Monday, March 31, 2008 

The final curtain.

Seeing as Scott Baker has finally commenced his summing up, it should now be safe to end the boycott of mentioning the Diana inquest.

It would be nice to think that this inglorious, ignoble waste of time, effort and money, all for the purpose of flattering the ego and demands of a very rich and very deluded individual, has served its ultimate aim: to let Fayed get his ridiculous theories fully out in the open, where they can be suitably mocked, and then debunked, as they undoubtedly have been. The reality though is the opposite, as Lord Baker himself has said as much, noting that there will always be individuals who believe that she was murdered on the orders of Prince Philip, or alternatively by the Reptilians in league with al-Qaida who are in turn in association with international freemasonry, the Flat Earth Society and the Greys. Nothing you can say to such individuals will ever convince them they're wrong; the most you can hope for is that they betray at least a moment's doubt and think for a second, before returning to the comfort of their original belief.

Does anyone honestly believe then that this is the last of it, that whatever verdict the jury reaches will end the cult of Diana, alter Fayed's mind one iota, or change the view of the guy who's turned up every day with Diana and Dodi painted on his face? While Scott Baker was certainly right, both legally and intellectually to not allow the jury to even consider returning a verdict that the death was connected to a conspiracy, this will almost certainly be where Fayed and the others will home in on; they'll say that the jury didn't have a chance to rule on the possibility, despite it being laughed out of court, through either judicial arrogance or yet again, a conspiracy.

The verdicts offered to the jury itself show the futility of the entire exercise. I'll go out on a limb and predict that the jury won't be able to find a majority on it being the fault of the paparazzi or Henri Paul or the involvement of both, and instead return that it was an accidental death, as we have known for oh, closing on 11 years. You can blame Paul or the paparazzi and say both were culpable, but can't say with any sort of certainty that either directly caused Diana's death. In any case, as we've also known for a while, if she or Dodi had been wearing their seatbelts, they likely would have survived, but that doesn't seem to have come into it at any real point.

All of this was established, if not within hours of the crash, then in the next few months that followed. The inquest hasn't really told us anything about the night that we didn't already: we already knew how the paparazzi had behaved, if not quite in as much detail, and knew that Paul had drank alcohol in combination with medication with which it should not strictly be mixed. We didn't perhaps knew that one of the drinks he consumed was a Ricard, but even that was probably in the more verbose accounts of that night. Everything else was a sideshow, from the essential revelation that Diana's mother had called her a whore for sleeping with an "effin Muslim man", right down to her menstrual pattern, whether Dodi had bought her a ring or not, to Paul Burrell's sensitive secret information not being sensitive secret information at all. This was wonderful entertainment for the tabloids, who delighted in the whole thing, but did nothing whatsoever for the memory of Diana herself. Perhaps even that was epitomised by the ramshackle inquiry: a woman and a press that were as schizophrenic in their attitudes towards each other as the "evidence" at times seemed.

To the end, there's been a continuation of this almost knockabout aspect of some of the evidence given. Scott Baker has identified three as directly lying - James Andanson, Paul Burrell and John Macnamara, to whom he could have added the former head of MI6, Richard Dearlove, who hilariously said that during his time in the service MI6 had never assassinated anyone. As a Steve Bell cartoon featuring a conversation between the current head and the Duke of Edinburgh retorted, what on earth are we paying you for?

Some will doubtless argue that the whole debacle has, in the horrible cod-psychological neologism, provided some sort of closure. Perhaps it will to some extent mean the end of the incessant, niggling media coverage of the past 10 years, although it was finally starting to abate in any case, only reignited by the inquest itself. For those at the centre of it however, the tragedy of that night will never leave them. Fayed's undoubted anguish at the death of his only son in such circumstances is all too real; what has never been real is his theories for how it occurred, and how he has used it as an excuse to take on and blame the establishment itself for all his subsequent woes. Subconsciously, maybe, this is his way of dealing with the pain that it was in the company of his employees that his son and the princess died, something he seemingly has never faced up to. Fayed has to face up to his own demons, and the state should never have let itself be used as a replacement for him doing so.

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Unacceptably poor governing experience.

I continue to not give the slightest fuck about the problems at Heathrow, but the government's intervention is truly something to behold:

The government berated British Airways over the Terminal 5 fiasco today, slamming the airline for subjecting passengers to an "unacceptably poor travel experience".

Aviation minister Jim Fitzpatrick said Heathrow airport's flagship building had "fallen well short of expectations" and the airline needed to place a "much greater emphasis" on the needs of passengers. Fitzpatrick added that Department for Transport officials had been in contact with BA and Heathrow owner BAA "at a senior level" throughout the debacle.

In a statement to MPs, the minister said BA was clearing a backlog of 28,000 bags - nearly double initial estimates. Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said customers had been let down badly, adding: "Yet again the state of Heathrow is a national embarrassment."


Ah yes, because we all know politicians or the government could most certainly have done a better job. The moment the government contracts anything out, be it the Criminal Records Bureau, the numerous IT projects that have gone tits up, even going all the way back to the Tories' privatising in-house NHS cleaning, almost every single one has had a monumental cock-up at some point, or been such a disaster that the resultant backlog has taken months to clear. Then there's been the problems with the Home Office, the losing of the data discs within the Treasury, or the collapse of the payment system involving EU subsidies to farmers by Defra, to list but a few. You could include Railtrack, or the entire privatisation of British Rail, both of which have been embarrassments that rank high above anything that's happened at Heathrow. The private sector and the public sector can be equally incompetent and greedy, but what's going on at Terminal 5 isn't going to cost us anything in the long run, while all the others have and will.

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Saturday, March 29, 2008 

Sums it up.

Via Iraq Today, a comment from Juan Cole's blog on the declaration of war on the Jaish al-Mahdi from a US perspective, but which is still applicable here:

Has there ever in the history of man been a policy more incoherent than this one? We back a government that is essentially a proxy of our regional arch-enemy, Iran. Our Sunni "Awakening" allies, largely composed of the Baathists we removed from power in the first place, hate this government and would love to overthrow it. Our Kurdish allies are composed of two decidedly undemocratic rival mafias, at least one of which is quite friendly to our enemy Iran, and at least one of which is carrying on a low-level war with our ally Turkey. Meanwhile, the most popular political movement in the country shares our stated goal of a democratic, unified Iraq and therefore must be crushed. ~ Greg Gordon, on Informed Comment’s comment section

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Storm in a rucksack.

