A bit of Argy Bargy

The Falkland Islands have again hit the headlines for various reasons. Notably, the recent finding of oil in the waters offshore, the defacto blockade imposed on the Island by Argentina, the imminent arrival of Prince William, and the decision by the Royal Bavy to sent a Type 45 destroyer to the Falklands to replace and existing type 42 in the region. The latter two points have prompted claims by Argentina that the British are “militarising” the region. Even Sean Penn and Gorgeous George Galloway have been getting involved.

It might for these reasons, be useful for a neutrally minded person like me (Irish and with no allegiance to either Britain nor Argentina) to give my two cents on the issue as we try to cut through the rhetoric from both sides.

First of – Are you guys for real? The Falklands are a series of cold, wet, damp, windswept, midge infested bogs in the South Atlantic inhabited by a bunch of Inbreed Insular “Sheep Appreciators”. The Islands barely qualify as a decent place to pitch a tent. Why either country would want to kick up stink over the Falklands is baffling to me and most other neutral observers.

Secondly, like it or loath it, the overwhelming majority of Falkland Islanders consider themselves British. So long as that condition holds, arguing that they should be forced to merge with Argentina unwillingly cuts right against every democratic convention.

Argentina will argue (summary of they’re arguments here) that this democratic principle to self determination does not apply to land where there “must be a legitimate relationship between that population and the concerned territory”…and what about Argentineans and there “connection” to the land of Argentina? As I seem to recall the bulk of the population of Argentina are descendants of the Spanish Conquistadors and German war criminals. If the Falkland Islanders should now go home, shouldn’t the Argentineans also go back to Europe too?

While Britain’s claim to an Island 8,000 km’s away is indeed dubious at best. The core of the Argentineans claim to the Falklands is something they inherited from their former colonial masters the Spanish after independence. The crux of the Spanish claim being derived from the “Pope’s Line”, where back in the bad old days the Conquistadors literally had the pope draw a line down the middle of the world with the Spanish taking one half and the Portuguese the other half.

Indeed I find it depressing that the Argentineans can support such a notion having gone through the struggle for democracy some years ago. Also for shame to the many leftie apologists of the Argentineans (such as Sean Penn) who seem as a knee jerk reaction to believe they have to support Argentina and oppose “imperial” Britain, even though in this situation it is the Argentinean position that is both undemocratic and colonialist.

As for “militarising” the Falklands by sending some pampered prince down south, I think we can dismiss that one out of hand for obvious reasons. In any event as I seem to recall the Brits used to have next to no military forces based in the Falklands. The reason why they changed policy was because Argentina invaded the Islands and they are naturally worried about this happening again (fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me). Now if Argentina is uncomfortable with this state of affairs they could easily arrange a withdrawal of British forces by passing a law indicating that they will never resort to the use of force in winning back the Falklands and will restrict such efforts to legal and democratic means. On which point I would note that technically the defacto blockade of the Falklands currently being carried out by the Argentineans could be interpreted as a hostile act if not an act of war under international law.

Cut to the chase – Its all about the oil
While both sides will deny it the real reason for this whole dispute has a very simple reason. 3 letter word, starts with O, ends with L and has caused more conflict in human history than Hitler. There are possible deposits of the black stuff (and I don’t mean Guinness!) off the coast of the Falklands. I mean seriously, why else do you think the UK government would be sending multi-billion dollar warships down there just to defend a load of sheep farmers?

Unfortunately for both sides this brings up the pesky issue of the International law of the Sea. Convention dictates that an area out to 12 miles from the shore is consider a nation’s sovereign territory and up to 200 nm’s out can be considered ones Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) giving access to fishing rights and (crucially in this case) oil drilling rights. This is why both sides are so insistent that the Falklands are there’s. I suspect quite a few in Buenos Aires would privately acknowledge that the Falklands are indeed British and quite a few in Whitehall would agree that the British claim to such a vast are of continental shelf 8,000 miles away is sort of taking the piss.

