I asked this a few days ago as the rhetoric aimed against Russia began to ramp up to unusual levels after the tragic loss of MH17.
Now it seems that no less a figure than POTUS, President Obama himself feels the need to tell us that “This Is Not A New Cold War”.
Oh that’s OK then, thanks for reassuring us that we are worrying over nothing. As it’s you saying it we know it must be true, oh wait, aren't you telling us that you are imposing yet more sanctions on Russia and calling for yet more sanctions at the same time you say it’s not a new cold war!
So what is it then?
Looking at the world I see a lot happening, some of it fits together; some of it doesn't yet fit or may be something completely different. But there is a fairly clear picture forming and that is the significant change in the orientation of world power.
The 21st century is shaping up to be the time of the East not the West and the ripples of this are spreading everywhere. A lot of events seem to be linked to the reaction by the Western World to this change and how they are fighting against it.
For decades the UN, the IMF and the great and only superpower ruled unchallenged. The cold war was over; China and Russia were reduced to mere regional powers.
But the world is changing and with that comes a swing in global power.
BRICS is a prime example. Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa. 41% of the world’s population, 20% of the entire worlds GDP. The alliance of these five nations dwarfs NATO which speaks for a paltry billion people. Vast reserves of resources (Russia and China) that are considerably greater than those available in country to the western nations.
The fact that Putin had just returned from a meeting where BRICS declared its intention to rival the IMF when the Malay plane went down and was immediately blamed on Russia is, of course, just a coincidence.
Now despite what the Prez is telling us, I believe what we are seeing in fact IS a new cold war. Between on one side the old Imperial powers now reformed into NATO or the EU and on the other side the old enemies now allied with rising powers that refuse to toe the US line.
The US has been steadily switching its military focus from the Atlantic to the Pacific; the perception is that the military threat from Russia is much lower than that of China with its steady military build up. Notice over the last year and more the strong focus in the media of stories about how China has been massively building up its forces. Story after story and report after report about how threatened the Far Eastern Nations are by rampant Chinese expansionism and military build ups.
Then, suddenly, the focus moved to Russia. The vote in Crimea was causing a lot of talking by the chattering classes and there had been a few token sanctions but the fighting between the Kiev loyalists and the pro Russian separatists was going on with a few news reports often buried in the middle pages.
The sanctions were generally laughed at, in fact we had reports of Russian Oligarchs complaining they were NOT on the initial sanction lists.
Then we have the BRICS announcement and suddenly hundreds of men, women and children are dead. A second Malaysia Airlines wide body has gone down, hundreds dead including a hundred AIDs researchers.
I’m not going to go into probabilities about how extremely unlikely it is that Malaysia Airlines has lost two planes within months and these are the only major aircraft crashes this year or the odds of one plane carrying so many doctors being hit when scores of other aircraft were not attacked.
What I am speaking of here is that without so much as a shred of hard evidence that has been shown to anyone and with reams of blatant fakes Russia is being blamed and punished for doing something no one can even prove they did.
Consider the constant and angry rhetoric, harsh words and comments from statesmen and governments directed at Russia, sanctions after sanctions and an ever increasing level of calls for unity against Russia. For something that the US, the EU and the UK are unwilling or unable to prove they did.
Now look at the Middle East and Gaza, day by day out TV screens are filled with images of death and destruction. We have live digital TV showing us bombs exploding shells falling, absolutely no doubt as to who is doing the shooting. Yet as much as Israel has the right to defend its people from threat they have now killed far more civilians that the Pro Russian Separatists are reported to have killed and yet the sound of the West’s criticism is tumbleweeds blowing in the wind.
Russia is subject to threat after threat and sanction after sanction for something no one seems willing or able to prove they did and yet no one will say Boo to Israel.
If the West actually cared to help with the Gaza situation they could do so, but they do nothing but talk and make idle threats and sound bites for the TV. However closer to home and we see a very different situation.
We are seeing a massive campaign to demonise Russia and Putin. The man is a nasty piece of work but a lot of time and effort is being put into making Russia itself to be the threat. Russia nationalists, Russian fascists, the Russians are coming.
Did you catch the bit about violations of the Nuclear arms limitations not long ago. The Russians are building new nukes, the Russians are pointing nukes at us, the Russians are threatening us. We have to act before they wipe us out.
THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING!
It’s getting hard to hear over the sound of all the sabres being rattled.
A new cold war, with battles fought by proxy, just like in the old cold war. Russia is seen, mistakenly I think, as the toothless old bear that can be attacked most easily. So we see the Ukraine, a proxy war.
The urgency and demand to bomb Syria made little sense at the time. Why was Dave and the rest so anxious to launch a bombing campaign against Assad, they claimed to reduce his ability to use the Chemical weapons that had not, at the time, been proved to have been used by him. Such strikes would have removed him from power and reduced Syria to the same level of chaos that is now Libya. Syria was and is an Ally of Russia and a port it can use in the Middle East.
Think of the many many reports that suddenly appeared as to why we should bomb Syria, which have now been forgotten, the same people so desperate to save those poor suffering people Assad was bombing now all but ignored.
Counterpoint this almost exactly the same situation minus the gas where a Western Ally is bombing the hell out of its enemy in the middle of a city, not a word.
At the time the whole thing made no sense, why was Cameron so desperate to start bombing. Now it makes far more sense as part of a long term pattern by the West to box in Russia and weaken BRICS.
The latest round of stronger sanctions. Embargoes on finance and trade. Telling the western Oil companies who do business with Russia to stop, stopping banks getting finance from the west.
As important and powerful as these all sound they are yet more sound bites. Those Oil companies are providing the Oil and gas that is heating European homes.
Stopping any military trade, well apart from any existing deals so the French still get to sell those two warships and get their billion Euros. Military trades of the size that nations get involved in tend to take many months to arrange, new deals are hardly going to be springing up next week. Even then, where is Russia going to sell its tanks and planes, well apart from Syria or Egypt or other middle eastern countries or far eastern countries or the eastern European countries or India that continue to buy Russian. As for Europe, I’m sure that with four or five Billion Euros at stake the trade will continue in some form or another, lots of shipments via third countries as usual.
So the sanctions are impressive and yet also less effective than they are made out to be. Any truly powerful sanctions would hurt Europe as much as they hurt Russia and anything that pushed Putin to turn of the gas would probably cause a mini recession across the Euro zone. Or perhaps not so mini given the ongoing fragility of the Euro.
Why then are we hearing so much jingoism, why so much sabre rattling, why the contestant official statements from the UK and US and EU against Russia, why the steady stream of warnings, “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming”.
Why am I seeing and hearing the sort of things that would normally be used to prepare a nation for some big event or war, why is the Threat of Russia being made so overbearing and omnipresent. It’s almost as if we were being prepared for launching an attack against this clear and present danger.
But to what end. NATO cannot send more than token forces into Ukraine and actually fight. The combat aircraft in the Baltic states that are NATO members are a token, hardly enough to stand off an attack by a few hundred Russia fighters and bombers but enough to create justification for threats and yet more sabre rattling.
NATO is predominantly a military Alliance between the Western European nations and the US. But despite the fact that it is a multi nation military alliance well over half its actual military spending comes from the United States. Most NATO members provide no more than a token force when compared to the US.
Most NATO nations have been running down their armed forces over the years. Most fail to meet the minimum levels of military spending required for them to be NATO members, but aside from the US mentioning it from time to time no one else seems to care.
The vast military bases designed to act as staging areas and logistics bases for the fight against the Soviet Union are in West Germany. Poland is a NATO member but hardly has the infrastructure to base or supply division after division of NATO troops.
NATO simply lacks the logistics reach to operate in the Ukraine, if push comes to shove they could fight IN Poland with several hundred miles of logistics running back into Germany. But to go hundreds of miles further east, their supply lines would be immense and extremely vulnerable to attack. Any NATO force going into the Ukraine to fight Russia would be doing so at the end of a very long supply chain and facing Russian troops who would be operating from the Crimean bases or from just over the border.
Only a complete and utter moron would consider military action that far away.
On sea and in the air you have the same situation. The entire European navy could sail into the Baltic or black sea and would last about two hours, that being the time it would take the Russians to stop laughing and then launch wave after wave of anti shipping missiles from both land and air. Remember the UK fleet doesn’t have enough missiles to equip all its ships.
