Tuesday, November 18, 2014

And finally the big one . . . PLUS proof that the Daily Mail still hasn’t lost the plot

Well, I’m rapidly approaching that milestone in everyone’s life which surely is the biggest of the big ones: 65, the age or retirement (at least here in Britain for men until next year). It seems to have arrived rather quickly, but then time does seem to pass ever faster as you get older.

Can’t say I feel much different to what I felt like when I was 25 or 35 or 45. That’s the irony: as every ‘old crock’ will tell you, you are still the same person — what is different is how you are perceived by the rest of the world. In a way you simply become invisible. I can still remember the horrible shock I felt more than 30 years ago when it was first brought home to me that I was no longer seen as ‘young’.

I was on a small course in studio recording, one of a group of about eight or nine, and I took a shine to a very pretty woman of a bout 18/19. I asked her out for a drink, and she turned me down, but she wasn’t at all unpleasant about it or rude: it was the look in her face and her attitude which spoke volumes. What it said was: are you kidding me? Someone your age? You must be joking! I had just turned 30. Christ, was it deflating. And generally what did increasingly upset me was slowly but inevitably becoming a non-person as far as tasty women was concerned. Turning 30, I believe, hits women harder than it hits guys, but I don’t remember it as being very pleasant.

Turning 40 wasn’t quiet as bad, though I did feel I was moving on a bit. I remember going to the doctor complaining of backache and he had some X-rays done. When I went to see him the second time, he assured me that there was nothing wrong, just ‘some deterioration of the spine’. Lord, I said, nothing wrong? What caused that then? Come on, he said, your are getting older. That was a bit of a blow.

Turning 50 — well, I thought I would hate it, but in the event I didn’t give a toss. And oddly enough I found I was beginning to worry less about life. Or rather, I was only worrying about the rather more important things. And that worrying was done in a far more practical way. I didn’t like turning 60 as much five years ago (my birthday is this Friday, on November 21), though I can’t really remember why. But since then birthdays have come and gone without me giving them much thought at all. Believe it or not, I have even once or twice forgotten it was my birthday.

I would be able to retire next week, but I’m not going to and hope to carry on working for a while yet, mainly because I want to save up more money. I shan’t have an enormous pension as it is, although down here in the hickland of North Cornwall, you don’t really need that much dosh. As usual the major bills come from electricity, council tax and running cars. I suppose when I do eventually hang up my pen, I could get rid of either my or my wife’s car to cut bills, but that remains to be seen. The only real difference I have noticed is that I don’t fancy going out partying as I used to and feel no shame at all in going to bed at 7pm and watching a film or reading a book. (TV bores me and what programmes I do watch, I watch on catch-up).

As for health, well, what is there to say? I had a heart attack more than eight years ago, but since then - touch wood - have had no trouble, and as for the everything else, I just keep my fingers crossed. I don’t drink a lot, and although I do smoke cigars (bought cheaply in Holland, as I keep pointing out in case anyone thinks I’m some kind of rich plutocrat), I don’t smoke a lot of them, fewer in the winter, I because I always smoke outside.

So there you have it. I have held off writing this blog entry for several weeks because, oddly and illogically, there does still seem to be something vaguely reprehensible about ‘getting older’. And I would prefer that you, who is reading this, picture me as some kind of young, devil-may-care chappie who is always up for a laugh. A bit like the chap below.

. . .

There might yet be some doubt that the Daily Mail is, in fact, working on the cutting edge of journalism. Well, here are two stories which might calm your fears.

The first provides proof that in the Antarctic seals are raping penguins.

Then there’s the touching story of the Irish bull who has been saved from execution, a fate which most certainly seemed his after he refused to mate with heifers.

Finally, there’s the reassuring news that despite owning an arse the size of Manhattan, Kim Kardashian can squeeze into a pink PVC dress. Well!

Monday, November 10, 2014

As Goebbels said: If you tell a lie, tell a big one. Blair and Bush agree. Eleven years on and more than 200,000 folk dead, they got away with it. Why did they do it?

Over the past few days I watched two films which reminded me once more of the second Iraq War and how Blair and Bush got away – I suppose quite literally – with murder. And before I carry on, I should substantiate that last statement: according to Wikipedia 4,425 U.S. servicemen and women were killed between 2003 and 2014. This website puts the figure higher, at 6,802. The number of UK service personnel who were killed is a lot lower, but then the UK supplied far fewer troops. But these figures are dwarfed by the number of Iraqis who have died: again according to Wikipedia around 286,667 of them were killed between 2003 and 2013.

