Syria and Conspiracy Theories

My recent article on Brandon Shollenberger’s objections to Steve McIntyre’s position on non-climate matters led to a large number of comments, culminating in an on-going discussion between Ben Pile, Alan Kendall, Richard Drake and me which includes angry exchanges but a lot of agreement.

There is a strong probability that the climate story will be pushed into the background by more conventional geo-political concerns over the next few months or years, including war hysteria, and all the accompanying symptoms of irrationality, including race- culture- and religion-based hatred, and maybe war itself.

At least it will make a change from the climate wars. Instead of discussing how many millions of deaths may result from some hypothetical model-based temperature rise, we’ll have real live deaths, resulting from a real war, supported by real politicians, academics and media persons, all members of the élite of the most educated, civilised society ever. Those who oppose, or even question the need for such a war have already been branded as denialists and conspiracy theorists by the media’s favourite warmongers. The tools fashioned by Lewandowsky and his media acolytes in the climate combat are being sharpened to be used against a quite different target.

Steve McIntyre has an extraordinarily thorough post up at Climate Audit on the photos and videos out of Douma, Syria. I’ve been following the story as best I can on a number of sites, some of them from the Middle East, some by ex-members of the US Army or intelligence services, some of them pro-Russian, some virulently anti-Zionist, others anti-war and almost all anti-mainstream media.

Alongside (but apart from) the story about the photos and videos which Steve has analysed so thoroughly, there’s the story of the media commentary, much of which is of a kind all too familiar to climate sceptics. I started with an analysis of the media treatment of the Douma poison gas story to be found at Media Lens here and here.

Their first article begins:

UK corporate media are under a curious kind of military occupation. Almost all print and broadcast media now employ a number of reporters and commentators who are relentless and determined warmongers. Despite the long, unarguable history of US-UK lying on war, and the catastrophic results, these journalists instantly confirm the veracity of atrocity claims made against Official Enemies, while having little or nothing to say about the proven crimes of the US, UK, Israel and their allies. They shriek with a level of moral outrage from which their own government is forever spared…

Anyone who challenges this strange bias is branded a ‘denier’, ‘pro-Saddam’, ‘pro-Gaddafi, ‘pro-Assad’. Above all, one robotically repeated word is generated again and again: ‘Apologist… Apologist… Apologist’.

The article links to an article by Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland, who says:

Besides, how much evidence do we need?… To all but the most committed denialists and conspiracists, Assad’s guilt is clear. The notion of inaction, of standing by and watching as Assad kills and kills and kills, racking up a death toll in Syria of 500,000 and turning millions into refugees – that prospect too should sicken us. And yet that’s what we’ve done. For seven slow years, Assad has been allowed to play butcher, uninterrupted in his work as he cuts down the people of his own country, with barely a hand raised to stop him.

The idea that Assad is responsible for the deaths, not only of those killed in the course of his own brutal but legitimate defence of his regime, but also of those killed by his opponents, (often ISIS and Al-Qaeda-linked groups financed by the West) not to mention those killed in our bombardments, is announced as an evident truth. It has its equivalent in the climate wars in the claim that deaths from causes linked in some way to temperature (e.g. from malaria) can be attributed to climate change, when, in a rational world, resources wasted on futile attempts to regulate climate change would be redirected to fighting malaria. Far from “barely a hand being raised” against Assad, we have spent billions financing his opponents in a successful attempt to butcher even more Syrians than he would have done on his own.

Freedland continues:

For the parent of a murdered Syrian child, the current western focus on the exact method of murder must feel strange. As if Assad was well within his rights to slaughter innocents using regular bombs, and his only offence was to use chlorine or sarin, inflicting a death so painful the footage is unbearable to watch.

Freedland’s more clearminded colleague Simon Jenkins has pointed out that the reason we see pictures of babies supposedly murdered by Assad’s poison gas and not photos of babies torn to bits by British bombs is precisely because they are notunbearable to watch.” The linked photo of a baby having an asthma inhaler shoved in its mouth is only unbearable if you think you know what it means. But Freedland doesn’t know, and he’s not interested in making you think.

Under the link to the photo of the baby being treated for asthma, a commenter links to this video. Dating from 3 sept. 2017, it’s titled:

Terrorists Teach Children How to Fake a Chemical Attack

The terrorist organisation that labels themselves as “democratic” and “secular” aka the FREE SYRIAN ARMY have taught children how to stage a chemical attack as more Anti-Assad propaganda to legitimise their “cause”. This occurred in Rebel Held Kafr Batna the same location as the “2013 Chemical Attack”. The parents and kids were told it was done for comedic and fun purposes…

Only 2642 people have seen this video, according to Youtube. Watch it, if you don’t mind being immediately identified as a terrorist suspect by our democratic security servers services. It’s only unbearable to watch if you think hard about what it means. Which explains why I haven’t seen it on our mainstream media, which are designed to filter out anything which might encourage us to think hard.

The Medialens article continues with an analysis of a series of tweets by George Monbiot.

Just three days after the alleged attack, the Guardian’s George Monbiot said:

‘The chemical weapons attacks and other atrocities of the Assad government are war crimes, plain and simple. But an attack by US forces will do nothing to improve the plight of ‪Syria’s people. Military intervention there, by any nation, compounds the disaster.’

He was asked about Douma: ‘Don’t you smell a set up here though? Craig Murray doesn’t think Assad did it.’

Monbiot replied: ‘Then he’s a fool.’

Kirk asks: ‘And we should trust media after Iraq 2003 and latest Skripal case?’

But Monbiot doesn’t reply.

Amanda Martin says: ‘Not the response I was hoping for’

But Monbiot doesn’t reply.

Mr Ivan Johnson says: ‘George, can anyone explain properly why Assad would choose this time to use chemical weapons? What on earth sense does it make?’

But Monbiot doesn’t reply.

James Gerrard says: ‘What I’d like to see is some evidence.’

George Monbiot replies: ‘If you haven’t seen it, you’re not looking.’

James Gerrard says: ‘Where is it?’

George Monbiot replies: ‘Start with the OPCW’

James Gerrard says: I assume you are talking about mondays press release? Unless you have heard further from OPCW?’

Binomo Shpakova says: ‘The report states that ‘chemical weapons have been used’ but it DOESN’T state ‘who’ used them!’

Then Monbiot said:“Er, I was talking about all Assad’s chemical attacks.”

[Sorry, I can’t find it now. Good Gaia why does anyone use TWITTER, this multi billion dollar mass of avian poo run by people who openly treat its users as birdbrained manufacturers of profitable guano?]

I climbed back on my perch and kept pecking around pointlessly here and bumped into George again, who was burbling about the proprietor of the Daily Mail seventy years ago being a Nazi. Then some crazed lunatic called Leo Hickman pointed out that in 1910 the Daily Mail was in favour of renewable energy. Let me out of here.

Back to the Media Lens article, which links to an article by Olivia Solon, the Guardian’s senior technology reporter in San Francisco, no less, which begins:

The Russia-backed campaign to link the volunteer rescuers with al-Qaida exposes how conspiracy theories take root: ‘It’s like a factory’

The Syrian volunteer rescue workers known as the White Helmets have become the target of an extraordinary disinformation campaign that positions them as an al-Qaida-linked terrorist organisation. The Guardian has uncovered how this counter-narrative is propagated online by a network of anti-imperialist activists, conspiracy theorists and trolls with the support of the Russian government (which provides military support to the Syrian regime).

