31 August 2006

Sandra Gidley and Violent Pornography

Following on from last night's post on Liz Longhurst's successful campaign to ban violent pornography, I've written to Sandra Gidley, a LibDem MP who supported the campaign:
Dear Ms Gidley,

I read with interest your support for Liz Longhurst's campaign for a ban on violent pornography and the quote which appeared on the BBC News website:

"It's absolutely the right decision. The scandal is it's taken so long to come to this decision. You cannot look at this sort of material and not be affected."

I've met and interviewed Liz Longhurst and can understand that you feel empathy for what happened to her daughter. She is a strong, articulate lady who tells a haunting story and campaigns vigorously for the outlawing of what she perceives to be the cause of her daughter's death. Unfortunately, banning violent pornography will not cause a fall in this country's murder rate and it will infringe on a person's basic liberty to do what he wants, when he wants without undue interference.

Many people watch violent pornography who do not go out and kill others. Those that do commit murder do it for some other underlying reason and we should be seeking to identify and tackle that, otherwise violent murders will continue.

Yours Sincerely,

Gavin Whenman

30 August 2006

Liz Longhurst and Violent Pornography

Via BBC News:
"A mother whose daughter died at the hands of a man obsessed with violent internet porn has won her fight for a ban on possessing such images.


Liz Longhurst surrounded by supporters
(on the right is Martin Salter,
MP for Reading West)

The government has announced plans to make the possession of violent porn punishable by three years in jail. It follows a campaign by Berkshire woman Liz Longhurst whose daughter Jane, a Brighton schoolteacher, was allegedly strangled by Graham Coutts. Mrs Longhurst's campaign was backed by MPs and a 50,000-signature petition."
An awful crime followed by an awful law?

What Graham Coutts (allegedly) did to Jane Longhurst was disgusting and he did it after watching violent pornography.

I've personally heard Liz Longhurst describe her daughter's death and she is a strong, articulate woman, who tells a haunting story. I can understand why people have signed the petition, and why 160 MPs, and now the government, have supported her. But this doesn't mean the law is a good law, because Graham Coutts didn't (allegedly) do what he did because of violent pornography, he did it because he had a twisted mind, one that couldn't process the fact, for whatever reason, that morally he should not be doing what he did.

Ban violent pornography and deaths won't suddenly stop, they might change in character, the people perpetrating them might use different methods, but they won't stop because it's not the pornography that is making them do it - it's something else. It's something that isn't present in the other people that watch violent pornography and don't go and murder people - and we should find out what that is and tackle it.

See Also:

29 August 2006

Wire Tapping Doonesbury

Yesterday's Doonesbury once again spots a flaw in US President George Bush's approach, this time relating to the recent wire-tapping judgment:


(Click to enlarge)

See Also:

28 August 2006

David Cameron's Notebook

David Cameron is at it again, determined to show he is leading a new Tory party, he has denounced Thatcher's apartheid policy.


David Cameron realises he
is only wearing one high heel


Here's Cameron's current strategy for setting his party up to win the next election:
  1. Break with Thatcherite past: By publicly criticising key aspects of Thatcher policy, the public believes that the party has changed its core philosophy. Compare and contrast with Tony Blair and his "Clause 4 moment".
  2. "Say something unexpected": This grabs headlines and publicity, along with the attention of cynical non-voters, who expect all parties to act in a pre-determined way. Note that this works only if the right thing is said - for example:
    "The first is the importance of patience when trying to achieve long-term change. There is always a temptation for politicians to do things in a hurry, to suit their political timetable."
    This is in marked contrast to the current way some politicians tend to communicate (i.e. John Reid giving himself 100 days to fix the Home Office).
  3. No firm commitments: Cameron is making people aware of his outlook (or philosophy), but he isn't doing it in a concrete way, so no-one can hold him to account for breaking any promises. Note also that when he denounces Thatcher, he isn't positively endorsing a policy, but negatively distancing the party from a former policy. In a way this point and point 2 create a "win-win" situation - he is grabbing attention, but isn't actually saying anything substantive.
  4. No vitriolic attack on Labour: When he was elected leader, Cameron promised an end to the "Punch and Judy of politics" and the way he is doing this is by not attacking Labour's direction or aims, but their approach. For example:
    "As in many areas, Labour's good intentions are let down by poor delivery."
    This is a compliment to Labour, but also an opposition. It has the added advantage of luring soft Labour voters who don't agree with the parties approach to the Tories.
In a similiar vain, see Cameron's trip to Norway.

