Until very very recently, I would have expected the competition for the worst comment piece published by the Guardian in 2010 to have been easily been won by one of the innumerable post-May ‘How dare the Liberal Democrats decide not to agree with me on everything’ articles.

But then, out of left field on the last day of the year – which they must have been storing it up for, so Toynbee or Milne wouldn’t have the time to come up with a competitor of equally moronic depth – came this piece of spectacular asshattery.

According to Stephen Kinzer, it seems the people of Africa – and Rwanda in particular – aren’t in need of any human rights, because they’re perfectly happy without them. Yes, we should stop complaining about anything anywhere because he’s been to Rwanda and he thinks that the people there are happy with their lot. The Guardian has published many bizarre articles in the past – I can recall very odd pro-Milosevic articles finding a home there – but I never thought I’d see them publishing an argument like this:

The question should not be whether a particular leader or regime violates western-conceived standards of human rights. Instead, it should be whether a leader or regime, in totality, is making life better or worse for ordinary people.

which sounds like the sort of thing even the Chinese government might regard as a bit extreme to make as a public statement.

The thought that comes to mind from reading that statement is whether people would feel better if the law allowed them to assault – without any consequences – Stephen Kinzer or anyone else espousing similar views. Surely then, if that was the case, Mr Kinzer would agree that he has no need of his ‘western-conceived standards of human rights’ that stop him being assaulted in the street as the government would be making life better for ordinary people? Or can such trade-offs only be made in the name of other people, living in far away lands of which we know nothing?

(story originally found via David Allen Green – aka Jack of Kent – on Twitter)

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This, apparently, is how reporting is done nowadays

I’ve been mentioned in the Daily Mirror. Sadly, not for any great achievement on my part, or coming out with some great opinion that needed to be heard by the people, but because they can’t be bothered to report a story properly. I was one of several people who tweeted from the Lib Dem Special Conference yesterday about Tom McNally and Chris Huhne pledging to leave the Government if the Human Rights Act goes but I was the one named as a source by the Mirror – possibly because I’m a councillor and say so on my Twitter profile – rather than any of the many others who mentioned it as well.

Of course, a decent journalist might have contacted Huhne or McNally themselves, but why go through all the hassle of having to work out how to get in touch with a Liberal Democrat minister when your deadline’s pressing, and you can just do all your work by following Twitter hashtags?

Tomorrow’s Mirror headline: Lib Dems are secretly alien lizards from space. Though I am kind of hoping some crazed follower of David Icke will one day find that and hold it up as proof that the Turquoise Messiah is right.

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Reality ‘permits’ real war crimes

I wonder how this report came to be created:

Human rights groups played various games to see if any broke humanitarian laws that govern what is a war crime.

The study condemned the games for violating laws by letting players kill civilians, torture captives and wantonly destroy homes and buildings.

It said game makers should work harder to remind players about the real world limits on their actions.

I’m suspecting someone coming into the office on Monday morning after playing on the XBox all weekend, realising they haven’t done the report they were meant to have completed by then and then claiming that the weekend’s activities were actually research.

However, in terms of the complaints, I’m wondering what the ‘real world limits’ are on these actions, and how they differ from what stops a player doing these in a game. Yes, there are conventions and laws against these things, but it’s still down to the conscience of the individual as to whether they commit a war crime. Yes, the game may punish them after the event for what they’ve done – and, according to the report “some games did punish the killing of civilians and reward strategies that tried to limit the damage the conflict” – but it’s surely a question of psychology as much as it as a question of law as to why and how people deviate from the ‘accepted’ behaviour in wartime.


Welcome to 2008, and the news that the UK is one of the world’s ‘endemic surveillance socities’ (via Duncan). The good news is, of course, that we are still capable of keeping up with the superpowers at some things as the USA, Russia and China all receive the same rating.

And remember that Gordon Brown still wants to make us number 1 in this list, not just sharing that title with anybody – we’re still set to get an ID card scheme that would be the “most invasive in the world”, and doesn’t that just make you proud to be British? Don’t worry if it doesn’t, the cameras can’t work out how proud or patriotic you’re feeling at any particular moment. Yet.

Letting them die

From Dan Hardie:

I’ve had emails from three people who claim to be – and who almost certainly are- Iraqi former employees of the British Government. All three say that they and their former colleagues are still at risk of death for their ‘collaboration’.

I can email and telephone this man: so can any Foreign Office official. It should not be impossible to verify his story and then send him the funds he needs to get to a less unsafe Arab country. But that is not happening.

Here’s an email exchange we had the other day. My questions are in italics.

1) Are you still in Iraq? ‘Yes, I’m still hidden in somewhere in the hell of Basra.’

2) Is there any reason you cannot travel to the British Army base at Basra Airbase to ask for asylum? ‘Of course, we cannot travel to BIA (Basra International Airbase) due to the militia keep watched all the ways to BIA and they got their own fake check points there although, we claimed for asylum through the internet (we sent our application to the claim office at BIA) . But we afraid that the British are going to take a long time to process our claims also we are very worried if they will offer just some money instead of asylum, please sir inform all the British people that we looking for asylum and just the asylum will save our lives, also we can’t travel to Syria anymore to claim for asylum there as the Syrian government issued new conditions for Iraqis who want to travel to their country.’

3) Can you tell me how and when the militias threatened you?‘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.’

4) Do you have any family members who are also threatened by militias or who depend on you? If so, how many of them are there and how old are they? ’Of course, my family depends on me especially in the finance side as I’m the older son between seven sons and daughters they got, on other hand my parents cannot working as they are very old.’

Go read the rest.

I am offended by your right to be offended

Is it still ultra stylish to use the phrase ‘blogging up a storm’ or is it rather infra dig? Well, whatever may be the phrase of the moment applies to Alex Wilcock, who’s written a series of excellent posts on religion and anti-discrimination laws here, here and here.

Ian Blair must resign says Alex. But don’tworry if he does go, because Tarique Ghaffur is putting in a bid to replace him as the senior police office most likely to suggest stupid things. Yes, because coming up with plans to stop the growing menace of flag-burning and the wearing of balaclavas on demonstrations should be the main priority of our police forces. I’m sure we’re all finding it impossible to walk down the street at the moment because of the epidemic of people burning coloured pieces of cloth.

Jock suggests a National Flag Burning Day though also notes that:

It might be funny if the call didn’t come a few days before half the country goes out and burns a token Catholic, or, as Lewes sometimes does, an effigy of the Pope.

Though it would be interesting to note how any such law would define a flag. Say, for example, I had something that looked like a Union Flag, but the red diagonals were in the middle of the white ones, not slightly off-centre – is that a flag, or something that just happens to look very similar to one? What about a Stars and Stripes with 49 stars or 14 stripes, or a Tricolore where the three colours weren’t of equal size? What if the newspaper I use to light my bonfire with has a flag printed on it, or has a photo of a flag within – does that count?

And what if I burn the flag of a police force to protest about the fact that it’s their job as servants of the people to enforce the laws we already have, not demand new ones?