Friday, December 21, 2007 

We need to talk.

I realise I'm very late to the party on this one, but in the last couple of weeks I finally got round to reading We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. I have a terrible habit of starting books, especially novels, and not finishing them: I must have at least 4 or 5 that I've recently began and either lost enthusiasm for or simply find myself picking up another when I go to grab one. It doesn't help that Age Concern have recently opened up a second hand charity bookshop in town, which proves too much of a temptation, especially when I find gems like Bakunin on Anarchy for less than a pound. (Even more rewarding was that inside was a cutting from the Guardian on the 100th anniversary of his death from 1976!)

I found Kevin though completely impossible to put down. Whilst I have read Shriver's articles in the Guardian, they don't in anyway prepare you for the sheer virtuosity of the prose: flowing, vivid and thrilling. The questions it asks which are never answered in the pages are put into a perspective which you never previously would have seen them from. The only real flaw is that if anything Kevin is just too benevolently vile, so much so that it justifies Eva's cruel unwillingness to really attempt to like him, yet alone love him, even from when he was first placed on her breast. While not wishing to give anything away for those who haven't read it, I didn't quite foresee the final explanation for why Eva is writing to her ex-husband, although I came very close to doing so. By most accounts Shriver's follow-up seems to have simply tried drawing her narrative out too far: Kevin is by contrast just the right length. Shriver's opus is the diametric opposite to Vernon God Little, also a fine recent novel on school shootings, although nowhere near as satisfying.

Next up, apart from the Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright and Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran for my non-fiction fix, I've got The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

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Suicide is painless.

"If these [findings] were true ... I would not only resign, I would go out and commit suicide."

Such were the words of Ronnie Flanagan, now Sir, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, when Nuala O'Loan delivered her report into the police handling of the Omagh bombing. Flanagan wasn't the only one who was critical: Peter Mandelson said that she had shown a "certain lack of experience and possibly gullibility".

O'Loan's findings have now been backed up by Mr Justice Weir, who found Sean Hoey not guilty of 29 murders. Low copy number DNA evidence has also been suspended as a result.

To come back to Flanagan: are you going to get the noose or are we, you fucking cowardly liar?

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Yet more on Manhunt 2.

The BBFC have found a judge willing to let their ridiculous argument against personal responsibility justify a judicial review:

British censors have won the right to fight the UK release of video game Manhunt 2 in the High Court.

A judge accepted the British Board of Film Classification's argument that the game had been approved for release on a misinterpretation of the law.


The BBFC said that the VAC had been guilty of "a very serious misdirection of law" on the question of harm.

The judge said: "I have taken into account the high public interest in the possibility of harm to children."

Mr Justice Wyn Williams ruled the Board had an arguable case that should go to a full hearing.

Both sides agreed that the game was not suitable for children, but the BBFC argued that if given a certificate for release, it could still end up in the hands of minors

Now this is interesting. The BBFC's original decision to reject Manhunt 2 made clear that

to issue a certificate to Manhunt 2, on either platform, would involve a range of unjustifiable harm risks, to both adults and minors.

The BBFC seems now to have abandoned their specious argument that its content could harm adults, and fell back on the always persuasive but bankrupt claim that even if the game was released at 18, it could still get into the hands of children. This is the exact same argument as used at the time of the video nasty moral panic: Mary Whitehouse and co didn't want to stop adults from choosing what to watch, they only wanted to protect the children, but to do so would involve err, stopping anyone from being able to make that choice. The compromise measure was the Video Recordings Act, but by then some of the "nasties" had already been prosecuted under the fundamentally illiberal Obscene Publications Act, where the jury only had to find that whatever was brought before the court had the potential to "deprave and corrupt", and in James Ferman, there was a censor who was more than prepared to cut and ban the "trash", but who came out in defense of "art", such as Crash.

While the BBFC should always consider whether films and video games that are made for adults have the potential to "harm" children, it should never be used as a reason for banning either from adult consumption. We don't ban alcohol or cigarettes because they're especially damaging to children; we age restrict them, and it's up to the retailers and parents to ensure that they don't get into their hands, not the manufacturers or in this case, the BBFC's. The BBFC's final comment on refusing Manhunt 2 a certificate is still telling:

...and accordingly that its availability, even if statutorily confined to adults, would be unacceptable to the public.”

The BBFC has of course no evidence whatsoever to prove this would be the case. It instead took into account the reaction it
imagined that its certification would receive, especially considering the Daily Mail and certain politicians' opportunism following the Stefan Pakeerah murder. It would have never been so cowardly about almost any film: video games are however now subject to the same fallacious moral panic that horror films were in the early 80s.

There is one silver lining for Rockstar:

The BBFC said it would pay any damages that developer Rockstar might suffer as a result of the stay, if the Board loses its legal challenge.

I still can't see any other decision than one against the BBFC in an actual review; Rockstar still might yet get its revenge.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007 

Winning hearts and minds with our superior values.

(I'd already finished writing this once, went to post and my browser crashed and lost the whole thing. It doesn't seem anywhere near as good second time, so apologies.)

Famously, when Mahatma Gandhi was asked what he thought of Western civilisation, he replied that it would be a good idea.
Jamil el-Banna, after spending the last five years of his life experiencing the very worst that our superior values have to offer, would surely be loth to disagree with that sentiment.