And so we come to yet another storm in a teacup:

Jack Straw, the justice secretary, banned the early release of convicted terrorists last night after it emerged that two prisoners had been let out early as part of the government's efforts to ease overcrowding in jails.

Quite apart from the fact the two men are convicted "terrorists" (one had a explosives manual but the judge said he was not a politicised or radical Islamist, the other had a blueprint for a Qassam rocket, which he was presumably going to build out of everyday household items like cornflake boxes, along with other more incriminating jihadist material, but was also linked to the group from Bradford university that recently had their convictions quashed), the only reason this has made the news is because they were released a whopping 18 or 17 days before they would have err, been otherwise released.

Still, at least the man of Straw has now closed the stable door after the two horses have bolted. The next "terrorists" to be released will just have to wait a couple of weeks longer than they otherwise would have done. Job's a good 'un.

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Saying your prayers.

It isn't of course every day that a bus driver orders his passengers off so he can pray. You still perhaps don't expect the reaction of some when he then said they could get back on:

After a few minutes the driver calmly got up, opened the doors and asked everyone back on board.

But they saw a rucksack lying on the floor of the red single-decker and feared he might be a fanatic. So they all refused.


I don't think I've ever come across a bus driver who hasn't had some sort of rucksack or hold-all with all his stuff in. Strange behaviour or not, it's one thing for someone to be devout, and another entirely to be a "fanatic". The articles ends with:

Muslims pray at pre-dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset and evening.

Which is complete nonsense, as only the most devout or adhering pray five times a day, or at least go through the traditional praying ritual while doing so.

This being the Sun the comments are full of the usual hate, how this is the end of Britain as we know it and the habitual conspiracy theories, but this one takes the biscuit:

I am afraid it does not surprise me. I had to sit in the 'communal' room, the only room for visitors at Bart's hospital for a short break after seeing my brother who was dying. I had to sit through a moslem praying on a mat. I did not think that was right in my Christian country. Can you imagine if I had produced a cross and chain and began to pray?

It's always interesting how the least persecuted members of society can always find something to be outraged about, even in the most innocuous of gestures and behaviour.

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Friday, March 28, 2008 

Marred by inhumanity.

Again, you probably didn't notice, but yesterday saw the release of a report far more important than Tanya Byron's. The Independent Asylum Commission reviewed the system (PDF), and you probably won't be surprised to learn that it concluded:

Key Conclusions
1. The Commission has found almost universal acceptance of the principle that there must be an asylum system, and that it must be applied fairly, firmly and humanely. These criteria must be fulfilled for the UK system to be ‘fit for purpose’.
2. The Commission has found that the UK asylum system is improved and improving, but is not yet fit for purpose. The system still denies sanctuary to some who genuinely need it and ought to be entitled to it; is not firm enough in returning those whose claims are refused; and is marred by inhumanity in its treatment of the vulnerable.

Luckily, that means that there's someone in it for everyone. The Mail then opens its report with these first two paragraphs:

Public confidence in the asylum system is being eroded by the Home Office's poor performance in deporting failed applicants, a highly-critical report warns today.

The 18-month study by an independent panel also claims the system is failing to deal "firmly" enough with bogus applicants or to give real refugees the protection they badly need.


Throughout the article it's at pains to point out that it's the work of bleeding heart liberal left scum:

The commission is a think-tank of lawyers, clerics, liberal campaigners and experts.

The Independent Asylum Commission said its investigation would take account of a variety of viewpoints.

But critics were uneasy that it was influenced by charities and campaign groups involved with asylum issues, tilting the balance against more rigorous rules.

The body, set up by the Citizen Organising Foundation, which promotes community activism by training local leaders in campaigning techniques, is led by 12 commissioners, many of whom are associated with liberal causes.

They include Katie Ghose, a lawyer and director of the Institute for Human Rights pressure group.

Another is Zrinka Bralo, a journalist from Bosnia, who is executive director of the Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum in West London.

Also on the board is Professor Nicholas Sagovsky, canon theologian at Westminster Abbey, who has called for the poorest in society to be exempt from fines and debts, and Dr Silvia Casale, a prison reformer, criminologist and member of the United Nations sub-committee on prevention of torture.

Others include Lord David Ramsbotham, a former chief inspector of prisons and panel cochairman Ifath Nawaz, president of the Association of Muslim Lawyers, who has claimed tougher counter-terrorism laws fuel extremism.


Of course, it doesn't say who these "critics" are exactly; probably because it'd have to list the MigrationWatch head himself, who doesn't seem to have bothered reading the report or even reading its conclusions before commenting, which makes clear that there's a culture of disbelief towards asylum seekers and their claims. He pops up in the Times' report as well with this comment:

“Despite its official-sounding title, this is a private initiative by a number of charities involved in asylum issues,” he said. “If you set foot in Britain and say the word ’asylum’ you have an 80 per cent chance of staying, more often than not illegally. No wonder they are still queuing up in Calais.”

Which appears to be the general attitude towards the report. The comments on the Times, Express and Mail articles are all united in their condemnation of asylum seekers in general. This one perhaps sums them all up:

This is a joke - if the UK were inhumane, it would not be such a magnet.

- Ian Millard, Exeter UK

Sigh. The Telegraph and Sun don't seem to have reported on it at all, or at least I was unable to find an article on it on either of their sites. The Express and Mirror entries seem to be directly from the wire services.

It's impossible not to agree with Matthew Norman in the Independent, the only newspaper which has consistently campaigned about the inhumanity currently inherent in the system, something dismissed by the Border and Immigration Agency's Lin Homer with the following:

The claims made in this report are not based on any thorough knowledge. I totally refute any suggestion that we treat asylum applicants without care and compassion.

110 pages worth of report and the person in overall responsibility says it's not based on any thorough knowledge. Could it possibly be that it's in fact your claims that are not based on any thorough knowledge, Ms Homer? In fact, would it be going too far to call you a fucking ignorant liar?

As Norman concludes:

What we of the liberal centre-left have done is join Brown, Miliband and all those who so absolutely fail to represent our beliefs in allowing ourselves to be brow-beaten into silent, sullen acquiescence by the unrelenting right-wing propaganda of recent decades. We glow in Sarkozy's facetious praise when we should shriek in rage about what a nasty, brutal, mean-spirited country our spineless apathy has helped create, and this report on the systematic maltreatment of asylum-seekers shames and diminishes us all.

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An unwelcome message and Labour's complicity.

You can't get much further from the message of the Sun's "mothers in arms" than the statement given yesterday by the mother of Sophie Lancaster, the gap-year student beaten to death simply for being a goth, or as her attackers referred to her, a "mosher".