Blair and Bush, of course, are still alive. Blair is well on his way to becoming one of the richest former British Prime Ministers and as to what George Dubya is now up to, well, I don’t know and to be honest I don’t want to spend a second finding out. I like to think that he has spent some time since leaving office reflecting on just how much misery he has caused a great many people, but I doubt it.

The two films I saw were Green Zone, starring Matt Damon, which dealt directly with the big lie about Saddam Hussein having a lethal stash of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) which – according to Blair’s claim – were a direct threat to the West because they could be unleashed within 45 minutes, and In The Valley Of Elah, starring Tommy Lee Jones, which touches on the havoc caused by the second Iraq War far more obliquely.

Of the two, the second was more subtle, but both – with reservations – were a cut above your average gungho war hoss opera. I felt that Green Zone started well, but finally morphed into what its producers will have insisted upon: just another war film with ‘exciting’ chases and the rest. In The Valley Of Elah was a completely different film entirely, a murder mystery, but the dehumanising effects on a group of U.S servicemen of having served in the invasion of Iraq was core to the film.

. . .

I watched the Green Zone with my son, now 15, and, although I was very careful to stress that my view is just one of many and many folk will talk the complete opposite view, I gave him a basic outline of – what I regard – the great WMD con, which was at the centre of Green Zone. I also used it to try to help him get his head around the concept of a ‘moral dilemma’. In this case I posed the question:

On the one hand Saddam Hussein was a murderous tyrant; there were no political freedoms in Iraq at the time; many folk went in fear of their lives from the secret police; there was no real rule of law; but women had far greater freedom than in many neighbouring Arab states; broadly, the country was stable and there was little unemployment; and a university education was available to all who wanted one (and who, of course, were acceptable to the regime).

On the other, the people of Iraq now – nominally – live in a democracy; but they are still often in fear of their lives because of sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims; water and electricity supplies can be erratic; there is a great deal of unemployment; the country is under threat from the murderous thugs who are Islamic State.

So, I asked him, would it have been better to leave Saddam where he was? Was that the ‘right’ thing to have done when one compares the lot of the people now with the people under his rule when he was alive?

There is, of course, no answer, or rather no correct answer. Bush and Blair (I told my son) would undoubtedly claim that what they did was justified and justifiable because they ‘liberated’ Iraq from a murderous tyrant. Critics of Bush and Blair (which, I told him, include me) would point out that the rise of Islamic State would most probably never have come about had it not been for the second Iraq War. And (I pointed out to him) given that WMDs never existed, how could anything good have come from such a blatant lie. Nevertheless, some folk would argue that it did.

. . .

Both films underline an irony which permeates the Hollywood world of filmmaking and of producing proselytising art generally. Of the two, as I have already pointed out, despite the, to my mind, admirable way it tried to tackle the big WMD lie, Green Zone did finally pull its punch and did, sadly, end as just another war film. In The Valley Of Elah has its critics (on IMDB) from servicemen who say it misrepresents life in the army and the reality of life serving in Iraq, and there is little I can honestly comment about their claims, for obvious reasons.

Usually I can smell bullshit from some distance, and I didn’t get that impression from Tommy Lee Jones’s film. In fact, I rather thought it admirably did play the whole thing very straight when I might perhaps have been tempted to jazz things up for the audience. And resisting that temptation helped to make it, in my view, the very excellent film it is and one I can highly recommend.

. . .

What I really want to do in this entry, apart from recommend one film and laud another as almost there, is to resurrect the matter of fucking George ‘Dubya’ Bush and Tony Blair getting away scot-free with conning their own governments into launching an invasion on a sovereign state for, as far as I am concerned, no very good reason at all. They have got away with it. But there’s even more to it than that (and this is also something I told my son): in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack by Al Qaeda on the Twin Towers in New York, Bush claimed that Saddam was somehow in league with Osama Bin Laden and was aiding and abetting him. The protests from his own intelligence services that this was most certainly not true notwithstanding – Satan would have a better chance palling up with God than Al Qaeda would with Saddam - he went full-steam ahead and insisted on an invasion. But he needed allies. Everyone told him to fuck off – except Tony Blair.

There are two big, but related deep, deep mysteries here: what was Bush’s real motive for wanting to invade Iraq? And what was Blair’s motive for pledging his support? One explanation (I told my son) and one which I find quite convincing although it is admittedly almost beyond belief was that, at heart, Bush, a recovering alcoholic who always felt he was second-best in his father’s eyes when compared with his brother Jeb, was simply desperate to impress pop, George Bush Snr. Really, you ask? Really? Well, stranger things have occurred, and I do honestly think that lay at the heart of Dubya’s otherwise quite inexplicable decision to invade.