His first mistake was to decline the kind offer of MI5 for him to inform on his friends, who included Abu Qutada, currently being held indefinitely pending potential deportation to Jordan, in exchange for his family being comfortably provided for in another country. His second mistake was to believe the MI5 agent who visited him who told him that if he had a valid travel document they would not stop him from leaving the country. Not only was he detained when he and Bisher al-Rawi attempted to leave for the Gambia, when they were finally allowed to leave MI5 sent to the CIA completely unfounded allegations that they were carrying with them bomb parts. The Gambian authorities detained them on arrival and the CIA then rendered them to Guantanamo. In the shameful whitewashing of MI5's involvement in the rendition programme produced by the parliamentary intelligence and security committee, the panel of MPs moved the goalposts so that their detainment without charge for 4 years was not an "extraordinary rendition" in that they had been rendered to a place where they were destined to be tortured by the CIA's lackeys or its above the law officers, but rather a "rendition to detention". The British security services were therefore cleared of any involvement by the committee in extraordinary rendition.

If el-Banna had been British and involved in any crime other than say, paedophilia or terrorism, he'd of been welcomed home, everyone would have been sympathetic or even outraged at his four years of detention without charge or trial, at one point being force-fed by his American military captors, and nothing more would have been said. Compare for instance the fanfare that Kenny Richey is deservedly receiving with the treatment that el-Banna has had. The little fact that the Americans even admitted that el-Banna was no threat to anyone and that he was cleared by the Combatant Status Review Tribunal as the case against him was so laughably thin, which has been almost completely ignored by the media, would have been trumpeted from every available rooftop. The case itself amounted to little more than he was an acquittance of Abu Qutada, with the previous Spanish indictment also held against him.

Instead he's been subjected to ridiculous questioning from the Tories about the "threat" he, Omar Deghayes and Abdennour Samuer might pose to "national security". "Dame" Pauline Neville-Jones, appointed the Tories' security minister by David Cameron, a career member of the "UK Diplomatic Service", or in other words, a spook, who had also formerly served as chairman of the joint intelligence committee, popped up and started demanding answers to the most asinine and inane questions she could think up, knowing full well that the government never comments on matters of national security anyway. Her pathetic, exasperating perfomance, slurring her sentences and ordering to be listened to in the way that only a lady of her stature and class can only exemplified how the establishment she belongs to had almost completely abandoned these men. As for the Scum, it informed everyone not to succumb to "anti-American sentiment" and that whether the men were a risk or not, they need to be watched for years to come, taking away surveillance teams from other vital work. In other words: welcome home, now fuck off and die so we can get back to watching the real terrorists.

First and foremost, all three of these men have been victims of the most shameful miscarriage of justice. Deghayes has lost the sight in one of his eyes as a result of his detention, while both he and el-Banna were force-fed after taking part in the hunger strikes organised after the beating of detainees, a backtrack on a promise to extend the rights of the detainees nearer to those within the Geneva convention and the desecration of Koran by guards on a number of occasions. Clive Stafford-Smith described the conditions in Cuba as the worst he had ever seen, despite his working on death row in America for 20 years. As a direct result, el-Banna, a man aged 45, could more easily pass for someone 20 years older, his hair prematurely grayed by his time spent at Guantanamo. Dress him up in a red suit and he'd look like a kindly Santa Claus, reunited with his children. To think he could be considered any kind of security risk is just as a much a fantasy as Father Christmas himself.

The attempt by Spain to extradite both el-Banna and Deghayes, which the British government must have known about and which they did nothing either to prevent or to inform the men's lawyers about is little short of disgraceful. The callous obtuseness of the government's abandoning them once again would be shocking if it wasn't so predictable. The Spanish request relies on the exact same evidence used by the Americans to justify their detention in Guantanamo in the first place. The Deghayes plea even involved the
comprehensively discredited claim that he was shown in a Chechen rebel video, similar to that used against the Tipton Three that was also proven to be false, with the man in the video identifed as Abu Walid, a well-known and now deceased Saudi mujahid. Even if the requests are eventually denied, they have been thrown once again into limbo for no good reason.

It is of course understandable that people are concerned about the three detainees' pasts, but the disquiet about their release is almost certainly down to the way that el-Banna especially ended up where he was. He is owed a debt by the government because of MI5's direct involvement in his detention, through a desire to be rid of him and al-Rawi, who had informed on Abu Qutada, which they thought they could get away with. Even though all the previous detainees returned to Britain to Guantanamo have never been charged with any crime and all have returned to their previous lives, still the chorus is of how this might be endangering our safety. The real threat has been and continues to be from the home-grown extremists which we don't know about, or at least MI5 pretends not to have known about as in the case of the 7/7 bombers. Increasingly, it will also come from the "university of terrorism" in Iraq, where those either finished with their involvement there, returning or traveling here with the intention of attacking foreign targets. To own up to this though would be for the government to acknowledge its own culpability in the worsening of the threat, and that's something which it has no intentions of doing, as shown by their treatment of el-Banna. Hearts and minds; superior values; so easy to discard and to deny to those judged to be our enemies.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007 

Bah, humbug.

Ah, the Sun. Like those England fans singing "Rule Britannia" when the team wasn't even winning against Croatia it will never surrender, especially not to the EU or to the "politically correct brigade". Joining one on and off campaign to another demanding fair treatment for our put upon troops, it earlier in the month announced that it was selling Christmas cards featuring all its columnists in the nativity scene, with the profits going to the "Help for Heroes" charity:

We’ve created the ultimate fun Christmas card that celebrates the pure joy of the Nativity story.

Our brilliant columnists have given their time FREE to recreate the scene 2,000 years ago in that lowly stable in Bethlehem.

They’ll love to see Lorraine Kelly as Mary, Fergus Shanahan as Joseph and Kelvin MacKenzie as their faithful donkey. Jeremy Clarkson, Ian Wright and Trevor Kavanagh are the three wise men.

The innkeeper is Jon Gaunt and his wife is played by Deidre Sanders. And the glad tidings are given to our four shepherds — David Blunkett, Terry Venables, Ally Ross and Chris Kamara — by the Angel of the Lord in the heavenly form of Jane Moore.

And David’s faithful guide dog Sadie is there to play the sheepdog.

