Health Ministry of Truth

Combining theThe War against Terror with The War Against the National Health Service, the UK Home Secretary is about to propose that doctors be co-opted into the TWAT, by reporting on potential terrorists amongst their patients.

Doctors and other health professionals will be asked to identify people who are “vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism” as part of the government’s redrawn counter-terrorism programme to be detailed on Tuesday. (from The Guardian)

In a departure from recent government style, it seems that, for once, the Lib-Dems aren’t even being used as a human shield for this particular mad idea. Theresa May is putting it forward herself.

Theresa May and her advisers didn’t grow up in Fairyland, so they may have had occasion to visit a doctor. In which case, they should have noticed that, although doctors ask patients some very personal questions indeed, they don’t normally ask about plans to carry out suicide bomb attacks.

Doctors are indeed often too busy to ask where we stand on the single transferable vote or the extension of the eurozone. How wonderfully relaxed must some surgeries be, if doctors can take the time to engage their patients on a wide range of political topics and rank their answers on an extremism scale?

Temporarily ignore the monstrousness of treating medical confidentiality as a disposable luxury. This plan doesn’t even make sense in pragmatic terms. Potential terrorists can avoid getting caught by it by the simple expedient of not discussing their views with doctors. Can this be beyond the wit of even the stupidest terrorist?

Do we really have an Oxford-educated Home Secretary who believes that a terrorist will walk into his local surgery and says “I’ve got a bit of a sore throat but I’m planning an explosive attack on a plane this week and I’d hate to miss it”?

Every cloud

You wait months for a post then two come along at once.
This post is meant to give a tiny bit of cheer to all those of us in the UK who are bewailing the recent election results.

(The word “Hallelujah!” even escaped a work colleague when I showed him this link.)

So, every cloud may indeed have a silver lining…. From the Register:

Biometric passport 2.0 scrapped alongside ID cards, NIR
Second-generation biometric passports will be scrapped alongside ID cards and the National Identity Register by the new Tory-LibDem government, probably as part of a merger between the LibDem Freedom Bill, and the Great Repeal Bill advocated by some sections of the Tory party.

******Breaking news*********
Oh, and this:

The new government plans to ban the controversial practice in schools of taking children’s fingerprints without their permission.

The decision is likely to mean a change in the law. According to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), as it stands the Data Protection Act allows schools to take pupil fingerprints without permission, prompting outrage from parents’ groups.

Tories try to spoil the Wire

My Wire fan-status already took a knock when the Guardian started running a Wire-fan reading group and most of the posters seemed to be prats. But to find the Tories using the Wire, just to steal its perceived credibility for a soundbite, is making me gag.

The BBC website headline says

Parts of Britain ‘like The Wire’

I assumed that was a subject-verb-object construction, meaning “There are parts of Britain where people like the Wire.” Which is bound to be true but a bit of a strange news headline.

But it turned out they meant:

Parts of Britain (are) ‘like The Wire’

Even that is fair enough. After all, it’s a drama that’s deliberately meant to suspend disbelief through “realism” ffs. Bits of it feel “true” to me, “true” in terms of my experience of the world and of the ways people act. I don’t assume that makes it literally “true,” in a documentary sense. No one who’s ever watched a tv series before would assume it’s a literally “true” representation of life in Baltimore, let alone any UK city.

The Conservatives have compared parts of the UK to The Wire, a US television show which portrays inner-city drugs and violence.
In a speech, shadow home secretary Chris Grayling argued that the UK was suffering the same culture of gangs and street violence found in the US.
He said Labour had failed to ensure law and order was preserved in the poorest parts of the country. ..
Mr Grayling repeated his charge that poorer communities in the UK have been let down by Labour, saying: “The Wire has become a byword for urban deprivation and societal breakdown in modern America.”
He said: “When The Wire comes to Britain’s streets, it is the poor who suffer most. It is the poor who are the ones who have borne the brunt of the surge in violence under this government.

It’s pretty obvious at this point that Chris Grayling hasn’t really ever watched the Wire.

Because, if he had, he’d have noticed that the crimes aren’t just at street level.The economy, the political world and the media don’t exactly emerge unscathed.

