Malta: Gateway to the Mediterranean (just don’t hire a car)… Computer News: Where in the world am I? … Your old Granny W. sploshes in galoshes … End of Everything, Update … Afterthought: And where do you come from?

“Her uncompromising blog and scathing pen spared no punches, hitting out mainly at exponents of the ruling Labour Party and their supporters, but also sometimes criticising officials of the centre-right Nationalist Party, including its newly-elected leader.”

Malta: Gateway to the Mediterranean (just don’t hire a car)

So writes Herman Grech, online editor of The Times of Malta, following a powerful car bomb explosion at the weekend in which former Times reporter and political blogger, Daphne Caruana Galizia was blown to bits outside her home, in a rental car.

Daphne Galizia: had promised to reveal the ownership of a company involved in a possibly corrupt power station contract.

Ms Galizia has been an outspoken critic of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat since his name popped up in the 2015 release of The Panama Papers, suggesting that he and his wife had been corruptly salting away money paid to him by Azerbaijan in offshore companies.

To remind viewers and listeners, the Panama Papers were 11 million documents leaked from the offices of the law firm, Mossack Fonseca, detailing the setting up of tens of thousands of virtually untraceable shell companies to hide money in places like the British Virgin Islands, whom God recently punished with a hurricane.

“While offshore business entities are legal, reporters found that some (actually, rather a lot. Ed.) of the Mossack Fonseca shell corporations were used for illegal purposes, including fraud, tax evasion, and evading international sanctions.” (Wikipedia)

Weeping copious crocodile tears, Mr Muscat went on televisual record as saying:

“I condemn without reservations this barbaric attack on a person and on the freedom of expression in our country.”

And we must take him at his word. Although, it ought to be said, Mrs Galizia knew how to make enemies.

The one thing one doesn’t get from this BBC News story is any sense of who might have perpetrated the outrage in a supposedly peaceable part of the world where such things don’t normally happen; although Malta’s strategic ‘crossroads’ location 60 miles off the Libyan coast and former Arab history, together with its latter status for many years as a British dominion have for centuries made it a hotbed of espionage and intrigue.

Grech’s Times of Malta Online piece doesn’t appear to dare to venture even a hint of a suggestion, but instead sprays out a list of people Galizia might have pissed-off, including some she might not have, i.e. politicians opposed to the government of Dr Muscat. Only…

What is going on?

The US State department’s official website, while being unable to correctly spell ‘Assad’, the name of the President of Syria, nevertheless generously praises Azerbaijan for its co-operation on international terrorism and its opposition to: “terrorist organizations seeking to move people, money, and material through the Caucasus”.

That would presumably not include the Trump Organization’s friends, the Iranian National Guard Corps, whose money (according to The New Yorker magazine) moved through a failed Trump hotel development in the Azeri capital, Baku, part-financing an improbable project being managed by Trump daughter, Ivanka, in partnership with local oligarch and notoriously corrupt ‘family business’ boss, Zia Mammadov.

As “Trump said” (or someone did, he can’t string two words together):

“Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku represents the unwavering standard of excellence of The Trump Organization and our involvement in only the best global development projects,” Trump said when the venture was announced in 2014. “When we open in 2015, visitors and residents will experience a luxurious property unlike anything else in Baku—it will be among the finest in the world.” (Mother Jones)

Despite the ringing endorsement, the project (in a down-at-heel suburb of the capital) got dumped before Trump’s election. Nevertheless, many Western countries have flocked to oil-rich Azerbaijan and its hospitable (although not to journalists or political opponents) President Ilham Aliyev. The BBC reported:

“Deals with international energy producers have allowed the country to use its energy revenues to create a government-run fund involved in international projects … Despite its wealth and increased influence in the wider region, poverty and corruption continue to overshadow the country’s development.”

Maltese cars seem to have a distressing habit of exploding. In October last year, local Buggiba businessman John Camilleri was assassinated in a powerful explosion that only narrowly missed a passing school bus full of children. Again, in reporting the incident the Times of Malta curiously avoided any of the normal press speculation as to the reason behind the attack, or to describe Mr Camilleri as anything other than the proprietor of a bathroom-tile business; but merely concentrated on its own – and the government politicians’ – handwringing.

So much for “freedom of expression”.

In January 2016, a person “registered as a fisherman”, local boat-owner “Martin Cachia, 56, from Marsascala, who has a pending court case in connection with human trafficking, according to sources”, as anyone might, was blown up and died when his car crashed into a wall. While in September 2016, an unnamed man “not well-known to the police” was seriously injured in another car bombing in Mosta, losing both legs, and his passenger also injured; a third man was injured in his car as he was passing by.

How normal is it for a national newspaper not even to try to identify any of the three victims of an attempted murder, or to speculate on who might have been behind it, but merely to drop huge clues to local people as to the identity of the main target? What are journalists afraid of, we wonder?

Just what is going on in tiny island Malta?

Well, if you Google ‘organized crime in Malta’ you get only the results of an optimistic, anodyne official inquiry covering burglaries and suchlike, that makes no reference whatsoever to targeted assassinations. Self-censorship seems to reach up from the press into the higher echelons of government and law-enforcement. The European Union, of which Malta is a relatively new member, is silent on the subject.

But not everyone is afraid to speak out, provided they do so under conditions of anonymity. On 16 October, 2017 The Independent online (UK) among others reported on the Galizia murder:

“A politician said her death marked the “collapse of the rule of law” in Malta, the smallest (country) in the European Union. Tributes to Galizia poured in on Monday evening, as thousands of Maltese gathered in the streets for a candlelight vigil to the reporter.  Galizia is believed to have just published the last post on her widely read blog, Running Commentary, just before leaving her house (in) Mosta, a town outside the capital Valletta.”

“There are crooks everywhere you look now,” she had written, “the situation is desperate.”

In advance of his second visit to Azerbaijan in four months, to attend a conference where he was due to mingle with such luminaries as the peace-prizewinning war criminal, Henry Kissinger, Dr Muscat’s people were less than forthcoming in response to enquiries by The Times of Malta (who weren’t invited on the official junket): “Dr Muscat (is) committed to continue to do work to bring more investment and jobs to Malta.”

At what cost?

The traffic is, of course, not just one-way. Azerbaijan’s foreign affairs minister, Elmar Mammadyarov visited Malta for three days last week, conceivably to discuss an ongoing project involving Azeri state oil and gas company SOCAR, to build a power station on the island. Malta Today reported:

“Mammadyarov’s visit comes as Daphne Caruana Galizia has pledged to publish proof this week that a bank account of a company owned by politically exposed people in Azerbaijan was used to transfer large sums of money to offshore Panama companies owned by minister Konrad Mizzi, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri, and a third company, Egrant.”

It is strongly rumoured among opposition politicians that Joseph Muscat and his wife may be the beneficial owners of Egrant. While, despite an impeccable record of Western education at Brown University and diplomatic service to his country, the Azeri’s Wikipedia entry reports:

“Under Elmar Mammadyarov the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan was hit by numerous scandals and corruption allegations. Stories and documents published in a number of Azeri news sites, blogs and social media claim that Mammadyarov is involved in illegal employment of staff for diplomatic service, irregularities, corruption and espionage along with his deputies and other high foreign service officials.”

Dimech: the ‘gangster’s moll’. But what was the politician really up to? (photo from website)

Was the killing of Galizia timed to entertain the visiting Azeri minister?

Business in Malta is clearly booming. But a casual browse on Mrs Galizia’s website reveals an intricate web of social, political and business relationships on the island that is almost impenetrable to an outsider. She covers numerous stories, many of them on the surface little more than tittle-tattle revealing a fetid atmosphere among the island’s half a million inhabitants.

One caught the attention of the BogPo, concerning the apparently close friendship between the much younger girlfriend of a convicted drug dealer, Rebecca Dimech (see photo) and the wife of the leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Dr Adrian Delia; whom Galizia hints at not so much having an affair with Ms Dimach, but more of being involved in her boyfriend’s cocaine enterprise:

“Miss Dimech … is an amateur glamour model from the wrong side of the tracks, whose long-term boyfriend, Andre Falzon … is a convicted drug-dealer well known to the police. He was released from prison last June. … Mrs Delia was at pains to dismiss any suspicions people might have had about “infidelity” by telling her interviewer “we laughed our heads off”. The widespread suspicions she needs to address about her and the Opposition leader’s relationship with Miss Dimech, though, have nothing to do with infidelity….” (Running Commentary)

Whatever may be going on with the Azerbaijan connection, it seems Mrs Galizia had a way of making powerful enemies in many areas of island life. Drugs, money-laundering, racketeering, people smuggling…. Perhaps we should not be too quick to point the finger of blame for her death at anyone special.

It’s clearly just a cultural thing.

 

x

Computer News

“Probing deeper, I discover a little map of ‘South Bank’, and with a start of recognition realize that it is a part of London I know fairly well…”

Where in the world am I?

Likers, Spammers, Followers and Those No Longer Reading this, muh bogl, will possibly have noted one of the sources for our regular Granny Weatherwax roundup of extreme weather events worldwide is a research group called Weather Underground, blogging as Wunderground, which is – we believe – owned or sponsored or funded by the CNN News organization in America.

Despite the defiant name, these weather guerillas seem to be perfectly reputable, highly qualified meteorologists running an efficient website combining official data sources and up to the minute satellite feeds with detailed reports, forecasts and expert commentary.

Heading their homepage every day is a weather report along the lines of the BBC’s clever “and now the news where you are” feature, a personalized facility for which some algorithm has been programmed to guess where in the world you are and tell you what the temperature, the windspeed and the precipitation are outside, roughly now.

So for weeks, I’ve been getting weather reports and forecasts for somewhere called Grangemouth, United Kingdom.

Now, until this began happening I had no idea where Grangemouth is, I had never heard of the place. Somewhat frustrated, as you can try keying in your actual location but the next day you wake up back in Grangemouth, I looked it up on the ever-reliable Google maps, and found it is an industrial coaling port all the way across the other side of the UK, on the North Sea coast. No wonder it’s always ten degrees colder there than it is here in the West, warmed as we are by the Gulf Stream (my next-door-neighbour has a well-advanced palm tree growing in their garden. Grangemouth is more famed for its tundra).

Why the boffins of Wunderground have decided I live there, or have the slightest interest in the prevailing conditions for the hardy Viking stock of Northumberland, I have no idea. But in recent days, it seems that I have sold up my home in Grangemouth and moved to somewhere called “South Bank”, where I notice it’s currently 51 deg. F. and sunny, with a high of 61 expected later.

There’s very little wind in South Bank, I notice, compared with here where we had a bit of whiplash from ex-Hurricane Ophelia yesterday as it chewed its way up the west coast of Ireland; although nothing like as bad as the “85 mph gusts” forecast.

Probing deeper, I discover a little map of South Bank, and with a start of recognition realize that it is a part of London I know fairly well, having been born and lived across the other side of the river for many years (there is no “North Bank”, by the way – it’s just known as Embankment, that eventually becomes other riparian districts like Pimlico and fashionable Chelsea Reach).

South Bank – or to give it its proper place names, Southwark, Vauxhall, Battersea –  is pretty famous, historically as the site of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and nowadays, for Sir Denys Lasdun’s ’60s Brutalist concert venue, the Royal Festival Hall; the Tate gallery and for the human statues and what-all else annoying buskers who infest the walkways.

But it’s still 256 miles from where I live now; while since my poor old mum passed away last year, I know no-one living anywhere near there, having almost literally burned my bridges as far as the capital is concerned. Looked at objectively, you can buy a three-bedroomed house in Grangemouth for £40 thousand; while the average price of a three-bedroomed house anywhere near “South Bank” (which is not actually a residential community) would be about £2.5 million. The “hiraeth” from which I suffer at the thwarted hope of someday returning to South Kensington, place of my boyhood, is mocked now by the vast economic divide in our society.

Meanwhile back in algorithm corner, I find on the Guardian website I am being offered the opportunity to buy yet more one-off items I have already just bought, or looked at on shopping websites and rejected.

What is the point, I ask myself and any passers-by who will stop to listen?

Here, for instance, is the opportunity to buy the bedroom chair in the color I rejected in favour of the bedroom chair I actually ordered, now in my bedroom. It might be several years before it wears out and I need another one. It’s quite a small room, with no room for two. And look, here next to it is the mattress I bookmarked before I baulked at the £700 price ticket, given that I have a mattress already.

I had thought seriously about changing it after reading Tim Dowling’s acerbically humorous Saturday column in the Guardian last week, about his adventures in acquiring a new mattress for their new home in grimiest Acton, West London (the running gag every week being how he and his wife don’t get along, although it seems they still share a bed, enabling them to fight amusingly over hopeless American-in-London, Tim’s inability to acquire a new mattress).

Mine started life as a pretty supportive, midrange orthopedic design, with 1800 sprung pockets, but over the six years I’ve had it, it has become soggy and pliant beneath my constantly revolving bulk. When Tim mentioned waking up every day with numb hands and a stiff neck, familiar symptoms, I knew it had come time for me to look for a new mattress, and Googling “mattresses” found many affordable examples advertised with free delivery.

I always reason that cheap is crappy and the more you spend, the happier you will be. But you can’t tell, can you, from a photo? Although £160 would probably not buy you a mattress that would stay the course for long, £700 could turn out an expensive mistake; like the new cooker I ordered last month….

ouwhouawhouaaa (eerie flashback music):

(The story so far: shortly after the gas man turned up yesterday on £100 an hour after the previous week’s false alarm and disconnected the old cooker, he summoned me from my shed where I had been hiding to tell me with a long face that the new cooker the shop had just delivered “doesn’t fit”.

Instead of the double-oven, gas-powered, under-counter model I had so carefully described to the man at the counter, the shop had sent over a single-oven electric cooker made to fit an eye-level unit. Back went the old cooker.

Later on, I get a call from the store to say oh dear, they have two cookers in the shop with my name on, and neither of them is the one I ordered, they can’t think how that happened, nevertheless the right one will most assuredly be with me in three weeks’ time… (It isn’t…)

I could offer a column about my life to The Guardian, maybe, only it’s just me and Hunzi, and occasionally Katz… the wife and I stopped fighting after the divorce eight years ago, and there wasn’t another in stock.)

So I switched my attention to other things.

Algorithms never forget, however. So now everytime I go to The Guardian website, which I have to do daily to find interesting items to report here on the BogPo, there’s the one mattress I hovered over, looking pleadingly at me. Should I buy it?

I have decided on principle, no, I shouldn’t. For £700 I can put up with numb fingers in the morning and a stiff neck, although the lack of support makes reading in bed a torture.

And it isn’t only images of tub chairs and orthopedic mattresses I’m being bombarded with, despite my helpful ad-blocker.

The expensive guitar I bought in London last month already has a carry-case, thank you, Gear4Music. It was included in the price. I only wanted to check with you to see what they cost, hard-cases the right size for my little Fibonacci, because the one it came with is embarrassingly cream-colored and I hate to be noticed when carrying a guitar, as I don’t play that well and people always ask, don’t they.

They see your guitar, and the first question that springs to mind is, do you play it?

But now I’m being offered a new guitar case in brown or black every day, and it’s not likely I shall really want to buy another as they can cost £120; while I seldom travel with my guitar far enough to bother.

Then as I have previously mentioned there is the BBC’s online viewing service, the iPlayer, that is forever offering me as personalized suggestions for programmes I might like to watch today, the programmes I watched yesterday. And, as I live in Wales, naturally, many programmes in Welsh: a language that might as well be Welsh to me.

The worst is, there’s no opportunity either to switch off the promotional images, or to explain carefully to the advertiser why you won’t be buying whatever it is they’re offering, day after day, principally because you don’t need another one, you can only play one saxophone for instance (okay, so I can’t play it at all, I soon found out it has more little keys than I have fingers, and none of them seems to do anything to alter the note) – or you just don’t want it.

Why can’t algorithms be programmed instead to offer you interesting and imaginative new things you haven’t already bought, or rejected? Like a cricket bat, or a submarine? I assume the advertisers are paying for those wasted spaces?

As a marketing tool, dialogue is so much more effective.

Wherever in the world you are.

Postscriptum:

Okay, own up. Who told Weather Underground where I live? More importantly, where to find The Boglington Post?

Because since I Posted this Post this morning the sarcastic bastards have switched my ‘weather where you are’ from central London, where I am not, to where I actually am, although I have never specified where that is, indeed I have not even mentioned the problem I was having with the anomalous locations to them directly. No wonder paranoia is going viral.

I plan to buy a camper instead, sell my little cottage and stay on the move in my own safe space.

I’m feeling violated.

Braga, Portugal, 15 October. (Photo: Daily Mail)

 

Your old Granny W. sploshes in galoshes

The Planet: “September 2017 was only the planet’s fourth warmest September since record keeping began in 1880, said NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) and NASA this week. The warmer Septembers came during 2015, 2016, and 2014”

Global warming is a myth. Look, Republican states voting for denial! (NOAA)

Near-ground atmospheric temperature however was the warmest on record: “record warmth was observed across parts of central and southern Africa, southern Asia, across the western, northern, and southern Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean (off the southeastern coast of South America), the Norwegian Sea, Greenland Sea, and Barents Sea, and across parts of the Indian Ocean.

No land or ocean areas experienced record cold September temperatures.”

