Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The Rhymes and Routes Christmas Message, 2016

The Rhymes and Routes Christmas message this year comes from none other than Mr Nigel Farage, MEP. The Blogmeister makes occasional interjections in brackets.
Hello to all my fellow Brexit-happy Brits! Sorry to be so late in posting this little squib, but I've had a spot of bother with a bunch of reds called "Hope not Hate", who are nothing but a damn nuisance. I note that they have a link on this page, but it doesn't bother me. After all the blighters have threatened me with legal action for telling the truth about them, but the poor sods can't afford it! They're asking their supporters for contributions, would you believe. By the time they raise the money, I could well be living in another country. Bad luck, chaps!
Now, I could not resist writing for this miserable little blog, because the main contributor, Blogmeister, whom I shall rename "Bog Standard" (BS) and the lesser evil, RedNev, whom I am renaming "Bolshie Boy" (BB) are both wretched Remoaners. Well, I love rubbing it in with Remoaners about how they were thrashed in the EU Referendum, and here I am.
Well, what a day it was, wasn't it, when we realised that we'd won the referendum and got our country back! I'd almost given up hope, but the British people came through victoriously. I remember looking out through the window in the early morning mist and seeing everything in a different light (Was it an alcoholic haze? - B). I stepped out to take the morning air to breathe the air of freedom (It smelt the same as it did the day before to me - B) and looked forward to quitting my job as an MEP - not that I do much anyway!
Where are the dire economic effects that the Remoaners said would happen? BS and BB have no answer - neither have their comrades in Parliament. In fact, I thought it magnificent that so many Leave voters were prepared to take a cut in living standards to be quit of the European yolk (Sic - do you use eggs as a hangover cure, Mr Farage? - B). There seems to be a bit of inflation, but that's no bother, really, at least it's good old-fashioned British inflation. And should anyone find themselves in the dole queue post-Brexit, at least you'll know that the chap next to you isn't some migrant Johnny who's only come to this country to claim benefits. They'll all have gone home.
Now, there's been a fearful fuss about a rise in hate crime after the referendum, and I must say that it's all been directed towards me. I can't believe that I'm so unpopular. I can't go out for a drink now without being abused and threatened - and after all I've done, too! It's so bad that I'm thinking of taking a job with my mate, President Trump, and leaving this country altogether. But, we'll see.
Anyway, I would just like to conclude by saying to BS and BB that I bear them no grudge - not that I noticed their piffling little blog anyway - and, should I see them in my local pub, I shall buy them a drink. The way this bloody inflation's going, it's only people like me - true Brits! - who'll be able to afford it! BS and BB will see that I really know how to stick it to losers like them.
I end on a happy and triumphalist note, however: Merry Christmas to all Rhymes and Routes readers! Have a Super Brexit New Year!

Friday, 16 December 2016

Christmas Music - Don't You Just Love It?

This morning, the BBC 2 programme, Victoria Derbyshire, was discussing whether or not a charity single will be a Christmas Number 1. There are several contenders for the number 1 slot. One has been recorded by MPs protesting at the working conditions of retail workers: "National Living Rage", with all profits to the Band Aid Trust. Then there is You Can’t Always Get What You Want, which features cross-party MPs and musicians including Kaiser Chiefs frontman Ricky Wilson, Cockney Rebel’s Steve Harley, KT Tunstall and David Gray, which will raise funds for the Jo Cox Trust. Last Christmas saw the NHS Choir at Number 1, and a film is to be made of their efforts. We can only wish success to all of these efforts, all of which follow the inspiring example of Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" Perhaps we should buy a copy of each one?
Speaking of the working conditions of retail workers, I wonder: how do they cope with Christmas music, which often starts being played in stores early in November? How they must feel after nearly two months of listening to our old Christmas favourites is beyond imagining. Not that the rest of us escape it - we hear it in stores, shopping centres, in the street, on the radio and on TV. It's the same every year, and, while we may moan about it, we seem to be able to live happily with these aging Christmas ditties. (By this, I mean secular compositions - carols are a different matter). As we seem to love them really, I have taken a look at the stories behind some of these songs.
"Do They Know it's Christmas?", recorded by Band Aid in 1984 to raise funds for Ethiopian famine relief, began as a rejected Boomtown rats tune. Boy George, the first singer on the track, nearly missed the event altogether, having to fly back from New York on Concorde. Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran turned up with massive hangovers. Still, the track was finished on a high, thanks in no small measure to Status Quo, who said, in later years, that they were the "doctors" of the event. None of Status Quo were medically qualified...
“White Christmas” was originally written by Irving Berlin for a Broadway musical that was never produced. It was then picked up by Hollywood producers who used it in Holiday Inn, a 1942 film starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Another little-known fact is that, at the end of the Viet-Nam war in 1975, it was played on radio as a signal for the last Westerners in Saigon to make their way to the US Embassy and escape. The journalist, John Pilger, missed the signal ("Bing Crosby did not croon on my radio") and had to make his own way to the Embassy. According to Pilger in his book, "Heroes", he nearly missed Christmas that year. A drunken South Vietnamese soldier fired a shot at him as he fled his hotel ("The bullet went over my head as I ran"). The last act to hit the charts with this song was Keith Harris and Orville in 1985. It reached number 40.
Jay Livingston and Ray Evans’ holiday classic “Silver Bells” was originally titled “Tinkle Bells.” They changed it when Livingston’s wife explained that “tinkle” was often a synonym for urination. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer didn’t originate in Jonny Marks’ classic Christmas jingle. Instead, the character was created by Robert L. May, a staff copywriter for the Montgomery Ward department store as part of a series of holiday-themed colouring books.
Brenda Lee recorded the original version of “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” when she was only 13 years old.
"Jingle Bells" was never intended as a Christmas song. It was originally written by one James Lord Pierpoint to celebrate Thanksgiving Day, 1857, in the USA.It was also the first song played in space.
Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody" beat Wizzard's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday" to Christmas No.1 in 1973. Realising that his song had staying power, Wizzard's Roy Wood decided to re-release it in 1981, but there was one significant problem. As an intriguing BBC News story from 2013 reveals, the master tape was missing (it still is), meaning a new, very faithful version was recorded in a week, with a new choir. And that's the version we hear now, 43 Christmases later.
"Stop the Cavalry" by Jona Lewie (you've heard it!), released in 1982, was never meant to be a Christmas song. As Lewie told the Guardian last year:
"I never intended for this to become a Christmas single. It started life as an antiwar song. I had this line in my head – “Can you stop the gallantry?” – and found a melody for it. Then I changed “gallantry” to “cavalry” and everything just fell into place"
One of my personal favourites, "A Fairytale of New York", by the Pogues, started life as a bet. Elvis Costello bet Shane McGowan and Jem Finer that they couldn't write an unsentimental Christmas song. In the song's video, Matt Dillon plays the NYPD cop who arrests McGowan. Contrary to the song lyrics, the NYPD does not have a choir. The NYPD pipe band seen in the video didn't know "Galway Bay", so they played "The Mickey Mouse Club March" instead.
There are lots of Christmas songs and I could continue, but I'll stop with my top personal favourite, released in 1975 by the recently deceased Greg Lake: "I Believe in Father Christmas". Actually, most of the lyrics were written by the lyricist Pete Sinfield (I didn't know that), but the song has achieved a delightfully ironic status by being played in supermarkets and shopping centres, despite its clear anti-commercial stance ("They sold me a dream of Christmas"). It could be taken as an anti-Christmas song, but redeems itself by the last verse: "I wish you a hopeful Christmas..." despite the final reality check: "The Christmas we get we deserve".
That last statement is debatable, but Greg Lake has undeniably left us a classic of the genre.
This is not the Rhymes and Routes Christmas Message of 2016 - that will appear shortly - but I wish all who read this post a Hopeful Christmas. May 2017 be good to you, also. And, unlike the narrator in "Stop the Cavalry", unlike all servicemen and women serving abroad, all sailors at sea, all homeless people, refugees and prisoners of conscience, be glad that you're home for Christmas.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe - Please Help!

