the Disillusioned kid: December 2006
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Saturday, December 30, 2006

For Whom The Bell Tolls

So we can add Saddam to the list of bloodthirsty dictators who've finally shuffled off this mortal coil over the past year. While I'm not going to shed any tears for the mass-murdering fuck, I happen to think his execution was a mistake.

While many Iraqis seem happy to see the back of Saddam, this isn't the universal response. There were protests in Samarra, Ramadi and Adwar and gunmen on the streets of Tikrit, Saddam's hometown. The excution did nothing to halt the ongoing insurgency, with explosions occuring in Baghdad and Kufa within hours of the former dictator's death. Anyone who thinks the execution will reduce violence is living in cloud-cuckoo land. If anything, it's only going to make matters worse (bear in mind how bad things already are in Iraq).

I am steadfastly opposed to the death penalty, which I consider a brutal, inhumane form of punishment. Nevertheless, if there's anybody who deserves to hang it's surely Saddam. In fact the focus on his sentence has obscured the Iraqi government's increasing use of the death penalty following its reinstatement in 2004. Amnesty estimated on December 20 that 53 people had been executed since the start of the year (that's presumably now 54, if not more). Many of these trials have large question marks hanging over them. None have received even a fraction of the attention focused on Saddam's case.

My substantive argument against Saddam's execution, however, is a pragmatic one. While he was actually hung for his responsibility for a massacre in Dujail in 1982 which took place after a botched assasination attempt, Saddam went to the gallows in the middle of a further trial for his part in the Al-Anfal campaign. This brutal and infamous campaign saw the deaths thousands of Kurds (estimates vary from 50,000-182,000) and the displacement of hundreds of thousands more. Given the severity of these charges and their emotional potency, the haste with which Saddam was dispatched strikes me as strange. Why not continue the trial?

Facing up to past crimes is an important step in countries which have witnessed regime change following periods of extreme violence, whether as a result of civil war or dictatorship. Brushing these issues under the carpet will only leave wounds to fester which may explode at some point in the future. One can debate whether Saddam's trial - with its limited legitimacy and apparent preference for retribution over justice - is the best way to achieve this, but by killing Saddam the process will become that much more difficult. The romanticisation of the dead is hardly an unfamiliar process. (For an academic survey of different approaches to addressing past wrongs, check out this pdf.)

Executing Saddam has also got all those people who helped him off the hook. We've managed to avoid any embarrassing incidents with Donald Rumsfeld being called to testify on his visit to Saddam in 1983; or Douglas Hurd being quizzed on his trip to Iraq to sell missile systems in 1981. Our own culpability in his reign of terror, to say nothing of our subsequent campaign of state terrorism and siege warfare against the country from 1991 onwards can be quietly pushed to one side. The Bad Man is dead. What are you loooking at us for?


The Conspiracy Theory Generator (via), not to be confused with with the conspiracy theorist hot-air generator.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

What happens next?

It's almost the end of the year, so what better time to stick my neck out and make largely baseless/self-evident assertions about what's going to happen in the coming year?

Firstly, the situation in Iraq is going to continue to deteriorate, but the US and UK will not withdraw. It's possible that the occupying forces may increasingly be able to retreat to their barracks, as control is handed to Iraqi prixies, but this is far from guaranteed. Even if this does take place, the widespread criminal violence (kidnappings etc.) and burdgeoning civil war will go on, possibly extending to Iraqi Kurdistan which has hitherto remained relatively peaceful.

Afghanistan will in all likelihood suffer a similar threat. Having re-emerged as a major threat over the past year, the "neo-Taliban" are unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Again it's hard to imagine a US/UK withdrawal, although a steadily rising death toll amongst British and American forces may weaken support for the war.

In Palestine there's little sign that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, caused by extended Israeli closures and international sanctions, is going to be resolved anytime soon. While the "international community" have suggested that sanctions will be lifted once the Hamas government are removed from power, Mahmoud Abbas' calls for new elections may backfire. If Hamas decide to boycott them, then they'll have little legitimacy in the eyes of the Palestinian population and if Hamas do decide to run, it's entirely possible they'll win again, perhaps even more convincingly. Either way, I fear we're a long way from stability in the Occupied Territories, let alone a serious Israeli-Palestinian settlement.

The conflict in Darfur will continue, inspite of the peace deal between some rebel groups and the government in Khartoum. While we may see a UN presence in the region, I don't think the kind of large scale western intervention which some liberals support is anymore likely next year than it has been over the last few. Perhaps the most worrying trend visible in the Darfur situation, is its transformation into a regional conflagration incorporating local conflicts in neighbouring Chad and the Central African Republic. If this continues, as seems likely, it will serve to make any peace deal all the more complicated to acheive.

On a slightly more positive note, I continue to believe a major assault on Iran is unlikely. The US and UK might well like to attack the country, but bit off more than they could chew in Iraq and will find themselves under increasing pressure in Afghanistan. Similarly, the Hezbollah-Israel conflict of last August will surely have discouraged the more hawkish Israelis. No doubt western powers will try to use the recently established UN sanctions regime to put pressure on Ahmadinejad. They may even supplement this approach with covert action, perhaps through the Islamist-Marxist People's Mujahedin, who have previously received US support, despite being designated a "Foreign Terrorist Organisation," by the US State Department. If we keep looking for the big attack or even an invasion, we may miss these smaller and less obvious interventions.

Back in Blighty I think it's safe to say we're going to see the attack on our civil liberties continue. The introduction of ID cards will begin in earnest with 69 interrogation centres being opened sometime in 2007. After calls from senior police officers for bans on flag burning, and the power to proscribe chants as well slogans on placards, banners and headbands, I'd be less than surprised if at least some of these suggestions found their way into legislation over the coming year. Even children won't escape this, with the expansion of fingerprinting in schools and the establishment of the Children's Index.

