Sunday, July 31, 2005

Cognitive Thought Goes Missing

Geoff comments on the fact that the Osman Hussain was able to leave the country on a Eurostar train.
"I'm aware that the Home Office will be looking at that. Certainly in recent times there has been enhanced security for those leaving the country as well as for those coming into the United Kingdom. It's one of those arguments that we have used to support the idea of identity cards, because it is vitally important that we are able to say who is in the United Kingdom at any given time."
Geoff Hoon.

I try to avoid degenerating into crude name calling, but for Hoon I reserve the right to make a special exception. He's an idiot, he's a bloody buffoon, he's a slimy sanctimonious snake, he's a pitiful posturing pompous populist, he's an utterly useless unscrupulous unpleasant unintellegent underling. Let's face it, he's an arse.

In what way will ID cards enable us to say "who is in the United Kingdom at any given time?" I'll give you a clue. It's not. What we need for that is ID cards, *and* absolute confidence that it's impossible to fake the cards, *and* a very long, very high fence around the entire country which is heavily guarded by border security forces at all times in all places. Of course, it wouldn't surprise me if Hoon thinks this is a good idea too. Git.

Calm Down

Simon Jenkins in the Sunday Times (via Europhobia) hits the nail on the head. Repeatedly. I'd recommend reading it all but here are a couple of snippets.
That some London passengers were sadly killed earlier this month does not put the security of the British state at risk. I have a higher respect for that security than most people seem to have. Britain is not at war just because some Arab says so. No amount of tabloid hysteria — or tabloid government — should make it otherwise. No city can be immune to bombs but that does not subvert democracy and engender a state of emergency. Anyone who pretends otherwise is an accessory to the terrorism itself.
I concur.
Terrorism’s “useful idiots” have had a field day this past fortnight. They have jumped from “nothing can justify the bombing” (true) to “nothing can explain the bombing” (absurd). They have jumped from “Britain’s war in Iraq is no excuse for killing innocent Londoners” (true) to “Britain’s war in Iraq has nothing to do with the bombing” (palpably absurd). They jump from “we must not be driven to alter our way of life” (true) to demanding that we do just that. The “useful idiots” demand new powers, new restrictions and new measures against the Muslim community. Above all they declare “war on terror”, turn murderers into warriors and incite Islam to proclaim jihad in response.
He's not wrong. Read it all. It's responsible level headed writing on the current situation, and that's pretty unusual these days. And in a Murdoch newspaper, would you believe? As Nosemonkey points out, this is somewhat negated by the Sunday Times front page story mentioned in the previous post. I wonder if the editorial staff realise that they are also terrorism's "useful idiots"?

The Slant

All five of the suspected bombers of 21st July have now been captured. It's good to know that our security services are doing their job. A round of applause for the scary looking anti-terrorist units. Seriously, bloody good job all round.

The one really good thing to have come out of the recent unpleasantness is that it should provide some decent intelligence. Suicide bombers rarely talk. It looks like these one's will. Osman Hussain, who was captured in Rome, has apparently already made a confession to the Italian authorities.

Here's a handy roundup of the Sunday newspaper coverage of what he's alleged to have said [assume "alleged" where appropriate from here on].

The Independent seems to be reasonable rational about the statement. Hussain claims that Iraq was the key motivation.
The would-be bombers watched films, "especially those in which you saw women and children killed and exterminated by the English and American soldiers, or widows, mothers and daughters who were crying".
They also say that Hussain said:
"We never had contacts with the Bin Laden organisation. We knew that they existed. We had access to their platforms through the internet, but nothing direct."
And they seem to have checked the authenticity of the statement with the Italian authorities.
The Italian Interior Ministry confirmed that the quotes from Hussain's interrogation in La Repubblicaand the Corriere della Serawere authentic but declined to comment on the source of the leaks.
The Observer goes along the same lines.
In a remarkable insight into the motives behind the alleged would-be bombers, Hussain Osman, arrested in Rome on Friday, has revealed how the suspects watched hours of TV footage showing grief-stricken Iraqi widows and children alongside images of civilians killed in the conflict. He is alleged to have told prosecutors that after watching the footage:
'There was a feeling of hatred and a conviction that it was necessary to give a signal - to do something.'
They mention potentially conflicting reports from the Italian media. They do also point out that Hussain has claimed to have had no contact with Al Queda or Bin Laden. It's reasonably consistent with the Independent version of what Hussain said.

The Sunday Times has inside information to bring us which is far more important than the words of an actual attempted suicide bomber. Hussain's words are relegated to little more than a footnote. They start with this instead:
A THIRD Islamist terror cell is planning multiple suicide bomb attacks against Tube trains and other “soft” targets in central London, security sources have revealed.
A classic story from that most authoratative and accountable source, the "security forces". Oh wait, they are actually "seniour police officers". A "member of the Yard’s firearms unit" is also quoted. A remarkable coincidence that this story should break today, I'm sure you'll agree. Anyway, after they've finished scaring the pants off their readers with unattributed, unaccountable "information" (just to get you in the right state of mind you understand), they do eventually get round to mentioning Hussain.
His group decided to carry out the attacks as a statement about the war in Iraq but was not linked to Al-Qaeda or any other terrorists. Contrary to some reports, he told his interrogators that the plotters did intend to explode their rucksacks but that they did not intend to kill anybody. He is reported to have said: “Religion had nothing to do with this. We watched films. We were shown videos with images of the war in Iraq. We were told we must do something big. That’s why we met.”
I'd say the Times report, after the obligatory scare story, is also consistent as to what Hussain said.

Scotland on Sunday does it's traditional job of scaring the living crap out of their readers.
THE London bomb plot suspect arrested in Rome has allegedly confessed to Italian interrogators, lifting the lid on the plan to bring a wave of terror to Britain.
Yikes! And there's more.
In the remarkable confession to Italian prosecutors, Osman gave a dramatic indication that the July 21 conspiracy went far beyond the four people originally named as the key suspects for the failed attacks on three Underground trains and a bus.
Run away! Run away!

They do eventually mention that Hussain claims to have had no contact wiith Al Queda. They're not buying it though, and even seem to have their own theory on a link to Bin Laden.
In a new development last night, it emerged that Osman made a mobile phone call to Saudi Arabia shortly before his arrest, opening up the possibility that the bomb plot was carried out with the help of Saudi extremists. Saudi is the home country of Bin Laden and 15 of the September 11 terrorists.
Even the Times didn't think to indulge in this one. It's a spectacular example of a relatively recent phenomenon, "Possiblity News". Why report facts when the possibilities are endless? In fact, what Hussain actually appears to have said has been almost entirely buried by possibilities. Good job. Wouldn't want the facts to get in the way of a splendid editorial policy.

Well, what can we conclude from all that? Newspapers used slanty writing? I think we know that already. I've got a post in mind about terrorism and the media. These examples are a good starting point for that.

Back to the point thought, it does appear that Hussain has provided a confession but it's entirely possible that every word he has said is a lie. He may or may not have had direct contact with Al Queda. He says he was motivated by the Iraq war but that could be a lie too. At this stage, I don't think we can be confident that the statement is an accurate reflection of Hussain's motives and actions. It's probably wise to resist placing too much emphasis on this until a lot more interrogation has been carried out. What we really need is to get the 5 suspects into court as soon as possible.

Just one final thought on a general point Blair has been making. He said that even if Iraq was linked to these attacks it was irrelevant because we can't allow our foreign policy to be influenced by "these people" (as he like to call them). What's the "war" on terror then? Isn't that foreign policy influenced by "these people"? It's another contrary Blair defence, completely devoid of common sense. Yes, I'm fighting a "war" but my foreign policy will not be influenced by my enemies in the war. Right, imagine this fictional scene. We've laughed at the French once to often. War is declared. The French army is assembling at Calais. Blair sends our army off to invade Poland. He's not having the French dictate his foreign policy. Oh, we've been invaded. Next thing you know, we're all eating smelly cheese and other such stereotypes. What's French for "doh!"?

Friday, July 29, 2005

Bursting the Bubble

The right to protest against government policy is a fundamental right in a free democratic society.

Now I reckon there are two possible reactions to that statement.
1. I quite agree Mr Hamster.
2. Bloody liberals bleating on about their "fundamental rights". Don't they know people are trying to kill us?

If you're a 1, read on. If you're a 2, I'm not sure what to recommend really. Try considering this statement instead: A repressive regime seeks to limit the rights of citizens to protest against their policies.

Our increasingly repressive regime government seems intent on reducing our right to protest. This law will restrict our right to hold peaceful demonstrations against government policy. You can see why they're so keen on it. It also appears to have become law in large part due to Brian Haw making MPs feel "a little bit uncomfortable". On it's own I'd say that's a worrying symptom of this government's tendancy to legislate our rights away based on nothing more than a whim and a prayer, but when you consider that the intended target is apparently not affected by the new law, you've got to be honest and say the whole thing is just decending into farce.

