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NORTH KOREA/PARADE – Sunday was the 106th  anniversary of the birth of its late founder Kim Il Sung. Known as the “Day of the Sun,” it is usually marked with public demonstrations of military strength allowing his grandson Kim Jong Un to wave from a balcony. This year that hasn’t happened which tells us Kim Jong Un is still playing nicely nice ahead of the possible summit with Donald Trump next month.

EGYPT/ATTACK – Militants killed 8 soldiers and wounded as they attacked a military base in Egypt’s central Sinai region. The attackers wore suicide belts according to the Army which said it killed 14 militants.


Russian ‘kinetic’ military retaliation for the French/US/UK attacks on Syria last week are unlikely in the near future, but the UK base in Cyprus will be on full alert as will any military assets off the coast of Syria. Pressure will grow on UK PM May to hold a retrospective vote of approval for British involvement as some MPs seek to set a precedent requiring prior approval in the future.

Trade talks between the EU and UK are expected to open this week.


Mon – UK PM Theresa May to brief parliament on last week’s military strikes on Syria and take questions.

Mon – Canada’s PM Trudeau in France and then the UK to meet President Macron and PM May.

Mon – Russian Duma debates new counter sanctions against USA.

Mon – Arab League summit opens in Jeddah.

Mon – Indian PM Modi in Stockholm for the 1st Indo-Nordic summit.

Tues – Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London. Indian PM Modi expected, he’ll also be meeting PM May.

Tues – Japan’s PM Abe in the US until Thurs. Will meet President Trump.

Weds – China stages live-fire military exercises in the Taiwan Strait.

Weds – 1st cinemas open in Saudi Arabia after 40-year ban.

Weds – Israel begins 3 days of celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of country’s founding.

Thurs – Cuba’s President Raul Castro expected to step down.

Fri – Pakistan’s new Islamabad International Airport opens.


14 Comments on "Lost in the Mire 16"

  1. This article by Robert Fisk who visited Douma appeared in the Independent last night. It is a interesting read to my mind not because of what it says about the gas attacks, but because it gives a description of how the rebels operated within the town and how little support they appear to have had from the local populace.

    • Agreed. Fascinating and highlights just how little we know and how convoluted the narratives. Without meaning to detract from the seriousness, it’s very much the war for this age: a place where we engage in an epistemological struggle whilst Putin sits to the side, enjoying our confusion as his media make things even more unknowable with their own crazy plotlines.

      • The Russians are very good aren’t they. Just as well the internet and social media wasn’t around during the cold war really. They only succeed in the way they do though due to the mendacity of our own politicians and the tendency of our media to put a spin on stories rather than just report facts as they are known. I know that Iraq, Libya etc has played a role but I think it goes deeper than that. Both the media and the electorate rightly exhibit scepticism about government pronouncements on domestic issues. Even on the UK’s dealings with the EU recently there is large deficit in trust both publicly and in parliament. That isn’t something that can be turned on and off like a tap, you can’t have a situation where you think your government are generally a bunch of liars but all of a sudden when it comes to Russia they speak only the truth. Of course Putin exploits that to the max, but if we had more honesty in politics it wouldn’t be as easy for him.

        With regards to UK news organisations, spinning may have been fine years ago, but now they are called out within minutes on twitter and another nail goes into the coffin containing their credibility. A recent example from a number of UK news outlets. “OPCW backs Britain over Skripal poisoning” Hmm…., well sort of. They backed the finding that the substance used was Novichok, they didn’t back the finding that Russia was responsible which was what was inferred. It stretches credulity to think that they didn’t know exactly what they were doing with that, but it is very unhelpful and as I say was being called out within minutes at which point they amended their line. Of course they did state the full facts later on in the broadcasts/articles but a lot of people don’t go beyond the headline. A particular sin in the Syrian conflict has been the selective reporting of casualties. A big headline when Assad kills 20 civilians, a small footnote when rebels kill 15, another needless and insidious practice that is also invariably called out.

        I recently watched an old news broadcast from the early 80’s. No walking to camera, no fancy graphics, no explanations, just the news read out by a single person with the odd comment from the relevant parties. To my mind it seemed so much more effective than what we have today. The only way to stop Putin winning his propaganda war is to be whiter than white when it comes to the truth.

