Sir Derek Jacobi playing Hamlet in Shakespeare’s great tragic play

It’s now Saturday March 18th, 2023. Kia ora!

This morning I listened again to the Rest is Politics podcast about the leadup to “Desert Storm”, the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The issue explored in the movie Official Secrets related to a UN resolution supporting the war, and hence authorising in some way the use of military force to combat the “existential” threat posed by Iraq’s WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction).  Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons before, and it was feared he would use them again. The WMD related to chemical weapons, not nuclear weapons; there was subsequently great controversy over whether Iran was had a nuclear capability, and how soon they could build nuclear weapons.  During President Obama’s reign a treaty was signed in 2015 and came to be known as the JPCOA. Russia was a signatory, too, but Trump pulled the US out of the deal.  Whether it was a bad deal or not, it was a deal, and I suspect Iran has become considerably more dangerous since Trump pulled the US out of the treaty. 

In the US, English-born journalist Mehdi Hasan has spoken about the twenty-year anniversary, saying that no one has been held accountable for the invasion of Iraq and the deaths and all the destruction and subsequent chaos.  I have not heard any other US networks commenting at all.  No doubt many of us remember dreadful scenes from the Abu Ghraib prison, where a female member of the US military was leading a male Arab prisoner on a leash.

In the UK there are more articles in the Guardian’s webpage:

And an article by UK journalist Jonathan Freedland:

I realise the US had had success in their 1990 invasion of Kuwait, to liberate it after Saddam Hussein had invaded.  I remember “Stormin’ Norman”, General Schwarzkopf, who was a bit of a character, if you weren’t being bombed or attacked by his forces.  I also remember Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defence claiming that the intelligence about WMD in Iraq was “only intelligence”. Well, it was very heavily relied on, nevertheless.  Bush’s Vice President, Dick Cheney, seemed determined to go to war, and he did not lack allies.  What business had the US being in the Middle East? It wasn’t as if Israel had asked for help. Perhaps it was about the oil, Operation Iraqi Liberation.

On to other things now. This morning we went into town. I wanted to go to Commonsense Organics, but it’s really hard to get to, being up near the top of Tory Street.  We waited and waited to get up Tory Street, which is so very narrow, with buildings overhanging so it can’t be widened. Perhaps it could be made one-way. I really wanted to go to Moore Wilson’s too, but I didn’t dare ask for that!  We did get a parking space in Tory Street outside the complex car park, so that made it easier to get away afterwards. Thankfully, they did have my fragrance-free deodorant. I bought some Hōhepa Danbo cheese too.

Then we laboured through heavy traffic to get onto the motorway north, and thus to the New World Supermarket in Thorndon. There seemed to be masses of traffic,  heading – where, exactly? Not to the cricket at the Basin Reserve, or the Homegrown Festival on the waterfront.  Eventually we got to the supermarket, and it wasn’t too busy there. We even saw some friends of ours. They also had nice salads and pies.  We didn’t need much today.

It’s now Sunday March 19th, Rātapu.

I can’t let go of the 2003 Iraq war, despite saying that I wanted to.  The UK’s Guardian is full of stories about the unwiseness of this invasion, and of the UK’s going along with the US.  I listened to the British Scandal podcast episodes again about what they’re calling the “sexed up” aka dodgy dossier and David Kelly’s suicide.  It was thought that Alastair Campbell was responsible for making changes to the dossier, although it’s all pretty murky really as to exactly who made changes to it. It’s evident though that although Saddam Hussein was a very dodgy character, and many Iraqis wanted to see him gone, the supposed intelligence about his potential use of uranium was probably not for nuclear weapons production. The WMD did not exist. As Donald Rumsfeld later said on Stephen Colbert’s show, It’s only intelligence!  It’s been pointed out that Tony Blair was a lawyer in a previous life, and was perhaps seeking to make legal arguments to justify his decision to ally with the US and invade Iraq;  for Alastair Campbell, his “spin doctor”, this turned out to be a story that could not got on top of, and he had to testify to a Royal Commission about his role. No wonder he resigned; I think he had a nervous breakdown too. 

