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.

Die in a hail of gunfire

Who would have thought it, eh? Some crazy people have jumped on the Mumbai Massacre bandwagon to espouse their crazy ideas. Amazing…

Disappointingly predictably, certain individuals are using the massacre to promote their own crazy agendas. On the “Cybercast News Service” yesterday there was an article in which it was claimed that the killings would have been prevented if India didn’t have such strict gun laws:

India’s strict gun laws are partly to blame for the success of the terrorist attack in Mumbai, according to the head of an Indian gun rights group and a U.S. expert who has examined the impact of gun laws on crime and terrorism.

Abhijeet Singh, founder of Indians for Guns, told CNSNews.com Tuesday that if the citizens of Mumbai had been allowed to carry guns, terrorists would not have killed as many people as they did–and might have been deterred from attacking in the first place.

Wow. It still surprises me a little that people can (with apparent seriousness) claim that if everyone had guns, there would be less gunfights. I can see an element of appealing logic, although it flies counter to the current anti-knife crime campaign we have in the UK, which seems to be working. The idea hangs on the fact that Terrorist X wont carry out an attack because if they do, the people they attack will be able to return fire and kill them.

Flawed logic.

First off – if this was true, soldiers wouldn’t be attacked. Islamic terrorists are reasonably prepared to die in the course of their actions, so the return fire is not a deterrent. Equally, even if everyone is carrying guns, the terrorists still have the huge advantage of being the attacker. A crowd of people goin about their daily business is in no state to drop to cover and return handgun fire when they are ambushed by assault rifles. The terrorist has the initiative, dictates where and when the attack will happen and can still kill large numbers before fire is returned with sufficient effect to defeat them.

Another line of reasoning was that if the public had all been armed, the terrorists would have killed a few, then the return fire would have got them – reducing the overall casualty figures.

Wrong, but less flawed. Most people are not combat trained. Despite all the range time gun-lovers carry out, despite all the films they watch, and magazines they read, combat shooting is something very, very different. Battle inoculation is so important that soldiers undergo it so they can experience what being under fire is like – hopefully to reduce the chance they will fuck up when the time comes to fight. Even with all this, and months of specialist training, soldiers make mistakes in the heat of battle. Some people will panic and shoot randomly, some will miss, some will be good shots but poor at target identification. The potential for carnage is beyond belief. The only thing you could hope for is that the terrorist would be just as shocked by the bullets flying in every direction they’d panic and fuck up as well. The problem is terrorists have often been to training camps, where they are taught what it is like…

The whole idea is insane and creates a wonderful scenario for any budding terrorist planners.

Imagine the scene: A shopping mall filled with several hundred armed people going about their daily business. One armed terrorist, dressed like everyone else, walks into the mall and opens fire, dashes to cover, fires again and lies low. The crowd are under fire. Everyone draws their guns and shoots in the direction they think the attack is coming from… At this point, the mall is filled with people seeing other people pointing guns at them. In the ensuing carnage there is only a moderate chance the terrorist will actually get killed, if he has any sense he could easily lie low enough to avoid being hit. Better still, when the security forces arrive, they are faced with how ever many survivors there are, all shooting at each other – how do they decide who to take out?

It is pure madness. Is this really the scenario these people want, or do they think all the members of the public will do cowboy style quick-draws, drop to one knee and double tap the terrorists in the head? By Zeus, the madness makes my eyes water.

Guns do not keep you safe. They do not stop people shooting you. At best they give you the chance to shoot back, but a holstered gun is useless. Carrying a gun makes you a target for everyone else with a gun.  Carrying a gun, at best, gives you a false sense of security.

As ever, the comments for the CNS article are a fertile ground of madness. Some of the more, erm, entertaining ones:

Quote: “Distributing weapons to general public is not the wise and right idea to counter the terrorism.” Hmm, that’s funny, the citizens of Israel found the exact opposite to be true. You think maybe they might have some experience in the matter? Here in Michigan, USA, I carry a loaded pistol every day, everywhere I go. Nothing unusual, just normal everyday business. It’s nice to feel like a citizen instead of a subject.

Erm, no.

