Tag Archives: Media

Who’s Afraid of Fat Boy Kim?

The media seem to be getting awfully excited by an alleged cyber-attack on a bad film by (allegedly) the North Koreans. This has been extrapolated to a threat to free speech and an attack on the American way of life. Some group called the Guardians of Freedom has also threatened to unleash terrorist attacks on cinemas screening the offending film and some voices are calling for the “war on terror” to target North Korea. We seem to be having another silly season. First some facts:

The film (“The Interview”) is based on a plot to kill Kim Jong Un. Those who have seen it have rated it pretty moderate or worse. It is a work of fiction, ultimately produced by Sony.

Sony has had its computers hacked. The FBI has said that the hackers were North Korean sponsored, although its evidence is (according to those that understand this stuff) less than 100% convincing and the FBI’s language is restrained

The North Koreans have denied that the hack was them (but they would say that). The US has refused to run a joint investigation (presumably not wanting to share techniques and capabilities.

Elements of the US have now got a bee in their bonnet about freedom of speech, (which they interpret as the right to publish anything without facing the consequences). Some are asking for the war on terror to be extended to include North Korea. A group calling themselves “The Defenders of Freedom” has threatened terrorist attacks on cinemas screening the film, generating more freedom of speech fury, although quite who they are is elusive.

North Korea has started making threatening noises to US.

Coincidentally, or not, the North Korean internet was taken out of action for 24 hours or so.

The media is getting terribly excited at the prospect of further conflict.

Now, some perspective. The North Koreans may or may not have a few nuclear weapons, which it might or might not be able to deliver and which might or might not work. That does not pose an existential threat to anyone. They also have a large army equipped with 1980s technology that is outclassed by US and South Korean equipment deployed in the peninsular. While it is true that the North Korean regime is eccentric in its world view I find it hard to believe that even their hardest hard liner thinks that they will survive an armed confrontation with the US, and using nuclear weapons would not change that. I am therefore not losing sleep about wither the likelihood of North Korea attacking, nor about the consequences of that if they were daft enough to do it.

I am concerned about the way in which a minor event is being hyped. For sure the US defence industry always has an interest in the US (and its allies) having plenty of adversaries, and they have US$125 Billion of arms sales at risk whenever peace breaks out. That’s an awful lot of jobs and votes, which could explain how all of this spat has occupied so much of our newspapers, none of which has actually explained how or why the hack happened.

Is it too much to hope that the Christmas break will give us relief from the onslaught of speculation? Can’t they find something more interesting to write about? Or rediscover the joy of silence?

What is the Point of Russell Brand on Question Time?

Last night’s Question Time on BBC included Russell Brand (alleged comedian and “campaigner”) whose appearance was much hyped in anticipation of a battle between him and Nigel Farage. In the event the programme was interesting viewing, although Brand’s diatribes, long on abuse and gross simplification but short on fact, ideas or even well-articulated thoughts achieve nothing other than irritating the audience. One has to ask what on earth the BBC producers were thinking of. If there was a confrontation, Farage won it by miles by the simple, devastating tactic of providing factual answers to the audience’s questions. As one audience member pointed out, you may or may not agree with UKIP’s position on immigration but Farage has managed to get what was a politically taboo subject being debated sensibly in the mainstream.

Continue reading What is the Point of Russell Brand on Question Time?

Labour Never Was The Party of The Working Man

Following the Rochester by-election (in which the Labour vote plummeted from 28% to 17%) there has been much commentary to the effect that Labour is no longer the party of the working man. This opinion, in conjunction with the Milliband 35% strategy, may account for Labour increasingly seeking to exploit the politics of envy and class war with recent announcements on mansion tax and the charitable status of public schools.

Labour was never the party of the working man; it was (and is) the party of the Trade Unions. As trade union membership has fallen by over 50% (to under 6 million) in the past 30 years it should not be surprising that the Labour vote is under extreme pressure. The Thatcherite privatisation of major companies and the ending of the closed shop account for much of the fall, as does the fundamental change in the UK economy.

Today the private sector employs 24.3 million people, of which 60% of UK private sector employment is in firms with fewer than 250 employees, and few of these have trade union representation within the company. The public sector employs a further 5.6 million people. The largest unions, Unite and (particularly) Unison comprise 50% of the TUC by membership (Unison is the public service union). Their members are predominantly employed by the government. Other unions include the National Union of Teachers, The Fire Service Union, The Prison Officer’s Association and the National Association of Probation Officers. The TUC is effectively the representative of government employees.

