Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

But seriously folks...

.... what purpose could legislation like that possibly serve, even for those who don't give a damn about free speech, democracy or any of that sissy civil liberties stuff? I think the official police line is that it's to deal with extremism, but I really don't see how it helps. People aren't going to be any less extreme just because they aren't allowed to protest about it in public, and I can't believe that mass protest is the biggest recruitment tool available to terrorists. Why anyone should possibly care about flag burning in a way that wasn't already covered by criminal damage or arson laws is also something of a mystery.

A more apparently practical idea is to make it illegal for people to conceal their faces when protesting. From a civil liberties point of view there is at least a sensible debate to be had about the freedom to speak anonymously. While I tend to agree that, in a perfect world, people would all be able to stand proudly by their opinions, the fact is that in the world we're stuck with, there are many perfectly legitimate reasons why someone might want to go anonymously to a protest. Given their divisiveness, the Mohamed cartoon protests seem to me to be a case in point: if you're a conservative but upwardly mobile young muslim, it's easy to imagine that you might want to protest, but be a little concerned about what potential employers would make of seeing your picture plastered all over next day's papers next to some nutter with a "Slay the Infidel Dogs" t-shirt.

The police claim they need to be able to see the faces of radical protestors for intelligence purposes, which, if you take that suggestion seriously, seems to me to suggest a quite terrifying level of stupidity on the part of the guardians of our security: the guys who go on marches dressed as suicide bombers aren't real suicide bombers guys, and if they are - you really should have caught them already. I fail to believe anyone seriously connected with a real terrorist plot would decide to take time from off from his jihad for a spot of group flag-burning. I'm doubly sure he wouldn't do it without covering his face, so if your idea of intelligence gathering is to follow leads on anyone holding threatening placards, probably best to let them keep the masks on.

I hasten to add that this is only a proposal, but it seems to me that if it came into law it'd represent an all-new civil-liberties low, particularly from the point of view of free speech, which some might find a little ironic in light of where this whole thing started. As a method of combatting terrorism, it's actually worse than having John Reid stick his fingers in his ears and yell, "You can't hurt me if I can't see you." I'm fairly sure I've heard the idea put forward in a different context that we were meant to be encouraging people to express themselves through political processes (like protests) rather than explosions. I'd like to think that Lord Goldsmith couldn't entertain the thing seriously for more than ten seconds without throwing it out, but I'm not optimistic...

"My daddy died for that flag." "Really? Wow. I bought mine."

According to the BBC, the police are now requesting powers to criminalise flag-burning as part of a more general crack-down on demonsrtations.

The protests that sparked this are the marches in London in response to the Danish Mohamed cartoon in which some of the slogans, including the illiterate-but-creepy "Europe you will pay, bin Laden is way", seemed a little - let's put this calmly - unhinged. A few wags even dressed as suicide bombers for the occasion. A lot of people at the time mumbled that this sort of thing really was a threat to all the liberal values of Britain and couldn't be allowed to stand, and it's the opinion of this incredibly dim-witted silent majority that the police claim to be representing with their request.

So who's stupider: the idiots in suicide bomber fancy dress protesting about the cartoon depiction of muslims as terrorists, or the idiots who want to protect democracy and free speech by banning flag-burning, offensive messages on placards and any sort of protest other than an angry letter to the Daily Mail?

Answers on the back of a post-card, winner gets a pirated copy of Dangerous. Wisdom lies therein.

See also Rob Newman:

"I was talking to an American while I was over there, and he said to me, 'Man, I'll say one thing for the USA. We know how to unite people. It's like all of you got together and formed one big country called the rest of the world and decided to hate us.'

"So I said, 'Yeah, actually we did. We've even got our own flag.'

"'Oh yeah? What's it look like?'

"'Same as yours, but on fire.'"

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Free Speech and Islam

Just watched the Channel 4 free speech and Islam "debate", and it seems to me to open a number of interesting questions about the difference between theoretical and effective free speech. Everyone on both sides of the debate seems to be wrininging their hands and saying that something must be done. The radical muslim side say they want speech offensive to Islam regulated in much the same way that Holocaust denial is regulated in parts of Europe. I strongly disagree with that, but then I strongly disagree with Holocaust denial laws as well. It seems to me that idiocy like that should be allowed to fail on its own weaknesses.

