Monday, March 31, 2008 

The final curtain.

Seeing as Scott Baker has finally commenced his summing up, it should now be safe to end the boycott of mentioning the Diana inquest.

It would be nice to think that this inglorious, ignoble waste of time, effort and money, all for the purpose of flattering the ego and demands of a very rich and very deluded individual, has served its ultimate aim: to let Fayed get his ridiculous theories fully out in the open, where they can be suitably mocked, and then debunked, as they undoubtedly have been. The reality though is the opposite, as Lord Baker himself has said as much, noting that there will always be individuals who believe that she was murdered on the orders of Prince Philip, or alternatively by the Reptilians in league with al-Qaida who are in turn in association with international freemasonry, the Flat Earth Society and the Greys. Nothing you can say to such individuals will ever convince them they're wrong; the most you can hope for is that they betray at least a moment's doubt and think for a second, before returning to the comfort of their original belief.

Does anyone honestly believe then that this is the last of it, that whatever verdict the jury reaches will end the cult of Diana, alter Fayed's mind one iota, or change the view of the guy who's turned up every day with Diana and Dodi painted on his face? While Scott Baker was certainly right, both legally and intellectually to not allow the jury to even consider returning a verdict that the death was connected to a conspiracy, this will almost certainly be where Fayed and the others will home in on; they'll say that the jury didn't have a chance to rule on the possibility, despite it being laughed out of court, through either judicial arrogance or yet again, a conspiracy.

The verdicts offered to the jury itself show the futility of the entire exercise. I'll go out on a limb and predict that the jury won't be able to find a majority on it being the fault of the paparazzi or Henri Paul or the involvement of both, and instead return that it was an accidental death, as we have known for oh, closing on 11 years. You can blame Paul or the paparazzi and say both were culpable, but can't say with any sort of certainty that either directly caused Diana's death. In any case, as we've also known for a while, if she or Dodi had been wearing their seatbelts, they likely would have survived, but that doesn't seem to have come into it at any real point.

All of this was established, if not within hours of the crash, then in the next few months that followed. The inquest hasn't really told us anything about the night that we didn't already: we already knew how the paparazzi had behaved, if not quite in as much detail, and knew that Paul had drank alcohol in combination with medication with which it should not strictly be mixed. We didn't perhaps knew that one of the drinks he consumed was a Ricard, but even that was probably in the more verbose accounts of that night. Everything else was a sideshow, from the essential revelation that Diana's mother had called her a whore for sleeping with an "effin Muslim man", right down to her menstrual pattern, whether Dodi had bought her a ring or not, to Paul Burrell's sensitive secret information not being sensitive secret information at all. This was wonderful entertainment for the tabloids, who delighted in the whole thing, but did nothing whatsoever for the memory of Diana herself. Perhaps even that was epitomised by the ramshackle inquiry: a woman and a press that were as schizophrenic in their attitudes towards each other as the "evidence" at times seemed.

To the end, there's been a continuation of this almost knockabout aspect of some of the evidence given. Scott Baker has identified three as directly lying - James Andanson, Paul Burrell and John Macnamara, to whom he could have added the former head of MI6, Richard Dearlove, who hilariously said that during his time in the service MI6 had never assassinated anyone. As a Steve Bell cartoon featuring a conversation between the current head and the Duke of Edinburgh retorted, what on earth are we paying you for?

Some will doubtless argue that the whole debacle has, in the horrible cod-psychological neologism, provided some sort of closure. Perhaps it will to some extent mean the end of the incessant, niggling media coverage of the past 10 years, although it was finally starting to abate in any case, only reignited by the inquest itself. For those at the centre of it however, the tragedy of that night will never leave them. Fayed's undoubted anguish at the death of his only son in such circumstances is all too real; what has never been real is his theories for how it occurred, and how he has used it as an excuse to take on and blame the establishment itself for all his subsequent woes. Subconsciously, maybe, this is his way of dealing with the pain that it was in the company of his employees that his son and the princess died, something he seemingly has never faced up to. Fayed has to face up to his own demons, and the state should never have let itself be used as a replacement for him doing so.

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Unacceptably poor governing experience.

I continue to not give the slightest fuck about the problems at Heathrow, but the government's intervention is truly something to behold:

The government berated British Airways over the Terminal 5 fiasco today, slamming the airline for subjecting passengers to an "unacceptably poor travel experience".

Aviation minister Jim Fitzpatrick said Heathrow airport's flagship building had "fallen well short of expectations" and the airline needed to place a "much greater emphasis" on the needs of passengers. Fitzpatrick added that Department for Transport officials had been in contact with BA and Heathrow owner BAA "at a senior level" throughout the debacle.

In a statement to MPs, the minister said BA was clearing a backlog of 28,000 bags - nearly double initial estimates. Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said customers had been let down badly, adding: "Yet again the state of Heathrow is a national embarrassment."

Ah yes, because we all know politicians or the government could most certainly have done a better job. The moment the government contracts anything out, be it the Criminal Records Bureau, the numerous IT projects that have gone tits up, even going all the way back to the Tories' privatising in-house NHS cleaning, almost every single one has had a monumental cock-up at some point, or been such a disaster that the resultant backlog has taken months to clear. Then there's been the problems with the Home Office, the losing of the data discs within the Treasury, or the collapse of the payment system involving EU subsidies to farmers by Defra, to list but a few. You could include Railtrack, or the entire privatisation of British Rail, both of which have been embarrassments that rank high above anything that's happened at Heathrow. The private sector and the public sector can be equally incompetent and greedy, but what's going on at Terminal 5 isn't going to cost us anything in the long run, while all the others have and will.

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Saturday, March 29, 2008 

Sums it up.

Via Iraq Today, a comment from Juan Cole's blog on the declaration of war on the Jaish al-Mahdi from a US perspective, but which is still applicable here:

Has there ever in the history of man been a policy more incoherent than this one? We back a government that is essentially a proxy of our regional arch-enemy, Iran. Our Sunni "Awakening" allies, largely composed of the Baathists we removed from power in the first place, hate this government and would love to overthrow it. Our Kurdish allies are composed of two decidedly undemocratic rival mafias, at least one of which is quite friendly to our enemy Iran, and at least one of which is carrying on a low-level war with our ally Turkey. Meanwhile, the most popular political movement in the country shares our stated goal of a democratic, unified Iraq and therefore must be crushed. ~ Greg Gordon, on Informed Comment’s comment section

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Storm in a rucksack.

And so we come to yet another storm in a teacup:

Jack Straw, the justice secretary, banned the early release of convicted terrorists last night after it emerged that two prisoners had been let out early as part of the government's efforts to ease overcrowding in jails.

Quite apart from the fact the two men are convicted "terrorists" (one had a explosives manual but the judge said he was not a politicised or radical Islamist, the other had a blueprint for a Qassam rocket, which he was presumably going to build out of everyday household items like cornflake boxes, along with other more incriminating jihadist material, but was also linked to the group from Bradford university that recently had their convictions quashed), the only reason this has made the news is because they were released a whopping 18 or 17 days before they would have err, been otherwise released.

Still, at least the man of Straw has now closed the stable door after the two horses have bolted. The next "terrorists" to be released will just have to wait a couple of weeks longer than they otherwise would have done. Job's a good 'un.

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Saying your prayers.

It isn't of course every day that a bus driver orders his passengers off so he can pray. You still perhaps don't expect the reaction of some when he then said they could get back on:

After a few minutes the driver calmly got up, opened the doors and asked everyone back on board.

But they saw a rucksack lying on the floor of the red single-decker and feared he might be a fanatic. So they all refused.

I don't think I've ever come across a bus driver who hasn't had some sort of rucksack or hold-all with all his stuff in. Strange behaviour or not, it's one thing for someone to be devout, and another entirely to be a "fanatic". The articles ends with:

Muslims pray at pre-dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset and evening.

Which is complete nonsense, as only the most devout or adhering pray five times a day, or at least go through the traditional praying ritual while doing so.

This being the Sun the comments are full of the usual hate, how this is the end of Britain as we know it and the habitual conspiracy theories, but this one takes the biscuit:

I am afraid it does not surprise me. I had to sit in the 'communal' room, the only room for visitors at Bart's hospital for a short break after seeing my brother who was dying. I had to sit through a moslem praying on a mat. I did not think that was right in my Christian country. Can you imagine if I had produced a cross and chain and began to pray?

It's always interesting how the least persecuted members of society can always find something to be outraged about, even in the most innocuous of gestures and behaviour.

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Friday, March 28, 2008 

Marred by inhumanity.

Again, you probably didn't notice, but yesterday saw the release of a report far more important than Tanya Byron's. The Independent Asylum Commission reviewed the system (PDF), and you probably won't be surprised to learn that it concluded:

Key Conclusions
1. The Commission has found almost universal acceptance of the principle that there must be an asylum system, and that it must be applied fairly, firmly and humanely. These criteria must be fulfilled for the UK system to be ‘fit for purpose’.
2. The Commission has found that the UK asylum system is improved and improving, but is not yet fit for purpose. The system still denies sanctuary to some who genuinely need it and ought to be entitled to it; is not firm enough in returning those whose claims are refused; and is marred by inhumanity in its treatment of the vulnerable.

Luckily, that means that there's someone in it for everyone. The Mail then opens its report with these first two paragraphs:

Public confidence in the asylum system is being eroded by the Home Office's poor performance in deporting failed applicants, a highly-critical report warns today.

The 18-month study by an independent panel also claims the system is failing to deal "firmly" enough with bogus applicants or to give real refugees the protection they badly need.

Throughout the article it's at pains to point out that it's the work of bleeding heart liberal left scum:

The commission is a think-tank of lawyers, clerics, liberal campaigners and experts.

The Independent Asylum Commission said its investigation would take account of a variety of viewpoints.

But critics were uneasy that it was influenced by charities and campaign groups involved with asylum issues, tilting the balance against more rigorous rules.

The body, set up by the Citizen Organising Foundation, which promotes community activism by training local leaders in campaigning techniques, is led by 12 commissioners, many of whom are associated with liberal causes.

They include Katie Ghose, a lawyer and director of the Institute for Human Rights pressure group.

Another is Zrinka Bralo, a journalist from Bosnia, who is executive director of the Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum in West London.

Also on the board is Professor Nicholas Sagovsky, canon theologian at Westminster Abbey, who has called for the poorest in society to be exempt from fines and debts, and Dr Silvia Casale, a prison reformer, criminologist and member of the United Nations sub-committee on prevention of torture.

Others include Lord David Ramsbotham, a former chief inspector of prisons and panel cochairman Ifath Nawaz, president of the Association of Muslim Lawyers, who has claimed tougher counter-terrorism laws fuel extremism.

Of course, it doesn't say who these "critics" are exactly; probably because it'd have to list the MigrationWatch head himself, who doesn't seem to have bothered reading the report or even reading its conclusions before commenting, which makes clear that there's a culture of disbelief towards asylum seekers and their claims. He pops up in the Times' report as well with this comment:

“Despite its official-sounding title, this is a private initiative by a number of charities involved in asylum issues,” he said. “If you set foot in Britain and say the word ’asylum’ you have an 80 per cent chance of staying, more often than not illegally. No wonder they are still queuing up in Calais.”

Which appears to be the general attitude towards the report. The comments on the Times, Express and Mail articles are all united in their condemnation of asylum seekers in general. This one perhaps sums them all up:

This is a joke - if the UK were inhumane, it would not be such a magnet.

- Ian Millard, Exeter UK

Sigh. The Telegraph and Sun don't seem to have reported on it at all, or at least I was unable to find an article on it on either of their sites. The Express and Mirror entries seem to be directly from the wire services.

It's impossible not to agree with Matthew Norman in the Independent, the only newspaper which has consistently campaigned about the inhumanity currently inherent in the system, something dismissed by the Border and Immigration Agency's Lin Homer with the following:

The claims made in this report are not based on any thorough knowledge. I totally refute any suggestion that we treat asylum applicants without care and compassion.

110 pages worth of report and the person in overall responsibility says it's not based on any thorough knowledge. Could it possibly be that it's in fact your claims that are not based on any thorough knowledge, Ms Homer? In fact, would it be going too far to call you a fucking ignorant liar?

As Norman concludes:

What we of the liberal centre-left have done is join Brown, Miliband and all those who so absolutely fail to represent our beliefs in allowing ourselves to be brow-beaten into silent, sullen acquiescence by the unrelenting right-wing propaganda of recent decades. We glow in Sarkozy's facetious praise when we should shriek in rage about what a nasty, brutal, mean-spirited country our spineless apathy has helped create, and this report on the systematic maltreatment of asylum-seekers shames and diminishes us all.

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An unwelcome message and Labour's complicity.

You can't get much further from the message of the Sun's "mothers in arms" than the statement given yesterday by the mother of Sophie Lancaster, the gap-year student beaten to death simply for being a goth, or as her attackers referred to her, a "mosher".

"I stand outside this house of justice today, not as Sophie's mother, but as her voice," she said. "Her voice that was cruelly silenced in a single mindless act. I have lost an adorable and adoring daughter, but her death has also ruined the lives of those responsible, as well as the lives of their families. Today, more than ever, we need to show respect, compassion and tolerance for those whose appearance and culture differs from our own."

Her concern and sympathy for Sophie's murderers and their families, despite their own behaviour towards her, is something that not everybody will be able to understand. Her message however is one that ought to be universal.

All of this puts the Sun in a difficult position in how to report and comment on the murder. Naturally, it's being used as part of their campaign against "Broken Britain", but it completely jars against the demands of the "mothers in arms", which include the reintroduction of the death penalty, a compulsory DNA database, zero tolerance for minor crimes and the repeal of the human rights act, the very legislation which protects those who appearance and culture differs from those of the powerful.

The article itself is filled with the usual Sun hyperbole and harsh adjectives, but it's the Sun leader which is most of interest, mainly because it manages to go through the whole thing without referring to the fact that Sophie and her boyfriend were attacked purely because of what they were wearing, or indeed to any of Sylvia Lancaster's pleas for respect, compassion and tolerance, although it does wrangle this from somewhere:

Among the many eloquent remarks made by Sophie’s courageous mother Sylvia, a youth worker, was this:

“I have always been leftie liberal and now I come from the other side and just see it as ‘this is how it is’.”

That’s a message of which our soft judges and Government ministers must take heed.

Which looks to me as the Sun completely taking her remarks out of context. As a youth worker, she would already know "how it is". She's now looked at it from the other side, but it hasn't changed her views despite that, as her other comments make clear. It's therefore deeply predictable which the next line is:

Liberal attitudes on parenting, education and crime have led us here. There is only one way to turn back the tide.

So the mother that calls for liberal attitudes to continue is therefore completely ignored: she's irrelevant because her views don't fit with the Sun's, which has long made its mind up about what works and what doesn't. Despite 10 years of Labour getting ever tougher on all three of those issues, it can never be harsh enough to appease the demands of a press which cannot possibly be sated.

Last week at a meeting between the Labour pressure groups Progress and Compass, the former Blairite and the latter on the soft-left, Hazel Blears had the audacity to dismiss the arguments made by Compass as "pandering to the Guardian". Chance would be a fine thing. After 11 years of New Labour pandering purely to the Daily Mail and the Sun, pandering which will never ever secure their support over the very issues of immigration and crime which Blears and her Blairite clique are obsessed with being ever more reactionary on, it'd be nice if Labour decided to pander to the Guardian for a while, and see where that gets us. The time to do that however was in 1997; now Labour has not just lost the lumpen working-classes that it has abandoned and fails to understand, talk about and to, it's also lost the lower middle classes that it briefly wooed. The last remaining supporters of New Labour are the middle-class "intellectuals", and even they are finally getting fed up with a party that laughs in their face while taking their votes. 1997 had its Portillo moment; I yearn for 2009/2010 and hopefully its equivalents in Blears/Hutton/Flint and all the other Blairites getting dumped once and for all, even if it means Cameron and his ghastly acolytes replacing them. I really can't see how they can be any worse.

Related post:
Enemies of Reason - The Hatred of Otherness

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Is it it just me....

Can someone kindly explain exactly why a: a new building not quite getting off to a brilliant start is considered the top news story for two days running; b: how on earth this is apparently, according to both the press and the BBC, a disaster, despite no one dying and with just a few holidaymakers and business people being delayed for a few hours; and c: how this is meant to affect the country's reputation as a whole when BAA is in fact owned by, err,
the Ferrovial Group, a Spanish multinational?

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Thursday, March 27, 2008 

Byron report: Mostly as expected, but China syndrome does creep in.

Glory of glories, the Byron report has finally arrived (PDF). For the last couple of months, any mention of the internet or video games in the negative in parliament has been met with a "wait for the Byron report" with the implication being that any changes will be based on its recommendations. Indeed, the government has been so pleased with Dr Tanya Byron's report that it's pledged to implement its proposals in full. Perhaps that's what all the worthy reports written for government that never get read even by the ministers they're meant for need - a TV personality to have been in some way associated with them. Jamie Oliver, Tanya Byron, they call and Labour heels. Those academics that are unfortunate enough to be untelegenic need to get someone who's appeared on the box to helm their report and make sure it's heard. Coming soon, the sunbed review (not made up) by Dale Winton, alongside the report into Travellers' communities, with an introduction by Basil Brush. Boom boom!

For some reason it inordinately bugs me that someone that the Dear Leader might have seen a couple of times on television giving advice on child behaviour is deemed the right person to write what is such an important report, not because of the effects it will have on the children's access to the internet and video games, but rather because of the effects it will have on all of our access to the internet and video games. There's never been a debate or to put it more accurately, a panic about what our children are up to which hasn't in some way then inhibited what adults themselves are able to choose to do with their time. Byron is, unlike some of her television counterparts who have over-egged or even lied about their actual qualifications, certainly both a doctor and something approaching an expert on child behaviour and mental health, but what she most certainly is not is anything like an expert on the internet and video games themselves, which is why the report ought to have been shared between her and some individuals who are, regardless of the assistance she's had in writing the report and in the research conducted which accompanies it.

It's therefore something of a relief that for the most part, with a few notable exceptions, the report is generally level-headed and thoughtful about children interacting online and also about the games that they play. It will most certainly not please or in any way help the lobby including Julian Brazier or Keith Vaz that want to further restrict access to video games, films and "potentially harmful" content on the internet. Byron's main proposal on video games and the certification of them is that the BBFC and PEGI, the currently opposing classification systems, should be working together towards an online rating system for internet games, while the BBFC should have to classify all games that contain content that is only suitable for those over 12, which can currently be contained under the PEGI system, although increasingly, as the industry has responded to parental concern, more and more games are being submitted for classification, whether they contain any content unsuitable for those under 12 or not. Even some of this shows however that Byron doesn't seem to have properly done her homework - she says that the BBFC logos should always be on the front of game boxes, but this has always been the case, and they're also usually far larger than their equivalent logos on DVD cases, to emphasise the point and make clear to parents the age restriction on the games. Then there are statements like this:

For example, 52% of respondents to a recent survey said they knowingly or deliberately purchased a game for their child, which according to the rating given, was not suitable for their age (ELSPA/YouGov 2007). This urgently needs to be addressed.

Why? Are those respondents not responsible for the children they buy the game for? If they knowingly or deliberately buy an 18-rated game for their children, then they obviously know it isn't necessarily going to be suitable for them, but they're either willing to take the risk or in fact think their children are mature enough to play such a game. This is hardly something the government should be interfering with.

Quite why Byron thinks the current classification system needs to be changed at all isn't clear. Her criteria for children and parents to be able to make sensible and informed decisions about the games they play means that any ratings systems must include the following elements:

clear age ratings;
clear accompanying descriptors which explain game content;
enforceable where there are risks of potential harm

The current system is all of these things. Why then does it need to be meddled with, other than to do something for doing's sake? The BBFC, incidentally, has responded to the report here.

Going back to her proposals on the internet itself, this is apparently one of her three strategic objectives for child safety on the internet:

However, the majority of material accessed by internet users is hosted on a relatively small number of highly popular sites, the rest of it occupying a ‘long tail’ of less popular material. This means that we should focus our efforts on reducing the availability of harmful and inappropriate material in the most popular part of the internet.

No, it's not your or the government's job to be reducing the availability of "harmful and inappropriate material" from any part of the internet, let alone the most popular part. If material isn't illegal, then it's none of your or anyone else's businesses where that material is or isn't hosted. It's down to the parents to ensure that their children either don't have access to such material or that their children are able to deal with such content properly. These are, to be fair, Byron's second and third objectives, but that doesn't even begin to make up for the wrongness of the first.

Byron's proposals for delivering these three strategic objectives are:

A UK Council on Child Internet Safety, established by and reporting to the Prime Minister.

That this Council should lead the development of a strategy with two core elements: better regulation – in the form, wherever possible, of voluntary codes of practice that industry can sign up to – and better information and education, where the role of government, law enforcement, schools and children’s services will be key.

That the Home Office and DCSF should chair the Council, with the roles of other Government departments, especially DCMS, properly reflected in working arrangements.

That the Council should have a properly resourced cross-government secretariat to secure a joined-up Government approach to children and young peoples’ safety online.

That the Council should appoint an advisory group, with expertise in technology and child development, should listen to the voices of children, young people and parents and should have a sustained and rolling research programme to inform delivery.

All of which are decent, sound suggestions. Of concern however is just what the council itself might subsequently propose, especially on one issue of concern that Byron herself highlights:

The Council investigates where the law around harmful and inappropriate material could be usefully clarified (including suicide websites) and explores appropriate enforcement responses.

Suicide is not illegal. Providing advice on how you might kill yourself is not illegal. Aiding and abetting suicide is. Some might disagree on whether either of the first two should be, but while that is still the situation websites that provide advice for those who wish to end their lives should not be made in any way illegal.

One of the "sites" that is often mentioned when discussing websites that discuss suicide is, a Usenet newsgroup that has been linked to a number of individuals who have subsequently killed themselves, including at least a couple in this country. Far from the impression some may have, if the group hasn't changed much since I previously lurked in it a few years' back, most of group were individuals who had been suicidally depressed for a long period of time, who had sought help and in some cases gone from medication to medication and treatment to treatment without getting better, some even undergoing ECT, and most of whom sought the comfort of being in a community where they were properly understood. Some had subsequently killed themselves, or made attempts on their lives; others didn't, and are probably still there. These individuals were not children, or angsty teenagers who had just suffered their first major setback in their love life, although there may well have been some of those lurking, and those that asked directly for help with methods were mostly spurned, especially if they had not tried to get help with their problems. I have never seen any evidence that such individuals have ever used these websites prior to their committing suicide, or children themselves using the information in attempts, and despite the recent comments of the coroner dealing with the Bridgend cluster of suicides, who condemned videos showing how to hang yourself on YouTube, there is nothing to suggest they used or viewed "suicide websites" or those kind of videos prior to their deaths. Making such websites illegal will do nothing to prevent suicide, or protect children or the vulnerable.

Again, of far more danger is one Byron's points buried in the report itself, as others have already noted:

4.60 For these reasons I do not recommend that the UK pursue a policy of blocking non-illegal material at a network level at present. However, this may need to be reviewed if the other measures recommended in this report fail to have an impact on the number and frequency of children coming across harmful or inappropriate content online.

This is little short of chilling. Does Byron actually understand the consequences of what she's written or proposing here, of government blocking information which is neither illegal nor necessarily actually "harming or inappropriate" for children, but content which by someone else's definition, such as hers, is harmful or inappropriate? By her lack of caution, with no apparent change of tone or counter-argument presented it certainly doesn't seem so. Maggie Brown on CiF lets the cat out of the bag when she fatuously thanks China for proving that you can control access to material on the web; quite apart from how they haven't, as more literate users can still get around it using proxy servers and web anonymizers, if they themselves aren't blocked, it's an incredibly slippery slope from blocking material which isn't illegal because children might be traumatised by it to blocking material which isn't conducive to the government itself, especially when it's not openly stated which sites are currently being blocked, as the Cleanfeed system which blocks child pornography isn't. If the same system was used for blocking content which the kiddie winks shouldn't be allowed to see, as seems more than probable, then we would have finally completed the not so long and winding road to becoming a police state. Don't think also that this isn't necessarily going to happen: as Frank Fisher pointed out, Jacqui Smith has already spoke of using Cleanfeed to block extremist (i.e. jihadist) websites. Others have suggested that there already is more than just child pornography being blocked by Cleanfeed, and there have been allegations previously that 4chan was temporarily blocked by Cleanfeed as it is occasionally spammed by trolls with child pornography.

Byron's report is probably then mostly what the government expected when it commissioned it. She hasn't gone too far, there isn't any further unpleasant legislation to pass that will eat up Commons time or be widely opposed, but there certainly are grim portents of what might be to come should Byron's targets not be met, something that with the media continuing in its moral panic state over "broken Britain" and the role of social-networking sites with suicide, might well yet occur. The freedom of adults to watch and do what they want in private continues to be one that the government can still restrict on the whim and excuse of protecting children.

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Tibet petition.

Via Justin:

After decades of repression, Tibetans are crying out to the world for change. China's leaders are right now making a crucial choice between escalating brutality or dialogue that could determine the future of Tibet, and China.

We can affect this historic choice -- China does care about its international reputation. But it will take an avalanche of global people power to get the government's attention. The Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has called for restraint and dialogue: he needs the world's people to support him. Fill out the form below to sign the petition--and spread the word.

Personally I feel China should never have been given the Olympics in the first place, and that a full boycott is now the right way forward, if only because they'll probably respond in kind, meaning we might not have to spend £9 billion (and the rest) on a two-week long glorified sports day in four years' time.

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There's nothing quite like a public school circle-jerk.

I'm not sure if anyone's noticed, but there seems to be a visit by the French first lady going on. I wouldn't blame anyone for not realising, seeing as there seems to have been a complete media blackout on the fact. Surely they've missed a trick, because haven't the media realised that she used to be a model and has even posed naked? I bet they could get a few extra sales and embarrass everyone, including themselves in the process if they printed those. There's also a wild rumour going round that she's brought her husband along too, but that seems preposterous, especially considering that we'd have noticed him, him being so tall and fluent in English and everything.

After all, it's not every day that an attractive woman arrives in Britain. All our domestic equivalents have been thrashed with the ugly stick, and some of them even have skin infections which we can take photographs of and laugh about. Then again, maybe if the editors in this country did notice Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy, perhaps it'd look as if they were thinking with their dicks, and that they might as well meet her husband and tell him without a hint of irony that they want to fuck her. It wouldn't be becoming of highly-trained journalists to act like a bunch of hormonal teenagers that discover after the summer break that they're going to have lessons with a just graduated 20-something and then fall over themselves to crawl to her as much as possible, with the less subtle amongst them even making their feelings clear. Even some of the girls in the class might make unkind comparisons between their new teacher and one of her older colleagues, doing so with all the wit and knowingness associated with adolescence that they accidentally forget to realise that there are four parts to a whole, not three.

Thank goodness our media isn't anything like that. The British press is the best in the world you know.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008 

Just how long exactly is this piece of string?

And 18 months later, it still isn't.

139 Labour MPs voted against the war in Iraq. Some of those who voted against that night have either left parliament or lost their seats since then, but even so you would have expected a higher figure to have rebelled than the number who ultimately supported the Conservative motion for an immediate inquiry into the war last night: just 12 bothered to do so, most of them members of the usual "awkward squad".

Reading the debate on TheyWorkForYou, it's easy to see why. While on that night five years ago party politics was mostly eschewed, except perhaps on the Conservative side, yesterday's debate was almost a summation of everything that is wrong with parliament. Each side, and every political party, with the exception perhaps of the nationalists, was blowing their own trumpet or falling back entirely on blaming the other side for their reasons for either voting for or against.

