Monday, August 31, 2009 

Steve Whittamore's database exposed and Murdoch's victory.

Finally then, we learn some of the identities of those who were targeted by various national newspapers and magazines via Steve Whittamore, the details of which have previously been kept back by the Information Commissioner's office.

And what an obvious collection of searches in the wider public interest they are. Whether blagging their way into BT's databases to get home addresses and ex-directory numbers, the social security system, the DVLA or the police national computer, these are names to conjure with: the former director general of the National Trust, the Southampton football manager, the father of a Big Brother contestant, the former head of Ofsted, Chris Woodhead, MP Clive Betts, Wayne Rooney's mother, Carol Vorderman's brother, Andrew Motion's ex-wife.

To lay off the sarcasm for a moment, some of these uses of a private detective to obtain information could have been in the public interest: politicians from all the main parties are also represented, among them Peter Mandelson, Peter Hain, Chris Patten, Peter Kilfoyle, a couple of then union leaders. Most though are just scurrilous attempts to back up gossip: Joanna Lumley, sainted by the newspapers this year for her role in the campaign to allow Gurkhas to move here, was targeted repeatedly in attempts to find out who the father of her child was. Ian Hislop seems to have been had his details accessed mainly because of a vendetta against him by the paparazzo Jason Fraser, while Frances Lawrence, wife of the murdered headmaster Philip was also attempted to be tracked down, and so the list goes on.

Some of the requests, as Nick Davies notes, appear to be down to either sheer laziness or the need to meet deadlines: some of the information sought is almost certainly freely available on the electoral register. Most though just seem to be fishing expeditions, trying to find what information they can get on someone, possibly to back up a story, possibly just in case they ever need it. The other thing that Guardian's obtaining of the information signifies is that it also knows exactly which journalists or even editors were themselves requesting information, as Whittamore also kept their details, maybe in case he was caught and so he could attempt to bring them down with him. Private Eye has already revealed that Rebekah Wade herself made a personal request to Whittamore for information while she was editor of the News of the World; doubtless there are other "big" names in here that would cause a major stir were they to be released.

It also brings into sharp relief James Murdoch's rant at the weekend:

Above all we must have genuine independence in news media. …independence is characterised by the absence of the apparatus of supervision and dependency. Independence of faction, industrial or political. Independence of subsidy, gift and patronage.

It doesn't of course matter that Murdoch himself is the purest example of patronage in a supposedly free and independent market, but put that to one side. The "independence" and lack of any supervision which he craves leads directly to the abuses detailed above. It leads not to the public service journalism which the BBC provides, but to the trash which fills the Sun and News of the World, which in turn subsidise his "serious" newspapers. His market fundamentalism is just as bad as the BBC would be if it was his caricature of it. Little wonder that News International's reaction to the Guardian's revelations of widespread phone hacking were so ferocious: they'd been caught when they need to be seen, in Tony Blair's parlance, as purer than pure. The sad thing is that with an incoming Conservative government, desperate to buy off the Murdoch press, we might well see Young Murdoch's dreams become something close to reality.

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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 Ummah.com 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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Saturday, August 22, 2009 

Weekend links.

The main story of the weekend remains, quite reasonably, the return of al-Megrahi to Libya. Flying Rodent has an excellent general summation of much of that involved, as does the Heresiarch. Elsewhere the on-going healthcare battle in the US is still making noise, with Lenin's "American Psychos" post and the Daily (Maybe) praising "rationing". Jamie has a short round-up of views from Afghanistan on the polling, Dave Semple responds, sort of, to my Twitter-bashing, Pigdogfucker argues that shoplifting is a victimless crime and Tabloid Watch rips to the shreds the latest Muslim-bashing in the Mail.

In the papers themselves, Marina Hyde provides some pop psychology on royalty, Polly Toynbee worries about the huge numbers of young unemployed, Michael Portillo and Robert Fisk share their perspective on al-Megrahi's release, Andrew Grice dismisses the idea that Daniel Hannan is a lone Tory "eccentric", Patrick Cockburn says democracy and occupation don't mix and John Kampfner sees our deployment in Afghanistan as a "failure on an epic scale".

No really awful tabloid piece stands out today, with even the Sun leader on Lockerbie being restrained, so instead we'll go with Sue Reid's article in yesterday's Mail claiming there were more immigrants looking for work in some areas than they were locals, something which was utterly eviscerated by the Daily Quail.

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Friday, August 21, 2009 

The Maltese double cross part 2.

You do have to wonder exactly what both the United States and ourselves expected to happen when al-Megrahi touched down in Libya. He was always going to be given something approaching a warm welcome, mainly because even while the country has paid reparations for the bombing, he is still regarded as innocent.

