Saturday, August 29, 2009 

Weekend links.

Ultra slow weekend, as I'm assume everyone with half a brain is off somewhere, hence a very slight showing from the blogs. That which there is comes from Dave Semple, on the BBC and political bias, Jamie isn't impressed with James Murdoch, Shiraz Socialist notes the 40th anniversary of the Battle of Bogside, Anton Vowl has a plan to save the newspaper industry, Freemania wonders about Daniel Hannan and his admiration for Enoch Powell, Daily Quail has a guide on how to work with the TaxPayers' Alliance and the Heresiarch has a riff on Murdoch's speech. There's also my follow-up on yesterday's Sun - Tabloid Lies post.

In the papers and on their sites, we'll start with Robert Peston, who provides something of a riposte to James Murdoch without realising he was going to do so, then there's Norman Davies in the Indie who reminds us not to forget the real causes of war, marking the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of WWII, Andrew Grice with his thoughts on whether the Tories could campaign on raising taxes - and win, Ian Jack, who explores whether the release of al-Megrahi was a test of Scottish character and Polly Toynbee, who thinks the Tories will come to regret their claims on poverty.

As for worst tabloid article, although it doesn't appear in one, James Murdoch's speech simply has to be included. Also worthy of note though is Melanie Reid in the Times, getting the comment on the kidnapping of Jaycee Lee Dugard off to a predictably bad start, but the true winner is (of course) Amanda Platell in the Mail, terrified that it's not the middle class that are having a baby boom, but instead the immigrants, whom FCC deals with in customary fashion.

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That James Murdoch speech.

The only thing he didn't accuse others of doing which his Daddy also indulges in was nepotism.

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Friday, August 28, 2009 

Monsters everywhere.

I presume then, now that Jacyee Lee Dugard has escaped from 18 years of captivity, along with the two children fathered by her alleged kidnapper, that the nation's finest media organisations will inform us that this was the sort of thing that could only happen in closed, post-authoritarian societies where questions go unasked, secrets remain secrets and tents, outbuildings and sheds are permanently closed, while others will suggest that the police should be arming themselves and start searching sheds across the nation, should any others like Dugard be hidden from view.

Or considering that most of those who indulged in such fantasies after the discovery of what Josef Fritzl had been subjecting his daughter to in Austria are rather fond of and think America to be vastly superior to both this country and Europe, maybe they'll just tone down the rhetoric slightly.

P.S. A rather meatier piece concerning today's Sun front page is over on The Sun - Tabloid Lies.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009 

Yet more Glen Jenvey etc.

Spinwatch has a new article up which is by far the most comprehensive attempt yet to link together the "network" which Glen Jenvey was formerly a part of, and includes details on others that have been featured in the Sun's pages as "terror experts", such as Neil Doyle, whom this blog has mentioned on a number of occasions.

It also mentions the Sun's reply to the Press Complaints Commission concerning the "TERROR TARGET SUGAR" story, which had protested about:

In its response to the Press Complaints Commission, a copy of which has been given to Spinwatch, The Sun argued that, ‘to regard Islamic extremists as being in the business of sending ‘polite letters’ is naïve and extreme. This is based on the expert opinion of Glen Jenvey, an expert in radical Islam…it is quite obviously a euphemism…’

Yes, obviously... that's why the thread had to be bumped repeatedly by "Abuislam" to try to get everyone interested in the business of sending "polite letters", and why he also had to suggest turning up at their houses in person. The letter itself will be of even greater interest once it can be released in full.

The article was sadly written before Jenvey's confession that he was indeed "Abuislam", and so the most crucial part of evidence concerning the fakery and entrapment which Jenvey's group used is not included. I, as well as others, had long been concerned about the likes of Vigil and Westminster Journal and their sensationalistic approach to "watching" jihadists, a vital security activity which they have risked undermining through their selling of ridiculous false stories to tabloids; I had intended to write a "who watches the watchers?" post but never got round to it. It does however further pin down Patrick Mercer as one of Jenvey's main supporters and pushers, someone who ought to have been far more careful and circumspect in his dealings with such individuals, and whom Tim Ireland is still currently in dispute with over what he knew and when.

Elsewhere today, which has been incredibly slow, Love and Garbage's entire Lockerbie tag is essential reading, while the Haribo "fruit fucking" story is almost certainly an example of both churnalism and a company getting its story in the press via an alternative source, ala the "Cab, innit" staple.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009 

With baited breath...

