Sunday, July 30, 2006

The sympathetic eye

Charles Moore reflects on the words chosen by a Parliamentarian criticising Israel for its actions in Lebanon, which were described as "a war crime grimly reminiscent of the Nazi atrocity on the Jewish quarter in Warsaw". Standard fare when spoken by hysterics on the Left; a little less to be expected from the longest-serving Tory MP, Sir Peter Tapsell. Moore wonders what possesses otherwise reasonable people when they talk about the Middle East, or more precisely, about Israel.

European discourse on the subject seems to have been overwhelmed by something else - a narrative, told most powerfully by the way television pictures are selected, that makes Israel out as a senseless, imperialist, mass-murdering, racist bully.
Quite apart from the good points that he makes, there is one element that I would like to enlarge upon. It has nothing to do with ideology or partisanship; it could almost be termed 'technical', though its implications for the use and maintenance of Western power are immense.

The most powerful medium for delivering news is television, and television news is most powerful when it is able to evoke sympathy/empathy. A report has impact when it engages the viewer's imagination and it generally does so through pity. Pity at the sight of individual suffering, the what-does-it-feel-like of political and catastrophic events. Show an image of a child's body in adult arms, and you're there. That is what you will remember; that is what will colour, and even dominate, your view of the events. It is direct, emotional and indeniable.

It is perfectly natural that television should tend towards this type of coverage simply because it does what almost any television programme, or virtually any form of communication, seeks to do: it has an impact. The approach is not limited to the small action-filled screen. The teaching of history now is based on the necessity of understanding the viewpoint of the powerless, imaginatively reconstituting the silent voices of the 'disappeared', the bit-actors of great events. One of the aims of traditional studies in literature was the development and refinement of the sympathetic imagination with relation to the lives of those we will never know. This essential social and emotional skill is rightly prized. It is also ruthlessly exploited.

A view dominated by sympathy is extremely limited. Precisely because it has such a hold over us, it is a great impediment to understanding. It distorts perspective; it does not allow the individual events to take their place in a longer and broader view. It reverses the visual logic in Egyptian murals by making the foot-soldier thrice the size of all the other figures in the landscape thus rendering the scene incomprehensible. He had to fight, and he died - that's all, apart from the pity, we will get. It also leads to passivity because it is a litany of helplessness and a rollcall of victims. Since we cannot, through this eyeglass, even glimpse the elements that led to the decisions distantly made; since the potentials averted by those decisions are invisible and weightless, how can that suffering appear if not senseless and cruel?

Attitudes feed by the sympathetic eye of the camera are therefore limited and debilitated. They are politically dangerous because they do not inform effective action. Quite the contrary, they engender fear of action because the immediate consequences of that action are too vividly imagined. It is like the fear of learner drivers who at every turn must look through a blood-coloured veil of their own creation at all the distruction they might create. They lack the perspective to accurately calculate probabilities. They drive reacting to phantoms and are therefore bad drivers incapable of using responsibly the power they possess. If they cannot marginalise their imagination and momentarily treat other road-users as objects of velocity and mass constrained by certain rules, they will never drive well.

Those in power cannot, must not think like this. Their sympathies must be more general and more abstract; their calculation colder and more precise. Otherwise they will be paralysed and, insofar as they are powerful, all the more dangerous. (Cont)

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Friday, July 28, 2006

Proportionate outrage

Why is it so difficult to understand that stopping the Israelis now will lead only to more deaths in the future? That if Hezbollah is not hurt badly now then all the suffering that has occurred so far will be to no end but that of reinforcing those that started and financed it? I realise that it is often irresistible to strike the tone of humanitarian outrage, but here it is so out of place.

Excellent Deaths

One evening in the middle of July, 1992, we were going out to a sagra. These are summer 'festivals', really just country dances held over two or three nights in most villages and towns. We were in the Muggello, north-east of Florence, we being my family and my parents over to visit us from the Old Country. A sagra offers a pleasant evening out - lots of food (though, unfortunately for my wife, it's mostly meat) and dancing, almost exclusively 3-step with a live accordianist and backing. And they're outdoors, so the kids can run.

We found our way to San Piero Sieve without great difficulty, parked and went to join the fun. Only there didn't seem to be much of it. All the elements were present - lots of people, the smell of food and smoke in the air with the waltz-time accordian. But subdued. Everything but the enjoyment. People were speaking quietly; only the youngest children were running. Something had happened somewhere to someone. But what, where and who to matter so much to so many? I asked.

The Sicilian Mafia had rid themselves of an enemy in the crudest and most effective way: a massive car bomb that killed Paolo Borsellino and five of the six bodyguards assigned to him outside the house of his mother. Just two months before, they had killed his friend and colleague, Giovanni Falcone, by the same means. Borsellino, like Falcone, had known he was a dead man walking. For together they had taken a step that most thought would never be taken: they took defendants to court for the crime, only recently put on the statute books, of belonging to the Mafia - 474 defendants charged as well with 120 murders, drug trafficking, and extortion. 360 were convicted.

Both Falcone and Borsellino were very impressive men of a steadfastness that had to endure all the frustrations and dangers of a system corrupt almost to the core. Their deaths made them icons of resistence to the tyranny of lawlessness and swayed public opinion so powerfully that the deservedy-maligned state started at last to make the Mafia lords squeal.

