The Pumpkin, Issue 61: Cheeseburger dreams… Why is my brain disintegrating so?…GW: blow me down and frazzle me sideways

Quote of the week:

“Wine is not an investment if you drink it as soon as you buy it.” (Former managers suing Johnny Depp claim he has ‘compulsive spending disorder’. Seems perfectly sound to me.)


“Look out chaps, it’s the long arm of the law!” (Photo BBC)

“It’s beginning to look like a one-man production of Macbeth.”

Cheeseburger dreams….

So much of the reporting around the affairs of Trump and his frankly scummy-looking business interests is effectively buried by his daily more atrocious antics and lost from sight.

The Washington Post today (24 Aug) for instance is forced to go to the trouble of dismantling his diversionary attack on South Africa where, he believes, white farmers are being killed for their land as a matter of government policy: another “dog whistle” of encouragement to American racists on a claim entirely bereft of truth or facts, a story based on the alternative truths and facts plugged by Mr Tucker Carlson of Fox News.

This nonsense is eating up some of the newstime that would otherwise be devoted to his imbecilic interview on Fox & Friends in which Trump says he knows stuff because he watches lots of TV, illegal campaign donations in the form of hush money are “not a crime” (because it was his own money!), he barely knew his attorney for ten years, and if he were to be impeached the economy would collapse because it all derives from his thought process (pointing to his head!).

And then in the middle of the night he apparently woke up and tweeted just this: “NO COLLUSION! RIGGED WITCH HUNT!” in all-caps, before falling back into an uneasy slumber. Cheeseburger dreams….

It’s beginning to look like a one-man production of Macbeth.

No-one seems to know what scandal, if any, will eventually bring him down. His support base continues to greet his rambling, dissembling, self-pitying rally speeches with rapturous applause; despite, or more probably because of, their increasingly repetitious nature. “Witch hunt!”… “Crooked Hillary!”… “Fake Nooze!”… “Lock her up!” And now, “Truth isn’t Truth”… They really don’t care what he is or says, so long as he is not what they had before. Only he is, but worse….

Reading through a Post from April 2017, The Pumpkin happened across a commentary we had written about one of the many shady byways of the Trump business empire; citing a report on The Intercept by investigative journalist, Alan Nairn that his then Director of Deregulation, the self-deregulating, asset-stripping billionaire and Wolf of Wall Street, Carl Icahn, was attempting to foment a rebellion to depose the president of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, to prevent him imposing environmental controls on his mining interests, in favour of a business ally of Trump’s; and that to this end he was backing a local militia associated with the Islamic State.

The alarming nature of the assertion seems to have passed everyone by; the rebellion appears not to have got very far, but Trump’s business interest in the region is still ongoing

“Mr. Hary (full name Hary Tanoesoedibjo) attended Mr. Trump’s inauguration last year and stayed at his Trump International Hotel in Washington. He also arranged for two Indonesian power brokers to meet with Mr. Trump in Trump Tower, including the then-Parliament speaker, Setya Novanto, who was sentenced last month to 15 years in prison for his part in embezzling more than $170 million from a national identity card program.

“Mr. Trump has reported receiving between $2 million and $10 million in royalties from the project.” – NYT, 15 May 2018.

You see, it’s not just Russia.

A book out this month by a conservative former Republican party strategist, Rick Wilson, is titled: “Everything Trump touches dies”, which may be true, although the best that can be said for him (so far) is that the Orange Don has never been accused of actually rubbing anyone out, preferring symbolic acts of execution by lethal tweet.

Certainly, every business deal Trump touches via his globally active Trump Organization (props. pro tem., Donald Jr, Eric and Ivanka Trump) does seem to be accidentally peripheral to the most astounding criminality and corruption: deals like the notorious Trump Baku, Azerbaijan hotel project, hastily abandoned; its financing linked by the excellent Adam Davidson, staff writer at The New Yorker magazine, via corrupt local kleptocrat, Zia Mammadov to a proscribed terrorist organization, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard; and a Trump Georgia, Black Sea development involving two local oligarchs accused of lending each other money via a bank they secretly owned together.

He does seem to have bad luck with his business partners.

Trump’s involvement licensing his name to the billionaire Hary Tanoesoedibjo’s project (fingers in many pies and political aspirations) to build a ‘6-star’ leisure resort 50 miles south of Jakarta, complete with two golf courses, formed the basis of a report in the New York Times last May, quoted above; and may have led to a curiously anomalous decision he made to order his Commerce Secretary, the reportedly profoundly corrupt* oligarch and Trump family consigliere, Wilbur Ross, to lift sanctions specifically on a Chinese tech company, WZT, linked with the financing of the project.

For he was caught on the horns of a dilemma, hoist with his own petard, pick any self-destructive metaphor you like, when his cynical and retributive trade war with China began to conflict directly with his business interest, as far as Chinese investment (as part of President Xi’s ambitious “Belt and Road” global development initiative) was concerned.

Had he the education, Trump might well have adopted The Sun King, Louis X1V’s slogan, “L’État, c’est moi” (I am the State). For just as he seems to imagine the government works for him, and the Justice Department ought to, his America First! foreign policy seems inextricably entangled with his personal business ambitions.

As Mother Jones reported in January 2017:

“…when it comes to his own business deals, Trump’s actions don’t exactly align with his hawkish rhetoric. In the past, he has tried repeatedly to land big real estate deals in China with state-run Chinese companies as partners. He’s sought access to China’s famously tricky business markets—even for his reality TV show, The Apprentice.

“Trump still owes potentially hundreds of millions in debt to one massive, state-run Chinese bank, while leasing a floor of Trump Tower office space in Manhattan to another….”

If it is not a conflict of interest for the President of one country, who personally owes half a billion dollars to a State-owned bank in another, to impose arbitrary and punitive trade tariffs on that other country, I can’t really say what might be.

Of course, his famous MAGA hats and many of Ivanka’s “fashion” range items are cheaply made in China, putting America First!; while Mr Xi has been generous in ensuring that recognition of their many trademark applications has been prioritized in his commerce department, a process that normally takes Westerners years to battle through.

It’s a complicated relationship.

Amid the furore that has been caused by his personal lawyer and bagman, Michael Cohen’s guilty plea this week, implicating Trump under oath as a co-conspirator to make illegal payments out of campaign funds to silence two of Trump’s former mistresses; the Manafort trial, and the lawyerly gossip on the TV news panels about indictments and impeachment: who’s spilling their guts to the Mueller investigation, and what they might be saying, these dubious international activities involving possible breaches of the foreign Emoluments clause – essentially, the President’s employment contract forbids him from making undeclared earnings abroad – sanctions-busting, and money-laundering have simply got buried.

Today, however, MSNBC is reporting that while it may prove tricky to indict a sitting president on felony charges, a tidal wave is building from the New York Attorney-General’s office, based largely on the vast amount of evidence on paper and “tapes” seized in the FBI’s raids on Cohen’s properties, against Trump’s tax-exempt charity foundation and its trustees, Don Jr, Eric and Ivanka, for illegal use of funds in a variety of ways you may find already sourced in previous Posts on this website and extensively elsewhere.

As Rachel Maddow observes, if they can’t get at Trump himself, they can certainly get at his businesses, his “charities” and his children….

It now appears that when Trump reimbursed Cohen for the $130 thousand payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, there is paper evidence and a signature to show he ordered the money to come out of his private charity foundation; a “tape” has him telling Cohen to “pay cash”…. thus linking two technically illegal payments he ought not to have made to the benefit of his own election campaign. Observers have also noted that Trump may have lied when he said he had no prior knowledge of the payment, since he so clearly did.

Cohen was subpoena’d again yesterday (22 Aug) to explain the Foundation’s activities to the tax authorities, as he had apparently arranged the repayments by instalments as tax-deductible expenses (!). He was reportedly on the phone to the IRS personally within minutes, asking for a meeting (he’s out on bail pending sentencing on the illegal campaign donations charges).

Trump, as we know, personally coughed up $25 million in advance of the election to buy off a New York district court arraignment on the matter of the bogus Trump University, in compensation payments to litigants who had been cheated of fees of up to $35 thousand apiece in exchange for a meaningless paper “degree” in real-estate management. The Pumpkin anticipates soon learning where that payment may really have come from, given Trump’s famous reluctance to actually pay any bill from his own pocket.

Then, charges in 2016 of misrepresentation in the matter of property sales against Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, were mysteriously made to go away. As a trustee of his Foundation, who presumably therefore authorized the illegal payments, Trump’s favorite daughter may not be so lucky this time.

And that will surely drive the beleaguered President out of his tiny Chinese mind.



TYT reports that Trump has tweeted his delight that 90 per cent of Republicans (about 35 per cent of all voters) approve the job he’s doing and “52 per cent overall”. It’s all a bit sad, really, as the poll he’s quoting actually says 52 per cent overall think he’s doing a terrible job. But again he accuses the fake news media of lying about his numbers.

Two truths.


Why is my brain disintegrating so?

“Air pollution causes a “huge” reduction in intelligence, according to new research…. It found that high pollution levels led to significant drops in test scores in language and arithmetic, with the average impact equivalent to having lost a year of the person’s education. … The longer people were exposed to dirty air, the bigger the damage to intelligence, with language ability more harmed than mathematical ability and men (especially over 65) more harmed than women.”

– From a report in The Guardian, 28 Aug.

Long ago and far away, I had a job writing a three-minute news bulletin and broadcasting it on the hour, with a slimmed-down set of headlines on the half-hour. Dutifully, I would scour my limited range of sources of stories, national and international, and put out a fresh script every hour, to maintain the listeners’ interest.

The listeners being some 20 thousand workers, mostly from ethnic minority communities, within a group of factories baking biscuits and small cakes for the grocery trade, trapped at their workstations standing seven hours a day next to a loudspeaker shared between two. (The idea had been sold to the directors by a small firm manufacturing loudspeakers.)

The factories operated a three-shift system around the clock. The rest of the station’s 24-hour output consisted of pop, bhangra and soul music, including requests; creative “infomercials”, which the rotating team of ten presenters (and sometimes me) wrote and produced, encouraging safety and hygiene, and the occasional management announcement – although those were few, as a matter of policy the management were to be seen to be as hands-off as possible. So innovative were we, the New Musical Express began publishing our “chart” every week, based on the numbers of requests we received.

My own shift ran from 6 a.m. to 6.15 p.m, Monday to Friday, and from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, with one week’s holiday a year. My commute to work was 12 miles on a 50cc Honda, and the pay was £21 a week. After a year or so I was crazy with lack of sleep, but had become so adept at this extreme endeavor that I was able to concentrate between bulletins on more important things, namely the attempting of cryptic crosswords.

My ambition became to complete the main cryptic crosswords in three serious newspapers: The Times, The Telegraph and The Guardian, by lunchtime. Occasionally I was successful, oftentimes not. But by teatime, after another year had gone by I could usually manage all three.

You need a modicum of intelligence, a good wit, a little deviousness and – helpfully – a classical education to do cryptics. But mainly, you just need to learn a few simple rules that all crossword compilers feel bound to follow; standard verbal tics and tricks that point you towards the method by which to solve each individual clue.

An anagram, for instance, might be signposted by the word “scrambled”, or “confused” in the clue, telling you to look for a combination of letters of the right length. The rest of the clue will define the word you need for the answer. It helps, too, if you have solved another clue whose “lights” (the white squares) intersect, giving you at least one letter to work with.

Now approaching my 70th year I live, as your Uncle Bogler has frequently moaned, in a tiny cottage* of just four rooms, set back within a few feet of a thundering arterial road in the outskirts of a bustling seaside town. As time goes by, the volume of traffic, alternately speeding and static depending on the time of day and the season of the year, both private and commercial, continues to grow beyond intolerable proportions; there being a desperate need for a bypass no-one has the political will or the cash to have built.

During the seven years I have been here, six of them spent in a vain attempt to sell the place to somebody better suited to the urban life, I realize as my health, both physiological and mental, deteriorates that environmental factors have been playing a significant part in my rapid disintegration. Not the least of them, the unpreventable leakage of artificial sunshine from three of the new, daylight halogen units sleep-deprivingly blazing all night outside my bedroom.

Where last year, as an actor of growing repute, I was still hurling myself about the stage with joyful abandon, in the course of the last six months I have gone blind in one eye – twice – with limited success in having the sight surgically restored; while I am now catheterized and strapped to a bag, occasionally pissing down my leg or bleeding alarmingly, as the result both of an oversized prostate having cut off the normal flow of urine, and of there being only one part-time urologist serving the elderly population of the entire county, whose waiting-list stretches to the gates of Eternity.

Last March, I endured my first proper streaming head-cold in as many years as I can remember, with a cough that settled on my chest and persisted into June. All last year I had a condition ironically known as “dry eye”, where one’s eyes are continually weeping; and some inscrutable digestive problem that would wake me regularly at 6.30 a.m. with a sharp gnawing sensation like rats tunneling their way out of my gurgling abdomen, regardless of what time I had eaten the night before, that could only be relieved by adopting the foetal position.

To add to all that has been an increase in aches and pains and localized vague feelings of unwellness, especially in the area of the kidneys, only partly relieved by replacing my mattress last week with a firmer one; and a persistent breathlessness unrelated to any exertion. Clearly, there is pollution: as I observe the sky over our little river valley that often appears bright and sunny, with a little effort beneath the dome of cerulean blue can be discerned a supporting arch of brown.

