Monday, November 26, 2007

Pity the Poor Soldier

and where is NHS blog doctor?

The final mouse saga installment

The dreadful finale of the mouse saga is here. It got bumped off the top slot by urgent political-bloggery and a promised concert reminder. But the mouse was a bit of a legend, and his antics were followed by hundreds of people over the summer so I think his last adventure deserves to be featured on the blog front page for more than just a few hours on a Sunday.
UPDATE: Calamity Jane has a similar tale with a happier ending


Berekah concert

A reminder about the Berekah concert tomorrow night. It should be a great night and a few tickets are still available. More info here.

The Berakah Project is pleased to inform you about their “Music from the Heart” concert on November 27th at 7pm St.Paul's Church in Covent Garden (The Actor's Church) WC2E 9ED


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Iraqi employees - the ongoing nightmare

The campaign to extend a hand to Iraqi men and women who have risked not only their lives but their families' lives to help British soldiers in Iraq continues, and your help is once again needed.

Bloggers of all persuasions and backgrounds have joined journalists in raising awareness of our duty of care towards people who are being picked off one by one by death squads, tortured, beaten, maimed and killed, because they, or a member of their family, tried to help us by providing, for example, translation services, to our soldiers. The blogger who has worked tirelessly to spear head this campaign is Dan Hardie.

Such is the mess and muddle, and such is the desperation of the situation that some of the frantic people in Iraq have now begun to contact Dan themselves, to beg him for help. The compromise agreement has not been well-publicised, and so when people search online for what to do, Dan's blog comes up . Here is part of an email conversation Dan had with one terrified man

'In 2006 I have threatened by militia that hated me because I work and help coalition forces in Iraq, I told my bosses about that but they said we can't do anything for you because we have nothing to do with civilian and we don't have any army rules or orders to help you, then I continued my daily work with British army, few days later the militia attacked my house trying to catch me but I was at the work at that time, they beaten my family and told them: we want your son or we will kill all of you!!!!

'Since that day I decided to leave my job and change my home place but until this moment the militia trying to find and kill me, I'm always changing my place trying to hidden from them, they know that I left my job but they don't care, they just want to kill me they called me collaborator and traitor and they asked everybody know me about my place, they told them: anyone know anything about (name) he should tell us immediately and also they said: we will never give up until we catch (name). They work for ministry of interior so they controlled most of government departments and they work under that cover.'

(Read more at Dan's blog)

This is where you come in again: please, can you help? Dan explains

· On October 9th David Miliband announced that the British Government would assist former employees in Iraq, so long as they had worked for it after 1st January 2005 and for 12 months or more. That abandons several hundred Iraqis who have been targeted for murder because they worked for the British before that date- and in 2004 fighting between the Mahdi Army and the British was at its peak- or because they worked for less than that period, often leaving their jobs at the end of a British battalion's six-month tour. The British Government must help Iraqi employees on the basis of the risk they face, not according to an arbitrary time stipulation. This only affects a few hundred Iraqis, whom we are well able to shelter, and for whom we have a direct moral responsibility.

· Even those Iraqi employees who qualify for assistance are not being properly assisted. Iraqis in Basra are not able to apply via the British Army in Basra Interational Airbase, since it is ringed with militia checkpoints. Iraqi ex-employees in Damascus are being screened by Syrian policemen guarding the British Embassy and delayed by lengthy bureaucratic procedures when they apply for asylum, although many of them are illegally overstaying their Syrian visas and face deportation back to Iraq.

· A blogger called Dan Hardie is directly in touch with a number of Iraqi employees via email and phone. He is willilng to brief MPs- as concisely as possible- either over the phone or via email. He can be reached at

  • You've heard this before, but it's now more important than ever. The last lot of letters and emails got the Government to announce a change in policy: an inadequate change,badly implemented. The next lot of letters and emails will force the Government to announce another change in policy, one that will be properly implemented and will not be based on leaving people to die.

  • Your MP's address is The House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA. His or her email address is probably (eg ).
  • Please use the talking points above to send an email and a print letter to your MP, and chase them for an answer. And be courteous: an insulted MP will not raise this matter with Ministers, and that will lead to more avoidable deaths.''

When this kicked off I used the excellent WRITETOTHEM service to contact my MP, Diane Abbot, and express my concern for the lives of these people. Diane replied promptly and supportively, and said she would chase for a response from the Minster of State for the Armed Forces from the M.O.D. She followed up with a copy of the letter from the Rt. Hon Bob Ainsworth MP which said that the review was underway.

Hundreds of similar emails and letters from the public, combined with media outrage pushed this issue to the foreground. As you can see though, by reading Dan Hardie's update, the system is still failing these people and we need another push.

I will be writing back to Diane again and asking if more can be done, more swiftly, more urgently to help these people. I ask you to spend five-ten minutes doing the same. If you get a response Dan Hardie would appreciate it if you could let him know what was said.

Thank you very much.
Linking bloggers: Ministry of Truth, Crooked Timber, Toblog, Nick Barlow, Tim Worstall

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

The demise of an unwanted house guest

Since I started blogging again I have had several emails requesting an update on Miff and the shameful mouse saga. (The story started here, and continued here and here.)

As the weeks passed, Miff and the mouse established an uneasy relationship. When the mouse was hiding under the chest or in the walls, Miff would sniff close by and quiver her tail in agitation. When the mouse was actually in full view, and helping itself from her bowl, Miff would run into another room and hide. The mouse had a regular circuit - coming out from the wall by the fireplace, running behind the sofa, trotting through the hall and turning right into the study where it would vanish back into the wall via the cupboard, then re-emerge and scuttle into the sitting room again, zip behind the TV, help itself to food from the cat bowl and then feast on its ill-gotten gains under the chest.

I bought a dozen small 99p mouse traps, baited them daily with a variety of substances - tiny chunks of Snickers bar, ham, cheddar, peanut butter, cat biscuits, (sometimes all at once), and placed them in all the places where the mouse would run, so it had to negotiate an obstacle course of delightful morsels whenever it set off on its travels. I left the traps unset for the first two days, (as per advice that you want the mouse to get used to them and decide that they are safe before you strike). Meanwhile, Miff was put on short rations, so that there were no scraps left for the mouse to steal, and the kitchen was kept squeaky-clean with all food in sealed plastic containers.

