Tomahawks and Trump: The failure of ‘America First’ foreign policy

I wrote this for a debate piece that never went forward. It has been in my backlog since the cruise missile strike in Syria. I thought, instead of letting it go to waste, I would publish it. I stand by the central argument anyway, so updating would not achieve anything.

Trump’s cruise-missile strike cost sixty million dollars. Let that marinate; each of the 59 Raytheon-built Tomahawk missiles costs the US taxpayer just over $1 million. Put another way; Trump could have fed 22,000 homebound senior citizens for a year through Meals on Wheels America. You may recognise the name. It is the charity that had a surge in funding because the golfer-in-chief’s “American First” budget slashed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) by 17.9%. The HHS’s Older Americans Act Nutrition Program provides 35% of Meals on Wheels funding. Trump’s ‘America First’ style of governance is turning out to be pretty costly for Americans.

My bleeding heart aside though, the strike was imbecilic. In a world where Trump has his, Erik Prince, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ brother and Blackwater founder, attempting to establish a Putin backchannel in the Seychelles (The Washington Post), why on earth would he court open war with Russia and Iran over a marginally successful tactical strike? Moreover, before anyone gets their hackles up about the ‘W’ word, that is straight from the horses’ mouth. The Daily Telegraph reported that the Syrian strike had crossed a “red line” with Russia and Iran, with the former’s UK embassy saying: “From now on we will respond with force.”

The issue here is not only with Trump, however, but with US strategy in the Middle East in general. As renowned counter-terrorism scholar Audrey Kurth Cronin puts it: “[the] problem in any endless war is that tactics gradually take the place of strategy.” While she was discussing the use of targeted killings against terrorists, her words ring true universally. Tactical short-sightedness has become a facet of America’s endless war in the Middle East. The President has become the ‘tactician-in-chief,’ performing reactionary acts of aggression as a balm for the rage and guilt of the Western masses. Like a stuck record, the asses who sit at the Oval Office’s desk seem to believe war crimes and terror require an immediate escalation of violence. If only they would consider the extent to which they are complicit in creating the Syrian quagmire.

What’s more, the bombardment is flagrantly opposed to the tradition and law of armed conflict. The US Congress has not declared a state of armed conflict with Syria. The UN Security Council has not given its assent to US hostilities against the Assad regime. Moreover, there remain few legitimate justifications for the unilateral US response. While there is now little doubt that Assad’s regime sanctioned the chemical attack, independent verification came after the Tomahawk bombardment. Furthermore, while the Trump’s stilted and robotic speech stressed the importance of reprisals for the Khan Sheikhoun attack, there was and is no rational reason for the modus employed.

Additionally, despite conflicting reports on the capacity of the Syria air force to fly sorties from Shayrat airfield after the strike (some report flights mere hours after), the strike has had little positive effect. Pausing Syrian jets for a few weeks is not the same as having a coherent strategy for dealing with the Syrian crisis. Furthermore, stopping planes does not exonerate the Trump Administration’s unilateral response; Assad will just continue with the far less discriminate helicopter-launched ‘barrel’ bombs.

Lastly, in somewhat of a predictable conclusion, Trump has pivoted, changing his stance on NATO’s relevance – despite the fact he has done more than any other global actor to make NATO necessary. In a week, Trump has managed to squander millions of dollars in an austerity budget, alienate Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea (more than they already were), and shown himself to me the most spectacular hypocrite in recent political history. The cycle continues: promise a simplistic outlook on a highly complex issue, flip-flop once it is no longer politically expedient, and adopt the most mainstream Washington-elite strategy.


Mythbusting Five Common Misconceptions about PC Building

Over the last couple of years, I became interested in transitioning from console gaming and mobile computing to a desktop-based setup. I spent a great deal of time on Reddit and YouTube, learning everything I could. In the process, I became somewhat of an enthusiast. I now admin a modest-sized Facebook group where several professional PC builders and I help newcomers choose, buy, and build PCs for a range of usage scenarios.

However, despite the fabulous experience I have had in joining this community; there remain a range of misconceptions about it. Below, I will attempt to debunk some of these and provide a newcomer-friendly look into the community and suggest places to look for advice.

desk pic
My gaming corner

It’s expensive

Probably the most common misconception about building a computer is that it is expensive. You will usually find people arguing this in the comments section of IGN Facebook posts and in articles by publications like Motherboard. It has even spawned a meme.

This misconception arises from the assumption that every PC builder, in particular gamers, has to have the best of the best. The truth is people buy what they can afford or what gets them the performance they desire.  In the UK, you can build a capable tower using retail parts for around £650. If you desire better-than-console visuals and a PC that is great for home use and some light productivity, then you are looking at sub-£1,000 for the full package, including peripherals and software. This is achieved by buying into the mid or mainstream-tier products that are often ignored by journalists and comment-section trolls. The fact of the matter is, you can game at 1080p60fps and have a great home computing experience for less than Apple’s base MacBook model.

Better still, if you are particularly thrifty, you can buy many PC parts in a ‘like-new’ condition from enthusiasts and eBay, and save hundreds. Moreover, in the vein of being thrifty, don’t do what Kotaku writer Kirk Hamilton did and pay full whack for Windows. Today, we have a mechanism called digital entitlement, where you can activate a legitimate Windows 10 license using a Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 product code. This will save you a few quid and helps you avoid the temptation of gray market key-sellers such as G2A and Kinguin.

The main point here is, not every user needs the computational power of a £1,600 Intel i7 6950X Broadwell-E processor or £750 Nvidia GTX 1080Ti video card. Instead, most people are price sensitive and buy into the mid-range market. This can easily be seen through the Steam hardware survey, which shows that the top three most popular video cards among responders are one and two-generation old cards, with the GTX 970, the former price-to-performance king, still ruling in 2017 with a market share of 5.89%.

handy dandy PC label pic
A handy-dandy labeled diagram of a PC (my first build)

It’s hard

Above, I mentioned an article by Vice’s Motherboard publication, where one of their editors opined at length about his trials in building a high-end PC. He was, of course, met with ridicule by the community and by industry heavy-weights. One YouTuber and respected industry voice, Steve Burke of Gamers Nexus, dedicated an entire video to debunking the Motherboard piece, including a speed-build with off the shelf components.

