“THE trouble with the modern world is that intelligent people are full of doubt and the stupid are full of certainty.”
That’s one of those phrases that have been attributed to a number of people over the years and whose provenance will now probably never be verified. Regardless of who said it, it’s never truer than in times of conflict and as the world stands on the edge of the abyss after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many people who this time last week wouldn’t have been able to point to Ukraine on a map are now:
• Military tacticians.
• Strategic geniuses.
• Political historians.
By a strange quirk, many of these same people at the start of the Covid pandemic quickly figured out that masks don’t work, that Bill Gates is taking over the world by way of vaccination and that nurses and doctors are guilty of war crimes. It’s hugely impressive to see how quickly and completely they have now similarly mastered battlefield strategy and conflict diplomacy.
Squinter wouldn’t for a second claim to be intelligent, but he does own up to being full of doubt about what’s going on in Ukraine at the minute because he holds all these things to be true.
• Vladimir Putin is an egomaniacal danger to the world.
• Putin has real concerns about NATO expansion.
• Putin should get the hell back to his own country.
• Russia naturally has an interest in ethnic Russians in the Ukraine oblasts.
• Russia needs to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty instead of indulging in nostalgic revisionism.  
• Ukraine needs to do something about its Nazi/fascist problem.

Simultaneously, progressives who have spent years decrying Russian funding of the Conservative Party via oligarch billionaires now refuse to connect the dots that draw the picture of Putin’s relentless and successful infiltration of the right and far-right in the United Kingdom and the United States.

The problem is that after the first shell exploded you’re not allowed to have doubts; you’re not allowed to be confused; you’re not allowed to see light and shade. You have to be certain of the righteousness of the Ukraine military; you have to be ready to ‘do what it takes’; you have to fly the Ukraine flag and spit on the Russian one.
And so it is that when pure, unadulterated propaganda is pumped out, you are barred from considering it as such, much less describing it as such. A couple of examples...
A segment on the BBC’s 10 O’Clock News treated us to inspiring footage of the Ukrainian military teaching grannies and housewives how to use AK47s to defend their homes when the Russians arrive. Clearly visible on the instructor’s upper left sleeve was the SS-inspired logo of the Azov Battalion, a far-right, neo-Nazi militia which is now part of the Ukraine military. Squinter proposes to leave it up to you to explain why the BBC failed to mention this rather salient fact. When Squinter mentioned it on Twitter it quickly became apparent that the vast majority of people on the platform are willing either to ignore or overlook the existence of neo-Nazis in the equation.
Then there’s the case of the Snake Island heroes. On the small island in the Odessa region a unit of 13 Ukrainian border guards was ordered to surrender by a Russian warship. “Go f**k yourselves,” the commander told the Russians, after which the ship’s guns opened fire and the unit was wiped out. Dramatic audio of the encounter raced around the world and the incident became a symbol of heroic resistance in the face of brutal aggression. Just the one problem: It almost certainly didn’t happen. Russia has since released pictures of the men being put on buses after their surrender. Moscow says they will be allowed to return to Ukraine.
Again, anyone with a passing grasp of other conflicts who raised an eyebrow as this extraordinary tale of selfless courage unfolded was most likely a Russian bot or in the pay of the KGB. Simultaneously, progressives who have spent years decrying Russian funding of the Conservative Party via oligarch billionaires now refuse to connect the dots that draw the picture of Putin’s relentless and successful infiltration of the right and far-right in the United Kingdom and the United States.
How do you take sides when you don’t have any good choices? The answer could well be that in war there’s no such thing as a good choice. But there can – and perhaps there must be – a good debate about them.

A 50-year wait gets irritatingly longer


TO the Odyssey on Saturday evening for a trip to a cinema Squinter’s never been to before.
*Technical point: It’s actually the SSE Arena now, but just as Long Kesh is still Long Kesh, the entertainment complex by the river remains the Odyssey in Squinter’s mental address book.
Last week was the 50th anniversary of the cinema premier of The Godfather, Squinter’s favourite movie, and as a gift from his daughter Squinter plus one had received tickets to see the film on the big screen for the first time. He’s not gonna lie – Squinter was like a child on Christmas Eve. Impossible to say how many times he’s watched the movie – somewhere between 40 and 60 would probably be as good a ballpark figure as you’re likely to get; but while watching Michael Corleone bump off  Sollozzo and Captain McCloskey in Louis’s in the Bronx is exciting enough when you’re sitting on the sofa, the prospect of seeing it up close, big and personal for the first time was a dream come true for a bloke who started his career in journalism reviewing movies.
Of the film itself, let us say no more except it was every bit as exciting and compelling on the big screen as Squinter had imagined it to be, but as an evening of entertainment, the bookends provided by the Odyssey ensured that it was far from the night to remember that it should have been.

It's a pretty soulless place, the Odyssey. Through the main doors you make your way towards the double escalator throught a vast, cold, grey and empty atrium, where huge colour photographs of people enjoying themselves try and fail to suggest vibrancy. It reminded Squinter of nothing more than the fake shopfront murals on derelict buildings pretending that business is going on inside as usual.
Up the double escalator and the Saturday night vibe was revived by a bustling cinema foyer full of people waiting for tickets, food and drink. And this being Saturday night at the movies, Squinter decided that hot dogs and Pepsi were the way to go and so he joined one of multiple queues leading to multiple tills. Squinter’s not normally a fan of those American hot dogs with the pink sausage, but the big photograph behind the till with the frankfurter slathered in mustard and ketchup was alluring – and the smell was pretty tempting too.
So Squinter waited. And waited. To say the service was slow would be seriously to underestimate the amount of time each group of people spent at the till. Squinter’s seen people buy cars quicker. But after some twenty minutes, and with an anxious eye on the clock for the 7pm start, our turn came and Squinter placed his order.
“Sorry, no hot dogs,” said the kid at the till.
When asked was there any other hot food, the kid said they had nachos, which for the culinary unadventurous are triangular crisps made out of corn. Squinter was uninterested. “We may have hot dogs in about twenty minutes,” came the suggestion.
Squinter’s first rule in dealing with staff in the service industry is to treat others how you would like to be treated yourself, and so he apologised and told the kid that it wasn’t his fault, but that somebody should be telling people there’s no hot food, given that that’s what the vast majority of people were buying. The kid shrugged. The Godfather’s a long movie. Three hours long. And that meant that Squinter was going to leave the cinema at 10pm not having eaten for nine hours. Not an optimal night-out experience, but, hey, fuggedaboutit.

Exiting the cinema after Clemenza kissed the new Don’s hand, those food travails were a distant memory and we made our way towards the packed car park chatting happily about the film. The Odyssey car park isn’t big, it’s vast, but after a minute or two we were able to locate the car by clicking the key fob and seeing the lights flash.
And then we joined the queue for the exits and waited. And waited some more. And waited some more. The place was a sea of unmoving red lights. The signage for the exits was non-existent and so cars were taking whatever right or left they decided offered the quickest route, and most times getting it wrong. Then drivers stopped letting other drivers out as their frustration mounted, which meant that fed-up drivers still stuck their parking bays were cheekily attempting to inch out past drivers who weren’t having it. 20 minutes in and we had progressed possibly 20 metres and the exit barriers seemed as far away as ever.
After 35 minutes we approached a mini-roundabout near the main front exit on which three staff in high-vis jackets were stood. Chatting. Three lines of traffic converged on the roundabout and once one line got going nobody was letting anybody cut in. It would have been the simplest thing for the staff to have started calling cars forward one at a time, but on they chatted.
At the exit barrier a big problem – now perhaps even the main problem – became apparent. People’s parking tickets had gone over time because of the wait and instead of cars processing through the barriers quickly and efficiently, many were stuck as their expired tickets failed to work. And so they had to wait for a member of staff to arrive to cancel the extra charge. Squinter’s not proud to say it, but as the car in front waited and waited, he let out a little whimper of impotent frustration and suppressed rage.
It was a truly horrible way to end a night, heading towards the motorway bitterly complaining to each other about the sheer, farcical ineptitude to which we had just fallen victim. Squinter has since learned that queuing at the Odyssey – inside and out – is a regular problem, which is to say that Squinter won’t be heading back there any time soon. Unless of course the Odyssey make him an offer he can’t refuse.