Crocodile tears for the “poor” seem to be the Tories’ new election strategy. For instance, they claim that the poor are being let down.

Oh yes, “let down by rising crime” is the claim. I think that misinterpreting & manipulating crime figures is called “juking the stats” in the Wire. So you’d think that a Wire-o-phile like the shadow Tory Home secretary would have the grace to blush when he does it. (Seeing as all crime figures show falling rates)

OK, the Tories aren’t the BNP – which is also trying to corner the market in populist concern for the class-formerly-known-as-working (before the last Tory governments hammered it into the ground.) But they bear a pretty monstrous responsibility for the disaffection and poverty of so many neighbourhoods, where many people never found work since the 1980s. (Don’t make me repeat the list of Tory crimes against “no-such-thing-as-society”, because I will rant for hours.)

So it’s doubly sickening to see them both using the consequences of their own actions as a stick with which to beat the government and dragging the good name of the Wire into it.

Still, it’s all in the game, I suppose…..

Justice, mercy or revenge

Today’s news has been pretty much filled with items about the decision to allow Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the man jailed for blowing up a US airliner over Lockerbie in 1988, to go home to die. al-Megrahi is suffering from terminal cancer and, according to some reports at least, has about three months to live. It is probably unsurprising that this release has generated a lot of vox pop about what an “outrage” it is that he be allowed home to die. One of the terms of his release is that al-Megrahi dropped his series of appeals against his conviction, saving the UK taxpayer a large amount of money; however I can only assume that he still thinks he is innocent (or at least has a chance of being found innocent) but no longer had the will to fight this.

In the UK a life sentence doesn’t actually mean you are expected to die in jail. The criminal justice system is, in theory at least, based upon the principles of removing an offender from society as long as they present a danger to society, while providing correctional education to allow them to reintegrate to society upon release.

Equally, in the UK (and the US I am fairly sure) there are frequent cases where a prisoner is released from jail on compassionate grounds. There is nothing specifically unusual about this case.

The biggest difference here is that this is a person who has killed Americans. As a result, President Obama felt the urge to pressurise the “Scottish Government” (hmm) to change its mind about al-Megrahi’s release. President Obamba is not alone in this, almost every US politician has tried to convince the Scottish Justice Minister to change his mind. The UK radio and TV news is running headlines about how this has “all been ignored” – as if the requests of US politicians should carry some weight in this matter. I notice that previously the US government fell over itself to listen to pleas from UK politicians about the treatment of Gary McKinnon… Or not.

All this is only mildly interesting. I notice with more interest, and a lot of amusement, that the same parts of the British media objecting to this were crying for the release of the convicted Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs. Obviously there are differences, Biggs is unrepentant, proud of his crime and white so the objections of Jack Mill‘s son went largely ignored.

Unusually for a missive from WhyDontYou Towers, I have no real opinion one way or another over the treatment and final disposal of al-Megrahi other than to wish there was some actual justice and consistency in the UK Criminal Justice system. Justice is not about revenge. Fair treatment includes compassion. Nothing that happens to al-Megrahi will bring back the dead or turn the clock back to before the murders. If justice is allowed to become revenge, then Al Qaeda can give up, we’ve destroyed western society ourselves. There can be no doubt that al-Megrahi showed his victims no compassion, but so what? Do two wrongs make a right? Does anyone honestly think al-Megrahi remains a danger to society? The news is showing traumatic footage of the night Pan Am Flight 103 went down – what can this do other than inflame people about the decision, which I think is at least consistent with the UK criminal justice policy.

As is always the case, the BBC is an example of the odd responses. There is the frequently wrong idea that those who are emotionally entangled can give a just and reasoned opinion – the BBC website has an entire page devoted to “Reaction – Lockerbie Bomber Set Free.” Show the effects of emotional involvement, the sister of a victim understandably says:

I don’t know how you show compassion to someone who has shown no remorse for what he has done and as Mr MacAskill praised the justice system and the investigation and the trial, how do you then show this person compassion? It’s just utterly despicable. I think he should have died in prison. Why should he be returned to Libya? That’s not what we were promised. We were always told he would serve out his full sentence in Scotland.

