Wednesday, December 31, 2008 

Playing dead with wingnuts.

Do you know what those dastardly Palestinians are doing now? They're only pretending to be injured or dead! David Frum (he came up with the term "Axis of Evil") quotes Barry Rubin:

And the casualties are disproportionate: Hamas has arranged it that way. If necessary, sympathetic photographers take pictures of children who pretend to be injured, and once they are published in Western newspapers these claims become fact.

Rubin of course has absolutely no evidence whatsoever for such a claim, and even if it was true, Western newspapers are unable to verify the facts because Israel isn't allowing any foreign or Israeli journalists into Gaza. Here for example is a child just pretending to be seriously injured:

While here's one of Lama Hamdan pretending to be dead while her family bury her:

Back in reality, al-Jazeera has footage of what it's like to be right next to an Israeli missile strike:

While Flying Rodent has a comprehensive round-up of the various torturous justifications for Israel's action.

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Best music of 2008 part 2 / 16 best albums of 2008.

16. The Young Knives - Superabundance

Having been Mercury nominated for their debut, the Young Knives were always likely to face a "difficult" second album; having failed to breach the mainstream, they went with the good old concept of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", and while Superabundance is not as stripped back as Voices of Animals and Men was, the quality especially of the singles was as good if not better. The real highlight is "Counters", quite possibly the most upbeat and happy song about committing suicide that has ever been written, complete with dog barks.

The Young Knives - Counters

15. Benga - Diary of an Afro Warrior

With dubstep making its major breakthrough as a genre with Burial's nomination for the Mercury prize showcasing the "downtempo" crowd, Benga catered for the rave crew with an album which along with the works of Skream is some of the best that it has to offer. "Night" was the crossover smash, but "26 Basslines" is the one that has delivered for those with a more acquired taste.

Benga - 26 Basslines

14. These New Puritans - Beat Pyramid

Although 2008 has been far from a seminal year for music, These New Puritans along with a few other bands on this list were doing their best to buck the trend. Clocking in at just half an hour, Beat Pyramid is a whirlwind which if you blink you might miss it, but alongside the experimentalism which permeates it is the utter brilliance of "Elvis", the superb "Swords of Truth", and lyrics about Michael Barrymore masturbating in the suburbs of Milton Keynes.

These New Puritans - Elvis

13. Johnny Foreigner - Waited Up Til It Was Light

2008 saw a revival in indie-pop breeziness which Johnny Foreigner were at the forefront of. Featuring male and female call and response type vocals, their songs may have not been about much in particular but sometimes they don't have to be, such is the catchiness and brilliance of the hooks on offer. "DJs Get Doubts" served as one of the few downtempo by comparison numbers, while single "Salt, Pepper and Spinderalla" and "Eyes Wide Terrified" with its great big riff after the breakdown showed the further potential they undoubtedly have.

Johnny Foreigner - DJs Get Doubts

12. Late of the Pier - Fantasy Black Channel

Another of the dance music influenced indie bands to have emerged this year, along with Friendly Fires, Late of the Pier made the wise decision to get in Erol Alkan to produce. While he scored a miss with his work with the Long Blondes, who sadly broke up after their guitarist and song-writer suffered a stroke, his knob-twiddling with LotP was perfectly judged. "Space and the Woods" and "Focker" were obvious stand-outs, but it was the older "Bathroom Gurgle" which still packed them in with its stand-out brilliance. Where they'll go from here is anyone's guess, but Fantasy Black Channel is still one of the year's finest albums.

Late of the Pier - Focker

11. British Sea Power - Do You Like Rock Music?

When it's as exuberant and extrovert as parts of British Sea Power's ouerve is, while always providing introspection such as "Canvey Island", it's almost impossible not to. While their debut is still probably their best work, the decision to work with Efrim Menuck of GY!BE and A Silver Mt Zion fame at his studio in Canada, as well as with GY!BE's producer undoubtedly coloured it, and not just with Efrim's dog's barks being audible on "No Lucifer", which he also provided an alternative mix for. There is no getting away from the absolute stand-out, the single "Waving Flags", which I rather overlooked for yesterday's best song of the year. How many other bands would write a paean to the drinking prowess of the Eastern Europeans moving here to work and turn it into a hit?

British Sea Power - No Lucifer (Efrim Menuck Mix) (No Lucifer B-Side)

10. Fuck Buttons - Street Horrrsing

It wasn't the greatest year for post-rock, an genre that does seem to have finally run out of steam, with A Silver Mt Zion's average at best 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons, Errors' debut and Mogwai's The Hawk is Howling the best other efforts, but Street Horrrsing, if indeed it can be classified as post-rock beat them all. Combining the best of post-rock with pure noise, hardcore screaming buried under static and synthesisers and the sheer beauty and clearness which gradually builds into the deafening crescendos which seem familiar on even the first listen, Fuck Buttons more than punched above their weight.

Fuck Buttons - Sweet Love for Planet Earth

9. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles

As indeed did Crystal Castles. Their brand of music simply shouldn't work: glitches, bleeps, beats and 8-bit core combined with Alice Glass's shrieks and screams, all designed to only appeal to the nerds that have long occupied their rather insular scene. Instead the glorious technicolour of the music when all combined together produced a crossover hit that no one expected, lest of all Crystal Castles themselves. Again, it's difficult to see how they'll progress, but that's for another day.

Crystal Castles - Xxzxcuzx Me

8. Los Campesinos! - We Are Beautiful We Are Doomed / Hold on Now, Youngster!

In a year in which Guns 'N' Roses finally released Chinese Democracy, the fruit of 14 years of labour, Los Campesinos! made not just one but two albums, both so perfectly judged, infectious and filled with chanty vocals combined with perfect musical accompaniment that you just wanted to applaud them for the effort alone, without even considering the music itself. When there are such witty and sarcastic scenester songs as "My Year in Lists" and "You! Me! Dancing" though, they more than deserved it.

Los Campesinos! - You'll Need Those Fingers for Crossing

7. Bloc Party - Intimacy

Last year's effort by Bloc Party nestled the number one slot, quite possibly ranking far too high for what was a great follow-up album but one which still lacked something. Perhaps influenced by the fans of Silent Alarm's unhappiness at the production of Jacknife Lee on AWITC, Okereke and co split their third album between Lee and the debut's Paul Epworth, creating a balance that worked for the most part. "Mercury" as a stand-alone seemed nonsensical and like "Flux" unnecessary, but when compiled with the rest of the album it took on a new lease of life. Built around lyrics inspired by Kele's break up with his partner, there is still the odd clunking line like "Trojan Horse's" opening "you used to take your watch off before we made love, you didn't want to share our time with anyone", but for the most part the music made up for it. Opener "Ares" "Setting Sun" like drums heralded what was to come, and "TH"'s riff was beyond sick. Combined with the downtempo, poignant brilliance of "Biko", the combination of dubstep and choir on "Zephyrus" and the building "Ion Square", Intimacy was a far better follow-up than many expected.

