Monday, 7 August 2017

OFSTED and Adventure in the Playground

For those who do not know, the lady in the adventure playground pictured above is Amanda Spielman, the new Head of OFSTED, the schools inspection service. Like her predecessors, Ms Spielman has begun her tenure as OFSTED Supremo by making an amazing non-discovery about something amiss in education unnoticed by previous holders of the post. Well, it's one way of making an impression, I suppose. 
Ms Spielman has set out to stamp her authority upon schools and education in general by accusing schools of mollycoddling pupils. As the BBC says:
"Teachers must stop trying to wrap children in cotton wool with over-the-top health and safety policies, the chief inspector of schools has said.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Amanda Spielman said it stopped the children developing resilience and grit".
She notes with displeasure that schools are over cautious in their Health and Safety measures such as banning conkers, yo-yos and making children wear high-visibility jackets on school trips. The Chief Inspector goes on to say:
"My message to schools is this - keeping children safe from harm should always be your overriding concern but... make sure you distinguish between real and imagined risk.Trying to insulate your pupils from every bump, germ or bruise won't just drive you to distraction, it will short-change those pupils as well, limiting their opportunity to fully take advantage of the freedom of childhood..."
On the surface, this appears to be fair comment; those of us over a certain age often remark that today's children don't have the freedoms we had, but I'll leave that for later.
We should first take a look at Ms Spielman and the way MPs reacted to her application to become OFSTED boss.Put simply,the Education sub-Committee did not want to give her the job. Ms Spielman is not a qualified teacher and thus lacks experience of schools and school administration, which is not ideal training for her present role. I am no fan of OFSTED, as readers of this blog well know, but at least previous Chief Inspectors had worked at the chalkface and taught in the classroom. Without that experience, a crucial understanding of the pressures upon teaching staff is lacking.
Besides this, Ms Spielman, as the BBC says:
"... failed to show "passion" or an understanding of the "complex role", education select committee MPs said". 
In spite of this, Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, overruled the sub-committee's misgivings and Amanda Spielman was given the job. Hardly a good start!
It is also useful to examine Ms Spielman's concerns about excessive Health and Safety regulations in schools. These measures receive a good deal of attention in the media from time to time, and it's worth looking back over some of them.
1. There was a primary school in Leeds which banned the game of "Tig".
2. The old playground game of "British Bulldogs" is seemingly banned in many schools. In 2011, over a quarter of 653 school staff surveyed by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said it had been banned from their school.
3. Schools in Wiltshire, Cumbria and Clackmannanshire introduced a ban on conkers over fears the horse chestnuts could trigger anaphylactic reactions.
4. In January, birthday cakes were banned at a Blackpool primary school as teachers "do not have time" to check ingredients for pupils with allergies.
On the face of it, our schools are overrun by rules that are preventing a whole generation of our children from having fun and experiencing the world. As a primary teacher for 34 years, now retired, I can attest that this is a purely superficial impression. If we examine the evidence, it is only one school out of thousands that has banned "Tig" - I have never encountered such a ban on this game or "Bulldog". As for the conkers ban, please note: only three LEAs banned conkers. In my experience, children do not play conkers because they regard this activity as being old-fashioned or simply do not know of the game. I have known birthday cakes to be banned for some children, but as a result of parental pressure, rather than a busybody school administration.
It is ridiculous to single out schools as over-protective agencies holding children back from becoming seasoned adventurers. If anything, the whole of society plays this role. Most people of my generation think we remember a golden age when our parents sent us out to play in the morning - but with firm instructions to be back in time for tea. That golden age, if it ever existed, has been transformed into abiding fears for children's safety - Mary Bell, the Moors Murderers, the killers of Jamie Bulger, Rhys Jones, Millie Dowler and many other young victims have seen to that. Schools simply reflect the anxieties of wider society on this issue.
To conclude: I am not impressed with Amanda Spielman's debut on the educational stage. In this, she is no different from previous holders of the post of Chief Inspector for Schools.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Passchendaele - No Comforting Blanket

I wondered how the Battle of Passchendaele, which, 100 years ago today, had been raging for about 24 hours, would be remembered. Such occasions can so easily become sugar-coated exercises in nostalgia. However, as Michael Morpurgo, who played a key role in the commemoration events on Sunday evening, said: "You can't draw a comforting blanket over the First World War." That is very well said and can surely not be contradicted. As the Evening Standard says:
"Although it is difficult to calculate exact numbers, around 325,000 Allied and 260,000 German soldiers died in the Battle of Passchendaele.
Among the Allied deaths were 36,000 Australians, 2,500 New Zealanders, 16,000 Canadians. Some 42,000 bodies have never been recovered."
The Evening Standard is wrong here; the figures it quotes are for all battle casualties, dead, wounded and missing. Nevertheless,such statistics, and the terrible conditions in which the Allies and their German opponents lived, fought and died, are no cause for sentimental indulgence. The remembrance services, and the secular commemorations by singers and actors, have been conducted with good taste and respect for the fallen. No attempt has been made to gloss over the conditions and horrors of this appalling battle, even though some awkward facts about it have not been stressed enough.
The battle is sometimes known as the Third Battle of Ypres. Two previous battles, in 1914 and 1915, had led to the creation of an ongoing slaughterhouse for the Allied armies, known to history as the Ypres Salient.  Salients, in simple terms, are little more than bulges in a defending army's front line which can be fired upon from three sides. This happened in the Ypres Salient and much worse - the Germans held the high ground around the fringes of the salient which gave them an unrestricted view of all Allied activity. Even during "quiet" periods, their artillery and snipers had a ready supply of targets; in the build-up to the Passchendaele slaughter, their observers were able to detect signs of a coming attack. The Allies are said to have clung on to Ypres for symbolic reasons - it signified a last vestige of unoccupied Belgium and (I can't believe this!) prevented the Germans from reaching the Channel ports. The fact that this created a perfect killing ground for the Germans was overlooked for reasons of prestige.
Lyn Macdonald, in her marvellous book, "They Called it Passchendaele", comments:
"The sensible thing would have been to withdraw from the salient, abandoning Ypres, and to establish a stronger line in the rear beyond the (Ypres-Comines) canal bank".
General Horace Smith-Dorrien, regarded by historians as one of the few able senior British officers of WW1, advocated just such a move in 1915 and was sacked for it by the Commander of the British Forces, Sir John French.
A number of factors are said to account for the costly slowness of the British advance. Chief among them is the mud. It is undeniable that the August rain contributed to this, but the heavy artillery bombardment before the initial assault played its part by destroying the underground dikes that drained the local terrain. Another is the famed incompetence of British generals. As the Liverpool poet, the late Adrian Henri, said:
It seems that Haig was misled by his Intelligence chief, Brigadier General John Charteris, who kept providing Haig with optimistic reports about a German collapse, encouraging Haig to continue attacking. How that excuses Haig is beyond me - it was his responsibility to check the truth of those reports.When it came to intelligence reports in any case, Haig seems to have ignored information that he did not want to believe. Norman Dixon, in his book "On the Psychology of Military Incompetence" says:
"Haig's intelligence service knew that the Germans expected the offensive. Haig was evidently undismayed".
Lloyd George, the prime minister, was said to be critical of Haig - but did nothing to get him to call off the offensive.
There is one factor, however, that was not mentioned, and that is the effectiveness of German defensive tactics. Before they went over the top on the first day, British troops were astonished to find themselves under artillery fire. The German batteries had not been knocked out in the preliminary bombardment. As the "Time Team" stalwart, Peter Barton, says:
"We had been unable to cow their artillery...The British were amazed that the Germans were still able to fire back. The Germans had carefully sighted their guns and moved them at night sideways and backwards, and they had fake batteries as well. They would light a fuse in these fakes to draw the British fire."
The Germans had been preparing defences for two years, which gave the attacking troops some nasty surprises. Barton again:
"When the attack started ...whole battalions along here were reduced to husks. The British had no idea how many of these pillboxes the Germans had because they were covered by earth and so were almost invisible to aerial reconnaissance. But there were 15,000 of them and as soon as the British bombardment ended the Germans would rush out and place their machine guns on the top of them, cutting swathes through the British lines. The pillboxes were so well concealed the British would run over the top of them and then be shot in the back."
Anyway, the battle petered out in November, 1917. Passchendaele village, after which the battle is named, was captured by Canadian troops on November 6th. The high ground around Ypres had been captured.  The many thousands killed had won a five mile advance of the Allied front line, and made the name of the battle a symbol of the futility of war. The stated aims of the offensive - to break through the German line and capture the Channel ports were not achieved. Strangely, no-one spoke of an Allied defeat or a German defensive victory. Perhaps they all knew it was a shattering blow to both sides.
A bitter postscript for the British survivors of the battle was the fact that when the Germans went on the attack in the spring of 1918, Passchendaele and the ridges around Ypres were abandoned. The British and Empire troops fell back over the bloodsoaked ground of the salient to a small defensive position around the town of Ypres and its outskirts. As Lyn Macdonald observes at the end of her book:
"It was precisely the size to which General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien had proposed to reduce it in 1915.He had been sacked for his pains. But no-one remembered that. By 1918 that was a lifetime and some 200, 000 lives ago".
I fully support the remembrance of the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice at Passchendaele and honour their memory. Their names and voices live on in memorials, memoirs and the memories of relatives. It does not dishonour them to point out that much of their suffering and sacrifice could have been avoided. The last word goes to Siegfried Sassoon from his poem, "Memorial Tablet":

