Archive for the ‘Political musings’ Category

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Protesters hold protest signs denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin near the Russian permanent mission to the United Nations in New York in 2015. (Reuters)

The really interesting question in the recent poisoning case in the UK is not if the Russian Government is implicated – it looks highly likely (see below) – but why they would perform such an act now.

When trying to understand the context, two factors are key in our view.

Firstly, Russia is in an expansionist phase, constantly testing the resolve of the West to resist it.

Recent examples are many and varied. Russia is firmly in the camp of rogue state in terms of its murderous support of the Assad regime in Syria, as it seeks to expand its influence in the Middle East. It continues to agitate against the Ukraine, maintains a threatening posture against the newly independent Baltic states, and threatens the USA with a “new generation” of nuclear missiles.

Secondly, Putin is up for re-election. He is a populist “strongman”, and that’s why his rule is virtually unchallenged, although factions within the ruling elite in Russia do exist, and jockeying for power in the event of any departure by Putin is constant. In this, Russia has hardly evolved from the days of communist control, or frankly, the Tsars.

Viewed in this light, the murder of a minor spy who has been quietly living in the West for some time – which would be re-reported in Russia, of course – serves two purposes.

It tests the West’s resolve to resist brazen Russian aggression without risking an armed conflict.

Second, it makes Putin look tough. Again.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson thus faces a serious test. If the attempted murder (or it may turn out to be a triple murder, depending on the health of those most affected) turns out to be very obviously to be laid at the feet of the Russian State, what is an appropriate response?

Will the British worry overmuch about the unpleasant despatch of a spy – deaths in that arena happen constantly, of course – and the unfortunate collateral damage of a Wiltshire policeman? Or will they make a lot of huff and puff and do nothing much?

Our money is on nothing much. Perhaps a few diplomats expelled and a strongly worded note.

The British economy – especially the City of London – increasingly depends on the growing petro-dollar and gas-dollar influx of funds “washed” through banks and finance houses in London. And funds from less obvious sources inside the Russian kleptocracy. Putin knows Britain wouldn’t want anything to upset that, especially when complications from Brexit means those funds could easily get switched to other markets. So this event tests how brazen Russian behaviour can be before any real damage is done to the relationship.

Ordinarily, of course, the Brits would turn to their American colleagues for advice on how to handle this latest “Beast from the East” event. (The “Beast from the East” was the nickname given to the recent blast of cold air from Russia that dumped snow everywhere.) But given the inordinately close relationship between Putin and the Trump administration, we feel it is unlikely that Britain will turn there for help and advice. And relations between Britain and the EU aren’t exactly rosy just now either.

Putin is, unlike his American counterpart, a highly calculating man. We believe he may be testing the UK right now simply because it is increasingly isolated and left to its own resources. Simply to see what happens.

How Johnson responds will be fascinating to watch.

THE BBC’s latest reporting follows:

Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found unconscious in Salisbury on Sunday afternoon and remain critically ill.

A police officer who was the first to attend the scene is now in a serious condition in hospital, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said.

Nerve agents are highly toxic chemicals that stop the nervous system working and shut down bodily functions.

They normally enter the body through the mouth or nose, but can also be absorbed through the eyes or skin.

Mr Rowley, head of Counter Terrorism Policing, said government scientists had identified the agent used, but would not make that information public at this stage.

“This is being treated as a major incident involving attempted murder, by administration of a nerve agent,” he said.

“Having established that a nerve agent is the cause of the symptoms… I can also confirm that we believe that the two people who became unwell were targeted specifically.”

He said there was no evidence of a widespread health risk to the public.

Two other police officers who attended the scene were treated in hospital for minor symptoms, before they were given the all clear. It is understood their symptoms included itchy eyes and wheezing.


By Richard Galpin, BBC News correspondent – formerly based in Moscow

The announcement by the police that Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia are the victims of an attack in which a nerve agent was used makes the parallel with the poisoning of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 even stronger.

Like the radioactive polonium used to kill Litvinenko, a nerve agent is not normally something criminal gangs or terrorist groups can make.

Instead, it is usually manufactured by specialist laboratories under the control of governments – and that inevitably means suspicion will now be very much focused on Russia.

Not only does it have a track record of using poisons to assassinate its enemies, there is also a motive in the case of Sergei Skripal.

As a military intelligence officer in Russia, he betrayed his country by providing information to MI6, reportedly revealing the identities of Russian agents in Europe. And Russian President Vladimir Putin has in the past indicated that traitors deserve to die.

Although the question remains, why would Mr Skripal be attacked now when he has been living in Britain for eight years and came here originally as part of a spy swap?

Mr Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter were found slumped on a bench outside the Maltings shopping centre.

Police want to speak to anyone who was in the city centre on Sunday afternoon.

They are particularly keen to hear from people who ate at Zizzi or drank in The Bishop’s Mill pub between 13:00 and 16:00 GMT.

Both of those locations remain closed to the public.

There is also a cordon in place outside Mr Skripal’s Salisbury home. A yellow forensic tent has been erected and police have been seen carrying equipment into the building.

Mr Rowley said hundreds of detectives, forensic specialists, analysts and intelligence officers were working round the clock on the case.

The investigation in Salisbury may take several more days, he added.

Prof Malcolm Sperrin, fellow of the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine, said: “Symptoms of exposure to nerve agents may include respiratory arrest, heart failure, twitching or spasms – anything where the nerve control is degraded.

“Nerve agents can cause death, but not necessarily at low-level exposure or with a minor dose.”

Alastair Hay, emeritus professor of environmental toxicology at the University of Leeds, added: “These are very difficult and dangerous chemicals to make.”

Sergei Skripal and his daughter YuliaImage copyright EPA/ YULIA SKRIPAL/FACEBOOK
Mr Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, collapsed on a bench in Salisbury city centre

A public inquiry concluded the killing of the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 was probably carried out with the approval of President Putin.

On Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told MPs the UK would respond “robustly” to any evidence of Russian “state responsibility” in the Skripal case.

Russia has insisted it has “no information” about what could have led to the incident, but is open to co-operating with British police if requested.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said foreign media had used the incident as part of an anti-Russian campaign.

“It’s a traditional campaign. The tradition is to make things up. We can only see it as a provocation,” she said.

Who is Sergei Skripal?

Undated image taken from the internet of Sergei Skripal in uniform.
Col Skripal, 66, had been living in Salisbury after being released by Russia in 2010

Colonel Skripal, a retired Russian military intelligence officer, was jailed for 13 years by Russia in 2006.

He was convicted of passing the identities of Russian intelligence agents working undercover in Europe to the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service, MI6.

In July 2010, he was one of four prisoners released by Moscow in exchange for 10 Russian spies arrested by the FBI.

After a Cold War-style spy swap at Austria’s Vienna airport, Col Skripal moved to Salisbury, where he kept a low profile for eight years.

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I’m waiting for my Son to die. At least in Heaven there’s food.


Compassion fatigue?


Distracted by the Winter Olympics closing ceremony? Massacres in American schools? Trump’s latest tweet? Football?

What will it take to make you sit up and take notice?

Perhaps this. Warning: distressing.

#assad #syria #russia #civilians #children

If you want to share this story, which is something you could to do immediately to raise awareness of this utter disgrace, please cut and paste the link at the end of this sentence, and post it to your Facebook page or wherever:


There appears to be some success in the outpouring of anger over Russia and Assad’s behaviour. Please KEEP sharing this story as often and as creatively as you can to ensure that pressure is kept up.?



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Watching video footage of a Florida student recording the noise of a gunman firing an “AR-15 style rifle” inside their school – killing at least 17 people, and possibly more when the injured either recover or tragically do not – was not good for one’s peace of mind.

The horrific and terrifying noise that such a rifle makes just a few feet from you will live in the mind of viewers forever. What the long-term effect will be on those who were actually there will be, God only knows. The by-now all too familiar photographs of traumatised children and parents are almost too awful to contemplate.

Indeed, one of the greatest dangers of the current situation in America is that people will turn away, feeling helpless, or simply ignore events through compassion fatigue.

This was the 18th school shooting in the USA this year. Which, it should be pointed out, is not even into its third month.

Worse, the alleged perpetrator was known to the school, had been disciplined while there, and previously banned from the campus with a backpack on.

The time for America to ignore its hugely powerful gun lobby and take action to prevent more occurrences of these acts is now so long overdue that it is not even worth fulminating in shock any more.

America must do take following steps now, or accept that disenfranchised marginalised youths – nearly always male, and clearly disturbed – will continue to act like this with relative impunity.

No, this problem will not be fixed overnight – the solution will be long, tortuous and depressingly tough and complex – but every day that is wasted simply invites another such event. America has to start this journey sometime. If not now, when?

  • “Assault style/AR-15” rifles must be banned throughout the country. For everyone. They are unnecessary for vermin control on farms, they are unnecessary for hunting, they are unnecessary for personal protection, and in the wrong hands they are irreparably and uniquely harmful. That’s it, no discussion, the time has come. Someone needs to show some leadership and get this change implemented.
  • No gun of any kind should be sold, by anyone, to anyone, without thorough psychological and background checks. America needs, as far as it can, to keep guns out of the hands of people who are likely to turn them on themselves or others.
  • The USA needs a gun amnesty to encourage legacy guns out of the community so they can be destroyed. This will reduce the number of guns stolen (currently 200,000 a year from legal gun owners) that end up int he criminal community.
  • People keeping unsecured weapons in their home should be subject to tough new nationally-agreed sanctions including, but not limited to, the permanent removal of their weapons and a ban on them replacing them

None of these aims should be rejected by reasonable advocates of gun ownership. Most people outside of America consider, as we have said many times before, that the right to bear arms is as inherently unwise as the right to arm bears. But it has to be accepted that the American public has a unique view of the matter. But that view can still be respected while making America’s children – indeed, all their population – much safer.

Some will say, again, that the problem is schools that are gun free zones, that all that is needed is more and better armed security. This is, of course, a simple nonsense. No school facility can ever be adequately secured against a madman with a semi-automatic rifle, and that’s the only point that matters. Unless you want to turn schools into the equivalent of armed prison camps, which is not only impractical, but is also not healthy for the children inside them. Why would America want to do that, when Americans can choose instead to rid society of semi-automatic weapons if they so wish?

Some will say, again, that guns are not the only deadly weapon available to assailants. And they’d be right. But it is much more difficult to kill 17 people with a knife, or a baseball bat. And that’s the point. And it is unarguable. It is also unarguable that the vast majority of attacks are carried out with guns, and the most deadly have always been with AR-15 style weapons, simply because of the ease with which multiple shots can be got off.

Some will say again that getting rid of such weapons is too hard, that illegal arms will continue to circulate amongst the criminal classes, and the argument needs to be confronted honestly. Yes, it will be hard to eliminate such weapons from the streets of America, and it will take time. As each such weapon is discovered, it must be destroyed. The population of such weapons will fall only slowly. (Although a gun amnesty will speed the process.) But people committing massacres are not career or professional criminals. They are not even gang members. They are loners, and normally not criminal in any other identifiable sense. In other words, the argument is a simple furphy.

The argument in favour of starting the process of reducing the population of such guns vastly outweighs any difficulties.

Because the question always comes back to “if not now, when?”


Without political leadership – without bi-partisan political leadership – America is simply doomed to seeing these scenes over and over. What is clear is that the current situation is unacceptable in a modern, free country. If anyone doubts that it is, they should visit 17 households in Broward County tonight.

Already there is evidence that tourist numbers to the USA are being negatively affected by the widespread perception of the country as riddled with gun violence.

And the psychological impact on America’s own population can hardly be imagined.

Let’s work together on what CAN be done, rather than waste any more time arguing about whether anything should be done. And before any smart-alec remarks that this is nothing to do with a writer in Australia, we would simply make three points.

  • Sometimes, a little distance is required to give perspective.
  • We have successfully tackled this problem in Australia and largely eradicated these weapons from our society.
  • We have friends in America. Many of them. And some of those friends have children.

Only when we have sought to address the core problem is it appropriate to say “Prayers and sympathy” to the victims. Because to express such sentiments, but to refuse to even begin to seriously tackle how to prevent events like today’s terrible massacre, is utter hypocrisy. Damnable hypocrisy. And it should be called out as such.

Something must be done. Starting today. That’s the bottom line.




Idiots (and they are idiots) who seek to deny climate change reality may care to note, as the BBC have, that the United States experienced a record year of losses from fires, hurricanes and other weather related disasters in 2017, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Total losses amounted to $306bn the agency said, over $90bn more than the previous record set in 2005.

Making the point that refusing to address climate change is not only idiocy, it’s very expensive idiocy, economically, too.

Last year saw 16 separate events with losses exceeding $1bn, including Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

NOAA also confirmed that 2017 was the third warmest year on record for the US. Only 2012 and 2016 were hotter.

Last year witnessed two Category 4 hurricanes make landfall in the States.

Hurricane Harvey produced major flooding as a result of a storm surge and extreme rain. Nearly 800,000 people needed help. Researchers have already shown that climate change increased the likelihood of the observed rainfall by a factor of at least 3.5.

