Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Et dixit Koestler 2

It had also been hammered into my head, and into the heads of two hundred million Russians, that to pay undue attention to relics and monuments of the past was the sign of a morbid, sentimental, romantic and escapist attitude...The Communist's duty was not to observe the world but to change it; his eyes were to focus on the present and the future, not on the the past. The history of mankind would start with the world revolution; all that went before was merely a chaotic, barbaric overture...

The same was true of philosphy, architecture and the fine arts...Auden's call to clear from the head of the masses the impressive rubbish expresses a similar attitude...It was less absurd than it appears today; born out of the despair of world war and civil war, of social unrest and economic chaos, the desire for a complete break with the past, for starting human history from scratch, was deep and genuine.
Arthur Koestler, The Invisible Writing, p72

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Loo rights

This is just plain embarrassing. And a good illustration of how far tantrums can get you, if you persist.

JAIL bosses are rebuilding toilets so Muslim inmates don’t have to use them while facing Mecca. Thousands of pounds of taxpayers money are being spent to ensure lags are not offended.

The Islamic religion prohibits Muslims from facing or turning their backs on the Kiblah — the direction of prayer — when they visit the lav. Muslim lags claimed they have had to sit sideways on prison WCs.

But after pressure from faith leaders the Home Office has agreed to turn the existing toilets 90 degrees at HMP Brixton in London. The Home Office refused to reveal the cost of the new facilities — part of an “on-going refurbishment”.

Choudhury trial - no witnesses

My inadequate news gathering has been shown up once again. Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury did indeed go on trial on January 22, but things turned out rather differently to what his persecutors had planned.

When Choudhury’s trial resumed on January 22, the government witnesses against him failed to show forcing a postponement until February 28. Based on this and other information, Choudhury and Benkin are urging their supporters to flood the new government with letters, faxes, and emails about the case.
There are big things happening in Bangladesh at the moment. Richard L. Benkin, who has been leading the campaign to save Choudhury, visited the country for 10 days earlier this month, and gives a summary of what has happened.

Monday, January 29, 2007


Ayaan Hirsi Ali's autobiography The Infidel: The Story of My Enlightenment is out, and when I have some money, I shall certainly buy it. I haven't seen any decent reviews yet. This one from the Washington Times does little but retell her story. From the ABC (Australia), there's an interview from Friday in which she restates what she has said many times before. She answers this question well.

KERRY O’BRIEN: What do you say to those who would dismiss you as the migrant who came from a traumatic background and became a reactionary as a result?

AYAAN HIRSI ALI: In the first place, I use the tools that we are supposed to use in a democracy which is non-violent means to argue my assertions and views. Next, I don't see what is reactionary about saying, "Let's respect life as an end in itself, liberty as an end in itself and the equality of men and women."
[my emphasis]

More myths

Myths are going pop everywhere at the moment. From the Washington Post, 5 Myths About Suburbia and Our Car-Happy Culture

1.Americans are addicted to driving.
2.Public transit can reduce traffic congestion.
3.We can cut air pollution only if we stop driving.
4.We're paving over America.
5.We can't deal with global warming unless we stop driving.
Regarding Point 4 and thinking only of bitumen, according to The Independent, usually a source of environmental hysteria, roads takes up less than 1 per cent of the UK's surface area.

Mosul and Baghdad

Michael Yon is with the 2-7 Cavalry battalion in Mosul. He decided to stay when American numbers up North were wound down in favour of the operations around Baghdad. This account, quite long and with lots of excellent photos, follows operations in Mosul for a few days, days in which losses proved to be quite heavy. It worth reading. The tone is heroic, but he sustains it.

Meanwhile, in Baghdad, everyone knows that something big is on the way; no very difficult - they've just got to watch the news. But they also know when it's coming (February the 5th) and so all the baddies are skedaddling. I'm trying to convince myself that there's a cunning bluff going on here, and I'm going to keep on trying.

Great photos from Bill at In Iraq Journal, as well.

Feelgood Khatami at Davos

Mohammad Khatami has been pressing flesh at Davos, specifically that of Yediot Ahronot's senior economic editor, Sever Plotsker.

When Plotsker introduced himself as an Israeli journalist, Mr Khatami shook his hand and said: "I want to visit your country." Israel is listed on Iranian passports as forbidden to visit.
He got all avuncular about Moshe Katsav, the Israeli president, who was born in Iran and may be about face prosecution on several charges of rape.
"Tell me, please, what are you doing over there to my townsman? What are you doing to Moshe, Moshe Katsav?"
And then there was this.
When Plotsker asked about the recent conference of Holocaust deniers in Tehran, Mr Khatami said: "Write my words down exactly. I totally condemn that conference. The Holocaust of the Jewish people was the greatest sin against mankind in our time. There isn't a shadow of a doubt about it being a fact. I recommend to everybody to take this subject off the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab agenda. The Israeli-Palestinian dispute must be solved with consideration of the interests of both sides."
No idea what to make of this. Is it just for Western consumption? Is it reported back home? And was it Khatami who charmed John Kerry's foot back into his mouth?

Photo from Yahoo News
Kerry criticized the Bush administration's foreign policy during the session, saying it has caused the United States to become 'a sort of international pariah.'

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Myth can be good

And speaking of myth,

Archaeologists say they have unearthed Lupercale—the sacred cave where, according to legend, a she-wolf nursed the twin founders of Rome and where the city itself was born.

The long-lost underground chamber was found beneath the remains of Emperor Augustus' palace on the Palatine, a 230-foot-tall (70-meter-tall) hill in the center of the city.
It is obligatory to be sceptical about how Rome was founded and quite reasonable to be sceptical about whether this was the cave that the Romans venerated. But stories like this bring them into the public arena, and when the West rediscovers the narrative that made it great, this is the stuff that dreams are made of.

As an example of the kind of alternative myth-making against which we have to battle, here's a piece by John Pilger in The Guardian according to which Australia is a genocidal, imperialistic project which, if God were attentive, he would have swept away in the sweep of a hand. The foundation of Australia is especially heinous compared to ...

(Regarding the genocide, take your pick from any of the articles on this page.)

(via Dorothy King)


Ten myths about the Iraq War dealt with on Strategy Page.

1-No Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)
2-The 2003 Invasion was Illegal
3-Sanctions were working
4-Overthrowing Saddam Only Helped Iran
5-The Invasion Was a Failure
6-The Invasion Helped Al Qaeda
7-Iraq Is In A State of Civil War
8-Iraqis Were Better Off Under Saddam
9-The Iraq War Caused Islamic Terrorism to Increase in Europe
10- The War in Iraq is Lost
(via Instapundit)


What is going on? Michael Gove, Conservative MP for Surrey Heath, writes in The Spectator in praise of Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, Christopher Hitchens, Nick Cohen and the Euston Manifesto for their

bravery in placing themselves outside literary London’s comfort zone by being brave enough to reject the moral relativism of so many on the left.
[See the post below]

He invokes the struggle of the Cold War and the ideological and intellectual fight undertaken to win it. Blair and Brown have called for efforts here by the side of military 'outreach', but I have yet to hear Bush speak of this or put some dosh down for its support. Arguably, it is more important than the use of force.
But victory in the Cold War depended not just on the voices of Western intellectuals, crucially it depended on Western governments giving support to those dissident voices which were struggling to be heard in the Eastern bloc. Where are the political leaders now who will defend liberal and progressive voices in the Islamic world in the way in which Reagan and Thatcher championed the Sharanskys and Sakharovs? The real heroes of the anti-Islamist intelligentsia are Arab thinkers like Shaker al-Nabulsi who are challenging totalitarianism within the Islamic world. If the West is really serious about winning hearts and minds in this generational struggle, then it needs to show its support for those who, in the least propitious circumstances, still have the bravery to cry freedom.

Et dixit Koestler

From The Invisible Writing by Arthur Koestler. Becoming a comrade:

I learnt that the rules of common decency, of loyalty and fair play were not absolute rules, but the ephemeral projections of bourgeois society. Antiquity had one code of honour; the feudal era another; capitalist society still another, which the ruling class was trying to sell us as eternal laws. But absolute rules of ethics did not exist. Each class, as it became dominant in history, had reshaped these so-called laws according to its interests. The Revolution could not be achieved according to the laws of cricket. It supreme law was that the ends justified the means; its supreme guide the method of dialectical materialism.
Official meeting of a communist cell
The cell met once a week, but the more active members were in daily contact with one another. The official meeting always started with a political lecture by an instructor from district Headquarters (or by the cell leader after he had been briefed at H.Q.), in which the line was laid down concerning the various questions of the day. This was followed by discussion, but a discussion of a peculiar kind. It is basic rule of Communist discipline that, once the party has decided to adopt a certain line regarding a given problem, all criticism of that decision becomes deviationist sabotage. In theory, discussion is possible before a decision has been reached; in practice, decisions are always imposed from above, without previous consultation with the rank and file. One of the slogans of the German party said: 'The front-line is no place for discussions.' Another said: 'Wherever a Communist happens to be, he is always in the front-line.' So our dicussions always showed a complete unanimity of opinion.