"I stand outside this house of justice today, not as Sophie's mother, but as her voice," she said. "Her voice that was cruelly silenced in a single mindless act. I have lost an adorable and adoring daughter, but her death has also ruined the lives of those responsible, as well as the lives of their families. Today, more than ever, we need to show respect, compassion and tolerance for those whose appearance and culture differs from our own."

Her concern and sympathy for Sophie's murderers and their families, despite their own behaviour towards her, is something that not everybody will be able to understand. Her message however is one that ought to be universal.

All of this puts the Sun in a difficult position in how to report and comment on the murder. Naturally, it's being used as part of their campaign against "Broken Britain", but it completely jars against the demands of the "mothers in arms", which include the reintroduction of the death penalty, a compulsory DNA database, zero tolerance for minor crimes and the repeal of the human rights act, the very legislation which protects those who appearance and culture differs from those of the powerful.

The article itself is filled with the usual Sun hyperbole and harsh adjectives, but it's the Sun leader which is most of interest, mainly because it manages to go through the whole thing without referring to the fact that Sophie and her boyfriend were attacked purely because of what they were wearing, or indeed to any of Sylvia Lancaster's pleas for respect, compassion and tolerance, although it does wrangle this from somewhere:

Among the many eloquent remarks made by Sophie’s courageous mother Sylvia, a youth worker, was this:

“I have always been leftie liberal and now I come from the other side and just see it as ‘this is how it is’.”

That’s a message of which our soft judges and Government ministers must take heed.


Which looks to me as the Sun completely taking her remarks out of context. As a youth worker, she would already know "how it is". She's now looked at it from the other side, but it hasn't changed her views despite that, as her other comments make clear. It's therefore deeply predictable which the next line is:

Liberal attitudes on parenting, education and crime have led us here. There is only one way to turn back the tide.

So the mother that calls for liberal attitudes to continue is therefore completely ignored: she's irrelevant because her views don't fit with the Sun's, which has long made its mind up about what works and what doesn't. Despite 10 years of Labour getting ever tougher on all three of those issues, it can never be harsh enough to appease the demands of a press which cannot possibly be sated.

Last week at a meeting between the Labour pressure groups Progress and Compass, the former Blairite and the latter on the soft-left, Hazel Blears had the audacity to dismiss the arguments made by Compass as "pandering to the Guardian". Chance would be a fine thing. After 11 years of New Labour pandering purely to the Daily Mail and the Sun, pandering which will never ever secure their support over the very issues of immigration and crime which Blears and her Blairite clique are obsessed with being ever more reactionary on, it'd be nice if Labour decided to pander to the Guardian for a while, and see where that gets us. The time to do that however was in 1997; now Labour has not just lost the lumpen working-classes that it has abandoned and fails to understand, talk about and to, it's also lost the lower middle classes that it briefly wooed. The last remaining supporters of New Labour are the middle-class "intellectuals", and even they are finally getting fed up with a party that laughs in their face while taking their votes. 1997 had its Portillo moment; I yearn for 2009/2010 and hopefully its equivalents in Blears/Hutton/Flint and all the other Blairites getting dumped once and for all, even if it means Cameron and his ghastly acolytes replacing them. I really can't see how they can be any worse.

Related post:
Enemies of Reason - The Hatred of Otherness

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Is it it just me....

Can someone kindly explain exactly why a: a new building not quite getting off to a brilliant start is considered the top news story for two days running; b: how on earth this is apparently, according to both the press and the BBC, a disaster, despite no one dying and with just a few holidaymakers and business people being delayed for a few hours; and c: how this is meant to affect the country's reputation as a whole when BAA is in fact owned by, err,
the Ferrovial Group, a Spanish multinational?

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Thursday, March 27, 2008 

Byron report: Mostly as expected, but China syndrome does creep in.

Glory of glories, the Byron report has finally arrived (PDF). For the last couple of months, any mention of the internet or video games in the negative in parliament has been met with a "wait for the Byron report" with the implication being that any changes will be based on its recommendations. Indeed, the government has been so pleased with Dr Tanya Byron's report that it's pledged to implement its proposals in full. Perhaps that's what all the worthy reports written for government that never get read even by the ministers they're meant for need - a TV personality to have been in some way associated with them. Jamie Oliver, Tanya Byron, they call and Labour heels. Those academics that are unfortunate enough to be untelegenic need to get someone who's appeared on the box to helm their report and make sure it's heard. Coming soon, the sunbed review (not made up) by Dale Winton, alongside the report into Travellers' communities, with an introduction by Basil Brush. Boom boom!

For some reason it inordinately bugs me that someone that the Dear Leader might have seen a couple of times on television giving advice on child behaviour is deemed the right person to write what is such an important report, not because of the effects it will have on the children's access to the internet and video games, but rather because of the effects it will have on all of our access to the internet and video games. There's never been a debate or to put it more accurately, a panic about what our children are up to which hasn't in some way then inhibited what adults themselves are able to choose to do with their time. Byron is, unlike some of her television counterparts who have over-egged or even lied about their actual qualifications, certainly both a doctor and something approaching an expert on child behaviour and mental health, but what she most certainly is not is anything like an expert on the internet and video games themselves, which is why the report ought to have been shared between her and some individuals who are, regardless of the assistance she's had in writing the report and in the research conducted which accompanies it.

It's therefore something of a relief that for the most part, with a few notable exceptions, the report is generally level-headed and thoughtful about children interacting online and also about the games that they play. It will most certainly not please or in any way help the lobby including Julian Brazier or Keith Vaz that want to further restrict access to video games, films and "potentially harmful" content on the internet. Byron's main proposal on video games and the certification of them is that the BBFC and PEGI, the currently opposing classification systems, should be working together towards an online rating system for internet games, while the BBFC should have to classify all games that contain content that is only suitable for those over 12, which can currently be contained under the PEGI system, although increasingly, as the industry has responded to parental concern, more and more games are being submitted for classification, whether they contain any content unsuitable for those under 12 or not. Even some of this shows however that Byron doesn't seem to have properly done her homework - she says that the BBFC logos should always be on the front of game boxes, but this has always been the case, and they're also usually far larger than their equivalent logos on DVD cases, to emphasise the point and make clear to parents the age restriction on the games. Then there are statements like this:

For example, 52% of respondents to a recent survey said they knowingly or deliberately purchased a game for their child, which according to the rating given, was not suitable for their age (ELSPA/YouGov 2007). This urgently needs to be addressed.

Why? Are those respondents not responsible for the children they buy the game for? If they knowingly or deliberately buy an 18-rated game for their children, then they obviously know it isn't necessarily going to be suitable for them, but they're either willing to take the risk or in fact think their children are mature enough to play such a game. This is hardly something the government should be interfering with.

Quite why Byron thinks the current classification system needs to be changed at all isn't clear. Her criteria for children and parents to be able to make sensible and informed decisions about the games they play means that any ratings systems must include the following elements:

clear age ratings;
clear accompanying descriptors which explain game content;
trustworthy;
enforceable where there are risks of potential harm


The current system is all of these things. Why then does it need to be meddled with, other than to do something for doing's sake? The BBFC, incidentally, has responded to the report here.

Going back to her proposals on the internet itself, this is apparently one of her three strategic objectives for child safety on the internet:

However, the majority of material accessed by internet users is hosted on a relatively small number of highly popular sites, the rest of it occupying a ‘long tail’ of less popular material. This means that we should focus our efforts on reducing the availability of harmful and inappropriate material in the most popular part of the internet.

No, it's not your or the government's job to be reducing the availability of "harmful and inappropriate material" from any part of the internet, let alone the most popular part. If material isn't illegal, then it's none of your or anyone else's businesses where that material is or isn't hosted. It's down to the parents to ensure that their children either don't have access to such material or that their children are able to deal with such content properly. These are, to be fair, Byron's second and third objectives, but that doesn't even begin to make up for the wrongness of the first.

Byron's proposals for delivering these three strategic objectives are:

A UK Council on Child Internet Safety, established by and reporting to the Prime Minister.

That this Council should lead the development of a strategy with two core elements: better regulation – in the form, wherever possible, of voluntary codes of practice that industry can sign up to – and better information and education, where the role of government, law enforcement, schools and children’s services will be key.


That the Home Office and DCSF should chair the Council, with the roles of other Government departments, especially DCMS, properly reflected in working arrangements.


That the Council should have a properly resourced cross-government secretariat to secure a joined-up Government approach to children and young peoples’ safety online.


That the Council should appoint an advisory group, with expertise in technology and child development, should listen to the voices of children, young people and parents and should have a sustained and rolling research programme to inform delivery.

All of which are decent, sound suggestions. Of concern however is just what the council itself might subsequently propose, especially on one issue of concern that Byron herself highlights:

The Council investigates where the law around harmful and inappropriate material could be usefully clarified (including suicide websites) and explores appropriate enforcement responses.

Suicide is not illegal. Providing advice on how you might kill yourself is not illegal. Aiding and abetting suicide is. Some might disagree on whether either of the first two should be, but while that is still the situation websites that provide advice for those who wish to end their lives should not be made in any way illegal.

One of the "sites" that is often mentioned when discussing websites that discuss suicide is alt.suicide.holiday, a Usenet newsgroup that has been linked to a number of individuals who have subsequently killed themselves, including at least a couple in this country. Far from the impression some may have, if the group hasn't changed much since I previously lurked in it a few years' back, most of group were individuals who had been suicidally depressed for a long period of time, who had sought help and in some cases gone from medication to medication and treatment to treatment without getting better, some even undergoing ECT, and most of whom sought the comfort of being in a community where they were properly understood. Some had subsequently killed themselves, or made attempts on their lives; others didn't, and are probably still there. These individuals were not children, or angsty teenagers who had just suffered their first major setback in their love life, although there may well have been some of those lurking, and those that asked directly for help with methods were mostly spurned, especially if they had not tried to get help with their problems. I have never seen any evidence that such individuals have ever used these websites prior to their committing suicide, or children themselves using the information in attempts, and despite the recent comments of the coroner dealing with the Bridgend cluster of suicides, who condemned videos showing how to hang yourself on YouTube, there is nothing to suggest they used or viewed "suicide websites" or those kind of videos prior to their deaths. Making such websites illegal will do nothing to prevent suicide, or protect children or the vulnerable.

Again, of far more danger is one Byron's points buried in the report itself, as others have already noted:

4.60 For these reasons I do not recommend that the UK pursue a policy of blocking non-illegal material at a network level at present. However, this may need to be reviewed if the other measures recommended in this report fail to have an impact on the number and frequency of children coming across harmful or inappropriate content online.

This is little short of chilling. Does Byron actually understand the consequences of what she's written or proposing here, of government blocking information which is neither illegal nor necessarily actually "harming or inappropriate" for children, but content which by someone else's definition, such as hers, is harmful or inappropriate? By her lack of caution, with no apparent change of tone or counter-argument presented it certainly doesn't seem so. Maggie Brown on CiF lets the cat out of the bag when she fatuously thanks China for proving that you can control access to material on the web; quite apart from how they haven't, as more literate users can still get around it using proxy servers and web anonymizers, if they themselves aren't blocked, it's an incredibly slippery slope from blocking material which isn't illegal because children might be traumatised by it to blocking material which isn't conducive to the government itself, especially when it's not openly stated which sites are currently being blocked, as the Cleanfeed system which blocks child pornography isn't. If the same system was used for blocking content which the kiddie winks shouldn't be allowed to see, as seems more than probable, then we would have finally completed the not so long and winding road to becoming a police state. Don't think also that this isn't necessarily going to happen: as Frank Fisher pointed out, Jacqui Smith has already spoke of using Cleanfeed to block extremist (i.e. jihadist) websites. Others have suggested that there already is more than just child pornography being blocked by Cleanfeed, and there have been allegations previously that 4chan was temporarily blocked by Cleanfeed as it is occasionally spammed by trolls with child pornography.

Byron's report is probably then mostly what the government expected when it commissioned it. She hasn't gone too far, there isn't any further unpleasant legislation to pass that will eat up Commons time or be widely opposed, but there certainly are grim portents of what might be to come should Byron's targets not be met, something that with the media continuing in its moral panic state over "broken Britain" and the role of social-networking sites with suicide, might well yet occur. The freedom of adults to watch and do what they want in private continues to be one that the government can still restrict on the whim and excuse of protecting children.

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Tibet petition.

Via Justin:

After decades of repression, Tibetans are crying out to the world for change. China's leaders are right now making a crucial choice between escalating brutality or dialogue that could determine the future of Tibet, and China.

We can affect this historic choice -- China does care about its international reputation. But it will take an avalanche of global people power to get the government's attention. The Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has called for restraint and dialogue: he needs the world's people to support him. Fill out the form below to sign the petition--and spread the word.

