Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Blog Digest 2007

Anyone new to the blogging phenomenon, who wants a tour to see what all the fuss is about, and those who wish to avail themselves of hand-picked gems from a year's worth of the best writing on the web can now purchase copies of The Blog Digest 2007, expertly edited by the brilliant wordsmith Justin McKeating of Chicken Yoghurt fame.

Cunningly divided into chapters covering Culture & Media, Sex, War, Death, Activism, Work and Play and Sport, it enables you to flick about from subject to subject much as you do when browsing the internet. Or you can do what I am doing, which is settle down with a hot drink and read it from start to end. All human life is there. Wit, wisdom, righteous anger, sleuthing, revelations, compassion and yep, love. The love of writing, and the joy of sharing it with others - blogging is unpaid, unadulterated, and unequalled as a communication opportunity. Dive in. ( Amazon)


I have succombed to a grim lurgy which sees me coughing and wheezing and running a temperature. I am also a bit scared, now the euphoria has worn off, about how fast I am going to work to get this book out. I am stuck on the ending of one chapter. Never mind, I'll leave it for now and crack on with the next one after I have gone to bed and had a quick sleep. I felt ill yesterday but was fine last night when I was on 18 Doughty St again. It was a great show. However, today I am laid low, and have a cough like an angry sealion.
I've had so many chest infections since the bombings. Headaches are more frequent too. I guess stress hammers your immune system long term.

The amount of writing and the scary deadline means that blogging may be curtailed for a bit, (though my blog posts never take longer than half an hour normally, and some of them only ten minutes. And I find it a useful warm-up exercise before doing the book.)
However, right now I am going back to bed with paracetamol. I made lots of leek and potato soup yesterday so at least I don't need to leave the house for 24 hours.

UPDATE: Humm, that's a really odd coincidence...BBC story on the Health Protection Agency's report into the after-effects of the bombs, found when I randomly checked my stats after posting this.

Hello BBC visitors! If you want to sign the petition for an independent inquiry into the bombings, ( we still haven't had one, isn't that silly?) please click here . Thank you!

Dreaming of a white Christmas?

...Have a look at how cocaine base is made.

Matthew Bristow, a journalist working in Columbia films how it is done, starting with the stripping of the coca bushes, putting the chopped leaves in a big pile, then the adding of the following healthful ingredients...
  • cement
  • caustic soda solution
  • ammonia
  • gasoline
  • quicklime
  • gasoline again
  • sulphuric acid solution
  • recycled gasoline
  • fresh gasoline
  • sulphuric acid
  • ammonia

After a bit of mixing ( people kicking the treated leaves and chemical mixture about wearing wellies and shorts, then more mixing using plastic barrels and buckets and sticks )and filtering ( through dirty laundry) you get cocaine alkaloids, which makes the base. Which is then sold to guerillas for $800 a kilo. Also from Matthew's excellent blog, an interview with Professor Gary Becker, winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, about the War on Drugs

The Professor says ' I think you have to legalize drugs'.

Why? Read on...

Fascinating stuff.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Back with some great news...

I've been offline and not writing here for a few days as I wasn't feeling too hot; headaches and looking at computer screens don't go well together. Much better now and I can now proudly inform you all that my book has a publisher and is coming out next summer - we're just looking at slots so I'll come back with which month soon- which means I am going to have to go hell for leather and work 10 hours a day to get it all done. That's fine, I enjoy writing, and the really hard bit is done now, anyway.

I am celebrating with a small lager before I go off to teach the dance students in fifteen minutes. I expect there will be quite a lot of wine guzzled after class tonight with the girls!

Oooh, it's all so exciting! Thank you all for coming with me on this journey, for all the emails and comments and texts. I'll be dedicating the book to my blog readers, amongst others - so please have a drink for me and for yourselves, and for blogging, democratising publishing, and giving us all a way to publish and be heard. Couldn't have done it without you.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

Birds in the rain

As I washed up this morning, I looked out of the kitchen window and saw a perfect rainbow arcing over the park against a sky the indigo of a thumping bruise. J and I set off to walk Jane's dog - and then got a text that he was all right and had already been for a walk, which was a good thing because the rain was starting again; within seconds it was full-face, can't-see with-glasses-on spray and we rushed back home again after going 500 yards, laughing and swearing . I will go out later for the papers, and food for the fish, and to the butchers to get more lamb-scrag-end for a casserole ( last night's first attempt was a huge success, we fell asleep early, stupified with rich beer and vegetable gravy, stuffed with lamb that could be cut with a spoon. I'm doing it all again for a Sunday feast with friends.)

But now, the skies are opening.

I am sitting in the study, my face still-tingling from the rain, looking out of the window. It is full-power-shower blast, coming almost horizontally, now it is crashing straight down as the wind suddenly drops. There was a drum roll of thunder and a cymbal-clash of lightning, and the small brown birds who peep and fuss all day in the ivy on the derelict garage at the end of my yard all suddenly flew up and went and sat on the chimney pots of my neighbours house. Twelve chimney pots, ten birds, all determinedly facing the rain and angling their bodies to the geometery of the weather, lifting up their beaks as the water poured off their tails. The storm made their feathers flutter and shiver, sometimes they almost over-balanced and had to grip with their claws, or were lifted up by gusts, but instead of hiding behind the chimney pots, they deliberately put themselves into the path of the elements.

I wonder what it is that makes them leave the shelter of the ivy-smothered roof and stand together to face the oncoming storm? Perhaps if you know you are going to get drenched and buffetted you might as well enjoy the excitement of it with friends rather than cower and mope alone.

The worst of the wind and rain has passed for now, and the birds have flown away. The sky is the grey of prisoner's sweats, of once-white washing that went in with dark jeans. The geranium petals are glowing, and there are no birds to be seen or birdsong to be heard, only the drip of rain falling from shining leaves.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Lamb and bacon casserole with Polish apple beer

Weekend stuff and a break from politics: Been out and bought a new casserole dish so everything will be casseroled from now, tasty and feeds random hungry local friends who tend to pop in at odd times.

Tonight's invention : 4 thick lamb neck chops, coated in flour then browned in pan on high heat, 3 rashers, fried, then chopped, one Spanish onion, cooked in lamb/bacon fat with sloosh extra olive oil, rest of flour mixed in ( used about 2 tbsp.) Meat and onions then added to a casserole of sweated-til-tender leeks, potatoes, red onion, carrots, garlic cloves and chopped apple with black pepper, thyme and parsley stalks and bayleaf. Covered with apple beer, ( you could use decent cider) , then a layer of seasoned sliced spuds on top, Lancashire hotpot-style, dot of butter, lid on, shoved in oven at 150 for 2 hours, then lid off and cooked for 50 minutes on high.

Will report back. The weather is going to be vile over the weekend so thought I might as well cook loads and then stay in and be warm and out of the gales. Tomorrow I'll serve the rest for friends with red cabbage cooked in red wine. There looks like enough to feed at least 8, but Jane is likely to be round for Sunday lunch and we're at a party on Saturday so may well have more waifs and strays on Sunday morning so I'm sure it'll all go...

Highbury Park knee deep in golden leaves: last day of kicking them about as I walk to the gym. The seasons are so late this year. There are still green leaves on some of the trees, but the wind tomorrow will strip the branches bare and then we will be almost in winter. J has the box of Christmas decorations out already. He is getting excited. I made him write 'Not to be opened until December 1st' on it last year. Weekend after next we will get our Christmas tree.

Post 9/11 blues

Via YouTube. 60,000 hits so far....
Check it out.
Oh, and have a look at this...Reflections of young British-Pakistani men from Bradford

Jailhouse Lawyer...

