Category Archives: Current Affairs

Lies, Damn Lies, and the Better Together Campaign

scotland-referendum

I entered into a Primark store for the first time yesterday and bought a few items of clothing – something which is out of character for me to do. Normally I avoid this store like the Ebola plague owing to the conspicuous lack of ethics displayed by this shameless company.

What I am referring to is their dodgy supply chain, consisting of a number of unscrupulous third world companies who provide very little in the way of basic workers rights and decent working conditions for their employees.

But alas, yesterday I experienced a temporary mental aberration. A moment of weakness, just lasting long enough for me to succumb to the temptation to acquire new clobber at a price costing less than my bus fare into town.

It was an impulse thing. Honestly. One minute I was strolling past the shop as normal, and the next I found myself waiting in the checkout queue with a basket chock-full of garments most likely originating from some sweat shop located in Bangladesh.

But here’s the interesting thing. Whilst in the store I noticed a number of signs placed strategically around the store. The sign read something like this:

          “We are doing our upmost to ensure all the companies comprising our supply chain are            continuing to uphold excellent working conditions and workers rights for all                            employees concerned.”

Upon reading this sign I felt somehow queasy, a deep nauseating feeling swelling up from the base of my gut. This happens to me sometimes when I feel my intelligence being violently offended.

Less you be under any misconception about this, let me explain. There is no way on god’s green earth that Primark has the slightest intention of proactively take steps to improve working conditions for employees incorporated within their supply chain. The reason? Doing so would sharply conflict with their primary objective of making as much profit as possible. (Basic capitalism 101).

Primark maintains its market position by undercutting most of its competitors. And it manages this by deliberately selecting third world clothing manufacturing companies who exploit their workers for the sake of higher profit margins. Here is the economic theory behind it:-

           Profit = Sales revenue – total expenditures

           Therefore:

           Smaller expenditure  = greater profits

           Therefore:

           Invest little or no money in anything not directly related to the creation of higher profits    

           (such as working conditions etc)

           And voila:

           You achieve your aim of greater profits

(Was that a bit patronizing?)

So what is going on with all these signs? Well in reality they are nothing more than a manifestation of Primark’s sensitivity to bad publicity. Concerned about recent negative exposure in the media their solution is apparently to do a bit of in-store PR. The basic idea I think is that people will read these signs and say to themselves “Hey, check this out. Primark are an ethical company after all. I can continue shopping here in good conscience now, and even inform all my friends who have previously boycotted this store on ethical grounds.”

This is what really rattles me. Primark violating the public’s intelligence in this way. How stupid do they think we are? This company has not turned over a new leaf. Make no mistake about it. They don’t give a monkey’s arse bone about where they get their merchandise from. This company would purchase items of clothing from ISIS if they thought they could get a good return on it.

So anyway, later the same day I arrive home just in time to switch on the TV and watch David Cameron on the news deliver his nauseating “heartfelt speech” to Scotland, where he pleads with the Scottish people from the “bottom of his heart” to remain in the United Kingdom. At one point old Cameron gets really choked up, the depth of emotion clearly overwhelming him. It was moving to watch. It moved me. Or at least it moved my stomach. Then I moved to switch the TV set off. For the second time that day I felt that familiar retching in the pit of my stomach, resulting from the flagrant violation yet again taking place on my fine intelligence. Talk about déjà vu.

Don’t misunderstand me. There is no question that David Cameron feels very strongly about Scotland staying within the United Kingdom. And without doubt he is experiencing some strong emotions relating to this issue. But his reasons are purely political in nature, and not anything all to do with the welfare of the Scottish people, as he was trying to make out in that speech. All we were witnessing here is a carefully choreographed speech coming from a man well versed in the effective use of PR.

So why does Cameron feel Scotland’s independence poses any problem for him? For one thing he is smart enough to realize that Scotland’s departure from the UK under his watch will ultimately, when the dust has all settled, mark the end of his political career. His premiership will no longer be a tenable possibility. Additionally he is worried about the possible economic ramifications to the rest of the UK. Financial markets bear a similar relationship to uncertainty as do Republicans to diplomatic solutions. The unpredictability, and hence lack of control, gives them the real jitters. Responding to complex dynamic situations in a level-headed way is simply not in their DNA. And financial markets are not much better. Also, Britain’s stature in the world will likely take something of a battering. The UK is well known to punch above its weight when it comes to international politics and power games. This has been partly achieved by cozying up to the United States (as exemplified by Tony Blair) and has resulted in the UK getting dragged into some crazy and futile conflicts, much to our detriment. These conflicts have had the net effect of increasing the UKs susceptibility to terrorist attacks. And the public’s ensuing fear of the heightened risk of terror attacks makes further conflict seem a more attractive option. Ultimately then, the effect feeds back into the cause. Simply put, the more we bomb and invade Middle Eastern countries the more radicalization we create. And then the more we feel we have to carry on bombing them. It is both self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating.

This kind of self-defeating cycle of violence has been witnessed many times throughout world history in various guises; attempt to get rid of one immediate problem through violent means and sow the seeds of yet another (sometime worse) problem further down the road. It happens time and time again.

In fact the United States war on terrorism is about as self-defeating as their equally unsuccessful war on drugs. And why is their war on drugs self-defeating? The war on drugs was designed to tackle two separate but related problems. Firstly to reduce the harm inflicted on users. And secondly to tackle the politically more important reason of reducing the violence and crime associated with the drugs trade.

Drug users frequently fund their addictions through criminal activity. The primary strategy of the war on drugs is to restrict the supply of drugs (usually by punitive means). But let’s consider this strategy for a moment through the lens of economic principles relating specifically to free market systems (which in the relevant sense is what the drugs trade is). When supply is restricted in any free market system it will produce an excess demand (or in other words a shortage). And whenever an imbalance occurs between supply and demand in any free market system it will act to change prices (in this case exerting upward pressure on prices). And whenever prices increase in a free market system supply will inevitably increase as a result. This comes from the fact that more and more people are prepared to go to greater lengths to supply a product which will ultimately provide them with ever higher sources of revenue.

