Saturday, January 19, 2008 

Scum-watch: Vengeance, redemption and hypocrisy.

The Scum is in full hyper-ventilating rage about the beating administered to Susan Collins by Nicholas Hague, who the paper says was "freed early" but who had actually served the usual amount of time that someone jailed for 18 months does, due to the time he had spent on remand. The image of her in hospital is indeed sickening, and it seems that Hague is likely to serve far more time than the minimum of three and a half years that was recommended, as he was also given an indeterminate sentence.

The leader is typically brazen and sneering of "liberal values":

Liberals argue there is good in everyone. Well, good luck finding it in Nicholas Hague


There is no hope for such monsters, or the snivelling trio who murdered loving dad Garry Newlove only three miles away.

The Sun then condemns immature men to a permanent life sentence. Such sentiments reject and ensure that there is no chance of redemption or reform. Our urge for vengeance, because that's what it is, is strong, and is it also righteous; what is not however, is always right. If we decided there was no hope for such people, then there wouldn't be Erwin James, John Hirst or all the other countless men that have committed terrible crimes but whom have repented and then spent their lives either making amends or living peacefully. The three boys who killed Newlove have not yet reached twenty; who's to say that when they are released, in 15 to 20 years time if not longer by a rough estimate, that they won't have been completely changed by their experience? Nothing that we do to them will bring back Newlove, but why should more lives be abandoned and institutionalised through condemning them until the day they die?

I'm opposed to capital punishment on principle, but I sometimes think that you might as well put those sentenced to life imprisonment when it actually means life to death: when there's no hope for redemption, or any chance of freedom for them, why should they bother to seek it and why should we then in turn provide the funds that keep them fed and alive? It's a pointless exercise all round, and the reason why Ian Brady should have been allowed to die long ago and why Myra Hindley should have been released before she died in prison.

Of course, when someone actually does show signs of forgiveness and reform, the Sun declines to believe it, as the recent case of Learco Chindamo showed, with its attempt to smear him on the basis of the words of another ex-con. It's also selective of those cases of which to chose. Here's another picture of someone who was beaten, except this time to death:

However, when some of those charged in connection with his death were found not guilty, the Sun said that "common sense had prevailed," and also that the "every aspect of investigating so-called crimes had to be re-examined." Baha Mousa wasn't beaten to death by yobs but by British soldiers who had been torturing him, the same heroes that the Sun never has a bad word to say against. How hollow the last two sentences of the Sun's leader are once you're aware of such callousness:

It is important, though, that Britain does not become blasé about the inhuman violence meted out to Susan or Garry.

A society immune to such savagery will not be worth living in.

The Sun is though at the forefront of making sure that savagery and inhuman violence committed by British forces overseas
is treated in such a blasé manner.

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Friday, January 18, 2008 

Tackling extremism and radicalisation online.

You know that there's been a step-change in priorities in academic circles when organisations like the wordy mouthful that is the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence are being set-up and then holding two-day conferences that attract the home secretary. Alongside such alumni as Peter Bergen, former head of MI6 Richard Dearlove and everyone's favourite security correspondent, Frank Gardner, Jacqui Smith yesterday made her first speech on terrorism, focusing mainly on the threat from the internet and how to tackle it.

Of course, it would help greatly if any media organisation or indeed the ICSR had made available Smith's speech in full, but that seems to be beyond their capabilities. Perhaps it's deliberate: we don't want the nasty jihadis to be getting full wind of the government's plans, do we? Joking aside, it's impossible to comment thoroughly on exactly what she outlined when we have to make do with relatively short reports in the newspapers. Going by them, there's plenty of reasons to be concerned about this latest ploy at blocking out unpleasantness on the internet.

The most acute immediate problem with the rhetoric and reasoning coming from Smith is that she and the government seems to think that the ways in which child pornography is tackled is an appropriate model. As Frank Fisher sets out on CiF, this is an incredibly arbitrary way of going about it - the Internet Watch Foundation provides the sites to be blocked, and they are then blocked by the ISPs. No debate, no review, just a complete cutting off. Mostly, this does seem to work but there have been problems; in one case, the anonymous image posting board 4chan, which occasionally gets flooded with child pornography by trolls was blocked, but only seemingly by certain ISPs. Such blanket censorship with no genuine recourse is the kind imposed by totalitarian states, not supposed democracies.

Even more naive and also insulting is taking the internet predator model from those who surf chatrooms and social networking sites for prey and applying it to the online world of cyber-jihadism. That there are supposed "terror svengalis who work to seduce young people" is utter nonsense. The case of "Irhabi007" provides the reality: a Moroccan who arrived here with his father in 2001, he was radicalised not by someone "grooming" him but through his own research, as well as by images of atrocities committed in Iraq, such as the infamous video from a US bomber of a missile being dropped into a crowd of fleeing civilians in Fallujah, with the pilots laughing as it exploded. Newsnight then had the temerity to claim that the circumstances surrounding it had never been comprehensively established. Not every young person "radicalised" is going to go to the extremes that Younes Tsouli did, helping to distribute jihadist video releases and then to spreading presentations and videos on how to prepare bombs and attacks, mainly because now with sites such as Rapidshare, Megaupload and FileFlyer you don't need to hack other websites or use public FTPs to get the material around, but it does provide the example that as well as those willing to launch attacks there is an underbelly online that provides support to those thinking about doing so.

