Tuesday, September 30, 2014 

Shorter Theresa May.

We have to destroy the town in order to save it.

(More tomorrow once the nicer effects of an anaesthetic wear off.  Don't ask.)

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Monday, September 29, 2014 

I chose not to choose Osborne.

If his actions hadn't been so unfathomably stupid, you could almost feel sorry for Brooks Newmark.  Chris Bryant is still constantly reminded of his posing in a pair of y-fronts for his Gaydar profile (and I, err, seem to have also just brought it up again), but at least he kept his pants on.  Newmark, being the archetypal Tory rather than a wannabe vicar turned MP, was just a touch more classy in his exposing.  Not by deciding upon a sepia filter or anything though, which might have been trying just a little too hard.  Instead he flopped the old johnson out of his dark blue and red paisley pyjamas, apparently convinced this would ignite fires of passion in his correspondent on Twitter.  Who just happened to be a freelance hack trying his luck with the old honeypot ploy, rather than Sophie Wittams, blonde Tory PR bombshell.

Cue many complaints about entrapment and all the rest of it, moans which were few and far between when Mazher Mahmood finally met his match in Tulisa.  Admittedly, they have a point: rather than a targeted operation against someone known to be liberal in their sending of private images, this seems to have been a fishing expedition, with "Wittams" contacting a number of Tory MPs.  All the same, I can't be the only one thinking it wasn't so long back Lord Rennard was being denounced for his (alleged) threatening sexual behaviour and touching of prospective Lib Dem MPs.  Even if this was a consensual exchange of pictures, should an MP be doing such things in any case, or indeed, shouldn't it be seen as indicative of a lack of judgement?

Newmark being ensnared by the Sunday Mirror would have been bad enough for the Tories on the eve of their conference, only for Mark Reckless to join his compadre Douglas Carswell in defecting to UKIP.  Much as we could just defer to nominative determinism on this one, as many others have, it says much about the state the Conservatives find themselves in that Nigel Farage's merry band has proved more attractive to not just one but two Tory MPs with healthy majorities.  Reckless could no longer stand being in a party apparently doomed to defeat at the next election, so he's joined one that's err, even more doomed to defeat at the next election.  Still, at least he can now be happier in his own skin, no longer forced to defend his party to those in Rochester who believe themselves to be "over taxed" and "over regulated", those key complaints on the doors.  As for the cost to the taxpayer of his decision to resign and seek re-election when he could have waited a few months and done exactly the same thing at the time of the general election, more important is the Farage bandwagon.  Quite how this is championing his constituents' interests rather than his new party's isn't clear, but no doubt he can justify it to himself somehow.

Yesterday in Birmingham then felt more like a conference of a far-left sect than it did that of the main governing party, with Reckless being denounced from the platform for his lies and betrayal.  Not that you could ever imagine Grant Shapps, aka Michael Green, aka Sebastian Fox being a leftie agitator, mainly as he comes across as far too dim.  Nothing is too obvious for Shapps, no sentiment too trite, no soundbite too overcooked.  If all else fails he can perhaps look for work at GCHQ, as the Tories now do a sideline in recording phone calls without the other person's knowledge and then playing them to all and sundry.  More the actions of an authoritarian one party state than the Tories of old, but needs apparently must when it comes to exposing the double dealings of those who are Reckless.

It was still preferable to what's become the Monday ritual, the delivering of the George Osborne gospel.  Worth keeping in mind is by some difference Osborne is now the most popular and also the most successful of all the coalition's ministers: that he's been a miserable failure when judged by the goals set by err, George Osborne doesn't matter when the competition is even worse.  By any real measure Michael Gove would rank as most successful such has been his impact on education, only for his charms to be deemed just too offensive to teachers and in turn voters.  Osborne by contrast, who must inspire thoughts of doing a Mantel in many, remains in place and dividing and ruling the same as ever.

Having got off relatively lightly of late, one would hope due to the Tories realising just how unpopular the bedroom tax has become, those on benefits whether in or out of work are due to cop it once again.  Should the Tories get a majority the under 21s will face the equivalent of "community payback" once they've claimed JSA for 6 months, while they also won't be able to get housing benefit.  The benefit cap as a whole will be lowered to £23,000, while only those in the support group of ESA will see their payments rise in line with inflation for a further two years.  Meanwhile, those under 40 who can afford to buy their own home could potentially get a 20% discount whether they need one or not, and another "death tax" will be abolished, with what's left of a pension pot no longer taxed at 55%.  It really couldn't be any more stark: if you're "one of us", aspiring to own your home, wanting to pass on money to your kids, Osborne and pals will be more than glad to help.  If you're struggling to make ends meet, claiming anything from the government whatsoever (with the exception of those able to jump through the hoops of the work capability assessment and everyone lucky enough to be 65+), you're on your own.  We hear that nice Mr Miliband, the same one who couldn't even remember the deficit, instantly disqualifying him from entering the room of the Very Serious People, will be happy to have you.

You could understand Osborne's gambit more if the £3bn estimated to be saved by these changes went a lot of the way to making the savings Osborne claims they will.  The problem is this is just £3bn of the £12bn total from welfare, with another £13bn to come from savings from the non-protected government departments.  Neither figure seems likely to be achieved without extreme pain, nor does it seem realistic taxes won't have to rise in some way, despite all of Osborne's fine words, if that is he means what he says about running a surplus.  It could be just as he's failed miserably to get rid of the deficit in a single term, he could relent once the election has been won.  Equally, he could raise taxes straight away to get it out of the way, even if it was to break his promises.  Or it could be he means what he says, and to hell with the consequences.  Whichever it is, there's no evidence making his stand now will win the support he believes it will from those who favour the Tories on the economy.  Keen as he apparently is on paraphrasing Trainspotting, no doubt to Irvine Welsh's ire, he and the Tories shouldn't be surprised if we decide to choose something else.

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Friday, September 26, 2014 

Speech spirits.

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That justification for a third war in Iraq in full.

We have a slightly different missile in our arsenal to the ones used by the Americans.

Well, I'm convinced.

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Thursday, September 25, 2014 

Perpetually stuck in a sepia film.

Abu Qatada's acquittal on terror charges in Jordan is an all but perfect metaphor for the entire way we've gone about fighting the "war on terror".  For the best part of 10 years an innocent man was detained without charge, either in Belmarsh, Long Lartin or in his own home under onerous bail conditions.  He finally left the UK, not because he was forced to as the government would like us to believe, but as he decided he'd rather take his chances with the Jordanian court system than continue to be locked up.  So desperate were we to be rid of ol' bird-nest face we persuaded the Jordanians to somewhat reform their system, ensuring the torture tainted evidence that convicted him in absentia was made inadmissible, apparently unconcerned he could be found not guilty.  He can't return, so why should it bother us?

