#londonriots Looking for answers in the wrong places

August 10, 2011

If you want to know what’s really behind the rioting of the last few days in London and half a dozen other UK cities, all you need to do is understand the social dislocations, anger and cynicism that tell the real story of the numbers:

Unemployment statistics in Britain are sadly vague, but a reasonable estimate of youth unemployment just in Hackney is 33 percent.

The figure is from Michael Goldfarb an NPR correspondent who lives in the Hackney area. He goes on:

What happens after the rioting subsides is difficult to predict. Entry level jobs are in short supply these days, and as the government’s austerity measures begin to bite here, it’s not likely to get better any time soon.

Why London exploded last night

Unfortunately, I haven’t heard many commentators (liberal or conservative) talk about this. Instead we get lines like this

This type of coverage is not helpful

[anchorstooge] Many commentators say youth unemployment is behind the riots but [insert name of expert] from [insert name of rightwing thinktank] believes its just a bunch of sodding criminals who’ve been pampered too long by the nanny state

[expert, speaking in posh condesending tone that fits his double-barrel moniker] These young people come from intergenerationally dysfunctional families and they have a hand-out mentality. They don’t have to work, they just get pregnant or go on the dole. They are work-shy gangsters and by-the-way most of them are black, but we won’t mention that.

That type of commentary – criminalising the young rioters and blaming them for their existence – is underpinned superficial coverage (like in a warzone) by anxious-looking mainly white correspondents standing alongside police barricades in the early afternoon and vox-popping the gawking public.

It is stenographic churnalism of the worst order. It’s not good, but it’s understandable. The black, brown and poor white communities of the UK and elsewhere get almost no coverage of their daily lives. They live in estates surrounded by poverty, only able to secure low-wage jobs (if they can get work) and they live hand-to-mouth, day-to-day.

But then I found this little gem, recorded straight from the TV, but it’s brilliant.

I was pretty gobsmacked that Piers Morgan tweeted that the rioters should be treated like terrorists and shot, but it isn’t really that surprising. I guess it is his gall, under fire for phone hacking, and trying to rehabilitate his dusty image.

Then Darcus Howe pops up and gives the clearest and most eloquent defence of young people in the UK today. It is shocking when he mentions that Mark Duggan’s head was blown off by the police bullets. That’s yet to be tested, but the BBC anchordrone is clearly rattled and she should be.

Howe has a grand dignity and he let’s her know well and truly.

Fantastic remedy to the wall of BS.

Howe is right, it’s time to start listening to these young voices, but more importantly give them a future without random and constant police harrassment and give them work or education. Sure, many of these youngsters may be unemployed, but some are not. Some are also probably students who took part in other recent protests in the UK. They are not terrorists. But the Daily Star‘s front page is typical of what the British press is saying up and down the country.

The point is that the reasons behind what’s happening are complex and the broadcast media in general and TV in particular has so far not done a great job of analysing the causes. Instead it seems that large sections of the British media have fallen in behind David Cameron’s dangerous police-state rhetoric.

I’ve only heard one black voice on the radio (in Australia admittedly) making the absolutely valid point that all reporters need to consider. He said something along the lines of:

If the media is going to call this “mindless” violence, then it also has to ask the question: What makes these young people mindless?

He’s absolutely right. Part of the problem here is the news value of proximity. I don’t just mean physical proximity to the riots, but also social and cultural proximity and affinity between the reporters (mainly middle class and educated) and the ruling class. That’s why the very same correspondents who were four months ago covering riots and large protests in Cairo were telling a very different story to they one they’re telling about London.

In Egypt the media dismissed Mubarek’s ravings about rioting gangsters and focused on making the young people in Tahir square into revolutionary heroes and martyrs.

The lives of young men and women in Hackney is not that different to those of the same young people who so bravely chased off the (now) evil Mubarek regime.

The same root causes underlie both situations. The difference is that in Hackney the local political culture is completely flattened under media-driven consumer lust. The same issues and desires motivate the youth, their expression takes a different form.

Two other young black voices I heard on the radio this morning sum this up very well. Two women (17 and 18) were vox-popped. They had taken part in the night’s rampage and at 9.30 in the morning (Tuesday in London) were still in the street drinking from a bottle of wine they had looted. They’d been drinking all night and described what they’d been doing as fun.

But the telling comment they made was that the real target of their anger was “all the rich people”. That’s a pretty good gut instinct and it’s ultimately right. Unfortunately, these two women saw the local shopkeepers as representatives of these rich people. That’s a mistake, but it really only masks a deeper sentiment that does go toward explaining their anger and their sense of joy at the destruction they had helped to cause.

