Dissident cop-out on privacy
As Cory Doctorow points out in a Guardian
interview, technological and cultural factors
are placing personal privacy at ever greater
risk. Doctorow says there should be greater
social value put on privacy (eg by allowing
children more privacy, rather than constantly
But, as one of the comments under Proctorow's
out, it's not as if dissident campaigning
groups are setting a good example. Quite the
opposite. A rather depressing example
is given of Corporate
Watch (together with a media
activist website) showing no regard for the
privacy of a private individual... when it suits
their purposes (and I suspect they're not alone
among activist groups in not respecting the
confidentiality of private correspondence).
Perhaps the presumed "justification"
is that it's okay to betray someone's confidence
if they're "not one of us" (ie have
the "wrong" views)? After all, they're
on the side of evil, so why not?
It may seem like a relatively trivial error
of judgment. But that's no excuse, since even
the big injustices and crimes that such groups
campaign against are composed, ultimately, of
a series of relatively trivial steps
decisions made by human beings. If we don't
like the idea of the total demolition of personal
privacy by the state and big business, then
perhaps we should start by respecting the privacy
of others which includes the confidentiality
(unless informed otherwise) of private correspondence.
Even when we don't like the views expressed
in that correspondence.
Update: I've just had
it pointed out to me that someone has expressed
a very similar
view at the NO2ID website. But my post predates
it hear it first at Anxiety Culture!
Censorship where least expected
Project Censored resorts to censorship?
Hell message board attracted a lot of debate
over Iraqi death estimates. Ever since George
Bush announced that the Lancet 2006 study (which
estimated 655,000 deaths) was "not credible",
many have defended it (including myself). But
it's a sign of things going too far when Lancet
defenders dismiss practically all criticism
of their favoured study as "downplaying"
The more recent IFHS
was a similar type of study to Lancet 2006,
but with a much larger sample and better quality-control.
It produced a lower estimate: 151,000 violent
deaths. The IFHS team, like the Lancet team,
reportedly risked their lives in conducting
the surveys. One IFHS researcher was shot and
killed. IFHS was well-received
in the relevant fields (epidemiology, demography,
How did Lancet defenders react to a study with
a much lower estimate? John Tirman, who commissioned
the Lancet study (but who isn't an epidemiologist),
the IFHS estimate as "not credible"
ironically the same words used by Bush
to dismiss Lancet 2006.
Project Censored, whose "Top
censored story for 2009" is the Iraqi
deaths issue, doesn't mention IFHS at all. In
fact, Project Censored excludes all research
five peer-reviewed studies) which contradicts
its own headline. There's currently no scientific
consensus on the number of dead, but Project
Censored presents the highest estimate (from
a poll by Opinion
Research Business, which wasn't peer-reviewed
science) as if it's established fact.
I recommend a well-researched article, which
might be uncomfortable reading for some: "Project
Censored as Censors".
I've seen the criticism of Project Censored
raised on prominent "alternative"
media websites and, ironically, censored. The
popular community blog, Metafilter, for example,
hastily deleted this post (which broke none
of its guidelines): http://www.metafilter.com/75790/Project-Censored-as-censors
I conclude, based on much evidence (the above
examples are just the tip of the iceberg), that
a large section of the "alternative media"
is not interested in establishing the death
toll through scientific means (which means taking
account of all the research including
the studies that tell you what you don't want
driving test identity fraud
The BBC ran a headline story (BBC1 10 O'Clock
News, BBC News Online, 23/6/07) claiming
massive levels of identity fraud in the
driving test system. We queried this with the
Driving Standards Agency and found that
the BBC were reporting flimsy speculation as
fact. The BBC corrected their website after
we pointed this out but the damage had
already been done by BBC1's misleading broadcast.
Here's our correspondence with the BBC:
Dear Steve [Steve Herrmann,
Editor, BBC News Online],
The BBC News page covering
driving test identity fraud opens with:
"Tens of thousands
of people are paying fraudsters to sit their
driving test for them..." http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6231892.stm
There seems to be no factual
basis for this figure. It appears to be a
speculative guess by a Driving Standards
Agency (DSA) spokesperson. You quote Andy
Rice of the DSA fraud team as saying: "We're
into the tens of thousands." In the Independent
on Sunday (24/6/07), however, Rice is
quoted as claiming "There are potentially
tens of thousands...". Only "potentially".
We've seen no evidence
presented by the DSA to support this figure.
It appears to be plucked out of the air, yet
the BBC has reported it as fact.
[Anxiety Culture editor sent 24/6/07]
We received the following reply, from Pat Heery
(UK Editor, BBC News Interactive), 25/6/07:
Thank you for your e-mail
of 24 June about our story on the driving
test scam. I have spoken to Andy Rice of the
Driving Standards Agency for further clarification
and have amended our story in the light of
this to say "could potentially be in
the tens of thousands figure." Thank
you again for your e-mail.
The Driving Standards Agency deserves
some blame, as they introduced the "potentially
tens of thousands" remark based on
a feeble premise. [When we originally queried
the figure with them, their Press Officer, Pamela
Matthews, replied as follows (25/6/07)]:
you for your enquiry.
have had over 1100 investigations since 2004
- these are from figures that we keep. We
have had cases where individuals have done
250 tests, so potentially there could be tens
of thousands (simple maths). Unfortunately,
in the coverage the key word - potentially
- was scrapped.
An "investigation" doesn't necessarily
imply a crime. If it did, Britain's prisons
would be overflowing with convicted terrorists.
And we're not impressed with the "simple
maths" that led to a misleading news story
being transmitted into the heads of millions
of BBC1 viewers.
BBC's Sleazy Crime
BBC1's CCTV: You are Being Watched (8/5/07)
was advertised as a "documentary on the
history of CCTV". It consisted, in fact,
mostly of CCTV footage of contemporary crimes
an orgy of extreme violence, damage to
property, theft, drug dealing and binge drinking
a "nation caught on camera in the
grip of crime and disorder", as the hyperbolic
voice-over commented at one point.
A particularly brutal CCTV clip showed a thug
viciously kicking and stamping on the head of
an injured man. This clip was shown no less
than six times by the "documentary"
(and, as if to intensify the experience, an
uptempo music soundtrack was added to much of
the violence throughout the programme).
So where was the promised "documentary
on the history of CCTV"? We timed the
various segments: in total, the hour-long programme
contained approximately 7 minutes on the history
of CCTV and a further 5 minutes on contemporary
CCTV issues (that's being generous some
of this was merely voice-over to alarming CCTV
footage). Approximately 50 minutes were given
to CCTV footage of crimes being committed, together
with shocked reactions from victims, police
and CCTV control staff, etc.
The opening segment (over six minutes duration)
shows a masked, hooded criminal gang "armed
with spades and crowbars" breaking into
a house, while the owner (in Spain at the time)
helplessly watches the remote CCTV footage on
his laptop. He worries and the viewer
is left worrying about whether his daughter
is asleep in the house as it's being attacked
(she isn't, as it turns out). This dramatic
segment features an ominous horror-style soundtrack
to increase the terror. Towards its conclusion
(the arrival of the police the "money
shot", in pornography terms), the narrator
comments: "Is this the future for us all?"
No place in crime porn for
For a "documentary on the history of
CCTV", little time is spent on reactions
of the public (eg protests) and civil liberties
issues. Less than one minute, in fact. The narrator
comments: "So far, the majority of Britons
seem comfortable with being caught on camera
hundreds of times a day". Then there's
a quick clip of Professor Martin Gill (University
of Leicester), who says: "In truth,
CCTV is not a big threat to civil liberties
not on its own. Although of course that
is a serious issue to watch when it's not managed
properly". That's all we get on these
important issues. The emotionally-overwhelming
message of the "documentary" is that
in a time of ever-escalating crime and threat,
our only route to salvation ("relief",
porn-wise) is to give the authorities unlimited
powers to monitor us all.