The mouse ignored the new food supply and avoided the unset traps, leaping nimbly over the ones behind the sofa and tiptoeing round the one placed in the entrance to its hole in the wall. I set the traps and re-baited them. The next day, the peanut butter and chocolate was gone, two of the traps sprung - but the mouse could still be heard in the walls. Probably laughing at me.

Was this some kind of bionic supermouse? Its brain was small but it was displaying levels of cunning that indicated a worrying evolutionary advantage over poor fat Miff, snoring away on the bed.

I bought larger, more deadly super-traps from the Korean man at the local hardware shop that sells everything you need to wage all-out war on rodents. 'These will kill rats', he assured me, 'very big rats, and squirrels too, if you want.'

The mouse was getting fatter, but it had not yet reached the size of a squirrel. Surely, though it was only a matter of time?

The new traps joined the old traps behind the sofa, behind the TV and in the cupboard. Now the mouse would not be able to jump over them as he ran in the space between the sofa and the wall, unless he was capable of clearing five traps laid end to end in a single bound. (It would not have surprised me, actually, if he had commandeered a toy motorcycle and managed, Evil Kenevil-style to do just that.)

Then we waited.

Late at night, the drama reached its conclusion. Miff had come in from her evening promenade of the garden and was eating her dinner. The mouse was watching her from behind the TV. Emboldened, he began to inch forwards. I watched from the sofa, appalled. Surely Miff wasn't going to let him share her food, or worse still, retreat in defeat?

I took off my slipper and threw it at the mouse in a rage. Miff looked surprised as the slipper landed behind the TV, but carried on eating. There was a vicious-sounding twang and a thwack from amongst the tangle of wires.

I went to investigate. My slipper had startled the mouse, who had jumped out of the way - straight onto the baited Super-Size Rodent Instant Death Trap. The chocolate bait had been hurled into the air and a disgusting smell of mouse gore and poo was emanating from behind the TV. The mouse had been undone.

A dead mouse, recently
I removed his furry corpse, still attached to the trap, showed it to Miff, who expressed no interest, wrapped the dead mouse in newspaper and several plastic bags and put it outside in the dustbin.

When I came back in, Miff was finishing off the chocolate bait and cleaning her paws.

I hope we don't have any more mice invasions, I don't think my nerves can stand it.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Seeing Stars

This is ace ( CLICK HERE). It shows you (or reminds you) how to spot constellations, stars, planets and how to navigate North using Polaris. It's the best guide to teach people how to read the night sky that I have ever seen.

I am a big fan of star-spotting and spent ages when I was younger learning as many constellations as possible: in Norfolk, in the countryside where I grew up there is a lot of sky and minimal light pollution. I once took a man who had a job in the same kitchen I was working in to see a son et lumiere show at a Norfolk country church, as he was interested in local history. He seemed distracted and chain-smoked through the show, fidgeting on the straw bales we were sitting on. But after the show had finished, I found him gazing raptly heavenwards, as the crowds dispersed. Soon we were the only people left, and still he stood, and wouldn't move.

He had lived all his life in London, and he had never seen the night sky in all its beauty. He'd seen it in films, he said, 'but I thought they was exaggerating for effect'.

He was so overcome by the brilliance of the stars - it was one of those nights when you can see the Milky Way as a thick stripe across the sky - that he cried, silently. 'All my life', he told me, again and again over a pint later, 'that was there. And I never knew. I'm fifty seven years old, and I never knew.'

He died a year later. I found out afterwards, that he had been given the diagnosis of inoperable cancer the day before he saw the stars with me. It was the end of the season, and the kitchen closed that week, and the live-in workers went back home. After that summer working in Norfolk, the man went back to London to stay with his sister, and he never saw the stars in all their beauty again.

But he wanted ''Starry Starry Night'' played at his cremation.

It's a full moon tonight and the sky should be beautiful.
So I will be taking a moment to look for the stars.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Berekah Project

The Berakah Project is pleased to inform you about their “Music from the Heart” concert on November 27th at 7pm St.Paul's Church in Covent Garden (The Actor's Church) WC2E 9ED

7.00 if reserved online before Nov 27th. £10 on the night . (NUS/OAP £7.00)

These people make beautiful music and work for peace. What's not to love?

Berakah are an innovative band featuring musicians of Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith heritage. They believe that their message of peace, unity and positivity is shared by thousands of people across the country, and this year they took their music to places such as Oldham, Bradford, Liverpool and now London. Playing in synagogues, churches, schools and concert halls, Berakah’s performances bring people from different communities together in a way that only music can. The Times (Sept. 2006) said:

It is music to make you close your eyes and dance in your head — an arresting confection of jazzy improvisation, catchy Middle Eastern chords and the beat of the darabuka drum.”
This is Berekah's final performance for 2007 and

The evening will be hosted by Gary Cohen, the award winning writer/ director of the hugely acclaimed Channel 4 documentary "Judah and Mohammed". Gary is a film producer living and working in Israel and the UK. His documentary explores his belief that the lack of contact and understanding between Israeli Jews and Palestinians is a key issue which needs to be resolved if they are to live in peace.

As well as the music of Berakah there will be poetry by celebrated song-writer Pete Brown, co-writer with the legendary group Cream and responsible for songs such as “Sunshine of Your Love” and “White Room.” In the early 60’s Pete was also one of four poets who contributed work to the first Aldermaston anti-nuclear weapons pamphlet. I've also been asked to give a short talk.

As a special offer, tickets reserved via the web-site before NOV 27th will be at the special price of £7.00 . Tickets bought on the door will be £10. To reserve tickets send an email ,stating your name and how many tickets you require to:

The band say

It is an evening that promises to serve up emotion, passion, though provoking dialogue and, most importantly music from, and for, the heart.

I'd love to see you there.

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Another blow to proposed extension of detention without charge

So the ex Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions, and both Shadow Home Secretaries have all said that they do not support the Government's proposed increase in holding people for more than 28 days without charging them with any crime.

Reports here and here.

