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Wednesday, November 26, 2003

The Nathan Hale foreign policy discussion group has been talking about the Euro-American relationship. There's a report from the Oxford chapter, suggestions for framing the issues for the Washington chapter's discussion, and finally a summary of the DC discussion.

Meanwhile, at a different level of discourse, Oskar van Rijswijk posts this idea in the comments under a blog post at Winds of Change on dialogue frustration:
If we just stick to facts and some deeper moral values -- and avoid political labelling and bashing and generalizations -- we might very well beable to start some sort of transatlantic connections within the blogosphere and a dialogue on the major issues of world politics.


Sunday, November 23, 2003

Will it be Belgrade 2000 or Bucharest 1989?

Cinderella Bloggerfeller has lots on the situation in Georgia.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

George W. Bush goes to London and a hullabaloo ensues. At Lincoln Cat, you can see how London saw the first Republican president.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Germans reveal hate of Americans.

Cinderella Bloggerfeller has translated an interesting article about the grammatical gender of rivers. Apparently, the Danube is a sweet transsexual. Well, after all, it's partly from Transylvania.


Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Although it's a few months old now, this column on "Parallel Universes" by Anne Applebaum is still timely, and it struck me with particular force since I am apparently one of the few to inhabit, simultaneously, more than one of them.
America and Britain -- along with America and France, America and Russia, America and Botswana, America and anywhere, really -- live in parallel informational universes. By that I mean that the media produced in different cultures don't merely reflect different opinions about the news, they actually recount alternative versions of reality.

Different countries have always had different perspective on the news, of course. But in the world of globalized information, where just about any newspaper or television program in any language is available at the click of a mouse, this isn't supposed to happen anymore. Nowadays we're all supposed to know what everybody else is thinking, to have access to the same images and information, and some of us do. Peasants in rural India gather around village television sets to watch reruns of "Dallas." In different time zones, Japanese and German bankers watch the same images on their Reuters screens. It is often said now that events are monitored around the world in "real time," or that we all live in a "global informational village," as if such a thing had already come to pass.

[...]

Strangest of all, the availability of alternative points of view doesn't appear to have mellowed anyone's prejudices -- quite the contrary. Nowadays, we all live under the illusion that we are receiving many different types of information, but that we select only the most plausible. In fact, as information multiplies, it grows ever easier to choose to read (or watch) whatever best matches your particular bias, whether national or ideological. If you hate network television's right-wing bias, you can click onto, say, www.globalexchange.org or www.moveon.org. If you hate network television's left-wing bias, you can always watch Fox. Having done so, you'll labor under the illusion that you've picked the most truthful version of events -- but how would you know? Have you actually compared and contrasted the arguments of both sides and come to a judicious conclusion?

I was reminded of this column when I read the following comment on Bjørn Stærk's blog:
Leif Knutsen, New York | 2003-11-08 22:44

There's nothing more American about Bush than there is about Clinton, Gore, Dean, Clark, or for that matter Nadler or Buchanan. And just as most of my Republican friends find Coulter to be distasteful (to put it mildly) most of my Democratic friends have a hard time taking Michael Moore seriously.

But it is interesting how many Norwegian commentators one moment are broadly dismissive of "American" politics and the next use dissenting American views as evidence that Bush is all wrong. They obviously don't believe that Americans are capable of serious political thought unless they completely agree with left-wing Europeans.

Bjørn is right - Norwegians (and probably Europeans as a whole) make very little effort to actually read the American political discourse but have no problems stating very categorical opinion.

Bush was admitted to Yale as a legacy that goes back to (at least) his grandfather. He was admitted to Harvard Business School after having been turned down at the U. of Texas business school at Austin. His career in the Air National Guard included one year being AWOL for no apparant reason. He is certainly a smart man, but not the way Clinton or Carter or for that matter Bush senior were. I think he is the worst president in living memory - possibly in history. But that doesn't mean that a) everything he does is wrong (he has done some things right); or b) he should lose his bid for actually being elected president for the wrong reasons. All the reasons I typically read in the Norwegian media are wrong, and I am so disgusted by it that I find myself overcome with the irony of often having to defend the guy.

There are a lot of things Bush has done that any responsible president - Republican or Democrat - would have done. Destroying Taliban is one; establishing the Department of Homeland Security is another (Clinton was the first one to propose it, but neither went far enough); aggressively pursuing Al Qaeda across the world is yet another (Clinton had this well underway until Condi Rice shut it down between the election and September 11th in spite of - or maybe because of - Clinton officials' insistence that Al Qaeda was a serious threat).

Maybe Bush isn't doing enough to understand the European point of view. But neither are Europeans trying to understand the American perspective.

Norm Geras has a post on Jeremy's call for papers.
Ideofact finds the bright side of being sick: revisiting Scooby Doo.
As a kid (a five year old kid -- the same age my son is now -- when the show premiered), several things impressed me about Scooby-Doo. First, the smartest one in the gang was Velma, a gasp...a girl. Remember, this first aired in 1969, and the intellectual of the group was female. I found it odd that Fred was the leader, but it was soon apparent why -- he was the one who could persuade anyone -- even the recalcitrant Shaggy and Scooby -- to go into the scary house, and later, to try to catch the "ghosts". (Plus he drove the van.) He was intelligent, certainly, but not nearly as smart as Velma -- clearly, leadership involved something else, something that couldn't be reduced to SAT scores or IQ points (this is a useful lesson for intellectuals everywhere -- intelligence, in and of itself, does not necessarily make one a leader). Daphne, whom the group occasionally teased for being "Danger Prone Daphne," was nevertheless brave. She was more intuitive than the rest, but at the end -- when the gang had foiled the crooks and offered the explanation to the police -- she always showed that she had gotten it too. As for Shaggy, he's the loyal opposition, the one who questions the wisdom of going into the haunted house. Yes, he's cowardly at times, but he and Scooby draw most of the fire from the ghosts while Velma, Freddy and Daphne go about the hard work of solving the mystery. Scooby was the comic relief (along with Shaggy), but something more as well. The late Don Messick, the original voice of Scooby Doo, put it this way:
I've loved Scooby from the inception, and so has everyone else. I think it's because he embraces a lot of human foibles. He's not the perfect dog. In fact you might say he's a coward. Yet with everything he does, he seems to land on his four feet. He comes out of every situation unscathed. I think the audience - kids and more mature people as well - can identify with Scooby's character and a lot of his imperfections.