This is all bad enough, but it gets worse. Demand for drugs is relatively unresponsive to price change (‘inelastic’ in the language of economics). Think of cigarettes for instance. People will nearly always find the money to smoke irrespective of how expensive the habit gets. This same principle applies particularly to harder drugs; providing a person is sufficiently addicted to some powerful narcotic they will somehow find the money to finance their addiction. And this commonly comes about via some form of criminal activity. Very rarely would a drug user respond to a price increase by saying “Oh well, time to give up my incredibly addictive class A drug habit I suppose. It’s getting a bit expensive now.” No. Instead they will go out and rob someone’s house or hold up a gas station or something.

The combined effect of a modest (an optimistic term) decrease in demand and a significant increase in price will ultimately mean that substantially more money is spent on drugs overall. And the more money spent on drugs the more associated crime there will be.

So the very political reason that the war on drugs exists in the first place – the reduction of associated violent crime – will ironically be exacerbated further. This is a classic catch-22 situation. Even if you win you lose. If you succeed in what you are trying to achieve – a reduction in the supply of drugs – then you push up prices and ultimately push up supply again, but at a higher market price. And levels of crime get pushed up along with it.

So what is the solution? To target demand rather than supply! And this is the only viable solution. You invest as much as reasonably possible in education, rehabilitation, and most importantly tackling the underlying social conditions commonly leading to pervasive drug use in society.

This may not work you say. But even if it doesn’t work you haven’t made the problem worse! And if you do succeed in your aim – to reduce the demand for drugs – then you have actually improved the problem! Contrast this to ‘succeeding’ in the first case – reducing the supply of drugs. As we have seen, if you succeed in achieving this then you create a bigger problem. In other words, even if you win you lose.

(This reasoning uses nothing more than the immutable and universal laws of supply and demand. Basic economics 101.)

Anyway I digress. Back to Scotland.

So what was really behind David Cameron’s so-called ‘heartfelt speech’ to the Scottish people? There are two basic facets to the issue of whether or not Scotland should become an independent country – an economic one and a political one. The economic argument is complex. In reality no one really knows what the economic ramifications for Scotland are likely to be. At least in the short term. There are just too many variables to consider. The political argument however is much simpler – Scotland gets to control its own affairs. In practical terms this translates into Scotland being free of successive conservative governments who the Scottish people never vote for.

The economic argument could reasonably be considered to be a matter for the intellect. And the political argument could be more considered a matter of the heart – for instance what it means to be Scottish. Alex Salmond has quite shrewdly focussed more on the latter than the former. He has been trying to appeal to the hearts of the Scottish people. He has also had to present an economic argument of course, but as much as reasonably possible he has tried to focus attention more to the emotional debate. Westminster politicians on the other hand have tended to focus more on the economic argument, whipping up scare story after scare story and devising ever more scary scenarios of rampant fiscal horror. This has been interpreted by many in Scotland as propaganda and scaremongering to intimidate voters towards the ‘Better Together’ campaign. And perhaps there is a large element of truth in this. After all, if Scotland is intrinsically a financially weak nation, aren’t they more of a liability to the rest of the UK than an asset? Why then would Westminster politicians be trying so hard to keep the Union together? Because they like the Scottish people so much? I don’t think so!

The Westminster politicians, having finally cottoned on to all this, zip off to Scotland as fast as their chauffeur driven limos can carry them and present the Scottish people with the mother of all bullshit speeches, packed full to the brim with emotive language, as much in fact as could possibly be squeezed into the space of twenty minutes or so (“our family of nations” and “I would be absolutely heartbroken to see you leave us” and so on, ad nauseam). Basically Cameron is attempting to respond like for like, matching Alex Salmond’s emotional appeals to the Scottish people with his own emotional rhetoric.

So how do I feel about the prospect of Scottish independence? Somewhat ambivalent to be honest. I genuinely feel the Scottish people will be better off not being controlled by successive Conservative governments which they didn’t vote for. I appreciate the fact that independance is terra incognita for Scotland. But there are always risks associated with change. Without question some of these risks have been overplayed for political reasons. But no one is saying independence will come without any risk whatsoever. As always when making life changing decisions one has to balance potential risks with potential payoffs. And in this case, doing so should orientate people more towards independence than staying in the union, and the chance of a brighter future that this could potentially bring.

From what I can see Scotland has a much stronger sense of what a fairer society means. One that does not constantly blame the poor for the wrongdoings of the rich, and does not keep sending their working class men to fight and die in futile self-defeating conflicts. No, they want something better. And who can blame them?

But here’s the rub. The rest of the UK will likely keep getting stuck with the same Etonian Westminster politicians who do not identify in the slightest with the working class of Britain. The problem is that without the relatively left-wing Scottish electorate offsetting the more conservative affluent regional pockets in England, we are going to get more and more governments like the one we currently have, headed by out of touch ex-public schoolboys who are really only interested in looking after their own kind.

I hope for the sake of Scotland they vote for independence on September 18th. But I hope for the sake of England they don’t. I think that neatly sums up how I feel.

“A core message is we create our own experience. We create our own reality. So if we want to talk about a war on this and a war on that we’re going to be creating a war on this and a war on that. Whereas if we begin to think differently about who we are and what we are, and what we’re creating, then I think we can create something much more harmonious and much more beautiful to experience.”    Natalie Sudman, The Moore Show, June 2014

Never Underestimate the Power of Denial

070306BushBlair

My jaw dropped violently upon hearing the latest astonishing statement issued by former PM Tony Blair regarding the escalating violence in Iraq – “We must liberate ourselves from the notion that we [he] caused this.” Blair went on to say the belief that the 2003 US led invasion of Iraq caused the escalating sectarian violence in the country was “bizarre.”

