The sudden concern for the Kurds is mostly fake

As America woke up and got on Twitter yesterday, there was a lot of this sort of sentiment:


Some moron who subsequently blocked me asked how can Trump talk about loyalty after such “betrayal of the Kurds”. Even Noam Chomsky is writing articles supporting American military intervention overseas, which is the equivalent of a Liverpool fan saying he hopes for a smooth transition at Manchester United following the sacking of Jose Mourinho.

I have a lot of sympathy for the Kurds. They seem less insane than anyone else fighting in Syria, more organised than anyone trying to manage territory in Iraq, and they are well-disposed towards America and their allies. They’ve been screwed over by the major powers on several occasions, suffered terribly at the hands of Saddam Hussein and ISIS, and been oppressed by the Turks. I would like to see their lot improved, and I will be deeply unhappy if the Turkish army move into Syria and start massacring them. If somehow they find themselves in possession of advanced anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry with which they can inflict heavy losses on their enemies, I’d not be too upset.

However, let’s get realistic here. The US was never in Syria on behalf of the Kurds. US forces on the ground may have formed informal alliances with Kurdish groups, but there was never a US policy of protecting Kurds in Syria, at least that I’m aware of. To begin with, what do people mean when they say America should not abandon “the Kurds”? Do they mean the Kurds in Syria fighting Assad and ISIS? The Kurds in Iraq, who run a peaceful, semi-autonomous region subordinate (in theory) to the government in Baghdad? The Kurds in Turkey? And with whom should the alliance be made? The PKK? The Peshmerga commanders?

I asked a few people on Twitter who the Kurdish leaders were, what were their names. Nobody knew. When people talk of Palestinians we know they fall under the leadership, however flawed, of the PA and Hamas. We know the names of the leaders and what their policies are, and these people regularly attend meetings with the large powers and mediators to discuss their aims. But who represents “the Kurds”? What do they want? If Trump is “betraying an ally” this suggests an alliance was formed and promises given. Okay, but when, and by whom, and with what authority? Did any Kurdish leader meet Trump or a member of his administration? Did they meet any of Obama’s? Nobody who is screaming “betrayal” can answer any of these questions: they want war to continue indefinitely in support of an alliance they can’t describe on behalf of people they know nothing about. If this is what passes for political wisdom in the US these days, it’s little wonder they’ve been neck-deep in unwinnable wars since I left university. Fighting a war used to be a serious undertaking, now it’s something advocated on a whim to spite one’s domestic political opponents.

If Americans want to fight a war on behalf of the Kurds, they need to first come up with a clear strategy. What are the objectives, and over what timelines? And on behalf of which Kurds are they fighting? If they attempted to draw up such a plan, they would see why they need to give the matter a wide berth. The Kurds are not some homogeneous bloc, they are fractured along several lines and were they somehow to get their own state it would likely be completely dysfunctional as the various groups squabble among each other. There’s also the small matter that the most capable Kurds are invariably socialist; I get the impression a lot of Americans don’t know that. If America were to support the Kurds in any meaningful sense it would entail severely distabilising the national government in Iraq, as well as taking on Turkey in a big way. I’m not saying these are necessarily bad things – I’d like to see Turkey booted from NATO and Erdogan put in his place – but they need to be part of an overall strategy which the political classes in Washington simply lack the competence to put together, let alone pull off. Hell, they can’t even agree to protect their own borders.

I’m sure there are US military commanders on the ground in Syria who feel they are betraying local Kurdish forces with whom they’ve built up strong relationships, but this does not make up for a lack of overall strategy. The Kurds might also note that in 2014 when ISIS was at its height and they were facing annihilation on the Turkish border during the Siege of Kobani, the US did and said nothing. What we’re seeing from the American chattering classes are crocodile tears; their concern for the Kurds is opportunism at its very worst.