..has a top blog, and has inspired me to write more on crime, punishment and justice. Not now though, it's half past midnight, and I have just about stopped dancing. 'Night.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

KCU ladies vs. bars and guitars

Spent the afternoon in town, long lunch of sweet mussels in broth with my friend Katrina. Then some of the Kings Cross United ladies had a night out tonight, (with friends) at the Forum, Kentish Town, where Rodrigo y Gabriela were playing. I say 'playing', they were in fact ripping sounds out of two guitars at such speed that if they were plucking chickens, the air would be a blizzard of feathers. Smashing their instruments to release thundering tribal rhythms, releasing torrents of pizzicato notes into complex Bach-ian melodies that Jaques Lousier would envy, their foot-stamping energy lifting the audience like a wave until we sweated and roared, exhilerated by a physically virtuoisic performance still-hot from the summer's festivals, rippling with the sinuously muscular rhythms of South America. (By way of Ireland and Metallica and Led Zep and Pink Floyd.) Hell, they are uncategorisable. Go check them out ( Jool's Holland Later)

And this is wild . How their fingers do not bleed, I don't know.
Diabolo Rojo. Saved the best til last . Live is better, the videos don't give you half an idea of the jumping in the room.

UPDATE: Evening Standard review

Christmas on the beach?

I wrote about the gorgeous wooden New-England style Beacon House ( click here for lovely pics and more info) a few weeks ago, and now I report back that there is a special Christmas offer on for anyone who fancies Christmas in Whitstable, eating iced oysters and roast fish by a blazing fire whilst the sea crashes outside. Anyone who wants to stay and mentions ''Rachel' gets a big discount during the holiday period. It sleeps 8-10 people.
Contact details here. Pic shows Beacon House dressed for Christmas in a magazine shoot a few years ago.

Blair is wildly exaggerating the terror threat

This is excellent. Simon Jenkins and Matthew Norman (particular joy here!) are my top columnists ever. Re. Blair and Terror. See also How Mad is Tony Blair, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on The Rules of the Game ( PDF here) . Another interesting read from the JRF is this report on 'Reflections of Young Pakistani Men from Bradford'.

Am reading State of Denial at the moment, brilliant but scary.

New 7/7 Public Inquiry Petition

The last one got 1274 signatures, but was hijacked by a few conspiraloons writing nonsense about 9/11 on it. Fortunately Davide at Netherworld has started a new one, which can be found HERE over at Number 10 Downing Street website.
Thank you Davide.
Justin is cynical, but you have to have hope, don't you?

If you agree about the inquiry, please can you sign and pass it around? Many thanks...

PS: There are lots of other good petitions to sign...if they're going to nab your details, fellow-dissidents, you might as well let off some steam and tell 'em what you think about, ooh, everything on your mind. It beats shouting at the TV when the news is on.

Top 10 Things I would never do...( via Iain Dale)

Quick q...Has anyone changed to the new version of blogger? And if so, did it transfer all the customisations ( blogroll, buttons etc) or not? I'm a bit scared in case I lose it all...

Okay. The equivalent of those re. fwd.FWD. emails, or a cunning way to get a post and some links going? Iain Dale has started a meme, Top 10 Things I Would Never Do and tagged me
So here we go...

10. Be squeamish about vermin. Miff caught a mouse yesterday and brought it into the flat and proceeded to muck about with it for ages. Mouse-in-the-house is a no-no, so I was pleased that she caught it, but endlessly torturing it is also a no-no, so I got it off her - it was pretty much dead but not quite - and finished it off. Plastic bag, *squish*. Yuk. R.I.P mouse.
9. Eat celery. It is solid evil. Bleeurt.
8. Buy the Mail ( see above) . Or the Sun. (Have you seen this? Excellent.)
7. Vote Tory. It's getting harder and harder to vote Labour as well. I will have to be a Lib Dem in protest until the current mob sort themselves out.
6. Stop pointing out that ID cards are a grotesque waste of money and will not stop terrorism.
5.Take any notice of conspiraloons. Please stop sending me drivel that proclaims the World Trade Centre was mined by pixies/lizards/Mossad/the planes that were hijacked on 9/11 were holograms/pods/invisible/ July 7th was a wheeze perpetrated by Tony Blair to get more popular and all the rest of it. *Yawn* Delete/bin.
4. Take any notice of anonymous emails that say things like '' is your novel called i am a sad spiteful twat i cant write and i screw bent cops''. Actually, carry on, if you must; at least it keeps you off the streets and away from impressionable small children or nervous old ladies. It's also hilarious. I am making quite a collection of them and sharing them with interested parties along with your IP address.
3. Have my remains launched into space, or be cryo-genically frozen. I mean, why? You're dead. Deal with it, and spend the money on something nice when you're still about.
2. Support the death penalty in any circumstances.
1. Give up on things or people I believe in.

Right, sorry in advance, for now I have to tag 10 other people...Karol, Glamourpuss, Holly, Yorkshire Lass, Ally, Rachel-Catherine Netherworld, Not Saussure, Kris, Ceridwen Dewi

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

18 Doughty Street again

Well, Iain Dale has asked me to be a pundit on 18 Doughty Street again, so I will be live on air trying to sound intelligent and well-informed from 10pm, over here at 18 Doughty Street TV.

Cue news-surfing and current affairs swotting, which is a useful excuse to have a break from the book. Oh, and I have some more news on that: I am beginning a novel as well. A novel which is nothing to do with terrorism, hooray!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Don't shoot the messenger....

So I'm back after going up north for a few days to see J's family, and on my return I find my inbox full of kind people's messages pointing out this gem...

Matthew Taylor, Tony Blair's outgoing chief strategy adviser fears ''the internet'' could be fuelling a "crisis" in the relationship between politicians and voters. Mr. Taylor talked of the "shrill discourse of demands" made by those tiresome voters behaving like ''teenagers'', "conflicted" about what they actually want - and the nasty off-message bloggers are apparently to blame. He says

''What is the big breakthrough, in terms of politics, on the web in the last few years? It's basically blogs which are, generally speaking, hostile and, generally speaking, basically see their job as every day exposing how venal, stupid, mendacious politicians are. ''
"The internet is being used as a tool of mobilisation, which is fantastic, but it only adds to the growing, incommensurate nature of the demands being made on government."
He challenged the online community
[ the what?] to provide more opportunities for "people to try to understand the real trade-offs that politicians face and the real dilemmas that citizens face".
( more via the BBC)

Oh dear. Poor politicians, faced with this ghastly dilemma of what to do after stumbling across the angry thoughts of their electorate. And what, pray, is wrong with blogs exposing how venal, stupid and mendacious politicans are - if politicians are behaving in a way which is venal, stupid and mendacious?

Look, it's quite simple. If you don't want voters blogging angrily about venality, stupidity or menaciousness in politics, clean up your act. Stop venally taking bungs and then installing the donors as lawmakers, stop passing stupid laws without proper consultation, stop lying about the build-up to illegal wars.

Or, if you are going to carry on, stop whinging when you are exposed for it and ordinary people say, quite reasonably, that they are utterly fed up with you .

Voters have always been angry about venality, stupidlity and menadaciousness in politics; the problem for New Labour (and all the other parties) is that they can now read about exactly how angry the pesky voters are. Does Blair's strategy chappie look chagrined on learning this, and vow to carry back the message that the Government must do better to regain voters' trust? No, he goes and has a hissy fit at a conference. (It's not the Government themselves who are having a crisis. Because the stroppy voters have retired to their bedrooms and slammed the door having lost faith in politicians and politics, oh no. It's the nasty intranetwebthing. Ruining the ''relationship'' between politicians and voters. )

What, us voicing critical opinions? Talking back on our little personal blogs? That buggers up the ''relationship'' between Government and governed, does it? I'm sorry, but I don't want to be in a ''relationship'' where one side has all the power and the other side just shuts up and does what it is told without complaining. That's an abusive relationship.

Part of the problem, he added, was the "net-head" culture itself, which was rooted in libertarianism and "anti-establishment" attitudes.

Oh, this is pathetic. ''Net-head culture''? Have you read the newspapers recently, Matthew-the-ex-strategy adviser? Looked at opinion columns, cartoons, polls? Watched TV? Been to a pub, even? Talked to any voters, at all, in the last five years?

*Deep breath*

Dear Government. You have an awful lot of power. You seem to be on a mission to get even more. You don't seem to be listening to the voters whom you are elected to serve. We've tried voting, and we've tried not voting, we've tried turning out on the streets in our millions, we've tried writing to you, signing petitions, some of us even got to meet you and tried to talk to you face to face, and now, wearied by the general lack of interest in our concerns, hoarse from shouting at our TV sets, some of us have now started writing down our thoughts on our personal web diaries.

