Sunday, 18 February 2018

The Bible: A Very Grim Fairytale: Deuteronomy: Chapter 10: God the Vengeful Psychopath

Deuteronomy as a book is redundant really. In terms of the story arc it doesn't need to exist at all. If all of this were a movie it would definitely be left on the cutting room floor. It exists only because the authors of this rubbish had an agenda. Moses had been told he would never enter the Promised Land. So as writers they had written themselves into a bit of a corner by killing off their best character. And so they had to get the most out of him before they finally killed him off, even if that meant entirely changing him to make the point.

So Moses was retelling the story and now he got to the part just after he had fetched the commandments and just after he had flown into a rage and destroyed the golden calf that his fickle people had started worshipping. It should be noted however that they were doing this at the behest of Aaron, Moses' brother,  the man who was then made chief priest.

The narrative, which had been telling the people what terrible sinners they were, somehow managed not to dwell on the fact that the man who became their chief priest and the alleged patriarch of a family of other priests with all of the power and wealth thereto had himself committed a grave sin for which others had been punished or even killed. It just tells us that they created an Ark of the Covenant for the storage of the commandments and as a source of inspiration for popular movies many years later. A whole tribe of Israel was delegated the task of looking after the Ark of the Covenant and the various silly relics held around it in the Tabernacle. These were the Levites.

They then skip a long way ahead to when Aaron died and was buried.

But there is no hanging around because Moses then nags them once again about their sins and how he had time and time again to save them from themselves. Moses had a kind of character transplant in this book of the Bible, because he had never been much of a talker before. That had always been left to Aaron. Now he lectured his people at length prior to his death.

The authors weren't too bothered about consistency in any of this of course. Moses could have a complete change of personality. Oh and he could tell the people to Love ye therefore the stranger, for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. Which is all very commendable. Except when we remember that the people had been told in just the previous chapter that they would shortly be going out and committing mass murder of the peoples currently occupying the land they were taking as their own. They should fear God they are told right at the end. They certainly should. He sounds like a psychopath doesn't he.

A Glitch in the Matrix

North Korea's 'Army of Beauties'

How Trump Fought the Intelligence on Russia and Left an Election Threat Unchecked

Traitor Trump's Toxic Trysts

Parallel Worlds, M-Theory, String Theory

Friday, 16 February 2018

Trump's National Insecurity

There really isn't any point in writing about the latest gun massacre in America, this time in Florida. Nothing will ever change, nothing will ever be resolved and there will be another one in a few weeks or months time. On average there are at least a couple of these a year and many more lower level gun murders that don't get the headlines because they are so common. Guns don't kill, says the gun lobby, people do and they need their guns to defend themselves. But given how many guns are held by people who just hold them for self defence, how is that these massacres are never stopped in their tracks by other gun owners? Why is it always the police? This an enduring and unresolvable scandal because politicians won't confront it. Just as they won't confront the fact that they are spending money they don't have and running up the national debt. Democracy isn't working. It needs leadership. You won't get that from Trump who just wants to be liked.

Anyway, the real story of the week on that side of the pond has been that of Trump and his administration's struggles with the truth about the Rob Porter scandal. There have been two scandals for the price of one here. First there was a man in the White House who is a serial wife and woman beater. But then there was the Trump administrations laxity and casualness concerning security and who gets to see classified information. That was Porter's job and yet he had not been security cleared to see the information crossing his desk en route to the president's. It was also revealed that Jared Kushner, Trump's son in law and an adviser to the president, reads the daily highly classified security briefing that Trump cannot be bothered to read. Yet Kushner too has not received clearance to read such information. The chances are that he will not receive such clearance because of the state of his indebtedness and his dealings with Russia. It should be noted of course that if Trump were not the president he would also not stand a chance of being security cleared. They probably wouldn't even let him into the White House. He is so security compromised, even if all of the Russia investigation amounts to nothing, that he would never be allowed to work for the president. But he can be the president.

And as you read about all of this and reflect upon it, remember that Trump and his supporters made great play of the whole Hillary Clinton email issue at the election in 2016. Lock her up they kept chanting. Yet here is Trump allowing his son in law, who will never get a security clearance because of his connections and debts, to read America's most sensitive security information.