As almost always, American and Western lives are regarded as having far more worth than those towards the east. You might have thought that some would have mentioned Iran Air Flight 655 today; after all, it's still possible that the Lockerbie bombing was revenge for it. Flight 655 was shot down by the USS Vincennes whilst it was inside Iranian territorial waters, killing all 290 on board. The crew of the ship were not even slightly disciplined: they instead received Combat Action Ribbons, while the captain received the Legion of Merit. The Iranians received no apology, the US has never accepted responsibility and also never admitted wrongdoing. It did however eventually pay $131.8 million in compensation. Libya, by contrast, ended up paying more than $2.16 billion for the Lockerbie bombing.

It's also fairly remarkable how in this instance the Scottish government has managed to stand up to American pressure not to release al-Megrahi. How very different to the extradition of Gary McKinnon, where Westminster has refused to intervene and where Denis MacShane even claimed that McKinnon's diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome was a ruse. Similarly, David Miliband continues to refuse to disclose 7 paragraphs of a memo concerning Binyam Mohamed, claiming that if he did the Americans would withdraw intelligence cooperation. It might well be that the Scottish, unlike the UK government as a whole, doesn't have to worry about the relationships which would be affected by playing politics as it were, but it also exposes both the cowardice and the disparity of the "special relationship", as well as just how nasty both Labour and the Conservatives have become, both of whom would have apparently denied a man with three months to live a compassionate release. I'm no fan of the SNP, and their authoritarian tendencies especially over alcohol are repugnant, yet they've made the right decision for exactly the right reasons, the only downside being that al-Megrahi apparently had to drop his appeal for his release to be agreed. Justice may not have been fully served, but this may well have been the best outcome out of a slew of worse ones.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009 

The latest in the Glen Jenvey/Ummah.com/TERROR TARGET SUGAR saga.

In a revelation that will surprise absolutely no one, Glen Jenvey, of TERROR TARGET SUGAR fame, has admitted that he posted the messages on the Ummah.com forum which led to the Sun's article during the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza in January. Sun - Tabloid Lies contributor Richard Bartholomew has confirmed the authenticity of a message sent to Ummah.com's administrators:

Brother i'm sorry for the Allan Sugar story plant. I'm retired now from spying on Muslims. I saw a chance to install fear back in Jews who were killing Muslims.I was wrong to use you and your site.If you need any thing to help you in any way in the name of Allah just ask.

But yes the Sun did not know who posted it.I say sorry to you from my heart. if you want show the police and get me arrested. but with the first ramadaam coming i want to clear my past sin's before i start my fasting and pray.

I would write this on your forum but im blocked out. may Allah reward you for your good work you do.Ameen

Omar Hamza Jenvey

aka

Glen Jenvey

Jenvey's claim that the Sun didn't know that he was the author of the messages is plausible: the story itself was sold to the Sun through an outside news agency, which presumably Jenvey himself contacted. This doesn't however excuse the Sun's sexing up of the story, claiming that the likes of Alan Sugar were on a "hit list" drawn up by "hate-filled Islamic extremists", when all that was proposed outside of the posts by "abuislam" was a letter-writing campaign, and even Jenvey himself only suggested demonstrations outside their houses, nor their abject failure to check that "abuislam" wasn't an agent provocateur. There was no story whatsoever, except in the heads of journalists flailing to provide a UK-centric report on a war which they otherwise couldn't care less about, while also of course continuing the casual demonisation of Muslims, especially those who dare to criticise policies which the Sun and Murdoch press in general support wholeheartedly.

While Jenvey has admitted to what we were already almost certain he had done, I remain concerned about his mental state and his sudden apparent conversion to Islam, especially his supposed involvement with the likes of Omar Bakri Muhammad. It may yet turn out that this is just Jenvey's latest ploy, or rather his latest obsession, as his mental health has always apparently been precarious, but it equally may be that he is being manipulated by those that are just as bad as the anti-Islam brigade that Jenvey previously associated with. Far be it from me to tell someone what they should do, but what I would suggest is that everyone ought to leave Jenvey alone until it is absolutely certain that he is indeed making his own decisions.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009 

Japanese torture-porn and working out how the BBFC works.

I think I've finally managed to work out how the modern British Board of Film Classification works. After abandoning the ridiculous prejudices of previous, and most famous former director of the board, James Ferman, they realised that every so often, in return for passing "art" films that nonetheless the right-wing press get up in arms about, such as Crash, Irreversible and most recently Antichrist, they have to ban a decidedly non-art piece of trash which makes up somewhat for them not banning something else.