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her daughter, Gabriella, both held prisoner in Iran

About two weeks ago, someone I hadn't talked to in a long time told me that his son and daughter-in-law were on holiday in Iran. Slightly shocked, I said that I hoped they would both get back safely. Iran, as any human rights campaigner will tell you, is not the best place for British citizens (or anyone else) to visit. One glance at either the Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International reports on human rights in Iran is enough to show what life is like for those who fall foul of the regime. In fact, you can find yourself arrested in Iran for no apparent reason.
Nowhere is this unjust practice better illustrated than in the current predicament of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. As Amnesty International says:
"Nazanin, a charity worker, was visiting family in Iran with her two-year-old daughter, Gabriella, in April this year. They were about to board a plane home to the UK when Nazanin was arrested. More than six months later, Nazanin is still in prison in Iran. In September, she was sentenced to five years behind bars after an unfair trial and the official charges against her remain a secret."
In a nasty little "extra", the Iranian authorities have confiscated her daughter's UK passport, effectively making two-year old Gabriella a hostage. Now, Iran has a history of holding westerners to ransom, going back to the storming of the US Embassy in Tehran back in 1979. Months of negotiation and compromise happened before the US Embassy staff, held captive, were released. It is thought that Nazanin's incarceration is happening for similar reasons, i.e. the regime wants something, and is holding her hostage to exert pressure on the British Government. As her British husband said: "Nazanin's detention and charges have always felt like she and Gabriella are being held as a political bargaining chip for internal and international politics," Mr Ratcliffe said.
"The fact that she was sentenced with unrecognisable charges the day after the UK embassy was upgraded makes this all the clearer."
This is not our concern here. What is of concern to me, human rights organisations and Nazanin's increasingly desperate family is the detrimental effect prison is having upon Nazanin's physical and mental health. She is being held in Iran's notorious Evin Prison, where, as the BBC says:
"Maziar Bahari, a journalist and former detainee at Evin Prison told the BBC it was an infamous jail with a history of executions and torture.
"Thousands of innocent lives perished in that prison and for someone like her who has not had any prison experience, being there will be a real torture," he said."
Nazanin has already been on hunger strike and is suffering terribly. For this reason, I appeal to all readers to support the campaign to keep her spirits up, and to continue to exert pressure on the Iranian authorities. Please, if you have not already done so, send a message to Nazanin via the Amnesty International page - CLICK ON THIS LINK. And - please - encourage others to do the same. Let's work to bring Nazanin and Gabriella home!

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Jo Cox - a Victim of Fascism

The trial and sentencing of Thomas Mair this week has thrust before us the issue of the threat to democracy from the extreme right. The "Fash", as some of us call them, have not been very successful at any time in this country. Oswald Moseley's Blackshirts were only a pale imitation of Mussolini's blackshirted "Squadristi", despite their violence and posturing. The National Front (NF), even in their heyday, never came anywhere near to achieving the power and influence of Hitler's Sturmabteilung (SA). Nevertheless, the sickening murder of Jo Cox, M.P., has shown that they are still among us and as violent as ever. As Nick Lowles puts it:
"While Britain’s far right might be numerically smaller than in the past, it is becoming more violent and dangerous."
The background to this, and, I would argue, to Jo Cox's death, was the EC Referendum which heightened feelings and tensions in our communities that led to the victory of the Leave Campaign, some elements of which were only too happy to play the racist and anti-migrant card. UKIP has much to answer for in this regard. The most glaring example of this was Nigel Farage and UKIP's "Breaking Point" poster, which even Boris Johnson condemned, as The Guardian commented at the time:
"Earlier, controversy over the poster had prompted Boris Johnson to distance the official leave campaign from Ukip. A string of politicians from Nicola Sturgeon to Yvette Cooper also condemned the poster."
Let's not forget, either, that Nigel Farage was the last politician of note to express sorrow for Jo Cox's death. In fact, he seemed more concerned that Jo Cox's murder might lead to a loss of support for the "Leave" Campaign.He also showed an execrable lack of good taste after the referendum vote, when he said that Britain had voted Leave "without a shot being fired". Wrong, Mr Farage. Three shots were fired - by Brexit supporter, Thomas Mair, into the body of Jo Cox.
Now, as might be expected, UKIP condemned the attack and sought to distance themselves from the Ultra-Right in Britain. This has not stopped UKIP from cementing links with far-Right parties in Europe. As "Hope not Hate" pointed out on November 4th: "UKIP has provoked anger in Sweden for its role in arranging an extreme-right networking event, to take place in Stockholm’s Grand Hotel this evening.
The “European Freedom Awards”, organised in conjunction with the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD), indicates a deepening of existing ties between UKIP and the European far right."
UKIP has shown signs of possible self-generated disintegration. Let's hope it comes soon.
In conclusion, I can only express my admiration for the courage and dignity of Jo Cox's family following the sentencing of Thomas Mair. As Brendan Cox, Jo Cox's widower said:
"For her killer we have nothing but pity that his life was so devoid of love, consumed by hatred that this act was his desperate, cowardly attempt to find meaning.
"An act designed to drive communities apart has instead brought them together, an act designed to silence a voice has instead allowed millions of others to hear it.
"Although she is dead the opinions and values she held so dear will live on."
That is very noble, and I totally support the view that the best way to beat the Fash is by positive action, but I also believe they have to be watched and vigorously opposed. Jo Cox herself was writing a report on the far right in Yorkshire before her murder.
Jo Cox was a victim of one of the most evil political ideologies ever devised. As such, she joins the fallen ranks of its other victims in other countries, the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. As we remember them, we should include remembrance of her - while the sick fascist who took her life deserves nothing but obscurity and contempt. Salud, Jo Cox - No Pasaran!
Thomas Mair, sick fascist terrorist

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Nigel Farage, Donald Trump and the Coming Populist Crisis

Along with the entire population of the earth, with the exception of North Korea, I felt that enough had been said about Brexit, the US Presidential Election, Nigel Farage and Donald Trump without me joining in. However, the recent refusal by Teresa May to deny discussing making a peer of Nigel Farage has stung me into action.
It's not been a good year for anyone to the left of Farage and Trump. Two seismic events that I thought could never happen - Brexit and Trump becoming US President- have happened, and I, along with what Farage would describe as "remoaners", "looney lefties" and "the liberal establishment elite", am still coming to terms with the shock.
If we are to make sense of these two shocks to the political system, we have to ask what has caused the two events. Now, there are differences between Brexit and the US election results, but one outstanding common factor is "Right-Wing Populism".  Wikipedia (which is not always wrong) says:
"Right-wing populism is a political ideology that rejects existing political consensus and often combines laissez-faire liberalism and anti-elitism. It is considered populism because of its appeal to the "common man" as opposed to the elites."
Besides this, of course, is another factor: hostility to immigration. Both Farage and Trump favour an end to the free movement of labour and unrestricted immigration (Muslim and Mexican immigration, in Trump's case), but the growing refugee crisis has stimulated Populist Right parties all over Europe. As The Economist says:
" Across the continent, right-wing populists are gathering steam. This year’s migrant influx has proved a huge boon to politicians hostile to Islam, immigration and the European Union."
There is no doubt that concern about these issues greatly helped Trump in the USA, as well as Farage and the Brexit campaigners over here. Some people say that without playing the migrant card, the Brexiteers would have lost the referendum. Ironically (or should I say tragically?), The Guardian's research showed that those who experienced the highest levels of migration were the least anxious about it:
"London, which absorbed 133,000 of the 330,000 net arrivals in 2015, voted the most strongly for remain. Manchester also voted for remain – and at 13,554 had nearly double the level of net migration seen in Birmingham, which voted leave."
From this, we can discern that fear is an element in populist success. There is also a need for a crisis that can be exploited. During the EC Referendum, UKIP and the Leave campaigners campaigned very hard in areas badly affected by the Tory government's austerity measures following the international banking crisis. Instead of putting the blame where it belonged, on the bankers and the government, the Leave campaigners - or at least the UKIP elements - diverted resentment towards refugees and the EC migrant communities. The rise in hate crime after the referendum is the result.
But there is a problem for populist politicians, should they come to power: what if they don't deliver on their promises? Donald Trump has already begun to go back on some of his election pledges. As the BBC point out, his stances on prosecuting Hillary Clinton, the Mexican Wall, Obamacare and banning Muslim entry to the USA are beginning to soften. He is even appointing an immigrant to one of the top jobs in his administration, as this photo of Michelle Obama shows:
Trump may well find himself unpopular with some of the more extreme and violent elements among his electoral supporters, if he is seen as backtracking on his promises.
A similar thing might happen in the UK if Leave campaigners feel themselves frustrated by the slow progress of Brexit. Nigel Farage has already threatened mass protest on this issue. The voice of the choleric Right, The Express, said:
"Sir Gerald Howarth, the Tory MP for Aldershot since 1997 has said any plans to hold back the will of the majority by going by preventing triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty could be met by angry opposition on British streets."
Farage, Howarth and their ilk are playing with unstable explosives here. If you stir up populist anger to resolve political issues, you may well find it impossible to control, as the French revolutionaries found out, nearly two centuries ago. The late Jo Cox, M.P., whose alleged murderer is on trial at the present time, was probably the first victim of that anger. Should Brexit happen, and the imagined benefits not happen, we may well see Farage, Howarth, Boris Johnson and the other Leave politicians denounced by other, more violent demagogues who will not hesitate to rouse populist passion into action on the streets. Still, I really should not go scaremongering. I may have been wrong about Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, but I am sure that such things as angry populist mob violence could never happen here...

