Category Archives: Politics

The Will Of The People

Today, the 15th November 2017, the results of the (non-binding) Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey were revealed. Voters were asked the question, “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” They had two options – ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ The result was a 61.6% vote in favour of ‘Yes.’ The turnout (defined here as legally cast votes) was 79.3%.

On the 23rd June, 2016, the United Kingdom held a (advisory) referendum to decide whether or not it should remain a part of the European Union. Voters were asked the question, “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” They had two options – ‘Remain a member of the European Union’ or ‘Leave the European Union.’ The result was a 51.9% vote in favour of ‘Leave.’ The turnout (defined here as legally cast votes) was 72.2%.

On the surface, these two scenarios and outcomes may appear very similar. They are not. Unfortunately, we now need to talk about statistics. The data is everything, because it tells us what is really happening. Please bear with me. I will be as terse as I can.

In the Australian Marriage Equality Survey, 7,817,247 voted ‘Yes.’ Frustratingly (if, like me, you are a supporter of marriage equality), this equates to 48.8% of the total electorate (16,006,180), thus falling just short of an overall majority. So, not then ‘the will of the people.’ Or is it? To achieve more than 50% of the total electorate, 8,003,091 votes were required. The ‘Yes’ vote was only 185,844 short of this target – or 5.6% of those who did not vote. Is it reasonable to assume they would obtain these votes were it possible to ask the non-voters? Yes of course it is. In fact, it’s practically guaranteed that they would. Therefore, the result of this survey can and should be considered the will of the people, and the Australian government should move to legalise same-sex marriage immediately. Happily, their Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has already indicated that he wishes to change the law by Christmas.

In the UK’s EU Referendum, 17,410,742 voted ‘Leave.’ This equates to 37.4% of the total electorate (46,500,001), well short of an overall majority. The ‘Leave’ vote required 5,839,259 more votes to achieve over 50% of the electorate – that’s 45.1% of those who did not vote. Is it reasonable to assume they would obtain these votes were it possible to ask the non-voters? No. The data suggests strongly that the total electorate is in favour of remaining in the European Union. 62.5% of people under the age of 50 voted ‘Remain’ and we know that the over 65s were twice as likely to have voted as people under 25. Clearly then, leaving the European Union cannot and should not be considered the will of the people.

The key factors in all of this are the margin of victory and the voter turnout. ‘Yes’ won by 23.2% in Australia, with a 79.3% turnout – a clear and resounding victory. By contrast, ‘Leave’ in the UK won by just 3.8%, with a 72.2% turnout – ambiguous to say the least. Thus, while Australia unites and rejoices, the UK becomes ever more divided as it stumbles towards the EU exit door with no apparent plan in place and a government that looks distinctly out of its depth.

There was of course a very easy way to avoid this situation. When devising the grounds upon which they would agree to act in response to the results of the referendum, the UK government should have required certain criteria to have been met. A minimum 75% voter turnout and a 5% margin of victory seem to be the obvious choices. It is unconscionable that the Tories were so irresponsible as to not put these safeguards in place.

It would be remiss of me also not to point out that, while marriage equality is something one could expect the public to fully understand and make an informed decision on, the consequences of leaving the EU are not (especially when so much misinformation was spread during the campaigns). Therefore, the UK’s EU referendum should never have taken place to begin with.

Alas, the EU referendum was only advisory and Article 50 can be revoked. It is now the duty of the UK government to acknowledge that not only did ‘Leave’ fail to win an overall majority of the total electorate, but that it never could have. It should then cancel the process of leaving the European Union and focus its energy instead on effecting change from within. One might almost say it should, ahem, take back control.

The Alt-Right: Meet The Deplorables

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I’ve began to feel as though I left a few things unsaid in my previous article, so consider this piece an addendum of sorts, albeit I fear, a slightly angry and unpolished one…

Hillary nailed it; the alt-right is deplorable. Though its adherents deny it one and all, they are white supremacists trying to fly under the radar with a quirkier sounding name. They insist that their detractors are simply too easily offended and don’t like free speech, or when this ruse fails, claim that they are only joking. But there’s never anything much to laugh at, and aside from the childishness of this defence, it reveals that they know very well just how sinister they are. Alas, all that appears to matter to them is their desire to push the boundaries of insult further and wider.

So who are the alt-righters? Well, they were the ones shouting ‘build the wall’ and beating up dark skinned people at Trump’s rallies. They’re the ones who want to stop all Muslim immigration and to ban the building of mosques. They’re the ones who do not wish to see a single refugee set foot in the developed world, especially if they look like they might be a day over 16 or aren’t close enough to death for their liking. They were the ones who insisted that Trump’s boast of sexual assault was just’ locker room talk’. They were the ones who spread malicious rumours about Barack Obama’s American citizenship, a barely concealed racist attack if ever there was one. They’re the ones who scream ‘femi-nazi’ at any woman who dares to have an opinion opposed to their own. They were the ones who scare mongered for years about the impact of immigrants on British society. They were the ones who deceived the electorate about the cost of EU membership and lied about where these make believe savings could be spent, for the sole reason of stopping foreigners coming to Britain. And last Saturday (19th November), in Washington DC, they were the ones shouting ‘Heil victory’ and throwing Nazi salutes back at Richard B. Spencer, the man who coined the term ‘alt-right’, while he told them that America was “a white country that belongs to us.”

Here is a taste of how some of the alt-right’s favourite spokespeople behave:

Katie Hopkins – Former ‘The Apprentice’ contestant and loudmouth columnist for The Mail Online.  If you thought the headline below was bad enough, her first paragraph reads: “NO, I don’t care. Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad.  I still don’t care.”

