Sunday, September 23, 2018

Blaming Brexiters

The following is a comment on Chris Grey's partly excellent denunciation of Theresa May's (and the British government's) approach to Brexit. Unfortunately Chris does not permit comments. I recommend reading his work here.*

I agree with most of this* (as a Brexit supporter). Where I disagree is with blaming the Brexiters. May and most of her supporter are remainers. It's May who is trying to subvert the options by pretending there is a half in, half out panacea which the EU is just somehow in denial about. I agree it makes her and the UK look foolish, but you have to keep in mind that May thinks she is offering the EU essentially a betrayal of Brexit by sticking to EU rules while claiming independence. She thinks that's a 'good deal' for them and cannot understand why she is rejected. She fails to understand what a project the EU is. The EU is already looking to the East (Bulgaria, Ukraine spring to mind) for ways to extend its power. The idea of losing a few fellow travellers along the way was already priced in. The EU's thinking may (reluctantly) be compared with Hitler's in 1939- Britain can keep her world trading network malarkey if the Germany gets mainland Europe and its satellites. May's willingness to parley Britain's military strength in return for Chequers is a sign that she's not completely ignorant of this, but at least publicly she is bereft of this awareness, claiming that the EU must compromise.

The central accusation against Brexiters is unfair though: the idea that 'access' is a weasel word (implying that we will somehow keep Single Market conditions) must be set against the false expression 'frozen out' (widely used by remainers), which suggests that the EU has no interest in its own trade surplus with the UK, or any regard for WTO rules. In the referendum these poles were logically the parameters of discussion and rhetoric- neither is per se dishonest. As regards elision of the options post-Brexit, the exact form of a trade agreement would always be moot until formulated in black and white- which is a chief culpability of May and her remain instincts leading to hope of a false 'leave', a kind of cosmetic agreement with plenty of sweeteners, underlining British exceptionalism within the EU (which seems to me entirely unjust, unmerited and dangerous- as perhaps Barnier agrees).

As a supporter of leave, motivated by the democratic deficit in the EU, economic protectionism and inequalities promoted by the EU, the sluggish reaction to crises,the bully-boy tactics, the bureaucracy and high-handedness I have first-hand witnessed, and the sheer banality of revisiting Europe's idees fixees for the satisfaction of boomer Germans and Frenchmen- plus enthusiasm for the world at large- I know as most of my fellow leavers know, and most leavers clearly want, that you leave, and then mitigate. You come to the EU as a supplicant (which attitude they desire) and behind your back you have several big sticks to chase the dissolute high priest (trade, finance, and military cooperation). Don't accuse leavers of the muddled thinking that May embraces as a way of tricking 'the nasty party' as she sees them. That would be to slander them twice over.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Yes, Ministered

Sir Humphrey and the Brexit white paper

Bernard - How did the Chequers meeting go, Sir Humphrey?

H – Oh, excellent Bernard, excellent.

B - How do you mean, excellent, Sir Humphrey? I thought it was rather acrimonious, with all that talk about polishing turds.

H – Oh don't mind that Bernard. Let me tell you that before this meeting the cabinet was evenly balanced 13 : 7 in favour of Remain, and now that the Prime Minister made our plans for leaving the EU clear, it's even more in favour of Remain.

B – I don't understand, Sir Humphrey – you're saying that now Mrs May has published her plans to leave the EU, the remainers in the Cabinet are stronger?

H- Well, yes, of course there's the practical fact that we've added another minister for the chief offices of state that's Remain, and also the fact that we publicly humiliated two of the most prominent leavers, but it's mainly a question of trust.

B- Trust, Sir Humphrey?

H- Yes, trust, Bernard. You see, before now the majority in the cabinet, while being opposed to leaving the EU, weren't really sure that Theresa May agreed with them. Now they hear just what she proposes to mean by 'leaving the EU' she's convinced them that when she says leave, she really means 'remain'. Now that they've worked that one out they've finally decoded all her communications and now they know what a reliable public liar she is they're finally able to trust her. Think of the relief Bernard! And with relief comes unity, and with unity will come the strength to fulfil their historic task to leave the EU because Brexit finally really means Brexit!

