April 2011

Here’s a few notes and links for a quiet Sunday. A too quiet Sunday…

  • The massed debates surrounding Obama’s birth certificate have sparked some tedious articles on “conspiracy theories”. One, in the New York Times, contains the splendid quote that “past government lies, particularly in the past half-century, have helped fuel conspiracy theories”. Conspiracies give rise to conspiracy theories? You surprise me, sir! Doubtless, some of these grand narrative theories are ludicrous but rather than employ a measure of discernment journalists broad-brush, fixing their gaze away from the murky world of parapolitics.


Let’s return from the badlands where the monsters roam to the farmyards where the pigs sunbathe.

Ah, Nadine Dorries MP. She’s such a popular target of lefty bloggers that I’m tempted to imagine there must be something to like about her. That, however, would be the contrarianism of fools. (Or Comment is Free.) I’ve nothing against Tories per se but the sad truth about Dorries is that she’s a habitual liar. This wouldn’t distinguish her amongst her colleagues but for the destructive streak that makes her lies so weird and amusing.

She claims that an opponent, veteran blogger Tim Ireland, has “been warned by Police not to enter Bedfordshire”. Warned not to enter Bedfordshire? Does she mean that in the sense of “oh, I wouldn’t go there mate, it’s a sodding dump“? No, I think she’s trying to imply that Bedfordshire police have warned a citizen not to enter one of our fair counties. Well, I know the rozzers have been more imperious in recent times but that strains credulity. What would the policemen do? Gather up a posse and run Ireland out of town?

Bedfordshire police, straight off the mean streets of Dunstable

Dorries has her critics on all manner of issues, most of which I’m blissfully uninterested in. It’s how she treats those critics, though, that sets my bile duct a’twitchin’. She’s tarred them as stalkers, shirkers and conspirators. When a Labour tribalist did go too far – plundering her daughter’s facebook page for gossip – she dropped the heavy implication that he was – get this – a paedophile. We all get a bit too heated now and then – I look back through my archives and think, “Christ alive! What was I drinking?” – but she can’t seem to face criticism without suffering a violent, and frequently vile, reaction.

Our MPs should be sincere and competent. As importantly, however, they should be receptive to the feelings, queries and criticism of the people they’re supposed to represent. Dorries is a case study in how many fail on all three counts.

The Libyan intervention marks the West’s first combat outside of the War on Terror since that kooky conflict first began. (Note: I was tempted to use sneer quotes three times in that sentence. See if you can spot them all.) It’s a curiously modern form of progress, by which, naturally, I mean no progress at all. It’s been founded on the same dubious narratives; shored up by the same weird accusations and topped with the flimsy moralism we’ve grown used to. And, again, one has to trust in fortune for good results.

The War on Terror is a war all non-combatants have been losing. We’re less safe than when it started and as for the Arabs, well, there’s just less of them. The war itself – a rhetorical schema at the best of times – could well be fading out but its battlegrounds are just as violent as ever. There’s bombing in Pakistan, bombing in Morocco and, of course, bombing in Iraq. (The last one, frightening as it is, is taken as read.)

Now, Wikileaks have dumped a trove of files from Guantanamo, revealing the intrigue and iniquities therein. Something that piqued my interest was news that the U.S. authorities have named the ISI – Pakistan’s intelligence service – as a terrorist group. “Through associations with these…organisations,” the documents allege, “A detainee may have provided support to al-Qaida or the Taliban, or engaged in hostilities against US or coalition forces”. Well, this time I have no disagreement with the Yanks. Nafeez Ahmed writes

Confidential NATO reports and US intelligence assessments circulated amongst White House officials have documented consistent ISI support for Taliban insurgents. As head of the ISI between 2004 and 2007, current Pakistani military chief General Ashfaq Kayani presided over Taliban training camps in Balochistan and, in September 2006, provided insurgents in Kandahar with 2,000 rocket-propelled grenades and 400,000 rounds of ammunition. In 2008, US intelligence intercepted a communication in which Kiyani described senior insurgent leader Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose insurgent network runs much of the insurgency around Kabul and eastern Afghanistan, as a “strategic asset.”

Sift through the extensive archive at History Commons and you’ll see how they’ve been tangled up with terrorists since the early days of the mujahideen. This, however, is where things get even murkier as in those days they were the middle man between the Afghans and their foreign patrons. Billions of dollars from the U.S. and the Saudis were distributed to many of the same groups they’re now fighting. Later, like, again, the U.S. and the Saudis, they helped arm and transport Islamists to Bosnia to fight against the Serbs. These loons were described by Kate Adie in The Kindness of Strangers

They particularly terrified the local Bosnian Muslims, whose mild brand of religion – ham-eating, beer-drinking – hadn’t encountered woman-hating, intolerant militant Islam before. We had hair-raising scrapes with them, finding ourself screamed at by hyped-up Sudanese and Saudis, who threatened and cursed and lashed out, possibly because they could find no soulmates in the land they had come to “liberate”. They vented their spleen in the monastry at Guca Gora, when they defecated on the altar and smeared the walls with Arabic graffiti.

Many of these gentlemen have gone on to become the terrorists we know and loathe.

Some of you might not have been aware of this as like a cautious schoolboy who tells his parents of a new friend’s habit of giving presents to his Mum but doesn’t mention that they’re fags swiped from the corner shop the U.S. is insistent that they’re still valuable comrades. Ahmed writes elsewhere…

[Joe Biden] and other spokespeople argue that any ISI support for the Taliban is a rogue operation by isolated “elements” in the organisation.

This stance is consistent with Washington’s longer-term rhetorical, military and political support of Pakistan. The chairman of the US joint chiefs-of-staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has argued that General Kayani was committed to purging the ISI in order to end its support for militant networks. He and other officials persuaded the US Congress in October 2009 to commit to an unconditional five-year package of $6 billion in military and economic assistance to Pakistan.

As with other militants they’ve alternately backed and battled the U.S. has a curious, hot and cold relationship with the ISI. They’ve not made a big secret of the fact that it’s a corrupt, violent institution. On the other hand, that doesn’t stop them from engaging in some of the most covert and baffling operations of the War. Rashid Rauf, for example, the alleged “mastermind” of the “liquid bomb” plot, disappeared after being packed off with the ISI.

The fact that our state is allied to unpleasant people isn’t desperately surprising. That it’s allied to a bunch of guys who are our enemies, however, is more difficult to swallow. But, then, the War on Terror isn’t a struggle of cause against cause or tribe against tribe. It’s a mishmash of conflicting factions: sparring and allying as the motivation strikes them. Like a battle royal – without hope of a conclusion.

Anyone who’s spent time in the dark and vapid underworld of social media will know that spammers use pictures of sexy women to attract interest. Here’s the latest Siren to cry out to my twitter account

Amusingly, it seems that social network spies use the same tactics (and quite effectively)…

If you’re aiming for a lonely soul who want a gal to snuggle or a materiel-minded wonk who yearns for weapons experts it’d never do to underestimate the power of the libido. Spencer Ackerman has the full, amusing tale.

Update: Naadir believes PrimorisEra is an authentic person. If this is true I recommend a Carnival of Apologising.

More Updating: More interesting stuff from Naadir. Hold the apologies for now: this could be rather grubby.

There’s a certain kind of disgruntled old Tory who thinks all attempts to check smoking, drinking and the like are motivated by a dismal censoriousness. Well, doubtless that’s true of some but I empathise with people who are moved to banish cigarettes, say, after watching some of the hundreds of thousands who’ve died in breathless torment. Or, indeed, people who want to curb drunkenness or gluttony after witnessing the swollen livers, sallow skin and fading hearts of invalids. Anyone who’s known the pot smokers who drift from our world into one of bafflement, paranoia and truly vomitous colour schemes, meanwhile, will have a grain of sympathy for decent prohibitionists.

That something can be harmful, though, doesn’t give one cause to ban it. Firstly as it needn’t be. Anyone who’s stepped beyond a GP’s office knows that drinking, drugs and smoking can be safe in moderation (as for food – excess is safe in moderation). All can cause grievous harm but where the harm is self-inflicted it’s difficult to see what cause we have to stop it. I’ve no wish to bore you with a recap of On Liberty so let’s just say that people need the right to err or they won’t have the space in which to flourish. And, besides, who’d stop it? Not “we” but the state: an institution of such dreary ignorance and cynicism that investing it with power might be rather more incautious than the deeds of yer average druggie.

Yet the point remains that freedom isn’t an ideal. It’s a canvas on which many splendid things could be drawn but, equally, the artist could bend over and forthrightly soil. The freedom to treat yourself as you desire will lead to quite a few debilitated souls wasting their last days with regret. The freedom of speech and the freedom of expression will, quite frankly, lead to loads of utter bollocks being said and made. One need only ponder some of the unpalatable fruits of the “liberation” – or, at least, liberalisation – of the 1960s to see the truth of this in Britain. I’m all for the freedom to fornicate, say, but a society where commitment is as binding as a Pritt Stick and children are dumped in broken homes or just dumped altogether isn’t something to enshrine.

If we banished the state from our private lives we’d have to maintain a scheme of values within our society. Firstly so pursuits that are too dangerously corrupting – hard drugs or morris dancing, say – aren’t completely normalised. Second as an unremittingly depraved society wouldn’t be a lot of fun to live in. Third, and most importantly, too ensure that children aren’t born astride a grave  – or, at least, astride a bar, crack den or pavement. If too many parents are divorced, drunk and drugged-up destitutes – or, indeed, a combination of the above – their children couldn’t enjoy freedom any more than coeliac victims could a year’s supply of doughnuts. Neglect closes like a fist around a child’s mind, stunting their ability to feel, to think and to create.

How a liberal society could achieve this is a tricky question. Some of its restraint would occur quite naturally. It’s hard to see crack losing its taboo status, for example, for the simple reason that it would be so debilitating – and starkly debilitating. There might be all kinds of noxious things ingrained in human nature but self-destructiveness is rarely one of them. A society might have live with being priggish, though, and enforce taboos. The snapping of these mental chains has perhaps been more significant than any shifting of the cold, hard laws but like strings of wire along the edge of a cliff they might be necessary for steering wanderers from harm.

I’m aware that social values isn’t a sexy concern for anarchists and liberals, who are more inspired by winning freedom. Yet it’s an important one. Picture a bird in its cage. It might yearn to fly unbounded but its freedom would be meager consolation if, on being released, it was devoured by a passing hawk.

This is a curious tale…

Iwata Ryuzo, a 75-year-old Japanese monk who also is called “the lonely apologizer,” came to the Exhibition Hall of Crime Evidence of Japanese Germ Plant in Harbin alone again and started his apologizing trip once again on April 25.

In the Exhibition Hall, Iwata Ryuzo stood between two walls full of names of victims died out of 731 Unit’s germ warfare and confessed Japanese crimes during the World War II. He said: “I didn’t go through that period of history, but when I come here I can hear the voices of telling their miserable experiences from the victims. I can feel that pain just like I’d been there. It’s the most miserable heart pain of all my life.”

When you’re trying to apologise on behalf of a nation being a “lonely apologizer” can’t be fun. Still, I’m not a fan of mea culpas for crimes that me, uh, you are not culpable for. Expressions of regret are noble. Recognising sins with the determination to resist them is admirable. But shouldering blame for crimes you had no part in? Well, perhaps Christ could bring me round to the idea but it seems hollow.

On the other hand, I suppose there’s worth in seeing a decent man from a tribe you’re wary of. The Chinese willingness to help survivors of the earthquake shows that – in large part, at least – they’re above petty bitterness. More noble than a certain class of English bloviator.

It would be remiss of me to ignore this detail…

Iwata Ryuzo was born in 1936 and worked in a bank after graduation. He became a monk when he was 45 years old

I’d have loved to see the dinner where he told his family that.

Like the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed citizen journalist I am, I emailed several hacks in search of news on Gareth Williams. Only one replied, saying she didn’t, no – did I? – as the police and MI6 weren’t talking.

Railing at journalists would be a mean, futile pursuit as I’m not sure they have much freedom beyond their employers. If that is the cause of their silence on this issue, however, it’s a sad reflection on the media. If officials are withholding facts that’s cause to go out and pursue them, no?

Update: So, I called the Coroner’s Court. There hasn’t been an inquest, meaning, presumably, that it’s been postponed. Again.

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