katie-hopkins

Milo Yiannopoulos – The alt-right poster boy.  Previously exposed as a plagiarist, he now writes a column for Breitbart News.  He thinks feminism is worse than cancer, and apparently at least 11,678 of his fans agree:

milo

Nigel Farage – Former commodity broker, one has to remind themselves that he has never been elected as a member of parliament, given his overbearing, unceasing presence.  He’s currently the acting leader of UKIP, the populist far-right party in the UK, and a favourite of Donald Trump.  Here he is fear-mongering about Britain being invaded by refugees:

nigel-farage-refugees

Raheem Kassam – He is the editor-in-chief of Breitbart News in London, the favoured news feed of the alt-right.  He’s also regularly obnoxious on Twitter.  Here he displays the misogyny and the disdain for disabled people that has become so characteristic of the alt-right world view:

raheem-kassam

These people are the dregs of society. Doubtless you’ll be familiar with the calls to hear them out and to try to understand the grievances of this mob. If there ever was a time to indulge such a menace in an unnecessarily generous nod to civility, that time has long since passed. These people now have what they wanted. They have effectively won the Presidency in America and they have thrown Britain into a political, economic and diplomatic crisis by dragging it out of the European Union. If we are to prevent them from destroying everything that we have come to cherish – the freedom, the tolerance and the diversity, then all there is left to do is mobilise and to fight back – peacefully and democratically of course, but most importantly everyone must resist the urge to merely hope everything will turn out alright, or worse, simply assume that enough other people will make a stand. Those who cheer on the Donald Trumps of this world are counting on this. They are banking on liberals continuing to sleep walk into obscurity. It was the naivety of liberals in the first place that enabled all of this because the threat has always been there – it never goes away. However, recently too many liberals have forgotten to check their privilege and have taken too much for granted. 2016 must act as the wakeup call, before it’s too late. There’s so much at stake – we can’t afford to lose anymore elections.

Donald Trump And The Politics Of Hate

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I started this blog primarily to write about, and to offer some resistance to, what I believed to be the greatest threat to our way of life – organised religion.  I must admit that I didn’t expect this to change so soon. But on the night of the 2016 US Elections, it did change. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that Donald Trump is the worst possible choice as the leader of the free world one could wish for. If every US citizen were to draw straws, you’d almost certainly be guaranteed a better option. Sure you might end up with someone who is uninformed, as Trump certainly is. They might even be a misogynist and a racist. But they’re unlikely to also be a world champion narcissist who, for example, thinks that they know more about Iraq and Afghanistan than US army Generals, as Trump has claimed to. Indeed Donald Trump is so uninformed, that his own ignorance is a stranger to him.

Much has been written about the character traits that ought to have disqualified Trump from the Presidency, but it’s worth reiterating a few of them, if only to soften you up for my conclusions, so here goes…

Donald Trump is a racist, a xenophobe and an anti-Muslim bigot. Whether or not his father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan is up for debate, but what is certain is that Donald’s real estate company was sued for racism. In two states, New York and Virginia, black applicants had their forms marked with the letter ‘c’ for coloured. One of his hotels, The Trump Plaza, was also sued for $200,000 for ensuring its black employees did not serve a regular customer who was known to be a racist, in order to accommodate him. Undeterred, Donald would go on to be the most prominent voice in the ‘birther’ movement, a patently racist motivated effort to have Obama’s tenancy of the White House cut short due to him being a Muslim, a Kenyan or some other apparently undesirable non-American. Of course there’s no doubt that what was really meant by all those who supported this despicable movement was that they didn’t want a black man sleeping in the same bedroom previously occupied by Madison, Jefferson, Adams and so on.

When Trump launched his Presidential campaign last year, rather than seeking to reset his reputation concerning minorities, he immediately quadrupled down, calling Mexicans rapists and drug dealers and insisting that a 60 foot high wall be built along the US-Mexican border in order to keep them out. Trump then demanded that all immigration from Muslim countries cease immediately (Trump seemed unaware that Muslims also emigrate to America from Europe). Perhaps one of the most unsavoury and under reported events of Trump’s campaign was when he invited an organisation of women that exists solely and unfathomably due to their shared experience of having had a child murdered by an illegal immigrant, to stand alongside him at one of his rallies while he hate mongered to his mob. Deplorable doesn’t even come close.

Donald Trump is a misogynist who has no respect for women. It’s clear from the long history of his predatory behaviour that he sees women as objects without agency that he can do whatever he wants with. If you doubt this, just take another read of what he was caught on tape saying to Billy Bush in 2005:

“I just start kissing them… I don’t even wait. When you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

It’s interesting to read the above statement in the context of the sexual assault allegations that have been made against him. Here is a list of those alleged attacks. The correlation with his own professed attitude toward how one can treat women is uncanny:

1980 – Jessica Leeds says Trump grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt on an aeroplane

Early 1990’s – Kristin Anderson claims that Trump put his hand up her skirt and touched her vagina through her underwear on a dancefloor in a New York nightclub

1997 – Temple Taggart, Miss Utah 1997, says Trump twice kissed her on the mouth uninvited

1997 – Four contestants from the 1997 Miss Teen USA, including Mariah Billado, say Trump walked in on them while they were changing. Some of the girls were only 15 at the time, but that hasn’t stopped Trump from boasting about the incident

1998 – Karena Virginia accuses Trump of grabbing her breast at the 1998 US Open Tennis Championship

2003 – Mindy McGillivray says Trump grabbed her bum at his Mar-A-Lago resort in Florida

2005 – Rachel Crooks says Trump kissed her on the mouth uninvited outside an elevator in Trump Tower

2005 – Natasha Stoynoff, a journalist with ‘People’ magazine, claims Trump pushed her against a wall and forced his tongue down her throat while she was interviewing him at his Mar-A-Lago resort

2007 – Summer Zervos, former ‘The Apprentice’ contestant, says Trump kissed her on the mouth uninvited, grabbed her breast, and thrust his genitals at her during a meeting to discuss possible employment

2013 – Cassandra Searles, the 2013 Miss World winner, says Trump grabbed her bum after the event and invited her to his room

Please remind yourself how Donald Trump mocked a disabled reporter who dared to criticise him. America, meet your new President, the man who now represents you on the world stage:

Video Link

Here are his ‘thoughts’ on climate change:

climate-change-trump

On abortion, Trump said the following in an interview with Chris Matthews earlier this year:

“You have to ban it… there has to be some form of punishment” (for the woman).

During a meeting with foreign policy advisers, Trump reportedly asked on three occasions why America can’t use its nuclear weapons. He also supports the proliferation of nuclear weapons to countries that currently do not have them, specifically naming Japan and Saudi Arabia as good starting points.

I could go on of course. There’s hardly a topic you could name that Trump hasn’t said multiple stupid, divisive or truly dangerous things about. The point that I’m trying to ram home is this; his victory wasn’t about economics. It was about hate, plain and simple. Surveys have shown that the average annual income of Trump voters is $72,000 (£57,000). No one chanted about trade deals at his rallies. They screamed “Trump that bitch!” and physically attacked people with dark skin or who simply looked a bit different. If you haven’t already, you really must check out Jared Yates Sexton’s live tweets from a Trump rally in Greensboro in June this year. They’re truly terrifying: https://storify.com/case_face/a-trump-rally-in-greensboro-anger-in-here-is-palpa.