Noaa says the total costs of the Harvey event were $125bn, which is second only to Hurricane Katrina in terms of costs over the 38 years the record has been maintained.

Hurricane Irma was a Category 5 storm for the longest period on record. Rain gauges in Nederland, Texas, recorded 1,539mm, the largest ever recorded for a single event in the mainland US. Hurricanes Irma and Maria cost $50bn and $90bn respectively.

As well as hurricanes, there were devastating fires in western states, particularly in California. While last winter and spring saw heavy rains in the region that alleviated a long-term drought, the resulting boom in vegetation created abundant wildfire fuel. Deadly fires in both the north and south of California meant hundreds of thousands of residents had to be evacuated from their homes.

The report from NOAA says that across the US, the overall cost of these fires was $18bn, tripling the previous wildfire cost record.

“In the general picture the warming [of the] US over the long term is related to the larger scale warming we have seen on the global scale,” said Deke Arndt, chief of NOAA’s monitoring section.

“The US will have a lot more year to year variability so that it bounces up and down depending on prevailing weather regimes. But the long term signal is tied with long term warming.”

The eastern US has been experiencing an extreme cold snap, also one of the side effects of global climate change, leading some, such as US president Donald Trump, to query the impact of global warming.

But the stats don’t lie. Temperatures in most regions of the world were above the 1981-2010 average – especially in the Arctic. On the island of Svalbard, the city of Longyearbyen repeatedly experienced mean monthly temperatures more than 6 degrees C above the long-term mark.

In November last year the World Meteorological Organisation issued a provisional bulletin stating that 2017 was likely the second or third warmest year on record. That prediction will be clarified in the coming days and weeks as various agencies around the world publish their data for the full year.

There are usually some small differences between the datasets held by the different national bodies based mainly on their coverage of the polar regions and and in their estimates of sea-surface temperature.

Meanwhile, Australia swelters yet again, with our first serious fires of the season, and often having to endure temperatures in the 40s. And our politicians continue to fiddle while the country, quite literally, burns.

civilianAs we have wandered Facebook and Instagram and all the rest of it, catching up on friends’ and acquaintances’ (and a few celebrities’) wishes for the New Year, one thing has struck us forcibly.

In the 1980s and 90s it seemed to us, most of the wishes were about health and happiness and wealth – hope the New Year brings you lots of money and the energy to enjoy it, essentially.

In this new century, the world seems a more anxious and thoughtful place. And as we near the end of the second decade of the 21st century, even more so.

It’s easy to see why. The old order is collapsing, or at least seems to be, at least to a degree.

The European experiment, which was always about unity and not just economics, regardless of how it was “sold”, seems mired in intractable problems. Not just the misguided Brexit – an especially self-immolatory act of political lunacy born of lies, anti-immigration sentiment and a generalised angst given something to focus on by weak leadership, especially that of David Cameron – but by the difficulties in keeping Eastern European countries with no strong tradition of liberal democracy signed up to the particular rules demanded of that heavy burden, and the eternal problem of encouraging people to work to a common good rather than a local or regional one.

Those in rich countries or areas are rapidly becoming sick of bailing out poorer areas.

The ultimate failure, of course, is political – as it always is – is in explaining to them why that’s good policy, and a burden worth shouldering. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking Brexit, Greece, Catalonia, Northern Italy or elsewhere. The failure is not economic, it’s political.

The United States, for so long the arbiter of seemingly everything both good and bad in the world, at least from, say 1943 onwards, now seems lost and uncertain of its role.

In part, this is very obviously because economically the country is no longer the source of unending world wealth, but also because Russian and China (in particular) have parlayed their growing economic might into political clout. Rumours of America’s demise have been hugely over-inflated – it is still the world’s biggest economy by far, with the largest armed forces by some distance, and massive diplomatic clout. But increasingly the country looks like a wounded beast thrashing around in its death throes. There is inadequate investment in the technologies of the future which America must lead in order to maintain its competitive advantage, and its political influence is deeply harmed by the perception outside the USA that its political leadership has, essentially, collapsed.

trump handsThe President looks to all the world, and increasingly to even his own supporters,  to be a scary mixture of stupidity and even mental illness, the Congress seems little more than a quacking collection of self-interested ducks, and any level of informed debate which might turn this miasma around seems largely drowned out by a mixture of bread and circuses and mindless partisanship.

Ranged against this, and perhaps most worryingly, significant numbers of young people look to the command economies of America’s greatest rival with some degree of envy. And every excess of bluster (of which the current standoff with Iran and North Korea are only the most obvious) makes the apparent stability of Russia and China look more attractive, and by implication, their systems. In reality, of course, Russia is little more than a dictatorship by kleptocracy, with highly dubious international ambitions and no regard for the freedom of its own people, and China is run by a ruthlessly domineering state apparatus that papers over substantial internal divisions whilst attempting to feed the middle-class ambitions of its people.

There are, of course, great problems with poverty and lack of opportunity in both countries, just as there are in the rust belt states of the USA or the china-poor-migrant-workers.jpgwobbling rural American states trying to make their way in a world where the produce market is increasingly borderless, or in Latin America, but we hear very little of the problems faced by the command economies of China and Russia (and their imitators) because the first thing throttled by their leadership is a free press.

The argument that judiciously managed free trade conducted by democracies is the fastest and most reliable route to the greater good of all – which should be the clarion call of all sides of Western politics – has sadly morphed, driven by localised economic hardship, into rampant protectionism in the USA, which is hardly how to inspire the people to believe in the system long term.

Capitalism’s own internal contradictions gave us the GFC in recent memory. Instead of pinioning it for what it was – a failure of sensible regulation and the inevitable result of uncontrolled greed by a small elite – America has circled the wagons and thinks it can fix the problem by being rude to its friends and neighbours, investing directly in protecting industries that should rightly be exposed to the winds of competition, and continuing to ramp up endless castles of debt, the construction of which mountain will now be enhanced by reducing its tax take.

To those casting about for security and predictability, it looks like madness, and it is.

The paper claimed mainstream climate models misunderstood the role of clouds

Pile on top of this the very obvious fact that the weather is getting “worse”. This worrysome trend is becoming patently obvious to anyone with half a brain, and debates about why seem so yesterday when the facts are faced up to. Against a US President who jokes in a snowstorm that some global warming might be helpful is a growing understanding in the population as a whole that something serious is up. The message that global warming really (and immediately) means more (and greater) extreme weather events is hitting home. Bigger and more destructive storms of all kinds, including snowstorms. Habitat change threatening species (and many more than polar bears) and subsistence farming across the planet. Large populated areas of low-lying country threatened with likely inundation. Industrial-scale farming patterns worldwide need adjusting and fast.


And last by by no means least, the entire world seems doomed to engage in a seemingly never-ending asymmetrical war with the forces of extreme violence – now, notably, “Islamic” violence – which represents a tiny fraction of the religion’s worldwide ummah, but which taints it all with sometimes tragic consequences, despite the very obvious fact that many more Muslims are killed by the extremists than are Westerners.

The current paralysis of world political thinking is nowhere better illustrated than by the failure to deal with the philosophical basis of the extremism. The philosophy of extremist Islam is nothing new, but its ability to de-stabilise the world is new. Free availability of arms both large and small, (many supplied from the West), instant digital communication, and a perpetual media spotlight make the menace much greater than it ever has been.

And to even say “Maybe if we stopped bombing towns and villages with enhanced munitions then at least some people might stop becoming radicalised?” is to invite howls of derision and even cat-calls of “Traitor”. As we move into 2018, patriotism has become not just the refuge of scoundrels, but also those who wish to deny palpably obvious realities. The equivalent for Muslims is to say “Maybe we Shia and Sunni should stop killing each other and live in peace?” Even to voice the opinion risks swift retribution.

It is hardly surprising, faced with all this, that worldwide people are retreating into a sort of mutualised depression, for which social media provides one poor outlet, with plaintive appeals to enjoy “A peaceful New Year” replacing “Health, Wealth and Happiness”.

Part of the problem is the seemingly intractable nature of all these problems.

In all these scenarios, the themes seem simply too large, too complex, and too “far away”, for ordinary people to wreak any meaningful change in a positive direction. And it is in this specific context that we propose a return to basics.

We offer you these critical commandments to guide us all in troubling times.

  • Get out and vote for what you believe in.

Abstention-ism is not a viable option. It is leaving “it” to the elites that has got us into this awful mess.

The First Vote

But don’t just vote. Get involved with the political party of your choice. Ask questions, and demand answers.

Get involved in policy-making. Be a squeaky wheel. If you don’t feel qualified to talk about the niceties of defence planning or international economics, then start with what you do know. Your local school district. Rubbish collection. Parks and gardens. Traffic flow. Take back control over your life.

The resulting empowerment is not just good for society, and good training in how to effect change, it’s good for your own psychological well-being, too.

The demise of party membership is just the first and most obvious example of how we willfully gave away our influence over those that rule us.

This is as true in China and Russia as it is in Australia and America. Governmental systems vary, but the power of the people doesn’t. Ultimately, when exercised, the power of the people always and inevitably wins, because there’s more of “us” than there is of “them”. And their control rests on our acquiescence. (That’s why the elite are more than happy to keep us satiated with sports and hamburgers and alcohol.)

So if you want to win, get in the game. Don’t be a spectator. “Subvert the dominant paradigm”, whoever and wherever you are.

Secondly, if the drift towards climate disaster or world conflict terrifies you, (and it should), then channel that fear into something that makes a difference.

  • Don’t like climate change? Turn it off. Reduce your energy consumption.

flashing-panda-wall-switch-light-nightlight-6-led-aaa-batteries-led-wall-switchEveryone can do this, even if it simply involves turning a few lights off.

Only use heating or cooling systems when you really need to.

The planet will be grateful, and your hip-pocket will thank you too.

It really is that simple. And spend two minutes more a week recycling properly, and encouraging everyone around you to do the same.

While you’re making this change, eat a little less meat. Meat (which we freely admit we adore) is highly harmful to the environment. If you’re a dedicated carnivore, maybe enjoy just one vegetarian meal a week?

Never was “Think global, act local” more true, yet we seem to be bored with that call already. Familiarity breeds contempt. It’s time to remind everyone that tiny changes, multiplied by millions, really do make a massive difference.

  • And don’t be silent on violence. Ever.

Silence equals consent. Our silence. Your silence.


It is odd, isn’t it, how we can become deeply involved in the consequences of a mugging death of a grandmother round the corner from where we live, but become inured to images of warplanes bombing civilian areas, often carried out in our name? The grandmother killed in such an event is no different from the grandmother who got mugged. Each grandmother hoped for a quiet and happy retirement, with enough to live on in a simple, life-sustaining way, surrounded by the happy cries of her grandchildren, tending to a few plants, passing the time of day with friends and neighbours in the sunset of their life. And then this dream was cruelly snatched away from them.

How do we decide to be broken-hearted about one, but cold and unmoved by the other?

To reduce and then prevent war, we simply have to – en masse – make it clear to our leaders that violence conducted in our name is not acceptable to us, and we will withdraw our support from those who conduct it.

Sounds simplistic? It is. That’s the beauty of it. It really is simple.

Over-complicate the goal and it becomes un-do-able. So keep it simple. Support candidates who support peace, and don’t support those who don’t. And make your choice known, on social media, to family and friends, and to the politicians themselves.

Want to do more? Start by arguing that our governments should not sell arms (of any kind) to other governments. Over 90% of the deaths in armed conflicts worldwide are from bullets. If we stop making those bullets, many of those people will not die. Better still, shorn of the ease of pulling a trigger to resolve a conflict, many such conflicts will be more likely to result in negotiations.

Continue by demanding that we choose to withdraw career progression from those who ache to create conflict in order to “use” the weapons and service people at their disposal. Bellicose commanders at all levels are progressively replaced by those who know the reality of war, and will do anything to avoid it. We do not do this partially, we do it on all sides.

And then tell those that govern us that we demand that they reduce the reliance on weaponry to “achieve peace”. (In reality, of course, it is not about peace at all, but is used to achieve political influence.)

We demand that armed forces everywhere are pared back to the lowest level concomitant with providing an effective defence posture against all likely events. In countries like Britain, for example, historical nonsenses like the “independent” Trident nuclear weapon system are simply scrapped. The money released by this ratcheting down of defence spending become a “peace dividend” to re-engineer businesses that rely on the military-industrial complex for survival, and to support servicepeople adjusting to civilian life.

Yes, we know we will immediately be accused, of course, of being namby-pamby, of not living in the real world, of misunderstanding how power works, of being naive. You will, too. But we are none of those things.

We have spent a life watching closely (and sometimes intimately) how the people at the top of power structures work. What motivates them. And what motivates them most is the maintenance of their power.

It is not always that they are simply power hungry, although power is unquestionably very attractive and an aphrodisiac, both to the practitioner and those around him or her. But few people get involved in politics in any system merely to aggrandise themselves, merely for career-ism.

Most genuinely believe they are acting in the greater good, and this motivates them to stick with the long hours, the dangers, the disrupted family life, the huge responsibilities, the petty treacheries, and all the rest of it.