So why did Blair agree to support the invasion? Here I once more think basic human psychology is at play: I have long thought that Blair has somehow, somewhere got a screw loose, that he might well be a sociopath. Most certainly he has the facility for believing his own lies. And I think he gave his support to Dubya because his overwheening vanity made him want to cut more of a dash in the world, to make his mark. Really, you ask? Really? Are you sure?

Well, of course, I can’t be sure, but I think that is a lot closer to the truth than any other suggestion I’ve heard. That’s where the bullshit of the WMDs comes in: for once having decided to invade, Bush and Blair needed a pretext and, crucially, needed the blessing of a UN resolution. The UN, it had to be said, was sceptical from the start, but as the evidence for Saddam’s spurious stockpile of WMDs was constructed it finally gave its agreement.

What is now universally accepted is that although Saddam did, at one point, have such a stockpile, he got rid of it. Saddam wasn’t daft, and with UN weapons inspectors crawling around everywhere they could it was simply too risky to try to hide any and give Bush the pretext he needed. The weapons inspectors didn’t find a thing. But the pretext was needed: without it there could be no invasion and already U.S. and British troops were being shipped to the Middle East. It was obvious to even the deafest dog in Washington DC that the invasion was going to take place. But it couldn’t without evidence. So finally that evidence was fabricated and the myth of Saddam’s ‘hidden WMDs’ was born.

It is difficult to trace how it started but I believe tame intelligence agents picked up on a piece of info from some source or other, something someone had let slip in a taxi in, I think, Jordan. And from this, the slightest possible beginnings, an edifice of lies was erected.

The process was simple and will be well-known to anyone who has told a whopper and is then questioned on it: further whoppers have to follow. So, for example, the claim that ‘Saddam was able to launch a lethal attack on the West within 45 minutes’ came about from a tabloid newspaper splash headline (simplify, then exaggerate being the journalists’ principle at play here): at one point someone was asked how long it would take for Saddam’s forces to ‘get their weapons system ready’? Oh, they could do it in about 45 minutes, came the reply (most probably off the top of someone’s head).

What was the reach of Saddam’s rockets? came another question. Oh, was the reply, they were most certainly a threat to all the countries in the Middle East. Could those rockets reach Europe? came the next question. Could be, was the response. That’s when some stupid night editor did his job properly. Simplify, then exaggerate: the splash headline was something like ’45 minutes from attack’. Except that we weren’t.

Under threat - nominally under threat - were British bases in Cyprus and parts of Turkey and Greece. Paris, London, Rome, Madrid, Berlin and The Hague were as

safe as houses. But – and here’s the next useful journalists’ principle: never let a few facts ruin a good story. That’s all pretty much par for the course, but the real scandal is how Blair and his government react. They should have publicly stated it was all a load of cobblers. But they didn’t because it played into their hands very nicely.

Crucially, Blair never made the claim, but neither did he deny it. This was all included in the infamous ‘dossier’ which was compiled by Blair’s team, which included his Press spokesman Alistair Campbell (incidentally another recovering alcoholic, but adding that is just me being gratuitously unpleasant), Jonathan Powell, his chief of staff and John Scarlett, a tame MI6 bod who – surprise, surprise – was later knighted and appointed head of MI6. The dossier was rewritten several times to ‘sharpen it up’ and possibilities became probabilities and so the big WMD lie took shape.

It was bought by Colin Powell, the U.S. Secretary of State (to his eternal regret and embarrassment – I bet neither Blair or Bush is on his Christmas card list) who made an impassioned speech to the UN asking for its support. And this he got. All based on a huge, huge, huge lie, which both Blair and Bush (and, I should imagine Campbell, Powell and Scarlett as well as assorted tame intelligence officers in Washington who are always prepared to further their careers) knew was totally and utter cobblers. And they got away with it. But close on 200,000 people have since died because – I’ll stress again, in my view – the inferiority complex of one man and the overwheening vanity of another.

. . .

They got away with it and they will get away with it for ever. Too much has happened since for anyone to care much about raking it all up again. But more’s the pity. And I also told my son that, the young lad who will sit in front of his Xbox for hours playing Call Of Duty and blasting folk to kingdom come. I rag him about it, and tell him war is nothing like that in real life, but I let him carry on because I want him to reach his own conclusions, to understand for himself why I object to the game. Sounds daft, I know: why don’t I just stop him? I’ll repeat: because I want to bring up my two children to think for themselves, to make their own moral judgments. But I am pretty certain that in time those judgments will be very much like mine.

. . .

The quote from Joseph Goebbels was actually something he wrote in his diary commenting on Winston Churchill (though I have no idea about what specifically). He wrote: ‘ . . . that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.