Suffice to say, this is one of the most overblown assumptions about PC building.  It stems from a misconception that the horror stories seen on some forums are common. From my personal experience and accounts of professionals I know and have heard from, it is very uncommon for users to experience serious issues so long as they are adequately prepared.

If you attempt to order a bunch of components from Amazon without checking compatibility and they try and throw them together after work with absolutely no knowledge, then, of course, you will have a difficult time. However, if you spend some time watching tutorials, check compatibility carefully, and take your time, it is rather similar to building a large Lego set. This exact advice is mirrored by Ryan Marinelli, the tech specialist at PC Part Picker, in a 2015 Vice article ‘Making Your Own Computer Can Be a Sad and Confusing Hell.’ Marinelli mentions that the process is not particularly difficult with some limited research, saying “PC building is often referred to as LEGO for adults.”

A snap of my rig’s innards after I upgraded my video card

It’s easy to break things

Many people assume that because they have little knowledge of how electronics work, they will damage their components. This comes from the prominence of horror stories on advisory boards and a general lack of understanding of the industry. Most PC components are heavily resistant to static electricity, have strict quality assurance and compatibility standards, and have comprehensive instruction manuals.

Building a PC is much like assembling an Ikea bed or mounting a TV on a wall: it is designed for an average user to do at home, but many people end up getting scared and paying someone to do it. However, as I just said, PC building, like other DIY activities, is designed for normal people. Yes, some components have a limited tolerance for abuse, and yes, there is still the risk of static discharge damaging your components, but these concerns are easily remedied by taking precautions to ground yourself and handling things with care. You don’t throw your iPhone down on your desk (I hope), so don’t slam your video card into your PCI-e socket like it’s a whack-a-mole and you should be fine. As Marinelli from the Vice story says: “95 percent of the connections are all keyed, so you couldn’t plug something in wrong unless you really, really tried to; or if you broke it, or you cut parts that you weren’t supposed to. Sometimes it’s even colour-coded as well.”

Lastly, whenever the “it could break” crowd gets backed into a corner, they bring out the ‘overclocking’ play. However, overclocking is not mandatory, or necessary for most users, and really is not that dangerous or hard. It is simply the process of pushing hardware past its factory set specification (generally a refresh rate or clock speed measured in Hertz) to achieve more performance. Generally, if you were a gamer, you might overclock your video card (GPU and memory) and your processor (CPU), while enthusiasts may also overclock their DRAM (system memory) and monitor refresh rate. However, as we are using electronics, increasing performance often comes at the cost of increasing power and/or voltage, leading to greater heat emission. So you need to have sufficient cooling. However, if you just want to build your first PC, most motherboards will have an EZ overclock in their BIOS and nearly every good guide will at least mention that it is an option and suggest appropriate cooling.

Image result for pc master race
The Glorious PC Master Race meme | Cartoon from The Escapist

The community is toxic

There is a widely held belief that PC gaming and building communities are cliquey and toxic. However, this, again, comes from a place of misunderstanding. As with many sub-cultures, the tropes, memes, and ways of communicating can seem nasty or non-inclusive from the outside, but this just isn’t the case. A prime example is the ‘Glorious PC Master Race’ meme. To someone with no knowledge of online video games culture, this could seem like a racist or classist slur. However, it is actually an in-joke that is often critiqued and laughed about on forums such as Reddit’s r/pcmasterrace. Instead, the core values of the community are sharing knowledge, fighting anti-consumer practices, and showcasing creativity. Yes, there is a malignant minority, who chose to belittle other gamers and fans of different hardware vendors, but they are often ignored or find themselves without a platform.


The biggest hiccup you are likely to experience through your build is your PC refusing to POST (Power-On Self-Test) or in the non-technical English—the computer doesn’t turn on or nothing shows on your display. If it POSTs, you are golden and can proceed to install the operating system of your choice, if not, there are a few simple steps to ascertain what ails your PC.

From my research, the biggest issues here are dead system memory (RAM DIMMs can often be faulty), incorrectly seated or faulty CPU cooler, power cables not connected, the display connected to the incorrect port, and general dead-on-arrival parts (video card, mainboard, RAM, processor.) In essence, many of the troubleshooting scenarios you are likely to come across can be solved by double checking things. To this end, there are certain best practices to observe when building.

  • Check compatibility and specifications before ordering/buying ( is a great reference for quick checking but always double-check)
  • Take some precaution to reduce static: this can involve standing on hardwood or tile floor and touching your case as you build, or buying anti-static mats, wrist straps etc.
  • Making a temporary test bench out of your motherboard box and plugging everything in outside of the case (makes it easier to assemble and saves you time if you have a faulty part)
  • Having a guide loaded on another screen or a friend reading the manuals to refer back to if you get stuck
  • Handle everything with care: you may have paid quite a bit for a component, so why treat it differently from a smartphone or expensive knickknack

If you are interested in getting into PC building I suggest checking out r/buildapc on Reddit and Paul’s Hardware’s ‘Beginner’s Guide to Building a Gaming PC’ series on YouTube. Alternatively, you can get involved in my Facebook community ‘PC Builders – Beginners and Enthusiasts.’

Prevent is here to stay, here’s how it works at Aberdeen

Photo by Alistair Swan

Screenshot (20)The UK government’s Prevent, anti-radicalisation measure is here to stay, but an academic at the University of Aberdeen says it “potentially undermines the very thing is proposes to do”.

Part of the Westminster’s Contest ‘counter-terrorism strategy,’ developed under Labour, and reviewed under the coalition and Conservative governments, the Prevent strategy aims to “prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.”

Westminster’s Prevent strategy 2011 states it will “respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism and the threat we face from those who promote it; prevent people from being drawn into terrorism and ensure that they are given appropriate advice and support; and work with sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalisation which we need to address.”

Section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (the Act) stipulates that: “A specified authority must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.”

These ‘specified authorities’ are listed in Schedule 6 of the Act, and include city councils, as nurseries, schools, colleges and universities, police authorities, and health and social care authorities such as the NHS.