Qatada's detention was not just dependent on his awaiting deportation, but as he was judged to pose a threat in general.  He was, according to judges with access to secret intelligence Qatada himself was not able to see, a "truly dangerous individual", while a Spanish judge, since defrocked, described him as "Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe", something quoted ever after.  And indeed, Qatada is a supporter of al-Qaida.  He is without doubt an Islamist extremist, his writings and sermons read by those whom have gone on to carry out terrorist attacks.  Qatada himself though is not a terrorist, nor is he a takfirist; he made an appeal on behalf on Norman Kember, and most recently has denounced Islamic State's murder of three Westerners.  The other most respected Salafi ideologue, Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi, while calling for the release of Alan Henning, has also wrote on his website that Qatada had asked IS directly to release Henning, with the group denying at the time it was behind the kidnapping.

Dispensing with civil liberties at the first opportunity; exaggerating the real level of threat posed by jihadists; dumping our problems on the rest of the world at the same time as maintaining our actions have been in the interest of everyone.  All were characteristic to our approach to Qatada, and while as yet the coalition hasn't signalled it believes in further dilutions of liberty in the name of security, the other two have most definitely been in evidence as parliament gears up to authorise air strikes against IS.  One of the surest indications a policy is a terrible idea is when it has almost universal support, as accepting the Iraqi government's invitation to bomb their country has, with the exception of the usual stick in the muds.  No one seriously believes simply attacking IS from the air will destroy it, nor does the government have any faith either in the Kurdish peshmerga or Baghdad's ability to win back the territory seized by IS.  Nor are we filling a vital gap in the coalition put together by the United States, especially when the Gulf states have this time shown a willingness to actually use their own military capabilities.

No, we're about to go to war again because it would be almost rude not to.  Of little to no apparent concern is how damn familiar this seems.  Western intervention in the Middle East hasn't rid the region of Islamic extremism; rather, at every turn it has encouraged it.  Starting with the funding of the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan, almost every single policy decision taken has put fuel on the fire.  13 years of war in Afghanistan hasn't defeated the Taliban, who remain in wait for the long coming withdrawal of Western troops.  We overthrew a secular dictator in Iraq without a plan as to what to put in his place: the result was a sectarian civil war, the creation of IS and the empowerment of Iran.  We overthrew a secular dictator in Libya in the name of the "responsibility to protect": the result is a civil war between Islamist militias.  We've supported the overthrow of a secular dictator in Syria, recognising the opposition as the "legitimate representative" of the Syrian people; that "moderate" opposition has never existed in reality, and we either turned a blind eye or didn't object when our allies in Saudi Arabia and Qatar funded and armed the self-same extremists we are now posed to obliterate from the air.

If we're concerned the targeting of both the al-Nusra Front and IS in Syria could help to repair the fitna between the groups, it's not apparent.  Nor does it worry us how Western bombing always kills civilians, always unites in anger those otherwise against the extremists.  Yet again we don't have an exit strategy, even an idea what the "degrading" of IS means in practice, nor a guarantee attacks won't be extended to Syria.  Once again it will intensify the otherwise low threat IS currently poses, ironically when that limited threat is being used as a justification for the attacks.  Once again our enemy is evil, uniquely terrible, a "network of death".  Forgive me if I recall just how many deaths the forces of freedom have been responsible for, how insulted I am at being asked to accept the same people who got us in this mess are now going to solve it, and all through once again lobbing high explosives at whichever brick shithouse in this particular area IS has set up shop.  The case for joining the truly unholy coalition stitched together by the US is, remarkably, even weaker than the one made for bombing Assad last year.  It's just it's too much trouble to say no again.  We'd rather history repeat, as it will.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014 

See, you know, here's the thing, we're better together.

Ed Miliband's conference speech was dismal.  Not because he "forgot" to mention how Labour would tackle the deficit, or deal with immigration, as a media no longer bothering to hide its bias has focused on relentlessly for the past 24 hours.  David Cameron and George Osborne went through two conferences where the word "recession" never so much as passed their lips, where everything was Labour's fault, all without the BBC so much as picking them up on their sins of omission.  No, it was awful because it was completely tone deaf, written and delivered not to be a cohesive whole but with the intention of the important bits sounding good when edited down for the news bulletins.  Even they blanched at Miliband repeating together over and over, in a spectacularly ill-judged attempt to throw the abandoned all in it Tory slogan back in their faces.  All activists could talk of was the energy they had encountered in Scotland, whichever side they were on, and here in front of them was one reason why the Yes campaign nearly triumphed.

This isn't to be entirely fair to Miliband, but then whoever was advising on the speech wasn't fair to him either.  If there's one thing Miliband isn't, it's Tony Blair.  The messiah himself barely got away with his "you knows" and desperate attempts to speak like, you know, the common people do, and yet still they decided it was a good idea to pepper the speech with sentences starting with "so", "see" and "here's the thing" among other verbal crimes.  Then we had the what threatened to be endless personal anecdotes, mocked without mercy since.  All of them seem to have been actual occurrences of Ed talking to real people, which is at least something, it just doesn't alter how with the exception of Beatrice Bazell, who remarked to Ed on how her "generation is falling into a black hole" they didn't add anything.  It gave a speech already lacking in content yet long in delivery a too earnest, too needy air, like a clingy boyfriend resorting to the same old self-deprecating tricks in a doomed effort to stop a lover from moving on. 

Miliband's strength, as proved by his three previous conference speeches was in focusing on a central, overriding theme with the odd eye-catching policy announcement tacked on.  We had predator capitalism, one nation Labour and then last year the cost of living/energy price freeze gambit, all of which succeeded in capturing the attention of the media, the latter setting the agenda for the rest of the year.  Rather than follow the same template this time he instead spread the message far too thinly: his ten year plan, a formulation which just invites comparison with Stalinist edicts on tractor production, was a clear attempt to revive the pledges made by Labour prior to the 97 election.  Laudable certainly, but May 2015 is too distant to concentrate minds, not least when the Scottish referendum is still exciting thought.  Nor was the announcement on a £2.5bn "time to care" fund for the NHS anything like a surprise, or close to as radical as the price freeze.