The thing is, I'm not sure exactly what it is that the other side does want. They keep on talking about a crisis of free speech in Europe, but (other than France's passion for passing ever more laws about the historical treatment of genocide) I don't see exactly what the problem is. The argument has two variations that usually get lumped together. The first has been that people are scared of what radical muslims may do if people go and exercise their right to free speech on the subject of Islam. That's an understandable position, as the murder of Theo van Gogh shows. As far as I'm aware, though, it's already illegal to kill or threaten to kill people who denounce Islam, so free speech seems to me to be as protected as it reasonably can be.

The second version of this argument is that people are practising "self-censorship" because they're worried about offending Muslims. There's a horrible tendency to conflate the two, and confuse "scared of" with "scared of offending", but it should be obvious to anyone with a brain that these are very different concepts. No-one's co-ercing anyone into anything here, it's a case of manners. There's nothing in the doctrine of free speech that dictates that you must offend, only that you can if you want to.

It's at about this point that people start talking about political correctness. The point, for them, is that this is not just simple politeness, but an institutionalised mentality. News organisations, businesses and governments all shy away from offending or finding fault with Islam because the norms of PC prevent it.

Again, this has more than a grain of truth to it. Show me the person who didn't laugh their primary sexual characteristics off at the Samuel L. Jackson episode of Extras, and I'll show you the most boring person at the party. But PC covers a whole lot more than just Islam. I think most of us can see the problem with saying that women, the disabled and the short people are curtailing our free speech rights by forcing us to be nice to them. How much you want to legislate for that depends on your confidence in the state as an enforcer of those norms - the point is that no-one quarrels with a social norm that says you shouldn't be a arsehole, even if that norm is institutionalised.

The argument, of course, is that, where it concerns Islam, the norm infringes on important areas of debate within institutions and societies more broadly. I s'pose that could be true - although it does strike me that there hasn't been that much of a taboo on talking about "the problem with radical Islam" of late - but it's hardly the most important constraint on the block. Depending on your issue, everything from internet search engines to the Hutton report acts to shape norms of free speech. You don't have to be Noam Chomsky to think that using the market-place as one of the primary means to distribute speech (in the form of newpapers, TV and professional web-sites) is also going to have some fairly profound effects on what sort of speech is likely to get distributed (or suppressed).

The various methods by which institutional norms can effect speech should really be the subject of a whole other post (or perhaps blog). Suffice it to say that there are a lot of them and that some of them are very powerful: when a normative constraint on free specch does its work well enough, you don't notice it. Say that you think there are institutional constraints on the press when it comes to talking about foreign policy, and everyone looks at you like you should be wearing a tin-foil hat (even if you find a less wordy way of saying it). The fact is that few people no-one buys WMD as a cause for Iraq any more, and only morons swallow the "bringing democracy to the middle east" thing: there's a gaping hole in the media coverage where some sort of explanation should be. Talk to anyone in the pub of most political stripes and they'll give a more or less coherent explanation involving oil, and there are some very beleivable explanations along those lines, but you'll only very rarely see that in a paper. An entirely plausible cause for a multi-billion dollar war that most of the public believes but the papers avoid like the plague - now that's an institutional free speech problem.

There's a whole host of things that can undermine the effective exercise of free speech in a country, and I for one, would put a PC attitude towards muslims pretty low down the list; the fact that everyone's singling the muslims out seems to me pretty good evidence that, as a curtailer of free speech, it isn't that effective.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The whole "veil" thing.

Short of Richard Dawkins, I'm the closest thing you'll find to a militant atheist. For me, if you believe in a god, you're one step down from someone with an imaginary friend. You are, in fact, talking to someone else's imaginary friend. While religion may often do good, my feeling is that it manages to do a lot more harm, and that we could get on perfectly well being civil to each other without the help of supposedly divine guidance. And I'm all for free speech. So you might find it a little strange that I find myself repulsed by the Labour party's recent obsession with ladies fashion amongst the more traditional sections of Muslim society. Particularly since, when the French government said essentially the same thing about veils and schools, I was right behind them. So why would I be against an open debate on the role of religion and secularism in society?