I, for one, have had a gun put to my head. I was lucky to have survived. I have vowed to never go through this again without a fight. Dispite my handing over everything to the robber, he still shot at me, but missed, thank God. I can’t carry at a bar, but look how many people are assulted leaving the bar to go to their car. Where would my pistol be? Locked in my car. Big help, isn’t it! I would like to see just one time where a person with a carry permit has gone on a shooting spree in a church, school, sports arena, or entertainment facility with a capacity of 2500 people plus, as these are the places Michigan law forbids my having my weapon with me at. Note! I can carry in a church with the permission of the church. It looks to me like none of the Government Law Makers or any of their families or friends have ever been assulted, so they don’t know what it is like. I suggest they get their heads out of the sand, look at reality and come up with laws that are reaistic.

God and Guns – dont they go together well… This person misses the whole point, but it isnt surprising really. I have been shot at, I have had mortars fired at me, I have had petrol bombs thrown at me by rioters. I was carrying a gun at the time and it didn’t help at all. This person doesn’t want protection, they want to be able to shoot the robber, after they have been robbed. Wonderful escalation that will result in the robber just shooting them first. I defy anyone in the real world to draw a gun and kill an attacker who has a loaded weapon drawn and pointed at them.

Armed,law abiding, citizens protect a nation and its people. But, an unarmed population is at the mercy of their own government, home grown thugs and terrorists as well as invaders from outside their country. Gandhi was right on!!! A realistic pacifist knows that force is the only way to meet force in the end. “If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun.” — The Dalai Lama, (May 15, 2001, The Seattle Times) speaking at the “Educating Heart Summit” in Portland, Oregon, when asked by a girl how to react when a shooter takes aim at a classmate

Well, while it may be true that “armed, law abiding citizens” protect a nation, they are called “soldiers.” Having every citizen armed is certainly not the same thing and does not protect a nation. An armed population is just as at the mercy of its government as an unarmed one. The realistic pacifist mentioned is not a pacifist, pretty much by definition. Self defence is important but if carrying a gun is not defence. A weapon is designed to be used to attack someone. Armour and a Sheild were defence, the sword was the offensive weapon. In modern times the gun is there for offensive activity. If you want to defend yourself, buy a kevlar vest and helmet. Yes, a good (military) defence is a good offence – however that does not carry over to every day life – unless you shoot all passers-by just in case.

If you are so scared that you feel the need to have a gun tucked inside your pants, fine – as long as you dont draw it anywhere near me, I don’t mind. Just remember though, that now you have a gun you are a threat to everyone around you who doesn’t know you. How do they know that you aren’t a screaming madman about to go on a killing rampage? What if you look at them a bit funny and they think its time for the offensive-defence…

Personally, even having been to most of the worlds war-zones, I’d rather not carry a gun.

Live by the sword…

For years now, politicians of all flavours have been busy manipulating public opinion and cherry picking how they present information – all with the aim of convincing the largely apathetic voting public to agree with their crackpot ideas. As you can imagine, however, this has its own share of problems.

As an example, today on the BBC Radio 1 news show (*), there was a terrible indictment of just how mixed up people are. Basically, the Prime Minster Gordon Brown is trying to gain some media-credits with his claims that he is “tackling knife crime.” Obviously the PM and current government are unpopular at the moment so here we see yet another example of how politicians no longer have a political view, but will do what ever they think they can to get support from the barely coherent, rabid, tabloid media.

The knife crime panic is a great example of this. All year, we have been subjected to scare stories in the media about how knife crime is on the increase; if you believe papers such as the Daily Mail there are more stabbings than there are people. I am not for one second trying to imply that knife crime isn’t devastating for the victims and their families – but we need some form of perspective. While there were pockets of increased incidents, the chances of Joe Blogs UK becoming a victim was pretty much the same as it always has been.

However, our media-hungry politicians (on all sides) read the building tabloid-frenzy and jumped in early. For months we had debates about how bad knife crime was, and what were the government going to do about it. This was stoked with the public being drip fed “news” each time a cute, innocent kid got stabbed. Each one was delivered in that wonderful way the tabloids have of making their readers think that the one incident they report is just the tip of the iceberg – in reality, when things are so commonplace, the media loses interest in them… Seeing a great chance, the government (and opposition) built upon the general irrationality of people – isolated incidents were blown out of proportion, personal anecdote was given much greater emphasis etc. So far, so typical. This is all politicians have done for over a decade.

Today, the PM tried to deliver his latest great accomplishment.

