Brandon Shollenberger to Steve McIntyre

A number of us here at Cliscep and on other sites recently received this email:


I’m sure this e-mail comes out of the blue, and I am sorry to bother you like this. Some of you may not like me. Some of you may not care about me, one way or another. Some of you may even be fond of me. I don’t know. And to be honest, it doesn’t really matter.

The reason I write this e-mail is I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about the influence Stephen McIntyre has had on me, and on my life, and I finally decided to put my thoughts into words. You can see them here:

I know I’m not a particularly good writer. No words I could come up with could hope to express the extent of my sentiments. I know that. I know writing that post may accomplish nothing. I know writing you about this post may accomplish even less. To be honest, I don’t know what I hope to achieve by sending this e-mail.

But whatever may come of it, I feel it is important I at least try to express my feelings toward one of the most amazing men I’ve ever known, even if I’ve never had the privilege of actually meeting him. Feel free to ignore this e-mail, to mock it or do whatever else you might want with it.

I just felt it was something I needed to send to anyone I knew who might read it.

Best regards,

Brandon Shollenberger

Here is Brandon’s article in full (with a few corrections):


This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever written. I’ve thought about it time and time again. I’ve tried to write it a hundred times, and I’ve deleted it for a hundred different reasons. The thoughts and emotions I want to convey are so great no words I could ever come up with could suitably express them. The words I type today will never be adequate.

To Stephen McIntyre, I want to say something. Above and beyond anything else, I want to say this. Thank you.

I will probably never meet you. I will probably never see your face or hear your voice, save for some copies technology provides me. I will probably never sit with you, to speak with you on any topic. This is something I truly lament.

I first saw you name while I was in high school, a callow youth with no real understanding of the world around him. I found your original site,, due to a random internet search brought upon by casual discussion on a message board somewhere about something I had no grasp of. In truth, I remember nothing of what led me to discovering you.

What I do remember is something simple, something wonderful. It is the idea what matters is the truth. When I came upon your site, I didn’t think, “This guy says something I like therefore it is right.” In fact, I didn’t really understand what you said. You talked about mathematics beyond anything ever heard and discussed science beyond anything I had ever been exposed to.

But in the process, you demonstrated ideas. I didn’t know what an eigenvector was. Looking at matrices as you discussed linear combinatrics made my head spin. Looking at the things you discussed made me understand how out of my depth I truly was. I always thought of myself as a bright individual, but reading your commentary showed me being bright didn’t mean I knew anything.

But at the same time, it showed me something else. It showed me even if I didn’t understand all the technical, nuances of a topic, I could understand the conceptual points. I might not understand what it meant when you argued some series showed up in eigenvector #4 instead of eigenvector #1. The linear algebra was beyond anything I had ever seen. But I didn’t need to understand the math to understand the concept that what matters was what data went into the eigenvector you used, regardless of what number you assigned to it.

There is so much more I could say. There are hundreds of examples I could discuss where a “respected” scientist like Gavin Schmidt or Michael Mann said you were wrong.
In terms of math, I couldn’t contradict them. I was nobody. I was a kid with no training for or knowledge of the math you were discussing. But I was a kid who understood sometimes you didn’t need to get the specific details and nuances to understand the concepts involved.

Back then, if you asked me to explain the difference between NOAMER PC1 and NOAMER PC4, I would have blanked. I had no idea what meant. I didn’t understand why short-centered PCA was wrong in any mathematical sense. All I understood was what you said, that what matters wasn’t the output of some complex, arcane formula, but what that output meant.

I didn’t understand the math. I didn’t even understand the science. But what I did understand was an idea you expressed. That idea was it doesn’t matter what the results of any particular calculation were, but what those results meant. That you couldn’t just look at numbers given by a formula and say, “That’s the answer.” That you had to understand what those numbers meant, what questions and concerns they left unanswered.

With this in mind, I remember spending years reading what you wrote. I remember spending years reading what your critics wrote. I remember time and time again when I saw your critics disagree, dissemble or outright lie to contradict you. I remember time and time again where even without understanding the technical issues involved, I could see through the nonsense people threw up to say you were wrong.

I could go on. I could write a thousand words about how I sat and watched you, listened to you, and I wouldn’t cover a fraction of what I remember. I spent years feeling so inadequate I couldn’t bring myself to comment just to say, “Thanks.”

I will always regret not expressing my thoughts sooner, and no amount of words I write now will ever convey the gratitude I feel toward you. You influenced me in ways you’ll never understand. You helped shape my understanding of the world you’ll never know. The person I would have been had I not happened upon you is a person I cannot begin to imagine. To put it in the bluntest of terms, you have likely influenced me more than anyone else in my entire life.

I won’t attempt to describe the ways you’ve influenced me. I won’t attempt to list the ideals you’ve helped instill in me, with your words and with your actions. I won’t attempt to describe the encyclopedic knowledge you’ve obtained of seemingly arcane topics which I’ve attempted to create a poor facsimile of. Nothing I say could ever be adequate.

But it is for that very reason I must speak up today. It is because of the ideals and concepts you helped imbue in me I must write this post, no matter how much it pains me. It is because you are the person I respect more than perhaps anyone else in the world, that I must say this.

You are wrong.

This isn’t some academic dispute over an arcane detail. If it were, I probably wouldn’t feel adequate to challenge you. After all, you’ve done more to influence me as a person than anyone else in this world. My friends, my family, they were fine for what they were. They just didn’t teach me what it meant to believe in something, in ideals about what is right and wrong.

I understand you’ve grown older than you might like. For reasons I won’t go into here, I know what it means to feel one’s body break down and decay with time. It is unpleasant. In fact, it is miserable. It is horrible to feel you have so much more to contribute yet are unable to because of things beyond your control.

Yet, I know something more. I know that no matter what we feel, no matter what we think, in the end there is an absolute sense of truth and justice we can aspire to. There is no factual basis for it. There is no objective reality which says it is what one must aspire to. But even so, if I understand you the way I think I do, it is something we care dearly about.

So in that light, I would like to tell you something I think is important. I think you’ve allowed yourself to become misled. I think you’ve allowed yourself to become lackadaisical. I think you have a lot of great ideas left to express, and you have written quite a few things in the last year I think are truly insightful.

But at the same time, you’ve said some incredibly stupid things. Maybe it’s fatigue. I’d understand if so. You’ve lived a long life. Nobody would fault you if you were unable to put forth the effort you once exhibited.

Perhaps it’s something else. Perhaps there is some sort of bias which causes you to be unable to view certain topics in a fair-minded way. Perhaps there is something about the topics of your recent discussions which wasn’t present in the discussions I followed for so many years. I don’t know.

And to be honest, I don’t care today. I don’t care about the things you’ve said which I think are wrong, stupid or even morally offensive. Those disagreements are important to me. However, they are not important as something else. No matter what happens, no matter what either of us says or does, there is one inescapable reality.