See Also:

25 August 2006

Trumpet Disappoints

STOP PRESS Armando Iannucci chickens out

Last night's Time Trumpet promised to be good - very good, for it was the night of the "Terrorism Awards", the ones the Daily Mail fumed about three weeks ago. Whilst the Awards were still run, he edited out the clip of Tony Blair's assassination.


This was still shown

Was it just wishful thinking that it would be aired?

24 August 2006

Flying to the Rescue

As has escaped practically nobody (if you are to believe the papers and a brief skim of the blog-o-sphere) the government* yesterday appointed Caroline Flint as "minister for fitness". Followers of this type of thing might remember her as the minister for drugs that admitted taking cannabis.


Because she's worth it

Leaving aside the fact she could start working the Cabinet room (John Prescott, Ian McCartney) before moving on to the general population, no-one expects the government to keep the nation fit. It's not the government's role to keep us fit - we can take care of ourselves and if we don't, we'll end up (collectively) paying for that through the higher taxes needed to pay for more NHS treatment.

Government can't fly to the rescue every time there's a "crisis" (an obesity one this time) and it should start admitting what the rest of us already know.

* Supporters unknown

22 August 2006

Poll Figures Show Cons Up 1%

The BBC are reporting, further to today's Guardian front page, that the Tories now have a 9% lead over Labour. Good news for the chinless wonder, bad news for the grinning wonder.

The revealing paragraph comes towards the bottom of the report:
"The results suggest a 1% rise for the Tories since last month, and a 5% increase for the Lib Dems, but Labour are down 5%."

Spot the Chin

So, support has not drifted from the Tories to Labour, but rather from Labour to the LibDems. The report heading - "Tories surge ahead, poll suggests" - clearly implies otherwise.

Another interesting point about this poll is it clearly demonstrates the unfairness of the current electoral system as, despite the Tories having a 9 point lead, they would only have a slim majority*.

See Also:
* I would argue that having 40% support and a majority of seats is even more unfair.

Nobody Does It Better

The Daily Show's Jon Stewart hits Fidel Castro's target better than I did last week.:


(There's a bit about Kim Jong Ill first)

21 August 2006

NUS Not-So-Extra Card

The National Union of Students (NUS) have launched their "long-awaited" NUS Extra card. For a mere £10 students can get... well... the same benefits they have always had for free, plus a tiny bit more off in some places. If you don't wish to pay a tenner for something you previously had for free, then the NUS Democracy Card is for you. It'll get you, well, the right to vote in students' union elections and nothing else.



If you're wondering why the NUS has decided to insert things repeatedly into your anus this year (or 'shaft you' as the popular vernacular goes) it's because they've got "cashflow problems". Yep, after 84 years, they've realised that they actually cannot afford endless freebie conferences without asking you, the student, for more money.
The reason students' unions aren't up in arms about this (as you would probably expect them to be) is because they're going to get a sizeable chunk of the money raised, which will let them... go on more freebies I imagine.

See Also

18 August 2006

Fox News Watch

I was watching Fox News at 11pm last night*, where the Special Report with Brit Hume was on. They had a brief 3 person panel discussion on the recent decision by US Judge Anna Diggs Taylor that wiretaps not authorised by a judicial warrant are unconstitutional (reported here).


Judge Anna Diggs Taylor

There was not person on the panel willing to defend the reasoned 44-page decision of a judge of 49 years experience in the law - indeed one panelist claimed the judgment was on "thin legal ground"! Now maybe I'm just used to the neutral reporting of the BBC, but surely that's not right. Fox News claims to be fair and one of their mottoes is "We Report. You Decide". How exactly are people meant to do that when the channel hosts a discussion by three Republicans all agreeing with one another and offering no dissenting voice.

Anyone wishing to peruse the judge's decision, and see a great example of how the law doesn't just go away when you say the magic word 'terrorism', can look no further than here.

See Also:
PS. Fox being biased... Am I just stating the obvious?

* In my defence, I was flicking through after watching the phenomenally better Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Sky+

17 August 2006

The Bogeymen

Ben Sargent hits the nail on the head:


(Click to enlarge)

See Also:

15 August 2006

How Do You Know?

