Saturday, October 25, 2008

No life on Mars

There wasn’t much on the TV and I was channel flipping when I happened upon the American version of “Life on Mars.” I don’t know if it has screened in the UK yet but I could understand if nobody considered it worth the price. Predictably, they’ve pasteurized all the magic out of the show.

The problem of how to Americanize the soccer violence episode was solved by the transposition of a queer-bashing theme sprinkled with a few American sports references: “How ‘bout those Knicks?”

The iconic Gene Hunt is played by the legendary Harvey Keitel. I’m a huge Keitel fan but he’s way too decrepit to convince anybody he’s a working cop.

The glamorous American stars look as if they’re attempting to resemble the original UK cast tweaked to look slightly glossier. Irishman Jason O’Mara might be a more convincing fish out of water if he’d stop trying to play Sam Tiler as an American John Simm. Gretchen Mol looks uncannily familiar as Annie, but blonde. Michael Imperioli looks as if DC Ray Carling is channeling Serpico. And Jonathan Murphy might as well be Marshall Lancaster playing Chris Skelton.

They even retained the practice of interrogating suspects in the store room but, oddly, this seems less believable in an American police station. I mean “Popeye” Doyle never had to go to so much trouble in The French Connection.

The resulting nostalgia fest doesn’t hold up well against existing American police procedural flashback shows such as “Cold Case Files.” I just hope the makers of the original Life on Mars made enough money out of the deal to finance something new.

Friday, October 24, 2008

An open letter to UK Prime

Minister Mr. Gordon Brown

The Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown MP,
10 Downing Street,
London SW1A 2AA

Dear Sir,

I would like to take this opportunity to make you aware of a growing concern that our nation is facing that is the epidemic of military impostors.

Respect and admiration for our armed forces personnel are at a level not seen since VE Day and the Falklands. Military personnel are seen as laudable and commendable and are praised and honoured at public gatherings and seen in the parades in our cities. Hardly a day passes without mention of “our heroes in uniform” in the print and broadcast media.

While most military veterans are loath to be called a “hero” themselves, most will readily suggest that they have met or served with some bona fide heroes. There are some members of our society, however, who covet the title of “military hero” and intentionally seek the spotlight, despite never having served in the nation’s armed forces. There are some legitimate military veterans who are not satisfied with their record of achievements and duties and who embellish their military records, claiming duties, skills, awards and commendations which they never actually earned.

False claims of military service are offered by charlatans for a plethora of reasons. Lecherous Lotharios attempt to impress potential female companions with their false claims of military prowess. Chest-thumping pub braggarts attempt to impress and intimidate their drinking buddies with false claims of ‘secret missions’. Jail cell braggarts attempt to intimidate inmates and guards with false claims of deadly military hand-to-hand combat training.

Office personnel offer false claims in an attempt to gain an advantage in the battle for promotions where preferences might be given to military veterans. Corporate executives use false military credentials in an attempt to gain an edge in corporate marketing directed at military clients. Members of military and fraternal organizations attempt to gain undeserved praise and unearned recognition with false claims of extraordinary valour and wear medals which reflect their false claims.

In the United States, one of the largest contingents of military imposters involves those who falsely claim to be military veterans for the purpose of obtaining medical benefits, tax benefits, and monetary compensation. Here in the UK, the numbers of imposters are growing in proportion to the rise in personal security firms.

The majority of British citizens are trusting individuals who readily accept personal credentials when they are offered. Most wouldn’t think of claiming deeds or honours which they didn’t earn. Military imposters thrive in this trusting atmosphere. There are also those who know the systems so well that they can construct a resume full of honours but which none are readily or easily verifiable.

