Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Somebody Got Murdered

In the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, and since, a common theme has been that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator responsible for the murder of "half a million" of his own people. Those that were against the war, and the subsequent occupation, sometimes question these figures and claim the true figures to be a lot less. Then, in pretty much the same breath, they accuse the US forces of inflicting mass slaughter on Iraqi civilians with 100,000 being the figure bandied about at this point in time.

The confirmed civilian death toll (because, of course, soldiers and policemen don't deserve any sympathy) would appear to be
just under 20,000 around now. The important thing is, however, that a) it is virtually impossible to know how many people are dying in Iraq right now, given the security situation; b) it is virtually impossible to know how many people were murdered by Saddam Hussein’s regime, given its stranglehold on the country for nearly 25 years and c) the fact remains that Saddam Hussein DID murder large numbers of people and civilians ARE dying in large numbers during the current conflict. Why semantics over totals are considered important, when fatalities are occurring on such a mass scale, is a bit of a mystery to me. The numbers variously quoted do, however, seem proportional to levels of pro or anti Americanism. Funny that.

The reason I bring this up right now is that, recently, the situation in DR Congo is creeping back out of the shadows into... well, not exactly public consciousness, but it's being reported again in the daily Broadsheet press in this part of the world at least. It is claimed, remember, that 3.3 million have died in that conflict between 1996 and 2002, making it the largest wartime death-toll since World War 2. Does it make a difference that the majority died because of the conditions the war caused (famine, disease etc.) rather than from actual fighting?...

Anyway my point is that, if there was a genuine case for intervention in Iraq to force regime change for humanitarian reasons (as I have been convinced there was), then there is a greater case for intervention in Central Africa to resolve the seemingly eternal inter-tribal conflict there. Yet the UN force in place is tiny and consists of troops from other third-world nations (like Uruguay and Bangladesh). They would appear to be trying their best and holding the blood-letting at bay but it is a disgrace that troops from richer countries, particularly the European countries in this case, whose collective colonial shame is largely responsible for the mess in present day Africa, are not in situ helping to bring peace and prosperity to the region.

The BBC's Mark Doyle has a fascinating four part
article on the current situation in DR Congo. Meanwhile I have found a historical site run by one Mark White that includes Casualties of War statistics with numbers so large as to be completely unappreciable.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Hate and War

A report from the battle for Fallujah, in which soldiers are real people, with fear and emotions. There's not enough of this kind of thing. It always bugs me that police and soldiers are treated as automatons or non-people in some way during conflict reporting. These people have family and friends that love them just as much as the "women and children" that we often hear about. Moral equivalency is fascinating. How is one life is valued over another? How is one crime distinguished from another? Why is a wrong often justified by the most intelligent of people on the grounds that the others have commited the same wrong? The whatabouts. Ireland is full of them.

Complete Control

As you can see below, I leaned toward Jonathan Steele's analysis of the current situation in the Ukraine. It seemed a good argument to me. Yet both Le Sabot and Fistfulofeuros knock it for six. As I said before, when talking about Hitchens and Sullivan, "I get overwhelmed by the strength of argument and subtle use of facts to illustrate a pre-determined opinion-line used by the likes of Hitchens and Sullivan. I wonder can I get over that?" I'm far from the intellectual powerhouse I'd like to be but at least I recognise the power of language in the media to assuage public opinion among the masses.

Media really is the most powerful institution in the World. That's why it should always be free. That's why I watch the BBC, read The Irish Times, The Observer, Private Eye and Prospect, because at least they're not owned by billionaire media-moguls with agendas that are hidden from the media consumer. Of course I know these outlets have opinions and editorial lines of their own - I don't pretend that their bastions of balanced journalism - but they don't have them because they're in thrall to their owners.

Stay Free

The Ukraine is where it's at right now. For the first time in a couple of years a major geopolitical situation has arisen that doesn't involve the US (at least not directly). The speed with which events there have developed have been staggering. In the weeks leading up to the Presidential Election it appeared that the country was quite evenly split but surely no one expected a fissure quite like this?

It would appear to be a cut and dried case of electoral fraud propelling the Russian leaning Yanukovych to victory over his Western leaning rival Yushchenko (and, in fairness, all the evidence points that way) but one does wonder if the street demonstrations underway in Kiev would be of the same scale and fervour if the capital wasn't slap bang in the middle of Yushchenko-country.