It’s patently ridiculous to suggest that a white man, born into extreme privilege, who has hob knobbed with the rich and famous, including billionaires and Presidents, his whole life, and who hasn’t paid federal income tax for the best part of 20 years, represents the outsider or the hard working men and women of America. One of the great things about the internet age is that everyone has the key information. Everything that I wrote in the first 1,000 words of this article was outlined ceaselessly every night on television and was constantly trending on social media. No one could have been under any illusions as to what they were voting for, and no one surely could have imagined that Trump was really what America needed to be great again. The 60 million people who voted for Trump simply didn’t care. They were fully prepared to burn the house down in service to their lust for hate. For most, it was hatred of ‘the other’ (blacks, Latinos, Muslims, homosexuals, women), for some, it was hatred of Hillary. But I would argue that the latter reveals more than many seem willing to entertain because if you believed it was more important to block Hillary’s path to the Presidency than to resist the sexism and racism of Trump, then in my book you just don’t care enough about sexism and racism. One does not have to travel too far into our past to witness the consequences of such indifference. Sadly, many on the left were also culpable here, and ultimately they too played their part in handing Trump the golden ticket.

So what now? Depressingly, with the Senate and Congress also lost to the GOP, America and the rest of the world can only cross its fingers and hope we get through this with Western civilisation still intact. It’s that bad. Going forward, liberals must learn to recognise fascism when they see it, and be prepared to set aside their petty squabbles to unite against it. They must also learn that elections are largely about personalities, and just as Miliband and Corbyn proved inadequate to resist Farage and the brexiteers, so too was Hillary Clinton incapable of garnering enough support to defeat even an obnoxious buffoon like Donald Trump. Good luck everyone.

Brexit: Now Is The Time To Fight

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So a week has passed since the people of Britain voted to leave the European Union, and with it immediately threw the country into economic turmoil (we’re on the verge of relegation from 5th to 6th place in the world’s leading economies and have lost our triple A credit rating status), brought down the existing Prime Minister, David Cameron, leaving the country without stable governance, and tarnished our reputation internationally, not least due to the shocking rise in hate crimes toward foreign nationals in the aftermath of the result – apparently many appear to believe that the outcome of the referendum legitimises racism and means we’re poised to tell all immigrants to go home. Among the plethora of potential long term consequences is the increased likelihood that Britain will be broken apart, as Scotland voted regionally to remain a member of the EU. Who now could blame them for once again seeking independence?

And all of this for what? We haven’t regained our sovereignty, for it was never lost. The EU has a parliament of 751 members, voted for in free and fair elections by the citizens of member countries. There will be no more money for the NHS. The £350m a week that was claimed to be available by the Leave campaign, isn’t actually there (the highest possible amount is in fact £161m but this doesn’t take into account other inevitable costs of leaving the EU), and does anyone imagine that the Far Right would spend it on socialised medicine even if it was available? On matters of security, Britain has now made itself vulnerable to what intelligence experts refer to as the ‘discontinuity effect’. 40 years worth of cooperation and institution building now has to be unravelled and reset. Doubtless it will be in the interests of everyone to continue to work together, but changes of this magnitude take time to impart, potentially creating gaps – gaps that terrorists are experts at taking advantage of. As for immigration, the real issue that ‘leavers’ voted out on, well anyone capable of doing further reading beyond the headlines in The Sun and Daily Express knew that access to the single market (touted as unnecessary by the ‘Leave’ campaign before the election but now acknowledged as essential by the very same people) was always going to turn on our borders being open. There will be no significant change in immigration.

Yet in spite of this unrelenting disaster for the future of Britain, a strange air of resignation appears to have taken hold. I keep hearing and reading things like ‘let’s make the best of it’, ‘we’ll find a way, we always do’ and perhaps most aggravating ‘the most important thing now is to all pull together and heal the divisions.’ Even ‘Remain’ voters seem to be falling over themselves in a race to come across as the most reasonable. It reminds me somewhat of those atheists who nonetheless compete to see who can tolerate the most religious intolerance. Well I’m sorry, you’ll have to excuse me, but this self-congratulatory posturing is not for me and I certainly do not feel much like bridge building. Here’s why:

  • The Leave campaign was almost entirely built on lies, as laid out above but also now largely admitted by many of those involved. One of the most unsavoury features of the past 7 days has been witnessing key figures in the Leave camp seeking to distance themselves from the campaign they had led.
  • The Remain campaign simply did not get its key demographic to the polling stations. Only around a third of 18-24 year olds voted, compared to more than two thirds of over 65’s. Yet 73% of young people intended to vote ‘Remain’. Statistically speaking, the older you are the more likely you were to vote ‘Leave’ – over 60% of the uppermost demographic voted ‘Out’. By contrast, considering that the consequences of this decision are decades long, it is the young who will be the most affected.
  • We now know that significant numbers of those who voted ‘Leave’ regret their vote. They say that they voted to leave either because they believed the lies or because they thought that a positive result for the Remain side was a done deal and so decided to use their vote as a form of protest. If the polls are accurate, then we would see somewhere in the region of a 900,000 vote swing in favour of ‘Remain’ if all those who voted could have another go.
  • At the time of writing, 3,923,805 people from the United Kingdom (4,086,208 worldwide) have signed an online petition demanding a second referendum – approximately 9% of the total electorate. If you haven’t done so already then please go ahead and sign now. You can find the petition here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/131215/
  • I would argue that our membership of the EU is not an issue that ought to be decided by a referendum. This probably requires an essay in itself to fully flesh out, but in summary I feel there is simply too much required reading to do in order to be fully informed of all the facts. The reality is that most people do not have the time to do it. This is an issue, like thousands of others, that our politicians are paid to sort out on our behalf.

I believe these 5 points layout not only a compelling case, but also a moral duty to challenge this debacle. It is not anti-democratic, as staunch ‘Leavers’ would have it, to seek a peaceful way out of this mess. Indeed, it is the final con trick of the Far Right to bully people into thinking that they have no choice but to accept the result lying down. On the contrary, the wonderful thing about a democracy is that there are always options available to protest governance without having to resort to anything other than conversations and debate. I would like to beckon you all to do whatever you can to keep building the pressure on our MPs so that they feel empowered to reject our exit from the EU by whatever means possible. If we have to have another referendum, then so be it. Now is not a time to feel sorry for ourselves or to surrender. Now is the time to fight.

