Where There Were No Doors

Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before - Joseph Campbell

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Two items for your consideration

The main news is that Joel has started to blog again, though as he mentions in his email, "blogging may be seldom". Nonetheless, even a solitary post per month from Mr. Biroco is probably more than the internet deserves. Head over there and read the only blog I wouldn't hesitate to describe as "literature".

Next. I know I've said this before, but it bears repeating. Astral Weeks genuinely is the finest album ever recorded. If you don't own it then you're going through life in a strange, empty shadow-world. And I pity you.

(there's nothing below the fold)
Full post...

Monday, November 14, 2005

Traitor! (and other short observations)

Traitor!

It's just been brought to my attention that the Right Rev. Ian Paisley was one of the MPs who voted against the 90-day internment law. Therefore, in the eyes of The Sun, the man is a traitor to the United Kingdom.

Now, while I'm no fan of Reverend Paisley, I'd still pay good money to watch Rebekah Wade tell him he's a traitor to his face. That'd be some Reality Television I'd approve of.

Shakespeare

William Shakespeare is shite. OK? And anyone who says otherwise has simply been brainwashed by the British education system. Deal with it.

His dialogue is stunted beyond belief... stunted to the point of unintelligibility. All this horseshit about "wonderful use of language" is just that... horseshit. I mean, it's not the archaic nature of the language, it's the sheer badness of it. Cultural imperialism has meant that Shakespeare gets revered all round the world, but it's perhaps the biggest example of Emperor's New Clothes syndrome that exists within literature.

The plots are unimaginative and flawed on almost every level. The characters never inspire the slightest bit of empathy and are often crude racist stereotypes. And dear god, that wooden dialogue.

Yes, I do have a wee chip on my shoulder about the fact that I - as an Irishman - spent some time in the British educational system and was exposed to the myth that Shakespeare is the pinnacle of literature in the English language. At the same time that I was studying Henry IV (1 & 2) I also happened to read Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce.

Night and fucking day.

Which isn't saying that you have to look to the Irish for good writing (though that's never a bad idea), and there's plenty of truly excellent literature to be found in this country. But I find this sycophantic lauding of 'The Bard' to be vaguely nauseating.

Oh yeah, and Falstaff just isn't funny.

Last.fm

There's an interesting website that I've just encountered (via Curious Hamster) called Last.fm. The basic premise is really very simple. You download a wee plug-in for your media player which then uploads the track information for every song / piece of music you listen to on your PC. This data is then put into charts and can be cross-referenced in all manner of interesting ways.

A very groovy site indeed if you listen to a lot of music on your computer. You can check in on what I'm listening to at any point by heading over to my own Last.fm page (which I've also conveniently made the top link on my left sidebar).

Coming soon

I'm starting to get the urge to write about stuff again (can you tell?) I think we can thank (or blame) The Sunt for this reawakening. Silver linings and what have you.

Currently in the works is a piece about just why it is that artists selling their music to advertisers is so shoddy (lots of stuff about fugue states and psychological imprinting / manipulation... kind of highbrow but with enough swearing to make it sufferable I hope).

I'm also a little tempted to get involved in the nuclear energy debate currently going on between Rochenko over at Smokewriting and Tim Worstall.

I'm aware that my off-hand dismissal of economists has irritated Tim in the past, and I'm genuinely sorry about that. He's a smart chap with some interesting stuff to say (for an economist). And I'd like to point out to Tim that my flippant remarks about economists are merely an attempt to prick the bubble of self-importance which surrounds the discipline. A bubble that I'm sure Tim (if he was feeling honest) would admit is there. It's no different to the habitual use of the phrase "tree-hugger" to prick exactly the same bubble that environmentalists frequently disappear into.

Economics can be an interesting and useful model of human interaction. But my problem is with those (and they are many in number) who confuse the model with reality... the map with the landscape.

Anyways, I'm part of the anti-nuke crew. For a whole bunch of reasons. And I hope to get round to expanding on those reasons soon. Though it's possible I may use the comments facility on Tim and Rochenko's blogs to do so. If that's the case, I'll provide a handy link from here.
Full post...

Weekend wittering

I'm feeling miserable. So bear with me.