        • That’s a very good point about our politicians making it easy for them. The problem isn’t that we’re under attack from Russia but we’re incapable of defending ourselves. Even at the height of the Cold War, there was never the sense that their arguments were winning except in some very odd and obvious places on the far left. This is different. We’re struggling with some fundamental problems over what we know and what is knowable. Without sounding too elitist, I think it comes down to the fact that social media is populated by some exceptionally dim people. A quote by P.J. O’Rourke has been stuck in my head for weeks: that 50% of people have an IQ of less than 100. Okay, it’s simplistic and a bit cruel but nothing else explains the re-emergence of the flat-earthers and the fact deniers. Fisk’s piece was interesting but you also know it’s going to feed into some really odd Twitter threads about New World Orders and worse. I’m not saying those threads drive debate but that worldview certainly infects the atmosphere and lends greater “authority” to people like Craig Murray who are making a career peddling conspiracy theories about everything. The 190k followers that David Icke has on Twitter are a sign of the times. Russian misinformation teams must be loving their work.

          • I’m always a bit reticent about commenting on peoples intelligence (or lack of) as it in no way excludes them from having an opinion or makes them automatically wrong. It also invites people to pick you up on every spelling and grammar mistake you have ever made but just this once I will stick my neck out. I think you are right, but I think you have the IQ level slightly lower than I would go for..

            I don’t think that the people with IQ’s under 100 are the main problem, the reason I say this, and I’m stereotyping here, is that they are generally not interested in politics or current affairs to any great extent. I grew up with an extended family that were mostly (bless em) thick as bricks and had zero interest in politics. Apparently that hasn’t changed. During the height of the first Gulf War one of my cousins had no idea who Saddam Hussein was. She took a lot of stick for that but I have sometimes wondered if she was any the poorer for not knowing. I’m not sure that too many people like that are coming across Craig Murray or Robert Fisk. Tommy Robinson perhaps but that’s another can of worms.

            The people I do see as the problem are those who sit between the average and the top 25% of IQ, referred to unkindly in some quarters as “semi-educated”. Once upon a time they wouldn’t have got anywhere near a degree, but today often possess one and with it an inflated opinion of both their own intellect and the importance of their opinion. They tend to seek to have their opinions confirmed and will gravitate towards echo chambers. When faced with opposition they will first respond with rote learnt arguments, when that fails they will attempt to shut down dissenting voices with insults and accusations of trolling or being a bot etc etc. I would say that these people now form the majority voice in political discourse on twitter. They exist on both the right and the left and each side has it’s own hobbyhorses, the left is slightly more numerous but that is more to do with the age profile of social media users than anything else, the right-wingers tend to be more active on BTL comments. The funniest and at the same time most annoying feature of these people is their tendency to characterise anyone with a differing opinion as thick. It does perhaps show a potential danger of opening up university education to anyone who is a couple of clicks above average.

          • Thanks, as always, Rob. Whilst I agree with much of that, my point, really, beyond repeating a point that O’Rourke said recently and which stuck with me, was to simply point out that we’ve undergone a cultural change to the way that attitudes are formed. It’s not IQ per se that’s at issue (and I know there’s a whole lot of quack science to back it up and good science that has disproved it) but a certain attitude of mind towards what in the church was traditionally called “authorities”. We’ve been slowly moving away from “people who know stuff” and towards people who simply “feel stuff”.

            Robinson is cited far more often than you’d suspect on social media as if he’s some authority on the subject of immigration and “British values”. If you wanted your bias confirming, he’s the go-to guy and I’m pretty sure that people do go to him. Again, not to link it specifically to intelligence but there’s something about social media that does put people forward who are sometimes the least qualified to form opinions. Really, I suppose, it’s the lack of humility in the face of complicated issues that I find more striking. No knowing something isn’t a sin. Lacking the awareness that you might be wrong is.

            As for calling people thick who simply don’t share the same opinion: it was always thus and I’m grateful it still remains. Most of the time it’s hyperbole, like calling somebody a bit of an “arse”. There are instances, though, where the word is apt and we perhaps have been oversensitized about valuing other people’s opinions. The ability to call out stupidity is a dying art and it is linked to an education system that no longer teaches the proper critical faculties and breeds generations incapable of forming judgments.

          • I have some sympathy with what you are saying David as a total breakdown of trust can only lead to negative consequences. However to reverse the trend a lot of the people set up as experts need to start delivering the goods to regain their credibility. The public can’t be expected to have faith in people who are wrong more often than they are right. Again the media has a responsibility here not to present projections and theories as fact. Not trying to have the last word btw, I’m clearly in a chatty mood.

          • Chatty is good. 😉

            I suspect you’re channeling some post-Brexit angst here about experts. Whilst I agree in that narrow context (though, also, forecasts were woefully misused by politicians), as a civilization we are where we are because of experts. Once you start to unpick that, you open us up to all manner of fruitcakes from religious zealots to the conspiracy nutters. I know I’m unabashed about my belief in science but I really worry about the slow deathly creep of religious fundamentalisms of all kinds.

          • Oh I’ve always had a low opinion of economists I’m afraid, I am also married to an expert who stands over a load of financial forecasting so am probably a bit more aware of the limitations involved.
            I think in a lot of people’s minds they have also seen a whole load of rebuttals over the last few years with regard to what is and isn’t harmful to people’s health which hasn’t helped. Eggs and butter were, people were told, bad for you. Now the advice has changed and it turns out that the processed cereal and margarine that replaced them may be worse. The five a day rule was wrong, now it’s seven a day. Plastic bottles have gone from being ok to potentially imparting micro plastics into the drinks they contain and so on and so on. At some times you can have completely contradictory studies coming out within days of each other. Then you get the silly stuff like the news that Jupiter doesn’t, as previously thought, orbit the Sun, that the largest stones at Stonehenge may not have been dragged there after all. It’s like a constant drip of water hitting a stone, eventually it erodes. In a lot of peoples heads (and I’ve seen this in BTL) it leads to the argument that, if the experts were wrong before and it has only come out now, then what they are saying today will probably be debunked at some point down the road. I honestly haven’t got the first idea of how you would combat that thinking and yes it probably doesn’t bode well as the MMR jab shambles showed.

          • Neatly summarised and I honestly believe that “belief” might be the defining problem of our age because it feeds into extremism on both sides. The best reading for what’s happening that it comes down to the loss of religion — the absence of the old myths that kept us psychologically secure. In a strange way, I think it’s things like Star Wars and those damn Marvel movies that become new props for younger generations who need their exotic fantasies but don’t want to engage with the old religions. I don’t see it as a bad thing. I heartens me that, say, nerd culture is becoming mainstream. At least it allows two sides of our nature: pro-science but also romantic engagement with something simultaneously complex and irrational. I’m less worried about true sciences. Something like financial forecasting is going to have an outcome that can be measured and that experts will perform better than the non-experts reading tea leaves.

            The worst reading is that we are struggling to face up to the re-emergence of religion/ideology as a force in society. After the Reformation, Christianity became more passive and, in fact, created the intellectual climate that led to our modern largely secular culture. We are healthier for it but I’m not sure how that open liberal democracy counters beliefs that range from the silly to the downright harmful.

  2. Peter Kennedy | 17th April 2018 at 1:15 pm | Reply

    “I recently watched an old news broadcast from the early 80’s. No walking to camera, no fancy graphics, no explanations, just the news read out by a single person with the odd comment from the relevant parties.”

    If you want some decent foreign affairs coverage then look out for a guy called Tim Marshall, he’s quite good.

    • Nicely done, Peter. 😉

    • Who!, never heard of him. Read a very good book lately though called Divided, can’t remember the authors name, it’s on the tip of my tongue.

      What I like about the way Tim covers things is that as well as being very balanced and concise in his approach he doesn’t stray into conjecture without making it plain that that is what he is doing.

  3. So to sum up that discussion, those who pay attention to news media and social media should develop indifference and those who pay no attention should develop interest. I agree with the general thrust of that, but would prefer not to build up my hopes.

    Democracy, the worst form of Government……………….

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