You have made me a better person. At a time I didn’t know what to think, to feel, about the world around me, you showed me something I can never replace. You showed me a set of standards, a type of behavior, I could believe in and aspire to. That will never go away. No matter what disagreements we may have, no matter what things we say, I will never forget how much you helped shape the person I came to be.

So for that, I want to say thank you. No words I ever come up with will express the true extent of my sentiments. You will never know how important your contributions to my life have been. Writing this post is difficult not because I am bad at expressing my feelings, which I am, but because I know no words will ever express the true depth of how I feel.

So whatever may come of the future, whatever disagreements we may have, one message will always stand above the rest for me. Thank you Stephen McIntyre. I am a far better person because of discovering you.

Brandon Shollenberger

210 thoughts on “Brandon Shollenberger to Steve McIntyre

  1. This comment is no 150 I think. to find following comments you have to find an obscure little button somewhere bottom right and click several times until it works. O Tempus, o WordPress.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey, Singer under bridges!

    Through a glass darkly,
    trust but verify,
    but oh, how fraughtly.
    Take heed of Socrates,
    (wisest of men, the Oracle
    sayeth.) … I only know
    that I ‘knoweth’ not. :

    A serf in the turnip field.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Hey, Beth, flower of the turnip field!

    Alas my glass was dark yesteryear
    Taught not to trust
    but verily to verify with proof,
    but oh, how difficult it is to find.
    Take heed of Cassandra
    But, like all humans
    Consider her purveyor
    of fake news.
    Turn aside.

    Singer beneath Bridges

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Back on Skripal, the Russians are claiming that Spiez Lab in Switzerland analysed the sample provided by the UK, in its capacity as an official approved laboratory of the OPCW. Russia is claiming that Spiez found traces of BZ, a UK/US manufactured chemical warfare agent not manufactured or held in stock in Russia, They also claim that the lab found traces of strong concentration of A-234 (a Novichok) in its initial state and in its decomposition products. A-234 is a Novichok. So, if the Russians are not lying about Spiez’s findings (and we cannot know whether they are or not because OPCW have classified the lab’s findings) then this raises three very important questions:

    1. Why is BZ in the sample?
    2. Given the strong concentration of extremely toxic A-234, why are the Skripals not dead; indeed how is it they are now recovered enough to be discharged from hospital?
    3. Given the volatility of A-234, how did traces of it in its initial state get into a sample which was several weeks old when analysed?

    Once again, assuming the Russians are not simply lying, answers to these three questions could well bring down May and her government.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I was having a day off, including a walk in the park with a friend. They quote me Socrates getting to the end point that he only knew that he didn’t know nowt. I take a quick look at this second page, ostensibly about Brandon and Steve. Is somebody trying to tell me something?


  6. Jaime, I don’t know the origins of the BZ story. However, I think the histrionics around both CW attacks give us a clue about what is going on.

    In the Times, academics critical of the government’s claims about Skripo & Syria are denounced as ‘apologists for Assad’.

    And in the Graun, seemingly on the opposite side of the political centre, Andrew Rawnsley bemoans that ‘Syria has paid a terrible price for the west’s disastrous policy of doing nothing’.

    Whether or not Assad and Putin ordered the use of chemical weapons in either Douma or Salisbury, or that the agent was a novichok, and so on, seems unecessary to me. The claims that the academics in question are ‘apologists for Assad’ and that the west has done nothing in Syria are simply lies.

    The UK’s forces have been active in Syria for 3 years. Western involvement there, however, has been aimed at regime change, not destroying ISIS and other terrorists, thus amplifying the mess that, had it been executed with more ferocity, would have made a bigger mess of Syria than the same policy made of Iraq (and then Libya).

    The truth of the claims about who or what was behind the CWs used in either the UK or ME are well beyond us. However, we can make much more progress by establishing the truth of statements made in public, for and against interventions, and for and against academics who dare to challenge the government’s line. Shame on the Times and the Guardian!


  7. I agree with what you say Ben, that concentrating on the scurrilous tactics of the press in their pursuance of their own particular agendas in these ‘crisis’ situations may bear more fruit than trying to disentangle the murky pond weed which clogs the swamp that is modern warfare and international espionage. Nevertheless, we should try, if only to construct a list of plausible alternative scenarios to the narrative we are spoon fed and expected to believe by our governments. If the chemical analysis of the sample carried out by Spiez Lab is revealed to be what the Russians say it is, or more likely the OPCW and UK refuse to convincingly refute what the Russians are saying, then an alternative plausible scenario is that the Skripals were poisoned by non-lethal BZ and the samples which were sent to Switzerland for analysis were spiked with A-234 – hence the presence of traces of non-degraded A-234 in a sample which was several weeks old. That is the plausible method. I wouldn’t even begin to speculate on a motive. The alternative plausible scenario in the case of Syria is that the rebels staged the attack, using either actual chlorine gas or not. It is not only plausible but also quite likely, given that previous gas attacks blamed on Assad have turned out to be very likely false flags, or at the very least, of highly dubious provenance.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. JAIME JESSOP (15 Apr 18 at 2:56 pm)
    I saw those claims about the Swiss analysis on behalf of the OPCW at a non-Russian site. Also a claim at an American site that the publicly available part of the OPCW report speaks of A-234 “in an extremely pure form,” which can only be produced in limited quantities in a laboratory, and therefore can’t come from a factory-produced stock of weapons grade product.

    assuming the Russians are not simply lying

    I’ve seen enormous amounts of disparate material which support the Russian position on both Skipral and Syria, but no single article which pulls it all together. Could it be that they’re leaving it to us, a retired American General here, a British ex-Ambassador there, and a band of sceptical malcontents like us to do the job? You and I and Ben and Richard could put together a dossier by tomorrow solid enough to persuade the Ruskies to nuke Porton Down. Why can’t the Russians simply publish a single article which pulls it all together?

    Surely for instance, the question of the interception or not of allied missiles by the Syrian defence systems can be resolved? The allies say all 103/110 missiles hit their targets, the Syrians and Russians say that 71 were intercepted. How many targets were there? The Russians gave a list of ten (I think) targets, including airfields where all the missiles were intercepted. Therefore there must be random craters where fragments of destroyed missiles fell. French TV was showing such a crater in the desert yesterday, but not today. The allies speak of three targets, with the majority of the 100+ missiles targeting just one site. Fifty missiles to destroy just three school buildings? With no risk that the chemical weapons developed there would be spread through the rest of Damascus? Where are the journalists asking questions? It’s not as if we’re at war, after all, as May and Macron keep assuring us.


  9. BEN

    ..we can make much more progress by establishing the truth of statements made in public, for and against interventions, and for and against academics who dare to challenge the government’s line. Shame on the Times and the Guardian!