Personally I feel China should never have been given the Olympics in the first place, and that a full boycott is now the right way forward, if only because they'll probably respond in kind, meaning we might not have to spend £9 billion (and the rest) on a two-week long glorified sports day in four years' time.

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There's nothing quite like a public school circle-jerk.

I'm not sure if anyone's noticed, but there seems to be a visit by the French first lady going on. I wouldn't blame anyone for not realising, seeing as there seems to have been a complete media blackout on the fact. Surely they've missed a trick, because haven't the media realised that she used to be a model and has even posed naked? I bet they could get a few extra sales and embarrass everyone, including themselves in the process if they printed those. There's also a wild rumour going round that she's brought her husband along too, but that seems preposterous, especially considering that we'd have noticed him, him being so tall and fluent in English and everything.

After all, it's not every day that an attractive woman arrives in Britain. All our domestic equivalents have been thrashed with the ugly stick, and some of them even have skin infections which we can take photographs of and laugh about. Then again, maybe if the editors in this country did notice Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy, perhaps it'd look as if they were thinking with their dicks, and that they might as well meet her husband and tell him without a hint of irony that they want to fuck her. It wouldn't be becoming of highly-trained journalists to act like a bunch of hormonal teenagers that discover after the summer break that they're going to have lessons with a just graduated 20-something and then fall over themselves to crawl to her as much as possible, with the less subtle amongst them even making their feelings clear. Even some of the girls in the class might make unkind comparisons between their new teacher and one of her older colleagues, doing so with all the wit and knowingness associated with adolescence that they accidentally forget to realise that there are four parts to a whole, not three.

Thank goodness our media isn't anything like that. The British press is the best in the world you know.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008 

Just how long exactly is this piece of string?

And 18 months later, it still isn't.

139 Labour MPs voted against the war in Iraq. Some of those who voted against that night have either left parliament or lost their seats since then, but even so you would have expected a higher figure to have rebelled than the number who ultimately supported the Conservative motion for an immediate inquiry into the war last night: just 12 bothered to do so, most of them members of the usual "awkward squad".

Reading the debate on TheyWorkForYou, it's easy to see why. While on that night five years ago party politics was mostly eschewed, except perhaps on the Conservative side, yesterday's debate was almost a summation of everything that is wrong with parliament. Each side, and every political party, with the exception perhaps of the nationalists, was blowing their own trumpet or falling back entirely on blaming the other side for their reasons for either voting for or against.

William Hague, opening the debate for the Conservatives makes a valiant effort and it's easy to see why he's such an assured parliamentarian whose time with the Conservatives still might come again. The case for an inquiry now is simple: the government itself has promised one, with its single argument being that it's "time is not now". This has been its position for 18 months, since the execrable Margaret Beckett made the self-same arguments that David Miliband made yesterday. An inquiry cannot apparently be held now for four reasons, or rather, the Conservative amendment deserved to be defeated because: the government has promised an inquiry but "now is not the time"; because the armed forces are still involved in "important operations" and these "important operations" are not as limited as the opposition parties make out; that despite the other parties suggesting that important lessons are to be learned from an inquiry, something that the government apparently agrees with as it also wants an inquiry, just not one now, the military has been learning "on the job"; and finally that memories will not fade and emails won't be lost because there have already been four inquires into the Iraq war and so apparently most of the material that will be gone over in an eventual inquiry is already available.

You have to give credit to Miliband: for someone who apparently secretly held anti-war views, he sure can talk bollocks at length in the chamber in an ultimately successful attempt to stop the perfidious Conservatives from opportunistically whacking Labour about over Iraq. That, in a nutshell, is the real government argument against an inquiry now, and one which some unsubtle MPs even made directly against the Conservatives. All four of Miliband's arguments are completely spurious: the first on the basis that this inquiry will if the government has its way never happen, especially as there continues to be no end in sight to the occupation whatsoever; the second, breathtakingly, for the exact opposite reason that Miliband states, concerning the uprising in Basra, where our troops are not involved, showing just deep these important operations actually go; the third, the idea being that the military has learned on the job is valid if you consider that there haven't been any abuse scandals since the early days of the war, when it's actually always been the government itself and its complete lack of influence over the American policy which really needs to be answered for; and the last is utterly redundant because up until recently the government was arguing against any further inquiries because the four themselves had been wholly sufficient!

To be fair to some of the MPs, they make all these points and more along the way, repeatedly interrupting Miliband and his pathetic justifications. The real rhetorical gymnastics was being performed by the loyalist Labour backbenchers who want an inquiry but have no intentions of letting the Tories be the ones who take the credit for forcing one; hence why Mike Gapes and others have stood up and said they won't support an inquiry that doesn't also look back over the decades and examine policy over Iraq since Domesday. This enables them to whack the Tories over their arming and courting of Saddam whilst meaning that they can still profess to support an inquiry in principle, just not a Conservative one. That such an inquiry would be potentially as endless as the Bloody Sunday fiasco, and that it would take years before anything was actually published, let alone any lessons learned doesn't seem to matter to the loyalists while it allows them to oppose the Conservatives. It's difficult to agree with Michael Howard, but the Scott Inquiry, limited as that was, has dealt with the arms-to-Iraq scandal for now; it's ridiculous to dredge that up again when what is of real concern is what happened from 2001 up until the present day. What it does allow is for the Labour loyalists who actually want an inquiry but don't want to damage the government any further at the moment to keep a clean conscience. Forget about learning from the mistakes of the past, what's more important and what always will be more important is the party's public standing, rock bottom as it deservedly is.

It seems remarkable that it's the Conservatives, by far the most gung-ho for war that now have the clearest and cleanest reasons for calling for an inquiry. While it is undoubtedly opportunistic and a further attempt to damage the government, it's also clear that Hague, if not the other smirking brats on the front bench, genuinely believes there needs to be one, as do the other Tory old guard that are now being squeezed out, such as Ken Clarke and Malcolm Rifkind. At least those two can reasonably claim that they opposed the war from the outset, as the Liberal Democrats can, but the Lib Dems have muddied their influence by now harping on about how the Conservatives provided the government with its mandate for the war. This is a reasonable enough point, but it's time to move beyond the finger jabbing and who was wrong and who was right and instead use this to ensure that nothing so calamitous both for this country and especially for Iraq itself is allowed to happen again. Towards their short-term gain, the Lib Dems have thusly launched holdthemtoaccount.com, which is something that should have been done in previous elections and in some cases indeed was. To still be going on about holding individual MPs to account in 2008 is ridiculous and far, far more opportunistic than the Conservatives themselves are being. That they're doing this because the Lib Dems' one sole-memorable policy after the abolition of their 10p on the top rate of tax for those earning over £100,000, apart from perhaps Vince Cable's prescience over Northern Rock, is their opposition to the war ought to consign it the dustbin of political gimmicks.

