Saturday, July 31, 2010 

Bass music prize nominees part 2.





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Friday, July 30, 2010 

A paean to charity shops.

I'll be the first to admit that only slightly less depressing than a high street full of empty shops is one consisting almost entirely of charity shops. This shouldn't necessarily be the case however. When done right, they can be fabulous places and the "big names" usually manage to do the difficult job of balancing off the unsellable tat from the genuine bargains which they get donated, and to be fair, they can only work with what they're given; it's usually the more obscure, locally based organisations in outlets where the paint is almost invariably peeling which let the side down. Even then though they're always worth a quick browse, especially if they've got a hefty CD rack, where I can almost always manage to find one single or another from the 90s to add to my unhealthily sized collection of dance music and incredibly guilty pleasures, or sometimes both.

Best of all though are the dedicated second hand charity bookshops. Admittedly, for the most part the fiction sections are usually full of intolerable trash, although I've still managed to pick up some Will Self from my local one. Where it continues to amaze me is in what it gets outside of the holiday reading cast-offs. Last time I paid a visit I picked up a first edition hardback of Roy Jenkins' biography of Churchill (complete with message inside from whomever gave it as a Christmas present), as well as Francis Wheen's Tom Driberg biog and have in the past got E.H. Carr's multi-volume history of early Soviet Russia, Bakunin on Anarchy, David McDuff's superb translations of both Crime and Punishment and the Brothers Karamazov and too many other great discoveries to list. Today's haul still must be one of the best yet:

The Prophet Armed - Trotsky 1879 - 1921 by Issac Deutscher (paperback) (also previously got his rather thin Stalin biog from the same place)
Michael Foot by Mervyn Jones (hardback)
As If by Blake Morrison (hardback)
The Gulag Archipelago - Second Volume by Solzhenitsyn (paperback) (got the first from the same place some time back, as well as the First Circle and One Day in the Life of...)
Kalki by Gore Vidal (paperback)

How much? £5.50 the lot. I also nearly picked up Peter Ackroyd's biog of Thomas More, but thought it'll probably still be there next time.

Every town deserves a similar shop, and for every dismal, run-down charity hovel attempting to sell mouldy boardgames, hornpipe trousers and flowery 70s shirts, there's one that's hosting a treasure trove, even if not one to you personally, just waiting to be discovered. Try it sometime.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010 

The hunger striker and the imaginary burgers.

(Hat-tip to MacGuffin.)

There is, very occasionally, a price for churnalism, albeit one that won't make much (if any) material difference to the Sun. Without bothering to check whether the Daily Mail's original article claiming that Parameswaran Subramanyam had eaten burgers while conducting a public hunger strike in Parliament Square was accurate, something the Metropolitan police had apparently picked up on "specialist monitoring equipment" which they had trained on him, a "Staff Reporter" merely repeated the allegations.

It was strange in the first place that it was almost six months later before the police suddenly decided it was time to inform the press of what Subramanyam had been doing, supposedly having decided not to confront him at the time for fear of starting a riot, and at the same time as the cost emerged of policing the Tamil protest outside parliament. Surely it would have made a much better story much nearer the time of the demonstration? Indeed, why would the police decide to provide someone else to focus the blame on for the "excess" cost? It couldn't have been something to do with what the Mail described in the article as an "overtime bonanza", could it?

However the fantasy came to be implanted in the mind of Mail journalist Stephen Wright, it's one that's cost the paper £47,500 in damages, while the Sun has agreed to stump up £30,000, with both also having to pay Subramanyam's legal costs. As he was represented by Carter-Fuck (sorry, Carter-Ruck) that definitely won't have come cheap. Was copying and pasting and slightly altering the text really worth the wages of a junior hack for a whole year?

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010 

The end for ASBOs, again.

There appears, on the face of it, to be something remarkably strange going on within the Conservative party where it comes to policy on crime. Before the election it couldn't tell us often enough how broken our society was, yet since becoming part of the coalition government that consistent piece of rhetoric has all but disappeared, to be replaced by the first steps towards enabling David Cameron's beloved "Big Society". Before the election it was dedicated to keeping the prison building programme going, only for Ken Clarke almost immediately after it to start looking for alternatives. Before the election the then shadow home secretary Chris Grayling was looking for ways to implement a "21st century clip round the ear", giving police the power to take someone off the streets for "doing something stupid", and wanted to introduce "grounding orders" which would have banned youths leaving their home outside of school hours for up to a month.

Today Theresa May sounded the death knell for the anti-social behaviour order, supposedly. Giving a speech titled "Moving Beyond the ASBO" at the Coin Street community centre, she announced a review of the current orders available to police, which isn't exactly the same thing as getting rid of them altogether, and without giving any real detail as to what they would be replaced with, if anything. This also isn't exactly the first time that a home secretary or other ministers have signalled that the ABSO is reaching the end of its usefulness: Ed Balls previously said that every single one issued was a mark of failure, while Jacqui Smith (remember her?) wanted alternatives like parenting orders, acceptable behaviour orders and early-intervention to play a wider role.

Even so, getting rid of the ASBO or reviewing them didn't previously seem to be on the agenda. The Conservative manifesto, while somewhat dismissive of them, was fairly clear:

We recognise the need for criminal sanctions like ASBOs and fixed penalty notices, but they are blunt instruments that often fail their purpose of deterring people from committing more crime.

If you wanted to give the Liberal Democrats some credit they almost certainly don't deserve, you could link the apparently more enlightened stance since the election to their influence. There's been no suggestion from the ministers themselves however that this is the case, and no specific crowing from the Lib Dems either that it's thanks to them. Instead, there seems to be a much simpler explanation: it's all part of the attempt to search for savings absolutely everywhere, while outsourcing everything possible to either the voluntary or private sector, covered up by the now already wearying "Big Society", decentralising, local is always best rhetoric.

The problem with this approach when it comes to ASBOs is that it's always been local authorities that have been behind their issuing. Some have hardly used them while others embraced them. May tries to cover this up by suggesting that they were somehow imposed on councils by Whitehall:

Of course, with such an obvious problem even the last government could not ignore it.

They knew they had to do something, but as with so much they did, their top-down, bureaucratic, gimmick-laden approach just got in the way of the police, other professionals and the people themselves from taking action.

Such a centralised approach, imposed from Whitehall, can never be the best way to deal with an inherently local problem.

Rather than part of the solution, the previous government’s focus on anti-social behaviour became part of the problem.