By air NATO airfields are a long long way away and Russia has a lot of military airfields along its borders, same situation as NATO aircraft out of fuel and at the end of a long flight face Russian planes that took off a few minutes before.
But worse than all of this is that something like half the military strength of NATO would not be there because the US would not be there, Obama is talking the talk but any walking he may be doing is either in the far east or on the golf course.
The vaunted technological advantages of NATO are less of a factor when you have a significant numeric advantage AND the home ground advantage.
NATO is more than capable of defending Western Europe from Russia, any attempt by Russia to attack Poland or any country west would be a very messy failure because NATO can respond to such an attack from its home bases. What NATO cannot do is defend the Ukraine or even worse attack Russia.
So I think the likelihood of any fighting between NATO and Russia is about zero in Europe. The Ukraine will continue to fight its civil war but even if Russia does intervene blatantly in the East what is NATO going to do, only if Russia is stupid enough to push into the Kiev controlled west and therefore come into range of Poland will NATO stir. No one is insane enough to create a situation where a nuclear response becomes viable and that’s about the only way NATO or Russia could threaten the other side’s core nations.
The rest of the world now, that’s a very different story. Western intervention everywhere you look. Any nation that either is or could be siding with those dirty Reds, if its small enough to be attacked then sooner or later it will be. Special forces advisors everywhere there is fighting going on. Russia and china trying to make new friends, the west will be there trying to stop them.
Proxy wars, nations or groups being armed and equipped to fight the enemy superpower. Small nations allied to the enemy being attacked or, like Syria just barely not being bombed till the government is overthrown.
The rhetoric may be the war on terror but a lot of those nations being targeted are anti west and therefore candidates for some friendly Russians to arrive providing training and weapons.
Despite what Obama says, it sure looks like a cold war to me.
A few years ago much was being made of the driverless car. It was an interesting idea but was reported to be a decade away from becoming anything at all. This was Google leading the way, though they were in fact taking ideas from the 80s and using modern technology on them.
Now we have several of the biggest car makers, a partial list of companies involved includes Nissan, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Volvo, GM and more. Not just companies. Four US states now allow driverless vehicles on the roads, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands also allow such vehicles to undergo road testing. The UK is going to be looking at driverless cars in the near future, perhaps as soon as next year.
The technology is going forward a lot faster than expected because our overall technological development is expanding faster than generally predicted a few years ago. Every advance in technology helps many other fields of technology to grow faster.
In the case of driverless cars we are seeing what was an interesting idea a few years ago become more and more common. From multi thousand mile trips by autonomous cars to automatic taxis and scores of driverless vehicles to technology that has moved from a dustbin on the roof to a sensor package that is hidden inside the car we are much closer to autonomous vehicles that people expect.
In fact the only thing really holding them back now is the innate suspicion people have for such technology. Yet millions of people everyday put their lives in the hands of passenger aircraft that from take off to landing are on autopilot.
Any vehicle that follows a set route can be automated with existing technology. So trains, buses and trams. Taxis also as long as they have GPS that doesn’t drive them into fields or someone’s garden. Short and long distance lories going from point A to point B and back by a fixed route are also prime candidates for automation.
As the technology comes into more widespread use over the next few years that’s a lot of drivers losing their jobs and being replaced by lower paid people or no people what so ever.
Designs for driverless cars that have NO driver controls are already being prototyped. Such vehicles would carry passengers with no way for them to control the vehicle. No risk of people getting tired or falling asleep, no mistakes, no road rage, no driving too fast or tail gating. Less accidents.
So what is stopping them? There are two things. I mentioned, an innate fear of being under the control of a robot and the need for a person to do many of the things that a driver does besides just driving.
For the fear of the machine. This is very much a generational thing. We are into the third of the Digital generations, the baby boomers have seen the early begins of the digital age and who have no reached old age faced by the often incomprehensible technology, Generation X who were teens and young adults as the internet took off but who are now reaching the point where they cannot keep up and Generation Y who were born into and have grown up with the Digital age.
Generation BB (which apparently includes me or so I’m told!) struggles the most and will be the most resistant but are becoming a smaller and smaller group overall. Generation X has reservations but these are, I feel, more of a not being in control of the car themselves rather than fear of the robot, Then we have Generation Y who will in all likelihood embrace this as they have embraced the rest of the technology they were and are growing up with.
So the number of people who will be happy with this technology is probably a majority and growing larger even today.
The other problem is that drivers often do a lot more than just drive, in particular with commercial drivers. But here I think the current business attitude will push through and accept changes without too much difficulty.
A Bus can replace its driver and simply go back to the days of a conductor, who will in all likelihood be paid less than the old driver because it’s a less skilled job. A van that now drives itself still needs to have deliveries loaded and unloaded. But again here a driver’s mate earns less than a driver.
Even the ever friendly and talkative taxi driver can be replaced with a software package designed to chat to passengers, anyone remember the Johnny cabs from Total Recall in 1990
Given the prevailing attitude towards ever lower wages in our commercial sector I feel that replacing skilled drivers with robots and employing lower paid lackeys to do the things that the robot cannot do will quickly become the new normal.
So how do people compete, how do humans remain competitive in the digital age, what is it that they can do that the machines cannot.
Aside from being cheaper to employ that machines that is with all of the negative consequences that such low wages bring with them.
Interpret, Create, Communicate, these are the key skills and abilities for the information age.
In order for people to become employable in the information age they must be able to outperform the machines in places where the machines cannot function, creative, considering, designing, variable, random, decision making, adaptive roles.
Computers, robots, machines. They are wonderful at those boring repetitive jobs. Do A, do B, do c, next object, do A, do B and so on. Linear tasks, production lines, factories, these are now the domain of the machines. Computers work by rote, if A happens then do this, if B happens do this.
Humans shine in roles that are random, non linear, jobs which involve variables and non logical decision making. Humans are the ones who can have X happen and then think about what to do.
Humans think and learn in ways which can almost be seen as random. From birth a person adds new knowledge, new memories and new thoughts to an ever growing fuzzy cloud of neural pathways.
What the weather is like, what was on TV last night, are you in a good mood or did you run over the car this morning and are now worried about how to tell the kids tonight that Tom has gone to cat heaven. All of these become tiny factors in how you make decisions that day. As does the depth and breadth of your education, your intellect to a degree also factors as does your upbringing, your language, your culture and more besides.
The bigger your fuzzy cloud is the more options you can have when making a decision.
The ability to think is not solely limited by Intellect, some very smart people can be extremely linear, some people who you would consider to be far less intelligent can still come up with idea that you would never have considered because they have interesting and varied life histories or educations to call upon.
So far the machines cannot create, they cannot come up with ideas or art or music, they cannot create, not yet. So people that can, jobs that need such an ability, those are fairly safe for the minute.
Anything creative, anything hand crafted or human designed, these are areas where the human still rules the jobs. But such jobs are limited in number, perhaps such jobs will grow more common as our society becomes more and more standardised and machine made and people come to want the more human touch represented by human made with all its flaws and imperfections.
Communication is the last and most common area where people are to be found. People like to talk to each other, the most hated technology is often the damn press one for this and two for that, now press one for this, two for that and three for the other, your call is important, please hold for twenty minutes before we ask you to press one for something else. Mindless, repetitive, remote, the form of communication most alien to people who want to talk not just to a human voice but also to a human response.
Let’s be honest here, it’s much more satisfying to get upset with some useless human in a call centre than raging against a machine, press two for this, press three for something else. There is a great deal of conversation unrelated to the topic at hand when humans talk to each other, communication that we need because we are pack animals in our DNA, we need people around us to stay sane.
Even just that Hello, how are you today, what’s the weather like, my washing machine exploded, before getting into the details of the conversation is important to people.
How many of you don’t talk to the server in the coffee shop, fast food place or shop.
So we have massive numbers of people paid to talk to each other, we like to talk, we need to communicate with each other. Again this part of our service industry represents the lowest paid.
