A Thundering Good Read

The 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War and the recent annual remembrance parades have touched us all and each in our own way.

The casualty lists are desperately sobering though with up to 5,000 names appearing on some days.

The casualty lists are desperately sobering though with up to 5,000 names appearing on some days.

I’ll admit to a life-long interest in the conflict and like to think I’m fairly well and broadly read on the subject. I’ve taken though, to following the war  in a slightly different way. I subscribe to both digital versions of the Times and the Telegraph. The Times though has a simply awesome archive of past papers and it is through these that day by day, I’m following the war a hundred years on.

True, some of the reporting may obviously be sanitised but I can tell you it’s massively more comprehensive than anything we’ve been fed in recent decades from Iraq and Afghanistan. I find it interesting on multiple levels, not least that the war is reported from all fronts and naval actions too are very well covered.

 

Typical obituary notice in the Times; Lt Arthur Collins, 628 not out at Clifton when 13

Typical obituary notice in the Times; Lt Arthur Collins, 628 not out at Clifton when 13

Major H G Powell, the fifth CO of the 1st Loyals since the outbreak of war; "With a hail of shells and bullets falling around him he directed the operations of his detachment from the chair in which he sat until he was wounded."

Major H G Powell, the fifth CO of the 1st Loyals since the outbreak of war; "With a hail of shells and bullets falling around him he directed the operations of his detachment from the chair in which he sat until he was wounded."

Short obituaries of some officers are listed every day and the vast majority are regular officers, most having seen service throughout the Empire with names such as Omdurman, Ladysmith and Mafeking often recurring. That will change as we move into 1915, mostly because there wasn’t much of the pre war regular army left. Each though has a story such as young Lt Arthur Collins above who scored a remarkable 628 not out as a 13 year old schoolboy at Clifton and the commanding officers of the 1st Loyals below that.

The articulate and colourful 1914 equivalent of being dumped by text

The articulate and colourful 1914 equivalent of being dumped by text

We'll never know if she made his day.

We'll never know if she made his day.

Anyone looking for the opening line of a novel need look no further

Anyone looking for the opening line of a novel need look no further

The paper exudes social history. I’m finding the personal notices both desperately sad with parents making public enquiries about the well-being of their sons at the front, “may be a prisoner of war,” and entertaining with romantic notices, “meet me under the clock…” There are too a great many notices in French, reflecting the wave of refugees in London, (not unlike today you might think!), and as the war goes on, a growing number of “disengaged,” servants seeking work, houses and flats for rent or sale and auctions of possessions. I expect all of these will clearly grow as the war goes on.

Personal notices placed in respect of the "football" debate.

Personal notices placed in respect of the "football" debate.

The letters page also reflected the "football," debate.

The letters page also reflected the "football," debate.

There are a few running debates in the paper with one of the most strident surrounding the decision of the Football Association to continue with professional matches. This attracts lively criticism with complaints about the lack of volunteers stepping forward to enlist at league matches. There are some who defend the game asking what separates the football players and fans from those who go to the theatre, horse racing or other sports and activities.

It’s a heart tugging journey each day punctuated only by the odd uplifting piece. It’s going to be a long four years but I’m nonetheless finding it rewarding and look forward to sharing the odd piece with you.

Having discussed the Great War I should end by mentioning the publication today by the Telegraph of a "virtual memorial" to our 453 dead from the conflict in Afghanistan from 2001-2014. Their average age was 22. The obituaries from family, friends and comrades for each of the 450 men and three women are warm and friendly as befits the changed times but actually, you feel the pain in the reading. God bless them all. We will remember, always.

Shocking Ommission

The Downton Abbey scriptwriter hard at it

Another unpublished letter to the Telegraph, 

Dear Sir,

My usual morning equilibrium was rocked today as I travelled on the 06:00hrs from Haslemere, when I discovered whilst passing through Woking that excepting a fleeting reference relating to a photograph on page 8, the usual fawning and sycophantic daily piece about Downton Abbey was absent from the paper. This shocking omission left me with nothing to complain about on arrival at Waterloo but has left me feeling oddly uplifted and optimistic about the rest of my day.

Yours faithfully,
— Mental Crumble

Syria; So What?