Friday, January 26, 2007

There moral, and there's moral

Nick Cohen has written a book called What's Left: How Liberals Lost Their Way about ... well, what the title says (but in American - how come?). He wonders how so many of the well-intentioned could march in their millions to defend a brutal dictator, how they could give support and succour to any group, no matter how inimical to their purported values, as long as it opposed the US.

There is a long excerpt from the book here and it is well worth reading. The only problem I have with it is that his argument is entirely 'surface moral' (I'll explain that later). Saddam Hussein was a very bad man and it was a good thing to get rid of him. Agreed. But it wasn't Saddam's badness that induced us to help the Americans spend immense quantities of blood and money in getting rid of him. It was in our interests to get rid of Saddam. Just as it is in our interests to support a stable, relatively democratic Iraq.

It is also in the interests of Iraq and much of the rest of the world, though I wouldn't claim that benevolence had much part to play in the decision. Nevertheless, the possibility that a stable, untyrannical and non-theocratic state could be established in the Middle East was in the interests of virtually everybody who is not a Jihadist. In a region that is a perpetual social disaster contributing nothing to the world but its unrest and violence, a state that broke the Middle Eastern mould might make a big difference.

It may yet turn out well, after a generation or two. But, for me, the saddest thing is what happened here. Our leaders found it necessary to hide behind the loincloth of WMD, and they did so because they didn't believe the comfortable public of the democracies could live with the role of enforcer of world order, with the strategic vision which imposes that sometimes those that can, must. They were probably right. A public narcotised by the present tense sentimentalism of television images of suffering is not only incapable, but unwilling to look a little further ahead and take on the responsibilities of power. It doesn't bode well for our ability to keep power.

The decision to take down Saddam was moral but in a deeper, long-term sense than that of his 'badness'. Yes, he might have done even worse, but, more importantly, it was what Iraq could be that made this important. I'm not saying that it's going to work, but it might. And if it does, it will be to the benefit of all of us.

As a society we may be spoilt children, but on the other hand, it does mean that we have the image below to treasure forever.

One group of SWP stalwarts were joined, for the first march in any of their histories, by their mothers.

The racism of the anti-racists

Pascal Bruckner fights in Ayaan Hirsi Ali's corner against Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash. I can't say I am with him in his lauding of the French Model, but what he says about multiculturalism is bang on.

On moral equivalence

In politics as in philosophy, the equals sign is always an abdication. If thinking involves weighing one's words to name the world well, drawing comparisons in other words, then levelling distinctions testifies to intellectual bankruptcy.
On moral equivalence applied to Hirsi Ali and the Islamists
The difference between her and Muhammad Bouyeri, the killer of Theo Van Gogh, is that she never advocated murder to further her ideas.
On why Hirsi Ali gets under people's skin
As a Somali, she proclaims the superiority of Europe over Africa. As a woman, she is neither wife nor mother. As a Muslim, she openly denounces the backwardness of the Koran. So many flouted cliches make her a true rebel, unlike the sham insurgents our societies produce by the dozen.
On multiculturalism
Anglo-Saxon multiculturalism is perhaps nothing other than a legal apartheid, accompanied - as is so often the case - by the saccarine cajolery of the rich who explain to the poor that money doesn't guarantee happiness. We bear the burdens of liberty, of self-invention, of sexual equality; you have the joys of archaism, of abuse as ancestral custom, of sacred prescriptions, forced marriage, the headscarf and polygamy.

Multiculturalism is a racism of the anti-racists: it chains people to their roots.

Anyone would think we are reliving the days of segregation in the southern United States. Yet this segregation has the full backing of Europe's most prominent progressives!
[my emphasis throughout]

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Even the Chinese?!

It's almost enough to make you regret the passing of Mao. Classical Values quoting the WSJ.

SHANGHAI -- Next month, China will ring in the Year of the Pig. Nestlé SA planned to celebrate with TV ads featuring a smiling cartoon pig. "Happy new pig year," the ads said.

This week, China Central Television, the national state-run TV network, banned Nestlé's ad -- and all images and spoken references to the animal in commercials, including those tied to the Lunar New Year, China's biggest holiday.

The intent: to avoid offending Muslims, who consider pigs unclean. "China is a multiethnic country," the network's ad department said in a notice sent to ad agencies late Tuesday. "To show respect to Islam, and upon guidance from higher levels of the government, CCTV will keep any 'pig' images off the TV screen."
Why is it that this makes me smile, but if it concerned a European country, I'd be livid? I love that "guidance".

Sloppy myths

The reporting on the death last Friday of Abir Aramin shows how sloppiness and laziness can count for so much in particular circumstances. The 10-year-old Palestinian girl from the West Bank town of Anata, near Jerusalem was struck in the head during a clash between stone-throwing Palestinians and Israeli border police, who responded with rubber bullets. She had evidently gone out to watch during a school break.

AP stated that she had died because of an Israeli rubber bullet. Agence France Presse said she had been "wounded in her head by shrapnel from a stun grenade fired by the Israeli force". The New York Times was less specific: she died from wounds sustained when "she was hit by fire from the Israeli border police".

This Monday, however, Ha'aretz reported that the autopsy "with a pathologist hired by Aramin's family in attendance" had ruled out rubber bullets as the cause of death.

No bullet wounds were found on her body, and the skull injury that caused her death was a large one, whereas rubber bullets, even if they do not penetrate, usually make small wounds.
That is, she may have been hit by a (Palestinian) rock, just as Mohammed Al-Dura was probably hit by a Palestinian bullet.

What I find interesting is not what the three Western news outlets reported (what the relatives had said, basically), but that in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz on the same day that they published the results of the autopsy, there was an article that, in passing, mentions the little girl's death and assumes that the Border Police were responsible.

So, not only do the Western news outlets not correct their story, but an Israeli journalist accepts the 'witness' account despite what his own newspaper was printing that day to contradict it. Out of such things are made fatal myths.

All this and more from CAMERA.

(via Augean Stables)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Icon of Hatred - The impact of al-Dura

I have posted many times on the case of Muhamed al-Dura and the France2 footage showing his death "at the hands of the Israeli army", of the impact of the footage, and the recent trials in France. (For a quick summary of the controversy surrounding the footage, go here).

Richard Landes of Second Draft, a site dedicated to the case, produced a film analysing the al-Dura footage, which, if you haven't seen it, should be watched first: The Birth of an Icon (.wmv 13.52). First, that is, before you watch this new film Icon of Hatred (.wmv 17.39). Both are available here. Icon of Hatred focusses on the effect of the al-Dura footage, the use it has been put to by Jihadists, Islamists, the Palestinians, and usual mouths of the Western Left. It's powerful and unremitting. (Perhaps the worst clips are those with children, their eyes alight at the prospect of martyrdom.)

On Iran

Former CIA director James Woolsey at the Herzliya Conference.

On who the Wahhabis hate more: Iran or us

The Wahhabis, al-Qaida, the Vilayat Faqih in Teheran, although often lethally competitive with one another in the way the Nazis and communists were in the 1930s, are capable of unification. Those who say that these movements will never work together because of their ideology are precisely as correct as those who in the 1930s said that the communists and Nazis will never work together. They didn't, until they did.
On approaches to Iran
...there is a very substantial likelihood that if the diplomatic approach failed - and I think it will - and non-violent regime change won't work [in Iran], there is no alternative except for the US to use force.
On the worst option
I agree with [Senator] John McCain: Using force against Iran to stop its nuclear program is the worst option we have, except for [the option of] letting Iran have a nuclear weapon.
A curiosity. There are six Google ads on the page that I arrived on. The first offers analysis of the rumours that Osama bin Laden is dead. The second offers the services of the Shura Corp if you want to
immediately identify explosives and chemicals used in terrorist attacks.
The next three are on politics and security, but the last is very particular. It is selling a glass film that will protect you from shattering windscreen or window glass - it's your Invisible Coat Of Armor.

