Thoughts of a fly on the bar wall

It is 50 years since I started visiting bars, since then I have sat in more bars, in more places than I want to remember. I have worked behind, cooked in, served in, and managed pubs. I have conversed and argued with painters, Pakis (Ladies and Gentleman from Pakistan if you must), parasites, Parisians, parliamentarians, peers of the realm , perverts, players, pleaders, plebs, plumbers, Poles, poofters, prime ministers and prostitutes. I have written and broadcast about far cities, elegant restaurants, bordellos and mismanaged disasters.
I have heard absolute rubbish, absurd claims, downright duplicity as well as much good sense and enormous doses of reality.
Put it all these conversations together with my last few years thinking, reading and writing about the way we live, about our governance, our mistakes and our future and you get to this blog.

Sam Worthington

Monday, 12 January 2015

Ask Chralie - we cannot be fair to anarchist

The atrocities in Paris have once again put Islam and Islamic immigration onto the front pages. There is barely a media outlet in the world that has not condemned the attacks and the massive demonstration in Paris articulated the free world’s outrage. Inevitable there are splits among political leaders and opinion formers over exactly what these attacks mean and what they will change.
Western politicians are terrified of upsetting the large number of Muslims who have been allowed to move to their countries. So they have been stressing that the vast majority of Muslims are peace loving good guys. The liberal democratic intelligentsia has been busy pointing out that Charlie Hebdo went out of its way to insult Mohammad and thus, by implication, was partly responsible.
Others – notable Nigel Farage of UKIP – has blamed the imposition of multi culturalism on our societies. This he says has largely failed so we now have a fifth column who were born into countries – and are citizens of that country – but hate the country. That statement has been condemned by some as politicking although others, including Norman Tebbit a respected older UK politician, have said he is fundamentally correct.
There has been much talk about police intelligence and keeping a track of known Muslim sympathisers. I fear talk is as ever cheap – monitoring thousands of potential terrorist is no easy matter. As one commentator pointed out if 90% of Muslims are safe, and definitely not terrorists, that suggest that 10% are the opposite. That is a massive number when you consider in the UK there are 3  million, France well over 5 million and in Germany about 2 million. Even if the percentage is reduced to a more realistic 1% then that means the UK has to monitor 30,000, in France it is 50,000 and Germany 20,000. Simple monitoring communications is not enough – thanks to the Edward Snowdon’s of this world people are well aware of the realities of electronic surveillance. To effectively monitor the numbers that could realistically be tending towards Islamic extremism is well-nigh impossible; unless intelligence services are going to employ hundreds of thousands.
There is one other point worth making – immigrants, and most Muslims are immigrants, come to a country to better themselves – they come for paid jobs. Europe is in the midst of an economic crises largely bought about by the strictures of the Euro and the aspiration of the those who want to create a single European state. The quickest way to get more recruits for Islamic extremism is to have thousands of disenfranchised young men kicking their heels and unable to work.
Personally I believe there are number of issues. The failure of certain immigrant groups to assimilate into their new country has created the disenfranchised youths that become terrorists. They find themselves growing up in strange community that has the culture of the old country but surrounded by the values of the new. They are neither fish nor fowl. They become easy recruits for radicals who offer a meaning to life.
The host countries, of the immigrants, have aided and abetted this situation by allowing immigrants to live in ghettos and shape their lives to their old ways. Education is the key to integrating the next generation into the ways of the new country. Secular is one things but ducking the teaching of the basic planks of our western society is another. Western society is based on Christianity – we do much of what we do in life because we are Christians. The biggest holidays are Christmas and Easter, the biggest events christenings, marriages and funerals. We take Sunday off because it is the day of rest – according to our religion. Our monarchs are crowned in a church and presidents sworn in using a bible. It is one thing to be polite and pleasant to immigrants; it is another to change our whole country to suit them. But we are not changing the country we are playing at the edges by creating a multi-ethnic society that nobody really wants and nobody really understands.