The waiting then is finally over. The moment the nation has been looking forward to has arrived. After months of tension, irritation and terrible puns, not to mention writing, the next editor of the Sun, taking over from Rebekah Wade will be... Dominic Moron (surely Mohan? Ed.).

Who he? Well, he's probably best known for being a former editor of the Sun's Bizarre showbiz pages, which is increasingly becoming a signifier for going on to "greatness", with Piers Morgan and Andy Coulson both formerly helming the columns. More recently he's been the deputy editor for the last couple of years, although even the sad individuals like myself who "watch" the Sun will have been hard pressed to see any of his personal influence on the paper. Indeed, he's even been editing the paper for the last month while Wade, sorry, I mean Brooks, has been getting to know her new husband even better, when not flying to Italy in a private jet and back in a single day of course, and I doubt anyone has noticed any difference whatsoever. Mohan did for a time have a comment page all to himself, a success so huge that he was swiftly recognised by Private Eye as the World's Worst Columnist.

None of this will be seen as a surprise. Wade's appointment as editor was the one which caused the most comment and controversy since Kelvin MacKenzie's days, both because (durr) she was a woman on what has always been a distinctly laddish paper, and also due to her role as the nation's paedofinder general while editor of the News of the World. Murdoch's choices prior to that had actually been far more conservative, perhaps with the exception of the young and relatively untested Morgan, and also more anonymous. Mohan might have had his photograph taken with every "star" going while editor of Bizarre, but that was quite a while ago by modern standards. Murdoch's apparent predilection for showbiz reporters to gradually become editors of his tabloids can be explained easily: they rarely have defined political views, let alone ones which are likely to be counter to his (read Morgan's anguished and fevered political revision prior to meeting Murdoch in his "diaries"), hence leaving all that tiresome stuff to either him or his trusted lieutenants like Trevor Kavanagh, and secondly, considering that most of the nonsense printed in them now is either about who's shagging who and who currently has the biggest pair of tits, it makes good business sense that someone who understands that first and foremost has their hand on the tiller.

As it happens, the editor of the Sun has probably never mattered less, with the exception of when the paper was transformed from the Daily Herald into (gradually, with Murdoch's purchase of the paper in 1969) the super soaraway form which we now know and loathe. No editor since MacKenzie has ever fully stamped their own personality all over it: sure, Wade has stepped up the campaigning slightly, and her continuing emphasis on saving children from the evil all around them has never wavered, while it has probably become slightly more liberal, in line with society in general, but the politics have remained exactly the same. Up the arse of Blair, less up the arse of Brown, and now up the arse of Cameron, all dictated by the true management. The lies, laziness and obsessions will all remain the same under Mohan, and Sun-watching will be just as necessary as before.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009 

When you walk through the garden...

In one way, you've got to give Chris Grayling some credit. In what is otherwise an entirely run of the mill speech on law and order, which offers precisely no new policies at all from what I can see, he's managed to get the attention of the entire press corp, all thanks to his mention of The Wire, which although few of the people reading the story written up in the papers may have seen, those writing it almost certainly will have. By run of the mill, I mean, in Grayling's tradition, deliberately deceptive, misleading, tenuous and predictable. There's the personal anecdote from Manchester which is then applied to the country as a whole, ringing with hyperbole of a "urban war"; there's the selective use of statistics on violence which don't even begin to give the whole picture, as he relies entirely on police figures rather than the British Crime Survey, which he then later uses when it does help his cause; the now obligatory claim to being more progressive than Labour, which isn't difficult, but which the Tories still manage to fall down on; then, despite claiming to be the new progressive alternative, he goes through all the old law and order dog whistles, benefit culture, broken society, family breakdown, how voluntary organisations and the"third sector" will solve everything, all without even beginning to explain how their proposed alternative would help.

Grayling rather let the cat out of the bag when he said he had only seen a few episodes of the first series of The Wire; I doubt he's even seen those, although those who wrote the speech for him and advise him almost certainly have. As other bloggers have pointed out already, if you can't tell that the The Wire is about the utter futility, hopelessness and disaster of the war on drugs, then you haven't been watching it closely enough, and as indeed the co-creator himself even said. I have a suggestion though: if Grayling thinks that parts of this country now reflect Baltimore as portrayed in The Wire, then let's try some of the solutions which the characters in the show themselves experimented with.

