"Gladiator" Review (NYPost May 5, 2000)

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Gladiator Kicks Butt

MORE than just a welcome revival of the toga movie – a genre dead for more than 30 years, if you don’t count Bob Guccione’s gamy “Caligula” – “Gladiator” is an exhilarating, sweeping epic that begs to be seen on the largest possible screen.

At times it’s surprisingly languorous for a modern actioner. But it also boasts some of the most exciting pre-gunpowder combat sequences ever: Not only are the battles in “Gladiator” superior to – and more realistic than – anything in “Braveheart,” they’re equal in excitement to the classic arena contests in “Ben Hur” and “Spartacus.”

They’re so gripping, in fact, that they’re disturbing: Long before the final duel, you find yourself cheering as wildly as the bloodthirsty Colosseum crowd.

Directed by Ridley Scott (“Alien,” “Blade Runner”), “Gladiator” also features breathtaking photography, sets and computer-generated images.

But the real glory of the movie is Russell Crowe, who is simply magnificent as a mythical Roman general turned gladiator. Like James Mason, he is one of those actors who can make the lamest line (and like its sword-and-sandal predecessors, “Gladiator” has some clunkers) sound like Shakespeare.

“Gladiator” opens on the empire’s wintry, forested northern frontier, with Maximus (Crowe) leading his legions against the ferocious German hordes. In a stunning battle sequence, clearly influenced by “Saving Private Ryan,” Maximus routs the last threat to Rome’s domination of Europe, as the ailing Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) looks on.

The emperor offers him supreme power; Maximus says he would rather retire to his farm in Spain. But before he can make up his mind, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) the emperor’s son, who is visiting the front with his sister Lucilla (Connie Nielsen), murders Aurelius and assumes the purple.

Commodus immediately arranges to have Maximus killed. The general escapes this fate but finds disaster at home before being captured by slave traders. Taken to North Africa, Maximus is sold to the gladiatorial impresario Proximo (the late Oliver Reed, as rascally and charming as ever in his final role).

Initially reluctant to fight, Maximus proves to be an extraordinarily deadly gladiator. Accordingly, Proximo brings him to Rome to compete in games sponsored by the sports-mad Commodus.

“Gladiator” draws heavily on its ’60s ancestors, but unlike them it contains no Christian message, and, more surprisingly, no sex.

Scott fills the movie with visual allusions to his own work as well as to “Spartacus” and even “Apocalypse Now.” There are also some arty indulgences, including Maximus’ bleached-out visions of his own death, shots of speeded-up clouds scudding over the desert, and black-and-white parade scenes that are clearly intended to evoke both Nazi-era Berlin and “Triumph of the Will.”

However, there are no silly anachronisms – apart from an attempt to give the drama a modern political dimension. Periodically the characters spout historical absurdities about “a dream that was Rome” and “giving power back to the people” as if screenwriters David Franzoni, John Logan and William Nicholson were recycling Princess Leia’s lines from “Star Wars.”

Ancient-history buffs might also quarrel with military details. The Romans didn’t use artillery except in sieges, for example, and employed their swords for stabbing, not slashing. Nor could they engage in cavalry charges, because the stirrup hadn’t yet made it to Europe.



Ridley Scott’s revival of the sword-and-sandal epic is a spectacular triumph, with sensational battle scenes and a terrific performance by Russell Crowe. First-class entertainment, it’s marred only by slow sections, occasionally leaden dialogue and some indulgently arty dream sequences. Running Time: 150 minutes. Rated R. At the Lincoln Square, the Ziegfeld, the Kips Bay, others.

RIP Candida Royalle

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So sad to hear of the death of my friend Candace Vadala, who under the name Candida Royalle (her website is here) was a pioneering maker of erotic films for women and a feminist fighter for free expression, having been a pornographic film actress in the 1970s. For the last few years she’d been working on a documentary called “While You Were Gone” about her abandonment as a child and her search for her birth mother. She was a very brave woman with a wonderful sense of humor, and so full of life it’s hard to believe she’s gone.  IMG_3767

The Timothy Hunt Witch Hunt (Commentary Sept. 2015)

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What Really Happened in the Tim Hunt Affair and Why It Matters

In 1983, the British biochemist Timothy Hunt discovered cyclins, a family of proteins that help regulate the life of cells. Eighteen years later, in 2001, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. Between June 8 and June 10 of this year, the 72-year-old Hunt went from being a universally respected and even beloved figure at the top of the scientific establishment to an instant pariah, condemned everywhere for antiquated opinions about women’s role in science that he does not, in fact, hold.

In only 48 hours, he found himself compelled to resign his positions at University College London and at the august Royal Society (where Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke once fought petty battles) after being told that failure to do so would lead to his outright firing.

The Timothy Hunt affair represents more than the gratuitous eye-blink ruination of a great man’s reputation and career. It demonstrates the danger of the extraordinary, almost worshipful deference that academia, government institutions, and above all the mainstream media now accord to social media. It is yet more evidence of the way moral panic and (virtual) mob rule can be accelerated and intensified by the minimalism of Twitter, with its 140-character posts and its apparently inherent tendency to encourage snap judgments, prejudice, and cruelty.

Fortunately, the story did not end on June 10. In the weeks following the initial assault, some of Hunt’s most ardent persecutors have been exposed as liars or blinkered ideologues, abetted by cynical hacks and academic rivals on a quest to bring him down or use him as grist to a political mill. Hunt’s partial rehabilitation has largely come about thanks to the dogged investigations of Louise Mensch, the British novelist and former conservative member of parliament who lives in New York City and is herself a powerful presence on Twitter. Mensch was alarmed by what she calls ‘the ugly combination of bullying and sanctimony” in the reaction to remarks made by “an evidently sweet and kind” older man.

She did some checking on Twitter and soon found that the two main witnesses for the prosecution contradicted each other. Then she began a more thorough investigation of Hunt’s offending comments and the lack of due process involved in his punishment by various academic and media institutions. The results of her exhaustive research, published on her blog, Unfashionista.com, encouraged an existing groundswell of support for Hunt from scientists around the world but most important from Hunt’s own female colleagues and former students.

As a result, the false picture of Hunt as a misogynist opposed to the equal participation of women in science has mostly been dispelled. Hunt, who is married to a distinguished immunologist named Mary Collins, has ceased being the science academy’s equivalent of George Orwell’s Emmanuel Goldstein—the object of the Two Minutes Hate in 1984—on Twitter. Indeed, one of the Britain’s most respected female scientists, Dame Athene Donald, master of Churchill College, Cambridge, has publicly lamented the wrecking of Hunt’s reputation by “sloppy journalism fueled by self-righteous fervor.”
Nevertheless various senior figures continue to insist that whether or not Hunt’s remarks were jokes or correctly reported, he is deservedly a symbol of the sexism that allegedly pervades science. At the time of this writing, moreover, he has not been restored to the positions from which he was expelled or forced to resign.

On June 8, Hunt was in Seoul to give the opening lecture at the World Conference of Science Journalists. He was also invited to give an informal toast at a luncheon sponsored by the Korea Federation of Women’s Science and Technology Associations. It was this toast—or rather the way it was reported and reacted to—that led to his disgrace.
Speaking for fewer than five minutes, Hunt praised female scientists with whom he has worked, and then he said this:

It’s strange that a chauvinist monster like me has been asked to speak to women scientists. Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry. Perhaps we should make separate labs for boys and girls.

It is not clear whether Hunt had already mentioned that he and his wife met and fell in love when they were working in his lab, or whether he assumed that everyone in the room was aware of this fact and therefore the context of the remark. Hunt continued: “Now seriously, I’m impressed by the economic development of Korea. And women scientists played, without doubt, an important role in it. Science needs women, and you should do science despite the obstacles and despite monsters like me!”

A few hours after the lunch, a British science journalist named Connie St. Louis sent out a tweet to her followers that read:

Nobel scientist Tim Hunt FRS says at Korean women lunch “I’m a chauvinist and keep ‘girls’ single lab.

Beneath the tweet was a photograph of Hunt and more text by St. Louis: “lunch today sponsored by powerful role model Korean female scientists and engineers. Utterly ruined by sexist speaker Tim Hunt FRS.” (The FRS stands for “Fellow of the Royal Society.”) She went on to give an account of the “trouble with girls” speech that left out his “now seriously” verbal transition and praise of women in science and implied that Hunt was seriously advocating sex-segregated labs.

Shared more than 600 times, the St. Louis tweet ignited a combined Internet, social-media, and then print-media firestorm with astonishing speed. Her observations were repeated in news bulletins across the world. But as has happened before when such Twitter posses gather,1 Hunt himself became aware of it only when the BBC called him as he was about to board a plane to London.

While he was on the flight, the dean of life sciences at University College, London, telephoned his wife—herself a full professor at the school—to say that if Hunt did not immediately resign, he would be fired. No one at University College had even tried to get his side of the story or any independent confirmation of the incident described by Connie St. Louis. On the contrary, two of Hunt’s colleagues had started lobbying against him as soon as they saw the tweets. One of them, Dorothy Bishop, sent this message to the Dean on June 9: “Could we ask that he not be on any appointments or promotions committee given his views.” Another, David Colquhoun, started a Twitter hashtag called #Huntgate and called for Hunt to be expelled from the Royal Society as well as University College. And in short order Hunt was indeed made to resign from the Royal Society’s awards committee and the European Research Commission.

