Wednesday, December 29, 2004
The quote that makes the point...
"I just looked and it's [donations to American Red Cross via Amazon] headed toward $400,000 already. Doesn't look stingy to me. I wonder if any of 'em were U.N. employees . . ." - Mr. Reynolds demonstrates how easy it is to jibe cash out of yanks.
Meanwhile Matt Yglesias pointed out on St. Stephen's Day, the day of the disaster that "none of the US television news programs seem to feel this is worth covering". Well, that's good to know. It's about 3 1/2 days since the disaster now and what has Mr. Bush had to say? Precisely nothing. Probably still trying to make sense of the map.
Sunday, December 26, 2004
However it was very instructive, and quite disturbing, when the interviews with the Rabbi in Hebron and the Baptist Minister in Georgia, USA were shown. Both men completely dismissed any notion that the Bible (both Old and New Testament) was anything other than the literal truth given to us directly by God. When told of theological scholars being quite easily able to demonstrate that the books were collections of writings by different scribes over decades or centuries, each writing to suit an audience and a moment of time the reply was simply "Rubbish" or "I don't care, this is what I believe".
I should have known better, but I was genuinely surprised. No Catholic priest I've ever encountered has insisted that the Old Testament be taken as the literal truth and, indeed, the Parish Priest I had when I was an Altar Server specifically told me that the Catholic Church considered the early books of the Old Testament to be stories designed to teach a simple people, with no knowledge of Science or their origins, of the power of God.
Personally I regard the Gospels as the written representation of the message Christ delivered in His own lifetime. A guide for living, if you like. I don't particularly care if there are small contradictions are inaccuracies. When it comes to the Creator of the Universe it's all about the big picture, surely?
However, it IS very troubling to believe that there are people in positions of great power, and people able to unleash great violence on the world, who both believe that the Bible is literal truth AND, worse, that it gives them the moral authority to act as they wish. Truly, the most dangerous people in the world are those who profess to act in God's name.
It is interesting, though, to watch and see how often the evangelical Christians reference the Gospels themselves when they preach hate and war. They don't because, that's not where such a message is to be found.
Saturday, December 25, 2004
I made my annual trip to Mass as well. I don't attend Mass normally, for no other reason than I'm too lazy and out of the habit but today's was a very nice service complete with a very impressive choir. At the end the priest asked for all the children to go up to the altar and he asked them who else had come the night before other than Santa to which one little girl replied "the reindeer"! When he got the answer he wanted (Jesus, if you have to ask) he got them to sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus with the help of the choir. All very sweet.
Got two tickets to Interpol in the Olympia Theatre in Dublin in April. Dead cool! Got a singing, dancing Homer Simpson in a Santa suit as well (my second).
And now, having spent half the day teaching my sister how to get music onto her new Philips IPod wannabe, I'm about to sit down to the Turkey...
Friday, December 24, 2004
The 24th and 25th December 1914, saw the extraordinary spectacle of an unofficial truce between our troops and the Saxons who were opposite. Everything had been normal up to evening ‘Stand down’ and the Company Commander was having his supper in the Headquarters dug-out, when the Company Sergeant-Major put his head in and said ‘What am I to do, Sir? The Germans are sitting on their parapets, lighting candles and singing hymns!’ The Company Commander at once went out and mounting on the fire step saw small lights all along the German trenches and heard many voices uplifted in song.
He decided to consult with the Officer Commanding ‘A’ Company, who was the Senior Officer in the front line, and accordingly started to make his way down the trench towards ‘A’ Company Headquarters. On his way he surprised one of his men in the act of climbing out of the trench and discovered that there was a German soldier in ‘No man’s land,’ who wanted to speak to a British soldier, so ordering his own man back, he slipped out himself to investigate.
The German turned out to be a private soldier who had been a waiter at Brighton, and was anxious to exchange cigars for bully beef. The Company Commander asked to be taken to an Officer, and was conducted to the German front line, where he found a group of German Officers standing by the wall of a ruined farmhouse. Christmas greetings were exchanged and finally the suggestion was made that Christmas Day might be observed as a day of rest and that the Infantry should not fire on each other, though of course, neither side could answer for their Artillery.
It was then agreed that all Infantry fire should cease forthwith and that the informal truce should continue until 12pm on Christmas night. The German spokesman then asked for permission to bury the dead, with whose frozen corpses ‘No man’s land’ was strewn. Burial parties then went out from both sides, leaving their trenches at 10am on Christmas Day, each side to bury the dead in their own half of ‘No man’s land.’
