Wednesday, September 03, 2014 

Of walking abortion.

(Excuse the lack of source links in this post, for apparent reasons.  You without a doubt know the sites I'm talking about anyway.)

Loser / liar / fake or phoney, no one cares / everyone is guilty / fucked up, dunno why, you poor little boy

Do you really need me to point out the almost myriad hypocrisies, ironies and contradictions involved in the new and old media coverage of the leaked celebrity pictures, or "the fappening", as it was quickly christened (please don't ask me to explain what fapping is, as if you either don't know or can't guess we'll all be better off in the long run)?  Probably not.  The most obvious, as this blog is nothing if not obvious, was running articles about how so much as looking at the pictures is to perpetuate the abuse, a position in itself which has been examined and argued over, addressed in horror films, pornography and often come up found wanting, while at the same time hosting news stories explaining precisely where it was you needed to go if you wanted to find them.  If indeed, dear reader, you had not already sought them out, had them posted in your social media timeline or found out about them on a forum or elsewhere.  The BBC's report last night even included a picture of the front page of the site in question, for crying out loud.

Instead, let's start off with some of the basic inaccuracies which are still appearing in many of the articles on the leak.  Some give the impression that stolen images of around 100 celebrities have been posted.  They have not, or haven't been as yet.  Rather, a list of the names of around 100 celebrities/famous women was posted alongside the images, with the implication being that if images/videos of them hadn't been released, they would be shortly, or could be as on some forums the poster was asking for bitcoins to be paid to their account, whereafter they would then release more images.  Instead, images of around 25 celebrities have been released, not all of which are explicit, and in some cases there have only been one or two pictures of the celebrity posted.  By far the largest caches were of files stolen/hacked from either the iClouds or phones of Ali Michael and Kate Upton, or to be precise in Upton's case, from her partner Justin Verlander's account.  Contrary to some of the reports, there have been no images posted of Rhianna, Kim Kardashian or Scarlett Johansson to name but three, despite their appearing on the list.  Simply down to how their names are among the most recognisable, they seem to have been included.  All three have also had explicit images and or videos leaked in the past, which might have added to the confusion.

The main problem has been that as of yet we still don't definitively know how the images were acquired, what method was used or whether there was a "gang" in the real sense involved or rather just a few individuals who then swapped files with each other.  The most compelling explanation for how the leak happened so far is there was a group of people who individually had gained access to the cloud accounts of celebrities, who then started exchanging their finds with others who had also managed to "rip" the accounts of famous women.  To gain access to more of the cache you had to provide new material, or "wins".

Whether one of these individuals then went rogue, or gave the files to a friend, on Sunday afternoon a thread was posted on a well known image board that contained most of the pictures since available everywhere.  Others were posted later on Sunday, with a couple of new images shared on Monday, but there's been nothing since.  This could mean there's nothing else to release, the list of names was a masturbatory fabrication, and that screengrabs of folders containing censored thumbnails of as yet unreleased further images/videos posted were also fake, or that in time they will also be leaked.  What we do know is that on other boards prior to last Sunday there had been people saying they could rip iCloud accounts in exchange for either other images or bitcoins, and also talk of specific celebrities, of whom images were then leaked.  Whether as Apple claims an exploit wasn't used, and this was "hacking" of the old, brute force method, with an element of "social engineering" (which in the context of phone hacking we called blagging), also isn't as yet fully clear.

If there wasn't then enough dissonance around how it happened, there's much, more more about the ethics of all concerned.  It would be easier to just say we're all guilty, and we are, but that doesn't begin to cover it.  Obviously, the hacking itself is reprehensible; the images and videos leaked are the personal, intensely private and intimate record of the celebrities' lives.  At the same time however, that doesn't make the crime any worse than ripping the accounts of ordinary people in the search for explicit images, or a bitter, jealous ex-boyfriend or girlfriend posting the images shared with them in confidence, as part of a relationship, as "revenge".  The FBI have got involved entirely down to whom the victims are; if they were to do so in every case of "revenge porn" they wouldn't have time to keep entrapping American Muslims.

As we have to accept, once something is online it's incredibly difficult to get it removed. The European Court of Justice ruling on the "right to be forgotten", as welcome in principle as it is, will be and has already been abused by the rich and famous.  The argument is often made in the case of child abuse images, to so much as seek them out is to abuse that child and to encourage the people who produced that image to abuse others.  This is questionable when child pornography is not made to order; it is not marketed or produced by an industry; it is made by abusers for abusers yes, but once out in the wild it does not as porn does, make stars out of those depicted in it; quite the contrary in fact.  The more people who view it, the more likely it is the child will be rescued or the perpetrators will be caught.  This is why, unlike with ordinary porn, images that have existed for decades are still exchanged far more often than newly produced material is.  Vintage porn is a niche for those who get nostalgic for the so-called "golden age", in fact a time when despite the higher production values, the women were treated abysmally and the industry was riddled with criminals and chancers.  There are still instances of both today, but nowhere near to the same extent.

When explicit images of the already famous or the almost famous are leaked, it can go one of two ways.  It can make the person even more famous, such as in the case of the aforementioned Kim Kardashian, or it can ruin them, destroying their career, resilience and confidence.  Despite the initially supportive reaction when an explicit video of Tulisa Contostavlos was posted online, she was then targeted by Mazher Mahmood, in a despicable instance of someone already down on their luck being abused to sell newspapers.  By the same token, the newspapers and news sites pretending to be disgusted and outraged by this most base invasion of privacy fall over themselves to buy long-lens shots of celebrities either in bikinis or topless on holiday, and fill their columns with instances of "side-boob" or "wardrobe malfunctions", when that is the paparazzi aren't sticking their cameras right up the skirts of starlets.  They ridicule their fashion sense, or alternatively praise them when they get it "right".  Not so long ago Emma Watson tweeted a photo of her make-up bag, filled with all the beauty products she uses to get the "perfect" look demanded of her, the kind of quiet act of rebellion that ought to shame those invested at every level of the fame game and surrounding culture, but doesn't.

There is something additionally transgressive in seeing the famous as they want their partners to see them, rather than the public, just as some of it also as much about the modern need to record everything.  Taking naked self-shots has become entirely ordinary; when Jennifer Lawrence also does, an actress who doesn't so much as have a Twitter account, the urge to see behind the facade is easy to understand.  The vast majority of the stars also have nothing to be embarrassed about, beyond how they will undoubtedly blame themselves for not realising their photos were in the cloud, or their passwords weren't secure enough, regardless of how it's not their fault.  The more explicit images of Lawrence circulating are not her; the ones that are simply show a beautiful young woman, confident in her sexuality.  Only those she trusted should have seen them; it would be a further abuse if this was to shatter that confidence.

The hope has to be none of those caught up in the leak suffer a similar fate to Contostavlos, victory over Mahmood in court notwithstanding, although frankly it's difficult not to fear for Jessica Brown Findlay, something best left at that.  Looking at or for the outré, the unusual, is normal; it's when it goes beyond that into the unhealthy, the obsessional, the genuinely degrading and abusive that we have to worry and make judgements.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014 

Russian imperalism triumphs over US/NATO imperialism.

