Tuesday, November 24, 2015

US Thanksgiving Values, Them and Us

I wrote an off-the-cuff commentary yesterday on Facebook, attached to an article asking why so many Americans vote Republican, apparently against their own economic interests. Got me thinking even more, just a few days away from Thanksgiving.

I'm not sure how it happened. But, in a nutshell, at the moment, US voters are faced with this choice. And it ain't always as simple as my pocket, my race, my gender.

Democrats have become a party of fringe issues and what is perceived as failure. Admit you are an outcast, somehow different to the mainstream, an economic failure, demand you need help, join us, and we'll help you, make you a client voter for life.

Well blimey. We're the land of the American Dream. Martin Luther King's Dream. Two days away from the celebration that reminds us (native Americans aside, just for one moment) that we carved ourselves a new existence in this land of plenty, with nothing but our bare hands. Who wants to get on by having to admit that we need a handout to do it?

So, what do the Republicans offer? Crap designed as candy. Hey, you don't have to admit to failure to be one of us. You're the chosen. You're special. You want better? We'll lift you up.

Well, so far, so ... hmm ... ok. But then comes the wicked punch. Bit by bit, the element of hard work, responsibility, sharing, team work, and so on, bit by bit that is subsumed by envy and misplaced acquisitiveness.

It's not that you want better. You are better. It's not that you want to be lifted up. We'll get you there by lifting over. Lifting around. Bypassing those who do not deserve. For we, you are chosen above all else.

Think about it. Middle America is essentially offered a choice between parties both of which offer envy as a platform and greed as the solution.

Don't like your lot? Well, you shouldn't. That's because the rich have it all. Vote for us, and we'll bleed 'em (Democrats).

Don't like your lot? Well, you shouldn't. That's because the slacker across the road, the gays, the immigrants and foreigners have it all. Vote for us, and we'll get it back for ya (Republicans).

So. Why do folks then end up ever so slightly going for the party that isn't thinking of bleeding the rich? Because, deep down, too many of us secretly yearn to be rich too. That's why we watch reality shows. Why we affect the costumes of the rich. Why we watch The Apprentice. And why too many of us think that The Trump should be President.

And so. This Thanksgiving. God help us all ...

Monday, November 16, 2015


I'm going to make these following comments very carefully. Tread, very carefully. I abhor violence. Of all kind. I detest bias. Of any kind. But. I also dislike bullying. Which is using the most tentative term I can find.

When I was the son of an American family, born and raised in the UK, in the late Fifties and early Sixties, there was strong feeling against Americans in Europe.

This was a leftover from the Second World War. And also the product of the fact that, after that War, the country which most helped Europe to find its feet economically was also the US.

Gratitude finds expression in many strange ways. And I grew used to seeing graffiti inviting Yanks To Go Home.

When I first moved to the US in 1989, I began in Rhode Island. Where they loved me. Until they discovered I was looking for work. I then experienced my own form of bias.

I'm not pretending for one moment that my life was in danger because of profiling. But I do know about profiling.

Which is where I come to the tread softly part. When I engage with those of my friends whom I would describe as anarchist, and they make generalized comments about police violence, there is no hesitation on their part in profiling anyone wearing a blue uniform and holding a gun.

I don't have a problem with that. There are too many folks in blue uniforms with guns killing unarmed civilians in the US at the moment. But, rather than joining the chorus of those aimlessly profiling every blue uniform, I say, ok, let's find a way to stop blue uniforms killing unarmed civilians.

In much the same fashion, as much as I feel for those folks who feel targeted because of the few of their religion, race, nationality, occupation, whatever, who misbehave (another gentle term), I am not going to spend my time joining the chorus of those who choose to spend their time decrying anger (of course anger is wrong), rather than finding time to come up with solutions as to how to stop the few misbehaving.

There is misbehavior which some see as being the common experience of a few belonging to the same religion, race, gender, occupation, whatever. We do not sensibly find solutions to that misbehavior by blinding ourselves to the commonality of the experience.

If you choose to call that profiling. So be it. But, at the same time as you may castigate me for that, please be prepared to offer solution and comfort to those who are scared. For one without the other may feel appropriate. But it achieves nothing.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Hugh John Simmonds, CBE: April 20, 1948 - November 15, 1988

More so than at any time since I first learned cursive writing (1962), the world we live in is shaped by violent conflict. And whatever impulses may be driving the desire for armed confrontation, its expression is fueled by arms sales.

Which brings me to the annual anniversary of the still unresolved and mysterious death of the man who is the subject of my recently-published book, Maggies’s Hammer, and the dichotomy at the heart of that book and its promotion.

I will this coming Friday conclude two and a half months of initial international radio interviews talking to all and sundry about my book, its subject matter and why it helps ordinary folk and experts alike better to understand just what the heck is going on in the world today.

