Saturday, January 26, 2008 

Aitken report: the rusty sword and shield of British fair play.

The Aitken report (PDF) on the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by British forces is typical of almost all of the inquiries ordered by New Labour since it came to power, and especially those ordered post-the Iraq war. With the exception of the Hutton report, which was the most crude whitewash, most of the other reports have been critical of the government, but in their conclusions found that no one in particular was personally to blame.

So it continues here. Aitken finds that there were serious failings in army leadership, planning and training, but no one is personally responsible, and the Ministry of Defence are able to trump loudly that all the recommendations made by Aitken have either been implemented or that the lessons have been learned. After all, there have been no cases of ill-treatment reported since 2004, says the report on page 5, but that might because since then they haven't personally been involved in running prisons or detaining suspects.

The report makes much of how the soldiers had not been trained adequately in how to handle detainees prior to their deploy to Iraq, or how the rules and practices on interrogating detainees set out in the MoD's policy document still doesn't make unambiguously clear that the "five techniques" (wall-standing; hooding; subjection to noise; deprivation of sleep; deprivation of food and drink) are illegal under international law and proscribed by the Human Rights Act, but most astounding is this paragraph from page 13:

22. We need also to be clear about a different but related form of training, given to some members of the Army, in Conduct After Capture (CAC). CAC training simulates the sort of treatment that our people might receive from an enemy that does not comply with international humanitarian law, and therefore introduces participants to illegal I&TQ techniques; and in 2003, attendance on CAC training qualified an individual to conduct I&TQ. In 2005, the Army revised that policy, arguing that exposure to illegal I&TQ methods was not a sensible way to prepare an individual for conducting lawful I&TQ.

Really? What could have possibly made them come to such a conclusion? Oh, this:

Even considering the above, what still isn't explained by this report is how the "five techniques" and beyond became to be apparently authorised by the chain of command. Colonel Jorge Mendonca, one of those charged over the death of Baha Mousa, happened upon prisoners being "conditioned" by soldiers, and understandably concerned, checked with Major Anthony Royle that such practices had been authorised. Royle said they had been, and gave evidence at the court martial that it had been. Nothing in this report explains whether this is accurate or a lie by Royle. What we do know is that US commanders had criticised British forces in 2003 prior to Mousa's death because of the failure to "extract sufficient intelligence from detainees". Whether this lead to a change in the policy, which quickly resulted in the abuses we're now all too aware of or not is still unknown.

What is known, is that for whatever reason, soldiers took it upon themselves to mistreat Iraqi prisoners, whether they were looters or alleged looters in the case of those photographed at Camp Breadbasket, or alleged insurgents in the case of Baha Mousa. You don't need to be trained in interrogating or holding prisoners to know that almost any mistreatment of them is in breach of the Geneva convention - and the beatings administered to Mousa, resulting in 92 separate injuries, went far beyond mistreatment into out and out torture. His death cannot be put down to an understandable mistake in the fog of war; this was manslaughter at best, murder at worst, and the beating went on in front of the noses of all ranks and none. At the court martial it was even suggested that soldiers and officers from across the base came to witness Donald Payne, the only person convicted after pleading guilty, of "playing" the detainees, taking it in turns to beat them, relishing and mocking their cries. A video recording of Payne forcing the three into stress positions and shouting at them was shown to the court.

To add insult to manslaughter, almost all of those called to give evidence or asked for their account of what happened on that day claimed that they "couldn't remember", a term according to Payne's lawyer which was used over 600 times in total during the hearing. The judge was forced into clearing all the others charged down to what he called a "closing of ranks". Some of the ferocity of the soldiers' treatment of Mousa and the other two detainees can be put down to the belief that all three were insurgents and had been involved in the death of one of their popular comrades, something that was later found to be baseless on both counts.

Make no mistake though: imagine that this had been "yobs" in this country carrying out a similar crime where they beat a father to death and recorded some of it on their mobile phones, or the police trying to force a confession out of someone through violence that they had arrested who was entirely innocent. If it had been the former and only one person was ever convicted and then sentenced to only a year in prison, there would have been outrage. If it had involved the police, there would have been similar investigations to that of the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, and probably someone actually being held to account, unlike in that particular case. Instead, as Jeremy Vine described when introducing the Panorama investigating Mousa's death, to go by some of the reporting of the court martial you would have thought that no one had died, that beatings had not taken place and that the soldiers involved, whether they were those who were tried or not, had been wrongly maligned. Nothing could be further from the truth, yet now the defence secretary Des Browne has stated that no one else is likely to be charged, and that the only thing Mousa's family can look to draw solace from will be an inquiry that will be set-up into his death. This was our Abu Ghraib, and while only the grunts in that scandal were ever convicted while the higher-ups that authorised the "Gitmoisation" got off scot-free, in our case, everyone may as well have escaped without almost a blemish on their character. This report has done nothing whatsoever to correct that.

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Scum-watch: Living in a parallel universe.

I sometimes wonder if I've gone to sleep at night and woken up the following morning in a parallel universe. Everything seems the same, just backwards. You can't help but get that feeling reading the latest Sun article on their campaign to GET TOUGH NOW. At the beginning of the week, there being little news over the weekend apart from Jacqui Smith's honest but naive comments about feeling unsafe walking the streets at night, the Scum splashed on its front page a letter from a teacher, one Dr Stuart Newton. It was a typical why oh why moan while offering no real solutions, but because the Sun doesn't very often get letters from teachers, or indeed doctors, it no doubt thought it a wonderful way to start their latest doomed and flawed attack.

Six days later, and Gordon Brown has already invited Newton into Downing Street to discuss his hopes and fears. This, it seems, is the way Britain works now. You don't need to be specially qualified to get a job: as long as you're on television, or featured in a newspaper just once, it seems that the government will bend over backwards to listen to you, as long as you're suitably on message and not likely to be overly critical. That would never do. Hence we have a psychologist who worked on a BBC3 programme on unruly children doing a review on the effects of television and the internet on those same said kiddie-winks; a job apparently offered to Fiona Phillips of GMTV fame because she was gushing of the easily charmed Gordo; and now anyone who writes to the Sun can be called up for a special chat with the supreme leader. Perhaps next we could have Rebekah Wade herself lead a review on domestic violence, or maybe Richard Littlejohn advising the prime minister on social cohesion.

Personally, the last lot of teachers I had used to mock those who read tabloids, or "comics", as they were habitually referred to, and this was at a bog-standard comprehensive. It gets even weirder when Newton pinpoints what he thinks is partly responsible for the rise in yobbery:

He claimed TV images of baying MPs in the House of Commons had helped foster a climate of yobbish behaviour.

Well, quite. When the average family from hell sits down in front of their television set, the first thing they switch to is prime minister's questions, or the news covering them.

“It’s the way we seem to run our country that worries me. We tend to think of bullying as something children do at school. But I see quite a lot of bullying in the House of Commons with the way MPs hector each other.

Newton maybe ought to take his concerns up with David Cameron instead - he was the one this week referring to Brown as "that strange man in Downing Street", while all week Tory MPs have been trying their best to promote the idea that he's a ditherer. Untrue as it, I recall the last prime minister wasn't a ditherer - and look where that got us.

He pointed the finger of blame at highly-paid FOOTBALLERS whose menacing behaviour towards referees has encouraged a culture of bullying.

Careful Dr Newton; those footballers became so highly-paid mainly down to Mr Murdoch and his stranglehold over the television rights. You don't want to upset Mr Murdoch, believe me.

To be fair to Newton, he's not a walking, talking Sun editorial in any sense. He hits the nail firmly on the head by saying that Brown only listed punitive measures, coincidentally exactly the same things the Sun always demands, while he thinks "we need a great deal more than punishments". He does also say though:

"I’m so pleased The Sun started a campaign. When The Sun sneezes, the politicians catch a cold.”

Yes. Except rather than a cold, it's the disease knee-jerkitis.

The hypocrisy of the Sun's praising of Newton's arguments is aptly illustrated by one of its most contrary leader columns of recent times:

So many Premiership footballers believe, like Ashley Cole, that they have a divine right to eye-popping wages and to behave just as they like.

Children watch as they scream abuse at referees on TV and get away with it.

Quite so. Strange then that one of those often at the forefront of screaming abuse at referees, Wayne Rooney, had his book serialised in the Sun and sold the paper his story after he signed with Manchester United, causing uproar in his home city of Liverpool, still stung by the paper's coverage of the Hillsborough disaster.

Even more hilariously, these are the first few lines of the first leader:

SUN reader Dr Stuart Newton tells the PM that Britain’s yob culture is little surprise when our own MPs behave like thugs.

Once again he speaks for us all.

Far too often Commons debates degenerate into childish bellowing and taunts.

These are our lawmakers, meant to set the country’s moral tone, braying like donkeys.

While these are choice extracts from the second:

WE’RE not sure which planet Hamid Karzai’s living on. Certainly not Earth.

The Afghan President’s claim that Helmand went downhill after Our Boys arrived is plain wrong.

As well as being offensive and ungrateful.

Karzai’s claims are a gross insult to the 87 British soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2001, and the hundreds more wounded.

They have given their lives to drag his country out of the Dark Ages.

He should never forget it.

It seems it's not just MPs who indulge in childish bellowing, taunts and braying like donkeys.

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Friday, January 25, 2008 

Is anyone thinking anything at all?