Via BBC News comes this incredulous story:
"The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) is consulting members on whether to seek the authority to punish people without going to court."
I shit ye not. Included in their proposals to circumvent our criminal justice system are (my comments in italics):
  • The power for police to deal with "town centre yobs" by excluding them for an "appropriate period" while they are given an informal warning or made to pay a fixed-penalty fine: "Oi guv, I don't like the look of them kids, shall we take a tenner off 'em?"
  • Powers for a "neighbourhood constable" - armed with local knowledge - with the right to hand out a three-month ban on gang members causing disorder on estate from associating in public: For "neighbourhood constable" read "local nosy git".
  • The ability for police to seize and crush cars driven by those repeatedly driving without registration or insurance, no driving licence or MOT. Instant driving bans could also be imposed ahead of a court appearance: The introduction of "guilty until proven innocent".
  • Knife crime could be targeted by giving police the ability to stop and search based on "reasonable suspicion" from previous convictions: No fair enough, I'll give them this one.


All of this reminds we I had with a close friend of mine, who proposed that if the police know someone is guilty, they should be allowed to beat them up.
Rather than go straight on to the bit about official police brutality I challenged him on by what standard would the police need to prove they knew that person was guilty. He just, despite several nudges, kept repeating "if they know", without stating how this would be proved... He's a nice guy really, honest!
But this little exchange does highlight one of the reasons we have the criminal justice system that we do: to prove someone is guilty of an offence. The system is not some troublesome procedural hurdle that needs to be circumvented at all costs - which seems to be what this whole "rebalancing" argument is really about - it is there to protect all of us from arbitrary detention and wrongful imprisonment. And not only that, it promotes confidence in the rule of law and the government as a whole, as they are seen to be giving justice in a transparent, public setting - not through a ticket handed out in some dark alleyway by a copper that's got the hump.

See Also:

Castro-ted

Sticky Notes questions whether Cuba's Fidel Castro really did pose for those recent pictures.


From black and white...


... To Technicolour

(Via Charon QC)

Update

Desperate to prove he is alive and well, Cuban TV has aired a video of their ailing leader now.

14 August 2006

Dear Boris

Via John Wilkes comes this (genuine) job advert:
Boris Johnson MP (Henley)

Salary
-To be discussed

Details
- Wanted Urgent.



Office of Boris Johnson is looking for a bright, motivated, highly literate individual to come and work in the House of Commons as a Researcher. Job will involve researching legislation and Bills going through the House, compiling briefs and reports, speech writing, drafting articles, policy formulation and general parliamentary wonkery.

Interest in Higher Education related issues a must.

Send CV plus two 500 word sample essays. One being on the role of British universities. The other being, either A Trip in a Space Ship, A Country Ramble or The Taj Mahal.

Closes - 15 September 2006

Contact - cv and essays to: Boris Johnson MP, House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA
Website - http://www.boris-johnson.com
Boris Johnson ladies and gentleman, the man, the legend.

13 August 2006

Dude, Where's My Country?

The Respect Party seems to have mislaid Israel:


(Click to enlarge)

Don't worry guys, I'm always doing that.

And a rather tenuous link, but let's not forget that George Galloway, the party's only MP and his recent tirade on Sky.

Via Harry's Place

12 August 2006

Tax, Tax Everywhere But Not a Drop to Spend

LibDemBlogs is full of posts about the Liberal Democrats new tax proposals which include... um... something about making it more environmentally friendly and dropping the top rate of tax... and stuff.


What's Ming doing with his hands?

It feels almost cruel to tell them that the average person doesn't care about the technicalities of tax, they want to know whether they are going to have more in their pocket, or less - and I have to admit that I have no idea... I think they will, especially if they are on low income... maybe, unless they have a clapped out old banger, in which case they won't... I think.

In fairness, the LibDem page on the new tax proposals make quite a bit of sense, it's the alarming array of blog posts which are making me go cross-eyed. Is there anything more boring? Well, maybe a blog post about the proliferation of blog posts about the party's new tax proposals.

10 August 2006

The Price of Freedom...

... Is eternal vigilance
Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1826), 3rd president of the USA

But this vigilance should not only be against those who wish to perpetrate attacks against us, but also against those who wish to deprive us of our liberty in order to keep us secure.