The remainder of the night passed in absolute peace, and at 10am on Christmas Day, parties of men, armed with only picks and shovels, sallied forth from either side. Then minutes later the inevitable corpse was found astride the half-way line and in no time the burial parties were merged in fraternal disorder. Some Uhlan Officers, who had been transferred to the Infantry, came out and posed for their photographs in the centre of a group of British and German soldiery. They were magnificently polished and clean, which unfortunately, the British Officers were not.
During all this time sufficient men were kept posted in our trenches to check any attempt at treachery and to prevent any of the enemy entering our trenches. The Germans evidently took the same precautions, for when Captain Ewald tried to get a peep into their front trench, he was promptly warned off by an invisible sentry. As soon as the truce started the Saxons advised our men to warn the Battalions on their right to stop in their trenches as they were opposed by Prussians, described as ‘Bosen Kerle’ (surly ruffians).
At dusk the men of both sides returned to their trenches, but no hostile act followed the expiry of the truce at 11pm. Shortly after ‘Stand down’ next morning ‘C’ Company Commander was informed that a German Officer wishes to speak to him in ‘No man’s land’. On going out he found a very polite and spotless individual awaiting him, who, after an exchange of compliments, informed him that his Colonel had given orders for a renewal of hostilities at mid-day and might the men be warned to keep down, please? ‘C’ Company Commander thanked the German Officer for his courtesy, whereupon, saluting and bowing from the waist, he replied, ‘We are Saxons; you are Anglo Saxons; word of a gentleman is for us as for you.’
The troops were duly warned to keep down, but just before hostilities were due to re-open a tin was thrown into ‘A’ Company’s lines with a piece of paper in it bearing the inscription, ‘We shoot to the air’ and sure enough, at the appointed hour a few vague shots were fired over the trenches. Then all was quiet again and the unofficial truce continued.
Merry Christmas to anyone who might come across my ramblings today.
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
"...Christmas is over-commercialized and all - but compared to what? America is over-commercialized, or hasn't anyone noticed? And at least during Christmas, people are channeling their rampant consumerism into generosity and good will toward their friends and family, rather than the usual self-centered buying habits that keep our economy humming so smoothly."
For "America" we can read any country in the First World, including my own. It is still possible to respect all that is good about Christmas and basic Christian values AND to realise it has been over-commercialised AND to not punish or degrade the feast itself because of a commercialisation that is, in fact, always with us.
A thought for me to remember:
"Sometimes intelligence doesn’t equate to intellect and sometimes intellect doesn’t equate to wisdom."
The oil-for-food scandal is a legitimate one, but recently it's been driven — and often distorted — by people who seem interested in undermining the United Nations' overall authority. Conservatives resent the share that the United States pays of the body's dues — 22 percent, down from 25 percent — and fume when the body doesn't reflect American interests 100 percent. The scandal presents a chance for payback.
Everyone here deserves some blame for Saddam's outlandish thievery. But what was the ultimate damage? Negroponte has told the Senate that the program largely met its goal of "creating a system to address the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi civilian population, while maintaining strict sanctions enforcement of items that Saddam Hussein could use to rearm or reconstitute his WMD program." The program did save lives: Average daily calorie intake nearly doubled in Iraq from 1996 to 2002. And Saddam never reconstituted the nuclear weapons program that was the ostensible reason for last year's invasion. The greatest tragedy of the oil-for-food program may be that, for all its Byzantine corruption, we never realized just how effective it was.
That seems reasonable, yet Glenn Reynolds says: "The Bush Administration doesn't seem to have joined the chorus calling for Kofi Annan's resignation. Is this because they really support him? Or is it because they think that a U.N. headed by Kofi Annan will lack the credibility to mount effective opposition to their plans? I know which way I'm betting", which seems to represent exactly the claim Crowley made above.
Where the UN has failed miserably is represented right here. When conflict breaks out the UN seems powerless to stop it and, for as long as it chooses to legitimise all governments of all nation states (in that, essentially, it will not intervene in "internal" issues), it will remain powerless. However the American right-wing commentators, like Reynolds, deliberately write as if the UN and the US are entirely separate entities: "the peacekeeping mission itself, like so many United Nations endeavors, appears to have been largely fruitless". Of course they are not entirely separate, so to blame the UN for peacekeeping failures and scandals is hypocritical buck-passing.
