Smart missiles

Because of the current proposed airstrikes on Syria, I was trying to remember where the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital was that was attacked in an airstrike fairly recently.

Now that these days we have ‘smart missiles’ and ‘smart bombs’ and ‘laser guided precision’ and assurances civilian casualties are avoided, I just wanted to check the details.

On Googling it I found:

  • Médecins Sans Frontières hospital – Kunduz, Afghanistan – October 2015 – sustained air attack by USA – 42 dead, hospital destroyed
  • Médecins Sans Frontières hospital – Maaret al-Numan, Syria – February 2016 – 2 raids by Syria or Russia – 7 dead, hospital destroyed
  • Médecins Sans Frontières children’s hospital – Azaz, Syria – February 2016 – ballistic missile from Russia – 10 dead, hospital destroyed
  • Médecins Sans Frontières hospital -Hajjah, Yemen – August 2016 – airstrike by Saudi-coalition – 11 dead, hospital partially destroyed and closed down
  • Médecins Sans Frontières supported hospital – Saraqab City, Syria – January 2018 – 2 airstrikes – 5 dead, hospital closed down

They just go on and on.  Then I saw:

“In 2016, 32 MSF-supported medical facilities were bombed or shelled on 71 occasions. In 2015 we documented 94 attacks on 63 MSF-supported hospitals and clinics in Syria.”

It’s a good job there’s GPS and smart missiles and the like guaranteeing civilians don’t get killed in airstrikes.

An email to my MP: “Please do what you can to prevent escalation in Syria”

Subject: Please do what you can to prevent escalation in Syria

Dear Cat Smith MP,

You are my MP as I live at <my home address>.

Please do all you can to prevent the government escalating the situation in Syria.

The news this morning suggests the Prime Minister intends to carry out a military response to an alleged chemical attack which has not yet even been investigated.

  • After the recent embarrassment to Britain over the poisoning of the Russian agent and his daughter, I would have hoped the government would be more circumspect over this event.
  • The Syrian conflict is already a proxy war, where external agents are major players. The intervention by us now when the Syrian government appears to be winning is classic proxy war participant behaviour to attack the leading side to prolong the war. Even if this is not the case, it is how it is interpreted, and puts Britain in a very bad light.
  • A weak government is often perceived as being keen to go to war as a way to bolster support. Although that is a government fault, it reflects badly on us as a country reinforcing the impression that killing people overseas gets popular support from the British people.
  • Following the USA’s knee-jerk reaction an to international incident always makes Britain look weak, rather than making a powerful statement as claimed.
  • Following Donald Trump’s Twittered reaction to anything makes us look utterly ridiculous.
  • War should always be the last resort in diplomacy, not the first.
  • The poisoning, tit-for-tat diplomat expulsions, the misinformation over international events and accusations of false-flag actions are all very similar to activities in the Cold War. A military response at this time feels to me, as someone who remembers the tail end of the Cold War, a very dangerous escalation. The world still has nuclear weapons, I should dread for more generations to grow up under the fear of nuclear super-powers in a perpetual stand-off like that under which I grew up. It is crushing to ambition and hope for the future to know your life can be snuffed out by the whim of one’s own government or by an error in the nuclear command control. Please don’t let this government slide us back into the previous century.

I expect better arguments for not carrying out this strike will become apparent through the day.

As my elected representative, should the government bother to ask your opinion, please do all you can to communicate the foolishness of a violent escalation to the situation in Syria.

 

Read the rules

My school had a bonkers rule book.  It was huge and full of dotty laws and regulations.  We had to learn it.  It was only in adulthood we realised why: it emulated real life.  It taught us both to live within a world of pointless and arbitrary laws, but also when and how to break them or get them changed.

I’m doing my final degree module and, just like my other final year module, I am amazed at the questions people ask, and the incorrect answers they get, regarding rules they should have known from the start.

Not knowing what happens if an assignment is under the word count, or over the word count, or the exact submission deadline, or how to get extensions, or what if you need longer still, and what happens if it is late and what happens if it is too rubbish to submit.  Common questions from people, even at the end of their degree.  But it’s all in the assignment rule book.

Reflecting on my Open University journey

A222, Excruciating Philosophy, was a pit of despair.  Nine months of painful TMAs and material I could not abide will be the scar I carry from my degree.  Sitting there into the night for every TMA despairingly wondering “Why can’t they just tell us what they want?“.