The BBC isn't the only channel to produce sleazy
crime porn, of course. But only the BBC would
present as a respectable "history
documentary" a combination of pro-surveillance
establishment propaganda and gratuitous fearmongering.
Authorities vs "Bad" Individuals
BBC1 has broadcast a procession of "fly-on-the
wall" documentary series, filmed from the
viewpoint of the "authorities", who
are shown to be in pursuit of individual
wrongdoers (often from "lower" classes).
Institutions, government agencies, corporations,
etc, don't get portrayed as wrongdoers.
Here's a partial list of such series recently
shown on prime-time TV (the vast majority appearing
Sky Cops (helicopter patrols)
Car Wars (Tactical Vehicle Crime Unit)
On the Fiddle (welfare fraud)
Clampers (car wheel clampers)
Customs & Excise Cops
The Tube (London's underground police)
Airport (airport police)
A Life of Grime
Drunk and Dangerous (police tackling
Cops, Robbers and Videotape
Shops, Robbers and Videotape (variation
on a theme)
War at the Door (housing officers &
Dumping on Britain (Environment Agency)
Cops with Dogs
Cars, Cops and Bailiffs
The Planners are Coming (Planning Police)
Saints and Scroungers
(investigating benefits claimants)
Cars, Cops and Criminals
(series of hour-long documentaries)
The Lock Up (about
officers in custody suite of police station)
Behind Closed Doors
(police tackle domestic abuse cases)
"Nothing to hide"?
The UK government's PR on compulsory ID-cards
argues: "Nothing to hide, nothing to
fear". The logic works both ways: if
government has nothing to hide, it shouldn't
fear public scrutiny of every meeting and memo.
Why not have 24-hr video monitoring of every
government official including bedrooms
and bathrooms? Just to ensure they're not up
to anything suspicious. If they've nothing to
hide, they've nothing to fear. Or, as a bumper
sticker puts it:
Nothing to hide?
Burn your curtains...
It's cheaper than an ID card
Government BS on work &
David Blunkett (UK Work & Pensions Secretary)
recently announced that going to work "will
overcome depression and stress a lot more than
people sitting at home watching daytime television."
Let's be charitable and assume Blunkett is
merely ignorant of studies linking stress/depression
with work (eg a Samaritans survey, in
May 2003, found jobs to be the "biggest
single cause of stress").
Blunkett's remark about "watching daytime
TV" adds to the social stigma of unemployment
(this stigma being a main reason, along with
financial insecurity, for the stress/depression
linked to unemployment).
In wanting to help "ordinary people",
Blunkett seems right up there with his government
colleague Geoff Hoon, who allegedly uses terms
such as "low-life scum" to describe
members of the public who get in his way.
Blunkett quote: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/4325664.stm
See also: Work Hell,
our page on the detrimental effects of work
The 'Misleading Vividness'
Politicians and media seem hypnotised
by the Misleading
Vividness fallacy the belief
that the occurrence of a particularly vivid
event (eg a terrorist bombing) makes such events
more likely, despite statistical evidence
The occurrence of a terrorist attack doesn't,
by itself, increase the risk of terrorist
attacks. Being hit by a meteorite doesn't increase
the risk of being hit by a meteorite. The stabbing
of Monica Seles didn't make it more likely that
tennis players would be stabbed. The occurrence
of a particularly gruesome crime doesn't make
such crimes more likely. 9/11 didn't increase
the likelihood of America being attacked.
The Misleading Vividness fallacy can
have destructive effects. Anything from overprotective
parents to "erosion of civil liberties"
and illegal wars killing over 100,000 people.