The vast numbers demonstrating in that region make it seem that the people of the Ukraine have been defrauded, but do a majority of the Ukrainian people as a whole believe that or are those in the Western Ukraine actually bullying the rest of the country into supporting the man they want? Of course, if there had been a trustworthy ballot held, then we would know the answer. It would appear, therefore, that a re-run is the only way to resolve the issue. Let's hope that, whichever side wins, no one resorts to violence to get their way. Could the Ukraine end up being carved in two a la Poland in the 1930s? Surely not...

I've been watching all this closely. I was only 12 when the Berlin Wall came down and my memory of it is, to my annoyance, rather vague. Reading about it is all well and good but I just wish I remember the experience of what it was like to be alive at that time. This time I'll remember. The BBC has, again, proven itself to be the best in the world at news and current affairs reportage. It really has no equal. I pray that it remains a shining light in this world of biased reporting.

There are two brilliantly competing articles on the current Ukrainian situation in the Guardian. Having read both I'm leaning towards the opinion of Jonathan Steele that "...to suggest he [Yushchenko] would provide a sea-change in Ukrainian politics and economic management is naive [and] the decision to protest appears to depend mainly on realpolitik and whether the challengers or the incumbent are considered more "pro-western" or "pro-market"." Timothy Garton-Ash, meanwhile, writes that "[The tricks on the Yanukovich side have been familiar] Intimidation. Censorship. Lies. Dirty tricks, including a novel variant in which Yanukovich supporters were apparently given multiple voter registration cards so they could "vote early and vote often" in several different constituencies."

The Russophile in me is active again.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Should I Stay or Should I Go

Should I do it? Or, rather, do I have the cojones?!

Drug Stabbing Time

I work for a major multi-national pharmaceutical company. Every week we receive an email with company news - articles about specific drugs or sites, articles about patients whose lives have been improved by our drugs and articles containing the company line on current issues like imported drugs or the price of drugs. This week one of the articles was on a specific drug and was entitled From Lab to Brand. I work in manufacture and that aspect of the "from lab to brand" process wasn't even mentioned, which shows the true value to the company of what we do. In reality if "Big Pharma" could reduce their operations to R&D and Marketing/Sales they would. Anyway this particular article was of particular interest to me as I am managing the manufacture of one of the steps of the drug (and doing very well might I add, busting all targets! Medal for me!!) But the following sentence particularly caught my eye:

"...this has meant educating physicians on the therapeutic areas associated with the drug's proposed indications, as well as creating public awareness of the difficulty of diagnosis and adequate treatment. It has meant trying to highlight that there is still a high unmet need in these areas and that there are shortcomings to current therapies."

I'm not going to dissect it as I believe what's going on here is pretty obvious. Suffice to say it's quite a chilling and cynical approach to healthcare. Not that I'm surprised of course. Am I going to do anything about it, though? Of course not!

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

In God's Country

In the months leading up to the war in Iraq I read Dilip Hiro's Iraq: A Report from the Inside and, based on the information in that book alone, I was convinced that Iraq had no Weapons of Mass Destruction and no means to produce any. At the end of the day it was the assertion that Iraq did have WMD and did pose a potential terrorist threat post 9/11 that lead to the war. Personally I do believe in regime change in countries suffering under brutal dictatorships, regardless of whether or not it is in Western interests but the fact is no wars are fought for so-called humanitarian reasons (if they were, then would Mugabe or Kim Jong Il still be in power? Would Somalia still be the only non-country on the planet?).

So at this time, the day after Colin Powell announced his resignation from the US State Dept. one recalls his famous presentation to the UN Security Council. As the world is now well aware this was all, frankly, bollox! But my point is that it was no surprise to anyone that logically analysed the state of Iraq in the 1990s to know that it was crippled and incapable of posing any threat to virtually anyone outside the Sunni Triangle. Yes, Saddam was a despot and I'm glad he's gone but that's not why the US went to war and if they had told the truth and not gone off unilaterally then maybe they wouldn't be in the mess they are in right now.

(I wonder would France and Russia have ever backed the removal of Saddam on any grounds, but that's conjecture at this point, it no longer matters).

