Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 17/03/22


I had a really stupid idea last week.

I'm all too well aware that that statement will not come as a particularly shocking revelation to anyone, but I can live with that.

You see, given that there is only one subject in the whole world at the moment about which we should be - indeed, about which we are being allowed to - think (so long as we think about it in the 'right' way, of course; see below), it was a valid enough position to take that, as a long-time member in good standing (but better sitting down) of the Fédération Internationale des Bloggers (FIB), I should expound on the 'war'/'special operation'/'whole fucking mess' (delete as appropriate) in Ukraine.

So I set to it. I had it all plotted out, giving my views on how we got where we are and what the hell we need to do to get out of it without incinerating at least the eastern Carpathians. I laboured at it for nearly three days, and managed to churn out only a Preface and the first section.

At was at this point that I realised three important things:

So I stopped writing.

Take heart, dear reader! For in abandoning that idea, I have spared you from wasting countless hours of your lives having to peruse my opinions in extenso. However, I can provide a précis of those never-to-be-written sections just for the sake of closure, before moving on to two aspects of the whole matter upon which I feel I can still expand usefully.

So here goes.

Now then chums, if that is the summary, can you imagine what the full version as originally intended would have been like? Don't say I don't take pains to protect you from the worst.

There are two general areas I still want to touch upon in greater depth, however: the first of them is not particularly novel, dealing as it does with an ineradicable fact of human nature and social relations; the second is also nothing especially new in itself, but the ramifications of it are far more extensive, far more troubling and far more sinister than anything which we have heretofore seen in the Digital Age, at least in so-called 'free' societies.


The first charge on the rap sheet is Hypocrisy (with a sentencing 'enhancement' of Virtue Signalling).

We have seen - in the short space of time between the invasion of Ukraine and the time of writing - an explosion (not perhaps the most tactful description in the circumstances, but it'll do for now) of 'concern' for Ukraine. That much of this has come from politicians is, of course, to be expected; no politician wishes a good crisis to go to waste if it will enhance his/her own prospects and profile. And so we have seen State and other public buildings illuminated in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag.

(There is a particularly toothsome irony in anti-government protestors in Moskva, Sankt-Peterburg or Rostov-na-Donu being praised to the blue (and yellow) skies for their courage - and the authorities there being condemned for their actions in response - by a régime which is itself currently ramming legislation through another rubber-stamp parliament (not so much a Duma, more of a Dumb) which would put people in prison for up to ten years for organising anything similar in, say, Manchester, St. Albans or Rotherhithe).

But I want to concentrate on the more mundane expressions by individuals and organisations. People who scarcely knew where Ukraine was a month back have been busy festooning their anti-social media accounts with the flag and appending hashtags saying that they '#standwithUkraine'. Corporations and other private and voluntary bodies have been doing much the same, yea even unto my supermarket of choice changing the labelling on one of their products so that the consumer-citizens in their stores can now buy 'Chicken Kyiv'. And to think we laughed like drains when the United States Congress decreed that the chips served at their caff should henceforth be known as 'Freedom Fries' so as to get back (or so they thought) at the French (who couldn't have given a frite anyway) for not being enthusiastic about the impending war on Iraq (a further irony when you consider how frothing the Yank establishment currently is about countries invading other countries).

Similarly with the great sensitivity with which place-names in Ukraine are now being routinely spelled in the Ukrainian way in western media: 'Kyiv' for 'Kiev'; 'Lviv' for 'Lvov'; 'Kharkiv' for 'Kharkov'; 'Odesa' with only one 's' in the transliteration. Quite right too, but those spellings have been official for three decades, so it's a tad tardy, isn't it? Would that the Britannic media were similarly accommodating to the sensitivities of people who speak the non-English indigenous languages of this island, still referring as they do as a matter of routine to 'Mount Snowdon' (which is, as fule Guardian reader kno, the 'highest mountain in Englandandwales') and 'Snowdonia'.

So far, so flowers-and-soft-toys-at-the-scene-of-the-tragic-accident. But then it gets quite a bit darker. Right-wing gobshites who have spent decades not quite saying openly that all refugees should be shot on sight once they get within blunderbuss range are now insisting when they call in to TalkRupert or the Loony Bin Consensus (or even appear as presenters thereupon) that refugees from Ukraine - no less but also no more deserving than the Syrians, Yemenis and Afghans - should all be allowed in because suddenly we have plenty of room, and that it's our duty as a 'civilised nation' so to do. I wonder what the key distinction between the former and all of the latter might be, boys and girls?


The second charge is Violations of Freedom of Expression (with a secondary count of Incipient Tyranny).