There were nonetheless sections that sparkled, albeit all too briefly.  The "on your own" motif if further developed could have formed a powerful indictment of the coalition's way of governing, with Miliband's attack on the auction that saw a Russian oligarch's wife bid £160,000 to play tennis with the prime minister one of the few cutting attacks on the Tories.  He was so enamoured with this swipe he repeated it moments later, alongside urging the conference to ensure Cameron has more time to surf and play Angry Birds (yes, really) by defeating his party at the election.  The hall, struck by quite how pitiful this call to arms was, barely shifted.

Some of this failure to connect with the audience in Manchester, let alone the rest of us, has to be put down to Miliband's baffling insistence on giving the address without notes.  The wandering around the platform, arm waving, look how in touch with you I am act was a novelty for a couple of years; now it's the political equivalent of riding a bike without holding the handlebars.  Anyone can do it with practice, but you look an even bigger fool than normal if you fall off.  It's not just the whole deficit non-story could have been avoided, it's how it encourages brush strokes rather than painting a full picture.  One of the most fundamental changes in recent years has been the rise of zero hour contracts, enforced self-employment and job insecurity, something not solved by raising the minimum wage.  All earned mentions, without Miliband offering anything resembling a plan for how a Labour government will improve things or tackle the short-term business culture behind the shift.  Apparently the 21st century will be about "co-operation, everybody playing their part, sharing the rewards, the talents of all", but how this will become the norm wasn't explained.

Most commentators have interpreted the speech as Labour resorting to a core vote strategy, and it's difficult to demur from that conclusion.  Those same commentators haven't noted however both the Tories and Lib Dems made clear long ago they were going to do the same thing, if that is the Lib Dems still have a core.  Nor is there much else Labour can do: while retaining their lead in the polls, Miliband's personal ratings are worse than ever, as is public confidence in their economic competence.  The real change since 2010 is while the Tories have shifted noticeably to the right, Labour has despite claims to the contrary stayed dead centre, emphasis on the dead.  Labour clearly believes voters have nowhere else to go; the sad thing is unless you fancy another 5 years of Con-Dem benevolence, they're probably right.  As for inspiration, aspiration, a politics beyond the fear and loathing of austerity, we'll have to wait a while longer.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014 

It's that time again.

The interventionists have at last got their war in Syria.  It's not the war they wanted, the feel-good bombing the fuck out of anything that looked vaguely like belonging to the Syrian military in revenge for the gassing of children war, rather a not quite as feel-good but still pleasing bombing the fuck out of anything that looks vaguely like being an Islamic State stronghold war, but a war's a war.  It means the same old white guys in uniform presenting a salivating media with grainy black and white images of death from above, completely different from the pristine high definition snuff propaganda offered up by IS.  It means the ever willing servant of the United States, Her Majesty's Government, rushing to pledge the use of its own US-bought ordnance in the battle against the forces of evil, this completely new and unprecedented threat from the marauding, advancing, terrifying IS.  This is not just a battle for Britain, it is the battle of Britain: forget that mere skirmish with the Hun, when a true coalition of the willing fought in the skies against the Luftwaffe; this is the real deal.

Just to underline how completely insane the indirect intervention in Syria before now has been, also hit at the same time as IS was the al-Nusra Front, only the US has renamed them the Khorosan group for the duration.  According to the US they were in the final stages of preparation for an attack on the West, perhaps with those fabled iPhone bombs we heard about a few months back.  Al-Nusra is of course al-Qaida's affiliate proper in Syria, albeit one almost certainly funded indirectly if not directly by the same Gulf states now allied with the US.  One wonders if a strike on al-Nusra was a Saudi condition of getting their own jets dirty, intended as a message to Qatar, the Saudis having stepped back from supporting jihadists at the start of the year in favour of plain old Islamists, having realised its clients were getting out of control.

Such are the rivalries at work in the patched together US coalition.  Kudos must go to the Saudis and Qataris, whom having played a major role in fomenting the sectarian civil war are now bombing those they eulogised as their Sunni, Wahhabi brothers.  Luckily for them such contortions are easier to explain when they also control their media.  Our media by contrast is completely free and unafraid to ask the difficult questions, hence why they didn't inquire about civilian casualties given the opportunity.  Difficult as it is to comprehend, far more lies have been told about Syria than ever were about Iraq.  Back then we didn't have any equivalent to the Graun insisting there had been an unofficial truce between the Assad regime and IS, deals between the two over oil aside.  Whole sections meanwhile fell into believing there really was something equivalent to a Free Syrian Army on the ground, rather than an extremely loosely tied alliance of self-starting battalions, the vast majority Islamist if not jihadist.  There never was and never has been a "moderate" armed opposition, with even those the US is now supposedly training in what it all but admits is little more than a PR exercise fighting alongside the likes of al-Nusra.

Not that you can necessarily blame those on the frontline when reporting on conflict gets ever more dangerous.  It isn't just that the rebels and the Syrian government both care little for the lives of journalists, although they do, it's that media organisations don't want to pay the vast sums that go hand in hand with in-depth foreign reporting, and so the local guides who play such an important role in keeping correspondents safe walk away.  James Foley and Stephen Sotloff paid a price in blood as a result.  Quite what IS hopes to achieve with the videos featuring John Cantlie isn't clear when the message he's being forced to deliver is so one note, but it is undeniable he and the other British and American hostages have been abandoned to their fate.  The refusal to pay ransoms is certainly a morally righteous position, but combined as it is with the media blackout on their captivity it means their only real chance of escaping death is a special forces raid.  You have to hope the news that IS put Alan Henning before a Sharia court which cleared of him being a spy means they could still act with mercy towards someone who only wanted to help the Syrian people, yet when you start throwing cruise missiles around with gay abandon it's hard not to fear the worst.

Striking al-Nusra at the same time as IS also lays bare how the whole non-strategy takes its cue from the Libya campaign.  Once the UN resolution was passed, NATO's interpretation was it allowed them to do whatever the hell took their fancy.  With it as yet uncertain whether the UN will be involved beyond the passing of a resolution skirting the issue, not least as Russia will veto anything that looks remotely like 1973 again, there's not even the figleaf of legality being maintained.  While there's probably more contact between the Assad government and the Americans going on than is being admitted, there's not even the pretence that should IS be "degraded" the focus won't then switch towards finishing the job.  Why else would the "moderate" Gulf states as the BBC hilariously referred to them earlier join in unless they've received assurances that Assad won't in the long run gain from the destruction of IS?

