A plague on all sides in this pointless, futile, utterly daft latest bout of East and West willy waving.

Naturally I worked today – of course I did, they don’t pay me to sit around doing nothing – but I also found a time to read and contribute to the comments on the respective Daily Telegraph and Guardian news stories about the referendum in the Crimea and the Ukrainian crisis in general. And, unusually, if you read either website blind, you would be hard-pushed to know which was the Telegraph site and which the Guardian.

Even more unusually, contributors to both seem pretty much split down the middle either in support or against what Russia has done in the Crimea, it being an accepted truth that Russia is more or less pulling the strings. (Reading through the different sites, it would in time become a little more obvious that you are reading the Telegraph site rather than the Guardian’s because every so often some stupid herbert manages to take what is being discussed and bringing it around to the issue of whether or not Britain should leave the EU, ending is contribution – rant would sometimes be a better word – with an exhortation to all to Vote UKIP!!!.
But gin-soaked little Englanders notwithstanding, opinion is evenly divided on who is the Great Satan: Putin and Russia or Obama, the US and the EU. You pays your money and you takes your choice. Me, firmly believe a plague on both their houses. Taking sides on this one is a mug’s game, but our esteemed leaders, who are never above doing the stupid thing, have, of course, and in the interests of ‘democracy’, the ‘rule of law’ and the rest of the phoney hooey they are apt to trot out on such occasions plumped firmly on the side of – in my view – a gang of snarks and thugs no less unsavoury than the gang they were opposing in Maidan Square a few weeks ago.

As for ‘the other side’, I’m less inclined to pour scorn on them although, Putin, too, is not above playing fast and loose with the truth. It’s a bit rich of Vlad the Lad to complain that neo-nazis and fascists have taken over the government in Kiev, but Russia is no slouch in producing its own neo-nazi and fascist thugs and, it has to be said, in some numbers (as does Poland and Hungary, both members of the EU, which might well be a problem in the making. But here is not the time to discuss it).

I don’t doubt that Russians in the Crimea are overjoyed to be part of the motherland again, figures produced overnight showing that on a 123pc of voter turnout, 109pc who voted in the referendum plumped for re-unification should be enough to silence any mealy-mouthed gainsayers. It will also have been a comfort to the Crimean parliament which plagueorganised the referendum that as the two options the voters faced – ‘Do you want immediate re-unification with the Russian motherland?’ and ‘Do you want to wait until next week for reunification with the Russian motherland?’ – didn’t give any Ukrainian spoilsport the chance to say ‘Well, as it happens, no I don’t want Crimea reunified with the Russian motherland’ and spoil Putin’s parade.

Loudmouths and wiseacres on the Telegraph and Guardian sites, of which naturally I was one, saying exactly what I am saying here, could all cite apparently overwhelming reasons why they were right and the others wrong (and in the case of the Telegraph why we should Vote UKIP!!!). There were Russians staunchly defending reunification with the motherland, Ukrainians staunchly condemning it and one or two folk such as me staunchly advising caution, don’t get involved and don’t blame me if it all goes tits up.

Will it go tits up? Does Putin now have his sights on taking over all of the Ukraine and then heading for the Baltic states before turning south and making for Czechoslovakia as some are seriously suggesting? Will the West (for which, of course, read the US, some in the EU and the UK – voices from France, Italy, Spain, Ireland and the rest have been so quiet you could hear a pin drop) really risk damaging their exports by imposing real sanctions? Or will be see a blanket ban on the import of Russian nesting dolls and serious cuts on the import of Caspian Sea caviar, but little else? We’ve already had stern words and I fear they could yet get sterner – that should learn the Ruskies: never trust a man in a fur hat carrying a bottle of vodka.

As always, then, it’s all as clear as mud. If you want ‘international law’, you can have ‘international law’ until it is coming out of your arse. If you want ‘the people’s will’, ‘kinship’, ‘natural ties’, ‘democratic standards’, ‘serious reprisals’, ‘consequences’ and the rest, you can have those, too. For free.

I’m one of those sneaky types that the West is on pretty shaky ground when it lectures other nations about the ‘international law’ and the rest: where, please tell me, were these hi’falutin notions when the US and the tagalong UK introduced ‘shock and awe’ to Iraq – around 136,000 innocents killed since 2003? Where in ‘international law’ is it laid down just how many drones you can send across the world to kill whoever you please as well as several hundred you didn’t actually meant to kill but, hey, these things happen?