Although St. Louis was the primary author of Hunt’s destruction, she had a pair of allies with whom she apparently plotted his takedown while in Seoul.2 They were her friends Deborah Blum and Ivan Oransky. Blum, a professor of journalism at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and occasional New York Times columnist, took to Twitter right away to back up her old friend, insisting that Hunt never praised women in science during his toast, that he was not joking when calling for segregated labs, and that his remarks had caused great offense to his hosts.

The first website stories about Hunt’s alleged faux pas appeared on June 9. All of them were based on St. Louis’s tweets; none included a response from Hunt himself or comments from the organizers of the event. A Google news headline proclaimed: “Nobel prizewinner Tim Hunt says women should be banned from labs.” Some of the most influential stories modified his reported words to make them sound worse. One such piece by Brandy Zadrozny in the Daily Beast was entitled “Nobel Prize-Winning Biologist Calls Women Love-Hungry Crybabies.” It began: “Lady scientists: they’re always falling in love and crying about it. Amiright? So says important man of science, knighted and Nobel Prize–winning biologist Sir Tim Hunt.”
According to Zadrozny, Hunt’s words were symptomatic of a wider problem: “The biologist who called female scientists ‘girls’ who fell in love with him then berated them for crying too much isn’t an outlier. For females in the science world, sexism is the norm.”

Neither Zadrozny nor her editors at the Beast seem to have noticed that Hunt had spoken of male scientists as “boys” in the same passage, rather undermining the notion that his use of the word “girls” was prima facie evidence of sexism.

Buzzfeed ran a story the same day entitled “Nobel prizewinner makes shockingly sexist remarks at journalist meeting.” The writer, Cat Ferguson, reported that Hunt had said that “labs should be segregated by sex.”

Both Ferguson and Zadrozny added a new element to the case against Hunt, claiming that he had also condescendingly thanked women scientists for “making the lunch.” St. Louis later repeated this additional charge in an interview with the BBC. But it was eventually revealed, thanks to the efforts of Louise Mensch, that Hunt never said anything of the kind. In fact the allegedly offensive expression of gratitude had been delivered by a leading Korean—female—politician who stood up before Hunt.

Like most of the science journalists who covered Hunt’s solecism, Zadrozny and Ferguson were content to rely on a handful of tweets as the only evidence in an obviously controversial story. Sadly, the Hunt affair provides ample ammunition for those who believe Internet reporters are a tribe of third-raters with little or no ethical standards or training in Journalism 101.

But there’s another explanation for the fact that reporters such as Zadrozny and Ferguson felt no obligation to verify the facts of the case or do any old-fashioned reporting. In their cases, the temptation to cut journalistic corners may have been overwhelming. That’s because for anyone with an ax to grind about gender equality or sexism in science, this was one of those stories that the tabloids used to label (jestingly for the most part) “too good to check.”

For politically committed editors and reporters, a story that is too good to check is one that perfectly confirms their suspicions and prejudices about those they consider the enemy. It’s a phenomenon that exists on the right as well as the left—as evidenced by the bizarre stories in the 1990s claiming that the Clintons were drug smugglers and murderers. Last year’s invented story in Rolling Stone about a nonexistent gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity was a particularly troubling modern version of it. That’s because in that case the story that editors didn’t want to check had been fabricated by a writer-activist who believed it was OK to collaborate with an obviously unreliable source on a story if that story “proved” the existence of a social ill she believed existed.

It’s possible that similar motivations inspired St. Louis’s misreporting of Hunt’s case. It is very likely that they were behind the subsequent trumpeting of her claims by the New York Times science columnist Deborah Blum and a chorus of committed journalists and academics. Such motivations explain the general refusal by members of that chorus to admit they were wrong even when confronted by the evidence.

Blum actually wrote: “The real point isn’t about individuals, isn’t about Tim Hunt…The real point is that telling a roomful of female scientists that they aren’t really welcome in a male-run laboratory is the sound of a slamming door. The real point is that to pry open that door means change. And change is hard, uncomfortable, and necessary.” Quite apart from Blum’s dishonesty—Hunt didn’t say anything of the sort, and the room was full of science writers not scientists—the ruthlessness of the statement is astonishing. For Blum, Hunt is a necessary sacrifice, an egg that needs to be broken for the cause.

But you still have to wonder, why did so many academics, as well as journalists and activists, believe her? In some cases it may have reflected a kind of confirmation bias. The bien-pensant are convinced that out there are many unenlightened people, the worst of whom are older white men, who brim with appalling reactionary prejudices.

You might have expected St. Louis and Blum, or the online journalists who took up their inflammatory reports, or the Twitterati who went into a frenzy of condemnation to do a bit of research, to dig into Hunt’s history and find more evidence of his supposed misogyny. After all, someone capable of calling for sex-segregated labs had presumably given other hostages to fortune. Apparently none of them did so; a single “sexist” remark being sufficient for conviction in the court of social media. But had they done so, they would have found that Hunt’s actions throughout his career don’t match the profile of a misogynist or even a sexist. Quite the contrary.

It’s not just that Hunt is married to a senior female biologist who is also a leading advocate for more opportunities for women in the sciences. He is also well known in the scientific community as a lifelong supporter and mentor of female scientists.

If that weren’t enough, for the past five years Hunt has actually been helping the European Research Council develop its “gender-equity plan.” He’s been such a devoted and longtime supporter of women in science that, according to Mensch, he had a day-care nursery installed at the Okinawa Institute and tried unsuccessfully to do the same thing at London’s Crick Institute—one of the institutions that quickly distanced itself from his supposedly sexist remarks.

Indeed, by the end of June, Hunt’s lifelong support for women in science was evident from a stream of tweets, blog posts, and letters to the press from female colleagues and former students. Maria Leptin, of the European Molecular Biology Organization, tweeted: “Tim Hunt was in charge as council chair and member of selection board that appointed the first female EMBO director (full disclosure: me).” Oxford’s Dr. Trisha Greenhalgh: “People who know and have worked with Tim are behind him, those who went on hearsay concluded ‘sexist.’”

One of the most powerful defenses came from Professor Hyunsook Lee of Seoul University, who wrote to the Times of London: “I have known Tim Hunt for more than 15 years, ever since he examined my thesis for a PhD. During those years he could not have been more supportive…he never treated me as a ‘female scientist’ but as a ‘scientist.’ In the scientific community…you sometimes get the feeling that you are being treated as a female. I never had this uneasy feeling from him. I learned a great deal from him and his attitude to science and he will continue to be my mentor.”
Some of this might have emerged at the outset if major mainstream news organizations, such as the BBC and the New York Times, had been more professional than the Buzzfeed and Daily Beast reporters. They weren’t.

The report by the Times’s London correspondent Dan Bilefsky repeated, as fact, Connie St. Louis’s claim that Hunt’s remarks were received in “stony silence.” Not only was this disputed very quickly by other guests at the lunch, it was disproved beyond reasonable doubt by a recording of the event that was released in July on Mensch’s website. Bilefsky also stated as fact that Hunt argued that “female scientists should be segregated from male colleagues.”

The BBC played an especially important role in turning Hunt into a hated figure. Anyone who still thinks that the BBC’s reportorial standards have not precipitately declined should read Mensch’s detailed accounting of the various misquotes and falsehoods about Hunt that the network came out with in various radio and television broadcasts across the world. This was especially true and especially damaging in the case of the flagship Radio 4 Today program, the All Things Considered of Great Britain.

It is telling that none of these mainstream organizations reported or seem to have known that, on the day after Hunt’s talk, the president of the European Research Commission (the delightfully named Jean-Pierre Bourguignon) had issued a statement in defense of Hunt and his record as a supporter of gender balance. He would have been an obvious person to ask for a comment.

Any of these organizations, moreover, if they had bothered, could have found convincing evidence on Twitter itself that contradicted St. Louis’s claims. Mensch quickly discovered that someone had actually tweeted about Tim Hunt during the luncheon—a science reporter from the Philippines named Shai Panela. She wrote: “Nobel Laureate Tim Hunt acknowledging the contribution of female science journalists.”

Mensch also turned up a shocked response to St. Louis’s claims by another science writer at the luncheon: Russia’s Nataliya Demina. “Everybody who heard T. Hunt’s speech yesterday knew he was joking,” she tweeted. “For those who not: guys where is u sense of humor?”

A third participant, a female assistant editor from Malaysia named Tan Shiow Chin flatly contradicted claims by St. Louis and Blum that Hunt had advocated single-sex labs. She recalled Hunt’s remarking in his toast that “men would be the worse off for it.”

Eight other Nobel laureates came out in his support. Twenty-nine colleagues wrote a joint letter to the London Times calling for him to be reinstated at both UCL and the European Research Centre; the signatories said they had been “shocked to witness the attacks made by commentators who have never met Tim.” From the United States, Cornell’s David Collum and NYU’s Nicholas Taleb added their voices, prompting Sir Paul Nurse, the president of the Royal Society to come out in defense of Hunt and tell the BBC that he should never have been sacked.

By the end of June, with St. Louis’s claims in tatters but with the refusal of University College, London, to change its stance, the broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby resigned from his honorary fellowship there, and a well-known author publicly dropped it from his will.

Almost immediately St. Louis protected herself and her dishonesty against investigation by asserting her victimhood. “Women are vulnerable to vicious trolling on Twitter,” she told Scientific American, “and black women doubly so.”

