Judgement Day For Blair. Or Was It?

As he arrived to appear in front of the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War, the chant went up “Blair to The Hague!” Demonstrators had been kept well away from the entrance to the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre in Westminster, London, where the Prime Minister was set to appear. Among those demanding that Tony Blair be sent to The Hague to face charges of war crimes were a number of former members of Blair’s own Labour Party.

Tony Blair appeared nervous. His hands were shaking when he reached over to pour himself a glass of water, so he brought them together to steady them. His glasses became useful props, as he faced up to Sir John Chilcot and his team. This was Blair’s “Richard Nixon” moment, but unlike Nixon who finally stumbled and lost it in front of his genial inquisitor, David Frost, the former PM held his ground.  As it became clearer that he would be allowed to spend time answering questions, and turning some of his answers into mini speeches, his confidence returned. At once stage during the proceedings, he even managed to afford a little light hearted banter and an aside. None of this cut much ice with the parents of British servicemen who had lost their sons and daughters in the Iraq War, and who were sitting behind Blair as part of the invited audience.

The Chilcot Inquiry is about as close to a truth and reconciliation commission as we are likely to see in Britain. As first military chiefs, then senior civil servants and now politicians appeared before the Inquiry, the failings and vapidity of sections of the British establishment became clear to see. One after another, and with a few honourable exceptions they have dissembled, disagreed with one another, expressed remorse and clearly would rather have been anywhere else other than the Inquiry.

And today it was Tony Blair’s turn. He denied that there had been any secret pact with President George Bush or any private agreement between then when they famously met at Crawford Ranch in Texas not long before the invasion began. Of the letters that were exchanged between both President and Prime Minister there was still no sign.  But Blair’s defence was total, and there was no genuflection to his implacable foes. He had even come armed with more ammunition to defend himself with, realising that the absence of Weapons of Mass Destruction from Iraq undermined much of his pre War argument. According to Blair, Saddam would have been able to build those self same weapons of mass destruction had he been left to his own devices. Blair also repeated the claim that Saddam was “guilty of the deaths of one million people”.  This headline grabbing claim has been made so many times that few now actually question its veracity.

The Inquiry has not been the Establishment “cover-up” that some have claimed, but nor has it – or will it – be able to rule on the culpability or otherwise of the Iraq War’s main protagonists. The Inquiry is not a legal entity and there is no legal counsel to declare definitively on international law.

The Inquiry instead shines a light into a very dark place. It reveals the power of Prime Ministerial patronage and the lack of Executive accountability.

Saddam and his cronies have gone to the gallows and are no more, so we shall never know quite what was going through the Iraqi dictator’s mind. My own view was that he was bluffing, and thought he could play one power off against another has he had managed so successfully in the past. What he did not reckon on – and what few of us here or in America reckoned on  - was that as far as Bush and Blair were both concerned, God was on their side.

And that was enough.

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  • A Toronto-based sex robot brothel plans to open another location in Houston.
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There are currently no laws against opening a sex robot brothel in Houston, though recently announced plans to open one inspired some residents to say there should be.

The owner of Kinky S Dolls, a Toronto-based company where $120 gets customers 80 minutes alone with a robotic sex doll that moves and talks, plans to open another location in the Houston area. It would be the first sex robot brothel in the U.S.

On advice from counsel, owner Yuval Gavriel doesn't call his business a 'sex robot brothel' but rather a kind of try-it-before-you-buy-it shop for realistic sex dolls, which he sells for $2,000 to $5,000.

"I consulted with a lawyer and the lawyer said, 'Listen, there are no rules to it, but if you are smart you don't go out and say you are operating a brothel,'" Gavriel told the Washington Examiner. "He went through all the laws and all of the regulations and currently there are no regulations for this kind of service. The States is a bigger market, and a healthier market, and God bless Trump."

A sex doll sold by Kinky S Dolls for about $3,500.

Sex dolls and toys may be legal in the U.S., but some believe that establishing what's essentially a robot sex brothel would cross a line. In response to Gavriel's plans, Elijah Rising, a Christian organization in Houston that combats sex trafficking, published a petition titled 'Keep Robot Brothels Out Of Houston'.

"As a nonprofit whose mission is to end sex trafficking we have seen the progression as sex buyers go from pornography to strip clubs to purchasing sex—robot brothels will ultimately harm men, their understanding of healthy sexuality, and increase the demand for the prostitution and sexual exploitation of women and children," reads the petition, which currently has nearly 6,000 signatures.

Elijah Rising's argument is based on a paper written by Kathleen Richardson, a professor of ethics and culture of robots at De Montfort University.

"I propose that extending relations of prostitution into machines is neither ethical, nor is it safe," Richardson argues in the paper. "If anything the development of sex robots will further reinforce relations of power that do not recognise both parties as human subjects. Only the buyer of sex is recognised as a subject, the seller of sex (and by virtue the sex-robot) is merely a thing to have sex with."

How would sex robots affect rates of prostitution?

One argument, to which Gavriel subscribes, says that increased availability of sex robots would lower the demand for human prostitutes. It's an idea tangentially related to the longstanding body of research that shows countries tend to see decreases in sexual assaults and rape after they legalize porn.

In his bestselling book Love and Sex with Robots, A.I. researcher David Levy explores the future of human relationships with robots and suggests that sex robots could lower prostitution or even someday render it obsolete.

But that's "highly speculative philosophy," according to Richardson.

"The reality is that it will just become a new niche market within the pornography industry and within the prostitution trade," she said in an interview with Feminist Current. "If people buy into the idea that you can have these dolls as part of your sexual fetish, it will become another burden that actual living human beings will have to undergo in the commercial sex trade."

A sex doll sold by Kinky S Dolls.

Richardson elaborated on this idea in her paper.

"...studies have found that the introduction of new technology supports and contributes to the expansion of the sex industry," she wrote. "Prostitution and pornography production also rises with the growth of the internet. In 1990, 5.6 percent of men reported paying for sex in their lifetime, by 2000, this had increased to 8.8 percent."

However, those rates aren't necessarily causally linked.

Richardson also wrote that if sex toys, such as RealDolls and blow-up dolls, actually led to lower prostitution demand then we would have already seen decreases, but "no such correlation is found."

Still, that last point might soon become invalid as a sort of apples-to-oranges comparison if technology can produce artificially intelligent and lifelike sex robots unlike anything the industry has seen before.

An illusion of companionship

Image: Film4, from the 2015 film 'Ex Machina'

Image: Film4, from the 2015 film 'Ex Machina'

Critics argue that the proliferation of sex robots would serve to reinforce the objectification of women in men's minds, and also reduce the ability for some men to empathize, a necessary component of healthy social interaction.

Houstonian Andrea Paul voiced a simpler objection to the brothel:

"There's kids around here and it's a family-oriented neighborhood and I live right here and to have that here is just gross."

Gross, sure. But to Matt McMullen, creator of the RealDoll, the future of sex robots looks a bit more uplifting.

"My goal, in a very simple way, is to make people happy," McMullen told CNET. "There are a lot of people out there, for one reason or another, who have difficulty forming traditional relationships with other people. It's really all about giving those people some level of companionship—or the illusion of companionship."