Hollywood movies are intentionally designed so that viewers might imagine themselves in situations being portrayed on the big screen. Many movies in recent years have depicted an ‘everyman’ going about his normal job by day, but acting as a secret agent at nights and on weekends in the defence of our nation. Co-workers are shown to be completely oblivious to the skills and abilities of these remarkable warriors. These surreptitious heroes are often depicted receiving secret awards and medals which ‘cannot be documented because of national security interests’. Often there are depictions of military actions taking place which are never documented, and men being held as prisoners of war without records of their captivity, all presented as being in an effort to preserve national security. Such fictional plot elements are completely false and unrealistic, but since only about seven per cent of the British population has been involved in active military service, the remainder of the population is ill-equipped to determine where reality ends and fantasy begins. When an imposter offers claims of military service, rank, awards and events which are virtually lifted from the scripts of such movies, few outside of military veterans will suspect the duplicity.

Our laws in the UK are lax and without sufficient weight to deal with any of these impostors. We have antiquated laws such as the Seamen’s And Soldiers’ False Characters Act 1906 (1906 c.5 6_Edw_7) and the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 begins to touch on the character of the trader but does not directly address a military imposter. The criminal sanctions of fraud and theft are absent of any direct penalty for military imposters.

The Unites States of America and the Commonwealth of Australia both have enacted laws that make it a serious crime to wear medals, awards or a uniform that one is not entitled to wear.

In Australia the Defence Act, 1903 was amended, and it is a federal offence to claim to be a returned soldier, sailor or airman, subject to six months’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $3,300.

The applicable laws (The Stolen Valour Act) refer to “the uniform, or a distinctive part thereof or anything similar to a distinctive part of the uniform of any of the armed services of the United States…” as well as “any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the armed forces of the United States, or any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, or the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration, or medal, or any colorable imitation thereof, except when authorized under regulations made pursuant to law…”

The amended law specifically includes doubly harsh penalties for those who make false claims of being awarded the highest medals for valour such as the Congressional Medal of Honour, the three Service Crosses, the Silver Star, and the Purple Heart, or of being awarded the POW Medal.

Federal law enforcement agents in the United States of America are currently engaged in Operation Stolen Valour, a nationwide effort to bring the most egregious offenders to justice and demonstrate to the American public that its government will not tolerate those in its society who make false military claims for any reason, whether it is to gain employment or promotion under false pretences, obtain unearned government benefits, or for purposes of self aggrandizement of an over-inflated ego.

When informed about the growing epidemic of military imposters in our nation, many people ask “why bother with them?” Inquirers often suggest that military imposters are more to be pitied for their lack of self-esteem and self-worth than prosecuted, and that the making of false claims of military service is a ‘victimless crime’. On the contrary, it is not victimless, and it should be strongly stressed that it should be a crime. There are victims aplenty when false military claims are made. In addition to those individuals who are personally defrauded of goods, services and cash by multitudes of military impostors. Whether it is the parting of a few pints at the local legion to a “vet” or large defence contracts awarded to imposters there will always be a victim somewhere. The most apparent victim is the legitimate serviceman or woman whose valour has been stolen.

In a recent study in the United States, it was found that those who voluntarily participated in the National Library of Congress’ Veterans’ History Project that more than half of the participants who claimed to have been awarded the Medal of Honour had in fact not been awarded it. There were 14 false claims of receiving the Navy Cross and 30 false claims of having been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Further examinations of the records are finding false claims to special forces as well. Is this serious? If one considers that in one hundred years from now, these records could alter history then yes, it is serious.

Medals recognize the best of British qualities – courage, honour, duty, valour and sacrifice. These honours are reserved for those who willingly risked their lives for our country. It is our job to protect the honour and integrity of our veterans, to make sure the memory of their heroism is not tarnished.

I ask that you join in as our brethren in the United States and Australia have done and create and enact legislation in the United Kingdom to stop this epidemic of military impostors.

Yours faithfully,

Michael Burgess

Monday, October 20, 2008

12-Year-Old Boy Scouts Volunteer

To Give Women Breast Exams

Two prospective Eagle Scouts explain how they are preventing breast cancer by helping women examine their breasts.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

McCain trails Obama

US Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain (R-AZ) reacts to almost heading the wrong way off the stage after shaking hands with Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) at the conclusion of the final presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, October 15, 2008.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Crisis, What Crisis?
Britain in the 1970s
It seems as deeply researched as three Ph.D theses and yet Turner's narrative rattles along with a sly raconteur’s wit.

