Friday, August 26, 2011

Awesome Decontextualised Violence

Short fights!  Let's face it, the movie's dragging on and we know the protagonists hate each other's guts - why would they pole-vault around the place Wu-style waving bendy swords at each other, or firing a bajillion bullets and missing?  Luke - I am your father.  Shut up and have his hand off, won't you?

For credibility, you want the hero's life on the line in a no-holds barred, die-bastard deathgrip fight to the death.  Drama!  Entertainment is supposed to be gripping, white-knuckle stuff and I've never seen a real fight that lasted longer than thirty seconds.

In that enobling spirit, let's count off the best short fights in cinematic history that I can think of on the spot.  First up...

Martin Blank vs. Felix LaPoubelle, Grosse Point Blank

Hitman Martin enjoys a moment of quiet nostalgia, then suddenly - Whap! Whap, slap, whap, Slap! (Wham, thud!) Thump, grunt, crash! Whap, gurgle, crunch (click) snick! (Gurgle). 

Chingachgook vs. Magua, Last of the Mohicans

Chingachgook sees psycho crater-face Magua knock off his first-born, and loses the rag.  Swish, Fucko! (Crack!)  Bam! Splat! (Glower!)  Splutch!  (Thud!) 

Aragorn vs. Lurtz, Fellowship of the Ring

The heir of Elendil has shit to be getting on with, and orcs are just getting in the way.  Bam! Whing-ching Slam!  (Growl!)  Wham, thud (Growl!)  Stab!  Bam, thud, fucko!  (Roar!)  Ching, clang, clang, clang, clang, clang, clang, slice Splutch!  (Roar!)  Whack! (Thud).

I would've included one or two from Zatoichi, but most of them were a bit too short.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

PLI03 - The Responsibilitising

The United States has no troops in Libya, which means our men and women in uniform do not find themselves at the center of — or responsible for — what will inevitably be a messy and possibly dangerous aftermath. Our forces did not suffer a single casualty. The military action by the West that was crucial to the rebels was a genuine coalition effort led by Britain and France. This was not a made-by-America revolution, and both we and the Middle East are better for that.  -  EJ Dionne, Washington Post, 24th August


The result is irrelevant - we were right to attack.  Having an exit strategy from Libya was nothing like as important as the urgent need to save huge numbers of lives...  (Before the war) there were as many people who said that, well, yes, they agreed that Colonel Gaddafi is a very bad person, and yes, on balance it would be a good thing to get rid of him, but despite this, intervention was most imprudent.  And the reason? We didn't have an exit strategy... I never thought the lack of an exit strategy was a good objection in the first place...  It would have been the right thing to do even if there had been an impasse.  - Daniel Finkelstein, Times, 24th August

Looks like Nick Clegg was right when he said that lessons had been learned from Iraq, certainly among the pundit class, if nowhere else.

Lots of opinion columnists wound up looking pretty silly when they imprudently declared that Iraq would only be a success if it wound up producing a model democracy, a beacon for those benighted souls of the region still suffering dictatorship, or if those phantom nukes and anthrax bombs eventually showed up.  Incautious statements like that made repeatedly declaring victory at regular intervals for the next few years a tricky proposition, in the Google era.

It looks to me like parts of yer pundit class have found a way to avoid all that boring "consequences" nonsense - simply declare absolute vindication while the country is enjoying the fun and fireworks of victory, then turn off your TV and proclaim that anything that happens afterwards is irrelevant.

We won!  Just rejoice at that news.

Ah, opinion journalism - stuff like this always reminds me of that F. Scott Fitzgerald description, the one I always haul out on occasions like this...
They were careless people, Tom and Daisy--they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.  

Party Like It's 2003 - The Naming

I’ve decided to apply for a civilian job at the Pentagon. I want to be the guy that comes up with each day’s description of the counterinsurgent Iraqi enemy for press releases.  Whoever they have now is good, no question about it. I’ve been a fan of his work since the first week of May. Under his tutelage, the average length in print of the described Iraqi enemy has jumped from about four or five words in May ("pro-Saddam Baath Party holdouts"), to about 10 to 15 words in June ("Forces loyal to the regime of the deposed dictator Saddam Hussein"), to the current 20 to 25 words.  Matt Taibbi, NY Press, July 2003
Thus began Taibbi's quest to find the perfect  US government description of the Americans' terrorist foes in Iraq, a search that started simple with "Ba'athists" and "Loyalists", and quickly became... 

"Ba'ath Party activists loyal to the deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein"; "Iraqis who remain loyal to Saddam Hussein and Islamic militants from other countries eager to kill Americans";  "Remnants of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party, anti-American Islamic fighters coming into Iraq and common criminals..." and "Former Ba'ath Party and security officials who will stop at nothing to regain their power and their privilege enjoyed under the deposed Hussein dictatorship"

Me, my favourite was the short-lived "Anti-Iraqi forces", one of the more ballsy efforts.
So, given recent events, what fresh terms are about to be minted for north Africa?  "Gaddafi-ites" sounds too much like a Desmond Dekker record and is inflicted with a plethora of variant spellings and "Insurgents" carries far too many negative historical connotations.  Maybe they'll let us down by going for plain old "Al Qaeda extremists", but there's a part of me that fully expects "Islamomaniacal xenophobic fascists hell-bent on causing mayhem and destruction".

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

War Is The New Normal

You can't help but marvel at the pictures LIVE FROM TRIPOLI! of the Libyan rebels apparently storming Gaddafi's compound - a bunch of semi-trained working geezers doing their best Bastille impression on a richly-deserving target.  Me, I still have to join in the current media vogue for backtracking and hedging.

