BBC images of our valiant PM in action in Basra and Camp Bastion.Having oneself photographed in front of soldiers is a George Bush trick and the news channels fall for it every time. Those who are themselves cowards are often keen to be photographed with soldiers.
The surreal course of the Gordon Brown war ministry continues in Basra where the prime minister announces (and the media solemnly recites) that Britain is about to hand “control” of Basra to the “Iraqi government”. This is the government whose writ does not run outside the walls of the Emerald City. And is now going to “control” Basra! Put out more flags.
How absurd a statement is this? One need only start with the obvious point that Britain does not and never has controlled Basra, that it is in fact controlled by rival political-religious-criminal-&-surrogate militias and the British cower at the airport, and even the supply of photo opportunities has dried up. But if Gordon needs to pretend, to get the army out of there, then so be it.
Then to Kabul where Gordon the war premier inspected Karzai’s honour guard and one presumes was not introduced to some of the narco-terrorists who make up the nice Mr Karzai’s government.
Then to camp Bastion – Little Britain meets Carry on Up the Kyber – where British soldiers are supplying new photo opportunities for politicians. The focus breathlessly repeated by all correspondents is Musa Qala. The fatuity of this operation is exquisitely revealed by Jason Burke in today’s Guardian.
As for poor Musa Qala: a victory full of sound and fury signifying nothing except that we will declare ourselves to have won every one of these battles until we lose the war It was evident that the Taliban decided not to fight to hold the town, although many civilians left before the fighting, and are now exposed to what are said to be terrible weather conditions, not to speak of prowling air strikes.
Meanwhile, the ANA soldiers are having a good loot of the place and as soon as some corridors are opened, we will soon have photo opportunities with shirt-sleeved reconstruction people from Dfid. The BBC and Sky are ready to come in with crews for that.
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Last year the British stormed in to the same place, killed lots of young men, then “victoriously” departed because there were not enough Nato soldiers to sustain the occupation. The cover for this was a “deal” with the local elders who promised to keep out the Taliban (who?). This victory hailed by the BBC was obviously absurd. The “Taliban” promptly returned as soon as the British had left. Even more fundamental definitional problem: who are the Taliban? The best explanation is that the Taliban are more or less anyone killed in these operations. Even if the young men slaughtered in such quantity by the British army are possibly not Taliban at all, but merely defending themselves against northern mercenaries and British and American infidels.
Meanwhile, Gordon has announced that British troops will be in Afghanistan for 10 more years. This needs to be read against previous forecasts of 30 years and 20 years. But what is the end state? We are there to establish – what exactly? If Gordon has a vision for Afghanistan, it would be interesting to hear him express it.
But ground reality has nothing to do with it. This is entirely political. So with this new 10-year plan for Afghanistan, Gordon has advanced once again the victory horizon. At the current rate of progress, in six more months, we will have won this war, five years ago.
The BBC in Hellmand province: inadequate journalism
I am not among those who believe the BBC has recently degraded since degradation has been its default state for some time. Those who are conscientious objectors to the licence fee are nonetheless invited to review last night’s episode of the flagship BBC current affairs programme, Panorama, restored to prime time, which was last night devoted to the Great Game in Afghanistan.
You can read the Dangerous Book for Boys story on the BBC website here. The story is remote from the actuality, which Panorama censored. This censored story is of unseeable Afghan civilians whose home is bombed then invaded by the British Army, alongside doped-up allies, and subsequently further trashed, in the cause of a ridiculous and ultimately failed military operation, which far from reflecting positively on the British effort in Afghanistan, reveals it to be deeply flawed and actually insane.
This was an example of a program given over lock, stock and smoking barrel to the MoD press office. Amidst all the bang bang, most of it consisting of massive consumption of ammunition directed in no particular direction, it was a classic example of what John Birt used to call the bias against understanding. Not even a perfunctory space is given to those who might suggest that what we were seeing was something completely different to what the script was proposing. The website version attempts a tiny bit more distance. But watch the TV show for yourself. It’s on this link .
It was a filmic narrative constructed from tropes ordered by the MoD, and with inconvenient truths not even filmed, on orders of the MoD. This is why the BBC is a state broadcaster and not a public broadcaster.
The film shows a patrol of British soldiers and their dope-smoking allies from the Afghan National Army sallying forth in Hellmand province to confront the “Taliban.” The Taliban is anyone who defends themselves from this rag-tag band, it seems.
The patrol advanced in glorious formation across the Afghan Plain in a shot borrowed from David Lean. Then they get down into the more verdant area by the river where many of the compounds have been deserted by inhabitants who seem unconvinced that the British are welcome visitors.
Eventually the soldiers make contact with “Taliban” over on the edge of the settlement and call in a few bombs. Enormous explosion follows. Filmed beautifully. Not close enough. Another one. Pictures even better. The soldiers have no idea who or what they are ordering bombed. To say this is a shambles is not, however, on the Panorama agenda.
Advancing up and attacking a new compound they find Afghan women and children, hiding in the remains. The young men are obviously out in the fields, shooting at the British.