“We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”

– Benjamin Franklin


A Short Note On Pacifism

Pacifism

Recently, on Real Time with Bill Maher, rapper Michael Render, ironically known as ‘Killer Mike’, said the following with regards to an advertising campaign for a charity representing wounded warriors:

“Why don’t we stop sending poor and working class boys to war? And then we don’t have to have those commercials, we don’t have to have a charity, we don’t have to get angry that the VA (Veterans Association) hospital won’t see them for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when they come back so we have higher suicide rates. If we do the right thing by avoiding war, we don’t have to have that…”

This soap box rant received rapturous applause despite the fact that it has at best only a tenuous grip on reality and is somewhat immoral if taken literally.

While I was still thinking about what to make of this, I found myself in a political debate with a total stranger in the café at my local gym. He was steeped in regressive left rhetoric, tracing every problem on the planet back to Dick Cheney and Tony Blair, before topping off my growing frustration with him by proclaiming, “you can’t stop violence with violence.” Though I’m fairly confident I’d debunked this within about 20 seconds, he nonetheless remained perfectly satisfied with his position.

So what could my fellow gym goer and Killer Mike possibly mean? Surely we all want to avoid war, so what’s the problem with their beliefs and commitments to non-violence? Here are some thoughts:

Pacifism hinges upon two propositions:

  1. There are no truly evil people and ultimately anyone can be reasoned with.
  2. It is better to die without putting up a fight in order to set an example of non-violence.

The first of these misunderstandings really has its roots in western privilege. To put it simply, the majority of us have never encountered a truly dangerous person in a situation where we’re vulnerable to being victimised by them. This is of course a good thing and alludes to the fact that in the west we have built relatively safe and civilised societies. However, this also provides a false sense of security in that it disarms many people from even being able to imagine how badly a collision with a psychopath in the wrong circumstances might go. But a brief study of the cases of Richard Ramirez (The Nightstalker) or Dennis Rader (BTK), or an afternoon spent sourcing the uncensored versions of Jihadi John’s videos, ought to provide you with all the information one could require to realise that if you were ever cornered by people like this then the time for talking in the hope of a good outcome has long passed.

Unfortunately, this is where the rot really sets in. There are people who believe that even when words have obviously ran their course, the only thing left to do is to submit yourself to whatever harms are in store for you without resistance. Taken to its ultimate conclusion, this means one person armed only with a knife could murder everyone in an entire city, given enough time and the requisite motivation. It also inspires apparently moral people, such as Mahatma Gandhi, to say things like this:

“Hitler killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from the cliffs.”

I’m proud to say that this is not the world I wish to live in. I believe that tyranny and evil should be confronted wherever they arise. If ever there were an example of a utopian vision setting us off course and causing real and avoidable harm, pacifism is surely it. The unhappy truth is that there are some very bad people in the world who can only be neutralised by recourse to violence (either actual or convincingly implied) and so even moral people will occasionally be required to apply it if our goals are to survive, to live in free and democratic societies, and to minimise suffering.


Christopher Hitchens – 1,000 Days Gone

Christopher Hitchens

The 10th September, 2014 marked a 1,000 days since the passing of the greatest rhetorician and debater of our time.  As a tribute to this fearless warrior, I thought I would post a video of some of his best moments, together with 25 of my favourite ‘Hitchslaps’, philosophical quotes and other highlights of highlights from Hitch’s career of rallying against organised religion and all forms of tyranny across the world.

So immense is his reservoir of wit and wisdom that the list below would look entirely different were I to undertake this task tomorrow.  As such, I implore you all to embark on your own voyage of discovery of this great man.

In order to gather the list below, I raided the Twitter account of @Hitch_Slapping – set up in honour of Christopher, and which reminds us almost hourly of just why he was so loved by his friends and feared by his enemies.  I highly recommend ‘following’ this account – or joining Twitter even if for no other purpose!

Ladies and gentlemen, friends and comrades, I give you Christopher Hitchens (13th April 1949 – 15th December 2011):

 

Video Link  (15 mins)

 

“Go love your own enemies, don’t be loving mine.  My enemies are the theocratic fascists.  I don’t love them, I want to destroy them.”

“Your question cannot possibly be as sappy as it sounds.  I mean, you must have meant to say something more intelligent than that.”

“If you call someone a man of faith it seems, for the moment, like a compliment. I’d like that to change.”

“I’d like to exempt myself from the host’s kind offer of protection. So if there’s anyone who would like to get rough, I’m willing to play.”

“Perhaps the clearest empirical proof of the non-existence of god is that he appears to have given up on the battle against stupidity.”

“By the way, scientists don’t condemn one another to eternal punishment for getting things wrong.  I just thought I’d point that out.”

“There is an inverse relationship between the claims religion makes and the evidence it can produce for them.  You must’ve noticed that?”

“I don’t concern myself with what people think of me.  I much prefer to think: do they realise what I think of them?”

“Millions of secular people thought Mother Teresa was a saintly woman; instead of the douche bag and liar and thief that she actually was.”

“Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity.  The grave will supply plenty of time for silence.”

 (“My question is for Mr Hitchens.  I don’t think he’s going to like it”) “Bring it on.  You’ll probably like the answer even less.”

“It’s not true that you shouldn’t drink alone; these can be the happiest glasses you ever drain.”

“I won’t have it said that I only judge religion by the extremists. I could just as easily attack it at its best if you prefer.”

“Anyone who wants to say anything abusive to me or about me is quite free to do so, and welcome, in fact.  At their own risk.”

“Don’t I ever get tired of debating the religious? Absolutely no I don’t, because you just never know what they are going to say next.”

“If I find when I pass from this veil of tears that I’m confronted with a tribunal, I’d say, I hope you noticed I didn’t try and curry favour.”

“How much vanity must be concealed – not too effectively at that – in order to pretend that one is the personal object of a divine plan?”

“You no doubt, as a Christian, or whatever you are, require hypocrisy of people. Well, I’m sorry, but you’re asking the wrong person.”

“Take the risk of thinking for yourself; much more happiness, truth, beauty and wisdom will come to you that way.”

“How can the church say it has moral superiority?  It has difficulty catching up to what ordinary people regard as common and ethical sense.”

“People say, ‘respect faith’.  Well actually I don’t.  Because I don’t think that lying to children is a respectable occupation.”