The new law comes into effect on 1 August. There's also going to be a demonstration in the exclusion zone on that day. Although it's being arranged by the Stop the War Coalition, it's simply a protest about the right to protest. This is a bad law for a ridiculous reason. What's worse, it's going to make it harder to hold legitimate protests against government policy. Does anyone seriously believe the inhabitants of the Westminster bubble should be further removed from the people they're supposed to represent? Obviously by anyone, I mean anyone other than the majority of MPs who clearly never want to set eyes on the great unwashed ever again. But that probably goes without saying.

As usual on such occassions, I'll be slightly hampered by the 500 miles there are between me and London. If you're a bit closer on Monday (2pm, outside parliament) you might want to consider joining the protest. Will it be your last chance to protest against the government in this country? Not quite, but this law is certainly another step in the direction of that dangerous crumbling cliff top.

Style Over Substance

I've been messing around with my layout a bit. It's nothing dramatic but I just thought I'd mention it. I'm also going to do something with my blogroll's although I haven't quite decided what yet. There are a fair few blogs I want to add. That's all I want to say right now really. Carry on.

Oh, in the spirit of complete randomness, you might want to read about open source beer (via doctorvee). That's very clever.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Poking a wee stick at a big event

So we've now heard that IRA statement we've all been expecting. I'm not going to stick my big foot in that hornets nest*. I'll just say it's about bloody time and leave it at that.

Still, I could always pop off a few observations in the margins.
Peter Hain was talking about it on Newsnight. I was half listening to the interview, trying not to feel irritated as he went through his standard vapid utterances, when out came these words of wisdom.
Hessler: "So where do we go from here? Will we have Ian Paisley as first minister of Northern Ireland with Gerry Adams as his deputy?"
Hain: "Well, I think Ian Paisley would be a good first minister."
[I'm paraphrasing but it's definitely representative.]
It's just as well I wasn't drinking anything. I actually looked round to see if he was laughing but no, his face bore only a now familiar but utterly unconvincing attempt to adopt the look of a serious politician. He wasn't joking. Now, Ian Paisley is the leader of the largest democratically elected party in Northern Ireland. There's no getting away from that. But he's also a seething mass of intolerance, and I'm afraid there's no getting away from that either.
I recall being told that his response to the Downing Street Declaration was to say that "John Major has obviously been conniving with his cronies in Rome".

He's the President of the European Institute of Protestant Studies, who helpfully list "5 reasons why Catholic is not Christian" on their home page just so we get a flavour of what they're about. Incidentally, here's his description in the about EIPS page:
The Rev Dr Ian RK Paisley, MP, MEP, Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, Minister of Martyrs' Memorial Free Presbyterian Church, Leader of the Ulster Democratic Unionist Party, MP for North Antrim at Westminster and MEP for Northern Ireland in Strasbourg.
Did you know it's actually an honourary doctorate? It seems somewhat remiss to have omitted this information from an otherwise comprehesive and informative list of the honourary doctor's many roles and responsibilities. Apart from that, I'm sure any half decent tin-pot dictator would be envious of such a list.

A good first minister, Mr Hain? No, I'm afraid you've said something particularly stupid today. Why not think first, then speak? Or better still, why don't you go away altogether, you irksome oik of a man?

And another thing.
Did you see Blair say it was "a step of unparalleled magnitude"? He really makes me puke these days. I think it's an insult to our intelligence when he pretends he's trying to find the right words like that. We all know he's reciting something he's already written very carefully with his murky spinwizards. Do us a favour. Does anyone still buy this soundbite, faux sincere pause, another soundbite, rubbish?

Grrr, I say. It may be that my judgement of the man is forever tarred. Every time I see him I think "weapons of mass destrucion", and "fifteen minutes" and "intelligence" and "extensive" and "detailed" and "authoritative" and...

Did I say a few observations? I think I meant something else. Anyway, with thanks to Nice Blair via a comment, we can extract some symbolic revenge on the evil one. But don't worry about feeling left out if you're from the US, you can watch George instead. (I wouldn't recommend Bikini Girl though, I find it slightly unsettling in some way I can't quite grasp. I wonder what Freud would make of that? Oh well.)

Back to the IRA statement, and on a more positive note, I think the bravery of the McCartney sisters' is worth applauding once again. These women have shown us real courage and determination. I hope today's statement will be a step towards justice for their family.

*Phrase adapted from a considerably funnier but also slightly fruitier version of the same.

It's a Great Day for Bad News

On 24th March 2005, the House of Commons Select Committee on Defence published a report entitled Iraq: An Initial Assessment of Post-Conflict Operations.

In section 2, Pre-war Planning for the Post-Combat Phase, the committee identified 5 key planning misjudgements in the coalition's handling of the "post conflict" phase of the invasion of Iraq. It is, by any objective analysis, a damning report of the government's handling of the occupation.

Let's put to one side whether invading Iraq was in principle the "right thing to do". As I've said before, I'd be cheering with everyone else if we'd removed Saddam and replaced his regime with something better for the people of Iraq. It is now self evident that our government had absolutely no understanding of how difficult this would be. The select committee report highlights some of the reasons why the government got this so badly wrong. Given that so many people warned that the situation would develop just as it has, I believe the government should be held to account for these key misjudgements.

Of course, we know that this government prefers not to be held accountable for it's actions. Perhaps that's why they chose yesterday to publish their response to the select committee report. There are lots of other events happening to distract the media at the moment. I don't know how such things are scheduled so I admit I'm speculating as to the timing. Given their previous form, it doesn't seem entirely far fetched though.

Anyway, the government has now issued it's response. As you'd expect, it's an honest appraisal of their own failings... oh, don't be silly, it's nothing like that.

The 5 key planning misjudgements are detailed in the report in paragraphs 17 - 25.
The government response starts like this:
The Government welcomes the House of Commons Defence Select Committee's report, "Iraq: An Initial Assessment of Post-Conflict Operations" published on 24 March 2005 (HC 65-I). This memorandum sets out the Government's response to each of the main points of the Committee's report in the order in which they were raised.

Pre-war Planning for the Post-Combat Phase
[From the report]
1. The post-conflict situation with which the Coalition was faced did not match the pre-conflict expectations.... No post-conflict mission in the last 60 years has been as challenging as that which faced the Coalition in June 2003. (Paragraph 26)

[Start of government response]
The post combat operations phase of operations in Iraq has been particularly challenging. Not only have coalition forces been faced by a determined insurgency attempting to undermine an emerging Iraqi government and inflict casualties on coalition and Iraqi security forces, but this has also been one of the first times in recent history that the UK has had to take on the obligations of an occupying power, and operated as a junior partner in a counter-insurgency. As the Committee recognises, UK forces in MND(SE) have also been operating in a situation where the link between tactical success in MND(SE) and the achievement of a favourable strategic outcome in Iraq is limited.
Nevertheless, we accept that there are lessons to be learnt in terms of improving the way that we conduct post-conflict planning, and much effort has been put into this over the last two years.
Yes, the government will respond to each of the main points of the Committee's report, except the points they'd rather not respond to. Like paragraphs 17 - 25 for example. Direct criticism of the government is apparently not worthy of a direct response. The very thought. Don't you know there's a war on?

The government says that hindsight is a wonderful thing and lessons can be learned from this experience. Pardon me a moment. Hindsight? Fuck off! Half the country is now screaming "We told you this would happen, you fucking clowns! Why didn't you listen?"

Not to worry though because the government "accept that there are lessons to be learnt". Everything is right with the world as long as lessons can be learnt. I wasn't aware that willfully deceptive, ignorant, manipulative bastards could learn from their mistakes. Maybe I'm wrong.

Whatever you think about the invasion itself, our government's handling of the occupation has been nothing short of catastrophic. Is anyone going to accept responsibility for this?

Also yesterday, just in case there's any doubt, there was yet another report on how the coalition has made a complete arse of the occupation. This one's from a prestigious US political research body(pdf) co-chaired by Samuel R. Berger and Brent Scowcroft.
In Iraq, pre-war inattention to post-war requirements—or simply misjudgments about them—left the United States ill-equipped to address public security, governance, and economic demands in the immediate aftermath of the conflict, seriously undermining key U.S. foreign policy goals and giving early impetus to the insurgency.
Here's a BBC summary of that report. More lessons to be learnt no doubt.

