Saturday, April 04, 2009 

Weekend links.

Either everyone's gone off on holiday, or everyone's tired out after the "excitement" of the G20, resulting in a fairly tepid weekend of blogging. Of that which there is, a reader of Liberal Conspiracy writes in to tell of how she's being evicted by the Labour party, Paul Linford struggles to answer whether all politicians are crooks or not, Justin has video of two of the protesters who saw what happened to the man who died at the G20 protests, Flying Rodent somewhat shoots fish in a barrel in his post on the fabulous Ayn Rand, A Very Public Sociologist has a round-up of all those G20 posts, Dave Osler comments on the return of homelessness, the Yorkshire Ranter notes the Telegraph's lack of journalistic standards and lastly the Quail covers the "movement" against Google Street View in his usual fashion.

In the papers, Matthew Parris, Peter Oborne and Polly Toynbee (in a rare decent piece) all cover the G20 and its aftermath, Marina Hyde correctly points out that without the BBC we'd quickly be in a race to the bottom (seriously, has anyone ever watched ITV2? It makes BBC3 look like BBC4 by comparison) and Howard Jacobson takes up the difficult task of somewhat defending Jacqui Smith and Richard Timney and makes as decent a fist of it as anyone possibly could.

As for the worst tabloid article of the weekend, it seems our usual suspect La Platell is away, but unfortunately the same could not be said for the equally abysmal Liz Jones, who is offended by the sight of people who both dress and think differently to her. Also worthy of mention is this Scum article on a school transformed when a group of gypsies moved into the local area, whereupon the good burghers astonishingly quickly removed their own refined offspring from it. Result: a failing school. We just can't have the mixing of the landed classes and the hoi polloi can we?

Labels: , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Friday, April 03, 2009 

The media and spree killings.

There's now been at least six spree killings in the space of less than a month. For the most part I tend to be sceptical about claims of media influence, especially to the extent to which it might by itself trigger copycat behaviour or violence, but there does seem to be some reasonable evidence, at least where it comes to suicide, that sensationalistic coverage and especially emphasis on methods can lead to an increase in the number of attempts by those who already contemplating doing so or are otherwise depressed.

If there is a link, then it might well be because the media cover spree killings very differently to the way they do "normal" murders. A case in point was the Virginia Tech massacre, where Seung-Hui Cho did the work of the 24-hour news networks for them, sending an entire dossier, better described as a manifesto, to NBC, which they did the equivalent of ejaculating over. In almost no other cases would news networks allow killers to justify their crimes in such a way as Cho did, putting himself up as a secular martyr. The hysteria which followed Columbine, where everything and everyone was blamed other than those who had failed to spot the warning signs, succeeded in making Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris into anti-heroes, as the psychiatrist on Newswipe suggests, name-checked by Cho himself as previous victims whom he aspired to emulate.

There are of course other explanations, often that those behind such sprees have been planning them for some time and that the dates they actually chose to carry out their murders are simply coincidence. Certainly the current economic situation, which will increase the number who undergo utter desperation at their current lot, hardly helps matters. Other cases, such as the Oakland police shootings, just seem to be down to all those involved, including the shooter, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even so, that doesn't alter the fact that the media doesn't need to report these killings in the way in which the clip identifies. If there's even the possibility that such sensationalism can contribute to those who subsequently go postal, the media has the best possible reason for scaling back the coverage.

Labels: , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Thursday, April 02, 2009 

The G20.

In an incredibly rare example of coordinated thinking, or perhaps rather unimaginative subbing, both the Mail and Guardian tomorrow share the same front page headline - Brown's new world order. Whether the Mail's, with the addition of the exclamation mark, is sarcastic is unclear, but considering the closeness between Paul Dacre and Brown it wouldn't be surprising if even the Mail has decided to be positive for once.

Whether such positivity is genuinely warranted is equally uncertain. However much horse-trading went on behind the scenes is also impossible to know, but as Craig Murray points out, much of the "communique" which has been issued and which runs to a stonking 3,000 words, ensuring that few will read it, will have been all ready and set to go before many had even flown into London. Similarly discouraging, considering the emphasis which was put on the shutting down of tax havens and regulation of hedge funds is that the markets rose significantly today. True, the markets have been rising over the past week, but if those with so much dosh stashed away in the likes of Switzerland, Liechtenstein and the British Virgin Islands really feared the new measures put in place, they would have almost certainly taken fright. That they didn't suggests one of two things: either the economic situation has become so desperate that those with much to lose from the new agreements have decided that such sacrifices have to be made to avoid a slump into full depression, or that the new proposals aren't worth the paper they're written on. The smart money will be on the latter.

