Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Woken by the 6:00 news as usual. Just one story: an explosion in a Manchester night club; Police say it is a terrorist bomb; grandparent in hospital with shrapnel wounds; children killed; people running, screaming, panicking, crying; the election suspended by all parties.

Stupid: the media reporting it as terrorism before it is confirmed. Exaggerating the known facts to sell news. They make things worse when they do this.

Stupid: the reporting of screaming, crying and panicking. Mobile phone footage on the main story site taken by some bloke outside the venue running away showing other people running away. Rather outweighs the other footage taken inside of an orderly evacuation. But it’s a funny kind of panic where someone gets their phone out to record themselves running down the street. Not the most useful evidence for the facts. But it does help create the moral panic – well done BBC for playing into the hands of those who want chaos.

(It probably is just random that the stories next to the video of the explosion are “Muslim comedian who sat next to a Trump” – omigod how did Trump survive? – and “The mysterious case of the missing Briton”.)

Stupid: a quote from every major political party – provided between the night-time explosion and available for broadcast by 6a.m. to say they are suspending election activity because of the blast. Well done, you’ve done the terrorist’s work for them, even if it turns out not to be a terrorist attack. You’ve stopped the election activity. So the government has ceased, democracy has ceased, you’ve added to the moral panic and the terrorists just won.

Every party that has done this is not fit to run a multi-racial, multi-religion country with a history of empire and links to the rest of the world and that likes to think it can stand on the world stage giving opinions based on centuries of experience.

Whatever happened to “starve them of the oxygen of publicity”?

Yes, it probably was a terrorist attack. Yes, it is appalling. Yes, it is pathetic they targeted teenage girls. I get all that. But I do not get the response. When did we become so frightened?

So, having written this rant, I shall finish my cup of tea, get dressed and go to work. I shall continue to talk to people and, more importantly, listen to people who have different opinions from mine, then try to discuss them in an open and friendly fashion, exploring differences and celebrating the things we have in common. As a citizen, that is how to combat terrorism. Not falling for the media- and political-party inspired fear and division that serves their ends but makes life more miserable.

Go and make a new friend today. Or at least, reach out to someone and say “Hi!”. Or just give a stranger a smile.

Make tea, not trouble.

Keep calm and carry on.

There is no pax Americana

Bringing down stable governments of countries and failing to put something in its place is the principal cause of the terrorism and conflict going on in the world at the moment.

When the Romans invaded, they took control, dictating foreign policy, providing defence in exchange for a promise to not rebel and pay tribune.  In so doing peace reigned over the Roman Empire at the cost of freedoms at a national level. This was the pax Romana.

The Islamic Golden Age, inspired by the philosophy that “the ink of a scholar is more holy than the blood of a martyr“, in which huge advances were made in medicine, mathematics, culture and science, was also a period of peace, sometimes called the pax Islamica.

A thousand years later the Mongols conquered much of Asia and held it to produce the Pax Mongolica.

The Ottoman Empire in turn provided peace to its citizens in the pax Ottomana.

A similar arrangement to the Roman Empire was achieved by the British Empire to produce the pax Britanicca.

Chinese empires have come and gone and provided their own periods of internal peace, as have many other cultures.

The concept of “empire” has come to be seen as purely a bad thing since the mid 20th century as countries gained their independence, partly through economic consequences of the World War 2, partly through improved communication and education and partly through the disruptive influences of the Cold War.  In place of an imposed external governing body, freedom for those of a territory has been granted, often with disastrous consequences.  The lesson that could and should have been learned from those experiences are that independence should be done slowly, replacing institutions and structures with new ones, a part at a time.  It is frustrating, but far more stable. [Note to self: specific examples needed.]  A clean break leaves a county with no stable government and civil war and decades of turmoil is the usual result.

But the desire to ignore the beneficial benefits of a benign empire has resulted in much chaos, death, suffering and desire for revenge of late years.  The removal of stable governments from countries like Iraq and Libya without replacing it with something else that works has been far worse than what most empires have done in the past.

It would have been cheaper and less destructive (but probably no more productive in the long term) to simply assassinate those leaders that were considered undesirable.  At least there would not be hundreds of thousands of dead and maimed civilians and a world-wide problem with revenge terrorism.

The idea the USA has been the global policeman producing a pax Americana is a fallacy.  They are not spreading peace: just fear and hate, chaos and disorder.

Instead of toppling a regime, take it over and change it from within, fools.  Learn from thousands of years of history.

War causes social breakdown, allows us to be worse than animals, and to get away with it

I decided to go into war prevention because I suspected it was not cost effective and because it creates a generation of people wanting vengeance.  The Iraq War was sold to us as a great way to make money from reconstruction (by destroying what already existed), to support international development (i.e. take their oil industry) and produce peace (by turning a militarised country into a terrorist region).

What I have since learned about is some of the human cost.  I had some idea, of course, but there are murkier aspects that do not get talked about.

One example is male sexual abuse.  I did not think it likely to be a big deal: rare and hardly very damaging.  All a bit “Fnarr, fnarr, you’ll get over it.”  I was very wrong.