Hands up - I thought this war would drag on far longer than it has, and kill a massively higher percentage of the populace than it did.  I have a standing bet since March with D-Notice that Gaddafi won't make it to Christmas alive, which gives you an idea of the timescale that I anticipated.  This was largely based on reporting from the ground by hacks for the New York Times, the Times, the FT, the Graun, the Telegraph and various internet sources.

As usual, it'll take a few months to shake out what actually happened, but a consensus appears to be emerging that the press were too concentrated around Benghazi to notice that the rebels in the west were made of sterner stuff, quietly advancing while our attention was elsewhere.  That may be true, but it doesn't explain to me where Gaddafi's goons went - I suspect that they decided that being paid was great fun, but that few of them fancied getting killed for a strutting, murderous tool like the Colonel.  There's only so much precision high explosives a hated dictator's army can take, after all.

Excellent news, all in all.  The difference between the Libyans' situation in March and this evening is like night and day, and they now have a great opportunity to forge a future free from self-important gangsters backed by thugs, secret policemen and torturers.

I hope they make a good fist at reconstruction and democratisation, because it's been a vicious war, filled with exactly the kind of urban bombardments and house-by-house fighting that the original UN resolution for intervention was supposed to prevent. It didn't prevent it, of course, because our leaders were lying through their teeth about protecting civilians, and that's where things get sticky.

Much as I hate to dust off Professor Norm's mea-culpa-but-fucka-youa routine and tu quoque like it's 2006, it should be pretty apparent that there are still some very large questions over Nato's hare-brained chariot-charge into the war and the vast, towering mountains of bullshit that greased the wheels.

Recall - the UK, US and France supposedly went to the UN to seek permission to create a No-Fly Zone, yet miraculously emerged with wide-ranging powers to take any measures necessary to "protect civilians".  You've just seen six months of solid, dedicated "protection", which in reality meant "Intervening on one side in a civil war".

For all the Responsibility-To-Protect rah-rah, we've just demonstrated to the world for the third time in a decade that we intentionally and brazenly lie to the entire planet about humanitarianism for months on end in pursuit of entirely political goals.  Nato has spent six months explaining that it isn't seeking regime change in Libya while straining as hard as it could to do exactly the opposite.

More alarmingly, the President of the United States spent the entire period denying his country was even involved in a fucking war at all.  Think about what precedent that sets, next time the sabres are rattling for Iran.

Whether you object to any of that depends on your opinion on the old ends justifying the means, and whether you think fucking off potential consequences in favour of  action now is a responsible way for nations to proceed.  Nothing succeeds like success, so if you're happy being propagandised and lied to in pursuit of further wars, you'll be delighted today.

Further, it remains entirely true that, for the second time in a decade, the UK has jumped into a war with its fingers crossed, entirely on the reassurances of western-educated locals who don't appear to represent the populace.  That's why western diplomats have spent the last three months quietly whispering to the papers that the Libyan rebels are a disparate group with massive internal differences.  If you've got no idea what's going to happen next in North Africa - democracy or interfactional bloodbath - then congratulations!  You and David Cameron have something in common after all.

Whether you find that worrying depends on whether you have an attention span longer than five seconds.  There's no need to reiterate the long catastrophes that are Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, but let me put it this way - were you aware that the Iraqi government is quietly supporting the Syrian government's ultraviolent crackdown on its citizens? 

These two are the leading official bullshit explosions that have bugged me most throughout, but they're not alone.  Whatever did happen to that Arab No-Fly Zone, anyway?   And whatever happened to those great floods of refugees that the war was supposed to stop, or the evil crackdowns that would be deterred in other nations?  Each of these were cited before bombing began, and panned out exactly opposite to how we were told they would.

Hell, I know none of this stuff worries many of the characters who were most enthusiastically pro-intervention in Libya.  Few gave a shit how this war was going to work in practice then, and many of them have been making machine gun noises and bellowing for days about how very awesome bombing Libya was all along...   After six months of near-total silence on anything that's happened there, and you can be sure that if Tripoli goes the way of Baghdad, you'll hear nothing out of them on the subject. There'll be newer, crazier military escapades to cheer on by then.

Well.  If you, like me, were flabbergasted that Britain stampeded to involve itself in another serious conflict, just years after presiding over one of the nastiest mass-murder sprees in recent history, then steel yourselves for sequels.  It took decades of boo-hoo propaganda and flag-waving for the Yanks to get over the disaster of Vietnam - it's taken us about a tenth of the time and none of the self-reflection to dick off one of our most inglorious warfaring episodes to dive into what could be a whole series of new ones.

Seriously, y'all.  If we were that belligerent, that eager to dive into this war after one of the most horrifying military fuck-ups in our history, imagine how can-do chaps we're going to be for the next decade.  Excellent news for Libyans means interesting times ahead for British squaddies, I think.  War is the new normal.

Monday, August 22, 2011

WTF Day

Excellent news this morning as the Libyan rebels take Tripoli without major bloodshed, to scenes of wild celebration.  It's a great day for them and for the people of Libya, who have endured a truly horrible time of it this last six months, never mind the last four decades. 

It comes many months quicker and with several thousand less deaths than I'd expected and, as I said I would, I happily retract all those bad things I said about the rebels being an incompetent militia, incapable of liberating the country even with the assistance of Nato.

I'll update this post extensively after the day's breadwinning, but I'll say this - I'll be very, very interested indeed in what the papers have to say this morning.  My impression of gridlocked stalemate a week ago came from the consensus view of the embedded reporters on the ground.  If anyone has an explanation for how we moved from extended standoff to smashing victory in just a matter of days, I'll be delighted to hear it.

