Saturday, September 29, 2007 

Scum-watch: Irresponsible vagueness, referendum tedium and the return of seeing no ships.

According to the Grauniad, the detectives investigating the murder of Rhys Jones are still a long way from having the evidence necessary to be able to bring charges against a suspect who has now been named 12 times by different individuals as the person caught on CCTV prior to Jones' death.

What possibly better time then for the Scum to publish a photograph of the alleged killer on its front page, even suitably masked?

THE prime suspect in the killing of Rhys Jones is said to be a tearaway “mummy’s boy”.

Twelve people identified the teenager after seeing CCTV footage on Wednesday’s BBC Crimewatch show about the shooting of Rhys, 11.

It showed a hoodie-wearing youth on a bike at the murder scene on the night Rhys was shot in Liverpool.

The suspect, pictured today for the first time, cannot be identified for legal reasons.

He is a football-mad youngster — just as Everton fan Rhys was.

But he is also said to be a gang member who makes money running drugs.

Except he, whoever he is, isn't even a suspect yet; according to the Scum article, he was one of those arrested and released on bail. Isn't this the exact same newspaper decrying the treatment of the McCanns, who have been named as official suspects, now more than happy to splash completely unverifiable information about a "suspect" in another high-profile case? Indeed, they're loving being able to have it both ways: today's article about the McCanns, also on the front page, repeats the latest "slur" by the Portuguese police about Madeleine's disappearance, then condemns them for it. The McCanns are at least able to defend themselves, having the lucky support of millionaires and a former BBC journalist acting as their spokesman; whoever this child is has no way of denying the allegations printed about him.

In actual fact, the supposed details about him are so vague as to be even more potentially discriminatory. There are no doubt dozens of kids on the two estates that fit the description of being football mad, supporting Liverpool, and possibly involved in dropping off drugs. While it's true that the community might well already know who the killer is, the Guardian reporting earlier in the week that the name has been written on walls, all this article is likely to do is increase the possibility of the perpetrator deciding that it's time to make a run for it. Perhaps again the fact that the paper is still widely loathed in Liverpool has gone into the decision to print, although if it was, the fact the article is freely available online means that anyone not wanting to hand over money to the Murdoch empire can still read it and draw their own conclusions. At best this is shaky, questionable reporting and at worst it's downright irresponsible. Not that that's ever stopped the Sun before.

Elsewhere, the campaign for a vote on the EU reform treaty rumbles tediously on:

Even Girls Aloud want to vote

SHE may be in the world’s sexiest girl band but Nicola Roberts is more concerned about Britain’s future than her nails or make up. The Girls Aloud star recently voiced her dismay at the younger generation’s disregard for politics.

Here she explains why it is crucial Britain has a referendum on Something Kinda EU.

And so for 330 mealy-mouthed, no doubt Sun hack ghosted words, Roberts informs us of how vital it is we have a vote. Either she's an avid reader of the Sun, or she shares an uncanny knack of being able to write in a style incredibly similar to that of the average Sun galley-slave:

Personally I’m against us signing up under the terms being suggested because it means we will be handing over so many powers to unelected representatives in Europe.

It will mean they could bring in new laws and dictate the way we lead our lives in Britain. That’s why I think that, if we do get a referendum, we should vote No.

How right you are Nicola, and your view is certainly not undermined by the following:

If young people today don’t know anything about the EU constitution they should go and educate themselves and find out how it could affect them because it’s important.

As perhaps you should instead of prostituting yourself to the Murdoch shilling. If Roberts is genuine about young people getting involved and informed about political issues, she's hardly a shining example by shamelessly parroting the line of the newspaper which just happens to be featuring "her" warblings, or indeed giving the impression that the Sun will educate you about anything other than tits.

Moving on, an older member of a Girls Aloud tribute band has also been sounding off, at least after consulting her psychiatrists:

LADY Thatcher last night sensationally backed The Sun’s campaign for an EU Treaty referendum.

Yes, truly sensational. Old Conservative Eurosceptic prime minister favours a referendum. Hold the front page! It's worth remembering of course that it was her stance on Europe which finally helped bring her down, and which has also helped keep her party out of power for the last 10 years. Apart from that though, really amazing.

Finally, if you wanted any further proof that Brown is either no change to Blair or is moving even further to the right, we've got yet another resurrection of an old failed policy:

FRANTIC Jack Straw has finally bowed to The Sun’s campaign to bring in a PRISON SHIP — as jail overcrowding hit an all-time high.

The Justice Minister was last night deciding which of three suitable vessels will be most cost-effective.

Just in case you need reminding, the last prison ship was sold off after if it was condemned by the head of the prison inspectorate, Anne Owers. Amongst the problems with it was that it was "unacceptably cramped and claustrophobic" and had "no access to fresh air". Despite being meant to be a training prison, "jobs for inmates were "very limited"". How these problems, inherent with ships' design will be overcome is predictably unexplained.

With the Daily Mail already successfully wooed, don't be surprised if this is the first part of the offensive to get the Sun even further on side. If Brown does call an election this coming week, it'll hardly be a huge shock if he decides to change tack and announce there will be a referendum on the EU reform treaty after all.

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Officially the 195th worst UK political blog.

Iain Dale's list of the top 500 political blogs in the UK has been published, and the results are broadly in line with what I expected. I came 195th, which certainly isn't bad, and again, thanks to those who voted for me. You're the reason I keep going.

I'm not going to bitch too much (Oh yeah? Ed.) about some of the selections and placings, but Lenin's Tomb at 206, on traffic alone should no way be below myself, whatever your thoughts about the political views expressed there. Prague Tory, which actually went into hibernation a while ago, seems far too high at 19, and I'm sure the same could be said for Caroline Hunt at 24. Pickled Politics ought to be higher than 34; Rachel seems relatively low at 49; Bloggerheads has fell massively, probably due to the rift with Iain and Guido, to 57; WebCameron? Fucking WebCameron at 66?; Stumbling and Mumbling deserves better than 70; Luke Akehurst, the Hazel Blears of the online world, is a laughable 72; Mad Melanie Philips, the conspiracy theorist acceptable to the middle classes and the lunatic right-wingers makes 81; the insufferably pompous Noam Chomsky obsessed hedge funder who hasn't managed to get a thing right in years, Oliver Kamm, is 97th; and, which isn't even a blog but rather an archive of his Grauniad articles, makes 129; Not Saussure, if not for his disappearance from the online world, would surely be higher than 160, as would be A Big Stick, Small Carrot, one suspects; Europhobia is low at 168; and finally, Flying Rodent ought to be far, far higher than a shockingly low 252.

