Posts Tagged ‘Clint Eastwood’

What Horrors Have Our Imperial Governors Committed in Iraq?

December 1, 2017

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of weeks now, ever since I read an op-ed piece in the I by Yasmin Alibhai-Browne. Alibhai-Browne’s an Muslim lady, whose family were Ugandan Asians, married to a White Brit. She writes about racism, multiculturalism and related issues. She’s a modern, tolerant Muslim, who attacks anti-White, as well as anti-Black racism. I’m not saying I always agree with what she says, but she offers a different perspective.

And a few weeks ago she published a piece attacking the former British diplomat, who said we should try to kill the various Brits, who’ve gone to Iraq to fight for the Islamists before they come home. Alibhai-Browne was shocked by this, as were a number of others, including Mike over at Vox Political. It is, after all, the attitude of the death squads. It’s extra-judicial execution, or political murder. But it’s in line with Obama’s and Trump’s policies. This is, after all, what drone strikes are. They’re sent into foreign countries, like Yemen, to kill terrorists, including American citizens. And their families, including their kids. The last are simply called ‘fun-sized terrorists’.

Those opposing the drone strikes have asked people to imagine what would happen if the situation was reversed. If an Islamic, or Black African, or Asian country sent drones into America to kill White, American terrorist groups like the Klan. Or perhaps a more appropriate target would be Henry Kissinger. Kissinger was responsible for various Fascist coups in Latin America, and supporting tyrants and mass-murders across Asia, from Pakistan to Indonesia, as well as the carpet-bombing of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. If anyone should be killed by agents of a foreign power, it should be Kissinger, simply because of the millions of people he’s had killed. I’m not recommending that anyone should do it. Just saying that if America has the right to send drones to kill terrorists, then the people of Latin America and Asia have the absolute right to blow him away.

One of the deeply disturbing facts Abby Martin revealed in the Empire Files, as well as other left-wing news networks, is how far out of control the American military and its private contractors – the mercenaries it hired – were in Iraq. They were running prostitutes and brutalised and murdered ordinary Iraqis. There are reports of these b*stards driving around, shooting ordinary men and women waiting to cross the street. Simply for sport. The butcher, whose career in Iraq was turned into a glowing cinematic celebration by Clint Eastwood in American Sniper was a Nazi, who boasted of killing women and children. Yeah, that’s who Eastwood decided to promote. His film so incensed the reviewer over at 366 Weird Movies that he broke with describing and cataloguing strange cinema, like the works of Ed Wood and co, to attack Eastwood and his oeuvre in an article. The reviewer described himself as an old-fashioned Conservative, and hated Eastwood because he wasn’t.

So you don’t have to be a lefty-liberal to be sickened by this. Just an ordinary person with a conscience.

And the American Empire was complicit in these murders. Martin also revealed how one of the military governors put in by Bush or Obama actually assisted the Shi’a assassination squads, which roamed Baghdad and the rest of the country kidnapping and murdering Sunni Muslims. Because the Sunnis were the dominant, privileged sect under Saddam Hussein, and now form the backbone of the insurgency.

Alibhai-Browne in her article on the British diplomat, who was all in favour of killing British Islamists before they could return to Blighty, noted that he came from a privileged class, which knew all about Islam but had no sympathy with Muslims or the ordinary people they governed. He was another public schoolboy, and Oxbridge graduate. He had a background in Arabic, and had a full diplomatic career in the Middle East. And he’d also served as governor in that part of Iraq run by Britain.

Which makes me wonder what atrocities he’s committed, or turned a blind eye to. A year or so ago I read a book by an Arab author and political scientist, A Brutal Friendship, which argued that the rulers installed by Britain, America and the West, were brutal dictators, who oppressed their people and ruled by terror. One example was the Prime Minister of Iraq in the 1950s. He was installed by us, and was hailed and promoted by the establishment as a great leader, wisely ruling his country. In fact, the man was so hated by ordinary Iraqis that they rose up against him. Not content with simply hacking him to pieces, they then ran over the pieces with cars.

Now I might be slandering the man. He might, for all I know, be perfectly blameless, and to have ruled well. Or as well as anybody could, given the circumstances, which were corrupt from the very beginning.

But I don’t know. I don’t think any of us will know, until we have a genuinely free press and free television in this country.

America has a genuine tradition of free speech, which was strengthened by Clinton’s passing of the Freedom of Information Act. The corporatist elite have been trying to weaken and undermine it ever since. Just as the political and corporate elites have been trying to do the same to its British counterpart. And that was already deliberately weaker than Clinton’s when Tony Blair introduced it. America has a tradition of genuine, radical, investigative journalism. The arch-neocon, Daniel Pipes, in his book on Conspiracy Theories, points out that much of the anti-American tropes going round the world, like ‘the almighty dollar’ have their roots in Americans’ own criticism of their country and its economic and political system. As an arch-Conservative, Pipes is definitely no fan of this. And the American elite are trying their best to stamp it out. Witness the attacks on RT, Al-Jazeera, the Real News, Democracy Now! and other, alternative news networks like the David Pakman Show, Sam Seders’ Majority Report, the Jimmy Dore show, The Young Turks and so on.

But we don’t have that tradition in England. Not since the decline of the genuinely left-wing press in the 1950s. We don’t have a written constitution, and there is no guarantee of freedom of speech in this country. Not necessarily a bad thing – it means we can ban hate speech, like calls from the Nazi fringe to murder Jews, Blacks, Muslims, ‘Reds’, the disabled and anyone who ever looked at them funny at the bus stop.

And our press is very deferential. A while ago Channel 4 broadcast a documentary showing just how much power the Queen has to censor information about the royal family. Far more power than the other ‘bicycling monarchies’ on the continent, like Denmark.