However, the UK government’s guidance for Scotland, states that Prevent does not confer new functions authorities, but instead means they must place “an appropriate amount of weight on the need to prevent people being drawn into terrorism”.

Dr Samantha May, University of Aberdeen Leverhulme Early Careers Research Fellow, specialises in Islamism, co-ordinating several undergraduate and post-graduate courses. Her research “focuses on the inter-relations between religion and politics,” potentially relating it to Prevent policy.

She said: “My personal views on the Prevent Strategy as it currently stands is that it potentially undermines the very thing it proposes to do as it is based on non-empirical assumptions which threaten to further stigmatise and alienate wide sections of British communities even if this is not the intention of the strategy.”

The Home Office statistic that 30% of ‘radicalised’ individuals attended University makes little sense when you consider EU directives stipulate 50% of young people should attend University.

“While I acknowledge the government (and society at large) has a duty to try to prevent violent action the current strategy in my view is not the correct path. Criticisms of the Prevent strategy come from a wide range of individuals, institutions and organisations both faith based and secular.”

Furthermore, Dr May disputes evidence used to support the new 2015 Act. She argues that the Home Office statistic that 30% of ‘radicalised’ individuals attended University makes little sense when you consider EU directives stipulate 50% of young people should attend University. As such she says Universities actually act as centres of “de-radicalisation.”

She said: “To show any correlation (let alone causation) well over 50 per cent of individuals designated as ‘radicals’ would have had to attend University. Anyone with basic understanding of statistics can work this out.”

The Gaudie contacted Ashley Powell, the University’s Prevent Officer for comment.

In response, Joanne Milne, a university Communications Officer, answered questions on the policy at Aberdeen. She pointed to the University’s website, where the policy is laid out and stressed that “all Schools and Departments were involved in the formation of the Prevent Policy” and that the University Management Group approved the documents hosted online.

She said: “The policy documents on our webpages fully set out our institutional response to these requirements. These were developed in consultation with Schools and Directorates, and take into account our existing commitments to staff and student welfare and safety and to academic freedom. As we implement the various measures we will monitor whether and how they impact on those commitments, and, if necessary, amend our approach accordingly.”

“The measures set out in our Prevent Implementation Plan aim to protect academic freedom. The intention behind the measures is not to prevent specific types of academic activity but to ensure that all academic activity undertaken by students and staff is legal and safe. [The Act] created a number of new offences in relation to terrorism activities, groups and materials and we wish to ensure that researchers, teachers and students are fully aware of the legislative framework when engaging in studies that may fall under the terms of the 2015 Act.”

The Gaudie understands that the Aberdeen University Student Association maintain a boycott of Prevent policy.

Ms Milne indicated that senior AUSA representatives were present at a range of committee and advisory groups, including the Advisory Group on Business Continuity and Resilience, where the Student President is a designated representative. However, none of the sitting sabbatical officers have participated in Prevent training.

Liam Fuller, AUSA’s sabbatical officer in charge of Education, said that the Student President had many committee positions and that it was the Environment and Ethics President who took lead on Prevent issues last year.

Ms Milne described “a standard training package” featuring Workshop to Raise Awareness of Prevent (WRAP) training in conjunction with Police Scotland. She added that where needed a bespoke solution would be developed. Meanwhile, the Education officer commented that “putting students in to the training will inherently create an environment of suspicion across our student population based on the agenda of Prevent.”

According to Fuller, AUSA has yet to implemented legislation regarding Prevent, but pointed to headway made in changing the title of the officer responsible for Prevent implementation from Prevent Champion to Prevent Co-ordinator. He also indicated that AUSA intended to refer the matter of Prevent to the student council again.

He said: “There was no formal legislation put through last year based on the fact the former Student President simply asked the student body through Council its opinion on whether we should engage and challenge or disengage and challenge.

“It is something we will likely bring to Council again.” Mr Fuller operates an “engage and
challenge approach”. He stresses that, while Prevent in Aberdeen was not as “intense as the rest of the UK” he worries that the justifications used for the policy are unhelpful in countering extremism.

He said: “I believe that the Government’s legislation on Prevent has unreasonable foundations. It is intended to ‘prevent’ vulnerable individuals from extremism and other forms of destructive activities but the implementation is so far off course, it’s essentially an anti-Muslim. The reliance on this rhetoric to stimulate support, especially in England, renders the whole thing Islamophobic and therefore wrong.”

He added: “Here at Aberdeen as with Scotland more widely, the legislation
is not as intense as the rest of the UK areas. The University has done what it is legally required to and we are critical of the fact they have accepted the procedures so quickly and without question. We understand the legal obligation but we also understand the respect deserved of our students. Students should not be treated as suspects. Students should not have to prepare letters on their desktops to ensure if anyone ‘finds out’ that they’re studying a contentious subject, academically, they don’t get reported to the police under the Prevent legislation.

Prevent strategy defines extremism as: “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also include in our definition of extremism calls for the death of members of our armed forces”.

However, while this definition may seem sensible in abstract, Safe Campus Communities, which offers guidance for the implementation of Prevent in higher education, has advised
that British universities “manage” Palestinian activism in order to comply with the counter-extremism strategy.

“Contentious topics” listed on the website include: “Vocal support for Palestine,” “Opposition to Israeli settlements in Gaza,” and “Criticism of wars in the Middle East”. What is troubling is that these are positions that would hardly be considered problematic in social science seminars across the UK.

Last year 26 organisations and prominent figures, including the National Union of Students, Index on Censorship, and the Muslim Council of Britain, alongside senior police personnel, joined in condemning Prevent.

A statement directed at then Prime Minister David Cameron said: “We are a cross-section of British society who believe in the necessity of keeping our nation safe and secure. As such, we are gravely concerned that the proposed counter-extremism and safeguarding bill will feed the very commodity that the terrorists thrive on: fear.”

Altogether, it would appear that, while the university have approached the policy with all due consideration for academic freedom, there are still avenues for improvement. Furthermore, there is room for development of a more united front against Prevents widely criticised approach to extremism on the part of the students’ association. Finally, with the news that Prevent measures will only be tightened, the duty of resistance falls on authorities and the bodies they oversee. Students and faculty members need to be informed of how the policy affects them and how they can be involved in its implementation.