A good article from Slate which also reviews a new documentary, Excellent Cadavers, about Falcone and a book by Peter Robb, Midnight in Sicily, a more wide ranging look at that cursed island and its history. Wikipedia entries about Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Johnno by David Malouf

Johnno is a beautifully written elegy to a lost friend and a vanished city. Dante, the narrator, remembers his boyhood friend, Johnno, and the Brisbane of their post-war youth, which he paints in loving detail. He recaptures the heat, the lush vegetation, the pubs and the public library, the back yards and the brothels of a city that with World War 2 had just come into the big world and was about to lose its particular ragged charm and become a modern city just like any other. Johnno is the book that put Brisbane on the literary map, and in a sense that is just what Malouf intended.

It is very much a bildungsromans, a writer finding his personality as a writer and, characteristically, doing so through guilt. What exactly was his part in Johnno's life and death, he wonders. Johnno, who from the first had been Dante's alternative version, his way out of his good Catholic-boy upbringing, his way out of Australia, in the end cursed him. Johnno's final note, delivered days after his (probable) suicide pleaded with Dante to answer his call as he had never done in the past. "I've spent years writing letters to you and you never answer, even when you write back. I've loved you - and you've never given a fuck for me, except as a character in one of your funny stories."

There is justice in his accusation. Dante is a distant figure, even as narrator. He reconstructs a world in fine detail yet somehow manages not to interact with it. Perhaps his most telling line is "I was simply immobilised from within". He observes, in a manner that is very familiar from Henry James (Ralph Touchett in The Portrait of a Lady is a good example), and though he makes use of the energy released from Johnno's clash with the world, he remains on another trajectory, if that is the right word for so motionless a movement. However, it is perhaps one of the weaknesses of the novel that Johnno's search for the right place, the right state of mind, his resolute spiritual shopping, which must have resonated greatly in the Seventies, now makes him seem a rather tiresome figure, spoilt by too much choice and easy rebellions. As a reader, I shared the narrator's lack of committment to Johnno's quest, and I certainly did not feel guilty about it.

Johnno is also a very writerly project. Malouf is determined to be the makar of Brisbane. Dante says at one point that he was happiest when reading about

when everything that happened was history. I was very strong on history. Not the terrible history of our own misplaced continent,… but the history that was recounted in the books I bought at Old Neds in Melbourne Street… Australia was familiar and boring. Now was just days, and events in The Courier mail – even when those events were the Second World War. History was the Past. I had just missed out on it.
Now that the Brisbane of his childhood has been swept away by development and modernity, Malouf makes that place and time something where history has happened, something remembered strongly which is therefore meaningful. He makes Brisbane a place of the imagination. No small thing.

Johnno is a very good novel, and maybe for Australians and Brisbanites, a necessary one. I'm not entirely sure how appealing it would be for others, though it is not only in Brisbane that the need to escape from the flatness of suburban life is an urgent one.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Peacock Butterfly

Peacock Butterfly
This Peacock Butterfly, with many mates, seen today on our buddleia.

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Voices on the Wind

I see no Lebanese or Arab or Islamic need for all that has occurred, and it will do me no good to hold Israel responsible. God rest Dr. Zreik's soul: We can either earn the right to life and dignity or get trampled upon in the name of the right to life and dignity!

Can I recommend a long read? It's a post by a Lebanese living in Canada on his blog Voices on the Wind. The quote is from his translation of an article by a Lebanese called Dr. Radwan el Sayyid. Interesting in itself, but what is worth the time is the discussion that follows in the comments between the blogger and someone going under the moniker of fubar.

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Monday, July 24, 2006


From Ralph Kinney Bennett at TCS Daily.

Those who have visited any Hezbollah installation in Lebanon over the years always remark on the fact that there are families, women and children, in and around the place. "Secret" bases are usually hidden in plain site. Houses or apartment buildings become weapons storage or even operations centers. An innocent shed or garage may contain a Toyota or a missile launcher.
Seldom, if ever, has a guerrilla movement been able to so openly and exquisitely weave itself into the fabric of a society as Hezbollah has done in Lebanon.

If the civilians in and around what are in effect operational bases happen to be of Hezbollah's own brand of Islam they automatically become a part of the "sacrificial," suicidal equation. Often without choice or foreknowledge, they die an "honorable" death in the battle against infidels or apostates.

If the civilians happen to be of some other persuasion, Islamic or otherwise, their deaths are not even worth a shrug. However, these mangled bodies and wailing women with arms outstretched do provide an immense propaganda payoff, especially in the Western "crusader" media -- which still places a quaint value on human life.
(via Dinocrat)

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Grass-high oak tree

Grass-high oak
Look what we found in the garden today. With five perfect leaves.

It can't stay, however much I would like to be at least partly responsible for something that could be around in 300 years. Down to the woods with it, I'm afraid.

Negotiating stance

Hezbollah's representative in Iran, Hossein Safiadeen, leaves the way open for a peace accord.

We are going to make Israel not safe for Israelis. There will be no place they are safe.

We will expand attacks. The people who came to Israel, (they) moved there to live, not to die. If we continue to attack, they will leave.

This war will be remembered as the beginning of the end for Israel.
The audience included the Tehran-based representative of the Palestinian group Hamas and the ambassadors from Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Authority.

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Sunday, July 23, 2006


From The Ryskind Sketchbook.

(via Wheat and Weeds)

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Stamp it out

I've referred to Nicholas Wade's Before The Dawn in another post. It's the one that reveals that, contrary to the fantasies of so many among us (especially the us that hate us), primitive man was no peace-loving darling of Mother Nature, but a being soaked in blood and fear. Mark Steyn's on the case now, and quotes some delicious examples of self-deceit.

