Syria, Tomahawks and Red Ken

Let’s just take a step back

One of the running jokes on Have I Got News For You is Ian Hislop sarcastically inserting the word ‘allegedly’ in front of outrageous or salacious claims (often true). A nod to ‘the lawyers’ is never too far behind. It’s a running joke because of the face he will pull, or the tone he will employ. However, the joke is based on the very real risk of stating outright on the BBC something which is, or could be, false. This would open them up to quite serious libel charges, and be a strict violation of BBC rules.

I mention this only because there has been a distinct lack of this word appearing recently, particularly in relation to this ‘alleged’ gas attack in Syria. I was amazed to awaken this morning to the hosts of the Today programme stating that Assad has ‘gassed his own people’ as though it was a verifiable fact. Is it? When was this confirmed? And by whom? How did they obtain this information?

If this sounds like an odd thing to say, then we may have hit upon the problem. Forgive me for sounding overly sceptical…but where have all the sceptics gone? Has anyone stopped to question whether this is true or not? Or have we just taken it as gospel?

Before I am reprimanded, I should state outright that I am NOT saying that this didn’t happen. It could well have. But isn’t this all happening a little fast? Are we acting and speaking before we think? On what basis do we believe these things?

I’ll lay my cards on the table – I will be amazed if this is proven to be true. Horrified, yes – but mainly amazed. Because it simply doesn’t make any logical sense. Assad is currently in the middle of a bloody and horrid civil war, one which he clearly plans on winning. He is a dreadful man, a sinister tyrant – but he is not stupid. Bad as he may be, he shows no sign of being genuinely foolish.

Let’s try for a moment to strip all emotion out of this and just focus on reason. Chemical weapons are horrible. They’re also rubbish weapons. They have no demonstrably superior effect in a war situation and cannot kill or wound as efficiently as conventional weapons. Weapons which, at the moment, are in plentiful supply thanks to Russian involvement.

Assad is starting to win and Russian conventional weapons are starting to help him to gain a good foothold. He has also been warned repeatedly that if he uses chemical weapons, Western troops and bombs are coming in. So why on earth would he stop using bombs and start using gas? That would be asking for intervention in a conflict that he’s winning. It doesn’t make any sense. Does the timing not sound a little suspicious?

He is being backed by Russia – RUSSIA. Putin is most definitely not stupid. He knows full well that a gas attack would have absolutely no strategic benefit whatsoever, and surely would never allow such a thing to happen on his watch, given how much he has invested.

This has not been proven to anything like a level that I would be asking for, and I admit to being stunned at how readily a nation that backed Blair’s WMD theory is to believe it all over again. Once more – I’m not saying this didn’t happen…I’m saying it hasn’t been proven.

Is it so much to ask for a little scepticism? What harm could possibly come from just waiting a little to see what can be proven, independently and rigorously? Why are we rushing headlong towards a battlefield that contains Russian troops, tanks, planes and ships? I beg you – take a step back.

A scary response

On a similar note – is it just me who is utterly terrified by the thought that Trump saw some images of kids and sent his military to bomb the crap out of an airfield? Whatever you think of his actions – you may approve – is it not just the slightest bit insane that he can just change his mind so easily when he is at the helm of the largest military the world has ever seen?

Leaders need to free themselves of emotion in order to make good, unclouded decisions. American leaders especially, given the enormous power they can wield. We know Trump can’t do this. How can you make major strategic decision in this manner? More to the point, who is reining him in?

Sadly, US Presidents traditionally need to hold back their generals from going to war. Trump is enabling them. We can’t trust him with a delicate and tense situation involving huge interests and nuclear powers. One slight misstep and this goes horribly wrong.

59 Tomahawk missiles (at a cost of $250,000 each) rained down on an airport at the whim of a baby in a suit. In the parallel universe that we apparently now occupy, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron and Supreme High Lord of the Utopian Left, Justin Trudeau have backed him, while Nigel Farage, Paul Nuttall, Katie Hopkins, Arron Banks, Milo Yiannopolous, Paul Joseph Watson and Ann Coulter have denounced him. As the latter pointed out, plenty of people voted for him on the understanding he wasn’t a Middle East hawk. 13 weeks in, he’s already proven himself one.