Slight update: I got so involved in my whine that I forgot to actually link to the post. Durr.

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Friday, September 28, 2007 

Killing field.

I haven't written anything else about the Burmese protests and brutal crackdown, as there really doesn't seem to be much to add that isn't already being said and said better. With the military apparently having severed the remaining internet access, mobile networks down and phone lines also dead, it's difficult to know exactly what's happened today, although it seems that the protests were sparser and less well attended, for obvious reasons. Some reports are mentioning that snipers, in addition to the vast numbers of soldiers, are being brought in to Rangoon.

The Grauniad reported yesterday that elements within the army were siding with the monks, and that has been somewhat confirmed by a report from Mizzima which suggests that two light battalions have been fighting amongst themselves. Irrawaddy, which is loading incredibly slowly, suggests that Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye, the second-in-command and commander-in-chief of the army has disagreed with the crackdown order by the junta's chief, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, and that he's scheduled to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, which would be an incredibly welcome development if true. The Democratic Voice of Burma has obtained a photograph of a dead Burmese man, apparently shot dead, which would suggest that the claims of only 9 deaths are well short of the mark, as various politicians have been stating. Mask of Anarchy has some links to al-Jazeera's coverage of the uprising, while Blood and Treasure has more news of the battalions fighting.

Irrawaddy's subtitle seems to sum it all up at the moment: killing field. This is always encouraging though:

Men were shouting at the soldiers in English:
"Fuck you. Go fuck yourself."

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Even more immigrants are coming!

As Five Chinese Crackers has noted, there's been something of an upsurge again recently in the (scare) stories about immigration, with the Mail alone publishing an astonishing 24 in just 7 days. While he noted that there's a chance of an election and that the Labour conference has been on, with various members of not so new Labour literally falling over themselves to suck up to the Daily Mail, it might well be because next month sees the publishing of the first official comprehensive analysis of the impact of immigration. Prior to that though, the Office of National Statistics has helpfully given the tabloids something additional to shriek about:

Immigrants will swell the British population by almost two million in the next decade, according to official predictions.

Whitehall now believes the record immigration levels of the past few years are likely to continue.

The projection drew an immediate admission from the Government that it has "worries" over migration.

The new estimate by the Office for National Statistics - that numbers will grow by 190,000 a year - is 30 per cent higher than previous figures.

The ONS went back to the drawing board
(PDF) after it factored in the much higher rates of migration in 2004 and 2005 (although it also states that better ways of counting may have had a bigger impact), upping its estimate from earlier in the year from 145,000 to 190,000. This itself makes a nonsense of the Mail's claim on its front page that "the government has massively underestimated" immigration, as the ONS had actually underestimated the estimate, guesstimate, projection, prediction, whatever you want to call it, based on the current net figures, immigrants less emigrants. As any fule will know, you trust such estimates with extreme caution, especially this government's. It's quite possible, because this is a projection all the way up to 2031, which is not just a very, very long time in politics, but also in world events, that these figures will end up way out of whack, and not necessarily as an underestimate, but an overestimate. Due to the figures being based on 2004 and 2005, which were the first major years' of eastern European migration, they may well distort a pattern which could already be on the turn. Both of the sets of figures released so far this year suggest that migration from Poland, etc has reached its likely peak, and while the tabloids love to quote the 700,000 figure who have come so far, we simply don't know how many of those have since returned home: the vast majority state on their applications that they intend to stay less than a year, meaning we see them enter but we don't see them leave.

Andrew Green has as usual been sticking his nose in:

Migrationwatch chief Sir Andrew Green said yesterday: "This new assumption at last recognises that the present very high levels of immigration are likely to continue unless the Government moves from rhetoric to really effective measures."

He said the figures mean the population will have increased by 8.7million between 2004 and 2031, of which 7.2million will be due to immigration, including the children of migrants.

What Green has done here is... well, I don't know what he's done here, because none of the calculations I've done (and I'll admit maths isn't my strong point) involving the updated figures have managed to add up to 7.2 million. He seems to have taken the estimate that the net migration will total 145,000 each year (from 2004), then multiplied that by the new figure included for the long-term average number of children per woman, which is 1.84. 145,000 x 27 = 3,915,000 x 1.84 = 7,203,600. I can't tell if this is his actual working, even though it seems to be, as it isn't even explained properly on the Migration Watch website. If this is his calculation, it's completely up the spout, as it's firstly using the outdated figures, then treating every single net migrant as a woman, who's going to have the exactly average number of children. This seems to have been where the Express has got its front page splash that "Immigration will add 7 million to our population", which of course is completely out of any context whatsoever, but makes for a nice little frightener. I may quite easily have got the figures completely wrong, so if you see any obvious mistakes, let me know. I've emailed Migration Watch and asked for Green's working in any case.

Perhaps more interesting though is that the Mail is showing signs of being wooed, not just by the new Dear Leader, but also by Liam Byrne's explanation that this may well require action:

In a sign that the open-door era of Mr Blair is over, Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said: "This shows what could happen unless we take action now.

"Frankly it underlines the need for swift and sweeping changes to the immigration system in the next 12 months."

He admitted: "Migration is bringing new wealth but also new worries to Britain."

The statement contrasted sharply with the past attitude of Labour ministers, who have stressed the benefits of immigration and cast doubt on the motives of those who warned it was too high.

Home Office officials said the action promised by Mr Byrne refers to policies already announced.

These include the points-based immigration system for migrants from outside the EU beginning next year.

Christ, if Brown's managed to sate even the Daily Mail, it really must be nearing election time.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007 

The same old shit, rehashed, reheated and served up for all to devour.