"But why", asks my loyal and sympathetic reader, "why are you feeling miserable jim?" Well, it's for a number of reasons really... but the main one being that this weekend was the *mumble mumble*-year anniversary of me becoming single. That's a whole *mumble mumble* years of celibacy and waking up alone and not having anyone to hold onto during those long dark nights of the soul. And *mumble mumble* years is a long time believe me. About *mumble mumble* years too long in fact. So if I seem a tad more bitter than usual over the next few days, you know why it is.

And as if to rub salt in the wound...

As I was walking up to the postal sorting office yesterday morning to pick up a package (a spindle of blank discs from a well-known online retailer) I noticed two very lovely women walking towards me. It was a bright but cold morning and as we neared one another, the prettiest of the two stopped, smiled and said "good morning!" to me.

Now, I'm not Brad Pitt so I ain't exactly well-versed in how to handle this situation (that said, I don't make small children spontaneously burst into tears either). Nonetheless, there was an obvious response, and I hit upon it... I smiled and said "Good morning!" right back.

I felt pleased with myself. "This whole conversing with gorgeous strangers thing isn't nearly as hard as I'd imagined", I thought. Though I did desperately hope that my lovely new friend would speak next. I had no idea where to go after "good morning".

And my hopes were fulfilled. She did speak next. She said, "I'd like to share the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ with you".

The Romans had it right: throw 'em to the lions!

I'm not entirely sure that anyone can honestly claim to understand the word "crestfallen" until they've been in this situation.

I silently wished I'd been wearing my "Catholic School Survivor" t-shirt under my jacket. But I wasn't. So instead I realised that I'd have to fall back on one of the classics. Choosing one, I allowed the smile to drain from my face and - narrowing my eyes - I fixed her with a steely gaze. Then, quietly but forcefully I responded with the three words guaranteed to make her think twice about evangelising to strangers.

"Satan Is Lord" I said. And walked briskly past her.

Now, the great thing about the 'satan is lord' strategy is the vast disparity between the meaning those words have in my mind, and the meaning they have in the mind of a True Believer. From my point of view I've said something very silly indeed. From her point of view, however, I've said the worst thing imaginable. And now, every time she approaches some poor schlepp with her desire to share God's infinite love, she'll have a vague worry that they might be another plainclothes satanist.

That may seem sadistic - or at least gratuitously disruptive - to you, my dear sensitive reader. And I'm afraid we'll just have to differ on that. To me the buggers are fair game.

See, evangelicals really wind me up. I have nothing against people believing in imaginary beings in the privacy of their own homes. Indeed, I've been there myself. And I guarantee, if you munch enough mushrooms, you'll be there too. More than that, I'm happy to let them gather and believe in imaginary shit together. They can even build special buildings to do it in. Hell yeah, knock yourselves out. Believe in a race of 6-inch high rhinocerous people from the planet Spunk if you want. Seriously, you have my blessing.

But evangelicals aren't happy to leave it like that. Oh no, they won't be happy until everyone else believes in their rhinoids too. And frankly that annoys me. It's the reason for so much of the truly nasty shit that people have done to each other historically... it's not just annoying and - when done by someone fanciable - a tease. Though it's that too obviously.

My first thought whenever I'm spiritually assaulted by one of these missionaries is "The fucking gall! How dare they!" There's nothing more patronising than stopping me in the street and telling me that - as far as the important stuff goes - my understanding of the world, and of life, is infinitely inferior to theirs. But that if I listen to what they say, I can be cured of all my misconceptions and ascend to their level.

I want to shake them by the shoulders and explain that, actually, I've been studying theology pretty seriously since I was nine fucking years old! I have debated the existence of god with jesuits who have Phd's in theology and divinity coming out of their ears. There is nothing that some street-evangelist in East London can tell me that I haven't already heard and dismissed for extremely good reasons.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying "I know all the answers". Because I really don't. But I do have a far better set of questions than any street evangelist.

And I'm also not saying that every christian preacher or missionary earns my contempt. That used to be the case, but I've since met some quite staggeringly admirable people whose faith has taken them to some of the shittiest places on the planet, where they are - quite incontravertibly - doing very good work. But wandering the streets of London harrassing strangers just doesn't cut it... too little Jesus Christ and too much St. Paul.