For the moment though, Brown will surely bask in the glory, once again, of being the self-proclaimed saviour of the world. Whether that glory will quickly turn, in masturbatory fashion, from euphoria to the deepest ennui and darkest depression remains to be seen. He must however be proud and thrilled with much that has taken place, probably the little things rather than some of the immediate greater achievements. You can't after all get much further from Bush calling Blair to heel in 2006 with his shout of "Yo Blair!" to Obama rather than Brown putting his arm across the prime minister's shoulders whilst in Downing Street. The "special relationship", however cynical and subservient a relationship it is, currently looks more equal than it has in years. Likewise, the communique itself will be a cause for celebration, written as it seems to be in the language which Brown and New Labour have long spoke in, note especially the early mention of the dreaded "hard-working families". To get the G20 also talking it and agreeing with it, however mediocre and mild much of the aims are, will be a source of pride, even if it shouldn't be.

As Craig Murray also suggested, there has been something for everyone to shout about so that no one goes home empty-handed. The French and Germans, who theatrically threatened to walk out if not enough was done on regulation, each got what they wanted, or have claimed to. Indicative of the pressure on him at home, President Sarkozy, who was elected on promise of wholesale reform of the French economy and nicknamed "Sarko the American" because of his enthusiasm for the country as compared to the more usual Gallic antipathy, raved about the promises for the changes on challenging the tax havens. The Chinese seem have to succeeded in their attempts to build up an alternative to the dollar as the reserve currency of choice through the IMF's special drawing right equivalent, which may be the first real signs of them exercising their coming clout over foreign policy. Probably the most significant and as a result under-reported achievement though was clinched yesterday, the pledged commitment between the Americans and Russians to reduce their nuclear arsenals. Any sign of a thaw in what was threatening to become a reprise if not a return to the war of words and threats of the cold war is to be welcomed.

Most vividly missing though was any mention of a global fiscal stimulus, which was never likely to be agreed but which Brown and his apparatchiks were still talking up until Mervyn King so rudely slammed that policy door shut last week. Equally missing was any genuine recognition that simply, things cannot return to how they were in the summer of 2007. Those who up until recently had believed that there was no alternative to neo-liberalism and that only the freest markets, uninhibited by regulation would deliver perpetual prosperity have not changed their minds - they've only changed their attitudes for as long as it takes for us to emerge from the recession of their very making. The world simply cannot sustain continuous growth, and the idea that we can protect the environment, cut carbon emissions to the extent to which we prevent run-away climate change and still slaver over the profits at the end of it is a false one. We shouldn't of course have expected the equivalent of turkeys voting for Christmas - but just the slightest recognition that even if not now, we need a serious re-examination of the very basics of modern economic orthodoxy would have been a step in the right direction.

This was Gordon Brown's last throw of the dice, for after this there's nothing left in the tank. There's no money for a further stimulus, the budget threatens to be a damp squib which will only underline just how bad the finances are and how wrong the government's predictions have been, although all predictions have been more or less worthless for some time now. He has to hope that some of the Obama magic has rubbed off, that the public has taken some notice of the praise bestowed on him by other leaders, and that even if little of this will make any difference to their personal finances whatsoever, that he has been demonstrably doing something in an effort to get the global economy working again. This credit, of which he will probably receive a little although not a lot, is still hardly likely to do anything whatsoever to lift the polls or his personal ratings. Far more influential will have been the weekend's revelations on expenses, which will have just underlined how much politicians are currently loathed. The only solace is that equally applies to the Conservatives just as much as Labour. In Westminster circles Brown might be on the up, but elsewhere the only place to go still seems down.

Labels: , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Wednesday, April 01, 2009 

Just give me a black mask.

Two images sum up the G20 protests: the first superb one from HarpyMarx, and the other flashing all over the place showing the photographers lining up to snap the guy smashing the window of the handy local RBS building. Class them as hope and cynicism, if you like.