One of the other problems is just whether the material being distributed is actually illegal or not. Beheadings and murder which are sometimes depicted would fall foul of the Obscene Publications Act, but what about the numerous mortar attacks and IED videos which the various insurgent groups in Iraq for instance release? Most don't show anyone dying or being killed, but they are designed to provide succour to online supporters, and are also helpful propaganda showing the failure of coalition forces. Banning such material might make the government sleep slightly easier, but how they would manage it when as outlined above the distribution networks are now so autonomous and use other public download sites to do so? It's true that those that monitor online jihadis regularly report the material and get it removed, except from those sites that provide complete freedom of speech and expression, but is it even necessary? In any case, if the publicly available jihadist forums are blocked, those currently using them will just move to private, more secure sites, as the remnants of Al-Muhajiroun are now rumoured to have done.

Then there's the possibility that the very attempt to ban, censor and block could be counter-productive on more than one point. There's currently a burgeoning online movement dedicated to monitoring such sites which would fall on its face just at the moment when Smith herself admits that the government itself cannot be relied upon to do everything. (The main problem with the movement described here is its ideological background, which I may well expand upon in due course.) Moreover, as always when you ban something, you make it infinitely more attractive as well as shoving it into the undergrowth. Those who are already going to search out extremist ideas and think for themselves will find this material whether it's outlawed or not, and while it continues to be posted on sites like YouTube and LiveLeak, where the government most certainly can't restrict it but where it does get criticised, there's very little they can realistically do.

It's taken a while, but the government does thankfully seem to have finally realised that the way to tackle extremist Islam is not through force and condemnation, but through argument and tackling prejudice at the base source. Those who are seen as heroes or as admirable, as Justin writes, are often the most laughable and easy to mock figures. How for instance can anyone take Sayyid Qutb seriously when you know that he took a woman coming onto him in the United States as either a challenge from God or as being sent to corrupt him by the CIA? Battling Salafism, with its sentimental romanticism about an age of Islam that never really existed, ought to be based on modernism. Making clear that the takfiri ideology doesn't discriminate between any sort of Muslim and "kafir" is vital, as is that those with these views are not practising Islam but a perversion of it that Muhammad would certainly not recognise. All this could have been already achieved and helped significantly if we hadn't involved ourselves in the cowboy operation in Iraq, but it's too late to change that now. Nor will the imposition of 42 days without charge for "terrorist suspects", the hypocrisy of Smith's statement that victory will not be assumed through authoritarianism all too rank.

Again, as Fisher writes, if any of this is to go ahead there needs to be at the very least an established legal framework and footing for these measures, with full oversight and all the information surrounding it being placed in the public domain. That this government's record doesn't in the slightest inspire confidence that this will be forthcoming only amplifies the reasons for why this ought to be resisted until then.

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We'll build this rook house here for Bobby.

Bobby Fischer 1943 - 2008

Mr Eugenides on the genius, recluse and antisemitic loon.

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Scum-watch: Why Facebook is bad for you.

Ignoring the Scum's claims in its leader that Rhys Jones has been forgotten (he hasn't) and that he's already a "footnote to a catalogue of unforgivable street slaughter" when no subsequent case has by any means reached such a critical mass or led to an outbreak of soul-searching as prolonged as his murder did, the Scum is back to its old tricks of promoting the other parts of its empire by omission.

Why Facebook is bad for you is a generic piece written by a university don, and outlines all the usual reasons for why you shouldn't touch the social networking site with a ten-foot bargepole. What the article doesn't mention is that Facebook's main rival MySpace, is of course owned by err, the same person as the Sun is, nor is the site so much as mentioned as being just of much of a security risk as Facebook.

Tom Hodgkinson wrote a far better article for why to avoid Facebook on Monday in the Grauniad, naming 3 of the individuals involved in its creation as reason enough. The reasons to boycott MySpace are summed up in just one much more succinct name: Rupert Murdoch.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008 

The political tyranny of grief.

The tyranny of the tearful, grieving left behind seems to be an ever growing constant on both our TV screens and newspapers. The wife of the fallen soldier demands that the MoD and government do more to stop what happened to their partner happening again, even if it was an understandable accident; the parents of the missing child travel the globe warning of the dangers of strangers, even when they themselves have been by no means cleared of personal involvement; the parent of the murdered school-teacher urges the government to ban "extreme pornography"; and now we have the widow of the brave have-a-go hero setting out a list of everything that she thinks is wrong with society, and everyone is expected to ably nod along, wring their hands, comment that it really is appalling, or demand instant ever more draconian crackdowns, usually for their own short-term political gain.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not impugning on the right of those dealt the harshest blow that life can throw at them from pouring out their hearts at the injustice of it all; in fact, I'd encourage it. Better to let it out than to bottle it up. You can't fail to be disgusted at Garry Newlove's death, a man who had survived cancer being taken from his family at the feet of the local hoodlums, who deserve everything that they have coming to them, hopefully a sentence that will mean they'll at least be middle-aged before they're released from prison. His wife's eloquent statement, even if I disagree with large parts of it, took courage to both write and read out in front of the country's media.