Threaten to take that opportunity to “do good” away – the psychological bedrock of their career – is the most powerful thing any of us can do to affect their behaviour.

That is why the consent – or withdrawal of consent – for politicians to simply do as they wish regardless of our opinions rests on every single one of us. Alone, we can achieve little, but building a consensus rests with every single one of us. We can hide under the covers, or we can speak our mind. We can stand up and be counted, and when enough people are counted, politicians and rulers react.

Every single one of us can say “Not that, this.” Some of us will be ignored. Some of us will mocked for doing so. Some will lose friends. Some will even be injured or killed. But every one of us has the capacity and the right to say “Not that, this.” It is the one thing that no one can take away from us. We control our own opinions. Our voice is our own, whatever the cost. And the choice to use it is always ours and ours alone.

And that’s why this is our New Year’s wish. For you, and for the world.

Because war really is over. If you want it. Badly enough.

Here’s a thought. Why not share a link to this blog? That’d be a good start.

PS A number of people have asked why Churchill – a famous war leader – heads this column. The answer is simple. As someone who actually experienced war, Churchill hated it, whilst nevertheless waging it ferociously. His most relevant quotation on the topic is also perhaps his least quoted: “Jaw-jaw is always better than war-war”. That’s why. If Churchill “got it”, anyone can.

Paul Alexander spends almost every moment of the day inside his iron lung. Photo: Jennings Brown for Gizmodo

This article is reproduced from Gizmodo, with thanks, and without adulteration. It deserves to be read by every anti-vaccination campaigner, and every parent frightened by their propaganda.

Martha Lillard spends half of every day with her body encapsulated in a half-century old machine that forces her to breathe. Only her head sticks out of the end of the antique iron lung. On the other end, a motorised lever pulls the leather bellows, creating negative pressure that induces her lungs to suck in air.

In 2013, the Post-Polio Health International (PPHI) organisations estimated that there were six to eight iron lung users in the United States. Now, PPHI executive director Brian Tiburzi says he doesn’t know anyone alive still using the negative-pressure ventilators. Recently, I met three polio survivors who depend on iron lungs. They are among the last few, possibly the last three.


Their locations form a line that cuts directly through the heart of the US – one in Dallas, one outside Oklahoma City, and one in Kansas City, Missouri – what some call tornado alley.

Storms have always been especially difficult for Lillard because if the iron lung loses power, she could die in her sleep. She lives alone, aside from three dogs and 20 geckos that she keeps in plastic terrariums filled with foliage and wool. “They like to sleep in the fleece, wrapped up like a burrito,” she said as she introduced me to a few of her favourites.

Lillard sleeps in the iron lung, so it is in her bedroom. Even though the tank is a dull canary yellow it pops in the room, which is painted chartreuse – like the rest of the house, inside and out – and filled with toys and dolls that she has collected throughout her lifetime. On the walls hang a crucifix, a plush Pink Panther, and mirrors strategically placed so she can see around the room and into the hallway.

Her iron lung has portholes and windows on the side; a pressure gauge at the top. The machine is actually cobbled together from two iron lungs. One, the March of Dimes gave her when she was a child. The other, she bought from someone in Utah, after she haggled him down from $US25,000 ($33,127) to $US8000 ($10,600). The body has also been modified over the years. Her grandfather invented a motorised pulley system that closes the bed tray into the tank after she climbs in. He also replaced the brushed aluminium mirror above the neck slot with a real mirror so that she could have a clear view to the rest of the room when she’s locked in the canister. A local engineer used a motor from an old voter registration device to build a mechanism that tightens the collar around her neck after she slips her head through the portal. The fan belts and half-horsepower motor have been replaced about 10 times.

“It seemed like forever because you weren’t breathing. You just laid there and you could feel your heart beating.”

When Lillard is outside of the tank, she can breathe using a positive-pressure ventilator, a smaller device that pushes air into her lungs. But that instrument doesn’t provide the same relief as when she puts her entire body into the 290kg, 2.3m-long apparatus. Plus, forcing air into the lungs can cause inflammation or damage the air sacs. When she’s sick, she can only heal if she spends full days in the iron lung. She calls herself “a human battery” because she has to recharge every day.

Lillard is 69, 145cm and weighs 44kg. Her back is arched from scoliosis. She didn’t get surgery when she was a child because doctors didn’t expect her to make it to her teenage years, and she never had an operation as an adult because polio survivors can stop breathing when they’re on anaesthesia.

She was infected with polio at her fifth birthday party at the Joyland Amusement Park on 8 June 1953. Nine days later, her neck ached so bad she couldn’t raise her head off the pillow. Her parents said it was probably just a summer cold, but Lillard could tell they were afraid. They took her in for a spinal tap, which confirmed it was polio.

floorLillard looks through a photo album on her living room floor. Photo: Jennings Brown for Gizmodo

Lillard asked me to take out a photo album so she could show me snapshots of her youth as she sat on a blanket on the floor of her living room, where it’s more comfortable for her to sit when she’s out of the machine. “I wanted to be a ballerina. That was my big wish. I started walking on my toes when I was one, and I just constantly was after ballerina dolls. We didn’t have a dance school in town until I was five and my mum was going to enrol me that year, but I got sick,” she told me. “I think now of my life as a ballet. I have to balance so many things. It’s a phenomenal amount of energy I have to use to coordinate everything in my life.”

Polio is a silver bullet

“All the mothers were just terrified because people were just getting it right and left,” Lillard said. “They didn’t know if it was a virus or bacteria or how you caught it.”

Poliomyelitis is a highly contagious disease that can cause paralysis of legs, arms and respiratory muscles. “The polio virus is a silver bullet designed to kill specific parts of the brain,” Richard Bruno, a clinical psychophysiologist, and director of the International Centre for Polio Education said. “But parents today have no idea what polio was like, so it’s hard to convince somebody that lives are at risk if they don’t vaccinate.”

When Lillard was a child, polio was every parent’s worst nightmare. The worst polio outbreak year in US history took place in 1952, a year before Lillard was infected. There were about 58,000 reported cases. Out of all the cases, 21,269 were paralysed and 3145 died. “They closed theatres, swimming pools, families would keep their kids away from other kids because of the fear of transmission,” Bruno said.

The emergency polio ward at Haynes Memorial Hospital in Boston, 16 August 1955. Patients are using the same Emerson iron lung model that some polio survivors use today. Photo: AP

Children under the age of five are especially susceptible. In the 1940s and 1950s, hospitals across the US were filled with rows of iron lungs that kept victims alive. Lillard recalls being in rooms packed with metal tubes – especially when there were storms and all the men, women, adults and children would be moved to the same room so nurses could manually operate the iron lungs if the power went out. “The period of time that it took the nurse to get out of the chair, it seemed like forever because you weren’t breathing,” Lillard said. “You just laid there and you could feel your heart beating and it was just terrifying. The only noise that you can make when you can’t breathe is clicking your tongue. And that whole dark room just sounded like a big room full of chickens just cluck-cluck-clucking. All the nurses were saying, ‘Just a second, you’ll be breathing in just a second.'”

In 1955, Americans finally had access to the polio vaccine developed by Jonas Salk. “It was hailed as a medical miracle and the excitement about it was really unparalleled as far as health history in the United States,” Jay Wenger, director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s polio-eradication effort told me. “No one who remembers the 1950s, in terms of polio, wants to go back there and be in that situation again.”

By 1961, there were only 161 reported cases in the US. But in 1988, there were still an estimated 350,000 cases worldwide. That year, the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and the Rotary Club began an aggressive campaign to end polio everywhere. Last year there were 37 cases reported in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

According to Bruno, if an infected person in either of those countries visited family in an area such as Orange County, California, where many parents are opting out of vaccinating their children, “then we could be talking about the definition of a polio epidemic.”

Wenger said that’s why the Gates Foundation recently joined the other organisations in the global effort to eradicate polio. “If there’s a virus anywhere in the world, it could just come back in,” Wenger said. “Some little kid could get on a plane and fly in and reinfect an area. And if the kids in that area are not vaccinated, you could start the virus circulating again.”

But even though the last wild case of polio in the US was in 1979, it still haunts the country. “A lot of people think of polio as a disease of the past and don’t realise there are people here today that are still suffering the effects of polio.” said Brian Tiburzi, executive director of Post-Polio Health International (PPHI), an advocacy group for the estimated 350,000 to 500,000 polio survivors living in the US.

Some polio survivors were only partially impaired or got better. For instance, Mia Farrow only had to spend eight months in an iron lung when she was nine, before going on to become a famous actress and polio advocate. And golfer Jack Nicklaus had symptoms for two weeks as a child, but as an adult only had sore joints.

But many polio victims have breathing difficulties for the rest of their lives, or have issues later in life when overworked neurons burn out, a condition called post-polio syndrome. “I breathe 20 per cent of what you breathe with every breath,” Lillard explained to me. “You still have the neurons that work the muscles that you breathe with.”

Let it breathe for you

Lillard offered to let me try out her iron lung about an hour after I met her. She showed me how to operate the ad hoc mechanisms that would lock me into the tank and tighten the collar around my neck like a camera shutter – tight enough that no air can escape, but loose enough that I don’t choke myself.

I climbed into the bed tray, slipped my head through the hole, tightened the collar, then flipped the switch that controls the pulley that closes the tray into the main canister. As the system locked me in, I had a quick wave of claustrophobic panic and my instinct was to take deep breaths, but a motor was controlling that. I tried to describe the feeling to Lillard, but the machine was inhaling for me, so no sound came out. I had to wait a moment for the release.

“Let the air out of your lungs and let it breathe for you,” Lillard said. “Imagine if you were real tired of breathing, how good that would feel – if you were struggling to take a breath.”

Being in an iron lung was the most relief and discomfort I have ever felt at the same time. I slowly got used to the mechanical rhythm and began feeling a little relaxed. I tried closing my mouth, and air still rushed in through my lips. I felt like a vacuum cleaner.

As I climbed out, Lillard warned me to be careful and not break any of the switches or pulleys. If I damaged anything, and she wasn’t able to get someone to repair it within a few hours, she might not have made it through the night. A few weeks earlier, the collar-opener broke and she was trapped inside. Fortunately, her housekeeper was there to help her force it open, and a friend who does custom metal fabrication for motorcycles, planes and other machines, Tony Baustert, came a few hours later to repair it.

Recently, an ice storm knocked her power out for three days and the generator malfunctioned. The fire department came over but they wouldn’t run a power line from down the street or provide a temporary generator, Lillard said. Fortunately, one of the firefighters came by when he was off-duty and fixed the generator. During the panic, Lillard thought about Dianne Odell, a polio survivor who died in her iron lung in Memphis in 2008, after she lost power during a storm. Her father and brother-in-law took turns pumping the bellows by hand but couldn’t sustain the rhythm long enough to keep her alive.

Understandably, Lillard lives in a constant state of anxiety over the functionality of her iron lung. But she said the company responsible for servicing the device, Philips Respironics, hasn’t been much help. She recalls one time when a repair person disassembled the machine to make a repair, then tried to leave before putting it back together. Another technician took it apart and couldn’t figure out how to fix it, so Lillard had to call another mechanically skilled friend, Jerry House, to help.

These days her biggest concern is the canvas spiral collar that creates the seal around her neck. She used to have to replace them every few months after they wore out and stopped keeping a seal. Back then she could get them for a few dollars each, but she recently bought two from Respironics for a little more than $US200 ($265) each. She said the company wouldn’t sell her any more because they only have 10 left. For years she’s been trying to find someone to make a new collar. She uses Scotch guard on her current supply and tries not to move her neck around, hoping to make them last as long as possible.

I asked her what happens if she runs out.

“Well, I die,” she said, in a matter-of-fact tone.

Iron lungs became the responsibility of Philips through mergers and acquisitions. The March of Dimes supplied and serviced iron lungs until the end of the ’60s, around the same time the J.H. Emerson company stopped manufacturing the product. Once Salk’s vaccine diminished the need for polio support and advocacy, March of Dimes handed off iron lung responsibilities to Lifecare Services. Medical supply company Respironics acquired Lifecare in 1996, then merged with Philips in 2007.

Over the years, Lifecare and Respironics have tried to get more polio survivors to use alternative breathing aids – devices that were newer, cheaper, easier to service, and didn’t require parts that were no longer manufactured. In 2004, Respironics gave iron lung users three options: Transition to another ventilator device, keep using the iron lung but know that Respironics may not be able to repair the device, or accept full ownership and responsibility of the iron lung and find someone else to repair it. According to the Post-Polio Health International, responses “ranged from ‘it is understandable that repairing a device made that long ago would be difficult’ to ‘a multi-million dollar company should be able to just make parts'”.

Philips Respironics denied multiple requests to comment for this story. But polio advocates believe the company can do more to help polio survivors who have struggled with the effects of polio their entire lives.

“It would be helpful if the people who are contractually responsible and morally and ethically responsible for polio survivors did something to help these people,” said International Centre for Polio Education director Richard Bruno. “It would be like if you bought a used car, you drove it a block and the car stopped working. Then you go back to the car dealer and you say, ‘Hey, the car stopped working.’ And they say, ‘Well too bad, you bought it and that’s the way life goes.’ Except instead of a car it’s a machine that you need to live.”

