Give Me A Wall wouldn't have gone amiss either, although we can at least be glad that the insanely overrated Ms Winehouse and yet another awful band riding the Libertines' shirt-tails, the View, didn't win.

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She's back!

Via Korova, one of the leading lights of British journalism has returned from a month long sabbatical, and how we've missed her:

When David Cameron first started to reposition the Tories as the party of spliff-friendly hoodie huggers whose hearts bled green and gay...

Melanie, please don't leave us for so long again.

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Iraqi employees campaign update.

The latest news, courtesy of Dan Hardie and Justin on the Iraqi employees campaign:

If you haven’t already written to your MP, please do so: outline what’s happening and why we should be concerned, ask them to contact the relevant Ministries (particularly the Home Office but also the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) and also invite them to the meeting. Talking points for both letters are here. Any blogger who has participated in this campaign is invited as is any blogreader who successfully invites their MP. Just email Dan Hardie at and an invitation will be heading your way.

Stress to MPs that mainstream print and TV journalists will be present: that is the kind of thing that tends, for some reason, to attract them. And stress that this is the first blog-based campaign in the UK. This is how politics is going, and they need to see what it looks like.

Dan spoke to an ex-Royal Engineer yesterday who told him of an Iraqi employee murdered since this campaign began. Now that the British contingent has withdrawn to Basra Airport, we can probably expect more power-drilling, cigarette-burning and shooting of Iraqi employees. These people are dying right now. The pressure needs to be maintained on MPs and the various ministries involved.

Hope to see you on October 9.

I won't be going, but if you haven't contacted your MP, especially if they haven't responded yet, please think about doing so.

In the interests of presenting the other side of the argument, as Neil Clark did so wonderfully when he demanded that these "quislings be kept out", we have Shotgun, currently involved in a battle royale with John Hirst, eloquently elucidating his feelings on the matter here, here and here.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007 

About as new as Thatcherism.

Isn't it wonderful, after weeks of next to no political news, to finally get right back into the thick of things, the start of a new season, and all that goes with it?

Well, err, no. Mainly because this feels partially like a phony election war, and also because it all seems so familiar. Today's Times poll showing that Labour's lead has been pegged back to a single point almost certainly rules out any slight inclination Brown had of going to the polls this year, but it sure hasn't stopped both the parties from bringing out all their "new" policies and fighting like ferrets in a sack. Take Cameron's letter to Brown, asking him to reconsider the possibility of a debate between the three leaders, an empty piece of spin if ever there was one, an attempt of sorts to try to flush out his plans over an early election, when he knows full well that whatever Brown's response is that they'll use it against him.

Not that Brown himself exactly acquitted himself any better yesterday in his gambit on a "new politics" and gaining a political consensus. If the idea of citzens' juries gives you deja vu, it's probably because they've almost been around as long as Brown's designs on 10 Downing Street were. Call it a sexed up Big Conversation, the last laughable attempt at consulting the public, only this time it's under Comrade Brown's new spirit of togetherness and end to sniping. It doesn't exactly inspire confidence that the first of these juries' is going to be on children and violent imagery, one of those emotive topics which for decades has been a battleground between the "moral majority" and those of us who don't like being told what we can and can't watch in order to protect the kids. Similar events on crime and how neighbourhoods respond to it, as well on the NHS will probably be better and more informed debates, but whether they'll actually achieve anything or lead to any direct policy changes is doubtful.

At least he can be glad he's having a much easier time of it still than Cameron. Quite why Michael Ancram chose today to launch his own personal vision of what it is to be a Conservative and what the Tories should be doing isn't clear, but it does little other than prompt comment on how the noisy right-wing of the party is still deeply uncomfortable with Cameron's leadership. Flicking through Ancram's 30 page mini-manifesto (PDF), a piece of self-aggrandisment infected with narcissism if there ever was one (says a blogger) it's actually surprising how much of it isn't really that bad; sure, there's plenty of blanket denunciations of "the Left" and how we've ruined everything that Conservatives hold dear, but his sections on freedom (apart from the regulation one) only empathise just how far New Labour has moved from the traditional Tory view of civil liberties, a move followed by Cameron. All of the rights he mentions, apart from privacy, are protected under the ECHR and the HRA, both of which Cameron wants to rip up. Ancram naturally doesn't mention the HRA, but perhaps he ought to have a word with Cameron about the idiocy of his proposal for a "British" bill of rights. He's inevitably wrong on immigration, the monarchy and he lets the cat out of the bag on a referendum on the EU treaty: the first step towards leaving the union altogether. Over time, I've moved onto agreeing with Keith Vaz's view: let's have a referendum, not just on the treaty, but on staying a member altogether, as that's what nearly all those who want a no vote actually want.