It wasn’t until five days before the exam that I went to a day school 200 miles from home and found a tutor group of engaged, motivated students being led by two brilliant tutors, and their advice and superb handouts got me through the exam.

“I do think good tutors make such a difference to your outcome and experience throughout.”

It does.  When I did DD101 Obfuscating Social Science the only advice our tutor gave was “Don’t say ‘I’ or I’ll kick your windows in and everything you write must have a reference“.  He repeated it in every tutorial and in every TMA’s comments and never provided anything else.  Loads of people dropped out through the year and I was getting 40% to 45% for every essay and not getting any useful feedback.  For that module I was saved right at the end by a student who also had an IT background who explained how social science is not actually a science and told me how to write social science essays.  He had himself been told that by another student.

I know many people who have said they have had great tutors all the way through.  Some of mine have been shocking and, going by the drop-out rate, those who get them tend not to stay with the OU so we don’t hear from them again.

I have often learned more from my fellow students than from some of my tutors.  That’s why I now go to every tutorial I can.  The OUSA Open Degree forum for was absolutely brilliant for advice, better than Student Support, but they got rid of that.  It’s no wonder people are moving to Facebook for support.

Sadly, I have not enjoyed much of my OU experience and will genuinely be glad when it is over.  The exception has been the interaction with other people, the support from others who have been there before and those who are also struggling, often alone in the night.  I think this confirms that distance learning is not for me.

When I started my OU degree this time around (I also had a go in the 1980s), I saw a few comments from old hands saying it is the students that make the OU, and I did not understand that then.  I do now.

Thank you, my fellow OU students, for being out there and being supportive, I couldn’t do this without you.

MA application done and sent

I have received two excellent academic references from my two Level 3 Open University tutors.  I am very pleased with them.  I’m considering framing them!

I have sent these, along with my application form, to Liverpool Hope University asking to join the MA in Peace Studies starting this autumn.

Well done me.

I’m very excited.  🙂

American gun jokes

Thank you America, for just creating a whole new genre of jokes. The rest of the world can now go from crying for you, as we were when the children were marching in protest against guns, to laughing at you.
– – – – –
Q. What do you call a blonde who doesn’t know how to use a gun?
A. An American. Probably a Cop. In a classroom.
– – – – –
An American suspects her boyfriend of cheating on her. She goes to his apartment and finds him in the arms of a redhead. She takes out her gun and points it at her own head.
 
The boyfriend yells, “No, honey, don’t do it.”
 
“Shut up,” she says. “You’re next.”
– – – – –
Q. Where do Americans learn how guns work?
A. In school. Briefly.
– – – – –
Q. Why did the blonde take a gun to the wedding?
A. She was told to hold up the bride’s train.
Q. Why did the American woman take her gun to the wedding?
A. She was American.
– – – – –
Q. What do you can an American with a gun?
A. A danger to themselves.
– – – – –
The NRA has declared today the first annual Gun Appreciation Day. So don’t forget to set your clock back 200 years.
– – – – –
Thousands of dead fish have washed up on the coast of South Carolina. The NRA said that this wouldn’t have happened if those fish had guns.
– – – – –
Try putting a teacher in every gun shop.
– – – – –
Q. How many NRA spokesmen does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. More guns.
– – – – –
The one country in the world where even the gun-trained people are too stupid to own a gun, is the one country in the world where everyone is stupid enough to own a gun.

Finally found some wise words on Facebook

I can’t work out how to embed a Facebook post properly.  I was hoping to get this post to show all the text, but failed.  It says:

Apparently, if you want to have a failed policy on an issue or more of something, you should declare war on it.
War on drugs created more drug addicts, war on terror helped create ISIS which makes Al Qaeda look like kindergartners, war on poverty has led to the greatest imbalance of resources in the history of America.
Perhaps we should have a war on common sense, a war on love and a war on education so we can have more of these.

 

The USA is happy with itself as it is: frightened

Having wasted most of the weekend online arguing with pro-gun people in the USA, I have given up.  I have tried this before and keep coming to the same conclusion: they are happy as they are.

They believe the level of violence and gun-related deaths is quite low compared to other causes of death, and so is quite acceptable.

They believe there is a huge threat to society waiting to get them and, unless there is a ready civilian militia armed to a military standard, it could get them at any time.  They need to be ready.

They believe that people being armed is why their society is so peaceful, that it is only unarmed people that are victims of crime, and it is their own fault for not being armed.

