Friday, October 19, 2007


I've decided to up sticks (boom boom) and move elsewhere. The new and hopefully improved Big Sticks and Small Carrots can now be found at

All new posts will now appear there and not here. If you link to here, I'd be eternally grateful if you could update the link to the new address. The new feeds are obvious on the site for anyone who likes RSS.



Thursday, October 18, 2007

Beacon of Blind Dogma

The news that Turkey's parliament has authorised attacks into Kurdish Iraq in order to stem the flow of PKK activities directed against them comes as no great surprise.

Before the war, the Turkish government specifically warned that it could destabilise their northern border region and sought assurances from the US that this would not be allowed to happen. In particular, the Turks insisted that the US government should provide a guarantee that it would not allow the formation of an Independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq after the removal of Saddam. They feared that this would stir up their own sizeable Kurdish population and lead to threats to Turkey's territorial integrity.

The requested assurance was given by the Bush administration despite the fact that the war was allegedly about empowering Iraqis to take control of their own destiny. There was no way in which the US government could be sure they could fulfil their promise if they really were serious about introducing democracy in Iraq. The guarantee was just one small contradiction in a much larger swamp .

The Turks were certainly not convinced. Ultimately, despite the massive pressure put on them and the offer of huge bribes financial incentives, they refused to allow the US military to use Turkey as a launch pad for the invasion. But the Turkish warnings, like so many others, were ignored as the Bush administration steamrollered its way to war.

Now, with an increasingly autonomous Kurdish region in the north of Iraq and growing cross border instability, the Turks are preparing to take matters into their own hands. The US adminstration's calls for Turkey not to take unilateral military action is risible given their own penchant for violent unilateralism.

And so, the neo-conservatives fatally flawed plan use violence to turn the Middle East into a beacon of democratic peace and stability continues to unwind bloodily. No doubt there will be some who will again argue that this was an unforeseeable consequence of the invasion. These people will be poorly informed or in complete denial or lying.

Irving Kristol once said that "a neoconservative is a liberal who's been mugged by reality". What a git.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Bloggerheads: Fasthosts and UKreg: why you should look elsewhere

Dear oh dear.

I'm currently thinking of getting a domain name and some hosting sorted out so that's at least one potential customer they've definitely lost.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sad but True

As mentioned a few times recently, I don't believe that British politics can change significantly unless the cosy two party FPTP voting system is abolished. As such, I'd really like to see the Liberal Democrats doing well; a hung parliament with a substantial Lib Dem presence seems to be the only possible route to genuine electoral reform. As a bonus, the Lib Dems often adopt policies which I'm broadly in favour of. I normally vote for them in general elections for those two reasons. I would not, however, describe myself as a Liberal Democrat.

So then, what of the untimely demise of Sir Ming?

First of all, I'm saddened by the way his age became the defining issue of his time as leader. Much of the media seems to believe that any visible signs of advancing years are an abomination to be mocked mercilessly. Media attitudes towards Ming's age undoubtedly became a significant factor for him and for the Liberal Democrats. It did not make for comfortable viewing.

On the other hand, there were other failings and the party was not doing well under his leadership. He might have done a better job if his age hadn't been the issue it was but that's not relevant now. In the real world, more column inches were devoted to Ming's sock garters than to Lib Dem policies.* It simply wasn't working and there was no sign that it could be made to work. If the party was to have any chance of doing well at the next general election, he had to go

Ming ability to face the reality of this situation and act on it rather than dragging things out in the vain hope of turning things round is quite refreshing. He's done the party a favour. I hope they make the most of it.

Whoever the next leader is, it'll be an enormously tough job. Leading the third party is much more difficult than leading one of the big two, especially when they're a bunch of bloody liberals who don't take kindly to being led and insist on being allowed to vote on policies. What kind of democracy is that...

Much more problematic is the fact that the new leader will face a ridiculously uneven playing field. The grossly unfair system used to elect parliament in this country puts the Lib Dems at a huge disadvantage. At the last election, the Liberal Democrats got 22% of votes cast and 9.5% of the seats; Labour got 35% of the votes and 55% of the seats.

What kind of democracy is that?

* This might possibly be a very slight exaggeration....

Monday, October 15, 2007

Ming has resigned with immediate effect. Cripes.

Tory Spin Merchant Caught Out Over PMQs "Edit"

It's one of those Monday's when I feel that light entertainment is the order of the day. In situations such as these, we are fortunate to have the output of the UK's number one political blogger to amuse us.
Iain Dale: Brown's Spin Merchants Caught Out Over PMQs Edit

You may remember that during PMQs on Wednesday that Harriet Harman is caught shaking her head when David Cameron says "can we ever believe a word the Prime Minister says?". Here's the BBC footage. It's a few seconds into the video. And here's the Sky footage which shows the same.

However, if you watch the version on the Number Ten website it has clearly been edited - or rather, Harriet Harman has been edited out. Click HERE and then click on October 10 WMV.

All broadcasters get the same feed. It can ONLY have been edited afterwards by the Number Ten Communications team. What a disgrace. They are public servants paid for by the taxpayer. They are not paid to save Harriet Harman's or the Prime Minister's embarrassment.

And people wonder why I refuse to promote Number Ten petitions. If this doesn't show that Brown's lot are spinning in exactly the way Blai's oppos used to, then I don't know what does.
I hope Iain has a spittle guard for his PC.

Here are two screenshots of an unrelated part of those same "edited" videos.

No 10
Can you spot the difference?

Yes, Downing Street's video is 4:3 format and the BBC's is 16:9. This is not a new innovation introduced specifically for this session. The result is that Harriet Harman can't be seen in the Downing Street version. She's is the 4:3 twilight zone.

This can ONLY be the result of a vast leftwing conspiracy, the Number Ten communications team clearly insisting on the 4:3 format when the service was launched because they knew this day would come. What a disgrace...

The comments are equally amusing. In the first, Michael P quite politely points out the undeniably fact that Iain is mistaken. Others joined in and Iain even felt the need to publish one of his famous non-retraction retractions:
UPDATE: A commenter reckons this is because on the No 10 website the videos are in 4:3 whereas the BBC & Sky use 16:9. That is entirely possible I suppose, but if you look at the Cameron wideshot it seems similar to the No 10 site, whereas when it goes to Brown the close-up is far more marked than you would expect.
How gracious. In fact, Iain has yet again refused to state that he was wrong and instead only points out that "a commenter reckons" he's talking complete nonsense. This then allows his band of barking seals to attack the credibility of the aforementioned commenter, despite the fact that he's made an entirely valid point. Like this from "bebopper":
I see the Labour trolls are back. Welcome back chaps. No doubt, you've been nursed in field hospitals during these trying times, hoping forlornly for a ticket back to Blighty.

Well, you're back on the front, so what have you got, apart from aprehension?
Has General Brown promised it will be all over by Christmas?

The entirely valid criticism now successfully dismissed, the thread can continue as normal. "Nice one bebopper" say the next two comments. The next, implicitly boosting the truth of Iain's claim, says "Poor Gordon, mocks and taunts ringing in his ears, no wonder he's becoming so sensitive! Maybe women we'll [sic] like him better now he's to be pitied?".

The modern classic, "The Left has never been about truth - it is about getting power." also makes an appearance in glorious ironicolour. The thread continues with various other comments in support of Iain's post.

And all of this is in a post bemoaning the disgraceful spinning of others. Now that's entertainment.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


I'm going to make a few minor changes on the blog. Cue navel gazing.

The most significant (not very, then) will be the laying to rest of the "CuriousHamster" moniker. The reasons for the name are far too dull to go into but I've decided that it's not really suitable. It's only the fact that changing my Blogger name will retroedit every comment I've ever made on Blogger which has put me off doing this before now. For example, anyone who happens upon stumbles upon Iain Dale's suggestion that "go and play with [my] friend Richard Gere" will now be rather confused. Nevertheless, it's got to be done. I'll be rewriting the "About Me" bit to reflect this change (including the fact that I did previously blog as CH).

