Saturday, 31 August 2013

Video Diary

Since we have enjoyed such a glorious, sunny and warm summer, I decided to go out with my iPhone and record at least part of it for posterity. After all, who knows when we will get another one. Here it is set to the music of The Polyphonic Spree. Normal Video Diaries will resume next week.



Friday, 30 August 2013

Miliband's Contemptible, Pathetic Indecision

Did MPs voting last night feel a cold draft down their necks as they trooped through the lobbies? It might explain the way they voted. In the end the correct result was reached but for all the wrong reasons. No motions were passed. The Government motion was defeated as was the wrecking motion of Labour. But David Cameron accepted the will of Parliament. If there is to be military action against Assad, Britain's forces already in the Mediterranean will be interested onlookers.

It will have been a sobering, slightly humiliating moment for David Cameron. But to his credit he made a decent fist of arguing his case. His opponent on the other hand illustrated just how monumentally unfit for occupation of Number 10 he really is. Once again he has no policy to speak of. His policy is wait and see, contract things out, reach no judgement, hope it all goes away. Labour is haunted by the legacy of a prime minister who took a decision, stood by it and lied to get his way. He was succeeded by a prime minister in Gordon Brown who could not make decisions and was paralysed by insecurity and control freakery allied to indecision. His successor as leader of Labour may actually be in the process of proving himself worse.

It was all waffle and indecision from Miliband. It was a pathetic display. Had he stood up and argued against action in Syria because he felt it inappropriate, dangerous, potentially disastrous as many have he would have the right this morning to feel that he had done a good job well. Instead he chose to prevaricate. We want more proof he said, we want the inspectors to do their job even though it is crystal clear that chemical weapons have been used and that those inspectors  would not be able to discern who was to blame even if that was in their job description. He spoke of route maps, and indeed 'sequential route maps.' This could go down as a classic of the type. If he had called for one nation sequential route maps predistributed by the UN and administered by inspectors it would not have been a surprise.

But this is the whole Labour schtick now. This is how they seek to get out of having to make tough decisions. Evidence must be sought before judgements can be made. Boxes must be ticked, legal avenues explored. If at all possible decisions must be sub-contracted to expert outside bodies so that Labour leaders don't have to take a lead and risk annoying people or cutting themselves off from union support. What a pusillanimous, cowardly, useless shower.

If Labour were in power now what would they do? Would they tell President Obama that he is on his own? Would they whine endlessly for the need for more evidence? Presumably they wouldn't create a dodgy dossier? But seriously what is their position other than that they aren't ready to make a decision without more information? What if, as the Joint Intelligence Committee has said, there isn't any more available? What then? This isn't an Agatha Christie mystery. We are not all going to convene in the Drawing Room to be told who did it, when, with what motive and with what weapon.

Perhaps this is why the whole Iraq debacle happened. Tony Blair knew that his party is wedded to this idea of the UN, of legality and of an 'evidence based approach,' and so he gave it to them. The difference then was that he was talking about murder and mayhem in potentia. We already have the bodies.

There were protesters on the streets of London yesterday, both pro and anti. The antis were the usual crowd who are opposed to all war under any circumstances. Some were even carrying placards demanding no more imperialist wars. Imperialist wars? Have they been paying attention? Have they been watching Obama's determination to stay out of this? Have they not seen the children being slaughtered by their own government for the crime of being the wrong kind of Muslim or from the wrong tribe?

But it this kind of purblind stupidity dressed up as principle that still has a hold on a certain kind of Labour MP. In his heart Ed Miliband is one of them. For a moment on Tuesday he tried to be a statesman, but then the instincts of his party and the ghost of Blair frightened him off. And so he dithered and played for time. He told the prime minister he would back him if Cameron waited, produced evidence, legal advice and got a second vote. Cameron acquiesced. Then Miliband reneged. On an issue involving life and death, Britain's international role and chemical weapons banned by international law he lied and lied egregiously. Remember, this man could be prime minister in less than two years. Would you want this man in charge if a plane hijacked by terrorists were heading for London or another major British city? Would you trust him to defend Britain's interests or would he just dither, obfuscate and protect his back?

And I should point out that I am pleased that Britain will not be contributing to any military action. It would be a mistake as things stand. But I say that regretfully because the situation is so grave, so chaotic, so unpredictable. We have no clear objectives in such a campaign, no real purpose other than that we believe a transgressor of arbitrary red lines should be punished. There are good arguments on both sides but ultimately one has to choose, one has, as the prime minister argued, to reach a judgement. That is not why Labour did what it did. Labour does not have a position and will now be able to maintain that non position. They played low politics whilst pretending to be taking a position of high and sententious morality. How contemptible.