Bizarre! What has this man been smoking??? The “bizarre” thing here is the outlandish claim also made by Blair that the failure of the West to intervene in Syria is what has caused the current crisis in Iraq. What absolute codswallop!!!

Blair! You need start paying attention to details! The West was never going to intervene on behalf of Assad against the rebels. Quite the reverse. The West was poised to side with the rebels against Assad! And by ‘rebels’ of course I mean (amongst various other factions) Isis Jihadist fighters! The West’s intervention in Syria was only ever going to bolster the Isis rebels, not weaken them. Even George W. Bush knows that (probably!)

Was it not just a couple of years ago that America was harshly criticizing President Putin for providing the Assad regime with attack helicopters to assist him in fending off the attacking rebel fighters (Isis Jihadists). And was it not a few years prior to this that George W. Bush was branding Iran (apparently America’s new ally as they now have a common enemy to unite them) as being part of the “axis of evil”, along with of course Iraq and North Korea.

Sometimes it is said that America and her allies blundered into Iraq without fully understanding its historical context and complex sectarian demographical make-up. This was definitely not the case however. I can confidently assure you that the analysts advising the Bush administration were acutely aware of the balance of power that existed in Iraq prior to invasion, and the potential catastrophic consequences of disrupting this balance of power and thereby creating a power vacuum ready to suck in any extremist faction that happened to be in the neighbourhood at the time.

In fact Iraq is not even a nation state! The geographical absurdity which is present day Iraq is just one of a number of artificial countries created by the British at the end of the First World War out of part of the former Ottoman empire. As complacent as could be those British buffoons cobbled together the mad mash-up of different ethnic groups which currently comprise Iraq, each of which possesses polarized religious and conflicting ideological views. In other words; a random hodge-podge of people not naturally predisposed to get on with each other. Saddam Hussein held together this inherently unstable ‘mix & match’ of cultures by ruthless oppression. I am not condoning Saddam’s control-freak oppressive OCD type behaviour but just highlighting the absurdity of the claims made by Blair and Bush just prior to invading Iraq that they would be creating a more stable and peaceful country by doing so. Yeah right! Pull the other one! I don’t think even they believed what they were saying. Some things are only obvious in hindsight but other things are obvious both in hindsight and foresight, this being one of them.

Interestingly many anti-war demonstrators were aware of all the aforementioned details prior to the invasion, and actually predicted the current situation that would tragically ensue from invading Iraq and destabilizing it, along with the surrounding region. But the fact is that the welfare of the Iraqi people was never paramount in the minds of the Blair government and Bush administration. And it was highly improbable there was ever any serious concern amongst cabinet ministers and US senators that Saddam Hussein was in leagues with Al-Qaeda. There was not so much as one single solitary snifter of evidence to suggest this. In Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Al-Qaeda overtly did not exist!

And did the politicians ever believe that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs. Well how much intelligence did they have to validate this view? I don’t know about America but in the UK we had a cracking college dissertation written by some college kid as our source of intelligence, reliably informing us that Iraq possessed chemical weapons and were able to launch and deliver a deadly chemical attack on the UK mainland within the space of 45 minutes! And who are we to argue with some hard-working geeky college kid trying to earn his degree. Couple this with all the excellent resources this young lad no doubt had at his disposal whilst sitting in his bedroom writing his dissertation, such as Wikipedia for instance. This was intelligence information of the highest calibre, fully justifying the invasion of a sovereign state located in one of the most unstable regions of the world.

And what if Iraq did possess WMDs. America had them. And used them. That’s right. Contrary to Obama’s recent bullshit claim that America “does not use chemical weapons on children” (referencing the Assad regime in Syria) America has in fact used napalm (chemical weapons) on villagers in Vietnam. Additionally America to date are the only country to ever fire nuclear weapons in anger. Not once but twice. America singled out the most densely populated city in Japan they could find and nuked them. And what did America do next? Recoil in horror at the resulting carnage and human suffering resulting from the aftermath of a 15 kiloton nuclear explosion. Did they hang their heads in shame at what they had done? Nope. They singled out another densely populated Japanese city and nuked them as well. But I guess that was a legitimate use of WMDs since this was after all ‘war’ and not ‘terrorism’.

But that was a few years ago. America has been quite well behaved since that time haven’t they? Well perhaps in some weird quantum-string dimension they have, but certainly not in this reality. During the 1980’s their frequent support of various tyrannical despots within multiple Latin American countries resulted in several unelected brutal dictators murdering and torturing their own people, effectively making America accomplices in crime. Britain and America also organized a military coup which displaced the democratically elected leader of Iran resulting in the installation of the unelected Shah, a leader well known for ruthless oppression, torture, and keeping most of the country in abject poverty.

Ironically it has also been confirmed that both American and British troops have been using depleted uranium shells (chemical weapons) and white phosphorus (chemical weapons) in military assaults in Iraq over the last ten years of occupation, inevitably resulted in dramatic rises in the rate of birth defects and certain types of cancer within the Iraqi civilian population.

So please Obama do not say that “America does not use chemical weapons on children”. This is an outright fib.

Every country has a right to defend its citizens from external existential threats, but America might just as well have invaded Greenland, a country having about the same level of connection to the 9/11 attacks as did Iraq.

I want to be clear that I am no way siding with or condoning the actions of the ISIS Jihadists in Iraq and Syria. They are a group of people so pathological that even Al-Qaeda washed their hands of them because they were deemed to be too violent to be affiliated with. When an organization who crashes a commercial plane into the biggest building they can possibly find and massacres over 3000 people tells you they cannot be associated with your organization because your organization is too violent, you know you are probably mixing with the wrong bunch of people.