I'm also intending to finally sort out my blogroll. I tend to think that a blogroll should include the bloggers who you read regularly and hold in high regard and mine had become too long for this principle; it simply wasn't possible to find the time to read them all regularly. A while back, I decided to start again from scratch and deleted the old blogroll. A combination of factors, but mostly my ability to procrastinate to a record breaking degree, have meant that I never got round to rebuilding it (apart from a small number of blogs who were absolutely automatic inclusions).

The problem is that there really are a lot of good bloggers out there; it's difficult to draw the line when so many people have something interesting to say. It would so easy to be back to square one in no time at all so I've avoided the issue altogether in the way that an Ostrich doesn't. No longer. My first target is to add the twenty bloggers who most fill the criteria I described above. This is a purely subjective judgement on my part so please don't feel put out if you're not on the list. There are only two bloggers who will not be on my blogroll due to a failure to meet the second condition. No prizes for guessing their identities...

I might also make some minor cosmetic changes to the blog. If anyone has any suggestions on that score, feel free to let me know.

And relax.

We apologise for the temporary break in our normal programme schedule. Gazing outwards will resume now.

And the words they say

Which we won't understand

Yes, it is another post about the turning away of Iraqi employees of HMG who are now in grave danger.

I received a letter from Robert Smith yesterday confirming that he has signed EDM 2057. He has also written again to the Foreign Secretary asking him to address the flaws in the new policy and tabled a question to the Ministry for International Development to ask how many Iraqi staff have been employed for over twelve months.

He also included a copy of his press release on this issue which was sent out to various media organisations on Friday afternoon.
Smith speaks up for Iraqi Employees

Sir Robert Smith MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine has backed concerns about Iraqi employees working for the British government following the Prime Minister's limited offer of support to those whose lives had been put at risk.

Sir Robert said "It is ridiculous that the Prime Minister thinks we only have a responsibility for those who have worked with this country for twelve months. The death squads will not ask how long someone has worked for the British before deciding whether to punish them. The motion I have signed calls on the Prime Minister to meet the UK's moral obligation by offering resettlement to all Iraqis who are threatened with death for the "crime" of helping British troops and diplomats. We must ensure all those who have been brave enough to support us deserve our support in return."
Whether any of these organisation's choose to publicise this is open to question but I think we can safely say that Sir Robert is supportive of the aims of the campaign. Splendid stuff.

Friday, October 12, 2007

From the Pale and Downtrodden

I make no apologies for continuing to post regularly about the plight of Iraqi employees of the British government.

The other day, Nick Cohen addressed the problem in the way that only he could as part of his latest attempt to convince himself that he alone occupies the moral high ground. In the now all to familiar style, he bemoaned the fact that not enough attention was being paid to the people who are actually doing the killing in Iraq. "Many find it impossible to declare who is killing interpreters, Christians and soldiers, and why" he declared*.

What then would Nick Cohen make of David Miliband's blog post today on the subject of Iraqi employees? Miliband goes one step further and completely avoids mentioning the fact that trhis policy is needed because some of these people are being killed and many others live in fear for their lives. No mention. At all.

Comments are open on Miliband's blog if you wish to express your opinion. If you do, please take care to be scrupulously polite. I'm not joking. Hostility will not help over there. Be polite!

Doing my best to see this from "the other side", I can see that this is a tricky situation for the government. They are desperately trying to claim that the south of Iraq is a success story and that security situation has improved to the extent that British troops can withdraw. The fact that Iraqi employees of the British are in grave danger makes a mockery of this assertion and is politically embarrassing for the government. As a consequence, they're trying to publicise a policy to deal with a problem which they don't want to acknowledge even exists. The result is the half-hearted effort announced at the beginning of the week.

And that's where any attempt to see the government's point of view breaks down. Avoiding political embarrassment versus saving people's lives? There's no way I can even begin to understand anyone who chooses the former over the latter.

As it stands, the government's policy will save some lives but leave many others to their fate. Please do consider writing to your MP to lobby for a further change in policy. Dan Hardie has all the information you need.

Finally, on a positive note, I emailed my MP Robert Smith yesterday to ask him to consider signing EDM 2057. This morning, I got a reply from his office saying that he had done so. Well done that man.

* I have more I'd like to say about Cohen's latest effort but not here. Maybe in another post.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

On The Turning Away

A new website has been launched as part of the campaign for "an immediate turnaround in current government policy in relation to current and former Iraqi Translators and Contractors, who, due to their employment assisting our forces, are being avoidably abandoned in mortal danger".
We Owe It To Them
Clicky clicky.

An Early Day Motion on behalf of Iraqi Employees has also been launched by Lynne Featherstone:
EDM 2057


That this House recognises the courage of Iraqis who have worked alongside British troops and diplomats in Southern Iraq, often saving British lives; notes that many such Iraqis have been targeted for murder by Iraqi militias in Basra, and that an unknown number have already been killed, whilst many others are in hiding; further recognises that many Iraqis who have worked for fewer than 12 months for the UK are threatened by death squads; and therefore calls upon the Prime Minister to meet the UK's moral obligations by offering resettlement to all Iraqis who are threatened with death for the `crime' of helping British troops and diplomats.
Please consider writing to your MP asking them to sign this motion.

In Other News... (Updated)

The day after Cameron's "unscripted" conference speech, I concluded a post on public disaffection with party politics with these words:
Gordon Brown is hardly an innocent bystander in this. More on that in another post.
In the days since, 10 Downing Street has been redecorated in the colour of its occupant and there's an electric fan in desperate need of a clean. The post I intended to write no longer seems necessary. Brown's attempts to portray himself as above party politics while politicking like Tony Blair on heat were always going to lead to disaster and so they have. His antics even put me in the invidious position of having to agree with Michael Howard yesterday. I feel dirty...

But Howard's point (on Wednesday's Newsnight) was unarguable. No-one, and I do mean no-one, believed Brown's excuses for not calling an election. Let's not mince words. Brown was lying to the British people. No-one likes to be lied too, not least when the lie is so obvious as to suggests that the liar thinks you're a gullible fool. Labour mouthpieces might try to downplay the significance of this moment but that'll only make it worse. It was a major misjudgement.

In fact, it could have been the moment when Brown lost any chance of wining an election but for the fact that Cameron is not entirely honest either. See his "I've not got a script" claim for further details.

What's needed, clearly, is a thorough and expensive review to analyse the reasons why the public feels such large levels of disaffection and distrust towards our politicians. This review will need to come up ways to encourage people to think of politicians as contestants on Big Brother. It should also put forward a number of gimmicks which will make it easier for people to vote. Ideally, it will recommend that people should be able to vote without engaging their brain in the process in any way whatsoever...

We deserve better than this.


Unity has written an interesting post which addresses another segment on Newsnight last night. This related to a documentary which asked politicians to support a bill which would make their lies a criminal offence. I should say that I hadn't seen this part of the programme when I wrote the above because we only get the first 30 minutes of Newsnight up here before cutting away to Newsnight Scotland.

(As an aside, I like Newsnight Scotland but not the fact that the two broadcasts overlap. I missed, for example, Paxman's famously amusing attempts at the weather until I read about them on the interwebs.)

I have now watched the segment and have to say that the proposal to make political lies criminal offences is very silly indeed. It would lead to all sorts of politically motivated court cases from anyone and everyone and it's hard to see how the judicial system could fail to be politicised if this were ever to become law. It's a non-starter.

My own view is that a fundamental reform of the voting system is what's required. The FPTP system creates a closed market in which choices are few and quality is low. It is small "c" conservative in nature so it is very difficult for the public to hold politicians to account in any real way or to express their desire for real change, especially when the two potential parties of government are equally unscrupulous in their politics. There is very little incentive for either party to significantly improve their standing among the general public. All they need to do to win power is to appear to be a little bit less horrid than their rivals in the eyes of a few hundred thousand people in marginal consistencies.

It is a quite perverted state of affairs. Abolishing the closed shop of the FPTP system is essential if there is to be even a chance of "A New Politics" developing in this country. The problem, of course, is that it is exclusively that same closed shop which has the power to open it up. It's going to take an extraordinary campaign to persuade a majority of MPs to vote for something which will open them up to increased competition. In fact, it'd be like persuading them to act like a herd of Ameglian Major Cows. Maybe Deep Thought could do it* but even it would be pushed.