The mid-market tabloids seem to be attempting to out-do themselves this week in the nastiness and disingenuousness stakes. You probably didn't hear about it, but yesterday saw the release of the latest police and British Crime Survey figures (PDF). After spending around the last couple of years stabilising after falling for the best part of a decade, both figures show that crime is once again down, and going down at an increasingly rapid rate. The police figures show a 9% drop in recorded crime, while the British Crime Survey found a 4% drop. More significantly, the BCS also showed that the chance of being a victim of crime had dropped by a further 1% compared to the year previously, down now to 23%, the lowest level since the survey began in 1981. The only real rises were in the police figures, which showed a 4% in gun crime, were they were used to threaten rather than harm, and in drug offences, up 21%, mainly down to cannabis being reclassified at Class C and officers issuing on-the-spot warnings and confiscation rather than arresting and prosecuting. Jacqui Smith might not feel safe walking around London at night, and nor may the general public, as the fear of crime is still high, but neither of the main indicators of crime suggest that we should be panicking by any means over the current level of offending.

Reading the front pages of the tabloids today you'd get a completely different story. Both the Mail and Express go with emotive and indeed startling arrests made yesterday by police in Slough and Berkshire, arresting 25 and taking 10 children care. The arrests were on the basis that gangs from Romania were using children to take part in street crime in London, mainly pickpocketing, opportunistic thefts from those using cashpoints and stealing mobile phones/iPods/etc. It is indeed a matter of concern, especially if the children are being kidnapped, although that doesn't seem to be the case.

It's not very often that the Express front page is less hysterical than the Daily Mail's, but it seems that the paper's subs were last night slacking off. It goes only with "Crime by migrants soars 530%". This is based on figures in the article towards the end:

Before the eastern European country joined the EU, its nationals were associated with 146 crimes over six months in Britain. A year after it joined – over a second six-month period – that figure leapt to 922, a 530 per cent rise.

Well, that's hardly a surprise, is it? Considering that up to 20,000 Romanians and Bulgarians were given permission to apply for work here last year, the crime rate was always going to go up. Rather more applicable figures to this case are provided by the Guardian:

Allen said that between April and December 2006, 12 Romanian nationals were arrested for theft. A year later that number was 214.

Which is also going to contain those who have been caught shoplifting for example, or stealing from work. Again, because of the rise of those given permission to come here to work, the rise seems both eminently explainable and hardly overwhelming.

The Express does however use the same figure of the numbers estimated to have been trafficked here as the Mail does in rather more expansive and sensationalistic terms. According to the Romanian authorities, up to 2,000 children might have been involved. The police don't agree though, if the Grauniad article is anything to go by:

Police say that since Romania joined the EU in 2007 there has been a sharp rise in children being brought to London by modern-day "Fagin's gangs". Up to 200 Romanian children have been forced into crime in London and can generate up to £20m a year for gangs controlling them.

The Express and Guardian also differ over how much this "crime wave" is worth to those behind it; the Express suggests £1bn, while the Guardian suggests up to £100,000 can be made by each child. Even if there were 2,000 children making such an amount in a year, that doesn't get close to £1bn. As for the Mail article, it seems to have disappeared into the ether, but there is a "revealed" article which claims that impoverished Romanian villages are being transformed into "palaces" thanks to the money swirling back. Oh, and it's all down to the Roma, or rather the "gipsies", who the Mail and other newspapers call what are more widely known as gypsies so they can't be accused of racism, instead of the organised criminal gangs which usually aren't anything to do with the Roma. Interestingly, the article is by Sue Reid, who you might remember was behind the Mail's attempt to prove that Polish migrants could drive around London without paying the congestion charge, which was going to involve paying a Polish couple to err, break the law.

All of which help enormously in putting the crime figures down the news agenda. The Mail's article on them doesn't so much as mention that the police figures show a 9% fall in crime, and instead focuses on the rise in drug offences because of its own agenda on cannabis, while saying only that crime in general has remained "stable" while it has in fact fallen, and also picks up on the statistically insignificant slight rise in burglaries, even though on the whole "household acquisitive" crime has fallen by 2%. The Express doesn't seem to even bothered printing an article, with the only piece on its site un-bylined and dated yesterday. This though has always been how they've operated, or at least have operated against the Labour government; if the statistics don't fit with their own prejudices of how things are, they're shoved down the news, distorted and helpfully replaced with something more fitting with their own views. It's the same approach they've used previously over the immigration figures. In a similar fashion, the Sun hasn't even seemingly bothered to report the figures at all, despite its demands at the beginning of the week to "get tough NOW", and yesterday's online report also only focused on the gun crime figures.

(Correction: the Sun did cover the figures here, and sexed it up somewhat by claiming that the figures mean there are now the equivalent of 30 crimes involving guns taking place a day. Remarkably, the Sun's report is probably the most accurate and honest of the three.)

Elsewhere, Richard Littlejohn comments on the goth couple that were not allowed on a bus in Dewsbury:

My Geordie mate, Black Mike, would take one look at her in her absurd "Goth" outfit and remark: "Gi' us a stick and I'll kill it."