Squire nagged and bullied till I went to fight
(Under Lord Derby’s scheme).  I died in hell—­
(They called it Passchendaele); my wound was slight,
And I was hobbling back, and then a shell
Burst slick upon the duck-boards; so I fell
Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light.
In sermon-time, while Squire is in his pew,
He gives my gilded name a thoughtful stare;
For though low down upon the list, I’m there:
“In proud and glorious memory”—­that’s my due.
Two bleeding years I fought in France for Squire;
I suffered anguish that he’s never guessed;
Once I came home on leave; and then went west.
What greater glory could a man desire?

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Mr Angry and the Growth of Intolerance

If we can describe the man in the cartoon as "Mr Angry", we might well ask what he is angry about. He might be cross for legitimate personal reasons; he might be angry over Brexit; he could be furious at the way his favourite football team has played; he might simply be cross because someone disagrees with him, and he hates that. The last of these possible factors seems to be coming more common in our society, and I think it worth considering here.
I am driven to discuss this by the appalling news that staff at Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital in London (GOSH) are being subjected to threats and abuse over the baby Charlie Gard issue. As "The Guardian" reports:
"Thousands of abusive messages, including death threats, have been sent to doctors and nurses at the children’s hospital in London, the chair of the hospital revealed. She said that staff were also facing abuse in the street. Families visiting their sick children had also been “harassed and discomfited,” they said."
I fail to understand the mental processes (or lack of them) of the people who send these threats. The hospital's decision concerning the treatment of Charlie would have been taken by a small management team; the vast majority of staff would not have been involved. Still, as the old saying goes:
"The mob has many heads but no brains."
And this type of mob, unlike street mobs, is difficult to counter. This mob's presence, for the most part, is not physical, but online. No amount of police can stop anonymous emails or casual insults by individuals in the street. To be fair, poor Charlie's parents have condemned the abuse against GOSH staff, having received abuse themselves.
This disgusting affair points to one question, I think: is Britain becoming more intolerant? In many ways, the answer would appear to be "No". In my lifetime, I have seen many positive changes. Racism is now widely frowned upon, despite the efforts of Enoch Powell and the far right in the past. Gay rights for men and women have become established in our society; even the Conservative Party has openly gay ministers in Parliament. Women now enjoy equal pay and employment status with their male counterparts; I can remember when women were paid less than men for doing the same job - and how many people thought this natural.
And yet - a number of commentators have expressed the view that disagreement between people on political and social issues is becoming more fraught. According to this view, for many people of left, right and centre political persuasions, the expression of a differing point of view to their own is regarded as being almost a hate crime. Rational debate, it seems, is becoming a thing of the past. Instead, people are entrenching themselves behind walls of bigotry, indulging in abuse and being abused, rather than engaging in constructive dialogue or discussion.
This state of affairs can be seen at its worst in debates between pro-Israelis and pro-Palestinians over Gaza and Palestinian rights. Having watched a number of events of this type, I have been appalled how two sets of people can sit in the same room barking invective at each other, each considering themselves to be right, and totally unwilling to achieve any rapprochement. Anyone (such as myself) who says anything critical of either side is immediately attacked as being an enemy. As Mussolini said:  "O con noi o contro di noi"—You're either with us or against us."
I hope this attitude does not become more widespread in Britain, nor can I accept that it will happen to the extent feared. If it did, society could not function. Simple disagreements would escalate into full-scale battles at the drop of a hat.
Nevertheless, during the benighted EU referendum campaign, we did see the polarisation of the UK into two opposing Leave/Remain camps, which led to a good deal of acrimonious disputation and invective, both before and after the referendum date. The campaigning divided political parties, workplaces, friendships and families. The division caused contributed to the violent death of a Manchester man, Duncan Keating, a "Leave" supporter, after an argument with a "Remain" supporting neighbour, Graham Dunn. And there is no doubt that it played a part in the killing of Jo Cox MP by the fascist, Thomas Mair.
Jo Cox's murder points to the fact that the intolerant minority in our society is becoming more active. They certainly mobilised for action during the recent election campaign. It was so bad that Theresa May has ordered an investigation into intimidation of election candidates. What is of note is that both sides of the political divide were targeted. Diane Abbott, in particular, was the subject of some horrendously vile abuse. She told "The Guardian":
“There was an EDL-affiliated Twitter account BurnDianeAbbott, I’ve had rape threats, described as a pathetic, useless, fat, black, piece of shit, ugly, fat, black bitch.” 
From the other side:
"Simon Hart, the Conservative MP who called the debate, said the party’s whips office had been dealing with “at least three credible threats to colleagues every week, including death threats, criminal damage, sexism, racism, homophobia, antisemitism and general thuggishness around and after the election”. 
I could be wrong here, but my guess is that the perpetrators of these despicable attacks, whatever their politics, are pretty similar in a number of ways. They are probably the kind of people who shout at the TV over issues that bother them but, before the advent of the internet, never vented their feelings in ways other than expounding their views in private or down the pub. At most, they would write a vitriolic, anonymous letter. Email, Facebook and Twitter have changed all that. As the much-abused MP, Diane Abbott, says:
 “I think the rise in the use of online has turbocharged abuse because 30 years ago, when I first became an MP, if you wanted to attack an MP you had to write a letter, usually in green ink, you had to put it in an envelope, you had to put a stamp on it and you had to walk to the post box,” she said. “Now they press a button and you read vile abuse which 30 years ago people would have been frightened to even write down.” 
I think we need to explore ways of returning to rational discussion and tolerance of others' points of view. If we let these squalid trolls of left and right dominate political discussion, then our democratic rights suffer. Not only our rights, but so do we in many other ways. As the great Maya Angelou says:
"If we lose love and self respect for each other, this is how we finally die".

