What is this blog?


The purpose of this blog is to allow me to record my journey, the formation of the No New Wars organisation (whatever form that may take), the Eleven Eleven Twenty-Eighteen campaign and the supporting resources and networks of people and organisations.

This idea crystallised for me in 2012 when I decided it was not enough to be angry about wars being started in my name (that is, by my government) that I could not prevent.  Instead I would do something.  Not march with a banner, or send a letter to my MP, or write to the embassy of the enemy state, but instead stop the war in the first place.

I realised that I could not stop foreign countries starting wars.  But I can do something to influence my own government.  I could start a movement that makes it clear to our politicians that we do not want war, and that we will make them pay if they start one.

In a democracy we have only one tool available: our vote.  If enough of us pledge to remove our vote from any politician promoting an unjust, illegal or unnecessary war and to instead give that vote to an opponent, then we can make the politicians and major political parties too frightened to want to start a war.

It does not even need many of us to sign up to this.  In many constituencies it would only take about half of the MP’s majority to take the pledge to make the MP realise their next election might be their last.  And if people who do not vote – which is most of us – sign this pledge saying we will turn up and make a protest vote, it will make the political parties sit up and think about the consequences of the actions of a few war mongers.

I haven’t done the sums in detail, but if this campaign had been in place by 2003 when the 2nd Gulf War started, and if just 1% of the electorate had signed this pledge, then 170,00 non-voters voting against Labour plus 1% of Labour voters voting for either of the other major parties, would have resulted in Labour losing the 2005 General Election.

Between 750,000 (Police figures) and 2,000,000 (organisers’ figures) people marched in London alone to protest against the 2nd Gulf War.  Just 400,000 registered voters making a pledge would have more effect.

We actually can stop wars from starting by targeting the real cause: politicians who want to start a war.  By telling them we as voters will end their political career and wreck their party’s future prospects of power at the same time.

Would you consider war prevention a big enough cause to change your vote, or to make you go out and vote?

Who looks after the peacemakers?

When there is a conflict, people flock to one side or the other to support them, be it a divorce or an international conflict.  For those working with those parties trying to find an amicable solution, there is an expectation to empathise but not judge.

Listening to people who are angry, hurt and confused is hard without joining in.  To listen properly one must let them speak, put one’s self in their position, feel what they felt.  But to help fix the problem, one must not agree with everything they say as one would to a friend.  This means inevitably internalising all their emotion.  Then, when listening to the other party, doing that again.

I have found it is incredibly tough to do this, especially when over an extended period of weeks.  It is amazingly draining, not physically or just mentally, but emotionally and something else too.  There is something drained internally leaving one unable to make decisions or think of anything.  It becomes all-absorbing and nothing else gets in.

There must be techniques to prevent or reduce this, or to alleviate it.  Presumably those who conduct sessions at Relate or ACAS or in peace negotiations have tools and methods that mean they can keep working without exhausting themselves.

I have tried searching online to find out what these are, but without success.  Perhaps it is part of conflict resolution training or mediation training.

Having recently spoken to a GP and a policeman about this, I find neither gets any form of training or support to deal with the emotional consequences of their work.  People dying, mangled bodies, dealt with as part of their jobs, and no support.  How poor is that?

Memorising names and dates for an exam

tl;dr: I ‘cheated’ in my final exam.  I took in a crib sheet.  I smuggled it in, hidden in my short-term memory.

The Problem
I cannot learn names or dates, or quotes.  I have known that since secondary school.  One of the first homeworks we got was to learn a very short poem and I could not do it and got a detention for failing to do so.  I dropped English Literature at O level during the final year because I could learn the stories and what happened but not who the people were.  I frequently lose track of who is who in films and books and just enjoy the story, sometimes wondering why someone said or did a certain thing because I could not work out who they were.

Trying to Learn a Poem
In English Language there was a poem, The General, on a poster in front of my desk.  Every English lesson for four years I practised learning that poem.  I must have read it at least 400 times, probably over a thousand times.  I can recite it fairly accurately, but only because it has a story and I visualise that, plus it is timed to match a marching step, which helps get the words in the right places.