But professor Keeley and Steven LeBlanc of Harvard disclose almost as an aside that, in fact, their scientific colleagues were equally invested in the notion of the noble primitive living in peace with nature and his fellow man, even though no such creature appears to have existed. "Most archaeologists," says LeBlanc, "ignored the fortifications around Mayan cities and viewed the Mayan elite as peaceful priests. But over the last 20 years Mayan records have been deciphered. Contrary to archaeologists' wishful thinking, they show the allegedly peaceful elite was heavily into war, conquest and the sanguinary sacrifice of beaten opponents.... The large number of copper and bronze axes found in Late Neolithic and Bronze Age burials were held to be not battle axes but a form of money."
Steyn asks the question, the obvious question, Why do people want to believe in this fantasy? He doesn't answer it, but restates it.
War has been the natural condition of mankind for thousands of years, and our civilization is a very fragile exception to that. What does it say about us that so many of our elites believe exactly the opposite -- that we are a monstrous violent rupture with our primitive pacifist ancestors?
No answer to the big question, but at least he remembers.
The reality is that "civilization" -- Greco-Roman-Judeo-Christian -- worked very hard to stamp out the primitive within us, and for good reason.
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This Ongoing War

There's an excellent post by brownie over at Harry's which, among other things, introduces an Israeli blog. It's called This Ongoing War, and it's run by Frimet and Arnold Roth, who lost their daughter, Malki (aged 15), at the Sbarro restaurant massacre in August, 2001. They write, they say, to counter

the dangerously inaccurate, partial, and agenda-driven journalism that explains to the world the events that are happening in Israel, particularly in relation to the ongoing war waged by Palestinian Arab society against Israelis.
In their latest post (but read the previous one as well), they display two photos. This is one.

This is what is put inside the Katyusha missiles that are falling on Haifa as I write. Why? What military purpose do they serve? Well, for one
They're especially good at killing children like 7 year-old Omer Pesachov and his grandmother. They have minimal impact on armored military equipment.
The Roths conclude
Keep these handy for when your local newspaper or media analysts say this war is all about kidnappings of Israeli soldiers and Israel's massive, disproportionate over-reaction.
May I refer you back to that letter signed by those four luminaries of the Western intellectual skyscape? Can you wonder that such people end up with the moral authority of a ball bearing?

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A just war

An excellent summary by John Krenson of a Christian position on current conflict in Lebanon and surrounds. As he defines it, a just war satisfies these four conditions:

1) the threat must be lasting, grave and certain; 2) other means to counter the threat are ineffective; 3) there is a likelihood of success; 4) the actions taken must be proportionate to the threat.
The first condition has been present since 1948 in varying degrees of gravity. What is significant about now is, as he notes,
the kidnappings of Israeli soldiers both by Hamas and Hezbollah demonstrated a new level of sophistication Israel has not seen before. In addition, the arms used by Hezbollah also are proving that they represent a far graver threat to Israel than they ever have before - now they can cause mass casualties within Israel itself.
This is important because it signals the heavy hands of Iran and Syria on the timing and 'quality' of the attack. It is important also because, given the involvement of those two, the potential for conflagration is so much greater.

Condition 2 is, as well, easily dealt with. It is impossible to negotiate with an adversary whose ultimate and declared aim is your annihilation. Such is the case with Hamas as much as with Hezbollah. Regarding Fatah, Krenson writes
In 1998, at the Wye River negotiations, Ehud Barak offered almost everything Yasir Arafat had long demanded from Israel and yet he turned it down. (Dennis Ross, the US ambassador to the negotiations, has said that Barak agreed to “ninety-five percent” of Arafat’s long-stated demands.)
Every concession Israel makes is seen only as a means to get more.

Personally, I have grave doubts about the third condition. The best possible outcome here would be a buffer zone in South Lebanon with Hezbollah defanged. That is going to be very difficult to achieve without the Syrians and Iranians backing it.

Condition 4, Proportionality. That's a tough one if you look only at the incident that provoked the Israeli attacks. Even a newspaper like The Daily Telegraph sees fit to run a readers' poll (scroll down) that sums up the situation thus: "Is Israel right to use force to get its soldiers released?" And a minister of state, Kim Howels, comes out with this:
"The destruction of the infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people. These have not been surgical strikes. And it's very very difficult I think to understand the kind of military tactics that have been used. You know, if they're chasing Hizbollah, then go for Hizbollah. You don't go for the entire Lebanese nation."
What kind of tactics would he suggest against fighters that use children as shields?

RC2 (to whom, thanks for the link to John Krenson) puts it well.
"Proportionate response" means that the damage inflicted is sufficient to a just end.In this case the just end is the neutralization of Hezbollah.

"Proportionality" thus means that Israel must limit itself to the means sufficient to accomplish that end. Nothing more --but also, please note, nothing less-- is proportional. You don't get to "retaliate" under Just War theory, you get to achieve tactical ends to defend yourself and ultimately restore peace. Peace understood not as cease-fire --anybody can have "peace" at any time by simply surrendering his natural rights to the tyrant-- but a just peace.

And may I add that, knowing that your enemy deliberately uses human shields and plants itself in population centers, if you give up the tactical element of surprise --using leaflets and loudspeakers in order to warn civilians what's coming so they can flee-- you cannot be said to be unjustly targeting civilians. That fault sits squarely on enemy shoulders.
As is often said, this is an asymmetric war. In such a war, it is not possible to fight at all (whether you are justified or not) if civilian deaths are to be absolutely excluded. The usual hysterics calling for Israel to be tried for war crimes are, in fact, calling for Israel not to defend itself.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Long-term Practice

From a letter signed by John Berger, Noam Chomsky, Harold Pinter, Jose Saramago.

