Press-powered gatecrashing; Iraq in retrospect; Big Brother watches
After the Read More! BBC announcement wrecks house. John Burns looks back on five years of the war in Iraq -- and the role reporters have played in shaping perceptions. Big Brother plans to watch the European public more closely.
Hundreds of gatecrashers converged on a house after a BBC DJ announced her daughter's house party live on the air. "Her daughter, Sarah Ruscoe, 17, had expected 300 people to attend the party on Friday night, but one guest contacted the Radio 1 DJ, Pete Tong, and asked him to do a "shout-out", encouraging many more party-goers to turn up. Pictures were ripped off walls, windows and mirrors were smashed, and chandeliers and doors were damaged."
A bricks and mortar denial of service attack.
John Burns says that among the miscalculations in Iraq were those of journalists who never really understood how deeply divided and traumatized society had become under Saddam. Papers please -- how MI5 plans to track commuter movements in Britain.
In time, those who launched the war will answer in history, as much as they will claim the credit if America ultimately finds a way home with honor, and without destroying all it went to Iraq to achieve. But reporters, too, may wish to make an accounting. If we accurately depicted the horrors of Saddam’s Iraq in the run-up to the war, with its charnel houses and mass graves, we have to acknowledge that we were less effective, then, in probing beneath the carapace of terror to uncover other facets of Iraq’s culture and history that would have a determining impact on the American project to build a Western-style democracy, or at least the basics of a civil society.
It was not easy, with a reporter’s every move scrutinized by Saddam Hussein’s lugubrious minders, to undertake that kind of in-depth reporting. But from the exhaustive reporting in the years since, Americans now know how deeply traumatized Iraqis were by the brutality of Saddam, and how deep was the poison of fear and distrust. They also know, in detail, through the protracted trials of Mr. Hussein and his senior henchmen, of the inner workings of the merciless machinery that transported victims to the torture chambers and mass graves.
This is a tremendous and often forgotten insight. The press is -- was -- the public's intelligence agency. Whenever it tells the public a war is "right" (Darfur), "necessary" (Kosovo) or "hopeless" (Iraq) it does so on the basis of its understanding of the issues. It's also important to note that press fashions change. Wars are always most popular before they are fought. The Clinton-Era "Iraq Liberation Act" is a memento of how popular regime change was before 2000. Right now there's a great deal of enthusiasm for cheering on the Tibetans who have risen in protest with China. An antiwar group in Australia, for example is fashionably supportive of Tibetan efforts to free itself. "A peace campaigner, Donna Mulhearn, who travelled to Iraq to be a human shield before the war started, said Australia needed to apologise to the Iraqi people. She also questioned whether Australian athletes should compete at the Beijing Olympics after China's crackdown in Tibet."
One example of how little "progresive" organizations are actually prepared to risk for the liberation of Tibet is illustrated by the EU's treatment of the Dalai Lama's charity, ApTibet.
Two years ago, after China and Europe became "strategic partners" under an agreement signed by Tony Blair, the EU's acting president, in December 2005, the Commission suspended ApTibet's operations because of its link to the Dalai Lama. Since then, it has done all it can to close the charity down, such as demanding repayment of €451,000 (£340,000) it had given ApTibet for a project in Chingai which it had approved, inspected and signed off as satisfactory.
The EC has become so ruthless in its desire to appease its "strategic partner" that it is now threatening to recoup a further £1.5 million from the charity it has already bankrupted, for other completed aid projects with which it had previously expressed satisfaction. It is also demanding legal costs of £75,000 for a court case brought by ApTibet's trustees in fighting for the charity's survival.
Sometimes the worst thing possible is to give the popular press is what it wants. It's almost certain that if arms drops, weapons training and diversionary attacks were proposed to beef up Tibetan resistance the first persons who would rise up in "protest" are very same people who wore "free Tibet" buttons in the first place. The problem attendant to grappling real issues in the world is that nothing comes for free.
Labor Prime Minister Gordon Brown has completed a new national security strategy for Britain with a wider remit than one might imagine. Its contingency planning ranges "from future 'water wars' between countries left drought-ridden by climate change to cyber-attacks using computer hacking technology to disrupt vital elements of national infrastructure."
To help it meet these future threats, Brown is considering "unlocking" data held by public bodies, including records held by Transport for London which includes -- surprise, surprise -- a way to link up all the tickets an individual has ever purchased to track that person's movements retrospectively.
Of course it's always America's fault. "Critics, however, fear a shift towards US-style 'data mining', a controversial technique using powerful computers to sift and scan millions of pieces of data, seeking patterns of behaviour which match the known profiles of terrorist suspects. They argue that it is unfair for millions of innocent people to have their privacy invaded on the off-chance of finding a handful of bad apples."
But controls in the US are pretty spotty in places (just ask an illegal alien) and European welfare states often have vast amounts of information about individuals at their official disposal. Even organizations like the BBC are empowered to hire snops to detect whether a household is operating a PC tuner card without purchasing a license from them. If Gordon Brown really gets serious about mining data its likely to be more intrusive than anything "US-style" stuff could come up with.
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