The best policies on crime and punishment, or indeed on everything are however reached in the cold light of day, not motivated by vengeance or to buy off campaigning newspapers or individuals. The very last thing that should be indulged is knee-jerk reactions that aim towards ever harsher penalties, but rather focus on what works; outrage and apoplexy, along with the momentum that a tragedy provides a person with, have worked to huge disadvantage in the past. You only have to examine the dangerous dogs legislation or the video nasties farce to see what moral panics bring about.

Such rationality however can never stand up to emotion. The Sun's headline to one of its reports is "Get this evil off our streets". Its leader, which I'll return to later, is at least not as demanding of change as it was in the aftermath of the murder of Rhys Jones last summer. Easy answers, such as David Davis's statement today for zero tolerance, which would not have stopped the murder of Newlove even if it had of been in operation, typically miss the point and would only further stigmatise those who get in trouble once and where the shock of being caught is enough to stop from them committing any further crimes. The Tories' complete lack of any real alternative, only claiming that there is a broken society which Thatcherism and its continuation under Blair have done the most to create, and their promotion of bribes through tax cuts which would only help already married middle-class couples show the continuing failure for the party to come to terms with modern Britain. How school discipline could possibly be blamed when all three of those convicted had already left is also a moot point.

Helen Newlove's analysis and diagnosis also shouldn't be above criticism. She says that "[youths] should not be allowed to congregate on street corners", but the only solution she offers is the army or boot camp. One would think the very last thing we wanted to do with bored violent young people is introduce them to an organisation where they're trained to be even more violent, but such logic seems to go out the window in such circumstances. The solution appears to be for the young to be seen and not heard, or out of sight and out of mind. As long as they're off the streets and not scaring the adults, who cares? She talks about the government needing to put "into place an effective deterrent", but just what sort of punishment will make a young person who has spent the whole day drinking think twice before attacking a man who's challenged his authority? There simply isn't one. What can the government do when someone over the legal drinking age is only exercising his right to purchase alcohol? It's their responsibility, not the person who sells it to them.

This isn't defeatist, but does anyone really have an answer to how we can prevent the above without intervening in society in such ways that are neither necessary or likely to even have that much of an effect? Some of the suggestions are the equivalent of stating that we either need a policeman on every corner or a CCTV camera equivalent that recognises offenders and is ready to bark out orders; how else are we supposed to keep tabs on every single person that's out on bail that just might go on to kick someone to death? How are we supposed to change a drinking culture of getting smashed with all the side-effects that entails when that's exactly what the structure of the working week and phony individualism encourages? Why should we surprised that the young feel embittered and disenfranchised when the illusion of meritocracy which New Labour bases itself on is so exposed in the schools they often leave with such low aspirations?

In fact, this whole case leaves the typical blanket recommendations floundering. One of those convicted, Stephen Sorton, had nine GCSEs and was at college studying mechanics. It defies both casual prejudices and the typical assumptions, which is precisely why it's completely wrong to turn to them out of either type or comfort. Even so, it's still apparent that the young need somewhere to go more than ever, but at the same time also want to be left alone. Youth clubs and organisations are one thing, but they've never going to stop them from congregating and potentially intimidating others even if they don't mean any harm. Labour's anti-social behaviour legislation has given the police just the powers to move them on even if they're not doing anything wrong, just the sort of thing that makes teenagers respect their elders. Again, when cases such as these emerge and get blanket coverage, all of those who think they're in a similar boat feel threatened, and the constant scaremongering about "yobs" or "hoodies" only encourages fear and mutual mistrust.

Also typically missing the point is to blame those who are only attempting to do their jobs, as the Sun leader does:

Garry, a devoted husband and father, had repeatedly called on police to act against local vandals and hooligans.

They failed to do their job.

I'd say that they did everything they could: you can't do much more than arrest one of them and charge them with assault, and confiscating their alcohol. Unless they're in a special "no-drinking zone" and aren't disorderly, what else are they supposed to do?

So did the judge who set free killer cop Gary Weddell.

Having hanged his wife, Weddell last week blasted her mother and himself to death.

Surely just as much blame has to lie with his brother, who put up £200,000 bail and then failed to keep the tabs on him that he promised he would. That Weddell was a police officer and had a motive for murdering his wife (who had been having an affair and told him she wanted a divorce) and therefore didn't appear to be a threat to anyone else must also be considered.

A common theme can be found in all three cases — a reluctance to put dangerous people behind bars.

Prisons and police cells are so full of violent criminals that known villains are allowed bail.

And innocent members of the public are paying for that with their lives.

There lies the inherent contradiction - the prisons aren't full of violent criminals, they're full of the mentally ill and those who shouldn't be there, as well as the violent. The Sun's constant hardline is partially responsible for just that, and yet it now in effect demands all those charged with assault are kept in custody when such a policy would be complete lunacy and cost an extortionate amount for such a small possible benefit. Besides, those charged with assault have never been kept in custody regardless of the prison spaces available; it's just the Scum as usual conflating something with its own prejudices.

Put simply, we are never going to prevent every such tragic murder. There always have and always will be hotheaded young out of their heads and suitably inclined to beat up an easy target. Without taking a step back when such strong emotions and feelings inevitably manifest themselves in the aftermath, we'll be forever putting right the mistakes from the last knee-jerk. Reacting to each one as if it must be the latest to change us irrevocably is not just daft, it's dangerous.

