Getting wood over wood at The Economist

Part of the decline of The Economist, aside from the fact its employees write drivel, is its wholesale adoption of the environmentalist religion. With their latest video they seem to be plumbing new depths of woo-embracement:

The answer, of course, is no: wood has been used as a construction material since the dawn of time, and in the modern age there is probably not a thing we don’t know about it. Concrete and steel replaced wood for very good reasons, and unless wood has undergone some revolutionary step-change (e.g. trees grown with carbon-fibre grafted into them), those reasons still apply. If it made technological sense to use wood instead of steel, people would be doing it. If it made economic sense, the same would be true. But let’s take a look at the video (I’ll paraphrase rather than write the whole transcript).

0:25 The world’s population is increasing, by 2050 it will be 10bn most of whom will be living in cities in skyscrapers with a large carbon footprint.

The video shows Tokyo and other developed world cities, but almost all that population growth will come from Africa. Are they going to be living in high rises? Having seen the sprawling shanty towns of Lagos in person, I doubt it. And if “carbon footprints” are a problem, maybe its time to stop subsidising that population explosion in Africa? One of the main reasons Nigeria’s population is exploding is the lack of reliable electricity, which in turn is a direct result of corrupt government practices. What I’m trying to say is, if increasing populations are a concern, building materials are an odd thing to focus on.

0:30 Our view is all buildings should be made from timber, and we should look at steel and concrete as we do diesel and petrol.

I have no idea who this chap is, but he’s looking at a Landcruiser and trying to say a horse would be better. I suspect he’s saying this because his salary depends on it.

0:44 I think it’s realistic someone will build a wooden skyscraper in the coming years. There is a lot of potential that is unrealised for using timber at a very large scale.

It’s as if engineers are unaware of wood’s limitations in compression. Hell, even the Romans knew over a certain size you had to use stone and concrete.

1:00 Throughout history buildings have been made of wood But it has one drawback, it acts as kindling.

Don’t ever say Economist videos aren’t informative.

1:32 If concrete were ever to arrive as a new material on “Dragon’s Den”…but then you say we need a whole new fleet of trucks to move it around…

You can tell this guy is an academic. Firstly, there are transport costs associated with wood; they don’t grow trees on potential building sites and wait a hundred years. Secondly, the cost savings associated with using concrete obliterates the additional cost of needing specialist concrete trucks. It’s one thing to play devil’s advocate for some future hypothetical, but this guy is doing it for something that’s already happened: he’s already been proven wrong.

1:51 I don’t think it would be a compelling case.

The richest man in Africa is a Nigerian called Aliko Dangote; the bulk of his wealth comes from his owning Africa’s largest cement company. The invention of concrete revolutionised construction, and made an awful lot of people incredibly rich. But here we have an academic saying if it came along nowadays, nobody would be interested because you need to add steel and buy some specialist trucks.

1:58 Concrete and steel are costly to produce and heavy to transport.

Compared to what? This is like saying the weather is good.

2:05 Wood, however, can be grown sustainably and is lighter than concrete.

Weight doesn’t matter much in buildings, because they tend to be stationary objects supported by the ground. You also have a lot of glass curtain walling these days. If weight is a concern you use steel – as the Manhattan skyline nicely demonstrates. Insofar as transportation costs go, aggregate can be shipped cheaply in bulk from anywhere, and you can install a concrete batch plant on or near to the construction site. A someone who lived in Dubai during the construction boom, I saw a lot of this.

2:07 And crucially, as trees grow, they absorb carbon dioxide from the air, locking it into the timber.

This is crucial? Not to construction considerations it isn’t. If you want trees to absorb carbon dioxide then plant more trees, but to put this forward as an advantage for using wood in construction? You might as well say forests are nice places to walk a dog. In any case, unless these buildings will stand for centuries, at some point the wood will rot or burn releasing all that carbon dioxide into the atmosphere anyway. Why not leave the trees standing?

2:18 One study showed that by using timber to construction a 125-metre skyscraper could reduce the building’s carbon footprint by up to 75%.

One study…could…by up to. Well I don’t know about you, but I’m convinced! Note all this assumes a building’s “carbon footprint” is something we should be concerned about.

2:42 Wood isn’t strong enough to build high, but engineers have come up with a solution: cross-lamination.


