Saturday, October 29, 2011

Just finished the bi-annual re-reading of Heart of Darkness, a book that never ceases to amaze me.  It's the same every time - I struggle with the early chapters and wonder whether I''ve previously overestimated Conrad, only to be sucked ever deeper into the narrative like Marlow himself.  I always feel like it repays rereading with previously undiscovered nuances, although I suspect that I've just forgotten aspects of the text.

The Name of the Rose, I reread every four years or so - just long enough that it feels fresh and revelatory every time.  I could go on at length about the intriguing mystery at its heart or the wonderful evocation of the period, or just praise the novel as an enduring treatise on humanity, forgiveness and understanding, but really - I just like spending time in the company of William of Baskerville, one of my favourite literary creations.  I actually enjoy hearing the cogs of his mind working even more than reading Sherlock Holmes, the character that he's obviously based on.

Other books: I make a point of reading Slaughterhouse Five every few years and Neuromancer every five years or so.  The Crow Road always reminds me of my own callow youth, since I was the same age as Prentice McHoan when I read it, and it's filled with lovable characters - I still get a bit teary when they finally find Uncle Rory.  Oh, and spoilers.

To Kill a Mockingbird has Atticus Finch in it, which is enough on its own to merit regular returns, and I fully intend to read The Quiet American at least five times, so impressed was I on the last reading.  The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Treasure Island are usually first into my suitcase for beach holidays.

But still, there are other books that I loved intensely when I read them, but can't quite recapture the same feeling of wonderment.  Lolita, Catch-22, Money, Crime and Punishment - I've tried on numerous occasions, despite being absolutely obsessed with each, once upon a time.

So folks, do any of you find some books are treasures to be enjoyed again and again, and others - no matter how fantastic - are one-shot works?  Are there any that you'd recommend as perennial favourites?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Urge To Save Humanity Is Always Only The False-Face For The Urge To Rule It

I always felt a bit sorry for the ancient Greeks, forever at the mercy of wild and vengeful Gods and Goddesses... Mere pawns pushed around this earthly board for the amusement of inscrutable forces, unable to so much as bend over to pick up a discus without being viciously bummed by an angry swan...

Modern Greeks have it so much better, as do the rest of us.  In this atheistic era, none of us are slaves to the whims of divine entities.  Instead, we have the scientific surety of global capital to ensure that our lives are free from chaos and heavenly caprice.

After all, the free market economy ensures only that prices are determined by the rules of supply and demand.  It certainly doesn't demand sacrifices of people and goods - only the reassurance that capital can flow unimpeded and the occasional planet-smashing bajillion-dollar cheque.  It doesn't require supplication, merely the total restructuring of every economy that wishes to earn the gifts of its benevolence. 

It has no priests evangelising for its magnificence, only lavishly-rewarded pundits and experts.  It has no holy texts, beyond the philosophical ramblings of long-dead professors, which are treated as holy texts.  It has no Oracles to consult, no mystics nor entrail-readers; it has instead skilled economists, whose role is merely to read the ebb and flow of the markets and then make highly unreliable descriptions and predictions upon the discipline in which they proclaim expertise.

There is no inviolable divine command, although There Is No Alternative.  It is not all-knowing, although it sure as shit doesn't look like its certainties can be disproven, no matter how badly they fail. It is not all-powerful or vengeful, but by God it will crush the life out of any and all blasphemers.

No, thank goodness, we are long past the age of religion with its mysticism and its glorification of "faith", which has always been a euphemism for blind trust in a self-selecting, unaccountable priesthood and their cruel and inhuman deities.

That said, if you wanted to sacrifice your family pets as an offering to Citigroup on the off-chance it'll cheer up the financial markets, it probably wouldn't hurt our chances.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Kiss Up, Kick Down - It's The British Way

An amazing contrast this week between my Twitter feed and my conversations with colleagues and acquaintances.  While I'm hearing nothing but praise for the sterling work of the Occupy movement from the former, here's what I'm hearing from the latter - Hippies... Fannies... Get a job... 

And really, how could it ever have been otherwise?   The tiny Edinburgh protest sits right in front of the gleaming facade of Harvey Nichols and the stentorian Bank of Scotland building.  Who wants to sit in a tent protesting the universal enfuckage of the entire populace by the super-rich, when you can swank around Harvey Nicks pretending to be super-rich?

I mean, we all feel bad that we were collectively car-jacked by the world's financial elite and forced to hand over bajillions to prevent the total collapse of civilisation, but hey!  They're offering to lend some of it back at really competitive rates!

There's a simple truth here - in a boxing match between powerless protesters and Croesus himself, most of the crowd is going show up in cut-out cardboard crowns.