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On Trump’s withdrawal from Syria

So Donald Trump has decided to pull US forces out of Syria, and people are upset. Some are opposed because they are neo-cons who think America should be fighting wars anywhere and everywhere to spread peace and democracy, while others don’t like it just because it’s Trump. This tweet is an interesting example of the reaction:


If the goal of the US military in Syria is to protect Israel, the Kurds, and Iraqi Christians this should have been stated before their deployment as part of a clear and transparent policy. This never happened. Instead, US troops turned up in unspecified numbers which the public gradually got to hear about as they took part in various actions. Certainly Congress was never consulted, as they are supposed to be (although that requirement is laughable these days). We were told various stories, one of which was that US forces were in Syria to support rebels opposed to Bashar al Assad, another was they were there to fight ISIS. But there was never a clear policy as to why they were there, nor any indication of what would constitute victory. As usual, US troops were in a foreign country for an unspecified purpose seemingly indefinitely. What should be upsetting people is there were US forces in Syria under these conditions to start with, not that Trump is pulling them out.

Trump is quite correct here:

Firstly, Trump is right that ISIS – being a shadow of what they were a few years back – are mainly a local problem in a military sense. I have few doubts Russia can handle any threat posed by ISIS to Assad’s government. One of the points many people don’t like to acknowledge is Russia made short work of the various rebel groups, mainly because they didn’t pussyfoot around with how they went about it. They’ll do the same with ISIS.

Secondly, America has no strategic interest in Syria whatsoever. People talk all sorts of nonsense about surrendering the Middle East to Russia, often in the same breath they condemn Trump for being too close to the Saudi Crown Prince. It also overlooks the rather large US military base in Qatar and the strategic alliances they have with the UAE, Kuwait, and Bahrain. So what if Russia establishes itself in Syria? Assad has always been aligned with Russia, and I can’t for the life of me think why Russia is so invested in the place other than for some vague notion of prestige and as a handy place to test and sell weapons systems.

Now consider this tweet:


Who cares if Iran and Russia “claim a victory”? Over whom? The US is withdrawing from the battlefield because the Commander in Chief doesn’t know why they’re there or what constitutes victory. Who are they supposed to fight in the coming years? Russians?  I’ve seen some pretty daft justifications for keeping an army deployed overseas in perpetuity, but doing so in order to deny others from claiming a non-existent victory surpasses all others.

What is also laughable is the idea that Russia, Iran, and Turkey are in a grand alliance whose nefarious plans were only thwarted by the presence of US forces. One thing is certain, and that is neither Russia or Turkey are going to allow Iran to do whatever it likes in Syria. I wrote before about how Israel has little to fear from Russia, who might play a useful role in keeping Iranian ambitions in check. And if Israel can’t handle Iranian forces fighting in Syria because 2,000 US soldiers stationed nowhere near their borders have been withdrawn, they have serious problems indeed. Rather than a coordinated effort between Russia, Iran, and Turkey to threaten US interests – whatever they may be – and Israeli security, I expect we’ll see non-stop squabbling, scheming and backstabbing with the occasional military engagement thrown in for fun. I have little doubt that Turkey will seize the opportunity to flatten the Kurds, and personally I’d have been happier if Trump had been a lot tougher with Erdogan on several issues. But with the best will in the world, any attempt to support an independent Kurdish state will end in disaster; I see no reason why the US shouldn’t give them weaponry to make the Turks think twice, though.

Finally, Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria seems to have come at the price of James Mattis, the US Secretary of Defence. In his resignation letter to Trump he said:

My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.

Meaning, he disagrees with Trump on how he sees the role of the US military in future. A lot of people are saying this is a body-blow for Trump, and losing a man like Mattis is a big loss for any organisation, but I’m not so sure. Mattis is one hell of a soldier and probably knows everything there is too know about winning wars, but it is not his job – nor his expertise – to determine the political direction in which US forces are applied now or in future. As I understand it, his job is to advise the president on military possibilities and, once strategic political decisions have been made, to make the military decisions necessary to achieve the desired outcomes. In other words, Mattis might be quite happy for the US to stay deployed in Syria forever and “advance an international order” but that’s irrelevant to his duties.  His job is to win battles in Syria, not decide whether the US is involved there and for how long.