It’s the perfect antidote to all those killjoys who try to downgrade Christmas by calling it Winterval, banning nativity plays or simply ban any mention of Christ at this holy time of the year.

These are no “season’s greetings”. The card proudly says Merry Christmas and inside: And a Happy New Year.

All in undoubtedly good taste and very wholesome. Except, as today's Private Eye reports, there was meant to be a DVD to go with the cards, until Rebekah Wade ordered that every copy of it be destroyed in an unprecedented act of killjoyishness from the Scum editor. She even warned that the DVD was so offensive that it would "sink the paper". To quote the Eye:

"A typical scene featured Sun executive editor Fergus Shanahan as Joseph, pretending to "shag" the Virgin Mary (Lorraine Kelly) while the donkey-suited Kelvin MacKenzie frolicked about on all fours, braying "If that's a story my prick's a bloater!"

Just what would those so disgusted by BBC Three's recasting of Mary and Joseph as asylum seekers think?

To blatantly steal another story from the Eye, it follows the emergence of the claims that the Healey Primary School in Rochdale had "banned Christmas cards" when they had in fact asked parents to send just one card to a whole class. A spokeswoman for the school added:

“The cost of so many cards is prohibitive for some families and we feel that children are often pressurised to act in the same way as their peers.”

Incredibly similar then to the story from last year about JobCentres in Tower Hamlets which had "banned" Christmas decorations when they had actually not put them up because they were concerned it might upset some of the families that weren't able to afford decorations themselves. A questionable decision perhaps, but not to avoid offending people of other faith as it was rapidly turned into. The Rochdale school hasn't banned the sending of cards, just gave a suggestion. The school is also putting on three Christmas productions and a carol service, so it's certainly nothing to do with political correctness either.

The Eye mentions how it was featured in the Express (which I can't find online) and in the Star which ignored all the facts with its front-page headline "Ban on Christmas cards in case they upset Muslims!", but the story was still working its way around Fleet Street up till yesterday, when the Daily Mail featured it alongside a quote from Nick Seaton, the chairman of "Campaign for a Real Education", whose pseudo-manifesto recommends that "Circle Time" (a more grown-up version of show and tell involving discussion, and completely harmless) shouldn't be allowed in schools and that drug and sex education, if provided at all, should aim at prevention, not harm reduction:

'I thing (sic) most sensible parents would be absolutely horrified by this decision.

"It strikes me as another attempt to remove Christmas from the classroom and the calendar altogether."

Even the Observer carried the story, proving that even the limp-wristed liberals can't turn away from a story based on very little facts whatsoever.

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When is a star not a star?

Tabloid editors across the land must have thought that Christmas had come early. After spending all day boozing at various locations, including a visit to a lap-dancing club, the Manchester United squad decamps to the Great John Street Hotel, where, according to "one male guest" courtesy of the Scum:

“I spoke to one stunner who had come up from London and another who had travelled from Newcastle.

“They were gorgeous — it was wall-to-wall babes. Most were aged between 18 and 30 and some were throwing themselves at the players."

It gets worse from there on in. In any case, at 4am the police were called over allegations of rape having taken place within the hotel.

Whenever something such as this happens, the first thing the tabloid editor does is think the worst. In Piers Moron's faux-diaries, he describes how after Concorde crashed that he was excitedly shouting and speculating about just who might have been on board. When his hacks informed him that it was mostly German tourists, he despaired coarsely and wondered how he was going to fill the pages he'd already ordered be set aside. His outburst was sent to Private Eye, which is probably the only reason the incident was included in the diaries at all.

A similar happening would have occurred in Wapping and everywhere else last night. Manchester United player arrested! Who could it be? Ronaldo? Rooney? Giggs? Even Tevez? Err, Jonny Evans. To which, the only cry would be "who he"? He's essentially a reserve team player, having featured in both the Carling Cup and in two of the Champions League games where the team played with a below full-strength side. He's also played for Northern Ireland. Not good enough for a huge splash to fill the glaringly empty pages just before Christmas, though.

It is of course still a big story, as would be any event involving footballers throwing both themselves and their money around. Shaun Wright-Phillips' birthday celebrations recently made the headlines after John Terry allegedly got so drunk that he urinated on the floor and then in a cup. Then again, it was in the News of the Screws, so it probably doesn't have even a grain of truth in it.

Both the Scum and Screws have to tread carefully over any such stories. Both papers have painful memories of having to pay Wayne Rooney £100,000 in damages after they alleged that he had slapped his girlfriend Colleen McCoughlin in front of the other Manchester United players and then told her to "fuck off home", while Frank Lampard, a teammate of Terry's, "writes" a column for the Screws. Private Eye noted that Lampard was described by the Screws' witness as being there but "he wasn't drunk or anything." Just to drum the message in, the photograph of Lampard has "QUIET NIGHT" plastered on it.

A similar non-story was Amy Winehouse's arrest, which had been pre-arranged and completely voluntary, presumably to answer questions about what she knew about her husband's alleged assault and perverting of the course of justice. Not even the Guardian consigned it to the "In Brief" slot it merited, going so far as to fall into the tabloid practice of describing her as troubled in the first word of the piece.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007 

The clunking Clegg.

It's Nick Clegg then. Or, probably more interestingly, it's Jacob Zuma. Perhaps if the Lib Dem leadership contest had been between a man acquitted of rape who had a shower after unprotected sex to ensure he didn't contract HIV and another who believes there is no connection between HIV and AIDS, the turnout might have gone up rather than down on the last contest, itself only conducted last January.