St. Louis also went on the offensive. This included an article for the Guardian entitled “Stop Defending Tim Hunt.” In it she insisted that Hunt never said “now seriously” after his segregated-lab joke. “Nor did he praise the role of women in science and Korean society.” She even repeated the allegation that Hunt thanked the women journalists present for making lunch. Multiple witnesses have now come forward to confirm that St. Louis lied about these just as she lied to the BBC about Hunt’s speech being greeted with “stony silence.”

One of the final nails in the coffin of her credibility came when it turned out that a European Commission official had been at the luncheon and taken notes. His report was suppressed by the commission (in traditional Brussels fashion), but a leaked copy made it clear that Hunt had been joking and that the final words of his toast had been these: “Science needs women, and you should do science despite all the obstacles, and despite monsters like me.”

The unnamed EU official not only says that he did not detect “any awkwardness in the room as reported on social and then mainstream media” but that one of the Korean organizers of the conference spontaneously told him how impressed she was that “Sir Tim could improvise such a warm and funny speech” at such short notice.
Bourguignon confirmed the validity of the leaked report, adding that he himself had spoken to other Korean hosts who confirmed the warm reception given to Hunt’s speech and his praise of female scientists.

As Richard Dawkins, one of Hunt’s early supporters, put it, the leak proved that Hunt’s remark “was lighthearted banter against himself, his irony clearly (not clearly enough, alas) indicating that he is really the reverse of a ‘chauvinist monster.’” Dawkins also expressed the hope that Hunt would receive apologies from UCL, Nature magazine, and “other quarters where they should know better.” At the time of this writing, however, only one of the many publications and science writers who tore into Hunt’s alleged sexism has recanted and apologized: David Kroll of Forbes.

The coup de grâce came in July with Mensch’s release of a short recording from the luncheon. One can clearly hear applause and laughter in the room as Hunt ends his speech. Apparently out of a hundred guests from around the world, most of them women, the only people who were offended by Hunt’s remarks were a handful of British and American science writers, all of whom happen to be diversity obsessives.

The most generous interpretation of Connie St. Louis’s bizarre behavior is that she was too intellectually limited to recognize irony that was somehow obvious to an audience composed mostly of people who spoke English as a second language. A leak of the unedited version of her “Stop Defending Tim Hunt” piece for the Guardian is so garbled and incoherent that this actually seems plausible, though it also makes you wonder how and why she came to be teaching journalism even at a third-rate institution like London’s City University.

That’s a question that began to be asked quite widely a few weeks after St. Louis sent her tweets and became a celebrity on the back of her denunciations of Hunt. The Daily Mail discovered that St. Louis had lied on the curriculum vitae she had supplied for the City University website. The CV claims that she is “an award-winning freelance broadcaster, journalist, writer, and scientist” who “writes for numerous outlets, including the Independent, Daily Mail, the Guardian, the Sunday Times…” But when the Mail’s Guy Adams went through 20 years of digital archives for the Independent, the Sunday Times, and the Mail he could find no articles carrying her byline. Before the current scandal, her work for the Guardian had been limited to a single piece in 2013. Oddly, the BBC and the Guardian have yet to report not only this evidence pertaining to her credibility, but also all the contradictory evidence concerning her claims about Hunt’s speech in Seoul.

Hunt himself was manifestly ill equipped to deal with the onslaught. In an apparent state of confusion and demoralization, he apologized as soon the BBC contacted him, and again in subsequent interviews and statements. But he worded that first apology in such a way that allowed malevolent, dishonest critics to claim that he had admitted to all of St. Louis’s charges. The key phrase in the apology that Deborah Blum and others used against him was “I was trying to be honest.” This was clearly a reference to the fact that he himself had fallen in love with his wife while they were working together. Hunt later explained in a statement to the Guardian, “I certainly did not mean to demean women but rather be honest about my own shortcomings.” Nevertheless the sentence was cited to claim that Hunt really is in favor of sex-segregated labs.

But even if Hunt had been more media-savvy, he still would have faced a heavily stacked deck. After that first apology, one BBC headline read, “Scientist Tim Hunt responds to criticism of ‘girls in labs’ comments,” even though he had never used the phrase “girls in labs.”

In another interview, Hunt regretted his “stupid and ill-judged remarks.” His remarks were indeed ill-judged but mainly because of where and to whom they were delivered. Hunt was presumably used to talking to friendly audiences of scientists, academics, and protégés. His attitude to public speaking and toast-giving was formed in environments where one could assume discretion and the liberty to speak freely. But anyone who speaks to an audience composed largely of journalists, let alone bloggers or “journalism professors,” needs to choose his words carefully lest he fall victim to someone looking for a high-profile scalp.

Still, things might have been even worse if Hunt and his wife had not given an extensive joint interview to the Observer, the Sunday paper now owned by the Guardian. Conducted the weekend after the incident, it gave him the chance to point out the injustice of his situation. He said the UCL had “hung me out to dry” and noted that his accusers at the university “haven’t even asked for my side of affairs.” More important, the interview gave his wife, the less unworldly Professor Collins, an opportunity to rebut the caricature of Hunt as a male chauvinist. “He is certainly not an old dinosaur,” she told the paper. “He just says silly things now and again….I’m a feminist; I would not have put with him if he were a sexist.” She added, for good measure, that he does all the shopping and cooking for the family.

For all his naiveté, and despite the support he was beginning to receive, Hunt knew that his professional life was over. “I’m finished,” he said in the interview. “I had hoped to do a lot more to help promote science…but I cannot see how than can happen. I have become toxic.” Unfortunately, this is indeed the case. Since his comments came to light, Hunt has been disinvited from major scientific and medical conferences. As Dame Athene Donald wrote: “His ability to go and inspire the young has been unnecessarily destroyed.”

At the time of this writing, Hunt has not been reinstated as an honorary professor at University College, London. Nor is he likely to be. Provost Michael Arthur, as if keen to demonstrate the cowardice and lack of intellectual integrity he and so many others confuse with political virtue and good public relations, recently told the press that to reinstate Hunt would send out “entirely the wrong signal.”

It’s worth remembering that University College, London, an institution founded in 1826 by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham, has become notorious in recent years for its craven attitude to Islamic radicalism (the underwear bomber Farouk Abdulmutallab was radicalized while a student there), its toleration of fundamentalist guest speakers who advocate the murder of Jews and homosexuals, and its willingness to let extremist student groups censor free speech.

One of the more depressing aspects of the affair has been the number of clever and influential people, not all of them women, who have stated that even if Hunt was joking, he still deserved to be punished. These people genuinely believe that jokes about alleged differences between the sexes are beyond the pale—the cause of anti-sexism, like that of anti-racism, being simply too important or too fragile to tolerate subversive humor.

Uta Frith, the chair of the Royal Society’s diversity committee, has written that “as the case of Tim Hunt has shown, prejudice is unacceptable even if meant in jest.” She actually celebrated the Twitter lynching of Hunt, even after it was clear that Hunt had been dishonestly maligned for making fun of himself, as “a catalyst for a deep seated bitterness to pour out of people…bitterness about injustice, pure and simple.” As an example of intellectual and moral degradation in an elite institution, you can’t do much better than this.

Hunt experienced in less than two months’ time something similar to the process of denunciation, destruction, and rehabilitation that the main character in Milan Kundera’s autobiographical novel The Joke (1967) endured over a period of many years. Set in Stalinist Czechoslovakia, The Joke tells the story of Ludvik, a student who sends a jesting postcard to his girlfriend that concludes with the words “Long Live Trotsky.” Ludvik is actually an enthusiastic supporter of the relatively new Communist regime, but that doesn’t prevent him from being denounced, expelled from college, expelled from the Party, and then sent off to a labor battalion. Ludvik is too young and naive to understand that totalitarian systems have very limited tolerance for humor and see it as dangerous and subversive. Perhaps Hunt was too old and naive to realize that the worlds of science, education, and “science journalism” are policed by people who are not exactly totalitarians but whose obsession with “correct” language and thought is incompatible with humor and intellectual freedom.

It is a phenomenon that combines modern ideology with quasi-Victorian notions of “respectable” behavior and feminine fragility. For these witch-hunters, there can be no toleration of “inappropriate” speech by the contemporary equivalent of “Society.” The wrong kind of joke, breed of joke-teller, or even the wrong political opinion, moreover, creates a “hostile environment” that supposedly intimidates the sensitive victim to such a degree that she cannot function on an equal level. The Hunt affair shows that this way of thinking doesn’t hold sway on American campuses alone. It has crossed the Atlantic and spread outward and upward.

On the other hand, believers in free inquiry and freedom of speech can perhaps take comfort in one aspect of the Hunt case: Perhaps this brand of intolerance and academic McCarthyism is a specifically Anglo-Saxon or at least Anglophone affliction. Granted, there are signs of it in Scandinavia and other parts of Europe where British and American intellectual fashion is especially strong, but other cultures—perhaps those that have wrestled with or are still wrestling with real misogyny and actual limitations on free expression—might be immune. If Korean, Russian, and Malaysian female scientists like those in Hunt’s audience are able and willing to appreciate the ironic, self-deprecating jokes of an old Brit, there is still hope.


1 Readers may remember the story of Justine Sacco, the public-relations consultant in New York who made an ironic joke about AIDS on Twitter as she boarded a plane to Johannesburg. She was quickly lambasted online as a racist by tens of thousands of people around the world, and her career was over by the time her plane landed. All of it happened with her entirely in ignorance of the mob that had pursued and bagged her.
The writer Jon Ronson, who has taken part in such campaigns, has pointed out “the disconnect between the severity of the crime and the gleeful savagery of the punishment.” His excellent book “So You’ve Been Public Shamed” is very much worth reading on the subject.