In the meantime, in the absence of the second greatest computer of all time (fictional) designed by a race of pan-dimensional, hyper-intelligent beings disguised a mice (also fictional) and in the further absence of enough MPs who genuinely put democracy and country above career and party (all too real), nothing will really change. The long slow erosion of trust in politicians and the decline in participation and engagement in the democratic process will continue.

This will (and already does) have real world consequences. "Respect Agendas" launched by those who have themselves squandered any respect them might once have commanded are doomed to failure. Laws passed by people whose moral authority is considered highly suspect will become more and more difficult to enforce. And the government's initial inability to halt the Northern Rock crisis was a sign of things to come. Falling turnouts and growing distrust and disillusionment with our politicians is of more than academic interest.

Almost every political speech these days contains at least five gadzillion uses of the word "change". Let's have it then.

* The Omnicognate Neutron Wrangler could argue all four legs off an Arcturan Megadonkey, but only Deep Thought could persuade it to go for a walk afterwards. I'm a bit of a fan of Douglas Adams. I thought I'd mention it because it might not be obvious...

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

My Enemy's Enemy

Is the US government enabling and protecting a terrorist organisation? If the boot were on the other foot and the Turkish government opposed US attempts to deal with a terrorist group which had killed US citizens, how do you think the Bush administration would view that?

The US certainly doesn't show any real enthusiasm for tackling the PKK and affiliated groups. In fact, the Turkish government claims that they have captured US weapons from members of the PKK. These weapons are thought to have been given to the PKK by the infamous mercenaries at Blackwater who operate in Iraq under contracts issued by the Pentagon. I can only assume that General Patreaus be soon be showing slides to the world's media which demonstrate the fact that these terrorists are using US arms. He will undoubtedly then argue that this is proof of US government support for a group which they themselves classify as a terrorist organisation. Or maybe not...

Of course, the PKK and the PEJAK are known to cause problems for the Iranian regime as well as the Turks and the Iranians have been responding heavy handedly in recent weeks. But only a hardened cynic would suggest that the PKK's antagonism of the Iranian government has anything to do with the Bush administration's apparent unwillingness to shut them down. I mean, the US government has absolutely no track record of turning a blind eye to, implicitly supporting or secretly funding and training violent, human rights abusing, non-democratic organisations. Right?

The Nasty Government

Here's the written statement on Iraqi employees.

There are so many conditions and get out clauses as to make Brown's statement yesterday close to worthless. Tim Worstall highlights the disingenuous nature of this supposed change in policy.

And this:
In addition, interpreters/translators and other Iraqi staff serving in similarly skilled or professional roles necessitating the regular use of written or spoken English, who formerly worked for HMG in Iraq, will be able to apply for assistance for themselves and their dependants provided that they satisfactorily completed a minimum of 12 months’ service, and they were in our employ on or after 1 January 2005.
So if your life is in danger because of your association with HMG but you are unskilled or semi-skilled and don't speak English, the Brown government doesn't care if you die.

Or perhaps they think this is what's happening in Iraq:
Madhi Army militiaman: You are known to have worked with the occupiers. I've got my power drill ready. I just need to check a few details before I drill a hole in your skull.
Former employee of HGM: Please don't kill me. Please don't kill me...
Militiaman: Shut up, traitor. We know that you worked for the occupiers for more than twelve months. Do you deny this?
Former employee: No, but...
Militiaman: And we have heard you speaking English to the occupiers.
Former employee: Yes, but...
Militiaman: And we believe you worked for them in a skilled or professional role.
Former employee: No, that's not true. I worked in the laundry.
Militiaman: Oh, that changes everything. Sorry to have troubled you. Mind how you go ma'am...
What is required is not difficult to understand. The government should offer asylum or a resettlement package to all Iraqis whose lives are at particular risk because they worked for HMG. The families of those at risk should likewise be protected. This needs to happen now. People are dying now.

Brown's pathetic attempt to present the façade that he's doing something while the government pulls out all the stops to do as little as possible makes me feel physically sick. Any faint hope I might have had that Brown would be an improvement over Blair is rapidly fading.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Dan Hardie: Iraqi Employees: Maintain the Pressure

Go read. This weekend's Times article looks increasingly like part of a spoiling tactic to take the wind out of the sails of the campaign meeting on Tuesday.

Gordon will be making an announcement on Iraq at about 3.30pm.


Brown's announcement:
And I am pleased therefore to announce today a new policy which more fully recognises the contribution made by our local Iraqi staff who work for our armed forces and civilian missions in uniquely difficult circumstances.

Existing staff who have been employed by us for more than twelve months and have completed their work will be able to apply for a package of financial payments to aid resettlement in Iraq or elsewhere in the region, or - in agreed circumstances - for admission to the UK. And professional staff --- including interpreters and translators --- with a similar length of service who have left our employ since the beginning of 2005 will also be able to apply for assistance.

We will make a further written statement on the detail of this scheme this week.
Dan's reaction:
The Government are saving some Iraqis threatened with death if they’ve worked for us for 12 months, and abandoning others, equally threatened with death but who’ve worked for less than 12 months. They’re playing a numbers game with people’s lives.

Also, Brown's use of the words "professional staff" suggests that many people who do meet the completely arbitrary 12 month condition will still be left to their fate.

This simply is not good enough.

By the way, Des Browne, in an C4 News interview discussing this and other matters relating to Iraq, just said:
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
He was talking about Brown's bad week in politics, not about the abandonment of Iraqis in genuine danger of losing their lives. Humanity is an alien concept to this man. The fucking insensitive bastard.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Good News! Possibly...

On the face of it, this looks like good news:
Iraqi interpreters and other key support staff who have risked their lives to work for Britain are to be allowed to settle in the United Kingdom, The Times has learnt.
Get. On. With. It.

The "possibly" in the title refers to this:
Government sources have disclosed that a few hundred vital support staff would also be helped, although they declined to give details.
You know what they say about the devil's location. Details which "government sources" are unwilling to discuss are known to be among the pointy tailed one's favourite haunts. Best wait and see what the government actually says (and does) before breaking out the bubbly.

On that note, why am I even reading about this in The Times? Is to too much to expect to hear this first hand from, you know, a minister or something? Can't the government do this one small decent thing without it becoming just another part of their attempts to groom journalists and curry favour with their employers? Apparently not.

Anyway, Dan Hardie has been doing a fantastic job coordinating the interweb campaign and there's been lot's of good stuff going on. When it finally comes, it seems unlikely that the government's statement will suffer from too little scrutiny.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Democracy in Action

The spin and hype surrounding David Cameron's "unscripted" speech still makes me laugh. Does it comfort you to know that he spent all that time memorising his lines so that he'd come across as talking from the heart? Would he continue to do that if he won the election?
Civil servant: Prime Minister, we have an urgent matter of national security which needs your immediate attention.
Dave the boy wonder: No can do. I'm in the middle of memorising my off the cuff remarks for next week's press conference. Come back in a few hours...
That'll work.

It was impressive that he managed to remember so much, I grant you, but then, Christopher Biggins can also memorise lines (for panto, you know) and I wouldn't want him running the country.

Anyway, his "unscripted" speech was a veritable smorgasbord of crowd pleasing measures adrift in a sea of wishful thinking. Here's one example. He said that "we need to scrap that early release scheme in prisons". I'm afraid I don't have the time to look up the figures but given that most prisoners serve approximately half of their sentence, we're talking here about nearly doubling the number of prison places and the amount of "tax payers money" (copyright of the Conservative Party) spent on the prison budget. Can anyone tell me if this Daily Mail wet dream has been fully costed?

(By the way, I love the way that some on the right criticise the BBC for allegedly adopting a "government should spend more money" approach to every problem. Because the right wing press and the Conservatives never do this... )

There was lots of that sort of thing: national citizen service, increased spending on the armed forces, ending the couple's penalty in the benefit system, a pension "lifeboat" fund and talk of tax cuts too. Just how quickly will the economy have to grow to fund all this stuff? Fantastically quickly, it would seem.