Now this is not to say that Robots and computers cannot push into these areas. Software that can chat like a human is already around and getting better (see part one of this series) and given the restricted range of questions and answers of your average call centre they can easily take over those sort of jobs as well. With most people paying for things by card touch screens and pay points can replace shop staff and robots can stack shelves if they are designed properly. Unless you are asking for advice and need someone to create or interpret for you.
That rubber dummy that sits in your driverless taxi and runs a software package that can almost chat like a human is almost the same as a chatty driver, but if you don’t want to talk or are busy with your mobile or tablet during the trip, will you notice the lack of a human driver.
With more people using delivered shopping the big supermarkets are finding themselves with long lines of shelves people don’t need as delivers can come direct from a distribution centre, shop online and avoid those long queues and having to rub shoulders with all those smelly people.
Robots with lifting arms and grasping hands can replace your shelf stackers just about everywhere.
A study group made up of US and UK researchers representing Faculty of Philosophy at Oxford, The Future of humanity Institute, the Institute for the future of computing, Oxford University Computing Laboratory, Oxford E-Research Centre, the institute for science and ethics and others is an interdisciplinary panel that was formed several years ago to looking into the Impacts of Future Technology.
They have concluded that having looked at over 700 types of job in the US as many as half of those jobs will either be gone or significantly reduced in terms of numbers of people in those roles as a result of technology over the next few years. The UK would be in a very similar situation as the many of the same economic factors apply to both nations.
They concluded that worst case, half of all human jobs could be gone by the late 2020s to early 2030s. That’s a lot of jobs and a huge impact but I think they are wrong in two regards.
Firstly that their timeline is too long, they are talking upwards of twenty years, the ever accelerating march of technology will be bringing about these changes within ten years or so.
Secondly they are failing to understand the massive cultural and economic consequences of these job losses, mind you most of our politicians are also playing the three moneys on this subject, see no, hear no, speak no, when it comes to bad news.
A system based on commerce needs to sell in order to function, in order to sell you need buyers. If you automate to the point where half your population have no jobs they will have no money to buy and so the commercial economy shrinks which results in less jobs and less buyers.
Our entire economic system is based on creating and selling and making money by having people who buy, be it goods or services. Without taking steps to create and maintain jobs then you will have far too few people left with money to spend and your economy either shrinks and then collapses or morphs into something you will probably not be happy with.
We already see the begins of this today, in our ‘Post Recession’ UK economy we have many millions of people looking at steadily falling free income thanks to ever lower wages compared to prices and costs. The impact of this on our high streets is clear to see and as shops go so do jobs and all the companies that make the goods or provide the services sold in those shops go as well leading to yet more job losses and a tighter and tighter economy.
Our economic situation as it is currently operating cannot survive an ever growing number of people without the money to buy goods or services and yet the steady march of technology is creating far more people in just that position. Those with jobs earning less and less.
All the Lies and statistics in the world cannot cover up the fact that technology is massively reshaping our economy and our society, but we are not keeping pace. Because we are unwilling or unable to openly consider the changes that are happening we are facing a situation where the technology that should be enhancing our lives is in fact having the opposite effect.
Unless we as a nation and as a species take a good long look at this situation and start making changes then the results are all but inevitable. The long term consequences are going to be terrible and yet no one will talk about them. Our political leaders certainly will not and neither will our leaders of commerce.
Millions of people even now only have jobs because they are living with a wage that makes them cheaper than replacing them with robots, as technology matures and becomes cheaper this is not something that can be sustained.
So Can Humans Keep Their Jobs When the Robots Take Over?
For a steadily growing number of people the answer is no.
Turn on the news today, pick up a paper, visit your favourite news and view sites and you will see the same storeys from every possible angle. Doom and gloom, death and destruction. Wars internal and external, religious and ethnic. The death toll mounts day by day and all we hear is old problems come back and new problems arriving to join them.
It sometimes seems as if they can be no such thing as peace anywhere. Here in the old west, in civilised France the anti Semites are running riot, smashing shops and homes they think are Jewish without regard for the fact that most Jews in France have nothing to do with Israel. All that matters is that they are dirty Jews and need to be driven out.
The same is said of Arabs in other places and is said of Christians in more distant lands. All this hatred based on which version of which interpretation of a make believe beings teachings they read.
We constantly hear about the actions and atrocities of some terrorist group or another, most of the over one hundred named groups are active in parts of the world that we do not hear about but just look back over the last few weeks of news to hear of ISIS, Al Queda, the Taliban, Hamas, Boko Haram, Hizballah just to pick a few.
In Europe we have what has just been declared a Civil war in the Ukraine by the International Red Cross. Recent European, African and Middle Eastern history is full of civil wars and separatist groups fighting to form their own land or to reclaim their old land.
All this death and destruction. Who is to blame, who is causing it all.
Well sadly, in many of these cases, the people to blame are us. Or more correctly our nations. The old Imperial powers, the new Imperial powers, the victors of the last few wars. The current government, the last one or governments from the last century or two. But the same people with the same arrogance and the same Imperial designs.
A bunch of European types (Including the US here) from the tradition Western Imperial powers of Britain, Germany. France, Italy, even little Belgium got in on the act. Then add Russia and the US and we had a veritable host of Empires deciding that they knew best and making the rest of the world do what they were told or an Imperial military force would be round for a visit.
They redrew maps and forced tribes that hated each other to become part of new nations while tearing apart old nations. Then when the locals got uppity the army went in or more recently to spare the cost of western lives select groups of locals were armed and used to fight proxy wars.
Let us take a look at the history of one of these ‘Terrorist’ groups or organisations that are in the news this week.
Its full name is al-Harakat al-Muqawwama al-Islamiyya, the Islamic Resistance Movement.
Today as I write this Gaza is a war zone, rockets, bombs and shells passing each other in the air as they fly in or out. The Israeli military pounding the region while Hamas launches rockets back at civilian areas. Both sides trying to smash and kill but it’s a rather one sided fight.
Today Hamas is widely regarded as a terrorist organisation, they didn’t start life that way. They started life as a small charitable group helping people in need.
The Muslim Brotherhood originally expressed an ideology of charitable support for believers and it was to support this that Hamas came into being as an organisation known as Al-Mujamma al Islami,. It was founded in the 70s and was, in fact, registered in Israel as a charitable group by its founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
His intention was to unite Palestinians through religion rather than nationalism, by using Islam to bring them together. In this he was almost the opposite of the politically active, secular and left wing Palestine Liberation Organisation which was strongly (and violently) agitating for a Palestinian state.
The idea that Islam would be heavily involved in politics was generally considered ridiculous at the time, very few nations world wide had religious governments, in fact among the Israeli and Western powers the idea of ‘Political Islam’. that is a religious movement also becoming a political one, was of little concern and in fact something of a joke.
Sheikh Yassin led his organisation to build schools and mosques, libraries and a university. They cleaned streets, organised rubbish removal and provided support such as tents, food and clothing for refugees. At the same time they were working to maintain the cultural and educational infrastructure they were also creating a widespread and influential religious infrastructure through the mosques and followers of Islam they were bringing together.
Now at this time the primary Palestinian political organisations were the PLO and Fatah. Both were being hit hard by the Israelis and both were struggling to maintain control of Gaza and the West Bank.
In fact Sheikh Yassin and his followers were pretty much doing the work that the two political groups were failing at. As a result the influence of the sheikh grew while that of the other two began to fall.
Seeing a chance to further weaken the PLO and Fatah the west and Israel began to provide significant funding to the sheikh. Both openly and according to a number of US intelligence releases covertly, the west along with several of the oil states funnelled millions of dollars to this charitable organisation.
Quickly they became the people to go to for help in Gaza and the west bank. If you needed help or support, food or just your electricity and plumbing fixed you went to the sheikh and his people. With this funding they rapidly grew in power and influence and became far more prominent as a result.
They came to be a viable rival to the PLO and Fatah and Israel along with the west continued to send them money. Due to this funding the secular political groups lost power and the religious political group gained in power. People began to notice, political Islam was working, and they certainly had more money and power and weren't being attacked by Israel all the time.
What was happening was that politics was polarising between a religious politic group and a secular political group and it was Israeli and western power and money that was making it happen.