The phrase “conspiracy theorists” links to an article by George Monbiot about the Khan Shaykhun poisoned gas attack a year ago. Monbiot points out, perfectly reasonably, that The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) found evidence for Sarin gas, and that the Guardian’s own on the spot report discredited theories that the gas attack might have been provoked by rebels or caused by accidental bombardment of gas stocks. Monbiot makes out a convincing case for the attack being the work of Syrian government forces, debunking John Pilger, Noam Chomsky, and Seymour Hersh on the way for putting trust in the work of retired professor Theodore Postol of MIT, who in turn relies on Syrian blogger Mimi Al-Laham aka Partisan Girl. According to Monbiot she is a loyalist of the Assad government who has appeared on podcasts hosted by David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Monbiot concludes his article:

Scepticism of all official claims is essential, especially when they involve weapons of mass destruction, and especially when they are used as a pretext for military action… But I also believe there is a difference between scepticism and denial. While in the fog of war, there will always be some doubt, as the OPCW’s report acknowledges, there is no evidence to support the competing theories of what happened at Khan Shaykhun…

Politics in the US and elsewhere is now dominated by wild conspiracy theories and paranoia – the narrative platform from which fascism arises. This… presents an urgent threat to democracy. If the scourges of establishment propaganda promote, even unwittingly, groundless stories developed by the “alt right”, we are in deeper trouble…

Monbiot uses two separate lines of argument here; the first (valid) is based on the conclusions of the OPCW and an eyewitness report from the scene; the second (invalid) is that John Pilger, Noam Chomsky, and Seymour Hersh are unwittingly promoting groundless stories developed by the “alt right”, and that they cannot be believed because they quote someone who quotes someone who once appeared on a podcast with the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Curiously, this is exactly the same method of argument that he used years ago to counter the climate scepticism of Alexander Cockburn, brother of the Independent’s veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn, and founder of the leftwing site Counterpunch. (Cockburn died in 2012 and Counterpunch’s current articles on climate change are pure far-green lunatic fringe doomerism.) Counterpunch’s political articles are also tending towards the official centre left occupied by the Guardian and the other mainstream media which Counterpunch was formed to oppose, sometimes using the same tactics as Monbiot: appeal to authority, suspicion of eyewitness reports from respectable journalists with solid leftwing credentials because of the company they keep; and accusations of conspiracy theorising. This article by Sonali Kolhatkar takes Robert Fisk to task for recounting what he saw and heard, rather than toeing the official line:

Many are citing Robert Fisk’s reporting this week from Syria on a doctor who was not a witness to the attack and yet claimed that the dozens of Syrians who died were asphyxiated by dust rather than poisoned by chemicals. Fisk made no attempt to explain the many reports of a chemical smell and of white foam at the mouths of victims. His report directly contradicts that of Associated Press and Guardian newspaper journalists who managed to corroborate with multiple sources including survivors that there had been a chemical attack from the sky. Earlier investigations by Al-Jazeera and The New York Times also concluded that the claims by survivors of the attack were accurate. Are we to believe that The New York Times, Al-Jazeera, AP and The Guardian are all part of some grand conspiracy to push the U.S. to bomb targets important to Assad?

The four newspaper articles linked in the paragraph above use different sources and are posted from different countries on different dates. The Guardian and New York Times’ journalists were reporting from Beirut and Istanbul, while Associated Press and Al-Jazeeras journalists quote eyewitnesses in Douma. From the Associated Press report:

The Associated Press, during a government-organized visit Monday to Douma, spoke to survivors and witnesses who described being hit by gas. Several said a strange smell started spreading and people screamed, “It’s chlorine! It’s chlorine!”

The AP visited a two-room underground shelter where Khaled Mahmoud Nuseir said 47 people were killed, including his pregnant wife and two daughters, 18-month-old Qamar and 2 1/2-year-old Nour. A strange smell lingered, nine days after the attack.

Nuseir, 25, said he ran from the shelter to a nearby clinic and fainted. After he was revived, he returned to the shelter and found his wife and daughters dead, with foam coming from their mouths.

He and two other residents accused the rebel Army of Islam of carrying out the attack. As they spoke, government troops were not far away but out of earshot. Nuseir said a gas cylinder was found leaking the poison gas, adding that he didn’t think it was dropped from the air because it still looked intact.

Separately, the AP spoke to a medic who was among those who later were evacuated to northern Syria. Ahmed Abed al-Nafaa said helicopters were flying before the attack and when he reached the site, people were screaming “chlorine.” He said he tried to enter the shelter but was overcome by a strong smell of chlorine and his comrades pulled him out.

Al-Jazeera’s report, dated 8th of April, the day after the attack, quotes two eyewitnesses at length:

“I lost consciousness. I couldn’t breathe any more; it was like my lungs were shutting down … I woke up about 30 minutes later and they had undressed me and were washing my body with water,” Abu Jaafar told Al Jazeera on Sunday. “They were trying to make me vomit as my mouth was emitting a yellow substance… While people were in the shelters, some on the roof managed to see the gas bombs as they dropped from the planes,” Abu Jaafar said, describing what he said was green gas emanating from the canisters falling from the sky.

Local activist Alaa Abu Yasser was also among those who tried to help evacuate people.

“I went to a building where about 35 people had died as a result of this attack; the scenes I saw were unbearable, it’s like nothing I have ever seen even in the movies,” he told Al Jazeera, describing the aftermath of the attack. “As I approached the building, a father was crying hysterically as he dragged his feet towards us carrying his two children … he was hugging them, smelling and kissing them after they suffocated to death,” Abu Yasser added… “When we arrived to the roof of the building I was helping at, I saw the lifeless bodies of a mother in her 50s, with two of her adult daughters and a child with their arms around each other, all foaming at the mouth,” said Abu Yasser.

The New York Times report posted from Beirut on April 11th, claims to be based on a dozen eyewitness accounts, apparently gathered by telephone, and including one from a member of the White Helmets, with graphic details of the effects of the gas, including muscle spasms, coughing up blood, and burned corneas.

The Guardian’s report, ten days after the attack, and posted from Beirut and Istanbul, merely quotes doctors from aid agencies present in Douma claiming that witnesses and victims are being intimidated and threatened by the Syrian authorities to prevent them from giving true accounts of the attack.

The four articles linked to in the Counterpunch article, which are said to ‘directly contradict’ Robert Fisk, who interviewed inhabitants some days later and found no evidence of a gas attack, contain just three eyewitness reports gathered on the spot. (The AP has a fourth interview with a medic who had been evacuated together with the Jaish el-Islam fighters.) The accounts are horrifying and sound convincing, but they are contradictory, since the AP informant denies that the gas was dropped from the air and accuses Jaish el-Islam of the attack; while Al-Jazeera’s first informant claims that people on the roof saw the canisters falling with green gas emanating from them.

Curiously, the very graphic nature of the eyewitness accounts, with their descriptions of total panic and confusion and horrible symptoms (muscle spasms, coughing blood and vomit, burned corneas) makes the videos seem even less convincing. Whoever filmed them was obviously thinking of their propaganda value, otherwise why not drop the camera and either help the victims, or just flee? Yet they look so orderly, nothing like the many amateur films we’ve seen of the aftermath of terrorist attacks, with people running in all directions, including the camera operator, and the dead and wounded scattered haphazardly.

Obviously no certain conclusions can be drawn from the multiple lines of evidence available to date as to what happened at Douma. I certainly don’t know, any more than I know the correct figure for equilibrium climate sensitivity, though simple logic suggests that either our governments or the Russians and Syrians are engaged in a deliberate campaign of lying. However, a conclusion can be drawn about the media coverage. Accusations of conspiracy theorising are the first resort of the mind that cannot bear doubt or uncertainty. There seem to be many minds like that, and when they all think alike, they can be incredibly dangerous.


  1. There is too much here for my tired brain. But Freedland’s

    To all but the most committed denialists and conspiracists, Assad’s guilt is clear.

    is worth the price of admission on its own. And this conclusion Geoff

    Accusations of conspiracy theorising are the first resort of the mind that cannot bear doubt or uncertainty. There seem to be many minds like that, and when they all think alike, they can be incredibly dangerous.

    seems borne out by history. So thanks. I expect I’ll be in touch.


  2. Because I am mentioned in the lead-in to this post, I want to clarify something it says:

    My recent article on Brandon Shollenberger’s objections to Steve McIntyre’s position on non-climate matters led to a large number of comments

    What objections I have are not about anyone’s position on anything. They are about the ways Steve McIntyre’s behavior in regard to positions, including on climate matters. For instance, one of the first exchanges between us which got testy stemmed from McIntyre and I discussing the zombie Gergis et al paper to figure out issues with what the authors did. During our discussion, I informed him I was unable to replicate some of his results and asked for information to verify we were using the same data/methodology, several times. He never provided it, and a while later, he wrote a blog post about the paper. Upon examining his post, I realized he had used the wrong temperature dataset. He got testy with me when I wrote a blog post about this (and several other issues), saying I should have contacted him first. He then chose not to correct his error, and to this day, he has left it on his site.