William Hague, opening the debate for the Conservatives makes a valiant effort and it's easy to see why he's such an assured parliamentarian whose time with the Conservatives still might come again. The case for an inquiry now is simple: the government itself has promised one, with its single argument being that it's "time is not now". This has been its position for 18 months, since the execrable Margaret Beckett made the self-same arguments that David Miliband made yesterday. An inquiry cannot apparently be held now for four reasons, or rather, the Conservative amendment deserved to be defeated because: the government has promised an inquiry but "now is not the time"; because the armed forces are still involved in "important operations" and these "important operations" are not as limited as the opposition parties make out; that despite the other parties suggesting that important lessons are to be learned from an inquiry, something that the government apparently agrees with as it also wants an inquiry, just not one now, the military has been learning "on the job"; and finally that memories will not fade and emails won't be lost because there have already been four inquires into the Iraq war and so apparently most of the material that will be gone over in an eventual inquiry is already available.

You have to give credit to Miliband: for someone who apparently secretly held anti-war views, he sure can talk bollocks at length in the chamber in an ultimately successful attempt to stop the perfidious Conservatives from opportunistically whacking Labour about over Iraq. That, in a nutshell, is the real government argument against an inquiry now, and one which some unsubtle MPs even made directly against the Conservatives. All four of Miliband's arguments are completely spurious: the first on the basis that this inquiry will if the government has its way never happen, especially as there continues to be no end in sight to the occupation whatsoever; the second, breathtakingly, for the exact opposite reason that Miliband states, concerning the uprising in Basra, where our troops are not involved, showing just deep these important operations actually go; the third, the idea being that the military has learned on the job is valid if you consider that there haven't been any abuse scandals since the early days of the war, when it's actually always been the government itself and its complete lack of influence over the American policy which really needs to be answered for; and the last is utterly redundant because up until recently the government was arguing against any further inquiries because the four themselves had been wholly sufficient!

To be fair to some of the MPs, they make all these points and more along the way, repeatedly interrupting Miliband and his pathetic justifications. The real rhetorical gymnastics was being performed by the loyalist Labour backbenchers who want an inquiry but have no intentions of letting the Tories be the ones who take the credit for forcing one; hence why Mike Gapes and others have stood up and said they won't support an inquiry that doesn't also look back over the decades and examine policy over Iraq since Domesday. This enables them to whack the Tories over their arming and courting of Saddam whilst meaning that they can still profess to support an inquiry in principle, just not a Conservative one. That such an inquiry would be potentially as endless as the Bloody Sunday fiasco, and that it would take years before anything was actually published, let alone any lessons learned doesn't seem to matter to the loyalists while it allows them to oppose the Conservatives. It's difficult to agree with Michael Howard, but the Scott Inquiry, limited as that was, has dealt with the arms-to-Iraq scandal for now; it's ridiculous to dredge that up again when what is of real concern is what happened from 2001 up until the present day. What it does allow is for the Labour loyalists who actually want an inquiry but don't want to damage the government any further at the moment to keep a clean conscience. Forget about learning from the mistakes of the past, what's more important and what always will be more important is the party's public standing, rock bottom as it deservedly is.

It seems remarkable that it's the Conservatives, by far the most gung-ho for war that now have the clearest and cleanest reasons for calling for an inquiry. While it is undoubtedly opportunistic and a further attempt to damage the government, it's also clear that Hague, if not the other smirking brats on the front bench, genuinely believes there needs to be one, as do the other Tory old guard that are now being squeezed out, such as Ken Clarke and Malcolm Rifkind. At least those two can reasonably claim that they opposed the war from the outset, as the Liberal Democrats can, but the Lib Dems have muddied their influence by now harping on about how the Conservatives provided the government with its mandate for the war. This is a reasonable enough point, but it's time to move beyond the finger jabbing and who was wrong and who was right and instead use this to ensure that nothing so calamitous both for this country and especially for Iraq itself is allowed to happen again. Towards their short-term gain, the Lib Dems have thusly launched, which is something that should have been done in previous elections and in some cases indeed was. To still be going on about holding individual MPs to account in 2008 is ridiculous and far, far more opportunistic than the Conservatives themselves are being. That they're doing this because the Lib Dems' one sole-memorable policy after the abolition of their 10p on the top rate of tax for those earning over £100,000, apart from perhaps Vince Cable's prescience over Northern Rock, is their opposition to the war ought to consign it the dustbin of political gimmicks.

The whole debate was, and as parliament increasingly seems to be, a complete waste of time and effort. While America has held inquiry after inquiry into the war even while over 100,000 of their troops remain in action, all without damaging their morale or their ability to fight effectively, we're left with all the main political parties squabbling amongst themselves while the blood and treasure continue to be spent. We're left in the age-old position of wondering just how long a piece of string really is, the answer being, as always, that it's as long as you want it to be. Like others, I reason that a Labour government, on the whole, will always be better than a Conservative one. That doesn't mean however that when these obscurantist, lying, two-faced time-wasters are deservedly thrown out of office that I won't be one of those cheering from the rooftops. Those 12 MPs that voted for the Conservative amendment therefore deserve the praise and final mention in this post.

The 12 Labour MPs who supported Conservative calls for a full-scale inquiry were:

  • Harry Cohen (Leyton & Wanstead)
  • Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North)
  • Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent Central)
  • Paul Flynn (Newport West)
  • Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North)
  • Lynne Jones (Birmingham Selly Oak)
  • John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)
  • Bob Marshall-Andrews (Medway)
  • Gordon Prentice (Pendle)
  • Linda Riordan (Halifax)
  • Alan Simpson (Nottingham South)
  • Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester South)
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    I got the gypsy blues.

    Attack the gypsies week because they dared to move onto land close to where Tessa Jowell's ex-husband lives continues apace in the Sun via Kelvin MacKenzie's column:

    I NOTE that Joseph Jones, who has reached the top of that august organisation the Southern England Romany Gipsy and Irish Traveller Network, has been silent on the issue.

    That comes as a surprise to me. After all, it was only ten days ago that he was giving his views to anybody who would listen that Basil Brush — old Boom! Boom! himself — was being racist.

    I wonder if that might be because there is no such organisation as the Southern England Romany Gipsy and Irish Traveller Network. There is an organisation called the Southern England Romany Gypsy and Irish Traveller Network, but then the Sun and other tabloids always refer to Gypsies as "Gipsies" because it enables them to sidestep any accusations or racism or prejudice, however condemnatory they are of them, due to how Gypsies are now protected under the relevant legislation as a race. As you might expect, the Grauniad gives those who have moved near to David Mills a rather more sympathetic hearing than the tabloids have.

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    Tuesday, March 25, 2008 

    And now, some rare good news, amid a tepid constitutional reform white paper.

    Only 3 years after it was first passed, the sections of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 dealing with protests with 1km of Westminster are to be repealed. Presumably those members of parliament who justified the restrictions on the basis that Brian Haw's placards could hide a bomb might be moved to retract their words, and perhaps those convicted under the act might also have their records cleared, along with apologies from the government for how they were prosecuted simply for exercising their democratic right. Perhaps I might go piss in the wind.

    That, sadly, was about the most radical part of today's white paper on the "constitutional renewal bill" (PDF). The other measures are either ones that have long been proposed or ones that are incredibly feeble. Hence the reform of the attorney general's powers, prompted entirely because of the concerns over the advice given prior to the Iraq war and Lord Goldsmith's role in the ending of the Serious Fraud Office inquiry into the BAE-Saudi slush fund are such that he/she in the future will retain the right to end prosecutions over matters of national security, which just so happens to be the specious reasoning behind the dropping of the SFO case! The change itself that the attorney general will have to report to parliament when he/she does wield that power isn't clear either; Goldsmith announced to the Lords previously that the inquiry was being dropped. Isn't that more or less one and the same thing?

    The whole bill seems to have this aura of meaninglessness and paucity of radicalism about it. Parliament will now have to have all treaties laid before it and passed before they can be enshrined, but this won't apply to either EU or tax treaties, so how often this new parliamentary right will be exercised is open to question. The civil service will be formally made independent, which is long overdue, but again how much it will actually change anything is another matter.

    As promised, the bill does set out how parliament will have a vote before war which is a much needed reform, but this doesn't inspire total confidence either. Two points open to question are that the attorney general's advice on whether the conflict itself will be legal under international law will not be provided in full but whether it's legal or not will be given, which is hardly sufficient either for those expected to vote on such a matter or for this country's standing on the international stage. It also won't apply to when special forces are being used, won't be retroactive, so if forces are sent in secretly then there won't necessarily be a vote once their mission becomes known, and if parliament is dissolved or adjourned when a conflict breaks out, again the government reserves the right not to recall parliament in order for a vote to be held. We'd better hope then a war doesn't break out sometime between July and the end of the party conferences at September, as the government will be fully justified in ignoring calls for a vote, just as it ignored calls for a recall to debate the Israel-Lebanon-Hizbullah war in 2006.

    The other parts of the bill/white paper deal with public appointments, on which the government is yet to respond to recommendations made by the liason committee; the intelligence and security committee, which under the proposals is to be ever so slightly beefed up, with appointments made by the commons rather than the prime minister himself, briefings to be given making the committee's work more public, a role for an investigator previously assigned to be revived, and with a debate after publishing of reports in the House of Lords. This doesn't come close to what we really need, which is a watchdog similar to either prisons inspectorate or to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Similarly, if the directors of either MI5 or MI6 can make public speeches about just how dire the security situation is, as both the former and current head of MI5 has done, they should be expected to give their evidence to the committees in public. They can't demand secrecy one moment and give bloodcurdling speeches the next.

    Finally the paper sees no reason to change the current archaic system of the prime minister appointing senior members of the Church of England to their respective posts, although it does deign to consider recommendations made by the Synod itself over the procedures, and the flag will now be able to fly from government buildings permanently.

    That, it seems, is the key metaphor for the entire packaging. Everything else might be screwed, but the flag will continue to fly.

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    Making it up with the Express and Sun.

    No news, a cartoon character once said, is a great opportunity to make it up. Facing a dearth of any real news over the holiday weekend, the tabloids decided that this ancient nostrum was worth following, except in slightly different flavours. The Sun went for outright fabrication, creating a "news" story where there wasn't one, the Express instead going for that other hardy perennial, distorting an actual story so far that it becomes a "fury" which no one other than the journalist themselves is participating in. Both just happen to involve the same minority.

    Not that Muslims have had all the fun to themselves. The Sun yesterday revealed in another non-story that "gipsies" (not gypsies, as this is how the tabloids get around potential censure as the Roma are considered a race and therefore subject to various legislation) had err, moved onto land that they legitimately own which just happens to be in the vicinity of Olympics minister Tessa Jowell's country house, which also led to a usual attack on the "detestable" human rights act.

    Even less newsworthy and made-up was today's splash - BAKRI SLUR ON AMIR, which also manages to tick two boxes - attacking a nutjob who in the Sun's twisted reasoning is somehow someone who speaks for Muslims, while glorifying in Amir Khan's proud patriotism. As you're probably aware, Bakri Mohammed left this septic isle for the sunnier clime of Lebanon, only for his presence here to be declared as not conducive to the public good before he could return. Since then he's been broadcasting to his tiny and dwindling band of followers via the interweb, previously using Paltalk, although they might now use alternative services. This is reasonably common knowledge, and doubtless the security services monitor and keep a close eye on Bakri's movements and statements, although it's quite possible that if we hadn't simply kicked him out he could now be sharing a cell adjacent to Abu Hamza's in Belmarsh, with him taken out of the public eye altogether.

    The Sun's story then is completely and utterly created, controlled and dictated by them. As the article states:

    The rant by 49-year-old Bakri — exiled in Lebanon after being kicked out of Britain — came in an internet exchange with other extremists.

    Asked if Amir was setting a bad example by draping himself in the flag, he replied: “I don’t think somebody should really look to Amir Khan as a good example for the youth.

    “So now for him to be wrapping himself in British flag is another sign of somebody who is completely jahil. You give him the excuse of ignorance for living among the kuffar. So you can’t call him kuffar but you can call him jahil and deviant person.”

    Let's give the Sun the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they didn't personally pose the question to Bakri; maybe that was the job of a gopher, or even just maybe it was part of a question posed about whether Amir was suitably Islamic enough for Bakri's liking. Either way, that conversation found its way to the Sun, and they've taken what by Islamist standards is a mild condemnation and turned it into a front page splash.

    While condemning Bakri for everything he's every done, the Sun has the good journalistic grace to phone him up and ask whether the allegations it's making are true:

    Last night he went even further when he talked to The Sun from his hideaway in Beirut — attacking Amir for having a Union flag on his shorts.

    He said: “Amir Khan is not a good example for Muslims. He wears shorts with the Union Jack. That is a sin.

    “He should not be wearing the flag because sovereignty is for God. His only allegiance should be to the Prophet Mohammed.

    “The ideal situation would be to have a Muslim team not registered to any state so he can represent the Islamic community.”

    Fair enough you might say. Bakri's a twat and newspapers make rubbish up all the time. Where's the harm. That, dear reader, is in the Sun's leader column:

    Unlike cowardly preacher Omar Bakri, who is not fit to lick Amir’s boots.

    Bakri was also given a home here. He spat on Britain’s hospitality, hailed the 9/11 bombers as “magnificent” and urged misguided young Muslims to follow their violent path.

    From exile in Lebanon, where he still lives on British handouts, he has the gall to denounce Amir as “deviant” and “ignorant”.

    We hope decent Muslims will denounce this despicable wretch who claims to speak on their behalf.

    Ah, there we are. Sun concocts a story which even Melanie Phillips would blanch at, then it demands that "decent Muslims" denounce him. That the entire episode wouldn't have come to light if the Sun hadn't made it out to be some new horrific outrage by an Islamist mad-man on the rates doesn't matter; Muslims who don't agree have to speak out against this "despicable wretch who claims to speak on their behalf", except nowhere has he suggested that his views are anyone's other than his own. Aspiring tabloid hacks take note: this is how journalism works.

    At least the Sun article shows some enterprise and effort on the part of the hacks responsible, actual news story or not. The same can't be said for the Express's front page lead:


    STATE schools should be forced to open their doors to Islamic preachers teaching the Koran, the largest classroom union demanded yesterday.

    The National Union of Teachers’ conference also said existing religious schools – almost all of them Christian – should have to admit pupils from other faiths.

    The articles do have one connection - both are pretending that there's righteous anger where there is none. In case you haven't already realised, the Express interpretation of the National Union of Teachers' proposal, because that's what it is, not a demand, is rather different from their own. Here's how the Grauniad reports it:

    Union calls for end to single-faith schools

    · NUT plan reflects concern over faith segregation
    · Heads 'should make space for private prayers'

    Schools would offer faith-based instruction, prayer facilities and a choice of religious holidays under a plan developed by the country's biggest teaching union.

    Headteachers would bring in imams, rabbis and priests to instruct religious pupils as part of the curriculum in an attempt to satisfy parental demand for religion in schools and prevent the establishment of more single-faith schools.

    The National Union of Teachers proposals represent an attempt to rival faith schools. All schools should become practising multi-faith institutions, and faith schools should be stripped of their powers to control their own admissions and select pupils according to their faith, according to proposals in the union's annual report, backed at its conference in Manchester yesterday. The daily act of "mainly" Christian worship required of all schools by law should be liberalised to include any religion, the union says.

    The general secretary of the NUT, Steve Sinnott, said the plan represented "more than simply religious education - this is religious instruction.

    "I believe that there will be real benefits to all our communities and youngsters if we could find space within schools for pupils who are Roman Catholics, Anglican, Methodist, Jewish, Sikh and Muslim to have more religious instruction. You could have imams coming in, you could have the local rabbi coming in and the local Roman Catholic priest."

    Far from it opening the door just then to the local imam and that vicious religious text, the Koran, the NUT is actually proposing an alternative to the segregation that some research suggests faith schools contribute to. I actually think it's an abysmal plan, mainly because it seems to cater for everyone other than the decent percentage of the population that couldn't care less for religion at all. Similarly, you don't respond to the mess of faith schooling by deciding to throw even more faecal matter around, ensuring that some sticks everywhere. That aside, the NUT deserves to have its proposal reported accurately and not used by a third-rate dog-whistling newspaper to stir up yet more hatred towards the Muslim community, which is quite clearly what it hand in mind when it asked a Tory MP for his views on the matter:

    But the proposals prompted immediate outrage. Conservative Party backbencher Mark Pritchard said: “This is just further appeasement for Muslim militants.

    “We should just follow the existing laws on religious education, which state that it should be of a predominantly Christian character. All this will do is further divide many communities that are already split on religious lines.”

    These Muslim militants get everywhere yet they seem to be invisible, don't they? Far from being appeasement towards Muslim militants, the plan if anything is appeasement towards those of a religious bent that just have to their children brought up in a God-fearing environment, although even that's not really true as likely the majority are only pretending so that their darling princes and princesses can go to a good school rather than the falling apart local bog standard comprehensive. As ever, it seems Pritchard has been asked to comment something that he hasn't ever seen or read about, and so has only been given something of the slightest background in order to produce said quote. Or maybe he had and I'm giving him too much credit.

    As FCC has discovered, the Express has kindly provided a place to discuss this latest news development. In doing so, it had to chose a photograph of an imam in order to illustrate the finer points of where it thinks the debate should lead. Can you possibly guess whose image they've chosen?

    Stupid question really. As FCC also points out, we've become so inured to Muslims getting in the neck, being the current minority singled out for special opprobrium or scrutiny, that this somewhat loses its offensiveness. If the headline had been "FURY OVER PLAN TO TEACH TALMUD IN SCHOOLS" with a photograph of a rabbi used for the discussion, it would be sinister rather than something approaching a joke. Because Islam, or the extremist version of it is currently seen as such a threat, somewhat legitimately, it's become almost accepted that all its practitioners are fair game, simply for exercising their own views.

    Two examples of making the news up; one minority directly targeted. Journalists' job: done.

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    Monday, March 24, 2008 

    Take me out to the crucifixion.

    It being Easter, when we duly celebrate Christ's agonising death by devouring chocolate eggs, the media seems to assume that you've gone soft enough in the head to also not feel queasy about swallowing some little short of bigoted views (main and repeat offender Cardinal Keith O'Brien) and then those hollowed out enough in an attempt not to offend but which nonetheless do exactly that.

    First up the Grauniad foists on us the delectable Madeleine Bunting, who can, on occasion, produce the odd piece of some worth. Not this time round, where she's saluting the joys of "complementary" (read: alternative) medicine and remarking on the amazing powers of the placebo, via a BBC 2 programme called "Alternative Therapies" starring scientist Kathy Sykes:

    Tonight she examines reflexology, and gives it pretty short shrift. There are 30,000 reflexologists working on a million British feet a year. They base their work on a theory that parts of the sole of the foot correlate to organs in the body. The only problem is that Sykes could find no one, reflexologist or scientist, who could explain how these correlations might work. Furthermore, it turned out that this "ancient" healing system seems to have originated with an imaginative American woman in the 1930s. But patients swear by it. One reflexologist points Sykes to her annual garden party full of babies and children as evidence of the success she has had with infertility problems. This is the point where most scientists snort with derision at the use of personal anecdote as evidence, but Sykes presses on and it takes her into two areas of scientific research. First, she digs up new research on the importance of touch, which can have a profound impact on the brain. Even the hand of a stranger reduces anxiety and that of someone with whom one has a close relationship is even more significant. In fact, Sykes finds some scientific underpinning which goes beyond placebo in many of the therapies she looks at. But it is placebo which emerges as a recurrent and crucially important thread in her quest, and it leads her to the work of several American scientists who are trying to identify what placebo is, who it works for, and why it works.

    Bunting is both overselling herself and ignoring the key worry that the vast majority have over homoeopaths and all the rest of the alternative clique. Very few of use could care less if someone wants to piss all their money up all the wall on water where less than 00.1% of it is the active homoeopathic ingredient, having someone stick needles up their arse or on foot massages if it's for something that isn't life threatening or for where medication's efficacy is either unproven or doesn't work for everyone; it's when it goes further and starts making claims for treating disease that it needs to be swiftly kicked into touch. It's also not as if it's only a tiny minority of snake-oil merchants looking to profit from their own cures; Newsnight's survey of homoeopaths who only recommended their "treatment" prior to someone going on holiday to Africa, as opposed to the malarial and other jabs given by doctors showed that there's a lot who are potentially giving highly dangerous advice. When reflexologists and the like go around claiming that it's their treatment which is helping with fertility problems, it's taking advantage of those who are desperate to have children, and it's only a few steps from there to making even bigger, bolder claims.

    Quite why Sykes needed to dig up new research on the reassurance and comfort which touch gives is unclear also, as it's long been established that human interaction is beneficial for almost all slight ailments. It's the same reason why those with depression get onerously ordered to "exercise". The headline for the article, which probably wasn't Bunting's work to be fair, is also a straw man. No one is pouring "wholesale scorn" on complementary medicine, for the very reasons Bunting outlines, because of how little we still currently understand the placebo effect. Ben Goldacre has written about it at length, for example. There's a very long way from there however to Bunting's claims towards the end about "complementary" medicine and mental health because of conventional medicine's failures: Bunting mentions the recent meta-analysis on the anti-depressants, but doesn't make clear that for the depression they were developed for they do indeed work.

    Bunting also doesn't mention how a previous series involving Sykes had a number of serious complaints upheld against it, with those involved in the programme itself disillusioned by it:

    "The experiment was not groundbreaking, its results were sensationalised and there was insufficient time to analyse the data properly and so draw any sound conclusions. It was oversold and over-interpreted. We were encouraged to over-interpret, and proper scientific qualifications that might suggest alternative interpretations of the data appear to have been edited out of the programme. Because the BBC had funded the experiment, they wanted their money's worth - that's not a good basis for science."

    Both the conventional and the "complementary" medicine industries have their own failings and foibles, but I know which I'd depend on when it came down to it.

    Bunting's article is nothing though compared to the chutzpah on behalf of Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, who opens his article on the evils of atheistic secularism thusly:

    Two months ago I was in Zimbabwe, to see for myself the desperate situation of so many people and to offer my support and solidarity. It was a deeply moving experience. Many of those living with HIV/Aids are now too malnourished to take the drugs they need, though they have them. I asked Sister Margaret McAllen, director of an Aids programme in Harare, what she could do. She replied: "How can we give hope to people in such a desperate situation? Through love. Change comes through love." Sister Margaret may sound like a romantic, but I know she is a very practical realist. Her faith is no obstacle to facing the most horrendous facts: it is a resource with which to change them.

    Surprisingly, nowhere in the article is it mentioned that the Catholic church, through its condemnation of contraception and promotion of abstinence programmes, damns more in Africa to the ravages of HIV/Aids than if it changed one or more of its doctrines for the common good. It's not atheistic secularism that's killing the human spirit, it's the Catholic church which is in many cases doing nothing to stop the killing of the human wholesale.

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    When you're obsessed, you will see your obsession everywhere.

    Via Rhetorically Speaking, I note that Mad Mel has been going err, mad, over the attack by Asian youths on Canon Michael Ainsworth, which was apparently proof of a low-level jihad against Christians in east London by raging "Moslems" determined to make the entire place a no-go area.

    Or not, as according to Ainsworth himself, who gave an interview to the same journal that carries Mel's rantings:

    "We must respond calmly, and not jump to conclusions..." Coping with the hysteria from "wild" national press coverage had been "almost worse than being attacked." He felt helpless as his church was besieged by cameramen and reporters after the story broke last Friday. "They have their own agendas," said Mr Ainsworth, "as do the bloggers, both professional and amateur, who are using the story for their own ends and drawing bizarre, mainly racist, conclusions."

    Well, quite. Mel P does have form in this area, jumping as she did on the Sun's article about "Muslim yobs" attacking a house in Windsor which local squaddies had contemplated moving into. Only, it turned out that there was no evidence whatsoever to link it to Muslims and that the most likely culprits in fact turned out to be local residents who were concerned about the effects on house prices. When confronted with the Sun's own apology, she simply stated that the "[T]he correction did not deny the original information" and that "readers can judge for themselves". Which is usually something Mel does not leave to chance.

    Still, in very slightly related news, wasn't it glorious to see the Bishop of Rochester, he of the "Muslim no-go areas" soundbite giving his Easter sermon? Presumably he somehow managed to get out from under the blanket of fear that was the apparent death threats sent to him for such insolence. Doubtless too the Bishop of Oxford, who similarly received death threats after he dared not to disagree with the proposed call to pray being broadcast in Oxford made his sermon, although without any of the press attention.

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    Saturday, March 22, 2008 

    Iraq week - recollections and thoughts on Abu Ghraib.

    As something to an addendum to Wednesday's post, the New Yorker has conducted a sympathetic interview with Sabrina Harman, depicting her as something of a naive idealist who became desensitised to the torture and ill-treatment happening all around her. Her thoughts on the photograph of her and Manadel al-Jamadi are:

    “I guess we weren’t really thinking, Hey, this guy has family, or, Hey, this guy was just murdered,” Harman said. “It was just—Hey, it’s a dead guy, it’d be cool to get a photo next to a dead person. I know it looks bad. I mean, even when I look at them, I go, ‘Oh Jesus, that does look pretty bad.’ But when we were in that situation it wasn’t as bad as it looks coming out on the media, I guess, because people have photos of all kinds of things. Like, if a soldier sees somebody dead, normally they’ll take photos of it.”

    Very few soldiers however have photographs of themselves with someone who died while in their comrades' care apparently grinning and laughing about it. It does perhaps mitigate against the image of her that has understandably developed that she went on to document in detail al-Jamadi's injuries:

    “I just started taking photos of everything I saw that was wrong, every little bruise and cut,” Harman said. “His knees were bruised, his thighs were bruised by his genitals. He had restraint marks on his wrists. You had to look close. I mean, they did a really good job cleaning him up.” She said, “The gauze on his eye was put there after he died to make it look like he had medical treatment, because he didn’t when he came into the prison.” She said, “There were so many things around the bandage, like the blood coming out of his nose and his ears. And his tooth was chipped—I didn’t know if that happened there or before—his lip was split open, and it looked like somebody had either butt-stocked him or really got him good or hit him against the wall. It was a pretty good-sized gash. I took a photo of that as well.” She said, “I just wanted to document everything I saw. That was the reason I took photos.” She said, “It was to prove to pretty much anybody who looked at this guy, Hey, I was just lied to. This guy did not die of a heart attack. Look at all these other existing injuries that they tried to cover up.”

    Harman throughout comes across as a victim, a soldier who should never have been, and one who has paid the ultimate price for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, even if, as established by the Nuremberg trials, following orders is no excuse. Her higher-ups, and indeed the CIA officer that killed al-Jamadi, have never faced any charges over their breaches of the military code, let alone the Geneva conventions.

    A very different image comes across from Der Stern's interview with Lynndie England. England doesn't appear to be sorry for what happened at Abu Ghraib, or even express the slightest remorse for her involvement in the ritual humiliation of the Iraqi prisoners held there. Self-pitying, and apparently not intelligent enough to to feel even the beginnings of empathy, the closest she comes is towards the end:

    Mrs. England, we've listened to you for hours. And the whole time we've been asking ourselves: Where is your feeling of regret?

    Looking back on it, if I could change it I would. I would have never met Graner, I never would have gone over there, I would have stayed in my little work area in Abu Ghraib, did what I had to do.