2:45 It’s cross laminated so layers of wood are glued at 90-degrees to one another.


3:17 But what about fire?

They demonstrate how a skyscraper made from wood will withstand a fire by holding a blowtorch to a piece of plywood before claiming it will extinguish itself after losing “some structural mass”.

3:25 We’ve actually seen steel roofs collapse in fires when wooden ones have not.

Assuming this is true, this is an argument for making sheds from wood, not skyscrapers.

3:52 Once these wooden panels arrive on site we’re building a floor a week.

Right, but it’s essentially a 5-storey plywood box. Are you sure this method is going to work for skyscrapers with 50 plus floors?

3:57 This is maybe twice as fast as concrete.

The guys in Dubai were pouring a floor every few days. I’d like to see how fast these wooden panels go in when they’re a hundred metres above the pavement.

4:23 Andrew and his collagues designed Britain’s first wooden high-rise apartment block.

It’s ten floors, hardly high-rise.

4:51 As yet, nobody has used CLT (plywood) beyond 55 metres.

The building they refer to is Brock Commons tower in Vancouver:

The structure is concealed behind drywall and concrete topping, mainly to comply with the accepted fire-safety codes and consequently speed up approval from building authorities.

So it needs concrete to stop it turning into a matchbox, incinerating everyone inside. But wait, what’s this?

Due to concerns about structural stability, the American Wood Council and the International Code Council currently limit wood structures to a maximum of six stories above grade, depending on occupancy type.

For good reasons, I’d imagine.

To reach its height of 18 stories, Brock Commons used a slightly different approach. It follows in the shoes of the supertall skyscrapers we’ve seen cropping up across Asia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which use a central structural core to take the stress off of the building’s exterior.

Oh! What type of central core?

Two concrete “trunks” on a concrete podium form the core of the structure, with the rest of its 18 stories being constructed of cross-laminated timber (CLT) flooring and glue-laminated timber (GLT, or glulam) columns.

So this groundbreaking tower block which demonstrates the viability of wooden skyscrapers is held up by two, bog-standard concrete cores? The Economist never mentioned that.

This entire video is basically a puff-piece for a London-based architectural firm with its eye no doubt on government monies earmarked for eye-catching green “solutions”. Wood can be used effectively for construction, but it has severe limitations which are well known: warping due to heat, rotting due to damp, termites, separation of lamination with time – and the ubiquitous fire hazard. I’d love to see how well this Brock Commons tower is holding up in a decade’s time, and hear it from the poor sods who have to live in it, not the architects. This is before we even address such issues as increased land use to grow the trees, not to mention the wastage. The good thing about steel and concrete is it can be moulded to the shape you want without wastage, but wood has the tendency to be grown tree-shaped and from there you need to chop, saw, shave, and sand it into something useful – all of which creates mountains of waste product (when I was a kid, timber merchants used to give away wood shavings and sawdust for free). So what happens to that?

How many trees occupying how much land are needed to build a 100m building, and how much waste is involved? And how much chemical treatment does the wood require? Some numbers would have been nice, but this is The Economist: when it comes to the environment they sound more like The Watchtower.


Talk of treason is bad, except when it isn’t

I’ve written before (1 & 2) about dim Irishman Daragh McDowell. Here he is on Twitter last week:

It proved a popular tweet, and it’s easy to see why. Most people know nothing about Russian politics so are happy to swallow whole what self-described Russian experts tell them. What McDowell is supposed to be confirming I don’t know, but if he’s come away from Russia thinking the free press discussing readers’ opinions of Prime Ministers is a feature of politics there, he’s dumber than I thought. Of course, what he’s trying to do is claim the Telegraph’s headline will lead to Britain being ruled like Russia, which is nonsense.

But what’s more amusing is McDowell’s concerns around calling things treason is rather, erm, selective shall we say:


Gone are the dark warnings of public discourse being so damaged by charges of treason we’ll be Russia before bedtime. I wonder why?


Among the Russians

A few weeks ago I made the following remark in relation to the FIFA World Cup:

Russia seems to be doing a good job of hosting the tournament with visitors being rather surprised to find happy, welcoming people interested in having fun instead of granite-faced thugs with shaved heads waiting to slaughter LGBTs in the streets. Not for the first time have foreigners discovered individual Russians are a lot different from how they are collectively portrayed.