The multitude of central government initiatives and gimmicks meant that people expected the government to deal with these issues.

Too often, the top-down approach of the past meant that the police and the other agencies involved in tackling anti-social behaviour at local level took their cue from central government rather than the people they were meant to be serving.


It also doesn't seem to concern May that she's contradicted herself within a matter of sentences. We go from "even the last government could not ignore it", as if New Labour had somehow been slow to recognise the problem of anti-social behaviour when during Tony Blair's time as prime minister it practically never shut up about it, to a "multitude of central government initiatives and gimmicks" which actively undermined the local fight against it. The government was in fact so concerned about how anti-social behaviour was dealt with differently across the country at the initiative of local authorities that it commissioned a study on it which was published last December (PDF). Noting this would however contradict May's argument that it was somehow centralisation which previously held everyone back. She even builds a straw man in the next paragraph:

For 13 years, politicians told us that the government had the answer; that the ASBO was the silver bullet that would cure all society’s ills.

It wasn’t. Life is more complex than that.


As pointed out above, not even New Labour was that shallow, and it never even began to claim that government had all the answers, even if it sometimes felt like that, or that ASBOs were a silver bullet. The speech as a whole is much like this, saying a lot while offering very little substantive. May goes from stating:

In making this case, I’m not saying that there is no role for government. We’re not going to just walk away and leave you to it.

to

Government has a role to play - sometimes that’s just by getting out of the way, simplifying the landscape, removing the bureaucratic barriers that prevent professionals from doing what works.

to

But government also has an active role to play. We need to help agencies join up more effectively, spreading good ideas like the Case Management system in Charnwood, Leicestershire, which allows agencies to pool information on anti-social behaviour incidents and victims, and manage cases collectively online.

There is then a role for government: first it gets out of the way, removing the barriers that prevent professionals from doing what works, then it needs to get involved again to ensure that agencies can join up more effectively. Confused? You shouldn't be. From not walking away and leaving you to it, it instead wants to help outside agencies do it for you, in line with so much else of current government policy. And then there's the role for communities themselves:

But crucially, we also want communities to come up with their own ideas of what they are going to do.

It’s not just the police, it’s not just social landlords, or councils - it’s the whole of society that needs to come together and work together to tackle anti-social behaviour.


From the examples she provides, there's ample evidence of this happening already.

The whole speech and change in policy, if indeed there is one, amounts to a big bag of nothing. Government might get out of the way, or it might not. It wants things to carry on as they currently are, but doesn't provide any actual examples of how will it help similar projects as there's no mention of extra funding, predictably, just that they will have the equivalent of moral support. ASBOs will be reviewed, and a "toolkit that is appropriate and effective" will be put in place, with no suggestion as to what that might amount to. There's the occasional encouraging sentence, such as "[W]here possible, they [the new sanctions] should be rehabilitating and restorative, rather than criminalising and coercive", which is more than Labour ever attempted, but there's no meat on the bones.

Whether this exactly is the Conservative "Big Society" writ large or not is open to question. Others within the party have already described it as "Blairite window dressing", but not even most Blairite thinking was this vacuous or opaque. Clearly, the government is desperate for this not to be seen as the rolling back of the state for the sake of it, yet that's what it looks like when the state wasn't even in the way in the first place. While the rhetoric is thankfully remarkably different to the strident, authoritarian tone taken by Chris Grayling, it still doesn't make clear that incidents of anti-social behaviour as measured by the British Crime Survey (PDF, page 116) have been falling for a number of years, and that the main indicators of ASB have always been teenagers hanging around and litter on the streets rather than actual recordable incidents of abuse and drug taking. It's not so much then that Conservative crime policy has gone liberal; it's more that the decisions are being made on a individual, case by case basis rather as part of a general ideological overview, even if informed by other parts of government policy. This would be an improvement if it was to stay like this, yet once the more benign atmosphere disappears, as it will, it's difficult to imagine anything other than responding to headline once again becoming the norm. One suspects that ABSOs will still be around for some time to come, and probably long after the latest home secretary herself has moved on.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010 

The Con-Dems and the race to legislate.

Whether it's attributed to either Emma Goldman or Ken Livingstone, the idiom that if voting changed anything they'd abolish it/make it illegal has always been one of those pithy statements which sound good but which fall apart under scrutiny, unless you take it as a criticism of so-called liberal democracy itself. Voting does change things, it's the politician's promises which are always broken. One of the things the Tories assured us they would not do prior to the election, with the Liberal Democrats making similar noises, was legislate to the extent which New Labour did, notoriously driving through over fifty criminal justice bills in thirteen years. Something they would also do would be to consult, and not in faux exercises like Labour's Big Conversation, with the whole thing micro-managed by spin doctors. They also wouldn't impose top-down reforms on the public services without doing the above, recognising how they had demoralised and demotivated the NHS especially, as well as wasting valuable time and resources. They even put the last one in the coalition agreement, such was the dedication to learning from the mistakes of the past.

Less than three months after the election and formation of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, and the one thing which strikes you about this government is just how much of a hurry it's in. On one level this is to be expected: even if for the moment the leadership of the two parties is still dedicated to making this partnership work, the murmurings from the backbenchers on both sides are undeniably getting louder. For six Liberal Democrat MPs to vote for a rebel amendment to the not just rushed through but rammed through academies bill is significant at such an early stage, especially on legislation which was similar to that which they promoted in their own manifesto. While the Lib Dem left is worried, it's the Tory right, not sated by the swingeing cuts yet to come which finds itself marginalised by the Cameroon revolution. Jibes about a "brokeback" coalition might seem relatively frivolous, yet it's little wonder it's miffed when it comes to prison policy and its liberal mushiness, which certainly wasn't hinted at prior to the election or in the manifesto. Their opposition to the AV referendum is less easy to understand, such is its chilling potential affect on Labour rather than them, yet all is certainly not well.

Some of the haste is then undoubtedly down to the potential instability of the coalition. Compared to New Labour's first few months in office, which were reasonably well planned in advance and included the independence of the Bank of England and the imposition of a windfall tax, it didn't really inspire its first proper rebellion against legislation until the revolt against the cutting of single parents' benefit at the end of 97. New Labour did however have the potential luxury of time, such was the disarray in which the Tories found themselves in along with a majority which effectively established an elective dictatorship. It was only later that Tony Blair regretted not pushing harder during his first term for public sector reform, although not when it came to the timidity of following the Tories' budgets for the first couple of years. It also wasn't until the fuel protests of 2000 that Labour found itself behind in the polls for the first time, giving it the kind of security that this current government would all kill for. The Tories find themselves only four points behind Labour in the latest ICM poll, long before the cuts begin to bite in the autumn, and on the back of exceptionally positive economic growth figures.

