Monday, September 26, 2005

Conspiracies pt2

I mentioned the Apollo Moon Landing hoax theory in that last post not because I think it is one of the most important issues facing people today, far from it. I mentioned it because it has become a bit of a classic of the conspiracy theory genre.

My initial scepticism of that theory was tempered as much by the ‘official’ reaction to the story as to its intrinsic merits. NASA’s response has, at times, been frankly dodgy. And, being a Fortean, at heart I am acutely aware of the pros and cons of both sides of the debate. Most people do not work like that. They side with one side of a story or another and resolutely refuse to budge, whatever new evidence comes to light

And most people instinctively react against any form of conspiracy theory. In fact, our government and the media have capitalised on this by using the term ‘conspiracy theory’ to tarnish any alternate explanations for current events… ‘Blah blah Well that’s just a conspiracy theory’. Of course, simply labelling something as a ‘conspiracy theory’ is not actually an argument but what the fuck.

The US State Department has even gone out of its way to explain how members of the public can safely identify what is or isn’t a conspiracy theory here. It is worth reading through to its conclusion i.e. a conspiracy theory is anything the US State Department says is.

It’s then also worth reading through a second time with Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda in mind

‘Does the story claim that vast, powerful, evil forces are secretly manipulating events? If so, this fits the profile of a conspiracy theory. Conspiracy theories are rarely true, even though they have great appeal and are often widely believed. In reality, events usually have much less exciting explanations.’


A characteristic trait of conspiracy debunkers is to pick the most ludicrous examples of conspiracy theories they can find and debunk them. From that same US State Department Source…

‘For example, after the September 11 attacks, a story arose that someone had survived the World Trade Center collapse by "surfing" a piece of building debris from the 82nd floor to the ground. Of course, no one could survive such a fall, but many initially believed this story, out of desperate hope that some people trapped in the towers miraculously survived their collapse.’

Hmmmmm, I’ve followed 911 conspiracy theories pretty much since Day One and I can’t even remember reading that story before. I do, however, remember reading that cell phones don’t work in airliners, that the Twin Towers appeared to collapse in a controlled demolition, that the third building to collapse, WTC7, had suffered only superficial damage, that the anthrax sent to people in the weeks after 911 came from a US government lab and so on.

But, hey, if you disprove one conspiracy theory you disprove them all. Don’t you? Well, except for the one about the all-powerful nutter in a cave able to exercise command and control over a shadowy globalized terror network in a way that is immune from detection.

That’s not a conspiracy theory. That’s the truth. Our governments tell us so.

Hmmm, if our governments and media behaved in an honest way I would be a lot more inclined to believe what they say, but they don’t.

Take the story of the two British soldiers captured in Basra last week. There has been absolutely no honest coverage as to why the locals are as pissed about the whole thing as they are.

That’s not strictly fair. The day after the soldiers were captured, one Channel 4 reporter blurted out

‘Local officials have reported that a quantity of explosives was hidden in the soldiers' medical pack’

Followed up straight away by

‘Of course, that was subsequently proven to be untrue’

Of course? … Says who? As far as I know, Iraqi officials are still claiming that the soldiers’ car contained explosives. The soldiers certainly were dressed as arabs, opened fire on policemen and were packing an absurd amount of firepower for a reconnaissance team. The demented nature of the subsequent rescue mission certainly suggests that the British Army wanted those guys back pronto before they could say anything.

An awful lot of Iraqis seem to think that ‘our’ guys were up to no good and possibly even planning to stage a bombing incident somewhere in Basra. And that’s why they were rioting and chucking petrol bombs at our soldiers.

And that suggestion is just not reported. Full stop. Even if what many Iraqis believe is untrue the fact that they do believe it is significant and tells us a lot about the situation in Iraq. It is a valid story and it is not being told. Why?

Closer to home, a clutch of new material came out last week relating to the bombings in London on 7/7. We were told that the bombers had undertaken a dry run. The wife of one of the bombers seemed to suggest that she believed her husband was knowingly culpable. At least that’s what the edited chunks of an interview she gave seemed to suggest.

But, as with the Basra story, the new information appears to follow a pattern of misdirection and examples of what hardened conspiracy fans like to call the ‘elephant in the living room’. Very often in stories with a conspiratorial dimension, it is not the evidence that we are presented with that is flaky it is the absence of evidence that is the strongest indication that someone is up to no good. I’m not going to repeat the work of others, here’s a link to a site that lists a couple of dozen 7/7 elephants and all the circumstantial stories in the world ain’t going to make them go away. By its nature this is a dense and well-researched list containing many old favourite discrepancies in the official account of 7/7. Lurking in there at round about No.17 is a relatively new one to me – the news that the train the police say the 7/7 bombers took into London was cancelled. The 7.40 to Luton from London didn't run.