Bloc Party - Idea for a Story (Mercury B-Side)

6. Mystery Jets - Twenty One

Along with Late of the Pier, Mystery Jets employed Erol Alkan in a bold and inspired move, reinventing their indie-prog sound and fusing it with 80s indie pop. At times it seems absolutely effortless, and the song of the year "Two Doors Down" is the centre-piece. Along with "Flakes" and "MJ" Mystery Jets were the most improved band of the year, as well as the least expected.

Mystery Jets - Man in the Corner (Demo) (Two Doors Down B-Side)

5. Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid

What else is there to say about Elbow and the Seldom Seen Kid which hasn't already been written? Constant articles relate how winning the Mercury prize couldn't have happened to either a nicer guy in Guy Garvey or a more deserving band, having had to record the album themselves after they were dropped by V2. While I would have preferred Burial to have won, the Seldom Seen Kid is still undeniably a triumph and you can't even begin to begrudge them their success. "One Day Like This" is an anthem from a band that doesn't try to write them, and with it Elbow helped to soundtrack the summer, or what there was of it.

Elbow - The Fix

4. Foals - Antidotes

Supposedly involved in a spat with other bands over how "middle class" they are, Foals were with the exception of the number one in this list the breakthrough of the year. Combining the aesthetic and time signatures of math-rock with straight up indie, fantastically hummable guitar lines and riffs with the almost at times deadpan vocal delivery of Yannis, the hype was more than deserved.

Foals - Unthink This (Olympic Airways B-Side)

3. Portishead - Three

How many other groups could be away for so long and still turn in such an utter sonic masterpiece as Three? Beth Gibbons' vocals are just as anguished and chilling as before, while the music itself was at times so jarring yet compelling that you had to wonder if you speakers were malfunctioning. If they weren't, they might well have been after "Machine Gun", as punishing a track has been released in a long time. Here's to hoping they don't leave it so long again before releasing a follow-up.

Portishead - We Carry On

2. TV on the Radio - Dear Science

There is something deeply unfair in how TV on the Radio, despite delivering three utterly superb albums have still not achieved cross-over success. Certainly, the critics themselves and indie snobs have been wetting themselves over them now since they first emerged, yet it hasn't translated into sales. If any album deserves to, it's Dear Science, which takes the rough edges from both previous efforts and turns them into second finest record of the year. DLZ was the stand-out, which hooks you in from the very first listen.

TV on the Radio - DLZ

1. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes

In the beauty stakes, not a single record this year came even close to topping the majesty of Fleet Foxes' self-titled debut. The harmonies, orchestration and arrangements are not just meticulously organised, but even when on album closer "Oliver James" Robin Pecknold is left singing acappela it feels as if there is more warmth and depth than a lone single voice should offer. A record which combined so many influences was still so simple and refreshing that it could be used in any mood, or any time of day. Perhaps 2008's only true masterpiece.

Fleet Foxes - Oliver James

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008 

Best music of 2008 part 1.

Best Song
Mystery Jets - Two Doors Down

In what was a poor year for singles generally, Two Doors Down by Mystery Jets just about edged out One Day Like Today by Elbow, either Geraldine or Daddy's Gone by Glasvegas or any of the singles released by Foals for the best 2008 had to offer. Having started out as an indie group with a inclination towards progression, for their second album they ditched both one of their dads and their original sound, and brought in Erol Alkan and plenty of 80s influence. The results were astounding, with not just Two Doors Down but also Half in Love with Elizabeth and Young Love featuring Laura Marling just a sample of one of the most well-judged follow-ups of the year. Surely overlooked for the Mercury prize, Mystery Jets deserve far more attention than they have received.

Best Remix
Adele - Hometown Glory (High Contrast Remix)

Having just branded Adele one of the worst artists of the year, it's nice to show just what can be done with even her brand of affection. Taking the acoustic emptiness of the original and turning it into one of the undoubted drum and bass tracks of the year, High Contrast sped up the vocals, kept the piano for the breakdown and dispensed with much of the rest. There's even an instrumental version lest Adele's warbling start to get on your tits.

Best Cover
Lightspeed Champion - Back to Black

AKA Dev Hynes, Lightspeed Champion emerged from the ashes of Test Icicles and went from one extreme to an apparent other. While his album was mainly disappointing after the strength of his demos and first couple of singles, it was his cover of the much covered Back to Black which took it back to the basics and was all the better for it. Other contenders were Mystery Jets' version of Somewhere in My Heart by Aztec Camera and Guillemots' Live Lounge version of Sam Sparro's Black and Gold.

Best Reissue
Mogwai - Young Team

Just over 10 years on from the release of the 'gwai's debut, a properly mastered version was finally issued, making Like Herod even more punishing than ever. Along with the excellent Hawk is Howling, 2008 was easily their best year since the release of Happy Songs for Happy People.

Tomorrow, or sometime - Best Albums of 2008.

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Most disappointing and worst music of 2008.

New Order - 80s Album Reissues

When CD sales are dropping off a cliff, you would expect that one of the corners of the market that record companies would be going out of their way to cater for would be the obsessive fan, the type that buys remasters and expanded reissues. When Rhino announced that New Order's five 1980s albums were to be given just that treatment, as Joy Division had been last year, those self-same fans presumed that all the stops would be pulled out, and the tracklists suggested that they had. The horrible revelation only occurred once those suckers actually purchased them: far from going back to the original masters, a good number of the tracks on the bonus discs had been sourced from vinyl, and not pristine mint vinyl, but vinyl which had decidedly seen better days. Although for the most part the albums themselves had been properly re-authored, the bonus discs were littered with errors, with some online posts suggesting that in total the set had over 300. Faced with those they had aimed to please raging at the lack of effort, Rhino has said that the reissues will be, err, reissued in 2009. How the replacements will be sent out has however still yet to be explained, and considering that your humble narrator bought some of them from Zavvi, some will doubtless have to buy them all over again. It does almost make you understand why some record companies deserve to go under.

The Courteeners - St. Jude

When the Guardian had the audacity to only award the Courteeners' debut album one star, with the reviewer Maddy Costa suggesting that singer Liam Fray's lyrics were misogynistic and that he came across as "sneering, arrogant and aggressive", Fray became the first badly reviewed personality to take to the paper's response column to right the wrong. While Costa got the wrong end of the stick over "If it Wasn't for Me", which is clearly about a male friend who only hangs around Fray to get the "average girl with bad teeth", she wasn't far wrong in her other analysis. Fray doesn't just come across as sneering, arrogant and aggressive, he also seems to be self-obsessed and, like all the best artists, to hate his own fans. The songs which aren't about him, his band and his mates are about the other damaged individuals surrounding him who he also seems to loathe. Hence "Kimberley", in which he hopes "Cocaine Kim" is treated nicely for the two remaining days she has to live.

