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Archive for the category “Western Europe”

PR firms: igniting the fires of ethnic hatred

The public relations firm of Bell Pottinger have just apologised for fanning the flames of racial hatred in South Africa, for money. Bell Pottinger’s full, unequivocal, absolute apology for selling Gupta lies – BizNews.com:

LONDON — Here’s a very big win for the good guys. The £100 000 a month London agency which promoted the Gupta agenda in South Africa – including instigating a threat to use the UK courts to close down Biznews – has suddenly seen the error of its ways. After steadfastly denying any wrongdoing by his company and claiming its clients were innocent victims, Bell Pottinger’s owner and CEO James Henderson today issued a grovelling apology: “full, unequivocal and absolute” to quote from the statement. News like this takes time to digest. Nice. But given the damage this firm’s dark media arts has created in South Africa, and the personal attacks and despicable social media deeds conducted under its instruction, I’m pretty sure this doesn’t close matter. But perhaps, to paraphrase Churchill, it is the end of the beginning. – Alec Hogg

That’s all very well. It’s fine for the arsonist to apologise for starting the fire, but the flames are still burning, and the apology does not put them out.

This is also not the first time that a PR firm has made a handsome profit from fanning the flames of ethnic hatred, and it probably won’t be the last. But to my knowledge it is the first time that a PR firm has apologised for its role in this.

Victoria Geoghegan, MD Financial and Corporate at Bell Pottinger.

The secret to PR spin is not to tell absolute lies, but to put a spin on the truth.

To put it crudely, what Bell Pottinger were paid to do was to bring about “radical economic transformation” in South Africa by promoting the replacement of White Monopoly Capital by Indian Monopoly Capital (the latter represented by the Gupta family).

Some might think that “radical economic transformation” should begin by questioning the role of monopoly capital in the economy, regardless of the race, ethnicity or nationality of the capitalists. The truth that is at the basis of the spin is that historically there has been white monopoly capital in South Africa, and part of the “white privilege” narrative is that it has had sufficient clout to fight back and wrest a public apology from Bell Pottinger.

Those who don’t have that kind of clout aren’t so lucky.

I’ve yet to see an apology from the firm of Ruder Finn for their role in fanning the flames of ethnic hatred that led to the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession, for example. Ruder Finn’s work for Croatia – SourceWatch:

On 12 August 1991, the Croatian government hired the American public relations firm Ruder Finn Global Public Affairs to “develop and carry out strategies and tactics for communication with members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate as well as with officials of the U.S. government including the State Department, the National Security Council and other relevant agencies and departments of the U.S. government as well as with American and international news media”. On 12 November 1991, Ruder Finn’s contract was renewed to include lobbying in relation to diplomatic recognition, sanctions, and embargoes, as well as briefings for officials of the first Bush administration and preparation of special background material, press releases, both reactive and proactive articles and letters to the editors to appear in major newspapers, briefings for journalists, columnists, and commentators. In January and February 1992, Ruder Finn organized trips to Croatia for U.S. Congressmen. The United States recognized Croatia as an independent state on 7 April 1992.

Truth is the first casualty in PR offensive | The Independent:

The Ruder Finn strategy has been to build a congressional and Senate coalition in the US in support of Croatia. The strategy has included mobilising the 2.5 million Croats in the US to lobby their own representatives in Congress.

Central to all this activity was equating the Serbian forces with Communism and the Croats with Western freedom and democracy.

In October 1992, Ruder Finn took up the job of public relations for the ethnic Albanian separatists in the Serbian province of Kosovo.

Bell Pottinger’s work in South Africa hasn’t yet led to death and destruction on that scale, but the story isn’t over yet, and the flames fanned by Bell Pottinger are still burning.

 

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Borderliners

BorderlinersBorderliners by Peter Høeg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Borderliners is the second book about “abnormal” children I’ve read this week, the first one being The outcast, so I can’t help comparing them.

The Outcast is about a privileged child from an upper middle-class background, and the action takes place at home, in the school holidays. Borderliners is about an orphan, a ward of the state, with a legal guardian who had more than 200 other children to care for. He has no home to spend holidays in, and the action takes place at the school.

The Outcast (my review here) was about my contemporaries, those who were at school in the 1950s. We had or rebellions, too. I was at Mountain Lodge Preparatory School in Magaliesberg, and when I was 11 the whole school went on strike to protest against an unjust and authoritarian teacher. When the strike ended the headmaster lined us all up outside the classroom and made each of us bend over at the door for two cuts with his cane (I think more for the ringleaders), and once we were all inside he made a little sexist speech about the teacher, saying women were sometimes like that. Even at that age I thought it was sexist. I’d known other female teachers who weren’t authoritarian. But she did not return to the school the following term, so the stiike achieved its purpose.

Borderliners, however, is about those at school in the 1970s, and I remember the 1970s quite well. What do I remember about the 1970s? I saw the film If, which was also about a rebellion in a boarding school. I was on the board of governors of St George’s School in Windhoek. I was manager of several farm schools in Northern Natal. But never did I come across a school that was anything like the one in this book.

Borderliners is set in Denmark. What did I know about Denmark? When I was at school our geography teacher Steyn Krige told us the story of a South African visitor to Denmark who threw an empty packet out of a car window. After driving several miles a traffic cop stopped him and gave him the packet and said “You dropped this.” “Oh I don’t want it,” said the South African. “Denmark doesn’t want it either,” said the traffic cop.

In the 1960s I was a fan of Kierkegaard, and was impressed by the bourgeois morality and dull conformity of people in Denmark that he described. But that was in the 19th century. In the 1970s my impression of Denmark was that it was free. It was the model of the “permissive society”. But Borderliners gives an entirely different impression. Both books reminded me of my own schooldays, but Borderliners impressed me by how regimented it was, far more than any school I attended in the 1950s — especially the lengths they went to to stop pupils talking to each other or having friends, with never-ending surveillance. It was 1984. Could a Danish school in the permissive society really have been like that? No social interaction permitted. Pupils forbidden to talk to each other or even be seen together?