As pessimistic as the foregoing sounds, it isn't all going to be bad. I promise. It's just that bad things are easier to predict with any degree of certainty. We do know that by this time next year, Blair will be gone, even if we're not entirely sure when he's planning on going (place your bets here), so at least there's that to look forward to. I also believe that none of the foregoing is inevitable. History shows that if people get themselves organised in sufficient numbers, governments have to sit up and pay attention. (On which note I predict the Save the NHS campaign is going to be one of the big movements of next year.) The future really is in our hands. I just wish we didn't seem so butter fingered.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Teacher: Leave them kids alone!

The problem of kids being bullied for their lunch money is an old problem, which has become a cliche in a certain flavour of school-orientated dramas. This being the case, it obviously needs a new, flashy solution:
All secondary pupils in Scotland should be given ID cards in an effort to stamp out bullying, according to a teaching union...

The [Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association] SSTA's general secretary, David Eaglesham, said the time had come for photographic identification to be added to the cards used to access school facilities.
Fortunately, the Scottish Greens seem to have their heads screwed on about this. Eaglesham "said that introducing such a system would also help prepare young people for "'the realities of identity management in the 21st Century.'" In response, Green MSP Patrick Harvie argues, "We should be preparing young people for the reality of defending their privacy and civil liberties against ever-more intrusive government systems."

The general introduction of cards in schools should be viewed alongside the use of fingerprinting at several establishments. At the recent Defy-ID National Gathering, a friend described this process as "grooming" children in preparation for ID cards and constant surveillance later in life. If kids are normalised to it while they're young, they'll never be able to imagine a world where we aren't constantly recorded, monitored, tracked and studied. That, of course, is exactly what those pushing the emergence of the surveillance society want. The longer we take to stop this, the harder it's going to get.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Happy Christmas (War Is Over)

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Those of you looking to volunteer in the War on Christmas can sign up here.

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Christmas TV

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Global Orgasm Day?! You couldn't make this shit up.

Reindeer: Horses With Antlers

The tree's up, the tinsel's out and Slade are back on the wireless. It's time once again to celebrate the birth of Doctor Who, make our annual sojourn to the Church of Consumerism and await Satan's visit and his bulging sack. It's time also, for that other festive tradition (i.e. something that's happened more than once before), the Disillusioned kid Seasonal Message. Obviously, I wouldn't dream of going against tradition so, for your delectation and delight, here's this year's winterval waffle.

Perhaps surprisingly given my all-pervading cynicism, I actually like Christmas. Last year I suggested that this might stem, at least in part from "a naive hope that the season of goodwill contains the seeds of a better world," but didn't really explore the ramifications of this idea. Conveniently, Jason Godesky has actually done that for me this year. In a fascinating post, he ruminates on what would happen if Roy Wood actually got his wish and Christmas was celebrated every day of the year. Godesky argues that gift giving is in a sense a hangover from tribal societies and notes that it offers an alternative to market economics, one operating according to an inherently incompatible logic. On this basis, he concludes,
What would it be like if we really did make Christmas last the whole year long? It would be a gift economy—it would be a tribe. It's no empty holiday slogan: it's our birthright. We deserve nothing less, and settling for less is killing us. If we don't demand more, if we don't demand what we deserve, and if we don't do it right now, then we have ceded our right to survive. It's time we actually did make Christmas last all year—nothing less will do.
Obviously, that's what I was getting at.

To suggest that Christmas is generally a good thing is not to ignore the concomitant downsides: mindless consumerism, sweatshop labour, domestic violence, animal cruelty etc. These are products of wider societal problems (capitalism, patriarchy, exploitation of animals), not of the season per se. Those problems need to be tackled, but that doesn't, or at least shouldn't, preclude us enjoying the festivities. Go forth and drink until you throw up your liver,* for tomorrow we smash capitalism.

Of course, one of the less salutary traditions at this time of year is the increasingly obstreperous mumblings from the right of the isle about a nascent "War on Christmas." In reality there isn't and never has been such a conflict outside the paranoid delusions and well-honed persecution complexes of Rebekah Wade and Stephen Green. It is interesting to note that while the Daily Mail (via) is fulminating about the fact that "only one in 100 Christmas cards sold in Britain contains any religious imagery or message," militant secularist George W. Bush seems to have no problem with sending a card emblazoned with a picture of the White House in snow and making mention only of "the season."

Much of the "controversy" around the matter this year seems to have been stirred-up by the tabloid press in order to boost their readership. They're not alone, however. The BNP, the soi-disant "true defenders of the faith," have also been getting their knickers in a twist about "the Labour controlled central government, many local councils, and the entire Politically Correct anti-British Establishment doing all they can to undermine the Christian festival of Christmas." Now, I'm not suggesting that every Christian Soldier who has signed up to this valiant fight is an unreconstructed fascist, but it is telling that this valiant struggle has been so easily co-opted by Griff & Co.

Christmas is only a Christian festival in a very limited sense. Festivities at this time of year pre-date Christianity's emergence and the Romans even held a festival on December 25 called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, "the birthday of the unconquered sun." Christianity settled on the date largely arbitrarily, although the available evidence suggests that Christ was most likely born in the autumn. Holding the festival in winter served as a sweetener to putative converts who wouldn't have to give up their traditional parties. This also helps to explain the co-option of pre-Christian symbols such as holly.

Although I've described this process as "hijacking" in the past, I don't believe there's anything inherently wrong with it. Winter's cold and miserable, and frankly why would anybody bother if there wasn't a party in the middle of it? If you want to assign that some religious significance -whatever its origins - feel free. Whatever flies your sleigh. But don't try and tell me you have a monopoly over seasonal festivities and don't expect the rest of us to be singing from the same carol sheet. I'll enjoy my nut roast perfectly fine without having God's Seal of Approval.

The problem of course is that our courageous Christian Soldiers are motivated less by a desire to defend the festive spirit than by a thinly-veiled political agenda. Jarndyce describes the so-called war as "a cipher for our thoughts about immigration," and there's more than a snowflake of truth to that assessment. The War on Christmas is fundamentally a stick for beating radicals, liberals and ethnic minorities with. It's part of the wider struggle against the evils of "political correctness" - a largely meaningless catch-all phrase wielded by the right as a whipping-boy embodying their multitudinous dislikes (anti-racism, gay rights, health and safety regulations, immigration, red-tape, religious tolerance etc.). Our brave Christian Soldiers are involved in an ambitious political project and won't be satisfied until they've overturned every progressive development of the last fifty-years. If they want a war, we'll give 'em one, although I'd appreciate it if they could hang on until Tuesday.