Do you remember that old Levellers song Hope Street, about the gaudy, phoney allure of the National Lottery?  I seriously doubt it - I only remember it because it always made me think... Well shit, I hear you, but more folk want to be millionaires than want to be crusties.  People, isn't it?

Hell, the protesters have my sympathies.  From what I can glean from the media, they're pissed because our entire economy was hitched to a fatuous get-rich-forever scheme that was entirely reliant upon the housing market expanding in perpetuity, and because all of the ill-consequences have fallen upon those least able to afford it... While the fat fucks who profitted most continued to suck up bounteous remuneration and the rest of us had to swallow record-busting crashes in our living standards, if we were lucky, or abrupt unemployment and visits from the bailiffs if we weren't. 

Business after business may have folded; high streets may have been zapped into space dust, public services might be exterminated and higher education ring-fenced for the children of the middle classes, but Harvey Nicks is doing a roaring trade.  Our political masters may be a wholly-owned subsidiary of UK Geezyermoney Plc, enacting an amazing everyone gets fired and then the economy somehow booms plan, but Mammon is still shoving expensive drugs up its hooter and eating pan-fried endangered species, flown first-class straight from Sumatra.

The system is rigged!  Any form of capitalism that doesn't allocate capital in the most efficient way possible is not "capitalism", but a jury-rigged scam designed to enrich its aristocratic minority!  Go tell it on the mountain, brothers and sisters!  Testify!

The Occupy movement is trying to do the only useful thing it can - loudly proclaim to the public that they are marks in a global scam, and striving to force the press and politicians to acknowledge that fact by forcibly wedging this message into the mainstream.

In a way, we've got the tools for it.  We in Britain have one of the world's most efficient shit-delivery systems in our tabloid press, which has spent the last three decades pouring great rivers of crap onto the poorest and least powerful people in our society.  Imagine, if Occupy whatever could create a public demand for all of that bile and resentment to flow uphill towards those who actually exercise some measure of influence?  Hallelujah!  Imagine Question Time!

And yet, I can't help but play prophet of doom as usual.  The UK - hell, the western world - is the way it is because it suits everyone who matters just fine.  A financial crisis is far from ideal, but you can live on it, if you know what I mean.  You don't have to be a bomb-throwing anarchist to work out cui is bonofitting when the Fed's solution to disaster is to perpetually shove truckloads of treasure down the gaping throats of their once-and-future bosses in high finance.

And the people?  Put it this way - those same papers have spent months loudly complaining about how crap the latest series of The X-Factor is, to a very receptive audience.  I notice that the advertisers are still paying top-whack for airtime though, and that the public are still tuning in in their millions.  What are they going to do, watch Strictly?  It's the same show with a different backdrop and a slightly altered premise!

Still, I marvel at the ludicrousness of our situation.  The Great British public has mechanisms for dealing with protests - noisy anti-war marches can be dicked off easily, because we all go home afterwards and don't come back out; riots are violent and destructive, and everybody knows how to respond to that.

The spectacle of ordinary people tutting, bitching and sneering at protesters who are angry about the very phenomenon that has crushed the man in the street's finances to a pulp, though...  Well, that may just represent the hilarious, inevitable apotheosis of the western way of life.

Stop All The Clocks, Cut Off The Telephone, Get Out The Party Hats

The World at War has finished a repeat run on one of the cable channels and what strikes you immediately, from the opening titles onwards, is this - it treats World War II as a horror of unimaginable proportions, an unspeakable thing full of monstrous hate and cruelty, rather than a wild adventure filled with derring-do.

No, come back!  Okay, so that's hardly a cheery start to a blog post, I know, but it's a point that I consider relevant when I stumble across the likes of Hitchens complaining about the "legality and propriety" of the stabby-punchy-shooty execution of Muammar Gaddafi.

Hitchens isn't the only one suffering a bout of buyer's remorse over our North African escapade, lemme tell ya - my favourite has to be the calls from Human Rights Watch to investigate bi-partisan war crimes throughout the region.  That's the same Human Rights Watch - an org that knows what a civil war looks like, by the way - who were among the most vocal advocates for intervening in and thus prolonging a really nasty civil war, complaining that their desired outcome resulted in terrible enormities and atrocities.  Damn.

It really is astonishing to me that the death of a vicious, ridiculous tinpot goon like Gaddafi has caused such an outbreak of red-faced shuffling and pencil-fiddling amongst our latest war's erstwhile backers. To be clear - the brutal execution of Gaddafi by a baying mob outside the ruins of a whole city, while Nato jets scream helpfully overhead, is absolutely not the worst thing that has happened during our latest war.  It would function wonderfully as a horribly apt metaphor for the whole thing, but it certainly wasn't particularly objectionable, by comparison to the jaw-dropping levels of violence the war unleashed.