For the media got their riot, if you can call what was instead more of a skirmish along with the rather counter-productive looting of a bank a riot. The police and media warned for nigh on two weeks that the protests were potentially going to be extremely violent or very violent, with black flag brandishing anarchists from abroad coming to smash up our British streets. There was violence no doubt, but most of it was the police cracking the heads of crusties and assorted malcontents rather than the great unwashed stringing up bankers from the lampposts. Just as there are those on these protests that go along intent on causing trouble, there are some police officers who also live for these marches; most no doubt loathe them and wish that they were doing some proper police work like filling in paperwork back at the station, but there is a distinct minority who are overjoyed at the prospect of whacking jumped-up hippies and others whom they intensely loathe. It's not a new thing: it's been going on for decades, whether during the miner's strike, the poll tax protests or even the more recent pro-hunting demonstration where some officers showed that when it comes to protests, it doesn't seem to matter what the actual issue is, it's a wonderful opportunity to get your baton out and swing it through the air satisfyingly.

The media of course also adore it. Hence we have the by no means hysterical Daily Mail claiming that the City had been ransacked and that hordes of anti-capitalists were rampaging, when they were instead being mostly held against their will by the police who were intent on photographing and identifying everyone. As soon as around 20 protesters succeeded in smashing up RBS, all of whom had their collars felt, they'd got their story and started to lose interest, which was helpful, considering the Guardian reports which suggest that the police themselves then started some mini-riots of their own, attacking a sit-down protest and then sending fully-fledged riot police into the entirely peaceful, almost tranquil Climate Camp which was a world away from what was happening at Threadneedle street.

If I hadn't had work and then long ago had tickets reserved for the Young Knives tonight (who were as tight as could have been anticipated, even if they didn't play Counters), I might have gone, mainly to observe and perhaps shout the odd silly slogan. That seems to be what the vast majority were out to do, and also have fun at the same time as putting a message across; you can argue about the coherence of the message being sent, and also the quality of it, but both are always going to compromised when so many disparate groups and individuals join together. Fundamentally, demonstrations are for sending these messages; putting "messages" into law, as both main parties in this country are intent on doing, is not so laudable.

The Daily (Maybe) has easily the best round-up of all the reporting and bloggage, so I won't bother doing that, except to point you in the direction of a few that he's missed, such as Craig Murray, Laurie Penny, The Green Room, Derek Wall, the inimitable Daily Quail, Justin's more than humourous tweets and Abu Muqawama on how to properly use a baton.

Labels: , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Tuesday, March 31, 2009 

Pakistan, Afghanistan and the new American strategy.

In one sense, the claim of responsibility from the Pakistani Taliban for yesterday's attack on the police school, more accurately known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban, headed by Baitullah Mehsud, is something of a relief; it means, that as yet, Lashkar-e-Taiba, another group founded by Pakistan's intelligence agencies, has not declared war on the Pakistani state itself, even if they remain the most likely suspects for the previous attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team. It does however show how quickly attacks like those in Mumbai can be copied and carried out, the TTP having previously relied almost exclusively on suicide bombings.

The other sort of good news from yesterday's attack was that a complete bloodbath was avoided thanks to the relatively swift intervention of the Pakistani security forces, those who had been criticised, probably unfairly, after the first Lahore attack. "Only" 11 dead, when there were up to 800 police recruits in the attacked compound, can be seen as something of a success. It might also cause a rethink in the terrorists' tactics: a suicide bombing, especially a truck one, would have almost certainly resulted in far higher casualties and at less expense to the attackers, hence why suicide bombing is such an attractive strategy, however much horror it inspires in those who are under attack.

Apart from those very small consolations, there is much to fear from the continuing spiral into proactive insurgency in Pakistan. The sharia "deal" in Swat was meant to bring a halt to some of the attacks: if anything, they have increased elsewhere, as could have been predicted. The justification given by Mehsud for yesterday's attack was the drone strikes which are also continuing in the semi-autonomous tribal areas along the Afghanistan border. While these attacks have been effective in taking out some al-Qaida and Taliban leaders, they are also the equivalent of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, resulting in civilian casualties which only further enrage public opinion against the Americans, and in turn towards the Pakistani state which they see as colluding with the Hellfire missile assaults, however much they condemn the Americans in public. That the latest attack was again in Lahore, long regarded as being far removed from the tension of Islamabad or the radicalism of the towns and cities further west, also shows just how far the reach of the TTP has spread and also how quickly. The insurgency ostensibly began after the assault on the Red Mosque in 2007, but has since become almost inseparable from the simultaneous jihad in Afghanistan against the foreign forces, as the merging of three separate organisations under the banner of the Council of United Mujahideen last month showed. The new grouping, which also pledged allegiance to Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, was meant to focus its attacks on the coalition in Afghanistan and turn away from targeting the Pakistani military and police, yet there is no sign of that happening yet. Indeed, if anything, the attacks in Pakistan itself seem to have stepped up further over the past few weeks.

