Fool for carrying on

The Metro alerted me to a music genre improbably called “Donk.” This seems to be a house-based descendant of the Wigan Casino Northern Soul line (related to Northend Scouse House and with a similar dress code.)

(Bow before my effortless cultural referencing. One of us was trained to do this….)

The Guardian was way ahead of the Metro on the donk-knowledge curve, describing it as

“Bouncy techno meets terrible rapping? Welcome to Donk”

OK, it sounds pretty tasteless to me. But not quite as tasteless as reading a Guardian writer and several commenters expressing a kneejerk sneering and bigoted response to any northern working class artform.

The same Guardian writer has introduced some truly improbable musical styles. Japanese dancehall is my current favourite.

So – in your face, music snobs. Here’s my April free gift to the world.

The bluffers’ tool that you can use to look effortlessly hip.

Invent a genre that you alone know about. Or, if you are musician, looking to corner the market in a new genre, this is the app for you.
——————————————-

--------------------------------------------------------------

US Plans to Ban Irish Coffee….

Echoing the prohibition that hung round the great depression, the current global economic crisis seems to be encouraging people to ban things, almost at random.

From New Scientist:

THE US Food and Drug Administration is unimpressed by the fad for drinks that contain a double hit – alcohol and caffeine. Unless makers supply the FDA with scientific evidence that the drinks are safe they could be banned within months.

Another wonderful, yet unthinking, bit of legislation is sure to follow. Gone are the days when people can enjoy a cup of coffee with a shot of whisky after their meal. [Please feel free to twitter away on this!]

Dawkins is the Devil – lying for jeebus…

Previously I mentioned about how Ruth Gledhill had monumentally missed the point with her TimesOnline blog post about the latest Humanist campaign to try and stop people labelling their children without given them a choice.

It seems Ruth is not the only person who has missed the point (for example Jacqui’s comment on my previous post) but, as is often the case, the commenters on her post really set a new standard. I have tried a few times to leave comments on the Times article, but they never seem to make it past moderation…which makes it even more bizarre that these comments have made it through.

The one which really made me laugh was from Iain Carstairs (posted 0725AM, 21 Nov 09). It begins:

Dawkins is a fanatic, true, but he is a more dangerous one than a religious zealot.

Wow. Call the Whitehouse and MOD. Get all the troops back from Afghanistan and prepare to invade Oxfordshire (or where ever Dawkins is living now). The War on Terror was obviously a mistake (“at last!” I hear you cry) and now we need to begin the War on Thinking. (OK, I agree, this has already been going on for centuries in some places).

Joking aside, this is nonsense. But it continues:

A suicide bomber can kill a small crowd, and hardline Christians have been known to shoot abortionists. The Israelis are steadily dehumanising the Palestinians, and are on their way to exterminating them: with the blessing of the US and the UK of course.

No, seriously? With this in mind (if we think of the WTC and Madrid as being a “small crowd”) then the whole furore about terrorism is nonsense. Sadly, I agree, but for different reasons.

But Dawkins is attempting to remove the spiritual dimension from life. It is as if he is attempting to prise the eyeballs out of a billion sockets, simply because there is no scientific proof of God.

ZOMG!! Oh Noes!11!!!1!1! Dawkins is making people THINK. Evil, pure evil. Torture in fact. Wont anybody think of the children. (and so on)

This is so crazy it almost defies belief (puns intended). This is a common misconception from people who are blinded by their belief – they ignore the true majesty of the universe and the beauty that life demonstrates. Look at the deep field pictures from Hubble for examples. They take this grand beauty of nature and spoil it by creating an invisible puppeteer who controls every action for some unknown, yet unarguably cruel, purpose. This is not allowing people to see the beauty of nature, but a cruel way of blinding them and controlling their actions. It is evil.

After some more of this drivel, Iain finishes with:

Without spirituality, we become Dawkins’ descendants: hoodies, yobs, sociopaths.. the greedy and addicted children of materialism, who make this world a living Hell.

Wow. Lets look at this again. The hoodies, yobs and sociopaths that Iain refers to are not “Dawkin’s descendants” they are growing up in the time of Dawkins. At best their children could be described as Dawkin’s descendants as its only in the last couple of years that Dawkins has been in the public domain.

The children who “terrorise” the communities inhabited by Mail readers (and presumably Times readers) are from families where, on the whole, belief still remains prominent. The vast majority of greedy and addicted materialists are religious.

Lying for Jesus is still lying.

Please dont label me

As I am sure most of you are aware (I am still catching up from my travels – lots of strange things have happened while I have been away), there is a new poster campaign:

Please dont label me

Please dont label me

The idea behind this comes from Dawkins, writing in The God Delusion (and a zillion places elsewhere):

There is no such thing as a Christian child: only a child of Christian parents. … Catholic child? Flinch. Protestant child? Squirm. Muslim child? Shudder. Everybody’s consciousness should be raised to this level.

This strikes me (obviously) as making complete sense. As the oft-quoted remarks go we wouldnt describe a three year old as a “marxist child” or any other combination of their parents interests, hobbies and beliefs. We find that normal, while ignoring the oddity of treating “Muslim Child” as normal.

Part of this may be to do with the fact parents who have faith in a particular belief system will begin indoctrinating their children at a very early age. So, for example, children from a devout Catholic family will have learned their prayers by the time they can talk. However, this is not the same as making the informed choice to adopt that belief system. It is telling that religious groups put so much effort into catching children when they are young (and more susceptible to crazy stories about invisible people living in the clouds), hoping to force their ideas to such an extent that a minority stray from the fold – notably, most converts from one cult religion to another turn out to hold extreme views as that is what is needed to break the shackles.