With the fall of the Shah and the rise of Iran as a Theocracy political Islam suddenly noticed that religion could run a country. The effect of this rippled across the middle east
Sheikh Yassin was arrested in 1984; a cache of weapons was discovered and linked to him and his movement. It seemed they had been arming themselves. However they told the Israelis that the weapons were for use against the PLO and Fatah in the increasingly violent fight for power between the groups. The Sheikh was released a year later, and in the meantime there were numerous reports of Israeli security forces turning a blind eye to attacks launched by the sheikh’s followers, even according to some reports allowing groups of them to pass checkpoints so they could attack PLO or Fatah strongholds.
The result of this was that support for the PLO and Fatah continued to fall and support for the Islamic movement grew stronger.
Things change in 1987 with the first intifada. Here the Sheikh and his allies declared the formation of a military wing of his organisation, Hamas. The organisationscharter released later was highly anti Semitic and praised Jihad or holy war.
After Hamas carried out its first attack the sheikh was arrested again, this time sentenced to life. However he was released some years later, the official reason was given as humanitarian grounds.
Just before Sheikh Yassin was released the Oslo accords had been signed and a significant international effort was underway to bring peace to the region. Israel is on record as being reluctant to participate in this but a significant number of Palestinians said they were against terrorist attacks and wanted peace. The PLO was involved in these negotiations toward peace, Hamas openly refused any attempt to end the fighting and stated it would not accept the existence of Israel.
Just before the Oslo accords were to be signed Hamas struck, a wave of attacks against civilian targets. Arafat looked either deceitful or weak. There are rumours that even at this stage Israel was still supporting the sheikh to further undermine the PLO.
In the face of these attacks negotiations failed. A right wing militant government was voted into power in Israel and the sheikh was released from prison and exiled to begin his tour of the middle east, a triumphant parade of countries that greatly increased in influence, bought in large numbers of new supporters and hundreds of millions of dollars in donations that flowed into Gaze unrestricted by the new Israeli government.
Over the remaining years to today Hamas has defeated and driven out Fatah, the PLO which became the Palestinian Authority has steadily become all but powerless, and then there is Hamas.
Where the PLO recognised Israel’s right to exist as a nation, Hamas declares they will drive the Jews into the sea and destroy the nation. Where the PA is secular and favours no religion Hamas is blatantly Islamic and openly uses religion and fanatical Muslims to launch its attacks.
What had been the great threat to Israel now accepts that Israel has a right to exist and live in peace while the organisation that Israel grew from a small charity into a major power in the region to weaken the PLO now stands as the main enemy.
Even now we see a complex political situation where Israel is its own worst enemy. The PLO, now the PA, uses negotiation and not violence; many agreements are made and yet very little seems to happen. The PA talk and make agreements, people watch as one by one those agreements fail and fall away. So the PA is seen as weak and powerless and people turn away from it and to the likes of Hamas.
Hamas is involved in a bloody campaign of death and destruction. They became the defacto government when the PA and Fatah were all but driven from Gaza. They are fighting their ongoing campaign to destroy Israel, an impossibility for them, they cannot possibly achieve this aim, all they can do is threaten and kill civilians. But by continuing to launch such attacks Hamas creates the justification Israel needs to act.
No nation can stand back and do nothing while its civilian population is under attack, no western nation would sit back and allow such attacks. So Israel can justify its attacks and so civilians on both sides continue to die. Every rocket launched one way justifies a bomb or shell launched the other way. Every death on either side justifies a death on the other side.
Every failed talks or broken deal simply makes any other deals or talks less likely and in the mean time millions of civilians on both sides of the border live in fear. Why negotiate when any brokered arrangement will not be fully honoured or will be ignored latter on.
So the violence continues, Hamas, the organisation bought to power by Israel, now blindly launching its fanatical attacks and in doing so justifying Israeli retaliation. Hamas exists today to fight against Israeli oppression of Gaza and is kept in power by the continuation of such things as the blockade. Hatred and fear feeding on hatred and fear. Hamas uses violence to demand the end to the blockade. Israel will not accept the demands of 'Terrorists' and so the blockade will not be lifted when to do so would look like a Hamas victory.
Round and round and round it goes, a self sustaining circle of violence that neither government seems willing to break. Each justifies itself by the existence of the other and so remains in power.
While men, woman and children hide in shelters or crouch in the rubble of their homes.
Just politics, nothing to see here, move along citizen.
There is a saying about having to lie in the bed you made. For the men and woman who are trying to survive here, for the children who are growing up in the ruins, playing in the streets and watching the bombs or rockets fall, they did not make this bed. Politics did.
But it’s not the politicians that have to live there.
Note there is just a hint of sarcasm in this article and it relates to a number of events in differing nations. No prizes to anyone who can link each point to its nation and real event.
Wandering through some random files and documents tucked away in the dark and seldom visited corners of my head and computer some old files came to light. They had to do with the second Star Wars Trilogy, that’s films I, II and III. Remember those, where they rewrote much of the rules of the verse as revealed in the first three films IV, V and VI.
Anyway there was something at the time about how the Empire wasn't the bad guys and I wrote several pieces about who was or was not the bad guys. Which got me thinking.
With both the next three films coming up and some uncomfortable comparisons between current events and Science Fiction I was thinking about how my ideas from back then were still relevant.
Number One: The Phantom Menace
We have the Grand Republic. A vast organisation of worlds and systems, thousands of them. A noble democracy of peoples representing everyone. An elected leadership. Caring for all and protecting all in equal measure. A great tradition of egalitarianism and freedom and democracy.
Sadly though it was beset by troubles.
Far distant from the heart of the Republic was the planet Naboo. An idyllic world, deeply traditional and conservative, a people who made their cities green and wonderful and who voted for their royalty. Thought in order to achieve this perfect world the other people who happened to share the planet, you know, the ones with a different appearance and way of speaking, yes them, they had been outcast and left to dwell in the swamps and under the deepest lakes.
Cannot have a bunch of uppity native types hanging around making our Idyll look untidy. Heck about the only thing missing was for the natives to say sir or master a lot when talking to the humans.
Anyway poor Naboo was threatened. Some nasty evil corporation wanted to impose capitalism on the peaceful tree loving locals and was prepared to use force to do it. Nasty evil capitalists trying to exploit resources in the name of profit, boooo.
So after deciding they couldn't win a fight against a multi system power like the Trade Federation (clue is in the name), those poor folk from Naboo asked for help and the Senate, that democratic and caring organisation, sent a pair of Jedi to negotiate a peaceful end to the troubles.
So Blair and Kerry, oops sorry, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan arrive only to find talking is useless. The invasion starts and those dirty capitalists invade the planet. So our heroes, well their heroes to be honest, flee to the capital to get help.
Here they found a very nice man who was the elected leader of everything, well he was elected by the senators in some fashion that may have involved voting and since they had been elected by their people that made the Chancellor the democratically elected leader of trillions of people. Of course we don’t know how many senators didn't bother to vote and we have no idea if Palpatine was head of a coalition, let’s face it we have no idea whatsoever if he even had a majority of votes.
Anyway he was very sad to hear about this evil capitalist group being nasty and so he called for an investigation. Unfortunately all that democracy was basically useless when faced with a deeply entrenched bureaucracy that tied everything up in red tape and box ticking and made it impossible to do anything. Or at least that’s what the politicians said and we can trust our politicians because we elected them, didn't we?
Oh dear, the system is preventing those caring politicians, the ones who are supposed to be in charge because we elected them to be in charge, from doing anything to help. It’s the bureaucracy you see, rules and such like, even elected politicians are helpless to do anything about that even though we, the electorate, vote the politicians into power to run everything, that damn bureaucracy just gets in the way.
So our heroes, that is their heroes, race back to poor green and wonderful Naboo to find the evil capitalists have taken over and there is no one to fight them. Well except those dumb ugly natives in the swamp, the ones who talk funny and are represented by the most hated character in all six films (even more hated than Manikin Skywalker the whiny wooden boy).
So those kind hearted natives came out and did all the fighting and the dying and rescued the world, driving off the evil capitalists and saving the day, in return they got a parade and a bunch of medals and if they are very lucky Joanna Lumley will campaign for them to get pensions and citizenships.
The capitalists were slapped on the wrist and told not to do it again.
Then since everything is all peace and roses and unicorns playing on the lawn it’s time to reduce the army and all live happily ever after.