Each provocation and counter-provocation is contested and preached over. But the subsequent arguments, accusations and vows, all serve as a distraction in order to divert world attention from a long-term military, economic and geographic practice whose political aim is nothing less than the liquidation of the Palestinian nation.

This has to be said loud and clear for the practice, only half declared and often covert, is advancing fast these days, and, in our opinion, it must be unceasingly and eternally recognised for what it is and resisted.

Ditto what Norm says.


This is a short story set a couple of years after the action in The Man of Property. It recounts the happy last days of the most authoritative Forsytean of them all: Old Jolyon.

He merits the attention. He was the character in The Man of Property that more than any other Forsyte suggested more than was immediately evident. Partly, it was the sway his affections had over him, with regard to June, his grand-children and his social-pariah son, Jo. His emotional life was not entirely regulated by his social position or the much-vaunted Forsyte ethos.

This is true in Interlude, too, but here there is another element: his love of beauty. First, the beauty of "what had just started to be called 'nature'". (Was it really only then? I'd have thought it earlier - with the Romantics.) And then, Irene. What a wonderful figure she is. It's real Helen of Troy stuff: the beauty that sinks ships and families. She can never be touched or understood, but she is the fount of such joy. Interlude is really a bursting-with-joy depiction of rejuvenation, of the intensity of life lived, and a sweet death. It has the intensity of youthful passion in the shadow of a natural death. The characters do not express the passion, and nor really does the writer, which makes it all the more powerful, more adult. You must draw on your own experience to understand it. Great writing.

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Beggars of the state

From an interview with Akbar Ganji, an Iranian journalist and writer, imprisoned between 2000 and 2006 by the mullahs. (From sighandsight, originally in Süddeutsche Zeitung)

Oil is the greatest hindrance to democracy in all oil-producing countries. Instead of promoting the development of these societies, oil, this gift from God, has held them back. Because we don't work. We just devour the money. If the state had to live off my money, it would have to consider my demands. But when money just falls into the lap of a state, that state doesn't need its people. We need the state but it doesn't need us. We are beggars of the state, we devour its bread. So no class can develop that's independent of the state. Civil society and democracy require the separation of state and society. To create a civil society that has influence and can hold its own against the state, we need free enterprise. But we don't have that. Instead, 85 percent of the economy is controlled by the state. That's our weak spot. And not just ours. We share it with all oil-producing countries.
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Not born yesterday

From signandsight's round-up of editorials.

Urs Gehrigher puts Hizbullah's action in the context of the recent G8 summit in Die Weltwoche: "The offensive strategy of the Tehran-Hizbullah axis wasn't born overnight. It has clearly been forged over the last months. The timing of the escalation was perfect. President Bush wanted to use the G8 summit in St. Petersburg to clear the way for economic sanctions against Tehran. And for the first time there was something like an 'unite de doctrine' between Washington and the Europeans. Anything but a clear yes to the offer of Germany, France, Great Britain and the USA on the nuclear crisis would be seen as a rebuff. The pressure on the Mullahs grew each day. But the anticipated answer was not forthcoming, instead Hizbullah went into action. On the very day when the official message from Iran should have arrived to prevent action being taken by the UN Security Council, Iran's henchmen in Lebanon kidnapped two Israeli soldiers. Hizbullah knew as well as the Iranian government that escalation would be inevitable."
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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Guardian lets the mask slip

Just look at this cartoon published yesterday by The Guardian. Note the Stars of David. I'm only putting this post up so that I can be reminded of it later on.

(Thanks Adam LeBor at Harry's Place)

The Man of Property

The words 'a family saga' on a book cover would normally ensure that I would never read the book. However, a friend over from the Old Country gave me the first trilogy of The Forsyte Saga as a gift accompanied by many emphatic words and gestures to the effect that I must assuredly be damned if I did not read the first novel, and above all Interlude, which follows it. So I did.

The first page corner I turned signalled an entire chapter: 6, "James at Large", because it seemed so technically brilliant. We follow James on a visit to his brother, Timothy's, as he walks with Soames in a park, "the centre of his own battlefield, where he had all his life been fighting", and then to Soames' house for dinner and an awkward conversation with Soames' wife, Irene. In all of this, there's a very artful use of direct and indirect speech, with the former mostly James, the latter everyone else. It keeps a certain impetus, maintains a trajectory from start to finish that pulls you along at the same time as revealing to you that the real action is elsewhere. This impression is very strong during the conversation with Irene. Her reactions are beyond James' ken, and because we are looking through his eyes, beyond ours as well.

This, in fact, is the technique of the whole novel. We are never privy to the force that through the Forsyte family drives - Irene and her lover Bossiney's story is narrated by other voices; the passion is barely glimpsed though its effects are everywhere to be felt. No episode is recounted from their point of view.

They were masters of point of view at this time (the period of Conrad and Kiplings' masterpiece Mrs Bathurst) and the technique is a powerful one. You don't witness the explosion (but then, whoever does?), only its impact on those around. So, yes, I'm very impressed.

