Oh come on America…

Come on America, you’re not going to fall for this are you? What Obama has failed to do is down to your bipartisan political system that puts block after block in the way of getting anything like serious change. And if you believe that Romney is going to do anything spectacular in getting the country back to work you are frankly deluded.
Oh, and you’re whinging about $3.90 for a gallon of gas. We have to pay out $10. Count yourselves lucky.

CNN Political Ticker

(CNN) – The New York Daily News and Long Island’s Newsday endorsed Republican nominee Mitt Romney for president, switching from their 2008 pick of then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

In an article published in the newspaper’s opinion section Sunday, the Daily News’ editorial board dissected the nation’s economic hardships down to the dollars and cents of an increasingly expensive subway ride to a $3.90 average for a gallon of gasoline.

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Remember, remember… 5/11

English: ITV "Gunpowder Plot - Exploding ...

English: ITV “Gunpowder Plot – Exploding the Legend” – the replica House of Lords is destroyed (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Few events in early seventeenth century English history are quite as iconic as the Gunpowder Plot of November 1605.  On the face of it, we’ve got everything; ruthlessly dedicated conspirators, spies, agent-provacteurs, religious unrest, shoot-outs and a series of really unplesant executions.  The despicable plot, discovered just in the nick of time, would taint English Catholics for centuries to come.  In fact, they wouldn’t recover anything like a reasonable level of political and employment rights until 1829.

There’s still a great deal of debate over the Gunpowder Plot – possibly not as much as over the events of 9/11, but in both cases there are still a range of questions left unanswered.  If 9/11 was indeed the false-flag attack claimed by the conspiracy theory proponents then arguably the best place to hide such a staggeringly huge plot would be in plain sight.  No need to arrest those shouting about shadow government/NWO agendas when the power of the media can silence them just as effectively, if not more so.  After all, if the authorities arrest them then maybe there was something in the story.  Much better to allow the media to discredit them and it’s more effective in the long run.

The events of autumn 1605 still polarise people along religious and political lines.  What I’ll try to do in this post is set out the issues that are generally agreed upon, before listing those where questions still remain to be answered.  First off, it’s almost certainly true that if the gunpowder in the cellar had detonated, the destruction would have been complete.  A recent TV documentary produced and shown on ITV here in the UK built a replica of the 1605 Parliament chamber and detonated 36 barrels of gunpowder beneath it.  For the results see:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFytcsA9mU8&feature=relmfu

Secondly, a man answering to the name of ‘John Johnson’ (but later shown to be Guido Fawkes, Catholic mercenary), was discovered in the cellars of the House of Commons in charge of 36 barrels of gunpowder, a laid fuse and a lantern.  Thirdly, it is also true that King James I‘s initial tolerance for the English Catholics had almost completely evaporated since his accession to the throne in 1603.  On the face of it, James was having to juggle the pleas of the Catholic minority to worship as they pleased free from the hated recusancy fines (levied on those who refused to attend Protestant church services) with the demands of the Protestant clergy and nobility.  Fourthly, it is also true that by early 1605 the royal point of view had begun to swing against the Catholics.  Many of them swallowed their pride and prepared to live double lives again but it is likely that others began to wonder if the time had come for more direct action.

How the plot was allegedly formulated, funded and organised is way outside the scope of a blog post, so I’m going to restrict myself to the following observations.  Many of these can be challenged and if so I’ve tried to list the appropriate counter point.

1. How was it that known Catholics were able to rent a cellar under the Parliament Chamber without more frequent checks being made on what they were up to?  If the plot was an agent provacteur scheme set up by Sir Robert Cecil (James I’s Secret Service boss and rabid anti-Catholic) then this would explain things.

2. Thirty-six barrels of gunpowder?  Most if not all gunpowder was stored under close guard at the Tower of London, so how did the plotters get hold of so much unless they were allowed to?  Well, Fawkes was a mercenary and not without contacts abroad.  Smuggling the powder into London would not have been beyond a group of determined men.  Alright – but how did they get it down into the cellar without someone asking questions?  Difficult but not impossible.  One barrel per day?

3. The person who rented the cellar to the plotters was found dead the following morning.  Single pistol shot to the head.  Suspicious and a straight line for the conspiracy theorist.  On the face of it it does look like a loose end being tidied up.