& "Choice" in working hours
Latest media fairy-tale: that the UK
government has blocked European plans to remove
our working-hours rights. "British Industrial
leaders insist the right to choose working hours
is a key part of a flexible economy". (Guardian,
Here's a different version: The UK government
blocked Europe's attempts to protect workers
from extended periods of long working
hours (since there's overwhelming evidence that
it increases health/safety risks). Europe seeks
to impose a maximum 48-hour working week taken
as an average over a period of 12 months.
That last bit is omitted by most UK media reports.
(The standard period of measurement is 4 months.
The extension to 12 months is a compromise with
the UK proposed by Europe, but still blocked
by the UK).
Under Europe's plans, a person could work over
48 hours for several weeks (or months) and still
fall below the 48-hour average (over 12 months).
But this isn't "flexible" enough for
UK industrial leaders. No, they want the "flexibility"
of having people work over 48 hours per week
for months on end, regardless of health/safety
According to the Labour force survey (Autumn
2004, quoted by TUC):
67% of those
who usually work more than 48 hours say that
they want to work fewer hours.
61% of long hours workers do not receive
any overtime pay.
Of the 39% who are paid overtime, 69%
say that they want to work fewer hours even
if this meant less pay.
The share of national wealth distributed as
wages has fallen from about two-thirds in 1975
to just over half today, with the balance shifting
towards rewarding finance-capital. In 1976 the
top 50% of UK households owned 88% of total
non-housing wealth. Today, they own 99%. In
the US, 80% of the fourfold increase in household
wealth between 1983 and 1998 has accrued to
the wealthiest 10% of households.
of Americans living below the poverty level
who voted in the 2000 presidential election:
of US counties in which a full-time minimum-wage
earner can afford a one-bedroom apartment: 0
of children born in New York City who are living
in poverty: 52 (1999 figure)
(Sources: The Guardian, September 1, 2003;
Risk of Burglary
I was recently asked by The Idler
magazine to do some research on little-known
(and surprising) statistics for crime. The figures
for domestic burglaries (in England and Wales)
2001/2002 Recorded burglaries
per 10,000 households: 214
2000/2001 Recorded burglaries per 10,000 households:
1999/2000 Recorded burglaries per 10,000 households:
(Source: British Crime
That's approximately one burglary per 50 households
per year. This confirms a newspaper report (Guardian,
12/7/2002) claiming the average person in
Britain is burgled only once every 50 years.
And half of all domestic burglaries take property
worth less than GBP 500 in total. If you do
the mathematics, I think you can see that home
contents insurance makes no financial sense
(except for insurance companies).
One of the craziest of all rightwing
clichés is the generalisation that poor
people are lazy, and that getting
off their asses is all they need do to
improve their lot. Unfortunately, this belief
underlies a lot of conservative economic policies
(in the same way that God is on our side
underlies foreign policy).
But the figures seem clear: most people living
below the poverty line in the UK, for instance,
are employed in jobs. The number of people with
jobs in the UK has increased since 1980, but
the number of people living in poverty has increased
from 8 million to 12 million over the same period.
Which seems to suggest that jobs are no cure
for poverty. In the USA, 40% of those being
served in soup kitchens are employed in jobs
(after paying the rent, they have no money left
for food). Nearly a fifth of all homeless people
in America are employed in jobs (source:
National Coalition for the Homeless, 1997).
Poverty obviously has nothing to do with laziness.
Were told that we have a great
economy. Were told that there are great
opportunities for everyone. So why are people
so economically frightened? Why are people forced
to work in dead-end jobs? Why do corporate bosses
talk about a brutal market? Why
are politicians afraid to say anything which
might jeopardise their careers? If there is
an endless supply of great opportunities, why
would it matter to have your career jeopardised?
Surely another opportunity would turn up? Why
would anybody be afraid?
Ergo: There is no great economy. There
is no endless supply of great opportunities.