I should add that when the chips are down, when things are most dangerous, a Scooby snack is all it takes (well, or two or three) to get him to put life, limb, and tail on the line.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

In Flanders Fields

As part of the "Conversations with History" series from the Institute of International Studies at UC Berkeley, here's a conversation with Ahmed Rashid, the Pakistani journalist who wrote Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia and Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia. There's an hour-long video, and also a transcript of the interview. A lot of important ground is covered.

(But see also Adil Farooq's criticism of Rashid's exposition of the historical meaning of "jihad.")

Here is an excerpt (I think) from Jihad.
In the current issue of New Perspectives Quarterly, there's an interesting conversation between Samuel Huntington and Anthony Giddens of the LSE about the division of the West and related matters. This bit from Giddens links up with the last post:
To reinforce your point, I would say that the issue of transatlantic divisions, to my mind anyway, doesn't come primarily from disagreements about Iraq. Rather, this disagreement about Iraq-this tremendous fissure-came primarily from unresolved problems which we haven't thought through and which are essentially left over from the Cold War period. I would call these the residual problems of 1989. I think we have only gradually come to realize how thoroughly the Cold War defined our institutions. There are three such residual problems which I consider the biggest: first, the meaning of the West; second, the identity of Europe (because Europe developed essentially in some part as a Cold War formation and now has to face up to a massive process of globalization); third, US military power in relation to Europe.

Now I think that there are two senses of the West which I would separate: I'll call these West One and West Two. In the first sense, the West refers to a constitutional, juridical system, a set of individual rights, the rule of impersonal law, civil liberties and so on. I believe passionately that in this sense, the West is still the West. I believe passionately that the principles which have emerged in Western democratic systems are generalizable systems to the rest of the world, and I believe that you can show that these principles can spread to most societies throughout the world.

West Two, however, is what most discussions about divisions concentrate on. West Two is a geopolitical formation, and here there are serious problems. I still think they are mainly ex-Cold War problems, rather than specific problems about the recent turn of events, but there remain important issues to come to terms with-starting with the fact that Europeans must acknowledge the nature of the new threats, and this has yet to be done sufficiently.

There is a major difference between the kinds of terrorism which we are familiar with here in Europe (local, reasonably confined, with the objective of forming national identities), and the new geopolitical terrorism. This new terrorism leverages the power of civil society.

There are also interesting thoughts on the culture gap and the role of religion.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Tony Judt has a review of Eric Hobsbawm's autobiography in The New York Review of Books. Here's how he concludes (the emphasis is mine):

Hobsbawm closes his memoirs with a rousing coda: "Let us not disarm, even in unsatisfactory times. Social injustice still needs to be denounced and fought. The world will not get better on its own." He is right, on every count. But to do any good in the new century we must start by telling the truth about the old. Hobsbawm refuses to stare evil in the face and call it by its name; he never engages the moral as well as the political heritage of Stalin and his works. If he seriously wishes to pass a radical baton to future generations, this is no way to proceed.

The left has long shied away from confronting the Communist demon in its family closet. Anti-anticommunism —the wish to avoid giving aid and comfort to cold warriors before 1989, and End-of-History triumphalists since —has crippled political thinking in the Labor and Social Democratic movements for decades; in some circles it still does. But as Arthur Koestler pointed out in Carnegie Hall in March 1948,
You can't help people being right for the wrong reasons.... This fear of finding oneself in bad company is not an expression of political purity; it is an expression of a lack of self-confidence.

If the left is to recover that self-confidence and get up off its knees, we must stop telling reassuring stories about the past. Pace Hobsbawm, who blandly denies it, there was a "fundamental affinity" between extremes of left and right in the twentieth century, self-evident to anyone who experienced them. Millions of well-meaning Western progressives sold their souls to an oriental despot—"The ludicrous surprise," wrote Raymond Aron in 1950, "is that the European Left has taken a pyramid builder for its God." The values and institutions that have mattered to the left—from equality before the law to the provision of public services as a matter of right—and that are now under assault—owed nothing to communism. Seventy years of "real existing Socialism" contributed nothing to the sum of human welfare. Nothing.

Perhaps Hobsbawm understands this. Perhaps, as he writes of James Klugmann, the British Communist Party's house historian, "he knew what was right, but shied away from saying it in public." If so, it isn't a very proud epitaph. Evgenia Ginzburg, who knew something about the twentieth century, tells of blotting out the screams from the torture cells in Moscow's Butyrki prison by reciting over and over to herself Michelangelo's poem:
Sweet is't to sleep, sweeter to be a stone.
In this dread age of terror and of shame,
Thrice blest is he who neither sees nor feels.
Leave me then here, and trouble not my rest.

Eric Hobsbawm is the most naturally gifted historian of our time; but rested and untroubled, he has somehow slept through the terror and shame of the age.

For a rather less sympathetic review of Hobsbawm, there's this one by David Pryce-Jones. A nugget:
Not long ago, on a popular television show, Hobsbawm explained that the fact of Soviet mass-murdering made no difference to his Communist commitment. In astonishment, his interviewer asked, “What that comes down to is saying that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of fifteen, twenty million people might have been justified?” Without hesitation Hobsbawm replied, “Yes.”