There have been many appeals not to regard all Muslims as terrorists - we must, we are told, still be nice to Muslims. I am not going to be nasty to Muslims per se – why should I be? But to an extent the Muslim communities are responsible. They often know who is likely to travel to fight for ISIS, or who is radically anti our society. So they know who the potential bad guys are but, like many communities, they think it is none of their business. It is time the Muslim communities woke up to the fact that if they do not police their own – the back lash will affect them.
Of course one of the perceived objectives of people like Al Qaeda is to create a division in society – the extremists are well aware that Europeans now have so many Muslims living in their countries that an internal Muslim versus the rest feud could quickly become a civil war that would destroy our societies and lifestyle. Furthermore with the demands of the modern welfare states; providing the counter terrorism facilities truly required will strain the already broken budgets. The people – the voters – have been bribed by free health, social welfare and pensions: those privileges now provided; cannot be removed – even to fight terrorists.
The issue is what to do – what will work, what is legal and last, but by no means least, what can the Europeans afford?
In the UK I believe the first priority is to start is by being clear who we are – we are a secular Christian nation with Christian traditions. If people really do not want to live in our society then they can go – there are countries where Shia law is the norm. Our schools should encourage pupils to believe in the United Kingdom and be proud of our long and distinguished history. As a country we have done much more good than bad. Jingoism is not all bad as it draws a nation together. We need our immigrant communities to be first and foremost British not Bangladeshi, Indian, or Pakistani. We need them to speak English not Urdu, Hindi, Arabic  or any other language – all children at a UK school should be taught in, and speak, English.
We should not accept any more Muslim immigrants unless they come with a work permit and a job, speak good English and agree to be British. New American citizens have to be sworn in and agree to abide by the constitution. In Thailand to get Thai citizenship a new citizen must sing the National anthem and the Kings song - as far as I can see in the UK all they have to do is know the way to the dole office!
We cannot practically monitor all those that we have reason to believe are potential extremists and or terrorist. So we need to find a way of dealing with them. We cannot simple wait until they do something bad and then put them in jail – usually for year or two after which they are back on the streets. We cannot put them in jail on suspicion they may do something bad. If this was a real war we would either direct them to live in a set area, or intern them. Without going into a long winded argument about legality – tagging is a modern system that allows basic freedom. The argument about the electronic monitoring of our mail is that if there is nothing to hide: why fear it. If somebody has been convicted of an offence that relates to terrorism or extremism why not insist they then wear an electronic tag (for ever)? I would go further and suggest all who have been connected to persons so connected should be tagged – especially those who we know have been to fight for ISIS or are suspected of going to a training camp.
We keep getting told we are not at war – well it is not a war as many of us think of war. It has no formal front and no readily identifiable entity as the enemy. ISIS is little more than a collective of anarchists – terrorists are a mass of semi connected amoebas that are hard to identify within society.
Trying to be fair to all will just as quickly destroy our essential liberties as being unfair to a few who, on the face of it, are trying destroy our whole system. It is not a fair world – ask the families of the people killed in Paris by these recent incidents. So let us stop pretending it is. We are never going to out fair anarchists.