All this might sound as though I am taking sides. I’m not. A plague on both their houses, I say. But it so happens I live in the West and whatever stupid ideas the leaders of ‘my side’ come up with might well have an impact on my life and, more importantly, my children’s lives. So a plague on both your houses is my position, admittedly not a useful one but at least, I hope and honest one.

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Welcome, Katie, but don’t bother with this blog, try my other (details below) and as I have to bulk up this entry a little more than merely saying ‘welcome Katie’, some advice I would give my children

I was extremely gratified and very surprised to get an email from these ‘ere folk at WordPress that Katie is now following me. I have no idea who Katie is, but given that I haven’t posted a great deal on this blog but concentrated on my previous and main blog, thought I might urge her and anyone else who comes across this WordPress blog and who isn’t bored shitless within 30 seconds to visit my other blog instead which gets far more regular updates. You can find it at http://pfgpowell-1.blogspot.co.uk/

As I am writing here, however, I thought I might post another entry which is something which occurs to me from time to time and which consists simply of pieces of advice I might give my children (at present 14 – 15 on May 25 – and 17 – 18 on August 7). None of them is in any way profound and I like to think that most of them are pretty obvious to most people with half a brain. It’s just that as I seem to have operated with even less than half a brain for most of my life, they might be worth recording for those who are doing likewise.
Here’s are some:

1 In the winter, don’t ever bother with cotton socks – if at all possible wear woollen socks. Yes, I know cotton socks are ten times cheaper and that finding woollen socks at a reasonable price is harder than finding hens’ teeth, but that piece of advice is still true. Woollen socks will keep your Imagefeet warm. Cotton socks will not. And few things will make you more miserable in cold weather than cold feet.

2 Along the same lines, if you want to keep warm in cold weather, wear a hat. Just a hat and a poor coat will keep you warmer than no hat with a good coat. Counter-intuitive but true.

3 Here’s a piece of advice I would give my daughter but have so far not done so, mainly because it is quite personal and she is not a necessarily streetwise 17-year-old: young men, not so young men and boys over the age of puberty tend almost always to think with their dicks. Sad, but true. It doesn’t make them bad people, and if they are bad people, it’s not the reason they are bad people. But hormones being hormones, that’s what happens. I don’t doubt that young women, not so young women and girls over the age of puberty think in a similar woman-related way, but as I am not a woman, I can’t even guess what it might be.

4 A piece of advice I came across years ago for my son: on a first date, don’t ever spend a lot of money on this new love of your life in the hope you will impress her and make her yours. If she’s worth it, it will become obvious over time and then, if you like, start spending a lot of money on her. But not until then. And if you don’t spend a lot of money on her on that first date and she is not impressed, she most certainly isn’t worth it.

5 Don’t fall for what I can only describe as ‘first shag love’. I can’t be the first to have fallen for that and I most certainly won’t be the last. But if, like we all were once, you are  virgin and finally lose your cherry, there’s a chance you might be so desperate to hang onto that shag and make it regular by persuading yourself you have fallen in love. No, you haven’t.

6 When you are thinking of marrying, don’t let‘love’ be your sole guide. Try to stand back and ask yourself whether you actually get on with the love our your life. It might not be the end of the world to you and her (him) if you don’t, but if and when you have children together, it is important that they grow up in a peaceful and the most stable environment possible. Children imitate their atmosphere. At one, two or three they accept what’s happening around them as the norm and if arguing, shouting, unhappiness, lying, dishonesty and even violence is what they see and take to be what‘normal’ life is, it is no surprise that when they grow up, they perpetuate that misery. A happy household makes for happy children makes for happy adults. Or happier adults. The only real treasure there is in this world is our children. Nothing else even comes close.

7 This is perhaps the silliest piece of advice I could give but it is nevertheless good advice. It is, however, only possible because I shall not see 60 again and have had a heart attack. After my heart attack I changed in a subtle way (and discovered today that my sister, six years younger, changed in the same way: I can be even less bothered with bullshit and, oddly, began to worry a lot less.‘Not worrying’ is difficult for someone 40 years younger than me, but it is worth trying: try not to worry so much. For one thing everyone your age, if you only knew it, is far, far, far more concerned with their selves than they are with you, so the chances are they won’t even notice anyway. Remember: when we are young, we are ALL king or queen or our worlds and everyone else comes a distance second. As we get older – and I mean in our late 40s, not our late 20s – it slowly dawns on us that the rest of the world is not half as interested in us as we thought they were and that all that worrying was utterly in vain.

8 Only spend money you have. Don’t ever bother with credit. Or, at least, only with credit in the form of a mortgage. If you want something now, tough: don’t borrow money to buy it. If you save for it, then buy it, you’ll find that you appreciate it that much more.