And now Jonathan Evans, the Head of M15 has said that he has

''...refused to support the Government's planned extension, telling the MPs it was not a matter for him. One security source said: "This is up to the police and the DPP. We just provide the intelligence – it is up to them what they do with it. There may be some cases where it would be helpful, but no one should think it's a magic wand."

Mr Evans also told the MPs that MI5 backed the principle of using phone-tap evidence from investigations as long as the methods could be protected.

Ms Smith, Sir Ian Blair, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and Lord Carlile of Berriew, the independent regulator of terrorism legislation, are the only witnesses to the committee to have backed the extension. One committee source said: "It's not exactly an overwhelming case."

No, it isn't.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

No2ID Pledge

I'm looking at all the money I'll likely be wasting on festive fripperies over the next month. Rounds of drinks, cabs home, new stockings that I ladder as soon as I put one foot in them. Then looking at this and asking myself if I think think pledging money to the ''No to ID cards'' cause is likely to be a something I'm still happy to have chucked £10, £20 at, six months on?

No contest, I reckon.


BritBlog Round Up

Sunday, November 18, 2007

20 Questions to a fellow-blogger

On the virtual sofa with Paul' Mars Hill' Burgin

Joke of the Week

From the Adam Smith Insistute
Being serious again, my column of the Week is Simon Jenkins in today's Sunday Times

'Indeed Brown has pulled off a remarkable coup in unearthing a libertarian conscience within modern Conservatism. David Davis, the Tory home affairs spokesman, usually a walking-talking police state, admits he can find “no evidence whatsoever” of the need for 56 days’ detention. For once the Tories are on the side of liberty’s angels. They must stay there if the government’s fifth antiterrorism law in office is not to be followed by many more. The boundary is a fine one between a paranoid state and a police one...'

Other column of the week: Matthew Norman in the Independent

Your suggestions welcome. Have a good Sunday,

Sunday Times article

The Sunday Times article ( with silly headline not written by me) is here.

Spoke to another guy yesterday who had been seriously injured in the 7/7 explosions. We had sat next to each other at Home Office meetings before but not really chatted before. He got in touch to join the campaign for an independent inquiry and to say he didn't support the increased detention plans. ''If you hassle people, they just get angrier'', he said, remembering the ''sus'' laws that he had grown up with and their impact on black people and what used to be called ''ethnic communities'', and then how it had led to riots on the streets, riots he had watched as a teenager.

We talked about gang culture: he used to be in a street gang himself. He understood young men's rage and criminality, he had done youth outreach work with young people on his estate after he left the gang behind.

I said I was starting to wonder if 7/7 had more in common with Columbine than 9/11, and we talked about angry young men, and whether flames were being fanned rather than damped down with all the heat of publicity and plans for yet more terror laws.

The conversation left me feeling sad, but even more determined to keep saying this stuff, because over the last two years, so many people have said they want me to.
I can't do much, but I can do that, at least.

P.S: As an experiment, I'm turning off registered-users-only comments. If it gets silly again I'll turn it back on. But I am hopeful that everything has calmed down now though, so fingers crossed.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Over £500 raised for CORDA

Thank you so very much, all of you who contributed to the charity memorial collection in memory of my Mum who died on 22 August this year after a sudden illness and stroke. The fund is still open for donations, for CORDA, a heart disease and stroke charity, but I wanted to pass this on in the meantime, with grateful appreciation from me and my family.

Dear Rachel

Thank you so much for setting up the fundraising page on Just Giving in memory of your mother, Brenda McFadyen. I am so sorry to hear about her death, and would like to send you and all your family our sympathy. Her death so suddenly must have been devastating to you all

I am extremely grateful you decided to support CORDA. We are, as you know, a very small charity involved in funding what we believe is extremely important work trying to help diagnose heart disease at an early stage and so stop others die so unexpectedly. I am not sure where your mother was treated, and if it was at Royal Brompton Hospital (where we fund research in the Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance Unit).You and your friends and family have so far raised £539.48 for us which is a marvellous result.

With my very grateful thanks and best wishes

Jennifer Jenks, Executive Director, CORDA


Tomorrow's Sunday papers...

Click on the pic for what this week's been like...
It's all been a bit of a frenetic blur since I gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee. I've been commissioned to write two op-ed pieces ( as well as the Guardian Comment is Free piece) and they'll be out in tomorrow's Sunday Times News Review, and (gulp) The Mail on Sunday, about the proposed anti-terror measures.

What is amazing about this debate is how it goes right across the political spectrum: to see the Mail and The Guardian in agreement is pretty wild. But this issue is above politics.
Or at least, it flipping well should be.
UPDATE: The MoS piece is being held back a nd will be in a later issue

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New blow for PM on terror detention

Today's encouraging sign that sanity might prevail...
  • Ex-attorney general to tell MPs he opposes new limit.
  • Sir Ken Macdonald, the director of public prosecutions, is likely to tell the committee at a separate evidence session that he has not been calling for an extension.
  • No 10 may have to back down on 56-day maximum
More in today's Guardian


Friday, November 16, 2007

What should have happened

''Look, you've just appointed me as an incredibly well-qualified expert to carry out a review of the current necessary security measures. I'm not convinced we need more than 28 days detention without charge. Got a problem with that? So sack me.''

What actually happened.

Meanwhile, this all becomes madly political. And it shouldn't be: the Magna Carta and what it has meant to British people for a thousand years is bigger than any individual politician, be he ne'er so grand, though he have waited e'er so long for power.

A sense of history is needed. God damn it.

''The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison
without formulating any charge known to the law, and
particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers,
is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation
of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist."


“In this country amidst the clash of arms the laws are not silent... It has always
been one of the pillars of freedom, one of the principles of liberty for which on recent authority
we are fighting, that the judges are no respecters of persons and stand between the subject
and any attempted encroachments on his liberty by the executive, alert to see that any
coercive action is justified in law.”

I will let you know who said what next week.

Unless you get their first, google-fans. Til then, stay happy and ... erm, free.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Man in coma shot by terror police

A man who had gone into a diabetic coma on a bus in Leeds was shot twice with a Taser gun by police who feared he may have been a security threat.

Nicholas Gaubert has described how the incident happened in July 2005, just a week before the fatal shooting of Brazilian man Jean Charles de Menezes

Mr Gaubert said he was told the police believed he looked "Egyptian".