Hence Manhunt 2 had to be banned because the previous game had been (wrongly) accused of influencing a murder. Murder Set Pieces, the last non-sex work to be banned by the BBFC, was refused a certificate shortly after a ridiculous furore involving the BBFC passing SS Experiment Camp, a former video nasty, far more memorable for its original VHS cover art of a partially-clothed woman being crucified upside down while an SS trooper loomed behind her. And now, the Japanese horror film Grotesque has been banned only a number of weeks after Antichrist was causing Daily Mail hacks to wail despite not having seen it.

Perhaps they're all coincidences. It's probably not a coincidence that all three share the attribute that they're not very good. Grotesque, despite not many people having seen it, appears to be the latest tiresome, low-budget entry in the sub-horror genre of "torture porn", which existed before the likes of Saw, but which definitely kick-started its re-emergence. Doubtless some will link the film further back to its Japanese predecessors, such as the "Guinea Pig" series, notorious for their effects on ultra-low budgets and how often they've been mistaken for "real" snuff films, but this seems far more linkable to its American sisters. Plot, of which there isn't apparently much of one, revolves around a couple who are kidnapped and then degraded, tortured and assaulted until one is offered the chance of saving the life of the other, a distinctly Saw-like device, before, and I'm only guessing, both are in fact killed.

As for the BBFC's reasoning, it's difficult to ascertain as the statement which was previously up on their website purporting their decision has mysteriously vanished, leaving us with the Sun's mangling of the press release, or the BBC's rather slimmed down account. Apparently it presented "little more than an unrelenting and escalating scenario of humiliation, brutality and sadism", "[T]he chief pleasure on offer seems to be in the spectacle of sadism (including sexual sadism) for its own sake," and "Its "minimal narrative or character development," he continued, set it apart from such other "torture-themed" works as the Saw and Hostel movie series. Really? Have they honestly sat down and watched the most recent entries in the Saw series, which have nonsensically convoluted plots and where the deaths and torture devices are clearly came up with first and then the story woven around them? The key might well be the sexual sadism, with the BBFC still being cautious when it comes to sexual violence, but that might just be them covering themselves lest the company that submitted the film decides to appeal to the Video Appeals Committee, who overturned the BBFC's rejection of Manhunt 2.

It's also not as if highly similar films featuring high similar plots and doubtless highly similar graphic violence haven't been passed 18 uncut. One was Frontiers, a French film where two young women fall into the grasp of sadistic Nazi cannibals, as one (or two) does. The BBFC justified passing it 18 uncut with the following description:

FRONTIER(S) is a subtitled French film that has been classified '18' uncut for very strong bloody violence.

The film contains scenes dwelling on the terrorisation of victims and the infliction of pain and injury. The inclusion of several 'strongest gory images' (mutilation) preclude the possibility of a '15' classification. However, all elements in this work are containable, uncut, by current guidelines for the '18' classification.

Current guidelines state: The BBFC respects the right of adults to choose their own entertainment, within the law.

Another was Captivity, starring ex-24 starlet Elisa Cuthbert, which I remember mainly because of Peter Bradshaw's review in the Graun:

But there's a twist. The wacko has imprisoned a pretty boy too, Gary (Daniel Gillies) and, against the odds ... well, boy meets girl in the torture dungeon and the old chemistry starts a-fizzin'.

It could have been the basis for a bizarre black comedy, were it not for the chillingly misjudged porn-seriousness of everything on offer. It asks us to believe that Jennifer would want to have sex under these conditions, and furthermore asks us to believe that she would still look like a total hottie. Even after being tortured. Unconsciously, the storyline participates in the madman's gruesomely naive fantasies.


If that was Bradshaw's verdict, you can imagine what the likes of Christopher Tookey thought. Captivity was also naturally passed 18 uncut by the BBFC, who quite rightly don't get involved in matters of taste. Otherwise they might have also banned H6: Diary of a Serial Killer, a Spanish horror in which a killer takes home prostitutes and locks them in a room, strapped to a table, depriving them of both food and water. One begs, pathetically, for a drink: the killer obliges by urinating into her mouth. That was also passed 18 uncut.

Undoubtedly, the BBFC will have justified its rejection in terms of the possibility of "harm", a subjective definition if there ever was one. That it's unlikely that anyone other than a horror/gore hound, undoubtedly already somewhat jaded with the current material on offer was likely to rent or buy Grotesque doesn't enter into it. It also doesn't matter that in the broadband internet age that it's even more impossible to ban films than it was in the video nasty era, when copies of copies of copies of copies circulated, and when those who watched the grainy, almost undecipherable to watch sleaziness thought they were all the better for it. And of course, now that it's been banned by the helpful BBFC, the DVD cases in countries where the censorship laws are not so archaic, ridiculous and opaque will have the legend emblazoned across them that it's illegal in the good old United Kingdom. Achieved? Absolutely nothing, except for proving to the likes of Mediawatch that the BBFC does still ban some films, albeit ones that no one cares about.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009 

Don't tase us bros!