I recently spotted a quote from the conservative political philosopher Edmund Burke on someone’s website, I believe in connection with the 2003 invasion of Iraq – “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Whilst true in some situations it is nonetheless dangerous to regard this as some kind of universal principle that can be successfully applied in any given situation. Doing nothing might sometimes be the best option if the doing something alternative leads to catastrophic consequences. It all depends on the specifics of the situation. But I do not necessarily advocate doing nothing in the context of reacting to atrocities and crisis situations around the world. In many people’s minds however doing something seems to be synonymous with a violent course of action. There are other ways of dealing with a situation other than through violent means. Whilst these peaceful alternatives might not always work out, violence doesn’t always succeed either. Not by a long way in fact, as 20th and 21st century foreign policy has repeatedly shown us time and time again. Looking back over time you can see how one conflict causes or in some way precipitates a later conflict. The First World War gave rise to World War Two (pretty much), the Second World War created the conditions for the Cold War and many of its associated proxy conflicts. And the invasion of Iraq has been utter disaster for everyone concerned (apart from ISIS).

America in particular has continued to have a foreign policy of fighting fire with fire. Some prominent American statesmen seem to think violence is the answer to almost everything. If a movie was produced which contained a fictional character mirroring the personality of Senator John McCain, you would interpret this character as being some kind of caricature. John McCain pretty much wants to bomb everyone who is not American. His answer to almost all situations (within the context of foreign policy) is violent aggression. Whilst many Americans are not quite as extreme as him there is nonetheless an all-pervading culture of fighting violence with violence in the US. America is currently one of the most violent places to live on the planet, perhaps only second down to the countries they have stuck their oar in and messed things up good and proper (like in Iraq for instance).

Violence begets violence. It always has and always will.

Tony Blair has been on the defensive since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Every time something happens in the news which seems to suggest he made the wrong decision by bombing Iraq he immediately goes on the defensive and tries to reassure everyone (including himself, or perhaps more correctly particularly himself) that he still made the right decision by invading Iraq. I wonder if he really believes this deep down though. Maybe on some level he actually realizes this is not the truth. Denial can be a powerful beast. What person wants to face up to the fact that he is partly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, including many innocent civilians. Tony Blair has a vested interest in staving off this notion with all the mental energy he can muster. He can’t afford to allow himself to slip into this way of thinking. Because the minute he does he has to face up to a horrific reality – he is responsible for the deaths of thousands of people.

I don’t personally believe we are judged by some all powerful deity after we die and sent to purgatory/hell or heaven depending on our actions during our life time. But I think in the final analysis we end up judging ourselves, and ultimately from a very different perspective than we had when we made our decisions. In this sense I believe we all have our day of reckoning.

It should be made clear that no single person can be exclusively blamed for the tragedy in Iraq. In the UK around two thirds of the labour party voted in favour of war and all the conservatives aside from fifteen. The liberal democrats were the only mainstream political party who unanimously voted against the war (partly due to the party whips do doubt). I don’t know what the breakdown of votes was in the US Congress and Senate, but again the blame can’t be entirely pinned on George W. Bush. Or even the Bush administration for that matter.

I want to believe we learn from history. But we never seem to. We keep making the same mistakes over and over in different contexts. It seems that violence is in our blood. We consistently and instinctively look to violent means to resolve issues in many different contexts. And I’m not sure it will ever be any different.

Finally, the words of Sir Christopher Meyer, Britain’s ambassador to the US from 1997 to 2003, speaking about the current situation in Iraq –

“We are reaping what we sowed in 2003.”

Some Bush quotes:

“Iraqis are sick of foreign people coming in their country and trying to destabilize their country.”
– George W. Bush, 2004

“The best way to fight evil is to do some good. Let me qualify that — the best way to fight evil at home is to do some good. The best way to fight them abroad is to unleash the military.” – George W. Bush, 2002

Gormless Gove

Michael Gove

Well we are only a few days into 2014 and I have already broken my new year resolution. You see I resolved last year to post more positive things on my Facebook wall, and stop having a go all the time at the conservative clowns running our country. But alas, I have already failed. Just a few days into the new year and one of those Tory toffs has already got my back up. The culprit this time – the infamous education secretary Michael Gove.

He has been winding me up for some time now in fact, as he has many other people with his constant interference and meddling in the UK education system. I understand there is a problem with Britain’s schools. We are being outsmarted by developing countries, in no small part due to our schools being so crap. However bumbling Gove seems to just come up with one silly idea after another, seemingly having no coherent sense of direction or purpose. It’s like he wakes up on a morning with some freshly formed half-baked idea in his head, and just blurts out whatever he happens to think at the time. You almost have to admire the sheer consistency of his crap ideas though.

This time my hackles have been raised by his criticism of the teachers who have been using the final episode of the ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’ TV series as a learning resource to aid in teaching children about the First World War. The reason this galls Gove so much is because of how effectively this TV series portrays the historical reality of an out of touch elite class recklessly sending millions of young working class men to their death, shamelessly using war mongering propaganda to entice young uneducated people into fighting under what was more or less false presences (sound familiar). Gove much prefers the patriotic version of history where Britain were the good guys fighting the newly emerging aggressive expansionist German nation. And sure, the newly unified Germany was of this ilk. But was Britain really any better???

Just prior to the outbreak of the First World War Britain was nervously looking on with growing alarm as Germany built up her navy, increasingly fearful that Germany had the firm intention of nicking some or all of Britain’s overseas colonies. This resulted in a frantic arms race between the two great industrial powers. Britain was determined to stay ahead of the arms race and quickly built up her fleet of warships, introducing the fearsome Dreadnought warship for the first time. Also both countries formed a system of polarized military alliances, a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off. And go off it did, requiring only a relatively minor incident in the Balkans to create the pretext for the two opposing alliances to throw everything they had at each other. The troublesome Balkans were not really a fundamental cause of the First World war. They were merely the blue touch paper, a barely needed spark to trigger a full blown global conflict that had been simmering under the surface for some time.

But did the aggressive posturing of the newly unified Germany justify Britain declaring war on her in 1914? Well, how do you suppose Britain acquired her huge empire in the first place, so vast in scale it covered one fifth of the land mass of the Earth! Did they wander over, greet the indigenous populations, and ask them kindly if it was alright if they seize control of their natural resources and exploit their country for all it was worth? No of course not. They used military force. And they were more than willing to use military force to hold onto their precious colonies as well. And who can blame them. Just consider the benefits to Britain. They could take from their colonies all the natural resources they wanted and force the colonies to buy their manufactured goods in exchange. Moreover they could charge whatever they wanted since Britain prohibited other countries from trading with her colonies. India was a classic example of this kind of exploitation. Britain grabbed from India all the raw cotton it could and sold them back cotton cloth at a price which reflected the deliberately imposed lack of trading competition. It was quite a handy arrangement for Britain, and if you have ever heard it said that Britain became wealthy off the back of her colonies it is this fact this statement refers to.

In fact Britain was the most imperialistic nation of modern times. As mentioned above her empire at its peak covering around one fifth of the land mass of the Earth. And let’s not forget Britain’s totally despicable Opium wars with China, arguably the single most shameful incidents in all of British history. Now couple all this with the fact that Britain allied itself with Tsarist Russia during the war. The idea that Germany could legitimately be blamed for the war, and could legitimately be labelled as the villains while Britain were the good guys, starts to look a bit silly. But it is precisely this that Gove and the out of touch tossers of his Tory party would have you believe.

Now let’s take Gove’s outrageous statement that “it was just a war” (direct quote). For one thing there is never “just a war”. War acquires zero moral legitimacy by virtue of being state sponsored, something that many people still forget to this day. But if there were such a thing as “just a war” this certainly wasn’t it! This war destroyed pretty much an entire generation of young men, and helped to sow the seeds of future conflict. For four years a war of attrition was fought. The military and political leaders were unable to break the stalemate, unwilling to negotiate a peace, but prepared to expend men on an industrial scale. Just a war! – I don’t think so!

Gove goes on: “even to this day there are left wing academics who are prepared to feed these myths” (myths basically referring to the idea that the war was not in fact a case of good vs. evil, as he alleges). That’s right. He regards anyone who sees the war for what it really was – a totally unjustifiable conflict of almost incomprehensible scale and of unimaginable horror – as being “left wing”.

When is this man going disappear from whatever dark corner he crawled from? Perhaps Gove should be made to fight in a war himself. This might be a great learning resource for Michael Gove, providing a means by which he can better his own personal education. And I guarantee it would present a very steep learning curve for him.

Belief Systems, Dogmatism and Intolerance

I often feel a sense of frustration at people’s closed mindedness when they are confronted with facts or viewpoints that do not neatly fit within their personal worldview. These people are not skeptics according to the strict definition of the word, that is: open minded people who are prepared to critically evaluate their current views in light of new evidence or facts. They are in fact closed minded dogmatists who have already made up their mind on how the world works, and are often not prepared to ever seriously question their own worldview irrespective of whatever inconvenient facts might come along and contradict their current views. And the irony is that these people invariably present themselves as being the objective ones who uniquely have the capacity to transcend subjective fanciful thinking and wishful belief systems in favour of a more scientific and rigorous framework of thought. Most commonly, from my experience, these people are militant atheists and/or materialists (although to be fair I would probably have to include some religious people as well) who are oblivious to the fact that their views actually constitute a belief system, and are not simply objective facts as they claim. And ironically it is contemporary science that proves reductive materialism to be incorrect. (I have studied modern physics, including quantum mechanics at university, so know this to be the case.) Another irony is that militant atheists often defend their strong views on the basis that religions contain an unacceptable degree of intolerance. Whilst it may be true that sectarian religious groups can be somewhat divisive and intolerant of each others views, I often feel that the best way to promote tolerance in the world is to display it yourself!

Although I would describe myself as spiritual (as opposed to religious) I am at the same time an agnostic (technically this places me in the same category as Richard Dawkins!) in that I don’t claim or believe to know anything for absolute certain. However there are a few minor caveats to this cautious disposition: Firstly I don’t extend my reservations concerning certain knowledge on everyone else, and insist that they should likewise uphold an agnostic stance. For one thing some people, having had transcendental experiences, claim they know for sure their experience was real and what they learned from their experience constituted certain knowledge. Despite being an agnostic myself I would not presume to claim that these people, who have had experiences I have not personally had or fully understand, have no right to regard their experience as being real, and their subsequent knowledge from it to constitute certain knowledge. In addition to this, there are perhaps others who may have not had spiritual experiences as such, but are able to intuitively know things for certain. In other words perhaps they are able to transcend the logical/analytical human mind and directly perceive (to some degree) a higher level of reality which we cannot readily apprehend by just using the limited five human senses. I do not have such intuitions myself but perhaps other people do.

All I am basically claiming is that intellectual reasoning alone can never lead to certain knowledge. It is always possible to be mistaken irrespective of how persuaded one is by the power of one’s own corroborative arguments and supportive chains of reasoning. And since I personally have always had to rely merely on analytical reasoning alone I do not feel I can claim to know anything for certain.

