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Troll v Freedom of Speech

I tend to blog about things that effect me in daily life, i find that its much easier and more interesting for me to write. I have some great readers who i love for their kindness and loyalty, but for a long time i have been plagued by a cowardly troll. For months i have been happy to delete the posts safe in the knowledge that these people are lonely, friendless and almost certainly suffering from a mental health disorder. So i try to have patience with them and don't take it personally, even though their comments are usually filled with raw hate, and very personal. I have usually deleted them, or caught them in moderation, so thankfully not many of you will have seen them. By their very nature a troll is relentless and wont stop until they find a sore spot to hit.

Natasha McBride
(Source)
You will have heard about the case of 15 year old Natasha MacBryde. In February 2011 she threw herself in front of a train, an absolute tragedy. 25 year old loner Sean Duffy wrote vile messages on a facebook memorial group for Natasha and 3 other memorial groups for other dead teenagers.

I just cant get my head around it, why would anyone want to do such a thing? What's the motivation? I find it absolutely disgusting, and cant help but despise anyone who chooses to feed on the confidence of people at their most vulnerable.

It's time that trolls are shown up for the cowards they are. They hide behind numerous email addresses, usernames, and some go to the extent of hiding their IP addresses. Once they feel like they are safe from identification they seek out vulnerable victims and start a campaign of terror. These people are by definition ignorant and lack intelligence to undertake reasoned debate. What i want them to understand is that there is nowhere to hide.

A few days ago i had a message left on one of my posts by a regular DJ troll. I would normally delete it straight away, but i was out and about and my phone was playing up. Here is the message;

"Perhaps if you spent less time pissing your loan up the wall and more time studying and getting a part-time job you would not be in the shit now? You idle and feckless twat"

(Source)
When i got home i chose not to delete it, but I don't mind admitting that this really upset me. Anyone who has been following my posts over the summer will know how untrue this is. Blogging has been my way of venting my frustrations, and i have had a lot of support from some of my wonderful readers. This individual has identified my biggest weaknesses and hit me with it in my blog, the place that has been so important to me during the hardest few months of my life.

What was really upsetting was one reader who told me;

"He is entitled to express his view"

Freedom of speech is almost always the defence of a troll. Their desperate lack of understanding of the principle of free speech demonstrates their ignorance of human rights, and peoples feelings. Their suggestion is that freedom of speech trumps all. By their logic they can limitlessly insult, harass and bully anyone they choose because it is their divine right to do what they want and say what they want regardless of the consequences.

They seem to walk away from these interactions with their head held high believing they are both morally and legally entitled to reduce people to emotional crisis. I am surprised by how often i come across people who hold this ignorant view. It seems so at odds with reality, yet it appears widespread.

Most people will know a version of the following quote;

"I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write"

This is a misquote [1], and has been hugely misinterpreted. What it doesn't say is that one can say whatever one wants regardless of the consequences. It is merely suggesting that while i may not agree with what someone is saying, i defend their right to say it. A good example is our party political system. Labour may not agree with Conservatives, but the fact that they do not agree doesn't mean that they do not support their right to say it. Our freedom of speech must be respected and not abused. It is subject to many derogations in law, the examples are numerous. More importantly it is subject to our own moral limitations. I may have the right to tell someone they are ugly, have bad breath, and have no personality, but i choose to exercise my moral limitations so that i do not upset that person. Most of us don't even enter into this debate with ourselves, we have learned emotional intelligence and choose to behave in a way that makes people feel good, not bad.

Trolls clearly have zero emotional intelligence, are incapable of exercising restraint, and are cripplingly narcissistic. They are mentally unstable, and in these circumstances i struggle to maintain any sympathy or tolerance.

This is an emerging form of anti-social behaviour. The government, and the police service, only began to learn the devastating effects of anti-social behaviour in the last 10-15 years. New laws have been passed to tackle it on our streets, it is consistently the top neighbourhood priority, and we are still getting it wrong. We need to start giving online anti-social behaviour the attention it so desperately requires. I take the view that online anti-social behaviour has the potential to be so much more damaging than street anti-social behaviour. It is very difficult to identify the offenders, the internet is still fairly lawless, and the anonymity that offenders feel give them the confidence to say things that they may not ever be able to get away with face to face. The government and the police service need to wake up and realise that online victims are not getting the legal protection they so desperately need.


[1]. Boller, Jr., Paul F.; George, John (1989). They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505541-1.

Job seekers benefits, with a bit of financial venting

I had a bit of a financial saga this morning. This post briefly chats about what has happened, and goes on to propose a replacement to job seekers benefits. Feel free to skip the first section, its just a bit of a vent

My Saga

(Source)
I am right in the financial shit. I last got a student loan payment in April and have managed to stretch that meagre sum over 6 months. However no amount of budgeting and careful spending can protect me from the dreaded unauthorised overdraft. I rang Nationwide to beg for an overdraft extension, and was told that overdrafts are managed automatically and there was no way i could get it extended. There is nothing that angers me more than having elements of my life ruled by a machine.

Actually, i can appreciate why they manage their overdrafts like this. Everyone would like a bigger overdraft, but the banks have to protect themselves. The front line staff just read the data from their automated systems and have no discretion, regardless of the circumstances. Its unfair to blame decisions like this on the individuals, but the consistent dehumanising of large institutions leaves no room for compassion and its something that we need to challenge.

Anyway, when the shit really hits the fan i know i can always rely on my dad. Despite us all being in a desperate financial position he has been able to lend me some food money...thank god i'm getting a bit of student loan on the 3rd, i can pay him back within 7 days.

(Source)
Dehumanisation

I have been faced with this dehumanised and discretionless approach when dealing with the Department of Work and Pensions, and Student Loan Company. At every stage i have been dealing with teams of people who have had their most human attributes smothered by technology and rigid policy. The very institutions that we rely on for support when we are at our most vulnerable choose to treat us like serial numbers and not human brings. In my circumstances i am left with literally no money with which to buy food. It reminds me, once again, of the weaknesses of our welfare state...something needs to change.

What should change?

There are two groups of people that need to be supported in some manner by the welfare state; those who cannot work, and those who do not work.