Left, right, left right.

“Good morning, Good morning!” the General said
When we met him last week on the way to the line.
Now the chaps that he spoke to are most of ’em dead
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.

“He’s a cheery old card” grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.
But he did for them both with his plan of attack.

Left, right, left right.

But I cannot tell you who wrote it nor in what year, despite that being clear on the poster.

It’s funny what I can remember.  I know scientific terms based on names such as Boyle’s Law, the unit called the Newton, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, but they are not names of people, just words.

In history O Level we did global exploration and the conquest of the Americas.  I am confident I can still re-tell most of the story about the spice islands, piracy, the involvement and achievements of the Portuguese, Italians and Spanish, the discovery of the Americas, trade, some of the adventures, the treatment of indigenous people – all manner of stuff.  But I am not sure what centuries in which this happened and can only recall Elizabeth, Drake, Magellan and – for some reason – Quetzalcoatl.  That meant I could not do History O Level because it is all about names and dates.

A327 was seemingly a history module, but was all about the debate about what happened, not who did what and when.  No need at all to learn dates or names, amazingly, and so that went fine for me.

Consequences for My Degree
So when my tutor – who had been an exam-marker for some years for the module – said one cannot get beyond 65% in the DD301 Criminology exam without inline references in the exam essays, I was gutted.  That would mean a Pass 3 for the module and a 2:2 for my degree and failure to get to do a Master’s as planned.  I need 70% in this final exam to get a 2:1 for my degree.

What I Tried
I had been using Quizlet all year to produce flashcards to help me learn the subject: my DD301 set.  I enhanced that to focus on names and dates.  It didn’t help.

I also used a timeline tool called TimeLine for visualising when things happen and thereby learning the steps between them.  Here is an A327 example:

A327 timeline

I tried using that to visualise developments in criminology writing to see if that helped.  It didn’t.

DD301 Timeline

I asked on the module forum for advice on learning techniques but got no useful advice from the tutors.  The only student suggestion was for Quizlet.  I asked my tutor for advice, his conclusion was I should get the names tattooed onto the inside of my eyelids!  I have a few books on learning, study and revision but they all have generic advice and not how to deal with specific problems.

Searching online for advice got me nothing other than flashcards (for which I was using Quizlet) and reading out loud to a mirror.

So my carefully constructed revision plan of learning standard paragraphs, practising writing essays, laying out the standard arguments and so on all went by the wayside as I spent the entire time trying to learn names and their significance.  It wasn’t working since just a few hours after learning one, it had gone from my head.  This was despite going over them scores of times, some of them for months.  It was the same as The General poem above: I know the subject but not who wrote it or when.

What I Needed to Memorise
What I needed to learn was the names of the authors of five chapters from the text books (each one a multi-author chapter), plus a selection of theorists, what they said, and the dates of publication of their books.  At this moment I can recall Muncie (2001), Talbot (2010) [wrong, forgot two other authors], Mehigan (2010) [wrong, forgot two other authors], Green (2004) [wrong, forgot the other author] and Cohen (some time in the 1960s) but not what they said.  That is the entirety of a year’s trying to memorise them – I needed many more than that.  I had tried to learn 27 names and dates.

The Day Before The Exam
I finally found a solution on the day before the exam, by accident.  I was thinking – yet again – about why I could only hold the data in my short-term memory and why it could not be transferred to the mid-term or long-term memory.  That is, I could spend a couple of hours going through the flashcards over and over again and eventually get almost all of them right, but just another two hours later and I could only get a handful right.  But there’s the answer: use my short-term memory.

So I wrote out a few hand-written lines like this:

Book 1, chapter 1, crime, Muncie, Talbot & Walters
Book 1, chapter 5, corporate crime, Tombs & Whyte
Book 1, chapter 7, state crime, Green
Book 2, chapter 1, justice, Drake, Muncie & Westmarland
Book 2, chapter 7, human rights, Mehigan, Walters and Westmarland

for the key chapters I would be using in the exam.  Any reference to criminal theory and I could add “(Muncie, Talbot & Walters, 2010)” with confidence it would be from that chapter in the text book, or refer to “human rights are contestable (Mehigan, Walters & Westmarland, 2010)” and I’d probably got that right.

I also wrote a number of key concepts and theories:

Michael & Adler, 1933, Black Letter Crime
Tappan, 1947, crime requires a guilty verdict
Quinney, 1970, crime is defined by the politically powerful
de Haan, 1990, crime is a distraction from real harm
Reiman, 2007, Pyrrhic Defeat Theory in “The Rich Get Richer and the Poor get Prison” (vital to learn this one title)
Hillyard and Tombs, 2007, the social harm approach
Whyte, 2009, corporates and governments make laws to protect themselves
Muncie, 2001, “a conception of crime without a conception of power is meaningless” (vital to learn this one quote)

From those a number of arguments can be constructed.  I know the material pretty well, just not who thought it up and wrote it down.

I then hand-wrote those lines out over and over and over again for the rest of the day.

The Day of the Exam
I got dropped off at the exam centre two hours before the 10 a.m. exam.  I sat in Reception for 90 minutes copying the lines out again in an A4 pad, exactly the same, for another six A4 sheets.  At 9:30 I closed my eyes and fell asleep!  At 9:50 they called us in.  At 10:01 I started writing those lines out on the first sheet of the answer booklet from short-term memory.  I then spent until 10:30 writing down every name, date, quote, concept and theory name I could think of, joining them up where I could.  In 30 minutes I had ¾ filled an A4 side of chapters and concepts with most of their names and dates.

I then looked at the question sheet and spent the remaining 2½ hours of the exam actually doing the exam, with my very own hand-made cheat sheet on the desk.  And all perfectly legitimate.

The Result
So I used my short-term memory to visualise about 15 or 20 lines of text and took that mental image into the exam.  It cost me about 30 minutes of the three hour exam but meant I included 11 references which I was sure were correct, plus two more I think were right and a couple more where I said (either Bloggs or Jones, 2001) or (Green and someone else, early 2000s).  I also nearly got the Muncie quote right – I wrote something like “You cannot have a conception of crime without a conception of power” which is near enough, I hope!

I wrote two essays, each with an essay plan, a proper introduction, a critical argument and a proper conclusion.  The second essay referenced the first (since you can’t use the same arguments twice) and came to a conclusion critical of the first essay’s conclusion!  With 11 inline references, a quote and an explanation of the significance of a seminal book on the subject, I am quietly confident I ought to get the 70% I need.

The Outcome
I won’t know for another five weeks…

I have completed my undergraduate degree

Today I sat the exam for the final module of my undergraduate degree.  So that is the first step complete in my career change.

Because of how the degree marking works, if I get 70% or more in this exam (not terribly likely), I get a 2:1 for the degree and get to do a Master’s Degree, otherwise a 2:2 and I’ll need to re-think my plans.

Another way to inconvenience spammers

Two posts in particular on here receive almost all the comment spam.  I have changed them both to say “Do not post comments here, they will be spam-trapped” which should prevent mortals falling foul of the mechanisms attached to those two posts.

I tried an experiment the other day and made them password-protected.  So the link the spammers use to get to those pages still works, but they cannot post anything.  This has – for the time being – stopped much of the spam.

I expect in due course they will just pick another ppst and target that instead.

Global military spending, 2016 to 2017

On the Conscience:Taxes for Peace not War home page is a counter showing the global military spending so far this year.  It comes from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) figures.  We use those because they are not particularly controversial; they do not include lots of things a strict pacifist would like to see included.  As I start writing this, the number is based on their 2016 figures and is £509,860,928,935.

Yes, global spending on militarisation (essentially, preparing for killing people), is five hundred thousand million pounds.  A million pounds, spent, half a million times.

For comparison, nobody wants to spend the £11,000m to £23,000m it would take to cure the whole world’s 185m people with Hepatitis C.  But we have spent £509,000m on arms so far this year.

(Hepatitis C treatment is the most expensive medicine in the USA, link.  Details of the cost of curing it, link.)

Anyway, it is time for me to update the web site because military spending figures for 2017 have been released.  And it has gone up by about 1.1%, once inflation has been taken out.  As an absolute sum just the difference is about £47,287m.  Military spending in 2017 represented 2.2% of the global gross domestic product.

(For reference, feeding the world’s starving people would cost £23,000m, £132,000m or somewhere in between.)

So, I have updated the script and now the number, based on the new 2017 figures, is £524,852,595,454 so far this year.


An Ode to Critical Criminology

It helps to know ‘critical criminology’ has its roots in Marxian theory.  It argues social harm—whether by individuals, corporations or states—is a better measure of criminality that simple violations of the law by individuals.  I am currently revising the subject and trying to forget my physical science definition of ‘theory’ and instead try to grasp the social science theories, concepts and themes of the module.

An Ode to Critical Criminology

I’d come to a conclusion:
To eliminate confusion
By dividing up the jargon
I’ll win through.

To aid in my revision
I’ll devise a clear division
Twixt module themes and theories,
Concepts too.

Although I am no sluggard
I’ll be rightly buggered
If I can tell the difference.
What shall I do?

I’ve tried asking my tutor
And searching my computer
But I cannot find the answer
How ’bout you?

I dream of schemes to manage themes,
It seems I’ll scream without a gleam of
Insight to this shite that’s driving me insane.

I’m so weary of ruddy theory.
It’s so dreary it makes me teary.
I cannot fight it – doing so is all in vain.

I have not slept, for this concept,
I can’t accept, it has side-stepped
My mind. Oh, Jesus wept!
It’s all a farce.

With authors we must remember
When I’d rather just dismember
The sodding lot and stick it up
Karl Marx’s arse!

The more you practise, the luckier you get

tl;dr: Do independent study with a purpose.

Last year, doing my history research module, I used to get distracted when doing independent study and wander off spending hours reading irrelevant stuff. But I did get into the habit of thinking about the module themes as I did so, and I did use the primary and secondary document analysis techniques.

On the afternoon before the exam—when I should have been revising—I came across the Commissar Order: the instruction to German soldiers to not take Russian political Commissars prisoner. I remembered that from reading gory Sven Hassel war stories and proceeded to waste the entire evening reading about it. But I did so using my newly-learned research and historiography skills; that way I could pretend it was ‘revision’.

It turned out this document was genuine and was later hugely significant in the Nuremberg war trials and, as a consequence, has been key in influencing international war crimes legislation prosecution since then. It also gives exquisite insight into the war on the Eastern Front.

Courtesy of module A327 Europe 1914-1989: war, peace, modernity, I was able to appreciate the significance of this document, evaluate its authenticity and put it into a political context. I actually got pleasure from using those skills to gain a much broader and deeper understanding of this tiny, trivial, scrap of history than I otherwise would have done. That scrap is still influencing international relations in the world but for the better now.

Anyway, so blinking what?

The next morning when I saw the exam paper, one of the documents to evaluate in the first question was… The Commissar Order! Either the gods smiled on me, or it is true that the more you practise, the luckier you get.

Earliest known war tax resisters

I know papers and articles have been written about the history of conscientious objection to military taxation, or war tax resistance.  I keep promising myself I will read them sometime.  Having done so I would have been able to better respond to a Facebook post from the USA’s National War Tax resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC).  This arrogant attitude of the Americans that they were the first or only people on Earth is tiresome.  The post was:

#DIDYOUKNOW the #Indigenous Algonquin People are the earliest known #war tax resisters. In 1637 they refused to pay #taxes put on by the Dutch #colonizers to help improve the local colonial fort — War Resisters League War Resisters League // #heros #mondaymotivation #resist #endwar #peace

I find it hard to accept they were the first in the world.

They are probably the earliest in North America since Europeans arrived.  I’ll bet there were South American people who objected to Spanish taxation prior to that. And probably people who objected to taxation by the Incas or Aztecs that funded their expansionism.

In England, the Magna Carta came about because of war tax resistance in the 1200s.

But I should think there are examples from Roman Empire times if not earlier.  Expecting conquered people to pay for the armies that suppress them or that are passing through is a very old trick.

Even Sun-Tzu in Art of War says long campaigns fail because they result in losing people’s support, typically when military taxation reaches about 70%, and he was a historian writing about events from before his time of 2½ thousand years ago.

But it made me reflect on this in today’s context.  Using terminology from English law, military taxation is ‘demanding money with menaces’.

Smart missiles

Because of the current proposed airstrikes on Syria, I was trying to remember where the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital was that was attacked in an airstrike fairly recently.

Now that these days we have ‘smart missiles’ and ‘smart bombs’ and ‘laser guided precision’ and assurances civilian casualties are avoided, I just wanted to check the details.

On Googling it I found:

  • Médecins Sans Frontières hospital – Kunduz, Afghanistan – October 2015 – sustained air attack by USA – 42 dead, hospital destroyed
  • Médecins Sans Frontières hospital – Maaret al-Numan, Syria – February 2016 – 2 raids by Syria or Russia – 7 dead, hospital destroyed
  • Médecins Sans Frontières children’s hospital – Azaz, Syria – February 2016 – ballistic missile from Russia – 10 dead, hospital destroyed
  • Médecins Sans Frontières hospital -Hajjah, Yemen – August 2016 – airstrike by Saudi-coalition – 11 dead, hospital partially destroyed and closed down
  • Médecins Sans Frontières supported hospital – Saraqab City, Syria – January 2018 – 2 airstrikes – 5 dead, hospital closed down

They just go on and on.  Then I saw:

“In 2016, 32 MSF-supported medical facilities were bombed or shelled on 71 occasions. In 2015 we documented 94 attacks on 63 MSF-supported hospitals and clinics in Syria.”

It’s a good job there’s GPS and smart missiles and the like guaranteeing civilians don’t get killed in airstrikes.

An email to my MP: “Please do what you can to prevent escalation in Syria”

Subject: Please do what you can to prevent escalation in Syria

Dear Cat Smith MP,

You are my MP as I live at <my home address>.

Please do all you can to prevent the government escalating the situation in Syria.

The news this morning suggests the Prime Minister intends to carry out a military response to an alleged chemical attack which has not yet even been investigated.

  • After the recent embarrassment to Britain over the poisoning of the Russian agent and his daughter, I would have hoped the government would be more circumspect over this event.
  • The Syrian conflict is already a proxy war, where external agents are major players. The intervention by us now when the Syrian government appears to be winning is classic proxy war participant behaviour to attack the leading side to prolong the war. Even if this is not the case, it is how it is interpreted, and puts Britain in a very bad light.
  • A weak government is often perceived as being keen to go to war as a way to bolster support. Although that is a government fault, it reflects badly on us as a country reinforcing the impression that killing people overseas gets popular support from the British people.
  • Following the USA’s knee-jerk reaction an to international incident always makes Britain look weak, rather than making a powerful statement as claimed.
  • Following Donald Trump’s Twittered reaction to anything makes us look utterly ridiculous.
  • War should always be the last resort in diplomacy, not the first.
  • The poisoning, tit-for-tat diplomat expulsions, the misinformation over international events and accusations of false-flag actions are all very similar to activities in the Cold War. A military response at this time feels to me, as someone who remembers the tail end of the Cold War, a very dangerous escalation. The world still has nuclear weapons, I should dread for more generations to grow up under the fear of nuclear super-powers in a perpetual stand-off like that under which I grew up. It is crushing to ambition and hope for the future to know your life can be snuffed out by the whim of one’s own government or by an error in the nuclear command control. Please don’t let this government slide us back into the previous century.

I expect better arguments for not carrying out this strike will become apparent through the day.

As my elected representative, should the government bother to ask your opinion, please do all you can to communicate the foolishness of a violent escalation to the situation in Syria.