The Greater Dictator

All written as a vision of the future, 1994 was almost a quarter century ago. In this day and age, we may think that in The world is full of evil and uncertainty. But the truth is we are quite sheltered from the vagaries of dictatorship and the evils forecast in Orwell’s dystopian novel. Seventy years ago, Hitler and Mussolini may have been toppled but Franco was still Caudillo and Titp ruled Yugoslavia. We had further odious examples like Duvalier, Mugabe, Pinochet or what Amin yet to come.

But the grand-daddy of them all—Josef Stalin—bestrode an empire stretching from Brandenburg to the Bering Strait and was using newly developed atomic weapons and ICBMs to eyeball America for domination of the world. Three decades of dictatorship in what had become one of the world’s two superpowers made his whims more terrifying to more people then Hitler ever achieved.

And yet, the most effective documentary of this and Stalin’s demise is not a documentary but a black satire from in the venomous pen of Armando Iannucci. ‘The Death of Stalin’. The trailer does not do it justice. Sharper and more penetrating in its observations is the film review from Manihla Dargis in the New York Times on Match 8th. It is not a film for the politically queasy—it is by turns entertaining and unsettling, with laughs that morph into gasps and uneasy gasps that erupt into queasy, choking laughs. Cars rises to the occasion of the excellent writing, with Steve Buscemi (an artist at portraying scheming untrustworthiness—as he was in Fargo) particularly effective as Khrushchev.

Chaplin may have made a good first of sending up Hitler in his 1940 Great Dictator. But this is an is an even better vehicle for Armando Iannucci to exercise his unique grasp on how funny politics can be, especially when it drifts into being overly serious. The Soviet state under Stalin was the most efficiently draconian and merciless a monolith as the world has ever seen. He kept his teeth at the BBC by creating the Alan Partridge character but developed his political satire in The Thick of It, featuring the scathingly abrasion character that lampooned spin doctors in general and Alistair Campbell in particular. his shrewd mix of humour, current affairs and human frailty lead to more such success with the film In the Loop and the HBO series Veep. A 20 minute interview with Mark Kermode gives insight into his approach to this film.

So there is probably nobody better qualified to take on the demise of such a demagogue and portray the structure of fear on which despotism rests by illuminating its flaws and weaknesses by using the penetrating arc light of a scathingly targeted humour.

Guard 1: [hearing Stalin’s body hit the floor with a thud] “Should we investigate…?”

Guard 2: “Should you shut the fuck up before you get us both killed?”

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No Coward, But a Prophet

The last week or two have seen more than the usual chorus of voices demanding ministerial statements on everything from soup to nuts. There have been the usual gamut of talking heads, most appearing to be unknowns too young for that job, bur all briefed to the hilt how to answer any question but the one asked.

Many people regard mealy-mouthed evasion as being the product of 21st century spin doctors. But this is untrue. 77 years ago in Britain’s darkest hour of May 1941 when the British Army was being hustled out of Greece and Libya, when the Bismarck was creating nightmares at the Admiralty, when every ally was prostrate—against all of which today’s travails would seem like midge bites, that quintessential Englishman Noel Coward demonstrated the quintessential sang-froid for which the English are famous by taking time out from the end of the world to lampoon the government in verse that still seems compellingly relevant today.

“We must have a speech from a Minister.

It’s what we’ve been trained to expect.

We’re faced with defeat and despair and disaster;

We couldn’t be losing our colonies faster.

We know that we haven’t the guns to defend

The ‘Mermaid’ at Rye or the pier at Southend.

You have no idea how we grown to depend

In hours of crisis

On whacking great slices

Of verbal evasion and dissimulation.

A nice governmental appeal to the nation

We’d listen to gladly, with awe and respect.

We know that the moment is sinister

And what we’ve been earnestly trained to expect.

When such moments we reach,

It’s a lovely long speech

(never comment or chat

About this; about that)

But a really ling speech

An extremely long speech

An ambiguous speech from a minister.

 

We must have a speech from a Minister.

We don’t mind a bit who it is,

As long as we get that drab lack of conviction

That dismal, self-conscious, inadequate diction

We find Mr Churchill a trifle uncouth.

His ill-represented passion for telling the truth

Who ‘Eye for an Eye’ and his ‘Tooth for a Tooth’

Is violent, too snappy.

We’d be far more happy

With some old Appeaser’s inert peroration.

We’d give ourselves up to complete resignation,

Refusing to worry or get in a fuzz;

We know that the moment is sinister.

We already said we don’t mind who it is

We’ll fight on the beach

For a really long speech

(not a breezy address

Or a postscript on Hess)

But a lovely long speech,

A superbly long speech

An embarrassing speech from a Minister.

—fro, The Complete Poems of Noel Coward, published by Methuem Drama, London 2011   © NIC Avebtales as heritors to the estate of Noel Cowatd

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Nobbut Muck—Wi’owt Brass

We Scots have got used to London regarding Peterborough as a northern town two stops short of the Arctic Circle. Regular readers may already be bracing themselves for more Union-bashing broadsides. But fear not; it is actually a plea for sympathetic action on behalf of our Northern English cousins, with whom we share much in common—not least exasperation with the Southern English.

Travel beyond commuting distance from the London terminus of your choice and the idea you are still in the same country is hard to sustain. The early church was way ahead of its time when it created two Archbishoprics: Canterbury and York. Leaving aside a couple of brutal civil wars, Plantagenets and Tudors welded together a fairly homogeneous country. But, no sooner were the Scots and Napoleon tamed then empire offered untold riches. Just collect the world’s bountiful raw materials, process them in bulk, then sell then back to said world at huge profit.

That required copious amounts of power. In England, only the northern half had hydri and coal to provide this, so hugely profitable satanic mills built the great industrial cities of the North. Because industry required food and finance, the fertile South did equally well. But this was where social stratification—once evenly spread from Kent to Cumbria–took on geographic dimensions. Manchester and Durham might develop universities second to none but anybody who wanted to become anybody went to Oxbridge, often to study ‘The Greats’ and not some lower-class craft like engineering thatgot your hands dirty.

Success across the Empire was achieved by men (and it was only men) from all corners of Britain. But, governors’ palaces, City boardrooms, Whitehall ministries and the stock exchange rang to me plummy tones of Oxbridge graduate. Northern accents were a rarity. While Britannia ruled the waves, everyone from mil owner to mill worker prospered, sharinga a common sense of purpose from Hampstead to Halifax (although the people of one seldom visited the other).

NSdivide

Boundary between North and South England

After World War 2, such cosy consensus started to unravel. Steam locomotives went out of style; Koreams built ships better and cheaper; Australians strip-mined coal cheaper; Germans built better cars with better steel; Americans innovated chips and computers. All England could come up with was Smash and Clive Sinclair. Things were equally dire across the country in the 70s. But Thatcher’s ‘Big Bang’ put the City on steroids. Which boosted salaries in property, big law firms, big accountancy firms, restaurants—provided that they were within the aforementioned commute distance of the Square Mile. But anywhere above the dividing liner between the Severn and the’t Humber is now lumped in with the Scots as closer to Lapland than to civilisation

For all the hand-wringing about a ‘Northern Powerhouse’, the struggling urban centres ringing Manchester, Leeds where jobs are few, wages are low and prospects are dim. All that is compounded by worsening disparities in health (see last August BMJ). People living in the North aged 35 to 44 our 49% more likely to die suddenly then those in the South. Whether it rates of obesity, or GCSE results, or even the density of Gregg’s outlets, the North comes off worse. As The Telegraph puts it:

London and the surrounding area will keep on booming as Britain’s richest corners pull further ahead of the rest of the country with a GVA growing by 2.2% per year, ahead of the UK average of 1.8%.

North GVAsrars

Comparison of Gross Value Added between Northern regions and London

Successive governments have promised to read dress such imbalance. But investing he promised £500 million in northern transport projects is dwarfed by Crossrail’s £14.8bn or £9bn for the Olympics or £1.5bn for the “super port” in the Thames. As a result, the basic statistic of employment shows and ever widening North/South gap:

EmplueeSrars

Percentage change in employment 2008-2013 (source: NUTS1

The upcoming Brexit will affect manufacturing, on which the North still depends, far more than services, which is the South’s economic flywheel. Unless the North finds a USP such as Scotland’s oil, whisky and tourism to compete with the voracious black hole London has become, this divide will yawn wider. It is already worse than what  once split Germany. It is on track to spawn a fifth nations on these islands.—four to the north of the Severn/Humber divide with 45 million people sharing common GVA, common interest with each other and with their once and future EU partners.

For centuries, the 30 million in the Greater London City State that is the South has always regarded foreign languages spoken across the channel as untrustworthy, with the rest of the British Isles has a handy back yard to exploit. Bit in the self imposed isolation on which the South seems so keen, they may regret treating their northern cousins and go the way of narcissistically self-reliant City states like Constantinople or Venice.