Galsworthy is a fine writer and The Man of Property is a revealing and detailed portrait of a group of people and a state of mind. And despite his rather too frequent generalisations about those people and his superior attitude to them (which got on my nerves and reminded too much of French writers and their scorn for the bourgeoisie), he nevertheless finds and elicits great sympathy for them. I don't just mean for the rebels (June and Young Jolyon), but even for the pillars of Forsytedom, such as Old Jolyon and Soames. A great moment that when Soames finds Irene's note in the jewellery box, which he'd been sure he would find empty.

Two curiosities. First, there's an anticipation of the famous Groucho Marx quote, "I would never join any club that would have people like me as a member"? Old Jolyon had joined his club after being refused entry to the Hotch Potch "owing to his being in trade". It continues: "He naturally despised the club that did take him."

Second - the cover of this Penguin edition, which I cannot find on Amazon and can't be bothered looking elsewhere, shows a stately pillar belonging to such a house as Soames might live in. The number on the pillar is 61. Soames lives at 62; the number 61 is never mentioned. I've just looked on Amazon and noted that the cover of volume 3 is a very similar shot, but now the number is 63. Is this an in-joke, or is the universe even more mysterious than I thought it was?

About Interlude tomorrow.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Further to yesterday's post. This is from an article by Youssef Ibrahim in the New York Sun.

Israel is finding, to its surprise, that a vast, not-so-silent majority of Arabs agrees that enough is enough.
Enough of what? Israel? Nope. Hezbollah (and Iran and Syria).
The Arab League put it succinctly in its final communique in Cairo, declaring that "behavior undertaken by some groups [read: Hezbollah and Hamas] in apparent safeguarding of Arab interests does in fact harm those interests, allowing Israel and other parties from outside the Arab world [read: Iran] to wreck havoc with the security and safety of all Arab countries."
Then the voice of Abdul Rahman al-Rashed, the general manager of Al-Arabiya.
"We have lost most of our causes and the largest portions of our lands following fiery speeches and empty promises of struggle coupled with hallucinating, drug-induced political fantasies." As for joining Hezbollah in its quest, his answer was basically, "you broke it, you own it."
Drug-induced political fantasies? They take drugs?

The Israeli online newspaper ynetnews reports that the backers of Hizbullah are determined to stand behind their boys.
The Qatar-based newspaper Al-Watan reported Wednesday that Syria and Iran will cooperate with each other in order to prevent the dissolution of Hizbullah and to preserve its struggle with Israel.

According to credible Syrian sources, the newspaper reported, there is an agreement between Damascus and Tehran stating the prevention of either military or political defeat of Hizbullah as paramount, creating a joint Syrian-Iranian stance based on the clear vision that any defeat of Hizbullah is a red line for the both countries.

Damascus and Tehran are closely following the developments in Lebanon and are prepared to get involved, if needed, to protect Hizbullah or to prevent the imposition of “suspicious” political agreements or conditions on them.
Where do you think this comes from?
LEBANON is under attack from Israel. Its economic infrastructure is being destroyed. Lebanese politicians cannot hide their feelings because Hassan Nasrallah has done some grave miscalculations under instructions from the outside. Nasrallah has dragged Lebanon and its people into misfortune. In spite of the destruction caused by Israel, Lebanese politicians don’t want to be frank with their people and tell them that they should not support Nasrallah’s decision to declare war on Israel. Nasrallah has hijacked the authority of the Lebanese government to have control over the people of Lebanon while Lebanese politicians continue to remain mute spectators without voicing their true feelings.

The fate of the Lebanese is in the hands of a handful of reckless adventurers, who have prevented Arabs from making well-judged decisions.
That was written by Ahmed Al-Jarallah, the Editor-in-Chief of The Arab Times. I am beginning to think that the analysts at Debkafile were on to something.

Via Dinocrat and JihadWatch.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

What's going on

What's going on in Lebanon? I mean, aside from the obvious? I had been wondering, but with work the way it is, had not been able to look very far.

Why the intensity of the Israeli response, first to Hamas, and now especially to Hizballah? Why are the usual decriers of outrage so muted in their response; France, Russia, the Arab countries? It is obviously much bigger than the kidnap, or capture, of 2 or 3 soldiers, but the dynamics escaped me. This article from Debkafile is illuminating. I'm not in a position to say if it is correct. However, it makes sense.

They call this a

... poker game between Tehran and Washington going back and forth over the heads of Israel and Lebanon.
George Bush is not only not opposing it, he's right behind it.
The green light flashing in Washington may give Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert a latitude never before granted any Israeli premier. But it also tells the Islamic Republic that its rulers’ meddling in Iraq carries a high price tag. By pulverizing Iran’s surrogate, Israel is articulating America’s determination to smash Iran’s strength and positions of influence around the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.

This determination was sparked by an unnoticed incident in Iraq on July 4, 2006.

On that day, for the first time in the Iraq War, Nasrallah [leader of Hizballah] activated the three-year-old sleeper terror and sabotage networks Iranian and Hizballah intelligence had established across Iraq shortly after the US invasion. He was obeying orders from Iranian supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

America’s Day of Independence 2006 was selected for this group to make its first low-key attacks against US forces in Baghdad and British units in Basra and break surface under the name of The Abu al Fadal al Abas Brigades. No one had heard of it because Tehran had kept this Iraqi arm of Hizballah dark as the ultimate weapon to spring on the Americans in Iraq at the appropriate moment.