This said, IS won't crumble under the weight of air power alone.  As Juan Cole writes, shock and awe has never worked, and won't this time.  The Islamic State survived in Iraq for years without anything near to the safe havens it's established over the past 12 months, and should it have to abandon Raqqa or anywhere else it will just be a return to what it's known before.  If the intention was to go all out against IS, rather than merely contain them, the kind of truce between Assad and the "moderate" rebels proposed by Patrick Cockburn would be high on the agenda.  It's not as IS is far too useful, as proved by the non-role of Israel.  A jihadist organisation that makes Hamas look like the girl guides rampages across Syria, getting ever nearer to the one true democracy in the region™, and how does it respond?  By, err, shooting down a Syrian jet.

What then is the aim of all this?  Just as we came within spitting distance last year of attacking Syria thanks to Obama's "red lines", so now the main reason why the US has acted is down to domestic pressure to do something, anything.  As soon as the president "misspoke" by saying he didn't have a strategy it doomed him into having to find one.  Thankfully for him, most commentators haven't noticed the new strategy is just the old one with knobs on, easily distracted as they are by explosions and the usual war porn.  Islamic State must return to its old ways of blowing up markets filled with Iraqis rather than cutting off the heads of Westerners is the mission in short.  Chase them back into the desert and away from minorities while still dropping the odd Hellfire missile, and everyone will be happy.  It's "worked" in Yemen.  This doesn't solve anything whatsoever you'll note, and at some point the Saudis and Qataris are going to return to their old ways, especially if this empowers Assad as it undoubtedly will, but we'll worry about that once it happens.

Any British politician with more than a modicum of sense would take one look at this mess and run a mile.  Appearances must though be kept up.  The bloody French have involved themselves for whatever reason, probably down to Hollande trying desperately to distract from the country's economic woes, and Labour, ever the hypocrites, made a lot out of those remarks from Robert Gates about our military capability not keeping up with theirs.  The Atlanticist headbangers on the backbenches love a good turkey shoot, so any worries that getting involved will increase rather than decrease the potential for a terrorist attack must be put to one side.  America expects, you know.  We might hedge our bets, attacking only Iraq rather than Syria lest this trouble Labour unduly, but make no mistake, the war party is going to be in full swing again.  Besides, we can't possibly make things even worse, can we?

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Monday, September 22, 2014 

All transitory.

Despite everything, I still felt a pang of disappointment on waking up on Friday morning.  I'd stayed up for the first results, Clackmannanshire, Shetland, Orkney, the first setting the pattern mostly to be repeated throughout the night: Yes had come close, but still not close enough.  For all my contempt for both campaigns, for the naivety, the scaremongering, the chauvinism, shallow nationalism and baleful bigotry, had I a vote I could only have crossed the yes box.  Given the choice between a state retaining a belief in solidarity, even if not with the neighbours south of the border, something akin to a social democracy, and the atomisation offered by all three Westminster parties? There is no choice.

True, the SNP weren't in reality offering anything like that.  Independence was always just a means to an end, with everything to be determined afterwards.  The idea Alex Salmond isn't an establishment politician is as much of a hoot as Nigel Farage presenting himself as the insurgent; it's how debased and safe our politics has become that both just about get away with it.  When it came down to it, the Yes campaign's failure to answer convincingly the most basic economic questions about an independent Scotland cost it.  The undecideds stripped from the polls simply made it look closer than it was.

We can't of course without further polls know exactly what it was that made the undecideds say no.  Were they always going to, was it last minute doubts, the Daily Record "vow", Gordon Brown's interventions (or the just as electrifying condemnation of the SNP from Vicki Greig for that matter), the warnings from businesses, the horror of making Salmond even more smug and self-assured?  All we do know is the commentariat made its mind up straight away.  Scotland might have said no, but no actually meant yes.  Moreover, despite the rest of us not having a vote, Scotland's no also meant yes to more devolution for rUK.

First though, let's not get too carried away with the 85% turnout.  Present a country with a yes or no choice on whether it remains part of a 300-year old union where every vote counts, and if turnout isn't approaching that level you've got severe problems.  More concerning ought to be how 25% of the electorate of Scotland's biggest city still couldn't be persuaded to make a decision either way.  Alternatively, it could be those 25% are the smartest people around, indifferent to the political weather and perfectly happy with their lot in life.  Perhaps they should be envied, rather than getting us dead inside political junkies why-oh-whying about how they can't be reached.

By the same token, only so much can be made about those who've spent the last year or so hoping against hope Yes would pull it off at the last.  Political movements are prone to collapsing the minute after the moment has passed; remember Occupy, or indeed any real organised opposition to austerity for that matter? Thought not.  When Martin Sorrell remarks on just how quiescent the young are, dulled he no doubt believes by the very promise his advertising offers, we ought to be taking notice.  The radical independence people are most likely to be this decade's Iraq war marchers: there for the extraordinary moment, and left bitter, angry and depressed at the failure to achieve their goal.  Nor is there much comfort to be taken from the level of debate: yes, more people than ever informed themselves via the internet and made their minds up that way; no, it didn't make up for the underlying tenor, the shouting down of the opposition, the all too frequent recourse to the language of betrayal and surrender, the never-ending torrent of shit thrown in all directions by more than just the usual suspects.

Equally, you can appreciate the irony of the London media, so often to be found either bemoaning Scotland or England both suddenly desperate for these septic isles to remain united, seemingly for subconscious atavistic reasons rather than out of any real affection, but it doesn't last long.  Not least when nationalism of one variety leads all but inevitably to the rise of its equivalents, understandable grievance followed by pitiful whinging.  Of all political bores, and let's face it, we're never the most engaging of folk, the most crushingly dull are the constitutionally fixated ones. England needs its own parliament like it needs two John Redwoods, West Lothian question aside.  The word devolution means whatever those clamouring for it say it does, and it's more power for them rather than true localism.  Time and again the public has made clear it has no interest in yet more politicians, whether it be through often rejecting mayors, the north-west assembly or most recently in the derisory turnouts for the police and crime commissioner elections, a creation no one asked for and no one wanted, and yet still a section of the media and the Westminster bubble thinks otherwise.

The dream might live on.  It's just the dream, as always, is transitory.

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Friday, September 12, 2014 

You exist within her shadow.

Somewhat typically, I'm not here next week. I might well pop in next Friday and indulge in a bit of schadenfreude, but otherwise that's your lot for 7 days.

And I'm sorry I'm such an utter gimp, despite my words having lost all meaning and power long ago.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014 

The new strategy is there is no strategy.