We do not see the Afghan civilians whose house has been bombed by the British because the MoD “minder” forbids the BBC crew from filming this. Nor do we ever see the minder. Nor do we see any of the considerable number of British casualties, who are suffering not from gunshots, but from heat exposure. So this is a war with unseen British casualties and unseen Afghan victims. Convenient, isn’t it? Lots of bang bang – but we miss the essential consequences of this operation. And the real director, the man from the ministry, is completely unseen. Excluding the diaster this has been for the civilians, for the British it is at best costly and pointless. More bluntly, it is utterly counter-productive. Fathers and brothers have been killed or maimed on the other side, it seems. For what? British soldiers may with consummate professionalism and bravery embark on these operations but it’s sound and fury, signifying nothing. One cannot avoid the impression that the entire operation existed only to provide pictures for Panorama.
Other bits – the staged visit of the provincial reconstruction team led by its unctuous civil servant, for example; the long scripted bits with the British officers explaining all the good they are doing; the complete cop-out on the question of poppy – were just further garbage. Panorama is no longer any kind of showcase for BBC journalism, except for its worst.
The BBC of course knows no shame in shilling for the MoD and has done so for years. The truth of the military operation on which they were embedded was that the British army were calling in air strikes on civilians and then occupied their house as a base for a prolonged military operation that ultimately was completely futile. We do not know what happened to the civilians. Although if dead, they are counted as Taliban. Faced with the demand of the British military censor not to film the victims, the BBC chose access over the truth. No matter how brave the cameraman this was nauseating but sadly typical of the BBC.
Meanwhile, what is actually happening in Afghanistan…
The Defence of the Realm Blog is also good on this.
Elizabeth Kucinich, or possibly Venus
More 4′s censorship of The Daily Show is now so oppressive it is amazing that Stewart tolerates it. Perhaps he doesn’t know. Compare the show available on More 4 with the version available on the internet and weep. The October 29 edition was practically destroyed. The guts of Stewart’s commentary on Governor Schwarzenegger were simply ripped out. As were the guts of Jason Jones’s piece “Is America ready for a FLILF” (Jones: “It’s an acronym. And a palindrome.”) including the central core of an astonishing interview with the formidable and gorgeous Mrs Dennis Kucinch, the Titian-like English wife of the Democratic presidential candidate.
This is some of the most daring comedy on television anywhere and the response to it by the supposedly edgy More 4 is to depute some hack to rip the show to pieces.
Satire is dead on British television. It’s been 45 years since “That was the week that was” and Britain’s cowardly, government-supporting broadcasters no longer do satire. The only possible exception is “Have I got news for you” which is an establishment affair, quite frankly.
If More 4 cannot be bothered to schedule Stewart’s show properly someone else should pick it up.
More 4 has from the start ruined this show with continuous bleeping and pixellating, so keen is it to ensure that its viewers cannot see some of the best material. Now with the entirety of The Daily Show online we can see the full disgrace of their editing and scheduling.
More 4 may argue that as they run the show at 8.30pm they have no choice. Why? It is a grown-up show and should be run after the 9 pm watershed. Isn’t it on at 11pm in Ameruica. It’s TV for grown-ups. Except in the UK. Until More 4 schedules this show properly and stops shredding it to make it suitable for children the only place to watch it is online. This is yet another example of how British broadcasters treet their audiences on a spectrum that starts with indifference and runs to complete contempt.
Colbert’s show, which is even rougher, is not shown at all in Britain. Not only does Britain not make the best television in the world, we’re not even allowed to watch it.
Zoé’s Ark drops the Elysée in the deepest of African fiascos. French nationals are being held in Chad where they are threatened with 20 years in jail for allegedly kidnapping children from Darfur.
Chad’s president, Idriss Déby, has played a blinder with the rhetoric. He says the French may even have planned to kill the children and harvest their organs. Sixteen Europeans including nine French citizens are now being held in the affair. And this, as a seemingly deranged Sarko is on his way to Washington for what was to have been a triumphant reunion with his friend George Bush.
By any standards Déby, a French-educated kleptocrat, election-rigger and warlord whose controversial son was recently mysteriously killed in Paris, has pulled off a magnificent coup de théâtre, not so much striking a blow against the snooty French, but grabbing Sarkozy by the nuts and squeezing.
In addition to the pretty French nursemaids and their helpers he holds three journalists and seven Spanish air crew. And a Boeing 757. So kerching! It’s pay day for Déby. Sarko, meanwhile, looks deranged and not at all the man in charge of even his own emotions after storming out of an interview with 60 Minutes, after he was asked about, er, Her.
He unwisely staged his tantrum in the presence of Lesley Stahl, one of the grandest dames of American TV news. Asking about Cecilia may have been impertinent but it was certainly predictable. So why was Sarko not prepared? He had already called his press secretary an “imbecile” for having wasted his time by scheduling the interview on a busy day. Such self-revelation is not the calm, collected, controlled behaviour of a statesman. Not even if Sarko is right and it is true that the American media are utterly debased in their obsession with sex and celebrity over substance.