So, that said, it is obvious why the BHA (et al) want a campaign like this, and obvious why religious groups are opposed to it (as always). The idea that children are given a free choice is comical at the best of times – atheist parents will try to leave their children to make up their own minds, while religious groups (under state sponsorship in the UK*) will try to convert them; meanwhile religious parents will continue to indoctrinate. What this poster campaign does, however, is educate adults. It brings the double standards we practice in daily life into public view. Painful it maybe, but this is a good thing.

With that background out of the way, there is an interesting post on Ruth Gledhill’s blog, on TimesOnline:

The two children chosen to front Richard Dawkins’ latest assault on God could not look more free of the misery with which he associates religious baggage.
With the slogan “Please don’t label me. Let me grow up and choose for myself”, the two children, their hair flying and with broad grins, seem to be the perfect advertisement for the new atheism being promoted by Professor Dawkins and the British Humanist Association.
Except that they are about as far from atheism as it is possible to be. The Times can reveal that Charlotte, 8, and Ollie, 7, are from one of Britain’s most devout Christian families.
Their father, Brad Mason, is something of a celebrity within evangelical circles as the drummer for the popular Christian musician Noel Richards.

I am not sure, exactly, what the motivation behind this item was, but it seems to be massively missing the point while proving the whole reason behind the campaign. It is hard, to work out where to begin with this, it all just seems a bit misguided.

First off: The pictures are from a stock photo gallery. When they were chosen there was no “background check” (despite how much we get off on that sort of thing in the UK) carried out and nor should there be. Can you imagine if iStockPhoto (or the like) demanded to know the religious background of any of its models. Rightfully, newspapers like the times would be outraged.

Secondly: Some minor “celeb” (dont make me laugh) drummer for a (ahem) popular Christian musician does not make them “one of Britain’s most devout Christian families.” That is just meaningless words where Ruth has lowered herself to a tabloid standard while trying to mock the post campaign. Its comically pointless.

Thirdly: This underscores the need for the campaign. These children are aged 8 and 7. They are too young to vote, drink alcohol, drive, own a gun, smoke, etc. They are below the age of criminal responsibility so they cant, legally, be held accountable for their actions. They can not, in any way, have made the concious, informed decision to commit to a religion. They are not “Christian Children” but “Children of Christian Parents.” Ruth seems to massively miss this point, but it not her worst blunder here.

Lastly: Where does it say they are, or should be, atheist children? The idea is not that only atheist children are happy, it is not that all children are atheists (although they are born that way), it is that we should stop labelling them. There is nothing wrong with having “children of Christian parents” on the campaign poster. This is a campaign that, should, be equally supported by every religion. It gives a greater chance for Christians to “save” children from Muslim, Hindu or Jewish families – sadly for them the opposite is true.

All Ruth has done with her post is show how quickly we fall into the trap of labelling children based on what ever ideas their parents have. No mention is made of the children being interviewed, just their father who appears to be speaking on their behalf.

Obviously you can be too young to think for yourself, but not too young to believe…….

I have missed this level of irony during my travels.

[EDITED TO ADD]

It seems great minds think alike :-) and The Freethinker has taken the times to task over this madness.

[END EDIT]

* yes, I know you can ask for your child to be excluded from communal prayer and other religious based teachings, but Religious Education is still mandatory and, in reality, who would want their child to be singled out for the dreaded “special treatment” in front of their school mates. It must be torture. On the positive side, mandatory RE / prayer never managed to even come close to convincing me, or anyone I went to school with, that God exists….

Killing off the needy

I am sure pretty much everyone in the UK knows that Northern Ireland is cold and wet. It really is. Some summers are fantastic, but the best you can hope for is a few decent months to break up the wet and cold weather.

Last winter the city centre, and major motorways, were closed for days as a result of huge amounts of snow.

It really is cold.

So then, I find (on good old BBC News) an interesting piece which seems to be a Christian “charity” planning to slowly kill off people in Belfast who need access to social housing:

Dozens of new homes will be so energy efficient that they are to be built without central heating systems, those behind a new venture have announced.

More than 50 social housing properties will be constructed over the next three years in the scheme which is led by by Habitat for Humanity Northern Ireland. (from BBC Northern Ireland)

Wow. Can you imagine sitting there, without central heating, while enough snow falls to close down the busiest motorway in the country? I can understand making them so heating efficient that central heating could be sparsely used – however not providing the facility strikes me as a cruel and unusual punishment for two main reasons:

1 – Should unpredictably bad weather arrive, or the house has been unoccupied for two weeks in a cold spell etc., there is no easy, cost-efficient way to reheat the home to a habitable temperature. Do they expect the needy to shiver for a week, or burn furniture?

2 – The house has no resale value. No one would willingly buy a house like this other than those in desperate need. ‘Nuff said.

Its not that simple though, not only are those in need of social housing expected to freeze to death in the winter, they still have to pay 80% of the price of a normal house in the area:

Construction is set to begin shortly at Madrid Street and the first completed houses will cost in the region of £100,000.

That is not enough for the cruel, greedy, Christians though:

People who want to live in the properties will have to get their hands dirty though. Habitat for Humanity is a Christian organisation which helps families to build their own homes, with the help of volunteers. The entire project will require 84,000 hours of volunteer time.

