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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