The White House has been trying to get on top of this story all week and has failed miserably. It has failed because they have lied endlessly and repeatedly and been caught out again and again and again.  Much of this is being blamed on John Kelly, the Chief of Staff, the man brought into professionalise White House operations. He has been found wanting. In part this is because he doesn't have the right kind of experience to do his job. But in part it is because his is an impossible job. Chief of Staff is a difficult enough job under most circumstances, but under Trump it is nigh on impossible. Trump is said to be casting around to replace Kelly. But Kelly isn't the problem. If he becomes the latest to go through the revolving door of this dysfunctional White House it will be because he should never have been appointed in the first place. But then that is true of most members of the upper echelons of this administration. Trump is also said to turning on Hope Hicks, the comically out of her depth White House Communications Director who was only appointed thanks to her loyalty and because they were running out of people who would be willing to perform such a thankless task. Who would want to work for this boneheaded man, this man who always turns on people when they inevitably fail because he is lousy at his job?

 It's not beyond the realms of possibility that Trump approved Porter being allowed to stay in post despite his lack of a security clearance just as he has his son in law. Trump doesn't care about American national security, except when it is a stick to beat his opponents with. This is yet another element to the Russia inquiry that Bob Mueller would be well advised to look into.

Star Trek: Discovery: A Review

Like most self respecting people who grew up in the 60s and 70s, I am something of a Trekkie. This is not to say that I am the sort of fan who goes to conventions and dresses up in the costumes, I definitely don't speak Klingon but I can do the Vulcan salute and I know that Captain Kirk's middle name is Tiberius.

The latest member of this burgeoning and frequently reinvented universe, Star Trek: Discovery has been streaming on Netflix these last 6 months. It has been a radical and interesting departure. It's not been entirely successful, but has generally been something I have wanted to watch each Monday as the new episodes were released.

The series looked sumptuous as you would expect. Long gone are the days of models and polystyrene rocks. The ship looks stunning, the prosthetics are amazing and it is all moodily lit like something directed by Ridley Scott.

The central character, Michael Burnham, played by the excellent and gorgeous Sonnequa Martin, was an interesting evolution of the golden rule that all series must have a Vulcan in them as a matter of course. The divergence here however was that she is not a Vulcan, but she was raised a Vulcan and by Sarek, father of Spock no less. And yes she is a woman called Michael. I don't know why either, but it made for some comic back and forth at first.

Michael is brilliant of course and moody and emotionless. But that was all just so she could go on an emotional journey during the series and discover herself, break rules, get court martialed and (spoiler alert) find redemption at the end of the first series.

There were some good and interesting other characters too most notably Captain Lorca played superbly by Jason Isaacs - each series also has to have a Brit actor in addition to a Vulcan. Now during the course of the series Lorca was discovered to be an evil version of himself from a parallel universe. That detracted from the character for me and didn't really make much sense. They then killed him off. But it would be especially stupid if they don't bring him back.

This was a series though that never shied away from killing off characters. Some were brought back, some thanks to the slightly pointless parallel universe storyline, but others seem to have been consigned to Star Trek history for nerds like me to remember in the future. Some won't much be missed. Lorca definitely will be. But I can't believe he won't be coming back.

Other characters I wholeheartedly approved of were Saru, a kind of cowardly alien with some of those aforementioned brilliant prosthetics, Voq/Ash Tyler - a Klingon and human hybrid that Lorca happened fortuitously to discover and who helped Michael Burnham find herself. There was also L'Rel, another Klingon played brilliantly by Mary Chieffo helped once again by those excellent prosthetics and special effects.

One I wholeheartedly disapproved of was Captain Phillipa Georgiou played hammily by Michelle Yeoh. They killed her off in the first episode. She should have stayed dead. Instead they brought her back from that bloody parallel universe and now she is going to be a recurring character who keeps having dastardly schemes for galactic domination foiled by the crew of Discovery.

There was also Tilly, who was often funny but also annoying in not quite equal measure. But Tilly was the closest this much darker series got to the sort of humour they deployed in previous iterations.