So they have to pay to build their own house. Wow. How “charitable.” It gets weirder though. Just in case these selfish needy people manage to survive the winter in their social housing, there is one last sting in the tail:

The properties will be made air-tight and will be fitted with triple-glazed windows.

Is this legal? While I cant be bothered calculating the volume of air they will have, surely life wont last long…

Aren’t Christian Charities Wonderful…………

Oh Emm Gee !1!

OMG! Have you heard? The president of AMERICA has an opinion…. ZOMG!!!!!!111

Seriously. It must be the slowest news day ever. Obviously the media has hit saturation point with war, famine, plague and pestilence so now we have a headline news bulletin which revolves around the President of the USA expressing an opinion about someone.

What the fuck has the world come to for this to be news? Even the BBC has shamed itself by covering it. To death.

In a nutshell, Kanye West was a jack ass and interrupted an award winners speech.  Yeah, big deal. I could just about see that being the news item but the reality is people act like self-centred idiots day in, day out. The fact that some one famous is self-centred is hardly news. Following this frankly uninteresting incident, President Obabma was holding a conversation about it off air, but some ABC staff recorded it and felt the need to post twitter messages about it. Following it becoming “news” ABC have apologised to CNBC and the POTUS and have removed the twitter posts. Obviously this has done nothing to reduce the global spread and the wonders of the interweb mean we can all listen to the President of the USA calling Kanye West a “jack ass.”

Is this really how low our society has sunk? Is the President’s personal opinion about someone’s behaviour genuinely newsworthy? What impact does this have on anyone’s life?

If pushed, I am sure you could easily find in excess of 50% of the worlds population who would call Kanye West a “jack ass” even prior to his MTV awards behaviour. Is that news worthy? If not, why not?

The only thing I can think of is that the worlds news agencies are so overwhelmed by the onslaught from Web 2.0 crap applications that anything which has even a passing reference to them becomes news based solely on its perceived ability to appeal to the yoof market. It is shameful, and certainly goes a long way to explaining why “old media” feels it is under threat from the new media…

Shame on every news outlet that carried this story. Even a cat up the tree would have been more newsworthy.

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.

A fickle master

Seriously, you would think that the government and senior members of the military would know better. These are the people who lead our country and our military and should really know better. The fact they don’t is utterly baffling to me.

I am talking about the way our glorious leaders bend in the wind of public opinion like young saplings. The government is craven in how it panders to the media – ignoring any blatant contradictions and any strange notions of policies or morality. However this is not surprising. Its been almost two decades since the political parties in the UK had “party politics” rather than saying what ever they thought would get them elected. This entire century the UK has been governed by the Daily Mail and the Telegraph opinion pieces rather than any notion of public good.

What is surprising, to me anyway, is how quickly the MOD has fallen into this trap as well. Over the last few years we have seen an infuriating number of retired Generals and former Chiefs of the Defence Staff suddenly come out of the cold to criticise the government. This is annoying, because these are the same General Officers who presided over identical problems without the slightest hint of complaint until they were safely away from the system. This is not exactly living up to their heroic image, but such is life.

Showing a worrying reluctance to learn from the past, the MOD has had some spectacular blunders of late. Sadly, these are not blunders in the normal sense; more an example of how clueless the MOD / Government is when it comes to falling over itself to court the media – without remembering the media will savage it no matter what.

As a result we see, in recent weeks, such oddities as the government going to court to reduce payments to two people who were crippled in the line of duty. Now, in normal circumstances this would be ignored – the government is claiming it is not liable for secondary problems and is trying to reduce the burden on the taxpayer by reducing the payments these people get. This is not a bad thing as any other organisation would do it, and every penny the government has to spend comes from the public. It is not magic money.

The madness is this comes at a time when the government have been whipping the public up into a fervour about supporting “Our Boys” who are fighting wars in far away lands. Realising these wars are very unpopular, the government seems to have decided the only solution is to turn every soldier into a hero who deserves our undying support, no matter what they do. This played very well with the media (the Sun’s Help for Heroes has become such a powerful charity that on-duty police officers are allowed to wear its labels and promotional media, can you imagine that happening for any other charity?) but the government – or more properly the Civil Service who run the MOD – has failed to realise what this jingoistic monster will demand. With every service person being seen as the greatest Hero since Gilgamesh, any attempt to due the correct thing by the taxpayer is obviously going to be seen as a grasping act by a degenerate government. The whole deal is muddled even more by some MPs being so obvious about their desire to court the media they will go against both government policy and the taxpayers best interests (*). There is more irony than I can cope with in one sitting over this, but this is what the BBC reports about Mr Joyce:

Writing in Scotland on Sunday, Mr Joyce, parliamentary private secretary to Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth, said that although technically the MoD had a good chance of success, the appeal should be dropped.

So, although the case is sound – and the taxpayer is NEEDLESSLY paying these people money – we should carry on paying because not doing so will be unpopular. This confuses me. Is he saying that we should apply the same standard of payouts to Police, nurses, teachers, bus drivers, pharmacists, dentists, bin men, street sweepers, train drivers (etc)? These are all jobs which are essential to our every day life, more so than the military for 99.99% of the time and where (on the whole) people are paid a lot less than they deserve.

The government are never going to get it right. They are serving that most fickle of masters, the media. The same newspapers that will castigate them for spending one penny more than they should on something will also castigate them for trying to reclaim the said penny if the recipient has “human interest.” The government is a faceless bureaucracy and can never win. Ever.