Number Two: Attack of the Clones
Time has passed and all is not well. The unicorns have gone away, the sun has gone behind the clouds and a bunch of dirty troublesome separatists are causing trouble and disrupting the peace.
Those evil capitalists are back and they have lots of friends, not just other capitalists but whole other groups of natives. They want to leave the Grand Republic but that’s not allowed so they have been getting a bit fractious and aggressive about it. Harsh words have been used and there has even been some fighting. But what is even worse that all that is the fact that the Separatists seem to be led by, or at least have a figure who is, a dirty low down Apostate. Count Dooku, the man is a heretic AND a blasphemer who has abandoned the true faith. More on this terrible crime later on.
Any way things are looking bad. The poor Republic is helpless, they don’t have an army since they got rid of it based on predictions of universal peace and unicorns, plus it cost too much. Now those separatists want to, well, separate and everyone’s panicking.
Who are these separatists anyway, who do they think they are. Trying to make their own rules, make their own decisions. Don’t they know this is a democracy, they are not allowed to do that. They are supposed to do what they are told by the guy who got the most votes, err, the guy who mostly got the most votes, err, the guy who won the election.
Making their own laws, setting their own taxes, trying to run things to suit their own people’s needs and situation. What next, these separatists clearly have no idea what’s going on. So the Grand Republic, that long established and traditional democracy (that is mostly a bureaucracy) resorts to name calling and insults and economic threats and all such unpleasant behaviour, But that’s not enough.
So the Jedi are sent out to see what is going on, deal with the odd assassin (and she/it was fairly odd) and generally act all Jedi like.
Actually now is a good time to talk about the Jedi, such a fine upstanding group of people. Well educated, sent to the most exclusive school and educational facility. So wise and learned that they don’t even need to bother with anything like a judiciary system as they can go anywhere they like without bothering with warrants, listen to your thoughts without you knowing and even arrest you or kill you if they think you are a criminal or some dirty underclass smoker or unemployed scoundrel or enemy of the state). Now despite the propaganda about how anyone can work hard and rise to the dizzying heights of Jedidom sadly it’s a closed class of people, you have to be born into the right family to become a Jedi. But that’s not a problem, is it? Because the Jedi are wise and all knowing and working for our betterment, even if they are utterly unaccountable and unmonitored.
Anyway after much running around it is decided that to fight the faceless mass produced droids of the Separatist armies the Republic must raise its own army. The Separatist Droids are cheap, utterly expendable, no one cares how many die as long as they are serving some purpose.
What the Republic needs is some troops of its own, mass produced clones, faceless behind the white plastic armour they wear. Utterly expendable, no one cares how many die as long as they are serving some purpose.
Out they march, rank after rank, mass produced, faceless in white. The army of the Republic, they must be the good guys because they are wearing white, right?
So to beat those dirty capitalists the Republic has chosen to match them at their own game. Go Republic.
Oh one more little detail, hardly worth mentioning. The separatists have this figurehead fellow, and he apparently has friends. Bit of a problem that because they are not unbelievers, they are not heathens, they are SITH.
The SITH are evil, we know this because the Jedi tell us and we can trust the Jedi, can’t we? The SITH believe in absolutes and absolutes are evil so therefore anyone who believes in absolutes is EVIL and the SITH who believe in absolutes are EVIL. But isn't judging all SITH to be EVIL because they believe in absolutes also an absolute. Black and white sort of thing.
Oh I’m sorry friend Jedi, I had no idea how confused I was. Yes thank you for helping me to see things more clearly with your powers by entering my mind and rearranging my thoughts. I understand now, only the SITH are EVIL because they force people to do things against their will and impose absolutes on everyone. Yes all SITH are EVIL. Thanks for clearing that up friend Jedi, all hail the wonderful Jedi.
So the Separatists are led by someone who is not just Religious, but he is the wrong religion. He is a member of a religion that is utterly the opposite of the Jedi and so must be EVIL. Therefore this is not just a war against a bunch of dirty capitalists, not just a war against a bunch of ungrateful separatists who want out from under a failed system that has long since ceased to be democratic or accountable and is now nothing more that a bureaucratic noose to strangle them. This is a righteous CRUSADE against the EVIL religion. Death to the SITH.
So it all ends with super weapons and a bit of cybernetic stuff, oh and some sort of wedding that was secret because it involved a Jedi and they being so pure and noble are forbidden to marry or something like that. So the whiny wooden boy has grown up to become a whiny wooden young man and has now sneaked off in defiance of the religious vows of his order and gotten married. Still given the alternatives a consenting relationship with a woman is probably a good thing, what with him being a cath....Jedi and all.
To summarise. Enemies everywhere, the EVIL SITH are among us, plotting to overthrow the noble democratic Republic and leave us all at the mercy of the SITH, who are EVIL. Only the faceless legions of mass produced and expendable clone troopers and the mind reading judge/jury/executioners born into the Jedi families stand between us and chaos.
Number Thee: Revenge Of The Sith
Things are not looking good. War is everywhere, hundreds of planets are being fought over. The faceless masses of the separatists are being forced back by the faceless masses of clones and the Republic is closing in on the leaders of the Separatist movement.
After a military attack in space against the Republic that EVIL SITH Count Dooku was defeated, captured and, erm, killed while trying to escape. That leaves just General Grievous insult to our intelligence and he is hunted far and wide.
But back home there are problems developing.
After the heroic rescue of the mostly elected head of the Republic by Blair and Kerry, oops no, I mean Obi-Wan and whiny wooden man, the chancellor assigns whiny wooden man as his representative to the Jedi council.
Something that the council itself was not happy with, what with Anakin having come to the order far too old to be subject to the traditional indoctrination as a child and having all sorts of doubts about his resolve. Let’s face it Anakin was thinking for himself and asking question and that will never do when you are a priest in the Jedi.
So the Jedi council shunned him and set his friend to spy in him, because after all Anakin wasn't a proper Jedi. He was friends with that mostly democratically elected leader of the government, doubted the righteousness of the Jedi cause and actually believed in democracy rather than toeing the line and maintaining the Theocracy he was a member of.
Anyway wooden man is about to become a dad, all excited and such like apart from the whole forbidden by his religion bit. But he’s worried about his children and wife, nightmares about bad things happening to them. Perfectly human you would think, but he can’t talk to his fellow Jedi because it’s against the rules of the church and so he has to keep it secret.
Instead he talks to his friend the chancellor who during the conversation reveals something difficult for Anakin to handle. His friend is expressing religious freedom by following a religion not Jedi. In fact he is SITH, and the SITH are EVIL because the Jedi say they are evil so it must be true.
Now this so upsets poor whiny wooden man that he goes to the Jedi and tells them what he has just learnt. Oh dear, this will not do. The mostly democratically elected leader of the Republic dares to disobey the Jedi, he follows the banned religion, he is EVIL. So the Jedi, that hereditary order of thought police who maintain control and make sure the Republic functions as they think it should gather some handpicked assassins and head out to kill the mostly democratically elected chancellor.
That whole absolute black and white thing again, Jedi are good, SITH are EVIL so the SITH must die. Mace Windu, in the name of the Senate and the Republic, tries to overthrow the chancellor but to save time (and because he is a member of the hereditary class of leaders who don’t bother with such details) he skips the whole asking the senate if they want to have their mostly elected leader arrested and just goes off to do it.
The chancellor points out that this is treason but those Jedi just go for it anyway, democracy being such a quaint old fashioned idea to the hereditary elite from the right school.
But this doesn't go so well and the assassins are killed, all but the last. Mace Windu, arch Assassin and chief thug of the Jedi order has defeated the chancellor and has him helpless on the ground. In comes Anakin just in time to hear Mace giving his little speech about the oppression of the SITH and after a bit of a fight we hear Mace saying how he is going to end this once and for all. Despite Anakins plea that he be given a trial Mace decides to carry out his orders and kill the mostly elected chancellor.
After yet more hand severing (which happens a lot in Star wars, maybe the makers of cybernetic hands have some dirty capitalist influence behind the scenes) the chancellor is safe and Mace is taking the scenic route down.
