Privacy: A camera in your bedroom?

It’s interesting, and rather heartening, to see that there’s some push-back at last against the silly idea that if you insist on your privacy, you must have “something to hide”.

Here’s a simple question to put to one of these surveillance fanatics: are you prepared to have a camera in your bedroom broadcasting 24 hours a day?

If so, fine (though a bit weird, in my view).

If not, what have you got to hide?

Egypt: if you can’t get it right, at least be interestingly wrong

Conforming to the verified historical truth that no idea can ever be regarded as definitively exploded until it has been embraced by the post-Blair British Labour Party, here is Mr Blair himself in today’s “Observer” defending the military coup in Cairo. Those who thought that Mr Blair might accidentally say something sensible may be relieved to know that he’s his usual facile, incurious, cliché-intensive self, and that he thinks that the Army had no choice. “It was intervention or chaos” he helpfully explains, continuing his habit not of just being wrong (which we all are from time to time) but being wrong in an unimaginative and conventional way.

This evident dislike of chaos may come as a surprise to those who remember Mr Blair’s very active pursuit of chaos in several countries during his tenure – Kosovo and Iraq come most readily to mind.

It’s true that Mr Blair went through public school Oxford and the Bar, which is what the British upper classes do instead of an education, but did he never, one wonders, study any history? Does he not realise that this is the excuse of every tin-pot dictator since, oh, whenever?

“Military rule or chaos”. Pinochet could not have said it better.

A Bad week for musicians

It’s been a bad week for musicians, especially those in their 70s and whose names begin with the letter “M”.

Earlier this week, of course, Ray Manzarek died. Manzarek was arguably the music in The Doors, a gifted performer whose contributions stretched all the way from the swirling organ of Light My Fire (their first hit) to the eerie tinkling electric piano of Riders on the Storm (their last).

But Georges Moustaki also died this week: today, in fact. And that’s a name you probably won’t know unless you’re interested in French popular music of the 60s and 70s. Moustaki was one of the very greatest French singer-songwriters of modern times, pretty much  the last of the breed, with the suicide of Allain Leprest last year. His songs were poetic and often melancholy, influenced by his Greek and Jewish heritage, and quite unlike anything else. Go and check them out on Youtube.

But it’s the age of the two musicians that bothers me: Manzarek was 74 and Moustaki was 79, and I discovered them both for the first time as a student, forty years ago. It’s people like that, who have accomplished a lot, that make you feel old. After all, when Mozart was my age, he’d been dead twenty-five years.

Obama: Cowardice as a strategy

I don’t take that much of an interest in American politics, but it suddenly struck me, on reading about Obama’s latest defeat (on ways of stopping mass killings, I think) that there was a huge contrast between the determined, ruthless pursuer of power, and the spineless weakling who was afraid to use it. The contrast is so blatant, in fact, that it can’t be accidental: it must be cowardice as strategy. Why?

I suspect that Obama is just an extreme case of the problem the Left has everywhere. It has sold its soul, abandoned its beliefs, and now simply asks; from time to time, to be allowed to be in office. It asks, very nicely, if it can have the cars, the nice offices, the prestige and the money that will follow departure from government, and the powers that be shrug their shoulders, and say, why not, can’t do any harm to let them play with the toys for a bit.

Will Obama go down in history as the man who was too weak ever to stand up?

What is a bank?


(N), financial organisation supported by the taxpayer which owes more money than it can ever repay to other Banks supported by other taxpayers, which in turn owe more money than they can ever repay to the first Bank.

(V) (Colloquial), Rob, steal, waste, throw away, defraud. Ex. ” I banked my salary and I haven’t seen it since.”

Italy: The people get it wrong again

This democracy business is trickier than it looks at first.

Poor Mario Monti, the former Goldman Sachs banker imposed on the Italians by Germany is still probably wondering what hit him. Coming fourth, and being beaten not only by Silvio Berlusconi, but by a self-proclaimed clown, as well. What on earth were the voters thinking of? Well, simply put, it was democracy. If you arrive in power without an electoral mandate, and proceed to force policies on an unwilling country that increase unemployment and poverty and depress growth, you must expect to suffer.

The puzzlement of the international financial elite at this result is too frightening to be entirely comical, but too comical, also, to be entirely frightening. How could the people have failed us, they intone. Such is the bubble the financial elite live in that they are probably genuinely incapable of understanding that for some people austerity is not a hypothetical concept, but a terrible reality, which destroys jobs and lives. A democracy can only be healthy if there is a mechanism for ensuring elites are, at least in principle, responsible to the electorate and that they understand the need to shape their policies according to what people want. When they get a good kicking, they change their policies accordingly. History suggests that elites that are too distant from ordinary people, and cannot reform themselves, tend to come to a sticky end.

If I were a member of the European financial elite, I’d start running now

Is there a choice? No

Overheard on aeroplane flying back from Africa in the early hours of this morning, as the cattle were about to be fed:

American in cap: Is there a choice?

Hostess: No

As it happens, this wasn’t one of the world’s (or even Africa’s) worst airlines. But I did think, as I swallowed whatever it was I was given, that the little episode summed up the prevailing philosophy of our society today. Take what you’re given. Pay what you’re told. Shut up.

Foreseen unconsequences

One of the most interesting things about international politics is how events turn out differently from how decision-makers expect, both for good and for bad. The usual argument for intervention, from Vietnam to Mali, is that disaster will follow if we don’t intervene. In practice, though, this almost never happens. Withdrawal from Vietnam did not lead to Chinese forces wading ashore in California, nor does anyone really think that withdrawal from Afghanistan will mean the Taliban advancing militarily into Greece and Italy. These were never more than ghost stories to frighten children. On the other hand, the destruction of much of Indo-China, the undermining of the stability of Pakistan, and the destabilisation of the Maghreb after the Libyan war, although all widely predicted, were ignored in policy-making in each case.

This kind of thinking muddies cause and effect. For example, the coming to power of a Communist regime in Cambodia was not something that the US actions could reasonably hope have prevented: it was a direct consequences of them. The attacks of September 2001 were not an unprovoked attack which could happen again unless desperate measures were taken, but a response to US policies in the region, whose originators themselves had never even thought about the deadly consequences of them.  Anti-western sentiment in Afghanistan was not a problem in 2002, but became one subsequently because of western behaviour there. And so on.

So, Mali. Here, the action is more defensible than those listed above, not least because most Malians seem to be in favour of it. It’s being sold, however, as another urgent intervention to protect Europeans. Here, the assumption seems to be that France will provide military help to the government, because otherwise Islamist militants (though the word is carefully not used) will attack France at some stage in the future, in retaliation for the attacks on them that France is making now. I don’t understand that either. By contrast, the likely consequences of the action have, honestly, not even really been thought about. Foreseen unconsequences, I call it, and it’s dangerous.

Mali: Here we go again

You have to wonder, sometimes, what the West has against secular modernising governments, given how many it has destroyed. From giggling about the Former Yugoslavia as it fell over a cliff, to smirking as it destroyed Iraq, to chuckling as it smashed up Syria, the West has always seemed to assume that something better would replace the governments it has helped to destroy.
Hello, Libya. Or rather the consequences of it in Mali. Tuareg mercenaries from the Libyan Army with heavy weapons and training. Islamic groups opportunistically joining in the fun. Collapse of the Malian Army and panic in Bamako. French intervention. All predictable and predicted. Are we ever, ever, going to understand?