Thursday, 10 November 2016

US election: sisters are doing it for themselves

And as of this week, 45.
Former refugee elected as first female Somali-American legislator
Ilhan Omar is the next State Representative for Minnesota's District 60B. At the age of 12, Omar fled the civil war in Somalia and spent four years in a Kenyan refugee camp. She arrived in the USA as a Muslim immigrant.

First black female senator elected since 1999
Kamala Harris is only the second black woman to be elected to the US Senate, and the first-ever black politician in US history to represent California in the Senate. She was also the first female attorney general in California. She is the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants,

First openly LGBT person elected US governor
Kate Brown has become the first openly LGBT person to be elected as governor. Although she held the post from 2015 in Oregon after the previous governor resigned, this time she was chosen by the voters. She intends to fight all forms of discrimination, thus providing some reassurance for LGBT people who may feel unrepresented by the presidential result.

Indian-American woman elected to Congress
Pramila Jayapal was an immigrant to the USA when she was just 16. In response to the hate crime caused by the 9/11 bombings, she set up the anti-hate group, OneAmerica, for which she has been praised in the Senate. Although she’s not actually the first Indian-American woman to be elected to Congress, her victory in Washington state is a triumph in view of all the anti-immigrant rhetoric during the election.

First elected Latina senator
Despite constant rhetoric about excluding the Hispanic population, Catherine Cortez Masto, the granddaughter of a Mexican immigrant, has also made history. She ran a campaign around renewable energy and protecting undocumented immigrants. She says: "I'm proud to be Nevada's first female and our nation's first Latina senator. It’s about time our government mirrors the diversity of our nation."

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Will Cornick, a Flawed Report and the Need for a Deterrent

Back on April 29, 2014, I wrote of my feelings about the murder of Anne Maguire, the Leeds teacher killed in her classroom by one of her pupils. At the time, the name of the culprit was not known. What was clear to me was the fact that classroom violence, which was (and is) all too common in our schools had reached a new level. At the time, I said that a Rubicon had been crossed. I still think that, but, fortunately, no more teachers have faced a similar fate - so far.
Anyway, today, as we know, the Leeds Safeguarding Children's Board (LSCB) have stated in their report that no-one other than Mrs Maguire's murderer, Will Cornick, is to blame for her death, and there were no early warning signs that could have stopped the attack. Nick Page, the report's author, said there had been no "credible warning signs" that could have been picked up by the school about Cornick's behaviour. According to Page, it was an "unprecedented emergency situation". He went on to say:
"Will's school friends and peers considered that he had a dark sense of humour and could talk very negatively and unkindly about people he did not like.
"None of the young people in the class or friendship group who heard Will talk about killing Ann, and were told about or shown the knives he had brought into school on 28 April 2014, had believed that he would actually carry out an assault."
I read that more than once with disbelief, as I have had experience of a pupil - primary age - bringing a knife to school. The matter was reported to me by other pupils. After summoning the pupil, I took the boy and the knife to the head teacher and the matter was dealt with accordingly. I am amazed that Cornick's classmates did not report these knives immediately. Had they done so, Ann Maguire might still be alive.
According to the BBC:
"Mark Peel, independent chairman of the safeguarding board, said: "It is also reassuring that this outcome of the learning lessons review is in agreement with the findings of the court, in that this tragic incident could not have been foreseen or prevented..."
I disagree; had those pupils been as responsible as my primary pupils of some years ago, those knives could have been confiscated.
I was also bemused at the way the LCSB quoted Cornick's explanation of his crime without any apparent critical analysis. Look at these seemingly consistent statements from the BBC article:
"Cornick, who was 15 at the time of the murder, told the report's author, Nick Page, he had gone to his Spanish class in "a red mist, not conscious of his surroundings".
We are then told:
"Earlier he had packed a rucksack containing two knives."
And then:
"He approached Mrs Maguire from behind and stabbed her in the upper back and neck seven times in front of "a large number of pupils".
The teenager then pursued her as she fled from the classroom and continued his attack, before being restrained by members of staff."
I find that the second and third statements contradict the first. If, as he says, he was unaware of his surroundings, how was he able to pack two knives? Surely that required forethought? Again, the fact that he was able to attack Mrs Maguire shows that he was clearly aware of his surroundings and of Mrs Maguire's movements.
Unsatisfactory as it is, the LCSB report stands, and, to be fair, I have not read the whole report. Perhaps the LCSB are right in their overall conclusion that nobody could have foreseen Cornick's actions. Perhaps he is the only person to blame. The one thing I find no fault with is Cornick's sentence. A more lenient term of incarceration would only have encouraged the small minority of evil pupils (yes, I know what the word evil means) to carry out further attacks on teaching staff. As I have said too often, I do hope that he is not sent to a mental hospital with the possibility of early release and a further possibility of killing again.
I do not know how Ann Maguire's family will react to this report. I can only send them my good wishes and those of Rhymes and Routes readers. Rest in Peace, Ann Maguire.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Darfur, War Crimes and the Hampshire Regiment

I recently took part in an Amnesty International (AI) research project into war crimes in Darfur. Along with 16, 299 other online volunteers, I studied aerial maps for villages at risk of attack by the Sudanese government. The research is now complete, and AI is glad for the results, as it says on its website:
" Decode Darfur was to build the evidence that will corroborate victim reports and witness testimony that shows civilians have been systematically attacked and show the international community that it has ignored Darfur for too long."
The attacks on civilians are being carried out by the Sudanese government and their militia allies - the notorious Janjaweed. These atrocities have been happening for decades, and the number of victims runs into hundreds of thousands, as the "Crimes of War" website says:
"Government security forces and their proxy militias—the Janjaweed—orchestrated a campaign of mass murder, rape, forced displacement, and destruction of livelihood. At least 200,000 people have died in the conflict, and more than 2.5 million have been driven off their lands and into camps for the internally displaced. The international community’s failure to protect civilians in Darfur echoed the failure to respond in Rwanda a decade before".
And, please note, part of the international community's failure includes the tens of thousands of well intentioned people who protest vociferously about the actions of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, yet cheerfully ignore the horrors of Darfur and Assad's crimes against his people in Syria. Still, as AI says, they are not alone, so let's not single them out. Instead, I want to focus upon the issue of war crimes and, given the recent controversy about British troops facing accusations of war crimes in Iraq, I would like to look at two incidents from WW2 which might be considered by some people to be British war crimes.
The legal definition of "War Crime" is clear, but lengthy. Anyone interested in this can do no better than consult the Red Cross website on this issue. For this post, though, let's use this basic definition from Wikipedia: "A war crime is an act that constitutes a serious violation of the law of war that gives rise to individual criminal responsibility.[1] Examples of war crimes include intentionally killing civilians or prisoners, torture, destroying civilian property, taking hostages, perfidy, rape, using child soldiers, pillaging, declaring that no quarter will be given, and using weapons that cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering.[2]".    

Starting from here, lets look at two possible war crimes carried out by British troops in WW2.
The first happened in July, 1944, during the bitter post-D-Day fighting around Caen. An isolated battalion of the Hampshire Regiment was attacked by a troop of Tiger tanks which, to use an archaic phrase, did "fearful execution" among the Hampshires. During the fighting, one of the Tiger tanks overturned and the crew baled out, trying to surrender. Furious at their own losses, the Hampshires shot the Germans down.
The second incident happened in 1945, shortly after the collapse of the Third Reich and concerns the capture of Rudolf Hoess, the commandant of the Auschwitz death camp. After the German surrender, Hoess went on the run, disguising himself as a Kriegsmarine sailor. His wife and son, however, were captured and interrogated for Herr Hoess' whereabouts. Frau Hoess, like the good Nazi wife she was, refused to talk at first, so her British Intelligence Corps (Icorps) interrogators tried a more forceful type of persuasion. The interrogation centre was located near a railway station from where trains ran directly to the Russian Zone, so the Icorps men told Frau Hoess that if she did not disclose her husband's hideout, they would put her son on a train to Moscow and she would never see him again. She talked. Hoess was tracked down and arrested, put on trial in Poland and, unrepentant to the end, was hanged publicly in the Auschwitz camp in 1947.
Now, both these events can be construed as war crimes. In the first,  the Hampshires violated the Geneva Convention by shooting troops who were surrendering; in the second, it is clear that psychological torture was employed. But, surely (for God's sake!) there are extenuating circumstances here? In the first case, the surviving Hampshires had seen many of their comrades dying horribly under onslaught from a far more ruthless enemy. Besides which, let's not forget that the German armed forces were not exactly famous for merciful treatment of their enemies either, and there is no need to labour that point. Personally, I understand completely why the Hampshires did as they did, and do not condemn them.
In the second case, the psychological pressure applied to Frau Hoess is a molehill to a mountain in comparison to the atrocities committed under her husband's supervision at Auschwitz. It was a matter of utter urgency that Hoess be caught, and I believe the Icorps men to have been right in what they did. Only a doctrinaire humbug or a neo-Nazi could argue otherwise.
So, in anticipation of a stupid question, do I believe that British troops should be exempted from prosecution for war crimes? The answer is emphatically "No". However, I do believe that all extenuating circumstances must be allowed for, if the term "Justice" is to mean anything. The danger is, at least in the case of British troops accused of crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan, that the trials will become politicised. Politicians of Left and Right are becoming involved, and these trials may well become partisan affairs, with the truth treated as being of secondary importance.
Rudolf Hoess on the scaffold; cap badge of the Royal Hampshire Regiment.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Return of Grammar Schools - Divide and Misrule

Teresa May seems determined to follow in David Cameron's footsteps by courting disaster. Following Cameron's catastrophic error in calling the EC Referendum, which has divided this country in a number of ways, Mrs May wants to exacerbate social division by returning to the old Grammar School system, which she, along with her party and the Campaign for Real Education, sees as being necessary to improve British educational standards. As the Daily Telegraph says:
"It marks a major departure from David Cameron’s education policy, with the former prime minister repeatedly refusing to give in to pressure from backbenchers on the issue.
A government source said allowing new grammar schools was about “social mobility and making sure that people have the opportunity to capitalise on all of their talents”. "
Mrs May is not just ignoring her backbenchers on this issue; she is also ignoring the views of educational experts. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the OFSTED chief, a man of whom I rarely comment favourably, says that more grammar schools would be "a retrograde step"; Alan Milburn, head of the Social Mobility Commission, says that it will be "a social mobility disaster". The present-day evidence clearly shows that selective schools do not improve social mobility. Kent has the highest proportion of selective state schools in England and yet only 27% of children in Kent who receive free school meals gain five good GCSEs. In London, which is almost entirely comprehensive, the proportion is 45%.
As someone who remembers the old system, I am left wondering why Mrs May, Justine Greening (Minister for Education) and other pundits make no mention of the children who will not be selected for grammar school. As I was one of this group, back in the so-called "good old days", I know what it means to be part of that "rump", which was made up of 75% of all children between the ages of 11 to 15/ 16 years of age.
For those who do not know, in the 1950s and 60s, children in their final year of primary school sat an exam called "The 11-Plus". The 25% who scored highest went to grammar schools, while the supposedly less academic children were sent to secondary modern schools. Only in 1972 was it discovered that the man who devised the 11-Plus, Sir Cyril Burt, had forged his evidence to justify that dreaded examination. John Parrington says here:
"In Britain IQ tests were first popularised by Cyril Burt, an educational psychologist and one of those responsible for devising the 11-plus. Burt claimed his 40 years of research proved a child's intelligence was mainly inherited from its parents and that social circumstances played only a minor role. His research formed the basis of education policy for half a century-from the 1920s until the 1970s. Yet only a year after his death in 1971, evidence began to emerge that Burt was a fraudster who had simply invented results to fit his theories about the hereditability of intelligence...Things started to unravel soon after Burt's death, when it was shown by respected US psychologist Leon Kamin that Burt's figures constituted a statistical impossibility. 'A liar and a fraud,' was Kamin's verdict. This charge was borne out when it was found that Burt's two female 'collaborators', who supposedly collected and processed his data, had never worked with him and probably never existed! Eventually even Burt's friend and official biographer, Leslie Hearnshaw, was forced to accept that the charges of fraud were justified".
And so, because of this man's fraudulent research, hundreds of thousands of British children were earmarked from the age of 11 for the menial jobs of society. I well remember a secondary modern schoolgirl back in my hometown of Southport being told by one of her teachers that girls from her school were all "future Moors Market women" (Moors Market was a kind of 1960s Southport version of Aldi, but more down market - no pun intended). When it came to resources, the grammar schools were always better provided. In my secondary modern school, the "O" level GCE classes took most of their classes in the school kitchen, while the grammar school for girls were being given their own 6th form coffee lounge. My school, at least, provided exam classes; until the school leaving age was raised, many secondary moderns expected their pupils to leave school at 15, as befitted their place in the educational system and wider society. Besides this, I remember the occasional friction that existed between grammar and secondary modern pupils, which sometimes resulted in name-calling and abuse. Grammar school kids were called "snobs" and secondary modern pupils were looked down upon as being thick. I fervently hope that no future generations of our children will go through that. As to whether Mrs May and her government will listen, I doubt it.
I would like to end on a personal note. Because of ill-health, I missed a lot of school and left with no qualifications. After an improvement in health and success at evening classes, I went to University at the age of 27, expecting to be the oldest on the course. To my surprise, I wasn't. Out of a small course of about 24 students, there were three 27-year olds, one of 30 and another of 40. This showed me that I wasn't the only person to have been failed by the system. When we graduated in 1980, my friend Bill from Rochdale gained a first class honours degree, and I passed with a high 2/1. We were both former secondary modern schoolboys.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Dr Jeroen Ensink - The Same Old Story

I should have known better. I had hoped that we might be spared any more accounts of murders by mental health patients, at least for this year. Readers of Rhymes and Routes probably feel the same, and I understand that. When a friend sent me an email about the killing of Doctor Jeroen Ensink on December 29, 2015, my first reaction was to tell myself: "You've written about this subject so many times, what's the point in revisiting it yet again?". I then read the details of Dr Ensink's murder and changed my mind. There are uniquely poignant features to this crime, as indeed there are in all such cases, but there are many sadly familiar details.
Once again, we have a story of an innocent member of the public killed by a mental health patient in the street. Again, questions are raised about why such a murderous and unstable person, in this case, a 23-year old Nigerian named Femi Nandap, was out on the streets in the first place. Again, the guilty party, in this case Nandap, pleads diminished responsibility on mental health grounds. And yet again, we are left feeling appalled at the crime, and baffled at how it could have happened.
As well we might. The details of this case defy belief. Last December 29, Dr Ensink, a university lecturer, left his Islington home to post "New Baby" cards to inform friends and family of the arrival of his daughter Fleur, born only eleven days before. In a cruel twist of fate, as he walked to post his cards, he encountered Nandap who attacked him with a knife, stabbing him repeatedly.
As the press have pointed out, Nandap could have been stopped before this happened. As the Daily Mail says:
"Nandap, of Woolwich, south east London, was arrested in May last year and charged with wielding knives in public and assaulting a police officer.
Nandap later flew back to Nigeria in June for three months, missing his bail appointment in August.
He finally appeared in court in October, but was granted bail by magistrates - despite objections from the prosecutor."
The Mail goes on to say:
"The Crown Prosecution Service said today it dropped Nandap's knife and police assault charges because of a 'lack of evidence' - but said even if he was prosecuted he would still be free on bail.
A spokesman said: 'This was a tragic case and our sympathies are with Mr Ensink's family."
Oh well, that's nice. At least they sympathise with the victim's family. Also, at least the national media is taking more of an interest in these horrible events and calling the authorities to account. Not that it will make the general public any safer - there is nothing to stop an incident like this happening again. As Julian Hendy, who runs the "100 Families" website (see "Links") has said:
"This is another deeply distressing case of an innocent man and young family destroyed by the violent actions of a seriously mentally ill offender."
That is absolutely correct. Doctor Ensink's daughter will never know her dad; the feelings of his widow can only be imagined. The more I read of Dr Ensink, the more I am appalled at his fate because he contributed so much to the world in his lifetime.He was an expert in sanitation and water management, and worked in developing countries including Ethiopia, Senegal, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka. The director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said:
'Dr Ensink joined the school almost a decade ago, and at the time of his death he was leading a large study in the Democratic Republic of Congo to understand how improvements in water supply could control and prevent cholera outbreaks.'
Femi Nandap will probably be confined to somewhere like Broadmoor where he will receive intense therapy. He may well be pronounced "cured" in a few years time and released - perhaps to kill again, like so many others. Mrs Ensink and her daughter, Fleur, face a life sentence.
As before, I know that I speak for all readers of "Rhymes and Routes" (and all sane and normal people!) in sending condolences to Dr Ensink's family, friends, colleagues and students, should they happen upon this blog. No words from me can heal their pain, but there is a research fund set up by Dr Ensink's university, which readers can access - HERE. There can be no better tribute to his memory.
Speaking personally, I shall try my utmost never to dismiss other crimes of this kind again. It matters not whether the victims are distinguished academics like Dr Ensink or "ordinary" housewives; they are all innocent. Rhymes and Routes will continue to remember them, and do our very limited best to bring these hideous murders to an end.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Tony Blair - Truly a Liar?

As we can see in the picture above, Tony Blair does not look well these days. This is understandable, when you bear in mind that so many people around the world regard him as a liar and a war criminal. He is reviled as the man who, in 2003, sent British troops into Iraq in support of US President George Bush, leading to countless deaths, the destabilizing of the Middle East and the bringing of British democratic institutions into disrepute. But is this a fair picture? Well, by and large, I would say yes, but, later on, I would like to attempt a fuller explanation of his actions over a decade ago. Not by focusing upon what Blair did so much, but why he did it and what went wrong.
I am not going to quote the Chilcot report, which runs into millions of words, although here is a link to that report for those who wish to read it. Instead, for those interested, I recommend reading "Not the Chilcot Report", by Peter Oborne. This is a concise, lucid and informative account of how we went to war in 2003, and is better suited for the general reader than Chilcot's report itself. As Stop the War Coalition says:
"...its (the Chilcot report's) monumental scale makes almost certain that just a few of its contents will reach the public eye, and that much else of interest will be missed. True, academic researchers will pore over it and in due course will publish further analyses; but for most people, and for the more immediate debate over the report's relevance to current wars, that will be too late in the day"
Now, as we know, Blair has no regrets about helping to start the war in 2003, and, as Oborne says in his foreword:
"Tony Blair has consistently asserted that he did not lie in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq...he might have made mistakes...However, he has been adamant that, whatever the faults of others, he himself acted in good faith". (My italics - Blogmeister) The implication here is that he was given erroneous information by the intelligence agencies.
Oborne goes on to destroy this claim, quoting Lord Butler's 2004 report on the war as saying: "...neither the UK nor the USA had the intelligence that proved conclusively that Iraq had those weapons [weapons of mass destruction]. The Prime Minister was disingenuous about that."
 The whole book is a fascinating and blistering expose of the whole disastrous mess. I do not intend to summarise every chapter, but can only encourage all interested to read the book. Instead, I intend here to look at what I believe was going on in Blair's mind in the run-up to invasion. Oborne again:
"In order to claim that he was acting in good faith, defenders of Mr Blair have no choice but to concede that he also took leave of reality"
I am not aiming to defend Blair, but I intend to show that he did take leave of reality, and the way in which it happened is a warning to us all for the future.
The key questions here are, then: why did Blair join in George Bush's invasion to effect regime change in Iraq? Next, why did he ignore all warnings against getting involved in the debacle, and distort intelligence reports about Iraqi weaponry ?
The simple answer to the first question is that Blair wanted to be seen as the "best friend" to the USA after 9/11. As Blair himself said to Bush:
"We were with you at the first, we will stay with you to the last".
Blair does not seem to have bothered assessing the true reasons for Bush's desire to invade Iraq, but his statement does have some rational basis, however wrong and misguided. However, his descent into deceptiveness about the intelligence reports he was receiving, which clearly showed that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) requires another approach. In Oborne's words, we must: "...enter the realm of psychology rather than politics".
So, what went wrong? Well, in an earlier blog, I surmised that Bush and Blair's blotting out of warning signs about the invasion was a continuation of their religious commitment. I argued that, as Christians facing doubt, skepticism and opposition hold true to their faith, they clung to their belief that Iraq was an existential threat to the world in the face of contrary evidence. I remembered watching Blair facing a TV audience of mothers in 2003, prior to the invasion, and he did not seem to be hearing them, almost as if he were catatonic. He actually said that the invasion was in line with his Christian principles. As he is now a Roman Catholic convert, I can only wonder what he tells his priest in the confessional box.
All this could be right, but there is more to it than these two points, I believe. I think we should take into account that, until Iraq, Blair had been widely regarded as a successful Prime Minister. His tremendous achievement in 1997 (with help from others) in becoming the first Labour PM since 1979, the national minimum wage, the Good Friday Agreement and humane military interventions in Sierra Leone and Kosovo could well have made him overconfident. Had he left office after these achievements and before the Iraq fiasco, as Oborne says, we would remember Tony Blair very differently. But, if I am right, and he felt empowered by an overweening belief in himself, this could explain his moment of hubris over Iraq.
The last factors which I think may have affected Tony Blair, and which are appropriate, given the military angle, are evident in two Allied military disasters from 1944 - Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge. Market Garden was a dangerously reckless attempt by Field Marshal Montgomery, by using paratroopers, to seize and hold a bridgehead over the Rhine at Arnhem, in north-east Holland. It failed disastrously because, despite intelligence warnings that two SS Panzer divisions had moved into the vicinity of Arnhem, British military planners disregarded them. As Norman F. Dixon, in "The Psychology of Military Incompetence" comments: "...since these ugly facts did not accord with what had been planned they fell upon a succession of deaf ears".
One intelligence officer who showed a General aerial photos of German armour in the area was sent home on medical grounds! How similar is this to the reckless way Bush and Blair ignored contrary evidence to the reasons for launching and chances of success for their planned invasion?
Prior to the launch of the German offensive against American troops in the winter of 1944, Allied intelligence received a number of warnings that would have given indication of German intentions, but ignored them, and the Battle of the Bulge began with a devastating surprise attack by the Germans. As Carlo D'Este says:
"  Lulled by deception measures worthy of Operation Fortitude, the Allies, from Eisenhower on down, were convinced that German intentions were purely defensive. The Allies seemed wedded to the belief that it was Rundstedt who was making the military decisions in the west in December 1944, failing to grasp that they were not the “rational, ‘traditional’ decisions of von Rundstedt but . . . those of Hitler. The Allied High Command,” wrote French historian Jacques Nobecourt, “was indulging in wishful thinking.”
And wishful thinking, I believe, was indulged in by Bush and Blair, to such an extent that dissenting voices and truthful intelligence warnings were ignored. They made the same mistakes as the Allies made in the two examples given above, and disaster ensued in Iraq, just as it did at Arnhem and in the opening stages of the Battle of the Bulge.
But should the blame stop with Blair? Why is George Bush never pursued with the same venom? Surely Blair's advisers, which included Alistair Campbell and Jack Straw, deserve censure for not pressing upon Blair the true nature of the intelligence received? MI6 could have leaked their findings to the media, but did not. Oborne, to his credit, owns up frankly to the fact that he, and the rest of the media, did not do enough to expose Blair's deceit:
" was perfectly possible for an assiduous journalist at the time to have uncovered many of the lies and falsehoods being uttered by politicians and officials".
As I said, Oborne includes himself in this media failure.
If Tony Blair is a war criminal, and some say he is, he will never stand trial. He seems to have checked on this. In March, 2003, Lord Goldsmith (Attorney General) told him that the ICC (International Criminal Court) had: " jurisdiction over the crime of aggression and could therefore not entertain a case concerning the lawfulness of any military action".
That, perhaps, is why Blair backed the invasion of Iraq, which was an unprovoked war of aggression against a sovereign state that did not menace its neighbours and an invasion which was not authorized by the UN Security Council. This led to the ongoing disaster that is the Middle East today, with an estimated one million dead (so far), and a crisis of terrorism and refugees that is reaching our shores. Like Peter Oborne and millions of others, I believe that Tony Blair lied to Parliament, but it is my contention that he began by lying to himself.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Anjem Choudary and Free Speech

I am completely opposed to Anjem Choudary, his antics and his extreme beliefs. I was outraged by his poppy-burning stunt several years ago, and expressed my anger here. However, while I am not in the least unhappy at his recent trial and incarceration, I am nagged by a feeling that we have underestimated him and that, even now, he may be playing some kind of game. As we know, the authorities have been out to get Choudary for a number of years, but he has always managed to avoid prosecution. Like Robespierre, Lenin and Margaret Thatcher, who were all radicals in their way, he is a trained lawyer and also a skilled operator when it comes to avoiding prosecution. I believe him to be an operator of a different kind as well, but I'll save that for later.
What appears to have clinched the prosecution of Choudary is his oath of allegiance to Daesh, which is illegal. I am puzzled at the fact that he was (apparently) stupid enough to take that oath, but we all slip up at times. It seems that he could not be prosecuted for his other activities, as Nick Lowles of Hope not Hate put it:
'Justice has been a long time coming,' he said. 'For far too long, Anjem Choudary has played a key role as a cheerleader for ISIS, and been allowed to demonise the Muslim community.
'He clearly promoted the disgusting and divisive ideals of the Islamic State, while dozens of his supporters have been connected to terrorist plots, violence or heading overseas to fight in Syria, Iraq and other conflicts. Finally Choudary can now pay for his actions.' 
The media has rightly focused upon the fact that at least 75 (or more) UK citizens convicted of terrorist offences have been members of Al-Muhajiroun, Choudary's own extremist group, including the murderers of Lee Rigby: Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo. Choudary afterwards described Adebowale as "a man of impeccable character" and "a practising Muslim and a family man". Lee Rigby's fiancĂ©e, Aimee West, commented:
'I'm all for free speech, but the BBC is wrong to give such a big platform to hate preachers who are brainwashing young people and inciting such acts of horrific violence.'
Ms West's outrage is understandable, but it highlights another aspect of Anjem Choudary: the fact that the media have made of him a clownish personality who can be relied upon to make an outlandish or outrageous comment. This begs the question: how much free speech should Choudary have been allowed in the first place, and what is the future of free speech now? Some people have pointed out that by imprisoning Choudary, he will simply become a martyr to his followers, and will not stop radicalization anyway. Other hate preachers will step in to fill the gap. As Emma Webb says in "The Spectator":
"Don’t let off your celebratory party poppers just yet! Anjem Choudary may be facing jail, but he is a slippery man – an ex-lawyer always careful to push the boundaries of the law he despised without breaking it – so don’t think he won’t try to play a bad hand to his advantage.
There’s a phrase about ‘never wasting a good crisis’. And I have no doubt that is precisely what Choudary will do. The judge could order him to be suspended, David-Blaine-style, in a glass box and he would probably find a way to radicalise people using semaphore".
Not to mention  the impact he would have on other prisoners and the prison system itself - he cannot be held in solitary confinement for ever. That would be a violation of human rights.
The key issue here is what John Stuart Mill identified in "On Liberty" as being:
"…the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others."
Now, as outlined above, there is much to argue the case that Choudary's activities and speeches cause harm to others. However, there is a body of opinion (including the man himself) which argues that, as he has done no direct physical harm, and incited none, he should not be imprisoned. They also argue that other people who cause public offence by their statements and activities could also be affected. Some could argue that one of Choudary's most virulent critics, the UKIP comedian, Pat Condell, who has argued that Chaudary should be knighted, could be indicted for what might be regarded as his Islamophobic views. I am sure that Choudary would agree. In fact, if it were up to him, life would become very difficult indeed (perhaps no life at all) for anyone who did not share in his current bigotry and fanaticism.
Personally, I think that we need to assess Choudary in a different way. I have no doubt that he means what he says at the present time, but he has not always done so. As the media has reported extensively, Choudary led quite a wild youth, engaging in such non-Muslim activities as drinking cider, smoking dope and reading Mayfair, changing his ways only after encountering the hate preacher, Omar Bakri Mohammed. That being the case, I think it fair to say that people who are capable of one radical change in their views are capable of another. We may yet, in future years, see a very different Anjem Choudary on our TV screens, perhaps as a chat show host, or even a contestant on "Strictly Come Dancing". Unlikely? Impossible? Possibly - but I see Choudary as an operator who knows how to use the system. He may well find it to his advantage to change his mind and allegiances, becoming a "Lost Leader" to his present-day acolytes.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Theresa May - Where are we Bound?

Well, as we know, Theresa May became our new (unelected) Prime Minister on the 13th of July. She made an impressive speech after visiting the Queen which will probably go down as a classic of "One Nation Toryism", in which she highlighted many of our social problems and iniquities, and pledged to fight against them. She closed her speech by saying: "Together, we will build a better Britain." Well, that is a laudable sentiment and, for once, I will not lapse into cynicism (I'll leave it to others). What is of interest to me here is the way in which many people reacted to that speech. One friend of mine commented that, having voted Labour all his life, he could almost find himself becoming a Tory. Other friends of mine commented favourably on the speech on social media. Given the farcical but internecine conflicts in the Labour Party over their leadership contest and other issues, the PM's words, by contrast,  rang out with clarity, sincerity and a clear desire for unity.
I have to say that, personally, I quite like Theresa May - or at least her public persona. When she was Home Secretary, I remember her being almost reduced to tears when speaking of letters she had received from people suffering from anti-social behaviour on council estates - an issue that seems to have been dropped by the media in recent years. In October, 2002, she also, to her credit, drew the attention of the Tory party to the fact that they were seen as "The Nasty Party" (what should we call them now?)
All well and good, but one inspired speech and a perceptive comment do not necessarily make for an effective Prime Minister. After all, President Obama promised military cutbacks upon election to the White House - the opposite happened. The fact is that the most idealistic and well-intentioned of politicians are constrained by political, economic, social and, sometimes, military/security factors that militate against their programmes, however exasperated those politicians become.
Already, the PM has caused dismay by her closure of the U.K. Department of Energy and Climate Change, a move which Ed Miliband has described as "plain stupid".
There are also concerns about her stance on immigration, for which she has drawn a lot of flak in the past. One of her suggestions was to enforce the expulsion of foreign students as soon as they graduated as a measure to curb migration. She also spearheaded a move to take the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights,  which is a respected safeguard on immigration and other issues. Besides this, she has upset many rank and file police officers by her talk of police reforms and aroused the ire of human rights groups by her advocacy of "The Snooper's Charter", which would bring mass surveillance into British lives.
Her main headache, however, will be the departure of Britain from the EC - "Brexit", to which both she and David Cameron were opposed.Since the referendum on June 23, there has been much confusion about what will happen and how. And, as we know, the leaders of the "Leave" campaign have disappeared from the scene, leaving us with uncertainty, anger and an increase in hate crime. Personally, I would favour scrapping the results of that stupid referendum, but May has said her plan is to carry out the will of the majority.
"(“Brexit means Brexit,” she has said, an extraordinary aphorism in which an invented word is said to denote itself.)"
We should take warning from this. As Yvette Cooper said in The Guardian back in July:
"May believes in justice, but not in social justice; in individual enterprise, but not in uniting communities. Rightly, her Modern Slavery Act promised a crackdown on people smugglers. Wrongly, it left out protection for domestic workers from slavery. Rightly, she criticised poor standards in policing. Wrongly, she destroyed the neighbourhood policing that builds community cohesion and prevents crime. Rightly, she talks about entrepreneurship and getting on in life. Wrongly, she never challenges the deep inequalities and poverty that hold people back."
Owen Jones develops these criticisms by pointing out, in a highly critical short video you can watch HERE, that Mrs May has not always supported rights for gay people and other minorities. He also (surely rightly?) slams her decision to appoint Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary.
All fair criticism, but I would like to defend Mrs May on one issue. On July 18, the House of Commons debated the retention of Trident. As recorded by many media sources, the following exchange took place between the PM and an SNP MP:
"SNP MP George Kerevan said: "Is she prepared to authorize a nuclear strike that would kill hundreds of thousands of men, women and children?"
Mrs May relied simply: "Yes".
The response of many people and political groups was incandescent rage. Mrs May was portrayed as a bloodthirsty successor to Dr Strangelove. I understand this, but really, I think it misses the point. If we were at war, and faced by an enemy who sought to invade or destroy us, I would expect my government to take all measures necessary to protect us. This does not mean I would support a nuclear or non-nuclear strike for no good reason, and, to be fair, neither would Mrs May. She went on to say that there was no point in having a deterrent if you were not prepared to use it. In those strictly narrow terms, I would agree. In other words, I think that the Left/SNP/Greens/CND members shot themselves in the foot by their over-reaction. Interestingly, the dust has settled on that debate.
Anyway, off we go sailing into the unknown, with Theresa May as our captain. Let's all watch out for icebergs...

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Darlene Horton - A Tragic Catalyst for Action?

I know some people will react to this post by saying: "He's at it again - banging on about violent mental patients". I make no apology for this, as I think it to be a serious issue (deadly serious for the victims) that all too readily gets swept under the carpet. I have noted before how mental health authorities seem to show little sympathy for the innocent people killed by mental patients, and how the media has, at times, taken little interest in the murders committed, regarding them as merely local matters.
I hope that this is about to change. The trial of Matthew Daley this year for the killing of Donald Lock in 2015 brought this issue to the front pages of the national media, and exposed the failings of one mental health authority. The murder of tragic Darlene Horton, I believe, is going to lead to a further spur to action.
The word "tragic" is doubly apposite when we learn that, according to the Guardian:
"Darlene Horton, 64, was hours away from returning home to Tallahassee, Florida, with her husband when she was killed on Wednesday night."
Besides this, she was one of a number of people attacked by 19-year old Zakaria Bulhan last Wednesday evening, but was the only fatality.
This shocking event has devastated Mrs Horton's friends and family, who join the sad fraternity to which the relatives of Jo Cox, Donald Lock and all too many others now belong.
To be fair to the mental health authorites, Bulhan does not appear to have been on their radar, and this act of savagery has surprised everyone. Rather like the reaction of neighbours of Thomas Mair, the alleged killer of Jo Cox, Bulhan's relatives and friends have expressed disbelief. As the Telegraph says:
"Friends and neighbours expressed shock at the arrest of Mr Bulhan, a former student at Graveney School in Tooting, south London.
Neighbour Parmjit Singh Bhamra described Mr Bulhan as a "quiet, academic boy who was a bit of a loner" who liked football, basketball and music.
He said Mr Bulhan, who is unemployed, lived at the flat with his younger brother and his elder sister and their mother."
Given this, it is a wonder to me how the police arrived so quickly at the conclusion that this was not a terrorist attack. After all, the man convicted as a terrorist for the Leytonstone tube station attack, Muhiddin Mire, was thought by many to have attacked, at least partly, for ideological reasons. As The Guardian says: "...the victim, the doctor who treated him and a substantial part of Britain’s security establishment believed Mire’s violence was a result of his acute mental health problems rather than a political motivation.
After further inquiries, Scotland Yard this week publicly said so, but also said Mire had been inspired by Isis propaganda on his phone, the downloading of which appeared to coincide with his mental health deteriorating."
It is a good thing for Bulhan, then, that he did not shout "Allahu Akbar!" as he carried out his knife attacks. In fact, cynical though I may sound, it looks like a very good move on his part. After all, when so many murderous mental health patients get released to kill again (see previous blogs), he could be released in a few years' time to carry out further attacks.
But let us return to the much -loved and now much-missed Darlene Horton. Just how much loved is shown by this quote from The Guardian: "Jane Marks, a neighbour, told the Tallahassee Democrat that Horton was “absolutely lovely. Just one of the nicest, sweetest family-focused people who is very happy in her space and place”.
There is, however, the possibility of some good coming out of this tragedy. Darlene Horton was American. The government - especially this government - will not like the adverse attention abroad that Mrs Horton's death will bring. I hope then, that her murder will act as a catalyst to galvanise the government into urging greater efforts on the part of the mental health authorities to much more vigorous action to protect the public. If this happens (do I see pigs flying in formation over Hounslow?), then I shall stop writing about this melancholy issue.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

You never shut up - why should we?

A letter in our local paper stated that "those calling for referendum mark two are talking nonsense" [mark three, surely?]. The writer asserted that, after we leave the EU, we will still be able to trade with the EU and with the Commonwealth. I appreciate the his upbeat wishful thinking, and the interesting suggestion that Commonwealth members have spent 41 years waiting for us to leave the EU so they can trade with us again. In reality, they have in the intervening decades forged other trading links and I cannot see how we'd be able to stroll in and pick up where we left off.

The EU vote was an enormous gamble that certain politicians chose to take with our future: David Cameron held the referendum, which he fully expected to win, not to give us a say, but to try to silence his Euro-sceptic backbenchers once and for all, a foolish tactic that disastrously backfired. Boris Johnson supported the leave side to further his own ambition to be prime minister, but you don't have to take my word for that: senior Tories such as Anna Soubry and Alan Duncan will tell you exactly the same thing.

Because Cameron anticipated a victory, no plans were made about what to do if the 'leave' side won; so confident was he that government departments were specifically instructed not to make any contingency plans, which to me seems the height of irresponsibility. Having engineered this vote, Messrs Cameron, Farage and Johnson all stepped away from leadership roles. To put it another way, having started the fire, they all simply ran away leaving others to deal with the consequences.

Those who are happy with the result keep on telling those who voted to stay in to get over it. Just like they did? We have had 41 years of constant whingeing and complaining by them about the EEC/EC/EU since the first referendum in 1975. They did not 'get over it' then, so why should anyone else now?

The first referendum did not close down the debate; I strongly doubt that the second one will either.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Nice, Jo Cox - Explanations and Excuses

Last Friday, July 15, saw two seemingly unconnected events: we woke to the news of the previous night's slaughter of 84 innocent people in Nice, France and, during the day, the burial of Jo Cox, M.P. in her Yorkshire constituency of Batley and Spen. These two events happened hundreds of miles apart, but there are a number of similarities between the perpetrators of what I believe to have been two terrorist acts - the shooting and stabbing of Jo Cox by Thomas Mair, and the massacre by truck carried out by Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel in France.
To me, there are several obvious similarities between Mair and Bouhlel. They both carried out their attacks alone, even though evidence of support for Mair may yet emerge, and Bouhlel's last text message before he set out to commit mass murder does seem to point to the involvement of others.
Bouhlel's final text message read: "Bring more weapons. Bringing in 5," while an earlier text said:"It's good. I have the equipment."
Both appear to have been loners. Mair was regarded by his neighbours as a quiet man, if somewhat eccentric. Bouhlel was regarded as being anti- social by his neighbours, even though he was married with three children. Whereas Mair helped his elderly neighbours with their gardens, Bouhlel showed the nasty side of his nature by beating his wife, who left him. As one of his long-suffering neighbours said: “He was rude and bit weird. We would hold the door open for him and he would just blank him...He kept himself to himself but would always rant about his wife. He had marital problems and would tell people in the local cafe. He scared my children though.”
Significantly, both had a history of mental health problems, which, in the context of terrorism, I have discussed before, on June 17th. The question of mental instability and terrorism is a thorny one, but it has now become more topical and, in my opinion, deserves urgent attention. After all, terrorism is not a rational activity, so should not all terrorists be judged insane? Counterpoint to that, as has been pointed out previously, MIND has said that one in every four Britons will suffer mental health problems in their lifetime, so can these problems really be regarded as legitimate excuses, or even explanations, for terrorist actions? We are told that Bouhlel suffered from depression, but so do tens of thousands of people who do not go out to commit mass murder.
Now, Mair and Bouhlel have one outstanding difference, and that is in their ideological beliefs, which inspired them on to carry out their atrocities. Mair, as I have said before, is a racist and a fascist, who appears to have had links to the far-right outfit, Britain First, while Bouhlel is thought to have been a radical Islamist. With Bouhlel, however, some people, including his lawyer, doubt that he was a Jihadi. As his wife's cousin, Walid Hamou, said of him:
“Bouhlel was not religious. He did not go to the mosque, he did not pray, he did not observe Ramadan. He drank alcohol, ate pork and took drugs. This is all forbidden under Islam.
‘He was not a Muslim, he was a shit. He beat his wife, my cousin, he was a nasty piece of work.”
Well, I am sure he was, but that does not mean he could not have been radicalized in some way. He was a known violent criminal, last convicted in the spring of this year. As the Huffington Post says:
"His latest conviction was in March, when he received a six-month suspended sentence for violence with a weapon, having used a wooden pallet against another driver during a traffic incident."
Far from Bouhlel not fitting a Jihadi terrorist profile, I believe he fits it only too well. Most of the attackers in the Paris massacres had criminal backgrounds and became radicalized very quickly. The same thing could well have happened with Bouhlel. The fact that he sent the  text messages (see above), and seems to have researched the murderous route he took, points to his having some tactical and logistical support. It also shows him to have been capable of forward planning, which, again, calls into question the view that he was mentally deranged.
The link between Jihadi radicalism and crime is borne out by a local youth worker, who told the BBC:
Kamel, a youth worker in the Nice area, says one of the reasons for the recent success of the Salafist ideology that has inspired jihad, is that it provides a ready and easy way of justifying the actions of petty criminals.
"The kids are told that they are in a land of unbelievers, so when they steal and attack people it is justifiable; the petty criminal is turned into a holy warrior, and is promised status, sexual gratification and eternal life."
Bouhlel's sudden radicalization, which many doubt, is not so unlikely after all. Both Bouhlel and Mair knew what they were doing, and acted according to their beliefs and (lack of) consciences. The killing of innocent people they perceive as enemies is rational behaviour to both neo-Nazis and Jihadis. Mair goes on trial in November, and, hopefully, will be judged accordingly.
To conclude, I know that we all have felt helpless in the face of what happened in Nice last Thursday. Lives have been ruined, 84 people have died, 202 injured and many others traumatized. We tend to feel helpless - I know that I did - when such things happen, but I would like to close with a positive suggestion that I offer to all who read this post. You may wish, as I did, to send a message of support and sympathy to the French people, and here is a link to the email address of the French Embassy in London - CLICK HERE. It is better to light a candle than complain about the darkness.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Trident Nuclear Weapons

Letter to my Member of Parliament

I am writing to ask you to vote against renewal or replacement of our nuclear weapons. These are my reasons:
  1. The possession of nuclear weapons did not save us from being involved in conflicts in Cyprus, Suez, Malaya, Kenya, the Falklands, the Gulf War, Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. It did not save us from years of terrorism by the IRA or by Islamic extremists on 7.7.05, Al Qaeda or ISIL.
  2. In Europe, only the UK, France and Russia have nuclear weapons. This leaves more than 40 European countries that do not consider they need such weapons to ensure their security. If they don't need them, we can do without them as well.
  3. The cost is unaffordable: at least £205,000,000,000 at a time when all our public services are being attacked, including health, social care, social services, benefits, education and public transport. Local authorities are cutting services, not to the bone, but into the bone. Our border forces are lamentably inadequate: 3 boats as against Italy's 600, even though their coast line is shorter.
  4. Once a nuclear war begins, both sides lose, no matter who was the aggressor. A system of deterrence that would ensure our own nation's destruction if it were ever employed is in reality a form of national suicide.
  5. Submarine-based technology is already obsolescent. Its strategic value derives from the fact that, even today, submarines are not as easy to track as land-based installations and vehicles. Unmanned underwater drones will remove that advantage forever, and such drones are currently under development. There would be no way of compensating for the loss of that tactical advantage. In the event of a conflict that ends up going nuclear, our subs, previously almost untraceable, would be easily located and destroyed before we deploy them.
  6. The only reason why the UK retains Trident is because our leaders want our country to be seen as a major player on the international scene, thus justifying our permanent seat on the UN Security Council. This is a spectacularly bad reason, and it is definitely not a priority for most ordinary citizens in this country. It is simply using weapons of mass destruction as a global status symbol.
  7. Mass murder by nuclear weapons would not be war: it would be genocide. Leaders who used them, or agreed to their use, would be war criminals.
Even if one has previously accepted the argument that we need nuclear weapons in the past, the rationale behind retaining or replacing them is ceasing to exist. I am reminded of how during the First World War, the generals maintained cavalry units and looked for opportunities to deploy them, ignoring the fact that military technology had rendered them obsolete. The repeated full frontal assaults by infantry units against entrenched machine guns was a refusal to adapt methods to changed circumstances; the generals eventually learnt to modify their tactics only after horrendous and pointless losses of lives caused by this bloody-minded obstinacy. The consequence was carnage on an industrial scale.

To renew our Trident weapons system is to employ the same blinkered thinking. There is no moral or financial logic to nuclear weapons. There is increasingly no tactical value in them either.

I therefore urge you to vote against renewal or replacement of our nuclear weapons systems.

Thank you.