Must be great living out there.

Righteous Arab

In October last year, I posted about the research of Robert Satloff on Arabs who had acted to save Jews from the Nazis, particularly in North Africa. Now one of those people, Khaled Abdelwahhab, is to be considered for the award of Righteous Gentile from the Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance authority. He would be the first Arab to receive this award. In 1943, he sheltered 23 Jews on his farm Tunisia for six months until the British pushed the Germans back.

Abdelwahhab was 32 when the Germans arrived in Tunisia and was described by Dr Satloff as a bon vivant, blessed with Hollywood film-star looks — and an eye for the ladies. His father was a former minister to the court of the Tunisian bey [sovereign].

Abdelwahhab studied art and architecture in New York and lived for a time in Paris. He married a Venezuelan opera singer in Spain and she became the mother of one of his two daughters. He died in 1997 at the age of 86.
Somehow I don't think he's going to become a role model for the youth of Hamas and Hezbollah.

Et dixi

Primary school teachers are sometimes more intelligent than they sound.

Monday, January 22, 2007

A gentleman, a gentleman, a gentleman

I came across this today at Blackfive, who had come across it at PJCountry.

The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.
It reminded me of detention, my detention, years ago. You would sit writing "The Definition of a Gentleman" for an hour, or two hours, maybe after school, maybe on Saturday morning. That last was my lot, two Saturdays in a row. The principal had decided to make it hurt reasoning that I would be dropped from the First Eleven cricket team since I would miss the first two hours of the game. Truly a cunning plan. Except that the coach, a wonderful man called Keith Drury who also got me interested in English, and my father conspired to have me driven from the school straight out to the cricket field 12 miles away. I changed in the car and leapt out of it onto the field. That first detention Saturday, we batted second and I hit a century, the first one ever scored for our school team. Yet, on the following Monday during Assembly, when the principal as always read out the sports results from the weekend together with the outstanding performances, there was one item missing. My mother, by no means a vindictive woman, has never forgotten. Nor, obviously, have I. (It should be said that I did deserve the detention as I had been caught smoking for the nth time.)

Our definition had one difference that I can remember. To all the qualities of a gentleman listed above was added that of "always respecting religion whether believing in it or not". It was a Catholic school shoring up against the bad times ahead.

End of story?

Bill Ardolino of In Iraq Journal covers a police recruitment day in Fallujah.

Processing continued until the early evening, when the tired Marines counted heads: 102 new recruits would board a plane for the Jordanian International Police Training Center in the morning, soon augmenting the roughly 700 police manning stations in and around Fallujah. Some had been turned away, including a 60 year-old volunteer.

In 2004, the number of police in Fallujah was zero.
That's the end of the story, but it's worth reading from the beginning. He has some photos here.

(via Instapundit)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Rabbit Iran

Another view of the threat from Iran.

Middle East expert Kenneth Katzman argued "Iran's ascendancy is not only manageable but reversible" if one understands the Islamic republic's many vulnerabilities.

Tehran's leaders have convinced many experts Iran is a great nation verging on "superpower" status, but the country is "very weak ... (and) meets almost no known criteria to be considered a great nation," said Katzman of the Library of Congress' Congressional Research Service.

The economy is mismanaged and "quite primitive," exporting almost nothing except oil, he said.
Also, Iran's oil production capacity is fast declining and in terms of conventional military power, "Iran is a virtual non-entity," Katzman added.

The administration, therefore, should not go out of its way to accommodate Iran because the country is in no position to hurt the United States, and at some point "it might be useful to call that bluff," he said.

But Katzman cautioned against early confrontation with Iran and said if there is a "grand bargain" that meets both countries' interests, that should be pursued.

This view of the nation Iran may well be accurate, but you would have put Afghanistan even further down the threat rankings on September 10th, 2001. The damage a nation can do is not to be measured just by its economy and military. If it has the will to harm you and the means are to hand, then it will do so. Iran is already doing so in Iraq, has done so in Lebanon, and will seek to do so in the Palestinian territories. Failing to see any grand bargain in the offing, I would go for the bluff-calling in the near future.

(via Hot Air)

Jammy Dodger round-up

Michelle Malkin did some digging on her recent visit to Baghdad. She was looking for confirmation of an AP story that was built on the testimony of an Iraqi policeman called Jamil Hussein. The story told of 4 mosques burnt down, 6 Sunnis set on fire and a total of 18 dead. Politically, the story had importance because of the timing; it occurred the day after Sunni insurgents killed 215 people in Baghdad's main Shiite district and the Western press were pushing the line of a city gone completely out of control. It was another note in the crescendo that would climax with Get out, get out!!!

Malkin checks on what can be checked on, and the AP story just doesn't check out. She has photos of all four of the 'destroyed' mosques, with shots of the damage that actually occurred and an explanation as to how it occurred.

Lt. Col. Steven Miska, commander of the Dagger Brigade at Forward Operating Base Justice, states the obvious:

Part of it is, if you're relying on Iraqi reporters, well, what are their biases? What clans are they from and tribes? Why are they telling me this? What's his underlying motivation? And if you quote a police chief, well, those guys have underlying motivations, too . . .

I've gone out and found police chiefs on the street and said, 'What happened here?' Something just blew up and he told me, 'Well, U.S. airplanes just bombed this building.'

I said, 'What are you talking about? It was freakin' insurgent rockets that just hit the building, I picked them up on radar.' But he just told the reporter on the street that U.S. warplanes bombed the building and killed 13 people.

So, rumors on the street Iraqis will take at face value. Trying to get them to do investigations is like pulling teeth out of their head.
Curt at Flopping Aces (who started the investigation) has plenty to say, and there'll be video at Hot Air tomorrow.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

God, Inc

This is the first of four episodes by Francis Stokes all based on the nice conceit that Heaven is a typical office.

(via PJM)

View from the academy

Stephen Bainbridge has an interesting post on whether academics' opinions on topics outside their area of expertise deserve more respect than yours or mine. For example, on the free market.

He quotes an article by a law professor called Larry Alexander.

My experience has taught me that aside from the fact that those inclined towards liberalism are disproportionately disinclined to go into business and the professions and thus more inclined to become academics, there are reasons in addition to groupthink that explain why academic liberals become more dogmatically liberal and anti-conservative once inside the academy. Foremost among them being the orthodox academic's negative view of the free market.

Now the free market, buttressed by public education, has raised more people out of poverty than all government poverty and redistributive programs together have done. Nonetheless, the free market--and the bourgeois values that undergird it--is typically disdained, if not reviled by academics, at least academics outside of economics departments.

For one thing, the free market is disorderly, while the academic mind is attracted to rational planning and control and, thus, to statism. The academic looks at the free market and sees gigantic waste--the vast number of businesses that prove unprofitable and fold, and the incalculable misspent hours and dollars people invest in training and educating themselves for occupations that disappear or never materialize.
[my emphasis]
This thesis is explored at greater length by Robert Nozick in an article for the Cato Institute which I summarised here.

I think similar arguments to Larry Alexander's could be brought against artists, the nature of whose work demands order and single-minded control from 'above' and who can attain within their work a god-like omnipotence.

(via Instapundit)

A good smoke

I went down to Oxford yesterday in the hope of whipping up some business. I took the train which involved 3 changes on the outward trip and none on the return. That's 4 trains. They were all late. Not, according to the announcements, because of the storms on Thursday, but because of 'staff illness' or a 'points failure'. Be that as it may, I spent 6 hours travelling for a one-hour meeting. But I'm not writing this to complain about the trains.

I hadn't been to Oxford for over 20 years, so when the meeting finished leaving me 3 hours to wait for the train home, I set off into town. I knew where I wanted to get to. I had a vague memory of a very broad street lined with plane trees and an ivy-covered college on one side. Turning according to which street seemed hazily familiar, I found myself at the Martyrs' Memorial, which only in that moment was added to the remembered scene, and so walked into St Giles. As I had recalled it, it was empty of traffic, though I can't imagine why. Nevertheless, a little of the suffused excitement of an old courtship returned and I looked round for a pub where I could wallow a little in comfort. There was one in front of me, but as I glanced across the breadth of St Giles, a name caught my eye: The Eagle and Child.

