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Good call

Thirty-two years ago today, one guy decided not to start a nuclear war.

He was a Soviet military man named Stanislav Petrov, whose job at the time involved checking whether America had launched at nuclear missiles at Russia lately. If they had, he was to escalate this up the chain of command, where the standard strategy that would presumably be enacted would be for Russia to launch some of its nuclear missiles back at America.

On 26 September 1983, due to some technical glitch, it looked like America had launched a nuclear missile at Russia.

Stanislav Petrov decided not to report this to his superiors, and so Russia did not launch any of its nuclear missiles at America. No superpowers killed millions of each others’ citizens that day.

Let’s spare a moment today to appreciate the line of reasoning which led to this decision.

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Here are some things Peter Hitchens has talked about:

TSA-style security theatre.

The stupidity of Western military policy. In particular, our government’s more recent tendency for military intervention overseas.

Nebulous laws against extremism which stifle free speech.

The purpose and attitude of the police.

The fucking Tories, as well as the ludicrous state of contemporary UK party politics.

Trident.

He’s basically right about all of these things, as you might have guessed was my point. Certainly more so than many commentators who are still taken seriously by people with politics close to my own.

His concerns about new legislation enacted by the “thought police” may not precisely parallel mine, but the quashing of alternative ideas is a dangerous one, even if those ideas are icky and homophobic etc. And on our continued involvement in global warfare, he seems to be far more reliable than his late brother was.

Just don’t get him started on atheists or cannabis, and the guy actually has a lot to say.

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A couple of things following on from yesterday’s post:

Alan Henness noticed an interesting shifting quality of the police reporting on the poppy-burning incident. Essentially, there’s a certain amount of confusion over whether the offense in question was mostly concerned with the arson itself, or the accompanying abusive caption which allegedly accompanied the picture.

According to some reports, the phrase “How about that you squadey cunts” was attached to the photo, and it may have been this which attracted the complaint(s) and gave ground for the arrest. I had read about this yesterday, but decided not to make it a significant point. As far as I can tell, it’s just more discussion about the rape victim’s attire. Yes, it’s a rude and insulting thing to say. I don’t doubt it would cause someone somewhere offence to read those words, and my first thought would be that anyone capable of uttering a phrase like that is likely an obnoxious twat. None of which makes a blind bit of difference to the lunacy of his being arrested over it.

Anyway, a little later Andy linked to another infuriating story about the white poppy. I mentioned the white poppy symbol briefly in my last post. It’s been around almost as long as its red counterpart, and was intended to have a more pacifist emphasis. With the red, some people in this country think it places too much emphasis on British soldiers, to the exclusion of combatants from other countries, and tacitly supports a militaristic mindset. If you want to remember everyone who’s died in war, with the intent of reinforcing ideas such as “Wow, let’s never do any of that again for any reason”, then maybe the white poppy’s for you.

It’s a low-key thing, offered as an alternative or complement to the ubiquitous popular choice. And, according to a candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner in Luton, it’s offensive and it desecrates the past.

Seriously, this is exactly what I was talking about yesterday when I mentioned the social compulsion that sometimes exists around the red poppy. In some people’s eyes, if you don’t do things our way, then you’re wrong, an outsider, and your actions are deplorable. If you dare to remember the past and honour the fallen in an unapproved fashion, then you deserve to be harangued and have any public expression of your feelings restricted.

The man who’d been laying a white wreath every Remembrance Day for 24 years, Marc Scheimann, had one English grandfather and one German – they both died in World War II, each with opposite allegiances. Their children, presumably, later married, in a rather glorious example of humanity’s ability to overcome tribal allegiances and hatred, and find common ground and solidarity.

Kevin Carroll didn’t seem interested in any of that. According to Mr Scheimann’s report:

He called me a scumbag and said when he was police commissioner he would make sure I went to jail for this.

This isn’t quite how Kevin Carroll remembers it. In his own words:

It will cause massive offence if Mr Scheimann is not prevented from laying his wreath of white poppies as they symbolise cowardice.

But he was allowed to lay it and then a drunk woman tried to remove it.

Remembrance is to pay honour but he was just there to desecrate it.

Which, frankly, doesn’t make him sound like any less of a dick.

If you’re so uninterested in the sometimes tricky details of reality, that the moment someone deviates from your accepted way of doing things even a little – even so far as to pick a different colour flower by which to remember the past with a slightly different attitude toward foreign affairs – you start to see them as an offensive and dangerous menace whose actions and words need to be suppressed…

…then, well, I don’t even know how to finish that sentence about you. But, wow. You suck.

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#Poppycock

Someone took some of their own property, defaced it in a perfectly safe and easily avoidable manner, posted a picture of it online, and spent last night in a jail cell.

You’ve probably already heard about this, and no, I can’t make any more sense of it than you can.

The red poppy dates back to 1920 as a symbol of remembrance for soldiers who’ve died in war, and in Britain they can be seen being worn by pretty much everyone for, it seems, the several weeks surrounding November 11th, the day which saw the end of World War I.

It’s turned into something odd since then. The harmless artificial flower has started to become a focus point for an inexplicably intense sense of righteousness, indignation, and nationalism. Beyond simply something people do as a personal gesture of remembrance, it’s been turning into something you must do, and must do publicly enough that we all know you’re doing it, if you don’t want people to conclude that you hate Britain, or hate dead soldiers, or don’t care about the heroic sacrifice of something-or-other.

Those who most ardently claim to support the wearing of the poppy are also those most vocally encouraging this shift in attitudes, even though it goes against their purported interests. If it’s important to be able to wear a poppy to demonstrate your respect for the deceased, why would you work to make yourself indistinguishable from crowds of others, who bear the same emblem but don’t share your feelings – who wear the poppy more out of fear that they’d be branded “disrespectful” if they failed to do so, than from any sincere appreciation of the bravery of past generations? It seems counter-productive.