And the state has covered up horrendous atrocities committed by the British Empire. It was only the other year that Kenyans imprisoned and tortured during the Mao Mao insurgency actually won the court case, and the British state declassified the documents showing how Britain was running interment camps. This has formed the subject of a book, Africa’s Secret Gulags. But we also have the thirty year rule, to prevent the release of sensitive information, and the state can withhold it for even longer, if it thinks it’s necessary.

So we have no way of knowing what our troops – and our imperial staff – were really doing in Iraq. All we have are assurances from our leaders and our own self-image that, as Brits, we are all that is good, noble and right in the world. And that we would never butcher civilians.

But we have. And we may still be doing so. We won’t know, until we get rid of the crushing censorship and our investigative reporters are free and willing to expose what’s really going on.

Which, I hope, will be that we aren’t. But until that day comes, we will never know for sure. And there is absolutely no cause for complacency.

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Vox Political on Blair’s Proposed New Institute for Centre Ground Politics

December 2, 2016

Mike today put up a piece, which asked rhetorically how we should receive Tony Blair’s statement that he is setting up a new institute to promote centre-ground policies. Blair, apparently, is concerned about the resurgence of left- and right-wing populism. The new institute will be launched in the New Year, but will not be party political.

Mike in his comment to the story makes the point that Blair is a creature of the reactionary right. Margaret Thatcher, who began the decades-long destruction of this country, its institutions and industries, and the impoverishment and immiseration of its working people, considered Blair and New Labour her greatest achievement. And when Cameron came to power, he began by consciously modelling himself on Tony Blair’s mixture of neoliberalism and social reform.

Mike comments that the best reaction to the news is probably that put out on Twitter by Matt Turner. This shows Jeremy Corbyn having a dam’ good laugh.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/02/how-should-we-react-as-tony-blair-announces-new-institute-for-centre-ground-politics/

Actually, you could go a bit further than Mike in the characterisation of Tony Blair. He is indeed a creature of the reactionary Right. He is also a crook of almost Reaganite dimensions. Reagan, remember, implemented Thatcher’s policies in America as a reaction to the liberalism of the 1960s. He was a thug who supported right-wing Fascist death squads all over south and central America, who committed appalling atrocities in order to keep the peoples of that continent in thrall to their upper classes and American corporate and political interests. Just as Tony Blair fully and heartily cooperated with Bush in launching an illegal invasion of Iraq, an invasion that has similarly seen the rise of death squads armed and supported by our allies in Washington.

Reagan and Blair also deregulated the financial sector. In Reagan’s case, this was the savings and loans societies – the American equivalent of our building societies. And the results were identical. Massive greed and mismanaged by the financial whizzkids resulted in financial crashes in which some of the very poorest lost their money. This included the cowboys, the remaining agricultural workers on America’s ranches, who Reagan’s supporter, Clint Eastwood, claimed symbolised sturdy Republican values – self-reliance, and having a piece of land of your own. Thanks to Reagan in America, millions of Americans had the opportunity to own a piece of property of their own taken away from them. Just as, decades later, Tony Blair did it to the working people over here.

And then there’s the whole process of the mass privatisation of industry. Reagan started that off, along with the attacks on the American welfare system, using arguments that were also repeated over here by the Blairites in the Labour party. He also flagrantly violated the American Constitution with the Iran-Contra affair, although he managed to escape and it was Oliver North who ended up going to the slammer. Blair’s backing of the Iraq invasion was similarly illegal, but under international law, as our country doesn’t have a written constitution like the US. He was also responsible for some of the policies that are chipping away at our liberties as free citizens. Like Major, Blair was a fan of the surveillance state, wishing to introduce mandatory identity cards, for which we, the ordinary citizens, would have to pay for the privilege of having. He also wanted to expand the powers of the surveillance state and introduce secret courts. These have also been taken over by the Tories and Lib Dems. Blair was also a liar, in that his government was determined to privatise the NHS, but like Thatcher, knew that actually telling people they were doing so would lose them the election. And so, like the Tories before and afterwards, he carefully hid what he was doing.

And then there’s the man’s personal character. He and his wife, Cherie, were massively greedy. They took money from businessmen in a series of sleaze scandals of the type that disgraced John Major’s administration. Corporate donors were given favours and places on government committees and quangos. Cherie Blair, who tried to pass herself off as a human rights lawyer, was quite prepared to work for some of the most brutal and reactionary nations and dictators the world over, if the money was right.

And what kind of left-winger, never mind Socialist, spends his holidays enjoying the hospitality of Berlusconi, whose ruling right-wing coalition included the post-Fascist Alleanza Nazionale, and the Northern League. The latter were so right-wing, they despised the Italian south as foreigners, sneeringly referring to it as ‘Egypt’. Their dream was an independent state in the north of Italy. And the core of their supporters were Fascists. There’s a documentary on YouTube by an Italian journalist, who went in search of the Northern League in his home country. He found them, and they’re very scary. They were, as you’d expect, militantly anti-immigrant. And there’s one scene where he filmed them in a café singing the old Fascist squadristi songs, and reminiscing about the old days under Il Duce. The documentary’s in English, so there’s no problem for Anglophone viewers seeing for themselves how unpleasant these rightists were.
And Blair’s greed was so much that the Italians nicknamed him ‘the scrounger’.

He then followed this up a year or so ago, by being George Dubya’s guest at a Republican Convention, though he wouldn’t say whether or not he was a Republican.