I knew I knew it, but I didn't know why. Pint in hand, I sat down in a small room lined with darkened wood and one glance told me why. This was the Rabbit Room, the old parlour where Tolkein, Lewis, Charles Williams and others sipped, puffed and talked of what they were writing, reading and thinking. I was sipping rather an ordinary ale, and puffing with that intense feeling of inhaling essences of ...something that only a smoke in the right conditions confers. Fresh Old Holborn out of my worn old leather pouch, with a glass of beer in a warm atmosphere filled with associations both historical and personal. There is little to equal it.

And it will soon be gone. Travelling is a renunciation of a good smoke. You can't smoke on the train; you can't even smoke on open-air platforms while waiting for the train (except in Crewe, for some reason). You can't smoke in offices. Since I hate smoking standing up or in the street, it usually means a day without nicotine, or any of the other essences of ... something that I mentioned above. Except in a pub. In a pub, moreover, where Tolkein puffed on his pipe and Lewis burned down a good number of his 60-a-day as they worked up the mixture of essences that would result in Middle Earth and Narnia and so much else. And did it in good company. After June this year, it will be impossible, and the memory of it will linger like that of the nectar of the Gods, a mere literary topos, or convention, irrevocably gone.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Lessons of Iraq

by Private First Class Gordon Alanko

Since I've come to Iraq, I've learned that you should not attempt to exit a moving vehicle or I may injure myself. I've been told that in the event of a rollover, I should not try to open the uparmored door that is now above my head lest I be crushed under it. I've seen pictures of what may happen to me if I hit my hand with a hammer, or get too close to a dirt auger. I now know that I shouldn't play with knives, and that opening the feed tray of a weapon while it is firing may be bad for my health. I have been warned on the dangers of cigarettes, and told that I shouldn't be drinking alcohol (not that doing so is allowed anyway). I know not to light fires inside tents, or any other enclosure, for that matter.

The new Stalinists

Dr. Heidi Cullen of The Weather Channel on how to deal with those who do not acknowledge the culpa of you and me in global warming. The American Meteorological Society should suffer no dissent.

If a meteorologist can't speak to the fundamental science of climate change, then maybe the AMS shouldn't give them a Seal of Approval. Clearly, the AMS doesn't agree that global warming can be blamed on cyclical weather patterns. It's like allowing a meteorologist to go on-air and say that hurricanes rotate clockwise and tsunamis are caused by the weather. It's not a political's just an incorrect statement.
[my emphasis]
The Party Line has been determined, and anyone fool enough to fly in the face of Historical Inevitability deserves to be disbarred, and worse...
When we've finally gotten serious about global warming, when the impacts are really hitting us and we're in a full worldwide scramble to minimize the damage, we should have war crimes trials for these bastards* -- some sort of climate Nuremberg.
[my emphasis]
*Climatology jargon for those in the denial industry who will be first against the wall...

This is how someone called Dave Roberts, who has appeared as an expert on Ms Cullen's TV programme, greeted the publication of George Monbiot's book, Heat, which he seemed to like.

Strangely, the many commenters who say nasty things about Ms Cullen's view of scientific debate refer often to Hitler, as does Roberts, but never to the master of ideological tyranny, Stalin. Which is a shame, because what we are embarking on now is yet another voyage into the stormy waters between the Scylla of righteousness and the Charybdis of salvation. That is Stalin's territory and the heritage of the Left.

Check out the list of the disasters global warning has already caused. Keep checking back because it grows by the day and you wouldn't want to miss one.

(via Tim Blair)

To put it another way

Martin Amis in The Independent.

What is the most depressing thing about Britain you have observed since your return? And the best?

The most depressing thing was the sight of middle-class white demonstrators, last August, waddling around under placards saying, We Are All Hizbollah Now. Well, make the most of being Hizbollah while you can. As its leader, Hasan Nasrallah, famously advised the West: "We don't want anything from you. We just want to eliminate you."

Similarly, when I went on Question Time the other week, a woman in the audience, her voice quavering with self-righteousness, presented the following argument: since it was America that supported Osama bin Laden when he was fighting the Russians, the US armed forces, in response to September 11, "should be dropping bombs on themselves!" And the audience applauded. It is quite an achievement. People of liberal sympathies, stupefied by relativism, have become the apologists for a creedal wave that is racist, misogynist, homophobic, imperialist, and genocidal. To put it another way, they are up the arse of those that want them dead.

The best thing has been to find myself living in what, despite its faults (despite a million ills), is an extraordinarily successful multi-racial society. This is a beautiful idea, with a good chance of becoming a beautiful reality, too.
Plus, to add to your collection of funny headlines, this from the Washington Post:
Arab World Outraged Over Hangings in Iraq
(via Tim Blair)

Erwin Cotler on Shoaib Choudhury

Irwin Cotler, MP and ex-Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, is a major human rights lawyer who has acted on behalf of Nelson Mandela, Andrei Sakharov, Natan Sharansky and Saad Edin Ibrahim. He is now representing, though I'm not sure in what capacity, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, whose trial starts next week.

Cotler has an article in the Jerusalem Post giving the background and detailing Choudhury's legal position. In most countries, there wouldn't even be a trial. Even at home, his one 'crime', attempting to travel to a country not recognised by Bangladesh, would normally have earned him an $8 fine. That wasn't good enough for the Islamists seeking complete power, and they are determined to convict him of treason and sedition despite the complete lack of what you or I would call evidence.

Cotler also lists the 12 ways in which Choudhury's rights have been violated.

a. the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty;
b. the right not to be arbitrarily arrested and detained;
c. the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the nature of the charge, and the right to a prompt appearance before a judge to challenge the lawfulness of arrest and detention;
d. the prohibition against torture and the right to humane conditions during detention;
e. the right to protection against coercive interrogation;
f. the right of access to legal counsel;
g. the right to equal access to, and equality before, the courts;
h. the right to a fair hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law;
i. the right to freedom of religion and conscience;
j. the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press;
k. the right to freedom of association and assembly; and
l. the right to freedom of movement, including the right to leave and re-enter the country.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Local belief systems

This is the right approach.

Environmental evangelists are therefore not interested in pragmatic solutions to climate change or technological fixes for it. They are even less interested in evidence that if we were really serious about reducing carbon emissions we could do so by large amounts without significantly affecting our economies or our lives. Windmills on roofs and cycling to work are insignificant in practical consequence, but that is to miss their point. Every ideology needs rituals of observance which demonstrate the commitment of adherents.

Business should treat the environmental movement as it treats other forms of religious belief. Business leaders do not themselves have to believe its doctrines. Indeed we should be wary if they do: business linked to faiths and ideologies is a sinister and unaccountable power. But companies must respect the belief systems of the countries in which they operate, and acknowledge both the constraints these structures impose and the commercial opportunities that arise.
Last week (was it only last week?) we had to sit and listen as the High Priesthood and their acolytes hurled fulminations at Tony Blair because he had travelled by plane to Florida and then to watch him squirm from common sense towards cringing acknowledgment that he had sinned and would do penance. There's that faint echo of Bukharin reciting that hanging was too good for him.

(via Tim Blair)

Iraq, Iran, counter-insurgency and school ma'ams

Michelle Malkin and Bryan Preston (of Hot Air) are back from Baghdad and have posts, photos and video to prove it. Michelle Malkin's is more of a pep talk, though she promises big stuff on the AP-Jamil Hussein affair. Bryan Preston's much longer post is excellent, most of it about the mistakes made by the US planners and conceivers up to now. It's worth reading it all.

A point or two from Preston's post.

The Iranians want Iraq to remain unstable and they want us to have to keep a large force there dealing with the insurgents, terrorists and militias, which is why the ISG’s belief that chaos in Iraq is against Iran’s interests was met with such derision by the troops in Iraq. And believe me, it was.
This is going to be one of the most interesting fields of battle to watch in the next few months: how to handle Iran. And Iran must be handled with decisiveness. Having said that, I'm not sure how to follow up. If the Americans could secure the border, they would have done so by now. In any case, I don't think defensive measures will be enough. The Iranians need to be hurt, to feel that it is very risky to continue supplying and supporting the Mahdi Army and whoever else.
The troops in Iraq will tell you about three successful American occupations if you ask them–the Philippines, Japan and Germany. The latter two took five years to go from defeated enemy to ally, and decades after that before they really stood on their own feet. The Philippine insurgency took 8 years to quell and that country still has myriad problems that keep it from enjoying true First World status a century after the US put down its insurgency. Iraq is a far more complex place than either Japan, Germany or the Philippines and should therefore be expected to take longer to make the full transition to standalone state.
He doesn't mention Italy, which had a complexity of its own. Insurgency would not be the right word; it was more a simmering violence that lasted, on and off, for more than three decades. But the Allies stuck at it, and, as one writer to Corriere della Sera says,
Ask yourself what would have happened, in 1945, the war barely over, if the Anglo-American forces had abandoned us to our fate. My hypothesis: after years of civil war, we would have ended up in the hands of the Soviets.
Replace Soviets with Iranians.