The second caveat is this: Although I believe that nothing can be known for certain by intellectual reasoning alone, I nonetheless believe it is possible to know for certain that particular viewpoints are incorrect. For example, I am absolutely certain that reductive materialism is an incorrect worldview, even though I can’t legitimately claim to have certain knowledge of the true nature of reality. If this might seem a contradictory position to take, a simple analogy might help:  If you lose your car keys (like I did the other day) and look in a drawer only to discover they are not there, you can then claim to know for certain that the keys are not in that particular drawer. There is no contradiction in making this claim whilst at the same time not having certain knowledge of where the keys actually are. And the same principle applies to worldviews. I do not know the true nature of reality, but I know what it isn’t – and it is not reductive materialism! This is a paradigm which is essentially rooted in outdated 17th century Newtonian physics, and is not compatible with the more recently observed physical facts of the world.

In summary, it would be accurate to say that I categorize my thoughts and opinions in a probabilistic fashion, as opposed to a definitive black and white correct/incorrect mode of thinking. Based on my knowledge of near death experience research (primarily conducted by cardiologists and surgeons) and also my knowledge of contemporary science (primarily from studying at university) I would put my money on the following propositions being true: i) There is an afterlife. ii) There is a ‘god’ (but perhaps not in the traditional religious sense of the word, hence the inverted commas). iii) The world we experience via our physical senses is illusory.

Behind all these subjective viewpoints however, there are objective definitive answers. It is just that most of us are not in a position to assert what these answers are, even if what we believe just happens to correspond with the objective true facts of the world. Oscar Wilde once said “The truth is rarely pure and never simple” and I think this sentiment is largely applicable to most of our human based knowledge and opinions, and the multitude of lines of reasoning and philosophical arguments that are used to support them. But at the end of the day there are still objective facts of the world that ultimately have definitive yes/no answers. But most of us will have to wait until another time to know the answers for sure – that is of course assuming there is some kind of existence beyond this physical plane…..which I personally would put my money on.

Ding! Dong! The Witch has Gone!

Thatcher

Those people who are against the Thatcher protestors and the public outcry about spending 10 million of public money on her funeral might want to consider the following points:-

The typical justification coming from the right for spending around ten million pounds of public money on Thatcher’s funeral is that whatever you think of her politics she was still a very strong leader who fought for her country, changed so many things, and had the courage and conviction to stand up for what she believed in.

Well Hitler was all those things as well. He possessed a determination for making his country great, he stood up for what he believed in, and was certainly a game changer, and in some respects even a remarkable person (I mean this in a pejorative sense of course). I am not directly comparing Margaret Thatcher to Hitler (not quite anyway) but just making the point that these qualities in themselves can’t be used to justify spending so much on Thatcher’s funeral. None of these things change the fact that she was a hugely divisive figure who caused a considerable amount of suffering in Britain during her reign as prime minister, and succeeded in destroying entire communities, many of whom have never fully recovered since. And for those who are complaining that some of the protesters are too young to remember Thatcher, so therefore are unable to form a valid opinion on the matter – well I was not even around during the period of apartheid, and Hitler died before I was even born. But my opinion of him is still valid, as is my opinion of apartheid.

It is very easy to use the above kind of reasoning if you have no problems with what she did. But if you or your family are amongst those who suffered so much at the hands of her barbaric policies, or even if you like me, simply have a strong sense of social justice, then the justification used above for spending so much on her funeral somehow falls well short of the mark.

Before I go on let me tell you a bit about myself and my family background. My father left school and went straight into an apprenticeship, thereafter securing a rewarding career in engineering up until the mid-eighties, where partly as a result of Thatcher’s policies he was made redundant from the engineering company where he then worked. After a relatively short period of time of going from one menial job to another he decided to invest most of his redundancy pay in setting up a business. This led to him establishing a successful business within a year or two of his redundancy, where he carried on working well into his sixties until he was forced to retire because of my mother’s failing health. Thankfully he fared somewhat better than some of his former colleagues at the engineering firm, some of whom ended up taking their own lives as a result of not being able to find work after being made redundant.

As for me, I have done pretty ok myself. While still being a few pounds shy of making my first million I have nonetheless managed to get by ok financially. I didn’t do so great at school, but moved to Plymouth at 18 and shortly thereafter became a student, starting off doing a National Diploma in Electrical & Electronic Engineering at the Plymouth College of Further Education and then going on to university to do a degree or two, one of which was in Computer Engineering. And I did all this concurrently with working around 30 hours a week, doing a combination of early morning cleaning, working evenings in a restaurant, and eventually building up my own window cleaning round as well (I was so knackered as a result I ended up sleeping through most of my lectures, and had a reputation for disturbing other students with my frequent snores). I now earn a living doing a combination of part time work in restaurants and software design on a freelance basis (primarily by using project4hire and similar online resources).

The point I am basically making is that I am a hard-working and reasonably ambitious individual who comes from a similarly hard working family background. But the problem is this. I do, despite all this, have a strong sense of social justice. And this is where I start to have a problem with Margaret Thatcher and her politics.

Even many people on the right concede to the fact she got some things wrong, but frankly it is hard to see what she got right. Many benefitted from her ‘right to buy policy’ where they were able to buy their own council houses. From a personal point of view the people who benefitted from this policy are perhaps justified in feeling a degree of gratitude for what Thatcher did for them. But this policy had an ideological underpinning. She did not believe in the principle of social housing. And from a long term pragmatic point of view this policy has not ended up working for the benefit of wider society. As a result of selling off council houses at knockdown prices many properties eventually ended up in the hands of private investors. Ultimately the welfare bill has gone up as a result because many poorer people have been forced into the private housing sector where they are now claim housing benefit for extortionate amounts of rent.

What else did she do? Ah yes, she privatized all the utility companies, which is why we in the UK are now being fleeced by German and French utility companies, and can no longer afford to heat our homes and eat properly as well. Many are forced between one or the other, including many elderly people!

Also don’t forget it was the politics of Reagan and Thatcher that resulted in so much deregulation of the financial institutions, something that has only recently been exposed for what it truly was – extremely misguided policy making!

Barack Obama has just praised Thatcher for being “one of the great champions of freedom and liberty.” I was somewhat shocked to hear a politician I respect so much make such a statement. Perhaps his knowledge is somewhat sketchy on the amount of suffering she caused in the UK during her reign of prime minister. I will give him the benefit of the doubt on this one since I still believe his heart is ideologically in the right place. I am not confused however as to why Thatcher is so popular in America per se, a country that is traditionally quite conservative (although thankfully that is all starting to shift now with the demographic changes that are currently taking place across America). It is interesting how American’s frequently use terms such as ‘freedom’ in such a euphemistic fashion, basically to disguise the true sponsoring thought behind this term – a ‘survival of the fittest each man for himself’ mode of politics. By extending their logic further we could conclude that if we want even more freedom then we could also do away with law and order, and hence save the taxpayer even more money. Indeed why have legislation at all? Isn’t having all those pesky laws about not being able to just do as we please at someone else’s expense encroaching on people’s personal freedom?

Margaret Thatcher was overtly bedazzled by the free market model of economics and laissez-faire politics. A staunch believer in Adam Smith’s invisible hand (invisible because it doesn’t exist) she naturally believed in the trickledown theory. And most of her policies reflected this mindset. And the trickledown theory is probably one of the most discredited theories of all time.

Margaret Thatcher basically destroyed manufacturing in this country, ruined entire communities, and inflated and deregulated the financial sector, encouraging a era of greed and an ‘every man for himself’ culture. This is the legacy of Thatcher. And we still live with it today.

At the time of me writing this post the music track ‘Ding Dong! The witch is dead!’ has just reached the midweek top ten, sparking outcries that the record should be banned on radio and music TV stations. Even more outrageous is the talk of police now potentially having the powers to pre-emptively arrest people ahead of Thatcher’s funeral for things they have not actually done! (Remind anyone of a certain Hollywood film starring Tom Cruise?)

We are about to spend in the tune of ten million pounds of tax payers money on her funeral! This for many people is just rubbing their faces in it. At the very least let these people have their protests. And at the very very least do not pre-emptively arrest these people for things they haven’t actually done yet on the basis that they might do something at some point in the future. At least give people that much respect!

Anyway I have to go now in order to download ‘Ding! Dong! The witch is Dead!”

It’s a great tune isn’t it?

The Crisis in North Korea

Image

America has wisely delayed testing a nuclear missile in response to the growing tensions in North Korea. This has been criticized by some people who are concerned this gesture is showing ambiguity to North Korea, potentially causing confusion about how strong America’s resolve is to respond to future acts of aggression from Kim Jong-Un and his political regime. The people who criticize this attempt by America to de-escalate the growing tensions in North Korea are mostly the same people who glibly point out the dire consequences to North Korea should such an act of aggression take place, making comments such as: “If North Korea launch any attack on US bases or South Korea, within minutes there will be a massive crater where North Korea used to be.”

I seriously doubt however whether anyone, including the leadership of North Korea, is under any illusion that a pre-emptive strike against American bases or South Korea would effectively be an act of suicide. It is virtually certain that Kim Jong-Un is not genuinely trying to provoke a full blown conflict. But he might nonetheless be capable of acts of irrationality if he is backed into a corner. Or he mistakenly backs himself into a corner. If his credibility as leader of North Korea is seriously compromised in any way his own life will potentially be in jeopardy, as his generals are liable to turn against him. Also the survival of the leading political regime in North Korea depends in part on keeping up the charade of standing up to the foreign imperialist powers who want nothing more than to invade North Korea at a moment’s notice and exploit it for commercial gain.

So acts of apparent irrationality are entirely possible should the situation continue to escalate much further. With nothing left to lose their natural instinct will be to take as many people down as they possibly can before they go down themselves. And they are well capable of doing this. They do after all have weapons of mass destruction (albeit with a limited range of delivery) which would potentially inflict massive damage to South Korea, local US bases and possibly neighbouring countries.

The political regime in North Korea sustains power by perpetuating the myth that the North Korean people’s own suffering is inextricably linked to the oppressive outside imperialist powers, and these powers present an ongoing threat to North Korea as an independent state. Without doubt the North Korean government is well capable of using propaganda tactics to perpetuate the greatly exaggerated perception of an almost continually ongoing threat of invasion by foreign imperialist powers. But their job has unquestionably been made easier by the aggressive foreign policies of America. Still fresh in the mind of many is the fact that 80% of the infrastructure of their country was destroyed by American bombing during the 1950-53 Korean war. Saturation bombing flattened 18 of 22 major cities in North Korea and resulted in over one and a half million civilian casualties (something like 20% of the population of the country). The memory of this is still fresh in the minds of many North Korean people, and has the effect of adding credibility to the propaganda spouted by the North Korean political regime that imperialist powers want to invade their country, and therefore North Korea need to take steps to avert this.

They have also in recent times witnessed America invading countries such as Iraq, ostensibly to protect themselves from the threat of weapons of mass destruction, but in reality for very different reasons. After 9/11 the Bush administration began to suggest that Saddam Hussein was in leagues with al-Qaeda, and was likely to try and supply them with weapons of mass destruction to attack America with. The reality however was that Saddam was a secular Arab nationalist who dealt harshly with Islamists in Iraq. So this allegation was never particularly likely. And the intelligence supporting the claim that Saddam had WMDs was hardly worth the paper it was written on. Much of this intelligence was compiled under considerable pressure and duress from warmongering politicians who had already formed the firm intention to invade Iraq anyway, a country of considerable strategic importance to America. It may appear that the mess left behind after the war, and all the internal conflicts that ensued, were not at all anticipated by the Bush administration prior to invading the country. But upon reflection it is not altogether clear how this could have been the case. Iraq was a somewhat artificial country created by the British at the end of the Second World War out of part of the Ottoman Empire. There were Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the centre and Shiites in the south, an uneasy cohabitation Saddam held together by ruthless oppression. This of course does not justify that ruthless oppression, but it is highly implausible these facts were not factored in by the analysts who were advising the Bush administration during the period of preparation to invade Iraq. The welfare of Iraq after the conflict however was unlikely a high priority of the Bush administration.