The next step is to deal with the Jedi, after all they are an elitist hereditary theocracy and inherently anti democratic. So in go the faceless, mass produced clones for a bit of genocide (is Jedicide a word?). What was once good and pure had become tainted and the enemy of democracy and so was overthrown.
The chancellor went before the senate and declared the formation of a new Empire to control the stars and bring peace. The senators who had mostly been elected in some fashion stood and cheered, they were still sitting in their comfortable chairs and they supported the new Emperor, the bureaucracy was still there, still running things behind the scenes.
Nothing had changed all that much to be honest, apart from one bunch of hereditary elite types who were religious extremists had been replaced by another bunch of hereditary elitist types who get themselves elected some way or another and who mostly weren't religious extremists.
The faceless mass produced clone troopers were slowly replaced with faceless soldiers who had families and loved ones, but that wouldn't stop the terrorist and religious extremists who would rise up in a few years to overthrown the Empire and replace it yet again with a Republic. No real changes apart from the religion that was in charge to be honest, the Republic was Jedi, the Empire was SITH. Both sham democracies who used deception and a police state to maintain power. Both supported terrorists to weaken the other.
If you want to know more about the neurodiverse, Google is handy.
I posted my best wishes to her and she replied with an interesting comment. She said “I often think that if it wasn't for my LRP friends, who let me discover my potential, I'd still be going from one dead-end job to another. Probably never realising I could do more”.
When she says LRP she means Live Role Players. It’s just like playing round a table but you do it in the woods instead. OK that didn't sound right, Google it if you don’t know what it is.
It’s called Live Action Role Playing these days, LARP. Back in my day it was LRP, which was called LURP because its easier to say than Ele Arr Pee, now days it’s called LARP because people don’t seem to like going out Lurping.
What she means is that some years ago when she was a mere child she meet a bunch of oddballs who liked running around in costume and hitting each other. She was welcomed and jumped in with both feet and like many since then has found friendship and acceptance among the RPGamers.
The people that Monique talks about have interesting and unusual ways of looking at life, just like many gamers. Both groups of people tend to be marginalised though these days gamers are seen as odd rather than the devil worshippers of earlier times. But as Monique says, the neurodiverse are not understood even today. They are different and all too often different is not acceptable.
What she does is try to bring understanding of people who are different to those who do not understand difference.
But I was thinking that there are many similarities between what Monique is talking about and what co-operative gamers do, that is bring together diverse groups of people and make teams out of them.
I’m talking here of co-operative gamers, role players and team gamers. Not the competitive Muppets who will kill each other to increase their own score, like the clowns who were insulting me today in World of Tanks because my game stats are low. Then after I killed four of them they were saying kills didn’t matter and I was still crap. Competitive gamers, giving other gamers a bad name since the very first game was invented.
No I mean gamers who will work together to overcome any difficult in the game and in the real world.
It doesn’t matter if one player cannot write their own character sheet, or someone who could barely roll their own dice, the rest of the group join in and help. It doesn’t matter that the half orc barbarian who can bench press half a ton is being played by the weakest or smallest person in the room.
Because what is needed is imagination, a willingness to become part of the team, to contribute whatever they can, to support everyone else and to work together to kill that damn dragon at the back of the dungeon.
I don’t often get to hire my own staff. Oddly I tend to choose people who are somewhat like me and managers often want people who are not like me because they don’t want any more trouble. But when I am I hiring given roughly equal candidates a cooperative gamer will most likely be picked.
Why? Because I value creativity and imagination and the ability to think and puzzle solve and work with a team to overcome adversity. I don’t look to hire cubicle drones because I don’t want mindless button pushers. I want people who can sit around a table and working out how to complete an adventure or sit round a table and plan how to implement a business change.
Rather than embarrass people I sometimes keep a few gaming books on a shelf above my desk, those who know what they are can talk and those who are not don’t have to sit there trying to come up with an answer because I asked them what games they play.
Me. So what hobbies do you have?
Me. Do you play for a team then?
Them. No mate, I’m a Liverpool/Arsenal/Wombles fan.
Me. So what hobbies do you have?
Them. I love football, mate, I just said.
Me. Yes but are there any hobbies that you do.
Them. I love football.
Aside from the fact that anyone who calls me ‘Mate’ in an interview is going be very unlikely to get the job watching a bunch of overpaid play acting prima donnas chase a ball around a field and pretend injury from time to time is nothing to boast about.
The important point is to bring together people, to support the strengths and to cover the weaknesses, to make the whole more than just the sum of its parts. This requires people who are a diverse bunch in the first place. If your entire team thinks the same way then all you are going to get are the same questions and the same answers. On the other hand if your team of five people has eight different ways of defending that village from an undead attack then they are likely to have eight different ways of solving that work problem.
As the Vulcans say, Infinite Diversity brings Infinite Combination and you would be hard pushed to find a more diverse bunch than Gamers or the Neurodiverse.
So if you are looking to hire someone with imagination, a team player, full of ideas, off the shelf thinking and who can bring some diversity to your staff. Don’t go for that one that watches football.
I will point out at this time that some of what I see and say seem paranoid and I am, from time to time, accused of just that. So take what I am writing here with a pinch of salt though I will include my thinking to support my theory.
I was answering a post on Facebook about events today and I paused and thought about things.
Something I do is see patterns of possibilities and probabilities. I use logical or intuitive thinking to create chains of events in my mind. I have been seeing things forming for the last few days but an off the cuff comment I was typing today created an entire pattern of events in my thoughts.
Distraction and confusion.
Three major events are happening. One of which is very damaging to not only the government but also to the political class at large. One is a blatant move to attract the female vote for the next election. One is the next step (and a big one) in the steady erosion of freedom and democracy in this country.
Each event is big, each began to attract massive attention but each has been eclipsed by the next.
Distraction and confusion.
Everyone is so focused on Butler Sloss and how unsuitable she was that they have forgotten about the enquiry that she was supposed to head. She was reported to be the ideal choice and yet simple and quick investigation has revealed multiple problems and conflicts of interest. Anyone in a position to know her background would quickly have found that she was unsuitable and yet she was picked anyway.
So she was placed in the position where her ability to head the investigation was untenable. She resigned.
Media and public concern over how unsuitable she was and what a bad choice she was will create pressure that will mean that any candidate for the role will now require extensive checking which will cause significant delays.
It will be months before this is sorted out, months before the investigation can start and months of time to deal with, correct or edit any evidence that points to people too powerful to be identified.
Picking her was either an example of political incompetence and an unexpected problem or the result of careful thought and planning.
Distraction and confusion.
Last week an announcement was made of an ‘Emergency Law, the Data Retention law. This was being rushed through before the close of Parliament for the summer. It was bought up on Friday and many MPs stood up to support it without ever having read it since it was not released until after the Friday session in which it was announced.
I have seen numerous reports that this is a repeat of the snoopers charter, less powerful in some areas but with a wider and deeper reach in others. The same legislation that was so rigorously opposed before by many including the Lib Dems is now being blindly supported by them.
This law is supposedly based on a ruling of the ECHR that was made three months ago but it is being rushed through now, is this yet another example of political and Whitehall incompetence or a deliberate effort to deny people the time to read and consider the law before it is rammed through with all party support.
Given that much of what it covers (much but not all) is currently being done this law is not so much an expansion of the police state but rather it is legal justification of the loss of freedom and democracy that has been steadily happening over the years.
This law ‘Allows’ the things that are already happening or makes more people affected by including companies and communications networks outside of the UK. Also by being Law it removes a lot of the need for oversight so the government is no longer subject to demands to investigate if they can claim that any monitoring is being done in compliance with the law. The fact that they are changing the law to justify the spying is the problem.
A huge thing, front page news. Of vital importance to our Freedom and Democracy. Legislation to justify Stasi level spying and intrusion in our digital lives and communications, rushed through to deny us the time to carefully examine it.
But it has been total eclipsed by other Huge Media Events. The debate is today but all that anyone is talking about is Butler Sloss or the Reshuffle.
Coincidence or it is a massive and carefully planned distraction?
The reshuffle. A bloodbath of the middle aged male cabinet ministers done in the last few days of parliament. A few teasers over the weekend, an announcement promised for Monday but then delayed until Tuesday.