Fray isn't to blame, incidentally, he's just hopefully one of the last sufferers of "Libertines" disease, which infects those who think they can write lyrics while playing rudimentary music which otherwise would get them absolutely nowhere. Good can come from "Libertines" disease: see the Arctic Monkeys' last album, having got self-obsession, clubbing and pubbing out of their systems with their first, as well as the misogyny of "Still Take You Home". Fray however can't even begin to hold a candle to the Monkeys' worst lyric, and neither Pete Doherty or Carl Barat at their worst had the arrogance to tell a fan out of their head to get their "hand off of my trouser leg" as Fray does on Cavorting, a whole song dedicated to him sneering at the drug-addled that had to get themselves in such a state in order to enjoy his band's show. Probably as a result of the band's outraged fan base, all two of them voted repeatedly and succeeded in winning the Grauniad's inaugural "First Album" award, even when 50% of the votes were with the paper's critics. Nothing quite like consistency, is there?

The Ting Tings - That's Not My Name

Like some of the other artists featured here, the Ting Tings are not completely irredeemable. Their song "Great DJ" for instance was pleasant enough, and succeeded in not being too grating. Apart from their dreadful moniker and their biggest hit, "That's Not My Name", what really stands them out, or rather doesn't, is just how average they are. Their album title owns up to this, called "We Started Nothing", and they sure didn't. When a band is so average, it does however make you wonder how they got "big" in the first place, and the Ting Tings were helped along by the BBC, who inexplicably at Glastonbury last year featured them as "one to watch". Probably far more influential is the fact that singer Katie White is, as Alexis Petridis described her, "so pretty that you feel like giving her a round of applause just for existing", which always helps.

However much you might want to not hate them, That's Not My Name was a song both so ubiquitous, so jarring and so completely dreadful that it's impossible not to. Shouted rather than sung, with a vacuity which would make most of our politicians blush, it informs us that Ms White doesn't like being called "bird", "darling" or "Stacey", and that they are "not her name". The one consolation is that whenever someone recognises her she probably finds herself being subjected to a even worse rendition, or at least you hope so. The other silver lining is however indirectly I was introduced to the idea of getting your rat out via them, when one of my friends who had free tickets to see them was pleased to note that a drunk guy at the end of every song ordered White to do just that.

Katy Perry - I Kissed A Girl

The music industry is a cynical business, but the cynicism and marketing behind Perry is even by their standards approaching breath-taking. Plucked from obscurity, having previously recorded a Christian gospel album, I Kissed a Girl was a song so terrible on so many separate levels that it seems incredibly fitting for 2008 as a whole. It wouldn't be so bad if Perry, or at least those who write her songs weren't so intensely hypocritical, yet one of the other songs on her album is "Ur So Gay", which denounces a boyfriend for being effeminate. Whether this is the same boyfriend which she then hopes on "I Kissed A Girl" wouldn't mind her indulging in some bottom-level lipstick lesbianism is unclear, but it seems to sum up the entire conflicted nature of much of the mainstream towards homosexuality. After all, let's face it: a song by a young man about wondering what it's like to kiss one of his peers, especially when it "felt so good, it felt so right" with him liking it seems to have been unlikely to have topped the charts in a similar fashion. Perry hardly improved matters when she said of "Ur So Gay":

"It’s not a negative connotation. It’s not, 'you're so gay,' like, 'you're so lame,' but the fact of the matter is that this boy should’ve been gay. I totally understand how it could be misconstrued or whatever...I wasn’t stereotyping anyone in particular, I was talking about ex-boyfriends."

In other words, phony lipstick lesbianism makes money, as does insulting former boyfriends by calling them gay. No contradictions there whatsoever then.

Adele / Duffy

2008 has not been an exactly stellar year for music, with a few notable exceptions. In fact, it's hard not to suggest that the musical apocalypse seems to be fast approaching. The only music that seems to sell physically is either Take That, Abba or by artists endorsed by reality television, and with it the album as we previously knew it seems to heading for demise, as do the shops that stocked them. The one bright spot for the "old" music industry is that it's hit on something that is making them some easy money: give the public what they already like in ever decreasing quality. Last year we had Kate Nash, the low-rent Lily Allen, if there could be such a thing. The biggest artist of last year though was undoubtedly Amy Winehouse, before she went completely off the rails. Hence the search was on for the new stars that sound like her but are less likely to inject crack cocaine into their eyeballs. Quickly found were Adele and Duffy, producing much the same sounding material as La Winehouse but without the key factor that made some of Winehouse's songs so successful: soul.

Rather than Back to Black and Love is a Losing Game, both veritable masterpieces of the genre by comparison, Adele and Duffy have served up Chasing Pavements and Warwick Avenue, the video for which featured Duffy in tears throughout, although not apparently at the triteness of either the song's contents or her own performance. Again, the machinations of the industry itself were obviously at play: Adele was on Later with Jools Holland before she had released a thing, supposedly because of her undeniable brilliance rather than because of bungs changing hands. It wouldn't matter if no one bought the damn things, but Duffy has unsurprisingly became the biggest seller of the year. Take the unpredictability out of Winehouse and you have nothing except music for your bourgeois dinner party, which is the niche which both Adele and Duffy have filled.

Alexandra Burke - Hallelujah

Complaining about the X Factor or Simon Cowell is utterly pointless, such is the stranglehold that both seem to have not just on the nation's psyche but on music apparently itself. The problem is that after however many series' of first Pop Stars, Pop Idol, The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent, the number of artists waiting to be discovered has almost certainly been fully mined. Last year's BGT "discovered" Paul Potts, who had despite his evident talent not got far in making himself a career as a tenor. With even him gone, this year's decided on George Sampson, a teenager who could breakdance. Badly. Likewise, this year's X Factor had a paucity of real star talent that wasn't related to someone who had already been successful or who you didn't want to strangle on sight. After the ritual humiliation of those stupid enough to imagine they can sing in tune, it was narrowed down to an Irish kid with a ridiculous name, a boy band ripping off Boyz II Men and Alexandra Burke, who just happens to be the daughter of a former member of Soul II Soul. Hardly a complete unknown then. Predictably, having won and stretched her mouth to proportions the average human can only dream of, Cowell's shit machine took to massacring Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, which his record company happens to own the rights to. Burke's version isn't just the worst cover of this year, it might well be the worst cover version of all time. Not content with changing the lyrics, destroying all the tautness, tension and heartfeltness of the original, there just has to be a choir brought in at the end to finish the job. Every cliche box was ticked, every amount of warmth rung from it, all ready to be delivered to the nation to devour as only the truly brain-dead could, selling 900,000 copies within two weeks of its release. You couldn't even escape and stick up two fingers by purchasing Jeff Buckley's cover, the rights to which were also owned by Sony BMG, as the clever dicks on Facebook thought they were doing. The message is obvious: resistance is futile.