If this week's Labour conference was meant to impress upon us how wonderfully different, changed and confident the government is and how they most certainly deserve to be re-elected, then they've done the equivalent of Darren Murphy and fell flat on their faces. From Brown's dirge on Monday to Miliband's miserable monotony on Tuesday, this is a government not just lacking in new ideas, but just as prepared to clamp down on dissension as the old one was. With the spineless unions acquiescing and deciding that those embarrassing critical motions only brought trouble, the votes have disappeared and so has the passion with it. Blair hasn't just been airbrushed out of the picture as so many others have noted, all his policies have been either been getting a kicking even though they haven't been changed or are even being prepared for change, while the rest have been completely ignored, meaning Iraq and Afghanistan have hardly been mentioned, while the "rules of the gaming are changing" turning point has been rubbished even though the ministers have no intentions of actually going back on what came directly from that speech.

According to Tony McNulty then, the rules of the game haven't changed. One would assume from that that it would mean the end of trying to deport "terrorist suspects" back to countries where torture is endemic, articles of understanding or not, the admittance that we have been involved up to the neck in "extraordinary rendition", despite constant laughable denials, and that such flights will never be used nor allowed to land here again, the instant repealing of the ban on unauthorised protests within 1km of parliament, the declaration that 28 days detention without charge is plenty of time for the police to build a case against "terrorist suspects" and that intercept evidence ought to be made admissible, as long as a thorough review gives the OK. As so often with this government, they can when they think it's useful sweet talk their nominal opponents, even Shami Chakrabati, who supposedly called McNulty's rhetoric "music to my ears". Too bad then that Jacqui Smith today yet again brought up the phantom of "seek[ing] consensus on new measures to counter the threat of terrorism", which in other words means they're going to try to ram through a doubling of the time limit like they've always said they would.

Such double-speak seems to have been the order of the day. Jack Straw's sudden decision to review the laws regarding "have-a-go-heroes" is a classic of the gesture politics genre, broadly comparable to the reviewing last year of whether a "Megan's Law" could be introduced here, to which the predictable answer was no. Prosecutions over someone defending themselves, especially in their own home or place of work are incredibly rare because the law already covers acts that are proportionate and reasonable, which quite rightly doesn't cover shooting burglars that are running away in the back. His talking up of his own experiences in stopping crime, which I'm pretty sure every single one of us have at least one, seems to be an attempt to conjure up a tough man image which he never had while Home Secretary before and isn't going to gain now. Besides, what better way to get the Mail and Scum interested than tell them that they can do whatever the hell they like to an intruder or mugger? It'll come to nothing, but it might help in the short term.

The same logic seems to be behind Jacqui Smith's mentioning of zero tolerance, which was all the rage about a month ago in the tabloids when Rhys Jones' murder predictably caused a session of why-oh-whying and how cracking down on youths' hanging around on corners and spitting on the street will naturally mean that they'll be too scared to shoot one another. She drops in a reference on drug treatment to make it slightly more amenable to the wet liberals like my good self, but it all sounds so laughable when the prisons are full of those unable to get on those programmes, as a result wasting away in cells, stuck in the recidivist cycle. For any sort of zero tolerance to be implemented, prison places would have to vastly extended even further than already proposed, itself unlikely to backed up with the necessary cash from the Treasury, not to mention the overcrowding chaos which is already exacerbating re-offending. Even more draconian sentencing for minor offences will only make the situation worse. Additionally, at a time when we learn that there are over 800,000 DNA profiles from children aged between 10 and 17 on the database, we can only imagine how the rolling out of "mobile fingerprinting devices" will quickly even further extend the database with the data of those who are never actually charged. Smith ought to know better than to ask "what sort of politics is it to incite fear and alarm?" of the Tories, because after all, that's been Labour's job for the last 10 years.

The strength to change Britain, the tagline of this soporific conference, seems to involve all the effort of going to the microwave and heating up a takeaway left over from the night before, drunkenly forgotten about. The reheating of old, forgotten or rightly discarded policies for the on message comrades might be enough, but for the rest of us it's just a reminder of a party that still doesn't know where it wants to stand and is terrified of being denounced for choosing.

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Scum-watch: They're kidding, right?

The Scum is continuing its campaign for a referendum in its usual, completely hysterically hypocritical completely non-self aware way:

An untruth does not become true by constant repetition.

Propagandists have used such techniques — known as the Big Lie — through the ages.

The assumption is that if the porky is huge and complex enough, people will believe it simply because they cannot believe anyone would have the nerve to make it up.

The Sun should know, because it's one of the chief practitioners of the Big Lie. Monday's original leader on Europe was so full to the brim with deceptions, mistruths and out of context quotes that it would have shamed the writers of Pravda, as have previous articles on the reform treaty. It's told so many blatant lies about the "hated" Human Rights Act that many people do indeed now believe that it is a terrorists' and criminals' charter, which means that police have to take buckets of chicken to crime suspects refusing to come down from a roof, and aren't able to issue photographs of convicted murderers that have absconded from open prisons. It's only very occasionally that its smear jobs get shattered by being forced into issuing apologies, like that given to the Kalam family, which came a year and a month after the original articles were published.

As David Clark notes on CiF
, the Times has also been been ragging on Brown this week, with its pitiful front page story today with its shocking revelation that politicians sometimes say things that sound mighty similar, and a bizarre leader column arguing that Brown's underwhelming speech on Monday was somehow a lurch to the left. This isn't down to a campaign to "weaken Brown and prevent him from securing a strong mandate of his own" though, it's rather one of the periodical reminders from Murdoch if he so feels like it, he can unleash an outburst of critical reporting that'll leave Brown spinning so much he won't know here is when it finally comes to a stop.

Mostly this is down to Brown's enthusiastic wooing of the Daily Mail, and especially Paul Dacre, who Brown's struck up an unlikely, or rather dispiriting alliance with. Both seem to hold the view that the 50s, that rose-tinted decade of shortages, slums and squalor is an ideal model for modern Britain, where the poor and lower classes were still deferential, the extended nuclear family ruled and all those unpleasant parts of modern life were forced underground. Murdoch more than feels threatened by this dalliance with the Daily Mail, as he was Blair's only true lover, thanks to Blair's Faustian pact which guaranteed him the support of the Times and Sun, but also more helped with his downfall, thanks to Murdoch's unrelenting support for all things proposed by the Bush administration. He's now having to deal with the impertinence of his bitch going off and talking to other men under his nose, flirting disgracefully with the enemy. This week's campaign in the Sun and the Times' critical noises is meant to remind Brown that he is the one who still really has his balls in a vice; and he can turn the screw and crush them any time he feels like.