Many significant and powerful ministers moving, resigning or being given the chop. Old men out, young women in. A sweeping change. The teachers will be happy to see the back of Gove but then teachers are more powerful than the unemployed or disabled. A teachers strike is loud and noticed, the disabled or unemployed cannot strike and few would pay attention. So IDS is still squatting there spreading suffering.
But apart from that it is huge, very newsworthy. Front page stuff. It has replaced everything else that is happening today, none of the media are talking about that other minor event happening today, some boring debate in parliament about some new law being rushed through.
Forget that, parliament is boring, this reshuffle is big, high profile, go with the reshuffle, forget the D.R.I.P.
Coincidence or it is a massive and carefully planned distraction?
Butler Sloss, at exactly the same time as the cabinet reshuffle which is also distracting the media and public attention from the D.R.I.P. vote which is today .
It could be a co-incidence that all three major events are happening at the same time, it could be just incompetence that Butler Sloss was picked for that role and then revealed to be unsuitable at the same time that DRIP is being forced through and at the same time that the bloodiest cabinet reshuffle in decades is happening. It could be just coincidence.
I feel this is deliberate. I feel No 10 is being advised by someone both extremely smart and very very capable, a true master of manipulation and control.
This whole situation looks to be stage managed brilliantly to distract from the loss of freedom and democracy represented by the police state monitoring bill that is being rushed through with its nonexistent 'Emergency' and to delay and confuse an investigation into the abuse of children by politicians.
I am impressed by the skill and intelligence at work here. A truly masterful example of media manipulation and social control.
For those of you paying attention over the last few days there has been something of a philosophical and legal debate going on. This bubbles to the surface every so often but normally it is ignored. This weekend just gone however we have a former Archbishop and a current Archbishop taking different sides and this pushed the debate back into the news.
The debate, the argument and the war or words is over the most recent attempt to change the Law on assisted dying. Lord Falconer has a Bill to legalise assisted dying, this will remove the treat of arrest and imprisonment that hangs over the head of any Medical person or relative who aids someone to end their life.
Yes, it’s not illegal to commit suicide, well not anymore. But it is illegal to help someone else do so.
Let’s start by looking at history:
From the 1200s or so it became a crime under common law to kill yourself, this came from the Catholic Church attitude that a Suicide burned in hell. Someone who was a "Felo de se", a felony to himself, was denied Christian burial and had his or her body dumped in the countryside or buried at a crossroads. Often the crime was considered so significant that the dead persons family were also punished. Christianity in action, god gave you life so it was a sin and a crime to try to end that life.
This attitude reached the point where in Victorian and post Victorian times someone who tried but failed to commit suicide was examined. Those considered to be lacking in strength of character and the mental capacity were sent to an asylum. Those considered to be of sound mind were charged under the law.
As late as 1960 this was still happening. In 1956 for example, 5387 officially recorded cases of failed suicide attempts. 613 or those were prosecuted and 33 went to prison (figures from the Times newspaper). Having reached the point where the pain and suffering of their lives left them with suicide being a viable choice and they get sent to prison.
In 1961 we had The Suicide Act 1961. This law was introduced in July of that year and de-criminalised attempted suicide. So if you tried and failed to kill yourself it was no longer a crime. But as the law changed to allow people to end their own suffering it also defined the crime of helping someone else end a person’s suffering.
In fact under section 2 of the 1951 law it is an offence to assist or encourage in an attempted suicide of another with a maximum of 14 years in prison. Yes I did just say encourage, if someone says they are considering suicide and you agree with them or encourage them in any way even if you do not help you just became a criminal under the law.
Providing the means to commit suicide, or actively helping someone to end their lives is either manslaughter or murder depending on the situation and the attitude of the CPS that morning which is why we hear of family members of people who have been helped to travel to Dignitas in Switzerland facing legal charges.
In 2010 an amendment was added which created a requirement for prosecutors to ‘prove’ that support or encouragement was deliberately for the intent of a suicide attempt. So the family member who drove the spouse to the Dignitas clinic was proved to have been guilty by the fact that they knew what the clinic was and yet helped a suffering spouse or family member go there.
The situation gets even more complicated when you add in the definitions of Euthanasia “the act of deliberately ending a person's life to relieve suffering”.
This breaks down into:
Active Euthanasia. Where someone through deliberate action causes a death
Passive Euthanasia. Where death is caused by withholding action required to sustain life.
Voluntary Euthanasia. Where a person has made the choice to die.
Involuntary Euthanasia. Where a person is killed when they do not wish to die.
Non-voluntary Euthanasia. Where a person cannot give consent at the time but the decision is made by family or friends based on previously expressed intent or by such things as do not resuscitate wills.
So where are we now. The reasons for deciding to end one’s life are many and varied. Pain and suffering, terminal medical condition, despair, the seeming lack of worth in living on, debt and poverty. Fear or anger. The list goes on and on.
Many who reach the point in their lives where death becomes a viable option are able to take the last step themselves, to buy the pills or to walk to that bridge. They are able to take the last step themselves.
Where the law causes problems if for the many people who seek to end their lives but are not able to do so. There have been several high profile people with some form of ‘Locked In’ condition who are unable to end their own lives but face the prospect that loving families who would help them end the suffering would face prison for doing so.
Those who have been in the media facing criminal charges and prosecution for helping a family member fly to Switzerland demonstrate very clearly the situation faced by many who wish to die but who cannot risk their families and so continue to live on in whatever painful and undignified shred of live they still have.
Many on the ‘Anti’ side talk of the risk of state euthanasia, or of increasing the rate of people committing suicide because of less important reasons. We hear of the sanctity of life. We hear that medicine is constantly improving and something terminal today may not be tomorrow. We hear that there is a moral duty to protect and preserve all life. We hear that if it becomes legal then ‘inconvenient’ elderly or disabled people will be talked into suicide to spare the expense of a care home or medical treatment. They talk of the value of life.
But week after week we hear of inconvenient elderly people left to die in hospitals. We hear of people who have terminal conditions denied life saving or life extending medicine on the basis of cost. Is this not Euthanasia?
There are days when someone thinks of ending it all. When they sum up what their lives are and the negatives so outweigh the positives that death becomes an option. Some people stand on a tall bridge or a cliff and look down at that long long drop and decide if they have more reasons to live than they have reasons to end it all. Some stand on the shore and look out onto the endless water and imagine what it will be like to sink into the peaceful depths. Some pick up a bottle of pills and think about how easy it would be to take them all and go to sleep.
Some decide to end it all, many do not and instead turn around and go back to living a life that may get better or worse but is still worth living for a while longer.
Where the arguments come in are those people who cannot climb that cliff or stand at the rail of the bridge, those who cannot buy that bottle of pills for themselves and do not want to risk having a friend or family member doing the shopping if the slightest risk exists that the state could prove that the person doing the shopping knew the pills would be used for a suicide attempt.
Being me I look at this whole situation and see things a little differently.
This is not about compassion or suffering, this is not about the value of a life. While it may retain the trappings of Church control over secular law it is not about that either. This is not about concerns over increased suicide rates as poverty becomes more and more widespread. If the government were concerned about people dying as a result of its policies causing poverty ATOS would have been stopped long ago.
At the heart of this matter is a question
Who owns your life? Who has the right to end that life?
Is it the person or is it the state? Do we have the liberty to decide our own fate or must that be mandated by society and the state. They cannot stop someone killing themselves but they can take control of anyone incapable of doing the same. They can threaten friends or family to prevent people trying to kill themselves. Much as the church mandated the punishment of the family of someone who was "Felo de se", so now does the state punish the family for what is a final act of love. The law makes it plain that your life is ‘owned’ by the state. If you end your own life you are beyond punishment but if you need help, then that fact makes your life the property of the state and destruction of that life becomes a crime.
To be elderly, to be senile, to be disabled, to be in any condition where you cannot maintain yourself, then you are the property of the state. You are no longer in command of your own life and therefore are not allowed to ask for help to end it.
That is the argument that I see and that is why I think this will fail to pass. The state is clawing more and more power over our lives every day, I cannot see them letting us gain some measure of control over how we end our lives.
So who does own your life and who had the right to end it?
Slowly but surely our world is catching up to the fact that we are now in the twenty first century, the ‘Post Industrial’ or ‘Information Age’. Some areas of our lives went digital at the turn of the century, others over the last decade and some are still trying to work out what is going to happen.