It was, in their view, no doubt an attack on the system that oppresses them.

That’s why the politics of this are so important.

Now the backlash will begin and it will be fuelled by racism. The Milwall fans who were supposedly defending their turf were all white and most likely target recruits for the English Defence League which recruits off the terraces (if not already members).

If the media continues to swallow and promote the spin from Downing street and the political establishment it will give the racists heart and the situation will get worse – a lot worse – before it gets any better.

The heavy police presence and aggressive pattern of arrests that will now rain down on Hackney and the other suburbs where disturbances occurred will only add fuel to the fire.


A new category of terrorist – young drunks!

September 15, 2010

I am assuming, for the moment, that this story is true:

A drunken moment of rage has left one UK teen banned from the US for life.

17-year-old Luke Angel admits he sent US President Barrack Obama an abusive email where he called him “a prick”.

Mr Angel told the Daily Mail that incident happened after he had too many drinks before sitting down to watch a TV program about the September 11 attacks in 2001.

He claims he was so incensed by what he saw he sent the email to the White House.

According to the Daily Mail, the FBI intercepted the message and contacted UK police.

Local officers then paid Mr Angel a visit, informing him that he was now banned from the US for life.

“I don’t really care. My parents aren’t very happy about it,” Mr Angel said.

“The police who came round took my picture and told me I was banned from America forever.”

According to Bedfordshire Police, Mr Angel was banned by the US because he sent “an email to the White House full of abusive and threatening language.”

Mr Angel faces no criminal charges.

The story has been reported by the BBC, the Daily Mail and other British media.

Unbelievable really. What a waste of FBI resources. At this rate if you can be banned for abusive emails to the president then the FBI will have to round-up supporters of the Tea Party movement and send them into exile.

The call Obama a ‘prick’ and worse everyday. Some of those fucknuckles have real actual guns, and unlike a tipsy 17 year-old Brit thousands of kilometres away, they have an opportunity to use them.


Wikileaks – an enemy of the State, just like Little Brother

April 7, 2010

The semi-underground Wikileaks site has become a news story in the last 48 hours thanks to the disturbing video of two Reuters staffers being gunned down in Baghdad in 2007.

Last year the site was named as the Amnesty International new media site of the year.

The April 2010 video released by Wikileaks [available at EM here] shows a group of Iraqis walking in a neighbourhood where the American military was staging a large “counter-insurgency” operation.

The Reuters men were there to cover the story on the ground. Unfortunately two trigger-happy Apache pilots mistook a telephoto lens for an AK47 and opened fire. Twelve people were killed, two children were wounded.

Wikileaks used a crowd source of hackers to decode the encryption on the Apache “gun camera” footage that was leaked to them by whistleblowers.

Now the US military and its Washington think-tank apologists are trying to hose down the story and imply that the Apache pilots were only doing their jobs.

No surprises there; but I didn’t know that in 2008 the American military machine has also listed Wikileaks as an enemy of the State.

This document is a classified (SECRET/NOFORN) 32 page U.S. counterintelligence investigation into WikiLeaks. “The possibility that current employees or moles within DoD or elsewhere in the U.S. government are providing sensitive or classified information to WikiLeaks.org cannot be ruled out”. It concocts a plan to fatally marginalize the organization. Since WikiLeaks uses “trust as a center of gravity by protecting the anonymity and identity of the insiders, leakers or whistleblowers”, the report recommends “The identification, exposure, termination of employment, criminal prosecution, legal action against current or former insiders, leakers, or whistleblowers could potentially damage or destroy this center of gravity and deter others considering similar actions from using the WikiLeaks.org Web site”. [the document is no longer available at Wikileaks]

This is bizarre and shows just how twisted the whole concept of “homeland security” is. It reminds me of the plot in a great Cory Doctorow novel I’m reading at the moment: Little Brother.

In this book, the hero Marcus Yarrow faces down the Department of Homeland Security after a terrorist bomb destroys the Oakland Bay bridge in San Francisco. The DHS locks down the city and ups the surveillance in school classrooms, on the street and via electronic devices so that everyone is under their gaze 24/7 (almost).

Yarrow is a 17 year-old school kid who’s into online gaming and computer coding. After his illegal detention by DHS agents, Marcus and his friends organise a jamming campaign using darknet software that plays on the Xbox.