 

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Brexit: Runners & Riders

Yes, this topic has reached tedium, and far as normal people (i.e. non-anoraks) are concerned. But the whole kerfuffle just reached its watershed, with a slippery slide to conclusion laid out before us like the proverbial patient etherised upon a table. The last week has seen a flurry from the main dramatis personae of this national drama of ours. Rehearsals are over; opening night’s behind us; and, though the ending remains murky, the whole thing is playing out as a tragedy.

Don’t just take my word for it—the most potent arguments pro and con have been deployed with 12 months to go. Compared to the draft legal document tabled by a united EU this week, the ones who started it are all over the place. With a 17 million vs 16 million outcome in the 2016 referendum, this is no surprise. Yet examining the various cases being made, what is striking is that Remain arguments our court hearing and consistent while Brexiteers deploy an emotional spectrum of chaos.

The latter do have form on this. Starting with wild pronouncements like £350 million per week extra for the NHS, they have indulged in implausible assertions: being able to stitch  a trade agreement together in an afternoon; that the Irish border could be dealt with like that between Westminster and Camden. Examine who is leading their charge, and you understand why this is. Theresa May is a steady (i.e. unimaginative) hand who makes heavy weather of leadership.

Squabbling behind her back is a reincarnation of Billy Bunter and his chums. Michael Gove and Jacob Rees-Mogg remain incarnations of the smug swot who wound up gettung scragged behind the bike shed—usually by people like Boris Johnson. Perhaps there determination not to get scragged in the Commons is why they exude political opportunism the way they used to swear. Eachexpounds Brexit like a mantra—but none seem to spend even five minutes in each other’s company to agree what it means. They each believe a 52-to-48 margin constitutes a landslide endorsement. But quite how rejection of European partnership can lead to better trade deals then we already have varies by whichever Brexiteer you listen to. Names, numbers, dates and other specifics are typically absent.

This is poor protection from the heavy guns recently pounding them, none of whom need fret about political ambition any more. Tony Blair, John Major and Michael Heseltine are heavyweights, none of whom have been slavish fans of the EU. Their recent interventions all cogently argued the same thing: that hard Brexit is unnecessary, damaging and rides roughshod over the wishes of half the country. They cite economic sources who all forecast declining affluence the further we push our European neighbours away. There are certainly flaws in how the EU operates. But to see the big picture, the table below pulls together six of the best arguments made recently on either side of the argument,

You don’t believe me? Compare and contrast for yourselves

LEAVERS   REMAINERS
Theresa Nay Speech at Mandion House Friday March 2nd   Tony Blair Speech at European Policy Centre on Thurs 1st March 2018
Boris Johnson Speech at Coffee House Weds February 14th   John Major Speech to Creative Industries Federation om Thur 1st March 2018
Michael Gove Essay in The Independent Tuesday 20th Feb   Michael Hesseltine “Voices” column in The Independent
Liam Fox “Road to Brexit” speech Tuesday 27th February   Jeremy Corbyn Spectaytor Coffee House, report Sunday Feb. 25th
Jacob Rees-Mogg Reburs John Major in The Expressm Thu March 1st   Phillip Hammond “UK Needs Trade Agreenebt: Tuesday 27th February
David Davis “Foundation of the Future” speech Tuesday 20th February   Carolyn Fairbairn (CBI) CBI Position Speech Sunday January 21st

 

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Down to 25 in Old Money

It’s amazing what a little slow can do. Like paralyse civilisation. Here in Central Scotland we are on our second day of Red weather alerts after two prelude days of biting East winds and a whole prior week of dire warnings that’s Siberia was about to be visited upon us. Because they used it at every opportunity, the BBC was obviously chuffed with the epithet they had dreamed up for it: “The Beast from the East”. It’s certainly Baltic: last night down to 25°F (-4°C for any millennials may be reading this).

So you can’t say we didn’t get fear warning. And, as a write with the snow drifting to 30 cm in the street outside, the forecast is for worse to come. Granted, this combination of cold, wind and heavy snowfall has not been seen this decade anywhere south of the Highland Line. But I can’t resist the opportunity it gives a card-carrying bufti like me to Slide into grumpy old git mode.

Yesterday laid bare the fragility of our 21st century lifestyle. Despite ample warning and running empty trains overnight to keep track clear, all trains were halted by 6 PM on the first day. Bus services were also suspended and many people heeded the red warning and stayed at home. But articulated lorries, by which virtually all our goods and food move, thought they could tough it out. But they couldn’t make the hills, resulting in then swerving all over the road and turning the M80 into an overnight parking lot.

Because almost everyone drives in from afar, half the shops and businesses closed for lack of staff—and the other half closed for a lack of customers. Bufties like me Will recall 55 years ago when the storm of cold that hit at Christmas 1962 lasted until March 1963 and saw 6 foot snowdrifts, temperatures of-20 C (at Braemar) that froze streams, lakess and even small parts of the sea. But daily life did not freeze. Because most people Live close to their work, factories and shops carried on. Trains kept running because they were drawn by 100 tons en steam locomotive, which took a lot of stopping. The local postie and I both piled our bags on sledges, bundling his letters and my newspapers to minimise how much snow either had to slog through.

BassStorm

Winter Storm over Bass Rock from West Beach North Berwick  © Gordon Macdonald of Clanranald

This is not a plea for us to all return to 1963—nor even a claim that life was better then (though 1/6d = 7p for a Fruit & Nut bar would be a fine thing). But just 18 years after the huge trauma and many sacrifices of World War II, people were more social, more resilient and found happiness with much less. They had not yet discovered jet holidays, mobile phones, central heating, the property ladder or their legal rights. The respected neighbours, doctors, policemen and politicians alike. They typically stayed in the same house and job all of their adult life. Friends no longer live in the same neighbourhood, let alone Street; now hobbies are for the retired; we have remote services tend to garden, laundry, car, children, repairs, even nan.

This frigid blast may last hours, instead of months—and we may not get another one until 2073. In which case, grumpy old gits like me will be overplaying their hand like this as the watch the snow eddy down deserted streets. But if we did get a long, sustained, bitter winter like 1963, could we cope?

Or, by making 50-mile commutes common, by relying on distribution centres 200 miles from their outlets, by having all our food reach us by motorway in 22-wheelers, by relying on the Internet to carry essential but complex systems on which productivity (and therefore jobs) depend, are we not increasingly dependent on road, rail and power which—to judge from the last couple of days—are anything but fail-safe?

Or am I just being a grumpy old git?

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Busted

Edinburgh takes pride in its buses. From its start as Edinburgh Corporation Transport, Lothian Buses has grown to transport over 100 million passengers each year, won accolades as the best bus company in Britain and seen off competition from FirstBus to provide 90% on journeys on public transport within the capital.

Last year, they invested £14.1m in 55 new Euro 6 (less polluting) vehicles while making £12 million profit on £146 million revenue. They have managed to make a decent fist of Edinburgh Trams, as well as growing the airport Express and sightseeing tour buses.

They have even shown First how to run rural services with their East Coast subsidiary that showed long– suffering East Lothian passengers that their buses could be clean, quiet, reliable, punctual AND profitable

All of which is highly laudable and speaks of an operation in the public sector from which others might draw lessons. Seen from the prospective of a bus anorak, Lothian would be hard to beat. Unfortunately, anoraks are not known for their strategic vision, nor for their close connection with the real world. If we were talking about Dundee for Aberdeen, this would not matter. But we are talking about Scotland’s capital—and a pretty sclerotic Capital when it comes to traffic. As they are the only option, all bus routes cross the city centre, where they become as much the traffic problem as the solution.

With its hills, it’s close-packed history and it’s Victorian street layout, Edinburgh was never an ideal design for 21st century traffic. A quarter century ago, David Begg convinced the City Council to invest in paint to prioritise buses over cars, leading to the latter being banned from Princes Street and forced into convoluted patterns as a result.

However appropriate that may have been as a solution in 1990, despite all their priority, buses mil about in Princes Street, taking 15 minutes to cover the mile between Waverly and Tollcross. Because of bus mayhem, there are commonly three separate shelters for our single stop which confuses locals and completely baffles the many tourists—who has to struggle with unfamiliar coins and holds the bus up even longer. This means that their fleet of 721 spend much time idling. (good job they bought those Euro 6 buses, eh?)

To a non-bus-anorak, the problem seems simple: too many buses. Because there is no alternative, passengers may not get upset taking an hour to rach the city centre from Penicuik (or Queensferry…Mayfield…Tranent…). No other European city of comparable size and standing would dream of trying to serve Half a million people with transport that averages under 10 m.p.h in urban areas—and half that in the city centre.

Edinburgh makes much of its expensive tram line.  But it duplicates the Fife rail linei and ts 30- minute Journey time is slower then the Airport Express—and glacial when compared to the 10 minutes ScotReal takes to reach Edinburgh Gateway. It has not made inroads on city centre congestion. In fact, it might have exacerbated the problem on crowded Princes Street

But, Lothian Buses ignores Edinburgh Gateway—and pretty much any other (faster) public transport. The idea of having buses from Ratho, Queensferry, etc feeding into there for our fast trip to town has not occurred to them. Even more reprehensible is there opposition to reopening the South Suburban rail line to passengers. Interchanges at Craigmillar, Cameron Toll, Newington, Morningside, Merchiston and Gorgie would remove the need for most buses to come any closer to the city centre. It would remove congestion(and the need for one third of their boss fleet) at a stroke.

So, why don’t they?

Well… remember that £12 million profit we discussed? Most of that goes to Edinburgh City Council (their owners), who are eternally strapped for cash. L heyack of vision over the last few decades (not to mention incompetence over trams, property, Princes Street retail, etc) is endemic. There has been no coherent transport plan for Lothian—let alone Edinburgh. It doesn’t want its political fingers burned on more trams, so it’s certainly not going too argue for what far-sighted cities from Munich to Manchester have done—build a fast, hi capacity Rail/Tram network backbone which buses feed locally and keep historic City centres both accessible and foot-friendly.

They would rather keep their £12 million bung and hope nobody notices that their city is choking on too many buses.

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Enough Already

Within hours, the British media seem to have forgotten all about Parkland FL and the 17 staff and pupils shot and killed by a disturbed ex-pupil. As the 17th such shooting in this year alone, editors saw it as another unfortunate incident in the waves of such incidents that sweep America. Last year, 33,3,694 people (equivalent to the entire city all Stirling) were killed by firearms in the US, a ratio of 106 gun deaths per million population  Gun deaths stats per million in Britain? It’s 1.

President Trump, whose campaign received millions of dollars from the National Rifle Association and who address their confidence asserting “the NRA now has a friend in me White House, had overturned gun control legislation and reacted the Parkland shooting by praising First Responders and blaming it all on psychiatric shortcomings of the shooter. And that should be that. Nothing much happened after Columbine. Or Sandy Hook. Or Virginia Tech. Or the concept in Las Vegas. Why would Parkland not fade from Focus in a similar manner, despite gruesone statistics for mass shootings?

USmasShoot

Deaths from Recent Mass Shootings in the USA (Source BBC)

Annual gun deaths exceed even the carnage on America’s roads—death now touching 33,000 annually. Add the two statistics together and there are more Americans dying brutally in their own country each year them all American casualties in the Vietnam War. There may be out rage, what is there any action?

Well, it would seem that the other pupils in Parkland have not just been grieving about their loss but have  been getting pretty angry about there being more guns than people in America and the wonky laws that exist to control their use. So they went to Washington and held a demonstration so the President new how they fell. And they lobbied their senator Rubio (who, like many on Capitol Hill also received serious funding from the NRA). These young people are recruiting friends from across the country for an even bigger demonstration.

They have a huge task ahead to change anything. We Europeans may share Western civilisation with  Americans but any mutual empathy stops when it comes to guns. Wild West frontier necessity aside, guns were always integral to t American culture. Gun-lovers cite the Second Amendment to the US Constitution unendingly: ” …the right to bear arms shall not be infringed”. What those gun-lovers fail to cite is the bit peior, which says: “for the maintenance if a will trained militia,…”.

Given that the amendment was adopted in 1791, barely a decade after asserting their independence and before other fratricidal clashes with Imperial Britain like the War of 1812, the second amendment may well have been necessary. But in the i 227 years since, the world has moved on—and America more than most. Back in 1791, it was seen as necessary to extirpate Indians in the way of expansion of the new nation. Back in 1791, it was legal—even necessary—to own slaves to make cotton plantations viable. 227 years later,  an enlightened America now eschewa such one-time axioms as inappropriate for 21st-century civilisation.

Why are copious armories of guns any different?

Each nation holds conceits about itself: Brits are refined & reserved; Germans diligent & precise; Italians voluble & creative. The Americans see themselves as self-reliant entrepreneurial pioneers. They make heroes of the alpha male. And all pioneers carving a future from the wilderness must defend themselves. But crucially it is not just gun-lovers who oppose gun control. A wide swathe of suburban middle America keep guns at home against burglary or attack. Given  American crime statistics, this can be argued as reasonable behaviour.

The NRA play on this. Their mantra is “if you make guns illegal, only the criminals Will have guns”. Apologists appear even here on television with variants on this. Andrea Ockefeld (sp?), an articulate millennial, was on BBC News several times in the aftermath of Parkland making a case against any curb on guns because this would only make it harder for good citizens to acquire them. She cited the recent church massacre in Texas where the gunman was halted by someone with a rifle handy in the gun rack of his pickup truck.

But the times they are a’changin’. Despite the right wing and generally gun-supporting Republicans holding all the key posts in the White House, and Congress, the stubborn resistance to addressing this carnage may be starting to crack at last.  The young are marching. Prompted by a president they cannot abide, liberals are organising. And ordinarily, apolitical folk are asking why there should be twice as many guns her head in the USA as there are in war torn Yemen.

Major resistance Will come from a $13.5 billion gun Industry and the 4 million members of the NRA. But when 100 million suburban middle American parents start getting lobbied by the 16-year-old apple of their eye why they need something is dangerous as a loaded revolver in the bedside table, let alone an assault rifle locked in the garaged, then a majority for change will become overwhelming.

America is a great country, partly because it learned to respect its natives and  free its slaves. As it’s bountiful spaces become more crowded, its people will learn to be more neighbourly and less ruggedly independent—as Europeans once had to.  Those who dislike the prospect might consider Alaska.

Once significant portions of the 300+ million guns have been melted down into something more useful, this shameful homicide rate, this street warfare blighting Chicago, St Louis, Baltimore, etc., this unconscionable number of police officers killed on duty will drop to something other parts of the west have enjoyed for decades.

The resulting Bruce to the American economy will swamp any effect of job losses at Smith & Wesson more importantly, it will dwarf the bloated promises made by their current NRA-sponsored President. Perhaps it will even lead to something more enlightened.

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Republicans Want to Turn the Entire Country into Oklahoma

By Paul Waldman  February 8, 2018   © Washington Post

We have in this country an essentially unchanging disagreement about what model of governance will produce the best economic and social results. Democrats advocate what we might call weak social democracy: relatively high taxes (though lower than those of our peer countries), combined with a relatively strong safety net (though again, not as strong as other countries), spending on needs like education and health care, and economic regulation to protect workers, consumers and the environment. Read more…

 

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To the Shores of Tripoli

One thing you have to give Film 4 is that it does ring the changes. Almost back to back, it ran the 1957 black & white classic “The Yangtze Incident” with 2016’s “13 Hours“. Other than being takes of derring-do in foreign climes, they seem worlds apart, certainly more than the half century that actually separates them. Yet, closer examination reveals them not only close to a remake but a study in how little the western world has learned from its domination of the last two centuries.

The Yangtze Incident“is pure post-war, stiff-upper-lip morality, complete with patriotic soundtrack and populated by unflappable officers leading phlegmatic salts-of-the-earth to glory against impossible odds. It dates from a time when a bankrupt British Empire was about to implode and the UK film industry saw itself as the cheerleaders trying to shore up the belief this was not the case. The plucky crew on HMS Amethyst save their ship from the clutches of uniformly fiendish Chinese Communists and their shore batteries. Why any British servicemen, let alone a Royal Navy frigate, two destroyers and a cruiser have any business in Chinese waters—let alone 100 miles up the Yangtze River in the middle of a civil war is never explained. At the time, the British had served 150 years as the world’s policeman, so the Admiralty having its fingers stuck in someone else’s pie would have needed no justification to British audiences. None of the British crew spoke Chinese. It was “Zulu” with ships.

Seen from a similar—if updated—perspective, “13 Hours” actually appears rich in parallels. The half dozen tough, bearded mercenaries protecting the secret CIA compound in Benghazi circa 2012 are as indistinguishable by their looks, cammies or terse special forces slang as the BBC English of the officers aboard HMS Amethyst. As far from a chick flick as it is possible to get, “13 Hours” doesn’t disappoint shoot-’em-up aficionados. Unfortunately, ever since The Governator hit Hollywood, they a kill ratio for the good guys over 100:1 is part of any such script. These heroes charge all over a blazing compound with no confusion, wasting “tangos” as they go. Ignoring basic infantry defensive tactics costs only one casualty. An early effort to distinguish friendly Libyans from hostile soon vanishes in the firefight to save the US ambassador, making any peaceful settlement impossible; none of the mercenaries or CIA staff speak Arabic. Despite interference from the CIA station chief, the delay before F– 18s can pave-bomb the baddies, and the delay before Chinook-fuls of US marines can descend from the nearest MAF, our plucky boyz have it under control.

Both films really tell the same story. What is tragic is the latter reflects current US public and political thinking: that there is nothing strange about having covert CIA compounds in war torn hellholes like post-Gaddafi Libya and then justify significant military presenve in the region and the right to use it in support. At no point does anyone see the need to justify the presence of any Americans in such a chaotic, dysfunctional country in the first place.

Which pretty much says we are now 50 years into the USA’s stint as self-appointed World Policeman and that the Imperial drive on Victorian Britain that led to the Indian Mutiny, Omdurman and Isandlwana has outgrown the hemispheric reach on the Monro Doctrine and is now globally alive and well in Washington.

If America’s military and intelligence diaspora spoke the local language and understood the local culture (as the Inca Empire or the French in 8th century Canada did), this might not be all bad. But when, in the late 1950s, a US embassy was established in the new Republic of South Vietnam, nobody there spoke Vietnamese.

And then look what happened.

One thing you have to give Film 4 is that it does ring the changes. Almost back to back, it ran the 1957 black & white classic “The Yangtze Incident” with 2016’s “13 Hours“. Other than being takes of derring-do in foreign climes, they seem worlds apart, certainly more than the half century that actually separates them. Yet, closer examination reveals them not only close to a remake but a study in how little the western world has learned from its domination of the last two centuries.

The Yangtze Incident“is pure post-war, stiff-upper-lip morality, complete with patriotic soundtrack and populated by unflappable officers leading phlegmatic salts-of-the-earth to glory against impossible odds. It dates from a time when a bankrupt British Empire was about to implode and the UK film industry saw itself as the cheerleaders trying to shore up the belief this was not the case. The plucky crew on HMS Amethyst save their shit from the clutches of uniformly fiendish Chinese Communists and their shore batteries. Why any British servicemen, let alone a Royal Navy frigate, two destroyers and a cruiser have any business in Chinese waters—let alone 100 miles up the Yangtze River in the middle of a civil war is never explained. At the time, the British had served 150 years as the world’s policeman, so the Admiralty having its fingers stuck in someone else’s pie would have needed no justification to British audiences. None of the British crew spoke Chinese. It was “Zulu” with ships.

Seen from a similar—if updated—perspective, “13 Hours” actually appears rich in parallels. The half dozen tough, bearded mercenaries protecting the secret CIA compound in Benghazi circa 2012 are as indistinguishable by their looks, cammies or terse special forces slang as the BBC English of the officers aboard HMS Amethyst. As far from a chick flick as it is possible to get, “13 Hours” doesn’t disappoint shoot-’em-up aficionados. Unfortunately, ever since The Governator hit Hollywood, they a kill ratio for the good guys over 100:1 is part of any such script. These heroes charge all over a blazing compound with no confusion, wasting “tangos” as they go. Ignoring basic infantry defensive tactics costs only one casualty. An early effort to distinguish friendly Libyans from hostile soon vanishes in the firefight to save the US ambassador, making any peaceful settlement impossible; none of the mercenaries or CIA staff speak Arabic. Despite interference from the CIA station chief, the delay before F– 18s can pave-bomb the baddies, and the delay before Chinook-fuls of US marines can descend from the nearest MAF, our plucky boyz have it under control.

Both films really tell the same story. What is tragic is the latter reflects current US public and political thinking: that there is nothing strange about having covert CIA compounds in war torn hellholes like post-Gaddafi Libya and then justify significant military presenve in the region and the right to use it in support. At no point does anyone see the need to justify the presence of any Americans in such a chaotic, dysfunctional country in the first place.

Which pretty much says we are now 50 years into the USA’s stint as self-appointed World Policeman and that the Imperial drive on Victorian Britain that led to the Indian Mutiny, Omdurman and Isandlwana has outgrown the hemispheric reach on the Monro Doctrine and is now globally alive and well in Washington.

If America’s military and intelligence diaspora spoke the local language and understood the local culture (as the Inca Empire or the French in 8th century Canada did), this might not be all bad. But when, in the late 1950s, a US embassy was established in the new Republic of South Vietnam, nobody there spoke Vietnamese.

And then look what happened.

domination of the last  c.

The Yangtze Incident” is pure post-war, stiff-upper-lip morality, complete with patriotic soundtrack and populated by unflappable officers leading phlegmatic salts-of-the-earth to glory against impossible odds. It dates from a time when a bankrupt British Empire was about to implode and the UK film industry saw itself as the cheerleaders trying to shore up the belief this was not the case. The plucky crew on HMS Amethyst save their shit from the clutches of uniformly fiendish Chinese Communists and their shore batteries. Why any British servicemen, let alone a Royal Navy frigate, two destroyers and a cruiser have any business in Chinese waters—let alone 100 miles up the Yangtze River in the middle of a civil war is never explained. At the time, the British had served 150 years as the world’s policeman, so the Admiralty having its fingers stuck in someone else’s pie would have needed no justification to British audiences. None of the British crew spoke Chinese. It was “Zulu” with ships.

Seen from a similar—if updated—perspective, “13 Hours” actually appears rich in parallels. The half dozen tough, bearded mercenaries protecting the secret CIA compound in Benghazi circa 2012 are as indistinguishable by their looks, cammies or terse special forces slang as the BBC English of the officers aboard HMS Amethyst. As far from a chick flick as it is possible to get, “13 Hours” doesn’t disappoint shoot-’em-up aficionados. Unfortunately, ever since The Governator hit Hollywood, they a kill ratio for the good guys over 100:1 is part of any such script. These heroes charge all over a blazing compound with no confusion, wasting “tangos” as they go. Ignoring basic infantry defensive tactics costs only one casualty. An early effort to distinguish friendly Libyans from hostile soon vanishes in the firefight to save the US ambassador, making any peaceful settlement impossible; none of the mercenaries or CIA staff speak Arabic. Despite interference from the CIA station chief, the delay before F– 18s can pave-bomb the baddies, and the delay before Chinook-fuls of US marines can descend from the nearest MAF, our plucky boyz have it under control.

Both films really tell the same story. What is tragic is the latter reflects current US public and political thinking: that there is nothing strange about having covert CIA compounds in war torn hellholes like post-Gaddafi Libya and then justify significant military presenve in the region and the right to use it in support. At no point does anyone see the need to justify the presence of any Americans in such a chaotic, dysfunctional country in the first place.

Which pretty much says we are now 50 years into the USA’s stint as self-appointed World Policeman and that the Imperial drive on Victorian Britain that led to the Indian Mutiny, Omdurman and Isandlwana has outgrown the hemispheric reach on the Monroe Doctrine and is now globally alive and well in Washington.

If America’s military and intelligence diaspora spoke the local language and understood the local culture (as the Inca Empire or the French in 8th century Canada did), this might not be all bad. But when, in the late 1950s, a US embassy was established in the new Republic of South Vietnam, nobody there spoke Vietnamese.

And then look what happened.

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Ich Bin Ein Amerikaner

This week, Donald Trump’s first State of the Union Address was countered by a rebuttal from the Democrats in the form of  Rep. Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts, who made an eloquent and passionate speech, made more symbolic coming from the scion of a family that is Democratic royalty. Its contents and underlying principles are those that most Americans I know would identify with and support. And that probably goals for half of the country, especially those on the coasts.

But I believe that, because it is so transparently partisan, that it compounds the political mess currently dominating America. I have no time for Trump, all the self-serving republicans who support him in Congress. But his”Base” is a significant chunk of the population from surging Arizona to rust-belt Michigan  like a rash. However shortsighted and mitigated we might consider them, they think Trump speaks for them and is the best thing since sliced bread; he is an iconoclast; he speaks his mind; he is a living example of the American dream; he is a celebrity, exuding a kind of charisma and is seen by rust belt America as a kind of saviour, especially as he claims to take on in the media and beltway establishments.

So, when he delivers a State of the Union Address that is uncharacteristically conciliatory, this is not the time doe his opponents to dig Democratic trenches deeper and lob more handwringing liberal grenades in his direction. In the 20th century, America’s great strength was too weld amazing diversity together into a common American dream in which all believed. In the 21st Century, the institutionalised two party system has fractured society into haves and have-nots. As the latter has grown, the temptation to seek out the kind of the simplistic (but delusional) that Trump peddles has grown. Adhererents to such delusions are deaf to those trying to burst their bubble, as Kennedy’s speech is trying to do.

With both camps so far apart, spitting invactive with a blinkered partisanship that makes the Hatfields and McCoys seem like reasonable people, there is scant hope of avoiding the Mexican stand-off, such as shut down the government or stymied most of Trump’s executive orders. The last time America was this divided was during the Civil War. I would have hoped someone of Kennedys standing and genealogies could realise this and start to find common ground to heall this deepening rift that is doing the country—and the world—no good whatsoever. Because this is no” faraway country, of which we know little”. America’s future affects us all so we must all engage an international awareness that Joe’s great uncle demonstrated so powerfully half a century ago.

To quote another German phrase: “Der Weg nach Hölle ist mit guten Vorsätze gepflastert” (The road to Hell is paved with good intentions).

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