Happy Christmas, Chrismukkah, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Duckmass, Hannukah, Hogmany, Holidays, HumanLight, Koruchun, Kwanza, New Year, Saturnalia, Winter Solstice, Winterval, Yalda and/or Yule!

* Please remember to drink responsibly

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Brownfemipower has compiled a list of posts by bloggers participating in the day of internet solidarity with the people of Oaxaca, including my post. In other news, I've also made this month's Carnival of Socialism.

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I've only known here two days and Rachel has already tagged me with a meme. *rolls eyes* At least, it's a fairly interesting and not too involved example of the phenomenon: Write about the seven best things you did in 2007. So in no particular order, here they are:

1) Returning to university. Honestly, the work thing's over-rated.

2) Quitting my job. See above.

3) Seeing Propagandhi at the First Floor Club in Derby. I've been waiting five years for them to tour and they were well worth the wait.

4) Going to see Children of Men. Soul-destroyingly brilliant dystopian sci-fi starring Clive Owen.

5) Meeting Shimri Zameret. I got pissed in a park with an Israeli refusenik. How cool is that?

6) Striking for pensions. The main reason I joined Unison. Pity they were so quick to sell us out, not that I was particularly surprised.

7) My birthday party. I ended up throwing up over my own leg. Enough said.

At this point I'm supposed to perpetuate the meme by tagging seven other victims people, so if you can be bothered: Alex, Chris Rossdale, DanR, Janine, Jim Jay, Nella, Pacian. If not, it's probably for the best.

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Oaxaca Resiste

Subcomandante Marcos of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN, the Zapatistas) has called for international solidarity with the people of Oaxaca on December 22 (i.e. today):
December 2 of 2006

To the people of Mexico:
To the people of the world:

Brothers and Sisters:

The attack that our brothers, the people of Oaxaca suffered and suffer cannot be ignored by those who fight for freedom, justice and democracy in all corners of the planet.

This is why, the EZLN calls on all honest people, in Mexico and the world, to initiate, starting now, continual actions of solidarity and support to the Oaxacan people, with the following demands:

For the living reappearance of the disappeared, for the freedom of the detained, for the exit of Ulises Ruiz and the federal forces from Oaxaca, for the punishment of those guilty of torture, rape and murder. (en español)

We call to those in this international campaign to tell, in all forms and in all places possible, what has occurred and what is occurring in Oaxaca, everyone in their way, time and place.

We call for these actions to come together in a worldwide mobilization for Oaxaca on December 22, 2006.

The people of Oaxaca are not alone. We have to say so and demonstrate it, to them and to everyone.

By the Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee - General Command of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.Mexico.

Insurgent Subcommander Marcos.
Mexico, December of 2006
Brownfemipower has suggested (via) that bloggers participate in internet-based solidarity, raising awareness of the issue. Coincidentally, I started writing a post on this way back when in November, but never finished it. So, I dug it out and dusted it down. Hence this post.

Oaxaca is one of those places which most of us could easily go through life and remain entirely oblivious of. Certainly that's been my experience until recently. Inspite of the world's long running disinterest, the city - the capital of the state of the same name - has become the latest front in the resistance to neo-liberalism, global capitalism and state violence.

The roots of the present conflict go back someway, but the defining event was a strike called by Section 22 of the Síndicato Nacionál Trajabadores Educativas (SNTE), the teachers' union. Such industrial action is apparently an annual event and seeks to increase pressure on Ulises Ruiz Ortega (URO) the state governor. The strike began on May 15 and entailed large protests and various direct actions. Strikers also established an encampment in the city's Zócalo square. Early on the morning of June 14, this was attacked. A police helicopter dropped tear gas before 3,000 state police tooled up with riot shields and clubs entered the melee.

There was also an encampment set up by strikers and on June 14 this was attacked by the state. In response to this assault, APPO (Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca, the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca) was formed, grouping together hundreds of local organisations, among them CIPO-RFM (Consejo Indígena Popular de Oaxaca - Ricardo Flores Magón), representatives of whom visited Nottingham almost two years ago.

Rallies, occupations, clashes and paramilitary attacks became the norm over the next few months. The situation flared up in later October when Mexican riot police decided to retake control of the city, leading to oftentimes violent clashes. On October 27 when NYC Indymedia journalist Brad Will was shot, apparently by a paramilitary named Pedro Carmona, ex-president of Felipe Carrillo Puerto de Santa Lucia del Camino, a colonia in Oaxaca. The video he was filming only moments before his death is available online, giving an insight into the reality of the situation on the ground. Sure, enough, Will was not the only or even first person to die as a result of state agression in Oaxaca, but his murder did serve to generate international publicity about what was going on, especially across the global Indymedia network who reacted in the manner you might expect to the slaying of one of their colleagues.

Repression has continued since then, with federal forces expanding their operations to towns surrounding Oaxaca City itself. Police have been arresting large numbers of people, including, in one instance, two documentary filmakers and their translator. Many of those detained report being beaten. Resistance has also continued, but there are suggestions that this has been hindered by Section 22's decision to make a deal with URO, following which its Secretary-General Rueda Pacheco has stated that the union will not participate in any further marches with APPO.

The Oaxaca struggle has been an inspiration to activists around the world and has received solidarity from a multitudinous groups. In Mexico, the APPO have built an alliance with the Zapatistas and Peoples' Front in Defense of the Land (FPDT) from San Salvador Atenco, hence the call for solidarity which inspired this post. Elsewhere there have been solidarity actions in such diverse locations as New York and Istanbul.

If you have a blog please consider writing something on this important struggle. Sure, a handful of westerners blogging about the situation isn't about to bring down the Mexican State (more's the pity, I'd suggest), but awareness raising is an important first step.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

First Pinochet and now Niyazov, fate really is spoiling us.