But in total, the average temperature of the world in 2017 to date is still 0.13 deg. C colder than last year. I suppose the key question is, if 2017 hasn’t been hotter than 2016, are we on the way to a cooling planet? Is global warming a myth?

Portugal/Spain: The most shockingly apocalyptic images emerge from more than 500 major fires that erupted all over northern Portugal around Braga and neighbouring Galicia province in Spain at the weekend, after months of drought, continuing high temperatures and strong winds. 49 dead so far, over 100 fires still burning. Suspected arsonists arrested.

China: Typhoon Khanun brings heavy rainfall, flooding and landslides to the island of Formosa (Taiwan! Ed.) before heading across to Hong Kong – Guangdong and Hainan provinces – 114 kph winds and up to 520 mm (0.52 metres) rainfall causing major disruption, and on down into North Vietnam, still recovering from last week’s lethal floods and landslides that killed 70. Reports suggest it’s already dissipating, but:

Japan: Tropical Storm Lan is several hundred miles out northeast of the Philippines on a possible track for Japan and rapidly developing towards a typhoon with sustained windspeeds already of 70 mph. “The beginnings of an eye were apparent on microwave satellite imagery.”

Philippines:  “Heavy rain, strong winds and storm surge from TS Paolo have caused flooding in areas around Zamboanga, Mindanao. 1 dead, 12,000 people (2,448 families) displaced. Strong winds caused storm surge along coastal areas. Heavy rain also increased river levels in the area, causing further flooding. The Pasonanca Dam is at “critical” level. As of 18 October it stood at 76.10 metres, where normal level is 74.2”. (Edited report)

Thailand: central Bangkok was underwater on the 14th after torrential rain (worst in 25 years).

India: 5 dead as major flooding arrives in Bangalore. Local govt. officials slated for being out of town playing a game of cricket while rain-sodden citizens endured disruption to the city’s already crumbling transportation system.

Australia: Up to 208mm of rain fell over parts of Queensland on 16 Oct, causing flooding. One person dead. Heavy rain is continuing across parts of the state. A search is underway for a fishing boat missing with 6 crew. Bundaberg, subject to severe flooding last week, is also affected.

USA: cooler, calmer weather is helping the nearly 11 thousand firefighters battling 14 wildfires in the Santa Rosa, California region. The death toll still stands at 40, but with 154 missing, nearly 6 thousand homes and vineyards in the Napa Valley destroyed and 75 thousand-plus people homeless or evacuated.

Still no sign of Trump, too busy insulting grieving Gold Star service families. For God’s sake, someone in office put a bullet through his diseased brain and end this nightmare.

(Just noticed from a US TV news crawler, it was 96.8 deg. F (36C) in Phoenix, Az. yesterday. In mid-October. (But not the record: 2003 saw a 98 deg. C. high at this time of year. September was only the fourth hottest on record, but 168 record highs have been reported as opposed to just 17 record lows anywhere in the northern hemisphere this year. Sea ice-loss forecasts for the Arctic proved wrong, again – “The Arctic reached its lowest extent for the year on September 13, which was the eighth lowest extent on record. The five lowest Arctic sea ice extents were measured in September 2012, 2007, 2016, 2011, and 2015.”) However, ‘extent’ is not a measure of volume and is dependent on other feedbacks than temperature.

Puerto Rico: further tropical depression brings new flooding to Caguas province; town underwater.

Mexico: powerful flash flood hits Santiago Tuxtla, Veracruz. Over 400 properties damaged, nearly 40 homes destroyed; shortage of drinking water.

Spain: “Grazalema in Cádiz recorded 111.4 mm of rain in 24 hours between 17 and 18 October. (Most of it fell in a torrential one-hour period.) Images on social media showed flood water raging through streets of Jerez de la Frontera in Cadiz… (Several people had to be rescued from their cars.) The heavy rain also caused a major rockfall in the Serrania de Ronda, in the western part of province of Málaga (more landslides blocking roads).”

Serbia – ‘possibly disruptive’ heat warnings in force.

Ireland: Following on the heels of ex-Hurricane Ophelia five days ago, Subtropical Depression-about-to-become Atlantic Storm “Brian” is heading straight for the Irish Republic with 80 mph winds, high seas and heavy rain likely to batter the whole of the British Isles over the weekend.

Climate and Extreme Weather News #74/ Euronews/ RUPTLY/ Al Jazeera/ Wunderground/ Floodlist/ NOAA

 

End of Everything Update

Germany: a long-term scientific survey has found there has been a 78% decline in flying insects in the past 30 years; almost regardless of climate change.

“Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

USA: A number of smallish earthquakes – M1.5 to M2.3 were recorded in New York State and New Hampshire on 17 Oct by local and international agencies. Those earthquakes are still (10 pm 18 Oct) not showing on the US Geological Survey’s 24-hour updates and have presumably been CENSORED, as a) the eastern seaboard is not supposed to have earthquakes, and b) the earthquake activity was PREDICTED three days in advance by Michael Janich of St Louis, who vlogs regularly several times a day as ‘Dutchsinse’, and whose 80%-plus record of accurately predicting both the magnitude and location of earthquakes from global survey data has led to the USGS, which vehemently denies the possibility that earthquakes can be scientifically predicted, attempting to impose a blackout on his website, even at the expense of providing a full information service.

Just sayin’. (But if Yellowstone was about to blow, just consider if the USGS would tell anyone?)

Yellowstone: Swarms of M2.5+ earthquakes are continuing just outside the caldera at Soda Springs, Idaho and Lincoln Montana indicating magma still flooding horizontally into the chambers beneath the caldera. USGS under more criticism for failing to post significant quakes. Residents feel ‘constant vibrations’ coming from under the ground and are no longer bothering to report small earthquakes.

Nothing suggests that these are not serious indications of an impending eruption, since they seem to fit so precisely into the USGS’s own definition of what constitutes the right time to panic. They’re still reassuring the public that although we’re 40 thousand years overdue for another cyclical eruption, it can’t happen.

No need to remind you that a full-blown eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano will very likely bring the world’s economy crashing down and a ‘volcanic winter’ leading to drastic food shortages, with casualties in the millions.

The Greenhouse Effect: Did you ever run the 100 yards dash when you were at school? So you know how far 70 yards is, right? So, run 70 yards (if you still can). Now, turn 90 deg. left and run another 70 yards. Then again, turn 90 deg left and run another 70 yards – and finally, another 90 deg turn and another 70 yards.

So you’ve run a square with an outer perimeter of 280 yards without bumping into a building? Well done. The area inside the square is one acre.

Now, imagine 12 million of those acres.

That’s as much forest, farm and scrubland – trees, bushes and crops (a few thousand houses) – as has burned in wildfires in the USA this year.

You can add maybe two more millions for Canada – British Columbia had a record year for fires – then there’s Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, the Mediterranean islands (most of them), north Africa, Turkey, Croatia, Ukraine, Poland, Russia and the republics (Siberia had a record year for heat and wildfires) – even Greenland.

That’s just the northern hemisphere. Australia and South America have also had record wildfire years.

Now double it to count 2016’s total, and again for 2015, again for 2012 and worse for 2005.

All that burned vegetation has returned its stored CO2 to the atmosphere, millions and millions and millions of tonnes of it, and the latter years’ ‘biomass’ won’t be absorbing any more CO2 for at least a couple more years until it greens up again; only it’ll probably burn down again when it does.

See the problem?

 

Afterthought

And where do you come from?

American researchers are scratching their tousled or receding heads over the discovery that marriages created through online dating apps are both more stable and more likely to be of an interracial character. They just can’t think why.

For what it’s worth my suggestion is that it’s to do with the format of the encounter.

When you encounter a person of a different ‘race’ in the flesh, as it were (there is biologically speaking no such thing as ‘race’ as genetic differences lie on a continuous spectrum, but we’ll move on), cultural assumptions and associations are triggered automatically merely by their appearance, that immediately distance you from the other person and place self-imposed obligations on you to react in a conditioned way, whatever it may be.

Your reaction to meeting a person obviously of a different ethnic background is almost certainly either to become effusively over-polite, or to retreat into your shell: outwardly hostile or violent reactions to interracial encounters are very rare. You are unlikely to discover much about the Other from that first encounter; other, perhaps, than that they were ‘born here’….

But when you are in the safety and comfort of your own home or the wine bar browsing through photographs and self-descriptions and profiles and convoluted explanations and stories that are often warm and witty and perceptive and surprising and funny, you have time to adjust to the Other and are not required to be polite to an actual person merely for the sake of form, in case the cultural ‘difference’ should prove too much for both of you.

Online dating, then, is a passive-encounter format that encourages imaginative, wishful thinking, that can lead to experimentation, new freedoms and happy discoveries; or a rejection without the need for politeness and difficulty.

Difference can be negative – or positive.

Ask any 1.5 volt battery.