I've added an interesting link to the list, Last Superpower.net. Judging by their introductory blurb, perhaps one might consider describing them as part of the left opposition:
The current anti-war movement developed in the absence of serious discussion and analysis. Opposition to a US initiated war in Iraq was more of an intuitive reaction than a thought-out response.
If the US is doing it, then it's bad

This has been the basic rule-of-thumb for as long as most left-wingers can remember - and it has generally worked quite well. But does it point us in the right direction with regard to US policy in Iraq and the Middle East?

That's what this web-site is about. Our aim in setting it up is to initiate a serious debate about whether it is really left-wing and progressive to oppose the US initiated war against the Ba'th regime in Iraq.

If you would like to discuss these issues you can do so on this site. You can explore what we have to offer just by following the links on this page. But better still, you can become a member of the site simply by registering a user name and a password. Signing up as a member will enable you to contribute your own material to the site (documents, links etc).

Cinderella Bloggerfeller has translated a recent piece by Pascal Bruckner entitled "The Blackmail of Islamophobia." He's responding to a book by Vincent Geisser, La Nouvelle Islamophobie:
...his aim is first and foremost to penalise those so-called moderate or agnostic Muslims who want to free themselves from fundamentalism. It's here that the concept of Islamophobia reveals itself to be a pernicious war machine in the hands of vested interests: it consists in stigmatising those intellectuals, religious figures, journalists and philosophers of North African origin who dare to criticise the principles of their faith, by appealing to a re-reading of the Koran or pleading for a separation of temporal and spiritual powers. This allows them to be exposed to the public condemnation of the extremists within their own religion by establishing a veritable proscription list (in which you will find, to take some names at random, Dalil Boubakeur, Soheib Bencheikh, Malek Boutih, Rachid Kaci, Latifa Ben Mansour, Mahammed Sifaoui, Abdelwahab Meddeb and many others).

Vincent Geisser's book amounts to what we must call a contemptible police operation worthy of the Stalinist era: by treating democrats as villainous Poujadists [right-wing chauvinists], opportunists, careerists, crude secularisers, persecuted figures from operetta, it turns them into quasi-apostates, traitors to their religion, even harkis [Muslims who worked with the French during the Algerian war], collaborators, enemies of Islam (even if these words are never employed).

They are guilty then, the Arab women who want to rid themselves of the veil, guilty all those children of immigrants who demand the right to religious indifference, the right to believe in nothing and who do not automatically feel Muslim because they come from Moroccan, Algerian or Tunisian backgrounds? The invention of Islamophobia fulfills several functions: to deny, in order to give it more legitimacy, the reality of an Islamist offensive in Europe, to intimidate and silence bad Muslims, those who impiously seek change and, finally, to block any hope of a religious transformation in the lands of Islam.

So it’s a matter of reintroducing crimes of opinion in order to muzzle the contradictors and to transfer the issue from the intellectual to the penal plane, any objection or reservation being immediately subject to legal action. We are witnessing the invention of a new crime analogous to the one the Soviet Union once created against the enemies of the people *. But confusing the spirit of inquiry with racism is mistaken: just as the latter attacks people for their very existence, for who they are, Jews, blacks or Arabs, so critical discussion is concerned with shifting and variable concepts, ideas, dogmas, principles, always susceptible to transformations.

He concludes:
There's something stupefying in seeing an "anti-racist organisation" criminalising the adversaries of fanaticism and superstition. If Voltaire were alive today, we can bet that certain "anti-racists" would have him thrown in prison.

The Russian Dilettante comments on somebody else's comments on Tarantino.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

And another: Iraq at a glance.

Another Iraqi blog--The Messopotamian--has been added to the links, joining Healing Iraq (Zeyad), Baghdad Burning, Where is Raed (Salam Pax), G. in Baghdad (Abdul Ghaith), and Ishtar Talking (Nawar).

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Here's an example of how stories are formulated according to local issues. The Times of India has a piece on Bush's speech entitled "Pak not a democracy: Bush."

Friday, November 07, 2003

George W. Bush has delivered a speech.
Our commitment to democracy is also tested in the Middle East, which is my focus today, and must be a focus of American policy for decades to come. In many nations of the Middle East -- countries of great strategic importance -- democracy has not yet taken root. And the questions arise: Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty? Are millions of men and women and children condemned by history or culture to live in despotism? Are they alone never to know freedom, and never even to have a choice in the matter? I, for one, do not believe it. I believe every person has the ability and the right to be free.

Some skeptics of democracy assert that the traditions of Islam are inhospitable to the representative government. This "cultural condescension," as Ronald Reagan termed it, has a long history. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, a so-called Japan expert asserted that democracy in that former empire would "never work." Another observer declared the prospects for democracy in post-Hitler Germany are, and I quote, "most uncertain at best" -- he made that claim in 1957. Seventy-four years ago, The Sunday London Times declared nine-tenths of the population of India to be "illiterates not caring a fig for politics." Yet when Indian democracy was imperiled in the 1970s, the Indian people showed their commitment to liberty in a national referendum that saved their form of government.

Time after time, observers have questioned whether this country, or that people, or this group, are "ready" for democracy -- as if freedom were a prize you win for meeting our own Western standards of progress. In fact, the daily work of democracy itself is the path of progress. It teaches cooperation, the free exchange of ideas, and the peaceful resolution of differences. As men and women are showing, from Bangladesh to Botswana, to Mongolia, it is the practice of democracy that makes a nation ready for democracy, and every nation can start on this path.