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Not concealing their enjoyment.

One thing I've noticed over the last couple of days is that despite the predictable calls for revenge from ordinary Gazans, none have been openly celebratory about the prospect, or felt that such actions would be completely praiseworthy, let alone worth cheering. If anyone has, drop them in the comments.

How different this seems to be to quite a few Israelis quoted, not to mention some newspaper editorials. We've had the woman from Sderot who said what was happening in Gaza was "fantastic", the civil defence official that said he would "play music and celebrate what is happening" and Yoei Marcus in Haaretz who writes

I will not conceal my enjoyment of the flames and smoke rising from Gaza that have poured from our television screens. The time has finally come for their bellies to quiver and for them to understand that there is a price for their bloody provocations against Israel.

This is without mentioning comment from Yediot Aharonot which was ecstatic about how the element of surprise meant that the number of people killed was increased, and Ma'ariv, which borrowed from the US lexicon and said, to paraphrase slightly, that "we shocked and awed them". Not the most neutral source, but Angry Arab has also posted saying that Al Arabiya played footage of Israelis "dancing and cheering" the attacks. It's reminiscent of the children who wrote messages onto the shells that were to be used in Lebanon in 2006.

One can only speculate as to the differences in response. From a psychological point of view, you might put it down to the Palestinians of Gaza being in shock at the suddenness and vehemence of the Israeli attacks, especially if the rumours circulating that there was in fact an informal 48-hour truce in effect between Hamas and Israel are substantiated, which Israel breached with over 100 tons of explosives. Their anger and need for vengeance might come later; at the moment their first instinct might well be to survive. Why though are some of the Israelis so ecstatic at the violence being meted out? It's not as if Israel has been under siege from suicide bombers now from a number of years, and the rockets, feeble as they are, only affect a tiny proportion of the country. We often hear about how the Palestinians are taught hatred for Israel from an early age, and how such violence against the Jews is normalised, yet strangely they don't seem to be baying for blood in the same way as the Israelis are. It would be very easy to put it down to the bullied becoming the bully, or how Israeli blood is deemed to be worth far more than Palestinian blood, yet what other explanations are there? Can it all be frustration at the impasse between Hamas and Israel, and the failure by Kadima to stop the rocket fire from Gaza, even while blockading and trying to starve the territory into submission?

It's perhaps instructive that it's taken four days for the "Quartet" to call for an "immediate ceasefire". Instructive in that it probably means that Israel has already run out of things to bomb, or at least things that can however vaguely be linked to Hamas, as the US was until today completely supportive of Israel blowing the living fuck out of anything while placing all the blame on Hamas, much like it took the best part of two weeks for them to do anything in Lebanon, while they waited to see if the IDF could strike a knockout blow against Hizbullah. Further evidence was the apparently positive response by Israel to a French call for at least a temporary ceasefire, although it could well be waiting to see whether Hamas has many of the apparently advanced Grad rockets it's obtained, which have hit the farthest into Israel those fired from Gaza have ever reached. Again, it shows that Hamas, however many people want to paint them as lunatics dedicated to the destruction of Israel, does show restraint: it's only used the more advanced weaponry that has come into its possession when such destruction has been unleashed against both them and Gaza. One suspects however that the current conflagration has further yet to run, and that more Palestinians will be killed before Kadima decides that its electoral prospects have been improved.

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Monday, December 29, 2008 

We are all Gazans now.

To call some of the language used by Israeli leaders and others to defend the mass murder being visited on Gaza sickening is to not even begin to do justice to the immense suffering of the people of that benighted territory. Some are more coy than others, trained over years to be more sensitive towards those who might not understand just how dreadful things are to be an Israeli when suicidal terrorists fire rockets at you every day. When one citizen of Sderot then calls the 320 and rising deaths in Gaza "fantastic", we somewhat accept it, knowing that she herself has suffered from the rain of missiles which often fall on her home town.

Israeli officials themselves cannot be quite as honest, nor quite as cruel. The closest they have come is Ofer Shmerling's remarks to al-Jazeera that he would "play music and celebrate what the Israeli air force is doing." The same men and women that wax lyrical and play imaginary violins about how Sderot is under constant siege, how Israel disengaged from Gaza and all it got in return was rocket fire think nothing of openly celebrating the death currently being unleashed from the sky. One drop of Israeli blood may as well be worth one Palestinian life, such is the disparity between the two.

Most enraging and troubling though are the euphemisms, the distortions of language, the unmitigated Unspeak being directly practised by the likes of Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak. Livni talks of "changing realities" in Gaza; what she means is destroying every single thing that has a connection to Hamas, however slight. In practice, what this "changing of realities" means is the targeting of a single police officer with a Hellfire missile. As most of the police officers in Gaza are members of Hamas, this apparently makes them, at least in Israeli eyes, completely legitimate targets. That most of them have nothing whatsoever to do with Hamas's security apparatus is irrelevant, that some of them were traffic cops and that some of them were only in training also makes no difference. They are therefore not considered to be civilians, so according to the UN "only" around 70 have been killed so far, although they call it a conservative estimate. At least seven civilians were killed in that strike at just one police officer, yet this is not regarded as a terrorist act. When a Palestinian stabbed three settlers in the West Bank, almost certainly as an act of revenge for the on-going operations in Gaza, the Israelis wasted no time in describing him as a terrorist. Both acts are equally indefensible, yet the international community, especially the US, goes out of its way to condemn Hamas while not even so much as chiding Israel for the way it has decided that all-out war against an elected party of government is a perfectly acceptable course of action. Livni's "changing of realities" means that Gazans will loss relatives, friends, brothers, sisters; a very brutal changing of realities. Yet she hides behind her words, condemned by no one outside of political commentators.

Ehud Barak, the "defence" minister, made a highly similar and familiar comment. He said their "intention is to totally change the rules of the game". Tony Blair said almost the same thing after the 7/7 terrorist attacks in this country, leading directly to the government's attempt to introduce 90 days detention without charge for "terrorist suspects". Yet Israel's rules of the game have not changed: just like in 2006 when ambulances, airports, power stations and the Beirut suburbs were all legitimate targets, in Gaza today universities, mosques, police stations and lone officials that may or may not be connected with Hamas can be either obliterated or smeared across the pavement with impunity. The only thing that has changed is that the Kadima government has decided that with six weeks to go before an election that Likud, its right-wing rival is likely to win, now is the time for all-out war against Hamas. For the Gazans, this changing of the rules means that the slow stranglehold they live under has been transformed into one where more than 0.2% of their population can be wiped out without anyone hardly batting an eyelid. 0.2% of the American population would be 61,011; more than 10 times the 3,000 deaths which were enough for a war on terror to be launched that is without apparent end.