2 As St. Louis blogged for Scientific American, “I discussed [Hunt’s comments] with a couple of colleagues I’d been sitting next to. . . . We decided that I should publish the story on Twitter since it had a British angle.” Later, when challenged on her version of Hunt’s words, St. Louis claimed that the trio of them took notes. But in one of his messages sent in her support, Oransky admitted that none of them had written anything down.



Rwanda, Britain, and the Strange Case of General Karake (Politico Aug. 19, 2015)

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Why Does Europe Hound Rwanda – A self-reliant, tough, no-nonsense country is hard to patronize, perhaps?

Supporters of Rwandan General Karenzi Karake celebrate after he was granted bail | Getty

Travelers queuing at London’s Heathrow airport two months ago witnessed something peculiar: the very public arrest of Rwanda’s intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Karenzi Karake, as he was leaving the country. It is extremely rare for government officials of such high rank to be taken into custody while traveling abroad, especially in the U.K.

Ministers from the most reviled rogue regimes routinely travel through London and other European capitals. What made this detention particularly bizarre is that Rwanda is a close British ally. Karake is a frequent visitor to the U.K. who had come to London specifically to meet with his counterparts in British Intelligence.


Rwanda's Intelligence chief, General Karenzi Karake

It was the Metropolitan Police that took him into custody. They did so on the basis of a European Arrest Warrant. That in itself was odd, as European Arrest Warrants are controversial in the U.K., where European standards of criminal justice are regarded as lower than those in Britain. Their execution is relatively rare. During the many times that Karake had visited London since the warrant was issued in 2008, there had never been any indication that U.K. authorities were inclined to take it seriously.

Rwanda under Kagame, probably the greatest development success story of Africa, has become a particular object of suspicion and dislike

Quite apart from the substance of the warrant, Rwanda and the U.K. have very close relations — Rwanda is a major recipient of British foreign aid, and its capital Kigali has been a regular destination for British prime ministers and cabinet members for more than a decade.

President Paul Kagame’s Rwanda is probably the greatest development success story of modern Africa, widely praised for its good roads, rapid economic growth, high literacy and minimal corruption. To U.K. politicians, and especially Prime Minister David Cameron, it has provided comforting evidence for the claim that the huge sums the U.K. spends on development aid can make a difference to African poverty.

* * *

The charge against Karake is a serious one: war crimes. The general is one of 40 Rwandan officials indicted in 2008 by Fernando Andreu Merelles, a Spanish judge, causing considerable controversy at the time. The indicted Rwandans were not former members of the infamous Hutu Power regime or its Interahamwe militia that carried out the horrific 1994 genocide in that country. On the contrary, they were Tutsis, members of the ethnic group who were the victims of six weeks of slaughter that took almost a million lives. All were members of the predominantly Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the rebel force that overthrew the genocidaire regime and formed the subsequent government.

Andreu’s mass indictment had nothing to do with the genocide itself. It related to the revenge massacres of Hutus allegedly carried out by the Tutsi RPF during the war to overthrow the genocidaire regime, and cited later war crimes said to have been carried out by the Rwandan army when it sent troops into Congo to attack former Hutu regime elements based there.

People hold placards during a demonstration calling for the release of  Karake

Much of the information on which Andreu’s indictment relies came from left-leaning “humanitarian” NGOs with links to the FDLR, a Hutu organization founded by former genocidaires whose militia is based in Congo and has been labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.

The organization is said to have had discreet support from France, which was a key ally and defender of the Hutu Power regime even after the genocide. (Paris actually sent troops to set up a sanctuary for the Hutu fighters who were the agents of that genocide — the notorious Operation Turquoise.)

A contemporary U.S. diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks quoted the U.S. ambassador to Rwanda saying the indictment was “outrageous and inaccurate,” and politically motivated.

The similar arrest in Germany in 2008 of a Rwandan official named Rose Kabuye — who was subsequently transferred to France for trial — resulted in embarrassment after a court held that there were no charges to answer.

None of this is to say that Kareke is innocent of all charges, still less that he is a good man, just that there is something fishy about his indictment.

* * *

The fact that British police arrested Karake out of the blue baffled observers and enraged Rwanda. Some have even wondered if his arrest has to do with rivalry between the MI5 and MI6 intelligence agencies: Karake was in London to meet the latter but his arrest is likely to have been overseen by the former.

All too likely it has much to do with the way Rwanda under Kagame has become a particular object of suspicion and dislike for that part of the British establishment that takes its opinions from the Guardian.

Rwanda’s recovery after the horrors of the mid-1990s has been astonishing.

The Rwandan government’s undoubted restrictions on press freedom and authoritarian approach to political dissidence get considerably more attention than countries with much nastier, brutal kleptocratic dictatorships: Kagame’s push to change the Rwandan constitution to secure a third term in office has prompted rather more condemnation than similar efforts in Venezuela, Turkey, and Cuba; Rwanda’s intelligence agency is blamed for all kinds of dark and improbable achievements, in the manner of the CIA and Mossad; and the country gets far more than its fair share of blame for the chaos in neighboring Congo, violence that has resulted in at least a million deaths over the last decade.

So why do many activists, humanitarian NGOs and left-wing groups hate Paul Kagame and pay him so much more attention than, say, Equatorial Guinea’s monstrous kleptocrat Teodoro Obiang, Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaoré or Cameroon’s Paul Biya?

As Central Africa researcher and writer Andrew Wallis puts it, “Paul Kagame is a love-hate figure — for many in the West there seems to be no way they can hold a neutral line on him or Rwanda. He’s the African leader of the moment, and he’s become an international figure of note.”

By most accounts Rwanda’s recovery after the horrors of the mid-1990s has been astonishing. As the New York Times’ Jeffrey Gettleman has written: Under Kagame, this small country “has made enormous strides fighting poverty, corruption and AIDS. The streets are safe. The street lights even work. It all adds up to a small miracle, especially remarkable because of Rwanda’s recent genocide, its overpopulation and its notable lack of resources.”

Gettleman characterized Rwanda as a “tough, suspicious, post-genocide Israel-like [country] whose national ethos, simply stated, was Never Again.”

These are not qualities that necessarily touch the hearts of people in the NGO world. You often hear people imply that the Rwandans ought by now to have abandoned their hostility to the international community, given that it’s been two decades since the genocide. To them, fact that Kagame and his regime have been so effective at re-building and maintaining ethnic peace all but implies that the bloodletting of the mid-1990s can’t really have been that bad.

* * *

It is possible that if Rwanda were a failed or failing state like many other African autocracies and semi-democracies, rather than a thriving, remarkably efficient one, it might receive less hostile press, subject only to the limited scrutiny accorded countries like Guinea and Cameroon.

It may not have helped that while Kagame has welcomed and made good use of foreign aid, he persistently denounces Western paternalism and African dependency. His stated desire to make Rwanda into the Singapore of Africa and his admiration for the late Lee Kwan Yew’s benign dictatorship were never likely to make him popular with Western liberals.

But the turning point seems to have been Goma.

Goma, in what was then Zaire, was the center of a vast international humanitarian operation established to house and feed the Hutu Interahamwe militias and their families who fled Rwanda after the genocide-government was overthrown by the Tutsi RPF. The giant, chaotic refugee camps set up by hundreds of competing aid agencies quickly became a base for more murderous attacks. Neither the Mobutu government in Kinshasa nor the international community did anything to stop the raids. After two years, Kagame sent his army across the border, together with a force from Uganda, and stormed the camps. Ever since, Kagame’s regime has been an object of increasing loathing for Western liberals and much of the NGO world.

Goma was bad enough. But once Rwanda joined the various African nations routinely intervening in and ruthlessly exploiting the chaos in Congo, it started to be portrayed as a uniquely malign player.

Kagame’s regime has been an object of increasing loathing for Western liberals

The media often likes to portray Rwanda’s sponsorship of M23, one of the brutal, rapacious mini-armies taking part in Congo’s civil war, as somehow unique or the primary cause of Congo’s chaos. Neither is true. Burundi, Uganda, Angola, Zimbabwe and even far-off Chad and Namibia have all sent troops into Congo, either to attack rebels hiding in its forests or steal its mineral wealth, or both.

That doesn’t excuse all or even most of Rwanda’s actions, but it does make it easier to understand why the Tutsi RPF is so ruthless in defending its borders and so willing to use force to protect threatened Tutsi populations like the Banyamulenge of Congo. Nor is it surprising that a country ruled by the survivors of an attempt at extermination has little respect for those who ignored or even abetted that genocide, and shows contempt for their espousal of “international humanitarian law.”

Kagame’s internal authoritarianism may be justifiable, given the country’s potential for civil strife and the benefits that development is bringing about.

In any case, there is more to the anti-Kagame sentiment manifested by the Spanish warrant and Karake’s arrest in London than Rwanda’s restrictions on press freedom or its persecution of dissidents abroad.

* * *


Five days after his arrest Karake was released on £1 million bail, thanks to the efforts of his lawyers — who include Cherie Booth, wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair — but forbidden to leave the U.K. He was told he would be tried in September. Before any action could be taken by the Justice Ministry, the Westminster Magistrates Court dismissed his case.

According to press reports, the offenses specified in the warrant are not extraditable under U.K. law: In Spain you can be tried for war crimes committed abroad; in the U.K. you may not. And for a European Arrest Warrant to lead to extradition, the offense has to be triable in both the country where the indictment was made and the country of arrest. This should have been obvious right from the start. One murky and mysterious action by U.K. authorities has been followed by another.