(Source)
Those who cannot work should be supported, i don't think anyone would disagree with that. The controversial and most complicated group is those who do not work. I feel let down by the benefits system because i know that there are a lot of people who can work, but choose not to because they can rely on benefits to support them. This is unacceptable.

I want to see the 'job seekers' benefit system totally reformed. It must no longer be a benefit, but state sponsored temporary employment. Example; say i lose my job due to redundancy. If i cannot find a new job, i take myself down to the job centre and apply for 'state employment'. By the next day i am back to work as a council employed street cleaner, earning the same amount of money as Job Seekers Allowance. I am required to work 3 days a week in 'state employment'. Two days are reserved for 'employability' courses. Example; say my biggest weaknesses are time management and communication. Every week i will attend these classes in order to make myself more attractive to employers. The remaining two days are my own, its important that job seekers still maintain a social life and do the things they want to do.

So, i'm working as a street cleaner. I really want to find a new job, the state employment doesn't pay well, and the job isn't really to my liking. While in 'state employment' i will still receive council tax benefit and housing benefit, but only for a limited period of time.

Benefits of 'State Employment'

(Source)
The benefits of this system are wide reaching. Firstly, we no longer pay people to sit in front of the TV all day, we expect them to be giving something in return. The 'state employment' jobs will all be jobs that improve our communities, for example; street cleaners, maintenance workers, community centre staff etc. The system is designed to encourage people to seek their own jobs that pay better, and may be more to their liking. It gives structure to the lives of those who are out of work, and maintains the work ethic. The training provided equip our job seekers with skills and knowledge that will keep them employed and off 'benefits'.

Over to you

So, have i solved all the worlds problems with this article? You tell me...did i get it right? did i get it wrong? did i miss something? Over to you...





This blog may also be published at the following DJ satellite blogs:
MySpace
Labour Membersnet

Phone call with Jon

 This post is part of a series

Hi everyone, i had a phone call with Jon Ashworth today about my student loan / benefits issue and thought i would give you a quick update. Addition: I realise this is mega long, I promise in future not to do them this long. I have split it up into headings so you can pick and choose which bits you want to read. Give it a go...the most important bit is the bit in bold.

Despite the blip with Gavin George at the very beginning Jon has been very supportive and i've got no complaints. He is a competent representative, emotionally intelligent and a very likeable guy. After he had established the facts of the case he wrote to the Student Loans Company, Department for Work and Pensions, and the university Vice Chancellor, Dominic Shellard.

(Source)
The Student Loans Company

The Student Loans Company didn't reply for a long time, confirming that they are totally incompetent and not fit for purpose. If they take so long replying to an elected representative, how long will they take for everyone else? When Jon did finally get a reply they told him that they were only now attempting to recover the 'grant' portion of funding awarded to me last year. I'm not sure if they did that hoping i would be eternally grateful, and forget about the £1,500 they are still going to recover from my first payment for this year. Jon and I agree that that isn't good enough and we are going to continue to challenge that decision, and go the Minister if we have to. Although it isn't going to help me in the short term i feel very committed to fighting this, even if it takes years. Students who find themselves in my situation shouldn't be just hung out to dry like this, and something needs to change.

The Department for Work and Pensions

The Department for Work and Pensions send back what looked like an automatically generates message. Which is funny because i bet it wasn't automatically generated at all, but the staff have been turned into automatic morons due to the department brainwashing them of any emotional intelligence and discretion. Anyway, the letter just said "if your a student you cannot have benefits". I dont think Jon has written back to the, because we are now focusing on the Student Loan Company. If we get no hope from them i expect we will be starting correspondence with ministers responsible for both benefits and student loans.

You must expect cat photos now, surely?
(Source)
DMU Vice Chancellor 

I have removed this part of my article. I have abused my right to free speech and for that i apologise. I have on occasion written blog posts when angry, and some of things i wrote here were way out of order, i am ashamed about what i wrote, and i am very sorry.

Gavin George: Constituency Director

As for the letter from Jon's Constituency Director, Gavin George. When i first got it i didnt quite know what to think. I sat on it for a few days to give me the chance to process its contents, and i decided that i wasn't happy with it. I posted a copy of it on this blog, with a fairly neutral accompanying article in order to get my readers views...and views i got. In some ways i think to myself "i asked for an apology and this is what i got". But i think its reasonable for me to expect a sincere apology, and this one is clearly not. It looks like it is quickly scribbled down by a 10 year old, and gives me no impression that he really understood how upset i was after that phone call.

This time last week i was willing to give Gavin the benefit of the doubt...maybe i caught him at a bad time. I cannot give him that any longer, as this letter proves to me that i had not caught him at a bad time, but he is always an unpleasant, uncaring, selfish, incompetent, moron that should not be in a position of trust as he is now. I have always tried to avoid calling for him to resign, but i am seriously thinking that this guy is doing Jon, or Jon's constituents, any favours ad he should go.

Welcome to conference season...no cats allowed
(Source)
Jon is always very apologetic for Gavin's behaviour, he takes responsibility for it and i know that his apology is sincere. As Jon is such a likeable bloke i find it a bit uncomfortable to keep pushing on this matter, but i am more certain than i have ever been that Gavin is not the right man for the job.

Labour Conference

Moving on...this time next week i am going to the Labour party Conference in Liverpool. I am not going as a member, but as a visitor to the 'open day' even that they are holding. When i first decided to go i wasn't that interested, but thought it would be interesting and may help me finally decide where my allegiances lie. As the date comes closer i am actually quite excited about it. I am lucky that the morning of the 28th will be focused on crime and justice, and the afternoon on health care, which are two of my main interests. Hopefully i will come away with lots of material to blog about, and maybe even a decision about my political sympathies.

I realise this is a mega long blog post so i will stop there. Thanks for reading, and thanks to everyone for their support.