9 Don’t go for a job because‘the money’s good’. Go for a job – if you are one of those lucky souls who can pick and choose – because you would like to do that job. And remember – ALWAYS – that there are several billion people in this world who have to take any work they can get. I know it’s a cliche but Count Your Blessings. And once you’ve counted them, count them again three more times.

10 This piece of advice is difficult to get across because it seems, at first to be contradictory, but I’ll try: keep and open mind BUT don’t believe every piece of bullshit that comes your way. Like all the best, most worthwhile things there’s a balance involved and like most worthwhile things, it isn’t easy to find that balance. But bloody try.

11 Here’s a cliche: easy come, easy go. And, unfortunately, like most cliches there’s more than a degree of truth in that. The worthwhile things take a while to achieve as a rule. Related to that is this (another lieu common, but which tends to elude most of us): if it’s too good to be true, it is. There are no‘sure things’. Ever.

Well, that’s enough homespun The Waltons’ style downhome fireside philosophy for one night, but there could be more.

So welcome, Katie, but head over to http://pfgpowell-1.blogspot.co.uk/ for more regular postings. And I would be curious to know which WordPress blog entry brought you here in the first place.

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Arab spring? Apparently, if we all make a great, co-ordinated effort and all fart in unison, we can bring peace, tranquillity, freedom and democracy to the Middle East

A few years ago I heard this description of a standard journalistic technique: ‘Simplify, then exaggerate’. That is largely what we do all the time. So, for example, you might come across a headline such as ‘Can farting cure cancer?’ in the health section of your average middle-market tabloid, something like the Good Health section of the Daily Mail. ‘My, my,’ you think, ‘now there’s good news. I do seem to fart quite a bit, and if I develop cancer – why, it might not be all that serious after all! Must read on.’ So you do read on and gather that the vast majority of those of had been cured of their cancers – an astonishing 100pc in fact – farted at least once a day. Significant or what!

So by a journalistic process tried and tested on innumerable suckers for a great many years – the creative use of statistics – a new truth is established: farting might well cure cancer! But note well the word ‘might’ – that is your get-out clause. When your conclusion is not only questioned by doctors and researchers – well, not questioned but described as 24-carat cack – you can airily point out that you were only suggesting that farting might help to cure cancer. You weren’t claiming it definitely could cure cancer, oh no, a great many other treatments are also involved, but as statistically an astonishing 100pc . . . you are already more than halfway out of the woods in as far as all sensible people have already completely lost interest in your argument and written you off as just another unscrupulous hack.

Before you run away with the idea that the technique of ‘simplify, then exaggerate’ is one only employed by the good folk who cobble together the health section of your average middle-market tabloid, something like the Good Health section of the Daily Mail, take a good look at the health sections of other newspapers; and then take a good look at all the other sections of you rag of choice. And don’t restrict yourselves to our printed media: radio and television do the same, both in Britain and the rest of the universe.
It’s known as ‘lazy journalism’ and it is very, very, very effective. Please don’t run away with the idea that it is only ‘middle-market’ papers who use the technique: here in Britain The Times uses it (though in my view The ‘Thunderer’ is more middle than up market despite its pretensions and the pretensions of its readers), as do the papers read by all saints, the Guardian and The Independent.

There is this touching idea here in the ‘developed’ world that the task of the journalist is to bring the truth to the people, to ensure our freedoms and, generally, to be a thorn in the side of the nasty folk in authority whose every waking moment is given over to coming up with new ways of restricting those freedoms. Wrong. The task of the journalist is to make the paper or programme he or she is working for as interesting as possible in order to attract as many readers, viewers or listeners as possible to allow his or her bosses to charge those taking out advertising space in the paper or in an ad slot top dollar. So running headlines such as ‘Can farting cure cancer’ is not quite as daft as it seems.

As for ‘lazy journalism’ – and the irony is, of course, that the phrase is usually used by politicians smarting from the fact that yet again they have been caught with their fingers in the till, so we are here dealing with a vary bad case of pots and kettles – dreaming up catchy phrases is another useful technique. So, for example, for many years a child born outside marriage (the quaint phrase was once ‘born out of wedlock’) was known as ‘a bastard’.

Then, about 30 years ago (it might well only have been 29 years ago, so don’t hold me to a figure) a sub-editor on The Sun came up with the phrase ‘love child’, which sounds a lot nicer than ‘bastard’. A ‘love child’ is, of course, no different to a ‘bastard’, but that isn’t the point: the point is that a ‘love child’ – the implication being that the child is the result of a true, romantic love worthy of Heloise and Abelard rather than just a drunken shag in the back seat in the pub car park – is far more acceptable. But what is notable is that today girls proudly refer to their ‘love child’, thereby implying that there is something far nobler about the little tyke than one born to a married couple, and the phrase has become part of our language, all thanks to a sub who was good at his job.