The last excerpt is here because it reminded me of one of Marshall McLuhan's peremptory generalisations. Somewhere in Understanding Media, he said that Westerns were about the long battle to create an order in town that permitted a school ma'am to walk down the street in peace. The following quote is a contemporory gloss on the same idea.
The media poo-poos events like the re-opening of schools in Iraq because as defined on American terms, re-opening a school doesn’t mean much at all. But in Iraq, the re-opening of a school represents a community in the end state of achieving normalcy. A community that has a functioning school also has a liveable level of security, it has functioning services like power and water and has families that aren’t so worried about local violence that they won’t send their children outside their homes. It means there are probably jobs in the area, and it means that those jobs give families a level of economic security where they can think about their children’s future. Re-opening a school in Iraq means civil society itself has returned to that school’s community. It’s a big deal.
[emphasis in original]

Romans - Goodies or Baddies?

Two good articles on the Romans and their language. The latter, by Mary Beard, wants Latin put back into comprehensive schools partly as a subject to stretch the academically able, but also because it is the language on which Europe was founded. Please let that be the last yawn. I know, you've heard it all before. I happen to believe it's true and it's important, but that's not what I want to write about here.

Among many interesting comments, there is this one that stands out by someone with the moniker of DeepSouth.

Latin is the language of a nasty rapacious bunch of vermin. They looted and destroyed wherever they went.
Now it's not just country hicks who say such things. The ex-Python, Terry Jones, speaks of "the Roman killing-machine that marched out to rob and ruin [the barbarians]". The historian, Neil Faulkner, likens the Roman influence on Britain as comparable to the worst effects of imperialism and capitalism.

They completely miss the point. Yes, the Romans invaded and colonised other groups, cultures and regions. Yes, they did a lot of killing, which they were very good at. Yes, they exploited the conquered territories. But then, who didn't? In this, they were like every other tribe in the known world. The only difference is that they were better at it. Much better. You may want to believe that the losing side were little close-to-nature bunnies, but there is no evidence for it and there never was. The Romans did what their competitors would have liked to have do (conquer), but did it better. The Romans were stronger; for a long time they won. That's it.

But that is not why we ought to remember and study them. It's the what-else they did that merits attention. They built and maintained the most complex social organism yet to exist on the Earth and raised the very questions that still occupy us today. As Will Hutton puts it
Rome's debates - and earlier debates by the Greeks - about the best form of political organisation, about ethics and morality, about love and human relationships made us what we are. Without republican Rome, there would have been no Magna Carta, no tradition of civil scrutiny of government, no Shakespeare, no Christianity, no liberalism and no republicanism.
And they did it in such a manner that it continued to inspire people for 2 millennia afterwards. A brief example. Most of the Thousand that followed Garibaldi in the defense of the Roman Republic in 1848 and to Sicily in 1860 were educated men. When they looked for models to inspire them in their quest for Italian liberty and the republic, they looked to Plutarch and to the stories of Cato the Elder, Cincinnatus and Brutus. These young men were imbued with an idea of 'virtue' that was rigorous and enabling. So, too, for the American 'revolutionaries' - it was the study of Rome that opened their eyes to the possibility of a republic. It was the study of Rome that showed them the fragility of republican liberty.

So whatever atrocities you can attribute to the Romans, as much (relatively) can be attributed to any other tribe, or group. What cannot be attributed to any other group is the immense gift that we have received from the Romans. The resurgence of the West began with an imaginary return to the Classical past. May we live up our masters.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

I am not Osama bin Laden

Michael Totten interviews Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini, a Shia alama who lives in the dahiyeh, the Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut. He is, however, firmly opposed to Hezbollah, wants the Iranians out, is grateful to Bush for getting the Syrians out, is a bit cagey about Israel, approves of the American removal of Saddam Hussein and seems favourably disposed towards democracy, or at least, sees dictatorship as violence. In other words, not your raving Muslim cleric that we can't get enough of. I wish we'd heard from blokes like this during the Cartoons ruckus or similar upheavals in the Arab and Muslim Street.

While I was in Germany, I met a student. He told me that I am a Muslim, that I am a terrorist. I told him that he is the German, that he burned people. I said Why are you talking to me? I didn’t burn anybody. I told him also that I didn’t terrorize anybody, and that I was the first person to condemn what Osama bin Laden did to America on 9/11. I told him that we, the Shia people, in Iraq we were the first victims. Saddam killed civilian people, he cut off our heads, he blew up our houses. I told him that Hitler burned the Jews. Nobody in the world has done what he did. Then I told him we are the same. You are German, and you are not Hitler. I am a Muslim, but I am not Osama bin Laden.”
[Italics in original]
Wish I'd been there for that conversation. About the Hezbollah protests in downtown Beirut
“All of those people,” Husseini said, “most of them, who go to the protest downtown have no work to do. They earn 30 dollars per day.”

“Being downtown they get paid 30 dollars a day?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “If they had work to do, they will not go down there. This is Iranian money, the green money. Nasrallah talked about it. We must exchange it with government money.”

Fallujah, or Rubik's cube

Bill of In Iraq Journal has posted an interview with an Iraqi policeman in Fallujah. It tells a story of shifting alliances: Fallujans and insurgents; Iraqi police and army; tribes and insurgents; insugents and al-Queda; everyone and the Americans. A tentative 'moving in the right direction' could be pronounced, but you wouldn't want to stake your life on it (as the Fallujans have to do).

A sample

INDC: So why are local Fallujans fighting other Fallujans?

Mohammed: "Because the al Qaeda organization came to this city and controlled it so hard by killing. And some people here actually like killing and they liked Saddam Hussein as well, and I think the al Qaeda organization and Saddam Hussein are the same face."

INDC: What do you mean by "the same face," because Saddam was secular, he was not religious and al Qaeda is ...

Mohammed: "Because the language they use is killing. And the same people who used to be with Saddam, now they participate with the insurgency."


Mohammed: "Actually now the mujahadeen and the al Qaeda organizations are fighting each other. Hopefully that will ease things on the police and the Americans."

INDC: What about the tribes? Where are they in all of this?

Mohammed: "Only in Ramadi the tribes are fighting the insurgents. Here in Fallujah some actually support the insurgents because they are scared."

A day earlier, an American soldier told me that the tribes has just, within the past week, declared themselves neutral, intending to let the insurgents fight each other, the Iraqi Army, the police and the Americans. Previously they had been passively or actively working with insurgents or playing both sides of the fence.

Monday, January 15, 2007


One's wife has destroyed all equanimity by redecorating. My father warned me that marrying would reduce to rubble all my aspirations for monastic routine, and, as usual, he was right. She is relentless in imposing change no matter how much it upsets me. So, for tonight, my little link in the chain of being that is the blogosphere must remain unforged. Does she care? Does she F!

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Bedroom seige As evidence for my post on boys yesterday and the thesis of Gunnar Heinsohn, I submit what 4-year-old Son No3 has done on his bedroom wall. This, only one of several, depicts a seige with castle, invading force, arrows and Cruise arrow.

Blue sky above

Wilmslow Sunday 14th Jan, 2007 at about 4pm

After days, no, weeks of rain, wind and cloud, a clear blue sky. I just thought you'd like to know.

It's a boy! Circle the wagons!

Here's a different slant on the argument from demographics that Mark Steyn has made his own. In this one Islam is not the problem; it's lads

.... when 15 to 29-year-olds make up more than 30 per cent of the population, violence tends to happen; when large percentages are under 15, violence is often imminent. The "causes" in the name of which that violence is committed can be immaterial. There are 67 countries in the world with such "youth bulges" now and 60 of them are undergoing some kind of civil war or mass killing.
This is the view of Gunnar Heinsohn, of the University of Bremen, who has written a book, as yet untranslated, which if it were, would be called Sons and World Power. He points to the violence in the Palestinian territories, no longer directed against the Israelis, but against other Palestinians. And to Afghanistan, where
in the decade leading up to 1993, on the eve of the Taliban takeover, the population ... grew from 14m to 22m.
John Weidner adds the British example: the over-supply of loose cannon (sons) in the late 18th Century. The military drank a toast at the time:
Here's to a bloody war. Many to go and few to come!
They had stronger stomachs then, and no chances of promotion if a few officers didn't go down.