It should be clear to all that Islam -- the faith of one-fifth of humanity -- is consistent with democratic rule. Democratic progress is found in many predominantly Muslim countries -- in Turkey and Indonesia, and Senegal and Albania, Niger and Sierra Leone. Muslim men and women are good citizens of India and South Africa, of the nations of Western Europe, and of the United States of America.

More than half of all the Muslims in the world live in freedom under democratically constituted governments. They succeed in democratic societies, not in spite of their faith, but because of it. A religion that demands individual moral accountability, and encourages the encounter of the individual with God, is fully compatible with the rights and responsibilities of self-government.

Yet there's a great challenge today in the Middle East. In the words of a recent report by Arab scholars, the global wave of democracy has -- and I quote -- "barely reached the Arab states." They continue: "This freedom deficit undermines human development and is one of the most painful manifestations of lagging political development." The freedom deficit they describe has terrible consequences, of the people of the Middle East and for the world. In many Middle Eastern countries, poverty is deep and it is spreading, women lack rights and are denied schooling. Whole societies remain stagnant while the world moves ahead. These are not the failures of a culture or a religion. These are the failures of political and economic doctrines.

As the colonial era passed away, the Middle East saw the establishment of many military dictatorships. Some rulers adopted the dogmas of socialism, seized total control of political parties and the media and universities. They allied themselves with the Soviet bloc and with international terrorism. Dictators in Iraq and Syria promised the restoration of national honor, a return to ancient glories. They've left instead a legacy of torture, oppression, misery, and ruin.

Other men, and groups of men, have gained influence in the Middle East and beyond through an ideology of theocratic terror. Behind their language of religion is the ambition for absolute political power. Ruling cabals like the Taliban show their version of religious piety in public whippings of women, ruthless suppression of any difference or dissent, and support for terrorists who arm and train to murder the innocent. The Taliban promised religious purity and national pride. Instead, by systematically destroying a proud and working society, they left behind suffering and starvation.

Many Middle Eastern governments now understand that military dictatorship and theocratic rule are a straight, smooth highway to nowhere. But some governments still cling to the old habits of central control. There are governments that still fear and repress independent thought and creativity, and private enterprise -- the human qualities that make for a -- strong and successful societies. Even when these nations have vast natural resources, they do not respect or develop their greatest resources -- the talent and energy of men and women working and living in freedom.

Instead of dwelling on past wrongs and blaming others, governments in the Middle East need to confront real problems, and serve the true interests of their nations. The good and capable people of the Middle East all deserve responsible leadership. For too long, many people in that region have been victims and subjects -- they deserve to be active citizens.

Governments across the Middle East and North Africa are beginning to see the need for change. Morocco has a diverse new parliament; King Mohammed has urged it to extend the rights to women. Here is how His Majesty explained his reforms to parliament: "How can society achieve progress while women, who represent half the nation, see their rights violated and suffer as a result of injustice, violence, and marginalization, notwithstanding the dignity and justice granted to them by our glorious religion?" The King of Morocco is correct: The future of Muslim nations will be better for all with the full participation of women.

He discusses a number of countries on a case-by-case basis, and then continues with this:
Champions of democracy in the region understand that democracy is not perfect, it is not the path to utopia, but it's the only path to national success and dignity.

As we watch and encourage reforms in the region, we are mindful that modernization is not the same as Westernization. Representative governments in the Middle East will reflect their own cultures. They will not, and should not, look like us. Democratic nations may be constitutional monarchies, federal republics, or parliamentary systems. And working democracies always need time to develop -- as did our own. We've taken a 200-year journey toward inclusion and justice -- and this makes us patient and understanding as other nations are at different stages of this journey.

There are, however, essential principles common to every successful society, in every culture. Successful societies limit the power of the state and the power of the military -- so that governments respond to the will of the people, and not the will of an elite. Successful societies protect freedom with the consistent and impartial rule of law, instead of selecting applying -- selectively applying the law to punish political opponents. Successful societies allow room for healthy civic institutions -- for political parties and labor unions and independent newspapers and broadcast media. Successful societies guarantee religious liberty -- the right to serve and honor God without fear of persecution. Successful societies privatize their economies, and secure the rights of property. They prohibit and punish official corruption, and invest in the health and education of their people. They recognize the rights of women. And instead of directing hatred and resentment against others, successful societies appeal to the hopes of their own people.

There's also this:
Securing democracy in Iraq is the work of many hands. American and coalition forces are sacrificing for the peace of Iraq and for the security of free nations. Aid workers from many countries are facing danger to help the Iraqi people. The National Endowment for Democracy is promoting women's rights, and training Iraqi journalists, and teaching the skills of political participation. Iraqis, themselves -- police and borders guards and local officials -- are joining in the work and they are sharing in the sacrifice.

This is a massive and difficult undertaking -- it is worth our effort, it is worth our sacrifice, because we know the stakes. The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the world, increase dangers to the American people, and extinguish the hopes of millions in the region. Iraqi democracy will succeed -- and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran -- that freedom can be the future of every nation. The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.

Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe -- because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export. And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and to our friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo.

Therefore, the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. This strategy requires the same persistence and energy and idealism we have shown before. And it will yield the same results. As in Europe, as in Asia, as in every region of the world, the advance of freedom leads to peace.

The advance of freedom is the calling of our time; it is the calling of our country. From the Fourteen Points to the Four Freedoms, to the Speech at Westminster, America has put our power at the service of principle. We believe that liberty is the design of nature; we believe that liberty is the direction of history. We believe that human fulfillment and excellence come in the responsible exercise of liberty. And we believe that freedom -- the freedom we prize -- is not for us alone, it is the right and the capacity of all mankind.

Meanwhile, the famous Baghdad blogger describes his family's experience of having their house searched:

Our house was searched by the Americans. That happened almost ten days ago. I wasn’t home, but my mother called the next day a bit freaked out.