Similarly, show me an American who developed a greater respect for his country as a result of its coercive measures that prevent him from burning a flag. You can’t force people to feel the same way you do, and making them put on a show while hiding their true feelings serves no purpose except to help you live in a fantasy world, at the expense of others’ autonomy.

I’ve got a little distracted here by my opposition to certain zealously patriotic organisations and Facebook groups. What sparked my interest, though, was this 19-year-old guy being arrested and thrown in jail over an image of a poppy being set alight.

In every comment on this story, it seems obligatory to mention the nature of the sacrifice that the poppy represents, and bring to mind those who gave their lives fighting to defend the very freedoms which some people now use to defile a revered symbol.

The irony may be of some interest, but it’s irrelevant to the important point. Even if the concept of freedom had never had anybody die in an effort to defend it, locking people in a cage for burning a poppy in an act of disrespect is an insane way for any civilised country to behave.

And something else that should be irrelevant to how we respond to tyranny is the arsonist’s intentions, or how public he made his display, or how provocative he was attempting to be. A few weeks ago, when Islamic extremists were losing their shit over a blasphemous YouTube video, Penn Jillette was discussing it (I forget where) and said something like: “I wish we could all stop talking about what the rape victim was wearing”. A lot of people prefaced their condemnation of that religious violence by vociferously deploring any insult against Islam. It was an appalling, abusive, low-quality, tenth-rate film, we were told. This didn’t excuse the violence of the response, of course, but

Leave aside how apt a rape comparison is for something about poppies. It’s an analogy of principle; the details and the scale of it aren’t supposed to carry across. The point is, there’s really no good reason to give the tiniest fleck of a shred of an iota of a toss whether this guy’s a total ass, or how obnoxious a sentiment he may have been expressing in the caption to the image. What matters is that the police came and took him away from his home and forced him into a cell, because some people thought he was acting offensively by posting a picture of a burning flower online.

Our law is set up such that it’s entirely possible he’ll end up being charged with a serious crime, a conviction for which could land him in prison for a number of months, as well as branding him as a criminal for the rest of his life.

If you’re going to allow that, why not cram people into a cage against their will because they used swear words on a website that children might potentially visit? Or because they jumped into a river and got in some posh people’s way? Or because they commented that the Queen looks a bit bloody miserable in any given public appearance?

If that sounds ridiculous, it should. If it sounds like it could never happen… Don’t get complacent.

As an incidental postscript, white poppies are for peace.

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I haven’t written at length about the ultrasound probes that legislators in certain states are requiring that women be forcibly penetrated with before they’re permitted certain medical procedures. But given the implicit rationale behind the law (that those shameful sluts must be made to understand the full consequences of their actions), I like this as a complementary idea:

I have a modest proposal that would resolve the issue. In Virginia, Texas, and the six other states that now mandate this procedure, let Army and other military recruiters be veterans who have lost an arm or a leg or been otherwise traumatized in combat. Let every recruiting station show continuous images of innocent noncombatants who died, including under attacks by American drones. Let the recruiting centers display that Russian proverb, “Every bullet finds its target in a mother’s heart.” And above all, let each prospective recruit and his or her mother be advised that he or she is not at all unlikely to commit suicide after undergoing the dehumanization of basic training (“basic” to all violent systems) and coming to realize the horrible hypocrisy of what they have been brought to do by a heartless state.

And especially in Texas, the execution capital of the country, let every warden who’s about to order the execution of a death-row inmate talk the matter over with the inmate’s mother. Let the executioners themselves listen to the heartbeat of the prisoner and hear his (or her) own story of how they were led by a violence-prone society, with its mass-media culture, to commit the crime.

Also, Viagra prescriptions to require a urethral sounding.

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Here’s an article about targeted drone strikes.

Here are a few choice phrases from the article, presented largely without comment, which make my head hurt.

In this new age of drone warfare, probing the constitutional legitimacy of targeted killings has never been more vital

There are contested legal issues surrounding drone strikes

Awlaki’s killing and others like it have solid legal support and are embedded in an unprecedentedly robust system of legal and political accountability

Whatever else the term “force” may mean, it clearly includes authorization from Congress to kill enemy soldiers

Congress as a whole is well aware of the president’s targeted killing program

The Supreme Court has ruled in many contexts that due process does not always demand judicial scrutiny

There is simply no way to wring all potential error from the system and still carry on a war

While the Obama administration can improve its public explanations for targeted killing, its critics have wildly overstated the legal concerns about the practice

There is every reason to think that the government was super careful

Super careful, you guys.

And finally:

President Harry Truman, for example, received a great deal of advice about whether and how to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but it didn’t come from lawyers advising him on the laws of war.

Thank Christ we’ve come so far from those horrible days, when world leaders didn’t have the reassuring presence of legal experts there to assure them that killing millions of foreigners was technically fine as far as the paperwork was concerned.

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– It’s important that certain facts about US military action overseas aren’t reported in the media. Otherwise the public might get “the wrong idea” – which, in this case, means “an accurate idea”.

– As the government keep telling us, these “workfare” schemes where jobseekers often do entirely unpaid full-time work for large, profitable corporations aren’t compulsory. There’s a voluntary work experience scheme in place. It’s just that, if you refuse it, you may be put on a mandatory one.

– Apparently both passive-aggression and actual aggression are among the standard ways in which elected officials interact with the general public. How reassuring to know we have people representing us who hold us in such high regard.

Tim Harford for Chancellor.

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