The Military is no better and, despite the Heroes angle, its no safer from media savagery – simply because it is “part of the government.”

This twist has led to senior Army officers claiming they are incapable of fighting the war in Afghanistan with the current kit and manpower levels – even going as far as claiming we should, as a nation, move to a war footing. Before we go on, lets look at the war in Afghanistan. This is basically small manoeuvre warfare of Battalion size formations. This is not the “Major War” the British Army was geared up to throughout the cold war. It is closer to one of the small conflicts we were supposed to be able to fight two of, while having the resources for a major war left spare. However it seems that decades of defence spending has left the military incapable of fighting any war. Do the military chiefs accept responsibility for this? No, they claim it is down to the government who haven’t spent enough on them… Yet they agreed to the budgets. They furnished government with reports as to how effective they would be in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it is still the civilian governments fault… No, I dont get it either.

“War is a dangerous business” – certainly a truism and, in July 09, the British public were forced to realise this. However, rather than educate the public about what happens in war (one UK news outlet even claimed it was the most bloody conflict since WWII, neatly ignoring Korea, Aden, Borneo etc) and forcing people to realise that any conflict is going to cost lives, the craven military leadership laid the blame on various bits of equipment – mostly helicopters. This was a lifeline for distraught family members, who obviously needed some way to rationalise the loss of their loved ones. However its not the real answer. No amount of helicopters will stop the need for “boots on the ground” to dominate and in any firefight people are likely to die. Helicopters are great moving people from A to B and for providing air support to ground troops but they are not the magic solution people seem to think they are.

This has not stopped the senior officers seeing a chance to get some more toys to play with by claiming they need more helicopters to save lives (tell that to the bomb disposal people…), and they have been somewhat successful. Still this is not enough to placate the baying media. From the BBC News:

Reports in the Daily Telegraph claimed six Merlins – due to go to Helmand in December – did not have Kevlar armour.

The paper quotes senior RAF sources as warning this could prevent the craft’s use in missions against the Taliban.

The moral of the story is you really cant win. Once you enter into a dance with the media, you are caught in a death spiral. Nothing you ever do will be enough. Someone, somewhere in your organisation will have a different opinion (or just say something stupid by mistake) and the media will pounce. When this happens all the good will you generated by doing what the press wanted will vanish and you’ve be savaged again.

Why doesn’t the military and government realise this? Why do they try to grab the tiger by the tail?

(*) It is even more interesting when you think that the traditional Ministry of Defence politics align with the Conservative party, so it is unsurprising that the MOD seems to be having so many PR blunders of late. That the Labour government seems unable or unwilling to take charge and control this is a further indictment of the party and another sign that, sadly, this time next year we will almost certainly have an irritating bastard Conservative PM.

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…

Empty Argument

I know letters pages are traditionally fertile grounds for finding crazy opinions and attitudes but its not that often you get in on the Guardian (especially when compared with the Mail or even BBC Online). Today however we see a familiar empty argument trotted out by someone who apparently has taken offence that Atheists have dared to try and teach children – when everyone knows only the Church are allowed to brainwash.

Patrick Smith, from Essex, writes:

It is great that young people are being taught to think (Summer camp offers ‘godless’ alternative for atheists, 30 July). Alas, it seems Camp Quest will be assuming science is the only way to find truth, a view not shared by most of humanity. Experience of love, music, art and (yes) religion are just as important. Atheists can brainwash as shamelessly as any cult!

Now, correct me if I am wrong but this seems completely flawed. Mr Smith is missing the point by such a large amount it seems he must be talking about something else. I have no personal experience of the atheist camp, so I am (like Mr Smith, I suspect) forced to use the article referenced for background reading.

It seems the children are being taught to think:

The idea behind the camp is to give a “godless” alternative to traditional religious summer camps. In the morning the participants discuss philosophical ideas and learn about subjects such as astronomy.

But nothing there makes me think that it assumes “science is the only way to find a truth.” (I am a bit confused as to otherways to find a “truth” though). Children, 12 years old, discussing philosophy fills my heart with joy and renews some of my faith in human nature. (all irony is intentional). But it continues:

Then in the afternoons they take part in more traditional camp activities. They swim, they run, they climb, they row. In the evening – if the rain relents – they sit round the campfire and toast marshmallows.

Ok – this strikes me as all wholesome, childrens activities. It also carries the implication that they are still active in the evenings. Unless we assume they sit silently around the campfire then they are likely to be listening to music, talking about artistic subjects or learning how to interact with others.

This sort of leaves me confused what Mr Smith is objecting to – unless he feels, like lots of Christians seem to do, that without god being invoked at every sentence then the lessons are meaningless and unimportant. The unintentional irony in that viewpoint is there is a religion where god is mentioned in almost every sentence, and Christians seem to hate it.

For those with strong irony meters and in need of some laughs at the unintentional idiocy that “people with faith” can demonstrate, the comments on the Guardian article about the camp are very funny.

Protect your data

Compulsory ID cards are instruments of evil. They will not make protect you from crime and will not make you safer, unless they end up produced out of bomb proof kevlar and big enough to wear. They serve no purpose for any member of the public but will cost you money. The only conceivable reason why the government is so keen to force the British public into paying for them is to allow the intelligence and security agencies unparalleled access to personal data and activity.