    I don’t mind if people hold positions I believe are wrong. What I object to people behaving in inappropriate ways. It just so happens McIntyre behaves in inappropriate ways to justify his position on a number of non-climate matters. That’s probably all I’ll say on this post. Carefully parsing McIntyre’s writing to detail his errors in the past has accomplished nothing, and I really don’t care to look at pictures of dead bodies to do it again when I know nothing would come of it.


  3. Brandon
    OK, I take your point that your disagreements with McIntyre are wider than my characterisation as “objections to Steve McIntyre’s position on non-climate matters.” But this thread is not about McIntyre. I was merely referring readers to where our discussion about the media treatment of the Syria question began, in discussion under the post entitled “Brandon Shollenberger to Steve McIntyre.”

    Incidentally, if anyone has concrete analysis of the photos and videos, (as opposed to simply opinions) that might be better placed under Steve McIntyre’s article. There’s a lot of useful things that could be said about the media’s use of verbal and visual testimony. This overlong article has only scratched the surface, because I wanted to concentrate on the use of the “conspiracy theory” meme we’re so familiar with.


  4. Geoff. Thank you for your ordered (well as far as possible) treatment of this affair. From it I propose there is yet another interpretation. On balance evidence exists for a chemical weapon attack (by whom is impossible at the moment to determine) but the video is suspicious on several grounds. What if the attack happened but no one at the time was in a position to document it? What if the video were fake but is an attempt to recreate what occurred (for propaganda purposes)? This hypothesis appears to accommodate much of the evidence available at the time and deduced subsequently. It does not bear on the questions of 1. who perpetrated the crime, which may ever be obscured by subsequent misinformation perpetrated on all sides, and 2. why? My biases suggest elements of the Syrian state army (without government control) or rebels on site trying to cast blame on the government. I see no reason for government involvement in approving deployment of a weapon which would convey no advantage at that final stage of the conflict and every disadvantage. But who can tell?


  5. ‘Obviously no certain conclusions can be drawn from the multiple lines of evidence available
    to date as to what happened at Douma.’ Nope.


  6. Ambiguity befrocks you, flower of the turnip field.
    Do you agree with the quotation or do you disagree?
    ‘Nope’ could be construed as “yep”
    Yep, indeed
    But then again, nope.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “Countries don’t have permanent enemies or friends, they just have interests.”

    Taking Palmerston’s maxim on board what is the West doing? We’ve toppled Hussein, who was no credible threat to the West and ran a secular country. We toppled Ghaddaffi at the point he changed sides and began to co-operate with the West, and we’re trying to topple Assad, who ran a secular country and was not, as far as I’m aware a danger to the West. Moreover, we’re doing this by supporting our sworn enemies, ISIS/Al Qaeda. What is going on?

    I doubt we’ll know whether it was the Syrians who made the attack or the rebels who faked it, in the shot term at least, but as with all these things if there’s a lack of evidence one way or the other, it’s best to ask “cui bono”. I can see no possible reason for Assad to use chemical weapons at this stage in the conflict. However, drawing the West into the conflict will advantage “our sworn enemies”. I think Steve Mc has a point.

    Brandon, chill out man. You come across as a po-faced nit-picker, obsessed with Steve McIntyre, for whom the tiniest mistake is a massive blunder. I’m sure you’re not, but that’s the way your presenting yourself.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Geoff Chambers:

    OK, I take your point that your disagreements with McIntyre are wider than my characterisation as “objections to Steve McIntyre’s position on non-climate matters.” But this thread is not about McIntyre.

    I understand, and I don’t wish to derail the discussion you’re creating. I just saw that intro and thought it’d be good to clarify things. I don’t think it has an impact on the rest of what you said. I just didn’t want people to get the wrong impression.


  9. On how to become known as a denier (or denialist) back in the climate scene I was highly amused by this yesterday, which I’d missed last month:

    It also I think points to some differences between climate and Syria. There really isn’t a single figure of such gigantic ego, occupying such a significant place in the intellectual landscape, in Syria consensus enforcement. It’s a much bigger field of dreams and nightmares. Also yesterday I stumbled across this (via Twitter, understandably hated by our respected original poster): a pretty interesting opinion poll from Quinnipiac University in Connecticut with this top-level finding:

    American voters approve 52 – 42 percent of the way President Donald Trump is handling the nation’s policy toward North Korea, and support 61 – 30 percent the military action against Syria after the alleged use of chemical weapons.

    But then I myself was pretty delighted by the military action – because it was so limited and seemed to have been agreed with the Russians beforehand, rather than risking a much bigger conflagration. I explained a little more why exactly two weeks ago, echoing Moon of Alabama’s “Manipulated Videos Fail To Launch World War III”.

    I hint at other nuances in that small comment. But nuance is what always seems to be lost when people take refuge in declaring their opponents to be conspiracy theorists and nothing else. I’ve given up commenting on Steve’s thread for the moment, for precisely this reason.


  10. Geronimo:

    Brandon, chill out man. You come across as a po-faced nit-picker, obsessed with Steve McIntyre, for whom the tiniest mistake is a massive blunder. I’m sure you’re not, but that’s the way your presenting yourself.

    I have to say, this sort of response baffles me. I used no rhetoric in my comment. I used no insults and made no attacks. The tone of my comment was far tamer than that of the average comment/post on this site. An inaccurate characterization of me was used in the intro of this post. I commented in a neutral manner to clarify it. I don’t know what you would have preferred me do.

    What I do know is I’m struck by a strange parallel here. one of the most common criticisms Steve McIntyre received over the years is that he’s (supposedly) just a nitpicker looking for any error, no matter how small, to portray as a colossal mistake. Given that, your comment makes me chuckle.

    Anyway, I probably shouldn’t have responded to this comment. This post isn’t about me. It just feels really weird to be told to “chill out” on a site with so much hostility for a comment which was incredibly tame.


  11. Brandon: This does remind me of the scene in Fawlty Towers, after a severe warning from the health inspector, and a second inspection imminent, when the chef says to Basil: “Take it easy, Mr Fawlty” and gets a fierce response from the manic proprietor. “I don’t pay you to tell me to take it easy” etc. Let me say instead that it’s good you care, not least about Syria, because the wrong moves there could lead to massive, further human suffering, very quickly. We do need multiple perspectives and genuinely to be able to listen to them. I think Geoff’s post is partly about that.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Now, now, Richard, you’re not being a team player. That last comment of yours failed to live up to the abrasive tone of the “average comment/post on this site”. Please try harder.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Someone probably said ‘evidence’.

    What Monbiot’s comments reveal are merely that he is certain that Assad is a very bad man. Also that Putin is a very bad man. This seems to lead to his certainty that the chemical attack in Douma ‘happened’, because it certainly seems to have happened before that chemical weapons have been used, probably by Assad, and that even if that is not true, it is more certainly the case that he has done other terrible things. And there is video evidence: i) dead children ii) very much alive children being doused with water and being treated with Ventolin, looking terrified because they have just been attacked with chemical weapons (and/or cold water and Ventolin).

    The problem I have always perceived with claims that there is global warming is that it is precisely the same exhibit that is used to make the claim would be used to argue the counter-position. That is to say that evidence simply does not speak. This is not idle metaphysical philosophising. What counts is how arguments are constructed to understand ‘evidence’: either by Chicken Littles extrapolating from 0.1 degrees/decade 1000 years into the future, or by sceptics who can interpret the same evidence differently.

    The videos are “evidence” for the account that Assad/Syrian forces were the culprit AND that nothing happened, and the events were staged to draw the US/UK/France into the conflict as it neared its conclusion — an opportunity that some people in the west needed very little persuasion to take advantage of.