If anything, Gaddafi's execution stands out as a glaring exception in the conflict, in that it happened to someone who deserved it and that crucially, it was repeatedly shown on television, in graphic detail.

This is what upsets yer Hitchenses, of course, not that he'd like to admit it - not the murder itself.  After all, who ever felt sympathy for Nicolae Ceausescu or his missus?   All the hand-wringing; all the impassioned pleas for impartial justice and restraint, all of this self-serving bullshit is down to the fact that Gaddafi's shot-up corpse was splattered across the front page of The Sun under a belligerent, triumphant headline.  Looks bad, makes the whole thing seem a bit bloodthirsty and a bit less "humanitarian" than we might have been led to believe, I think.

Consider it - how many articles have you seen saying Perhaps we need to rethink this whole "Bombing entire cities to rubble while the inhabitants are still living there" malarkey?  How about Yo, arbitrary execution of civilians and captured, restrained combatants is totally uncool? How many times did you hear the words Oops, Nato appears to have massively exceeded its mandate to protect civilians?

Ladies and gents, I bet it's damn few.  I've gone on about this subject at such great and tiresome length - and God, please let this be the last time that it's necessary, since I don't like it any more than you do - because as a nation, we need to be reminded that none of this is unusual or unexpected.  As I said back in March, this is what happens in wars

Back when all the talk was of No-Fly Zones and arming the rebels, I was asking what would happen if we had to step up to Maximum Violence to get the job done, and what we'd say if Human Rights Watch started reporting war crimes throughout the region.  Well, most of you will know what the answer was then, and I haven't heard any answers since, beyond the usual I bet you love the Colonel stuff.

You do have to marvel at our current generation of civilian war enthusiasts, though.  After all the bombast and the amateur renditions of Ride Of The Valkyries, they manage to watch an entire war right up to its bloody climax, and yet somehow draw precisely the wrong lesson from it.

Jesus.  The execution of Gaddafi doesn't stain the whole war, guys - that was one of its most justifiable events!

The stuff that really called it into question and demonstrated the crazed volatility of war in even its most humanitarian guise, for the umpteenth time this decade...  Well, that shit happened far from the cameras, while Bernard Henri-Levy was still poncing around North Africa, force-feeding trite anecdotes about the wondrous contents of Pandora's Box to indifferent NTC dignitaries.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

No Mercy For Tyrants!

Sirte has fallen; the last remnant of the old regime is smashed and the tyrant Gaddafi is dead!  Truly, nobody in these isles could be happier than I am to see the evil old bastard gone -  I had a tenner bet on him not making it to Christmas.  Ker-ching!

Oh, what a joy it's been this afternoon, to watch the unbridled delight and celebration; the exultation, the sheer ecstasy as an entire country united and, with one voice, announced on Twitter that they had finally remembered that Libya exists, after months of talking loudly about anything else.

I urge each and every one of you to watch as much coverage of events in Libya as you can over the next two days, because once the celebrations are over, Godzilla Himself could rise roaring from the Mediterranean and take a giant, radioactive shit in the middle of Martyr's Square without the British media giving it more than a nod.  

I mean, it's been a bizarre war, if you were lucky enough to follow it from the security and comfort of the United Kingdom.  Talking about our Libya adventure in Britain this year has been a bit like trying to carry on a relationship with a resentful and heavy-drinking lover - sudden, unexpected outbursts of blazing passion punctuating great yawning months filled with nothing but angry silence and the occasional dirty look or sulky tut. 

And what a blaze of passion we've had today!  Personally, I found initial reports that Colonel Gaddafi had been summarily executed by the Libyan rebels hard to believe.  After all, the man may have been a murderer, a thug and a gangster, but he wasn't black

And so, Gaddafi died as he lived - with the officially-denied complicity of the British government*.  It's unfortunate that he wasn't captured alive, in the end.  I think everyone would've enjoyed seeing him get his just desserts in the new government's courts.  That's assuming that he would've survived getting his just desserts in the new government's prisons, of course.


Even now, I struggle to believe that the prancing old fleabag is dead.  I won't fully credit it until Gaddafi himself makes a rambling, two-hour speech on radio, incoherently denying his own extinction and urging his bajillion-strong army of followers to avenge him. 


Of course, there are those who grumble that all these pictures of the splattered dictator are ghoulish and inappropriate, and that celebrating a man being beaten and executed is distasteful.  I say, thank God we were so lucky.  Given Nato's conduct over the last few weeks, I wouldn't have been surprised if they'd nuked Gaddafi's hiding place from outer space.