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A swing and a miss.

Rebekah Wade tends not to do public events. The last time she gave evidence to a parliamentary committee she accidentally blabbed that the Scum "sometimes" paid police officers for stories, which quickly resulted in News International "clarifying" the matter by saying they never paid such sources. Then there was the time she got drunk and in the yobbish fashion that she condemns in her newspaper smacked her now ex-husband, resulting in a night in the cells.

To go by yesterday's appearance before the Lords communications committee, she'd been prepping herself for a long time. Not that she should of bothered: the committee was completely hopeless at drawing blood from such an easy target. Despite the abundance of evidence, including Wade's own comment that Murdoch is "a very hands-on proprietor", they failed completely in provoking her into providing examples of such interference. Anyone who's read Piers Morgan's faux diaries of his time whilst editing the News of the World will note that Murdoch doesn't need to expressly ask his editor to either spike a piece, go with a certain viewpoint or cover a different story entirely; he just casts doubt on his editor's decision. Moreover, all Murdoch's editors are expressly picked precisely because they can be trusted to not deviate from his own views: they all know full well the consequences for going dangerously off course. It's in this way in which he controls both his tabloids and up-market papers: there could be no greater example of his influence than the fact that every single one of his newspapers worldwide supported the Iraq war.

The closest the committee came to anything like a revelation was that Murdoch himself doesn't much like the overbearing celebrity coverage, now headed by Gordon Smart, the worst editor of the "Bizarre" pages since the last one. The only thing both he and Wade agreed upon on that front was on Pop Idol, which just so happens to be broadcast on the Fox network in the US.

There were so many possibilities to put Wade on the ropes that it's remarkable that the committee didn't even attempt to show its fangs. They could have asked Wade why the paper was so supportive of Blair, to the extent that the paper became known as the Downing Street Echo, but seem to have missed even that. They could of capitalised on the paper's numerous mistakes and apologies after the past year, from the inflammatory claim that "Muslim yobs" had vandalised homes that soldiers were to move into, which it got completely wrong, the smearing of the Kamal family that was caught up in the Forest Gate terror raid, the apology to Janet Hossain's family for claiming that she was found dead in bondage gear when she was wearing normal clothes and hadn't been involved in any sort of sexual activities prior to her death, or even resurrected the Rochelle Holness scandal, where the paper claimed she had been cut up while alive, with the bereaved family condemning the newspaper for being just as heartless as her murderer. The article is still up on the website and no apology has ever been made. They could have attacked Wade's ridiculous campaign for "Sarah's law" and the numerous lies the paper printed about the EU reform treaty, both of which were accompanied by petitions that were flagrantly misleading, or how the Scum continues to demand even harsher law and order policies, despite the prison system being full to bursting point precisely because of it and other newspapers' outlandish demands, such as for prison ships. The paper's facile and disgraceful attempts to smear the Human Rights Act as a terrorists' charter could have been brought up and exposed.

Instead we have to make do with a half-hearted complaint from a bishop and Lady Thornton about page 3. Both could have gone far further and pointed out the far more vile nature of page 3 idol, and how the paper is encouraging young women to involve themselves in leering lads' competitions, all for the benefit of its already rich proprietor, who pays out a paltry £5,000 prize to the eventual winner. Wade just brushed it off in the usual fashion by attacking Clare Short. That the "MySun" online community also encourages young women, whose age is isn't easily verifiable to involve themselves in similar escapades could have been brought up as well.

As ever, it turned out to be a complete missed opportunity. Complete freedom of the press is only in the interests of everyone in society when it's regulated in a robust fashion. The toothless PCC fails to provide that, and now the supposed attack dogs in both houses of parliament have failed as well. It's little wonder therefore that the tabloid press in this country continues to sink to levels so low that even a world-record holding limbo dancer would have difficulty in reaching them.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008 

Newsnight gets hoaxed over "al-Qaida in Britain".

The Mujahideen Shura Council's (now the Islamic State of Iraq) logo.

Oh dear. Generally, Newsnight is on the ball when it comes to most things,
but it fell far short last night in the bullshit meter stakes.

In typically breathless tones,
reporter Richard Watson reported that on the 2nd of January a posting appeared on the jihadist forum announcing the creation of "al-Qaida in Britain". The message included threats against both Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, urged Muslims to join them, and generally prepare for battle. Sajjan Gohal made a lot of vapid assertions and cast no light on the subject whatsoever, then "ex-spook" Dame Pauline Neville-Jones was invited on to talk about battling an ideology while saying we had to take the message "very seriously".

You can understand why Newsnight got excited. Over the past year especially, and since Zarqawi's group in Iraq professed allegiance to Osama bin Laden (now the self-proclaimed "Islamic State of Iraq"), various terrorist groups the world over have taken on the "al-Qaida" brand. The Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat became al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, while the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group has also more recently joined up, even if the ties were already long established. There was also the announcement of the establishment of al-Qaida in the Levant (Lebanon, Syria, etc), although whether such a group actually exists in any operative state is certainly open to question. Closer to home, and also questionable, a group calling itself "al-Qaida in Europe" has claimed responsibility for the 7/7 attacks, but rather undermined its credibility when it also claimed that it was behind the blackouts in America that were most certainly not their doing.