Stopped in its tracks:
another terrorist attack


Which is why I was worried yesterday, when I heard that Dr John Reid, the Home Secretary, had said in a speech to Demos:
"We may have to modify some of our freedoms in the short-term in order to prevent their misuse and abuse by those who oppose our fundamental values and would destroy our freedoms and values in the long-term."
And apparently this action is needed because:
"We are probably in the most sustained period of severe threat since the end of World War II."
I kid ye not. According to Dr Reid terrorism by 4 men with rucksacks is more serious than the Irish Republican Army and even the USSR during the Cold War, and they had nuclear weapons. Of course, since the Home Secretary made this speech we have learned that a group of people have been plotting to blow up planes heading out of the UK, and so his words have taken on a new resonance. But this shouldn't undermine the fact that his whole approach is questionable.

Today, two people who are very close to me have both said they are willing to give up some of their liberty as long as it's for their safety. But if we do that, what are we making safe? It's doubtful we will ever be truly protected against hard-liners who wish to use violence to intimidate us without fundamentally changing the character of what makes our country free. After all, what do we gain from giving up all our freedom? We won't be happy - as man is inherently opposed to an all-seeing, all-knowing totalitarian state, we simply can't enjoy our lives knowing that we are being watched and analysed by those that we do not even trust.

It is therefore worth remembering that the security services in this country did a superb job of foiling a terrorist operation to murder innocent civilians, and they did it within the present legal framework. What happened here this week should not be used as pretext by the government for further incursions on our liberty, as to allow them to do so as they did after 9/11 and 7/7 would be a gross over-reaction to a threat which we are effectively combating.

We are a free country, and we must stay that way, no matter what.

See Also:

Naked Chicks

Apologies for the title, but it's the only way to lure people into viewing this post about a subject which does not engage most people: House of Lords Reform. For today is House of Lords Reform Day.


Now that's just uncalled for

The House of Lords is, as it barely needs stating, not democratic. We do not have a direct say in who should be appointed to the chamber, nor is there any way for us to remove them if we consider they are not up to the job. And yet it is generally agreed we are a democracy. How can we be a democracy when we, the ordinary citizens of this country, have no say in who should sit in one half of our legislature?

The Preamble to the Parliament Act 1911* foresaw a different vision of what today's House of Lords would look like:
"...it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis..."
95 years later, and the House of Lords are still not elected on a "popular basis". 95 years on and we are still not a democracy. And unfortunately, it does not look like those in power wish to dramatically change that. Last week the Guardian published details of a leaked memo from Jack Straw, Leader of the House of Commons, which stated hereditary peers would stay in the second chamber until 2050:
"The paper suggests that ending the hereditary principle 'in terms of [political] handling is perhaps one of the most controversial elements of the package of reform and would result in the government being faced with considerable difficulties in getting through any legislation, as previous experience has shown'"
You can almost smell the bullshit from here can't you. There is widespread support for ending the "hereditary principle" so where is the controversy? The controversy is in government, which is afraid of ending its control of Parliament, which elections to the second chamber would invariably bring.

I know that we shouldn't expect a massive sweeping away of the current system, which is why the House of Lords Act 1999 allowed 90 hereditary peers to retain their seats whilst a new way of selecting members was devised. But seven years later, and with votes in 2003 showing that most MPs would like at least some direct elections to the Lords, why has nothing more been done?
Let's Elect the Lords... and do it in 5 years, not 50.

See Also:
* Yes, you are reading that date correctly.

09 August 2006

Dissection

After Sen. Lieberman's defeat in the Connecticut primary, Alex Wilcock offers a superb dissection of the result and how it might affect Tory party policy over here.

08 August 2006

Gorgeous George

I don't wish to start a trend, but here's another clip posted on YouTube, this time it's George Galloway at his Murdoch/Israel/West-bashing best.


Can we give this guy a Noble Peace Prize, just in the name of irony.

Via Australian Law Student.

07 August 2006

Apocalypse Now?

