“As the support structures fell away from the Soyuz rocket, there was tension among everyone who had been following Mr Peake’s amazing journey. Then the engines fired up and the rocket soared into Baikonur’s clear skies on a column of flame.”
- BBC report, 15 December
Yes, the ‘first ever British man into space’.
We’ll ignore the British woman who did it 24 years ago. Dr Helen Sharman is mentioned in the report as having merely ‘visited’ the Mir space station, like a district nurse dropping in on an elderly patient for a cup of tea. She actually spent eight days in orbit, in far less luxurious circumstances. Several other Brits have been up before; one, Michael Foal, was half-American by birth, two took out US citizenship to work for NASA and the other two were ‘private individuals’, so they don’t count either.
This is former army test pilot Major Tim Peake and some Russian guy and a Yank, who has daringly been launched into the air on a column of flame to join three other crew orbiting aboard the International Space Station. Can’t be certain where they come from, foreigners probably.
Already, we’ve had a pretty solid week of interviews and TV documentaries about Major Peake and his amazing journey. After six months more of near-insane media gush, and some fireside careers chats with British schoolkids on the ground, he’s due to come down again, I make it sometime in May. Up, round a lot, down.
I don’t doubt that, given the number of launches that have failed – happily thus far with only inanimate cargo aboard – it takes some chutzpah to ride the Soyuz up to the ISS. Major Tim, as he’s being christened in the media with a brainless nod to the Bowie song character (an astronaut fatally stranded in space, not a great analogy), is doing something pretty risky. He knows that, his attractive wife and kids know that. We all know that, and wish him bon voyage.
But for him it’s a logical extension of his career as a pilot. A daring profession, yes, that has involved presumably quite a lot of risk already. The point being, you learn to manage risk, not deliberately court danger. This hardware costs money. He’s been training with the European Space Agency six years, he didn’t just win the X-Factor. Massive technological resources are poured into ensuring the safety of every mission, as far as possible.
He’s a cool dude, no doubt, and I don’t mean to take anything away from him. But the only difference I can see that marks him out from the many others who’ve done a tour of duty aboard the ISS, or visited the Moon, as a ‘Boy’s Own Paper’ British hero of our times, perched astride a column of flame, is his nationality.
This Post is therefore not about him.
It’s about the infantile, flagwaving, superpatriotic, insular nonsense of the British media, and how it’s one more reason why I really don’t want to be trapped on this backward-looking island when we vote next year to get out of Europe and slam the prison gates shut on the 65-odd million brainwashed, dribbling introverts, media baboons and Twitter account holders, with our 600 channels of TV blither, blather, porn and other absolute tosh that make up its inhabitants and our increasingly banal concerns.
At least we can say, Tim Peake himself is defying the banality of British life and raising our sights somewhat by doing something a bit unusual. His place on the ISS has, however, only been made possible because in 2012, Britain finally paid a few £million to join the European Space Agency – after many years of worrying that it has the word ‘Europe’ hidden in the name.
Lots of people do risky things. Entering my late sixties, I have to cross the busy main road outside my little house every day, several times a day, on a blind bend where I can’t see what’s coming more than 30 yards either way. No-one respects the 30 mph limit. Luckily I still have razor-sharp reflexes. It’s statistically (note: I did say ‘statistically’) more risky crossing the road than sitting on top of a Roman candle containing God-knows how many pounds of liquid oxygen, but because it’s something many of us disposable oldies have to do every day, it doesn’t cut the mustard in the hero stakes. Getting hit by a Cathedral City Cheese 32-tonner late for its next delivery being so much less romantic than flaming-out in the azure skies over liberal Kazakhstan, nicht war?.
“…the evening sun cast a warm glow on the Soyuz rocket that was to take Tim Peake on his first flight into space. Tim looked to be in good spirits as he got into his white Sokol flight suit earlier in the day – smiling, giving the press the thumbs up…”
- BBC report (I assume so. It might be a quote from ‘Biggles Rides a Column of Flame’.)
The British media are constantly looking for guys to slap that hard-to-wear ‘True Brit’ hero label on. It’s a product of the monstrous inferiority complex we’ve developed since we waved goodbye to the half of the world we once thought we owned. An empire that swivel-eyed demagogues like John Redwood, Liam Fox*, arch-Tory cunt Owen Patterson and political turncoat Douglas Carswell yearn to return to, away from those dastardly garlic-munchers who’ve stolen our precious sovereignty; away from all those hateful migrants, many of whom hail from… ah yes, one former British Mandate or other. They should know their place, then.
We conveniently ignore whose idea the EU and its dream of ‘ever-closer union’ – now a phrase translating in the power-hungry High Tory mindset simply as ‘treason’ – originally was.
Winston Spencer Churchill.
But he was half-American too, so he doesn’t count.
Nationalism, as I have bogld before, is almost as bad an idea as religion. Like God, borders really are all in the mind.
Ultimately, then, Major Tim is enjoying – as well as the adulation of the media and the admiration of Union flag-waving little proto-scientists down here – an unusual freedom we should envy. For the orbiting ISS, our man-made planetoid that has I’m told grown to the size of a soccer pitch, looks down on no borders; sees no nationalities or colors, no crazed religions and unbalanced ‘free trade’ agreements: only one frail blue world.
On board the ISS, from two hundred and forty miles up, amid an indiscriminately multinational crew, his being ‘British’ doesn’t matter a damn.
For the rest of us, it is sometimes an intolerable burden.
*I suggest you read the Wikipedia entry on the good Dr Fox. That’s if you should happen to need an enema. Could any other supposedly educated human being in existence support more rotten causes?
Careful what you shout for
What are we to make of the bloke who went berserk with a knife at a London Underground station, shouting something about IS – and the now viral, non-Muslim white man recorded inexplicably shouting back: ‘You ain’t no Muslim, bruv!’ Bruv? Whatev.
The association between any kind of violent assault and mention of a banned terrorist organisation might not automatically mean the assailant has any actual connection with organised terrorism. He, or she, may just be a deranged individual. Such attacks on random members of the public by mentally disturbed persons sadly happen from time to time: mental health services being as lousy as they are. Often, the poor unfortunates believe their actions to be directly ordered by God. Immediately terrifying, yet not politically motivated.
However, any assault involving mention of some proscribed affiliation is now grounds for an automatic, specialised anti-terror police response, probably leading to serious charges of plotting or promoting terrorism. Are we really so terrorised as a nation, 64 million-strong, by random actions affecting a tiny number of victims, their individual assailants armed only with kitchen knives and self-motivated to attack? Is this really equivalent to planting bombs in crowded subway cars and hijacking airliners?
Well, the story has dropped out of the news, especially in the wake of the Paris outrage. So perhaps we need reminding that over in Jerusalem there have been a large number of similar incidents lately in which Palestinian protestors have launched random, lethal knife attacks on Israeli civilians in public places; usually at the cost of their own lives. Israeli police take few prisoners.
It appears to be a co-ordinated campaign; yet it has no structure.
As I have bogld elsewhere, it’s my totally uninformed and speculative belief that much of today’s global terrorism has behind it, the dispersed command of the former PLO, the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Discounting the long and tangled history of the Crusades; the overtaking of the corrupt Almoravid caliphate in Spain by the Almohads, puritanical forerunners of the Taliban; the exploits of the Fi’dai – the feared 12th-century Ismaili terror cult of the ‘Assassins’ (based in Syria); all the later sectarian groups arising from bitter rifts and schisms in Islam; disregarding the rise of the criminal, so-called Islamic State, the almost 70-years-old Israel-Palestinian conflict is very probably still the main driver of Middle East-exported terrorism today.
It seems likely – and again, I speak from a platform of blissful ignorance, closeted out of the rain in my garden shed – that the organisers and movers of terrorist outrages designed to demoralise and destabilise their enemies have in Western countries at least largely exhausted the obvious avenues of aircraft and ship hijackings, bombings and gun attacks. Our intelligence-led defences have got too good; groups are infiltrated, plots foiled, the supply of weapons disrupted.
Crucially, communications intercepts and surveillance technologies are making life more difficult for the internet generation of terrorists. Thus a ‘DIY’ mentality seems to be catching on, under a general ordinance just to ‘do what you can, wherever and with whatever comes to hand – just don’t talk to us first’. The days of interceptable plots by networked terrorist cells are probably over.
The massacre by a mixed-nationality married couple of fourteen people at a drop-in centre in San Bernardino made no sense in terms of targeting, and seemed to have no connection to any chain of command going back to Syria or Afghanistan; but produced evidence that the perpetrators were previously unsuspected, radicalised Islamists – sleepers – sympathetic to the aims of the IS. They were able to arm themselves heavily thanks to America’s non-existent gun laws, and suffered a satisfactory martyrdom at the hands of the local cops, ensuring a propaganda victory their cowardly act scarcely deserved.
Significantly, the woman – a Saudi national – had made attempts to contact IS, but her calls were ignored.
The fear must now be that IS and other groups are going off-line, dropping beneath the radar. Strategically, they can enjoy a good laugh watching the Western nations running around spending ever-more millions of public money and pissing everyone off monitoring our trivial, day-to-day conversations, our rancid blog posts; spying from on-high on our innocent, non-radicalised populations; while offering an untraceable blanket benediction to any fruitcake nutty enough to pull off some small but well-publicised stunt in an underground station before the fascinated gaze of the Smart personalised-media community, who will handle the public relations for them.
This tactic effectively turns us all into either police, terrorists or media. They are stealing our innocence. It’s almost impossible to counter; it is not even, in terms of casualties on a nationwide scale, that serious – other than for the immediate victims and their families. But (like the seemingly random attack on the beach at Sirte in Tunisia, in which 39 holidaymakers died) it can happen anywhere, to anyone, at any time. It will lead to more armed police on the streets and in public places; more surveillance, more fear, more forbidden holiday destinations and annoying flight delays, more late cancellations of public celebrations, more paranoia.
And it costs the real terrorists nothing. All they need do in the wake of Paris is make a phone call.
Paris Blues #2
I raised the topic of the attacks in Paris with our French teacher. She agreed we were grownup enough to discuss the issue. The following week she brought in a comprehension exercise consisting of excerpts from two published articles.
From which I drew the conclusion, yet again, that we have to stop this lazy and unhelpful media habit of viewing every nasty event in isolation. They’re not just random acts of ‘evil’ that come out of nowhere.
Paris has been the site of numerous outrages down the years; from bombings in the 1950s by disaffected rightwing French ex-servicemen and politicians covertly opposing Algerian independence, more than a dozen attacks on Turkish-owned businesses by ethnic Armenians, to the pro-Shah Iranian train-bombing campaign masterminded in the 1970s by the freelance Venezuelan terrorist Illich Ramirez Sanchez – aka Carlos the Jackal.
Not to mention the gruesome événements of 1793…. Excluding three-quarters of the aristocracy, then, over 1,000 people have been killed or injured in terrorist outrages in Paris since WW2.
Along with cultural complexity, liberty and freedom of thought (and some of the rudest waiters in the world), it seems, comes Nemesis in the form of those who would impose a new Dark Age in the West.