    Back in the climate debate, we are constantly asked to consider the ‘balance’ of evidence, and the authority of the evidence. But I’ve never been particularly convinced of this weight of evidence, or its provenance amounting to the case for an action that climate activists demand. This has a parallel in the arguments for war:

    Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

    Would Al Qaeda buy weapons of mass destruction if they could? Certainly. Does it have the financial resources? Probably. Would it use such weapons? Definitely.

    It turns out that arguments for action don’t require evidence, much less a balance of evidence. The above quotes belong to Donald Rumsfeld and Tony Blair respectively. Both are apologies for the lack of evidence in one main argument made in the case for the War on Terror. Ditto, lack of evidence is not an impediment to action to mitigate climate change — the precautionary principle is a premise of international agreements. The remote possibility of runaway climate change has always counter for more than any plausible scientific projection of what the consequences of climate change could be.

    The putative ‘facts’ of the matter in Douma (or Salisbury, for that matter) are shadows in the cave. The question then is are there the puppet-masters, and is the suggestion that there are puppet masters a conspiracy theory?

    I think the answer comes from Slavoj Zizek who notices that Rumsfeld’s formulation omits an important category: unknown knowns. ‘Unknown knowns’ are in Zizek’s analysis ‘ideology’. ‘Ideology’ being distinct from, but not unrelated to doctrine, it is the stuff that you don’t know that you know, but figures in your estimation of the ‘balance’ of ‘evidence’ and possible courses of action, all the same.

    There is nothing, for instance, in the facts at Monbiot’s disposal which make the case against Assad (or rather the case against critics of the case against Assad) different to the case against Saddam Hussain. Saddam, too was a man we could be sure was bad — he was arguably a more ruthless dictator. And the case that he had used chemical weapons against his own population was far more concrete than the case against Assad. Yet Monbiot, back in 2004 was demanding the arrest of Tony Blair, and was denouncing the journalists such as David Rose, who made the case for war incautiously, for failing to subject the government’s case to criticism. Now Monbiot calls attempts to understand the propaganda at work an ‘apology’ for Putin, as the post above details. Something other than a simple reading of the facts is figuring in Monbiot’s thinking.

    I find the same in the climate debate. In particular, its descent to ‘science’ obscures the presuppositions that precede the science, logically and historically. It is ‘better’, on the green view, to mitigate the unknown of climate change just as it is ‘better’, on the hawkish view, to prosecute a war against stone-age militants than to face the unknown of their actions were they to find themselves a nasty bomb, no matter the remoteness of either unknown case. Indeed charts show us incontrovertible proof that warming is occurring. And the events of 9-11 show us that terrorists are (or were) real. To ask questions about the magnitude of those real things, and the necessity of the imperatives their reality creates, and the effectiveness of the response to the imperative is equivalently ‘denial’. The ideology of it is plain, yet it is the discussion of the ‘science’ which dominates. As long as the conversation is constrained by ‘science’, the fact of ideology, not the facts themselves determining what is ‘better’ cannot emerge.

    All of which is somewhat moot if, as I suspect, the pernicious consequence of Nato’s ‘ideology’ is such that war with Russia is already all but decided on. It is, after all, in its ‘DNA’ for almost as long since the end of the cold war as the cold war itself. The point here being not that Boris Johnson and Theresa May are the puppet masters, but that they are fantastically stupid individuals swept up by history into believing themselves equal to the roles they occupy. They are the prisoners in the cave, looking at shadows of themselves, the puppetmasters. A bit like Monbiot, whose opinionating sheds no more light on the world than his figurative head up his arse can perceive up there: there are not even shadows to make sense of, much less ‘facts’.

    If that sounds too much, consider that it was only recently that May and Johnson’s predecessors had convinced themselves that they could spread democracy with bombs, only to unleash ISIS, and that the combined thinking power of all the institutions in the West has not yielded any lasting lesson to its governments about their interventions. It is going to take a much deeper shock than Brexit to shake it out.

    Evidence, shmevidence. The only solution to the blustering morons and their peddling in non-factual speculation and intrigue is a free press, free speech and more democratic control of political power. On which point, Craig Murray’s latest blog post points out that the Government placed a D-Notice over the entire press, precluding any investigation of the facts in Salisbury. What follows the observation might be considered speculation itself, but for the fact that the D-notice precludes observing the proximity of Skripal’s MI6 handler and the author of the dossier on Trump’s piss-fetish, ex-spy, Christopher Steele. This, suggests Murray and another former civil servant, is motive for the poisoning, if the implication is that Skripal himself provided the false information. Speculation, perhaps. But speculation that becomes significant after the fact of the D-notice.

    It was, after all, members of the ‘intelligence community’ which fell for the pissgate story. And journalists who shared it gleefully. And it was the intelligence community including in the USA, and and other Western governments which are at odds with Trump, who was, until the bombing, threatening to pull the US out of its conflicts, and was seemingly Putin’s bitch, the Russians having hacked British and American democracy and financed Brexit (according to the disemvowled and brainless Observer hack Carole Cadwalladr). It’s in their DNA, after all. And they are, all of them, monumentally stupid and out of control.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Responding to allegations that he is an ‘apologist’ for Assad, Peter Hitchens has tweeted a link to an article he wrote in 2013, after he had been accused of precisely the same, which compiles sections of his earlier articles on Syria that show he is no such thing. It demonstrates the utter intellectual poverty of those entering the public discussion about CWs and foreign policy on the hawkish side.

    This, I found to be the most prescient:

    17th April 2011

    WHY do dictators refuse to quit? Simple. They see what happens to those who give up. Nicolae Ceausescu was killed after a kangaroo trial. Erich Honecker was hounded from country to country until he died of cancer. Slobodan Milosevic was locked up until he died. Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak is now under arrest and his sons in jail. Are they wishing that – like the rulers of Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria – they had killed more of their own people and stuck it out? I wouldn’t be surprised. If the ‘West’ really wants Colonel Gaddafi to go, it would be wise to give him an easy exit.

    Hilary Clinton later that year said of Gaddafi, ‘we came, we saw, he died’.

    Here is the moment that elicits so much glee from Clinton.

    That is regime change. Now Libya was surely liberated by Nato. You can buy slaves in Libya now, such is the freedom Nato bombs brought to Libya that day.

    This is Putin’s comments, also prescient, from earlier that year.

    Given how events unfolded, is it unreasonable to see Putin’s as the clearer foresight, and his support of the Syrian regime the better foreign policy than any Nato leader’s?

    That isn’t ‘pro-Putin’. It is a statement about how low UK foreign policy has sunk.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. I suspect the “gas attacks” are all false flag. And the attack that destroyed two empty warehouses and a few buildings was a huge waste of money. The US should stop getting involved in the Middle East, everything it does seems intended to favor Israeli interests and has nothing to do with democracy, freedom, or the american way of life.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. The Craig Murray article Ben mentions in the first of his posts above (2nd to last para) is at
    It’s a conspiracy theory, and a good one.

    On Ben’s analysis of the similarities between the defences of the official positions on climate and on Syria, I’m less convinced, particularly by the claim, if I’ve understood him, that the same evidence can be used on both sides with equal ease. Tackling climate change and sending our gallant boys to be deployed losing wars in a dozen unimportant countries at once, are two competing geopolitical gambits to keep our rulers and their fans busy. (Keeping us wealthy by saving the banks and using public debt to keep up share prices is another.)

    Certainly, stupid people can claim that evidence for something is evidence for its opposite, that a graph showing 1°C/decade temperature rise is evidence for catastrophe, or that a video of people washing themselves in panic is evidence of a gas attack. What something is evidence for can only be decided by reasoned argument, and when you see one side refusing reasoned argument, either by slapping a D notice on the press, or by turning their opponents into non-persons, rationally speaking, by slapping the label of conspiracy theorist on them, then that is evidence too.

    The similarities I see are in the use of language to de-legitimise opponents. “Conspiracy theorist” has become a buzz word for the powerful to excuse their lack of arguments. Buzzwords fall out of fashion when they’re overused. Maybe we can help to make people bored with it.


  17. We must always choose common sense and rationality over unguided emotion, illogicality and virtue signalling, even if that means we must sometimes tread where angels fear. Angels are not all they’re cracked up to be to be honest and demons are not quite as demonic as the Good Book tells us. If we don’t dare follow truth into darker places, and have the fortitude and strength of character to keep our wits about us, then we are lost, utterly and completely.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Sounds good Jaime, suitable for a sermon or a school assembly, but what does it mean? We commonly balk from angel-free pathways and indulge in unguided emotion, illogicality and virtue signalling, yet we muddle through. We don’t irredeemably lose ourselves. Yet others, through no fault of their own, and despite choosing common sense and rationality, become lost, utterly and completely. The universe is not fair.
    I suppose what you are saying is that we are less likely to understand without rational commonsense. It is inconvenient that there are instances where this is patently untrue. Climate science and policy provides instances galore.


  19. I agree with Jaime, except I think the Good Book is even better than she implies and could be made to provide support for her view. But, please calm down in the expensive seats, I won’t enter into the hermeneutics here.

    Instead there’s this from Syrian ‘omar lababidi’ on Climate Audit:

    yes assad is a war criminal and dictator, but he is currently what you say the lesser of two evils

    a point somehow made more powerful by the slightly broken English. As I read Omar’s various contributions I was glad I hadn’t added anything myself for a while. Nor has Steve. Read into that whatever you will.

    Also today Fox News is reporting

    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday offered strong support for long-time U.S. ally Israel during his first official international trip as the country’s top diplomat, saying the two countries’ relationship “has never been stronger.”

    Pompeo spoke in Tel Aviv after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss critical issues like the threat of Iran.

    “We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s dangerous escalation of threats to Israel and the region and Iran’s ambition to dominate the Middle East remains,” Pompeo said while standing next to Netanyahu. “The United States is with Israel in this fight.”

    Pompeo also said the U.S. will withdraw from the international nuclear agreement with Iran if it is not renegotiated. Netanyahu has long urged the international community to revise the deal or scrap it.

    Pompeo said President Trump has made clear that the deal is “deeply flawed” and that he’s going to withdraw if he cannot fix it.

    Trump has set a May 12 deadline to decide whether to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal — something he appears likely to do despite heavy pressure to stay from European and other parties.

    Pompeo also said Sunday that the United States still intends to open its new embassy on May 14 in Jerusalem, marking a significant shift in decades of American policy toward Israel and the Palestinians, who also claim the holy city as their capital.

    Trump has tried during his adminstration — even during the presidential campaign — to strenghten U.S. relations with Israel, after what was considered a strained relation under former President Barack Obama.

    And he called upon Israel and the Palestinians to continue to work together to try to achieve lasting peace.

    Pompeo was in Israel as part of a multi-nation trip that also included stops in Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

    Netanyahu did not speak in front of reporters while with Pompeo, but his office issued a statement saying he congratulated Pompeo on his new post, after serving as CIA director, and welcomed his visit.

    “We are very proud of the fact that this is your first visit as secretary of state,” Netanyahu said.

    Sorry for the length of that but it seems important and relevant. This from Peter Hitchens on 18th April is even longer but gives the complex context for what’s happening in Syria better than anything else I’ve read:

    Imagine this frightening possibility, which arises from that rush to act without facts, on the basis of unverified and unverifiable reports. Might this be a temptation to those who oppose President Assad, to fake such attacks in future? If these major nations will act in defiance of law, and without waiting for verification, this must surely be such a temptation to any cynical person, and I think we may assume there are some cynical people in this conflict on both sides.

    If they can get the USA, Britain and France directly embroiled in the Syrian civil war, who will pay much attention if a month later the OPCW produces an inconclusive report? Certainly not the politicians and media who cheered on the attack. The OPCW will find its report covered sketchily on page 94 of the unpopular papers, and probably nowhere else except here. And if the resulting attacks lead to direct entanglements between western forces and those of Russia and Iran, then we will be well on the way to a regional war pregnant with the possibilities of world war, a new 1914 in which Iran and Saudi Arabia stand in for Germany and Russia, and the rest of the world eventually piles in, and then cannot find any way out again.

    This region is a tangle of bizarre alliances of convenience, but they all revolve around Saudi Arabia’s furious, sectarian loathing of Iran. My own personal view, based on a visit to Iran is that Iran is not the aggressor in this quarrel, not least because Shia Islam, despite the efforts of Ayatollah Khomeini, is fundamentally not a warlike creed, and the appalling cost of the ‘imposed war’ with Iraq still haunts Iranian politics and culture. The war cemeteries near Teheran are as vast and distressing as the First World War graveyards of the Somme. And a lot newer. Plenty of Iranian people still in the midst of active lives have relatives lying in those enormous graveyards. Unpolitical Iranians unsympathetic to the regime, to my personal knowledge, are overpoweringly moved by them

    But many other factors are involved. Iran’s defence of its Syrian ally has brought into even closer friendship with the Hizbollah militias who have done much of the fighting against the Saudi-backed Sunni militias in Syria. Some reports say that Israel’s attack on Syria last week had more to do with Israeli fears that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is seeking to install serious air defences covering its bases in Syria, than in any retaliation for Douma.

    Israel (in my view wholly mistakenly) is preoccupied almost beyond reason with an alleged threat from Iran, and this has brought Jerusalem into a sort of informal alliance with, of all people, Saudi Arabia. It has also done great damage to what until recently was one of the most fascinating diplomatic rapprochements in modern history, the remarkably warm friendship between Moscow and Jerusalem, much encouraged by Vladimir Putin. But last week’s Israeli attack on the Iranians in Syria greatly annoyed the Kremlin, which values its close ties with Teheran.

    This is perhaps why the USA is so reluctant to leave Syria alone. President Trump seems to have accepted the Netanyahu vision of the Middle East, in which Iran is the great threat, and is seeking power in Syria and Lebanon so as to threaten Israel. And this vision is the likely source of the growing readiness of the USA to get and stay involved in the area, with France and Britain the fifth and six wheels in its military cart, reliable cover for whenever the USA is accused of acting in its own interests rather than for some grand global ideal.

    The paradox of this is that the USA is acting for a global ideal, is genuinely persuaded that its interventions in this area are aimed at some sort of common good. I suspect they are intended to eliminate the (undoubtedly nasty) Iranian regime. Well, the Iraq war was aimed at the elimination of the undoubtedly nasty Saddam Hussein. And look where that got us). Saddam was indeed eliminated, but at a price we are still paying. Likewise the undoubtedly nasty Gadaffi was eliminated in Libya. But his replacements were no nicer. And the ultimate price of both these things together, the unprecedented movement of people in search of better safer lives which they created, will probably be the continued maintenance of Europe as a post-Christian pluralist continent.

    So the USA’s interests, and those of the people of the fast-declining western world, are not served by this belligerence. A major war in the Middle East, one with more danger of going nuclear than any in modern times and one which will quite possibly spread to Europe, will end with only one victor, China, just as the USA was the great beneficiary of Britain’s and France’s attempts to maintain their dying greatness a century ago. And China watches, interested and amazed at our folly, as we talk ourselves into this.

    And this, by the way, is the same journalist on the climate debate, having already mentioned the Good Book, Lord Lawson and the BBC, quite properly in that order, in April 2014:

    As for their use of the phrase ‘climate change denier’, that is just disreputable. The expression is doubly false. Nobody denies that the climate changes. It’s a proven fact that it has done many times. The question is whether it is changing as dramatically as the zealots predict, and whether this is caused by human activity. To be a ‘denier’ is a) to be a person who refuses to accept a proven fact, which nobody is doing and b) to be smeared by association with Holocaust deniers, who *do* deny a proven fact, and do so for disgraceful reasons. This, as John Henry Newman once said in another context, is not just the rough and tumble of robust debate. It is poisoning the wells.

    Hitchens is prepared to criticise Israel but it seems to me he does so out of the same love that calls Holocaust denial disgraceful here. I’m not sure where exactly I come down myself on the West’s involvement in the Middle East. But the courage Hitchens shows, and that Jaime says, in effect, is essential, I’m sure is.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Unlike the pictures from “Dachau”- was liberated 73 years ago ”
    the pictures from the Douma incident seem staged. Committing US personal to any side of the conflict in Syria without having rock solid evidence seems a foolish move to me.

    Per my mom, my great uncle was gassed just before the Armistice back in 1918. He clung to life for about a week before succumbing to the effects of breathing in mustard gas. Today is the annual “Day of Remembrance for all victims of Chemical Warfare”.

    I’d hate to think we would commit to sending great uncle Samuel’s relatives to a conflict in the Middle East, given the questionable evidence for our getting involved, around the same time we are getting ready to finally negotiate an end to the Korean conflict.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. There surely are a lot of words up there. I liked “real live deaths” the best. succinct.


    Apologies for the number of words. Others on this thread have been quite prolix too, but always civilised. Your conciseness I put down to you being perpetually stuck in a hurricane off the Georgia Sea Islands. Bon retour.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I should just elucidate my rather dramatic description of ‘lost, utterly and completely’ for the benefit of Alan. Individually, spiritually, as human beings, perhaps we will never be lost utterly and completely by engaging in or supporting the kind of mindless virtue signaling and knee jerk reactive international politics we have seen illustrated in the Douma and Salisbury affairs. But, as a society? I wonder. From Richard’s excellent comment above, Hitchens says:

    “Well, the Iraq war was aimed at the elimination of the undoubtedly nasty Saddam Hussein. (And look where that got us). Saddam was indeed eliminated, but at a price we are still paying. Likewise the undoubtedly nasty Gadaffi was eliminated in Libya. But his replacements were no nicer. And the ultimate price of both these things together, the unprecedented movement of people in search of better safer lives which they created, will probably be the continued maintenance of Europe as a post-Christian pluralist continent.”

    Europe as a “post-Christian pluralist continent” sounds pretty irredeemably ‘lost’ to me. Look around at the initial consequences of that progression to post-Christianity, post Western social norms in Europe. We have lost and are losing something very precious, something we took for granted, something we mistakenly thought was permanent and unassailable, something which we know as Western civilisation. Then what, when Western civilisation is gone? Islam? I doubt it is capable of forming any lasting civilising influence across the Continent of Old Europe. Hitchens again is on the money:

    “A major war in the Middle East, one with more danger of going nuclear than any in modern times and one which will quite possibly spread to Europe, will end with only one victor, China, just as the USA was the great beneficiary of Britain’s and France’s attempts to maintain their dying greatness a century ago. And China watches, interested and amazed at our folly, as we talk ourselves into this.”

    We truly will be lost, utterly and completely.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Murray adds more detail to the possibility of the role of UK ‘intelligence’ agents in the Skripal poisoning today.

    The post is a discussion on precisely what has driven Guardian hack, Luke Harding’s commentary on things Russian and Trump. Harding was the author of ‘Collusion’, which alleges just that between Russia and the Trump campaign. I had the chance to read a few pages of it at Xmas. And it is was truly dire, as was this shocking interview, in which it becomes clear that Harding hasn’t discovered anything at all, but barely has the sense to realise it.

    But when has that ever stopped a Guardian journalist? When has it ever stopped a journalist? Indeed, the point at which a journalist discovers their own ignorance tends coincide with the point at which the journalist doubles down. (Not all journalists, of course, but increasingly that is the tendency).

    The suggestion — if it is not a ‘conspiracy theory’ — is that many journalists are slightly closer to the state (some might say ‘deep state’) than we should feel comfortable with. The notion of cosy compacts between institutions that ought to be as separate as church and state, and legislature, executive and judiciary is not new to us. As we have seen, there is a revolving door between NGOs and government, and NGOs and the press, and so on, including to and from academia. All of which might be normal, above board, if it didn’t seem like the same function were being executed.

    The relationship between journalism and MI6 is at least as old as the Cold War, of course. And so is the apparent incompetence of these hacks. But Our Man in Havanna is not supposed to be a script.

    It would seem that the reason they think people are so stupid is because they themselves seem to fall for anything.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Re ‘lost!’
    History’s long review,
    we ‘ ve been up
    S-h** Creek before,
    following the gurus –
    Myth-be-devilled 20th
    century – ‘blood and soil,’
    5th century BC, myth
    of Plato’s ‘noble lie,’

    Logic of the situation,
    critical debate and
    checking evidence –
    what else is there?

    Liked by 3 people

  26. Shit Creek is now beclogged with plastic
    And fatburgs.
    Only down under
    Would it be associated
    With Poetry.

    Singer beneath bridgesl

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Actually, we’re up shit creek without a paddle because Gove banned all plastic paddles and wooden ones are like gold dust because most wood nowadays goes to make pellets for Drax. But fear not because shit creek is soon to be drained and built over as the government has ear-marked the entire floodplain for affordable housing. 🙂


  28. Flower of turnip field. Why should the rescheduling of the re-election date of Aussi state senators (1st amendment) bear upon your claim of poetic license (which I dispute)?


  29. Here’s an extract from the first five minutes of the interview posted by Ben above:

    Q: Do you think there actually was collusion?
    LH: I think we’re already across the line in terms of collusion. I think actually you have to go back to see when it began, Donald Trump’s first trip to Moscow in 1987.. and I think we can say, and I think this is something that Robertt Mueller is looking at, that there’s a kind of long term er relationship…
    Q: That’s also an assertion of the infamous Steele dossier, that there is a transactional relationship between Trump and the Kremlin and that Putin has been cultivating Trump for several years now, but explain why you think that is and why you think there’s evidence of a transactional relationship
    LH: Well, I think you just have to look at what happened. We had Donald Trump’s trip back in the kind of late cold war period, and I talk to you a whole number of sources for this book, some of them in Moscow, some in London some in Washington, some defectors. I met with Chris Steele the author of the dossier as well. And, um, I think what you have to understand is, is the fact that er the sort of Soviet state and its Russian successor is very keen on kind of cultivating people… and basically Donald Trump kind of ticked every single box, and when I was researching this, I, I, I, um tracked down the daughters of the Soviet ambassador at the time who went up to Trump Tower, flattered Trump and said “You’ve built the most wonderful building in America,” and so it goes on, and I think it’s gone through phases.. and of course we have the famous trip by Trump to Moscow in 2013 for the Miss Universe Beauty Pageant.
    Q: OK, but where then is the proof of a transactional relationship?
    LH: Well, er; I mean, there are secret meetings as the book says, which we now know about some of which we discovered in the last few months… We have four indictments from Robert Mueller…
    Q: Let me stop you there. If we have a transactional relationship with Russia going back to the late eighties as you say, why would they have needed a music publicist to set up this meeting…?
    LH: Yuh, I think, I mean, what you have to understand about Russian espionage, is

    “What you have to understand is” is Harding’s catch phrase, as “What you’re saying is…” is Cathy Newman’s, and “…Here’s Why.” appended to every other title is the signature of the Conversation. The media élite has a vocabulary when addressing us, the great unwashed, which recalls that of a primary schoolteacher who really doesn’t like children. Linguistic analysis as useful in untangling the climate story (and a host of others) as statistics or weather lore.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Alan’s reference to fatbergs (note spelling, sir) was much appreciated for the humour, thanks. But of course nobody will have missed the recent news there:

    There’s still enough economic and scientific freedom in the West (and increasingly elsewhere) to generate such solutions, as I hope this proves to be.

    There are massive challenges but, as well as the hope springing from the Good Book, properly interpreted (and isn’t that a massive get-out clause?) I strongly hold to the Tom Sowell ignorance of himself-as-an-expert theory:

    The context there was Brian Marick’s depression about responses he’s had to a new book on software engineering. I’ve only just seen from his response three days ago that I may not have helped much! Situation normal. But I don’t take on board all the pessimism I read from Hitchens, Marick, Jessop or anyone else. I’m about to hear Dambisa Moyo for the very first time for goodness sake. Moyo is over ten years younger than me, whereas Hitchens and Sowell are older, and, as before, she has some ideas:

    But edge of chaos seems right. Chinese curse or blessing in disguise?


