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Man on the Moon

The Moon landings were faked up on a Hollywood backlot, right?

What a load of utter tosh!

It astounds me that anyone would prefer to believe that something which would have had to be kept secret for so long by quite a large number of people (people moreover, cinema technicians etc, not truly invested in the “deceit”) would not have leaked by now. But it hasn’t leaked.

And why hasn’t it leaked?

Because it would need proof of such a conspiracy to fake.

And there is none.

And why the desire to deny the endeavour and the expertise which went in to the making of man’s greatest adventure, not to mention the sheer bravery of the men who made the voyages? Buzz Aldrin was quite right to take exception to the guy who accosted him, a guy who has not one thousandth of the guts and integrity. What is it about some folk that they cannnot rejoice in others’ achievements but must find some way to denigrate them?

And the Soviet Union did not claim that the US Moon landings did not happen – which as a propaganda coup they most certainly would have – because they knew perfectly well that they did. (Compare that to now, when Russia does claim that things that happened didn’t and things that didn’t, have. And so, too, does POTUS, T Ronald Dump.)

Besides, some of the experiments the astronauts placed on the Moon are still sending back data, even fifty years on.

So, raise a glass and drink a toast to a magnificent accomplishment, a demonstration of humans’ ability to perform amazing feats of focus, cooperation and enterprise.

It’s just a pity we gave up on that enterprise so soon.

A Dismal Choice

The two remaining candidates to be the leader of the Conservative Party and hence the next Prime Minister of the UK show just how the calibre of the country’s politicians – along with the standards of its politics – has fallen.

The choice lies between a blustering buffoon and a piece of rhyming slang.

My comment on the present incumbent when she triggered Article 50 has come true in spades. These are dangerous men.

The buffoon showed himself to be totally unfit for high office in his time as Foreign Secretary when his failure to master any detail of her case led to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe being all but confirmed in the eyes of Iran as being in effect a spy, or, at least, working against its government.

The rhyming slang, when Secretary of State for Health, was so inept in the post he managed to unite the almost the entire medical profession against him. And have you seen his eyes?

If either of these two is the answer, what on Earth is the question?

On a related point I’ve seen it suggested that if the buffoon does become PM then it is possible he may appoint T Ronald Dump’s pal (well he likes to think T Ronald is his pal) Nigel Farage as UK ambassador to the US.

Great. Just do it Boris. At least it will get Farage and his poisonous rantings out of this country for a while.

Apparently Jorge Luis Borges characterised the War of Thatcher’s Face as a fight between two bald men over a comb.

The contest between Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and Jeremy Richard Streynsham Hunt (don’t their full names just tell you all you need to know about them?) is more like two blind men scrabbling over a hearing aid. Neither can or will do much good with it once they’ve got it.

End of Empire

One of the lessons of history is that all empires come to an end. The Roman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire (“neither holy nor Roman, nor an empire,” as Voltaire once quipped,) the Mongol Empire of the Golden Horde, the muslim Caliphates, the Spanish Empire, the Portuguese Empire, the Mughal Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the French Empires (Napoleon’s and the later colonial empire,) the Empire of Brazil, the German Empire, the Russian Empire and the later Soviet one, the British Empire – whose last vestige apart from dribs and drabs of territory around the world surfaced in the “Empress of India” proclamation at the funeral of the late Queen Mother – all gone to dust along with so many others.

This Wikipedia list gives only the largest empires.

US President Harry Truman’s Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, once said that Britain had lost an empire and not found a role. I wonder if part of the Brexit vote – not all, just part – was a reaction by older voters to that lack of a role as they can by and large remember when a political map of the world was liberally strewn with pink. I would venture that young people don’t have that feeling.

As for myself I long ago came to the conclusion that empire was a thing the UK was better off without, a delusion of grandeur no longer sustainable. After all, the British Isles constitute a relatively small mass of land off the northwest coast of Europe, not too significant in the grand scheme of things. That the British state should “punch above its weight” in international circles struck me as an increasing anachronism. And why should we be punching anybody anyway?