Y' know, engaging. Giving a stuff. Debating. Caring. Being transparent about what we think. (Thought you were once keen on that sort of thing?) All over the UK, people from ''hard working families'', normal voting members of the public, men and women of all ages, all political persuasions, are simply sitting down at a keyboard and writing what's on their mind when they see the news, when they see politicans on TV, when they read what politicians say

And boo, hoo, you don't like it. Well, then, why not look at the causes of our ire ? Look at yourselves. Explain yourselves. We're listening. The slightly encouraging thing is, that now, possibly, you might be listening or at least reading, too. Although that's actually quite scary, given what happened when you didn't like the messages you got from disparate people protesting in Parliament Square. You made Parliament Square and the surrounding area a no-protest zone, didn't you? Great.

Are you going to try and close down the seditious and ungrateful blogosphere next?

Quite possibly. Well, hey, blog while you can, people, say what's on your minds. Nobody is stopping you. Yet. The Government might even be reading.

And just remember, nobody has to read this stuff if they don't want to, and if they do, they don't have to agree. But any Government wonks reading might want to consider this. Seems like lots of blogging voters - independently of each other - do seem to be expressing somewhat similar thoughts , even though they come from all sorts of different persuasions, and from right across the political spectrum. The fact that parents and students and office workers and G.Ps and lawyers and magistrates and musicians and soldiers and coppers and train drivers and ambulance dispatchers and nurses and teachers and journalists and priests and writers and programmers and photographers and farmers and painters and carers and councillors...

...have recently felt moved, individually and variously, to begin blogging and say they are pig-sick of the Government's behaviour...

... might perhaps be a teeny indication that there might be something that's striking a chord amongst the huddled masses yearning to be free...

... and the crisis might be a bit closer to home for the Government than the flipping ''internet''.

A cross voter writes on Slashdot...

''Dear Matthew, (can I call you Matthew?)

Your government is elected by a minority of the electorate using a system that gives it an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons. Your Members of Parliament say their first loyalty is to the Party and the manifesto, not to the electorate. You ensure almost all votes are whipped through Parliament with fearful penalties if an MP disobeys the Party line. You have changed your Party conferences so that votes by the members have no bearing on policy making which is performed behind closed doors. You refuse freedom of information requests that would allow the electorate to see that policies are enacted according to regulations. You take money from multimillionaires and do not declare it to the authorities; coincidentally, all of these donors then become members of the House of Lords where they become law makers. You pass legislation that require people to get police permission to protest outside of Parliament. You rip up ancient laws that regulate the power of the State over the citizen and propose to take more for yourselves. You politicise the intelligence service, getting your spin doctors to sell a war planned in collusion with a foreign power.

You shouldn't be so much wondering why voters feel alienated, as be amazed that we haven't dragged you out of Downing Street and strung you up outside of Parliament''

Ho hum.

UPDATE: Blairwatch ( lefty, fed up with Blair) and Ian Dale ( righty, fed up with Blair) both picked up the story too, which kind of proves the cross-party point.

UPDATE UPDATE: Still finding more links...Netherworld (lefty/liberal), Guido (libertarian right), Paul Linford ( ex Parliamentary lobby journalist), Devil's Kitchen ( sweary libertarian), hmmm...I'm going to stop putting blogger's affiliations now as this will take ages, you get the idea, people from all over the shop...Blood& Treasure, Bookdrunk, TimWorstall, Martin Kelly., Longrider, Mr Eugenides, Bag, Man in a Shed, Stumbling and Mumbling, James Cleverly, The Tin Drummer, Shuggy, D-Notice, BudgieBird, Dirty Christian Socialist Cow and Not Saussure.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Public service announcement - 7/7 meeting follow up


''To survivors of the 7 July attacks who gave their views in person to the London Assembly 7 July Review Committee [and to interested members of the public - RN]
I am writing to let you know that the 7 July Review Committee is about to hold its follow-up review to look at what progress has been made in implementing its recommendations.

The agenda for the 22 November meeting of the London Assembly's 7 July Review Committee has been published (and can be found here).

At the bottom of the page is a set of documents which are all the responses we received following publication of our report in June.

The follow-up meeting will take place here at City Hall at 2pm on 22 November, in the meeting Chamber. The meeting will be attended by senior representatives from the emergency services, Transport for London, and the National Health Service. The Committee will ask them questions about what progress they have made on key issues such as underground communications, digital radios / alternatives to mobile telephones, and putting in place plans to care for survivors of major incidents.

The meeting will be open to the public, so you are welcome to come and watch the meeting. It will also be webcast live and available to view afterwards.

If you have any questions or concerns, please give us a call. If you would like to comment on the responses to the report, please let us know and I will pass your comments on to the Committee. Also, if you would like to suggest questions for the Committee to ask the representatives of London's emergency, transport and health services, please let me know. I cannot guarantee that all the suggested questions will be asked, but I will ensure that they are passed on to the Assembly Members. I will need your suggestions by 9am on Monday 20th November in order to brief the Committee.

Following the meeting, I am expecting the Committee to produce a short follow-up report, and I will let you know as soon as I know when that is likely to be published. I will over the next 24 hours be sending out e-mails to everyone we have on our contact lists, but do please feel free to pass this information on to anyone you think may be interested. I am also forwarding the information to the 7 July Assistance Centre and Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Following the meeting, I am expecting the Committee to produce a short follow-up report, and I will let you know as soon as I know when that is likely to be published.''

London Assembly 7 July Review Committee page

So there you go, if you want to find out which of the 7 July Review Committees recomendations have been acted upon, and get a general feel for your safety as a Londoner, you can look out for the report and attend the meeting.

I have just come back from another meeting about an inquiry into 7 July and I hope some good will come of it. I haven't stopped campaigning, just had a break from highly visible public campaigning as I am fed up of being heckled when I speak out and getting bonkers emails and comments from conspiraloons, (and it is not as if I want to be some kind of flipping 'bomb celebrity' with all the utter lunacy that that entails). So putting my head over the paraphet only happens when I think it is really necessary and will achieve something in terms of raising awareness of this huge public issue concerning managing our freedom and our fear, our safety and civil liberties, and our ability to integrate with each other. And what we know - and need to know, still - about how safe we are today - and how we got to this point where we all worry about ordinary people going to work and never coming home again.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Rules of the Game...

Back in September, I wrote a bit of doggrel, called THE RULES OF THE GAME HAVE CHANGED that was set to music by Ecletech, Doghorse and Bo Bo'dor. The title (and refrain of the verses) was of course inspired by Tony Blair's famous statement in a press conference in August 2005 when he announced, ominously

'Let no-one be in any doubt, that the rules of the game are changing'

Today, the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust publishes a report called 'The Rules of the Game:Terrorism, Community and Human Rights' ( read it here on PDF)
The Telegraph writes ''The Government's anti-terrorism policy is being damaged by party political interests and vote-seeking on the part of ministers, a report has claimed.

The report singles out John Reid for particular criticism
It also
accused Tony Blair and John Reid, the Home Secretary, of playing to a "tabloid agenda" and "trying to win over the white working class vote."
Sensible plans to combat terror are now being "submerged by the Government's 'electoral motives'

The respected think-tank warned that anti-terror measures were having a disproportionate effect on Britain's Muslim community and risked alienating people who could play a vital role in defeating extremism"

The report says 'The fundemental point at issue, is whether new laws and oversight procedures are necessary for dealing with the changed nature of terrorism or whether such contrivances are merely politically cosmetic knee-jerk responses with no substantive adantages but with potential counter-productive disadvantages.'

Well quite. See Henry Porter, writing brilliantly (as usual) in last week's Observer to an incisive and powerful statement as to why we should preserve our civil liberties, even in a time of terror and what that might mean in practical terms.

Dame Eliza laid out the threat. Brilliant police work and keen intelligence caught Dhiren Barot, a murderous fanatic who planned to kill thousands. The threat is real. But it is not so very different to other threats we have faced before, and we did not rip up the rule book then. We do not defeat it by watching our politicians grandstanding and abusing State powers to cow and control the law-abiding many in order to catch the lawless, murderous few. Nor do we need to sink to the level of murderous fanatics by sanctioning brutality, torture, inprisonment without charge and wild bellicose rhetoric, unaccountable half-truths, whilst claiming that God is on our side.