    I'm not a believer in someone being innately evil; that's not to say that they are not capable of acts that can be classified as "evil", but that even the very few among us who can be diagnosed as psychopaths can have their actions explained without resort to simple wickedness. Everyone, regardless of the pressures upon them on that time, is capable of making a choice, which is why I find myself disagreeing with Philip Zimbardo and his analysis, however convincing it sounds, of how the situational always prospers over the dispositional, in line with his Stanford prison experiment, applied to Abu Ghraib in his latest book. However systemically corrupt an organisation or set of rules is, there will always be someone who resists. In this case it might well have been Sabrina Harman that was the rebellious one slandered and the victim of a momentary loss of control in taking that photograph, and Lynndie England, that along with the rest of her compadres, was the one that went along with the prevailing mood.

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    Friday, March 21, 2008 

    Scum and Mail-watch: More on the Horne hypocrisy and bashing those on benefit.

    Can you get much more hypocritical than the Daily Mail? Today, a day late after the Sun had already splashed on it:

    And part of the Mail's front page the day after the ruling that Learco Chindamo could not be deported back to Italy:

    The Mail of course doesn't want malingering criminals to be sent back here, but it's perfectly OK with those who have served their time and have shown such a willingness to reform that the prison governor himself spoke out in his favour to be sent back to their "home" country, even if like Raymond Horne here and Learco Chindamo would be in Italy, they would be without any family, place to go or even any sort of connection to a country which they left when they were small children.

    The Sun however is determined to make as much out of the comparison with Chindamo at it possibly can, even though it too is outraged by Horne's deportation. In a sidebar of its Horne story:

    RARELY has there been a clearer case of double standards. Britain has been forced this week to accept sick paedophile Raymond Horne after he was flung out of Australia.

    But only last year, our attempts to deport the Italian-born killer of headteacher Philip Lawrence — Learco Chindamo — ended in failure.

    Horne moved to Australia when he was five and has lived there for 56 years. But because he is a British citizen — and because Australia isn’t tied up in EU regulations — lawyers say we have to take him back.

    Chindamo was born in Italy and moved to Britain when he was six. Just nine years later, in 1995, he brutally killed Mr Lawrence.

    Yet the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal threw out the bid to deport him to Italy last August as it would infringe his Human Right to have a family life, and breach EU directives that he can’t go unless he threatens the “fundamental interests of society”.

    So we are powerless. And both are now free to roam our streets.

    Well no, it's not double standards. Our courts have it right and Australia has it wrong - it is monstrous to send someone back to a country which they have no links to, especially when it's the country both have grown up in that has shaped the individual. If someone comes here as an adult and commits a crime then they should be deported unless there are pressing reasons as to why they should not - more on this in a moment. Horne is not our responsibility, just as Chindamo is. The Sun has also typically got it the wrong way round, wilfully, no doubt - it was the EU directive that meant he couldn't be deported, as he had been here for over 10 years. Only if that existed would the human rights act have came into play, as the judge who decided the Home Office's appeal made clear. Also, Chindamo is as far as I'm aware yet to be released, so he's not free at all.

    The Sun's article on Horne himself is close to hysterical:

    EVIL Raymond Horne last night settled in to his cushy new life in Britain — funded by hard-up taxpayers.

    The 61-year-old fiend — dumped on us by Australia — will enjoy a free home, protection and benefits.

    But police security and surveillance of him will cost taxpayers as much as £100,000 a year.

    I'd say that presumably then the Sun would prefer that he wasn't monitored - but that would be a straw man, and that after all, is what the Sun relies on. The most likely place he'll be sent first of all is to a hostel, not a house, and far from being "protected", which he wouldn't need anyway if the Sun and Mail weren't plastering him all over the newspapers, he's going to be under the supervision of MAPPA, as the Sun article later admits. This doesn't however stop them from already imagining how he'll be spending his spare time:

    He is even effectively free to stalk playgrounds or schools — and cannot be stopped from living near young families — because he did not serve time for his vile crimes in Britain.

    Yeah, and he'll probably alternate when he isn't doing those two things with masturbating at the sight of children walking down the street and stroking a white cat sitting on his lap. Not to get too sidetracked, but Lorraine Kelly's been thinking up what Horne's going to immediately start doing as well:

    But you know as well as I do that he will disappear into the undergrowth and be just one of thousands of grubby perverts who get away with child abuse and child rape, and allow sick child pornography to flourish.

    Oh yes, there are tens of thousands of individuals out there who get away with child abuse and child rape. Memo to Ms Kelly: the vast, vast majority of child abuse and rape occurs within the family, which Horne doesn't have here, and child rape by a stranger is about a rare a crime as there is. When it does occur, it tends to be other children raping those within their own age group, not older men or those like Horne. Instead we're so terrified of paedophiles, as a direct result of the scaremongering and out of all proportion reporting on the matter by the Sun that we have schools that think they need to cover up children's faces when they put their images on the net. Then the likes of the Mail and Scum blame it on "political correctness", a PC-concept that they and they only created.

    Back to the main article, although the whole of Kelly's excretion is appalling:

    Last night the Ministry of Justice confirmed that unlike with freed UK prisoners, the police currently have no powers to exclude him from approaching schools and playgrounds.

    A spokeswoman said: “Normally when sex offenders are released, they are on licence and can have conditions attached to this, such as to live in a certain address or be banned from certain areas.

    “In a situation where a sex offender returns from a foreign country, this does not exist.”

    In extreme cases cops can apply for a Sexual Offences Prevention Order that gives them the power to rein in offenders. But Scotland Yard declined to say if they had applied for the order for Horne.

    Yes, but as the rather more measured Grauniad article points out, he has had to sign the sex offenders' register, meaning he has to abide by the conditions of that, which in itself carries the potential for a five-year prison sentence for breaches. He'll also doubtless be put on the SOPO, but they might have to wait until the panic now subsides to do so.

    Campaigners voiced disgust at how much he will cost taxpayers.

    Matthew Elliot, of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “At a time when schools and hospitals are strapped for cash and taxpayers are paying record levels of tax, it’s a bizarre set of priorities that sees huge amounts spent on a sexual predator.”

    Oh look, Matthew Elliot's emerged out of his hole and given another quote to a grasping newspaper. Elliot and his Tory-clique couldn't care less about schools or hospitals - they just want lower taxes, in fact not just lower taxes, but a flat tax (PDF), and they want it NOW, with one of their mission statements to campaign against any tax increase whatsoever. Again, this raises the instant response that Elliot would presumably prefer that we dump him out on the street and let him get on with it, but that's the old straw man again.

    The Scum article ends with:

    DO you know where Horne is? Call the Sun newsdesk on 020 7782 4104.

    But err, surely the Sun knows where he is? After all, it states that:

    The Sun can reveal that Horne, a serial abuser of young boys, is living in a secret location in LONDON.

    Who knows, maybe he's moved to Wapping?

    Also of interest is a connected article written by an old friend, none other than Tim Spanton, who previously told a whole series of lies about the Human Rights Act:

    PERVERTS like Raymond Horne are allowed back in Britain after years of committing disgusting offences abroad.

    But it is a very different story when it comes to getting rid of foreign criminals from our shores.

    Actually it isn't. According to both the BBC and the Guardian, we deported 4,200 foreign criminals last year. The Sun doesn't mention this fact anywhere in any of its articles, as it might rather undermine the point when it's focusing on the few exceptions, usually for good reasons:

    Somali gangster YUSUF JAMA ran up a string of convictions for robbery and firearms offences. But a High Court judge said he could not be sent home as there was civil war in parts of Somalia.

    Weeks later Jama, 19, shot dead PC Sharon Beshenivsky in a robbery in Bradford, West Yorks.

    Err. what does the Sun mean by "was"? There's been a civil war raging in Somalia for nearly two decades, and the violence has stepped up over the last year. Even the Sun would likely baulk at sending criminals/illegal immigrants back to Darfur, Iraq, or even Zimbabwe. Whatever their crimes, sending someone back to a war zone is simply not an option.

    Italian LEARCO CHINDAMO was the 15-year-old leader of a Triad gang when he stabbed headmaster Philip Lawrence to death outside a North London school.

    Chindamo, already a suspect in another knifing, got life in 1996 with a minimum term of 12 years.

    The Asylum & Immigration Tribunal ruled last year he could not be deported because it would breach his right to a “family life”.

    Again the Sun is being economical with the truth. He could not be deported because of the EU immigration rulings of 2006, with his right to a "family life" only a minor consideration.

    MOHAMMED KENDEH from Sierra Leone punched and indecently assaulted a mum-of-two in a South London park in 2003.

    At the time Kendeh, 16, was supposedly under supervision for SIX sex assaults in the SAME park.

    He also was not kicked out because of his human rights.

    No disagreement with this one; I wrote at the time that the judge I believe on this occasion got it wrong. Incidentally, the judge in question is the government minister Margaret Hodge's husband.

    Pakistani MOHAMMED MALIK escaped deportation because his criminal record was SO BAD.

    The Crown asked that Malik, 20, should be sent home after his latest 3½-year term for robbery.

    But the defence argued the sentence was similar to previous ones he had not been deported for.

    Having to go by a Google cache of an original report on this one. The judge in fact:

    said he was taking into account how long Malik had been in the UK and his family circumstances.

    Difficult to know where to stand on this one. On the one hand this was his third serious assault, which ought to mitigate towards a deportation order; on the other he's either lived here since he was 5 or 9, and again is a product of our society, not Pakistan's, where he doesn't apparently have relatives. I think I'd sway towards deporting him if it was my decision, but it wouldn't be one I'd take lightly, and the judge didn't either. It can't be as simple as saying anyone who's foreign and commits a crime should be deported; all the factors have to be considered, but when responding to tabloids, as Gordon Brown did in his speech to the Labour party conference, all of those go out the window.

    Iraqi Kurd RAMZI BORKAN was jailed for indecently assaulting a girl of 14 but a judge ruled he couldn’t be deported for safety reasons. Weeks later Borkan, 36, raped a Japanese student.

    Borkan is a Kurd, but was born in Baghdad. The judge sentencing him after the rape said he couldn't see why he couldn't be deported back to Iraqi Kurdistan, because of the lack of violence there, but as we've seen recently with the Turkish incursion and the rise of violence around Mosul and Kirkuk, the situation there is no longer that stable either. Whether he has family links in Kurdistan or knows anywhere there would have came into it as well; deportations to the area are still rightly controversial, horrific rape or not.

    PJETER LEKSTAKAJ fled to Britain after he shot a man during a row in his native Albania.

    UK cops arrested Lekstakaj, 59, but a judge refused to extradite him because he was DEPRESSED.

    Can't find a source for this one, or at least not a report which goes into far more details than given here, or one in English. The one that comes closest suggests that he was suicidal rather than depressed, and argued that he wouldn't receive the necessary psychiatric care he needs in Albania but doesn't give the actual decision.

    The Sun has therefore collected six exceptional cases, all without mentioning the 4,200 deported last year.

    Elsewhere the Sun is picking on those other undesirables - the dole scum:

    THE Sun visited the UK’s biggest benefits blackspot yesterday to find out why four out of five people there live on State handouts — and discovered over a THOUSAND jobs up for grabs.

    Throughout the article, the Sun doesn't make clear what benefits they are actually on - whether it's jobseeker's allowance, income support or incapacity benefit. The differences between the three and why someone is on one and not the other obviously don't have any consequence, or rather don't to Charles Yates and Rebekah Wade, not to mention the sub-editors.

    Yet a visit to the JobCentrePlus, ten minutes walk away, revealed 1,630 jobs on offer, from non-skilled cleaners to £30,000 managers.

    The centre — where 425 vacancies were posted in the last week alone — was busy.

    But most people were claiming benefits, not looking at the work on offer.

    Which is where it would help if we knew what benefits they were on before condemning them for not taking on the jobs available. Most people though were claiming benefits rather than looking for work, so obviously they're as happy as can be on state handouts, which despite the Sun's outrage, are often far below even the lowest paid jobs available.

    I wandered down the street, knocking on doors of businesses.

    At Dunelm Mill furnishings store I found a vacancy for a £16,000 manager in the fabric department.

    An assistant manager thought I stood a good chance.

    What exactly is the point of this exercise? Doubtless he thought you stood a good chance; you're a journalist, likely had a university education, from the photograph in your 40s and presentable, with good experience and instead you're sticking it to the very people most likely to read your very newspaper, the most vulnerable in society. Nice work if you can get it.

    And the boss at neighbouring Carpetright requested my CV, as vacancies are always cropping up.

    Oh, so they didn't actually have any jobs at the moment. Hey ho though, in it goes.

    Last stop was the busiest shop in Falinge — Coral the bookmaker, where on a working day at least 20 men were fluttering away their cash.

    Manager Andrea Moran, 32, offered me an application form for a cashier job and gave me an on-the-spot interview.

    She said: “Coral is a big company and offers employment opportunities to scores of local people.

    “We’re always looking for suitable staff. You’ve passed with flying colours.”

    Well, no surprises there. Middle-aged journalist who looks presentable enough in able to get a job in betting shop shock! Personally I couldn't abide working somewhere where you're essentially making money out of others' misery, but oh, you do that already don't you, Mr Yates? Hardly a change of scene from the news room in Wapping to a betting shop.

    I’d been in Falinge for just two hours — and landed a full-time job in a bookie’s, with no previous experience.

    What experience do you exactly need to work in a betting shop when they'd provide training in the first place? Answer came there none.

    Will locals start queuing behind me? Who’ll give them the benefit of the doubt?

    Probably when the Sun starts being honest with everyone else.

    There doesn't seem much pointing answering the Sun's ludicrous question on whether we've ever been a softer touch, considering that the prison population has never been higher and sentences themselves are getting longer in its leader, but its comment on the above article is worth responding to:

    WHERE there’s a will there’s a wage.

    A Sun reporter went to Britain’s biggest benefits blackspot and landed a job at Corals bookies in less than two hours.

    Corals were not the only ones offering work to people prepared to get off their backsides.

    More than 1,600 jobs were on offer at the Job Centre in the Rochdale suburb of Falinge, where four out of five adults live on benefits.

    Again, no comment on what benefits they are on, or how many of those 1,600 jobs on offer were actually suited to any of those 1,600's qualifications, experience or skills, but who needs nuance when we're being bled dry by scroungers?

    Here lies the heart of the challenge facing the Government.

    There ARE jobs. But too many people prefer loafing to working.

    Ask any unemployed person and they'll say they want to work. It's absolute nonsense that the vast majority are work-shy or scrounging because life on benefits is too easy. There are a distinct number who are masters in the art of not working, but as the figures released this week show, the numbers are at their lowest since the 70s.

    That’s because Labour have made life on benefits too easy.

    The numbers on incapacity benefit, for example, are actually falling, mainly thanks to the targeted help programmes introduced by the same Labour party that has made life on benefits easy.

    If fit people refuse to take suitable jobs, should we cut their benefit?

    That is the question facing Britain today.

    Uh, Jobcentre Plus can already do exactly that if they decide that a person on Jobseeker's Allowance isn't genuinely looking for work or is simply refusing jobs that are suitable for them. As ever, the Sun seems determined to either be ignorant or worse, wilfully ignorant.

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    Thursday, March 20, 2008 

    Scum-watch: The paedo is coming!

    A classic Sun front page today:


    As usual, it's a case of reality imitating satire:

    The Sun though is naturally conflicted. Outraged as it is by this disgusting paedophile being deported to Britain, it's fully in favour of "foreign" criminals in similar circumstances here being sent back to their home nation. All the Australians are actually doing is throwing their problem on to us rather than dealing with it themselves. If Raymond Horne had gone out to Australia and committed his crimes when an adult, then his deportation would have been fully justified. As it is, he went to Australia as a five-year-old. He is a product of Australian society, and therefore their responsibility, regardless of his nationality. This is the same reason why Learco Chindamo shouldn't have been deported back to Italy whenever his sentence ends; a decision which incidentally wasn't a result of the Human Rights Act, as the Sun today alleged again in its leader, which has since disappeared into the ether.

    The Sun article does carry some very pertinent points from Paul Roffey, director of the UK-based RWA Child Protection Service:

    accused the Queensland Police and Corrective Services Minister Judy Spence of simply “shifting the problem offshore”.

    He said: “Let’s make it English children instead of Australian children — that seems to be her attitude. It’s outrageous.

    “These sort of committed paedophiles often live isolated lives by the very nature of their offending. They do not integrate well into society and that often leads to the formation of paedophile rings of like-minded people.

    “Horne, who has lived most of his life in Australia, will have no network in the UK. He will feel even more isolated — increasing his risk of him reoffending.”

    All very true. The Sun response to this? To directly ask its readers to inform them if they either knew Horne or where he's going to live, therefore ensuring that he will forever be isolated, moving from place to place and as a result even more dangerous than he already his. The Sun has betrayed children themselves before in its apoplexy; it's more than happy to do exactly the same now.

    I was also going to take on the Scum's delusional "Hope for Iraq" leader, but as said, it's since gone like all their leaders now do, apparently unarchived. Elsewhere we do have the "mothers in arms" meeting both Jack Straw and David Cameron, carrying their copies of the Sun along with them. Neither seems to have demurred from their demands, or dared to directly criticise "their" campaign, and Jack Straw even says the following about their demand for a universal DNA database:

    He vowed to raise with police the expansion of the DNA database, saying: “I don’t understand people who are not happy to give DNA samples.”

    It couldn't possibly be because they're concerned about potential mistakes, or indeed that nostrum which the Sun so endorses, if you've got nothing hide, you've got nothing to fear, could it? Therefore if I've nothing to hide, why should the police have my DNA profile? The three mothers' proposals would make every single individual guilty until proved innocent, and the more questionable responses, that their proposals would be a step towards a police state, if not establishing one, aren't that far from hitting home.

    She told Mr Straw: “Ninety-nine per cent of Sun readers want it back. You have to listen to the people and what they want.”

    Quite right, because 99% of the population are Sun readers, aren't they? And there's more pleasantries about how they want their tormentors extinguished:

    “I do not like the thought of Steve Wright just sitting in jail watching TV. I want him dead."

    Doubtless Straw and/or Cameron just stared meekly back and didn't say anything, unable to respond to a demand that they can simply never deliver or appease.

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    When is an urban myth not a urban myth? When it's propogated by "pro-abortionists".

    Do the people of mid-Bedfordshire really know just what sort of moron is representing them in parliament? Nadine Dorries, who has repeatedly been brought to book for her use of partial and questionable sources, has just suddenly discovered an urban myth that has been kicking around since 2000, and posted the following on her blog yesterday:

    This picture show a pregnant uterus laying on the exterior of the mother's abdomen, having been lifted out of her abdominal cavity, via a c-section incision made in the abdominal wall.

    Dr Joseph Bruner performed this procedure in order to operate on the baby whilst still in utero before it was born. The baby had spina bifida and would not have survived if removed from his mother's womb.

    When the operation was over, baby Samuel, at 21 weeks gestation, put his hand through the incision in the uterus and grabbed hold of the surgeon’s finger, a gesture which was apparently met with a huge amount of emotion in the operating theatre.

    Dr Bruner said that it was the most emotional moment of his life and that for a moment he was just frozen, totally immobile.

    In the UK we are aborting babies just like this and older every single day.

    There are union funded organisations such as ‘Voice for Choice’ that campaign and fight to maintain the right to abort babies like Samuel.

    There are organisations such as the BMA who vote and endorse the right to continue to do this.

    There are organisations which are paid for by the government, such as BPAS, who argue the right to keep aborting babies Samuel's age and older.

    Little Samuel made his case from within the womb in a way which none of the shrill late abortionists will ever manage.

    There are two ways to live your life.

    One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. (Albert Einstein)

    Enter Ben Goldacre, the Guardian's Bad Science columnist, who Dorries previously accused of a "serious breach of parliamentary procedure," a crime committed when he downloaded the evidence given to the parliamentary committee, from err, its website. Dorries has never apologised for the slur on Goldacre, as you would expect from the finest of the Tories' bloggers. Goldacre quickly ascertained that the story was a myth propagated by anti-abortionists, with the surgeon himself stating in two newspaper articles that it was him lifting the baby's arm out of the uterus, not the baby reaching out to hold him.

    Anyone with even the slightest decency about them would then admit that they'd got it horribly wrong and apologise. Not Dorries, who seems to know better than the surgeon himself what had happened:

    I’ve had an amazing response to the ‘Hand of Hope’ blog posted yesterday.

    Of course, the pro-abortionist lobby have attempted to rubbish it and say it is a hoax, which it most definitely is not. Some of the pro-abortionists, who know that they can’t get away with calling it a hoax, are saying that the surgeon was operating on the hand, which didn’t reach out; and, that in fact the baby was anesthetised so reaching out would not have been possible.

    Two points from me: first is that if the experienced paediatrician operating on the 21 week old baby had anesthetised, then that fact endorses the Professor Anand position that a foetus can feel pain; otherwise why would this doctor, who operates on unborn babies all the time, bother?

    Dorries is obviously too idiotic to not see past the obvious fact. The surgeon had not anaesthetised the baby; he had anaesthetised the mother, who, believe it or not, is connected to the baby, who therefore also was anaesthetised. Dorries has two children, incidentally.

    My second point is look at the tear in the uterus. See how jiggered it is just above the hand; and yet the rest of the surgically incised openings are controlled and neat.

    This is, in all likelihood, because the hand unexpectedly thrust out. It would be a poor surgeon who allowed the uterine tear to be so messy, and this is no ‘poor’ surgeon.

    Over then again to Ben, who unlike Dorries just happens to be a doctor and also know what he's talking about:

    My recollection, from assisting in many Caesarean deliveries in my earlier years, is that instead of making a big clean cut into the uterus (not a good idea for obvious reasons ie there’s a baby in there) you make repeated shallow superficial incisions into the uterus, between which you spread the tissues by hand with your fingers, until it eventually (and satisfyingly, surgery’s great fun) opens up.

    She’s also very keen on the photographer’s account. Which I linked to above. As I said, it’s up to you whether you prefer the account of the photographer, or the surgon who does these operations for a living, and may know rather more about the subject.

    Dorries' entry is hilariously called the "hand of truth". Dorries, rather than being able to back up her arguments with anything even approaching knowledge or evidence instead refers to everyone who pointed out that it's a well-known and old-hat myth by calling them "pro-abortionists", the typical disparaging remark towards those who defend a woman's right to chose. Dorries also claims to be pro-choice, but uses the language and tactics of the anti-abortion movement as part of her campaign to lower the limit on abortions from 24 weeks to 20 weeks. Even more bizarrely, she states that the surgeon might have said what he did because the "pro-choice and pro-life lobbies in America are far more vociferous, and unfortunately violent, than they are in the UK". As Unity points out, there's only one side in the US which has turned violent, and that's the "pro-life" side, as Wikipedia attests.

    Instead of being laughed at or told she's got it wrong by other Tory bloggers, Iain Dale in his round-up gives the impression that actually Ben has got it wrong. There are comments pointing this out, as well as Dorries' update, but no comment from Iain or a correction. Going by the past, it's not likely either will happen. The good burghers of mid-Bedfordshire though can vote out their collective embarrassment at the next election.

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    We are ruled over by vermin part two.

    Ama Sumani, the woman deported back to Ghana despite the fact she could not receive treatment there for her cancer, has died. She lasted just two months, and her death came just as supporters had managed to raise £70,000 for her hospital fees to be covered.

    The Lancet called it "atrocious barbarism". For a government that has so much blood on its hands, doubtless the death of one woman as a direct result of their actions will not make them lose much sleep. Perhaps even in the most sickening way, it might even encourage to them go ahead with their planned deportation or destitution orders for 1,400 Iraqis and 1,000 Zimbabwean asylum seekers. After all, what's one death when that will undoubtedly deliver a far higher number? Stalin never said it better that one death is a tragedy, but a million is a statistic. The supreme leader and those around him seem to agree.

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    Wednesday, March 19, 2008 

    Iraq week - how one picture defines a war.

    One image, more than any other, defines the Iraq war. A war with noble aims, to remove a tyrant from power whilst ensuring that the will of the international community was followed through, with the country disarmed and any threat from it removed. Iraq would then become a democracy and a beacon of hope in the Middle East.

    Forget the shock and awe. Forget Falluja. Forget Haditha. Forget Baha Mousa. Forget the hundreds of thousands of dead. The idea behind the Iraq war died with the publication of the photographs of the torture and humiliation that US soldiers carried out at Abu Ghraib prison. Here were soldiers themselves who had liberated Iraq for the Iraqis, not occupying the country with humility, but descending to the level of inhumanity which Saddam Hussein had ruled and terrified by. Not even he however, for all his cruelty, posed with a dead countryman while smiling and giving a thumbs up.

    The man in the photograph was Manadel al-Jamadi, and he died while being subjected to "Palestinian hanging". He was arrested in connection with a bomb attack on the Red Cross offices in Baghdad which killed 12 people. Like those in the CIA rendition programme, he was a "ghost detainee", who technically didn't exist. If the photographs had never been published, he would never have existed. Just as if he had been dumped in Orwell's memory hole, he would have forever been a non-person.

    Ordinary Iraqi citizens, who for whatever reason had entered the prison system, treated like the worst of the worst "terrorist suspects", not because of "a few bad apples", but because of executive orders handed down to the soldiers on the ground, such as Sabrina Harman, pictured with al-Jamadi. She was sentenced to six months in prison. Those ultimately responsible will undoubtedly never have to answer for their actions.

    Other blogswarm posts:
    Chicken Yoghurt - A child called ‘It’ and War p0rn
    Tygerland - Iraq
    Flying Rodent - Monopoly - Iraq edition
    Ten Percent - Withdrawal, Reparations, Prosecutions

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    A system unchanged by scandals.

    If the tabloid press in this country has had a worse collective day than Wednesday the 19th of March 2008, then it was a hell of a long time ago. Not only did the McCanns receive the most craven, sycophantic, crawling, boot-kissing, pathetic front-page apology from both the Daily Express and Daily Star, with the weekend papers to run the same on Sunday, something which is unprecedented and a new low for journalistic standards in this country, but the Daily Mail has also had to make a libel payout to the US billionaire Sheldon Adelson, which with costs from a three-year court battle could add up to the Mail having to sell out £4 million, while the Mail's sister paper, the London Evening Standard, has similarly had to make a front-page "apology/clarification" to the organisers of last summer's climate camp near Heathrow, for over-egging a story about the direct action which some of the protesters planned.

    Actually, the latter part there is the Press Complaints Commission's judgement on the matter (website seems to be currently offline, otherwise I'd link to the adjudication. Update: adjudication is here). If the PCC wasn't such a toothless organisation packed to the rafters with the self-same editors of the national newspapers which are complained about on its board, with Peter Hill, editor of the Express currently on the panel, then it would have made clear that the Evening Standard article and indeed most of the tabloid coverage (and apart from the Guardian and Independent, also the broadsheet coverage) of last summer's climate camp were the most baseless smears, lies and scaremongering about the protesters' intentions and tactics. Unlike the Express that rolled over and played dead, the Evening Standard was still last week denying that its article was by any means inaccurate, with the paper's managing editor Doug Willis using the Guardian's response column to dispute George Monbiot's careful evisceration of the Evening Standard story, a taking-apart which even the PCC today endorsed. The damage though has long ago been done; the other newspapers took the story on, in a perfect example of Nick Davies' ninja turtle syndrome rule of production, while everyone has long forgotten about the protest itself. Justice cannot be said to have been done.

    The McCanns picked on the Express/Star out of the sea of tabloids that ran very similar stories about them for two reasons: firstly because the Express and Star were the worst, most consistent offenders, day after day running MADELEINE front pages, with the Star in two truly shocking stories alleging firstly that they had sold Madeleine, and secondly that the two of them were involved in wife-swapping/orgy parties, without even the slightest smidgen of evidence to back up either; and secondly because they were also the easiest target. Can you seriously imagine Associated Newspapers or News International under Murdoch capitulating without even the slightest fight? Make no mistake, regardless of their chances of winning, they would have taken the battle all the way and strung it out for as long as possible. No, the Express and Star were the easiest to pick-off, newspapers cut to the bone by a predatory, repulsive proprietor not interested in the slightest in their history, only out to make huge amounts of money while destroying any reputation they had remaining in the process. £550,000 after all is peanuts to Richard Desmond, who has previously paid himself largesse in excess of £45m for a year's helming of his businesses. This was a warning shot across the bows to all the other tabloids, saying "you're next" if you keep it up.

    Purely and simply, the Express' and Star's decision to keep publishing was based on two factors: churnalism and greed. The Guardian (which has gone to town on the payout, producing a leader on it, something that none of the tabloid press which would usually crow about their rival's downfall will do) is reporting that the decision on the Express to keep splashing on the Madeleine story was, in the words of Express hacks themselves, down to marketing. Rather than any intrinsic news values, which had long since departed Praia da Luz, the Express kept on and on because surveys showed that some fucked-up self-hating worms keep devouring the stuff. They didn't to such an extent that the newspaper actually made an increase in sales month-on-month, as the ABCs lay witness to, but it did halt the decline year-on-year; in October the Express was up by 0.15%, and the same was true in November, where it remarkably sold the exact same number of copies as it did the previous year. Only in December did the decline again accelerate, with the stories starting to dry up altogether. These stories were cheap, either copied out of the Spanish or Portuguese press or made up entirely; nasty; and they sold well, all the fundamentals that so underpin churnalism. Some in the industry have remarked that it's amazing that the Express and Star still manage to put out a newspaper, let alone have time to do such things as check facts or properly investigate and verify stories, so although this was a wilful assault on a couple who had lost their child, it was only a matter of time before something similar happened regardless of Desmond's greed.

    The Express's fatal mistake was that it went too far and did so too often. Rather than simply blaming the McCanns for their daughter's apparent abduction, something that Allison Pearson did last week when she attacked Fiona MacKeown and placed the blame for her daughter's death on her and not on her actual killer, it instead went for invention and slander. As Davies relates in the chapter on the Daily Mail in Flat Earth News, the Daily Mail knows in general just how far to take its hatchet jobs, making it clear where the blame really lies, or on who is the real offender rather than a victim, but without libelling anyone, or at least anyone who has the money to sue or to dedicate time to putting a prolonged complaint through the Press Complaints Commission. When it does do so, it has the collateral behind it to pay out any damages without so much as a wince, although today's £4 million might make it suffer slightly more than usual. Hence Colin Stagg slandered for years in the Mail will only receive compensation from the government and not from the gutter press, nor has he ever received an apology from them for their 10 years' worth of lies and implications that he killed Rachel Nickell. Robert Murat, slandered, smeared and libelled in a similar fashion to the McCanns, is also unlikely to receive any similar payout, and he, rather than being thought of as a suspect initially by the police, was first targeted by the Sunday Mirror's Lori Campbell, who remembered Ian Huntley and made her suspicions known. Campbell will never have to make a grovelling apology to Murat; instead she's been nominated for Reporter of the Year at the British Press Awards!

    Fundamentally however, nothing that has happened today will change the Street of Shame in the slightest. The Express and Star, cut to the bone, pushed their luck too far and chose the wrong grieving couple to attack; had they done similar to Fiona MacKeown or the parents of Shannon Matthews, which the Star today splashes on, then they would most likely have got away with it. MacKeown or the Matthews won't be able to either afford Carter-Fuck or persuade them to represent them pro bono for similar actions, and so if they wanted to complain would have to go through the PCC, where their chances would be slight to non-existent. The Mail, although stung by the damages and costs, will be printing exactly the same things as they did about Sheldon Adelson tomorrow, and will do until the end of time or people finally stop buying the vile rag. The Evening Standard, although forced to apologise, has had no financial sanction put on it, and the incident will be forgotten within days. It'll be free to smear and attack the next grassroots protest movement that comes along, just as its stable-mates have done before and will do so again. This is the system, which according to John Whittingdale, the chair of culture, media and sport select committee has "worked". He is of course right. The system, which was set-up to protect both the press themselves and those with the money to defend themselves, has indeed worked. For everyone else, they're just as screwed as ever.

    Related post:
    Enemies of Reason - Is it a victory? No, it's a defeat

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    Tuesday, March 18, 2008 

    Iraq week - the parliamentary vote.

    I wrote yesterday that the parliamentary vote was one of the illusions offered to placate the opponents of the war, full in the knowledge that the chances of Blair losing and having to face the ignominy of having to resign were very slight indeed.

    That was and certainly is true. But there was another side of the parliamentary vote. Although referred to as the mother of all parliaments, the House of Commons at its worst can be an insult to all the supposed values and principles which it is meant to uphold. While its very worst days have since passed, mainly because drunkenness is no longer acceptable any form while at the despatch box, the most well-known incident being when Clare Short accused Alan Clark of being inebriated and had to leave the chamber rather than the philanderer and historian himself, the "Punch and Judy" side of parliamentary politics continues, and while it would be a poorer place if it was to disappear entirely, few would mourn the loss of Tory MPs sarcastically going "awww" when Gerald Kaufman spoke recently of his relatives who died in the Holocaust.

    All those things that detract from Westminster and make individuals cynical about politics were almost entirely absent on that Tuesday. Yes, Blair was almost as messianic as he had ever been, referring laughably now to the links between Saddam and al-Qaida, dismissing the Liberal Democrats as "unified, as ever, in opportunism and error", scaremongering about the possibility of a dirty bomb and shamefully blaming France for promising a veto whatever the circumstances, something Chirac never did, but he was always a sideshow, regardless of how some newspapers continued to describe him as impressive and that he felt the argument was swinging his way, something that only properly occurred in the bounce after the beginning of war.

    The real meat was amongst the backbenchers who so powerfully intervened, making their arguments felt while some of them wrestled with their consciences like they never had before and never have since, as the two Labour MPs featured in the 10 days to war short admitted tonight on Newsnight. With the hindsight we now have, it's easy to make the exact arguments against why the war should never have taken place, and many of us viscerally did beforehand, but reading the MPs themselves that stood up and subjected themselves to mockery, especially among the egregiously pro-war press and those that honestly believed it was going to be a cakewalk still deserve credit. The ex-father of the house and much missed Tam Dalyell was first up, saying that the bombs would be "a recruiting sergeant" for the next generation of Islamic extremists. Nor he nor the rest of us could possibly have known how right he would be subsequently proved. He was followed by Peter Kilfoyle, John Denham, another of the individuals who resigned, Alex Salmond, one of the few Tories to vote against, John Randall, Tony Worthington, who also presciently described Iraq as having the complexity of the Balkans, and many others.

    None of them however reached the simplicity but also the strength of the speech by the one man who has come out of the whole debacle the best, and his intervention was in actual fact the day before. In parts moving, honourable and disapproving, Robin Cook made the address that spoke for so many in the country that had been denied a voice, that weren't with any particular side, but simply didn't think that the case for war had been made. While since then we've endlessly discussed the lies and the deceptions, Cook simply took apart every single argument that had been made, and did so effortlessly. Whatever you thought of how he treated his wife after Alastair Campbell in effect made him chose between her and his mistress, his death in 2005 deprived us of one of the great parliamentarians who may well otherwise have since been trying desperately to redirect the Labour party away from the dead-end of Blairism.

    As said yesterday, this should be Iraq's week, rather than Iraq week, but if there is even the slightest good to come out of the last five years, it's that the parliamentary vote set a precedent for the public, even if only through their elected representatives, to have their voice heard over the matters of war and peace. No prime minister could now justify ordering military action without a similar vote being passed, and the reform programmes proposed from all sides all recognise that this is now the case. If we cannot learn from the lessons of the past five years when we next have to consider a similar situation, then there will remain but one thing to do with parliament - close it down.

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    More unanswered questions for the BBFC over Last House on the Left.

    Just to keep everyone on their toes and make it as difficult as humanly possible to predict what the British Board of Film Classification's next move on its guidelines, if any, is going to be, especially in light of its decision to ban Murder Set Pieces and to finally give Manhunt 2 an 18 after the Video Appeals Committee forced it into seeing sense, Last House on the Left, Wes Craven's first and most notorious film, has finally been passed completely uncut for the first time ever in the UK.

    Notable not only because it was Craven's first film in a career which continues to this day and has included the Hills Have Eyes, the Nightmare on Elm Street series and the Scream series, but also because of its long and chequered censorship history, Last House on the Left was one of the few films on the eventual "video nasties" list drawn up by the director of public prosecutions that had never been given any sort of certificate in this country, alongside such other luminaries as Cannibal Holocaust (now available, but heavily cut), House on the Edge of the Park (same) and Gestapo's Last Orgy (still "banned", although considering SS Experiment Camp's uncut passing, could well get through if submitted).

    Initially rejected when it was submitted back in 1974, and then rejected again for a cinema run in 2000, it was again rejected, this time on Video/DVD in 2001. Surprisingly, less than six months later it was finally passed by the BBFC on the same format, albeit with 31 seconds of cuts. The BBFC's justification was:

    Cuts required to humiliation of woman forced to urinate, violent stabbing assault on woman and removal of her entrails, and woman's chest carved with a knife. Cuts required under the Video Recordings Act 1984 and BBFC Classification Guidelines

    Blue Underground, the submitter at the time, challenged the cuts with an appeal to the VAC, noting that far from the BBFC's justification being that it was making cuts to the sexual violence, as outlined in the BBFC's guidelines, it was in fact cuts to the violence within the film. Indeed, the rape scene, which is far from explicit, is contained intact. Unlike in the case of Manhunt 2, the VAC didn't agree, and upheld the BBFC's cuts. Blue Underground therefore decided not to release it, and Anchor Bay instead acquired the rights and submitted a pre-cut version that was subsequently passed uncut.

    The question therefore has to be what has changed between July 2002 and March 2008. The answer is very little. The BBFC's guidelines were updated in 2005 in line with a larger survey, but there were no real changes over violence or sexual violence. The only conclusion that can be reached is that the BBFC realised that it had overstepped the mark back in 2002, perhaps mindful of how only two years' earlier the film had still been completely rejected. The swift move from banned to completely uncut isn't entirely unprecedented: a late film by Lucio Fulci, probably best known for the "video nasty" Zombie Flesh-Eaters, the Cat in the Brain was banned in 1999 and then given an uncut 18 just four years later, albeit under a different title. The history of films that had either been banned, or because they appeared on the "video nasty" list, subsequently felt unsuitable to be passed only shortly after the panic had calmed down, is often of having piecemeal cuts made, then when time has further passed, for the film to be subsequently released uncut. Zombie Flesh-Eaters itself was one of those that suffered this slow death of a thousand cuts, re-released in 1992 and 1996 with heavy cuts, subsequently submitted again in 1999 and cut by only 23s, and then finally passed completely uncut in 2005.

    Even this isn't really an entirely satisfactory answer. One half of the BBFC's justification for cutting Last House on the Left was the Video Recordings Act of 1984, which certainly hasn't changed since 2002. Nor though has the BBFC's classification guidelines on sexual violence, or at least not openly. It's hard not to think that one of Craven's own arguments, that his film had been unjustly persecuted, is close to being the actual truth. The other obvious question is where this leaves the BBFC to go. The sexual violence in a film such as Murder Set Pieces is apparently enough to warrant its rejection, but the Last House on the Left, which just 6 years ago according to the BBFC's own student website "eroticised sexual violence" and the cutting of which provided a "robust endorsement of the BBFC's strict policy on sexual violence" is now tame enough to be released onto the public without fear of anyone getting a hard-on. The answer then is where it's always been: in a place where if it needs to it can justify almost anything it does, reasonably safe in the knowledge that it can usually get away it, and if not, a few years down the line the mores and attitudes will have moved on. It might make a mockery of their own guidelines and attempts at openness, but as it long as it keeps the wolf from the door which is the entire removal of its authority to cut and ban at will, most people, and certainly the BBFC itself, will stay happy.

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    Mucking around.

    This blog today received the highest page loads I can remember for quite a while. Not because I've recently written anything especially worthy or exceptional, but rather because for some unfathomable reason I'm the top result when you search Google for "Mucca".

    Anyone who blogs, or blogs politically is likely to find such facts unpalatable or depressing. On occasion you pour your heart into something, and then the thing that time after time that gets the hits isn't an extended essay on say Iraq or the hot topic of the hour, but instead for that slightly jokey piece you wrote on crucifix dildos. There is also some solace on occasion: whenever Maxine Carr comes up, I often find that a post I wrote on how she was just as much a victim of Ian Huntley as anyone else gets passed around on forums by those also responding to the more bile-filled rants against her.

    That almost rings true in the same way for Heather Mills. The posts getting the hits are ones where I directly took on the Sun's remarkable hypocrisy in crowing about a "dirty book" they'd discovered which featured Mills during her modelling days, a softcore "love-guide" with Mills alongside some bloke with a limp dick and lashings of whipped cream. This would of course be the same Sun newspaper which features photographs only slightly less explicit every day on its third page; that runs a page 3 idol competition encouraging women across their country to get their breasts out for the leering lads to go boggle-eyed at, with a grand prize of a massive £5,000; which encourages women whose ages can't be verified on its social-networking site to similarly get them out; and that might well itself have featured Mills' topless shots at some point, or at least been offered them. It's also since published other full-frontal shots of Mills, purely of course for educational purposes (like that guide?) which she took for top-shelf magazines in the early 90s, at least with her nether regions suitably censored, which the newspapers have continued to claim are "hardcore", despite them certainly not involving unsimulated sex.

    The up-shot of the above was that Mills has since been nicknamed Mucca, a play on McCartney's tabloid nickname, which doubtless no one else has ever referred to him as, much like they call Madonna "Madge". Mills of course most likely no longer profits from her modelling work, while the Sun and the News and the Screws continue to put millions back into Murdoch's coffers via their obsession with sex. After all, it's want the readers want.

    Naturally then the media is having a field day with the full details of the judgement by Mr Justice Bennett having been released despite Mills' objections. It's quite clear why - the judge criticised Mills for being "inconsistent and inaccurate but also less than candid," while McCartney was mostly praised for putting up with the entire proceedings with a weary stoicism. The judge didn't put all the blame in Mills' court however, as he also accepted, and was in some places more than fair to the arguments she made. For instance:

    Mr Justice Bennett said Mills was a “strong-willed and determined personality” who had shown great fortitude in overcoming her disability.

    “She has conducted her own case before me with a steely, yet courteous, determination.”

    "I accept that since April 2006 the wife has had a bad press. She is entitled to feel that she has been ridiculed even vilified. To some extent she is her own worst enemy. She has an explosive and volatile character."

    Which is quite true. Mills has been her own worst enemy, and her overly dramatic appearances on GMTV and This Morning last November, claiming she had a worst press than a murderer or a paedophile were over the top, but as even the judge concedes, only slightly. Truth is that the Sun especially has run little less than a hate campaign against her, with 101 references to Heather Mills as "Mucca" in 2007 alone. During her appearances on Dancing with the Stars, the US version of Strictly Come Dancing, it repeatedly mocked her performances and seemed assured that she'd be voted off early, only to last six weeks, at which point the showbiz pages bidded her good riddance, something they had already done more than once. Similarly, the Sun today runs a mocked-up cheque from McCartney with the legend "Pay gold-digging, ex hardcore porn, one-legged, self-centred fantasist", which is clearly just a bit of fun rather than nasty or vindictive. Jane Moore than attacks Mills for some unfathomable reason as letting "women as a whole down", presumably because us blokes are too thick to tell one from the other and so will obviously assume that all of them are the same, while the Sun leader itself compared Mills to the other Sun hate-figure of the moment, Paul Burrell.

    Who then could not anticipate comments such as the below in the aftermath?

    You are so completely right - this witch - oops, I meant quasi-humanoid female, is an embarrasment to her gender, if not the human species. How sad for Paul, but much more, it makes a statement that men have to on their gaurd ever more for the sleazy feme fatales who are waiting for them out there. How pathetic - Heather, yes you have made a name for yourself allright, but not one you will appreciate.

    Why this person felt the reason to drop it on my blog and not on a celebrity forum is beyond me, but there you are. You could easily write a case study on how Mills went from being a celebrated charity worker who wooed the forlorn, lonely ex-Beatle and made him happy again to how she turned into the biggest bitch and worst female the world has ever seen, all as part of the evidence for how the media conducts itself and hunts as a pack, but you'd still get the exact some comments, unique only in their righteousness and based entirely on those self-same reports, making it a complete waste of time. The one thing to be glad about is that the 2-year-long hate was conducted towards someone who at least partly had it coming, and not against the likes of Colin Stagg or a politician daring to upset the status quo. The campaign against Mills has just been the model for those still to come.

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    Monday, March 17, 2008 

    Iraq week.

    It is then, Iraq week, decreed by those of many opinions and those of none, by those of few and by those of one. "Each day this week we'll be reliving the build-up to war", all of us of course safe in the knowledge that nothing we do or say will make any difference, just as it didn't back then. Then there's that other comfort, knowing full well that we weren't and aren't going to be the ones subject to the shock and awe, as the missiles that we are safely informed can now be dropped onto the eye of a needle inexplicably explode right in the middle of civilians areas/and or markets. Perhaps, grimly and deathly, those first blows were a portent of the carnage to come, and most of it not inflicted from the skies as the opening salvo was.

    Iraq week. Or perhaps it would be better to refer to it by a more accurate moniker, such as wank week. Channel 4 announced back in 2006 that it was to screen 7 days of delights under that banner, only for even they to eventually decide that maybe that was taking it just a few steps too far. It seems perfect to resurrect now however; what better way to describe the mass of individuals, bloggers, columnists and newspapers that will pour forth their vested interests, much self-abasement in evidence as the extent of their view fails to go past their own navel? It'll feel good at the time, best to get it out as it were, but then afterwards that familiar feeling of self-hatred, impotence and overall failure, sated only for those who get paid for their work by the delivery of the latest cheque.

    Perhaps it feels oh so pointless because never have words themselves felt so empty and meaningless as they did in the run-up to the war, nor have they ever recovered their potency which we require in order to be moved enough to do something or demand something. When so many did feel moved enough to do that something, it was already too late. We most likely will never reach a proper understanding of when war was actually agreed upon whatever the circumstances and when our involvement in it was also set in stone, but it certainly wasn't something that could be changed by us, whenever that decision was taken. The parliamentary vote was another of the illusions, offered up when both sides who had already decided knew that they would get their way, even if for a while it looked as though there might just be enough Labour backbenchers determined enough to go with their consciences, defy the whip, and also, if the numbers were enough, undoubtedly unseat the most successful leader they had ever had.

    As others have commented, the noise of war and suffering has become so routine and monotonous that we've screened it out. This is coupled to how so much of the reporting from Iraq itself has become anodyne and safe, ironically because the country itself is so unsafe. Reading and watching the reports from Ghaith Abdul-Ahad today, how many of us could honestly say we knew that Baghdad had become almost entirely one gated community after enough, neighbourhood protected against neighbourhood by the blast proof concrete walls, by the checkpoints manned by the militias of both Sunni and Shia? Sure, we knew that it had occurred to a certain extent, that the walls had gone in and the barricades had gone up, but that most of the capital city of a country was a series of ghettoes that could only be travelled to if you had the appropriate identity cards, the right clothing or rings on one of your hands? That this was the city that some of the more optimistic have said was now getting on for returning to normal, or that was at least more safe than it had been? I keep referring to the collective rather than the singular, but I don't think I'm being too bold in invoking that most perhaps didn't know just what had happened.

    Part of this is down to the media itself, and it's not all entirely its own fault. You can't blame newspapers for not sending journalists to Baghdad; few of them are up for living in possibly the most dangerous place on the planet. Those few that are there have made their content more difficult to access: the excellent IraqSlogger which had helped to illuminate what was happening there so well having gone subscription only. Instead we rely to some extent on Iraqis themselves, and the death toll of journalists, which is at least 126, attests to how those dedicated to informing have paid the price look the so many thousands of others. We instead now turn to those who take the time to aggregate the information that comes through, whether it be Juan Cole or the Iraq Today blog. For a while, these sources seemed to be drying up, but that was because the casualties, at least for a time, were down, although to those of us in the angst-ridden West, menaced as we are by the curse of the feral yobs here in violent, broken Britain, even those would be utterly horrific if experienced here. Now they're going up again, and with it that cautious optimism has also gone.

    Optimism itself has perhaps been the real casualty of this conflict, or looking at it now, it should be. The whole plan for war itself was based on hopeless, unabashed optimism: optimism that the weapons of mass destruction were there; optimism that the war would be over quickly, the one thing that again at the time seemed to have come about; optimism that the Iraqis themselves would welcome their liberators with open arms; optimism that democracy would take off almost immediately; optimism that few on both sides would die; optimism that the plans which were drawn up for "afterwards" weren't going to be needed; optimism that the cost could be offset almost immediately by the expected oil-boom; optimism that the Iraqis wouldn't mind their main utilities being sold off and most of their laws being not drawn up by themselves but by the occupation forces; optimism that the looting was just a natural occurrence of a country getting used to its new-found freedom; optimism that the Iraqis wouldn't mind the troops on their streets, even when they turned out to think that the best way to respond to protests was to shoot into crowds; optimism that "outside actors" wouldn't take advantage of the vacuum to start the most significant jihad since the war against the Soviets; optimism that the Iraqis, feeling the power vacuum and waiting for their reward, the elections, wouldn't turn to their own sects and militias for protection; optimism that the troops, engineers and workers would quickly turn a society and country crippled by the self-same sanctions imposed by the coalition into a land of milk and honey, or at least somewhere where the lights stayed on and where the sewerage system worked; and an unspoken optimism, that this whole experience wouldn't destroy a generation not just of Iraqis, but also a generation like those destroyed in Vietnam, not just in the truest sense of the word, but also destroyed in faith, in word and in deed.

    Writing all of this, I have quite openly fell foul of the exact same disease outlined in the second paragraph. I'll doubtless write more, both this week and in time to come, all while openly being in breach of not looking further than my navel. The truth is, this was never about us, and it most definitely shouldn't be about us now. Yesterday's terrible Observer leader on Iraq which will probably be a distillation of all that will be wrong about this week's coverage got three things completely and utterly askew: firstly, that it didn't say it got it wrong, that it was a mistake and that the readers who complained at the time were right; secondly that the very last thing that matters right now is that the blessed liberal interventionism that so many continue to defend and call for in relation to problems such as Darfur, where the very last thing that place needs is yet more soliders; and thirdly, that it didn't make clear this is Iraq's week, not Iraq week. Rather than fulminating over what we got wrong and why, we ought to be investigating exactly how and why Iraq is currently suffering. We need to know what's happening right now. We need to know from Iraqis personally whether we can actually help or not. All the signs previously suggest they want us out; is that still the case, or is the view that seeing as we broke it do they want us to fix it? Boiled do it the very bones, that's what matters now. The Observer leader talks about hindsight, about not retreating "chastened into wound-licking parochialism and diplomatic isolation". That's all well and good for us, but this is not just about us, just as it never been about us, something that has been forgotten all too easily over this past 5 years. Let the Iraqis speak. Everything else can come later.

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    Saturday, March 15, 2008 

    Barot and Borat.

    Remember Dhiren Barot? Referred to without irony by the Sun as the "dirty bomb mastermind", and sentenced last year to 30 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to murder, what few of the press reports went into were his exact plans for constructing this dirty bomb. That might have had something to do with how his plan involved not the use of a high-strength radiological source, which he quite freely admitted that he was going to be unable to obtain, but rather smoke alarms.

    Thanks to the NEFA Foundation, who have just posted a whole cache of documents on Barot and his co-accused on their website, we now have Barot's own "final presentation" (PDF) on radioactive materials and radiation dispersal devices, more commonly referred to as dirty bombs. Presumably meant to be part of his application to higher-ups in Pakistan for funding, something which he never received, the document reads as a mostly plagiarised dissertation on radioactive materials, with some first person comments on how an attack would be carried out, with references to how some would be unusable because they themselves would die before they reached the target with the appliance, even if they were on a suicide mission. Although large parts of it are blanked out, it's Barot's conclusion which is the main bit we're interested in.

    While Barot also considers in his conclusion cesium-167, it's the americium found in smoke alarms which he settles on:

    This then was his dirty bomb plan, and it's just as loony as we originally thought it was. Can there really be anything much more laughable than the idea of Barot and his henchmen harvesting americium-147 from industrial gauges and then putting it in, of all things, a Coke can? As Watching Us, Watching Them pointed out, there would be far more risk to the public from the burning of the plastic from the smoke alarms than from the actual tiny amounts of americium inside.

    There's little doubt that Barot was a dedicated jihadist who believed in what he was doing. Like many of his brethren however he was a fantasist, and not just any sort of fantasist, but a Walter Mitty like figure who wrote pretentious, deadly serious type plans for attacks which were just completely infeasible. Pointing this out ought to have been the media's first duty; that far from being any sort of mastermind or senior al-Qaida figure, something certainly not proved, he was far from acting on any of his dilettante-type brainstorms. As we know however, the power of nightmares are far more powerful than the power of reality.

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    Friday, March 14, 2008 

    Manhunt 2 finally unbanned.

    The other welcome good news story of the day could hardly be more different. The BBFC, after months of haughtiness, has finally been forced into giving Manhunt 2 the 18 certificate the makers originally requested:

    The Video Appeals Committee today announced that the result of their reconsideration of the Manhunt 2 appeal remains that the appeal against the rejection of the work by the BBFC is upheld.

    The Board’s decision to refuse a certificate to Manhunt 2 was successfully challenged on appeal to the Video Appeals Committee. The Board challenged the VAC’s decision by way of Judicial Review before the High Court, which quashed the decision on grounds of errors of law. The VAC has now reconsidered the appeal in the light of the High Court’s directions on the law but has decided, again by a majority of four to three, to allow the appeal on the basis that Manhunt 2 should be given an ‘18’ certificate.

    In the light of legal advice the Board does not believe the VAC’s judgement provides a realistic basis for a further challenge to its decision and has accordingly issued an ‘18’ certificate.

    David Cooke, Director of the BBFC said:
    “As I have said previously, we never take rejection decisions lightly, and they always involve a complex balance of considerations. We twice rejected Manhunt 2, and then pursued a judicial review challenge, because we considered, after exceptionally thorough examination, that it posed a real potential harm risk. However, the Video Appeals Committee has again exercised its independent scrutiny. It is now clear, in the light of this decision, and our legal advice, that we have no alternative but to issue an ‘18’ certificate to the game.”

    This entire petty situation could have been avoided if the BBFC had treated the game fairly from the beginning. Rockstar's case has always been that Manhunt 2, which it freely admits is a violent game and has never suggested should be sold to anyone other than adults, was treated far more harshly than any film purely because of the fact that it is a game. This might have been acceptable if the BBFC has separate guidelines for films and video games, but it does not. It should therefore have been judged on the exact same criteria as any of the current gory batch of horror films, such as Saw, Hostel and indeed the just released Frontier(s) are, all of which have passed uncut with no trouble or controversy whatsoever. Indeed, the BBFC's comments on Frontier(s) are an exact replica of what it should have done when first faced with Manhunt 2:

    FRONTIER(S) is a subtitled French film that has been classified '18' uncut for very strong bloody violence.
    The film contains scenes dwelling on the terrorisation of victims and the infliction of pain and injury. The inclusion of several 'strongest gory images' (mutilation) preclude the possibility of a '15' classification. However, all elements in this work are containable, uncut, by current guidelines for the '18' classification.
    Current guidelines state: The BBFC respects the right of adults to choose their own entertainment, within the law.