It's that word again

I've just noticed this from earlier in the week:
UN seeks definition of terrorism

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has urged world leaders to agree on a universal definition of terrorism. The bomb attacks in London and Egypt underscored the need for a definition with "moral clarity" and a UN convention against terrorism, he said.
The UN is going to have another go at defining terrorism. While I struggle to resist another scornful remark at the expense of a certain Daily Mail columnist, it's worth asking why the proposals have been stuck in committee for the last nine years. I suspect it'll be informative to watch how the member-states react to this new push for a UN convention.

I'm afraid I'm not overly optimistic. I genuinely hope the UN succeeds though.

Anything but the T word

I feel I need to write a post with nothing in it. Just for the hell of it. Just to celebrate that fact that I can. Here we go.

So, now is a good time to say that it is actually still worth mentioning that there's a lame duck in our midst. I had mentioned it previously but began to feel that the message was falling on deaf ears. Via Toque, I noticed that it was still worth saying after all. Trivial. Splendid. Useless. Excellent.

I've not spotted any sign of anyone joining the safety elephant campaign though. Still, can't stop flogging until I'm sure it's dead and all that. If you've no idea what I'm talking about this screen grab might provide a clue.

What else can we talk about? The new football season starts on Saturday. I'm looking forward to it, although I'm not an avid supporter and it's been a long time since I went to watch a game. My team, Aberdeen Football Club, had a good season last year, finishing fourth in the league and only missing out on a place in Europe on goal difference. Considering that we finished 11th (out of 12) the previous year, that was a huge and surprising improvement. Of course, it's along way from the glory days of1983 when we beat Real Madrid in the European Cup Winners Cup final. Ah, those were the days my friend, we thought they'd never... Ahem. That was under Alex Ferguson of course. I believe he's had some minor successes with his new club since he left Aberdeen. Bah!

Nowadays, the best we can hope for is third in the league and a "decent run" in a European competition. Neither has happened for a long while. Incidentally if you want to fully appreciate the dominance of the Old Firm* on the modern Scottish game, have a look at last year's league table. There's a bigger points difference between 2nd and 3rd than there is between 3rd and last. That's surely not healthy. These days it's all about the money. The big two have it and we've got sod all. Bah again!

Still, third looks a possibility this year. "Come on you Reds" and other such exhultations of support. You'll undoubtedly be pleased to know that I'm likely to keep my readers informed as to how the season progresses for Aberdeen. I hope it's a story with a happy ending but football can be a cruel mistress so who can really tell.

What else? You going anywhere interesting on holiday? I'm staying put this year. Can't be bothered with it all. How's the weather where you are? It been pretty Scottish in Aberdeen this week. Overcast, occassional rain, not very warm. It's a bit like winter only not quite so cold.

Ah, I feel better for that. Feel free to engage in small talk in the comments.

*For visitors from other lands, the Old Firm are Glasgow Rangers and Glasgow Celtic. They have many times more fans than any of the other Scottish clubs. It's been about 15 years, maybe longer, since any other team won the Scottish League and the gap is getting wider each year. Basically, it's a two horse race. Even more basically, it's dull.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Get Your Fix

This week's SPBR roundup is now up. It's slightly later than planned but, hud yer wheesht, we're busy people you know. I'm off to sample it's many delights. Why not come along? It'll be fun.

The Power of Words

We all know the euphemisms used to shield us from the awfulness of war. Friendly fire is the classic example. Collateral damage is another popular with our leaders. These words are comfortably bland. They are words that remove our need to think about lives violently ended, about limbs blown off in explosions, or about the pain of been shot in the gut.

John Major has introduced a new phrase into the arsenal when discussing the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, and it's a belter.
"I rather prefer the expression shoot-to-protect rather than shoot-to-kill. I think that is a more accurate description of what happened."
Yes, the innocent Brazilian electrician was unfortunately subject to our new "shoot-to-protect" policy. This has led to a regretable incidence of collateral damage due to friendly fire. Nothing there to shock anyone. Nothing to put people off their cornflakes as they read the morning papers. Best not to think too hard about the innocent man with 7 bullets in his head...

Safety First

It seems that the people of Aberdeen are being particularly sensible when participating in their favourite leisure activity. We've come (ahem, sorry, couldn't resist, sorry, really...) top of the charts. A proud achievement for the city.

Of course it's possible that it's because there's sod all else to do up here. It's also possible that Asda just sells them cheaper than anywhere else in Aberdeen. We Aberdonians are, as has been pointed out before, rather keen on a bargain. Whatever the cause, I'd like to accept this prestigious honour on behalf of the city. Thank you to everyone who voted...

Pandering to the Terrorist Menace

“Know your enemy and know yourself and in a hundred battles you will never be defeated” - Sun Tsu

Talk Politics cites this 2000 year old quotation from The Art of War in a weighty post which is definitely worth taking the time to read.

I just want to say a little bit about where I'm coming from before my little rant. Up until the start of the "war" on terror, I couldn't really have given a stuff about who was PM. I though Blair was just another politician, and if we had to have them, and it seems that we do, he appeared no worse than any other. I'm not affiliated to any political party. I vote Lib Dem, partly because I agree with many of their policies but mosty because I think two party systems tend to become, well, what we've got now. So not great then. A Fair Vote, that's what I want.

So, why am I constantly ranting about Blair? Why do I want him out on his pampered arse (via)? It's mostly for one simple reason. I understand a bit about counter-terrorism*. Blair, judging by every statement he's ever made on the "war" on terror, does not. On September 11th 2001, I, and every other decent human being, was shocked and horrified as I watched the images on TV. And I was scared, really scared. Not that it would happen to me (although H20 were staying in a hotel at the foot of the World Trade Center a year to the day before it happened). I was scared because times like these need courage, intelligence and integrity in our leaders. It takes a special kind of courage to defend us from such horrors, a kind of courage few possess. Courage to stand up and say that we will not change our way of life. Courage to resist the clamour for revenge which will almost certainly be counter-productive. Courage to confront the root causes, justified and unjustified, however ugly they may be, and to understand those causes.

Blair would like us to believe that the terrorists operate in a vacuum, that there is no outside context to to their actions. This is to misunderstand what terrorism is. Understanding the context must be the first priority in opposing terrorism, having a "war" with terrorism, or even just defining terrorism. This is the reason I'm so angry about the "war" on terror and our involvement in it. You cannot kill all the terrorists. The numbers game is meaningless if there's a steady stream of new recruits arriving from outside the vacuum. But Blair can't see beyond the vacuum so he doesn't get it. He's confused because he's killed so many of the buggers but there still seem an awful lot left. In fact, there seem to be more now than when we started killing them. He can't see what is becoming, due in part to his actions, a steady stream of new recruits. This idiocy is doomed to failure. The more we react in the way we have, the more the stream will grow, until it will eventually become a flood.

This vital understanding does not appear to have registered with our great leader. The important "battle" in the "war" on terror is not fought with the guns and bombs of the battlefield, but in the minds of the potential recruits. That's not to say it isn't important to chase down the ringleaders, and ideologists, it clearly is. We don't seem to be doing a great job of that either though.

But that is of secondary importance compared to the key battleground, the minds of potential recruits. Conventionally, terrorism is carried out by small groups of people who occupy an extreme position on a given issue. They use terrorism because their numbers are small. They hope to provoke a response from their "enemy" which will antagonise moderates in their own community to adopt a more extreme position and so boost their numbers. If this is successful, they carry out further attacks using their increased manpower, increasing the level of response, and so the circle continues. In the "war" on terror, Osama himself couldn't have planned our response better. The extremists are having a field day.

If you understand that you are fighting a battle inside people's heads, you wouldn't invade Iraq based on a claim later proved to be false. I think it's pretty appalling. Imagine how the potential recruit feels about it.

If you understand that you are fighting a battle inside people's heads, you wouldn't be party to US soldiers torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. I think that's shocking. Imagine how the potential recruit feels about it.

If you understand it, you wouldn't let our troops abuse prisoners in our custody. We are making it easy for the recruiters. There's probably a waiting list to join FFS.

I previously thought Blair was being frugal with the actuality (or what ever it was) but now I think he really doesn't understanding any of this. He genuinely doesn't seem to comprehend why the problem is worse now than it was three years ago. It's only going to get worse still unless we get a leader who understands where the important fight is taking place. Blair doesn't even acknowledge that he can see the battleground.

Just to demonstrate the complete lack of understanding Blair exhibits, have a look at this from an answer he gave in his monthly press conference.
When we actually have people going into the communities here in this country and elsewhere and saying I am sorry, we are not having any of this nonsense about it is to do with what the British are doing in Iraq or Afghanistan, or support for Israel, or support for America, or any of the rest of it. It is nonsense, and we have got to confront it as that. And when we confront it as that, then we will start to beat it.
In summary, I don't care what you think, your concerns are a nonsense. Here's what you're going to think from now on.