One thing is abundantly clear after President Obama set out his new strategy on "degrading and destroying" Islamic State: our politicians have been getting themselves in a tizzy for nothing.  Just as policy on Syria has long been to contain, if not actively prolong the civil war in the country, with the result being the rise not of moderates but the likes of the al-Nusra Front and IS, so now this will be extended into Iraq despite the containment strategy having singularly failed.  Got that?

There certainly isn't any other conclusion you can possibly reach after Obama's televised address.  The strategy he sets out is the same one his administration has long favoured, using drones and special forces while trying to empower the jihadists' foes on the ground.  This has "worked" in Somalia and Yemen, in the sense neither al-Shabaab or al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula have launched attacks on the west, despite the latter having made a number of attempts.  As for whether our allies in either country have been empowered, it's very much a secondary concern.  So long as the high-ups in the groups are thinned out every so often, as has just happened with al-Shabaab, it goes down as a success.

Why then all the rhetoric about destroying IS, it being a cancer needing to be cut out etc, when it's obviously a long-term aim?  Well, it's what he needed to do after he said previously there was no strategy, when he meant there was no new strategy.  There still isn't, it's just you can make it look as though he's proposing something different by ratcheting up the language, sending John Kerry round all the "friendly" American-allied despots and getting them to say they're going to do something when there's little evidence they will based on how some of them are just as much responsible for the rise of IS as the Ba'ath in Syria and the Americans themselves have been.

If this was the intention all along, it's not clear if the message got through to dear old Dave.  There he was declaring IS poses the greatest threat to the country since William the Bastard, with JTAC declaring it to once again be severe, and now it's not even apparent if the US wants us to help out by firing the odd Hellfire missile at a rag-tag bunch of wannabe headloppers.  Despite the media leaping at Obama saying he "will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria", that doesn't mean he's going to be authorising air strikes there any time soon.  Apart from the Russians making clear their displeasure, any sustained campaign against IS will only benefit Assad in the short-term.  If there really are "moderate" Syrian rebels currently being trained by the US, with Patrick Cockburn suggesting they amount to the last remnants of what was the Free Syrian Army, which was never an army in the first place, only now fully under the auspices of the CIA, the idea they can fight both IS and Assad at the same time is as ridiculous as it is amusing.  The US can't possibly imagine they'll make the difference either; the hope presumably is the Saudis, Qataris, Kuwatis etc will come round to the US approach and start funding their controlled rebels instead of the likes of the Islamic Front or IS itself.  This in turn will risk the non-IS jihadists going over to IS, but that apparently doesn't worry anyone.

The Syrian rebels are themselves still fixated on overthrowing Assad, not surprisingly considering that's err, why they rose up in the first place.  Sadly for them the mission's changed: once it was about getting rid of the Ba'ath, only the west soon realised the rebels weren't going to be any better than Assad, in fact probably worse.  Rather than admit we got all our predictions about the Syrian regime being doomed wrong, Assad "re-elected" and going nowhere, we settled on support for the rebels knowing full well neither they nor the government could strike a killer blow.  Only we didn't count on the apparently defeated and broken Islamic State of Iraq morphing into not just IS but also al-Nusra, or the Sunni Arab states using them in their proxy battle against Iran.  Or at least on IS becoming so powerful so quickly.

As for Iraq, the US is perfectly happy to send a few more units to the country, for allies to arm the Kurds and Iraqi government, and for neither to move all that quickly against the towns and cities IS controls.  Unlike the panic-mongers over here, Obama spelled out how IS currently doesn't have the intention of attacking the west, being far too busy in both countries.  No reason then to risk further unbalancing the fragility in Iraq; with the Yazidis mostly safe and other minorities having fled, the US is counting on IS once again outstaying its welcome amongst the Sunni tribes, just as it did back in 2007.

Moreover, Obama's reheated strategy is almost certainly the right one, despite its failure in Syria.  If the intention was to really deal with IS and right now it would mean temporarily allying with Assad, something we simply aren't prepared to do, both out of the sheer embarrassment it would involve and of course down to how he's a chemical weapon using tyrant.  Having morals is nice, but not losing face is far more important.

It would be great though if for once, just once, our leaders could admit how badly they've got things wrong.  We hold our hands up: we're just as responsible for the rise of IS as either Assad or the sectarian Iraqi government.  Now it's turned out this way, we're going to make it right by not making the same mistakes as we did before.  The Americans, against the odds and to their credit, have reacted in a far calmer manner than our politicians have, regardless of Cameron's rhetoric not matching the legislation proposed so far.  With the parties currently far more exercised by the little matter of Scotland potentially leaving the union, by the time parliament returns (assuming there is a no vote) the initial something-must-be-done stage might have passed.  Just don't count on it.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2014 

Cometh the hour, cometh Brownman.

Every so often a political crisis comes along that just can't be solved by the usual, ordinary methods.  In such times, there is but one man you can turn to.  He can't be reached by phone, his real identity is known only to a select few, and there's no guarantee then he will help out, liable as he is to years of sulking and plotting.  Your best bet of attracting his attention is to ask Commissioner Gordon Hogan-Howe to illuminate the brown signal.  For he is, and will always be, The Brownman.

Yes, now recuperated from the exertion of saving the world from financial meltdown in 2008, Brownman is back to smash the Salmon(d)'s nefarious plot to break Scotland away from the United Kingdom!  Could Brownman this time have left it too late however?  Should he rather than the Boy Darling have led the battle against the Salmon(d)?  And what of the swirling rumours Brownman is only intervening due to the machinations of Two-Face Cameron and Poison Crosby?

Describing the actions of Better Together over the past couple of days as panic doesn't just do a disservice to those who suffer from anxiety attacks, oh no.  We're talking full on, head-just-been-cut-off, running around the farmyard with blood spraying everywhere type attacks of fear-induced mania.  It speaks volumes of the confidence of the no campaign that a single, solitary, within the margin of error, with don't knows stripped out poll giving Yes its first ever lead causes a quite staggering outbreak of oh my god what are we going to do we must do something anything and right now-itis.  These, remember, are politicians meant to be calm, collected and resolute in the face of any threat.  Menaced by the divisions of YouGov they've turned tail and ran straight for the high road.

Leaving it till now, both to use a figure who might make a better emotional case than Alistair Darling and to set out exactly what a no will mean in the form of further devolved powers is baffling, except when you know what a basket case the no campaign has long been.  They believed they could just go on saying no to everything Yes said they could do, and that would be enough.  No currency union, no EU membership, no deals, no friendship, no help, no chance of Scotland becoming Norway.  In fairness, the polls suggested this approach worked, except until the vote got so close you could start to feel it, more people began paying attention and Salmond played the if-you-hate-the-Tories-even-if-you-don't-know-why-vote-Yes card (PDF).