Has the mainstream media picked up on this little nugget and reported it?

Of fucking course not.

One last thought on Elephants in Living Rooms. Ever since I was a schoolboy I was fascinated by military history, particularly the Second World War. I read everything. Even though my reading tastes have changed, my bookshelves at home are still stacked with literally hundreds of books on WW2.

And almost all of them contain whopping, officially-sourced lies.

There’s no doubt of that. There’s no doubt of that because we now know that the British and their allies were reading coded German messages throughout the war. The role of the Ultra codebreakers only became widely known in the 1990s. This news totally transformed the accounts of almost every Allied action throughout the war. Many of our most brilliant successes were not due to the genius of our leaders and, more significantly, some of our worst fuck-ups were due to incompetence or the calculated sacrifice of lives rather than being caught by surprise. History was very different to the way it was written.

So, can our governments keep major secrets, nasty or nice, from us for decades, possibly for ever?

Too fucking right they can.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Conspiracies pt1

Ever since I can remember I have been a big fan of Charles Fort and Fortean thinking.

Fort observed that if events did not fit in with current scientific theories about how the world worked they were simply discarded and forgotten. He devoted his life to collecting accounts of odd, inexplicable or strange events, usually taken from newspapers or scientific journals.

Fort wasn’t pursuing any particular alternative scientific theories of his own, he was just pointing out that a lot of weird stuff goes on that people prefer to ignore rather than deal with. Good Fortean stories are often very funny; partly because they are bizarre and partly because of the way establishment figures respond to them.

The classic example of a Fortean story is ball lightning. For years scientists dismissed accounts of ball lightning as fantasies and then people photographed it. Ooops…

Of course, it’s not just science that chooses to ignore anomalous information. This sort of behaviour takes place in all fields. And as such, Charles Fort is regarded by some as being the patron saint of conspiracy theorists. Which is a tad unfair on Charles as what he was advocating was that people listened to any account or idea with a completely open mind and then judged it on its own merits, without prejudice. That’s not quite the same thing as being a conspiracy theorist.

I mention all this because a news story last week reminded me of a Fortean Convention I attended about ten years ago in London. The highlight of the convention was a talk given by a guy called David Percy about photographic proof that the Apollo Moon Landings were faked.

This was long before the explosion of the Internet and the proliferation of conspiracy theories that have accompanied it. Consequently I, and most of the audience, hadn’t heard this theory before. It came like a bolt from the blue. The most remarkable thing was the ferocity of the response from some of the audience members. They were, to put it mildly, fucking pissed. It was clear they wanted to lynch the speaker for even suggesting such a thing. Forget the evidence, the guy was a heretic. It was an illuminating experience and reminded me that, for all their posturing, scientists can be just as emotive and subjective as any religious fundamentalist. A more reasoned response to Percy’s claims came later on but that hasn’t erased my memory of that first, emotional response to his suggestion.

Trying to be a good Fortean, I took what Percy had to say on board and went off and thought about it for a while. Eventually I decided that some of the Apollo photographs do look dodgy but that in itself doesn’t prove that Apollo was a fake. A much stronger argument lies in the fact that the space between the Earth and the Moon is often filled with potentially lethal radiation. The Apollo astronauts in their unshielded capsule, outside the protection of the Earth’s magnetic field, ran a very high risk of being frazzed.

Anyway, NASA announced last week that ‘man was returning to the Moon by 2018’. Err… that would be forty-six years after the last Apollo moon landing. Well, that’s a slap in the face for all those conspiracy theorists who maintain America didn’t have the technology for a successful Moonshot in 1969 isn’t it? What’s equally bizarre is the fact that the mainstream media hasn’t picked up on the peculiarity of the timescales involved and relayed the NASA announcement uncritically and without comment.

Fort would have loved it.

Monday, September 19, 2005


I'm currently passing through one of my periodic episodes of blog doubt and easing up on my output. One of the benefits of that easing up is that I have more 'on PC' time to devote to all those little housekeeping chores I've been meaning to do.

I've just spent an enjoyable 15 minutes sorting through my collection of Best Ever Spam Email sender names and I've attached some of the fruits of my labours as a screenshot.