And this latest report very sensibly makes this point in a timely fashion. Let's hope its sane message isn't drowned out by more tough-guy posturing during the forthcoming Queen's Speech, new attempts to get 90 days Internment back on the agenda, and yet more chest-beating from Reid and Brown about who's the Toughest on Terror.

As the US neo-cons unravel, you'd think the time for calmer voices calling for thoughtful debate would be heard. But politicians think they can win votes and leadership elections by swinging their dicks and stamping their feet and bellowing like gorillas with the tabloids gibbering a chorus.Until we stop indulging these macho ego-displays and grow up, we'll continue to get hysteria, fear, demonisation of Muslims and the febrile atmosphere of anger, suspicion and cynicism that such an explosive atmosphere brews.

18 Doughty Street

I'm on 18 Doughty Street (political internet TV station) tonight, from 10pm-12pm. 18 Doughty Street blog is here. Am frantically news-surfing, in order not to let the lefty-liberal side down...

Hot Topic: 'Cold Turkey'

From the BBC, Telegraph and many other papers, comes the news that some prisoners have settled out of court after being forced to go 'cold turkey' in prison, which they claimed was 'assualt' and 'a breach of their human rights.'

More than half of all prisoners in England and Wales report a serious drug problem, and on entering the prisons, that figure can be as high as 70-80%. People are on drugs and committing crimes to pay for them, and ending up in prisons, where their treatment and rehabiliatation is inadequate , and where drugs are rife inside.

From the BBC
'According to the editor of the Prisons Handbook, Mark Leech, two-thirds of crime is drug-related and Home Office research has shown that 643 drug addicts were responsible for well over 70,000 offences in one three-month period.
"Prisoners have the right to receive exactly the same type and standard of healthcare in prison as they would receive in the community," he said.
"Yet for the most part drug detoxification in prison is second-rate in standard and woefully short in its duration."

It seems that the prisoners in this case were already recieving treatment to get off drugs after all, which indicates a willingness to get clean, but then the form the treatment took once they got into prison - or the lack of treatment and support recieved- seems to indicate that they were suddenly hauled off the drugs rather than walked off the drugs. I have no doubt that it was a grim experience. But if the outcome was that they were drug-free, rather faster and more brutally than they would like, isn't that still a positive outcome?

We haven't been told what the prisoners think. Did the prisoners manage to stay off drugs after the detox? Or did they just score some more inside the prison walls as soon as they possibly could? If they did, was it because the forced cold turkey experience was so awful? Or because they couldn't function without opiates, and methadone, heroin, whatever would do, and what they resented was being painfully forced to stop in a way that was out of their control?

The drugs trap is not just physical, after all but psychological. Being forced to go 'cold turkey' against your will , with little help or supportive treatment is quite possibly counter-productive. Perhaps the prisoners feared that they would be unable to stop themselves scoring again, after enduring the sudden 'cold turkey' experience, rather than a managed detox, and that was why they fought for the right to have proper drug treatment, and stop slowly, because they wanted a real chance to succeed in getting off drugs. Having your medical treatment suddenly halted, without consultation, is undoubtedly damaging, and inhumane.

I don't especially see why they should get thousands in compensation though. An apology, certainly, if they were given sub-standard medical treatment, after starting a detox course to get clean, and then suddenly having treatment stopped and being forced to go 'cold turkey' with no choice or support in the matter.

Prisoners, like anyone else who is addicted to opiates should be supported and treated to help them get off drugs, criminal behaviour as a result of addiction to drugs being the reason for more than half of prisoners being in jail in the first place . Prisons should be drug-free. They aren't, they are usually places where drugs are easily available.

Maybe it is easier to manage a doped and apathetic prison population, given the huge problems in overcrowded jails, and maybe the Home Office was worried about what would come out in the court case, so they paid up to shut the men up rather than have the facts emerge. Imagine a case where medical treatment to manage coming off drugs was deliberately withheld for sadistic or punitive purposes for example. Or because there wasn't money for treatment and counsellors. That would not make happy headlines, nor would lurid details emerging of just how many drugs are sold and used in many of the U.K's jails.

The key issue isn't really the compensation awarded in this case, though, ( even though it grates a bit). The bigger picture is the whole problem of substance abuse and custodial sentencing trends and prison overcrowding and rehabilitation. And the unpopular notion that prisoners have human rights too, and shouldn't just be stuffed into brutally overcrowded prisons where they will get madder and angrier and more f*cked up and more brutalised because where does that gets us all, in the end? Reoffending rates are going through the roof.

Prisons, which ex-prisoner and Guardian writer Erwin James describes as 'hate factories' I think should be kept for the most violent and serious offenders, with a far greater emphasis placed on rehabiliation, training and education and drug treatment in the community for other offenders. Prisons should not be dumping grounds for the mentally ill, the addicted, the marginalised, brutalised and the desperate.

But all too often they are, and the standards of care in prison are erratic, because the system is so overcrowded. There is help for those who want it, in some prisons, some of the time, and some of the help is excellent. At other times, and other places there isn't the staff or the funding or resources to make a difference and help the offender improve or change.

And the increasingly punitive attitude towards criminals and crime, which does not distinguish between the dangerous and the desperate, and which dehumanises prisoners, and stigmatises them on release, does not help. Some prisoners are truly 'bad', some 'mad', but others know their behaviour is anti-social and want to have the chance to change and become useful members of society. Those that we can help, we should, as much as we could, for all our sakes. Those that cannot or will not stop committing vicious or violent crimes we have no choice but to keep locked up.

Some prisoners' stories

UPDATE: Daniel Finkelstein on the Times links to a prison doctor who writes that cold turkey is 'no worse than 'flu'. A prisoner disagrees.

Top bloggery...but where is Chicken Yoghurt?

Some blogs that I read over the weekend.
Tim Worstall has his usual BritBlog Roundup of bloggy goodness
Dr Crippen is righteously angry about the under-resourced ambulance service with a cracking fisking
Not Saussure has found a fundie game for all the family where you can...
  • Conduct physical & spiritual warfare : using the power of prayer to strengthen your troops in combat and wield modern military weaponry throughout the game world.
  • Recover ancient scriptures and witness spectacular Angelic and Demonic activity as a direct consequence of your choices...

Davide is cross about Blair's hypocrisy on Rememberance Sunday, and also directed me to Quarsan's post on the Art of Rememberance

''On Sunday, wearing his 'special serious statesman face' Tony
Blair will lay a wreath at the Cenotaph. The man who sent soldiers out to die
for a tissue of lies, the man who has never attended a funeral of a soldier
killed by following his orders, the man who has never visited the wounded, the
maimed, the disfigured...''

It's all nice seditious stuff. But where is Chicken Yoghurt? I can only guess. A peculiarly-avid reader of this blog once kindly wrote to tell me that this blog ''does nothing but provoke terrorism all day'', and warned me portentously that ''there was a file on me'' and went on to rant about the ''petty-twaddle libel blogs'' on my blogroll before contacting them all to squawk on about some dastardly criminal behaviour I was supposedly up to my neck in. I can now only assume, trembling in my slippers, that M15 , or Special Branch, maddened beyond endurance, have at last come to get our man Justin in Brighton, and therefore, inevitably, as Pastor Martin Niemöller warned, they will soon come for me...

It's clearly not a good idea to slag off the establishment. Let this be a dreadful warning to those who take blogging too seriously or who think that by blogging they are out of reach of the long arm of the law...

The knock at the door will come.

UPDATE 5pm - Justin returns from the cold, orange-jumpsuit-free.