All of this is a direct challenge to the "new" US strategy on both Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is fundamentally based around denying terrorists the use of safe havens to attack foreign countries from. In some ways it amounts to a refutation of the previous administration's strategy of tackling rogue states, where the attack on Afghanistan amounted to revenge with the war on Iraq, which had no connection to al-Qaida, the main event, but in other ways it is nothing more or less than simply a justification from Obama to continue the war, regardless of the consequences. The strategy fundamentally ignores what the jihadi motivation is: they themselves are only too aware of their actual weak status, knowing full well that they cannot carry out spectaculars like 9/11 on anything like a regular basis. What they can do however is draw in their enemies and then subject them to asymmetrical insurgency, knowing that unless their tactics become too brutal, as they did in Iraq, resulting in a backlash from those who had fought alongside them, that they have the potential to bog down the invaders or occupiers for years, if not decades, while increasingly gaining recruits to their cause as a result. Afghanistan has not really been free from war since before 1980, and some of those fighting have also been involved since then, showing no signs of getting tired of it.

The biggest problem with it though is that it imagines that it can create safe havens, or even that such a policy is the way forward. Even if you managed to kill bin Laden, Zawahiri and Mullah Omar tomorrow and most if not all of those currently actively involved in the insurgencies, while it would be a tremendous blow, it would not even begin to challenge the ideology behind the men. Havens also are transient: at the moment it's the FATA area of Pakistan, but bin Laden if we are to use him did plenty of travelling around after the end of the jihad against the Soviets, moving from Saudi Arabia to Sudan and then back to Afghanistan. As Andrew Exum points out, where does it all end? Do we also go after and into Somalia, Yemen, the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and anywhere else where jihadist movements are also beginning to spawn and which might at some point threaten the West? Then there's the "virtual" safe havens, the online jihadist networks which currently only involve discussion and distribution of propaganda rather than actual plotting, which instead takes place off the actual forums, but which could at some point potentially fill the void. Thomas Hegghammer points out four very simple things that have to be done but which don't involve violence of any variety which would help immensely:

It is very simple: 1) Say and do things on Palestine, Chechnya and Kashmir that make Muslims feel less geopolitically deprived and humiliated. 2) Be nice to the locals in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and broadcast your good deeds, 3) Point out where the jihadis are wrong on substance, and 4) Let mainstream Muslim clerics take care of the theology.

The above is not suddenly going to stop the TTP from launching more attacks, but it will help to staunch the flow of recruits. Pakistan is worrying, but it is not suddenly about to fall into the hands of jihadists who will instantly have their finger on the nuclear trigger. Lastly, we also have to start thinking seriously about an exit strategy from Afghanistan: a country which could never be conquered in the past is not going to be conquered now. Deals, however unsavoury, will have to be made. It probably won't however look as bad as it currently does when the government we helped install wants to introduce such draconian laws on the role of women in Afghan society as those detailed in today's Grauniad.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Monday, March 30, 2009 

Richard Timney and the story of his descent into perversion.

The Sunday Express is not often noted for its political scoops, and coming shortly after its Scottish sister thought it was a spiffing idea to lead with the shame of the Dunblane survivors who were daring to act like teenagers generally do, their story on Jacqui Smith's husband claiming expenses for watching two "pornographic" features must be a cause for double satisfaction. For not only did they beat their rivals, but it also seems likely that Richard Timney was also contributing to Richard Desmond's coffers, having probably ordered the features from his Television X venture. A Telegraph blogger claims that the films in question were Raw Meat 3, which it turns out, is of the gay genre, and By Special Request, which is undetermined in nature at present.