Anyway, what a war it's been. It was full of ironies - who can fail to forget William Hague and David Cameron calmly insisting that we weren't trying to rub out Gaddafi and his family while we were bombing his compound with high explosives, and while Liam Fox was simultaneously telling the press that we actually were trying to rub out Gaddafi?  Precious.

I think my favourite part was the bit when Britain went to the United Nations to seek permission for a preventative No-Fly Zone over the country, and mysteriously emerged with a mandate to smash fuck out of whoever and whatever we liked, providing we sort-of pretended that we were "protecting civilians" while we did it.

Thus did we get the final orgy of violence, destruction, mayhem and humanitarian civilian protection that was the assault on Sirte, during which Nato helped the NTC to protect seven shades of shit out of the city and what remained of its populace.  Watching the pictures of a bombed-out Sirte on TV, you can see how we protected that place to fucking rubble, house-by-house.  Now, what does that remind me of?

Well.  More cynical voices than mine will say that our noble intervention in Libya has led to a death toll that outstrips even the worst of the Arab Spring crackdowns by a factor of at least ten;  that our undoubtedly sincere intentions were not entirely selfless in nature, and that the whole thing may just reek more of a hitjob than a humanitarian enterprise**.

Pish and tush, say I.  If nothing else, our government's relentless honesty and transparency in explaining its motives and methods prove that their behaviour is entirely beyond reproach, and....  No, actually, fuck it.  Even my sarcastic superpowers have limits.

Anyway, let's all sit back and enjoy this small moment of happiness for the Libyan people, after long years of grinding misery and repression.  After all, there's nothing we in the west enjoy more than TV footage of Arabs celebrating deaths, right?

Let's just hope that, after all this horror, tyranny and violence, the Libyan people can now enjoy a bright, liberal democratic future.  Really, we might as well because, if they wind up getting more horror, tyranny and violence, it isn't like we'll be hearing about it with any great frequency.

Up the revolution!  Hey, has anyone seen that Musa Kusa lately?

*This joke copyright Justin McKeating, 2011 

**I've been asked today whether I think that this victorious outcome will embolden Britain's countless war-happy interventionists, to which I can only say - guys, Gaddafi could've won and been crowned Supreme Emperor Dalek Of All North Africa, and it wouldn't deter those crazy motherfuckers one bit.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tribalism Makes The World Go Round

Excellent news this week as captured soldier Gilad Shalit is released.  Many years ago now, I read Brian Keenan's book about his four years chained to radiators in unlit rooms in Beirut.  Keenan's ordeal has stuck in my mind ever since as the perfect nightmare - seemingly unending captivity and brutality, with the ever-present possibility of sudden execution as a brief final chapter.  The mere thought gives me the shivers even now, so I was delighted to see Shalit emerge from the darkness.

The deal that released the poor kid - and soldier or not, he was only nineteen when he was captured - is a painful one for the Israelis to bear.  If one of the thousand-odd Palestinian prisoners freed had killed one of my loved ones, I'd be beyond enraged to see them liberated too, so I can imagine how badly the news was received in certain parts of that country.

Still, there's much to be pleased about.  A young man, long thought lost, is now free to pick up the pieces of his life; Israel has scored a storming PR victory in the world's press as a bonus and for once in the region, negotiation has paid off where brute force has failed.  Good news all round, right?

Depending on who you read - well, not entirely.

I can't link to Danny Finkelstein's piece in today's Times* but his argument was broadly reflective of much of what I've read on this issue - namely, that this prisoner swap, while a welcome development, both exposes Israel's weakness and shows that Israel has a unique, perhaps religiously-inspired, respect for human life

I hate to be the one to piss on everyone's fireworks here, but this isn't really the case.  I'm ill-qualified to judge the religious argument, but what I will say is this for starters - the idea that this deal reflects weakness in any sense is just insane.

Do I really have to point out that one-thousand-to-one isn't a kick in the arse off the kills-to-casualties ratio from Israel's most recent clashes with its neighbours?  If the deal demonstrates an inflated concern for the wellbeing of fellow Israelis, what does it tell us about the perceived value of Palestinian prisoners?  And can a nation that can confidently expect to kill at least one hundred of its enemies for every loss in any conflict that it chooses to fight really be perceived as weak?

Certainly, it's true that Shalit's status has been a high-profile, emotive issue in his homeland for the duration of his captivity, whereas I'd never heard of US hostage Bowe Bergdahl's long ordeal in Afghanistan until this week.  Recognising this though, I still find it impossible to forget former Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz's response to Hezbollah's kidnap of  two Israeli soldiers at the start of the 2006 Lebanon war:  "If the soldiers are not returned, we will turn Lebanon's clock back twenty years".   He made good on that threat too, to the tune of around a thousand dead civilians for two soldiers.