The simple reason is that this is not a debate. There are now well-meaning people who think they're having a debate about the issue, but they're sadly mistaken. It's one of a long series of harrangues by New Labour designed to retroactively bring about the whole "they hate our freedoms" paradigm that they've been using to justify their romps around the Middle East. In this respect it's very similar to the Bush "Iraq is NOW a major centre of terrorist activity" argument: New Labour has been shouting about Radical Islam and producing initiatives designed to combat it that are actually fanning the flames. I'm sure there are a lot of young Muslims out there who have their doubts about the good sense of dressing women up as ninjas, but, after this government's track record, raising this issue is just going to look like another way of saying there's something wrong with them.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Youtube, Google and the "market for regulation"

No-one living within sixty miles of a newspaper can have failed to have noticed that there was something happening with Google and Youtube this week, and that the financial press is very excited about it. There's speculation aplenty about what it means, and the bottom line seems to be that nobody really knows. The Register is broadly pessimistic because it's the Register's job to be down on anything on the internet that isn't done by professionals. Their most vociferous line of argument comes from an interview with Mark Cuban, the guy who sold to Yahoo just before the crash, seems to hold water:

Like Google Video, YouTube maintains the fiction that the primary purpose of the site is amateur content, when it's really about pro, copyright material.

And it's in a Catch-22 situation. If the good stuff disappears, so do the eyeballs - taking with them Google's most obvious chance of monetising its latest asset.

No one has sued YouTube yet because without any assets or revenue there's nothing to be gained except closing the site down.

The whole piracy-as-business-model may seem a little harsh, but you can see their point: Youtube hosts a lot of copyrighted stuff whose owners don't want it there. This does, however, beg the question of why Google, a company not usually noted for its suicidal business strategies or lack of internet savy, went and took the deal on in the first place. The article manages to account for one vote (one of youtube's backers is also a google board member) but presumably the others took a little convincing. Fred von Lohman of the Electronic Frontiers Foundation has an idea which he explains in an interview on John Battelle's Searchblog:

YouTube has already been sued (by LA New Service), so Google is essentially buying that lawsuit. But I don't think that's a problem -- frankly, precedent set against YouTube will likely exert strong influence over the entire video hosting industry. So, in essence, Google is just getting more direct control over a lawsuit that is important for its existing and future business. And when it comes to lawsuits, Google has top-drawer talent (both in-house and in outside law firms), strategic vision, and a stellar track record. Google's executives (like AOL's and Yahoo's before them) understand that shaping the legal precedents is a critical part of their business.

And it's important to consider who are the people suing YouTube. I've thought for some time that the first lawsuits against YouTube (and other video hosting services) will be from small copyright owners (like LA News Service), not from major media companies. That's good news for YouTube (and Google). Small timers tend to lack the resources to bring top-drawer legal talent to bear in these fights. As a result, they often lose, creating useful precedents for the Google's of the world. In fact, Google has already been successful in securing good precedents against unsophisticated opponents who thought that they could squeeze a quick settlement out of Google (Field v. Google, Parker v. Google). What the small-timers don't appreciate is that Google would much rather spend money on setting a good precedent than on settling.

So I think the YouTube acquisition may well represent a legal opportunity for Google (and the Internet industry generally), rather than a vulnerability. After all, litigation to define the copyright rules for new online services is inevitable -- better to choose your battles and plan for them, rather than fleeing the fight and letting some other company create bad precedents that will haunt you later.

As Tim Lee of the Technology Liberation Front explains, this may also have to do with with the love of US judges for good ol'-fashioned big business:

I think there's another factor that's likely to lessen the legal peril for Google: a judge may perceive Google as too big and important to fail.

As much as we legal nerds like to debate the minutia of copyright law, the reality is that there's a lot of wiggle room in the law, and on the margins, the judge's perception of the defendant will be important. If a judge sees a company as arrogant kids who are flouting the nation's copyright system, his knee-jerk reaction is going to be to rule against them. On the other hand, if they see the defendant as a good corporate citizen on the cutting edge of technological progress, they're going to have the opposite reaction.

There's an obvious parallel here with my last post about finance and the environment: both of these cases can be seen as noteworthy shifts in the whole "market for regulation" that lobbying and legislation comprise. While the overwhleming forces are still for ever-greater restrictions on intellectual property and ever-looser ones on the environment, you can start to see how some sort of balance between corporate behemoths might be acheived. Not that that solves everyone's problems, but that's probably a topic for another post.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Wednesday morning and business as usual here in This Septic Isle (sic). Here's some typically eco-friendly news from The Mother of Parliaments (which, contrary to its nickname, did not give birth to George Clinton aboard The Mothership at any time in its illustrious past):

"From the office of the South-East England’s Green MEP Caroline Lucas
October 11th, 2006


REBUILDING work at the House of Commons is using plywood containing illegally logged rainforest timber from Papua New Guinea, an investigation has revealed.

According to environmental NGO Greenpeace, two tonnes of plywood are being used to protect stairs, floors and walls during construction work. Euro-MP Caroline Lucas, who previously campaigned about illegally-logged timber being used in the building of the European Commission’s new Brussels HQ opened in 2004, said Blair must personally intervene to halt work.

'Tony Blair himself must intervene and halt construction work using rainforest timber if he is to retain a vestige of credibility on the environment.'

The South-East England Green Party MEP added: 'If the Government is serious about conserving threatened rainforest habitats around the world it must adopt strict procurement guidelines to ensure illegally-sourced wood is never again used in its own construction projects.

'The use of illegally-logged timber must be stamped out across the country – not just in public construction projects - by enacting and enforcing new legislation to ban its import into the country in the first place.'

Note to Editors:
More details of the Greenpeace investigation can be found at:"

Of course, had Her Majesty's Government sourced the timber from Papua New Guinea's friendly neighbour, they possibly could have got a better deal by swinging an exchange for British armaments.

Where exactly did New Labour's ethical foreign policy go?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The FT has a couple of interesting articles about the risk business today. The first is John Kay's amusing analysis of mathematical models of risk analysis in hedge funds. The essential point is that those relying on these models fail to take into account the (one would have thought rather obvious) fact that the models aren't perfect. Apart from being a spectacular example of the sort of tale of groupthink-induced-madness that seems to crop up time and again in financial settings, catastrophes of the sort of magnitude that Amaranth apparently was do make you wonder what exactly the point is of all the number-crunching risk assessment that seems to be a feature of everything from high finance to university field trips.

I'm fairly sure I've seen papers by much smarter people than me that essentially argue that this is all a way of divesting risk onto the little guy, but I can't be bothered to find them right now because what I really want to talk about is the second, much more interesting, article by Tony Jackson about the new Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change. Take the time and read the whole thing, because this is pretty interesting. He's got a few big points about why fund managers might push in a green direction. The first is that, as we see above, fund managers have an almost unreasonable passion for making calculations about risk, and so tend to push governments into regulating early rather than leaving it all up in the air - even to the extent of lobbying in the opposite direction to industry. This dove-tails with the fact that some investments in a managers portfolio might lose value due to environmental problems created by other companies that it invests in, and managers are in a very good position to put pressure on the polluters. I would like to talk more about the possible effects of this situation where managers are "no longer valuing shares in isolation", and scenarios in which you could see people investing in environmentally sound policies. Sadly, I have a stats class (oh, the irony) so, instead, here are some highlights in case the article's only available to FT subscribers:


There is a groundswell of irritation among professional investors – not only in the IIGCC – over governments’ slowness in formulating policy.

For instance, the EU system of emissions trading lapses in its present form in 2012, as does the Kyoto agreement. For a fund manager trying to figure out threats and opportunities, this presents an obvious problem. As one group member puts it, “you can model cash flows for maybe two years out, but after 2012 it’s a black hole”.

It is a particular irritation that employer groups, such as the UK’s Confederation of British Industry, seem to have the ear of governments. And employers, naturally, are opposed to regulatory costs – at least until they apply to all their competitors worldwide.

Investors, by contrast, are not necessarily bothered either way. They just want the data so they can do their sums. So one of the explicit aims of the new group is to lobby governments with counter-arguments.


That apart, the group has a rather subtler motive. Suppose you own shares in a coal-fired generator. In pragmatic terms, you might prefer it to blast away regardless of pollution and thus maximise its cash flows.

But suppose you also own shares in a water company, which in the long run will incur heavy costs in mitigating the effects of pollution. You could then be facing a net drop in the value of your portfolio.