My own failure to raise any enthusiasm for the leadership contest seems to have been the default position even amongst most Liberal Democrats. Presented to them were two white men, one slightly younger and fresher faced than the other, both privately educated at err, the same school, both with much the same ideas as each other. Oh, Huhne tried to flush out Clegg's previous propensity towards more free-market ideology concerning the public services, and there were epithets of Calamity Clegg, but that was as far as it went. Their stupefying performances on both Newsnight and Question Time, apart from being soporific, only reinforced the notion that there was very little to nothing whatsoever to choose between them.

That impression is hardly going to be changed by Clegg's acceptance speech, after winning the vote by only slightly more than 500 votes. It might be that we've gotten use to leadership changes in politics recently, but it all sounded so familiar. Change and ambition! Ambition and change! Renewed ambition for Britain! Change Britain! Ambition to change Britain! Britain to change ambition! Change to Britain ambition! And so forth. Interchangeable to a T, the only real difference to the other leaders of the main political parties was Clegg's similarly tedious repetition of just how liberal both he and Britain is. You don't get that impression reading the Mail and Sun forums, that's for sure.

After all, this ought to be so easy for the Liberal Democrats. Clegg rightly identifies that Labour and the Conservatives are mutating into each other, but he's wrong that left and right have broken down. They're still there, just, it's that Labour and the Conservatives haven't wanted to be constrained by those labels for all the wrong reasons. The sense that Labour is decaying is becoming ever more evident, while David Cameron is so opportunistic that he's claiming to be a progressive with which even the Greens can find common cause. Somehow you can't imagine John Redwood and Caroline Lucas belonging to the same party. Brown has blown his inheritance while the Tories offer absolutely nothing but more of the same but with a slightly nastier face.

Given the choice, you get the feeling that most of the membership would have settled for Vince Cable staying in the job. Few politicians have made such an impact as he has in two months, going from a man with a charisma bypass who didn't look much younger than poor old Ming himself to a clunking fist in record time, or to use his own analogy backwards, from Mr Bean to Stalin. Granted, as Charles Kennedy has pointed out, he's had the benefit of knowing that he hasn't got to do the job permanently and with few of the duties of an actual leader, but from his boycott of the Saudi royal visit to his authority over the Northern Rock debacle, he's both sounded and played the part with panache.

Clegg will pick up the mantle with difficulty. Despite the lack of real difference, I slightly favoured Huhne for the position, more because Clegg seems a Cameron clone, or rather a clone of a clone, considering Cameron's own impersonation of Blair. He has yet to convince on any subject, while Huhne has handled his environment shadow job well. Going by his current performance on Newsnight, where his response to Paxman's question on three things where he would be advancing the Liberal Democrats, he said they would be concentrating more on education, health and crime; in other words, just like the other parties. Things, it seems, can only get worse.

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Scumbags, maggots, cheap lousy faggots.

Bemusement seems to be the right word to describe Radio 1's original decision to censor, of all songs, the Pogues' seminal Fairytale of New York. I long ceased listening to the station with its terrible playlist mixture of shitty indie and the very worst that rap/hip-hop has to offer, combined with the most egregiously annoying DJs since the Hairy Cornflake was forced into hanging up his mike, with the ghastly Chris Moyles, airheaded calamity Edith Bowman and irritant Scott Mills. Mark and Lard's departure was the final straw. Not that Radio 2 or any other station is any better.

The decision to censor "faggot" and "slut", whether out of an attempt not to offend anyone or not, shows a complete ignorance of the song. It's about a rowing couple in the drunk tank on Christmas Eve for Christ sake - and the exchanging of insults is the high point of the song. It's been playing on the radio uncensored for years, with I suspect no one except the most meddlesome and easily disgusted complaining. The only person the BBC could find to defend the original decision was Peter Tatchell - a respectable activist, but not one to turn to whenever anything even in the slightest bit disrespectful of gays is up for discussion. It's not even as if it's aimed at someone as a gratuitous insult rather than as part of an argument, where you might at least be able to see their point.

Surely though it ought to have been seen as sacrilege to alter it in the first place. It's both critically and popularly the greatest Christmas song of all time, mainly because it isn't slushy, sentimental, by Cliff Richard or really about the actual event other than it takes place on the day. It also reflects the oldest Christmas tradition - the inevitable argument. It'd be nice if after this everyone attempted to get it to number one instead of the habitual, hackneyed and revolting crap from the X-Factor that'll be sitting there come the weekend, but that is probably beyond even the collective power of the "blogosphere".

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165,000 asylum seekers sitting on the wall...

There's nothing quite like some humbug at Christmas. Both the Daily Mail and the Express today serve up some healthy servings of finest apoplexy, garnished with lashings of outrage sauce. It could only be both papers leading on how "165,000" asylum seekers are going to get an "amnesty".

See, that's two layers of bullshit just contained in the front page Mail headline. Before getting fully into it, let's have a look at James Slack's article in finer detail. (Those who read FCC probably find that name familiar: he writes most of the Mail's articles on immigration, and tends to pepper them with distortions.)

As many as 165,000 asylum seekers are to be granted an "amnesty" to live in Britain, it was revealed.

The vast bulk of the migrants are failed refugees whose files were left lying in boxes by bungling Home Office staff.

They have now been living here so long that officials have ruled that it would be a breach of their human rights to kick them out.

As said, we'll get to the 165,000 figure in a minute. Notice already that "the human rights" bogeyman has been brought up. As usual, this has very little to do with the Human Rights Act. Let's turn to the Grauniad for a report not laced with the usual dog-whistles:

More than 19,000 asylum seekers, some of whose cases date back more than 10 years, have finally been told they can stay in the country, the Home Office said last night.

They are among the first tranche of 52,000 cases that have been looked at as part of a Home Office "legacy" drive to clear a backlog of between 400,000 and 450,000 files.

Ah, so the actual figure at the moment is 19,000. It takes three sentences and 66 words before the Mail actually gets to reporting what has happened so far rather than what might happen in the future, whereas the Grauniad article gets straight to the point. Back to the Mail:

Ministers admitted that the first 19,000 have already been granted leave to remain under what the Tories described as a "stealth amnesty".