  31. If anyone’s wondering why Ben and I are so fascinated by the Aaron Maté / Luke Harding interview which Ben posts above, and what it’s got to do with climate scepticism, try watching it, replacing the word “collusion” with “catastrophic climate change,” and you’ll see the kind of conversation any of us might have with any warmist, but never will.
    It ends like this:

    Q: I don’t think I’ve countered anything you’ve said about the state of Putin’s Russia. The issue under discussion today is whether there was collusion, the topic of your book.
    LH: Yeah, I know, but you’re clearly a kind of collusion rejectionist. I’m not sure what evidence short of Trump and Putin in the sauna together would convince you. Clearly nothing would convince you.
    Q: The question is whether there is any evidence of collusion, and I don’t see it. [screen goes blank] And it looks like Luke has logged off. Well we’ve lost Luke Harding.

    At least Luke didn’t accuse Maté of being funded by Big Gasprom.

    I’m not sure how Dambisa Moyo is going to help improve the standard of intellectual debate. Perhaps the simple fact that she’s not an English public schoolboy gives her a head start.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Being an apologist for May, Trump, Putin, Assad may be politically astute, these people are in power after all, but it does not enhance your credibility, particularly when you do not have previously demonstrated, relevant expertise.


    I’m not sure who your comment is aimed at, since no-one here has been an apologist for any of those four people.
    I’ve been demonstrating relevant expertise for about fifty years now. It’s a hobby of mine. I haven’t won any prizes for it, except the only one that’s relevant – being proved right by events.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Geoff: As pundits go Moyo is bigger than I realised, as shown by a meeting she had with President Xi (albeit with twenty other thinkers): what she reported about China’s elite attitude to things like resource scarcity was truly fascinating but I won’t even try second hand. The hour-long one-on-one with Bill Gates began with him asking her, about her first book, Dead Aid, “How does it feel to have written something that has cost tens of millions of lives?” “How dare you” – and she began to explain the experience of Zambia and her family. Whatever else, Gates’s view suggests she’s been influential. She in turn felt she’d learned something from one of his criticisms – about aid for public health. What I liked most was the genuine expressions of really different views. The white public-school educated guy behind me (going on apperances) had a go at her about the IPCC findings not really being alarming or justifying climate policies, especially given their effect on the poorest in Africa. He had a go on a number of other things. It was respectful and hard-hitting both ways. There were about half women and maybe 35% people of colour in the audience and a couple of young black women asked very good questions, one challenging Moyo’s view of what will happen with the Chinese in Africa, based on how much the world of high-tech depends on Cobalt from the DRC. I was learning a lot. She’s pessimistic about Africa and this is pretty tragic.

    It’s been a number of years since I heard Roger Pielke Jnr speak at Legatum and I was very glad to catch up this way.


    Could you tell us more, preferably in the form of an article? An audience asking intelligent questions about IPCC and cobalt is an event in itself. Being accused by Bill Gates of being a murderer in the Hitler/Stalin league is quite a claim to fame. The atmosphere must have been quite something.
    Legatum, who held the event is apparently funded by the Freedom Foundation, which is itself funded by the Legatum Foundation. I couldn’t see any indication at their website that this event was recorded or will become available in any way.


  36. Luke Harding has demonstrated expertise.

    Nick Stern has demonstrated expertise.


  37. @ben
    I don’t know about Luke Harding. Nick Stern had no track record in the economics of climate, energy or environment when he started his review, and indeed a faded record in research. He has not published original research since then, and leads a team that is rich but not particularly productive or innovative.


  38. Geoff: The atmosphere was terrific. These things are subjective but as I got up the stairs to the third floor where the drinks were being served I took in the scene and was filled with delight. I think I was the only bloke not wearing a jacket though – but I’m sure I made up for it by opening my MacBook to make notes when Dambisa got started, something few others seemed to be trying. Otherwise the tech was a mess – the amplification died early in the proceedings. On the other hand there seemed to be African-style friendliness in the large, standing-room only presentation area. Easily the most exciting policy-wonkish meetup I’ve been to.

    If I do a longer piece on it, it will be called “Curiosity more than courage” which was Moyo’s summary of her own journey, having been asked to speak on courage. In the next day or so …


  39. Another heated debate between Monbiot and Hitches, in which the former accuses the latter of ‘denying’…

    Hitchens breaks the conversation by quoting, rather than replying, which makes it difficult to follow, if like me, Monbiot blocked you a decade ago for ‘denial’.

    Interesting, not just for the popcorn factor. Monbiot is clearly out of his depth, and so has to defer to his poor understanding of the ‘weight’ of evidence, which he has a poor grasp of, and second and third hand readings of it. Monbiot believes reports of Assad’s use of CWs are ‘conclusive’.

    “I defer to the knowledge of experts, an approach you would do well to follow.”, says George. An order of claim we are familiar with. He chooses his experts carefully, the others are deniers.


  40. The affair’s symmetry with climate deepens with Mark Lynas’ intervention…


  41. Hitchens observes Monbiot’s deference. And Monbiot asks for the credentials of the experts he defers to.

    My experts are better than your experts.

    Deference is a wonderful way of not having to account for your own lack of understanding, and to avoid forming any understanding, but to hold an opinion all the same.

    It is routine in the climate debate, because it demands not merely deference in the conventional sense, but to authority, also: to obey.

    Liked by 1 person

  42. Lynas is an ‘astute’ player.

    ‘Astute’ in that he early on recognised that he would be better served cosying up to the establishment than in railing against it in the way that his crop-trashing comrades had.

    He abandoned his antipathy towards nuclear power and GM crops he says because he ‘read the science’, but another explanation is that his relationships with the Royal Society and Oxford University would not be possible while he maintained those positions. The RS had lost its own PR battle with greens over GM.

    For his nuclear and GM epiphanies, Lynas got called a ‘denier’. And this gives us the clue that his transformation was not intellectual but practical. He has not developed any understanding of the term ‘denier’. His journey was, superficially, the same as Bjorn Lomborg’s, but it caused no deeper reflection on ‘denial’ that might make him more reluctant to use it as a term of abuse.


  43. I predict that Monbiot will be drawing from the Merchants of Doubt hypothesis when he gives an account of his discussion with Hitchens…


  44. Richard (D) – the discussion between Hitchens and Monbiot drones is continuing. It is fascinating to watch the same tropes being tried in a different context. Of particular not is the logical somersaults required to argue on the authority of the putative expert consensus (‘experts agree…’), while not understanding that consensus (‘I’m not an expert and neither are you…’) , and demanding the credentials of the critic of the putative consensus (‘who are you to disagree…’).

    It is hard to know if this is new or not. It seems unlikely that it is new. I wonder, though if it is that bigotry has itself changed its home and its expression. It is the sense of entitlement that is so jarring. All the more interesting, then, that it is the religious social conservative who makes plain the absence of reason in his liberal counterparts’ thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

  45. The Hitchens-Monbiot thread has descended to abuse, with Monbiot claiming that there are “mountains” of incontrovertible evidence of Assad’s war crimes, though resistant to Hitchen’s desire to look at the evidence, and to actually weigh it to compare with a ‘mountain’.

    Meanwhile, the Graun is reporting that the Skripals received a dose of ‘Novichok’ up to 100g. Yes, that is not a typo, that is a tenth of a kilogram.

    “Skripals poisoned by novichok dose of up to 100g, watchdog says
    Quantity of nerve agent dose thought to have been used suggests it was created as a weapon”

    That is enough to kill the entire population of Salisbury (45,000), and then half again . Yet nobody has died.

    The notion that a person can survive a dose of 100g of a ‘nerve agent’ is absurd.

    The Guardian’s skewed understanding is seemingly a claim that the quantity suggests a ‘military’ source of the substance, whereas quantities of agents allowable under CW agreements limit the quantities that can be held for ‘research’ purposes.

    What is particularly concerning is that the origin of the story is ‘Ahmet Üzümcü, of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’, which suggests that the organisation’s DG is a fool.