So not a clash of civilisations after all? One part of me resists explanations like this merely because they are mechanical, and therefore neither interesting nor open to the influence of intelligence or will. Nonetheless, it is precisely factors such as these that leave the clever analysts looking King Cnut. This is a thesis worth investigating further.

Another reason I resist such ideas is that they can lead to a sort of quietism. The FT journalist wonders
Should the west just wait for this wave to burn itself out? When the world is at peace, will it have been better to have kept our nose out of other people's business? Will it have been better to say we at least tried to steer the developing world through this crisis in a humane way?
What good would such an approach have been towards the British between 1750 and 1900? Zilch. But I do wonder, who is going to do something about it? The Europeans?
Societies with a glut of young men become temperamentally different from "singleton societies" such as Europe's, where the prospect of sending an only child to war is almost unthinkable. Europe's pacifism since 1945, in Mr Heinsohn's view, reflects an inability to wage war, not a disinclination.
On the other hand
Of the 27 biggest youth-bulge nations, 13 are Muslim.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

It's war (again)

'A war economy is needed' to reduce global warming emissions, according to the EU's environment chief [Stavros Dimas] who said new measures will be tabled 'shortly' to tackle car pollution and expand the carbon trading system.
That is ominous. War economy, huh? Run from above under the benevolent and enlightened guidance of the EUtopians of Brussels. Just the sort of hysteria they have been waiting for. At last, they can galvanise the lethargic EUropeans into EUropean action to Save the Planet (and tell them what to do, how to live and how to think correctly about the environment, etc).
"Damaged economies, refugees, political instability, and the loss of life are typically the results of war. But they will also be the results of unchecked climate change," Dimas said.

"It is clear that the fight against climate change is much more than a battle. It is a world war that will last for many years."
Another world war? But no, this is a EUro war, much more about stifling than killing, shrinking rather than growing, more aimed at EUropeans than anyone else (the Enemy is Within).

EUrope doesn't come too well out of world wars. All it does is put a bit of fire into other people's economies (the American, Chinese, Indian).

Friday, January 12, 2007

BBC on Israel

What to expect from the BBC's coverage this year. Stephen Pollard.

A BBC mole has sent me this briefing for BBC staff from the BBC's Middle East Editor, Jeremy Bowen, on what lies ahead this year.

It’s all too predictable. The "fragmentation" of Palestinian society has, in Mr Bowen’s view, nothing to do with the Palestinians and everything to do with Israel (“the death of hope, caused by a cocktail of Israel's military activities, land expropriation and settlement building – and the financial sanctions imposed on the Hamas led government”). Indeed, Israel is to blame for almost everything. The Palestinians are not responsible for anything; Israel is the culpable party.
(via Tim Blair)

Iranians on holiday

Bill Roggio on striking at Iran in Iraq.

U.S. forces raided the Iranian consulate in Irbil in northern Iraq, and detained five Iranians, along with computers, documents and other evidence the Iranians were colluding with the Sunni insurgency and Shia death squads.

While Russia decried the raid on the consulate as "a flagrant violation of the Vienna convention on consular relations," Iran admitted "the office did not have formal diplomatic status." The Iraqi and local Kurdish government are pressing for the release of the Iranians, however.
There are lots of Iranians wintering in Iraq at the moment, evidently. Perhaps we should talk to them, find out how we can help them get over the anger.

I ram what I ram

And, if that happens, at what point will a woman's right to choose intersect with a farmer's right to ewes?
I saw that quote pop up on my Netvines page and knew it had to be Mark Steyn. As usual, very funny and serious at the same time.

A sample
As they sing in the first act finale of ''La Cage Aux Folles'':

Life's not worth a damn
Till you can say, hey, world
I ram what I ram.

Meanwhile, Udo Schuklenk, professor of Bioethics at Glasgow Caledonian University, has warned that this research "brings the terrible possibility of exploitation by homophobic societies. Imagine this technology in the hands of Iran, for example. It is typical of the U.S. to ignore the global context in which this is taking place."

Nobody in Scotland seems to be spending much time imagining, say, nuclear technology in the hands of Iran, but in Glasgow they're up in arms about the mullahs getting sheep-straightening technology. If President Bush is looking for a casus belli against Tehran, the gay-ram angle may be the best shot at bringing the EU on board. "E U," by the way, is the abbreviation for "European Union" and not what a gay ram says in distaste when the lady sheep come strolling by en route to the dip.
(via Pajamas Media)

Awaiting its return

You'll have seen this before, but given the ongoing 'surge' (I would prefer not to put into print what that word suggests to me) and the alternative course of action recommended by the Baker Study Group, I think it is salutary to remember how some of those on the other side interpret events; whether rightly or wrongly is yet to be seen.

After a little resistance [in Somalia], The American troops left after achieving nothing. They left after claiming that they were the largest power on earth. They left after some resistance from powerless, poor, unarmed people whose only weapon is the belief in Allah The Almighty, and who do not fear the fabricated American media lies. We learned from those who fought there, that they were surprised to see the low spiritual morale of the American fighters in comparison with the experience they had with the Russian fighters. The Americans ran away from those fighters who fought and killed them, while the latter were still there. If the U.S. still thinks and brags that it still has this kind of power even after all these successive defeats in Vietnam, Beirut, Aden, and Somalia, then let them go back to those who are awaiting its return.
Osama Bin Laden - Interview with Peter Arnett , late March, 1997

Note the date.

I found it here in Scott Malensek's reflections on the consequences of retreat.

The 64,000 dollar question

Shoaib Choudhury writes for The Jewish Week in New York.

According to latest estimates, there are at least 64,000 madrassas in Bangladesh, most of which are beyond any form of governmental control or supervision. Moderate Muslims note that the Taliban was born in similar madrassas in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province and in Afghan refugee camps, where they promoted a new radical and extremely militant model for Islamic revolutions.
As he notes, often they are the only means of education for the poor. It would be interesting to know what skills the madrassas develop in their young charges, apart from more or less questionable interpretations of the Koran. This is an example of Saudi soft power, one we would do well to imitate and compete with. One of the things I have heard nothing about in the latest Washington strategy changes is the use of American soft power. In the long run, it is going to be more important than the use of the military. Is the White House developing a strategy to deal with the mindspace? That is, after all, the main battlefield in this Long War.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Jammy Dodger dodges again

The AP/Jamil Hussein affair gets weirder by the day. AP said that the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior had found him, but now it seems that they've found the man who called himself Jamil Hussein, but who is actually Jamil Gulaim "XX". Where XX stands for his real second middle name and his real surname, neither of which is Hussein. So, did AP know he was using a pseudonym, and if so, why didn't they say so?

Lots on this from the blogger players in this game of dodgems: Flopping Aces and Confederate Yankee.

Turn the page and go right on

The White House has provided a Fact Sheet summarising the new approach. It makes good noises. The restrictive rules of engagement have been removed; decentralisation (getting people out of the Green Zone); dealing with the militias. It doesn't say what actions will be taken against Syria and Iran (well, I suppose it couldn't really, could it?), but if it is entirely reactive, I can't see that it will go too far. Those two need the frighteners put on them or it will be business as usual.

I really wonder how far they will be able to go. Against the Mahdi Army in Sadr City, for instance. How are they going to proceed without all the Western press being fed daily, inflated figures of civilian casualties resulting in the usual cries of horror? How long will the politicians stand a well-organised fury campaign? My other main feeling is: thank God Bush didn't listen to Ol' Man Baker.

You might like to read Bill Roggio's reaction. He's just returned from Iraq where he was 'embedded' for a couple of months. He's got a lot more questions than I have. Michelle Malkin is there (in Baghdad) now and has posted some photos. She's with Bryan Preston of Hot Air. Mohammed Fadhil of Iraq the Model wonders whether the security operation has already begun with sounds of furious battle going on for two days now.

Strong horse

As an indication of how difficult it is going to be in Iraq, have a look at this interview with a Fallujan man by Bill at In Iraq Journal.

"From Fallujah to the city of Abu Ghraib, the radicals control everything. Gas stations, power, contracts and, believe it or not, contracts with the Americans themselves. The Americans give a contract to someone and the insurgents extort their share. This is how they finance their operations. An oil distribution facility in al-Anbar, believe it or not, half of its production goes to those radicals and to finance insurgency activities. A Fallujah judge doesn't dare to judge someone. He's too scared. He's been threatened and he has no power to protect himself."
Any hope at all? Follow bin Laden's motto about the strong horse and the weak horse.
INDC: So how do you gauge the chances of success of getting the tribes to stop being two-faced and start looking out for law and order in Fallujah?