    Instead, the BBFC with Manhunt 2 clutched at the straw of "harm" which has so often in the past been used by both censorship bodies, politicians and campaigners alike with the aim of protecting children, when all this has actually done is prevented adults from choosing what they can and can't want watch, as well taking from them the responsibility to ensure that material that is not suitable for children does not fall into their hands. In actual fact, the BBFC were not just claiming that Manhunt 2 could be harmful to children, but to adults also, something which it knew it could not possibly provide evidence to substantiate, and which their very own research into video games and those that play them certainly did nothing to back up.

    Always in the background of this case was the ghost of both a murdered teenager and that of outrage from the tabloid press. Despite both the police and judge dismissing the mother of Stefan Pakeerah's claims that her son's murderer was influenced by playing the original Manhunt, something itself undermined when the game was found in Pakeerah's bedroom rather than Warren Leblanc's, it's difficult to believe that the BBFC was not influenced by the possibility of a campaign, especially one led by the Daily Mail, about the classification body's latest insult to common sense. It was far easier instead to reject a game it could dismiss as containing "sustained and cumulative casual sadism" than have to deal with the Mail again demanding to know who actually makes the BBFC's decisions, something it howled for after it dared to give the remake of War of the Worlds a 12A certificate, a decision more or less in line with the rest of the world.

    As always happens when the BBFC gives into the demands for a ban, all it's done is instead given the game/film a marketing advantage than any of the other producers would kill for. If Rockstar so wished, it could now advertise the game with "PREVIOUSLY BANNED!" splashed across it, milking the past few months' back and forth between the courts, the VAC and the BBFC itself for all its worth. This is idiotic not just because it could have avoided the embarrassment and also legal cost of its original decision, but also because the game itself has been rather harshly critically received, with one review suggesting that it's the original game with slightly better graphics and because of the toning done, less violent and therefore less satisfying. The BBFC has martyred a game when it could instead have left it to stew in its own mediocrity.

    The one bright spot is that the BBFC's authority has been challenged and even potentially critically wounded, and it will also no doubt influence the decision on the part of TLA releasing on whether to appeal against the BBFC's ban on Murder Set Pieces. While it might not have much effect in the short term, it could well be another step on the road towards the BBFC losing all its powers of censorship, and instead turned into the actual classification body that it long should have been transformed into.

    Related post:
    Lee Griffin - Manhunt 2 is no longer banned

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    Two great pieces on Iraq.

    As a teenager, Mazin Tahir dreamt that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq would bring new freedoms and democracy with the fall of Saddam Hussein.

    As a young adult, his hopes have been replaced by despair after five years of unremitting violence.

    "It's sad, or funny. The Iraqi dream has turned into a nightmare," said Tahir, who was 15 when the Americans came.

    "When I was young I dreamt of getting rid of the dictatorship and replacing it with democracy. Saddam has gone but Iraq is in worse shape. There are killings every day, politicians are like thieves ... it's like a curse from God."

    Tahir had his life before him when the invasion started and his heart was full of hope. Now, like many others who grew from teens to adults during the occupation, he just wants to get out.

    Fatma Abdul-Mahdi was 17 at the time of the invasion.

    "When Saddam was ousted I thought the doors of happiness would be opened, I thought I could stop wearing second-hand clothes and I could be like the girls I was watching on TV," the 22-year-old said.

    Fatma now works as a teacher in the southern oil hub of Basra but, like so many of her peers, she says her life is worse and her family is poorer after five years of instability and hardship.

    "I still wear second-hand clothes. If I could find a job, even in Sudan or Somalia, I would flee Iraq as soon as possible. I wish I had never been born in Iraq," she said.

    Psychiatrists fear that young Iraqis, so badly disillusioned after their teenage hopes and dreams were dashed, might turn to more drastic measures than just seeking to leave.

    While Robert Fisk and the Independent come up with some little short of shocking figures on the number of suicide bombers that have killed themselves in Iraq:

    But a month-long investigation by The Independent, culling four Arabic-language newspapers, official Iraqi statistics, two Beirut news agencies and Western reports, shows that an incredible 1,121 Muslim suicide bombers have blown themselves up in Iraq. This is a very conservative figure and – given the propensity of the authorities (and of journalists) to report only those suicide bombings that kill dozens of people – the true estimate may be double this number. On several days, six – even nine – suicide bombers have exploded themselves in Iraq in a display of almost Wal-Mart availability. If life in Iraq is cheap, death is cheaper.

    This is perhaps the most frightening and ghoulish legacy of George Bush's invasion of Iraq five years ago. Suicide bombers in Iraq have killed at least 13,000 men, women and children – our most conservative estimate gives a total figure of 13,132 – and wounded a minimum of 16,112 people. If we include the dead and wounded in the mass stampede at the Baghdad Tigris river bridge in the summer of 2005 – caused by fear of suicide bombers – the figures rise to 14,132 and 16,612 respectively. Again, it must be emphasised that these statistics are minimums. For 529 of the suicide bombings in Iraq, no figures for wounded are available. Where wounded have been listed in news reports as "several", we have made no addition to the figures. And the number of critically injured who later died remains unknown. Set against a possible death toll of half a million Iraqis since the March 2003 invasion, the suicide bombers' victims may appear insignificant; but the killers' ability to terrorise civilians, militiamen and Western troops and mercenaries is incalculable.

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    More on Fiona MacKeown, Karen Matthews etc.

    The Grauniad seems to have finally woken up to the smears and attacks on both Fiona MacKeown and Karen Matthews, with not one, not two but three articles today. The Newsblog directly brings up the Mail's gleeful assaults, while Beatrix Campbell compares Matthews' treatment to the McCanns, and finally, Madeleine Bunting surprises everyone by writing an article that isn't atrocious.

    Some of the comments however are:

    CongestionCharge Too fucking stupid to know your 15 year old daughter is taking drugs and meeting strange men in clubs, in a country you know nothing about. Stupid enough to leave her alone for a few days.

    But not stupid enough to write this article.

    While "CongestionCharge" is apparently too fucking stupid to realise that she wasn't left alone but with a 25-year-old man and his aunt.

    Thankfully some others are more forgiving:

    March 14, 2008 2:31 PM
    Self-righteousness is the disease, and blogs are the swamp in which it thrives.

    tish I think the reaction to all three of these cases shows what an unpleasant, judgemental nation we have become in the last few years.

    I don't go quite as far as that. The rise of blogs and the "information revolution" or whatever you wish to call it has enabled individuals driven to apoplexy by articles such as Allison Pearson's on Wednesday to respond when they previously wouldn't have been able to. It has also though enabled forums to thrive which were teeming with contempt for those such as the McCanns, blaming them from the very beginning for their daughter going missing, later delighting in going so far as to personally blame them for killing her with absurd conspiracy theories. That the McCanns perhaps have the most to answer for out of the 3, leaving a defenceless 3-year-old and her younger siblings alone when they could have been put in a creche while they went off to have dinner, even if they were checking back every hour or so, shouldn't have made them the target of such hatred.

    Thing is, we all instantly like to judge based on appearances, or most of us do; I'm far from immune from that. Our press however should not give voice to such base instincts: it is meant to investigate deeper, think far beyond the obvious and immediate, and tell us something we don't already know. True, all newspapers also indulge their readers with what they think they want to hear, but when this breaks the boundaries between fair comment and being intolerably cruel, as the attacks on mothers that have just lost their daughters have been, it should breach the covenant between the reader and their chosen organ. I realise this is a hopelessly idealist notion in an increasingly cut-throat world, where it seems almost an obligation to humiliate, mock and attack, something no more epitomised than by the likes of the X Factor and Pop Idol where the hopeless are made fun of before the talented are feted and over-indulged, but there is little that is more pathetic or nasty than kicking someone while they are down.

    The wonderful news is that Shannon Matthews
    has been found alive and unhurt, something which until this lunchtime seemed to have been the least likely conclusion to her disappearance. How the media now responds and revisits its coverage over the last 24 days will prove whether this has been another debacle with a press that seems to not know how low it has sunken, or just a slight wave in the long and contentious history of the Street of Shame.

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    Thursday, March 13, 2008 

    We are ruled over by vermin.

    I don't think the title is too hyperbolic in line with this latest despatch from our glorious home secretary:

    More than 1,400 rejected Iraqi asylum seekers are to be told they must go home or face destitution in Britain as the government considers Iraq safe enough to return them, according to leaked Home Office correspondence seen by the Guardian.

    The Iraqis involved are to be told that unless they sign up for a voluntary return programme to Iraq within three weeks, they face being made homeless and losing state support. They will also be asked to sign a waiver agreeing the government will take no responsibility for what happens to them or their families once they return to Iraqi territory.

    Let me just try and get this straight. We have had a major part in creating the current "situation" in Iraq, a situation which has left at least 150,000 dead, resulted in 4,000,000 refugees, and is still killing untold numbers every week in bombings, assassination attempts and sectarian warfare, a security situation which means that our troops continue to remain in Iraq just in case they're needed and also to protect American convoys travelling to Baghdad, with the Foreign Office advising against all travel to Iraq except the Kurdish autonomous area, an area recently invaded by Turkish troops fighting the PKK guerillas, with Mosul increasingly being a major area of conflict between the salafist jihadists and the American forces/Iraqi National Guard, and the very ministers that voted for this war are now going to send up to 1,600 individuals back to a country in a state of war, a war which we started, a war which our own head of the armed forces said we were only exacerbating by our continued presence?

    Jesus wept.

    We still haven't even provided the support and refuge we promised to the Iraqi employees and translators that served our troops and are now increasingly threatened by militias which are delighting in trying to find them and kill them for their "treachery". What hope do those left behind, apparently forgotten but given fine words by those in Westminster now have that we're apparently to send these "failed" asylum seekers back to their very possible deaths unless they take the option of destitution instead? None of this though seems to matter to the heartless individuals that took this decision, concerned only with providing ministers with figures showing that asylum claims are going down and that deportations are going up, all in order to appease the screaming tabloids when can never be bought off.

    Politicians worry about the apathy and cynicism of the electorate. When those self-same politicians take such apathetic, cynical decisions that put lives on the line, can they really have any objection when they're dismissed as all the same and all only in it for themselves?

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    Why I loathe the gutter press.

    There are many reasons to dislike the gutter press - its casual attitude towards the truth which it pretends to be both seeking and printing; the way that minorities which don't fit within its accepted norms and values are ridiculed and made to feel as though they're personally to blame for their lot; how it randomly chooses which causes to back and which to dump; the way in which "outsiders", such as recent immigrants are routinely demonised and assaulted; and how on the biggest issues, which can only be discussed, debated and voted upon in a calm manner, it routinely sensationalises and gives the loudest voice to those who, for one reason or another, are seeking the most extreme response.

    None of the above though come close to when the press is at its most intrusive, insensitive and unthinking - when someone in a position of authority or fame suddenly either dies or is seriously injured, especially if it's through their own hand, journalists (although technically it's their editors who should get the blame) at large suddenly decide that it's a wonderful opportunity to delve into their past for either demons or affairs. Quite apart from letting the person who has just died lay to rest in something approach peace, the people such reports muses by tabloids, Scum-watch, Sun-watch, Daily Mail-watch, Mail-watch, Express-watch, ost hurt are those left behind, already having to deal with their loss, now also having to field requests from the media to reply to allegations which may or may not be true.

    Last weekend saw the death of Carol Barnes, the former ITN newsreader. Widely loved by her colleagues by all accounts, even she was susceptible to this most disreputable media voyeurism. The Daily Mail, the newspaper which routinely finds it acceptable to resort to this very lowest form of journalism, ran an article wallowing in the apparent misery of Barnes's life after the death of her daughter in a sky-diving accident, savouring how she'd apparently turned to drink and been caught drink-driving, all while pretending to care about this woman who was at death's door. This is how the gutter press tries to justify such salacious gossip - both on the grounds of public interest and also on how what it's also doing is in actuality filling in the background, or most disingenuously, that it's celebrating their life, even if their life was apparently one that would drive anyone to the bottle.

    The treatment meted out to Barnes was slight compared to what have been handed to two individuals this week. Yesterday Allison Pearson pulled no punches in directly blaming the mother of Scarlett Keeling for her death, despite the fact that Keeling was drugged, raped and murdered, according to the very same newspaper. That however wasn't quite enough for Mail - rather than just accusing a mother seeking justice of deserting her daughter to the hands of the inhuman monsters that apparently stalk Goa just waiting to grab "ripe peaches" like her daughter, it set about descending on Fiona MacKeown's home, which just happens to be a caravan site. Headlined "The truth about 'Good Life' of murdered teenager Scarlett Keeling" it vividly describes how it was apparently anything but. With photographs of the dead teenager's bedroom, it calls it "squalid", with "scruffy" caravans "surrounded by rubbish" with "snarling dogs" the only apparent welcome. Why anyone would welcome journalists who later write such vicious hatchet jobs is uncertain, but the hack's pique doesn't stop there. The judging of a life which seems anathema to the Daily Mail's middle-class family values continues throughout the article, until it comes to this conclusion:

    Yesterday her remaining children finally arrived back in Britain where they will be cared for by their grandmother. Fiona remains in Goa, determined to continue her fight.

    It is a fight not just for justice for Scarlett, but also to convince a growing army of critics, who believe she fatally let her eldest daughter down.

    An army of critics which begins and ends with the Daily Mail, only too happy to profit from the misery of a family which has lost a daughter through no fault of their own.

    The other case this week is that of Michael Todd - the chief constable of Manchester police that apparently ended his own life by subjecting himself to the freezing temperatures of Snowdonia on the night of the worst storm of winter. Understandably, there are those who want to know just why he did so. There is however a difference between responsible reporting at a time of grief for his family and salacious digging into his life, exposing his foibles and also his failures. Note here that although the usual suspects of the Sun, Mail and Express are all desperate to find everything out and trump each other, the supposedly higher-minded Guardian Media Group, which publishes the Manchester Evening News, was the one that exposed the first woman allegedly linked to him. The BBC, which has also claims to rise above such gossip, also mentioned the woman in its report on the news at ten. The Sun at the bottom of its article is shameless in urging anyone who knew Todd to ring in and tell them all about why they think he did it, while the Mail, which just a couple of paragraphs previously speculated wildly about Todd's private life, has the audacity to print Todd's widow's plea to the media:

    "The whole family is struggling to come to terms with his death and we would ask the media to leave us to grieve in peace."

    Something that it has absolutely no interest whatsoever in doing.

    Slight update: No surprise that Melanie Phillips is also attacking Karen Matthews and Fiona MacKeown, using their apparent dereliction of duty as parents to conclude that that "at a certain level in British society the most basic rules of nurture, parental duty and civilised values have gone down the tubes along with orderly family life." Who could possibly disagree with the kindest inhabitant of Fleet Street?

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    Comment policy.

    Seeing as I seem to be getting a few more comments lately (thank you to everyone who takes the time to incidentally, it's wonderful encouragement whether you agree with me or not) it's probably time for something approaching a policy on what is permissible and what isn't, although I'm hardly going to be strictly enforcing it.

    1. Let's try and keep it as civil as possible - the exception being when someone so clearly deserves everything they get in return, i.e. Allison Pearson definitely yesterday, Kamm somewhat the day before. I'll always post a comment myself with the reason for why a comment has been removed, hopefully something I won't have to do.

    2. Keep private/personal lives out of it as much as possible - unless rampant hypocrisy is in evidence. i.e. sorry to pick on you John, but what has happened on other blogs when he's commented and others have then sought fit to remind everyone of what he's served his time for is an example of something that's not going to fly here.

    3. Anything I deem potentially libellous or wildly offensive that doesn't fall under the caveats in 1 is likely to be removed. Racism, misogyny, homophobia etc.

    That should do it. If anyone has any suggestions, problems, then err, feel free to comment.

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    Citizenship: Gordon Brown he say yes!!!

    And so, less controversially then, to the question of Britishness. Lord Goldsmith produced the usual nuanced, in-depth 138 page report, but all anyone's going to remember about it is that he proposes teenagers in a "coming of age ceremony" pledging allegiance to either the Queen or to the country.

    This is of course a fantastic idea for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because the kids that actually turn up to it and go through with it without having their fingers crossed behind their backs or reciting the Sex Pistols instead of the actual pledge can be identified by a loony left teacher for a re-education session, but also secondly because it would make a big difference to that other great coming of age ceremony; getting drunk, falling into the gutter and making other statements of patriotism about the wonderful monarchy that this country has so much to be thankful for. All right, I might have stretched the truth a bit with that last one.

    To be fair to Goldsmith, although he doesn't really deserve it considering his record while attorney general, he does recognise that this statement of allegiance might well be "problematic" in both Scotland and Northern Ireland, where half of the population is about as likely to pledge allegiance to the Queen as Allison Pearson is to say a kind word about someone other than her mirror image who's lost a child.

    That, after all, is the problem with this whole concept of Britishness. There are two reasons why this has emerged in the first place: the belief that multiculturalism, a "policy" that has never in reality been a policy and that has was adopted by all political parties has failed as a result of the 7/7 attacks and the plots since then, not to mention the strains that immigration has put on the notion of identity; and rather more pertinently to the huge number of reviews about citizenship and "rights and responsibilities", Gordon Brown's apparent inadequacy concerning him being Scottish. Blair was never much that interested in Britishness, amazing as it seems now, and despite him declaring that the "rules of the game" had changed after 7/7. No, this is certainly all Brown's doing, triggered by the murmuring about the English being ruled by Scots while Scotland has its own parliament. That this doesn't seem to make a scrap of difference to those who aren't horribly anally retentive, as important as the "West Lothian" question is, doesn't seem to matter that much when Brown's own qualms have to be soothed.

    We are all British now then. Or rather, we certainly aren't, to go by the very polling which Goldsmith commissioned for his report. This more than anything is the report's main failing; nothing that it actually prescribes, from the allegiance coming of age ceremony to giving students a rebate on their tuition fees if they volunteer, or even designating a national British holiday will do anything to change that. You can't be kicked, harried or forced into belonging, and like when, shock horror, teachers objected to teaching patriotism, the real issue is not that they didn't think they could do so without giving both sides of the debate, but rather that you can't enforce belonging the same as you can't make someone patriotic. You have to feel it to begin with, and only a certain number do. True, this seems to be more prevalent in some societies and cultures than others, but as so many others have pointed out, the one thing that is most un-British of all is to impose something by diktat. Failing that, you do it to the forgotten or undesirables in society first; the foreigners and other scum essentially. Hence why they're getting the ID cards first and already have to swear allegiance to her Maj to gain citizenship, with the students, the same ones that will have just pledged allegiance to Brenda, up next for a fast track onto the database state. It might not make sense to begin with, but New Labour has this funny knack of making things just so.

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    Wednesday, March 12, 2008 

    Sun-watch: If hospitals cure, then prisons must bring their pain.

    After the last post, I might seem something approaching a hypocrite on this. After defending Fiona MacKeown, I might well be seen as attacking others in a similar position, in this case Helen Newlove, Linda Bowman and Kerry Nicol. The difference is that people like Fiona MacKeown and others such as Doreen Lawrence have not had justice served. All the other three have.

    My question therefore is: what more can we possibly do for you? The state has bent over backwards, as it quite rightly should have done, found those that killed your relatives, and sentenced them to them to more or less the sentences that I think a majority would agree were the right ones. Sad, dreadful and unconscionable as it is, and my sympathies are with you, but how are we meant to stop an individual like Steven Wright, who showed no previous signs of being capable of killing the five prostitutes he did from doing so again? How are we meant to prevent those like Mark Dixie from living out their perverse fantasies unless we take incredibly harsh and some would say over the top action against others for offences such as his apparent masturbating in front of a woman? The crime that befell Helen Newlove's husband was the one that perhaps had the most chance of being prevented, but again, what sort of deterrent can be put in place that would have possibly stopped the gang that kicked him to death and made them think twice about what they were doing while they were drunk out of their skulls, and remember, when Swellings was old enough to buy alcohol legally? No, he probably shouldn't have been released on bail, but how can we possibly deny bail to all those accused of an assault? It would be a ridiculous use of state resources.

    They've unveiled then their ten-point plan in the Sun for sorting out Broken Britain, and amazingly, it looks almost exactly the same as the Sun's prescribed diagnosis has for a long time (excepting capital punishment, which it claims to be against):

    1 - Reintroduce the death penalty

    2 - Set up compulsory DNA database

    3 - Zero tolerance for minor crimes

    4 - Repeal the Human Rights Act

    5 - More bobbies on (blank) (presumably the beat?)

    6 - Make parents responsible for their kids and restore discipline at home

    7 - Victims' family's rights to be put above those of offenders with an end to ludicrous defences

    8 - Juveniles to be named in court like adults

    9 - Reserve plans to turn off street lights to save energy

    10 - A crackdown on binge drinking

    And what can I, or indeed anyone possibly say to this sort of mentality?:

    LINDA: I’d love to watch Sally Anne’s killer get the death penalty. I want to see him suffer until he is squealing like a pig.

    I would be the one who puts the noose around the neck or presses the button for the lethal injection. And hangings should be public. People have stopped me and said they’re 100 per cent behind it.

    This country is a terrifying place. No one is safe. I’m not ranting and raving. Come and sit here with us three and have the pain we’ve got.

    Newlove is of course right. This is about pain. The natural reaction is to respond to pain inflicted upon you with pain towards the person that did so. The role of the government however cannot be to respond to pain inflicted upon individuals with state-sponsored pain, or at least not of the actual physical reality. Hangings should be made public? Has Newlove seen the photographs from Iran or Saudi Arabia of capital punishment being carried out in public? If it's meant to be for the deterrent purpose, then those grinning or celebrating the deaths of those condemned as they're killed certainly don't seem to be frightened by the prospect of the same happening to them if they were to commit a similarly heinous crime. Similarly silly statements are also made:

    THE SUN:What do you see as the main cause of Broken Britain?

    LINDA: The day the Government took discipline away from parents is the day this country went to pot.

    When was that exactly? Perhaps we can pinpoint it so we can apportion blame to the right political party.

    The most excruciating part is when the Sun asks them what it means to lose their loved ones in such a way. The grief, emotion and pain that is welled up inside these women at what has befallen them is not just real, it's visceral, terrifying even and incredibly powerful with it. The Sun knows this, and knows also that their anger cannot be answered by anyone, let alone a mere mortal such as a politician. I've said before that I was glad that Newlove was letting the hurt inside her out; that it was the best thing to do. Now I'm not so sure. It instead looks like the Sun is using these women for its own purposes, knowing full well that their pain will not be sated while they're still being asked for how it feels and when their hate is being directed not towards healing themselves and their families because of what has happened, but rather at not just their relatives' killers, but also British society as it is in their eyes at the moment. As patronising or cliched as it may sound, they need to come to terms with what has happened to them in their own time, in private, and then decide if they still feel the same way. The Sun is preventing them from doing so.

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    I'm not sorry, and I blame Allison Pearson.

    Oh look, it's a rather over ripe peach.

    When blogging and responding to articles both elsewhere online and in the press, there's always a case for two diametrically opposed responses. Like I did with Kamm's rampant apologia for rendition yesterday, you can fisk hard and fast but do so without peppering it with what might well be valid but also distracting insults and expletives, or you can go the whole hog and just call a cunt a cunt, as Kid in the comments does. I try not to do that too often for a couple of reasons: firstly, because it's not pleasant, the writer probably isn't a cunt however reprehensible their views, and it makes me look like one of the green-ink brigade, even here in the deepest depths of cyberspace, not to mention the deeply misogynistic tones of doing so, even if no such offence is meant, and how it also doesn't really make me feel any better in any case; and secondly, because then when you only rarely do exactly what I've just described, it seems to make the result all the sweeter.

    This is one of those such occasions. Last week, while commenting on Shannon Matthews and the media response, I happened to come across Allison Pearson's views on Matthews' mother. Worth keeping in mind throughout all of this that Pearson is and remains one of the McCanns' biggest supporters in the press. Her blithering that "this kind of thing doesn't usually happen to people like us" summed up both how the press had responded to the Madeleine disappearance and how it hasn't to Matthews. The sheer class snobbery, something already endemic in the Mail, was overwhelming, and just to labour the point, Pearson said that "Shannon was already a lost child" and went on to make observations that were stupid at best and downright deplorable at worst, saying that "allowing a passing parade of boyfriends to play tickling games with your vulnerable small girl is, at best, naïve" and also that "Shannon Matthews was already a victim of a chaotic domestic situation, inflicted by parents on their innocent children, long before she vanished into the chill February night."

    Pearson herself has two children
    , and it's jolly good that she does, because otherwise she wouldn't be able to make such blasé generalisations about how others should look after theirs. Not content with kicking Shannon's mother while her daughter was and still is missing, Pearson obviously thought that wasn't quite potentially offensive enough. No, she had to go one better: kicking a mother when her daughter has just been raped and murdered. Yeah, I wish I was making this up too.

    Fiona MacKeown, the mother of Scarlett Keeling, the 15-year-old girl who was raped and murdered in Goa, seems less like a grieving mother than an avenging tigress.

    The dehumanisation therefore sets in immediately. In Pearson's fucked up, microscopic little brain, MacKeown is not someone who wants justice for her daughter's murder, something that the local police appear to have covered up, but rather a vicious creature that is out for vengeance, and more than willing to rip out a few throats in the process. Someone who ought to be supported when at her most vulnerable is instead about to be clobbered by the Daily Mail's latest and worst Glenda Slagg.

    With her swishing curtain of grey hair, Fiona is taking on a corrupt local police force which initially denied that her cub had been the victim of foul play.

    This is a pretty old cub we're talking about here, considering that Scarlett was 15. Never mind that the analogy is bogus, stretched to complete breaking point, and that MacKeown is instead doing what any relative, regardless of whether she was the mother or not would do if they had the personal strength to do so, in Pearson's grim calculus this is just the beginning in a build up towards far more than dehumanisation.

    "If police had taken more interest in previous [suspicious] deaths, then Scarlett might not be dead now," growled Fiona.

    Ah, she's growling now. I see, like a cat. How much exactly do you get paid for this you witless, brain-addled fuckbubble?

    Maybe so. But isn't there an even better chance that Scarlett would still be alive if her own mother had not abandoned her for several weeks after an argument and recklessly continued her own holiday?

    Or perhaps if whoever it was WHO FUCKING KILLED HER hadn't done so she would still be. Scarlett and her mother don't come into this; the entirety of the blame lies with the murderer. But then, how could the murderer resist?

    Instead the blonde teenager, as tempting as a ripe peach, was left in the care of a 25-year-old tour guide - a local man she'd only recently met.

    As tempting as a ripe peach. In case Pearson hasn't been paying attention, over the last month or so we've seen similar "ripe peaches" who have been killed by men, in at least one of the cases purely for his own warped sexual pleasure. They however weren't excused for their crimes because those they killed were beautiful and therefore apparently asking for it; they were rightly put behind bars for more or less the rest of their lives. They say that the Daily Mail is the most misogynistic newspaper, and with such writers as Pearson, who needs enemies?

    I don't know what they call that in globe-trotting hippy circles. Back here on Planet Parent it's known as dereliction of duty.

    Jolly good. Perhaps if you have daughters and one of them is subsequently whisked away, you'll not begrudge me the right to blame your fucked up small-minded bourgeois values rather than the person responsible, while adding that your daughter was clearly asking for it because she resembled a plump plum, just ready to be devoured.

    Mrs MacKeown is now to be questioned by Goan police for negligence - a tactic she claims is a "disgusting" attempt to "switch the focus" away from their own failings.

    If anyone's trying to divert attention away from their own mistakes, I'd say it's Mrs MacKeown.

    Oh, what's the fucking point with even bothering to argue against this diatribe? Fuck you Allison, and fuck your paper for printing this despicable rant which simply couldn't want a day longer to be formed in that shell-like wrinkled, busted contraption in the middle of your head that couldn't possibly be described by anyone that has read your prose as a brain.

    Scarlett was last seen at 4am in a bar surrounded by several men. Witnesses say she was totally off her head on ecstasy and cocaine.

    Surrounded by men? On drugs? Clearly this was another lost child abandoned by her parents and therefore which is eminently explainable to the fuckwitted readers out there in middle England that are no doubt nodding sagely along with your sordid analysis. She doesn't matter because she was clearly a whore, took ILLEGAL SUBSTANCES and was just waiting to be plucked by any man who set eyes on her.

    That kind of behaviour would have made her vulnerable in her home town back in Devon, let alone in a culture where Western girls are all too readily viewed as sexually available.

    Oh, I see. Not only is it her fault and her mother's fault, but it's also both of their fault for going somewhere where the filthy fucking backward savages just can't wait to get their hands on the succulent white women. Does Pearson really not see just how enormously offensive this is? No, of course she doesn't; she's far too fucking moronic.

    Forgive me for being a boringly conventional bourgeois mum, but what the hell were Fiona MacKeown and her partner thinking of taking seven kids on a six-month "dream trip" to India - and then leaving one of them to fend for herself? Why wasn't Scarlett in school studying for her GCSEs?

    You know, I'm almost tempted to agree with Pearson. I don't think it's the greatest idea ever to take a 15-year-old out of school for six months at one of the most important times in their school life; then though I remember that this abnormal amoral "conventional bourgeois mum" has just more or less justified a teenager's death because she was very attractive and in a country with a load of darkies that were just bound to want to rape her and murder her. You can take Scarlett's GCSEs which will now never be filled in and poke them right up your arid cunt.

    The loss of any child must be a horror beyond imagining. But there is something about Fiona MacKeown that makes me want to scream at the TV.

    Why exactly? Because she wants justice for having her pride and joy taken away and because she has been denied it? Or is it because her lifestyle and everything else offend your "conventional bourgeois" values so much that you therefore think that she ought to be kicked and assaulted while she's down?

    Not an ounce of doubt or regret seems to weigh on this laid-back woman. She told reporters that she had counted every mark on Scarlett's body.

    Similarly, doubtless not a "doubt or regret" will weigh on the fucking harridan bitch that wrote this completely heartless piece. Personally, I hope you fucking choke on your words.

    "There were almost 50 bruises and abrasions. She has clearly been battered and assaulted. I feel vindicated."

    Vindicated? For crying out loud! Any normal person would be tearing out their own hair with grief and remorse.

    And does it not cross your tiny fizzog that perhaps this is exactly her way of responding to that grief and remorse? Many others would have collapsed at the tragedy of their daughter dying after drowning; MacKeown instead questioned that and yes, she has been vindicated. If she hasn't grieved yet, that will doubtless come once she has achieved justice, and not before. My own mother, bless her, has questioned the McCanns because to her mind neither of them had showed enough emotion, and she ought to know, because she lost one son in an accident before I came along. I therefore don't question her on that view, despite my disagreeing with it. None of this however occurs to Pearson, or if it does, she keeps it hidden to instead only keep the most base prejudices out in the open.

    Mrs MacKeown says her one consolation is that she's "got some photographs of [Scarlett] having a fabulous time".

    She still doesn't get it, does she? Fiona MacKeown is an unrepentant member of the Me Generation, one of those people who would rather be a best mate than a parent.

    Again, who the fuck are you Pearson to question what MacKeown is going through or state that she doesn't get it? It's you that doesn't get it; your unbearable cruelty to those going through hell through your column is far worse than any offence that Matthews' mother or MacKeown have ever committed. You're the lowest of the low, a bottom-feeding cunt that uses other people's misery against them and gets paid for doing it. You and the "newspaper" you write for are not just a disgrace to journalism, you're a disgrace to humanity itself.

    It's more fun being a friend to your kids and, quite frankly, a lot less hassle.

    You don't have to fight daily battles over bedtimes and body piercings. And if you have a row with your "mate" you can storm off, unlike an old-fashioned authority figure who has to weather the storm and stay put always and forever.

    Oh my god! Scarlett had body piercings! Someone call the middle-class outrage brigade! Oh wait, they already did. Just what is your point exactly Allison? Do you want MacKeown to come and personally show you how sorry she is for her "mistakes" so that you're sated? I suppose you'd like that, and could write about it. TERRIBLE MOTHER WHO ABANDONED HER DAUGHTER TO DEATH AT HANDS OF EASTERN SAVAGES ON DRUGS SAYS SORRY TO TOP DAILY MAIL COLUMNIST. Read all about it!

    This week, John Dunford, head of the Association of Schools and College Leaders, warned that schools are the only moral framework in many children's lives.

    With the erosion of traditional family life, parents are no longer giving their offspring basic social skills or a sense of right and wrong.

    I'm sorry, what's this got to do with MacKeown and Scarlett? Both seemed to have social skills and a sense of right and wrong; it's only you and the fucking murdering bastard who killed her that don't.

    It's a bleak picture that brings to mind W.B. Yeats's great poem about a world where the natural order of things has catastrophically broken down: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned."

    Welcome one and all to Daily Mail island, where everything is going to hell, the kids all have body piercings and Allison Pearson knows exactly what the remedy is and how to dispense it. Roll up so you too can have the foot of middle England stamping on your bonce forever.

    For parents who are poor and ground down by work, or the lack of it, there may be some excuse. But articulate, middle-class people should know better.

    That didn't save Matthews' mother though did it? You assaulted her just as you're attacking MacKeown now. The reality is not that "articulate, middle-class people should know better", but actually those that Allison "even my parents must think I'm the lowest form of cunt" Pearson passes judgement on should know better.

    Since Scarlett's brutal killing, Fiona MacKeown has fought for her daughter. Would that she had exercised half that dedication and sense of responsibility while Scarlett was still alive and in need of a mother's care.

    Hug your children tight Daily Mail readers, because who knows when you too might be damned in the pages of your favourite newspaper for letting them go off on their own with another adult they trusted. You too can then experience the wrath of the very worst writers that man has ever known, with all their preening, self-centred superiority. How ironic that the newspaper which so rails against nanny statism thinks that every parent other than ones that resemble their own values exactly are the product of their own downfall. If Allison was perhaps a little wet between the ears and trying to impress the thrusting Paul Dacre, this sort of vicious attack on a grieving mother could be justified. As it is, Pearson is either 47 or 48 and at the "peak" of her career. One can't help but conclude with hoping that this typeface executioner falls under a train or something similarly messy and nasty. Then instead of blaming Pearson for being on the tracks her family can perhaps sue the train driver and company.

    Related post:
    Enemies of Reason - Least surprising Daily Mail headline ever...

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    Tuesday, March 11, 2008 

    United in opposition.

    Probably more on this tomorrow, but Lord Goldsmith's idea of children pledging allegiance to the Queen has united opposition from Grauniad to Sun, which should certainly be its death knell.

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    Oliver Kamm: nothing is too vile for me to try to justify.

    Oliver Kamm is a deeply misunderstood man. Just because he's around the only supporter of the war in Iraq outside of government not to recant their support or at least admit they got it somewhat wrong doesn't mean that he's stubborn and wilfully blind. Just because he tried to convince us all that Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren't crimes doesn't mean that he's someone who wants to rewrite history with a view to the current war on terror. Just because he wrote a piece calling for "concerted diplomatic pressure, sanctions and luck" over Iran's nuclear programme on the same night as the NIE intelligence statement was published that said that Iran had abandoned its efforts to build a bomb in 2003, leading to him hastily redrafting his opinion doesn't mean that he's the equivalent of a musical hall joke. And just because his latest effort, delivering the most rancid apologia for the rendition programme you're ever likely to read, doesn't mean that in the words of some on CiF, he's a man with a revolting worldview, it also doesn't mean that he's not the most pathetic muscular liberal around. That would be Nick Cohen.

    Kamm builds his entire fallacious argument around the fact that in modern terms, the abduction by Mossad of Adolf Eichmann, who was subsequently put on trial and hanged, would fall under the reference of an "extraordinary rendition". This much is probably true. There though the similarities with modern cases end. Eichmann, unlike those currently at Guantanamo Bay who were rendered there, including the most high profile detainees, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, faced a fair trial, which was not held under military auspices. Nor was he at any point subjected to anything ever even slightly amounting to torture, which many of those who have been through the rendition system allege, and often have the scars and mental health problems which do much to substantiate their claims. Argentina, although originally outraged by the breach of its sovereignty, eventually made something approaching a deal with Israel, and withdrew its original allegations and claims.

    Kamm goes on:

    They involve the detention of a suspect in one country and their transfer to another by the CIA. There are good reasons that the first country might wish to take this course. It might not have a legal system capable of disinterestedly dispensing justice, owing to the threat of intimidation. There might be domestic political reasons for the government to be reluctant to cooperate too closely with the United States.

    None of these factors however apply to the rendition of Abu Omar from Italy, to bring up just one example. Italy had a perfectly good relationship with the United States at the time of his rendition, yet the CIA felt it necessary to kidnap Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr and rather than take him back to the United States, where he could be tried for any of the allegations made against him, they instead took him to the democratic outpost of Egypt, where he claims he was tortured. The question has to be to any doubters of just what the point of the rendition programme is: why take him to such a country where torture is endemic if the CIA expressly does not torture those in its custody?

    Another example is that of our own Jamil el-Banna and Bisher al-Rawi. Both had some connection to the radical preacher Abu Qutada, sometimes called al-Qaida's spiritual leader in Europe, but both were intending to leave the country and set up a business in Gambia. Just before they left, el-Banna was visited by an MI5 officer that offered him to become an informer; he declined. al-Rawi is already said to have been informing MI5 of Abu Qutada's movements. Despite promises that they would be allowed to leave the country without hassle, they were stopped at the airport, and only allowed to fly later. On their arrival in Gambia they were detained, ostensibly on the reason that they were carrying bomb parts, which were in fact a battery charger, handed over to the CIA and taken to Guantanamo. Both have now been subsequently released, but el-Banna especially shows the scars of his ordeal: a Spanish judge dropped his request for his extradition on humanitarian grounds after a medical report found that

    Banna is said to be severely depressed, suffering from PTSD, and to have diabetes, hypertension and back pain, as well as damage to the back of his left knee.

    Kamm though isn't interested in these individual case studies of what those rendered have been through, with no apology for the treatment meted out to them beyond either domestic or international law from those responsible. He says he is both opposed to the death penalty and to torture, but those soon to go through the military tribunals at Gitmo can be executed, and we also know for a fact that at least three of the top-level detainees have been tortured. Rather, he's off on another rhetorical tangent; suddenly, bin Laden comes out of nowhere:

    What they would have advised if Osama bin Laden had unaccountably declined to turn himself in was never put to the test. Had the CIA abducted Bin Laden from Afghanistan in the late 1990s (a course whose feasibility the agency investigated), some great crimes might have been averted.

    The hypothetical kidnapping of Bin Laden illustrates two problems with the absolutist rejection of rendition. First, the Taliban regime in Kabul would no more have handed over Bin Laden in response to an international summons than it would have handed over Lord Lucan. Second, the evidence against a terrorist suspect might be circumstantial or partial. It might not be of a type admissible in court. I do not know if this is true of Bin Laden and the destruction of the twin towers. But I know he did it, and I want him stopped.

    True, some great crimes might have been averted, but we don't know that for certain. 9/11 was long in the planning, and we know that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was one of those personally in charge of those who became the hijackers. Unless both had been captured we simply don't know whether the attacks would have been stopped or not.

    Kamm's two points are similarly contentious: first, there is some evidence that the Taliban may well have turned over bin Laden, as the links between the two were not as solid as they now are today, but that they weren't given enough time. Secondly, Kamm's points about bin Laden fall apart because he seems to have completely forgotten about the bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and then the USS Cole bombing in 2000, both of which were the work of al-Qaida and were already being linked to him far before 9/11. As the Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright testifies, even after these attacks most of the US security apparatus still hadn't woken up to bin Laden. It was only a dedicated few who were trying to stop him and spread the word, but the US missed its chance. Moreover, if bin Laden had been captured between 1998 and the beginning of 2001, under the Clinton administration it seems less likely that he would have been tortured or mistreated, which is one of the major sticking points over rendition.

    This is all part of Kamm's diversionary tactic however. He points towards Adolf Eichmann and bin Laden because he wants to take the reader's mind off the fact that overwhelmingly the rendition programme has not dealt with the most serious terrorists, but rather with those at the lowest levels or those completely innocent of any crime, or certainly not convicted of any. Kamm does stop himself for a moment and say a few conciliatory words:

    Rendition is justifiable because it interdicts terrorists, and terrorism is not merely a problem of law enforcement. The particular controversy over rendition concerns torture, and on this point European objections are on firmer ground. The US is a signatory to the Geneva conventions against torture, yet terrorist suspects have been sent to countries that are guilty of human rights violations and have used torture.

    Torture is wrong and does not work. As Christopher Hitchens has put it, torture is practised by those "whose whole outlook is based on stupidity and coercion, and you can bet that even with a ticking bomb nearby they would be busily gang-raping the wrong guy".

    So why then is Kamm going to such lengths to defend a practice which has used torture endemically, as well those countries which Kamm himself is opposed to which have used torture? He doesn't explain, quite possibly because he doesn't have an answer to that. There's one thing he does do though, and that's defend the United States and the "war on terror" to the death if necessary, however many of his own "red lines" it breaches.

    There is an important role for Britain, whose commitment to the war on terror (a phrase I use without irony because it is accurate) is beyond dispute, to intercede with the US administration. There should be no rendition to autocracies whose word on the issue of torture is untrustworthy, such as Syria. Renditions should be used only in extreme cases, against those suspected of directly plotting terrorist acts. The country to which they are transferred must exercise due process under its own laws.

    This is all well and good, but this is missing the biggest factor in the whole argument. The United States itself is not exercising due process under its own laws to those in Guantanamo Bay. They're instead defined as "enemy combatants", are not subject to the Geneva convention, and are being tried by military commissions which cannot possibly provide a fair trial. Most of them have been tortured during their interrogations. This breaks every rule in the book, but then the war on terror, which Kamm nobly uses without irony, has from the very beginning held every national and international law in utter contempt. The fact is that we shouldn't be involving ourselves in renditions full stop, except to make clear our firm opposition to anyone being kidnapped by the CIA. If they want someone on these shores, they can make an extradition request, as they have done over Babar Ahmed for example. They can do the same elsewhere, and go through international channels over other individuals they seek, as everyone else has done and continues to do. It's only Israel and the US that seem to consider themselves above such things.

    But Europeans have a responsibility too. We are the beneficiaries of American efforts to disrupt terrorism. Diplomacy on the issue of rendition should deal with anticipating and preventing abuses. It should not be an opportunity for hyperventilation on the identity of the hated Bush-Cheney regime and our declared theocratic enemies.

    No Oliver, that's what you consider our responsibilities to be. Have any of the renditions prevented attacks on our soil? Despite Bush's claims that they foiled an attack on Heathrow through one of them, something which our own authorities seem bemused by, there is no evidence whatsoever to substantiate that they have. They have however summarily kidnapped and held both British citizens and those with leave to remain outside the boundaries of international law, and considering not one individual was ever charged with any crime, regardless of what they have since admitted to doing or taking part in, I think that might well give the rise to "hyperventilation" at the injustice they have suffered, not to mention the actual bodily harm or mental scars that have gone with it.

    So concludes then a highly confused, contradictory piece which suggests Kamm himself doesn't really know what he thinks. He loathes torture, yet justifies a practice which has used it and will likely use it again. He is a huge believer in "the war on terror", yet turns a blind eye to the worst excesses of it, going so far as to defend the biggest insult there could be to the liberal values he so espouses, the one sitting on an island which has itself resisted the US for nearly half a century. Some might think this makes Kamm intellectually dishonest; rather, it's just Kamm doing what he's always done, saluting capital and the stars and stripes and ignoring anyone who tells him that everything isn't just fine and dandy.

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    Analysing throw away comments too deeply.

    Via Pickled Politics, Martin O'Neill has some harsh words for the BBC 2 documentary, part of the "White" season, which dealt with Enoch Powell's Rivers of Blood. Further discussion is on Crooked Timber, but this comment on O'Neill's post is simply too good to be true:

    Why are so many decent british/english leaving every month, every year to places like France, america, and australia? I tell you why and its because of all the foreigners.

    You could just laugh and leave it at that. After all, all of those nations have just as big, if not larger immigrant populations than Blighty, and those leaving to go and live in any of the major cities in those countries are unlikely to find life that different as it is to here. It's notable that he's missed out Spain, which has one of the largest British ex-pat populations, but has also been one of the main centres for immigration, far more so than we have been. That a good number of those who then go out and live in those countries do nothing whatsoever to integrate themselves, but still feel the need to pop up on UK newspaper websites decrying the immigration situation or the latest political correctness madness is also always amusing. There are of course exceptions to that rule: the Grauniad ran an article last week about British ex-pats running for office in rural France and horror of horrors, conversing in French while campaigning.

    theone's point though isn't quite the non sequitur it looks at first glance however. You shouldn't perhaps read too much into a possibly throwaway remark, but the choice of Australia, France and the USA as examples rather than Spain as previously mentioned is indicative of countries which are still seen as overwhelmingly white, whether that's actually true or not. theone and those he's describing don't want to get away from immigrants, but rather from those that aren't white. As Sunny has himself argued about the white season, just as many working-class brown families face the exact same problems, because the issue is not one of race but class. The poll conducted for the BBC to coincide with the season was interesting not because the white working classes felt they were ignored, which they certainly are by political parties of all varieties which are obsessed with the middle-classes and swing voters to such an extent that they are destroying the political system from within through the madness of the end of ideology and the rise of dog-whistle policies, but because 46% of the ABC1 group also thought no one spoke for them. The most pampered group in modern history, for whom nothing is too good, and still nearly half of them believes that no one speaks for them. If it wasn't so tragic, it'd almost be as funny as theone's comments.

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    Monday, March 10, 2008 

    Robbing from the poor to give to the rich.

    George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, said yesterday that corporation tax rates should be reduced to help revive the economy and boost competition.

    The main rate is due to fall from 30% to 28% in April, but Osborne said he wanted it cut to 25%. The shadow chancellor ruled out offering immediate tax cuts after a Tory election victory and highlighted a squeeze on welfare as the most likely route for finding savings.

    He said: "We will be squeezing budgets like welfare, which are a drag on the British economy. This country has more children, a higher proportion of children, in workless households than any other country in Europe. And that is not acceptable."

    Chris calls Osborne an obnoxious prat, and I think that's being incredibly kind. Not that our glorious Labour government thinks much different, as Dave Osler writes.

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    Celebrities ate my homework.

    Post 9/11, numerous firms not necessarily connected to either the tourism or airline industry thought it was a brilliant ruse to blame a fall in profits or some failure on the terrorist attacks. As time moved on, the new excuse became the Iraq war. Or Hurricane Katrina. Or the Boxing Day tsunami. Private Eye noted the huge rise in them through its "Warballs" column. Any disastrous event, large or small, can be used by the clever managing director or his PR overlords as a reason for why something hasn't happened as it should have.

    Last week saw an increasing rise in a new form of the blame game. According to the latest UN report on drugs, use of cocaine amongst celebrities is encouraging more people to use drugs, and the failure of the courts to crack down hard enough on those caught was exacerbating the problem. The chairman of JD Wetherspoons, rather than pin-pointing the cut price antics which his soulless post-modern hellpits use to ram them in, instead attacked "inebriated celebrities" whose antics are then copied by the general public for the government and opposition's reactions to the binge-drinking moral panic. Then yesterday John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College leaders, in a speech mainly blaming parents for being useless, complained about how celebrities are making kids think that success comes easily or at the end of a lottery ticket. Buoyed by this, Gordon Brown joined in the act, urging "celebs" to think twice before doing drugs lest any children think it was a brilliant idea to copy them.

    I've hardly been one in the past to go easy on or defend celebrities, but if there's one thing they can't be blamed for, it's for individuals with their own free will deciding to consume wanker fuel or binge-drink, let alone use crack cocaine or heroin. The first and most laughable attack line, that somehow people see Amy Winehouse or Pete Doherty and think, wow, they look great and like they're having fun, I better get me some of what they're on is ludicrous even at the most casual look. That Winehouse and Doherty would win awards for the most unglamorous drug users if there were such a ceremony ought to be enough to dispel the notion but it doesn't seem to (photographs of Winehouse prior to drugs and tattoos are painful when compared with her current image). That both have sought help because of their drug problems also might suggest that it isn't all fun and games, but that too seems to be dismissed simply because of their stardom. Equally stupid are those that after Winehouse's wins at the Grammy awards said she should have them withheld because of her drug use; presumably musician after musician who down the decades has consumed drugs and quite possibly because of their use produced some of the albums and records that we treasure the most should also lose their recognition because of it. That'll be the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, the Doors, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd...(continues)

    The UN argument, that somehow the courts aren't tough enough on celebrities who are caught using drugs is similarly weak. Yes, on the face of it Pete Doherty does seem to have had an awful lot of court appearances and never had what would be a "tough" sentence handed down to him, but he also seems to have been specifically targeted by the police on occasion simply because of who he was and his reputation. I don't exactly keep up with celebrities and their amazing addictions, but I think the news is that he's actually somewhat progressing with his getting clean, something that might well not have happened had it not been for the continued persistence of a number of judges in not handing down custodial sentences, although he has been held in custody on a number of occasions. The other problem is obvious; those celebrities, like Kate Moss, that have been exposed are not actually usually technically breaking the law: they have to have the substance on them to be charged, hence why Moss has never faced a court after the Mirror's expose, nor did Craig Charles after a similar outing. Again, the UN alleges that celebrities are treated less harshly than normal members of the public are, something for which there seems to be very little to no evidence for. If you wanted to go for an equally facile argument, you could point out how politicians, many of whom have admitted that they used drugs (usually cannabis) in the past, and who have also never faced charges. In actuality, the point would be far more valid against prohibitionist politicians now urging kids not to touch the stuff that they themselves did, or indeed those making proclamations on drugs or alcohol when they themselves refuse to discuss their own rumoured usage on the grounds of privacy.

    All of this though is still missing the most obvious point: that without the sanctimonious media that feels fit to follow a "celebrity's" every movement, and indeed has the power to both make that individual's image in the first place and then later to destroy it if it so desires, the public at large that are apparently so influenced by celebrity behaviour would never know about it in the first place. There are a number of photographs that paps aim for that they get them the real big money: the upskirt shot; the "wardrobe malfunction" shot; the bikini/beach shot; and finally, the "up the nose" shot, that illustrates that a certain celeb has most definitely been consuming the white powder because they've got some sort of substance in their nostril that might just be cocaine residue. Newspapers of course love to have it both ways: they denounce the behaviour of celebrities in comment pieces and leader columns while their sales and showbiz pages depend on capturing that very behaviour which would otherwise go unnoticed. That those who produce them have often been caught in the past in the most flagrant breaches of what they preach against (hacks hoovering up cocaine, splashing the expenses on booze and being spanked by prostitutes, anyone?) never either seems to stick in the public conciousness or is forgotten in the latest moralising over the newest low to be reached. They even make celebrities battling addictions or mental illnesses into daily entertainment and real life soap operas, yet wonder why some might then themselves seek publicity for their own problems. That their very coverage might be making these problems worse, with hacks and paps rushing after them daily making their lives even more uncomfortable is also hardly ever considered except in the "qualities".

    The reality is that of the very few who might be influenced by celebrity behaviour, the vast majority would most likely already have had a predilection towards that sort of thing in the first place. Perhaps the biggest irony here is that the UN is by far the most unrealistic towards drugs, with its ludicrous, foolish and downright unattainable policy of the complete eradication of drug abuse. Back in 2003 Polly Toynbee (bear with me) wrote that the UN was optimistic and openly claiming that their programme was on its way to reaching its goals of ridding the world of the cultivation of coca, cannabis and opium by, err, 2008. People do drugs and binge-drink for one reason to begin with and perhaps other reasons only later: because they enjoy doing so. Until this universal truth is recognised and policies are perhaps shaped around this mysteriously opaque fact, we'll continue getting fatuous obscurantists like Tim Martin blaming everyone other than themselves and the UN clutching at straws which they themselves could help to snap.

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    Scum-watch: This issue is interesting to about two people but he has some fruity daughters...

    I'm racking my brains trying to think out what exactly the greatest boon to society has been from the emergence of social networking websites, but I keep drawing something of a blank. Sure, they might keep you somewhat entertained when you're meant to be working, and that's something I'd happily encourage, but just what else have they done, except given us music which will haunt us until the end of our days?

    Then I realised. They've enabled the media to instantly find every daft photograph you've ever taken of yourself and felt necessary to share with your friends either after you've died/been arrested/charged with a crime/after a relative has in some way made the news. It means they can wildly speculate about your state of mind on finding that you once dressed up as the Grim Reaper for a fancy dress party. They can label you a "ladette" or a "binge-drinker" on account of a string of sentences and one or two photographs.

    That's what happened to the two daughters of the Rt Rev Carl Cooper, whom the Scum has exposed for their antics which have been posted up on Bebo. Perhaps if they'd chosen MySpace instead they might have been more circumspect, eh?


    Lora and Emma Cooper, whose dad the Rt Rev Carl Cooper split last week from their mum Joy after 25 years, boast of their ladette exploits on internet social networking site Bebo.

    Lora, 20, is pictured dressed as a bunny girl and as a “gangster’s whore” in sexy stockings.

    She says she has tried pole-dancing, snogged another girl and once drank so much she blacked out.

    She lists one of her favourite sports as “running away from the police”. Emma, 17, claims she loves lager “coz it gets me p***** well easy”.

    This doesn't have even the slightest bearing on what their father's accused of, which in itself is about as interesting as whom's currently knocking boots with the Scum editor herself, but the Sun obviously can't let an opportunity to use pictures of fruity girls whose father is a vicar pass. Even more reason for you to either not to use Farcebook etc or turn your profile private...

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    Sunday, March 09, 2008 

    Film review: Diary of the Dead.

    When George A. Romero finally got the funding and studio-backing that had been missing from his original dead/zombie trilogy to produce his long-written script for the fourth film in the series, most assumed that he'd finally be able to square the critical and box office success he managed with the first two films with the production values that had been absent from them. In the circumstances, Tom Savini's gore effects in both Dawn and Day were superb, with the effects in Day, although over-the-top remaining some of the most effective to date, but the zombies themselves somewhat suffered. While this was corrected to an extent in Day, it still lacked the budget that would have enabled Romero's original vision to be realised.

    In the event, Land of the Dead was a mess. It perhaps didn't help that it came shortly after Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright had ripped the genre to pieces with Shaun of the Dead (a film incidentally that Romero loves and championed), while Zack Synder remade the original Dawn, which was a competent updating if nowhere near on the level of the original, but it just didn't come close to equalling the first three in the series. While all the previous films had made use of almost unknown to completely unknown actors, Land saw stalwarts of the scene like Dennis Hopper and Asia Argento make appearances, and ones that just didn't seem to fit with either the mood of Romero's previous works or that helped the film in other states rather than recognition. Romero had simply taken the story arc as far as it could conceivably go in Day: even the military and scientists had been overwhelmed, with the only safe havens distant islands. Now we were back to a city where intricate defences had been built with the poor going on scavenger hunts for the rich walled up in secure apartments, and where the vehicle which took them on such jaunts seemed a bigger star than the characters themselves. The money which he had always felt that he had needed to create his opus had actually only shown up the weaknesses that he had previously thrived on overcoming.