The speech was filled with just the sort of vacuous promise filled guff which brought Blair to power way back in 1997. Blair's broken promises damaged trust in the democratic process in the UK enormously and led to the historically low turnouts of 2001 and 2005. Cameron's decision to adopt a similar approach may well lead to even lower turnouts somewhere down the line. At the risk of sounding over dramatic, I genuinely believe that British democracy could be in a real spot of bother before too long. That will be of no concern to Cameron of course, as long as he wins the next election.

(I should add that Gordon Brown is hardly an innocent bystander in this. More on that in another post.)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Sometimes, it's the details the MSM don't tell you which tell you the most.

So why did these journalists fail to mention the splendid jollies thrown their way by Mr Usmanov? Most of their readers have only ever travelled on scheduled or, shudder, charter flights so maybe they didn't think their readers would be able to understand the concept of luxury private jets. Likewise with the hotel. What would be the point of explaining five star hotels to people whose idea of luxury is discovering that they can keep the half roll of toilet paper left behind by the previous occupants of the self-catering apartment in Benidorm? That'll be it, no doubt...

Anyway, I'm sure the journalists and their editors were extremely grateful to Mr Usmanov for footing the undoubtedly very large bill for this trip. Anything else would be just rude!

While we're on the subject of football (sort of but any excuse), Aberdeen have qualified for the group stages of the UEFA Cup. No really, they have.

*dances around*

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Apologies for the temporary lack of posting. I seem to have some sort of infection and it feels like my brain has been replaced with twice as much cotton wool as will comfortably fit inside my skull.

I still managed to raise a smile when I heard that Dave the boy wonder, who is about to start his speech as I write this, will be speaking "from the heart" today. Apparently, rehearsing and memorising a heavily scripted speech will give his words a thin veneer of added credibility and sincerity.

Isn't it great to see our politicians putting aside their obsession with spin and presentation and tackling the big issues head on?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Who's Side Are You On?

The actions of this terrorist have turned the spotlight on liberals, libertarians and all those others opposed to the ever expanding power of the state. It is time for them to make a choice.

Will they renounce their dangerous opposition to ID Cards and the National Database? Will they publicly support the rapid expansion of the government's entirely secure DNA database? Will they wholeheartedly and sincerely endorse the government's national children's database? (And will they also support the perfectly sensible exclusion for the children of the people who made it compulsory for everyone else's children to be included?)

Will they renounce the ridiculous idea that there could be any legitimate reason to oppose the government's expansion of its ability to monitor its subjects in ever greater detail? And will they acknowledge that there are absolutely no legitimate grievances against the actions of the government.

At this crucial moment, it is to be hoped that these liberals will finally accept what all civilised people have always known; the government always knows best.

But I fear that many will not. A large number will continue to actively justify and support the actions of despicable terrorists. They will embrace violence rather than rejecting it. Many, brainwashed by the extremist philosophies of John Stuart Mill, will refuse to accept that their so called grievances are based on a dangerous, discredited and out-dated belief system. They will refuse to acknowledge the utter lack of credibility of their "arguments", despite the fact that their facile nature has been proved beyond doubt by these vicious letter bomb attacks. It is impossible to see how refusal to accept this can be anything other than a wilful denial of reality fuelled by an unthinking hatred of the government.

These apologists should know this; you're either with us or against us in the fight against terror! Anyone who refuses to actively combat this dangerous ideology will be held accountable for their inactivity.

Well liberals, what's it to be?

And remember, the government will know which side you choose to take. They always know...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The "P" Word

I sometimes wonder whether it's a good idea to use the word "propaganda" as often as I do. The worry is that it can sound too strident and that that can have the effect of damaging the credibility of my arguments. The "establishment" (for want of a better word) has long been keen to frame critics as barking extremists as a handy way of avoiding having to directly argue their case. The way that opposition to the replacement of the UK's nuclear weapons delivery system was portrayed is a perfect example of this. Accusing dissenters of "playing fast and loose with the defence of the nation" is apparently enough to discredit any and all of their arguments.

So I worry that the use of the word "propaganda" by myself and by others with similar views helps those who want the barking mentalist tag to stick. But then I watch Fox News, that marvel of the free market media, and these worries tend to disappear. Here's an example of their attitude towards Iran (via). One of the two interviewers is apparently a Democrat strategist. See if you can spot which one it is.

Not easy, is it? The answer, if you're interested, is Kirsten Powers.

To move on to the content of the piece, I could pick it apart bit by bit but there was one stand out moment which I'll focus on. This gem on the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons programme came from Michael Ledeen:
And remember, they've sworn to use it against Israel as soon as they get it.
He really did say that. Watch it if you don't believe me.

Given that the Iranians consistently deny that they are even developing nuclear weapons, it seems a bit odd that they would have sworn to use weapons they don't have and claim not to have any interest in acquiring. Whatever you might think of the meaning of Ahmadinejad's infamous statement*, the suggestion that the Iranian regime has sworn to use nuclear weapons against Israel at the first opportunity is simply ridiculous.

And how did fearless truth seeking Mr Hannity respond to Ledeen's nonsensical claim?
Paxman, he is not.

Now, I'm all for free speech. Free speech is great. But there's a word for the dissemination of misleading or simply untrue information in order to further a political agenda. What is it again? Starts with a P...

* Here is the context of the infamous speech via MEMRI, an organisation not known for its sympathetic coverage of Muslims:
"'When the dear Imam [Khomeini] said that [the Shah's] regime must go, and that we demand a world without dependent governments, many people who claimed to have political and other knowledge [asked], 'Is it possible [that the Shah’s regime can be toppled]?'

"'That day, when Imam [Khomeini] began his movement, all the powers supported [the Shah's] corrupt regime… and said it was not possible. However, our nation stood firm, and by now we have, for 27 years, been living without a government dependent on America. Imam [Khomeni] said: 'The rule of the East [U.S.S.R.] and of the West [U.S.] should be ended.' But the weak people who saw only the tiny world near them did not believe it.

"'Nobody believed that we would one day witness the collapse of the Eastern Imperialism [i.e. the U.S.S.R], and said it was an iron regime. But in our short lifetime we have witnessed how this regime collapsed in such a way that we must look for it in libraries, and we can find no literature about it.

"'Imam [Khomeini] said that Saddam [Hussein] must go, and that he would be humiliated in a way that was unprecedented. And what do you see today? A man who, 10 years ago, spoke as proudly as if he would live for eternity is today chained by the feet, and is now being tried in his own country...

"'Imam [Khomeini] said: 'This regime that is occupying Qods [Jerusalem] must be eliminated from the pages of history.' This sentence is very wise. The issue of Palestine is not an issue on which we can compromise.
Ahmadinejad is undoubtedly vehemently opposed to the existence of the state of Israel in its current form. The often overlooked point is that he was talking about bringing about the end of the "regime", not about physically wiping a country of the map.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tim is back blogging about the Alisher Usmanov incident at a new temporary home (via). Spread the word.

Ahmadinejad Is Not My Type

President Ahmadinejad's appearance at Columbia University probably didn't go quite as well as he'd hoped. His claim that "we don't have homosexuals" in Iran was greeted first with howls of incredulous laughter and then with boos. You can listen here (via).

Farsi is apparently a notoriously difficult language to translate clearly into English but in this case, it seems likely that the translation did reflect Ahmadinejad's meaning. As I understand it, Iranian theocrats believe that it is wrong to treat homosexuality as a specific sexual orientation, They believe that to be an unholy Western concept and not one they wish to adopt. They do acknowledge that individual homosexual acts happen but consider these acts to be expressions of a curable affliction. Essentially Ahmadinejad believes that there are no homosexuals in Iran, only people who have committed homosexual acts and must be cured or punished as a consequence.

Treating homosexuality as a curable affliction is certainly not an exclusively Middle Eastern phenomenon. A quick google highlights a drug which claims to be "the most widely prescribed anti-effeminate medication in the United States, helping 16 million Americans who suffer from Behavioural Effeminate and Male Homosexuality Disorder". 16 million? That's a whole lot of repressed homosexuality.