Membership of the European Union made perfect sense; a close collaboration with neighbours of a broadly similar outlook and goals.

But maybe this was actually a Scottish perspective as there seems to be a streak of belief in the southern parts of these islands – perhaps more prevalent the further south you go – in English exceptionalism coupled with a desire to have as little to do with foreigners as possible. As a newspaper headline supposedly once had it:- “Fog In Channel. Continent Cut Off.”

Scots do have the saying, “Wha’s like us?” (To which the answer is “Gey few and they’re a’ deid.”) But that was always more of a joke, a whistling in the wind, than an assertion of superiority.

That loss of empire (and of the sense that superiority can no longer be assumed) may well have been a factor in the Brexit vote. Clearly, for some in the southern portions of Britain at least, being part of a larger association in which you are neither the top nor the most numerous dog and therefore cannot condescendingly lord it over others (as they historically have done abroad and do still within the UK) is not a role in which they feel comfortable. Some of them still seem to think the UK can be (or even still is) a force on the world stage. Former (is there any other kind?) Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said sonorously on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, “This is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” in the context of what he called “bullying” by the EU as if that assertion still carried a degree of clout. (I note Marr made no attempt to disabuse him of his belief in innate worth. The fact that Raab had been made Brexit Secretary in the first place – and Boris Johnson Foreign Secretary – is an indicator of how impoverished the British political system has become in terms of elected representatives.) Sometimes I could wish that they would get over themselves.

Maybe a period of irrelevance as a North Atlantic offshoot of a more powerful trading block – a truer reflection of the UK’s standing – is just what they need in order to wake up to their reduced capacity to influence world affairs (consider: does anyone in Spain still hanker for the empire they once had?) – but perhaps even that would not jolt their certainties. Indeed, it may even inflame their resentments.

It may be that some of that losing a role sentiment, a sense of imminent decline, is an explanation of why US voters turned to T Ronald Dump two years ago. Decline has not come yet but will eventually – all empires fall in the end – but for now the US is still a preeminent superpower (though facing economic challenge from China in particular.) Quite how a real fall from that state will affect a polity which is used to strutting its stuff on the world stage is now being rehearsed in a compelling but worrying way, as a farce presaging a tragedy.

Counterproductive Tactics

What a spectacular misjudgement the Spanish government made in their response to the referendum in Catalonia.

Yes it did not have official sanction and therefore was illegal but to send in riot police and beat up citizens is not going to win over voters. It may have the diametrically opposite effect.

In a similar vein, if you wish to convince the citizens of a country with whose head of state you have a dispute to get rid of him themselves and that you are not a threat to those citizens in the way he claims then it isn’t perhaps the wisest pronouncement to say you will totally destroy said country.

Forgetting History

Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian on how T Ronald Dump crossed a line when he failed to condemn neo-Nazis after Charlottesville.

The worst thing was that the incumbent President of the United States – supposedly the leader of the free world – conveyed moral equivalence between Nazism/fascism and those who oppose it. That is breathtaking in its lack of awareness and abdication of responsibility for decency.

I have read an article which claimed that just because you opposed Nazism it didn’t mean your cause was necessarily good. What?

WHAT?

(The rationale was that Stalin fought fascism/Hitlerism, the implication, that since Stalin was bad then so, if you fight Nazism, are you.)

[I hesitated to post the link here as I didn’t want to encourage the writer in his false comparisons but finally decided to. (Here.)]

Quite apart from the outrageous insult his proposition is to those Allied soldiers who signed up to fight in the Second World War and even more so to those who gave their lives doing so, (it implies they were fellow travellers, duped) what a despicable piece of whataboutery that false equation represents. It gets the whole thing exactly the wrong way round.

The true state of affairs is that if you don’t fight Nazism/fascism then your cause is bad.

Apparently 9% of US citizens polled after Charlottesville believe that neo-Nazi or white supremacist views are acceptable. If the poll is representative that means 30 million people in the US share those beliefs. That is a forgetting of history right there.