Out of all of Cameron's policy review groups, the latest to report, the Public Services Improvement Policy Group comes across as the most dunderheaded of the lot. Just as everyone has realised that we're facing a crisis in council housing stock, thanks directly to how they haven't been replaced after being sold off, the Tories are proposing to make it even easier to buy, giving state aid out to those who wouldn't otherwise afford it. It might earn a few more votes, but completely ignores the bigger picture; typically of the stupid party, some might say. On education, as well as holding back those who fail to reach the expected key stage level 4 at 11, which they clearly haven't thought through, as it would hugely increase class sizes just as they say they want smaller schools, not to mention stigmatise and embitter those who'll be labelled failures and be separated from their friends, they also want to abolish AS levels, which actually help lighten the exam burden at 18, as well as let those not sure what they want to study post-16 drop a subject they don't particularly like half-way through. The alternative to holding children back is obvious: more remedial classes, and additional help outside of school, not make them do it all over again. The group does at least suggest consulting on raising the age at which you can buy cigarettes from 16, a measure taken by Labour without even the slightest hint of any debate. If we're going to start raising age limits, we ought to at least have an equilibrium on them: you can consent to sex at 16, but not drink alcohol, vote, access pornography and shortly you won't be able to smoke. It all makes perfect sense.

The so-called "new politics" then. The more things seem to change, the more they stay the same.

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"Heroes" without a cause.

The other side of heroism: Davey Graham injured after being shot in the abdomen during a "Taliban" ambush.

Last month, the Grauniad ran a couple of amusing columns by David Marsh, the editor of the style guide, on the various complaints that come into the readers' editor on the over or wrong usage of words. Top of the list
came iconic and ironic, but I'm sure that it'd be easy to add numerous others to that list. As pointed out in the comments, Private Eye until recently had a box every issue titled the "neophiliacs", which listed every usage of the tired "thing" is the new "thing", and has now taken to highlighting the horrible abuse of the word "solutions", invariably by business trying to make their banal and boring services sound just ever so slightly more exciting.

Hero is certainly a description that could be added to that list of abused words. Just what makes someone a hero? Watching Match of the Day, whenever a footballer who's just moved clubs scores his debut goal, the commentator invariably remarks on how he's become the fans' newest hero. We tend to apply it across the board, especially to public servants, whether they be police officers, firemen, nurses (although they're more usually referred to as angels) or soldiers. It also usually gets taken out of its box when someone dies, usually in tragic circumstances, whether they be Garry Newlove, the father who confronted teenagers vandalising the digger he'd hired and who died after being attacked,
described by the Sun as a "have-a-go" hero, when all he was doing was what most ordinary people would have done, or Mitchell Henderson, a 13-year-old who killed himself after having his iPod stolen, subsequently referred to as "an hero" on the tributes to him on MySpace, which has fast become an internet meme used to describe anyone who commits suicide.

The line between being a hero and an idiot is one of those thin ones which is difficult to quantify. Today's Sun, trying its best to snatch victory for "Our Boys" from the jaws of general indifference, has perhaps come up with the best description of how close the line goes between the two, relating the story of a single-minded soldier:

Their courage was typified by rifleman Ben Sawyer, aged just 19.

A bullet smashed into his right hand during a rooftop firefight, ripping through tendons and bones.

But the stubborn soldier refused morphine because he was determined to stay standing shoulder to shoulder with his pals. And in the end medics had to strap him to a stretcher to stop him fighting.

The courage of the teenager, who has a young child, did not end there. He was flown home so surgeons could repair his shattered hand. But he kept pestering doctors and nurses to let him go back to Iraq — so eagerly they feared for his sanity and sent him to see a psychiatrist.

He has just returned to Basra after being declared fit for duty.

And he told The Sun: “They thought I was a head case but I just wanted to do my job. If my mates are still stuck in the thick of it, I want to be here helping them."

For those of us more interested in staying alive than in sacrificing life for no discernible rhyme or reason, especially when we've been brought up on a literary diet of Catch-22, Slaughterhouse Five and the war poets, all of which express the futility, madness and paranoia associated with armed conflict, it's difficult to assess where Ben Sawyer lies on the craziness/hero paradigm.

It's easy to be cynical, especially when you were opposed to the war from the beginning about the achievements and actions of the British troops, but the individual accounts of astonishing courage related in the Scum's article, withstanding Sawyer's apparent selflessness bordering on insanity are mostly reminiscent of tales passed down into military folklore. The 30 soldiers using cooking oil to lubricate their rifles will remind anyone who's read Antony Beevor's account of the battle of Stalingrad of the trapped or surrounded Soviet troops who often had to resort to using their own urine to do the same to their guns.

Even so, this is still a report bordering on the delusional, descending on occasion into empty adulation of an armed force which didn't always manage to live up to the sentiments expressed in Tim Collins' speech before the beginning of the conflict. For the army (or Tom Newton Dunn, the Scum's defence editor) to pretend that it was their offensives against the Mahdi army that forced it into negotiations is laughable: more that the British forces had to go cap in hand begging that their exit from the city go ahead without more violence aimed against them when at their most vulnerable. Dunn seems to have fallen victim to willful myopia when describing how Basra was quiet yesterday, not willing to make the connection that the exit of British troops just might have had something to do with it. If the figures quoted in the article on the number of roadside bombs are also accurate, it seems also to acquit Iran of major involvement in supplying most of the devices: if the "daisy-chain" armaments supplied are as deadly as the media have hyped up they are, either the militias weren't using them, instead relying on the other improvised devices which often cause little to no damage when targeted against American vehicles, as countless insurgent videos testify, or they're just as hopeless as most of the others are.