They came at around 12 midnight they were apparently supposed to do a silent entrance and surprise the criminal Ba’athi cell that was in my parents house, unfortunately for them our front gate does a fair amount of rattling so my brother heard that and opened the door and saw a couple of soldiers climbing on our high black front gate. When the silent entrance tactic failed they resorted to shouty entrance mode. So they shouted at him telling him that he should get down on his knees, which he did. He actually was trying to help them open the door, but whatever. Seconds later around 25 soldiers are in the house my brother, father and mother are outside sitting on the ground and in their asshole-ish ways refused to answer any questions about what was happening. My father was asking them what they were looking so that he can help but as usual since you are an Iraqi addressing an American is no use since he doesn’t even acknowledge you as a human being standing in front of him. They (the Americans) have a medic with them and he seems to be the only sane person amongst them, my brother tells me they were kids all of them. Anyway so my brother and father start talking to the medic and he tells them what this is about. They have been “informed” that there are daily meetings the last five days, Sudanese people come into our house at 9am and stay till 3pm, we are a probable Ansar cell. My father is totally baffled, my brother gets it. These are not Sudanese men they are from Basra the “informer” is stupid enough to forget that there is a sizeable population in Basra who are of African origin. And it is not meetings these 2 (yes only two) guys have here, they are carpenters and they were repairing my mom’s kitchen. Way. To. Go. You have great informers.

While my family is waiting outside something strange happens, one of the soldiers comes out, empties his flask in the garden and start telling the medic to give him his, the medic shoos him away. They all think that the soldier is filling his flask with cold water from the cooler. Later it turns out that he emptied my father’s bottle of Johnny Walker’s into his flask and was probably trying to convince the medic to give him his to empty another bottle. Weird shit.

Aaaaanyway, they are looking thru my father’s papers by now and their genius translator comes to the commander of operation [Pax House Bust] and tells him he has found “suspicious documents”. They are passes to various conferences he has attended and bank cards for old closed accounts he used to have and most alarmingly for the person in charge was an invitation my father received a couple of days earlier to a meeting with General Abi Zaid to which he and others were flown to the Bakr Air Base north of Baghdad. Now the guy who was in charge starts trying to cover his ass and asks a lot of pointless questions, one of the more surreal ones was “so if one of your sons is writing for a foreign newspaper why are you still here?”. After this goes on for a while he gets the family out of the house again, closes the door and stays in there for 15 minutes. Comes out with the 20 galactic troopers and tells my father that he should inside check everything “I don’t want any complains filed later on”, my father just opens the front gate and tells him that if he wants to file a complaint he will thank you and bye-bye.

They came, freaked out my mother, pissed off my father, found nothing and left.
After refusing to get one my father finally conceded to get one of those cards that basically say you are a “collaborator”, and my mother will be spending a couple of weeks at her sister’s in Amman

I've updated the entry below about the Iraq contracts conspiracy with a few more links. In the discussion with professor Kelman, a reader asked about the issue of umbrella contracts and wondered, "why aren't these facts reported by the media?" Kelman answered that he suspects that "this isn't reported by the media because it's too complicated a story."

Zeyad of Healing Iraq has a different problem with the media. He begins by complaining about comments on his blog suggesting that he should go out and organize demonstrations instead of blogging from a Baghdad internet cafe. He says that these critics do not understand the situation:
Now today, we are facing terrorist and violent threats against our nurseries, schools, colleges, hospitals, clinics, oil pipelines, power stations, water purification systems, and other civilian facilities. If you think that a peaceful demonstration would deter those criminals from doing harm to us, then you are 100% wrong. Do you think the Syrians/Saudis/Iranians/Yemenis/Sudanese would simply say 'Oh look, the Iraqis don't want us there, lets go home and leave the Americans and Iraqis work it out'? Or if you think we should go out and face the dangers just to prove to you -paranoid Americans sitting in your ivory towers watching tv- that we do not support the terrorists, then you are wrong again.

You see a handful of teenagers dancing in front of the camera celebrating dead Americans, and you judge an entire people, you start whining about pulling the troops out of Iraq and giving the Iraqis what they deserve. Are you people really so close-minded? It is the fault of your news agencies that show you what they want, its certainly not ours. If you want us to go out and cry for your dead soldiers and wave American flags, then don't count on it either. We are losing way too many innocent Iraqis daily to be grieving over dead soldiers who have actually made a decision to come here. What about the thousands of dead Iraqis who were not as lucky to have a choice? Did you cry for them?

According to a poll by an Iraqi agency, only 3% of Iraqis want Saddam back and less than 40% want the Americans to leave immediately. Did you even hear about these results?

If you think that Iraqis aren't doing enough, then you're being mislead by your media. Thousands of people are applying to be members of IP, FPS, and the civil defense force. They are begging for the security to be in their hands. We know how to handle those scum. The Americans are more interested in being nice and all about human rights and free speech and stuff. We have our own Law and court systems which we can use but the CPA won't allow us to. They are being too lenient and forgiving on our expence. If you think that is what is required to build a successful democracy then you're too deluded. You don't know the first thing about the Iraqi society.

Iraqis are providing intelligence to the CPA hourly. Just ask the soldiers here. Iraqis are cooperating in every way they can. They're losing their lives for it goddammit. If you aren't seeing it on tv, it isn't my fucking problem.

Imagine yourself living in a neighbourhood with a large number of ex-Baathists/Wahhabis/extremists like I do. Would you go out and denounce the Jihadis/Ba'athists openly for everyone to see, and then get back from work one day to find your brother kidnapped or a threat letter hanging on your door? A friend of mine was standing in front of his house with his kids when a car drove by and emptied a magazine of bullets into them. You know why? Because he was working with the CPA in reconstructing Baghdad Airport. What do you think he did? He stubbornly refused to quit his job and bravely returned to work after spending a week in hospital. Would you do the same? Of course not. We expected most of the IP would simply leave their jobs after last weeks bombing, well they didn't. In fact there were thousands of parents volunteering to carry arms and protect the schools which their kids attend to allow the IP to do their real job.