Advertisements

This week’s latest bogl finds bigotry in the ascendant

Showbiz

STOP PRESS

From our Correspondent ©2016 Polly_Wood@fuxnews.org

OMG!!!, not Brangelina? Surely not yet? THE END ALREADY??? #terrifiedface

(Haven’t I seen this somewhere before? Ed.)

x

Up the bum

Forgive me, gentle Spammers, Likers, Followers, Visitors and People No Longer Reading this, muh li’l bogl.

But I have started Posting early this week, owing to a particular circumstance.

Namely that I have, perhaps unwisely, agree to allow my urologist to do a precautionary biopsy on my elderly gentleman’s prostate, and have no idea if such a procedure is survivable in the short term.

Meanwhile, I have encouraging news from The Telegraph, which should know, that 99% of men diagnosed with prostate cancer survive ten years, whether or not they are receiving treatment for it.

Treatment, normally radiotherapy and excision surgery, makes little difference to the outcome, researchers have unexpectedly found. While it typically leaves patients impotent, bow-legged and dribbling piss into a bag.

No prizes then for guessing where urology as a popular option will be headed in future. But I shan’t draw his attention to it, not beforehand at least.

Postscriptum

Phew.

Audience of six staring at my arse, better than the Edinburgh Fringe. Maybe I should book a venue next year, ‘Just for the Crack!’

x

Let us prey

Best Christopher Hitchens Arguments (Part 2). Viewed at: 1hr 30m

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHOo3e2Xlws

As part of her non-mandated education reforms, the Prime Minister, the curiously stork-like Mrs May has announced that ‘faith schools’ in Britain can now freely ignore a previous injunction that they must admit 50% of pupils from local families not of the school’s advertised religious denomination.

Along with her intention to introduce more selective grammar schools, this different and unusual form of selection by parental ‘faith’ is illogically her way of increasing opportunities and reducing social inequality for less well-off children.

Hitchens’ warning is salutary: the barbarians aren’t at the gates, they’re in the city.

It goes without saying that, far from increasing their isolation from the mainstream community, faith schools ought instead as a matter of national security and sanity to be closed down and got rid of altogether.

Faith is an individual matter and not a proper basis for learning.

The future must not be entrusted to graduates of urban madrassas setting religious monoculturalism against rational pluralism; typically teaching both childish, atavistic superstition alongside rational scientific inquiry as being of equal merit. They are simply not.

Imposing uncritical, incontrovertible religious observance, mystical rites and unprovable belief systems such as Creationism or (pretty un-)Intelligent Design in schools, other than as subjects purely of academic curiosity and pity, while denying the extent and validity of contemporary knowledge, is evil, tantamount to child abuse.

Children must be taught to question, not to accept as certainty the ‘word of God’ as ‘revealed’ to illiterate desert-dwellers in selectively edited, internally contradictory and poorly translated, 2,000-year-old texts of dubious provenance recovered from caves; and to imagine that such dessicated ravings constitute a blueprint for anything greater than a narrowly prescriptive, ignorant, barbaric and cruel society, hagridden by a power-hungry elite.

Postscriptum

Not for the first time, but again to my atheistic old surprise, I have received a Like for an anti-religious Post from a Christian who believes they have been healed by the power of faith. Eating a bit more probably helped! (smileyface)

Forgive me if I don’t reply properly, your own web site is a marvel, a thing of beauty and proof that Intelligent Design is not the prerogative of  whoever made the Universe, but it’s too complicated for an old dimwit to navigate to the bit where I can thank you without a Flipper account or whatever. Clearly your daughter did not set it up for you on a flying visit and leave you to cope.

Anyway, I’m sure you don’t need my permission to carry on believing whatever you want. But if I could borrow a few of your 6,437 Followers it would be handy, since I appear to be down to zero. (My son says who wants to read a depression memoir mostly about politics, with no pictures?) Just twelve might do the trick….

x

The whites of their eyes

Paul Gascoigne, the sometime footballing genius destroyed by alcoholism and prurient media obsession, has been fined £1,000 as an ‘example’ to others considering racism as an occupation.

Gazza’s offence was to make a public remark, calling to a black security guard to smile ‘so I can see you’, during an inadvertent blackout that occurred in the auditorium while he was making one of those personal ‘performing freak’ appearance tours which ruined celebrities are sometimes obliged to go on by agents anxious to ensure they can afford their next meal.

It sounds like it was supposed to be a joke, of the ignorant yet affectionate kind one might not find surprising, coming from a working-class product of the Northeast, a barely educated lad brought up from an early age in the culture of the locker-room. Perhaps we should send him to a re-education camp?

I’m sure though that people must have said worse things about Gazza and his boozing.

Sadly, the victim of this heinous act of racism akin almost to the re-ignition of slavery could not recognise that it is not only black people who can be exploited, perhaps imagining that Gascoigne is still some important and well paid public entity rather than a pathetic old piss-artist, and continued to insist on a prosecution even after the Director of Public Prosecutions had ruled that the case was vexatious and unnecessary.

Meanwhile, Mr Nigel ‘skinnydipper’ Farage has been allowed to get away with complaining at a Donald Trump rally in, of all places, Mississippi, that President Obama had the effrontery to ‘talk down’ to the British people when urging us not to vote to leave the EU.

God forbid that uppity n-words should be encouraged to talk down to us superior white folks, even if they are the leader of the free world.

While the president of the Philippines, the deeply unpleasant little thug Rodrigo Duterte, visiting the G20 summit in a curiously deserted Guangjhou, called Mr Obama ‘a son of a whore’, a remark he later tried to withdraw on the grounds that it was an epithet he used frequently to describe other world leaders and he meant nothing by it.

Neither of these hateful, self-publicising racist shitbrains will be forced to answer for their obliquity in a Wolverhampton court, I feel sure.

x

No news is better news

On the subject of perverse lawsuits, lawyers for the seven-times world Formula 1 racing champion, Michael Schumacher, who was left in a coma after a skiing accident two years ago, are suing a German magazine, Bunte, for reporting a claim by a member of the Schumacher entourage that the Schu was now able to walk again.

Positive news is, of course, to be frowned on nowadays. Or do I detect the long shadow of the insurance company loss-adjuster creeping across the well-kept lawn?

x

Under the blanket

By our Court Correspondent, ©2016 HughJWhopper @whomeguv.con

Facing a £4 million fine for breaches of Health & Safety, Network Rail told a High Court hearing into the death of 82-year-old Brenda McFarland, run over by a train at a pedestrian railway crossing in Suffolk in August 2011:

“…individual mistakes had been made but the firm had not ignored warnings or been guilty of systemic failings.”

– BBC News report, 21 September 2016

“The Rail Accident Investigation Branch said Network Rail was told warnings of oncoming trains were “not sufficient” prior to the fatal collision…. Recommendations had been made in 2006 and 2008 for sirens to be placed at the level crossing to warn of approaching trains, but were not implemented.

– BBC News report, 19 July 2012

A thin blue line

The death of PC David Philips hit (apparently) by a stolen pickup truck being pursued following a suspected robbery is awful for his family, friends and colleagues and our hearts go out to them.

But the incident looks more like reckless endangerment than deliberate murder; a swerving attempt to avoid the stinger device PC Philips and a colleague (who managed to jump out of the way) were deploying to burst the car’s tyres – in itself a dangerous measure that could have caused the deaths of anyone in the vehicle.

That at least will be the basis of any defence 18-year-old Clayton Williams will put up. The Wallasey, Merseyside teenager has already publicly confessed, and profoundly apologised to the family, in an extraordinary statement issued through his solicitor, after he was remanded in custody last week, in which he said he had no intention of running down PC Philips and was not aware that he had.

In fact, a number of aspects of this case are somewhat unsettling.

It is common practice, and allowed, for police to issue photographs or photofit pictures, and to name suspects they are looking for in connection with major crimes, before an arrest is made and a charge brought. But at that juncture, reporting restrictions demand that only the accused’s name, age and address may continue to be published.

I cannot remember a single case in which the police have carried out an arrest, the suspect has been charged, appeared in court to confirm their identity and been remanded for a further hearing, and the police have then released to the press, for publication, a photograph of the accused.

Whatever the crime, even a police killing, such an action is totally contrary to the 800-year old principle of British justice, that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. In this case, it looks like the defence has been railroaded into issuing a public admission of guilt even before the accused has been given the opportunity to enter a plea in court: trial by media.

It is not a happy precedent.

That the photograph should be an image taken from social media of the teenager drunk and behaving disgracefully at a party, leering spottily into the lens and raising two fingers, while the faces of people in the background have been pixellated, is clearly highly prejudicial. What motive could the police, if indeed it was they who obtained the photo, possibly have in releasing it to the media, other than to influence a potential future jury of sober and upright adult citizens?