Monday, 15 December 2014

Defining torture.

The report on the CIA enhanced interrogation techniques has evoked a storm of mainly negative comments. Some of the most unlikely people have suggested the CIA were torture and this criminal: among them Russia and China – unbelievable to many cold war warriors who know all about Russian interrogation. I remember talking to Greville Wynne - who was held in Lubyanka prison for a number of months  – I suspect he would have concluded what the CIA did was mild!
The other day I was talking to an ex British officer who was in the SAS for a while and his conclusion was that most of the interrogation were not far off normal. And needless to say when compared to medieval interrogation practices they were positively mild. The inquisitors of the Holy Roman Empire did not hold back when it came to getting people to confess their sins – but of course they were religious fanatics.
The trouble with modern liberal democrats is they somehow believe in the best of people. I thought communism had laid that myth to rest but modern politically correctness rules western politics. Their creed is ‘thou shalt not do nasty things to anybody and if you are nice to them they will be nice to you.’ They believe if you give people free health and free welfare only the odd very bad few will abuse the system. The same goes for terrorists – respect their human rights and they will respect yours!
I was reading this article in the UK Telegraph in which a respected former officer bemoans the new rules regarding interrogation stating “we have lost our operational capability to do tactical questioning. That in itself brings risks to the lives of the people we deploy.”
I fully understand the conundrum – if we allow advanced interrogation techniques for terrorists suspects how long before driving too fast will imply the suspect has something to hide – and could therefore be a terrorist! And the same thing applies to monitoring electronic traffic and other surveillance. The gravity of an offence changes – when I was young we were all drunk drivers and even if a person was caught most of the police, and the magistrates, had the view ‘there but for the grace of God go I,” and the offender was treated accordingly. Now it is a heinous crime.
But what exactly do you do when confronted with a man who you believe has vital information. Stephen Leather raised this challenge in his book Cold Kill – in that case the intelligence services knew that there was an attack coming, they knew it was imminent and they knew who was behind it – so how far should they go when questioning the man who had set the attack up? Some would argue that given those circumstances all options should be on the table – certainly questioning somebody with a lawyer present and two hour breaks would seem to be a criminal dereliction of duty – but that is what our law now demands.
There is a lot of talk about taking the moral high ground – I personally am not convinced that makes a blind bit of difference. I understand hearts and minds – yes we need to get people on our side if we are going to defeat terrorism but in my opinion strength and fear are strong coercive elements (as ISIS have proved). There is an argument that the main driver of the likes of ISIS and Al Qaeda is the fact the west, is winning the cultural war. People are more impressed with Big Macs, Western films and chewing gum than the Koran. Mammon has proved to be far more popular than God. Western brands truly do rule the world. So we are being attacked for our success in the world of business – the only place we can lose is on the battle field; because our politicians are obsessed with fairness and perception.
When the battle fields are the streets of New York, London, Madrid etc. then even the most obdurate politician cannot ignore it. But he can insist upon checks and balances that no general, throughout the ages, could have accepted and won the war. Sun Tzu must be concluding that the art of the politician is to make certain their generals do not win the war.
What the terrorist have done very successfully is made us look fools by playing to our weakness for fair play. I have no idea why the Americans thought washing their dirty linen in public was such a good idea and yes there are some aspects of what the CIA did which I would not support.  Shipping people off to the likes of Gadhafi so he can torture them or to some not so squeamish regime does not seem right. Maybe a line has to be drawn somewhere: but when it comes to enemies of our country, who want to destroy us, the options have to be rough enough to work. And I am not ignoring the possibility that the wrong information can be coerced out of a frightened prisoner.
One thing we do know is the guys we – the west are fighting – have no scruples. They are changing our life style for the worse and they are costing our countries billions we cannot afford. But we seem unprepared to smash them as we have smashed enemies in the past. Frankly if some bastard is trying the kill me; I am not going to apologise for killing them. And why should I not be triumphant when I have done so. Somewhere the west has got all its priorities wrong – if they really do not want to be nasty to terrorist – try surrendering – at least that might wake the voters up!
The Geneva Convention sets out the rules on the treatment of soldiers in uniform – out of uniform a soldier is a terrorist or spy. As such he has no rights. And if in flagrante delicto that is all well and good but what if he is a suspect and there is some evidence but not enough? That is where the problems arise. In some ways, it does not matter if the person is a common criminal or a terrorist – those questioning have to stick to the same rules and still try an elicit the truth. If it is possible to robustly question terrorists, but not do the same for common criminals, then there are two big issues – who gets to decide who is a terrorist and why should common criminals be protected?This is an argument which is as old as law enforcement – to me the worst point is so few politicians are defending the interrogators who simple thought they were doing their duty. Many commentators are good at criticising but what would they do in situation as in Cold Kill?

Saturday, 29 November 2014

It is a corporatist world: or is it?

