Wednesday, February 03, 2016

A load of crap

I can't remember James Bond doing this. Apparently, Stalin spied on Mao by having his shit analysed.
According to recent reports, former Soviet agent Ivor Atamanenko claims Stalin had ordered Mao to be fed well during his ten days of closely supervised “hospitality”. Mao was also asked to use a special toilet, where his excrement was collected daily and sent to a secret lab for analysis.
I don't know what they found in it, but Freud would have had a field day with this emanation of the international proletarian brotherhood. 

Monday, February 01, 2016

Toppling Cecil.

The Rhodes Must Fall campaign to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes from Oxford University has left me cold. Not that I could possibly deny that he was one of the more hideous figures of British colonial history, but it seems to me to be a bit of self-indulgent tokenism. I've never been keen on iconoclasm.

Though a better social mix at Oxford may improve the diversity of newspaper columnists, real educational inequality is far wider, like, er, between Oxbridge and the rest. That concerns me more.

That said, there is a problem at elite institutions. It must be twenty years or so since I went to a conference on widening access to higher education at the University of Cambridge, but it encapsulated the problem nicely. At the conference dinner, they wheeled out one of the progressive academics who rounded up her speech by saying, "As for ethnic minorities, we have no problem with those. After all, we have educated the sons and daughters of princes and prime ministers from all over the world." Oh dear. I don't think she quite got this equality lark.

I am certain that things have improved since then, but these are the attitudes that must fall, not a Victorian statue.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Baleful Labour

I like this piece by Time Bale, he seems to get a lot right, though I would put some things a bit stronger than him.

I agree that
Labour cannot possibly win, nor even come close to winning, the next election unless it somehow gets shot of Corbyn in pretty short order.
Indeed, if he lasts very much longer as leader then there is every chance that Labour will gift the Tories control of government for a decade or more to come.
Yes, I do think it's this bad.

I also think he gets Corbyn's supporters right:
The ecstatic Labour delegates sitting around me in the Brighton Centre listening to Jeremy Corbyn give his first party conference speech as leader were lovely people. But they were utterly deluded. 
I would add two other points. First, Corbyn comes from what has been called the "regressive left." I have vehemently and consistently opposed it ever since I started writing this blog. Just because he has surprisingly become leader of the Labour Party, it makes no difference at all. Someone who has taken paid gigs spreading Russian and Iranian state propaganda, or who has shared platforms and promoted the views of fascists and anti-Semites purely because they are anti-western, has, to my mind, committed crimes against the very principles that the left stand on. This is unforgivable.

Secondly, well, he's a bit crap, isn't he? I mean, everything he touches turns to poo. Outside the politics, there is a genuine competence issue. As Attlee is supposed to have said to John Parker to explain why he sacked him in 1946, "Not up to the job."

That bit is easy, but Bale doesn't leave it there.
That said, there is clearly something to the Corbynite critique of what the Labour Party had become by 2010 and continued to be right the way through to its second defeat on the trot in 2015. Talk of millions of lost voters (the exact figure seems to vary depending on how left-wing those citing it see themselves as) may be overblown. But Blair and Brown undoubtedly presided over a hollowing out of the party's support, particularly in parts of the working class that might once have been seen as Labours core vote ..... Put bluntly, its thirteen years in power had made the Labour party's mainstream lazy. Rather than continuing forcefully to make the case that their ideas were practically and even morally superior to those of the left, they simply fell back on the argument that those ideas made them more electable.
Again I would go further. This wasn't laziness, it was incoherence. Anyone who has ploughed through Anthony Giddens' Third Way books would know that there was a lack of ideas at all, whether they were practically and morally superior or not. Instead we had an acceptance of Thatcherite political economy, justified by conventional wisdom, and completed with a heavy dose of grisly managerialism.

The crucial issue is political economy. It is not enough to decry an ill-defined 'austerity' or 'neoliberalism,' instead Labour needs a reworked social democracy that appeals to swing voters and to disillusioned and disengaged working class voters. This is not going to be easy, but it is necessary. Corbyn's knee-jerk leftism and Blairite smugness about their electoral victories - stripped of analysis or context of why those wins happened - is not enough. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Policy v politics

The decision over the renewal of Trident is one of those areas where politics trumps sensible policy making. This has always been the case. The politics of nuclear deterrence is dominated by political symbolism rather than strategic thinking.