Furthermore, the so-called intelligence was obtained from Australia, and there are huge doubts cast on that as this Guardian story shows:

I remember stories about Valerie Plame in the US, and her being outed as a CIA officer. I watched a film about her moral dilemma. It seems as though whatever the evidence, and no matter how flimsy it was, Bush was determined to go to war. And alarmingly, he has no insight to this day as to what a terrible idea it was. His rhetoric was scary at the time.

In the US, it seems that only Medhi Hasan is remembering this invasion, and he hammers George Dubya Bush and his administration even further in this Youtube clip:

He argues that not only has no one been held to account for their role in this invasion, but that one of the consequences is that Putin has felt emboldened to invade Ukraine; another consequence is that Bush, Blair, and John Howard in Australia were all re-elected. Blair’s legacy is indeed tarnished, but, compared to Trump, Bush doesn’t look quite so awful now. Indeed; but it could be argued that distrust in Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and co. led more or less directly to the election of a reality-television star to the Presidency, and to the clown-show that put Boris Johnson and his mates in power in the UK. Johnson and Trump are both gone for now, but who’s to say they won’t return to power? They certainly have their fan base(s). Biden and Sunak are trying to clean up the mess; with varying degrees of success, depending on whom you listen to.

Well. It’s Sunday now, and I went to church this morning. There was a good turnout today, including a couple with their new baby! She’s only a few weeks old, just beautiful, and she slept soundly through the service. She reminds me of my eldest son. We missed the organ player today but enjoyed the pianist! She’s just great too.

The sermon was on Psalm 23 (which the reader read from the King James Version of the Bible), and John’s Gospel chapter 9 about the man blind from birth, whom Jesus healed on the Sabbath.  He healed him by spitting on the ground and this making mud, which he applied to the blind man’s eyes. Is its cleanliness dubious? Perhaps so. Then he commanded him to go and bathe in the pool of Siloam.  The Pharisees, though, complained and cast him out, but eventually he met Jesus, and having been told who he was, did him homage.  The main message of this story is about the blindness of the Pharisees, or Jewish teachers, compared to the man with a serious disability who was healed by Jesus and believed on him and gained his sight both literally and spiritually.  Of course there are other parallels, like that of the bathing, compared to Naaman’s bathing to be cured of his leprosy; and the suggestion of baptism, and bathing; the faith of one’s parents, and the cleansing from sin.  And then there is the wonderful image of the Lord as the good Shepherd from Psalm 23, and we’re again reminded of the many parental images in the Bible of God’s care, mothering and fathering. Both are invoked. 

I was reminded of our last trip to Europe. We were in Barcelona, and due to begin our return to Wellington the next day. We went into a cathedral, where a baptism was being conducted. I love the way one can go into churches in Europe and often there’s a service being conducted – it’s just part of everyday life, it seems. The priest recited Psalm 23 in Spanish: “El Senor es mi Pastore…” As we were about to fly home, that seemed very appropriate to me.

Going back to the Guardian, there’s an article reminding me that at one time Ben Jonson was more popular than Shakespeare.

I did a paper on Ben Jonson, back in the day, when I did my Masters degree in English (Renaissance) literature. He was a very fine poet as well as being a fine dramatist. His plays were all in iambic pentameter, as were Shakespeare’s: it was the literary language of the time. I remember The Alchemist, Volpone, but there were others too. I think we did a reading of The Alchemist. He was a very clever writer; which is not at all to say that Shakespeare wasn’t, but perhaps he lacked Shakespeare’s common touch in appealing to a wider audience.  It’s nice to be reminded of Ben Jonson.

Talking of great actors, including one very great Shakespearean actor, there is another story from Sir Derek Jacobi:

Enough links to stories already, I know how annoying they can be.

I’ll finish today with a beautiful poem by Ben Jonson, on the death of his first daughter. Years ago I sent a copy of this to a dear relation, and she told me it meant so much to her too. It still makes me cry.  Ngā mihi nui.

On My First Daughter


Here lies, to each her parents’ ruth,

Mary, the daughter of their youth;

Yet all heaven’s gifts being heaven’s due,

It makes the father less to rue.

At six months’ end she parted hence

With safety of her innocence;

Whose soul heaven’s queen, whose name she bears,

In comfort of her mother’s tears,

Hath placed amongst her virgin-train:

Where, while that severed doth remain,

This grave partakes the fleshly birth;

Which cover lightly, gentle earth!

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