It seems the media are now having to explain themselves:

England fan shames British media,” was one of many headlines of a similar nature to appear in Kremlin-friendly news outlets in Russia over the past couple of weeks. The story referenced a tweet from England fan Matt Maybury, who on returning from a trip to the World Cup wanted to complain about the “clear propaganda against the Russian people” in the British media. Russia was an “absolutely class country”, he wrote, at odds with what the media had led him to believe.

The tweet went viral, and was covered by multiple Russian television stations and news websites as proof of the British media’s lies.


So did the British media get Russia wrong? Well, perhaps a bit.

What, if anything, does the British media get right?

The fans who did come have been impressed by the positive atmosphere: the street parties, the surprisingly lax police presence, the good-natured welcome from the majority of Russians, and the hot weather and cheap beer.

It’s almost as if the media was making judgements of a country they’d never even been to.

Along with most Russians, I’ve been surprised by just how great the atmosphere has been, but I always expected Russia to put on an excellent World Cup. I was a Moscow correspondent for more than a decade, and have seen the city and country change beyond recognition in that time. I’ve been telling anyone who will listen for some time that most fans who came to Russia would be likely to have a great time.

Did you write any columns saying this, or did you know in advance they’d be rejected because they didn’t fit the “Russia is evil” narrative?

Blaming the media is the easy way out, however. There is certainly some terrible coverage of Russia, and some blinkered “experts” with an axe to grind. It is true that if you only read the British tabloids about Russia, you would get a skewed picture, but the same could be said for many subjects.

Oh, so it’s the tabloids that have been demonising Russia since Trump’s election, is it? Not the preferred organs of the chattering classes and wannabe ruling classes? Presumably if we only read The Guardian and The Times we’d have a balanced view, although how Oliver Kamm’s deranged rantings about Russia would help with that I don’t know.

We’re not a travel guide, and it’s not our job to remind everyone that you can get a great flat white in Moscow or have a fantastic night out in St Petersburg every time we write about the difficult issues and abuses.

Because British newspapers rarely write about travel, lifestyle, and holiday destinations. All those supplements which drop out of the main paper on a weekend concern only matters of news and current affairs.

Russia’s bad press is largely of its own making – for years, it has been easier for officials to bray about Russophobia than to show a different side of the country.

In other words, The Guardian’s view of a country is wholly based on government propaganda instead of, say, what reporters see when they get there. What was the Moscow correspondent’s job then, to watch state TV all day? I suppose at least they’re being consistent: back in the Soviet days The Guardian would lap up government propaganda and ignore reality on the ground, and I guess nothing has changed.

It’s a valiant effort by The Guardian to defend their and other’s media coverage of Russia, which has proven in the wake of the world cup to be so inaccurate, but they’ve still not understood their greatest error. Early on in Colin Thubron’s wonderful Among the Russians, he writes:

I never again equated the Russian system with the Russian people.

Thubron went to Russia in the 1980s when it was still part of the Soviet Union and travel to the country was heavily restricted. What excuse the international media in 2018?


Melania’s Jacket

Demonstrating the gravity and rigour which justifies their unique funding model, the BBC offers five reasons why Melania Trump chose to wear a green jacket with “I don’t care. Do you?” printed on the back. Personally, I think it was her reaction to weeks of gleeful speculation from the press that her absence from public appearances was due to abuse at the hands of her husband rather than kidney surgery, but others differ.

The BBC doesn’t go this far, but some commentators believe her choice of attire was a deliberate snub to Donald Trump, who – as the speculation around her medical absence proved – are desperate to believe she hates her husband and is deeply unhappy. Now it may be that Melania’s marriage is an unhappy one, but you’d hardly rely on the modern media to give an appraisal of what makes a satisfied wife: half of it’s made up of crazed feminists raging about how awful men are, with the other half being pencil-necked omegas who think white-knighting for women who despise them will get them laid. And speaking of crazed feminists:

Antonova seems to think because her own marriage ended in disaster she is qualified to ascertain whether other women, who have given no sign that they are unhappy, are trapped in an abusive relationship. I have no doubt that Melania knows what she’s doing, although I don’t think she’s too keen on the First Lady role. She’s spent her entire adult life around brash assholes like Trump, and I doubt his character took her by surprise. Indeed, women seem to like the man, and others just like him, which no doubt drives feminists nuts. None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who’s read Chateau Heartiste or similar.