This was a show that perhaps was finding its feet in the first series. These days we don't have single story episodes as we had in the past. Now we have series long story arcs. This would have been fine except we then had that inexplicable flit into the parallel universe, which served no real purpose and seemed really to be padding. Yes it was supposed to be about Michael resolving her demons with regard to her being responsible for the death of her captain and with the Vulcans who killed her real parents, but they dragged it out. And boy did it drag. Then when they got back they brought Michelle Yeoh with them and wouldn't you know it they used her knowledge of the Klingons to try and defeat them, except this made no real sense because how could someone from a parallel universe have knowledge of the Klingons in this universe?

There were other missteps in this series like the idiotic spore drive, which they seemed to indicate they will be dumping in the future and going back to the good old fashioned warp drive. This should especially be the case since at the end of the last episode they encountered the USS Enterprise, pre Captain Kirk, but onboard which would have been Captain Pike and....Mr Spock. But the Enterprise is supposed to be the flagship. So how could the Discovery be more advanced? We saw the Enterprise too. Sure, it wasn't a model and had been updated a little, but it still looked like a vintage Porsche alongside the latest GT3 RS.

Anyway, overall I have enjoyed Discovery. I speak as someone who loved the original series, loved TNG even more, hated DS9, loved Voyager and liked some of Enterprise but not enough of it. Discovery, after the first series, though it got a bit boring and baggy in the middle, held my attention and even engaged my affection. There are elements I want more of and others I could happily live without. More regular characters are needed and a few need to be sent back to that parallel universe. Michael Burnham was reinstated at the end but not quite made captain. That is only right and proper. So who is going to be the new captain? Oh and bring back Lorca.

Crash Course Physics: Circuit Analysis

What's The Difference Between A Scientific Law And Theory

How Figure Skaters Choose Their Music

History vs Andrew Jackson

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Boris for Brexit

Alastair Campbell appeared in the media in the aftermath of Boris's big speech yesterday. He trailed it on Twitter by calling Boris a charlatan. Now under normal circumstances Campbell, the spinner in chief of Blair and New Labour before it became Marxist Labour, would have sparked guffaws aplenty. But we are not living in normal times. Remainers no doubt nodded gravely and then prepared to turn Twitter purple with their confected outrage.

Boris made a good speech yesterday. It was a positive, optimistic attempt to galvanise the country behind Brexit. But of course remainers don't want to hear that. At the same time as calling leading Brexiteers charlatans or worse and in some cases even sending them mailed death threats, remainers are engaged in a game of mock and undermine. They talk of respecting the outcome of the referendum and yet plot endlessly to stop it happening or to make our exit so soft as to render it pointless.

So it was only right that Boris decided to hit back. He did it in more diplomatic language than many of them really deserve. Except of course, though this was a speech that certainly was making a political point to these ultras and to some of his Cabinet colleague, in truth this was more a positive speech meant to appeal to the rest of the country. As some of the more honest remainers might admit, many voted for remain last year despite a lack of real enthusiasm for Europe and certainly for the federalist, undemocratic, our way or no way approach so beloved of the ultras. Or at least we assume that it is beloved of them since so few of them ever offer a word of criticism for the EU. For this section of the population, who are no doubt nervous and looking at some of the more extreme headlines and 'reports' being disseminated by the media, a speech to gird their loins was a necessary corrective. Who better than Boris, whose hero is Churchill, currently packing them in in cinemas across the country, to deliver such a rousing speech.

This was a vision of where the country could and should be going if only we have the courage to seize this historic opportunity and to forge a new path. This was a rallying cry for Britain the global nation, the free trading nation, the defender of freedom. Britain has always stood up for these things and always will, Boris was saying. Europe has a different history to ours, but it is one that we helped create. It is the reason why we feel differently about Europe, but it is also the reason why we will always stand shoulder to shoulder with the nations of Europe as we have always done. Boris pointed out that we have always been an outward looking country and have never been isolationist as some keep alleging. How could we, an island nation, be otherwise?