When attacks on the person are being carried out so brazenly, attacking the language which justifies it might seem perverse. It is however the twisting of language, the refusal to spell out what such spinning means in the "reality on the ground" that helps stop those responsible from being held to account. War crimes, like in Lebanon in 2006, are being committed by both sides. It just so happens that the war crimes of only one side are, as then, being denounced.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008 

Weekend links.

An utterly piss-poor weekend in the papers, so thankfully there's been some truly excellent blogging over the last couple of days. Daily Quail doesn't just skewer the Mail's article on Falinge, Jamie Sport completely tears it to shreds in fine comic style. Back Towards the Locus also launches a superb assault on Michael Gove's staggering claim that the Iraq war has been a British foreign policy success, fisking it into oblivion.

Elsewhere, Andrew Hickey on Lib Con states why he isn't a libertarian, Paul Linford and Flying Rodent provide some of the first reviews of the year, Craig Murray recounts his own encounters with Harold Pinter, as does Anthony Barnett, while the Guardian republishes a Pinter comment piece from 1996, while also saluting him in a leader. Anton Vowl attacks the completely ignorant comments by Andy Burnham regarding prospective internet age ratings, Ben Goldacre summarises all his columns this year in one handy place and Juan Cole delivers his yearly top 10 myths about Iraq. Finally, there's the Shiraz Socialist Tin-Foil Hat of the Year award to vote early and often in.

And that's your lot. No worst tabloid comment piece this weekend, and hopefully I will get onto those long-awaited best/worst lists next week.

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The cynicism of a terrorist state.

Founded on guilt and terror, Israel is a state that continues to present itself as the perennial victim, surrounded by hostile nations that would like nothing more than it to be pushed into the sea, inhabited by a people they refused to even acknowledged existed for decades who habitually launch murderous attacks against the innocent civilians of what was once the only democracy in the Middle East. When it strikes back, as it always does, never having started the miniature conflicts which break out every so often, it is always doing so to defend itself and its citizens; it even gave the Palestinians the Gaza Strip all to themselves, and what was their reward for their generosity? To have thousands of rudimentary rockets fired into their country! What nation would put up with such threats to their people?

Every so often however, the mask slips. The last time was the Israel-Hizbullah-Lebanon war. No one disputed that it was Hizbullah that had invited some sort of response with their attack which killed a number of Israeli soldiers while kidnapping others; it was however the staggeringly disproportionate response, resulting in the deaths of over a thousand Lebanese civilians, while Israel fired in hundreds of thousands if not millions of cluster bombs, killing and injuring hundreds more over time, which showed to many for the first time that Israel was not the one forever wronged, but also an aggressor, a bully that cared just as little for the lives of the innocent as the terrorists it was ostensibly fighting against.

The mask has again slipped today. After a six-month ceasefire in which Hamas and the other Palestinian miltant groups mostly sat by as Israel attempted to starve Gaza into submission, almost achieving the former but completely failing to destroy the spirit of resistance which has long characterised the Palestianian people, Israel has unleashed what can only be described as mass slaughter. Israel's supposed justification is that since the ceasefire was ended, Hamas and other groups have massively stepped up the shelling of the towns close to the Gaza border; while true, the home-made rockets and mortars smuggled into the Strip rarely hit their targets, and even when they do, they even more rarely injure, let alone kill. Their main function is fear, as the Israelis themselves even acknowledge. Knowing that they cannot get away with claiming that such rockets pose an existential threat to the Israeli state, the Israelis instead focus on the mental harm which they cause: 33% of children in Sderot apparently suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. They are however less inclined to discuss not just the mental health of children in Gaza, but also their physical health, which the International Committee of the Red Cross in November said was approaching chronic malnutrition as a direct result of the Israeli blockade.

We perhaps ought to have seen this coming: yesterday Israel allowed at least 40 trucks of food and humanitarian supplies to enter Gaza. A security official told that this was because "
there are segments of the Palestinian population in Gaza which do not support terror, and we cannot neglect them." Instead it was to allow the Gazans to stock up for the siege, so that Israel would not be criticised quite as much by the so-called international community when it began its air strikes, which have killed at least 205 Palestinians and injured over 700. Hospitals have been overwhelmed, mosques have appealed for blood to be donated, and doubtless some of those "who do not support terror" have been killed as well as the Hamas policemen that seem to have been the main target. If this is an attempt by Israel to try to overthrow Hamas, then it seems doomed to failure; Fatah has been routed in Gaza, and however much Israel tries to blame Hamas, its words are completely and utterly hollow to overseas observers, let alone Gaza residents. Increasingly, Gaza residents are instead turning their anger on the Arab nations, which they regard as doing worse than nothing. Egypt, which has also been involved in the blockading of Gaza through refusing to open its entry into the Strip, is coming in for the most criticism, especially after Egypt's first minister was photographed hand-in-hand with Israel's equivalent, Tzipi Lvini.

There has been one apparent Israeli casualty, a 58-year-old man killed when rockets struck a synagogue. Since the end of the ceasefire, there had been no deaths on the Israeli side from the rocket attacks, attacks which were nonetheless described by Israeli politicians and officials as "unbearable". The futility and idiocy of the Qassam attacks was mercilessly shown when a rocket fell short of its target yesterday and instead struck a house in Gaza, killing two schoolgirls, yet for many Palestinians, even those critical of Hamas and the other militant groups, they are the only way of striking back against Israel. Why should they roll over and play dead when that is exactly what the Israelis want them to do? Why should they stop the rocket fire, even if they could, while Israel refuses to lift the siege, when it is only interested in the overthrow of Hamas, despite its legitimate election victory?

Even if those involved are primarily Jewish and Islamic, this is still meant to be a time of peace on earth, of goodwill to all men. In fact, that seems to have almost certainly entered Israel's military calculus: hit the Palestinians when the West is more interested in the sales and themselves, and you're less likely to have to face down such bitter criticism.
Increase the idea that they've brung it on themselves, that they're the ones truly responsible, and that Israel, as ever, is the only one capable of defending itself from those that are determined to bring about her destruction Also influential was doubtless the approaching Israeli election, with Likud ahead in the polls; after all, when has a little war ever harmed anyone's electoral chances, especially one where it's unlikely that many on your own side will be killed? One can but hope that the mask has once again truly slipped, that such killing can never be justified, and that all sides back down. But as we saw on Christmas Day, both Faith and Hope have now died.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008 

Christmas Eve miscellany.

Just a few words and links today. Here's what I left on the Grauniad article regarding Zavvi's entering administration:

Can I be so bold as to put in a defence of Zavvi? Perhaps it's just my local store, but the prices in there, at least on the new releases are usually competitive or better than HMV's, the staff are far friendlier and helpful, and you actually felt like they cared about you. It's all well and good saying support your local independent, but the sad fact is that they hardly exist any more: it's either Zavvi and HMV or the utter hell of a supermarket. Music is no longer an art to these people; it's become a commodity. If Zavvi and eventually HMV goes then we'll have genuinely lost something for good.