The release of the image provoked a predictable crawling-out from under stones of the rabid tendency among the Commentariat, most of whom called for the youth to be violently tortured and hung as an example to others. Many complained of their disappointment that Clayton Williams, despite his name, had turned out not to be a black man.

The Daily Mail controversialist, Katie Hopkins for once took the side of proportionality and criticised sensationalist media coverage of the family’s outspoken grief as ‘scripted… X-factor videotape… the Instagram nation.’ She cruelly went on to imagine Mrs Williams viewing the TV coverage of her performance with satisfaction. Ms Hopkins is not a very nice person, but in this instance she expressed the unease some may have felt at the way the death of PC Philips was being turned to advantage, at a time of cuts to the police budget.

Again, this seems to have been the police ensuring maximum public opprobrium against the accused, through an orchestrated press conference designed to heighten sympathy for the victim’s fully extended family. Tearful family appeals to the killer to come forward have become commonplace, but in this instance the police already had a suspect in custody, who had apparently confessed – and went on to arrest a number of other, unnamed persons – presumably the boy’s family and friends – as accessories after the fact.

This trawling of connections to suspects is also disturbing, reminiscent as it is of the ancient practice of ‘sippenhaft’ – targeting the wider families of supposedly disloyal resisters to ensure compliance. Commit a crime nowadays and your spouse, your mum, or seemingly anyone on your contacts list who has failed to hand you over to the authorities in good time is likely to end up being hauled in and gaoled on charges of ‘conspiracy to pervert the course of justice’.

The vengeful statements of senior officers should be seen in context of a force that very much protects its own. The Chief Constable’s impassioned remark that ‘he didn’t stand a chance’ made for a good headline, but the inevitable inquiry might, in the cold light of day, possibly find that PC Philips was ordered into the path of the escaping vehicle by a superior; reducing his ‘chances’ still further.

It is unfortunately a truth that many such accidents happen when the police take off in hot pursuit of a suspect: in this case, the red Mitsubishi pickup stolen earlier was spotted lurking in the area an hour after police were called to the robbery, and a high-speed chase ensued. Was PC Philips ordered to put himself in harm’s way? And if so, could the extraordinary media-storm not have been generated in part to deflect attention away from a possibly fatal operational error?

It all begs the question: should we go on risking TV-cop-show-style, high-speed car chases in built-up areas, when we have spotter technology and surveillance cameras and drones, the ability to track vehicles remotely – and even, if not yet then not far off, the technology to send a jamming signal that can switch-off a car’s computerised engine management system?

And what if the victim had not been a policeman, but some other father-of-two making his way home after a night-shift, hit perhaps by a police car? Would the force have treated the case with the same sensationalised prominence, or perhaps relied instead on another anodyne and long-drawn-out IPCC investigation to draw a veil?

In context, with forty million vehicles on the UK’s cluttered roads, around 400 pedestrians are hit and killed by vehicles each year (some by police drivers); another 1,400 die in crashes. That’s quite a lot of ‘brilliant dads’ who don’t come home in the normal course of events. That this figure is one third what it was 40 years ago is  testament in part to the vigour with which police enforce the traffic regulations.

And it is salutary to remember that one hundred and forty-two people died in workplace accidents in 2014.

Statistically, police work is actually quite safe when compared with some other occupations; possibly due to assiduous training. The last British policeman killed in the line of duty was back in 2013, also struck by a getaway car. 2012 was an exceptional year, as a result of two WPCs in Manchester being lured into an ambush and shot to death by a local ‘face’ – a known thug who had decided to hand himself in over a previous murder and thought it would be a nice idea to take a couple of coppers down with him. Another PC was shot confronting an armed man while off-duty, and a fourth died of a heart attack while pursuing a suspect.

But there are 128 thousand people employed in the police force. It is the relative rarity of such incidents that makes them stand out.

Self-serving and pious statements by politicians about the extraordinary dangers of police work and lurid phrasemaking about ‘putting their lives on the line every night’ ignore the facts – with, on average, 30-plus deaths a year in police custody, it’s quite a lot more dangerous in Britain to be a criminal, or suspected of being one. Most people would say, that’s how it should be.

Of course, in America it’s more like a small war. Let’s not go there.

 

Postscriptum

After adding to the above yesterday with what I hoped was a more direct rationalisation of my semi-private concern at the management of the publicity surrounding this tragic case, as it seemed to set an uncomfortable legal precedent, there is news of a PC in a ‘serious’ condition, having been knifed in the stomach when called to an incident in North London. A 16-year-old boy is being questioned.

Of course, policing is often dangerous work. I merely commented that statistically, the fatality rate among police  in this country is thankfully very low. Nor do I believe that violent young punks without any sense of consequence or responsibility for their actions are a new phenomenon indicative of the breakdown of the social order: they have always existed.

Hanging and flogging them isn’t going to make any difference, we used to do that but they are ever with us. It is hardly perverted liberalism to suggest that there are reasons for their antisocial behaviour that ought to be addressed, while at the same time upholding the rule of law.

I do not take pleasure in the death of any individual; nor was I writing about any individual, excepting that this was a case that illustrated the way in which a precedent was being extended and nobody appeared to have noticed.

I have had a night to think about an abusive Comment received in relation to the original article. It is the first such Comment my blog has attracted in almost four years; possibly a sign of failure. The author, ‘Chris’, is a person obviously with little education, but direct and to the point. What I write may indeed be ‘fucking bollocks’, while it is indeed regrettable that I have never had the opportunity to die for my country, of whose overly sentimental laws and customs ‘Chris’ disapproves.

As a citizen (whose ancestors migrated here from northern Europe thirteen centuries ago) I still insist on the right to have a view, to express an opinion!

My blog is a personal ‘work in progress’ and subject to continual interventions by an editor I keep in my head. I have made one or two minor changes this morning. Something however that has also popped out of my head overnight is a worry that the country is becoming polarised between moral relativists and moral absolutists: people disposed to thinking-through complicated problems, as against people who merely react, sometimes with inarticulate violence, from pre-prepared positions.

I can see little difference between the ‘Chris’s and their fundamentalist counterparts in other cultures around the world, ISIS, the Moral Majority, who are once again in the ascendant. People who see everything in terms of black and white, who express violent thoughts against anyone they consider The Other – anyone that is, who looks or behaves or thinks differently from themselves. People with a visceral hatred of open discussion.

I suppose the difference is, for now, that one group is prepared to rampage through cities, indiscriminately shooting and bombing in the name of a religious ideal; while the others conduct their private wars by hurling inarticulate invective at people they fundamentally disagree with, in a public forum that guarantees their anonymity (for now). I am equally guilty of that, at times.

I suppose there has always been tension between the two camps, the ‘class war’ – but the internet has enabled a permissive discourse to evolve that is ratcheting up the social tension level, at a time of difficult global challenges to the postwar social consensus for which no-one appears to have any answers, other than more violence.

It’s not a good sign.

The Untouchable Mr Putin

Two Russia analysts on BBC radio this morning concurred: after so many years walled-up in the Kremlin, bathed in the asses’ milk of absolute power, surrounded and advised only by a small coterie of likeminded former KGB colleagues, Mr Putin is out-of-touch, delusional, poorly informed about what is going on in the world, a victim of his own propaganda, not – for an intelligence man – particularly intelligent and, quite probably, dangerously mad (and a closet gay… no, they didn’t say that) to boot.

Well, and well.

The problem for Mr Putin in Ukraine, since the downing of Flight MH17, has been that if he gives way to strident demands from the USA to use his influence on the pro-Russian separatist rebel leaders to co-operate with the international investigation, he will a) have to submit to the findings of the investigation, which may go against Russia; and b) let it be known that he does have influence over the separatists, which up to now he has denied.

The fact is that he most probably does not know how the plane came to be shot down, any more than the West does; but that he privately shares the West’s suspicions.

Consequently he is having to play a difficult hand. I suspect that he has been genuinely taken aback by the shooting-down of the civil airliner last week with almost 300 people on board. It was not part of the plan, and it has embarrassed him. The plan was to use the minimum of Russian cross-border involvement to stir-up the revolt in Eastern Ukraine. The downing of Flight MH17, whose passengers came from so many outraged countries, probably through the incompetence of a semi-trained rebel operative, has raised the stakes. Thus far, the supply of heavy weapons, money and training to the rebels has come from mysterious origins, seemingly with no clear trail leading back to Moscow. To intercede with the separatists in the combat zone is to admit that the sophisticated BUK mobile anti-aircraft missile launcher probably used in the attack – we still don’t really know – was one of his.