Happily Boris also drew a line in the sand over issues like the Single Market and customs union and ruled out long term 'congruence' with its endless rules and laws. Hurrah to that. And that is what the whole country should be cheering. If we must have laws and regulations, as of course we must, then they should be rules, laws and regulations made here that are tailored by our own politicians, politicians we can elect or boot out as determined by our parliament. That ultimately is what Brexit was all about and what it remains about. Everything else follows from that, whatever were the reasons for your voting the way you did. It really is something that everyone should agree about. But whether or not you do, Boris signalled yesterday that it is happening and he is going to play his part in making a success of it.

It was a good speech and one that will have done brand Boris no harm at all as he runs the risk of being trampled by the Rees-Mogg bandwagon as he is unfairly traduced by the likes of Alastair Campbell. What they are really furious about of course is that he chose to campaign for Brexit. Had he chosen differently they would have lauded him to this day because their side might well have won. Yesterday Boris showed just how true that is. Sometimes furious denunciation is rather flattering, at least if you are a politician.

Crash Course Physics: DC Resistors & Batteries

How To Spot A Misleading Graph

History vs Richard Nixon

How Aspirin Was Discovered

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Close OXFAM Down Or At Least Cut Off Its Public Funding

To the irritation of many, the standard line when asked about the foreign aid budget and that controversial 0.7% spending target, was that 'it was the right thing to do.' No further argument was deemed necessary by David Cameron and George Osborne, whose bright idea it was to set this aspiration in stone. In truth though it was always less about whether this was the right thing to do for the recipients of this largesse. It was more about detoxifying the Conservative brand with some expensive virtue signalling. The wizard wheeze was that they got to do this with taxpayers money whilst also talking austerity. That was the right thing to do too. Odd that.

This blog has always been sceptical and often furious about the foreign aid budget. I have consistently argued that it should not be set in stone in this way but should be voted on by parliament on an annual basis as the department identifies needs and asks for money to meet obligations. There would of course be a contingency fund for any major international emergencies. Instead that budget has corrupted and been corrupting. Such were the sums available that DFID cast around for partners to shovel cash towards. Step forwards the mega charities like OXFAM with grasping hands outstretched and then clenched into fists as they simultaneously lashed out at the very system that delivered all of that lovely dosh into their ungrateful hands.

Turns out that they were so laden down with cash themselves that they too couldn't find ways to spend it. So they decided to fund paedophiles with it. That is only slightly unfair. If you or I found out that we were, however inadvertently, facilitating paedophiles and sexual abusers we would be appalled and disgusted and would call the police. OXFAM feared losing money and reputation and so they covered it all up. There is a good chance that other charities are implicated in similar ways.

This is just a 21st century form of imperialism. Aid workers were sent out to help people and exploited them instead. These highly paid, oh so sanctimonious busybodies were parachuted into regions suffering grinding poverty and behaved like pimps and slavers. They were given absolute power and it corrupted absolutely. Yet still the charities they were working for lectured us and campaigned on a variety of issues. In truth that is the real reason they didn't want any of this exposed. They didn't want to be removed from their bullying pulpits.

Cast your mind back to the whole Carillion debacle of only a few weeks ago, one that the left is using to impugn all outsourcing companies and even capitalism and the private sector itself. Well by the same logic we should all now be turning against the voluntary sector and demanding it all be nationalised shouldn't we. Because what are the big charities if not huge outsourcers and recipients of our cash? They may ostensibly be not for profit but that doesn't seem to have done the poor recipients of their aid much good does it. And of course there is a distinct possibility, or probability on the face of things, that the cash rich DFID knew all about this and was in on the cover up. Anything for an easy life and to ensure the cash keeps coming. This is another civil service failure, part of an increasing catalogue of them. It cannot blame lack of cash in this instance either. DFID is awash in it.

And remember this is not the first time in recent years that public money has been shovelled at a high profile charity that had no control over itself and yet kept demanding more. Remember Kids Company? It may not have been the same type of scandal but it was of a piece and it was as a consequence of being reliant on easy money from you and me. That, incidentally, is why the public sector is so lousy at running things and why public ownership is not the answer to more or less anything except those things we have no choice but to have the state run on our behalf. We do so grudgingly because we know that they will waste a large percentage of it. Look at the BBC. Look at the police. Look at more or less every Whitehall department.