The Daily Show's Jon Stewart gives a brief review of the US TV coverage of the on-going Middle East conflict:


"That's arbitrarily terrifying!"
You can catch The Daily Show in the UK 8.30pm weekdays on More4.
Via Will Howells

06 August 2006

The Options

Today's Doonesbury does a good job of dissecting how the Bush White House likes to frame arguments:


(click image for full size version)

Disclaimer: Any similarities with Blair's style are entirely coincidental. For example, we shouldn't be looking at what he said in his news conference earlier this week as a basis for saying he uses this flawed technique, especially when he says:
"One vision of the Middle East is a vision in which people of different faiths, Jews, Christians, Muslims live together, their nations are democratic, their people elect their governments, they live in peace side by side with one another, there is a proper State of Palestine that is independent and viable, the Government of Lebanon is in charge of the whole of the Lebanon and elected by the Lebanese people, Iraq is the democracy its people want, and everywhere we support a process of modernisation. That is one vision.
The other vision is of sectarianism, is of Muslim against Jew, Sunni against Shia, of secular dictators and religious fanatics running the region."
Again, entirely coincidental... entirely.

04 August 2006

Post 9/11 Blues

Do you have the post-9/11 blues*?

* Turn the sound on.

03 August 2006

The Daily Mail Blows a Trumpet

As Tristan predicted in a comment left on this post, some people have gotten "righteously angry" about Armando Iannucci's new TV series, Time Trumpet, which starts tonight at 10pm on BBC2*.


A scene from Time Trumpet

I say "people" have gotten angry about it, I mean a newspaper... well, I say "a newspaper", I mean the Daily Mail. Calling the Mail a newspaper is a bit like calling Adolf Hitler human: You know it's technically correct, but it just doesn't feel right.

But anyway, I'm getting off the point. Here is what the Daily Mail had to say about the show:
"The BBC has been urged to pull a 'sick' new comedy show which features spoof news reports of Tony Blair being assassinated and a 9/11-style video of terrorists crashing an airliner into the Houses of Parliament...
Andrew Dismore, Labour MP for Hendon, said it was 'absolutely sick. At a time when people are dying for real on both sides in the Middle East, to try and make fun of what's going on is the worst thing imaginable. Nothing is more sick than attempting to make a joke out of people who are dying. It's beyond the pale. The BBC governors should do something to stop this. And the fact that it could have been given approval by the BBC's editorial board is simply disgraceful.'

David Davies, Tory MP for Monmouth, said: 'It shows a distinct lack of taste and could even exacerbate the suffering of the July 7th bombing victims. The BBC receives a large amount of taxpayers' money and has a duty to use it responsibly. I can't see much comedy value in this at a time when all of us are at risk from terrorism.'"
Of course, to illustrate all this, the Daily Mail has to link to a clip of the most "controversial" clip:


(image courtesy of Dayorama)

Yes, that's right, the Daily Mail is so outraged by the "sick programming" that it provides a link to a clip of it at the top of the article.

* There's a 9 minute clip of it here.

02 August 2006

A Letter to a Straw Man

As the Jack Straw pledge was successful, I've sent the following letter:
Dear Mr Straw,

I'm writing with regard to your comments in the House of Commons on 20 July 2006 (HC Deb. Col. 461) in which you criticised MPs' researchers for submitting frivolous Parliamentary Questions to "prove a point" and the website TheyWorkForYou.com for encouraging this.

I am surprised that you have chosen TheyWorkForYou.com as a target of attack, as it provides a valuable public service which wouldn't exist if the Parliament.uk site was more accessible.

TheyWorkForYou.com is careful to include disclaimers about the figures they use on their website. The main purpose of the site is to provide the public with accessible information about what their MPs are doing and saying in their name. They are always looking at ways to improve the statistics they have and are holding a public consultation on the subject, which includes a public meeting on 7th November which I encourage you to attend.

Yours,

Gavin Whenman

An "Arc of Extremism"

You could also smell the bullshit as he said it*, but Tony Blair has warned of an "arc of extremism" in the world.



Yep, it runs from Whitehall to Washington and it's the language of the man telling us we're under attack, but vote for him and it'll all be ok. It's not the reassuring voice that it should be, telling us that realistically there will always be terrorists in the world, and the best thing we can do is not change, not give in to their demands, because attacking them, and in the course killing innocent civilians, only creates more terrorists.

Remember, we have nothing to fear but fear itself.

* And the flagrant attempt to boost his polling numbers by showing he is on top of the "War on Terror"