But if you went to the power company and asked it to change its practices merely because of your holding in another company, you would be shown the door. Hence the importance of a group. If you can turn up speaking for a large chunk of the company, you’re not asking, you’re telling.

This adds a new layer of complexity to the business of fund management. In effect, you are no longer valuing shares in isolation.


The IIGCC mainly represents fund managers rather than investors themselves. And investors or their representatives, such as pension fund trustees, have a habit of hiring or firing managers on the basis of short-term performance.

So an implicit part of the agenda is to get greater freedom for the managers to think in the long term. In this context, that might seem mere common sense. But it is an argument in which the managers are interested parties.


In Europe, global warming is now seen as a fact of life rather than a left-wing theory. Indeed, there is palpable excitement at the opportunities it might throw up, especially if business in other parts of the world is slow to catch on.

Polluting companies, meanwhile, need to be alert. There is a parallel with the corporate governance movement, which commentators first dismissed as political correctness. They were wrong about that. It would not do to be wrong again.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Just noticed

All my posts seem to be about my dislike of Labour and the Republicans, and my scepticism about the whole “War on Terror”. This is not actually intentional, and I swear that if I was a little more dilligent I'd include stuff like Giles's thing about “anarchists against deregulation”. It's just that the WoT is such an easy target if you're looking for nice bite-sized chunks of irony, hypocrisy and double-speak.

But, in the spirit of fairness and balance, I'd now like to be nice about Fox News for a change. Obvioulsy they lean a smidgeon to the right on most issues, and this has made their famous tag-line the subject of much mirth at the expense of a few people. I wouldn't go to them for news about anything (except possibly weapons development), and would harbour grave reservations about the intelligence of anyone who used them as their primary news source. But what I do question is this idea that they're much more responsible than anyone else for the sort of distortions we see in the news media.

Because at least Fox wear their political hearts on their sleeve. Most of their viewers must have realised that they're going to get things from a Republican point of view, and that's why they watch it. This is why all those statistics about Fox viewers being more likely to think their were WMD in Iraq or that Saddam Hussein had links to 9/11 are essentially much less interesting than they sound. Of course they thought that. They were all Republicans, and so they got their news from a Republican news source. I can't belive Fox itself actually changed many people's minds on the issue. What it did do was provide a good summary of the conventional wisdom on the right that guys like Steve Colbert could methodically take apart.

The broader point I'm making here is that Fox is actually a very good example of what I like about the internet - you can get the news that fits you politically, or see the ideas and claims of those you disagree with laid out in clear fashion, and so engage in a more meaningful discussion, instead of just having one, supposedly neutral, telling of “the news” that claims this creeping monopoly on the truth. I suspect this is one of the reasons, along with more in-depth coverage and general snobberies about TV as a medium, that we in the UK think of newspapaers as a better source of news information that telly - there's a broader range of opinion on offer (not THAT broad, admittedly).

Tragedy repeated as farce - the cycle gets shorter

I can't remember how many of you I've bored with this story, but it seems to me worth putting up here. There are lots of ctories that suggest the people in charge of security and surveillance in Britain and the US are a little out of touch, and many that suggest they're not overly keen on civil liberties, but for crazy comedy value this has to be the best so far.

Was Congress Misled by “Terrorist” Game Video? We Talk to Gamer Who Created the Footage

Was an elite congressional intelligence committee shown video footage from an off-the-shelf retail game and told by the Pentagon and a highly-paid defense contractor that it was a jihadist creation designed to recruit and indoctrinate terrorists?

It's looking more and more like that is the case.

The bizarre story began to unfold last week when Reuters reported that the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence was shown video footage of combat action which was represented as a user-modified version (or “mod”) of Electronic Art's best-selling Battlefield 2, a modern-day military simulation which features combat between U.S. forces and those of the fictitious Middle East Coalition (MEC) as well as the People's Republic of China.

Reuters quoted a Pentagon official, Dan Devlin, as saying, ”
What we have seen is that any video game that comes out… (al Qaeda will) modify it and change the game for their needs.”