President Bush saw that if he looked away and let Iran’s challenge burst into full-blown action without responding, America’s standing in Iraq and the rest of the region would be forfeit. He was further stirred into a response by Tehran’s developing appetite for quick gains. On July 12, believing they had got away with it in Iraq, Iran and Hizballah followed it up by opening a second front against Israel, America’s ally: the Shiite terrorists kidnapped two Israeli soldiers.

Therefore, Israel’s Operation Just Reward, which started out as a rescue operation for its two abducted soldiers, then a campaign to push Hizballah back from its border, within six days opened Lebanon up as a major arena for the showdown building up between the United States and Tehran over a whole bagful of issues - not least Iran’s nuclear defiance. However, the unacknowledged object of Israel’s campaign is none of the highly rational goals outlined by officials. It is to satisfy Washington that Tehran has been given a bloody nose and is ready to pull back from its deepening political, military and intelligence interference in Iraq.
That makes sense, doesn't it?

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Comfort Zone

A very interesting long view in an article by Christopher DeMuth of the American Enterprise Institute. He outlines six challenges that Western democracies will have to face for the forseeable future.

First, modern technology has vastly increased the potency of terrorism as a political tactic.

Second, out of the social and political failures of the Arab Middle East has arisen a powerful ideology and movement, now usually called Islamism or Islamofacism, which combines elements of ancient Muslim doctrine with the modern methods and furies of totalitarianism.

Third, high personal mobility, combined with continuing wide disparities in material welfare and life circumstances among national populations, have produced waves of immigration from poorer to richer nations.

Fourth, democracy possesses serious debilities along with its widely acknowledged virtues.

Fifth, the extreme division of labor in advanced societies is also--like technology, mobility, and democracy--a great blessing accompanied by intrinsic vulnerabilities.

Sixth, life in the wealthy liberal societies has become exceptionally pleasant and gratifying.
There's a lot more to read under each one of the above points, but I would like to highlight the last. He continues:
A striking characteristic of Western society, especially its elites, is that violence and the use of force have come to be abhorred per se--regardless of whether it is of the offensive, destructive sort or the defensive, self-preserving sort. Lesser disruptions, such as the “creative destruction” of free-market economic competition and the consuming demands of parenthood, are opposed or avoided as well. To the extent that civilization’s enjoyments must be defended and maintained--that force must be met with force, that continued prosperity requires continuous new investment--the pursuit of unperturbed private comfort is dangerously myopic.
He points to one clear example of this, one that I have posted about several times: the treatment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, first by the Dutch courts when they evicted her because her presence made the neighbours feel unsafe, and then by the Immigration Minister after a TV current affairs programme had broadcast Ali's lies on her asylum application, lies she had herself admitted to in 2002.

One of the reasons that comfort can be so short-lived is that it can render the 'comforted' unfit to maintain it. One of the the delusions we are so prone to is that of the permanence of the life we have so enjoyed. It is not unnatural that it should be so. After all, if you have experienced nothing else, if you haven't had to build the conditions for comfort yourself, you are hardly going to appreciate what it cost and costs to keep it going. Many of us are like this and nurture an unspoken assumption that it will always be so.

In addition to this, there is a political assumption that we have absorbed from birth. It takes many forms, but it is fundamentally a secular Eden myth: that the natural state is one of harmony and that it only the greed and dominance of evil men or systems that impedes the re-acquisition of that harmony. Aside from the all too well-known consequences of such a belief put into action, there is another one: we refuse to acknowledge that the essential state is one of conflict. At best, this is conflict managed through the law; at worst, it is something else that all of us, and every society, must be prepared to face it if is to survive.

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Friday, July 14, 2006

T-shirts and plastic watches

The discerning visitor to Sicily should not miss the opportunity to buy a T-shirt with authentic local colour.

On sale since early May, they retail for €32. One shopowner said that he sold about 10 a day, mainly to foreigners.

There's a lot more to choose from. T-shirts that go under the brandname Il Padrino (The Godfather) and Al Capone with the slogan "Gangster". These cost only €6. Others feature Birra Corleone or Calibro italiano or Picciotto or Baciamo le mani. There are moves, however, to have them banned.

While some may call it an admission of failure, in Naples, they've come up with a novel way to reduce the number of luxury wristwatches snatched off visitors' arms. In 3, 4 and 5-star hotels, guests will be given some sage advice, and will also be offered a plastic watch. This they should apply to their arm leaving the real thing in the hotel safe. There are six models each designed for free by noted Neapolitan artists. Let's hope their exalted genealogy does not make them valuable enough to steal.

From two articles in La Repubblica here and here.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Brookings Institute Report

The latest Brookings Institute report is out. A mixture of good and bad. Attacks on oil and gas are down; total attacks by insurgents up. This would reflect the strategy of fomenting sectarian conflict. Coalition losses continue down as the numerical strength of the Iraqi security forces continues up. Electricity generation is on an upward trend, but wavers. Actionable tips received from the population are up. The estimated number of foreign fighters in the insurgency appears constant, butthe total number of insurgetns is rising. The total number of insurgents detained or killed is also rising.

Infrastructure appears to be doing better than people at the moment.