Mr Gaubert said he was on his way to meet friends when he suffered a hypoglycaemic fit on the bus which left him slumped on his seat clutching his rucksack.

Armed police were called to the bus depot in Headingley and when he failed to respond to their challenges he was shot with the Taser.

He said as this was happening, another officer was pointing a real gun at his head.

He was restrained and eventually came round in the police van.

He said it was only then that the officers realised it was a medical emergency, despite him wearing a medical tag round his neck to warn of his condition, and took him to hospital.

More on the BBC

I'll think I'll just throw this one over to comments for your reactions. It's late, and words fail me right now.

Comment is Free

A post from me has just gone up at the Guardian's Comment is Free about the latest terror shennanigans. I await the flames with interest. Comment is Free can be a bit of a zoo. I remember Holly's blogs on there used to get all sorts of madcap goings-on. Last time I got picked up by the Guardian news blog I ended up with some lunatic repeatedly emailing me and demanding that I apologise for ''rejoicing in suicide bombings in Jerusalem'', because I was a ''Zionist bitch'', which was odd, as I was protesting 90 days detention without trial in the UK at the time. For the record, I don't rejoice in any bomb going off anywhere, for any reason. Which is kind of the point of everything I do.

It's a shame when it all goes tonto and shouty at CiF, because there are often some great discussions in the comments. Recently I enjoyed the energetic debate on The Lyrical Terrorist
( I'd blogged about her last last weekend) and right I'm now following the comments after a great post by Timothy Garton Ash (on a similar subject to my blog, in fact, I got held back so his could run first).

Just written something for another paper this weekend, let's see if they use it. I'm glad I am back writing again. I missed it. I missed you, too, dear readers.

UPDATE: Hmm, two people seem to quite like it so far. It's a good job I've got to go out, otherwise the temptation is to sit and refresh the comment page all day. This is, however, sad, especially when the sun is shining.
UPDATE 2: Hooray, it's all very civilised. Meanwhile, encouraging views on the BBC website where a similar thread is developing...

Oh God, I hope they listen to us all.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Giving evidence at the Home Affairs Committee

The session can be watched here and it was reported in the Guardian. Transcript will be sent out in a few days.

What the Guardian didn't report, and what I did say, several times, was that I did speak to two men who lost family members on 7/7, and they had both made the same point - that if the case was presented by the police and the security services that indicates that there is nothing for it but to hold people longer than 28 days as a matter of course then that is something that should be looked at. So I tried to honour that offer to make other points besides my personal opinion, and I said that it would be foolish to imagine that because people all took the same train to work one day that we all had the same opinions.

And of course that nuance didn't get into the paper. It never does.

But I said what I believed, and what other people got in touch with me to ask me to say, and I am glad that I said it. There has been no case, no precedent, there has been no evidence presented at all to show that had suspects been held for longer than 28 days they could have been charged, or a terror attack prevented. This move to extend the period of detention without trial is legislation-making based on hunches and guesswork and scaremongering, at the expense of evidence and quite likely, at the expense of intelligence lead-gathering.

And then David David ( Shadow Tory Home Sec) and Nick Clegg ( Shadow Lib Dem Home Sec) came on and pretty much said the same thing - there's not been a case made for longer than 28 days.

And I do not think that Committee are convinced by a case for extending the detention limit: I saw no sign that they were convinced at all. We'll see.

Afterwards I met Keith Vaz and David Davis, went and had an illegal fag on the roof of the House of Commons, hung out in the press gallery, (now much more smart and office-y and sadly lacking a bar and any atmosphere), and then had lunch and a gossip, in Portcullis House with journalist friends.

Subsidised grilled chicken and lentils with watercress salad was a mere £3.20. Very nice. That'd be £10 at a normal restaurant!

More on the issue here from the Guardian

And now I'm off for Kings Cross United pre-Christmas drinks session.

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Some more thoughts on detention without charge

From *Liberty. Interesting reading before I go to give evidence at the Home Affairs Committee.
(And some thoughts on consultation from Justin, here on his blog and here at Liberal Conspiracy.)

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Paddick running for Mayor

As predicted. Rumours about this have been circulating since 2006 or longer. Well, I'd vote for him. Not only is he a fellow urban-75-ite, but also supportive of an independent inquiry into the London Bombings.


Monday, November 12, 2007

I really should write shorter posts

Sorry. The last four can be summed up thusly

1. If you have a strong opinion about new anti-terror legislation, including detaining people without charge for two months, let me know and I'll try and tell the Home Affairs Committee tomorrow.
2. I am not sure anti-terror legislation should be used to criminalise the morbid online posturings of silly adolescents.
3. Zoe's book ''My Boyfriend is a Twat '' is very funny and will make an excellent Christmas present
4. The internet and how it is used reflects human behaviour, and may be a threat to mediocre journalism in general and ''commentariat elite gatekeepers'' in particular and but let's not all panic, eh.

I hope this saves time and thank you to everyone who has emailed me their thoughts since I started blogging again.

Giving Evidence at the Home Affairs Committee

Tomorrow, I've been asked to give evidence at the Home Affairs Committee which is looking at the Government's anti-terror legislation.

I do quite a lot of (unpaid, before my detractors start up again) conferences and speeches and public and private meetings including ones with people in Government and the security services about terrorism and civil liberties, in my spare time, so I didn't realise this Committee session was such a big deal until Angus from ITN rang up about it ( the media all come and watch and report, apparently). Previous transcripts of the Committee can be seen here, here here ( this relates to the Government’s stated intentions and justification for its proposals, and might be of particular interest).

Also giving evidence is one of the Forest Gate brothers. I'm on at 10.15, then David Davies and Nick Clegg. It can be watched HERE ( on Tuesday 13, tomorrow and for 28 days after)

I've banged on enough about civil liberties and terrorism on this blog for the last 2 years( see, for example 90 days and 90 nights, The Rules of the Game Have Changed, Give Me Liberty , On Intelligence Failures, Brown on Terrorism and of course, as part of the cast of excellent Taking Liberties movie ( buy here now out on DVD) and book, ( blog here) so it will be good to try to get some of the points across in person.

When I talk about civil liberties, here on my blog, or at public or private meetings, I'm giving my personal opinion, ( I always say this and it is amazing how often this gets ignored). When I get asked to say things about the campaign for an independent inquiry, which is a group of survivors and families, then yes, okay, I am usually talking about a position held by a group, and discussed as a group. The matter of the anti-terror legislations, freedom and liberty and security and how we all cope going forward is something that I think every one in the country should have a stakehold in and an opinion about because it's very important stuff.

But I am not possessed of any special wisdom by virtue of having been on a suicide-bombed train two years ago: I just care, passionately enough about this to write, and to read and to learn as much as I can about it. To talk to people, and to listen, and to try to hold a steady course and avoid getting pulled into the malevolent hysteria that sometimes threatens to overtake the issue of terrorism.

I do this largely because when a bomb went off near by I saw ordinary people of all ages and races and beliefs stay calm, reach out to help each other, and get through the horror in a way that made me proud to be human. In the dark and the smoke, people managed their panic and fear and drew together. That experience changed me and is, for me, the antidote to terrorism - that sense of hope and support found I found from strangers on a train.

It seems to me to be a shame if in the months following that day, the country we live in is fundamentally changed, and that resilience falters, that fear and paranoia blooms at the expense of rationality and that oppressive and to me, unnecessary laws are passed to combat what is basically organised crime with an ideological twist and a neat way with propaganda. Why do we need to shred the Constitution, bin Habeas Corpus?

We already have laws against planning murder and mayhem and other crimes like fraud and inciting violence. Why is terrorism so very different to organised crime in terms of how you use intelligence to monitor and disrupt planning? Why is breaking up a huge drugs smuggling operation any less difficult than what the anti-terror agencies do now, with suspects spread out over Pakistan and the Middle East and Europe and America and evidence cached on computers?

Why do we need to detain people without charge for over a month, when equally complex cases have been prosecuted without such swingeing powers?
You tell me.

I worry about where we are heading, I think we are using fear to push through damaging, destabilising, anti-liberty laws and we are in doing so, making it worse for ourselves, not better. And if I am asked for my opinion, then I shall say so.

Well, though I will be answering questions rather than asking them, I would be interested to hear your points of view and I will do my best to communicate a faithful representation of the opinions I have heard over the last 2 years tomorrow. Anyone reading who has any thoughts on terrorism and laws please shout in the comments or send me an email.

UPDATE: some good posts I have seen on my trawls
Hamster on Detention Roulette,
Septic Isle on How I Stopped Worrying about the Muslims and Liberty 56 Days and All that
Blairwatch, Liberal Conspiracy on Gangs & Terrorism

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Lyrical Terrorist

I am an antichrist I am an anarchist Don't know what I want but I know how to get it I wanna destroy the passer by cos i I wanna be anarchy! No dogsbody Anarchy for the u.k its coming sometime and maybe I give a wrong time stop a traffic line Your future dream is a shopping scheme cos i I wanna be anarchy ! In the city How many ways to get what you want I use the best I use the rest I use the enemy I use anarchy cos i I wanna be anarchy ! The only way to be ! Is this the M.P.L.A? Or is this the U.D.A? Or is this the I.R.A? I thought it was the U.K or just Another country Another council tenancy I wanna be an anarchist Oh what a name! Get pissed destroy !

( Lyrics to 'Anarchy in the UK' by the Sex Pistols, which reached number 28 in the charts in 1976.)

Hot on the heels of 'Britz', a drama about 2 British Muslim siblings, (rather an extraordinary tale - brother works for M15, sister becomes a suicide bomber, ) comes the strange story of the ''Lyrical Terrorist' ( BBC) .
More here

Samina Malick, a 23 year old British woman who worked in WH Smiths at Heathrow is the first woman in the UK to be convicted under the Terrorism Act, being found guilty of 'owning terrorist manuals'.

She was earlier found NOT guilty of a violation of Article 57 of the Terrorism Act, which states:
A person commits an offence if he possesses an article in circumstances which give rise to a reasonable suspicion that his possession is for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism.

She was found guilty of a violation of Article 58 of the Terrorism Act:

Under that provision, a person is guilty if:

(a) he collects or makes a record of information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, or

(b) he possesses a document or record containing information of that kind.

So what do we know about young Samina?

According to the various reports, police found an ''extensive library'' of extremist material in her bedroom (where else?) including The Al-Qa'eda Manual and the Mujuhideen Poisons handbook, a sniper rifle manual, a firearms manual, and one on anti-tank weaponry, a document entitled How To Win Hand To Hand Fighting, and pictures of weapons, plus bomb-making manuals.

The court also heard she had written on the back of a WH Smith till receipt: "The desire within me increases every day to go for martyrdom." ( BBC).

Meanwhile the Mail says that she was ''a member of an extremist group linked to Omar Bakri Mohammed, a hate preacher who fled to Lebanon from Britain two years ago''. The Telegraph names this as ''Jihad Way''. The Mail reports that police traced her because an email from her was found on the computer of a ''terror suspect'' in October last year. On examination of her profile on hi-5, a social networking site, she was found to have called for the execution of ''depraved'' non-Muslims, and listed her interests as ''helping the Mujahideen in any way I can''. Under favourite TV shows, it said: "Watching videos by my Muslim brothers in Iraq, yep the beheading ones, watching video messages by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri [his deputy] and other videos which show massacres of the kaffirs." She referred to herself on websites as ''Stranger Awaiting Martyrdom'' and as ''Lyrical Terrorist''

And she wrote some truly horrible poetry, about beheadings, which I won't reproduce here but which can be found on the Mail's site.

So Samina is under house arrest awaiting sentence - interestingly, she wasn't remanded in custody.

When she was found guilty, she burst into tears and cried and cried. (So did two jurors.) Her mum, who doesn't wear a hijab, and was decribed as ''distraught'' sat in court watching her daughter and I wonder what she thought of it all, as she bit her lip.

This is the bit that resonates with me ( from the Telegraph )

Malik claimed she was only writing poetry for "fame and recognition" and to show off to men she hoped to marry.

In her defence, her lawyers claimed her poetry was no worse than the First World War poetry of Wilfred Owen.