You could be forgiven for thinking that something about Rwanda and its travails brings out the secretive, dishonest, hypocritical worst in European governments and officialdom, and not only in Paris, Brussels and Madrid.


Reparations for the Raj? Mr Tharoor, you must be joking! (Politico Aug 3, 2015)

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The controversial Indian politician Shashi Tharoor sparks a polemical debate at the Oxford Union

LONDON — An Oxford Union debate in which a senior Indian legislator, Shashi Tharoor, made a very funny speech last week calling for Britain to make reparations to India for the sins of the Raj, ignited a social media firestorm that culminated in Prime Minister Modi echoing the call as if it were serious.

Leave aside for the moment how demeaning it would be for a nation as powerful as modern India to revel in victimhood and call for reparations from only the most recent of its many conquerors. Consider instead the sparkling performance and personality of Tharoor, the author, politician, diplomat and socialite who for three decades has cut a suave figure in salons from New Delhi to New York.

Tharoor’s speech was witty, perfectly timed, elegantly delivered, glib, historically dubious, superficial, sophistical and shamelessly crowd-pleasing in exactly the way that Oxford (and Cambridge) Union speeches are supposed to be. In other words it had all the qualities — and all the flaws — of the traditionally frivolous upper-class British intellectual style.

To challenge that speech it wouldn’t do to resort to the hoary arguments always trotted out by old-fashioned defenders of the Raj: the usual litany of railways, the rule of law, cricket, the unifying lingua franca of English, the rediscovery of Sanskrit literature and the abandoned treasures of Ajanta, the irrigation of the Punjab, the introduction of the idea of fair play, the education, medicine and roads brought to remote areas, the establishment of great trading cities like Bombay, Calcutta and Madras, or the suppression of the abominable practice of sati. Few people today would argue that such things make up for the humiliations, hypocrisy, arrogance, exploitation and occasional cruelty entailed by British colonial rule, even if British India was hardly the Belgian Congo.

That said, Tharoor’s speech probably shouldn’t be taken too seriously by the likes of India’s prime minister or anyone who cares about history in terms of what the German scholar von Ranke called wie es eigentlich gewesen — how it really was.

 * * *

Tharoor cites India’s relative prosperity in the late 18th century to imply that an Edenic society was shattered and an imminently golden economic future was destroyed by British predation. But there is little evidence that for all the skill of its craftsmen, India would have been able to compete with industrializing capitalist countries or was anywhere near the cusp of industrialization when the East India Company took over. (Only one Asian, indeed non-Western, society has ever industrialized without being colonized and that is Japan, and it turned out to be a ruthless imperialist itself as the inhabitants of Manchuria and Nanking discovered.)

It’s also hard to believe that Tharoor doesn’t know that handloom weaving in Britain was destroyed by the Industrial Revolution almost at the same time as it was destroyed in India. Just as he probably knows that Britain was losing money on India for decades before independence, and that the deindustrialization of India by Britain is for the most part a nationalist myth with little more basis in fact than Hindu-chauvinist claims that ancient India had nuclear power and spaceships.

Push Tharoor  who after all studied history at the prestigious St. Stephen’s College, in Delhi  on whether India was really enjoying a golden age of unity, peace, stability and prosperity before the East India Company and its Indian allies defeated the French and their Indian allies and he’d probably demur. (It wasn’t as if a united subcontinent was in the offing in 1700 any more than it had been in 1500, or as if conquest by the French or Dutch would have been more benign  just compare the experience of India with Indochina and Indonesia.)

Everything about his performance was so British that it was more British than most British people could ever hope to achieve.

The strongest charge in Tharoor’s speech concerned the horrific Bengal famine of 1943. There is much serious historical debate about the causes of the famine and why it was so disastrous, and the extent to which it was caused by actual food shortages or a combination of inflation and hoarding. Tharoor’s version is rather more simplistic, and very different in its ascription of all blame to a malevolent Winston Churchill than that of India’s Nobel Laureate economist Amartya Sen.

Of course none of this is really the point in a debate like the one at Oxford last week. The point is to be entertaining and clever and urbane and charming, and Tharoor was all those things in spades, in an almost absurdly and ironically British way.

Tharoor may have been wearing a very smart Nehru jacket rather than black tie (the former are very fashionable among British Sloane Ranger males), but everything about his performance was so British that it was more British than most British people could ever hope to achieve.

Indeed, as POLITICO’s contributing editor Tunku Varadarajan, joked on Facebook, surely the only real reparation that the U.K. owes India is for inflicting on the world Tharoor’s astonishingly plummy English accent.

But there is a serious point implied in the joke.

Shashi Tharoor epitomizes in many ways, good and bad, the English-speaking, political, cultural and social elite that hastened the end of the Raj, assumed power in New Delhi in 1947, and then through the Congress Party misruled India for more than six decades, all the time becoming increasingly arrogant and corrupt, and seeming almost as insulated from ordinary Indians as their British predecessors had been.

There is little doubt that Britain, or at least her elite universities, must bear a healthy share of the blame for the attitudes and ideology of that party (founded of course by a Briton), and all the economic delusions, Fabian paternalism, naiveté about Soviet communism, and snobbery about business (which unfortunately meshed with Brahmin prejudices against the trader caste) that were to keep hundreds of millions of Indians in wretched poverty for decades after independence.

Although no one in Congress has ever apologized for it, it was that party with its Oxbridge-educated leaders who were responsible for the miserable “Hindu rate of growth.” Indian talent and entrepreneurship should have made it a prosperous country long before the end of the century. But because of the ruling elite’s neglect of basic education and literacy, their obsession with socialist planning, their fostering of the “License Raj,” and their corrupt deals with a handful of monopolistic business families, countries like South Korea and even Mexico overtook India in per capita GDP between 1950 and 1980.

Moreover it was British colonial attitudes to centralized power, to freedom of speech, to censorship, to the conquest and annexation of neighboring states — that were adopted and sometimes exaggerated by that elite in ways that are problematic even today.

 * * *

Of course not all of the ills of Indian governance nor the brutality of the many campaigns against separatist movements in Kashmir, Punjab and the ethnically distinct North East can be blamed on British mentorship. The first in particular has always owed much to the ways of doing business imported by the Mughal Empire — which ruled India much longer than the British.

The ongoing cultural fallout of Mughal as opposed to British rule raises an important question about reparations for empire in the Indian case. Why should reparations begin or end with the British Raj? After all, India or large parts of it, have been ruled by foreign conquerors for most of the last 2,500 years.

For reparations for the Moghul conquest and three whole centuries of occupation and exploitation, India could theoretically demand cash either from Uzbekhistan, birthplace of Babur, or, perhaps less profitably, go for the Mongol ancestors of the Moghuls and demand it of Mongolia. On the other hand, the Persian and Turkish elements of Moghul rule might well justify demands from Tehran and Ankara.

Oddly enough you never hear calls for reparations for Moghul rule, just as the occasional clamour to demolish the bungalows of Lutyens Delhi as symbols of imperial humiliation are never paralleled by calls to tear down the Red Fort, the Qutub Minar or Humayun’s tomb.

There’s probably little point in going to Athens and asking for money to compensate for Alexander the Great’s conquest of Northern India.

But I’d like to hear Tharoor’s thoughts on that… though preferably not at the Oxford Union.


Elgin Debt Relief - A modest proposal to help Greece (Politico Jul.10, 2015)

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Britain should help the Greeks out with the IMF; in return, Greece should relinquish the Marbles.

Visitors look at the Parthenon Marbles, also known as the Elgin Marbles, at the British Museum in London | EPA

There is  so much resentment and anger on both sides in the Greek debt crisis that you wish someone could do something to help, something that might bring out the best rather than worst in everyone involved.

It turns out that the U.K. could do just that.

 Right now, Greece owes €1.6 billion in interest to the IMF, which was due at the end of June. That is approximately £1 billion. The U.K. could pay that £1billion — which is not a great deal given her enormous and growing economy — on Greece’s behalf as a gesture of solidarity.

The U.K. is of course fortunate not to be one of Greece’s furious creditors in the eurozone. But Britain and Greece have a profound historical connection that goes back centuries. The gift would honor that historical connection in Greece’s hour of need, and act as a powerful expression of sympathy for the profound distress of the Greek people.

As a return gesture of gratitude and fellow-feeling, Greece would agree to stop claiming the Elgin Marbles as its own.

Obviously the U.K. would never, even implicitly, concede that the Greek government had any legal or moral right to own the marbles. If Britain paid the €1.6 billion debt, it would simply be a gift with no formal or explicit expectation of anything in return. A gesture of friendship and compassion.

As for Greece, its commitment to stop agitating for the removal of the marbles from London to Athens would not be a contractual obligation but an open-hearted act of appreciation and friendship.

It’s worth remembering that both countries have much to appreciate in one another. And that Britain has come to Greece’s aid before.

History lessons

In 1821 Britain was the primary enabler of Greece’s independence from the Ottoman Turks (who had ruled the country for almost four centuries, ever since the fall of the Byzantine Empire). One of Britain’s greatest poets, Lord Byron, died in that independence struggle.

It was because the British ruling class was so steeped in all things Hellenic that British archeologists played (and continue to play) such a key role in discovering and restoring Greece’s antiquities.