Remember... Satan is Lord.
Full post...

Friday, November 11, 2005

More about 'The Sun'

I will spend an hour researching, drafting and submitting an independent complaint to the Press Complaints Commission about Rebekah Wade's conduct and/or material published by the Sun before and after the 90-day terror law vote, but only if 50 other people will too.
To be honest, I really couldn't wait until 50 others signed up, and I've already made a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission with regards to the cynical manipulation of Mr. Tulloch's image to further the agenda of a national tabloid newspaper.

I urge my reader to do the same.

I've got some links below the fold to help you do just that, as well as the text of my complaint (note: it's important that people draft their own text - though basing it loosely upon a template is probably fine - as obvious carbon copies will be ignored).

There are two distinct issues which have left The Sunt open to legitimate complaint this week. The first is the use of Mr. John Tulloch's image juxtaposed with a headline that completely contradicts his views (discussed in my piece yesterday). The second is the attack on those who voted against the 90-day measure, and labelling them "traitors".

I have chosen to focus on the first of those (for no other reason than it angers me in a way that newspapers haven't done for some time) but people should feel free to complain about both.

Links and ting

First head on over to "Report Rebekah Wade to the PCC - and do it today" at bloggerheads and read Tim's piece. He includes all of the important links, but just for reference...

The Sun front page that pissed me off.
The 'Traitors' one.

The Press Complaints Commission:
- Home page
- Code of Practice
- Online complaints form

Notes for making a complaint:
- it is important that a link to the piece in question is included.
Tulloch:
http://www.thesun.co.uk/article/0,,2005050000-2003410033,00.html

Traitors:
http://www.thesun.co.uk/article/0,,2005050000-2005082056,00.html

- it is important that the relevant clauses of the Code of Practice (the ones you feel have been breached) are listed in your complaint (you can identify them simply by number and don't have to cite the full text):
1 - Accuracy
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, mis-leading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate - an apology published.

iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.


5 - Intrusion into grief or shock
In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings, such as inquests.
And finally, this is the text of my complaint. I don't suggest you use it as a template as I'm actually quite unhappy with the wording. I suspect you, dear reader, can come up with something better...
Clauses breached:
Clause 1 (i) and (iii) plus Clause 5.

URL of story:
http://www.thesun.co.uk/article/0,,2005050000-2003410033,00.html

To Whom It May Concern:

The Sun's front page on November 8th initially angered me for the blatant piece of political manipulation that it is. However I assumed that the pictured bomb victim had permitted his image to be used and had expressed the sentiment of the headline (though I did assume it wasn't a direct quote as it did not have quotation marks). Therefore it seemed like just another example of a tabloid being its usual shameful self.

The anger I felt, however, was as nothing compared to my anger and dismay when - two days later in The Guardian - it was revealed that the gentleman in question (Mr. John Tulloch) had not been consulted about the use of his image and indeed held views which directly contradicted those expressed in the headline!

It is appalling that a national newspaper can feature a full - front page - image of a person in the midst of an extremely traumatic event and clearly imply that the person holds a particular view in the hope of making readers more sympathetic towards that view. If this cynical manipulation of facts, images and reader opinion is allowed to go unchallenged it makes a complete mockery of everything that a newspaper is supposed to stand for. It erodes trust in British journalism in general, as well as causing clear distress to the individual pictured (as expressed in the Guardian piece).

Mr. Tulloch is owed an apology from The Sun which is as prominent as the piece which deliberately misrepresented him. And perhaps almost as importantly, The Sun has a duty to inform its readers about the nasty manipulation of their views and emotions it engaged in through the deceitful use of images and headlines.
Please folks, do make a complaint about this. We all accept that tabloid newspapers engage in shoddy journalism and corporate propaganda. However The Sun have stepped way over the line this time and need to be held to account.
Full post...

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Rebekah Wade needs to resign

I'm not the first to make this call. Tim over at bloggerheads (in a post entitled Rebekah Wade hijacks victims of terrorism) beat me to it, as I'm sure have many others.

And of course, it's probably a bit silly to criticise The Sun in its capacity as a newspaper. It is a shameful and sordid publication whose pages rarely if ever contain anything resembling "news". The editorial and journalistic staff are scum. Opportunistic, money-grubbing hacks with no integrity and a willingness to misinform the public in order to push a foul corporate agenda.

There's nothing new about that of course, but it seems clear that they have crossed a line with regards to recent politicial events and must be held accountable in some way. The resignation of the editor, Rebekah Wade, is the very least that should happen (I'd also favour a hefty fine for the newspaper's owner and perhaps a slap around the face for everyone who works there).

On the day of the House of Commons vote on whether to allow the police to detain people for 90 days without charge, The Sunt ran with the following front-page...

Front page of The Sun: Tell Tony He's Right

Tell Tony He's Right


Now, as I've already argued; it makes no sense to bestow legislative powers on individuals merely because they, or a family member, have suffered a traumatic experience. Indeed while those people should be listened to, sympathised with, and comforted; they are the last people we want creating new laws. Laws need to be drawn up, voted upon and enforced with objectivity. The victims of the terrible attacks in July may well possess that objectivity but it should be assumed that they do not (human beings have emotional responses to extremely traumatic experiences, which typically have a tendency to cloud their objectivity).

Also, and I don't wish to sound callous here, but the fact remains that in a society that's democratic (in name at least) we don't decide who gets to pass laws and who doesn't based upon whether or not they were injured in a suicide-bombing. The chap on the front page of The Sun has suffered more than I have at the hands of extremists. But I'm afraid that doesn't mean he gets to vote more often than me in the next election, and it doesn't mean that his voice should be listened to more than mine on the subject of legislative policy.

(assuming I wasn't asleep during the meeting when we decided to choose our law-makers by suicide-bomb-lottery rather than one-person-one-vote)

But I'm not calling for Rebekah Wade's resignation because of her piss-poor understanding of representative democracy. You'd have thought her incredible ignorance on this issue would be a hindrance for someone editing a national newspaper, but that's really a matter for her employer.

And I'm not even calling for her resignation because of the decision to exploit the suffering of an individual to further a political agenda. That - after all - is one of the primary functions of The Sun. It's the sort of unethical and objectionable behaviour that should merit resignation of course. But Rebekah Wade works for a tabloid... objectionability and a total lack of ethics is a job requirement.

No. The reason Rebekah Wade needs to resign is this.
When Tuesday's Sun featured one of the iconic images from 7/7 alongside the headline 'Tell Tony He's Right', the implication was clear: the victim backed the PM's tough anti-terror measures. There was just one problem: John Tulloch doesn't. In fact, [...] he is angrier with the politicians than the bombers.
You see, it appears that The Sun ran that front-page image without consulting the person pictured in it. Not only that, they have clearly misrepresented him in a manner that I'm shocked is not actually criminal.
This is using my image to push through draconian and utterly unnecessary terrorism legislation. It's incredibly ironic that The Sun's rhetoric is as the voice of the people yet they don't actually ask the people involved, the victims, what they think. If you want to use my image, the words coming out of my mouth would be, "Not in my name, Tony". I haven't read anything or seen anything in the past few months to convince me these laws are necessary.
Full post...

Another music post

Don't worry, I'm not about to bang on about artists selling their music to advertisers so that they (the advertisers) can better manipulate us. I have a long piece about that (less about the Eno thing / more about the general principle) in the works. Hopefully it'll be finished soon.

No, this is a much more benign (some might even say "throwaway") post. I was recently asked by an acquaintance how many songs were on my mp3 player. She's a lovely person but she isn't a music geek, so when I responded with "probably about 6,000 or so... if you assume an average of 8 tracks per album" she was somewhat flabbergasted.

She told me that her music collection comprised roughly 25 CDs. Most of them "best of" collections from bands I wouldn't piss on if they were on fire. Still, if people wish to travel through life surrounded by bad artists (or worse... "musical entertainers") then so be it.

But this person was clearly intrigued by someone whose mp3 player alone (i.e. not my entire music collection) currently contains about 700 albums. When did I have time to listen to all this music? Have I actually heard every one of the 6,000 songs? How long would it take to listen through every album, single and EP in my collection? And importantly... which ones were the best? Which ones did I listen to most often? Which ones did I never listen to?

I answered all of her questions, and will do so again for the benefit of my poor beleaguered reader.

When did I have time to listen to all this music?
I have music playing almost constantly. And I probably spend a good two hours every day devoting my full attention to it. I think I'd probably go a bit mad if I didn't (or at least "madder"). Losing myself in music is kind of like sleeping, in that I start to get a bit frayed around the edges if I don't do it for a few days.

Have I actually heard every one of the 6,000 songs?
To the best of my knowledge; yes. Though it's probable that I've heard a small minority no more than once. I've been assured, for instance, that William Shatner's recent album, "Has Been", is a worthy and surprisingly beautiful album. Maybe one day I'll give it another chance...

How long would it take to listen through every album, single and EP in my collection?
Well, bearing in mind the amount of vinyl and cassettes that remain as yet undigitised, I can really only tell - with any degree of accuracy - how long it would take to listen to the stuff already ripped and whose ones and zeroes are neatly filed on my hard-drive. And the answer to that is "a shade under three weeks".

Which ones were the best?
Well, I didn't answer this directly. Instead I suggested ten albums which she should add to her collection and which would provide a window on the world of good music (I wasn't quite that patronising in person of course). These are the ten albums that no person should ever be without. Albums which should be at the heart of any music collection and which mark a person out as a person of discerning taste, impeccible intelligence and staggering good looks...

1. The White Album - The Beatles.
2. Astral Weeks - Van Morrison.
3. Sign 'O' The Times - Prince.
4. Horses - Patti Smith.
5. Pet Sounds - The Beach Boys.
6. Low - David Bowie.
7. Ambient 4: On Land - Brian Eno.
8. Vespertine - Björk.
9. Remain In Light - Talking Heads.
10. Closer - Joy Division.

Now, naturally no list of ten can possibly be exhaustive. Indeed, the above list barely scratches the surface. But with those ten in your collection, a person can hold their head high and point out that they have some damn fine music for almost any occasion or mood.

Which ones did I listen to most often?
I took that to be a question about current listening habits, rather than a request to total up all the hours listening to Another Green World and establishing whether there's more of them than there are hours spent listening to Disintegration. And right now, the ten albums I've got on heaviest rotation are:

1. Faith (remastered edition) - The Cure.
2. Hatful of Hollow - The Smiths.
3. The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses.
4. You Are The Quarry - Morrissey.
5. Hypocrisy Is the Greatest Luxury - Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy.
6. Strangeways, Here We Come - The Smiths.
7. Graceland - Paul Simon.
8. Dub Plate Selection - Twilight Circus.
9. Lead Us Not Into Temptation - David Byrne.
10. Achtung Baby - U2.

Which ones did I never listen to?
Well, never say never. I scrolled through the albums on my mp3 player and listed ten that I hadn't listened to this year (except when a track has come on 'shuffle'). It's important to note that (with the possible exception of Item #5) all of these are fine albums...

1. Animals, Suns & Atoms - Tarwater.
2. Rite Now - Julian Cope.
3. Music for Prepared Piano Vol. 2 - John Cage.
4. The Madcap Laughs - Syd Barrett.
5. Gold - Prince.
6. Woman's Gotta Have It - Cornershop.
7. Live In Philadelphia - Atari Teenage Riot.
8. C'est Si Bon - Louis Armstrong.
9. National Hijinx - Journeyman.
10. The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan - Bob Dylan.
Full post...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Internment

This afternoon the government of the United Kingdom tried to pass a law giving the police powers to detain people on suspicion of terrorism for 90 days without charge, trial or representation. Spearheaded by Tony Blair and his authoritarian chums in response to demands from "the police" (interestingly, I have heard high-ranking police officers claim that internment would be a disaster and would make community-based intelligence gathering next to impossible... so when Tony Blair says "the police" it's wise to keep in mind that he means "those police I choose to listen to and who say roughly what I want them to say").

Of course, there are those who complain that this policy is not internment (in the Northern Irish sense) at all. "Look at the details of its implementation!" they cry, as though the people alienated by this policy - the very people the police are trying to woo as part of their intelligence gathering - will be interested in the minor procedural differences between "being locked up without charge or representation for 90 days" and "internment".

Internment proved so good at recruiting disaffected people into extremist organisations in Northern Ireland, that one can only assume Tony Blair is actively seeking to increase the number of terrorists in this country. The theory must be that more terrorists means more arrests, and so makes the police look better. Hence why "the police" want this law so much I guess.

That more terrorists may also mean more carnage on our public transport is clearly not worrying Blair or his minions who only use buses or the tube for photo-ops when they want to seem like they're doing something for the non-chauffeur-driven plebs.

Over at a blog called Harry's Place, a commentator called "brownie" has explained just why we need those 90 days of internment. Actually, no they haven't. Brain-dead brownie, in the piece entitled "Uncivil liberties", has instead merely trotted out sub-Daily Mail wankery, irrational prejudice and deeply flawed reasoning in a demonstration of intellectual paucity unrivalled since Oliver Kamm's recent book (which I haven't read, but the man's an oaf so I'm comfortable with my prejudice).

However, as I'm feeling in a particularly foul mood, let's have a closer look at brownie's "reasoning" and allow it to unravel before our eyes. We begin with the classic tabloid tactic of demanding new laws based upon whatever shocking hypothesis the writer chooses to invent.
So the next atrocity occurs and it transpires that all three perpetrators were known to the security services and had in fact been in police custody some weeks earlier, only to be released before charges could be brought. Police had indicated that insufficient time was available to collate data they were in the process of extracting from the hard disks of several computers. Incriminating documents that had recently come to light in another EU country had also yet to be delivered by the relevant authorities when the 14-day detention period expired.
There's no evidence at all that any of the bombers that struck London were ever investigated by the police, let alone arrested and held for any period of time. This bears repeating... the extension of the current internment period from 14 to 90 days would have had precisely zero impact on any recent terrorist acts that occurred in the real world (as opposed to the imagination of fevered authoritarians). There are reports that one of the bombers was "known to the police". This is rather vague, and is only relevant if the police are also expecting to be granted powers to detain everyone they know for 90 days.

Brownie's point, above, invents a specific danger that might be alleviated by the imposition of a 90-day period. But let's imagine that the 90-day thing had passed through the House of Commons and was now law. Let me restate brownie's opening paragraph as an argument against that 90 day period...
So the next atrocity occurs and it transpires that all three perpetrators were known to the security services and had in fact been in police custody some weeks earlier, only to be released before charges could be brought. Police had indicated that insufficient time was available to collate data they were in the process of extracting from the hard disks of several computers. Incriminating documents that had recently come to light in another EU country had also yet to be delivered by the relevant authorities when the 90-day detention period expired.
See? It turns out we actually need more than 90 days. In fact I have no problem imagining a scenario where the police would require powers to lock up suspects for 5 years without trial. Y'know... so long as we're using imagination as the basis for important legislation.

Brownie continues with the convenient fiction...
The Independent newspaper devotes 12 page of copy to a system process failure that has left 50 people dead and scores of families missing a father, mother, son or daughter. The Prime Minister, a stalwart defender of civil liberties who ignored the advice of the security services and police chiefs to permit suspects to be held without trial for a maximum 90 days, even with the safety net of continuous 7-day judicial review and an annual sunset clause, is forced to resign amid opposition claims that he has "blood on his hands".
Just so you get the point, by the way, let's restate the above paragraph...
The Independent newspaper devotes 12 page of copy to a system process failure that has left 50 people dead and scores of families missing a father, mother, son or daughter. The Prime Minister, a stalwart defender of civil liberties who ignored the advice of the security services and police chiefs to permit suspects to be held without trial for a maximum 1,825 days, even with the safety net of continuous 7-day judicial review and an annual sunset clause, is forced to resign amid opposition claims that he has "blood on his hands".
"Ah, but hang on", you say, "the police aren't asking for five years... they only want 90 days". And that's true. But when 90 days doesn't stop the next attack (bearing in mind it wouldn't have stopped the last one) then who knows what the police will ask for?

Which brings me conveniently to the important point. "The police" are not asking for 90-days. "The police Blair's listening to" are asking for it. Some others may be asking for 42 days, or 28 days, or 5 years. But listen; even if all of them... every single person wearing a police uniform... agreed that 90 days was required, so what?