Of course, the comforting fallback is to say Melania’s only with Donald for the money. Which she might be, and everyone said that about Rupert Murdoch’s young wife Wendi Deng. However, when some dickhead tried to throw a custard pie in her huband’s face during questioning by MPs during the phone hacking scandal, she stood up and belted him one.

Y’know, maybe these eastern women actually have some pride in their husbands and take their role as a wife seriously? That would explain why media types are confused.

Finally, I turned on France 24 and saw a discussion about Melania’s jacket between two men and two ageing Frenchwomen who looked as though they’d been drinking vinegar all morning. They agreed the Trump camp had “lost control” by “allowing” Melania to dress in a such a manner, and offered the time she chose to wear high heels as another example of her tin-eared sartorial choices. Naturally, it didn’t seem to occur to any of them that a woman ought to be allowed to dress as she pleases; presumably they’d not be too happy if Fox News spent a segment of a show discussing how haggard Macron’s wife looks no matter what she wears.

Now a bunch of ageing, single women criticising how a prettier, more successful married woman dresses is nothing new, of course. What amuses me is they call themselves feminists.


Oliver Kamm and Fake News

Times columnist Oliver Kamm likes to accuse others of propogating fake news. Here are some examples:

The thing is, Kamm works for The Times, which is a real news outlet. The likes of RT and seemingly any organ which represents views outside the M25 merely peddle fake news. Which brings me to this tweet:

Evil, eh? You can actually feel the moral preening. Now two things occurred to me when I saw the photo of the crying girl. The first was that she looks much like any toddler you see in the aisle of a supermarket on a Sunday morning; she could as well have been wailing over not getting an ice cream as being cruelly separated from her parents by Trump at the US border. That should have given journalists pause for thought. The second was that I knew – just knew – within 24 to 48 hours the entire story would unravel and we’d find the media had been lying to us, aided and abetted by the likes of Oliver Kamm. And whaddya know:

The father of the Honduran girl who became the face of the family separation crisis has revealed that he still has not been in touch with his wife or daughter but was happy to learn they are safe.

Denis Javier Varela Hernandez, 32, said that he had not heard from his wife Sandra, 32, who was with his two-year-old daughter Yanela Denise, for nearly three weeks until he saw the image of them being apprehended in Texas

In an exclusive interview with, Hernandez, who lives in Puerto Cortes, Honduras, says that he was told on Wednesday by a Honduran official in the US that his wife and child are being detained at a family residential center in Texas but are together and are doing ‘fine.’

‘You can imagine how I felt when I saw that photo of my daughter. It broke my heart. It’s difficult as a father to see that, but I know now that they are not in danger. They are safer now than when they were making that journey to the border,’ he said.

Denis said his wife and daughter were never separated by border control agents and remain together.

Turns out, not only was this photo (and others) highly misleading but the policies being described as “evil” were in place throughout the Obama administration. Nobody who has observed the media since Trump’s election should be surprised by this; I write this post only to serve as a handy reference next time Kamm accuses someone else of peddling fake news. They’re all as bad as each other.


The Irish and Abortion

This amused me:

Just a few short weeks ago the same writer was wailing about Russia’s nefarious influence in European politics and the Brexit referendum. I note the BBC and other British media outlets were not only treating the Republic of Ireland as a British province in their coverage of this referendum – which, frankly, has nothing to do with us – but also actively campaigning for abortion. Apparently foreign interference in another country’s politics is okay provided it’s on the correct side.

What’s also amusing is the manner in which this referendum result has been received by the chattering classes compared to the Brexit vote. As some wag said on Twitter a few days ago, he’s looking forward to finding out whether history has spoken or Russia interfered. You can be sure if the Irish vote had narrowly gone the other way, shenanigans would have been blamed and we’d already be talking about a re-run. But now the vote has gone the way of progressives, the matter is closed forever.