The "de-escalation" agreement reached at the Geneva meeting between Russia, Ukraine, the EU and the US is, obviously, to be welcomed.  It does however signify just how quickly Ukraine and in turn the West have adjusted, first to the Russian annexation of Crimea and now it seems to the loss of major parts of the country's east, something that less than two weeks ago the Americans and many commentators were denouncing as being an effective Russian forced break-up of a sovereign state.

It must be all the more painful as that remains precisely what the occupation of buildings and declarations of autonomous regions has been.  Regardless of the involvement of some pro-Russians on the ground, we've seen practically a carbon copy of the operation in Crimea.  Armed men without insignia seized government offices and police stations, somewhat supported by civilians, while the Ukrainians simply let them get on with it, apparently powerless to do anything, in spite of the police themselves having weapons.  All this despite there being far less support in the east of the country for alliance with Russia than there was in Crimea.  Whether out of fear or feeling no real allegiance to Ukraine as a state, the numbers of those objecting to the seizures seems relatively slight, not withstanding an apparently well-attended pro-Kiev protest in Donetsk today.

The most obvious illustration of this ambiguous relationship with Ukraine as a sovereign entity was the seizure yesterday of the 6 APCs in KramatorskAs Jamie says, those in charge were from the 25th Airborne Division, meant to be some of the most capable in the Ukrainian army, and yet they surrendered it seems with little more than a shrug, not willing to countenance getting into a situation where they might have to shoot their fellow citizens.  The unit has since been disbanded by the interim president, although whether other divisions will be more willing to put up a fight should it come to it remains in question.  Admirable in one way as it is that they stood down, can you imagine our very own heroes letting protesters, armed or otherwise, take any sort of vehicle off them in a similar situation?

A state doesn't fall apart as quickly as Ukraine has without grievances and discontent being allowed to fester for a long time.  The much exaggerated involvement of Svoboda and others on the far-right first in the Maidan protests and now the interim government has just been an handy excuse for those who have long wanted increased autonomy, with the Russians taking full advantage.  The aim it seems is not full annexation as in Crimea, instead something more akin to that in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where the country pulls the strings with figureheads in nominal power.  The Geneva agreement therefore suits Putin down to the ground: if those who have seized government buildings do pull back, it removes the threat of increased sanctions, while the promise of a new constitutional process will be open to all kinds of manipulation once attention has switched elsewhere.

As much as this is a triumph for Russian imperialism, and it really can't be described as anything else, it's also a tale of imperial overreach, mainly of the US and NATO, but also the EU.  Just as secretary of state Victoria Nuland seemed to believe the Maidan protests were there to be manipulated to the advantage of the US, deciding for Ukrainians whom their new political leaders should be, so have the Russians, just far more effectively and aggressively.  For all the posturing of NATO, including yesterday with the announcement of further deployments meant to "reassure" member states, it has been powerless to do anything to prevent Putin and friends from doing anything they feel like.  As for the EU, it can't even agree on the most basic of sanctions, such are the barriers when Russian business interests are so intertwined with those of our own top companies.

When it came down to it, we just didn't care enough about Ukraine.  Others looking to the West for hope will have to remember this hypocrisy.

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Monday, March 17, 2014 

Interventionists: the biters bit?

The more you consider recent Western foreign policy, the more it doesn't make even the slightest sense.  Or rather, it doesn't so long as you consider it from the viewpoint that within reason, we try and encourage the spread of freedom and human rights, a notion that has become fashionable over the past couple of decades.  One of the favourite arguments of interventionists when it came to Libya in response to critics saying why now and why not somewhere else was just because we can't act everywhere doesn't mean we shouldn't take action when we can.

Our intervention against Gaddafi seems to gain ever more significance at the same time as the questions about why Libya increase with time.  How, when we have failed to intervene in Syria despite three years of brutal, horrific civil war, did we end up backing the Libyan rebels in the space of three weeks?  The stated reasoning, that Gaddafi was threatening a bloodbath in Benghazi seemingly carried enough cachet for both Russia and China to abstain on UNSC resolution 1973 and so allow what turned into NATO effectively acting as the air support for various militias.  Those militias duly summarily executed Gaddafi after NATO "protected" his fleeing convoy from the air, with the country remaining in utter turmoil a couple of years on, although it seems we don't much care any more.

The obvious answer is because we could.  Libya's military apparatus was in a far worse state than Syria's; we had significant business interests in the country whereas China and Russia had relatively few; Gaddafi had little in the way of actual support, relying on a hardcore of supporters backed up with hired mercenaries; and the military themselves it seems felt it was doable.  Despite seeming a success though, even if what actually happened went far beyond what UNSCR 1973 authorised, it also exposed a number of problems.  First, the Americans were not pleased at what they saw as having to do the heavy lifting when it had been the UK and France who had pushed for action with the most vigour.  Fatally for the Syrians perhaps, second is both Russia and China felt fooled by what NATO decided the resolution authorised, despite it calling for a ceasefire and negotiations.  While Russia would always have been more inclined to oppose action in Syria considering her long term ties with the Assad family, it emboldened opposition to any repeat.

My opinion remains that had we really wanted to intervene against Assad, we would have done.  By any measure there was a far stronger case for doing so as the civil war began in earnest, as compared to Libya when the action was meant to prevent a massacre, the Assad regime had already carried out mass killings.  It would have been far more difficult to be sure, and there has never been anything approaching a serious plan set out for how such an intervention would begin, but that has never stopped us in the past.  Indeed, as we came so close to doing something, although it was explained precisely what, there must have been contingencies in place.  The decision instead seems to have been made to do just enough not to invite the accusation of indifference while at the same time keeping up a false level of rhetoric: sort of arming the sort of moderates, and not a lot more.  Our real attitude was summed up by how the government had to be all but humiliated into allowing a tiny number of Syrian refugees into the country, the impossible aim of reducing immigration to the tens of thousands being far more important to the Tories than relieving incredible human suffering.

Which brings us to the Crimea and the truly laughable sanctions that have been imposed today after the weekend's phony referendum in the province.  For all the talk of illegality and standing in solidarity with the Ukraine, what it's amounted to is freezing the assets of a whole 32 people.  Taking the likes of Bill Hague at their word that more will follow if Russia continues to destabilise Ukraine or goes further and attempts to repeat the Crimean action in the east of the country, it still makes a mockery of how our leaders have puffed themselves up in ever greater flights of rhetorical fancy.  True enough, the media more than anyone else have tried to turn this into Cold War 2.0, but it doesn't excuse the nonsense we've heard or at times, the hypocrisy, even if the real hypocrites reside in Moscow.