There are many things about this case which disturb me ( besides the appalling comparison of Owen's devastating poetry with Samina's ghastly scrawls). I think there are a great many Saminas in this country. In suburban bedrooms all over the UK, young men and women of all ages and religions and colours and shapes and sizes are writing bad poetry, listening to horrible lyrics, wearing black clothes, keeping diaries about how they hate the world and nobody understands, slamming the door and not coming down to eat their tea on time.
Things were ever thus.

What you have now though is the internet, and what was once scribbled in diaries and whispered in conversations with other disaffected suburban teenagers at the bus stop is now published and shared at the speed of thought. And you never know who is reading it, and what they will do when they read.

And what starts off as disaffected mutterings and rebellious posturings can escalate faster than it takes to write a self-pitying mis-spelled rant about running away to join the Foreign Legion/a jihadi training camp/some new age travellers, and who knows where you'll end up a few months later?

Perhaps you'll find yourself in trouble with your Mum after getting admiring emails from mysterious boys who think you are indeed, ''cool''. Perhaps you'll find yourself in someone's living room, getting instructions about flying to Pakistan to learn how to make detonators. Maybe you'll find yourself buying a lot of fertiliser to put in storage until the call comes through. Or weeping in a court room whilst journalists make notes about your glittery hijab and your tight jeans and your running mascara.
You just don't know, kids.

From the Telegraph again

She started writing love poetry while at Villiers High School in Southall, Middlesex and in early 2002 began writing "rap poems" in the style of US rappers Tupac Shakur and 50 Cent, using the name Lyrical Babe.

In 2004 she became more interested in religion and started wearing a hijab, changing her writing name from Lyrical Babe to Lyrical Terrorist because she thought it was "cool."

The trouble we have is that, silly as Samina in the dock may seem, you do not need to be especially clever or calculating to be useful to the terrorist cause. You need to be idealistic, angry, passionate, reckless, committed, useless at long-term thinking - and gullible and easily manipulated.

There are lots of people who fall into that category. (In fact, if you don't fall under that description at some stage between the ages of fifteen and twenty five, you're probably something of an odd fish, and may well grow up to be a professional politician.)

But, and this is the problem:

Germaine Lindsey, who killed 26 people on the Piccadilly line train carriage was only 19 when he died. Hasib Hussein, whose bomb killed 13 people on the No.30 bus was 18. Germaine was a teenage convert. Everything I have read indicates that an angry fatherless fifteen year old from Jamaica who was sporty and popular at school in his early teens later found meaning in an extremist, toxic cause that led him away from his school friends - and also led him away from the Mosques and local Muslim community life in the streets around him. He got sucked in, his wife said his mind was ''poisoned'' by ''radicals''.

People like Germaine make useful foot-soldiers for other people's causes. And how many angry young men and women are there now? How many people willing to turn nihilistic teenage rage into something deadlier? How easy are they to reach, to trick, to hold, to turn?

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command, said: "Malik held violent extremist views which she shared with other like-minded people over the internet. She also tried to donate money to a terrorist group.

"She had the ideology, ability and determination to access and download material, which could have been useful to terrorists. Merely possessing this material is a serious criminal offence."

The Law says that a defendant may demonstrate a good excuse for possessing such materials, but Samina did not have a good enough excuse. Just a ''reasonable suspicion'' that you posses an article that could be used to ''instigate'' an act of terrorism is enough to get you convicted. A reasonable suspicion. How wide a net do you need? Even the US Patriot Act does not go that far.

Samina did not own any bombs, or guns, or quantities of fertiliser or peroxide, or detonators. She owned literature, and she wrote obnoxious lyrics and she seems to me to be as star-struck as the young girls and boys who wish they were ''with the band'', and who write letters and poetry expressing their admiration for the gangster rap thug, the death-metal anti-hero, the groupie-slapping rock star. If you can't drink, or smoke, or get a tattoo, or stay out late at gigs and hang about in trashy bars, then how do you express your rebellion? Samina wore a hijab, when her mother didn't. Samina wrote truly awful poetry. Samina, the shop girl, bored in WH Smiths beeping endless stuff through the tills to the endless airport crowds, then back home in her suburban bedroom, hoped to meet radical boys who thought she was ''cool''. Samina is the first woman to be convicted under the Terrorism Act.

If you want to find out how to make home made explosives, it is not very hard to go googling for the Anarchist's Cookbook, which has been doing the rounds for at least twenty years. Interestingly, its author William Powell has disassociated himself from the book. He now wants the book removed ( fat chance, now it's on the net) and says

''The book, in many respects, was a misguided product of my adolescent anger at the prospect of being drafted and sent to Vietnam to fight in a war that I did not believe in."

Meanwhile, dodgy lyrics are not hard to find, nor to write. Here's some...

I Am Hated lyrics
The whole world is my enemy - and I'm a walking target
Two times the devil with all the significance
Dragged and raped for the love of a mob
I can't stay - because I can't be stopped
Eat motherf*ckers alive who cross us
I know you're all tired of the same ol' bosses
Let me tell you how it's gonna be
I'm gonna kill anyone who steps up in front of me

Welcome to the same ol' f*cking scam
Same ol' sh*t in a dead fad

Everybody wants to be so hard
Are you real or a second rate sports card?
They all lost their dad or their wife just died
They never got to go outside - SHUT UP
Nobody gives a f*ck
it doesn't change the fact that you suck

(We are) The anti-cancer
(We are) The only answer
Stripped down, we want you dead
But what's inside of me, you'll never know

That's from Slipknot, a widely-mocked ''deathmetal'' band of white men in their thirties who wear ludicrous horror-masks, whose fanbase at its height a few years ago comprised millions of mainly white, middle-class suburban teenagers in Europe and America, boys and girls, with an average age of 13/14 years old. (They were even featured in Smash Hits.)

Now imagine those lyrics were written and performed by a young Muslim band.

If you want to make young Shamina, 23, into a martyr it's still probably easier to make her into a martyr for free speech than any other kind of martyr and I am sure there will be those who clutch her to their bosoms and do just that. Whether they would do the same if she was espousing neo-Nazi views and writing 'kill niggaz' poetry is debatable. ( What surprised me, actually, when I read some extremist Islamist literature is how paranoid, how anti-semitic and how racist and hateful it is - it really isn't much different to neo Nazi ravings and if more of it was freely published then people might see what a load of vile old bilge it is and not remotely ''cool'' at all).