Even so, the slamming through of the Academies Bill was more akin to Labour's treatment of emergency anti-terrorism legislation than carefully considered and combed over drafting and re-drafting, as Tom Freeman noted. The argument made by Michael Gove in favour of the rush was that the topic had been endlessly debated over the last few years, as if this were an acceptable replacement for the usually more staid parliamentary process. In reality the rush was to be able to ensure that those schools that have applied for academy status can indeed have it when they reopen in September, although if we're to believe Julian Glover almost every aspect of reform which the bill covers is already available under previous legislation; in that case, why do we need a new bill which seems to do so much at the expense of the consultation which this government had previously promised? The big society it seems only works in favour of those that want the change which the Tories have already pre-determined which the public wants; if you'd rather your child's school didn't become an academy, then tough luck, as it's going to become one anyone. You can of course set up your own "free school", but it'll take years and you'll have to do all the work, or rather the private and voluntary sector firms you'll employ will.

More perplexing has been the relative silence over the proposed reforms of the NHS, where at least the legislation itself is at yet still to come. The coalition agreement clearly stated there would be no top-down reorganisations, while the primary care trusts would be reformed and elections held to ensure there was public representation on them. Eight weeks later and this went completely out the window when the health white paper was published: PCTs would be abolished altogether, local authorities instead providing the the democracy previously lacking, while GPs, the biggest winners out of Labour's own reforms with their pay increasing massively, would be given the task of commissioning services and organising themselves into consortia, whether they want to or not. This relies entirely on GPs being the well-informed heart of the health service which they are often assumed to be, knowing who delivers the best services in their area. It doesn't matter that plenty find their work with patients to be stressful enough, and prefer the management to be taken care of by others, and that they often simply don't know which is best locally as they don't have information on which to make such assured decisions upon, as the management side will probably be provided by the private sector firms itching to get a larger slice of the NHS budget, this was what wanted wasn't it? Aren't they pleased the government has been listening to them?

We can't however say we haven't been warned about the policing white paper. Ignore the parts about the setting up of the umpteenth "British FBI" and volunteers picking up the slack and/or patrolling with the actual police, the latter of which is a legal mindfield and almost certainly won't happen, it's instead the election of local police commissioners which has long been promised. This is without doubt the worst possible thing you could do to the police, as similar schemes in America have abundantly proved. At the moment there is at least a smidgen of operational independence between police and politicians, although New Labour first and then Boris Johnson have both tried their best to undermine that. It's not so much that it will open up the opportunity for the likes of the BNP to get themselves onto the boards of police authorities, the possibility for which is exaggerated (more realistic is local independents who'll demand to see more police on the beat and less teenagers on street corners), but more because as much as we complain about them, the police themselves generally do a reasonably good job at determining what the local priorities in their area are. Undoubtedly those who will put themselves forward for election will know what the problems in their very localised area are, but will they over a far larger radius? The opportunities for imposing their own tin-pot ideologies and prejudices on the police at large (and that goes for both right and left) will also doubtless be far more limited than they at first seem, but the potential for them to sack chief constables who will almost certainly disagree with them and instead install someone more amenable is a recipe for disaster and endless disputes that will distract from the police work itself.

As no one can even begin to put an estimate on how long the coalition will last, and few really believe that this is a marriage which can last much longer than a couple of years without major disagreements and fights breaking out putting the entire government in jeopardy, the potential for ill-thought through, badly drafted and overly rushed legislation ending up on the statute books is not much lower than it was under Labour. Of course, that this is all being conducted under the auspices of a government that believes so deeply in individual and community involvement in the political process and change from the talking to the hand which occurred under the last government means that history couldn't possibly repeat itself. They've learned from the past mistakes and are dedicated to transparency above everything else. What could possibly go wrong?

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Monday, July 26, 2010 

History, madness and the war in Afghanistan.

I'm a strong adherent to the school of thought which regards all war, and indeed all violence, as a manifestation of our own madness. On this basis, while all wars are inherently crazy, some are less insane than others. Using this measure, subjective as it is, the second world war inevitably is the closest in recent memory to even come near to being rational, to being a truly noble venture fought for the right reasons against an implacable genocidal enemy. The downside of this is that every new "threat" that now arises is endlessly and almost always fatuously compared to the scourge of Hitler and the Nazis. History is meant to be something to learn from, drilled into us to ensure we don't repeat the mistakes of the past, but which we resolutely continue to misunderstand.

How then do the latest two wars in which this great nation of ours has involved itself in measure up on the sanity scale? The last, the war in Iraq, was, it almost goes without saying, foaming at the mouth, carpet-chewing, eyeball-spinning, shaving only one side of your face style crazy. Or was it? Sure, every single thing said to justify the war in Iraq was either a pack of egregious lies or subsequently proved completely and utterly wrong, but perhaps all of these things were taken into account before the invasion was launched. Iran, by any independent measure, is far and away the biggest threat in the Middle East, possibly developing a nuclear weapons programme, sponsoring terrorists and led by a man who continues to make statements about wiping other countries off the map, even if they're allusions to past utterances by deceased religious/political leaders and not necessarily an indication of what he would like to do (he also denies they are any gays in Iran, which is even crazier), yet here we are still going down the sanctions route while it continues to defiantly do whatever the hell it likes. Perhaps the very fact that Iran is developing that nuclear weapon while Iraq had dismantled its own programme years before has something to do with this state of affairs? Or is it that Iran's military is well-funded and a force to be reckoned with, unaffected by sanctions, unlike Iraq's?

The Iraq war, in other words, made sense in that its initial stage would be all but a cakewalk, and was therefore not crazy from a purely military point of view, even if it was definably so from a civilian one. Where it went wrong wasn't in the planning or in the intelligence about what would happen afterwards, it was that both were completely disregarded, the first as being unnecessary and the second as being wrong or irrelevant. Attacking Iran, when you couldn't even begin to know how she would respond and how many lives would be lost as a result, would be beyond mad; it would be boneheadedly moronic.

Where then does Afghanistan fit in? Compared to Iraq, at first look on both the military and civilian scale it was closer to sanity than you could now ever imagine. The argument for action was fairly strong: here's the man ultimately responsible for 9/11, being effectively protected by a regime of unbelievable barbarity and inhumanity, and he needs to be brought to justice and his safe haven destroyed. On the military sanity scale it was also close to being a slam-dunk: the Taliban were unlikely to put up much of a fight and by joining forces with those already battling against them in the Northern Alliance they could use their resources rather than put too many boots on the ground. The problem was that this ignored almost everything we should have known about Afghanistan but had either forgotten about or never knew. By all but intervening on one side in a civil war that had been raging for 20 years already, we cast the die for ever continuing resistance right from the off. While bin Laden and al-Qaida may well have been in Afghanistan as the guests of the Taliban, by declaring war on both we forced them together as they had never been before. We equally ignored how the Taliban had been funded and nurtured by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, and how Pakistan's paranoia about everything Indian comes first, regardless of the other consequences. More than anything, we walked straight into al-Qaida's trap: they knew better than anyone else how operations such as 9/11 would be incredibly rare, if not one offs. They were instead relying for their aims to be achieved on exactly the blunderbuss approach which we adopted, ensuring that a jihad for the 2000s to rival the one in the 80s against the Soviets would take shape, radicalising a new generation, spreading their extreme takfirist ideology, and creating a whole new set of potential safe havens in different parts of the globe.

Even if all the above had been taken into account and we had a firm plan on what to do once the Taliban had been overthrown, which we didn't, we were relying on the full co-operation of Pakistan, which has simply never been forthcoming. Instead of al-Qaida having a safe haven in Afghanistan, it now has one in Pakistan, even after the campaigns fought following the siege of the Red Mosque and the bloodshed on both sides. We've installed a democracy in a nation split along ethnic and tribal lines, where our tame chosen leader dares to show signs of independent thought even after the massive fraud which resulted in his election. The whole nation floats upon endemic corruption, with a drug trade which has as much impact on the insurgency as ideology probably has. Troops are fighting not just those who think they're waging a holy war, but criminals, drug traffickers and those paid a better wage than they'd get anywhere else to take up weapons.

The release of the war logs then, or the war diaries, or whatever they're being called, doesn't really tell us much, on first examination, which we shouldn't have already known. Amazingly, our brave boys and girls are still killing and injuring far too many innocent bystanders, often as a result of the "fog of war", incompetence or recourse to lethal weaponry as soon as something even slightly threatening appears on the horizon. This, strangely, enrages the local population, therefore undermining part of the philosophy of counter-insurgency, which involves winning them over to your cause through both actions and words. The Americans are still running secret operations to mainly kill insurgent leaders, although insurgent leaders seems to mean almost anyone fighting against Nato forces, with over 2,000 on a database of those to be captured or assassinated. Impossible to verify and questionable parts of intelligence from the logs also suggest that the ISI is still working with and funding the Taliban in a minor fashion, as is Iran, although on a lesser scale and through intermediaries where it's impossible to know if it's sanctioned from the centre.

Dig further beneath the veneer and far more prominent themes emerge. It isn't just the "collateral damage" which is making reaching out to the LNs (local nationals) as they're referred to in the logs all but impossible, it's that they're simply not interested in fraternising with the Americans and ourselves, and it isn't because they're stuck between the rock and a hard place which is either us or the Taliban. It's far more to do with how they've always lived the way they have and in the past three decades have seen the Russians come and go, the Talibs victorious then defeated, and then ourselves impose upon them. Soon we too will leave as we shall have to, while they'll remain. Why take sides now?

This is the real reason why the surge is failing. It "worked" in Iraq because it was already building on the successes laid by the Awakening councils made up primarily of former insurgents, who found themselves under a tyranny far worse than that of Saddam's when the Islamic State of Iraq and aligned groups imposed their own flavour of Sharia law. Along with the buying off of much of the Mahdi army and an exhaustion at the carnage and loss of life which the short all but civil war had brought, the takfirist jihadists were deposed. In Afghanistan there are no similar groups who have already risen up, not only because the true situation is far more complex than we are ever led to believe, but also because the disincentives against doing so are far too high. Counter-insurgency theory has no response to this, and US servicemen have long been complaining that their rules of engagement are far too tight, something the architect of the co-in strategy, General Petraeus has already said he's going to look at. In other words, they're already resorting back to the overwhelming force which has failed so conspicuously in the past.

The war which looked sane at first glance is nine long years later only now starting to be widely considered as the stuff of nightmares, one where the perils of getting out are just as dreadful as the costs of staying are. If the war logs even just slightly ram home the point that casualties on all sides are only going to get worse, as they so poignantly illustrate, unless we recognise there is no military solution and that the only possible way out of this mess is a settlement which involves all those with even the slightest interest in the region, until we stop pretending that this is simply a war against the Taliban and al-Qaida which somehow affects our security back here, then we'll be stuck in the current impasse we've faced over the last half decade. The chances of leaving by 2015 as the new government has seemingly set as an aspiration are nil without negotiations. The release of the war logs is a perfect time to start setting things straight, shining a light as they have done on a war which has been fought for so long in the shadows. Instead it's of course shoot the messenger and cry treason time. History couldn't possibly have predicted it.

"What experience and history teach is this - that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it." - Georg Hegel

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Saturday, July 24, 2010 

Bass music prize nominees part 1.





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Friday, July 23, 2010 

How government works.

1. Crispin Blunt, the prisons minister, gives a speech containing a mixture of the fatuous and encouraging on how he intends to reform the system. Choice quotes:

We recognise that arts activities can play a valuable role in helping offenders to address issues such as communication problems and low self-esteem and enabling them to engage in programmes that address their offending behaviour I confess before getting this job I was not aware of Prison Service Instruction number 50 of 2008, though was vaguely conscious of some row in the tabloids about offenders being recorded as enjoying themselves. As a measure it was typical of the last administration’s flakiness under pressure. At the slightest whiff of criticism from the popular press policy tended to get changed and the consequence of an absurd overreaction to offenders being exposed to comedy in prison was this deleterious, damaging and daft instruction.
I’m pleased to have marked the actual day of the 100th anniversary of Churchill’s speech on Tuesday by rescinding it.

...

We face the harsh reality of rescuing the public finances or as the Justice Secretary so pithily put it in our area of responsibility effecting a change from an era of policy making with a chequebook in one hand and the Daily Mail in the other.

2. The tabloids referred to, duly insulted, take his comments personally, as they always do. The Sun features the change in policy on their front page, while the Mail makes it their main splash. The Mail, naturally, doesn't feature the quote about itself in its coverage.