It is a belief system.  Facts and statistics are immaterial and disregarded.  You cannot argue using logic against a belief system.

Essentially what they have developed is a Gun Faith.  Guns are worshipped, adored, protected by the constitution and idolised.  ‘Idolised’ being the operative word.  Some people carry a St Christopher, some wear a cross, some carry a picture of Mary and some wear a birthstone crystal.  In the USA people carry a gun for the same reason: faith it will protect them.  Despite the factual evidence to the contrary.

A funny thing about religions is how people take it to extremes to prove their faith: growing a couple of locks of hair really long, totally covering their women, refusing to shave.  In the USA Gun Faith the extremists carry semi-automatic rifles simply as symbols of devotion.  The NRA is the church of this religion.  I get all that now.

That’s why people have started referring to the pro-gun lobby online as The American Taliban.

Would an anti-apartheid style campaign work regarding guns?

I’ve just been cheerfully posting this in various groups’ pages on FaceBook:

Idea: someone maintain a site of what international companies support the NRA so those of us in the rest of the world can boycott them in our countries.
We’re sick of this insane gun mentality too – what starts in America usually spreads elsewhere and the insane gun-worship mentality needs to stop.
So let’s start an international NRA boycott campaign like the anti-apartheid campaign!
We just need to know who to boycott, starting with any of this lot with overseas divisions:

Those companies are, of course, all arms manufacturers or retailers.  Yes, the NRA really is the marketing and political arm of the arms industry.

Talk: Russian-Ukrainian conflict: An ‘unexpected’ crisis

Today I attended a presentation at Liverpool Hope University’s Desmond Tutu Centre for War and Peace Studies entitled ‘Russian-Ukrainian conflict: An ‘unexpected’ crisis‘.  One guest and two staff speakers for about an hour then 20 minutes of Q&As.

The main talk was by guest Dr Vsevolod Samokhvalov (university lecturer, research fellow at the European Union Institute for Security Studies, policy analyst and journalist).  He told us about the two main narratives: the Russians invaded or it was the West’s fault.  Both are reductionist; he said the real situation is messier than messy.  He went on to explain the cultural history, how the Ukraine, Belorussia and Russia are closely related – “One nation divided by history” to use Putin’s words.  Sevastopol is culturally important to Russia as part of the Black Sea Region going back to ancient Greek times.  The region is ethnoculturally nationalistic Russki.  What the Russians really want is recognition by Western Europe.  The revolution in Ukraine was inevitable; the invasion of Crimea was an opportunity albeit “worse than a crime – a political mistake“.  Vsevolod gave us reasons for why this occurred, but this is a summary, not an essay.  Buy his book.

Next was Dr Natalia Vibla (Lecturer in Criminology at Liverpool Hope University).  She spoke of the human rights tragedies: over 10,000 killed (a quarter of them civilians) and 25,000 injured since 2014.  Some 25,000 people have been displaced.  There are hundreds in captivity and torture is being used by both sides.  Potential objectors are being accused of terrorist plots and typically get 20-year sentences.

Finally was Dr Taras Khomych (Lecturer in Theology at Liverpool Hope University).  He gave us the history and structure of the Orthodox church in Ukraine and the reaction of the various sections: unity, with the exception of the Orthodox Russian Church.  It has been a strongly religious country since post-Stalin.  The churches supported the protesters, as did the Jewish and Moslem leadership.  Protesting was seen as a pilgrimage from Russian fear to Christian dignity.  Many Russian Orthodox Church members left, and a number of Russian Orthodox Church parishes changed to other sections of the Eastern church.  Tartar Moslems offered the use of their mosque to Orthodox Christians, which was accepted.

Much of the following Q&A was about Russian fears and intentions.  Also questions about whether this was a new or continuing Cold War.  I think the consensus was Putin saw the opportunity to re-unite Russkis as part of his right wing ethnocultural nationalistic agenda and no further expansion was likely.

This morning there was a report on the radio about the armed forces needing more money to face the Russian threat.  BBC: “Army chief calls for investment to keep up with Russia“.  Telegraph: “Britain cannot keep up with Russian military advances, head of Army to warn as he makes case for more funding“.  In the context of today’s talk, that seems to me either the armed forces or NATO asking for funding for themselves.  Scaremongering to supplement the arms industry and their own ends.

The Guardian seems to agree in their analysis: “Does the UK really need to increase its defence spending?” – no.