Is that going to help or hinder the battle for the mind of the potential recruit?
Just to be clear, I'm not talking about promising the return of the Caliphate here. What we need to do is isolate the extremists, whose number are still small, from their potential recruiting grounds. This takes far more courage than anything Blair has shown. It is not easy but it is the only way to win this "war". We do not help our cause when we invade Iraq, change our minds about why we did it after we'd done it, and then make a spectacularly bad job of the occupation. In this way, and others, we have lent credence to the extremists rhetoric and driven large numbers of new recruits into their open arms. Blair can never win this "war". He's fighting it in the wrong place.

*That's the strategies and politics of counter-terrorism, not the operational activities of the security services. An ex-girlfriend did say she thought I'd look good in a black balaclava though. We split up not long after actually, never did find out why...

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

An Eye in Every Sky

I hear that some local busy-bodies have started calling for CCTV camera's to be installed in the town of Ilkely. Ilkley is home to fellow blogger Bertie, who writes Ilkely Rocks. He's not to happy about the plan.

Bertie and others have launched a campaign to oppose CCTV in the town and to call for a full public debate before any decisions are taken. It's called Ilkley Against CCTV, or IACCTV. My knowledge of Ilkley is pretty limited but is seems to me that CCTV almost always ends up being a substitute for decent policing, especially outside of large cities. There's lots of information on the site about why CCTV isn't the way to go in Ilkley.

The campaign is working up a head of steam. If you're from the area it's definitely work having a look. If you're facing a similar problem in your own town I'm sure you'll get a lot of useful ideas about how to conduct your own campaign.

Vive la Resistance

The NO2ID campaign has launched a new pledge for those who'd like to help resist the national register and ID card scheme. It's for those who feel they cannot refuse to register but would like to help those of us who will refuse. It's an excellent idea.
I will actively support those people who, on behalf of all of us, refuse to register for an ID card, and I pledge to pay at least £20 into a fighting fund for them but only if 50000 other people will too.
Don't let the terrorists change our country. Help us resist this stupid bill.

Nosemonkey questions the usefulness of ID Cards and comes to the rather poetic conclusion that they'd achieve "precisely tit all". Wise words.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Death by Suspicion

Jean Charles de Menezes died on Friday. He was 27 year old. He was not killed by hate filled terrorists with their "evil ideologies" but by armed undercover police officers, police officers who work for us.

There is to be an investigation, and it seems sensible to wait until it has reached a conclusion before speculating as to the exact circumstances of the shooting. The police are doing a very difficult job in very difficult circumstances. Public statements since the shooting indicate that the officers in question followed an authorized procedure in dealing with a suspected suicide bomber. For these reasons, I'm not inclined to blame the officers involved in this horrible affair.

One thing is already clear though. The democratically elected government of our country has authorized a "shoot to kill" policy with regard to suspected suicide bombers. There has been no public discussion of this policy, no debate as to whether to instigate such a fundamental change , no government announcement that such a change had occurred within our police forces. It was "announced" with 8 bullets fired into an innocent man. I am sick to my stomach.

There are certain aspects of British society which ought to be non-negotiable. Those who say that the suicide bombers have forced our hands are cowards*. They are cowards who's actions aid the terrorist's campaign. These are actions which destroy that which they are intended to protect.

There are certain risks which we must face in our society. There are certain actions which can never be justified if we are to claim to be a civilized society. Our best defence against these attacks is to be proud of our society, to stand up for what we believe, to refuse to give in. We must say to the terrorists "you may bomb us, poison us, terrorize us, but while there is one British citizen alive on these islands, YOU WILL NOT CHANGE US!". If we do not, we have already lost the "war" on terror.

It seems that instead we are becoming that which we fear. If it really is a battle between us and them, we have taken another step towards becoming like them.

Blair apologized today. If you haven't seen it, watch it online via the link. Listen for when he says "but". He knows it's inexcusable. Consider also the length of the statement before and after the "but". His apology is mainly a justification for his own mistake in allowing a "shoot to kill" policy, a mistake which has cost the life of yet another innocent. Apology or apologist? I know what I think.

*I live 500 miles away from London so I'm not directly affected by what's been happening there recently. It's easy for me to sit and pontificate. I genuinely believe I'd feel exactly the same way if a bomb had gone off in my street.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Sunday Singsong

Here's a song to celebrate the golden age of home computing. Ah, those were the days...
(Via this, via.)

On this day in history

Looking back on it now, I think Friday 22nd July, 2005, that was the turning point. You remember? That was the day that the police shot Charles de Menezes for "looking a bit foreign". I think up until that point we'd not fully succumbed to the will of the extremist's. Now of course, that seems like a minor incident, but then, then it had been different. Then, we hadn't fully embraced the terrorist's lie that it was "us" against "them". Then, we still had a chance.

From that day on though, our society changed. It had become acceptable to kill someone just because they didn't look like "us". It was justified when it should have been condemned. People said that in these dangerous times it was understandable, that no-one was to blame. Dangerous times? It sounds silly now, doesn't it? Who wouldn't want to live in those dangerous times now?

Of course that was before the catastrophic economic meltdown which still shows no sign of ending, before the internment camps, before ID cards (btw, is mine the only one that doesn't seem to work properly? I seem to spend at least one afternoon a week having to prove I'm me to some jackboot official or another), before the deportations, before... but it's hard to remember how good we'd had it back then. We had thought it would last forever. Perhaps it could have.

I'd like to say more but the battery I'm using is almost flat. Got to keep some juice to listen to the government's public information broadcasts on the radio. No idea when I'll get it charged up again so who knows when I'll be able to post again. Anyone know how the power station repairs are going?


A quick reminder that the SPBR weekly roundup will be with us on Monday. Thanks to everyone who suggested a post last week. There's still time to send your recommendations for posts to be included in this week's edition.
Here's the address again:
spbreview [AT] gmail [DOT] com

Speak and we shall listen (or something).

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Shoot all Brownskins

Today's Express says:

Daily Express, 23 July, 2005

Also today, the police said this about the man they shot five times in the head five as he was held down by undercover officers.
"We are now satisfied that he was not connected with the incidents of Thursday 21st July 2005. For somebody to lose their life in such circumstances is a tragedy and one that the Metropolitan Police Service regrets."
This, I describe as playing the game by the terrorists rules. They couldn't have wished for a better reaction. While we're at it, why don't we shoot all brown skins, all non-christians, all people with rucksacks, all people with bulky clothing, all people who look at me in a funny way, all people who's opinions don't conform to the Express view of the world...?

Crap, I might even be forced to stop wearing my hoodie. Wouldn't want to be shot dead for looking a bit funny.

Here's a absolutely true story from many moons ago.
I was once searched by the police on the streets of Aberdeen. I was padded down by a police officer who then asked what I had in my inside jacket pocket. Now I know I'm not a dangerous individual and I know that I've got nothing harmful in my pocket, so I start to reach inside my jacket so I can show these policemen what's in there. Immediately they start shouting at me. "STOP! PUT YOUR HANDS WHERE WE CAN SEE THEM! STOP!"
I'm confused. I'm not used to dealing with the police and it genuinely didn't occur to me that they thought I might be dangerous. Why? Because I'm not. It's a matter of fact. I continued to attempt to get the items out of my pocket until their physical response makes that impossible. They then extract the items and they are the same old nonsense any person might have in their pockets. No Knife or gun or bomb. Afterwords, I realised why they had reacted as they had. At the moment it happened I did not. If this had happened today, and if I'd been Asian, would they have shot me? I don't know. It's seems possible.

The terrorists want to change our society. They want us to overreact. Today, they'll be celebrating another victory.

An aside.
I'm a bit busy at the moment so I've not had a chance to respond to the many interesting points left in my comments in the last two or three days. I will certainly get round it it, but possibly not today. Thanks.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Moral Equivalence

Now the excrement is really hitting the blade driven nitrogen/oxygen agitation device.

Let's take a step back. There's been a lot of talk in the UK since July 7th about moral equivalence. I've been thinking about that today. Here's a half baked thought on the subject.

It is not possible to justify the actions of the terrorists who killed 52 people on that day in London. The deliberate targetting of civilians in this way is absolutely unacceptable whatever their motivations. The "root causes" of these actions are irrelevant. The fact that they believed that they had a just cause is also irrelevant. Even if they genuinely did have a just cause, the actions themselves can never be justified.
Why do we say that?
It's because they deliberately killed 52 innocent people. This is simply unacceptable. End of argument. I agree with this in it's entirety. It's rock solid.

What happens if we extend that argument to include the actions of nation states though?
An example.
In 1945, the US government ordered the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. According to Wikipedia, these actions killed 120,000 people immediately and around 240,000 in the aftermath. They were primarily civilians.