It's undoubtedly true that if a group calling itself "al-Qaida in Britain" had openly announced its formation and said it was planning attacks that it would be a significant ratcheting up of the audacity, if not the competency or potency of takfirist jihadists within these shores. What it doesn't mean is that the group has necessarily any material links with al-Qaida as it currently exists, if indeed it really does exist any more except as an idea. Previously, all those who weren't publicity whores or hotheads have kept their heads well below the parapet for good reason - even though Omar Bakri Mohammad continues to preach and spread his reactionary crap via Paltalk or somewhere else since he was expelled to the Lebanon - if they don't or didn't have some sort of understanding with MI6, they were rapidly put under surveillance and are now prosecuted in a similar fashion.

The reasons for why it's highly unlikely this was anything other than either a prankster or a fantasist are manifold. For starters, alekhlass is just one of the innumerable number of jihadist forums now proliferating across the web, and until recently was by no means one of the most prominent. Recently, some of the most infamous have been taken down, prompting flight to far more secure, genuinely private sites that don't have any sort of open presence, and to replacements like alekhlass. It'd be unprecedented if that site was chosen out of all the others for such a major announcement. Secondly, if this was a genuine announcement that was taken seriously amongst cyber-jihadists themselves, it would have spread like wildfire across all of them; instead it was deleted almost as soon as it was put up. Indeed, if this had come from al-Qaida themselves it would have distributed to all of them as their
As-Sahab releases are. One would have expected that such a major happening would have been accompanied like the Libyan allegiance statement was, with al-Zawahiri probably praising it in a audio or video message. It's possible they could want to get this out with a lower profile, as most are going to doubt that there is any real coherent group at work in this country under the al-Qaida moniker rather a rag-tag bunch in autonomous cells, but it still seems highly doubtful. Thirdly, the major jihadist monitoring organisations such as the SITE Intelligence Group and the NEFA Foundation have nothing on this whatsoever, when you'd expect they'd have been all over it, nor have any of the major blogs obsessed with jihadists.

Most of all though, there's no need for al-Qaida to announce that there's a latest franchise operating in this country. We already know there is; the media reminds of that fact as many times as it possibly can. Why do they need to be so blatant and unsubtle in their methods when they have such flagrant scaremongering garbage in the press courtesy of "security sources"?
The Scotsman claimed at the weekend that there was an equivalent of a "white army" of terrorists made up of converts to Islam, with 1,500 mooted as the figure. Why bother announcing your establishment when they're doubtlessly only waiting for the command to slip into our bedrooms at night to slit our throats? To be more serious, it's also never been their style in the west: those such as Mohammad Atta and Siddique Khan are far too dedicated to their cause to wave their dicks around online and put a target right above their heads. Supposedly, prior to the patio gas canister jihad there were postings on forums about "London getting bombed tonight." Perhaps if they'd concentrated more on the bombs than self-aggrandising they might have achieved something other than setting themselves on fire.

This isn't to dispute that takfirists aren't operating in this country; just that those that are truly dangerous are the ones that don't draw attention to themselves. Announcing they've arrived would be doing just that. The threat exists, but it continues to be wildly overstated by those whose interest it is in to do so. Sorry Newsnight, you just got hoaxed.

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Time for a Diana-free zone.

With perhaps the exception of the campaign against apartheid South Africa, boycotts tend not to work, and the one I'm proposing here (somewhat prompted by this post by Roy Greenslade) most certainly won't. I've made a number of posts in the past about the undead princess, and the extraordinary press relationship which is now still going strong after ten years, but this week's latest non-revelations at the inquest into her death seem to have at long last turned a corner in some quarters.

As the Guardian leader points out, just what does the fact that Diana's mother called her a whore have to do with her daughter's death? That she is now also dead, and probably still insulting her child for going around with "effin Muslim men" in a distant corner of hell while hopefully being sodomised with a ladle makes it even less relevant. The latest supposed amazing piece of new information that has emerged is that the police didn't bother to investigate a complaint from Diana that she feared being bumped off. That they most likely already had contingency plans for protecting her and treated it with the contempt that such narcissistic paranoia deserved isn't worthy of a mention.

It's time therefore in my view that we initiate a complete boycott of any mentions of Diana or the inquest from now on - and completely ignore the farce continuing at immense cost for the benefit only of Mohamed Al-Fayed and the tabloid press which plagued her until her dying day. The Grauniad ought to practice what it preaches and cease any coverage, although it deserves to be congratulated for its far from serious or sincere reporting of what has been going on by Stephen Bates. Al-Fayed's other main reason for demanding this circus, apart from his vendetta against the establishment for refusing him a passport is his endless lust for publicity; without it his ignorant and insulting conspiracy theories would never have reached such a wide audience, even if most rightly reject them and are similarly disgusted by the continuing almost necrophilia-like obsession of the popular press. Stopping perpetuating it in any way, including even mocking it, is more likely to bring this tasteless, morbid and revolting spectacle to an end than anything else.

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"Amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards."