As for being aghast at the rise of populism on both right and left, Blair’s neoliberalism, his attacks on the welfare state and wars in the Middle East are directly responsible for this. His destruction of Iraq, which subsequent regimes have expanded into Syria and Libya, have displaced millions, who can see no future in their home countries. Hence they try to get into western Europe, where they believe they will have safety, jobs and prosperity. At the same time, Blair attacked the welfare state over here, as well as trying to destroy the unions further, and reduced employment rights and working conditions. The result is that millions of Brits are now plunged in precarity, making a meagre living from insecure, low-paid, and often temporary jobs, and saddled with debt. Their scared, and resentful of a corporatist elite, which only offered sanctimonious platitudes about civil rights and racial and gender equality, while making living conditions for ordinary people much worse. And people frightened for their jobs, and acutely afraid that they are being denied welfare payments, are going to be resentful of the immigrants they fear may take those things away from them. Hence the massive xenophobia that has spread alarmingly across Britain in the wake of Brexit.

Blair’s responsible for all that. But he stupidly believes that the answer to this fear and poverty is going to be, well, more of what he stood for: more neoliberalism, more rationed welfare services, more privatised healthcare, more tax cuts for the obscenely right. But somehow made palatable by mellifluous verbiage and lies about increasing opportunity, personal choice, and greater opportunities for women and minorities.

But working people, women and minorities ain’t buying it. There’s an long article in Counterpunch by two of their female columnists discussing why a very large number of American women voted for Trump against Hillary. This was even after it had become abundantly clear that The Donald was a boorish misogynist, who had no qualms about sexual assault. These two women, who both were staunch feminists, made the point that American women were largely unimpressed with Killary’s claim that they should vote for her, because it was about time a woman was in the White House. This didn’t impress the female electorate, who reasoned that Killary’s victory would not be a triumph for all women, but only entitled, rich women. Ordinary, middle class and blue collar women, were still faced with the fear of keeping their jobs and providing for their families in an economic regime in which they could be laid off and their jobs moved halfway around the world. They were faced with the harsh realities of paying the bills and finding affordable medical care when wages hadn’t risen in decades. The two authors made the point that the kind liberalism promoted by Clinton’s establishment Democrats, and Tony Blair and his ilk in Britain, doesn’t actually care about looking after the poor. They care about making sure a fair proportion of those enjoying the top jobs and position are women and members of ethnic minorities, while doing their level best to make sure the majority of people remain in poverty and insecurity for the benefit of the corporate elite.

The reason why Trump and Farage are on the rise on the Right, and Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn on the Left, is for the simple reason that ordinary people have got sick and tired of the lies uttered by people like Blair and the Clintons, that provide an egalitarian cloak for a harshly unequal and exploitative system.

Blair’s intention to launch this new institute also reveals something else about him as well: not only did he take over Thatcher’s politics, he also shares her egotism. Thatcher couldn’t accept that her time was over either when the Tories ditched her in favour of John Major. She kept trying to come back, interfering like a back seat driver. Private Eye made this point on one of their covers, where they showed Thatcher apparently trying to get her way once more by twisting Major’s hand. Plus all the sketches on the latter series of Spitting Image, which showed her as a sad, embittered old woman, constantly saying, ‘I used to be Prime Minister, you know.’

The same thing’s now happened to Blair. He can get used to the fact that he is now politically irrelevant, if not actually a liability.

So let’s treat him like one, and give his institute the derision it deserves.

Vox Political on Those, Who Believed Blair’s Lies about Iraq

July 5, 2016

Yesterday Gloria de Piero, one of the Blairites, published a piece in the Scum calling on ‘moderate’ Labour supporters to join the party to vote out Jeremy Corbyn. Mike over at Vox Political has put up a piece today quoting a piece by one of those, who has, and asking if the person, who wrote it is really as left-leaning as they seem, and do people want someone like that in the Labour party?

The author of the piece seems to have been taken in by all the vile Blairite spin and propaganda. Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters are racist, anti-Semitic and misogynistic, and have no interest in doing anything positive for the people of this country. They also state that they joined the party because they supported the invasion of Iraq and the consequent overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Curiously, they seem to believe that Iraq is now a genuinely functioning democracy. The invasion, they declare, is one of the UK’s finest achievements since World War II. And then they proudly announce that they’re deliberately rejoining the Labour party on the 4th July, stating that the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, should also be our aspiration.

Blairite Atlanticism and the Worship of the American Constitution

Looking at the piece, it’s so over the top that I genuinely wonder if whoever wrote really is an ordinary member of the public. Blair and his cronies, including Broon, Ed Balls and so on, were fervent supporters of America. Blair himself was a product of the Reaganite British-American Project for the Successor Generation, or BAP. This was set up by the Gipper in the 1980s to train the next generation of British politicians to support the Atlantic Alliance. Its alumni went on courses in America to study the country’s political traditions. Before Blair went on one of these jaunts, he was a supporter of CND. After he came back, he was very definitely in favour of Britain keeping its nuclear deterrence. Broon and Balls also studied at American universities. And in government, Blair was so keen to emulate JFK or Roosevelt, I forget quite which, that he and Mandelson called each other by the names of those politicos.

There are many people, who would like Britain to have a written constitution, so that we can hold our rulers to account when they break it, or traduce reasonable standards of democracy. But the idealisation of the American Constitution and the Declaration of Independence tends to be far more characteristic of the American Right, who love the idea of limited government, the defence of private property and gun rights. Cameron’s statement that he wants to repeal European human rights legislation and replace it with a British Bill of Rights looks like an attempt to introduce that aspect of American political culture over here. Especially as very many of the Conservatives also have business and political connections in America, and admire the American tradition of laissez-faire capitalism and minimal worker’s rights and welfare state.