It might be this is the best approach: Russia is isolated, China abstaining on the vote at the UN at the weekend, and the economy looks likely to continue to suffer.  The threat of far more stringent sanctions could well deter Putin from any repeat in the restive east, and the last thing we need at this point is an overreaction that would threaten the (slight) Eurozone recovery.  It does however stick in the craw: far from this being an example of what happens when we are weak, it's rather a perfect example of what happens when you abuse the sound in principle but unworkable in practice notion of responsibility to protect.  The west has spent the 2000s intervening wherever it feels like, most egregiously in Iraq, but has also had no qualms about violating national sovereignty across the entire globe under the pretext of rubbing out terrorists wherever they're to be found.  The US/UK actively encouraged Israel to decimate the south of Lebanon in 2006, and now have the temerity to complain when Russia stages an all but entirely bloodless annexation of a highly sympathetic area of a neighbouring state.  We also aren't averse to staging pointless referendums when it has come to both Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands: in the case of the 2002 plebiscite in the former, 98.48% rejected the notion of sharing sovereignty with Spain, an absurdly high percentage that obviously didn't come close to reflecting real opinion.

One suspects that in a genuinely free vote not held under such intimidation and where the status quo had been offered an an option, the result would have been far closer.  A poll last month suggested only 41% wanted union with Russia, but whether the number of respondents from Crimea was statistically significant enough to make that an accurate barometer of opinion is open to question.  When it comes down to it, we're right to impose sanctions, and right to denounce what is a flagrant breach of international law by an aggressor state made to look foolish by the people of a nation who want to take their own path.  Our politicians though would do well not to make promises they cannot keep, while they should also take a long look at themselves and think about whether the positions they have taken over the past few years have encouraged others to also see the treaties of the 20th century as there to be broken without consequences.  Our own interventionists however tend to see no such shades of grey.

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Monday, March 03, 2014 

Charge of the shite brigade.

It seems a bit passé to instinctively kick Fox News, especially when MSNBC has effectively become its liberal counterpoint over in the States, but I've been reminded the past few days of a study which found those who watched Keith's pride and joy turned out to be less informed about what was happening than those who, err, didn't watch any news.  Not that MSNBC scored much better, as it turned out.

The obvious thing to do when confronted with what seems like a seismic geopolitical event is to look back to see if there are any comparable lessons from history.  Problem is, we don't turn to actual history, we turn to our own version of it.  More precisely, we often return to the comforting prejudices of the past and don't go much further.  Hence instantly we have the Sun and others reaching to dust off the Cold War metaphors, not that they really ever dispensed with them when it's come to Vladimir Putin in any case.  Those who were sympathetic towards Russia in the past are, unsurprisingly, sympathetic towards Russia now.  Those who are big fans of intervention when we do it or think we should do it more often demand to know why those who criticise them aren't up in arms over Russia walking into the Ukraine with even less justification than we usually attempt to make.  Those who insist Obama is secretly a peacenik despite having expanded the drone war worldwide in ways Bush never imagined think this is all his fault for drawing backJohn McCain is, well, John McCain.

Combined, it can transform into a mush that leaves you not just none the wiser, but even more confused.  When some of the aforementioned also have something resembling a point, it can obscure the actual events.  The invasion and occupation of Crimea is a flagrant breach of international law; when though John Kerry says, without apparent irony, that you don't just invade another country on a false pretext, it's difficult not to snort at the lack of awareness.  Understood as part of Putin's efforts to recreate the perceived strength and projected power of the Soviet Union with his Customs Union and proposed Eurasian Union, it doesn't come as the greatest surprise.  Apparently unwilling to wait out another period of pro-Western rule as happened after the Orange Revolution, the wheels were set in motion with Yanukovich's sudden disappearance from Kiev, along with the withdrawal of the police.  Hindsight may now suggest there was something in the offing, but more were concerned about eastern secession through legitimate political means rather than for it to be carried out in less than a week through the unopposed seizing of the Crimean parliament and the territory's airports.

If there's a echo here, it's more of the 2008 Georgia conflict than with anything else.  Then Georgia was baited into action while the world's attention was on the Beijing Olympics, Georgia seeing South Ossetia and Abkhazia de facto annexed as a result; this time while Russia's eyes were on Sochi, the Ukrainian activists were unexpectedly finishing what's being called the Maidan revolution.  Despite all the rhetoric then, and there was plenty of it, South Ossetia and Abkhazia remain firmly under Russian control.  Any protests were swiftly forgotten about, and regardless of the increasing authoritarianism of Russia under Medvedev/Putin, relations continued as was normal.

At this precise moment it seems as though Putin has overreached himself.  Not due to the response from our politicians, which has been equal parts hypocrisy, bluster and bellyaching, but due to the precipitous collapse in the value of the rouble, leading the Russian central bank to pump what it says will be an unlimited amount of money into propping it up.  Putin's gambit will have been informed in the knowledge that central Europe is dependent on Russian gas supplies flowing through Ukraine, with the Germans while critical unlikely to immediately back sanctions.  Not that we're going to either, as the half-wit with the briefing paper has informed the world.  Take sanctions and asset freezing off the table, and we're left with kicking Russia out of the G8 club, something they'll clearly never get over.

The most likely end games, either the Russians withdrawing after a suitable length of time or the SO/Abkahzia option, are hardly going to affect us in the long run.  For all the wooing that was being done, Ukraine joining the EU, let alone NATO, was more than 10 years away, and that was if someone with more credibility while still being pro-Russian hadn't turned up in Yanukovich's stead.  We talk a good game sure, as the intercepted phone call between the US officials nonchalantly chatting about different opposition leaders and the uselessness of the EU made clear.  We're amateurs though when compared to the Russians, who while being richer than they were but nowhere near as rich as us and who can project power while remaining relatively weak can act as they seemingly please.  They can only do so though because we don't care enough when it comes down to it: if we had really wanted to intervene in Syria, we would have done; if we had really wanted to do something about the murder of Alexander Litvinenko we could have done; and if this really was the gravest crisis of the 21st century so far in Europe, then we wouldn't be rejecting using our meagre powers of influence.

Nothing justifies the invasion of Crimea, whether it be the apparent welcome from some of those in the territory to the Russian troops, or our own military adventures.  Putin is of course the biggest hypocrite of them all, arming and supporting a brutal dictator in Syria, demanding that national sovereignty be respected, then acting as he sees fit within his own sphere of influence.  This doesn't however alter the fact that after more than a decade of constant war, whether it be our own involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya (the last being especially significant as both the Chinese and the Russians felt they had been tricked into supporting a resolution that NATO took to authorise regime change), or the Americans deciding that essentially the entire globe is a battlefield when it comes to the war on terror, bombing Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia also, the bigger surprise perhaps is that no other country has taken it upon themselves to launch an intervention and claim humanitarian aims up until this point.  As yet, there also hasn't been a single shot fired.  Contrast that to our plan for Syria, which was to bomb a country already in ruins and hope for the best.  Whether we learn something from this once it's reached a sort of conclusion or remain as ignorant as usual will also be worth evaluating in time.

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Tuesday, August 06, 2013 

How US national security policy works.

1. Allow incredibly wide access to various databases, and then act surprised and outraged when the occasional Manning/Snowden decides the wider public should know about the war crimes/corruption/abuse of civil liberties that are contained within those files.

2. Charge whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, a law drawn up during the first world war designed to target those undermining the war effort.  Alternatively, in the case of Manning, go one step further and actively pursue him on charges of aiding the enemy, on the basis that someone in al-Qaida might have downloaded a few of the thousands of files he sent to Wikileaks at some point or another.