That war turned out to be more or less a draw, in tactical terms.  Strategically, it was an awful military blunder, a PR catastrophe and a political disaster, as the nation's leaders were forced to explain how, exactly, they had managed to sacrifice a hundred and twenty Israeli soldiers for nothing.  Note well that it was the damage to Israeli interests that enraged the populace, while the smashed rubble of southern Lebanon was an afterthought, at best. 

That's hardly unique to the region - it's perfectly understandable at the spieces level, in fact, if you junk once and for all the idea that people everywhere are humanitarians and accept that they're entirely tribal. 

In the United States, politicians bemoan the disaster of the Iraq War by highlighting the thousands of Americans killed in a needless war that also, by the way, was very hazardous to Iraqis' health.  In the UK, we hear little of anti-war feeling until some British soldiers are killed in a particularly awful and pointless way.  Our best estimate on Afghan casualties for the period 2007-10 is just under ten thousand people, but such a dry statistic can't compete with our visceral reaction to those anguished processions through Wooton Bassett.  Hell, I even take more notice when some kid from just up the road is blown up by an IED than I do for Londoners who meet a similarly sudden end.

And I know I've been banging on about this non-stop recently, but seriously - Nato is currently helping to pound a heavily-populated Libyan city into dust in order to "protect civilians".  The fighting in Syria, where we did not intervene, is estimated to have just passed the three-thousand casualty mark, while the Libyan NTC presently estimate twenty to twenty five thousand deaths.  If the Libyan War winds up killing in excess of fifty thousand people, will the stink and the scandal drive the Coalition from office?  I think not.

Or take the Palestinians themselves.  We've been told for years that some notional Arab street is just boiling with anger over their plight, but the recent uprisings across the Middle East should illustrate quite starkly what real rage looks like.  Violence is one thing when it's happening to someone else on TV, but those old rifles get dug up lightning-quick when soldiers start firing on your neighbours...  And who is riding to the rescue of the Syrians?  Nobody.  Ever thus.


I know that this is a moment of high drama and emotion for the many Dan Finkelstein-style partisans of the internet, but the idea that nation (x) or (y) has a particular respect for human life, one that is vastly different to that of other countries, is patently insane.  Life may be much cheaper in Iran than it is in Australia; dictators may care less than democrats, but when push comes to shove, tribalism and expediency trump all.

If you don't believe me, try asking the next Russian you meet his opinion of the Blitz on London.  I mean, he or she may sympathise, but I imagine that they might have some stories of their own that they'd be just dying to tell you.

*I'll copy his main points into comments tomorrow.  I had a series of other examples I was going to post, but I realised they would've represented shameless nut-picking.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Libya News Update, 16th October

GORMAN: Apone, collect magazines from everybody. We can't have any firing in there... Flame-units only. I want rifles slung.

 ---

HUDSON: Movement!

APONE: What's the position?

HUDSON: Can't lock in...

APONE: Talk to me, Hudson.

HUDSON: Uh, multiple signals... They're closing!

APONE: Go to infrared, people. Look sharp!

GORMAN: What's happening, Apone? I can't see anything in here.

RIPLEY: Pull your team out, Gorman.

HUDSON: I got signals. I got readings in front and behind.

FROST: Where, man? I don't see shit!

HICKS: He's right, there's nothing back here.

HUDSON: Look, I'm tellin ya, there's something moving in here, and it ain't us... Tracker's off the scale... They're all around us, man!

DIETRICH: Maybe they don't show up on infra red at all.

(Screams, carnage, explosions, marines ripped to pieces, set ablaze and blown up)

VASQUEZ: Let's rock!

(Heavy machine-gun fire)

GORMAN: Who's firing? Goddamnit! I ordered a hold-fire!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What Is A "Responsibility To Protect"?

This is Nicolas and David.   Hello, Nicolas and David!  Nicolas and David love all of the good people of the world very much.  When bad people hurt the good people of the world, Nicolas and David get very sad. When Nicolas and David get very sad, they say lots of things about a "Responsibility to Protect" the good people.


So when a bad man called Colonel Gaddafi threatened to hurt some good people in a place called Benghazi, Nicolas and David were very sad.  "We cannot stand by while Colonel Gaddafi launches indiscriminate attacks on the good people in Benghazi with warplanes and artillery", says David.  "Yes", says Nicolas.  "We have a thing called a 'Responsibility to Protect' the good people of the world.  We will protect the good people by launching indiscriminate attacks on the bad people with warplanes and artillery".