3. Downing Street makes clear that there will be no parties in prisons. David Cameron has full confidence in Crispin Blunt.

4. Crispin Blunt is moved from his post at the first opportunity (probably).

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Thursday, July 22, 2010 

No alarms and no surprises.

Hands up those surprised in the slightest that the Crown Prosecution Service has decided that no charges will be brought against the Metropolitan police over the death of Ian Tomlinson? None of you? Jolly good. Finally, maybe, the message is now starting to get into the thick skulls of everyone that whenever the police, either accidentally or in the most brutal manner imaginable kill members of the public that it's only in incredibly rare circumstances that the officers themselves face prosecution. The only example in recent memory of a police officer facing a charge of both murder and manslaughter as a result of their actions while on duty was in the case of James Ashley, who was shot dead in his bedroom during a botched police raid back in 1998. The officer was acquitted of both charges when the judge agreed that he had acted in self-defence, believing he was about to be shot himself. This was despite Ashley being naked, acting in a daze as he had just been woken up, and having no weapon to hand. Last year Sussex police apologised to Ashley's family, admitted negligence and paid compensation.

Since then, no further charges in similar cases have been forthcoming. There were none when 10 bullets were pumped into the head and shoulder of Jean Charles de Menezes, the end result of an operation which was memorably described by a Met source as a "complete and utter fuck-up", although there was the small matter of the successful prosecution against the Met on health and safety grounds. There were none when Harry Stanley was shot dead, a Scotsman described to the police as an Irishman carrying a shotgun in a plastic bag which turned out to be a chair leg. Indeed, even though no officer was actually charged with a criminal offence, when the second inquest into his death resulted in a verdict of unlawful killing and the officers responsible were suspended from duty, their colleagues in other armed response units took umbrage and handed their weapons in. Happily, the High Court later overturned the second inquest's result, reinstated the first's open verdict and everything was right with the world again. There were also none when a CO19 officer shot dead Azelle Rodney, despite the Independent Police Complaints Commission agreeing that he was not holding a weapon when the car he was in was surrounded.

In all of those cases the evidence was far more clear-cut than that against the officer who pushed over Ian Tomlinson. True, they all claimed they were acting in self-defence, believing in the case of de Menezes that he was a suicide bomber about to detonate his explosives, while the others believed they were in mortal danger from armed men, something which PC Simon Harwood, as he has been named, clearly couldn't, threatened so visibly as he was by Tomlinson walking away from him and the other officers with his back turned and hands in his pockets. It was always going to be difficult to prove beyond reasonable doubt in a court that the baton strike and push unequivocally led to Tomlinson's death and so justify a charge of manslaughter against Harwood. That was without the conflicting evidence of the 3 post-mortems.

Here's where it gets murky. Dr Freddy Patel, the pathologist who carried out the first autopsy, had previously been criticised by the General Medical Council for discussing confidential details about a man who died in police custody outside of an inquest. He had also performed the post-mortem on Sally White, a 38-year-old woman whose body was found in a locked bedroom in the home of Anthony Hardy, a death initially deemed by the police as suspicious. Patel's verdict was White had died from heart disease, and the investigation was dropped. Hardy subsequently pleaded guilty to the murder of three women, including White. Patel has since been charged with misconduct by the GMC over three other post-mortems he is alleged to have conducted incompetently.

He may eventually face a fifth, if he isn't struck off at the conclusion of the current hearing. Crucially, while concluding that Tomlinson had died from natural causes as a result of coronary artery disease, Patel recorded but did not retain or sample 3 litres of either intraabdominal fluid blood or intraabdominal fluid with blood which had collected in Tomlinson's abdomen. His first report suggested the former, but in a second submitted on the 6th of April this year he settled on the latter. If it was blood, according to the Crown Prosecution Service's statement, that would have been highly significant indicator as to the cause of death. However, when meeting the prosecution team, Patel maintained it mainly consisted of ascites, having formed in Tomlinson's damaged liver, which had been stained with blood. He didn't retain or sample it as he had handled blood his entire professional life and was convinced it was ascites stained with blood rather than just blood. Moreover, he had found no internal rupture which could have led to such a level of blood loss. The doctors who conducted the second and third post-mortems, while acknowledging that Tomlinson had a partially blocked artery, concluded that he had died as a result of abdominal haemorrhage from blunt force trauma to the abdomen, in association with alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver. They believed that when Tomlinson had fell following being pushed, his elbow had impacted in the area of his liver causing an internal bleed and leading directly to his death a matter of minutes later. The only way to be certain would have been to re-examine the fluid initially found by Patel and which he had removed without retaining. For Tomlinson to have died so quickly from blood loss there would have had to have been some kind of internal rupture, something found by none of the doctors. Since Patel was the only doctor to examine Tomlinson's intact body, he was in the best position to have considered the fluid and found a rupture, leaving the CPS to decide the differences between the doctor's opinions was irreconcilable.

The key question is why Patel was chosen to conduct the post-mortem in the first place. It's believed he didn't have a police contract at the time, yet instead of an accredited team of 9 pathologists who more usually deal with suspicious deaths, he was picked by City of London coroner Paul Matthews. At the time the City of London police were handling the investigation rather than the Independent Police Complaints Commission, who despite the circumstances of the death during the G20 protests let them get on with it, not getting involved until the Guardian posted the footage of Tomlinson being pushed over online. Proving there was an active conspiracy to chose an incompetent pathologist will be next to impossible; even if the City of London police were willing to overlook the shortcomings of their colleagues in the Met, and already knew about what was likely to have happened, would their coroner have took part in a cover-up too? The trusty blade of Occam's razor would instead suggest it's more likely to have been incompetence and cock-up, especially when they would have had to depend on Patel either playing along or performing his usual shoddy job, not always guaranteed. That's not to say it couldn't have happened, just less plausible than the alternative.

Clearly, the IPCC should have been in charge from the beginning, although their record is hardly sparkling either. Even so, as the Guardian argues, even with the inherent difficulties in a prosecution case it should have been up for a jury to hear the contradictory post-mortem evidence and make a decision, especially when Patel's standing as a pathologist is so under question. That not even an attempt has been made to prosecute Harwood with assault on the grounds the legal limit for doing so had long since passed is disgraceful. How many other cases involving members of the public are lost each year due to the incredibly short six month timeframe for charges being brought? The pathologist who carried out the second post-mortem has also disputed the CPS's justification for not bringing charges of assault occasioning actual bodily harm saying the injuries which they called minor were in fact more serious, involving a large area of bruising.