Clark finishes his article by saying that if Brown wins an election he could put Murdoch in his place as a result. This is pure wishful thinking. Even if Brown went to the polls and gained a slightly larger majority, the real opportunity to crush both Murdoch and the Mail was back in 1997, but Blair either squandered his chance or never had any notions of doing that, when he had the public behind him and was capable of doing so. None of our current politicians have either the courage of the backing of a majority of the electorate to be able to destroy our poisonous press once and for all, and they may well never will.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007 


It's hardly been a great week for speeches at the Labour conference, and yesterday's effort by David Miliband, the foreign secretary, was completely dismal. Unlike Brown, who does attempt to weave something of a narrative and talks in a way that makes grammatical sense, Miliband is from the Blair school of verb-less sentences, endless apparent rhetorical questions and dramatic, overly long pauses. Blair though at least usually had something of interest to say, whether you agreed with it or wished to be in the same room so that you could throttle him; Miliband, urged by ultra-Blairites to run against Brown as potential leader, simply didn't have either the message or the power of rhetoric to get more than a stifled yawn.

Strange then that it managed to at least somewhat excite the leader writers on the Grauniad. They headed their piece, Not yet a doctrine, but a vision, but it wasn't even that. It was rather an extended collection of statements of the bleeding obvious, with nothing whatsoever to tie them all together. He might have admitted that the Iraq war was divisive, and that there were rights and wrongs over it, but the word mistake, either connected to the decision to join the United States' in the initial invasion or the innumerable disasters that have occurred since the beginning of the occupation never so much as passed his lips. There was no mention of when we might finally be getting out of Iraq; that was instead left to Des Browne, who hinted that we might be able to fully hand over security responsibility to the Iraqis in Basra shortly.

While he predictably angered the Sun by sticking by the decision not to hold a referendum on the EU reform treaty, his other main point about the union was that Turkey should be admitted as soon as possible, which is hardly a new policy, as welcome as it is. His positioning over military action, that victory does not mean a solution isn't even the message coming from the Americans any longer, let alone from our own generals who have for a while based their own pronouncements in realism rather than in the fantasy world previously inhabited by Blair and the hopeless Margaret Beckett. Iran only gets mentioned as part of his optimistic/pipe dream section, saying that ten years' down the line it might be a democratic paradise helping in the war against terror, which ignores not just that Iran is hell of a lot more democratic than another of our great allies, Saudi Arabia, but also that Iran did just that when it helped with the overthrow of the Taliban, only for it become to the new enemy regardless of any previous cooperation.

He ends the speech with a flourish, remarking that the "second wave" of Labour foreign policy is all about "progress" and to "[make] more people better educated, better fed, better off, better able to make their own history", but without convincing how he's going to achieve any of that. Pessimism for the moment remains the dominant emotion.

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Usmanov-watch: The tide continues to turn.

Major kudos go out to both Peter Hill-Wood, Arsenal chairman who has strongly come out and said that neither does he want nor does the club need Usmanov's money, and to the Grauniad, which is continuing to follow up on the actions and reverberations started by Usmanov and his legal shysters, Schillings, attempting to silence Craig Murray and numerous other bloggers.

The article also provides this confirmation that Schillings realise they can't disprove Murray's accusations, but they sure can try to stop them from being read and disseminated:

Laura Tyler, of Schillings, said they did not intend to sue Murray directly because they did not want to give him a platform to express his views.

Considering how much a joke our libel laws are, leaving the defendant to prove their allegations rather than the litigant to prove that the allegations are defamatory, one would have thought that Schillings would be more than happy to go to court and potentially ruin Murray. That they have no intention of doing so speaks volumes.

Tim meanwhile has set up temporary shop to deal with the whole saga here. Matt Wardman also has the speech made by MEP Tom Wise last night, which thanks to parliamentary privilege should be able to be freely reported without any legal difficulties, but don't expect that to make any difference. Unity also writes a first of series of posts on rewriting the libel laws.

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Where in the world is Madeleine McCann?

In what other country would a grainy, out of focus holiday photograph of a woman carrying a child become front page news except in one where the hacks have apparently lost not just all sense of enduring news values, but of all their collective journalistic skills?

Did it not even slightly occur to the editors on not just the four tabloids, but also on the Times and Telegraph, which also used the photograph on their respective front pages that, believe it or not, there are hundreds of thousands if not millions of blonde-haired little white girls out there that when not photographed directly are likely to bear a remarkable resemblance to one which has disappeared? Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the photograph was taken in Morocco, where after all, the kids shouldn't be white, so there must be something in it.

Cue major surprise then when it turns out that the child, when seen up close, doesn't even look slightly like Madeleine. It's not right to blame the photographer, Clara Torres, for being suspicious though. As Mike Power suggests, the media greatly encourages this sort of thing, and especially when you're either emotionally involved in a case or have been affected by it in some way, you're even more likely to see something that isn't really there. I know this from personal experience: the number of times you think you've seen someone, sometimes only for a couple of seconds and not long enough to be absolutely sure is still enough for you to psychologically conclude that it is that person. Mr Power mentions Lord Lucan as well as his example of another blonde woman, and another case would probably be Richey Edwards, guitarist and lyricist with the Manic Street Preachers, who vanished over 10 years ago but is still regularly sighted and has been spotted as far a field as Lanzarote and Goa, even when the most likely explanation was that he committed suicide by jumping from the Severn bridge, even if his family have not decided to declare him legally dead.

That however is no excuse for newspapers to go weak at the knees when presented with such an unlikely scenario as that presented in the photograph. Is it even slightly conceivable that all those pictured would be in on the abduction of the child, as they would need to have been? It was so piss-weak that even the most naive trainee hack could have shot a dozen holes in it. The Madeleine McCann disappearance now though is not just a news story, it's become a money-making circus. It's hardly been off the front page of the tabloids ever since the McCanns returned from Portugal, even though there have been almost no new leads except for the judge deciding that they didn't have to return as yet for further questioning. Today's jolly jape will make up tomorrow's stories though, so that's that sorted. If it had been the BBC that had been handed the photograph, the tabloids would have ruthlessly attacked it for raising the hopes of the McCanns unnecessarily, while they can tomorrow instead write about how they tracked down the reality of the news story, with a nary a word of apology about their own ignorant lack of a mea culpa. Such is the parasitical nature of the tabloid media in this country, which only seems to get worse over time.