The deliberate targetting of civilians in this way is absolutely unacceptable, whatever their motivations. The "root causes" of these actions are irrelevant. The fact that they believed that they had a just cause is also irrelevant. Even if they genuinely did have a just cause, the actions themselves can never be justified.
Why do we say that?
It's because they deliberately killed 300,000 (my estimate) innocent people. This is simply unacceptable. End of argument. I agree with this in it's entirety. It's rock solid.

What's wrong with this argument then? I genuinely can't see a flaw as I write this. I accept that there might be one but what is it?
It seems to me that nation state violence is acceptable just because it is. Or rather, just because we say it is. So is it really the action itself we find so appalling, or are we only appalled when these actions are aimed at us?
Just a thought.


Today I shall be mostly watching the cricket. I only mention it because I'm a Scotsman and the only one I know who'll be cheering England on.
Not that I won't extract the urine if they get drubbed mind you.
For the record, I do hope they win the wee urn thingie.
That is all.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Ice Cream Suicides

This is part two in my attempt to "prove" that the invasion of Iraq has increased the threat of worldwide terrorist attacks. In part one, I arrived at these figures for worldwide terrorist attacks using US government statistics:
2001: 346
2002: 198
2003: 190 208
2004: 3,192

As I said, these figures don't prove anything on their own. We need to make some assumptions about them if they are to be useful.

First, are they consistent, objective, accurate figures? Well, the straightforward answer is no, they are not. They are only the "judgement" of the US government. I'm going to assume that these figures are representative enough to be useful. Can this assumption be challenged by those with a different view of the invasion? Well, it'd be difficult for the US government to challenge it. US officials insisted today that "our numbers are not representative". No, I think it's a pretty solid assumption.

So now, we are left with a huge rise in worldwide terrorist acts in 2004. In fact, the 2004 figure is over 9 times as high as the 2001 figure. I suspect most people think that 2001 was the worst year in the history of terrorism. Just to be clear, according to the US government in 2004 there were 9 times as many attacks as in 2001.

Suicide and Ice Cream

(Another blogger used this example a while back, but I'm afraid I can't remember who it was.)
It's important for me to understand why these figures on their own still don't prove anything. Here's why.
In Scotland, it appears that an increase in ice cream sales causes an increase in the suicide rate.
Of course that isn't actually true but if you look at the figures, it might seem that it is. In Scotland, ice cream sales increase in the summer and decrease in the winter. This is pretty obvious. Suicide rates also increase in the summer and decrease in the winter. [Link for doubters]
More Ice Cream = More Suicide

Now that's clearly a nonsense and we see why. The seasons are affecting suicide rates. This coincides with an increase in ice cream sales, but there is no causal link. Ice cream doesn't make people suicidal (to my knowledge anyway).

So, at this stage we've just got the figures showing the huge rise in terrorist attacks in 2004. There may be only a coincidental relationship between the invasion of Iraq and this increase. Can I assume that this isn't a coincidental relationship?

Let's try some tests. Is there another explanation for the increase which doesn't involve Iraq? Well, here are my thoughts.
1. It was going to happen anyway.
This is a difficult argument to counter. It's also a difficult argument to prove. In the end, we have to make a judgement here. Without Iraq, would the number of terrorist attacks have increased ninefold in 2004. I say no. I think we can discard the idea that an unprecedented 3,192 terrorist attacks would have occurred in 2004 even if the coalition had not invaded Iraq. It seems self evident.

2. Another independent factor coincidentally occurred around the same time as the invasion.
My question is, what was it? I suppose it could be argued that just fighting the "war" on terror has caused the terrorists to conduct more attacks. But that rather supports my point that the "war" on terror and invasion have increased the number of attacks. If this is the case, we've surely got to ask if there had been a better way to catch these people before they became active. If they were content to bide their time we might have caught them by more subtle means. Why start a "war"? To flush them out? That's not a very good way to protect the 28,433 people the terrorists killed in 2004. Wouldn't it have been better to get the CIA, SIS, Mossad and other such organisations to track them down quietly while they pottered about thinking they were safe? If the intention was to "flush them out" it's an intention which has killed a great many people who would otherwise be alive.

There may be other independent factors but I can't think of any at the moment. Any other suggestions for what caused the 2004 figure to be so high?

Now, let's look at it from another angle. Can I construct a plausible explanation as to why the invasion of Iraq caused terrorist attacks to increase? This is from a comment I made in an earlier post:
3 or 4 years ago... there were a few small groups of nutjobs and a whole lot of people who'd heard their hate filled rhetoric but had rejected it. Then came the "war" on terror, and the invasion of Iraq. Suddenly, the hate filled rhetoric of the nutjobs starts to get through to more people. "Look, they have invaded a sovereign Islamic country without provocation" the extremists will say. And they'll go on "these evil imperialists truly do hate all muslims. You who had not believed me before, come now and see by their actions. They will not rest until every Muslim bows to their false god..." This is continued indefinitely, and then repeated indefinitely just for good measure.
These hypothetical extremist's words are a distortion, but a powerful one. So, does this seem plausible? Again, to me it is self evident that this has occurred many times since March 2003 . Many people have now accepted the extremists rhetoric who would otherwise have rejected it.

Is this speculation? Yes, it is. It's not easy to understand* what motivates someone to accept an extremist position. It is the most crucial factor in preventing it happening more often. Is this the best explanation we've got for the 3,192 terrorist attacks in 2004? I say it is.

I see that this doesn't "prove" my position because we've had to make some assumption on the way. I believe that they are all reasonable assumptions. Is it persuasive? I really don't know.

*Be warned: Any attempts to redefine the word "understand" in this context to instead mean "sympathise" will be treated harshly. I may understand why someone would do it but I won't be sympathetic. Knowledge is power. Always.

On Objectivity

After what happened in London today, understanding terrorism is more important than ever.

The ever intelligent doctorvee made an interesting point in a though splurge a couple of days back.
I was against the war in Iraq for a variety of reasons, one of which was that I thought that it would increase the threat of terrorism. The thing about the London bombings is that it gave both sides of the increasingly tedious pro- / anti-war debate more ammunition. Those who were in favour of the Iraq invasion say, “Look, we told you so, terrorists are everywhere, so we need to go get ‘em!” Those who were against say, “We told you so, Iraq increased the threat of terrorism.”
I've been thinking about this for a couple of days now. I feel very strongly about the stupidity of the invasion of Iraq and I struggle to understand those who argue that it was useful in the "war" on terror. To me, it seems self evident that Iraq has been a huge mistake. I genuinely do not think this is a matter of opinion. I thought I'd attempt to examine, understand and explain why I feel this way. This is pretty long winded, but please try to bear with it.

So, if I'm going to "prove" that Iraq has increased the terrorist threat, the first thing I need are some salient facts. What facts do I need? As a starting point, I think I need the statistics for worldwide terrorist attacks before and after the invasion. This won't be a "proof" but it will be
a first step. More on that later. Lets try to collect some facts first.

OK, what's the first problem you face when counting terrorist attacks? Hopefully, regular readers already understand that the first problem is that it's very difficult to define terrorism.
Terrorism is a value judgement. It's ugly, it's frustrating, it's
counter-intuitive, but it's true nevertheless (please have the courtesy to read the linked post and attached comments if you'd like to comment on that. Thanks.) So, how can I get some objective facts on this? Well, I happened to remember that the CIA has been publishing statistics on worldwide terrorist attacks for many years. Let's use the CIA figures. The definition they use will be open to interpretation, but if it's been applied consistently it should provide a reasonable set of figures.

Here's where my travels took me when trying to track down these figures on the interweb. Some of this is yesterday's news so apologies any of it covers old ground.

First, let's see if we can find the CIA's "objective definition".
How do you define terrorism?
The Intelligence Community is guided by the definition of terrorism contained in Title 22 of the US Code, Section 2656f(d):
—The term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.
"Guided by"? Well, that's hardly objective. We'll just have to make do and assume they're being consistent in their judgements.
On April 29th, 2004, the CIA published their figures for 2001, 2002 and 2003.
There were 190 acts of international terrorism in 2003, a slight decrease from the 198 attacks that occurred in 2002, and a drop of 45 percent from the level in 2001 of 346 attacks. The figure in 2003 represents the lowest annual total of international terrorist attacks since 1969.
The lowest annual total since 1969? That's interesting. These figures have a note attached.
Note: Most of the attacks that have occurred during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom do not meet the longstanding US definition of international terrorism because they were directed at combatants, that is, US and Coalition forces on duty. Attacks against noncombatants, that is, civilians and military personnel who at the time of the incident were unarmed and/or not on duty, are judged as terrorist attacks.
You'll recall that there was a period after the "mission accomplished" declaration when there was relative stability in Iraq (there was looting, but not terrorism). This was followed by a rise in attacks on coalition soldiers. The targetting of civilians didn't begin in earnest until later.
Anyway, these figures were "updated" on 22nd June, 2004.
There were 208 acts of international terrorism in 2003...
It seems that 2003 is no longer the year with the lowest number of terrorist attacks since 1969. These, also have the same note attached as before.