My view on abortion is that it’s a necessary evil, one that’s better legalised than outlawed, so I think the outcome of the vote is in itself a good one. But what it does show is that, contrary to what many claim, abortion is not a fundamental right; if it were, there would be no need to vote on it. Despite what feminists say about having a right to do as they please with their own bodies, this isn’t actually true: abortion is permitted by law not as a right, but with the consensus of the overall society. Rights don’t exist in a vacuum, their existence depends on the surrounding society, or at least those who control it, recognising them. In the case of abortion, rights only exist while a majority, or powerful minority, of people in any given society approve of it. What just happened in Ireland was a reflection of the changed attitudes in Irish society rather than confirmation that abortion is fundamental right. This is why Kamm’s remark is idiotic: if a plurality of the population genuinely believe abortion is murder and the rights of the unborn child paramount, this can hardly be called despotic. He’d be on stronger ground if he said a powerful minority outlaw abortion against the wishes of the majority, but his use of the word “intrinsically” implies otherwise.

Kamm’s approach of the enlightened few knowing what’s best for the plebs is the one adopted in the US, which saw the Supreme Court decide the abortion issue instead of putting it to public vote. Now some argue the only way to make progress is to pass laws forcing the ignorant masses to adapt, but 45 years after Roe v Wade abortion is still a contentious issue in the US. In that respect the Irish did the right thing in holding a vote, although I suspect Irish progressives knew in advance they’d win in a landslide, otherwise they’d never have held it. The British government blundered badly by giving the oiks a vote on Brexit, and you can be sure nobody will make that mistake again.

The way the western world is moving is to hold referenda for those subjects they know will deliver the right outcome, and for the rest just railroad it through via the legal system. This ought to tell us something in future: if a referendum is being held, the ruling classes already know the result will be to their liking. If they’re trying to ram something through the judicial system, bypassing the normal political process – as was the case with the gay marriage issue in the US – you can be sure it’s not popular with the masses. A smart politician ought to be able to make good use of that distinction. Anyone know of one?


Credulous fools at the BBC

There is an excellent three-part BBC documentary out there called Welcome to Lagos (it’s on YouTube and Vimeo) covering life in the Nigerian commercial capital. The series focuses on a number of individuals, one of whom was a guy who lived on an enormous  municipal rubbish dump and earned cash selling whatever he could find in the mountain of discarded waste. He was young, energetic, and had an abundance of charisma (which is presumably why the producers selected him) and aspired to be a singer/rap star in Lagos’ highly informal music scene. We saw him get cleaned up, dressed up, and get photos for his album cover done, and a fair amount of his singing. Near the end of the series the audience was looking forward to a satisfying conclusion to this rags to (relative) riches story.

Instead, the guy got in a fight off camera which resulted in the other person losing an eye. Whoops. What became clear to anyone who knew Lagos was that far from being a charming young man with big dreams down on his luck, this chap they’d chosen to profile was a vicious thug. Nigerians are particularly good at turning on the charm and this talent extends to criminals as well; he’d obviously fooled the BBC and by the time they realised who they were dealing with it was too late. The series concluded with the man exiled from the rubbish dump, effectively losing his home, in a compromise negotiated with the one-eyed man’s relatives. The alternatives were to lose an eye of his own or be killed. I could imagine the BBC people looking on with horror as this unfolded, finally realising what sort of people live on a Nigerian rubbish dump.

I was reminded of this when I read this BBC article:

More than 3,000 Nigerian migrants who failed to reach Europe, have been flown home by the International Organization for Migration. Many sold everything to make the trip and aren’t sure how to face their families, writes Colin Freeman.

Evans William tells me he sold everything but the kitchen sink to fund his dream of getting to Europe. And I mean everything – his bed, his fridge, his TV, his spare clothes and his mobile phone.

Now this may be true, but I wonder how many Nigerians would advise the BBC to take this man’s story at face value.

After borrowing yet more cash, he finally had enough to pay a smuggling gang to take him from Nigeria across the Sahara to Libya.

So he’s an economic migrant, not a refugee or asylum seeker.

In all, it cost him £750 ($1,000), but he wasn’t worried. Once in Europe, he figured, he could quickly earn enough to pay off his creditors, and eventually return home to start a business of his own.

What was he going to do after illegally entering Europe that would “quickly” earn him $1,000? The BBC didn’t bother to ask, of course. I suspect any Nigerian reading this would consider this chap to be bad news and not the sort they’d want moving in next door, but here’s the BBC lending him a sympathetic ear.