The influential committee, chaired by Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), watched footage of animated combat in which characters depicted as Islamic insurgents killed U.S. troops in battle. The video began with the voice of a male narrator saying, ”
I was just a boy when the infidels came to my village in Blackhawk helicopters…”

Several GP readers immediately noticed that the voice-over was actually lifted from Team America: World Police, an outrageous 2004 satirical film produced by the creators of the popular South Park comedy series. At about the same time, gamers involved in the online Battlefield 2 community were pointing out the video footage shown to Congress was not a mod of BF2 at all, but standard game footage from EA's Special Forces BF2 add-on module, a retail product widely available in the United States and elsewhere.

GamePolitics has been seeking comment on the video from the Pentagon and Science Applications International Corp (SAIC), a defense contractor based in San Diego. Committee chair Hoekstra's office referred GP back to the committee for comment. A call there had not been returned by press time.

According to Reuters, the U.S. government is paying SAIC $7 million to monitor Islamist web sites, which is where they apparently discovered a copy of the footage. However, the video can also readily be accessed via links found in the user forums of the popular Planet Battlefield site, operated by IGN Entertainment of Brisbane, California.

It is unclear whether SAIC vetted the origin of the video before showing it to key members of Congress and representing it as a terrorist recruiting tool.

But GP correspondent Colin McInnes
has investigated the origin of the video. On behalf of GamePolitics, Colin tracked down “Sonic Jihad,” the creator of the video for this revealing interview, conducted via e-mail. The video creator's screen name is apparently a tribute to an album called Sonic Jihad, by an American rapper who performs under the name Paris.

CM: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

SJ: I am Samir. I was born and raised in Holland. But my parents are from Moroccan origin. I'm 25 years old. I have a master degree in management, economics and law. I work for a hospital as a quality manager implementing the ISO quality certificate. My hobbies are Battlefield 2, movies and Thai-Boxing.

CM: Are you Islamic? What are your political views on what's going on in the Middle East right now? Did they affect your choice of theme for the video?

SJ: Yes I am Muslim. But my ethnic background and religion have nothing to do with this video. My political views are like most of the people of Europe. We think that Team America IS the WORLD police ;) I live in the west, I love the west and I do love American culture. Especially rap such as Eazy-E, NWA, Public Enemy, T-KASH and especially…. Paris! Did my views effect my choice? Nah man we were just making videos for fun. Just look at the [BF2] community, there are lots of videos made.

CM: What's the inspiration behind your handle, “SonicJihad”?

SJ: Paris is a rapper that is trying to put a positive message in his raps… Not that bling bling, 'ho this… that's what's dominating the charts nowadays. Believe me I love some good “gangsta rap” once in a while; but there has to be balance. And that is what's wrong with the hip-hop scene nowadays. I really liked the album Sonic Jihad. And I really felt the artist and his views of the messed up situation in the world nowadays.

CM: Paris once released a song called “Bush Killa”, but it was about Bush Sr., not Dubya. When did you first come up with the idea for the video? Is there a story the video is trying to tell, or is it just a collection of interesting footage from the game?

SJ: The idea came to me when I saw that Team America movie. GREAT movie everybody should watch it. This video was just for fun with a Team America twist. There is a character [Gary Johnston] in the movie that talks about his goats getting killed by a Blackhawk helicopter and that's why he wanted revenge. I just took that story for my BF2 video and worked it out.

CM: What was the original intent in making the video? Fan-film, demo of gaming skill, protest, art project, clan recruitment, just for fun?

SJ: It was just a fan-film made by me. There are a lot of films made by the battlefield community. There is an in game battle recorder, so that encourages [you] to make movies about the game you have just played.

CM: When did you originally release the video?

SJ: I released the video in I think December last year. So I don't know why they come up with this about 6 months later. Is the defence department that slow in searching the net for possible threats? If that is the case I fear the worst…

CM: When did you first hear that your video was being touted as an example of “terrorist propaganda”? What was your reaction to hearing this?

SJ: I head it first from a PlanetBattlefield member named “Drezeir” he opened a topic about it at And he send me a mail about it… Of course I was shocked. It's not everyday that they label you part of al-Qaeda… and a Jihad recruiter. They demonised me by directly labeling me to someone from al-Qaeda who's trying to recruit innocent children that are playing this game, by using a mod.

CM: What did you think when you heard the claim that you had “modded” the game? Isn't the character in the footage just the “Insurgent” faction from the “BF2: Special Forces” expansion pack?