This is just how bat-shit crazy Mike Huckabee is:

He isn't going to win the Republican nomination, thankfully, although who is has been cast into further doubt by Mitt Romney's victory in the Michigan primary, but he did have the advantage of originating from the state and that his father was a former popular governor. It's also true that Huckabee is playing to his gallery. The most frightening thing though is that it's these same men who feel so threatened by the rise of extremist Islam and have been ridiculously belligerent over Iran, which as Juan Cole points out, has a constitution much like the one Huckabee appears to be endorsing.

According to Jay Cole, a Baptist minister associated with Huckabee for over twenty years, he's also not just an evangelical but a believer that we are fast approaching the end times:

Huckabee has connected with voters--specifically, evangelical voters--not simply because he is a charismatic speaker, but also because he shares their apocalyptic world view. As Cole told me, "To date there's well over 139 prophecies that have come to pass exactly as the Lord says. Mike believes those things. Anyone with any Bible knowledge would have to say that this looks like the time. We're so close to the Lord's return."

To draw another comparison with Iran, Mahmoud Amadinejhad is known to be a believer that the return/appearance of the "Hidden Imam" is close at hand, going so far as to make preparations for it. You'd like to think that the two of them could meet up, reconcile their religious differences, and then keep the fuck away from all the rest of us.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008 

From organ donation to the right to die.

The "blogosphere" is again ablaze with indignation, partly with Gordon Brown for daring to specify a preference for your organs to be used after you die unless you opt-out, partly with Justin for writing, in the words of the ever reliable Dizzy, an "intellectually vapid piece".

My position on this is simple. I couldn't care less what you do with my body when I'm dead - burn it, piss on it, extract my eyeballs and use them as marbles - it's up to you. If my organs might be of use to someone who needs a bit of me in them - first time for everything - then go ahead and take it; I won't be needing it. I don't need them, they're of no use to me. To go with a sentiment from a song - you can't turn off that you're dead; you just deal with it. I'm sure I'll be more concerned at the time when it happens that I'm dying than I will be about getting eviscerated afterwards.

One of the few objections which seems to be on the money is that many won't think about it until it comes to the moment when it happens - upon which it will be too late or relatives will be grieving and too upset to make a decision or one in accordance with the deceased's wishes. To turn the argument on its head, this is why an opt-out scheme would be a good idea, meaning that everyone would be aware of what's going to happen and have plenty of time to make their own personal decision clear.

As Justin points out, there are far more pressing issues concerning those close to death. This might be an attempt to change the subject, but a more important topic to debate would be the right to die: the numbers who are currently either condemned to a painful end, or one where all dignity has long been taken away from the dying, even when they're begging either doctors or relatives to put them out of their misery is ever increasing. Perhaps the two things are connected: one gets the feeling that much the same forces are opposed to both, and again, there appears to be massive public support for reform. Whether we are being held back or not is open to your own interpretation.

Related post:
Griffindor - Taking your organs

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Scum-watch: Friendly fire and America.

The Scum is thoroughly disgusted by the latest "friendly fire incident":

ONCE again, our troops come under fire — not from the enemy, but from our friends, the Americans.

Once again, we cannot blame the Fog of War. Battlefield calls for help were answered by both British and US helicopters.

Our Apache went straight for the Taliban position flashed to them by squaddies on the ground — and gave them hell. The US crew inexplicably ignored the co-ordinates and opened fire on Our Boys.

Guardsman Matthew Lyne-Pirkis was lucky to survive shrapnel wounds inches from a major artery.

And, once again, the newspaper is not prepared to face up to the reality on the ground that its incessant warmongering will deliver whatever the situation. It was most likely a tragic mistake, and such things unfortunately happen, especially when forces under completely separate chains of command are working in the same area. You could understand the paper's mock outrage if it really cared either about the troops or about bringing those responsible to some sort of account, but the paper's slavish allegiance to America and especially to the so-called "war on terror", or whatever it's being called now is clearly what more concerns the paper. The more of these incidents that happen and the more that it looks as if what our forces are being asked to do is little more than supplying back-up to an American foreign policy, the more likely it is that the average Sun reader will question both the paper's positioning and our stance in general towards the "special relationship".

Hence this:

America is our greatest friend and ally. And we are loathe (sic) to accuse them of being trigger-happy.

But this latest shocking incident must be fully investigated by the US and lessons learned so no more British troops are maimed. Or killed.

About as weak as a demand as the paper could possibly make. This is the same newspaper remember that recently proposed bringing back of a form of hard labour for prisoners, and that informed its readers that the only thing worse than another war was Iran obtaining nukes, then when the American intelligence agencies made public their belief that Iran had stopped its weapons programme in 2003, it didn't bother to print so much as a word on the subject.

This has always been the cliched elephant in the room in the Sun's offices. As someone on Question Time recently observed, it's shrilly nationalistic on almost everything other than on the subject of media ownership. Around the only arena in which the United States can ever do anything wrong in its eyes is when it accidentally kills British troops, and even then as we've seen it's more worried about the implications for the relations between the two than it is about the lives that needn't have been lost. It demands that we never surrender to diktat from Brussels while the subject of our attachment to America is most certainly not open to discussion. To their credit, most of those who advocate our withdrawal from Europe are more concerned about complete independence, rather than wanting to our attach ourselves ever more ardently to America, as the Sun and Murdoch so dream of. We can't be reminded enough that Murdoch himself, as if he needed any prompting, was most effusive about the Iraq war not because it would mean the overthrow of a vicious, tyrannical dictator, and the establishment of a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, or whatever other pipe dreams that the neo-cons had about achieving at the back of their minds after getting their hands on Iraq's natural resources, he rather said that its biggest benefit would be oil at $20 a barrel. It's recently hit five times that figure, and the disaster that Iraq has become doesn't need to be gone over once again.