In an interesting twist, Marcus and his family seek the help of a dead trees “investigative journalist” to expose the DHS clampdown on civil liberties.

I find this interesting because it possibly shows the limits of social media in terms of making a really big story public and driving public opinion.

It’s probably also a comment on the age gap. Yarrow’s father is old school so doesn’t understand the jamming culture of his kid.

I haven’t quite finished Little Brother yet; but I can’t wait to get home and read the last 80 pages.

You should get hold of a copy; it’s an interesting book and an important statement about how Homeland Security has become a war against the American people. You can also check out a fan page for the book on Facebook.

Writer, blogger and cool geek Cory Doctorow

Doctorow is behind the technology and culture blog Boing Boing and I like him even more now that he’s just published an anti iPad manifesto.

In particular there’s this biting swipe at the dead tree media:

I think that the press has been all over the iPad because Apple puts on a good show, and because everyone in journalism-land is looking for a daddy figure who’ll promise them that their audience will go back to paying for their stuff.

The parallels between the military’s attitude to Wikileaks and the DHS crackdown on civil liberties is eirie.


Human rights – [dis]honoured in the breach

March 25, 2010

You’ve gotta love that  worm and cuddly, short and brutish Minister for Social Development, Paula Bennett. A “Westie”, a single mum and a battler, who through hard graft and sheer rat cunning, has made it to John Key’s illustrious front bench.

“Bruiser” Bennett has once again demonstrated  she’s made of sterner stuff than most with her “damn the torpedoes” approach to welfare reform. When informed by the Attorney General that sections of the Orwellian-themed Social Assistance (Future Focus) Bill breach the Bill of Rights Act, her Churchillian response was a two-fisted “Idongivafuck”

The Attorney-General is required to draw Parliament’s attention to breaches but Governments are not obliged to act on them and routinely ignore breaches. [Some welfare reforms breach rights]

Bennett believes (or so she’s obliged to say) that the discrimination on the grounds of gender, marital status and family status is fair enough and that plenty of Kiwis will support her:

“I think that is a discrimination that most New Zealanders will see as being fair and reasonable.”

Where does it stop? Some New Zealanders might think discrimination against Gays is “fair and reasonable”, or against Polynesians, Koreans, Indians or Chinese. Read the rest of this entry »


Am I paranoid?

March 22, 2010

The last time I visited those great United States, in September 2008, I flew all the way from LA to NYC with a couple of stops on the way and didn’t really have too much trouble. The time before that in 2007 the locks on my bags were broken open by the Transport Safety Authority and Moac & I had to de-shoe in St Louis one time.

But on my way out of the US in the first week of October 2008 – British Airways to London – I was told that my name had appeared on a US Government “watch list”.

Nothing came of it really. I was allowed to travel and the woman who told me really played it down.

But today I got a notification that the United States Embassy in Wellington is following my blog via Twitter.

USA out of my Tweets

I  sent a polite message asking why the embassy wants to follow me and also seeking to know who the embassy staffer is who’s charged with keeping tabs on my blog.

I will block them tomorrow  if they don’t reply.

Am I paranoid?

I really am egotistical enough to think my words are pearls**, but unless there’s some closet radical working in the Embassy mailroom, I don’t think my brand of commentary would be to the Ambassador’s tastes.

This unwelcome attention comes on the first business day after I published my post supporting the Waihopai three.

We should all be self-aware enough to know that our electronic lives are not secure or private, but I do find this a little weird and sinister.

**Dribblejaws alert: That’s a joke, calm down


Three strikes = bad policy: mortgaging the future for a root

January 20, 2010

Let’s face it, the Government’s “three strikes” legislation is bad policy, but good politics.

It might also get two little Hitlers a rub’n’tug from Laura Norder.

Getting tough on crime is pure populism. Criminologists are united in arguing that it doesn’t work for a bunch of reasons, but that doesn’t deter the little Hitlers.

Read the rest of this entry »


Whale(b)oil Slater hooked?

January 5, 2010

I have no beef with Whaleoil, but I am interested in his ongoing court case.

Blogger Cameron Slater (aka Whaleoil) has got himself into a bit of legal trouble and inadvertently made himself bottomfeeder food for the “repeaters” of the “Lame Stream” media that he so detests.

Even so, one gets the impression that Whaleoil is actually enjoying his 15 minutes of notoriety.

My impres­sion of the court sys­tem for peo­ple on first appear­ance is that it was about as organ­ised as a free for all piss up at a South Auck­land pub on Fri­day night.