4. Why was the decision made to search the cellars on that one night and just in time to catch Fawkes ready to light the blue touch paper and leg it?  Yes, it looks iffy but the letter to Lord Monteagle from his cousin the plotter Francis Tresham might well explain it.  Tresham sent the letter annonymously to warn Monteagle from attending Parliament on the 5th:

My lord out of the love I bear to some of youre frends I have a care of your preseruasion therefore I would advise you as you tender your life to devise some excuse to shift of your attendance at this parliament for god and man hath concurred to punish the wickedness of this time and think not slightly of this advertisement but retire youre self into youre control where you may expect the event in saftey for though there be no appearance of any stir yet I say they shall receive a terrible blow this parliament and yet they shall not see who hurts them this councel is not to be condemned because it may do you good and can do you no harm for the danger is passed as soon as you have burnt the letter and I hope god will give you the grace to make good use of it to whose holy protection I commend you.

Either Tresham was acting out of concern for his cousin or he was in fact a plant – put there by Cecil to give the game away at just the right time.

5. Most of the surviving plotters were tracked down at Holbeche House in Staffordshire and all were killed or wounded in the ensuing fight.  Chief plotters Thomas Percy and Robert Catesby were shot dead though – the soldier who did the deed receiving a pension of 10p a day for life.  More tying up of loose ends or simply a reward for a job well done?  There is an interesting but unsubstantiated comment from Cecil to the effect of ‘make sure those two don’t see the light of day eh?’

6.  Francis Tresham, the man who sent the letter to Lord Monteagle, died in the Tower of London in circunstances which are still unclear today.  Not for him the rack and the agony of being hung drawn and quartered.  Nevertheless, he may well have been dealt with more quietly but no less effectively.

In the end you pays your money and takes your choice.

It was ordinary Catholics, however, who suffered the longest as a result of the Gunpowder Plot. New laws were passed preventing them from practising law, serving as officers in the Army or Navy, or voting in local or Parliamentary elections. Furthermore, as a community they would be blackened for the rest of the century, blamed for the Great Fire of London and unfairly fingered in the Popish Plot of 1678. Thirteen plotters certainly proved an unlucky number for British Catholics: stigmatised for centuries, it was not until 1829 that they were again allowed to vote.

The will of God?

Those of you on the Eastern Seaboard counting the cost and cleaning up after Sandy might wonder exactly what motivates people like this guy:

http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2012/10/29/1104901/anti-gay-preacher-blames-hurricane-sandy-on-homosexuality-and-marriage-equality/?mobile=nc

It seems that Pastor McTernan is keen to draw links between Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina using a mixture of ancient numerology and personal prejudice.  The following is (for me anyway) the bigotted heart of his argument:

“Twenty-one years breaks down to 7 x 3, which is a significant number with God. Three is perfection as the Godhead is three in one while seven is perfection.

It appears that God gave America 21 years to repent of interfering with His prophetic plan for Israel; however, it has gotten worse under all the presidents and especially Obama. Obama is 100 percent behind the Muslim Brotherhood which has vowed to destroy Israel and take Jerusalem. Both candidates are pro-homosexual and are behind the homosexual agenda. America is under political judgment and the church does not know it!”

As with most of these fundy End-Times apocalypse watchers, everything revolves around Israel, although that is a separate issue.  The real problem for me is the Old Testament style retributive spin he puts on our planet’s weather.  The idea that God, in His capacity as Universe CEO issued a memo along the lines of  ‘Those pervs down there don’t seem to be getting the message – time for another wake-up call’ is distasteful to say the least.

In my case it was the impossibility of squaring the existence of evil with the existence of God which lost me what little religious faith I had.  These days, a few years spent teaching Religious Studies has left me thinking differently.  Evil committed by humans against other humans (moral evil) is one thing.  We’ve all got this freewill thing and if God intervened to stop every bad action then we’d be little more than robots.  It’s the destruction wrought by the environment (natural evil) that’s the problem.  In fact, the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 sort of got people thinking about this whole thing far more harshly than they had been before.

When normal, faithful Christians are celebrating All-Saints Day (1 November) and their city falls apart around their ears then one can’t blame them for feeling just a bit miffed.  What the earthquake began the tsunami racing in from the Atlantic finished.  At least 8.5 on the Richter scale most seismologists reckon.  With thousands dead, the questions began.  Why would a supposedly loving God allow so much destruction to happen on a day when people were worshipping Him?  That question resonated massively with the philosophers of the Enlightenment and proved a major boost to the growth of European atheism.