He talks about the effect 9/11 had on American society, and says that in Iraq "9/11 is an everyday reality," before concluding with this:
And to the guy who was being sarcastic about me sitting in an internet cafe and blogging or playing games instead of going out and organizing a demonstration. Well maybe you are right. I'm sick of people who don't appreciate my efforts. I'm wasting many hours a day and half my salary just to maintain this blog. I have a job, patients, a family, and friends, in other words I have a life. Maybe I will at one point do as you say and diss this whole stupid blog idea.

And, returning to the issue of conspiracies, his previous post is about "the mindset of ME conspiracy theorists":
This is a vital and important issue that I feel I should explain to anyone who seeks to understand the way many people in the ME think.

I think that anybody who has made a serious effort to understand the salient political realities of this region realizes that he's right in stressing the importance of understanding this particular dimension.

He has translated an article on the subject from Arabic to English (and has made some comments of his own). It won't take you nearly as long to read it as it took him to translate it.


Thursday, November 06, 2003

"This melodrama parsed the transgressive hybridity of un-narratived representative bodies back into recognizable heterovisual modes."

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Rumsfeld doesn't know enough about mojo to know whether or not he's lost his.

George W. Bush would probably know, though.

In Spinsanity's treatment of the "imminent threat" debate, a clear distinction is made between, on the one hand, "liberal critics," and, on the other, "conservatives." And there's no doubt that there's a reality to that demarcation. Nevertheless, I think it's important to remember that reality is rarely as simple as generalizations about reality tempt us to think it is.

For one thing, there are a lot of people who have involved themselves in current foreign policy debates--and have taken sides--who are neither liberals nor conservatives. For another, there are conservatives who are basically opposed to the Bush administration's foreign policy, and liberals who basically support it.

Zell Miller, a Democratic senator from Georgia, has recently endorsed George W. Bush:
If I live and breathe, and if--as Hank Williams used to say--the creek don't rise, in 2004 this Democrat will do something I didn't do in 2000, I will vote for George W. Bush for president.

I have come to believe that George Bush is the right man in the right place at the right time. And that's a pretty big mouthful coming from a lifelong Democrat who first voted for Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and has voted for every Democratic presidential candidate the 12 cycles since then. My political history to the contrary, this was the easiest decision I think I've ever made in deciding who to support. For I believe the next five years will determine the kind of world my four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren will live in. I simply cannot entrust that crucial decision to any one of the current group of Democratic presidential candidates.

Miller isn't exactly an example of a Bush-supporting liberal since he's a self-described "conservative Democrat." But this endorsement of his has provoked another round of debate about liberals who break with their fellow liberals on foreign policy. Here is a set of links to some of the places where this debate is happening.

On the conservative side, Patrick Buchanan has a relatively new magazine, The American Conservative, which is strongly opposed to the Bush administration. Buchanan was once a speechwriter in the Nixon administration, and was responsible for Spiro T. Agnew's words about "the nattering nabobs of negativism." He's run for president a couple of times (including in the last election, in which I believe he got about half a percent of the votes). In line with his anti-immigration tendencies he has suggested building a wall on the southern border to keep illegal immigrants out, he thinks the U.S. should have stayed out of WWII, he's made some antisemitic remarks, and he once expressed his dismay about seeing guys playing bongos on a Washington street, which he took as a marker of cultural decay.

And, moving from conservatism proper to libertarianism, there's Justin Raimundo and the others at antiwar.com:
From a lone protest against the NATO-crats' brutal war against Serbia, to a website dedicated to fighting interventionism on every front -- Antiwar.com is building an international movement against the would-be overlords of a "New World Order."



In a similar vein, Spinsanity--"the nation's leading watchdog of manipulative political rhetoric"--sorts out the "imminent threat" debate:
In recent weeks, a debate has raged over the phrase "imminent threat." Many liberal critics have asserted that a central claim in President Bush's case for war in Iraq was that Iraq posed an "imminent threat." They argue that it's now clear that no such threat existed, and thus the President's argument has been revealed as deceptive or illegitimate. Conservatives retort that Bush never actually used the phrase and in fact specifically used language indicating that the threat was not imminent on several occasions.

As a factual matter, conservatives are largely correct and liberal critics and journalists are guilty of cheap shots or lazy reporting. However, the evidence is not completely clear and both sides are guilty of distorting this complex situation for political gain. Specifically, while there's some evidence indicating the Bush administration did portray Iraq as an imminent threat, there's much more that it did not. Those attempting to assert that the White House called Iraq an imminent threat are ignoring significant information to the contrary. Similarly, those who say the Bush administration never used the phrase or implied as much are ignoring important, though isolated, evidence.



Tuesday, November 04, 2003

The Center for Public Integrity has published a report on U.S. Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. They found that
More than 70 American companies and individuals have won up to $8 billion in contracts for work in postwar Iraq and Afghanistan over the last two years... Those companies donated more money to the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush--a little over $500,000--than to any other politician over the last dozen years...

But, in "Fables of the Reconstruction," Daniel Drezner says that Bush isn't really favoring Halliburton and Bechtel. He's got more on his blog, in this post, and this one.

For comments on this story's manifestation at Spiegel Online, see Davids Medienkritik.

UPDATE: Dan Drezner has still more on this, and there are a number of interesting kibbles and bits in the comments section.