The latest figures released on the use of tasers by police forces across the country are starting to look concerning. While the jump from 187 uses between October to December 2008 to 250 during January to March this year can be explained by how the Home Office allowed Chief Officers to decide when "specially-trained" units can be deployed with the weapons, it doesn't explain why different forces are using them far more readily than others.

The most startling are the number of uses by Northumbria police, which since April 2004 has used tasers in one way or another on 704 occasions, 4 more than even the Met has. This is an astounding number, especially when compared to another force of similar size and with a similar urban environment, Merseyside, who also took part in the same trial as Northumbria and which has used them just 76 times in total. One explanation might that more units were trained in their use than in the other forces, but Northumbria's use still seems to be remarkably high. Northumbria claim that their use is highest because they're the only force to train firearm response officers to also use them, and that the rise would correspond with the drop in firearm officers being deployed, in contrast to other forces, but it also makes you wonder whether because officers know this they more readily call for help when faced with problems they would have dealt with themselves before. Only the Met and West Yorkshire actually fully "discharged", as in fired rather than threatened their use or pressed the weapon up against the person on more occasions.

The biggest worry with the use of tasers has to be that when the police would previously have reasoned extensively to subdue someone who was uncooperative with them, or used acceptable, if subjective force to achieve the same result, the weapon becomes the first resort rather than the last, even if used just simply as a threat. Unlike in the US, where the Taser was meant to be deployed as an alternative to firearms (even if, somewhat predictably, no such fall in the use of guns seems to have been noted), police in this country have only ever used guns when the suspect is also believed to have or has used one. That tasers seem to be entering normal police use, and that as a result, their use also becomes to be seen as normal is a cause for concern when the safety of the weapons is far from being certain. As the Guardian leader argues, the exact circumstances of their use, as well as how they were used needs to be recorded to ensure that the above doesn't become the norm. The police blogger Nightjack wrote that most police were approachable and pleasant, it was just that they had started to dress and be armed like "imperial stormtroopers" which worried and put the general public off. The casual deployment of tasers would only make such attitudes worse.

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Monday, August 17, 2009 

Twitter twatter.

I'm sure that I'm not the only person who's getting thoroughly sick of both the hype and churnalism surrounding Twitter, or more appropriately, Twatter. The latest is that 40% of the messages sent on it are "pointless babble". Shurely shome mishtake? Shouldn't that be 99.9%? You also know that when the government appoints a "Twatter tsar", to go with all the other inexplicable tsars it seems insistent on appointing, the other one being Arlene Phillips as a "dancing tsar", that its demise hopefully won't be that far in the future.

David Cameron, for once, wasn't too far wrong in his view that too many twits might end up making a twat. I can see the point of the likes of Facebook, despite not using it, and do have a MySpace account although again I never use it, they're just not really for me, mainly because I prefer to operate under something of a semi-anonymous shroud. Twitter though, with the exception of when it is clearly put to good use, such as when instant updates are necessary such as on breaking news, reporting on protests and organising around them, seems to be beyond pointless; it's a glorified instant messaging service where every stalker and sad sack can follow your ever so fascinating immediate thoughts on what your sandwich tastes like, what it's like being stuck in a lift, and why the NHS is brilliant. Obviously, accusations of hypocrisy can be levelled against a blogger for criticising such "micro-blogging", and some bloggers do indeed do little more than those on Twitter do, but I'd like to think for the most part I put more thought into what I write here than many do with their numerous updates throughout the day (although blogging has been deliberately lighter this month).

Then there's just the wishful thinking, such as Sunny's that Twitter challenges right-wing dominance online. This would be amusing if it wasn't so tragic. If the NHS couldn't find enough people who could relate their own experiences of its service in a supportive fashion then Daniel Hannan would be more than right in calling it a sixty-year old mistake. Those doing so are clearly apolitical; they support the NHS, not the political arguments behind it. The entire hype behind online political campaigning has got all out of proportion to its actual value and use: there has been no indication whatsoever that the success of campaigns in the US can be translated to this country. Indeed, repeated attempts by the Conservatives to do so have failed abjectly, from their "Tosser" campaign to more recent calls for donations, whatever their size, appropriating from last year's US campaigns. If the Tories, the main players online as we are forced to admit can't do it, how can anyone?