To bring this post full circle, it seems that whoever wrote today's Sun leader could do with learning how not to abuse words that they obviously don't understand:

Or the introduction of draconian human rights laws without consultation.

Answers on a postcard as to how "human rights laws" could possibly ever be described as draconian. Perhaps the Sun really ought to stick to treating its readers like idiots with words no longer than a couple of syllables; it seems they find them difficult to get to grips with as well.

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Monday, September 03, 2007 

Imperial bodybags.

The contrast, to repeat a cliche, could not really be more stark. Just as the commander in chief himself flies into Iraq, giving every jihadi and insurgent a day of priapism, prompting them to spend the rest of the day watching the sky, just in case the plane with him on board comes into view, "Our Boys" finally come to the end of their own long potential suicide mission, leaving behind a population which had long abandoned its grudging admiration for their role in removing Saddam, instead replaced by a distaste which threatened to descend into a visceral loathing.

If you want to go into "victory or defeat" territory, it may come down to which newspaper you read. The Scum's account of the handing over of Basra palace to the Iraqis could have been written by a faceless MoD spin doctor, a report so at odds with reality that Mike Power rightly suggests it could have come from a parallel universe. In this bizarro world Basra, select soldiers are quoted as having achieved so much, and the Mahdi army halted their attacks because:

It is thought months of fighting tenacious British troops showed the rebels they would never win military victory.

Nothing to do then with the release of around 30 Iraqi prisoners, or indeed al-Sadr's call to his supporters/fighters for a six-month ceasefire.

Then again, if you read the Daily Mail, it seems this was a humiliating disaster, with the Iraqis overjoyed at the departure of the hated occupier. The Mail's stance on the Iraq war has always been confusing: supporting it only to quickly change tact once it became something to beat Blair with, in the best traditions of the newspaper's opportunistic and sniping nature.

Back here in the real world, the retreat, for it almost certainly is one, is not just militarily and politically logical, but also the only realistic option. The soldiers on the ground not given a sheen of Sun gloss have long known that Basra was a lost cause, where they were in fact only making the security situation worse, putting the population of the city under threat for no good reason, which was more than half the reason why the initial relaxed attitude towards the British forces quickly dissipated. Regardless of what some of us think about the continuing war in Afghanistan, the army itself still believes that is achieving something there, rather than just hanging around for the purpose of giving support to a failed American foreign policy.

It would be wrong to pretend though that our motives or our actions in Basra have been always been either altruistic or above reproach. It's easy to forget that we should have never been there in the first place, and while we have a number for the amount of servicemen who have died, we have no way of knowing how many Iraqis have died as a direct result of British army action. Abu Ghraib may not have happened in the south, but the death of Baha Mousa, which has never been acceptably resolved, along with the abuse of other prisoners were a serious of shaming incidents brushed as much under the carpet as possible.

Much of the debate will be based around whether this could have occurred under Blair, and whether this is the start to a quicker, faster than expected withdrawal, and the answers to that appear to be no and yes, or at least with the latter you would hope so. While you sympathise with the idea that the training of the Iraqi forces should continue, the remaining reasons for staying more than another day are less than convincing. We'll never know how many lives on both sides have been lost for little to no fathomable reason, but the one thing we should all agree on now is that not a single drop more should be spilled, and that means taking those Iraqis employed by the army in any capacity, potentially the target of insurgents, back with us.

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One nil...

Update: slight changes made in response to legal threat from Alisher Usmanov's lawyers, Schillings.

I always thought it was vaguely appropriate that one of Russia's robber barons, Roman Abramovich, had taken over Chelsea, that most middle class constituency in the whole country. Quite what the asparagus munching, bruschetta lovers of Islington would make of Alisher Usmanov, described in strident terms by Craig Murray here, is another matter. As an Arsenal fan, I'd much rather that we finish 4th every season than become the next club to be taken over by the latest foreign businessman flush with cash made from allegedly dubious sources.

It's quite true that football's always been a corrupt game, as one of our previous managers showed. It's quite another for football clubs to become the latest playthings for the disgustingly rich, plowing money into them simply because they can, or as you suspect with the Glazer family's takeover of Manchester United, to in the end make even more. There was a good reason why in the cases of both United and Wimbledon, now the horrid MK Dons, that the fans rightly felt their clubs had been taken from them, just the latest machinations of global capitalism, to be bought, sold and used like an exceptionally successful whore.

It's always come down to how hungry the fans are for success: Thaksin Shinawatra's takeover of Manchester City was welcomed purely because of how wretched City's recent history has been, no matter how corrupt or deadly his business dealings or crackdowns on drug trafficking were while he was Thailand's prime minister. As for Arsenal, although the last couple of seasons have been more challenging than previously, almost purely because of the money being pumped into both Man Utd, Chelsea and now Liverpool, we're the only club able to boast about going a whole Premiership season without losing a game. Our football is still majestic, the beautiful game as it ought to be played, even if we concentrate more on looking pretty than shooting at times. We have success, more is likely to come, as long as we keep Mr Wenger; what more do we want?

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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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