But getting back to OXFAM, three things should now happen as a matter of urgency. First, OXFAM should immediately have all of its public funding stopped. It will only be allowed access to public funds once again if it can be shown that it has reformed itself so that this can never happen again. If this were a private company it would likely go bankrupt and would deserve to. Second DFID should be reabsorbed back into the Foreign Office from which it should never have been allowed to secede. If indeed people at that department did know about this they should be sacked immediately and possibly even charged since surely they would be as guilty as the men who perpetrated these crimes. Third the government should announce that it has seen the error of its ways and will no longer spend a set percentage of the nation's wealth on aid. Reintegrating this vast budget into the Foreign Office would be a step towards doing this. But it should no longer be a policy cast in stone. This is not to say that we will not be equally as generous to deserving cases around the world. But it would be best if they actually are proven to be deserving first. It isn't as if we lack deserving cases here at home.

OXFAM started out as a noble enterprise to help relieve people who were starving. It should be returned to those roots. Our charity sector is bloated. The major charities have become PR organisations with aid workers attached as an afterthought. They have been entirely captured by lefties and have lost all sense of right and wrong. They prefer righteousness instead. No doubt their response to this will be a big publicity frenzy. They might even change their name and have a snazzy new logo created to facilitate this. But it is a model that is broken. Charities that rely on taxpayer funding and chuggers on the streets nagging us into giving via direct debit are not really charities at all. They have become businesses. They should be forced into administration just like businesses when they are found to be morally bankrupt.

Crash Course Physics: Electric Current

How Statistics Can Be Misleading

History vs Che Guevara

Figure Skating Scoring, Explained

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The Nationalisation Myth of the Asinine, Patriarchal, Ideologically Blind Left

In case you missed it, or merely changed channels the moment he appeared as any self respecting and sentient adult should do, Chauncey made a speech over the weekend, one of those echo chamber events he so favours, in which he promised more nationalisations. So far, so expected. Except it is interesting and instructive the various excuses that Marxist Labour trots out to justify this piece of asinine, juvenile economic vandalism. Instead of being honest and merely telling us that they want to nationalise everything that moves because they are Marxist and believe implicitly in this 19th century cretinism they try to convince us that this will achieve great things, make things somehow fairer.

One excuse they like to use is that they want to take the railways or the ulitilies like water or electricity and gas back into public ownership because this is somehow more democratic. 'Democratic control by workers and consumers' they tell us, piously. Except what does that really mean? It means that we would simply exchange one set of bosses for another set of bosses. Both are equally remote from we the consumer. They might notionally be under the control of politicians but then all businesses are notionally controlled by politicians. That is what happens in all democracies. Ownership is academic. If businesses do things that politicians and the public don't like then they can be controlled. It is not obvious why we need to spend tens of billions we don't have buying back these businesses to supposedly bring them under democratic control.

How would this manifest itself after all? You would just have Marxist Labour doling out jobs to its cronies to head nationalised corporations probably on high salaries. Would this make them more responsive? It's hard to see how it could. Nationalised industries tend to be more responsive to the whims of politicians and to their own staff than to we the consumers. This is much more likely to be the case when they have a monopoly and thus we cannot vote with our feet and our wallets. In the cases that privatised businesses are less responsive to consumers it is usually because they are privately owned monopolies. Thus the answer is to create the conditions for more competition, not to make them publicly owned. How would that improve things?

The other excuse that Chauncey tried over the weekend was that public ownership will somehow and in a way he didn't bother to explain, save us from climate catastrophe. I don't know about you, but to me that sounds terrifying. It means that they are trying to use environmentalism as a means of bringing in their usual brand of authoritarianism. For collective action as usual means do as you're told because that is the will of the people. The only way that this kind of collective action could work would be to make us all buy energy in prescribed ways thus raising costs, pricing us out of our jobs and making energy prohibitively expensive. We would use less energy for sure, but that would be because we would all be priced out of our jobs.

We mustn't of course forget the humdinger of an excuse that John McDonnell tried recently when trying to convince us that we need to nationalise all of those industries that the Tories sold off in the 80s. It is not out of vengeance, of course it isn't. It is not out of zealotry and ideological blindness. No. It is because it would pay for itself. McDonnell has declined to provide figures for how much all of this would cost because there is no need. He claims that the profits that these businesses would make would render them costless. And this is the man who wants to run the nation's finances. Is it possible that he is that inept. Or is he being that dishonest? But if the latter that would surely mean that he doesn't really believe what he says but says it anyway. That would mean that it is ideology dressed up as pragmatism.