As if this was not bad enough, now Sarko is being made to look like a goat by an African thug who is never off French television without poisonous declamations in immaculate French. So much for the brotherhood of Francophonie.
One can imagine Sarko’s mood on the Presidential Airbus on his way to Andrews AFB. Whether this is just an affair of an inept NGO, as Sarko might wish us to believe he believes, it has turned into an affair of hostage-taking. The French public will not tolerate their girls being thrown into a malarial African prison. Sarkozy knows it. Chad knows it.
The children be damned; they are actually practically the least important consideration of all. Were the children from Darfur? How will anyone ever know? Were Zoés people offering these children a worse life? Most people in that part of Africa can only dream of going to France. Perhaps the paperwork was dodgy. I would prefer to cast my own sympathy with the NGO. They knew what they were doing was dangerous. But they may have underestimated the political cynicism of the regime in Chad, not to forget the political cynicism in Paris.
You do not need to be a Lacanian analyst to understand the political toxicity of this for Sarko. This is an affair ripe with symbolism.
What is Sarko going to have to pay to get the French team home? What does Chad want? Guns? Jets? Helicopter gunships? Prime real estate in Neuilly? Cash – obviously.
The swaggering performance of the Africans is an ironic tribute to Sarko’s own default posture but with the whip firmly in the hand of the Africans. This is a media nightmare for the French government. Chad has complete control of the media on their end, they will control the images, hence the French media, and can create any facts they want. This is a very big problem for Sarko, demanding a coolness that one must increasingly doubt he possesses.
Sarko needs to get a grip.
A smarmy and disingenuous performance by Michael Grade on Channel 4 News last night. The organisation of which he is the executive chairman, ITV, has behaved in a blatantly corrupt way. Nearly £8 million has been, in effect, stolen from viewers. But nobody will be fired. Grade has always been a self-regarding, pompous shit*. Don’t forget he was in charge at the BBC when that august institution was similarly defrauding its viewers (although on a lesser scale). Now he is exposed as the man who has concluded, pace his interview with Jon Snow, that despite a criminal conspiracy to defraud the public, nobody must pay the price (other than ITV’s shareholders). He’s wrong. ITV has been engaged in organised crime. Taking money under false pretenses is called fraud. The following question presents itself: where are the police?
*Expletive chosen carefully - Grade will know why.
The glorious British retreat from the Basra Palace – “probably the worst palace in the world”
In the New Yorker last week, Sy Hersh, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, reported that Britain is ready to join the United States in an attack on Iran. Or at least the Americans think so. Quoth he:
The bombing plan has had its most positive reception from the newly elected government of Britain’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.
Hersh is a distinguished and sometimes reliable journalist. He is to be commended for a robust approach even if his expertise evidently does not extend to the method by which Gordon Brown recently became prime minister. Unless I missed something, this did not include any kind of election.
Nevertheless, perhaps the British media might be expected to take an interest in this claim/revelation. And indeed, the story eventually made its way to page 35 of The Sunday Telegraph. Tim Shipman now quotes officials in Washington to support (up to a point) Hersh’s story:
Gordon Brown has agreed to support US air strikes against Iran if the Islamic republic orchestrates large-scale attacks by militants against British or American forces in Iraq, according to senior Pentagon officials.
But this is a somewhat different story to that of Hersh, as premier Brown’s support now seems contingent.
Whether Hersh had it right, or Shipman does, or neither, this was about the limit of British press interest in the story.
After all, there are new pictures of Princess Diana! Maddie is still missing! Plus free DVDs for every reader!
Happily, Jon Snow of Channel 4 News, a serious fellow, finally asked the prime minister about this at his news conference on Monday. Here is the exchange:
Prime Minister, you have said that you want to listen to the British people. One of the things that the British people seem to be demonstrating is no appetite for any new war related to Iraq. Yet the war drums are banging in Washington for an attack on Iran. Are you prepared to follow previous Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, in saying that such an attack is inconceivable. And indeed are you prepared to go further and say that you would neither support nor assist any American attack on Iran?
I will follow what I have said myself only recently that we take very seriously what the Iranians are trying to do in building up their nuclear capability for nuclear weapons. This cannot go unchallenged given that it is a breach of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. If they do not co-operate with the international authorities that are examining their nuclear installations, or potential nuclear installations, that is a very big breach of international rules as well. And we believe however that this matter can be resolved by diplomatic means, by the Resolutions that have been passed by the United Nations, by sanctions if necessary, but I am not prepared to go further than that. What I am prepared to say is we take very seriously what Iran is proposing and we are prepared to use the methods that we have used in diplomatic sanctions to deal with this problem and I do not rule out anything.
Looking at this, it is rather masterfully ambiguous (even after the Downing Street editors have corrected the prime minister’s repeated confusion of Iraq and Iran as he delivered this answer). Brown firmly rules out an attack on Iran when he says “we believe that this matter can be resolved by diplomatic means… by sanctions if necessary, but I am not prepared to go further than that.” Then he technically rules the possibility back in again with: “I do not rule out anything.”