UPDATE: Via The Belgravia Dispatch, here's an op-ed in the Washington Post on this topic ("No 'Cronyism in Iraq") by a professor of public management at Harvard who "served as a senior procurement policymaker in the Clinton administration" and describes himself as "rather unsympathetic" to the Bush administration's Iraq policies. He says that
One would be hard-pressed to discover anyone with a working knowledge of how federal contracts are awarded -- whether a career civil servant working on procurement or an independent academic expert -- who doesn't regard these allegations as being somewhere between highly improbable and utterly absurd.

The premise of the accusations is completely contrary to the way government contracting works, both in theory and in practice. Most contract award decisions are made by career civil servants, with no involvement by political appointees or elected officials. In some agencies, the "source selection official" (final decision-maker) on large contracts may be a political appointee, but such decisions are preceded by such a torrent of evaluation and other backup material prepared by career civil servants that it would be difficult to change a decision from the one indicated by the career employees' evaluation.

There's also an online discussion, with Professor Kelman taking questions from readers.

FIVE ON IRAQ

Hussein Was Sure of Own Survival

Saddam's New War

Calls to Jihad Are Said to Lure Hundreds of Militants Into Iraq

Rebuilding Iraq

Iraqification: Losing Strategy

Here's a handy trick: for some newspapers that require registration, you can just use "laexaminer" for both the username and the password.




An English translation of Jean-François Revel's L'obsession anti-américaine: Son fonctionnement - Ses causes - Ses inconséquences has recently been published as Anti-Americanism. The introduction is available online, here. This paragraph in particular caught my eye:
During my time in the United States in 1969, I identified what I believed could fairly be called a revolution. In its narrow sense, "revolution" usually means the replacing of one political regime by another, usually by means of a violent coup d'état accompanied by insurrection--followed by purges, arrests and executions. Indeed, many a revolution conforming to this pattern has led to dictatorship and repression. As I stressed in Without Marx or Jesus, what I meant by "revolution" in the context of America was less a political phenomenon at the highest levels of power than a series of transformations spontaneously occurring within society at a deep level. These radical changes had been born, were evolving and would continue to evolve independently of political transitions at the national level. You can change the government without changing society; conversely, you can change society without changing the government. The American Free Speech Movement sprang forth and continued to grow as vigorously under Republican presidents as under Democrats; it was able to do so largely because it never--or very rarely--regressed into the backward ideologies of the nineteenth century or the Marxist pseudo-revolutionary theoretical straitjackets of the twentieth. In my book, I argued that a revolution in this sense is a phenomenon that had hitherto never taken place, an event that would develop along lines other than the known historical ones and that could not be thought about--or even perceived--in terms of the old categories. It was obvious to me that the real revolution was taking place not in Cuba, but in California.

And here is an essay he has adapted from his book. The first four paragraphs:
"Cultural diversity" has replaced "cultural exceptionalism" in the French-inspired, European rhetoric. But in actuality, the two terms cover the same kind of cultural protectionism. The idea that a culture can preserve its originality by barricading itself against foreign influences is an old illusion that has always produced the opposite of the desired result. Isolation breeds sterility. It is the free circulation of cultural products and talents that allows each society to perpetuate and renew itself.

The proof of this goes back to the old comparison between Athens and Sparta. It was Athens, the open city, that was the prolific fount of creation in letters and arts, philosophy and mathematics, political science, and history. Sparta, jealously guarding its "exceptionalism," pulled off the tour de force of being the only Greek city not to have produced a single notable poet, orator, thinker, or architect; their achievement was "diversity" of a sort, but at the price of emptiness. Parallel phenomena of cultural vacuity are found again in contemporary totalitarian states. Fear of ideological contamination induced the Nazis, the Soviets, and the Maoists to take refuge in an "official" art and a pompously dogmatic literature, sheer insults to the heritage of the peoples on whom they were inflicted.

When, in December 2001, Jean-Marie Messier said that "French-style cultural exceptionalism is dead," he aroused horrified protests, but he was not going nearly far enough. He could have added: in fact, French cultural exceptionalism has never existed, thank goodness. If it had, it would be French culture itself that would be extinct. Let's suppose that the sixteenth-century kings of France, instead of inviting Italian artists to their courts, had said to themselves: "This predominance of Italian painting is insufferable. We'll keep those painters and their pictures out of the country." The result of this castrating démarche would have been to thwart a renewal of French art. Again: between 1880 and 1914 there were many more French Impressionist paintings in American museums and the homes of private collectors than there were in France, despite which--or because of which--American art was subsequently able to find its own wellsprings, and then influence French art in turn.

These cross-fertilizations are indifferent to political antagonisms. It was during the first half of the seventeenth century, when France and Spain were frequently at war, that the creative influence of Spanish literature on the French was particularly marked. The eighteenth century, which saw repeated conflict between France and England, was also the period when the most active and productive intellectual exchanges between the two countries occurred. And between 1870 and 1945, diplomatic relations between France and Germany were hardly idyllic, yet those were the years when German philosophers and historians had the most to teach the French. And wasn't Nietzsche steeped in the ideas of the French moralists? It would be possible to extend indefinitely the list of examples illustrating this truth: cultural diversity arises from manifold exchanges. This applies just as well to gastronomy: only McDonald's-hating lunatics are unaware of the obvious fact that there have never been so many restaurants offering foreign cuisines, in practically every country, as in our day. Far from imposing standardization, international exchange diversifies. Withdrawing behind a wall can only dry up inspiration.