3. When trying to regain the initiative following Snowden's revelations, leak to the New York Times and CNN that messages intercepted between the leader of al-Qaida central and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula were the basis for the closing of embassies throughout Africa and the Middle East, making it abundantly clear to the enemy that if they didn't already know they were being listened to, they most certainly do now.

(P.S. The blog is loading slowly due to on-going problems with the server.  All data is being transferred to a replacement, but it's taking a while.)

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Monday, December 03, 2012 

Ah, consistency.

Is there even the slightest logic to the coalition's policy on Israel-Palestine?  Last week William Hague, his mojo restored, stood up in the Commons and outlined how we would be abstaining on the recognition vote at the UN unless the Palestinians provided us with "assurances".  Requested "assurances" were duly not provided, and so we abstained while a mere 138 voted in favour, including some of our major European allies.

Israel has since responded in the only way she knows how, by declaring that a further 3,000 new homes will be built, illegally, on the occupied West Bank.  As a result, Foreign Office minister Alastair Burt summoned the Israeli ambassador to let him know our deep displeasure.  Here's a thought: considering that one of the assurances we required from the Palestinians was that they drop preconditions to talks, their only one being that the Israelis declare a halt to all settlement building in the occupied territories, wouldn't it have made sense to vote in favour of their first step towards statehood when the threatened Israeli response was to, err, accelerate settlement building even further?  Just who is it here that's in breach of international law?  When are we finally going to recognise that there isn't going to be a negotiated peace when Israel has no intention of evacuating the West Bank settlements, the presence of which make a Palestinian state unviable?  When, in short, are we going to start treating Israel as the rogue state it is?

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012 

I'd like to give William Hague a few assurances as well.

How times change.  In Tony Blair's dog days, his refusal to push for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hizbullah-Lebanon war was in contrast to the stance of David Cameron's newly detoxified Conservative party, with William Hague denouncing the destruction of much of southern Lebanon as "disproportionate".  To begin with, it looked as though the Conservatives allied with the Liberal Democrats would continue with this more critical stance on Israel now they were in power: Cameron, visiting Turkey in the aftermath of the raid on the Gaza flotilla, described the impoverished and cut-off territory as a "prison camp".

It couldn't last.  After Hague decided that Hamas had "principal responsibility" for the week long slaughter fest in Gaza, ignoring entirely the timeline of events leading up to the assassination of Ahmed al-Jabar, and how this was by no means the first time Israel has launched an attack on the Palestinians with an election fact approaching, we now have the truly pitiful decision to abstain on the application for non-member observer status at the UN.  In the first place, to demand assurances from the Palestinian Authority in itself shows the disparity between what we ask of Israel, whom we merely chastise when they steal the identities of British citizens to kill a minor Hamas figure, and the recognised representatives of a people we helped put in this mess.

It's also that at least the first of the "assurances" demanded is so outrageous.  Just what exactly is the point of requiring the PA to return to peace talks without conditions when it's so abundantly clear that Israel is not prepared to make even the slightest of concessions, even as a gesture of goodwill?  If there is ever going to be a negotiated peace and a two-state solution, then the building of settlements in the occupied West Bank has to end.  It really is that simple.  Requesting that the PA set aside this most basic of requirements, one which it has to be remembered the Obama administration also demanded from the Israelis and was ignored over is ridiculous.

Indeed, this refusal by the Israelis to put even a temporary halt to settlement building is exactly what led to the process at the UN from the PA in the first place: they recognised, sadly, that the talks were going nowhere due to consistent Israeli intransigence, often backed by the US.  The Palestine papers revealed that Condoleezza Rice told them they would never have a state if they didn't accept that the settlements of Ariel and Ma'ale Adumim would remain Israeli territory, regardless of the illegality of both under international law.  The PA by contrast offered what even Tzipi Livni recognised was the "biggest Jerusalem in history", and yet was still rebuffed.

Easier to understand is Hague's second required "assurance", that should the PA gain non-member observer status they won't attempt to pursue Israel at the International Criminal Court.  Just as we were embarrassed by the attempt to have Livni arrested when she visited the UK, so we would be forever in the US's bad books should their true foremost ally find itself in trouble at the ICC.  The US of course refused to join lest its own overseas adventures come under scrutiny, leading Israel to make the same decision despite initially signing the Rome statute, most "moral military" on the planet or otherwise.

Hague's claim then that the PA's attempt to gain recognition could set back the peace process is a nonsense.  There is no peace process to be set back, for the reason that the situation on the ground has changed, both in Israel and Palestine.  Never has it been so clear that Israel's aim is to make the establishment of a viable Palestinian state impossible, such is the continued colonisation of the West Bank and the near to completion construction of the wall separating the occupied territory from Israel.  Anything less than something approaching the 1967 borders will be unacceptable to the Palestinian people, and Israel has no intention of repeating the evacuation of Gaza, even if it were to lead to peace.  At the same time, the PA has become almost an irrelevance, weakened both by Israel's emasculation of the West Bank and the rise of Hamas.  Rightly or not, the Palestinian and the Arab street see the resistance of Hamas as achieving results, while the PA's recognition of Israel has led to 20 years of unrelenting occupation.

If anything, the reluctance of some western states to support the Palestinian bid is likely to further weaken the PA and so the merest chance of a return to negotiations than it being the other way around.  They have after all tried renouncing violence, recognising Israel, face-to-face talks under successive American administrations, and applying for full recognition from the UN Security Council, all so far for nowt.  Non-member observer status would provide a moment of respite.  By not supporting even this slight move towards statehood for Palestine, it just further highlights the utter hypocrisy of our support for some liberation movements while stymieing the baby steps of others.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012 

Already looking forward to the next.

The news coming through this evening that a ceasefire has been agreed between Israel and Hamas is undoubtedly welcome.  Any halt to the violence, however short-lived, is to be applauded.  In practice however, the agreement brokered by Egypt has done little more than return us to the situation prior to the assassination of Ahmed al-Jabari last Wednesday.  While in theory the deal calls for the opening of the crossings into Gaza, the implementation of the lifting of the economic blockade of the strip is only to be discussed after 24 hours of "de-escalation", more than suggesting that as has happened before, further progress is highly unlikely.  Dubious as it always was that Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak would have countenanced any loosening of the blockade when the whole point of "Operation Pillar of Defense" was to show themselves as strong, decisive military leaders before a waiting electorate, the deal seems to have merely set up the next assault on a terrorised territory and its imprisoned people.

The deal seems to have achieved little for Hamas either.  Once again, their infrastructure in Gaza has been either destroyed or substantially damaged, and the people that both support and oppose them have suffered terribly in the process.  They may have shown they've acquired longer range missiles, yet the ability to fire rockets at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem serves little purpose when they either fail to hit their targets (if there is one in the first place) or are intercepted by the Iron Dome defence system.  The initial sounding of raid alarms in those cities might have a psychological effect in the short term and lead a few Israelis to wonder whether they really are being wisely led by their politicians, especially seeing as it was only after the assault on Gaza began that the Fajr-5s were fired, but it's liable to be fleeting in the extreme.

Also overstated has been the impact of the Arab spring.  Apart from visits to Gaza by the Egyptian prime minister, the Turkish foreign minister and a slight increase in the number of (newly elected) politicians denouncing Israel in no uncertain terms, hardly anything has really changed.  Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have picked up where Mubarak left off, acting as intermediaries for ceasefire deals while refusing to open the crossing into Gaza that would have let some of the population escape the bombing.  When the far-right Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman praises Mohamed Morsi for his role, then it's clear that while the faces have changed the same old alliances remain.

Nor have our leaders altered their tune one iota.  Who knows whether behind the scenes pressure was put on Netanyahu not to launch a ground offensive as his predecessors did; what we do know is that there's been barely a word of public criticism for how the offensive was conducted.  Israel has once again got away with targeting ambulances, journalists, and targets that simply can't be in any way construed as connected with Hamas, while the deaths of innocents alongside alleged militants are no longer even "collateral damage", rather "operational failures".  


Look at the difference when it comes to an attack within Israel: the explosion on the bus in Tel Aviv happened directly outside the building where the IDF has been conducting its media operations from.  For all we know, the person who apparently threw the bomb onto the bus may well have been specifically targeting someone who works there and had just left the building.  Instantly however, both the wider media and politicians referred to it as a terrorist attack.  If that's a terrorist attack, and it's a description I wouldn't demur from, then what was the extra-judicial killing of Ahmed al-Jabari, a man who Israel had long worked with to contain the situation in Gaza, an attack that also killed innocent bystanders?

As so often in the past, this difference in approach is then reinforced by reporting that at worst actively dehumanises the Palestinians.  Jodi Rudoren's report for the New York Times of the Dalu family's funerals seemed determined to emphasise these apparent differences: they don't so much mourn as accept their fate, such is the "culture of martyrdom that pervades this place", nor are they "overcome with emotion nor fed up, perhaps because the current casualty count pales in comparison to the 1,400 lost four years ago".  Rudoren's inference seems clear: only when so many are killed does their numbness and anger get overwhelmed by sadness.  In posts on her Facebook page, Rudoren went further, saying the reaction from some of those who had lost relatives was "ho-hum".  Even the usually excellent Jeremy Bowen made similar references on his 10 O'Clock News broadcast last night.

It's true that some of the most hardline figures in Gaza do put martyrdom and resistance above everything else, and this is always going to be most evident when the international media are around.  That this is anything approaching universal however is utter nonsense, as countless photographs from Gaza show.  Whether it's the death of family members or the loss of their home, Palestinians, amazingly, do have emotions.  Cut them and they bleed.  


Remarkably, it's also the case as was shown during Operation Cast Lead that a minority of Israelis positively delight in the bombing of Gaza, when hundreds travelled to a hill overlooking the territory to get a better view of the assault.  We don't though tend to hear about how Israel has a militaristic culture, and that Arabs are too often treated as second-class citizens, as the former would be a generalisation much too far which would only ever feature, if at all, in a comment piece.  Rudoren it should be noted later clarified her comments after she was criticised by the Mondoweiss blog, but her piece in the Times has not been altered to reflect that.  Where she was right is this is a conflict that no one in the world actually wants to seem to solve, and today's events have not taken us closer to any sort of resolution.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012 

Neither one thing nor the other.

I realise it's a motif I've been over-dependent on recently, but such has been the scale of bullshit of late that it's been difficult not to feel like we've been mysteriously plunged into a parallel universe.  A couple of months back David Cameron appeared before the UN general assembly, and reaching for the most emotive imagery he could muster, he said the UN had been stained by the blood of children killed in Syria.  Not, you'll note, that China and Russia had the deaths of protesters on their consciences through their blocking of security council resolutions, but that the UN itself was in some way responsible for the impasse.  As for our own role, we naturally couldn't be blamed for having abused the doctrine of the responsibility to protect in Libya, overthrowing Gaddafi when the UN resolution which authorised the no-fly zone called for a ceasefire between the two sides, and so setting Russia and China dead against any repeat.

The use of language similar to Cameron's could of course never be countenanced in relation to Israel.  It doesn't matter how many minors are accidentally killed, or even deliberately targeted, of which there have been 1,338 since September 2000 in both the West Bank and Gaza, their blood simply isn't worth as much.  The closest our politicians have ever come to denouncing Israeli tactics is debating whether or not reducing much of Lebanon and Gaza to rubble is "disproportionate".  Those with exceptional memories might recall that during the Israel-Lebanon-Hizbullah war William Hague went so far as to use the D word, much to the outrage of Stephen Pollard.  Once in power, the Tories have returned to type, with Hague declaring Hamas "bears principal responsibility" for the latest murderous assault on an tiny, impoverished, cut-off territory.

Imagine my lack of surprise then when Hague stood up in the Commons today and announced that we would recognise the newly formed National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the "sole legitimate representative" of the Syrian people.  This is a group formed out of the ashes of the Syrian National Council, the previous attempt by exiles to rally support for the Syrian opposition, and one which had next to no support from within Syria itself, reminiscent of the exile groups which had a major hand in pushing for the invasion of Iraq.  Despite claims that this new formation is more representative and appealing to those actually fighting Assad's forces, rebels in Aleppo have already rejected its imposition on them.

Our vote of confidence in the national coalition is also in spite of how its leader, described almost universally as a moderate in our press, has some views that would doubtless sit comfortably with the more fundamentalist fighters.  Angry Arab notes that Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, in a series of posts on his blog, variously describes one of Saddam Hussein's positives as he "terrified the Jews" (amongst other anti-Semitic remarks), Shiites as "rejectionists" and Facebook as a possible US-Israeli intelligence ploy.  He also believes masturbation causes TB, and praises Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Egyptian cleric the Tories took such a disliking to when Ken Livingstone brought him to London.

Isn't this almost irrelevant when the most important thing is to get rid of Assad?  Well yes, but clearly we have different standards when it comes to the Palestinians.  By any measure Hamas has far more popular support than this latest Syrian concoction, and yet we refuse to recognise it and its right to defend the people of Gaza against Israeli aggression.  Leaving aside Hamas, William Hague also made clear today that the government is yet to make its mind up as to whether support the move by the Palestinian Authority to apply for recognition at the UN general assembly.  If we won't even support the move by the Fatah leadership when we supposedly still want two states, why pursue such similarly futile gestures when it comes to Syria?

It's fairly apparent that despite the whisperings in the ear of Nick Robinson we have little to no intention of arming the Syrian opposition, let alone going further and actively intervening.  The most we seem willing to provide is communications equipment, and frankly, that's one thing the Syrian fighters on the ground seem to have plenty of.  I'm incidentally all for the arming of the Syrian opposition if the anti-aircraft missiles the rebels are desperate for head straight afterwards to Gaza to be used in self-defence against fighter jets, but not if they're soon being used to target passenger planes, something al-Qaida has previous in.

Our position is ultimately neither one thing nor the other.  We support the Saudis in wanting to maintain the Sunni domination of the Middle East while weakening Iran, not so much as mentioning the unpleasantness in Qatif, Bahrain or indeed in Jordan, and yet we leave the actual arming of those pursuing what has turned into a sectarian war in Syria to other people.  This peeves the Saudis and Qataris, and also peeves those like me who see the hypocrisy in our position of wanting a free Middle East except in those places where we always have and always will support despots.  Meanwhile, we ignore those who've yearned for their own state for over 60 years, while recognising a group which was created last Tuesday and has no real support whatsoever as the "sole legitimate representative" of the Syrian people.  Once upon a time, we were colonalists.  Now we simply act as though we still are.