The Undemocratic Invasion of Iraq

Then there’s that rubbish about Blair’s invasion of Iraq being the greatest of this country’s achievements since the Second World War. This is quite preposterous. I can think of many better achievements: the setting up of the welfare state, decolonisation and the transformation of the Empire into the Commonwealth (with caveats), the abolition of the death penalty and the launch of the Black Knight British-Australian space rocket, which put a British-built satellite in orbit in 1975. Other greater British achievements I would argue include Jodrell Bank, Jocelyn Bell-Purnell’s discovery of Pulsars, Crick and Watson’s discovery of the structure of DNA and the Mini. Oh yes, and the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and the sheer fact that Ozzie Osborne is still with us. In fact, just about everything peaceful Britain has done after World War II, which hasn’t involved us invading anyone or stealing their industries and resources.

Which is what happened in the invasion of Iraq.

Of course, there were and presumably still are people, who’ve been taken in by Blair’s lies. That he had weapons of mass destruction. Which he didn’t. That he was ready to invade at 45 minutes notice. He wasn’t. That he aided Osama bin Laden. A really grotesque lie – Hussein was a secular nationalist. Bin Laden hated his regime and everything it stood for.

And the greatest lie of all: that the war was fought for democracy. This one, the worst of them all, had some plausibility because Hussein was indeed a brutal dictator. He gassed the Kurds when they rose up, and massacred the Shi’a minority. He was a brutal thug. And he had started out as our thug. He was on the American’s payroll to assassinate leading Iraqi politicians in the 1950s, but was never able to carry it off, and escaped back into Syria. See the book A Brutal Friendship on how bloody the relationship between Britain and the comprador elites in the Arab nations really is. The invasion of Iraq also formed part of a narrative in which Britain unselfishly sends her troops all over the world to give evil foreign dictators a good kicking and liberate their grateful peoples. That was the way Gladstone sold the Empire to us in the 19th century, even when members of his cabinet were writing ‘a love of empire is a love of war’. It was the rationale behind Britain sending troops to Bosnia and Kosovo to fight the Serbs and protect the local Muslim populations. Many liberals no doubt supported the invasion because they genuinely believed it was, for all its faults, another humanitarian police action. There was even a book, reviewed in Lobster, which aimed to present a Socialist case for the Neocons’ foreign policy.

But it was never about democracy. It was simply about oil. And Israel, and pure economic imperialism.

The Republicans in America and Israel’s Likud party had put together joint plans for the invasion of Iraq way back in the 1990s. Hussein was arming and supporting the Palestinians. The oil barons wanted him out the way, as his erratic policy on oil exports was causing massive fluctuations in price. And both the Americans and the Saudis wanted to get their mitts on the Iraqi oil industry and its reserves, which are the largest outside Saudi Arabia itself. And the Neocons wanted to privatise the Iraqi economy so that American multinationals could loot all the profitable Iraqi state enterprises, and they could play at real politicians by creating their low tax, free trade state.

The result has been sheer, unmitigated chaos. The results of the American economic policy has been that the Iraqi unemployment rate shot up to 60%. Community relations between the various tribes and sects in Iraq has been destroyed. There are peace walls – barricades – between the Sunni and Shi’a quarters of Baghdad, which didn’t exist before. Members of the American armed forces, who are supposed to be paragons and democratic virtue, instead behave as Nazis. The real-life soldier, who formed the basis for the hero in Clint Eastwood’s Sniper, was a racist butcher. The mess he ate and drank in was festooned with Nazi insignia, and the army, to the shock of one of Obama’s diplomats, is permeated with a deep, visceral hatred and contempt for the Iraqi people. This goes far beyond hating the remnants of Hussein’s army, or the Islamist terrorists that have expanded into the power vacuum. It includes ordinary Iraqi civilians. The Sniper mentioned above claims to have shot ordinary Iraqis. One very senior American officer in charge of the occupying forces provided American aid to Sunni death squads, which murdered and terrorised the Shi’a. American squaddies and private military contractors – what in the old days we called ‘mercenaries’ – have been found running everything from prostitution rings. They’ve even gone on shooting sprees, committing drive-by killings of ordinary Iraqis just for fun.

And the country is less than a functioning democracy. It is effectively a US client state. Much of it has been taken over by the ISIS’ thugs, while the Iranians are also seeking to expand their influence with the country’s Shi’a. Some of this mess comes from the fact that George W. Bush, Blair’s Best Friend and the rest of the Neocons had no clue about Arab and Middle Eastern politics and culture, beyond their own crappy ideology. And they believed the lies spouted by one Ahmed Chalabi, who claimed that he led the Iraqi resistance, and they would be welcomed as liberators when they invaded.

The invasion has not created a stable democracy. It has instead produced little beyond misery and carnage. It also amply demonstrates something Jacob Bronowski said in his blockbusting popular science series, The Ascent of Man. Clausewitz famously coined the phrase, ‘War is politics by other means’. Bronowski was a Fabian Socialist as well as a scientist, and had a much bleaker, colder view of armed conflict: ‘War is theft by other means’. In Iraq’s case, he was right.

A Blairite PR Piece?

Looking at the piece, it seems less to me to be a genuine statement by an ordinary member of the public, and more like another piece of PR guff from the Blairites. New Labour was notorious for spin and lies. After all, they ‘sexed up’ the ‘dodgy dossier’ with falsehoods in order to justify the invasion. And just because they’re out of power hasn’t stopped them carrying on. Jack Straw’s son’s PR outfit, Portland Communications, was behind the staged heckling of Jeremy Corbyn at a gay pride rally, and a T-shirt demanding the eradication of ‘Blairite vermin’ was the product of the fetid little mind of another Blairite, Anna Philips, and her pet ‘Creative Consultant and Media Guru’. One of Corbyn’s promises is that he intends to prosecute Blair for war crimes. Blair was on TV recently claiming he wasn’t worried, and trying to justify the debacle. But as this piece shows, clearly he and very many of his followers are worried.

Vox Political’s Personal Tribute To Terry Pratchett

March 13, 2015

Yesterday Terry Pratchett, one of Britain’s greatest and most prolific writers of genre fantasy, shuffled off this mortal coil. Mike over at Vox Political has posted his personal memories of meeting the great man, and the inspiration he gave him for pursuing a career as a writers. It’s simply called Personal thoughts on the legacy of Terry Pratchett and begins

You’re probably wondering how this ties in to politics. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it…

I first met Terry Pratchett at Forever People on Park Street, Bristol, on the afternoon of September 20, 1986 (if I recall correctly). It was the day of the big fire at the Fowler’s Motorcycles outlet on the Bath Bridge, which makes it an easy date to check. My recollection is that the blaze had not really got started as my brother (the blogger Beastrabban) and I on our way into town, so ‘that Discworld guy’ was much more interesting.

We arrived early, which meant nobody else had arrived by the time Terry did. This was 1986, remember – he was only just getting started. This meant we had him all to ourselves for a good few minutes before anybody else appeared to hesitantly proffer a copy of The Light Fantastic for his squiggle – and nothing’s going to make as great an impression on an impressionable adolescent trying to work out how to make it in the world as a few minutes with the undivided attention of someone who has literally just worked it out.

This was before Terry evolved into the personality he became – the bald beardie with the big black hat and the weakness for banana daiquiri. Obviously he was bald (genetics) and he was bearded (aesthetics) but the rest was yet to reveal itself (unless the memory cheats).

We talked about ideas, work ethics, how to keep people interested (basically, it has to interest you first). By the time we – reluctantly – left, the motorbike place was blazing like Ankh-Morpork in the very first Discworld story (The Colour of Magic) and we had to take a detour to avoid it. My brain had already taken a somewhat longer diversion that would lead to amateur journalism, professional newspaper reporting, and eventually this blog.

I also remember first seeing Terry Pratchett with Mike back in 1986 at Forever People in Bristol, though I’d completely forgotten about the fire at Fowler’s. Forever People was one of those small, independent comic shops that existed before Forbidden Planet expanded to just about corner that area of retailing. It has, unfortunately, vanished. It was how I think comics shops should be – stuffed full of the mainstream and the bizarre, with the weird novelties in the windows, role-playing games and TSR miniatures of wizards, warriors and orcs on tables on the ground floor, and rubber monsters and plastic models of artefacts and creatures from SF movies hanging from the ceiling or adorning the walls. It was also slightly disreputable. It was permeated with a musty smell from old comic back issues, and was also regularly raided by the police for stocking magazines and literature on drugs.

Terry was on the second floor, signing copies of his books. I can’t remember now whether Mike brought one he already had, or picked one up while he was there and had the great man sign it. I think it was the latter. What I do remember was catching sight of Terry himself, sat behind the desk, saying to the person in front of him, ‘Well, the Bambleweeny 47 sub-meson brain is important’, while the long queue snaked away. The shop was packed, though that wasn’t particularly hard as nearly every inch of available space stuffed full of books, magazines and merchandising. I was amazed! He was a fan of Hitch-Hiker, just like I was! Mike duly took the book to the counter, got it signed, and we left.

I saw Terry several times again over the years. As Mike says, I went to College in Cheltenham, which has a massive literary festival at which Terry became a regular speaker. The first time I saw him I think he was speaking at the town hall. He appeared wearing his characteristic broad-brimmed, black hat and the black ‘Tel-shirt’ with death strumming a guitar. Just as he got to the lectern and was about to begin speaking, someone came up to him and gave him a banana daiquiri. He thanked them, and explained that it came from a question he and Neil Gaiman had been asked when they were together writing Good Omens. They’d both been asked what they would most like to be given. Gaiman said simply, ‘Money’, while Pratchett said, ‘A banana daiquiri’. He joked that since then, he’d got seven banana daiquiris, and Gaiman hadn’t seen a penny. So there, if someone asks you that question in future, keep to the drinks. You just might get what you want that way.

His topic was the nature of comedy, and how repetition and deliberate references can be used in humour. He said that his style was influenced by P.G. Wodehouse, and gave as an example of how repetition can b4e funny he gave the example of an incident one of the great explorers gave of one of their party telling the same, unfunny story every night until the rest of the party started falling about laughing. It was the story of a man, who left to go to work, but didn’t pack his lunch. When it got to lunch time, he looked for his lunch box. It wasn’t there. He was stupid. That’s more or less the entire story, as it was told. Terry described how the first time it was told, nobody laughed. The next night, there was something like a giggle, the night after that a few more pieces of weak laughter, until at the end of the week people were falling over themselves laughing at what was really a pathetically weak story.

He also discussed the way he deliberately put in references to other bits of popular culture in his books. Like in Guards, Guards!, one of Ankh-Morpork’s finest points a crossbow at one of the villains and says, ‘I know what you’re thinking. Did he fire five bolts or six. Well, frankly I can’t remember. Do you feel lucky, punk?’ He also talked about the inspiration for the dragon in one of his other books. These were taken by a group of young women, who appeared at one convention at which he was speaking. They were all Anne McCaffrey fans, and had stuffed dragons sitting on their shoulders. He said it was obvious that McCaffrey’s dragons were a feminist metaphor, and very good thing too. But it also struck him that the problem with a dragon that sat on your shoulder would be that its fiery breath would singe one side of your face, while it would also defecate down your back.