The PM announced that the new “crackdowns” implemented by Police in high-risk areas had managed to bring down knife crime. Wonderful. I am sure he expected nothing but fanfare… Sadly, the general public are too depressed and gloom-laden to take good news like this. Also, for years we have been indoctrinated into the idea that out microcosm of life is more representative of society than anything else – which means no matter what the PM claims, people think things are getting worse. From the BBC Pages:

The Prime Minister has spoken to Newsbeat after the government said the latest police crackdown was working.

The government says stabbings are down and fewer teenagers are carrying blades in the 10 parts of England and Wales where there’s been a big effort to tackle the problem.

The figures also show under-18s going to hospital for stabs and cuts are down by a quarter and more serious attacks have dropped by a fifth.

Great news. It doesn’t really say much about the government policies though. Nothing like enough time has passed to know if this is a long term change or a simple “blip”  in the numbers. Equally, there is no way of knowing if the “massive” (**) increase was a statistical blip. The information provided doesn’t tell us if the crime has simply moved elsewhere, or if this is part of a national downturn in knife crime. It really is a non-news item. There isn’t enough information for the viewer to do anything but rely on how the sparse numbers are spun to the public.

Shocking, but this is how the government have wanted us to interact with news for many a year now. If the public were given all the information that drove national policy, half the crazy things we suffer now would never have survived.

Equally comical, is how Gordon Brown reacted to the predictable nonsense questions. According to the BBC, the text messages from their listeners saying things like “I was stabbed 2 years ago, how has knife crime gone down” were a valid counterpoint to the governments figures. A normal, sane, educated person would have laughed and said “shut up crazy fool.” But this is gold to politicians – they want people to think like this so that future crazy laws can be passed. This lead to a very bizarre exchange:

Newsbeat: The statistics on knife crime say one thing. We’re hearing other things from our listeners.
Gordon Brown: That’s why we want to get knives off the street. I’m not complacent at all. A lot of young people are stopping carrying knives but we’ve got a long way to go. And that’s why today you’ve got all these people from all different walks of life; sports people, from the world of entertainment, from radio, from television, all saying, working with the community groups, no to knives. (blah… blah… blah…)

A touch strange. The PM is saying nothing as an actual response. It is certified 100% content free. Isn’t that nice. That was just mildly odd but it was followed by this:

Newsbeat: The stats that you’ve published today seem to show that knife crime is down. A nurse at Bristol Royal Infirmary says stab wound admissions are going up.
Gordon Brown: What I want to know is how we can actually get knife crime down and how we can make sure it stays down. Making sure it stays down is more policing that’s visible on the streets, a presumption to prosecute if you’re seen to be carrying a knife, tougher police and prison sentences when that happens, shops banned from selling knives to young people and schools and community groups doing an educational process whereby young people are discouraged from carrying knives.

What? Listen to it on the radio. Newsbeat phrase their statement as a question. You can hear the question in the reporters voice. She is expecting an answer. Granted she seems unable to actually ask questions, and just makes statements with a rising emphasis at the end to imply a question, but if you speak English you can hear the questioning tone.  However, our glorious PM ignores it. It is really like he has been asked a different question and Newsbeat dubbed their own over the top of it. Nothing he says bares any relation to the question.

Bizarre.

Are we really in such a disconnected world that any of this makes sense? Do politicians think this is acceptable? Do reporters? (He wasn’t challenged on it).

Equally sad, but much more common, is the idea that the experiences of a nurse at the Bristol Royal has such an insight into national trends that their comments outweigh national reports. Even if they are the person who records every admission (and the cause) they have no idea what is going on in Liverpool, Barnsley, Truro, Southampton (etc.). The national statistics are based on reporting from various sources and show the national trend. Knife crime can go down 90% nationally but still show an increase in a region. That an otherwise well educated nurse doesn’t understand this element of statistics gives me concern over how disease surveillance is carried out.

The BBC mentions the “crime hotspots” that were targeted, and show a reduction:

The 10 knife crime hotspots are London, Essex, Lancashire, West Yorkshire, Merseyside, the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Nottinghamshire, South Wales and Thames Valley.

Unless the Bristol Royal has moved across the River Severn  into Wales, it is not in that list. It could show a trillion percent increase and the governments figures for the crime hotspots would still be down. This nurse’s experiences may be 100%, but they are irrelevant. The only way this person could have had real impact was if the debate was about knife-crime admissions to the Bristol Royal Infirmary. But it wasn’t.

Still, in this day and age of citizen journalism, no one was going to say this. The nurse’s (and others) comments were treated as valid counterpoints to the report and dutifully skipped around by the PM. Are the BBC’s news reporters really so empty that this seemed reasonable?

Sadly the answer seems to be “yes.” Well done Great Britain, I am so proud.

(*) Please note, this is a link to the current newsbeat page – the actual content I am talking about here may have gone by the time you read this. If you can, though, this is worth listening to. Its almost like they re-recorded the PM and asked him different questions…

(**) For an arbitrary value of massive.

Poor people cause all problems

Once again, the UK government shows the contempt with which poor people are viewed.

From today’s BBC news, the home affairs select committee have reported:

Pub happy hours should be banned and supermarkets stopped from selling alcohol at a loss in order to combat drink-fuelled disorder, MPs have said.

This has been on the news all day, with various organisations coming out in support of the idea that alcohol should cost more. Even the British Beer & Pub Association are in favour of the idea (but this is because the cheap beer promotions are costing them money, not because of any sense of civic duty).

Now, there is no doubt that drunken behaviour is a problem. I am not saying it doesn’t cause trouble within communities and within families. I am sceptical of the scale of the problem – I don’t think it is in any way worse now than it was when I was a teenager, when we had the same claims being made. However, given that large amounts of police resources are being thrown at the problem, you’d think it would have had some effect. Personally, despite what the tabloids claim, I have encountered a lot less drunken violence on a night out now, than I did 15 years ago, but this may be an deviation from the norm.

What does confuse me though, is how in Hel’s Kingdom making it more expensive is a solution?

People who get drunk in pubs and fight are the problem. People who have become alcoholics and steal to fund their addiction are the problem. How does making supermarket alcohol more expensive solve either one?

In reality, all it does is impact those less able to afford the drinks – arguably making theft increase – and like all stealth-taxation, it disproportionally impacts the poor. Even moderately wealthy people are going to be immune to an increase in the price of supermarket alcohol (I am biased, I rarely if ever drink so never buy it in a supermarket). Most people I know will buy a bottle of wine or two when they do their weekly shop. They are not causing the problems but will be most affected by the changed price and, in lots of cases will simply have to do without something they enjoy

The people who are causing problems – largely irrational youngsters – will remain unaffected. They will still have a disproportionate disposable income and still be willing to spend it all on a night out. They will still be immature and the most affected by the alcohol. They will still fight and cause public disorder.

The only people who will suffer are those who are already poor. Are they the only ones who cause trouble?

Sometimes I feel like we live in an odd parody of a medieval fiefdom. We have a wealthy class “Lording” it over the poor who are legislated like chattel. Poor people have the least say in how society treats them and are, generally, the ones blamed for the failings of society.

Rather than treat alcoholics, provide better outlets for the energy of youth and better health education, we regularly fall into the “make it cost” more trap. Rich people can pollute the planet, strain the health service, fight in the streets (etc), but Odin Forbid that the serf’s consider it.

I cant wait until we get the renaissance.

McCanns, Double Standards and Murder

Well, it seems that the media furore around the plight of poor, missing, Maddie McCann wont be dying down any day soon. As I have said in the past (more than once) the whole deal around this incident infuriates me. It must be interesting / infuriating / exciting lots of other people as well, because around 1/4 of all traffic to this blog last week was generated by people looking for comments about the McCanns being murderers. Not surprising really, given the massive amounts of media coverage.

First off, I am in complete agreement with the Archbishop of York that, for all intents and purposes Kate and Gerry McCann are innocent until proven guilty of murder in a court of law. Although he never said it, I will be charitable and assume that Dr Sentamu also included all other people charged with any form of crime – because that, basically, is what the law is supposed to uphold. What I may personally think about the McCanns is nothing more than my own opinion – unless by the will of Loki I am called up for Jury duty over their case (although if the Portuguese court calls me up for jury duty it would be bloody good evidence Loki existed…), nothing I think about them really matters.

The oddest thing I find about this whole saga, and I still find it odd even now, is how the presumption of innocence seems so strong towards Kate and Gerry McCann that people will go out of their way to show support for them. Total strangers, who can have had no contact with either of the McCann parents, stormed out of an Irish comedian’s act because he made jokes implying the McCann parents were murders. Foolish Patrick, if only he had stuck to jokes about race, war and so on – they are much more acceptable. People in countries across the world have put up posters “raising awareness” about missing Maddie (so obviously there is an assumption she is the last person on Earth who doesn’t need ten forms of ID to get on a plane…) and ordinary, poor, people have donated a fortune (over £1,000,000 so far) to support the parents in their round the world holiday awareness raising mission.