Camera's in Westminster; Press Are On The Start Line Then

"UK Politicians . People who don't hesitate to bomb other countries on the flimsiest of evidence but spend years worrying over whether to implement a badger cull . " Army Rumour Web Site

Our Nobel Peace Prize winning President used to think in 2007; Obama:  "The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."  With Boehner tearing off a letter signed by 118 Congressmen, (18 Democrats), making it clear that keeping the legislature in the dark is not going to cut it - the UN Sec Gen throwing up obstacles - and now his chief ally Britain having difficulties in going straight to war..... then Barry is taking his time for good reason.  And we should be thankful for his reticence in foreign matters, even if it is indecision.  When Russia and China start sounding reasonable it is time to think again.

We are now in a phase where all involved, on all sides, will seek to confuse, confound and mislead. This is all part of the disinformation and deception campaign which of course, makes perfect tactical sense. This will inevitably create a lot of market noise and markets will ebb and flow with each wave of news, regardless of its veracity. That is, right up until we wake up to hear on the news that Tomahawks are jinking down downtown Damascus.

Surprisingly, Milliband has for once caught the national mood and suddenly become the hate figure in Westminster as a government source tells the Times, 

“No 10 and the Foreign Office think Miliband is a f****** c*** and a copper-bottomed s***. The French hate him now and he’s got no chance of building an alliance with the US Democratic Party”

Why? Here is where things stand this morning. Miliband’s threat to oppose the government means the PM doesn’t have the numbers for military action. Today’s vote will now not authorise intervention, there will have to be a second vote next week if Cameron wants war.” Guido

 

UKIP Says No To War In Syria

As one chum put it "I never like to see that snivelling millipede score a point but someone had to stop Cameron".  Labour were very close to forcing a major defeat on the Govt which resulted in the motion being moved to one of principle today; but we should expect the Mother of all Parliaments to put on a fine display of calm reason.  Open goal for UKIP as well as Nigel Farage echoes the fine words of Lord Tebbit. (Does Cameron really want to lose his summer of easy victories over Labour and the virtual disappearance of UKIP all in one fell swoop?).

" It was not the Assad government which declared war on the Syrian people. Over the years the Assads, father and son, had been authoritarians but by the standards of the Middle East they had respected minorities, not least the Christians. It would be a gross oversimplification of the very complex religious and tribal and ethnic divisions within Syria to blame the Islamists alone, but it was the more extreme Islamists who became increasingly restive at the deviant tolerance of the Assads and they who incited an undeclared war against it and Assad.

What the British and American governments have to ask themselves is who would be strengthened most by any proposed warlike action. If it were to be designed to weaken Assad, would it be a coalition of the moderates of all shades who might find a peaceful way forward, or the extremists who would more likely want to impose a far harsher regime than that of Assad before the uprising? And if despite the first wave of military action the Assad govt survived but became more & not less intransigent towards the rebels of all shades, what then?"

Of course, Sarin itself has a short shelf life once the precursor chemicals are mixed, and so Saddam theories are discountable. Production of Sarin has been a schedule 1 war crime offence since 1993....so by forensic thought, we need to find a supplier with a chemical industry that produces organophosphates...such as sheep dip. That opens out the suspects......"

 

Syrian and US Assets (Bloomberg)

For the moment the Middle East Peace Envoy Tony Bliar (oh the irony -stop it), his press spokesman of old Alistair Campbell and it seems Sam Cam are the main proponents of the school of bomb them back into the middle ages. They might want to just check the above out as this will not be a Libyan style push over.

So who does this crisis help?  Apart from the obvious Sunni/Shia  push and shove; 

1. Obama as he may get his budget/debt ceiling through as Republicans may have to back down in all decency, (ok unlikely but may help if we are being really cynical) 

2. He gets to rig the FOMC again and wave Summers through (again bit of a stretch).

3. Israel as they won't have to be quite so nice to Palestinians in upcoming talks (though I think Netanyahu is right on everyone's case regarding Iran and setting easy precedents)

4. New boy in Iran can't play the peace card to western media and look all normal and nice - which by the way they have in condemning use of chemical weapons.  Unfortunately, they went on to warn Iran will attack and "burn" Israel if Syria is attacked - expect Iran to retaliate via unconventional methods e.g kidnappings via Hezbollah etc

 5.  Erdogan, Hollande and several others with "local difficulties" can divert attention.  As Rahm Emanuel allegedly said never let a good crisis go to waste - always an opportunity.

Meanwhile the US government  are leaking news of impending action on high value targets. The message being delivered to the media and to a public fatigued by war, is that strikes will be limited to high value targets. The last thing Washington wants is regime change because that would create the need for massive resources for a nation building clean-up, involvement in another civil war, another $1tr, probably 5,000 casualties etc etc etc

Obama is due in Sweden on Sep 3rd and then Russia for the G20 on the 5th-6th, the suggestion being that he’d like it all tied up by then, ie limited strike, (Stratfor).