Do you know what a "Responsibility to Protect" is, children?  It's a special law thing that Nicolas and David use to help the good people who are being bombed and shot at.  Can you imagine how horrible it would be if you, your Mummy, your Daddy and all your friends were being bombed and shot at?  That would be terrible!

So Nicolas and David help the good people by bombing and shooting at the bad people who are bombing and shooting at them, and also by bombing and shooting at the bad people's Mummies and Daddies and all their friends!

Nicolas and David are very, very brave. 

This is Sirte.  Sirte is a place that is far away.  All the bad people live in Sirte.  Nicolas and David are not actually sure how many of the people that live in Sirte are bad people, but once Nicolas and David and their new friends are finished bombing and shooting at them, they won't be able to tell us whether they are bad people or not!  Nicolas and David are very clever.
To help them to protect the good people, Nicolas and David use some special tools to bomb and shoot at the bad people in Sirte and their Mummies and Daddies and all their friends.  This is a Panavia Tornado GR1.  It is a big plane that makes lots of noise.  It fires big rockets that go Whoosh! and then go Bang! and make all the bad people fall down dead.  We know they are bad people because Nicolas and David's new friends say that they are bad people.  So they must be bad!   

This is an artillery battery.   Artillery batteries fire big bombs that go Whoosh! and Bang! and make the bad people fall down dead, as well as making everybody else within a fifty metre radius fall down dead too!  Artillery batteries are silly things, because they don't know the difference between bad people and bad people's Mummies and Daddies and all their friends.  They make everybody fall down dead!  Nicolas and David's new friends like artillery batteries very much.  Nicolas and David's new friends are using lots and lots of artillery batteries so that the bad people can't use artillery batteries.  Using artillery batteries is bad, except when the good people use them!

This is a flak gun.  It fires lots and lots of big bullets very, very quickly.  A flak gun is used to shoot down planes, but Ooops!  The bad people don't have any planes!  Nicolas and David's new friends use a flak gun to shoot at snipers.  Snipers are bad men who hide in buildings and do bad things.  Nicolas and David's new friends are afraid to go into the buildings to stop the bad men doing bad things.  So Nicolas and David's new friends use a flak gun to fire lots and lots of big bullets into the buildings, floor by floor, room by room, for a very long time indeed, until all of the bad people inside fall down dead.  The bullets are so quick and so big that they go right through the building and out the other side and into other buildings!  They make everybody in the building fall down dead, as well as making everybody in other buildings behind them fall down dead too!  Can you imagine?
These are the bad people's Mummies and Daddies and all their friends.  After Nicolas and David and their new friends had been bombing and shooting at the bad people and their Mummies and Daddies and all their friends for a week, they stopped bombing and shooting for a little while, to let some of the Mummies and Daddies and friends run away.  That was nice of Nicolas and David, wasn't it?  A lot of silly Mummies and Daddies didn't run away and are still in Sirte.  Silly Mummies and Daddies!  I wonder how many Mummies and Daddies fell down dead?  Who knows? 

Who cares! 

And this is Mr Terrorist.  Hello, Mr Terrorist!  Mr Terrorist is a bad man.  Nicolas and David's new friends can tell that Mr Terrorist is a bad man because he is brown.  He wants to use planes and artillery batteries and flak guns to hurt the good people!  Nicolas and David have stopped him from hurting the good people by bombing and shooting at Mr Terrorist, as well as Mr Terrorist's Mummy, Mr Terrorist's Daddy and all of Mr Terrorist's friends. Nicolas and David's new friends might make sure that Mr Terrorist can't hurt any more good people by shooting Mr Terrorist in the back of the head and burying him in a little hole in the ground.  If they do that, then policemen can't find Mr Terrorist.  Nicolas and David's new friends do not like brown people very much.  Silly Mr Terrorist!

And that's what the "Responsibility to Protect" means, children!  Thank goodness that Nicolas and David and their new friends are clever and brave enough to help the good people by bombing and shooting at all the bad people, their Mummies and Daddies and all their friends.  

Haven't we learned lots of new and exciting things today? 

Goodbye!

What Is This Day Of Rest Shit

The United States on Tuesday accused Iranian officials of plotting to murder Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States in a bizarre scheme involving an Iranian-American used-car salesman who believed he was hiring assassins from a Mexican drug cartel for $1.5 million...  "The idea that they would attempt to go to a Mexican drug cartel to solicit murder-for-hire to kill the Saudi ambassador, nobody could make that up, right?” (Hilarity Clinton) asked. - NewYork Times, 12th October

Well now.  Let's observe that the Iranian mullahs and their funtionaries really are crazy - they believe that they are the true recipients of God's wisdom and are the moving hand of His divine plan for the universe.  There's a lot of that shit around these days, but assassination is a key tool of repressive regimes and the Iranians are alarmingly good at espionage.