AUSA offer support relating to Prevent and the NUS operate a helpline.

Originally published as a print feature under the title ‘Prevent policy trouble on UoA campus’ in The Gaudie Student Newspaper 01.03.17, p. 6.

Photo by Alistair Swan.

Originally published March 1, 2017.


A sample from my novel, The Lost Man

The Lost Man

by Alasdair Fraser


Part One: Duty


The nights were cold, his dreams dark; fleeting images of a past not recalled, of a life unwillingly forgotten. The lost man felt the keen touch of loneliness, for he was truly alone. It was not the loneliness of an empty house, or of a silent night, but the purest form, that comes from a place devoid of man’s touch.

He sat awake; a familiar shiver crawled down his spine remembering their faces. The faces that haunted him sleeping, and waking. Familiar agony spiked through his broken mind, the pieces would not fit. Like a puzzle some naughty child had stolen pieces from. Emptiness and pain were his life. Who are they?

Stretching, the man sat up, the half-light of early morning pierced his crude home, another dawn in the strange and unforgiving place. He scratched another tally into the wall. Not for the first time he pondered what evil would allow him that function, his numeracy, but not his name, or those of the faces that haunted him.

His shelter was crude. No more than a shallow cave, a fire pit, and a wall of woven reeds and saplings. Filthy furs and prickly pine needles were his bed. The land was bountiful but dangerous, survival a daily struggle. Why should I wish to survive? This world is a cruel jape indeed.

He crawled pitifully from the hovel. Even the heat of the morning sun could not warm his spirits.

The sun is wrong, as are the stars. His mood was sour, and little was likely to change that. Each day toiling under an unfamiliar sun, each night under a starry sky he did not recognise. The man was fading.


“Wake up!” a feminine voice called softly.

With a groan Ruaridh rolled over, a sullen look on his face. Why? He opened his eyes and took in the lovely face he saw. Her face, his wife, was radiant.

“Morning, sleepy,” she said grinning. No hint of sleep in her eyes, nor in her voice. She slept lightly and woke early.

“Morning,” he replied, also smiling. How can a body be this happy to be up so early? Ailith never failed at making him smile. His nightmares began to fade, the cold sweat drying on his skin.

“You’ll miss your Da’s big meeting if you don’t get your worthless arse up” she said winking. “Billy the stable boy is bringing your gelding round.” She held herself in a disapproving kind of pose. He loved her for playing pretend. It somehow made it easier.

He looked outside and noticed it was well past dawn. He had overslept. Bugger! The sounds of the town at morn began to wash over him; of an anvil being struck, of women-folk chatting over walls and hedgerows, and of the beasts stirring from their rest. The sounds flowing in through the crack in the shutters did much to sooth his mood.

Sighing heavily, Ruaridh rose to the brisk cool of their new home. Their home, the thought made him happy. Despite the many years since their vows it still felt new. They had built the house together, far from court, far from his father. For five joyful summers they’d had peace, with just each other’s love and the rustic honesty of life in the glens.

The town, no more than a small trading post just beyond the old Duchy of Norestor, was near the end of the pony trail that came down from the Fjords to southern Norcroft. Quaint by all standards, Red was still proud of how far it had come since he had arrived following his wedding. While only a day’s hard ride from Tustakburgh, due to the network of support stations dotting the highland, his home was secluded enough from court that his father had not thought to call him to court until now. It suited him. His seat on the town council and work with the foresters kept him more than content.

Realising how distracted he must look he looked to his wife, who was still pretending to scowl at him. However, today the scowl was edged with sorrow. With curves to make a lad blush, hair like beaten gold and freckles to match, Ailith was the fairest lass in town by his reckoning, bugger spousal bias.

Dressing into his undergarments, he beamed. I’m a lucky bastard! The thought had no doubt put a goon-like smirk on his face. Though, the feeling could not last, for he would soon leave.

“Give me strength; I am married to a half-wit” Ailith exclaimed, catching his vacant looking smile.

      Grinning to myself again, I should stop that. That only made him smile more. It hurt.

“I’m not daft,” he insisted, “just gifted with a woman far swifter of mind than I” Very diplomatic. The slap that soon followed was more playful than angry.

Staring at the floor they shared a quiet moment while he nursed his cheek, the earlier brevity gone.

“Must my father always be so cryptic?” Ruaridh asked, pulling his britches on. “The man is out to drive a body mad.” His father really pissed him off sometimes.

“Him and his damn bird,” she stressed, “they’re insufferable.”

His father’s magus the Raven was hard work, as wise as a crone, big as a boulder, and twice as stubborn as both. Were they insufferable? Aye! He nodded.

Mocking the Raven would earn the King’s ire, not that Ailith gave a damn. Having his mother, the queen’s ear earned much in the way of protection from the king’s formidable temper. Not even her husband the king dared displease Ælfwynn. Why else was Norcroft’s favoured heir married to the bailiff’s daughter, if not for the Queen’s approval. It wasn’t to say that the king didn’t like his bailiff. Just that he wasn’t like to marry his second born to the man’s daughter without a great deal of badgering.

“You might do well to respect the feathery old bastard,” he cautioned. “Father likes him.” The Raven was the king’s closest confident, party to all his thoughts and decisions.  “A wad of gorse in the pants he may be, but he keeps us safe,” he said with a wry smile, “and Granda claimed Raven was a hundred years old when he was a boy.” The jokes were less forced, maybe it would be okay.

The second slap was more playful, if a clip to the ear could be considered fun. You didn’t tease Ailith. Though truth be told, no one really knew how old the Raven was.

Stepping into cold riding boots and sliding into a scratchy tunic Ruaridh considered himself in the glass on the wall. Bulky with muddy red hair, he could easily be the miller’s boy, not a likely heir to the throne. Snorting he mused, favourite son of the realm of piss, shit and ice. It said a lot that the estranged son living in a crofter’s town was favoured over Craig, the first born.