So this is a master class in saying two completely contradictory things at the same time. But here’s what I think. Hersh is wrong. And not just about the British electoral system. With citation to Sam Goldwyn, as far as any adventures in Iran are concerned, you can include Britain out.I reckon Brown, who was never an enthusiast for this war and endorsed it purely as a matter of preserving his own career, is sick of Iraq, has no stomach for a conflict with Iran, and that what we’re already watching is Gordon leading the Brits on a cut and run.
Another fascinating exchange came when the prime minister answered a question from Robin Oakley of CNN, who very reasonably asked the following:
Prime Minister you have presented yourself so far as a national leader who looks above petty party-political advantage. Why did you go to Basra to announce a withdrawal of British troops by Christmas, do it at the time of the Conservative Party Conference to take headlines off your opponents, and use somewhat phoney figures, since a quarter of those you said would be coming home had come home already. Isn’t that just the kind of Blairite spinning that you are supposed to stand against?
I think you are wrong in every respect if I may say with some respect to you. I think the facts do not merit these accusations. First of all I had to go to Iraq, to Baghdad and Basra, before I made my Statement in the House of Commons. I think the criticism of me today might have been that I had not had the chance to hear from the troops on the ground, to hear from our military commanders, to meet Prime Minister Al Maliki, to meet the Vice-President, to meet the Ministers for Finance, for Trade and for the Economy to discuss not just troop movements, but also to discuss economic reconstruction in Iraq. As far as what I said, I think you will see when I announce it in the House of Commons this afternoon that my Statement is far more comprehensive about all these things than anything that was said in Basra, and I think you will also find the statement about numbers that I made in Iraq is absolutely accurate.
This seems rather insulting to Robin Oakley! Who is correct here? Both, obviously, The prime minister is a master at counting things once, twice, or as many times as necessary. He subsequently went on to confuse matters still further with talk in the House of Commons of further troop withdrawals accompanied by “briefings” that all the boys would be home by 2008. Whereas Oakley is right that the stunt in Basra was an exercise in tortured accounting, even if Brown is too slippery ever to make the charge stick.
What 2,500 British soliders left in the “Cob” at the airport are supposed to do is left rather vague. Some have driven up to the Iran border with TV crews. Others are filmed training Iraqi soldiers. It is an army now tasked to photo opportunity.
Brown is playing a slippery game, but the troops are indeed coming out of Iraq. Even if they are going to Afghanistan, which is another disaster in the making.
A giant, transparent spin offensive is underway to pretend we have won after all in Basra, with friendly hacks like Con Coughlin of the newly pro-government Daily Telegraph filing magnificently clairvoyant copy from the airport describing the improvements since our army’s triumphant
retreat advance from what the soldiers called the worst palace in the world.
In the British-controlled southern Iraqi city of Basra there is a palpable sense that, after four years of incessant bloodshed, a corner is being turned in the struggle to bring the city back to something approaching normality.
But there is no evidence from his copy that he was even there!
Image from Telegraph web site, two days after Coughlin ponounces peace in our time
Coughlin, who just happened to be at the Cob when Brown later dropped by to annouce the withdrawal of troops who had already left, later went on to warn that premature withdrawals could threaten the success achieved by the British. Delusional.
Insofar as the story of a British triumph is concerned, Coughlin at least reveals what he was briefed by officers following MoD-approved scripts. The line is that we have given the Iraqi people the chance to have a nice stable, rich democracy – it’s up to them. By inference, whatever goes wrong in the future is their fault, not ours. That we were responsible for launching an invasion that has seen the place smashed to bits, with probably 100,000 killed and millions displaced, is not mentioned.
Here, though, is the question for the future. We know this about Brown. He is a bit of a coward. He puts his own survival first. He’s not stupid. A man for whom cowardice, caution and prudence are core, does not and cannot like war, which is always highly unpredictable and frightening.
With Iraq off the table, is Brown really prepared to unleash the dogs of war in Afghanistan? This is a campaign that is going to see lots of people killed and a lot of money being spent as even Jock Stirrup’s ropey Eurofighters are sent into the fray to drop bombs on mud huts.
Does Brown have the stomach for this? Me – I’m not sure. And with the Tories as gung-ho on the Pathun adventure as ever, perhaps the PM has something else in mind. To win his deferred election as the man who brought all of this nonsense to an end. Methinks (hopes anyway) that this is the turning point. Think prudence.
The campus police at the University of Florida attack student who asked too many questions.
There are numerous places on the Internet where you can see University of Florida (Gainesville) police officers Tasing/torturing Andrew Meyer, 21, a journalism student who dared to ask John Kerry several highly pertinent questions when he appeared on campus this week.
They comprise a cinema vérité at its purest. The sound is hyper natural. You can hear clearly the victim begging for mercy, the hissing of the Taser and the screams. The Taser is renowned for causing incapacitating physical discomfort, usually short of death, although this is not unknown (Amnesty has documented 245 Taser-related deaths).