Never let the facts get in the way of a good story

Reuters (via):
Asked whether Mustaf Jama had used a full Muslim veil to evade checks, a spokesman for West Yorkshire police said: "It's a possibility. He could have been wearing a pantomime horse outfit as well. But until we get him, we won't know for sure."
Cue opprobrium about the evils of pantomime costumes; warnings about the dangers of pantomime villains; and Blair's photo opportunity with the Fairy Community Leader.

Update: Obsolete has more.


Cold Cold Christmas

Yesterday must have been one of the coldest days of the year. If not ever. So what better way to spend the evening than standing around in Parliament Square shaking a bucket full of small change? Of course, this wasn't all I was doing, I was also participating in a carol service, which may or may not have been illegal.

The dubious illegality of the service stems from the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) which prohibits unauthorised demonstrations "in vicinity of Parliament." This has generated considerable resistance, as many of you are no doubt aware: "mass lone demonstrations" were large numbers of people seek authorisation for ostensibly independent protests taking place at the same time; illegal picnics; Mark Thomas' record number of protests within one day; naming the dead ceremonies; and much more. The thinking behind the carol service was that as SOCPA doesn't define what constitutes a "demonstration," it is entirely possible that a carol service might very well be covered and that the police would look pretty stupid if they tried to arrest a bunch of carol singers. Last year's event,which I didn't attend, was such a success it was decided to repeat the exercise and, freed from the bondage of wage slavery this time around, I thought I'd toddle along.

I spent most of the day wandering around London sightseeing (read: getting lost) and took the opportunity to visit Santa's Ghetto, the gallery set-up by Banksy and friends, which very definitely gets the Dk Seal of Approval. I arrived at Parliament Square at around 6.30 in time for the latest mass lone demonstration, which ran the gamut of causes from calls for the decriminalisation of the Kurdistan Workers Party/Kongral-GEL, to criticisms of the Iraq war, via demands for improved working conditions for elves.

The Carol Service kicked off just after seven with our choirmaster leading on a saxophone. I was assigned the job of collecting donations for Medical Aid for Iraqi Children (we raised £85.93 and 75 euro-cents) and distributing song sheets. I carried these tasks out with the enthusiasm which friends will be familiar with and spent much of the service hidden away at the back of the crowd so that people wouldn't notice my near total inability to sing in tune. I also snapped a few photos (which you can find here) although the light conditions and my limited photographic skills colluded to render them not all that exciting. To the apparent disappointment of some, the carols were all traditional, with traditional, unaltered lyrics. We sang:
  • O Come All Ye Faithful
  • Away In A Manger
  • Little Drummer Boy
  • The Twelve Days of Christmas
  • Deck The Halls
  • Good King Wenceslas
  • The First Noel
  • Joy To The World
  • We Wish You a Merry Christmas
  • Jingle Bells
  • Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer
  • Santa Clause Is Coming To Town
  • Amazing Grace
  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  • Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
  • Silent Night
Little Drummer Boy was skipped over, because of apparent difficulties with it last year. This was fine with me. It'd have been fine with me if we'd skipped over the whole list, but I mumbled my way through.

There was also a minute's silence and Tim Ireland presented veteran peace campaigner Brian Haw with a megaphone. This apparently occurred last year, but the new one had the benefit of being even more powerful. Brian also speechified briefly and closed the service by leading the Lord's Prayer (which I was surprised to discover I still know the words to). The police were nowhere to be soon throughout.

Apparently there were 43 people in attendance, most of them, it seems, bloggers. Tim of Bloggerheads organised the whole shebang and deserves a serious back-patting for doing so. Also there were Rachel, Davide, Rabbit Strike, D-Notice and Rigmor Haga. I'm told there was somebody from Indymedia, so no doubt they'll have a report (possibly with video footage) in a day or two. After the close of play, several of us retreated to the warmth of the pub. Putting faces to names was nice and there was much discussion of possible future protests (anybody got an ice cream they might be prepared to lend us?) and the politics of blogging (on which note, National Service sounds like it's going to rock).

Overall I think we can notch the carol service up as a success, albeit a small one. It's just a shame it was so cold. Perhaps next year we can hold it in the summer?


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

NVDA Consistent With International Law After All Admits HRW

Human Rights Watch (HRW) seem to have realised how stupid their press release about Palestinian non-violent resistance (which I laid into last Thursday) was and have released the following mea culpa (via):
We regret that our press release below (“OPT: Civilians Must Not Be Used to Shield Homes Against Military Attacks”) gave many readers the impression that we were criticizing civilians for engaging in nonviolent resistance. This was not our intention. It is not the policy of the organization to criticize non-violent resistance or any other form of peaceful protest, including civilians defending their homes. Rather, our focus is on the behavior of public officials and military commanders because they have responsibilities under international law to protect civilians.

It has also become clear to us that we erred in assessing the main incident described in the press release. We said that the planned IDF attack on the house of a military commander in the Popular Resistance Committee, Muhammadwail Barud, fell within the purview of the law regulating the conduct of hostilities during armed conflict. We criticized Barud for reportedly urging civilians to assemble near the house in order to prevent the attack, in apparent violation of that law. Our focus was not on the civilians who assembled, their state of mind, or their behavior (such as whether they willingly assembled or not), but on Barud for risking the lives of civilians.

We have since concluded that we were wrong, on the basis of the available evidence, to characterize the IDF’s planned destruction of the house as an act of war. If the planned attack against the house – a three-story building housing three families - was, in fact, an administrative action by the Israeli government aimed at punishing a militant for his alleged activities, the law regulating the conduct of hostilities during armed conflict would not apply and could not be violated...
While this admission is to be commended, I don't think it takes anything away from my fundamental point. Note that they would have stood by their argument had the IDF's action been an "act of war," even if all other facts were unchanged. Later in the same article they state explicitly that whether the actions of "human shields" is voluntary or not is irrelevant, provided the question arises in a situation where the "laws of war" apply. This is problematic: where does it leave the likes of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) who seek to intervene non-violently in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to protect Palestinians?