The whole debate was, and as parliament increasingly seems to be, a complete waste of time and effort. While America has held inquiry after inquiry into the war even while over 100,000 of their troops remain in action, all without damaging their morale or their ability to fight effectively, we're left with all the main political parties squabbling amongst themselves while the blood and treasure continue to be spent. We're left in the age-old position of wondering just how long a piece of string really is, the answer being, as always, that it's as long as you want it to be. Like others, I reason that a Labour government, on the whole, will always be better than a Conservative one. That doesn't mean however that when these obscurantist, lying, two-faced time-wasters are deservedly thrown out of office that I won't be one of those cheering from the rooftops. Those 12 MPs that voted for the Conservative amendment therefore deserve the praise and final mention in this post.

The 12 Labour MPs who supported Conservative calls for a full-scale inquiry were:

  • Harry Cohen (Leyton & Wanstead)
  • Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North)
  • Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent Central)
  • Paul Flynn (Newport West)
  • Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North)
  • Lynne Jones (Birmingham Selly Oak)
  • John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)
  • Bob Marshall-Andrews (Medway)
  • Gordon Prentice (Pendle)
  • Linda Riordan (Halifax)
  • Alan Simpson (Nottingham South)
  • Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester South)
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    I got the gypsy blues.

    Attack the gypsies week because they dared to move onto land close to where Tessa Jowell's ex-husband lives continues apace in the Sun via Kelvin MacKenzie's column:

    I NOTE that Joseph Jones, who has reached the top of that august organisation the Southern England Romany Gipsy and Irish Traveller Network, has been silent on the issue.

    That comes as a surprise to me. After all, it was only ten days ago that he was giving his views to anybody who would listen that Basil Brush — old Boom! Boom! himself — was being racist.


    I wonder if that might be because there is no such organisation as the Southern England Romany Gipsy and Irish Traveller Network. There is an organisation called the Southern England Romany Gypsy and Irish Traveller Network, but then the Sun and other tabloids always refer to Gypsies as "Gipsies" because it enables them to sidestep any accusations or racism or prejudice, however condemnatory they are of them, due to how Gypsies are now protected under the relevant legislation as a race. As you might expect, the Grauniad gives those who have moved near to David Mills a rather more sympathetic hearing than the tabloids have.

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    Tuesday, March 25, 2008 

    And now, some rare good news, amid a tepid constitutional reform white paper.

    Only 3 years after it was first passed, the sections of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 dealing with protests with 1km of Westminster are to be repealed. Presumably those members of parliament who justified the restrictions on the basis that Brian Haw's placards could hide a bomb might be moved to retract their words, and perhaps those convicted under the act might also have their records cleared, along with apologies from the government for how they were prosecuted simply for exercising their democratic right. Perhaps I might go piss in the wind.

    That, sadly, was about the most radical part of today's white paper on the "constitutional renewal bill" (PDF). The other measures are either ones that have long been proposed or ones that are incredibly feeble. Hence the reform of the attorney general's powers, prompted entirely because of the concerns over the advice given prior to the Iraq war and Lord Goldsmith's role in the ending of the Serious Fraud Office inquiry into the BAE-Saudi slush fund are such that he/she in the future will retain the right to end prosecutions over matters of national security, which just so happens to be the specious reasoning behind the dropping of the SFO case! The change itself that the attorney general will have to report to parliament when he/she does wield that power isn't clear either; Goldsmith announced to the Lords previously that the inquiry was being dropped. Isn't that more or less one and the same thing?

    The whole bill seems to have this aura of meaninglessness and paucity of radicalism about it. Parliament will now have to have all treaties laid before it and passed before they can be enshrined, but this won't apply to either EU or tax treaties, so how often this new parliamentary right will be exercised is open to question. The civil service will be formally made independent, which is long overdue, but again how much it will actually change anything is another matter.


    As promised, the bill does set out how parliament will have a vote before war which is a much needed reform, but this doesn't inspire total confidence either. Two points open to question are that the attorney general's advice on whether the conflict itself will be legal under international law will not be provided in full but whether it's legal or not will be given, which is hardly sufficient either for those expected to vote on such a matter or for this country's standing on the international stage. It also won't apply to when special forces are being used, won't be retroactive, so if forces are sent in secretly then there won't necessarily be a vote once their mission becomes known, and if parliament is dissolved or adjourned when a conflict breaks out, again the government reserves the right not to recall parliament in order for a vote to be held. We'd better hope then a war doesn't break out sometime between July and the end of the party conferences at September, as the government will be fully justified in ignoring calls for a vote, just as it ignored calls for a recall to debate the Israel-Lebanon-Hizbullah war in 2006.

    The other parts of the bill/white paper deal with public appointments, on which the government is yet to respond to recommendations made by the liason committee; the intelligence and security committee, which under the proposals is to be ever so slightly beefed up, with appointments made by the commons rather than the prime minister himself, briefings to be given making the committee's work more public, a role for an investigator previously assigned to be revived, and with a debate after publishing of reports in the House of Lords. This doesn't come close to what we really need, which is a watchdog similar to either prisons inspectorate or to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Similarly, if the directors of either MI5 or MI6 can make public speeches about just how dire the security situation is, as both the former and current head of MI5 has done, they should be expected to give their evidence to the committees in public. They can't demand secrecy one moment and give bloodcurdling speeches the next.

    Finally the paper sees no reason to change the current archaic system of the prime minister appointing senior members of the Church of England to their respective posts, although it does deign to consider recommendations made by the Synod itself over the procedures, and the flag will now be able to fly from government buildings permanently.

    That, it seems, is the key metaphor for the entire packaging. Everything else might be screwed, but the flag will continue to fly.

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    Making it up with the Express and Sun.

    No news, a cartoon character once said, is a great opportunity to make it up. Facing a dearth of any real news over the holiday weekend, the tabloids decided that this ancient nostrum was worth following, except in slightly different flavours. The Sun went for outright fabrication, creating a "news" story where there wasn't one, the Express instead going for that other hardy perennial, distorting an actual story so far that it becomes a "fury" which no one other than the journalist themselves is participating in. Both just happen to involve the same minority.