He rubbed his cheek and grabbed his leathers, pulling them on. Supple from use, they fit like a glove. Next he added his sword belt, the pommel of his blade glinted in the daylight. If he had it his way his battered old axe would have been swinging from the thong at his hip, but times were changing in the north. A prince of Norcroft had to be able to fence as well as he could heft a shield and swing an axe. He had packed it safely in his saddlebag. Finally he threw his travelling cloak across his broad shoulders and turned to look at himself once again in the mirrored glass.

“How do I look?” he asked, presenting himself.

“You look like the arse I married;” Ailith offered smiling, “only I seem to remember he didn’t have a beard or fleas, and I seem to recall he stank less.”

“Positively princely,” Ruaridh joked, performing an offended pout and half bow, before turning and walking to the door.

Ailith followed, pausing at their threshold and catching his arm. “Red, you make sure you come back,” she whispered, finally serious. It broke his heart to see her eyes well up.

“You promised me you would always come back,” she was clearly frightened, the tone of his father’s letter conveying its intent. His dalliance in the highlands was considered over, the king required his heir. Their fantasy of living the quiet life was just that, fantasy.

He stepped outside, accepting his gelding’s reins from the waiting Billy. Everything appeared to be in order, although the small boy looked anxious to get away.

“I will be back for you,” he said, a kiss and the promise given seeing him off. Sliding his hand along the saddle he vaulted up, and with a nod he dismissed the stable boy. Ailith had already moved inside and shut the door; a long goodbye was too much. Red was glad no one saw his relief, nor his tears.

      What cruel father does this to his son’s wife? Seething he urged the horse into a trot, the heavens opened, and all pretences of a pleasant trip were abandoned. The rains of Norcroft drenched a man to his bones.



The Raven hated the rain. It soaked the feathers and fur of his coat, matted his locks, and made fire runes a nightmare. This squall had come down from the north-west; the sky all bruised and thundery. How was one supposed to protect their king smelling like a damp bear and unable to use magic? Not that fire runes were all he possessed; they just seemed to scare the simple northerners the most. In truth a magus of his calibre could raze the battlement he was standing on without so much as a hint of fire. Forget scaring peasants, his abilities often scared him.

Lord’s balls it’s miserable.

Raven turned to head inside when a smudge in the distance caught his attention. He opened his eyes to the Aether with a gesture and a rider bloomed into clarity, charging toward the castle on horseback. The prince approached. The boy answers summons. This would really fuck up his day, rain considered.

Pushing on the old oak door, he returned to his modest chambers atop the tower. The king liked to take audience in the main hall atop his throne, which meant the bone aching descent that left him cursing for hours. Fucking bastard! Were he not so defective he would be as spry as his first day, the magus contemplated, taking the stairs two at a time despite the pain. At least the others wouldn’t see him.

The main hall was a marvel of engineering. Illuminated by candelabrum and stained-glass covered slits high in the wall it was well-lit despite the oppressive grey stone and dreich weather. Wide enough for four men abreast the great studded door at the end opened inward to a huge expanse. A hundred paces long and half as wide with an enormous arched roof, it could fit the entire surrounding village inside with space for their flocks and fodder. Dubhdin was no dandy’s palace. It was a castle— probably the strongest every built north of the Velsaph.

Along the wall hung the royal banners of Norcroft, limp and tattered but steeped with pride; the red lion of Robert’s house, rampant on an ivory-white field. Fucking pity the seamstress who thought that beast looked anything like a lion. He smirked as he remembered his time in the east. They had true lions there.

Punctual, as if by clockwork, the king strode into the hall and perched himself on his solid oaken throne upon the dais. His posture was impeccable, as was his hair, wavy red locks pulled back into a tight tail. The man is never bloody late, or sloppy. Raven bloody hated it.

The Raven took his place beside his lord just as the studded doors opened. A youth, the king’s mirror only twenty-some seasons younger and slightly taller, strode toward the dais with the grace of drunk on feast night. The boy was heavy-footed, though he made up for the lack of grace with strength and cunning. They’d be buggered otherwise.

“My son, it is good to see you grace my hall again,” the king exclaimed; his joy seemed uncharacteristically genuine. “You have been distant these seasons since your marriage, Ælfwynn and I worry.”

“At work living my life and tending my land, father,” the prince said grinning. “…And no doubt avoiding those ‘princely duties’ you love to remind me of in your letters.”

The boy’s cheek always surprised the Raven; it was both amusing and disturbing.

“Yes, no doubt,” the boy’s father answered in a dry sounding tone.

      This will not end well.

“How is mother? Is she here?” the prince asked. Raven grimaced. Why’d the boy have to say that?

“She is away” the king replied, his lack of elaboration seemed frosty. A short though unbearable silence followed, neither man shifting their gaze.

“Your brother is missing,” the king offered, his fists clenched, eyes flinty. Preamble was a concept the king had long forgotten. Robert instead claimed directness was the way of a mature king. It seemed to make the boy act like a cat rubbed the wrong way.

“What was that father?” the prince asked, “It has been a long ride and I am tired.” His flat tone betrayed no mirth. While the king’s sons had been close as children, after the eldest had abdicated his responsibilities as heir, their relationship had been wintery at best. The younger Robertson held a grudge like a cow chews the cud. “Did you say Craig is ‘missing’?”

“Yes,” the king replied in a curt sort of way, the veins of his neck standing. Long years serving the man told Raven he did not appreciate the boy’s tone. The stress of being in a room with the two royals had already prompted a deep ache behind Raven’s eyes.

“Are you sure he isn’t between the thighs of some woods-witch to the north ‘spreading the seed’?” The elder prince had sired a clutch of bastard daughters across the realm on minor mages and healer women; mostly frauds, though the man was dangerously drawn to the arcane. The mother was to thank for that.

Raven massaged his temples. Fuck! His day definitely would not get better.

“Your brother’s proclivity for those touched by magic and in possession of breasts is well known,” the boys’ father retorted, his jaw clenched. “Despite himself, it was not his latest witch that caused this!” he followed, gripping the arms of his throne.

“Well that’s a relie…” the youth began.

“Silence!” the old king howled, spittle flying. It seemed he had finally lost his temper. “You will be quiet. You will listen. We haven’t long before the council arrives.