But it is your Uncle’s mental state that is giving him concern; and thus, the report with which we began this item, has both relevance and reassurance. Paranoid, riddled with anxieties, fearful of travel beyond the home and a small selection of familiar byways, wearing, as I have remarked, a groove in the world; unable to concentrate, fixated on YouTube and the horror in the White House, my mind is disintegrating: not because it is rapidly aging, or as a result of its consumption of alcohol, but obviously because its host is being slowly poisoned by the endless stream of bloody cars, all going nowhere important, and huge 32-tonne, 16-wheeler lorries blocking out the sky, heading for the town’s supermarkets, the dust from their brakes leaving an ash-gray coating over everything; the fronts of the houses black with soot from their filthy exhausts.

As it happens, I have not tried to do a crossword for some years now, and have gone rusty. Last night, turning idly to the inside back-page of my copy of The Oldie magazine on my bedside table, the allure of the “Moron” standard puzzle proved too great and I decided to have a go. I completed it in about ten minutes, despite making a significant error that held me back on the last two clues for a further half-hour.

Abandoning it unfinished, I switched out the light and settled down to sleep; and a minute later, switched the light back on as the solution to the last clue had immediately proposed itself. Encouraged by this success, I turned then to the “Genius” level cryptic puzzle, of the kind that long ago I would have eaten for breakfast.

Dear Readers, Spammers, Likers, etc., I was immediately baffled by the absence of several clues that should have been given in numerical order. The numbers were missing. I managed to get a few easy ones, but nothing would lead to anything else. The setters have been getting cleverer. I have never been a great reader of instructions, so I now turned to the top of the page to see what on earth was going on, and found the following paragraph:

“This year marks the 200th anniversary of the creation of a work by a person whose name is given by three unclued entries. Each of eight clues consists of definitions of two words of different lengths; in each case, one letter is removed from the longer word to create the shorter one, which is the answer to be entered in the grid. Solvers (who they? Ed.) should place the removed letters outside the grid, in the positions they would occupy if the grid were extended, to reveal the first word of the title’s work in English….” And so on.

By this time, my addled brain was swimming. It was as if I were being asked to assemble a chest of drawers from Ikea, without an Allen key and blindfold. I read and re-read the words, but they still made no sense.

I have long given up reading books, especially with small print, as I had become bored with reading and re-reading the same paragraph, over and over again, completely unable to absorb its meaning. Now here was a complex set of instructions, telling me I needed to solve clues without being given the clues, or even the numbers of the clues…. I just could not compass it, things being made worse possibly by the bottle of well-chilled Chardonnay with which I had washed down my frozen battered cod balls-and-chips, followed by a nightcap.

With many groans, I awoke at all the usual times, toddling off to the bathroom by the light of the street lamps, my “night bag” trailing on the floor behind me – for some silly reason nothing percolates while I am lying down, I still have to get up and go, assisted by the force of gravity and a painful contraction or two.

At 6.30 I grit my teeth and assume the foetal position as the rats awake and begin to gnaw. No more clues have answered themselves in the night, nothing stirs in the addled brain as the noise of the early morning traffic, by whose growing volume I can pretty accurately tell the time, begins to assume rush-hour proportions.

I switch on the Today program at three minutes to seven, to catch the weather. And there on the news is the story of the Chinese research, the pollution and the brain-damage, and I turn over and shut my eyes tight, scarce daring to breathe the polluted air, hoping to avoid hearing yet another interview with Iain Cunting-Smith giving his vast and airy opinions of gang warfare on London’s streets, his disastrous welfare reforms or his beloved fucking Brexit, the moron, feeling the hard plastic tube tugging painfully on my bladder as I have forgotten it is there, entangled in my aching legs – hoping for some release.

*I have also recently read that the average new-build home is only two square meters larger in surface area than my “tiny” Victorian laborer’s cottage. I am giddy with a sense of space.


Infrared image: Hurricane Lane (below, in red, green and blue). Tiny Big Island, above, centre – in outline.

GW: blow me down and frazzle me sideways

Hurricane Lane: the story so far

Wednesday 22: “The (absolutely enormous) Category 4 storm is barrelling towards Hawaii with savage winds of up to 156mph and is expected to hit the southwestern tip of Big Island at around 7pm BST tomorrow (8am local time), 24 Aug. Emergency services are on high alert and officials have warned of “significant impacts” even if the hurricane does not directly hit Hawaii.” (Express) (Actually, part of the threat posed by Lane is that it’s moving at only 6 mph and will consequently hang around dumping rain for many hours.)

Already, p.m. 23 Aug, heavy rain has caused landslides and a number of roads have been closed. The US navy has evacuated its ships from Pearl Harbor and has them standing by at sea ready for emergency relief efforts. Governor David Ige has complained: “Lane is not a well-behaved storm”. That’s saying something. (UPI) “Overall, we can expect widespread 10” to 20” amounts, as already observed on the eastern Big Island, and we would not be shocked to see a few localized storm totals in the 30” – 50” range.” (Bob Henson, Wunderground)

Ten to 20-in rain fell on Big Island in advance of the hurricane arriving. (Photo: Jessica Hendricks, AP, via Wunderground)

Friday 24: “As if the Lane situation weren’t complex enough, a new disturbance about 300 miles to the east developed enough convection and spin on Thursday to be classified as Invest 95C.” (Wunderground) This growing tropical storm could eventually catch up and merge with the outer bands of Lane, which is rapidly weakening at the centre, to produce even greater rainfall totals over the Hawaiian islands.

Saturday 25: “Hurricane Lane … continued to trigger an array of havoc across the Hawaiian Islands. Torrential rains were spreading northward across Oahu to Maui after Lane’s outer rainbands dropped more than 30” on parts of the Big Island, where flooding was described by the Central Pacific Hurricane Center as “catastrophic”. Meanwhile, “two fast-moving wildfires broke out on Friday in the drier downslope flow along Maui’s west coast, causing at least one injury (covering 300 acres).” (Wunderground).

Thousands of homes have been left without power. Apparently, only surfers were having a good time on the 30-foot storm surge, but upper-level wind shear conditions and the glancing blow on land have ripped Lane to bits and with maximum windspeeds now below 70 mph the monster storm has been downgraded to a very wet remnant TS. A threat of flooding from the Ala Wai canal in downtown Honolulu still remains.

Update, 26 Aug: downgraded to TD. Huge hurricane just fizzles out! “Peak rainfall totals on the eastern Big Island topped 40” at three stations, adding up to amounts that are among the highest ever observed in a tropical cyclone in the 50 U.S. states. – the highest rainfall thus far, as reported by, was at Mountain View, in the higher elevations of the Big Island, which received 51.53 inches of rain from 22 – 26 Aug (72 hr total). Less damage than expected.” (Wunderground)

Meanwhile, Tropical Depression Invest 95C was last reported (23 Aug) 550Km SE of Honolulu. (Meteoi) Bob Henson at Wunderground writes that the slow-to-start Atlantic hurricane season is entering its normally busiest period with depressions starting to move out of Africa unable as yet to achieve spin due to high winds in the upper atmosphere, but sea temperatures are rising and wind-shear weakening and it is only a matter of time before “Florence” (the first name available) is bound to form as a potentially dangerous Cape Verde hurricane.

Japan: Typhoon Soulik crossed over Honshu island Wednesday 23 Aug on its way to batter Korea. President Moon Jae-in called local governments to get ready for the powerful storm and take all necessary actions to keep people safe. Behind it, Typhoon Cimaron made landfall in the Tokushima Prefecture of Japan and is moving on across the island of Shikoku towards Honshu. (Express, UPI and others.) Associated Press reported one death and one injury from Soulik in South Korea, although a change in direction spared the capital; while hundreds of flights were cancelled across western Japan. Remnants of Lane may follow the same trajectory later next week.

Taiwan: “7 people have died as a result of torrential rain and flooding, 23-26 Aug, including 3 who died in the city of Kaohsiung when scaffolding fell from a building. As many as 116 people were injured and around 6,000 people were evacuated. …numerous locations recorded more than 700 mm of rain in 24 hours and some over 900 mm.” (Floodlist)

Afghanistan: “at least 11 people have died in flash floods in the eastern province of Kunar, along the border with Pakistan. Eight of the victims were from the same family. The flooding also damaged farmland, livestock and crops”. (Floodlist)

USA: Up to 15.3 inches of rain fell on Dane County, near Madison, Wisconsin in one 24-hour period, 20 to 21 Aug. Flash flooding closed roads and damaged properties. (Floodlist)

Sudan: “Heavy rains since mid-July have caused severe flooding. As many as 8,900 families have been displaced. As of 16 August the floods and rain had left at least 23 people dead, over 60 injured and affected more than 70,000 people in 7 different states.” (Floodlist)

Germany: A major forest fire has broken out near the capital. “The blaze, which began on Thursday afternoon (23 Aug), spread quickly overnight to engulf 400 hectares (1,000 acres) of forest between the Brandenburg town of Treuenbrietzen and village of Jüterborg, 39 miles (63km) south-west of the German capital, Berlin.” (Guardian) Firefighters are being hampered by unexploded munitions dating from WW2, while a thick plume of smoke has drifted over Berlin itself and residents are being told to stay indoors.

Wildfires: a look at The Weather Channel map of global wildfires might be concerning, I have no idea. Without commentary it looks like half the world is on fire right now. Brazil, for instance, is just one solid blob of orange location markers. Is this normal for August? You judge:

Everybody off…

The “Ring of Fire” Pacific rim disturbances are continuing.

Five days after the record M7.1 in Venezuela, “discredited” earthquake predictor (80%-plus success rate, USGS now privately using his methods) “Dutchsinse” reports on the largest-ever deep earthquake to arrive under South America, a M7.1 600Km beneath the Peru/Ecuador border, in the ostenosphere below the S America tectonic plate. He warns of the danger of a shallower M8 next to the same location within 6-10 days.

While reporting this event, Mr Janitch notes a unusually large M5.0 arriving live next to the fracking operations in Colorado, just south of Yellowstone, and a M3.0 in the English channel.

He speculates about a global disturbance event.

Yellowstone: USGS reporting a number of springs drying up or at low water, boiling. The Blessed Mary draws our attention to “drumbeats” and harmonic tremors on the seismographs, continuing ground uplift, disturbing volume of rising magma, outgassing of helium and SO2.

02 Sep., she reports, the Steamboat Geyser, biggest in the park,  has erupted for the 16th time this year. The largest number of times it has erupted in an entire year before was 3 in 2003. Park director, Michael Poland has reassured her, geyser eruptions are perfectly normal

Malta: Gateway to the Mediterranean (just don’t hire a car)… Computer News: Where in the world am I? … Your old Granny W. sploshes in galoshes … End of Everything, Update … Afterthought: And where do you come from?

“Her uncompromising blog and scathing pen spared no punches, hitting out mainly at exponents of the ruling Labour Party and their supporters, but also sometimes criticising officials of the centre-right Nationalist Party, including its newly-elected leader.”

Malta: Gateway to the Mediterranean (just don’t hire a car)

So writes Herman Grech, online editor of The Times of Malta, following a powerful car bomb explosion at the weekend in which former Times reporter and political blogger, Daphne Caruana Galizia was blown to bits outside her home, in a rental car.

Daphne Galizia: had promised to reveal the ownership of a company involved in a possibly corrupt power station contract.

Ms Galizia has been an outspoken critic of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat since his name popped up in the 2015 release of The Panama Papers, suggesting that he and his wife had been corruptly salting away money paid to him by Azerbaijan in offshore companies.

To remind viewers and listeners, the Panama Papers were 11 million documents leaked from the offices of the law firm, Mossack Fonseca, detailing the setting up of tens of thousands of virtually untraceable shell companies to hide money in places like the British Virgin Islands, whom God recently punished with a hurricane.

“While offshore business entities are legal, reporters found that some (actually, rather a lot. Ed.) of the Mossack Fonseca shell corporations were used for illegal purposes, including fraud, tax evasion, and evading international sanctions.” (Wikipedia)

Weeping copious crocodile tears, Mr Muscat went on televisual record as saying:

“I condemn without reservations this barbaric attack on a person and on the freedom of expression in our country.”

And we must take him at his word. Although, it ought to be said, Mrs Galizia knew how to make enemies.

The one thing one doesn’t get from this BBC News story is any sense of who might have perpetrated the outrage in a supposedly peaceable part of the world where such things don’t normally happen; although Malta’s strategic ‘crossroads’ location 60 miles off the Libyan coast and former Arab history, together with its latter status for many years as a British dominion have for centuries made it a hotbed of espionage and intrigue.

Grech’s Times of Malta Online piece doesn’t appear to dare to venture even a hint of a suggestion, but instead sprays out a list of people Galizia might have pissed-off, including some she might not have, i.e. politicians opposed to the government of Dr Muscat. Only…

What is going on?

The US State department’s official website, while being unable to correctly spell ‘Assad’, the name of the President of Syria, nevertheless generously praises Azerbaijan for its co-operation on international terrorism and its opposition to: “terrorist organizations seeking to move people, money, and material through the Caucasus”.

That would presumably not include the Trump Organization’s friends, the Iranian National Guard Corps, whose money (according to The New Yorker magazine) moved through a failed Trump hotel development in the Azeri capital, Baku, part-financing an improbable project being managed by Trump daughter, Ivanka, in partnership with local oligarch and notoriously corrupt ‘family business’ boss, Zia Mammadov.