B- Wait, wait, I get it, so you mean they are committed to fulfilling their historic task to... leave, which means... remain.

H – Precisely Bernard, well done you, but may I say, not too humbly perhaps, well done all of us!

Monday, July 09, 2018

on Davis, Johnson & May

The issue is fundamentally one of trust. If May thought Davis was doing a bad job she could have sacked him months ago. Instead she waited until her Blairite civil service appointee Robbins had trotted off to Brussels to cook up the ‘common rule book’ etc. Then she set up a meeting where she sidelined the work of the man she’d commissioned and kept in place for years, in favour of a civil service concocted scheme. It was all accompanied by a sophisticated operation of spin, and it seems she had Raab lined up as replacement for Davis. Who knows the background to that choice? Oh, I know, let’s just take it on trust. Or rather, let’s listen to the people who’ve been trying to work alongside May for two years to get the Brexit agenda accepted, only for her to repeatedly turn to ‘half in’ alternatives. Boris and Davis saw the sleight of hand of May’s behaviour and put two and two together, however reluctantly. We should do so with more alacrity.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Donald's threesome with the two Kims

Soon after Donald Trump was elected, there was a scandalous rumour about his use of prostitutes in Russia on a visit there, and of a video tape to prove it. That rumour is considered false today, as it was part of a 'dossier' prepared by a former British secret serviceman in the pay (indirectly) of the Hillary Clinton's Democratic party.

Maybe Trump's opponents thought that it seemed a realistic idea, since Trump was what you could call a 'womaniser' – that is, a man who has a history of multiple female partners, often not lasting a long time. However, the accusation was never widely believed, because it seemed that the man who had Ivana and Melania, and was the father of Ivanka, wouldn't be too interested in Moscow ladies of the night.

When we look at the events of the last two weeks, though, it seems more accurate to see Trump as a 'triangulator', which means a person who forms links easily with many people at the same time, forming 'triangles' of relationships linking often very different people together.

It's two weeks since Trump entertained Kim Kardashian-West (wife of African-American rapper Kanye West, mother of North and Saint, famed for her shapely bottom and TV show). The first Kim to the Whitehouse, then, was a reality star. She went there, however, to represent the interests of Alice Marie Johnson, 63, an African-American great-grandmother serving a life sentence in a US prison for a nonviolent drug offence. Trump accepted Kim's request for a Presidential pardon.

Now Trump has just met with another Kim- Kim Jong-Un, Chairman of the People's Republic of North Korea. It's quite a triangle to form, between the two Kims- both famous, and, some would argue, both wanting to be celebrities in the world. In the past Trump was the owner of the Miss Universe competitions, so he knows a bit about the desire for stardom.

Last weekend, however, there was a different type of meeting, the G7 summit, and Trump looked much less happy with the company he kept. It was a meeting full of anger from the leaders of countries like Canada and Germany because of Trump's new tariffs on their exports to America.

Looked at in another way, though, this could be seen as another form of triangulation, this time with the voters of the Midwest who actually made the difference electorally between Trump and Hillary Clinton. They depend on manufacturing for their livelihoods. And of course, looked at in another way, Trump's alliance with Kim Kardashian is a way to reach the African-American population that so routinely vote Democrat.

Will Trump's action with the second Kim be successful? Will Kim Jong Un, despite his terrible early years as leader, be the man to bring North Korea back to the modern world. The answer is difficult to be sure of, but the indicators are interesting.

