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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