It's in the religion

John Lloyd has written a piece for The Guardian's Comment is Free site that states the bleeding obvious. Mind you, it needs stating and restating. That Islamism, or Islamic Jihad, is not a result of the actions of the evil West, but rather derives from elements within Islam itself. He mentions the Pakistani Abu Ala Mawdudi, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, as does one of the commenters. I did a quick search and found this:

Islam is a revolutionary doctrine and system that overturns governments. It seeks to overturn the whole universal social order...and establish its structure anew...Islam seeks the world. It is not satisfied by a piece of land but demands the whole universe...Islamic Jihad is at the same time offensive and defensive...The Islamic party does not hesitate to utilize the means of war to implement its goal.
As Lloyd also points out, this Islamist philosophy can be directly relating to the totalitarianisms of the 20th Century both of the Left and the Right. He doesn't say, but could, that it is also indicative of the essentially religious nature of all totalitarian systems - they are a distorted application of religious ideas to areas in which they do not belong. Of one idea in particular: salvation, which for an individual is harmless, but for a society, fatal.

I would add that it not enough to say that this is in Islam. You must also take into account the disproportionately small part Islamic cultures play in the world. They contribute so little to science, art or anything else. Of course they're resentful. Those who feel unneeded generally are.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

The Henry Jackson Society

The launch of the Euston Manifesto in May this year was important for several reasons. One was its origin. Not the pub, but the new community space called the Blogosphere. Another was that, although its position affirms nothing that couldn't be called Blairite, it definitely stands outside the Labour Party. Perhaps most importantly, however, is its attempt to rescue the Left from itself. Much of the document is about human rights, as you would expect, but the viewpoint is entirely different from that of the old Left. No longer is there the assumption that only by bringing down the institutions of the West can human rights be truly defended. On the contrary, for The Euston Manifesto, it is only in and by the West that this can be done. They insist on the universality of human rights. The natural consequence of this position is that the pathological anti-Americanism of so many of their former confrères is to be rejected out of hand. This is a mighty shift.

There is something missing from the Euston Manifesto. It makes the politic decision to avoid economics, and you can see why. If it is only in the West that Enlightenment values can be lived and defended, it follows that it is only capitalism that has allowed this to come to pass. But capitalism is that tiger on the sofa that no-one (who is not American) wants to talk about. At least not with enthusiasm.

Not the even the Henry Jackson Society. Founded in March 2005 and based at Peterhouse College in Cambridge, it comes without the ideological baggage of the Euston Manifesto and is more muscular in its rhetoric. It spells out what is implicit in the other: "that only modern liberal democratic states are truly legitimate" and that the UK should be a world leader is promoting liberal democracy with the carrot, if possible, "but also, when necessary, [with] those ‘sticks’ of the military domain". (Nonetheless, there's something quesy about that use of the word 'domain'. They doubt, as I do, that we have the stomach for it.) And yet even this robustness turns quavery when it comes to capitalism. The Henry Jackson Society

gives two cheers for capitalism. There are limits to the market, which needs to serve the Democratic Community and should be reconciled to the environment.
Which environment? The irenic habitat of our imaginations? Doesn't exist. Never did. The oncoming cataclysm? An unpayable ransom dictated by guilt. Reconciled? Like Adam and God? God don't do deals. That door's closed.

Two cheers for capitalism? You've got to be able to do better than that.

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

History matters

Do what brownie says.

If you do one thing today, read the transcript of Stephen Fry’s speech marking the launch of the ‘History Matters - pass it on’ campaign.
No, it isn't exactly political correctness that dogs history; it's more a pernicious refusal to enter imaginatively the lives of our ancestors. Great and good men and women stirred sugar into their coffee knowing that it had been picked by slaves. Kind, good ancestors of all of us never questioned hangings, burnings, tortures, inequality, suffering and injustice that today revolt us. If we dare to presume to damn them with our fleeting ideas of morality, then we risk damnation from our descendants for whatever it is that we are doing that future history will judge as intolerable and wicked: eating meat, driving cars, appearing on TV, visiting zoos, who knows?

We haven't arrived at our own moral and ethical imperatives by each of us working them out from first principles; we have inherited them and they were born out of blood and suffering, as all human things and human beings are.
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Saturday, July 08, 2006

Fountains Abbey

The Great Perpendicular Tower at Fountains Abbey

Took Sons 2 & 3 to Fountains Abbey today. I thought it would be interesting, charming even, but was completely bowled over by it.

It never ceases to amaze me, the concentration of resources in the Middle Ages. When 95% of the population was living in hovels, they would dedicate so much time and wealth to these fantastic and overwhelming buildings with their unerring sense of sereneness and quirkiness. And they are monstrously big - the dimensions are humbling; they reach beyond the human.

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Friday, July 07, 2006

Unwanted Modernism

On Modernism and the the eponymous exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

They were obsessed with control. Their aim, said the Russian painter and designer El Lissitzky, was "not to adorn life but to organise it"... The individual, Gropius believed, had to be replaced by "the will to develop a unified world view".

"For a generation," [Ernst Bloch] wrote in 1940, "this phenomenon of steel furniture, concrete cubes and flat roofs has stood there ahistorically, ultra-modern and boring, ostensibly bold and really trivial, full of hatred towards any so-called flourish of ornamentation and yet more schematically entrenched than any stylistic copy from the 19th century ever was."
Of all the products of the Enlightenment, it is probably Modernist architecture that best illustrates the horns of the dilemma on which we (most uncomfortably) sit. Nothing could, on the face of it, be more reasonable. Build using undisguised modern materials and industrial techniques living spaces for people without illusions and educated in the rational enterprise of scientific enquiry. Avoid the decoration that was invented in ages of superstition and unquestioned power. Build for the modern man.

And yet, the modern man continues to seek the comforting illusions of yesteryear. Modern man wants a house that suggests a chateau, or a gothic cathedral. Modern man wishes to surround himself with the aristocratic flummery of a bygone age. Modern man needs his illusions. And sees Modernist superman's living space as an imposition, as an act of totalitarian oppression to be ignored, if possible, or subverted, if not.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006


It's always better somewhere, or sometime, else.

