Friday, 18 December 2015

Review: 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'

The short and non-spoiler version: I liked it and I had fun with it. The characters are great. Daisy Ridley (Rey) is brilliant in the film; I didn't quite take to her when she was introduced but she grew on me hugely as it went on. John Boyega (Finn) is also really good and seeing Han and Chewie again (you know who plays them) is brilliant. Adam Driver (Kylo Ren) is also excellent and conveys the anxieties of his character very well. The visuals are stunning, but kept safely in the background (correcting an error of the prequels). Broadly I agree with a lot of what John Scalzi says in his review.

But I also find myself uncertain about it, which is indicated by the word 'like' I suppose. I found it to be a bit underwhelming. Below the fold is a fuller review - which I will try and keep spoiler free, but there are a bit more plot details so the especially spoiler panicky (of which I count myself) should avoid.

Friday, 11 December 2015

In the Multiverse...

The Day Britain Abandoned Democracy

Cast your minds back to Saturday, February 15th 2003.

On that day we witnessed one of the largest civil protests in history. By some estimation there may have been close to two million people who turned out onto the streets. What were they protesting? Some affront to civil liberties? The wickedness of Kim Jon-Il's regime in North Korea?

No. On that day they were protesting against the overthrow of Fascist regime.

The course of events on that day is now well known. Tony Blair, the then Prime Minister, was eager to follow George W. Bush into war in Iraq. The plan was simply to overthrow the murderous dictator, Saddam Hussein, and promote freedom and democracy in Iraq. An extension of the invasion going on in Afghanistan. 

Yet that protest changed everything. Gordon Brown, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, telephoned Blair to announce that he would not be supporting the decision to go to war. Brown, self-servingly, saw an opportunity to seize the crown of Prime Minister for himself, acting on, as we now know, advice from the weasel, and now Prime Minister of limp minority government, Ed Milliband. Blair, nobly, unwilling to risk the parties collapse in the face of stern opposition, resigned. Brown was elected leader and took the party away from war. His actions were met with much celebration.

And for what? Look on Iraq. The Americans, having to handle things themselves, obviously made a hash of their noble mission. Although now something approaching a workable state, Iraq still has problems to deal with, no least from the wicked forces of ISIS. The region is in a perilous position. And just think, all of his could have been avoided, could have been prevented, if Britain had but gone along.

"The idea," Tony Blair said, speaking later, "was always that by being in that coalition, standing alongside the Americans, we could influence things. We could have helped George, helped keep the hawks in his administration down, and more importantly helped improve things for the people of Iraq.

"I often wonder if I did right. Should I have put party unity in before helping the people of Iraq? Could I have done things differently? I suppose we will never know, but the thought haunts me."

He's right. Bush was clearly incapable of handling the responsibility on his own. He had the right intentions, we can never fault him for that, but the skills needed to successfully build the future of a democratic Iraq were always lacking. The judgment needed for it was never there. Those skills and that judgement would have been ably provided by Blair who, working with the President, would have been able to steer him onto the right course.

Milliband has, of course, maintained his disgraceful stance of opposition to intervention, thus giving tacit support to Assad and now ISIS. "It's dreadful," George Osborne, leader of the opposition, said. "Our reputation among our allies is now so soiled we're not considered worth their time. The Prime Minister may well have to start seeking new friends in the world, like China. Think on the terrible implications of that."

So we should. But then cosying up to totalitarian dictators has long been a past-time of the left. Think of the way they praise Castro for example, and look upon his regime in Cuba. Why should we expect that, in reality, they aren't more comfortable being chums with Xi Jingping, than Barack Obama?

That Saturday will come to be a day that we associated with shame. What were the people protesting? What were they celebrating? They were protesting the defeat of a fascist. They were celebrating a poke in the eye to the Americans. And that really does sum up the Stop the War Coalition and the Left. They are anti-Western. Their ire will never be turned against the likes of North Korea, or Russia, or any other corrupt and belligerent nation. Because fundamentally this is an act of self-hatred. Because fundamentally they hate the West and its values as much as ISIS does. That is the reason why they celebrated their successful opposition to bringing freedom and democracy to some of the most oppressed, brutalized and deprived people in the world.