This is never explained in the book. Perhaps for a child at school, it needs no explanation or interpretation, but the book is written from the point of view of an adult looking back and an adult would try to make sense of childhood from the point of view of the wider world. So I’m left wondering why a school in Denmark in the 1970s should be worse, far worse, than a concentration camp. In a concentration camp people are locked away and for the most part forgotten about. The aim is to isolate them so that they can’t influence others. The perimeter is guarded to prevent them from escaping, but there is not, as in this school this constant surveillance, this prohibition on talking to other pupils, a kind of solitary confinement in the company of others.

In the book Peter Høeg links it all to a perception of time. I suppose in any school one becomes aware of time. There is a timetable for classes and other activities, so one’s life is regulated by bells ringing to mark the end of one activity and the commencement of another. But no theory of time can explain the concentration camp character of this school.

So it seemed a very strange book. It also seems to be at least semi-autobiographical, with a good measure of teenage solipsism. That I could identify with. It seems that many people toy with solipsism in their teenage years. Perhaps all do, or perhaps only those who go to boarding schools where time is strictly regulated.

View all my reviews

The war drums beat louder and louder

The media — print, broadcast and social — seem to be filled with war propaganda these days, so much so that other things seem to be getting crowded out.

And I see more and more of my friends being sucked in to it and by it.

In the US election campaign, there seems to be a “more Russophobic than thou” contest, and some have been saying, apparently in all seriousness, that one of the things against Donald Trump as a US presidential candidate is that he isn’t as Russophobic as Hillary Clinton. I can think of plenty of reasons why Donald Trump would not be a good person to be president of the USA, but not being Russophobic enough isn’t one of them. Yet a lot of people do seem to think that is a serious obstacle.

Hillary Clinton has herself declared that her Number One Priority is to remove President Bashir al Assad of Syria. That calls to mind the fulminations of Alfred Lord Milner against President Paul Kruger of the ZAR, at the height of Jingoism in the 1890s. Jingoism seemed to go out of fashion briefly in the 1950s and 1960s, and for a few decades thereafter took the surreptitious form of neocolonialism, but now it is out of the closet with a vengeance.

A few of my friends on social media have been urging me, in all seriousness, to sign petitions calling for “no-fly zones” in Syria. They are people whom I have always regarded as being not without a degree of common sense, but the war drums seem to have driven the common sense right out of their heads. A few years ago a “no-fly zone” was declared over Libya, and the last state of that country is worse than the first.

My question to my friends who think “no-fly zones” are the answer is: why do those calling for a “no-fly zone in Syria not also call for one in Yemen too?

And secondly, who should enforce such a “no-fly zone”? Preferably a neutral party that doesn’t have a dog in that fight, like Uruguay, say, or Botswana. Do you think Russia, or the USA, or France, or the UK, or ISIS or any of the other groups muscling in on the Syrian civil war and the Yemen civil war would pay the slightest attention to even the combined air forces of Uruguay and Botswana?

Bashir al-Assad is not my idea of an admirable ruler, but in the last 20 years or so we have had a lot of propaganda about the need to remove people like Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, and those attempts turned out pretty disastrously, because even if they were villains, those who replaced them were worse villains. And still people like Hillary Clinton are promising to apply the same quack remedy to yet another country. It seems to be the policy of “The West” in general to replace secular rulers in the Middle East with militant Islamist groups, one of whose aims is to drive out all Christians and those who don’t adhere to their own peculiar brand of Islam.

Syrian Civil War. Syria - Red. Countries that support Syrian Government, Bluue. Countries that support Syrian rebels - Green.

Syrian Civil War. Syria – Red. Countries that support Syrian Government, Bluue. Countries that support Syrian rebels – Green.

Russia for a while acted with some restraint in Syria, but is now bombing with as much abandon as the rest of the belligerents, so has come down from the high moral ground and entered pot-and-kettle territory.

Half the countries of Western Europe are bombing and shelling Syria (or supporting those who do), and yet get all uptight when Syrian refugees arrive at their borders trying to get away from their bombs.

And then, as if all this wasn’t enough, along comes this exceptionally nasty piece of war-mongering journalism Queen in row over Putin ally’s visit | News | The Times & The Sunday Times:

The Queen is to host an audience for one of Vladimir Putin’s closest allies and a key supporter of Russia’s actions in Syria, prompting protests from MPs.

The royal reception is for Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox church, who arrives for his first UK visit next Saturday. MPs and a former senior government adviser have called it a “propaganda” trip from a churchman who has described Putin’s presidency as a “miracle of God”.

In July Kirill, 69, an alleged former KGB agent, also described Russia’s operations in Syria as “noble and honest”. Last month Britain’s UN representative accused…

Not that this is not one of those fake news sits. It’s not even The Sun. This is The Times, part of the “mainstream” media, one of the self-styled “quality” papers. And here they are trying to turn the church into a political football, wanting to treat the Patriarch of Moscow as badly, if not worse than President Zuma and the South African government treated the Dalai Lama.

What they don’t mention (but I learned from a priest who receuived an invitation to the event) is that the Patriarch was going to celebrate the anniversary of the Russian Church in London. The article seems calculated to stir up hatred against the church. I think there are laws in Britain against “hate speech”, and wonder if this kind or article is perhaps in breach of such laws. But whether or not that is the case, ity does seem that it is being used to beat the war drums louder.

My concern in all this is that people seem to be increasingly sucked into to war propaganda, and to swallow it quite uncritically. I’m not a fundi on Mioddle Eastern affairs, and I’ve never been to Syria, but in my no-doubt over simplifiend and even simplistic understanding, one thing stands out: the Western media, the Russian media and the Middle Eastern media all have vested interests in the conflict, and everything they say needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, and if possible verified independently.

But it seems to be that there are two main scenarios, and perhaps both are operating at the same time.

  1. There is a Sunni Shia conflict
  2. There is a conflict over gas and petroleum products.

President Bashir al Assad of Syria has the support of Shia groups in Syria, and those who support him, both locally and internationally, are either supporting Shia interests, or are perceived by otghers as doing so. These include such groups as Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The West, Saudi Arabia and most of the Gulf states support Sunni Islam, and and so the conflict can be described, simplistically, as a Sunni-Shia conflict, with the West o9n  the Sunni side and Russia on the Shia side, and if the conflict keeps escalating there is a danger that it could end up as World War 3.

Tjhere are also economic interests involved, especially as they relate to gas pipelines between the Middle East and Europe, which pass, or are planned to pass, through Syria. Those opposed to Bashir al Assad may have mixed motives, but among them could be that he leans towards Shia and he may oppose their favourite pipeline project. And those who prop him up may have motives that include his support for their pipeline project, and oppiosition to rival projects that may threaten theirs. For more on this, see here: Syrian war explainer: Is it all about a gas pipeline?. And no, I din’t believe it’s all about the pipelines, but I do believe that some of it may be. Take this article with just as big a pinch of salt as any other.

And as a reminder, here’s a kind of timeline of the conflict: Syria: The story of the conflict – BBC News:

More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives in four-and-a-half years of armed conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war. More than 11 million others have been forced from their homes as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule battle each other – as well as jihadist militants from so-called Islamic State.

And it too needs to be filtered for bias.

Hiatus in Holland

Fifty years ago I had a kind of gap week between working and going to college. I had finished my job with London Transport, and Brother Roger, an Anglican monk of the Community of the Resurrection (CR), invited me to join him in a visit to a couple of middle-aged Dutch ladies who had invited him to stay with them.

They stayed in Bergen, North Holland, and their names were Wieta Monquil and Ank Schoen. Their backyard had a couple of self-catering flats which they let to summer visitors, but summer was now almost over, and the last visitors were some German deaconesses, with a couple of their elderly relatives.

Wieta Monquil, Ank Schoen, Bropther Roger, CR and one of the German Deaconesses. Bergen N-H, September 1966

Wieta Monquil, Ank Schoen, Brother Roger, CR, and one of the German Deaconesses. Bergen N-H, September 1966

Brother Roger said that he had met Ank and Wieta quite by chance. He had been with another CR Brother, Brother Zach, who was from Bermuda, and they had got chatting in a park. And that had led to the present invitation.

Dieudonne, the home of Wieta Monquil and Ank Schoen in Bergen, North Holland

Dieudonne, the home of Wieta Monquil and Ank Schoen in Bergen, North Holland

On Sunday we went to church with Ank and Wieta, to a small Dutch Reformed Church in a country village some distance away.

Church in a small village somewhere in North Holland

Church in a small village somewhere in North Holland

The church building was very old and square in shape. The pulpit was very high, and in front of it was a brass windmill, forming the top of an arch over the rail around the pulpit. The dominee was very young, but preached rather well, and spoke quite slowly, so I could understand most of what he said. All the children sat on the left, and four of them were given presents, as they were now 11 years old and would be leaving the Sunday School.

After church Brother Roger and I rode into the village on bicycles and looked at an old railway locomotive there, which had once pulled trains between Alkmaar and Bergen-on-Sea, but the line had long since been abandoned. Around the town there were lots of children on bicycles, most of them very rude, and giving hostile looks at us. They didn’t seem to like foreigners.

In the afternoon two friends of Ank and Wieta, Peter de Kleer and Evert van Kuik, who lived in a nearby town, came to lunch, and then we went with them and two of the German deaconeses to see the Afsluitdijk between the Ijsselmeer and the North Sea. We crossed over miles of flat country that had once been twenty feet below sea level, and was land reclaimed from the old Zuiderzee. Evert said it had been flooded by the Germans at the end of the war. We rode along the dijk to the middle, where there was a monument to mark the spot where it had finally been closed, at the 12th attempt. We climbed the tower that stood there, and looked out over the grey expanse of the North Sea, and over to the north-east was Friesland, and to the south-west was West Friesland, from which we had come, though really it was part of North Holland. Down below someone was fishing in the Ijsselmeer, and there were gulls swimming and flying around the nets.

Afsluitdijk, separating the North Sea from the Ijsselmeer.

Afsluitdijk, separating the North Sea from the Ijsselmeer.

We went back in the car to the island of Weeringen, which was now no longer an island, having been surrounded by polders long ago. We went to the town of Den Oewer, and an old man on a bicycle showed us the way to a house where Crown Prince Wilhelm, son of the last German Emperor, had lived. I found that I could understand what the old man was talking about far more easily than I could understand Ank or Wieta. I found their accent very difficult to follow, and when I talked to them in Afrikaans they would say “Dat is leuk!” (That’s so cute). The old man said the Kaiser’s son’s old house was now the dominee’s house. The church there was also a very old thing (according to him). We then went on, passing many houses with their roofs made of tiles, and with the tiles partly thatched over. Peter said that the Dutch called any single-storeyed house a “bungalow” — which accounts for some confusion when I had asked the way to places, for we only used the words to describe barrack-huts and things like that.

After that we went back home, and had a big and jolly supper time with the German Deaconesses and their mother, which was really like a Tower of Babel, because so many languages were being spoken.

Brother Roger cycling from Bergen to Alkmaar, 27 September 1966

Brother Roger cycling from Bergen to Alkmaar, 27 September 1966

Ank went to work during the week and Wieta stayed home and looked after the house and the guests, not that they needed much. She was the nervous and talkative one, and was worried that she worried so much and could not be gentle and calm and patient like Ank.

On Tuesday 27 September 1966, fifty years ago today,  Brother Roger and I went into Alkmaar on the bicycles. It was again a rather dull day, but the town of Alkmaar made up for any dullness in the weather. We went to look at the church, an enormous Gothic affair, and to get inside one had to go round to the office and pay 25c. That we did, and they gave us a guide leaflet, only when we got inside we found it was written in German, so we went and asked for another one, and Brother Roger explained that he was English and I was South African, and then said “Thank you” in French. “We are very international, aren’t we?” observed the girl who gave it to us, and when we were back inside the church Brother Roger said they seemed much more pleasant and friendly when they knew we weren’t German.

Organ in the church at Alkmaar.

Organ in the church at Alkmaar.

It seemed that there were lots of German visitors in this area in the summer, and some of them were old soldiers who come to show their families where they were during the war.

The church was built before the Reformation, between 1470 and 1520, but was now the Nederlands Hervormde Kerk, and the pulpit was halfway down the nave. At the end, in what had once been the sanctuary, were thrones for the 24 elders. The organ was a beautiful rococco thing, and the transept arches, built in bricks, were also very beautiful. When we left the girl at the door also mixed up her languages, as Brother Roger did sometimes as well. She finally said “Auf wiedersehen” as we were leaving, and I said “Totsiens” to her. I think the general sentiment was clear, however.

We then rode off down Lange Straat, a busy main street, and were almost run over many times, and turned off, and eventually we came out into the Waag-plein, where the cheese sales were held. There we went into a cafe, the Cafe de Waag, and had lunch. The lunch was soup with meatballs in, and lemon gin, and cheese and bread. The tables, as in all Dutch cafes, were covered with carpets, and there were two billiard tables, without pockets, and a kaaskop with glasses and a serious expression was practising while we ate. The object seemed to be to hit one ball so that it hit two others, but he never seemed to manage it.

Cafe de Waag in Alkmaar. 27 September 1966

Cafe de Waag in Alkmaar. 27 September 1966

After lunch we crossed the square and rode down a couple of narrow streets, and came to one with a house, or rather several houses, built onto a canal, one of which, with a lot of cheap trinkets in the windows, was described as “Huis met de Kogel 16e eeuw; gotische houten gevel (met kanonskogel uit het beleg van Alkmaar, 1573)” We rode alongside the canal, and a little further along saw a swingbridge open to let a boat through, and then a man walked out of the front door of his house, with a fishing net in his hands, dipped it into the canal, and walked back to his house with a bucket full of fish. The road we were on ended on the Noord-Hollandse Kanal, and we turned right, and went up Verdronkenoord, a similar street to the last one, with a canal down the middle, and beautiful old houses on each side.

Alkmaar, Noord-Holland

Alkmaar, Noord-Holland

We went along the Oude Gracht, which had been pumped dry while canal and road were being repaired. The road menders gave us a friendly greeting, and said something about a “joy ride”. A friendly greeting is somewhat rare. Most of the natives of the country seemed to be hostile to foreigners, perhaps, as Brother Roger said, because they thought we were German, though a little further on, when passing through a park, we heard an old man telling two youngsters that we were Russian.

The following day we visited a Benedictine monastery at Egmond, and Fr Hoff, the sacristan, showed us some of the vestments which they sold there. Brother Roger bought a set of white ones, which was very beautiful, and cost fl190.00, about R38.00, which he said was cheap. We had a look at the chapel, which
was austere, and almost bare of any ornament, and then walked back to wait for the bus, up an avenue lined with chestnut trees, with the leaves all yellow and brown, so it really was autumn now.

After getting back to Bergen we cycled in to the town and had a look at a bookshop there, which was very good for such a small town. I bought a copy of Wachtend op Godot. It was actually the complete plays of Samuel Beckett. We had a drink at a cafe, with tables covered with the inevitable carpets. Brother Roger said that the Dutch, unlike the English, tended to look down on that. The English, being sociable, would go down to the pub for a drink, but the Dutch, or at least the respectable ones, would drink at home, with the curtains open, of course. But I rather liked the atmosphere of the Dutch cafes, with their carpet-covered tables, and they seemed much more quiet and respectable than an English pub.

After supper we said Evensong together, for the Eve of St Michael and all Angels, and I told Brother Roger about my theology of angels, and he did not agree with it. Then Wieta came along, and we read the Bible with her, the Psalms for Compline.

We also cycled to Kamperduin, on the coast, through pine trees and over the dunes. I believe that Camperdown in KZN was named after it.

Cycling to Kamperduin

Cycling to Kamperduin

For Michaelmas we went to Mass at the local Roman Catholic Church, and had supper with the priest. He said he had been an Anglican until four years ago, and had been a curate in Australia when he “poped”, as he put it. He had been trained at Kelham, spoke five languages, and was the youngest parish priest in Holland. He had a European parish, and had services in Dutch, French and German every Sunday. He had an interesting coffee-table book on the German occupation in the war. One chapter dealt with a strike and protest against persecution of the Jews, and in it was a reproduction of a document as follows” “Noot voor de redacties. Noot no 265. Niet voor publikatie. Amsterdam, 25 Februarie – Over stakinen t Amsterdam en over den algemeen toestand in deze stad mag niets worden gepublicieerd. Hoofredaktie. ANP. Niet voor publicatie.” Amsterdam in 1942, but it could just as easily have been Johannesburg or Salisbury in 1966.

That evening Peter and Evert came again, and we sat with the German deaconesses, and came, and we sat with the German deaconesses and talked. Brother Roger told us how he went home to England for a holiday once, and the superior asked him where he wanted to go, and he said to the Civil War in Spain, and so he did, with a group of Quakers to look after children. And in the town where he was a convent was suspected of harbouring traitors, so the Republicans blew it up, and the neighbouring church as well. But when they went into the church to blow it up they took off their caps and put out their cigarettes. There was also in the church at that time a statue of St James, reputed to work miracles, and they held a revolver to the head of the statue and said, “If you work a miracle tonight, we’ll blow your brains out.” — and that was said in all seriousness.

Before we went to bed I read Wieta an Afrikaans poem which she had, “Die vlakte”, by Celliers, and it delighted her. She said Afrikaans sounds so innocent and earthy. It is one of my favourite poems, apparently inspired by Shelley’s “Ode to the west Wind”, but much better than Shelley.

I went back to the UK, and began my studies at St Chad’s College, Durham, but in April 1967 my mother and a friend came for a holiday, and we hired a car in Amsterdam and toured round Europe, and on our return spent more time with Wieta Monquil and Ank Schoen. And I again spent a few days with them on my way home to South Africa in 1968. So they had become good friends.

As for Brother Roger, that was the longest time I had spent with him. He was my spiritual father, my guru, in many ways, and not just in theology. When I was 19 years old he plied me with books to read from the Community’s library in Rosettenville, and so was a kind of mentor in English literature as well. He turned me on to Samuel Beckett, Jack Kerouac, Charles Williams and many other authors, and talking to him seemed to me far more interesting and useful than three years of English study at university (I passed English I 3 times at two different universities, and none of them made literature seem as interesting and exciting as Brother Roger did).

.

 

 

Expecting the unexpected: UK leaving the EU

For the past few weeks I’ve been reading stuff people have written about the pros and cons of the UK staying in the EU, but I get the impression that few people thought about the real meaning of leaving until it suddenly became a real possibility after the referendum.

I don’t have a dog in this fight, so if I were a Brit voter I would have been undecided, at least on the merits of the question.

On factors quite unrelated to the merits of the question, however, the poisonous rhetoric of the advocates of leaving might have inclined me to the “remain” side. The “leave” advocates seemed to appeal to the worst motives and impulses in human nature.

Not only that, but the “leave” campaign turned out to the thoroughly dishonest, and did their best to mislead the voters with lies, and making promises they had no intention of keeping — this, for example:

A campaign promise that was repudiated the following day as a"mistake"

A campaign promise that was repudiated the following day as a “mistake”

Now that it’s over, I see there might be a possibility for the reunification of Ireland, and for Scotland to apply to rejoin the EU on its own. Perhaps that would mean that the English would need passports to
cross the Tweed. I don’t think anyone expected those as possibilities, but they’ve suddenly appeared, like new islands after a volcanic eruption.

And it seems to me that they are quite positive possibilities.  I suppose that is the result of reading a book about 15 years ago that pointed out that it would make little difference whether Scotland or Wales became independent or remained members of the United Kingdom, because being members of the EU would give them just as many, if not more advantages than belonging to the UK. I can’t remember whether the author envisaged England as not belonging to the EU, but if you are interested, the book is The Isles: a history by Norman Davies.

But that is rather academic and detached; looking at this from 10 000 kilometres away is being hopelessly out of touch. Fifty years ago I went to the UK to study theology at St Chad’s College in Durham. I’m still in touch with some of my friends from there, and I asked some of them for their thoughts on the topic. This is what some of them had to say:

What dark place does Britain for the British take us to?

Catastrophe. Britain has broken apart. An uprising of resentment by the left-behind has torn us in two, a country wrecked by a yawning class divide stretched wider by recession and austerity. Anger against a London establishment was deftly diverted by the Tory right and Ukip towards foreigners – enemies in Brussels and aliens in our midst. Wherever we went, the Guardian reported that same fury among those without education and opportunity, a country served right for its gross inequality. Day after day the Sun, Mail, Express, Sunday Times and Telegraph injected poison into the nation’s bloodstream with tales of foreign criminals, jihadists and scroungers. How Murdoch and Dacre will revel in their power. What of the false hopes raised for poorly paid, insecure, badly housed Brexit voters? Expecting something better, they will get much worse. “Controlling our borders”, they will expect immigrants, new and old, to be gone. They were told more housing, GP appointments and school places would be freed up from migrants. But as treasury receipts fall, there will be less of everything. Will the next call be to expel foreigners already here? What dark place does Britain for the British take us to?

Farage’s victory speech about the decent ordinary people taking back control “without a bullet fired” was unthinkably crass with an MP shot and stabbed to death in the heat of the campaign. Cameron  will no doubt be replaced by worse as the country is taken over by Tory extremists and fantasists, wild free-marketeer romantics experimenting with other people’s lives, alongside Ukip’s pernicious racism.

Ahead lie years of fractious negotiation, turning the EU into Britain’s number one enemy. The more these populist leaders need to prove this wasn’t a fatal error, the more they will blame all home-grown woes on our close neighbours. Britain has turned its back on the world. ~ Polly Toynbee

That from my friend Bob Gallagher, now a retired Anglican priest in Liverpool.

Another college friend, Frank Cranmer, who has spent most of his life in the fields of law and politics, writes:

Whatever the defects of the EU – and they are many – to leave just strikes us as barmy. Apart from anything else, London is the biggest financial centre in Europe, we depend on exporting financial services to balance our visible trade deficit and, once we leave, it’ll be much, much harder for our financial institutions to trade in Europe.

We both think that the vote went the way it did for three reasons. The first is that people outside London (and Scotland, which has its own agenda) simply haven’t experienced much in the way of the perceived economic benefits of EU membership. The second is a desire to kick politicians generally – of whatever party – in the teeth: even dedicated, lifelong Conservative and Labour voters tend increasingly to regard politicians at Westminster of whatever party as a bunch of spoilt, self-interested brats. Thirdly, as was pointed out in a very good editorial in, of all places, the Jewish Chronicle, the EU commissariat is perceived as impossibly arrogant and remote, merely telling people to shut up and take what Brussels reckons is good for them – and we’re afraid that there’s more than a grain of truth in that perception. And it wasn’t helped by a disastrous campaign on both sides. Jeremy Corbyn was particularly useless; and the level of debate rarely rose above the level of a school playground spat.

So here we are, on the way out. The likelihood is that we’ll end up as members of the EEA, still bound by almost all of the existing and future EU Directives but without any influence on their content. Alternatively, we go it alone – doing precisely what, God knows. As to passports on the Tweed, who knows? A much more serious issue is border controls in Ireland, where the border passes through people’s farms in some places.

And for a third view, here’s one from someone born in England but living in another EU country. I’ve never met her face to face, but we’ve been online friends for more than 25 years, half her lifetime and a third of mine. And I strongly recommend that you read it to the end, especially if you’re not in the UK: This is Cyprus…: Cyprus, the EU and Brexit

Well, that’s what some of my English friends think of it. As for me, I’m old enough to remember when the British wanted to join the EU (or the Common Market, as it was in those days), and President Charles de Gaulle of France blackballed them with a resounding “Non!”. This inspired the composition of the song All Gall, which is perhaps particularly poignant right now.

Eyetie, Benelux Germany and me
That’s my market recipe.

As I said, I don’t have a dog in this fight; what the Brits do is their business. Perhaps we might even gain from it, if the British are looking for new markets once Europe is closed to them, they might reinstate the system of Commonwealth preferences, and that could benefit South Africa — our wines could be much more competitive than French or German or Portuguese or Bulgarian ones. We might even be able to sell our sparking wines as champagne and our dessert wines as sherry.

That is, of course, if England doesn’t decide to hold another referendum and leave the Commonwealth as well.

And I’m not sure that Britain has much to market anywhere else since Maggie Thatcher killed their manufacturing industry and turned them into a nation of hairdressers.

 

Geopolitics in a nutshell

I think this graphic is one of the best and most succinct summaries of current world politics that I’ve ever seen.

Stupid

Of course this is nothing new. As Billy Joel sings:

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning since the world was turning

But stupid is as stupid does.

Protest against Facebook’s racism

Quite a number of people that I know on Facebook are not happy about Facebook’s racism, when they offered a French flag to cover one’s profile picture and urged people to Change your profile picture to support France and the people of Paris.

Lebanese Flag, posted on Facebook by Bruce Henderson

Lebanese Flag, posted on Facebook by Bruce Henderson

After the news that more than 120 people had been killed in terrorist attacks in the city, many people did change their profile pictures, but I and several others did not. It was not because we do not find the violence reprehensible, or that we do not sympathise with the victims. But we wondered why Facebook had not offered a similar option with the Lebanese flag the day before, when similar attacks had taken place in Beirut.

On Saturday a cousin’s husband posted a Lebanese flag (a cousin on the Hannan side of the family, in case anyone wants to know), and said the following:

Bruce Henderson

14 November at 12:08 ·

Today we see all the outpouring of sympathy for people I. Paris, but when will the western news puppets remember that on Thursday 41 people were killed in Beirut. Or is Lebanon not enough of a “friendly” nation. If you are gonna pray for Paris, remember Lebanon too. Terrorism is terrorism.

In the USA there has recently been a sustained attack by some people against the idea that all lives matter (if you don’t believe me, just Google “All lives matter”). And Facebook, by offering this option in one case, but not the other, appears to be part of this trend. In Facebook’s view, if Lebanese lives matter at all, they matter a lot less than French lives.

#BlackLivesMatter ? Not to Facebook

#BlackLivesMatter ? Not to Facebook

Earlier in the year, 147 students were victims of a terrorist massacre in Kenya — more than in Paris. Facebook never suggested that people change their profile picture to support the people of Kenya, nor did they offer a Kenyan flag to make it easy for people to do so.

So someone posted the graphic on the right. Not quite fair, I think, because Facebook did not offer the option of posting any of those flags. If it had, maybe more people would have posted them.

Similar events have also taken place in Nigeria. At one time there was a hashtag on Twitter #bringbackourgirls but Facebook did not offer a Nigerian flag either.

Like and share this on Facebook if you are not happy with Facebook's racism.

Like and share this on Facebook if you are not happy with Facebook’s racism.

And then someone else posted this graphic on Facebook, obviously trying to do what Facebook has refused to do.

If you don’t like Facebook’s racism, why not like and share one or more of these on Facebook, whether you have covered your profile picture with a French flag or not.

 

The new Cold War

This morning a friend asked on Facebook what I thought of this article, and I will try to reply here. BREAKING NEWS – PUTIN EXPOSES OBAMA’S PAID ISIS MERCENARIES IN MIDDLE EAST AND SYRIA! | THE MARSHALL REPORT:

(Putin speaking): First point. I never said that I view the US as a threat to our national security. President Obama, as you said, views Russia as a threat, but I don’t feel the same way about the US. What I do feel is that the politics of those in the circles of power, if I may use those terms, the politics of those in power is erroneous. It not only contradicts our national interests, it undermines any trust we had in the United States. And in that way it actually harms the United states as well.

But I can’t reply to this in isolation. It is part of a whole string of media reports and media reporting that goes back two years or more.

Concerning the Middle East in general, and Syria in particular, we are bombarded by  increasingly shrill and decreasingly credible media propaganda from all sides that I’ve simply stopped paying attention to most of it. If there is any truth wrapped up in the all-too-obvious lies, I have no means of sifting and discerning it.

I have tended to interpret all in the light of Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis, as expounded in his book The clash of civilizations and the remaking of the world order. I’ve already written about that here, so I won’t repeat much of it now, except to say that things are now much worse.

I have tended to attibute the growing American Russophobia, which strikes me as loony and entirely irrational, to Putin’s blocking of Obama’ s plans to bomb Syria. But now the Russian air force is bombing Syria.

The world... is going to hell in a hand cart

The world… is going to hell in a hand cart

Two years ago, I regarded Russia Today as  a more reliable news source than most of the Western media, especially on events in the Middle East. Now it is blatantly filled with anti-American propaganda, so I don’t watch it any more. It’s clearly playing tit-for-tat to the Russophobic line of the BBC, Sky News, CNN, and Fox news. As a result the truth suffers.

Can Al Jazeera be trusted? When reporting on other parts of the world, perhaps. But Syria? I’m not so sure. Al Jazeera’s base is Sunni, the Syrian government tends to be Shia. There could be some bias there that would be difficult for non-Muslims to discern.

Also, since I’m inclined to be pacifist, I find the increasing belligerence of warmongering politicians distressing. Obama promised “change you can believe in” but he is just as belligerent and bloodthirsty as his predecessor George Bush and the only difference is that he is more articulate about it. David Cameron is just as belligerent and bloodthirsty as Tony Blair, but I didn’t expect him to be any better. I did, at one time, and probably foolishly, hope that Obama would be better than Bush and Clinton. But it’s always naive to believe in politicians’ promises, and Obama proved to be no exception.

Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn

If the Labour Party, under Jermy Corbyn’s leadership, manages to win the next UK general election, will it be any better? Will this, at last, be “change you can believe in”?

Not if the British media have anything to do with it. They have slammed him left, right and center, dismissed him as insane because he has qualms of conscience about annihilating millians of people in a nuclear holocaust.

And my mind goes back more than 50 years to Jeremy Taylor, a Johannesburg school teacher who sang this song:

Well one fine day
I’ll make my way
to 10 Downing Street.
“Good day,” I’ll say
“I’ve come a long way
Excuse my naked feet.
“But I lack, you see
the energy
to buy a pair of shoes
I lose my zest
to look my best
when I read the daily news
’cause it appears you’ve got an atom bomb
that’ll blow us all to hell and gone.
If I’ve gotta die
then why should I
give a damn if my boots aren’t on?

Three cheers for the army and all the boys in blue
three cheers for the scientists and politicians too
three cheers for the future years when we shall surely reap
all the joys of living on a nuclear rubbish heap.

I would fight quite willingly
In the forces of Her Majesty
but not at the price of sacrificing
all of humanity.

That expressed my sentiments when I was 21, and still does, now that I’m 74.

And, since the politicians of the world seem to be determined to restart the Cold War, and threaten to make it hot, another Cold War hymn seems appropriate.

The day God gave thee, man, is ending
the darkness falls at thy behest
who spent thy little life defending
from conquest by the East, the West.

The sun that bids us live is waking
behind the cloud that bids us die
and in the murk fresh minds are making
new plans to blow us all sky high.

Enough is enough: it’s time for Greece to leave the Eurozone

Enough is enough. It’s time for Greece to leave the Eurozone and start issuing its own currency.

Greek crisis: surrender fiscal sovereignty in return for bailout, Merkel tells Tsipras | Business | The Guardian:

European leaders have confronted the Greek government with a draconian package of austerity measures entailing a surrender of fiscal sovereignty as the price of avoiding financial collapse and being ejected from the single currency bloc.

A weekend of high tension that threatened to break Europe in two climaxed on Sunday night at a summit of eurozone leaders in Brussels where the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and President François Hollande of France presented Greece’s radical prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, with an ultimatum.

Someone pointed out that the problem is that Germany has too many lawyers and not enough economists, and this leads to a different mindset. Several people have pointed this out, and it is summed up in this article: A Lawyer’s Mindset Where An Economist’s Is Needed? – Forbes:

A Twitter correspondent pointed out a simple fact that makes Schäuble’s inflexibility in negotiations with Varoufakis explicable: though he is a Minister of Finance, his PhD is in law.

So is he implicitly approaching these negotiations as a lawyer would? Because from that point of view, what the Greeks are trying to do is to renege on a contract. And for a lawyer, changing the terms of a contract after you have signed it is a no deal. It’s either carry out the contract, or I’ll sue.

Varoufakis, of course, is approaching the negotiations as an economist. From his point of view, the terms of the Troika’s package are a set of economic policies that have failed. And if policies have failed, the sensible economist tries different ones.

And some have pointed out that this difference in approach is rooted in theology: The moral theology of the Greek crisis – Spiritual Politics:

… behind the moral standoff is a difference in approaches to human error that has divided Eastern and Western Christianity for centuries. It’s the difference between the Orthodox idea of economia and the Augustinian conviction that either it’s right or God brings the hammer down.

Economia recognizes that while all warfare is bad, sometime people have to fight and then get to repent for it. Augustinianism sees wars as either just or unjust. Economia recognizes that while divorce is bad, sometimes a husband and wife have to split up and they then get to remarry (somberly, no more than twice) and remain Christians in good standing. Augustinianism says no to divorce, and no to communion for those who remarry.

The current impasse seems to show that the differences between these two approaches are irreconcilable, and perhaps it is time for a divorce.

The most sensible suggestion that I have seen comes from someone known to me only as “Whiskers”, who said:

Greece could (should, almost certainly will) leave the Euro and revert
to its own currency, without leaving the European Union. Britain never
joined the Euro but is otherwise a full member of the EU – so when world
financial systems began to go haywire at least Britain retained control
over its own currency, including exchange rates and money supply.
Greece, starting from a much weaker base, surrendered such control and
is now unable to manage its own affairs.

Greece is not a poor country, what they lack at present is not wealth
but currency – they have literally run out of banknotes (not helped by
people hoarding as many as they can at home) and the Euro rules mean
they can’t print any more; they have to get them from the Euro Central
Bank which can’t do it without the agreement of all the other countries
which belong to the Euro. Which is fair enough, as the supply of Euros
affects all their economies too not just the Greek one.

The obvious and sensible thing for Greece to do is therefore to leave
the Euro and start controlling its own currency again. This will solve
the ‘money supply’ problem almost overnight – but deciding the exchange
rate to the Euro will be one of the first things the Greek politicians
will have to do, and is something for which they cannot escape
responsibility by blaming anyone else (but they’ll try to do that too).
Greeks will then be able to borrow money again – but not at Euro
interest rates!

Leaving the European Union would be a much bigger decision, and probably
not a good idea for Greece as they would instantly lose nearly all of
what is at present their ‘home’ market (and the freedom to seek work
anywhere in the EU).

Celebrations after the anti-austerity referendum in Athens (Photo by Julia Bridget Hayes)

Celebrations after the anti-austerity referendum in Athens (Photo by Julia Bridget Hayes)

What follows, however, is anyone’s guess. Perhaps it could form the scenario for a science fiction novel.

In September 2015 Greece left the Eurozone, and the new drachma, based originally on IOUs issued to pay civil servants, though it started on par with the Euro, depreciated rapidly in value. The Greek government, driven by internally rather than externally imposed austerity, was forced to cut military expenditure, as imported military hardware became too expensive, and thus failed to meet its Nato commitments.

In April 2016, at the instigation of Germany and France, Greece was expelled from Nato, which encouraged Turkey to invade and occupy the Greek islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos and Rhodes in May 2016.

Encouraged by the lack of resistance, in June 2016 Turkish forces invaded eastern Thrace, and defeated Greek forces at the battle of Xanthi. This opened the way for ISIS agents to stir up the Muslim population to turn against their neighbours, and ISIS thus established control of most of the towns and villages in the region outside Xanthi itself.

France and Germany assisted Turkey, their Nato ally, with arms and other material to defeat ISIS, but most of these were used to make further conquests in Northern Greece…

 

Freedom of Expression: lip-service to a Western idol

The murder of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in Paris this week has sparked off the biggest orgy of hypocritical handwringing about “freedom of expression” from Western politicians, journalists and other pontificators since the verdict in the Pussy Riot trial was announced two years ago.

I’m not trying to condone or justify the murders in any way. The murders were horrible, and I hope the killers are caught and brought to justice.

But the reaction I am talking about there is not a reaction to human beings being killed. It is rather that it was seen by many of the pontificators as an attack on “freedom of expression”, which was the same spin that the put on the Pussy Riot affair.

I have commented elsewhere that this seems to indicate that there are two fundamentalisms confronting each other here — Islamic fundamentalism, and a Western fundamentalism of “freedom of expression”. The almost identical reactions to the Charlie Hebdo killings and the Pussy Riot affair makes this quite clear.

There seems to be a huge reaction, quite out of proportion to the events themselves. Yes, it is horrible that 12 people were killed, but how many people were killed by Obama’s drones last week? Why doesn’t that stir more than a murmur of protest, and that only among those far from the centres of power in the West?

A ‘free speech’ machine. It looks for people who do not have enough free speech and then gives them some

A ‘free speech’ machine. It looks for people who do not have enough free speech and then gives them some

Here’s something that happened in the same week ‘Burned to the ground’: Boko Haram razes at least 16 Nigerian villages | Al Jazeera America:

Boko Haram razed at least 16 towns and villages in northern Nigeria and may have killed up to 2,000 people since the weekend, officials said Thursday.

After capturing a key military base in northeast Nigeria on Saturday, members of the feared armed group used crude bombs to level entire towns, according to local authorities.

But was it published in the Western media? No, it was published by Al Jazeera, a broadcaster with links to Islam. that great enemy of “freedom of expression”. The attack in Nigeria was probably intended to deprive those who were killed of their freedom of expression and their freedom of religion too. But in the scale of values of the Western media, the voice of the 1%, 12 white lives are enormously more valuable than 2000 black lives, and so deserve more column inches, and more talking heads. And they are just as dead as the French journalists.

The problem is that the “freedom of expression” angle is simply the spin put on the events by the Western politicians and media. Charlie Hebdo: This Attack Was Nothing To Do With Free Speech - It Was About War:

In less than an hour of the dreadful shooting of 12 people at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, the politicians had already started to lie to their own public.

John Kerry, US Secretary of State, declared that, “freedom of expression is not able to be killed by this kind of act of terror.”
The media lapped it up — the attack was now spun as an attack on ‘Freedom of Speech’. That cherished value that the West holds so dear.

The British Government was so in love with it, that they were passing laws that demanded nursery school teachers spy on Muslim toddlers because they had too much of it. Toddlers were ‘free’ to speak their mind as long as it agreed with UK Government policy

For many people in the West, “freedom of expression” is a value that is held with religious, even fundamentalist fervour. But the politicans and media moguls who put this spin in it don’t really believe it themselves; they pay lip-service to it, but ignore it when it suits them. The people who are telling us that an attack on journalists is an attack on freedom of speech don’t seem to have had any love for freedom of speech 16 years ago.

How is this different from the Charlie Hebdo attack? Is it any less an attack on freedom of speech? Serb TV station was legitimate target, says Blair | World news | theguardian.com:

Nato leaders yesterday scrambled to justify the bombing of Serbia’s state television station in an attack which killed a number of civilian workers and marked a further widening in the scope of targets now considered legitimate.

The attack on the building in the centre of Belgrade – which contradicted an apparent assurance by Nato this month that only transmitters would be hit – was condemned by international journalists’ organisations, representing both employers and unions.

I see no difference.

If those who ordered and carried out one attack were criminals, so were those who ordered and carried out the other. If one was a “legitimate target”, then so was the other. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair are no different from those anomymous marked gunmen. Why weren’t they arrested and charged with war crimes?

Je suis Charlie? Bah, humbug.

As the author of this article says Charlie Hebdo: This Attack Was Nothing To Do With Free Speech - It Was About War:

“to bring an end to this — we’ve got to do something differently, because what we are doing now — isn’t working”

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