This is actually the only bones to the “make you safer” argument, in that by allowing the Police / Security services access to your ID card data (which would, one assumes, include all the locations where your ID has been checked and what purposes it was checked for) it will increase their ability to find criminals and terrorists. If you have read any of my previous posts you will be well aware that I think this is very, very, wrong. But this is an argument for another day. Today’s ironic turn of events is that even if MI5 have all your data and are watching your every move it wont help – because al-Qaida are actually working for MI5 in the first place.

From today’s Guardian:

A senior Tory MP today called for an investigation into whether MI5 mistakenly recruited al-Qaida sympathisers.

Patrick Mercer, the chairman of the counter-terrorism subcommittee, said six Muslim recruits had been thrown out of the service because of serious concerns over their pasts.

The MP said he was writing to the home secretary, Alan Johnson, to call for an investigation into the matter.

Two of the six men allegedly attended al-Qaida training camps in Pakistan while the others had unexplained gaps of up to three months in their CVs.

The irony here is really not lost on me and points to two issues.

First off, and possibly most importantly, no matter how much vetting takes place BADPEOPLE™ will get into the police or government. This has been the case since the dawn of secrecy. By their very nature spies are people who are able to infiltrate the highest levels of an organisation by appearing trustworthy. Equally, as the police and intelligence/security services well know, agents are people who are currently trusted by an organisation but are vulnerable to being expolited by hostile groups. This is done all the time against “enemies” (criminal or political), and it is even done in the “civilian” business world. I am sure this is stating the obvious but it is important background.

Knowing this, do you think that having all your identity data in one central location is a good idea? For ID cards to work, huge swathes of people need to be able to access the database – which causes errors. The data has to be entered and maintained, which causes errors. These are accidental problems which would be bad enough. Criminals and terrorists have the funding and will to deliberately corrupt the data. The concept of an ID card moves the burden of proof from the government to the “innocent until proven otherwise” citizen. Do you have the resources and will power of an organised crime gang or terrorist group?

If a criminal can compromise one aspect of your ID data that is a BADTHING©™® but you can take steps to rectify it, knowing that it shouldn’t lead to a cascade of ID failures. Stealing your National Insurance number, for example, shouldn’t lead to them getting access to your bank account details or your drivers licence. Crucially, should a criminal use your NI Number – and nothing else -  in the process of a crime (odd but possible) then it is unlikely that you would be the suspect. However, with a central ID card that is not the case.

Now back to MI5 and the other police and security agencies. Given the number of people involved, and recent large scale recruitment campaigns, it is unfathomable that some bad eggs haven’t slipped through the net. In the case of MI5 the pay is so pitiful by London terms that it is equally certain that there are some members of the organisation who would be open to financial corruption – not to mention the ones who could be co-opted in a million different ways. Do you trust them with all your data? Do you trust them to treat you fairly at all times?

Secondly: what sort of crazy world is it where an “unexplained gaps of up to three months” in your CV means you are a terrorist? I hope they never see my CV otherwise its Gitmo for me. Or is it just 3+ month gaps in the CV of people of middle-eastern descent? What is happening?

I’d say the world had gone mad but it seems an understatement. What really worries me is an old saying that keeps going round my head about when everyone else in the world seems mad its probably you…

America Scares Me

OK, I have finally torn myself away from the accursed Wii long enough to surf the internet, read some articles and comments and become quite worried about the future of the human race.  Before I am accused of massive hyperbole, remember America is the worlds only superpower and, like it or not, societal changes there radiate out across the English speaking world quite quickly. (Yes, I am looking at you Creationism).

It seems that, despite being the leader of the free world, a beacon of Democracy and willing to invade other nations who abuse human rights, the USA has a very ambivalent approach towards one of the most inhumane of activities – torture. I know I have talked about this previously, but reading through the comments on the USA Today letter reminded me of conversations I have had with people in the US, and gives an insight into how the government policies seem to be built.

First off my position on the matter: Torture is never, ever, acceptable. It is a war crime and the practitioners of such acts should be treated as international war criminals. Waterboarding is torture. Calling torture “enhanced interrogation” does not change what it is any more than calling my car a boat will make it sail. I can think of no (real) circumstances in which torture is justified. Saying torture is better than execution is farcical.  The idea that torture would be carried out in my name, or to protect some nebulous concept of my safety is abhorrent.

However, I consider myself a rational person and I am willing to explore viewpoints and opinions that differ from my own. It is possible that I could be wrong in my stance about torture so I will look at some of the arguments for it. For the purposes of this rant, I will use the responses to the, frankly, insane USA Today letter. From these it appears the following “justify” torture: (Some I will post in full, others I will try to identify the more coherent parts)

in the meantime…they saw off our heads…….while weak dems say nothing about that……why do dems defend these killers of U.S citizens is alarming…..shows there huge weakness for our security. (from wave who, unsuprisingly, has no friends but 5 recommends for this nonsense)

This makes no sense. It is nothing but an appeal to fear, wrapped up in some bizarre attempt to make 2+2 equal three hundred and eleven. But it is a common one so I will try to salvage some sanity out it and see if it holds any water.

It breaks down into a few parts. First off the claim that torturing people is the only defence against “them” sawing off American heads. Now, given that people in custody are no longer in position to weild a saw this is true, but there is no requirement to torture them for this. Has the mistreatment of people in places such as Guantanamo reduced the amount of beheadings of Americans in the middle east? Erm, no. So we can strike that part. The second bit is just a sign that wave is insane. Objecting to torture is not defending the killers of US citizens any more than not torturing murder or rape suspects is. Shall we advocate tortuing people suspected of drink driving (which kills many, many more citizens each year)? If not the argument makes no sense.