So while it is quite right for Mattis to resign at the end of his tenure if he is unconvinced by Trump’s political approach, one must remember that Trump ran on a platform of not using US military power to “advance an international order”. Indeed, that seems to be a policy many Americans, and an awful lot of foreigners, really wish America would abandon. Unless, it seems, it’s Trump making the decision, in which case bombing people is good again.

UPDATE

See this from the BBC:

The Trump administration is planning to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan, US media say.

Reports, citing unnamed officials, say about 7,000 troops – roughly half the remaining US military presence in the country – could go home within months.

Analysts have warned that a withdrawal could have a “devastating” impact and offer Taliban militants a propaganda victory.

Better stay for another 17 years then, eh? I remember when the likes of the BBC were against American military adventurism.

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Sauce, geese, and ganders

I’m a little late with this, but this was bound to happen:

A federal judge in Texas struck down the Affordable Care Act on Friday night, ruling that former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic legislation has fallen down like a losing game of “Jenga.”

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth sided with the argument put forward by a coalition of Republican-leaning states, led by Texas, that Obamacare could no longer stand now that there’s no penalty for Americans who don’t buy insurance.

The U.S. Supreme Court had upheld the law in 2012, by classifying the legislation as a tax. But since Congress removed the individual mandate in 2017, O’Connor ruled, there’s no way the ACA can be allowed to stand.

Since Trump’s election, a precedent has been set whereby lower circuit, activist judges have been able to declare various presidential decisions illegal, thus thwarting the will of the White House. The most ludicrous of these was a judge deciding Trump’s temporary halt on immigration from six countries without functioning governments plus Iran was illegal partly on the grounds it might discourage tourism in Washington State. These cases usually have to go to the Supreme Court where the original ruling is struck down or heavily amended, and the White House can get on with its business once more.

One of the major weaknesses of the left is their inability to comprehend that whatever weapon they invent will shortly be wielded against them by their enemies. Hence if lower court judicial activism is now the game being played, they should expect conservative judges to take part sooner or later. Of course, the right doesn’t play as well as the left:

But the White House said that with the ruling expected to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the law will remain in place for now.

This is because they have no alternative, mainly thanks to the uselessness of Paul Ryan and other establishment Republicans. Ultimately, no number of conservative judges willing to make decisions for the cause is going to make up for that.

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Conservatives need to stop defending their enemies

In my podcast with Chris Mounsey of The Devil’s Kitchen we spoke about how modern-day politicians (and business leaders) are all at sea because they don’t adhere to any principles, and their speech and actions are made up on the fly depending on which way the winds of maximum approval are blowing. In the ZMan’s latest podcast he says what might be construed as the opposite, that the reason the right has lost the culture war on every front is because they are more interested in espousing principles than defeating the enemy.

However, our two positions may not be contradictory. The ZMan believes principles are drawn up and adhered to by the victors after the fight has been won by any means necessary, and there’s probably a lot of truth in that. Half the time the principles are applied ahistorically to explain why their side won: look at the moral posturing from the victors of wars that were won chiefly thanks to greater industrial output and superior logistics. A good example of the ZMan’s example of the right’s problem unveiled itself yesterday. Here’s the story:

A children’s speech pathologist who has worked for the last nine years with developmentally disabled, autistic, and speech-impaired elementary school students in Austin, Texas, has been told that she can no longer work with the public school district, after she refused to sign an oath vowing that she “does not” and “will not” engage in a boycott of Israel or “otherwise tak[e] any action that is intended to inflict economic harm” on that foreign nation. A lawsuit on her behalf was filed early Monday morning in a federal court in the Western District of Texas, alleging a violation of her First Amendment right of free speech.

The child language specialist, Bahia Amawi, is a U.S. citizen who received a master’s degree in speech pathology in 1999 and, since then, has specialized in evaluations for young children with language difficulties (see video below). Amawi was born in Austria and has lived in the U.S. for the last 30 years, fluently speaks three languages (English, German, and Arabic), and has four U.S.-born American children of her own.