On the other hand, what have the Iranians been doing this last decade?  Exactly what you'd expect a sly hostile power to do when its neighbours are invaded - sit tight and manipulate the situation to their maximum advantage; quietly consolidate their control over proxies in those nations, arm their allies to the teeth etc.

And now, out of the blue, they appear to have paid a Yankee car salesman to hire some Mexicans in order to whack an eminently expendable minor Saudi official, regardless of the cost, for reasons that are opaque, at best.

Hmmm.  Two explanations definitely do spring to mind here - that either the mullahs have started smoking crack and entirely abandoned their highly successful methodology, or that the FBI have picked up some nut, handed him a wacky bomb plot and then trumpeted his arrest as a major victory over the Terror.  For the principal actors, one of these possibilities would represent a decisive break with tradition, while the other is entirely in-character.

I mean, I'm all for frantically ReTweeting tales of horror to gullible readers because We Hates The Iranses, but I do try to hold off on the hysterical premature ejaculation where possible.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Perugianisation

Here's a piece from Liberal Conspiracy this week - Why do we have a problem with faith, family and flag?  Give it a quick skim, because I'll be coming back to it later.

Now, it's been a very revealing week for the UK on legal issues, in which both the British public and the government were shown to vastly prefer pleasing myths and self-pitying boo-hoo to a justice system based upon evidence and adjudication.

First up, Theresa May filled her conference speech with Palinesque hoots and snorts aimed at the Human Rights Act, much to the joy of her audience, who gave nary a damn whether she spoke the truth or just made shit up out of whole cloth.  The HRA - a piece of legislation that the Tory rank and file want pulled regardless of its merits or flaws - is one of the right's great bugbears, and conference season requires platoons of hackish ministers to thrust their faces into the spotlight with booming vows for crackdowns.

Unfortunately for May, she foolishly chucked one of the countless invented scare stories of criminals and immigrants abusing the law to claim a helicopter full of drunk glamour models in her speech, thus beshitting her entire Voice-Of-Common-Sense act.  Here's an iron rule of politics for you - if a politician is caught feeding whopping great lies to the public on a perceived problem, you can be sure that their remedies are stuffed to the brim with nonsense also.

Thankfully, current justice minister Ken Clarke does actually pay vague attention to the law, and promptly relieved himself all over May's speech.  The result?  Clamour for Clarke's resignation.

Meanwhile in Italy, Amanda Knox and Rafaelle Sollecito were freed on appeal against their sentence for assisting in the murder of Meredith Kercher.

Now, say what you like about this case, but the hard facts are this - the prosecution were unable to establish any reasonable motive; were dubious on opportunity and failed to provide any solid evidence that the accused were present at the murder.  What appears to have happened is that the police forced a confession from Knox, then proclaimed to the world that the two were guilty as sin and would be summarily impaled upon the great rhino horn of the law.  And then, the evidence from the crime scene came back explicitly indicating that a third party had murdered the victim on his own.

In the UK, the police and prosecutors would probably announce that they had got it wrong; apologise to the victim's family, release those parties that it had no evidence against and prosecute the perpetrator.   This, of course, would leave the coppers looking a bit silly, but there's no harm in that, provided the guilty are punished and the innocent spared.

In Perugia, it looks very much like the coppers and the prosecutor would rather lose digits than confess to an error, and so they ploughed on with a farcical, nonsensical case that kept two people in prison for four years for a crime that they didn't commit...  Because they might have looked silly if they'd changed their minds.

And yet, I've spent half the week trying to explain this to colleagues who are determined that Knox in particular is guilty, and evidence be damned.  When you're up against newspapers that are telling their readers that smiling assassins are set to make squillions from crime, the very idea that people should be convicted on the basis of evidence, rather than acting suspiciously, changing your story or looking shifty seems to be regarded by many as some kind of rampant political correctness.

Here's the big problem we Brits have with justice issues.  The general public don't understand the law, and they don't want to understand it.  We already know everything we need to, thank you very much, and any attempt to complicate matters with talk of law is merely an attempt to pull the wool over our eyes.  Thus, Amanda Knox is a she-devil and the HRA entitles illegal immigrants to free cats and housing benefit, or whatever.