Friday, 9 June 2017

Theresa May, Hubris and a Decline in Classical Education

Seeing this on Facebook today gave me some food for thought. This is the second example of a Conservative Prime Minister initiating a vote, expecting to win - and then losing. David Cameron fully expected to win the referendum on Britain staying in the EC, convinced he would gain a Remain victory which did not happen, and was forced to fall on his sword and resign. Theresa May called this General Election confidently expecting a Tory landslide, based upon a very strong showing in the opinion polls. She appeared on TV this morning looking surprisingly calm and without a red face, which she ought to have been wearing, following a humiliating failure at the ballot box.
I think this all points to one thing: a lack of knowledge of the classics, and a decline in the teaching of Latin and Greek. Mrs May went to a grammar school which later became a comprehensive, so probably never got to study Latin or Greek. David Cameron went to Eton, where, as Wikipedia says:
"His early interest was in art. Six weeks before taking his O-Levels he was caught smoking cannabis. He admitted the offence and had not been involved in selling drugs, so he was not expelled but was fined, prevented from leaving the school grounds, and given a "Georgic" (a punishment which involved copying 500 lines of Latin text)."
This punishment might well have affected Cameron's attitude to the Greek and Latin languages. Either way, neither Mr Cameron or Mrs May seem to have understood the word "Hubris" before they announced their disastrous votes.
Hubris is a word that gets bandied about a lot, so it's important to clarify what it means. Generally speaking, it means foolish pride or reckless overconfidence. As Wikipedia (not always wrong) says:
  "In its ancient Greek context, it typically describes behavior that defies the norms of behavior or challenges the gods, and which in turn brings about the downfall, or nemesis, of the perpetrator of hubris...In its modern usage, hubris denotes overconfident pride combined with arrogance. Hubris is often associated with a lack of humility. Sometimes a person's hubris is also associated with ignorance. The accusation of hubris often implies that suffering or punishment will follow, similar to the occasional pairing of hubris and nemesis in Greek mythology."
In Biblical terms, this is expressed in Proverbs 16:18 as:
"Pride goeth (goes) before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall".
Both David Cameron and Mrs May must now rue neglecting their classical and religious education.
If we look back through literary fiction and historical fact, we find numerous examples of hubris.
There is John Milton's Paradise Lost, where Lucifer tries to incite other angels to worship him, but is cast into Hell by God and His loyal angels. Victor in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein manifests hubris in his attempt to become a great scientist by creating life through technological means, but eventually regrets this previous desire - as might some atomic scientists of the 20th century. Christopher Marlowe's play Doctor Faustus portrays the "hero" as a scholar whose arrogance and pride lead him to sign an agreement with the Devil, without any regard for the consequences. The most prominent example of hubris in classical literature, of course, is that of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun, which led to his (literal) downfall.
If we look back through history, we can see hubris at work in the massacre of the Roman legions in the Teutoburger Wald slaughter in AD 9 through to Hitler's last stand in Berlin, 1945. There is the ignominious defeat of the Second Crusade in 1147. and, much later, the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876 which was, as Saul David says:
"...a squalid episode...characterized by Custer's naked ambition, lack of regard for his men and foolish contempt for his foe".
Custer is quoted as saying after he launched his doomed attack:
"Where did all those damned Indians come from?"
This same recklessness was displayed by E. J. Smith, captain of the Titanic, Lord Chelmsford at Isandhlwana, 1879, General MacArthur in Korea, 1950 and by French generals at Dienbienphu in Indo-China, 1954. And there are many more such examples for those interested.
Looking back over all these debacles makes me wonder why David Cameron and Theresa May did not take account of them - but, that's hubris for you. Or is it caused by a decline in the study of the classics and the ancient Greek and Latin languages? In 2015, Harry Mount, writing in the Daily Telegraph, in his article, "The Greek Tragedy in our Classrooms", laments:
"The game is up for ancient Greek in comprehensives.
From now on, the high-minded, mind-expanding beauties of Greek will be confined to public and grammar schools. The gap between comprehensive and selective education will yawn wider and wider..."
Oh, well, perhaps that is why Theresa May called this election. Her school became a comprehensive while she was there. Mount continues:
" The 1988 Education Reform Act didn’t include Latin in the National Curriculum. Within five years, the number of students studying Latin in state schools halved."
None of this excuses David Cameron, of course. Fee-paying schools still teach Latin and Greek. Perhaps his Latin punishment turned him against the wisdom of Socrates, Sophocles, Marcus Aurelius and all the other great minds of antiquity?
If any adverse consequences flow from this election, just think: it could all have been avoided by greater attention to classical literature by two Conservative Party leaders.
"Caveant, consules!"