The Iranian government's attitude, however, cannot glibly be compared to the situation in the United States. Read the story of Maryam, an Iranian lesbian, if you're even slightly tempted to make the comparison. After six months of "treatment" failed to "cure" her, she was told by a psychologist that "if you don’t change your sexuality and you continue unlawful acts, your future will be a death sentence." Note that "change your sexuality" refers to pressure Maryam was under to agree to a sex change operation, a transformation she had absolutely no desire to go through.

For those who want to avoid another bloody war, there is a temptation to downplay the intolerant attitudes of the Iranian regime. With parts of the US government clearly looking to manufacture public support for military action against Iran (using the Iraq debacle as their model), any criticisms of the Iranian regime can seem to lend support to the bomber brigade's desire for war.

It would be a mistake to minimise criticism of the Iranian regime for this reason.

For a start, it would allow the war advocates to claim that those who oppose military action fully endorse the Iranian regime. Everyone who has ever been called a supporter of Saddam, and that will probably include just about everyone who opposed the invasion of Iraq, will know what I mean. It's a straw man but one which refuses to go away.

Let me put it plainly. I do not support the Iranian theocratic government. It has undoubtedly been the subject of a disinformation campaign in recent times (the discredited yellow badges for Jews story exemplifies this) and these lies and distortions should be challenged but that does not make the Iranian regime a wonder of sweetness and light. It isn't.

The major fault in the argument for military action is that it would not actually help to improve the situation. If ever there was a case study which proved the point, Iraq is it. Homosexuals in the new "free" Iraq are now being hunted down by Shiite militias. In a bloody irony, these militias and the associated political parties - who dominate much of Iraq as a result of the "liberation"- share many beliefs with the Iranian regime. The actual result of military action in Iraq has been so far from the stated aims that a whole conspiracy theory has built up which maintains that disorder was always the goal. This is nonsense, the Bush administration did not mean to project American powerlessness, boost Iranian influence or get the US military bogged down in Iraq for years on end, but you can see why its difficult for people to accept that they could misjudge the situation so horrendously.

The result of military action against Iran would be complex and difficult to predict fully but some things are certain. Iranians, like Americans, are mostly proud nationalists and any attack on their country by the US or Israel would provoke increased loyalty towards their government and hostility towards the attackers. It would entrench the power of the mullahs and radicalise a new generation of Iranians. The long term effects could be dire indeed.

It is also certain that those who advocate military action don't have the slightest understanding of the likely consequences of such an act.

You don't have to love Ahmadinejad to be opposed to military action against Iran and criticism of the Iranian regime is not a de facto expression of support for military action. There are other ways to achieve goals than through war.

Finally, for anyone who might consider referencing a certain other conflict from the 20th Century in support of military action against Iran, here's a link to possibly one of my favourite blog posts of all time.


Sam has pointed out that the drug linked above was a hoax. My googling was too quick on this occasion and I forgot to engage my brain in the process. Apologies.

The basic point I was making, that there are organisations in the US who believe that homosexuality can be cured, remains valid, despite my blushes. I'll take this opportunity to add that some of my religious relatives here in Scotland would agree. Both sides of my family have deep roots in the Open Brethren who tend to be rather strict in their interpretation of the bible. There was no doubt what "strange flesh" meant in our church.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Justin has updated his now famous post to include an interim statement from Tim Ireland and Clive Summerfield:
We’d like to thank you all for your support and let you all know just what the hell has been going on, but we beg your patience as we continue with the practical measures required before we can fully and confidently speak our minds about this matter.

Our immediate priority is the restoration of the websites involved; this has been greatly complicated by the sudden closure of the entire account (as opposed to, say, the suspension or closure of the two websites directly involved in the Usmanov dispute). This total - and totally unexpected - withdrawal of service requires us to restore many websites with differing individual circumstances and formats. The removal of email used for the majority of these accounts has also further complicated matters, as the most immediate form of communication between many of the parties involved is no longer available.

Bob Piper is already back on deck, and we expect Boris Johnson’s weblog to be up and running shortly. Special arrangements are being made for Craig Murray as we speak.

A full statement is likely to follow the restoration of Bloggerheads and/or The UK Today, as it is at one of these websites that we would wish to host a full statement and manage the expected response.
The list of bloggers writing about the lovely Mr Usmanov has grown to well over 200 and Interweb searches for Alisher Usmanov are now far more interesting. This blog, along with everyone else's on the list I suspect, has been visited by a Schillings representative via Justin's post.

Wouldn't you have loved to have been a fly on the wall at the Schillings boardroom meeting this morning?
  1. Assessing negative impact outcomes and their effects on the business
  2. Conference call with representatives of very rich Uzbek client
  3. Team building exercise: group wailing and gnashing of teeth
  4. Coffee and biscuits (for those not feeling too sick to eat)

Heh! Top stuff.

"How do you feel sir?" "Better..." "Better?" Better get a bucket..."

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Bloggerheads is down and here's the explanation. Also affected are Craig Murray and the blogs of Bob Piper, Boris Johnson and The UK Today.

To mark this moment, here's a little competition. Complete the following sentence in ten words or less.*
Alisher Usmanov is...
* Please note that the correct answer is "a very nice man". Any other answers will be immediately deleted.


Justin's post has been added to substantially. Over 100 bloggers have already responded to Usmanov's actions and the list is growing. There's lots of good stuff there. Mr Eugenides repeatedly hits the nail on the head and RickB is well worth reading. I also particularly liked The Spine's blog protecting T-shirt.

Our Values

There are many people who believe that the stated priority given to promoting freedom and democracy in the Middle East is just so much hot air designed to obfuscate the real motivations behind British foreign policy.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the British government's involvement and support for the BAE deal to sell 72 Typhoon fighter jets to the Saudi government. This billion pound arrangement to sell highly sophisticated military aircraft to a regime which is corrupt, non-democratic, staunchly authoritarian, a serial abuser of human rights and a regular practitioner of torture cannot be explained by reference to the rhetoric of the "war" on terror. It can only be explained through the prism of narrow national interest considerations coupled with an admission that the promotion of democracy is not the dominant foreign policy influence claimed by the rhetoric.

There are those who will quite happily agree with this assessment and argue that it is nevertheless right to support this deal precisely because governments should pursue their narrow national interest above all other considerations. I don't have any complaint about that; disagreement yes, but no complaint. There is an entirely separate argument to be had as to the best way to promote the national interest. I'd argue that this deal is likely to be damaging to the national interest, particularly in the longer term,. I'd further argue that decisions taken in pursuit of the national interest are often based on a narrow short term views and are often harmful in the longer term (politicians generally don't do long term very well).

I do have a complaint when the government insists that it is absolutely committed to promoting democracy and opposing oppressive regimes and refuses to accept that selling powerful military equipment to a regime like the House of Saud flatly contradicts that assertion. The result is that the entire premise of the foreign policy debate as framed by the government is built on a myth. This is not only starkly hypocritical but it also effectively negates the ability of the people to meaningful debate foreign policy with the government.

It is, ironically, entirely undemocratic.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Check this out. Here's yet another leftie harping on about the Iraq war being all about oil. These people are like two year old children when it comes to understanding economics and the free market. Oh wait...

The King of Spin

Sometimes Iain Dale almost writes these posts himself.

Yesterday, he attacked an article by Sunny Hundal on Comment is Free. In the article, Sunny argues that then BBC is increasingly bending to the will of the vocal rightwing internet lobby which seeks to undermine its credibility.

Rather than tackling the wider point, I want to focus on one part of Iain's post. It is this:
But now we come to the most idiotic part of Sunny's article, for in this next paragraph he actually admits that there IS a liberal bias within the BBC, which surely undermines everything which precedes it.
Now, to my main point. For many of us on the liberal left, the BBC is a useful if somewhat increasingly dumbed-down antidote to the hard-right propaganda of most of the press. It keeps us vaguely sane, so we support it.
Quite a revealing admission, wouldn't you say?
This is quite revealing but not in the way Iain imagines.