One of these battles is to be seen in the Fighting between Amazon and major Publishers. That’s not the whole story, just the most obvious part. In actuality what is happening is a war for control of the written word in our society. Who controls the words, who sells them and how are they bought.
I love physical books, old books, proper hardbacks that I can rest on my lap in the evening as I lean back in a chair with a good drink. The touch and smell of books are a very real part of the process of reading, tactile and olfactory to combine with the visual words on the page. But them I’m from an older generation, I grew up long before Ebooks and PCs. The first computer I worked on was delivered by crane (over two tons), had a bootstrap tape to start it and used punched paper cards for data input.
But I also love Ebooks for reading on the go, for the office or the bus, for the ability to take a hundred books with me anywhere and just pick one to start. No more agonising over which three books to take on holiday when I was nothing but a lad and had no room in my suitcase.
So I read from both sides of the market and by both dead tree books and Ebooks, so in a way I straddle the middle of the war over words.
Last century, all of fourteen years ago, a book was something printed in a mass run by a printing house or publisher. You printed as many as your thought you needed and stored the ones that didn’t sell right away. When you ran out you waited till there was enough demand before committing to the expense of another print run, and they were expensive. Much of the cost was setting up so small runs were not that much cheaper, the actual cost of the paper was only a small part of each book.
Now this was basically controlled by the main publishers. They controlled who had books printed and they decided who would languish in obscurity never to be published. If the publisher thought you would sell then you got printed, unless you had friends in the right places those odd books that would be bought by only a few hundred people, not worth the money.
Authors struggled to be printed. If they made it to big name status they were set, sell that first million books or make the new York best seller list and publishers would line up to print you. Beatrix Potter, story about a rabbit, not interest young lady, get back in the kitchen. She had to publish ‘The tale of Peter Rabbit’ privately before anyone would pay attention.
Then technology began to rear its head and things started to change, not at the publish end and not at the selling end but at the writing end. People could buy a PC or the other thing that acts like a PC but is made by Apple, then they could write and edit and rewrite as data files. People could read those data files, they could be shared and emailed and they cost a few pence of electricity to send around the world.
Slowly but surely words and books had joined the information age, they had reached the digital revolution and things would never be the same again.
Ebooks had arrived and with them a whole new market began to be created. Ebook readers were created to meet demand, tablets and smart phones have software to allow them to function as books. A reader could have an entire library in their pockets.
Ebooks did not need to be printed, they were data files, you copied them. Sell ten, make ten copies, sell ten thousand, make ten thousand copies. An author could bypass the whole publisher tyranny and go it alone. A writer would need someone to do layout and editing if they couldn’t do that themselves but it’s the information age, such services are available online
So Amazon spotted a new market and lumbered over. Ebooks took up no warehouse space and cost no postage, no printing costs and all it took was a sophisticated online sales system which they already had.
So book shops came under threat, publishers came under threat. The old, traditional, printed book was looking out of date and obsolete. Bets were taken on how long till Ebooks replaced Tree Books completely.
Old fashioned book shops began to close or diversify, publishing houses had to adapt or go under. Things were changing and the publishers and the sellers were struggling to keep up.
Another new technology, ‘Print on Demand’ also arrived and further undermined the publishers and printers because the set up cost was gone. Want a single copy of a book, not a problem now.
Which brings us to the current fight. The War for Words.
The traditional power base of the publishers has cracked badly and is looking very wobbly. Amazon, among others, can smell blood in the water and are now circling and biting off chunks of the business whenever they can.
As of the end of 2011 as many Ebooks were sold as physical books. Since then it is slightly more though the numbers are fairly stable now. This means that Amazon and a handful of other online companies have dashed in and grabbed half the entire market from the old established publishers.
The publishers are fighting back by trying to handle Ebooks themselves but they are starting from scratch while the online companies already had the digital infrastructure. Also Amazon has the marketing power to drown any single publishing house when it comes to advertising. A new book, posters, a radio or TV campaign, very very expensive. Amazon, we just put it at the top of the search profile for that category.
So Amazon basically won the Ebook war and what we see if fighting over the scraps. But the war for the printed word is still being fought and this is what we see.
People still buy printed books, almost half of all books sold are Tree Books after all, so this is still a billion dollar market. But it’s an expensive way to do business. Big print runs are still done by big printers and that costs money. Publishers want profit, advertising is expensive, so many costs, oh and the poor old writer wants a few pence for each book as well.
So we see Amazon basically trying to bully the old fashioned publishers by not selling their books and the publishers trying to bully Amazon by selling them elsewhere.
Except that there are very few elsewhere’s’ now that are not also under threat. The traditional printers and publishers are struggling to change a century of doing things one way and are now finding they cannot compete. When Amazon first arrived the old book sellers rushed to take advantage of the new (at the time) business model, it made more sales, cost less money and was easier. Now they are finding they have sold their business to Amazon and they are losing control.
So they are fighting over the way of printing and selling the printed word, old way against new way. The publishers are trying to compete but finding they are too small to do so.
In reality as they find they cannot compete with the new market conditions they will fall by the wayside unless they change what they do and how they do it.
Ebooks and print on demand has led to the rise of independent publishing and self publishing. Anyone who thinks they can write can produce an Ebook or print off fifty copies. The markets are flooded with tens of thousands of new authors, some very good, some truly appalling, most in the middle.
In the old days a publishing house would act as arbiter of writing, they decided who was good enough to print and then they would sell those books. They had the control and all but a handful of the biggest names were enslaved by the system.
Now the whole thing has been broken apart and everyone is fighting over the fragments, what the new shape of book selling is cannot yet be seen but it is likely to be a mix of the old and the new and perhaps something else entirely
New writers are growing up within the Amazon world and would not dream of going to an old publisher, others value the benefits of a publisher over Amazons blatant money grabbing and profit driven focus.
Amazon is doing what it does best, selling stuff and making profit by whatever means. The publishing houses want to retain control of publishing, they need to persuade writers that their services are worth getting paid less. Amazon offers the mass market, Publishers offer quality and revision and editing and a host of experience. Some writers I know swear by their publishers as being of great help though these seem to be smaller companies not the big ones. Others swear Amazon is the way to go.
Huge numbers of people are finding that they can sell themselves through Amazon without all the hassle, others want advice and help and the chance to become the next ‘Shades of Grey’.
There is no good or bad here, just a bunch of companies fighting to control a market that has changed beyond all recognition.
For a writer, the trick is to sell books and make money in a market that is now flooded by small names and independents and surrounded by large sharks that will happily turn them into a snack on the way past. The vast majority of writers make little or no money, writing is a love, they do it because they want to or as a hobby or are they are just driven by madness (ahem).
A Publishing house can make a little name into a big name with all that such status entails. Amazon will sell small names every day of the week but it’s much harder to be noticed when the world is awash with small names selling books.
Amazon, the Publishers, the writers. Everyone is trying to work out what the new market is and how to work it. Things are not yet settled and may well change dramatically again in the future. The old giants are fighting the new giant and the small names are left to scurry round looking for safety and security.
The information age has torn up the old, established way of selling words and the war is still being fought over what the new way will be. Adapt or die, thrive in the new markets or cling to the old ways, unless you are a big name author these are interesting times and there is a reason why the Chinese curse people to ‘Live in Interesting Times’
In the end the very nature of the printed word has changed. It started life as a bible that was so slow to produce that only the richest of lords or churches could afford it. Technology made it cheaper and cheaper till buying a paperback at the airport to read on the flight became the norm.
Now we have Ebooks that are even cheaper. For less than the price of your pretentious Starbucks creation and a subway you can buy several Ebooks.
Ebooks can be bought, the first chapter read and then they can be discarded because people don’t like them. Ebooks have become mass market in a way that not even paperbacks could manage.
They are an impulse buy now which given they represent half of all book purchases tells us a lot about the changing reading habits of our society.
The very nature of books has changed and is changing. The Market place for books has changed and is changing. The information age has completely changed the shape of the printed word and we are all living through the changes. Even what it is to be an author has changed.
Where will it end, I don’t know. But until then we find ourselves in Interesting Times.