The scale of the problem and the nature of the physical damage to the body are described in this Guardian article from 2011 entitled The rape of men: the darkest secret of war.

I wanted to cherry-pick some quotes about the marital breakdown, humiliation, physical consequences of the permanent damage caused, lack of support and lack of recognition, but the article itself if pretty relentless in providing these itself.  Essentially, it is not about sexual gratification, it is about the perpetrator being so dehumanised that they routinely perform the most degrading torture on innocent strangers and war both creates the environment for such cruelty and makes it possible to hide the act both at the time and later.  If interested, I suggest you read it for yourself.  It’s all quite sad.

I thought Sven Hassel’s books about what went on at the Eastern Front were bad; reality is worse.

War causes social breakdown and allows us to be worse than animals and get away with it.  It makes one wonder what the agenda is for those people who promote it.

War and Peace in the Lonely Planet

Just reading the Lonely Planet guide to Scotland’s Highlands & Islands and a couple of lines stood out.  Firstly, about violence:

The Vikings were probably no more blood-thirsty than the Romans, Picts or Celts, but they made the fatal public relations error of attacking the monasteries, which produced all the history books from the medieval period.

Alternatively, it could be they had a reputation for brutality because they attacked the monasteries; and it wasn’t a bit of light shop-lifting from the monastery visitor centre shop.  Top tip to modern day marauders: stop destroying religious sites, it gets you a bad name that lasts quite a long time.

Secondly was about the construction of roads into the Highlands as part of the suppression / taming (choose your own standpoint) of the clans:

New military roads were driven through the glens and garrisons were established…  As a side effect, the new roads increased trade between the Highlands and the lowlands, reducing the traditional suspicion of Highlanders in the lowlands and exposing the Highland clan leaders for the first time to the wealth of the lowlands.

So, from this interpretation communication and trade finally brought peace in Scotland.  I wonder what high speed rail links and motorways into Afghanistan and the Middle East might achieve.  Form—or find—the Afghanistan Tourist Board, tell people what to visit, and communication and trade will increase.  So will understanding.  People are already going, and it’s not as bad as it was.  And here’s what the Lonely Planet web site has to say about it.

Meanwhile, the web site says:

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all or all but essential travel.

with the latest bad news being from three days ago ‘13 May 2015 – an attack on a guesthouse/ hotel in Kabul‘.  What to do?  Leave them to their own devices, or go and buy trinkets and see one another as just people.  It reminds me of growing up in London when there were no tourists—except the brave Japanese, of course—because of the IRA.  England was seen as far too dangerous to visit.

I wonder where the reality lies?  And is the risk to the individual outweighed by the benefit to world peace?

“What’s the European union and why do we keep hearing about it?”

Another answer to a query from an aspiring author.

RJ: “What’s the European union and why do we keep hearing about it?”

Are the British Isles part of Europe, or some independent islands in the North Atlantic? What looks like a geography question is really a socio-economic question: do we want to be part of of Europe?

Firstly, what do we mean by “Europe”. Currently, that appears to be something called the “European Union”.

After a century of fighting Germany in ever expanding wars, in 1951 France formed the European Coal and Steel Community with them plus Belgium, Italy and others to pave the way for international co-operation that would make future central European war both unnecessary and undesirable.  And right there is a great example of an alternative to war being implemented.

This expanded in scope to include atomic energy and governance to produce, in 1957, the Economic European Union or EEC. For many years we debated in Britain: should we join the EEC? It was a difficult question because of the fear of loss of sovereignty.

The original French vision had been to create a single Europe with one government, one defence force, one agricultural policy and so on. This vision was quashed back in the 1950s by the founding countries as they feared the consequences of it and it seems they still don’t want it. It may have meant the loss of cultural heritage, loss of control, failure to recognise differences in values and loss of identity.

These concerns are what put us off: would be be forced to eat garlic sausage and other foreign muck, like snails?

In 1973, we took the plunge and joined. We immediately stopped driving on the left, started speaking French, began eating frog’s legs and stopped buying beer in pints. Well, maybe not. But there were changes, especially around trade, travel and the legal system.

This became the European Union in 1993 when we signed the Maastricht Treaty. Amazingly, this got little press at the time but it is one of the most significant events in British history. We also do not notice the changes it brought about.

Anyway, the European Union is the current name of this ever expanding organisation (although some surprising previous members have left, such as Algeria and Greenland). It expands both geographically and in scope and so is ever changing. And nobody enjoys change.

But after 40 years of membership we still drive on the left, don’t like garlic sausage, still can’t speak anything other than English and measure distances in miles.

So back to the question. “Do we want to be part of of Europe?

We’ve identified “Europe”, but who are “we”? Ireland wants in. Scotland, traditionally allied with France against England, wants in while nearly being out of the UK. Wales can’t make its mind up. And England? Who knows?

All you need to do is predict the future, and the answer to the in/out question will be clear.

No boots on the ground

Amongst the comments under the Jeff Danziger cartoon of 22nd June 2014 was:

Better to put drones in harms way than our young men and women.