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

"Denial" the Movie - Truth on Trial

On Monday, I received the DVD of “Denial”, the film about the 2000 David Irving libel trial starring, among others, Rachel Weisz and Timothy Spall. The trial was highly publicised at the time, and it is no spoiler for the film to say that Irving lost his case.   Some people think the trial was about Irving being tried for Holocaust denial, but in fact, the action was brought by Irving against American historian Deborah Lipstadt. As Tom Robey says, Irving claimed:
“… she’d libelled him repeatedly in her book Denying the Holocaust. The case went to the English High Court – where the burden of proof is on the defendants, unlike in the US, where the burden’s on the plaintiff”.
In her book, Lipstadt accused Irving of being a Holocaust denier, a bigot, a racist, and a bender of documentary evidence. The film, and the book of the same title, details the efforts of Lipstadt and her legal team to prove that Irving had distorted historical fact in an effort to whitewash Hitler and deny the systemic nature of the Holocaust.

Irving was on the radar of anti-fascists and the Jewish community in the UK for many years before he tried to sue Professor Lipstadt. He began his career as a “historian” following an unsuccessful university career by writing a book about the Dresden bombing, in which he grossly inflated the civilian casualty figures. In 1967, he wrote “The Destruction of Convoy PQ-17”in which he libelled a Royal Navy veteran who successfully sued Irving, who was forced to pay out £40 000 in damages. In the 1970s, he wrote “Hitler’s War”, in which he claimed that Hitler did not order the Holocaust. He made numerous trips to Germany where he addressed meetings of neo-Nazis; he provided public support to an openly Nazi student at London University and his books featured on the reading lists of the National Front and British Movement.
On this evidence alone, it is no exaggeration to say that Irving can, at the very least, be described as sympathetic to the Third Reich. In the 1980s, I found confirmation of this when I ill-advisedly borrowed “Hitler’s War” from the local library. In the first couple of chapters, I found clear evidence of Irving’s bias when I read his unusual expression of sympathy for the French people after D-Day. According to Irving, the French were plagued by Allied troops who looted everything in sight, while the well-behaved Germans had never dared to do such things. I took the book back.
None of this was used in the trial, nor does it appear in the film. Suffice it to say that the team of legal experts and historians who supported Lipstadt were able to refute all of Irving’s silly arguments and win their case convincingly. Given some of Irving’s antics before and during the trial (at one point, he called the trial judge "Mein Fuhrer"), it should have been a push against an open door. For example, Irving was on record as saying:

"I say quite tastelessly, in fact, that more women died on the back seat of Edward Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz”.

"I don't see any reason to be tasteful about Auschwitz … It's baloney, it's a legend.”

“I'm going to form an association of Auschwitz Survivors, Survivors of the Holocaust and other liars, or the ASSHOLS."

In fact, the trial does not move as smoothly as that, but, as I think we should all watch the film, I will say no more about the plot. As for the film, I was left thinking that, able as Rachel Weisz is, an American actress might have been a more appropriate choice to play Deborah Lipstadt. Much praise has been lavished upon Timothy Spall’s portrayal of Irving, but, good as it is, it presents Irving sometimes as little more than a pantomime villain. Irving, as his books reveal, is no joke.

Some critics have said that the film suffers from the lack of a moment of supreme, Hollywood style, emotionally-charged courtroom drama, but this is eyewash, in my opinion. The film succeeds, as did Ms Lipstadt’s defence team, by a gradual demolition of Irving’s “arguments”. To do anything otherwise would have been an Irving-like distortion of the truth.
On that note, I think that this is the main point of the film: the primacy of the truth. In an age when “false news” is so influential, it is important that we do not compromise on this issue. The Holocaust happened; Donald Trump attracted a smaller inauguration crowd than Obama; David Irving was imprisoned for Holocaust denial in Austria in 2006. Oh, and Elvis is not working in a chip shop in Brighton. This film, despite its artistic flaws (can any film be flawless?), is a clarion call for honesty and the defence of historical veracity. As Peter Bradshaw said in The Guardian:
“…denial is fashionable again. Irving himself is gloating at the way “alt–right” fascists are threatening to make him and his poisonous flat-earthery acceptable once more. The US president himself believes in “alternative facts”. So for me this film, telling its story with punchy commitment and force, was a breath of fresh air”.

For those worried about David Irving, who was bankrupted after the failure of his libel suit: do not be concerned. He now lives in the Scottish Highlands, in a 40-room mansion near Nairn provided by an anonymous benefactor. Besides this, Irving claims that his books are selling well, his YouTube blurbs are doing famously, and well-wishers are sending him money:
“It used to be small amounts, and they still come in, but people are now giving me very large sums indeed – five-figure sums. I now drive a Rolls-Royce. A beautiful car. Though money is completely unimportant to me.”

The struggle continues.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

ISIS, Simple Arithmetic and the London Bridge Atrocity

ISIS, which is slowly losing ground militarily in Iraq, is reacting like a mortally wounded beast, lashing out wildly in all directions. There is little point in quibbling about whether or not last night's murderers were ISIS members; the late attackers (not late enough) were clearly acting in accordance with ISIS encouragement and, by all accounts, met with online ISIS approval for their actions.
This is the third major terrorist attack in the UK this year (so far) and there is a chilling sense of normality creeping over us. Last year on this blog, I was often writing about the danger to us all from released homicidal mental patients. This year, I find myself writing about murderous terrorists. I have to pinch myself at times to be able to distinguish between them. The same epithets I used about one (appalling, hideous, atrocious, etc) I use about the other. Another common factor seems to be their demeanour while carrying out their attacks. Holly Jones, a BBC reporter who witnessed the slaughter of pedestrians on London Bridge last night, said of the driver of the van that mounted the pavement:
"He didn't look scared. he looked demented".
The same could be said of any of the mentally deranged killers who have featured on this blog before. As we seem to have accepted murders by such people as part and parcel of the risks of everyday life, we are, perhaps, becoming inured to terrorist atrocities, keeping calm and carrying on. Perhaps.
While I share the revulsion that we all feel about last night's massacre, and salute the security forces for their prompt action in liquidating the perpetrators, I was interested in Theresa May's analysis of the root cause of the problem, which, coincidentally, I discussed in my last blog post. The PM said today:
" ...while the recent attacks are not connected by common networks, they are connected in one important sense. They are bound together by the single evil ideology of Islamist extremism...It is an ideology that claims our Western values of freedom, democracy and human rights are incompatible with the religion of Islam."
All well and good, but no clear indication was given how to combat this ideology. As ISIS can be described as "the active arm" of Salafism, Mrs May must surely know that Saudi Arabia finances Salafism in the UK and elsewhere. But then, Saudi Arabia is our ally, and buys huge amounts of weapon systems from our arms manufacturers.
As for the attack, and others, it is understandable that people are baffled yet again at these horrific events. After the terror attack in Tunisia in 2015, a friend of one of the victims said:
"I can't make sense of it, I just can't understand the logic of what they have done."
Similar sentiments were expressed after the Westminster Bridge incident, the slaughter of the innocents in Manchester, and yesterday's massacre.
The trouble is, if we examine what ISIS has done in the past, and their stated reasons for their actions, it is possible to discern an underlying strategic rationale, with several objectives:
1. Revenge upon the nations that fight against it in the Middle East.
2. Such acts maintain the morale of their fighters and activists who perceive these horrors as being victories.
3.These actions, if persistent enough, as in Iraq and Syria, create a climate of fear.
4. Their atrocities keep them in the public eye via media publicity, reminding us that they are still a force to be reckoned with.
5. The attacks, while punishing the citizens of enemy countries (who are all guilty because they do not share the ISIS dogma), tie up huge resources.
Anyway, while we mourn our dead, our politicians make statements and we engage in gestures of defiance and solidarity with the victims, ISIS will be doing some simple arithmetic and analysing last night's events in London with an eye to the planning of further crimes against humanity. Back in June, 2015, I commented that ISIS would be making calculations from the results of the Tunisian murders, carried out by the late and unlamented Seifeddine Rezgui . In exchange for his "martyrdom", 38 innocent tourists died. ISIS bragged that they had 4000 operatives in Europe and I postulated that, if ISIS were doing their sums and if each operative killed as many people as Rezgui, 152 000 European citizens would die.
Last night's crime will give ISIS much food for thought. In the space of eight minutes, their three operatives inflicted 55 casualties, dead and wounded. Rounding up the decimal point, that equals 7 victims a minute. Now, this happened in central London, with a well-trained police firearms squad not far away. If their next atrocity happens in a less well protected location like a country town or a seaside resort, it will take longer to deploy a force to deal with them, and the toll of victims will be higher. A half-hour's rampage at the same rate would claim 210 lives. For the strategic planners of ISIS, humanity does not enter the reckoning; it is a matter of simple and brutal arithmetic. As it is with all terrorist movements, they do not count the cost of their actions to their victims; what matters to them is the simple arithmetic of the body count.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Tom Holland, ISIS and a Search for Answers

A few nights ago, Channel Four screened a documentary made by the historian Tom Holland: “ISIS – The Origins of Violence”. It was a sobering, sombre film which pointed towards answers to the question all sane thinking people ask : why do ISIS/Daesh carry out the hideous atrocities for which they are notorious? The usual explanations are either limited and/or superficial. Either Daesh are dismissed as “Islamofascists” (by people like me), as the product of the invasion of Iraq (by Stop the War Coalition and their ilk), or they carry out their atrocities to terrify all opposition (by ISIS/Daesh prisoners).
Whatever the merits of these arguments, they fail to explain the ideological justification for the evil behaviour of ISIS. Alexander Solzhenitsyn once said: “Men can only commit great acts of evil if they believe they are doing good”. Thus, the driving idea of the Nazi Einsatzgruppen was their belief that they were creating a better world by slaughtering Jews and Communists. The Soviet secret police state apparatchiki saw their brutal regime as a necessary step towards creating a socialist state. Holland takes the courageous step of identifying the tenets of ISIS beliefs which drive their fanatical urges to commit crimes against humanity.
At the start of the film, like a good historian, Holland links the past to the present by visiting Paris and showing harrowing film of the massacres and the Charlie Hebdo murders. Holland says: “Isis have a thing about Paris". The “thing” is that ISIS regard France in general as the place where the Crusades began and Paris in particular as a city of vice and prostitution. He further explains that ISIS see themselves as re-establishing the caliphate ended by Kemal Attaturk in Istanbul, 1924. He also, interestingly, describes the impact that Napoleon’s impact upon Islam following his invasion and occupation of Egypt in1798, which led to a subtle change in the way Muslims regard Mohammed – as a neo- Napoleonic warrior leader, rather than a mystical force. The concept of Jihad, says Holland, changed from the struggle of the soul on a spiritual journey to an active war against unbelievers, following two failed attempts by Muslim armies to capture Constantinople in the 14th and 15th centuries.
It is to Holland’s credit that he highlights these matters which most commentators tend to pass over. These historical events might not figure large in our world view, but they do for ISIS. Where Holland is at his best, however, is where he locates the central tenets of ISIS thinking in the Koran itself. As Rosamund Urwin says in the Evening Standard:
“He (Holland) argues that Isis “self-consciously draws on Islamic scriptures, texts and episodes from Mohammed’s life to justify what they’re doing”.
Besides this, Holland asserts that ISIS/Daesh regard themselves as returning to the essential scriptures and following the true path of Islam. This gives me an eerie feeling of Deja vu – evangelical Christians said something similar to my younger self when they talked of “getting back to the Bible”. The Muslim equivalent is known as “Salafism”, aka "Wahabism". As Holland says in the “New Statesman”:
“Salafism today is probably the fastest-growing Islamic movement in the world. The interpretation that Isis applies to Muslim scripture may be exceptional for its savagery – but not for its literalism. Islamic State, in its conceit that it has trampled down the weeds and briars of tradition and penetrated to the truth of God’s dictates, is recognisably Salafist”
In short, Holland sees ISIS as having brought about an internal crisis in Islam itself. He acknowledges that most Muslims deplore what ISIS do, but he argues that mainstream Muslims need to take more assertive action. A “firewall”, as he calls it, is needed if ISIS can truly be described as UnIslamic. Holland continues:  
“Such behaviour (ie, ISIS violence) is certainly not synonymous with Islam; but if not Islamic, then it is hard to know what else it is.”
It is not for me to prescribe the next step, but, overall, Holland has raised some interesting questions and provided a penetrating analysisof ISIS thinking (if that’s the right word). I was impressed, also, with his reporting of the plight of the Yazidis under ISIS, and the world’s indifference to their persecution. As he told the ES:
“Holland is angry that the Yazidis have been so overlooked. “The massacres and enslavement was going on while Israel was attacking Gaza. There was talk about ‘Israeli genocide’. Israel was not committing genocide. It was not engaging in a deliberate attempt to kill civilians. All the world’s press was in Gaza, writing this, while at the same time an authentic genocide was going on, and no one paid it any attention. What happened to the Yazidis was authentically Nazi.”
This was no surprise to me, but it helps that a historian of Holland’s stature chooses to highlight the matter. He also reported on another story that never makes the headlines: the persecution of Christians by ISIS. He visited a monastery where the only worshippers are two resident monks and looked out over what were once Christian lands, but are now occupied by Daesh. If anything, Holland understates the persecution of Christians by ISIS. He says that ISIS tolerate Jews and Christians under their rule, as long as they pay a tax called the Jizya. This gives a misleading impression, as “The Spectator” says:
“Isis has stopped pretending. A 2016 issue of Dabiq blew cover, outing Christians repeatedly as ‘pagans’ and encouraging followers to ‘break crosses’ while boasting of having murdered scores of priests since their last publication. All pretence that Christians were afforded special treatment has evaporated. So why does the international community keep trotting out this lie?"
Why indeed?