This post is part of a series
  1. Now i've lost confidence in my MP, who else can i trust? (19th August 2011)
  2. MP's staff, constitutional status (19th August 2011)
  3. Progress made...convo with Jon Ashworth (21st August 2011)
  4. MP's Staff...part 2 (24th August 2011)
  5. Update on Stuff (8th September 2011)
  6. Letter of apology from Gavin George, Constituency Director for Jon Ashworth MP (20th September 2011)
  7. Phone call with Jon (21st September 2011)



This blog may also be published at the following DJ satellite blogs:
MySpace
Labour Membersnet

Letter of apology from Gavin George, Constituency Director for Jon Ashworth MP

My regular readers will be aware of a nightmare situation that i found myself in during August. Due to ill health i was unable to work so decided to go on benefits for a short period of time so i could recover, with the intention of returning to work late September. As i am officially a student i was unable to get any benefit, and because i "interrupted" my university course due to ill health the student loans company decided they were going to recover the last payment of the 2010/2011 academic year.


(Source)
I could not get any financial help from family, so was in a desperate situation. I was distraught because i didn't know if i was going to be able to afford to eat, and the only option that seemed available to me was quitting university so that i could get benefits. University has been a life changing experience for me, im passionate about my subject, and the thought of having to quit university, and i dont mind admitting it, had me in tears more than once on this particular day. Out of desperation i rang my MP, as i thought it unfair and contrary to the principles of social mobility. I am a productive member of society, am doing well at university, give up a lot of time as a Special Constable and hopefully have a great future ahead of me. Its astonishing that a student cannot get a short term benefit if they are unwell...i don't see it any different from being signed off sick from work.

Anyway, so i rang up my MP and spoke to Gavin George, Jon Ashworth's Constituency Director. Admittedly it was about 1630, but i had spent all day trying to find a solution and calling Jon was a last ditch and desperate call for help. I was treated terribly by Gavin, you can read more about it in this blog post i wrote shortly after the conversation.

At the very least i felt i deserved a letter of apology from Gavin, and i received that letter of apology a few days ago. I have chosen to publish it on my blog because i had so much support from my readers and i want to keep you updated on any progress i make. You guys were really great, and i cant thank you enough.

See below the thank you letter, i'd appreciate your thoughts on the situation now it has calmed down a bit.



This post is part of a series
  1. Now i've lost confidence in my MP, who else can i trust? (19th August 2011)
  2. MP's staff, constitutional status (19th August 2011)
  3. Progress made...convo with Jon Ashworth (21st August 2011)
  4. MP's Staff...part 2 (24th August 2011)
  5. Update on Stuff (8th September 2011)
  6. Letter of apology from Gavin George, Constituency Director for Jon Ashworth MP (20th September 2011)
  7. Phone call with Jon (21st September 2011)



This blog post may also be published at the following addresses:
MySpace
Labour Membersnet

Labour's Fire Service Failure

(Source)
I come from a Labour family, and consider myself someone with labour values. I have not gone as far as labelling myself as a Labour Party supporter because i was so disgusted with the Brown reign of incompetence. In recent weeks i have tentatively been taking steps towards the party, in the hope they will show me that they have changed, and they are worthy of my support.

My experiences with my local Labour MP, Jon Ashworth, have been largely very positive. I have been saying for some time that the only way Labour will recover from the Brown era is to have a huge clear out of the old school Brownites and Blairites. Despite Jon being very close to the current leader of the Party, i think his generation of 2010 MPs are the future of the party and the current shadow cabinet need to do the honorable thing and return to the back benches.

So just as i feel i am starting to see a possible future as a Labour supporter i am reminded of the legacy that they have left behind. Today's story about the Fire Control Room project has reminded me how out of touch the Labour party could be.

We can turn this disaster into a positive though, it should be a lesson to the current government. It is soo important that politicians allow the experts in the police and fire services to take the lead on any project of this kind. Politicians are simply not experienced enough, nor do they have the management skills or ability to execute it.

Politicians...know your limits.

How to...challange discrimination

Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca suffered years
of abuse from youths as young as 10. Leicestershire Police
failed to take the reports seriously, and eventually Fiona killed
herself and Francecca.
My learned twitter friend @ukequality shared this article on challenging discrimination with us on twitter this morning. It is a very well written article, and it sensibly addresses a situation that most of us encounter, but often keep quiet about in order to avoid confrontation.

As part of a profession that has been branded as 'institutionally racist', left families with disability 'under seige', and allowed 'endemic sexism' to continue within its own ranks, i feel the weight of responsibility heavily on my shoulders when it comes to supporting vulnerable people and in particular those who suffer discrimination at the hands of another. So i have chosen to directly quote the "Six Top Tips on Challenging Discrimination"...make sure you go to the full article for a more detailed explanation on each point. I also recommend you also give the 'equal and diverse' website a browse, they have some good stuff there.

So, 6 top tips, as quoted from "equal and diverse';
  1. Not to challenge isn’t an option.
  2.  Challenge immediately if you can.
  3.  Question someone’s motivation.
  4.  Take your time and step back.
  5.  If you aren’t sure with what is being said get clarification.
  6. Question the factual accuracy of the information being used.
  7. Use reflection
  8. Be firm       

Hurdle 23: Blogging ethics

Blog post requested by the awesome
guys 'n; gurls at Crowdbooster
Success at blogging can take months of hard work, with little feedback, dotted with mistakes that can knock your confidence. You have two choices, play the long game or play the short game. Modern culture doesn't lend itself to the long game, but bloggers really need to fight the urge to take short cuts. Playing the long game involves hard work, commitment, and meticulous research, and it turns out a blog that is respected by its readers for its strong ethical principles and reliability. These traditional values struggle to find a place in modern society, but blogging is art, and we all want to be proud of our art work.

I use hundreds of different social media tools. Some of them are designed to build follower numbers, some are designed to refine your content, and some are designed to manage your social networks. It is easy to label some of these tools as unethical. So what are blogging ethics? Rather than reinvent the wheel, journalistic ethics are well established. Remember, as a blogger you are a journalist, and you could consider yourself bound by these principles in order to be considered reliable and respected. From a personal point of view, i would be ashamed of any material that breached my own standards of honesty and integrity, and i would hope any other blogger or journalist would feel the same.

Here are some guiding principles for bloggers.