All will now be free to bring their relatives to Britain - and claim the full range of benefits.

As the Guardian article goes on, all those now given leave to remain, that's leave to remain, not British citizenship, have found themselves in limbo, in some cases for as long as 13 years because of Home Office cock-ups involving the losing of files, files that were found following the foreign prisoner scandal last year. As Polly Toynbee writes, "failed" asylum seekers are given hardly any benefits whatsoever - no housing, no access to schools and if the government has its way, no access to GPs. Most are handed £35 worth of vouchers that can only be spent at one store, with no change given, once a week. This Shelter page outlines the support that failed asylum seekers can claim, and the reality is if you're able-bodied and have no family that you'll receive almost nothing.

It's therefore a nonsense that this is any sort of amnesty. If it was, then all those who have been in limbo for however many years thanks to the original losing or forgetting of their files would have given blanket leave to remain. On the contrary, of the 52,000 of the files processed so far, 33,000 have either resulted in the deportation of the original applicant or have been found to be duplicates or riddled with mistakes. It takes 414 words before the Mail gets to admitting this.

How then has the Mail reached this magic number of 165,000? It's taken the percentage so far granted leave to remain from the initial cleared backlog and applied it to the most pessimistic estimate of how many files there are to work through. This is a ridiculous way to predict the numbers likely to allowed to stay: all it does create a handy figure for those opposed to asylum in the first place to bandy about which creates a completely false impression of the current scale of asylum, numbers of which have been dropping now for years, with the government getting ever harsher and more punitive, leading to genuine refugees like Jahongir Sidikov being refused permission to stay. This latest fiasco will do nothing to help the situation. Even if 165,000 were given leave to remain, that's still around 35,000 less than those traveling here every year from the A8 EU ascension states, and also a similar number less than those emigrating every year (PDF).

As it is, commentators like the ubiquitous "Sir" Andrew Green have no idea how many of those in these files have been refused asylum and how many were lost inside the system - seeing as 16,000 have been deported, that would suggest those were the ones already refused, with the others likely to have either been lost or been inside the system so long that it would be unfair and perverse to deport them now granted leave to remain. The cost of deporting them is astronomical, despite all the demands for them to be frog-marched on to planes, as if it was that easy. Far better that they become taxpayers and contribute to the actual economy rather than the hidden one. Claiming that they're now free to bring their families here is also wholly disingenuous: those that didn't in the first place either tend to not have any or were the only ones threatened. Believe it or not, those already settled aren't likely to up sticks just because a relative has finally been officially recognised. Also, as the number of illegal immigrants working in the security industry has showed, there's a shadow economy where cash is in hand and anything goes, while also making clear that the vast majority of migrants tend not to be "spongers". The policy ought to be to regularise them and reimburse the taxpayer rather than spending yet more money deporting them.

Slack and the Mail though have identified the real culprit:

The major reason why so many of the claims will be approved is the Human Rights Act.

Those who have been in the country for many years can claim it is now their home and they no longer have links to their homeland.

The legislation, passed by Labour, also prevents the removal of asylum seekers to countries where they could face torture or persecution, which is likely to apply to thousands of cases in the backlog.

A Home Office document on how the scheme - known as the Legacy Exercise by the department - will operate says "each case will be evaluated on its individual merits, with an assessment of any human rights factors that may be relevant".

Of course the Home Office document says that - just as every government department now has to take into consideration the HRA. The Mail is referring to the considerations that have to be taken under Article 8 - the right to respect for private and family life. This doesn't affect those that have no dependents or who are on their own, which already rules out plenty of single asylum seekers. As for the protection against torture or persecution, this doesn't seem to both worth the paper it's written on when deportations to countries such as Uzbekistan, the Congo, Sudan and Iraq are going on. In any case, the government would have had to taken both factors into consideration prior to the HRA as they are in the European Convention of Human Rights, which I've got tired of saying is what the HRA is based on. All the HRA has done is brought it into British law, whereas those previously had to go to Strasbourg to get their appeal heard. As ever, the HRA becomes the handy whipping boy.

Also, to clear up one of the misconceptions prevalent in the Mail's comments, those being allowed to stay are not being given British citizenship and so cannot vote until they apply, for which you now have to jump through numerous numbers of hoops in order to obtain. It, amazingly, isn't all a conspiracy designed to keep Labour forever in power on the back of immigrant and asylum seeker votes.

Indicative of the comments, with one or two slight exceptions, is this:

Isn't it against OUR human rights to have people in this country using our services when they have not paid for them? Isn't it against OUR human rights for OUR children to be in classes with pupils who cannot speak English, so the teacher’s time is wasted by these incomers? Isn't it against OUR human rights that immigrants get housing which is badly needed by English couples? Isn't it against OUR human rights that our Island is now so crowded with people who neither care nor want to be part of our country, yet want all the benefits? I could go on and on but what's the point. This government doesn't care about OUR human rights.

- Jan, London,England

Where on earth do you even start?

The reality on the ground is that there are two choices: either we continue to try to deport all those who are failed asylum seekers and/or illegal immigrants, the numbers of which could be anything up to around 600,000 or more, which has huge costs and which at the current rate will take decades, or we can implement the kind of selective policy that has been introduced here. An actual amnesty is attractive, but the lessons from Spain and Italy, both of which have previously implemented amnesties, is that it does little more encourage more migrants to come, waiting for the next "amnesty" to come along. There needs to be a carrot and stick approach, involving a very juicy carrot and a great big stick: either you become "legal", or well, you can get out. Afterwards, the points system currently planned, for all its faults, is probably the best option, with those with needed skills allowed to come. We certainly continue to need immigration, and if anything will need it more as our "indigenous" population ages. Those so furious in the Mail's comments would soon be gasping for the immigrants to return when the crops rot in the fields, the pensions of their children become worthless and the NHS withers. Then again, with some in those comments calling for a coup, perhaps that sort of thing is innately attractive.