This is without considering the crucial test of turning the tables. If a member of the public had hit and then pushed over an on-duty police officer who had their back turned to them, who subsequently died a matter of minutes later, would the CPS then be so reticent in bringing charges, even if there was a similar dispute over the cause of death? While the inquest is still to come, it seems for now that yet again the police have got away scot-free after being involved with a death of an entirely innocent bystander. Public confidence in the police, the CPS and the IPCC relies on their best practice and independence. When on so many separate occasions they seem determined to ignore what is staring them in the face and accept in good faith everything they're told by the police while casting doubt on anything that contradicts those statements it starts to look like collusion. And then the media, police and all right-thinking people wonder how Raoul Moat could possibly be sympathised with, let alone lionised.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010 

The Maltese double cross a year on.

Amazing as it may seem, we don't know any more now about the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds from a Scottish prison last August than we did then, despite being very close to a year on. A quick summary is however in order: what we do know is that BP were very keen on gaining full access to Libya's emerging energy resources market. They were probably almost certainly intimating this very clearly to the British government; the letters released, again last year after the controversy refused to die down show that then government ministers, including Jack Straw, David Miliband and Gordon Brown had all gone out of their way to make it possible for al-Megrahi to be returned to Libya at some point. Then there was the prisoner transfer agreement drawn up between Libya and the United Kingdom under Tony Blair, seemingly designed to ensure the return of al-Megrahi.

It wasn't though the British government which made the decision: it was the devolved Scottish government which had the thankless task of of doing so, where the minority Scottish Nationalists are in power, which has always had a incredibly testy relationship with Labour in Westminster and at Holyrood. The documentation we have clearly shows that they actively wanted al-Megrahi excluded from the prisoner transfer agreement, knowing full well that it would be them that would get the blame for any sort of unsavoury deal between London and Tripoli. We don't know just what lobbying, if any, went on informally and behind closed doors for al-Megrahi to be returned, yet even if there was any it was completely secondary to the fact that al-Megrahi has cancer and is dying, which absolutely no one denies even now. The decision made to release him on compassionate grounds was not just suddenly seized upon by Kenny MacAskill as a ingenious way to get rid of a long standing problem to British interests in Libya; it was one that was also supported completely by both the prison service and the parole board (not the parole board, as voice_of_reason points out; not sure where I got that idea). Nothing has been presented since then to undermine absolutely any of this.

It just so happens that BP has (rightly) become the whipping boy in the United States thanks to its unbelievable incompetence in the Gulf of Mexico, and as David Cameron was journeying over there to meet Obama, it was time to start kicking them about something else as well. Then there's the other thing, which this is actually really about: that the inconsiderate mass-murderer himself hasn't finally done the decent thing and succumbed to his terminal disease. What a complete and utter bastard! How dare he defy the odds and live not just for the three months which it was estimated he would survive for and instead still be here almost a year on, apparently breathing when he should instead be decomposing? How can someone firstly massacre 270 innocent people in such a cowardly fashion, and then, the final indignity, not die when he's meant to? This was essentially what Kirsty Wark was demanding last week of Nicola Sturgeon on Newsnight, when perhaps the person she ought to be directing her incredulity to was al-Megrahi himself, cutting out the middle woman. Why are you still alive? Shouldn't you be dead? Why don't you just die? Or maybe Paxman would have been better, his nostrils widening and eyes flashing with contempt as al-Megrahi explained his failure to let the inevitable happen thus far.

The real injustice has remained, throughout of all this, that al-Megrahi had to drop his appeal against his conviction in order to be released, and it's also a far more credible alternative explanation as to why the Scottish government was so keen to release him on those compassionate grounds when the opportunity arose. Would they do the same if it was Robert Black who was dying, for instance? Probably not. As the Heresiarch points out, if al-Megrahi had instead decided to take his chances with his cancer and stay in prison to fight his conviction, we would probably have known by now whether or not his appeal had been successful. After everything which the authorities went through to ensure that he was found guilty, for him to then be found innocent (or more accurately have his conviction quashed, as again pointed out in the comments) for another trial to take place would have been unthinkable; much better for him instead to be persuaded to drop his appeal and return to live out his last few months with his family, which it seems and often is far better than any other medicine. Everyone would then be happy, except for the American families of the victims and the politicians representing them, far more convinced of al-Megrahi's guilt than the ones in this country have ever been, and anyway, with al-Megrahi dead everyone could hopefully, in that horrible cliché, begin to move on, even if they didn't think justice had been properly served either way.

That al-Megrahi then so stubbornly clings on to existence is the final insult, and pleases absolutely no one. The tabloids and more patriotic sections of the formerly broadsheet press spent last month valiantly defending BP against the onslaught by Obama and others on "British Petroleum", yet because they disagreed about the Scottish government's decision they've been demanding answers along with everything else rather than pointing out the almighty rafters in the Americans' eyes, so I'll take up the mantle instead. How the US government feels it can lecture absolutely anyone on how they treat and deal with terrorists, especially when we at least bothered to convict them first, even if the end result has since been rightly called into question, is staggering. As for going out of our way to help BP with their business, could these really be the same American senators and congressmen who fall over themselves repeatedly to prostate themselves before almost any business which needs a helping hand, and where the government has been so notoriously hand in glove with its own domestic oil companies in the past?

And seeing as it directly ties in with the possible connection of Iran Air Flight 655 to Pan Am Flight 103, how about we go all the way back to 1953 when the CIA, prompted by MI6, overthrew the Iranian government of Mohammad Mosaddegh after he nationalised the country's oil industry, much to the chagrin of the Anglo-Persian oil company, or as it became known, British Petroleum. Mosaddegh was the most progressive leader Iran has ever had, or is likely to have barring the overthrow of the theocracy. The coup against him and the imposition of the Shah led directly to the revolution of 1979, the Iran-Iraq war, in which the US sided with Iraq despite selling both sides weapons, and to the USS Vincennes being in the Strait of Hormuz when it "mistook" Iran Airlines Flight 655 for an attacking F-14 and shot it down, killing 292 Iranian civilians, for which the US government has never apologised, never accepted responsibility and never admitted any wrongdoing, although it did eventually pay $131.8 million in compensation to end a case brought by Iran at the International Court of Justice, compared to the $2.16 billion paid by Libya for a bombing it could still feasibly have had no involvement in whatsoever.