SJ: It is just in game footage from SF, no self made mod at all. I can't get even my own computer to work. So you can see programming isn't on of my strong points As a matter of fact my computer crashed just a few days ago, and for a month now I cant get BF2 to work…

CM: Do you regret having made the video at all? Or releasing it, considering how it's being treated by the media?

SJ: I don't regret making the video. It wasn't intended for the purpose what it was portrayed to be by the media. So no I don't regret making a funny video.. why should I? The only thing I regret is thinking that news from Reuters was objective and always right. The least they could do is some online research before publishing this. If they label me al-Qaeda just for making this silly video, that makes you think, what is this al-Qaeda? And is everything al-Qaeda? Or has this name become synonymous to the “communist” labeling a few decades ago…

CM: Have you seen any videos al-Qaeda uses to recruit members? Were any used as a template or inspiration for your film?

SJ: Everybody has seen videos of al-Qaeda. [They are] constantly in the news. If they were an inspiration… not directly no. The C4 blowing up and RPG are very popular in the game. You could say those are exactly the tools being used by al-Qaida, but to link this game to that organisation goes too far even for me. And I personally think it's a shame that BF 2 is put in a bad spotlight. I think whats wonderful about this game is that there are no politics at all. There is no good or bad, there are no evildoers. You can chose each side you want and enjoy the game. Hmmm that's not the case with America's Army. A game that was meant to recruit people. Do I smell a little bit of hypocrisy?

CM: Has anyone from the government contacted you about your film? How about major news media such as Reuters?

SJ: No, nobody from the government or Reuters. Thank god for that (governm.). Yes I have had interviews for CNBC, ABC and others… and a lot of online magazines.

CM: Other than Team America: World Police, what other sound clips did you use? Which were taken from fictional portrayals of al-Qaeda/insurgents (movies & video games), and which were from real-life circumstances (such as the Bush “crusade” speech remix)?

SJ: That crusade part was some audio clip with a “combat tune” underneath it, that I found online. And because the video was about the man getting revenge through “Jihad”, I thought it fit the clip and the story. In the Team America sound clip he says that the Americans invaded his country and he was holding them responsible for that, so why not take a sound clip that quotes the man in charge? And that other “Allahu Akbar” [“God is Great”] sound clips were mostly from the movie “Lion of the Desert” and some of real life clips. I don't know where to find that stuff anywhere else. I first did it without the “Allahu Akbar”, but I thought it wasn't complete without it. And it just fit the story.

CM: What prompted the various choices of music used in the background?

SJ: I was just looking for music that fit a “jihad” story and sounded middle-eastern. Most of the sounds are from the movie called “Lion of the Desert” with Anthony Quinn. And it just fit the movie that I was trying to make. And that music from the “crusade” part sounded just like some good drums before going to “war”. I don't even know what they are saying, because I speak just a little bit of Arabic. I'm a Moor so I speak Berber. I hope that the message in the audio wasn't coming off too strong.

CM: Have you seen South Park/Team America writer Trey Parker's take on all this?

SJ: Yes I have seen it. It looks like I have involved him too in this messed up affair. Sorry for that ;) I just want to say to him, Loved Team America and keep up the good work… Stop involving Al-Jazeera in this…

CM: Once again, thank you for taking the time to talk to GamePolitics. I'll let you get back to dodging counter-terrorist agents. Best of luck getting your copy of BF2 running bug-free.

SJ: I hope EA helps me with finding a solution to this bugged out game. Thank you for the interview.

Now I don't care where you are an the political spectrum, this is worrying stuff (once you've stopped laughing). You would hope that all those conservatives who demand cost-benefit analyses of any programmes of government spending would start to question the value of a domestic “war on terror” that can cost that much in money and political freedoms and then come up with results like this, but you'd be worng. As Liz Losh (whose blog I found this story on) points out, even after all the embarassment, the dangerous jihadist video game threat is being used as evidence of the need for further crack-downs in US prisons and universities.

Bless 'im

No actual news today as Blair's made a speech at the “Labour” party conference and the Beeb is thus obliged to cover the news ticker with dead-pan statements like “Blair says we must not surrender to propaganda” for the next twenty-four hours. For those well-balanced individuals who managed to avoid the whole thing, he went on a lot about the sort of freedom he believed in, which is apparently the freedom of Daily Mail readers to see vicious punishments meted out to anyone they suspect of having done anything.