The first thing is that Kim has already been meeting with the South Koreans in a way that has no precedent. His choice was to meet on the border between North and South and to walk backwards and forwards across the border with the South Korean President. The symbolism of this, and the meeting with Trump, will create pressure on him to show that he is decisive and has made a firm decision. Of course, it is probably true that Kim's North Korea has run out of money, but why just now? Is it Trump's pressure on China (diplomatic and economic)? Whatever the answer, Trump is the Great Triangulator, and that means bringing sharp angles to a strict point.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Why Free Tommy Robinson is right

Normally not a fan of direct action, I am making an exception in this case. I did post about this earlier, but I realised something important thanks to a commenter on disqus. The point was that (contrary to my expectation) Tommy Robinson's jail term was only 3 months for breaching the suspended sentence he'd been given for filming and streaming outside a trial, and 10 months tacked on for the offence identified on the day of the breach (filming and streaming outside another trial). I had assumed it was the other way round.  The injustice is therefore multiplied, when a man can receive a summary 10 month sentence for an offence for which he has not received a trial, on the basis presumably that it mirrors an offence for which he was tried and convicted. No,  No, No. Habeas Corpus.

Brexit and the spirit of Cobden

If you, like me, considered the best argument for Brexit to be sovereignty, then maybe you, like me, considered an essential advantage of sovereignty apart from the EU to be the ability to pursue free trade, away from the common European Tariff. This core aspect of leaving the EU has been targeted by Michel Barnier through the point of attack of the Irish border with Northern Ireland. You can't have free movement of people between North and South without a common trade policy, the argument runs. The attempt is to make the economic political and thereby put politics ahead of economics.

The same has been true with the Euro-crisis, though. Every time someone has tried to put economics first, the EU has intervened politically. Greece once (using the IMF to strong-arm Tsipras), Italy twice (Mario Monti replacing euro-sceptic Berlusconi in 2011; Paolo Savona in 2018 rejected as Finance Minister for euro-sceptic views), and Spain didn't need intervention only because of the bloody-minded Francoism of (thankfully ex-) Prime Minister Rajoy (which required the EU's acquiescence to the suppression of Catalonian concerns as Spain's richest region).

Amidst this tumult of discord, the still small voice of Richard Cobden beckons us to listen. It was Cobden, after all, who established the anti-corn law league which finally brought relief to Ireland at the height of the potato famine by allowing imported corn to replace deficiencies at home. It was also Cobden who reached out to France and via the Cobden-Chevalier treaty, which imposed a maximum level on tariffs, secured a doubling of trade between the two countries. It was furthermore Cobden who criticised the mercantilist policies pursued by the British representatives in China during the Second Opium War.

Thus on the one hand we have political gamesmanship and chicanery masquerading as real-politik, and on the other hand critical engagement with positive social intent. The latter spirit is what inspired Brexit, the spirit of Cobden, and that's what has to win through today and, I would say, for all time.

As to the practical question of the Irish border, the issue is too minute to be generally discussed. The question of EU-bound trade from the North would be mainly of produce destined for the South of Ireland. Likewise in the opposite direction it would be a question only (or mainly) of consumables from South to North.  To ensure this was the case (and not some grand scheme of tariff avoidance) there could be an obligation to declare the intention to 'export-on' when crossing the Irish land border, combined with an obligation for transports above a certain value (either individual or cumulative) to register and detail that trade electronically. What it means is accepting basic principles that will be worked out on the ground and on the go. To make politics of this economic footnote is in the worst tradition of European demagoguery. Give me Cobdenism every time.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Tommy Robinson is right

Shall I begin with a disclaimer? No, sod that. Tommy Robinson should not have been jailed for breach of a contempt of court order because he shouldn't have been given a contempt of court order in the first place. Not unless these people were as well

Can one man, a partisan representative of a notoriously disrespected sect (the EDL) prejudice a jury against a defendant or group of defendants? And which way would the prejudice cut? 

As this post by the Secret Barrister rightly says 'The starting point of our criminal justice system is that justice must be seen to be done.' It seems to me that, given the limited coverage and presence that Tommy Robinson brought to the trials he covered, he was just trying to bring to light an unjustifiably hidden series of cases of abuse against minors. If all media coverage is suspended till the end of a series of trials, public outrage is largely stifled, and public outrage is one of the vital elements of a just society. 