Still, happy days - there are still a number of pressing problems in the country, but it's nice to have my boundless cynicism on our ability to screw everything up and make it a million times worse contradicted, once in a blue moon.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ay Widnae Know Ays Arse Fae a Hole In The Ground

Uh wis thinkin the other night, that cunt David Starkey an ays greetin pus on Newsnight?  What a loaday shite ay wis talkin, greetin aboot how aw the blacks huv made the whites dae such a such.  What dis he ken, fae Cambridge an that?   Ay widnae know ays arse fae a fuckin hole in the ground, if ay wis dropped on a random high street fae Tranent tae Tollcross.

Ah mean, ah've got a degree in English an ah dinnae talk like David Starkey, wi ays flames lambent an aw that pish.

Ah cannae be daein wi the fucker, if ahm bein honest.  English history means fuck aw tae me, just a loaday posh bastards fannyin aboot an killin each other fur nae reason ah can see.  Nae doot some Oxbridge jokers want tay hear aboot Henry the Eighth an ays epic quest fir mair pussy an nae hassle an a new religion tae boot, but ah cannae be daein wi it.

If it wis up tae me, that Starkey widnae huv a job - it'd be aw modern history wi its Abraham Lincolns and Robespierres an Lenins an Garibaldis an Oliver Cromwells, showin they royal bastards what happens when ye bugger aboot wi the man in the street.

---------

Now folks, that's how I'd talk to my brother, playing pool on a Tuesday night, were he to develop a sudden and miraculous desire to discuss politics.  You all understand me fine as Mr. Polysyllabic giving it hee-haw about President Obama or Bashar Al-Assad, so I'm going to assume I can communicate... okay, in print.

Am I some kind of dolt, just because my patter isn't instantly recognisable nationwide?  Do digits drop off my IQ because I talk some unintelligible heathen lingo that Cambridge graduates find bizarre? 

Ah dinnae think so.  Maybe the kids of London are unemployable and ineducable because of their funky, new-fangled patois.  I might not like to employ some teenagers babbling their own wee teen language, if I wanted to sell to the general public.

Or, maybe some people have a fondness for wild overstatement.  I throw it out there, for consideration.

Update!: I've been Googling for that Zoe Heller quote about the teacher being impressed by the working class kid, "like a gorilla just stumbled out of the jungle and asked for a gin and tonic".  Can't find it, even though I know it's in there. It's a beauty.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What Australia Needs Is Some Kind Of Devastating Apocalypse 
by Lawrence Humungus MP

Greetings, my dogs of war, from Lawrence Humungus - Shadow Secretary for Wastelands and leader of the Republican Party of Rock 'n' Rollah.

I speak to you at a time of great strife for our nation.  We are beset with many grievous economic problems.  Even now, the Australian consumer remains woefully confident; our markets bouyant and our businesses unburned and disgracefully unplundered.  The deserts sprout great cities of pipe and steel, powered by the black fuel.

There has not been enough violence.

As I drove to this very building today in my nitrous-boosted, souped up Ute, I looked in vain for a single burned out car; I did not see so much as a single mohawked bicycle gang member clad in assless chaps.  Not one!

Members of the House, I am gravely disappointed, but I have an honourable compromise.  What Australia needs now is some kind of devastating apocalypse, and there will be an end to the horror of peace and prosperity.

Be still, my Gayboy Berserkers.  We will do it my way - fear is our ally.  Then, you shall have your assless chaps.

I hereby call upon the Prime Minister to abandon her puny plans for energy efficiency.  I move that the House vote to implement our proposals for an immediate global thermonuclear war and the reduction of the nation to a desolate wasteland populated by rapacious homosexual scavenger gangs.

Do it not, you puppy, and you will know the vengeance of Lawrence Humungus!  I promise you, nobody... Nobody gets out of here alive, unless they can jump onto a barbed-wire-wrapped oil tanker at speeds of over seventy miles per hour.

I give you one day to decide.

Justice, Seen To Be Done In

Let this be a lesson then - if your kid is out of control and needs a short, sharp shock, why not just trap them in their rooms and nail the doors and windows shut for a week, or debag them and chuck them out of your car in front of their school?

Hell, why not just beat them down with a rolling pin?  I'd take that over any amount of jail time, since prisons - for men or women, and young offenders' institutions - are about the most godawful, dismal places in the country*.  I'd say the level of brutalisation involved in both is at very least equivalent, and the only people I can think of who avoid serious harm to their long-term prospects from jail are newly-remodelled crims-turned-true-crime writers.

Half the nation applauded Mrs Ives when she shopped her daughter to the police for being involved in rioting.  Here's the lesson that other parents in similar circumstances just learned - hand your child in to the police to admit their guilt and take their punishment, and in all likelihood a magistrate will take their repentance into account and then throw the fucking book at them, pour discourager les autres.

I'm considerably less shocked at the sentences being handed out to looters and rioters than many, it seems, but even I find this tactic of hammering absolutely everyone a bit surprising.  Make no mistake, it'll discourage les autres just fine, but if I'd have second thoughts about speaking to the coppers about a loved one now, you'd better believe that everyone else has taken notice too.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fisher Price's My First Law 'n' Order Debate

I like to think of myself as a reasonable man, prepared to hear out and consider arguments in a calm and rational matter*.  That said, the fact that it seems to be necessary to point out that youth culture was not invented by a lesbian hip-hop collective in 2009, with the explicit aim of destroying all that's right and true, makes me feel a little like hitting the Delete button on the entire universe, or at very least frogmarching anyone who wears glasses into a paddy-field for a day's work at riflepoint.

I actually don't know what's worse - that in 2011, anyone needs to be informed that young people have been kicking up shit and mobs of nutters running riot since Jesus Christ Himself was an anklebiter, or that they need to be told it by the Economist and the Spectator.