“Every time I open a newspaper I see theocratic infringement upon free society, and I won’t put up with it!  Up with which, I will not put.  I hope that’s clear.”

“I could’ve asked that question 50 times more eloquently than that, and I will now, without conceit, answer it 50 times as comprehensively.”

“Let me take your points in reverse order, if I may, just so I am dealing with the most ridiculous one first.”

“People who claim to be offended can by all means do so; it takes a lot to make me cry.”

 


The War On Terror And Why We Should Care About Everyone

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Over the past few days I’ve had to endure numerous tweeters and bloggers pondering whether the west should intervene in Northern Iraq, predicated upon concerns over cost, imperialism, what we might hope to achieve, how long it might take, the lives of our soldiers – almost everything in fact other than what ought to be worrying us; the lives of those poor Iraqis who are being starved, shot, beheaded, crucified, buried alive, raped and so on by the tens of thousands.  Of course, it goes without saying that if a group like ISIS took control of northern Europe for example, everyone in the developed world would know why America, let’s say, should intervene militarily, as indeed they did in June 1944.

But I think what has made this latest catastrophe in Iraq particularly unpalatable to me is that public opinion only seemed to turn in favour of air strikes against ISIS when it became apparent that Christians were being threatened in large numbers.  I thought perhaps I ought to check a calendar in case I’d entered a parallel universe where the year was 1400.  Having the love of Jesus in your heart sure seems to harden it in ways unfamiliar to myself at least.

So why wouldn’t the West help people in need if they have the resources to do so, regardless of the skin colour, nationality or religious belief of those who are in danger?  Why do we seem to have more concern for people who were born within the same lines drawn by other people (not God) on a piece of paper, or for people who worship the same God?  Why do we proudly boast about this?  For me, these questions run to the heart of the problems the world is currently facing, whether the subject is the economy, poverty, climate change or terrorism.  For sure we cannot hope to prevent scenarios such as that in Iraq re-occurring unless we begin to come up with the right answers to these questions – or in other words, until we begin to acknowledge what our responsibilities really are.

The status quo is nothing new.  Flagrantly misguided and irresponsible (to say nothing of outright mean and selfish) attitudes toward the wellbeing of other people have been writ large in recent years.  There is almost unanimous agreement that the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq was a terrible mistake, and that now we have cleared Afghanistan of Al-Qaeda terrorist training camps, we should leave and allow the Taliban to retake control of the country, as they surely will.  In Iraq, we are currently witnessing what happens if a tyrannical regime is ousted, advanced weaponry is stock piled, and then the liberators leave before properly securing it – i.e. before ensuring that a nation has its infrastructure fully rebuilt, its army well trained and its governance stabilised.

The truth is that the events that have led to the ISIS incursion are almost comical.  All that was needed to avoid it was a change of emphasis.  We should have prioritised actually doing a good job for the people of Iraq.  One can only wonder what conversations take place amongst ordinary Iraqis with regards to the Allied effort over the past 25 years.  For sure it’s too awful to even try to estimate how many lives might have been saved, including those of Allied soldiers, had we finished the job the first time around in 1991.

So firstly, I want to reiterate unapologetically that I think it is a good thing that we (finally) freed the Iraqi people from the tyranny of the Baathist regime, which essentially held Iraqis hostage to the will of the Hussein crime family for the worst part of 30 years, while continuously threatening the borders of neighbouring countries.  The oil money went straight into the pockets of Baath party thugs or was paid out as rewards to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers – clear evidence of sponsorship of international terrorism by the way.

Though millions in Iraq lived in squalor due to 12 years’ worth of crippling sanctions imposed by the West in order to curtail Saddam’s military ambitions, he built countless palaces and mosques of ever increasing grandeur.  Freedom of speech was non-existent, thousands were being murdered regularly at Saddam’s behest to crush any hint of rebellion, and WMD’s were being vigorously sort after from North Korea and other pariah states.  Having gassed 250,000 people with chemical weapons in Iraqi Kurdistan, no one should be under any illusions as to whether Saddam would have used such weapons again had he managed to get hold of them – the only debate should be where – or where first?

As for those types predisposed toward spouting inane drivel about the so called stability in Iraq under Saddam, maybe they might pause to ask themselves whether the families of the million and a half or so who died in the wars he started with Iran & Kuwait miss ‘that’ stability.  What a shame it is that we didn’t have the nerve or the will to win the peace after winning the war.

Perhaps even more astounding is the insistence that Allied forces leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, regardless of the situation and in spite of the fact that the current Afghan government has nowhere close to the means required to defend itself against a resurgent Taliban.  Why would anyone believe it to be a good thing for Afghans to again be exposed to such feudal brutality?

Mullah Omar’s men ruthlessly enforce Shari’a.  If a woman is raped in Afghanistan, they are immediately in even more danger the moment their ordeal of sexual assault is over because they are very often brutally punished for the perceived dishonour they have brought upon their menfolk by having sex out of wedlock – and sometimes they are stoned to death for it.  All women are forced to live their whole adult lives in a cloth bag with only a thin slit to look out through and they are forbidden from gaining an education or having a professional career.   Those who are caught attempting to defy these suffocating restrictions are most commonly attacked by having acid thrown in their faces, causing hideous disfigurements and occasionally death.  As if having their public lives mandated isn’t bad enough, Afghan women also have their home lives decided by other people.  Their husband is chosen for them (and the husband-to-be’s family pay a dowry, which equates to them paying for their son to rape an often pre-pubescent girl) and women must be a virgin on their wedding night or face violent reprisals from their communities, essentially meaning that they can never experience a loving relationship or have sex with someone of their own choosing.

I cannot think of any endeavour that should be more pressing upon our consciences than to try to protect the women of Afghanistan from having to live this reality, yet it seems to be almost an article of faith that we should leave them to the mercy of pious men as soon as possible.  Why aren’t feminists angry?  If nothing else, in an environment such as this, what does anyone imagine might be the mind-set of the next generation of men who are raised to subjugate women and only read one book?  Doesn’t anyone think that this might become a problem for us again one day?

We really do have to stop being so tribal.  We really must stop thinking of ourselves as British or American, as Christian or Islamic or whatever.  It’s meaningless.  Every life must be considered equally important for its own sake.  That might shake some people’s sense of identity but just think; instead we could identify ourselves with something far grander – the whole of planet earth.