So, for home consumption, he has played the nationalist card and is using the State-controlled media to mount a massive disinformation campaign, attempting to throw blame on almost anyone else. He knows no-one outside Russia will ever believe he is innocent, but he can create enough of a smokescreen of blatantly contrarian disinformation to sow the seeds of doubt, especially among his many traditionalist supporters. He does not have to care about Western opinion. The tide of public opinion in Russia has swung behind him, as he has cleverly turned the disaster into an issue of anti-Russian sentiment and threat from the West, against which he knows a significant number of Russians will react with their hearts, rather than their heads. He has made ordinary Russians feel like they are the real victims of this disaster.

On the other hand, he must be relishing the extent to which the West has fallen consistently behind the curve on Ukraine since the start of his destabilisation campaign. This morning’s news is that the rebels have conceded almost everything the West was demanding. The bodies – those 20o or so that could be found scattered amid the alien corn – have been collected, bagged, ticketed, put on board a handy refrigerated train and shipped off to a Government-controlled town, to be handed over to the Dutch authorities, who lost the most citizens. The two ‘black box’ flight recorders that disappeared from the crash site on Day 1 have magically reappeared, and been handed over to the Malaysian air accident investigation team.

And, just as the British warrior PM David Cameron, his eye on the upcoming General Election, is tub-thumping and huffing and puffing in Brussels, demanding more ‘sanctions’ (short of anything that might upset business as usual in the City of London) while the spineless jellyfish who run the rest of the EU are quivering and havering over their pathetic gas supplies and their Russian business contracts, the rebels have declared a ceasefire in the civil war the West had somehow failed to notice was even happening, in a six-mile zone around the crash site, to enable investigations to take place. The fact that the evidence is now so compromised and contaminated as to be virtually useless will not have escaped Mr Putin. While we continue feebly to demand yesterday’s appropriate actions today, he has already conceded the point and moved on.

Thus, it is clear that he has, in a rather clever way, and despite being totally mad, ignorant and out-of-touch, outfoxed everyone. He knows we know, but cannot prove, that he has indeed brought the Kremlin’s influence to bear on the rebels, whom he has clearly been arming; and that as far as public opinion at home is concerned, it doesn’t matter a damn. He has been able to make concessions without being seen to have done so, because his clandestine ex-special forces operatives ARE the rebel leaders; and he knows we know that too, and that, far from condemning him, the Russian people will love him all the more for ‘standing up’ to Western pressure – while the truth is that he has had to give way to it, albeit on his own terms.

These stratagems are not the product of a diseased and delusional mind, and the most dangerous thing is for the West to believe he is not acting rationally. The whole operation since he succeeded in annexing the Crimean peninsula with barely a drop of blood spilled has been run on the principle of total, cynical deniability, that he has brilliantly carried to a whole new level. It is proving an object lesson in crisis management.

As long as the Russian people can have their patriotic indignation button so easily pushed, like the button that launched the rocket that killed 298 innocent civilians, 80 of them children, 33 thousand feet above the battle zone he controls, Mr Putin remains untouchable, either at home or abroad.

 

Police shootings: lawful, or just awful?

How far should policing go, to keep law-abiding citizens safe on the streets?

Should it, for instance, be regarded as acceptable that any armed-response police officer can kill at will? Of course not: he or she has to have due cause to believe that their own or another person’s life is in imminent danger from a suspect, or receive a direct order from a superior officer, before they are allowed to open fire. It is a principle of British justice that you are innocent until proven guilty, and I’m proud to say we abolished the death penalty for murder in 1965. (You also have a right to a fair trial by a jury of your peers, whatever heinous crime you are accused of.)

So, why would a police officer deliberately ‘execute’ an unarmed suspect in public? It’s illogical. It would be murder. There’s no reason.

Surely, then, it must automatically follow that when a well-trained armed-response officer does open fire, and kills a suspect, it is because they genuinely believed that there was an imminent danger to themselves and others. This is possibly why, despite a number of high-profile cases in which perfectly innocent people have been shot and sometimes killed by the police, no UK police firearms officer has ever been convicted of unlawfully killing a suspect. In every case, the jury has given the police marksman the benefit of the doubt, presumably as it is difficult to prove that someone with a duty to protect the public did not have a valid reason for carrying out an action with such drastic consequences for a person’s life.

In the case of Mark Duggan, an inquest jury has produced a controversial verdict. Here is a young man, allegedly acting as a courier for a nasty and violent criminal gang. An informant tells the police that Duggan is about to collect a gun and deliver it to the gang. Armed police set up a trap and stop a minicab. Duggan gets out as instructed and puts his hands in the air – according to the one witness who actually saw the incident clearly – and is immediately shot twice and dies at the scene. The police put out contradictory statements: Duggan was carrying a gun, wrapped in a sock (the witness says Duggan had a mobile phone in his hand). Duggan fired and wounded an officer (actually, the officer was hit by a ricochet from a shot fired from a police gun). And the police do not bother to inform Duggan’s family until they hear about it on the news. Five days of riots, arson, looting and further deaths ensue.

But there is a mystery: after Duggan has been shot, no-one can find his alleged gun until one turns up later in the grass verge, 20 feet away from the shooting. How did it get there?

Press reports the following day – we name the Daily Telegraph, a notorious right-wing source – claimed that Duggan, a ‘well-known gangster’, was armed, had opened fire first, and that a police officer’s life had been saved only because the bullet had struck his radio. It was a big, fat lie. Why do the police do this, make up stories to throw-off any possible line of enquiry in the media that might create doubt in the public mind? Can juries that are eventually constituted to decide on these cases really be impartial after being fed a load of panic-laden Scotland Yard PR guff? Well, it doesn’t matter, because in these cases, juries almost invariably move to acquit.

By a majority of 9 to 1, then, the 10-man jury finds that Duggan has in all probability thrown the gun 0ut of the window as the car is stopped and the police close in. Therefore he was unarmed at the time he was killed. This would technically make the killing unlawful; or, at the least, lead to an open verdict. So, instead, by 8-2, they decide that the police ‘lawfully’ killed him; in other words, their verdict is that the firearms officer had genuine cause to believe Duggan was armed and about to fire a gun witnesses said he did not have on his person at the time and that could not be found until some time after the event, at a considerable distance from the body.

In the heat of the moment, it is not an implausible explanation that the officer simply made a mistake. There was no gun, Duggan was surrendering, not about to fire; the reason he was being stopped was that the police had been forewarned he would be armed, so the simple act of raising his hands to surrender, with a black object – his phone – in one hand, could literally have ‘triggered’ an instinctive response in the officer to open fire.

This calls into question somewhat, the meaning of the key word in all of this: ‘lawful’. Because it seems to be self-defining: if there is reason to believe he is threatened, it is ‘lawful’ for the officer to shoot the suspect. If not, then not. So, it is entirely up to the officer him- or herself, supported by the often suspiciously collaborative testimony of his or her colleagues, to decide what is lawful – after the event.

American Followers will probably be amused that this is even an issue in funny old Britain. In America, police shoot and kill 1,600 suspects a year, not one every eighteen months.

So it’s not a problem confined to the UK. In 2012, for instance, police in Houston, Texas, called to the scene of an altercation, shot and killed Brian Claunch, a bipolar double-amputee in a wheelchair, when he brandished a ballpoint pen ‘aggressively’ after being refused a drink and a sandwich at 3 a.m. by his apartment-block supervisor. In California, 13-year-old child Andy Lopez was shot and killed by Santa Rosa police, who fired seven times after he failed to drop his weapon on command – a toy rifle. (Note: an almost exactly similar event occurred in November, 2014 in Cleveland, the dead child, Tamir Rice, in this case being only 12. This however took place against a nationwide wave of protests over incidents in which, specifically, three other young black men had been killed by white police investigating relatively minor offences, and Grand Juries had exonerated the officers without further consequence.)

Instinctive reactions, misperceived threats, reverting mindlessly to training… But I should like to explore a different explanation, that of ‘prior expectation’.

The Lopez killing took place just a day after a schoolteacher had been shot dead by a 12-year-old pupil at a school in Nevada. It was widely reported on the news. Children can be lethal too, you don’t need to be an adult to pull a trigger. And Lopez was Hispanic. He may have looked older, we don’t know. His English might not have been good enough to understand what was being shouted at him. We shall never know.

Father-of-two, Duggan was mixed-race, visibly a ‘black’ man. He was a known associate, if not a full member, of a criminal gang of black men. Any police officer would naturally be predisposed to anticipate that he might react violently on arrest and – being informed about the alleged gun – have already imagined a scenario in which he might have to open fire in self-defence. Although, it has to be said, he had no record of violence or possession of firearms.

Sportsmen and women are taught by psychologists to visualise every stage of their forthcoming event, so as to actualise their hoped-for victory mentally in advance of competing. The officer would have been on a hair-trigger alert and the shooting carried out while he was perhaps not fully in control of his own responses, but enacting a scene that was already played-out in his mind. Any gesture Duggan made would have been misinterpreted as a threat.