Unfortunately, as I’ve noted above, the upshot of this arbitrary EEZ convention is that if one can find a rock sticking out of the sea, even one which every second wave submerges, stick a flag in it, you can now claim about 80,000 square km’s of ocean. And there are many cases around the world where this is exactly what some many nations are doing. China is claiming vast areas of the South China Sea by claiming various rocks and boulders that stick out of the ocean as its territory. Britain (again) claims Rockall and thus much of the Rockall deep and Turkey and Greece have nearly gone to war a number of times over similar claims by both sides. The Russians are currently forgoing even the need for a rock sticking out of the water and reckon that just because a particular undersea ridge runs down from the Russian coastline to the North Pole, they can claim a huge chunk of the Artic Ocean and its potential oil reserves.

Clearly as the above examples show, many claims of ocean territory are extremely contentious and the Falklands are clearly one of those. To me the obvious answer is to split the Falklands dispute into two issues – claims to the Islands themselves (where clearly the majority of Islanders see themselves as British) and claims to the continental shelf (at least part of which the Argentina’s have a valid claim too).

Indeed it would be useful to apply a bit of realism to the situation. Take the oil for example. Now while I’d rather they leave it where it is (climate change and all that) let’s suppose one or both governments wish to see it exploited. In order to drill an oil field you need a deep water port (to build oil rigs and service ships), tens of thousands of workers with specialist skills (welders, fitters, divers, sailors, etc.), various bits of infrastructure (to support refineries, pipe lines, etc. and the aforementioned port facilities and workers) an international airport nearby and most important of all a market in which to sell the oil too (its always more profitable to pump oil straight to market than ship it around in tankers, the latter being vulnerable to disruption by storms and weather, not to mention at risk from groundings and sinkings). The Falkland Islands have none of the required facilities. Argentina ticks practically all the boxes. For the British to exploit the oil without Argentinean consent they would have to pretty much build everything on the Islands from scratch. And my guess is that such an endeavour would cost too much to make any oil fields in the region economically viable. Plus, not wanting to annoy Argentina, no major oil company will go near such a prospect with the proverbial barge pole, while the current status quo prevails (other than the Chinese or Russians!).

In short one cannot escape the conclusion that the best way to extract any oil from the seas around the Falklands would be to base such extraction efforts out of Argentina and land the oil back in Argentina. Clearly if both sides want to see movement on this issue it means both compromising their views. The Argentineans need to realise that they are the ones acting like a colonialists and the British need to accept that there attempt to claim a sizable chuck of the South Atlantic is little short of claim jumping that would have Pizzaro shaking his head in disgust.

Ultimately, both sides need to realise that the longer they keep up this charade the only winners are environmentalist like me as we can be guaranteed that oil will never be extracted and contribute to climate change!…and the Penguins!

The truth about Religion

Atheist Richard “there’s no God nor Santa Claus” Dawkins is at it again. His recently formed Foundation for Science and Reason has revealed this week the outcome of a survey which reveals that many of those who tick the “Christian” box (or one assumes the Muslim one) aren’t that Christian at all. Less than half actually go to church regularly. Only 28% of the people who called themselves Christian in the 2011 Census say they are so “because they believe in the teachings of Christianity“. 15% admitted to having never read the Bible outside a church service, with a further 36% not having done so in the previous three years. The majority (60%) have not read any part of the Bible, for at least a year. And 64% were not able to identify Matthew as the first book of the New Testament. In short if many of these people are Christians they clearly ain’t very committed. Although Dawkins didn’t help himself by getting caught out on radio 4, when he turned out he didn’t know the original title to the Origin of the Species (then compounded his mistake by saying “oh God”…language Richard! You should have said “oh Darwin”).

Of course it would be unfair to conclude that other religions are any different, I suspect that if you did a similar survey of Muslims or Jews you’d find a similar trend…thought you’d be a braver guy than me if you undertook it!

The point I would make about all of this is that it’s a myth that the majority of people are actually that committed to a religion. Many who claim to be Christian or catholic or Muslim are, I would argue, merely identifying on ethnic/cultural grounds, which just happens to come with the baggage of a faith…a faith which the majority, a few fanatics aside, generally pay mere lip service too.