Today Tommy Robinson is doing one of the early days in prison of his 13 month sentence. Many a criminal conviction has been treated much less harshly, and yet we are to accept the summary multiplied sentencing of an originally questionable suspended sentence? As for mitigation (which, given the summary nature of the judgement was difficult to summon), how about the fact that with his belief system Tommy Robinson in prison will be living in fear of those of 'other persuasions'. Quite the multiplier effect. Justice seen to be done? Not half.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

A time to speak

It has been 23 months since the last post. I was drawn to that one by a kind of euphoria after the Brexit vote. At the time when I commented David Cameron was still Prime Minister, although he had announced his intention to resign (as the post said, in October- but David Cameron's word was never worth much if he could find space to backtrack...). I wouldn't have expected the next Prime Minister to be Theresa May, but retrospectively the 'pair of safe hands' cliche suited the mood of the moment. The fact that she was a remain voter was weighed as a positive, given the carnage of careers among the remain side as recriminations set in. The hysteria on their side as Cameron and Osborne mutually walked the plank was a de facto argument that remainers needed to be reassured, but throwing sweets to a screaming child is an equally responsible reaction.

Hence, although in the subsequent elections the Conservatives won (just) on a platform which included leaving the EU, the cabinet is actually balanced in favour of remain, if we count the crucial consideration of how they voted in the referendum. Moreover, those closest to Theresa May, like Damian Green (who would it seems be a long way from his current eminence but for contact with May) are also remainers.

Should we be surprised that remainers, er, remain? Much as I dislike the monikers associated with the two sides (Brexit is an ugly word for the claim of legislative supremacy for the British parliament which is at the heart of the matter) they do crystallize, in the unintended way slogans often do, something at the core of things. In this case, another way to see 'remain' is 'remain as we are', embrace the status quo. This was always the strongest position of those who want the EU as their future, to argue that things are not so bad, why change them? It is always the best argument against the other side in a 'change' referendum, and in this case, given the way that EU law and institutions have woven themselves into British ones, the argument could be combined with the sense that out there, in the deep blue beyond the EU, (as the old maps proverbially indicated) 'here be dragons'.

It's striking, in a way, that the politicians overwhelmingly voted remain (more than 50% of  Tories, even, did so) despite purporting to represent their constituents for decades in some cases. It's not exactly surprising though- it was the world they had known as politicians. They often cut their teeth in the Major-Blair years with a cross-party consensus on the membership of the EU, and on more detailed issues such as the Maastricht and Lisbon treaties. These treaties and the Directives flowing from them also determined the parameters of their discussions in Parliament.

None of the 11 general elections between 1972 and 2016 had been decided on the question of European Union membership or any issue which threatened it. It was a done deal, the backdrop of our affairs rather than the substance of them, and yet the hidden shaper of the substance which actually meant that abdication of roles was a fact of life in the Westminster Parliament.

That's why the decision of the 52% was so remarkable in 2016- it was a rebellion, not against a defined specific issue, but against the presumed context behind them. It was not really even a rebellion, in the sense that it was a restatement of desire for British institutions to be the superstructure of our democratic choices. 

Today, as things stand (23 months on from June 2016), that superstructure is still supplied by the EU. The UK's MPs still exist alongside the EU's UK MEPs, who occupy a position closer to the mainsprings of power and patronage, in the sense of the power to define the bounds of law and the power to bestow patronage flowing from these. Thus it happens that MEPs are paid more than MPs. 

This helps explain why the process of leaving the EU is so tortuous: literally, livelihoods depend on the UK's membership. It so happens that the relatively few livelihoods connected with the EU are those of the ruling class in the UK, either those who bestow, receive or rely on the EU's patronage and acquiescence. Not being a Conservative MP I feel free to go further than Jacob Rees Mogg's sensible recent statement that 'you wonder if the government really wants to leave at all'. I don't wonder, I know they don't, because in the best case they are surrounded by people who don't want to leave (ie. the civil service whose status is enhanced so much on the European stage), and these people know just enough technical verbiage to intimidate their humble elected political masters. In the worst case, the politicians themselves are angling for benefits from a pro-EU political line (see Morgan, N. MP for Loughborough). 

The campaign for the (EU) status quo hasn't stopped since the referendum, and has gained momentum based on the self-belief and self-entitlement of its proponents (see Blair, T and the majority Blair-Cameron appointed House of Lords), and their essential contempt for their opponents (the great unwashed). This has combined with the EU negotiating outrage that its power is challenged, and the desire of the Republic of Ireland to undermine the express democratic will of the British people (or as they would say, the English and Welsh peoples, without the Scots).

The phrase losing the battle but winning the war comes to mind for the remainers, but here is the frustrating part: this is a political question about economic matters, sovereignty, representation and identity. None of this would be as fixed post-Brexit as it is before (and no, Brexit hasn't happened yet, despite desires to claim the public relations high ground and define its character beforehand). Alignment with the EU could be as close as the voting cycle allowed, which is to say as close as you like provided that no one unduly suffers (see, the entire British fishing industry). 

The country where I was born assumed for itself that the government it elected would follow the will of its people in the key elements of its activities (defence, border control, raising taxes, providing for welfare, economic regulation). I would like to remain a citizen of that country, the Britain that was and (still, despite all) remains a city on a hill.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Brexit et al

So here we are. Somewhere. I suppose that the extraordinary display of democracy and politics in the UK recently deserves mention. I voted, in such a way as to maximise democracy and make our politicians think (for a change). We discovered that they're not much able to do that.
Some people, like Rachel Johnson,  consider that Cameron's reaction to the result going against his wishes,'has been as kingly and calm as Charles I at the scaffold'. I am led to think she hasn't been paying attention, not for the first time in her life, conceivably. Or perhaps her reference is more cunning than it looks: Charles I was executed primarily because he lost the trust of the people who formerly supported him. He was considered to be a liar who would ally with England's enemies to overrule her democratic will.
Cameron's decision to resign (but not yet) goes specifically against what he said he would do. He said he would be staying on come what may to guide the country through a difficult process, 'to see out the job, to carry out the will of the British people'. Moreover, if he were going to resign he should have done so immediately so that another leader could be found to begin the task of negotiating with the EU (over a new associate status outside the full Union, naturally). Instead of this he seems determined to leave his post and not leave it (a Johnsonian not having one's cake and having it). No doubt he will be taking paid hols but officially he will be in place until October, and until that time will not be making use of article 50 to leave the European Union. This is not to keep things calm, but on the contrary to delay and create instability in the Government of the country, and in the Conservative party, which will necessitate a new General Election before invoking article 50. He will be in place to pronounce on in public and to influence behind the scenes the race to succeed him, and he will probably be doing his darndest to prevent it being that Johnson. The overall aim is, as it ever was, to avoid invoking article 50, and coincidentally there is not another politician of Johnson's cross-nation appeal who could lead this invocation effectively. Mind you, I wouldn't rule out Nigel Farage. The last apparent ditch has plenty to be said for it, sometimes. 

Meanwhile our friends in the North, the Scots, have been voting rather differently to those in the South, though rarely has Scotland flattered itself more as a cosmopolitan mate of the London clique. It's funny how the independence movement which defined itself as being too far distant from London attitudes to be governed from Westminster now uses the closeness of their views on the EU to justify breaking away from places like Berwick on Tweed. Perhaps the effect of money from both London and Brussels does sway the mindset, over time. I simply do not see what Nicola Sturgeon is trying to argue: last year the Scots voted on whether to stay in the UK. They decided to do so. Step one. Now, the question was should the UK remain within the EU, or leave. Step two. They were voting as part of the UK and they influenced the result accordingly- not decisively, it is true, but the percentages do talk, and right now the level of uncertainty is due largely to the Scots and London. They have to be content with that, within the Union which they voted to remain in last year. 
As for Mr Cameron, he seems to be rather a drama queen. While formerly he said he would stay on, now he flounces out, but rather than doing so cleanly he delays his departure. He has tears in his eyes but it seems steel in his soul. Just as he steeled himself to lie about being Eurosceptic to get into the top Tory position, so he steeled himself to terrify the British people with predicting apocalyse following Brexit, and he steels himself now to stymie the will expressed in the vote, to thwart popular successors and through the instability created to herd the people back to the status quo through new elections where familiar labels and other issues can be used to cover up the EU membership question.
Are the political class, as exemplified by the Prime Minister, unable to think? No, it seems that tactically Mr Cameron can think. What he cannot do is to reason: he does not have an apparent framework of thinking that can be accessed by others. His apparent political philosophy is 'My way', and 'My way' means being a high representative of an elite class which finds its apogee in the EU and Brussels elite. Being unable to cope with rejection, and reacting with spite and tactical opportunism, is the defining trait of such an elite. Seems to me Britain and Europe really do have a lot of in common, despite everything, and after all this is over, darling, we'll probably just have some more fun kind of Union, just for the hell of it. Count me in for that one.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