It is of course a feature of all 'conflicts' - either real or imagined, either near or far away - that those with the power and technical capacity to do so will try to ensure that as large a proportion of their population as possible is 'on the same page', 'singing from the same hymn-sheet', 'saluting the same flag', 'violently attacking the same Other', or however the encouragement of conformity may be phrased.

But, even as someone who has lived through the Malvinas 'conflict' (Q. What is the difference between a 'war', a 'conflict' and a 'special operation'? A. It depends on who's doing it, to whom it is being done, and in the name of whichever superficially high principle it is being done), two wars on Iraq and one on Afghanistan, I don't recall uniformity of opinion being as broadly or deeply enjoined and enforced as in the current circumstance. Oh sure, in those earlier events anyone who placed themselves outside of the Official Version - or merely tried to apply a degree of nuance to what was going on - laid themselves open to scorn or even violent sentiment in response; but the expression of doubt - even of outright opposition - was still allowed, even if roundly ignored by those who mattered. This was, after all, a sign that we lived in a 'free' society.

Such expressions at the moment, although formally permitted, are instead marginalised in an age of global media control. That we are being propagandised into a stupified complaisance with 'what everyone thinks' should now be beyond doubt. All the tools (and I use that word in its literal and figurative sense; hello, hacks!) are being deployed to ensure that there is one narrative and one narrative only which may be given room. And so we have:

To point all of this out is not to side with 'The Enemy'. It is key to understanding how those with power wish to mould and direct our thoughts and our feelings; it is the apotheosis of the theories and praxis ofEdward Bernays. There is enough material here for the redoubtable Noam Chomsky to add an extra chapter - perhaps an entire extra volume - to a future edition of his and the late Edward S. Herman's seminal work Manufacturing Consent.

Thus may a uniformity of opinion be assured. And even if it can't be ensured one hundred per cent, there are ways of optimising it by the actions you take to exclude any alternative narrative. In the wars I referred to earlier, this was done almost entirely by ridicule of, and contempt for, those who were determined not only to think differently but to express their thoughts openly.

It is therefore scarcely any wonder that Russophobia has become resurgent (especially in the US, where decades of the Cold War inculcated an instinctive antipathy to all things Russian, except for vodka and - in the military in Vietnam - roulette). It has also led to the unthinking clamour for a so-called 'no-fly zone' which would result in short order in an open confrontation which would point us all directly towards annihilation.

In the current war, however, we are seeing something far more radical, far more sinister and far more dangerous.

It takes two forms:

Firstly, in addition to the sanctions imposed on Russia by governments and pseudo-governments (e.g., the US in the first instance and the EU in the second), public and private bodies in 'the West' have shown a keenness to impose their own restrictions by either sharply reducing their dealings with Russia or by suspending or eliminating them altogether. Much of this is window-dressing of course, done in response to political pressure or to the screaming and stamping of a misdirected Public-at-Large. Nonetheless, there has been a concerted attempt to isolate Tsar Vladimir's realm from international contact and connection at all levels, economic, political and cultural.

It goes without saying that many of the results have been ludicrous. In the technological field, the action by internet backbone providers such as Cogent to cut off all of their Russian customers will disproportionately effect those labouring under Putin's régime who will not be able to do what the state's bodies will be able to do, namely to re-route via Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) with the willing (if, for obvious strategic reasons, somewhat sub rosa) co-operation of China and probably India as well. The same will go for most of the technology itself, which Russia will either reverse-engineer and henceforth make itself or which it will get from its two large neighbours; this will in due course reduce the possibilities of Western corporations being able to snatch their share of the Russian market back once everything settles down again.

In games, UEFA, FIFA and the International Olympic Committee - three bodies which have had cosy and lucrative relationships with authoritarian states and their leaders going back to the first half of the last century (think Berlusconi, think Qatar, think Berlin 1936) - have chucked Russian sports teams and individual athletes out of their respective cash-cows. Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak faces a long exile from competition because he wore a vest with the letter 'Z' on it, which letter is now deemed in our Official Narrative to be a 'pro-war symbol' (whereas the actual Nazi regalia worn by Ukraine's actual Nazi Azov Battalion isn't, natch); perhaps, as the sub-etha newscaster put it in Hitchhikers, "So the Big 'Z' is now finally the Big 'D-E-A-D'?". Other international sport and hobby fancies have kicked Russians out of their ranks as well, including the moggy wranglers who will no longer allow Russian cats into their events.