    The story is a rewrote of an article in the NYT

    “Large Dose of Poison Used in Attack on Ex-Spy in Britain”

    It quotes him,

    — “One thing, perhaps, which is important to note is that the nerve agent seems to be very persistent,” he said. “It’s not affected by weather conditions. That explains, actually, that they were able to identify it after a considerable time lapse. We understand it was also of high purity.” —


  46. Utterly, utterly bizarre. The Russians unleash the world’s deadliest CW of mass destruction in Salisbury and it fails to ‘go off’, just making two people feel really rather unwell for a while. We’re also told now that it’s weather proof, whereas a few weeks ago, supposedly a logical reason why the Skripals weren’t killed by such a deadly dose of Novichok A-234 was that it might have been degraded by rain, damp weather etc whilst it was sitting waiting to do its horrible, ghastly worst on the Skripals’ door knob. Also, the Russians pointed out that A-234 was highly volatile and questioned why it was in existence in its initial state in large quantities in the supposedly several weeks old sample analysed by the OPCW.

    Has the press adopted the tactic of relentlessly feeding us moronic material in the hope that we become so saturated with it that eventually we succumb to being morons ourselves?


  47. BEN PILE
    The author of the Guardian article was on a bursary for two months working on the foreign desk at Die Welt in Berlin two years ago. She’s a news and social affairs journalist at the Graun , she’s very young, and this is the person they’ve chosen to break the D-notice ban, or deliver the first scoop following the lifting of the ban.

    She says that Üzümcü, of the OPCW said that the amount of novichok used was significantly more than needed for research purposes; and the article follows up by quoting from the NYT article that Üzümcü said he had been told that about 50-100g of the nerve agent was thought to have been used in the attack. In other words, when Üzümcü is quoted as saying that the quantity was more than required for research purposes (which the journalist says “indicates it was likely created for use as a weapon”) he’s basing this on what he was told by the unidentified British source.

    So did Britain’s finest really swab up half a cupful of this volatile liquid with their q-tips? Expect another D-notice to descend as soon as people start asking questions.


  48. The NYT article seems to have been deleted, and replaced with a correction…

    LONDON — A chemical weapons watchdog amended statements on Friday that its leader had given to The New York Times, in which he estimated that 50 to 100 grams of liquid nerve agent had been used in the March 4 attack on the former Russian spy Sergei V. Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, England. The Times reported the incorrect information in an article published online on Thursday.

    A statement issued by the group, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said the amount should be measured in milligrams rather than grams.

    This is extraordinary. It’s extraordinary because the Director General of the organisation seems to have got the quantity wrong by three orders of magnitude. He used this error to speculate about who could have been behind the attack. And this figure and the statement was reproduced around the world without scrutiny.

    The OPCW and the media are massively at fault.


  49. It’s just unreal. How could a leading professional of an internationally renowned organisation be so utterly careless as to mix up mg with g? How could even your average reporter in the media not have looked at this statement and thought, ‘hang on, that seems a bit much for a military grade nerve agent’? We truly are living in an idiocracy.

    Liked by 1 person

  50. The OPCW say this…

    — THE HAGUE, Netherlands — 4 May 2018 — In response to questions from the media, the OPCW Spokesperson stated that the OPCW would not be able to estimate or determine the amount of the nerve agent that was used in Salisbury on 4 March 2018. The quantity should probably be characterised in milligrams. However, the analysis of samples collected by the OPCW Technical Assistance Visit team concluded that the chemical substance found was of high purity, persistent and resistant to weather conditions. —

    Which, of course, fails to explain the error.

    And we are supposed to believe this is the organisation that can provide factual information from a war zone, never mind Salisbury.


  51. The ‘oops, it should have been mg’ story doesn’t add up anyway. The head of the OPCW is quoted as saying:

    Ahmet Üzümcü, of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said the amount of novichok – a military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union – used was significantly more than needed for research purposes, which indicates it was likely created for use as a weapon . . . .

    He said: “For research activities or protection you would need, for instance, five to 10 grams or so, but even in Salisbury it looks like they may have used more than that, without knowing the exact quantity, I am told it may be 50, 100 grams or so, which goes beyond research activities for protection.”

    So he was pushing the line that it was weapon quantities, in excess of what would be required for research. 5 to 10 grams is 5000 to 10,000mg – much more than 100mg. Did he get the quantities required for research wrong as well? Seems unlikely. What an absolute farce this Skripal affair has turned out to be.


  52. JAIME
    The fact that Üzümcü made this interpretation shows that it wasn’t a silly error on his part. He’d been told grams, and made the natural deduction. So the British authorities said 100gms. Surely the OPCW would have questioned that?

    I’ve reposted my comment above at
    There’s a good quality of comments there.

    In addition to the Guardian article mentioned by Ben above, there’s this one
    headlined “Clickbait and Skripal jokes: Russia’s RT thrives online.” It says:

    Posts on RT’s English-language Facebook page have attracted twice as many likes, comments and shares in the last three months as those on the Sun’s page… This has been achieved by focusing on extreme topics and conspiracy theories, with headlines that are unlikely to appear elsewhere in more traditional media such as: “Syrians support Assad but BBC won’t report it, British baroness tells RT.”

    If you go to the linked article you find not a conspiracy theory, but a British baroness just back from Syria reporting what she heard and saw, which the BBC won’t report.

    How long can the Guardian go on reporting conspiracy theories where others see only debate? As long as they’ve been reporting dangerous global warming, no doubt.

    Liked by 1 person

  53. Indeed Geoff, ‘research purposes’ quantities are measured in grams apparently – anything up to 100g according to one comment. So it cannot have been a simple metric measurement error. The British authorities are apparently pushing the line that a CW of mass destruction capability was used in Salisbury and the OPCW are repeating that narrative uncritically. That is just mind-blowing.


  54. JAIME
    I’d go further – in fact I just did under a reply to my comment at

    where I said:

    The fact that he then deduced that this was “significantly more than needed for research purposes” shows it’s not Üzümcü who doesn’t know his g from his mg., but presumably his British informants. No doubt he queried this before issuing his conclusions.
    Could it be that Üzümcü is being rather clever here? The OPCW is not allowed to attribute blame, but there’s nothing to them pointing out culpable incompetence, and a blatant attempt to influenced their investigation.


  55. I’ve been meaning to post this for a while. A couple of short extracts from Christopher Booker’s Groupthink report for the GWPF.

    Sir David King goes to Moscow
    “They revealed an absolute – and I stress absolute – inability to answer questions . . . when it became clear that they could not provide a substantive answer to a question . . .attempts were made to disrupt the seminar. At least four times during the course of the seminar, ugly scenes were staged which prevented the seminar from proceeding normally. As a result we lost at least four hours of working time.” — Vladimir Putin’s chief economic adviser speaking of the behaviour of the British delegation led by Sir David King at an international conference on global warming in Moscow in 2004


    The British politicians might have been ready to believe all this, but four months later King found a very different audience when, at Blair’s request, he led a team of British scientists to Moscow, to take part in an international seminar organised for the Russian Academy of Sciences by President Putin’s chief economic adviser, Alexander Ilarionov. King’s mission was to persuade the Russians to ratify Kyoto, which would at last bring the treaty into force. But Russia’s leading scientists could not have been more opposed to the Western ‘consensus’ that carbon dioxide was the chief driver of global warming. And when King saw that the list of speakers invited to address the conference included some of the world’s leading scientists who were most sceptical of the IPCC ‘consensus’, he furiously described them as ‘undesirables’, saying that they should not be allowed to speak.


    Ilarionov ended with a peroration warning that the world seemed once again to be up against a ‘man-hating, totalitarian ideology’, dealing in ‘misinformation, falsification, fabrication, mythology and propaganda’, in an attempt ‘to prove the alleged validity’ of its theory. No one listening to this storming rejection of all the ‘consensus’ stood for could have guessed that, four months later, on a private initiative by Tony Blair, President Putin would do a complete U-turn. In return for Russia being allowed to join the World Trade Organization on very favourable terms, it would now ratify the Kyoto Treaty.


    I think Rupert Darwall goes into more detail about King in Russia elsewhere.

    It will be interesting to see how the climate issue fares in the new geopolitics being engineered by the sub-morons at the FCO.

    Liked by 1 person

  56. Quiet, ain’t it. For an international crisis… The aggressive use of chemical weapons in Salisbury and Duoma… We might expect the news to still be covering it.


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