For instance, in the third series, beaten into a corner by the insanity of the pressure on him to reach targets to cut violent crime, as well as his disgust at seeing how following the demolition of the main area of the city where drugs were bought and sold the trade has spread out into neighbourhoods previously untouched, Major Howard "Bunny" Colvin finds an almost deserted part of the city and sets up a "free zone", which as long as the dealers and their underlings and the other assorted hangers-on keep to, they'll face no charges and even be helped or protected by his officers. Colvin's plan isn't of course without hitches, and soon, pressured by an old friend into also providing clean needles, free condoms and outreach workers, as well as a murder, it all inevitably falls apart as his superiors realise what he's done, with councillor Carcetti, starting his campaign to be mayor, also milking it for all its worth. Now, while I don't think many would suggest that we should set up similar style "free zones", what's stopping the Tories from thinking really radically and following the example of Portugal and decriminalising drugs almost entirely while drastically improving the facilities for treatment, detoxing and help back into work and society itself? That would be truly progressive.

Then there's the fourth series, with its focus on the school system and the programme which Colvin, now outside the police and into academia attempts running which focuses on the "corner kids" and attempts to both socialise and civilise them into being able to return to their normal classes. Few schools have anything as radical or as breaking out of the mould as similar programmes, and as Colvin himself points out, these are the kids that are being left behind anyway, regardless of claims by politicians that no child will be. Or there's the overall theme which permeates all five series, which is that politicians and police don't mix, and that targets set by politicians only distract from real police work. The Tories still seem set on the idea of elected commissioners, which has to be one of the very worst ideas they've come up with. The police do of course have to be accountable locally, but electing someone who will do little more than interfere and also potentially bring out the very worst in both policing and politics is straight out of the mad house. Three ideas then for genuine, progressive reform, all of which the Conservatives would almost certainly baulk at.

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Monday, August 24, 2009 

The Maltese double cross part 3.

If there's one thing that's worse than releasing a convicted mass murderer on cynical grounds, to help with trade between two countries, it must be to play politics on a decision that was in fact made in good faith on purely humanitarian grounds. The nauseating sight of seeing all three other main parties in Scotland, Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems, all opposing the decision made by Kenny MacAskill, must almost certainly be the Scottish parliament's lowest point since it came into existence. The Tories and Labour may well have opposed the decision if it was theirs to make - their playing to the gallery can never be doubted - but for the Lib Dems to do the same is pure political calculation.

Of course, whether the decision was purely MacAskill's, and how much Westminster knew about what was going on is now being questioned. Ivan Lewis seems to have sent a letter which openly encouraged sending al-Megrahi home, although through the prisoner exchange deal rather than on compassionate grounds, while the dealings between Brown and Mandelson with Gaddafi's both junior and senior now seem to have been far more significant than either first claimed. Further evidence that suggests that Westminster was just as complicit as the SNP is that David Miliband refused to be drawn on what he really thought about al-Megrahi's release, while Gordon Brown has said absolutely nothing on the subject so far. Partially this might well be because they know full well that the SNP would like nothing better to be able to put some of the blame on Labour, but it also seems to reflect the fact that despite all the cant, no one seems to have really wanted al-Megrahi to stay. Dave Osler sums this theory in general up:

In sum, we are faced with a straightforward case of New Labour setting aside any other consideration than what works for major UK companies, building its foreign policy in that light alone, and then passing the buck north of the border. That - this once - its actions were consonant with the correct course is simply felicitous coincidence.

This would be fully in line with New Labour's foreign policy both past and present, yet it still hasn't personally passed the buck north, just rather letting the SNP take the blame whether it is entirely theirs or not.

The continuing outrage from the US however continues to amuse, most hilarious being Robert Mueller and others comment that al-Megrahi's release gives comfort to "terrorists worldwide". Only someone so up themselves and so crimson with unjustified rage could believe that anyone would take comfort from the fact that if they happened to find themselves in Scottish custody and with just three months to live they might just be released. It's instructive to wonder however just how al-Megrahi might have been treated had he found himself in US custody - would he have been threatened with having his children killed, or having his mother sexually assaulted in front of him? Would he have been waterboarded, threatened with a gun, and told that a fellow prisoner had been summarily executed in order to get him to talk? Perhaps just the sheer inhumanity of so-called American justice can be encapsulated by the 7 years that a 12 year old Afghani spent in Guantanamo, having finally been released. It says something about the imperial arrogance of the United States, even under Obama, that it feels it can lecture anyone on how to treat terrorists, although when everyone except the very lowest of the low have been prosecuted for the rendition programme and all the according prison abuses, it perhaps still believes itself to be above the law.

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