He also explained why this whole war on terror thing is in fact a fight against those who hate our freedoms and nothing to do with foreign policy because 9/11 happened before we went into Iraq. Now while this does show a more sophisticated grasp of the chronology than George Bush professes to have (see earlier post), I'm not sure I really buy into his apparent suggestion that the Middle East was a totally blank canvas from a foreign policy point of view throughout the twentieth century.

Political heckling now a terrorist activity

Just checked out the BBC round-up of what the papers say about the interference with John Reid's good parenting guide. The general thrust of all this is that this sort of thing really shouldn't be allowed, and is a sign of the dreadful terrorist menace that daily stalks this fair isle. The Mail, The Express and The Telegraph again show their thorough understanding of how those democratic values they claim to love so much really work.

For those who managed to miss all this, some guy by the name of Abu Izadeen started yelling at John Reid words to the effect that he was presiding over a police state, that Muslim's were being treated like second class citizens. Now whether you'd agree with him or not, you'd have to agree that this is a valid political point of view, and that the best thing to do in a democracy would be to make it known and available for discussion. Possibly to a politician. Which is what he did. Coincidentally, Dr. Reid's speech touched on how it would be more useful for Muslim's who didn't like the system to engage in the political process, rather than going round blowing shit up. Again, a valid point. Sadly, Dr. Reid had the guy bundled out of there as fast as possible so that he could continue with his stage-managed performance in which he came out with the startlingly obvious (and thus rather insulting) suggestion that any parents who think that their kids are being radicalised should probably do something about it before their offspring atomise themselves along with whoever was unlucky enough to be near them at the time. So that's a powerful message to all those peaceful Muslim protestors out there.

This just in. Bush not stupid, just evil.

If you're enough of an insomniac to be watching BBC News 24 at 1:30am, you'll have noticed that, in an apparent effort to diversify their coverage (“The UK government version and the US government version? Oh come now, Mr Director General, you're really spoiling us…”) they give us half an hour of the ABC evening news before skipping back to rotating coverage of what Brown and Blair are saying about each other. Whilst nobody's really surprised any more about the way that US media will roll over for US Government on most issues, every so often individual pieces still have the ability to completely flabbergast me. Such was the power of Charles Gibson's interview with George W. that I saw the other day. To be fair to him, Gibson did point out the whole problem with the whole Iraq-as-part-of-the-war-on-terror strategy that the Republicans seem to be trying to wheel out and dust off for the elections:
…loathsome as he may have been, Saddam Hussein was not connected to al Qaeda.”

Now I'm going to take it as read that every sane person outside (and most of those inside) the USA knows this. I'm damn certain that Bush does, as evidenced by the reply:

No, I understand that people ask, 'How can this be a connection, between the war on terror and,' you know, 'How can Iraq be a connection when Saddam Hussein didn't order the attacks?' And you know, I understand that concern, because he didn't order the attacks. The enemy, however, believes that Iraq is a part of the war on terror. Osama bin Laden has called Iraq central to the war on terror.

Damn right they said that. After we invaded! Gibson, whose job one would assume required at least a basic grasp of current affairs, failed to quiz him any further on this.

Now for most people this is just one in a very long catalogue of lies, and nothing special. But I think it may be the first time I've noticed the man saying something that it's not even possible that he could believe. He's said some preposterous things, but I've always actually had half a mind that, through a combination of wilful stupidity, careful choice of advisors, close identification with his local yokel persona, selective memory and a healthy dose of that basic human capacity to see only what we want to see, especially when it makes us like ourselves more, HE at least might have believed what he was saying. Cheney, Bolton etc. were obviously lying to our faces, but I thought Bush was plenty dumb enough to think he was acting in good faith, and maybe just covering up a bit for what he probably thought were minor errors of judgement (you know, Katrina, global warming, stuff like that…).

Not so. If he can form complete sentences (and, every so often, he can), he can see the problem with the argument that the invasion happened because of stuff that happened after the invasion. I'm sure everyone else had decided this before, but I thought I'd share anyway.

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