Twitter provides what the other social networking sites do: circle jerks, where like-minded people share like-minded things, all while stroking their egos. Again, I'm not going to pretend I'm also not guilty of this, but Twitter just exacerbates the problems inherent in blogging. It is essentially meaningless, not even giving extra quality to real life relationships like Facebook does. Doubtless I'm about to be flayed alive in the comments, but once again the hype and the defences of it simply fail to live up to the reality.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009 

Weekend links.

The major theme this weekend is the continuing attacks on the NHS, by both the usual suspects from the US and from these shores. Paul Linford considers it along with the Tories' attempts in general to be seen as the new progressives (lol), Nosemonkey does a cost benefit analysis of the two systems, Flying Rodent attacks Daniel Hannan in familiarly humourous fashion, Mr Eugenides offers his perspective, as does Chris Dillow, Shiraz Socialist uncovers further Tory links to NHS bashers while the Heresiarch maintains a healthy scepticism. Dave Semple discusses both Venezuela and ideology, Tom Freeman thinks Alan Duncan is half-right and Daily Quail notes the Mail's changing attitude to the NHS.

In the papers themselves, Marina Hyde says the Tories are already living down to our expectations, Janice Turner, in the Murdoch-owned Times no less, defends the NHS, Rupert Cornwell asks the US critics to cool down while Christina Patterson thinks the problem with our health service isn't funding. Matthew Parris calls for MPs to be set free, Robert Salisbury's problems with Mandelson don't just involve yachts, E Jane Dickinson recalls Oscar Wilde in reference to imprisoning children, Howard Jacobson stands up for pedants and Patrick Cockburn believes it will take a long time for Iraq to heal.

As for worst tabloid article of the weekend, for once there is no noxiously offensive piece which I've come across, mainly because Amanda Platell seems to be away. Closest is Jan Moir's rather pathetic piece on female politicians brandishing their cleavage.

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Friday, August 14, 2009 

The Maltese double cross?

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi's decision to drop his appeal against his conviction for the Lockerbie bombing appears to be just the latest stitch-up in the now over 20-year-long search for both justice and the truth in what remains one of the most murky and unexplained terrorist attacks of recent times. In what seems to be an attempt to keep all sides reasonably happy, including the American relatives of the dead who seem to be far more convinced of al-Megrahi's guilt than many of the British relatives, it now appears likely that rather than being released on compassionate grounds, as first thought, al-Megrahi will take advantage of a prisoner transfer agreement signed by Tony Blair and Colonel Gaddafi. While al-Megrahi could continue with his appeal if he was released due to his terminal illness, the transfer treaty is not applicable while criminal proceedings are still under way. This presumably is aimed at tempering American criticism that someone convicted of mass murder should be freed on compassionate grounds, having shown none whatsoever to his victims.

There are however multiple factors at work here, as there have been from the beginning. Going from being the Mad Dog to being one of those dictators which we can quite literally do business with, Gaddafi's Libya is a key emerging market, especially for the likes of BP, having invested $1bn in the country, prompting the Americans in particular to wonder whether the oil industry which their own government so heavily supports is influencing policy over here also. Most critical however is that none of those involved, apart from al-Megrahi, want the case to be reopened and examined in anything approaching precise detail again. Certainly not the UK or US governments, both of which moved from being almost certain that the perpetrators were not Libyan but rather Palestinians based in Syria, quite possibly funded by Iran, around the time that both countries were needed over more pressing matters concerning Operation Desert Storm, and certainly not the Libyans, who although continuing to cast doubt on their involvement, gritted their teeth and paid an obscene amount of compensation in return for both UN and US sanctions being lifted. These numbers are expected to be earned back in reasonably short order: Libya's Mahmud al-Ftise, the privatisation and investment secretary, says the country has "very big potential".

Al-Megrahi however has just months to live, and with his death it also seems likely that any chance of revisiting the evidence will also perish. This is especially depressing when new information suggests that he suffered what Hans Köchler, the UN's nominated observer of the Scottish trial and appeal in the Netherlands described as a "spectacular miscarriage of justice". Al-Megrahi's lawyers had demanded access to a US government document which cast doubt on the origin of a digital timer which was integral to his conviction, as well as obtaining information that suggested that the key prosecution witness, Tony Gauci, the owner of the Maltese clothes shop where al-Megrahi was supposed to have bought the items which were packed in the suitcase around the bomb, was paid more than $2 million for giving evidence against him. It seems that as a member of the President's Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism, the body set up by the US after the bombing allegedly told Martin Cadman, one of the relatives of the dead:

Your government and ours know exactly what happened. But they're never going to tell.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009 

The perifidious French and Germans.

France and Germany have both respectively pulled out of recession, by a whopping 0.3%. Keeping in mind that these are preliminary figures, which could yet be revised in either direction, this can either prove everything or absolutely nothing.

Those predisposed (like myself) to further stimulus measures will note that both France and Germany have had far larger such packages than we have, although both also had more room for manoeuvre than we did in terms of borrowing and less personal debt to consider. Neither was as predisposed and reliant on the financial sector as we were, although there's certainly an argument that Germany is too reliant on its own manufacturing base, although it seems for now as if it's just that base which has helped it pull clear. Vince Cable is also pushing this argument.

Then there's the Conservatives (such as George Osborne) who are quite naturally crowing about how Gordon Brown was telling us all about how well placed we were and how we'd be one of the first out. This is equally correct, but it's also exactly what any politician was going to tell us, and indeed, if he'd been doom-mongering, telling us how it was likely to last years and that we'd be last out, he'd have been attacked for talking us down and spooking the financial markets. As has also been the theme throughout, the Tories have no real message on what we should be doing now, apart from "forcing" the banks to lend; indeed, they're still insistent on what we should be cutting now to bring the national debt down, which is about as insane a position as it's possible to reach.

It might yet turn out that the 0.8% contraction between April and June might not have been as bad as originally forecast, based as it was only on the figures up to May. Either way, all those old insults and jibes about the stagnating European economies while the "Anglo-Saxon" model of capitalism raced ahead no longer hit quite as hard.

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Baby P mum is a woman.

THE twisted evil monster mother of tortured Baby P is a woman, Obsolete can exclusively reveal.

Our exclusive source, Fag Ash Lil, who shared a cell with the evil monster in Holloway, told us how she was shocked when she discovered the truth about the evil ex-bar worker.

"I was shocked when I discovered the truth about the evil ex-bar worker. Every time when she finished eating, which wasn't often, as the fat evil bitch was always stuffing her face, she would go to the toilet. Rather than go into the men's, or the unisex disabled facilities, she would go in the WOMEN'S. I was shocked when I discovered this."

"Tracey told me, because we were close until I realised she was an evil twisted monster, that when she was younger she would sometimes use the men's. She was that sort of girl. She even used to go to raves and sometimes used the men's there. I was shocked when I found out she used the women's here."

Another Holloway source confirmed the evil twisted monster Connelly had used the women's, adding: "It stank."

Obsolete has chosen not to publish the location of the toilet in Holloway which the evil monster used, as we've made the entire thing up.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009 

The banality of evil part 2.

How dare he?! That's our job!

Meanwhile, the Sun is so flush with cash thanks to its witch-hunt against social workers (which today agony aunt Deidre Saunders describes as a "perilous" job, and that they shouldn't be tarred with the same brush) that it's bought another headstone, this time with Baby P's full name in gold lettering, having previously bought the old memorial slab which featured in so many photographs of the tributes left to him, without it being made clear that a newspaper was attempting a land grab on his memory. As Anorak suggests, it's almost as if the newspaper wants to own him personally - we brought the fury, he's ours. Get your tanks off our goddamn lawn.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009 

The banality of evil.

At long last, the monsters and the evil monsters and the monster evils have been exposed to the public view. As long as these monstrous evil people were hidden behind evil monstrous legal diktats the public could not see the faces of these evil monsters and so know personally the evil monstrous acts which these monstrously evil monsters committed. The real evil however is that these evil monsters could be released in just a few short years, and even more outrageous, have their evilly monstrous faces hidden by more monstrous legal diktats designed to protect them from decent mums who only wish to torture these evil monsters to death, as is their legal right and which will protect all other decent people from being menaced ever again by these evil monsters. Who could possibly defend these evil monsters having their evil identities changed?

The only real reason to welcome the publication of the identities of the mother of Baby P and her boyfriend, both convicted of either causing or allowing his death, is that it finally takes the attention away from the social workers who acted in their absence as outrage fodder. It often seemed to be forgotten, as Sharon Shoesmith herself said, that the real blame lay with those who actually caused his death, not those that failed, however inadequately, to prevent it. Some individuals are simply determined to harm children, as it seems one of the brothers convicted in this instance was. Much remains unknown, despite newspaper accounts, of what really happened in that house in Haringey: just why his mother allowed her child to be abused and in certain circumstances lied and covered up the signs that he had been. The judge found that she was manipulative and self-centred, which she almost certainly was; that doesn't however even begin to explain why.

"Evil" really doesn't come much more banal than in this instance. All three of those involved, while hardly oil paintings, are not instantly repugnant to look at. All three were very ordinary strange people, all with backgrounds which should have rang alarm bills from the beginning, but which also were hardly remarkable. The case itself and the circumstances of Peter Connelly's death, while undoubtedly appalling and heart-rending, are again far from unusual. The Guardian points out a remarkably similar case, in which the father of 16-month-old Amy Howson broke her spine in two places, but which attracted almost no wide attention. In this instance, what seems to have set it out from the crowd was that it happened in Haringey, the same London borough where Victoria Climbie died, and that because of another case in which they were involved, as well as the need to find places for Connelly's other children with foster parents, the two main accused were anonymous.

If there were any positives to be taken from the widespread coverage of the case, some of the vitriol and hatred poured out might be easier to take. Yet if anything that very vitriol, the vast majority of it without even the slightest insight behind it, has put children who are at risk in even more danger. Everyone was shocked, shocked, when it turned out that Haringey's performance hadn't improved when it had last audited. The main deficiencies? Excessive case loads and a shortage of social workers. Who, after all, would possibly want to work in Haringey now, unless they've got a taste for masochism when both Sharon Shoesmith and Maria Ward considered suicide after they were named as the "bunglers" who failed to save Baby P? Then there was Lord Laming's report, the same Lord whose first report after Victoria Climbie's death is blamed for introducing the kind of punishing bureaucracy and audit culture which keeps social workers at their computers instead of actually visiting those on their books. His latest attempt introduced another 58 recommendations. Social work can be an incredibly rewarding job, but when you're expected to save every child at risk while alternatively being condemned for breaking up families it's also one which is next to impossible. When asked to protect the innocent from evil, it might just help to understand a little more and condemn a little less. That however has never sold newspapers, especially when there's evil to be reported upon.

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Monday, August 10, 2009 

Protesting too much about collusion.

One of the more cutting criticisms made by the Joint Committee on Human Rights last week was that while the head of MI5 had no problems in talking to the media, he seemed to regard it as an unacceptable chore to have to appear in front of a few jumped-up parliamentarians. Yesterday the head of MI6, "Sir" John Scarlett appeared on a Radio 4 documentary into the Secret Intelligence Service, where he naturally denied that MI6 had ever so much as hurt a hair on anyone's head, or more or less the equivalent, as Spy Blog sets out.

This would of course be the same MI6 that passed on information to the CIA regarding Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna which resulted in their arrest in Gambia and subsequent rendition to Guantanamo Bay, and indeed the same MI6 which along with MI5 interviewed Binyam Mohamed while he was being detained in Pakistan, where we now know he was being tortured. The Intelligence and Security Committee noted even in their whitewash report into rendition that MI6 had likely given information to the Americans which was subsequently used in his mistreatment whilst in Morocco. We've since learned that "Witness B", an MI5 officer, also visited Morocco on a couple of occasions while Mohamed was being held there, even further heightening suspicions of direct collusion in his torture.

Those two others who declined to appear before the JCHR were David Miliband and Alan Johnson, who also seem to prefer talking to the media than having to face the chore of sitting before a committee with something approaching independence. Their article in the Sunday Telegraph, responding to the report's claims was one of those wonderful pieces of writing which condemns everything, states the obvious whilst not contradicting any of the specific allegations of collusion. It's the lady protesting too much: no one said, as they do, that the security and intelligence services operate without control and oversight; indeed, it's been quite clear that ministers have known from the very beginning just what the intelligence services have been getting up to, they've just denied and denied and denied it until finally forced to admit to specific allegations, like that two men were rendered through Diego Garcia despite previously repeatedly denying it. They've in fact just admitted that they are personally accountable for what MI5 and MI6 officers get up, so we'll know who should be prosecuted should collusion be revealed, and it's difficult to believe that at some point it won't be.

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Saturday, August 08, 2009 

Weekend links.

The silly season is at its height, and there's just about bugger all happening. Tabloid Watch rips the Express's "Labour's 186bn benefits madness" to shreds, Paul Sagar asks what the Tory policy is on tax havens, Lenin writes on Somalia, Paul Linford wonders whether the real winner of the "battle" between Harriet Harman and Peter Mandelson might be Alan Johnson, Paulie says don't underestimate Murdoch and the Daily Quail has some Littlejohn banners.

In the papers, or on their sites at any rate, John Harris interviews "Red Tory" Philip Blond, Panjak Mishra says Afghanistan is a bigger mess than Iraq, Matthew Parris defends the insult, Howard Jacobson thinks it isn't always good to talk and Andrew Buncombe wonders where the killing of Mehsud leaves Pakistan.

As for the worst tabloid article, we have two rather than the usual one from Amanda Platell, who visits "Fat Central" to snort at the obese and also hilariously declares that we shouldn't show compassion to someone who never showed it anyone else like Ronnie Biggs (how on earth would Platell know what compassion is either?), but the winner must be Peter Hitchens, who's decided the police are now the "useless uniformed" wing of New Labour. Of course they are, Peter.