The use of drones is exactly the sort of behaviour that promotes terrorism. They create impotent fear in the citizens of the target country which results in the development of more creative ways of hitting back.  When that creativity is coupled with opportunity and resources, new terrorist groups form.

Putting boots on the ground puts faces to the attackers and allows the victims to see it is real people attacking them, not just the whim of some anonymous uncaring president of an elitist, violent, uncaring country. Those real people can be talked to, traded with, bartered with and relationships formed. That prevents terrorism.

The more America attacks people in such remote, cowardly ways as using missiles and drones, the more they will be confident you are frightened of them – which, of course, America is.

You’re not just ‘playing into the hands of terrorists’ by using drones, you are creating the terrorist response. Unless, of course, you intend to kill everyone in the target countries.

Bullet tracing – tracer bullets

There’s an interesting comment by DLee4144 on the Jeff Danziger cartoon of 18th December 2012:

It’s totally true that guns don’t kill people, or at least rarely – about the only way you can kill someone with a gun is to beat them to death with it.

There is no point in outlawing guns.  They are out there, there are millions, they are made of metal and will last for a thousand years if they are kept oiled.  Failing that, I could find materials in my basement that would produce a workable gun, and it doesn’t take much knowledge of the subject to figure out how to do it.

BULLETS on the other hand, are time consuming to make and require specific equipment.  Production of enough to do serious damage would require planning and patience that are not characteristic of those who shoot up elementary schools.  And, working on such a project might attract the attention of someone sane.

Bullets can be individually stamped, and their sale can be registered and entered into a computer base.  They can be tracked from production to use, so that every bullet can be traced back to the person who purchased it.  This way, a guy who wants to buy a couple boxes of bullets to go shoot deer, or the woman who wants a box to keep with the gun in her bedside drawer, won’t set off any warning bells.  But the guy who is buying an arsenal will attract attention before he finds a more lethal way to do it.

Now there’s an interesting idea: unique identification of bullets.  That would be inconvenient for all sorts of gun-related bad behaviour.  Including mercenary activity.

Death? Airstrike! Now! Avenge the innocent! Kill someone! (and ask questions later)

So we have heard of the possibility there may have been a chemical weapons attack against Syrian civilians possibly by the Syrian government.  And the immediate reaction from our government leaders is that military airstrikes should be carried out against the Syrian government straight away.

What happened to ‘innocent until proven guilty’?

And why is an airstrike our leaders’ first reaction?  Why are they so keen to cause death and destruction at the first possible opportunity?  Why are they so unimaginative as to resort to killing people as way to deal with this issue?

The typical poor politician reaction to any given problem is:

Something must be done.  This is something.  It must be done.

But why a military airstrike?  Why not an alternative?

  • Why not negotiate?
  • Why not blockade of ports and airports of everything except food and medical supplies?
  • Why not assassinate the unwanted leader?
  • Why not seize the overseas personal assets of the leadership and their families?
  • Why not nationalise or seize the overseas businesses and subsidiaries of the country in question?
  • Why not destroy their economy (e.g. print their currency in huge quantities)?
  • Why not check the facts before sending in the bombers and cruise missiles?

No, it’s always bombs, isn’t it?

Pathetic.  Unimaginative.  Cruel.  Vicious.  Nasty.

A knee-jerk reaction to cause death in response to hearsay is psychotic behaviour.  Especially when it is claimed that the best way to respond to a government killing its own citizens is: for our government to kill more of their citizens.  That’s ridiculous madness.

If what the Syrian government did is evil, then what my government is proposing is no less evil.

Children of The Bomb

(Originally written 19/10/2012.)

There was a common acceptance when I was at school that

“There’s not much point getting O Levels or A Levels.  We’ll be dead before we start work anyway”.

This was because we were growing up in the Cold War, after the Cuban Missile Crisis / October Crisis / Caribbean Crisis / Kарибский кризис had occurred, when it was clear the USA really would consider use of a first-strike with nuclear weapons, and knowing there were Mutually Assured Destruction policies in place on both sides.  That is, one small error or political crisis would result in the destruction of missile sites in the UK, and the death of most everyone in Europe and certainly us children before we’d had a chance to grow up.

This made it hard to find the motivation to plan for the future, as there was little point.  There were many of us who had poor grades as a consequence of this, including some who gave up althogether.

And we all knew how we were going to spend our last 7 minutes when the sirens went off.  We certainly talked about it often enough.

Growing up in such a climate cannot be healthy.  Off the top of my head, our cultural exposure included:

1979 – the Protect and Survive films like Casualties
1983 – 99 Red Balloons – Lena
1983 – WarGames
1984 – Two Tribes – Frankie Goes to Hollywood (“War!  What is it good for?” *)
1984 – Threads
1985 – The War Game
1986 – When the Wind Blows

All manner of cheerfulness:

Perhaps it is no surprise that my generation, born in the 1960s, have such a strong “think of the children” and “children must be allowed freedom” and “children must be protected from fear” mindset.

My mother, who lived through the second World War, said the Cold War was a huge improvement over the hot sort.


* Record sales, apparently.