Normally, ignoring Littlejohn is the best policy. For the most part, his rants tend to fisk themselves, so flimsy as they usually are to see through. This, however, is simply vile, as his views on why the bus driver was perfectly within his rights to not allow on them bus are:

Let's hope she's housetrained. But just as it's their prerogative to play One Man and His Dog, so the driver should have the right to decide whom he wants, and doesn't want, on his bus.

Presumably Littlejohn would agree if it was the bus driver's policy not to allow black, brown, or indeed, white people on his bus. Just as Littlejohn thinks it's perfectly OK for the bus driver to say "We don't let freaks and dogs like you on" to them, he'll not be offended if I ever meet him and get the opportunity to call him a fat, poisonous, bumptious, heartless cunt.

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Jahongir Sidikov granted asylum.

A rare piece of wonderful news, via Craig Murray:

I can't really afford it, but I have just bought and opened a bottle of the best bubbly I can find in Shepherds Bush. Jahongir Sidikov has phoned me to say that the Home Office has just granted him asylum. You will recall that Jahongir had to physically resist deportation from Harmondsworth Detention Centre to certain torture and near certain death in Uzbekistan.

Jahongir has no doubt, and nor do I, that the actions of readers of this blog were crucial in preventing this appalling proposed deportation. Special thanks go to the MPs you activated. Several deserve thanks, but Bob Marshall Andrews deserves a really special mention.

It is not yet clear whether the Home Office now accept as a matter of policy that it is not possible to deport dissidents into the hands of the evil Uzbek regime. That is a point you might wish to take up with your MPs.

But for now, thank you and bloody well done. I am going to get rat-arsed.

Even this government, which at times seems impervious to reason, can be forced into seeing sense on occasion.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008 

Indifferent to rhyme or reason.

Jacqui Smith must tonight be thankful that Peter Hain's falling on his sword didn't come a moment too soon. The fallout from his forever delayed but inevitable resignation has managed to firmly cover today's horlicks from both her and the government over the decision to continue to push for 42 days detention without charge for "terrorist suspects". Brown's promotion of James Purnell and Andy Burnham, both witless Blairites like Smith herself, the latter of which was responsible for this vacuous, impenetrable garbage in the Grauniad only a couple of weeks ago, only magnifies again that his real aversion was never to Blairism, but just the way Blair practised it.

Brown's hand is almost certainly also behind the continued execrable obsession with extending the detention limit. Smith's heart certainly isn't in it, to go by her performance on the Today programme:

If in the future, in exceptional circumstances, a case could be made that there is an operation, an investigation, a number of multiple plots, a really difficult situation in which the police and Director of Public Proscecutions want to be able to apply to a judge to decide whether or not they could hold somebody for longer, that we need to find a way to facilitate that in those circumstances.

To be fair to Smith, she's probably got fed up with making the same tedious points over and over again. I know I am, having argued against first 90 days, then the Brown government's ever decreasing numbers of 56 and now the magic, meaning of life affirming figure of 42. The number of individuals and newspapers that support it can be counted on one hand: Brown, Smith, Iain Blair, Lord Carlile and the Sun. That the police support it isn't a surprise: if it means they don't have to hurry themselves quite as much as they currently do, they'll quite happily go along with an extension. The only one who should know better is Carlile, who for a supposed independent reviewer of the terrorist laws seems to have become the government's chief individual supporter on both 42 days and against the introduction of intercept evidence. MI5 and others seem to have done a bang-up job in disseminating to him their most lurid intelligence.

As it is, the government's laughable attempts at reaching a consensus when it has no intention of actually doing so have created the worst possible, most vindictive law they could have come up with, so much so that you think it's deliberate. What better way to shaft those who wanted safeguards and who said it wasn't necessary, like Ken Macdonald, head of the DPP, than to force that person into authorising it when the police demand it? Could they really have thought up such a pitiful consultative measure for parliament which means that the vote on whether they agree with the extension being put into place is likely to take place after the 42 days has long gone accidentally? And indeed, what sort of MP would ever even contemplate voting down the decision to extend while the 42 days were still ongoing? The Sun and others would be campaigning for them to be thrown out at the next election for letting "terrorists" go free.

It would be difficult to turn in a more woeful argument than Jacqui Smith, but Tony McNulty, another minister who makes you wonder whether there's a lab located in the darkest depths of Sevenoaks where they create obstinate, fury-inducing, mentally challenged ignoramuses made to order, making his case to the Mirror somehow managed it. He talks of imagining the consequences of multiple attacks on the scale of 9/11 and 7/7, but doesn't seem to have gotten his thick skull around realising that 42 days wasn't needed after 7/7, or indeed, 9/11, because the perpertrators were dead. It's a little late to arrest what remains of them and lock them up for 42 days while the police gather a case against the viscera, although the way we're going I wouldn't put it past them. When you can't even scaremonger like a pathetic toad, you really know it's time to give up.