Summer in Pictures Part 5

Christians Say The Dumbest Things

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Galloway Just Keeps Digging

George Galloway has been tweeting the praise he routinely receives from the credulous hard of thinking sort who hero worship him and consider him honest and a teller of truth to power.

Well take a look at the video above. Unfortunately George has about as faithful a relationship with the truth as he does with women's rights.

Last week George expounded his theory that it was Al Qaeda firing off chemical weapons in Syria, weapons given to them, he theorised, by Israel. The video of his performance as the useful idiot of Press TV was on this blog and many others. Now, in the House of Commons, he denies having made any such remark. The man just can't help himself.

Acting: With Jean Luc Picard

I was going to put this in my Review of the Week, winning hundreds of new readers each and every Sunday. But this is so funny it deserves a post all of its own. A whimsical acting masterclass delivered by Shakespearean colossus and captain of the Enterprise Patrick Stewart. His pupil, incidentally, is his partner Sunny Ozell whose feet you can see in picture. Highly recommended and very funny.

Another Labour Lacuna

Following the mess yesterday when Wallace called Number 10 and told him he might, if he could make up his mind, vote against them, when Dave immediately reacted by rejecting the idea of a second vote before then changing his mind, Number 10 is briefing this morning that they think Wallace is a 'fucking cunt and a copper bottomed shit'. This is a grown up blog and feels no need to protect you from these words.

Quite why Number 10 felt the need to let them be known is a mystery however. Does this not detract from their theme that Wallace is weak? They really ought to make up their minds.

The fact is that Wallace is, as ever, being indecisive. His change of mind after being broadly supportive on Tuesday was because his party is not with him. Dave's isn't with him either, but at least the PM had the guts to make an argument and stand up for what he thinks is right. I and many in his party disagree with him, but then he may be party to information that we are not. He also has the misfortune to be the heir to Blair in a way that is not necessarily advantageous.

There are no easy answers to this issue. Hiding behind the coat tails of the UN and the question of legality is actually beside the point. This obsession of the Left with this cosy notion of a mythical construct called international law is a nonsense. International law is created by the big boys of the international world as established in 1945. It is a relic of history, and one that prevents forward motion on justice and enforcing human rights against despots. Russia and China, themselves despotic, will inevitably veto any attempt to create a veneer of legality for us.

But, if it is proven that Assad has used chemical weapons then our leaders have to make a choice. I still don't see the point of a bombing campaign under those circumstances. I don't see how avenging the deaths of people but risking more lives will do any good. But I can see the other point of view. It's a choice, and an invidious one., but then that is what politicians are supposed to do. Hiding behind UN inspectors and some concocted form of legality is just a way of avoiding having to make that choice.

The good part of yesterday's events is that Parliament was put in its rightful place. It is Parliament that will authorise action and Parliament alone. That is how it should be. Wallace, as on so many issues, is a policy free zone. He won't make up his mind, perhaps because his union bosses have told him not to. Certainly there are many on the left of his party whose knee jerk, thoughtless response to any threat is to oppose war and intervention. If there were forces marching up Whitehall they would probably be met outside Downing Street by a bunch of lefties led by Jeremy Corbyn and Bob Crow demonstrating against intervention. Yesterday these usual suspects were joined by Diane Abbott, supposedly part of an opposition team that on Tuesday was making supportive noises.

It will be interesting to see what Wallace says in the House of Commons today. Will he just issue a wait and see notice statement and then sit down again? He would probably like to.

Yet despite all of the above, it is fair to say that this is an issue that has not been handled well by David Cameron. His own clear conscience on this issue blinded him to the doubts of others. He assumed without checking first that his stance would be backed. Given our recent history this was always doubtful. Before recalling Parliament to issue its rubber stamp he should have spoken to his backbenches, convened his ministers, met privately with the opposition. He should have prepared the ground. This is not a crisis in the sense that military action is required urgently to save lives. The situation in Syria would actually benefit from a ratcheting up of pressure on the Assad regime. The threat of military action might be a better alternative than its actual deployment. It may prevent any more use of chemical weapons, but might also encourage peace for fear of the alternative.

Summer in Pictures Part 4

We have had, as you will have noticed, a rather glorious summer. It has been a summer, at least in Britain, of unusually fine weather, an improving economy and sporting success. This weekend my Video Diary returns and I shall be paying musical tribute to summer in England's green and pleasant land. In the meantime, as we head towards autumn which starts at the weekend too, here is the summer in pictures spread across the rest of the week and indeed the rest of the summer.