I've tried not to pay too much attention to the Scottish independence campaign for the reason that both sides equally depress, or rather infuriate me.  Generally in politics and as I've often tried to argue here, all involved are ghastly but there's usually one slightly better than the rest, even if the differences between them are almost imperceptible.  Yes peddles a fantasy vision of a Scotland freed from the perfidious English establishment, a country where the sun will always shine, the oil will perpetually flow and the welfare system will forever be more generous and fairer than its south-of-Berwick equivalent.  Sure, every so often either Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon will say they're not claiming independence will be a panacea or transform the nation overnight, but it usually comes after a very particular flight of fancy.  No by contrast paints a picture of a nation too wee, too poor, too stupid to go it alone, one where London knows best and to prove exactly that point will block any proposal, however modest, to give the Scottish people more say.  This is without getting into the petty grievances of both sides, the dead horses beaten daily, the phony differences played up by those who really, really ought to know better, the we're more Scottish than you attitudes on display by all concerned.

Just as sad is how otherwise intelligent people have been sucked in by this cavalcade of bullshit.  Some of those on the left backing independence really seem to believe this is the first step on the road to socialism in one country.  Never mind that the SNP is about as radical as those people wooing and cheering as Apple launches yet another slightly better iPhone than the last one, a party that as Shuggy says has not during its 7 years in power instituted a single redistributive policy, that Salmond is more than happy to pal up with those pinkos Donald Trump and Rupert Murdoch, as once the independence deal is done and dusted they can elect someone better.  Like whom?  The Greens?  A reinvigorated Scottish Labour party, suddenly receptive and open to policies they weren't when tied to the English party?  Or do they seriously think the tax cutting yet still somehow able to spend more SNP will turn from yellow to red?  The notion Scotland is more left-wing than the rest of the country doesn't stand up to any kind of real scrutiny; hating Thatcher and not voting for the Tories in the same proportion as us southerners have certainly doesn't equal the same thing.

Yet it's also impossible not to see the attraction.  Forget the chest-beating nationalisms for a second, and why wouldn't you want to take a chance on independence when the alternative is more years of austerity, whether delivered either by a Tory-led or a Labour-led coalition?  No one seems to have connected the spectre of another war on the horizon with the leap in support for Yes, despite independence suggesting a break from the overseas adventurism of the recent past.  Listening to David Cameron speaking last weekend from the NATO conference was to hear a man suffering from the most extreme delusions of grandeur, imagining the nation he leads is still a world power, able to project itself around the world as it builds a second aircraft carrier and ensures defence spending remains at high percentage of GDP.  Who wouldn't want the insufferable, jumped-up arse to be forced to go to the Queen and tell her in the space of four years he's managed to oversee the dismantling of the union?  The idea he could stay as prime minister in such circumstances is laughable, as is the one the general election would go ahead next year as planned.  Besides, do you really want to align yourself with the gimps in power at Westminster, complacent with the apathy they usually encounter, until at last they realise the situation is far more serious than first thought?

The problem with this is both that it's a strange independence movement that wants to break up the United Kingdom yet keep the pound, if necessary without a currency union, all while staying in the European Union, and that even if we accept at face value most of the claims about the true potential of the Scottish economy, it still leaves the country facing an incredibly tough initial decade, such are the levels of debt the newly independent state would take on.  This is if everything goes smoothly in the negotiations between Scotland and rUK, of which there is absolutely no guarantee, with Mark Carney explicit today about the incompatibility of sovereignty and a currency union the SNP insists will happen.  It could just be my natural pessimism talking, but I'd like to think it's in fact realism.

All three main party leaders are then off north tomorrow in their bid to lovebomb Scotland into submission.  It's a pretty pass we've come to when unleashing Brownman is the more rational, more likely to have an impact stunt of the week.

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Monday, September 08, 2014 

A triumph of art over logic.

What's the greatest album of all time?  General consensus, at least among critics, usually offers up either Revolver, Pet Sounds or Sgt. Pepper.  For good reason: all three were released within a year, all during that point in the Sixties, 4 years after Philip Larkin was later to declare sexual intercourse began, and before the murder of Sharon Tate, Woodstock and then Altamont brought the decade to a close.  The advances in production techniques; willingness to experiment with those techniques; outside, at the time exotic influences; drugs; they all combined, and it's no coincidence so many of what are now deemed to the finest collections of music you can buy all came out within a 3 or 4 year time period.  Hendrix, Dylan, Velvet Underground, Van Morrison, Led Zeppelin at a stretch, all operating at more or less the same time, all delivering magnum opuses, all inspired by each other, sometimes directly competing against each other.

Why then go against this consensus and instead say the greatest album of all time came out 28 years later, with the 20th anniversary of its release having just passed?  Simple, really: The Holy Bible by Manic Street Preachers is a singular achievement, an album out of its time, a triumph of art over logic, as Keith Cameron has described it.  It's the greatest precisely because of its imperfections, as opposed to the perfection of Pet Sounds.  In its original mix it sounds muddy, flat, and it's difficult as ever to decipher exactly what it is James Dean Bradfield is singing.  It sounds that way because it's how the band wanted it to sound, although they later preferred the mix prepared for the never released US version by Tom Lord Alge.  It doesn't matter because the music and lyrics are visceral in their intensity, the sound of a band playing for their lives, rejecting their previous mistakes and operating at a peak.

There's no getting away from what The Holy Bible has come to signify above all else, which is the disappearance and almost certain suicide of Richey James Edwards.  Some of the comment and search for meaning in his lyrics, with Edwards writing almost the entirety of the words to Bradfield and Sean Moore's music, where previously he had collaborated with Nicky Wire on the band's two previous albums, misses the mark as the album was finished before he was admitted to a mental health ward in Cardiff, later receiving treatment at the Priory.  Nonetheless, it's difficult to read the lyrics to Yes, Faster and Die in the Summertime and not visualise a mind in tumult, the culmination of what Edwards had been trying to say previously with Wire and hadn't quite achieved.