The next time I was him at the festival was a few years later. He described how Fantasy was still very much looked down on in literary circles. One of the festival’s organisers when talking to him had looked at him as if, in Pratchett’s words, he was about to talk about fixing motorcycles. His talk was on the nature of Fantasy, and he had some fairly forthright comments about Tolkien. Like if when you’re thirteen, you don’t consider The Lord of the Rings to be the greatest book in the world, there’s something wrong with you. And if you still consider The Lord of the Rings to be the greatest book in the world when you’re 33, there’s something really wrong with you. It was in this talk that he described some of the class bias in Tolkien’s work, such as the idealisation of the Shire, while the Orcs were foul and nasty and ‘almost as bad as people from Birmingham!’ One of the speakers on BBC’s The One Show said a few years ago in a piece about Tolkien and the local places that inspired the geography of Middle Earth, that one of the emotional factors behind its writing was Tolkien’s own fear of the urban sprawl from Birmingham overwhelming the semi-rural suburb in which he grew up. It was at this talk, that Terry made the point Mike mentioned – that the ending of the Lord of the Rings is quite daft, because in conquering Sauron they’d destroyed the industrial base for half a continent. But hey, it’s alright, because they’ve got a king back!

He also said that magic itself was actually quite boring. It simply did what it did. What he found really fascinating was the organisational magic by which people came together to produce nails, and other items, which other people then went on to use to create further objects, quite without the planning of the original producers, and which all led to the complexities of modern life and culture. At that time he was also pessimistic about the state of Fantasy literature. This was several years before J.K. Rowling and Philip Pullman came forward to re-invigorate it with Harry Potter and the Amber Spyglass. I think he thought at the time that it was more or less dead. I certainly remember him describing himself as ‘a big, hairy maggot crawling over its corpse’. Of course he was far from that.

I was talking to a friend of mine about Pratchett and his work a little while ago, and he surprised me as he’d also met him. This particular friend is a fan of Role-Playing Games. He’s written several game books himself, and knows personally many of the people behind some of the games companies. He’d met Terry a decade or so previously, when one of his friends was looking for inspiration behind a line of Fantasy figurines he was crafting. He was looking for a character on which he could base a wizard, and so wrote to Terry asking him if he could use Rincewind. Terry agreed. He later met Terry along with the rest of the RPGers in the pub. He liked and admired Pratchett personally, because he was also good to his fans. He was protective of them, and seemed genuinely grateful simply that there were people who read and liked his work.

He was also very used to the kind of weirdness that might have other people running for the hills. At one of the Cheltenham festivals he talked about how he encountered a group of Viking re-enactors while out walking with his small daughter. As they were going through the countryside, they noticed a group of young men in chain mail running up and down and hitting each other with swords. One of them came running up to him, and asked him if he could lend them a cup. They’d been fighting for a little while, and were now thirsty. Terry said, yes, and got out his daughter’s Asterix the Gaul lunchbox, and gave them the cup from her Obelix flask. The Viking warrior thanked them, went off to a nearby standpipe, and he and the other Norsemen duly quaffed deep of the water before returning the cup to Terry and his daughter.

Later that day, Pratchett met them in the pub. They were curious about him. Most people, they said, took one look at them when they were out fighting, and fled in the opposite direction. But he hadn’t been at all bothered. Why? Well, said Terry, it was because he reasoned that anyone mad enough to do what they were doing was obviously far too mad actually to harm anyone. He went on ‘Nobody ever says when they find a serial killer, ‘Oh, we knew he was a bad ‘un, because he had a wardrobe full of uniforms and last week he went to a convention. No! They always say, ‘He was a quiet one. And then they find the load of human skulls in the sink.’

He also wasn’t afraid of bikers either. At one convention he was warned by others in the crowd that there were a group of Hell’s Angels in the queue. Well, he met them, and they weren’t. He said they were just a group of polite young men, who wanted to talk about his book and liked motorcycles. Perhaps this is where the Cheltenham literati got the impression that he was going to talk about fixing bikes.

In his fiction, Pratchett created baroque worlds with wit and good humour, taking the motifs of genre literature and then transforming them again to bring out something fresh, producing a bizarre, comic cavalcade of strange gods, wizards, witches, trolls, warrior women, warriors and mobile, predatory luggage. Oh yes, and people from the Counterweight Continent selling In-Sewer-Ance Polly-Seas, all infused with an equally bizarre logic. For example, in Pyramids he concluded that camels have to be experts in quantum physics because of the mathematical intricacies of the way they walked. The world he created with words, and which his illustrator, Josh Kirby, painted, was one of colour, absurdity, and laughter. Although the strongest, and most obvious influences on his work were Tolkien and Conan, it was also like the very best fiction in that it appealed to people of all ages. It wasn’t only children who read them, but also their parents and grandparents.

Mike says in his piece that it kept him sane while he was at College. I think that’s probably true of a lot of people. The world can be a horrifyingly grim place, and there is a lot of pressure on young people. It was certainly the case when I was at school, and things seem to have got worse since then. It really doesn’t surprise me that one quarter of all university students will suffer from depression or some mental health problem during their time at uni. Pratchett’s fiction offers an escape from all that, away from grim reality into a unreality that may also be grim, but is at least comically so. And like good fiction, it isn’t just mere escapism, but often makes a serious point while making you laugh at the same time.

RIP big man. May you rest with the great bards in the celestial realms as one of the great, modern skalds of Middle Earth.

Flooding Somerset for the Frackers?

February 13, 2014

somerset village and fracking plant montage

Image from the Guardian article ‘Fracking the Nation: the Dash for Gas beneath rural Britain’ from 28 June 2013. The picture is captioned ‘From this to this … ? The village of Compton Martin in Somerset, left, and a Cuadrilla shale gas drilling rig near Blackpool’.

In my first post attacking Cameron for his lies about the floods in Somerset, I received this comment from Amnesiaclinic

The DM found the 2008 document put out by the EA to comply with the EU directive on habitats. There is also the trojan horse of Agenda 21 stalking in the shadows. The general idea is that areas are left to go back to nature (costs less) without letting the locals in on what has been decided. So dredging and pumping, very expensive are out as they are expensive and unnatural. So I say stop all the flood defences for london – far too expensive and let them sink or swim.
Also, there were lake villages in Somerset with houses on stilts – that might be useful! Plus coming together as communities and buying up all the EA equipment and doing it themselves.

People are very angry as they have seen this coming.

Other commenters concurred. Kathrynd posted this comment, pointing to an article from the Central Somerset Gazette

Barry is probably spot on. http://www.centralsomersetgazette.co.uk/Somerset-flooding-EU-plan/story-20556464-detail/story.html.

This links to an article reporting the arguments by Richard North, who runs the Defence of the Realm and EU Referendum blogs. North argued that there was a deliberate policy by the Environment Agency to allow increased flooding in Somerset and elsewhere as a form of flood management. This was intended not just to replace flood defences, but also to replace intensive farming with new, and diverse forms of managing the countryside. Part of this was the intention that part of Somerset’s wetlands should be allowed to regenerate naturally and revert to the wild. This new environment was to be termed ‘washland’.

The policy was first proposed at an EU meeting in Warsaw in 2003. This seems to have influenced a Defra document, published the next year in 2004, entitled Making Space for Water, setting out the same policy. On page 23 the document acknowledged that the same issues were being discussed in the EU. The EU’s policy was published in a COM final (2004) 472. The policy then became European law under directive 2007/60/EC of 23rd October 2007. This stated in recital 14 that as well as preparation, protection and prevention, river management should also be conducted “with a view to giving rivers more space, they should consider where possible the maintenance and/or restoration of floodplains, as well as measures to prevent and reduce damage to human health, the environment, cultural heritage and economic activity”.

North then goes on to make the following points

Just so that there should be no doubts as to where the policy thrust law, DG Environment in 2011 issued a note, stressing that flood risk management “should work with nature, rather than against it”, building up the “green infrastructure” and thus offering a “triple-win” which included restoration (i.e., flooding) of the floodplain.

By then, the Environment Agency needed no encouragement. In its March 2008 plan it had decided that, “providing a robust economic case for maintenance works on the Somerset Levels and Moors remains a challenge” (p.131).

We believe, the Agency said, that “it is appropriate to look again at the benefits derived from our work, particularly focussing more on the infrastructure and the environmental benefits, which previous studies have probably [been] underestimated”.

We have, they said, “international obligations to maintain and enhance the habitats and species in the Somerset Levels and Moors, and it is within this context that all decisions have to be made”.

And, with that, they were “doubtful that all the pumping stations on the Somerset Levels and Moors are required for flood risk management purposes. Many pumping stations are relatively old and in some cases difficult to maintain. It is necessary to decide which ones are necessary particularly in the context of redistributing water”.

Of six policy options, the Agency thus adopted the sixth, to: “Take action to increase the frequency of flooding to deliver benefits locally or elsewhere, which may constitute an overall flood risk reduction”. This policy option, they said, “involves a strategic increase in flooding in allocated areas” (p.141). The Levels were to be allowed to flood, as a matter of deliberate policy.

North is obviously a Eurosceptic, highly critical of the Green movement and its environmental policies in Somerset. However, there is another possibility why the floods have been allowed to occur, quite apart from environmental concerns: fracking.

Owen Williams suggested this in his comment

I don’t suppose I’m the only one thinking about the coincidence that the Somerset Levels sit on top of a large Shale Gas deposit, am I? Can it really be pure coincidence that the Levels have been allowed to flood so severely – and it has been allowed, the EU edict more or less confirms it – just as the Fracking industry rears its head in the UK? I’m not saying that the Government deliberately flooded the Levels – no man can control the weather – but that they knew that the Levels would eventually flood with such severity as they have, and that they seem too well-prepared to exploit the opportunity.

What happens next will be as simple as it will be brutal to the people who live on these flood plains: the Government will make the requisite level of noise about helping these poor souls, while actually doing nothing at all; this will be to first encourage them to leave of their own accord, before setting up a buyout scheme to relieve people of their property and ‘help them to move on’; the people will only be offered a mere fraction of what their land or property is actually worth in its damaged state. And then, finally, the Government will issue a Compulsory Buyout Order to forcibly grab the land, and take action to remove those who can’t or won’t leave on their own. They’ll then quietly auction off the rights to commence the fracking process on the land, in return for a share of the profits, all of which will line their own coffers, rather than go into the public purse.

In short, the Somerset Levels will become an industrialised disaster area poisoned beyond repair by fracking, and the people who’ve lived there for however many generations will be unjustly displaced and robbed of their livelihoods with no-where to turn. The Government will continue to sit pretty above “commoners’ problems” as it always does, and Big Industry will continue to profit off the backs of people’s misery.

Meanwhile, down on earth, everyone else loses everything horribly, through no fault of their own.

What a pleasant country we live in. ¬_¬

When I replied to Owen, I thought it was unlikely that this was a deliberate policy, but found it quite credible that the fracking industry would move in after the area’s population had been cleared out due to the disaster.

Now I’m inclined to believe that Owen’s right, and that there may indeed be a definite policy at work here.

I was talking to a friend yesterday, and she recalled reading an article in either 2003 or 2007 – she couldn’t remember which – in which it was stated that the affected areas in Somerset should be abandoned to flooding so that fracking should begin. This confirms what Owen said in his comment.

Now without any documents to prove this, it’s all just hearsay and speculation. The memory does play tricks on people, though not as often as it appears to affect members of the Coalition, who regularly deny having said or done anything that conflicts with their policies. However, as the picture at the top of this post shows, there is a campaign to begin fracking in Somerset. This has provoked angry opposition from local people, concerned about the possible effect on the environment and drinking water.

The proposed fracking fields at the moment are in the Mendips, as shown in the map below

coalfield_licences

This covers a long list of communities and villages in Bristol, Bath and north-east Somerset. A list of them can be found at this website here: http://somersetfrackgate.blogspot.co.uk/p/coalbed-methane.html. Proposed sites for fracking include Keynsham, a small town between Bath and Bristol and the hometown of the comedian Russell Howard, and near Chew Valley Lake, a local reservoir in the Whitchurch and Chew Magna area just down the road from South Bristol. Among the groups campaigning against fracking in this part of Somerset are Frackfree Somerset, based in Saltford and Keynsham.

Frackfree Somerset.

Fracking, almost needless to say, has the backing of David Cameron and the government. More sinisterly, the Somerset County Gazette reported in its 27th January 2014 issue that the government was considering reforming the trespass laws so that fracking companies can drill under people’s homes without their permission. This contradicts the Conservative stance on both sides of the Atlantic that, apart from big business, the stand for the property rights of the small businessman and ordinary people. Remember all that stuff Margaret Thatcher used to say about small businesses and how she remembered living above the shop when she was small? I also remember Clint Eastwood stating that part of the ideology of the Western was having your own land. This disproves it. The Conservatives stand only for the property rights of big business. Like the corrupt cattle barons fought in Westerns by the likes of John Wayne, they’re quite prepared to use any and all means to force others off their property so that they can move in.

BBC News this morning reported that some of the victims of the Somerset floods wish the government to buy their properties at market rates. I don’t know if this will happen or not, though I’m sure that the government will buy their land, and then start to develop it. And it’ll be interesting to see if this includes fracking.

Nigel Farage and Clyde the Orangutan: Who Would Make a Better Job of Sorting Out UKIP?

January 28, 2014

NigelFarage

UKIP Supremo Nigel Farage: Sound Policies for a Happier Britain

UKIP is once more in the news. After a series of scandals by UKIP councillors and politicians, Nigel Farage has responded with a few scathing comments on his party’s membership. In an interview with the Times today (28th January 2014), Farage declared that the ‘wrong kind of people are in UKIP’ and urged the party not to elect Walter Mittys. This follows a series of highly offensive comments by UKIP councillors, such as asking a group of children from care homes how it feels to be ‘takers from society’. If that weren’t enough, another stalwart of the party of Eurosceptics declared that the recent floods in Somerset was God’s punishment for gay marriage. This last comment produced mixed cries of scorn and amusement all over the country. A female friend of mine told me that one of her gay friends had said about this prize piece of Right-wing idiocy, ‘They’re blaming me for the floods! I’ve never had such power before!’

In fact, this particular attitude to the floods is pretty much in line with some of the more ridiculous comments about pro-gay movements and legislation that have come out of the American Right over the past few decades. Way back in the 1990s Private Eye in their ‘Funny Old World’ column printed a piece from one of the local American papers covering Jerry Falwell’s attack on a gay pride march in Orlando, Florida. This most notorious of the Right-wing televangelists attacked the planned march with the statement that if the gay community continued ‘shaking their fists’ at the Almighty, then He would punish them with an earthquake, tsunami or perhaps even wipe the place out with an asteroid. The paper then asked the Bishop of Florida for his comment on Falwell’s diatribe. This man of God put the religious situation in his city into a broader perspective. Overall, he declared, ‘Orlando was a pretty god-fearing place. You’d think if he was going to wipe anywhere out, He’d start with Vegas’.

Yesterday the news revealed that one of UKIP’s MEPs for Somerset had the worst voting record in the European parliament. In a TV interview, the politico acknowledged in response to one of the questions put to him, that the allowance paid to him for attending the sessions were a factor in his turning up at sessions at all, thus adding idleness and venality to the party’s record of bigotry and contempt for the poor and vulnerable.

Hence Farage’s comments about the party having the wrong people in it.

This is a bit rich coming Farage. It reminds me of the proverb ‘A fish rots from the neck down’. Going further back a decade or so ago, Farage himself was also several time in Private Eye himself, after he was spotted having lunch with ‘Nasty’ Nick Griffin of the BNP. Farage has always tried to distance his party from racism and xenophobia, not entirely successfully, so perhaps the two were instead not discussing the politics of race, but the expanding power of the centralist state and the growing threat of Bolshevism in British society.

In fact, Farage’s remarks about his own people strongly reminds me of a comment the Marxist playwright Bertolt Brecht made about the East German authorities’ absolute contempt for their own people. There had been a popular uprising, and Honegger, or whoever was in charge at the time, responded by sending in the tanks. The man responsible for such masterpieces of Weimar theatre as Mother Courage, The Caucasian Chalk Circle and The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui drily remarked, ‘The politburo has unanimously decided to dissolve the people and elect another’.

It also parallels another disparaging comment by an exasperated leader on the quality of his on a rather less elevated cultural level: ‘Clint Eastwood’s Any Which Way But Loose. In this flick, Eastwood stars as a trucker, who falls foul of an outlaw biker gang. After a fight in which the motorcycle maniacs are thoroughly done over by the star of Dirty Harry and his orang-utan companion, Clyde, their leader cries in despair ‘Oh, Lord! Other men you made of clay! Why did you make mine of sh*t!’ It’s a question Farage is clearly asking himself today, though with a less earthy vocabulary. Perhaps he should be a bit stricter in who the party recruits, and needs a better PR department. All the party’s now have extensive spin machines and press officers. Maggie, of course, had Bernard Ingham. From the way UKIP’s politicos act, I think Clyde would be a better choice for them. After all, in the film he had an excellent sense of humour, charisma, and never said anything embarrassing, unlike UKIP’s hordes of blunt Right-wingers.

clyde Eastwood

Clyde the orang-utan expressing his penetrating analysis of UKIP’s grasp of EU economics and the question of the Britain’s position within it during filming with Clint Eastwood.