Obviously, what I'm describing here is a conversation between us pointy-headed geeks who spend our  evenings batting this stuff back and forth, but really.  It shows you how useful a debate we're really having, if we're reduced to going over the ABCs of human civilisation.


*Seriously. On occasion.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Shitegeist

Oh my, the horror!  A man who is notorious for making idiotic statements on television has made some more idiotic statements on television.

Specifically, he's saying that white people are turning into criminals because they have been in some way Blackified by malignant osmosis with some black people, who aren't themselves criminals due to biological or racial characteristics - oh, heaven forfend that anyone should take it that way! - but because of "cultural factors".  Seasoned idiot-watchers will notice that Cultural Factors are the Biological or Racial Characteristics that it's okay to cite in the press.

Shuggy makes the appropriate point that the sole reason for asking David Starkey onto your current affairs show is to horrify the audience into pearl-clutching paroxysms.  He isn't there to clarify issues or to represent Britain's sizeable ignorant reactionary demographic - he's there specifically to make offensive and stupid remarks.

No doubt there will be calls from lefty types for Starkey to be barred from TV appearances, but I think this is the wrong reaction.  As ever, I think he and other chumps of his ilk should be given a prominent public platform and encouraged to speak their minds as fully and frankly as possible.

When I was talking a few weeks back about Melanie Phillips' ludicrous conspiracy theories of a sinister, liberal-Jihadist elite conspiracy to destroy the West, I should've been more clear on this point.  I actively favour putting yer Starkeys, Phillipses et al on TV and radio, provided they're then asked some fairly direct and searching questions about their nutty opinions.  The public, broadly, are not idiots and they can spot racism, hysteria, paranoia and evasive bullshit when it's placed in front of them.

Here's a specific example - the next time that cold-faced psychopath Douglas Murray* appears on Question Time, maybe one of the guests could lean over and ask him what he meant when he said that Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board during his early Deport 'em all speech.


The harsh glare of publicity is democracy's best friend, as always.  As we've seen with the riots this week, there are plenty of lunatics in the public eye who have strong opinions on the sapping effects of multiculturalism etc. on our Precious Bodily Fluids; lots of people who have inventive policy suggestions on everything from the death penalty to the collapse of Christianity.

I say, put 'em all on prime-time TV and let 'em talk us through their wacky theories and loopy proposals for forcible remoralisation or for deBlackifying the nation's white youths, so we can watch 'em all sweating and stammering like they've just been caught whacking off to horse porn on the office computer.  It'll be fun for all the family.

*Frankly, a man who looks like he hasn't enjoyed a single second of his life and who wouldn't raise a chuckle for anything, save maybe a Greenpeace protester being slowly run over by a steamroller.  I don't know what he looks like to you, but to me he looks like the kind of bloke who has a locked room in his house that nobody else is allowed to enter or even refer to.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Football Legends

Don't get me wrong - I really enjoyed the Celtic vs. Manchester United: Legends game the other night.  It was all for a good cause and it was nice to see Larsson, Sutton and Moravcik again, but I was a little disappointed that the manager didn't sub on Hercules for the last fifteen minutes or play a Sasquatch at left-back.

I told my brother that was probably because Britain has little in the way of epic mythology, and he was all like, Well, what about Arthur?  

 I mean, I had to laugh.  I like Dudley Moore as much as the next man, but he's no Beowulf.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Nothing Proper About Your Propaganda

In a war of information and perception, the truth no longer matters It is all about the message and in Libya, the regime is coming out on top. - Times, 11th August 


Strange words indeed from Deborah Haynes, defence editor at the Times, in a piece bemoaning the snafu that is our latest war (Full article in comments, below).  It's an odd column, listing the following points as presentational problems for Nato and the Libyan rebels...

1.  Nato forces have killed quite a lot of kids in Tripoli recently.  Additionally, Nato's bombing campaign is causing major medical shortages, power cuts and petrol shortfalls for the civilian population.
2.  Gaddafi's stooges on TV are making much hay from these facts.
3.  The rebels claimed they'd killed one of Gaddafi's sons, when he is in fact alive and well.
4.  The rebels are disorganised, fractious and appear to have a Jihadist problem.
5.  Our record of having bombed a whole series of Muslim countries this decade is making it very easy for Gaddafi's stooges on TV to portray Nato as crusaders and aggressors.
6.  The failure of a coup to materialise is being exploited by Gaddafi's stooges as evidence that there is no majority desire to end Gaddafi's reign.
7.  This means that the rebels' challenge appears fatally flawed and that Nato are after Libya's oil, and that

This is a huge Propaganda Fail on Nato's part.


Well.  Let's note here that, while Haynes bemoans all of these points as propaganda problems, she doesn't actually bother to question their accuracy at all.

To pick a few of these points - Britain and France are not leading a holy Christian war and are probably not primarily motivated by lust for Libya's resources.  Nonetheless, Nato does appear to be killing quite a lot of kids and intentionally depriving the citizenry of medicine and fuel; the rebels are fractious and disorganised, and so on.  Further, the failure of a coup to materialise may actually mean that there's no majority desire in Tripoli to end Gaddafi's reign.

The problems raised here are, for the most part,  facts and not inconvenient lies promulgated by a tyrant's pet broadcaster. 

The quote at the top of this post - "In a war of information and perception, the truth no longer matters" - would be a tiresome truism were it made by a disinterested observer.  Far from being disinterested, The Times has been the foremost cheerleader for the Libyan war from the start, bigging up our chances of quick victory and egging on intervention like Manchester United's prawn-sandwich brigade in hospitality.