Seek Truth and Report it as Fully as Possible
  • Inform yourself continuously so you in turn can inform, engage, and educate the public in a clear and compelling way on significant issues.
  • Be honest, fair, and courageous in gathering, reporting, and interpreting accurate information.
  • Give voice to the voiceless.
  • Hold the powerful accountable.
Act Independently
  • Guard vigorously the essential stewardship role a free press plays in an open society.
  • Seek out and disseminate competing perspectives without being unduly influenced by those who would use their power or position counter to the public interest.
  • Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise your integrity or damage your credibility.
  • Recognize that good ethical decisions require individual responsibility enriched by collaborative efforts.
Minimize Harm
  • Be compassionate for those affected by your actions.
  • Treat sources, subjects, and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect, not merely as means to your journalistic ends.
  • Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort, but balance those negatives by choosing alternatives that maximize your goal of truth telling.

Ethics...they are the foundations of justice
as this picture aptly depicts
(Source)
The big question for bloggers is; how do i actually apply this? Having tested out every tool available, i have come to realise that none of the tools are innately unethical, its the way people use them that makes them unethical. To understand this i want to look at a tool i use, tweetadder.

Tweetadder is a program that automates some areas of twitter. Here are some of the features;
  • Automatically following twitter users from a list generated by automated tweet searches of manual profile searches.
  • Automatically following new followers back
  • Automatically unfollowing anyone who unfollows you
  • Automatic tweets
  • Automated Direct Messages
  • and a few others

Some people would immediately consider you unethical for using a program like this, but i think i have developed some principles that will help you gain followers and share content in a way that is welcomed by readers. Rather than setting particular rules for its use, i tend to ask myself some questions.

Using it ethically; (yes=go ahead and post)
  • Am i seeking out people who genuinely share my interests, and i honestly think they will find my content interesting?
  • Am i responding to feedback, do i regularly review the settings, and am i open and honest about my methods?
I just cant stop myself putting a cat pic
(Source)
Using it unethically (yes=do not post)
  • Is this tweet/follow/DM indiscriminate and/or unsolicited?
  • Am i sending this message to, or am i following a, large number of people, and objectively they would have no interest in the content of the message or the follow?
  • Would this message be unwanted, or unreasonably irritating or upsetting?
  • Is this message unsolicited advertising..or is it motivated by a 'for profit' enterprise?
  • Is my activity connected to any criminal activity?

You should push the boundaries, take risks, and experiment. To make sure your doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason you just have to consider the journalistic guiding principles, and ask yourself the above questions, and you wont go wrong.

Why the big society won't work

I've just been watching Nicola Murry juggling her incompetence, personal life, and ineptitude with the embattled '4th Sector Pathfinders' policy. Whatever that means, i'm guessing it is something similar to the equally embattled Big Society a la Cameron. It brought to mind how difficult it can be to achieve a level of community participation beyond the middle class retired types who populate the archetypal middle England Committee Rooms.

I think he would call it "all this big society bollocks"
(Source)
Getting people to do something that they don't want to do is at the core of every political policy. Due to the deficit (or whatever...), David Cameron wants the public to take responsibility for public services. The public, generally, don't want to do that. For as long as anyone can remember, these services have been provided to us, through taxes, by the government. One could think to oneself; "how dare Cameron try and palm these services off on us when he is offering nothing in return". This is the mountain that they are trying to build, and all they are offering in return is "power". Normally you would have every potential dictator in the country clambering over their grandmothers for a bit of "power". The lack of such grandmother trampling, and general post launch support for the Big Society, tends to suggest to me that there is in fact no real power, or anything else, being offered in return.

So i think we established that you wont get someone to do something unless you offer something in return. We have two options. Firstly, we could bribe people into doing what they don't want to do. The more the government want us to do something, and the less we are willing to do it, the more the government will have to give us in return in order to make us comply. Its basic supply and demand. The scale of the Big Society, combined with this much public apathy, means the bill for our bribes is prohibitive. The other option is the long game. To build a real Big Society, one that is not tainted by the poisons of politics, the government needs to create the right environment, and here is how i think they should do it.

David Cameron wants the people of the UK to do his job for him. We have established that there are some people who will jump at the chance to do this, i call them the "Committeemen". The Committeemen are no where near enough in quantity, or quality, to achieve the lofty goals of the Big Society project. So how is he going to do it?

To answer this, i think we need to look at the question "Why does anyone do anything?". A difficult question, but one i like to answer with the help of Maslow and his hierarchy. Be prepared for a chicken and egg situation.

Maslow's hierarchy is a visualisation of the needs of a human being. As a hierarchy, the theory is that we must satisfy the lower, fundamental, needs before being able to advance to the higher, more productive, needs. I believe it the role of an effective welfare state to provide every citizen the opportunity (but not the right) to satisfy the highest need; Transcendence.

Transcendence, plus two other needs, were added by Maslow to his hierarchy which is why you may not recognise it as part of the traditional hierarchy that is most often published. It is defined as follows; "Maslow's self-transcendence level recognizes the human need for ethics, creativity, compassion and spirituality". On seeing this definition, it is clear why it is in the best interests of a welfare state to give opportunities for its citizens to achieve it.

Mr Cameron...here is your new coalition agreement
(Source)
Cameron may be able to get some people to take part in the Big Society, but it wont be successful until it consists of people who have achieved Transcendence. These people are the most, but not the only, ethical, creative, compassionate, and spiritual people in our society.

What i am basically saying is, happy people will be more numerous, more willing, and more productive, community volunteers. We need to invest in a system that promotes the effective satisfying of all of Maslow's needs. This society wont need Cameron's big plan, it wil have a plan for itself. Anyone for chicken and egg?

Military Coup...could it ever be possible?

(Source)
I was just watching a BBC Panorama filmed in 1975 following a group of new Army officers as they progress through their initial training at RMA Sandhurst. All very interesting, but especially so is a question that a group of 4 soldiers, including the young Patrick Mercer, were asked. The question was: could the British Army ever sustain a successful military coup.

There are two reasons, according to one young officer, why the structure of the British Army would make it impossible. Firstly, the Army is made up of many competing Regiments. Without political masters, the Army would collapse under the weight of its own in fighting. The Army is dependant on politicians for leadership, as much as the politicians are dependant on the Army for the protection and security of the UK.

(Source)
The second part to the answer is interesting. Presuming for a moment that the Army could find some unity between regiments, the world would never accept the UK under a military leadership. In order to successfully execute a coup, personnel from all over the world would have to be recalled. This would involve abandoning our NATO et. al. commitments across the globe, and irreparably damaging our relations with NATO member countries.