Earlier, some students had hooted and yelped in approval as campus police officers moved in to silence Mr Meyer but belatedly as events unfolded one or two in a crowded room indicated they might share the viewer’s horror at these graphic but highly educative events on an American campus. Not all viewers, of course: the imbecilic brigade of the American right is already screaming that this was a set-up. They are the ones who presumably can he heard to hoot with delight when the campus police take out one of their fellow students. And not Kerry, obviously, who increasingly seems to be himself an imbecile.
A very clear version of the incident can be seen here but You Tube has plenty of other examples. It is a frightening and also very powerful scene and one that will do further enormous damage to the international reputation of the United States and to the American campus. And further confirm that Kerry is as useful as a toad in a laundromat.
One reason why America cannot currently win its so-called war on terror is the repeated demonstrations like this one that when it comes to moral leadership, the American cupboard is looking pretty bare.
Free speech is now under physical attack on the campus of the university of Florida, and by agents of the state. Just like the university of Teheran! (This is also the state where not one but possibly the last two presidential elections were stolen by the Republican party apparat, disenfranchising ‘colored’ voters – one of the points being made by the brave Mr Meyer.)
The American campus is already seized by fear with foreign professors harrassed and deported by Homeland Security; arbitrary and capricious border controls applied to visiting scholars, and hysterical Zionist campaigns against anyone who raises their voice against the State of Israel, its historiography, its behaviour, or questions its claims. This has become a new McCarthyism. Joel Kovel’s recent experiences at the University of Michigan show that a university press long thought to be resistant to political pressure will now grovel to blowhards, although to its credit the university has resumed (grudgingly) sales of Kovel’s book, Overcoming Zionism.
This latest incident in Florida is extraordinary because it shows what happens when you put police onto campuses. The gang of police can be seen surrounding Mr Meyer from the very beginning of his questioning of Kerry. Kerry’s own behaviour as Mr Meyer is attacked is bizarre. He apparently sees it as no part of his own duty to interfere in any way. Profile in courage!
There are so many videos taken from so many angles that this is one of those rare events that the revolution has not only seen fit to televise but to do so from every conceivable angle.
The viewer can see the initial assault on the student when the police who had already been intimidating him decided that enough was enough and it was time to bring down this insolent yelp.
The viewer then sees him calling vainly for support from Kerry, anyone, receiving not a single word of support from anyone, followed by shots being wrestled to the ground by numerous officers while he can be heard begging not to be ‘tasered’ – using what is bound to become an immortal phrase: “Don’t Tase me, bro’!” This is a perfectly cromulent use of the infinitive verb to Tase™.
The Taser, normally marketed as a non-lethal alternative to firearms, has never previously been marketed as a method of shutting up those who have inconvenient questions. Doubtless, sales will spike on this new publicity, with big orders from China, possibly. Meyer spent the night in jail on the trumped up charges of disrupting a public meeting and resisting arrest.
The president of the university pronounces himself regretful for the incident. I would have thought he should have sacked the police at the very least, or at least sent them to the countryside for re-education, and begged the student to accept an apology (two of the officers have been suspended on full pay). I do know this is a student I would hire for any newsroom unwise enough to have me in charge (not that I am ever likely to have the opportunity – it is merely an expression of the instant and wholly positive impact this young man has had on me as an almost singular representative of what remains decent in his profession).
There are also hundreds of news reports. Counterpunch asks why Kerry stood there and said nothing. Huffington is very good on the sequence. As always, the journalism that does not appear is as interesting as that which does. Why have journalists on American campuses shown themselves as craven and ineffective as their counterparts at the New York Times and Washington Post? I look in vain for the story in The Michigan Daily. America needs more like Mr Meyer.
Happier days at Pirbright: The Surrey County Vaccine Farms
The 10 top things about FMD 2007.
10. Never mind the disinfectant, send the whitewash. A dramatic improvement in government media/presentational skill, mirrored by no raising of the game by editors, compared to 2001. See 8, 7 below.
9. Scientists are often psychotic, in the clinical sense meaning they have lost touch with reality. Any reality. Ground reality. System reality. Media reality. The award goes to Sir Brian Follett for his sagacity in the Sunday Times: “The reason we slaughter animals is because, in island countries, it works. We can keep the virus out.” A healthy debate in the bioscience community about vaccination would be welcome but it is so odd that those who obstruct vaccinations use arguments that are simply ludicrous and false.
8. Journalism in Britain is quite dramatically terrible as anyone can tell you when they observe the coverage of something they know plenty about. The absence of scientifically trained journalists is very apparent as it was in 2001. Rolling news channels by far the worst – torrents of drivel, 24 by 7. This is the syndrome that we saw with the media in the run-up to the war in Iraq. A dependence on authority to timetable events and establish the agenda, ignoring all contrary evidence or burying it on page 94. The BBC is consistently mediocre.