It is also interesting to note, that HRW apparently see no disjuncture in juxtaposing an example where civilian women voluntarily went to aid Hamas militants cornered in a mosque after two days of fighting, with an instance when "the IDF blindfolded six civilians, including two minors, and forced them to stand in front of soldiers who took over civilian homes during a raid in northern Gaza." HRW's phrasing implies that these are in some sense comparable, which is frankly laughable. HRW seem to believe that people are not entitled, or perhaps not able, to make choices which put their own lives at risk. Such matters, they suggest implicitly, are the sole responsibility of their leaders. Hence, my original point about the denial of agency seems to be borne out.


If anybody reading this is going to the carol concert in Parliament Square at 7pm tomorrow, I may see you there. Drop me an email if you want to discover whether I'm as attractive in real life as you no doubt imagine.


The War on Shampoo

Way back when, during all the hoopla about liquid explosives on UK-US flights I commented,
This all strikes me as slightly bizarre and I can't help recalling earlier threats from other terrifying tools in the terrorist arsenal such as ricin and red mercury. I wouldn't be surprised if this supposed threat is forgotten about pretty quickly, who now remembers the tanks patrolling Heathrow? Then again, maybe I'm just being a cynical whatnot and this time it's for real... the government have cried "wolf" so many times people don't know whether to believe them or toss them the finger.
It looks increasingly like my cynicism wasn't misplaced. Perhaps it really is time to stop believing anything and everything they say.


Saturday, December 16, 2006

Radio 4 are holding a vote to see which law listeners think should be scrapped forthwith. Of course, it's only a poll, but wouldn't it be amusing if thousands of people suggested a key piece of legislation, like - say - the Identity Cards Act 2006? No that I'd dream of suggesting such a thing.


1938 Returning

Reuters (via):
When radio host Jerry Klein suggested that all Muslims in the United States should be identified with a crescent-shape tattoo or a distinctive arm band, the phone lines jammed instantly.

The first caller to the station in Washington said that Klein must be "off his rocker." The second congratulated him and added: "Not only do you tattoo them in the middle of their forehead but you ship them out of this country ... they are here to kill us."

Another said that tattoos, armbands and other identifying markers such as crescent marks on driver's licenses, passports and birth certificates did not go far enough. "What good is identifying them?" he asked. "You have to set up encampments like during World War Two with the Japanese and Germans."

At the end of the one-hour show, rich with arguments on why visual identification of "the threat in our midst" would alleviate the public's fears, Klein revealed that he had staged a hoax. It drew out reactions that are not uncommon in post-9/11 America.

"I can't believe any of you are sick enough to have agreed for one second with anything I said," he told his audience on the AM station 630 WMAL (, which covers Washington, Northern Virginia and Maryland

"For me to suggest to tattoo marks on people's bodies, have them wear armbands, put a crescent moon on their driver's license on their passport or birth certificate is disgusting. It's beyond disgusting.

"Because basically what you just did was show me how the German people allowed what happened to the Jews to happen ... We need to separate them, we need to tattoo their arms, we need to make them wear the yellow Star of David, we need to put them in concentration camps, we basically just need to kill them all because they are dangerous."

The show aired on November 26, the Sunday after the Thanksgiving holiday, and Klein said in an interview afterwards he had been surprised by the response.

"The switchboard went from empty to totally jammed within minutes," said Klein. "There were plenty of callers angry with me, but there were plenty who agreed."

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Friday, December 15, 2006

There's a petition criticising the government's policy vis-a-vis the Chagossians. Go sign it.


No Ifs, No Buts


Not only are we sexier, we're more intelligent as well. Science says so.

Abolish Death

I think we might need to work on our slogans (via).

I am the law

Truly this is a government without parallel:
A major criminal investigation into alleged corruption by the arms company BAE Systems and its executives was stopped in its tracks yesterday when the prime minister claimed it would endanger Britain's security if the inquiry was allowed to continue.

The remarkable intervention was announced by the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, who took the decision to end the Serious Fraud Office inquiry into alleged bribes paid by the company to Saudi officials, after consulting cabinet colleagues.

In recent weeks, BAE and the Saudi embassy had frantically lobbied the government for the long-running investigation to be discontinued, with the company insisting it was poised to lose another lucrative Saudi contract if it was allowed to go on. This came at a time when the SFO appeared to have made a significant breakthrough, with investigators on the brink of accessing key Swiss bank accounts.

However, Lord Goldsmith consulted the prime minister, the defence secretary, foreign secretary, and the intelligence services, and they decided that "the wider public interest" "outweighed the need to maintain the rule of law". Mr Blair said it would be bad for Britain's security if the SFO was allowed to go ahead, according to the statement made in the Lords by Lord Goldsmith. The statement did not elaborate on the nature of the threat.

BAE claimed that it was about to lose out on a third phase of the Al-Yamamah deal, in which the Saudis would buy 72 Typhoon aircraft in a deal worth £6bn. The Saudis had also hinted that they would do a deal with the French instead if the inquiry pushed ahead. A 10-day ultimatum was reportedly issued by the Saudis earlier this month.
This is blatant political interference in a criminal investigation on the part of our soi-disant leaders. National interest - always a dubious term given the heterogeneous reality of nations - is now defined as being synonymous with the interests of BAE and the Saudi royal family.

Clare Short averred, "This government is even more soiled than we thought it was. It means that BAE is above the law," a sentiment echoed by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT). It seems to me that this misses the point. BAE have wormed their way into the heart of British power: they exert huge influence on the Cabinet; employees move seamlessly between the arms trade and government; and there is an entire MOD agency, the Defence Exports Services Organisation, set up to promote British arms companies, currently headed by Alan Garwood on a secondment from MBDA who are part-owned by BAE. BAE aren't so much above the law, as they have become the law.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Public Carol Service
Click here for more information.

Tory scum pretend they care

Continuing the theme of the problematic nature of human rights discourse from this morning, I was reading Craig Murray's blog when I followed a link and discovered that the Conservative Party has established its very own Human Rights Commission. Which came as something of a surprise.