Not only this but America propped up and supported brutal dictators in several South American countries during the years of the cold war, many of whom oppressed and tortured their own people. America also helped to displace democratically elected leaders, leading in some cases to brutal dictators taking their place. In 1950 the people of Iran elected a secular democrat as prime minister. He instantly nationalized British and American oil companies, therefore returning Iran’s oil to its people. As a direct consequence of this in 1953 the British and American governments organized a military coup which resulted in the overthrow of the democratically elected government and reinstalled a Shah (unelected dictator) as leader of Iran. This led to years of ruthless oppression, poverty and torture.

But why does this division of the Korean peninsula exist in the first place? When the Second World War ended the Russians occupied the North and Americans the South. It was essentially like the history of Germany all over again. And of course the same situation occurred in Vietnam. The Russians set up a Communist government in their zone and in the South the Americans set up an anti-communist government. Then both the Russians and Americans cleared out and left them to it. What happened next? Each government naturally had the instinct of reuniting the country under their own political systems, constantly regarding the other side with great suspicion. When the North eventually invaded the South in June 1950 there was a general perception by Washington policy makers that this represented a much wider threat. They completely failed to see it for what it was. The reality was that this was a localized civil war created from the divisions caused by the allied countries occupying the Korean peninsula at the end of the Second World War. Washington policy makers however interpreted this event as communist expansion directed by the Kremlin, so embarked on a long term policy of ‘containment’ (a somewhat euphemistic term). It is this very thinking that also caused the Americans to intervene in Vietnam about ten years on from this, with correspondingly horrific consequences.

It is perhaps unfair to categorize America as being an aggressive imperialist power in the same sense that historically world powers have tended to be imperialist. This is undoubtedly an exaggerated view. But nonetheless there has unquestionably been imperialist elements to American foreign policy from time to time. The current policy of trying to diffuse the North Korean crisis by postponing nuclear missile tests is refreshing to see, and indicates that Washington policy makers may have cottoned on to the fact that sending nuclear capable stealth and B2 bombers to take part in South Korean training exercises has made the situation worse and resulted in increased tensions in North Korea.

It may be true that if North Korea launched a pre-emptive strike against South Korea and US bases there will be “a massive crater where North Korea used to be”, but this is not an outcome that anyone wants. The North Korean people are innocent victims in this crisis as well. They do not deserve to be vaporized simply because they believe the propaganda being fed to them by their ruling elite. And it should be remembered the colossal damage North Korea would likely inflict before they are themselves destroyed.

Some people feel that appeasing North Korea will not produce a desirable outcome. However backing North Korea into a corner will not produce a desirable outcome either. Let’s hope Washington policy makers continue their current trend of trying to diffuse the situation. And let us all be thankful the Bush administration is no longer in power in America!

Fallacious Arguments Regarding the Leveson Enquiry Recommendations

We should not make rash judgements and legislation based on a few bad cases.
The reality – this was not simply a case of a few bad apples within the media corporations. The problems were systemic and widespread, and often included the complicity of the people at the top of the news organizations, such as the chief editors for instance.

Introducing regulation would be a slippery slope to government controlled press.
The reality – the slippery slope argument could be applied to pretty much anything, including legislation itself. It could have been historically argued that introducing the law of the land was a slippery slope to the loss of individual freedom and human rights. The point of legislation in the first place is to balance the rights and freedoms of particular groups of individuals to the rights and freedoms of other groups of individuals. At the moment, with regards to the British media, that balance is missing.

The prevalence of social networking makes legislation pointless. It will not stop people tweeting their personal views.
The reality – there is perhaps an argument for introducing more regulation into social media. But the lack of current regulation should not be used as an excuse for not bothering to regulate the press. And it is highly questionable that a few tweets carry the same kind of authority as the British media.

People never believe what they read in the papers anyway.
The reality – despite the common argument that people do not believe what they read in the press, the reality is that the British media do have considerable gravitas and authority. I think it is difficult to maintain the argument that the British media do not influence peoples thinking. If this were not the case why did so many British politicians crawl over broken glass to ingratiate themselves with Rupert Murdoch?

It was legalities rather than ethics that were at the heart of the indiscretions of the media.
The reality – I think it was actually both.

Legislation which enforces press regulation equates to the loss of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, which are vital to a well run democracy.
The reality – Absolute load of bollocks. Statutory regulation is not the loss of freedom of speech. Everyone agrees that self-regulation does not work, and that it needs to be replaced by independent regulation. However, regulation without enforcement is a pointless exercise. And the only way to enforce regulation is through legislation.

It will be just the same as the introduction of super-injunctions. It will simply be used by the wealthy.
The reality – this is an absolutely bonkers argument. Statutory regulation is nothing like super-injunctions.

Newspapers are in decline, so it is a problem that will go away on its own in time.
The reality – maybe, but it hasn’t gone away yet.

Celebrities who seek notoriety should accept this as one of the consequences of being famous.
The reality – not quite sure this ‘take the rough with the smooth’ kind of argument is really fair. But apart from directly affecting the celebrities it also affects the innocent families of the celebrities, including their children. And what about Milly Dowler, Christopher Jefferies, Kate and Gerry McCann etc. None of these people were celebrities.