'It's Shakespeare meets Freud'

Excellent piece in the Sunday Times News Review this weekend about George W Bush and his 'Poppy', George Bush, and the tortured relationship between them, with the dauphin son seeking to eclipse his father's legacy, define homself as his own man, yet craving his father's approval

''By putting Rumsfeld, his father’s enemy, in the Pentagon he sent a signal that he was his own president and his own man. Gaining the presidency was emulating his father. But regaining it was the final moment when Bush surpassed his one-term dad. It was also the moment when this administration started falling apart at the seams''...
There's a Shakespearean quality about the two Bush nemeses as well: The son seeking meaning by killing off his father's great enemy, Saddam Hussein, whilst his own Shadow, the other spoiled, drifting son of an oil billionnaire, who found fundementalist religion later in life, and then sought to remake the world in the image of his personal, patriarchal, jealous God, delivering 'justice' and 'freedom' through redemptive violence, is still at large...
Perhaps Bush and Bin Laden's influence will wane simulataneously. They need each other after all, and their fates are intertwined...
(*Bluff Iain Dale thinks its all psychobabble though...)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Restorative Justice

I wrote yesterday about being approached to work on a possible TV series about restorative justice, and touched briefly on my reservations about whether my case was suitable. Before I called the researcher back, I did some reading up on restorative justice, and some good links can be found here ( Home Office report - pdf, Home Office page , Government Strategy with regard to restorative justice, Transforming Conflict ( education site) ACPO Response (pdf) to Government's Strategy on Restorative Justice, Joseph Rowntree site on Thames Valley Police restorative cautioning, and the impressive results )

Wiki also has a good round up of links and explanations as to the main ways in which restorative justice is practised throughout the world through mediation, community justice boards, healing circles and so on. is the main UK site for exploring and finding out about restorative justice, and here I quote from their home page where there is a definition of what restorative justice is:

Restorative Justice is a process whereby:
(i) All the parties with a stake in a particular conflict or offence come together to resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the conflict or offence and its implications for the future, and;
(ii) Offenders have the opportunity to acknowledge the impact of what they have done and to make reparation and victims have the opportunity to have their harm or loss acknowledged and amends made."

Basically, restorative justice is a way to deal practically and positively with the fall out of crime on the victim, the offender and the community. The criminal justice system treats the victim as a witness only, with the State acting as the injured party and delivering justice. Though new measures such as Victim Impact Statements/Victim Personal Statements have been introduced so that the victim can communicate something of the effect of the crime on them to the court, there is little in the criminal justice system to make the process anything other than an artificial, ritualised and often frightening process which can, in the worst instances, re-traumatise the victim. The offender is the passive focus of the system, and is supposed to meekly accept punishment; there is no language of healing or rehabilitation, nor is there any restitution or attempt to make amends.

Restorative justice - letting victim and offender speak to each other, listen and be heard and validated is much more like the way humans naturally resolve their differences and communicate with each other, rather than the highly-formalised structures and language of the court. And it does seem to have a positive effect, on victim recovery rates, on re-offending rates and on community satisfaction and sense of justice having been done. And I support the idea of and practice of RJ wholeheartedly. I would love to embrace it and be a part of it.

Here is a good example of restorative justice in action, told by Helen, a victim.

The problem I am having in my case is that, unfortunately I just don't think it will work. Cases of serious sexual assault or murder are not usually considered suitable for RJ, ( though there has been sterling stuff done in Northern Ireland and South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Committees). But cases where the offender shows no remorse or has a mental condition that precludes him feeling empathy, shame or remorse are usually not considered suitable for attempts at RJ .

In the case of my 2002 violent stranger-rape, I went to every single court hearing and I went through a trial, and I attended every attempt at a sentencing hearing ( there were endless delays and delaying tactics and changing of pleas and sacking of counsel by the defendant) and the rapist never, ever displayed any remorse at all. Right up until the end, he still denied culpability and ludicrously claimed the attack was consensual. He lied and lied. He was unable to even read out the oath, being illiterate, yet he claimed to have been reading his lines for a play before the offence, instead of loitering on the streets looking for victims and ( probably) smoking crack. He denied robbing me, even though he made dozens of calls from my stolen mobile to a drug dealer. He had no explanation for the injuries on my body, and there were over forty, nor could he explain why I was found tied up and covered in blood with a wire noose around my neck. He mumbled throughout, and would not meet my eyes, and was dumb and gaping when moved away in questioning from his pre-prepared excuses about how he had ''met the lady'' walking home and ''offered to carry the lady's [plastic carrier] bag and handbag''.

The judge, when he eventually sentenced him, after psychiatric reports had been made, described him as ''extremely violent'' and ''a danger to women'' with ''worrying elements of sadism'' in his actions, and described me as ''an honest, reliable and truthful witness''. Throughout the whole judicial process my attacker did nothing to help the case proceed smoothly, in fact he obstructed it at every turn. He never showed any feelings at all apart from violent anger, or sadistic pleasure in being in control when attacking me, and in the court, either blankness or occasional self-pity.

I absolutely cannot see the point in trying to have any sort of conversation with such a person.

And I have nothing to say to him. I think I might as well try and talk to an axe.

As to feeling empowered; I never felt like a ''victim''. I held onto my power almost all the way through. I lost it only for a few moments, when he burst into my flat, and began to beat me, and I begged him to stop, and he told me to shut up, and continued to beat me, and make me his prisoner, his thing to abuse and humilate and hurt.

But then I got what control I could back, when I decided I would do anything necessary to stay alive. That was when I felt it, the power I never knew I had.

From the minute when he began raping me, and I disassociated from the attack, knowing he could never violate my essential self or rape my soul.

At the moment when I knew I had defeated his attempt to kill me by feigning my own death.

When I decided to come back into my body after he had left me; when I got to my feet, bound and escaped from the house and got help.

When I said to the police, I have been raped, find him.

When I let the police take the evidence of my body and my home and held nothing back, trusting that justice would come this way.

When my love came to me in hospital and his eyes and his smile showed me that we had had lost nothing, that we loved each other more for having nearly been so cruelly separated.

When I gave the police statement on video camera, and told all I could remember of the assault, and was not ashamed to speak of it; when I couldn't remember, I gave permission for a Professor of forensic Psychology to work with the police using new techniques on me in interview to unlock the suppressed memories locked down by masssive trauma-amnesia, even though I knew it would hurt me.

When I went out of my house, and went to the shops, even though I was nauseous with fear that he was somewhere waiting for me, to finish me off.

When I went back to work and said I had taken the time off because a stranger had tried to kill me, and yes, he had raped me.

When I got the call from the police ' We've got him, Rachel.'

All those times when I put on my suit and went to court and stared him down, holding J's hand and the police officer's hand.

When the judge pronounced me truthful, and he a liar, and then he was taken away and I looked at his face for, I hope, the very last time.

All those times, I was not a victim; I still had power.

And now, I still have my power. And my life, and my love, and my family and friends, and my freedom and my voice and my words.

And he has nothing. Nothing at all.

So I do not feel the need for anything to be ''restored'' to me with restorative justice, since I am more than restored; I am strengthened and empowered and I have a life that is richer and sweeter and more satisfying for having nearly lost it. And I know the redemptive power of love, and compassion, and justice, and how it is always stronger than hate and anger and lies.

Perhaps restorative justice would help my offender. But I owe him nothing.

Perhaps it would help society, if it helped to rehabilitate him and prevent him reoffending again. But I have already done my bit: I gave evidence, with some of his other victims, and I helped to get him out of society and sent down, locked safely away, so he couldn't hurt people any more.

And there are other victims to consider: how would they feel if they saw him again on TV? And anyway, I do not think, as I said, that he is capable of feeling remorse or wanting to ''make amends''. I think the only reason he would agree to be part of a restorative justice effort is if he thought he could get something out of it, like time off his sentence, or earlier parole, or better treatment in prison or something.

I honestly do not see the point of ever having anything more to do with that man ever again. And there are dangers too: already I have spoken out about it, and I worry that his family or friends may seek to come after me, and hurt me, though I have my legal right to anonymity to protect me. I am known as ''Rachel North'' now, not my real name. I need that protection, still.

People sometimes ask me about forgiveness: do I forgive this man? They act as if it is something I ought to do, I have to do, in order to ''move on''. But I have moved on: I never think of him anymore. At least, I didn't, for years. I am only writing about it now because I was approached to make a programme about the subject of what happened two days ago, and because I am writing a book about PTSD, and so it is on my mind again.