For the defence editor of the Times to disavow the importance of truth itself in piece which essentially concedes that the entire war is a travesty is... interesting, to say the least.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

There's really nothing positive at all to say about the riots in England.  Basically, we have a lot of gangs of petty criminals of the type who usually restrict themselves to organised shoplifting crews, bootlegging and small-time drug dealing, now whipping up a lot of excitable kids as cover for mass theft operations.  Large  distractions leave the ringleaders free to attack wherever they like without worrying about police interference - that Sony distribution centre, for example.

This isn't a protest or kids letting off steam - it's organised crime.  Given how astonishingly effective this is, Daniel is right in this Tweet - it's less a question of "Why is this happening?" than it is of "Why doesn't it happen more often?"

The really alarming thing here is that there's not a lot the cops can do to prevent it, beyond mass arrests, and they're not going to be very effective anyway.  There's also only so many people you can shoot with rubber bullets, and it's not like we're short of easily-led kids with time on their hands.

I think a lot of commentators are missing just how bad this could turn out to be.  This could prove to be a more or less unstoppable public disorder problem causing major damage and disruption, at a time when we've got a near-enough infinite supply of excitable kids who were regarded as being practically a sub-species by much of the populace before the riots started.  Soon, we'll have a massive public demand for Something To Be Done.

This means crackdowns, and I don't know if anyone else watched Sky and BBC News most of the day, but the calls for martial law started early and got louder as the day went on.  David Cameron doesn't strike me as the Nixon type, but you'd better believe both major parties are crammed to the hoop with authoritarian dinosaurs whose dreams are filled with clunking coppers in space marine armour and weapons catalogues full of shiny guns.

Maybe I'm being alarmist here - it wouldn't be the first time - but if this continues, the way is clear for some seriously Nixonian behaviour here, and when the state takes the gloves off, it's unlikely to be the ringleaders who are on the receiving end of the bare-knuckle boxing.

We're talking about major wedges being shoved between existing political blocs, pushing those who already have some wacky beliefs out to the far edges of wingnuttery, with the resultant arguments and policies you'd expect... In the middle of an economic disaster and huge unemployment.  That would have lots of effects, none of them good, and few if any of the new and shiny ideas about smashing heads are likely to stop the damn rioting - quite the opposite, in fact.

Jesus.  I hope not, but the potential is on here for a political atmosphere that's going to make the Daily Mail in full flow look like an address on forgiveness by Rowan Williams. 

Monday, August 08, 2011

War! Good God!

Ay, when I asked earlier who that Libyan NTC Plan For Ultimate Victory was aimed at, I entirely forgot to consider the possibility that it was aimed at Professors Emerituses of Politicses.

The Good Professor is annoyed with  Peter Preston.  I don't need many excuses to take the arse with Preston myself on occasion, so he has some sympathy from me there.

Nonetheless, as you can probably guess, we're back on the subject of Our Great Perpetual War On Reality Itself, for which Professor Norm is a strong advocate.  Preston reckons we should slash our spending on "defence", since we haven't fought anything resembling a war of defence since about 1982, at least.  The Prof disagrees on three counts...
1. Do not do anything like invading Afghanistan again...  So, were Britain ever to be on the receiving end of a 9/11-type of attack, prepared from a country hosting an organization dedicated to carrying out such attacks against it, and resulting in the deaths of thousands of people in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh or some other British city, the government of the day should just 'pass' on the idea of a military response.
Not to be too much of a dick about this, but the UK didn't actually invade Afghanistan with nuclear submarines, heavy armour, massed mobile infantry and so on.  Admittedly, the Americans used aircraft carriers - something we didn't have at the time - but the actual anti-Al Qaeda operations were achieved with relative ease by small special forces teams, high-altitude bombing and co-operation with Afghan allies - precisely the kind of combined arms operations the present defence proposals are aimed at.  I suggest that we probably don't need a bajillion-dollar military to achieve this kind of victory in future.

Actually, I'm not that naive.  I know that the Professor is including our God-Knows-Why, What-Nutter's-Idea-Was-This? ten-year busman's holiday in Afghanistan here, but since that endeavour has actually nullified the initial successes of Operation Enduring Freedom by creating a massive Taliban cross-border statelet within Pakistan and Afghanistan, I don't think that's a very good advert for the UK maintaining a planet-crushing military behemoth.
2. Do not ever think of using our planes or troops to try to rescue civilians under threat of mass atrocity... This is a nice reversal of the 'If Libya, why not Burma?' question. We may now say, 'If not Syria, then why not not anywhere?' Screw the Responsibility to Protect. More Rwandas? Bring 'em on - we don't have to intervene to prevent that sort of thing, and (on the same basis) neither does anybody else.
See, I know where Norm is coming from here.  It seems hard-hearted to say, No More Interventions!  The sad fact though is that our current intervention in Libya is basically a watch-through-your-fingers catastrofuck, that may yet either end miraculously well or devolve into carnage.  Further, there actually was an intervention in Rwanda - Operation Turquoise.  Guess what?  It was also a watch-through-your-fingers catastrofuck, as have been most of our well-meaning interventions.  Somalia?  Check.  Iraq?  Check.  Kosovo?  Hmm, wobbly palms, could've been better, could've been a whole lot worse.

You might say Well, One Good Result Now And Then Is Better Than None, and it's an argument worth making, given the stakes.  All I'll say to that is that maybe we can help people, on occasion, but our proven habit of making things a whole lot worse doesn't inspire confidence.  I'm just glad that it's not my country that a bunch of eager, trigger-happy humanitarian beavers are aiming to assist.