That was the time when Britian should have stood up, together, and fought for freedom, as it did in World War II. Thanks to the left we instead decided that abandoning our allies at their time of need was more important. 

History will judge them harshly.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Intervention Without Responsibility

The proposal of extending airstrikes into Syria to combat Daesh is under discussion today, with the vote occurring later. You can read the whole sorry 'debate' in the commons here. As for the particulars about whether or not we should be intervening, or on the nature of the evidence Cameron has provided to support his view that they would be supported by 70,000 moderate fighters [1] who would push back Daesh in Syria Septicisle covers it very well here and here.

I'm not going to get into this. Suffice to say I think that this is all putting the cart before the horse and that, with the United States and Germany looking to commit their troops to the ground, I suspect we'll be in for more than just airstrikes in the coming future. Corbyn is basically correct: until there is a political solution and an objective that we're working towards, very little is going to be achieved by dropping bombs on Daesh held territory. We'll kill a few of them, and probably a lot of civilians, but it won't actually succeed at anything until it's welded to a more concrete strategy. Getting the strategy sorted first would be the most important thing, then the intervention.

Instead, I'm just going to briefly go into the morality of it. My jumping off for this point is Cecile Fabre's article 'Mandatory Rescue Killings'. More specifically the thought experiment that she poses in it. Starting from the assumption that is morally permissible to kill someone in self-defence [2] she argues that in a scenario where a victim (V) is threatened by a morally culpable attacker (A) [3] and cannot defend themselves, then a rescuer (R) has the right to intervene and kill A on the behalf of V. This makes logical sense, after all if you are allowed to kill in your own self-defence then it does stand to reason that the right to kill in self-defence can transfer to someone who is capable of defending you when you are not.

Fabre's position is quite nuanced and the article itself is interesting (whilst she asserts that a person would have the moral right to intervene, it's not so clear that they would have the moral duty, or obligation to do so). What I want to take from this is it's relevance to humanitarian interventions. The logic, obviously, is clear in the Syria case: Daesh (the A) are killing Syrians and threatening others (the V), so we (the R) have a duty to intervene to protect them. As the Syrians, the civilians, are incapable of defending themselves their right of self-defence has transferred to us.

Obviously the case is a lot more complicated than this and many, many of these assumptions can be argued with, but I want to keep it to it's basics and just complicate it in one respect. If the victim has been attacked, and is injured as we might suppose, then if R intervenes and stops A, his obligations do not end there. After all, it'd be a funny sort of interventionist who dives in, kills the attacker, and then runs out to roar his triumph and beat his chest in victory for all to see, whilst quietly leaving V to bleed to death.

And yet this is the situation that we appear to be in. Nobody, after all, is making any kind of serious proposition towards what will happen after Daesh are defeated. The chaos of Syria would still be there and would still need to be resolved. It would likely need the interventionists to stay for a while, sort things out and promote a better future. But that isn't on the table. Indeed the precedent from Libya is worrying. What happened in Libya was exactly the scenario I described above: we went in, we stopped A (Qaddafi) then we ran away and shouted our triumph and left the Libyans to burn. Indeed the country is in such a state that you could make a plausible argument that Virgil was a time traveler who brought Dante to the future, not a spirit who took him on a tour of Hell.

This is the legacy of Blair and Bush. Say what you like about them, but at least they were prepared to stay and try and solve the problems in post-war Iraq (badly, but hey). Their successors, Cameron in particular, are wary of this having seen the political fallout and the cost. Public's loose interest in moral missions; and, unfortunately, interventions take a lot of time and money particularly when they're on a large scale. So, instead, they take the plaudits of going to war and doing something, but avoid the climb-down and the miseries of the aftermath. This is intervention without the responsibility that goes along with it.

Any intervention carries a responsibility to the people intervened on the behalf of, particularly in situations where they're already badly wounded and the place is chaotic. That responsibility doesn't stop with bombs. If we have a moral right and a moral duty to intervene, then we also have a moral duty to stick around and help make things better.

Remember that the next time some politician goes prattling on about what our moral obligations are.

[1] If they're anything like the Labour 'moderates' then that's a large barrel of dangerous fanatics we're dealing with here...

[2] A not incontestable assumption, but I won't get into it.

[3] That is, someone who is acting of their own volition and not at the behest of someone else, controlled by something, or out of their mind etc.