I do not 'forgive' this man, not in the Christian sense of the word. I have written about this before in the Sunday Times when I said:

''Does this mean I can foresee myself forgiving the man who raped me? Forgiveness is defined as “compassionate feelings that support a willingness to forgive” or “the act of excusing a mistake or offence”. I have some compassionate feelings towards him already, as I can see that he is a human, not a monster. I do not excuse what he did, but he is not my problem any more. Part of the process of justice is that he is society’s problem now. I am free of him. If he can rehabilitate himself over the years ahead so that he is no longer a threat to women, then he should be let out, having served his sentence. ''

Later I expanded on this in a piece I wrote called 'The F Word'

''For me forgiveness is about moving through the storm of pain and outrage, holding onto my essential self, which was there before the devastating event. It’s hard to let go of the desire for revenge: anger became my sole driver in the months after the first attack.But to be trapped in a state of permanent rage hurts me. I hold what has happened to me, the rape, the bomb, and I try to live through it. I do not want to live a life defined entirely by an attack on me.

Forgiveness is a choice, and a gift I make to myself, to live freely in the light, rather than to be trapped in a hell of hatred and vengefulness. It has little to do with the perpetrators of the crimes; it is for me, not them that I choose to do this. It is how I stay sane.

When I cannot go any further, I lean on others; my partner, my family, my friends and fellow passengers. I have found that the only way to get past hate and cruelty is to look for where there is still love. I have put up walls to survive in the past; I have used my anger like armour. I could not bear to be so vulnerable in the months after the rape, so I did what I could to protect my devastated self. It took time to forgive myself for being so painfully human. But I found that my vulnerability was my strength. I am human: and I live amongst humans in an imperfect world. The only world that we know.

A world where, yes, there is horrifying pain and injustice and cruelty, but also, still beauty and kindness and hope. Wounds take time to heal, and eight months is such a little time. I do not forgive in the Christian sense of the word. I do not exonerate. I move past, I let go, I walk through this and I walk on, leaving the bomber and the rapist and the anger behind me. It is the hardest thing I have ever done.''

And I still feel the same as I did when I wrote that last year.

So, here we are, (and what a long and grim post that was. November is the time of darkness, introspection, death, decay and shadows. You have to go through it, in order to get to Spring. But I am sorry if I have made you gloomy on your Sunday, reading this. )

I left it like this: I said to the programme researcher that if they could get a forensic psychologist's report on my attacker, as to whether he could feel emotions such as remorse, then I would think about the programme, even though my instincts are telling me not to do it. I think that if meeting him will help to stop him reoffending on release, then morally, I should try to do what I can to facilitate that outcome.

As to the other past crime which still affects me: the bomber is dead.

So there is no restorative justice to be had there, either.

And I think restorative justice has its limits, unfortunately, and today I found examples of them. But I would be interested to know what you think.

UPDATE: BBC article on restorative justice which I found very thought-provoking. Maybe I will see my attacker, after all,( but only if a psychologist says he can now ''do'' empathy.) Maybe I will go and talk to other prisoners instead, as someone in that article did. And I am in awe of the sister of one of the West victims, who sees murderers in prison.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Needling thoughts

I lay for an hour yesterday with twenty or more needles stuck into my head and body, contemplating the direction my life has taken since I left my ad job a few weeks ago. I am in a period of transition; that much is clear. I have taken a short break from writing the book. The first five chapters were evisceratingly honest and involved ripping out my worst thoughts and fears and writing them down. It threw me back into dark places, and there were times when I had to struggle to the surface for breath, and turn my face away from the screen, and look at the weakening sun. Afterwards, I felt drained, and afraid. The long shadows of the past were haunting me again, and I was reliving them, day after day, writing it all down, and it was hard, and I wondered when I would ever be free of them completely.

Why am I writing it then? Because I have to: until this PTSD book is done I can't write anything else. And because it is helping me, and I hope it will help others when it is done. Because when my world fell in, all I wanted to read were the stories of others who survived, and to draw hope and strength from their journeys. And to find out what the hell was happening to me. The symptoms of PTSD are frightening, and there is little information about them.

So I have been trying to look after myself, whilst I work on this project, and trying to protect myself from darkness and negativity; hence the acupuncture, the going for walks with dogs and friends, the daily engaging with fellow-humans, and being open to what life throws at me, whilst shielding myself from what is malicious and toxic and untruthful. Trusting that justice will come, though it may take a while. Knowing that I walk in the light, and the dark shadows are phantoms, memories, other people's projections and cannot touch me unless I invite them in.

Sometimes life sends you strong hints about what you are supposed to be doing with yourself. Last week I spent some time with a writer and a BBC director, they had asked me to talk to them about a terrorism drama they were working on, set in the future, a few years after July 7th 2005. I kept saying, look, I don't speak for all victims, (unless specifically asked to speak by a group). Only for myself, and my opinion is no more important than anyone else's: I only write about what is going on in my life on my blog, like millions of other bloggers, because it is there in my life at the moment. I don't have any special wisdom or insight just because I was on that train: I could have been anybody. That's the whole point.

I just write, because that is what I am; that is what I do. I read about terrorism, and crime, and politics, yes, and I think about terrorism and crime and politics, because it has affected me, and people I care about. But if you were to get on any Piccadilly line train at 8.40am on a Thursday, and talk to the passengers you would find hundreds of opinions about the world, and all of them as valid as mine.

But they said that they wanted to hear from me, because there is a character in the drama who is like me, so that was all right, and I was interested and happy to talk to them and I hope it helped them.

This week, three more people contacted me about doing some TV stuff. I had dinner with a researcher who contacted me to brainstorm some ideas about authoring documentaries. I'm still thinking about that. I have some ideas bubbling. (And not necessarily ideas about rape or terrorism. There is more to my life than just being a survivor of horrible things, after all.)

But 'surviving horror' does still come into my life on a daily basis. Yesterday, I got a call from Jane, one of the police officers who had worked on my 2002 rape case. I am still in touch intermittently with some of the police who stood at my side and fought for me in the time of worst darkness, who I will always be grateful to for their compassion and determination.

Jane was the officer who first interviewed my attacker when he was brought into a South London police station after mugging a woman, and the chain of events that brought him to justice got properly started. That we got justice at all is partly due to the bravery and instincts of two women who were instrumental in bringing my attacker in.

The first woman was a victim, whom my attacker followed, then beat and robbed, taking her bag and phone, using far, far more violence than was necessary to overpower her, because that is the kind of angry, vicious man he is. Hurt and shocked, she flagged down a police car.
' Would you recognise him?' asked one of the officers . 'Yes', she said, though she was bleeding and in pain, and so they all drove around, looking and looking, and then she saw him, at a bus stop, and she cried out, and the police officers jumped out, and jumped on him, and there was her bag, and her phone, and another phone, and some other stolen items that had been reported by other robbed and beaten women. So he was arrested and taken into police custody.

And at the police station, Jane, the police officer on duty, interviewed him, and she knew there was something very wrong. Her instincts told her this was not 'just' a mugger, but someone very dangerous indeed. Rather than let him out on bail, she insisted he was kept in the station, and further checks made. (This was in December 2002, five months after the man had got into my flat and left me for dead, and then disappeared.)

They took his DNA. And they kept him in custody.

And because other police officers and doctors had carefully got every possible particle of forensic evidence from my body and my flat, and had kept sending the DNA samples back to the lab so it could be mixed and they could get a proper, full picture, and because they had tried and tried to find this man, who was not on the UK database ( he was a seventeen-year-old illegal immigrant from Jamaica), and because they had comforted me and told me again and again, we'll get him, Rachel, it is only a matter of time, I had never given up hope. And a few days before Christmas I got a call. There was a DNA match.

'We've got him'. In the background I could hear cheering. They had done it, through good police work and determination and instinct, and through the bravery of the other victims who had reported him, especially the woman who said 'That's him, there, at the bus stop', holding a blood-soaked tissue to her face in a police car.

That Christmas, the excited police officers told me, I need no longer fear for my life. Whilst I celebrated with my family and friends, he would stay locked up, and I and other women would be safe from him. The relief was indescribable, the gratitude overwhelming. And in January 2004, after endless court battles and fiascos and time-wasting, and him changing his plea, and sacking his counsel, and even trying to escape from the van that took him to court, he was finally sentenced to 15 years in total, 3 to run concurrently, so he would be jailed for 12 years ( which means, six, normally, because of the strange way it works here). I came to every single hearing. I stared him down. I looked at his blank face as they led him away, for the last time. Justice had been done, in the end. And I was glad, and I was proud. We all were.