I thought it was interesting that officer cadets were being encouraged to debate this topic. As the program concludes, the very system (Sandhurst) that trains our officer cadets makes the possibility of a military coup impossible.

What will come of Libya?

It looks like the Libyan rebels are in the process of mopping up the last few areas controlled by Gaddafi. Despite how our representatives in parliament were, once again, misled by a PM intent on war, this will probably be seen as a successful military operation.

(Source)
It is clear that British military commanders and politicians have learned from their mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for that they deserve a pat on the back. I've been impressed with William Hague in particular. He is likeable, intelligent, honest and cautious when it comes to diplomacy. I am not a conservative, but can appreciate the skill that William Hague demonstrates outside of world of, to coin a phrase, "Politics Politics". "Politics" being MP's fighting for causes on behalf of their constituents, and "Politics Politics" being the scrappy infighting and point scoring that goes on between the parties.

Anyway. It may appear that our intervention in Libya has been a success, but to really measure success we need to look back at these events in 5-10 years time. We are already hearing anecdotal evidence of torture and poor treatment of ex Gaddafi soldiers. This could simply be a result of lack of supervision caused by rebel troops being spread so thinley, or a sign that not much is going to change. Once the whole country is in the hands of the National Transitional Council, we can expect to see the infrastructure of society being rebuilt. To name a few; Transportation, energy, water, communications, solid waste management, police force, professionalised army, a constitutional document, and the passing of laws underpinning the introduction of democracy.

"Also comes with a ludicrous fashion sense."
(Source)
It is my hope that the NTC will immediately focus on develop the above infrastructure. If they are too slow, or overwhelmed with the scale of the task, it could leave a period of lawlessness that could push them into a second civil war. They risk losing control, of the army in particular, which could set the foundations for a military coup in the future. More worrying is that their lack of control would leave citizens in a worse situation they were during Gaddafi's reign.

Its going to be a huge task, but their top priority is to create a constitution. A constitution  is essential because it will, for the first time, lay down a set of rules that govern the relationship between Libya's citizens and the state. Once that is completed it sets the scene where no man is above the law.

I hope we don't look back on these events in 10 years time and find that we armed the rebels and they went on to be another rogue state that we can't control. This is why the international community needs to demonstrate its support for the NTC as this allow for closer diplomatic relations.

So only time will tell, but if we play our cards right we will be able to gently steer the country in the right democratic direction. Not only have we secured the safety of Libyan citizens, but we have secured the oil field...which is what this whole situation was about in the first place.

Mr Spider got stuck in the bath

Warning: this is the most surreal, insomnia fuelled, 
experimental metaphorical crap i've ever written.
Enjoy!

Picture the scene. You've got Mr Big Spider in your bath, and the plug is in. No matter how hard Mr Spider tries, he isn't going to get out. He may be the strongest spider in the world. He may have a big family to support or he may be, were he not trapped in the bath, our go-to guy for all out fly catching needs. Mr Spider is much more useful out of the bath than he is in it, but the sides are so slippery it is impossible for him to make progress. He is not asking for anyone to help him catch flies, nor does he want to find a cosy corner to rest in, but he does need a little helping hand to get him out of the bath so he can continue supporting his family, and protecting the humans from flies.

Spider cat, spider cat, does whatever a spider cat does.
Can he swing, from a web, no he cant, he's a cat
Lookout...here comes the spider cat
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Mr Tall Human stands watch nearby. He has the capability to pull the plug out and give you at least one, although undesirable, escape route. Mr Human also has the ability to throw a towel over the side of the bath so Mr Spider can climb out. For some reason, and despite the cries for help from Mr Spider, Mr Human doesn't seem willing to help.

When Mr Spider spoke to Mr Human, he was told that there was no possible way that Mr Human could offer him any immediate help...it would take at least a week for Mr Human to gain permission to help Mr Spider, and even then Mr Spider would not get help to climb out of the bath. Mr Human would, in a week, be able to give Mr Spider a small amount of money to help him survive in the bath, even though Mr Spider really wants to get out of it.

Sadly this is the only help Mr Human is willing to give. Mr Spider buys himself a sofa and a flat screen TV and sits in front of it for the rest of his days............

There are £2.5 million other baths out there, with £2.5 million spiders. Mr Tall Human can't be relied on to help, so maybe Mr Bath Owner needs to take matters into their own hands and pop a towel over the side of the bath for those Mr Spiders...better do it quick, before they all get too cosy on their new sofas.

The Leighton case and necessity criteria

From beginning to end the Stepping Hill incident has been handled in a way that makes me ashamed of our criminal justice system and free press. Rebecca Leighton was arrested based on very little evidence, it was more of a desperate attempt to be seen to be making progress by GMP. The media, once again, got over excited and published every detail of Rebecca's life, leaving the public in no doubt that she was guilty, despite the fact she had not had the chance to defend herself. This right to a defence must be absolute, and any person who seeks to circumvent that, directly or indirectly, should be found in contempt. I would be much happier for press freedoms to be limited in exchange for fairer pre-trial procedures.

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Bravely Rebecca has stood up for herself. There is insufficient evidence to prove she had tampered with saline packs. The fact that a few Tramadol tablets were found at her home should have no effect on her guilt of the much more serious offence of criminal damage with intent to cause injury. The Nursing and Midwifery Council would never have allowed a nurse to return to work were there any doubt that they are, or ever have been, a danger to the public. The limitations placed upon Rebecca are motivated by the small amount of Tramadol found at her home, and not motivated by the fact she may have tampered with any saline. If there way any suggestion that she may be guilty, even if the evidence is not enough to prove it, they would not allow her to return to work.

Rebecca has been found guilty in the court of public opinion. She has had her life turned upside down, and she has a lot of work ahead of her to rebuild her life. I wish her all the best.

This case demonstrates how careful we police officers have to be when arresting someone. For most police officers, an arrest is a daily occurrence. The general approach is that if we have reasonable suspicion that an offence has been committed, we will arrest the suspect to prevent the investigation being hampered by loss or disruption of evidence, or disappearance of the suspect, and to allow a prompt and effective investigation of the offence and conduct of the person (SOCPA '05 s110(1)(5)...there are other criteria).