And the lesson of history suggests that this is by no means unusual or a recent phenomenon. Recall that in the space of a hundred years, during the 16th century, the UK went from Catholic to Protestant (under Henry “six wives” the VIII), then back to Catholic (under Queen Mary), then Protestant again (Lizzie the 1st). While a few fanatics did get themselves beheaded or burned at the stake for not going along with their tyrant’s delusions. Under Queen Mary for example, a total of 283 executed out of a population of 4-5 million, certainly she weren’t a nice gal but no worse than other rulers of the age (her “bloody” title is perhaps an element of 16th century tabloid journalism at work). But clearly the vast majority of brits took this repeated changing of the sign on the door in they’re stride. And this was at a time when superstition and myth dominated rather than science.

So its no surprise to discover, in more enlightened times, that the majority of people just ain’t that bothered. The majority I suspect merely identify as Christians either for, as noted cultural reasons, or because they are playing Pascal’s Gambit (if god exists they by believing in him you get to go to heaven, but if he turns out not to exist you don’t but loose nothing by betting he does, i.e. you are choosing between a 100% certain negative answer and something with a tiny but still larger probability of being correct, video about that here).

This is noteworthy as regards the attitude of Jesus towards wealth and the rich. To be blunt, he wasn’t that keen on the rich. He indeed would count, by the standards of Fox News these days, as a whinny socialist liberal. If you’re wealthy and consider yourself Christian then you should be doing everything you can to help the needy, e.g. tithing much of you’re salary to charity, washing the feet of beggars on your day off, giving alms to the poor in you’re lunch break, etc. This is why there’s this big flap going on outside St. Paul’s and the Bishop’s in the House of Lords are voting against government welfare cuts. At least these Bishop’s actually practice what they preach. What a pity many so called “Christians” supporters of the Tory’s don’t.

The bankers striptease

This week we’ve seen the Chairman and CEO of the state owned RBS both either wave their bonuses or be all but forced into doing so under threat of a labour party commons debate and motion. Meanwhile, Fred “SHIT” Goodwin (due to his super injunction I had to refer to him for awhile as “Scottish Holder of Indebted Titles”) was stripped of his Knighthood, awarded for (don’t laugh!) “services” to banking…which is sort of like making Hannibal Lector or that German cannibal guy a Lord of the Privy Seal for “services to cookery”.

Of course such punishments have made a great many people in the city very cross. They describe it terms of the government giving in to lynch mob “hysteria”. Oddly enough I agree with them. There are many more “unlordy lords” who should be stripped of their titles as well. Clearly the government is running scared on this issue, and burning a few of the well known supposed witches in public is seen as the best way of protecting the majority who happen to be big donors to the Tory party. With bonus season well under way they realise that with so many in the country hard up or unemployed it is not going to look good for the very people who caused the mess to be seen wallowing in pools of cash.

Although to be perfectly honest its stripping these guys of their hundreds of millions in ill gotten gains that I want to see happen. Or how about stripped instead of their liberty, with the queen putting them up at her pleasure in some nice pad in Devon. I’d actually prefer “sir” Fred to keep his title and get a 10 year stretch (question would the prison guards have to refer to him as “My Lord” while beating him up in the exercise yard?)

A dangerous trend built up in the boom years of the bubble. Traditionally a “bonus” was seen as an optional extra an employee got for good service when the company was doing well. But its morphed to the stage where even at times when a company is doing badly, many top executives still expect not just a bonus, but a big bonus purely for showing up to work and doing their job (well sort of!). For most of the rest of us the “bonus” we receive for doing our job is to still be employed…and even that’s becoming scarce these days!

There is of course a very simple solution. A change in the law forbidding a failing company (i.e. one that is posting losses or has not yet recovered from previous large losses) from awarding executives a bonus. Or alternatively a system that only allows such bonuses (plus at least half the CEO’s salary) to be awarded in the form of stock in the company, that cannot be sold. If the company does well in the long term, he will be rewarded handsomely. If it crashes and burns he looses big. Let’s see if any government will implement such policies?