7. The media tropes are identical. Terrible disease. Tragedy for farmers. A threatened cow named Mabel in a petting zoo. The editors cover every big story by habit. This is why they prefer stories that “come back” so they can order the clips and cover them like last time. A dirty media secret is that editors do not like anything too new – they don’t understand it and have no precedent to inform their decisions.
6. Mediocrity of civil service. By which I mean the the glamorous chief vet who frankly wasn’t that hot, though she will now get a K. Not as sinister as Scudamore but she did everything she could to keep the approach NFU friendly, and I predict the vaccination kits will not be used. She pretended vaccination is an option while never intending to use it unless someone put a bullet to her head. So far, she’s got away with it. I think it’s a cynical tactic. I exempt the local field Defra office in Surrey who have distiguished themselves by being actually human. It has been my own experience as the owner of a registered farm (currently on the very edge of the surveillance zone) that the worker bees at the local Defra office do try to be helpful, despite the insane orders they receive from headquarters.
5. NFU more digusting than ever and why they are taken seriously is a disease of public policy. Literally. The government is required to consult them under a 1947 Act passed by a Labour government that idiotically thought they were empowering a union. What we have, despite recent reforms, is a monster in which not all members even get to vote, and the last five bosses have been knighted. This is a corrupt relationship in the sense of mordant decay. It produces terrible public policy. They are so unbelievably slippery and unconvincing. They are probably reading this wondering whether to sue me but some one is reminding them of MacDonalds.
4. Internet has dramatically improved networking and communications for us “troublemakers” who object that government policy is unscientific, brutal and disgusting. But while the networks are activating quickly, frankly we lack real political clout. We do not have a clunking great fist. The challenge is to convert our command of the facts and superb intelligence into meaningful pressure. I admit this is a tough problem when our democracy is so intangible, and note that it is a problem not unique to this issue.
3. This time around there is some interesting potential for lawyers. I imagine there are going to be some rewarding issues of liability and indemnity to fight about. This will pay for some very beautiful houses in France and a lot of very good claret.
2. Pirbright should be closed and the entire operation moved to a rocky island off Scotland, preferably.
1. Gordon Brown has been bloody lucky. So far.
This is my best guess at the moment. If the outbreak gets much worse then this list becomes inoperative, of course, and I will have to do it over.
I fear that one of Surrey’s finest herds of cattle is currently being exterminated. The herd of Aberdeen Angus has a distinguished pedigree but yesterday a couple of heifers seemed to have minor symptoms of lameness and the response seems to have been to kill them all. (I hope I am wrong and am doing more checks – but it is confirmed that they are killing more animals.)
Update: The herd being culled has been identified and is not the one I initially feared. More on this later. I still inclined to the view that this outbreak can be contained – but only if the government acts now to deploy its most effective weapon.
Waiting for animals to develop symptoms and then killing them is less effective as a means of preventing the spread of this illness than immediately ring vaccinating the affected area. The Dutch know this. The immunologists know it. It is rejected in Britain by a producer’s cartel who have created a situation where the taxpayer indemnifies them for their business risks and mass slaughter of healthy animals for cash is the raison d’etre of their business.
If the government will kill all the animals and pay for them then it saves all the costly business of feeding the beasts and selling them on the open market. Never mind that some do not want their animals killed, because they are used for milking, or for smaller-scale production aimed at local markets. Or that most of the animals killed are healthy. Or that even animals with foot and mouth can make full recoveries. Or that it is safe to eat vaccinated meat. And that tests can distinguish vaccinated animals from diseased ones.
In Britain this cartel is represented by the ill-named National Farmers Union which is not a union but an annex of the still deeply sinister Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. This perverse relationship has profoundly damaged the British countryside in the past and threatens to do so again.
The NFU agribusiness cartel spent yesterday demanding slaughter using the code words “stamping out” to describe taking healthy animals and killing them in a field, a process to be followed by the dispatch of large checks. And the horror is that once again the NFU is getting what it wants, popping in to Downing Street, appearing next to the chief vet at Defra news conferences, and being treated by 95% of our moronic media as the only authentic spokesman for the countryside.
So, we are back to slaughter on suspicion and the killing of dangerous contacts. No disease even needs to be proven. And the indicators of scandal continue to shoot into the red zone.
There turns out to be a history of biosecurity failures at Pirbright. The place is falling apart and a hugely expensive refurbishment project is supposed to be starting now. Yet only now is a serious independent examination getting underway of the biosecurity at Pirbright.
Oddly, this strategic national laboratory seems to exist without the slightest oversight by anyone, as far as I can tell. I doubt that Waverley borough council has a clue how to regulate class 4 biosecurity laboratories. This statement is not correct. As a later story makes more precise, Defra seems to be responsible for some of this and the HSE for other parts. It is still rather opaque how this surveillance has worked in practice and the evidence suggests it has not worked at all.
It seems that Pirbright have just received planning permission for all sorts of schemes but none of this has been covered in the Surrey Advertiser as far as I can tell, nor would it be, it not being the dream of estate agents to sell costly mansions on the doorstep of a hazardous biochemical research park.