Another such phrase, one which was just as vacuous as ‘love child’ but which helped to shape how a nation thought, was invented after the death of Princess Diana. She, a perfectly pleasant though apparently rather dim young woman, became ‘the people’s princess’. The phrase was said to have been coined by one Alastair Campbell, an ex-tabloid hack and the then prime minister Tony Blair’s press secretary cum henchman. He knew what he was doing and as far as I know ‘the people’s princess’ is still in current use. What fascinates me is how two or three little words can seemingly alter the mindset of a whole generation. And here are two more little words which seem to have completely bamboozled us: Arab Spring.

Oh, the optimism, hope and promise conveyed by that phrase: after decades of tyranny (the fact that the tyrants in question were firm and extremely useful allies of us here in the West notwithstanding and it really is in very poor taste that you should now mention it), the peoples of various Middle Eastern countries were finally on the verge of breathing deeply the fresh air of freedom: ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very Heaven!’ This was it: democracy, that panacea for all ills from cancer to farting, was about to be introduced in the Middle East. The people would now have their say! The people would now be allowed free and fair elections! Yes it was an Arab spring!

Well, I have no idea who came up with the phrase, but it is now obvious that it is in very poor taste indeed. To put it bluntly: Arab spring my arse! This is not to suggest that the countries involved would have been better off sticking to the bastards who ran them (sorry, ‘love children’ who ran them), but it is to point out how frighteningly effective a vacuous phrase like ‘Arab spring’ can be.

The reality is, if not worse, hardly any better. Libya might now have rid itself of Colonel Gaddafi, but law and order regularly breaks down in Tripoli and Benghazi where assorted and mutually antagonistic militias vie with ineffective government forces for control. Syria might well be seeing the last of the Assad family, but the horribly disparate bunch opposing him, lazily referred to as ‘the rebels’ as though they were a coherent opposition, are from what I hear equally as unedifying. Most recently Egypt, which saw a president elected in what was seen as a free and fair vote, is now once again under military rule after a coup, though a coup apparently welcomed and approved of by Egypt’s urban liberal elite, so we have now been introduced to a novel concept: the good military coup.

As I pointed out in my last entry, black can apparently be white. Well!
So much for the ‘Arab spring’. Yet, there are undoubtedly a great many in the West who are not too concerned with detail and are far more partial to a catchy phrase and who still think: Arab spring, eh, so it really is coming good at last. Dream on.

. . .

It, however, be unfair of me not to mention Tunisia. That country also had a revolution, followed by elections in which a mildly Islamic government was returned to power, and as far as I know things have so far worked out. Fingers crossed.

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When black is, in fact, white. Or when a military coup is not a military coup because the urban liberal elite say so.

Now here’s a pretty dilemma to keep all those who think themselves on the side of the angels happy: a military coup has taken place in Egypt which has removed a democratically elected president, but not only has it not been condemned by assorted liberals and those who dress to the left, it has even been welcomed as a Good Thing. So is it Long Live Military Coups after many, many years of hissing and booing whenever some swarthy general or other seized power ‘to preserve’ stability? I rather doubt it, actually, but over at the Guardian here in Britain – and on papers of a similar persuasion in other countries – there is quite a lot of confusion.

Today the get-out clause has been – that is the means by which various folk have been bending over backwards and arguing that, you know, in special circumstances, and purely as an exceptional case, you understand, I mean that is important and it is imperative that this is not regarded as setting a precedent, black can, on occasion be white – that President Morsi, for that is he, was not governing on behalf of everyone, that he had not – despite only being in power for a year – improved the economy and that generally he was not the kind of chap good Guardian readers in the more affluent suburbs of Cairo would have in for a G&T and nibbles.

There is, unfortunately, no suggestion that he has been getting heavy-handed and that his secret police have been banging on doors in the middle of the night and carting off those inimical to the regime. That’s a shame as that would have made the coup just a little easier to justify. In fact, apart from being quite open that he would like slowly to develop Egypt into more of a Muslim state Morsi doesn’t seem to have done much wrong. Well, there was something unacceptable about him: he wasn’t to the taste of the urban liberal elite of Cairo and other cities.

It is important to remember that Morsi was voted in by a majority and that there were not suggestions, at the time or since, that his election was in any way tainted. The word is now – after all the coup must somehow be justified, especially as it is being supported by that urban liberal elite – that many who voted for him only did so because the other choice was a former prime minister under former president Murbarak and that Morsi, as the acceptable face of the Muslim Brotherhood, was the better bet. So that’s OK then, is it. I must admit that I can understand that point of view and that aspect of the dilemma, but it is hugely and utterly irrelevant.

The thing to do – as Morsi’s supporters have been pointing out these past few days – is to do what folk in other democratic countries do: what until the next elections and demonstrate your disapproval with your vote. Why should Egypt and Egypt’s urban liberal elite be any different.
As far as I am concerned one indication of how phoney it all is – that in an honest world black is never white – is that a great deal has been made by those of that urban liberal elite that ‘there were loads of woman of all ages among the protesters’. This was a rather sly way of suggesting that of course Morsi’s supporters were wrong ‘uns because in some ill-defined way they were against women.

In fact, one particularly inane comment from a Guardian reader in its comment section was that ‘Morsi supported and encouraged female genital mutilation’. Well, all I can say is that wasn’t the Morsi championed by the urban liberal elite both in Egypt and over here when he was standing as an alternative candidate to the former prime minister. That claim is rather more recent.
The radio news have been full of discussion as to whether this was a coup or not. Some argue that it wasn’t, that it can’t be, because it is just the previous revolution of two years ago being concluded. And, in a sense, that is true, but it still doesn’t not make it a coup. I know too little about the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi to judge whether he ‘would have been good for Egypt’ or not, but I do know from what I have heard on the media that he was and is very far from the kind of dictator Assad in Syria or Gaddafi in Libya was.

At the end of the day it is just another demonstration of the fact that when push comes to shove principles aren’t worth really worth a dime: we can drone on about them until we’re blue in the face but in essence they are merely something the leisured West talks about when they are not debating ‘the human condition’. I, for one, am not going to pretend that black is white just because it suits those ‘on the side of the angels’.

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Syria? Leave well alone. If they want a punch-up, stay well clear. And what about those rumours of affairs and sex: Alastair Campbell, Andy Coulson, Rebekah Wade, Tony Blair and Wendi Deng?

The word in these parts is that Cameron is planning to ask Parliament here in Britain to agree to Britain supply the Syrian rebels with materiel rather more ‘lethal’ than the various bars of soap, advice and toothbrushes that have so far been flown out of RAF Wherever, and that when he does so, a sizeable number of Tory MPs as well as a sizeable number of Lib Dem and Labour MPs will oppose him. And good for them. I am also opposed, though I feel rather uncomfortable with being in agreement with Tory MPs for one and Lib Dems and Labour MPs for another.

Some say it is sheer madness for Britain to throw its hand into the ring militarily while it is actively engaged on reducing Britain’s armed forces to a chap in a tin hat and a pop gun on Brighton beach. But that is not the reason I am against it: I am against it because at issue here is that, as is glaringly obvious to me, though to loads of other people as well, that what began a couple of years ago as protest by some Syrians fed up with the regime has now evolved into being nothing less – but nothing more either, if you get my drift – than a murderous sectarian punch-up between Sunnis and Shi’ites. And why the bloody hell should Britain or anyone else in Europe for that matter pick sides in that one?

As usual, the standard arguments are being trotted out: ‘People are dying, children are being massacred’ (by both sides as it happens – there are no ‘good guys’ in this particular spat). OK, so where as the Western World’s conscience when people were being killed and people were being massacred – and, by the way, still are – in the Congo? Nowhere. The most we could do was to wring our hands as in organising innumerable United Nations resolutions ‘deploring in the strongest possible terms’ the situation in the Congo. And you always know the United Nations and its members simply haven’t a clue what to do when they get around to ‘deploring in the strongest possible terms’ anything.

Admittedly, they did organise the mobilisation and deployment of a UN peace force, but as it was under strict instructions ‘not to get involved’ and in the event was obliged to stand by as villagers were massacred, it was as useful as a chocolate teapot. The best interpretation I can put on the most recent Western moves is that at the end of the day it is all just a game of chess, that they believe that if Assad can be convinced we are ‘serious’, he will be more prepared to take part in peace talks.

However, the trouble with that particular argument is that with the new involvement of – Shi’ite – Hezbollah and the pledge, yesterday, by Iran to send 4,000 soldiers to Syria to bloster Assad’s forces, and the subsequent announcement that Saudi Arabia will now also step up is – which, you can bet your bottom dollar, will amount to more than a few maps and those non-lethal bars of soap and it is now promising to supply the rebels with anti-aircraft guns – it is now so glaringly obvious that neither side is interested in reaching some kind of accommodation and that the idea that the Western world could achieve anything by imposing pressure on Assad is dead in the water.

Then there’s the rather uncomfortable, though pertinent, fact that no side in any conflict will be in the slightest bit interested in ‘talking peace’ unless they have reached the point where they are persuaded that they can no longer win militarily. And even then both sides must be so convinced for peace talks to start and to have any chance of succeeding. So what the hell is Cameron up to? What difference does it make whether or not he – or anyone else – is using chemical weapons? Is massacre just a tad more acceptable to our precious liberal conscience if it is achieved by non-chemical mean? This might sound horribly cold-blooded, but it isn’t intended to be. Let me get back to my original observation: that the ‘civil war’ in Syria is now no longer anything of the kind. It is now most certainly a sectarian.

Even that begs the question: exactly why does either side – the Sunnis and the Shi’ites – even want to get involved in a sectarian conflict now? I don’t know, and I can’t even begin to speculate. So let me bring this back closer to home: why for the sake of God does Britain want to get involved? Why. When it comes to killing, torture and massacring both sides have proved themselves to be as bad as each other. And a supreme irony is that thug that he is, Assad is actually more tolerant of his minorities – Christians, various Muslim sects and gays – than most of the militias making up the rebel forces ever promise to be.

. . .

Years ago when I was still in short trousers I would occasionally hear a news bulletin on the radio and would hear talk of the Baghdad Pact. What it was is now no longer relevant. And that is more or less the point. A little later – this would have been in the late Fifties, when I was still in the first decade of my life – a certain Col Grivas was operating and his struggle for EOKA was giving Britain a good deal of grief and costing it a good many lives. I remember at the time being a little bit worried.

It wasn’t that I knew what was going on, it was just that I didn’t have much of a sense of geography or proportion, and I was concerned the troubles would eventually land up on my own doorstep. But then again: who, a great many will be asking, was Col Grivas and what was EOKA? And that question is also the point. I have a 14-year-old son whose main interests, as far as I can see, are computer games.

What is the ‘Syrian conflict’ to him. I’m sure, in between killing zombies while playing Call Of Duty VI and Portal, he will have gathered that something is going on, but is he worried? Certainly not at all as much as me. And, given that all the horror – for most certainly is was horror for many Cypriots at the time Col Grivas was operating – connected with EOKA is now largely forgotten, will young Wesley (for that is his name) be writing a blog in 40 or 50 years time in which he records as I did about Col Grivas that there was an awful stink in Syria, but that ‘is now all forgotten’? I really don’t know, though I pray to God it will be. Perhaps I am fretting too much. Perhaps Cameron and Obama and Hollande have got some subtle game plane underway and that it will all come good in the end. But, you know, my immediate comments not withstanding, and given the very different dynamics of a far more globalised world, I’m really not that too certain it will.

. . .

When I first came to London in 1990, I was, in a sense, overwhelmed by the sheer size of the city, and became acutely aware of just how insignificant I was in the scheme of things. Admittedly, I was suffering from a period of depression (though, I must add, nothing quite as bad as many others suffer, however horrible it was for me at the time), but I don’t think that was the reason. The reason was that the circumstances I found myself in, looking for somewhere to stay, simply highlighted that I was insignificant, utterly insignificant. But then we all are. Most certainly most of us do have some signifance in some context or other, the context, for example, of our families and our immediate work colleagues, but at the end of the day we are nothing more important than the smoke I puff out each time I take a drag on my cigar.

Similarly, we bloggers, from the most basic blogger such as myself, to the ‘informed’ such as all those media correspondents who are also obliged to blog, are, at the end of the day, utterly insignificant. What I write here is trivial with a capital T. My concerns about Britain getting itself stupidly involved, however apparently admirable its motives, in a war which is none of its business, are equally insignificant. What do they – my views and opinions – matter? How do I matter, except to my two children, my wife, my stepmother, my brother and sister. What do you matter, except to your family and friends? Admit it: you don’t.

. . .

Finally, I can’t resist passing on a rumour, and I stress it is merely a rumour. A week or two ago, Cameron hit the headlines in on Sunday paper when he was told of an affair which affected Downing Street. The first rumour I heard was that the affair which so disturbed Cameron was between Andy Coulson, once his press bod and formerly an editor of the News of the World, and the then editor of the Sun, one Rebekah Wade (aka Brooks). Today I heard another rumour, which adds a little spice to the whole shooting match. It is that not only was Rebekah screwing Coulson, she was, at the same time, also screwing one Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s press bod. Though whether this was before, during or after Blair was rumoured to be screwing Rupert Murdoch’s soon to be divorced wife Wendi Deng I really haven’t heard. And nor do I know.

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And what do the Men With A Conscience do about Erdogan? Ponder that while we all prepare for World War III and Obama and Cameron opt for equal-opportunity slaughter

Given that one of this blog’s many self-imposed tasks it to test to the limit the integrity of all those who think of themselves as Having A Conscience and Knowing What’s Best For The World (even if the world disagrees), here’s a cracker: what should be the official Man With A Conscience line on Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, he of the OTT response to the protesters in Istanbul’s Taksim Square? By all accounts he’s a bit of a tough nut and shows every sign of getting tougher. Universally acclaimed by all Men With Conscience’s (aka Thinking Men) when he was first elected, he strengthened the economy, improved the living standards of many in rural areas whose living standards were in dire need of improvement and pledged that, although he had islamist inclinations and his was a kind of vanilla, he would demonstrate that islamist bods such as himself could be just as democratic as non-islamist bods.

He set about neutering The Generals (sorry, that’s Greece – I mean the Army) whose democratic credentials weren’t half as well-defined as his apparently were and who were far to fond of grabbing power ‘in the interests of the country’ (isn’t it always?). (NB – ‘?).’ – without the quote marks, of course, they are just intended to isolate the ‘?).’ – is that allowed? Looks horrible, but strictly I think it’s correct. One for the pedants. Back to Mr Erdogan.) These were thought to be Good Things, and another Good Thing he undertook was to come to some kind of arrangement with the Kurds, who until then had been imprisoned. Erdogan decided there must be a more fruitful way of dealing with the issue. He had also been imprisoned himself under a previous regime, so that, too, helped to burnish his credentials among those Men With A Conscience for whom that kind of thing is important.

Over the years, however, Erdogan has become something of a headache for his liberal champions. He was first elected in 2003 with a rather attractive majority, and has since been re-elected twice, each time with an increased majority. That, surely, is a Good Thing. The people have spoken and what they said was ‘Erdogan’s the man’. The trouble is that over the past ten years our hero – well, not mine – has grown rather fond of being in charge. I’ve read that more journalists are languishing in jail in Turkey than in China and that you have to be rather careful in public with what you say if it isn’t something along the lines of ‘that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he’s the man, isn’t he, aren’t we lucky to have him!’

In the past few weeks it has all come to a head: as far as I know there were two catalysts for the unrest in Turkey. The first was when folk heard that the government planned to build a shopping mall in one of Istanbul’s parks, and the second was when the government brought in restrictions on the sale of alcohol (and Erdogan declared rather loftily that people who drank were ‘alcoholics’). You wouldn’t think either issue was great enough to spark off the protests and, of course, it wasn’t. Not only were there protest rallies in Istanbul and Ankara but in several other cities, and it would seem reasonable to assume that it was Erdogan’s autocratic approach to power which they were protesting about.
Now here’s the rub for all those who like to think they are on the side of the angels: there was never a suggestion during any of Turkey’s previous general elections that they were in any way fixed. And at those elections, Erdogan was returned each time with an increased majority. In other words a more Turkish voters thought he was a good egg than didn’t. And what’s the liberal line on elections: why, the people must be heard. The dilemma, of course, is what does the Man With A Conscience do when he doesn’t like what the people have to say?
. . .
From my small and insignificant corner of the world here in rural, rustic, delightful and today rather chilly North Cornwall, the arrangements for staging World War III seem to be progressing rather well. Today’s news that America Is Going To Get Involved in the civil war in Syria is surely a turning point. Given that the forces of president Assad are now known almost certainly to have used chemical weapons in attacks on the rebels, they have crossed ‘a red line’ and president Barack Obama is finding it nigh-on impossible to resist calls for the US to assist them. The official line is that the US (and Britain, because our homegrown Good Guy, one David William Donald Cameron) are keen that the slaughter now underway in Syria should take place evenly and fairly: we can’t have Assad chalking up all the deaths.

Putin and Russia (in Putin’s eyes the same thing these days) are broadly backing Assad, though they are under no illusions as to what a nice chap he is. It’s the naval base they have in the Med, courtesy of Assad, which might be a factor. I have to say that, Putin notwithstanding, I’m rather more in favour of the Russian insistence that the only way to settle the Syrian civil war is by diplomacy rather than giving the rebels enough weapons and assistance to ensure they can kill as many people as Assad’s forces. But then holed away in my small corner of rural, rustic, delightful and today rather chilly North Cornwall as I am, no one has yet seen fit to consult me.

Now there’s a thing: a world war yet not a German in sight. Marvellous. And at least they are off the hook for a change.

There were two interesting and rather depressing items on BBC 2’ Newsnight last night, which each have a bearing on the war in Syria. The first, and by far the most serious, was how Lebanon is being sucked into the conflict, with the Shi’ite Hezbollah ensuring Assad’s forces could get off what was increasingly looking like the back foot and the backlash from Sunnis to this involvement. And that, really, highlights, a crucial element of it all: the continuing – since just a few years after The Prophet died – clash between Sunnis and Shi’ites.

The second was the vote in Iran – today – for a new president. The choices seem pretty narrow: a moderate hardliner, a hardline moderate and a hardline hardliner, although who eventually is given the rosette and gets to take home the cake is pretty irrelevant because the Supreme Leader has the final say on almost most things.

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Roll up, roll up and watch the butchered soldier’s family weep uncontrollably. Thrill as they hold back nothing. Enjoy, quite vicariously, having a close family member murdered in cold blood

The beheading of a young soldier in Woolwich is appalling, and seems all the more so for happening in open daylight in a suburban street in London. But would it be churlish to ask why it is any the less appalling than similar atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan. And is it any less appalling than the deaths of innocents – the euphemism is ‘collateral’ – in U.S. drone attacks in Yemen and Pakistan.

The young soldier was innocent, and I don’t accept that he was even in the slightest culpable because he had served in Afghanistan – if you want to blame anyone for the invasion of Iraq and what’s going on in Afghanistan, blame the politicians – such as that prat Tony Blair – for all the bloodletting, not the soldiers they send out there to do the work. Equally innocent are those who are killed in U.S. drone attacks. I have been looking up figures for those killed and am conscious that many of the websites giving them are very critical of the policy (as am I).

I shan’t suggest that the figures they give are in any way exaggerated – generally at least 700 adults and children are thought to have died and it could well be far more – because I am in no position to verify any claims made, but even one or ten or one hundred ‘collateral’ victims is one or ten or one hundred too many. In the past few days President Barack Obama has been defending the policy, and the general U.S. line is that the drone attacks are being used ‘defensively’. Well, as someone pointed out on radio a month or two ago, the interpretation of ‘defence’ is very broad indeed.

Let me put it this way: I wonder just how happy the U.S. would be if some foreign country pursued a policy of drone attacks on its enemies in the U.S. and innocent U.S. citizens were killed. I suspect it would throw the diplomatic equivalent of a hissy fit. In fact, it would be the mother of all hissy fits. Seems like there’s one rule for some, one rule for others. But then what’s new?

. . .

Naturally, the machete attack in Woolwich is still top of the news here in Britain, but there are two aspects about the coverage which I find discouraging, to say the least. It has long been a police practice to stage a press conference – especially if a child has disappeared or been murdered – in which parents or relatives appeal for a safe return or for anyone with any information to contact the police. There might well an element of voyeurism in it all when the public switches on the TV news and watches these appeals, but such conferences are defended by the police on the grounds that they are often very useful and do help to turn up more information from the public. But on TV all day today has been a press conference of the wife, parents and family of the butchered soldier in floods of tears, and at no point are we, the viewing public, being urged to come forward with information.

I can’t for the life of me think of any reason why this public exhibition of grief was staged. Well, perhaps one: if, in any small way, being able to share their grief in public somehow helps the soldier’s family deal with it, then one might argue that there is some justification. But to be honest, I’m playing Devil’s Advocate: I don’t for a moment think that was why this press conference was organised. In fact, I can’t think for a moment that there could be some reasonable explanation for staging it.

Call me a cynical old cunt, but I can’t help but feel it was just a very, very, very morbid manifestation of keeping the customer satisfied. I have seen the same clip on TV news about five times today, and at no point are we told exactly why we are given public access to this family’s grief, longlasting shots of the dead soldier’s widow weeping, longlasting takes of his stepfather reading out a statement and barely being able to keep his emotions under control.

Why was this shown? Can there really be any ‘news value’ in it? Perhaps. Or perhaps someone, somewhere, or many people everywhere decided it was ‘good television’, which it undoubtedly is depending on your moral values. For me it was nothing more than first cousin to the exhibition of freaks which is part of Britain’s Got Talent or, going back several hundred years, the public executions held at Tyburn Gate (now Hyde Park Corner) where Londoners in their thousands would turn out to watch some poor sap being topped, with a plentiful supply of beer and pies on hand.

I suppose that was the difference: London’s boys in blue did not arrange for a temporary bar and fast food outlets. Well, they missed a trick there.

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