Samina's views as expressed in her ''bad girl'' poetry about beheading are of course, repellent, and whether she adopted them to look cool, or to interest boys, or whether she really was capable of going through with ''martyrdom'', (highly unlikely in my opinion) they are still just that at the moment - obnoxious personal views. Views I expect she might well have grown out of, and still might, if she is not encouraged to view herself as a victim of a ''racist'' or ''Islamophobic'' State.

Unlike the 7/7 bombers, or the Crevice failed bombers, or the 21/7 failed bombers, she hadn't been to training camps, or bought explosives, or even got to ''attack-planning'' stage. She is, and was, what looks like a silly attention-seeker, getting into some nasty stuff on the internet. But the stuff she chose to write about was extra-sensitive, and extra-inflammatory, in these butt-clenchingly tense days, and so it brought about this prosecution under the Terrorism Act.

Whether thousands of bedroom gangstaz, wannabe hardnuts and lyrical criminalz are trembling in their trainers today as a result of Samina's foray into the world of hate-poems and extremist literature, I can't say. I doubt they'll even notice the news of her conviction. Whether this has put off anyone who genuinely dreams of blowing themselves into bits on a bus also seems unlikely. But there's political capital to be made out of this case and I'm waiting for the T shirts to go on sale.

I think there is a danger that this court case will become yet another episode in ''Young Muslims are Victimised'' litany of complaints, and when hundreds of thousands of young people indulge themselves daily with incendiary online witterings and peruse and download banned literature, yet remain unmolested by the State for it, those who talk of a particular, State-sanctioned unfair victimisation of young Muslims have a point. Again.

If you're worried about your mate, who's spending all his or her time on radical websites and is writing furious poetry about death and maiming, and who is talking darkly about ''meeting some guys in Pakistan who know the score'' are you more or less likely to tip off the police today, knowing what happened to Shamina?

Have we just made things a little bit worse with this prosecution? I rather think we might have done.

I am not in favour of heavy laws and sledgehammers being used to crack nuts. I am not in favour of 28+ days detention without charge. I have not yet seen anything to convince me that it will help with defeating terrorism, particularly with gathering intelligence.

I think an independent inquiry into the work of the security services and anti-terrorism police, and some accountability, and owning up to mistakes made, and a better, shared intelligence-led approach from a revitalised, more open security services who have won back peoples' trust, and who can be relied to act on leads without locking innocent people up for weeks without charge will do more to stop the angry ravings of the next Shamina, by helping to give the lie to the charge of victimisation.

Showing that the threat is real, but containable, and what the ideology of those preaching extremist jihad is really about, being more honest about the nature and background of the terrorist threat and not crimialising whole communities, or even misguided young idiots with unfair and heavy handed lawmaking and prosecutions would be better, and safer, I think, than where we are currently heading.

There is enough rage out there already. As Queen Elizabeth I knew, governing whilst carefully treading a tightrope of murderous religious fanaticism and febrile extremist domestic and foreign politics, it is better not to make ''windows into men's souls''. Better to look at acts, than opinions, and to remember that it is
by their fruits, their actions, rather than their words, (and their dire poetry) do you truly know men.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

My Boyfriend is a Twat - out now!

When I was on a panel about citizen journalism at the WeMedia conference a while back, we got asked what our favourite blogs were by bloggers in the audience. (That conference was notable for the increasingly frosty atmosphere that developed between the mainstream media representatives and the bloggers/new media types as the hours went on. The dead tree lot came over as either dismissive, paranoid or parasitical about bloggers, the pajama drama lot chippy and resentful about being leached for content then dumped and patronised as mouthy amateurs.It was all a bit tense, quite honestly.)

Anyway, Helen Boaden, the Director of BBC News said the BBC's Nick Robinson and the BBC's Newsnight blog, and erm, mine, as I was sitting next to her and we had bonded earlier about having exactly the same handbag. (I don't think she reads blogs much, she wasn't very keen on them). George Brock, editor of the Saturday Times, and Andrew Hawken of also came up with a selection of industry types and professional journalists, whilst I mentioned Chicken Yogurt, Europhobia, Blairwatch, Bloggerheads, Iain Dale, Guido and Tim Worstall and a whole load more people whom you can see linked in the sidebar on this blog.

George from the Times then suddenly realised that the professional journalists were getting a few glares and mutterings from the audience because they only mentioned other journalists' blogs.

'Oh yes!', he piped up. 'I also read My Boyfriend is a Twat!'
The hostile atmosphere lightened momentarily as a few 'aahs' of recognition and laughter ran round the room. For a moment old media and new media felt united in a warm glow of hope for the future: we all love the Twat blog. There is hope then. We can live and work together as one.

Such is the healing power of My Boyfriend is a Twat.

Happily, now Zoe's award-winning blog is out in the form of a book, so now even those who don't manage to keep up with blogs much can share the joy.

Zoe's book is now available to buy on amazon and all good book shops. Several people have reviewed it already ( and if you like a book, I do urge you to review it on amazon, it makes the author so happy - yes, they do check obsessively, no matter how famous they are - and it helps people browsing as well.)

One of the reviewers describes Zoe as 'Harridan of the Year'.
'Were you okay about that?' I asked the esteemed author.

'I loved it', she replied, 'it's my favourite review ever'.

This is why I adore Zoe, a harridan heroine of our times. And you can read more about her and the Twat by visiting Mike Troubled Diva's hilarious 'Mr and Mrs' compatibility test, which is much funnier than my amazon review. However I promised Zoe I would put the amazon review up and so here it is as well.

Zoe's multi-award winning blog about her life with her boyfriend and three children is compulsive daily reading for thousands of people. You've got to love a woman who thinks the kitchen is somewhere you pass through in order to get another bottle of red wine from the garage.