    I agree with what you say Ben, that concentrating on the scurrilous tactics of the press in their pursuance of their own particular agendas in these ‘crisis’ situations may bear more fruit than trying to disentangle the murky pond weed which clogs the swamp that is modern warfare and international espionage.

    But this is where we came in, on climate change, ten years ago!

    As an obedient lefty, I was never entirely dupe of the Guardian’s line. I knew how, on delicate subjects like South Africa or Vietnam, they would tread a fine line between reality and the amount of truth that the centre left could bear. But there were journalists who told the truth, and who, by common accord, couldn’t be silenced. Then, on the subject of Climate, suddenly, no opposition could be tolerated. On Cuba, the miners, aid to Africa, you were allowed to deviate leftwards from the Guardian’s ever so centrist position. But on climate, no opposition could be tolerated.

    I thought, like Jaime, that “concentrating on the scurrilous tactics of the press in their pursuance of their own particular agendas in these ‘crisis’ situations” could change things. It was when a Guardian writer (Graham Wayne) in a below the line comment offered to spread me over a table as he used to do in his public schooldays and bugger me that I realised that appeasement wasn’t going to work.

    The lies of climate scientists are largely lies of omission carefully crafted over years of peer-reviewed publications. The lies about Syria that fill the media at the moment are of omission and commission, but largely made up on the spot. Swatting them one by one is perhaps all we can do. Does anyone have a better idea?


  10. Geoff, Jaime.
    Concerning the diplomatic repercussions of Salisbury
    Who benefits?
    Worth the risk?
    Could ask same about bombing Syria
    This is not one big game


  11. Agreed but, was ISIS in a position to infiltrate Dhoma together with canisters of chlorine, or be in a position to mislead ALL the Sunni and the West’s intelligence services and all journalists.
    You need both motive and opportunity.
    Note I am not denying the possibility that the attack was not from the Syrian government, but I require proof that it was instigated by others.

    I presume you are not suggesting the Salisbury incident was ISIS inspired, or are you?


  12. Alan, you asked, — Concerning the diplomatic repercussions of Salisbury[,] Who benefits?

    My answer was to that question.

    But you’ve broadened your question, apparently to conflate the answer with culpability for the action in Salisbury and in Douma, leading to your questions:

    — was ISIS in a position to infiltrate Dhoma together with canisters of chlorine, or be in a position to mislead ALL the Sunni and the West’s intelligence services and all journalists.


    I presume you are not suggesting the Salisbury incident was ISIS inspired, or are you?

    To the first Q, as should be obvious. No, ISIS as such were not in control of Douma at the time of the alleged use of chlorine/CWs. Jaysh al-Islam were. I think you would struggle to identify a meaningful difference between them and ISIS/ISIL, in spite of the fact of hostilities between them, including revenge executions — beheadings. JaI also intend to create an ‘Islamic State’, and are alleged to have used chemical weapons and hostages as human shields. To your test of ‘motivation and means’, and my addition: form, yes, Jaysh al-Islam ticks those boxes (with respect to the use of chlorine/CW in Douma, and this was foreseen by Ford in the video I posted a while back, who argued that the bombing last year would massively increase the risk of false flag operations of this nature.

    To the direct Q about ISIS involvement in Douma — it is not a stretch to imagine that some element loyal to ISIS was on the ground in Douma, able to carry out the attack.

    To the second question… No, I was not suggesting that, but according to your test — means & motive — they certainly have the means to the same extent that any terrorist has been able to. What would make that unlikely is the degree of sophistication, not as much in obtaining the chemical (which could have come from anywhere, since a Novichok compound was synthesised in Iran), but in selecting the target. This, I think makes it extremely unlikely that ISIS were in Salisbury, because the actions of the terrorists in the west claiming sympathy with them are categorically unsophisticated: brutal, bloody, and crude, and inflicted on the public in extremely public places.

    To return to the point…

    ISIS benefits from degraded relationships between the West and Russia. It benefits strategically, as it has done from very much Western intervention in Syria, as even Trump noted in a series of tweets going back to 2015, when Obama’s policy direction was ‘Assad must go’. Nobody else has anything to gain by the chaos that would be unleashed by the West’s preferred policy of regime change (except, perhaps Western hawks’ egos). Indeed, ISIS was born out of the vacuum created by incautious military intervention, followed by ‘de-baathification’, and then the same in Libya, where, if you remember, leaders of western-backed rebels were filmed eating the hearts of their victims, causing much panic here about what had been unleashed.


  13. The same logic the interventionists use to support their actions (‘CW are abominable’) can be used by players to elicit such actions. As terrible as this must be, no weapon category ought to be held to be special or evil compared to another.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. May ludicrously claims that it was ‘in the national interest’ to bomb Syria and thus deter the use of chemical weapons, ‘in other countries and on our streets’ (an absurd reference to Salisbury). She’s barking quite frankly, but that does not excuse her gross hypocrisy or her rank dishonesty. As she sends British war planes to signal her ‘humanitarian’ virtue with bullets and bombs in Syria, her government is selling billions of arms to Saudi Arabia so they can conventionally bomb the hell out of men, women and kids in Yemen. But this is OK because the Saudis are allies and the children blown to pieces in the Yemen are not being killed by nasty chemical weapons which only despots use.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. The so-called conservative politicians are weakened as they enter government. The so-called liberal ones are encouraged by flattery and deceit. Regardless, the end result is the same. George Bush was widely regarded as a first-term lame duck until he stumbled on to his ‘war on terror.’ Trump is out ‘battling’ ‘fake news’ everyday. The prospect of building their ‘legacy’ grips these individuals. They are a convenient choke-point for those forces who know what buttons to press and what levers to pull.

    Real power lies in the ability to say ‘no.’ In the ability to hear and take in all the courtiers and bootlickers, and then sweep them aside. In true chaos, not the fake humanitarian drama variety.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Just listened, fitfully, to Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn in the Commons. Won’t comment though. Must bow out of this very interesting conversation. Agree with what Jaime said on the probabilities in Douma and Salisbury. Geoff is asking useful broader questions and how they relate to the climate quagmire. There are fruitful parallels I believe. Meanwhile vicious Sunni-Shia conflict is not all about us – any more than CO2 is the climate control knob. The policy that makes the most sense for the UK in both areas is rapid development of our shale resources. Energy security with less dependence of Putin needn’t wait for his becoming a pariah. Glad World War III was avoided as this thread was running.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Jaime, regarding your comment at 1.25pm, I would add a “like” if I knew how to, but sadly I’m technologically illiterate, so can’t manage to do that. Instead, may I say that your comment completely reflects my views on the subject. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Over the years I have been fascinated by the clashes Brandon has had with various people, especially Steve McIntyre. Early on I came to the conclusion that BS’ self-image, the thing about himself that he is most proud of, is that he was an “above the fray” kind of guy not frightened to challenge, or criticise, people on his own “side”.