    The announcement that there was to be a fifth in the series, with Romero going back to his roots and starting again from scratch, on a much-lower budget and with again mainly no-name actors filling the roles pointed towards a potential return to form. The only sticking point was that the story was to be based around college students filming a horror film only to be interrupted by the dead returning to life; it stank of all the inherent problems which have long afflicted "slasher" films where the characters are crude stereotypes to be killed off rather than developed.

    Nobody needed to of worried. The very last thing that Romero does is create weak characters: even if you don't really know much about the 4 individuals put together in Dawn, you soon warm to them regardless of their sketchiness. Diary works so well exactly because the students which are thrown together, trying to reach their various homes and survive the zombie awakening are, unlike in so many other films in the genre, likeable, well-rounded and actually believable as students. The perhaps one weak-spot is their professor, Maxwell (Scott Wentworth), the rather unbelievably erudite, suave and given to profound epiphanies Englishman, seen constantly swigging from a canteen, whom we later learn is a graduate of Eton, where he handily learned archery. Thankfully, he's just a bit of fun and clearly not to be taken too seriously.

    Starting out with a news report that documents some of the first "dead" returning to life and with the students learning during the shooting of their mummy movie from the radio that there are reports coming in of zombies starting to maraude, the conceit is that Jason (played by Joshua Close), the lead, has always wanted to be a documentary-maker rather than a film-maker, and so naturally begins to shoot everything on their journey together in a Winnebago. The first step is naturally to retrieve his cynical girlfriend Debra (Michelle Morgan), whose first remark on seeing him after he enters her room is to ask him why he's filming.

    It's the question that's asked throughout the picture, and one though it never quite becomes tiresome, is rather overplayed. Romero's subtext and social commentary has never been entirely subtle, and the riff this time round is clearly that user-generated content and citizen news-gathering is the future. Indeed, the mainstream news, which they have on occasionally, is broadcasting that the outbreak is simply a virus and that everyone reporting that the dead are returning to life and attacking the living is simply mistaken or exaggerating. Briefly the satire turns on the American government directly, with a White House official asked to justify why the terrorist threat level was initially raised at the beginning of the outbreak, with the official then going on to argue that things will return to normal shortly and that no one should panic. This is of course just slightly unbelievable; we're talking about the US news networks here, never afraid in the slightest to scaremonger or screen the most sensationalist stories they can possibly find, almost urging viewers to panic perpetually. That they wouldn't be screening some of the user shot footage sent into them to prove the government is lying is also rather daft. Still, that isn't Romero's point; it's rather that the corporate machine has taken over, and that it simply can't be trusted with something as loosely defined as the truth. Lying beneath the surface is in actual fact a far more interesting notion: just why do we film and watch the most horrendous things that we can imagine and just happen to come into contact with, and does this make us any better than those who perpetrate such things? Why also do we increasingly feel the need to record our every moment, our every thought and every action? This is most powerfully expressed at the film's conclusion, in a gore scene which outdoes everything else in the picture by quite a margin.

    Due to the film's conceit that everything is being recorded by relative amateurs, if film students, the rather shaky hand-held camera-work can be somewhat annoying to start with, but it's still nowhere near as bad as the awful MTV-video style constant cutting which afflicts so many new Hollywood movies, and you soon get used to it. Most impressive is that the no-name cast has delivered for the most part, with Michelle Morgan as Debra being especially impressive both in narrating what her boyfriend shot and in her role as the long-suffering voice of reason that tries to understand Jason's motives for continuing to shoot while everything around them is falling apart. It's clear that it's Jason's way of coping as they come into contact with the shambling dead, as well as how little by little their group diminishes before they eventually reach the "fortress" home of one of their friends who went off on his own at the start, and where the film begins its final act. He's also not immune to wanting stardom, as his hastily-edited first part of what has happened to them rapidly gains 72,000 hits within 10 minutes on MurdochSpace. This is what makes the film: while such details would have been brushed out of a Hollywood effort in delivering all-out mayhem, action and gore from start to finish, or dealt with quickly and unsatisfactorily, such as in the Dawn remake, Romero's script and narrative is at least 10 times as intelligent as all his imitators, as you would expect.

    Speaking of the gore, and keeping in mind the low-budget origins (the film was shot for approx $2,000,000), much of it is of the CGI variety and looks it, but a gag near the beginning where Debra uses hospital resuscitation pads on a zombie's head, resulting in a eyeball explosion is impressive and amusing, and the later use of weaponry other than guns also alluded to is pulled off with relative panache. The effects are produced by Savini protege Greg Nicotero, as they were in Land, which provides the connection to the landmark effects in the previous films. Nothing does however quite reach the nastiness and comment of the set-piece in Land where a girl has her navel-piercing pulled out by a zombie's teeth, which is a shame. Also evident if you can spot them, and I relatively failed, are news bulletins as read by Wes Craven, Tarantino, Stephen King, Simon Pegg and Guillermo del Toro as well as one directly taken from the film that started it all, Night, while Romero also puts in a more easily noticeable cameo.

    Flawed as it, it's definitely a return to form for the master of zombie horror, and who can bet against Romero now turning in a sixth and one would imagine final Dead film to end it all on a high?

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    US finally admits it does and will continue to torture.

    US President George Bush says he has vetoed legislation that would stop the CIA using interrogation methods such as simulated drowning or "water-boarding".

    He said he rejected the intelligence bill, passed by Senate and Congress, as it took "away one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror".

    The United States: we torture, and we're proud.

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    Saturday, March 08, 2008 

    All the young people looked the same.

    Who ever knew that the armed forces were so sensitive to having the odd word of abuse directed towards them? This is after all what has actually taken place, despite it being predictably blown out of all proportion by, who else, the Murdoch press. The suggestion that it might be better if forces in Peterborough didn't wear their uniform on the streets, for that was what it was, rather than the "ban" that newspapers love to crow about, was based on a few "isolated" incidents of abuse, and after an RAF nurse was specifically targeted for a few months in a row, presumably because she wore her uniform. The only real surprise is that no one has come out and specifically blamed the abuse on Muslims (although one officer in the Times said they couldn't wear uniforms in certain areas for fear of offending the sensitivities of "ethnic minorities"), just as the Sun previously did in Windsor, only to have apologise for printing lies.

    All of this is being made out to suggest that the country doesn't have any respect for the armed forces and their heroic sacrifices out in Afghanistan and Iraq. On the contrary, it instead just amplifies the way that most in this country instead have a healthy disrespect both for those in authority and in uniform, and that some morons, rather than attacking the politicians on both sides of the Commons that are keeping the soldiers in Iraq for no reason whatsoever except as a huge mortar and rocket target are directing their anger and bile at those that have to obey orders even if they are from those who themselves have no respect for the armed forces.

    Instead the opportunity is being used by the usual suspects to demand that we worship the army and soldiers in the same way that they are revered in the United States. Just because we don't turn out to welcome them home or applaud the moment we see someone marching about like a prat in uniform doesn't mean we don't appreciate them - it just means there's absolutely nothing to celebrate in what they're doing except that they've came back home safely. It's telling that it's the same newspapers that so backed the Iraq war that are now decrying at such a volume the apparent distrust and lack of love for the armed forces among the general public, when it's partly down to their support that their stock is so low. If the insanity of Iraq hadn't happened, firstly Afghanistan would likely be in a far better state than it currently is, and secondly none of the scandals involving British soldiers which have taken place since the invasion would have occurred. While it shouldn't have such an effect, you can't blame people who have opposed the war from identifying soldiers, who are just doing their job, as directly associated with what has taken place. Yes, the politicians should be getting it in the neck themselves, but you don't see many of them strutting about in such distinctive clothing, unless they happen to be Gerald Kaufman. The one and only reason worth supporting their stay in Afghanistan is that opinion poll after opinion poll shows that the average Afghan wants them to be there.

    I'm not exactly sure why they feel need to or should wear their uniform in public in the first place - more than fair enough if it saves them the bother of having to take another pair of clothes with them when they go out, but other than it seems almost a strange thing to do. In almost every other occupation which requires employees to wear uniform they usually can't wait to get out of it and into their "normal" clothes. The police and fire brigade don't go wandering about when they're not working in their garb; indeed, they'd likely be disciplined or worse if they did so. The words "red rag" and "bull" come to mind, and if the occasional soldier can't deal with the odd snide remark about their occupation rather than other occupations, with one soldier complaining about kids barracking him bless, I dread to think how they'll actually cope with service itself.

    It's tempting to think, especially after last weekend's propaganda coup for the MoD that made even the prince himself turn towards to modesty, declaring he wasn't a hero, that the public at large that doesn't bend over backwards to be obsequious towards the armed forces has more in common with the actual rank and file than either hypocritical politicians who care little for those who return home broken and injured but who had no trouble in sending them in the first place, or the tabloid press with its "Our Boys" nonsense which is about 60 years out of date. This is the sort of garbage the Sun is urging in its leader today:

    That’s why The Sun today calls on the nation to stand up for our brilliant Armed Forces.

    Let’s all get behind them and make them feel how honoured and respected they are.

    Of course they should wear their uniforms everywhere. Of course they should be welcomed everywhere.

    Please do your bit. If you see a Services man or woman in the street, go up to them and tell them how much you admire them.

    Buy them a pint or a cuppa. Make friends. Show appreciation.

    Or you could let them get on with their lives and not embarrass both them and yourself by making a needless scene. They're not special just because they're in a uniform; they're ordinary men and women doing a job like anyone else, except they're risking their lives for generally crap pay. That's what we should be angry about. They deserve respect for doing so, but they shouldn't be treated differently because of it. The bullshit underlying much of this is evident in the Sun's final statement:

    They fight for US. It is OUR country they defend. OUR lives they protect.

    But they're not defending our country or protecting our lives at the moment, are they? You can in fact make a decent argument that their continued presence in both Afghanistan and Iraq makes us less safe. That however goes right over the top of the heads of both politicians and journalists with their own ulterior motives. Long may the decline of deference continue.

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    Friday, March 07, 2008 

    A very Tory tax policy.

    Yes, it's old, but it illustrates the point well.

    The moral panic over binge drinking is firmly in swing. You know the whole thing is reaching a height when such potentially disingenuous information as there were nearly 100 children under 8 admitted to hospital for "alcohol-related problems" is being used as evidence that the whole thing is out of control; that those children seem most likely to have broken into alcohol cabinets or got hand of booze somehow with the parents panicking once they've realised what they've done is the most likely explanation is apparently too obvious of one to be considered.

    Moral panics usually develop something like this. A problem, which might well be a genuine problem is identified; the media jumps on it, exaggerates it out of all reasonable proportion, usually starting campaigns to rid the country of this filth, as in the video nasties case, or currently by making clear that something must be done, either by raising the price or clamping down hard on the alcohol fuelled "yobs"; the politicians then either legislate, or it dies a natural death. The former usually happens far more often the latter.

    Up until now, the political parties have eschewed the simplistic demands that tax on booze be raised so that it simply becomes unavailable or out of reach for those "most at risk", knowing quite well that there would likely be a significant backlash against them rather than the more "nannying" commentators calling for it. Although Labour under Blair was most susceptible to jumping on bandwagons regardless of the consequences, so far David Cameron hasn't managed to see one he hasn't fancied riding on either. Hence the proposals from George Osborne for raising the taxes on the drinks apparently most favoured by the yobboes who ruin the fun for everyone else.

    The proposal is about as politically bankrupt as they come. While few are going to object to the likes of Special Brew and Tennents Super, drunk chiefly by tramps and alcoholics being more heavily taxed, it simply shows all the signs of not being thought through, especially the idea that duty could then as a result be reduced on "lower-strength" beers and wines. Has the idea not occurred to the Tories that this will mean the person drinking to get drunk as quickly as possible will simply switch their consumption to the now cheaper but still fairly strong lagers, resulting in them actually not being out of pocket at all? Indeed, if the taxes, the putative rise on a can of super-strength lager being around 38 pence, are meant to be prohibitive and for sales to drop, won't that actually result in less tax coming into the exchequer and therefore the slashing of duty on other alcohol costing even more from the public purse? It also wilfully ignores the fact that simply raising the price won't stop an addict from consuming when they have to; it will simply mean even more money being spent which can't be afforded.

    Taxing "alcopops" more heavily is also similarly without merit. How many times does it have to be pointed out to politicians that teenagers drinking to get drunk don't buy them, both because they're already expensive, small in size and also because despite the supposed image they're meant to have, drinking booze where you can't taste the alcohol means that you aren't a man, something that the average teenager, beset by peer pressure, will avoid at all costs? The whole thing is already turning passe; the mentioning of Bacardi Breezers, which went out of fashion a good few years ago, shows it up for being out of touch. They'll be denouncing Hooch next. Those affected will instead be those who enjoy them reasonably responsibly, and who aren't especially keen on Wifebeater and its variants, which will be unaffected. Osborne was also explicit in saying that they're targeted mainly at young women, who correct me if I'm wrong, but mostly don't cause the trouble that binge drinking is associated with. It's the hectoring sort of tone that almost comes across as sexist, as though women shouldn't be drinking such awful sweet liquids at all. That Osborne is rumoured to have been a prolific user of substances that are illegal rather than legal and cause far more harm and damage across the globe than alcohol also certainly doesn't make him anything approaching a hypocrite.

    Whether the Tories would actually implement such a policy if elected is beside the point. It's a cheap gimmick, meant to influence the government into acting, and knowing this one they'll be more than happy to steal it or come up with one even more draconian. The press has reacted; now it's up to the government. Then the next passing craze will come along.

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    There will be no peace while Israeli lives are worth far more than Palestinian lives.

    Reading and watching some of the coverage of the attack on the seminary in Jerusalem, you'd be forgiven if you hadn't been around last weekend for mistaking it for a completely unprovoked, entirely out-of-blue assault which directly threatened the peace process. The Israeli government spokesman, Mark Rejev, called it a "defining moment", while our own David Miliband said it was "an arrow aimed at the heart of the peace process so recently revived."

    What peace process would that be then? The one where the Israelis sit down with Mahmoud Abbas, and talk about having talks towards a settlement at some point in the future, while all the while the checkpoints and occupation of the West Bank grip ever tighter, and as Gaza has its power dwindled? The one where as a direct result of the Israeli blockade the situation in Gaza is described as being the worst since 1967?

    Let's be clear here. There's something that's long been apparent about the Israel/Palestine conflict, and that's the both sides' political representatives don't generally have any interest in genuinely seeking a just solution that would stand the test of time. The closest the talks came was in 2000, when despite common belief, it was Israeli intransigence which stopped Yasser Arafat from accepting the "deal" that was then on the table, a deal that would have never been accepted by the people, let alone the extremists. Mahmoud Abbas probably would deal if he was offered an acceptable settlement; the immediate establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza; the dismantlement of 99% of the settlements which have riven the West Bank into a series of statelets that without their removal would never constitute a viable state; and compensation for the refugees uprooted and dispersed by Israel's creation in 1948. Israel though, despite all the advantages that would come from such a deal, refuses to remove all of the settlements, even though they themselves are illegal under international law.

    The massacre at the seminary did not occur in a vacuum. While it was an act of savagery and terrorism targeted against the innocent that cannot be justified under any circumstances, one that was more planned and premeditated than the deaths of 60 or more civilians last weekend in Gaza who were killed by Israeli shells, Hellfire missiles and troop actions ostensibly directed at militants, they are both examples of the use of force to make a wider political point. Just as no one is safe in Gaza when Israel is assassinating militants or taking revenge for the firing of Qassam rockets, the message from the attacker, whichever group or none he was from, is that no one in Israel is safe either while civilians continued to die in their dozens in disproportionate military strikes.

    No one can of course even begin to defend the vile comments from both Hamas and Islamic Jihad that praised the assault, and it's true to a certain extent that they show both groups' true colours (as if the colours especially of the latter needed to be nailed yet again to the mast). Hamas's attitude does nothing to help its own people's dire situation, just as the firing of the pathetic home-made rockets by the militants only endangers their own people far more than it does the town of Sderot and city of Ashkelon. How can it possibly hope to be taken seriously when it urges a universal ceasefire while it praises and celebrates the actions of a murderer? As self-serving and meaningless as Israeli "apologies" for killing civilians are, they have never directly delighted in the blood of the innocent being spilled. Even when we acknowledge the inflammatory and disgusting comments from an Israeli minister that warned of a "shoah", the Hebrew word for the Holocaust, if Qassams continued to be fired, words that may well have been taken out of context, it still doesn't come close to the inhumanity of welcoming an attack that takes the innocent lives of anyone.

    The sad fact however is that Israeli lives are clearly worth more than Palestinian lives. During the height of the intifada, the casualty rate ran at around 3 Palestinians for 1 Israeli. Since the militant groups have turned increasingly away from suicide bombings, both because they were counter-productive and that the West Bank barrier has to some extent made the journey of bombers into Israel more difficult, the numbers of Palestinian dead as compared to Israelis has sky-rocketed. 2006's excursion into Gaza, which may well have triggered Hizbullah's assault which sparked the Israel-Lebanon war, meant the casualty rate rose to 678 Palestinians to 25 Israelis. Since 2005, 1290 Palestinians have been killed, with 86 Israelis dying in militant action. While we might on occasion see Palestinian funeral processions briefly on our screens, hardly ever do they receive the coverage which today's funerals in Jerusalem have, nor has the grief and anger of those left behind been voiced directly in the lines of the cameras, or in English, which of course makes all the difference.

    While no one has formally claimed responsibility, the suspicion has immediately fell on Hamas, who at one point today appeared to have done just that, only for it to be retracted. More intriguing was the claim from al-Manar TV in Lebanon, Hizbullah's station, that a new group calling itself the Martyrs of Imad Mughniyeh and Gaza. While it seems unlikely to be accurate, it points towards this being just another part of the inevitable blow-back from the assassination of Hizbullah's most notorious jihadi. The cycle of violence continues to inexorably turn, and while neither side listens to their own public who are crying out for peace, with 64% of Israelis even urging their government to talk to Hamas to reach a ceasefire, the blood will only continue to flow.

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    Thursday, March 06, 2008 

    Long-winded post on all things EU and referendums.

    The great betrayal has taken place. This was a shaming day for democracy, an act of cowardice on behalf of Gordon Brown, an event that will change Britain forever, and our so-called elected representatives have denied the people their right to a vote on a matter of national importance.

    Or so some would have us believe. The whole argument about a referendum on the European Union's Lisbon treaty has been a sham, documented by ignorance and deception on all sides, with every political party outside say UKIP being far from honest about their real motives for supporting the position they adopted. The real sad thing is that such casual contempt for the average person trying to make head or tail of just what the reforming treaty does, is meant to do or whether it should be supported or not is nothing out of the ordinary in this country, a supposed parliamentary democracy which is trying to build a knowledge economy, laughable as it. It isn't however just parliamentarians that have been the key deceivers; if anything, far from it. By far the most nonsense written about the constitution and what it will supposedly do appeared in the right-wing tabloids, as per usual, with ridiculous claims that we'll lose our seat at the UN, that it provides a "blueprint" for a "United States of Europe", with centuries of parliamentary democracy consigned to history. Yep, that's right. According to certain sections of the press, MPs just voted for their own abolition.

    Even I'm directly not being straight with you, and I'm also certainly biased. In order to even begin to write about or discuss the treaty properly, you need to read it, and I haven't, nor do I have any intention of doing so. I'm certainly in the majority though; something like 99.99% of the rest of the British population haven't read it either. Those that do can't even begin to understand it: even the BBC's Europe editor Mark Mardell has said that he can't even begin to work out what it means from beginning to end. It's probably indecipherable even to those who drew it up, and who knows, maybe it's even intentional. Regardless of that, it's the treaty that would be put before us, and the time to have made it legible, simple to understand or for an exact, easy list of exactly what it will do and what it won't do has passed. We instead have to rely on everyone other than ourselves to tell us what's in it, yet they haven't done even the slightest work to do so either. According to numerous politicians, newspapers and thinktanks the treaty is roughly 90% the same as the previous constitution, but can we actually rely on any of those to have read it and understood it themselves? And was the previous constitution, itself unreadable, so thoroughly bad, despite its rejection by the French and the Dutch for reasons which weren't necessarily all to do with what that contained either?

    As said, I haven't read either, but one of the few facts I am certain of is that there are two main important differences between the constitution and the treaty, and one also which affects us personally vis-a-vis the treaty. Firstly, that the treaty, unlike the constitution, is not legally binding, and secondly that the treaty provides one important detail that wasn't present in the constitution. To what you would expect would be the delight of some in the Conservatives and certainly UKIP, it provides a precise and exact mechanism for leaving the EU, something that is currently completely lacking in any of the treaties that the Lisbon treaty is meant to bring together and reaffirm. Lastly, what would be the biggest benefit of the treaty, the charter of fundamental rights, an extension to the ECHR, was one of the government's red lines, mainly because of the sections on "solidarity" which so offend the business "community" and would ride a coach and horses through the restrictions on trade unions we've had since Thatcher's days.

    Update: Rather embarrassingly, as Ken points out in the comments, both the constitution and the treaty contained the secession clause. I apologise for making an honest mistake. It's still the first time that the EU has offered an exact mechanism for leaving the union, and one which is both important and deserves supporting.

    The biggest mistake was undeniably Labour offering a referendum in the first place. Despite what some have constantly alluded to, Gordon Brown did not personally ever offer a referendum on the constitution, let alone the Lisbon treaty. As with most other things involving Tony Blair, his decision to have a referendum was a sop to Rupert Murdoch, with it being widely rumoured that Murdoch offered Blair an ultimatum: either you hold a referendum on the constitution, or the Sun and the Times would support the Conservatives in the then fast approaching 2005 general election. Blair hastily agreed, and although he might not have envisaged that he would have been swept out so quickly after his third election win, he was also reasonably safe in the knowledge at the time that it was likely the French would reject the constitution and so negate the need to hold one anyway. With the Conservatives already offering a referendum, again without much chance of actually taking power and needing to hold one, something which would have exposed the party's continuing splits over Europe and left it without the slightest idea what to do, and the Liberal Democrats therefore the odd ones out, they had a little option but to declare they too would have one, even though they again had about as much chance of gaining power as Amy Winehouse has of being left alone by the paparazzi.

    This brought us to the situation today, where all the parties are accused of betraying their manifesto promises and therefore misleading the people and treating the public with contempt. This is again of course, a nonsense. No one again seriously expects the voters to actually read each parties' manifesto; that would probably be an act of individual thinking that would deeply offend against the average politician and journalist, and also lead half of those seriously thinking of voting to not bother after the realise how little difference there is between all of them. It's also not as if this is the first time that Labour has directly broken a manifesto promise: there are so many they've either not bothered with or half-heartedly attempted to make up an entire post on its own. 1997's promised electoral reform; they've repeatedly promised to reform the House of Lords; and in 2001's they directly promised not to introduce student top-up fees, so they did the exact opposite.

    As stated at the beginning, not a single one of our magnificent parties are being honest with us for their reasons for either changing their minds or sticking with them. The Sun is right in saying Brown won't have a one because he knows he'd lose, but Labour also doesn't want one because besides all the talk of re-engaging and devolution, the party is also still monolithic and a firm believer in the superiority of parliament, rather than in asking the people every five seconds what they want in a plebiscite. The Conservatives are for the most part in favour of a referendum because it means they tap further into popular discontent; it doesn't matter that the party itself has no intention of getting out of Europe altogether, which is what those most in favour of a referendum truly want, including a good proportion of its backbenchers. Not even Cameron's that silly, regardless of his petty decision to move out of the European parliament's main grouping of conservative parties, itself a sop to the headbangers within the ranks. Despite all the opprobrium directed towards them, the Liberal Democrats have actually been the most honest with both themselves and the public. Rather than wanting a referendum on the treaty, which is in reality just a front for one on the EU itself, they've come out and said let's have this debate in full about whether we should stay in or not. This removes all the charades, nonsense and deception surrounding the treaty and asks the adult question: is staying in the EU good for us or not? As they have also argued, this would also be the first time that anyone under 50 had been directly asked for their input on the European Union, since the vote on staying in the EEC back in 1975. Yes, it's true that this is also partly a response to the fear of a referendum on the treaty being lost and that this would be one that would be more winnable, but the consequences of either referendum being lost would be broadly similar.

    A no vote here on the treaty would be entirely different to both the French and the Dutch no votes were back in 2005. They were decisive in killing off the treaty precisely because both countries had long been at the centre of the EU and instrumental in its initial conception, as well as both broadly pro-further integration. It's because of our long recalcitrant attitude towards the EU that such a vote resulting in a no would be dismissed in such an easy fashion; rather than being Europe's problem, it would be our problem. Whatever the feelings we should have about that, it's long been established that it's better to be inside the tent pissing out than it is be outside the tent pissing in. Without attempting to reform Europe our way, and by being as strong as possible in attempting to influence the organisation, influence which only comes through respect, we might as well give up entirely and go our separate way. For anyone who believes in small things like the Human Rights Act, which although not connected with the EU would never have happened if it were not for our membership, that's a bitter pill to swallow.

    If all this sounds like an argument against a referendum on the treaty, it isn't one. I actually think we should have had and should have one, mainly because despite the politicians, I think it could still be won. We routinely underestimate pro-EU feeling, and also overestimate the influence of the tabloids' incessant propaganda over the institution. It would certainly be easier to win one on continued membership, and that would be a far better question to ask the country to decide upon, but the treaty itself, for all its faults, is to streamline the EU, reform it appropriately for its current expansion and possible further expansion, and also institutes rights which we have long been denied in this country. That was the argument that should have been taken to the country, but the politicians were too pusillanimous to even try and risk the wrath of the Murdoch press, the Telegraph and the Mail. I certainly won't however be losing any sleep over not having one, nor is it a disaster for the country or a betrayal. A far better use of a referendum would be to have one on electoral reform, one that was promised back in 1997, with ironically the elections for the European parliament, which are on proportional representation, being the fairest that are conducted in England, if not in Wales or Scotland which do use a form of PR. Instead, the whole debacle has just been the continuation of the usual biases and manoeuvres which politicians have always used and will always use. It has been ever thus, and will be ever thus, and no amount of huffing and puffing from the press, threats from the Sun to hold Brown to account for it or not will change that.

    Related post:
    Nosemonkey - Cameron, the Tories’ confusing EU politics, and a chance for reform

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    Wednesday, March 05, 2008 

    More on the Shannon snobbery, Allison Pearson's despicable hypocrisy and the McCanns' legal action.

    Roy Greenslade expands at length on why the Shannon Matthews case hasn't attracted the same amount of coverage as the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, and comes to the same conclusion as I did; that social class is overarching the whole thing.

    Reading Greenslade's analysis and the article he links to in the Sindy, you realise just what Shannon's parents are up against. I didn't know that her mother, Karen, has six other children with five of them from different fathers. This is because such facts don't make any difference, or shouldn't make any difference, and haven't been featured in any of the coverage I've read. Just knowing that, it instantly becomes apparent why the Daily Mail for example hasn't gone overboard with its coverage: such a "lifestyle" as that apparently lived by the mother offends against every single sensibility in the Mail handbook. As Nick Davies and Private Eye in the past have outlined, even if you're respectable but black you're unlikely to get anything like the hearing you would if you were white, with numerous sources alleging that stories that were all ready to go were spiked at the last minute because they about those of the "dusky hue". You can imagine the casual prejudice which therefore is informing their coverage of Shannon's disappearance; why do "our people" care about a average-looking little girl unlucky enough to be born to an overweight, promiscuous mother, doubtless bleeding the state for all it's worth?