The Manics were after all treated as a bit of joke by some critics, at least to begin with.  Understandably, considering Wire's boasts of releasing a double album as their debut, it selling sixteen million copies, and then splitting up.  Motown Junk contains the line "I laughed when Lennon got shot", and some missed the intentional ridiculousness of You Love Us.  At the same time as rave was crossing over, the Manics were wearing eye make-up, reviving punk and quoting every revolutionary and cultural icon they could lay their hands on.  Generation Terrorists is a flawed, brilliant record, Motorcycle Emptiness not requiring any explanation, while Little Baby Nothing, Edwards' first song about the abuse, commodification and exploitation of women, both features Traci Lords and has the "culture, alienation, boredom and despair" line that so epitomises everything the early Manics stood for.  Famously, in response to interview questions from Steve Lamacq about their authenticity, Edwards invited the NME hack backstage, where he proceeded to carve "4 REAL" into his arm.  Most versions of the story then omit how the next day, after getting stitched up, Edwards rang Lamacq to apologise.

Edwards' mental health problems had begun in earnest at university, where by his own admission he drank to get to sleep, cut his arm with a compass and at one point weighed just 6 stone.  Twice during his time with the band he went to a health farm in an attempt to recover from the worst of what he did to himself, with any improvement being short-lived.  His behaviour was treated by both some fans and sections of the press as a bit of laugh, or even to be emulated; the worries of his closest friends and bandmates were downplayed, although others saw the path of destruction he was on for what it was.  He both hated and fed off the attention of those who idolised him; given a set of knives by a fan in Thailand, he refused to cut himself on stage as she wanted, instead slicing his chest horizontally beforehand, coming on topless with the blood trickling down his body.  There's a shot of Edwards in the 10th anniversary edition of the album, emaciated, looking heavenwards, the scars on his upper body lurid red, appearing for all the world like Christ down from the cross.

Wherever Edwards' mind was he as wrote the album's lyrics, they feel like, are his gospel.  Faster is his song, his response to critics both real and imagined.  "I am an architect, they call me a butcher," it opens.  "Self-abuse is anti-social, aggression still natural," he later commented.  How Bradfield and Moore wrote music to some of the lyrics defies explanation in itself, Bradfield commenting how he called Edwards "a crazy fucker ... expecting me to write music to this" but he managed it.  Imbibing post-punk after Gold Against the Soul had gone glam to indifferent results, the scuzz at times practically drips from the speakers, only relenting for This is Yesterday, the album's most straightforward and by the same token least interesting song, if you can describe a song that attacks the comforts of childhood as false in such terms.

Viewed from 2014, the idea of a song criticising political correctness making the top 40 and getting played on the radio is laughable, let alone from a band known for its left-wing sympathies.  As a double A-side with Faster, PCP reached number 16 in 1994.  Equally out of place and out of time was Archives of Pain, Edwards taking Foucault's work on discipline and punishment and tongue-in-cheek using it as a justification for the death penalty, as well as being a reaction against the cult of the serial killer.  Ifwhiteamerica... is a more standard piece of anti-American, anti-imperialist agitprop, on which Wire did the most work of any song on the album, with the lines "Zapruder the first to masturbate / the world's first taste of crucified grace" staying in the mind.  Just to slam the message of brutality further home, there's not one but two songs addressing the Holocaust and man's inhumanity to man, both written after the band had visited Dachau and Belsen, as well as the museum at Hiroshima.  If Mausoleum is one of the album's weaker tracks, for all its bleak, beautiful imagery, then Intense Humming of Evil is among the best, haunting, respectful, necessary.  "6 million screaming souls / maybe misery - maybe nothing at all / lives that wouldn't have changed a thing / never counted - never mattered - never be".

As absurd as Faster and PCP getting radio play seems 20 years on, it was only Edwards' disappearance that prevented Yes from being released as a single.  Used as we all are now to cussing in tracks being masked for radio edits, quite how a song about prostitution and the commodification of everything written in the most unflinching terms would have gone down can only be imagined.  Opening with the line "For sale? Dumb cunts same dumb questions" and with the chorus featuring "He's a boy, you want a girl so tear off his cock / Tie his hair in bunches, fuck him, call him Rita if you want", it's just as much about Edwards himself as it is the other topics it addresses.  "Can't shout, can't scream, I hurt myself to get pain out" is almost the exact reasoning he gave when asked why he self-harmed.

Most important of all is 4st 7lbs, without a doubt Edwards' and also Bradfield's true masterpiece.  Told from the perspective of a young female anorexic, it nails the vanity of wanting to be "so skinny that I rot from view", while not for a moment either judging or glamourising that desire.  Two-thirds of the way through the track changes completely, slowing gradually to a crawl, mirroring the way life is ebbing from our narrator as she approaches 4st 7lb, the weight below which death becomes medically certain.  "Yeh 4st 7, an epilogue of youth / such beautiful dignity in self-abuse / I've finally come to understand life / through staring blankly at my navel".

It's still not properly known what triggered Edwards' admittance to hospital in August 1994.  Some have suggested it was a culmination of his self-harm, alcoholism and anorexia, while reports, denied at the time, of a suicide attempt could well be nearer the mark.  Certainly, if he really had wanted to Die in the Summertime, then he didn't have the weakness, the strength to succeed.  While Edwards claimed the lyrics were written from the perspective of a pensioner remembering his childhood, dying with the thoughts of his happiest time, it's not every OAP who would think "scratch my leg with a rusty nail / sadly, it heals" or "a tiny animal turned into a quarter circle".  Easy as it is to interpret it straight to Edwards' own thoughts knowing how events would turn out, in this instance it could well be the correct one.

Speaking a couple of years ago, Wire said had Edwards lived he expected he would have been "writing books ... an amazing artist ... I like to think still writing amazing lyrics with myself".  The "like" is key: both the rest of the band and Edwards without saying as much almost certainly realised things couldn't go on as they had.  The hospital admission had proved that.  The day before they were due to go to America in their first real attempt to make it there, Edwards disappeared.  His car was found at Severn View, formerly Aust services, near to the Severn crossing.  Apart from a few almost certainly wishful sightings, no trace of Edwards has been found since.  Although his sister continues to hope he will either be found or one day return, he was declared presumed dead in 2008.

Genius is a word thrown about far too liberally.  That it often goes hand in hand with "tortured" is almost always a cliché too far.  Depression, mental illness, they strike without discrimination; we just don't hear about the millions who kill themselves who aren't renowned.  The fascination with the famous or celebrities with personal deficiencies is part wanting to rationalise why it is they reached where they did, part wanting to think they aren't "better" than us and part not wanting their success due to its ill effects.  Edwards wasn't a genius in the true sense, nor was he anything other than a terribly flawed human being.  What he did have was a blinding intellect, a lyrical gift that blazed all too briefly.  The Holy Bible is his epitaph, like it or not.

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Friday, September 05, 2014 


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Thursday, September 04, 2014 

Desperate business.

