Category: Uncategorized

Gunboat Diplomacy

The BBC has just reported the arrival of a British warship in Ukraine. A government defence minister has been shown driving a Ukrainian navy patrol boat, and speaking to relatives of the sailors recently detained by the Russian navy. He has said that the presence of our warship is to send a ‘message’ to the Russian government, and to show British support for the Ukrainian position in this dispute. My response is simple. Why?

The turbulent history of this now-sovereign nation is the subject of record. Part of Russia until the 1917 revolution, they attempted to create an independent country outside of the control of the Soviet Union, and failed. It was broken up, with parts under the control of Poland, The Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Romania. After the German invasion in WW2, many Ukrainians welcomed the occupying Nazis. They fought alongside them, acted as guards in concentration camps, and carried out recorded massacres of civilians, including the deaths of 100,000 Poles in Volhynia. Following the defeat of the Germans, some supporters remained active as ‘partisans’ until as late as 1950.

Eventually, Ukraine was granted the right to be a self-governing part of the Soviet Union, retaining its language, and becoming represented in the United nations. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine sought complete independence, which it achieved in 1991. Since 2000, politics in that country have become more focused on being part of Europe, and also featured a right-wing bias, with some people openly supporting and espousing ‘Nazi-style’ ideas and policies. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, supposedly due to the overwhelming support of the people in that region. This created an international incident that continues to this day, with both sides at loggerheads over historical claims to Crimea. There has been open warfare in the Donbass region, and ongoing incidents between the two countries, with the most recent being the seizure of two Ukrainian navy vessels by the Russians.

This is all very involved, and no doubt tragic for those involved. But it is not our business. It is not up to us to support a country with a dubious government, and a recent history of supporting Extreme Right ideals. No more is it our business to issue warnings or ‘messages’ to Russia, especially when we are in no position to ever back up those feeble threats. There was a time when the appearance of a British Gunboat on a foreign shore would signal an intent. That intent, rightly or wrongly, would have been backed up by the biggest navy in the world at the time, and a huge colonial war machine that was feared by every nation on Earth. But that time has gone, and has not existed since the 1950s. And if such things have to be used at all, there are many other places where it might have more effect, or be of more use. This cynical support of Ukraine is packed with ulterior motives, none of which are remotely to do with any real concern over the fate of some sailors, or the future of Crimea.

It is high time that Britain realised that the sun has long set on our former Empire. We have enough problems to deal with at home, instead of sabre-rattling to show support of a country that may not even deserve it. As a country, we need to get over ourselves, and face facts. It isn’t 1910 anymore, and someone in the Ministry of Defence needs to check the date on a calendar.


A helicopter crash

On the 27th of October, a helicopter crashed outside the stadium of Leicester City football club, in England. The five people inside the aircraft were all killed instantly. They included the Thai owner of the football club, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the British pilot, Eric Swaffer, his partner Izabela, and two other Thai nationals. Sad indeed, and undoubtedly tragic.

Since the incident, the outpouring of grief has been unimaginable. It is as if a national figure, perhaps a member of the Royal Family, had been killed. Tributes to the Thai Billionaire have poured in, people have stood in tears outside the football stadium in Leicester, grown men inconsolable with grief. The crash made the national news immediately, bumping anything else into second place. Fair enough, football is popular here, and by all accounts the club owner was a nice man, caring and considerate. I feel sorry for his family, and for those of everyone who was killed in the crash.

But it went on, and on. Daily updates, headline reports, background features from Thailand, and constant interviews with supporters, pundits, sports personalities, and anyone who would stand in front of a camera. Yesterday, the BBC dedicated a large portion of its coverage to reporting on the funeral of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, live from Thailand. We were told every detail, most of the guest list, and even how expensive it was to mount such a lavish ceremony.

I was confused as to why we needed to know all this, and why the national news channel had devoted so much time and expense to reporting the aftermath of this crash. I am not remotely callous, but this is complete overkill of news about a tragic event that affected five people, and one football club. To listen to the reporters, it would be easy to imagine that there is a whole nation in mourning, and we are unlikely to ever recover from the shock of this man’s death.

Two days later, there was another tragic aircraft crash. An Indonesian passenger jet on an internal flight crashed into the sea, off the coast of Java. There were 189 people on board, including children.
And there were no survivors. That was reported on the BBC for a few minutes, just on that day.

But nobody on board owned a Premier League football club.
Nobody on board was a British citizen.
The aircraft didn’t crash in a British city.
And nobody on board was a billionaire.

189 people. All their relatives affected, loved ones left behind. Whole families destroyed.

Hardly worth reporting, was it?

Saudi Arabia, and my Conspiracy Theory

I make no apology for being interested in the whole idea of conspiracy theories. I am yet to be convinced that anyone ever walked on The Moon, and I do not believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was a ‘lone wolf’ shooter in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. So, that’s my stall set out.

For most of my life, I have watched the western powers fawn over Saudi Arabia. They act like vassals of old, paying homage to the kingdom that has the modern holy grail, oil. Despite the harsh regime, the imposition of archaic and cruel punishments, and the total disregard for the rights of women and many ordinary citizens, the west stays quiet. They are happy to condemn the Taliban, ISIS, and countries like Iran for restrictive practices, isolationism, and fundamentalist Islamic principles, yet at the same time, Saudi Arabia gets a ‘free pass’ to do whatever it wants, wherever it chooses to do it.

Recent examples include the relentless and pointless war in Yemen, and the heartless killing of helpless civilians, including many children. Then there is the murder of a dissident journalist in their consulate in Turkey. Western countries blow off a lot of hot air, but do nothing concrete in reprisal. They carry on supporting the war in Yemen, by selling arms to the unspeakably rich Saudis. Contrast this with their treatment of Russia, the Syrian leader Assad, or their past dealings with Saddam Hussein and Muammar al-Gaddafi.

Most sensible people are asking one question, “Why?” Why do the western countries tolerate this barbaric state in that region, continue to pay homage to its dictatorial royal family, and make up excuses for its appalling behaviour?

Well, I have a theory as to ‘why?’. There is a dark secret owned by Saudi Arabia, and kept in a metaphorical locked box in Riyadh. A secret that would possibly destabilise the western countries that it involves, and change the entire concept of both truth, and history. The 9/11 attacks in America.

The people who carried out those attacks, crashing planes into iconic structures in the US, were predominantly Saudi nationals. They were educated, had learned how to fly the aircraft for as long as necessary, and were well-organised too. Yet following these attacks, blame was immediately placed on Iraq and Afghanistan, despite full knowledge that the perpetrators were Saudis. This allowed the ‘allies’ to destroy Iraq, and invade Afghanistan again. It also gave rise to restrictive laws, Homeland Security, and drone attacks on anyone disliked by the west. It marked out Muslims as the enemies of civilisation, and started a war that will never end. But the Saudis got that free pass. Why?

My suggestion, and my own belief as to why, is simplicity itself. It is staring us all in the face, and you just have to be able to believe what seems to be unbelievable. The US and the Saudis colluded to orchestrate the 9/11 attacks. This gave them the justification for all that followed, and ensured that Saudi Arabia, as co-keepers of the ‘big secret’, could do whatever they liked, forever.

Before you write me off as a crazy conspiracy nut, think about it.

Falling out of love with The News

Ever since I was old enough to read, I always loved to look at the newspaper. Despite being too young at the time to fully understand what I was reading, I learned the names of political figures of the day, and how they featured in world events. General De Gaulle, Jomo Kenyatta, Archbishop Makarios, and Nikita Krushchev. Fidel Castro, John F. Kennedy, The Cuban Missile Crisis, The Berlin Wall. All those personalities and events marked my formative years, and I became a dedicated newshound very early in life.

Once the TV news started to report using longer bulletins, I was able to watch events unfold in Vietnam, Biafra, Lebanon, Egypt, and Israel. By the time I left school, I was ‘world-aware’, and devouring any news content I could get my hands (or eyes) on. I took great pride in knowing what was going on, and using the news to help with my opinions. Serious Sunday newspapers provided in-depth reports, with photographers and journalists on the front lines of any serious situation, anywhere in the world. I bought most of them, and spent hours reading about what was happening in far-flung places.

But then there was a change. It was subtle at first, but then grew in intensity. The news media stopped just reporting on what had happened, and started to tell us why they thought it had. Talking head ‘experts’ arrived, giving their opinions dressed as ‘facts’, and even as long ago as my early thirties, I began to question the veracity and validity of news reporting. Then 24-Hour rolling news arrived. I was able to watch the events of 9/11 as they happened, from the first hint that something was wrong, to the aftermath of both towers falling. By that time, broadcast opinion had replaced objective reporting completely, and I could just as easily have watched it with the sound turned off, as the headlines scrolled along the bottom of the screen.

Seventeen years later, I now question everything reported as ‘news’, and find it hard to believe anything. Clever editing of film reports, careful selection of local ‘opinion’, and the use of propaganda footage supplied by factions has made it all but impossible to trust anything.

So now I watch the local news. Tractor thefts, farming issues, coastal erosion, and village celebrations. I’m still not sure I can trust even these reports.
But at least I don’t care either way.

Media Diversions

Over the past weeks, anyone watching the TV news, or reading a newspaper, will have noticed two main stories. First and foremost, the fiasco in America concerning the appointment of a Supreme Court Judge, and the allegations of historical sexual assault that followed his nomination. This may well be very significant to people in America, and the story naturally picked up on the #metoo movement that began with the Harvey Weinstein case. I can see that it has a broader appeal, given that it allows abused women to finally speak up, and hopefully stop such things happening in the future.

But it was also the main feature on the BBC News here, every day for weeks. Not only that, but they relayed the entire hearings live, for hours on end during the afternoon. It got so that a newshound like me was wondering if anything else was happening, anywhere on Earth.

The second story that was pumped out by the media in the UK was the constant division in our political parties, caused by the Brexit arguments, alleged anti-semitism, and the circus that is the politics of Northern Ireland. Of course, we are interested in what happens with Brexit. We might also be interested in whether or not we can expect the awful Boris Johnson to become our next Prime Minister. But in the middle of Brexit squabbles, and the unforgivable actions of an unrepentant Judge in America, it seemed that little else was happening.

But it was.

The war continued in Syria. Soldiers and civilians were still dying there, and in Afghanistan. American interventions in Niger, Chad, Mali, and Somalia were all going unreported, and the Saudi/US war against rebels and civilians in Yemen continued to supply potentially horrific headlines. Things were getting no better for the Muslim minorities in Myanmar, and the flood of economic migrants to southern Europe continued unabated.

Supreme Court appointments and Brexit arguments may be worthy of the news, I don’t doubt that. But they should follow more serious world events, not lead them. If this doesn’t change, we will not only be in danger of being misinformed, as is often claimed, but uninformed, which I think is even worse.

Sport: What happened to sportsmanship?

Corruption in sport is nothing new. Boxing has often been fixed since the early days, giving us the familiar expression ‘taking a dive’. Horses and dogs were doped to slow them down, or to make them go faster. Team members and individuals took bribes to lose games or matches, and bookmakers could win or lose fortunes on the outcome of a race. Money was always involved, but never on the huge scale it represents today. Winning is all, whatever the cost. It doesn’t matter if it is an amateur contest, or the prestige of playing for a national team, fame, success, medals, or money seem to be all that matter.

Recent high-profile cases have included swimmers who took performance enhancing drugs, cyclists who did the same, as well as runners and athletes tied up in doping scandals. Now we have cricketers who have admitted to match-fixing, tampering with balls on the pitch, or deliberately playing badly for payment to do so. Football (soccer) stars who have feigned injury in the hope that their team will lose, and they will make money from payoffs or gambling, and Formula One cars with unauthorised modifications that have helped them win races.

Even in the world of Tennis, unfair play in the form of ‘gamesmanship’ has become the norm, with delayed serves, arguing with the officials’ decisions, and anything else possible to unsettle an opponent.

Second best is no longer good enough, unless it comes with a substantial paycheck to compensate for it. And what about behaviour? Cricket and rugby stars in this country attacking people in the street, or assaulting a police officer whilst drunk. Should they be trying to set a better example? I think so. Should they be banned from their sport because of that behaviour? I think they should

The spirit of sport is withering on the vine as we watch, and the corruption that began in the bad old days of Soviet-bloc hormone treatments has been exceeded by such widespread abuses, we can no longer be sure of the validity of any sport we might watch, or follow.

2018: A very messy year

Still more than four months to go, but this has to be one of the messiest years I can remember. Nothing seems to be working, anywhere. Nothing seems to be getting solved, anywhere. And nobody appears to be even trying that hard, anywhere. Perhaps the heatwave here has numbed my brain, but after my year of being positive during 2017, I am struggling to find anything remotely positive about 2018.

America is in a mess, divided in ways I have never seen before in my lifetime, and arguably not since 1861. The US president is loved and despised in equal measure, and lines have been drawn in the sand that nobody is prepared to cross. He famously once remarked that he could shoot someone dead in the street, and not lose a single vote. I think he was right.

Britain is in a mess too. The government hangs on by a thread, supported by one the nastiest parties in British politics, The Democratic Unionists of Northern Ireland. Brexit has been sucked into a quicksand of deals, none of which look like working. Nobody seems to want it any more (except me perhaps) in its likely form, and some Conservatives have seen it as an opportunity to oust the current leadership, and satisfy their chums in big business. We are stumbling into a bad-deal Brexit that leaves us neither in nor really out. Some people will benefit of course. They always do.

Syria is in a mess. Assad still can’t win, it seems. People are still dying, on both sides, and the western (and Russian) vultures are still circling above, looking to see what scraps they can gain from the carnage. Iraq is still in a mess. Despite supposedly democratic elections, the losers didn’t like the outcome, and won’t accept it. And nobody is completely sure that ISIS has actually been defeated there.

Israel and Palestine are still in a mess too. That’s a pretty long mess, that has carried on since the formation of that country, in 1948. And unlikely to change any time soon, as long as the US and other nations refuse to condemn Israel for its excesses.

There are some seemingly overlooked and forgotten messes too. The Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar, the cruel war against ‘rebels’ in Yemen, with the Saudi-led coalition killing civilians every day. Boko Haram operating in Nigeria, corruption and exploitation all over the African continent, and the never-ending stream of economic migrants still arriving in Europe.

And let’s not forget Europe. The Far Right on the move in countries like Hungary, Italy, and Austria. Greece still bankrupt, Sweden and Norway supposedly overwhelmed by migrants and refugees they took in in good faith, and the German leader facing the backlash of her open door immigration policies.

I haven’t forgotten South America and Asia, but then the post would get far too long.

I don’t know about you, but I see no way out of this 2018 mess, and fully expect it to carry on into 2019.