McDonnell chooses to ignore the fact that businesses make profits but they also have to borrow to invest. That borrowing costs money. If the business is run properly and well then in time the borrowing will, it is true, pay for itself. But in the meantime there is a cost in interest payments. So why won't he tell us what it is. This is because he knows that the sums he wants, ideologically to spend, would be so huge that they would cause a run on the pound, huge tax increases, higher interest rates for us all. And that is assuming that businesses would be run efficiently in the public sector, which of course is quite an assumption. Because they have never been run efficiently and even profitably before. In the 60s and 70s they were so badly run that they lost money and had to be subsidised. The lack of competition meant that they didn't invest, didn't care if they provided poor service and the poor consumer was left with no choice but to take what they were given. The democratic control didn't work too well for us all then.

So Chauncey and McDonnell are trying to use a bit of sleight of hand to get us to indulge their teenage fantasy politics. These lefty posers are utterly clueless because they have gone through their entire lives believing this claptrap without ever having to think properly about how they could be made to work in the real world. That is why they get so unstuck on providing figures and rational explanations for their asinine policy prescriptions. Some of the privatised businesses we all use could be better and more responsively run it is true. But there are ways of addressing these problems without spending hundreds of billions of pounds just to indulge the fantasies of two men who have never run anything in their lives. Oh except McDonnell who very briefly was in charge of the finances of the GLC and who was sacked for his bovine stupidity and crassness. Who was he sacked by? Ken Livingstone. That's how bad he was.

The left constantly tries to infantilise us all by telling us that all of our ills are the fault of other people - the rich, America, white men. They promise us free stuff all paid for by someone else. Now they also tell us that the world would be so much fairer if only they could seize control of the economy and run it all in our collective name. Because of course when things are done by the people and for the people they instantly become noble and pure and all human frailties are abolished. You know, like they have been in the NHS. And the welfare state. Both brilliant examples of just how good the state is at making an egalitarian state by bureaucratic fiat.

The left thinks it is on a roll at the moment because of the recent problems with one outsourcing company and one rail franchise. But that is the nature of private enterprise. Private enterprise is not the be all and end all, but as a general rule it is more efficient. When a company fails it does so with its own money and others step into the breach. But this country would come to a halt without such companies. They deliver our goods, they provide our energy and even our healthcare. Yes, our healthcare. Those who complain about the notion of the privatisation of the NHS tend to forget that most GP surgeries are run as private companies. So are dentists. So are chemists. So are opticians. Would it really be the end of the world if hospitals were run that way too so long as we don't have to pay up front? When was the last time your GP asked for a payment?

Imagine what it would be like if the state ran the supermarkets. Or the mobile phone networks. Or the vast majority of shops and businesses we all use without once worrying that they are privately run and for a profit. It's not obvious why we should care. And outsourcing? We all outsource. That is how civilisation became established. We all learnt that we all have our own specialist skills and that the best and most productive way to work is to do so collectively but individually, to pay each other in return for different products and services. To outsource. When you call in a plumber or an electrician, you outsource. When you engage a builder to erect an extension, you outsource.

It is perfectly true that the public at the moment does seem to be in favour of nationalising various utilities and the railways. But that is only because the public has a short memory and because nobody is making the counter argument. Chauncey claims that there is a growing tide of realisation around the world that privatisation hasn't worked. He says this in much the same way that Donald Trump tells the world what people are saying. Oddly both seem to think that 'people' always agree with them. The Tories have been ahead in a couple of polls in the last few days and so it is not obvious that Chauncey's policies are resonating as much as he would like to believe. And that is before we start pointing out how illogical and costly those positions are. It's almost as if Marxist Labour has an historically illiterate, economically inept Marxist as its leader.