Yusef: "The tribes will follow, they will be on the side of the powerful person, the powerful group. If we have that power, they're going to be on our side. Right now the insurgents are more powerful, so they are going to be on their side."

Five + one catastrophes

In an article in the New York Sun, Youssef Ibrahim deals with the proposition that all the problems in the Middle East are down to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He lists the five "catastrophes" of the Middle East:

• Internecine conflicts in Iraq, Lebanon and among Palestinian Arabs;
• Absence of representative governments for 350 million Arabs;
• Uneven distribution of wealth and corruption;
• Widespread illiteracy, poverty, and illness;
• Disenfranchisement of women.
To which he could have added the reheating friction between Sunnis and Shias as Iranian power reaches out towards the Mediterranean.

The obvious question is: how would resolving the Israeli-Palestinian question resolve those? Obviously, it is a comfort for seekers of simple solutions to find them all west of the Jordan, but it's an illusion. Moreover, it is one that feeds the rampant delusion of the Islamists and represents a significant victory for their propoganda campaign. I have one word in reply: disaggregate.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Other times, other people

The first Muslim congressman, Keith Ellison, swore his allegiance on a copy of the Koran that had once belonged to Thomas Jefferson. History as synthesis, or ironic twist of fate? Jefferson had the book for a very specific reason: he was doing essential research before calling for war on the Barbary states of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Tripoli. American imperialism ante litteram? Well, no.

For 10 centuries, the barbary pirates had conducted a lucrative slave trade, mainly preying on Africans from the West coast, but also on tens of thousands of Europeans and even Americans. They were under the protection of the Islamic states, one of whose ambassadors, when asked why they enslaved Americans, a people they barely knew, gave the following answer:

[Islam] was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman (Muslim) who should be slain in Battle was sure to go to Paradise.
Jefferson proposed war to protect American trade in the Meditteranean, where it was being decimated. The Congress decided to appease and pay tribute instead. This they did for 15 years.
The payments in ransom and tribute amounted to 20 percent of United States government annual revenues in 1800.
Until Jefferson was elected president and sent in the marines.
In 1805, American Marines marched across the dessert from Egypt into Tripolitania, forcing the surrender of Tripoli and the freeing of all American slaves.

During the Jefferson administration, the Muslim Barbary States, crumbling as a result of intense American naval bombardment and on shore raids by Marines, finally officially agreed to abandon slavery and piracy.

Jefferson's victory over the Muslims lives on today in the Marine Hymn, with the line, "From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli, we will fight our country's battles on the land as on the sea."
The full article is here.

(via Augean Stables)

Shoaib Choudhury latest

Shoaib Choudhury's trial in Bangladesh starts on the 22nd of January. There's little hope of a fair trial and the two sentencing options are 30 years or death. But the campaign to save him is growing by the day.

Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Rep. Nita Lowey of New York have introduced House Resolution 1080, calling on the Bangladeshi government to drop all charges against Choudhury, to cease the harassment campaign against him, and to bring his attackers to justice.
Campaigners are also calling for consumer pressure to be applied.
"And speaking of money, Bangladeshi factories continue to churn out endless dollars worth of clothing imported by U.S. stores: The Gap, Wal-mart, Nike. Let these retailers know that you have urgent concerns about their trading partner. The Bangladesh garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association is one of the most powerful organizations in that country, and controls millions of its jobs."
This article from Canada Free Press gives the background and latest news.

Benedict pulls them in

Sandro Magister has the figures for visits to see the Pope at the Vatican in 2006. The total is 3,222,820. This includes the Wednesday audiences in St Peter's Square, masses and the Sunday Angelus. What's surprising is that attendences are more than double those for John Paul II at his most popular. Benedict may not be a showman, but he's obviously doing something right.

Sandro Magister's blog post and the Vatican site (both in Italian).

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Radical head 2: The Reichstag Fire

This is the second of three pieces that I am writing based on Stalin, Willi Münzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals by Stephen Koch. The first post (about the Sacco and Vanzetti trial) is here. I am interested less in the espionage and secret politics of the story than in the use that Stalin made of Western intellectuals and idealism. And I am interested in his manipulation and betrayal of such people because I wonder if we are still living with the mental aberrations he induced, and if much of the anti-Western feeling of so many academics and intellectuals comes in a direct line of inheritance from the dupes of the thirties.

The Reichstag Fire
Hitler had been in power for less than a month when on the night of the 27th February, 1933, Germany's parliament building, the Reichstag, was set on fire and destroyed. In the flames, the police arrested Marinus van der Lubbe, a Dutch communist recently arrived in Germany to do his bit against the Nazis. Far from denying his guilt, he insisted on it and claimed until the end that he acted alone.

Hitler was having none of that. He was determined to use the fire to destroy the German Communist Party, as he had long said he would. Some 8-10,000 opponents of the regime, including 5,000 communists, were arrested in the days and weeks that followed. Among these were Georgi Dimitrov, a senior official of the Comintern, and his fellow Bulgarians, Simon Popov and Vassili Tanev. Together with a German Communist deputy of the Reichstag, Ernst Torgler, and van der Lubbe, they were put on trial in Leizig. Hitler made great use of this crime against the state. He was able to ban the Communist Party sooner than would otherwise have been possible and stack the parliament for the vote that would give him dictatorial power. The Reichstag Fire made the transformation of Germany into a Nazi dictatorship almost an inevitability.

Münzenberg's Paris group went to work to make of this case what they had made of Sacco and Vanzetti: an international cause celebre, a beacon for anti-fascism. Not that it would have lacked the oxygen of publicity in any case; the crime was sensational, the rhetoric it provoked violent, the consequences for Germany as yet unknown but already ominous.

The first task was to show up the show trial and to point the bone at the real perpertrators. To this end, a counter-trial was staged in London, ostensibly under the auspices of some leading cultural and legal figures, such as HG Wells and Stafford Cripps. In reality, it was Münzenberg who pulled the strings and manufacturing the evidence that cleared the defendents in Germany and inculpated members of the Nazi elite, including Göring.

Then he directed the writing of The Brown Book of the Hitler Terror and the Burning of the Reichstag, which was translated into seventeen languages and had a combined print run of several million copies. It had a preface by Lord Marley of the House of Lords and was the first popular exposure of Hitler's concentration camps, his destruction of political parties, universities and trade unions, the book burnings and the persecution of the Jews. It and its 'sequel', the Second Brown Book helped set the tone for the anti-fascist struggle of the 30s and transmitted a view of the Reichstag Fire that would hold sway for 40 years.

Here's a sample

Murder stalks through Germany. Mutilated corpses are carried out of Nazi barracks. The bodies of people disfigured beyond recognition are found in woods. Corpses drift down the rivers. "Unknown" dead lie in the mortuaries.
Here's the cover of a copy that is for sale in the Georgetown Bookshop (Washington DC). It is extraordinary that such crude polemic should be mild compared to the reality.

Cover of the first Brown Book
Meanwhile in Leipzig, on the day after the London counter-trial delivered its verdict, Hitler's trial opened with half the world's press gathered to watch. By the standards of the totalitarian show-trials that were to come, it was a pretty shoddy affair. Göring spent his time on the witness stand spluttering about the London verdict and threatening to knock Dimotrov's head off. That may have just been performer's envy because the Bulgarian was the star of the show. He cracked jokes, mocked the proceedings and lectured the courtroom on Marxist-Leninist principles. He and his Bulgarian comrades were fearless and were admired all round the world for their pluck. The attempts to link them to the crime were laughable and the Nazis that took part came out looking like fools. No wonder Hitler didn't indulge in any more show-trials and reverted to swifter methods of retribution. Much less sloppy and embarrassing than this one.

Not least because the three Bulgarians were acquited. So was Ernst Torgler, even if he was sent to Dachau in any case. (He survived the war.) Van der Lubbe was guillotined in January, 1934. Despite Göring's threats, Dimitrov, Popov and Tanev were flown back to Russia. It was a huge embarrassment to the Nazi regime and the first (and last) victory of the pre-war anti-fascist movement.

End of story? Not quite.