Apart from the fact that Reynolds appears more annoyed by the lack of equality of bad-publicity than the fact these abuses are commited by soldiers at all, surely America could have contributed its more professional soldiers to these more pressing causes than fighting a war that, quite frankly, did not need to be fought at this point in time. Seeing as the US is the world's pre-eminent superpower, why are the soldiers in the Congo from poor South American countries and why were the UN in no position to supply an adequate number of peacekeepers in Bosnia and Rwanda. The one thing that has not been mentioned in all this is that there were nowhere near enough soldiers to prevent the genocides. It's not that they didn't, they couldn't and, funnily enough, it's the same right wing commentators that are now criticising Donald Rumsfeld for exactly that problem in Iraq.
Saw a great gig from these guys last night. They've got quite an American sound. I don't want to say that they're a bit like Weezer, but two different friends have said that to me now having heard them. I think they have a darker sound than that (for the complete want of a better term). If anyone reads this and is in a position to check them out then do so!
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
The company newsletter this week rails against an announcement by Consumer Reports, which normally rates consumer products such as DVD players and washing machines, to begin "rating" medication. "Patients should take advice on what medication is right for them by seeing their doctors, not from a magazine rating", company spokesmen said yesterday... "And it undermines the role of the physician in determining the best treatment options".
Well, yes, of course. So why, then, does Big Pharma insist on direct-to-consumer marketing in the US? Surely that "undermines the role of the physician" as well? I'm sure the slippery corporatese (I just made up a word) that passes for the abuse of language in the business world would be well able to teach me the nuances of the pharmaceutical companies' position.
Friday, December 10, 2004
There was barely disguised glee among America's right wingers when a bunch of un-important Greeks attempted to bring Tony Blair before the ICC but, of course, that story died the immediate death it deserved but, as Mr DeWeese wrote: "To back up its opposition, the US has enlisted the cooperation of other nations, securing guarantees from more than twenty that US armed forces personnel would not be subject to ICC prosecution. President Bush recently revoked military aid to thirty-five nations that would not guarantee US immunity from the Court. At a time when the US is being called upon to expand its peacekeeping activities, the last thing it needs is a UN International Criminal Court ready to pounce on any excuse to restrict its operations. The United States maintains military personnel in 146 nations around the world and in all the oceans and seas. The ICC opens the door to the worst kind of mischief." which, when read in the context of the Nick Cohen piece above, is just another example of how unashamedly America's right-wing is concerned only with America's interests. The whole point of the ICC is to act where a national court cannot. The US is hardly at risk of "mischief" because, one hopes and imagines, it would not fail to act itself were its citizens guilty of any of the crimes the ICC has been set up to try. This fact seems to be lost on the right.
Glenn Reynolds says today "The U.N. needs to be either fixed, or crippled so thoroughly that it can no longer harm U.S. interests in the slightest." I have been lost for the right words in my recent posts to describe America's attitude to the rest of the world and international co-operation but I've found them now - America is suffering from a pitiful world view, where honour and morality are dismissed with a sneering contempt disguised as "realism". The UN does need reforming and the lack of coverage of its current ills and malaise, in the Irish media anyway, is annoying. Europe could be leading the charge for reform, though, to prove to the US that the UN is capable of being effective and that it is a better option than going it alone.
Thursday, December 09, 2004
Americans would probably be surprised to hear this but many Irish people (and British as well - he writes for the Telegraph and New Statesman, I think) believe he's a deliberate wind-up merchant and don't take him seriously. Indeed he was the subject of some ridicule for repeatedly insisting that Osama bin Laden had been vaporised (or whatever term he used) before the infamous video published before the recent US election. That's a mistake on our part, as the title of his book shows - America Alone (where Steyn "...takes on the great poison of the twenty-first century: the anti-Americanism that fuels both Old Europe and radical Islam, America, Steyn argues, will have to stand alone. The world will be divided between America and the rest; and for our sake America had better win.") .
That this "us and them" attitude is how Americans in positions of influence think is truly scary, given its status as the only Global Superpower (the book is number 627 on the best sellers list and, as I said, it won't be published for months). It's quite clear, with George W. Bush in power, and as a result of September 11th, that it really is a case of "America, right or wrong" (except America can't be "wrong" if it's acting in its own interest, and that's the problem). Americans might talk about the "coalition of the willing" but we all know that the Bush administration would have gone into Iraq alone if it had to. September 11th has infected right wing America with a reactionary zeal (in terms of its attitude to the rest of the world) quite possibly unseen in history. If right-wing America couldn't care less what the rest of the world thinks of its decisions and actions then why should any other nation assist it in any way?