So here we are and after years of arguing for a scientific approach to disease rather than a commercial one in which an illness is elevated to an economic crisis, the situation is the perfect scenario for vaccination. The specific virus is known. The vaccine is in stock. There is currently just one cluster of disease hence a ring vaccination scheme can be implemented with high confidence.
Not vaccinating is more than negligent it is stupid and vastly increases the chance this disease will spread. I suppose the NFU doesn’t really care because the suits who run it will just get more and bigger checks, and they never see the animals, anyway. I sggest that an NFU “member” who disagrees open his books.
Small farmers are ignored by the NFU (although it takes their money, persuading them by its clever marketing that it is an authentic countryside voice.) But of course these “country” members are entirely unrepresented when it comes to the big decisions.)
The stupidity of journalists like the one on CNN yesterday who repeated the lie that vaccination hides the disease is very probably attributable to the mendacious briefings offered by the government, the NFU and the NFU thugs and fellow-travellers who control certain Internet news groups (such as U.K. Business Agriculture, the nastiest place on the net).
These people conceal their real interests and character-assassinate those who have advocated putting a scientific approach ahead of the compensation cheques. It is a scandal that farmers get compensated for illness. Nobody else does. It is a scandal that the NFU has exercised a veto on policy. It is a tragedy that Gordon Brown cannot see any of this. You do not need to be a vegetarian to know that killing a child’s healthy pet goat is wrong. Or that individuals should have the right to choose vaccination for their own animals, in preference to a disgusting policy of exterminating precious animals, domestic or commercial, on the whim of some vet (another unjustly deified profession).
The entire annual meat export trade is worth less than one block trade in the city of London. British agribusiness, such as it is, is actually pretty feeble, and pretty often vile (who is for a Turkey from one of Bernard Matthew’s sheds?) When are we going to get real about agriculture and stop allowing privileged producers to raid the Treasury?
I live in the country and drink at the pub with people who farm. We are making hay in our meadows right now. Many of these farmers are friends. But I don’t ask them to send me a cheque when I have writer’s block. If they are worried about foot and mouth they should buy insurance, or vaccinate. Why is this a problem?
The calculation of ministers, armed with their new media skills, is that what the public doesn’t see, will not upset them. Hence the rush to keep the helicopters out of the sky. The BBC and Sky news had already self-censored the most graphic images of the last slaughter in which the Woolford cattle were shot down side-by-side, one by one in a makeshift pen. The cowardice, ineptitude and ignorance of the 24-hour news channels is a subject for continuing discussion. A hare-brained blonde on Sky explained they had censored their pictures to spare us distress. This, apparently, is news judgement at Sky – we will not be shown the truth, so that we may be spared distress. Only journalism rivals politics for its hypocrisy.
Anyway – no danger the viewers shall be distressed, the new air exclusion zone means all further images will be censored.
I am still somewhat confident this outbreak may be limited in size – even though there are serious questions when it really started. In a report on the OIE site the glamorous Debby Reynolds has apparently reported that the “Start date” was 29/07/2007. The 29th of July? But that was the Saturday before the Thursday evening when “symptoms were reported to the local Animal Health office”.
“Is this a mistake – or were symptoms actually noticed five days earlier? It matters,” notes the always on-target Warmwell, another battle-scared veteran of 2001!
The government is running out of time to show they have really learned any lessons from 2001.
Notably, Abigail Woods, a lecturer in the history of medicine at Imperial who was brilliant in 2001 at exposing the lies of the NFU and their lackeys, has returned to the fray in today’s Guardian, here.
I was travelling today and am now returned. I hear Sky News has once again covered itself in shit. The problem with Murdoch’s media is not their transparent self-interest but their mediocrity.
Check frequently with Warmwell for news updates.
Excellent Guardian FMD blog here run by Matthew Weaver, journo who may just “get it”. Matthew is doing a great job tracking the news. Indispensible.
One thing definitely upgraded since the 2001 FMD disaster is the government’s management of information. A good thing for them because the disclosure that the current FMD epizootic could be “made in Whitehall” ought to be a considerable scandal and probably would be if the hacks were not so dense. As in 2001 the best information is not coming from the mainstream media but the bloggers of which Warmwell is the gold standard.
On Sunday we had a choreographed series of news conferences in which the hand of synchronity was readily discernable. The prime minister himself – caring and serious, doing everything possible, stressing the countryside was still open. So that’s all right, then.
The Institute for Animal Health was the first to come out pointing the finger. I think they may have been represented by Gene Kelly, in his softest shuffling shoes. I do not claim to understand this outfit. They may or may not be responsible for Pirbright, it is hard to tell. I confess I am not even clear who owns the freehold, who has the licences, or who issues them. Anyway, they are the first, emerging to say they are cooperating with the government but that their biosecurity is flawless. As even the hacks could figure, this implicity points the finger at Merial Animal Health. Merial has a lab at Pirbright but the relationship with the Institute remains opaque.