When Greece was invaded by fascist Italy and Nazi Germany in World War II, London sent the RAF and 62,000 British Empire troops to defend her, although doing so undermined the effort in North Africa. More than 4,000 of them were lost fighting for Greece in a campaign (mostly familiar today from the film “The Guns of Navarone”) that some allied leaders believed was inspired more by sentimental Philhellenism than strategic wisdom. It was British troops that finally liberated Athens in 1944 and subsequently ended the ensuing civil war.

And it goes almost without saying that ancient Greek history and literature profoundly influenced British culture for centuries. Philhellenism — a love for both classical and modern Greece — has been a more powerful force in Britain than in any other country. It was because the British ruling class was so steeped in all things Hellenic that British archeologists played (and continue to play) such a key role in discovering and restoring Greece’s antiquities.

Greece has been a home and an inspiration for some of our greatest writers and cultural figures, starting with Byron of course, but also including the likes of Robert Graves, Laurence Durrell, Patrick Leigh Femor, and John Fowles. And of course Greece has welcomed generations of British holidaymakers, and there is a long tradition of Greek immigrants who have enriched U.K. society.

Simultaneous gestures of goodwill would be in the interests of both countries.

If Britain paid off even this small part of Greece’s debt, it would assure a traumatized Greek population that their suffering has not gone unnoticed. Greece would see that Putin’s Russia is not its only ally. As the potential Labour leader Liz Kendall has pointed out, it’s not in the U.K.’s interest for Greece to become a Russian outpost in the Mediterranean.

Contributing that £1 billion is a chance for the U.K. to demonstrate itself as a “good European,” regardless of whether the U.K. is to stay in the EU.

As for the Greeks, they would send a signal to the rest of Europe that they are not merely compulsive debtors or consumers of wealth created by harder-working countries. Far from the spoiled adolescent portrayed in German editorials, Greece would show that it is a society that has retained a capacity for gracefulness, generosity and elegance despite the most difficult circumstances.

Aid for the Greeks

Many might think it unfair to impose an additional burden on the British taxpayer. Why subsidize a country in which tax fraud is endemic?

The money for Greece could and should come out of the U.K.’s £12 billion aid budget. Britain’s Department for International Development is infamously swamped by the excessive amount of money it’s been handed by the Cameron governments and has been unable to administer and spend it efficiently. By paying off Greece’s £1 billion debt to the IMF, Britons could at least be sure that it was doing genuine good, rather than enriching African kleptocrats or subsidizing India’s space program.

It is true that £1 billion is only a fraction of what Greece owes. But it’s money that Athens could spend on feeding its population in the traumatic scenario of a Grexit and return to the drachma, or in the case of a bailout involving more reform and austerity.

Ideally, Britain’s generous example would inspire — or shame — some of Greece’s creditors to be less harsh and more compassionate.

And who knows, becoming the recipients of such a gift might prompt Greeks who’ve been unwilling to admit any responsibility whatsoever for the country’s parlous state to be less resentful and more reasonable.

Sadly, this is a long shot. But Britons have the chance to do something genuinely constructive. And perhaps when the Greeks can once again afford to travel, the British Museum could arrange special exclusive viewing times in its classical galleries.

Elgin debt relief


Aid is no substitute for defence - as Michael Fallon knows (Spectator Coffee House 30 June 2015)

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It’s been obvious for a while that the Prime Minister is exasperated by the way American and other allied officials – including President Obama himself – keep expressing concern about Britain’s rapidly shrinking defence capabilities and the prospect of yet more defence cuts.

David Cameron also dislikes being reminded that he lectured other Nato leaders about meeting the alliance’s minimum of spending 2 per cent GDP on defence, when by any honest calculation the UK is not going to meet that target.

He hasn’t responded directly to the multiple warnings from Washington. This is presumably because overtly contradicting the President, the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defence of the United States could raise the profile of an issue that he’d prefer to go away as quickly and as quietly as possible.

Instead, both the PM and his defence secretary have given irritable interviews proclaiming that neither Britain’s global influence nor her military capacities are shrinking in the least. They have also dismissed critical articles by various former heads of the UK armed forces.

In those interviews Cameron and Michael Fallon trotted out dubious or misleading justifications in almost identical terms, garlanded, of course, with ritual praise for the courage of the armed forces.

The UK has the fourth or fifth largest defence budget in the world, they claim. Our flagship is saving lives in the Mediterranean. Our nuclear submarines are providing a deterrent 365 days a year.  Our aircraft are flying sorties over Iraq and some will go to the Baltic to protect those countries against a threatening Russia.

The reality is that we have sent a force of just eight creaking Tornado warplanes to carry out airstrikes against Isis, fewer than the Dutch, and far fewer than the French. The four Typhoons we hope to send to the Baltic will hardly have Putin shaking in his boots. HMS Bulwark, an amphibious landing vessel that became a flagship of our shrunken, feeble 19 warship Navy after the premature retirement of the aircraft carrier Ark Royal in 2011, is only doing what all ships are expected to do when confronted by sinking boats crammed with passengers. And because we don’t have maritime patrol aircraft to protect our submarines when they go in and out of port, their deterrent effect is very much diminished.

As for the defence budget, which the government has variously claimed to be the world’s fourth or fifth largest in the world (but is actually the 6th largest according to the reliable Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) the sad fact is that Israel, France, India and other countries with smaller defence budgets have considerably more combat power than we do.

So far, so misleading, albeit in a traditional way that is par for the course for governments engaged in cutting any departmental budget, and which should certainly be familiar from the past Tory governments that have treated the forces as a soft target for cuts.

But Cameron and Fallon have recently engaged in a form of disingenuousness about defence that is new and different and oddly ideological. For them British defence policy is peculiarly and inextricably linked with aid policy. As more experts at home and abroad have questioned the wisdom of cutting further Britain’s already crippled and demoralised armed forces, they have talked more and more about aid as if it were a clever modern substitute for military strength.

This was merely a rhetorical gambit until last month when Fallon suggested that the UK’s aid spending could be reclassified as defence spending so that the UK could then, theoretically, meet its Nato obligation to spend a minimum of 2 per cent GDP on defence.

To characterise this as ‘sleight of hand’ as some outraged backbenchers did is perhaps too kind. Fallon was advocating an act of dishonesty, the purpose of which was itself sleazy: to enable the government to escape a commitment to its allies and to provide PR cover for more crippling cuts to the armed forces. You could call Fallon’s suggested ruse ‘Potemkin defence spending’, after the fake villages erected in Crimea to give the Russian Empress a false impression of prosperity, except that unlike Potemkin, Fallon sees no reason to keep his planned deception a secret.

Unfortunately this dishonourable suggestion did not provoke as much opprobrium as it should have because it was misread by many commentatorsto imply precisely the opposite of the defence secretary’s plan: namely that the aid budget would be used to compensate the armed forces for their use of very expensive people and equipment in humanitarian missions.

That would actually be a very sensible and fair proposal.

Naturally the idea provokes paroxysms of rage among an aid lobby dominated by DfiD contractors and left-leaning large NGOs like Oxfam. But it would solve three problems at once: DfID’s inability to spend its vast budget effectively, the political damage caused by the Prime Minister’s fanatical refusal to cut that budget, and the armed forces desperate shortage of money.

Moreover, many big-ticket military purchases, like helicopter carriers and hospital ships are very much ‘dual-use’ in that in practice they are more frequently used in humanitarian missions than they are for warfare. If DfID were to contribute to their cost it would be a rational and effective use of the aid budget even though it would upset some of the purists and pacifists in DfID and the ‘aid community’.

Sadly, this is unlikely to happen given the apparent determination of the government to spend even less on the armed forces, regardless of international commitments or the damage to their capabilities, and given its notion that foreign aid is an effective substitute for spending on defence or diplomacy.

According to the PM, our £12 billion aid spend will prevent terrorism and mass migration, presumably by bringing even more stability and prosperity to troubled countries than achieved when the aid budget was only £9 billion four years ago.

Last week the Defence Secretary echoed this notion in a conversation with the BBC’s Andrew Marr. It was strange enough that the Defence Secretary should trespass on the bailiwicks of the Foreign Secretary and Secretary for International Development by giving on the benefits of foreign aid. (You might after all assume he is an especially busy minister given challenges like Isis, Russian adventurism in Europe, an imminent Defence and Security Review and collapsing morale in the UK military.) It was odder still that the man whose job it is to fight on behalf of the armed forces seems to believe that aid magic is so powerful it renders conventional armed forces all but unnecessary and obsolete.

A few days later he proudly announced that, although the UK isn’t really spending the 2 per cent GDP on defence obligated by Nato membership, he has found a way to declare to the world that it is exceeding that minimum. The trick was to recategorize some of the spending of several other government departments as defence spending. From now on, all or part of the £1Bn cross-departmental ‘Conflict Pool‘ – which includes contributions from the Foreign Office, DfID and the MOD, would count towards defence spending.

The Conflict Pool is a relatively sensible joint venture. In theory it brings together the expertise of all three departments in a combined effort to try to prevent conflicts flaming up abroad. But it’s essentially a foreign policy and aid talking shop. There’s nothing about it that even remotely relates to the mission and needs of the forces or the UK’s military obligations to its allies. That doesn’t matter though, because the government has clearly been preparing the ground for this fudge since before the election, and is committed to pretending that aid spending can substitute for defence spending.

I say pretend because it’s hard to believe that Fallon genuinely believes that ‘well-focused aid’ can stabilise countries torn by civil war or wrecked by corrupt and incompetent regimes, and even, ‘prevent conflict breaking out’.