If you read the entirety of Sunny's article, it is obvious what he actually means. As I explained in the comments to Iain's post, what was meant was that the BBC has been an impartial and credible antidote to the rightwing output of much of the media (septicisle also makes the same point but better). Sunny fears that this impartiality and credibility will be lost if something is not done to counter the pressure applied on the BBC by the rightwing press and the internet lobby. Iain has, either deliberately or unintentionally, misrepresented what Sunny wrote. He certainly didn't contradict the entire thrust of his article by admitting that the BBC has the sort of bias Iain claims it has.

No-one else took up the challenge but Iain himself decided to defend his position.
I have not deliberately misrepresented him at all. I can only go on what he wrote and interpret it. You and I may have different ways of interpreting what he wrote, but that does not mean I am deliberately misrepresenting him. I know Sunny and like Sunny, but I was suprised at the weak arguments he put forward in this rather ranting article.
I say defend...

Iain's "defence" is that there are different interpretations of what Sunny wrote and his is as valid as mine. Apparently, Iain does not accept that there is actually a true and accurate understanding of Sunny's meaning, merely interpretations of what he wrote. That explains why he has no interest in trying to get to the truth of the matter.

In an age when those on the right continually attack the supposed relativism of the left, I find this quite amusing. There is no spoon.


I see that the links to individual comments on Iain's blog are not working again. You'll have to scroll if you want to see them.

Update 2

Thanks to Tim for pointing out that it is possible to link to individual comments on Iain'a blog. Links adapted accordingly.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

There is no Spoon

The immediate reaction of Muslims around the world to the attacks of September 11th 2001 has been through the revisionist grinder in fairly major way. There's a growing perception that there were mass celebrations on the streets of the Muslim world in response to these attacks.

I thought take the time to highlight the fact that this is complete nonsense with the help of this handy link from the American Academy of Religion. I'd recommend that you take a moment to read the linked page.

Some of the 1 million Palestinian students who participated in a five minute silence in remembrance of the victims of the terrorist attacks.

Some facts
  • Every Palestinian organisation condemned the attacks.
  • The US Consul General in Jerusalem received a huge stack of faxes from Palestinians and Palestinian organizations expressing condolences, grief and solidarity and was pained to see that the media chose to focus on the sensational images of a few Palestinians rejoicing.
  • Students and professors in East Jerusalem donated blood for the American victims who need it.
  • In Iran, Tehran's main soccer stadium observed an unprecedented minute's silence in sympathy with the victims.
These facts do not fit the narrative of the "clash of civilisations" and are slowly disappearing down the memory hole. The US and UK governments have a particular vested interest in having their populations forget how much goodwill their "war" on terror policies have squandered.

Personally, I'd prefer it if our governments had to formulate, debate and assess the effectiveness of their policies based on the facts rather than on fictional Hollywood style narratives.

Monday, September 17, 2007

They Hate Our Freedoms

See here for details.

There's an obvious parallel here. In the United States, there is a large section of the political right which has managed to detach itself completely from reality. Michael Ledeen is a case in point. This group employs a number of techniques to spread their fatuous propaganda and have had considerable success. Deliberate attempts to muddy the waters of accepted facts are not uncommon.

Most notably, they ferociously attack the "liberal media" whenever it dares to challenge their "facts" or any part of their fantastic belief systems. Blogging has become one of the key tools used to mobilise their credulous base to apply pressure when necessary. This is blogging not as an enabler of two-way communication but as a platform for propaganda. Any attempts to challenge or even discuss the "holy orthodoxies" in the comment sections of these blogs will either be ignored or met with a horde of mockery and abuse. In this way, they are generally able to avoid having to acknowledge or correct factual errors and evade participating in any serious discussion about their beliefs.

By using these techniques, this group have moved the goalposts to such an extent that much of the media in the US now feels in must provide "balance" by reporting their bizarre beliefs as if they were credible.

In the UK, Dale, Staines and Biased BBC are attempting to adopt a similar model and the BBC is their primary target. Unity explains why here:
The reason that the political right have such an issue with the BBC is not that the BBC is markedly biased against them so much as, in defining the middle ground in news journalism - not what is neutral but what is reasonable - it provides a clear benchmark against which the biases of other news outlets can be readily assessed and evaluated by the general public.
The existence of the BBC as a respected news source means that people like Michael Ledeen have no credibility in this country when they claim that Iraqn was responsible for the September 11th terrorist attacks.

For most people, that can only be a good thing.


Bush Announces American Withdrawal From Reality. Heh!

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Wibble-Based Community

Michael Ledeen, resident scholar at Bush administration's favourite think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, has just released a book. It's called "The Iranian Time Bomb".

I've not read it and have no intention of lining the man's pockets by buying a copy but I have read this review in the NYT (via a post well worth reading in full by Barnet Rubin). Here's the paragraph which particularly caught my eye:
“The Iranian Time Bomb” has its strengths. On the topic of Iran’s repression of women and ethnic minorities, for instance, it is genuinely moving. But Ledeen’s effort to lay virtually every attack by Muslims against Americans at Tehran’s feet takes him into rather bizarre territory. He says the 1998 bombings of the United States Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania “were in large part Iranian operations,” which would come as news to the 9/11 Commission, which attributed them solely to Al Qaeda. He says Shiite Iran was largely behind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a man famous for his genocidal hatred of Shiites. He claims that “most” Iraqi insurgents are “under Iranian guidance and/or control,” not just Shiite warlords like Moktada al-Sadr, but Sunni militants as well — the very people who say they are fighting to prevent Iranian domination. In Ledeen’s view, in fact, Sunni-Shiite conflict — the very thing that most observers think is tearing Iraq apart — is largely a mirage, because Iran controls both sides. And Al Qaeda is a mirage too, a mere front for the regime in Tehran. “When you hear ‘Al Qaeda,’ ” Ledeen writes, “it’s probably wise to think ‘Iran.’ ” Not surprisingly, he thinks the mullahs were probably behind 9/11.
Just in case there's any doubt, Ledeen is not a member of the reality-based community.

But he's also not just some guy. He is, as I said, a resident scholar at the Bush administration's favourite think tank. The "think" in think tank is apparently a euphemism for "We are tremendously sexually stimulated by the enormous gun on the front of a lovely big" in this case.

(Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ledeen is also a member of Benador Associates, the agency which brought us Amir Taheri of yellow badges for Jews in Iran fame.)

Ledeen's desperate attempts to tie Iran to the attacks of September 11th might be more than just propaganda. Similarly, the Bush administration's plan to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organisation may have a deeper significance.

In the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks, Congress passed a joint resolution on the Authorisation for Use of Military Force. It is obvious to anyone with the slightest attachment to reality that this resolution absolutely does not authorise the President to use military force against Iran without Congressional approval. For the Bush administration on the other hand, well, you wouldn't be surprised, would you?
Get out or die.

Still, I'm sure the militias mean get out or die after the Prime Minister's trilateral ministerial review to consider the options has presented recommendations to Ministers in late September. At this stage, surely the militias realise that it would not be appropriate to pre-empt the recommendations...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Am I dreaming?

I've been pinching myself repeatedly since last night but I've still not woken up.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

In other news, Lep Zeppelin are reforming for a one-off concert.

Turn it up! You know you want to.

If they can still perform like that, it might even be worth the £125 for a ticket.

The Credulous Conservative

Yesterday, Tim Mongomerie of ConservativeHome fame gave his opinion on "the surge" in a post on Comment is Free. It is an astonishing piece in many ways.

Here is just one point which was picked up by myself and several other CiFers. Mongomerie, referring to General Patraeus's testimony, wrote this:
He presented independently verified data that showed a significant reduction in fatalities - particularly in Baghdad.
Independently verified data? Really? I must have missed that.

What link does Tim use to substantiate this claim? A link to an NGO perhaps? No, it's a link to the slides produced by the Pentagon to accompany the general's statement. Not hugely independent then.