Just what would Murdoch or Wade say to those who have lost loved ones in Iraq if they were ever faced them, knowing that their propaganda and constant support has been a major factor in our involvement in the war? I sometimes wonder whether the sycophancy towards "Our Boys", who mostly loathe the paper, if ARRSE is anything to go by, is their way of apologising; then I realise it's just the paper's way of trying to outdo all its rivals on the phony patriotism front.

It'd also be nice to think that the paper's declining circulation, which has finally fell below the 3 million mark, despite selling it some areas for 20p, is a sign that the public is falling out of love with the publication after so long. Rather, I imagine it's more to do with the effects of the internet and the rise of the "free" papers; it really must hurt to be losing sales to such awful, cobbled together crap as Metro and London Lite, or indeed, News International's own TheLondonPaper. One day the Sun's bluff will be called, but it hasn't happened yet.

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Monday, January 14, 2008 

Prosecuting rape correctly.

As high-principled and well-meaning as the Guardian's sort of campaign for an increase in rape convictions is, you can't help that feel with their highlighting of the plight of Beth Ellis (a pseudonym) they haven't exactly chosen one of the easiest cases to prosecute.

Whether you can even really put it down as rape or not is one matter, as most would consider it continuous child molestation within the family. As harrowing as Ellis's account of her time after making the complaint to the police is, you have to look at it from the other point of view. They're being asked to investigate crimes that took place the best part of 10 to 20 years ago in a family setting, with Ellis and her mother's accounts of what happened on the one side, with her sister detailing physical instead of sexual abuse, with the denials and countering argument of the her stepfather (the accused) and his son that they had a happy family. There's no forensic evidence; just the testimony of Ellis, and she had the added help of being provided with a QC by the Guardian and a criminologist who said that her flashbacks and panic attacks were consistent with the aftereffects of being abused as a child.

The article itself goes into the details of how the prosecutor didn't speak to her, didn't take evidence on her trauma symptoms and also dismissed the evidence of her mother, who had an affair whilst married to the man in question, because of her "sexual history", out of hand, but even if the case had gone to court, would a jury have convicted the man under such circumstances? Usually when teachers or others in positions of power have been prosecuted for molesting children years after the fact, there's been a number of those who were abused whose testimony was overwhelming as a result. Here it was just Ellis's word and that of her mother's against the man: would it have been enough on its own to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt?

The possibility of introducing evidence obtained by the women themselves via text messages or phone calls, potentially entrapping the perpetrator into incriminating himself looks attractive, but it also runs the risk of being too vague and being used maliciously, even if it's a minor concern. That has to be considered when the figures themselves show that 8% of cases which don't result in a charge are a result of false allegations. The Guardian leader is circumspect enough, suggesting an introduction of a two-tier offence of "aggravated" rape, so that juries could convict without the possibility of the offender being given a life sentence, but that also risks suggesting that some rapes are somehow less serious than others, which when battling misconceptions and prejudice about rape is hardly the message to be sending. All options do have to be looked at, but the starting point has to be changing attitudes in the CPS, especially those highlighted by the case of Beth Ellis.

Reading her diary it's impossible for your heart not to bleed at the pain and suffering she's lived with after a childhood destroyed by abuse. Would she have gained closure though from a successful prosecution? The very last thing you want is for women not to come forward with accusations, but was she perhaps naive in thinking that almost any system would have not delivered the same crushing blow as that when the CPS decided not to prosecute? Would failure in court have hurt even more? It is of course incredibly easy for me to sit here in judgment and ask glib questions, especially when, as a young man, I'm probably the least likely demographic to be the victim of sexual assault and also probably the most likely to commit one, and I don't want to seem in any way cold-hearted, but in a case as difficult as hers, is there any way we can make conviction or even trial more likely without also opening up major possibilities for miscarriages of justice? Once again, it's a question we're not likely to find an answer to.

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2 million migrant homes, knives and the DNA database.

It's Monday, it's the Express, it must mean it's time for a Diana "exclusive", a Madeleine non-story or a rant against immigrants. How about all three? You lucky, lucky people!

Before we get carried away, the main Express story is based entirely on a MigrationWatch report prepared for a parliamentary committee. Now, I could of course read the entire thing, dissect it and make my mind up about whether it's bollocks, or I could just dismiss it out of hand. After all, their last report, claiming that migrants contributed only 4 pence a week in benefit to the country was completely and utterly wrong. This latest one, which claims we'll have to build 2 million houses just for immigrant workers (not that we are, as the headline misleadingly implies), I'm willing to hazard is also complete and utter crap. I think we'll go with the latter.

On then, to the Sun. The scaremongering stories of today are "Girls age (sic) three hitting puberty", which is based off today's Tonight with Trevor McDonut, and relies on the stories of a whole two girls, while Al-Qaeda 'to blow up Paris' is more concerned about British tourists in the Scum's parochial way than the French, who you would think would be more in the line of fire.