Just as, in the killing of the innocent Brazilian electrician Jean-Charles de Menezes in 2005, here was a darkish-skinned man carrying a backpack on the underground, so an entire team of anti-terrorism police assumed he must be a Middle Eastern terrorist involved with an earlier bomb outrage in London, and could therefore lawfully have seven bullets fired into his head at point-blank range in front of horrified passengers while other plain-clothes police were sitting on him in a desperate attempt to prevent him from triggering the bomb he was not in fact carrying. Subsequently, the police concocted a tissue of lies about what had happened; even inventing false rape allegations. The inquest jury returned an open verdict, one stop on the line away from unlawful killing; so no action, and the head of the unit responsible, Cressida Dick, was promoted to the rank of Commander.

These things don’t help.

Scottish father-of-three Henry Stanley was killed in North London in 1999 by police who, on hearing from an informant who thought he had overheard a man in a pub speaking with an ‘Irish’ accent, assumed that the wooden leg Stanley was carrying in a plastic bag to take home to fix a broken table must be a weapon; and that, being audibly Irish, he must be an IRA operative on active service and would obviously therefore be toting a rifle in public. He was not given a chance to explain otherwise, but despite the clearly prejudgemental nature of the armed police response, and an open inquest verdict, no policeman ever stood trial for Stanley’s killing.

Acting again on intelligence, in 1988 Operation Flavius was designed to intercept an apparently genuine IRA attack on British forces in Gibraltar. A plain-clothes unit of the SAS opened fire on the dockside without warning, and killed three IRA members on ‘active service’, one a woman, claiming later that one of them had made a sudden move towards a bag they assumed contained the detonator that would explode a car that turned out not to have a bomb in it after all (it was a dummy run). None of the terrorists was armed at the time; witnesses said they were surrendering. Verdict: lawful killing.

In 1983, armed police in an inner-London street opened fire on a Mini car at traffic lights, hitting 26-year-old film editor, Stephen Waldorf, eight times. He somehow survived. The assumption had been that he was an escaped prisoner, David Martin, who had absconded while on trial for the attempted murder of a police officer. The only reason they thought Waldorf was Martin was because the woman in the car with Waldorf resembled Martin’s girlfriend.  Two policemen were tried, and acquitted. But why had they shot at an innocent driver who was not even pointing a gun at them? Was it because he was believed to be an attempted ‘police-killer’, the worst kind of criminal the police can imagine?

In July 2012, an unnamed man was shot and wounded by armed police in the town of Knaphill, in Surrey. He was carrying a BB gun – a low-velocity, sublethal air weapon capable of firing ball-bearings – however it seems the reason he was shot was because he boasted to police that he had planted a bomb in the block of flats where he was living. The bomb squad was called, but found nothing. Residents had complained for months of drunken behaviour and rough sleepers. The suspect, who survived, was just a drunken, delusional idiot, no real threat to anyone. There are times when split-second decisions need to be made. It’s just that with hindsight, they’re not always the right ones.

And in 2010, alcoholic barrister Mark Saunders, drunk and depressed, fired a shotgun aimlessly out of the window of his London flat, breaking a window opposite, and was killed by five of the eleven bullets fired by police marksmen called to the scene. The police later claimed they had fired in self-defence, although Saunders could not effectively have injured anyone wearing a flak jacket with a shotgun at that range and the police had previously refused to allow his wife to enter the house and talk him down. Some witnesses described him as cheerful and calm that day, others that he was deranged and raving; while a taxi driver testified that Saunders had told him he felt that he was going to die. Lawful killing, although not under the Mental Health Act.

In all these cases, there was a prior assumption on the part of the police for possibly unconnected reasons that not only must the suspect be the guilty party, but that they would also be armed and dangerous, that they presented an immediate threat and there was no possible alternative than to deploy with live ammunition and to shoot to kill. In fact, it seems to have been the heightened prejudice – the ‘prior expectation’ – of the police units that led to the lethal reactions of armed response officers in situations where there was no credible, immediate threat to life.

It is also the case that the police feel they belong in a special category, as they themselves may become targets for random killings. Notorious cases include the 1966 murder of three policemen in London at the instigation of Harry Roberts, a career criminal with a grudge (Note: Roberts, 78, was finally released in December 2014 after serving 42 years. The Police Federation described the parole board’s decision as an insult); and the six-hour shooting spree in Northumberland in 2010 involving the deranged taxi driver Raoul Moat, during which he fired a shotgun at close range and blinded PC David Rathband, who later took his own life.  Then in 2012, came the deliberate murder by a smalltime Manchester hoodlum, Dale Cregan, of police officers Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes, at whom he threw a hand-grenade when (unarmed) they responded to a false 999 call he had got a friend to make. Immediately afterwards, he walked into a police station and turned himself in. Facing a long-tariff sentence for another two murders, he had just wanted to take a couple of coppers with him. Few people, I suspect, would have cared if he had been shot.

It may be an exaggeration therefore to call incidents of police shootings deliberate ‘executions’, as Mark Duggan’s family did when the curious verdict was read out; but they were, with hindsight, possibly avoidable misjudgements in situations of prior expectation, overreactions for which there seems to have been little or no consequence for the officers responsible. And it seems at least probable that the psychopathology of such incidents reflects a self-defensive presumption on the part of police that they themselves are the intended targets.

It is true that armed officers respond to three incidents a day in the UK, and manage to kill the wrong person relatively rarely – we should perhaps pass over the case of the blind man who was tasered (twice) because the officer thought his white stick was a Samurai sword; and the case of Sgt Smellie, the 6’7″ Special Patrol Group officer who batoned a 5’2″ disabled woman after she threw an empty orange-juice carton at him during a demonstration, and the judge ruled he had acted lawfully in self-defence. But yes, the police do a difficult and sometimes dangerous job, and mistakes are made. The problem is, they are so rarely admitted to.

The case of Ian Tomlinson brought the self-defensive tactics of police ‘conspiring’ to protect their own into sharp relief. During a demonstration outside a G8 meeting in London in 2009, the middle-aged newspaper seller was trying to  pass through an area where the police had deliberately confined a number of demonstrators for several hours, a controversial tactic known as ‘kettling’. As he passed some SPG police, CCTV shows him making a remark to one of them, PC Simon Harwood, an officer with a prior record of violence, who batoned him on the legs, then violently shoved him in the back. Tomlinson, an alcoholic man with a heart condition, collapsed to the ground, where he died from what was later found to be a ruptured liver.

The police promptly issued a number of statements trying to claim that Tomlinson had provoked the attack, while the first postmortem by a police pathologist reported that Tomlinson had simply collapsed and died of a heart attack. However, the incident had been recorded on video by an American bank worker and a newspaper campaign led to a second, independent postmortem that forced the Independent Police Complaints Commission to reopen the case. Despite an inquest verdict of unlawful killing, Harwood was later acquitted of a charge of manslaughter and dismissed from the force.

If ‘lessons’ are to be ‘learned’ – if ever – then the police ought perhaps to look at both the training of firearms officers, which perhaps overstresses the urgency to shoot first and ask questions later (I am irresistably reminded of the Monty Python sketch, where the self-defence class instructor commands the terrified pupil to: ‘Now, come at me with that banana!’ – of course, it is a little more serious than that); and at the need perhaps to mediate between the backroom controllers and the frontline officers so that the latter go into situations unprejudiced by prior ‘intelligence’ of a dubious kind (I am no expert).

There are also questions of why the inquiries into such incidents may take years to come to their inevitable, anodyne conclusions, since no British judge or jury ever seems willing to disbelieve the word of a policeman; why the police seldom if ever volunteer information after the event that might lead the press, public and politicians to conclude that there had been misjudgements and mistakes; why the supposedly Independent Police Complaints Commission often appears on the surface to be colluding with this process; and why the police are allowed to investigate themselves before successive, expensive independent judicial inquiries have to be set up to get at a more objective version of the truth?

It can be argued that we are asking our police to do an ever more complex, intrusive and ultimately impossible job. Funding cuts and pay freezes, too, have played their part in creating resentment and an embattled mentality. For that reason, we need greater transparency and honesty when things go wrong, as they inevitably will. The public are more willing to forgive an honest and speedy admission of error, than a concocted narrative of lies and evasions that can only result in a damaging loss of confidence when the truth finally emerges. But as the criminal law moves the police ever further into the murky realm of intent, ultimately of criminalising  ‘bad attitude’ – anticipating, as opposed to solving, crimes – the possibility of fatal error is ever-increasing.

Postscriptum

As I re-read this Post in April, 2014, astonishing revelations are emerging of apparently deep-seated criminality in the Metropolitan Police force during the 1990s. Thousands of documents relating to long-term anti-corruption investigations are said to have been ‘accidentally’ shredded before the enquiries were completed. The police response has been to claim that the shredding was deliberate, as the data had already been transferred to computer files. Unfortunately, the files had then been lost in an ‘accidental’ computer malfunction!