The thing is, just where is the government going to go when this gets defeated? Last time round Blair told us that he was right and everyone else was wrong and the Sun called everyone opposed traitors. Even so, once Blair was defeated for the first time in parliament and was only ever beaten once more, it was the beginning of the end. His invulnerability had gone, and unlike even on Iraq, he'd gone too far. While it's not quite as potentially chilling on civil liberties terms this time round, what it certainly does point towards is Brown's own inadequacies. Why is he trying to ram something through that will do him no favours yet looks to mean he'll have a humiliation on his record that Blair didn't have to face until 8 years into his tenure? The only explanation is that he's doing it to look tough, but the time for doing that has long gone. He just looks forlorn, opportunistic and most of all, completely indifferent to all reason.

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The Daily Express sweepstakes and three little rainbow pigs.

Partially thanks to this glorious government's liberalisation of the gambling laws, and also down to the ingenuity of bookmakers in devising yet more ways to separate those who enter their doors from their money, you can now more or less bet on absolutely anything. Want to put a bet on when the first throw takes place in a football game? Go ahead. Decide to back Ken Bloggs in the national tiddlywinks championship? You're more than welcome. Amy Winehouse to become prime minister AND die in the next year? Sure, we'll take your money sir.

With this in mind, surely there is now the opportunity to bet on the front pages of newspapers, or more significantly, that of the Daily Express. Under the helm of Richard Desmond the paper has declined from an embarrassment into an atrocity, to the level of such that there are now just a few distinct subjects which ever reach the front. These are, in no particular order, immigrants (today), Muslims (yesterday), the weather (Tuesday), Diana (last week), Madeleine and house prices. On a rare occasion there'll be a rant about tax or something else, but mostly the aforementioned are fair weather friends.

To extend the fun slightly, you could even wager on whether the story will be backed up by even the slightest of actual facts. Today the Express is itself playing the percentages: according to FCC, one of its previous lying front pages, claiming that migrants have taken "all" the new jobs in Britain, is under investigation by the Press Complaints Commission, and has been taken down as a result, and so it's being extra careful. Claiming that 1.3 million Poles arrived in Britain last year, the headline is accurate, but only in the strictest possible terms. The Office of National Statistics figures that the Express is basing its story around don't count immigrants: they count tourists and businessmen making visits here (PDF). Despite this, they've managed to get two separate different political figures to open their mouths and make different statements on how this simply must change. On the roll call of shame goes David Davis, yet again, and the increasingly deranged Frank Field, who seems to have let his hatred of Gordon Brown for ending his ministerial career develop to gargantuan levels. True, both could have been tricked by the Express into commenting on figures they thought were official levels of migration than visits, but that doesn't excuse them making their own checks. The article even claims that because Poles only spent £24 on average a day during their stay it means that they *must* have been looking for work. This is quite openly misleading their own readers, but then the paper doesn't seem to think they're intelligent enough to notice.

Yesterday was a similar case. The story, BRITAIN'S MUSLIMS ARE TOO EXTREME, was based on the comments of Iraq's vice-president after he had visited mosques in Blackburn. It wasn't what he saw actually going on there that made him deliver such comments, or what was being preached, but the literature itself that he said would have been banned in Iraq. Somehow, you get the feeling that Iraq in its current state has far more of a problem with extremism than we do, but what the hell do we know?

To go to another discredited source on extremism in British mosques, the Policy Exchange report
(PDF), they found what they defined as extremist material in two of the mosques in Blackburn, although in the case of the Islamic Educational Society, they seemed to have used one of the tricks used elsewhere in the report of attributing literature found in places not technically connected to the actual mosque, in this case, the Noor ul-Islam Mosque. The book found there, Islam: Beliefs and Teachings, is noted by the report for being one of the key introductory texts that set Ed Husain on his path to extremism. The other mosque in Blackburn which had alleged extremist literature is the Islamic Cultural Centre, featured on page 138 of the report.

The key thing as always has not been whether these texts are available in the mosques, but whether they are actually being preached and lauded as acceptable, or that their interpretation of Islam is admirable and the one that ought to be followed. There has long been no evidence to suggest that this is the case; indeed, the government's latest thinking on radicalisation and extremism has come to what many have been saying for a long time, that rather than the mosque being a hotbed of anti-Western sentiment, it's the personal research by the impressionable and interested rather than a fiery imam that has set many down the path. Organisations such as Hizb-ut-Tahir might be involved at some stage, but they do not personally condone any sort of violence, regardless of their oft anti-semitic rhetoric. We shouldn't be complacent, but we shouldn't be scaremongering about it all either.

Finally, in a story that might have made or even warranted a Daily Express frontpage, we have an educational, digital, updated version of the Three Little Pigs, entitled the Three Little Cowboy Builders, apparently being rejected for a major prize for the possibility of being offensive to Muslims, and err, builders. Via MediaWatchWatch, according to Merlin John online, some of the feedback provided by Becta involved these comments:

* “Is it true that all builders are cowboys, builders get their work blown down, and builders are like pigs?"