The next one hints at what worries me about society.

Why is this such a difficult question for you? Given the choice between the safety and security of my loved ones *and* subjecting a terrorist to a few moments of anxiety (enhanced interrogation techniques), this is an easy choice! Glycine

Oh my Thor. Worryingly this is an attitude similar to one I encountered in people I talked to during my visit to the US. It shows the horrific effect language has had on people. 24 is not real. People do not get up at the end of the show, take a bow and give a PR conference to promote the sale of their DVD. Torture is torture. The clue is in the name. Waterboarding is not a “few moments of anxiety.”

This whole bag of madness falls down on a few levels. First off, if it is so mild how can it work on embittered, committed jihadists? If it is so mild (I can generate more than a few moments of anxiety for most people going to an interview, let alone questioning by law enforcement) why is it called “enhanced interrogation?” Dispel forever the idea that waterboarding is tame. That any form of torture can be passed of as time and almost humorous. It is not. It is there to break a persons will in the shortest possible time. This is not something people ever fully recover from.

Equally sad is the loss of any form of “innocent until proven guilty.” It now seems that if someone thinks you are a criminal you are one and will be tortured until you confess. Sounds all very 21st century to me. The people subjected to torture by agents of the US government are not always confirmed terrorists. Some will be people who are massively unlucky. Is torturing them (which will provide no extra security to your loved ones) acceptable? If so, where do we draw the line? When do we stop torturing people on the off-chance they may know something which may help increase the security of your loved ones? Crucially, what happens when someone comes to torture you to protect their loved ones? Would you be OK with that? Even if you are actually insane enough to think that torturing people based simply on their nationality and skin colour is acceptable, you have to face the fact it decreases national security. For every person who is interned and tortured, there will be families at home who rail against the injustice. Mistreatment of prisoners is the greatest recruiting tool an insurgent or terrorist organisation can hope for. For every suspected terrorist you torture, you recruit four or five more into his organisation. How does this make any sense at all?

We have the token argument from insanity:

Torture like many evils will not ‘go away’ because do-gooders wish it so.
and
Which is worse: killing the enemy outright or keeping them for the duration in a POW camp? (or Federal prison?) Incarceration, even with three meals a day, a bible, a toilet, clothing, bedding, et cetera, is none the less, torture — but who gives a damn? Ronald David (who, amazingly, has 8 friends on USA Today. Wow).

This is no argument, its just mad ranting. Torture like any crime will never quite go away but does that mean we should accept it? Do we accept rape or murder? No. If someone abducted ten people from US cities and tortured them for a few months, they would go to jail or face the death penalty. If the government does it, its OK. Does that make sense? I just love the attempt to use a derogatory “do-gooders” term against those who oppose evils such as torture. I’d rather be a do-gooder than a do-eviler. Maybe its the atheist in me.

Comparing torture with incarceration is madness. Nothing further needs to be said. Everything else this nutter has written on this letter speaks of mental illness.

(two chestnuts from Crazyfun_22 who has 11 bloody friends) In addition to Michael, the other loons posting about waterboarding are also subscribing to something in either their water or thier “Pipe”. The waterboarding the japanese did is not even close to what we did following 9/11, those people were drowned in the process. Waterboarding that ends in death can and shoud be classified as torture…so put down the remote after you turn off MSNBC and look some stuff up from multiple independent sources and get your facts straight.

Right, so torturing someone and stopping just before they die is OK then. This is insane. Torture is torture. Murder is murder. You can torture someone to death which is both torture and murder. Its like saying raping someone but not killing them is OK. All this crazy makes my head hurt.

Lastly, all you people who are commenting on waterboarding being used to get info on Iraq and make an Iraq-Al Qaeda connection….WRONG….it was used to try and determine intel on potnetial threats to Americans…period. While I am sure Saddam was part of the questioning, it was for American’s safety…and that does include you loony bins.

Here we come to the basic claim that seems to sustain the support for torture.

Torturing person X (who is hopefully not the from the same ethnic or religious background as you) is acceptable if it provides actionable intelligence that can save lives of people you care about.

This argument allows Americans to condemn other nations who torture prisoners (because the information gained is not helping people they care about) while practising it themselves. It carries a strong moral appeal because, seriously, who doesn’t want to save lives. There is even a utilitarian argument that the suffering of the few outweighs the benefits for the many. You can see why so many people agree with this concept and, as a result, support the use of torture by agents of the government .

Sadly it is all nonsense, and for so many different reasons it is hard to know where to begin.

If we take the utilitarian argument first. You have no way of knowing if the information provided from the torture will save lives until after you have tortured the person. If you know in advance enough to make this call, you know enough to not need to torture the person. Without knowing this you have to react to everything the person says – including lies and confusion. This takes up resources and manpower better spent elsewhere. A committed jihadist could even use this to distract your resources from where they would be best placed. If you are tortuing someone who genuinely doesn’t know what you are asking, when do you stop? Do you wait until they make something up? Unlike Jack Bauer you have no way of knowing the veracity of what your victim is telling you. You may get the truth in the first 10 seconds (about how long I would take to crack) but would you believe it? Would you continue to torture until you broke them and they changed their story? In reality, unlike 24, torture is a good way of making somone say what you want them to say – nothing else.

