2016 Refractory Awards – Vote Now!

There is no mistaking this time of year. The soppy music in Pret-a-Manger. The angry shoppers in Westfield. The tourists standing on the left on the escalator. The feeling that the year, and the world, are about the end… Yep, it’s Christmas time again, which means awards season! Woohoo! Last year’s Awards Winners were a deserving bunch, but this year’s promises to be even more special! … Continue reading 2016 Refractory Awards – Vote Now!

Making Sense of 2016

Dear reader, please accept our apologies.

2016 has been a complete disaster so far, and we have failed to prevent this from happening. It has made for some pretty depressing reading, and from our point of view, some pretty depressing writing.

We’ve tried hard to find a light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re now pretty sure that the light is in fact an oncoming radioactive train, with massive gold-plated letters spelling out the name TRUMP. And it’s about to tear down whatever social fabric and post WWII order we have left.

So yeah, sorry about that.

Between Brexit, the dismal state of the Labour Party, terrorist attacks all over the world, the spectre of Trump, the most right-wing government in living memory in the UK, the purge in Turkey, the bloody mess in the Middle East, Boris Johnson getting a government job, and the rise of populist, demagogue parties all across Europe, 2016 does feel like the beginning of the end. Like the part you read about in History books and think “How the hell did it ever come to this?” Continue reading “Making Sense of 2016”

And the Winners are…

Happy New Year to you all, dear readers! What better way to celebrate a new year than by announcing the winners of our surprisingly successful ‘Refractory Awards 2015!’ With over 400 votes cast, millions of dollars spent on negative advertising, and some to-and-froing with the UN Electoral Commission, this is undoubtedly the first and most successful Refractory Awards of all time. And so, without further ado, … Continue reading And the Winners are…

COP21: Climate Change and Civilisation

You are unreliable and can’t be trusted. This isn’t the start of a Dear John letter, it’s just a scientifically proven fact. Your brain is flawed. You are easily influenced by your peers. You block out things that you don’t agree with. You can’t be objective. You have a terrible sense of risk and probabilities. You mistake post-rationalising for free will. And you’re not nearly as independent as you think.

If you’re still reading this, well, on the plus side you do have a thick skin.

I’m not having a go at you. Really, it’s nothing personal. All of us suffer from these inherent biases. These were probably necessary for our evolution, from social animals to social-media animals. From apes in trees to apes in cubicles.

And while I can already feel your attention slipping away due to your inbuilt confirmation bias disliking this full frontal assault on your God-given perfection, fear not. Things are only getting better. It might seem counter-intuitive, but that’s your badly-wired brain for you. In almost every single quantifiable and measureable way, things are getting better.

I know, it doesn’t seem like it. In the UK, the Tories are wrecking the livelihood of poor people. There is terrorism in Europe, civil war in the Middle East, inequality is increasing worldwide, Donald Trump is still a Presidential candidate, refugees are everywhere, and the EU is in disarray. Institutions that were once honourable and respected are now shown to be corrupt and fraudulent, whether that is FIFA or Strictly Come Dancing. Gosh, is nothing sacred anymore? Continue reading “COP21: Climate Change and Civilisation”

Darkness in the City of Light

Late Friday night, a terrorist attack coordinated by ISIS left 129 individuals dead and 200 injured in Paris. The terrorists gunned down people sitting on café terraces, listening to a rock concert, and watching a football match.

Ordinary Parisians, young and old, atheists and Muslims, left wing and apolitical. The scythe took them all in one fell swoop. No distinction. No judgment. No justice. Just a permanent darkness that engulfed them all.

The terrorists used grenades. Suicide vests. Automatic rifles. Weapons of war, that were used on ordinary people having dinner. On teenagers hanging out at a rock concert, who were then held hostage. Not so that any demands could be issued. Simply to increase the terror. To kill them one at a time, slowly, before our eyes, before the media’s eyes. So the world could see what a bunch of 19 year olds being killed on a Friday night looks like. Ordinary barbarity.

I spent the weekend in a daze. I watched it all unfold, addicted to the horror, as though some minor detail could help me make sense of it all. It couldn’t. Nothing can make sense of this. I watched the streets I knew, the restaurants I’d been to, the stadium in which I’d watched Brazil – Scotland with my brother, on the opening day of the 1998 World Cup. How can you make sense of all this? How could Patricia San Martin, a 61 year old union rep, make sense of it all when her and her daughter were gunned down during a rock concert? Continue reading “Darkness in the City of Light”

Putin Syria in the Spotlight

As the Syrian civil war rages on, Vladimir Putin has decided that the best way to sort out this situation is to drop yet more bombs on the country. The UK is considering doing the same. This sorry state of affairs is symptomatic of a broken international system that relegates international peace and security to a side-show of domestic politics. We need to be more creative in our military and diplomatic strategies.