I suppose he will be released in 2009 or 2010. Heaven help us when he is out.

Anyway, Jane is still a police detective, and she works with BBC TV producers now as well. And she was calling to ask me if I was interested in making a programme about restorative justice.

Now I have always been fascinated by restorative justice. But for it to work, you have to have a victim and an offender who will get something out of it. The offender has to be willing to engage with what he has done and the victim has to think that there can be some healing found by meeting up with the offender.

I spoke to the man researching the programme at length. I am going to keep talking to him. But I do not think I am the right subject for this programme. I don't know that I want the exposure, nor do I think it will be a fair programme, given that I hold all the power. I am not sure, either, that rape is the right subject for restorative justice. I cannot think of anything to say to my attacker, because I do not think he is capable of any feelings other than anger and self-pity. The only thing I think of, when I think of him, is relief that he is locked up, and pride that I had a hand in it.

I will write more on restorative justice later, because I am still thinking about it.

The final TV thing was Iain asking me to be on 18 Doughty Street on Monday night. I feel very guilty that I still haven't done a report for the station. The last few weeks have been very tied up with helping the police with ongoing stuff, and lawyers, and meetings, and charity stuff, and 7/7 survivor group stuff, and dealing with the fall-out after reliving the worst moments of my life again and again, and I have been too drained to record a straight-to camera piece as well. But the acupuncture and herbs are helping me rebalance, and I am feeling fine again. So I said yes to Iain, and thank you, and see you on Monday night, and I had better go and swot up on current affairs now.

And maybe I will get to talk about something other than rape and terrorism, who knows? Hope so. Life is very rich, these days, with a lot of things to rejoice in and be interested in.

But the bad stuff is there too, and right now, it is crowding in. Maybe it is a good thing. Maybe I need to go back there to come out the other side, free. I can write about politics, but the personal is the political, these days. I walked out of an advertising job, and into a new life, where I write, and I think, and I do what feels more true to myself. For years I have kept up my shield. Even now, I still keep it up, to protect me from the strange malice of strangers.

I worked hard to make this life, which I love and appreciate, and I am going to keep living it, the way I want to live, regardless of the attacks. Because I know most strangers are not like this; most people are kind, and compassionate, and have wounds of their own, and live their lives with courage and dignity, and do not seek to abuse and lash out at others, in a spiteful attempt to manage their own obvious misery and pain.

So. Next up. Restorative justice. And the role of therapeutic intervention.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Caption competition

Via urban 75, a caption competition for you all. Suggestions in the comments...prize for the winner, who will get a post, with links, extolling their keen intelligence and incisive humour.

ALSO...Please vote for Jon & Brian on to be listener-editor's on R4 Today on 1/106!

(Today is the last day of voting. My mum will be thrilled if they win.)

And the winner is... ( drum roll)... Rosalind, with

''Yes, thank you, Camilla would love a complimentary shirt. Size? Well, she's about... er... um... "

I am thrilled Rosalind won, because her site is beautiful. Gorgeous photos ( which clearly display her keen intelligence and incisive humour) and as she has only just started blogging by the looks of things, it's a great time to go over and oooh and aaah at her eye for beauty. Look! A lovely red study of autumn leaves here and a green study of leaves here. Bonfire night fireworks. A well-endowed made-man and a lazy duck. Great stuff Rosalind. More please!

Vote for Jon and Brian!

Quick public service announcement...BBC Radio 4 Today programme is having a competition for guest editors who are members of the public to take over the show on New Year's Day. Dad's ex-Director of Music Jon Payne, who is a top bloke and madly talented, and who memorably entertained my family for several hours one Christmas Day playing carols on the piano in the style of Les Dawson, someone with a nervous twitch, and someone who was on hallucinogens, is down to the last 4 with his would-be co-editor, Brian.

You can read their ideas for the programme, and vote here. And you can listen to their pitch by going to Tuesday's programme on Listen Again at 7.45am.

Please vote Jon and Brian! And then hopefully we can convince Jon to play a carol or two on the show, in the style of...who would you choose?

Suggestions in the comments box...

Thank you! ( via my mum)

Stuff happens...

...and it's good stuff, at last! Good Riddance to bad Rummy. Hurray! AP reports that Democrats have control of the Senate as well as the House of Representatives, (BBC link). Picture shows Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein; history caught up with both of them this week.

Thank you America, says the Guardian. I feel a sense of hope, and I know many, many others do too. Katrina's aftermath, corruption, pork-barelling, and Iraq have shamed the current US administration, along with ''climate-change denial, the end of biological stem-cell research, an aid programme tied to abortion bans, a shockingly permissive gun culture, an embrace of capital punishment equalled only by some of the world's worst tyrannies, the impeachment of Bill Clinton and his replacement by a president who does not believe in Darwin's theory of evolution.'' ( Guardian)

Via email, a list of Rusmfeldisms and via Justin, more Rumsfeld poetry from Slate.

There's no time for gloating. I wonder if Blair's stomach is sinking? It should be. That it looks like it will be the Friend of the Peers show that does for him, rather than 650,000 dead people in Iraq, is a disgrace. But more on that shortly...

From the Sunday Times two weeks ago....

''A prosecution source said: “Levy told the police that everything he did was for the top man. It wasn’t for anybody else, just for Blair. That’s why the PM has to be interviewed.”

A friend of Levy said this weekend: “The prime minister knew all these people [who lent money] and it was entirely his decision who became working peers. He is right at the centre of the whole thing.“Lord Levy was against raising money through loans but did so after being asked to by Blair — amid serious financial problems for Labour. He has nothing to do with honours and could not offer anyone anything — that is up to the prime minister.”

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

But will the votes count..?

Greg Palast wrote yesterday, of 'How They Stole the Mid-Term Election' on his blog, The Smirking Chimp. Over to Greg...

''Here's how the 2006 mid-term election was stolen.
Note the past tense. And I'm not kidding.
And shoot me for saying this, but it won't be stolen by jerking with the touch-screen machines (though they'll do their nasty part). While progressives panic over the viral spread of suspect computer black boxes, the Karl Rove-bots have been tunneling into the vote vaults through entirely different means.
For six years now, our investigations team, at first on assignment for BBC TV and the Guardian, has been digging into the nitty-gritty of the gaming of US elections. We've found that November 7, 2006 is a day that will live in infamy. Four and a half million votes have been shoplifted. Here's how they'll do it, in three easy steps....''

read on....

There is widespread consternation amongst liberal US bloggers about what will happen this time around. And I am not surprised. In 2004, two brothers, owning two voting companies...counted 80% of the US election.

''Once again we are witness to an “eyes closed, hands off” approach to protecting America. The 2004 election rests in the private hands of the Urosevich brothers, who are financed by the far-out right wing and top donors to the Republican Party. The Democrats are either sitting ducks or co-conspirators. I don't know which.'' wrote Lynn Landes in 2004. Lynn is a news reporter and BBC FiveLive commentator

Diebold Election systems is owned by...

''Bob Urosevich, the first CEO of Diebold Election Systems was also the founder of ES&S, a competing voting machine company now owned by the McCarthy Group. Together these two companies are responsible for tallying around 80% of votes cast in the United States. The current vice-president of Diebold and the president of ES&S are brothers.
It is reputed that the software architecture common to both is a creation of Mr Urosevich's company
I-Mark and is easily compromised, in part due to its reliance on Microsoft Access databases; and that the I-Mark and Microsoft software each represent a single point of failure of vote counting process, from which 80% of votes can be compromised via the exploit of a single line of code in either subsystem.
Diebold's new touch screen
voting machines have no paper trail of any votes. In other words, there is no way to verify that the data coming out of the machine is the same as what was legitimately put in by voters.

"Delivering" Votes
Walden O'Dell or 'Wally" O'Dell, the current chairman and CEO of Diebold is a major Bush campaign organizer and donor who wrote in 2003 that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." He was very active and visible as a Bush supporter...''

...more on SourceWatch.

Meanwhile Black Box Voting blog, written by Bev Harris, author of ''Black Box Voting, ballot Tampering in the twenty-first century'' argues that without a paper trail, these machines are still open to massive voter fraud. Bev writes of what to look out for in the 2006 elections.