Looking back to the Cold War, nuclear deterrence was a restraint. The consequences of adventurism were too devastating to risk a full-scale confrontation. But there is a flaw in the theory of deterrence. A deterrent has to be credible if it is to deter. To be credible it must be useable and ready to be used. The old theory of mutually assured destruction (MAD) is still popularly held, but was never credible. The idea that you would respond to an attack by destroying human civilisation - yours and the aggressors - is genuinely mad. That is why the main nuclear strategy was a war fighting one based on a ladder of escalation up to a first strike to take out the other side's own nuclear weapons before they can use them. It is a credible deterrent, but one with huge risks. If that primary deterrence fails, then the only way a war can be won is to strike first. The first level of deterrence encourages restraint, the second escalation. This was always the concern of more thoughtful critics of nuclear weapons. So there is a case for arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament. It isn't the one we normally hear though. Even so, because of nuclear proliferation, there still is a case for a deterrent based on a limited retaliatory capacity. We hear that argument a lot more.

But what about Britain's independent nuclear deterrent? It isn't fully independent and its military value is limited. Within the army, in particular, voices have been raised about whether the cost would be better spent on conventional forces. Further afield, there is another line that says that as we are under the NATO nuclear umbrella, the money would be better spent elsewhere and that employment would be better served by investment in non-military manufacturing. There is a real argument for a rethink. The problem is that this argument is buried under political symbolism. After all, British nuclear arms were always a political rather than a military weapon.

They were developed by the post-war Labour government primarily to keep British influence with the United States, but were opposed by the left. Since then, British nuclear weapons have become a cause, rather than a policy. And that cause has been a constant source of division, from Bevan's 1957 conversion to being a supporter of Britain's nuclear status, through 1980s unilateralism and up to today's split over Trident renewal.

The politicisation of nuclear weapons has prevented a rational discussion of policy. This was one area that would benefit from bi-partisanship. But the Conservatives have a vested interest in being the party of nuclear defence. They can paint a non-nuclear policy as both weak and extremist at the same time. There is no enthusiasm amongst the electorate for nuclear disarmament, it is a vote loser, and so the struggle in the Labour Party is over a symbol of both left/right control and electability. Military policy is merely an afterthought.

Today's Trident debate is the same. Trident renewal is opposed by the left, supported by the right and by the unions representing defence workers. The Conservatives sit back and watch gleefully. Once again, politics has prevailed.

Mind you, Corbyn has come up with a compromise - submarines on patrol with missiles without warheads. Another great idea. It makes no military sense, no economic sense and will be electorally unpopular. Again, the suggestion is political. This time it's the machine politics of the pork barrel - throwing an expensive and useless project at key supporters to appease them. Or perhaps Colin Talbot's more surreal explanation is the best one. Whatever, my head is in my hands once more.

Back to ...

Back to Manchester to be laid low by a succession of viruses and back to the nineteen eighties, at least that is what it has felt like as Jezza and the Corbynistas set about being a new romantic revival band. Yes, all the old favourites are back; nuclear disarmament, the Falklands, a looming Labour defeat. Except, I was young then and now I'm not. Bugger.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Hot air

Is the internet hastening the decline of a niche performance art? This article suggests it is. Throughout the centuries, from Roland the Farter to Mr Methane, professional flatulence has been a winner, but now appears to be a declining income earner with endless free repetition on YouTube.