The section "people also bought..." shows book titles like Our Oldest Enemy : A History of America's Disastrous Relationship with France, If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat: Crushing the Democrats in Every Election and Why Your Life Depends on It and The Connection : How al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America. Un-fecking-believable! Why do people believe everything they read? So many Americans still believe Saddam had a part to play in September 11th. I would laugh if it wasn't so dangerous and so tragic. There is a body of opinion in America that firmly believes that it has no need for international co-operation, that other nation states act only out of total self-interest and therefore cannot be relied upon as Allies and friends and that America should use its might wherever necessary to preserve, not only its own safety, but a complete global hegemony.
I still believe, despite the constant cock-ups and (I find this hard to say) the rising death toll, that removing Saddam was the right thing to do for the sake of the Iraqi people and that they will be better off in the long term. However I don't mind admitting that America needs a good bloody nose as well. That's not support for attacks like September 11th in any way. I don't want to see America suffer any terrorism of any description or scale and I don't want to see its soldiers killed anywhere in the world by anyone. It's not their fault that they are being sunk in a quagmire not of their own making.
But America, the nation, needs to realise that having friends, partners and allies benefits both themselves and the rest of the world and that their "ourselves alone" attitude breeds xenophobia in their own country and leads to disenchantment, misery and hatred of America for millions across the globe. It seems, in this post 9/11 world, that if America were to realise the damage it does and the great things it could do then the world would be a safer place for all of us. 9/11 was an atrocity but did it benefit those whose hatred caused them to do such a thing? Of course it didn't. In reality, as traumatic as September 11th was, it was like agitating a hornet's nest and the last three years has shown the affect of American fury. But pain for America seems just around the corner - economic collapse and social upheavel in the wake of the Bush administration's ridiculous fiscal policy. Then, when having a social conscience and barely-liberal ideals, is no longer a sin America will wake up and say "NO" to those who have dragged them into this world of eternal conflict.
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
Thanks to Fafblog for the most hilarious take on Posner's justification for war in the absence of any immediate threat: "...the probability of an attack from the moon is less than one - indeed, it is miniscule. However, the potential offensive capabilities of a possible moon man invasion could be theoretically staggering. Indeed, there is a distinct, if remarkably slim, chance that a hostile moon man civilization is currently in possession of a Death Star capable of destroying Planet Earth in a single shot. The Medium Lobster has calculated this probability to be 5x10-9.
Nevertheless, should this weapon exist and be used against the earth, the resulting costs would include the end of civilization, the extinction of the human race, the eradication of all terrestrial life, the physical obliteration of the planet, and the widespread pollution of the solar system with a mass of potentially radioactive space debris. The Medium Lobster conservatively values these costs at 3x1012, bringing the expected cost of the moon man attack on earth to 1500 (5x10-9 x 3x1012), a truly massive sum. Even after factoring in the cost of exhausting earth's nuclear stockpile and the ensuing rain of moon wreckage upon the earth (200 and 800, respectively), the numbers simply don't lie: our one rational course of action is to preventively annihilate the moon."
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
Becker decides to use a crime analogy to support the principal of pre-emptive war. He states that the principal of Mutually Assured Destruction - MAD - during the Cold War no longer applies in the fight against terrorism...
"The only really effective approach is to stop them before they engage in their attacks. This is accomplished by tracking them down and imprisoning or killing them based on evidence that they intend to engage in suicidal attacks. Those planning such acts can also be punished on the basis of intent.
"The same argument applies to dictators who are willing to use weapons of mass destruction to attack their enemies when they do not care if many of their populations are killed and maimed by retaliation from other countries.
"Admittedly, the evidence is usually more imperfect when trying to prevent attacks than when responding to attacks. Mistakes will be made, and the evidence of intent must be analyzed carefully. But criminals are convicted too on less than 100% certain evidence."
Wow. Track down terrorists and kill them. The evidence may not be up to scratch, no crime commited, no trial, no jury but they MIGHT be a threat so they get a death penalty. I hope they get the right guy!... Convicting a bloke on circumstancial evidence for planning a robbery or planning to deal drugs being equated to declaring war on a nation state? And to think the right wingers accuse the left of inappropriate moral equivalence! Becker also states that "...the power of weapons continues to grow, and to become more easily accessible. Critics of preventive wars and other preventive actions against rogue states and terrorist groups ignore these major changes in weaponry and their availability." And there was me thinking that the worst terrorist attack carried out on US soil in history was managed with carpet knives and flying lessons.