    I have no idea why Steve McIntyre has become such an obsession, perhaps it’s because when making an argument he shows and explains why he’s come to his conclusions.

    Which brings me to the second conclusion I’ve drawn about BS and that he’s heavily into detail and the smallest mistake jumps out at him. And is “important”.

    For most of us if we think Steve McIntyre is wrong about the Syrian bombings we shrug and move on, because as Ben says above there are no facts, none.

    My own view is that the Russians probably did the Salisbury job, and the rebels probably faked the Syrian gas attack. My conclusions are based on applying the “cui bono” principal, not facts because there are none and in the absence of facts there can be no emotional attachment to anything. Yet it appears that BS thinks it’s important to tell Steve McIntyre he’s wrong. Why?

    Only BS knows.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Ben has said here that there are no facts, and others have agreed. This is false. It’s a fact that at least two Western journalists have been to Douma and have reported that they could find no witnesses to a chemical attack. It’s a fact that the images shown are of children being washed and of children immobile with froth at their mouths and that no evidence of death by chemical weapons has been produced. It’s also a fact (though a second order fact, if you like) that the acquiescence of the media to the official version resembles their acquiescence in the case of other official stories, such as climate change. It’s also a fact that some of the media revealing these facts are pretty weird. Should we therefore not speak up? This is the question Orwell posed in Homage to Catalonia. He spoke up and lost credibility at the New Statesman. We don’t have that to lose.

    Liked by 3 people

  20. Geoff. But the “facts” you mention are not useful. Absence of witnesses to a chemical attack means what? – no chemical attack or any witnesses were moved out by Syrians or Russians? How do you know the reporters went to the right location – one pile of rubble looks very much like another? Scenes of people being doused/decontaminated means what? These “facts” are meaningless unless interpreted by reference to other “facts”.
    What confuses me is that there are at least two wildly different alternatives to the version apparently accepted by Western and Sunni intelligence and governments – the whole thing was a hoax (by rebels) or there was exposure to chlorine gas also introduced by elements of the rebels. What is even stranger is that some people, at different times, argue for both alternatives. All I know is that I don’t know. But if it wasn’t the Syrian government, why did the USA, France and the UK bomb?
    Also what perplexes me is the unwillingness of some to believe that the Syrian military would not use chemical weapons whereas no one doubts that they indiscriminately (and therefore illegally) use barrel bombs upon civilian areas.


  21. ALAN
    I agree the facts I cite (there are thousands similar) may not be very useful. But that’s different from saying there are none. I’ve just been following up links on a Guardian article debunking the debunkers, and watching my own cognitive biasses rise to the surface – not a pretty sight. I can even spot myself shifting to another position when a hypothesis I’ve been holding to is disproved, one of the tell tale signs of conspiracy theorising, according to Lewandowsky. In fact it’s simply what you do when you don’t know, and you suspect the story you’re being told.

    For example, I was convinced by a story that debunked the one about White Helmets faking rescue photos, using the same child in different scenes. But that doesn’t alter the fact that the White Helmets were founded by a British army officer and are financed by our governments. And that they disappeared when Douma as taken. Presumably they’re there to liaise with “our” allies, who have this unfortunate habit of morphing from democratic rebels to jihadists and back again. A century ago T.E. Lawrence would have taken charge of them and led them to victory. That’s the story we should be looking at, not faffing about whether this little girl in this photo is the same as the one in that photo.


  22. Geoff, I think the facts you cite are still facts of the non-facticity of the discussion. I.e., no ‘facts’ can reasonably pertain to a non-event. But that is splitting hairs. It is these second order facts I say we can and should interrogate — in reply to Jaime, at some point. That is to say that we shouldn’t let the inaccessibility of the evidence prevent us interrogating the FCO’s/Bojo’s claims about Salisbury or Douma. I think we’re in agreement.

    Alan asks, ‘if it wasn’t the Syrian government, why did the USA, France and the UK bomb?’

    This is a question about motive. The UK, USA, and France have not, historically, required much persuasion to drop bombs. They see it as their role. But this much only explains my cynicism of British/Western foreign policy in general.

    In this case, I think it should be remembered what a colossal mess was made of the region by Western intervention. To detail it would make this comment too long. In short it seems fair to say that Western governments lost their moral authority on the world stage, and lost their domestic political authority, too (at least as far as making war is concerned). Libya was the final straw for very many. However, the hawks have not been cleared out. They lost the argument for continued *overt* intervention, and the interventions since then have been relatively low key (unless you were underneath them) and less risky, both for the forces involved, and in terms of ‘collateral damage’. Meanwhile, Assad appealed to Putin for help. This has been a *massive* embarrassment for the West, no matter how evil the Assad regime is (or is not), because whereas Western intervention has been preoccupied with ‘regime change’ and has only produced more bloody and undemocratic regimes, Moscow’s intervention has come at the request of a sovereign government, and has been effective in clearing out jihadists. Dominance of global security is its own reward. France, the USA and the UK sent bombs to Syria as first steps to avoid the balance of power shifting, now that the Syrian crisis seems to be drawing nearer to a close.

    Alan continues: ‘what perplexes me is the unwillingness of some to believe that the Syrian military would not use chemical weapons whereas no one doubts that they indiscriminately (and therefore illegally) use barrel bombs upon civilian areas.’

    Chemical weapons are of extremely limited value tactically. Strategically they are entirely counter-productive, since they bring down the wrath of the ‘international community’ on the alleged culprit. Everyone knew this. Meanwhile, there is every motive for Assad’s enemies, very much on the back foot, to either stage faked attacks, or even to use CWs against people behind their own lines. Everyone knew this, too. So people are reluctant to believe that the Syrian army used CWs because the argument — not merely the ‘facts’ — does not stack up.

    I think it is also somewhat misleading to say that the Syrian army is ‘indiscriminately’ using barrel bombs — i.e. essentially carpet-bombing civilians. The conflict is extremely bloody, and the enemies of the Syrian government have been embedded in civilian areas — that is the nature of civil conflicts. And it is the nature of bombing people. For instance, the use of drones in Obama’s otherwise seemingly stand-back-ish foreign policy, became known for killing entire wedding parties, rather than jihadists — a radicalising force in its own right. I agree with you, if your point is equivalent to the question ‘what is the actual moral difference between dropping explosives and dropping chemical weapons?’, but not if it is an attempt to differentiate between the strategies of Western forces and the Syrian government.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Ben I see no moral difference whatsoever between using chemical weapons or barrel bombs. I also see no justification for using barrel bombs on civilian areas even if “legitimate” targets embed themselves within them. Governments have a duty to protect their citizens, not murder them or dismiss losses as “collateral damage”.


  24. Alan — Governments have a duty to protect their citizens, not murder them or dismiss losses as “collateral damage”.

    All rules change in conflict. The duties of governments become even more clouded by civil conflict. The term ‘collateral damage’, however, is a western euphemism, that became increasingly popular under the logic of ‘humanitarian intervention’. Nobody would defend the arbitrary use of force against citizens, but that’s not the situation in Syria.


  25. Benpile.
    “Nobody would defend the arbitrary use of force against citizens, but that’s not the situation in Syria.”
    Say what?
    How many civilians killed, how many starved? How many displaced?
    Yes a large percentage due to rebel activities but also due to their own government arbitrary use of force.


  26. Alan – How many civilians killed, how many starved? How many displaced?

    Assad’s actions were categorically not an ‘arbitrary use of force’. Assad does not have the resources to execute a war against civilians. He is fighting ISIS – Blair’s and Bush’s legacy in the ME.

    It’s a war, Alan. How many civilians were killed, displaced in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere, during the war on terror? And, for that matter, how many were killed prior to the WoT, given years of sanctions? Hundreds of thousands, likely millions, of civilians, many of which were children in need of medicine. Some targeted directly by the forces unleashed by incautious adventurism, some held hostage in conflict zones, and some just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time — like the people at weddings targeted by drone operators in Texas.

    Go and look at the images and stories from Mosul in the aftermath of the recent pushback against ISIS by the Iraqi forces, backed by the west — rightly or wrongly. If you think the reality of the operations there were any different than in any of Assad’s assaults against the same enemy in Syrian cities, you would be mistaken: tens of thousands of civilians were killed. Many were starved and many were used as human shields by an extremely violent and bloody religious sect that would think nothing of shooting elderly women in the street for wearing the incorrect clothing.

    You wanted to know… “what perplexes me is the unwillingness of some to believe that the Syrian military would not use chemical weapons whereas no one doubts that they indiscriminately (and therefore illegally) use barrel bombs upon civilian areas.’”

    I have tried to explain that misconception to you. It seems to me that your confusion is a familiar one, owed to tendency to discriminate between the actions of our own forces vs those of a putative enemy, where in fact no such discrimination is possible either by examining the principles of those actions or their consequences. Moreover, in fact, that discrimination falls apart when we consider that, right or wrong, the Assad regime is the sovereign government of the country defending itself against religious fundamentalism, and that enemy has been the beneficiary of direct and indirect support from the West, going back further even than gulf war 1 and the WoT. That tendency also seems to cause you to see arguments which do not discriminate between the two (and now three, perhaps even more) forces, and thus do not not take sides, as somehow apologising or excusing the excesses of that regime, rather than placing them in the context of an extremely bloody and long civil war. I was opposed to the West’s interventions from the very beginning, and find the impulse to sanitise them as repugnant as any of Assad’s alleged infractions. The difference, however, is that I can criticise UK foreign policy.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Ben. I repeat, governments should take care of their citizens – even the Russian authorities received opprobrium when they unsuccessfully tried to release hostages in a school by using heavy handed tactics, whereas Israel, France and other states get plaudits when they successfully rescues their citizens. Using barrels bombs and shelling civilian areas should be beyond the Pale, but sadly are not criticised by other countries who have got used to the practice.


  28. Alan – governments should take care of their citizens


    Liked by 1 person

  29. Hit a nerve Ben? I’ll remind you of this when the Syrian Government begins attacking the Kurds.
    Also the Syrian state started attacking its population well before Syria became infested by those you call islamofascists.
    I don’t think I can agree with you when you seemingly advocate bombing the sh!t out of civilians to get at some Islamofascists NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU SCREAM.


  30. Hit a nerve Ben

    Only if being an interminable, ignorant idiot is equivalent to ‘hitting a nerve’.

    If, and when, the ‘Syrian Government begins attacking the Kurds’, I will remind you that I did not take sides. I did not take sides with the Syrian government, with Russia, nor with the Kurds, to sanitise their actions. The point, which you still don’t understand is that your attempt to discriminate is not one that ANY side in ANY equivalent conflict has ever been able to do. Not the UK, not the USA, not NATO. and they, no more or less than the Syrian government or Russia.

    You persist, nonetheless, in the claim that my explaining that this is a bullshit discrimination into goodies and baddies is equivalent to ‘advocate bombing’, rather than, the exact opposite: opposing bombing. The only reasonable conclusion is that you are thick in the head. You must be, since you seem to think that actors in civil and inter-state conflict can make the distinction, in spite of millions of dead civilians, stretching all the way from the Balkans, to China and Sub-Saharan Africa.


  31. Even Caroline Lucas can understand the point.


  32. There appears to be some misconception that force used in war has to be somehow equivalent, ie we kill xxx thousand of theirs, they kill xxx thousand of ours, ad infinitum presumably.

    That does not work, and merely prolongs the unpleasantness indefinitely.

    During WWII, the Luftwaffe succeeded in killing around 65,000 British citizens, mainly during the Blitz (in fact more were killed by the fallback from the AAA barrage, more by TB caused by sleeping in damp shelters, and more still in road accidents caused by the blackout).

    Two years later, “Bomber” Harris’ lads in their Lancasters and Halifaxes could rack up that many in a good night’s carpet bombing, and then Carl Spaatz’ Eighth Air Force boys with their fortresses and Liberators went over in daylight with their precision Norden bomb sights and levelled anything that was still standing, especially if it was an important industrial target.

    Night after night, day after day.

    The Nazis sowed the storm, they reaped the whirlwind.

    We won’t quantify the horrific retribution that the Red Army visited on the German cities, towns, villages and their populations for the atrocities that the Wehrmacht had visited on 20,000,000+ million citizens of the Soviet Union.

    On December 7, 1941 the Japanese treacherously attacked Pearl Harbour, sank a fair proportion of the US Pacific fleet, but significantly missed the carrier force.

    Three years later, the US retaliation by Curtis Le May’s Superfortresses had reduced over 95% of Japanese cities to smoking rubble and two of their cities to radioactive slag, millions died, the true total cannot be known.

    So basically, we don’t win wars with hostile regimes by not being as bad as them, or even being equally as bad as them.

    We win by being worse.

    Liked by 2 people

  33. Ben it would seem that you are deliberately misunderstanding my posts. I haven’t taken up a position for or against anybody. If you read my posts you will find that they are a series of questions. I’m not for or against any side (if anything I’m against all sides in the current situation, except the poor civilians who seem to be getting it from all sides). A plague on all of them. However it seems you are so opposed to those you call islamofascists that you are seemingly willing to give support to those who also commit atrocities (if only by failing to recognize those atrocities or calling anyone that does recognize them a FUCKING IDIOT). I do not support the Western missile attacks. My position, such as it is, is to withdraw completely. This is the best we can do in the current lose-lose situation.


  34. Alan – I haven’t taken up a position for or against anybody

    You have. You do it here:

    it seems you are so opposed to those you call islamofascists that you are seemingly willing to give support to those who also commit atrocities

    The fact of the war precedes my putative ‘support’ for Assad, given the choice between his regime and ISIS.

    The reality of the conflict is that the Assad regime — the sovereign government — is under attack from forces largely created by incautious interventions in the wider region. You have imagined that it would be possible for Syrian government forces to respond to those assaults with some level of caution to avoid civilian casualties, and my response has been to try to explain that this is not possible in a war situation, and CW has explained more skillfully that this has never been possible. It has never happened anywhere.

    It is an entirely bullshit distinction, that excites only Western media who desire to impose simple moral categories over extremely complex conflicts. It doesn’t happen in Syria, and it didn’t happen in Mosul. It didn’t happen in Libya and it didn’t happen anywhere in Afghanistan.

    ‘Atrocities’ are fact of war.

    And you did it here:

    ‘what perplexes me is the unwillingness of some to believe that the Syrian military would not use chemical weapons

    (You also did it above, where you state lists of Putin’s excesses, absent any understanding of the complexities of those situations).

    The reasons for which were explained to you. You then went on to expand from CWs to barrel bombs.


    I also see no justification for using barrel bombs on civilian areas even if “legitimate” targets embed themselves within them.

    However, the point had been that moralising about the choice of weapon used to kill civilians is entirely specious. It made no difference to the people caught in the fire in Mosul that no barrel bombs — or for that matter, CWs — were used.

    So why should such a nonsense distinction hold when Russia, at the request of the Syrian government, is involved in the conflict?

    In post after post, Alan, you have drawn those same simple moral categories over the affair, to your continued failure to understand the counter-position to that moralising. I don’t need to ‘support’ Putin’s agenda to know why Russia was drawn into Georgia, or the Ukraine, or Syria. I don’t need to support Assad’s undemocratic rule to understand that it was his right, and even his duty to resist the invasion of Syrian cities by ISIS. And I don’t need to be a fan of theirs, nor Saddam Hussains, nor the Taliban nor Al Qaeda to observe that the moral categories invented by spectators from the West are complete specious bullshit, and that the interventionists and hawks have left the West without any moral authority, and likely less than Assad or Putin.

    I raise again the comparison between Mosul, and cities in Syria. The former was ‘liberated’ according to reports, from ISIS — rightly. But and towns and cities occupied by ISIS in Syria, Aleppo, for e.g., were reported as facing ‘attack’ from Syrian forces, though the civilians in which faced no more or less danger than their counterparts in Mosul. US bombs are no more capable of discriminating than Assad’s barrel bombs. Yet it is barrel bombs that you choose to draw some moral dis-equivalence over. To what end?

    As you put it here:

    To do nothing is to acquiesce, to accept what is done to you or to innocents who cannot resist. It used to be called appeasement.

    The moralising does not begin and end with moralising.

    In response to the folly of taking sides being pointed out to you, you say,

    First they came for the Georgians, and I did not respond— Because I was not a Georgian

    The vacuity of comparing Russia with Nazi Germany being pointed out to you, you went on to demand that it be proved another party committed the still unproven atrocity.

    A cascade of specious moral distinctions and blunt historical ignorance occurs where the positive case for intervention, and for guilt, and for moral dis-equivalence should lie with the warmongers.

    So when you now say, ‘I haven’t taken up a position for or against anybody’, and that ‘I’m not for or against any side’, I’m left wondering if you even know what you’ve written, never mind whether or not there is any logic in your argument. A poor grasp of a subject is no crime – I wouldn’t criticise anyone for merely being ignorant. But your ignorance seems coupled with a strong opinion in spite of it. You now say your posts have been merely ‘a series of questions’, but they have in fact fingered the culprits of alleged acts of war, war crimes, and advocated intervention in sovereign states, seemingly to effect regime change, on a similar basis to the retrospective Allies’ casus belli of WWII. That’s not what merely ‘asking a series of questions’ looks like. Your paraphrase of Niemöller in fact directly followed the US/UK/France missile attack, at which you yourself noted, ‘I find this a very strange experience to be on the more hawkish side of an argument’. Yet now you say ‘I do not support the Western missile attacks’.

    Your claims are inconsistent. They don’t seem to be underpinned by much understanding. They don’t seem to be improved by any attempt to offer any explanation. I hope you understand why that causes exasperation, and a loss of patience. They are shortcomings you do not tolerate in your own field of expertise.


  35. Alan Kendall is one of the 1% of humanity with the courage to take the simple view. (We shouldn’t be there, and we should get out. It went wrong the day after Lawrence rode into Damascus on his camel a hundred years ago. Then at least we had the excuse that there was a war to win. Since then there have only been wars to lose and lose and lose again.)

    And Ben is one of the 1% of the population to have thought deeply about the subject, or more precisely about the discussion of the subject which bounds our understanding. This may seem fernickety, but the limitations of our understanding are of vital importance in a democracy.

    If those two one percents can’t find some grounds for agreement, we really are in trouble.


  36. We shouldn’t be there, and we should get out.

    If Alan has been making an argument against intervention, and in favour of withdrawal, I missed it. He identified himself to be on the hawkish side, he argued for Russian/Syrian guilt and against ‘acquiescing’ in the face of it.

    I take the simplistic view, and the other 1% view. In that respect, both 1%s are reconciled.


  37. ALAN KENDALL (24 Apr 18 at 4:31 pm)

    I do not support the Western missile attacks. My position, such as it is, is to withdraw completely. This is the best we can do in the current lose-lose situation.

    BENPILE (24 Apr 18 at 7:44 pm)

    I take the simplistic view, and the other 1% view. In that respect, both 1%s are reconciled.

    Good. We’re agreed then. The other 99% (or 99.99% if there’s no correlation) seem to have deserted the discussion. That leaves us three and Steve McIntyre. Plus some pretty weird blogs run by ex CIA spooks and colonels in the US Army (or Russian bots disguised as such) which I consult.


  38. “He identified himself to be on the hawkish side, he argued for Russian/Syrian guilt and against ‘acquiescing’ in the face of it.”

    Yes I did, because no one else here was. They are as guilty as sin, but so are all the other sides. My opposition to Assad is stronger, but because it has been of longer duration – I remember how brutally opposition, along the lines of the Arab Spring, was suppressed by his regime (children writing graffiti being tortured). The fact that I draw attention to the misdeeds of one side does not necessarily mean I support their enemies. Ben seems unable to appreciate this. I believe all sides have done reprehensible things,and by now none deserve our support.


  39. Alan – I remember how brutally opposition, along the lines of the Arab Spring, was suppressed by his regime (children writing graffiti being tortured)

    You remember it? You were there? Did you see it, too, after you saw the Iraqi soldiers pulling babies out of incubators in Kuwait?

    Was it a clear memory? Vivid? As vivid, perhaps, as seeing Iraqi WMDs being readied to strike London in just 45 minutes?