When I met Evans last month, he’d just returned home to Benin City in southern Nigeria, where he was among hundreds of migrants staying in a government-requisitioned hotel.

They’d been flown back by the International Organization for Migration, a UN body that helps illegal migrants who want to return home.

As well as a free plane ticket, they get a few nights’ hotel accommodation, and £200 in pocket money while they find their feet. They’re also offered job training, to give them a better chance of a livelihood.

This is a bit of a slap in the face to those millions of Nigerians who don’t try to enter Europe illegally to make a quick $1,000 committing crimes, and instead work their arses off at home trying to improve their lives legally.

The scheme is partly bankrolled by a £3bn fund set up by the European Union in 2015, the year the migrant crisis dominated the news.

Were the taxpayers informed this money would be used to bankroll fit, healthy, men looking for opportunities to graft, or were they assured it was for desperate families fleeing war and persecution?

Most, like Evans, are virtually destitute. And while they appreciate the offers of job training, it’s fairly basic stuff, like hairdressing or tailoring, or learning how to farm. For those who dreamed of making it in Europe, that’s a bit of a comedown.

I wonder how much sympathy the average Nigerian has for their countrymen who, having failed to realise their dream of working a life of crime in Europe, now have to come back home to receive training in doing something useful?

What also hurts, though, is the feeling that they’ll be seen as failures by their peers and relatives.

What sort of peers does the BBC think these men have?

Many could only make the trip because mum and dad sold off the family silver. Nobody wants to come back penniless, and admit that they blew what’s seen – rightly or wrongly – as the chance of a lifetime.

Ah yes, the deep sense of shame and familial pride which is so strong among Nigeria’s criminal fraternity.

Gloomier still was Abibu, a tough-looking young man who was on the same flight home as Evans. He had a fresh-looking scar on his face, and a scowl that deepened as he talked.

Ah, here we go. A fresh scar on his face, eh? From what? Did the BBC ask how he got it?

His mother, he said, had sold her only plot of land to fund his trip to Europe. He hadn’t even told her he was back.

He sounds lovely. Hands up all those who really thinks his mother willingly sold her “only plot of land” to fund Abibu’s trip?

“If my mum sees me she’ll get sick with worry,” he said.

An odd phrase, it must be said.

“And all the neighbours, saying, ‘This guy’s mum sold her land so he could go to Europe – and then he failed!’ If I hear anyone saying that, I tell you, I’ll kill them.”

Shame, he sounds like he’d have made such a contribution to European life.

Which of the training opportunities did Abibu fancy? Hairdresser? Farmer? He seemed to have other work in mind. “I’ll look at the offers,” he admitted grudgingly. “But I’m worried I’ll end up committing crime to get the money back.”

Really? What sort of crime?

“Robbery, probably.”

A real shame.

He sounded like he meant it, and I found myself wondering just what Abibu had done to get that scar on his face.

I assume you didn’t ask because the answer would have ruined the sob-story.

What we have here is the BBC interviewing people who are in all likelihood dangerous, violent criminals but presenting them as ordinary Nigerians deserving of our sympathy. This would be the equivalent of Nigerian journalists writing puff-pieces on English  football hooligans arrested in Russia this summer, or members of drug gangs which plague sink estates in Britain. Could they not have found any Nigerians a bit more deserving of their attention?


A Coup and a Coverup

There are two things to say about this story:

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says a landmark nuclear deal with Iran was “built on lies”, after Israel claimed to have proof of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons programme.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday accused Iran of conducting a secret nuclear weapons programme, dubbed Project Amad, and said it had continued to pursue nuclear weapons knowledge after the project was shuttered in 2003.

Mr Netanyahu presented what he said was evidence of thousands of “secret nuclear files” that showed Iran had lied about its nuclear ambitions before the deal was signed in 2015.

Mr Pompeo said documents revealed by Israel’s prime minister were authentic.

Now I’ve had to pull the above quotes from all over the article and re-arrange the order. The above is the story, but the BBC has crafted the article so as to mislead as much as possible, with the third paragraph reading:

Analysts say they show nothing new, highlighting that concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions led to the 2015 deal.