That this is all a combination of willy-waving and deeply insincere and cynical me-too-ism is obvious enough, but there are serious ramifications for all of us in the 'free world'. And here's where it starts getting really troubling to anyone who recognises what 'freedom' actually is and how it can easily be rendered fragile to the point of destruction.

The cultural sphere has long been ruled over by those with decent enough intentions but precious little courage. Hollywood chickened out of standing up to McCarthy, the backbones of universities and the BBC melt into jelly when confronted by a determined campaign by Zionists, arts organisations which are mindful of their obligations to their corporate sponsors will withhold or withdraw anything which might upset the boardrooms.

All across the 'free world' - a phrase which has been dragged out of retirement to serve something like its original purpose, as a signifier of the power of Good (us) over Evil (them) - cultural organisations in all fields are now practising McCarthyism on their employees. The soprano Anna Netrebko was forced to withdraw from her engagement with New York's Metropolitan Opera because - although she denounced Putin's war - she didn't go 'far enough' and denounce the president of her homeland himself. The conductor Valery Gergiev was dropped or dismissed by orchestras or theatres in the Netherlands, Italy, Austria and - of course - the US for much the same reason. A performance of Tchaikovskiy's 1812 in my own land's fair capital was cancelled on grounds of 'taste' (admittedly this was a reasonable enough position in itself; I mean, all those bangs); but they could have put on another of Pyotr Ilyich's pieces if it wasn't simply fashionable Russophobia motivating their decision.

Note that word 'denounce', because it is key to what we are currently seeing. Where have we heard it most often before? Ah, yes! Stalin's show trials, McCarthy's star chamber, the Cultural Revolution; you know, those things we need all those armaments and the means of wielding them (e.g., NATO) to protect us from.

And all this with the approval, indeed the enthusiastic encouragement, of all those - especially but by no means exclusively on the Right - who have been whining on about 'cancel culture' for most of the past decade. See under 'Hypocrisy' (above).

But it gets worse. Far worse.

For, secondly, while governments and similar protection rackets may have a democratic legitimacy and thereby be - at least in theory - answerable to The Wee People...sorry, I mean We The People, what of the large corporations which control increasingly large proportions of access to the information we seek about the world? They are beholden to no principle and to no-one but themselves or their shareholders.

Which is why what they have done in the last two to three weeks is so worrisome.

It started out with YouTube (owned by Alphabet, i.e., Google), blocking access to some entire channels to everyone in Europe (not just the EU). The primary victims of this corporate overreach were the news channels RT and Sputnik which are heavily linked to the Russian state. Or at least, so we are always told by those media outlets which are in no way themselves embedded in the state-corporate élites of their own countries, oh deary me no.

Now, it was possible to get around this particular obstacle either by using a VPN or by using the Tor Browser to make YouTube think you were trying to connect from somewhere other than in their self-established Dead Zone (although you may have had to try a few times to get such a gateway). This was inconvenient, but it was still doable.

A few days later however, and no doubt in response to further stranking from the self-appointed arbiters of Right in our respective cubicles, YouTube then pulled the channels in their entirety so that no-one anywhere could see them, VPN/Tor or no VPN/Tor. This was after official media regulators across the continent had already chucked those same channels off all satellite services.

More or less simultaneously, Twitter and the Facebook Empire (I refuse to use their new name, just to piss them off more than anything else) started restricting or removing outright any content which they (and they alone) deemed to be 'disinformation'. That this infinitely flexible category is defined however Agrawal and Zuckerberg wish it to be delineated means in essence that just two individuals can determine what information may be seen, heard or read by the other eight billion residents on this incipient cinder of a planet.

These social media Behemoths (or Molochs), having previously been remarkably slow in deleting actually misleading and even dangerous material (especially from the hard right) obviously wanted to be seen as being really punctual this time. Although this 'Big Z''s definition of 'disinformation' or 'unacceptable content' does not seem to extend to content calling for the murder, not only of Putin himself, but of Russians in general. In short, Feta/Macebook seem now to be actively encouraging something which in all other contexts they would classify as 'hate speech' and remove.

Now consider this: if your government decided to block on political grounds your access to information which was not in itself unlawful or even harmful, and if you live in something which can justifiably refer to itself as a 'democracy' on at least three days of every week, then it is possible or feasible for you to protest to said government, bring public pressure to bear on them and possibly get them to change their policy.

But how do you do that to megacorporations? They have enormous wealth, they have greater political power than any elected government on this planet, and they know that - in the case of the majority of their 'customer base' - they have a captured (or even captive) audience because people can't bear to tear themselves away from it and there aren't any viable alternatives anyway.