Crash Course Physics: Voltage, Electric Energy, and Capacitors

8 Marvel Actors Who Were Cast in the Wrong Parts

History vs Napoleon Bonaparte

Why the Triple Axel Is Such a Big Deal

Monday, 12 February 2018

The EU's Insolence and Impolitic Negotiating

We British are known for our politeness and so it took an act of typical French discourtesy and arrogance last week to move the ebullient and cheerful figure of David Davis to admonish his opposite number Michel Barnier, the EU chief negotiator. It was about time. We have been insulted now for months on end and have always grinned and borne it. The time has now come for more of the kind of response that Davis finally doled out.

We might for instance have done so last year when we were informed that EU citizens who wish to come and live and work here would nevertheless be able to appeal to a foreign court, the ECJ, if they don't like our legal system and the protections it affords. A simple no would have been a more appropriate response to this outrageous and impertinent demand.

Of course this blog and others would likely have responded the same way to the EU's demands for billions that we supposedly owe the EU. Happily however this money we have offered as part of the deal done last December means that we now no longer have to put up with the extravagant rudeness and impolitic negotiating tactics of Mr Barnier. If he persists in telling us that we will be punished for not doing as we are told then we have the advantage of closing our chequebook. Fortunately nobody was foolish enough to offer the money up front. If the EU feels able to withdraw the offer of a transition period unless its terms are met we are perfectly entitled to revisit the offer of cash we are under no obligation to pay.

As the Cabinet continues to debate what should have been resolved before this less than merry dance began nearly a year ago, they would be as well to remind themselves that this is not as unequal a contest as Mr Barnier seems to think it is. Or perhaps Barnier knows this and so is overplaying his hand. The word coming from Europe is that his tactics have discomfited many of the governments around Europe who are worried that he might end up pushing too hard and force this country to walk away. This is the problem with the EU model of course. When you have an unelected elite sitting atop it all, who are not held to account by anyone and who need not worry about what effect their policies and approaches have on the people who are being governed then you end up with, well with the EU Commission.

This is to our advantage, but only if we are minded finally to use it. It is not just the money, although that is an important factor. This is about the fact that there are many regions and indeed whole countries around Europe who would be badly affected were Britain to leave next year with no deal. The threats of Barnier about our planes being grounded and various other cutting off nose type approaches that only an unelected bureaucrat could make are nonsensical. But forcing Britain into such a position that even our weak and divided government felt it had no other choice but to leave without a deal would be the epitome of arrogance.

The EU needs a deal. It needs our money and it needs our trade. We who campaigned for Brexit keep having to remind everyone that Britain is a big economy and we buy an awful lot of goods from Europe. They need our trade, they need the City of London. Yes we need them too, but it is a mutual need. It is not a one way street as so many remainers seem to believe. We are not a vassal state. We shouldn't allow ourselves to think we need to acquiesce to every demand of the EU. Saying no every once in a while is what they expect and indeed what they deserve.

There really isn't anything difficult about any of this. Even the supposedly intractable issue of Northern Ireland could very easily be resolved with a little flexibility and imagination. The transitional arrangement is essentially a continuation of what we have at present with a loosening of the apron strings. The nonsense spouted by Barnier should be treated with contempt. But that transition is of no use until we know that there is something we are going to transition to. That means a comprehensive trade deal, a deal that will be good for them and good for us. It's not cherry picking. It's nothing that the EU isn't pursuing with anyone else. The difference is that we  both start with the advantage that we already have such a deal. So really, what is the problem unless you want to create a problem? And we should also put an end immediately to talk of us paying into the EU for the right to gain access to the single market. It is called trade. The rest of the world does not pay to do so and so there is no need for us to do so. That should be one of many red lines.

Various members of the Cabinet are set to make speeches in the coming weeks. Might I suggest that they make speeches along those lines. Britain is leaving the EU and we are prepared to do so as friends and partners, creating a new model for the way that countries can cooperate in the future. That  ultimately seems to be what the likes of Barnier are afraid of. If it is then we are not negotiating towards the same end. It would be as well that this is made clear now. Then we can walk away, do a limited deal to keep the planes flying and to prevent plunging us all into recession and keep our money to spend on ourselves. We could even spent it on a bridge to France. That would be nicely ironic.

What Is North Korea Up To?

