Friday, October 02, 2015 


I'm not here next week. Enjoy it while it lasts.

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Thursday, October 01, 2015 

Can you direct me to the nearest designated mass grave?

"In the long run," Keynes said, "we are all dead."  When it comes to any exchange of nuclear weapons, you can reverse his maxim.  Verily, in the very short term we will all be dead.  Or, if extraordinarily unlucky, still alive in a world where the living will envy the dead.

In what has already been a remarkably stupid last few weeks, the whole why-won't-that-bastard-Corbyn-incinerate-everyone-out-of-spite-if-we're-all-going-to-die-anyway debate has truly taken the cake.  Last night's Newsnight was utterly surreal: Evan Davis and Lord Falconer considering hypothetical after hypothetical, Falconer making clear that he would indeed if prime minister keep the option open of taking part in unprecedented slaughter, as that is clearly what the British people would expect.  The reaction of members of the shadow cabinet team to Jeremy Corbyn replying to a straight question with a straight answer they must have known he would give, that he cannot conceive of any circumstances in which he would ever launch nukes, has been bizarre and disloyal.  Andy Burnham, Maria Eagle and all the others are apparently perfectly happy to join in with the end of the world, so long as someone else starts it first.

As Dan Davies pointed out, Corbyn was asked entirely the wrong question.  The question should not be would you break out the nukes, as it is almost inconceivable we would ever use them without the support of the people who help to make our "independent" deterrent.  The question rather should be whether a prime minister would use them without US approval, and secondly what they think would happen if they did.  It's all but impossible to think of any scenario where potential nuclear war was imminent that would not involve a square off between the US and either Russia/China, the only other nuclear armed states that have the potential to destroy each other and much of the rest of the planet if they so wished.

In such circumstances, the NATO doctrine of an attack on one is an attack on all would come into play; there would be little effective choice in the matter unless the PM decided the whole Threads look wasn't a good one.  If nuclear holocaust happens, we're going to die.  Simple as.  If the prime minister of the day then is such an utter shitbag that his letter to the commander of the Vanguard sub says yes, please spray more nuclear megadeath around for the sheer sake of it, it's not going to make a blind bit of difference to us.  It might well to other countries without insane defence/war policies, but to a nation where Radio 4 has stopped broadcasting?  Nope.  Of course, the commander himself might in such circumstances decline to follow those orders, as who's going to know or rebuke him.  You wouldn't however put your mortgage on such a hope.

The oh, you can't say definitively you would never use nukes because you always have to make the potential enemy think you might argument is therefore bunk.  It's not about making the Russians/Chinese think twice, it's wholly about the ridiculous, yes I'm so dedicated to the security of my country that I will happily see it annihilated in a nuclear fire, my bollocks are bigger than yours political game.  It wouldn't matter as much if there was on the horizon the merest suggestion that we might be returning to a Cold War frame of mind, but there isn't.  On the contrary, the Russian intervention in Syria and the relative lack of reaction to it makes clear that the wear your mushroom with pride days are not about to make a comeback.  The Russian intervention in Afghanistan in the 80s seemed of a piece with the rise in belligerence by both sides.  Today, there is no such desire to restart the waving of ICBMs.

This doesn't mean it can't happen.  It could, not least if leaders more volatile than Obama or Putin come to power, or if China decides to further step up its militarisation of the South China Sea.  The smart money though remains on either a continued terrorist threat, as far as there is one, against which anything other than conventional forces are useless, or small scale actions like the ones in Ukraine, where irregular forces and militias are used, and so ditto.  As Diane Abbott rightly points out, some of the most respected retired generals previously made clear their opposition to Trident replacement, wanting the money to be spent instead on conventional weaponry.