To do so he would have to be almost completely ignorant of the real history of five decades of aid and to have confused heart-tugging Oxfam advertisements with reality. No intelligent or informed person thinks that aid might have prevented or yet might fix the chaos of oil rich Libya, the savagery of civil war in Syria and Sudan, the Russian-sponsored conflict in Ukraine, the ongoing fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Islamist violence in Nigeria and Mali or the devastating endless warlordism of the Congo.

Moreover, even in the aid industry, serious people admit that aid can sometimes keep conflicts going or actually make them worse, as it did at various times in places like Ethiopia and Sudan.

Fallon may not have read Linda Polman’s devastating ‘War Games’ or be familiar with other modern critiques of international aid, but by all accounts he’s not a foolish or stupid man. When he makes absurd claims on behalf of aid spending, and employs them in support of a dishonest scheme to hide defence cuts, he is not doing so out of ignorance. He is merely being a good apparatchik and putting loyalty to the Prime Minister before duty to his office and his country.

Jonathan Foreman is a Senior Research Fellow at Civitas and author of ‘Aiding & Abetting’

Why the UK's "Prevent" strategy Isn't working (Spectator Blog June 18, 2015)

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Telling young men that ISIS is ‘dangerous’ will only encourage them to go
“The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had’

When we were both sixteen, my then-best friend Dave carved the above lyric on his school desk. It was from the song ‘Mad World’ by the band Tears for Fears and we both thought it ineffably cool. It’s a line that elegantly evokes the self-pity and nihilism that afflicts so many teenaged boys.

Every decade has songs that hit a nerve because they are similarly doom-laden and grandiose. But the important point is that many adolescent boys fantasize about death, killing and suicide – melodramatic, shocking gestures that might free them from their sense of powerlessness as they flail between childhood and the adult world.

One of the reasons why the authorities have failed to stem the flow of young Britons to ISIS’s ‘caliphate’ may be because they have forgotten the extent to which many teenage boys live in a world of macho fantasy. It is certainly not something overlooked by jihadi recruiters, as even a quick glance at their propaganda will show.

Those in charge of counter-radicalisation may also have underestimated the profound appeal to the adolescent mind of adventure, risk, and sacrifice – all things that play a big role in jihadi recruitment materials, but that can be hard for young men to find in mainstream British life.

Today one of the key elements of the UK’s ‘Prevent’ counter-radicalisation strategy involves police visiting schools in cities such as Bradford and Birmingham. Their central message? Going to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS is very dangerous.

But the danger is one of the most appealing things about it. You’re not drawn to ISIS because you hanker for comfort and safety, any more than you’d join the SAS because you want a cosy 9-5 job. This is true not just for the criminals and gang members converted and recruited so effectively in British prisons, but also for the geeky South Asian boys who are radicalized online.

So it’s hard to imagine a more useless exercise, or one that better demonstrates to those students how laughably out of touch the authorities seem to be. In that way, the ‘Prevent’ strategy is a bit like those naive adult interventions of previous decades, when police or social workers visited schools to warn of the dangers of smoking or alcohol. The more earnest the warnings, the cooler it was to be one of the kids who smoked or drank.

 During the last two years ISIS has made jihadism more enticing than ever before. And for certain types of young man, especially but not exclusively in the British Pakistani community, it was already powerfully attractive.

After the 7/7/2005 bombings, our commentariat often agonized about why British born young men would blow up trains and buses in London. It was generally assumed that the roots of home grown terror must lie in phenomena such as lack of opportunity, social exclusion, racism, poverty, ‘Islamophobia’ or the percieved wrongs of British foreign policy. After all, the logic went, to commit such a terrible crime you must surely be angry about some terrible wrong. For middle-aged politicians, home office officials, policemen and social workers – people for whom killing or dying for a cause seemed almost unimaginably extreme – no other explanation made sense.

They did not really register that all the suspects in the British bomb plots were young men in their teens or twenties, that there were no angry elderly or middle-aged men, no angry women, and at least in the UK, no angry girls seeking to set off explosives in buses and tubes.

It did not occur to them, even before the advent of ISIS, that jihadist recruiters were offering their potential cadre something positive and idealistic, an intoxicating cocktail of adventure, discipline, belonging, manliness and glamour.

To boys rebelling against their immigrant parents and caught between cultures, they offered not just community but a particularly intense form of it: membership in a proud international brotherhood of warriors fighting on behalf of a global umma.

To youths humiliated at school by their lack of confidence with girls, they promised a future in which they would (finally) get respect from women; not just respect, but the respect due to heroes.

By joining the movement in Britain they could become jihadi James Bonds and Jason Bournes. They would enter a world of subterfuge and conspiracy, defying the entire security structure of a modern state, and carrying in their hands the technology to terrify a nation. And if they were to fail, then they could embrace a martyrs doom.

This was exciting enough for some. But ISIS offers even more, and it does so using methods cleverly designed to attract a generation shaped by social media, computer gaming and online avatars.

What ISIS proffers is something equally attractive to poor young men in Yemen, humiliated Sunnis in Iraq, and science graduates from Birmingham. It offers participation in Victory. To identify with ISIS is to identify with a winner, an unstoppable world-changing force.

Moreover, their dazzling successes against vastly larger armies and governments recall those of the original empire-shattering Muslim conquest of Arabia, North Africa, Persia and Central Asia. When recruiters tell their targets that Allah is on their side, it’s not hard for them to make a convincing case.

ISIS offers the opportunity to take part in a real war, and the chance to enjoy the fruits of victory in a real caliphate. Just days from London it could be you cradling an assault rifle, racing down dusty streets in your heavily-armed Toyota pickup (no driving license necessary) on your way to buy a pair of Yazidi slave girls or to watch the beheading of a Shia prisoner. It certainly trumps joining a local British street gang and controlling the dreary streets of a depressed midlands post code, or the wing of a prison.

Moreover, you don’t have to be genuinely tough to join. Indeed, in the UK, ISIS actively recruits computer geeks and science nerds. It needs them for its cyber warfare, to make its propaganda videos, and to run its thousands of blogs and social media feeds.

And, unlike any other potential employer, ISIS promises it will let you kill someone. If the UK’s authorities are to have any chance at countering the appeal of ISIS, they will have to start acknowledging aspects of human nature and the male psyche that British society prefers to keep tidied away.

Jonathan Foreman is Senior Research Fellow at the Civitas think tank.



It's Crazy to Cut Defence and then Boost Foreign Aid (Daily Express June 5, 2015)

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BOTH David Cameron and George Osborne have stated at various times that the defence of the realm is the first duty of any government.

Despite this and despite the PM’s urging fellow Nato leaders to spend the required minimum of two per cent GDP on defence, the Government has announced that the UK’s fast-shrinking and demoralised Armed Forces are to be subject to even more devastating cuts.

This is in the face of pleas from our closest allies including President Obama.

And it is despite the fact the UK is apparently rich enough to spend more on foreign aid than any other Western European country.

Indeed the Government is giving even more money to the “ring-fenced” Department For International Development (DFID), an institution notorious for mismanagement and its inability to handle its increased budget.

The PM apparently believes that increased foreign aid can more than compensate for his cuts to the Armed Forces and the Foreign Office.

He has said several times that foreign aid is the key to addressing the root causes of terrorism, mass migration and instability.

It’s a ludicrous claim.

No one with any knowledge of the major conflicts blighting the globe believes that more development aid could have prevented them or could fix them.

The brutal chaos of oil-rich Libya, the savagery of the civil wars in Syria and Sudan, the Russian-sponsored conflict in Ukraine, the ongoing fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Islamist violence in Nigeria and Mali and the terrifying war lords of the Congo – these are surely matters for foreign policy not foreign aid, however much the PM may disdain the former and revere the latter.

Given these spreading, worsening conflicts it seems equally obvious that it was a mistake to cut the Foreign Office budget by a third and to make such deep cuts to the Armed Forces that they will soon be unable to mount the kind of humanitarian interventions that saved so many in places such as Sierra Leone and East Timor.

The only people, besides David Cameron and his team, who maintain with a straight face that more aid will magically fix terrorism, illegal immigration and the spread of extremist violence are those who have a direct interest in a bigger aid budget. After all it is extremely difficult to deliver aid that actually makes a difference.

The worse governed, the more impoverished and chaotic a country is, the less likely it is that foreign aid will get to the people it’s supposed to help or do any good at all.

Giving more and more money does not translate into doing more and more good or helping more and more people.

For there is a huge difference, one that development ministers and charity bosses like to pretend doesn’t exist, between allocating money to fix a problem and actually fixing it.

Historically aid has not prevented any wars or mass migrations, quite the opposite. And it is far from clear that increasing the amount we or other countries spend on aid (and we already spend a lot: more than a $1trillion has gone into development aid in Africa since the 1950s) would change that.

Certainly if you look at the countries that have received the most aid per capita – Somalia, Haiti, Nepal and the Palestinian territories, the evidence is hardly encouraging.

Indeed all of them became more chaotic, violent and impoverished after becoming major aid recipients.

It is not surprising because in unstable and poor countries aid is a bit like oil or mineral resources: something to fight over.

HMS Illustrious

A dark truth is that all too often foreign aid has kept conflicts going and made wars worse.

In places such as Ethiopia and Sudan rebel groups that would have been forced to surrender survived thanks to the “taxes” they levied on aid agencies and the food aid they requisitioned for their armies. Again and again aid has enabled governments to avoid coming to the bargaining table.

The result has been massive human suffering such as that which is driving millions of people from violence-plagued parts of North Africa and the Middle East.

Of course humanitarian or emergency aid is undeniably vital in many places.

But it is a much more morally and politically ambiguous thing than most people realise.

Even when refugee camps don’t get taken over by militias and become bases for raiding and terrorism, as they have throughout Africa and the Middle East, the presence of the foreign aid circus can wreck local economies.

Even in countries that aren’t in conflict, foreign aid can undermine stability by encouraging corruption and by subsidising political leaders to go their own irresponsible way.

So it is simply not true, as a DFID spokesperson claimed last week, that: “Investing 0.7 per cent of our national income in overseas development in 2015 and beyond is creating a safer, healthier and more prosperous world.”

Nor is it true that foreign aid can somehow make up for the Government’s lack of attention to foreign policy and its cuts in the Foreign Office and BBC World Service.

And the idea that foreign aid will somehow protect British interests and maintain our security after cuts have crippled the Armed Forces is foolish almost beyond belief.

Britain deserves better.


In Defense of Tony Blair, Peace Envoy (Politico.eu May 28, 2015)

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The former prime minister worked hard on the Middle East. But it was an impossible job.

LONDON — You don’t have to be a devoted fan of Tony Blair to see that the mockery he has received concerning his resignation as Middle East peace envoy is unfair.

Much of the criticism he received during his eight years as Special Envoy for the International Quartet (comprising the US, the UN, the EU, and Russia) was disingenuous and overtly biased. That certainly included a June 2014 open letter to the Guardian whose signatories included George Galloway, conspiracy-theorist Baroness Tonge, and several other luminaries of the UK’s anti-Israel lobby.

Both that criticism and more recent derision (like the tweet sent on Blair’s resignation by a former British diplomat saying “Good news at last from the middle east!”) is informed by prejudice against a leader who in recent years has become one of the most reviled public figures in the UK and its media, and by ignorance of the realities of the region and the role he was supposed to play in it.

As the Quartet’s envoy, Blair’s task was to work for Palestinian economic empowerment, the theory being that economic development, along with money poured into political institutions, would make a Palestinian state more viable, and less likely to fall under the domination of Hamas or another extremist organization.

Blair successfully pushed for fewer Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank, (though there are still a great many and no Israeli government will get rid of them altogether, short of a larger peace agreement). He helped make it much easier for Palestinian businesspeople to use the Allenby crossing to and from Jordan.

Blair could come across as imperious and entitled in his dealings with local politicians on both sides, but he clearly understood that quiet, consistent work would achieve more on the ground than the kind of grandstanding that is all too common when Europeans try to get involved in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

As the Middle East commentator Tom Gross says, “Blair had the right idea much more than he is given credit for. He wanted to build peace from the ground up rather than just make grand gestures or take part in photo-ops”

Blair quickly saw the vital need for improvements in governance and institution-building in a Palestine that still lacks the attributes of modern statehood found even in much poorer but less dysfunctional unrecognized countries like the Somaliland Republic and the Kurdistan Regional Government.

The effective sacking of reformist Palestinan Prime Minister Salam Fayyad by President Mahmoud Abbas in 2013, however, killed off any serious effort by the Palestinian authority to deal with corruption as well as damaging what was left of the peace of process.

Still, in the years since Blair took up the position in 2007, the rate of Israeli settlement-building went down, as did terror attacks on Israel mounted from the West Bank.

So, arguably, Blair’s performance in the post has actually been not bad, especially given the fact that it is actually an impossible job, and given that, it has only been a part-time occupation (undertaken for no salary).

The rest of former prime minister’s time was apparently taken up by his (controversial) business activities, by the requirements of running or fundraising for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, and by the commitments inherent in living the international celebrity/politician/philanthropist/socialite lifestyle.

It is an impossible job because there can be little progress even on minor issues, let alone a broader peace settlement, unless the Israeli and the two Palestinian leaderships want it.

For both Netanyahu and Abbas, the current situation probably feels livable for the time being, especially given the chaos and economic ruination in neighboring countries. There may not be peace in the Western European sense in the Holy Land , but it’s certainly peaceful compared to Aleppo or Ramadi.

Ramallah is visibly prosperous and the Palestinian leadership has hugely enriched itself in the now traditional way through corruption and by the diversion of the billions in aid that the international community has provided the West Bank and Gaza. Meanwhile, Israel feels relatively secure from terrorist attacks coming from the West Bank, is presumably taking comfort from Hezbollah’s bloody involvement in the Syrian civil war, but is deeply concerned by the Iranian nuclear program and President Barack Obama’s courting of Tehran. That’s not a situation that necessarily offers much leverage to someone in Blair’s position, even if that person were better equipped personally for the job, perhaps with the charisma and prestige of Bill Clinton.

* * *

To the extent that he has always lacked gravitas and often comes across more as a capable performer than a man of profound conviction, Blair was a rather unlikely candidate for the job. He was never able to overcome the impression that he had taken it partly because he did not know what to do after leaving Downing Street at the age of 54, and partly to restore a reputation that at least at in the UK seemed to be as bad as a politician’s can be short of an accusation of child molestation.

Indeed Blair’s unpopularity in the UK, especially among the political and media class, is such that Britons wrongly assume that he is equally disliked abroad. In fact, when Blair left office he was a figure of high repute in the United States, in Eastern Europe and much of Asia. In some places, like Kurdistan, Kosovo and Sierra Leone, he was and is considered a liberator and hero: his photograph graces mantelpieces and children are named after him.

His subsequent PR work for Central Asian autocrats certainly disillusioned those who had admired the way Blair had put the promotion of democracy and “liberal interventionism” at the heart of British foreign policy.

Still, it was rather odd than anyone would expected the Israelis or the Palestinians to pay much heed to any former British prime minister — both groups feel they have ample historical reason to be distrustful of the Brits. Indeed the fact that a Briton sought, and was given, the post looks like yet another manifestation of the peculiar delusion that there is a South Asian level of affection and respect for Britain to be found in the parts of the Middle East it once ruled.

Moreover, for the envoy to enjoy real influence, he would have to have the full backing and engagement of the Quartet, and access to some of the carrots and sticks in their possession. Even if the former were available, the latter would require the full-time commitment of an unusually adroit and powerful individual.

Those who criticize Blair’s performance in this post tend to miss the fact that Middle East has changed profoundly in the last few years. Even the phrase “Middle East Peace,” if used in the traditional way to refer exclusively to the Israel and its conflicts with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbours, has become brutally absurd. It is now about Syria and ISIS, not to mention Yemen, Iraq, Iran and — a cartographical stretch but not a geopolitical one — Libya.

After all, at least 210,000 people have been killed during the four years of Syrian civil war — more than double the toll of those who died in six decades of Arab Israeli conflict. Some 60,000 more have been killed in Iraq since the ISIS invasion, and the Libyan civil war took at least 10,000 lives in just eight months, more than both Intifadas, both Gaza Wars and the Israel-Hezbollah war put together. Moreover, as these wars continue to roil and to spill over into countries like Yemen, they are creating a gigantic refugee crisis in the middle east that will affect the region for decades to come.

So Blair could be forgiven for thinking that he had been working in a backwater on an issue whose relative importance has massively diminished.

Blair must also have been all too aware his Quartet employers had much bigger foreign policy fish to fry. All of them would be remiss if they were not concentrating on Ukraine, the crisis in the EU highlighted by Greece’s default, tension in the South China Sea, nuclear proliferation in the Gulf, and the bloody increase in Islamist guerilla violence in Mali, Nigeria and Kenyaamong other challenges. .

This is not to say that the Israel-Palestinian conflict has no objective importance. But the competition for urgent global attention is now so much more intense. It would be surprising if someone like Blair, who likes to be at the center of things, hadn’t recognized this a while ago, and is getting out while there’s still a chance for him to play in the big leagues. Who knows, maybe he has an eye on the Labour party as it lies adrift.

* * *

It will be interesting to see what Tony Blair does now, if he will throw himself even more forcefully into moneymaking by means that are likely to earn him yet more opprobrium. If he does do that it will be sad, given that Blair is hardly the demon he is often made out to be in the UK.

Indeed the fact that he is so loathed by people on both sides of the British party spectrum makes you wonder if there isn’t some complicated psychology at play, if Blair-hatred isn’t a kind of British self-loathing.

This is especially true in party politics. After all, it is no secret that Prime Minister David Cameron and his circle consciously modeled themselves on Blair and have aped (and even exceeded) his use of modern branding and marketing techniques; or that some in the Labour party are now desperately trying to rediscover the Blairite values that made it an election winner.

Blair of course remains the only Labour leader to have won a British general election in 40 years, yet after 2007 he went from being perceived as the savior of the Labour movement to a hate figure on the level of Nineteen Eighty-Four’s Emmanuel Goldstein.

On the other hand, it’s hard to warm to what Blair has become today. His reaction to what is in essence a forced exile from his own country has not been attractive. Although he’s hardly the first former premier to be excited by the company and amorality of what once was called the jet-set, Blair has pursued wealth and glamour with extraordinary intensity.

Perhaps he is as disillusioned with politics as his former supporters are with him, and has become a ruthless cynic. It would help explain the Clintonesque sleaze of his PR efforts for the kleptocrats of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, the strange cultish nature of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, and the business relations with sinister Russian and Gulf billionaires. But it would not explain his taking — or giving up — the job of Middle East Peace Envoy. Blair worked hard at it for eight years, but it was an inherently hopeless and thankless task.

Jonathan Foreman, the author of Aiding And Abetting: Foreign Aid Failures And The 0.7% Deception, is a commentator in London.