When al-Megrahi does decide to let his cancer overwhelm him, as it surely will sooner rather than later, it would be smashing if we could finally have an independent inquiry into all aspects of the bombing, as requested by Pamela Dix of the UK Families Flight 103. That might just lay everything finally to rest; shame then that the chances of one happening are precisely nil, and that all the sound and fury will instead be focused on a compassionate decision made for entirely the right reasons by a Scottish government getting all the blame when it deserves absolutely none.

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A (very short) open letter to the Heart network.

Do the only records you possess comprise of Sex on Fire (incidentally, considering I was complaining about Lily Allen's lyrics yesterday, shouldn't the similar mediocrities in Kings of Leon be down the VD clinic rather than telling us that their sex is on fire?) and Poker Face, or is it just some truly bizarre coincidence that every single time I catch even the slightest jangle from your wonderful radio stations that either one or the other, or as today, one followed by the other are the tracks you've chosen to broadcast from your doubtless incredibly diverse playlist?

Yours,
septicisle.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010 

Very long music rant with Mercury prize moan at the end.

The collapse of the music industry has long been predicted, not least by the music industry itself. In the 80s it informed a bewildered public that home taping was killing music, something which wasn't reflected in their results come the end of the year. When faced with the mortal danger of Napster and then more general file-sharing, the RIAA decided the best thing to do was to sue a few individuals for hugely disproportionate amounts of cash for allowing a few token files to be accessed by others in lieu of doing anything practical to deal with the problem. Finally realising that online distribution was the only way to battle back in the face of rampant piracy, they first demanded that their files were digitally protected from being shared once purchased, then eventually dropped even that.

The industry has essentially gone from always claiming austerity to acting suicidally, or at least by their previous standards. The order of the day now is stacking it high and selling it ever cheaper. Sites like 7digital offer full album downloads for £5 (still £4.99 too much for the latest by Eliza Doolittle and Professor Green); back in the early 90s you could pay that for a CD single, although admittedly one usually with plentiful b-sides and remixes, before it was decided that a single could only be twenty minutes long max, conveniently so they could sell you two copies instead of one, but I digress. From claiming their product was worth the premium price they put on it, they now frankly admit that it's all but worthless, which is to go from one extreme to the absolute other. £5 presumably is the highest amount they think the downloading generation will willingly pay, and it might well be a correct assumption. It doesn't matter that it's for a vastly inferior product to an actual CD, which you can do absolutely anything you want with; as most are just sticking it straight on their phone anyway it makes little difference. For those of us who will pay a little more for either lossless files or better yet an actual physical copy, increasingly rare as we are, it's a deeply depressing time. The music stores with the exception of HMV, and Fopp, which is HMV-owned, have now gone, the majority of independents with them, and even those places seem to be increasingly reducing the space they give to CDs. In a couple of years they might well abandon them entirely.

Accordingly then, mainstream music itself seems to have given up any real semblance of innovation. The closest it currently has to anything approaching subversion is Lady Gaga, and everything about her also feels like a cynical exercise in having your pop culture and eating it. When her main competitors however are either the Black Eyed Peas, having managed to sell a million digital copies of I Gotta Feeling, the sort of statistic which really does undermine your faith in humanity, or Katy Perry, whose California Gurls (sic) was appositely described by a showbiz blogger as being the kind of song which even the Spice Girls would have been embarrassed to have released, it's not difficult to be something completely different.

More than anything, it's the mediocrity which is now so willingly promoted as brilliance which is so aggravating. Mediocrity is fine when it's considered as such, as this blog has demonstrated so wonderfully over the last five years; it's when the equivalent of "will this do?" is treated as close to perfection that it starts becoming aggressively annoying. Never has average been such an apt description for a band as it has been for Florence and the Machine, yet they're currently headlining more or less all the major festivals, the album Lungs has sold by the bucket load, and it received the Brit award as the year's best, although that's not exactly a kite mark of quality. All this despite one peculiarity. George Orwell wrote that in times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act, and while I've always considered that one of his more pompous statements, it seems correct when it comes to Florence Welch. She simply cannot sing. She can shriek, she can squawk, she can make a noise approximate to being in tune, yet she never quite reaches actually, truly, singing. Again, this wouldn't be a problem if it was admitted that she isn't the greatest singer ever to be in a band, as plenty of other main men and women haven't been able to sing either. It's that absolutely no one in any review or article about the band I've read has apparently had the courage to say so, unmentionable as it apparently is.

This is covered up by the fact that so much of her music is strident in its nature, requiring her to shout rather than harmonise, yet the closest I've seen to a backlash was the Graun's conclusion that her performance at Glastonbury was milking it slightly. This could be similarly forgiven if the music itself was engaging, yet it's that exact stridency of it, without letting up for a second, which drives you away. Essentially, she has one decent song in Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up), the formula of which she repeats in Drumming Song and Dog Days are Over, and one absolute abortion of a cover version, massacring Candi Staton's You Got the Love in a horrendous fashion, yet which unfathomably has also become a hit.

Far worse, and fundamentally underlining just how mediocrity is now being rewarded was Lily Allen winning three Ivor Novello awards. These, rather than being decided by the record companies and music industry, are instead voted on by writers themselves. Last year was a barren year for mainstream and "indie" music, yet still, honestly, an award for The Fear? I'll concede that The Fear does have a good tune, yet did they really also decide that its lyrics were amongst the best the year had to offer?:

I want to be rich and I want lots of money
I don’t care about clever I don’t care about funny
I want loads of clothes and fuck loads of diamonds
I heard people die while they are trying to find them

...

Life’s about film stars and less about mothers

It’s all about fast cars and cussing each other
But it doesn’t matter cause I’m packing plastic
and that’s what makes my life so fucking fantastic


Now, even presuming that Allen is taking on the persona of the typical vapid celebrity of cliché and stereotype, the lines about diamonds just come across as crass and insincere, and not something that they would ever express. Has life ever been about mothers? As for rhyming plastic with fantastic, the less said the better.

If you're wondering what this is building up to, then after all that we'll now discuss this year's Mercury Music Prize nominations. Last year, notoriously, Speech Debelle won from what was a pretty dire shortlist with the exception of the albums by Bat for Lashes (which should have won) and the Horrors. Debelle herself was the epitome of mediocrity, as was her album; it would never have been the best album of the year even if hers had been the only one released in it, and such was the surprise at her victory that the likes of Amanda Platell concluded it was a conspiracy to reward someone for being both black and from a poor background. More likely was that the judges were just having one of their off years, as they repeatedly have, giving it to M People and Talvin Singh before. Klaxons were an odd choice in 2007, a decent album but not the best from the shortlist, while Elbow seemed to get it in 2008 not on the back of Seldom Seen Kid, a fine album although again not the best on the shortlist (that would have been Burial) but for their years of service with critical if not up to that point crossover success.

The whole point of the Mercury prize is that it is, probably apocryphally, meant to reward those pushing at the boundaries and unlikely to be nominated for other more mainstream awards through commercial success. It encouraged this line of thinking somewhat when it unexpectedly gave the award in 1997 to Roni Size and Reprazent's New Forms, in the same year in which OK Computer by Radiohead was nominated. OK Computer is often regarded as one of the best, if not the best album of the 90s, while New Forms, despite being a milestone in the progression of urban music and probably the best distillation of drum and bass's moving out of the underground from its jungle days at the time, is not as fondly remembered and acclaimed.

Speech Debelle's win last year then seems to have been the step too far by rewarding something perceived to be innovative by the judges which was in fact dull, so they've gone entirely conservative this time, at least to judge by the mediocrity of so much of today's announced shortlist. Getting the excellent stuff out of the way first, Laura Marling's I Speak Because I Can, Wild Beasts' Two Dancers and the XX's XX are all great albums, completely worthy of the prize (My tip incidentally is for Marling to win, as you'll either love or hate Wild Beasts due to the singer's falsetto, while the XX are already the favourites and the obvious choice and the favourites and obvious choice almost never win). Good also, but not as good as their debut which wasn't nominated previously is Foals' Total Life Forever. The critics have also praised Corinne Bailey Rae's The Sea, which I'll give the benefit of the doubt to.

The rest, though, especially Paul Weller, who hasn't released a good album in over a decade, and Mumford and Sons, are little short of dreadful. Mumford and Sons is what happens when you take the nuance out of folk-rock; you get rock, and not very good rock, overbearing, overwrought and that word again, insincere rock.
Biffy Clyro and Dizzee Rascal are perfect examples of the mediocrity alluded to above writ large: they both used to be good. Biffy's first three albums were good examples of British, or Scottish attempts if we're being pedantic at something approaching post-hardcore, which were again critically praised but commercially got nowhere. They then seemingly decided if they couldn't beat them, then they should join them, and so heavily diluted their sound to the level to where it can be accurately summed up as Coldplay not being quite so limp.

Much the same is the case with Dizzee. Top bloke as he may be, he's done what the other rappers and MCs who cut their teeth in the grime scene have done in order to make the top of the charts: gone pop. Nothing against Bonkers, which was a fine track, and his latest effort produced by Chase and Status isn't bad as far as faux-dubstep with rapping over the top goes, but the rest of his output is now the kind of music which is the soundtrack to punch ups and throwing up in city centres across the country, a very very long way from his Boy in da Corner album which won the award back in 2003. Yeah, I'm being incredibly snobbish.

It's also disappointing when there have been more than a few brilliant records this year in the indie/rock category which haven't got a look in, most notably These New Puritans' Hidden. It literally does sound like absolutely nothing else released this year, building on their already excellent debut by almost entirely dispensing with guitars, not overwhelming on their first effort to begin with, and starting again. Attack Music and We Want War are effectively statements of intent, and the rest of the album is even more adventurous. Fuck Buttons' Tarot Sport was also thrilling, although it's disputed whether they even put themselves forward, as their name would almost certainly count against them. The fact that it costs money to enter the prize also mitigates against some minor labels and artists, who simply can't afford the fee (rumoured to be in the hundreds of pounds range, which is their profit gone, if indeed they make one). The awarded is sponsored now by Barclays, for crying out loud. Surely they can cover the cost of the submission fees. Also overlooked were Los Campesinos!, The Fall's latest one, some of their best material in years, 65daysofstatic's We Were Exploding Anyway, and Field Music's Measure, as well as probably some others I've missed.

Most questionable of all, the biggest oversight is there is absolutely nothing primarily electronic on the entire list, with the possible exception of Dizzee's opus. They've not only passed by Hot Chip, with their best album since The Warning in One Life Stand, as mournful and lovely as anything released this past year, but also Four Tet's latest in There is Love in You. Where, even more dispiritingly, is the "bass music", the dubstep and all its permutations, currently in a creative stage which rivals that of drum and bass back in the 90s, and without that genre's inherent limitations, currently being taken about as far as they can by the artists associated with Autonomic? It seems Burial's Untrue was as much of a toe as they want to dip in, which is just but one section of a movement which continues to grow exponentially. You can argue that dubstep and all its offshoots are best suited to single tracks or mixes rather than albums, never quite reaching the cohesive whole which other genres do, yet there still been some great attempts at proving that wrong over the past year. There have been full lengths from Silkie, Clubroot, Kryptic Minds, Ikonika, Guido, Breakage, Actress, Rude Kid and King Midas Sound which have ranged from way above average to superlative, Mala has just released the most anticipated three slabs of vinyl of the entire year in Return II Space which probably wouldn't qualify as being more of a triple pack than an album in the definitive sense but which is a dead cert for the top of end of year polls, and while it definitely doesn't qualify as Paul Rose aka Scuba is German*, Triangulation is almost certainly even better than all of the above. Were none of them submitted for consideration or did the judges really think that some of those they've nominated had made better albums? It certainly seems so.

If the music industry wants to arrest its apparent inexorable decline, it could do worse than uses its last gasp to attempt to promote music which might just reinvigorate it. It's either this or the Black Eyed Peas, Florence and the Machine and Dizzee Rascal and their clones from now until doomsday.

(I try not to make a habit of this, but this post has gone through some fairly extensive editing/re-writing post-initial publishing as it turns out that I can barely string two sentences together without using the same word twice, as well as an above average amount of grammar/spelling/typo cock-ups. No opinions or otherwise have been changed, it now just doesn't make want to reduce my hands to stumps or put a bucket over my head. Apologies. It hopefully now also reads hell of a lot better, which makes you less likely to want to throttle me for being such a moron.)

*
As Stephen Whitehead kindly points out in the comments, Paul Rose is in fact from Crouch End and I'm a complete fuckbubble who assumed as he lives in Berlin that he simply must be German, so Triangulation does in fact qualify and should probably rank above Hidden on what should have been on the shortlist. And while I'm here, my own latest comment should be clear that while the Holy Bible came out in 94, it would have been on the following year's shortlist, as it was released in August. That should be Alexandra Burke rather than her brother, Alexander Burke too. This post has gone well, hasn't it?

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