Not to be outdone, the rich and famous have joined in with this madness. Based on nothing more than Kate McCann’s hearfelt TV appearances (and the outpourings of their professional team of spokespeople…), Richard Branson has donated £100,000 to set up a defence fund to ensure they “have a fair hearing.” This nearly made me choke to death. Last Sunday, the BBC reported:

“Over the last few weeks Richard has been watching events as they have unfolded,” said his spokeswoman.

“There is a whole family involved here. When the McCanns made it known that under no circumstances would they touch the Find Madeleine fund, and discussed selling their house, Richard felt something had to be done.”

Sir Richard is a father himself and the most important thing for him is that a four-year-old girl is missing, the spokeswoman added.

“If he can help a little bit to take the burden off the family and extended family in this small way, then that’s all to the good.”

Wow. I never realised Sir Richard was in the business of funding suspected criminals in their defence – to ensure they get a fair trial. Are we to assume this is purely out of the goodness of his heart, and nothing to do with the fact the McCanns are middle class, Catholic, professional (white) people who have spent the last three months all over the TV and newspapers (often saying how innocent they are, so it must be true…)? If so, there is a long list of other people, the world over, who are at risk of not getting a fair trial because they cant afford £100,000 on legal fees… Where shall I start?

Not to be outdone, Cheshire-based millionaire Brian Kennedy has jumped squarely on the bandwagon as well. This time, saying “he felt compelled to help” the offer reads:

He said he was providing Kate and Gerry McCann, of Rothley, Leics, with the support of his in-house lawyer and their new spokesman, Clarence Mitchell.

Wow. They have a £100,000 defence fund and a top flight lawyer as well as a brand new “family spokesman.” They are sure to get a fair trial now, aren’t they…

Even if you leave aside, again, the issue of what an innocent family need with a “spokesman” the whole deal is madness. These otherwise intelligent and shrewd business geniuses are jumping to support what is basically two people who are suspects in a disappearance – there aren’t even any formal charges yet! – so one has to ask what is going on here.

The cynic in me (and it is a strong cynic) thinks this is nothing more than publicity stunts for the two tycoons – Virgin are going through a bit of a rough patch at the moment and, be honest, who has even heard of Brian Kennedy in the past? I am sure if the McCann’s were not worldwide media personalities now (will they be on Big Brother one day or, more ironically, “I’m a celebrity get me out of here…”?) neither of these two would have given a hoot about their legal status, nor any possible “Unfairness” over a foreign court.

However, I may be wrong. It is entirely possible that these two gentlemen are so “family orientated” that any case involving a missing or dead child, where other family members are suspects, will inspire them to equal acts of generosity. If we look through the recent news we should see boundless cases of parents accused of a crime, claiming they are innocent and then millions being thrown at them to ensure a fair trial. Sadly this is not the case.

Today, the BBC has a short article on a teenage mother who has been remanded to appear before Norwich Crown Court, charged with Causing or Allowing the Death of her daughter. Assuming she pleads innocent, will we expect to see a defence fund in her name set up? Or does Richard Branson think, because she is a teenage mother being tried in the UK, she is not worthy of his support? Will she have to suffice with legal aid because she doesn’t own a house to threaten to sell to cover her costs?

In August, the BBC had a report about a teenage girl who went missing (Natasha Coombs) which led with the heart rending:

An insurance firm manager whose only child went missing nearly a week ago, has spoken of his “unimaginable pain” at her disappearance.

Despite this, there was no fund set up to raise awareness about her status, after she was found dead on the railway line there was no fund set up to help either the family or prevent further deaths – certainly no billionaires stepped in to help and eventually when the mother could take the loss no longer, there is still no public outpouring. Cruel though it may sound, the McCanns still have each other and two other children, Gary Coombs really does have nothing left.

Searching through the news to find similar cases is, sadly, all to easy. Almost daily there is a case where a child goes missing (or dies) and a family member is under suspicion. Unfortunately lots of these are in working class or ethnic minority households. While I am not going to suggest that we, as a nation, have such deep seated double standards that this impacts the perception, it is strange.