The photograph also kept the far more interesting, important and humanitarian concerns over the Burma crackdown off the front pages of all but the Guardian, Independent and FT, but then monks and citizens fighting for their right to be free of tyranny just doesn't sell as well as laughable photographs of little missing white girls. (Mr E incidentally has a number of links for those wanting to keep up on developments there.)

Slight update: As Mellomeh points out in the comments, and eric the fish also notes, the Mail still has a poll up which even now has 53% of the vote saying that it is Madeleine.

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Beau Bo D'Or on Murdoch and the Scum.

Simply brilliant.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007 

Blogroll updated.

Just added a veritable boatload of links to the old blogroll, some of whom should have been added a while ago. If for some unfathomable reason I've forgotten yours, feel free to call me a bunch of names in the comments.

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The saffron revolution.

Inspiring as the protests in Burma being led by the monks are, it's hard not to be apprehensive of just how the crackdown, now seemingly fully in effect might pan out. After all, there's not just the 1988 8888 uprising which resulted in the deaths of thousands to consider, but also another military massacre from the following year: Tiananmen Square.

China's role in what now happens may well be key. Isabel Hilton argues that China doesn't want to see itself get the blame for another atrocity, especially as we fast approach next year's Olympics, but there's also another factor in all of this, that being the response of China's own population. While apart from the ever increasing number of localised protests there seems to be little national resistance to the nominally Communist leadership, the very last thing that the cadres would like to see is an example of an uprising being dealt with brutally, a potential reminder of 1989 and their own failure to force change through protest. A second bloodbath could conceivably rile China's own sleeping subversives.

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Brass Eye moment.

Chris Morris would approve. The Telegraph notes that the same gallery currently holding an exhibition of Nan Goldin's work, from which a supposedly explicit photograph has been seized lest any aspiring paedophiles see it and thus aroused decide to rape a passing child, contains the following:

The Liverpool-born artist's has pictures of a naked woman whose head is replaced by household objects in the images.

Which is something of a reprise of Morris' breaking "works of art" in half during the Brass Eye special and combining different photographs in an attempt to produce something the expert would declare "obscene". Mr Eugenides plays on another riff from the show over the revelation that paedophiles have different brains to the rest of us.

Speaking of which, the Sun is currently holding an essential discussion on the difficulties of dealing with paedophiles: summarised nicely as "help them or hang them?". Would it be glib or a straw man to mention that the BNP's 2005 manifesto advocated bringing back the death penalty for paedophiles?

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The downfall of humanity inexorably approaches.

For those who like to believe that there's some sort of equilibrium that ensures that for every attack there is an act of defense, they'll have doubtless enjoyed the juxtaposition of a judge denouncing the Jeremy Kyle show for its "human bear-baiting":

He said: "I have had the misfortune, very recently, of viewing the Jeremy Kyle show. It seems to me that the purpose of this show is to effect a morbid and depressing display of dysfunctional people whose lives are in turmoil ... for the purposes of titillating bored members of the public who have nothing better to do in the morning than watch this trash on TV.

with the revelation that Jordan's latest "novel", Crystal, has sold more copies than the entire Booker shortlist combined. Kerry Katona, probably Jordan's main rival, has announced that "her" first novel is also shortly to be released.

On one level, you have to admire the diligence, inventiveness and sheer success of the PR firms that have managed to so skillfully sculpture and buff these very ordinary individuals into apparently multi-talented superstars who can turn their hands to seemingly anything. Monitoring the Sun as I do for my sad, creepy purposes, there's hardly a day goes by when there isn't some sort of story about either of these pneumatic women, whether it's yet another outspoken, vacuous assault on some other celebrity and their misdeeds, or alternatively a flash of their bodily assets which long since lost any of their already feeble allure. For all its inherent vileness, a recent headline on one of the celebrity magazines featuring Katona was perhaps the greatest example of the horrible hole at the centre of their work: announcing the birth of her latest baby, which had been born premature, she described it as looking like a frozen chicken from Iceland, plugging the supermarket that has featured her in its adverts. That to describe a living, breathing child as looking like a frozen dead bird shows a remarkable lack of apparent humanity was neither here nor there; far more important was repaying her dues to the company which has doubtless poured wads of cash into her bank account.

All of their work though is directed at exploiting the very people which the newspapers which print their releases are meant to be speaking for, and/or protecting. Despite all the fury recently directed at the BBC and other channels for various fakery and deceptions on their programmes, such manufactured phony characters are still to be feted, celebrated and endlessly pursued. Not a single one of Jordan's books has actually been written by her, and as Hadley Freeman points out in the article, while autobiographies are widely known to be ghosted, this latest development, the fictional book from a celebrity is trying its hardest to keep the reality from the actual readers. Rebecca Farnworth is the ghost behind the bust of Jordan, but the only mention you'll find of her anywhere in Jordan's supposed novel is on the copyright page.

Does it really make any difference that such books are vastly outselling the works of literature which are plucked from usual relative obscurity to be feted as a novel of the year? After all, as widely despised as Dan Brown and his equivalent of taking a shit on the manuscript of Ulysses or Crime and Punishment the Da Vinci Code is, at least it's got people who usually wouldn't read to pick up a book, or at least the argument goes. You could also argue that the reason that Jordan's opus has sold so many copies is probably because it's been both heavily pushed and heavily discounted, while the Booker shortlisted works are mostly still in hardback and as much as £4 more expensive, at least going by Amazon's prices.

None of this however explains why a woman known only for her numerous breast augmentations and widely considered to have around as much grey matter between her ears as a rocking horse does can somehow even begin to be able to sell copies of a book that widely mirrors her own attempts to become a singer, except one suspects that in the novel "Crystal" succeeds where Jordan has notably failed, especially when she has not one but two autobiographies, presumably for the same reason as the Queen has two birthdays. Rather, it suggests what perhaps some of us have long feared: that these women, fucked up blow-up dolls rather than anything approaching human are not just becoming role models but that their contempt for anything outside their own tiny little world is spreading. Why bother to expand your mind when you can expand your breasts? Why take something a little challenging to the beach when you can read another fatuous tale along the lines of the television programmes and magazines that you read at home?