Thanks to decades of tabloid horseshit, we appear to regard the law as a highfalutin conspiracy between criminals and judges aimed at ensuring the highest level of public outrage.  Speak to people about this, and a huge number appear to believe that they've got access to some kind of Private Eye-style insider information - wielders of the flame of truth, indignant defenders of Common Sense.  They don't, of course - they've just spent years getting their information from hacks and politicians who only feed them whatever they already wanted to hear.

So this is why I have a problem with airy and highly subjective concepts like "Faith, Family and Flag" - they're uncomfortably close to invocations of Common Sense, which is a way of saying Things I believe intensely, regardless of whether or not they are true.  "Human rights" and "evidence" have strict definitions and practical applications.  "Faith", for example, is windy bullshit, open to be hijacked and driven in any direction by a pack of fork-tongued lunatics.


The population of Britain, by and large, are a pretty smart bunch.  We can handle a bit of complexity and we don't need everything explained to us in apocalyptic tones.  The nation's problems are many and varied, and all of us would benefit if they were addressed with that in mind, rather than by feeding us a blazing miasma of lies, deceptions, outrage-mongering hysteria and straight up nonsense.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Humanitarianism - The Art Of Putting Humans On The Dinner Menu

Let us recall that when we first started bombing fuck out of Libya, David Cameron responded to the question "Why are we bombing that country and not, say, Bahrain?" by comparing it to a teenager demanding to know why he should tidy his bedroom when the rest of the world is such a mess.  Bad enough if that were an offhand zinger at a press conference, perhaps, but worse at Prime Minister's questions in the House.

The "Why should I tidy my bedroom" crack was joyfully seized upon by a lot of people who should've known better, but I think we can now make a stab at answering it...

1) It's not your bedroom, you gaggle of chuckleheads, it's somebody else's.  Also, when you say "tidy" and "bedroom", these are euphemisms for "murder" and "human beings".

2) No sane person tidies their room with high explosives, flak cannons and heavy artillery.  Nor does running a hoover round the skirting board generally result in war crimes, indiscriminate bombardment of heavily populated urban areas or columns of refugees.

3) What is the Prime Minister doing ripping off gags from third-rate bloggers, then braying about them in Parliament for his party's entertainment and as justification for war?  Why doesn't behaviour that crass result in 28-point screaming headlines of SHAME and INFAMY?

I'm keen that people remember this incident, since it so starkly illustrates the level of care and consideration Britain's interventionists apply to their countless schemes and wheezes.  We must send warplanes to attack yet another foreign nation because Why should I tidy my bedroom when the rest of the world is such a mess haw haw my bedroom isn't it like teenagers haw haw teenagers who don't want to tidy their bedrooms haw haw haw their bedrooms haw haw a mess haw haw bedrooms haw haw teenagers WHY SHOULD I TIDY MY BEDROOM

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Assassin's Creed

Well, I'd say that frog is well and truly boiled by now.

Whether youse think the assassination of Al Qaeda's PR man for Englishstan is a sensible move or not is likely to depend on your response to this question - do you think it's a good idea for the United States to unilaterally declare its entitlement to kill the fuck out of whoever it likes, wherever it likes, whenever it likes, for whatever reasons it likes?

If you're happy with that, I imagine you'll be in hog heaven today.

Of course, this new and exciting doctrine does raise some fairly intriguing questions.  For example, if states are now entitled to assassinate propagandists for hostile parties in order to prevent them from formulating justifications for war and mass-murder, then I'd say that about seventy five percent of Washington beltway pundits just became legitimate targets.  God knows what it implies about the status of someone like, say, Hillary Clinton.

Let's just sum up the current situation.  The United States of America has attacked and/or occupied Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria and Pakistan in the last decade.  It has empowered its allies to attack Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories, while actively blocking the democratic ambitions of the latter; it maintains military bases in Israel, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and, until recently, Bahrain; it is disappearing an unknown number of people into a massive black prison network beyond judicial oversight; it may or may not still be using torture, but certainly has done in the recent past and has granted its professional torturers immunity from prosecution; it hands over prisoners to tyrannies explicitly to be tortured for information; it is intentionally killing thousands of people in many countries with which it isn't officially at war without offering any justification beyond assertions that those it kills are baddies; it is assassinating those it declares to be a threat, with or without the consent of their host countries, and is in large part codifying and confirming all of these measures in law, so that these powers can be used long into the future, as presidents to come see fit...  In order to make the world safe from people who use political violence.

I know I've said all this before, but it really does bear repeating that these are some pretty bizarre actions for the world's leading proponent of human rights and democracy to be undertaking.  Given that 100% endorsement of all this insanity is now widely accepted as an essentially centrist position, you really do have to wonder just how murderously psychotic a superpower has to get before its allies start backing away from it, muttering about how they have to be up early in the morning.