There was a time when villages battled against each other, before realising it was counterproductive.  Later, whole regions, such as counties in England (Yorkshire against Lancashire for example) used to fight.  Then people turned their suspicions on neighbouring countries until, at least in the developed world, it became obvious that millions of people were dying for nothing, exemplified never more so than by the pointless bloodbath of The First World War.  Finally now, we have entered a new era – often controversially termed the clash of civilisations.  But with thousands of nuclear warheads in existence, most with a destructive force 30 times greater than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima (just imagine the catastrophe), we really cannot afford to continue to be so childish or short sighted any longer.  We must start to think of ourselves primarily as members of the human race, with mutually shared goals to survive, flourish and minimise suffering.

Of course I’m not suggesting that we should intervene immediately everywhere that tyranny exists.  In many circumstances, thankfully, diplomacy is the best option.  However, we must get to grips with the fact that sometimes such a human emergency can unfold that immediate, decisive action is the only correct and effective course of action.  Turning a blind eye is not a moral choice.  Doing nothing does not mean that nothing happens, it just means that something else happens.

How long will it be before a crude nuclear device reaches our shores?  Many experts put the timeline for such an eventuality at less than ten years.  We are in much more danger than a lot of people seem prepared to acknowledge and isolationism is not the answer.  Contrary to popular belief, it is not western intervention that offends the likes of ISIS & Al-Qaeda, it is the uncovered face of a woman, homosexuals, the continued existence of Israel, and non-Muslims.  The extremists have been murdering dissenters for over a thousand years.  As Sam Harris pointedly asked: “What sanctions did we have in place in the year 900 AD?”

Check out the recent Vice News videos regarding ISIS on YouTube.  These people are truly terrifying and they mean business.  Here is their latest report:

Video Link

Our goal must be to encourage the formation of more stable, democratic governments and thus allow educated, secular communities to flourish.  This will undoubtedly take a very long time.  But we have no choice other than to commit to this path because the alternative is to un-movingly watch mass graves being dug from afar and await the next assault on our homelands?


UKIP’s Conjuring Trick (And What We Can Do About It)

UKIP

On the 22nd May 2014, 4.3 million UK residents voted for the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in the European Parliament elections.  That’s about 1 in 10 of all UK adults.  Bearing in mind we are talking about a political party that wishes to privatise the NHS, legalise handguns, introduce a flat rate of tax (though they are apparently ‘re-thinking’ this), outlaw gay marriage, remove women’s rights to maternity leave, re-introduce hunting with dogs, and is led by a man who is proud to boast of his disdain at hearing foreign languages and his desire not to live next door to people of certain nationalities, this looks pretty alarming on the face of it for all moral, tolerant, liberal people.

And it is.  Although it’s true, as one tweeter put it, that Nigel Farage can’t even move a wheelie bin as his party have no seats in the House of Commons, control no councils and the European Parliament is still dominated by pro-EU members, UKIP do have one heck of platform.  They may look and sound like the BNP (that’s because they are almost indistinguishable on policy and rhetoric!), the BNP have never managed to mobilise 10% of the population, gain almost 40,000 members, or be recognised by OFCOM as a major political party.  When we consider all of this alongside the British Social Attitudes Survey released last week, that reported, amongst other things, that 30% of British people admit to being racist, we should perhaps be a little worried about the direction in which our politics may be heading.

Nigel Farage’s ‘achievements’ are all the more remarkable when we observe just how un-correlated his rabble-rousing is with reality.  Here are some statistics:

  • The UK population is approximately 64 million.  Around 56 million are white (approximately 87% of the population).
  • 7.5 million UK residents are immigrants (approximately 12% of the population).  About a third of these are from within the EU.
  • Between 2000 and 2011, immigrants were 45% less likely to claim benefits than people born in the UK and 3% less likely to live in social housing.
  • Between 2000 and 2011, immigrants arriving from within the EU contributed 34% more in taxes than they claimed in benefits, whilst British people paid 11% less in tax than they received.
  • 5% of UK residents are Muslims.
  • In the 2011 census, approximately 3.6 million people identified themselves as homosexual (approximately 6% of the population).
  • Between 2002 and 2012, total incidences of recorded crime in the UK fell from approximately 5.7 million to 3.5 million, including plummeting homicide and violent crime rates.  See the table below:

UK Gov Crime Statistics

These numbers hardly represent a United Kingdom being overrun by non-whites, foreign nationals, Muslims and homosexuals (not that that would be a problem of course!), who are destroying our once great nation by living off of benefits and causing spiralling rates of violent and sexual crime.  Yet all last week I had to listen to UKIP voters explaining that they don’t recognise their own country anymore.  Really?!

So how has Nigel Farage done it?  How has he convinced so many people of such pernicious untruths?

As has been the case time and again throughout human history, he has exploited the genuine misfortunes of people who are struggling to adapt to a fast changing world and (I suspect deliberately) misdiagnosed the cause of their problems in order to give his own prejudices a day in the sun.  To put it bluntly, he has spread lies about certain minority groups that he doesn’t like, apparently merely because he doesn’t like them, and is using this false narrative to convince people that those minorities are the root cause of their problems.  Let’s look at some more numbers:

  • In 1960, life expectancy was approximately 65 years.  In 2014, it is 78.
  • In 1960, 23 out of every 1000 babies born died before their first birthday.  Nowadays, less than 5 do. 
  • In 1960, the UK population was 52 million.  In 2014, it is 64 million.
  • By the end of the 1960’s, UK immigrants already totalled more than 3 million.  See the table below:

Population Growth

This ought to make it clear that the UK has been hurtling toward an emergency for decades.  Our population has increased by 12 million over the past 50 years (or almost 25% in half a century) but only about a third of this is due to immigration.  Thus the recent increase in the rate of immigration has only accelerated our confrontation with this emergency by a few years.  The jobs being taken by those damn foreigners that UKIP despise so much (which is odd because I thought they were mostly claiming benefits?!), would soon be unavailable in any case.

The truth is that the stresses currently being experienced in the UK are a microcosm of what is happening across the developed world (which is why many other countries are also witnessing a rise in the popularity of their far right political party’s).  We are quite simply victims of our own success.  Due to massive improvements in medicine and nutrition, the ‘baby boomers’ are refusing to die, and though we’re now having less babies over the long term, more are making it to adulthood fit and healthy.  Technological advancements have reduced the numbers of labourers required in agriculture and industry, have allowed us to import much of our produce and have enabled the offshoring of, for example call centres and helpdesks.  Though it might not seem so due to 24 hour News channels thrusting conflicts into our living rooms in high definition, we are living in increasingly peaceful times, meaning there is no longer a need to have large scale standing armies.