Apparently the Commission has been established to "develop the party's foreign policy by making human rights a priority" because "Freedom and human dignity should be at the heart of our foreign policy." This all sounds suspiciously like Robin Cook's rhetoric about putting "human rights at the heart of our foreign policy" and I suspect that if there Tories were ever to return to power (FSM forbid), they'd implement their worthy sentiments with the same degree of consistency.

I'm also less than encouraged by the presence of neo-con egghead Michael Gove in the Commission, particularly as the paranoid red-hating nutjob is apparently going to focus on Cuba. Coupled with the telling absence of both the Occupied Territories and modern day Iraq from the list of "Countries of Focus," I wonder if there isn't a danger that this might end up looking more like a Project for the New British Century than Amnesty International.


A.N. Wilson is a steaming heap of bovine excrement and an idiot to boot.

From Kosovo to Gaza

In From Kosovo to Kabul, David Chandler argues that human rights discourse conceives of the human subject as passive, an inherently undemocratic idea, as it undermines the conception of active agency on which participation in the political process is predicated. In the place of popular action as the driving force for political change, this view inserts elite, top-down reform and even, in the most extreme cases, humanitarian intervention.

In many respects, this is a controversial view. Human rights in many respects has become the prevailing ideology of our age and one which goes largely unquestioned. A recent article by Jonathan Cook provides an insightful example of this aspect of the discourse playing out. Back in November, a number of Palestinians organised themselves to protect homes about to be the target of Israeli air strikes. At the time, I argued this was a positive step, a conclusion Cook seems to concur with. However, as Cook points out, Human Rights Watch (HRW) aren't so keen.

HRW argue that "it is a war crime to seek to use the presence of civilians to render certain points or areas immune from military operations," even "where the object of attack is not a legitimate military target." Cook suggests that their interpretation of international law may be wrong, noting that popular resistance to oppression has always been a dangerous venture in which civilians risk serious injury and even death. "Responsibility for those deaths must fall on those doing the oppressing, not those resisting, particularly when they are employing non-violent means. On HRW’s interpretation, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela would be war criminals."

HRW's Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson opines, "There is no excuse for calling civilians to the scene of a planned attack... knowingly asking civilians to stand in harm’s way is unlawful." Note that there is no suggestion of compulsion here. Civilians have been "called" or "asked," but certainly not forced. However, having implicitly accepted the conception of a passive human subject, Whitson seems unable to accept that people may have actually chosen to participate in these actions of their own volition, with full knowledge of the dangers. Once individuals have been stripped of agency it becomes impossible to understand their actions without reference to their leaders.

Clearly, one doesn't want to throw the baby out with the bath water. Many of the abuses which human rights organisations oppose are worthy of condemnation and the struggles to end them deserve widespread support. By denying the agency of their victims, such organisations can only call for top-down reform. For what it's worth, I agree with Chandler suggestion that what is needed is for the active subject to be re-emphasised, collective politics to be rejuvenated and for the maximisation of "people's capacity for autonomy and collective rational decision-making, a capacity denied by the proponents of ethical regulation from above."


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Party Hard

Chileans celebrate Pinochet's death (via):
Of course, not everybody's so pleased about it. Thatcher is apparently "greatly saddened." She shouldn't worry too much. With any luck she'll be joining him before too long. (At which point we too can celebrate.) While it's a shame he never faced justice, I'm not going to shed any tears for him. Now, if we can just get rid of the system he helped implement we'll be sorted.


Sex workers of the world unite!

The serial killer targeting sex workers in Ipswich has now claimed at least five victims. As various commentators have pointed out, this killing spree and the consequent investigation, make a compelling case for the decriminalisation of sex work.

As Jim notes, "attempts to apprehend the Yorkshire Ripper (in the seventies and eighties) were held back by the illegality of prostitution - particularly as the police, then, took a hard line saying that any other crimes that came up in the investigation would be prosecuted." The police's insistence in the current investigation that they "are not interested in any other crime" is a positive step, but "this stops well short of what's needed - not just in this case - but in the host of unreported injustices that are meted out to sex workers in this country."

The English Collective of Prostitutes have released a statement (via) in response to the string of murder, presenting a series of demands:
* an immediate temporary amnesty from arrest for prostitute women and clients so that anyone can come forward to give information to this inquiry without fear of criminalisation or harassment; (Previously, women with outstanding arrest warrants either couldn’t contact the police or when they did were arrested. (See Criminalisation: the price women and children pay, English Collective of Prostitutes response to the government’s review of the prostitution laws, December 2004)

* an end to street sweeps, arrests and ASBOs against prostitute women and clients which have forced women into darker, more isolated areas making them more vulnerable to rape, violence and even murder. Women working under increased pressure are less able to look out for each other, have less time to check out clients and are forced to take more risks;

* a change in police priorities; money and resources being used to prosecute women and clients for consenting sex must be re-directed into vigorously pursuing violent men and protection of all women

following the example of New Zealand, decriminalisation of the prostitution laws, which by criminalising sex workers signal that women’s lives are not worth much. The police and courts don’t protect women and violent men think they can get away with attacks.

The police are telling women to look out for each other and come forward with information. But whatever safety systems that women have and will work out among themselves, they can never substitute for the police doing the job that the public overwhelmingly wants them to do – protect sex workers from rape and other attacks.

Over 70% of prostitute women are mothers. As poverty, homelessness and debt go up and women’s wages go down, more women (especially with Xmas round the corner) are forced into prostitution to support themselves and their families. Every woman is some mother’s daughter, someone’s sister, aunt, beloved friend . . . Every life is of value.
Unfortunately, Alice Miles (via) is almost certainly correct when she muses,
One thing I can predict with utter certainty: neither the Conservative nor Labour parties will propose the sort of steps that would have protected Gemma and Tania and Anneli and, as looks grimly inevitable, Paula and Annette. The solutions are too unpalatable for polite politics, which relies on middle-class votes in "nice" areas like Suffolk for election.
This doesn't preclude the possibility that changes can be achieved, it's just that - as is so often the case - they're not going to be brought in without a fight. This is a struggle that is already underway. Aside from the English Collective of Prostitutes, sex workers are also organised in the International Union of Sex Workers and even in their own branch of the GMB. Such efforts deserve support. Those women who find themselves forced onto the streets don't need moralising, they need to our solidarity. With a serial killer prowling the streets, their lives may depend on it.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Green Revolution(?)