I realise I'm being melodramatic and overstating my case. The rise of the idiots though is certainly real, and they're being helped along in their rise through those who most certainly aren't stupid: they're just another cog in the system of contempt for the average person which isn't the preserve of the metropolitan elite as the right likes to have it, but by the magazines and celebrity filled rags that are inextricably linked to the most powerful in our society. Their preference is certainly for compliant rather than questioning, and this latest branching out is certainly helping with the former.

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Monday, September 24, 2007 

Strength to keep Britain much the same.

As Gordon Brown walked into the Labour conference hall in Bournemouth to the pounding, mystifying choice of Reef's Place Your Hands, it was difficult to know just who he wanted to be. Hadn't we just got rid of the first celebrity prime minister, who seemingly spent his early days more eager to glad hand washed up pop stars than he was to actually settle on any distinctive change from the 18 year reign of the Tories? This was less the dour, sulking, "shy" and plotting Scotsman than it was the equivalent of one of the more vulgar American presidential candidates rallies, some of the delegates apparently so over-joyed to see the new Dear Leader that they almost swooned after Brown shook their hands upon his entrance, grinning ear to ear. As comedians have already noted, it's a frightening sight: while Blair's smile always looked suspicious, and cartoonists soon had him as the cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland, Brown's smile looks as if it's about to break his jaw, such is the tension created by the muscles being required to do something they haven't in years. His hair, too, had been swept back, making him look almost eerily like an older, grizzled and more rotund David Cameron.

That echo of the Conservative leader was perhaps indicative of the speech to come, but for a while the intensely personal nature of the lecture, mentioning his upbringing for the umpteenth time, talking about his (broken) moral compass and his status as a conviction politician only brought back the old jibes of Stalinism. Private Eye has been parodying his utterances as being the equivalent of old Soviet propaganda announcements, and it was difficult, with the stage itself advertising the "Strength required to change Britain" and Brown banging on about those mystical British values to get past it. He stands for this, he stands for that, but we don't really know what he doesn't stand for, apart from apparently migrants who come here and take vital work away from our homegrown drug dealers, who'll be deported back to wherever they came from, and guns, which are an unthinkable evil except when used by an army that discharges them in a ethical and difficult but certainly not illegal situation.

Speaking of which, Iraq and Afghanistan merited one mention each, with our troops apparently working for security, political reconciliation and economic reconstruction, all three of which our continued presence in Iraq is doing nothing whatsoever to help. This wasn't a day for bringing up the old inconveniences left over by the previous accursed rule of Brown's predecessor, but for making clear just how safe Middle Britain would be in the capable hands of not flash Gordon. Students previously angered by top-up fees will have new grants available, little ones will be protected from the filth and fury of the internet thanks to a psychologist recruited from shows only masochists watch on BBC3, while schools previously pumping out illiterate hoodlums will be transformed thanks to wonderfully named programmes such as "Every Child a Reader". On education tuition and tutors were the watchwords, in all their various forms, from one to one tuition to small group tuition through to personal tuition. The promise of financing not from 5 to 16 but from 5 to 21 was impressive, but in a country where class and the improbability/impossibility of rising through the class system seems to becoming even more of an issue, the idea of a class-free society being more than a slogan seems to verge on the delusional.

Which was just where the speech was really lacking. He reeled off the usual statistics of 600,000 children lifted out of poverty, even when we know that 200,000 last year fell back into it. Child benefits and maternity allowances might have doubled and trebled, and 6 million families might be claiming tax credits, but how many of them have either struggled with the scheme or had to pay money back through no fault of their own? He digged at Cameron's discriminatory policy of favouring marriage in the tax system, but the solutions sounded more or less the same, with the wonderful voluntary sector sorting out families and teenagers in trouble just like that. There was so little here directed at those struggling: the minimum wage might be going up, but it still isn't a living wage, while he praised the flexibility of the economy which has become so overbalanced in favour of the bosses that we're now the poor man of Europe when it comes to workers' rights, with a supposed Labour government unwilling to have it any other way.

There was no mention of any proposal to extend the current 28-day detention limit for "terrorist suspects", but that itself seemed to just be the odd one out that didn't get included. We were told about the human rights of those in Burma, Zimbabwe and Sudan, while our own civil liberties, chipped away over the Blair years weren't worthy of a mention. It was in line with the punitive, in places almost puritanical bent which Brown spoke of crime and anti-social behaviour in this country; the evil of drug pushers, how "drugs" will never be decriminalised, even after the moral panic on skunk has been well and truly punctured, and the three words on which "strong" communities are founded: discipline, respect and responsibility. If Brown was trying to sound like an old-fashioned headmaster, he succeeded, but the out-of-touch almost naïveté of that same character was more than evident in the laughable "call on the [drinks] industry" to advertise the dangers of teen drinking, which they more than adequately already do with those fucking WKD commercials.

It all sounded very familiar, and as a collection of policy "achievements" and of those to come it was a good summary, but this was meant to be a speech, not a recital or an actual manifesto. The best that can be said for it is that he didn't panic over today's Sun front page and change his mind instantly over the EU treaty, or pander too much to the Paul Dacre constituency which he's steadily built at the Mail over the years. If your outlook is for anything less rigid than unstinting "British values", where the dead end of "meritocracy" reigns supreme and where the status quo appears to be not just the preserve of the Conservatives but now also of Labour, you seem to have come to the wrong party. He might have pledged to stand up for you; but just who are you? Brown seems to have no inclination whatsoever to find out.

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Who do you think you are kidding Mr Murdoch?

It'd be nice if the Sun decided to make up its mind on just what exactly is the biggest threat to this nation since WW2. Back in July it decided that the terrorist threat was the greatest since WW2, as part of its justification for extending the current 28-day detention limit for "terrorist suspects". I'm not going to pretend to be old enough to remember what the Sun's attitude towards the Soviet Union was, even during its decline and eventual fall, but I'm betting that there was slightly more reverence for the Russian bear than it's convenient to mention today.