As for Posner, who rambles on with a cost/benefit analogy as if international relations and people's lives are just glorified business decisions for the US to make, he decides that, as the probability of an enemy attack is always less than one (one being the actual attack) a preventative war is always justified as the potential for the probability of an attack can increase!
He then states "A historical example that illustrates this analysis is the Nazi reoccupation of the Rhineland area of Germany in 1936, an area that had been demilitarized by the Treaty of Versailles. Had France and Great Britain responded to this treaty violation by invading Germany, in all likelihood Hitler would have been overthrown and World War II averted. (It is unlikely that Japan would have attacked the United States and Great Britain in 1941 had it not thought that Germany would be victorious.) The benefits of preventive war would in that instance have greatly exceeded the costs."
Maybe, but can you blame the British and French for not being ready to stomach a new fight 18 years after the cataclysm that was WW1? And, more pertinent for Americans, if you want to start some alternative histories, would Hitler have ever risen to power if the Allies hadn't insisted on humiliating and ruining Germany at the Treaty of Versailles? I don't believe that America brought the 9/11 attacks on itself. I do, however, believe that they could be doing a far better job of defusing the white hatred for the US that has developed in the Middle East. It would do them no harm and save American lives in the long run, yet they've gone for the stick and stick approach. The Brits tried that in Northern Ireland and look where it got them.
I've just checked again and I realised that the Law guy was the one with the dodgy business analogy and the economist had the crime analogy! Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. Still, last word, what if America's enemies (or the Russians or Chinese, for example) ever decide to follow a similar train of thought?...
Monday, December 06, 2004
Following the Napoleonic Wars Britain was the Global Superpower until World War 1 at least and maybe until the outbreak of World War 2. In that context the British fomented an Arab rebellion against their Ottoman Empire enemy in World War 1 (i.e. the Turks), promising self-determination for the Arabs as a reward. The Arab revolt (made famous by Lawrence of Arabia) was successful and, following WW1, the British secured a "mandate" over the area that marks present day Jordan and Israel. The mandated area was split in two along the River Jordan by the British and modern-day Jordan was formed. Famously, however, the British Foreign Secretary wrote a letter confirming Britain's support for an independent Jewish state:
November 2nd, 1917
Dear Lord Rothschild,
I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet.
"His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."
I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.
Arthur James Balfour
Now others, far more learned on such matters than me, have documented (for ever and a day) what has happened in the region since but, at its roots, a simple fact remains - the British, in pursuing their own imperial self-interest, made conflicting promises to rival ethnic groups that were already in conflict over the same patch of land west of the Jordan river. The key line above is "...it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine." The Balfour declaration is what gives Israel its original legitimacy (not the genocide of the Holocaust some twenty years later) yet the British failed miserably to manage both sets of claims to Palestine that it had encouraged and ended up running away from the problem in 1948.
World security quite probably depends on a resolution of this conflict. When Europeans criticise the US for its conduct in the region they should remember the conduct of one of its own that helped cause the problems in the first place.
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Surely there has to be a re-run of the election. Please God the other side will respect the result regardless of who wins. It does highlight the deficiencies of democracy, though - at its simplest 51% of the populace dictating to the other 49% the way things are going to be. Indeed some of my favourite quotes on democracy are:
“Many forms of government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried from time to time." - Winston Churchill, 1947
"Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people." - Oscar Wilde. (I love Oscar Wilde's quotes...)
"Democracy is three wolves and a sheep voting on dinner". - Anonymous (or at least I can't find an originator)
"I've said it before and I'll say it again... democracy simply doesn't work." - Kent Brockman (the best of the lot!)
Anyhoo, despite the contempt held for The Guardian, by many in the blogosphere (and certainly those on the right that I've been reading recently) it's the only paper that has consistently published op-ed pieces by people with views from most angles of the current crisis. Read Nick Paton Walsh, John Laughland and David Aaronovitch about John Laughland. Paton Walsh gets the kudos, although I still find myself being easily convinced by any pro-Russian argument. Maybe I should go there:
"Hey! If you don't like it, go to Russia." - The master of them all, Homer J. Simpson