Two photographs that need no explanation.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Diane Abbott - Pots and Kettles

After the disastrous Dieppe Raid of 19 August, 1942, the German and pro-Nazi media exploded with a protracted period of gloating. This seemingly unrelated event came to mind when I saw the outbreaks of mirth from the right-wing press over Diane Abbott's "car crash" interview with Nick Ferrari on LBC. Quentin Letts, in yesterday's Daily Mail said:
"..the BBC forced her to listen – while a TV camera was focused on her face – to her bloopers on the Ferrari show."
With what seems to be purely malevolent relish, Letts goes on to say:
"The poor pudding just sat there and her mouth alternated between flickers of a smile and something more sad, possibly close to tears."
Even the irritating Michael Gove, whose tenure as Minister for Education was a standing joke, seized upon the opportunity to attack an opponent in trouble:
“... it would be uniquely dangerous if we were to allow them (i.e. Labour) to come to power because not enough people had voted Conservative at this election, and they were able to preside over some ramshackle chaotic coalition which would pitch this country into danger.”
Mr Gove knows a lot about chaotic coalitions - he used to belong to one.
I cannot deny that Ms Abbott's performance on LBC was substandard and she needs to learn from her mistakes, but the malicious glee with which she has been attacked is disgusting. This is all part and parcel of the right-wing media's campaign to smear the Labour Party leadership and their policies. The personal attacks on Jeremy Corbyn are well enough known - he has been labelled everything from a supporter of terrorism to a Wurzel Gummidge lookalike. What is less well known is the vilification of Diane Abbott on social media, in phone calls, emails and letters. Anyone who doubts this can type her name into YouTube and see some of the vile stuff that surfaces. She is abused for her ethnicity and for being a woman. She is regularly subjected to racist abuse and threats of rape and murder. Since the killing of Jo Cox, such threats cannot be taken lightly. Quentin Letts, patronisingly, concludes his triumphalist article by saying:
"Politics, like farce, is a hard game. You trifle with it at your peril."
Really, Mr Letts? The pressures faced by Diane Abbott and all female and ethnic minority MPs are no laughing matter. And since when did a hard game have to be dangerous to life and limb?
Nor is Diane Abbott the only politician or public figure ever to make foolish gaffes when facing the questions of the press. There was the famous occasion when the Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett, was interviewed by Nick Ferrari before the 2015 Election. Ferrari asked Ms Bennett how her party would pay for an additional 500,000 new social homes. Ms Bennett's reply was a masterpiece of vagueness:
Ms Bennett said:
“Well, what we want to do is fund that particularly by removing tax relief on mortgage interests for private landlords. We have a situation where…”
Mr Ferrari asked how much that would raise, to which Ms Bennett stumbled: "Erm... well... it's... that's part of the whole costing."
Then there was Gordon Brown's blunder in describing a constituent, Gillian Duffy, as "a bigoted woman" - for which he later apologised. But perhaps the car crash interview that resonates the most is that of Margaret Thatcher in 1983. As The Mirror says:
"...Margaret Thatcher was floored by a member of the public who asked her about the sinking of the Belgrano.Appearing on Nationwide during the 1983 election campaign Mrs Thatcher was grilled by a voter, Diana Gould, on the sinking of the Argentine warship the General Belgrano during the previous year's Falklands war."
Nor are car crash interviews exclusive to Britain:
 Sarah Palin of Alaska enlivened the 2008 US presidential race when first nominated — until her lack of knowledge of current affairs became an embarrassment. Just before the election, she could not name a single newspaper or magazine she read daily:
. “All of them, any of them that have been in front of me over all these years. I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news.”
Then, in 2011, there was the awful interview given by Tony Abbott (no relation to Diane). When Abbott was leader of the Australian parliamentary opposition, a TV interviewer asked him about an appallingly tactless remark he  made about the death of an Australian soldier in Afghanistan -"Shit happens". During the interview, Abbott did not speak at all. He simply stared at the interviewer and nodded his head.
To conclude, Diane Abbott does need to take stock of her blunder and make sure she never again gives the malicious Tory press such an easy propaganda victory. However, she is not the first politician to make a mess of things on air and she won't be the last.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

The Release of Sergeant Blackman: War Crime Punishments Compared

We are all, hopefully, familiar with the details of the case of Sergeant Alexander Blackman, formerly of the Royal Marines. The fact that he was filmed shooting a wounded Taliban fighter in Afghanistan in 2011, convicted of murder in 2013 and sentenced to ten years in jail was widely publicised. Equally well publicised was the campaign to reduce his sentence, which has led to his crime being downgraded to manslaughter and his early morning release yesterday. Blackman faces a promising, if uncertain future. Although he cannot return to service with the Royal Marines, he has had offers of jobs in the security industry and both he and his wife are rumoured to be considering book writing offers. It does not stop there, as the Telegraph says:
"A rather more illustrious path could even be on offer from Hollywood with a producer said to be interested in telling his story and talk of Kate Winslet as Mrs Blackman, Tom Hardy as him and Al Pacino as  Jonathan Goldberg QC, the lawyer who led his successful appeal"."
On the downside, the Blackmans will never be safe from attack from Islamist extremists, and already face the prospect of moving house and possibly even changing their identities.
What is of interest to me, however, is the fact that this case became politicised to a marked degree, eliciting a wide range of responses from all shades of opinion. There are those who take the view that Blackman is nothing but a criminal who knowingly violated the Geneva Convention by committing murder and deserved all he got. In 2015, Stop the War writer, Matt Carr said:
"... what Blackman did had nothing to do with ‘survival’. He chose to shoot someone he didn’t need to kill...".
 The polar opposite view is that Blackman was under pressure when he did what he did and allowance must be made for the fact. There are also the grounds which led the courts to change Blackman's charge from murder to manslaughter: the fact that his unit had been stationed in Helmand Province for too long and that he was suffering from mental illness, among other things.
There is scope for middle ground here, but those sympathetic to Blackman have made the running in this case. The Daily Mail on Thursday thundered triumphantly:
"A Mail investigation had revealed vital evidence was ‘deliberately withheld’ from the court martial during Sgt Blackman’s original trial.
Thriller writer Frederick Forsyth, who was in court yesterday, said the ‘villains’ who locked up Sgt Blackman should ‘hang their heads in shame".

Mr Forsyth did not name any of these villains. Presumably he means the senior officers who deplored what Blackman did and the prosecution team that convicted him. Forsyth has hinted that there will be consequences for these people; respect for the legal process appears to be confined to verdicts that he and others agree with.
I take the view that, if Blackman was not given a completely fair trial in the first place, then this verdict is to be welcomed. If, however, all such future trials are to be conducted with partisan pressure from the politically motivated of either side, then justice will not be served. As the Guardian editorial said yesterday:
"....the rules of war...are not a matter of etiquette, but morality; not a luxury, but a necessity...because of the extremity of the situation, and the pressure upon troops, that clear rules are needed".
It's worth comparing the Blackman incident to war crimes committed by troops from other countries. It comes as a surprise to find that no French soldiers were ever tried for war crimes in the Algerian War of Independence, despite many allegations against them. To be fair, their FLN opponents never held any such trials either.
The United States Army, like ours, has a mixed record when it comes to such offences. We all remember the outrage caused when the ill-treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq became public. A number of military staff were punished, but as the LA Times reports, those prosecuted were small fry. There are a number of ex-soldiers in prison for crimes in Iraq. There is, for example, in a case that resembles that of Alexander Blackman, that of Sgt. Derrick Miller, one of what Fox News calls "The Leavenworth Ten":
"... Sgt. Derrick Miller of Maryland, on a combat mission in a Taliban-held area of Afghanistan, was warned the unit’s base had been penetrated. An Afghan suspected of being an enemy combatant was brought to Miller for interrogation and wound up dead. Miller claimed the suspect tried to grab his gun and that he shot him in self-defense. But he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison."
Miller is serving a life sentence, as are a number of others. As with Blackman, however, there are people working to secure pardons for all such offenders. A New York Times article says that there is little public support for this:
" Few in the public appear to support revisiting cases in which troops killed unarmed civilians".
Lastly, of course, there are the many thousands of crimes against humanity committed by the German forces in WW2. These are well enough known, but what is less well known is the leniency of some of the sentences passed on German war criminals after hostilities ended. Many were dealt with severely, as were the Nazi leaders tried at Nuremberg; many more were not. In just one small example, Damien Lewis, in his book "The Nazi Hunters", records the fate of 14 Germans who had summarily executed eight unarmed SAS prisoners in 1944:
"...the final sentences...were close to laughable. Six...were found not guilty. Of the remaining eight, only one received a ten-year sentence. and two were given sentences of two and three years respectively".
Most of the Einsatzgruppen commanders, who commanded units estimated to have killed a million people behind the German lines in Russia, were given sentences that were later commuted by German courts. A similar thing happened after the Malmedy massacre carried out by the SS during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. Lest anyone should bemoan the apparently light sentence of Sergeant Blackman, it needs to be said that precedents have been set.
The bodies of US soldiers, massacred by the Waffen SS at Malmedy, 1944.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

The June Election and Personal Attacks

Well, away we go! On June 8th, we will go to the polls. I was surprised at the alacrity with which all parties received the announcement by Theresa May. No doubt there will be much lively and productive debate, but some pretty tawdry ad hominem attacks as well. I know that such attacks are part and parcel of every general election campaign, but they seem to be particularly virulent this time, carrying a residue of ill-will from the EC Referendum campaign. Some of these attacks are downright facile. For example, there was the storm of criticism directed at Theresa May for calling a snap election, having previously declared she would do no such thing.

Well, the critics were right to attack Mrs May on this point, but are we really so surprised? After all, don't all politicians make promises and never fulfil them? Just about every prime minister of this country within living memory has been accused of similar behaviour. Apparently, Mrs May decided to call the election while on a walking holiday in North Wales. Perhaps the fresh air went to her head?
More seriously, and much more maliciously, there are the scurrilous, intensely personal attacks on Jeremy Corbyn. These attacks have been relentless, beginning from the day he became Labour leader and rising to a crescendo at the present time. Most of these attacks come from the right-wing press. A media report from the London School of Economics (LSE) - click on here to read - says:
"Corbyn is systematically ridiculed,scorned and the object of personal attacks by most newspapers.Even more problematic were a set of associations which deligitimised Corbyn as a politician,calling"him"loony,"unpatriotic,"a terrorist friend"and a dangerous individual"
This campaign continues as I write. Today's Daily Mail carries a story about Corbyn's brother attacking the BBC, but makes no serious evaluation of Jeremy Corbyn's first major speech. Even Corbyn's appearance has been ridiculed. The previous prime minister, David Cameron, (remember him?) taunted Corbyn about his attire about a year ago. Perhaps inevitably, some voters are affected by all this antipathy. The Huffington Post quoted a Nuneaton woman last year as saying of Corbyn:
"You want a charismatic leader and to me he's more like Worzel Gummidge".
Does Jeremy Corbyn need a change of image?
Er, well, maybe not that one, and perhaps this is all a red herring. Speaking personally, I shall be voting on issues, not personalities or publicity. It is a sad feature of our democracy that some voters allow themselves to be influenced by appearance, distortion and downright abuse. 
Having said all this, however, there is one politician who, in my opinion, deserves public opprobrium - but isn't getting it. That man is David Cameron. People who did not welcome this forthcoming election should bear in mind that we are only in this situation because of  the EC referendum result - the referendum that Cameron thought he could win. He didn't, and now we go to the polls to make Brexit easier - which is what the Tories want. If Cameron had not called that stupid referendum - and let's not forget that he didn't have to call it - we would not be facing an uncertain future, there would have been no rise in hate crime, no bitterness and division among friends, families and political parties and no election in June.
Cameron looks a bit flustered - is he standing for re-election?

Friday, 31 March 2017

The London Terror Attack - Ignoring the Pundits

When Khalid Masood launched his murderous 82-second attack in Whitehall last week, I was thousands of miles away in the Philippines, enjoying the last few days of a great holiday. That's the trouble with getting away from it all - sometimes "it" comes looking for you. Along with all my Filipino friends and relatives, I read the details of this atrocity with horror and disbelief (the Philippines is no stranger to Islamist violence). I resolved that, after our return on Tuesday the 28th, I would go as soon as I could to the scene of the attack and pay tribute to the slain: Aysha Frade, Leslie Rhodes, Kurt Cochran, PC Keith Palmer and to all the injured victims.
I went yesterday, crossing Westminster Bridge from the tube station and walking to St Thomas's Hospital, from where so many staff and paramedics rushed to help the dead, dying and injured only seven days previously. In the hospital branch of Marks and Spencers I bought a bunch of flowers and a card. After writing some words of condolence on the card, I placed it with the flowers on the first memorial on Westminster Bridge. You can just about see the card in the photograph above.
Then, I walked along the left-hand side of the bridge, following the route of Masood's deadly journey. I found it really difficult to reconcile the sights I saw - the groups of chattering tourists, the people taking photos of Big Ben - with the carnage that happened on the 22nd. That changed when I got to Parliament Square, where I found an extensive floral tribute opposite the Houses of Parliament.
Along with many others, I spent a long time looking at the flowers and, more importantly, the dedications, many of which were heartbreakingly moving. After a time, I became choked with emotion and decided to go elsewhere.

Now, displays of public grief similar to this have been derided in the past, most noticeably by Boris Johnson. When commenting upon the mourning of the Hillsborough dead by the people of Liverpool, he said:
"They (Liverpudlians) see themselves whenever possible as victims, and resent their victim status; yet at the same time they wallow in it".
Boris has apologised unreservedly since, but I believe that he was expressing a kind of aversion that a section of media commentators, left, right and centre, feel for outpourings of public sympathy. While in the Philippines, I read a Guardian article in which the writer said that leaving flowers at the site of terrorist attacks, lighting up the Eiffel Tower in red, white and blue in solidarity with London, etc, gave the terrorists "the oxygen of publicity". All complete nonsense, of course - the terrorists, in this case apparently ISIS, generate their own publicity through their online magazines and by dropping off tapes at Al-Jazeera. I am very proud to have paid tribute to the people of many nations who suffered and died on the 22nd; I am proud of the way us Londoners of all faiths united publicly in defiance of this evil crime.

As might be expected, the far Right and the far Left made their media presence felt by offering their own peculiar interpretations of the event. Nigel Farage weighed in by saying that the attack was a consequence of multiculturalism; Stop the War Coalition issued a statement saying something like this:
"We deplore the attack in Westminster, but we really must point out that this attack can be blamed on the illegal, imperialist invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan."
Refuting Mr Farage, as a primary school teacher for 34 years who has taught in many multicultural schools, I fail to see how making Diwali cards and learning about World faiths could lead to a terrorist atrocity. As for the predictable (and tediously repetitive) comment by Stop the War, it only needs to be pointed out that the Westminster attack was carried out by a British-born convert to Islam - not an Iraqi or Afghan.
Standing in front of the floral displays yesterday, I found myself fervently hoping that no more attacks like this would happen again anywhere. At the same time, a voice in my head kept telling me that more attacks are inevitable. Perhaps the last word should go to Katriona Murphy, of North London, who left the message in the picture below - Why?
7/4/2017 - as of today, the toll of innocent dead victims of this attack has risen to five. Andreea Cristea, the 31 year-old Romanian lady who was knocked into the Thames during the attack on 22nd March, has died in hospital. May she and the other victims rest in peace. The question in the last photograph remains unanswered.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The USA's first toddler president

Donald Trump is a businessman. According to some analysts, he hasn't been anywhere near as successful in business as he should have been, given the fortune he inherited, but even so, he is undeniably very rich and is accustomed to getting what he wants. As the boss for most of his working life, since the early 70s in fact, he is used to sycophancy, complete obedience, and an unhealthy dose of flattery. People who get in his way are either sacked if they are among his staff, or vigorously counterattacked with maximum force if they are not. In short he is a man who is completely programmed to get his own way. Even his so-called reality TV show, The Apprentice, involved telling people, "You're fired!"

It is symptomatic of the vanity of the man that he decided to spend some of his fortune buying his way to the presidency of the USA, which he narrowly did - narrowly because he gained less of the popular vote than his opponent, Hillary Clinton. Despite that, the American electoral college system awarded him the victory. Smug British Facebook postings declaring that this could "only happen in America" show ignorance about our own system. The UK has had had two general elections since the war when the winning party had a smaller share of the popular vote (1951 and the first 1974 election) because of the our 'first past the post' system.

His presidential style is that of the spoilt brat. He is incredibly sensitive to criticism, and seems genuinely upset by it because he isn't used to it. So accustomed is he to getting his own way, even when he was wrong, that he gives the impression of believing his own infallibility. News is what he decrees it to be, and evidence isn't necessary. He has never needed it in his business decisions and cannot adjust to having to consider different opinions as president. 

His method of responding to opposition is juvenile in the extreme: tweets that end with an insult. Meryl Streep is a mediocre actress, despite 161 awards so far; he described judges who had frustrated his anti-Muslim order as "so-called judges"; some tweets end up with toddler speak, such as "bad man". When Vanity Fair published a review headlined, "Trump Grill Could Be The Worst Restaurant In America", Trump commented on the magazine's "really poor numbers - way down, big trouble, dead! Graydon Carter, no talent, will be out!" even though Vanity Fair's sales have actually increased 24% under the editorship of Graydon Carter. Like a toddler, he hurls ineffectual and juvenile insults when he's been frustrated, irrespective of the facts.

He loves to repeat the phrase 'fake news', but is guilty of making it up himself, such as when he told his followers to look what happened in Sweden the night before. Nothing had happened in Sweden on that night, no deaths associated with violence or terrorist incidents. On the other hand, 32 Americans had been killed in the USA by their fellow countrymen with many others injured in 128 violent incidents involving guns on the day in question. 

Trump claimed that he had achieved a record number of votes in the electoral college, until journalists pointed out to him that Obama, Bush Sr, Bush Jr and Bill Clinton had all recorded more votes in the electoral college than he had. His assertions that 1.5 million turned out for his inauguration are not supported by photographic evidence which compared his inauguration to Obama's; it is clear that far fewer people were there. 1.8 million is the estimate for Obama's inauguration, while one estimate for Trump's bash is 250,000. The Washington Metro had carried only 193,000 passengers by 11.00am on the Friday, significantly fewer than Obama's two inaugurations and slightly fewer than Bush’s inauguration in 2005.

More recently, he has demanded that that charges be laid against Obama for tapping his phones at Trump Tower, insisting that the FBI and Congress should investigate his assertions with the same energy they are employing to investigating the Trump team's dodgy dealings with Russia during the election campaign. He didn't produce a shred of evidence to support his claims, whereas there is some evidence that there have been untoward dealings with Russia. Misspelling "tap" as "tapp", he concluded his Twitter rant with the customary childish insult, describing his predecessor as a "Bad (or sick) guy".

He is quickly becoming frustrated that his customary methods of bluster, unsubstantiated assertions, firing at will, and maximum force against anyone who opposes him that were his style as a mega-rich boss are not working as he would wish as president. He gives every indication of not understanding how the USA's system of checks and balances work by his repeated attempts to trample roughshod over them. His reintroduction of his amended Muslim banning order is evidence of this. 

We have a president whose rationality appears to be no more developed than that of a 5-year old, who seems quite unable to distinguish reality from fiction, and who believes that his own hunches, prejudices and random assertions amount to truth. To be honest, I am not quite sure whether he really is incapable of perceiving the truth, or, alternatively, whether he doesn't think it matters and will cynically make any assertion, or propagate any story, that suits him. My own opinion, for what it's worth, inclines to the former.

He has been in office for little more than 60 days and already those American checks and balances carefully devised by the founding fathers are being strained to the limit. We have nearly four more years of this to come from a man who is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and whose finger is on the nuclear button. This means that, while we have laughed at him and we probably will do again, we must not underestimate how frighteningly dangerous this vain, irrational and very immature president potentially is.