Now she's published the whole saga as a book My Boyfriend is a Twat: A Guide to Recognising, Dealing, and Living with an Utter Twat so even more people can enjoy her witty writing about life with a man who adores her, and whom she clearly loves dearly - but who frequently makes her want to curl up with embarrassment or just throw crockery, such is his blokey ability to strike up immediate and lengthy conversations with absolutely anyone, especially workmen paid by the hour to get on with jobs, dress exclusively in donated T shirts turned inside out to cover the splatter-marks and stains, snore like a wildebeest with a head cold, fill the fridge with empty jars and stuff the house with more gadgetry than Dixons sale. But he does all the cooking, and he makes her laugh. And without him, this marvellous book would not exist, which would be a great shame, especially as we're nearing Christmas.

Faithfully recording his every foible and bon mot for posterity, Zoe has produced a book that will provoke screams of laughter and nods of recognition from anyone who lives with, loves or is thinking of adopting a Twat of their own.

I could go on, but I won't. Buy the book, it's fab . (And buy it before your mates do, so you can pass off the funny stories about the Twat, and his hilarious utterances as your own down the pub. Some of the things he has said and done are surely destined to become legend).


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Back on the pesky internet

Well, I am re-entering the over-heated atmosphere of the blogosphere after some time out as a stateless satellite circling in orbit. Actually, that metaphor doesn't work, because the last thing I've felt was uplifted these last few months. More like struggling in the shadowlands, weighed down by sadness and fear, unable to see the sky for the toxic fog of despair. Grief, exhaustion, real life, piles of admin, inability to cope with emails and a need to hide away and be silent. Thank you to everyone who has supported me in silence, in companionship and solidarity these last few months. It has been appreciated

Anyway, I am relaunching myself into the debate and raising my voice once more into the cacophonous febrile slum of what Andrew Keen refers to as The Cult of the Amateur as the 'great seduction' of the 'superficial observations' that are 'decimating the ranks of our cultural gatekeepers, as professional critics, journalists, editors, musicians, moviemakers, and other purveyors of expert information are being replaced (“disintermediated,” to use a FOO Camp term) by amateur bloggers, hack reviewers, homespun moviemakers, and attic recording artists.'

Oh woe, and much wailing, and gnashing of keyboards and throwing of toys.

The reasons for my recent online disappearance are well-documented, the reason for breaking silence now at this late hour of the evening is that I am about to go onto Radio 5 live and participate in a midnight debate about Is the Internet Getting Out of Control with presenter Richard Bacon, a chap from Microsoft and Mr Keen himself. I've spent the afternoon reading around what other people have to say on the subject of The Pesky Internet Isn't It Killing Culture and as an awful lot of stuff has been said already by people better qualified by me, I can only cross my fingers and hope that my midnight bletherings don't let the side down too much.

For some good debate on Mr Keen's ideas, see Newsnight comment thread, the Guardian and oh, here, here, here...

...That is one of the joys of the internet, you see, I don't have to trek off to a library, and pile through a dusty series of articles. I can just click, skim, filter, make notes and read without breaking a sweat. Has some of what I have read today been rubbish, poorly-written, uninspiring tripe? Yep - by bloggers and journalists both. Has some been thought-provoking, well-written and stimulating? Ditto. Am I capable of discerning which is which without a ''cultural gatekeeper'' holding my hand? Sure. Have I now got a fair idea of what Mr Keen is going to say and what he has said without actually having to read his book? Probably. Is this rattling Mr Keen's ivory tower? I expect so.

For the people most threatened by the revolting masses talking back are those paid to opine from the tops of the mountain: the old school, mainstream media commentators and opinion journalists. If there are people out there who will do what you do, for free, for the sheer pleasure of it, and who are quite capable of dissecting and critiquing your piece, and who, in doing so, prove themselves equally impassioned, equally well-informed, then that is a threat. Mediocrity will suffer. Too damn bad.

I remember how I used to work on film and music magazines before the days of the internet. Bumptious twenty-something hacks in creaky leather jackets would sneer and bash away, producing pages of overblown, self-referential prose, full of in-jokes and chippy snipes about the latest albums and movies. They considered themselves to be swaggering demi-gods, poorly-paid and foul-mouthed though most of them were. The internet changed all that: now, reviews of gigs and shows come in direct from the audience. The readers disagreed, they argued, they wrote with zip and fire and humour, and the old writers found themselves trounced, bitchslapped or just yawned at. And fired. Now, music and film magazines have much of their content online, and films and albums are rated by a democratic process of readers' reviews, and are the better and the fairer and the more honest for it.

Mr Keen may say that he is concerned for the fate of the musician, the artist, the author, but how many music-makers, wordsmiths and artists have pressed their noses against the glass wall of the profit-driven gatekeepers for years because they were not deemed ''commercial'' enough? How many great artists and writers died in shivering, unappreciated poverty? Surely we should celebrate the democratisation of content that allows people to vote with their feet?

There are millions of blogs, but there is also wall-to wall proliferation of mainstream media choices, hundreds of magazines, news sources, radio and TV stations and we pick and stitch together our own media landscapes that reflect our own interests and prejudices. We shape our own window onto the world. To lambast bloggers for raising our squeaky voices and being part of this crowded landscape is to miss the point: nobody forces anybody to read blogs at gunpoint, and blogs are in any case, not billed as news sources but opinion sources, voices that you can tune in and out at will, or switch off entirely. Much like the pages and pages of comment I pick through in the weekend newspaper supplements, or the magazines I choose to leave on the shelf, or the Talk radio I don't tune into.

There has been messianic talk of a 'new connectivity', Web 2.0 as a successor to the 'human potential movement', how we're all wired now into a hive mind, a collective consciousness, a democratic creativity, we the media, we the audience. That's just as overblown as the Luddite snobbery that purses its lips and dismisses all user-generated content as the proles stampeding outside the gates of the Winter Palace. The internet is a tool, nothing more. How it is used reflects human behaviour.

And how you react to it says much about your faith in, or mistrust of, human nature. I'm pleased to say I come down on the side of it being positive. Messy, yes, muddled, contradictory, with many failings and flaws, and with genius and sadness and joy and sweetness and nonsense and venality and viciousness all muddled up together. That's what being human is. That's what we are. That's what our internet says about us, and to be human is to be amateur, to be flawed, to be learning, to be uncontrollable, to be free, to be real.