The Scum doesn't expect its readers' to remember what the paper said yesterday though, let alone two months ago, as after all, they're working class illiterate morons, so it's more than happy to contradict itself, especially when it's involved in such a major lie and disinformation campaign as it is today.

They say that patriotism is the last refuge of a scandal, and online, we have another law, Godwin's. The Sun breaks both within a couple of lines of its extended leader column:

Wake up Britain! Our proud nation faces the greatest threat as an independent sovereign state since the dark days of World War II.

We won that titanic struggle against the roaring guns of Nazi Germany.

So, err, to indulge the Sun for a second, just how many lives are going to be lost fighting this threat? We lost just less than half a million in WW2; how many is the EU constitution going to cost us?

I'll leave that brainteaser for you to decide.

Unless we start that fight today, Gordon Brown will sign and ratify the EU Constitution — the blueprint for a United States of Europe — within weeks.

The reform treaty of course isn't anything like a blueprint for an actual "United States of Europe"; if it was, then you could rest assured that almost every single politician across Europe would be kicking up a stink. Sovereignty is just as much an issue abroad as it is here, and if they thought that the constitution was about to make their own parliaments redundant, they'd be even more noise about referendums than there already is.

We will no longer have control over relations with other countries, the defence of our nation or the right to run our own police and law courts.

Utter nonsense. Does the Sun really honestly think that its readers are going to believe that we're about to leave our own defence to the cheese-eating surrender monkeys over on the continent? Oh, wait...

As Nosemonkey points out, we retained the opt-outs over control of our own police and law courts, as the Sun puts it.

This takeover bid will consign Britain to a bit part in a 27-nation federal state permanently governed from Brussels by unelected officials and unaccountable politicians.

Oh yeah, those European MPs we elect every so often don't do anything, I forgot about that.

Centuries of parliamentary democracy will be consigned to history.

Of course, keep taking the pills Rebekah.

The Labour government’s record on the loathed Constitution is one of promises made — and promises broken.

See, this is what this is really all about. Back in 2004, it's widely rumoured that Rupert Murdoch gave Blair an option: either he promise a referendum on the EU constitution, or the Scum and the Times would switch their support to Michael Howard. Blair promised a referendum. In the event, the French and Dutch votes meant that one wasn't needed, although one was promised in the 2005 Labour manifesto. With Brown about to give his triumphant address to today's Labour party conference, the Scum has just had to remind him that it's still more than prepared to extract its pound of flesh in return for its continuing support. Technically, Brown isn't breaking any promises, as the manifesto promise was on a referendum on a constitution, while this is a reforming treaty which does much the same as that document would have, but still isn't a constitution.

As ever, it's all about power -- and just about how much Rupert Murdoch can enforce his own views not just on politicians, but as nations as a whole, through his newspapers which claim to speak for the average man in the street but which at the same time lie through their teeth and distort to those very people in order to earn their support. The leader goes on to quote numerous European leaders speaking about how little difference there is between the constitution and the reform treaty, not informing its readers of the context of them: Spain's prime minister's remarks are reproduced liberally, without mention of how his enthusiasm for the treaty's lack of difference to the constitution might be because his own population overwhelmingly voted yes in its own referendum on it (albeit on a low turnout). While Angela Merkel wasn't in power when the treaty was ratified, the result of the vote in the Bundestag was a landslide, 569 for to 23 against. People might often disagree with their elected representatives, but it would be churlish to suggest that there wasn't at least majority backing among the actual electorate behind such a vote.

In fact, there's so much nonsense in the leader it would require a post longer than it deserves to deal with all the falsehoods. It claims we're going to lose our permanent UN security council seat; presumably France will be giving up theirs as well, not to mention Germany, which also wants its own when the council is eventually reformed. It suggests that this is not a simple issue of in or out, then mentions Keith Vaz wants a referendum, without bothering to point out that err, he in fact wants a vote on staying in or out in order to "shut-up" anti-Europeans. It deliberately obfuscates the TUC's position, saying that they think the treaty doesn't go far enough, when they in fact want the EU's charter of fundamental rights' workers' protections to apply here, one of the red lines that Blair obtained which the Scum pretends is worthless.

In fact, that is just one of the two supreme ironies of the Sun's argument and positioning. The very people who would most benefit from the treaty, the British workers who are currently denied the privileges and rights which are already available on mainland Europe are also those most likely to read the Sun. No doubt that betrayal of the working class is more than amusing to the proprietor with a notorious history of union-busting and cost cutting. It's also bitterly appropriate that the Sun uses war imagery and the memory of Churchill in its rhetoric, when you can make a more than decent argument that the EU and its predecessor organisations are at least partly responsible for western Europe's past 60 years' of peace.

The Sun though has helped to convince me. We ought to call its bluff and fight to win the referendum, whether it's on just the treaty or on staying in Europe altogether. Its very own poll shows that it's far more possible than a lot of the pessimists would imagine, with 32% saying they would vote yes against 38% voting no, with up to 30% undecided to either vote or how to vote. What better victory would there be than to defeat the right-wing press consensus and prove all the naysayers wrong?

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Official - this blog sucks 72 more times than the average.

Reading Iain Dale's list on the top 100 "left of centre" blogs and discovering that your humble narrator is ranked 72nd, I'm reminded of Jack Garner's comment on the American vice-presidency: that it wasn't worth a warm bucket of spit.

Thanks to all those who voted for me - you're more than kind.


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Saturday, September 22, 2007 

Dannatt ain't a donut.

(Apologies for the appalling title.)

General Sir Richard Dannatt's speech yesterday to the Institute for Strategic Studies was notable for a number of reasons. Firstly, for his supreme honesty and refusal to generalise: when describing the "enemy" in both Iraq and Afghanistan he makes clear that the vast majority of those they are fighting/fought are not fanatical jihadists or Iranian-backed militants, but in the case of Iraq mostly nationalists and in Afghanistan, not simply the Taliban but "those who are fighting with the Taliban for financial, social and tribal reasons."