“Your brother is gone,” the king sighed, “and I am to blame.”


      Raven skulked in the corner. With the sun the king rose and dressed. Garbed in ornate leathers studded with gleaming steel and lush furs, he approached the tower’s balcony. The previous night’s rain had turned to snow and the air was sharp with cold. Winter approached, the council gathered, and it had all gone to shit.

Clearly sleep had eluded the king. Raven guessed troubling visions still haunted him behind lidded eyes. Cold sweats and ragged cries had long ago driven Ælfwynn from the man’s bed, but none of that compared to the fury the prince had brought him. “And now the damn council,” Robert roared, thumping the railing with his fist. The man even swore in a controlled way.

“Sire,” the Raven interrupted, “the council is gathering.”

The king’s gaze didn’t shift.

“Robert, the council,” he prodded gently.

“Who is in attendance this year?” The king could recall well enough, Raven knew, but the recital would give the monarch time to gather his emotions.

“The Chancellor, the Sheriffs of Bend and Gull, Duke Esnorterre, Governor Carr, Lord Montismar, and all the chiefs except Bjorn of the Horn.”

“What of Ælfwynn? Has she returned?” The king’s voice contained a hint of desperation Raven disliked greatly.

“Your wife sent communications from Sumorland. She intends to spend the winter at the Mage’s tower.” The king looked crestfallen. The queen had been even more distant of late, her communications kept for her favourites such as her daughter-in-law. Raven could tell the king was hurting, and his anger was poorly veiled.

“So be it,” the king said in a long exhale.

With a curt nod he returned inside. “Wait for me in the hall, and make sure they are ready for me.”  Raven left his liege to strap his sword to his hip and don his circle of office. The man looked old.


As Raven spotted the king approaching the base of the stair he could hear the rabble like sound erupting from the great hall. With a gesture the monarch informed his chamberlain he was ready. Rap, rap, rap, the fat man’s knuckles hit the door. It swung open and the king entered to a list of his titles being read by a page, Raven followed. They were met with silence.

“Welcome my friends,” the king announced taking his seat. He cleared his throat, “You may sit.”

Punctuated by a wave of the king’s hand they seated themselves, with varying degrees of difficulty. Once more I have to sit and listen to him argue with these fuck-wits. Raven sighed quietly to himself. He shuffled in his seat, rustling his cloak of fur and feathers.

Glancing at the king, he followed his gaze about the room as it fell on the university chancellor, the Council’s newest member. King’s College at Tustakbugh was to be the jewel of the north, Robert’s legacy, driving the enlightenment that gripped the Spine. Patrick Aelfstone, a portly cleric of noble stock from Montismar had been elected as Chancellor. The man was a famed mathematician and all round queer fellow.

“How go things at the college?” the king asked the Chancellor.

“Very well, Your Grace.” Nodding to Ædelmær, the Duke of Esnorterre, he said “With the Duke’s help we have recruited many monks and learned men, the main building are complete, with a library, and we will be enlightening our first batch of young minds before the spring.” The king seemed to appreciate the brief summary as much as Raven. Maybe the odd pale man was growing on him.

He followed the king’s gaze once more as it landed on the duke.

“Very good, I thank you Esnorterre. It is my understanding you and the Lord Governor have been of great help. The Accords are upheld.” Robert said, with a smile that gave little away. The king loved to tell Raven how sweet the day would be when he no longer needed their gold.

“Aye, Your Grace, the Grand Duchy values your patronage of the arts and education,” the man said, in his infuriating pompous tone.

The Grand Duchy of Esnorterre was essentially an autonomous principality within the Flauvorter Empire but in an attempt to check their power, a series of accords stipulated that Esnorterre pay homage to Norcroft. Mercantile gold and artisanal produce moved across the Girdle at an incredible rate as the people of Tustakburgh sought gentrification through southern fashion.

While filling his coffers, it obviously grated on the king. The man had been a bearded savage two decades prior to the accords, so it was little surprise.

Turning again the king spoke to one of his clan chiefs.

“William, what say you?” he said staring at the bear of a man sitting across from him.

“A good harvest and the fjords look to be bountiful again my king.” The man seemed odd talking about farming, considering Raven could remember vividly witnessing him hack some Flauvorter knight in two with an axe during the war twenty summers previously. The hot gore had splashed his face. The sickening sucking noise and slick splatter would remain with him till the final day. Such was the punishment for spitting at the chief of a northern clan, apparently. Did he miss war? Raven shivered, as more memories followed. No. Maybe Robert did, but not the Raven.


The king continued, “Sheriff Robb, what of Chieftain Bjorn?”

The old administrator from Bend shifted uncomfortably in his flamboyant court clothes of brocade and fur. “Last I heard he had taken an eastern carrack with his sons to the continent. My outriders spotted Flauvorter colours on the sails.”

“Dark news indeed,” Robert said. What were those bastards up to? Raven made a mental note to ask Robert later.

Unlike their southern neighbours, Norcroft’s navy still consisted of traditional vessels. The longships, birlinns and great galleys from the wester shores were suitable for raiding the isles and rivers of the Spine. However, maritime warfare, against the east was unthinkable; their ships were perilously outmatched. To address this, the king had ordered his shipwrights to begin work on a fleet of the larger warships. That fact alone made the news doubly vexing. They had been betrayed, by one who knew just how weak they were. Their adversaries to the south and east had carried away one of Robert’s most loyal lieutenants.

“Montismar, I would ask that you watch your waters and quays for this ship…I would very much like to speak with Bjorn.” the monarch ordered, his eyes flinty. The small island’s lord nodded solemnly.

Raven watched the king shift his gaze left and right, observing the room. Following a brief pause, the king addressed the room once more. “Thank you for your wise council. While these tiding are troubling we have much else to discuss.”

“Aye, father, we do,” the prince replied. “I am sure you wish to brief them on Craig’s disappearance?” The room filled with gasps and looks of askance.

“Thank you my son,” the king responded; Raven just barely caught the sharp look Robert shot the youth. “Prince Craig has gone missing while on tour north of the Blasted Lands. He was last spotted near the Eagle’s grave.”

At the mention of his fellow magus the Raven shuffled in his seat. Their battle in the Blasted Lands west of the Girdle’s northern bank was legendary. Even from his grave the bastard made Raven’s skin crawl. The creature the people of the Spine called Eagle, had once been the greatest of Raven’s race. A mage of awesome power and perilous hatred, he had spent his eons on the planet wreaking havoc, always behind this or that puppet monarch. His most recent and last pet had been the late Flauvorter Emperor.

A withered shape covered in furs sat at the end of the table shifted, drawing the Raven’s attention back to the meeting. Donald, the king’s uncle and chieftain of Robert’s clan in his stead, would have his word. “I sat here as the boy threw down his birth right and spat at our feet. I stayed quiet then,” he paused. “I sat quietly again as you allowed your other son to sequester away in some backwater.” The aged form cleared his throat. “I even sat quietly when our beloved Queen sailed for Sumorland. So it is without hesitance that I say, I will not sit by again as that farce is repeated!” he bellowed with surprising power, before descending into a coughing fit.

“Esteemed Uncle I…” the king pleaded.

“Silence, pup I haven’t finished!” he bellowed. There were only two people in the known world, who could talk to Robert like that, and the queen was far away.

“I will not watch you undo all you have achieved. Your kingdom is strong, but that strength lies in your family. It is high time young Red proved himself and it is high time Ælfwynn graced these dreich and dreary halls once more. Send the boy to fetch his mother, he may consult the mages in their tower and then return to seek out Prince Craig in the spring.” Clearly exhausted Donald sat back in his seat, eyes glassy from exertion.

Clearly taken aback, the king took pause before responding. “Thank you, uncle, you have given me much to think on.” He clasped his hands and surveyed the room.

“This council is adjourned. I thank you friends. I welcome you to the hospitalities of my home. Goodnight.” The king stood and turned to Raven, gesturing for him to follow. They had much to discuss.

The third chapter begins on drones and the Oval Office

Marc Buehler/Flickr

Photo: Predator drone by Marc Buehler/Flickr

Why Trump is unlikely to keep his finger off the trigger with drones.

President Trump stated when he addressed the CIA in Langley that: “We haven’t used the abilities we’ve got. We’ve been restrained.” The self-congratulatory rant came after months of casting aspersions, but now Trump needs the CIA’s drones, so he is playing ball.

Just over eight years ago, President Obama met with CIA director Michael Hayden. Obama, a constitutional lawyer, was about to be briefed on the existence of ‘signature’ strikes.

A Bush-era secret, ‘signature’ strikes or “crowd killings” target ‘military-aged males’ who share a ‘signature’ or ‘pattern of life’ with terrorist suspects. Newsweek journalist Daniel Klaidman (Kill or Capture) claims Obama reacted poorly to the news. “That’s not good enough for me,” he said, following a blunt explanation from Hayden’s deputy.

“[Obama] would squirm,” said Klaidman’s source; yet in the months following he authorised the largest increase in drone strikes in the history of the programme. According to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London, by the end of his term he had authorised a total of 563 drone strikes across Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, almost ten times as many as Bush.

Obama was enigmatic. The Onion captured this in their satire of his “loyal,” hound like drones following him out of the White House. It’s hard to reconcile a ‘squirming’ Nobel Peace laureate with the US drone master who authorised the killing of estimated 380-801 civilians. Trump is not though; he wears his comfort with violence on his sleeve. He said his counterterrorism approach would be to “Take out their families”.

Talking to Democracy Now, Jameel Jaffer (The Drone Memos), formerly legal counsel for ACLU said, “[Obama] had to build a legal and bureaucratic infrastructure for the use of targeted killing,” adding, “that infrastructure now exists for the next president, for President Trump, to use.”

“[T]he real concern,” he continued, “is that the lines that the Obama administration drew are lines that can be swept aside by the next administration. These are rules that the Obama administration adopted for itself, and it fought very hard to keep the courts from enforcing those rules or even asking whether the rules were the right ones, whether they reflected international law or reflected constitutional law.”

I would argue that the mind that brought you “bigly” inheriting the most extensive executive powers is scary; doubly so when he vows to eradicate the nebulous “radical Islamic terrorism.” A ‘liberal’ White House tried, and all they have to show are a string of war crime indictments and failed states. Civilians in Yemen and Syria should prepare for more of the same.

Furthermore, the eagle-eyed among you may have noticed the border authority’s recent purchase of several Predator drones. That’s the same model of drone used in the 2011 extrajudicial killings of three American citizens including Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman. His wall doesn’t seem so scary now, does it?

I might be wrong, but last time I checked it’s a lot easier to strap a couple Hellfire anti-tank missiles to an aircraft the size of a Cessna than it is to build a wall across a continent. I’ll admit it’s unlikely that Trump would authorise kinetic strikes in sight of El Paso, but the Predator’s surveillance capabilities should lift eyebrows.

With Trump, it isn’t the populist campaign lunacy or the twitter tantrums that scare me; it’s the very real legacy of power Obama leaves the new President. The buffoonery of a pension aged sex pest with too much money may seem funny; but the terrifying truth is, Donald Trump now has the authority to assassinate thousands of people globally, absent due process. He has the ability to play god, and as with his predecessors, we will likely let him.

Originally published in the opine section of The Gaudie Student Newspaper: 01 February 2017, p. 12.

This version contains minor typographic corrections. The featured image used in print is not reproduced. I would like to thank the Opine editor Jamie Smith for the opportunity to contribute to his section and for his help in editing the piece.

Despite austerity Govt. Spends Billions on Spying and Assassination

While politicians argue over NHS funding, the UK government continues to quietly spend billions on technologies for spying and assassination.

The current Tory government led by Prime Minister Theresa May — “the UK’s spy queen” according to Ars Technica — has pledged that the National Health Service will receive no additional funding; yet, that same government proudly pours billions of pounds into the military industrial complex?

Whether it is the hotly debated renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent, the equally controversial adherence to NATO military-spending targets, or Mrs May’s ‘Snoopers’ charter’, the UK government spends big on defence. However, these have all been discussed ad nauseam in the press.

What hasn’t been covered to a similar degree is that the same government also spends billions on shadowy surveillance programmes and combat drones, with the expressed purpose of spying and killing, often outside of the confines of the law — and theatre of war.

While assassination and indiscriminate mass surveillance are illegal, to varying degrees, in both the Britain and America, both have become common practice following 9/11, and their popularity belies political affiliation, as seen with the continued use of drone strikes across the Bush and Obama Administrations.

What do you know about Drones?

Small civilian drones are increasingly present in our skies, a trend that may be bolstered with services like Amazon Prime Air. With their move toward the mainstream and legislation governing civilian drones lagging, they pose a small but significant challenge for lawmakers. However, the origins of these fairly innocuous gadgets are firmly based in the military industrial complex.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) — better known as ‘Drones’, for their bee-like buzzing noise during flight — are the weapon of choice for governments looking to spy on or assassinate individuals at range with zero pilot risk. With names like Switchblade, Reaper, and Predator, they evoke a sense of fear and impending violence.

Developed during the 1980s by the Aeronautical Systems subsidiary of nuclear energy firm General Atomics and Israeli-born drone engineer Abraham Karem, the Predator quickly became the poster child for the US military’s drone program. Borne from Karem’s Gnat 750 drone, used by the CIA and Air Force in Bosnia and the Balkans, the MQ-1 Predator and it’s sibling, the upgraded MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B), have become the US government’s favoured weapon in the so called ‘war on terror’.

While the use of drones by the US military and organisations such as Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) (a black ops organisation directly answerable to the president) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been thoroughly exposed through the tireless work of journalists such as Jeremy Scahill (Blackwater, Dirty Wars) and activists like Medea Benjamin (Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control), the role of the UK government in anti-terror strikes and its involvement in the purchase and development of drones, has gone sparsely covered and widely uncontested by the British public.

In a country crushed by austerity and mired by Brexit, does our government really have a mandate to spend billions on extrajudicial killings?

In addition to its development partnerships with Israel and France, Britain has bought drones from the Americans. The problem herein, does not lie with the press, as even the establishment has been fairly consistent at publishing the particulars, but with Britain as a whole for its uneven resistance. Here are just a couple examples of the UK’s appetite for drones:

The Watchkeeper WK450, based on the Elbit Systems (Israel) Hermes 450 and developed by a consortium of firms led by Thales (France), has seen a total of just 146 hours action in Afghanistan, between three vehicles. Worse still, many of the 33 drones that had been delivered by late 2015 are used exclusively for training or worse are simply gathering dust in storage. The controversial programme, which has been described as “just the latest of a stream of examples of overdue and overcost defence equipment projects”, managed to rack up a £1.2 billion price tag.

The Royal Air Force’s Reaper drones, which they bought from our friends in America, have seen far greater success. Flying equipped with a pair of 500lb bombs and four 100lb Lockheed Martin Hellfire anti-tank missiles, each costing $68,000, they have become the favoured drone of the British military. However, things would get tricky if the government had to justify paying £500 million for 10 of the aircraft.

In addition to its extensive partnership with the US on ‘The War on Terror’, British armed forces, enabled by their vast expenditure, have carried out a series of their own drone strikes against British-born terror suspects overseas.

In 2015, PM David Cameron credited an RAF-operated Reaper with the death of British-born Reyaad Khan, a fighter for the so-called Islamic State. This must have impressed Ministry of Defence, who disclosed in May that they have plans to double the Royal Air Force’s fleet of the deadly drones. However, as with the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, the ‘radical cleric’ assassinated by a Hellfire in Yemen, Khan’s Daesh affiliation counted for more than his right to trial as a British citizen.

Khan and Al-Awlaki’s suspected affiliations with terrorist groups marked them for death, despite their respective citizenship and the rights those entailed. This has set a dangerous precedent for how our governments choose military targets, especially when you consider that at the time of Awlaki’s death, Yemen was outside the publicly recognised theatres of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Whether it is the exorbitant cost or the reckless and legally questionable taking of life, there are many aspects of Britain’s use of drones that should make us stop and take note. However, pilotless aircraft are not the government’s only shady vice.

‘Bulk Collection’ and other snooping

Aswith many euphemisms, the truth behind the words is often distasteful, with the ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ (torture) of the past becoming the ‘bulk collection’ (mass surveillance through data collection) and targeted-killing’ (assassination) of today.

With Mrs May taking the reins in Westminster, it is hard to believe Government intends to slow the pace of its ‘snooping’. Described by Edward Snowdon as the UK’s “Darth Vader”, May is a champion of greater powers for the government to collect and store vast quantities of personal information. She has spent years carefully pushing for power which has culminated in the Investigatory Powers Bill, granting British law enforcement and security agency freedom to track individuals’ internet usage unhindered by the need for a warrant.

As with the drones, the lack of accountability is stark.

Take for example the ever mysterious US National Security Agency’s (NSA) base at RAF Menwith Hill. For years the government stonewalled journalists and activists when questioned about its activities. However, recently The Intercept managed to obtain documents which exposed the base’s role in questionable surveillance carried out in aid of “capture-kill operations” in the Middle East.

These revelations came on the tails of a report last year by the Intelligence and Security Committee of parliament on the practices of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which held that the intelligence organisation had been illegally spying on the British public. In its report the committee cited the leaks by Edward Snowdon and called for significant legislative changes.

Above are only a few examples of a much greater trend towards secrecy and expensive mass surveillance, which when coupled with the government’s increase reliance on drones, shows a budgetary prioritisation starkly at odds with the needs of the British people. At every turn it seems that our government seeks to go against the spirit of our laws in its fight against terrorism, all the while millions of Brits suffer under austerity. This trend in counter-terrorism priorities may not have originated with the Tory party of Cameron and May, but has definitely been exacerbated under their governments.

While money is one aspect to worry about, the combination of a government eager to spy on its people and a trend, in the US at least, of law enforcement agencies seeking and obtaining sophisticated surveillance drones, provides us a serious cause for anxiety.

It’s time for the people of Britain to say no to the drone, to say no to being spied on, and demand that the government address the needs of the people, not pour money into the ever expanding sinkhole that is it’s objectively flawed policy for the War on Terror.

Originally published on my Medium blog: