“How blessed am I?” or “Having awesome friends is awesome”

I first became friends with Jim and Liz by dint of being friends with their daughter Sarah.  I have written before of the delightful welcome they offered to me when I tipped up at their home in Saint John, New Brunswick, on the eve of Sarah’s wedding in August, 2008.  As a complete stranger to them, known of only via what Sarah had told them about me, they welcomed me into their home and startled my reserved, British little self with their easy going nature and generosity, though I like to think that I got into the swing of things before my brief stay with them ended.  The following year they invited me back, this time for Canadian Thanksgiving, and I spent some time at their camp on the Musquash, near to Saint John.  I have to say that, amongst other delights, I enjoyed the best nights of sleep I have known in adult life there, the most tranquil and peaceful place I have ever spent any reasonable amount of time.  Have a look for yourself (this is a photo I took in 2009)…

Lee-Anne and I saw Jim in 2011, he stayed with us for a couple of days on his way back from the Bi-Annual Balloon Festival in Chambley – need I mention that amongst his many talents and surprises he is an accomplished hot air balloon pilot – and it was really great to renew our friendship, sit and talk about his recent adventures in France, and reminisce about times shared in New Brunswick.

Last year, when I was in New York for work in October I was invited to renew my acquaintance with the Musquash, once more for Thanksgiving, but it just seemed too difficult and too expensive to get there; I was offered a 14 hour flight, via Toronto, to Fredericton New Brunswick (about an hour from the camp by road), for $850, which seemed like a lot of money to be there for 12 hours all told.  I looked into hiring a car and driving up to the camp through Connecticut and Maine, but there are strange rules about foreign nationals and taking rental cars over the border, so that idea got shelved too… (As it happened, Sarah came down to NY from Toronto and we raised a glass to all in the Musquash, so in a sense we were there).

Cut to yesterday, when after a bit of texting back and forth during the previous few days, my family and I pulled into the Citgo station in Calais, Maine and parked up our rental car next to Jims truck.  After transplanting the car seats and then the kids into the back, we loaded up and headed over the border and thence to the Musquash to spend a delightful and peaceful evening with Liz, Jim and Libby (their dog) in a magical, wonderful place where there is no electricity, no TV, no plumbing even, and all of those things seem to make the place even more perfect.  A combination of their lovely, easy-going and friendly way – and let’s face it, with our two kids running around and making noise and generally breaking the place up they must be saints to have taken so much pleasure in it all, let alone putting up with us – and the glory of the woods and the lake and the quiet and the full moon…  Once more I experienced a brief spell wherein I felt as though I had left the world behind and entered a more real one.  I cannot describe it more plainly than that.

And so my contention is that I am blessed.  Once more a fabulous, nay priceless, experience has been laid out for me all through the kindness of friends and I have no doubt that I will never forget it, nor ever be able to properly thank them for it.  Not only that, but this time they welcomed my wife and children with the same generosity and friendship that they have always shown me and the impact that it had on them was so plain for me to see that I now want to thank my friends for giving this gift to those closest to me as well.

If nothing else, this last couple of days has reminded me not only how lucky I am for this one thing, but how lucky I am to have the other friendships that I have.  It has reminded me of all the amazing things that other people have done for me out of fellowship, friendship and love that have kept me sane, alive and afforded me the chance to experience some amazing and wonderful places, things, emotions and times.

Friends are awesome, and I want anyone who knows me and knows that I call them my friend, that I not only value their presence in my life, but that I am truly thankful for it.  Let’s spend more time together when we can…

Right, must sleep – tomorrow there is more of Maine to explore!

Adventures in Air Travel…

Don’t let anyone tell you that travelling by air with small children is easy; it ain’t.  Having said that, don’t let anyone tell you that it’s so hard it’s not worth doing either, because it definitely is.

We had a very long day yesterday, getting up at 0400h (BST), taxi to Heathrow, flight to Newark (LIberty International) and then driving the hire car from the airport to Livingston, NJ.  By the time I crashed at around 2130h (EDT) I had nearly been up for 24 hours, and doing that with two children under three is no picnic, but overall it was not only worth it, but it was also “not that bad”.

Clearly, we were lucky that K slept for four out of the seven hours, and we were lucky that O is very keen on drawing and colouring, and that even she deigned to sleep a little.  We were also lucky that the flight crew took pity on us and moved us to a set of bulkhead seats that had been vacated by a group who had been lucky enough to be upgraded to Business Class.  Even then, we had our moments – there was the pencil situation, and the constant screaming all the way from the airport to our hosts’ home to name but two issues – but the general feeling of utter relaxation that has come about from being on vacation would have made an ordeal a hundred times worse completely worth it.

Later this week we are going to drive off into New England to take in the sights and sounds of a part of America that my wife and I have long been keen to visit, and it is my sincere hope that we are allowed to enjoy it by the kids, but I am optimistic based on the idea that the flight was more than twice as long as any of the drives we are planning to do.

Pictures and more musings to follow…

Oh yeah, there were wild deer in the back garden when we got up this morning.

Storytelling…

I have been a storyteller in one form or another for my entire life. Today I discovered that there is an amazing (free) online course in English from Potsdam University in Germany that is all about, for want of a better way of putting it, “the science of storytelling”.

If you are interested in checking it out, or even enrolling, then click here:

https://iversity.org/c/6?r=4d93b

and have fun!

Syria, and the idea of the Doctrine of Humanitarian Intervention

The World is holding its breath, and for now that seems to be all that we can do.

Western leaders have made much of their outrage at the alleged use of chemical weapons in Damascus last week, I say alleged because no one is prepared to say that it is undoubted, and even then there will be those that deny it, and so as ever truth is in the mind of the beholder. Meanwhile, China and Russia have made their voices heard, loudly warning against any form of military intervention and more than suggesting that any contravention of their veto will at least be met by wholehearted and material support of the Assad regime in the face of such intervention, if not their actual entry into the theatre of war.

For decades there have been theoretical discussions about the Levantine Crescent’s potential to become the crucible for the Third World War, and yet recent history has seemed to allay those fears. Nonetheless, the sabre rattling on both sides and the high-pitched keening of the World’s media do seem to suggest that one ought to consider at least the possibility that Syria may be the straw that will break the camel’s back.

The Western position is easy to swallow and yet hard to digest. Moral outrage at the use of chemical weapons seems to be providing the pretext for what our inglorious leaders are going to sell to us as justification for military intervention along purely humanitarian lines, but is there truly a basis for belief in this idea, the Unicorn of International Politics, the Doctrine of Humanitarian Intervention?

If one were to define this elusive concept, I imagine that the definition would read something like this:

“It is our belief, as the United Nations, that there is justification for military intervention in the affairs of sovereign states, when the plight of the innocent civilians is threatened beyond doubt, all other avenues of redress have been attempted and exhausted without success and the sole reward for intervention would be the protection from harm of the innocent.”

It is pretty difficult to argue with this on a moral basis – all of us are likely to think that it is acceptable to employ violence to prevent more harm once reason and bargaining have failed – so why am I questioning the sales pitch? Put simply, there is greater vested interest in choosing to intervene than simple moral principle.

  1. First and foremost the UN cannot allow contravention of the worldwide ban on the use of chemical and biological weapons to pass unpunished – it would confirm its status as a paper tiger, once and for all.
  2. The growing tide of concern amongst Western intelligence communities and the wider public consciousness that radical organisations, such as Al Quaeda, are fighting cheek by jowl with the Syrian rebels means that the endgame of the rebellion managing to win would logically mean the realisation of a large risk that radicals may be in a position to access chemical weapons stock-piled by the Assad regime, along with any other materiel that might pose an equally terrifying set of possibilities.
  3. Syria continues to represent a crucial strategic choke-point in the Levant, and this abuse of chemical weapons represents the perfect pretext upon which to mount an intervention designed to ensure that the West will, in all likelihood, control the outcome of the civil war and be in a position, despite the countless lessons of history, to engineer Syria’s immediate future politically, in line with its own political and foreign policy agenda.

There is no way in which the Western leaders who are currently quivering with outrage in public are not considering these angles, and perhaps other more subtle ones that have not as yet occurred to me, but the above alone constitutes a basis for rejecting that intervention in Syria could truly fall under only the umbrella of a Doctrine of Humanitarian Intervention.

So, what is left?

Well for one thing, even with the fact that the Humanitarian and / or Moral imperatives may be coloured by self-interest, it is hard to deny that there are strong reasons for getting involved, and that leads to wider and more dangerous questions.

A good deal of media commentary seems to be espousing the likelihood of a series of “stand-off” attacks designed to provide a proportional yet meaningful response to last weeks alleged chemical attack, but what do tomahawk and smart-bomb attacks on key military installations really amount to? Are they not just “the price of doing business”? Do they not serve a more complex agenda for Assad if what he hopes to gain by crossing Obama’s red line is to force Russia and China to step into the ring on his side, thereby giving him the muscle he needs to defeat the rebels quickly before the Western powers get boots on the ground? More than that, if you are experiencing moral outrage and a desire to punish, why would anyone stop at just a slap in the face? If the Assad regime is responsible and the West is truly outraged, then surely the idea of giving Assad a spanking and then patting one another on the back at a job well done is ludicrous?

For the sake of form I would like to point out that I am not in favour of any intervention, but only because I see intervention in Syria as the road to unfettered escalation and that risk is not balanced by the rewards, even the unspoken self-serving rewards that go far beyond a claiming of the high moral ground.

What I would say is that if the West is to intervene then it is high time we acknowledged the fact that this is serious job of “wet work” and the only intervention that is likely to serve both pubic satisfaction and achieve the strategic wins to go along with the moral victory, hollow though it may be, is to go “all in”. Not only should the Western powers deploy ground forces to the area, they should do so in staggering scale. Those ground troops should have the broadest definition of the rules of engagement, that reads along the lines of “anyone holding a weapon that is not a part of the Allied force is an enemy combatant and may be fired upon unless they offer an unconditional surrender”, and they should be supported by overwhelming air power, continued tactical attacks and an unswerving rejection of the notion that there will be an end in sight. If we are going to attempt to intervene militarily we should, from the get go, make sure that we win, and that we are clear in our acceptance of loss of life as an inevitability for our forces, other military powers in the theatre of war and the innocent. Anything less is a lie. Anything less is waste of time and effort and money and blood. If we are so sure that we know better than another sovereign state, then there is no other option than to play to win.

Will the public, in the West or anywhere else for that matter, have the stomach for an honest to goodness war? If the warnings coming from the East turn into action will Obama, Cameron and Hollande relish the judgement of history as they become the men who began the Third World War? Will our children’s children go on guided tours of the glass forests in the Levant when all of that sand has been turned to glass by what will no doubt be spun as an unfortunate slip in the checks and balances on the command and control of Russian nuclear weapons, or perhaps Allied ones, or Chinese ones, or Israeli ones?

I realise that it is a worst case scenario, but how can we even be considering a course of action that will set into motion the kind of international brinksmanship the like of which we have not seen for seventy years?

Do not misunderstand me, I weep for the Syrian people – the last two years have been a long season in Hell for all of them, combatant and civilian alike – but when has the lesson of history taught us that military intervention is anything other than the rockier of roads? Could we not bring our massive economic and logistical might to bear to flood Syria with medical aid, doctors and core humanitarian supplies? Could we not all chip in to pay Turkey back for not only the half a million refugees that they have already given shelter to, but to offer them recompense for any number of others that wish to escape? Is there not mileage in continuing to allow for the possibility that like wild fires, sometimes civil war is a tragic necessity, and that we would be better served by building a fire break than pouring petrol on the situation?

There will be time enough to bring Assad and his generals, or the leaders of the rebellion come to that, before the proper authorities (in the Hague no doubt) to answer for their crimes against humanity, if they don’t kill each other first. When the dust settles there will be plenty of opportunity for the International community to exert its influence over the new incumbent to surrender the remaining chemical weapons for confiscation and destruction, assuming of course that they are not used up in the interval.

Whatever happens, my fondest hope is that the West might stop and count to ten and take a breath, and if then there is still an unshakeable desire to wage war I do not want to hear about moral imperatives or “just war”. I want our leaders to be honest about the calculations that will have brought us to that pass and the breadth and depth of all the reasons for deciding to kill a lot of people and then, only then turn their faces to the cameras and speak the truth about the choices that have been made.

I would not want to be David Cameron, François Hollande or worse still Barack Obama* this week – they are prisoners of the moment, no matter how much they might tell themselves that they are the leaders of the (free) World, and to be so caught between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea must feel like little more than fate’s cruel joke. Whatever they decide, assuming we are not all speaking Chinese in three to five years’ time, history will be the only reliable indication of their legacy.

(*I say “worse still” on the basis that it has been my observation that as a nation, the US has tended to be more warlike in recent years than France or the UK, but that may be a slanted perception, and so I expect that he is feeling even greater pressure to throw down with Assad than the others.)

The Day Margaret Thatcher Died…

(Originally posted on Facebook)

Right, I’ve thought about it…

I didn’t like Margaret Thatcher, at least within the context that I was able to make a judgement on liking or disliking her, and that is to say in terms of her politics and the manner in which she conducted herself as Prime Minister.

That she made history as the first woman to ever hold the post is to be remembered and respected; it’s hard to understand how we do not have far more visible and accomplished women in British politics given the massive impact she had upon the zeitgeist while she was running our country.

I make no apology for having enjoyed, immensely, her fall from power – that is a part of “the show that never ends” and even though one might say she took it with good grace, I was cheering along with all the others as she was driven away from Number 10, and it was all the sweeter for the tears that were visibly about to erupt from her eyes.

Am I happy today? No. Today an elderly woman who was unwell passed away, leaving her family to grieve. I cannot begin to imagine how horrid it must be to be her child or grandchild and see otherwise lovely normal people cheering and planning parties to “celebrate” the passing of their Mum or their Granny. If she had truly been a dictator, with no mandate from the electorate, or if she had truly presided over illegal actions, or if indeed the record of history could show that she did anything but that which she believed to be right within the confines of the system she was put in charge of by the people, then that judgement should have come through the courts during or after her time as P.M., not posthumously as portion of the populace dance on her grave. Certainly history will judge her; if you’ve not run a country I am of the opinion that the day of her death is not the time to criticise – should have got it in while she was still alive, or at least wait a decent interval and stick to the facts.

Above all it’s hard not to concede that if passions run this high across the spectrum about someone, then they were not coasting through life or choosing the path of least resistance. For all her faults, as I see them at any rate, you couldn’t call her a coward or a milk-sop or frankly anyone’s bitch. It’s not that hard to respect someone while disliking them and disagreeing with them, when you get right down to it.

So, no party for me, no crowing or jubilation; let’s just do our best to remember that when our Mum’s die we’d probably rather no one threw a party either.

To be clear, I don’t like her now, even now she’s dead – just in case any of you were wondering…

I am listening to a series of videos…

…in which Richard Dawkins discusses the existence or not of Evolution with a prominent Creationist in the US, Wendy Wright.

I am in awe of Mr. Dawkins’ ability to remain polite and calm in the face of such wilful ignorance.

That is all…

(URL, if you are interested -> http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL27090E3480CFAC56 )

Here’s something that I completely agree with…

Saw this on Facebook…

…and wanted to stash it somewhere for posterity.

SOCIALISM
You have 2 cows.
You give one to your neighbour

COMMUNISM
You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and gives you some milk

FASCISM
You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and sells you some milk

NAZISM
You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and shoots you

BUREAUCRATISM
You have 2 cows.
The State takes both, shoots one, milks the other, and then
throws the milk away

TRADITIONAL CAPITALISM
You have two cows.
You sell one and buy a bull.
Your herd multiplies, and the economy
grows.
You sell them and retire on the income

ROYAL BANK OF SCOTLAND (VENTURE) CAPITALISM
You have two cows.
You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by
your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption
for five cows.
The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island Company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company.
The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more. You sell one cow to buy a new president of the United States , leaving you with nine cows. No balance sheet provided with the release.
The public then buys your bull.

SURREALISM
You have two giraffes.
The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.

AN AMERICAN CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You sell one, and force the other to
produce the milk of four cows.
Later, you hire a consultant to analyse why
the cow has dropped dead.

A GREEK CORPORATION
You have two cows. You borrow lots of euros to build barns, milking sheds, hay stores, feed sheds,
dairies, cold stores, abattoir, cheese unit and packing sheds.
You still only have two cows.

A FRENCH CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You go on strike, organise a riot, and block the roads, because you want three
cows.

A JAPANESE CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce
twenty times the milk.
You then create a clever cow cartoon image called a Cowkimona and
market it worldwide.

AN ITALIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows,
but you don’t know where they are.
You decide to have lunch.

A SWISS CORPORATION
You have 5000 cows. None of them belong to you.
You charge the owners for storing them.

A CHINESE CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You have 300 people milking them.
You claim that you have full employment, and high bovine productivity.
You arrest the newsman who reported the real situation.

AN INDIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You worship them.

A BRITISH CORPORATION
You have two cows.
Both are mad.

AN IRAQI CORPORATION
Everyone thinks you have lots of cows.
You tell them that you have none.
No-one believes you, so they bomb the ** out of you and invade your country.
You still have no cows, but at least you are now a Democracy.

AN AUSTRALIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows.
Business seems pretty good.
You close the office and go for a few beers to celebrate.

A NEW ZEALAND CORPORATION
You have two cows.
The one on the left looks very attractive…

Open Letter to the Curator of svbtle.com

Hi,

I really liked your website.

Then you let Milo, this “Walter Mitty”, hate-filled, bitter, over-weening, irredeemably arrogant, fraction-of-a-human-being post on it.

His writing makes me sad, and not just because of the subject matter.

I fear that one can quite easily detect that he did not complete either of his degree courses, despite his continued insistence on parading his having attended both Manchester and Cambridge Universities. It is worth noting that having attended is almost completely meaningless if one did not actually attain a degree.

To drop out of one degree course might be seen as misfortune, but to drop out of two is nothing but carelessness. To continue to attempt to dine-out on one’s attendance when it has become public knowledge that one did not complete either course is nothing short of pathetic.

His dropping out twice is self-confirmed here:

Forbes Profile on Milo Yiannopolous from 2012

and yet he continues to use terms like “Cambridge educated” when writing about himself.

With regard to notes that I might give on his writing, you might want to point out to him, in your capacity as curator / editor on your site, that;

“Rampant hordes unsatisfied by apology, by careers ruined or by the sustained public humiliation and dark thoughts of suicide their profitless crusades inflict now demand to bathe in seas of blood, biting and scratching like wild animals until there is nothing left besides bones and the blubbering, quivering, tragic mess of someone who once dared to venture an opinion under the masthead of a national newspaper or prominent magazine.”

might, just possibly need to be at least two and possibly three sentences. Full stops are not a mark of weakness. Overly long sentences are almost always a mark of trying too hard to appear erudite.

Not only that, but:

“…dark thoughts of suicide their profitless crusades inflict now demand…”

probably ought to read:

“…dark thoughts of suicide, which their profitless crusades inflict, now demand…”

but what would I know..? Oh hold on, yes I actually hold a degree in English Literature, a degree that actually had a creative writing component. Yes, I probably would know.

I am unwilling to apply the red pen to the entire piece, but frankly your site deserves a better quality of writing.

Shame really, your website is a good idea, but I just cannot take it seriously any longer. Since allowing this tripe to appear amongst the pages of svbtle.com you have seriously diminished its overall quality.

By equating Milo Yiannopoulos with the description “great people” you have made a laughing stock out of your editorial vision.

You might want to read the following articles and think again about allowing his writing to grace your site:

Charles Arthur in the Guardian

@PME2013 on Milo Yiannopolous and Hatred of the Self

Tim Fenton, politics blogger, on Milo…

Max Dunbar, blogger, on the evils of unpaid labour & The Kernel

Kind Regards,

Oliver

P.S. I will be posting this email to my blog(s) as a public record of this communication. Forgive me, but Milo has a reputation for making wild claims about non-public correspondence etc. and I would far rather that this missive be a part of the public domain, so that there can be no confusion.


@maleghast

I love XKCD, no really, I LOVE XKCD

You know when people use “lol” and a little part of you thinks “no you didn’t”? Well, I realise that it is hard to believe when someone claims that they did, but I just got some very funny looks in the office, because this did make me, genuinely, laugh out loud (and for a long time at that).

XKCD for 05/10/2012

(Here is a link to the original page)

That is all
.
EOT