The iron lung’s a part of me

Like Lillard, Paul Alexander, 70, also relies on a mechanic to keep his iron lung running.

I met Alexander a few times in his small house in Dallas. He spends nearly every moment in his iron lung in the centre of his living room, which is decorated with degrees, awards, pictures of family, and a drawing of the Scottish folk singer Donovan, who had polio. When people enter the front door a few metres away from him, he usually greets them with a warm upside-down smile, reflected in the mirror above his head.

One of the times I visited Alexander, I walked in on him editing a memoir that’s set to be published in a few months. He types and answers the phone with his mouth, using a capped pen attached to a plastic wand he clenches with his teeth. During another visit, his friend and mechanical saviour Brady Richards stopped by to check in on Alexander.

Alexander, who got polio in 1952 when he was five, is almost entirely paralysed below the neck, but that hasn’t stopped him from going to law school and becoming a trial lawyer. “When I transferred to University of Texas, they were horrified to think that I was going to bring my iron lung down, but I did, and I put it in the dorm, and I lived in the dorm with my iron lung,” he told me. “I had a thousand friends before it was over with, who all wanted to find out what’s that guy downstairs with a head sticking out of a machine doing here?”

Alexander hasn’t been to a trial in a few years now as it has become nearly impossible for him to get out of the iron lung for a few hours like he used to do when he went to court and represented clients in a wheelchair.

In 2015, a friend of Alexander uploaded a YouTube video of Alexander explaining the issues he was having with his iron lung, hoping it would be seen by a machinist who knew how to repair the respirator. Finally someone connected Alexander with someone kind and skilled enough to help. “I looked for years to find someone who knew how to work on iron lungs,” Alexander said. “Brady Richards, it’s a miracle that I found him.”

Richards runs the Environmental Testing Laboratory, which does rigorous testing to make sure equipment and products meet environmental standards (everything from checking if a TV mount is earthquake proof to checking how an ambulance will handle a T-bone collision). In one of Richard’s garages, he keeps his side projects – hot rods, desert race cars, and a small collection of iron lungs and parts. This is where Richards refurbished the current machine that Alexander uses and where he is fixing up another replacement. “When we first brought the tube into the shop, one of my younger employees asked me what I was doing with these smoker grills,” Richards said. “And I was like these are not smokers, these are iron lungs. And all my younger guys had no idea what that meant.”

Alexander had been in the refurbished model for about a couple months when I first met with him in September. To him, it was like a new skin. “Once you live in an iron lung forever, it seems like, it becomes such a part of your mentality. Like if somebody touches the iron lung – touches it – I can feel that. I can feel the vibration go through the iron lung,” he said. “If there’s a slight bit of a vibration that occurs as the result of the mechanics – worn out the fan belt or it needs grease or anything like that – it tends to change the breath slightly. Yep, the iron lung’s a part of me, I’m afraid.”

My worst thought

My final visit was Mona Randolph, 81, who lives with her husband Mark, 63, in Kansas City, Missouri. When I first arrived, a helper was tucking Mona into the machine for the night. They lift Mona into the iron lung using a mechanical arm attached to their ceiling since Mark’s back problems prevent him from lifting her into the iron lung, like he used to do when they first met in the ’80s.

Mona got polio at the age of 20 in 1956. At the time, she was a skilled pianist planning her wedding. She needed an iron lung for the first year, until she went to rehab in Warm Spring, Georgia, where she was able to wean herself off. But 20 years later, in 1977, she had a series of bronchial infections – possibly due to post-polio syndrome – and her doctors told her she needed to start using an iron lung again. “The ‘yellow submarine’ is my necessary, trusted, mechanical friend,” she told me. “I approach it with relief in store at night and thankfully leave it with relief in the morning.”

Mona is covered under Mark’s insurance and Medicare, but neither of those help with the iron lung or the caretakers that Mona needs. The Randolphs opted to take full ownership of the iron lung when Respironics was making its big push to offload them. Since then, Mark, a software engineer who has many other engineer skills, and Mona’s cousin, a former aircraft mechanic, have maintained and repaired Mona’s “yellow submarine”. Mark said the medical costs are about the same as a new car every year, “But what would I spend it on if not for Mona.”

When I met with the Randolphs, Mark gave me photocopies of old service manuals and operating instructions. He filled me in on little-known history about the Emerson iron lung and its inventor, whom they met at a Post-Polio convention. I realised what each of these iron lung users have in common are the aid of generous, mechanically skilled friends and family. And that’s probably the main reason they have been able to live long and full lives, despite the hardships and anxieties of depending on ageing machinery to survive.

But another thing they all had in common is a desire for the next generations to know about them so we’ll realise how fortunate we are to have vaccines. “When children inquire what happened to me, I tell them the nerve wires that tell my muscles what to do were damaged by a virus,” Mona said. “And ask them if they have had their vaccine to prevent this. No one has ever argued with me.”

Alexander told me that if he had kids he would have made sure they were vaccinated. “Now, my worst thought is that polio’s come back,” he said. “If there’s so many people who’ve not been – children, especially – have not been vaccinated… I don’t even want to think about it.”

Lillard is heartbroken when she meets anti-vaccine activists.

“Of course, I’m concerned about any place where there’s no vaccine,” she said. “I think it’s criminal that they don’t have it for other people and I would just do anything to prevent somebody from having to go through what I have. I mean, my mother, if she had the vaccine available, I would have had it in a heartbeat.”

This girl.

As we all celebrate International Day of the Girl (Child) let’s remember that smashing glass ceilings in Western countries is ALL our job. And all well and good. Bravo. Let’s be in that with bells on.

But let us also remember that many of the girl children born into the world are perpetually hungry, don’t get even the most rudimentary education, are virtual slaves at the hands of their fathers and male relatives, and subject to horrific “honour” violence, too. Let us remember that the laws in their lands protect them inadequately, and that they are marginalised and ignored in decision making.

Painting by Amrita Shergil

So let’s not just make this International Day of the Girl who needs equal pay in her cossetted Western society, or who needs to aspire to be a Board Director like her male sibling. Yes, she does. Yes, those things are very important.

But in other societies – societies we do business with, and visit –  the girls would just appreciate pay. Any pay. Any chance for anything beyond the grinding poverty that locks them into a life of walking miles to collect clean water, scrabbling in the rubbish for food, or spending from pre-dawn to late at night engaged on domestic chores and caring for men.

So let’s make this “day” about them, first.

It’s also “Mental Health Day” today.

An ironic juxtaposition in so many ways.

Whilst we focus on the very real needs of everyone who suffers from mental health problems –  and Lord knows we need to do that – let’s also remember that food, shelter, a job, and dignity are the basic building blocks of a happy life.

And we owe it to the world to ensure everyone gets at least a start. A chance.

Because that’s really good for their mental health.

Here are the top 10 toughest places for girls’ education:

  1. South Sudan: the world’s newest country has faced much violence and war, with the destruction of schools and families forced from their homes. Almost three-quarters of girls do not even make it to primary school
  2. Central African Republic: one teacher for every 80 pupils
  3. Niger: only 17% of women between the ages of 15 and 24 are literate
  4. Afghanistan: wide gender gap, with boys more likely to be in school than girls
  5. Chad: many social and economic barriers to girls and women getting education
  6. Mali: only 38% of girls finish primary school
  7. Guinea: the average time in education among women over the age of 25 is less than one year
  8. Burkina Faso: only 1% of girls complete secondary school
  9. Liberia: almost two-thirds of primary-age pupils out of school
  10. Ethiopia: two in five girls are married before the age of 18

A shortage of teachers is a common problem across poorer countries.

Last year, the UN said another 69 million teachers would need to be recruited worldwide by 2030 if international promises on education were to be kept.

Let’s keep our promises. “Girl child” is asking us to.

#marriageequality #loveislove

Dear Reader, if you have spent any time at all reading our blog, you will be aware of two things. One, I have opinions. (Hence the name of the blog.) Two, I am a Christian.

So when the pro-same sex marriage rally was announced in Melbourne over the weekend, there was never any doubt we would attend.

Firstly, for me, equality for homosexuals has been a lifelong campaign.

My proudest “Button” in my collection of political ephemera is one that reads “Gay Liberation is Our Liberation”. (It is an ample example of how old we are now that no-one today would refer to “Gay Liberation”.)

Whenever I wore the badge, forty plus years ago, sooner or later someone would challenge me on it. I was stronger and fitter then, and ready to “look after myself” if I got a hammering. Typically some liquored-up idiot would prod me in the chest with an accusative finger and breathe “So, you’re a poofter, eh?”

This gave me the opportunity to say “Actually, no I am not. But Gay Liberation is about the heterosexual community freeing itself from our own bigotry.” This would usually result in the knuckle-scraper backing off with a confused look on his face (it was always men) and – now and again – a useful conversation. It was my small contribution to the struggle, because, of course, if a gay person had worn the badge the exchange would often have ended up with a punch in the face.

We also used to run discos when I was at University with the poster headline “Come and Meet a Real Live Queer” a decade or more before the LGBTI+ generally community worked out that they could “own” the word, and thus challenge and even change the negative connotations associated with it. Even if those days, communications was my passion.

Secondly, I have studied Christianity all my life – I have a degree in Theology – and I simply detest the way that the Church is often portrayed (and often behaves) as the home of wowsers and conservatives.

My Christianity is progressive, activist, small-l liberal and dedicated to over-turning shibboleths. I simply cannot abide the way that literal interpretations of Scripture (which are not even based on scholarship, but usually on bias and/or inaccurate translations) are used to support essentially anti-Christian behaviour – of which opposing “same sex” marriage is simply the most recent example.

Fundamentalist Christianity has been used to excuse burning “heretics”, drowning witches, slavery, banning contraception, destroying womens’ health provision, idiotic anti-scientific nonsense like Creationism, and much more. Little wonder the Church in the developed world is rapidly losing adherents.

In its blind opposition to same-sex attracted people having the same rights as everyone else it has caused huge suffering to many, including people who I know and love. The tactics used by the ugly confluence of the far-right and the fundamentalist Churches (epitomised by the often appalling Roman Catholic Church, the conservative Anglican diocese of the Sydney, and the utterly bigoted and so-called Australian Christian Lobby) seeks to portray all Christians as anti-gay.

Well we ain’t. At all. “Not in my name” comes to mind. So when the rally was announced, my attendance was inevitable.

But having decided to attend, what then? I have no standing in the Equal Love movement, so they weren’t going to ask me to speak. No public position to leverage. Was there anything I could do to help, over and above simply wearing out some shoe leather and getting some much-needed exercise?

Because I am in the comms business, I decided my brain should be given a bit of a workout as well as the legs.

I decided to actively take on the nonsense that is written about me and millions of people like me by those who should know better, or who should stop behaving so shamefully as trying to present their opinions as mine.

I decided to say, deliberately, “Hey – I am bulk-standard, standard-issue Middle Australian, and I am voting “Yes”.” With the obvious implied corollary, “You should too.”

I simply wanted to make it clear to everyone else attending the rally that the support for equal rights spreads right across the political and social spectrum. Because that’s one way to ensure that people outside of the core campaign group will be encouraged to stand up too: to come out and vote, and to campaign.

And because – above all – I think the LGBTI+ community deserves to know that the rest of us support them. They’ve been fighting this battle too long and too hard for us to miss this chance to help them get a “Yes” vote across the line. As one placard read at the rally, “I can’t believe we’re still fighting this shit”.


Hence the placard.

Agit-Prop? Hell, yes it was.

Was I looking for publicity? Yes, I was. Not in the sense that I wanted ME to become famous. (At all. I’m too old for all that rubbish.) No, I wanted the principle embodied by the placard to become famous. Or at least, to spread out beyond my head.

Maybe a TV camera might snap it, and it could get seen? Or maybe a journo or two? Yes, I was aware of that possibility. Most of all, of course, I simply wanted to stand in solidarity with the other campaigners, and against the nonsense. But I’d be lying if I pretended I didn’t hope the placard might make some difference beyond that. Don’t ask, don’t get, eh? It’s worth trying anything to overcome naked wrongs.

As so often in life, though, what really happened was way beyond my expectations.

The moment Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink and I arrived, and plonked ourselves strategically down on a well-positioned bench, we were deluged with smiling people wanting to photograph the sign. I completely lost track of how many people did. Hundreds, certainly. We had so many ‘thank yous’, so many thumbs up, not a few kisses planted on our cheeks and plenty of “high fives”. It was really quite overwhelming, and beautiful.

At one point I turned to Jenie and said “And this is what people are afraid of? All this love? All these terrible revolutionaries seeking to undermine the very basis of society.? These are the nicest people I have ever met!” Everyone was there – families with kids of all ages, masses of young people of all apparent sexualities, gay couples, and all age groups. It was uplifting in the best possible way.

One journo asked me why I was there. I had to stop and think for a moment, because I hadn’t planned an answer. In the end I said “Freedom’s important.” She smiled and said “That’s the best reason I’ve heard today.” She went down on the list of “Positives”.