    You say no side deserves our support, but you seem willing to absorb one side’s propaganda, all the same.


  40. I’m really happy to have instigated this thread. It was supposed to be about a logical dispute between Brandon and Steve, but it quickly became clear that there were psychological issues. It became tense, but not hateful.

    A large part of the climate sceptic argument is that we represent reason and it is the opposition which resembles a religious sect. Except that it seemed to be the contrarians who disagree, while the official position demonstrates an admirable consensus. So are we the protestants, ever splitting in the face of a united catholic church?

    I leave this discussion for another time, and recommend the new article at Climate Audit


  41. Ben. Quite right to chastise me. However in 2011 organized opposition in Syria (or so I read) hardly existed, almost all the islamic groups had still to arrive or become organized. The stories of oppression and atrocity were carried to the outside world by fleeing refugees. Those stories are similar to ways in which other repressive arab regimes tried to put down arab spring uprisings. It would be truly extraordinary that of all arab states, only Syria did not engage in atrocities and that fleeing civilians reports of such crimes are all false propaganda. However, you quite rightly point out I wasn’t there so it is only my judgement that those stories were true. But I doubt that you were there either, so it’s only your judgement that they were all untrue.
    I think my view is that, until I am presented with believable evidence to the contrary I will temporarily accept what my government tells me in support of its foreign policies. I fully recognize that this is perhaps naive and there are many instances where doing this will prove “disappointing”. But I read other opinions and change my views. During the past seven years I have been anti-Assad (mainly because of interaction with Syrian graduate students and their stories) but very recently I have, as a matter of practicality, come to examine the practicality of allowing Assad to win over most of his opponents as the best way to give most of the Syrian population some respite.
    BTW Being there commonly gives no particular insight. I “was there” when Russia invaded Georgia. I have a particular soft spot for the people but that merely gives me a bias. We were bundled out of the country and only just escaped before the coast was blockaded by Russia.


  42. Alan, some interesting reflections. I have no sympathy for any undemocratic regime. But that requires being circumspect about democracy in the case of nascent democracies like Russia, and even in ongoing dictatorships where Western countries have a long history of entanglement. It is puzzling to us, for instance, that so many Russians would vote for someone like Putin. But our democracy (and I would say ‘such as it is’ at the moment), was long fought for, and the process largely uninterrupted by external forces. I was arguing on Twitter yesterday with someone opposed to the abolition/democratisation of the House of Lords (ha – ‘democracy’!) who was citing legislation from the 1600s, his claim being that the settlement it offered upholds democracy. The last half millienium has not been quite so peaceful for Russians, who, meanwhile, might have different priorities, being a vast, sparsely populated region with a history of conflicts to the east. And utter chaos, gangsterism, and oligarchy shortly following Soviet tyranny — a course of events in which the west showed a criminal lack of grace and generosity, not to mention historical illiteracy (and now our leaders wring their hand about Russian bots!). Little wonder that Russians felt no inclination to synthesise the Western model.

    Ditto, in Syria, where it is hard to imagine that the possibility of reform as the regime was passed from the elder to younger Assad ran smack bang into the war on terror. It is easy to pass verdicts on tyrants, but on Assad’s perspective, the chaos that has emerged in Syria, and elsewhere are reminders that there is nothing is simple about reform towards democracy: there are internal and external forces that would take ‘regime change’ somewhere else. Britain’s own graceless exits from parts of the Empire show this inevitability, in not so distant history.

    Your account forces me to wonder, how British government employees would behave, faced with similar pressures. It was a Georgian (coincidentally) medical student I was once housemates with that first gave me a clue. Her stories about British immigration officers made me wonder if there is any difference at all. Humanity, not just Western niceties, seems to disintegrate at borders. Add pressure to that border, equal either to the context in South Ossetia, or Syria, and I can imagine that it wouldn’t take much for the attitude towards immigrants to be directed inward.

    Perhaps it is already. At the same time, I remember filming — or trying to film — some footage at a shopping centre. Unofficially, perhaps, which is rude of me, because it is better to ask permission to film, but I was in a hurry. The reasons given by security for our swift ejection from the extremely low rent provincial shopping centre was ‘terrorism’. They needed no reason to chuck us out, but thought nothing of inflating the significance of our infraction from merely lack of courtesy to global security incident. This was the experience of many photographers at the time. The situation for them was ultimately resolved, but the global security context was, all the same, the pretext for the Blair administration’s rolling back of many civil and political liberties — an agenda that in fact preceded the war on terror. Protecting Britain from terrorists, argued Blair, came before civil liberties. Not unreasonably, critics began questioning the possibility of Britain becoming a Police state. Anti-terror legislation became the go-to pretext for anything between the policing of public order, to child development. The government even considered ways, before ‘big data’ was fashionable, of using statistics to detect individuals prone to terrorism, as well as anti-social behaviour, before they were even born, to direct interventions.

    These are just some reasons why I find the following statement deeply troubling.

    I will temporarily accept what my government tells me in support of its foreign policies.

    I take the opposite view. That the government is outright lying, whether it is making a case for domestic or foreign policy, and that it is incumbent on politicians in a democracy to make a transparent case for policy. I do not accept policy at face value on climate change, nor on public order, public health, criminal justice, nor the economy. Indeed, where I have had the time (and it was my job for a few years), I found time and again, the government’s case to have next to zero foundation. To call it bullshit would do an injustice to the aesthetics of entire fields of shit. Worse, even asking officials or politicians to back up their claims is to face a direct high pressure jet of bullshit. Put simply: democracy is not just voting. It is transparent government, continually held to account by an incredulous public. It requires the same incredulity as science, in fact. Constant checks, examination of the putative facts, questioning the data… and so on. That, or democracy is dead. I would say its current status is: twitching.

    Go look at any mainstream broadsheet and see for yourself what the ‘free press’ is making of attempts to understand the Skripal and Douma affairs. See for yourself what the FCO and ministers are saying about academics, retired senior military officials, and former diplomats. Even Peter Hitchens — a man with decades of experience reporting from tyrannies — is being called a ‘Putin puppet’, a ‘tool of Assad’. Researchers are being called ‘propagandists’. There are calls for their research departments to be closed down for deviating from the official line. There are inquiries in Parliament addressing the problem of ‘fake news’ (featuring our pal, Lew), and regulators are moving to close down foreign news agencies. Meanwhile, a man has narrowly avoided prison for telling an off-colour joke on Youtube. I wonder how that all sounds, as a story about the democratic West, to people aspiring to democracy: do not tell jokes in public; do not criticise the regime; oh, and don’t eat too much sugar.

    Are we so different to Syria? By how much? What is our direction of travel? How does one detect it? Will we know only when alcohol and sugar are banned for the sake of ‘public health’, or when the moron Environment Secretary has made Britain zero-emissions, and plastic and the internal combustion engine are banned to stop ‘air pollution’ and ‘climate change’? Or will we know only when the idiot Foreign Secretary has finally bumbled us into a war? Surely the last three months, never mind, three decades of the government’s utterly crass policy-making are sufficient reason to take their claims with at least a pinch of salt.


  43. On the subject of governments lying:

    Miles Goslett helped to break the Jimmy Savile story.

    As I’ve said over at Climate Audit, the rapid takeover of Douma by Russian forces right after a claimed chemical attack presents “a major opportunity to use social media to put the MSM straight” – much sooner than usual. Bless Steve, once again.

    Liked by 2 people

  44. Richard
    According to the Peter Oborne’s article you link to, Miles Goslett’s book seems to provide lots of evidence that the official account of Kelly’s death is far from convincing. Oborne’s article is a detailed criticism of a hatchet job of a critical review by David Aaronovitch, whose method of arguing is all too familiar. Aaronovitch’s purpose is clearly to defend the official version of a suspect story by attacking a critic using straw man arguments (or “Aunt Sallys” as Oborne calls them) insinuating that questioning the official account is conspiracy theorising. Oborne sums up the method like this:

    We have all noticed a new and disturbing coarseness in modern political and media discourse, marked in particular by a failure to understand or even acknowledge other points of view. This collapse into insult and caricature rather than well-informed and civilised argument damages us all.

    Liked by 1 person

  45. BEN
    The photographic and video evidence is examined in detail by Steve McIntyre here
    The British response to evidence of the kind you provide can be found here
    [h/t AnthonyIndia commenting at ClimateAudit]
    Talk to the hand that doled out millions to the White Helmets, cos the Foreign Office ain’t listening to anything embarrassing.
    I’m going to post soon about media coverage. My reasoning is that the same terms (denialist, conspiracy theorist) are being used to criticise comments on Syria as are used about climate sceptics. We at cliscep are no better than the Met Office’s multi billion pound computers at forecasting short term manoeuvres in the climate wars. Maybe we can do better in predicting media strategy in a real war that may break out at any moment.

    Liked by 2 people

  46. Some more to-and-fro… Hitchins vs Monbiot.

    Interesting (in my view), because, as noted previously — but it’s not the emphasis I would ever have given it — Monbiot used to report from tyrannical regimes and so did Hitchens. The latter, on his erstwhile comrades from Moscow.

    Monbiot now frames as ‘denialism over war crimes in Syria’ the work of academics cited in an article which argues that ‘The duty of intellectuals should be to ensure accountability, not to engage in frivolous revisionism’. The article is a response to the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, and states, ‘They share the same modus operandi: they treat opinions as facts and resist empirical evidence. They assert their scepticism of the “dominant official narrative” while credulously parroting the Kremlin’s official line’. Which is quite an achievement for a group of researchers — fewer than a dozen — that has not yet completed its website, much less produced any research. The article is instead a response to an article (on the same site) announcing the project’s launch, which states its purpose as “not to act as ‘apologists’ for either the Syrian or Russian governments”, but to “analyse media coverage and critique the propaganda claims that surround the conflict”.

    ‘Denialism’ is surely by now a term that has lost any meaning in Monbiot’s mouth. It is routine, however, to take murky facts, and to amplify them to certainties, so to render the world in black and white moral terms.

    This is perhaps why Hitchens lasted as a foreign correspondent, whereas Monbiot had to resort to Gaia-bothering. By the time he had set foot on an Aeroflot jet, Hitchens had had cause to examine his more youthful left-wing radicalism. Only through such self-reflection can a broader understanding of ‘ideology’ be formed, so to understand others’ perspectives, and the influence and necessity of ‘ideology’ in forming a perspective — including in separating fact from pure propaganda (noting that even facts can be propaganda).

    This myopia, I’ve argued before results in Monbiot’s violent vacillations. For it was not that long ago (for a man of his age) that he wrote,

    All journalists make mistakes. When deadlines are short and subjects are complicated, we are bound to get some things wrong. But the falsehoods reproduced by the media before the invasion of Iraq were massive and consequential: it is hard to see how Britain could have gone to war if the press had done its job. If the newspapers have any interest in putting the record straight, they should surely each be commissioning an inquiry of their own.

    Now, he argues…


    (among other tweets of the same nature).

    Now the scrutiny Monbiot was demanding of war propaganda back in 2004 — of exactly the same kind — is equivalent to apology for Assad’s crimes and Putin’s politics.

    Liked by 2 people

  47. Just beat me to it mentioning Monbiot v Hitchens on Syria Ben. But you dug out more from it. Do you have a link on the quote about inadequate journalism pre-Iraq?

    Meanwhile Brandon has declared criticism of Steve’s latest post futile – but of course in the process he’s made some, of a broad-brush variety. There have though been some detailed points made by others that seem to me to advance understanding. Nobody’s doubting it’s an incomplete picture.


  48. Pingback: Syria and Conspiracy Theories | Climate Scepticism

  49. I’ve interrupted my busy schedule today to announce, in the form of this comment, that I don’t care about the above post—and that it perturbs, perplexes and vexes me why so many people whose erudition and integrity I’ve long idolized would squander their time responding to it. As my close friends will be aware, this is something that’s troubled me ever since I first read the article a couple of hours ago. My (necessarily inchoate) attempts to grapple with the phenomenon will be laid out in a series of blog posts of my own, pending the last few negotiations over the music rights, starting with tomorrow’s I’m living proof that you COULD care less about Brandon’s letter if you really tried.

    I’m all for free speech, but free speech doesn’t mean carte blanche to post items that don’t interest me. I’m looking at you, Geoff, though of course the legislative reform I have in mind wouldn’t necessarily have to target Monsieur Chambres by name. Meanwhile, we should take the unprecedented step of cleansing the OP from the internet before it lures another unsuspecting reader into reading it despite not caring about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  50. Brad
    Commenting on an article more than three days old is what’s known in the blogosphere as changing the subject. I’ve been back, read my article, and the six or so first comments be Ben and me, and skim-read Brandon’s letter. It’s all brilliant, and the second page of comments is even better, with everything Jaime and I said about Skripal and Syria being confirmed by events in the six intervening months.

    Blogging and tweeting is not like thinking and writing. It’s more like some Greek colonist in Egypt wrapping his mummified pet crocodile in bits of old papyrus, to be dug out of a rubbish dump two thousand years later. From:

    Since 1898 academics have puzzled together and transcribed over 5000 documents from what were originally hundreds of boxes of papyrus fragments the size of large cornflakes. This is thought to represent only 1 to 2 percent of what is estimated to be at least half a million papyri still remaining to be conserved, transcribed, deciphered and catalogued.

    We at Cliscep should be proud of the cornflakes we are bequeathing to posterity.

    Liked by 1 person

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