My experience of spam is restricted to being a consumer rather than a generator but it seems clear that one of the essential requirements of effective spam to come up with the most bizarre sender names you can think of. Obviously the subject line is important and must serve the dual purpose of being both eye-catching and able to slip past spam filters but a really good sender name is the cherry on the cake. And it's hats off to the unnamed geniuses who came up with Englebert Snyder, Apollonija Quintero, Sergio Woody and Tourniquet E. Roomful.

There's a PhD thesis on spam out there waiting to be written and what it tells us about the human condition. Discounting the obvious tricky trickster subject titles such 'Re[20]', 'You left your coat' or 'Did you get my...' the bulk of spam subject titles seek to draw attention by playing on those things that concern us most. It comes as no surprise that those things are not particularly altruisitic or important.

But, speaking as a man with a small, eternally floppy penis with an unhappy sexual partner and who genuinely believes that wearing fake watches paid for by working at home for an hour or two a day will make people respect him more, I think spam is great and I, for one, can't get enough of it

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Baby Jesus gets terrible press

One of my pet little hobbyhorses in life is the largely uncritical acceptance of the Theory of Evolution in mainstream culture.

Pop a few lagers in me and I can drone another about the subject for hours. And frequently do.

I frequently get drawn into online discussions about the subject. These discussions are invariably lengthy and follow an almost ritualistic pattern. People who believe that Darwinism is ‘true’ first question my credentials. I establish them. They then cite proofs of Darwinism such a finches, peppered moths and horses. I then explain why those supposed proofs are deceits.

Sooner or later, my Darwinist debating partners always get round to dropping their bombshell…

I am clearly a fundamentalist Christian, probably extremely right wing and insane.

Their response interests me. It interests me because of the peculiar association people with liberal, left wing viewpoints have made between right wing politics and religious belief.

And it really is a very peculiar association.

Neoconservative fundamentalist Christians are just about the least Christian people on the face of this planet.

  • Jesus would have died before resorting to military force in any situation whatsoever. Actually, come to think of it, he did.
  • The early Christians were persecuted by the Romans not because of their religious beliefs but because they refused to serve in the military. They chose to die rather than shed other human being's blood.
  • Jesus made a particular point of seeking the company the social outcasts of his day. There’s no doubt that if he were alive today he’d spend a lot more time hanging around black ghettos and gay bars than cocktail parties.

I could go on and on. And frequently do.

And then there’s the whole Neoconservative rejection of Darwinism thing.

They fucking love Darwinism. Survival of the fittest is a mantra of right wing politics; certainly when it comes to supporting the capitalist notion of screwing individuals over and the sanctity of the free market.

As it happens, the idea that Darwinism applies meaningfully to the world of business is as flawed as believing it works in the natural world but that’s not important right now. The point is that Neocons think and behave like Darwin is their saviour, not Jesus.

However, people on the left of politics are no less full of bullshit…

There are essentially two ways of viewing Life and the world around us

  1. We are here as the result of blind chance
  2. We are part of a designed system

To be honest, no-one has yet demonstrated which is the case. Maybe no-one ever will. Either explanation is an assumption and which assumption you choose to make is dictated by your upbringing and if you were interfered with by a priest as a kid.

Almost all religions start with the assumption that we are part of a cosmic design. They then attempt to tease out and explain each individual’s purpose as part of that design. Existence is a machine and Holy books and teachings are essential user manuals.

This is a rational and reasonable approach. Notions such a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fall easily from it. If, as most religions do, you assume that the cosmic machine has a benevolent purpose, doing the ‘right thing’ by other people and learning from our failures and temptations makes perfect sense. That is what we were made to do.

However, if you start with the assumption that we are here as a result of blind chance, it is virtually impossible to come up with a moral code that makes any logical sense. You could try, but it’s all a bit lame…

Humans are more effective when they work as groups rather than as individuals. Moral codes, such as the idea that murder is wrong, protect the group and every individual in the group benefits from that.

There are about half a dozen ways to demonstrate that this is bullshit but my favourites are

If we’re here by chance and have no soul or purpose why should anyone give a flying fuck about anything?


Mongo strong. Mongo take your hamburger. Mongo take your lady friend. Mongo have more children. Mongo children strong. World filled with strong Mongo children.

Whichever way you look at them, concepts such as equality of race, human rights and compassion towards the weak are fundamentally religious not scientific concepts.

Check out the American Declaration of Independence. The guys who put this together were not stupid…

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

Snappy, clear, to the point, and religiously based.