Perhaps this independent verification refers to something Patraeus said in his testimony which I missed. I checked. What Patraeus actually said (pdf) was this:
Two US intelligence agencies recently reviewed our methodology, and they concluded that the data we produce is the most accurate and authoritative in Iraq.
It is well known that there are significant rivalries between the various sections of the US national security apparatus but they do all ultimately work for the same government. To suggest that three arms of that apparatus backing each others claims has anything to do with independent verification would clearly be absurd.

Furthermore, these intelligence agencies stand accused of fixing the intelligence and facts around a predetermined policy to enable this war in the first place. This was made clear to the British government way back in July 2002. Forgive me if I don't automatically assume that the statements of these agencies are god given gospel. (This may be a cliché but it is a cliché because it is true.)

After years of fatuous US government pronouncements on the situation in Iraq, pronouncement which have proved to be facile time and time again, only the most credulous individual would continue to take these claims at face value. When it comes to Iraq, healthy scepticism of the US government's proclamations is not an optional extra but an essential component of any attempt to get to the truth of the matter.

But not, apparently, for Mr Montgomerie. He's clearly not an idiot and I'm pretty sure he's not writing satire so what is he doing? The only answer I can come up with is that he's propagating and propagandising statements which he himself knows not to be true. For the greater good, you understand...
Follow the link for a one minute video which says it all.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Trust me, I'm a General

So General Patraeus has made his long awaited report to Congress.

As John Bolton rightly said on BBC radio today (there's a phrase I never thought I'd type), the general appeared before Congress in a smart military uniform with four stars on his shoulders and lots of bright shiny medals on his chest. Apparently, this gives his words a credibility and authority with the American public which critics of the Iraq war can never hope to challenge.

Judging by these poll numbers (pdf), Bolton may have a point. Asked "who would you say you trust the most with successfully resolving the war in Iraq -- the Bush Administration, Congress, or U.S. military commanders in Iraq?", 68% opted for the men in uniform compared to 21% for Congress and only 5% for the Bush administration. Well, who hasn't got a thing for uniforms?

The Bush administration have sought to exploit this sentiment for all its worth by continually claiming that they base their Iraq strategies on the recommendations of the men in uniform. Their critics, on the other hand, clearly hate the brave defenders of freedom and their lovely outfits and are desperate for them all to be shot in the head or at least fail miserably...

This isn't the truth of course, Rumsfeld in particular refused to listen to anyone who disagreed with him, nice uniform or not, and seemed to make up strategies as he went along based on pies in the sky delivered by half-baked neo-conservative think tanks, but you can certainly see why they keep on hammering away with the line. The troops are providing cover for more than just their fellow soldiers (not an exclusively American phenomenon by any means).

The irony is that Patraeus does understand how difficult the situation is, unlike
"sweets and flowers" Wolfowitz, "last throes" Cheney or any of the previous body count military men who failed so miserably. Patraeus genuinely does seem to understand that traditional military methods will not work, that winning the support of the local population is crucial and he even understands some of what that entails. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that if Patraeus had been listened too from the start, and I mean from at least a year before the invasion, there's a chance that the last four and a half years could have been very different.

Now, I'm afraid, it's too late. The surge is, by definition, a temporary measure and the insurgents and militias know that just as well as everyone else. In the period of lawlessness which has existed in Iraq since the invasion, they've had a taste of the power they could wield and although they may be lying relatively low at the moment, they have not gone away. Unless the US intends to keep 150,000+ troops in Iraq permanently, and that is clearly ridiculous, the debate on whether a timetable would encourage "the enemy" is entirely spurious. Even in the best case scenario, it will take years before the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi "unity" government, both heavily beset by sectarian tensions, will be capable of controlling Iraq. Timetable or not, most of the US soldiers will have to leave Iraq long before then. That's just a fact, one which the Bush administration seems determined not to acknowledge.

As to the general's assessment of the success of the surge, it is questionable to put in mildly. That's not to question his integrity exactly. The fact is that he's a general at war and if he was really telling the unadulterated truth, it'd be a first for any general in any war ever. His job is not to tell the whole truth but to present the situation in a way which best suits the military and political imperatives. His assessment is nothing like as outlandish as comical Ali's claims of victory as US troops rolled into Baghdad but its certainly not the unvarnished truth. And, for all that Patraeus claimed not to be acting as a mouthpiece for the Whitehouse, that's part of his job too. At the end of the day, his orders come from President Bush.

Still, he was wearing a very impressive uniform.

And then there's the timing. General Patraeus reported to Congress on September 10th. On September 12th, the Whitehouse will release its report on the way forward and on the 13th, Bush will go on TV to address the American people. In between times, there's the small matter of an anniversary to be commemorated. For those who accept that the invasion of Iraq was merely enabled by those horrible terrorist attacks rather than having any real connection to it, that's a disgusting exploitation of a tragic event. But with "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" timing like this, it's unsurprising that not everyone feels the same way. Earlier this month, US pollsters asked "do you think Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks...?" 33% of Americans answered yes (from the polls linked above).

Given all of that, and the Democrats inability to come up with anything even faintly resembling an alternative plan, Bush will probably get what he wants yet again and may well manage to hold out until the end of his term. That way, he can blame his successor for the catastrophic failure of his Iraq policies. Because nothing is ever the fault of Bush and his acolytes.

In the meantime, the imaginary game of Iraqi political football will continue. It is rumoured that the score is 655,000 - 0* but that is strongly disputed by those who claim not to have been keeping score themselves.

* That's Iraqi civilians deaths as a result of the US invasion compared to US civilian deaths as a result of Iraqi military activity against the United States.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Dan Hardie has organised a speaker event in parliament on the 9th October.

I won't be able to make it but hopefully my MP will. There'll be TV crews...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

It's all in the Timing

Yesterday, British troops withdrew from Basra city. The pathetic spinning which accompanied it would have been amusing but for the tens of thousands of deaths it attempts to cover up. It is clear that the heavier the incoming political fire, the more the cheerleaders for the war take cover behind "our boys" in Iraq. How very brave...

As the British troops' main mission now appears to be to act as target practice for Shia militias, the withdrawal from Basra city is nevertheless a step in the right direction.

One cause for concern, however, is the safety of locally employed staff who have been working for British forces. In one of those curious coincidences, I received a follow up reply from my MP this morning on the issue of asylum for Iraqis at risk because of their association with British troops. He had passed on my concerns to the Home Office back in July. Here's the reply he was sent (dated 29th August):
Thank you for your letter to Liam Byrne of 25th July on behalf of Garry Smith of.... I have been asked to reply.

Mr Smith asks us to grant asylum in the United Kingdom to locally engaged staff who have helped the British Forces in Iraq.

We are extremely grateful for the service of locally employed staff in Iraq and take their security very seriously. We recognise that there are concerns about the safety of locally employed staff. We keep all such issues under review and we will now look again at the assistance we provide. The total number of Iraqis who have worked for us since 2003 with a claim to assistance could be at least 15,000. We therefore need to consider the options carefully in this genuinely complex area.

The Prime Minister has commissioned a trilateral Ministerial review to consider the options. The Home Office, Ministry of Defence and Foreign and Commonwealth Office are the members of the review group, which will present recommendations to Ministers in late September. At this stage it would not be appropriate to pre-empt the recommendations. I hope this reassures yo that we are taking seriously the issues that have been raised surrounding locally employed staff working for the UK in Iraq.
They say that the secret of good comedy is timing and again, this would be funny if it wasn't about people having holes drilled in their skulls.

Is it not absolutely unequivocally clear that this review needed to be completed and Ministerial decisions made before the British withdrawal from Basra city? Not for our government apparently. Perhaps that's why Des Browne's figure of around 20,000 Iraqis who may need assistance has now fallen to 15,000. A few more weeks, especially now that the troops are not inside Basra, and that may have fallen to even more manageable numbers.

If you are able not to think about the fact that we're talking about people who could be saved being abandoned by our government to be tortured to death, it all seems perfectly reasonable.

Join the campaign.

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Cock, the Chicken and the Egg

David Cameron's appearance on Newsnight last night was interesting. I see he's been working on his super sincere "I've got gravitas" face. Impressive...