But, here’s the thing. My primary angle, beyond attempting to find out why my good friend, mentor and Margaret Thatcher’s favorite speechwriter ended up dead in a peaceful woodland glade, thirty miles west of the British Parliament, is to expose the rampant and high-level corruption associated with the arms industry in the UK, and the UK’s special covert military arrangements with the US. And explain how they feed so much of today’s geopolitical agenda. Everything from the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Africa, to last Friday’s appalling tragedy in Paris.

And yet, while I am engaged on what some might see as this noble mission, the man at the heart of my investigations was, in fact, actively seeking to make money from that which I now seek to expose. The first of so many dichotomies that have become acutely visible to me in the course of some 30-40 radio interviews.

I want truth. And yet so many of those to whom I speak engage in lies. That’s what spies do. My aim is simple – find out what happened, so that Hugh’s family may know. Yet too many of my informants play with me, as if I am a part of their game. And I have to try to sort out the chaff from reality. My interviewers genuinely feel for my ambition. Yet, they constantly seek to move my commentary into areas that, frankly, have nothing to do with my book. As a consequence of which, I feel myself ever so gently, on occasion, losing sight of the essential narrative. While worrying that what I see as my primary need (the opening of the relevant government files in the UK) becomes less likely the more I speak on radio programs that might affect my credibility.

Dichotomies abundant.

But, there is one constant which never changes. As awkward and as outrĂ© as it might seem in an age of yes she did, no he didn’t, instant ADD social media gratification. In 1989, I held the hands of an eleven year old girl. Whose face was vacant, her eyes haunted. And promised that I would find out why her father had died, without explanation for her. I will fulfill that promise.

And so, today, a few days after the western world engaged in its annual ritual of remembering those who died on our behalf. In military conflicts around the world. Conflicts they and we had no hand in designing. As we attempt to absorb the horror of one of those conflicts acting out in what we had assumed were our safe neighborhoods. As, hopefully, we might once again want to reconsider the importance to our economic way of life of arms sales. And the toxic influence they have on our body politic through associated arms kickbacks. I remember that twenty-seven years ago, on this day, my best friend died in the service of his Prime Minister. A fact which, as we remember so much else, very few will feel constrained to remember. Something I genuinely believe, now that my book has so very kindly been published by Kris Millegan, a man who has yet even to meet me, something I believe may finally change in this coming year.

RIP Hugh. Love to Janet, Karen, Juliet, Tanya and Paul.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris: The Facts of Life, Death and Terror

The Mayor of New York says that we are all moved by the events in Paris. Of course we are. There is absolutely no feeling more intense, lonely and unsettling than the mind-numbing terror of knowing that you are unsafe as you go about your normal life.

And that is the point. A horrible and uncomfortable point, made all the more unpalatable because it is raised at a moment when all we feel we should be doing is sharing the pain of those who have lost loved ones, or who wait anxiously to know whether the ones they cherish are the ones who survived. Intact.

There is no such thing as collateral damage. There never was. There never will be. Those who seek political ends through violence know that the quickest route to success lies through scaring or appalling ordinary citizens. All people of terror. Whether the organizations of terror are state-sponsored or unaffiliated.

"The atom bomb was no 'great decision.' It was merely another powerful weapon in the arsenal of righteousness." - Harry S Truman.

"Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always." - Statement from the IRA after Brighton Bombing, 1984.

The US dropped the only two atom bombs ever used against civilians because the US believed the bombs would end the war against Japan. The Germans destroyed Coventry. The British leveled Dresden. The IRA almost wiped out the then British Government on British soil in 1984. When all else fails, those who prize violence as the means to the end know that the surest way to achieve goals is to frighten ordinary people.

Paris was not a miscalculation. It was the latest example of the modus operandum of the sickening art of war.

I feel for all Parisians today. But I also find time to feel for the hundreds of thousands of non-combatant civilians killed in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Africa and the Ukraine. To mention but a few.

But while I feel, I will also say that the answer is not eye-for-eye retribution, nor overwhelming intrusion into the lives of ordinary folks, adding insult to injury.

The answer is for all citizens to demand of those who wield authority, be it recognized government, or the militia manning the roadblock at the end of the street. To demand of them that, if they truly believe they seek justice on our behalf, then they do so without resorting to violence.

For as long as there is violence, as long as we condone it. And we condone it when we do nothing to stop it, when we pretend we know nothing about it, when we delude ourselves into thinking that an arms industry is about jobs, not about peddling death. As long as you and I condone violence in our name, then there will be civilian casualties. Because they are the most effective. Whether we care to face up to that fact, or not.

‪#‎StandWithParis‬ ‪#‎PrayforParis‬