Now, is someone out there going to demonstrate to me how equal rights for all can be at all consistent with the notion of survival of the fittest without some serious intellectual dishonesty?

So, how does the anti-religious left deal with the paradox of its secularist belief in individual rights?

The short answer is that usually it doesn’t.

Instead, it trots out tired old cliches about religion being the cause of all wars, how it is the opium of the people and prattles on about how much fairer the world will be once we get round to ditching primitive superstitions.

It's just not true.

Now I’m not suggesting that there aren’t some clever secular left wingers out there who haven’t dealt with these questions. What I am suggesting is that there aren’t many of them out there.

The harsh truth is that the bulk of secular left-wingers are just as deluded and as full of contradictory bullshit as any Neocon.

In fact, they are playing right into the Neocon’s hands. By accepting the notion that religious belief is delusional and that fundamentalist extremists somehow typify religious thinking, people on the Left are participating in a process that is stripping the world of morale courage. After all, if we are here by accident what’s the point in believing in anything? Look at the underlying moral decay, sense of despair and downright unhappiness that’s corroding the developed world. Where do people think that is coming from?

Imagine, for a moment, a world with no movements or figureheads who believe that there is such a thing as right or wrong and that there is a purpose to doing the right thing. No Martin Luther Kings. No Ghandis. Actually, you don’t have to imagine very hard.

The war against Islam is part of the process of moral corruption. It’s not about them ‘hating us for our freedoms’ or oppressed women with blankets on their heads. It’s about a large chunk of the global population owing more allegiance to a strong moral code than empty, soul-destroying consumerism. Even if there were no Mad Mullahs the powers that control us would invent them.

Monday, September 12, 2005

William Blake Revisited


Every year, round about the now, the BBC hosts a series of classical music concerts known as ‘The Proms’ at the Royal Albert Hall. This year’s Proms have just finished.

Rather like big cricket matches, The Proms are one of those occasions when large groups of almost exclusively middle and upper class Anglo-Saxon people still congregate in London. The Proms always end with a big finale, with lots of people crowding into the Albert Hall clutching enormous Union Jacks making complete tits of themselves.

How else would you describe an audience of 9,000, waving flags and singing along to the lyrics of Rule Britannia, without the slightest trace of irony in its collective voice?

When Britain first at Heaven's command,
Arose from out the azure main,
This was the charter, the charter of the land,
And guardian Angels sung this strain,

Rule, Britannia, Britannia rule the waves,
Britons never will be slaves!

Er, well, yes, er, OK. Now there’s an accurate summary of British history and the current global geopolitical situation if ever I’ve heard one.

To demonstrate the softer side of the crowd, tradition dictates that Rule Britannia is followed with a stirring rendition of William Blake’s Jerusalem

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?

Rule Britannia always was jingoistic nonsense but Jerusalem is an altogether more thoughtful piece. Blake lived during the Industrial Revolution and was disturbed by the huge increase in the number of urban poor living horrid lives in British cities. Playing on a common belief that the Britain was created by ‘Heaven’s Command’, his poem asks ‘does anyone think that people living like shit next to horrible factories is some kind of new paradise?’.

Blake was being ironic and challenging and the question marks in the poem are key to the piece. But, perversely, Jerusalem was hijacked and became an anthem for the privileged classes of Britain. It is sung in their schools, rugby matches and nights out, and most emphatically without the question marks.

The true significance of the words passes completely over their inbred heads.


I mention all of this because we were strolling around the annual Brick Lane festival in the East End yesterday. Brick Lane was crowded so we restricted ourselves to the surrounding side streets and housing estates.

It was fucking horrible.

There’s no need to find the words to describe it. All someone has to do is dust off some of William Blake’s old stuff, translate it into modern vernacular and they would be there; poverty, decay, alienation, substance addiction. The usual stuff.

Just as in Blake’s time, London’s underclass is growing rapidly. Only this time round it’s not country folk being drawn to the factories. The new underclass is largely foreign born and they’re far more likely to end up employed in the service sector rather than any ‘dark satanic mills’. Their living conditions are, however, certainly woeful enough to be comparable with Blake’s era.

On one street in particular I was awestruck by the sheer squalor of people selling personal items ‘yard sale’ style off the pavement. At least I think that’s what they were doing. To the uninformed observer it might have looked more like a group of tramps had emptied a series of rubbish bins onto the floor and then sat down on the mess.