UPDATE: More from Revel's book can be found online here. There are further thoughts on the cultural theme in this bit:
Long before the US, there have been empires and powers of international scope. However, there had never been one with planetary preponderance. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Advisor, underscores this fact in his book The Grand Chessboard. In order to deserve the title of world superpower, a country must be ranked first in four fields: economy, technology, military and culture. At the present time, the US is the only country—and the first in history—that fulfills all four conditions not merely on a continental level but on a planetary one. Since the revival of 1983 and until the beginning of the recession in 2001 the American economy has clearly been ahead, with its combination of growth, full employment and the absence of inflation. In technology it enjoys a quasi-monopoly with the spectacular development that it has been able to foster in the field of state-of-the-art communication tools. Militarily, it is the only power capable of intervening at any time in any part of the globe.

Its cultural superiority, however, is more debatable. The question is whether you define the term culture in its narrow or large meaning. In terms of the former definition—the highest creative manifestations of culture in literature, painting, music or architecture—the American civilization is certainly brilliant but it is not the only one nor is it always the best. At this prestigious level its radiance cannot be compared to that of the civilizations of Ancient Greece, Rome or China. One could even say that the American artistic and literary culture has a tendency toward “provincialization.” Because of the dominating position of the English language fewer and fewer of even cultured Americans read works in foreign languages. Even when American academics or critics open up to a foreign school of thought, they do so at times out of fashionable conformism rather than based on original judgment.

Aristotle, Poetics, 4:
Man differs from the other animals in his greater aptitude for imitation.

Monday, November 03, 2003

There was an interesting exchange recently between Norman Geras (the guy who sometimes posts on cricket that I was telling Jeremy about) and Josh Cherniss, both of whom are living in the UK. Geras is a professor in the Department of Government at the University of Manchester. Cherniss is a PhD student at Yale, writing a dissertation on Isaiah Berlin. Geras is a Marxist. His political views are discussed in this interview at Imprints entitled "Marxism, the Holocaust and September 11." Cherniss seems to be a liberal (in the American sense of liberal).

Geras's post (scroll down to "Thursday morning coming down") ends on this dark note:
Is this how it felt living in the Weimar Republic? I don't know. And no, I haven't taken leave of my senses. I'm not anticipating a resurgence of fascism, Britain under the iron heel. All I mean is, is this how it felt to move within a poisoned moral atmosphere? Not some new rough beast slouching towards whatever birthplace, one can only hope. But in all the time since I reached any kind of political awareness I can recall nothing comparable.

To see the context, read the whole thing. Cherniss's comments on it are here (scroll down to Friday, October 31, 2003). Geras then responded with "Americans and Bush (and Jews)," which is on the same web page as the initial post. In between, there are also a couple of readers' responses.


Hannah Arendt (in The New Yorker, 28 Nov. 1977):
Absence of thought is indeed a powerful factor in human affairs--statistically speaking the most powerful.

Menander, quoted in Philo, De Abrahamo:
The chief beginning of evil is goodness in excess.

Martin Luther King, Jr.:
Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincerely ignorant and conscientious stupidity.

Walter Russell Mead:
We were in the South during the Civil Rights era, and my dad was one of the Episcopal clergy who was very active and marched with Martin Luther King. Both my grandfather and my father were involved in desegregation efforts in the places that they lived, and there were some real confrontational situations. A lot of people didn't welcome the changes. I think the experience of seeing that kind of social change, close up, shaped me profoundly, and not always in ways I understand. To see how a society can believe that segregation is right -- and a lot of good, good, honest people absolutely saw nothing wrong with it, yet it was a terrible era in history -- and watch people change their minds and learn; that was something that is always with me.

Somebody once said something to the effect that we never sin so gravely as when we do so out of conscience. I think it might have been a Christian theologian. If anybody knows who it was and how exactly it was said, could you please let me know?

There is a slogan that is typically associated with conservativism:
Ideas have consequences

But the general notion does not belong to any particular school or camp. Here's Keynes, concluding The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money:
But apart from this contemporary mood, the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas. Not, indeed, immediately, but after a certain interval; for in the field of economic and political philosophy there are not many who are influenced by new theories after they are twenty-five or thirty years of age, so that the ideas which civil servants and politicians and even agitators apply to current events are not likely to be the newest. But, soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil.


A JUXTAPOSITION

Quoted here:
Wiggles humbly describes himself as "one individual trying to make a difference" and believes that "one person's seemingly insignificant positive actions can exponentially initiate a rippling of positive energy.

From this book (p. 8):
Youngsters were taught the medieval notion that what they did reflected first on the family, then rippled out to affect the entire community. Whether they became craftsmen, merchants, or farmers, they knew from youth that no man was an island, that their lives and actions were inextricably involved with the welfare of the community. Town fathers regulated the products that citizens brought to market--judging the quality, the weight, the justness of the price--and no one questioned their right to do so. (This is not to say that cheating did not prevail; ideals seldom flourish in everyday life.) When someone died in a seventeenth-century English village, no one needed an explication of John Donne's lines, "Do not send to ask for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee."

UPDATE: Lee Harris, discussing Martha Nussbaum's essay "Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism":
Let us now examine how we are to visualize fulfillment of this cosmopolitan ideal. Nussbaum advises us to follow the stoics and to “think of ourselves not as devoid of local affiliations, but as surrounded by a series of concentric circles. The first one is drawn around the self; the next takes in one’s immediate family; then follows the extended family; then, in order, one’s neighbors or local group, one’s fellow city-dwellers, one’s fellow countrymen — and we can easily add to this list groupings based on ethnic, linguistic, historical, professional, gender and sexual identities. Outside all these circles is the largest one, that of humanity as a whole.” The aim of cosmopolitan education, she writes, is to get the student “to recognize humanity wherever she encounters it, undeterred by traits that are strange to her, and be eager to understand humanity in its ‘strange’ guises. She must learn enough about the different to recognize common aims, aspirations, and values, and enough about these common ends to see how variously they are instantiated in many cultures and many histories.”


Malaysia after Mahathir

(Via The Belgravia Dispatch).

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