As “Trump said” (or someone did, he can’t string two words together):

“Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku represents the unwavering standard of excellence of The Trump Organization and our involvement in only the best global development projects,” Trump said when the venture was announced in 2014. “When we open in 2015, visitors and residents will experience a luxurious property unlike anything else in Baku—it will be among the finest in the world.” (Mother Jones)

Despite the ringing endorsement, the project (in a down-at-heel suburb of the capital) got dumped before Trump’s election. Nevertheless, many Western countries have flocked to oil-rich Azerbaijan and its hospitable (although not to journalists or political opponents) President Ilham Aliyev. The BBC reported:

“Deals with international energy producers have allowed the country to use its energy revenues to create a government-run fund involved in international projects … Despite its wealth and increased influence in the wider region, poverty and corruption continue to overshadow the country’s development.”

Maltese cars seem to have a distressing habit of exploding. In October last year, local Buggiba businessman John Camilleri was assassinated in a powerful explosion that only narrowly missed a passing school bus full of children. Again, in reporting the incident the Times of Malta curiously avoided any of the normal press speculation as to the reason behind the attack, or to describe Mr Camilleri as anything other than the proprietor of a bathroom-tile business; but merely concentrated on its own – and the government politicians’ – handwringing.

So much for “freedom of expression”.

In January 2016, a person “registered as a fisherman”, local boat-owner “Martin Cachia, 56, from Marsascala, who has a pending court case in connection with human trafficking, according to sources”, as anyone might, was blown up and died when his car crashed into a wall. While in September 2016, an unnamed man “not well-known to the police” was seriously injured in another car bombing in Mosta, losing both legs, and his passenger also injured; a third man was injured in his car as he was passing by.

How normal is it for a national newspaper not even to try to identify any of the three victims of an attempted murder, or to speculate on who might have been behind it, but merely to drop huge clues to local people as to the identity of the main target? What are journalists afraid of, we wonder?

Just what is going on in tiny island Malta?

Well, if you Google ‘organized crime in Malta’ you get only the results of an optimistic, anodyne official inquiry covering burglaries and suchlike, that makes no reference whatsoever to targeted assassinations. Self-censorship seems to reach up from the press into the higher echelons of government and law-enforcement. The European Union, of which Malta is a relatively new member, is silent on the subject.

But not everyone is afraid to speak out, provided they do so under conditions of anonymity. On 16 October, 2017 The Independent online (UK) among others reported on the Galizia murder:

“A politician said her death marked the “collapse of the rule of law” in Malta, the smallest (country) in the European Union. Tributes to Galizia poured in on Monday evening, as thousands of Maltese gathered in the streets for a candlelight vigil to the reporter.  Galizia is believed to have just published the last post on her widely read blog, Running Commentary, just before leaving her house (in) Mosta, a town outside the capital Valletta.”

“There are crooks everywhere you look now,” she had written, “the situation is desperate.”

In advance of his second visit to Azerbaijan in four months, to attend a conference where he was due to mingle with such luminaries as the peace-prizewinning war criminal, Henry Kissinger, Dr Muscat’s people were less than forthcoming in response to enquiries by The Times of Malta (who weren’t invited on the official junket): “Dr Muscat (is) committed to continue to do work to bring more investment and jobs to Malta.”

At what cost?

The traffic is, of course, not just one-way. Azerbaijan’s foreign affairs minister, Elmar Mammadyarov visited Malta for three days last week, conceivably to discuss an ongoing project involving Azeri state oil and gas company SOCAR, to build a power station on the island. Malta Today reported:

“Mammadyarov’s visit comes as Daphne Caruana Galizia has pledged to publish proof this week that a bank account of a company owned by politically exposed people in Azerbaijan was used to transfer large sums of money to offshore Panama companies owned by minister Konrad Mizzi, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri, and a third company, Egrant.”

It is strongly rumoured among opposition politicians that Joseph Muscat and his wife may be the beneficial owners of Egrant. While, despite an impeccable record of Western education at Brown University and diplomatic service to his country, the Azeri’s Wikipedia entry reports:

“Under Elmar Mammadyarov the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan was hit by numerous scandals and corruption allegations. Stories and documents published in a number of Azeri news sites, blogs and social media claim that Mammadyarov is involved in illegal employment of staff for diplomatic service, irregularities, corruption and espionage along with his deputies and other high foreign service officials.”

Dimech: the ‘gangster’s moll’. But what was the politician really up to? (photo from website)

Was the killing of Galizia timed to entertain the visiting Azeri minister?

Business in Malta is clearly booming. But a casual browse on Mrs Galizia’s website reveals an intricate web of social, political and business relationships on the island that is almost impenetrable to an outsider. She covers numerous stories, many of them on the surface little more than tittle-tattle revealing a fetid atmosphere among the island’s half a million inhabitants.

One caught the attention of the BogPo, concerning the apparently close friendship between the much younger girlfriend of a convicted drug dealer, Rebecca Dimech (see photo) and the wife of the leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Dr Adrian Delia; whom Galizia hints at not so much having an affair with Ms Dimach, but more of being involved in her boyfriend’s cocaine enterprise:

“Miss Dimech … is an amateur glamour model from the wrong side of the tracks, whose long-term boyfriend, Andre Falzon … is a convicted drug-dealer well known to the police. He was released from prison last June. … Mrs Delia was at pains to dismiss any suspicions people might have had about “infidelity” by telling her interviewer “we laughed our heads off”. The widespread suspicions she needs to address about her and the Opposition leader’s relationship with Miss Dimech, though, have nothing to do with infidelity….” (Running Commentary)

Whatever may be going on with the Azerbaijan connection, it seems Mrs Galizia had a way of making powerful enemies in many areas of island life. Drugs, money-laundering, racketeering, people smuggling…. Perhaps we should not be too quick to point the finger of blame for her death at anyone special.

It’s clearly just a cultural thing.



Computer News

“Probing deeper, I discover a little map of ‘South Bank’, and with a start of recognition realize that it is a part of London I know fairly well…”

Where in the world am I?

Likers, Spammers, Followers and Those No Longer Reading this, muh bogl, will possibly have noted one of the sources for our regular Granny Weatherwax roundup of extreme weather events worldwide is a research group called Weather Underground, blogging as Wunderground, which is – we believe – owned or sponsored or funded by the CNN News organization in America.

Despite the defiant name, these weather guerillas seem to be perfectly reputable, highly qualified meteorologists running an efficient website combining official data sources and up to the minute satellite feeds with detailed reports, forecasts and expert commentary.

Heading their homepage every day is a weather report along the lines of the BBC’s clever “and now the news where you are” feature, a personalized facility for which some algorithm has been programmed to guess where in the world you are and tell you what the temperature, the windspeed and the precipitation are outside, roughly now.

So for weeks, I’ve been getting weather reports and forecasts for somewhere called Grangemouth, United Kingdom.

Now, until this began happening I had no idea where Grangemouth is, I had never heard of the place. Somewhat frustrated, as you can try keying in your actual location but the next day you wake up back in Grangemouth, I looked it up on the ever-reliable Google maps, and found it is an industrial coaling port all the way across the other side of the UK, on the North Sea coast. No wonder it’s always ten degrees colder there than it is here in the West, warmed as we are by the Gulf Stream (my next-door-neighbour has a well-advanced palm tree growing in their garden. Grangemouth is more famed for its tundra).

Why the boffins of Wunderground have decided I live there, or have the slightest interest in the prevailing conditions for the hardy Viking stock of Northumberland, I have no idea. But in recent days, it seems that I have sold up my home in Grangemouth and moved to somewhere called “South Bank”, where I notice it’s currently 51 deg. F. and sunny, with a high of 61 expected later.

There’s very little wind in South Bank, I notice, compared with here where we had a bit of whiplash from ex-Hurricane Ophelia yesterday as it chewed its way up the west coast of Ireland; although nothing like as bad as the “85 mph gusts” forecast.

Probing deeper, I discover a little map of South Bank, and with a start of recognition realize that it is a part of London I know fairly well, having been born and lived across the other side of the river for many years (there is no “North Bank”, by the way – it’s just known as Embankment, that eventually becomes other riparian districts like Pimlico and fashionable Chelsea Reach).

South Bank – or to give it its proper place names, Southwark, Vauxhall, Battersea –  is pretty famous, historically as the site of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and nowadays, for Sir Denys Lasdun’s ’60s Brutalist concert venue, the Royal Festival Hall; the Tate gallery and for the human statues and what-all else annoying buskers who infest the walkways.

But it’s still 256 miles from where I live now; while since my poor old mum passed away last year, I know no-one living anywhere near there, having almost literally burned my bridges as far as the capital is concerned. Looked at objectively, you can buy a three-bedroomed house in Grangemouth for £40 thousand; while the average price of a three-bedroomed house anywhere near “South Bank” (which is not actually a residential community) would be about £2.5 million. The “hiraeth” from which I suffer at the thwarted hope of someday returning to South Kensington, place of my boyhood, is mocked now by the vast economic divide in our society.

Meanwhile back in algorithm corner, I find on the Guardian website I am being offered the opportunity to buy yet more one-off items I have already just bought, or looked at on shopping websites and rejected.

What is the point, I ask myself and any passers-by who will stop to listen?

Here, for instance, is the opportunity to buy the bedroom chair in the color I rejected in favour of the bedroom chair I actually ordered, now in my bedroom. It might be several years before it wears out and I need another one. It’s quite a small room, with no room for two. And look, here next to it is the mattress I bookmarked before I baulked at the £700 price ticket, given that I have a mattress already.

I had thought seriously about changing it after reading Tim Dowling’s acerbically humorous Saturday column in the Guardian last week, about his adventures in acquiring a new mattress for their new home in grimiest Acton, West London (the running gag every week being how he and his wife don’t get along, although it seems they still share a bed, enabling them to fight amusingly over hopeless American-in-London, Tim’s inability to acquire a new mattress).

Mine started life as a pretty supportive, midrange orthopedic design, with 1800 sprung pockets, but over the six years I’ve had it, it has become soggy and pliant beneath my constantly revolving bulk. When Tim mentioned waking up every day with numb hands and a stiff neck, familiar symptoms, I knew it had come time for me to look for a new mattress, and Googling “mattresses” found many affordable examples advertised with free delivery.

I always reason that cheap is crappy and the more you spend, the happier you will be. But you can’t tell, can you, from a photo? Although £160 would probably not buy you a mattress that would stay the course for long, £700 could turn out an expensive mistake; like the new cooker I ordered last month….

ouwhouawhouaaa (eerie flashback music):

(The story so far: shortly after the gas man turned up yesterday on £100 an hour after the previous week’s false alarm and disconnected the old cooker, he summoned me from my shed where I had been hiding to tell me with a long face that the new cooker the shop had just delivered “doesn’t fit”.

Instead of the double-oven, gas-powered, under-counter model I had so carefully described to the man at the counter, the shop had sent over a single-oven electric cooker made to fit an eye-level unit. Back went the old cooker.

Later on, I get a call from the store to say oh dear, they have two cookers in the shop with my name on, and neither of them is the one I ordered, they can’t think how that happened, nevertheless the right one will most assuredly be with me in three weeks’ time… (It isn’t…)

I could offer a column about my life to The Guardian, maybe, only it’s just me and Hunzi, and occasionally Katz… the wife and I stopped fighting after the divorce eight years ago, and there wasn’t another in stock.)

So I switched my attention to other things.

Algorithms never forget, however. So now everytime I go to The Guardian website, which I have to do daily to find interesting items to report here on the BogPo, there’s the one mattress I hovered over, looking pleadingly at me. Should I buy it?

I have decided on principle, no, I shouldn’t. For £700 I can put up with numb fingers in the morning and a stiff neck, although the lack of support makes reading in bed a torture.

And it isn’t only images of tub chairs and orthopedic mattresses I’m being bombarded with, despite my helpful ad-blocker.

The expensive guitar I bought in London last month already has a carry-case, thank you, Gear4Music. It was included in the price. I only wanted to check with you to see what they cost, hard-cases the right size for my little Fibonacci, because the one it came with is embarrassingly cream-colored and I hate to be noticed when carrying a guitar, as I don’t play that well and people always ask, don’t they.

They see your guitar, and the first question that springs to mind is, do you play it?

But now I’m being offered a new guitar case in brown or black every day, and it’s not likely I shall really want to buy another as they can cost £120; while I seldom travel with my guitar far enough to bother.

Then as I have previously mentioned there is the BBC’s online viewing service, the iPlayer, that is forever offering me as personalized suggestions for programmes I might like to watch today, the programmes I watched yesterday. And, as I live in Wales, naturally, many programmes in Welsh: a language that might as well be Welsh to me.

The worst is, there’s no opportunity either to switch off the promotional images, or to explain carefully to the advertiser why you won’t be buying whatever it is they’re offering, day after day, principally because you don’t need another one, you can only play one saxophone for instance (okay, so I can’t play it at all, I soon found out it has more little keys than I have fingers, and none of them seems to do anything to alter the note) – or you just don’t want it.

Why can’t algorithms be programmed instead to offer you interesting and imaginative new things you haven’t already bought, or rejected? Like a cricket bat, or a submarine? I assume the advertisers are paying for those wasted spaces?

As a marketing tool, dialogue is so much more effective.

Wherever in the world you are.


Okay, own up. Who told Weather Underground where I live? More importantly, where to find The Boglington Post?

Because since I Posted this Post this morning the sarcastic bastards have switched my ‘weather where you are’ from central London, where I am not, to where I actually am, although I have never specified where that is, indeed I have not even mentioned the problem I was having with the anomalous locations to them directly. No wonder paranoia is going viral.

I plan to buy a camper instead, sell my little cottage and stay on the move in my own safe space.

I’m feeling violated.

Braga, Portugal, 15 October. (Photo: Daily Mail)


Your old Granny W. sploshes in galoshes

The Planet: “September 2017 was only the planet’s fourth warmest September since record keeping began in 1880, said NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) and NASA this week. The warmer Septembers came during 2015, 2016, and 2014”

Global warming is a myth. Look, Republican states voting for denial! (NOAA)

Near-ground atmospheric temperature however was the warmest on record: “record warmth was observed across parts of central and southern Africa, southern Asia, across the western, northern, and southern Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean (off the southeastern coast of South America), the Norwegian Sea, Greenland Sea, and Barents Sea, and across parts of the Indian Ocean.

No land or ocean areas experienced record cold September temperatures.”

But in total, the average temperature of the world in 2017 to date is still 0.13 deg. C colder than last year. I suppose the key question is, if 2017 hasn’t been hotter than 2016, are we on the way to a cooling planet? Is global warming a myth?

Portugal/Spain: The most shockingly apocalyptic images emerge from more than 500 major fires that erupted all over northern Portugal around Braga and neighbouring Galicia province in Spain at the weekend, after months of drought, continuing high temperatures and strong winds. 49 dead so far, over 100 fires still burning. Suspected arsonists arrested.

China: Typhoon Khanun brings heavy rainfall, flooding and landslides to the island of Formosa (Taiwan! Ed.) before heading across to Hong Kong – Guangdong and Hainan provinces – 114 kph winds and up to 520 mm (0.52 metres) rainfall causing major disruption, and on down into North Vietnam, still recovering from last week’s lethal floods and landslides that killed 70. Reports suggest it’s already dissipating, but:

Japan: Tropical Storm Lan is several hundred miles out northeast of the Philippines on a possible track for Japan and rapidly developing towards a typhoon with sustained windspeeds already of 70 mph. “The beginnings of an eye were apparent on microwave satellite imagery.”

Philippines:  “Heavy rain, strong winds and storm surge from TS Paolo have caused flooding in areas around Zamboanga, Mindanao. 1 dead, 12,000 people (2,448 families) displaced. Strong winds caused storm surge along coastal areas. Heavy rain also increased river levels in the area, causing further flooding. The Pasonanca Dam is at “critical” level. As of 18 October it stood at 76.10 metres, where normal level is 74.2”. (Edited report)

Thailand: central Bangkok was underwater on the 14th after torrential rain (worst in 25 years).

India: 5 dead as major flooding arrives in Bangalore. Local govt. officials slated for being out of town playing a game of cricket while rain-sodden citizens endured disruption to the city’s already crumbling transportation system.

Australia: Up to 208mm of rain fell over parts of Queensland on 16 Oct, causing flooding. One person dead. Heavy rain is continuing across parts of the state. A search is underway for a fishing boat missing with 6 crew. Bundaberg, subject to severe flooding last week, is also affected.

USA: cooler, calmer weather is helping the nearly 11 thousand firefighters battling 14 wildfires in the Santa Rosa, California region. The death toll still stands at 40, but with 154 missing, nearly 6 thousand homes and vineyards in the Napa Valley destroyed and 75 thousand-plus people homeless or evacuated.

Still no sign of Trump, too busy insulting grieving Gold Star service families. For God’s sake, someone in office put a bullet through his diseased brain and end this nightmare.

(Just noticed from a US TV news crawler, it was 96.8 deg. F (36C) in Phoenix, Az. yesterday. In mid-October. (But not the record: 2003 saw a 98 deg. C. high at this time of year. September was only the fourth hottest on record, but 168 record highs have been reported as opposed to just 17 record lows anywhere in the northern hemisphere this year. Sea ice-loss forecasts for the Arctic proved wrong, again – “The Arctic reached its lowest extent for the year on September 13, which was the eighth lowest extent on record. The five lowest Arctic sea ice extents were measured in September 2012, 2007, 2016, 2011, and 2015.”) However, ‘extent’ is not a measure of volume and is dependent on other feedbacks than temperature.

Puerto Rico: further tropical depression brings new flooding to Caguas province; town underwater.

Mexico: powerful flash flood hits Santiago Tuxtla, Veracruz. Over 400 properties damaged, nearly 40 homes destroyed; shortage of drinking water.

Spain: “Grazalema in Cádiz recorded 111.4 mm of rain in 24 hours between 17 and 18 October. (Most of it fell in a torrential one-hour period.) Images on social media showed flood water raging through streets of Jerez de la Frontera in Cadiz… (Several people had to be rescued from their cars.) The heavy rain also caused a major rockfall in the Serrania de Ronda, in the western part of province of Málaga (more landslides blocking roads).”

Serbia – ‘possibly disruptive’ heat warnings in force.

Ireland: Following on the heels of ex-Hurricane Ophelia five days ago, Subtropical Depression-about-to-become Atlantic Storm “Brian” is heading straight for the Irish Republic with 80 mph winds, high seas and heavy rain likely to batter the whole of the British Isles over the weekend.

Climate and Extreme Weather News #74/ Euronews/ RUPTLY/ Al Jazeera/ Wunderground/ Floodlist/ NOAA


End of Everything Update

Germany: a long-term scientific survey has found there has been a 78% decline in flying insects in the past 30 years; almost regardless of climate change.

“Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

USA: A number of smallish earthquakes – M1.5 to M2.3 were recorded in New York State and New Hampshire on 17 Oct by local and international agencies. Those earthquakes are still (10 pm 18 Oct) not showing on the US Geological Survey’s 24-hour updates and have presumably been CENSORED, as a) the eastern seaboard is not supposed to have earthquakes, and b) the earthquake activity was PREDICTED three days in advance by Michael Janich of St Louis, who vlogs regularly several times a day as ‘Dutchsinse’, and whose 80%-plus record of accurately predicting both the magnitude and location of earthquakes from global survey data has led to the USGS, which vehemently denies the possibility that earthquakes can be scientifically predicted, attempting to impose a blackout on his website, even at the expense of providing a full information service.

Just sayin’. (But if Yellowstone was about to blow, just consider if the USGS would tell anyone?)

Yellowstone: Swarms of M2.5+ earthquakes are continuing just outside the caldera at Soda Springs, Idaho and Lincoln Montana indicating magma still flooding horizontally into the chambers beneath the caldera. USGS under more criticism for failing to post significant quakes. Residents feel ‘constant vibrations’ coming from under the ground and are no longer bothering to report small earthquakes.

Nothing suggests that these are not serious indications of an impending eruption, since they seem to fit so precisely into the USGS’s own definition of what constitutes the right time to panic. They’re still reassuring the public that although we’re 40 thousand years overdue for another cyclical eruption, it can’t happen.

No need to remind you that a full-blown eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano will very likely bring the world’s economy crashing down and a ‘volcanic winter’ leading to drastic food shortages, with casualties in the millions.

The Greenhouse Effect: Did you ever run the 100 yards dash when you were at school? So you know how far 70 yards is, right? So, run 70 yards (if you still can). Now, turn 90 deg. left and run another 70 yards. Then again, turn 90 deg left and run another 70 yards – and finally, another 90 deg turn and another 70 yards.

So you’ve run a square with an outer perimeter of 280 yards without bumping into a building? Well done. The area inside the square is one acre.

Now, imagine 12 million of those acres.

That’s as much forest, farm and scrubland – trees, bushes and crops (a few thousand houses) – as has burned in wildfires in the USA this year.

You can add maybe two more millions for Canada – British Columbia had a record year for fires – then there’s Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, the Mediterranean islands (most of them), north Africa, Turkey, Croatia, Ukraine, Poland, Russia and the republics (Siberia had a record year for heat and wildfires) – even Greenland.

That’s just the northern hemisphere. Australia and South America have also had record wildfire years.

Now double it to count 2016’s total, and again for 2015, again for 2012 and worse for 2005.

All that burned vegetation has returned its stored CO2 to the atmosphere, millions and millions and millions of tonnes of it, and the latter years’ ‘biomass’ won’t be absorbing any more CO2 for at least a couple more years until it greens up again; only it’ll probably burn down again when it does.

See the problem?



And where do you come from?

American researchers are scratching their tousled or receding heads over the discovery that marriages created through online dating apps are both more stable and more likely to be of an interracial character. They just can’t think why.

For what it’s worth my suggestion is that it’s to do with the format of the encounter.

When you encounter a person of a different ‘race’ in the flesh, as it were (there is biologically speaking no such thing as ‘race’ as genetic differences lie on a continuous spectrum, but we’ll move on), cultural assumptions and associations are triggered automatically merely by their appearance, that immediately distance you from the other person and place self-imposed obligations on you to react in a conditioned way, whatever it may be.

Your reaction to meeting a person obviously of a different ethnic background is almost certainly either to become effusively over-polite, or to retreat into your shell: outwardly hostile or violent reactions to interracial encounters are very rare. You are unlikely to discover much about the Other from that first encounter; other, perhaps, than that they were ‘born here’….

But when you are in the safety and comfort of your own home or the wine bar browsing through photographs and self-descriptions and profiles and convoluted explanations and stories that are often warm and witty and perceptive and surprising and funny, you have time to adjust to the Other and are not required to be polite to an actual person merely for the sake of form, in case the cultural ‘difference’ should prove too much for both of you.

Online dating, then, is a passive-encounter format that encourages imaginative, wishful thinking, that can lead to experimentation, new freedoms and happy discoveries; or a rejection without the need for politeness and difficulty.

Difference can be negative – or positive.

Ask any 1.5 volt battery.

This week’s latest bogl finds bigotry in the ascendant



From our Correspondent ©2016

OMG!!!, not Brangelina? Surely not yet? THE END ALREADY??? #terrifiedface

(Haven’t I seen this somewhere before? Ed.)


Up the bum

Forgive me, gentle Spammers, Likers, Followers, Visitors and People No Longer Reading this, muh li’l bogl.

But I have started Posting early this week, owing to a particular circumstance.

Namely that I have, perhaps unwisely, agree to allow my urologist to do a precautionary biopsy on my elderly gentleman’s prostate, and have no idea if such a procedure is survivable in the short term.

Meanwhile, I have encouraging news from The Telegraph, which should know, that 99% of men diagnosed with prostate cancer survive ten years, whether or not they are receiving treatment for it.

Treatment, normally radiotherapy and excision surgery, makes little difference to the outcome, researchers have unexpectedly found. While it typically leaves patients impotent, bow-legged and dribbling piss into a bag.

No prizes then for guessing where urology as a popular option will be headed in future. But I shan’t draw his attention to it, not beforehand at least.



Audience of six staring at my arse, better than the Edinburgh Fringe. Maybe I should book a venue next year, ‘Just for the Crack!’


Let us prey

Best Christopher Hitchens Arguments (Part 2). Viewed at: 1hr 30m

As part of her non-mandated education reforms, the Prime Minister, the curiously stork-like Mrs May has announced that ‘faith schools’ in Britain can now freely ignore a previous injunction that they must admit 50% of pupils from local families not of the school’s advertised religious denomination.

Along with her intention to introduce more selective grammar schools, this different and unusual form of selection by parental ‘faith’ is illogically her way of increasing opportunities and reducing social inequality for less well-off children.

Hitchens’ warning is salutary: the barbarians aren’t at the gates, they’re in the city.

It goes without saying that, far from increasing their isolation from the mainstream community, faith schools ought instead as a matter of national security and sanity to be closed down and got rid of altogether.

Faith is an individual matter and not a proper basis for learning.

The future must not be entrusted to graduates of urban madrassas setting religious monoculturalism against rational pluralism; typically teaching both childish, atavistic superstition alongside rational scientific inquiry as being of equal merit. They are simply not.

Imposing uncritical, incontrovertible religious observance, mystical rites and unprovable belief systems such as Creationism or (pretty un-)Intelligent Design in schools, other than as subjects purely of academic curiosity and pity, while denying the extent and validity of contemporary knowledge, is evil, tantamount to child abuse.

Children must be taught to question, not to accept as certainty the ‘word of God’ as ‘revealed’ to illiterate desert-dwellers in selectively edited, internally contradictory and poorly translated, 2,000-year-old texts of dubious provenance recovered from caves; and to imagine that such dessicated ravings constitute a blueprint for anything greater than a narrowly prescriptive, ignorant, barbaric and cruel society, hagridden by a power-hungry elite.


Not for the first time, but again to my atheistic old surprise, I have received a Like for an anti-religious Post from a Christian who believes they have been healed by the power of faith. Eating a bit more probably helped! (smileyface)

Forgive me if I don’t reply properly, your own web site is a marvel, a thing of beauty and proof that Intelligent Design is not the prerogative of  whoever made the Universe, but it’s too complicated for an old dimwit to navigate to the bit where I can thank you without a Flipper account or whatever. Clearly your daughter did not set it up for you on a flying visit and leave you to cope.

Anyway, I’m sure you don’t need my permission to carry on believing whatever you want. But if I could borrow a few of your 6,437 Followers it would be handy, since I appear to be down to zero. (My son says who wants to read a depression memoir mostly about politics, with no pictures?) Just twelve might do the trick….


The whites of their eyes

Paul Gascoigne, the sometime footballing genius destroyed by alcoholism and prurient media obsession, has been fined £1,000 as an ‘example’ to others considering racism as an occupation.

Gazza’s offence was to make a public remark, calling to a black security guard to smile ‘so I can see you’, during an inadvertent blackout that occurred in the auditorium while he was making one of those personal ‘performing freak’ appearance tours which ruined celebrities are sometimes obliged to go on by agents anxious to ensure they can afford their next meal.

It sounds like it was supposed to be a joke, of the ignorant yet affectionate kind one might not find surprising, coming from a working-class product of the Northeast, a barely educated lad brought up from an early age in the culture of the locker-room. Perhaps we should send him to a re-education camp?

I’m sure though that people must have said worse things about Gazza and his boozing.

Sadly, the victim of this heinous act of racism akin almost to the re-ignition of slavery could not recognise that it is not only black people who can be exploited, perhaps imagining that Gascoigne is still some important and well paid public entity rather than a pathetic old piss-artist, and continued to insist on a prosecution even after the Director of Public Prosecutions had ruled that the case was vexatious and unnecessary.

Meanwhile, Mr Nigel ‘skinnydipper’ Farage has been allowed to get away with complaining at a Donald Trump rally in, of all places, Mississippi, that President Obama had the effrontery to ‘talk down’ to the British people when urging us not to vote to leave the EU.

God forbid that uppity n-words should be encouraged to talk down to us superior white folks, even if they are the leader of the free world.

While the president of the Philippines, the deeply unpleasant little thug Rodrigo Duterte, visiting the G20 summit in a curiously deserted Guangjhou, called Mr Obama ‘a son of a whore’, a remark he later tried to withdraw on the grounds that it was an epithet he used frequently to describe other world leaders and he meant nothing by it.

Neither of these hateful, self-publicising racist shitbrains will be forced to answer for their obliquity in a Wolverhampton court, I feel sure.


No news is better news

On the subject of perverse lawsuits, lawyers for the seven-times world Formula 1 racing champion, Michael Schumacher, who was left in a coma after a skiing accident two years ago, are suing a German magazine, Bunte, for reporting a claim by a member of the Schumacher entourage that the Schu was now able to walk again.

Positive news is, of course, to be frowned on nowadays. Or do I detect the long shadow of the insurance company loss-adjuster creeping across the well-kept lawn?


Under the blanket

By our Court Correspondent, ©2016 HughJWhopper @whomeguv.con

Facing a £4 million fine for breaches of Health & Safety, Network Rail told a High Court hearing into the death of 82-year-old Brenda McFarland, run over by a train at a pedestrian railway crossing in Suffolk in August 2011:

“…individual mistakes had been made but the firm had not ignored warnings or been guilty of systemic failings.”

– BBC News report, 21 September 2016

“The Rail Accident Investigation Branch said Network Rail was told warnings of oncoming trains were “not sufficient” prior to the fatal collision…. Recommendations had been made in 2006 and 2008 for sirens to be placed at the level crossing to warn of approaching trains, but were not implemented.

– BBC News report, 19 July 2012

A thin blue line

The death of PC David Philips hit (apparently) by a stolen pickup truck being pursued following a suspected robbery is awful for his family, friends and colleagues and our hearts go out to them.

But the incident looks more like reckless endangerment than deliberate murder; a swerving attempt to avoid the stinger device PC Philips and a colleague (who managed to jump out of the way) were deploying to burst the car’s tyres – in itself a dangerous measure that could have caused the deaths of anyone in the vehicle.

That at least will be the basis of any defence 18-year-old Clayton Williams will put up. The Wallasey, Merseyside teenager has already publicly confessed, and profoundly apologised to the family, in an extraordinary statement issued through his solicitor, after he was remanded in custody last week, in which he said he had no intention of running down PC Philips and was not aware that he had.

In fact, a number of aspects of this case are somewhat unsettling.

It is common practice, and allowed, for police to issue photographs or photofit pictures, and to name suspects they are looking for in connection with major crimes, before an arrest is made and a charge brought. But at that juncture, reporting restrictions demand that only the accused’s name, age and address may continue to be published.

I cannot remember a single case in which the police have carried out an arrest, the suspect has been charged, appeared in court to confirm their identity and been remanded for a further hearing, and the police have then released to the press, for publication, a photograph of the accused.

Whatever the crime, even a police killing, such an action is totally contrary to the 800-year old principle of British justice, that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. In this case, it looks like the defence has been railroaded into issuing a public admission of guilt even before the accused has been given the opportunity to enter a plea in court: trial by media.

It is not a happy precedent.

That the photograph should be an image taken from social media of the teenager drunk and behaving disgracefully at a party, leering spottily into the lens and raising two fingers, while the faces of people in the background have been pixellated, is clearly highly prejudicial. What motive could the police, if indeed it was they who obtained the photo, possibly have in releasing it to the media, other than to influence a potential future jury of sober and upright adult citizens?

The release of the image provoked a predictable crawling-out from under stones of the rabid tendency among the Commentariat, most of whom called for the youth to be violently tortured and hung as an example to others. Many complained of their disappointment that Clayton Williams, despite his name, had turned out not to be a black man.

The Daily Mail controversialist, Katie Hopkins for once took the side of proportionality and criticised sensationalist media coverage of the family’s outspoken grief as ‘scripted… X-factor videotape… the Instagram nation.’ She cruelly went on to imagine Mrs Williams viewing the TV coverage of her performance with satisfaction. Ms Hopkins is not a very nice person, but in this instance she expressed the unease some may have felt at the way the death of PC Philips was being turned to advantage, at a time of cuts to the police budget.

Again, this seems to have been the police ensuring maximum public opprobrium against the accused, through an orchestrated press conference designed to heighten sympathy for the victim’s fully extended family. Tearful family appeals to the killer to come forward have become commonplace, but in this instance the police already had a suspect in custody, who had apparently confessed – and went on to arrest a number of other, unnamed persons – presumably the boy’s family and friends – as accessories after the fact.

This trawling of connections to suspects is also disturbing, reminiscent as it is of the ancient practice of ‘sippenhaft’ – targeting the wider families of supposedly disloyal resisters to ensure compliance. Commit a crime nowadays and your spouse, your mum, or seemingly anyone on your contacts list who has failed to hand you over to the authorities in good time is likely to end up being hauled in and gaoled on charges of ‘conspiracy to pervert the course of justice’.

The vengeful statements of senior officers should be seen in context of a force that very much protects its own. The Chief Constable’s impassioned remark that ‘he didn’t stand a chance’ made for a good headline, but the inevitable inquiry might, in the cold light of day, possibly find that PC Philips was ordered into the path of the escaping vehicle by a superior; reducing his ‘chances’ still further.

It is unfortunately a truth that many such accidents happen when the police take off in hot pursuit of a suspect: in this case, the red Mitsubishi pickup stolen earlier was spotted lurking in the area an hour after police were called to the robbery, and a high-speed chase ensued. Was PC Philips ordered to put himself in harm’s way? And if so, could the extraordinary media-storm not have been generated in part to deflect attention away from a possibly fatal operational error?

It all begs the question: should we go on risking TV-cop-show-style, high-speed car chases in built-up areas, when we have spotter technology and surveillance cameras and drones, the ability to track vehicles remotely – and even, if not yet then not far off, the technology to send a jamming signal that can switch-off a car’s computerised engine management system?

And what if the victim had not been a policeman, but some other father-of-two making his way home after a night-shift, hit perhaps by a police car? Would the force have treated the case with the same sensationalised prominence, or perhaps relied instead on another anodyne and long-drawn-out IPCC investigation to draw a veil?

In context, with forty million vehicles on the UK’s cluttered roads, around 400 pedestrians are hit and killed by vehicles each year (some by police drivers); another 1,400 die in crashes. That’s quite a lot of ‘brilliant dads’ who don’t come home in the normal course of events. That this figure is one third what it was 40 years ago is  testament in part to the vigour with which police enforce the traffic regulations.

And it is salutary to remember that one hundred and forty-two people died in workplace accidents in 2014.

Statistically, police work is actually quite safe when compared with some other occupations; possibly due to assiduous training. The last British policeman killed in the line of duty was back in 2013, also struck by a getaway car. 2012 was an exceptional year, as a result of two WPCs in Manchester being lured into an ambush and shot to death by a local ‘face’ – a known thug who had decided to hand himself in over a previous murder and thought it would be a nice idea to take a couple of coppers down with him. Another PC was shot confronting an armed man while off-duty, and a fourth died of a heart attack while pursuing a suspect.

But there are 128 thousand people employed in the police force. It is the relative rarity of such incidents that makes them stand out.

Self-serving and pious statements by politicians about the extraordinary dangers of police work and lurid phrasemaking about ‘putting their lives on the line every night’ ignore the facts – with, on average, 30-plus deaths a year in police custody, it’s quite a lot more dangerous in Britain to be a criminal, or suspected of being one. Most people would say, that’s how it should be.

Of course, in America it’s more like a small war. Let’s not go there.



After adding to the above yesterday with what I hoped was a more direct rationalisation of my semi-private concern at the management of the publicity surrounding this tragic case, as it seemed to set an uncomfortable legal precedent, there is news of a PC in a ‘serious’ condition, having been knifed in the stomach when called to an incident in North London. A 16-year-old boy is being questioned.

Of course, policing is often dangerous work. I merely commented that statistically, the fatality rate among police  in this country is thankfully very low. Nor do I believe that violent young punks without any sense of consequence or responsibility for their actions are a new phenomenon indicative of the breakdown of the social order: they have always existed.

Hanging and flogging them isn’t going to make any difference, we used to do that but they are ever with us. It is hardly perverted liberalism to suggest that there are reasons for their antisocial behaviour that ought to be addressed, while at the same time upholding the rule of law.

I do not take pleasure in the death of any individual; nor was I writing about any individual, excepting that this was a case that illustrated the way in which a precedent was being extended and nobody appeared to have noticed.

I have had a night to think about an abusive Comment received in relation to the original article. It is the first such Comment my blog has attracted in almost four years; possibly a sign of failure. The author, ‘Chris’, is a person obviously with little education, but direct and to the point. What I write may indeed be ‘fucking bollocks’, while it is indeed regrettable that I have never had the opportunity to die for my country, of whose overly sentimental laws and customs ‘Chris’ disapproves.

As a citizen (whose ancestors migrated here from northern Europe thirteen centuries ago) I still insist on the right to have a view, to express an opinion!

My blog is a personal ‘work in progress’ and subject to continual interventions by an editor I keep in my head. I have made one or two minor changes this morning. Something however that has also popped out of my head overnight is a worry that the country is becoming polarised between moral relativists and moral absolutists: people disposed to thinking-through complicated problems, as against people who merely react, sometimes with inarticulate violence, from pre-prepared positions.

I can see little difference between the ‘Chris’s and their fundamentalist counterparts in other cultures around the world, ISIS, the Moral Majority, who are once again in the ascendant. People who see everything in terms of black and white, who express violent thoughts against anyone they consider The Other – anyone that is, who looks or behaves or thinks differently from themselves. People with a visceral hatred of open discussion.

I suppose the difference is, for now, that one group is prepared to rampage through cities, indiscriminately shooting and bombing in the name of a religious ideal; while the others conduct their private wars by hurling inarticulate invective at people they fundamentally disagree with, in a public forum that guarantees their anonymity (for now). I am equally guilty of that, at times.

I suppose there has always been tension between the two camps, the ‘class war’ – but the internet has enabled a permissive discourse to evolve that is ratcheting up the social tension level, at a time of difficult global challenges to the postwar social consensus for which no-one appears to have any answers, other than more violence.

It’s not a good sign.

The Untouchable Mr Putin

Two Russia analysts on BBC radio this morning concurred: after so many years walled-up in the Kremlin, bathed in the asses’ milk of absolute power, surrounded and advised only by a small coterie of likeminded former KGB colleagues, Mr Putin is out-of-touch, delusional, poorly informed about what is going on in the world, a victim of his own propaganda, not – for an intelligence man – particularly intelligent and, quite probably, dangerously mad (and a closet gay… no, they didn’t say that) to boot.

Well, and well.

The problem for Mr Putin in Ukraine, since the downing of Flight MH17, has been that if he gives way to strident demands from the USA to use his influence on the pro-Russian separatist rebel leaders to co-operate with the international investigation, he will a) have to submit to the findings of the investigation, which may go against Russia; and b) let it be known that he does have influence over the separatists, which up to now he has denied.

The fact is that he most probably does not know how the plane came to be shot down, any more than the West does; but that he privately shares the West’s suspicions.

Consequently he is having to play a difficult hand. I suspect that he has been genuinely taken aback by the shooting-down of the civil airliner last week with almost 300 people on board. It was not part of the plan, and it has embarrassed him. The plan was to use the minimum of Russian cross-border involvement to stir-up the revolt in Eastern Ukraine. The downing of Flight MH17, whose passengers came from so many outraged countries, probably through the incompetence of a semi-trained rebel operative, has raised the stakes. Thus far, the supply of heavy weapons, money and training to the rebels has come from mysterious origins, seemingly with no clear trail leading back to Moscow. To intercede with the separatists in the combat zone is to admit that the sophisticated BUK mobile anti-aircraft missile launcher probably used in the attack – we still don’t really know – was one of his.

So, for home consumption, he has played the nationalist card and is using the State-controlled media to mount a massive disinformation campaign, attempting to throw blame on almost anyone else. He knows no-one outside Russia will ever believe he is innocent, but he can create enough of a smokescreen of blatantly contrarian disinformation to sow the seeds of doubt, especially among his many traditionalist supporters. He does not have to care about Western opinion. The tide of public opinion in Russia has swung behind him, as he has cleverly turned the disaster into an issue of anti-Russian sentiment and threat from the West, against which he knows a significant number of Russians will react with their hearts, rather than their heads. He has made ordinary Russians feel like they are the real victims of this disaster.

On the other hand, he must be relishing the extent to which the West has fallen consistently behind the curve on Ukraine since the start of his destabilisation campaign. This morning’s news is that the rebels have conceded almost everything the West was demanding. The bodies – those 20o or so that could be found scattered amid the alien corn – have been collected, bagged, ticketed, put on board a handy refrigerated train and shipped off to a Government-controlled town, to be handed over to the Dutch authorities, who lost the most citizens. The two ‘black box’ flight recorders that disappeared from the crash site on Day 1 have magically reappeared, and been handed over to the Malaysian air accident investigation team.

And, just as the British warrior PM David Cameron, his eye on the upcoming General Election, is tub-thumping and huffing and puffing in Brussels, demanding more ‘sanctions’ (short of anything that might upset business as usual in the City of London) while the spineless jellyfish who run the rest of the EU are quivering and havering over their pathetic gas supplies and their Russian business contracts, the rebels have declared a ceasefire in the civil war the West had somehow failed to notice was even happening, in a six-mile zone around the crash site, to enable investigations to take place. The fact that the evidence is now so compromised and contaminated as to be virtually useless will not have escaped Mr Putin. While we continue feebly to demand yesterday’s appropriate actions today, he has already conceded the point and moved on.

Thus, it is clear that he has, in a rather clever way, and despite being totally mad, ignorant and out-of-touch, outfoxed everyone. He knows we know, but cannot prove, that he has indeed brought the Kremlin’s influence to bear on the rebels, whom he has clearly been arming; and that as far as public opinion at home is concerned, it doesn’t matter a damn. He has been able to make concessions without being seen to have done so, because his clandestine ex-special forces operatives ARE the rebel leaders; and he knows we know that too, and that, far from condemning him, the Russian people will love him all the more for ‘standing up’ to Western pressure – while the truth is that he has had to give way to it, albeit on his own terms.

These stratagems are not the product of a diseased and delusional mind, and the most dangerous thing is for the West to believe he is not acting rationally. The whole operation since he succeeded in annexing the Crimean peninsula with barely a drop of blood spilled has been run on the principle of total, cynical deniability, that he has brilliantly carried to a whole new level. It is proving an object lesson in crisis management.

As long as the Russian people can have their patriotic indignation button so easily pushed, like the button that launched the rocket that killed 298 innocent civilians, 80 of them children, 33 thousand feet above the battle zone he controls, Mr Putin remains untouchable, either at home or abroad.


Police shootings: lawful, or just awful?

How far should policing go, to keep law-abiding citizens safe on the streets?

Should it, for instance, be regarded as acceptable that any armed-response police officer can kill at will? Of course not: he or she has to have due cause to believe that their own or another person’s life is in imminent danger from a suspect, or receive a direct order from a superior officer, before they are allowed to open fire. It is a principle of British justice that you are innocent until proven guilty, and I’m proud to say we abolished the death penalty for murder in 1965. (You also have a right to a fair trial by a jury of your peers, whatever heinous crime you are accused of.)

So, why would a police officer deliberately ‘execute’ an unarmed suspect in public? It’s illogical. It would be murder. There’s no reason.

Surely, then, it must automatically follow that when a well-trained armed-response officer does open fire, and kills a suspect, it is because they genuinely believed that there was an imminent danger to themselves and others. This is possibly why, despite a number of high-profile cases in which perfectly innocent people have been shot and sometimes killed by the police, no UK police firearms officer has ever been convicted of unlawfully killing a suspect. In every case, the jury has given the police marksman the benefit of the doubt, presumably as it is difficult to prove that someone with a duty to protect the public did not have a valid reason for carrying out an action with such drastic consequences for a person’s life.

In the case of Mark Duggan, an inquest jury has produced a controversial verdict. Here is a young man, allegedly acting as a courier for a nasty and violent criminal gang. An informant tells the police that Duggan is about to collect a gun and deliver it to the gang. Armed police set up a trap and stop a minicab. Duggan gets out as instructed and puts his hands in the air – according to the one witness who actually saw the incident clearly – and is immediately shot twice and dies at the scene. The police put out contradictory statements: Duggan was carrying a gun, wrapped in a sock (the witness says Duggan had a mobile phone in his hand). Duggan fired and wounded an officer (actually, the officer was hit by a ricochet from a shot fired from a police gun). And the police do not bother to inform Duggan’s family until they hear about it on the news. Five days of riots, arson, looting and further deaths ensue.

But there is a mystery: after Duggan has been shot, no-one can find his alleged gun until one turns up later in the grass verge, 20 feet away from the shooting. How did it get there?

Press reports the following day – we name the Daily Telegraph, a notorious right-wing source – claimed that Duggan, a ‘well-known gangster’, was armed, had opened fire first, and that a police officer’s life had been saved only because the bullet had struck his radio. It was a big, fat lie. Why do the police do this, make up stories to throw-off any possible line of enquiry in the media that might create doubt in the public mind? Can juries that are eventually constituted to decide on these cases really be impartial after being fed a load of panic-laden Scotland Yard PR guff? Well, it doesn’t matter, because in these cases, juries almost invariably move to acquit.

By a majority of 9 to 1, then, the 10-man jury finds that Duggan has in all probability thrown the gun 0ut of the window as the car is stopped and the police close in. Therefore he was unarmed at the time he was killed. This would technically make the killing unlawful; or, at the least, lead to an open verdict. So, instead, by 8-2, they decide that the police ‘lawfully’ killed him; in other words, their verdict is that the firearms officer had genuine cause to believe Duggan was armed and about to fire a gun witnesses said he did not have on his person at the time and that could not be found until some time after the event, at a considerable distance from the body.

In the heat of the moment, it is not an implausible explanation that the officer simply made a mistake. There was no gun, Duggan was surrendering, not about to fire; the reason he was being stopped was that the police had been forewarned he would be armed, so the simple act of raising his hands to surrender, with a black object – his phone – in one hand, could literally have ‘triggered’ an instinctive response in the officer to open fire.

This calls into question somewhat, the meaning of the key word in all of this: ‘lawful’. Because it seems to be self-defining: if there is reason to believe he is threatened, it is ‘lawful’ for the officer to shoot the suspect. If not, then not. So, it is entirely up to the officer him- or herself, supported by the often suspiciously collaborative testimony of his or her colleagues, to decide what is lawful – after the event.

American Followers will probably be amused that this is even an issue in funny old Britain. In America, police shoot and kill 1,600 suspects a year, not one every eighteen months.

So it’s not a problem confined to the UK. In 2012, for instance, police in Houston, Texas, called to the scene of an altercation, shot and killed Brian Claunch, a bipolar double-amputee in a wheelchair, when he brandished a ballpoint pen ‘aggressively’ after being refused a drink and a sandwich at 3 a.m. by his apartment-block supervisor. In California, 13-year-old child Andy Lopez was shot and killed by Santa Rosa police, who fired seven times after he failed to drop his weapon on command – a toy rifle. (Note: an almost exactly similar event occurred in November, 2014 in Cleveland, the dead child, Tamir Rice, in this case being only 12. This however took place against a nationwide wave of protests over incidents in which, specifically, three other young black men had been killed by white police investigating relatively minor offences, and Grand Juries had exonerated the officers without further consequence.)

Instinctive reactions, misperceived threats, reverting mindlessly to training… But I should like to explore a different explanation, that of ‘prior expectation’.

The Lopez killing took place just a day after a schoolteacher had been shot dead by a 12-year-old pupil at a school in Nevada. It was widely reported on the news. Children can be lethal too, you don’t need to be an adult to pull a trigger. And Lopez was Hispanic. He may have looked older, we don’t know. His English might not have been good enough to understand what was being shouted at him. We shall never know.

Father-of-two, Duggan was mixed-race, visibly a ‘black’ man. He was a known associate, if not a full member, of a criminal gang of black men. Any police officer would naturally be predisposed to anticipate that he might react violently on arrest and – being informed about the alleged gun – have already imagined a scenario in which he might have to open fire in self-defence. Although, it has to be said, he had no record of violence or possession of firearms.

Sportsmen and women are taught by psychologists to visualise every stage of their forthcoming event, so as to actualise their hoped-for victory mentally in advance of competing. The officer would have been on a hair-trigger alert and the shooting carried out while he was perhaps not fully in control of his own responses, but enacting a scene that was already played-out in his mind. Any gesture Duggan made would have been misinterpreted as a threat.

Just as, in the killing of the innocent Brazilian electrician Jean-Charles de Menezes in 2005, here was a darkish-skinned man carrying a backpack on the underground, so an entire team of anti-terrorism police assumed he must be a Middle Eastern terrorist involved with an earlier bomb outrage in London, and could therefore lawfully have seven bullets fired into his head at point-blank range in front of horrified passengers while other plain-clothes police were sitting on him in a desperate attempt to prevent him from triggering the bomb he was not in fact carrying. Subsequently, the police concocted a tissue of lies about what had happened; even inventing false rape allegations. The inquest jury returned an open verdict, one stop on the line away from unlawful killing; so no action, and the head of the unit responsible, Cressida Dick, was promoted to the rank of Commander.

These things don’t help.

Scottish father-of-three Henry Stanley was killed in North London in 1999 by police who, on hearing from an informant who thought he had overheard a man in a pub speaking with an ‘Irish’ accent, assumed that the wooden leg Stanley was carrying in a plastic bag to take home to fix a broken table must be a weapon; and that, being audibly Irish, he must be an IRA operative on active service and would obviously therefore be toting a rifle in public. He was not given a chance to explain otherwise, but despite the clearly prejudgemental nature of the armed police response, and an open inquest verdict, no policeman ever stood trial for Stanley’s killing.

Acting again on intelligence, in 1988 Operation Flavius was designed to intercept an apparently genuine IRA attack on British forces in Gibraltar. A plain-clothes unit of the SAS opened fire on the dockside without warning, and killed three IRA members on ‘active service’, one a woman, claiming later that one of them had made a sudden move towards a bag they assumed contained the detonator that would explode a car that turned out not to have a bomb in it after all (it was a dummy run). None of the terrorists was armed at the time; witnesses said they were surrendering. Verdict: lawful killing.

In 1983, armed police in an inner-London street opened fire on a Mini car at traffic lights, hitting 26-year-old film editor, Stephen Waldorf, eight times. He somehow survived. The assumption had been that he was an escaped prisoner, David Martin, who had absconded while on trial for the attempted murder of a police officer. The only reason they thought Waldorf was Martin was because the woman in the car with Waldorf resembled Martin’s girlfriend.  Two policemen were tried, and acquitted. But why had they shot at an innocent driver who was not even pointing a gun at them? Was it because he was believed to be an attempted ‘police-killer’, the worst kind of criminal the police can imagine?

In July 2012, an unnamed man was shot and wounded by armed police in the town of Knaphill, in Surrey. He was carrying a BB gun – a low-velocity, sublethal air weapon capable of firing ball-bearings – however it seems the reason he was shot was because he boasted to police that he had planted a bomb in the block of flats where he was living. The bomb squad was called, but found nothing. Residents had complained for months of drunken behaviour and rough sleepers. The suspect, who survived, was just a drunken, delusional idiot, no real threat to anyone. There are times when split-second decisions need to be made. It’s just that with hindsight, they’re not always the right ones.

And in 2010, alcoholic barrister Mark Saunders, drunk and depressed, fired a shotgun aimlessly out of the window of his London flat, breaking a window opposite, and was killed by five of the eleven bullets fired by police marksmen called to the scene. The police later claimed they had fired in self-defence, although Saunders could not effectively have injured anyone wearing a flak jacket with a shotgun at that range and the police had previously refused to allow his wife to enter the house and talk him down. Some witnesses described him as cheerful and calm that day, others that he was deranged and raving; while a taxi driver testified that Saunders had told him he felt that he was going to die. Lawful killing, although not under the Mental Health Act.

In all these cases, there was a prior assumption on the part of the police for possibly unconnected reasons that not only must the suspect be the guilty party, but that they would also be armed and dangerous, that they presented an immediate threat and there was no possible alternative than to deploy with live ammunition and to shoot to kill. In fact, it seems to have been the heightened prejudice – the ‘prior expectation’ – of the police units that led to the lethal reactions of armed response officers in situations where there was no credible, immediate threat to life.

It is also the case that the police feel they belong in a special category, as they themselves may become targets for random killings. Notorious cases include the 1966 murder of three policemen in London at the instigation of Harry Roberts, a career criminal with a grudge (Note: Roberts, 78, was finally released in December 2014 after serving 42 years. The Police Federation described the parole board’s decision as an insult); and the six-hour shooting spree in Northumberland in 2010 involving the deranged taxi driver Raoul Moat, during which he fired a shotgun at close range and blinded PC David Rathband, who later took his own life.  Then in 2012, came the deliberate murder by a smalltime Manchester hoodlum, Dale Cregan, of police officers Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes, at whom he threw a hand-grenade when (unarmed) they responded to a false 999 call he had got a friend to make. Immediately afterwards, he walked into a police station and turned himself in. Facing a long-tariff sentence for another two murders, he had just wanted to take a couple of coppers with him. Few people, I suspect, would have cared if he had been shot.

It may be an exaggeration therefore to call incidents of police shootings deliberate ‘executions’, as Mark Duggan’s family did when the curious verdict was read out; but they were, with hindsight, possibly avoidable misjudgements in situations of prior expectation, overreactions for which there seems to have been little or no consequence for the officers responsible. And it seems at least probable that the psychopathology of such incidents reflects a self-defensive presumption on the part of police that they themselves are the intended targets.

It is true that armed officers respond to three incidents a day in the UK, and manage to kill the wrong person relatively rarely – we should perhaps pass over the case of the blind man who was tasered (twice) because the officer thought his white stick was a Samurai sword; and the case of Sgt Smellie, the 6’7″ Special Patrol Group officer who batoned a 5’2″ disabled woman after she threw an empty orange-juice carton at him during a demonstration, and the judge ruled he had acted lawfully in self-defence. But yes, the police do a difficult and sometimes dangerous job, and mistakes are made. The problem is, they are so rarely admitted to.

The case of Ian Tomlinson brought the self-defensive tactics of police ‘conspiring’ to protect their own into sharp relief. During a demonstration outside a G8 meeting in London in 2009, the middle-aged newspaper seller was trying to  pass through an area where the police had deliberately confined a number of demonstrators for several hours, a controversial tactic known as ‘kettling’. As he passed some SPG police, CCTV shows him making a remark to one of them, PC Simon Harwood, an officer with a prior record of violence, who batoned him on the legs, then violently shoved him in the back. Tomlinson, an alcoholic man with a heart condition, collapsed to the ground, where he died from what was later found to be a ruptured liver.

The police promptly issued a number of statements trying to claim that Tomlinson had provoked the attack, while the first postmortem by a police pathologist reported that Tomlinson had simply collapsed and died of a heart attack. However, the incident had been recorded on video by an American bank worker and a newspaper campaign led to a second, independent postmortem that forced the Independent Police Complaints Commission to reopen the case. Despite an inquest verdict of unlawful killing, Harwood was later acquitted of a charge of manslaughter and dismissed from the force.

If ‘lessons’ are to be ‘learned’ – if ever – then the police ought perhaps to look at both the training of firearms officers, which perhaps overstresses the urgency to shoot first and ask questions later (I am irresistably reminded of the Monty Python sketch, where the self-defence class instructor commands the terrified pupil to: ‘Now, come at me with that banana!’ – of course, it is a little more serious than that); and at the need perhaps to mediate between the backroom controllers and the frontline officers so that the latter go into situations unprejudiced by prior ‘intelligence’ of a dubious kind (I am no expert).

There are also questions of why the inquiries into such incidents may take years to come to their inevitable, anodyne conclusions, since no British judge or jury ever seems willing to disbelieve the word of a policeman; why the police seldom if ever volunteer information after the event that might lead the press, public and politicians to conclude that there had been misjudgements and mistakes; why the supposedly Independent Police Complaints Commission often appears on the surface to be colluding with this process; and why the police are allowed to investigate themselves before successive, expensive independent judicial inquiries have to be set up to get at a more objective version of the truth?

It can be argued that we are asking our police to do an ever more complex, intrusive and ultimately impossible job. Funding cuts and pay freezes, too, have played their part in creating resentment and an embattled mentality. For that reason, we need greater transparency and honesty when things go wrong, as they inevitably will. The public are more willing to forgive an honest and speedy admission of error, than a concocted narrative of lies and evasions that can only result in a damaging loss of confidence when the truth finally emerges. But as the criminal law moves the police ever further into the murky realm of intent, ultimately of criminalising  ‘bad attitude’ – anticipating, as opposed to solving, crimes – the possibility of fatal error is ever-increasing.


As I re-read this Post in April, 2014, astonishing revelations are emerging of apparently deep-seated criminality in the Metropolitan Police force during the 1990s. Thousands of documents relating to long-term anti-corruption investigations are said to have been ‘accidentally’ shredded before the enquiries were completed. The police response has been to claim that the shredding was deliberate, as the data had already been transferred to computer files. Unfortunately, the files had then been lost in an ‘accidental’ computer malfunction!

If a criminal suspect put up a defence like that, they would not be believed. At best it reveals incredible ineptitude. Worse was to follow, however. Some documents were not lost, it seems, and this month ‘found’ their way to the media. They suggest that investigating officers involved in a case where a manager was forced to rob his employer’s safe after his wife and daughter were snatched, had then decided it was such a good wheeze, that they conspired to carry out the same kidnapping on the same family themselves at some future date – until their plot was discovered!

This story has emerged in the wake of ongoing revelations, now the subject of yet another enquiry, that undercover police in the Met infiltrated a group of supporters close to the family of Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager murdered in an unprovoked attack by white racists at a South London bus stop in 1993, in order to spy on their campaign to force the police to improve the quality of their lackadaisical investigation. At one stage, the police had attempted to suggest that it was a gangland killing, for which the Lawrence family were somehow responsible. A report by Lord MacPherson concluded that the Met was ‘institutionally racist’. It has subsequently been suggested that a senior officer in the pay of the gangster father of one of the alleged killers, a corrupt relationship (denied, obviously) could have been responsible for the deliberate bungling of the investigation, that meant it was twenty years before any convictions were obtained.

Together with emerging evidence that South Yorkshire police may have deliberately concocted a cover-up on a massive scale in order to exonerate themselves of any suggestion that their mistakes may have led to the deaths of 96 football supporters in a stampede at the Hillsborough ground in Sheffield in 1989, (and the emerging evidence of widespread police inertia in the face of numerous complaints of organised sexual exploitation of female minors) it is surely impossible now for anyone to have faith that our police are not at least to some extent a state-within-a-state, entirely a law unto themselves.

Such revelations piling one upon another are a growing tragedy for those who believe in the rule of law, among whom there must, surely, still be a fair number of police officers who must feel desperately let down by all this?


It is 29 January, 2015, and a report disguised under the anodyne title: ‘Digital communications’ has emerged, three weeks after the event, from the Home Office, admitting that a computer disc containing the transcripts of three judicial enquiries into some of the events reported above, including the names of protected witnesses, have been ‘lost in the post’.

A junior civil servant has been suspended pending enquiries. Tsk, tsk. (Surely we are not still using discs, without backup? Was this a floppy disk, or a CD? Surely we have encoded electronic transfer protocols rendering it unnecessary to rely on a 63p stamp? And surely what is put on disc remains on the hard-drive? No?)

Perhaps the officers tasked with looking for the slipped disc might find it hidden under the same rug as the unofficial Dickens report on orgies involving the abuse of children in care and possible sexual murders carried-on by ‘senior Tory politicians and members of the security establishment’ in the 1970s? Something we may never find, now that former Home Secretary Leon Brittan has conveniently died.

– UB


This story will run and run, I fear.

In the wake of riots in the USA over further excusable murders of black men and women by apparently unaccountable white police officers who have been said officially to be ‘out of control’, we hear now that the ‘Independent’ Police Complaints Commission in the UK has decided there is no case to answer with regard to the so-called ‘Battle of Orgreave’ – an incident that took place 28 years ago at the height of a national strike by miners, when (at the instigation of Mrs Thatcher, who may have illegally diverted public funds to buy the operation) several hundred pickets were lured into a field and attacked by over a thousand foot- and mounted-police.

The IPCC line is that it was all so long ago, it would be impossible to charge anyone. A curious argument, since the police are currently involved in several large-scale enquiries into what were often fairly minor cases of sexual indiscretions in the 1960s and 70s, and the IPCC has no hesitation in prosecuting those to the hilt. In fact, at least four officers are still serving; while, once again, it is South Yorkshire police force that is involved; notorious for their cover-up of their own possible culpability in the Hillsborough football stadium disaster.

The IPCC also argues that, as none of the 95 miners arrested was ultimately convicted of charges of riotous assembly (carrying possible 20-year sentences), basically the fact that senior police officers concocted a load of bollocks (also known as conspiring to pervert the course of justice) against the miners is not of serious importance. This totally ignores the point that the cases were dismissed precisely because the police evidence was so blatantly corrupt that even policemen who were there at the time are complaining that their subsequent attempts to bring the truth to the attention of the authorities were overruled.

Yet we are to trust politicians to sanction mass surveillance activities, which will almost certainly be Home Secretary Theresa May’s version of implementing David Anderson QC’s new report recommending judicial oversight. Apparently, the police are also now seeking powers to examine ‘weblogs’. Oh dear….

Hi, fellas. Kettle’s on.

These men are just asking for it

Highly intelligent people can often do quite stupid things.

We woke up this morning to the news that Professor John Ashton, the country’s most senior scientific adviser in the field of public health, was arguing publicly for a debate on reducing  the legal age of consent to sex, from 16 to 15.

Now, Ashton probably has perfectly good, public-health-type reasons for arguing this, although the fact that so many young people are already having sex before they are 16 ought not to be one of them. Bad cases do not make good laws. And he is probably right: 15 is no longer a child, lowering the age might paradoxically reduce teenage pregnancies because younger girls would seek advice earlier (of course, boys aren’t involved), German frauleins are legally at-it by 14 and it ought to be up to individuals, not the law, to determine what is appropriate behaviour in their own particular circumstances.

One assumes, too, that Prof Ashton’s intention was not to invite a barrage of death threats from the piss-stained-sofa brigade, spurred on by tabloid headlines and even now reaching for their sharpened Tweeters, shouting: “Kill the paedo Prof!” But on past form that’s what is quite likely to happen next.

Nor, I suppose, was he mentally prepared for the instant clouds of Tory steam emanating from the little indignation boiler kept at Number 10, where dwells a young, married Prime Minister blessed with an entire quiverfull of potentially molestable juveniles.

So, what did he expect would happen if he announced what he was merely thinking?

Ashton might have taken a leaf out of the well-publicised book of his fellow eminent scientist, the aptly named Professor David Nutt. The day after it was extensively reported that another young clubber had died from ingesting some industrial quantity of bespoke designer substance, Prof Nutt took to the airwaves to invite prospective investors to fund the manufacture of a new drug he has invented, that mimics all of the happy results of consuming alcohol without any of the harmful side-effects. (Side issue: sounds really boring.)

Prof Nutt is, or was, the country’s leading specialist in Psychopharmacology – the effects of chemicals on the human brain. Unfortunately, the Government committee he led researching into this subject a few years ago recommended the legalisation of ecstacy and cannabis, or at least a downgrading of the categories of certain drugs, maybe even heroin, I don’t really remember. The committee was instantly disbanded, and Prof Nutt sacked, for daring to make this scientifically respectable suggestion which, naturally, flew in the face of all that is holy regarding the War On Drugs, widely thought outside the office of the editor of the Sun to have been lost almost before it began.

It had perhaps not occurred to him that the first stumbling-block he might encounter was the Rt Hon David Blunkett – possibly the most reactionary and headline-averse Home Secretary we have had in living memory.

As a result of the Nutty Prof’s hostage to fortune, providing the Government with a fresh opportunity to restate and reimpose an illiberal policy on the nation’s recreational drug users, the designer-highs industry has flourished as never before. Sinister East Europeans are able to afford houses with three-storey basements in Knightsbridge, and many young Brits have died from the unlicensed psychopharmacological tinkerings of their imported Chinese lab technicians. Collateral damage, apparently.

Prof Ashton, on the other hand, has – pardon the phrase – come up against the strangely puritanical attitude of young Britons to sex. To summarise their arguments, sex is generally to be frowned on. Not a single interviewee under 20 has been found to be in favour of reducing the age of consent; regardless of the fact that, until 100 years ago, we didn’t have an age of consent. Families took responsibility for policing their own children, the overnight ‘sleepover’ at a ‘friend’s house’ had not yet been invented. The working-class would breed like rats, whatever the law said. Perhaps he should have consulted his own children, before risking his reputation.

These eminent men need to take a reality check. They can be as clever and sensible and reasoned and expert as they like. They can even be absolutely bang-on right about stuff.

But they need to leave it to stupid politicians to make the decisions, if they know what’s good for them.


As I have been writing this, the Attorney General of Northern Ireland has proposed a moratorium on the expanding number of expensive police investigations, coroners’ inquests and lawyer-led inquiries into illegal acts, murders basically, carried on over 15 years ago during the so-called Troubles; pointing out, not without reason, that it is costing £millions and preventing policemen and lawyers from catching-up with today’s backlog of unruliness. He too is now a headless corpse, having been decapitated by the snapping teeth of the Prime Minister and just about every victim support group, who now comprise the majority of the population.

What on earth did he expect? Silly man.

A consummation devoutly to be wished

“It becomes harder to live by the ‘rules’ of warfare, when the strongest weapon held by the weaker side is a willingness to ignore the rules.”

Morality in war

The Second World War was justified, in every fibre of Winston Churchill’s being, as a Manichean struggle between the civilised values and traditions of the British Empire, and the dark shadow of ruthless German expansionism. It was no longer (as it was in actuality) just another in the long-running series of European wars fought over territory, to establish German ideological and industrial hegemony in the vacuum created by the simultaneous collapse of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, and the perceived weakness of the other great European powers. It was not even a Wagnerian echo of the irresistible movement of pagan Germanic tribes south and westwards in the wake of the collapse of the Roman empire in the fifth century AD.