It's an ancient art:
St. Augustine of Hippo, writing City of God in the 5th century, noted people who could “produce at will such musical sounds from their behind (without any stink) that they seem to be singing from the region”. 
And how about this scurrilous verse from the age of Shakespeare:
The Censure of the Parliament Fart (1607) 
Never was bestowed such an art
Upon the tuning of a fart.
Downe came grave auntient Sir John Cooke
And redd his message in his booke.
Fearie well, Quoth Sir William Morris, Soe:
But Henry Ludlowes Tayle cry'd Noe.
Up starts one fuller of devotion
The Eloquence; and said a very ill motion
Not soe neither quoth Sir Henry Jenkin
The Motion was good; but for the stincking
Well quoth Sir Henry Poole it was a bold tricke
To Fart in the nose of the bodie pollitique
Indeed I confesse quoth Sir Edward Grevill
The matter of it selfe was somewhat uncivill
Thanke God quoth Sir Edward Hungerford
That this Fart proved not a Turdd
Maybe it's the Christmas sprouts that brought this to mind, but the fart gag is as much a manifestation of humanity as reason and consciousness, perhaps more so.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Oranges and lemons

With a ginger cat

And one that looks like Hitler

I am in Greece and the brain is in abeyance. Sunny days, cold nights, and roaring fires. Sometimes it's good to hide from the world.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Star Wars

I've never seen Star Wars. Must get around to watching it some day. Maybe, this version:

Sunday, December 06, 2015


I am bewildered.

The United Nations Security Council has authorised countries to take action to fight and defeat ISIS, or whatever you want to call them. The U.K. Parliament, after a long and intelligent debate, has voted to support this call by extending their current campaign in Iraq to bombing selected strategic targets in Syria, currently the oil fields that ISIS control that provide them with part of their finance. And the response?

People on social media are calling people like me, who, despite having some misgivings, made the close (and inexpert) call to support that decision, any number of things. Here are some examples - child killers, bloodthirsty warmongers, racists, scum, traitors, etc. They gather under the banner of 'not in our name' and other slogans to disassociate themselves from a decision to try and end a genocide. Their violent anger is directed at the West, Britain, Labour MPs, Hilary Benn, and, I suppose, me. Nice, well meaning people are full of hate and fury, which they are spitting at people like me for wanting to destroy an unambiguous evil, rather than aiming their anger at the evil itself. I find it distressing.

Why this vehemence, this overwhelming sense of self-righteousness? Why this certainty? I am full of anxieties about the wisdom of the strategy and the possibility of success. They seem to have no doubts at all as to its wickedness. Of course, they don't describe it as bombing the forces and facilities of ISIS in the parts of Syria they have occupied and used to mount a campaign of conquest and genocide. They talk about 'bombing Syria', an undifferentiated and innocent victim. It is a misrepresentation.

So what are the alternatives?

1. Non-intervention. Ignore it and let it the war take its bloody course. To me, it is immoral to stand aside if it is possible to intervene with a reasonable prospect of even limited success. The cost in human life will be immense.

2. Appeasement. Negotiate with ISIS. How? With whom? There's no chance. But more importantly, negotiation means offering concessions. What will we offer? Are we to offer undisputed control of limited territory? Pakistan tried this with the Taliban in Swat. It was a disaster.

3. Non-military intervention. Cutting off ISIS' funding is one of the main demands. Again the question is how? Or, more accurately, how in ways that are not being done already? And the supplementary is how possible will it be, given the complexity of international relations and dodgy deals, and the fact that most of their income comes from the territory they control? Why will attempting to unravel the illegal oil deals be more effective than bombing the refineries under their control to put them out of action? And how many more people will be murdered in the time it will take?

4. Containment. Put simply it means 'thus far and no more'. The problem is that this accepts the legitimacy of their conquest and abandons the populations of the areas they have siezed to their uncontested and brutal oppression.

5. Military intervention. The risks are obvious; any failure to protect Syrians from the brutality of Assad could undermine the whole venture, it could end up helping Assad. The necessary plans for a comprehensive post-war settlement are not apparent, an air war clearly won't defeat ISIS on its own, and the politics of the Syrian civil war are horrendous. But the other alternatives will let the killing carry on unimpeded at a time when it is possible for us to help and that help is wanted by the victims. There are national security issues, but they pale into insignificance compared to the need to rescue people from barbarity.

And so, despite the risks, military intervention seems to be the best way of saving lives, and probably the only way to defeat something so terrible. I support any attempt to liberate the innocent from an exceptionally cruel oppression. The only possible argument to oppose the decision is the one of the risk outweighing any possible benefits. But this is not what most of the anti-war activists are saying.