If almost any other politician, or rather their spouse had been caught in a similar situation, with the possible exception of Harriet Harman, who the tabloids loves to portray as a feminazi, it wouldn't have probably been so embarrassing or have led to calls for their resignation. This though was unfortunate enough to befall Jacqui Smith, who seems to be have become the latest New Labour Home Secretary to gain the description "accident prone". No one could begrudge a spouse feeling lonely of an evening with their partner away the comfort of a surrogate, and as we know, Smith seems to spend an awful lot of time with her sister, and if they wish to sample adult entertainment to fill the void, as it were, even of the soft pornographic variety available on demand, that is no business of anyone else's. It would be best however if they didn't then claim it on their expenses. Yet to misquote Lady Bracknell, to be caught out once even if no explicit rule has been breached by claiming that your main residence also happens to be your sister's, to be caught out again in such a further shamefacedly way looks like carelessness.

In fact, the claiming of £10 for two half-hearted skin flicks looks remarkably less objectionable when you examine the list for what Smith was claiming in full, which includes, incredibly, a whole 88 pence for a bath plug, not to mention £550 for a Habitat stone model sink. Those who currently find themselves out of work and on jobseeker's allowance would have to save up for two months' and a week (the current rate is £60.50 a week if you're over 25, if you're under it's less) to be able to fit out their bathroom in the same manner. You can't help but think it would have been preferable for Timney to have emerged, crimson and contrite, to say sorry for the fitting out of their home at taxpayer's expense, especially when both are already in the pay of the state and hardly shabbily remunerated, than for him to have face the feral beast in full cry about his masturbatory habits.

Even with all of this in mind, probably the most outrageous statement made since yesterday's revelations has been the repeated claim, by both David Miliband and the prime minister, that Jacqui Smith is doing a "great job". She may be, as Hopi Sen half-heartedly says, decent and hard-working, and might also be a lovely person in general, it's just a crying shame about her politics and more than apparent difficulty to take criticism. It has to be remembered that this was the person who was determined, along with the prime minister, to ram through 42 days detention without charge for terrorist suspects, who recently oversaw the passing of the "dangerous pictures" law, and who now also wants to put through a successor "dangerous cartoons" act. Her contempt for individual liberty could not be more clear than when she when sneers at those that are "reasonably comfortable" but who complain about the erosion of civil liberties when far more important is the "fundamental right" for us "to be safe", and I say all this as someone reasonably sympathetic towards the way the media has portrayed her, from Quentin Letts leering at her bosom (not "pneumatic", friends of Ms Harman have accused me of misogyny) when she made the heinous mistake of inadvertently showing off some cleavage, to the oh so clever cartoonist in Private Eye who draws her with breasts the size of watermelons.

In fairness to Smith, while her claiming that her main residence is her sister's home is especially cunning, most MPs are doing things remarkably similar, regardless of their politics. The Sunday Mirror for instance claimed that William Hague, who is not exactly strapped for cash, was claiming for his second home despite earning in the region of £800,000 a year, and who wouldn't give up his outside interests despite being asked by Cameron. It's been apparent now for quite some time that to all intents and purposes, for those who want to abuse the system, even if they are not breaking the letter of the law, they can claim pretty much anything they want and not have to break into their own salary. At long last, possibly thanks to how bad this looks while everyone else is tightening their belts, Gordon Brown did today finally suggest that the second home allowance should be scrapped, despite only recently fending off attempts by others to reform the system, even if it will be replaced by a flat-rate system.

The rage that this is inducing in the public was palpably summarised on last week's Question Time, when Eric Pickles, who didn't help matters by putting off a poor defence of his allowance, was pulverised by the audience. This can be unfair on politicians who do often, it must be said, make the best of a bad lot. We ought to be grateful that for the most part ours are remarkably straight; far more worthy of criticism is the parliamentary system itself, where party comes above the personal all too often, as indeed is the first past the post system by which they are appointed in the first place. If you had to ask which was preferable, the fiddling of expenses so they can refit their bathrooms and get DVD players and widescreen TVs for their second homes for zilch, or the active buying or bribing of politicians by outside influences, you would go for the former every time. The sad fact is that most of them don't have to be paid to make bad decisions, whether on war, airport expansion or the bailing out of bankers: they do that more than acceptably all on their own.

Labels: , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button


  • This is septicisle



Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates