Sunday, April 29, 2007

Christopher Hitchens on free speech

A little light listening for a Sunday.



"Don't take refuge in the false security of consensus."

Friends in need, friends indeed

Good on Phil Neville for recognising his old club Manchester United needed a helping hand this afternoon.

Clear it with your left foot, Phil. Your left! Left!

Still, he made a good attempt at looking dejected.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Richard Dawkins on Fox News

The Labour Humanist has this clip from YouTube of an interview with Richard Dawkins conducted by Bill O'Reilly. Though interview might be stretching the meaning somewhat. Generally interviewers ask questions and let the interviewees respond. Not so here. Good ol' Fox.

Should he stay or should he go?

The question of whether Prince Harry should be allowed to serve in Iraq consumed a large portion of Question Time's hour last night, as it has done much of the week's papers. Mark Lawson, writing in today's Guardian, says Harry Wales should stay put, "because soldiers are expendable and princes are not". Maybe his fellow soldiers should all be made princes; that'd solve that problem. Lawson begins:

"The dilemma over whether Troop Commander Harry Wales should be placed in the line of fire is, though, symbolic of the problem that the royal family and their supporters face in modern Britain. The PR effort of the last 20 years has been dedicated to suggesting that the royals live like anyone else - paying tax, supporting football teams, inviting ordinary people to their houses.
But the presence of the prince in the army at a time of a failing and dangerous war pushes this process of tactical normalisation to its ultimate test. Can a son of the ruling family be asked to risk his life in the way that so many of his grandmother's subjects already have? Those answering media polls seem certain that Harry is no different to any other army recruit. But the decision is treacherous and complex and questions the very concept of a modernised monarchy."
That Lawson's question could not have been posed and an answer found some time ago seems to lack a certain amount of forward planning at some level of the military. But of course this conundrum had been teased with and solved and the course of action decided upon was the one which Harry himself is purported to favour. However, on 6 April a British Challenger tank, on routine patrols outside Basra, was hit by a roadside bomb and its armour was breached. Instantly doubt and fear rages through the military top brass faster than the most voracious forest fire. The Challenger, previously believed to be impervious to anything the insurgency could devise to impede it, had been shown to be fallable. The young prince would not be safe in one.
"The easy rhetorical cry that Troop Commander Wales should be treated no differently to his colleagues - a plea that is said to have been heard from Harry himself - becomes, on examination, absurd."

In which case the question of Harry and his older brother ever having been allowed to set foot in Sandhurst- and consequently any future royal doing so- must be considered. Would not their places have been better occupied by those able to take on the duties for which they would be trained? Or should royals be allowed to play soliders before deciding on some other frivolity with which to while away their existences?

"The average British soldier, if killed in Iraq, is lucky to make the news-in-brief columns these days. Would Harry be treated like that? There would be days of special supplements and front-page coverage. The average British soldier, if attacked or taken hostage on the battlefield, is simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Would Harry be treated like that? Insurgents and terrorist groups would devote huge resources to making sure they were in the right place at the right time."
The reaction of the press should not come into it. Undoubtedly, insurgents would find him a valuable scalp but the idea that they might be capable of seeking out and targeting the prince is not credible. One defence analyst speaking on the BBC news last night described the insurgents as "ragamuffins" not equipped to purposely find an individual in a vast theatre of war.
"Because Harry Wales cannot possibly be treated like other soldiers by either his military superiors or by opponents, potential captors or journalists, the clear logic is that he should be kept from going to Iraq.

Such preferential treatment would result in a public relations embarrassment for politicians, generals and royals, but it would be far milder than the savage and career-ending blame game that would ensue if Harry were sent to Iraq and suffered the logical conclusion of conflict. All but the most demented anti-war or anti-monarchy campaigners must conclude that it's better, in human and practical terms, for him to be called a pampered coward than to be brought home a corpse."
I do not know what the odds are for a soldier being killed in Iraq, but I suspect the chances of Harry being one of the fortunate ones are remote. Not as remote as if he doesn't go at all, of course. But he wants to and time and money has been invested in his training. I challenge Lawson's final sentence. Michael Portillo spoke on television yesterday about the disasterous implications of Harry's death in war. I absolutely fail to see what they may be and I've not heard anyone deemed important enough to appear on camera and proffer their view, clearly elucidate why it would be such a terrible thing. I've no wish to see him killed, but beyond the normal sadness one might reserve for the death of a British service person in Iraq what possible catastrophe could the prince's demise ensue?
"The choice, though, should not have been necessary. This fiasco was created by the stubborn insistence of the Windsors that a spell at Sandhurst is what a real chap needs. There can only be a handful of families left in Britain in which it is assumed that the boys will do a spell in uniform; but, despite all the tax returns and open days and the iPods, it seems not to have occurred to the Firm that letting Harry and Wills attempt a line of work that doesn't involve being trained to kill people might have been a useful modernisation.The choice, though, should not have been necessary. This fiasco was created by the stubborn insistence of the Windsors that a spell at Sandhurst is what a real chap needs. There can only be a handful of families left in Britain in which it is assumed that the boys will do a spell in uniform; but, despite all the tax returns and open days and the iPods, it seems not to have occurred to the Firm that letting Harry and Wills attempt a line of work that doesn't involve being trained to kill people might have been a useful modernisation."
Then perhaps in future the Windsors will be less glib in the manner in which they encourage their benighted offspring into this or that occupation.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Church in child abuse cover-up

A former Church of England choirmaster has been jailed for two-and-a-half years after pleading guilty to a string of sexual abuse in the late 80s.

It has emerged that Peter Halliday, now 61, admitted to the abuse 17 years ago but was allowed to leave the church on the condition that he would never again have contact with children. Speaking after Mr Halliday's sentencing Reverend Mark Rudall, of the diocese of Guildford, said:

"I can imagine there is anger on behalf of some of those victims and our heart goes out to them. "But I think also that in accordance with the way things were done in those days the Church can be seen to have done the best it could."
"I can imagine there is anger on behalf of some of those victims..." I'd say, Rev. Probably all of them. And their families. What a pusillanimous fool. What a berk. He thinks the church did its best. The church was made aware of a crime and chose not inform the proper authorities. Not only that, it saw fit to arbitrate itself by demanding that Halliday never again worked with children. How did it believe this would be ensured? By what authority did it make this decision? Divine, no doubt.
Not only did it fail to report a crime but it allowed a man who admitted to having a serious psychological problem to be left to deal with it alone, offering no advice and no support. Halliday went on to reoffend. The church must be held as accountable as the offender himself.

Hugh's bean a naughty boy?

Actor chucks tupperware at paparazzo. All newsworthy stuff. Up there with "Braying moron dumps rather nice girlfriend because mum says 'pardon'"

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Do knighthoods and nationalism sit well together?

As a Scot in England I'm really rather worried about the forthcoming elections. I'm not even allowed a vote so I can do nothing to prevent the expected success of the Scottish National Party.

In recent days they've rolled out two of the big guns they're relying on to boost their campaign. One Sir Sean Connery and one Sir George Mathieson.

How curious that these two fervent nationalists so eagerly accepted honours conferred on them by that most curious of institutions, Britain. Does anyone see a problem?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Nazi Music

So Bryan Ferry's caused a bit of stink for his comments praising Nazi iconography. In an interview with the German Sunday newspaper Welt am Sonntag, Ferry said:

"My God, the Nazis knew how to put themselves in the limelight and present themselves. I'm talking about Leni Riefenstahl's movies and Albert Speer's buildings and the mass parades and the flags - just amazing. Really beautiful."

I don't know what to make of it. Yes, what he describes stood for something unspeakably evil, but does that take away from the visceral impact that Ferry describes? It may reflect in some small way how ordinary Germans felt at the time, how some were swept up in the cult as the Nazis rose to power.

Ferry immediately apologised saying:

"I apologise unreservedly for any offence caused by my comments on Nazi iconography, which were solely made from an art history perspective.
"I, like every right-minded individual, find the Nazi regime, and all it stood for, evil and abhorrent."

Reasonable? I won't be calling for M&S to swing the axe.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Don't get mad, get even

A woman who evicted her tenant, who also happened to be her sister, appears to have fallen victim to a hoax.

An advert placed in her local paper invited people to take things from her house for free. And the house was promptly emptied. I tend to find locking your doors guards against this sort of free-for-all.

Captives speak of ordeal

Some of the 15 sailors and marines captured spoke this afternoon of the true nature of the treatment they received at the hands of their Iranian captors. More here.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Iran hostage drama at an end

As you are no doubt aware. But what to make of it all? Jonathan Freedland, writing in today's Guardian, believes it highlights Iran's empowerment courtesy of Britain and the US. There followed many enthusiastic posts quick to endorse this view. I can't agree. He believes the situations in Afghanistan and Iran have bolstered Iran and the question of whether this is true is not for now. However, consideration of what the capture of the British sea personnel has done for Iran is much clearer.

Ahmadinejad's press conference today bordered on the comic. He was returning the British soldiers as a gift, he said, to the British people. Thank you very much. He then pinned a bravery medal to the chest of the commander of the Revolutionary Guard naval patrol. A nice touch, something for the assembled cameras and a memento for the commander. Then he criticised Britain's use of "media hype" throughout the event. Best of all - gotta love these religious tyrannies - in a reference to Faye Turney, the only female among the captured Britons, he lamented: "How can you justify sending a mother away from her home, her children. Why don't they respect the values of families in the west?" Western decadence, my friend. And you know what else? She had no choice in the matter. A right-wing blog I used to visit if I wanted to make my blood boil which is now out of commission used to write Ahmadinejad with the 'mad' emboldened. Not very subtle but I see where the author was coming from.

Much guff has been written about the seizure being planned and what significance it had. I find it more likely that the capture was, as the commander of HMS Cornwall hoped in the immediate aftermath, an "error at tactical level". I think this likelihood goes a long way to explaining what followed it. Assuming it was a mistake then it may have taken some time for news of the seizure to filter its way to Ahmadinejad and his coterie and all the other controlling interests in the Iranian hierarchy. I believe this explains the difficulty the Foreign Office first had in engaging with anyone at a substantial level of Iranian government. Only after some measure of a plan had been conceived were we treated to the circus and hoopla. I wonder whether Ahmadinejad detects the irony in his assertion that Britain was guilty of using media hype. I suspect he did.

The BBC website gives an overview of the events according to each side. The most interesting aspect of the British account must be this:

  • On 24 March the Iranian government told the UK - according to the UK's Ministry of Defence - that the merchant vessel was at a different location, but still within Iraqi waters.
  • When the UK pointed out to the Iranians that the location they had given was within Iraqi waters, the Iranians provided a "corrected" location, nearly 1 nautical mile away (1.9km) from its first position but within Iranian waters.
  • Even Chris Tarrant is normally stricter and insists on taking your first answer. As it was Britain accepted neither. While we may smile wryly at the Iranians' apparently less than expert grasp of longitude and latitude, questions must be asked of Britain's policy of patrolling so close to the boarder of the disputed Shatt al-Arab waterway.