The Labour party therefore has become the party of the government machine, which is of course why it is unable to sanction the cuts in the machine necessary to balance the budget. Its “falling attraction to the working man” is in fact a reflection of the massive increase in SMEs and the growing public realisation that the government machine has bankrupt this country.

The transformation of employment from the nationalised behemoths of the 1970s to the nimbler companies of today has promoted a far wider understanding of how capitalism works and in many cases removed the need for any organised labour representation. In a workforce of 5,000 employees an individual worker has little power or realisation of how he (or she) adds vale. In an organisation of 50 employees (which is 98% of all SMEs) that same employee will know the boss personally and be well aware of their value. As the need for trade unions recedes the purpose of its party diminishes as well.

In fact the Labour party has a worse problem; as former TUC members become embedded in the private sector they become more aware of the failings of government service. Most employees want overtime, and many want to work well in excess of the 40 hours/week imposed by the EU Working Time Directive. They are increasingly intolerant of the falling public sector productivity while their own is rising. The Labour party is forced by to trumpet the benefits of state education and the NHS to voters who are increasingly aware of the shortcomings of and alternatives to these (and other) state supplied services. It is doomed.

If it were not for the fatuous invention of “New Labour” which created “the third way” of economics (which was never really defined, but led to the current massive debt) at a time when a fourth term of Conservative government was looking unappealing Labour could have died in 1997. It may have escaped then, but the rise of UKIP as a credible alternative worthy of a vote has given the British electorate, most of whom neither belong to a trade union nor work for the government, a wonderful opportunity to kill off the failed party that represents the dysfunctional government machine.

Labour’s time has passed and it has no future.


(This review originally appeared on http://www.arrse.co.uk and is reposted here with their kind consent)

I’m not convinced that the title accurately conveys what this book is about; it’s actually a history of the air to air combat elements of the Luftwaffe from its furtive foundation in March 1935 to its demise with the German collapse in 1945. It focuses primarily on the careers and experiences of the top German aces, or Experten, within a broad historical context but is not a series of biographies.

Peter Jacobs writes well and as he is an ex-RAF Phantom and Tornado F3 air defence navigator he has a deep understanding of air to air warfare. Unfortunately this only shows through occasionally – when it does it is invigorating, informative and helpful. The remainder of the book is a fairly dry account of how the German Experten amassed their incredible individual tallies of air to air kills, interspersed with irritatingly frequent references to the various accoutrements that they earned to their Knight’s Crosses.

It’s a shame, as one of the fascinating questions about the air combat of the Second World War is how and why individual German pilots were so successful. As Jacobs records, 15 of their pilots achieved over 200 kills, with the 22 year old Erich Hartmann shooting down 352 enemy aircraft and surviving. He remains the most successful fighter pilot of all time. A further 91 Experten scored over 100 kills. By comparison the top British ace scored 47 and the top US ace 40. The book does not directly answer this. The indirect answers, which do emerge, were that the Luftwaffe operated for most of the war in a target rich environment with good (or better) equipment and more experienced pilots.

There is little description of actual engagements and no consideration of the psychological effects of remorseless, unending combat punctuated with trips to Berlin to collect the latest medal upgrade. A discussion of the impact of the succession of honours and a comparison with the British system of duplicate awards (bars) would have been interesting and Jacobs is well placed to conduct it. But he didn’t.

The pictures show the usual smiling young men, aged beyond their years and don’t add to the narrative. There is little description of aircraft, so those who didn’t spend their youth making Airfix models of Sturmoviks, Pe-2s and Yak 9s are going to struggle.

The book is a competent history of the pilots of Luftwaffe fighter branch. But it could have been so much more, so much better and so more interesting. 3 out of 5

Lessons from the Scottish Independence Debate

It looks like it is 50:50 as to whether Scotland will vote yes to independence. As I have previously said, I don’t much mind what they do and can see selfish benefits to England from them leaving – assuming that they are not allowed currency union. What does concern me is that a serious debate with many fundamentally important facts to be debated seems to have been hijacked by emotion. I believe that the media, particularly TV journalism has colluded with this. Unsurprisingly, most politicians have been utterly uninspiring and ineffective – if you’re relying on Gordon Brown to make your points then you know you’re in deep trouble.

The fundamental question for the Nationalists to answer is what currency they would use. If is absurd for Salmond to claim that a yes vote gives him a mandate to obtain a currency union. Such a union would be politically suicidal for any UK government, and financially unjustifiable. All that had to be done was all three UK political leaders (four if you want to include Farrage) to state, unequivocally, that there would be no currency union. Full stop.