Regardless of what you think about the American practice of making people take various oaths, especially those related to Israel, if we’re adhering to classical liberal principles the requirement is an abomination and probably in violation of her First Amendment rights. But here’s the thing. The left imposes political purity tests on swathes of the population up and down the country, including hounding people from their jobs and social media platforms for the slightest wrongthink. They also attempt to destroy the careers of those who don’t succumb to the bullying tactics of the blatantly antisemitic BDS movement; if the only country in the world you’re boycotting just so happens to be the Jewish one, and when the subject comes up you sound as though you’re reading from a Hamas pamphlet, people will draw their own conclusions. (Indeed, the pledge the teacher was asked to sign was created specifically to thwart anti-Israel boycotts and a version of it is included by law in any contract an American company does for work abroad, including the Middle East).

When a right-winger is having their life destroyed for holding the wrong opinions, left either justifies the infidel’s treatment or they simply stay quiet. But when the shoe is on the other foot and it’s one of their own side being violated, they suddenly discover principles have a use after all – namely, to beat conservatives over the head with:


You can be sure that before the day is out there’ll be half a dozen prominent “conservative” commentators denouncing the treatment of Bahia Amawi and sternly reminding us all of the importance of free speech. And they will be right in principle, but it is not principles on which the left are basing their outrage over this, but political opportunism. I’m not saying conservatives and right wingers should defend what the Texas government is doing in this instance, but they could at least just shut up and not dance to the tune of those who seek to destroy them. Here’s a leading conservative intellectual:


Right or left, eh? Strange how this only seems to run in one direction. This is why conservatives have lost, and continue to do so. They need to learn to fight on behalf of those whose values they share, not those who claim to share their principles when it suits them but otherwise seek their destruction. Conservatives should let someone else fight Bahia Amawi’s battles.

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Should societies be pleasant or durable?

Ilhan Omar was born in Mogadishu, Somalia before coming to the United States as a refugee aged 14. Last November she became the first Somali to be elected to the United States Congress, and one of the first Muslim women. She has yet to even take her seat in Congress, but she’s already decided American society needs a radical overhaul:


I have written before about how I don’t think new citizens to a country should be given the vote: if you want a say in how you are governed, feel free to stay at home. I might be persuaded those who have lived 20 years in a country should have the right to vote, but I also don’t see their being denied as a fundamental injustice. The views of those who were born in a country ought to prevail over those of newcomers who chose to relocate, but people are so wedded to the idea of universal suffrage this idea sits well outside the Overton window in the west. The trouble is, universal suffrage is about 100 years old at best, which in historical terms makes it very much still in the experimental stage.

One of the more hubristic characteristics of modern political commentators and activists is they believe their preferred policies mark the end of history, that the societal conditions they have largely imposed on others will be here forever. Few stop to think that the Ottoman empire lasted 600 years before disappearing altogether, so perhaps the jury is still out on 5 years of gay marriage and 40 years of wimmin’s rights. Now it may well be that a society in which religion plays no major role, gays get married, and legislation ensures gender parity in the upper management of big companies is very pleasant and all who live in it enjoy long, healthy, fulfilling lives. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the society will survive more than a generation or two. It rarely occurs to people that pleasant societies might not make durable societies, whereas history certainly suggests that societies built on harsh conditions can prove remarkably enduring.

My point is that any society which allows rank outsiders to enter and immediately set about agitating for radical change probably won’t last very long. Any society which allows foreigners to take part in their national political process such that they attempt to overturn parts of the constitution, suppress free speech, and denounce the population as racist is engaged in a suicide pact. The Founding Fathers stipulated that the US president must be an American; had it occurred to them that Somalis would be running for Congress and seeking to radically change America, they might well have imposed similar criteria for all holders of elected office. Serious countries do not allow their political systems to be infiltrated in this manner: Britain banned Catholics from holding public office for two hundred years, believing them to be a fifth column. Somehow, America has gone from a country which insisted newcomers adopt their values to celebrating those who don’t.