The menace

The last time I wrote on this blog was to note the extreme behaviour of Vladimir Putin's Russia. The reason for doing so was a sense of foreboding about his attempts to rejuvenate Russia as a world power. Now, more than a year and a half later, the concerns about Russia's activities in Ukraine persist, and of course Putin has become involved in the conflict in Syria. This is one more step along the road to a critical mass- but a critical mass for what, to what end, where does the momentum lead?

Contrary to what I said before, Russia is far from behaving like a psychopath. The truth is much more interesting than the poetic notion. 

First we need to recognise that Russia's position is hardly simple, even if the complexity is partly of its own choosing. Recent events, such as the downing of Russian tourist flight A321 in Egypt, have demonstrated that there is clearly a major threat to Russia from terrorism in the world at large, but this is even truer in Russia itself. Putin's need to build prestige, indicated by his sabre-rattling and his Crimea land-grab, is to do with countering this threat. Russians, like Frenchmen and Britons, have been drawn to the black flags of ISIS, and in Russia's case they may be recruits generated by internal muslim groups of long standing in the Russian 'sphere', for example the Chechens. 

Thus we can see that Putin partly acts tough to intimidate such opponents and to boost his popularity at home, where his core population sees itself under threat from the East.

In light of this, can we say whether Russia is a threat to Europe and the US owing to its territorial pangs in Eastern Europe, or should we rather say that it represents both a de facto and potential ally against Islamism? How should we describe such things as Putin's antagonism towards Turkey: the bullying of a NATO member, or natural tension towards an historic Islamic power whose actions in the current heightened state of affairs are ambiguous and possibly strongly self-interested, and who, moreover, shot down a supposedly straying Russia fighter? 

One thing should be obvious- if Putin wanted to make a united front with the UK/US/French etc, he could have done so by abandoning Assad and throwing his weight behind a alternative acceptable to these allies. It was not concern that Assad's departure would leave a vacuum that led Putin to support Assad. No, the key thing was to undermine NATO or US/UK/French foreign policy. 

Behind this is possibly the recognition of a rising Islamic tide. So far I have not mentioned the attacks in Paris in November. I have not mentioned the attacks in San Bernadino a few days ago. I have not mentioned the murder of tens of British tourists in Tunisia in July this year. Nevertheless, a rising tide is certainly about us, and Putin is well aware of this. Since Russia is particularly vulnerable, it is important that other countries should be given more trouble that Russia is- partly for propaganda reasons, but also because weakness would encourage Islamists to make his regime the first to be toppled in search of a new Islamic world power entity, otherwise known as Caliphate.

Thus, if the US and allies are stymied in the Middle East that's a useful signal to his enemies to target Europe rather than Russia. It also diminishes their standing and therefore (in a bi-polar world) raises his. Meanwhile, sponsoring Assad, whom no-one else would touch with a barge-pole, secures Russia a foothold in the Middle East that may be a crucial bargaining chip with a future caliphate power, which might for instance include a radicalised Turkey.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Back in the USSR

No apologies for anyone popping by (of whom there will be few, with so little to see), but I'll take this space to reiterate a point- don't bloody trust Russia. To read many English blogs and papers you would think that Putin had a point about first Crimea, and then Eastern Ukraine. Well he does- the point of a gun. I'm afraid Putin is more and more a mad dog, a rabid one. His record has to be observed, and once that is done the conclusion is inescapable that Putin is a psychopath within the trappings of a sulking partial-power.