David Semple writes of the best Marxist analysis of the financial crisis he's come across so far.

Aaron puts in a superb rant on the bailiffs issue, and my post was also cross-posted over on Lib Con, sans the description of Green as "fat and greasy", should you feel the need to read a load more comments.

Anton Vowl rips into the Sun and its fetish over "Our Boys", while the paper itself complains about the MoD refusing to pay for gifts from the public to be sent over to them, which is quite obviously what public money should be spent on rather than anything else.

Finally, if you want to read something cracked from err, someone cracked, these thoughts on Pope Benedict's speech from our old friend Johanna Kaschke are rather unique.

Anyway, have a good Christmas, and I'll be back in a couple of days with some tedious best and worst of 2008 lists that we all love so much.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008 

Flagrant injustice.

On the 19th of December the prison population stood at 82,918 (DOC), 1,807 places from "Usable Operational Capacity". Operation Safeguard, which involves the use of police and court cells to hold prisoners, "remains activated", and the early release of prisoners to help with overcrowding is also still in operation. This time last year the prison population was 80,707, showing that although the massive rise in prison population since Labour came to power has slowed, it still continues to grow.

It would be nice to imagine that all of those 82,918 individuals spending Christmas in their cells thoroughly deserve to be there, but two thoroughly different cases over the last couple of days show the vagaries of the court system.

How many, honestly, would genuinely argue that a custodial sentence for Robert Holding is either appropriate or likely to protect the public? Holding, a milkman aged 72, rather than also selling orange juice and yoghurts to his customers ran a more exotic sideline, supplying cannabis resin to fellow pensioners. Whether they were genuinely using it as Holding argued for "aches and pains" is open to question, but even if they weren't, who exactly in this scheme was losing out or being harmed? Furthermore, Holding pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity, and although the article doesn't mention it, it seems likely to be his first offence. Either a fine or at the most a community service order would surely suffice and have seen justice being done; yet Judge Lunt warned Holding that when he passes judgement the "likely outcome is an immediate custodial sentence". This is taking the so-called "drug war" and indeed our laws regarding Class C drugs, as cannabis will remain until the government reclassifies it and as result increases the likelihood of not just the "dealers" like Holding going to prison but also his customers, to ludicrous extremes.

If such apparent injustice doesn't bring the law and the courts into disrepute, then surely injustice piled upon injustice does. The Cardiff Three were convicted after police techniques which were subsequently described by the lord chief justice as "almost passing belief". Not in question was that three witnesses who gave evidence against them were treated in a similar fashion - but yet 20 years after the murder of Lynette White, all of them found themselves being sentenced to 18 months in prison after they were convicted of perjury. Two of them, Leanne Vilday and Angela Psaila, who at the time had been working as prostitutes, pleaded guilty, possibly misguidedly but presumably because they expected that doing so would lessen any custodial sentence. The third defendant, Mark Grommek, pleaded not guilty on the grounds that he had committed perjury under duress, again, something not contested by the court. They were however all convicted on the grounds that the duress they had suffered was not of the kind which was likely to make them either fear for their lives or believe that they were likely to suffer serious injury, making their testimony voluntary rather than involuntary. The judge in the case, Mr Justice Maddison, ruled that despite Grommek's testimony that he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown due to the police's actions, he still had "ample opportunity" to tell the truth. Maddison even accepted that the police's conduct had been "unacceptable in a civilised society", yet he decided that 20 years on, when those really in the dock should be the police themselves, sentences of a year and a half were the best course of redress.

How exactly is the public by served by all 4 individuals spending time in prison? We certainly aren't by the cost, which averages out, according to a written answer given in parliament in April 2006, at a staggering £40,992 a year. Ultimately responsible are not the judges and police that enforce the law but instead our politicians, who are completely hooked on punitive measures and increasing the prison population, which has risen by 25,000 since 1996. Both Labour and the Tories seem to imagine that despite all the evidence to the contrary, they can build their way out of overcrowding. The Tories even want to cancel the early release scheme, which would swiftly result in the police cells being filled again, at further exorbitant cost to the taxpayer. By the same token, it's been noted repeatedly that when judges believe there to be a punitive mood, either in the public or in politicians, or indeed both, they pass harsher sentences. Often whipped up by the tabloid press, the evidence in fact suggests that such punitive prison policies are dropping in popularity: a recent poll gave an almost equal split between those who thought prison worked and those who wanted alternatives.

On the whole, the courts do a decent job, and mainly get the balance right. It sometimes takes cases like those of Robert Holding and the second Cardiff Three to force reform through, to show that such expense and waste is not the answer. We shouldn't expect however that those so wedded to authoritarian crime polices will have their minds changed, regardless of the evidence of such flagrant injustice.

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Monday, December 22, 2008 

Quick, slow, Quick, Quick, slow.

(Not Cap'n) Bob's Interceptor.

It's a fitting tribute to the investigatory skills of our finest anti-terrorism officers that Bob Quick should be so, err, quick in pointing the finger at the Tories for "planting" a story in the Mail on Sunday regarding his wife's car hire business, which he then complained was potentially putting his family at risk, despite the family's home address being advertised on a far from inaccessible website.

This is after all meant to be the man who'll be in charge should there be another terrorist attack, someone with qualities such as remaining calm in a crisis, unflappable, not liable to send in CO19 after another Brazilian wearing a denim jacket. Even if we accept that the Tories have indeed being trying their hardest to gain politically from the utterly foolish raid on Damian Green's office, something which judging by the polls they've failed to do, and have also been putting pressure on the Met to drop the inquiry, the level of paranoia Quick is apparently suffering from to immediately pin the blame on the Conservatives - and not just to do it privately, but to brief the Press Association with your suspicions, accusing the party of acting in a "corrupt way" - shows a fairly shocking lack of judgement for again, someone in his position.

Being in the limelight can obviously do very strange things to you, especially when you have been thrust into it unceremoniously and found yourself at the centre of a furore over breaching the very heart of democracy, as can being concerned for the safety of your family. It does make you wonder whether, as well almost being able to act with something approaching impunity, the police also seem to imagine that they can also say anything, regardless of evidence, and also get away with it. Surely the most ill-advised notion of all on Quick's part was that rather than letting the simmering row over Green's arrest die down over Christmas, as it was always going to, followed by the quiet dropping of the inquiry, he has instead brought all the more attention towards himself and invited the accusations that this just overwhelming proves the closeness of the current crop of senior police officers to the incumbent party of government.

The allegations that Sir Ian Blair presided over a politically correct police force were always ridiculous - chance would be a fine thing - but far more dangerous is the idea that Labour and the police are in cahoots, one not helped by the disgraceful initial lobbying by the police for 90 and then 42 days, which only succeeded in turning ever more of those who might have been sympathetic against it. In reality both the Conservatives and Labour have increasingly kow-towed to police demands for new powers or laws, mainly because they turned the prevention of crime into a battle over who could be the toughest. Having failed to provide total job or economic security, governments have instead turned to the idea that they can provide total personal security as a failsafe, when they can of course do neither. Labour's authoritarianism, especially under Brown and Smith, although how quickly we forget past home secretaries and their own excesses, has been more noticeable because Brown cannot defend it as well as Blair could or simply doesn't have the inclination to, and because Smith, like John Reid, actually seems to relish playing the hard (wo)man, an ultra-Blairite thug when being a Blairite has become deeply unfashionable. Combined with her apparent inability to suffer shame when she blames Boris Johnson of all people for politicising the police, you can hardly blame those who have taken to calling her "Jackboots Jacqui". Thing is, if she knew she'd probably wouldn't mind in the slightest.

Similarly, it would be nice to think that Labour's decision to step back from direct elections to police authorities was because it had realised that was unlikely to increase accountability and instead only increase the politicisation of the police - instead it's hard not to imagine it was because they knew it was hardly likely any of their representatives would be the ones to win the popular vote. All sides, Labour, Conservative and the police need to find a way to retreat from their current positions and realise that this is doing none of them any good, but doing that after all consider themselves to be unfairly slurred is easier said than done.

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Paying your debts.

This is an incredibly late April Fool, surely:

The government has been accused of trampling on individual liberties by proposing wide-ranging new powers for bailiffs to break into homes and to use “reasonable force” against householders who try to protect their valuables.

Under the regulations, bailiffs for private firms would for the first time be given permission to restrain or pin down householders. They would also be able to force their way into homes to seize property to pay off debts, such as unpaid credit card bills and loans.

The government, which wants to crack down on people who evade debts, says the new powers would be overseen by a robust industry watchdog. However, the laws are being criticised as the latest erosion of the rights of the householder in his own home.

The government, which wants to crack down on people who evade debts. I can think of a few individuals and companies which have been known to evade their debts, or as they are sometimes also known, taxes. How about sending the bailiffs after the likes of that fat greasy fucker Philip Green, who paid his wife £1bn into a Monaco account to avoid having to hand over any of his quite legitimately owned moolah? Why don't we hire the goons when Rupert Murdoch is next in town to loot his office, all the while pinning him down so tightly that he can't breathe?

Or perhaps we could set them on probably the biggest debtor in the country, or as he's otherwise known, the prime minister. I can just imagine the burly bastards shoulder charging Number 10's door, gathering all the Brown's belongings, including his children's toys, and putting them outside while the heavens open, Brown unfortunately being winded after getting obstreperous and asking them whether they know he is and then pleading with them that he will eventually be paying back that £645bn, honest. Fair is fair, after all.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008 

Weekend links.

It's nice to see that the idea that we have ever had an "independent nuclear deterrent" has finally been punctured, thanks to the very timely decision by the Ministry of Defence to offload its one-third ownership in Aldermaston to a Californian company. That'll be our independent deterrent, produced, maintained, kept and only able to be used with American permission. It's always been a joke in any event that we would ever use it unless the Americans were using theirs as well or had first, but it's still refreshing to see it confirmed.

Elsewhere, it's the mish-mash you might expect on the Saturday before Christmas. Starting with the blogs, David Semple has a look at Jon Cruddas and says if he's the future of the left we're well and truly fucked. Dave Osler has by comparison seen the past, which is a Thatcher nutcracker. Shiraz Socialist has the ten telltale signs that you're a Christian fundamentalist, the Daily (Maybe) still wants Labour to win, in difference to myself, and the Heresiarch examines Christmas myths. D-Notice and Tygerland have also posted their best of lists.

In the papers, Yeukai Taruvinga writes easily the finest piece of the weekend on the suffering of Zimbabwean asylum seekers even as we perpetually condemn Mugabe, Matthew Parris calls the prospect of a bail-out for the car industry a bung, and Andrew Grice says there's no chance of an election in 2009.

The runaway winner of the worst tabloid article of the weekend goes easily to Amanda Platell, who calls the police investigation into the murder of Rachel Nickell "one of the most incompetent ... in living memory." By the same yardstick, that must therefore make the Daily Mail one of the most incompetent newspapers in living memory, considering that up until very recently it completely believed in the guilt of Colin Stagg. Oh, and then she attacks the BBC for using film footage of Nickell after her parents requested them to stop doing so. They in fact requested the media to stop using images of her full stop - a request not heeded by the paper in yet another article on the murder in today's paper. Hypocrisy twice over - how very Daily Mail.

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Friday, December 19, 2008 

Still weird and still never wrong.

You won't be surprised to learn that despite the quite possibly unprecedented apology made to Colin Stagg by the Metropolitan police yesterday, not a single one of the newspapers which played just as significant a role in ensuring that he became a social pariah could find it within themselves to admit that they might have something to be sorry for also. After all, that sort of thing doesn't sell newspapers and it might make some of their readers question the integrity of both the journalists themselves and the paper they read as a whole. No, the story's moved on; now it's about the police incompetence, the paranoid schizophrenic with Asperger's syndrome who was able to kill again and the fact that he lives a so-called "cushy" existence in the highest security mental hospital in the country.

Stagg's tormentor in chief isn't quite finished with him yet though. The Daily Mail can't break out of a habit of a lifetime, so even as it grudgingly admits that he wasn't a killer, it just has to get in a few digs to the ribs:

£706,000, an apology from the Met and Colin Stagg is still bitter

Yes, how dare someone that's just "won the lottery" be "bitter"? After all, it was only 16 years of being suspected of one of the most notorious crimes in recent history despite being completely innocent; anyone else would be satisfied with their lot in life and glad that it wasn't longer.

He issued a statement of thanks for the ‘grovelling’ apology - and posed with a brand-new £27,000 Toyota Rav4 he bought himself as a ‘present’ with his compensation.

Ah yes, a 'present'. Only in the Daily Mail could something so innocuous be sneered at.

Inside were books on witchcraft, an altar and a black-painted wall decorated with chalk drawings of horned gods. Pictures from pornographic magazines adorned other walls. Books on the occult are still on the shelves, but a 50-inch plasma TV now dominates the living room and a new flameeffect fire adds a homely touch.

You really would think the Mail could lay off the snobbery for just one time, but no, apparently not.

Stockier now than when he was arrested, Stagg added: ‘I never want to talk about the case again as long as I live.’

He is not quite as media-shy as he claims, however. He wrote a book about his experiences, has given interviews for cash - and has just spent months with a BBC film crew. But his girlfriend - for whom he has bought a new patio, and lavished presents on her children - insisted to the Daily Mail yesterday: ‘Colin just wants to get on with his life like a normal Joe Public.’

What a hypocrite - how dare he make some more money when he's already won the lottery? He might not have kept his promise to stop talking to the media - but why shouldn't he when he's finally got what he wanted and when a high profile BBC documentary might also help put the record straight?

And still it goes on:

Miss Marchant confirmed that Stagg retained his interest in the occult, ‘but not in an evil way’ and said he was an extremely intelligent self-taught individual who ‘flies through the Times crossword’, but at heart is just ‘a normal regular guy’.

In other words, he's still weird, and we were completely justified in repeatedly suggesting he might just have been the sort of twisted psychopath that could carry out such a horrific crime. Oh, and he reads a rival newspaper.

The Mail's entire coverage is a catalogue of archetypal sensationalism, reflection completely absent from it, with the contempt for Stagg still apparent. The intro to this particular article is almost pornographic and wholly unnecessary, especially after Nickell's own family called for an end to the pain they suffer when the case is constantly recalled:

He probably watched her for a little while.

Almost certainly, he would have walked towards her at first, just to check her face. Maybe he even smiled.

This was the way Robert Napper stalked his prey before turning back to pounce on them from behind, usually with a knife at their throat.

Sometimes, in the dark, he would spy on them for hours in what they assumed was the privacy of their homes.

But here on Wimbledon Common, he selected his victim in the full glare of a summer day. Rachel Nickell was 23, blonde and beautiful, an ex-model and devoted young mother.

The whole cache of photographs of the young Napper the Mail has seems to have been handed to them by his father, whom the paper interviews. As a result, it's remarkably coy about his father's own apparent role in Napper's descent into mental illness, which the Guardian fills in:

During his first 10 years of life, he witnessed brutal violence meted out by his father, Brian, against his mother, Pauline. Such was the trauma suffered by Napper and his siblings that when the couple divorced, all four children were placed in foster care and underwent psychiatric treatment.

It seems Napper suffered more than his siblings, undergoing treatment for six years at the Maudsley hospital. As he reached puberty, he was psychologically damaged further when a family friend assaulted him on a camping holiday. He was 12 years old.

Another article summarising the police blunders opens thus:

The story of how one of Britain’s biggest murder inquiries descended into a disgraceful shambles which wrecked reputations starts on Wimbledon Common shortly after 10.30am on July 15, 1992, when Rachel Nickell’s body was found by a passer-by.

The Mail of course had no role in this disgraceful shambles which wrecked reputations. They just published what the public wanted, or even when their writers were sympathetic towards Stagg, they still had to write about how unpleasant he was, John Junor going beyond mealy-mouthed in writing that:

it is certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility that he was indeed innocent.

Even in the Mail's main article, despite all the evidence now showing how Stagg was almost certainly completely fitted-up by a desperate police force that was under pressure from the likes of the Mail, it still uses weasel words and quotation marks, all to suggest that perhaps it was justified after all, such as here:

Their misguided ‘obsession’ with Stagg was compounded by what one senior legal figure described yesterday as the ‘mesmerising’ influence of Paul Britton, the controversial forensic psychologist who compiled a profile of Rachel’s likely killer.

Yes, it was misguided, but it obviously wasn't an obsession. If it was, surely the Mail's coverage down the years was as well. Perhaps it's just covering itself. Perhaps the Mail's journalists are just heartless bastards. Who knows? Still, obviously Rachel's parents deserve the same treatment given to Stagg:

Senior officers were forced to make an unprecedented public apology to Stagg, currently enjoying a £706,000 compensation payout.

Astonishingly, there was no such apology to Rachel’s family - even though detectives were compelled to admit that had Napper been apprehended back in 1989, Rachel need not have died.

"Currently enjoying"; says it all, doesn't it? There was in fact such an apology to Rachel's family, delivered at the same time as John Yates said sorry to Stagg, and in any event, at least publicly neither Rachel's parents nor her partner appear to blame the police to any great extent, her father in his statement saying in effect that the benefit of hindsight was a wonderful thing. Likewise, there was no apology from them to Stagg over how down the years they had urged a change in the law so that he could be tried again, although they have undoubtedly suffered just as much at the hands of the media as he has.

The Sun, thankfully, is much fairer in its treatment of Stagg, its article on him without any of the sneering of the Mail's. It even nicely skewers Keith Pedder, who always believed in Stagg's guilt sudden Damascene conversion to his innocence, without an extra word:

“I do feel sorry for him. He has paid a terrible price for a man found not guilty of murder.”

It would be nice to imagine that Pedder is genuinely sorry for what he inflicted on Stagg, but the money made from his books, now if not already heading straight for the pulping plant, probably means that he's in a decent enough position to be able to now feel contrition.

The Sun can't of course keep such fairness going; it simply isn't in its nature. Instead then yet more photographs of Nickell's son Alex are published, whilst the chutzpah of the Sun's story is almost sick inducing:

Reclusive Andre, 46, moved with Alex to a remote Mediterranean town to rebuild their lives — keeping their past a secret from locals.

But obviously not from the hacks which have plagued them both ever since Nickell's murder.

For sheer tastelessness, the Sun's main article on Napper's crimes wins the award. Headlined:

Ripper loved to butcher blonde mothers in front of their children

It attempts and completely fails, except in the exploitative sense, to compare Napper's crimes to Jack the Ripper's. Never mind that Jack's victims were prostitutes and Napper's weren't, and that the only thing that really connects them was the ferocity and savageness of their attacks, it takes the analogy to breaking point and beyond.

The Sun's overriding concern though is attempting to create outrage over Napper's so called "cushy" existence in Broadmoor, underlined by how he's allowed to feed the chickens and rabbits within view of a long lens. That he is criminally insane and such a danger that he will spend the rest of his life in mental hospital is obviously not enough of a punishment for his horrific crimes; after all, Philip Davies MP and Shy Keenan say so.

And the Sun's leader, naturally:

And the question The Sun asks today is this: Can it be right that a man who has so savagely taken the lives of others is allowed to live such a cosy life himself?

The Sun of course doesn't know whether his life is cosy or not; it just knows that he's allowed outside to feed farmyard animals. It doesn't matter that as well as a place for those convicted of crimes, Broadmoor also holds those convicted of none, who through therapy might eventually be released; Broadmoor ought to be the equivalent of Alcatraz, purely because of the nature of the crimes that some of those held there have committed.

Common decency demands that the way our justice system treats him reflects his crimes.

Should we let someone come in and rape him every so often, then? What is to be gained from locking someone so obviously damaged by his upbringing up all day and all night until he finally expires? Should his mental health be allowed to deteriorate even further, making him even more dangerous, as such treatment will almost certainly result in? The Sun doesn't say. Our rights just aren't being served by him seeing the light of day at all.

The Sun knows best, just as the tabloid media as a whole did. It knew then that Stagg was guilty and it knows now that it was the police blunders that doomed Nickell. It can never be wrong; it can never admit that it was just as mistaken, just as complicit as they were. And they accuse others of being totalitarian.

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