My companion, another veteran connoisseur of urban decay, was also pretty impressed by the scene and commented on the sheer third worldness of it all. The third world feeling was nicely capped off by the fenced-off private sports club at one end of the street. Its car park filled with BMWs and Mercedes coupes. Poor person sitting on a pavement trying to sell old socks for a few pence on one side of the street. Chinless wanker in sports car, who probably knows Jerusalem off by heart, sitting behind a fence on the other side.

This isn’t the London I grew up in and its sucks arse.

As I’ve said before, the underclass of New Orleans we saw on TV last week is nowhere near unique. We just haven’t had big floods in any of our other cities lately. That’s all.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

When The Levee Breaks I'll have no place to stay

I intended this next post to be a wrap-up of my previous comments about the London bombings and a response to a couple of the comments that people were thoughtful enough to leave

But no…

I, like presumably millions of others, just can’t get what’s happening in New Orleans out of my head.

And it’s not just the human tragedy element. That is still there, obviously, but the story is also beginning to develop other facets.

As with so many other fuck-ups during the Bush-Blair era, there comes a point where it is possible to discern the hand of deliberate intent rather than sheer incompetence at play…

  • Allowed 9/11 to happen? Sorry, that was a fuck-up.
  • Took us to war on a lie about Iraqi WMDs? Sorry, that was another fuck-up
  • Shot an innocent civilian in London then claimed he was a terrorist? Yup, that was a fuck-up too

Right now there are something like 60,000 men armed to the teeth, supported by armour and gunships, patrolling New Orleans. Does anybody have any fucking idea why? What’s the plan? Are they going to shoot New Orleans better?

And then you read stories like this one about 1,000 skilled volunteer fire fighters being deployed by FEMA as community-relations officers...

The fire-fighters … were told to bring backpacks, sleeping bags, first-aid kits and Meals Ready to Eat. They were told to prepare for "austere conditions." Many of them came with awkward fire gear and expected to wade in floodwaters, sift through rubble and save lives.

"They've got people here who are search-and-rescue certified, paramedics, haz-mat certified," said a Texas firefighter. "We're sitting in here having a sexual-harassment class while there are still [victims] in Louisiana who haven't been contacted yet."

Over the last day or so we’ve been hearing that New Orleans has to be evacuated because of cholera, malaria, typhoid and other diseases; even though most of them aren’t even prevalent in the United States. Strangely, the risk of disease isn’t so great that the authorities have got round to collecting the unknown numbers of corpses rotting all over the place under the hot Southern sun.

And then there are all those stories of FEMA and the military turning back Red Cross supplies and disconnecting communications and other peculiar shit. All this peculiar shit suggests that aid was being deliberately held back until the Governor of Louisiana turned full control of her State over to the Federal Government. And that control will almost certainly extend long into the future and the reconstruction of New Orleans.

Not that many of the residents will benefit from that reconstruction. The underclass of New Orleans has been scattered to the four winds and we are already being told that many won’t ever be returning home.

The result of all of this?

George Bush now has command of 60,000 armed men patrolling an empty city that can be demolished pretty much at will and he is looking for $50bn to allocate to corporations and reconstruction projects selected by his administration.

Not a bad reward for completely fucking things up is it?

That $50bn is just for starters and, don't forget, George is launching a thorough investigation of what went wrong and putting himself in charge to ensure that no stone is left unturned.

Is all this relevant to us in the UK? Well, yes actually. What is taking place in New Orleans right now is typical of the way our world is now being run; by Bush and by Blair also. It’s about lies and fear. Guns and vested interests. The world has always been this way but it has not been quite so blatant for a very long time.


One New Orleans story has genuinely amused my this week though. Presumably somebody on the graveyard shift at Reuters had either just returned from the pub or was in some other way off their face when they wrote this piece here. My favourite quotes included…

But die-hard inhabitants of a city mainly known for jazz and Mardi Gras before becoming internationally famous as a disaster area of Third-World proportions say they fear evacuation to parts of the country where they have no family or means of support...

New Orleans' French Quarter, the renowned street-party venue, was a militarised zone. There were roadblocks and patrols by 82nd Airborne Division troops as well as by horse-mounted Texas sheriffs in cowboy hats...

Among aid workers in New Orleans on Tuesday was a group from the Church of Scientology. Wearing yellow T-shirts, a couple of dozen worked out of a yellow tent set up downtown beneath a banner reading "something can be done". The Scientologists offered massages to police and rescue workers but said they were not there to proselytise.


Anyone been listening to Led Zeppelin lately?

If it keeps on rainin', levee's goin' to break,
If it keeps on rainin', levee's goin' to break,
When The Levee Breaks I'll have no place to stay.

Mean old levee taught me to weep and moan,

Mean old levee taught me to weep and moan,
Got what it takes to make a mountain man leave his home,
Oh, well, oh, well, oh, well.

Don't it make you feel bad

When you're tryin' to find your way home,
You don't know which way to go?
If you're goin' down South
They got no work to do,
If you don't know about Chicago.

Cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good,

Now, cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good,
When the levee breaks, mama, you got to move.

All last night sat on the levee and moaned,

All last night sat on the levee and moaned,
Thinkin' about me baby and my happy home.
Going, going to Chicago... Going to Chicago... Sorry but I can't take you...
Going down... going down now... going down....

Monday, September 05, 2005

London 7/7 - The Wrath of Khan pt1

That tape…

The one made by of the suspects of the London bombings on July 7th, Mohammed Sidique Khan.

Bloggers critical of the British government have barely touched it.

That’s entirely understandable. Partly because everyone’s attention has been focused on New Orleans but mostly because it looks pretty damning

In short, a lot of people who doubted the official explanation of what happened on 7th July have now swallowed the conclusions made by the media in the immediate aftermath of the tape’s release.

I’m a lot less convinced by those conclusions. Admittedly much of my suspicion is based on circumstantial issues. Having now watched it through a few times all sorts of questions come to mind

  • When and where was it made?
  • Why no messages to his family? That’s the usual deal in testament tapes
  • Why did it take two months to surface?

The timing aspect is a key issue. The tape was broadcast last Thursday, at the height of media attention to the disaster unfolding in New Orleans. If the objective was to grab as much attention as possible it was the worst timing in the World. If the intention was to slip some ‘evidence’ into the public domain with as little scrutiny as possible the timing was absolutely perfect. As our government spin-doctors are prone to say amongst themselves, last Thursday was a good day to bury bad news.

I’m one of those people who has a serious problem with dodgy videotapes appearing out of the ether, particularly when they blatantly serve our governments’ agendas. Remember Osama’s US presidential election special last year?

London police haven’t confirmed that the guy on the tape is one of the bombers yet but that hasn’t stopped the media reporting that as a certainty, from the moment the tape was first aired. Given recent events in London, you would have thought that the media would be a little shy of reporting unconfirmed speculation as fact but it is having none of it.

I particularly enjoyed this piece of totally shite reporting from CNN here. Quality quotes include

The homemade bombs, made with peroxide-based chemicals and detonated with cell phones, killed 52 commuters and the four bombers.

And the very special

The video shows a man who looks similar to the man in surveillance photographs who was identified as Khan by authorities after the bombings.

The first quote is completely at odds with official, as opposed to unofficial, Scotland Yard statements and the second quote is quite bizarre given the complete absence of any usable surveillance photographs of Khan released into the public domain.

But, so what, the media is misreporting the story. What’s new? The tape is there for all to see.

Let’s assume that the guy in the tape is confirmed as Khan. What does it actually prove?

Well, if you watch it through with a mind untainted by media bullshit it proves…

One of the suspected bombers was pretty ticked off with British Foreign policy at some undetermined point in the past and was threatening to do something about it.

And that’s all. There’s no link with the London bombs, there’s no reference to the other bombers. In fact, the entire statement is pretty generic and sounds like a fragment of a much larger presentation.

There’s no denying that this tape represents a fragment of evidence that supports the government explanation of 7th July but that’s all it is, a fragment.

I could come up with half a dozen plausible alternate scenarios that fit the official facts of what happened that day, including the tape, but I won't. Other bloggers out there have fallen into the trap of outlining alternate explanations for what happened that day. Some favoured the notion that the four bombers were duped and thought they were carrying drugs. Others grasped onto an eyewitness account that suggested at least one of the bombs was located underneath the train. The release of the Khan tape appears to bugger up those alternate theories good and proper. The harsh reality is that there is so much misinformation out there that basing alternate theories on any one scrap of it is ill-advised indeed.

And there’s absolutely no need to sit there formulating alternate theories. All we should be doing at this stage is asking questions. The official explanation still stinks and formulating conspiracy theories only provides a useful distraction from that,

My own doubts about what happened on 7th July rest on more than one issue. That’s why the release of that chunk of videotape has not caused me to change my own sceptical position. A quick recap of my causes for concern would include:

  • No arrests to date made in connection with the 7th July bombings
  • No videotapes released from 7th July. The ‘missing’ tape from the No.30 bus is particularly sinister given the blatant tampering with video evidence that later took place at Stockwell tube station
  • Why did the bombers die carrying personal ID but leaving no statements?
  • Where are the witnesses from 7th July? We haven’t heard a peep from them since. Nor from the bombers’ family members. We don’t even know the answer to such simple questions as ‘What did the bombers tell their friends and family they were doing in London that day?’
  • Why did the bombers leave explosives behind in a car in Luton station?
  • Why did they bother to pay for a full day’s car parking and return train tickets?
  • What’s the explanation for the bizarre behaviour of fourth bomber? Why did he blow himself up an hour after his fellow bombers? What was a fundamentalist Muslim doing breakfasting in McDonalds half an hour after his mates exploded and half an hour before blowing himself up?
  • What kind of explosives were used? Were they home made or commercial? How were they detonated? Why did the bombers use full size rucksacks to carry 10-15lb of explosive, leaving some explosives behind in their car? What else was in those rucksacks?
  • What is the connection between the 7/7 and 21/7 bombers?
  • The bombs detonated on 21/7 scattered unidentified white powder, yet no Hazmat precautions were put in place? Why not? Was it a fuck up or was it because the authorities knew in advance that the attack wasn't biological?
  • What’s the purpose of the mass of misinformation issued by ‘unofficial’ sources? The endless succession of potential masterminds and chemists, tales of canoeing holidays, shadowy figures slipping in and out of the country. It sounds like crap at the time and subsequently turns out to be crap, yet is either left uncorrected or corrected in as unobtrusive a way as possible

this is just the short version of the list

These are not trivial questions. For example, the police would have known what explosives were used on 7/7 almost immediately yet they persisted in clouding the question of whether they were home made or not. No surveillance tapes have been released from 7/7. Given that the bombers are dead and presumably knew what they were up to anyway, what legitimate purpose is served by not releasing them?


Thank God the situation in New Orleans is finally under firm control.

Obviously, I’m not referring to the physical management of the city, that is still pretty fucked up.

But the news management side of things has improved markedly.

For most of last week we in the UK were treated to the sight of British foreign correspondents, hardened by careers spent in third world disaster zones, standing knee deep in polluted water, surrounded by rubble and clearly shocked by the things they had seen.

It was quite a peculiar and unique experience. Disbelief was the strongest emotion coming across much of the time. They just couldn’t believe they were reporting on human misery on such a colossal scale, days after disaster had struck and with absolutely no signs of aid or relief. And all this was taking place in America. For a brief while, even kiss-ass US news presenters were reacting in an equally shocked way.

But those dark days are past. Essential supplies such as food, water and effective public relations skills are finally making their way into the heart of the devastated city.

The disaster story has stabilised now and the scenes of absolute misery are already being treated as history and we are being pounded with images of trucks driving up and down New Orlean’s waterlogged streets and heavily armed soldiers hugging black people.

Slightly off-message stories can still be found though but you have to work harder to find them. Personal favourites include

The frenzied reporting of looting was really something to behold. The media went into a lather about it. Senior politicians announced that battle hardened troops were being sent in with shoot to kill orders to prevent it. The battered survivors of New Orleans were to be treated to a demonstration of martial law, Baghdad style.

Yup, tens of thousands of people wilting and dying and politicians were worried about some of them stealing some potato chips. There’s no doubt that some of them were taking training shoes and TVs as well but, come on, let’s get real here what were they going to do with them? Was it really worth diverting resources away from rescue operations for the sake of some mass produced plastic crap? The fact that looting even appeared in the media and the politicians’ radar shows what fucked up priorities those people have.

The more cynical observer might conclude that tales of looting and mayhem were played-up to serve as an excuse for and distraction from the fucked-up relief operation. And this is the mother of all fuck-ups. Even at this stage it is clear that so very many things went wrong…

  • the levees were inadequately maintained
  • no provision was made to evacuate people without access to private transport
  • no viable contingency plan existed for the aftermath of a flood of New Orleans

Not only have Americans and the entire World been treated to a rare sight of the sheer size of the American underclass, they’re also going to have to come to terms with the astonishing incompetency of the people responsible for US domestic security – at all levels. If I was living in California right now I’d be more than a little nervous about the prospects of personal survival when the Big One eventually hits that part of the world.