Well, good luck to the democratic process in America is all I can say. I will be watching with interest and crossing my fingers for all you voters out there, and I will be hoping. That your votes are faithfully recorded and democratically counted. And not lost, or fudged, or covered up, or manipulated or falsified. And I will be praying that the will of the is people acted upon, and the voices of the people are heard, for all our sakes.

UPDATE: House!
UPDATE 2: Senate!

\o/ \o/ \o/ \o/ \o/ \o/

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Saddam to be hanged right on cue

As predicted, Saddam Hussein sentenced to death by hanging today. Whether it'll bounce the Republicans sufficiently remains to be seen. The drug-taking gay-prostitute habits of a leading Evangelical, combined with paedophilia unreported in the Republican ranks plus the backlash against the war in Iraq have not boded well for the Republicans' campaign, and there's 48 hours left to go.

Well, it'll cheer up two people. I'm sure the tape of Saddam Hussein's dancing feet as he dangles will be watched time and time again by Bush father and Bush son, slapping each other's shoulders. A still from the execution will probably feature on the Bush family Christmas cards.

''Look, Daddy, see what I did for you? Do you love me now?''
'' Son, Mr President, I'm proud' '

Expect wall-to-wall coverage of Saddam's evil crimes and that stage-manged statue shot coming down again and again on TV. Still waiting for Bin Laden to be nabbed . Queen Elizabeth I knew you should always mop up baddies and enemies from the last reign before getting stuck into your own personal nemesis. Otherwise, it just gets messy.

Personally, I'm not comfortable with the death penalty. Even for crimes against humanity. He should rot in jail, thinking on what he has done. As should others, who cold-bloodedly ordered actions resulting in the deaths of thousands, based on ''policy'', posturing and lies.

UPDATE: Manic's pertinent pic.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The US mid-term 'surprise'?

In the second of an occasional series, a conspiracy theory that might actually have something in it is invited to take a bow. U.S bloggers have been speculating about the ' surprise' coyly hinted at by columnist Ronald Kessler, on conservative site News Max.

''In the past week, Karl Rove has been promising Republican insiders an ‘October surprise’ to help win the November congressional elections.”

Well, October has been and gone and the only surprise so far seems to be how nasty the pre-elction campaigning is. Actually, scratch it - no, that isn't a surprise. Perhaps the surprise is how many conservatives are turning on Bush and his administration?

In today's Guardian report, 'Neocons turn on Bush for incompetence over Iraq war' neoconservative, Richard Perle who was a member of the influential Defence Policy Board that advised the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and a 'leading hawk' in the Reagan administration has a go, ( as do fellow former Pentagon adviser Kenneth Adelman, Michael Rubin, a former senior official in the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, and David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter, in a Vanity Fair article) . The Guardian report says

''Mr Perle, a member of the influential Defence Policy Board that advised the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, in the run-up to the war, is as outspoken in denouncing the conduct of the war as he was once bullish on the invasion. He blamed "dysfunction" in the Bush administration for the present quagmire.

"The decisions did not get made that should have been. They didn't get made in a timely fashion, and the differences were argued out endlessly," Mr Perle told Vanity Fair, according to early excerpts of the article. "At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible."

At the moment, the expected ''surprise'' seems to be the conviction and sentencing to death of Saddam Hussein, whose trial is expected to conclude November 5th - 48 hours before the US mid-term elections. ( A while back in early September, I thought it might be catching Bin Laden, still apparently lurking in Pakistan, but I daresay he is too convenient a bogey to be bagged just yet. But you never know. Maybe it'll be a double bonanza!)

Pray though, that it isn't the announcement of war with Iran. It might be the alleged ''thwarting'' of another ''spectacular''. But is it all a trick by master-tactician Rove, who is hoping to spook the Democrats?

Heaven knows, there's been a few unwelcome surprises for the Republicans. Like this one. Enjoy the revs, Rev.

Who knows? We'll have to see. Meanwhile, my favourite barking mad guest conspiracy theory of the month is the idea that the next terror attack can be predicted using this handy chart ( click on it to enlarge)

Click to enlarge

Cunningly using numerology, the mysterious links between the Saudi Arabian dialing code, the New Zealand Emergency phone number and the number of days between 9/11 and other terror attacks... it comes up with November 2nd 2006 as the next date for an attack. Oops.

Wonderful: Chickyog/Friday Thing on Our (Soft) Lads

Justin, writing in The Friday Thing, on 'Our Brave Boys: a bit sensitive apparently'

'Who knew that the morale of our troops in Iraq was in such a parlous state? Despite our boys being, as Tony Blair said last month, ‘the finest, the best, the bravest, any nation could hope for’, the Government, it seems, is extremely concerned that the lads are close to breaking point.

The reason the Government has dug its heels in and refused this week to hold a public inquiry into the Iraq war is because it would ‘undermine’ our troops, the poor, fragile things.
Here we have ranks of men, trained to fight, to kill and, sometimes, be killed. Hard men, in other words. And yet we’re expected to believe that an inquiry into the events that sent them there will destroy their morale. Clearly the British army is collectively on the point of mental collapse, needing only one more setback to reduce it to a parade of blubbing nancy boys.

Put yourself in the place of a squaddie finding himself returning fire on a militia mortar attack. Of course, your aim’s going to be off while you dwell on the outcome of an inquiry back home, isn’t it? As the shells explode around you, it stands to reason that consideration of your own life and the lives of your comrades are going to be secondary to that. ‘Sorry Sarge, I really tried to slot that sniper but I just can’t stop thinking about what those senior MPs are up to.’

No, a good soldier is a happy soldier, apparently. You would think though that the opposite would be true: if you want a man to rain white hot and merciless death down on an enemy, surely having him good and pissed off would be better. In that respect, if the troops are as easily upset as the Government says they are, an inquiry would be just the ticket. ‘A public inquiry is attempting to ascertain the reasons for the war? The bastards!’ our commandos would scream before bayoneting their prey with extra gusto. It’d be better than those drugs given to the soldiers to make them aggressively mental in the film ‘Jacob’s Ladder’.

You can see how the Government would consider the well-being of our lads as paramount, having done so much to maintain morale in the ranks up until now. Whether it be sending them out to Iraq without enough body armour, wheeling them out in poorly-armoured ’snatch’ Land Rovers (you’re buggered if somebody fires anything bigger than a bullet at one), delaying the inquests into soldiers’ deaths for up to three years and failing to visit injured troops in hospital, it’s clear just how highly Labour value troop morale.

But not only would a public inquiry into the war sap the morale of our troops, say the master tacticians who made Iraq the country it is today, it would also give succour to our enemies. If an inquiry had been called ‘it would have heartened all those that are fighting us in Iraq’ said Tony Blair this week. Shut up and stop asking questions is the message; it’s careless talk, not careless prime ministers, that costs lives. (It’s the same kind of gutless smear, borne of intellectual poverty and desperation, that saw George Bush say this week, in a sweaty attempt to salvage next week’s mid-term elections, ‘However they put it, the Democrat approach in Iraq comes down to this: the terrorists win and America loses’.)

You see, the militias currently running amok in Iraq are only doing it in a sort of half-hearted fashion. The terrorists who’ve just had one of their bloodiest months since the war began (100 US soldiers killed in October alone) really are a lacklustre bunch, aren’t they? The lazy sods. What they need, to really put some fire in their bellies, is an inquiry held two thousand miles away. Again, picture the scene.

‘You know, Osama, I really didn’t feel like rocketing that British garrison this morning,’ one militia will turn and say to his fellow fighter, ‘but there’s nothing quite like hearing Tony Blair sent his troops here on a false prospectus to really make me want to up my game. Let us away.’
‘Yes, Mousab,’ his comrade will reply, ‘I had believed their soldiers being poorly-equipped and their willingness to turn a blind eye to encroaching violent sectarianism in Southern Iraq to be their greatest weaknesses. But now I see it is their craven need to examine their mistakes in order to prevent such things from happening again that brings them low like dogs. Their spirit is broken. Basra is ours!’...

read the rest of the article here

(First published in this week’s The Friday Thing.)