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Monday, December 17, 2007 

BBFC still gunning for Manhunt 2.

Going from one organisation clutching at straws to another, the BBFC is to seek a judicial review into the Video Appeals Committee's decision that Manhunt 2 should not have been banned:

The BBFC is applying for a judicial review of the decision by the Video Appeals Committee to overturn the Board’s rejection of the video game Manhunt 2. The Board’s challenge also seeks suspension of the Committee’s decision that the game should be classified.

The BBFC is contesting the VAC judgement because in the Board's view, it is based on an approach to harm which is an incorrect interpretation of the Video Recordings Act. The VAC judgement, if allowed to stand, would have fundamental implications with regard to all the Board’s decisions, including those turning upon questions of unacceptable levels of violence. If the VAC’s decision is suspended, then the game will not be classified before the outcome of the Judicial Review.

There is again the precedent set by the legalising of hardcore pornography. In that case the VAC decided that the BBFC should have awarded R18 certificates to 7 submitted works, with the BBFC applying for a judicial review. They lost, with the high court finding that the VAC's decision had been correct, resulting in the BBFC shaking up its guidelines for R18s and in effect legalising the sale of hardcore pornography over the counter, or at least in sex shops.

One suspects that the BBFC are now playing for time. Last week, when the VAC decision was announced, Rockstar were very optimistically hoping that the game still might be on shelves by Christmas. The BBFC's clutching at the "harm" issue is revealing in this regard: as far as I can tell, no film has been cut for its depiction of violence itself, as opposed to sexual violence at 18 since the BBFC published the landmark findings of its survey of public opinions back in 2000. The survey overwhelmingly found that at 18 more or less anything apart from sexual violence and things already legislated against, such as animal cruelty, was acceptable to the public. Pseudo-documentariesdepicting real violence have been banned, and there's also the case of the cutting of the "Hanging Song" from a Ren and Stimpy cartoon which rightly disturbed and vexed its fans, with the BBFC apparently saying that it would be cut even if it were to be classified at 18, but apart from I can't recall any such cuts which would fall under that definition. Seeing as the violence in Manhunt 2 is strictly physical rather than sexual, I can't see how they have any chance of winning the review.

This is in actual fact an old BBFC ploy. Back in the bad old days under James Ferman, the organisation often did its best to be as unwieldy as possible. If a certain distributor wanted to get a "challenging" film to be certified, i.e, one likely to fall victim to Ferman's scissors and editing technique, it would often accept any recommendations and slashes made after the first viewing rather than attempt to do things its own way, mainly due to how when it came to submit a more commercial venture, such as a family film for half-term, the BBFC would often delay issuing a certificate to ensure it missed the most profitable time. This old petulance seems to have been resurrected in the 21st century because of Rockstar's attitude towards the BBFC's ban, as evidenced by their contempt for the decision shown at the VAC appeal. Unlike films and DVDs, games tend to age quickly, especially one like Manhunt 2 which has already been criticised for its relatively poor graphics. By the time this new judicial review reaches its conclusion, most of those in this country who haven't already imported it from the continent are likely to have completely forgotten about its existence.

Manhunt 2 then may as well have remained banned. Anyone for, err, Manhunt 3?

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Charles Moore enters the Policy Exchange/Newsnight fray.

Firstly, apologies for not updating on Saturday. My phone line had until around 2 hours ago been borked since 2am on Friday night/Saturday morning. Thanks, Tiscali.

Secondly, this will hopefully be the last piece on the Policy Exchange/Newsnight confrontation unless something new comes up. Charles Moore, ex-editor of the Daily Telegraph, and Chairman of Policy Exchange just had to stick his nose in though and therefore deserves to be thoroughly fisked.

Skipping Moore's trite intro about Newsnight:

On a day when the world's central banks were combining to rescue the global banking system, and when Gordon Brown was trying to think of a way of signing away Britain's independence in Lisbon without cameras, there were big things for the programme to lead on.

Instead, it presented a huge, 17-minute package about Policy Exchange.

Seeing as the signing away didn't occur until Friday, there was little point going on about it until Thursday night, surely? Let's not even bother getting into the giving away of our birthrights that the Eurosceptics and tabloids have blustered over when they've preached bullshit and lies about Europe for so long. The 17-minute package was a thorough, intelligent and lucid piece of investigative journalism. It was something that doesn't grace our screens much anymore, and it was far better than a tedious report on the central banks having to bail out the other banks because of their economic ineptitude, unless the report went into how the free market had failed due to the greed of the City on both sides of the Atlantic.

Although Newsnight's portentousness was unjustified, the allegations did look serious. It should be said at once that they need proper investigation. But when you know the background, you come to see how very different this story is from the way Newsnight told it.

And does Charles Moore anywhere in this actual piece refute any of Newsnight's allegations and accusations? Of course he doesn't. This is the start of the obfuscation. The allegations need proper investigation, but in the mean time we're going to attack Newsnight for daring to investigate our potentially shoddy report.

This is what happened.

Over the summer, Policy Exchange produced the most comprehensive report so far on the extent to which extremist literature is available in British mosques and Islamic institutions. It is called The Hijacking of British Islam.

Muslim undercover researchers visited nearly 100 mosques. In 26 of them, they found extremist material - titles such as Women Who Deserve to Go to Hell (for answering their husbands back), virulent insults of Jews and homosexuals, puritanical attacks on moderate Muslims, calls for the complete rejection of Western society etc.

It was a big story, and as I shall make clear, none of Newsnight's claims this week has diminished its dimensions.