The 2004 tsunami was Lisbon writ large – at least 230,000 dead across fourteen countries.  The same question asked again – and not just by Christians either.  Is there an answer?  Well, yes – but it’s not one most religious people want to hear.  If we can act according to our natures then why shouldn’t the planet?  Natural disasters are the price we pay for living on a geologically active planet and hence one that can support life at all.  No consolation to those who lose loved ones and property at the hands of flood, earthquake etc. but possibly the best answer we’re likely to get.

And it wasn’t just Cuba…

The concept of nuclear deterence has been one of the defining geo-political concepts of the post-war world.  Between 1945 and 1990, NATO and the Warsaw Pact faced off against each other in Europe and (via various proxies) elsewhere in the world too.  OK, recently declassified documents show that the Russians never seriously contemplated an invasion of Western Europe after about 1975, but NATO wasn’t to know that then.  Both sides knew that they were playing a game – a game of terrible balance.  On the Russian side it was realised that conquering West Germany wasn’t much point if all that was left was irradiated wasteland and NATO commanders knew full well that nukes might be the only sure way of stopping the five Warsaw Pact armies in East Germany.

So, both sides glared at each other across the Inner German Border and talked tough for the look of the thing.  Deep down everyone knew that if it all kicked off it would be bucket of sunshine time.  During the 1970’s and 80’s there were various periods when it looked as if some people were forgetting that point.

Two close calls during this period are especially noteworthy.  The first happened on 9 November 1979 when the NORAD computers indicated that a full-scale Soviet first strike had been launched against the mainland USA.  A senatorial visit to Cheyanne Mountain was in progress – its members vividly described the mood of ‘gut-loosening terror’ that gripped the NORAD complex.  It wasn’t until the early-warning stations confirmed that 2000 plus warheads were not inbound that the culprit was found – a faulty computer test circuit.

Result:  Massively improved procedures at NORAD and an unknown number of changed underpants.

The second occured a lot less publically, and full details of it have only become clear over the past decade or so.  On 26 September 1983 all seemed normal at the control centre for the Soviet ‘Oko’ early warning system.  Quite suddenly all that changed.  Alarms started going off and the duty officer (one Lt.Colonel Stanislav Petrov) was horrified to see that five American Minuteman missiles were seemingly inbound to their targets in the Soviet Union.

When this incident was first revealed to the world in the mid 1990’s, senior figures in the Russian Federation went to a lot of trouble to point out that Petrov alone could not have ordered a retaliatory strike.  His job was simply to monitor the system and pass the information to his superiors – particularly his immediate boss, General Yuri Votintsev, one of the senior men in the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces.

And here we have the crucial pivot point.  Petrov analysed the data and decided that it was a false alarm.  Soviet expectations of an ‘effective’ US first strike ran to rather more than five missiles and that was a major factor in Petrov’s decision to do – nothing.  As it turned out, there were some serious glitches in the Soviet early warning system – when Petrov saw that ground based radar was not corroborating the American launch he cancelled the alert.

Petrov received no commendation at the time – his actions had exposed some pretty embarrassing errors after all.  The issue here is that the man thought on his feet, analysed the data and wasn’t afraid to act on his own logical conclusions.  Given the tensions between the USA and the Soviet Union at the time the outcome if he had reported the ‘launch’ is uncertain at best.  Even the most disbelieving analysts had to admit that the Soviet leadership, given only a few minutes to decide, would have ordered a reprisal strike – one which would have sparked off a general nuclear exchange.

Petrov, despite receiving two World Citizen Awards from the UN, remains pretty modest about his part in the story.  In an interview for the documentary film The Red Button and the Man Who Saved the World,  Petrov says, “All that happened didn’t matter to me — it was my job. I was simply doing my job, and I was the right person at the right time, that’s all. My late wife for 10 years knew nothing about it. ‘So what did you do?’ she asked me. ‘I did nothing.'”

Just as well really.

Voting and Virginity – what’s the issue?

This post is by way of an appeal to all Americans out there in the blogosphere.  Some of you seem to have your collective knickers in a twist of the latest Obama campaign video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6G3nwhPuR4

The following are just two examples of the ‘anti’ reaction:

“The more we talk about it in this campaign, the more insulting it is to women,” (Kellyanne Conway – Republican strategist,  on CNN’sPiers Morgan Tonight.”

“As a woman I am extremely offended. The Obama administration has devolved women  to nothing more than a set of reproductive organs with needy, government  dependency,” she continued. “This ad is inappropriate because it is sexualizing  the voting process. This isn’t an ad the average family would want their  daughters to see.”  (Lauren Thompsen – research analyst for the Media Research Center)

…and that’s without the righteous indignation of the Christian fundies.