Licence to Kill

We have previously written about ISIS, and Syrian refugees, and the whole Middle East muddle, and with good reason: there is something about the Syrian conflict which is slightly unprecedented. The scale of it all, the human tragedy, the complexities, the ramifications, and the lack of light at the end of the tunnel. This conflict has exposed our own limitations and become symptomatic of our failings in foreign politics.

For those that need a refresher in what is happening in Syria, this article is comprehensive and rather brilliant in detailing the root causes of the conflict, from the French colonisation to the drought of 2006-2010.

For those that don’t have the time, let me try, and fail, to give you a simple explanation. Someone important (Bismark, or Mao, or Jesus) once said that ‘war is the continuation of politics by other means’. Continue reading “Putin Syria in the Spotlight”

Ready Or Not, Here They Come: Syrian Refugees

Two young fish are swimming along, when they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning lads, how’s the ocean today?” The two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is an ‘ocean’?”

It is easy to forget that, in today’s world, everything is interconnected. It can seem like there is an entire universe between a currency trader in London and a Somali fisherman, but really, we’re all paddling along in the same sea.

I remember watching the images of the ‘Arab Spring’ on television in 2011, and being inspired by all these young people attempting to topple the dictators that had ruled their country with an iron fist for the last God-knows-how-many years. Dictators that, in many case, the West had armed, funded, propped up, and kept in place in order to promote ‘stability’ and their ‘economic interests’. I wasn’t the only one watching. Such events are broadcast all over the world these days, from Athens to London via Delhi. They are seen by London currency traders on their flat screen TVs (or is it ‘slightly curved’ TV nowadays?), and by Somali fisherman on some decidedly not-flat, square and grainy TV. Continue reading “Ready Or Not, Here They Come: Syrian Refugees”

Iran Nukes: Deal or No Deal?

Two Jews are walking through a neighbourhood one evening when they notice they are being followed by a pair of hoodlums.

“David,” say his friend, “we better get out of here. There are two of them and we’re alone!”


I quite like this joke. It illustrates the complex relationship Israel has with its neighbours. We are all, I think, familiar with the Israeli narrative: a plucky little country of go-getters, always on the brink of destruction, surrounded by gigantic hostile neighbours that constantly plot its destruction.

The facts and figures, however, tell a different story. That of a country whose GDP dwarfs any of its neighbour. Whose army is one of the best-equipped and trained in the world. Whose secret services are probably the world’s most effective. The only country in the region, in fact, to have a nuclear deterrent. And who is backed, financially, militarily, and politically, by the world’s most powerful country. It is, by any measure – economically, politically, militarily – a regional giant. Israel shouldn’t be afraid of hoodlums, but they’re alone.

Continue reading “Iran Nukes: Deal or No Deal?”

Nous sommes tous Charlie

Yesterday, twelve individuals were killed in Paris because of a cartoon that was published 8 years ago in Denmark.

Here is what we know: Yesterday, at 11am, two individuals walked in the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine, in the middle of Paris, and opened fire with AK-47s. They were specifically looking for Charlie Hebdo’s Editor, Stephane Charbonnier (‘Charb’), but they killed everyone in sight. 11 people died and 11 were wounded. As they left, they killed a policeman that had come to investigate the disturbance, Ahmed Merabet. They shot him as he laid on the ground with his hands up. For what it’s worth, he was a Muslim. That makes it twelve.

The victims of this shooting are: Frédéric Boisseau, 42, a building maintenance worker for Sodexo, killed in the lobby. Franck Brinsolaro, 49, a police officer who was assigned as a bodyguard for Charb. Cabu (Jean Cabut) 76, a cartoonist. Elsa Cayat, 54, a psychoanalyst and columnist. Charb (Stéphane Charbonnier), 47, a cartoonist, columnist and editor-in-chief of Charlie Hebdo. Philippe Honoré, 74, a cartoonist. Bernard Maris, 68, an economist, editor, and columnist. Ahmed Merabet, mentioned above, 42, a police officer, shot in the head as he lay wounded on the ground outside. Moustapha Ourad, a proof-reader. Michel Renaud, 69, an ex-journalist and guest at the meeting. Tignous (Bernard Verlhac), 57, another cartoonist. And Georges Wolinski, 80, a cartoonist.

Continue reading “Nous sommes tous Charlie”