This pic satisfies two of my favourite
pastimes; annoying law peeps, and cats that think
they do jobs
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What i think we are missing is a little guy on our shoulder who reminds us how life changing an arrest can be. He needs to be reminding us that reasonable suspicion is actually a very high standard of proof...it can be easy to forget that. He needs to be reminding us that that standard of proof must be relative to the possible consequences if we are wrong. Where the consequences are severe, like that of Rebecca Leighton, we need to be doubly sure that we are right to arrest someone, and that there is no alternative. Some questions we should be asking;
  • Do i really need to arrest this person?  or can we arrest by appointment once we have investigated in more detail.
  • How likely are they to do a runner? we must not presume everyone is going to run. We should only arrest to prevent disappearance when there is positive evidence that the person is likely to do that.
  • Have we secured all the evidence we require?
    • If not, how possible or likely is it that the suspect will tamper with it? again, we must not take the view that our suspects are by default going to tamper with evidence. Where there is positive evidence to suggest they will, then the arrest is necessary on grounds of evidence loss.
  • Can we secure a prompt and effective investigation in a less invasive manner? It can be quicker for everyone involved to arrest the suspect. The process may be quicker for both the police and the suspect, but speed shouldn't always be our goal...our goal should be minimising the effect on those who are innocent until proven guilty. In some cases i would much rather see slower investigations that have less impact on the suspect.

The police service is unlike no other. When mistakes are made, we learn from them.  Rebecca Leighton's case needs to be subject to an internal enquiry, because i do believe that long established police and CPs procedures have let her down.

Update: I realise i didn't go into the issue of pre-trial press disclosure as i wanted to focus on the necessity criteria. Pre-trial press disclosure is something that will have to be legislated for, but necessity criteria interpretation is a culture that can be changed through training. I think a combination of the two is what we need.

9 weeks of a 9 month sentence

Ex-tory peer Lord Hanningfield has been released from prison having served 9 weeks of a 9 month sentence. What a joke our sentencing policy is.

Madeleine McCann case continues

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Just a quickie, saw this article on the BBC News website with the headline "Madeleine McCann review police hold talks in Portugal". It feels almost inconceivable that anyone could disappear without trace in the age of 24 hour rolling news, CCTV and forensic advancements, and an internet that makes the dissemination of photos and information easier than ever before. I don't buy into conspiracy theories but this is the first time that i can relate with those who do. I agree that it is very unlikely, but not impossible, that someone could vanish without trace. To quote a famous fictional detective; "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?"

There are only two possibilities; One, she has been murdered and the body hidden...two, she has been abducted and held out of the sight of the public. As horrible as they both seem, i hope it is the latter. There have been quite a few recent incidences where a child has been kidnapped and kept hidden for a number of years, but they have escaped and their life goes on...albeit with the trauma of the event.

It also shows us something important about policing. There are some crimes that, for whatever reason, aren't solvable. It also shows us how important the "Golden Hour" is. The Spanish police failed to appreciate the importance of the golden hour, and it could have been their incompetent that sealed Madeleine's fate.

Its right that British bobbies keep this investigation open and active. I believe that this crime is solvable. Someone somewhere has seen her, and the Met police are going to have to be the guys to find that person.

Hurdle 22: Building Bridges

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The internet has revolutionised communication. Its also revolutionised the way people ask for stuff. Sometimes its a Nigerian prince asking for your bank details,  sometimes its people asking you to like a facebook page, and even more often its a handsome law student from the east midlands asking you to read his awesome blog. Its endless, and its impossible to differentiate between deserving causes and undeserving causes. This is relevant for bloggers because the best way to build up that first community of readers is by asking people to read your blog. Its not something to be ashamed of, as people would prefer to be asked rather than tricked into reading your blog.

I can make this hurdle a quick one, because this has an easy solution...don't ask them to come, give them a reason to come. Clearly its more complicated than it sounds, and the way to achieve this involves a long term commitment.

Your first few weeks of blogging could be disappointing. You may only get a handful of visitors, no comments and even negative feedback. This is because it takes time for you to find your feet as a blogger, and it takes even longer for your reputation to become established.

Keep posting, keep positive, and keep evolving...success as a blogger takes time and commitment.

Human Rights v Prevention of Terrorism

I posed this question on twitter and didn't get much response. I decided to write about it because i'd really like to hear your thoughts on it.

Anyway...TV/Websites are saturated with news of the intelligence suggesting an attack is planned on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.The thought of it is sickening, and its right to use all of the legal powers available to take preventative action. But it raises an interesting question, and it is this question i posed on twitter earlier today.

If there is an attack on the 11th, would this be justification for challenging human rights derogations? or encouraging more?

It raises a whole load of questions i cant answer, no matter how hard i try. Would it mean that we had not gone far enough? Would it mean that terrorism is unstoppable? Are we at a fork in the road where we must choose between a virtualy total lack of private life, or the continued unmanagable risk of mass casualty terrorism incidents?

I hope nothing happens, but all future terrorost attacks, whenever they happen, will raise this question. I hope that it doesnt give governments more fuel to derrogate from human rights principles...in some ways i would prefer to accept terrorist attacks as a possibility if that meant our human rights are protected.

What do you think?

Members of Parliament Blacklist

I've spoken a lot about the accountability of MP's...its becoming a bit of a crusade of mine. I get very irritated that our elected representatives are so difficult to contact. They are generally out of reach because they are doing another political job, have poor staff, or spend all their time in Westminster.

In many ways i oppose elected representatives taking on any position that takes them away from their constituency work. At the moment an MP focuses on pleasuring their constituents in the run up to elections, yet the rest of the time they are more concerned with their own careers. No MP is going to get a promotion for being a great constituency MP are they?

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Take a look at this link. A local paper, The Gazette, tested how easy it would be to get in contact with their local MP, Sir Stuart Bell, Labour. They made over 100 calls, and no one ever even picked up the phone. Lets take a look at how this guy works;

  • He doesn't have an office in the town, unlike the other 4 MPs in the area
  • He has not held a constituency surgery for 14 years as he was threatened by a constituent in 1997
  • He says he only meets with people by appointment, and appointments can be arranged by making a phone call to him
  • He is paid an annual salary of £65,738 and has claimed £82,896 in expenses for staffing
  • He has been the MP for Teeside since 1983 and has been re-elected 6 times
  • He does not answer emails, letters or calls, constituents say

This is insane! The guy is a waste of space, and there should be an obligation on on the Speaker of the House of Commons to force a by-election under these circumstances. What are your thoughts?