* "The subject matter is questionable for certain groups within the UK."

* "The idea of taking a traditional tale and retelling a story is fine, but it should not alienate parts of the workforce (building trade)."

* "Developers should make role models positive."

* "Although this may not be intended, it feels cynical and tongue in cheek."

* "Judges would not recommend this product to the Muslim community in particular."

* "Only an exceedingly creative teacher could find this innovative."

Which more than anything seems to suggest that those doing the judging were a bunch of cretins taking the whole thing rather more seriously than they should have been. Becta has issued a statement, which you can condense down to "In particular, the product was not sufficiently convincing on curriculum and innovation grounds to be shortlisted," and it does indeed appear that the makers have gone public with some of the reasons why it wasn't shortlisted out of hurt pride.

As regular readers might know, I don't think there is such a thing as "political correctness". What there usually is, and then distorted out of proportion for their own short-term gain, is generally well-meaning people going out of their way to be inclusive for decent reasons but only showing themselves up as ignorant and overly sensitive in the long-run. As could be expected, the Scum leaps on it, and before you know it, "the politically correct brigade" are it again, with the Telegraph even bringing up the non-existent rainbow sheep yet again, although it did bother to ask the Muslim Council of Britain for its views, that unsurprisingly said they weren't offended at all.

I've always been intrigued by this notion of the politically correct being part of a brigade, and the latest Viz has a fake advert about calling them out with Littlejohn praising the service. Thing is, just what vehicle do the politically correct brigade go about in? My vote is for a Robin Reliant: a car missing a wheel for all those one legged lesbian Muslims in niqabs to answer calls in.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008 

A truly broken society.

Doubtless the pouring of Gazans (Haaretz says 200,000 and that the UN estimates 350,000, which if accurate is probably over 20% of the population) over the border into Egypt to purchase supplies after the border crossing was blown apart in apparent desperation is a Hamas propaganda stunt. Just like how Hamas had apparently decided to turn the power off at the Gaza station and pretend they'd run out of fuel to make out that the blockade was worse than it was, even though the UN confirmed that things were indeed as bad as the Palestinians said they were.

Now that the border has been opened, we can take bets on how long it'll be until it's forcibly closed again. The really shameful thing is that it took direct action for the border to be breached, and that Egypt has long been so hand in glove with Israel over Gaza that it's been allowed to get away with being complicit in the systematic collective punishment of a people. If Israel seriously thinks that the blockade is going to turn the Gaza population against Hamas, when it has so far seemed to have the opposite effect and is now going to take credit for the removal of the barrier, even if they're not claiming responsibility, they appear to have deeply miscalculated.

Not that this changes things one iota. Olmert continues to say that Gaza cannot continue as "normal" as long as rockets continue to be fired into Sderot, although kind gentlemen that he is, the children will not go hungry and the sick will continue to get their medication. Everyone else, even as they continue to denounce the militants that they can do very little to control, can continue to live in penury. While the children of Sderot live in fear, the whole of Gaza, targeted by hellfire missiles and shells for years, can suffer.

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Scum and Mail-watch: "Cult" suicides and idiotic sensationalism.

Won't someone think of the children?

If there's ever a sign that the police are clutching at straws, it has to be in suggesting that the seven suicides that have occured in and around Bridgend in the last twelve months are somehow out of wanting to achieve "fame" on the internet by doing so. There are many reasons behind depression, and especially when it's at its most severe, wanting to die, but even when your thoughts are at their most twisted and self-defeating, I hazard to guess that gaining immortality on Bebo is not the foremost reason for ending your own life.

Of course, whether the police have suggested a link between the 7 suicides or not is up in the air: the Scum claims "cops" fear this could be the case, while on the BBC Tim Jones of the local police makes reasonably clear, unsurprisingly, that there's no link between all of them and no evidence of a suicide pact. Despite this, the Mail led this morning with the usual scaremongering garbage about "a suicide cult" and that "police have private concerns that youngsters may consider it fashionable to have an internet memorial site and are killing themselves for reasons of prestige." Teenagers on social networking sites might be fucking stupid, but they're not
that fucking stupid. Copycat attempts are one thing, especially if those involved were close, but to suggest that it's a cult on the basis of that and because they all used social networking is ignorant beyond belief.

At the bottom of this appears to a basic misunderstanding about the memorial pages which have been popping up on MySpace etc when the owner of the profile page dies. They are then often turned into pages of rememberance, tributes and in the case of some of these Bebo pages, apparently putting bricks into a wall of rememberance. Madeleine Moon, who could only be an MP, seems to think that these pages are romanticising suicide, rather than paying tribute to those who died. If these pages are anything like the forum threads I've often read when a member of an online community kills themselves, the very last thing they tend to do is promote suicide; quite the opposite is usually the case. Some tribute pages, especially set-up to those who become infamous online, such as Mitchell Henderson, have been specifically targeted by trolls. I could be horrendously wrong, but to me it seems that those left behind are looking for some kind of easy explanation as to why and not properly examining the real factors behind each individual case.

Typically however, none of the above has stopped the tabloids from starting an instant search for social networking profiles that "romanticise" or "encourage" suicide. The Sun really ought to know better, but it seems that the hacks are on orders to take every possible opportunity to put down social networking sites other than MurdochSpace. Hence we already have this unconciousable garbage on the Scum website's front page:

TODAY we can reveal the shocking way suicide among teens is glamourised on social networking sites like Bebo.

The sad news that seven young people from Bridgend in South Wales killed themselves in an apparent “chain” of copycat suicides has led police to fear some hoped to gain "web fame".

Some of the dead - who all hanged themselves - had profile pages on Bebo, a popular site with school kids.

A quick internet search reveals one profile under the name Suicide Girls.

It carries a disturbing cartoon picture of a pink teddy bear hanging from a rope.

A line on the page says the site is, "For people who don't give a f*** and want a suicide lifestyle," adding it is "For Girls and Boys Who Love Tattoos, Piercings and Crazy Stuff."

In a discussion forum, user Amy Addiction posts, "For the people who keep asking what a suicide lifestyle is - well this is all to do with suicide girls, like the models, so yeah lifestyle like them ... glamorous, pretty etc."

Err, this wouldn't be a profile promoting Suicide Girls would it? The internet soft porn garbage site where anyone with suitably bad tattoos and piercings can become a model? Which isn't anything to do with suicide whatsoever but most certainly to do with making money out of women "outside" of the traditional model mainstream posing naked? This really is scraping the bottom of the barrel sensationalist journalism. And would you possibly believe that if you search Google for Suicide Girls that the second result is their MurdochSpace profile?

A spokesperson for charity PAPYRUS - which works to prevent suicide in young people - described the page as "extremely dangerous".

She added that the image of the teddy bear was "very disturbing".

Ah yes, Papyrus, the organisation that thinks banning any page about suicide other than their own or the Samaritans is a glorious idea. If she seriously thinks that page is "extremely dangerous" or that the teddy bear picture is "very disturbing", she needs to get out on the internet a bit more. Goatse to the left of me, 2girls1cup to the right, here we are, stuck in the middle with morons.

Elsewhere in the Scum, cross-promotion seems to be the order of the day. When Ross Kemp was married to Wade she made certain that all his television appearances were suitably puffed in the paper, but now with Wade off gallivanting with whoever, you'd of thought it would have come to an end. No such luck:

NEW series Ross Kemp In Afghanistan pulled in more than a MILLION viewers on Monday night.

The five-parter for Sky One, on Our Boys’ war with the Taliban, sees ex-EastEnder Ross, 43, train with the Royal Anglian Regiment then brave the frontline. A pal said: “It’s a brilliant start.”

One has to imagine that the key words there are "Sky" and "One".

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008 

No war but the class war.

In the meantime then, here's George Monbiot, back and as good as ever, and calling for a sort of class war. It doesn't get much better than that:

The system is protected by silence. Because private schools have been so effective in moulding a child's character, an attack on the school becomes an attack on all those who have passed through it. Its most abject victims become its fiercest defenders. How many times have I heard emotionally stunted people proclaim "it never did me any harm". In the Telegraph last year, Michael Henderson boasted of the delightful eccentricity of his boarding school. "Bad work got you an 'order mark'. One foolish fellow, Brown by name, was given a double order mark for taking too much custard at lunch. How can you not warm to a teacher who awards such punishment?" He continued: "Petty snobbery abounded, but only wets are put off by a bit of snobbery. So long as you pulled your socks up, and didn't let the side down, you wouldn't be for the high jump. Which is as it should be." A ruling class in a persistent state of repression is a very dangerous thing.

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Sporadic updates.

Updates are likely to be sporadic until I can work out/fix whatever it is that's wrong with this hopeless machine loosely known as a computer. I've battled with it suddenly deciding to crash for no apparent reason for the best part of six months, with there being no explanation in the events log, no blue screen (the only real clue being that the screen resolution drops and then locks while going black), and having run both memory tests and most recently SpinRite on the hard drive, nothing apparently wrong with either of them. The reboots over the last couple of days have increased from around once a day to every half an hour, and so I finally formatted to see if the problem was something conflicting within Windows itself. After spending the best part of today getting back up and running, the problem is if anything worse than before.

Going by a process of elimination, the next step is to replace the RAM, then the hard drive, then to throw the whole fucking thing out the window, all with money I don't have. Wish me something approaching luck.

Update: Well, fingers crossed, and uptime currently is only just crossed the 2 hour mark, but a change of RAM seems to have ended the previous almost guaranteed crashes from working with Firefox with a load of tabs open whilst also using foobar.