Right, we have three figures.
2001: 346
2002: 198
2003: 190 208

What I really want now are the CIA figures for 2004. They should be available judging by the fact that the 2003 figures were published and then revised by June 2004.
Well, you'd think that but:
April 16th, 2005
The State Department has decided to stop publishing an annual report on international terrorism after the government's top terrorism center concluded there were more terrorist attacks in 2004 than in any year since 1985, the first year the publication covered.
Seems that for the first time in 20 years, the CIA. Strange. I wonder why that is? Here's the stated reason in the next paragragh:
Several U.S. officials defended the abrupt decision, saying the methodology used by the National Counterterrorism Center may have been faulty, including incidents that might not have been terrorism.
So, there may be a problem with consistency. Of course, if "terrorism is not a value judgement" this is difficult to understand. Fortunately, I think we now understand that such a statement is total bolloc fails to accurately describe the concept of terrorism.
So, I'm stuck?

Well, not quite.
The 2004 figures from the National Counterterrorism Center are discussed in this transcript from a discusion on a New York radio station.
BOB GARFIELD: According to the statistics that the National Counterterrorism Center has provided, the 600-some number doesn't even count any of the insurgent attacks in Iraq, which the administration explicitly describes as terrorism.
JONATHAN LANDAY: That's absolutely true, and the other significant point of that is that almost 300 of those incidents are from the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir - terrorist attacks staged by Muslim extremist groups who are backed by Pakistan, which is supposedly a partner in the administration's war on terrorism. So it doesn't, to some people, look too kosher.
So, it looks like the figure is over 600. Approximately. That's not very satisfactory. And from one source only, and one I've never heard of until now. We can do better.
Let's try this from the Times, 7th July, 2005. (Just in case: Put your Tinfoil Hat away and don't be stupid. I'm not joking. Think about it.)
THERE were nearly 3,200 terrorist attacks worldwide last year, the Bush Administration said yesterday, using a broader definition that increased fivefold the number of incidents that Washington had previously tallied for 2004.
In figures published in April, the US State Department said that there were 651 significant international terror incidents, with more than 9,000 victims.
But under the newer, less-stringent definition of terrorism, which counts domestic attacks without an international element, the National Counterterrorism Centre (NCTC) reported 3,192 attacks worldwide, with 28,433 people killed, wounded or kidnapped.
3,192 attack worldwide in 2004. Pardon me but fuck, that's a lot of attacks. How many were there in 2001 again? I'll save you a scroll back up, it was 346. Of course these figures are not strictly comparable, since a "broader definition" was used for the 2004 figures. Anyone still thinking about that Pollard statement? Here's a quote from the Times on that:
Asked how the NCTC distinguishes between freedom fighters and terrorists, Mr Brennan said that the centre’s database is not “black and white and perfect”.
Not "black and white"? Shades of great then. At least he admits it, unlike some poor misguided individuals.
Anyway, the best figures we've got are these.
2001: 346
2002: 198
2003: 190 208
2004: 3,192

Of course this doesn't prove anything. As this post is already rather long, I'm going to split it in two.
The next installment, "The IceCream Suicides", is coming soon!


Alas, poor Scotty,
You cannae take any more,
You have one more voyage,
To boldly undertake,
To rest at the Final Frontier,
Which seems rather apt,
To me.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

In Support in the Inane

I'm trying to write a post about terrorism, definitions, and Iraq. It's not fully formed yet but I've decided to stop thinking about it till tomorrow. Instead, lets have some inane trivial nonsense.

Earlier today my stat report highlighted this search result. Number 7 out of about 19,600,000 for "go*d vio**nce (no further though, thanks all the same). A happy day, I'm sure you'll agree.
I think I vaguely see how this has happened. I blame the Crazy Frog. Ooh, I hate that frog! He makes me so mad...

Perhaps a bit of this [caution: may contain comedy gore] will calm me down a bit.
Do you know, I do believe it does. Turn the sound volume up for maximum satisfaction.

Levels of Threat

A JTAC report has been leaked which explains the government decision to lower the threat level from "severe defined" to "substantial" weeks before the London bombings. This is slightly embarrassing for the government.

The JTAC report does say:
"Events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist related activity in the UK"
This is obviously not something Blair wants us to hear, especially as it comes from his own security services. That's not actually the point I want to make here though.

The Safety Elephant said something which appeared in the Observer on the 8th of July.
Mr Clarke said: "The overall security level was reduced and we felt that was the correct situation. Now, of course, we look back on that and consider exactly what the situation was, but I think it's important to indicate that even if the threat level had been at a higher level than it actually was yesterday, that doesn't mean we would have been more successful in identifying these perpetrators before the event took place."
Right. Have a wee think about that. The Scotsman article, linked above, summarizes his position like this:
Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, and the Metropolitan Police insisted in the immediate aftermath of the atrocities that the lowering of the threat level had no practical effect on security precautions taken.
Hmm. That does rather open up the question of what the threat level is actually for, wouldn't you say? If the government increases the threat level, "that doesn't mean we would have been more successful in identifying these perpetrators before the event took place." So it seems that the threat level isn't about increasing or decreasing the level of security in the country.

What is it for then?
Could it be that the government threat level scale is nothing more than an exercise in manipulating public opinion? If it's not about security, I can't think of anything else it can usefully achieve. You could argue that a raised threat level encourages the public to be more vigilant thus helping to prevent attacks. But Clarke has explicitly said that an increased threat level wouldn't have provided increased security so that argument seems flawed.

Is this actually an admission by Clarke that the government threat level warnings are nothing more than political propaganda? Answers on a postcard...

One last thing. I've been watching the government response to the London attacks and it's been pretty professionally handled. I'd say it has almost certainly been planned and rehearsed. I'm not saying that's wrong, in fact it's probably emminently sensible. It is worth bearing in mind when assessing the government responses to the attacks though.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

This is Rather Good

Here's some light relief from a flipping Ninja (via Bloggerheads). Loving the Sax solo.

Don't know quite why but this one cracks me up every time I hear it. I should warn you, you'll be singing this for days. Definitely worth it though.

Failure is not an Option

What on earth are they thinking?

You will not fail! Instead you will achieve "deferred success".
That's certainly helps explain a great deal about my life. I am currently experiencing a period of deferred success. Excellent. I feel much better for knowing that.

I'm normally reasonably open minded, but I'm afraid I'm on the side of the red tops on this one.
As we say up here in Aberdeen, "wise up, eh?"

As Oscar Wildebeest quite rightly points out in the comments to this post, this story is isn't quite as I've portrayed it:
It's about saying to schoolchildren, "look, you haven't achieved the desired standard, but with some more work and more time, you could achieve it." That seems OK to me. Come on, this is egalitarianism in action! Isn't that what all we progressive liberals are supposed to be in favour of? No, I don't have my sarcastic hat on - I mean this.
It's a fair point. My apologies to all concerned.

This isn't to excuse my laziness, but I've just read the BBC page again.
Teachers say no-one should 'fail' School tests
"Deferred success" should replace the idea of failure for low-achieving pupils, a teachers' organisation will hear at its annual conference.
Hang on a minute. Is this yet more indisputable, undeniable, incontrovertible proof that the BBC has a conservative bias? Look at the headline. And talk about an unsympathetic opening sentence. This is clearly yet another attempt by the conservative BBC to broadcast their odious right-wing propaganda. And they claim to be neutral! Disgusting, it is! Just the other day I watched a programme all about interior decorating and increasing the value of your house. They never once mentioned that consumerism doesn't make you happy. I tell you, it was like reading the Daily Mail...*

*This may not be my actual opinion.

Things Can Only Get Better

The Pottery Barn Rule: You break it, you own it.
Colin Powell, 2002. Cited by Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack
The Iraq Body Count organisation has released a new report on civilian casualties in Iraq since March 2003. It makes for grim reading. Here's a summary of their findings and here's the full report (pdf).
The civilian death toll
24,865 civilians have been reported killed, almost all of them as a direct result of violence, between 20March 2003 and 19 March 2005. The population of Iraq is approximately 25,000,000, meaning that one in every thousand Iraqis has been violently killed since March 2003.
(Full report. Fact Sheet 1.)
1 in every 1000 Iraqi's has died violently since the invasion. That's more than 400 times as many people as were tragically killed by the London bombers. Nearly 25,000 scenes as graphic and disturbing as this one. I have to warn readers of the graphic nature of this image because 1 in 1000 readers won't ever have seen anything like this in their lives. In Iraq, something like this has *happened* to 1 in every 1000 civilians in two short years.