It's a strange old world.  You might have thought for instance that regardless of how the SITE Intelligence Group, formerly the SITE Institute, is a self-started organisation that presents itself as an adjunct of the security services but in fact operates as the middle man between jihadis and the media and therefore needs to get more exposure, it wouldn't have plastered its logo all over the Islamic State's "Second Message to America" video.  It might not, as was the case in the previous video, actually show the beheading of Stephen Sotloff, but it most certainly does have the terrified, close to tears Sotloff reading out the statement demanded of him, before then cutting to an image of Sotloff's prostrate body, his severed, bloodied head placed on his back.  On the opposite side of the image to SITE's logo is the Islamic State's billowing black flag.  Still, it's good for business, right?

Equally odd is the idea a media blackout helps when it comes to those abducted in Syria or elsewhere.  Until Tuesday night when our new friend Jihadi John, as we apparently have to refer to him, was seen holding the scruff of David Haines's neck, we didn't have any idea there were Brits held by IS or any of the other groups.  The government and media did; they just felt it was better for all concerned if we were left in the dark.  Even yesterday, despite the rest of the world's media being understandably exercised by another westerner threatened with an especially grisly, brutal end, our own finest were pussyfooting around naming him.

As unlike our European counterparts we refuse to pay ransoms, failing a successful rescue operation David Haines faces the same fate as both James Foley and Sotloff.  It's true this might not have been the case until recently, as we don't know whether Foley, Sotloff or Haines were abducted by groups or rebel battalions other than IS and then sold onto them, and there might have been negotiations going on with them about possible deals not involving money, but if not IS has likely held these men with the intention of using them as pawns in a potential battle of wills with the west.  Media publicity before now might have made some sort of a difference, as it clearly did when Alan Johnston was abducted in Gaza, for instance.  It's certainly difficult to think of further harm it could have caused, unless the coalition is haunted by the memory of Ken Bigley and the pressure put on Tony Blair at the time over it.


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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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Tuesday, September 02, 2014 

A greater and deeper threat. Just not to us.

In a world so overflowing with bullshit, one where it's difficult to keep your head above the surface in the septic tank of life, it takes a statement the equivalent of an Olympic-sized swimming pool of cow dung to give anyone the strength to make the effort to say simply, and boldly, you're talking crap.  According to our prime minister last Friday, the threat from the Islamic State, or ISIL, as he insisted on referring to the group for some bizarre reason, despite how we haven't described the greater area of Syria as "the Levant" for a very long time (those in the region refer to IS as Daash, the acronym for Dulat al-Islam fi al-Iraq wal-Sham, i.e. ISIS) is "greater and deeper than ... we have known before."

It's never been clear when politicians talk about threats and security just how far is it we're meant to go back in looking for a comparable situation to the one we're facing now.  Are we talking black death style threat, Spanish Armada type threat, the civil war, Waterloo, Crimea, the Boers, the Kaiser, the Nazis, the Soviet Union, the IRA, Saddam Hussein, al-Qaida?  Obviously enough, the new threat is always greater and deeper than we've known before, and we're all meant to have absolutely no knowledge of history at all, or indeed a memory span beyond that of last month.  Tony Blair claimed on a number of occasions the threat from al-Qaida was beyond comparison, just as every dictator we've faced off against since Hitler is, err, worse than Hitler.  Mao might carry the distinction of (arguably) killing more of his own people than any other 20th century leader, but it's always to good ol' Adolf the glib and shameless turn.

David Cameron's press conference came after JTAC concluded the overall threat is now once again severe, despite the lack of any specific information suggesting an attack is being planned or is any more likely than it was the previous day.  This is especially curious as only a few months back new checks were put in place at airports after specific intelligence suggested bombs could be concealed in iPhones or Samsung Galaxy devices.  That didn't necessitate any wider action, and yet here we are with a hypothetical threat from Islamic State requiring a "rules of the game are changing" style intervention, urgent legislation and the general public told to be more vigilant, reporting any concerns they have to the local cop shop.

Except Cameron's rhetoric hasn't matched the measures announced.  With the removing of citizenship from those born here not possible without breaching international treaties, the government instead proposed temporarily excluding those who've gone to fight in Syria or Iraq from the UK, without explaining where they would be expected to stay or just how long such an order would remain in place.  The police might be given the power to confiscate passports from those looking to travel, while TPIMs, the coalition's replacement for control orders, could be tightened by reintroducing the relocation element.  No one relocated under a control order absconded, so correlation must equal causation, right?  Even during the debate Cameron was emphasising how it "sticks in the craw that someone can go from this country to Syria, declare jihad ... and then contemplate returning to Britain having declared their allegiance to another state".  Apart from buying into Islamic State's own sense of self-importance, he knows full well those who do return can be prosecuted under the alarmingly widely drawn powers in the Terrorism Act, as Mashudur Choudary was, despite not having fought in Syria at all.  It raises the question of why if around half of the 500 estimated to have travelled to Syria to fight have come back more haven't been prosecuted, unless that is the threat posed by these Brit mujahideen has been over-egged.

Why then such a disjunct between the message and the action?  It's not down to the concerns of the Liberal Democrats, as Labour have made it perfectly clear they're prepared to bring control orders back, and so are hardly likely to defeat the coalition, at least on this issue, for the sake of it.  Nor does breaking international treaties bother a party set to propose leaving the European Convention on Human Rights in its election manifesto.  Instead the reasoning behind it seems a strange mix of playing up the threat for all it's worth, just in case the Americans decide they would like our help in Iraq and/or taking the fight against IS into Syria, preventing a repeat of last year's fiasco, while at the same time knowing full well that for the moment at least the threat posed by IS to the country directly is fairly negligible.  Getting further involved would make the threat worse, just as our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq did, but that irony seems lost on most involved.

With IS having followed through on its threat to kill Steven Sotolof, with the promise a hostage described as British, David Cawthorne Haines, will be murdered next, there's little reason to imagine the thinking behind all this to fail in its aim.  Despite there being no indication either ourselves or the Americans have the first idea of what to do about IS in Syria, as any suggestion of temporarily allying with Assad has been rejected, with the idea of training and arming "moderate" rebels to go after IS still being mooted, it looks as though we're heading towards another intervention without having either a plan or an idea of what the end game will be.  Destroying IS in principle is a laudatory aim; when however they have already turned to ethnic cleansing, what's the most likely outcome should they find themselves having to flee their current safe havens?  There is a great, deep threat to those trapped between IS, Assad and the other Islamist rebel forces, and we might just be about to make it even worse.

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