I found out at the last minute this Thursday just passed that Alastair Campbell had a speaking engagement at Sheffield University. Interestingly the student group, 'The Exchange', who normally inform everyone on their mailing list of upcoming political speakers kept quiet on this one.
I managed to get hold of a ticket in the nick of time and attend.
I've never been so ashamed of Sheffield in my life.
There is simply no way the BNP, for example, would ever be able to have a speaker attend Sheffield University. Even if there were no 'no platform' policy, UAF and every other student group would be mobilised to stop it, and if they failed, protest outside in their hundreds and likely attempt to intimidate everyone going in.
How then is it possible that this serial distorter and murderer of the truth, who was amongst other things the chief architect for the fabric of lies that led the U.K. into that obscenity known as the Iraq War, was to be welcomed with open arms, his every quip received with warm chortles? This man has the blood of thousands on his hands through murder, injury and torture.
The host of the event, which was set up in an entertainment chat-show format, asked him expectedly softball questions. This was an irritant, but expected. It was the audience however who absolutely stunned me with their almost sychophantic acceptance of all of his talking points (such as the idea that anyone bringing up the deficit had some kind of pathological 'deficit fetish') and - most importantly - when they had their chance to question him themselves they went for the most mind blowingly anodyne and saccharin questions one could imagine.
Examples included 'what do you do in your shed?' and 'do you get free tickets for Wimbledon?' I spent most of the event shaking my head in absolute abject despair at the level of political dialogue. I continually put my hand up but did not get picked by the presenter. I'm not surprised, my body language must have looked very angry and aggressive and I spent the whole time staring at him, not clapping or laughing along with the ship of fools that was the Sheffield audience.
One of my friends wrote the idiocy off as just students being generally uninformed after I related this to her. I was sorry to tell her that the vast majority of the audience, which packed out the entire Octagon centre (1250 capacity auditorium) at the University, were not students and the average age was between 40-50. So these people have been fully cognizant of our wonderful 13 year journey with the Labour debt - and people - bombers.
Towards the end, the presenter allowed a 'quick fire round', where people could shout out brief questions that Campbell would then try to answer. It was at this point that he received his only difficult question of the night - one young chap shouted out "how right was Andrew Gilligan?"
When Campbell finally got around to answering this, his response was simply "Andrew Gilligan? Completely wrong on everything". That was it. I blew a gasket and started heckling. I'd purposefully sat in a prominent location, in a raised seating area at the back that gave me direct eye contact between the row separating the seating areas in front of me. "Andrew Gilligan was VINDICATED" I boomed down the aisle. The entire emasculated audience appeared absolutely shocked at my audacity.
Campbell repeated his line again at which point it degenerated into a mouth off between him and me. He said something outrageously idiotic which I can't remember, however it set me off into a long belly laugh which irritated him, and he said something like 'whatever facts the gentleman is privy to do not worry me'.
At which point I completely lost it and fully sounded off in a rant at him, telling him that I know he wouldn't be worried by facts, by his fake affectation to be down with the common man, (one of the questioners had previously asked him what it was he brought to the table for Tony Blair - his response was to claim that when he went to football matches he didn't sit in the VIP area, but deigned to mix with the 'common man' and therefore he understood the 'common man'),because he was a member of the political class, in the Westminster bubble.
He got shirty for a bit then remembered his snake-oil training and chose very carefully neutral words simply restating his position. I was shaking with rage and only began to calm down at the end when a nice chap and his girlfriend approached me and thanked me for standing up to him and said I was "very brave".
On the whole the evening really reminded me of why I'm glad to be leaving Sheffield. It is being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, having failed completely to start evolving into a more cosmopolitan and forward thinking place unlike most of the other core cities, and is packed - still - with people in complete denial regarding the economy, who expect state handouts for everything, who think there is an endless source of money for everything and everyone. I frankly have no sympathy at all. Sheffield is going to deserve whatever bad things come its way - the audience in the room were certainly representative of the City's more influential and better informed people.