I’m sure there are lots of very good, principled arguments for allowing Ilhan Omar to run for Congress and then denounce Americans as white supremacists, just as I am sure there are sound reasons for allowing known jihadists to roam free in European capitals. But the question is, can a society which tolerates this survive? And if so, how long before it is unrecognisable? This won’t end well.

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Time to get serious

I’m disappointed but not surprised to wake up this morning to find Theresa May is still leading the Conservative Party, having seen off a vote of no confidence by a 2:1 ratio. In my opinion Theresa May is an appalling prime minister even if you disregard Brexit: she’s a nannying, authoritarian, dimwit with no vision, no principles, and no charisma who sees the British population as little more than a nuisance. Add to that her handling of the Brexit negotiations – which appear to be a mixture of devious cunning where Britain’s interests were concerned, and incompetence and capitulation in front of Barnier et al. – resulting in a deal which nobody is happy with, and she is likely to go down as the worst PM anyone can recall. That nobody among the ruling classes can mount a challenge to her, either within the party or from the opposition benches, almost beggars belief.

But like I said, I’m not surprised. The yawning chasm that’s opened up between the ruling classes and the majority population has been evident for some time, and that 200 Tory MPs have given their blessing to Theresa May and her Brexit deal merely confirms the people’s parliamentary representatives have no intention of representing anyone’s interests but their own. In some ways, last night’s vote is a good thing in that it may ram  home this point to those who for some reason thought differently. How anyone still believed it having watched Blair and Cameron rule Britain for a combined 16 years is anyone’s guess, but here we are. In short, May winning the vote demonstrates how utterly bereft of talent and competence Britain’s ruling classes have become, and it’s interesting to look at why.

Those 16 years I mentioned earlier explains a lot about where we are now. Both Blair and Cameron epitomised prime ministers for whom the big decisions over governance were solved by a combination of a collapsed Soviet Union, unprecedented wealth due to globalisation, and a handing over of major policies to the EU. Neither man had to tackle a single, difficult domestic issue: even the NI peace process was mostly wrapped up by the time Blair took office, allowing him to claim credit for it. From 1997 onwards, Britain was rich, peaceful, and faced no serious threats – except, in hindsight, from its own government. This allowed people like Blair and Cameron, who lacked any principles save for a desire to be in power, to tinker and meddle and make changes on the fly, many of which had devastating consequences down the line. Where previous prime ministers had to deal with the Soviet-backed communism, independence of the colonies, general strikes, deindustrialisation, and the oil embargo Blair and Cameron busied themselves banning foxhunting, creating thousands of new petty crimes, foisting political correctness on critical institutions, and micromanaging people’s lives. And while they did this, the majority of the population didn’t weep with despair and head abroad like I did – they stood and cheered, and said “Ooh, what a nice man!” Until Blair joined in with the wrecking of Iraq, anyway.

The irony is many of those people who voted for Blair and Cameron are now bitterly disappointed at the current situation, both leavers and remainers who think May’s deal is abhorrent, albeit for opposite reasons. Well, what did they expect? The British population allowed the ruling classes to be captured by a bunch of wet, unprincipled, and not especially bright charlatans, and were happy to let them rule provided they were doing all right regardless of the long-term costs. Whenever somebody with even a whiff of intelligence, backbone, or principles showed up on the political scene, the middle classes would clutch their pearls and launch into a frenzy of virtue-signaling (nowadays they just start shrieking about Nazis). And now, finally, the British ruling classes have been given a genuinely difficult, statesman’s task and they are simply not up to it: May has proven hopeless, and her closest rivals can’t even inspire enough colleagues to get rid of her. What does that tell you about the substance of Johnson and Rees-Mogg?