Salmond’s argument was that if so Scotland would accept none of the UK’s debt. To which the four should have pointed out that as the lending world considered apportionment on population head fair he was now proposing to launch the Thistle (or whatever) with a default. Good luck.

That no politician managed to make these points is depressing. Notwithstanding the huge benefit that the separation of Scotland would give to the Tories, it is incumbent on the prime minister of the UK to ensure that any debate on a referendum that he created is sensible. Whether Scotland stays or goes, Cameron has failed.

Instead we have been seeing a rush to offer extra devolution from Westminster, the so called “devo-max” that Salmond reportedly wanted. This has, of course, been Labour led because the absence of Scotland removes the last bastion of visceral socialism that keeps them electorally viable. But it should not have happed. Cameron should have pointed out that there is already a rolling devolution programme within the UK and that this vote is not about that. It’s in or out, and if it’s out you will not have Sterling.

I suppose that, given the low calibre and lower expectations of our current politicians it was too much to expect an intelligent debate. But the abject failure of TV to pin the participants to a point and expose their contradictions is profoundly depressing. How can democracy work if most people don’t read newspapers and TV can’t provide sensible, objective and rational debate? Even the most educated humans are more emotional than rational (c.f. house purchase). Those less educated have no immediate source of information. So now, 500 years after the enlightenment and almost a century after universal suffrage this country faces government produced by emotional response to inaccurate messages rather than intelligent response to rational debate. It’s alarmingly like Brave New World.

If Scotland leaves then it’s not my problem. But the explicit demonstration of the failed state of democracy in this country is. At the moment my only response is to vote UKIP (although I can’t stand many of their candidates – such as the ghastly Hamiltons) on the grounds that it breaks up the establishment. But it’s going to take much more than that.

I suspect emigration may be a better solution. But not to Scotland.

Scotland’s Second TV “Debate” on Independence

If ever there was a demonstration of what is wrong with the current relationship between media and politicians it was the “Scotland Decides” debate last night. Arranged by the BBC with an invited, balanced audience it featured Alastair Darling, Alex Salmond and lightweight BBC presenter Glenn Campbell as mediator. The utter failure of mediation and the typical preference of covering a wide range rather than focussing on principle produced something that was, after 45 minutes, unendurable.

The fundamental question for the separatists to answer is what currency an independent Scotland would use. Darling rightly focussed on this, but abjectly failed to make the point that Salmond cannot be certain that the remainder of the UK will allow Scotland into a currency union with Sterling. Even if they did, which is increasingly unlikely, Scotland would have no power over it. Salmond’s threat that if he wasn’t allowed currency union he would not accept the Scottish share of the current UK national debt was never really challenged. I very much doubt that any Chancellor will be content with that arrangement, and as it seems fundamentally fair I suspect that would be the view of any arbiter. It would also render the Independence negotiation pretty short – Scotland would get nothing, with bills to follow.

Scotland could of course peg the Thistle (or whatever they want to call it) to Sterling, much as the Irish did with the Punt. The problem is that this gives them reduced control of their economy. At best it may give them a little stability while they either build some economic track record or join the Euro. Anyone with an ounce of common sense or financial acumen knows this.

Instead, Salmond was allowed to get away with mouthing this as blandishments. Similarly, he got away with his optimistic oil forecast and switching the discussion to the NHS and the problems of the Welsh Assembly. He gave a great performance of evading the question, landing sound bites and making Alastair Darling look lumpen. What he did not do was produce a coherent economic plan, or even the basis of it.

In a well-run debate the host would have kept him under control, forced him to answer the questions and prevent him from interrupting Darling’s flow (such as it was). In a courtroom the judge rules supreme, with the (usually unspoken) threat of Contempt of Court to bring unruly advocates to heel. Robin Day could do this on Question Time, and on a good day so can David Dimbleby. Paxman ruled on Newsnight. Sadly Glenn Campbell was utterly ineffective. The net result was two politicians speaking over each other, failing to stick to the salient points and operating as snake oil salesmen. In the absence of intellectual content, Salmond won.

As an Englishman from the South Coast I care little whether Scotland stays or goes, although as I blogged recently (https://paddybc.com/2014/08/) the more I think about it the happier I will be for Scotland to vote “Yes.” But I do care about the way in which elections are conducted, the harsh reality being that TV debates are far more influential than perhaps their content justifies. If Scotland does vote “Yes” in the wake of a fatuous TV encounter, I hope that the remainder of the UK learns from their lesson and starts to require more from its current affairs presenter than nice hair and a good smile.