As the Winter Olympics got underway at the weekend and North Korea continued to cosy up to their southern neighbours with whom they are still technically at war, the world watched and wondered what they are up to. Almost certainly these peace moves cannot be taken entirely or even partially at face value. And so what is their game? What is the Fat Leader up to? Is this, at least in part, a vindication of Donald Trump? Nobody really knows the answers to these questions? But as the North invited President Moon to talks there is healthy scepticism born of the fact that we have been here so many times before.

The first thing to observe is simply that this is a Winter Olympics taking place on the Korean peninsula. The North's motivation may simply be about the Fat Leader's desire to get in on the action. He has built his own grandiose winter venues, but those built in the economic powerhouse that is South Korea put those into the shade. Did he just want to be part of it, to be a proud Korean? We always assume some kind of cunning on the part of the North. But the regime of Kim Jong-Un has seldom shown much. It's entirely possible that this is all that this is about. The man who looks like a giggling halfwit - I'm always reminded of that famous scene from The Last Emperor - may simply be jealous. Wanting to be a part of it however is in itself a risk because it will expose what an economic backwater the north really is. On the rare occasions when countries have been divided like this it is like a living experiment to illustrate just how good free market economics is at enriching a nation when compared to socialism. If the people of the north are exposed to this reality, insofar as they don't know already, they will be shocked and appalled at just how poor their country is compared to their southern cousins. And it is the work of just a few generations.

There are other possibilities to explain these peace overtures. It could be a game of divide and rule, which is to say divide and continue to rule over their own hermit kingdom. North Korea knows how vulnerable the South is to their weaponry. Even if any hostilities would only have one outcome - the defeat of North Korea - the damage, destruction and mayhem that would be caused prior to this would be catastrophic. And so there are many in the south who will always be open to the idea of peace talks, notwithstanding previous experience. The current administration has been more receptive and so the North may have seen the Olympics as an ideal opportunity to exploit this.

Of course this is not to say that they are genuinely looking to negotiate away their nuclear weapons or to engage properly. But they may be looking for some relief to their current strictures. The sanctions are likely to be starting to hurt. In other words the sanctions are beginning to work. And so the North may well have decided to use the Olympics as an excuse to make peace overtures when the reality is that they are struggling and in desperate need of relief. There is a very good chance that this is the case. The North is blockaded, it is having its supplies of fuel curtailed.  China, though certainly not being as cooperative as might be hoped, has been imposing restrictions and these are likely hurting. If the North is short on fuel then how confident would they be that they would be able to wage war anyway?

Which brings us to the next possibility: the sabre rattling of America may have the North worried. If America were to hit the North, even with a so called bloody nose attack, are they worried that they would have no capacity to hit back? We always assume that the DPRK is heavily armed and able and willing to hit back hard if need be. But what if the last few years of sanctions and depredations have hit it harder than we appreciated. What if their recent determination to get missile technology and nuclear weaponry have forced economies elsewhere, economies that have left the military short on weaponry and the raw materials they require? What if those North Korean armies and frontline operations are Potemkin in nature?

And what if the nuclear weaponry and missile technology is not as advanced as feared and they would simply be incapable of deploying them in the event of an attack? This is probably the case. We cannot be certain of many things, but we can be reasonably clear that North Korea could not retaliate with a nuclear strike and that any first strike would take days or possibly even weeks to prepare for. They are incapable of responding quickly with these weapons. They probably could hit enemies like South Korea and Japan with conventional weapons and biological weapons, but nobody really can be sure to what extent and for how long.

The most likely explanation for these peace overtures then is that the North are worried, that they are not as strong as they pretend and so they are seeing the change of regime south of the border and a difference between South Korea and America as an opportunity. The South's openness to talks is understandable. But it is also probably wrong. There is an historic opportunity here, one to peaceably defeat one of the most vile regimes in mankind's history. The sanctions are working. And Trump's sledgehammer style of diplomacy may well be working too. This blog has criticised him about many things and will continue to do so. But his approach to North Korea is working. All other approaches have failed after all. None of which is to say that a bloody nose strategy is a good idea. What is a good idea is to let the North think that such an attack, or a worse one, is a realistic possibility and if peace talks are offered, then they should only be contingent upon North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons.

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