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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