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Saturday, 14 June 2014

If you want to know the future, look to the past

Seeing the map on the BBC website of the ISIS advances in Iraq, something looked alarmingly familiar. A bit of rooting about amongst the many maps of the protestant / catholic campaigns of the 30 years war quickly produced something very similar;

It's all about lines of communication and whether these pass through friendly or hostile land. History suggests that ISIS will not be successful in the area south of Baghdad as they lack the military clout needed to pacify and hold this hostile territory - but that the converse is also true for any Shia forces seeking to re-take land to the north.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Oh dear. I'm officially a failure.

As it's Friday afternoon I've just taken a Telegraph quiz with available answer options a,b and c. Reader, I must be honest - I had to invent a new 'd' answer to every single question. How would you do?

1. You’re logging into Facebook to…

A) a picture of you having dinner with friends. You look amazing in it but that’s by-the-by.
B) ...keep up to date with news from friends and family. Your cousin’s just had a baby - maybe a picture will be up?
C) …check how many ‘likes’ your gym selfie has got. Your guns are looking huge in this one, but so far only 149 people have left positive comments. Is it your hair that’s the problem? 
D) Try to delete my account for the umpteenth time. It's like a vampire with a dozen stakes through its heart - I can't get rid of the wretched thing, which I only opened in order to try 'spotify'

2. You’re switching on the TV to watch…
A) ...the football. Footballers always seem to be one step ahead of the latest grooming trends.
B) …the football. You’d never miss one of your team’s games.
C) ...Geordie Shore. When you’re not looking at you, you want to be looking at people like you. 
D) ...A film on BBC2 that's not available online

3. If you were a comic book character you would be...
A) Batman. You may or may not be in a gay relationship with your sidekick but that’s not really the point. You also have a basement stuffed with sweet gadgets.
B) Superman. Save the day, get the girl.
C) The Incredible Hulk. Because bigger is always better. 
D) Captain Haddock in Tintin
4. It’s a big night out. What’s your poison?
A) Red wine. There was a period when it would have been cocaine too, but the ethical implications worried you - not to mention what it did to your skin.
B) Real ale.
C) Double vodka Red Bull. You’re always getting offered MDMA in clubs but you’re not sure how it will react with the steroids you’re taking. 
D) Tanqueray gin and French over lots of ice 

5. Time for party small talk with another man. Your first question is…
A) This is Prada, right? I’ve been trying to track one down in cobalt blue for ages.
B) Did you catch the game last night?
C) Bro, do you lift? 
D) Have you seen Robert's article in the LRB?

6. Time to approach a woman at a party. Your opener is...
A) A woman in an A-line dress should never be standing by herself.
B) Are you a parking ticket? Because you’ve got "fine" written all over you.
C) My mate’s up for a threesome. You in? 
D) Ah, those are St Hilda's colours aren't they?
7. It’s the morning after the night before. What do you eat?
A) Ottolenghi’s Middle Eastern take on Full English - a simple twist on a classic.
B) Full English, what else?
C) Full English with 18 eggs, 20 rashers of bacon and no bread. This machine runs on protein. 
D) Marinated raw Herring in onion. Really. It's wonderfully effective. 

8. How would you describe your relationship with porn?
A) You watch it a couple of times a week but understand it doesn’t have much bearing on reality.
B) Strained now that Nuts has folded.
C) You’ve uploaded a couple of videos of you and the girlfriend to amateur sites but should really try professional soon.
D) I rather miss 'Mayfair'. There were some very good articles.

9. Let’s talk t-shirts. V-neck or crew neck?
A) If your face is long, you'll try to offset this with a plain crew neck - and vice-versa if your face is round.
B) You don’t talk t-shirts.
C) V-neck - the deeper the better
D) I have a Hanes long-sleeve vest I wear under my shirt in very cold weather if I'm outside

10. Which of these best describes your approach to life?
A) Always look out for number one.
B) Hope for the best, expect the worst.
C) Sun’s out - guns out. 
D) Trying my best to lead a Christian life

Perhaps the Telegraph is just for children these days. 

UK useless at foreign policy shock

Whenever the Prime Minister gets on his hind legs to give support to one faction in some foreign land or to condemn another you can be sure of only one thing - he'll be backing the wrong horse. So consistently inept has Mr Cameron been at working out which protagonist is acting in Britain's interest and which is not, one is just grateful that his decimation of the armed forces has rendered him incapable of following policy blunder with military force.

Cameron's chums in Libya are now facilitating the largest ever migration of poor African economic migrants to Europe's soft underbelly, his friends in Ukraine are raving fascists who would definitely not be tolerant of Mr Mandelson and his Brazilian friend. More dangerously, his chums the Syrian rebels have now grown into ISIS and he faces having to change sides and support President Assad to contain a threat that's actually for the first time a danger to the UK. And as Peter Oborne suggests in the Telegraph Iran will be a critically important ally. Iraq has already put away old bitternesses and invited the Iranian Republican Guard in to help in the fight against ISIS. 

So far Cameron has given all his support to the Sunni side in the Islamic civil war. I would rather we remain detached, supporting neither side, but if Cameron feels compelled to intervene, his history of error suggests we should be backing the Shia.

Given that Willie Hague doesn't share Cameron's scant acquaintance with history one wonders if the PM consults the FCO at all before Cameron puts his foot in it.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Civil war redraws old boundaries

The Islamic civil war is playing out exactly as our own thirty year war did. Then, the boundaries of old feudal holdings were redrawn to reflect not only the catholic / protestant split amongst Europe's peoples but the respective sustained capabilities of the many warlords each carving out a fiefdom. The move in the news today is the birth of a potential Sunni 'nation' in an area of northern Iraq and Syria that is predominantly Sunni anyway; the map shows the story. 

To the east, the Shia lands in Iran. To the north, Shia and Kurdish peoples in Turkey and to the west the Shia / Christian settlements on the mediterrannean coast. Within the lime-green Sunni crescent you will notice some cerise blobs - Christians, now almost certainly being exterminated - and the brown blob of Yezidi, the 'devil worshippers', now almost certainly also the target of radical Sunni puritanism. 

Of course the whole was once a longtime part of the Ottoman empire, Sykes-Picot and its national boundaries being a thing of a mere hundred years. The press are much excited about 'preserving' Iraq and Syria's boundaries, and whether doing so will draw us back into warfare. The question is why would we want to preserve them? For trade and commercial convenience? To avoid having to change the labels on the tables at the UN? 

I've made the point before that neither Africa nor Islam has undergone the Enlightenment. A way-out thought entered my head this morning, a left-field thought so utterly unconnected with our previous experience that it's worth mentioning here in print. It's Bitcoin. Or rather, the algorithms behind it - secure distributed ledger systems; a leap in technology, economics and social inter-relations that will revolutionise the role of states, governments and economies. As science and technology led Europe from sectarian civil war to Enlightenment, will an utterly novel type of science and technology support the evolution of a new Islamic world in the Middle East?    

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Schools where local is better

I've always found quite repugnant the fact that French schools are so tightly centrally regulated that at any time on any schoolday officials in the Quai d'Orsay know exactly what is being taught across France. In England, at this time of year, the only certainty was that on a Wednesday afternoon bats and pads, stumps and balls would be roused from the sports store and boys would learn the mysteries of this peculiar English religion. Girls, I suppose, went on Byronic walks with poetically inclined mistresses or some-such. Or played tennis. No doubt these days the vulgar striving for GCSEs has put paid to Wednesday afternoons.

Poor Michael Gove, a deeply sincere man, who, as Simon Jenkins points out this morning is attempting to run some 24,000 schools from his Whitehall desk, is at great risk of introducing not the British values that he genuinely supports but the French tyranny of central control. Localism is no universal panacea, and critics will rightly point to the democratic failures both in Tower Hamlets and Birmingham where incomers have brought all the worst characteristics of their own cultures to befoul local governance. But generally, across most of the country, small, local Boards of Education, the employment of parent governors, and school purse strings held by a truly local authority that can exercise probity and oversee stewardship of public funds must surely be the right way. 

Monday, 9 June 2014

EU leaders drift away ...

Fighting over a warm corpse

It's extraordinary that the Conservative Party is almost openly starting the hustings for the election of a new leader before the existing one has even lost the general election. The reason for his sudden snap at May and Gove, Huhne suggests in the Guardian, is "that he does not want to be fought over as if he were a warm corpse. He is not dead yet, and does not take kindly to infighting that suggests senior Conservatives are already jockeying for position post-Cameron."

Cameron typifies the role of the Etonian upper classes as being utterly useless at anything of importance. At the start of the second world war, the British army was led exclusively by such men; charming chaps, who knew which fork to use but couldn't win a battle for a pipe of port. As the BEF set off for France their commander the Lord Gort took his sword, his charger, grooms and servants. As Gort fled back to Blighty in the teeth of the German advance, the poor horse was shot on the quayside, thus ending the briefest period of active service for a warhorse. By the time we returned to Normandy in 1944 in the words of a contemporary "The Gentlemen are out and the Players are in". The old upper class had been replaced at almost all levels of higher command of the army by capable, hardy and effective Grammar school boys and those of the provincial Yeoman classes, by Saffies and Canucks, men who may not have been adept at peeling quails' eggs but who could turn a battle.

Cameron is the Lord Gort of our time. Brave but stupid and ineffective, leading the nation to defeat. Now is not the time for Osborne, another from the same drawer; his ship has sailed. The Conservative Party now needs a Player like Montgomery (St Pauls School). And that may even mean another woman. 

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Correction: We support 'three sheets' Juncker for EU President

This blog may have given the impression that we were opposed to the appointment of His Waltness Herr Juncker as EU President, and Der Spiegel may have given the impression of supporting it. In fact, the opposite positions apply. We fully support Herr Juncker's candidacy, and Der Spiegel is signalling a change of position. Andrew Rawnsley also advises Observer readers why they should oppose Herr Juncker.

Revelations that Juncker is not only a failed corrupt politician kicked out of office in Luxembourg (which by all standards has a low bar for political probity) but that he's a drunk who can't control his expletive-filled ranting must make him a perfect candidate. His outdated world view, stuck somewhere in a 1980s kellerbar and utterly irrelevant to the problems that Europe faces today, only enhances his qualities for the job. His past history of corruption in Luxembourg will ensure he leads the Commission to new heights of crooked peculation, fraud and theft and will ensure that EU accounts remain unsigned until well into the 2020s. The man is perfect. 

Nigel needs to time his one-minute group leaders' speech for after lunch, with Juncker in the chamber having dined well. The video will surpass anything from the EP so far.