So Merial sends a spokesman, a Mr Donald O’Connor, of fancy footwork, to say that they are cooperating with the government too and their biosecurity is also flawless. Or maybe this was Homer Simpson. One could say he is dancing to the suggestion that the virus could have escaped from the next-door Nissen hut. This could be construed as pointing an implicit finger at the Institute. But Merial is the obvious fall-guy, guilty or not. Whitehall was already briefing on Sunday night that Merial is their prime suspect. There is a suggestion that investigators may have identified an individual as a vector of contact. Stay tuned.
This was a shameful moment for Sky and the BBC live from the scene whose reporters were professionally raped by Merial. What is the point of satellite uplink trucks if your reporters are zombies? No questions were permitted of Merial, despite their status as prime suspect! This is news management at the logical extreme – the journalists are treated simply as conduits. Reporters should have protested and physically obstructed the Merial executive from leaving without answering any. But the days of real journalism are long gone.
Then the chief vet, the glamorous former Hollywood star Debby Reynolds appeared, telling us that more animals were being killed and that it was too soon to judge the cause of the outbreak. This is of course ridiculous in that it is obvious the cause of the outbreak was a biosecurity failure at Pirbright, even if the specific vector is not yet told us. The question is: what is and has really been going on at Pirbright? If the questions are being asked at all, they are not being answered in public.
Can someone help me on the history, please? Am I wrong that Pirbright was once a MAFF research station? What exactly has happened recently or is it a longstanding arrangement that this collection of not quite Nissen huts on the Hog’s Back (irony) has become some kind of public-private virus campus? Does anyone know or care what is in fact the nature of the science happening at this place? Should it be there at all? It has London at its front door and the countryside in the back garden. It sounds like a Michael Crichton novel waiting to happen. Except it has already happened. Is this where we want to create our virus pole? I do not recall anyone being asked.
Whether or not the government’s administration, strategy and delivery on animal health are much better this time around than in 2001 remains to be seen. Disregarding that the outbreak started at a quasi non governmental complex. They have been oddly lucky this time – I don’t think there is much evidence of movement and none so far of spread. I will already concede they have been a little less dreadful than last time. La Reynolds is certainly an improvement on the sinister Mr Scudamore. But the NFU still seems to retain a veto on policy. Why can’t ministers see through this cartel? Is it because it claims to be a union, and appeals to some left-over leftish nostalgia among our “Labour” rulers? Ministers must know that the NFU’s purpose is to drain the treasury. It’s as democratic as the Soviet Union (using a remarkably similar voting system). That’s all.
If you look at Pirbright on Google earth it is a mess and who can tell whose lab belongs to who? The Tories may be on to something if they start sniffing for maladministration. It seems certain money has a part to play in this, and the desire of the government to spend less. The government real-terms cutback on animal health seems to have coincided with its outsourcing to an animal health quango. Is this part of the government or not? Yes – and no. It seems sure that conflicts of interest are built in.
We need to know much, much more about Pirbright. It seems clear there were warnings – ignored – of an inherently unsatisfactory biosecurity environment. There seem to me also some commercial questions to consider and whether there is a conflict between commercial activities and government research labs sharing the same site, when that site is well known to be largely obsolete and is poorly located for the work it does.
I do not know but I am not clear that it is comfortable that the Institute is seeking contracts on its own account while apparently simultaneously making facilities available to private companies such as Merial. What exactly are these relationships? All these contracts are doubtless marked “commercially confidential”. They will not want us to know.
The real danger of FMD is that it provokes mad administration syndrome, in which vast sums of money are spent protecting people who are grown up and should look after themselves. Nobody else is compensated like these big commercial farmers. Make no mistake. This is agribusiness. FMD and our response to it are the product of a diseased agricultural economy, in which European policy plays a part but Britain’s unique talent for maladministration makes everything worse.
The evil NFU plays a malign continuing influence and it is a subsidiary scandal that the media continues to treat them as a legitimate authority without pointing out the commercial interests of the people who run this organisation. Gordon Brown should ask himself why the government uniquely compensates the NFU’s members for business risk, and nobody else (except arms dealers). Farmers should insure themselves for epizootic risks, and the government should allow those who wish to innoculate their animals to do so.
Oversight and accountability are not features of the British political process and there will be less than ever now the government has mastered the tricks of concealing information and most of the media has given up looking beyond the official sources.
My neighbours are furious. The single word reaction of one of them last night, when I encountered him after making silage, was: “Bastards.” This is a widely held view. No matter how often the gorgeous Debby Reynolds bats her eyelashes.
In my neigbhborhood, which remains 5km from the surveillance zone, the initials NFU have long been widely regarded to stand for No Fucking Use. Click here for excellent (if now slightly dated) report on the NFU.
I am amused to discover that the search term “virus escape” generates 2,290,000 “hits” on Google.
Magnus Luinklater who was magnificent in 2001 is on top-form in The Times today. He is a solid writer.
Many of my old allies and friends from 2001 are returning to the radar screen. Warmwell, one of the best is here.
Update: I am now 2km from the edge of the surveillance zone.