Then I went down stairs and was met by about 30 repeaters and cam­era guys and photographers.

Here is the results of all that.

NZ Her­ald

New­stalkZB

TV3

TVNZ

Stuff (Video at stuff)

Eat that Far­rar, Every news chan­nel is cov­ered includ­ing NZPA which I don’t have access to. I don’t think this is going the way it was sup­posed to.

His brief appearance on a handful of charges in Auckland today (Tuesday 5 Jan) was ironically in courtroom adjacent to that in which yet another entertainer (loosely-defined) was remanded on child sex charges.

Although I can’t help won­der­ing if it is pure coin­ci­dence that I appeared the very same day as the “Come­dian” also appeared. Part of me thinks that was a stitch up.  [Court @ gotcha…]

So far Mr Slater has repeatedly said he will defend the charges that he breached a number of suppression orders and published information that might tend to identify a person with name suppression. The charges refer to two cases: one that was recently before the courts involving an “entertainer” who successfully argued for name suppression on the grounds that his earning capacity might be affected adversely if he was named. The second case is current and involves a former New Zealand Olympian who is facing serious charges of assault and sexual assault.

In both cases Whaleoil identified the men who have name suppression using a series of pictorial images to stand in for their names. In the case of the entertainer (who copped a guilty plea and got off with a warning) even PM John Key claims to know the name; so there seems little point in continuing the charade that the name’s suppressed. However, it is permanently suppressed, which is lucky for the guy, but not so lucky for his victim.

In the second case, as I understand it, the pictogram was a little harder to decipher. However, on the face of it, an offence may have occurred. If you look at the relevant sections of the law, it seems fairly clear cut.

As I read it, in cases involving a victim of sexual assault, publication of details that might identify the person – even the name of the accused – can be suppressed. In the entertainer case this was not the reason, but in the ongoing case of the Olympian it appears to be the reason for suppression.

Read the rest of this entry »


More police misconduct – Met threat to press photographers

April 25, 2009

Back in March, the UK Guardian published video footage showing how the police were surveilling protestors and journalists at an environment protest. Well, after apologising for their actions, which included following journos into a McDonalds and threatening them, the Metropolitan police were at it again during the recent G20 protests in London.

A new video has surfaced showing the cops threatening to arrest news photographers covering the protest. The cops apologised again, but they obviously don’t mean it. The UK seems to be moving inexorably in the direction of a police state  like Orwell’s Airstrip One in 1984.

This comes on top of loads of evidence that the cops were heavy-handed in their treatment of the largely peaceful protests and the death of Ian Tomlinson, a guy who had nothing to do with the G20 protest, but was just walking past the cops. He was pushed to the ground, he died a few hours later.

[Tx Colleen]

BTW: While checking out stuff for this post I came across a good UK blog that used to be called “Airstrip One”, but is now known as Did you steal my country.  The guys behind DYSMC describe themselves as conservative(ish) libertarians, but they write well on interesting and useful topics. I also came across this bitter post Life on Airstrip One at OpenDemocracy.


Journalism – the dangerous business

April 22, 2009

I wrote recently about the moral purpose of journalism, in part I noted:

The bottom line is that, consciously or unconsciously, reporters and editors often concede their independence to political actors. Equally, states often go to extreme lengths to coerce or cajole the news media into toeing the line

There’s another deep philosophical argument: Is the conscience of the journalist easily equated with the broader public conscience?

In this context, one of journalism’s most important roles is that of awakening the public’s conscience. Journalists must decide when the alarm must be sounded and how best to do so.

(The Global Journalist, p.4)

I am still thinking about these issues, they’re not yet fully resolved in my own head, but I think it’s a debate that anyone with an interest in honest, truthful and insightful news media should engage in.

However, it’s never too late to sound the alarm: journalism is a dangerous business for courageous reporters who threaten powerful political and economic interests.

Read the rest of this entry »


I agree with Rosemary

December 28, 2008

Well, the shoe-throwing Iraqi journalist has certainly sparked a lot of interest worldwide. Opinion is divided about whether or not his actions are legitimate, or beyond the journalist’s ethical pale.
In this weekend’s Sunday Star Times, columnist Rosemary McLeod says that 29 year-old reporter, Muntadar al-Zeidi, is her “man of the year”.

That might be a step too far for some, but Rosemary’s column lays out some interesting 21st century ethical principles and acknowledges that reporters do have opinions and also a right to express them.

Read the rest of this entry »