In short, most modern towns and cities are now painfully over-crowded and so we spend a lot of our time in queues and traffic jams.  Juxtaposed to the improvements in standards of living is the fact that even well qualified graduates are currently struggling to find work due to there being many more people and far fewer jobs.  And such is the huge demand for everything, prices are sky rocketing.  Life is hard and many people are angry and confused.  Unfortunately, this is fertile ground for the likes of UKIP and Nigel Farage.  For all too many it is enough simply to point a finger at the person with an unfamiliar accent and they will (inaccurately) fill in the blanks themselves.

Clearly then, along with disease, poverty, nuclear weapons proliferation, climate change and terrorism, over population is one of the huge questions that our generation must find an answer to.  And as with all the other issues listed above, we will not find the answer in isolation.  UKIP’s insistence upon leaving the EU and ‘closing the doors’ is guaranteed to fail to resolve the problems facing modern Britain simply because it has almost nothing to do with them.  That is not to say that the EU is perfect in its current form, but we must certainly seek to cooperate with, influence and build a strong European State.  The equal opportunities, fair minimum wage and other social welfare and health care advantages available in Britain must be nurtured and strengthened at home and exported abroad, so that other countries are equally appealing places to live, work and raise a family.  We must also of course increase tax revenue to pay for the ever growing demands on our social services.  Whilst it’s impossible not to notice that the very wealthy are in a good position to contribute to this, we should also cease to subsidise whims of fancy with the public purse.  The tens of billions of pounds spent every year funding organised religion and fighting the drug war can no longer be entertained, even as sport.  This money is entirely wasted (actually it’s worse than that – it pays for failed policies that harm society), yet it would all by itself fill the current funding gap within the NHS, with more than a little spare change left over.

‘How to save the world’ is a detailed manuscript few of us have the time to write, but we can be sure of some general themes; we know that the emancipation of women is a good cure for poverty.  Free universal health care is an obligation of any moral society, as is the tolerance and equal treatment of people from all countries, of all skin colours and of all variants of consensual sexual preferences.  The strict control of firearms has never come up short of useful for reducing violent crime and murder rates, particularly in relation to gang disputes, and a concern for the welfare of animals is also a vital health check for any community as it is inextricably linked to how people tend treat each other.  This list could hardly be more opposed to the policies of UKIP and most other far right wing groups, and so it should be obvious that it is essential for our survival and progress that we reject them.

But how do we convince the disillusioned that Nigel Farage is a false prophet?  As ever, facts are our best weapon.  You will find that almost everyone you know thinks that immigrants disproportionately claim benefits and that violent crime is on the rise, due at least in part to mass immigration.  Likewise, although Eastern Europeans, homosexuals and Muslims make up only about 15% of the UK population combined, many people seem to imagine these groups are individually approaching the majority (again, it wouldn’t matter if they were, but proving they’re not goes a long way to exposing the false narrative).  We must all be on high alert to such erroneous statements and be ready to set people straight.  Knowledge of the true state of affairs directly impacts how people view the world.  Clearly this is not a guaranteed win – the religious debate has taught us that.  Some people do prefer to live in ignorance, but such is the extent of the misinformation doing the rounds, correcting it must be a great place to start.

So argue.  Argue as if your life depends on it.  It is possible that, in Britain at least, those who believe in fairy tales will avert serious consequences of their delusions regarding the nature of the cosmos, but we can all be sure of a reckoning in this lifetime if we take a wrong turn on the political spectrum at this crucial moment in our history.  Voting will probably help as well…


Why Boxing Should Be Banned

Boxing

As a teenager I loved watching boxing.  In particular, I was a huge fan of Muhammad Ali, as so many people are, and I had most of his fights on VHS.  Indeed, my first draft of this essay included an extended adulation of his feats in order to affirm my credentials.  While doing so, even I was surprised at how little research was required – all the key dates, opponents and statistics were readily accessible from memory.  Similarly, to this day I would still rank Rocky II as one of my top ten favourite films.

But boxing must be banned.  Simply nothing else will do.  It’s impossible to square such a barbaric concept with the stated goals of civilised societies, where violence is illegal in all its forms, other than as a last resort for self-defence.  A boxing match is merely a form of organised, legalised violence, where victory is achieved by punching an opponent in the head, preferably hard enough to knock him or her unconscious, if only for one’s own safety in that your opponent will then be unable to inflict any future damage to your own brain.

Almost every major medical association in the developed world has spoken out against boxing.  In 2008, The American Medical Association noted in its ‘Report on Science and Public Health’ that boxing is a health hazard and whilst it disappointingly concluded that a legislative approach is unfeasible, it made the following comments and recommendations:

“The AMA supports publicising the deleterious effects of boxing on the health of participants and encourages the elimination of boxing from amateur scholastic, intercollegiate and governmental athletic programs as detrimental to the health of participants.”

The British Medical Association has been demanding a total ban on boxing since 1985.  In 1998 its then boxing spokesman, Dr Bill O’Neill, had this to say:

“We are very concerned about the chronic brain damage that boxers are susceptible to from repeated injuries in the ring. It is the only sport where the intention is to inflict serious injury on your opponent, and we feel that we must have a total ban on boxing. As long as the head is a valid target in boxing, these injuries are going to occur.  None of the safety measures that have been introduced over the last 10 to 20 years have had any significant impact on the brain injury and eye damage that occurs in boxing.”

The Australian Medical Association has been calling for a ban on boxing since 1997.  In 2007 they released this statement:

“The AMA opposes all forms of boxing.  All forms of boxing are a public demonstration of interpersonal violence which is unique among sporting activities. Victory is obtained by inflicting on the opponent such a measure of physical injury that the opponent is unable to continue, or which at least can be seen to be significantly greater than is received in return.”

It should also be noted that the World Medical Association has been calling for a total ban on boxing since as early as 1983.

Interestingly, boxing has already been banned in some parts of the developed world.  It is forbidden in Iceland and Norway – and Sweden only recently lifted a total ban to allow fights of just four, three minute rounds in both amateur and professional boxing.

Currently ‘The Journal of Combative Sports’ shows that approximately 10 people a year die due to boxing.  This number has been fairly consistent since 1945 but it is generally accepted to be a case of significant under-reporting, especially in amateur boxing and from certain parts of the developing world.  As more data becomes available online, the number of known deaths is expected to grow.

Of course boxing advocates continually point out that people die or suffer serious injury in other sports, and in some cases, such as American Football, very much more so.  Aside from acknowledging that two wrongs do not make a right, many more people play American Football than participate in boxing and studies have been done to show that statistically, the chance of dying whilst boxing is actually higher.  But this fails to capture the important moral considerations relating to intentions and outcomes.  Outcome is not everything – intentions matter in a just society.  As has been repeated numerous times already in this article, in boxing the actual intention is to hurt your opponent, ideally to such an extent that he or she is incapacitated, unable to stand, unconscious etc.

Some insist that the State would be over-reaching itself by imposing a ban on boxing.  But is ‘Nanny State’ really a fitting accusation toward a government that doesn’t allow people to punch each other in the face?  Surely one of the most important obligations of any government is to discourage such behaviour among its citizens.

So how problematic might it be to ban boxing?  I have to say that I don’t find the threat of underground boxing, with all its associated gore, a particularly convincing argument.  Of course to begin with, as a matter of principle, we ought not to give in to that which is undesirable just because it might be difficult to prevent.  But I wonder whether illegal boxing really would become as widespread as some believe, or be as difficult to police as, say, illegal drugs.  The latter are desired by a significant portion of the world’s population and are easy to conceal.  There is clear motive and opportunity.  Boxing is nowhere near as popular, requires a large venue and the gathering of lots of people.  Also, the appeal of fighting for the competitors would cease (if anyone is tempted to insist it is the noble art, I suggest they are not looking hard enough for ways to be noble).  I think it is highly questionable as to whether so many would be keen to step into the ring if life changing sums of money weren’t available, especially given the increased health hazards of unregulated fights, to say nothing of the risk of going to prison for a very long time for GBH or murder.

None of this should be taken as a recommendation not to learn the art of boxing via non-combative training.  The world can be a dangerous place and it is a very good idea to learn how to defend oneself.  It is also of course a fantastic way to keep fit.  But punching someone should never be considered sport, in line with its spirit of goodwill and respect.


The Shame Of Sochi

Putin

If I appear a little slow out of the blocks on this topic, what with the Winter Olympic Games now only a few days away, it is only because the perfect article had already been submitted by the brilliant Stephen Fry.  It is here, please read it:

http://www.stephenfry.com/2013/08/07/an-open-letter-to-david-cameron-and-the-ioc/.

However, further crimes have since come to light, one in particular close to my heart, so I thought I ought in fact to summarise why I agree that a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Sochi is indeed essential.

As should be clear, the price, that is to say principally the moral price, of victory for any athlete was already too high before recent developments, but now, to the outrage of holding a major global event in an openly homophobic state, we can add to the list unprecedented corruption, the non-payment and intimidation of migrant workers, the environmentally unsound disposal of waste from the development project and, despite assurances to the contrary, the senseless murder of thousands of stray cats and dogs.

Putin’s law which bans homosexual propaganda, bought and paid for by the Russian Orthodox Church he’s desperate to court, is so obviously sending a message that it hardly warrants discussion.  The basic claim that gay people wish to convert children, and are actively seeking to expose them to overtly sexual material, is baseless of course.  It is such a familiar tactic by homophobes to invoke a concern for children that it’s almost a cliché.  We can all agree that sexual material is not for children but this doesn’t require a specific law regarding homosexuals.  And whilst it is easy to see what may be in it for religious people to indoctrinate children at a young age, it’s not clear (even if it were possible) what is in it for gay people to do likewise.  The law is in fact so vague in its wording that it could be used against gay people for doing almost anything, at the whim of god knows who.  As if the real intentions of this legislation were not transparent enough then, Putin polished away the final smudges two weeks ago when he said this: “You can feel free in your relationships, but leave children in peace.”  If these Olympics awarded medals for being covertly sinister, then Mr Putin would surely take home the gold.

Everyone agrees that the Sochi games have cost at least £30 billion to prepare for, but no one really knows the true figure, if only because more than half the workers at the various construction sites have not been paid.  To give this number some context, the previous Winter Olympics cost £1.2 billion, and the London 2012 Summer Games, criticised as they rightly were for their lavishness in the face of growing austerity, cost £11 billion.  The Mayor of Sochi denies there is a problem with corruption however, just as he denies the intimidation of journalists reporting it and the destruction of surrounding habitats with the illegal dumping of ‘Olympic waste’ – but then this is a man who also refutes the existence of a single homosexual person in the whole of Sochi, in spite of there being several thriving underground gay nightclubs.

Today it is being reported that authorities in Sochi are undertaking the shooting of an estimated 2,000 stray cats and dogs.  Dogs are apparently attacking children (notice the invocation of children yet again) and straying into Olympic venues.  One might wish to table a few objections; firstly, if dogs are attacking kids on mass on the streets of Sochi, then why have they not attempted to resolve the problem (humanely) before now?  As stray dogs are usually weak, cold, tired, hungry and/or pregnant, it seems to me unlikely that they are wasting their much needed energy on attacking people.

Secondly, if dogs, not dissimilar in size to a human being on all fours, are getting into Olympic venues unnoticed, should we be more than a little concerned that terrorists may be following on behind?

Finally, as I assume cats are not forming gangs and dragging the children of Sochi off into the night for ritual slaughter, it is unclear what the official justification for their murder really is.

Perhaps then, we might dare to wonder if this has in fact been an issue long overlooked in Russia, and so to avoid its exposure via the eyesore of thousands of starving animals most of us in the west recognise as pets, the problem is being cruelly fast tracked.  Apparently nothing must ruin Putin’s big day out.

There really are some things more important than sport, even Olympic sport.  Certainly it can never justify diabolical abuses of human and animal rights.  Long before now we ought to have taken a stand against this international advertisement and promotion of a regime that insults human dignity during its most precious moments.  Whilst it is still not too late for the athletes to put their consciences before personal sporting ambition, even I can concede that it may be unfair to expect them to do so at the eleventh hour.  The correct procedure would have been to change the venue months ago.  However, everyone else can boycott it.  Journalists can refuse to write about it.  Television companies, especially the tax payer funded BBC, can put into effect a media blackout, sponsors can ask for their money back, and all the rest of us can show absolutely no interest in it.  This is a crucial moment in our history.  We must show that we have learnt from the past (for example, Berlin, 1936) and not be seen yet again to celebrate and endorse the rule of a murderous tyrant.