So two gigantic commercial enterprises can tell you - a sane, rational adult - what you may or may not be permitted to know. They - and they alone - have become the effective gatekeepers of information for much of the planet, and you are effectively powerless to overcome their censorship (for such it is).

Ponder for a moment if you will just what that says about their attitude to us. Those companies clearly consider us to be too slow-witted, too gullible, too stupid to be allowed to make our own judgements based on our own experiences and our own sampling of what news and comment may be out there. We cannot be trusted to make our own minds up as to what constitutes propaganda and what doesn't (confirmation biases notwithstanding). And so we must be 'protected' from such Evils by the tender turnkeys of San Francisco and Menlo Park, Ca.

It would be wrong to claim that there aren't precedents of a sort to this. Back in the radio days, it was common for régimes to make sure as much as possible - either by technical means or legislative and punitive methods - that the populace only ever heard that régime's own version of events both internal and external. The Nazis designed their famous Deutscher Volksempfänger so that it was almost impossible to listen to radio stations outwith the Reich, even if you were minded to risk being shot for the privilege of trying to do so; the Soviets used jamming to block information and propaganda beamed into the USSR; latterly, the self-styled People's Republic of China led the way in creating a national firewall to filter or remove what access their citizens had to external information. Other régimes had (and have) similar methods of controlling what those living under their rule were (are) permitted to know.

But the point is this: these were all invariably states, and tyrannical ones to boot. In the 'free world' - however that term may have been, and may still be, defined - such measures were deemed utterly unsupportable, and information had to be controlled in more subtle, less obvious ways: like ensuring that all the newspapers were owned by people or corporations of like mind with the Establishment of that country, for example; or by setting up a state broadcaster which was plausibly independent of government, but which ultimately knew on which side its political and financial bread was buttered.

Even during World War II, at a time of an actual - as opposed to concocted - existential threat, it was not unlawful in the UK to listen to broadcasts coming from Germany or Nazi-occupied Europe. William Joyce aka 'Lord Haw-Haw' was listened to every evening disseminating pro-Axis propaganda from Hamburg and elsewhere by a good two or three million people in the British Isles. That the populace was trusted to judge for itself whether the content was of any use or not was an indication of a free (if sometimes only comparatively so) system of rule.

But we are now under a tyranny which does not trust us to be sharp enough to make up our own minds; we have to be 'protected' from any and all perspectives which are deemed to be sufficiently, threateningly at variance with what amounts to The Party Line. Except that that control is being exercised by the totally unaccountable who will face no comeback at the ballot box. The Corporations Rule.

Can't you tell Stork from Butter? Can't you hear and listen and read and decide for yourself? Have you been so 'disinformed' by years - decades - of all-pervasive propaganda from those who rule you that your critical faculties have de-evolved to that of a labrador puppy?

Perhaps you have, in which case the Alphabets and M*t*s may have a point.

Except for the fact that they themselves have been prominent in putting you in that state in the first place.

If you're not frightened by that prospect - maybe not even slightly perturbed by it - perhaps thinking that the actions taken by these companies is all fine and dandy because they are being applied to viewpoints and perspectives with which you disagree - and coming from an Official Enemy at that - then when those same forces of censorship come to take action against your side of an argument, there will be no-one able to speak up in support of you because their voices will already have been silenced. And it'll be your own fault because - as I have had cause to state far too many times in the life of this site - the two main problems with censorship are (i) who gets to do it, and (ii) how you get them to stop. We are allowing - nay, actively encouraging - a further Great Leap Forward to total control of our lives, our actions, our knowledge, even our thoughts and feelings by those who would exploit that control in the name of their power and/or their profits, a future which would require in order to try to salvage our freedom to communicate a form of global digital samizdat to counter it in any significant way. And even that would be difficult given the degree and extent of control exercised over the whole of our communications infrastructure by states and corporations working either separately towards the same goals or in happy conjunction with one another.

The hard truth of it is that it should always, always be for us as grown-ups to decide which sources of information to access and which of them to believe. To have it otherwise is to infantalise the entire adult population and to enable those with power not only to maintain it, but to expand it until the very notion of personal autonomy becomes ipso facto a crime.

It's a terrible and terrifying prospect which stands before us.


At the end of all this, I feel obliged to apologise for the inordinate length of this piece. Having now completed it, I can see that I have failed utterly to keep to my original intention to make this a mere précis, and it has instead become a chapter. But some things are important enough to have to be said openly and fully. As Wittgenstein might have put it had he been living at this hour, "Whereof we may speak, thereof we must speak clearly; whereof we may not speak, therefore we must be silenced by Mark Zuckerberg".