Month: September 2017


Victoria To The Rescue

I was imagining a scene. It’s the grandees of the Conservative party, mostly men and older. They are watching television in the privacy of their club or a private room at the House Of Commons.

They are beaming. I can hear exclamations of pleasure at what is happening on the screen.

It is an episode of Victoria – about Queen Victoria. She is telling her beastly German in-laws not to try to treat her like a cow, fit only to produce children. She tells them off and they step back, abashed. Oh, she is magnificent even in her youth. And now she is on board the deck of HMS Trafalgar and she is telling the crowds how the defeat in Afghanistan is bad, but the Britain has the strongest army and navy in the world and will snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Ah, so like Brexit. Germany is that horrid EU, and Trafalgar is to be our victory in the new trade alliances that our new (as yet unfound) partners are hungry for.

The production of the TV programme is first rate – with a big budget.

A thought crossed my mind – that when the producers proposed Victoria, that someone in a corridor of power thought it would be just the ticket to prop up the failing morale of the populace.


North and South

There’s a readable article in Slavery in the North. Here’s the first couple of sentences:

African slavery is so much the outstanding feature of the South, in the unthinking view of it, that people often forget there had been slaves in all the old colonies. Slaves were auctioned openly in the Market House of Philadelphia; in the shadow of Congregational churches in Rhode Island; in Boston taverns and warehouses; and weekly, sometimes daily, in Merchant’s Coffee House of New York.

And there is an article in The Conversation about the removal of the statue at the centre of the Charlottesville controversy.

The meeting of white supremacists in Charlottesville was originally held under the pretext of demonstrating against plans to remove the statue. The Charlottesville city council voted in February for it to be removed from the recently renamed Emancipation Park (formerly Lee Park). The decision came as part of a movement to challenge the ubiquity of Confederate symbols in the South.

On 15th August, Politico published a transcript of President Trump’s address on infrastructure given at a news conference at Trump Tower, and the interview with reporters that followed it. Among other things, the reporters asked about Charlottesville.

I read the transcript and I noted how Trump was at pains to be even handed, to criticise everyone who behaved badly, irrespective of labels. And then I think back to one of his rallies when he talked to the crowd following a disturbance and lamented how in days gone by the offender would have been taken around the back and shown a little discipline. I think he made a fist when he was talking, but my memory may be playing tricks with me.

So I understand his point, that we can’t airbrush people out of history (well you could in Stalinist Russia, but that’s another story), and we can’t remove the heroes of yesterday without sanitising our view of ourselves.

Well, yes, maybe. But society is a fluid thing. It moves on, and this event of renaming the park and taking down the statue is exactly that – moving on.

Trump makes the point that the protesters from the Right had a permit to be there and the anti-protest protesters from the Left did not. And he dislikes ‘fake’ bleeding-heart liberals, and he has made no secret of that.

But somewhere in the narrative of being even handed and getting beyond the rhetoric to the truth of the matter, he fails to condemn a group that wants to use (and uses) violence to subvert freedom and inclusiveness. And he is OK with that. He will tell you he did condemn them the day before – and he did. But when he goes back to being ‘even handed’ as though it is a badge of honour to see all sides in all situations, my feeling is that he is being supremely disingenuous and knows exactly to which choir he is preaching.


The Roads To Raqqa

map of the approaches to Raqqa in Syria

Why the interest in the roads to Raqqa?

Raqqa is in a fertile area by the River Eurphates, hence it becoming the self-styled capital of Islamic State. With the tide of the war having turned, the Syrian Army has been working its way towards Raqqa but the ground attack on Raqqa cannot come from just any direction the army wants. That is because more or less everything away from the vicinity of the Euphrates is desert.

In fact there are just two roads to Raqqa, one from As Sukhnah and the other from Deir Ez Zour.

Reuters reports today 5th September 2017, that the Syrian Army has reached Deir Ez Zour and broken the siege.

Syrian Army soldiers have been encircled and besieged by ISIS since 2014. Naturally, there was a fear that if ISIS captured the city, there would be a massacre. As it is, those soldiers are now free to become part of the onward advance to Raqqa once the whole of Deir Ez Zour is recaptured. It is not yet, and ISIS hold at least half of the city.

Apart from Syrian Army soldiers, Deir Ez Zour is home to 200,000 civilians, and that is going to present a difficult proposition to the Syrian Army, trying to disentangle ISIS operatives and sympathisers from ordinary civilians. Interviewing and processing 200,000 people is a big job.

Since Spring 2016 food has been air-dropped into the city under the United Nations’ World Food Programme. Without it, would there have been many deaths from starvation? It’s natural to ask how that aid will have affected the attitude of civilians who endured the siege.