Monday, November 15, 2004

All I Want Is You

While lying awake in bed between midnight and 3 a.m. last night, wondering if I'd ever get to sleep, I thought of the perfect glib one-liner to describe the sort of girl I seem completely unable to find - someone I could never tire of. Neat, huh? Covers it all really, the physical attraction, the emotional attraction and the sense of companionship. I also thought of a response to the question "What sort of girl are you looking for?". This might sound pretentious but, really, it isn't meant to. It's just the most succinct explanation I can think of. Anyway I'm looking for a girl that's intelligent enough to recognise life's absurdities, with the lightness of heart to laugh at them and the strength of character to question them. I might be too insecure to ever follow that train of thought through to a logical conclusion.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Until the End of the World

When flicking through Andrew Sullivan's Blog I came across a reference for Christopher Hitchens, a former journalist with The Nation. I had heard of him alright, but was only vaguely familiar with his work. So, six months late, I've just read a brilliant piece on Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. It includes this gem...

"Perhaps vaguely aware that his movie so completely lacks gravitas, Moore concludes with a sonorous reading of some words from George Orwell. The words are taken from 1984 and consist of a third-person analysis of a hypothetical, endless, and contrived war between three superpowers. The clear intention, as clumsily excerpted like this (...) is to suggest that there is no moral distinction between the United States, the Taliban, and the Baath Party and that the war against jihad is about nothing. If Moore had studied a bit more, or at all, he could have read Orwell really saying, and in his own voice, the following:

'The majority of pacifists either belong to obscure religious sects or are simply humanitarians who object to taking life and prefer not to follow their thoughts beyond that point. But there is a minority of intellectual pacifists, whose real though unacknowledged motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration for totalitarianism. Pacifist propaganda usually boils down to saying that one side is as bad as the other, but if one looks closely at the writing of the younger intellectual pacifists, one finds that they do not by any means express impartial disapproval but are directed almost entirely against Britain and the United States …'

And that's just from Orwell's Notes on Nationalism in May 1945. A short word of advice: In general, it's highly unwise to quote Orwell if you are already way out of your depth on the question of moral equivalence. It's also incautious to remind people of Orwell if you are engaged in a sophomoric celluloid rewriting of recent history."

It has been said of Hitchens that "To many of Christopher Hitchens' old friends, he died on September 11th 2001. Tariq Ali considered himself a comrade of Christopher Hitchens for over thirty years. Now he speaks about him with bewilderment. 'On 11th September 2001, a small group of terrorists crashed the planes they had hijacked into the Twin Towers of New York. Among the casualties, although unreported that week, was a middle-aged Nation columnist called Christopher Hitchens. He was never seen again," Ali writes. "The vile replica currently on offer is a double.'"

In an interview with Johann Hari he says now that "The United States was attacked by theocratic fascists who represents all the most reactionary elements on earth. They stand for liquidating everything the left has fought for: women's rights, democracy? And how did much of the left respond? By affecting a kind of neutrality between America and the theocratic fascists." He cites the cover of one of Tariq Ali's books as the perfect example. It shows Bush and Bin Laden morphed into one on its cover. "It's explicitly saying they are equally bad. However bad the American Empire has been, it is not as bad as this. It is not the Taliban, and anybody - any movement - that cannot see the difference has lost all moral bearings."

Hitchens is certainly a persuasive individual, I've learned a lot from these two articles alone. However I'm more aware now than I ever was that I'm very susceptible to any convincing argument. I get overwhelmed by the strength of argument and subtle use of facts to illustrate a pre-determined opinion-line used by the likes of Hitchens and Sullivan. I wonder can I get over that?

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Drug Stabbing Time

Question of the Day:

Am I a bad man for thinking that it's not such a great thing that "The treatment of aids is one of the pharmaceutical industry’s great success stories: drugs are now available that can turn what was once a death sentence into a manageable chronic disease". I mean if AIDS patients live longer surely the epidemic is more likely to get worse as there are no controls in place, other than personal responsibility, to stop it spreading? (Yes, I know, you can't catch AIDS by being breathed on, blah, blah, blah). God-Damnit I'm a right git!...

Monday, November 08, 2004

Acrobat

Am I a Conservative? I didn't think I was. Do I believe that people should be denied their rights? I didn't think I did. Yet it appears that I must be a conservative. I believe that all people should be free to live their lives as they please, with two provisos; one that we remember that we are all part of a mutual social contract and must contribute accordingly and two that our actions should not be allowed to infringe on the rights of others. The first of those is tricky - the progressive dilemma that I first saw articulated in Prospect How do individual freedoms and social responsibility co-exist? That's for another time. The second is what I want to write about now.

Throw any topic at me and I would consider myself to have liberal or social views. I believe that the ideals of the market, where, for example, an accountant is far more highly valued than, for example, a nurse is inherently unjust and causes a permanent state of inequality in the Western World. I believe that a liberal approach to drug laws, where supply is regulated and controlled by the state and users/addicts monitored and helped, would wipe out a large proportion of crime and poverty in society. I also believe that alcohol should be treated as any other drug rather than being readily and cheaply available to the masses with all-too-visible results. I believe that people from disadvantaged areas should be afforded all the opportunities of the wealthy, with assistance to help them take advantage of opportunities long before they descend into a life of base existence and petty crime. I believe that gay people, as mature, loving, consenting adults, should be entitled to marriage, to have their union recognised and all the protection of the law that married heterosexual couples have. However I don't believe gay adoption should be permitted.

Fundamentally every child that is born should have the right to a loving mother and a loving father who always have the best interests of the child at heart. So it's not just gay adoption but fathers who walk out on families, abusive or unfit parents, women who choose to get pregnant without the involvement of a father, men and women who are careless and don't use contraception when they don't want a child. All these things are wrong as they are depriving a child of a stable family unit. Gay married couples hurt no one, but gay couples adopting children are infringing on the right of the child to be brought up in a stable family unit with a loving mother and a loving father. Unforeseen circumstances resulting in a lack of a standard family unit is one thing, but deliberately depriving the child is another.

Which moves me on to the reason I'm writing this - abortion. For someone from Ireland it is an ever present topic, bubbling away beneath the surface of the national psyche ready to erupt at a moment's notice. Now I'm not particularly religious but I simply believe that the taking of another life, unless one is in mortal danger, is simply wrong. The death penalty is out and abortion is out. Euthanasia is different, because I don't believe that "God giveth life and only God can taketh away" (or whatever!). Euthanasia, as assisted suicide to avoid the suffering of terminal illness, is a decision for an individual to make for themselves. If there is a God He has given us free will, as I recall. But, logically, I just can't subscribe to the line "A woman's right to choose", I simply don't accept that the woman choosing an abortion is making a choice about her own life as if it is the moral equivalent of where she chooses to live or who she chooses to marry. I fully accept a woman's right not to get pregnant and I believe contraception, sex education, and life planning education should all be freely available. I also have no problem with a morning after pill and would be relatively relaxed about a termination during the period between when the fertilised egg has been planted in the womb and when the foetus' brain has developed. But once the foetus is appreciably human and developing I just can't believe that abortion is defensible.

The standard line in response to this is "what if the woman has been raped?" Well I'm sorry but first, I believe women have the right to not be raped and second the overwhelmingly vast majority of abortions are carried out simply because a woman and her partner have been careless and worries are based around career, money and (worst of all) fears about social lives etc. In this day and age, and certainly in Western society, if a woman doesn't want to get pregnant then she doesn't have to. However I won't pretend it's a black and white issue. I really don't see how I could stand in the way of a 15-year old girl who had been raped and is now pregnant and seeking an abortion. I just believe there has to be a better way than abortion as just another form of contraception. I genuinely believe that it is backward and uncivilised. Since the dawn of time the human race has engaged in uncivilised acts; the murder of others, theft from others, the enslavement of others, the rape of women and the killing of unborn young. Only one of these is still considered acceptable and, amazingly, it is so-called liberals who consider it so.

What prompted this was the US election. Conservatives for the death penalty and against abortion have won out against liberals against the death penalty and for abortion. The liberal commentators in the media would consider this next comment trite but I don't care - it seems to me that to be classed a liberal or a conservative at the moment all depends on who you're willing to allow be killed. Am I the only one who thinks that bizarre?

Thursday, November 04, 2004

I'm So Bored With the USA

Well Bush won the election. I kind of knew he would. Inland America just seems to be able to completely outvote the coasts. A friend of mine from home is living in LA. He's writing a book would you believe. Personally I don't go in for the whole conspiracy theory schtick - I'm pretty sure that most of the conspiracies people work themselves up over are complete guff while we're all too stupid to notice the blatant stuff that goes on right in front of our faces. For example look at how the boards of big business award themselves huge pay rises and even bigger benefits packages in the middle of global economic downturns and dropping stockmarkets while simultaneously being so rich that they can afford to hire top accountants to help them avoid paying taxes altogether. That's the sort of thing that should matter to people and it's not even a conspiracy.

Anyway my mate says...
"You're probably all wondering how the U.S. re-elected a terrorist.I'm still trying to figure it out too.

Lots of us here in California are in shock. Disbelief. The thought of listening to Bush's war-mongering for another four years is just too much for some people. He is deliberately promoting a culture of fear.Now that he doesn't have to worry about accountability and re-electionin in 4 years time, there's no telling what countries he's going to invade next. Perhaps more worringly, since the rest of the world now sees that America is incapable of removing this terrorist--and that America has effectively endorsed his behavior -- the likelihood of more attacks on U.S. soil, especially in well populated areas like L.A., is greatly increased.

There's already people talking about moving to Canada. Maybe I'll find myself back in Ireland a little sooner than expected. Although he was a poor challenger, Kerry came close. Pretty much all the educated, may I say more sophisticated states on the coasts and up north were not easily duped and voted against Bush. However, states that lost hundreds of thousands of jobs under Bush still voted for him. The rational goes something like "it's ok that I'm out of work, my medication costs 20% more, the country has moved from a record budgetary surplus to a record deficit and tens of thousands of people have been killed in Iraq for oil. Bush stands up for morals, protects family values and is against gays." It's difficult to comprehend the ignorance."

Pretty emotive stuff. Personally I don't consider Bush a terrorist. Taking captives (whoever they are) and beheading them and filming it for good measure, is terrorism. The US "War on Terror" may be ill conceived, potentially unwinnable and possibly an excuse to foster fear and maintain control by inventing a dark enemy to replace Communism (the Cold War was against Communism the ideology, not Russia itself as such) - but I don't hink Bush is a terrorist, although you could spend hours arguing the toss over the definition in this case and still get no closer to agreement.

I must say, though, that I do agree with the rest of it I really don't understand how Average Joe American has supported a man who's policy makes the rich richer to the detriment of American society. A couple of weeks back the Guardian newspaper persuaded its readers to write to undecided American voters to ask them to vote for Kerry. Now that was spectacularly dumb as all the other newspapers seized on the chance to attack their rival with articles about cheesed off Americans announcing their intention to vote Bush as a result of unwanted intrusion. Some of the responses were pretty heavy on the vitriol including "Have you not noticed that Americans don't give two shits what Europeans think of us? Each email someone gets from some arrogant Brit telling us why to NOT vote for George Bush is going to backfire, you stupid, yellow-toothed pansies ... I don't give a rat's ass if our election is going to have an effect on your worthless little life. I really don't. If you want to have a meaningful election in your crappy little island full of shitty food and yellow teeth, then maybe you should try not to sell your sovereignty out to Brussels and Berlin, dipshit. Oh, yeah - and brush your goddamned teeth, you filthy animals."! But I've since seen this response in the London News Review. It's pretty hard hitting too including such gems as "Are you really so violently thick that you can’t get beyond thinking: “Yup, we’s at war, and the President he’s a good man and he’s gonna whip those commie Arabs…” --- oh whatever --- Christ, there’s no point in trying to peer into your minds, you sack of shit morons. Might as well poke a beached jellyfish with a stick..." and that's not even the strongest part!

I don't agree with that analysis but, considering their response to the Guardian letter writers, maybe some of their own language is called for rather than aloof European tut-tutting. I must say when I read it I did feel a sense of "Yeah! Stick it to the dumb fucks!" But then I settled down. I've realised one thing, though. Americans not only absolutely don't care what the rest of the world think, but they don't care about their effect on the rest of the world as long as what they do is perceived to be in their own interests. They would quite willingly ride straight through friends as well as enemies if it suited them. The problem is when those in power think the same way, and this lot seem to. We could have some scary times ahead.

P.S. Paris was CLASS! and we could have won, but I won't say we should have won. A fantastic weekend and a fantastic game, even if it ended 0-0. I was hoarse for a week!
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