But things *are* getting better, right?
When did they do their killing?
Deaths caused by anti-occupation forces, crime and unknown agents have shown a steady rise over the entire period.
(Fact Sheet 2.)
The facts are that the violence has been getting steadily worse. There is no way to spin this. It's getting worse. Violence in Iraq has been steadily increasing since the invasion. Protecting the lives of Iraqi civilians is a legal obligation under international law. The "coalition of the willing" is failing in it's legal responsibility.

That's not to say that the terrorists or insurgents (or whatever you want to call them) are not responsible for their own actions. They are. I condemn their actions in the strongest possible terms.

But the fact is that the US and UK governments have created the conditions in Iraq for this to happen. Leave aside the debate as to whether the invasion itself was right or wrong. Can Bush or Blair honestly say that they have handled the post-invasion period in a competent manner?

I've never been opposed to the removal by force of Saddam Hussein. As I've said before, it's good that he is gone. What I am opposed to is the fact that this invasion was badly planned, badly executed, and based on more than one false premise. Now we are left with "saving Iraqi's from Saddam" as the only justification for the war. This is a noble cause, but only if we are able to provide a safer alternative. Sadly, the "coalition of the willing" does not appear at any time to have had a suitable plan to bring this about. Does anyone remember when we were told the US and UK liberators were going to be greeted in the streets of Baghdad with cheers and flowers? Instead, they are greeted with suicide bombers and RPGs.This misjudgement is the real tragedy of the invasion of Iraq.

And I'm not one of those people who thinks we should pull out of Iraq now that it's all got FUBAR. We've broken it, now we own it. What is needed is a fundamental rethink of how we can provide security in Iraq.

In the UK, the first step in that process must be for Blair to resign. He committed us to the war without a workable plan as to how to end it. This, despite the many warnings that the situation would develop just as it has. He doesn't accept that he's made any mistakes when the evidence is that he has made many.
Blair doesn't seem to think he's got a case to answer. Does anyone think the grieving relatives of the 24, 865 known Iraqi casualties agree?

Fear the Power of the Interweb

It's very late/early (depending on your point of view) so it seems as good a time as any to congratulate the NO2ID campaign for reaching 10,000 pledges (and counting). That really is an impressive achievement. It's not for me to tell anyone what to do but sign up! sign up!! sign up!!!

Anyway, the campaign's success can be partly attributed to a splendid interweb campaign. That there interweb is indeed a powerful weapon in the fight against tyranny.

While were on the subject, here's episode 243 in my attempts to generate a meme. Safety Elephant?* Anyone? C'mon, what's better than a vaguely amusing but utterly futile gesture?

*Obviously, I'm not claiming to have invented the phrase. I'm afraid I'm in ignorance as to the identity of the originator of the tag and am therefore unable to cite and congratulate the person responsible. Good work though.

Monday, July 18, 2005

The "War" on Terror

"There are no terrorists in Iraq" says Defence Secretary John Reid.
Or have I misunderstood that?

Terrorism Defined

This could be considered another slice of half-baked philosophy pie except I actually do have a reasonable idea what I'm talking about here (yes, for a change). Without wishing to sound like an arse, I have studied terrorism at University so I do know a fair bit about it (not that I'm claiming to be an expert mind you). Now that I've alienated you with my feeble attempts at intellectual snobbery, lets get on with it.

Last week I wrote about the reaction to the BBC's decision not to use the word terrorist. Doctorvee spotted an amusingly straplined Nick Cohen article on the subject. Now the point I made is that terrorism is actually very difficult to define. I'd be very surprised if Pollard didn't know this when he wrote:
But terrorism is not a value judgement. It is recognised as a crime against humanity under international law. Professor Norman Geras defines it as “the deliberate targeting of civilians with a view to killing and maiming them and if possible in large numbers”.
I'm afraid he's being disingenuous (is about the kindest thing I can think to write here). Now I don't really want to make the fellow look foolish but lets start with the definition he gives. Terrorism is "the deliberate targeting of civilians with a view to killing and maiming them and if possible in large numbers". It seems reasonable enough. So was the bombing of Hiroshima a terrorist attack? Was it a crime against humanity? I'd argue that it could be considered the former and it's certainly the latter. Lots of people will agree, but lots of people will disagree too. They might argue that it saved many more lives than were lost, for example. We have to agree that it was the "deliberate targeting of civilians with a view to killing and maiming them and if possible in large numbers" because that is undeniably what it was. But do we agree that it was terrorism? No, because it's a value judgement. So this definition can be discarded. For many people, it's possible for an action to fullful the criteria but not qualify as a terrorist act.

So, lets look at some other definitions.
The Compact Oxford English Dictionary keeps it short (as you'd expect).
a person who uses violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.
Derivatives: Terrorism.
Well, that one is obviously rubbish. Every soldier who ever fought a war is guilty of that. Every PM or President who ever ordered war is guilty of that. Discard. Next.

The Cambridge Dictionary of American English.
violent action for political purposes
Every war ever. Discard. Next.

Encyclopedia Britannica.
Systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective.
The US carpet bombing of Hanoi, was that terrorism? What about Dresden? Value judgement. Discard. Next.
The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.
Good effort. "Unlawful force" makes this more precise. So, was the war in Iraq legal? I, and many other people, say no, our great leader says yes. If it wasn't legal the invasion of Iraq would qualify under this definition. Smells like another value judgement to me. Discard. Next.

Oh, this is futile. I've got an idea. Why don't I check to see what Wikipedia has to say. It's created democratically so it should have the most refined definition.
The word "terrorism" is controversial and has many definitions, none of which are universally accepted.
Right. So that's pretty much exactly what I've been saying then (although I see the article is disputed, must be a disagreement over value judgements). You see why I find it very difficult to understand why Pollard says "But terrorism is not a value judgement". If there was one definition of terrorism we could all agree on then this might be true. As it is, he's peddling an untruth to further his own agenda. If you really want to inform people about terrorism the first thing you should do is explain how difficult it is to define.

Just to be absolutely clear, my point is not whether the London bombers can be called terrorists. I'd say the bombers can be called terrorists by almost any definition you care to come up with. The point is that a word with no clearly agreed definition isn't actually a very useful word. It might be a fantastic word for poetry but it's not that useful for reporting the news. The BBC prefers to use the word bomber because it does have a clearly agreed definition.

If you disagree with me, here's a little challenge. Provide a definition of terrorism which isn't controversial. My comments are open for sensible debate . I'd advise against employing the standard "non-state actors" gambit though. It opens up the possibilty that a suicide bomber directly employed by a state cannot, by definition, be a terrorist. That surely wouldn't be right, would it?
(I appear to have accidentally taken handfull of pompous pills today. Sorry, but I can't think of a better way to phrase that last paragraph. I'm actually quite modest once you get to know me, it's true, honestly it is...)

Tim Ireland takes a wider view of the Pollard article and describes what he sees. Definitely worth reading.

Edit: Spelling, see comment. Doh...

Seconds Out - Roundup 1

As promised, the first ever SPBR roundup is now available for your perusal. My advice is to peruse to your leisure. It's all interesting stuff (but then I would say that). Anyway, peruse away.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Behind the Mask?

Robin Grant has posted about a new initiative called Unite Against Terror. Whilst it's objectives appear to be entirely honourable, I'm not altogether convinced it's exactly what it purports to be. There is no mention of who is behind the site. A commentor is pretty certain it's directly connected to the Labour party.
So, is it astroturfing or a genuine initiative unconnected to the Labour Party?
I think I'll withhold judgement (and signature) until smarter people than myself have checked it out.
If anyone does have any opinions, useful links, or information on Unite against Terror, I'd be most obliged if they could let me know.

Health Advice

I urge you to read this (if you're an adult anyway).

Read it? OK, now click on my permalink.

Via Bill who has more information here.
Did you believe it? No, I'm sure none of my readers are that gullible.
Rather amusing though.

Lazy Sunday

It's another lazy Sunday afternoon. It's time to line up a cold drink and delve into the wonder that is Tim Worstall's 22nd Britblog roundup.

I'm still making my way through it but I just had to mention one post in which The Antagonist really gets very confused about the events of 7th July. I don't mean to sound unkind but this does seem to be the perfect illustration of the TinFoil Hat phenomenon. My friendly advice to the Antagonist would be to stop posting for a few days. Try to relax, go for some long walks, think nice thoughts about those around you, perhaps read some Nosemonkey or Chicken Yoghurt or Bloggerheads posts. These three almost always have something intelligent to say. But please stop posting that particular conspiracy theory. It's clearly a nonsense and it's doing no-one any favours.