The police do not make the laws. They enforce those laws that we, the people, believe are required. They work for us and they do what we tell them to do. They do not tell us what powers they should have. We grant them such powers as we choose to grant. If they cannot fulfill their duty using their existing powers, then I suggest we fire them and hire some who can.

To repeat: internment for 90 days without charge would not have prevented the July bombings in London. These extra powers are being requested based upon hypothetical scenarios. And the fact is; I don't trust the police. Sorry, but there you have it. I trust them slightly more than soldiers and slightly less than drug-dealers. So when they tell me that they want additional powers to detain people without charge, I'm naturally sceptical.

"Show me evidence", is my natural response, "that these powers will make me safer, and will not merely make you more powerful and the rest of us less so". No such evidence exists. And giving additional powers to the police based upon the stated desires of those officers favoured by Tony Blair, as opposed to actual evidence, is a shoddy way to draw up legislation.

Brownie continues the demand for more powers with the classic tabloid trick of holding a tragic image under our noses and claiming that means whatever they say it does. In this case, we have poor Mrs. Johnson...
Mrs. Johnson, newly widowed and childless after her family was wiped out en route to football match, is asked by Jon Snow of Channel 4 news about striking the right balance between preservation of civil liberties and defence of the realm and its citizens.

Except she isn't, because such questions posed in the aftermath of yet another atrocity, directed at a grieving relatives, just sound like so much offensive, platitudinous hogwash.
Of course she isn't asked those questions! Not only doesn't she exist (which makes asking her anything at all very difficult), but if she did exist it would be insensitive in the extreme to discuss her recent loss in the abstract terms of national legislative policy.

But, and let's be clear on this; that does not mean that national policy on issues such as terrorism-prevention and civil-liberties should be set by the families of dead victims. Perhaps it is brownie's intention to hand over the running of our country to policemen and grieving parents, but it's not something I want to see. Imaginary Mrs. Johnson doesn't get to pass laws for the rest of us just because her family was murdered. She has no more right to lay down the rules of society than do the police.
Full post...

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

France burns

Could someone explain what the hell is going on in France? I stop watching the news for a few days (figured I could do with a short break) and return to discover that France is being burnt down. It's all very strange.

One theory I've heard is that the recent deaths by electrocution of two Moslem teenagers from a socially deprived background have been like a spark to a pre-existing powderkeg of seething resentment and social alienation. Some people believe the police are responsible for the tragic deaths, and emotions that had been steadily building over a long period have finally erupted.

The response from the government has been draconian (instigating curfews and rounding up hundreds of people each night), insensitive and massively divisive (comments from the Interior Minister seemed to imply that anyone who sympathised with the stated reasons for the violence... even if not condoning the violence itself... were apologists for, and no better than, thugs and extremists). This has provoked an escalation in the violence.

Another theory is that the terrible deaths of the teenagers was the last thing the police wanted. Yes, they were pursuing the kids in response to an alleged crime. But the decision by the teenagers to hide in an electricity substation was completely outside the control of the police and had nothing to do with race, religion or social class. A tiny minority within the poorer communities... agitators, thugs and perhaps something even more sinister... have leapt upon this terrible accident and are ruthlessly exploiting it to forward an extremist agenda.

The deaths of those teenagers wasn't part of some great social exclusionary principle, but just plain bad luck. And while there's no question that inequity within society and racial and religious tension all need to be urgently addressed, the rioters are deliberately exacerbating the situation and dragging France further away from any kind of solution, not towards one.

Both of those theories (rough, ready and incomplete though they are) can adequately explain the events in France during the past two weeks. But neither of them really satisfy me. I think there's something going on that's being missed or ignored in the media.

My theory (also known as "The Truth") is that French automobile manufacturers and importers are secretly distributing flyers in the poorer parts of France promising a "bounty" on each car torched. In an era when high oil prices are making car ownership more expensive, people are far more likely to delay replacing their cars. A high oil price might mean record profits for oil companies, but it hits the automakers hard.

And of course, in these times of social inequity and increasing economic hardship within some French communities, there will always be a ready supply of unemployed young men who see no future. And they can be easily recruited as agents of the car industry to artificially raise demand for their product.

Think about it.
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