SPOILER ALERT: The strands of low culture and high politics are finely woven to a fine climax of comic inevitability in which Enoch Powell and Tony Benn console each other standing side by side in a House of Commons lavatory.

This is the kind of book that students of journalism, political science and sociology hide in the wrong sections of the university library so it will always be there when they need the right quote for a dissertation. My advice: buy your own.

Crisis, What Crisis?: Britain in the 1970s by Alwyn W. Turner (Aurum Press, £20)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Friday, October 03, 2008

Kucinich on the bailout: We Had Alternatives

In God We Trust, Wall Street Gets Cash

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) issued the following statement after voting against the Wall Street bail out plan, H.R. 1424, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008:

“The public is being led to believe that Congress has reconsidered its position because we have before us a better bill than we had a few days ago. It is the same bill plus hundreds of new pages for hundreds of millions of tax breaks. What does this have to do with the troubles of Wall Street?

“Driven by fear we are moving quickly to pass a bill, which may produce a temporary uptick for the market, but nothing for millions of homeowners whose misfortunes are at the center of our economic woes. People do not have money to pay their mortgages. After this passes, they will still not have money to pay their mortgages. People will still lose their homes while Wall Street is bailed out.

“The central flaw of this bill is that there are NO stronger protections for homeowners and NO changes in the language to ensure that the secretary has the authority to compel mortgage servicers to modify the terms of mortgages. And there are NO stronger regulatory changes to fix the circumstances that allowed this to happen.

“We should have created a mechanism for our government to take a controlling interest in mortgage-backed securities and use our power to work out a new deal for the homeowners. We could have done this. We should have done this. But we didn’t.

“Now millions of Americans will face the threat of foreclosure without any help. And the numbers will soon rise for a number of reasons. Not only because of the Alt-A, jumbo mortgages which will soon be reset at higher interest rates, but because the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) is pushing up rates on adjustable mortgages and more than half of the US adjustable mortgage rates are tied to LIBOR. Homeowner defaults will grow in significant numbers. Let’s see if Congress will be as quick to help homeowners on Main Street as they were to help speculators on Wall Street.

“Now the government will have to borrow $700 billion from banks, with interest, to give banks a $700 billion bailout, and in return the taxpayers get $700 billion in toxic debt. The Senate “improved” the bailout by giving tax breaks to people in foreclosure. People in foreclosure need help paying their mortgage, they do not seek tax breaks.

“Across our Nation, foreclosures continue to devastate our communities, people are losing their jobs, and the prices of necessities are skyrocketing. This legislation, just like the one we defeated last week, will do nothing to solve the problems plaguing American families or help them to get out from underneath the oppressive debt they have been forced to take on.

“Unfortunately, there has been no discussion of the underlying debt-based economy and the role of our monetary system in facilitating the redistribution of wealth upwards.

“It is not as though we had no choice but to pass the bill before us. We could have done this differently. We could have demanded language in the legislation that would have empowered the Treasury to compel mortgage servicers to rework the terms of mortgage loans so homeowners could avoid foreclosure. We could have put regulatory structures in place to protect investors. We could have stopped the speculators.

“This bill represents an utter failure of the Democratic process. It represents the triumph of special interest over the triumph of the public interest. It represents the inability of government to defend the public interest in the face of great pressure from financial interests. We could have recognized the power of government to prime the pump of the economy to get money flowing through out society by creating jobs, health care, and major investments in green energy. What a lost opportunity! What a moment of transition away from democracy and towards domination of America by global economic interests.

“Years ago, in a Cleveland neighborhood, I saw a hand-scrawled sign above a cash register in a delicatessen. The sign said: “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash.” The sign above the Speaker’s rostrum reads “In God We Trust,” but we are paying the cash to Wall Street.

“It is not as if we had no other choice but to pass this bill.”

Thursday, October 02, 2008