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Monday, November 19, 2012 

The cynicism of a terrorist state, exacerbated by the uselessness of the media.


There seems to be only one constant when it comes to Israel and Palestine: media coverage becomes more and more unbalanced.  Every separate assault by the Israelis on Gaza is treated as though it occurs in a vacuum, and is only launched with great reluctance in response to rocket fire from the territory Israel so bravely disengaged from.  At the end of last week the BBC news website made it look as though it was Hamas attacking Israel, and not the other way round.  There is very little, if any examination of the difference between the missiles launched from Gaza by resistance groups, often home-made, antiquated and weak, and the finest weaponry money can buy as used by the Israelis, and yet these attacks are reported as though they are all but identical.

Away from the accounts provided by sites such as Electronic Intifada, which notes this latest outbreak of violence effectively began when a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was killed by the IDF while he was playing football, sparking a wave of retaliatory rocket attacks, the most honest piece to feature in a British newspaper was in the Graun, written by the deputy head of Hamas's political bureau.  This is how skewed reporting on Gaza has become: while the IDF tweets incessantly and Israeli politicians and spokesmen use almost the exact same formulations as they did four years previous, all of which is lapped up by the mainstream media and barely questioned, those associated with Hamas, a supposed terrorist organisation dedicated to the destruction of Israel, are the ones telling the closest to the truth.

We shouldn't be in the slightest bit surprised then at the specific targeting of buildings used by Hamas's TV station (as well as foreign journalists) to try and get their side of the story across.  One such strike today killed three members of Islamic Jihad, with the IDF tweeting soon after that the men were hiding there and "not to be interviewed".  How they knew all of this is anyone's guess; what's clear is that their intelligence isn't always so good, as shown by yesterday's strike on the home of the Dalou family.  Believing that a Hamas target was inside the house, the IDF apparently wasn't aware or more likely didn't care that a strike on him would also kill innocents.  As it was, 10 members of the Dalou family were massacred, including 4 children.  The target wasn't among them.

Then again, in the eyes of Israeli politicians, the IDF and indeed much of the media, there is no such thing as an innocent Gazan citizen.  Anyone and anything can be targeted as long as they can be linked with Hamas, however tenuously.  Buildings struck are Hamas buildings; schools are Hamas-run, as are hospitals.  During Operation Cast Lead, the wholesale murder of police officers was justified on the basis they were Hamas police officers, and the argument has since been taken to its logical conclusion.  Israel is of course perfectly prepared to make long-standing agreements with Hamas, whereby Hamas pledges to do the best it can to keep rocket fire from other militant groups to a minimum in return for a cessation of air strikes, but when it's election time and there are votes to be won from an ever more hardline public, Hamas once again becomes the implacable genocidal foe that must be put out of commission once and for all.

It's this murderous cynicism that sickens more than anything.  It's not just Palestinians whose lives are put in the balance by this most vile form of electioneering, although they are overwhelming those most at risk; it's the Israelis in the path of the rockets who face uncertainty too.  As pathetic as the rockets fired from Gaza mostly are, 3 Israelis were killed directly as a consequence of the policies pursued by Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, believing that they can succeed where Kadima failed before.  They are backed to the hilt by our own leaders, who while condemning the bloodshed in Syria and say something must be done about Assad wring their hands over the carnage in Gaza, putting the blame almost wholly on Hamas.  In the US, one of the senators urging the arming of the Syrian rebels threatened Egypt with the cutting off of aid if they "kept inciting violence between the Israelis and Palestinians".   This same man would like the Islamists in Syria to get their hands on modern anti-air missiles, weapons which would almost inevitably find their way straight afterwards to Gaza.

As little as possible then is explained, lest it alter the narrative that Israel is the victim rather than the aggressor.  Electoral cynicism is skirted over, as is the blockade of Gaza that prevents civilians from escaping from what is effectively a free fire zone.  At least in Syria those in the firing line between rebels and the regime can for the most part escape should they choose; those in Gaza have no such option, unless they have a medical complaint so urgent that even the Israelis can't refuse them access to hospitals outside of the Strip.  The history of the occupation, the Oslo accords, the setting up of the Palestinian authority and the lack of progress ever since, overwhelmingly the result of Israeli intransigence, goes by unmentioned.  That the settlements in the West Bank continue to be expanded, with ever more Palestinian land seized and cut off isn't relevant.  Palestinian resistance is condemned, whether it's through rockets or stone throwing, while the attempt to gain statehood through the UN is blocked.  Despite all this injustice, the Palestinian cause only grows stronger, and the strength and belief of the people remains undimmed.  They will one day have a state, and one day Israel's crimes will be brought to account.  That day cannot come soon enough.

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Thursday, November 15, 2012 

Meanwhile, in bizarro world...

The UK is considering whether to officially recognise the Palestinian opposition, sources say.

Foreign Secretary William Hague is to meet leaders of Hamas and Fatah in London on Friday to discuss the "grave and worsening" situation in Gaza.

Although high profile US figures such as John McCain have long been calling for the arming of the Palestinians, up until now Britain has only offered "non-military" aid to the opposition.  According to BBC political editor Nick Robinson, David Cameron believes the bloody conflict in Gaza is reaching what one of his advisers calls "the something must be done stage" - the moment when the public will demand action to save the lives of ordinary Gazans unable to escape from the blockaded strip.

This new tone was reflected in a statement from William Hague:

"Israel bears principal responsibility for the current crisis.  It is crystal clear this is merely the latest shamefully cynical move by politicians desperate to show themselves as the toughest on the Palestinians ahead of an election, just as Operation Cast Lead was four years ago.  The extra-judicial killing of Ahmed al-Jabari shows the depths to which Israel is prepared to sink - killing a man who had long worked with them towards keeping the peace, and then posting a video of the attack on the internet.

"As has happened before, Israel broke a truce it signed up to, only to then claim to the world at large that rocket fire from Gaza had forced their hand.  Whilst we condemn the launching of missiles from Gaza that are impossible to aim accurately, we recognise that the bombing of the territory makes an already difficult life there intolerable.  Palestinians have the right to live without fear of attack from Israel.  The deaths of innocent children are especially difficult to take - as the father of 11-month old Omar al-Masharawi asked, what had his son possibly done to deserve his fate?

"We have long supported a two-state solution, but it is becoming increasingly clear that Israel is not prepared to be a partner for peace.  Ignoring international law, it continues to build settlements in the West Bank, and has made life ever more difficult for ordinary Palestinians.  Much as we support an urgent resumption of negotiations, we have little faith they would be successful.  As such, we are considering whether the time has come to arm the Palestinian opposition so they can adequately defend themselves."

Asked for a response, the Israeli government gave the exact same statement as it has after past attacks on Gaza:

"Terrorists human shields Hamas terrorists rocket fire terrorists deliberately target terrorists other side will have to pay intolerable nothing to do with election terrorists Hamas human shields escalation that will exact a price terrorists."