One fundo Christian with crazy eyes came up to me and assailed me with every ridiculous argument the “No” lobby have been pushing out. I politely but firmly batted back every faux Biblical quotation with another, or with a more accurate translation. Every time I did, she moved the goalposts. In the end, after quite some time, I put her down as “irretrievably No”, and asked her (nicely) to move on. “There!” she said triumphantly, “when you’re losing the debate you just back out!” I looked at her sadly, and wondered, not for the first time, when and how children turn into adults with this level of stupidity. What happens to people? She wouldn’t leave. In the end I had to say firmly, “Please: leave me alone.” She wanted off, eyes blazing with self-induced fire, muttering.

But in general, we were deluged with kindness and positivity. I will never forget it. And at this stage, let me explicitly acknowledge Jenie’s role. My lovely wife, although she has her own strongly held opinions on just about everything,  is not a natural attender at rallies – she doesn’t like crowds, or public attention for that matter – yet she was utterly supportive of my goals in going to the rally, and she engaged with journos, and our neighbours around us, she helped me hold the sign, pointed out people who wanted a photo and – a million thanks – found us a coffee. “Whaddawewant?” “ Hot coffee!” “When do we want it?” “About ten minutes ago, thanks.” Sharing this life-affirming event with her made it all the more meaningful.

Later, we discovered that the placard had been snapped by a photo journo Tara Watson, and then tweeted and posted on FB by Guardian journo and opinion leader Van Badham, and then re-tweeted by Penny Wong, and essentially, that was that.

The picture was suddenly everywhere. Jenie and I were deluged with kind and supportive messages, and when our daughter re-posted the photo and said she was proud of us, then so was she. A more practical example of the essential goodness of folk you couldn’t wish for. It was embarrassing and wonderful in equal measure.

So much, so good. So viral. The world is an interesting place, these days. I am happy so many people got to see the message, and there it is.

But two people we met stand out in my mind, and the real point of this article is to tell you about them.

No names – they didn’t ask for publicity – but their stories deserve to be told.

One guy came up, and told us about his Dad, who had recently died of Alzheimer’s at the age of 90. He had never “had the conversation” with his Dad about his sexuality, and now he never would. But after his Dad’s death, he mentioned this to one of the nurses who used to look after him. “Oh, no,” said the nurse. “He knew.”

She had been walking the old chap in the garden, asking him about his family. He had three sons, he said. One did such and such, one did such and such, and one did such and such. He’s gay, of course.” The old man couldn’t have cared less, and he knew.

As he told us this story, tears started running down his cheeks. “Good thing I’ve got dark glasses on” he said, as he wiped them away. “Thank you so much for the sign. It’s so good to know that people like you understand.”

He made his apologies, and left. It was awhile before I dared to speak again.

A little while later, a middle-aged woman came up, and insisted on shaking hands. Momentarily, after struggling to smile, she started crying too.

“I just want to say thank you. I just want to shake your hand. Our son is gay, and he gets bullied at school. Badly bullied. That’s why I’m here. I’m here with my husband. I’m so excited to see you here, making this point. It makes all the difference to me. Thank you. Thank you. Sorry. Thank you.”

She turned away, too choked to say any more. I just said “You’re welcome.” It seemed totally inadequate, and it was, but what can you do? Here was the ugly side of this debate manifested in a real person’s life, in a real person’s family, raw, and unsanitised and brutal and sad.

I felt – and feel – deeply humbled and grateful for having met these people.

I wish everyone could meet them.

This stupid, unnecessary and divisive government opinion poll would be won by a huge margin, if people could just get past the propaganda of the “No” campaign, and talk to real people who are going to be affected profoundly, for good or ill, by the judgement of their peers.

God bless you, Australia. Please vote “Yes”.

And go to the next rally. With your own sign. It matters.


Screen Shot 2017-08-24 at 12.09.51 pm

This is a quotation on the “True Marriage Equality” website – a noisy, and to our eyes offensive and very ridiculous organisation, that has popped up.

This is the Alt-Right/Fake News experience happening right now in Australia. This is the unpleasant, harmful and entirely unnecessary experience – that many warned that Malcolm Turnbull’s weak-kneed inability to stand up to his own right wing as he clings to The Lodge was foisting on us – that has been created by this ludicrous opinion poll.

The quoting of Paul Keating implying clearly that he is against same sex marriage (in an interview from a long time ago, despite the date on the article header being 19th August two days ago, clearly the date the post when up but NOT when Keating said anything) is actually an utterly dishonest taking of quotes out of context and it is promoted as a positive for their biased arguments.

In a desperate attempt to fight back against this crap being promoted by the No campaign – which has included anonymous and deeply offensive posters appearing on Melbourne’s streets, from who-knows-where) here is the actual text from whence the quote was plucked:

RAY MARTIN: John Howard, are you relaxed and comfortable about homosexual marriages in Australia?

JOHN HOWARD: No, I’m not. I don’t believe that homosexuals should be discriminated against. I believe that sexual preference is a private matter. I do not believe that homosexual relationships should be given the same legal status as a marriage. I believe that marriage has a special role in our society. It is a special institution which gives an enormous amount of stability to our community.

RAY MARTIN: So, a gay couple in marriage is not a family unit in Australia?

JOHN HOWARD: I didn’t say that. Look, I am not going to get in to a legalistic definition. I mean, a family is an emotional relationship and it is a commitment of people.

RAY MARTIN: But like Tim Fischer, you are not in favour of homosexual marriages?

JOHN HOWARD: But I do not and I make no bones about it. I am not in favour of homosexual marriages.


PAUL KEATING: People live in all sorts of relationship, Ray. You can’t describe a family in any one way. The nuclear family is an important, but nevertheless somewhat ageing concept.

RAY MARTIN: Can you ever be convinced that two men and a cocker spaniel is not a family unit as you once said in Cabinet?

PAUL KEATING: Well, you will never build a society on it. You will not build a nation on it, but it is another thing to discriminate against people. It is another thing to seek to do as the National Party and others have done, is speak in discriminatory terms about people who live in homosexual relationships.

JOHN HOWARD: You really are trying to have two bob each way. I mean, just state your view and get on to the next one.

PAUL KEATING: Oh, excuse me, I can give my own answers, thanks. I don’t need you to interpret them, John.

Presumable he doesn’t need “True Marriage Equality” to interpret them in this way, either. We also refer you to our much-read article explaining why all the arguments posted by Christians in favour of bias against homosexuals is NOT Biblical.

Why is the Church anti-gay if the Bible isn’t?


Bang you're dead

Reproduced from the Daily Mail and other sources. At Wellthisiswhatithink we are hugely in favour of clean energy and clean cars. But the world needs to tackle this scandal:

  • Sky News investigated the Katanga mines and found Dorsen, 8, and Monica, 4
  • The pair were working in the vast mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo
  • They are two of the 40,000 children working daily in the mines, checking rocks for cobalt

Picking through a mountain of huge rocks with his tiny bare hands, the exhausted little boy makes a pitiful sight.

His name is Dorsen and he is one of an army of children, some just four years old, working in the vast polluted mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where toxic red dust burns their eyes, and they run the risk of skin disease and a deadly lung condition. Here, for a wage of just 8p a day, the children are made to check the rocks for the tell-tale chocolate-brown streaks of cobalt – the prized ingredient essential for the batteries that power electric cars.

And it’s feared that thousands more children could be about to be dragged into this hellish daily existence – after the historic pledge made by Britain and other countries and cart manufacturers to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars  and switch to electric vehicles.

Eight-year-old Dorsen is pictured cowering beneath the raised hand of an overseer who warns him not to spill a rock

Eight-year-old Dorsen is pictured cowering beneath the raised hand of an overseer who warns him not to spill a rock

Young children are working at Congo mines in horrific conditions. A future of clean energy, free from pollution is proposed, but such ideals mean nothing for the children condemned to a life of hellish misery in the race to achieve this goal.

Dorsen, just eight, is one of 40,000 children working daily in the mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The terrible price they will pay for our clean air is ruined health and a likely early death.

Almost every big motor manufacturer striving to produce millions of electric vehicles buys its cobalt from the impoverished central African state. It is the world’s biggest producer, with 60 per cent of the planet’s reserves.

The cobalt is mined by unregulated labour and transported to Asia where battery manufacturers use it to make their products lighter, longer-lasting and rechargeable.

The planned switch to clean energy vehicles has led to an extraordinary surge in demand. While a smartphone battery uses no more than 10 grams of refined cobalt, an electric car needs 15kg (33lb).

He then staggers beneath the weight of a heavy sack that he must carry to unload 60ft away in pouring rain

He then staggers beneath the weight of a heavy sack that he must carry to unload 60ft away in pouring rain.

Goldman Sachs, the merchant bank, calls cobalt ‘the new gasoline’ but there are no signs of new wealth in the DRC, where the children haul the rocks brought up from tunnels dug by hand.

Adult miners dig up to 600ft below the surface using basic tools, without protective clothing or modern machinery.

Sometimes the children are sent down into the narrow makeshift chambers where there is constant danger of collapse.

Cobalt is such a health hazard that it has a respiratory disease named after it – cobalt lung, a form of pneumonia which causes coughing and leads to permanent incapacity and even death.

Even simply eating vegetables grown in local soil can cause vomiting and diarrhoea, thyroid damage and fatal lung diseases, while birds and fish cannot survive in the area.

No one knows quite how many children have died mining cobalt in the Katanga region in the south-east of the country. The UN estimates 80 a year, but many more deaths go unregistered, with the bodies buried in the rubble of collapsed tunnels. Others survive but with chronic diseases which destroy their young lives. Girls as young as ten in the mines are subjected to sexual attacks and many become pregnant.

Dorsen and 11-year-old Richard are pictured. With his mother dead, Dorsen lives with his father in the bush and the two have to work daily in the cobalt mine to earn money for food.

Dorsen and 11-year-old Richard are pictured. With his mother dead, Dorsen lives with his father in the bush and the two have to work daily in the cobalt mine to earn money for food.

When Sky News investigated the Katanga mines it found Dorsen, working near a little girl called Monica, who was four, on a day of relentless rainfall.

Dorsen was hauling heavy sacks of rocks from the mine surface to a growing stack 60ft away. A full sack was lifted on to Dorsen’s head and he staggered across to the stack. A brutish overseer stood over him, shouting and raising his hand to threaten a beating if he spilt any.

With his mother dead, Dorsen lives with his father in the bush and the two have to work daily in the cobalt mine to earn money for food.<

Dorsen’s friend Richard, 11, said that at the end of a working day ‘everything hurts’.

In a country devastated by civil wars in which millions have died, there is no other way for families to survive. Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) is donating £10.5million between June 2007 and June 2018 towards strengthening revenue transparency and encouraging responsible activity in large and small scale artisanal mining, ‘to benefit the poor of DRC’.

There is little to show for these efforts so far. There is a DRC law forbidding the enslavement of under-age children, but nobody enforces it.

The UN’s International Labour Organisation has described cobalt mining in DRC as ‘one of the worst forms of child labour’ due to the health risks.

Soil samples taken from the mining area by doctors at the University of Lubumbashi, the nearest city, show the region to be among the ten most polluted in the world. Residents near mines in southern DRC had urinary concentrates of cobalt 43 higher than normal. Lead levels were five times higher, cadmium and uranium four times higher.

he worldwide rush to bring millions of electric vehicles on to our roads has handed a big advantage to those giant car-makers which saw this bonanza coming and invested in developing battery-powered vehicles, among them General Motors, Renault-Nissan, Tesla, BMW and Fiat-Chrysler.

Chinese middle-men working for the Congo Dongfang Mining Company have the stranglehold in DRC, buying the raw cobalt brought to them in sacks carried on bicycles and dilapidated old cars daily from the Katanga mines. They sit in shacks on a dusty road near the Zambian border, offering measly sums scrawled on blackboards outside – £40 for a ton of cobalt-rich rocks – that will be sent by cargo ship to minerals giant Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt in China and sold on to a complex supply chain feeding giant multinationals.

Challenged by the Washington Post about the appalling conditions in the mines, Huayou Cobalt said ‘it would be irresponsible’ to stop using child labour, claiming: ‘It could aggravate poverty in the cobalt mining regions and worsen the livelihood of local miners.’

Human rights charity Amnesty International also investigated cobalt mining in the DRC and says that none of the 16 electric vehicle manufacturers they identified have conducted due diligence to the standard defined by the Responsible Cobalt Initiative.

Monica, just four-years-old, works in the mine alongside Dorsen and Richard

Encouragingly, Apple, which uses the mineral in its devices, has committed itself to treat cobalt like conflict minerals – those which have in the past funded child soldiers in the country’s civil war – and the company claims it is going to require all refiners to have supply chain audits and risk assessments. But Amnesty International is not satisfied. ‘This promise is not worth the paper it is written on when the companies are not investigating their suppliers,’ said Amnesty’s Mark Dummett. ‘Big brands have the power to change this.’