The record will surely be incomplete but Michail Khordokovsky, Ana Politskaya, Alexander Litvinov, Victor Yushchenko, Chechnya, Abkhazia, Crimea, and now Vladimir Rybak.

He's a serial man, and there's no doubt he will be slowly stalking other prey, like Estonia, Latvia and Moldova. Well, I've said it before. I am afraid that I will be saying it again; and I think the word 'afraid' is too weak for how I really feel; foreboding is nearer the mark.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Sorry Syria

Well, in the last dregs of summer's freetime I have given a little time to listening to the debate on Syria. I managed to see something of the Parliamentary debate, the relentless drumbeat of retreat from action which emanated from the back benches, but I hadn't heard Cameron's contribution until today. Meantime I had listened to John Kerry's rationalisation of the case for action against Assad, specifically his chemical weapons use.

First of all I must say that Kerry clarified the claim- 1429 dead, he said, at least, as a result of the attack. Until tonight I hadn't heard it so unequivocally put. Yesterday there was barely a mention except when Cameron briefly claimed 300 and something as a number drawn from Medecin sans Frontieres hospitals. That was always (I considered) going to be a fraction of the real number, assuming that the hospitals which treated the victims weren't all run by a French charity. 1429 is a different ball park- it's mass murder rather than warfare.

The number of dead leads necessarily to reflections on the scale of the attack.

What Kerry also added very clearly was the data on launch points of the attack, and targets. He said clearly, again and again- the launch points were multiple and all in areas controlled by the Assad regime. The targets were multiple but all were either in the hands of the rebels or of disputed control. The attacks had launch points in Assad territory (they were delivered by shelling) and targets which were rebel or disputed. The scale was massive and multiple in origin and target.

Did I mention 1429 people were killed in the assault?

What Kerry did that Cameron didn't was put together a sustained argument with key details which were repeated for emphasis and to allow them to sink in.

One aspect that he emphasised was the sheer number of videos of the aftermath which had come to light. So multi-sourced and spontaneous its as if ordinary people in Damascus might have smart phones with video capability. Oh.

Kerry spoke consistently and methodically, Cameron kept adding listed factlets in between interruptions from the House during which he repeatedly simply said 'I want to make some progress'- and then took another interruption. It all sounded very Parliamentary but for the 'Ă­nformation poor' House of Commons there was no chance to let key facts sink in. Moreover, Cameron was at such pains to point out that he was doing things differently from Blair, he didn't permit the facts to speak for themselves.
It was almost as if Cameron wanted to lose- he was so gentlemanly to opponents and sceptics that he felt it indecent to even try to bend their ears with facts.

Well, it's early days in this particular conflagration in the ME. There will be time,

'There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;                               
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea.' 

But I still wish that Cameron had made a proper speech.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Mick Philpott, existentialist, rascal

Far as I am from the UK, I find that the story of Mick Philpott, guilty of killing six of his children, somehow encapsulates all that is wrong with the sceptered isle. His appearances on daytime tv, his status as archetypal layabout, with an origin intriguingly including a period spent as a soldier in the army; his previous convictions being of such serious crimes as aggravated attempted murder, but so underpunished as to teach him all he needed to know about the malleability of the values of the society he leeched from; all these and more suggest, in a kind of odiferous compot, the precise elemental excretia of the body politic in the era in which we live. 

In fact Philpott's life history suggests a man who acted entirely on his desires and behaved with an almost poetic sense of freedom, insofar as whatever he could get away with, he did. He may well have known what good behaviour was, in the abstract- he could certainly impersonate it when he wanted to-, but in reality he was committed to doing whatever he was able to get away with at the given moment, and in the process imposing a Philpott-shaped indentation on the society through which his antics cut a swathe.