Random Fluctuations in the Mysterious Interweb Flux Capacitor Continuum

I've had at least one comment vanish today. Haloscan has been acting strangely this week but this is the first time I've noticed this happening. Bookdrunk has had the same problem. If you've left a comment and it's disappeared, it's Haloscan what done it. So far, I haven't deleted a single comment. Apologies if you've written something which has been swallowed up.

If this shoddy service continues I shall be forced to consider allowing another company to provide a free commenting service. It seems to be working OK at the moment.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

A Reminder

There's still time to nominate posts for this. The first roundup will be posted on Monday. We've already had some good submissions. Lets be having some more.

Furry Mammals

As it's the weekend, here's something a bit different. In a variation on a theme meme I bring you not cat or kitten but ferret blogging. There's a photo in the deadwood version too.
I. Want. One. Of. These.

Sadly, I fear the cat (ok, a bit of cat blogging) wouldn't be impressed. Don't send me one.

Friday, July 15, 2005

We're All Still Watching

I'm a bit busy but I'd really like to blog this story. It's worth keeping an eye on. Not only did the G8 agreement not go far enough, it might not even go as far as was triumphantly announced.
Lets keep an eye on these fudging fudgers...

Apologists, Bush, Blair, and the Bombs

After some reflection, here are some thoughts on the bomb attacks in London.

The has been a lot of talk of responsibilty for the attacks. Jarndyce provides an excellent argument that the bombers alone are responsible for their action. I agree with this view but, as I posted in a comment, I feel that there is another aspect to be considered. This is really an attempt to expand on that comment.

The four men who killed at least 51 people in London on 7th July were entirely responsible for the terrible events of that day (ruling out the unlikely possibility that they were coerced). Those who may have encouraged them, aided them, and supplied them with explosives can also be considered responsible, but not directly. These were four men who made their own choices, and, whatever the outside influences, they alone are ultimately responsible for their actions. They carried the explosives onto the underground and onto a bus, and they killed those innocent people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is no doubt that they are absolutely responsible for this vile attack.

After reading the above you're probably thinking that I have let off lightly those who may have encouraged and supported the bombers, and you'd be right. Even though the bombers must take the blame for their own actions, there are others who's actions were part of the series of events which led to this tragedy. I'm sure we all agree that any aid given to the bombers is just as abhorent as the actions of the bombers themselves. They are also responsible for what happened, but that does not imply that the bombers themselves are not responsible. They chose to plant the bombs of their own free will and they are ultimately to blame for what happened. We can still say that the planners/handlers must also bear some responsiblity.

OK, I don't think any of the above is particularly controversial (feel free to disagree though). If we widen the potential influences acting on the bombers, it all gets much more difficult though.

Now I don't know exactly what motivated the bombers and I'll wager that you don't either. Were they fuelled by resentment over the UK's participation in the war in Iraq and the wider "war on terror"? No-one can really say and, given that they're now brown bread, I doubt we'll ever know for sure. All we can really say is that it is a possibilty. For the purposes of this post, lets assume that it was a motivating factor. I know it's a big assumption and acknowledge that this is speculation. For the record, I believe it's entirely plausible.

So, we're assuming that the "war on terror" was a motivating factor in the attacks. Would this make Bush and Blair responsible in any way for the bombings? Obviously they didn't participate directly in the attacks so they cannot be blamed in the way that the bombers can be. They were also not involved in the planning, preparation, or direct encouragement of the attacks so they do not share the responsibility of those who may have. So the answer is no?

Well, I'd argue that this isn't the case. This does not mean that I think Bush and Blair are equally morally responsible for the bombings. It does mean that their actions can be considered a motivating factor in the attack. If, as I do, you believe that the invasion of Iraq and the "war on terror" are themselves morally objectionable, and likely to cause more attacks such as these, then there is a burden of responsibility attached to the responses to these activities. They are not of the same degree, the deliberate intention of the bombers to kill indescriminately make their actions far more "wrong", but a responsibility still exists.

Here's an attempt at an analogy(it's not a strong point of mine but here goes). A man decides in a crisis that he must risk driving at great speed in an urban area in order to get his pregnant wife to hospital quickly (an ambulance would take 15 minutes to arrive). He knows that this is a dangerous activity but as he believes it is a matter of life and death he judges it is for the greater good. His neighbour advises him to wait, warning of the risks he will run if he attempts this journey but he is unconvinced. He sets off. His intentions are admirable but his actions may be unwise. He overtakes a boy racer who, feeling insulted at having been passed, is provoked into a high speed chase. The man is distracted as the boy racer pulls level, losses control, and causes both cars to crash into a crowd on the pavement, killing many, including the man's pregnant wife. So, who is responsible? The boy racer? Yes certainly. He is the direct cause of the accident. His senseless activities have resulted in tragedy. What about the man driving his wife to hospital? His intentions were good but his actions have resulted in many deaths. He must also take some share of the blame. His rash decision to drive dangerously was misjudged and he will certainly feel responsible for what happened. He'd been warned of the dangers but did not listen. He is not directly to blame, the boy racer must bear that burden, but, as he chose to be in the position which caused the accident, he has his own burden to bear. If he survives, there is a very real chance he will face prosecution for his actions. Murderer? No. Partly responsible? Yes, I think so.

I hope that helps explain my position. The terrorists were absolutely responsible for their own brutal and violent activites. But, I would argue that this is consistent with considering the invasion of Iraq and the "war on terror" a contributory factor in what happened on the 7th July. As such, and given that I believe the "war on terror" to be unjustified, heavy handed, provocative, and dangerous I believe the actions of Blair and Bush must be called into question. At it's heart is this question:
Are our leaders protecting us and the rest of the world in the best way possible?
For me the answer is no, and I must therefore conclude that Bush and Blair are also culpable in some sense for last Thursday's attacks. I make no apology for that.

Footnote: Robin Grant has more information on culpability.

Labour Win

It's not often I cheer when Labour win an election. In this case I'll make an exception. Congratulations to Mr Alok Agrawal for a resounding victory.

The result makes me proud to be British.
As for the BNP, lets send them back to whatever rock they crawled out from under.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Expert Predictions

Some people might know that I've already written about terrorism expert David Capitanchik. He predicted that anti-capitalist activists might target Aberdeen's oil companies during the G8 summit. I didn't think it was very likely.

Well, now that the dust has settled it's possible to compare the facts with the predictions. I've kept an eye out in the local press and I have found one incident which might fit the bill. It was reported in the P&J on the 9th July.
Protesters have scrawled threatening graffiti across the north-east headquarters of an oil giant.Vandals who attacked Halliburton's Aberdeen base also smashed one of the panes on the glass-fronted building.Staff arrived at the Pitmedden Road site yesterday to find "Terrorism breeds murder" daubed across the entrance.
I'm sure David would claim this justifies his warnings. It's hardly carnage, anarchy, and chaos though. In fact, there's a lot worse vandalism than that every weekend in Aberdeen city centre. It wouldn't be right for me to draw any conclusions as to which of us was more accurate. I leave that for the reader to decide.

While we're on the subject, I've noticed David has made a number of other appearances in the media recently. He's quoted in an article in today's P&J but it's not online. That's OK though, because exactly the same article (I estimate it's 95% exactly the same words in exactly the same order) appeared in yesterday's Scotsman. (It's not the first time the P&J has reprinted an article from another newspaper. Apparently, it's quite common.)

Anyway, the article refers to US warnings that Al-Qaida could attack the Forth bridges using a bomb on a boat. David exhibits remarkable restraint, even going so far as to say "I think the Americans can go over the top sometimes." Sensible stuff.

David has also made many other media appearances. He is often decribed as "of Aberdeen University". Some examples:
David Capitanchik, of the University of Aberdeen
David Capitanchik, a terrorism expert at Aberdeen University
Professor David Capitanchik of Aberdeen University

In my previous post, I claimed that David had left the University of Aberdeen in 1993. I said he'd most recently worked for Robert Gordons University, but had retired. The references above caused me to doubt if I'd been right. I emailed the University of Aberdeen to ask if they could clarify David's position.
I received this reply:
Dear Mr Hamster,
Professor Capitanchik was employed by the University of Aberdeen some 12 years ago, and recently retired from The Robert Gordon University. I have had a look at their website and found a biography which you will find below [I've linked it instead].
I hope this helps
This is, I believe, called fact checking. I'd always thought it was an important part of journalism. I'm not a professional though, and I've had no training in journalism so I might just have misunderstood the concept.