It’s time the British public got serious. Over the next few months the ruling classes will be found wanting once more, unable to make difficult decisions: May’s deal probably won’t pass a parliamentary vote, and a general election will be called where people are given a choice of another loser Tory or Jeremy Corbyn. This will being about a disaster no matter who wins, and this might – might – bring to the fore a different sort of politician, one we haven’t seen for a long time in Britain. How the population reacts will be crucial, and there will be howls of anguish from the metropolitan elites and a subsection of the middle classes who would prefer politicians stick to banning sugary drinks and shutting down hate speech on Twitter than actually governing. These voices will need to be shouted down with full force if Britain is going to change. But I’m not even sure it wants to.

In short, the public are going to have to start making difficult decisions. The trouble is, like Blair and Cameron, they’ve never had to. Can they learn? Time will tell, but if they can’t they might as well stay in the EU and let someone else rule over them. It’s going to be a testing twelve months.

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Rule by technocrat

This is a good article on France, Macron, and the yellow vest movement, in particular:

Whether on the Right, center or Left, French politicians and senior government officials are an astonishingly homogenous bunch. Almost all of them have studied at the grandes écoles like the École Nationale d’Administration. These institutions serve to furnish a group of highly educated individuals. Commonly referred to as “les énarques,” they rotate between elected office, the private sector, and the state bureaucracy, thereby ostensibly lending stability to France’s notoriously cantankerous politics.

These schools produce well-trained technocrats furnished with the mindset that their primary responsibility in life is to serve the state. This is a very different attitude to that which prevails among graduates of most top-level American universities. But the grandes écoles also facilitate a monolithic outlook, an absence of creative thought, and unhealthy patronage networks.

In more recent times, these dispositions have been accompanied by a habit of embracing pretty much every politically correct nostrum. These range from gender ideology (something which infuriates large swathes of French public opinion, and not just on the Right) to environmentalism as a pseudo-religion. This has exacerbated the already huge gap between the viewpoint, life experiences, and priorities of people like Macron—whose personal career path epitomizes the énarque—and most other French people, especially the France of the provinces.

Anyone’s who worked in a company whose upper management are dominated by the graduates of the grandes écoles will relate to that passage. See also here.

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Macron’s mess

Twitter was rather lively over the weekend concerning photos and videos emerging from the latest round of riots in Paris in which armoured personnel carriers bearing the EU flag are seen rumbling through the streets towards unarmed protesters:


Now various people popped up to say this isn’t really a big deal because the vehicles aren’t really part of an EU authority, and even if they are it’s not really related to the EU because reasons, and for all I know they may be right. But one has to wonder just how tin-eared Macron and his cabinet are to put these vehicles onto the streets bearing that flag at a time like this. Macron was only recently calling for an EU army, and as I said some time ago the first deployment of any such body will likely be against the unarmed citizens of an EU member state. Optics matter, and previous French presidents would have known not to be as cack-handed as this. Macron not only appears incompetent, but more isolated from the country he governs with each passing day.

I read this morning that Macron now intends to sit with union leaders to discuss the crisis. These are presumably the same unions who fully backed the Paris climate change agreement which brought about the fuel tax hikes in the first place*. My guess is he’s talking to them because nobody else has put themselves forward.

*In my last place of work, the white-collar unions were passing around flyers protesting the acquisition of a rival oil company because it was incompatible with global commitments to reduce fossil fuel use and tackle climate change. Yes, the unions were more interested in supranational vanity projects than securing long-term employment for their members.

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An untypical protest

Heh:

France’s PM has announced a six-month suspension of a fuel tax rise which has led to weeks of violent protests.

Edouard Philippe said that people’s anger must be heard, and the measures would not be applied until there had been proper debate with those affected.

Good work, comrades.

The difficulty for Emmanuel Macron is that this is exactly the kind of capitulation to the street that he has vowed to stop. There will be no change of direction, he repeats to all who will hear, because that would only store up worse problems for the future.