You remember that graffiti from Paris, 1968? Life is elsewhere. One of the saddest affirmations ever made. Not least because you are sure that the writer didn't know where elsewhere was, and would have felt the same wherever he was. Nothing else for it. Out on to the streets!

Of course, many on the streets then and since have known where elsewhere was ('elsewhere' being defined as NOT-whatever, be it capitalism, sexism, imperialism, oppression in general). Depending on where you started, it was at one of several removes. I was in Australia, so the first remove was in any non-Anglo-Saxon country since it was generally accepted that evil entered the world, not on the tongue of a snake, but on the proboscis of a WASP. At the next remove, we rid ourselves of the West, and, at the following, of all the extent of capitalism. Finally, the wide earth comprehended and found wanting, one last refuge for the eternal discontent remained: the primitive - the ancient matriarchy, the unalienated child of nature, the Edenic harmony of long-gone eons.

We all need a past that we've lost. It might as well be a good one.

It seems not.

Two billion war deaths would have occurred in the 20th century if modern societies suffered the same casualty rate as primitive peoples, according to anthropologist Lawrence H Keeley, who calculates that two-thirds of them were at war continuously, typically losing half of a percent of its population to war each year.

"... they did not take prisoners. That policy was compatible with their usual strategic goal: to exterminate the opponent's society. Captured warriors were killed on the spot, except in the case of the Iroquois, who took captives home to torture them before death, and certain tribes in Colombia, who liked to fatten prisoners before eating them."
The article is here; it moves on to reflections of a more general nature. (Via Instapundit)


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Fourth of July

A bit late, I know, but a happy Fourth of July to all those with the good fortune and sense to celebrate it.

Suicide of the West

If there is a crisis of the West…it is internally generated. It lies in the collapse of Western self-confidence…. [This] has little to do with enemies, and everything to do with seismic shifts in Western ideas and attitudes.
Chris Smith has, in the company of someone called Richard Koch, written a book going under the title of Suicide of the West. The quote above caught my eye, as generally happens when someone says something you agree with. I'm not so sure about some of the other things he says.
A lot of modern politics is about managerialism. It’s not about debating ideas, but about who can tinker with the existing system. In the past, politics was about hope. I joined the Labour Party because I thought that it was the best vehicle for social change, for making people’s lives better.
I've always held that to be a sign of political success. Surely the apex of political achievement is just that: when politics no longer arouses glass-melting, eye-watering passion. I remember reading somewhere that in 1946, when Italians were calling each other to arms over the monarchy/republic referendum, an American colonel said something to the effect that "Italy will not be stable until what its celebrities have for breakfast matters more than the political credos that divide them". Isn't the ultimate objective of politics not to matter?

I'd say that the words above reveal Chris Smith to be a nostalgic for the very politics that have done so much harm to the world: the politics of salvation; the dream of revolution. Nevertheless, the first quote I find undeniable. In response to this crisis, Smith looks for a return to the values that made us strong; to wit,
rationalism, activism, confidence, knowledge-seeking, personal responsibility, self-improvement, world-improvement and compassion.
Again, at first sight, you nod in agreement. But the doubt lingers; can you just call them up? Were they themselves not a consequence of something else? If, among the other consequences of that something else, we find an aggressive expansionism, a certainty of the righteousness of our will, then what do we do? Can you have a cultural self-confidence without wishing to impose it on others? If we are to 'survive' this present crisis, will we be able to do it without the imposition of our values on others? If morality is defined as a set of values that you are willing to die for, are they not also what you are willing to kill for? And if we don't do it, who will?

Reviewed here.

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Monday, July 03, 2006

The Idealists

Writing about Paul Berman's Power and the Idealists, Gene at Harry's Place recounts and quotes.

Berman tells about Hans-Joachim Klein, a friend of Fischer, who joined the Revolutionary Cells (a violent German group loosely connected to Baader-Meinhof) and was sent for military training in an Arab country.

He found himself in a military training ground where, in one part of the camp, European leftists singing left-wing songs received their anti-Zionist military training, and, in another part, European fascists singing fascist songs received their own anti-Zionist military training.
Read it all.
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Morale booster

I do a bit of work as an ESOL examiner. That is, as someone who assesses immigrants on their level of English as a Second or Other Language (I don't invent these acronyms). I can't tell you what a boost to the morale it is to listen to these people.

To hear someone from Iran or Kosovo or Sudan or even Italy talk about how easy it is to find work here, how easy it is to get things done, how free they feel (this one many times, the latest today from an Iranian woman) makes you feel just a little proud. It's even better when a bloke who can hardly string together a completely correct sentence says that his ambition is to go to university to become an engineer and he really seems to believe he can do it. Such a belief is founded on what he has experienced so far and the acquaintance of others who have done it. That someone can feel like this, can have so much hope, says a lot for the welcome he has met.

Lots of Poles and other Eastern Europeans, and in some ways they're the best. Educated, intelligent, sharp and energetic, people who have had no outlet for it all have found one and are going to make use of it. I remember one fellow working in a warehouse talking about his daughter, how coming here was the only move that would give her a future, and how he'd just signed a contract to get broadband and that this was merely one step on the way. It's a sort of frontier spirit and it's very impressive to witness. They're prepared to slog. We will benefit from it, and so will they.

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