In 6 of those there are now, thanks to Newsnight, doubts about whether they did supply the material, meaning that extremist material was found in a fifth of such institutions, not a quarter. That's still unacceptable, but because of those doubts it also brings the entire report into disrepute. To continue to claim that Newsnight "hasn't diminished its dimensions" is to give in to a desire for personal myopia.

The report made the front page of many newspapers, including this one. It was extensively covered everywhere - everywhere except for the entire national output of the BBC.

This was because of Newsnight. Thinking that such a report was a serious public issue that could advance well under the "flagship's" full mast and sail, Policy Exchange had originally offered it to Newsnight exclusively.

Newsnight's people were enthusiastic, but on the late afternoon of the intended broadcast, they suddenly changed their tune.

Policy Exchange had offered them many of the receipts it had collected from mosques as evidence of purchase; now they said that they had shown the receipts to mosques and that there were doubts about the authenticity of one or two of them.

Given that the report was being published that night, the obvious thing for Newsnight to do was to broadcast Policy Exchange's findings at once, allowing the mosques to have their say about the receipts.

There was no need for Newsnight to claim "ownership" of the report. Instead, the editor, Peter Barron, decided to run nothing. His decision meant the Policy Exchange report was not touched by the BBC at all.

I'm sorry, is Moore meant to be getting at something here? Newsnight decides to actually check up on the veracity of PE's report, and when it discovers there are doubts, it decides to investigate more thoroughly, and this is something Newsnight is worthy of criticism over? One of the things modern day journalism suffers from in the 24-hour news climate is the desire to get the story out and for the facts, such as they are, to be established later. We've seen that happen this year with Madeleine McCann and in numerous other cases. They could have broadcast the report and said that the mosques disputed the findings and even the authenticity of the receipts, but would have been left with eggs on their faces and facing criticism if someone else had then done the investigation they decided to do themselves. Newsnight finds itself being damned if it does and damned if it doesn't. Moore is also wrong to say that the BBC didn't touch the report at all; as Osama Saeed has already explained, the Islamic Centre of Edinburgh had its "naming and shaming" in the report heavily covered on the BBC north of the border, and where again the findings have been disputed.

Mr Barron had already been in trouble for his editorial judgment.

In the summer, the BBC apologised for a Newsnight programme in which a reporter's encounters with Gordon Brown's press officer had been presented in reverse sequence, in order to make Mr Brown's team look intolerant.

Moore, like with Godson, has decide to turn on Peter Barron rather than reporting itself. It's true that Newsnight did apologise for that fortuitous editing, but it was the independent filmmaker's own work. Barron should have checked. Anyway, if we're to adopt the PE defense, the filmmaker can more than claim that despite his editing his report was still accurate, just not altogether the truth.

Mr Barron's judgment of the Policy Exchange report came under attack from colleagues: his flawed methodology - the original decision not to broadcast - had lost the entire corporation an important story.

Ah, failed methodology. Is this the new "flawed prospectus"?

Mr Barron decided to try to prove himself right. In the private sector, there is something called "vanity publishing", where people pay for their own works to be published.

Mr Barron's vanity broadcasting was, of course, at the expense of the licence-fee payer. He put the crew of the flagship on to investigating Policy Exchange's receipts. For six weeks, they turned on the staff of Policy Exchange, who had come to them in good faith in the first place, and treated them like criminals.

And, err, he rather has, hasn't he? Even if Moore's allegations are true, the licence-fee payer and the public interest have been served by Barron's decision to investigate. Apparently being asked some searching questions is now the equivalent of being banged up in police cells and raided at 6am in the morning.

The receipts that Policy Exchange had lent to them were impounded, and copies were distributed to others without permission.

They were subjected to complicated forensic tests. One of these, allegedly the most damning, was completed over a week before Wednesday's broadcast, but withheld from Policy Exchange.

Although there was no screaming news urgency about the item, a courier carrying the test results sat outside the offices of Policy Exchange's lawyers on Wednesday evening with the message that the think-tank could see the results only if it agreed, before seeing them, that it would go on air that night to answer Newsnight's charges.

Outside the lawyers' offices rather than Policy Exchange's? Could this possibly be because PE had already threatened legal action in the most alarming terms? Surely PE were going to appear on Newsnight anyway? Or were they going to, like the government, be unable to find anyone to appear despite a request? Newsnight presumably didn't hand back the originals because they rightly feared that PE wouldn't be gladly giving them back.

On the programme, Jeremy Paxman, who admitted off-air that he had not seen the film before it was broadcast, attacked Policy Exchange's research director, Dean Godson, for refusing to let Newsnight speak to the researchers who had collected the receipts. This was not so: Mr Barron himself had spoken to two of them.

This was dealt with in the previous posts: Barron only says he spoke to one and that was on the day when the original broadcast was meant to be in "an inconclusive conference call".

Poor Paxo, who these days has the air of a once-marvellous old Grand National horse who should no longer be entered for the race, had not been properly briefed.

He accused Policy Exchange itself, which the Newsnight report had not done, of fabricating receipts. Strange the mixture of fierce accusation and casual sloppiness.

Now we're down to the personal insults and more obfuscation. Pray tell, if PE or the researchers employed by PE didn't fabricate the receipts, who did?

Newsnight was very excited about the results of a study of receipts by a forensic document analyst that seemed to suggest forgery.

It did not tell viewers that its expert wrote: "The relatively limited amount of writing available for comparison has prevented me from expressing any definite opinion." She did not study any of the writing in Arabic, though it appeared on two of the three receipts she investigated.

Strange then that she was apparently convinced in Newsnight's actual report. Newsnight was hardly able to ask the researchers to provide some longhand to compare with the receipts, was it?

Of course, any allegations about receipts are, in principle, a serious matter for a think-tank.