There is an endless supply of low-paid,
long-hours slave-jobs. There is a small minority
of financially-secure rich people. Most people
Back to top
Scaremongering on Crime
Here we go again. The newspapers
are talking about a wave of crime engulfing
Britain. They are referring to increased
levels of street crime. Lets put it into
In the last decade overall crime fell by
20% a fact verified by the authoritative
British Crime Survey.
Street robbery has risen, but it represents
under 2% of overall crime.
The surge in street crime is largely due
to increased numbers of mobile phone thefts,
committed against teenagers by teenagers.
Street crime isnt widespread
its concentrated in less than a dozen
urban regions (eg London and Manchester)
which account for 82% of all street robberies.
Street crime in London shot up last year,
partly because police were redeployed to
protect landmarks after September 11.
To reiterate: over the last decade, the
annual number of robberies rose by 40,000,
but the total number of crimes fell by over
In April 2002, fear of crime
was the reason given by French political commentators
for the rise in popularity of the far right.
Daily Mail journalists should probably
ask themselves whether they might be causing
more damage to society than teenage cell-phone
[For an update on crime statistics,
see Media scaremongering
Back to top
Boss an Asshole?
Phil Laut, author of Money is
My Friend, gives a psychological explanation
of why we hate our bosses: Our parents told
us that we shouldnt take money from friends,
and that we shouldnt take money (or sweets,
or puppies, etc) from strangers. That leaves
known enemies as the only
people we can take money from so our
bosses become known enemies in our
I find a sociological explanation
more plausible: We hate our bosses because of
Social Darwinism and the competitive
market system. If were all at each others
throats economically, then its not surprising
that we feel resentful towards those with economic
power over us.
An even simpler explanation is that
we hate our bosses because they behave like
assholes. It probably goes with the job.
Back to top
of the Unemployed
Judging from the security guards
and CCTV cameras now installed in most (all?)
Jobcentres, unemployed people are regarded as
dangerous criminals. Careful measures are taken
to ensure that the surnames of Jobcentre staff
are not revealed to the visiting unemployed
people. The rationale for this paranoia is as
follows: if the unemployed know the identity
of a Jobcentre employee, what is to stop them
waging a campaign of terror against that employee?
After all, unemployed people are only one step
up from terrorists. So, if you want to address
a letter to someone at a Jobcentre, you have
to address it: Joe, the bloke who works
at the second desk on the right. Meanwhile,
unemployed people have their intimate personal
details accessible to thousands of government
Back to top
Structure of Propaganda (parts 1 & 2)
These rants have been combined and
replaced by an article in the "Control
Systems" series: The
Propaganda System >
plans to spit in faces of jobless...
The UK government is running a TV
campaign against welfare fraud,
which stigmatises unemployed people by perpetuating
a sponger stereotype.
Meanwhile, government figures show
that welfare fraud is not a big problem. For
example, the cost of fraud and customer
error in Jobseekers Allowance
was a mere £0.26 billion last year.* Compare
this to other big annual drains on public money:
Internal Government fraud: £5
Cigarette smuggling: £4
Organised crime (estimated): £50
Corporate tax loopholes (estimated):
Welfare fraud accounts for less
than 1% of total UK fraud, so why does the government
want to make such a big issue out of it?
One answer is that they need a justification
for getting tough on unemployed
people. Welfare fraud provides such a justification.
Meanwhile, their tough approach makes
people fear unemployment. They need us to fear
unemployment so that we meekly accept low-paid
jobs. They want us to meekly accept low-paid
jobs because 90% of new jobs are low-paid
(and because they dont want to upset the
corporate world by doing anything to push wage
And of course theres the additional
benefit (to them) of directing public hostility
away from its natural target (the establishment,
the government, the authorities – historically
the most popular targets of public wrath)
and towards a safe target instead:
unemployed scroungers, drop-outs,
individuals who dont fit in.
*Source of welfare fraud figures:
Back to top >
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