I was reading an article by Douglas Carswell – the UKIP MP for Clacton – in which he was saying that one of the main problems with the UK is that it now a corporatist country. I have for a long time talked about the power of the global corporations who have more economic power than most countries – but he was not just talking about that. I looked up corporatist and got a number of meanings. Wikipedia had the most comprehensive list of variations which suggested the corporatist idea is not a new one – in fact Plato started the idea and Aristotle expanded on it – essentially their concept was each class, or sector of society was represented in government; so groups of worked to protect their own interests. According to wiki ‘Neo-corporatism favours economic tripartism which involved strong labour unions, employers' unions, and governments that cooperated as "social partners" to negotiate and manage a national economy.’ So that is my definition debunked – or is it?
Carswell was suggesting that government institutions have become so powerful that they are power centres in themselves and are as protective of self-interest as a private corporation would be. Carswell goes on to write “slowly but surely Britain has shifted from being a free-market economy to a corporatist economy.” I do not think he is strictly right but he is certainly not wholly wrong. Europe has always been much more corporatist than the UK. Germany is much stricter society when it gets to rules and we all know the French create bureaucracy just to confuse themselves. Part of what Carswell is saying is that there is too much control from the top – he wants to decentralise. Undoubtedly there is compelling evidence to suggest that large operations lose the ability to change – innovation is not appreciated so they get stuck in a rut. That is double so if it is a government controlled operation.
It is worth considering why the head has become so powerful – some will blame it on rules – particularly EU regulations;  others will simple say it is the natural progression as those as the top cling on to power. But you can only micro manage what happens, in a large organisation, if you have good communications; and in the last 25 years the ability of the top to know what is happening at the bottom has changed diametrically. The backbone of middle management was the branch manager who had sensible autonomy to make decision about his branch and his branches problems. Now mobile phones and the internet have removed the need for virtually any local decision making. More than that communications can exert total control – any changes or anomalies are picked up in seconds. Many complain about CEO pay but the modern CEO does not have a relaxed evening – he is reading emails and reports on line which 25 years ago he would have received through the post in the morning. He can no longer say I did not know what was happening – because somebody probable told him in an email he did not have time to read. Anyway with all the modern aids and comms why did he not know?
Trying to decentralise will not be that easy because as long as the top can supervise – it will.
Maybe the more important issue is the influence of the modern global company – as countries hassle to get inward investment, which will create jobs, they inevitable have to deal with the global behemoths. Countries wanting investment in jobs often have to give away all kinds of incentives – normally tax breaks. Not only does that limit the tax raising power of a country but is inevitable unfair to home grown companies who do not get the same breaks. All too often an incoming global investor will then buy up the local competition – whose business they have compromised. Thus my view of corporatist – is a world that is run by big business for big business.
I maybe splitting hairs over the meaning of a word but I do essentially agree with Carswell and I suspect many others will agree as well. The problem is how exactly does a country break the power of both vested interest and global companies. The backbone of local and regional businesses was the family run concern – but they have been trampled by not just big business but by avaricious tax men – what with capital gains tax and inheritance tax it is very difficult to keep control. That is one area UKIP should consider. Another, maybe more immediate issues, are employment laws, regulations and most important of all financing. What the UK needs a spate of small companies growing into medium size companies which stay regional and manufacture and employ locally. That would almost certainly require a protectionist government that discourages imports and gives preferential treatment to UK companies. However that is going back to the dark ages in terms of world trade and is likely to cause as many problems as it solves.
If UKIP are seriously going to battle with corporatist system they are going to have to start with big state corporations – health service, education and infrastructure. They are also going to have to work out how to get back well-paid jobs – that almost certainly means manufacturing. A lot more jobs could be created in the hospitality industry if tourism was worked on – but concreting over SE England to accommodate our rising population does not help that cause and dare I mention an airport?
So Carswell may be right – we need to decentralise and get rid of a corporatist culture. The aspiration is admirable; the execution will be considerable more challenging!