This (via) is interesting:
Hezbollah and its allies have managed for 10 days to control the center of Beirut with a loud, peaceful, organized protest. In many ways, Hezbollah has adopted a strategy that has been cheered by the White House in the past, in places like Ukraine, and even Lebanon, leaning on large, peaceful crowds to force unpopular governments to resign and pave the way for elections.

But this time Washington and its allies have said the protest amounts to a coup d’état, fueling charges that the United States supports democratic practices only when its allies are winning.
Double standards? Surely not.

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Known unknows

Tony Blair's announcement of "the Government's decision to maintain the United Kingdom's independent nuclear deterrent" is an intriguing portent of the arguments we can expect to be made in defence of the Trident renewal in the run-up to next year's Parliamentary "debate" on the matter.

Blair's key argument (there are others, but they all seem to come back to this starting point) fixates on the fact that the post-Cold War era is one "of unpredictable but rapid change": "Anyone can say that the prospect of Britain facing a threat in which our nuclear deterrent is relevant, is highly improbable. No-one can say it is impossible." Anything could happen in the next forty-five minutes: terrorists might try to hide a nuclear bomb in Tony's toilet; North Korea might try and impress people with how big its missile is; Jacques Chirac might decide he's had enough of the Rosbifs:
It is written as a fact by many that there is no possibility of nuclear confrontation with any major nuclear power. Except that it isn't a fact. Like everything else germane to this judgment, it is a prediction. It is probably right. But certain? No, we can't say that.
Given this all pervading uncertainty, we are compelled to maintain our nuclear "deterrent" in order that we are ready to deal with any conflicts which may arise.

This argument consists of two premises: (1) we can't be sure what the international security situation will be in the future; and (2) we need to maintain our nuclear "deterrent" so that we're ready in any eventuality. The first premise is an indisputable statement of fact, but the second - essentially a statement of opinion - is dubious at best.

Let's try playing out Blair's argument with a different case study: "Anyone can say the prospect of Britain facing a threat in which a big gun for shooting down alien space ships would be relevant, is highly improbably. No-one can say it is impossible." The first premise may now look sillier, but remains just as true. We can't be sure that we won't be invaded by Brain Eating Bug Eyed Monsters From Uranus, even if it is pretty unlikely. Does if follow that we are compelled to develop a big gun for shooting down alien space ships? I think not. Investing billions in hugely dangerous technology needs to be justified on the basis of something more substantial than vague hypotheticals.

In fact, the very real uncertainty of the modern epoch can be wielded, at least as convincingly, as an argument against nuclear weapons: "Anyone can say that the prospect of a British nuclear submarine being hijacked by terrorists in order to attack British cities, is highly improbable. No-one can say it is impossible." The best way to prevent such an eventuality is to start decommissioning our nuclear arsenal as soon as possible. A terrorist armed with a chunk of circuit board is a rather less bothersome prospect than one armed with a submarine full of fully-functioning nuclear missiles.

On some level, I think Blair is aware of the weaknesses of his argument. At one point he remarks, without further comment, "[Trident] is also our only deterrent. In the 1990s we moved to Trident as our sole nuclear capability." If uncertainty is the key justification for maintaining our "deterrent," because we can't know what threats we may face, then logically we should surely try to prepare for hypothetical threats which can't be confronted by submarine-based missiles. By this logic, making Trident "our sole nuclear capability" was surely a mistake which needs rectifying. Of course, Blair doesn't suggest this because he doesn't believe uncertainty should guide policy, rather he's using it as an excuse for a policy he's already set his mind on.

As I hope is obvious from the foregoing, uncertainty alone is a bad basis for policy making. Essentially it leaves you with an argument for doing both everything (because if we don't we may regret it) and nothing (because if we do we may regret that as well). At the very least, you have to make some attempt to assess the likelihood of various threats. If we do this in a sober manner I think the arguments for renewing Trident are weak. There are plenty of non-nuclear states which manage to get from one day to the next without being wiped off the face of the earth. What makes us think we're any different? Sure much of the world is pissed off at us about Iraq, but few of them have nuclear weapons and in any case it would be easier, cheaper and better all around to get out of Iraq. But then, maybe it is in Iraq that we begin to get an insight into what our nuclear "deterrent" is really about.

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Left or right they're all bastards

This (which you can enlarge by clicking on it) is from the always interesting Political Compass (via):You're invited to draw your own conclusions.

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Is it just me, or does the "War on Christmas" start earlier each year?

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Deported Home for Christmas

Black Britain (via):
Immigration officials have said that the baby and toddler of an exiled Chagossian woman living in Crawley, who arrived in the UK this week to spend Christmas with their mother, are to be deported on December 13.

Marie-Angely Marianne who is in her twenties, had not seen her two children aged 19 months and three years old for nine months – since she came to live in Britain. As the daughter of parents born on the Chagos Islands, she was automatically granted a British passport when she was younger.

But her husband, who is Mauritian and her children – who do not have British passports are not being allowed to stay in Britain, a problem that faces all of the Chagossians, despite the fact that they have only come to live in Britain because of the forced removal of the entire Chagossian population almost forty years ago.

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I'm all Beta Bloggered-up. Hopefully this won't have any impact on your reading pleasure, but let me know if there are any problems with the new wiring.


I was out last night getting pissed with "the world's most cited academic geographer." Top that.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Giving the police the finger

Don't worry, if you've got nothing to hide you've got nothing to fear:
PORTABLE computers that take digital fingerprints and compare them against the national police database are being trialled in Waltham Forest Motorists pulled over by traffic police from the Operational Command Unit will be asked to put their fingertips in the machines when they are stopped...