The details are oh-so-very tabloid, to such an extent that it's clear Philpott understood and even lusted after placing himself within the tableaux of selfish extremity which is their constant emanation. We learn, for instance, that Mick Philpott and his wife Mauraid went to a karioke evening in the days after they had caused the death of six of Philpott's children, and that he sang 'Suspicious Mind' by Elvis Presley, including the lyric 'caught in a trap'. The macabre dark humour of the Philpotts is an element of the artist of the moment trying to impose his will on reality.

Murder, as Dostoyevsky illustrated in his work Crime and Punishment, is the ultimate assertion of the will. Thus did Philpott consider the deaths of his children: as the assertion of his will. He considered himself, and forced others to admire him as, one of life's winners, one of life's survivors. He considered it his role to dominate: women, children, even society itself. He dominates the headlines today, and that itself is a form of continuing victory. For this, Philpott can be considered one of the world's great existentialists. Dostoyevsky's Raskolnikov would have agreed, and this latter day rascal shows how the world has advanced since those times.

Sunday, March 03, 2013


Matthew D'Ancona:

'Ukip is not a party but a state of mind. It recoils not from Europe specifically but from change generally. It fuses the twitching of the suburban net curtain with the anti-everything spirit of Screaming Lord Sutch: the party of Monster Raving Rotarians. The rise of Ukip reflects not Conservative failure so much as the hectic pace of contemporary life. This is a bad era in which to live if you like uniformity, continuity and predictability. '

This statement makes me rather angry, which either self-identifies me as one of the no-change brigade, or suggests that D'Ancona's blanket smears are infuriatingly smug.

On the contrary, I would say, first of all, plus ca change, plus ca meme chose. Generally speaking those who menace for 'change' are those who suck like leaches from the status quo. 'Change' as a mantra is unchanging among the movers and shakers, of whom Ancona is a notable example. This is the same D'Ancona who was far up the New Labour posterior and is further up the Cameroonian one. This D'Ancona seems to be a Vicar of Bray minus the challenging era, needlessly and gratuitously ever-present. In the devil's words one wishes that he would just F-off.

D'Ancona mistakes imposition for change. Change, when it is authentic, comes from below. It comes in waves from the positions of lives coordinating spontaneously. Imposition imitates change but only superficially and its effects are like interference rather than waves. It comes sporadically, when conditions are permissive, imposed by will and vanity.

Change is always happening, and the challenge for all people of whatever age and place is to adapt to it. Therefore it helps if you are free from the imposition of fantasists. Such are political obsessives, currency fanatics, opinion-leader writers and european politicians.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Greece on the slide

Nothing can contain my disgust with the EU at their complicity and indeed authorship of the continued stresses in Greece, among other southern countries. Paul Mason offers a telling account of the Greek predicament:

On the walls somebody has spray-canned "Love or Nothing". Right now there is a heck of a lot of nothing: shops closed, stripped, barred, graffitied, the fascias chipped off as ammunition in riots, burned out, gone.

I am no fan of Mason, but like all true socialists he takes things seriously. Only he cannot- one assumes because he has other kinds of revolutionary solution in mind- come to the only sensible conclusion that will help Greece out of its hole: leaving the Euro. The only argument I could ever see in favour of the European Union was that it helped less-developed nations to integrate into the developed core. Now that process is reversing, and far from despairing over it, the Euro elite, from Germany to Spain, actually rejoices that 'necessary' 'reforms' are underway. As Mason illustrates, this is not reform any more than punishment beatings are justice. It's just beyond belief that the pols of Europe, so used to pivoting whole elections around a couple of percent of unemployment and a couple of percent of benefits or taxes, are merrily going along with changes in the tens of percent- unemployment, benefits, taxes. All the while it is verboten to consider the essential ground of currency which is normally a powerful tool available to the politicians who have been voted by their electorate. Mason's sense of foreboding is wise, even if the socialist in him cannot bring himself to undermine the essentially socialist construct of the Euro.

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