Following on from this, if you torture the person and it turns out they cant give you useful information, what then? The argument that useful information means torture is justified now means this was not-justified. Do you proceed to punish everyone involved with the now-criminal act? Anything else means the utilitarian argument suggests all torture is justifed on the basis that an unknown amount of information gained may be useful – but this applies to everything. Maybe torturing you or your parents will be useful. How do we know until we try?

It strikes me people can be quick to come up with hypothetical situations where torture would be acceptable, as long as it is someone else on the receiving end. Knowing that no system is 100% correct, innocent people will occasionally get caught up, would you be happy if you were that innocent person? If not, then torture is not acceptable. If you feel you would be happy to spend five years in “enhanced interrogation” because you knew, deep down, it was making the world safer, then I think you are insane.

(ranting over, back to the Wii…)

Police Disorder

Over the last few years there has been a steady flow of people warning how, in the west, we are sleepwalking into a surveillance state. Often this is accompanied with references to 1984 and how our government and national leadership seem to view this book as an instruction manual, rather than a stark warning. It seems, however, that we are growing a generation of people who are immune to this, they live under constant surveillance (even aspire to it in the form of Big Brother reality TV) and the idea of privacy may one day be alien.

There is (IMHO of course) a darker aspect to this. In our rush to accept everything the government tells us when it is linked to the Evil Terrorist, we are giving up the basic rights and concepts that make a country a “free” democracy. The press, and police, love the high profile terror raids (such as the “Easter Bomb Plot“) which generate torrents of media coverage – along with huge amounts of right wing outrage at how easy it is for these evil Islamic terrorists to get into our country. These events are used to justify insane amounts of secrecy about police activity and huge public funding, even though it has no apparent return in public safety. When the inevitable happens, and those arrested are released without charge, there is often a short note at the end of the news and no withdrawal of the right-wing outrage. The damage has well and truly been done, so the fact it was a pointless event doesn’t need saying… In this, we are far from a free press. As an example we can look at two events:

1 – Police raid addresses in Lurgan, Co Armagh, Northern Ireland, and trigger riots that last over a day – followed by a series of hoax car bombs and attacks on other police patrols. All this was to find the people involved in the fatal shooting of two soldiers and a police officer a few days earlier.

2 – Police raid a few addresses in Manchester and Liverpool, England, and peacefully arrest 12 people. No community response.

The first event generated almost no coverage from the national media outlets. Few people would have known it happened. Less would have cared. The second event was “Breaking news” 24hours a day for days – even when most of the coverage consisted of bored police officers standing outside a house in some unknown street. It resulted in heated diplomatic exchanges with foreign nations and untold amounts of right wing outrage about “furriners” coming into our country.

It is in the states interest to present the situation in Northern Ireland as a closed deal. Peace has broken out. Unless the terrorists are actually “lucky” enough to kill, it gets no news coverage. There are hundreds of actual attacks and bomb plots over there but these are carried out by white Christians who were born in the United Kingdom (or occasionally the Republic of Ireland). There is no where to deport them and no amount of border controls can prevent them. Crucially they look like us, so cant easily be profiled at ports and for stop & search powers. Overall the peace process is working but the dissident republicans present a clear and present danger to the security forces. They carry out attacks, they have wounded dozens of people (and killed several innocents). They carry out atrocious punishment beatings.  They are real terrorists.

On the other hand, we have the Islamic terrorist cells. Yes, they got “lucky” once with devastating effect, but they have managed one attack in the UK. Ever. The biggest difference is they dont look like “us.” Often they are first or second generation immigrants. They speak a “funny” language. They (sometimes) dress differently. They are easy to spot in public. That most of this is nonsense hasn’t stopped Islamic terrorism becoming a massive bugbear, while the actual violence carried out by Republican terrorists is ignored.

The cynic in me suggests that targetting the Islamic terrorist is in the states best interest. Without turning into V for Vengeance, by generating this public fear there is little argument against draconian laws, huge spending on “anti-terror,” crazy policies (no fluids on planes for example), intrusive surveillance and out of control policing. We have to accept this because if we dont the Islamic Terrorist will get us. That the press pander to this crazy idea, and are instrumental in producing it, which can only benefit the state makes me strongly question how “free” our press is.

Without a free press, can we really have a democracy? Is it possible for the public to have an informed vote if their information is controlled by the state?

This leads on to the next bit, and the thing that really got me going. The Police.

Recently the UK enacted a law (part of the Terrorism Act) which has made it illegal to take pictures of police, military or intelligence services personnel. This has been presented as being important to prevent terrorism (how?) and the government claimed it would not be used out of context nor would it be used to restrict journalism.

This is nonsense. Every law gets used out of context. Councils use anti-terrorism powers to mount surveillance on people to see if they live in the correct district for their children’s school. This will always happen – if you give someone a legal authority to do something, they will do it if it makes their job easier. The only alternative is to right better laws – something often lacking with regards to rushed terrorism legislation.

The police are no better. The terrorism act is regularly used out of context. Be it climate change protesters or tourists, the various legislation is often misused. Crucially, looking at the tourist incident, the police not only misused their legislation but they broke the law doing so: (From the guardian):

Like most visitors to London, Klaus Matzka and his teenage son Loris took several photographs of some of the city’s sights, including the famous red double-decker buses. More unusually perhaps, they also took pictures of the Vauxhall bus station, which Matzka regards as “modern sculpture”.

But the tourists have said they had to return home to Vienna without their holiday pictures after two policemen forced them to delete the photographs from their cameras in the name of preventing terrorism.