ISIS have an army that has occupied large tranches of two countries, it has ambitions to invade and expand into as much territory as it can. It is an imperialist force, trying to create a global empire. It wishes to destroy democracy. It harbours genocidal anti-Semitism. Its methods include the genocide of all religious minorities, the reintroduction of slavery, a systematic policy of mass rape, the killing of all they deem to be opponents, the public execution of prisoners of war by burning them alive in iron cages, the arbitrary beheading of foreigners, the killing of homosexual men by throwing them from the tops of tall buildings, stoning women to death for any sexual infringement of their repressive codes, the practice of wholesale torture, funding themselves through the extortion of their captive population, organising massacres of civilians in Beirut, Paris, Tunisia and elsewhere, killing Shi'ia Muslims as apostates, enforced misogyny, blowing up mosques and shrines, destroying ancient monuments and murdering their guardians, bringing back crucifixion as a form of public execution, and I have probably missed out many of their other atrocities as well.

I have one question to ask those angry and abusive opponents. If it is wrong to fight now, when will it ever be right to fight fascism?

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Two speeches

With live in curious times.

The leader of the opposition opened the debate on Syria, opposing the Tories with a rambling speech that set out a traditional conservative foreign policy.

The shadow foreign secretary closed the debate on Syria, supporting the Tories with a more impressive speech demolishing traditional conservative foreign policy and replacing it with socialist internationalism and anti-fascism.

The first came from the left of the party, the second from the right.

Of course the references to the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War were rhetorical devices and not wholly analogous, but, seeing as these inappropriate historical analogies are all the rage, I can't help thinking that the first could have been written by Neville Chamberlain, the second by Michael Foot.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Decision day

Here is the argument that I am not hearing from some close to the Labour leadership or from many on the left.

Labour stands for international solidarity. Labour believes that fascism should be confronted and defeated. Labour opposes genocide, misogyny and murderous homophobia. Labour believes that Britain has a duty not to stand by if it has the means to help.

The only debate, the only one, is about the means and strategy to be employed.

And there is a real debate to be had. One over the ending of the Syrian civil war, the status of the Assad regime and the rebuilding of Syria. There is a debate as to the risks, and over Kurdish nationalism and Turkish actions. And then there is the huge problem of the role and intentions of Russia. There are doubts and choices about how to achieve our aims.

Instead, I am hearing a chorus of 'not in my name', 'it will never work', 'everything we have done in the past has failed', 'innocents will die', 'it was our fault in the first place', and, more insidiously, 'we will become a target'.

Then there are those who say we must negotiate with ISIS, come to terms with them, despite ISIS having no intention of negotiating and without recognising that negotiation means giving concessions, legitimising them and giving them a small victory.

While in the shadows, there is whispered talk of dark conspiracies, of oil discoveries, and, inevitably, the machinations of Zionists, Rothschilds, and Jews. This is the opposition of the deluded.

Taken together, it is a call to inaction, extolling the virtue of doing nothing. And they call this peace.

Gandhi again, "I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence".

Yes, Gandhi.


Oh look, someone did make it.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Unheard voices

So much talk about national security, loads of column inches given over to the latest cock up by the Labour Leadership, earnest discussions of diplomatic relations, Ken Livingstone being a tosser, all are in the headlines. In case we forget, this is about Syria. And where are the Syrians in the debate? Because if you listen to them, they are all saying the same thing. The problem is Assad. Here is one local example.
The only way to defeat ISIL is by stopping the Assad regime’s indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas, including areas controlled by moderate rebel groups. Once this happens, Syrians will be freed up to drive out ISIL themselves, as they have proved themselves capable of doing.
And yet the talk trickles in of Assad 'having a role to play.' Surely we are not going to sell the people out again? We will if we fail to listen.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The 18th Brumaire of Jeremy Corbyn

Just who thought it was a good idea to quote Mao? Which demented spin doctor approved the waving of 'the little red book'? Who? Dear god, who?

I still think my comparison in the post below is valid, but it needs to be qualified with that old quote about history repeating itself, "the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."