The Sun's latest big "exclusive" is that it's wrangled an interview with Gordon Brown, which must mean his polls are down again. His main promise is a "huge crackdown on Britain's knife crime epidemic", which is the biggest surprise since the last one. As ever, rather than attempting to understand why everyone and their mother seems to carrying a knife, the immediate solution is that anyone caught carrying one must be prosecuted rather than simply cautioned. Seeing as there have previously been suggestions that those carrying knives should get an automatic prison sentence of around three years, and the figures accompanying the report state that 8,500 of those caught with knives only received a caution, the implication is that we're going to be sending to prison thousands of youngsters, if this is to be vigorously implemented. Considering we simply don't have the prison places to do that, and also that doing that it well be far worse than giving a caution would, introducing them to the world of criminality by way of the slamming of a cell door, you get the feeling that we won't be hearing much about this until the next time someone impossibly young gets stabbed. Added into the mix is Brown's laughable if they weren't sinister remarks about how he's worried about "video and computer games" and the other reflex, the banning of "hunting" knives if they don't have a "practical" use.

The Scum Says column is slightly sharper (ho ho) than usual today on the matter:

AT last, the knife crackdown The Sun has been calling for.

But why was it so long coming? And why isn’t it tougher?

Last year 9,000 thugs escaped with meaningless cautions for carrying a blade. Meanwhile dozens of kids died on our anarchic streets.

It doesn’t take a genius to link those two facts.

If anything, it suggests that whatever the punishment is meant to be, and remember that the whole of last year was given over to demands for ever tougher penalties for those carrying knives, it seems that the hardcore will pack them regardless. I don't see how anyone can change that just through threats, however harsh the sentence is.

So only the fear of punishment can deter people from bringing them on to the streets.

Which, as the PM rightly says, means prosecutions, not cautions.

What he should have promised was automatic jail terms — but he’s hamstrung by our prisons being full.

Is the Sun really suggesting that we imprison 9,000 people a year simply for carrying a knife? It might give a false sense of security, but then we're back to the problem once they're released of young, probably angrier men, embittered at their lot, possibly thrown into the cycle of crime for a long time to come. There has to be another answer - and whether that involves community work, mentoring, fines or other punishments, such as the delaying of driving licences if they're of below that age, there has to be a better one than imprisonment.

Is that also why this crackdown, while obviously welcome, is limited to 12 crime “hot-spots”?

No one needs to walk around with a blade any bigger than a penknife.

So ban them from being carried in public EVERYWHERE.

It’s not exactly “zero tolerance” otherwise, is it?

Err, it is illegal to walk around with a knife EVERYWHERE. Just that in those so-called "hot-spots" those caught won't be cautioned.

Moving on:

BRITAIN’S DNA database has grown into a vital weapon against criminals.

It holds the details of four million arrested people. Last year it solved 45,000 crimes, among them hundreds of rapes and murders.

Now it’s under threat from . . . guess who? Yes, the European Court of Human Rights. Its judges are ready to rule that our database be purged of the details of anyone not convicted after their arrest.

Hundreds of rapes and murders? Really? Would the Sun like to present some evidence to back up that claim? Dozens maybe, hundreds I don't believe for a second.

Back here on planet reality, it isn't of course anything to do with the judges from the European Court of Human Rights intervening on their own, but rather, as the Scum's article admits, they're being asked to rule on the legality of the matter by err, two Britons who wanted their DNA removed from the database after they were cleared of the crimes they were accused of. The case is more about how fingerprints and a DNA sample are now taken from everyone arrested, rather than just those charged or even convicted. While it would be nice to demand that no one not charged or cleared should have their data entered into the database, a compromise would be in the interests of everyone, including delayed justice. Those who aren't charged should have their data removed after say, two years, which is plenty of time for those working on cold cases to keep searching the database for matches to their own forensic data to come through.

The real issue has long been about creating such a database by stealth. If politicians wanted to be honest with us, rather than gradually building the database through arrests, everyone should have their details entered onto it over a period of time. This though would be hugely unpopular and have massive civil liberties implications, especially raising the possibility for miscarriages of justice. The newspapers and politicians that inform us that if we have nothing to hide we have nothing to fear would quickly blanch at such a plan, but they have no problem with the current situation which is manifestly unfair. One would like to think that my above suggestion was workable, or indeed, that it would be followed through on, but the loss of data scandals and the police's previous lies about removing information from the database only makes you realise how intractable the current policy is.

The Sun continues:

We understand the arguments about a Big Brother state. But Britain is in the grip of an all-out war against rising crime.

DNA fingerprinting is the greatest weapon detectives have been handed in a century.

It would be appalling if it was undermined by meddlers in Brussels.

Except that crime is either stable or falling, and has been now for a decade. All the advances in forensic evidence, CCTV and state surveillance haven't made any change to the feeling of insecurity which manifests itself everywhere, and the removal of such records from the database, whether down to the ECHR or otherwise, which might feasibly stop justice being done in major cases around 100 times a year at a rough guess, will similarly do nothing to either tackle or give rise to everyday fear of the outside world and crime.

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