While the Nazis themselves tried to evoke memories of a mythical, heroic past, somehow struggling to remain good Catholics and Lutherans, Churchill’s brilliant masterstroke was to brand the war as a contest simply between two ideologies: Good and Evil. But in his mind was only the preservation of Empire. The liberation of France, the rescue of the Poles and Czechs and the lives of European Jews had nothing to do with it, although they should have. This was a war fought above all to keep India British and Europe in the balance.

Resistance to Nazism was successfully presented as a moral necessity – a crusade. This idea gained such traction that it helped to bring the majority of Americans into line with British war aims, just as it sustained the British people through the dark years of 1940 to ’43. Hitler’s single biggest blunder, Operation Barbarossa – the invasion of Soviet Russia – may have been motivated by the necessity to gain control of the Baku oilfields, rather than a desire to outshine Napoleon, having been denied access to Middle Eastern oil to fuel his tanks. But bringing Stalin into the conflict required the other Allied powers to forget for the time being that Soviet Russia was equally a diabolical, expansionist institution of enormous brutality, economic incompetence and State oppression: equally ‘evil’. This quasi-religious view of irreligious post-revolutionary Russia could only be revived after the inconvenience of the war was over, when the continuing struggle for global power became more political, economic.

And yet, who is to say that populist ideologies, the imposition of order through martial law, the gulags, the camps and the general slaughter of Kulaks were wrong? In what sense? We judge history, only from our own liberal, consumerist perspective; often with the benefit of hindsight. Had either of the twin evil ideologies prevailed, we might now be living in a world in which liberal, consumerist values were considered perverse, heretical – dangerous.

Nowadays, the idea of Nazi Germany as having been uniquely evil seems unquestionable. No-one in their right mind doubts that we were the good guys and the Germans (and their evil Japanese mates) the bad guys, the Other. It became, and remains probably for all time, impossible to hear the word ‘Nazi’ without a frisson of horror. Merely to question whether morality had any relevance in that conflict is to give support and approval to the undoubted brutalities of the regime, to the Holocaust of the European Jews. Not even the most counterfactual historical revisionist would dare to ponder on what Europe as ‘Greater Germany’ might look like now, seventy years on, without invoking the memory of intolerable savagery, callous indifference to life and the rights of the individual; the dead hand of trench-coated police bureaucracy.

Yet, as we know, the solution to the German problem adopted after the war was to bring them into the fold of civilised nations; rather than giving them further excuse to cause mayhem by attempting to crush them into submission, to obliterate them culturally and economically, as happened after the First World War. The starving survivors were successfully reprogrammed, detached from their Nazi past; the Allied powers declared themselves ready to show mercy, to finance prosperous decades of German political and economic expansion as a benefit to Europe and the world infinitely preferable to further costly attempts by both sides at military conquest.

Nibbling around the fringes of this colossal theme, it has become possible after so many decades to debate – not how evil were the Nazis, which is taken as read, but how good in fact were the Allied powers? For instance, while on the one hand 55,000 Allied airmen of Bomber Command bravely gave their lives trapped in freezing-cold, Spam-can deathtraps over Occupied Europe to strike at the evil (but highly productive) heart of Nazi Germany, it is relatively safe now to question whether it was an ethically acceptable or even militarily effective policy to deliberately obliterate whole cities, killing by firestorm almost half a million civilians – many of whom would  not have lived long enough to vote for National Socialism. The excuse that: ‘They started it’ does not really stand up in the court of Eternal justice.

For, even amid the brutal struggle between good and evil, through the fog of countless war histories, one might still detect here and there the signs of a military code of conduct operating, bearing echoes of medieval chivalry. Such behaviour was in large part enshrined in the Geneva Conventions governing treatment of enemy combatants, prisoners and civilian populations – who were expressly not to be slaughtered wholesale. It was also encoded in the organisation and bearing of the regiment: the historical traditions attached to individual fighting units on all sides, whose command hierarchies were still largely class-based. And, of course, the higher up the social scale your officer class stood, the more obligatory the concept of Noblesse Oblige became.

Not for nothing was Hitler portrayed in the aristocratic Churchill’s inspired mythology as a jumped-up, lower-class arriviste: a failed house-painter no less! (Both men were competent amateur artists. And while Churchill was a depressive borderline alcoholic and bon viveur, Hitler was an abstemious, fastidious character with a strong moral code.) Especially in Britain, the caste system still had a powerful resonance. Chivalry on the other hand was the preserve of the knightly classes, both in Britain and in Germany; the code of Bushido in Japan had long outlasted the demise of the Samurai. In the mid-twentieth century there were still rules of warfare, even if they weren’t entirely adhered to by any side; courtly behaviour on the battlefield and in the aftermath of engagements was still seen as the ideal, especially between officers. Death came before dishonour, to a Commando.

What has happened to change all that is simply that warfare has become increasingly asymmetrical. The idea of a conflict between equal powers has faded into the historical background. Wars are increasingly policing, or ‘peacekeeping’ actions involving major power commitment to propping-up clients against local insurgencies. With this massive technological disparity between combatants comes a distancing between the rival forces. Their war aims differ; their ideologies and cultures are more alien to one another. It becomes harder to live by the ‘rules’ of warfare, when the strongest weapon held by the weaker side is a willingness to ignore the rules. No system of morality can govern warfare in which one side only possesses the technology to kill at long-range, impersonally and without compassion: guns and bombs versus clubs and swords. Drones versus suicide vests.

Two men battling hand-to-hand, face-to-face, still have what one might term the ‘mother’s son’ option, to recognise one another’s common humanity. The victor has the opportunity to spare the loser’s life, and may calculate that, in doing so, he gains greater power and advantage than by callously terminating his opponent on the spot. There is less of a moral compass when one of the combatants is a starving peasant farmer armed with a bashed-up AK-47, while the other is a well-paid college graduate sitting in a bunker six thousand miles away at a million-dollar computer interface, remotely operating an unmanned drone armed with Hellfire missiles as if it were a game, going home at night. Drones cannot (yet) take prisoners, however useful prisoners may sometimes be. But drones can, and daily do, kill innocent women and children; which, in my book and, amusingly, also under the Geneva Conventions, is murder.

And so we come to the case of ‘Sergeant A’, who has this week been convicted of the crime of murder by a military tribunal in England. It is an extraordinarily difficult situation. On the one hand, the evidence is incontestable: ‘Sergeant A’, a veteran Royal Marines commando who had completed three terms fighting in the front line in Helmand, was filmed on a fellow marine’s helmet camera dispatching with a single pistol shot, a badly wounded Taliban opponent. This happened in the aftermath of a lethal firefight, in which two other British marines had been killed. Crucially, it did not happen during the firefight itself. The view of the tribunal was to agree with ‘Sergeant A”s own words, recorded at the scene, that he had just broken the Geneva Conventions, which propose that an enemy who is hors de combat should be considered a prisoner deserving of capture, rather than summary execution.

On the other side of murder, stands the military code of honour which, I would argue, was indeed observed by both parties.

This soldier of the Taliban – a poorly armed political and religious insurgency opposed to Western intervention in Afghanistan – knew when he signed-up to fight, that there was a very good chance he would be killed. For the Afghan warrior class, by both tradition and religious belief, and for Muslims in general, death on the battlefield while fighting the Infidel is an honour. To portray such young men as ‘terrorists’ is a gross insult, but we do so in order to bolster the belief that our side are the good guys. Whether we like it or not, whether or not it accords with our squeamish, civilised modern values, every armed man, good or bad, fights in the knowledge that he (or she) is being asked possibly to sacrifice themselves; and, perhaps harder, to sacrifice the lives of others.

There is a long and, in some part, honourable tradition of dispatching combatants to their own Valhalla who, for whatever reason, cannot continue making war, if it is not considered feasible, or if it would be prejudicial to the mission, to spare them. Soldiers have performed this service for one another for centuries. The principle is accepted by every combatant, whether a trained soldier or a dirt-farmer’s son, that the enemy has a duty to take your life; but so does your comrade, as a military necessity. It is accepted too by every pet owner and racehorse trainer, that suffering should be ended as quickly and painlessly as possible. Ending suffering may involve medical treatment leading to recovery, or it may involve a kindly bullet in the head. In times of war, normal morality – the biblical injunction: ‘Thou shalt not kill’, the social compact – can become an unaffordable luxury.

And as the ‘good’ guys, our claim to having a greater moral concern than the enemy for the lives of innocent bystanders is not always an honest one, is it? ‘Collateral damage’ is a pretty disgusting euphemism, under the Geneva Conventions, for the State-licensed murder our heroes practise daily in the pursuit of the bad guys. In wartime, ‘the greater good’ takes precedence.

Being thus dispatched by your enemy and fellow combatant, however, does not normally take place – at least, one assumes it does not – to the accompaniment of quotations from Hamlet. As he fired the fatal shot, ‘Sergeant A’ was heard to hastily mutter, in a rather selfconscious way, and somewhat out of context: ‘Shuffle off this mortal coil!’ It seems more like a benediction than an expression of murderous intent.

Whilst deprecating the act of shuffling another human being for any reason at all, I’d prefer to think of our Muslim insurgent – as he would think – as having been martyred honourably on the battlefield, resisting the enemy with his life as he was bound to do, with the witty rejoinder on his lips: ”Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished!’ But then, I don’t suppose Shakespeare gets much of a look-in at your average madrassa.

The marine’s option, of course, would have been to save the prisoner’s life somehow, possibly at the cost of further lives in his own unit, only to see him disappear into some rat-infested Afghan police shithole to have whatever tiny amounts of useful info he might still know tortured out of him. Anal rape and partial drowning or electrocution would, I suppose, be the more moral alternative to saving him from either bleeding to death in pain, or allowing his own comrades to administer the coup de grace, as they undoubtedly would have.

As it is, locking Sgt Blackman up for life for the ‘murder’ of this anonymous insurgent has effectively handed a victory to the enemy.

Perhaps the lesson of this tragic episode is that headcams are not such a good idea in war.

Crime and Punishment

Since my last Post welcoming the decision of the European Court of Human Rights to order the British government to build-in a sentencing review to the so-called ‘whole-life’ tariff they have imposed for headline-avoiding reasons on a reluctant judiciary, I have had one Like, whose own Comment thread (how come everyone else gets Comments and I just get Likes?) contains some thought-provoking material.

It seems that some Americans are uneasy about their own religious courts’ verdicts, which prompted me to think about the whole subject of ‘crime and punishment’ and whether, in fact, ‘punishment’ is even an appropriate concept for changing criminal behaviours?

Throughout recorded history, humans have believed ardently in ‘punishment’ as a corrective to antisocial behaviours. Among the many entertaining and instructive things we have done to prisoners found more or less guilty of crimes against the state or person:

  • We have tried chopping off their hands and feet, cutting out their tongues and gouging out their eyes.
  • We have thrown them off cliffs, and nailed them upside-down by the hands and feet to T-shaped crossbeams until they died from loss of blood or dehydration.
  • We have tied them to carriage wheels and flogged them; skinned them alive, stoned them to death. We have buried them up to their necks in the broiling sun and then driven over them with blades that cut off their heads. We have encouraged villeins to throw rotting fruit at them.
  • We have put them up before firing squads, attached their testicles to electrodes, tumbrilled them to the guillotine, fitted them with spiked iron collars and helmets, stretched them on the rack and broken their bones with hammers; branded them and thrown them into oubliettes, tossing-in rotting meat to attract maggots and rats to eat them alive, or let them simply starve to death.
  • We have hanged them by the neck until they became unconscious, revived them, slit open their bellies and dragged out their entrails, burning them on hot coals, before tying them, still conscious, to horses and pulling their limbs off, finally cutting off their heads and sticking them on poles outside the city walls.
  • We have shot their heads from cannons, bundled them up in carpets and ridden squadrons of cavalry over them.
  • We’ve condemned men to years of hard labour propelling treadmills 14 hours a day to power factories, for the crime of being born homosexual. To suitably punish England’s only known gay king, Richard 11, his executioners pushed a white-hot poker all the way up his anus. And guess what? 1 in 20 people are still gay!
  • We have publicly hanged ten year-old boys and girls starving on the streets for stealing five shillings from drunken bourgeoisie; or sent them 12 thousand miles away in rotting ships to break rocks in the colonies.
  • We have chained them to the oars of galley-warships, driving them into battle knowing that if their ship is sunk, there is no escape; exiled them to the mines, and hanged men for poaching a rabbit or stealing a sheep, to feed their hungry families.
  • We have burned them on bonfires, drowned them, gassed them, electrocuted them until they died smelling their own flesh burning, forced them to take poison or lethal drugs, raped and murdered their wives and children in front of them…
  • We have sentenced them to years and years of pointless deprivation of their liberty, chained in gangs to break stones for roads, sewing mailbags or forced to watch mind-numbing television 23 hours a day; then thrown them back on the street, daring them to offend again.
  • While, at my famous British ‘public school’ in the 1960s, there was a practice known as ‘postoring’, wherein a miscreant would be tied to a beam in the roofspace above the tuckshop and all 13 of the school’s Praepostors, or senior boys, would take a run at him in turn with a split-ended cane. Corporal punishment was a frequent feature of British education until the 1980s. It had no effect whatever on pupil discipline.

All in the name of the law.

Tell me, brother. Has any of this hideous litany of ‘punishments’ ever done a single damned thing to prevent what you call ‘crime’? Has it never occurred to you that ‘punishment’ is, in fact, the single most common CAUSE of crime?

Just because your Daddy took his belt to you every Friday night, doesn’t make you right.