Hurdle 21: Moving on...

So far my hurdles posts have been written based on some problem i've overcome. This one is different, because i am not sure if i am going to be able to clear this hurdle. If i've learned one thing about blogging, its that the blogosphere are pretty supportive, so maybe you lot can give me some advice.

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I'm almost certain that none of you will remember version 1 of Diet Justice. It was called No Such Word As Kan't...a clever play on words that got cleverer each time i read it. Having realised that people were enjoying my musings i decided to up sticks and start version 2; Diet Justice. It was a good decision, and i'm glad i did it.

In the last month or so i have felt that same urge to upgrade Diet Justice for a second time. The problem is, i am scared that making a move to another platform will cause me to lose readers. Its that annoying attitude you see on programs like Kitchen Nightmares; i'm not making 'money' but i am too scared to make big changes for fear of losing those few customers i have. I think i know what i need to do, overcome the fear and hope for the best.

Diet Justice 3.0, as it will be called, will be both a blog and a community. If i was to be moving from blog to blog, i wouldn't be too worried...its the community aspect that concerns me.

I cant rely on a 'build it and they will come' attitude because that is simply not the case. Although i have 5 or 6 really loyal readers, they don't owe me anything. To get them, and anyone else, to join the community i have to offer them a number of things;

  • High quality content
  • Content relevant to their interests
  • Regular content additions
  • Original content
  • A platform that is easy to use
  • Likeable authors
I have achieved all that through the current blog. Now i want to add some other features, including;
  • Discussion forum
  • Download archive
  • Link database
  • Documentary index
  • Networking opportunities
My biggest challenge is finding a way to maintain all of the factors from list one, while offering the new features from list two. This needs to be done without allowing the new features to distract readers from the core blog content.

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I am confident that i can achieve that, but the thing i am battling with the most is appearance.  Although the current blog is a little cluttered, it is simple and easy to use. I am working hard to ensure that DJ 3.0 has the same simplicity as the current blog, while intuitively adding the new features.

Having created an intuitive layout and maintained the factors from list one the real challenge starts. I have some great chats on twitter, and i've met some amazing people. The problem with twitter is that it is the fastest and easiest method of communication and requires little attention. Why would anyone want to spend time using a discussion forum? With twitter as competition, can i ever really build a successful online community?

This is the question i just cant answer. I must take the plunge, do my best, and hope that i can offer something that twitter doesn't...whatever that may be.

Want to see DJ 3.0? Feel free to preview it, register an account, and give me feedback using the support tickets, http://www.dietjustice.net

Update on stuff

Since the day i made my desperate call to my MP's office i have been struggling to give my saga a name. I feel it should end in 'gate', but the catalogue of crap is so diffuse i cant seem to pick one unique or significant theme to actually gate. For the sake of clarity, i'm going to pick the second most versatile word i know (the first being unspeakable in such polite surroundings)...shite. So, here is a quick update on Shite-gate.


I just cant stop myself from putting cat pictures on
my serious posts
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Letters have gone out to DWP, Student Loans Company and my University VC. I've had nothing back from the first two, unsurprisingly. I can only conclude that they don't have an automatic proforma letter to print off to respond to my particular circumstances. Someone is bound to eventually realise this, I direct you to the pending works of Shakespeare and an infinite number of type writers and monkeys. When it is finally realised they will have to find someone with two braincells to rub together. Immediately rule out every civil servant in both departments. My only hope is that it will cross the desk of some graduate who has the displeasure of temping alongside those morons.

As for the response i got from the University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dominic Shellard...i didn't actually get a response. He decided to immediately pass my details on to the Money and Welfare department...the very department that has continued to underwhelm me at every turn. When i spoke to the money and welfare bod she offered to help me fill in an application form for the access to learning fund that doesn't open until October. She was confused when i explained that my problem was that i cant afford to eat now, not in October.

What frustrates me is the presumption of ignorance. Does Mr Shellard honestly think that i would go to the trouble of asking my MP to write to him had i not already gone through all other channels? I was in such a desperate situation because the Money and Welfare department was unable to help me. So i am left with two conclusions. Either the letter from Jon was poorly written and didn't explain my circumstances in any detail, or my Vice Chancellor is a moron. I am learning towards the latter.

What is worrying is the level of attention Mr Shellard has apparently given to a Member of Parliament. He didn't contact me, he didn't make sure Money and Welfare understood and as far as i can tell he isn't monitoring the outcome. If this is the level of attention given to a problem passed to him by an MP, what level of attention is he going to give to anything else?

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Money and Welfare have insisted on taking me though a budgeting process. I have remained polite, more out of exacerbation...but if you know my circumstances you can appreciate why i just want to tell her to fuck off.

I live in hope that i will get some money from the student loan company in just under a months time. This does depend on them deciding not to recover last years money...i don't hold out much hope.

If i continue to eat bread and cereal for the next month i should manage to survive until the first student finance payment...if that payment doesn't come along, i will defiantly have to quit university.

Something is very wrong with our system of benefits. If you find yourself in immediate and short term financial shit expect absolutely no help from the government. They will only offer support to people who can afford to support themselves for the months it takes to arrange the benefit. If you can somehow manage to support yourself that long, you will only get help if your crisis is long term. The system is designed to keep people on benefits?!?!

I have a meeting with Jon Ashworth on Friday afternoon, the first since all this started. I am looking forward to it as i think Jon is, despite his staff, unusually down to earth. I will let you know how it goes.