Secondly, he sets out only too clearly how all this is only a means to an end. Although he does include a "dark futures" section of the speech, he also recognises that the army increasingly needs to win the old chestnut of "hearts and minds", not just abroad, but also here at home. It's strange then that he can't quite bring himself to note that the very reason the army has lost support, if it has, as polls suggest that most of the public still is hugely supportive if not of the mission then of the men, is because as he himself put it last year, "we're exacerbating the security problems" and we should get out of southern Iraq very soon. A year later, we're still there, even if we've now withdrew to Basra airport. It also doesn't help when the army covers-up the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, either.

His suggestions for how we can show more appreciation are the weak link of the whole lecture. We've gone past the age of military parades, which we now more associate with "rogue states", and besides, apart from their return, there's no actual end as it were to the conflicts that they've returned from, making celebration about it doubly difficult. Dannatt's claim that the military is "the instrument of foreign policy conducted by a democratically elected Government acting in the name of the people" also isn't very convincing when Labour only earned the support of 22% of the population at the last general election, or indeed when it seems not just to the public, but also to the average Tommy Atkins that we're operating as a minor arm of American, rather than British foreign policy. It does however seem that we've got as a good a head of the army as we might conceivably have.

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Scum-watch: Ignoring the PCC's guidelines on suicide.

In January last year, the Sun, Times and Evening Standard published photographs of a lawyer jumping to her death from a window ledge, resulting in condemnation not just from a friend of a woman, who complained to the PCC, but also the Samaritans, which recommended that reports covering suicide should avoid "explicit details of method and should in particular 'avoid the use of dramatic photographs or images related to suicide." While the PCC did not uphold the complaints, it did lead to a direct change in its code of practice to section 5, dealing with intrusion into grief or shock, which states that "care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used."

So much for that. While last year's photographs of the death of Katherine Ward were only printed in black and white, the Scum today prints a full-colour, sharp, detailed photograph of a "tormented guest" at the Park Lane Hilton hotel, tottering dangerously on the edge of a window ledge, the window of which has been smashed by the man. Despite the Sun blanking out his face, a large quantity of blood is clearly visible on the window and ledge, apparently from the man slashing his wrists on the broken glass. He later fell to his death.

If the paper had only printed the actual article and not the photograph it would be fair enough, as voyeuristic and intrusive as it is; with it, it takes on a whole other dimension of crudeness and insensitivity. Just to rub salt into the wound, the online editor decided to allow comments on the piece, welcoming in a number of predictable responses.

Unlike in the previous case, it seems the only the Sun has covered the man's death in as much detail, at least after I performed a quick number of searches on other newspaper websites. Only the Times seems to have reported it, and that was in a news in brief. A complaint to the PCC about the article might well be in order.

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Friday, September 21, 2007 

Scum-watch: More Facebook pervs.

Just a quick one today, although if you want a good giggle at how abysmal Sun journalism can be, you can have a look at the hilariously bad faux-conversation between Jon Gaunt and Lorraine Kelly over the McCanns which plumbs new depths of stating the obvious and filling space.

Cop is gun-mad Facebook perv

A COP has quit after his web profile on Facebook exposed him as a gun-toting pervert.

Fellow officers were stunned when they logged on to the social networking site to see 29-year-old Simon Purcell proudly brandishing an MI6 semi-automatic rifle.

The police community support officer went on to list his hobbies as “making sex toys for all the ladies” and “spying on doggers”. Other interests included “women, masturbation, any order I don’t mind.” Among his favourite films he put simply: “Porn”.

All very well of course, although the officer himself claims that "a friend" set-up the profile and put up the series of "perverted" claims.

Strange though when you consider that the other most popular social-networking site, MySpace, recently admitted that over 30,000 sex offenders with profiles had been discovered only months after it had last removed a previous load. The Sun, uniquely among the British press, failed to report it. Naturally, the fact that MySpace is owned by a certain R. Murdoch had nothing whatsoever to do with it.

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New lies fiasco shames Daily Mail (shurley shome mishtake?).

Out of all the supposed scandals over deception, the latest crime committed by Blue Peter in lying to small children also has to be one of the most mystifying. As is the tradition, a new pet was introduced, in this case a cat. They provided a vote on what the new kitten should be called: among the options were Socks and Cookie, with the programme revealing the winner as Socks. Only err, it seems it might have not been.

Or was it? According to MediaGrauniad, the editor sacked over the "deception" was actually correcting what he and others thought had been a rigged poll, with mass-voting shortly before it closed for "Cookie". Initial reports suggested that the proposed name was "inappropriate", hence why it was changed, causing much confusion when the name was revealed to be Cookie. Is this another case of political correctness gone mad, with the BBC concerned that children might be encouraged to eat more biscuits if the cat was thusly named? Or was it that they were worried that Cookie is apparently slang for the private parts of the fairer sex? I've never heard of that particular definition, and I don't have a copy of Viz's Profanisaurus to hand, so we'll have to go with urbandictionary on this one. Either way, it seems unlikely that many 8-10 year olds would have heard of it if it had been the latter, and we'll have to hope that it certainly isn't the former.

Whatever the explanation, it's not exactly front page news, and nor are the other three examples that have now been revealed, mostly repetitions of the other "the show must go on" type errors that were exposed in the previous trawl. The naming of the cat as Socks rather than Cookie, while not completely honest, was hardly the equivalent of an infamous Daily Mail deception, namely the Zinoviev letter, which helped to bring down the first Labour government, or more modern examples such as the constant misinformation on immigrants exposed almost every other day on FCC. Blue Peter to make up for the mistake has introduced another new kitten, this one named Cookie regardless of any cunnilingus-type connotations, and is again going to apologise for its error. Case closed.

Although it doesn't seem to be. The witch-hunt for the slightest of errors, whipped up by a press which prints lies left right and centre every day of the week, seems to have gone out of control with more lowly staff now taking the blame rather than the executives that must have known what was going on. None of the BBC's errors, and remember that the Queen editing example was the fault of RDF, have come even close to matching GMTV's or Richard and Judy's defrauding of premium rate phoneline callers to their competitions. In those cases no one has actually been sacked, except for the companies that ran the competitions, and none have taken on the sackcloth and ashes in quite the way that the BBC has, promising to send its employees on the equivalent of re-education courses. The BBC has to be aware of the dangers of constantly whacking itself on the back in penitence; it tends to only invite others to join in.

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