Years ago, I met an seasoned traveller who told me that there were three cities in America that stood out from all the others by virtue of the uniqueness of their culture – San Franciso, Santa Fe and New Orleans. Having visited all three now I can see where he was coming from and New Orleans is at the top of my own personal list. My first visit to New Orleans was my entree to The Deep South and I’ve been fascinated by the Southern States ever since. This isn’t the place to enthuse about what New Orleans was but it was unique and those discarded people we saw scattered around the convention centre and Superdome were an integral part of that uniqueness. Not that you'd realise from the way they have been treated.

One thing we can be sure of, the New Orleans many of us loved is dead and gone. Partly because it will take generations for the memory of what happened on its streets to fade but also because there is no way it will ever be restored to its former seedy glory. A city like New Orleans had character because it grew organically, over centuries. The New New Orleans will be an ugly, soulless heap of casinos, malls and chain stores. Even if those people evacuated this week could ever bring themselves to return, their homes will be long gone and whatever is put in their place won’t be for the likes of them. New Orleans will become a tacky replica of itself and just like every other sanitised, corporate-conceived vacation resort in Amerika

It really is no exaggeration to say that we’ve seen a city, along with thousands of its poorest residents, die this last week and it isn’t coming back.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Laissez les bons temps roulez

orleans boat

It's been an interesting week for news stories hasn't it?

Ordinarily I would be preoccupied with the video clip of one of the suspected London bombers making his testament which was screened on TV tonight.

It’s a curious thing, appearing as it has almost two months after the bombings. I’m impressed at the speed at which the person in the tape was confirmed as being one of the bomb suspects, Mohammad Sidique Khan. It took over 24 hours for the Metropolitan police to identify the bloke they executed in Stockwell station, yet the major media networks managed to confirm the identity of the man in the tape instantaneously. Tape transmitted by Al Jazeera 9.00pm UK time. Bloke in tape identified as Mohammad Sidique Khan, without any qualification whatsoever, 9.01pm UK time.

It’s also curious how all those news channels that down-played the uncharacteristic absence of suicide bombers’ testaments have suddenly realised that they are pretty significant things. And, of course, the tape was released through via Al Jazeera, so if it turns out to be bollocks or doesn’t actually constitute an admission to the 7/7 attacks well, it didn’t come from ‘official’ sources did it? So, it’s a fully deniable one way bet. Nice.

I've been waiting for something like this since the Stockwell Shooting statements were leaked. I’ll wait to see the full unedited version before I wet my pants over the significance of this little gem.


Pretty slick timing on the release of the video though. Banging it out whilst everyone, including myself, is fully occupied with the horrors unfolding in Louisiana and Mississippi.

I’ve spent maybe, on and off, six months living in New Orleans. And maybe another five or six months on top of that travelling around the rest of the South. And because I spent some time there, and because I am wired the way I am, I had the opportunity to visit places a little off the beaten track and saw how the other half live.

You don’t have to travel very far actually. Two blocks north of the famous French Quarter, past North Rampart Street, and New Orleans started to look less like Party City and more like something from the Third World.

The Black Third World.

The thing that really chokes you up about those shitty, unmentioned places is just how decent and nice most of the people who live there are; courteous, friendly and hard-working. The kind of people you get chatting with at bus stops at 5.00am in the morning on their way to shitty cleaning jobs.

New Orleans is full of people like that.

And even after the hurricane and the flooding it still is.

Forget for a moment a smirking George Bush telling excrutiating lies about the effectiveness of the relief effort. Forget also the hypocrisy of a regime that spends $1,000,000,000,000 on an unnecessary overseas war, yet let’s entire cities and coastlines drown for lack of adequate defences. Just focus on all those people wilting on the streets of News Orleans, surrounded by their own shit and God knows what else.

What we’re looking at on television right now is the unusual spectacle of a major US city’s entire underclass laid out in the open, after it was left behind to drown. The single largest heap of dirty laundry in US history.

Not many white middle-class folks on-screen are there?

It’s our grubby little secret. We stomp and swagger all over the World and tell everyone, and ourselves, how fucking great we are, whilst meanwhile back at home millions of our citizens live shit lives. Really, really shit lives. Only, normally, our noses aren’t jammed into the truth so we don't have to worry about it. So much for all that bullshit rhetoric about declaring war on global poverty. We can't even keep our own house in order.

It’s not just New Orleans, it’s every American city. It’s not just America, it’s the UK and every other country in the developed world. London is certainly no different. There is the London portrayed in Olympic bid promotional videos and then there’s the London I know, and that London is much, much bigger than most of us would like to believe.

So lap up the show. That’s a rare glimpse into the dark heart of our way of life we’re being treated to and it’s going to swept under the carpet as soon as inhumanly possible.