Frankly, I'm now at the point where I wouldn't favour any kind of new military actions without a thousand-point battleplan and an encyclopaedic, heavily-footnoted paper on stabilisation.  Neither will be forthcoming for any future bombing enterprises.
3.  If you can't think of a threat to this country that is immediate or proximate, you don't need to worry about anything... In Peter Preston's version: 'Who, looking round there [Europe] with due solemnity, is going to start attacking the UK any time soon?... Give me one believable scenario that makes sense.' Don't say Eurocentrism, say: oh, what a jolly benign world.
Well.  I'm nobody's pacifist - I actively like war, in the abstract.  You should see my bookcase and DVD collection, and the PS3 games?  Evidence of an ill-spent youth and young adulthood, I'd say.

Even so, invoking the possibility of vague, non-specific future threats is a neat way of dodging the question, isn't it? After all, Preston's right - there is no serious military threat to the UK at the moment.  It may not always be that way - hey, it could be nuclear combat, toe to toe with the Russkies by teatime tomorrow! - but "Like, the world is not benign, man" is a damned funny attempt at refuting the point.

Like the Professor, I too would pick a better advocate for reduced military expenditure than Preston, if it was up to me.  That said, I'd pick a better critic too.

Suckered

If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. I think conservatism is really a misnomer just as liberalism is a misnomer for the liberals – if we were back in the days of the Revolution, so-called conservatives today would be the Liberals and the liberals would be the Tories. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is.
Thus spake Saint Ronald of Bonzo back in the Year of Our Lord 1975.   Naturally, the first thing he does after saying this is to immediately disavow the actually existing Libertarian Party as a bunch of wackos, as any politician who wishes to be elected to even the local PTA would be forced to do, but I find this instructive in light of my recent post on libertarians and the death penalty. 

When that was reposted over at LibCon, it immediately attracted a rash of comments to the effect that those self-declared "libertarians" who were demanding the instantaneous state-sponsored extermination of paedos and murderers are not Real Libertarians.

It may surprise you, but I'm highly amenable to that argument.  Indeed, they are not Real Libertarians, in the sense that there are about five Real Libertarians in Britain and all of them are too busy linking to each others' blogs in arguments over how fascist the licence fee really is to actually campaign for anything*. 

Nonetheless, this claim really is reminiscent of some student punk band in 1977** angrily proclaiming that the Sex Pistols aren't Real Punks.  Hell, maybe they weren't, but if you'd asked a random member of the public what a punk looked like back then, there's a good chance their description would resemble John Lydon much more than it would a bunch of Real Punks propping up the bill at the Bog and Plunger on a wet Tuesday night.

So indeed, yer Guidos and even yer Saint Ronnies may not be Real Libertarians but like so many of their ilk - and there are loads of 'em - they've somehow magically found a way to use libertarian dogma as a pole vault to propel themselves up to positions from which they can promote a series of mean-as-fuck, self-aggrandising and regressive policies.  Gee, how did that happen?

Let's be blunt here.  When New Labour rocked to power with loud declarations about their relaxed attitude to the filthy rich, I didn't then conclude that their shocking record on inequality was an aberration.  I didn't even make much complaint about Great Betrayals of this Socialist Principle or that Promise To Uplift The Little Guy, since it was entirely obvious that whatever noises they made in that direction were entirely secondary to their goal of keeping the taps on the cash pipes to the already wealthy wide open. 

I take a similar attitude to Barack Obama's record on war and taxation.  Hell, when the three iPods that Mrs R. and I have owned between us all packed in one after the other, each within three months of the expiration of their warranty, I drew the appropriate lesson.

I mean, Milton Friedman knew full well that the Republicans were a bunch of corporate goons and Christian phalangists, motivated by the twin desires to stuff their mates' pockets and drive fear of a literal, bull-horned and goat-hooved Satan into the nation's Godless fornicators and homosexuals.  Anyone recall him ever finishing one of his fruity little talks on the Godlike wisdom of the markets with the words "Oh, and by the way, don't vote Republican - they're a bunch of beady-eyed mentalists who want to padlock your genitals"?  

No, you don't...  Because, like so many of his thinktank buddies, his entire schtick was a fine-sounding scam aimed entirely at electing as many mean-as-fuck right-wing psychopaths as possible, however reactionary, and damn the consequences. 

I mean the whole thing here - free market evangelism, minarchism, the whole nine yards - all of it. Scam.  A well-constructed scam, mind, but a confidence trick nonetheless.

Now, I know this isn't going to go over well with true believers.  This kind of thing seldom does, and all I can tell you is to take a look across the political aisle at those unfortunate, red-faced lefties who spent years as members of glorified personality cults. There's no great shame in having been suckered, since it's basically an unavoidable part of consuming politics in any form.

Not buying it, eh?  Well, perhaps there's some other, less obvious explanation for why a worldview predicated on individual freedom and the destruction of the state always manifests itself in reality as a coalition with the super-wealthy;  why it always seems to find figureheads whose minds are full of spotless panopticon prisons, anti-abortion crusades for the Baby Jesus, shadow government deals with the Ayatollah and tub-thumping, disingenuous populist calls for state execution.

Really, I'm all ears.

*That's when the Real Libertarians aren't busy intentionally fleecing other, junior Real Libertarians.  If you ever bump into a political candidate who insists that the basis of their philosophy is absolute self-interest and a rejection of his duty to others, I'd say it's time to start keeping your wallet tethered on a short chain.


