Saturday, March 22, 2008 

Iraq week - recollections and thoughts on Abu Ghraib.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, March 21, 2008 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Campaigners voiced disgust at how much he will cost taxpayers.

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

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

The Scum article ends with:

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

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

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

Who knows, maybe he's moved to Wapping?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An assistant manager thought I stood a good chance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Probably when the Sun starts being honest with everyone else.

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

WHERE there’s a will there’s a wage.

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

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

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

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

Here lies the heart of the challenge facing the Government.

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

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

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

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

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

That is the question facing Britain today.

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

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Thursday, March 20, 2008 

Scum-watch: The paedo is coming!

A classic Sun front page today:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are two ways to live your life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We are ruled over by vermin part two.

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

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

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008 

Iraq week - how one picture defines a war.

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

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

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

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

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

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A system unchanged by scandals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008 

Iraq week - the parliamentary vote.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mucking around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, March 17, 2008 

Iraq week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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