The thing is – and I defy you to show me a British newspaper that makes this distinction – the French public were ready to accept reforms to the labour laws of the sort that traditionally bring the unions onto the streets. In fact, Macron did push through such reforms and the unions did strike, and the public refused to back the strikers. I remember all the complaining about the disruption to SNCF services when I was working in Paris, but the majority knew major reforms are necessary. What they clearly don’t support is their foppish president sacrificing the living standards of ordinary people on the altar of environmental hysteria. Most commentators will say this was a typical French uprising against reform and modernisation – plus ça change – but it wasn’t.

Macron had all the goodwill he could have wished for from a population who wanted to change; instead he chose to hit them hardest on a vanity project. That should be the story here.

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Hubris

This morning I came across this tweet:


Catherine Noone is an Irish senator and practicing solicitor. This tweet is a good example of something I find myself talking a lot about these days: hubris.

Tesco are an outfit at the end of an extraordinarily complex, technologically advanced, and finely-tuned supply chain which enables farm produce to be freshly available on supermarket shelves in city centres day after day with no interruptions. Looked at in isolation, the entire operation is nothing short of miraculous, an achievement of human endeavour which rivals the space programme.

But the metropolitan middle classes with social science, humanities, and law degrees think they’ve found something wrong with it. For some reason, the global experts in packaging, transport, storage, and retail operating on razor-thin margins have decided to use a few million tonnes of unnecessary plastic. Perhaps it was a decision made late on a Friday night when they all wanted to go to the pub, and never got around to revisiting it? Silly people! They spend millions on computer controlled warehouses, yet they can’t even get their packaging right.

I have the advantage over most of those wringing their hands over food packaging of having actually worked on a large vegetable farm, including a few days in the packing plant. The farm would come to life at about 5 or 6am, everyone would be in the fields picking by 7am, and by 1 or 2pm the first produce would be coming into the yard, some of which would go into the packing plant. Between 2 and 5pm several large lorries from the major supermarkets would pull in, get loaded up, and be off to the distribution centres from where the produce would be sent to all four corners of the UK, where it would appear on shelves at 7am the next morning. One thing I noticed, being a part-time forklift driver, was that clever packaging was essential for rapid loading and unloading. Everything needed to be packed in such a way it could be stacked on a pallet and put on a lorry with a forklift. We used to being loose veg in from the fields in small lorries or with a tractor and trailer, and it was a right pain. This is why we had a packing plant.

If you want just-in-time logistics, you need to pack things properly. Also, as mentioned in this post by someone who knows what they’re talking about, the plastic serves a vital function in keeping the produce fresh. I am sure it is also used to keep moisture and creepy-crawlies out in some instances. Now I don’t know the optimum packing methods to achieve all this, but I think it’s a reasonable assumption that those who have a billion dollars worth of skin in the game have worked it out. The idea that vegetable supply companies use “excess” packaging is so ludicrous only the seriously dim and neo-religious could believe it. And of course, if they removed the packaging there would be uproar about food waste. That campaigns against this imaginary problem have such support is indicative of several things, not least the increasing divide between those who work white-collar jobs in air-conditioned offices in large cities and those who actually make the country function.

In any conversation on this topic, you’ll inevitably get someone – usually a woman with a good salary, nice handbag, and plenty of shoes – smugly state that they buy their vegetables loose from the local organic shop and “they’re perfectly all right”. Which is true, but you’re not going to be able to feed cities of between 2 and 5 million people via small shops filled with bent, muddy, and cracked vegetables chucked in cardboard boxes. Well you could, but not while maintaining the standards of living everyone now demands. These people are the equivalent of the apocryphal American kids who don’t know milk comes from cows.

One of the paradoxes of the population becoming more educated is they seem to know less. The middle classes are increasingly backing trendy causes – gender equality, renewable energy, fuel taxes, carrier bag bans – without having the slightest idea how the world functions beyond their bubble. They’ve never been on a farm, toured a factory, walked through the turbine hall of a working power station, seen the spaghetti-like piping in a refinery, watched a giant crane lift something into place, or stood on a platform built in the middle of a hostile sea to provide the life-blood their society depends on. They don’t know how things are done and who does them. All they know is they’re doing it wrong and they know best. Like I said: hubris.

This won’t end well.

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