**1977, not 1979.  Better now?

We Are So Totally Not Fucking This Thing Up

I have in my hand a piece of paper, and on it is written the Libyan National Transition Council's plan for post-Gaddafi governance, drafted with "secret" assistance from "Britain and other Western governments".  You can find the bare details here, with further details behind the paywall in the Times. [1]

Frankly, it's as nutty a plan as I could've imagined and although it stops short of calling for an assault on Tripoli using war elephants, it's still something of an eye-opener.
"The document reveals that rebel forces have little faith in their ability to topple Colonel Gaddafi, but expect the regime to crumble from within.  Despite their public rhetoric, the top secret document reveals that rebel planners conclude that a succesful advance on Tripoli is unlikely, as is the death of Colonel Gaddafi in a Nato bombing raid.  Instead they think that he is most likely to be ousted by a popular uprising or coup".  - Times, 8th August

Which is all well and good - in war, much is left in the lap of the gods and they're a lot closer to the action than I am, so maybe they're right.

On the other hand, let's also note that "And then the people will rise up in support of us and provide a Deus Ex Machina total victory" is precisely the battle plan that worked so very well for, amongst others, Bonnie Prince Charlie's military advisors in the doomed Jacobite Rebellion of 1745.  If you haven't heard much about that plan, that's probably because those guys found it hard to pen their memoirs after they'd been bayonetted through the heart or publicly hung for treason.

Alarmingly, "And then the people will rise up" also represents the entirety of the NTC's plan for securing Western Libya after the regime's fall, in that 10-15,000 rebel sympathisers in Tripoli will apparently keep the peace, backed by 5,000 "non-ideological regime security officials".  This, recall, after both French and British ministers have explicitly floated plans allowing Gaddafi and his cronies to remain in Libya after the war is over, at a time when we are still denying that regime change is our official policy.

They also lay out a series of likely outcomes for the war, with ATTPWRU regarded as "High Probability".  Also in the "Very Likely" column is "Nato attacks intensify to an unbearable level", which is a pretty bold prediction after six months of what appear to be entirely bearable Nato attacks.

In the "Medium probability" section is "International community unites, untenable diplomatic pressure on regime", a proposition which I'd put right up there with "Contact with massively advanced spacefaring alien species suddenly eliminates war as a tool of policy" in the likelihood stakes.  There's also "Enough Gaddafi family members detained or killed" which seems fair enough, if a little bit Sopranos-esque.

Meanwhile in tthe "Low probability" section is "Radicalised suicide bombings/car bombings", which is comforting coming from an organisation whose top general was just fragged to smithereens by Jihadist lunatics in extremely whiffy and suspiciously convenient circumstances. Bear in mind that this is also quite a claim to be making in a document that appears to have been drawn up with significant British input, given our track record.

Really, I don't blame the NTC for making vague and windy plans for the capture and pacification of a major capital city.  I've no doubt that the rebel forces contain many brave and committed fighters for freedom, but even if they were in a position to take Tripoli - which they aren't and probably won't be, because they're a militia and not an army of actual soldiers - some of them do have nasty inclinations towards abusing civilians and looting everything that isn't nailed down.

And so, we remain exactly where we were before this plan was published - bogged down with our fingers crossed for a non-bloodcurdling outcome.

The Times claims that this plan is targeted at high-level Gaddafi officials and the general population of Tripoli, with the message "Gaddafi has no support".  I think it might well be aimed at credulous, Times-reading westerners with the message "Yo, despite appearances, we are so totally not fucking this thing up".

You can make your own mind up about the truth of the latter statement.

1.  Paywalled, of course.  I notice that the Libyan rebels ask the Telegraph & the Times to withhold key details of this "early draft", an odd move given that more or less the whole shebang is printed on page three of the latter.  As ever when referring to the Times, I'll post relevant extracts in comments on request. 

(Post slightly edited at the start, to remove daft claim about a "Times exclusive" when Torygraph has much the same deal).

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Hanging Referendums Are For Pussies - Real Men Want To Bring Back Crucifixion

Guido Fawkes is confusing me. He’s campaigning for the death penalty on the grounds that the public want it... And here’s my confusion. Guido has also long claimed to be a libertarian. But libertarianism and democracy conflict, simply because public opinion is on many issues very illiberal.  Chris at Stumbling and Mumbling

Chris finds the internet libertarians' campaign to bring back hanging surprising.  Luckily, I'm on hand to clear up any doubts and set the story straight.  Here it is -

The libertarians - people who, remember, want to see the state massively disempowered - are campaigning to hand the state the power of life and death because they are hacks and because their "libertarianism" is 100% purest bullshit.

Consider the following possibilities: either a) A bunch of self-declared anti-statists have somehow forgotten the core tenets of their own political philosophy or b) A bunch of twats who don't want to pay any tax will support literally anything that moves political debate in an infinitely stupider direction.

Recall the Swiss minaret ban, if you can. You'd think a measure that selectively cracks down on the property rights of individuals would be anathema to small government types.  Not so - popular opinion on taxation and public services may be tantamount to tyranny, but whenever the people speak on a subject that penalises one of their bugbears and, crucially, annoys lefties, you can hear the champagne corks popping from a mile away.

I can already hear the objections that really, it's a bit more complicated than that.  It's not more complicated than that.  When you're talking about people whose entire worldview can be reasonably reduced to Life ain't nothin' but bitches and money, it's a major error to expect consistency in anything other than their tendency to be as much of a dick as possible about absolutely everything.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

C*nt Give Him Two Years


Danny: ...He's a very low temperature spade, the Coal Man. Went into court wearing a kaftan and a bell.  This doesn't go down at all well. They can handle the kaftan but they can't handle the bell.  So there's this judge sitting there sitting in a cape like fucking Batman with this really rather far out looking hat...  So he looks at the Coal Man and says "What's all this? This is a court, man. This ain't fancy dress." and the Coal Man looks at him and says "You think you look normal, your honour?"  ...Cunt give him two years.
Jamie is making sense here, talking about the joker who pied Rupert Murdoch, amongst various other protest hi-jinks of late.

There's been plenty of outrage on Twitter recently as various protestors have been handed what look like harsh sentences for a variety of offences.  It tends to go like this...

"It's ridiculous that Johnny Tithead-Smythe has been sent down for 14 months for such a trivial offence when Villain (x) gets less for something worse.  Clearly, this is a politically-motivated judgement.  I thought we had an independent judiciary??!!!?" 


I hate to come off all waggy-finger with youse, but here's the deal - the law is what it is, and one of the things it is, is really, really Draconian on civil disorder.  There are reasons for this.  Some of them are understandable and some less so.

Take rioting, for instance.  Mobbing and rioting is a Big Deal, not just because it disturbs the Man (although it really does, and not often in a good way) or because it causes property damage (which it does) but because what looks like a lot of hurly-burly between the coppers and a bunch of rowdy teens can turn very quickly into people being trampled or beaten to death by angry mobs, buildings being torched with the occupants inside, and so on.

That all sounds like great fun until it's your street it's happening on*, and most people have an innate aversion to being subjected to missiles and police charges on their way to work.  Thus, the sentencing guidelines read To prison with the hoodlums, and don't spare the horses.

Similarly, judges frown upon people being assaulted in the Houses of Parliament and attacks on policemen, not least because they also frown upon attacks on judges, but also because the H'es of P and the cops are symbols of democracy and good order.  For obvious reasons, those who make the law want citizens to think twice before getting into boxing matches with the constabulary.

Now, you might think this is unfair.  You might think it's scandalous and symptomatic of whatever societal ills, but the one thing it isn't is politicised.  Get caught committing these types of offences, and it's Wormwood Scrubs for you.  If anything, half of these folk could've been given far worse sentences and they wouldn't have had many grounds for complaint.

I'm not a great protester and I'm an even worse rioter, but I will say this - if you're intent on registering your discontent, take a look at the law books and pick something that doesn't carry a prison sentence.  If you do go for the criminal option, you pretty much have to take it on the chin when they send you down for it.

*While I'm at it, I don't recall ever hearing much sympathy for rioting football fans who get hefty sentences. 

Monday, August 01, 2011

"Hague Absolutely Will Not Fellate Gaddafi Live On Libyan TV"

US President Barack Obama has defended the first military intervention of his presidency, insisting US involvement in Libya will be limited.  He said US participation in the coalition had saved "countless lives", but that overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi by force would be a mistake. - BBC News, 29th March 2011

Explaining the UK's position on the Today programme, Foreign Secretary William Hague said it was "not involved in regime change".  "We would like him [Gaddafi] to go but militarily what we're involved in is the [UN] resolution. We will stick strictly to the [UN] resolution," he told John Humphrys.  "It's for the people of Libya to determine their future." - BBC Today Programme, 29th March 2011

The Foreign Secretary simply insisted that it was not a question of "if" Gaddafi would go but "when". He said he was satisfied with what had already been achieved... (List of achievements to date)  ...Mr Hague denied that the aim of the military mission was to deliver regime change. That was not possible under the terms of the UN mandate, he said, but the vast majority of the world did think Gaddafi should go and, in time, he would. - Conservative Home, 13th April 2011

One day after Nato planes launched air strikes on Tripoli, a Conservative MP has requested the recall of Parliament amid fears that the allied mission in Libya has become focused on regime change, which is illegal under international law.  John Baron, who was the only Tory MP to vote against military action in Libya, believes that while the original emphasis of the Libyan mission was the protection of civilians and the provision of humanitarian aid, it is now the removal of Colonel Gaddafi. - Channel 4 News, 15th April 2011

Barack Obama, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy have stated their determination to keep bombing Libya until Muammar Gaddafi steps down or is deposed.  The leaders of the United States, Britain and France said, in a jointly written article, it would be an "unconscionable betrayal" of the populations of rebel towns to cease operations with Colonel Gaddafi still in place. It was "unthinkable" that a leader who has "tried to massacre his own people" could be allowed to continue in government, they said. - Independent, 15th April 2011

Foreign Minister Alain Juppé of France said Wednesday that the Libyan leader Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi could remain in Libya so long as he completely gave up power, as part of a larger political deal, including a cease-fire, on the future of the country. - New York Times, 20th July 2011

Britain is prepared to agree to a political settlement in Libya that would see Muammar Gaddafi remain in the country after relinquishing his hold on power, the foreign secretary, William Hague, has said.  Guardian, 25th July 2011

Now, even I'm savvy enough to spot that "regime change" means "Nato soldiers removing Gaddafi", while "Libyans deciding their own future" means "Libyan rebels killing Gaddafi".  Nonetheless, it does make for a bewildering series of pronouncments, doesn't it? You do have to wonder where we're going next here.  Hague "Absolutely will not" fellate Gaddafi live on Libyan TV?  "France Will Never Submit To Libyan Naval  Invaders"? 

I've used the issue of regime change here to illustrate the incoherence of the whole project and the level of honesty displayed from our political leaders throughout. There are a host of other issues that could've served equally well - for instance, how does the proposition "It's for the people of Libya to decide their own future" square with Nato's recognition of the rebels as their legitimate government? - but this'll do for now.

Well, what the hell.  It was clear before this campaign started that our national sat-nav was programmed to drive us up Bullshit Boulevard, but even I'm surprised by the directness of our route the rapidity of our arrival.  Have we had any good "Nobody could possibly have predicted this type of thing would happen" articles yet, or are we still at the "Give us infinite time and resources to sort this out and everything will work out fine" stage?