It is understandable, but wrong. I cant begin to imagine the suffering this person has undergone, but that is not grounds for a policy decision. This is why in the Dark Ages we moved away from blood feuds and instituted a system of courts and laws.  While she may not, yet, see it, the only way to show compassion is in situations like this. There is no compassion in being nice to nice people you like. Compassion involves doing what is right even when you dont want to.

The inherently evil David Cameron gives us a sign of the Criminal Justice system we can look forward to if the Tories come to power:

This man was convicted of murdering 270 people, he showed no compassion to them, they weren’t allowed to go home and die with their relatives in their own bed and I think this is a very bad decision

Ah, an eye for an eye eh? Does the body count matter? If he had killed just one, would he be objecting? Is the only reason to keep him in jail the fact that 270 families were torn apart rather than one or two? I suspect that if you are a grieving family member, the pain is not reduced simply because no one else died.

The Scottish Labour Leader has shown a tendency towards fluid politics that is characteristic of the Labour Party in general:

While one can have sympathy for the family of a gravely ill prisoner, on balance, our duty is to honour and respect the victims of Lockerbie and have compassion for them. The SNP’s handling of this case has let down Scotland

Yes, have compassion for the victims. Making someone suffer because not doing so would upset the families is not compassionate. It is pretty much a cowardly response.

Annoyingly for a committed Atheist, the Reverend Ian Galloway (Church of Scotland) says what is, IMHO, the right thing:

We are defined as a nation by how we treat those who have chosen to hurt us. Do we choose mercy even when they did not chose mercy? This was not about whether one man was guilty or innocent. Nor is it about whether he had a right to mercy but whether we as a nation, despite the continuing pain of many, are willing to be merciful. I understand the deep anger and grief that still grips the souls of the victims’ families and I respect their views, but to them, I would say justice is not lost in acting in mercy. Instead our deepest humanity is expressed for the better. To choose mercy is the tough choice and today our nation met that challenge.

Infuriatingly I cant help but agree with everything he has said here.

If you want to read some genuinely insane arguments on this matter have a look at the BBC “Have Your Say” Pages. Here the hatred really flows. The whole of Europe is called “Cowardly” because the Scottish National Party stood up to American pressure. The irony is amusing, if the ranting is disturbing.

It saddens me that people are still suffering to such an extent about this. Their suffering will not be changed by this persons release, nor would their suffering end if he had died in jail. That political figures in both countries are making so much capital out of this is an example of how craven politics really is. When I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with a Church of Scotland Reverend, its time to lie down.

Photoshop or Make Up?

Possibly in an effort to woo the fickle public interest, a previously little known Liberal Democrat front bench MP Jo Swinson has called for an end to airbrushing pictures used in magazines and on advertisements (etc.). From the BBC News:

Airbrushing should be banned in advertisements aimed at children to tackle “body image pressure”, say the Liberal Democrats.

Altering photos to make them look better means children are subjected to “completely unattainable images”, said front-bencher Jo Swinson.

Ms Swinson was even on BBC breakfast news today putting forward her points about the evils of Photoshop and Portrait Professional. This was supplemented by a short video showing the amazing changes that can be implemented in the hands of a skilled professional. Ironically she was supported by a professional make up artist who basically agreed that there is too much airbrushing going on in the media.

I say ironically, because this was a make up artist. He speciality is to turn plain, dowdy looking people into something “unattainable” for photographs and the TV. The irony was compounded by Ms Swinson, the make up artist and the BBC news presenters all being plastered with make up for television. Even in HD you couldn’t see blocked pores, blemishes or even sweat (and they are under some intense lighting). Obviously the make up artist has an issue with Photoshop stealing her work, but that is not good grounds for an unenforceable law.