The police spokesman said that if the trail was successful, officers on the beat may get the devices and use them to target people who looked suspicious. [Emphasis added.]

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Defiant till the end

Hat-tip: Tash

Take your ID card and stick it

This is encouraging: "The first signs of a significant popular revolt against the Government's identity card scheme have been uncovered by a YouGov poll for The Daily Telegraph" and revolt may not be an inappropriate term:
More than a third of the 39 per cent who object - representing more than 10 per cent of the population - suggested they might take their opposition to considerable lengths.

Considerable numbers claim they would be prepared to pay a small or even a heavy fine for refusing to acquire a card and some say they would to go to prison. Nearly one in 10 is happy to say: "I will acquire a card but publicly destroy it".
The numbers involved are not inconsequential: "If just two in every 100 person over 16 refused to sign up, the Goverment would be pursuing one million people." They're hardly likely to catch all of us.

Get involved now and you can say you were there before it got trendy.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Chavez 4 - Opposition 0

Another day, another victory at the polls for Hugo Chavez. I mean - seriously: three elections and a referendum on his presidency, that's good going by anybody's standards. (Outside your average dictatorship, of course.) This success has been hailed by activists around the world as a victory for the Forces of Light against the Armies of Mordor, but I wonder if they aren't somewhat overstating the case.

The benefits of the "Bolivarian Revolution" (named after Simon Bolivar, the leader of Latin America's 19th century liberation movement) for Venezuela's poor are undeniable: free medical care; improved access to drinking water; and putative steps towards land reform, to name but a handful. But, as important as these developments are, their significance says as much about the state of Venezuela pre-Chavez than it does about his radicalism.

Chavez's programmes have been predicated to a considerable extent on black gold. Venezuela is the world's fifth largest oil exporter and with the price of oil as high as it is, the economy is surging at an astonishing 9.4%. Sure, the poor haven't done as badly out of this as they might, but its the old elites who continue to thrive:
The economy is surging at 9.4% and banks and credit card companies are reporting exponential increases in deposits and loans. Car sales are expected to more than double this year to 300,000, many of them luxury models, and property price rises rival Manhattan.
This is the reality of Chavez's Venezuela: fairly successful social democracy, but hardly a revolution. Douglas Bravo, a former Marxist guerrilla and one-time associate of Chavez averred," If you look at what it has accomplished, it is a neoliberal government."

As Roy Carroll remarked in the Guardian, "property rights and the structure of the economy remain intact, largely because the government does not want to impede its revenue, prompting relief from the elite and grumbles from the radical left who want greater redistribution of resources." In August, the government made noises about expropriating the Caracas Country Club and Valle Arriba golf club to construct houses for the poor. Writing in mid-November, Carroll noted,
Chávismo has not conquered the fairways. The vice-president, Vincente Rangel, scorned the idea and Mr Chávez, not wanting to pick this particular fight in the run-up to an election, said not a word, leaving the mayor to fight a lonely battle against the clubs' lawyers.
Although the fight was not yet over, Caracas Country Club president Fernando Zozaya seemed confident the case would be resolved to their satisfaction. "Let's say it's a very special type of socialism."

The foregoing takes nothing from the very real threat to Venezuela posed by US Imperialism, but this is not my concern here. It is possible to oppose US aggression without unquestioningly supporting Chavez. Similarly, one can acknowledge the commendable reforms implemented over the last eight years whilst wishing they'd been taken further and critiquing the elite nature of the so-called revolution, with its troubling focus on Chavez as a putative Glorious Leader. (To say nothing of the people he's made friends with.) Indeed, I'd go so far as to say that such a position is a prerequisite of a genuinely liberatory politics. Vicarious revolution's a lot less exciting than getting out and doing it yourself, anyway.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Home Office has 12 librarians who monitor blogs seven days a week. That's gotta be - what? - upwards of £200,000 a year in salaries in order to keep track of what people like me are writing. Is this really a sensible use of resources? I could be wrong here, but I'm guessing that even the most loquacious terrorist isn't going to publicise upcoming attacks on their blog. You'd almost think the government was concerned about spin or umbrageous about the nasty things bloggers have said about them.

Darfur? Never heard of it.

Telegraph (via):
The Home Office is at the centre of a fresh row over its handling of asylum applications after it emerged that hundreds of people who have fled the slaughter in the Darfur region of Sudan have been told by officials that it is safe to return to their homes.

Among those who have been refused permission to remain in the UK is a woman doctor who was gang-raped by Sudanese soldiers for protesting to aid workers about the rape of more than 40 schoolgirls.

...The Sunday Telegraph has learnt that last year 900 of 995 Sudanese applications for asylum were rejected, and a report to be published this week claims that only one asylum case in 10 involving alleged rape victims succeeds.
Remember: "the tragic situation in Darfur is unacceptable and ...the international community cannot turn its back on the millions of people in Darfur who have suffered so much in recent years."

At least they're consistent.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Burn Motherfucka Burn

There's something inspiring about people rising up against oppression in the face of overwhelming odds. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943 springs to mind in this regard as the last, desperate, scream of a downtrodden people. While I don't want to overstate my case here, but this broadly explains my response to last week's rebellion at the Harmondsworth concentration camp Immigration Removal Centre. It's just a pity the place wasn't burned to the fucking ground. (In a previous riot, at the Yarl's Wood centre, this almost happened because attempts to cut costs had led to construction taking place with insufficient attention paid to the danger of fire and without sprinklers being installed.)

Friday, December 01, 2006

Return to Sender

Think you have a problem with junk mail?:
Every day it seemed more Iraqis woke up to death threats tossed into their carports. At first the death threats were handwritten, but as kidnappings became a daily occurrence, the kidnappers grew more brazen and organized. The terrorists now issue generic, computerized threats with the organization's name as letterhead. Only the name of the victim is written by hand. (via)
Dear Sir/Madam,

We are writing to tell you that your cooperation with the infidel invader has made you eligible for our head spinning new offer on decapitation.

Yours faithfully,
The People's Popular Front for Mesapotamia

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