The Problem With Religion

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

No Good Can Come From Intervention In Syria

And so, commendably, the British Government has been as good as its word and recalled Parliament in order to debate action against Assad's murderous regime. Many MPs are saying that they will not decide how to vote until they have heard the arguments and seen the evidence. Presumably the evidence will have to be better than that we saw before action was approved against Saddam when we were hoodwinked.

But let us assume that the evidence is there, that it is high quality and convincing. There is already plenty of evidence making its way into the media, of intercepted calls, satellite images which do seem to support the view that this was a deliberate act on the part of the Assad government, albeit one that makes no sense. The Washington Post has a timeline of events here. I for one accept that the case is probably made that this vile regime probably did order these attacks. Perhaps they didn't expect any consequences. They have already slaughtered thousands after all, another thousand or so would scarcely have made them blink. There have also been earlier small scale uses of chemical weapons which brought condemnation but no action. Perhaps this emboldened Assad to make last week's attack. America, they may justifiably have concluded, was doing everything possible to stay out of their war, and without America the rest of us were powerless. They could act with impunity.

And I understand the urge to act. I understand the desire to stand up for oppressed innocents caught in a civil war. But this is a civil war. The Syrian government have behaved appallingly but they did not start the fight, it has been visited on them by a rag tag army of rebels, jihadists, Islamists and opportunists out for all they can get from the chaos. All or most are behaving appallingly, it's just that one side, the side currently winning, has the better and most destructive weapons.

Therein lies the danger. Modern missiles may be extremely accurate but they are only as good as the information they are programmed with. However accurate and clinical our strikes, however careful we are to avoid civilian casualties and only strike the guilty party, the danger remains that we will make mistakes, that our intelligence on the ground is wrong or out of date. The danger also exists that we will simply change the balance and hand weapons to those who will behave just as appallingly. By getting involved we may also ensure that we too become the targets.

That is why this looks like an operation forced on us by our own piety and rhetoric rather than a genuine plan to bring about the end to slaughter and the commencement of talks about peace. Over 100,000 people have already died in Syria and over a million have become refugees. Yet now, and only because a certain kind of weapon has been used, do we involve ourselves? How does that make any sense? The only rationale behind it seems to be that politicians who have drawn red lines must use force of arms as a last resort to save face. The fact that they have no convincing objective, no effective way of ensuring that their actions don't make matters worse ought to be the central factor causing us to pause.

The reason this is happening is in large part down to the foreign policy of the Obama government. Its naive belief in engagement, looking the other way and what looks remarkably like 1930s style appeasement has encouraged governments to act with apparent impunity. America is in possession of the requisite big sticks to back up its diplomacy but has signalled its extreme reluctance, thanks to past mistakes, to use them. This has emboldened tyrannical regimes like Assad's, but it has also emboldened Putin's Russia and ultra cynical China to step into the resultant vacuum. Russia with its pretensions to still being a great power rather than a big country with a malfunctioning economy made to look good by being in possession of oil and gas has behaved appallingly throughout Syria's civil war. Obama finds himself between a rock and a hard place, but he only has himself to blame.

If our government and other governments were sensible they would actually hold up their hands and admit the hopelessness of this situation. Yes, they could say, we abhor the use of chemical weapons. Under other circumstances we would intervene to prevent their use and to send a message that their use will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to do so if they are used again. But for now we consider that our intervention, though morally desirable at first sight, would only make an intolerable and chaotic situation worse.

The UK, it is being reported this morning, is to put a resolution before the UN Security Council authorising necessary measures to protect civilians. That is a sensible and proportionate response. If indeed there is a danger of chemical weapons being used again then it may well become necessary to intervene to save lives. But taking the cheap and easy option of firing missiles to avenge those who are already dead is pointless and may well ensure that more die needlessly. We are unwilling and probably unable to intervene in this war in any meaningful way because that would involve troops on the ground and another open ended, costly and probably counter productive commitment. We cannot influence this war in any meaningful way other than through diplomatic channels. Our governments should admit this openly and honestly. Spending a few million on missiles to appease our consciences and show how disgusted we are is, or ought to be, untenable. Worse, it is moral vanity.

Summer in Pictures Part 3

We have had, as you will have noticed, a rather glorious summer. It has been a summer, at least in Britain, of unusually fine weather, an improving economy and sporting success. This weekend my Video Diary returns and I shall be paying musical tribute to summer in England's green and pleasant land. In the meantime, as we head towards autumn which starts at the weekend too, here is the summer in pictures spread across the rest of the week and indeed the rest of the summer.

Why Do People Laugh At Creationists?