Update 2: Two crashes later (although I'm uncertain about the second one) and it seems it wasn't the RAM. I've unplugged everything, plugged it back in, cleaned out the dust the best I can, swapped over the IDE cables in case they're somehow responsible, have left the case off to see if it was overheating but I didn't think it was to begin with, and am now somewhat stumped, although it does seem to be running better for the moment. Short of taking it somewhere and being charged through the nose at least. If it continues crashing I might just be tempted to try ubuntu after all.

Update 3: I'm amazed, but the swapping of the IDE cables seems to have worked. No crashes this evening at all. It's just incredibly aggravating that it was something seemingly so simple all along.

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Monday, January 21, 2008 

The plight of Gaza.

The old maxim goes that a society can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable. Those imprisoned and at the mercy of the state are by definition the most at risk of ill-treatment.

By that definition, the enclave of Gaza is to all intents and purposes a prison, albeit an open air one patrolled from the air by helicopter gunships and remote-controlled drones. The two main exits from the strip, into Egypt and Israel respectively, are almost always shut, despite previous promises from Israel to keep them open, and even then exit is only possible through applications for visas, which are seldom issued. The irony is not lost on the people of Gaza that one of the few things guaranteed to get you out of the Strip is to be so seriously injured that the hospitals within the territory cannot cope with your injuries and so request a transfer to a hospital across the border.

For a number of months now Israel has been slowly but inexorably cutting the amount of power it allows into the Strip, ostensibly in response to the continuous fusillade of home-made rockets fired into Israel by the various militant groups, including Hamas, although strictly it is meant to be maintaining something approaching a ceasefire. Gaza's only power station, which was previously bombed by the Israelis during the 2006 incursion into Gaza which some argue prompted Hizbullah to launch its own raid into Israel, killing and capturing two soldiers, which in turn set-off the summer war between Hizbullah and Israel, cannot provide full power to the roughly 1.4 million Palestinians that live in the territory, and so the people partly depend on the supply into the Strip from Israel's own stations. Israel's move over the past week to an almost complete blockade meant that the station's dwindling supplies were almost down to nothing yesterday, and from being able to supply power for around 12 hours a day, those operating the station had no option but to plunge the territory into darkness. Combined with the economic blockade which has left farmers unable to sell their crops, the massive rise in unemployment and the relentless poverty that goes with it, Gazans are increasingly left to rely on food aid from charities and the UN.

Even this is now threatened by Israel's actions, which almost certainly constitute collective punishment, a war crime under the Geneva Convention. The sheer brazenness of Ehud Olmert, making clear that while live cannot go on as normal in the areas of Israel threatened by the sporadic, ineffective, impotent mortar fire, he'll make certain that life will also "not go on as usual" in Gaza, is the kind of bravado and belligerence which makes it incredibly difficult to believe that there's any chance of peace for years still yet to come. After all, what is exactly "usual" about life in Gaza? The only thing truly regular that we in the West see there is the protests and funerals; it's far too dangerous now for anyone other than local journalists to report on the territory, after Alan Johnson's kidnap last year, and so we hear very little about the crushing helplessness, the constant anger and fear, or the despair of a people that have long had all their hopes and dreams obliterated, of any kind of progress or improvement in their harsh lives.

But, says the neutral observer, wouldn't all this be ended and lifted if the Palestinians sorted themselves out and put a stop to the rocket fire? It would be lovely if things were so simple. The very firing of the Qassams is a sign of the weakness of the Gazans; they're the equivalent of a placebo, a weapon that makes those who fire them imagine that somehow it's resisting the Israelis, while all its doing is in fact contributing to the siege mentality. Even if Hamas decided to halt all the rocket fire tomorrow, the occupation itself would not be lifted, nor would the checkpoints be opened, or probably even the crops allowed through. The people would be back where they started, no better for anything that's occurred since the settlements were evacuated and the current policy of blockading the Strip was decided upon. Since Hamas seized the strip last year, the stranglehold has only tightened as Israel has tried to put pressure on the movement and dismally failed. Fatah's decision for its workers to strike in response only further put popular sentiment behind Hamas as the services disintegrated.

For the moment, Israel's casual inhumanity has been put checked somewhat by the international outcry, the only force which ever makes it so much as think twice,
with Ehud Barak agreeing that the curbs will be diluted tomorrow so that fuel, food aid and medicines can be delivered. Then it will doubtless be back to the same old, with Israel making certain that Gaza cannot sleep, work or just exist while Sderot is threatened by fireworks that occasionally injure or kill, but do cause significant psychological distress. The same fear and anxiety that Gazans live with their entire lives. As Israel continues to make their short existence as miserable as possible, there will never be a shortage of the young ready to take the places of those killed or arrested in their small acts of defiance. For a young country that is meant to feel existentially threatened from all sides, it is remarkably cavalier about those within that, without a settlement to satisfy them, will only continue to fight.

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