The biggest obstacles to getting rid of Trident if we so wished are not so much those considerations, as politicians know full well nukes are useless militarily, but rather the "loss of standing" disarming would have. Allied with how the military-industrial complex must go on being fed, a view supported by the unions, with GMB leader Sir Paul Kenny (knighted by Cameron, natch) saying Corbyn would have to resign if he became prime minister and didn't change his stance, it's far easier to just accept that our weapons are both "independent" and a "deterrent", must be replaced, and be on the brink of being launched at all times.  Anything less is to give in to the "nirvana fallacy", to be unrealistic, to go against the accepted rules of politics.  Whether such thinking stands up in a world that moves ever further away from 1989, where the public mood is one of wanting to stop meddling as a direct result of the foreign policy failures of recent times, remains to be seen.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2015 

Syria: hell on earth, and made worse by each successive intervention.

When it comes to the great worst place in the world to live debate, there are many favourites that immediately come to mind.  Your North Koreas, Saudi Arabias, Eritreas, Irans, etc.  All with highly oppressive authoritarian governments, all set on either outright killing their own people, or just making life as miserable as possible.  Then you have the places where plain old insecurity and crime are the main problem: countries like Honduras and El Salvador, currently battling over which has the highest murder rate per capita of population, while one of the BRICS, South Africa, is also averaging 49 murders a day.

Few though are likely to disagree (Islamic State supporting cretins excepted) that right now Syria is the closest equivalent to hell on earth.  Beyond argument is the root cause of the civil war was the reaction of the Assad regime to the protests that broke out as part of the wider Arab spring; less widely accepted is that the regime's almost immediate resort to violence was not wholly surprising considering events in Egypt.  There the Mubarak government pretty much surrendered without a fight.  It has since resurfaced in the form of the Sisi government, but whether the Ba'ath party would have been able to come back to power in the same way had Assad also quickly left the scene is dubious.

Besides, let's not indulge the view that had the initial uprising succeeded Syria would now be rivalling Tunisia in the Arab spring stakes.  That so many extreme Islamist groupings emerged as quickly as they did to fight the regime, not including either the al-Nusra Front or Islamic State, suggests there would have soon been a battle on the hands of the secularists and liberals to maintain their revolution.

In any case, the peaceful uprising quickly became an armed one.  These groups were soon funded by the usual suspects: the Saudis, the Qataris, Kuwaitis, etc.  Whether any Arab governments directly funded the most notorious jihadist groups is uncertain, but certainly the usual benefactors in their countries did.  At the same time, the Syrian government turned to its own allies, the Iranians and the Russians, both of whom have helped it to survive through direct aid, weaponry and in the case of Iran, fighters from Hezbollah.  Also helping out have been our good selves in the West: we quickly declared that Assad must go, his government was entirely illegitimate, and that the Syrian opposition, whichever group we've decided that is this week, are the only de facto representatives of the Syrian peopleAs well as helping to equip the "moderate" armed groups, it's fairly apparent that our approach throughout was to let the Arab states get on with doing whatever they felt like, even if that meant funding and arming jihadists, at the same time ironically enough as the Saudis and Emirate nations were helping with the overthrow of the moderate Islamist Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Confused yet?  We're only just getting started.  Ever since Islamic State took advantage of the Sunni uprising in Iraq against what they saw as the sectarian central government to take over vast swaths of the country, enabling it to also grab a massive part of western Syria, such was the collapse of government authority there, a veritable smorgasbord of nations have decided the best way to defeat them is to drop bombs from a great height on their general position.  This roll call of countries includes the United States, Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UAE and France.  Technically we are yet to join in ourselves, but when you remember that British servicemen have taken part in sorties over the country and we felt the only way to protect ourselves from attacks on events that had already passed was to splatter some Islamic State morons across the Syrian desert via drone, you can basically include us also.

And now the Russians have joined in, only they are quite clearly intervening directly on the side of Assad.  For a few moments it looked as though the way was clearing for the sort of precursor to a peace initiative a few of us have long called for: to recognise that however terrible the crimes Assad has committed are, the only way to deal with Islamic State is to work with him and his forces, at least in the short term.  In exchange, Assad would be required to give up power once Islamic State had been defeated in Syria, but be allowed to remain a free man.  With Assad gone, a peace deal would hopefully then be easier to broker with the other rebel groups.  Free elections would follow, and so forth.  Yes, it's a plan with myriad problems that almost certainly wouldn't work, but it's a far more realistic one than all the others offered so far.  It seemed as if the arrival of new Russian weaponry and forces was to help purely with a renewed offensive against Islamic State, as suggested by the Syrians bombing targets they previously felt unable to.  That the Americans appeared to be acquiescing to this rather than complaining about it in the usual incredibly hypocritical style looked a good sign.

That today's first attacks by Russian planes seem to have targeted rebels other than IS rather undermines any lingering hopes on that score.  It could of course have been faulty intelligence, might have been merely an opening salvo designed to minimise any potential threat to the bases where the Russians are operating from, or it may be those on the ground are lying; any statement by rebel groups has to be treated with great caution, so often have they resorted to falsehoods.  More likely however is that this is just the start of a wider Russian offensive against all opposition to Assad.  Considering very few of the remaining rebel groups are "moderate" in the true sense of the word, this isn't the greatest tragedy.  What is a tragedy is the Russians have the same sense of compunction towards civilian casualties as everyone else, i.e. none.

Putin's motives are fairly transparent, as are the arguments being deployed.  All his forces are doing is going the extra mile the Americans and the rest haven't: attacking Islamic State from the air hasn't worked, so the next step has to be to coordinate with forces on the ground.  The Americans have effectively betrayed the Kurds who were playing that role, leaving only the Syrian army.  It's been apparent ever since the US airstrikes began that there is low-level plausibly deniable cooperation between the Syrians and the Americans, hence why there have been no unfortunate incidents in over a year of missions.  Why not simply make this formal, the Russians ask.

They have a point. Of course, these motives are far from pure: as much as the Russians do have more to fear from Islamic State than the Americans do, their intervention has the exact same downsides as ours in the region have.  It will likely increase the terrorist threat rather than decrease it, while the presence of Russians in the country will provide a further rallying cry for the jihadi recruiters.  Putin hopes an intervention that brings the end of the war closer will somewhat make up for the on-going conflict in Ukraine, raising the possibility of an early lifting of sanctions.  It also re-establishes Russia's influence in the region, building on the role played in the Iran nuclear programme negotiations.

Were Russia merely stepping up in this way, there would be little to protest about.  Clearly the hope of the Americans was the Russians were going to do what they weren't prepared to.  Instead, it looks as though there is no plan beyond propping up Assad indefinitely.  If there are to be joint operations with the Syrian military, there is no indication of them starting any time soon.  For a long time the harsh reality has been that we and our allies have been happy with a murderous stalemate in Syria.  Even now, as the refugee crisis is not really directly affecting us as it is the rest of Europe, we're still not especially bothered.  The only logic behind joining in with the bombing is for the sake of appearance; there's certainly no military necessity behind it.

With the Russians deciding to join the list of nationalities determined to make Syria even less liveable, the case for our getting involved becomes ever weaker.  Rarely has there been a case of a country already going through hell being fucked over so utterly by so many others.  The argument that only more war will solve the conflict applies only if that war targets Islamic State exclusively.  Russia's intervention seems likely only to result in yet more suffering.  And sadly, our hands are just as dirty as theirs.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015 

Now comes the hard bit.

Much as it pains me to say it, Jeremy Corbyn's first conference speech as Labour leader was without doubt worse than Ed Miliband's own debut effort 5 years ago.  Looking back at it now, Miliband's speech was pretty much the template of what it was thought a mass appeal political address should be: saying not too much but just enough about the speaker himself, acknowledging the public's concerns through the device of an ordinary voter whom the speaker had met, and attempting to deal with the worries of the audience in the hall and those of viewers at home.  Despite all this or rather because of it, as Miliband was never going to be able to pull off the Blair/Cameron bullshit act with the same panache, it just didn't work.  What at least read fine on the page failed in the delivery, which was nervous and stultifying.