    Unlike some of the posts I write here, this is one that is coming out more as a stream of conciousness. I was going to end the above paragraph with a quote from the Daily Mail columnist Allison Pearson, where she wrote of the McCanns "this kind of thing doesn't usually happen to people like us". She might as well have added, nor is it supposed to. After all, the McCanns were the Daily Mail dream family, except for perhaps Kate McCann working instead of staying at home to look after the children. They hadn't done anything wrong, or weren't a family where what happened to their daughter could be either justified or deemed excusable. Searching Google to see if I could get the exact article where Pearson wrote that, I instead came across a dispatch from Pearson where she writes about Shannon's disappearance, and it's as disgraceful, hypocritical and two-faced as you could ever possibly have imagined:

    Poor Shannon was already a lost child

    At the time, critics claimed that if the middle-class McCanns had lived on a council estate, they would have been in trouble with the police for neglect.

    So where is the outcry over the disappearance of Shannon Matthews?


    Four hours is an eternity for a little girl to be out on a dark winter's evening. And Shannon was afraid of the dark. Why did no one walk with her or care where she was?

    But Karen insists Shannon was fine and enjoys a good relationship with her current boyfriend, 22-yearold Craig.

    "Only on Monday, they were having tickling fights and telly cuddles. She views him as her dad."

    Oh really? In that case, why was Shannon so desperate to be reunited with her real father?


    But allowing a passing parade of boyfriends to play tickling games with your vulnerable small girl is, at best, naïve.

    We must all hope and pray that Shannon is only missing and that her disappearance is not linked to any of the substitute dads who have trooped through her brief life.

    But like too many of today's kids, Shannon Matthews was already a victim of a chaotic domestic situation, inflicted by parents on their innocent children, long before she vanished into the chill February night.

    Incredible, isn't it? Gobsmackingly offensive, prejudging everything without so much as the slightest insight into the case whatsoever. The reason why there has been no "outcry" is because there is nothing except in Pearson's warped head to outcry about. The McCanns were condemned in some quarters because they had left their children alone in their apartment instead of putting them into a creche while they swanned off to have dinner with their friends. In Shannon's case, what happened was that she simply didn't come home, and doubtless her mother was already deeply worried if not panicking before she raised the alarm four hours after she had left school and failed to return home. In that time she was likely phoning round her friends, asking if she was with them, or even searching herself. Pearson has been one of the McCanns' most ardent supporters, comparing their anguish to both hell and to a Kafkaesque nightmare; that she condemns Matthews' parents simply because of who they are and what she thinks they've done shows the innate snobbery, bordering on class hatred which some who profess to be journalists suffer from, and which has so chequered the coverage so far. There hasn't been an outcry against Matthews' parents; there has however been almost precisely half the coverage given to Madeleine's disappearance, almost certainly because of the attitudes of those in Fleet Street which match Pearson's.

    What we saw with the disappearance of Madeleine now also seems to setting in with the disappearance of Shannon. With no real developments to report, the media instead turns to speculation, innuendo, and downright scaremongering. The Sun, which to its credit has given the most coverage to Shannon's disappearance, was already at this on Monday, asking whether Sarah's law was the answer, despite there being no evidence whatsoever that any convicted sex offender is involved in her disappearance. Today it's turned it up a further notch with this fearmongering report, which will have no doubt done nothing to set minds at rest in Dewsbury:

    NEARLY 1,400 registered sex offenders live within 25 miles of Shannon Matthews’ home, The Sun can reveal.

    Many are based just a five-minute drive away.


    And the Home Office statistic showing 1,387 registered sex beasts in the area was a stark reminder of the mountain detectives must climb. A further 400 live just 30 miles away in Manchester.

    In the IoS article the local rector spoke of "helplessness... not hopelessness but anger, certainly". The Sun seems to be wilfully fanning the flames rather than making any effort towards keeping the calm.

    P.S. Today's Private Eye (1205) reports that the McCanns are suing Richard "Dirty" Desmond's newspapers through Carter-Fuck, and are demanding a cool £1 million from each of his four newspapers for the incessant suggestions that they might have had something to do with the disappearance of Madeleine. A couple of thoughts: firstly, hiring Carter-Fuck doesn't come cheaply, which must mean that even more of the money donated to the McCanns is going on things other than directly finding Madeleine, although seeing as so far they've spent the most on the useless Metodo 3 private investigation agency which said that "Madeleine would be home by Christmas" they might as well be pouring that down the drain too. Secondly, if they do get suitably high damages, and Desmond has already apparently offered £250,000, will all of this be put back into the fund, or will some of it instead end up lining the McCanns' own pockets? The Madeleine fund's objectives are that only if she is apparently found will anything left over be given over to charity. As that seems ever more unlikely, questions will undoubtedly be asked about will be done with any eventual surplus.

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    Tuesday, March 04, 2008 

    Pranked over Cameron's likeness to Obama, while Cameron himself sings from the same old hymn sheet.

    It seems then that both I and the rest of the readers of Iain Dale's CiF post yesterday were pranked. Posting on his blog, he writes that the article was first intended for the Torygraph, but that he was then asked to write about Andrew Lansley instead, so he sent his original over to the Grauniad as to not waste it, with the intention of winding up "the Obama supporting fanatics".

    Strange then that even after having posted the above on his site, he felt the need to defend his piece in the comments of my own dissection of it. Presumably if it was meant as a wind-up, he wouldn't really have needed to respond to criticisms of it at all. I seem to have got off rather lightly though compared to those on CiF who were rather more stinging in their dismissals:

    Good evening and thank you for all your kind words. I especially liked the reference to me being in the Bullingdon Club. Strangely that didn't exist during my time at the University of East Anglia or even Saffron Walden County High School.

    Can we really not get over this class ridden language.

    And as for Tim Ireland. It will be a cold day in hell. I'm surprised they even let you comment on this site. Mind you, you're in good company among your own kind. Even fewer braincells than the LibDem front bench. And that's saying something.

    [prepares self for more torrents of abuse from the self appointed guardian of the blogosphere who must be obeyed or you suffer the consequences]

    Which seems like an excellent way of engaging with those not inclined to instantly agree with everything you say.

    Speaking as we are of daft posts on Comment is Free, the site is today blessed with a post from the man compared to Obama himself, a certain Mr David Cameron. His main thesis is that politics is broken, and that there are deeper forces at work that underlie how it has come to be smashed to pieces. Both of these forces involve in the internet, the first being blogs and self-publishing, the second being that despite common conception, the youth of today are becoming involved in politics, just not in the "old" ways, but rather through campaigns using social networking.

    If this already seems rather dated and close to passe, it might be because Cameron himself made these exact same arguments on the exact same site back in late 2006. Then Cameron was also launching another venture, like he was today. That was the site, which complete with a fake-tanned bloke in a garish suit was aimed at dealing with "yoof" issues and making them think about their "own social responsbilities". The joke was that the suited guy was "the inner tosser", someone who rather than thinking about saving instead urged you to splash the cash. This campaign was such a roaring success that the is still going str.... oh, wait. now instead links to

    The exact same response to Cameron's arguments then is still mostly valid now. Of the hundreds of millions of blogs Cameron talks about, only a minuscule number are about politics, or updated daily, which ought to be the yardstick by which they should be measured. Of the 20,000 videos uploaded to YouTube every day, the vast majority are either television clips, music videos or the most inane shit that you've ever watched and will afterwards pray that you could get those wasted minutes of your life back. If someone really wanted to do a study, they could sort those videos into respective categories and go from there. My bet would be less than 5%, if that, would be related to politics.

    I am however willing to give Cameron the slight benefit of the doubt on the social networking point now. Facebook was then still only open to college students, or if it had opened up to all and sundry it had only just done so. Facebook undoubtedly is a site where protests movements are increasingly being organised and coordinated from, although whether any of those that started off there have made any major impact as yet is certainly open to question. Again though, Facebook is mostly just a slightly more grown-up version of MySpace and Bebo, with those over 18 mostly using it, and the vast majority are the same self-absorbed individuals interested only in what their friends are doing every second of the waking day. The backlash against the site has also accelerated recently.

    The Conservatives then, desperate to look hip and trendy under their somewhat youthful leader, are trying their very best as they were over a year ago to get down with the kids, this time by advertising on Facebook. That most of the web-savvy individuals on there will most likely be running Firefox with Adblock+ or some other combination of browser and blocker and therefore never see the ads seems to have passed them by entirely, but never mind. Of course, that most of those they're trying to target were growing up during the age when the Tories were at their lowest ebb, a collective laughing stock and viewed as the worst possible waste of a vote, not to mention achingly uncool, with nothing having happened since then to change that also seems to have flashed by them without it being acknowledged. The other Conservative wheeze, launching a ludicrous campaign for "friends" to donate to them in an attempt to become presidential candidates in the US, like Obama this time round and Howard Dean before him, who were funded through many small pledges via the web, is also laughable. That the Conservatives are hardly strapped for cash, being donated £2.9m alone by Lord Laidlaw, who just happens to be a tax exile who lives in Monaco, with the grand total donated last year clocking up at £26.4m shows that this is nothing more a PR stunt, with them having no intentions of weaning themselves off of their current sponsors, all while demanding that Labour's donations from the trade unions be capped. Their biggest howls would be reserved for constituency donations being capped, as that's how Lord Ashcroft pumps his cash into the party.

    If Cameron really wanted to mend politics, he'd support the one thing that would re-engage the public and ensure that their vote was worth something: proportional representation. Instead, the Tories, unlike Labour back in 1997 who toyed with the idea of PR until they got a whopping majority that meant they didn't need the support of the Lib Dems, think that they can win big enough as to not need it. That is the true face of not just the Conservatives but of Labour too; only when they are not certain of power will they pretend that the public need a proper voice. At the current rate of developing cynicism and disengagement, a whole generation will have lost faith in Westminster before anyone actually acts.

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    Tabloid-watch: More Sun MySpace antics and Express hilarity.

    Amazing news everyone! A Sun page 3 idol contestant has been been lucky enough to be one of those ultra-cool people on the front page of MySpace!

    LADS have no problem clicking with sexy Alex Sim-Wise - she's the UK's new MySpace girl.

    And what a web-site for sore eyes the former Page 3 Idol finalist is.

    The 32E beauty's page has attracted so many hits that bosses have given her the honour of a link on their homepage - alongside other popular users.

    And could you possibly believe that nowhere is it mentioned that the Sun and MySpace just happen to share the same owner and that this is an absolutely shameless cross-promotion?

    Meanwhile, the Sun and most of the rest of the internet is outraged that a US soldier has supposedly thrown a lickle puppy off a cliff. This would be the same Sun newspaper that reported on the torture and mistreatment at Abu Ghraib just twice. The same newspaper that has used the word "Haditha" just seven times since 2003, and not once in relation to the massacre which occurred there in 2005. Oh, and also the same newspaper that seems to have only used the term "extraordinary rendition" in relation to the allegations against the CIA's torture flights twice. Still online is this poster that offered a reward for the finding of those responsible for throwing a Labrador puppy off a bridge, something given far more coverage than anything involving atrocities/torture committed by either US or British soldiers. Tim and Justin have more.

    Finally, the Express doesn't seem to be able to make up its mind. Back in November it claimed that migrants had taken all the new jobs in Britain. Today it splashes on its front page that migrants have taken... 85% of new jobs in Britain. Do you believe one, the other, or none of the above? Stupid question, really. This re-evaluation could be related to how the Express might well be under investigation by the PCC for the "all new jobs in Britain" front page. (Anton Vowl got to this one before me.)

    P.S. It's always a jolly read to occasionally peruse the Press Complaints Commission website. The Commission has just announced that Paul Dacre, editor of the Mail, is the new head of the Code Committee, the code being the one which the press is meant to abide by and which the PCC judges complaints on. This would be the same editor who helms the newspaper that according to Nick Davies in Flat Earth News has had the most successful number of complaints made against it - 153, as compared to the Times, Mirror and Sun, all of whom had just over 50 each made against them. This appears to be the equivalent of the late Alan Clark being made the head of a committee into whether extra-marital affairs constitute an acceptable reason for divorce.

    Oh, and genuinely finally, on the current first page of the cases section of the PCC site, the Mail makes up six of the 20 entries, with its sister the Mail on Sunday taking up another slot. The most serious of these is that the Mail, along with other papers, claimed that Joanna Rhodes's husband had killed himself a day after seeing the results of their baby's scan. As Mrs Rhodes explains, this was completely untrue, as the date on the photographs from the scans provided was not the day before he committed suicide. The case was resolved with the Mail blaming the news agency (although they should have checked the details, churnalism anyone?) and apologising. Only the Express offered to print an apology in the newspaper itself.

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    In praise of.... Paul Raymond.

    For those of us unlucky enough to not grow up with every possible variety of pornography available at just a click of the mouse, your first real encounter with the female form in all its glory, at least not in the embarrassing clutches of other members of the family via the goggle box, tended to be with one of the now almost archaic top-shelf publications, and often one published by Paul Raymond.

    Whether purloined from older brothers, a father or even from the almost cliched woodland which for some reason never failed to occasionally contain a copy of Britain's most restricted literature, one of these magazines for the hormonally-challenged teenager was the equivalent of gold dust. Although Raymond also published the less salubrious likes of Razzle and Escort, it was the higher-class mags of Club International, Men Only and Mayfair that were the ones truly to savour. Up until recently, and with the internet almost certainly to blame, as well as perhaps the diminishing concern due to the lads' mags which are almost the equivalent of the porn of yesteryear, these magazines didn't really go in for the gynaecological excesses that the state-side Hustler did and does; rather, they were usually slightly more explicit versions of Playboy, featuring the same luscious and beautiful women that doubtless did and always have done more hardcore stuff on the side, but whom in those pages were simply softcore models for hire and who did very well out of it indeed, one suspects. Alongside them were the more ludicrous "readers' stories" of their sexual exploits, with Alastair Campbell since outed as one of those who supplied their wares when desperate for petty cash, but they tended to be ignored when compared to the glossy finish of the photographs which the magazine was originally purchased and loved for. They were, and always have been, I would argue, relatively harmless, unlike the more hardcore pornography of today which tends to both make the young that absorb it more disappointed once they actually get into a sexual relationship, and also to believe that their every sexual whim, catered for in such pornography, is their right to be given to them. I might be romanticising it slightly, but it does now almost seem completely tame by comparison.

    Raymond, unlike one of his up until recent rivals in Richard "Dirty" Desmond, didn't have any aspirations towards expanding his empire into newspapers, hopefully because he realised or believed that the two shouldn't mix. He instead invested in property in Soho, kept his ground-breaking Revue bar which was almost always advertised on the back page of the magazines open until 1997, and kept himself to himself after the tragic accidental drug overdose of his daughter in 1992. Accounts seem to differ over whether he was a wideboy who flaunted his wealth with those that suggest that he was far more austere, even shy, and unlike Hefner, whose relationships with his "girls" are well-known and others in porn such as Al Goldstein who have routinely boasted about how many of those they've employed that they've slept with, his ex-wife seemed to suggest she didn't believe that he had sex with any of the girls who accompanied him when he went out. Raymond by most accounts seems to have been an almost model businessman, albeit one involved in an industry which is always going to be far more controversial than say, bean counting.

    With the online revolution ever accelerating, it seems unlikely that a figure such as Raymond could possibly rise to the same heights as he did by relying on softcore and traditional methods. Although it doesn't use the latter, the likes of perhaps Suicide Girls, which revolve around empowerment of those that would never have featured in Raymond's magazines, except perhaps in the readers' wives sections, and is defiantly against the more extreme sections of the online world, is probably the closest reflection that we're ever going to get.

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    Monday, March 03, 2008 

    Phuck off Phorm!

    Deeply worrying news about certain ISPs signing up to an advertising system that works by in effect spying on every site you visit and everything you write on the web that isn't encrypted. Political Penguin, Spyblog and the Grauniad have more, although the comments are more interesting on the latter. For once I'm relieved to be a Tiscali customer.

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    David Cameron? He's a lot like Barack Obama, honest...

    Let it never be said that Iain Dale doesn't do humour. This paragraph on his piece reflecting on the many similarities between David Cameron and Barack Obama is surely laying it on a bit thick, even by the sycophantic standards of the new believers within the Conservatives:

    Cameron and Obama have several things in common, not least what is commonly referred to as "it" - that undefineable characteristic which mixes charisma with charm. They're young men in a hurry, both lacking a political past, facing opponents who were the future once. They find it easy to empathise and shrug off attacks. They share a resilience and an ability to wow an audience.

    Err, yes. Except that Cameron has a past that encompasses being in No.11 during Black Wednesday, and adopted numerous positions while just a lowly MP which he now rails against as leader. You can't really deny that Cameron does have something approaching charisma, but compared to Obama, who simply radiates enough to make even this cynical operator start to believe in mass-appeal politics, although he can also at times remind one of a certain A.C.L Blair, he's the equivalent of those disappointed, depressed and deeply alone individuals left behind at the end of a singles night. Dale also overdoes the "the future once" jibe; that drew blood when directed against Blair, but not against Brown. Cameron doesn't empathise, he's instead that much more widely available commodity, someone who pretends to listen but is in fact only waiting for their opportunity to talk. You also get the impression, that like Blair, he'll do anything that might get him some momentary gain, and he also relies on the stunt in order to get coverage, whether it being going to the Arctic with huskies, cycling to parliament while his car follows behind with his documents, or attempting to put a mini-wind turbine on his roof. Obama hasn't resorted to either yet, nor does he need to. I keep referring to Blair for a reason, because he is clearly, despite the jibes against him and supposed distaste for what his leadership has meant for the country, Cameron's political model on whom he bases his own persona on. Blair couldn't be more finished or despised in the country at large, which makes that a highly risky strategy. Obama however is clearly channelling the spirit of Martin Luther King, someone whose stock has never fallen and most likely never will.

    This is without mentioning the wider background and cultural differences between Obama and Cameron. Obama was born into a middle-class family, and worked on community projects before representing community organizers, discrimination claims and voting rights cases. Cameron instead was born into a family of stockbrokers, before going through the familiar high society ritual of Eton and Oxbridge. Cameron never came into contact with anyone even approaching a normal member of the public until he became an MP, having previously worked for the... Conservatives and then as the director of corporate affairs for the TV company, Carlton. They can't even claim to both share one distinction over their past: Obama has admitted to using drugs, while Cameron has never owned up to any use of controlled substances, instead appealing for such matters to remain private. Obama is not the establishment, although he might form what could be the new establishment, while Cameron embodies everything about it.

    The rest of Dale's piece is better, suggesting how Cameron could adopt some of Obama's stylings to his own advantage, but the whole thing is based on a fundamentally flawed premise that doesn't stand up to even the slightest scrutiny. CiF asked last week where all the right-wing comedians had gone; some wags have already suggested that Iain Dale might be able to step into the breach.

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    Are they middle-class miserablists too?

    I wonder if the same individuals that so lambasted the protesters that reached the top of the palace of Westminster last week will pour the same vitriol over those that today scaled a crane opposite the houses of parliament to call for a referendum of the Lisbon treaty.

    No, thought not.

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    Scum-watch: Obsessed with Sarah's law.

    I wondered last week why the disappearance of Shannon Matthews hasn't captured either the public or press attention in the way that the vanishing of Madeleine McCann so dominated last year's conciousness.

    The Sun, probably because of its massive working-class readership, has been the only newspaper to really pay the story any lingering attention, and last Saturday was the first to offer a reward for information leading to her return. Less welcome is this revolting conflating of Matthews' disappearance with campaigns past:

    There is of course no evidence whatsoever as of yet that Matthews has even been abducted or is being held against her will, although that seems the most obvious explanation outside of her dying in the elements with her body yet to be found, let alone anything to suggest that she has been kidnapped by someone not known to her and who also happens to be a sex offender. The police have instead been making inquiries into the Matthews family itself, and her mother has said that her faith and trust in friends and wider family is being tested. No case though is apparently fresh enough or less instantly supportive of such a busted flush for the Sun to try and take advantage of it for its own ends.

    Elsewhere the Sun reports on a poll, that shock horror, finds the proportion of Portuguese that think the police have conducted the Madeleine investigation well has dropped by 30%, although 60% still think that they've done a good job. Perhaps if Matthews isn't found in a year's time a similar poll can be conducted here to see if the results follow the same trajectory. That though would be against the unimpeachable British police, unlike the swarthy foreign layabouts in charge over in Praia da Luz.

    Oh, and no coverage of Harry's return could possibly reach any lower than the Scum's exclusive of Prince Harry recording a goat being slaughtered for Christmas dinner.

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    Saturday, March 01, 2008 

    Harry's lovely war.

    Whatever your views on Prince Harry and his exploits in Afghanistan, one thing that can be agreed upon is that it has been a journalistic travesty. Not that the media signed up to the MoD's secrecy plan in the first place, as once all the tabloids were agreed, the rest of the press and the BBC could hardly break ranks, such would have been the outrage that would have dropped on their heads. That was probably the right decision in the circumstances, but the failure of everyone else across the planet to find out until they discovered that an Australian supermarket trashy tabloid had printed it back in the early days of January, and then the pathetic soft-pedal given to Harry and the Ministry of Defence was anything but a triumph.

    It seems then if you want the latest gossip, you shouldn't head to the loathsome Matt Drudge, who spent his time during the Clinton years digging up every false scandal ever to emerge, or to Guido, who despite his numerous contacts in the media that knew about Harry's posting didn't get as much as a sniff about it, but to New Idea instead. Where it got the story from is anyone's guess, but back on January the 7th it revealed that Harry had gone with his regiment on a covert mission to Afghanistan, where he had already seen action. Apparently it didn't have a clue about the embargo in this country, but it must surely be the scoop of the year; and no one batted an eyelid. Indigo Red goes even further back, and finds discussion in first the Canadian press that he was training in the country for deployment, then articles in *shock* the UK press doing much the same, which might well have triggered the embargo, deal, or whatever it was. There might well have been D-Notices involved for those who thought of daring to go it alone, even though they too are just instructions, not guidelines that must be followed.

    If that wasn't humiliating enough for the most tenacious press in the world™, then anyone with the slightest interest in hearing something other than the MoD's no doubt weeks in the polishing releases and the most pathetic questioning, or rather unquestioning of any soldier ever would have been left feeling short-changed. There wasn't so much as a word about Afghanistan itself, how badly the mission is in actuality going, or whether the other soldiers are enjoying it as much as Harry so evidently was, despite the nonsense that he was an ordinary soldier quite clearly being molly-cuddled with one of the safest jobs in the entire country, but there were instead plenty of wonderful photographs and staged videos for the press to savour. Watch as royal family member fires bloody big gun at nothing in particular! Marvel as he talks about targeting Terry Taliban! Laugh as he fails to ride motorbike dumped in the middle of nowhere!

    When the death of his mother led to the biggest reverse ferret in press history, a woman they had previously dismissed and ridiculed day after day suddenly becoming the people's princess, you would have placed money on that being the biggest volt-face to ever happen. How typical that one of her own has broken that record! Gone is the boozing and carousing prince, getting sozzled on our money, a disgrace to the country referred to at least twice by the Sun as "dirty", and now here's Harry the Hero, the Sun's poster of the soldier prince going up across the country, while it solemnly intones that he's found his vocation and that everything must be sacrificed to ensure he can continue doing the job he so obviously loves.

    You would of course expect that from the "popular" press, but even the broads fell into line. The Guardian, which itself devoted two pages yesterday to Harry's colonial exploits, outlines how the Times and Telegraph gave his mission seven and five pages respectively. Only the Independent dared to spoil the party by giving over a parsimonious single page to the secret hero. Even that coverage was sycophantic in the extreme, relating how Harry had retrained as a "forward air controller", reiterating how he was sitting in front of "Kill TV" or "Taliban TV" directing American F15 jets to their targets. None of them ever felt the need to question whether this is the best way to fight the war, or that human rights organisations estimate that over 230 civilians were killed in air strikes in Afghanistan in 2006, leading Hamid Karzai to plead in tears for the coalition forces to stop being so cavalier with the lives of those on ground. That might have been unpatriotic, or been construed as suggesting that Harry had killed civilians while blasting the 30 Taliban the Sun claimed he had eviscerated. They didn't point out when Harry said this was about "as normal as I'm ever going to get" that there is nothing ordinary about making life or death decisions through a computer monitor. We viciously attack suicide bombers or other terrorists for their cowardly nature, and are often right, but there is very little difference between that and the end result of dropping 500lb bombs from however many feet in the air onto houses which may or may not be full of Terry Taliban, directed from somewhere far removed via a screen. Even more startling was Harry's remark in one of the interviews that "he doesn't like England much", which in any other circumstances involving anyone else would have resulted in a quick media crucifixion for impugning on the name of the country the same press outlets often bemoan, but this was from the newly crowned hero we can all salute and be proud of. The less said about the craven BBC's coverage, voiced by that "bloody awful man" Nicholas Witchell in the most reverent of tones usually reserved for a state funeral the better.

    The question has to be just how much was spent on this whole ridiculous fandango. How many man hours at the MoD went into working just how to get him in and then out if necessary in such absolute secrecy? Which PR firm did the sterling job of collating all the propaganda to be screened and printed on his return, or was that the MoD's work as well, involving the Press Association? Just how many individuals had to be directly bribed or bought off in some other way to keep silent? Was he really at any point in any sort of danger whatsoever, because it certainly doesn't look like it at first glance? Is this all to please the prince who threatened to leave the army after he wasn't sent to Iraq, or was it a stunt the MoD went along with because it instantly recognised its value in the propaganda war?

    We should be fair to Harry. Unlike our leaders and their families on both sides of the Atlantic, at least he's been potentially prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for his country. If anything, he's the most senior figure from a family in sort of power to go to the front line in either Iraq or Afghanistan, and for that alone he deserves respect. All of this could however have been done without any sort of the pandemonium that prevented him from going to Iraq and then ended his stay in Afghanistan. Looking at the photographs of him in his full kit, body armour and helmet, no one would have the slightest clue that he was the third in line to the throne unless they were personally told. This was always the idiocy of announcing in the first place that he was going to be deployed: the MoD should have just sent him, told no one and not bothered with any deals with the media. They should have treated him like his comrades do: as an ordinary soldier, as that is after all what he is. It's to give too much credit to both the Taliban and the insurgents in Iraq to say that as soon as he was sent out they'd be searching for him because of the value of taking his life. If the Taliban had killed him during this trip, they wouldn't have known any better until the MoD themselves had admitted so. It's just as daft reporting today that extremists are already after him, about the only person they could find to denounce him being Anjem Choudary, the moron from al-Muhajiroun. The Scum babbles about threats being made against him by al-Qaida, with a message on "the terror group's website" about it. They must have set up their own page especially for the occasion, as al-Qaida has never had anything even approaching an "official" website since was shut down in 2002.

    You could put all of this down to "churnalism" or Flat Earth News, ninja turtle syndrome or otherwise, but that might be actually giving the coverage over the last few days some sort of label, explanation or excuse that it truly doesn't warrant. The exploits of one very important soldier have probably been given more exposure that the rest of the army's achievements and complaints have in the last couple of years. Soldier going to war/coming back from war isn't a story, unless they've come back in a body bag. The MoD might be celebrating a wonderful success in PR terms, but somehow you get the feeling that the unfortunates on the ground themselves, with another British soldier dying today in Iraq for no reason or point whatsoever, will not be thanking Harry for obscuring the futility of their current deployments.

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    The grim calculus of death.

    13 - the number of Israelis killed by the pitiful hand-constructed rockets launched from the Gaza strip by the various militant groups there since 2001, a number which prompted Israel's deputy defence minister to warn of a "bigger shoah", the Hebrew word normally only used to refer to the Holocaust.

    16 - the number of Palestinian civilians killed just today in air and artillery strikes in the Gaza strip. 70 Palestinians have been killed since Wednesday, of whom at least 32 were civilians.

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