Policy Exchange bases its work on evidence, and so its evidence must be sound. The BBC did not give the think-tank the chance to investigate its complicated allegations properly. Policy Exchange will now do so.

Oh, for Christ's sake. Only now are the allegations to be investigated properly. Had PE been suitably rigourous in the first place it would have found the mistakes and discrepancies that Newsnight did before the report had got anywhere near publication. It had six weeks during the BBC's own investigation to do its own digging. Froth and chaff.

But the real oddity of all this is that the actual contents of the report have been validated.

Extremist literature was available in the mosques, and in some cases still is. The mosques could not dissociate themselves from the literature and, in most cases, did not even try to: they jumped on the receipts instead.

Well, a few of them did, and justifiably so one would imagine when in one case it seems to have been fabricated with the office round the corner being wrongly identified as a mosque. The Newsnight investigation found two of the books mentioned in the report in two of the mosques; hardly validating it when its complete findings have been put into doubt due to the apparent making up of the receipts.

One mosque insisted that the next-door bookshop selling extreme stuff had nothing to do with it, yet the extremist books in question which the shop sells are by a former Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia (author of a famous essay in which he literally asserted that the Earth is flat) who was a founding sponsor of the mosque!

And one would expect, with the writer being a former Grand Mufti of Saudi that his books would be reasonably widespread.

I don't blame Newsnight for reporting questions about receipts, though I deplore their methods. I do blame them for trying to kill the much, much bigger story about the hate that is being preached in our country.

Moore than seems to deplore the methods of investigative journalism. Not surprising seeing that the stitching up of Galloway from the "documents" in Iraq took place under his watch. If the BBC was trying to kill the "bigger story", it's done a poor job of it, considering how it's contributed to that story itself considerably over the last year.

Policy Exchange researches all sorts of public policy - police reform, school choice, housing, as well as on Islamist extremism. Next week comes its big report on improving philanthropy. I find it repellent that the might of the BBC is deployed to threaten and bully a charity in this way.

Most of which is complete bollocks. The latest publication on prison reform recommends selling off some of the prison estate that is dilapidated, pocketing the money and then spending it on building new prisons. Nowhere is it explained just where the prisoners currently occupying the prisons to be sold off would be housed in the meantime. To claim that the BBC is "threatening and bullying" Policy Exchange is absurd: PE, with its legal threats before the BBC investigation had even been shown, was the one which was bullying while the BBC was daring to look behind the facade. Policy Exchange seems to have two obsessions: the police and Islam. Since July 2006, when it published Martin Bright's series of articles on the relationship between the government and "Islamist reactionaries" abroad in a pamphlet, it's published three other studies on Islam, including the one now under suspicion. Seeing as it was co-founded by the ghastly Michael Gove, a noted devotee to neo-conservatism who had his tome "Celsius 7/7" described by William a confused epic of simplistic incomprehension, riddled with more factual errors and misconceptions than any other text I have come across in two decades of reviewing books on this subject", it's not much of a surprise.

More important, however, is the fate of Muslims in this country.

It is not often realised that the British citizens most persecuted by Islamist extremism are Muslims themselves.

The researchers that Policy Exchange used to find the extreme literature were all Muslims - no one else could pass unnoticed in a potentially hostile environment.

Because their safety was and is threatened, the think-tank protects their anonymity. On air, Newsnight revealed where some of them were.

Yesterday an Islamist website repeated this and called for supporters to help hunt them down. The BBC has unintentionally exposed them to the risk of harm.

Oh yes, they're currently in Mauritania, a country the size of Egypt. Seeing as no one knows who or where they are, those Islamists might just have a considerable task on their hands in tracking them down. Moore would of course know about the pitfalls of offending some Muslims: he wrote a reasonably infamous article prior to the religious hatred law going through which opened with "Was the prophet Mohammed a paedophile?" He continued:

To me, it seems anachronistic to describe Mohammed as a child-molester. The marriage rules of his age and society were much more tribal and dynastic than our own, and women were treated more as property and less as autonomous beings. Aisha was the daughter of Mohammed's right-hand man, and eventual successor (caliph), Abu Bakr. No doubt he and his family were very proud of the match. I raise the question, though, because it seems to me that people are perfectly entitled - rude and mistaken though they may be - to say that Mohammed was a paedophile, but if David Blunkett gets his way, they may not be able to.

Some pointed out that not every source agrees that one of Mohammad's wives was 9 when he married her; others pointed out that she was also described as 19. Calling Mohammad a paedophile is a common insult when mocking Islam, but Moore, a notable believer, would be outraged if Jesus was described in similar terms, as he goes on to relate when describing Paul Abbott's attitudes towards Christmas. After all, there is no account of what he spent his time doing between his teenage years and when he was baptised, aged 30: he could have conceivably spent it banging every goat in sight, although it's unlikely. Thing is, I agree with Moore over his wider point; I just wouldn't have decided to be needlessly inflammatory to make it. To digress, Policy Exchange could have refused to tell Newsnight where they were at all; provided with the information, what did they expect Newsnight to do with it?

What these brave Muslims undeniably found was evidence of widespread, obnoxious material that is a risk to decent Muslims and to British social order.

Really? The written word in the form of impenetrable, archaic religious texts and books by reactionary gobshites is now so dangerous as to threaten the mores of "decent Muslims" and risk British social order itself? If so, then reports which are based upon fabricated evidence must also conceivably threaten, in that horrible new phrase, "community cohesion".

The BBC chose, in effect, to side with their extreme opponents and to cover up the report, because of an obsession about a few pieces of paper.

The few pieces of paper which just happened to underlie the entire report. Congratulations Charles Moore, your attempt at "moving the debate on" has succeeded admirably.

Update: Brilliant wider look at the entire report by Abdurahman Jafar on CiF.

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