    Not that Muslims have had all the fun to themselves. The Sun yesterday revealed in another non-story that "gipsies" (not gypsies, as this is how the tabloids get around potential censure as the Roma are considered a race and therefore subject to various legislation) had err, moved onto land that they legitimately own which just happens to be in the vicinity of Olympics minister Tessa Jowell's country house, which also led to a usual attack on the "detestable" human rights act.

    Even less newsworthy and made-up was today's splash - BAKRI SLUR ON AMIR, which also manages to tick two boxes - attacking a nutjob who in the Sun's twisted reasoning is somehow someone who speaks for Muslims, while glorifying in Amir Khan's proud patriotism. As you're probably aware, Bakri Mohammed left this septic isle for the sunnier clime of Lebanon, only for his presence here to be declared as not conducive to the public good before he could return. Since then he's been broadcasting to his tiny and dwindling band of followers via the interweb, previously using Paltalk, although they might now use alternative services. This is reasonably common knowledge, and doubtless the security services monitor and keep a close eye on Bakri's movements and statements, although it's quite possible that if we hadn't simply kicked him out he could now be sharing a cell adjacent to Abu Hamza's in Belmarsh, with him taken out of the public eye altogether.

    The Sun's story then is completely and utterly created, controlled and dictated by them. As the article states:

    The rant by 49-year-old Bakri — exiled in Lebanon after being kicked out of Britain — came in an internet exchange with other extremists.

    Asked if Amir was setting a bad example by draping himself in the flag, he replied: “I don’t think somebody should really look to Amir Khan as a good example for the youth.

    “So now for him to be wrapping himself in British flag is another sign of somebody who is completely jahil. You give him the excuse of ignorance for living among the kuffar. So you can’t call him kuffar but you can call him jahil and deviant person.”


    Let's give the Sun the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they didn't personally pose the question to Bakri; maybe that was the job of a gopher, or even just maybe it was part of a question posed about whether Amir was suitably Islamic enough for Bakri's liking. Either way, that conversation found its way to the Sun, and they've taken what by Islamist standards is a mild condemnation and turned it into a front page splash.

    While condemning Bakri for everything he's every done, the Sun has the good journalistic grace to phone him up and ask whether the allegations it's making are true:

    Last night he went even further when he talked to The Sun from his hideaway in Beirut — attacking Amir for having a Union flag on his shorts.

    He said: “Amir Khan is not a good example for Muslims. He wears shorts with the Union Jack. That is a sin.

    “He should not be wearing the flag because sovereignty is for God. His only allegiance should be to the Prophet Mohammed.

    “The ideal situation would be to have a Muslim team not registered to any state so he can represent the Islamic community.”


    Fair enough you might say. Bakri's a twat and newspapers make rubbish up all the time. Where's the harm. That, dear reader, is in the Sun's leader column:

    Unlike cowardly preacher Omar Bakri, who is not fit to lick Amir’s boots.

    Bakri was also given a home here. He spat on Britain’s hospitality, hailed the 9/11 bombers as “magnificent” and urged misguided young Muslims to follow their violent path.

    From exile in Lebanon, where he still lives on British handouts, he has the gall to denounce Amir as “deviant” and “ignorant”.

    We hope decent Muslims will denounce this despicable wretch who claims to speak on their behalf.


    Ah, there we are. Sun concocts a story which even Melanie Phillips would blanch at, then it demands that "decent Muslims" denounce him. That the entire episode wouldn't have come to light if the Sun hadn't made it out to be some new horrific outrage by an Islamist mad-man on the rates doesn't matter; Muslims who don't agree have to speak out against this "despicable wretch who claims to speak on their behalf", except nowhere has he suggested that his views are anyone's other than his own. Aspiring tabloid hacks take note: this is how journalism works.

    At least the Sun article shows some enterprise and effort on the part of the hacks responsible, actual news story or not. The same can't be said for the Express's front page lead:

    FURY OVER PLAN TO TEACH KORAN IN SCHOOLS

    STATE schools should be forced to open their doors to Islamic preachers teaching the Koran, the largest classroom union demanded yesterday.

    The National Union of Teachers’ conference also said existing religious schools – almost all of them Christian – should have to admit pupils from other faiths.


    The articles do have one connection - both are pretending that there's righteous anger where there is none. In case you haven't already realised, the Express interpretation of the National Union of Teachers' proposal, because that's what it is, not a demand, is rather different from their own. Here's how the Grauniad reports it:

    Union calls for end to single-faith schools

    · NUT plan reflects concern over faith segregation
    · Heads 'should make space for private prayers'

    Schools would offer faith-based instruction, prayer facilities and a choice of religious holidays under a plan developed by the country's biggest teaching union.

    Headteachers would bring in imams, rabbis and priests to instruct religious pupils as part of the curriculum in an attempt to satisfy parental demand for religion in schools and prevent the establishment of more single-faith schools.

    The National Union of Teachers proposals represent an attempt to rival faith schools. All schools should become practising multi-faith institutions, and faith schools should be stripped of their powers to control their own admissions and select pupils according to their faith, according to proposals in the union's annual report, backed at its conference in Manchester yesterday. The daily act of "mainly" Christian worship required of all schools by law should be liberalised to include any religion, the union says.

    The general secretary of the NUT, Steve Sinnott, said the plan represented "more than simply religious education - this is religious instruction.

    "I believe that there will be real benefits to all our communities and youngsters if we could find space within schools for pupils who are Roman Catholics, Anglican, Methodist, Jewish, Sikh and Muslim to have more religious instruction. You could have imams coming in, you could have the local rabbi coming in and the local Roman Catholic priest."

    Far from it opening the door just then to the local imam and that vicious religious text, the Koran, the NUT is actually proposing an alternative to the segregation that some research suggests faith schools contribute to. I actually think it's an abysmal plan, mainly because it seems to cater for everyone other than the decent percentage of the population that couldn't care less for religion at all. Similarly, you don't respond to the mess of faith schooling by deciding to throw even more faecal matter around, ensuring that some sticks everywhere. That aside, the NUT deserves to have its proposal reported accurately and not used by a third-rate dog-whistling newspaper to stir up yet more hatred towards the Muslim community, which is quite clearly what it hand in mind when it asked a Tory MP for his views on the matter:

    But the proposals prompted immediate outrage. Conservative Party backbencher Mark Pritchard said: “This is just further appeasement for Muslim militants.

    “We should just follow the existing laws on religious education, which state that it should be of a predominantly Christian character. All this will do is further divide many communities that are already split on religious lines.”