The question I would love to ask Sir Richard or Brian is what makes the McCann parents special? Why do they deserve this support when no one else does? If I could ask the public this, I would, but I think the answer would be a lot less coherent.

[tags]Double Standards, Catholic, Catholicism, Church, Murder, Kate McCann, Gerry McCann, Maddie McCann, Sir Richard Branson, Richard Branson, Brian Kennedy, Gary Coombs, Natasha Coombs, Killing, Violence, Society, Culture, Racism, Philosophy, Legal Aid, Trial, Fair Trial, Defence Fund, Patrick Kielty,Portugal, Portuguese police, Law[/tags]

Customer focus and Blackwater

Blackwater being rather topical, I thought I’d find out something about who or what Blackwater is. In the last couple of days, CNN has been bursting with stories about the reported activities of Blackwater employees, with the shooting of Iraqi civilians being only the cherry on a large unsavoury cake.

On 2 August, James Meek, writing in The London Review of Books reviewed “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army” by Jeremy Scahill, thus showing an impressive degree of prescience regarding their future news value.

Even in this privatisation-hardened age, even in the United States, the notion that military installations are a monopoly of government remains so ingrained that in 2003, when the Chilean-American arms go-between José Miguel Pizarro Ovalle first saw the real-world mercenary processing centre run by the private firm Blackwater in North Carolina, he had to reach for the imagery of Cubby Broccoli. ‘It’s a private army in the 21st century,’ he gushed to Jeremy Scahill.

The whole tone of the article refers constantly to the fantasy James Bond villain-style of the organistion

It is a private military base, spread over seven thousand acres, near the town of Moyock and the Great Dismal Swamp, with firing ranges, tactical exercise areas and an armoury (containing more than a thousand weapons, according to the Virginian-Pilot, the local newspaper, though there is no law preventing Blackwater stocking as many as it wants)

The book relates how a public sector contractor became a private sector nation-state without (much of) a landmass.

it was the al-Qaida attacks of 11 September 2001, and the subsequent US intervention in Afghanistan and invasion of Iraq, that turned the taxpayer cash flow from a dribble to a high-pressure jet of dollars. It also gave Blackwater the chance to transform itself from a company that trained government employees to shoot into a company that supplied its own, private shooters for service anywhere in the world.

Al-Qaida attacks may have been tough on the victims but they were the perfect business opportunity to Blackwater. It’s an ill wind that blows no good, as the old saying goes.

Someone needs to explain the whole philosophy of privatisation to me again. I naively assumed the general argument is that state-run companies don’t have to compete and so provide inefficient services and so on.

So it must be that the US Government started to feel that its boring old state monopoly army wasn’t customer-focussed enough. Someone thought “What this army needs is some competition.”

What a brilliant idea. Why not carry on and have dozens of customer focussed go-ahead armies, focussed on the bottom line, rather than old concepts like the nation state, which admittedly have hardly distinguished themselves in practice.

And there’s more of a plus. They could compete between themselves to carry out contracts. The cut and thrust of the marketplace needn’t just be a metaphor. They can start shooting it out over who gets to rule the next bit territory. Last company with a surviving chief executive wins. Bidding wars over contracts can become non-metaphorical.

As well as its cutting edge customer-focus, it’s not without a noble historical precedent, either. Every other minor lord could call a few hundred disposable peasants to back them up in medieval times. And they were so peaceful, weren’t they? Hey nonny no.

Companies can send any junior executives without a hope of becoming CEOs to the Middle East to take territory there. There are so many pre-modern echoes here it feels a bit like stepping into a VR Crusades museum.

Actually, I’ve just remembered that some experimental organisations like this have already been established among the civilian populations. I believe they are called gangs.

Questionable Science

In recent weeks, any science content in New Scientist seems to be purely coincidental, with more and more pages being given over to woo and thinly veiled mysticism. This weeks issue is a minor deviation from this pattern, although most of the “solid science” is to be found in the letters pages…

There is one article, in the Comment and Analysis, which I am unsure about. Reading it, triggers a “bad science” response in me, but I am aware this may be a bit hasty. In an article titled “The media make a killing,” Michael Bond looks at some of the issues around the coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting. This is a well written article, which carries a lot of the “self evident truths” which the print media seem to like. As I was reading it, though, a few alarm bells were triggered — but this is not a subject in which I am well versed so before I scream Bad Science, I would like second opinions.

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