How did it come to this? How did people come to forget those vile views (and the actions which resulted from them) were what their grandfathers had to fight against? How can a belief in the US as a bastion of freedom co-exist with an ideology whose aim is to extinguish freedom? (Even as that ideology is dressed up as a crusade for freedom of expression – or historical memory.)

A Professor Halford E Luccock of Yale University is quoted in the New York Times of 12/9/1938 as saying, “When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labelled “Made in Germany”; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, “Americanism”.”

Beware those who fly flags of whatever colour.

Rosyth

Below is a photograph of the new Royal Navy aircraft carrier as viewed from Rosyth. This is the one that apparently won’t have any aircraft once it’s fitted out as we can’t afford them. Trident yes, it seems; warplanes no.

On Friday I realised that T Ronald Dump’s hair reminded me of this:-

Aircraft Carrier

The reason we were at Rosyth was to go on a cruise. On the Fred.Olsen Lines ship SS Black Watch. This was the ship’s (mascot?) Not figurehead. It was facing to the rear.

Ship's Figurehead/Mascot

Sunset over the Forth:

Evening Sky, Firth of Forth

Shades of Fascism

Anyone with a sense of history might not have avoided shivers of apprehension on witnessing the Inauguration speech Donald Trump gave today.

Quite apart from the fact his hand gestures resemble those of Benito Mussolini, his invocation of the term “America First” has historical resonance as that was the name of an organisation which sought to prevent the US from becoming involved in what was then a European war during 1940 and 1941. That would have been an admirable objective if only some of its leaders and many of its adherents had not articulated views which were anti-semitic.

If the new US President did not know the baggage which the phrase America First brings with it, he ought to have done and then avoided saying it. If he did know, what does that say about him?

I heard Mr Trump also say words to the effect that crime, gangs, drugs, unemployment etc stop right now. Good luck with that endeavour.

I wonder what his reaction is going to be to the first (and subsequent) High School shooting(s) that occur(s) under his Presidency will be, for history shows they will come.

I note with sadness that protests against his inauguration did not all remain peaceful. I am afraid that violence will only beget violence and will be used as an excuse to institute controls on any sort of protest. In this regard I fear an event which will be a Reichstag Fire moment, seized on and taken advantage of either by him or the people behind him.

In the weeks since his coming to electoral prominence I have increasingly come to think of him as T Ronald Dump – as that, I am afraid, is what he is about to do on us all.

I Miss the Soviet Union

Remember those bad old days of the Cold War? The evil Commies who stamped on people’s rights and stifled individualism?

Well, maybe they weren’t so bad after all.

Yes, life in the Eastern Bloc wasn’t a picnic and freedom of expression is a good thing – provided it isn’t taken too far.

But… The existence of the Soviet Union kept big business in the West honest (to a point.) Inequality was much less pronounced in the UK then than it is now; in the US too I wouldn’t wonder. With the example of a competing economic system to hand there was a brake on excess, those inclined to it restrained their greed. When so-called Communism (a description which was woefully inaccurate, there was little communal about it, it was an autocratic oligarchy) collapsed, the brakes came off and CEOs and executives of big companies let their impulses off the leash. Thoughts of paying and treating fairly the true source of any wealth created by a company’s endeavours, the workers, evaporated. Instead, those workers were squeezed, marginalised, treated with contempt, their abilities to protest curtailed – at least in the UK.

There is a thought amongst certain people – on both sides of the Atlantic – that government is in and of itself a bad thing, “A conspiracy against the people.” (These are probably mostly the same people who want to do whatever they like with no comeback.)

A Trump Presidency may be the experiment that tests that idea.

To destruction.

Unfortunately it won’t be its advocates whose lives will be destroyed. In times of turmoil it rarely is.

Lack of government does not mean freedom, it means anarchy. It means no protection against predators and wrongdoers. It means those with the deepest pockets have no barriers to their avarice prevailing. (It also means they in turn have no protection beyond what they can buy.) In effect, though, it means slavery – either real or (poorly) waged – for the majority.