After DRC, Australia is the next biggest source of cobalt, with reserves of 1 million tons, followed by Cuba, China, Russia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Car maker Tesla – the market leader in electric vehicles – plans to produce 500,000 cars per year starting in 2018, and will need 7,800 tons of cobalt to achieve this. Sales are expected to hit 4.4 million by 2021. It means the price of cobalt will soar as the world gears itself up for the electric car revolution, and there is evidence some corporations are cancelling their contracts with regulated mines using industrial technology, and turning increasingly to the cheaper mines using human labour.

After the terrible plight of Dorsen and Richard was broadcast in a report on Sky News, an emotive response from viewers funded a rescue by children’s charity Kimbilio. They are now living in a church-supported children’s home, sleeping on mattresses for the first time in their lives and going to school.

But there is no such happy ending for the tens of thousands of children left in the hell on earth that is the cobalt mines of the Congo.

The breathless reporting of Labour advancing on the bastions of Torydom continues apace, including here in the national media in Australia.

But since two days ago, we have been focusing our attention on two issues – firstly, the seat by seat betting odds for the various parties, and secondly, intelligence leaking out from impeccable Labour sources.

Both would seem to suggest that any “surge” in the Labour vote may have been over-estimated by an over-eager or badly-informed media.

Screen Shot 2017-06-07 at 12.18.55 pmWhat the punters say

The betting odds which reflect real money (laid by people in the know, usually) are certainly not predicting wholesale Labour gains.

Everywhere but London, Labour support looks soft, measured by this perennially reliable predictor. The odds aren’t always right, it has to be said, but they are consistently more right than anything else, including opinion polls, and especially when looking at individual seats. Parties often try and ameliorate the cost of their local campaigning through smart betting moves.

So if Labour activists the length and breadth of the country who can actually see the doorstep canvassing results are not plunging on with their own hard earned, then that says something.

What Labour insiders say

But Labour intelligence is even more interesting. Along with private messages we have received, the Labour Uncut website (which has excellent contacts and who have previously given real insights) point to certain factors that we should respect.

Calling potential results outside London as potentially “a nuclear winter”, the blog calls for extreme caution as regards the recent optimism over Labour, quoting the following points:

Labour members and supporters have been knocking doors in core Labour wards, in seats that are under threat. In the last week they’ve been focused specifically on Labour voters. If there was a shift [in favour of Labour], this could happening out of sight of the canvassers. For example, Labour might be piling up support in safe Labour seats where there is little activity.

This is a well-known phenomenon, which bedevils polling organisations the world over. Unless they are polling ONLY marginal seats, they may detect a hardening of support for a party in seats where that surge in support doesn’t actually matter. Look, for example, at the huge leads for Hillary Clinton on the east and west coasts of America. She still lost in key battleground states.

People are generally pretty savvy about who is going to win their seat. “It’s always been [so and so] around here.” And people like voting for the likely winners. So in safe Labour seats they are more inclined to vote Labour, in safe Tory seats, the same. This well-understood effect doesn’t mean that a rise in support in seats like this is reflected elsewhere.

The other phenomenon that has been noted in this election, which we mentioned the other day, is the rise in activity in younger voters. Labour Uncut hazards the following:

One explanation might be a rise in support among those in a household that don’t normally take part in the doorstep conversation but do answer online polls, such as young voters. The polls themselves indicate that Labour’s rise is being driven by enthusiasm among young electors with a striking proportion saying they are committed to voting. But since the rise in the polls, Uncut has heard various stories about Labour candidates and campaigners scouring their electoral rolls to identify households with voters under 25 – whether they live in Labour wards or not, whether they or their families have a history of backing Labour or not. The feedback has been that in the overwhelming majority of cases, this pool of voters is neither sizeable enough to make a difference nor are the canvass returns from these targeted efforts tallying with the level of rise that the polls are suggesting.

This may indeed be the case. A switch to online polling has changed how polls should be read.

Screen Shot 2017-06-07 at 12.25.42 pmThere is a prevalent view that online polls aren’t as accurate as phone polls, and phone polls aren’t as accurate as face-to-face discussions. And it is on this latter point that Labour Uncut is most damning.

They encourage us to first note (looking at the last election) the difference between ‘party preference’ and ‘desired government outcome’. Voters might have identified with Labour but they didn’t want an Ed Miliband-led coalition so voted accordingly.

Second, they suggest that some voters “gamed the polls”. They used them to signal a protest before reverting to a different choice in the polling booth. It’s worth taking in, what Tory pollster Mark Textor said,

“We were polling massive numbers of voters every night and assessing how they looked at their choices, so we knew that in normal public-style polls they were saying they preferred Labour … but at the end of the day the actual outcome they wanted was a David Cameron-led Conservative government, and the only way to do that was to vote Conservative in their local seat,”

“We measured their preferred style of government … they might say: ‘Normally I prefer Labour’, but we asked: ‘Which scenario do you want as an outcome?’…so we knew there were a lot of voters who on traditional voting patterns were Labour voters but had made the tactical decision that the best choice was to vote for David Cameron … we were measuring outcomes and not just voting preference.”

“They were using polling like a protest vote – they might think: ‘I don’t really want Miliband, but I’ll say I prefer him to tickle up the Conservatives’ – or whomever – but we knew at the end of the day when we measured their preferred model in government what they really wanted was the outcome of a stable Cameron-led government.”

Labour campaigners fear something similar is happening right now.

In every seat, canvassers are encountering lifelong Labour supporters who still identify with the party but not with Jeremy Corbyn.  (The point we made much of the other day.)

This group tends to have voted forScreen Shot 2017-06-07 at 12.28.56 pm Ed Miliband reluctantly or abstained and are now either sitting out this contest as well or are ready to vote Tory for the first time to prevent a Corbyn premiership.

These switchers represent a new generation of so-called “shy Tories”, located deep inside Labour’s core vote.

The theory is that they are embarrassed at voting Tory, sufficiently so to deny their intent to friends, families and pollsters. Some of the older Labour officials and campaigners have reported familiar doorstep cadences from 1992 – “It’s in the eyes,” one said.

One last point is worth noting in judging what is happening on the ground. Lib Dem campaigners note they are in very tough fights to hold three or four of their seats, although hopeful of picking up a few more.  So no shock increase in Lib Dem seats coming up to skew the likelihood of a majority for May. And Labour campaigners and supporters are privately conceding seats that in a good year they would hold. But perhaps most of all, as Labour Uncut point out:

The Tories do not look like a party that thinks Labour is threatening a range of their seats in England, which is what the polls suggest.

Based on what Mark Textor said after the 2015 election, we know something of what they are doing. Large scale nightly polling, targeted at specific seats, with questioning framed as per the quote above. At this stage in the campaign, postal votes – which have been sampled over the past 5 days, giving them an idea of actual vote performance – will also be factored into the mix.

This is then used to shape their social media targeting on Facebook, local newspaper ad buys and visit schedule for the cabinet and leader.

Last Friday, Theresa May visited Sheffield. Specifically she was in Don Valley, Caroline Flint’s constituency, a seat where Labour led the Tories by 21% in 2015. On Saturday, she was in Penistone and Stockbridge, Angela Smith’s seat, where she won by 14% over the Tories in 2015. Tonight, May was in Bradford South, a seat where Judith Cummins beat her Tory opponent by 17% in 2015.

The fear of Labour officials and candidates, particularly in the West Midlands, North East, North West and Yorkshire, is that if the Tories are on course to flip seats like Don Valley, then many more could be vulnerable. One official in Yorkshire told Uncut that a string of Morley and Outwoods – the seat Ed Balls lost in 2015 – was on the cards for 2017.

Labour Uncut concedes they might be wrong, as you can see below, but we don’t think they are. To our eyes, the sheer un-electability of Corbyn has always been the key factor.

The polls might be right. There could be a surge of young voters that rewrite general election rules. This could be the first contest in living memory where a party increases its rating by so much during the short campaign. Labour could be about to poll near its 1997 level at the general election.

Or not.

We have consulted one election guru whose advice we consider near infallible. Not least because he personally steered some of the most famous by election victories in electoral history, and his political “nose” is about as attuned as anyone we have ever met, and he makes it his business to campaign in a variety of seats during an election.

He confidently reckons the Tories by 40-70 seats. So we are content to revise our prediction for a Tory victory upwards from the 30-40 where we had it. We’ll go with 50-70, especially as any pick ups for Labour in Scotland look increasingly unlikely. Maybe one or two. Maybe none. Not enough, anyway.


Screen Shot 2017-06-07 at 12.09.41 pm

Apparently men with beards are seen as more aggressive – not a feature people like in politicians. Yet they like “strong” leaders. Go figure.


Still not a thumping endorsement for Theresa May, at all, but it finally would be a profound rejection by the voters of Jeremy Corbyn, personally. And we have no doubt he would retire from the leadership immediately in the event of such a result. Who would replace him is more problematical. The party is split top to toe between its parliamentarians and its members. There will be tears before bedtime.

One thing that is not really on anyone’s radar is whether May herself is under threat in, say, the 12 months following this election.

Her election performance has been underwhelming in the extreme. She’d have to do a damn good job of Brexit to avoid being tapped on the shoulder by the grey ghosts of the Tory Party.

Oh, one last thing. Buy some sterling. A Tory win will see a significant jump upwards in its value.

Screen Shot 2017-06-05 at 2.19.00 pm

This blog has a long and honourable history of predicting election outcomes, and usually getting them right.

We have, however, recently made a right pig’s arse of the process.

We got the Australian election almost spot on, in predicting a narrow Conservative majority. We got the shellacking handed out to the Liberal Democrats in the 2015 election spot on – we may have been the only predictor expecting them to hold under 10 of their seats. But in both those cases it might be argued that it was our personal closeness to the outcomes that led to their accuracy.

In other instances recently – David Cameron winning an unexpected majority in 2015, the Brexit vote narrowly backing Leave, and most infamously Donald Trump winning the electoral college (not, note, the popular vote) we were plain wrong, much to the inordinate glee of some of our correspondents who accused us of everything from not understanding opinion polling (unlikely considering our profession), to not seeing a fundamental shift to the populist nationalist right worldwide (which was always a nonsense), or of under-estimating electorate’s sense of angst and desire to give anyone – everyone – a kicking, (which was perfectly correct, and we did indeed under-estimate it).

Bang on time for this week’s UK election, this super article by Nate Silver of explains in great detail and copious references just why it has become so difficult to predict elections today, and the efforts gone to by polling organisations to correct any likely mistakes – which may even cause further mistakes.

If you have any interest in politics or political forecasting at all, we cannot recommend highly enough that you click the link and read it.

Anyhow, the old line out forth by politicians anytime a poll is unfavourable to them – “There’s only one poll that counts. The one on election day.” – is proving to be more and more true.

Screen Shot 2017-06-05 at 2.23.45 pm

So will we make a prediction, or is our headline just a pathetic attempt at click bait?

Nope. We’ll give it a go, but with the loudly proclaimed proviso that we could be wrong by more than the apparent margin of error either way, as Silver so kindly points out.

The average poll lead for the Tories over the Labour Party currently sits at around 7%. In our view, this is likely to be a winning margin for the following reasons:

Labour haven’t fixed their Scottish problem. Although they will do better than their wipeout north of the border last time, we need to remember that Scotland used to be rock-solid Labour territory. They could count on hatfuls of seats from the big industrial conurbations. They are doing slightly better now, so they will win some seats back, but in our view, not enough. And essentially, with a thoroughly “SNP-ised” Scotland, Labour need to do historically better in England and Wales than at any time in their history in order to overhaul the Conservatives. And that’s not going to happen.

The Liberal Democrats have stayed stubbornly limited to around 8% in the polls, sometimes up to 10-11%, sometimes down to 6%. Essentially, they are not seen as serious contenders in this election, and there is a still a strong “on the nose” element hanging over from their disastrous conduct of the Coalition agreement. The Lib Dem result is notoriously hard to predict because what they do bring to the table, undoubtedly, is superb on the ground campaigning – the so-called “street game”. Which is why we think they will pick up some seats, but they are also in danger of losing a couple of obvious wins where boundary changes or demographic changes are running against them, so their net effect via-a-vis the Tories (their main target) is likely to be negligible. Certainly not dramatic enough to rob May of her majority.

The Corbyn factor is especially interesting. Rarely has a leader of a major political party been more demonised by the media and commentators. But along with this demonisation has come a stubborn determination by some Britons – especially the young and first time voters, who have registered in historically large numbers – to back him, to give the establishment a kicking if nothing else. He has also appeared more impressive while the campaign has worn on, in stark contrast to Theresa May, who has frequently looked like a rabbit caught in headlights.

So we see the growth in the polls for Labour as real, but we simply can’t bring ourselves to believe that a character as polarising as Corbyn can beat an incumbent government. It’s just too counter-cultural – the continuing drumbeat about his past views on the IRA, his beard – how successful many bearded politicians do you know? There’s a reason for that. – the fact he looks uncomfortable in a suit, the way he is repeatedly castigated as returning Labour to the bad old days of the seventies, let alone his recent wholesale rejection by his own MPs, etc. etc.  It’s just too much of a tsunami of criticism to push back against.