Pictures of dead/suffering children are unbearable to see. They’re also an awful basis for making good decisions.

Challenge him on the facts

This whole Ken Livingstone saga has dragged on for far too long. More to the point, Ken and everyone else have been at an impasse that should have been resolved long ago. The main thrusts of the argument to this point have been as follows:

Ken: “Here’s a thing that happened”

Everyone else: “That’s really offended and upset a lot of people, you need to apologise”

Ken: “But it’s true, why should I apologise?”

Everyone else: “Because people are hurt and upset. You need to apologise”

And round and round and round…

Here’s my problem – why didn’t anyone just challenge him on the facts? If you think you’re right about something, there is no reason to apologise. Sometimes people get hurt and that’s a shame, but if they’re hurt by something that is true, there’s not much you can do about that. As it happens, he’s wrong, so he should apologise. But the problem is, every time he is on the airwaves, he isn’t met by this challenge, he is just met by an incredulous presenter who simply cannot believe that he won’t apologise for hurting people’s feelings.

I’ll be completely honest, I think the guy is wrong, but I do have a respect for his doggedness. He hasn’t just backed down like every other person in public life does and apologised just to end it all. Throughout this whole saga, I deliberately didn’t look up his references because I wanted to hear him faced with someone authoritative on the subject to deliver an actual riposte to his claims. The problem with not doing that, is that the people listening just hear his side, then a request for him to apologise. This leaves people going “well if he’s right, why should he?”

The answers as to why he’s wrong come in pieces like David Baddiel’s superb contribution to today’s Guardian. He outlines why Ken is wrong accurately and succinctly. But he hasn’t had the chance to put that to Ken directly. He needs to be debated.

Perhaps this should be a lesson. Demanding an apology is just an appeal to emotion. It’s saying “it doesn’t matter if what you say is true or not, you need to say sorry”. And that’s not good enough. What we need to do is say “here’s why what you said is wrong, it’s here in this respected book, this respected and knowledgeable expert says so, you’ve interpreted it in this way when really you should have done it that way. Now apologise.”

A world where people are forced to apologise for something they’re not sorry for – what kind of world is that?

Some thoughts on the Speaker, Blair and Milo

It’s been a while since I blogged, and felt like this was a good time to bring it back. I’ll probably be talking politics mostly, but who knows where it’ll go. I’ll be attempting to do it regularly and be more disciplined with it this time. It seemed a shame to stop before, despite my blog being featured on WordPress ‘Freshly Pressed’.

I have felt the need to remove my old posts – it happens to everyone I’m sure, but, much like watching videos of myself do comedy, I was slightly cringing reading them back, so I wanted a clean slate.

I should say now, that I doubt I’ll talk much (if at all) directly about Donald Trump. There will never be anything I can reasonably add to what has already been said about the man, so I probably won’t. I already find it tedious, and it’s been weeks. It’s been said to me that “it must be a golden time for comedy at least”. No. No it isn’t. It’s already boring. Did you know Trump was sexist? Wow. Tell me more about how stupid George Bush is. Is John Prescott really fat?

Personal preference, but I don’t think I can bring myself to do it. If he comes up, it will be as part of another story. Anyway, here are some thoughts on recent events. Feel free to not read them.

The Speaker speaks…I wish he wouldn’t

I am a big admirer of the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow. I feel I should say that up front, because he really is a quite remarkable man. He has no shame in making sure the government is held to account, with a record number of urgent questions granted, and he makes sure the minister responsible damn well turns up to the House to answer them. He takes a dim view of junior ministers showing up to defend a question, and will often keep granting questions until the minister shows.

He is also, as far as I can see, fair and reasonable in the Chair. If I had any criticisms, it would probably be that he seems to like the sound of his own voice a little too much. Despite regularly calling the House to order during Prime Minister’s Questions in a calm manner (very often the only session of the week that even requires such interventions – it is otherwise very well behaved and orderly), he can, at times, try to shout above the fray with a joke or a witty put down which doesn’t really work. Shouting over a braying chamber helps nobody, and puts one in mind of a supply teacher out of his depth.

Telling Chris Ruane “you are an incorrigible delinquent at times” was probably the best one, with telling David Cameron “the Right Honourable Gentleman is finished [speaking], and he can take it from me that he’s finished” a close second, but otherwise, it can be pretty excruciating. Nevertheless, he is keen to ensure that the House is presentable to the public and, knowing that PMQs is pretty much the only time the public are watching with any regularity, tries to discourage bad behaviour.

However, despite his good points, he does himself no favours with his recent statements. He has often had a significant group of Tory MPs out to get him, and has even survived a couple of attempts to topple him. This, despite his past as a Conservative MP and a reasonably active backbencher. So why on earth would he give them any ammunition by giving his opinion on matters he ought to be strictly neutral on?

In the middle of a Parliamentary session, Mr Bercow decided to give his opinion on a potential address by the new American President to both Houses and came down squarely on one side. Now, there are several problems with this.

Firstly, it is surely imperative that we put aside whether we agree or disagree with what he said. For the Chair to retain its integrity, this cannot matter. I happen to agree with the sentiments expressed, but that is not the point. It isn’t his place to opine on matters of State in public, it is his place to represent the wishes of the House of Commons. He made no attempt to ascertain these wishes, and therefore could not, with any degree of confidence, pronounce on them. If he wishes to give his opinion, he should be absolutely free to do so…the second he resigns his office. There can be no other way.

His office affords him immense privileges. He is a member of the Privy Council, he can give private counsel to the Prime Minister and he can also give private counsel to the Queen. The key word here is private.

Secondly, he addressed a matter that did not even exist. There was no plan for the President to address Parliament in Westminster Hall at that point, so in addressing it, he made it into the story it became. There’s an old adage in football – the referee should never be the story. The same applies to the Speaker, but alas all too often, Bercow makes himself the story.

It should also be noted that, whilst he was addressing an audience outside of the Commons, it was most unwise of him to reveal publicly which way he voted in the referendum. Again, put aside whether or not you agree (a good test is to always think, “what if he’d said the opposite?”), this can only bring problems on himself.

He is already accused of bias and partisanship. This may or may not be accurate. However, by making these public pronouncements, he needlessly opens himself up the charge. If he is so keen to give his opinion, he should do so privately, or resign.

I personally wish he does not resign, but I fear his time will soon be up. I hope that is not through a vote of no confidence, as that would not be a fitting way to close a positive and forward thinking tenure as Speaker. But he is not an unintelligent man, he must have known he was creating these problems for himself. So is he just trying to provoke one last news story before he resigns himself? We shall see.

He rises from the deep

Always…ALWAYS, finish the course of antibiotics. If you don’t it will just come back. And it will be more irritating and frustrating than ever before.

Fortunately, it seems with Blair’s latest relaunch, it skidded off the runway and landed in a field (I may be using too many metaphors here…). Pretty much everyone regarded his recent interference in public life with scorn and revulsion; even those who may have broadly agreed with his assessment could not help but be put off by the messenger.

He really doesn’t seem to get it does he? There is no way back for him in public life. The catastrophe of the Iraq War will be a permanent, lasting scar on the collective psyche, and he, the smiling face on the poster.

Take this excerpt from his speech:

“Our challenge is to expose relentlessly the actual cost, to show how this decision was based on imperfect knowledge which will now become informed knowledge, to calculate in ‘easy to understand’ ways how proceeding will cause real damage to the country and its citizens, and to build support for finding a way out from the present rush over the cliff’s edge”.

It is almost comical in its lack of self awareness. This could be an exact copy of a speech a wizened, old, broken Blair could give to his 2003 self, were he to acquire the advanced technological means to enable such a coming together.

“Expose relentlessly the actual cost”…would that be the millions of lives, billions of pounds and countless displaced?

“Show how this decision was based on imperfect knowledge”…would that be in the form of, oh I don’t know, some form of ‘dossier’?

“To calculate in ‘easy to understand’ ways how proceeding will cause real damage to the country and its citizens”…the citizens of Iraq didn’t need a calculator, mate.

“Build support for finding a way out from the present rush over the cliff’s edge”…millions protested. Begged, pleaded, implored you not to do it. And yet you did it anyway.

He is toxic to anything he now touches, he is poison to any message he cares to spread. He will forever infect any cause he opens his mouth about. If he cares at all, he will stay away.

You love him really. What other explanation is there?

One of my favourite shows to watch from across the pond is “Real Time with Bill Maher”. I like Bill, he’s funny, he’s opinionated, but he’s also fair. I would have enough disagreements with him to keep us going for weeks were we to ever meet, but man, the guy is funny with it.

For me, the best thing about the show is that anyone, from anywhere on the political spectrum, is invited on. Conservatives and Republicans need brass ones to go on it and face Maher’s overwhelmingly liberal crowds, but when they do, they are afforded a level of respect and an ability to speak uninterrupted not really seen anywhere else.

Regulars on the show have included Ann Coulter, darling of the American Right, Kelly-Anne Conway, director of Trump’s campaign, and figures like Sam Harris and Bill Burr.

Recently, however, Maher had invited on the nemesis of all right-on liberals – Milo Yiannopolous. Another panel member refused to do the show because of this invite (and made a bit of a thing about it on social media…I don’t really like the term ‘virtue signalling’ but that felt to me like it was it).

Now…Milo is controversial to say the least. He is currently banned from Twitter for life, had to cancel a talk at Berkley due to actual riots at his presence (how very charming) and is writing a new book for which the publisher has already had boycotts and huge media attention, despite the thing not even having been written yet.

My own opinion of the guy is that he seems to just be trolling for trolling’s sake. I don’t really read his writings because it’s a little boring. As someone who can rarely be bothered getting offended about anything, certainly not on behalf of others, saying supposedly ‘shocking’ things about women, trans people or gays just comes across as crass and mean. If I thought he was trying to make a serious point, I’d listen. But it doesn’t feel that way at the moment. He claims he is advancing the cause of free speech…well, maybe. I certainly would back him against any protests to shut him down, and I certainly would take no part in any boycott of him. Let him speak, if he wants to. And let others listen, if they want to.

Anyway, this appearance on Real Time. He fired off his usual shots about feminism and some other quite offensive things. And then it was over. Nobody got hurt, nobody had any violence incited against them, Milo looked a bit of a pillock (in my opinion) and Maher thanked him for being on the show, having stuck in some skewers along the way. End of story.

Why should this be so hard? I wasn’t offended, but it reinforced my original thoughts about him. He’s a bit of a troll who wants attention. So please, feel free to keep giving it to him. It will ensure his notoriety and solidify his core support.

I remember, as a fan of the Apprentice, following Katie Hopkins on Twitter (as I did with most contestant once they had appeared on the show) when she had about 5,000 followers. Then she started being the way she is now. I warned everyone to just ignore her and stop talking about her and she’d go away.The predictable first response from a friend was ‘well, you’re talking about her now, you’re doing what she wants…blah blah blah’. Fine. This is the first thing I’ve said about her since. She has 678,000 followers now. Well done everyone.

Maybe we can learn this lesson? It is actually possible to just ignore them. Don’t be ‘amazed’ when they say something to get attention. “CAN YOU BELIEVE KATIE HOPKINS/MILO/TRUMP JUST SAID THAT?!?!?!”

Yes, of course I can. Why wouldn’t I believe it? It’s their raison d’etre. I can’t help but think that liberals, secretly, love to despise them. It feels good, no?