Regulation of human activity – in any sphere – is actually a necessary constraint. “Freedom from” is as important as “freedom to”.

Which leads to the thought; if you are a woman working in the Trump White House, how safe will you be in terms of your personal autonomy? How free will you be from coercion?

Stop the World: I Want to Get Off

“Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division; have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people.

“I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans, and this is so important to me.

“I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country” – Donald Trump.

“We will make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few, but for every one of us.

“The Government I lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours” – Theresa May.

“Where there is discord may we bring harmony” – Margaret Thatcher.

Well; the last of these three didn’t work out well.

I don’t expect the first two to do so either.

Trumping Democracy

I happened to catch on BBC rolling news today a “speech” given by one Donald J Trump. This consisted mostly of him opening his mouth and letting anything pour out (or, as the phrase has it, letting his belly rumble.) There was absolutely nothing of substance in it whatever, merely the assertion and vacuous sloganising of a blustering braggart and bully.

I note that he has also repeated his belief that the US Presidential election is rigged against him.

So, let me get this clear; the reopening of an FBI investigation against his opponent isn’t rigging but its subsequent finding “no evidence of criminality” is? Is that perhaps because the first was to his advantage and the second wasn’t? (And yes, Donald, it is possible to trawl through millions of emails in a few days. There’s something called a “search” function that will allow you to do precisely that.)

The claim of rigging sounded to me remarkably like someone who thought they weren’t going to win anyway getting their excuses in first.

Yet the attitude behind it is the culmination of a trend I noticed a long time ago whereby Democratic Presidents don’t seem to be afforded the same leeway as that accorded to Republicans.

You may remember eight years ago I predicted that Barack Obama would face four (or eight) years of hounding if he were to be elected. I wasn’t wrong. As I recall it started as soon as he was sworn in (or even before if you don’t think the original swearing in was legitimate.)

To claim the election is rigged goes against everything the US is supposed to stand for. The cornerstone of democracy is that leaders are replaced peaceably – and the new one is accepted by the old and his/her supporters. Claims of illegitimacy put that peaceful handover in danger (and in the case of a country awash with firearms might even lead to civil war.)

There was also the small point of Trump suggesting during the campaign that he didn’t know what the “Second Amendment people” would do if his opponent wins. To which I say this, if Trump loses and the then President Hillary Clinton is subsequently assassinated the prime accused in any court case ought to be Donald Trump, for incitement to murder.

Later on the BBC news showed a speech by Clinton in which, by contrast, she appeared measured, thoughful, rational and reasonable. (To be fair that wasn’t a big ask.)

Mr Trump has been revealed (is even proud of the fact!) to have paid little or no tax for at least a ten year period and hasn’t released details of any tax payments in the years since. I find it incredible that a tax avoider can put himself forward to become the head of state of a country to which he has made no such monetary contribution. (My view is that it is the duty of a citizen to pay the taxes necessary for the country in which they are domiciled/make a living to be run successfully. And to do so without complaint. The only point to be debated is the level at which the taxes ought to be levied, not whether they are to be ignored.)

In amongst his ramblings Trump said America* was a laughing stock.

Not quite yet, Donald. Not quite yet.

But if you are elected President the US will not only have become a laughing stock overnight; it will have removed itself from the status of a serious nation and be seriously weakened as a result. Far from making America great again it will diminish it hugely. You can not have someone with the character traits of a narcissist in charge of a country’s diplomacy. Especially when that country is the most important in the world and whose actions may impact on allies and potential foes alike. (I shudder at the thought of any such person being in charge of the nuclear launch codes.)

US citizens might say their election is none of my business. To that I would reply “no annihilation without representation”.

A former US President once used the phrase, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Good advice; especially the “speak softly” part.

*Don’t you just love that appropriation of a whole two continents’ name to a polity which occupies only a small portion of its landmass?

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