Our last reason for plumping for the Tories is the three recent terror attacks, and especially the last two, in Manchester at the Ariana Grande concert, and over the weekend on London Bridge. In times of deep anxiety, people tend to plump for “the devil they know”, and in this case that is definitely the incumbent government. It shouldn’t be so: in a perfect world, people should make a careful and cautious examination of all the reasons for voting for one or other of the options on offer, and not be swayed by the actions of a few vicious lunatics, but the fact is people simply don’t behave like that. Enough people will say, we believe, that this is no time remove backing from the Government, and that factor alone will be enough to see them over the line. Also, the Prime Minister and Government of the day receive a great deal of “free” – and mostly positive – airtime, simply by saying the sort of thing that is expected of political leaders at such times.

As became clear after Manchester, however, the advantage does not necessarily flow all one way. A spate of attacks, so close to an election, cannot but challenge the Government’s line in some people’s minds that it has successfully defended the country against terrorism. After Manchester, too, the Labour leader offered a rather different view of root causes. While Corbyn denied blaming the Government for the Manchester attack in any way – and indeed did not do so – he did ask about the possible impact on domestic security of the UK’s involvement in foreign wars. Nor – surprisingly perhaps, given the context – did he attract much public opprobrium for doing so.

So the advantage to the Conservatives of a national security election – as opposed to a Brexit or migration or austerity election – may not be as decisive as initially thought. But it will not be the same election as it would have been, even if going ahead with the vote as normal shows the necessary determination not to be cowed.

So in the final wash up, our guess is a Tory majority of 30-40 seats. Way down on initial suggestions that May might win a majority of 100 or even 150 seats, and one unintended consequence of such a result would be that May’s own leadership credentials would be severely wounded. How seriously, only time would tell. But there are certainly those around her cabinet table with a lean and hungry look, even if that soubriquet could never reasonably be applied to Boris Johnson.

But our certainty, also, is that we could be completely – even wildly – wrong. Things used to be quite easy in the world of psephology. Not so much nowadays.

For once, we will not be making a substantial bet on the outcome. That should tell you something, Dear Reader.

Abril Gallardo rode 15 hours in a van to Austin to protest new immigration laws, and to urge fellow Hispanics to fight back.

“Fear motivated me to get involved,” said Gallardo, a 26-year-old Mexican native who entered the U.S. illegally at age 12.

Texas cities and immigrant rights’ groups have challenged the legality of the law, hopeful for a legal victory like the one in Arizona, but that could take months to have any effect.

But even as some vowed to fight, others have begun fleeing the state. Their ranks are still too small to quantify, but a larger exodus — similar to what occurred in Arizona — could have a profound effect on the Texas economy.

Texas has more than 1 million immigrants illegally in the country, according to the Migration Policy Institute. No one seems to have considered the effect on Texas’s economy should those people abruptly leave, or get kicked out.

Some are abandoning Texas for more liberal states, where they feel safer — even if it means relinquishing lives they’ve spent years building.

Jose, a 43-year-old Mexican living in the U.S. illegally since 2001, and his wife Holly left Austin for Seattle in January in anticipation of Texas’ immigration crackdown. That meant parting with Jose’s grown son, their community of friends and their beloved home of eight years.

“I felt like we ripped our roots up and threw ourselves across the country,” said Holly, a 40-year-old Kentucky native who wanted to protect her husband.

Holly said as soon as Donald Trump was elected president, she and her husband began preparing to move. They expected Texas would “follow Trump’s agenda trying to force local law enforcement to do immigration’s job.” And when they heard Texas had approved a crackdown on “sanctuary cities” she said they “finalised the decision.”

At Wellthisiswhatithink we think these changes are crazy. Why tear apart families that have lived peacefully and constructively in a country for ten, twenty, thirty years? Productive citizens should be given a simple and non-discriminatory path to citizenship. What the hell ever happened to “send me your poor and huddled masses”?

America has lost its soul, and its way.

Looks like a real peach, doesn’t he? Never mind background checks. He should fail a foreground check.

Deputies: Man Accused Of Shooting At Neighbours Following Dispute Over Noisy Children

From South Carolina:

A Goose Creek man is behind bars and charged with fours counts of attempted murder after deputies say he opened fire on neighbours following a dispute over loud children.

On Monday at approximately 4:50 p.m., deputies with the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office responded to 107 Gator Drive in the Goose Creek area of Berkeley County reference to a report of two victims possibly being shot.

After arriving on the scene, deputies met with George Ernest Merritt, 65, of that address who stated, “the victim would be OK” as he had “only shot him in the shoulder.”

According to the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office, juveniles were playing in the road close to where the suspect lives. At some point, deputies say that Merritt went outside and told the children to be quiet.

After interacting with Merritt, deputies say the children went home and told their grandparents, who had been watching them after school. The grandparents went outside to speak with Merritt and advise him to speak with them and not yell at the children. This interaction took place near the intersection of Guerry Circle and Gator Drive.

At some point, Merritt reportedly got upset and left – returning to his house where he retrieved a 22 caliber pistol. Deputies say he returned to the corner of Guerry Circle and Gator Drive and began to shoot at the grandparents, and by some accounts, the children. Whatever the facts, the entire incident was captured on a video surveillance system, which will make things easier, no doubt.

Deputies say he then returned to his home and waited for deputies to arrive. He was taken into custody without incident.

Merritt was charged with 4 counts of Attempted Murder and one count of “Possession of a weapon during a violent crime”. He was transported to the Hill Finklea Detention Centre to await warrant service and a bond hearing.

Not wanting to pre-judge the case, but one suspects that George Ernest Merritt might be going away for quite some time.



This blog is a re-purposing of an exchange I just had with a dear friend on Facebook. I know this friend to be a sincere man, who thinks deeply. His identity is irrelevant. The discussion isn’t.


But what you don’t seem to appreciate, [name], is that all your bile (or rather the bile in the websites and news services you quote) is aimed at Muslims. I would ask you to consider the following:

>We’re pissed off about being branded a racist when we speak out for what we believe in

No, people are branded racists when they categorise an entire people as being one thing – less intelligent, more violent, more hateful, etc – when clearly that cannot be applied to all the people in that group. Calling out “all Muslims” – or “all Anyone” of course – IS racist, because no one group is homogenous.

>we’re pissed off that our kids are being taught crap at school

Well, you’d have to give me an example. The schools I deal with, judging the Ainger Awards, for example, seem to be turning out very aware, balanced and thoughtful kids, chock full of stuff I never knew. And my daughter, who has had to work very hard, has progressed to doing a PhD in neuroscience from a not-especially-academic Christian school, so I am pretty impressed with that.

Maybe your experience is different. I’m all ears.

>we’re pissed off that our kids are being taught that they can go to whatever toilet they like

Unisex toilets are hardly the barbarians at the gate, and if they make life easier for transgender teenagers I have no problem with them. I find kids today much more respectful of each other’s space than we were. I suspect it’s just a change, and change can be scary. I haven’t heard a single case of it causing a problem, here or anywhere – but I have heard plenty of middle aged people going volcanic about it.

>communities are dropping Christmas celebrations

Certainly not in Melbourne. Carols by Candlelight was great this year. Are you sure this is happening, or have you heard of one or two nutjobs going on about it, and beat it up into a “thing”?

PS Muslims think Christ was a holy man, too. Our neighbours gave us a lovely card and a generous gift this year.

>we’re pissed off that Muslim only housing estates are being built in Australia

Why? If people want to live together, let them. We have Chinese retirement homes in Doncaster – the fabric of society seems remarkably unchallenged. We have had Jewish-only schools, homes and – frankly – suburbs for decades. No one cares less. Are you just afraid of something of which you have no real experience?

>we’re pissed off because Anzac Day marches have to be cancelled because RSL clubs can’t afford the extra security due to threat of terror attacks

Here we can agree totally. But you also need to remember that we have had as many terror incidents from bikie gangs and the far right Nazis in Australia as we have had from Muslims. Beating up fear about a virtually unheard of event – a terrorist attack in Australia – only serves to make people anxious. Sure, anything can happen, but the fact is we are a very long way from everywhere, and 99.99999% recurring of our population are law abiding and peaceful. Certainly as regards politics and religion. I know a few bookies who should be inside …

>we’re pissed off because every time we become part of a large crowd we’re looking over our shoulder

Yes, yes, yes – but I have to be frank with you, this has been going on pretty much since the beginning of society. Sadly, there is always someone ready to throw a bomb or lash out with a gun or a sword, and right now most of them are from extremist minority sects of Islam. But it wasn’t long ago, for example, that the world was just as transfixed by the activities of the Baader-Meinhoff and the Red Brigades (some of whose attacks were CIA-led false flag attacks, by the way), the Fenians chucked grenades and bombs around willy nilly for about 150 years in the UK, anarchists started World War 1, etc etc.

“War will continue until men refuse to fight.” Whilst what is happening know is horrible, and deplorable and indefensible, it isn’t actually all that different to centuries of conflict. If you want it to stop, find peaceful solutions, rather than pretending there is some new great conspiracy threatening your tea and toast.

I will say this – the main problem with Islamic extremism at the moment is the conflict between Shia and Sunni, which has been going on for hundreds of years, and the only reason we even know about it is because we have interpolated ourselves into their countries in a most aggressive and colonial way, instead of leaving the Arabs and the Persians to sort it out themselves. We made ourselves sitting ducks by insanities like invading Iraq when we had no clear reason why – except to secure oil supplies, as Alexander Downer admitted – absolutely predictably de-stabilising the entire region – and NOT intervening when the majority of the Syrian population asked us to, to get rid of the brutal Assad regime, because we were so burned by our own idiocy in Iraq.

In Iraq alone, over 500,000 civilians have died, 100% because of the instability caused by OUR actions, if not necessarily by our direct actions.

We let our politicians do that.

22 died in Manchester. Which breaks my heart. And I condemn it utterly. But think about it. Think about the half a million in Iraq alone. Think about the four million displaced from Syria. Can you understand why some people, not me, at all, but some people, don’t understand why we feel so threatened, compared to them?

Saffie, we don’t know what to do to remember you
Saffie, we don’t know what to do to remember
Saffie, we don’t know what to do
Saffie, we don’t know


[                                        ]


A first responder to the Manchester Arena suicide attack has told of how an eight-year-old girl had called out for her mum as she lay in his arms during her dying moments.

Paul Reid, 43, had tried to reassure Saffie Rose Roussos that everything would be OK as he waited with her while help arrived, during the horrific attack aftermath.

Speaking with The Sun, Mr Reid said he tried to look for the terrorist after he heard a bomb at the end of the Ariana Grande concert on Monday.

Paul Reid was a first responder at the scene of the Manchester Arena suicide bombing. Photo: BBC

Mr Reid instead rushed to comfort those who he had found injury, laying on the concert hall floor.

One of those was little Saffie, who he wrapped in his coat, before helping her onto a stretcher. It wasn’t until the next day that Mr Reid learnt the little girl he tried to save had died in hospital from her injuries.

Saffie was the youngest of the 22 killed in the attack.

“She was a dying little girl and she just wanted her mum. It was devastating,” Mr Reid said, in tears.

Mr Reid, also a father, had been at the concert and was one of the first to contact emergency services after Salman Abedi blew himself up.

“The concert was just about to end and I was at the bottom of the stairs at the main exit. Then I just heard a boom. I could see dust, smoke and stuff flying around,” he said. “I ran back up the stairs and I was actually looking for a terrorist. I knew it had been a bomb.

Mr Reid was reduced to tears as he spoke of Saffie, who he found a few feet away.
“She was trembling all over,” he said. “I saw the little girl was conscious and I said, ‘What’s your name?’

“I thought she said Sophie. When I asked her how old she was she said she was eight.

“I wanted to keep her talking and asked her if she had enjoyed the concert but then I realised she was having difficulty breathing.

“She said, ‘Where’s my mum?’ I said to her, ‘I don’t know but we are going to find her in a minute. Don’t worry. We are going to sort it out. You are going to be all right’.

Tributes in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena attack on Monday night. Photo: AAP

“The girl kept trying to fall asleep but I knew I had to keep her awake and conscious. I was stroking her face and saying, ‘Come on Sophie stay awake. You’re going to be all right. They are coming to take you away in a minute.’

“But she kept drifting into unconsciousness. I cannot bear to think about it. Then she started shivering and told me she felt cold. I took my coat off and put it over her but she was still shaking a bit.

“Once we got outside one of the police flags down an ambulance. We gently put her in and she is still alive with her eyes open. That’s the last time I saw her.”

“I only knew her for a few minutes but I will never forget her,” he said of Saffie.

None of us will ever forget you, Saffie.

Recently, Dear Reader, we have been pondering the matter of free speech.

Specifically, should it be absolute? Anyone able to say anything they like, unrestrained by the law.

We are referring, of course, to the Western world. It is clear that in authoritarian regimes the world over nothing like “free speech” exists, or ever has. But as we argue that liberal democracy is the best form of government to adopt, no matter who or where you are, it is surely fair to ask – sensible, indeed – to ask whether all the shibboleths of free speech are, in fact, practically defensible.

One of the key schism lines in world opinion is around the concept of “Criminal Defamation”, where the expression of an opinion is taken to damage a Government, and therefore put the civil peace at risk. What are (or should be) the rights of the state in seeking to restrain comment that can be considered injurious to the whole.

(This is not the same as Civil Defamation, where an individual has a a right to sue another individual (or corporation) for saying or printing something about them that they consider to be both untrue and harmful of their reputation, causing loss. No one seriously argues that Civil Defamation should be abolished – although the bar is set so high in the United States, for example, that defamation laws are essentially unenforceable, with predictable consequences.)

With Criminal Defamation, ironically, Great Britain, the country which bequeathed the infamous legacy of criminal defamation to states like India, where it is currently being heatedly debated, abolished the law in 2009.

Such laws are believed to date back to the early 17th century, when the invention of the printing press enabled political writings to be circulated far and wide easily and inexpensively through pamphlets, thus broadening the scope of public debate. The Court of the Star Chamber (the English court of law from the late fifteenth to mid-seventeenth century), fearing that criticisms against the royal authority, regardless of their truthfulness, may disturb public peace, began charging the critics with the criminal offence of “seditious libel”.

Evidently, a kind of faux civil peace, resulting from the English citizenry’s ignorance of their State’s corruption, was preferred over the knowledge of truth because any exposure could have potentially led to the downfall of the government. This perhaps explains the origin of the well-known adage, “The greater the truth, the greater the libel.”

Not surprisingly, famous England-American political theorist Thomas Paine, who helped inspire the American Revolution, was also charged with seditious libel in England because of his insistence on the right of the citizens to overthrow the government in the second part of his work Rights of Man. Even though Paine would have been happy with the fact that seditious libel was finally abolished in England, such laws continue to thrive to this day in many countries, and even in some democracies.

Indian law, for example, provides for imprisonment to anyone “who brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in India”. This law was enacted by the British to keep the Indian freedom movement in check. Not surprisingly, both Bal Gangadhar Tilak and MK Gandhi were charged with sedition, arrested, and jailed for six years and two years respectively. Like the pigs taking over the farm in the novel 1984, the incoming Indian authorities duly left the laws on the books.

But isn’t it reasonable to disallow unfettered free speech is the result is the overthrow of a peaceful, beneficial state? The answer, of course, is that the question is a fallacy. In a democracy, the government’s behaviour should withstand any such scrutiny in the “court of public opinion”, and if it does not, well, essentially the Government does not deserve to survive. Even if the change of Government may be painful. Truth, here, is elevated above social discord, and few would argue, for example, that a corrupt or inept Government should not be subject to completely free criticism.

The problem is that the view of what constitutes a “peaceful, beneficial state” can vary widely. Just as someone may consider a Government corrupt or inept, but another may not, even when presented with the same evidence. This is before we even get into utilitarian considerations such as “the Government may be corrupt, but it’s helping a lot of people and things are going pretty well, so let’s all pretend it isn’t corrupt and leave things be”. That’s the pertaining situation throughout much of Asia currently, for example.

Currently Governments around the world are reserving the right to restrict free speech where that speech is designed to overthrow their rule by violent means. But from a libertarian point of view, this can be problematical. Many would argue it should be illegal to say “Government A is evil, so go and get a gun and shoot someone, in pursuit of overthrowing the Government”.

But should it be equally illegal to say “Government A is evil, in my view it is morally justified for someone to get a gun and shoot someone, in pursuit of overthrowing the Government”?

The difference is the width of a butterfly’s wing, but it could be argued that the latter is legitimate comment – a bona fide intellectual opinion – whilst the other is incitement to murder. Yet the latter will today get you just as locked up just as quickly in many Western democracies as would the more direct statement. The argument employed here is that the fractionally milder comment might have exactly the same effect of encouraging violent action, and therefore seeking to discern a difference is mere semantics, especially if the Government’s primary goal is to preserve its status and prevent violence.

Where the line is drawn in such matters is an on-going debate.

How, for example, does one parse the case of Bradley Manning (now Chelsea Manning), the American soldier of Wikileaks fame, who dumped vast amounts of classified information onto the world stage in pursuit of his belief that the public had a right to know what was being done – often illegally – in their name.

Manning languished in a dire mental condition in an American military prison – arguably the subject of ongoing mental torture from the authorities – for telling the world … what? That American helicopter gunships were cheerfully slaughtering Reuters journalists and innocent civilians on the ground through hopelessly loose rules of engagement? Or that world leaders say one thing to each other’s faces, and another to their advisors, and yet another to the public? What part of what Manning revealed – do people think they were either too stupid or too irresponsible to be told – which resulted in no harm to anyone, you will recall, as confirmed by the CIA –  whether they were told by Wikileaks or by the newspapers round the world who gleefully re-reported the treasure trove of documents.

The incident was hugely embarrassing for many Governments, to be sure, but was it truly harmful? And why was Manning not protected by concepts of free speech? By all means argue that he contravened the rules of his military service (which is what he is technically being punished for) but should he have, if we believe what we say about free speech being sacrosanct, actually have been praised? Feted, even?

Why was he banged up in solitary when the journalists who re-reported him are free to pursue their careers, and the media barons free to bank their profits?

What led us to this pondering?

Yesterday, on radio in Melbourne, a “One Nation” Senator, recently elected in Queensland through the vagaries and lunacies of Australia’s Senate voting system, was given free range to spout his ludicrous theories that the United Nations were trying to impose “One World Government” on the planet through fear mongering on man-made climate change, change which wasn’t happening. That there was no empirical evidence that CO2 was causing global warming, or that if we scrapped all human fossil fuel emissions overnight it would make any difference to the state of the planet at all.

Mr Roberts has apparently also written numerous reports claiming climate change is an international conspiracy fostered by the United Nations and international banks to impose a socialist world order. According to the Sydney Morning Herald at least one report cites several anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists, including notorious Holocaust denier Eustace Mullins among its “primary references”.

According to the SMH Mr Roberts, who used to work in the arch-polluting coal industry, also sent a bizarre affidavit to then Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard in 2011 demanding to be exempt from the carbon tax and using language consistent with the “sovereign citizen” movement.

Anti-government, self-identified “sovereign citizens” claim to exist outside the country’s legal and taxation systems and frequently believe the government uses grammar to enslave its citizens.

NSW Police say such people “should be considered a potential terrorist threat”.

In an affidavit he sent to Ms Gillard in 2011, Mr Roberts identified himself as “Malcolm-Ieuan: Roberts., the living soul”, representing a corporate entity he termed MALCOLM IEUAN ROBERTS.

In the document, Mr Roberts demanded to be exempted from the carbon tax and compensated to the tune of $280,000 if Ms Gillard did not provide “full and accurate disclosure” in relation to 28 points explaining why he should not be liable for the tax.

Mr Roberts addressed the affidavit to “The Woman, Julia-Eileen: Gillard., acting as The Honourable JULIA EILEEN GILLARD” and presented her with a detailed contract he expected her to sign.

That stylisation of names is said to be commonly used by “sovereign citizens” who believe the use of hyphens and colons is a way to evade governments’ use of grammar to enslave their citizens. Roberts has recently confirmed that he wrote the affidavit, but has stated that he is not a ‘sovereign citizen’.

The new Senator, who received 77 below-the-line first preference votes, will take his Senate seat on August 30 and will receive a taxpayer-funded base salary of $199,040, plus staff and entitlements.

The price of free speech is often very high indeed.

But the biggest price we pay is not monetary. It is seeing our public institutions – our broadcasters, and Parliaments – invaded by rogues, charlatans, and the frankly deluded, spouting theories that seek to mislead and derail intelligent debate under the guise of promoting “truth”.


Whatever you think of Martin McGuinness, or of his remarkable journey from senior IRA commander and reputedly Army Council member to Deputy First Minister in the Northern Ireland government, one thing is clear.

He was engaged in secret peace discussions with the British Government from 1972 onwards. And there is little doubt that, along with Gerry Adams, McGuinness was instrumental in turning the Republican movement away from continued violence and towards political engagement. He was a man driven in his eyes to violence, who came to reject violence as a political tool.

What is also certain is that without him, in all probability, Ireland and Britain would still be mired in violence over the future of the six counties.

He took huge personal risks for peace. His critics, he said were afraid of change.

“They would love the IRA to go back to war. I’m delighted that we have not fallen into this trap.

“I’m delighted that we have an organisation which understands the political dynamics [of the peace process].

“There is a confidence and assertiveness among nationalists,” he continued.

“We know who we are, we are Irish, we are proud of it.”

His republican credentials remained impeccable to his death. And ultimately, we all owe him respect for playing a fundamental – perhaps the most fundamental – role in stilling the guns.

McGuinness was living proof that we really can – and sometimes do – beat the swords we grasp all too readily into ploughshares.

Ireland is poorer for his passing.

Image Copyright Amnesty International- Amnesty International says Saydnaya prison may hold between 10,000 and 20,000 people.

Image Copyright Amnesty International – Amnesty International says Saydnaya prison may hold between 10,000 and 20,000 people.

As many as 13,000 people, most of them civilian opposition supporters, have been executed in secret at a prison in Syria, Amnesty International says.

A new report by the human rights group alleges that mass hangings took place every week at Saydnaya prison between September 2011 and December 2015.

Amnesty says the alleged executions were authorised at the highest levels of the Syrian government.

The government has previously denied killing or mistreating detainees.

However, UN human rights experts said a year ago that witness accounts and documentary evidence strongly suggested that tens of thousands of people were being detained and that “deaths on a massive scale” were occurring in custody.

Amnesty interviewed 84 people, including former guards, detainees and prison officials for its report.

A detainee before his imprisonment, and after, his release from the prison.

Image Copyright Amnesty International – Former detainee Omar al-Shogre before his imprisonment, and after his release from the prison.

It alleges that every week, and often twice a week, groups of between 20 and 50 people were executed in total secrecy at the facility, just north of Damascus. They are by no means all opposition fighters. They include lawyers, doctors, journalists, and other professionals whose only “crime” is to be “on the other side”, even if their relationship with “the other side” may be nothing more than a geographical location.

Before their execution, detainees were brought before a “military field court” in the capital’s Qaboun district for “trials” lasting between one and three minutes, the report says.

A former military court judge quoted by Amnesty said detainees would be asked if they had committed crimes alleged to have taken place. “Whether the answer is ‘yes’ or ‘no’, he will be convicted… This court has no relation with the rule of law,” he chillingly said.

According to the report, detainees were told on the day of the hangings that they would be transferred to a civilian prison then taken to a basement cell and beaten over the course of two or three hours.


Then in the middle of the night they were blindfolded and moved to another part of the prison, where they were taken into a room in the basement and told they had been sentenced to death just minutes before nooses were placed around their necks, the report adds.

The bodies of those killed were allegedly then loaded onto lorries, and transferred to Tishreen military hospital in Damascus for registration and burial in mass graves located on military land.

On the basis of evidence of the testimony of its witnesses, Amnesty estimates that between 5,000 and 13,000 people were executed at Saydnaya over five years.

Witness accounts

A former judge who saw the hangings:

“They kept them [hanging] there for 10 to 15 minutes. Some didn’t die because they are light. For the young ones, their weight wouldn’t kill them. The officers’ assistants would pull them down and break their necks.”

‘Hamid’, a former military officer who was detained at Saydnaya:

“If you put your ears on the floor, you could hear the sound of a kind of gurgling. This would last around 10 minutes… We were sleeping on top of the sound of people choking to death. This was normal for me then.”

Former detainee ‘Sameer’ describes alleged abuse:

“The beating was so intense. It was as if you had a nail, and you were trying again and again to beat it into a rock. It was impossible, but they just kept going. I was wishing they would just cut off my legs instead of beating them any more.”

Source: Amnesty International

Although it does not have evidence of executions taking place since December 2015, the group says it has no reason to believe they have stopped and that thousands more were likely to have died.

Amnesty says these practices amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It also notes that death sentences have to be approved by the grand mufti and by either the defence minister or the army’s chief of staff, who are deputised to act on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad.

The human rights group says it contacted the Syrian authorities about the allegations in early January but has received no response.

Last August, Amnesty reported that an estimated 17,723 people had died in custody as a result of torture and the deprivation of food, water and medical care between March 2011 – when the uprising against President Assad began – and December 2015. That figure did not include those allegedly hanged at Saydnaya.

These are the people that the West have stood by and idly watched as Putin and others have rained bombs on civilians. Certainly some of the Opposition in Syria are bad guys, too. No question. But many – and many of those killed in the war or in prison – are democrats who thought they could wrest their country from the grip of a cruel fascist dictator and turn it to democracy.

Wellthisiswhatithink says:

Those who have been freed from Saydnaya, and those who have escaped its clutches, and those who have avoided being murdered by the secret police and paramilitary forces, and those who have escaped the barrel bombs and the poison gas, largely make up – with their families – those who have desperately fled Syria looking for refuge. Looking for the right to live in peace, free from fear of persecution.

You know: the ones that Donald Trump thinks are dangerous. To us. But Mr Putin and his cronies? They’re OK.