If a criminal suspect put up a defence like that, they would not be believed. At best it reveals incredible ineptitude. Worse was to follow, however. Some documents were not lost, it seems, and this month ‘found’ their way to the media. They suggest that investigating officers involved in a case where a manager was forced to rob his employer’s safe after his wife and daughter were snatched, had then decided it was such a good wheeze, that they conspired to carry out the same kidnapping on the same family themselves at some future date – until their plot was discovered!

This story has emerged in the wake of ongoing revelations, now the subject of yet another enquiry, that undercover police in the Met infiltrated a group of supporters close to the family of Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager murdered in an unprovoked attack by white racists at a South London bus stop in 1993, in order to spy on their campaign to force the police to improve the quality of their lackadaisical investigation. At one stage, the police had attempted to suggest that it was a gangland killing, for which the Lawrence family were somehow responsible. A report by Lord MacPherson concluded that the Met was ‘institutionally racist’. It has subsequently been suggested that a senior officer in the pay of the gangster father of one of the alleged killers, a corrupt relationship (denied, obviously) could have been responsible for the deliberate bungling of the investigation, that meant it was twenty years before any convictions were obtained.

Together with emerging evidence that South Yorkshire police may have deliberately concocted a cover-up on a massive scale in order to exonerate themselves of any suggestion that their mistakes may have led to the deaths of 96 football supporters in a stampede at the Hillsborough ground in Sheffield in 1989, (and the emerging evidence of widespread police inertia in the face of numerous complaints of organised sexual exploitation of female minors) it is surely impossible now for anyone to have faith that our police are not at least to some extent a state-within-a-state, entirely a law unto themselves.

Such revelations piling one upon another are a growing tragedy for those who believe in the rule of law, among whom there must, surely, still be a fair number of police officers who must feel desperately let down by all this?

Post-postscriptum

It is 29 January, 2015, and a report disguised under the anodyne title: ‘Digital communications’ has emerged, three weeks after the event, from the Home Office, admitting that a computer disc containing the transcripts of three judicial enquiries into some of the events reported above, including the names of protected witnesses, have been ‘lost in the post’.

A junior civil servant has been suspended pending enquiries. Tsk, tsk. (Surely we are not still using discs, without backup? Was this a floppy disk, or a CD? Surely we have encoded electronic transfer protocols rendering it unnecessary to rely on a 63p stamp? And surely what is put on disc remains on the hard-drive? No?)

Perhaps the officers tasked with looking for the slipped disc might find it hidden under the same rug as the unofficial Dickens report on orgies involving the abuse of children in care and possible sexual murders carried-on by ‘senior Tory politicians and members of the security establishment’ in the 1970s? Something we may never find, now that former Home Secretary Leon Brittan has conveniently died.

– UB

Post-Post-Postscriptum

This story will run and run, I fear.

In the wake of riots in the USA over further excusable murders of black men and women by apparently unaccountable white police officers who have been said officially to be ‘out of control’, we hear now that the ‘Independent’ Police Complaints Commission in the UK has decided there is no case to answer with regard to the so-called ‘Battle of Orgreave’ – an incident that took place 28 years ago at the height of a national strike by miners, when (at the instigation of Mrs Thatcher, who may have illegally diverted public funds to buy the operation) several hundred pickets were lured into a field and attacked by over a thousand foot- and mounted-police.

The IPCC line is that it was all so long ago, it would be impossible to charge anyone. A curious argument, since the police are currently involved in several large-scale enquiries into what were often fairly minor cases of sexual indiscretions in the 1960s and 70s, and the IPCC has no hesitation in prosecuting those to the hilt. In fact, at least four officers are still serving; while, once again, it is South Yorkshire police force that is involved; notorious for their cover-up of their own possible culpability in the Hillsborough football stadium disaster.

The IPCC also argues that, as none of the 95 miners arrested was ultimately convicted of charges of riotous assembly (carrying possible 20-year sentences), basically the fact that senior police officers concocted a load of bollocks (also known as conspiring to pervert the course of justice) against the miners is not of serious importance. This totally ignores the point that the cases were dismissed precisely because the police evidence was so blatantly corrupt that even policemen who were there at the time are complaining that their subsequent attempts to bring the truth to the attention of the authorities were overruled.

Yet we are to trust politicians to sanction mass surveillance activities, which will almost certainly be Home Secretary Theresa May’s version of implementing David Anderson QC’s new report recommending judicial oversight. Apparently, the police are also now seeking powers to examine ‘weblogs’. Oh dear….

Hi, fellas. Kettle’s on.

These men are just asking for it

Highly intelligent people can often do quite stupid things.

We woke up this morning to the news that Professor John Ashton, the country’s most senior scientific adviser in the field of public health, was arguing publicly for a debate on reducing  the legal age of consent to sex, from 16 to 15.

Now, Ashton probably has perfectly good, public-health-type reasons for arguing this, although the fact that so many young people are already having sex before they are 16 ought not to be one of them. Bad cases do not make good laws. And he is probably right: 15 is no longer a child, lowering the age might paradoxically reduce teenage pregnancies because younger girls would seek advice earlier (of course, boys aren’t involved), German frauleins are legally at-it by 14 and it ought to be up to individuals, not the law, to determine what is appropriate behaviour in their own particular circumstances.

One assumes, too, that Prof Ashton’s intention was not to invite a barrage of death threats from the piss-stained-sofa brigade, spurred on by tabloid headlines and even now reaching for their sharpened Tweeters, shouting: “Kill the paedo Prof!” But on past form that’s what is quite likely to happen next.

Nor, I suppose, was he mentally prepared for the instant clouds of Tory steam emanating from the little indignation boiler kept at Number 10, where dwells a young, married Prime Minister blessed with an entire quiverfull of potentially molestable juveniles.

So, what did he expect would happen if he announced what he was merely thinking?

Ashton might have taken a leaf out of the well-publicised book of his fellow eminent scientist, the aptly named Professor David Nutt. The day after it was extensively reported that another young clubber had died from ingesting some industrial quantity of bespoke designer substance, Prof Nutt took to the airwaves to invite prospective investors to fund the manufacture of a new drug he has invented, that mimics all of the happy results of consuming alcohol without any of the harmful side-effects. (Side issue: sounds really boring.)

Prof Nutt is, or was, the country’s leading specialist in Psychopharmacology – the effects of chemicals on the human brain. Unfortunately, the Government committee he led researching into this subject a few years ago recommended the legalisation of ecstacy and cannabis, or at least a downgrading of the categories of certain drugs, maybe even heroin, I don’t really remember. The committee was instantly disbanded, and Prof Nutt sacked, for daring to make this scientifically respectable suggestion which, naturally, flew in the face of all that is holy regarding the War On Drugs, widely thought outside the office of the editor of the Sun to have been lost almost before it began.

It had perhaps not occurred to him that the first stumbling-block he might encounter was the Rt Hon David Blunkett – possibly the most reactionary and headline-averse Home Secretary we have had in living memory.

As a result of the Nutty Prof’s hostage to fortune, providing the Government with a fresh opportunity to restate and reimpose an illiberal policy on the nation’s recreational drug users, the designer-highs industry has flourished as never before. Sinister East Europeans are able to afford houses with three-storey basements in Knightsbridge, and many young Brits have died from the unlicensed psychopharmacological tinkerings of their imported Chinese lab technicians. Collateral damage, apparently.

Prof Ashton, on the other hand, has – pardon the phrase – come up against the strangely puritanical attitude of young Britons to sex. To summarise their arguments, sex is generally to be frowned on. Not a single interviewee under 20 has been found to be in favour of reducing the age of consent; regardless of the fact that, until 100 years ago, we didn’t have an age of consent. Families took responsibility for policing their own children, the overnight ‘sleepover’ at a ‘friend’s house’ had not yet been invented. The working-class would breed like rats, whatever the law said. Perhaps he should have consulted his own children, before risking his reputation.

These eminent men need to take a reality check. They can be as clever and sensible and reasoned and expert as they like. They can even be absolutely bang-on right about stuff.

But they need to leave it to stupid politicians to make the decisions, if they know what’s good for them.

Postscriptum

As I have been writing this, the Attorney General of Northern Ireland has proposed a moratorium on the expanding number of expensive police investigations, coroners’ inquests and lawyer-led inquiries into illegal acts, murders basically, carried on over 15 years ago during the so-called Troubles; pointing out, not without reason, that it is costing £millions and preventing policemen and lawyers from catching-up with today’s backlog of unruliness. He too is now a headless corpse, having been decapitated by the snapping teeth of the Prime Minister and just about every victim support group, who now comprise the majority of the population.

What on earth did he expect? Silly man.