So… just what is so degrading/demeaning/appalling about this video?  Does it justify the level of outrage being broadcast about it?  A young woman uses a bit of gentle double entendre to kill two birds with one stone – your first sexual encounter and your first time voting are equally important rites of passage.  What the hell is the problem?

Your first time should be with someone you care about…  Shock horror – depraved and twisted lust from the nethermost pit… (sighs)

Your first adult vote should be for someone likely to address your personal concerns….Sounds like common sense to me.

As for the outrage against this add – feels like prissy, meally-mouthed sanctimoniousness to me.

Cuba 1962 – a postscript

English: Анастас Иванович Микоян

English: Анастас Иванович Микоян (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The history of major international crises and incidents tends to develop over time – there’s the ‘official’ history as recorded through newpapers and interviews with politicians and then there’s the hidden history.  The latter only begins to appear as participants in the original events die and previously secret documents are declassified.

In this case, it seems that the Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBMs) spotted from the air were only part of the picture. When the crisis first blew up, US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara suggested that 40 odd missiles in Cuba represented litttle or no military threat to America. The US had around 5,000 strategic warheads at the time – compared to a Soviet total of 300. McNamara argued that 340 wasn’t exactly going to tip the balance of power. Kennedy disagreed. Sure, there wasn’t much strategic threat represented here – but the political threat was huge. Russian nuclear missiles in a communist country ninety odd miles from the Florida coast was unacceptable – end of. Had Kennedy known that as well as the IRBMs, Khrushchev had also sent Castro 100 tactical nukes (100-200 kiloton range) he would have been even more determined to take action. Possibly it’s just as well he didn’t…

Since Kennedy had been waxing lyrical about the IRBMs it seems Khrushchev thought it superfluous to mention the existence of the tac-nukes to him and as a result they were not included in the deal that brougt the official crisis to an end. However, Khrushchev was understandably anxious to ensure that his deal with Kennedy did no permanent damage to Soviet/Cuban relations. After all, an island full of fraternal communist brothers and sisters so close to the USA could prove useful.

With Castro and the Cuban government going ballistic about having been let down by their so-called allies, Khrushchev bethought him of the 100 tac-nukes. Perhaps if he made a gift of them to the Cubans Castro could be put back in his box… Accordingly, Khrushchev dispatched his First Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan to Cuba to finalise the deal.

At this point the Cuban crisis could well have flared up again. Arriving in Havana, Mikoyan was shocked by Castro’s state of mind. He described the Cuban leader as given to violent mood swings and sudden savage fits of temper as he railed at Mikoyan about how Russia had abandoned them. Mikoyan had a good long think about whether or not this was the sort of guy who should be trusted with 100 nukes (each one about 20 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb) and seems to have decided this was a bit of a no-brainer.

In a superb piece of political finesse, he persuaded Castro that giving him the nukes would in fact violate a Soviet law on the proliferation and sale of nuclear weapons. No such law existed, but Castro wasn’t to know that. The Cuban leader gave in to the seemingly inevitable and the nukes were crated up and returned to the Soviet Union by the end of the year.  Just as well really that Comrade First Deputy Premier Mikoyan was thinking on his feet.

This day in 1962

marked the official end of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed to the removal of the missiles from Cuba in return for reciprocal American action in Turkey and a guarantee of Cuban territorial sovereignty.   In London, my parents breathed a sigh of relief and stopped whitewashing and taping up the windows….  In short, the world stepped back from the brink, heaved a sigh of relief and got on with life.

Behind the scenes however, things were a little different. In Europe, there was outrage – not at Kennedy’s handling of the Russians, but at having been kept in the dark about the negotiations. In Cuba, Castro fulminated at Soviet weakness and perfidy in abandoning the Cuban revolution to the mercies of the Yankee imperialists. (This actually engendered an interesting postscript to the crisis – one which I’ll deal with in another post). In Moscow, Kremlin hardliners like Brezhnev and Kosygin lambasted Khrushchev’s approach. (Two years later they forced him from power and launched the Soviet Union on a period of significant military expansion).

Most significantly though, it became obvious to thinking people on both sides of the Iron Curtain that some controls and checks on nuclear weapons were essential. The Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968 was one of the best results of this, together with the setting up of the Moscow-Washington hotline.