Which analysts? The BBC doesn’t say, but they do quote the Iranian foreign minister. Similarly, the US media, if they’re covering it at all, is full of former employees of the Obama adminstration playing it down. Why would that be then? For the same reason they refused to cover the protests in Iran which took place last December: Barack Obama made a ludicrously bad deal with Iran which involved exchanging pallets of cash dollars worth over a billion in return for vague promises about shelving their nuclear ambitions. The deal was so bad Obama did it unilaterally, thus avoiding Congress who would point out the money will almost certainly be used to fund war and terrorism against US allies. The media however lapped it up, and now it’s looking likely that Iran is cheating – as if anyone sane believed they wouldn’t – they can’t bring themselves to criticise what was lauded as a central plank of Obama’s legacy (the disastrous Obamacare and sucking up to the Castros being the others). The BBC ensures to tell us early on:

Other Western powers, including signatories Britain and France, say Iran has been abiding by the deal and it should be kept.

Well, yes. European countries are slavering at the bit to get their national champions into Iran, probably the last semi-advanced nation which remains out of bounds to them. They couldn’t give a stuff about Middle East security or terrorism, provided they can flog their goods and services in a country where Americans are detested. A more cynical approach to nuclear security couldn’t be imagined, and I dearly hope Trump pulls the plug on the whole deal just so I can see these companies – all of whom have self-righteous ethics policies littering their websites – are forced to abandon their plans or run the risk of falling foul of the US Department of Justice.

The other interesting part of the story is this:

Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters on Monday that Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad had obtained 55,000 pages of evidence and a further 55,000 files on 183 CDs relating to Project Amad.

A senior Israeli official told the New York Times that the agency first discovered the warehouse in southern Tehran in February 2016, and put the building under surveillance.

In January, intelligence agents managed to break into the property in the middle of the night, remove the original documents and smuggle them back into Israel the same night, the official told the paper.

Whatever you think of Israel, that is one hell of an operation by Mossad, and worthy of being made into a film. The only way they could have made it better is if they’d replaced the documents with copies of Obama’s sealed university thesis.


Casual Racism from the BBC

Yesterday I came across a bizarre interactive webpage on the BBC’s world service website which, I think, is there to help foreigners harangue Americans about their gun laws. It starts by allowing you to pick your character:

1. Charlene, a rootin’ tootin’ gun lovin’ redneck who doesn’t like other people very much.

2. Akinjide, a Nigerian on holiday from Lagos.

Why the BBC feels the need to help Nigerians deal with Americans they encounter on a bus to Phoenix using money taxed from the owners of televisions in Britain I don’t know, but here we are. Now I don’t know what bus this scenario is supposed to take place on, but from the description my guess would be it’s a Greyhound. Can you take guns on a Greyhound? No. So we’re already in fairyland, and it doesn’t get much better. I’ll post a few of the remarks each character is supposed to be saying:

I hardly think someone from Lagos is going to argue the prevalence of legally-held guns is a requirement for a country to suffer serious levels of violent crime. You’d also not likely find a Nigerian who doesn’t appreciate guns are useful when it comes to protecting yourself, your family, and your property – particularly in a place where violent criminals have easy access to them. Besides, private gun ownership is not prohibited in Nigeria.

It is highly likely that any Nigerian travelling on a bus to Phoenix will know someone back home who has had their home invaded by armed intruders, and probably know some who’ve been shot dead. Even moderately wealthy Nigerians are terrified of armed thugs murdering them during a robbery, hence they erect high, glass-topped walls around their houses with sturdy gates and often lived in secure compounds with armed guards. Nigerians might find American gun laws daft, but few would dismiss the danger home invasions represent.

Sorry, who is supposed to be speaking here? A Nigerian from Lagos or some woke British paleface who reads The Guardian? Did the person who wrote this actually know any Nigerians?

This is probably how the BBC thinks gun-carrying southerners speak to people, particularly black men who sit beside them on the bus. I suspect the author is basing the character on people he or she met in New York – where they do speak to each other like this – rather than anyone in Texas or Arizona where they’re unfailingly polite (in part because so many of them are carrying guns).

The BBC seems content to portray Africans as wholly ignorant on the subject of American gun laws. As Ali G would say, isn’t that a bit racist?

Of course, Nigerians are generally conservative, devoutly religious, and know all too well that armed government employees can be as much a source of death and mayhem as any run-of-the-mill criminal. But not the Nigerian featured here, oh no:

Somebody from Lagos wept as he watched news footage of people talking about a gun massacre in the US after the event? Are we sure this guy is from Lagos?

Naturally, this is presented as a scenario which is abhorrent to Akinjide, who has presumably forgotten there are armed guards everywhere in Nigeria.

Now this webpage isn’t completely useless, offering as it does a useful insight into how staff at the BBC view Americans and Nigerians, but as advice on how to approach the subject of gun control in the US it’s more likely to get you killed as enlighten you. I have travelled on an overnight bus to Phoenix and it was full of people who looked as though they were on their way to rob a bank. The two guys in front of me were both felons, and had a lively conversation over whether it’s better to be imprisoned in Virginia – where a man on horseback with a rifle guards you as you pick up trash from the side of the road – or Arkansas where it’s a man on foot with a shotgun. At the back was a US Marine who was half-insane and spent several hours hurling foul-mouthed abuse at his girlfriend down the phone. Anyone who started acting like this Akinjide in the story would probably be killed by someone’s bare hands. Thankfully most Nigerians, the ones the BBC doesn’t know about, are sensible enough to keep the topic of conversation to beer, women, and football.


The Death of Maxim Borodin

This is pretty awful:

A Russian investigative journalist who wrote about the deaths of mercenaries in Syria has died in hospital after falling from his fifth-floor flat.

Maxim Borodin was found badly injured by neighbours in Yekaterinburg and taken to hospital, where he later died.

Being a journalist in Russia is not especially dangerous. Being a journalist in Russia and writing about things which concern powerful people is incredibly dangerous, bordering on suicidal.

Local officials said no suicide note was found but the incident was unlikely to be of a criminal nature.

Uh-huh. One minute he’s exposing the clandestine use of Russian mercenaries in Syria, the next he’s just fallen off a balcony. Could happen to anyone.

However, a friend revealed Borodin had said his flat had been surrounded by security men a day earlier.

Vyacheslav Bashkov described Borodin as a “principled, honest journalist” and said Borodin had contacted him at five o’clock in the morning on 11 April saying there was “someone with a weapon on his balcony and people in camouflage and masks on the staircase landing”.

Borodin had been looking for a lawyer, he explained, although he later called him back saying he was wrong and that the security men had been taking part in some sort of exercise.

Many a time have I come home to find people with weapons on my balcony and masked, camouflaged men in the stairwell conducting an exercise. Yeah, this is all perfectly normal.

In recent weeks, the journalist had written about Russian mercenaries known as the “Wagner Group” who were reportedly killed in Syria on 7 February in a confrontation with US forces.

Maxim Borodin was phenomenally brave in investigating this story but, like Anna Politkovskaya, you’ve got to wonder if it was worth it. I don’t know who is behind the Wagner Group but you can be sure they are nasty, brutal, and well-connected. Going anywhere near an outfit like this and raising awkward questions was bound to end badly, and sadly it has.

The story is a useful reminder that Russia is a violent, lawless place in many respects and not every high-profile murder is carried out on the orders of Putin. Putin must take a lot of the blame for presiding over the conditions which allow journalists to be murdered with impunity in Russia, but it’s worth noting he is a product of the same culture, not its architect. Murders don’t occur in Russia because Putin allegedly has people murdered; any murders ordered by Putin occur in a culture where murdering people is routine. There’s a difference, and I think this was missed during the Skripal affair when it was assumed Putin simply must have been behind it. Now he probably was, but there was also a fair chance he wasn’t, which those unfamiliar with Russia utterly failed to even consider. It has become an article of faith among western reporters that Putin is responsible for the murder of Politkovskaya, and they go so far to directly charge him with the murder of journalists. The sad truth is any number of people would have wanted Politkovskaya dead, and Putin might not even have been one of them. We’ll never know.

The other noteworthy point to this story is that Maxim Borodin was genuinely brave and attempting to uncover a story which is in the public interest. Contrast this with western journalists who are mainly propagandists for the ruling classes yet are forever congratulating one another on their bravery, despite facing nothing more perilous in their day-job than a burned lip from an over-hot latte. I wonder how well a journalist like Borodin would go down in a western media outfit? Not very well, would be my guess.