    These Muslim militants get everywhere yet they seem to be invisible, don't they? Far from being appeasement towards Muslim militants, the plan if anything is appeasement towards those of a religious bent that just have to their children brought up in a God-fearing environment, although even that's not really true as likely the majority are only pretending so that their darling princes and princesses can go to a good school rather than the falling apart local bog standard comprehensive. As ever, it seems Pritchard has been asked to comment something that he hasn't ever seen or read about, and so has only been given something of the slightest background in order to produce said quote. Or maybe he had and I'm giving him too much credit.

    As FCC has discovered, the Express has kindly provided a place to discuss this latest news development. In doing so, it had to chose a photograph of an imam in order to illustrate the finer points of where it thinks the debate should lead. Can you possibly guess whose image they've chosen?


    Stupid question really. As FCC also points out, we've become so inured to Muslims getting in the neck, being the current minority singled out for special opprobrium or scrutiny, that this somewhat loses its offensiveness. If the headline had been "FURY OVER PLAN TO TEACH TALMUD IN SCHOOLS" with a photograph of a rabbi used for the discussion, it would be sinister rather than something approaching a joke. Because Islam, or the extremist version of it is currently seen as such a threat, somewhat legitimately, it's become almost accepted that all its practitioners are fair game, simply for exercising their own views.

    Two examples of making the news up; one minority directly targeted. Journalists' job: done.

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    Monday, March 24, 2008 

    Take me out to the crucifixion.

    It being Easter, when we duly celebrate Christ's agonising death by devouring chocolate eggs, the media seems to assume that you've gone soft enough in the head to also not feel queasy about swallowing some little short of bigoted views (main and repeat offender Cardinal Keith O'Brien) and then those hollowed out enough in an attempt not to offend but which nonetheless do exactly that.

    First up the Grauniad foists on us the delectable Madeleine Bunting, who can, on occasion, produce the odd piece of some worth. Not this time round, where she's saluting the joys of "complementary" (read: alternative) medicine and remarking on the amazing powers of the placebo, via a BBC 2 programme called "Alternative Therapies" starring scientist Kathy Sykes:

    Tonight she examines reflexology, and gives it pretty short shrift. There are 30,000 reflexologists working on a million British feet a year. They base their work on a theory that parts of the sole of the foot correlate to organs in the body. The only problem is that Sykes could find no one, reflexologist or scientist, who could explain how these correlations might work. Furthermore, it turned out that this "ancient" healing system seems to have originated with an imaginative American woman in the 1930s. But patients swear by it. One reflexologist points Sykes to her annual garden party full of babies and children as evidence of the success she has had with infertility problems. This is the point where most scientists snort with derision at the use of personal anecdote as evidence, but Sykes presses on and it takes her into two areas of scientific research. First, she digs up new research on the importance of touch, which can have a profound impact on the brain. Even the hand of a stranger reduces anxiety and that of someone with whom one has a close relationship is even more significant. In fact, Sykes finds some scientific underpinning which goes beyond placebo in many of the therapies she looks at. But it is placebo which emerges as a recurrent and crucially important thread in her quest, and it leads her to the work of several American scientists who are trying to identify what placebo is, who it works for, and why it works.

    Bunting is both overselling herself and ignoring the key worry that the vast majority have over homoeopaths and all the rest of the alternative clique. Very few of use could care less if someone wants to piss all their money up all the wall on water where less than 00.1% of it is the active homoeopathic ingredient, having someone stick needles up their arse or on foot massages if it's for something that isn't life threatening or for where medication's efficacy is either unproven or doesn't work for everyone; it's when it goes further and starts making claims for treating disease that it needs to be swiftly kicked into touch. It's also not as if it's only a tiny minority of snake-oil merchants looking to profit from their own cures; Newsnight's survey of homoeopaths who only recommended their "treatment" prior to someone going on holiday to Africa, as opposed to the malarial and other jabs given by doctors showed that there's a lot who are potentially giving highly dangerous advice. When reflexologists and the like go around claiming that it's their treatment which is helping with fertility problems, it's taking advantage of those who are desperate to have children, and it's only a few steps from there to making even bigger, bolder claims.

    Quite why Sykes needed to dig up new research on the reassurance and comfort which touch gives is unclear also, as it's long been established that human interaction is beneficial for almost all slight ailments. It's the same reason why those with depression get onerously ordered to "exercise". The headline for the article, which probably wasn't Bunting's work to be fair, is also a straw man. No one is pouring "wholesale scorn" on complementary medicine, for the very reasons Bunting outlines, because of how little we still currently understand the placebo effect. Ben Goldacre has written about it at length, for example. There's a very long way from there however to Bunting's claims towards the end about "complementary" medicine and mental health because of conventional medicine's failures: Bunting mentions the recent meta-analysis on the anti-depressants, but doesn't make clear that for the depression they were developed for they do indeed work.

    Bunting also doesn't mention how a previous series involving Sykes had a number of serious complaints upheld against it, with those involved in the programme itself disillusioned by it:

    "The experiment was not groundbreaking, its results were sensationalised and there was insufficient time to analyse the data properly and so draw any sound conclusions. It was oversold and over-interpreted. We were encouraged to over-interpret, and proper scientific qualifications that might suggest alternative interpretations of the data appear to have been edited out of the programme. Because the BBC had funded the experiment, they wanted their money's worth - that's not a good basis for science."

    Both the conventional and the "complementary" medicine industries have their own failings and foibles, but I know which I'd depend on when it came down to it.

    Bunting's article is nothing though compared to the chutzpah on behalf of Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, who opens his article on the evils of atheistic secularism thusly:

    Two months ago I was in Zimbabwe, to see for myself the desperate situation of so many people and to offer my support and solidarity. It was a deeply moving experience. Many of those living with HIV/Aids are now too malnourished to take the drugs they need, though they have them. I asked Sister Margaret McAllen, director of an Aids programme in Harare, what she could do. She replied: "How can we give hope to people in such a desperate situation? Through love. Change comes through love." Sister Margaret may sound like a romantic, but I know she is a very practical realist. Her faith is no obstacle to facing the most horrendous facts: it is a resource with which to change them.

    Surprisingly, nowhere in the article is it mentioned that the Catholic church, through its condemnation of contraception and promotion of abstinence programmes, damns more in Africa to the ravages of HIV/Aids than if it changed one or more of its doctrines for the common good. It's not atheistic secularism that's killing the human spirit, it's the Catholic church which is in many cases doing nothing to stop the killing of the human wholesale.

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