There is little doubt that the media portrays unrealistic body images but this is nothing new, and it is certainly not because it is “easy” to Photoshop (it isnt). The whole culture of celebrity we seem to have built in the west is based upon the said celebs appearing “perfect” at all times. The appearance of perfection on a red carpet is not achieved by airbrushing, it is through expensive and skilled make up along with the wonders of well tailored clothing, and where necessary plastic surgery. Unless we force all celebs to carry a placard saying “I am wearing make up, underwent plastic surgery and had this outfit specially tailored to hide my flaws” we wont achieve anything. (Note: Ms Swinson, if you are reading, I actually think this would be a good idea …)

The truth of the matter is that the airbrush is last stage in a long process which turns the “normal” looking person (such as you see in the “caught” pages of trashy magazines) into a celebrity. If pictures are forced to label edits (although proving it may be hard), then all that will happen is an upsurge in make up, plastic surgery and other cosmetic trickery. It will not be the catalyst which turns a celeb-beauty obsessed nation into one which glories in the normal appearance.  It may mean some celebrities lose their status for a while, but soon they will recover from the plastic surgery and be back on the front pages. Is this really what Ms Swinson wants? More surgery? More cosmetic use?

The final irony is a more personal one. Ms Swinson states “The focus on women’s appearance has got out of hand” and I couldnt agree more. Despite this, some people think that our obsession with womens appearance in public is an example of how much freedom they have and that any ideas they have of not dressing to reveal as much as possible is simple oppression…

Snakes and ladders

Inspired by the Rapture Index, this is an attempt to quantify the UK political news for the past week or so on an objective (:-)) scale. And to put it in a handy playable format.

  • MPs shown to be largely venal (3 square snake)
  • Labour Cabinet sets off self-destruct button: e.g. the previously unknown Purnell bids for political domination by saying Brown should be replaced; Flint tries to play a spurious feminist anti-Brown card (complaining he treated her as “decoration”. Comically this came after she posed in a ludicrous Observer fashion photoshoot, the subtext of which was “Look at me. I may be in the Cabinet, but I’m really HOT”; etc ) (3 square snake)
  • Jacqui Smith leaves Cabinet (merits a 2 square ladder by itself.)
  • Several repulsively self-promoting Blairite clowns leave the Cabinet, gamely deflecting the shame of their own discovered venality by blaming Brown for everything they can think of, from global financial meltdown to not being very nice, but mainly for being unpopular. (2 square ladder)
  • Relatively decent people in new Cabinet, eg, Glenys Kinnock. (Ignore the presence of Mandelson.) WTF didn’t Brown think of having a sensible cabinet at the start of his term? (2 square ladder)
  • Local elections: Labour trounced everywhere. Tories win pretty well everywhere, even taking Lib Dem councils, despite the LibDems having been relatively blameless in ExpensesGate. (10 square snake)
  • Euro elections: The repellent BNP gets two Euro Mps – one representing MY AREA, ffs. Grrr. The a-bit-less-repellent-but-still-sickening UKIP gets more votes than the Labour Party. (15 square snake)
  • BNP leader egged when he tries to hold press conferences. (2 square ladder. I know it’s childish and probably counterproductive to welcome it, but still… Whose heart is so dead it wouldn’t be cheered by the sight of Nick Griffin getting egged? Although a Bush-referential shoe would have been even more satisfying to the viewer, assuming it was the steel-toecapped Doc Martin, traditionally favoured by some of his supporters.)
  • House of Lords yet again does the decent thing – as they did when they refused to OK 42-day detention. (In your face, Jacqui Smith.) The Lords uphold appeals against control orders (trans. house arrests) that were based on secret, ie. unchallengeable, evidence. (1 square ladder.)
  • Whole new push for constitutional reform. Sadly the current suggestions generally involve measures like PR – which would probably give the demonic parties, like the BNP, even more influence – or reform of the House of Lords – which would make it into something more like a government rubber stamp rather than the current random collection of toffs, miscreants, retired judges, generous political donors and old party faithfuls, which is still independent enough to give bad bills a good kicking. (1 square snake.)

Sorry, I haven’t designed a board yet. There are too many snakes and not enough ladders. Feel free to try it yourself.

Charlie Brooker back on form

Charlie Brooker’s Guardian columns have been a bit of a disappointment for a few weeks, but he plays a blinder today.

(There’s a predictably largish number of comments from the human twat-a-trons. Which might make you laugh and/or shudder with fear, depending on your mood.)