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Cameron and Obama's Kobayashi Maru Moment

Star Trek fans are generally agreed that, of all of the films released as part of this enduring series, the greatest is probably the second, The Wrath of Khan, released in 1982 and starring a now middle aged original cast with a few additions such as Kirstie Alley above. Of course honourable mention must also be given to other films in the stable - The Voyage Home, First Contact and the recent reboot starring Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, but Wrath of Khan remains the one to beat. It has all the requisite elements: cheesy script, lots of action, hammy acting and not taking itself too seriously. Oh and at the end Mr Spock dies. I still remember the shock of this moment.

But is also remembered for the Kobayashi Maru. For those of you unfamiliar with the Star Trek universe, Kobayashi Maru was a fictional ship created by Starfleet to test the character of its future officers. The ship has become marooned and damaged in the neutral zone, a buffer area between the Federation and the throughly nasty Romulans. The Kobayashi Maru issues a distress signal and this is received by the Starship Enterprise, commanded by Lieutenant Saavik, a Vulcan. But even she says damn when she is confronted by an invidious choice. Should she go and try to rescue the freighter and risk being attacked and destroyed by the enemy for entering the Neutral Zone? Or should she leave them to their fate and have their deaths on her conscience? It's a no win scenario.

And it is this choice which faces western leaders pondering what to do about Syria this week. Given the actions of Assad's government, they know they should intervene in some way to show that this flagrant abuse of international law cannot and will not be tolerated. But if they do intervene they risk the collapse of that government and it being replaced by something even more unpleasant, hostile and 'troublesome' to use President Obama's oddly chosen but apposite word. It could almost have been spoken by a Vulcan.

There is no easy option here. Recent experience has taught us to be wary of intervening, however noble the intentions. Firing off a few missiles to show our displeasure is presumably what is being considered, the modern equivalent of gunboat diplomacy. But what would be the objective of any attack? Would it merely be a redrawing of that line in the sand that Assad has trampled across? Would it be more than a bloody nose? Do we want regime change? If we don't want regime change then are we content to see Assad continue in power as the devil we know? Is that not effectively giving him a get our of jail free card for mass murder? If we are saying that international law dictates our response then does international law demand his and his government's removal?

But the alternative is to look the other way, to refuse to go into the neutral zone, to decide, to slightly misquote Star Trek, that the needs of the many here in the west outweigh the needs of the many in Syria and the wider middle east. That has effectively been our policy to date. There has been much hand wringing as the events of Syria have dragged on for months on end. These are not the first mass murders Assad's forces have committed, but suddenly, when the weapons change, our attitude changes. It's not really logical is it, as Mr Spock might say.

But then this is not a problem that can be tackled with cold, hard logic. The trouble with logic is precisely that it is cold and hard. Our heads are telling us to stay well out of a fight that has nothing to do with us and which could make matters worse. Those who have already died could quickly be joined by many thousands more if our intervention goes wrong. On the other hand if we do not intervene we might encourage others to cross that red line. In addition we reward the arch cynicism and dishonesty of China, and in particular Russia, who have prevented any kind of diplomatic pressure being brought to bear.

In Star Trek, Captain Kirk solved the problem of the Kobayashi Maru by changing the rules, he reprogrammed the computer simulation to make rescue of the freighter possible. Sadly reprogramming humanity and our fraught relations is not so easy.

But we might make a start by ignoring or at least rewriting this notion of international law which can be vetoed by China and Russia according to their very different set of principles which are neither humane or moral. It's a peculiar notion of law which sees us make it up as we go along from crisis to crisis and according to the national interests of a group of major powers who carved the world up between themselves in 1945. International law, if it is to mean anything, should mean all nations subscribing to a constitution that guarantees human rights, democracy, self determination and so on. Any nation signing up to these standards, as policed by the UN, should be allowed into the club and allowed to trade freely within that club. Those who refuse to do so should be refused admission or be thrown out if they transgress.  But this of course would require an awful lot of rewriting and an awful lot of nations being told to get their houses in order. Such a great diplomatic mission would probably be beyond even Captain Kirk and might require someone with the patience and longevity of Mr Spock. It will certainly require the firing of a lot of phasers, and they cannot be set to stun.

Summer in Pictures Part 2

This week, as summer comes to an end, I am paying tribute to it in pictures. The video and musical tribute will be here as part of the return of my Video Diary on Saturday.

Why Do People Laugh At Creationists?

Monday, 26 August 2013

Summer in Pictures Part 1

We have had, as you will have noticed, a rather glorious summer. It has been a summer, at least in Britain, of unusually fine weather, an improving economy and sporting success. This weekend my Video Diary returns and I shall be paying musical tribute to summer in England's green and pleasant land. In the meantime, as we head towards autumn which starts at the weekend too, here is the summer in pictures spread across the rest of the week and indeed the rest of the summer.