Corbyn's speech also reads fine.  It's disjointed, there's no real overall theme, but it's solid.  There are some great passages, which we've since learned were borrowed from Richard Heller with his permission, and there's very little in it to disagree with.  Sadly, as haltingly delivered by Corbyn, with the same tripping over of words seen at PMQs and the other speeches since he was elected leader, it came across in much the same way, one level above shambolic.  Allowances can only go so far: it was apparently the first time Corbyn has used an autocue, the not being a consummate politician is part of his appeal, it won't matter as it'll be cut up for a 3-minute report on the news, and no one really pays attention to conference speeches in any case.

This is all true up to a point.  Cameron's conference speeches as prime minister have all been godawful and it hasn't done him the slightest harm.  Ed Miliband's subsequent speeches, especially his 2012 and 2013 efforts, were massively improved, and the price cap on energy prices policy subsequently set the political agenda.  Did it make a scrap of difference, and conversely did his "forgetting" about the deficit in 2014 have any great impact?  Again, probably not.  Minds were likely already made up by that point.

With Corbyn, they are very much yet to be.  Along with his first PMQs, this speech will be the beginning of voters making up their minds.  By no means will it be all bad: the difference between Corbyn and the political leaders of the other major parties could not be more stark.  An unspun man of experience who calls not just for a more caring society, but also for a kinder politics, demanding that the personal attacks cease.  A leader who laughs and makes bad jokes about press attacks on him.  A politician who doesn't want to impose his own view on the party, instead wanting debate to flourish and for advice to be given freely.  All are highly commendable and endearing qualities, likely to appeal.

The problem is the speech as a whole was directed at the hall itself, rather than anyone outside it.  Conference itself lapped it up, as they were always likely to; Tony Blair's shtick was to pick a different fight every year with his own party, and how different this was from those days.  Even Ed Miliband in his first speech recognised however that the battle was to win support not in the hall, but out in the country.  We lost 5 million votes he said, asking how the party could win them back.  He didn't have the answers, but at least he posed the question.  To be sure, Corbyn didn't hold back in taking the fight to the Tories, denouncing their cuts to tax credits, contrasting it with their choice to all but abolish inheritance tax, and throwing straight back at them their line on Corbyn and Labour being a threat to national and economic security.  Of the few new policies on offer, the pledge to look at making the self-employed eligible for maternity and paternity pay will no doubt be popular.

For those who stayed with the Tories or went to UKIP though, there was very little here to make them think again.  The politics of the last 5 years will almost certainly end up being defined by the Tory strategy of being as nasty as they could get away with being to the unemployed, immigrants, those on benefits and the poorest in society in general.  Rather than be embarrassed by the growth in food banks or the rise in zero hours contracts, Cameron shrugged it all off.  Moreover, so too did the voters: they might not have been voting for the Tory manifesto or for the UKIP policy of being arseholes to everyone specifically when they put their cross on the ballot, but do so they did.  They preferred the hateful, envious, kicking down politics of the right enough to give UKIP 4 million votes and for the Tories to win an overall majority.  For Corbyn to appeal for a kinder politics is certainly noble and welcome, but for it to actually happen?  At this point it would be almost to go against the very nature of the country we've become.  Sporadic outbursts of humanity aside, the default is nearly always to say no when the request for help comes.

As strong as Heller's lines then were about the Tories expecting the people of Britain to accept what they're given, the sad fact is that's precisely what they did.  Given the choice between what they saw as economic competence, regardless of the reality, and a Labour party they didn't trust, they opted for Osborne's self-defeating austerity and everything that goes with it.  In this respect, yesterday's speech by John McDonnell was far more successful, especially when all it really did was reheat Ed Balls' policies and announce a host of reviews.  Despite this it came across as credible, with all the steel that Balls' pronouncements had lacked.

Perhaps Corbyn felt McDonnell had covered those bases.  He might well have felt that he still needs to consolidate his power within the parliamentary party, extending his hand before he addresses how Labour goes about winning the next election.  He could be of the mind that first he needs to unite the left, drawing back Green defectors and any SNPers having second thoughts by making clear it's time to come home to a Labour party which shares their values.  Viewed on that basis alone, the speech was a success.

To give Corbyn the benefit of the doubt, it could be he simply doesn't yet have a strategy to win over undecided voters.  There's nothing wrong with that for the moment, not least when the only alternatives offered thus far have been to emulate the Tories more.  It does however only encourage the dullards who keep on repeating that Corbyn's supporters aren't interested in winning, not that they need any encouragement (I do nonetheless fear there is more than a smidgen of truth to Janan Ganesh's view that some of Corbyn's supporters are "comfortable").  To not so much as mention the defeat though, to recognise that the party was rejected and to examine the reasons as to why was an unforced mistake.

Corbyn has done the "easy" part.  He now needs to convince he can appeal beyond his natural constituency.  Not doing the bare minimum when he has so much goodwill is a failure he may live to regret.

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Monday, September 28, 2015 

If you go down to the Fuck Parade...

Cereal Killer cafe is not the cause of gentrification, nor can it instigate the solution.  Seriously, we just sell breakfast cereal.  Not your Aldi own brand rip-offs of Frosties or Shreddies either, we're talking the real deal, imported from all over the world.  Pure 100% grade A Strawberry Smiggles, Reese's Type 2 Diabetes Puffs, Hello Kitty Bukkake from Japan, Chairman Mao's Wheat Strips from China, you name it, we can get it.  Then we'll lovingly pour it in a porcelain dish with your choice from one of over 20 different varieties of liquid, dozens of toppings, and all at the low, low price of double a whole box of the stuff.

We can't then understand why anyone could possibly object to our little cafe.  Cereal selling boutique outlet we may be, but we are also far more than that.  We offer an experience you simply can't get anywhere else: breakfast in our eyes is not just the first meal of the day, it's a way of life.  Come down to Brick Lane and be transported back to your childhood, where a bowl of heavily processed sugar and chemicals was the be all and end all of existence.  The cafe is decorated with cereal memorabilia; what others might call the detritus of marketing past we view as a social history, the story of us, as experienced through the eyes of the Honey Monster.  We are extremely serious about breakfast cereal, and we know that many of our customers are as well.  We take much influence from the grandfather of breakfast cereals, John Harvey Kellogg, who believed that Corn Flakes could help the fight against masturbation.  We credit his thinking for my brother and I's beards, as without the distraction provided by our mission to serve only the finest of the world's maize offerings we would have realised how stupid we look long ago.

Our business is in essence a love letter to the commodifcation of childhood as being a halcyon period of wonder and happiness, as well as our failure to adjust to adulthood beyond the embracing of capitalism at its most decadent.  When then a protest terms itself the "Fuck Parade", and yet we did not see any sort of love on display, let alone the promised fucking, only sneering, visceral hate and bullying, we ourselves must object.  Those on the protests may have some valid points to make, not that we heard any or would recognise them as such if put to us, but frightening our customers and vandalising our cafe is not the way to go about doing so.  Frankly, they're 10 years late in any case: the gentrification boat in Shoreditch has long since sailed.  Why don't the organisers move just a little further north and smash the glass of businesses in Hackney itself?

I mean, why us?  What is it about two hirsute blokes selling infantile food to other similarly inclined middle class individuals and urban ironists that some middle class people find so terrible?  We don't take business from anyone else, as no one before us had quite such a horrific idea, and we in fact bring tourists and rubberneckers into Brick Lane who wouldn't have come otherwise.  £4 for a bowl of cereal isn't that bad compared to the price you'll pay for a pint, and we have the same overheads as everyone else.  We can't charge someone who doesn't look like our usual clientèle less purely on that basis, on the off chance they might ordinarily get their cereal from a food bank.  Why sneer at us when plenty of our critics think nothing of paying £10.00 for a falafel sandwich from Pret a Manger swilled down with the bottled tears of a Syrian child, or £500.00 for a pair of Versace Y-fronts?  Why didn't Class War target those conglomerates rather than a small business like ours?  It's snobbery, that's what it is.