Matzka, a 69-year-old retired television cameraman with a taste for modern architecture, was told that photographing anything to do with transport was “strictly forbidden”. The policemen also recorded the pair’s details, including passport numbers and hotel addresses.

If we assume the police were right to carry out the stop under TACT legislation, and this was information useful to terrorist, why did they destroy the evidence? Either they thought these two tourists were covert Jihadists, in which case an intelligence stop should have been conducted, with the pictures retained for the DPS to look at (and the intelligence services to brief the Daily Mail as to the plans to attack the bus station) or they knew these were innocent tourists and there was no reason to destroy the pictures. This seems to be unlawful destruction of evidence pertaining to a criminal act. Will anything be done about it?

The Metropolitan police said it was investigating the allegations.

Ok, thats “no” then. In magazines like Amateur Photographer there are regular reports of how people are stopped under similar circumstances (to the point at which a photo-friendly MP has tried tabling this in Parliment) however nothing has changed. Nothing is likely to change because the police dont care.

I am loathe to scream about how our police forces are out of control, but they appear to be under less and less force to obey the will of the people. The police enforce the rule of law with public consent. They are not an occupying army seeking to repress us. They are not here to control and dominate the public. They are public servants who have chosen to do a job which means they will protect the public. They protect no one by harassing tourists. They protect no one by killing newspaper sellers as they try to get home. The tragic death of Ian Tomlinson has opened up a whole can of worms about police behaviour, but it is unlikely to change anything.

As has happened countless times in the past (anyone remember Stockwell?), following Ian Tomlinson’s death the police were quick to issue a completely erroneous statement. It took a newspaper getting (what was actually illegal) footage of police violence before they would do anything. Even then, it took days before they actually got into action and started the investigation. Worryingly there were dozens of police officers there when Ian Tomlinson was hit, yet none thought to come forward about his death. This speaks of an institutionalised idea that hitting people from behind is acceptable. It isnt.

The police are faced with dangerous situations on a daily basis. They are also taught how to react and how to identify when the danger has passed. Although it was a few years ago, and for a different place, I have had considerable amounts of riot training (in the shield wall, as snatch squads and controlling) although thankfully I rarely had to put it into practice. However there were some basic lessons. You stood there knowing you would get abused. Verbal abuse was something to be ignored. No matter what the crowd shouted to taunt you, you were supposed to stand your ground. The idea that you would get a sly hit on someone walking away was unthinkable. It happened, but people reported it because it was a breakdown in discipline, and without that we were the same as the mob. Despite this, footage has come to light of several police officers attacking non-violent members of the public.

There is a time where the use of force by the police is acceptable. Backhanding a woman who has called you a name is not it. Hitting people who are shouting at you is not it. The police are there to PROTECT the public from violence, not be the cause of it. There is a harrowing amount of footage on the Guardian website which shows police failing in their primary duty. I have no idea if this is simply due to the group on the ground having become “maverick” or if this is a sign of larger problems with the police, but it is a problem.

For example: Police on the ground removed their ID badges to make it harder for people to identify them at a later date. This is wrong, as Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) stated. It is very wrong and borderline criminal in itself. It means the officer was intending to do something wrong and mens rea is an important part of the law. What concerns me is the comment made by the HMIC:

“I firmly hope that will be rectified with some certainty”

What? Pure weasel words. What is the point in having the HMIC? Equally disturbing is the fact that these officers were not taken to task by their seniors before deploying. Instutionalised failure. How do you rectify that if the HMIC is beating around the bush? The simple solution is to punish the Sgts and Inspectors as well as the constables (when finally identified). That would very quickly change the behaviour.

This is tied into the behavour of the police on the day. In this video, the police carry out a baton charge against the crowd (who appear to be commiting the offence of singing badly and out of tune in a public place) and attack the press in the process. They are not carrying out a controlled act to move the crowd back, they are simply trying to break heads. At 36 seconds you can see them baton a guy with a camera facing away from them. That is unjustifable. They are not using controled violence, otherwise why hit the press photographer facing away? He is no danger to them and is not part of the crowd. Force is a last resort. Not a first one. The photographer lies on the floor until the police line moves back again (what was the point in the charge if it wasnt to dominate new ground?), when some one finally helps him up.

In the next video, the police impose Section 14 of the Public Order act to make the press go away for “about half an hour.”  Two big issues with this.

First off – why? Why did the senior office want the press out of view? Was it to calm the protesters down? (unlikely) or was it to remove public oversight of the police behaviour? We may never know.

Secondly – section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 provides police the power to impose conditions on assemblies “to prevent serious public disorder, serious criminal damage or serious disruption to the life of the community.” It is not a lawful use of the act to make the press move on. This act is often misused by the police so its almost understandable that they would try to misuse it here. However, how can they not have known better? Did the senior officer on the ground really think it was an appropriate use of Sect 14 powers? If so, why isnt he being sent away for retraining? Were the police just trying their luck to see if they could make the pesky press go away, hoping most wouldnt question the legality? Again we may never know.

In all, this has been a long rant (sorry) but it is infuriating that we accept this behaviour from the representatives of the public. How can we live in a free democracy while this goes on?

EDITED TO ADD: Sadly I posted this rant before I saw an excellent version written by Alun over on Archaeoastronomy. If you havent already read it, get over there now and read. As always, Aluns post is well written and to the point. I especially like his closing remarks: (emphasis mine)

policing cannot happen without the consent of a community. Otherwise it’s just a paramilitary occupation. The video shows plenty of witnesses in yellow jackets. If they won’t assist the law, who will?

Well said.