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Friday, August 07, 2009 

Greek tragedy.

Pakistani and American authorities were celebrating today after they had succeeded in cutting off the head of the hydra, also known as Baitullah Mehsud. The weapon used to decapitate the hydra, the pilotless drone, armed with the missile of Hades, aimed a successful strike against the beast's head, cutting it clean off.

Others were however sceptical at whether the cutting off of the Hydra's head would end its reign of terror. One expert said: "This is by no means the end. The cutting off of the Hydra's head will simply result in it growing back two where once there was just one. The only way to bring this battle to an end is not just to cut off the head, but also to scorch the ends where they would otherwise grow back. That is far more difficult."

Osama bin Hercules could not be reached for comment.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009 

Jack Straw, also synonymous with heartless bastard.

It seems that we have Ronnie Biggs to thank for two things: firstly, for demonstrating just what condition you have to be released from prison on "compassionate" grounds, and secondly for highlighting what a charmless, inhumane bastard Jack Straw is.

On the 1st day of last month Straw ruled that Biggs couldn't be released because he was "wholly unrepentant". This was despite the fact that Biggs can't talk, walk, eat or drink. A few days before Straw's ruling he had fell and broken his hip; the parole board without apparently being sardonic, said the risk he posed "was manageable under the proposed risk management plan". The risk from a man who has to be fed through a tube and who can barely walk must rank up there with the risk posed by eating Pop Rocks and then drinking Coke, or the risk of being mauled to death by a band of marauding gerbils. Straw didn't bother to explain how keeping such a man in prison at a cost doubtless far in excess of that if he was in a nursing home was justifiable except in terms of pure vindictiveness. If the aim was to please the authoritarian populists in the tabloids, he failed: even they blanched at a man close to death being kept inside for no real reason except the establishment getting its own back for being played a fool for years.

37 days later and Biggs' condition has now deteriorated so significantly that Straw has granted parole on "compassionate" grounds. This in effect means that Biggs is about to die, with his son hoping that he survives long enough to see out his birthday on Saturday. If Straw had granted Biggs parole back on the 1st of July, he might just have been able to enjoy a few days of something approaching freedom; now he's likely to just slip away, having gone down with pneumonia. Politicians such as Straw justify the likes of Iraq war on the basis that even if hundreds of thousands of people died, the ends justified the means; in any event, rarely do they see the consequences of their actions close up, and even then they can take the abstract view, that they weren't personally responsible even if in the chain of command. Yet Straw can hardly deny in this instance that he may well have directly contributed to Biggs' suffering further than he needed to. Straw's shamelessness though seems unlikely to even slightly twinge his conscience, even when others would have been deeply troubled by just that thought.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009 

Silly season moaning.

Every year it's the same. The newspapers moan about politicians while they're at Westminster, then they moan when they're not at Westminster. Gavel Basher in Private Eye today points out that those most fingered as being useless can't win: Bob Ainsworth, the defence secretary, pilloried for being out of his depth and described in the Sun's umpteenth leader on Our Brave Boys having to fight the government as much as they're fighting the Taliban as a "bungling Defence wallah", went for a few days break, just as the row about compensation broke out. He came back, as you would, and the same newspapers complain that he shouldn't have bothered.

The situation is almost exactly the same with whoever it is who deputises for the prime minister while he's away for a couple of weeks. John Prescott got it in the neck repeatedly simply because he wasn't Tony Blair and also from the usual suspects for being a working class idiot above his pay grade. This year it's Harriet Harman's turn, and it being the silly season and there being no real politics to write about, she's transformed by the Mail especially into a feminist harridan determined in just a week to strike a blow against the oppressive patriarchy. The evidence? She jokingly repeated her remarks that women would make better bankers than men (they couldn't be much worse), is daring to introduce lessons about relationships at the age of five which in the Mail becomes five-year-olds being indoctrinated in the ways of feminazism, and might have suggested that the proposals on reforms to the rape laws aren't tough enough. It's utter nonsense, but it fills the space and makes for a good front page splash.

The last person to deputise for the prime minister who was given anything even approaching respect was John Reid, who was praised for his handling of the "liquid bomb plot" raids while Blair was off sunning himself. Reid of course was the hard, unflappable and determined politician which the authoritarian tabloids especially love, at least until they decide that what was up must be brought back down to earth. As for Bob Ainsworth, attacked as much for his choice in facial hair as for his current performance as defence secretary, he's just the latest poor bastard to be cleaning up the mess which Reid himself left at defence, he being the one who told the world that he hoped the troops in Afghanistan would be able to return home from their mission without firing a single shot. We might get the politicians we deserve, but we get the media we deserve as well.

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