My brother and I know poverty, having been brought up in Belfast.  Our parents scrimped and scraped to buy us Lucky Charms, instilling in us the virtues of hard work and sacrifice.  That's what Cereal Killers is about: working hard, playing hard, making life better for everyone.  It saddens us that others are too immature, too selfish, too blinded by an ideology motivated by theft and envy to see us for what we really are.

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Friday, September 25, 2015 

On repeat.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015 

Three ring circus sideshow of freaks.

People on social media, aren't they all a bunch of whining, quick to take offence charlatans totally unrepresentative of the wider public?  You'd be forgiven for thinking so, considering the number of thinkpieces as well as the occasional news article that consist almost entirely of "look at what these bastards said about my last missive advocating the drowning of the first born".  

At the weekend even the normally wonderful Marina Hyde dedicated her Graun column to mockery of the angry, vocal self-righteous shits in our midst, the people who are so enamoured with their chosen outsider they'll go so far as to get Alex Salmond or Nigel Farage inked on their skin.  Fairly easy targets, you might have thought.  That she did this just a week after writing one of the best responses to the Charlotte Proudman affair, comparing the creepiness of Proudman's flatterer describing his own daughter in sexualised terms with Donald Trump's repeated remarks that if his daughter wasn't his maybe he'd be dating her, was all the more surprising.

It does seem odd then that of all the people the Graun could have got to respond to Lord Sumption's worryingly complacent remarks on the representation of women in the judiciary, they decided on... Charlotte Proudman.  This is not to say there is anything much wrong with her article.  There isn't.   Nor was much wrong with her piece the previous week on the furore following her shaming of Alexander Carter-Silk for messaging her on Linked In to express his non-politically correct admiration for her "stunning" photo.  Generally, if you realise the message you're about to send isn't in the best taste, or wouldn't be acceptable as a part of saying hello in like, real life, you are deserving of the kind of response Proudman gave.

This said, and this is part of the reason I will probably never properly understand social media or the battle of egos and narcissisms that go hand in hand, there was no compelling reason to name Carter-Silk on Twitter as she did.  Her point about sexism, as well as her question about whether other women had received similarly objectionable messages regarding their physical appearance on the professional social network would have remained just as powerful with his identity blanked out.  Indeed, if anything it would have further highlighted her withering response to Carter-Silk, especially the cutting reference to his being twice her age.  It would also have helped to prevent the likes of the Mail then deriding Proudman and others like her who dare to object to unwanted advances as "feminazis", and everything else that followed on.

The media as ever wants to have its cake and eat it.  This week, columnist Lindy West encouraged women to #ShoutYourAbortion.  Whether you agree with that sentiment or not, I side completely with West when she says abortion needs to be safe, legal and accessible to everyone.  In her previous piece though, she took issue with an unfunny viral video titled Dear Fat People.  Again, more than fair enough.  Nicole Arbour's past work is characterised as slut-shaming, the video itself is fat-shaming, and so on.   West's response to this is simple: she is a far better person than Arbour because she fights for her regardless of what she thinks or says.  West's argument is nothing more than I'm brilliant and certain of my righteousness, and that's why you're wrong and in time will appreciate just how right I am.  West doesn't seem to have any problem with how Arbour's YouTube channel was temporarily removed after complaints, as she doesn't so much as mention it; perhaps this is because she realises that when discourse becomes reduced to characterising criticism or mockery as always being about shaming, demands for censorship are bound to follow.  Or it might be that West thinks that "shaming" is a perfectly appropriate response, so long as the shaming was started by the person being targeted.

When the usual cretins then reflect that however unpleasant it might be to be the centre of attention for a few days, to receive death threats and all the rest, if it gets you a regular gig in the media it can't be all bad, it's more and more difficult to argue against them.  Fact is that the "mainstream" media and social media have become interdependent; increasingly neither can operate without the other.  For all the complaints about trolls, people being zoomers and monomaniacs, the media wants more rather than fewer Katie Hopkins and Charlotte Proudmans.  The circle might be vicious, but it keeps on turning.

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