EU Parliamentarians have sent a letter to the Commission requesting that ALL documents relating to the EU funded INDECT scheme be released.
What is INDECT? It is a research project related to develop the basis for electronic profiling via gathering data from freely available online media (including social networking sites), and also enable it to be merged with privately held data (e.g. police records).
The get out clause provided is that such profiling would only take place after a specific crime had been detected (presumably online). Of course nothing in the software itself would prevent it being used in other situations and we're all well aware of the EU's function creep fetish. In any case, as you will see however from reading the description on the project's front page, what might be considered a crime is sufficiently vague and wide reaching that anyone who expresses a strong opinion, or shares any files should consider themselves at risk (I can hardly wait to see how this interacts with uniquely British efforts like PHORM and the Digital Economy Act).
You can browse for youself the currently available list of deliverables. There is a lot of information here. In particular, I would recommend anyone with a computing background look at Deliverable 4.1 - this gives extensive details on the planned methodology and also will suggest to anyone with some knowledge in this area numerous lines of attack for countering such invasive surveillance technology. In this context deliverables 4.2 and 4.3 would also be worth consulting.
Also of interest may be a similar project that appears to be focusing more on the conceptual issues (also hat tip to IanPJ for noticing this): Detecter
The bad news:
The bad news is that this event highlights just how pathetic the EU parliament is. This is basically a begging letter to the EU Commission; the unelected executive who determine the EU's policies (and who are also able to keep all of their discussions secret if they choose to). It is very likely the Commission will simply say no. Or if it doesn't, there will be a very quiet announcement that will be missed by our wonderful mass media. Which brings me to my final point:
Tips to the blogosphere: As per usual the mainstream ("quality") media has consistently let us down on these type of EU funded research projects. It is difficult to understand because all of the EU funded projects must release deliverables to the public. Not only that but many of the researchers are keen to generate publicity and thus are open to contact. Despite these incredibly rich picking grounds, especially knowing how the News Factory Churnalists are often desperate for quick copy, it is incredible to see so little comment on these projects.
I worked on a couple of these projects previously. There is a lot of interesting work going on, some very good and positive, some very detrimental. There is very little reporting on either. However it is a massive area for research and exposure by the blogosphere community. The EU operates numerous - what it calls - 'framework programmes', each one running for a few years, issuing calls for proposals for research funding in areas dictated by the EU as important. Each programme is numbered sequentially FP6 projects have just ended and FP7 projects are now starting. You can search for all of them on CORDIS. Googling any search terms you like and also adding 'FP6' or 'FP7' can also be effective. Have at it!
This week we lost one of the best bloggers and Libertarian activists not just in Britain, but in the world.
Anna Raccoon was a phenomenon. Possessed of tremendous skill, experience, kindness and persistence, all in equal measure, she was one of the true warriors of both the blogosphere and the Libertarian tradition.
She was silenced by a continual, unabating campaign of threats and intimidation. Read the sorry, sickening details here, at Grumpy's place, where she leaves her last words. For those of you who never read her material or followed her various campaigns (which helped real people in the real world, acting as an serendipitous angel to their often unknown plights), the Devil has her very last blog post copied here. This post shows her at her best, detailing one of her many interventions to help those vulnerable people on the receiving end of the most banally evil dead hand of the state and its mendacious agents, and its also an inspiring summary of just how and why we can make a difference.
I'm going to miss her presence so much. However, she was an absolute inspiration. As Oldrightie comments on her goodbye note - "Life is for living first, fighting oppression second." Quite. Where you led the way Anna, the rest of us will take up the charge into the breach and beat back the enemy.
Gildas wrote an eulogy for Anna here and I certainly couldn't better it. So my ode to Anna, and to those of us now duty bound to take up the slack and fight in her place, and in her honour is by means of this song: