Tuesday, January 27, 2015

False Advertising

"The post-Vietnam era was bad enough. Indeed, that whole Indochina adventure was a perfect preview of the modern American habit for failure. We showed up in Southeast Asia, killed two million or so people, sprayed half the Vietnamese peninsula with deadly chemicals, then pulled up suddenly and went home to spend the next 20 years or so making soft-lit, woe-is-us movies about how depressing it is to buy a Mexican hooker when your legs don't move." - Matt Taibbi
 
I enjoy a good rammy about wacky politics in films that I haven't seen as much as the next havering tool, but I think there are two points that need to be made just about the row that's erupted over Clint's latest movie, American Sniper:


1. It looks like nations don't much succumb to Vietnam syndrome if it's only other people who get rubbed out in vast numbers, rather than your own soldiers.  You can imagine what this portends, in an era where it's possible to fight huge conflicts using only model planes.  And

2.  Even after fourteen years of watching the great stupid battletank of terror-war destruction smash dumbly around the planet flattening whole neighbourhoods and cities beneath its mighty treads, you can always rely on your sensitive modern centrist to launch a passionate, all-or-nothing denunciation by wailing about how the bumper-stickers on its huge, depleted uranium-belching arse represent false advertising.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

But-Head

While I think we can all agree that novelist Howard Jacobson has a point here about the uses of the word "but", I notice that US blogger Jim Henley made exactly the same point two weeks ago, and somehow managed to do so without also being a dick about it.  Saying that, I'm not certain that Howard has chosen particularly representative examples, but he's not just blowing smoke here.

Still, I think we need to add a couple of "buts" of our own to Howard's chucklesome, high-fiving fatwa on the conjunction.

- Perhaps I'm naive, but I assume that there was once a point in time when it wasn't necessary to proclaim that you were not in favour of e.g. murder and mayhem, as the cover price that permitted you to make a point of your own. 

I try to just take it for granted that other folk aren't big fans of shooting people and so on and then allow the conversation to prove me either right or wrong, but I concede that this isn't universal. Maybe it doesn't strike anyone else as strange that in order to state that, for instance, bombing and occupying other countries is usually a bad idea, so many people require you to also announce that you do not think flying planes into skyscrapers is nice. 

I could be wrong here and actually, it's been ever thus.  Perhaps our cavemen ancestors used to sit around fires on cold winter nights, accusing each other of being overly soft on Neanderthals or demanding lengthy and specific condemnations of sabre-toothed tigers.

Nonetheless though, I'm fairly convinced that this is a more recent phenomenon, only sharpened by certain events at the start of the 21st century, and that we're no better off for it*.

- And non-coincidentally, there's a use of the word "but" that Howard himself rarely uses in political contexts, and it goes like this -

"I agree with you, but"...

For those who aren't familiar with the construction, this is how people indicate that they concur with points being made and would like to add further points for equal or advisory consideration.

In order to make use of this form of "but" however, it's first necessary to consider the possibility that your interlocutor may be reasonable, honest and humane.

So it's easy to see why Howard finds the word so vexing.  To put it politely, it's noticeable that he isn't often troubled by such considerations or, indeed, any discernable doubts about his own certainties at all.

- And let's end by noting that this is roughly the eight-hundredth post-Paris killings political column to screech, wave its arms around and call down the vengeance of Heaven upon people who say that cartoonists deserve to be shot, while containing absolutely no examples of any person saying that cartoonists deserve to be shot.

I think we're now past the point where this kind of behaviour can be charitably considered to be accidental.



*At this point, let me assure you that I'm not in favour of flying planes into skyscrapers.  Not only do I condemn it, but I execrate and reject it, decry and denounce it, and aver that anyone who does such things must be very, very evil in the head. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Homage That Vice Pays To Virtue

And before anyone asks, yes, this is the kind of thing that I've been banging on and on about for years.

As it happens, I'm really not horrified at all to see the world's leading humanitarians going all kneepad-nymphos with its most appalling tyrants once again.  This kind of thing has been going on since forever and, if it's rare for us to directly witness such pornographic entwinings of political tongue and autocratic anus, it certainly doesn't hurt to be reminded of some very basic facts of life.  

I can even see a kind of cold-blooded logic in the idea that it may be better to suck up to the Sauds than it would be to let the Kingdom fall in whichever direction it totters... Although of course, it's incredibly naive to imagine that it's this excuse, rather than the far more obvious and commonplace "keeping the same rich folks very rich indeed" motivation that's at the heart of the policy.

Still, let's observe that by far the easiest way for our nation to avoid charges of hypocrisy while still keeping the right cash registers ringing isn't to suddenly denounce and divorce the Saudi despotism, and screw the consequences.

That might be the right thing to do, but it's not the most convenient.

The easiest and most honest tactic would be for statesmen to drop all pretence that their foreign policies are motivated by morality, human rights or love of democracy, and to admit once and for all that they're moved by ignoble expediency at best, and rampant, cynical greed at worst.

This would slash my stock of blogging topics by about eighty percent at a stroke, and I can't say that I'd be sad to see them go.  It'd also do us all the immense favour of debullshitising much of our politics, which would be wonderful for pretty much everyone, barring those who benefit from bullshit.

Anyway, as a little pick-me-up, let's end by fondly recalling how the Saudi King was greeted by the Welsh Guards, the last time he visited these shores. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Atomic

Allow me to play Devil's advocate here by endorsing the Trident nuclear weapons replacement system, with only the following proviso - that it entirely replaces the rest of our conventional forces.

I know it's a controversial stance, but I've mulled this one over and a comparison in the cost-effectiveness of nuclear and conventional weapons in the last fifty years throws up some shocking results.

An example - in the last five decades or so, from the Cyprus Emergency to the occupation of Afghanistan, Britain has lost somewhere around five thousand military personnel in conventional wars.  In the same period, exactly zero British soldiers have been killed in wars in which ourselves or the enemy deployed nuclear weapons.  Pretty stark stuff there, I'm sure you'll agree. 

And not only have we not taken casualties, but we haven't inflicted them on the enemy's civilians either.  While the bodycount has racked up from the northwestern tip of Europe to southern Iraq and the near-arse-end of Antarctica, there's been not one single instance of collateral damage from a British nuke.  Even compared to our most pinpoint accurate smart missiles, that's some peace 'n' love warmaking, there.

But the cost, I hear you cry, and I must admit that at £130 billion, new nukes do sound a tad pricey.

Consider, though - the UK spends circa £60 billion per year on armed forces that rarely win wars.  Iraq?  An expensive and disastrous bust.  Afghanistan?  A clown-shoes debacle.  Libya?  Kosovo?  Sierra Leone?  Minor successes against weak opposition, or ambiguous results.

Yet the single declared purpose of the UK's nuclear weapons programme was to deter Soviet aggression.  How do the nukes score on effectiveness?

One war, one victory.  A 100% record of unblemished success. 

And not only that, but I guarantee with absolute certainty that the Trident replacement system will deter Soviet aggression not only in the near future, but for all of human history.  A bargain, at the price.

The counter-argument for nukes always runs like this, though - a pricey weapon that you can't use isn't even a weapon, but merely an expensive waste. 

Well, after two multi-bajillion-pound disaster wars in just one decade, I put it to you that the track record of unusable weapons has proven beyond doubt to be vastly superior to the performance of the ones that we actually can deploy.

Paradoxically, it's the very fact that we can't use nukes that makes them so effective.  No deranged future Prime Minister is going to start spunking gigaton warheads at blighted, landlocked Asian nations to "help" their beleaguered citizens, and no Parliament is going to vote for nuclear "precision strikes" on major cities to assist the local gangbangers.  If we'd only had nukes since 1989, our current win-loss ratio would be one win for no defeats, rather than our current woeful score.

It seems counterintuitive at first but once you come round to my way of thinking, you'll see that pound for pound, the good old British nuke is by far the best weapon in our arsenal.  Let's get that chequebook out and buy, buy, buy, and wave bye-bye-bye to miserable squaddies sitting in a ton of soon-to-be shrapnel APC. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Caveat Emptor

I think the weirdest thing about the last week has been the aggressive sales job for freedom of speech.

Perhaps I'm getting cynical as I get older, but I'm always suspicious when people give me the hard sell for products that I supposedly already own.  Being British, I imagine most of us probably have a good idea that when people knock on our doors to sell us e.g. "freedom" with big smiles and handshakes, it's probably time to check your pockets for your wallet.

Good products always have a way of selling themselves, I tend to find.  You never see any adverts for shagging, for example, but there's plenty of it going on everywhere.  Nobody advertises drugs but the trade  roars ever onwards. 

Theoretically at least, we're already free to say whatever we like, threats excepted.  Three armed twats with grudges can hardly rip our freedom away from all of us, and a few idiots with blogs and newspaper columns aren't going to wipe it out with snotty comments, no matter how hard people are trying to convince us otherwise.

The only people who have the power to seriously fuck with free speech are the people we elect, and it looks to me like the folk who are currently issuing the loudest hosannas for freedom rarely pay much attention to what those jokers are up to, or actively run PR for their bright ideas.

So you know, the hard sell is a bit bizarre to see.  Caveat emptor and all that. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

This Week In Panic-Stricken Commentary

Let's start with the usual inane rattle from Nick, who appears to have convinced himself that a few French malcontents armed with 1940s weaponry are a "powerful" force to whom we must all speak truth in the precise terms that he demands.  He even helpfully includes the exact words he wants to hear us say - "We loathe the murderers who enforce their taboos with Kalashnikovs".

His target, as ever, is a particular section of the UK press and a nebulous, non-specific "liberalism", neither of which have spent the week falling over themselves to heap praise upon the Paris killers and have, if anything, been really quite down on them.

As is ever the case with Nick though, a closer reading reveals that simply being against religious nutters killing people for insane reasons is insufficient for his purposes.  His entire schtick this last ten years or so has been to hold hoops ever higher and demand that everyone jump through them on command, so we find yet again that even the strongest condemnation will not save us from denunciation.   For Nick, refusing to publish images of Mohammed is "cowardice", making the British "the world's worst cowards".

(Nick himself has a personal blog that's currently quite untainted by images of any centuries-dead Arabian prophets, but we'll charitably assume that he's been far too busy calling out other people's cowardice to update it).

Some other goodies: Nick acknowledges that radical Islamists want to "create a civil war" and "encourage the white far-right so that ordinary co-existence becomes impossible", but doesn't then ask himself whether e.g. re-publishing the cartoons in question will help or hinder said Islamists in fostering chaos.

I'll answer that one by saying that this would probably help radical Islamists to stir up further grief and violence between Muslims and others, because it looks a lot like Nick doesn't intend to answer that question.

He also invites European liberals to question their attitudes towards Islam generally because the Saudi dictatorship are horrible and repressive, which is fun.  There are certainly people in the UK who are overly soft on the Sauds, but I suspect it's not the liberals who are at fault here.

Anyway, some other observations on the week's awful events:

- The Paris killers' long-term goal was no doubt intimidation against criticism of Islam, and to set an example to like-minded fuckwits by doing so, but their immediate aim was to commit atrocities, then get their stupid faces on television to frighten the entire continent.

24 hour news, being what it is, immediately obliged, plastering their faces all over TV and newspapers under headlines screaming - These Terrifying Badasses Are Terrorising Us All. 

During one particular exchange on Friday, a BBC presenter asked a guest what these terrorists actually wanted.  Mystifyingly, the guest didn't point out that grown men who put on ridiculous special forces ninja outfits then run around killing people in broad daylight probably want television journalists to treat them like they're the second coming of Dillinger or something, and instead proceeded to treat them like they were Dillinger.

- In fact, the idea that these guys are just some poxy, small-minded little twats with big guns and ludicrous views was pretty much absent from coverage.  

This continent has managed to survive the Mongol Horde, Nazi invasion and Soviet occupation, so I'd say it'll probably manage to endure a murder spree by a small gang of revanchist throwbacks.  That being the case, it'd probably be a good idea if we all said so a bit more often.   

- One way to avoid giving terrorists the perception that "they have won" is to not wave your arms and scream about how We must do (x) or the terrorists have won.

Because it didn't take long for this kind of thing to rear its head - essentially, calls for everyone to shut up and bend over for infinite intimate cavity searches by the security services, forever. 

There's a lot of this Everyone who is not a belligerent, bellowing bell-end like me must now be silent stuff around, and it doesn't usually take us to good places.

By Friday night, I'd say that I'd seen somewhere around two hundred times as many screechy, handbag-clutching comments about the theoretical opinions of imaginary relativists and apologists than I'd actually seen daft comments by real people.  The actual existence of such comments is clearly less important than demands that anything resembling them be immediately hunted down and exterminated, to prevent contamination of our fragile eggshell minds.

Let's just note that these pre-emptive strikes upon disagreement and anguished demands for absolute unanimity are always a feature of major terrorism stories.  If there's a particularly nasty whiff of 2003 about their current volume and intensity, that's only because it's the same people pushing them, and because some folk are congenitally incapable of changing or learning lessons.

- Demands for unanimity also betray an utter lack of understanding of who we are and who the enemy is.

The fact that everyone disagrees about everything and that lots of us are basically idiots, is one of the defining characteristics of western societies*.

Meanwhile, there's a certain loopy misreading of reality in the idea that our own lack of singular purpose makes us weak, while the Islamist nutters' certainties make them strong.  

You'd think that most people would've spotted that crazy, violent Islamists aren't exactly rocking all before them at the moment.  Isis have spent months trying to capture one town on the Turkish border and have made a spectacular cock of the job, even though it's only protected by civilian militias.

Elsewhere, crazy militant Islam is failing utterly to convince even a sizeable minority of the world's billion-strong Muslim population.  You might have spotted the massive intra-faith conflict going on in Syria and Iraq, for instance, and concluded that such things do not usually betoken unified collectives of like-minded thinkers.  One wonders how it's managed to pass so many other people by.

- In the end, despite the hundreds of opinion pieces claiming that the Paris killings show the failings of, say, liberalism or multi-culturalism or whatever, they actually show us that two things are failing quite badly - Islamic radicalism itself, which has now been reduced to taking potshots at cartoonists rather than its stated goal of establishing a global empire of doom, and the idea of security through surveillance.

But then, neither of those ideas sell papers or butter any parsnips for wars, so they're not likely to be headlined.

But they are, you know, true.


*And societies in general, although nastier countries take steps to keep any public objections to a minimum.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The Faces Of Evil #1,445,592

Well, let's observe for the billionth time that it's a bizarrely puny God that requires His followers to murder those who take up crayons against Him.

An omnipotent deity reigning in eternity with the power of life and death over all, who yet needs defending from, like, watercolours.

I'm actually aware that it's the multitude of ideas behind the Charlie Hebdo cartoons that enrage the headbangers, but that's no less idiotic.  And yet, this is the type of infantile nonsense that's caused much of the planet to collapse in flames, this past couple of decades.  It's this that prompts grown men to dress up in ludicrous action-movie space-ninja outfits and charge around murdering unarmed people.  It's outrageous and disgusting, and also strangely pathetic.

Anyway, you won't have to go far to find angry demands for every publication to reprint the cartoons on free speech grounds, or calls for us all to work together in times of crisis and so on.  You'll be hard-pushed to miss them, in fact.

A different issue was raised by a work colleague of mine today, and it's one that usually gets less attention at times like these - what do Al Qaeda want?*

The specific question was, "Don't Al Qaeda realise that killing people like this will increase hatred towards Muslims and lead inevitably to more violence against them?" 

To which the answer is, Of course they do.  That's exactly why they kill people like this in the first place.  

Maybe I'm reading the wrong papers and speaking to the wrong people, but it's incredible to me that we can be fourteen years into a supposed war on terrorism, and it still doesn't seem to be common knowledge that Al Qaeda et al desperately want us all to fear, hate and fight each other as much as possible.

They want us infidels to repress and attack Muslims, in the hope that this will convert as many as possible to Al Qaeda's dipshit philosophy.  They want their co-religionists to join them in blowing shit up and committing atrocities, in the hope that it'll create a death spiral of tit-for-tat lunacy that will somehow result in a new order built in their own idiotic image.

It's not like the various Jihadist groups have kept this quiet.  Al Qaeda in particular have been very, very vocal about wanting a huge war of Us vs Them, and the dirtier and more violent the better.  They're terrorists, after all - they thrive on fear and hate.

It's really very strange, that this isn't better known than it is.  It may be true that they hate us for our freedom, amongst a gaggle of other excuses that may be wackier or less so, but when it comes down to it, they just plain want us all to fight.

Anyway, I don't have a moral lesson here, nor any grand strategic suggestions.   What I will say is this.

Whose interests are better served if we all now have a massive pissfight over, say, cartoons depicting Mohammed?   A really nasty one, with papers and social media and workplaces filling with seething rage and bitterness and sweeping generalisations?

Does that help us, or does it help them? 


*"Al Qaeda", since these zoomers apparently identified themselves as the Yemeni variant thereof.  There's a remarkable homogeneity in the thinking of certain strains of glowering Islamist disapprover that allows us to play fast and loose with our definitions here, I think.