This post is part of a series
  1. Now i've lost confidence in my MP, who else can i trust? (19th August 2011)
  2. MP's staff, constitutional status (19th August 2011)
  3. Progress made...convo with Jon Ashworth (21st August 2011)
  4. MP's Staff...part 2 (24th August 2011)
  5. Update on Stuff (8th September 2011)
  6. Letter of apology from Gavin George, Constituency Director for Jon Ashworth MP (20th September 2011)
  7. Phone call with Jon (21st September 2011)

Twitter Bios, Launch of the Ministry of Bullshit

I've been on twitter for a few months now and it is a great tool, and i've met a lot of people. What i am totally sick of, however, is the bullshit people write on their Bios. I've tolerated it up until now, but i feel i must speak out having read this one. Ladies and Gentlemen, i introduce you to the most hateful person on twitter;

✓Coca-Cola✓USMC Bad Ass✓Radio Host✓Producer✓Blogger✓Proud Father But I Cheat✓Black Women Are Beautiful But I Fuck Anything✓Lets Network! 

The only thing missing from this stream of shite is the word "entrepreneur" which is banded around way too much for my linking.

It makes me angry but i'll move on...unfortunately this moron will always be a moron.

<GRUMP OVER>

Extra..Extra...

This post is officially the headquarters of the Ministry of Bullshit, Twitter Biography Division. If you've seen a particularly moronic twitter biography share it with us! Feel free to name and shame, i wont stop you from linking to the bio :D

Afternoon quickie: 'Commons Clash' over police elections

I read today how our PM and Leader of the Opposition clashed over elected police commissioners. The fact that politicians are out of touch is not something new, but reading this particular article is exacerbating.

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Its exacerbating because of their belief that they really understand the issues surrounding policing, and all sides are as bad as each other. Their arguments are so detached from reality that any attempt at educating them is futile.

Police policy isn't perfect, i think everyone would agree. The weaknesses in police policy are born out of political interference. Cameron and Milliband should be arguing over ways to improve independence from politics, not adding more layers of it.

The introduction of elected police commissioners sounds lovely. It sounds lovely because there is the presumption that democracy is perfect. I tend to think that democracy is the least worst system, not the best. We should be very cautious when making changes that are based on democratic theory as there are many situations when it becomes an unnecessary block to efficiency.

It is right that our system of government is based on democracy. It is wrong that the absence of democracy is evidence of weakness. Our chief police officers are the right people to be leading the fight against crime, and the police authorities and home office are the right people to be providing the checks and balances.

Beta Testers wanted

Hey everyone,

I have finally found a platform that i think offers the flexibility and functionality i have been searching for. It has taken me months of trial and error to finally get to this stage, so this is a big day. Diet Justice 3.0 will mark a transition from Blog, to Community. To help me fine tune the software, i need a handful of Beta Testers. If you are interested, drop me an email here and i will sort out your access, and we can get started. To find out more about DJ3.0 continue reading this blog post :)

For you, the readers, Diet Justice 3.0 will mean there will be more. My blog will continue at the same pace and quality as it always has. By building a community i hope to develop a resource that is informative, interesting and useful. To achieve this i have been seeking a platform that had a wider range of features;
  • Forums...where we can discuss a wide range of topics.
  • User Blogs...when i started blogging i wished there was a way to reach a wider audience sooner. By starting your blog within the DJ 3.0 Community you can immediately reach thousands of daily visitors. Once you have fine tuned your content, and developed your own readership, you can spread your wings and take your new readers with you to your own blog if you wish. This feature is about supporting fellow bloggers.
  • Downloads...i currently have a folder full of reports, inquiries, think tank publications, and student materials. They are no good sitting on my desktop, so this downloads section will allow me, and you, to share interesting publications with the community. For example; I intend to bring together all the recent reports on policing reform. I hope that by doing this it will make the issue of police reform more accessible to the community, and i can see this happening with lots of other topics as well. Any member will be allowed to share documents with the community.
  • Contacts...this is a fairly small feature, but one that i really like. As a community we can compile a list of useful contacts for a variety of industries.
  • Membership...by registering as a member you will become part of the community, giving you the ability to use more resources and to contribute.
I realise that i have a lot of work ahead of me. This is not going to be a "build it and they will come" project. I hope that the hard work that the Beta Testers and I will put in will give you a reason to join in, and hopefully contribute your expertise as well :)

9/11

I've often been asked why i wanted to become a police officer. Sheepishly i reply "its what i was born to do"...i suddenly become very aware of how clich├ęd i sound. What i actually mean is "it's what i've always wanted to do". But once a year i am reminded of the real reason, 9/11.

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On September 11th 2001 i was 15, and yet again had got myself in a lot of trouble. I was in an art lesson and was massively bored. so took to throwing clay at the ample cleavage opposite me. Something that i pride myself on is my cleavage aim, and in a fit of what i can only presume was jealousy (!), the teacher threw me out. As was my habit, i took a walk across the school to chat to the science technicians. They were all gathered around a radio and told me that the twin towers had collapsed. I saw the twin towers only once before then, and that was on the back of a mini cereal box so i had a bit of an ideal how huge they were. A gentle jog back to class and i announced "the twin towers have collapsed"...and got blank faces all round. Everyone has story similar to this, its a moment ingrained on the memory of humanity.

Every year i feel a responsibility to watch the programs about 9/11. These programs are always upsetting, and i actively avoid them other times of the year. But i think its important that i take the time each September to remind myself of those events.

I get 3 distinct feelings when thinking about 9/11. Horror. Pride. and Frustration. The first two are very clear. Horror, because its horrible...Pride, because of how individuals reacted to save others.The the 3rd is really difficult to name. I am frustrated at the lack of control I have, and the lack of control governments have. I am personally frustrated because i feel a responsibility to act, and due to health, distance or qualification i can't do anything. So the best i can do is to keep the memories alive and allow them to be part of my motivation.

Perhaps stupidly i have also watched and read about the conspiracy theories. Having learned about the theories surrounding 9/11, 7/7 and moon landings, i think i have identified a common thread. There is no conspiracy to make these events happen. Conspiracy theorists seize on the behaviour of governments and flimsy evidence.  The evidence is often convincing, but really not conclusive. When looking at the behaviour of governments these theorists are mistaking heavily choreographed political response with government conspiracy. It is fair to say that, for example, some pictures of the moon landing are fake. Not because the landing didn't happen, but because the pictures taken were crap. Apply this logic to other conspiracy theory's, and i think they all fall apart. My advice to governments. turn off your PR machine during humanities most defining moments.