However, other countries are quickly putting the brakes on incl the UK, (above), who at the moment, will struggle to get a vote through parliament without the report from the UN inspectors producing verification, (its not even finished). An attack without clear legal authority would be politically damming both here and in the US and that is thus far, also subject to the UN report. As time passes, domestic opposition here is growing and coalescing across an unlikely collective across the political spectrum.

There is an outside chance that the Russians might cooperate and help remove Assad. Russia still has a large presence in Syria and removing the head but leaving the body in place, (Army, security, intelligence & government), would avoid creating a power vacuum that would allow extremists to flourish. On current form, Putin is unlikely to acquiesce but you never know. For the moment, Russia has announced it is “adjusting” its Naval group in the Med, with Interfax reporting that  they’re sending an additional anti-submarine ship and missile cruiser. Putin and Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, announced they had a telephone conversation yesterday in which they stressed the need to settle the conflict by political and diplomatic means. Meanwhile, the French have dispatched the anti aircraft frigate Chevalier Paul “in the direction of Syria,” which probably means to Corsica for lunch given their parliamentary debate isn’t until next Wednesday. We meanwhile are sending six Tornadoes to Cyprus. Getting crowded down there though and accidents do, unfortunately happen.

Conspiracy theorists may wish to consider this disturbing article.

With regard to markets, an enormously complex geopolitical, religious and civil conflict is not going to be easier to understand over coming days. Markets will continue to trade in an erratic fashion with obvious sensitivity to headlines. Markets will however, want to believe in the “clean and limited,” strike and I tend to the feeling that shares will want to rally short term from here. Having recalibrated down in a somewhat disorderly way they now need to find their levels and re-establish their value based relationships with one another.

However, any rally would have to be quite powerful indeed to overcome the new intermediate downtrend which has taken hold. Much technical damage has been done. In S&P terms, be very cautious if we break down through 1627; above 1640-1643 would probably ignite a short bull run but the dizzy heights of the 1670-80 zone would make me very cautious again. I believe rallies will be sold and the debt ceiling talks, Asian contagion and Europe will all contribute to headwinds for equities. (Europe is the bad boy no one is pricing and crude will impact us all; crude especially is a tax on producers and consumers and spikes in the crude px have usually preceded shares being hammered, (1987, 1999-00, 2005, 2007,).

War lust antidote here.

In summary, the hopes of a clean and limited strike to deliver a bloody nose to the school ground bully but with no fall-out remains possible but is getting ever so more complicated with each day that passes. When I was a young officer cadet we were taught to ask the question “So what?” to every potential action, and then “So what?” to each outcome until we exhausted the process to come to a conclusion. So what? There are an awful lot of “So what?” strands to this wee planning and political challenge. 

Journalism

 

So, as the News of the World is chopped we are again reminded that the British can be pushed only so far before they respond; that their tolerance does indeed have limits and that Mr Murdoch is the latest in a long line of foreign gentlemen to learn that to their cost. Years of crossing whatever might have been deemed to be a line of reasonableness and of abuse of press freedom came to an abrupt halt when we learned that the NOTW interfered with the murder inquiry of a child and intruded upon the grief of our war widows.

There is some hand wringing by journalists this morning and inevitably, they can see the writing on the wall. Murdoch has sacrificed £93m of NOTW revenue to protect the Mother ship's £20.5bn total revenue and to keep the Sky deal on track. The declining circulation of newspapers is very well documented. The demise of the NOTW may give the Sunday Mirror and Mail on Sunday a temporary lift but the final outcome will not change; they're all doomed.

Meanwhile, Milliband is currently talking from Reuters HQ attempting to take and hold the high moral ground and lecture the world on media ethics. Coming from a Labour politician that's a bit rich. I'd lob a brick through the screen if I weren't in the office. As previously discussed, things have got to this stage because of the white faced cowardice of Westminster, their blind obsession with spin and presentation and their nerve jangling fear of truth. 

Anyway, I'm reminded of this splendid quote from Hunter S Thompson which just about nails it for me:

"Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fvckoffs and misfits -- a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy p1ss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo-cage."  

Hunter S Thompson (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream

News of the World Scandal; Flash Update!

Oh I wish, wish I'd done this.................. absolutely bloody excellent:

 

 

Gotcha!