It may well be that Dimitrov, Popov and Tanev didn't need much pluck. According to the story recounted by Koch, the trial was a stitch-up, a cosy deal between Stalin and Hitler. The Bulgarians were in no danger whatsoever and they knew it. Koch quotes Ruth Fischer (née Eisler), to whom the agreement was revealed beforehand by Wilhelm Pieck (later leader of East Germany) and about which she wrote in Stalin and German Communism: A Study in the Origins of the State Party. He quotes Peter Semerdjiev, ex-member with Dimotrov of the Bulgarian PC Central Committee, who says it was common knowledge among senior communists there. Arthur Koestler suspected it. Babbette Grosse (Münzenberg's wife) confirmed it. However, there is nothing approaching documentary proof that the two dictators started co-operating so soon. There is no smoking gun or grubby piece of paper. On the face of it, it seems so unlikely. What could they hope to gain from it?

The removal of the SA. By 1933, Hitler's army of thugs had reached 1 million, all salaried and armed, and 10 times the size of the real German army, the Reichswehr. It was the SA that terrified France and England, and Stalin as well. Hitler had to be continually reassuring the Western Europeans that he had control of these thugs in uniform and that he would rein them in further. In fact, he had to go further. He was now Chancellor and would soon have the powers of the President, the official head of the Reichswehr. He couldn't have both the Reichswehr and the SA; one had to go. Ernst Röhm, leader of the SA, thought it would be the Reichswehr, and that he would be the leader of the new German army. He was already the second most powerful man in the Reich, and Hitler didn't enjoy competition. Röhm and the SA were for the chop.

Strangely enough, the campaign against Röhm was started by the communists, or more precisely by Willi Münzenberg. In the London counter-trial, but more especially in the Brown Books, the main target was not so much Hitler, who was not blamed for the Reichstag Fire, as Röhm and the SA, who were. For the fire and much else, most of it true. For example, that Röhm was homosexual. But they went further, and produced a documented list of Röhm's toy boys, among whom was Marinus van der Lubbe, who was the Nazi's "small, half blind love-slave”. The list was a forgery, probably produced by Münzenberg's people.

And then there was the Oberfohren Memorandum. Dr Ernst Oberfohren was a conservative who, in despair at Hitler's triumph, committed suicide. Soon after his death, the memorandum appeared, detailing the horrors committed by the new rulers of Germany, but putting all the blame for them on Röhm and the SA, mad dogs that Hitler has lost control of, thugs who threatened the state itself. This one was probably written by Gibarti, one of Münzenberg's closest collaborators.

And so it went on. Hitler is not the danger; Röhm and the SA are. Until the Reichstag Fire, Röhm had been one of the least visible of the leading Nazis; after it, he became internationally vilified, the face of the threat to world peace. The sighs of relief after the Night of the Long Knives, June 30th, 1934, were audible from one end of the Old Continent to the other.

That's what Hitler got out of the Leipzig trial. What about Stalin?

Stalin was, in his own little way, an appeaser. Though the hint of 'peace' that you hear in that word would be completely out of place in this context. He simply didn't feel strong enough to take on Hitler; and according to Walter Krivitsky (Soviet Military Intelligence) "Stalin had always believed in coming to terms early with a strong enemy." This he set about doing from the moment of Hitler's accession to power. By the Night of the Long Knives (June 1934), the policy was set in stone, and it was "to cut a deal with Hitler regardless of setbacks or rebuffs."

Not that he wanted Hitler to 'win'. Stalin saw little difference, in Marxist-Leninist terms, between Nazi Germany and the democracies. The first merely exposed the true class relations softened and disguised by the second. Besides he wanted to turn Germany westward against France and England; he foresaw correctly that he would only win Germany after a war, which he hoped would be entirely fought between it and the Western powers. The anti-fascist rhetoric that was born with the Reichsag Fire was useful in that it galvanised the left, it induced the democracies to re-arm and it formed an emotional basis for loyalty to the Soviet Union. But it was a tactical diversion, one whose outcome would be entirely different from that imagined by the idealistic and devoted minds it attracted.

So a deal with the Führer was merely a step towards Stalin's medium-term aim of a broader strategic pact, one that he achieved in 1939. But it was a foretaste of what was to come, for the grand anti-fascist alliance called the Popular Front would be a deception and betrayal on a far greater scale, one whose bitterness lasts until today.

Inadequate fervour offends

Tony Blair when questioned on his 'carbon footprint', his holiday in Florida, and making people better.

"So we've got to be realistic about how much obligation we've got to put on ourselves. The danger, for example, if you say to people 'Right, in Britain ... you're not going to have any more cheap air travel,' everybody else is going to be having it. So you've got to do this together in a way that doesn't end up actually putting people off the green agenda by saying you must not have a good time any more and can't consume. All the evidence is that if you use the science and technology constructively, your economy can grow, people can have a good time, but do so more responsibly."
He's right. People are not going to change substantially. Make flying expensive, and the same sort of people who complain now about cheap flights will complain about the inequality of travel. Same with cars, which have probably done more to inculcate the sense of freedom than any legislation. Stopping people moving would do more to undermine the capitalist economy, the most successful economy in history, than the Soviet Union ever managed. I suspect that this is actually the motivation behind much of the passion for draconian environmental policies.

There's something else as well, which Blair nods at with that phrase "you must not have a good time any more". It is the eternal spirit of the Puritan, present in all self-respecting revolutionary movements, always striving to change not just what people do, but how they think, what they say. The Puritan would pierce the walls of our houses and mount guard on every room to regulate and improve our behaviour, to make us better. For the Puritan is anguished by the mere suspicion that somewhere someone is having a good time; that millions are doing so before his eyes is unendurable.

There are other satisfactions to be gained by transforming a practical issue into a moral one - the invigorating air of the High Moral Ground; the warm furry security of moral superiority; the easy, quick-reference ranking of sinful actions and words allowing for on-the-spot verbal fines and, last but never least, a handy lexicon of anathema to be used loudly, repeatedly and as if spitting. Righteousness is irresistible, indignation addictive; lack of fervour unforgivable.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Look on my works, ye mighty

If you want a strong, if not quite lethal, dose of pessimism, you can't do better than John Derbyshire, who has obviously been preparing to be a miserable old man for many years now.

He sits himself down to imagine the United States collapsing (as did the USSR in 1991) within 15 years. Given his inclinations, he has no difficulty finding a lot of good reasons why this might happen. A sample from his conclusion.

We are separating out, drifting apart from each other, withdrawing into gated communities, both literal and metaphorical. Some of this is the logical end-point of our long march to pure meritocracy, the downside of which, as Michael Young pointed out half a century ago, is a ruling class freed from guilt—secure in the conviction that they deserve to rule. Some of it arises from the dashed hopes of the Civil Rights movement, the hopes that race would disappear as a significant social marker in our society. Some, like the threat of nuclear terrorism, or the demographic cratering, is just a consequence of technological advance.

Much of the damage, however, has been willfully self-inflicted. We did not have to swallow the multiculturalist suicide pill; we did not have to open our borders to the Third World flood; we did not have to delegitimize patriotism and abandon the assimilationist model of immigration.

Why did we do those foolish things? From overconfidence, I think. It has been said that a nation can survive anything but success. Success is the one true lethal disaster. The USA is a sensationally successful nation. We are also, it is not trivial to note, a very remote nation, far from anywhere else. An actual military invasion and occupation of the USA would be a very bold undertaking indeed, and I don’t think it is something we need to worry about. Our success, and our remoteness, have together made us very complacent. We can try any kind of social experiment! Nobody can harm us!

The weapon of choice

Why there's a wall

From a peak of 44 suicide bombings in 2002 they have fallen to just three in 2006 as Israel becomes increasingly stringent in its border control with the construction of the security wall.
Why concessions are retrograde
Rubin estimates Hamas has launched more than 2000 Qassams over the past five years, but almost half that total havebeen launched since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.
Suicide bombings are out so...
"This rocket, which was previously looked upon with disdain by many, will serve as the weapon of choice in the coming period of time, as the acts of suicide martyrdom served as the weapon of choice during all the previous years."
Hamas website
... a new tactic is required
Islamic Jihad, which has claimed responsibility for the most recent Qassam attacks, says they are being fired in retaliation for raids being conducted by the IDF in the West Bank on Islamic Jihad to prevent more Qassams being manufactured. Without the raids, Qassam rockets could then be fired into the most heavily populated cities in Israel....About 70 per cent of the Israeli population lives along the densely populated coastal strip of central Israel, within firing range of the West Bank.
(via This Ongoing War)