Bashar al-Assad is understandably delighted at all this.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012 

Two for the price of one.

There was widespread outrage today when a foreign publication published not just the paparazzi shots of Catherine Middleton sunbathing topless, but also a collage which superimposed her naked breasts onto an image of the prophet Muhammad.

The Albanian satirical magazine, Horatio Longoria, estimated to have a circulation of approximately 6 copies, went ahead with the printing out of this month's issue despite the legal action taken by the Royal family, and in spite of the widespread rioting across the Muslim world that greeted the sudden discovery on YouTube of a trailer for a movie of truly laughable production values.

Asked as to why he would do such a thing, the editor of Horatio Longoria, 14-year-old Simon Quinlack, was quoted to have said: "Well, it's for the profit. I might sell a few more copies to people at school. Never has then been so much fuss about such inconsequential things. And yes, I do mean that in more ways than one. Oh, and it was this week's hobby."

Albanian police, fearing that Quinlack might become a target for reprisals by deranged monarchists and hysterically hypocritical tabloid journalists have posted an armed guard outside his bedroom, which he is any case not allowed out of as he is grounded. Worldwide reaction to Horatio Longoria's slur on the prophet has so far been relatively muted, although Anjem Choudary is said to have called for Princess Eugenie to be beheaded.

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Thursday, June 07, 2012 

Ah, consistency, pt 2.


Today: no Foreign Office ministers will visit Ukraine during Euro 2012 in protest at the "selective justice" meted out to former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. (Although, strangely, most accounts of her trial for abuse of office miss out the fact that her former coalition partner Viktor Yushchenko testified against her.)

Yesterday: Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa was welcomed into the UK for a handshake with a grinning Liz. Rajapaska's leading political opponent General Sarath Fonseka is currently imprisoned, having been found guilty first of corruption and then of daring to suggest that senior government officials were responsible for war crimes at the end of the country's civil war, something now so well documented as to be undeniable. The UN Secretary General's advisory panel found that tens of thousands of civilians died in the last 5 months of the war, with most killed as a result of Sri Lankan military shelling.

(Oh, and it does seem ever so slightly hypocritical we're not officially going to Euro 2012 when very shortly dozens of state representatives from far more repressive and authoritarian regimes than Ukraine will be coming to London for the Olympics. Ahmadinejad might not be travelling, but you can bet that the Saudis will, despite it being highly unlikely that the country will field a single female athlete.)

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Thursday, January 06, 2011 

Scum-watch: The appalling irresponsibility of EastEnders.

You may well have to forgive me for thinking there's something ever so slightly redundant about complaining over the sensationalist and unrealistic nature of soap opera storylines (especially considering a good part of this blog is regularly given over to doing something similar when it comes to tabloid newspapers, and indeed as this post is also going to). It's rather like whining about quiz shows for containing questions, moaning that Noel Edmonds pretends there's something more than pure luck to Deal or No Deal or being surprised when Live at the Apollo isn't funny.

It therefore doesn't really strike me as especially beyond the pale, insensitive or going too far for EastEnders to have a character's baby die of cot death and in a moment of grief stricken madness for her to swap it with a friend's perfectly healthy child. If anything, it seems in remarkably good taste compared to Emmerdale's infamous plane crash storyline, coming as it did close to the fifth anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing, and certainly no less plausible than Coronation Street marking its 50th anniversary with the the celebratory plot of a gas explosion causing a tram crash. This is to say nothing of Neighbours having characters apparently return from the grave, or Crossroads finish its short-lived revival with the revelation that the entire series had been the dream of a supermarket checkout assistant. It's true that EastEnders has unlike the other soaps somewhat tried in the past to deliver hard-hitting plotlines while giving over time to the social issues behind them, and tried to at least keep the notion of realism involved, even if not narrative realism as Claude argues, and this latest development goes somewhat against that, yet it still doesn't seem any more outlandish or offensive than the burying alive of Max Branning, which Ofcom decided was inappropriately shown before the watershed.

Where it starts to get even more ridiculous is when newspapers use editorial space* to attack broadcasters as a whole for even considering using such "warped sensationalism" as "entertainment". Already in the past year we've seen the Sun condemn the BBC for the perceived anti-Conservative bias of Basil Brush; now the paper has taken up the complaints of Anne Diamond and the apparently permanently indignant whingers at Mumsnet by calling the EastEnders storyline an "appalling misjudgement" when it could have tackled the subject "responsibly". Whether the paper was always going to strike out at the corporation over the subject regardless of being leaked the news that the actor portraying the character who lost her baby is leaving the show is impossible to know, but it hardly helps the paper's credibility that despite claiming she was leaving as a direct result of the storyline, her agent has since made clear that in fact the decision had been made months ago. Not such a "huge embarrassment" to the corporation then as the paper's editorial had so confidently stated.

The Sun taking almost any opportunity to criticise the BBC is hardly a new development. It does though really start to enter into the realms of abject hypocrisy when only last week the paper had to apologise for claiming that there was a specific al-Qaida threat against the filming of Coronation Street's live episode, despite Greater Manchester police making clear at the time that they were only involved in policing the perimeter of the set at the request of Granada, with the officers involved being paid by the production company for the time spent away from their normal duties. If anything smacks of warped sensationalism, such a ridiculous and potentially damaging story does; it hardly comes across as responsible either. While the paper had no problems finding the space to feature criticism of the BBC, it strangely didn't mention the controversy featured in other papers concerning Frankie Boyle's Tramadol Nights on Channel 4, something which doubtless has absolutely nothing to do with the man himself penning a column for none other than Sun rather than the paper deciding that it was a non-story.

Still, now that the storylines of fictional dramas are considered to be worthy of comment in the leader column of the paper's biggest selling newspaper, we can no doubt rely on the fact that the Sun will be giving the plots of the programmes on the new Sky Atlantic a similarly critical once over. It would certainly make a change to the company being plugged endlessly in every other section.

*As the Sun's editorials are not properly archived on the paper's website, the leader column in full can be read below:

COT death is a nightmare that haunts every parent of a new baby.

So who at the BBC imagined sensationalising such a heartbreaking theme would make good "entertainment"?

We are used to EastEnders being grim. It was no surprise that a particularly depressing episode was lined up for New Year's Eve.

But this time, the level of outrage proves the show went too far.

Actress Samantha Womack did her best to play tragic mum Ronnie Branning with sensitivity as she switched her dead baby for the infant son of Kat and Alfie Moon.

But, as The Sun reveals, Samantha was so distressed by the storyline she handed in her notice after seeing the script and will leave in May.

The actress made it clear she thought the plot was a mistake and would cause a backlash. But bosses ignored her.

Her resignation is a huge embarrassment to the BBC.

As broadcaster Anne Diamond, who lost her baby son to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, said, not even cot death was dramatic enough for EastEnders. It had to go one better with the ludicrous baby swap.

Campaigners like Anne have helped reduce the cot death toll from 2,000 a year to 300.

EastEnders could have helped that campaign by tackling the subject responsibly.

Reducing it to warped sensationalism was an appalling misjudgment.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010 

Liam Fox and a truly appalling leak.

It is remarkable, is it not, just how little comment there's been about the calling in of the police, albeit the Ministry of Defence police, to search for the source of the leak of a letter from Liam Fox to David Cameron which sets out in no uncertain terms just how the Strategic Defence and Strategy Review is going to affect his department? The nearest obvious comparison to make is with the arrest of Damian Green a little less than 2 years ago, having received numerous Home Office documents from Chris Galley, a civil servant who had previously applied to work for none other than Damian Green.

Clearly this isn't anywhere near as serious as this hasn't involved anti-terrorist police entering parliament and actually arresting an MP. Nonetheless, it still seems to be an over-the-top reaction to a leak which many would claim to have been in the public interest, regardless of how it involved private correspondence with the prime minister. The letter, while about national security, does not potentially put anyone in actual danger and should definitely not breach the Official Secrets Act. Things do however seem just as murky as they initially were in the Damian Green case: supposedly the MoD doesn't know who ordered the search, or at least wasn't telling the press.

Murkier still is that most initial suspicions as to who leaked the letter fell on Fox himself. Throughout the summer there's been numerous stories about how Fox has been doing battle against the Treasury, most notably over the potential replacement of Trident, with the MoD arguing for it to be paid for out of a separate fund from the defence budget, with George Osborne apparently refusing to budge. The letter however goes even further, Fox directly spelling exactly what might be lost should the SDSR turn into a more comprehensive spending review. It reads, as Mark Urban just said on Newsnight, like it was made to be leaked, with Fox appealing almost desperately and hinting at the consequences politically for the coalition should things continue as they are going, risking have their words on defence being the government's first priority being thrown back at them, the morale of the armed forces potentially damaged. It in fact surely edges into hyperbole; after all, this was a government which also came to power pledging to cut heavily. Liam Fox knew damn well that there were going to be "draconian" cuts; he himself argued for them, and it's not as if the defence budget isn't ripe for savings.

Special pleading similar to that from Fox is doubtless going on across Whitehall as October the 20th looms ever closer. Would however a minister go so far as to leak a letter himself, or if not, get an aide or sympathiser to do so? Without knowing who called in the MoD police, and on what authority, it's difficult to able to ascertain whether Fox would have taken the risk; did Cameron suggest the inquiry so as to be certain that his defence secretary isn't playing him off against the right-wing press, always sensitive to any sort of defence cuts? As ever, the question primarily has to be who benefits, and it's fairly clear that for the moment at least it's Fox, however much he protests about how appalling it is that such private letters have found their way into the hands of the Telegraph. More than anything, it just proves the point that you can change the government, but you can't change how they react when the press gets hold of "sensitive" information. Should something which benefits Labour and not the defence secretary go missing, one has to wonder what the response will then be.

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Wednesday, August 04, 2010 

Scum-watch: "Sick, thick and deluded".

Never one to beat a dead horse when you can instead eviscerate the damn thing, the Sun takes the trouble to conduct a full interview with the mother cited in yesterday's leader contrasting the funerals of Raoul Moat and Alex Higgins. It is the silly season, after all, and why miss a perfect opportunity to attack all those things that the paper professes to loathe? Teresa Bystram is not just "sick, thick and deluded"; according to the paper's editorial by her actions she also proves "herself to be an unfit mother", whose kids should be put "in care". It would of course be interesting to know whether Bystram was paid by the Sun for the interview she gave, especially when unless she really is as thick as the paper claims she must have realised just how they were going to use it, as that might put their rage about how she's using her benefits into some sort of perspective, but never mind.

Far more instructive is that currently the article has 32 comments, a rather poor showing for a piece clearly written with the intention of causing widespread anger at Bystram's fecklessness and indolence. By contrast, yesterday's article on the murder of Robert Coello in Grendon prison has 43, which even taking into consideration a couple of multiple responses is still far higher. Then again, you can't blame them: delighting in the violent death of a child rapist isn't even close to the sickness required to be able empathise with another murderer. That sort of thing demands a front page and a fulminating editorial in the country's biggest selling daily newspaper. Anything less would be a journalistic dereliction of duty.

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Tuesday, August 03, 2010 

Scum-watch: "They must have deserved it".

The Sun, still amazed that anyone could possibly find Raoul Moat worthy of sympathy, dedicates most of its leader column to contrasting the funerals of Moat and Alex Higgins. Higgins, in case you couldn't guess, is a hero, whilst Moat is a zero. The paper intones:

Moat was only a hero to anti-police ghouls. The fact people travelled miles to display admiration shows how damaged Britain has become.

One woman dragged her three teenage sons from Surrey on the overnight bus. She thinks Moat is a hero. She "absolutely loved him".

To the innocents injured and killed she said: "Fair enough, people died. But they must have deserved it."


The leader writer has a point. Why bother travelling miles to display admiration or declare that people who were killed must have deserved it when you can do the latter on the paper's website? For reasons known only to themselves, the paper has left the comment section open on the article detailing the death in prison of Robert Coello, who was serving a life term for raping a child. The responses are wholly predictable:

why waste 7 1/2 hours of nhs time and resorces?...sounded like the guy was sub-human any way. they should have taken him to a vet and had him put down

There are, it must be said, some noble individuals going against the grain:

whilst he was vile, i don't believe anyone should take the law into their own hands. it makes that person as sick as the offender, despite the fact that this coello clearly deserved it

Well, clearly. To be fair, there are two others in the thread who demur from open celebration at the taking of Coello's life, but they're most certainly in the minority.

While hinting at it, the Sun's article doesn't explain how Grendon is different to other prisons, only noting it "offers unique therapeutic care for warped offenders who are required to express a genuine desire to change and stay drug free". The BBC steps into the breach:

If a prisoner is identified as a potential candidate for the treatment available at Grendon, staff assemble probation and psychiatric reports and intelligence from the prison service's offender assessment system. The prison's head of psychology decides which prisoners are appropriate to be admitted.

Once admitted, inmates are subject to three months of initial assessments before being allocated to one of five wings, each of which operates as an autonomous "therapeutic community".


These details might have softened the feelings expressed by some in the Sun's comment section, although probably not all of them.

In any case, this is hardly the first time the paper has "forgot" to close the comment section when reporting on the suspicious death of a convicted sex offender: it left them open when Gordon Boon was killed, subsequently it turned out by a fellow con and not by a vigilante, and also when Andy Cunningham was murdered, both with the same gleeful end result. Boon's son made the obvious point when appealing for information about his father's death:

"Even if you can't forgive him, please remember what we are going through," he said. "We can't ignore what he's done, but nobody deserves to be murdered."

Coello almost certainly has relatives and friends out there now in the same situation, who loathed his crime but still loved him as a family member or former companion. Seeing comments openly welcoming his death and lauding his murderer, even if they might have expected as much, is far beneath what a newspaper should ever consider publishing, regardless of how it comes to appear on their site. For a paper so disgusted and outraged that anyone could ever feel sympathy for or think a murderer should be celebrated as a hero, it's strange that it seems to think it's perfectly acceptable when the victim is also a criminal.

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