 

The howls of indignation about phone hacking and the News of the World emanating from the Outrage Bus parked outside Westminster has, to my ears, a hollow and tinny sound; like the sort of pinging a cheap Chinese watch makes. It's an absolute fact that to the detriment of anything resembling standards in our society the leaders of all parties have for years courted Murdoch and his papers, even to the extent of employing former editors as their spin meisters. Well, Cameron's got a big old septic boil to lance now.

That it took the revelation that a murdered child's mobile telephone was hacked to give Westminster some backbone after years of sycophantic toadying to News International is just profoundly depressing. Perhaps our formally unelected upper chamber was the only constituency in the country which was independently minded enough to stand up to them. Well, they're not around anymore.

Moreover, hacking into bereaved relatives phones leave one wondering if the story can get any worse. Don't worry; it can and very probably will for these vermin know no limits in their pursuit of so called "stories." 

No-one to whom I have talked is in the least surprised by any of this. The general public long since abandoned any confidence in the ability of our tabloid press to lift themselves out of the grimy, manipulative and nasty sewer which they call home. 

Audience participation though will no doubt spike when we get to the point when some of these cornered rats begin to turn on themselves and begin to spill the beans on each other, Westminster and their competitors. It's just a fact that the press always have more stories than they dare publish. None of them have yet gone nuclear but I suspect someone will, "I found Jesus and he led me to the truth.... when I worked at the ........" and so on. 

The broadsheets needn't take on that holier than thou stance either. In "Newspaper Reporters Plumb New Depths," I discussed how reporters from the Mail and Times trawled the Facebook pages of children for gossip and stories. Odd too how the Mirror is strangely quiet; given they were happy to fabricate stories about British soldiers under that supercilious reptile Piers Morgan it's only a matter of time before their name pops up in the frame. I have experience of their reporters door stepping bereaved families; contempt doesn't come close to what I think of them.

However, the deeply troubling aspect of this disgraceful episode is the reprehensible action of a small number of police officers who accepted bribes from journalists. They will be found and they will go to prison, it's as simple as that. We should chuck the editors and journo's in with them and melt the keys.

News International meanwhile is sinking into a world of financial and reputational hurt, Sunday should certainly be interesting. Some people are even wondering if they used the same password for their email as they used for their Myspace and News International accounts, if they had them. News Internationals statement in 2009 in response to police interest reads as if it were penned by Lewis Carrol, "It is untrue that officers found evidence of News Group staff, either themselves or using private investigators, hacking into "thousands" of mobile phones." Well done Hayley Barlow and Alice Macandrew; just oozing journalistic integrity.

It would of course be warming to think that the News of the World will now go into a death spiral and be quickly buried and forgotten forever. It's unlikely, sadly. Never underestimate how low our fellow citizens will go in their happy pursuit of sex and scandal; however fabricated some of it may be.

And the thing that leaves me feeling like my lungs have been ripped out by an 800lb gorilla? The fact that the Guardian has been the only entity to consistently illuminate the wrongdoing and subversive influence of News International. I'll never be able to bring myself to buy it but they do chalk up some good guy points for the stand they've made. 

As a said earlier, the entire debacle is unedifying and profoundly depressing. Lets conclude then with a story which lays the lie of good journalistic practice bare but leaves us with a smile. Over to Uncle Marvo,

"PILOT'S SKILL SAVES PREGNANT WIFE FROM DISASTER

Pilot Philip Foster's skill and training saved his pregnant wife from certain death yesterday when his aircraft's engine failed whilst returning to his home airfield. He averted disaster by landing in a field, avoiding surrounding villages ...

What a hero, eh?

This is the reality.

Philip Foster (the name they used, and nothing like mine) was actually buggering off somewhere else because the weather was nice, rather than returning home, and was skiving off work. The wife at the time was indeed a bit pregnant as I remember, and was reading a book, oblivious to the engine failure which the hero, Marvo, was addressing with what can only be described as the full three degrees of incompetence.

Having looked around for a suitable landing site and found something vaguely greener than most other possibilities, Marvo proceeds to fail to turn off the fuel. He then descends, because this what aircraft do when they have a buggered engine, normally. He fails to apply the flap, then careers into a field of winter barley, about two feet or so higher than the wings, at a rather unusual angle and executes what can only be described as a "crash" which, had it not been for the height of the crop, would have taken out a small village, church and sub post-office.

Marvo then finds the nearest pub and proceeds to drink it dry.

Now, compare that to the MSM article above? Any similarity at all?

No, didn't think so."