On marriage, he said something which had me scratching my head.
The evidence shows that marriage is a good institution that encourages people to commit to each other and to stay with each other.
He then acknowledged that some marriages do break up, fair enough, but what evidence is he referring too which demonstrates that marriage encourages people to stay together? He helpfully outlined it:
There is some very interesting evidence that Iain Duncan Smith put in his report which is that if you take an unmarried couple with a child, by the time that child reaches the age of five, half of them have separated. The figure for married couple is one in twelve.
Well, that is certainly evidence. I'll even give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it's true for now. What conclusion can be drawn from this evidence, Mr Cameron?
That to me is a figure we really have to look at and think marriage is a good institution, we should back it, and I think including in the tax system.
In summary, the argument is that because married people with children tend to stay together longer than unmarried couples, the institution of marriage causes these couples to stay together longer.


The detailed reasoning behind this argument is apparently contained in a previous report called Fractured Families. A helpful link to that report is provided in the newer one (pdf, page 13) but, alas, 404 Not Found doesn't really advance the case a great deal.

Without being able to access the details, it does seem like there might be just a tiny wee hole in this "evidence".

In the conclusions to the new report we find this comment (page 107):
As the chairwoman of OXPIP [an organisation which helps parents to bond with their children] said to us, ‘Marriage is the natural consequence of two adults being able to commit to each other because their own emotional development is secure and has given them the necessary confidence.’
To put it another way, marriage might well be a result of the relationship between two people who are already more likely to stay together than other couples.

The figures quoted by Cameron certainly don't prove that marriage "encourages people to commit to each other and to stay with each other". They might just as easily suggest that people who feel they are ready to get married under the current legislative framework are people who are already more likely to be able to maintain a stable relationship over a prolonged period. If the second suggestion is true, Cameron's policy proposals are only going to increase the divorce rate by encouraging marriages between people who are not actually ready to make that commitment.

Bizarrely, as if this has somehow registered subconsciously in the minds of the authors, they wrote this as the response to the comment on marriage as a natural consequence of emotional development:
It is for this reason that we have resisted incentivising marriage although our measures strongly encourage it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

We'll Say Anything, We Will

There seems to be something in the air this week. On Monday, Tory poster boy Iain stuck it too the big supermarkets for being beastly to traditional Conservative voters. Maybe he believes that putting political expediency before principle is a good way to rebuild public confidence in the integrity of the political system.

Yesterday, the Tories launched "It's Time to Fight Back" (pdf) proving first of all that they really didn't think very hard about the title of their document on ways to decrease violence in the UK.

The report contains this:
Parents need the support of wider society. Too often, the positive lessons learnt by children at home are undermined by negative lessons taught by popular culture... [T]he music industry, and in particular the lyrics and videos of rap, hip-hop and R&B... often explicitly popularise gangs, guns, a culture of unconstrained acquisition, and...
Hold on a minute there. Promoting "a culture of unconstrained acquisition" is a negative lesson? For the Tories?

Now you really are 'avin a giraffe.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Oh dear. It looks like Iain's dog whistle is malfunctioning. That post was only supposed to be noticed by farmers and other country folk, not people with awkward questions about his apparent abandonment of conservative free market principles (see the comments for details). Iain almost sounds like one of those supermarket hating lefties who want us all to eat only beetroot grown on our communal grounds or something...

Ah, the hazards of politics.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Witness Protection

The death of Rhys Jones is a tragic event. Sadly, the media's almost orgasmic delight at having such an emotive story to cover during the silly season is helpful only to those looking to boost sales/viewing figures. Obsolete has written an excellent post on that.

What I'd like to do is focus on just one point from this case. There is undoubtedly a real problem in some areas with violent groups intimidating people into silence when something like this happens. The police are trying very hard to reassure the public that they will be protected if they come forward with evidence.

From the BBC:
Speaking at a press conference near the spot where Rhys was shot, Ch Supt Chris Armitt said: "We understand that people are concerned about giving information to the police, we understand that people are frightened.

"[But] what I want to say to people is, listen, they've got to stand up and they've got be counted.

"We have ways of protecting members of the public who come forward with information, we can protect their identity."
That's perfectly sensible.

And this is from the same report:
Police have confirmed they have spoken to a woman seen pushing a pram near the Fir Tree pub just before the shooting.
That's utterly barking.

Apparently, these Einstein's have not worked out that if this women has seen the perpetrators of this crime, there's a strong possibility that they'd have seen her too and that they might know who she is. If you were that woman, how would you feel next time you had to wheel your pram past the Fir Tree pub? Or the next time you hear a funny noise in the middle of the night?

This police confirmation and the media reporting of the same must be some new form of identity protection involving double bluff and...

No, sarcasm won't do. This is absolutely ridiculous. How many other witnesses have been put off from coming forward because of this announcement? We'll never know now.

Many years ago my mother saw two men syphoning petrol from the row of cars in the street in front of our house. My father was away on business so she phoned a neighbour (a prison warder) and asked him to contact the police; being a young mother alone with three children in the house, she didn't want to phone directly and have the police come to our door in sight of the men. The police came, caught the culprits in the act, locked them in the back of the car, went to the neighbour's door, took a brief statement and them came to ours to do the same. They did this in full view of the two men in the back of the car. Although no further harm came to the family as a result of this idiocy, it did have an effect on my mother and on her attitude towards the police. She felt that they had needlessly endangered herself and, more importantly, her children.

In recent conversation with her, I've argued that things have improved considerably in the intervening years. Today, as we sat together watching a BBC bulletin containing the information above, I had to concede that they might not have improved that much.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Yesterday, Bush drew parallels between the Iraq and Vietnam wars. I presume that a few spoilt brats in the National Guard, those with influential fathers perhaps, have managed to avoid being sent to Iraq too so he does have a point.

Bush played up the consequences of US withdrawal from Vietnam but failed to mention the consequences of US participation.

Let's just take one of those consequences. The US military dropped approximately 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other "herbicides" over Vietnam during the course of the war. Here are some photos of the effects of Agent Orange on the Vietnamese population. More than 30 years after the war, parts of Vietnam are still highly contaminated and people are still suffering as a result.

The American government has set up a programme to help US veterans who've been affected by exposure to Agent Orange. Under the heading "Agent Orange and Birth Defects", the government website highlights the fact that "The Veterans’ Benefits Act of 1997 granted benefits for children of Vietnam veterans who were suffering from spina bifida". Despite that, the US government has resisted paying compensation to Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange.

In 2005, when Vietnamese victims tried to take the manufacturers of the chemical to court, the case was dismissed. The judge ruled that they had not proved that Agent Orange caused birth defects and illness. This despite the fact that in 1984, several chemical companies paid $180m (£93m) to settle a lawsuit with US war veterans, who said that their health had been affected by exposure to the substance.

Perhaps there's some scientific reason why American veterans are more susceptible to the ill effects of Agent Orange than the Vietnamese people who had the stuff dropped on themselves, their animals, their farmland and their water. Any scientists out there want to tell me what it is?

There are some signs that the US government may be slowly moving on this, due, no doubt, to the softening of relationships between the two countries rather than any humanitarian concern for the victims. Give it another 10 or 20 years and some sort of reparation might be on the cards for those who're still alive.

And perhaps, in another 30 years time, people will again draw parallels between Iraq and Vietnam.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Free Web Traffic Ahoy!

I've just been having a wee poke around with the Wikiscanner. For those who've not seen it, it allows you to track anonymous Wikipedia edits through IP addresses.

See if you can see what all of these edits from the last 28 days have in common. Deep breath...
  1. Conrad Black
  2. John N. Gray
  3. Gustave Courbet
  4. Ingmar Bergman
  5. Cobalt Bomb
  6. Travels in the Scriptorium
  7. The Lay of the Land
  8. Martin Amis
  9. The Mission Song
  10. John le Carre
  11. J. G. Ballard
Have you guessed what it is yet? OK, I'll tell you. Every one of the above edits was to add a link to articles from either The Times or the TLS.

And can you guess who the IP is registered too? Go on, have a guess...