Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Borders or existence?

Bernard Lewis is not optimistic about the prospects for some sort of settlement at Annopolis. Is it a question of borders, or a question of existence?

A good example of how this problem affects negotiation is the much-discussed refugee question. During the fighting in 1947-1948, about three-fourths of a million Arabs fled or were driven (both are true in different places) from Israel and found refuge in the neighboring Arab countries. In the same period and after, a slightly greater number of Jews fled or were driven from Arab countries, first from the Arab-controlled part of mandatory Palestine (where not a single Jew was permitted to remain), then from the Arab countries where they and their ancestors had lived for centuries, or in some places for millennia. Most Jewish refugees found their way to Israel.

What happened was thus, in effect, an exchange of populations not unlike that which took place in the Indian subcontinent in the previous year, when British India was split into India and Pakistan. Millions of refugees fled or were driven both ways -- Hindus and others from Pakistan to India, Muslims from India to Pakistan. Another example was Eastern Europe at the end of World War II, when the Soviets annexed a large piece of eastern Poland and compensated the Poles with a slice of eastern Germany. This too led to a massive refugee movement -- Poles fled or were driven from the Soviet Union into Poland, Germans fled or were driven from Poland into Germany.

The Poles and the Germans, the Hindus and the Muslims, the Jewish refugees from Arab lands, all were resettled in their new homes and accorded the normal rights of citizenship. More remarkably, this was done without international aid. The one exception was the Palestinian Arabs in neighboring Arab countries.

The government of Jordan granted Palestinian Arabs a form of citizenship, but kept them in refugee camps. In the other Arab countries, they were and remained stateless aliens without rights or opportunities, maintained by U.N. funding. Paradoxically, if a Palestinian fled to Britain or America, he was eligible for naturalization after five years, and his locally-born children were citizens by birth. If he went to Syria, Lebanon or Iraq, he and his descendants remained stateless, now entering the fourth or fifth generation.

The reason for this has been stated by various Arab spokesmen. It is the need to preserve the Palestinians as a separate entity until the time when they will return and reclaim the whole of Palestine; that is to say, all of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Israel. The demand for the "return" of the refugees, in other words, means the destruction of Israel. This is highly unlikely to be approved by any Israeli government.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Inequality - Adjusted for time and place

Branko Milanovic, Peter Lindert and Jeffrey Williamson, economists from the World Bank have been doing some comparative studies of inequalities of wealth. They have found

... that income distribution within a modern society is much the same as income distribution in imperial Rome, or England and Wales at the time of the glorious revolution. It’s not that there is no variation at all, but that modern societies are as different from each other as from ancient societies.

For example, imperial Rome’s income distribution looks like that of the modern US; China in 1880, like Sweden today, was rather equal; England in 1688 was more unequal than imperial Rome, but modern Brazil is worse still.

This is unexpected, not least because modern societies have the potential to be far more unequal than anything the Romans could have dreamed of. That’s because the richer a society is, the more unequal it could be without its working class starving to death. Prehistoric societies were, by necessity, fairly equal: there wasn’t enough societal wealth to make anybody very rich.

Modern Tanzania seems more equal than modern America, but Milanovic and his colleagues point out that it is as unequal as it could possibly be without mass starvation. The Democratic Republic of Congo is about as unequal as the US, but that is far more than the country can stand – hence the enormous loss of life through war, malnutrition and disease.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Bad to less bad

General Petreaus on the slow haul.

Over time, it all just accumulates. This is not a light switch. You don't go from bad to good. You go from bad to less bad. And then you revert again. Progress accumulates over time. You can build on momentum as it is established. As shops get back into business … and some services … .
It all just accumulates slowly, but surely if you can keep building on the momentum that you've achieved, and that's what we've tried to do, obviously.
I used to try to convince people that learning a language was like that (except for the bit about the shops and services). The hardest thing to accept that, at a certain point you can't avoid, you are 'Bad' and that the next step is not 'Good', but 'less bad', as the General says.

Sad day

John Howard is out. A return to gesture politics.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Clever man

Newsweek reluctantly sees progress in Baghdad. The journalist sound positively chipper. The American military will not be drawn.

Victory, he [Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr] suggested, "is within sight, but not yet within reach."

Men of Valour

Michael Yon embedded with British forces in May this year and saw quite a bit of action. He came away with an admiration for the British forces that may seem a little eccentric now that they are themselves embedded in an enclave at the airport. But it shouldn't. It is becoming increasingly clear that they were grossly undermanned by as much as two or three times in addition to being subject to Brown's political games and the gesture politics of a new Prime Minister.

Anyway, as always, Yon's piece is well worth the read. It is the first in a series of, he says, "about VIII".

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Where are the WMD (this time)?

Do you remember the warehouses of Iraqi documents that the Pentagon released on to the Web because they couldn't be bothered examining them? They disappeared after a bit, and little has been heard since. Well, a man called John Loftus, who is the head of the non-governmental International Intelligence Summit has done the donkey work and released a report at the weekend.

The gist of the new evidence is this: Roughly one-quarter of Saddam's WMD was destroyed under UN pressure during the early to mid 1990s. Saddam sold approximately another quarter of his weapons stockpile to his Arab neighbors during the mid-to-late-1990's. The Russians insisted on removing another quarter in the last few months before the war. The last remaining WMD, the contents of Saddam's nuclear weapons labs, were still inside Iraq on the day when the coalition forces arrived in 2003. His nuclear weapons equipment was hidden in enormous underwater warehouses beneath the Euphrates River. Saddam's entire nuclear inventory was later stolen from these warehouses right out from under the Americans' noses.
I'm not one to hunt down and rejoice in instances of American incompetence, but if this is true, then the consequences could extend over a huge area and a long time. This writer links the dispersal to the Syrians' nuclear program and the Israeli raid in September. Not even that is confirmed, but the location and possible use of other Iraqi material is even less confirmed and does not stimulate happy thoughts. I'd be a touch worried.

Debate - Ali and Hussein

Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Ed Hussein debated yesterday evening in London about the way forward for Muslims, first in Europe and then elsewhere. Their positions are, by now, well known. Ali thinks the problem is not the reading of Islam, but the religion itself, which she sees as intrinsically totalitarian. Hussein maintains that it is only by going deep into the traditions of Muslim toleration that adherents can find a way to live within both their faith and the modern world.

I admire Ali's courage and believe that her choice of total rejection must be available to Muslims without their being threatened with a grisly end. However, even from my position of ignorance about Islam, I can see a huge weakness in her argument. It's totally impractical. Islam, whether her reading of it is correct or not, is hardly going to disappear; it means too much to too many people. In addition, there is a growing number of Muslims (Ed Hussein among them) who are both devout and as comfortable as anyone else in today's world, and who are willing to condemn absolutely the tactics and theology of the Jihadis.

However, the proof that Ed Hussein's stance can become less exceptional is needed both in Europe and in, most particularly, in Muslim countries. But in both places, the more fundamentalist positions not only get more air-time (which may be unfair, but does reflect the degree of concern / fear felt by non-Muslims), but seem to be far more attractive to many young people. They've got the allure of the radical, the righteous and the pure that Communism used to have. They're sexier. That's a potent combination.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Boris Boris Boris

Support Boris Johnson, the most entertaining man in the country. Make him No. 1. The quality is ineluctable.


Go and vote for the British national motto. Especially if you're not British (foreigners do these things so much better). I was torn between "No motto please, we're British" (despite the dreadful punctuation) and "We apologise for the inconvenience". I went for the latter because it harks back to a time when the working classes weren't allowed out of the country to demonstrate to everyone else how badly we bring up our children and the middle classes knew the social value of embarrassment.

BTW, my choice is coming fourth with 11.4%. The other one is first with 21%.

[I must admit that the motto in one of the comments, "None of the Above", would have tempted me if it had been in the (or any) shortlist.]

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Us and them

Roger Kimball says it for me in his diatribe against multiculturalism. The quote below is a nice little multicultural freak show.

The philosopher Martha Nussbaum warns that “patriotic pride” is “morally dangerous” while University of Penn PresidentAmy Gutmann [n.b., thanks to the reader who corrected me on this: see below] reveals that she finds it “repugnant” for American students to learn that they are “above all, citizens of the United States” instead of partisans of her preferred abstraction, “democratic humanism.” New York University’s Richard Sennett denounces “the evil of a shared national identity” and concludes that the erosion of national sovereignty is “basically a positive thing.” Cecilia O’Leary of American University identifies American patriotism as a right-wing, militaristic, male, white, Anglo, and repressive force, while Peter Spiro of Temple University says it “is increasingly difficult to use the word ‘we’ in the context of international affairs.”

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Waste 6 minutes

I would like to share with you two videos I came across today that prove that Microsoft is evil. Or not.

The first is Steve Steve Ballmer selling Windows 1.

The second is a rap. About the upgrade to MS DOS 5. It's 5 minutes long, but you won't regret it. Well, maybe you will.

Good news

This photo is one of many in Michael Yon's latest dispatch from Baghdad. It must be one of the happiest he's ever done. The priest is Most Reverend Shlemon Warduni and he is celebrating mass in St John’s Church, until recently abandoned.

A couple of the captions.

LTC Michael told me today that when al Qaeda came to Dora, they began harassing Christians first, charging them “rent.” It was the local Muslims, according to LTC Michael, who first came to him for help to protect the Christians in his area. That’s right. LTC Michael told me more than once that the Muslims reached out to him to protect the Christians from al Qaeda...Most of the Christians are gone now; having fled to Syria, Jordan or Northern Iraq.
This next is the most moving one. We can start talking about success in Iraq when the 1 (2?) million refugees start coming back.
The Muslims in this neighborhood worry that other people will take the homes of their Christian neighbors, and that the Christians will never come back. And so they came to St John’s today in force, and they showed their faces, and they said, “Come back to Iraq. Come home.” They wanted the cameras to catch it. They wanted to spread the word: Come home. Muslims keep telling me to get it on the news. “Tell the Christians to come home to their country Iraq.”

Al-Dura - raw, but edited

The raw footage just got shorter. 27 minutes down to 18 and it still doesn't add up. But Charles Enderlin turned up, and that's a first.

If all that is meaningless to you, go to Nidra Poller's article at PJM or Richard Landes' piece at Augean Stables

[“Charles is above all proud. If you want him to admit error, you’re asking him to put a bullet to his head and pull the trigger. Forget it. He would sooner die that admit error, and Arlette Chabot will defend him, not because he’s right, but because he’s her employee and her organization’s reputation is at stake. If France2 loses this case every journalist will have to fear having his work questioned.”]

or Melanie Phillips at The Spectator.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Appropriate humility

I don't know a whole lot about Pakistan or its politics. However, even though I think we should generally support people who demonstrate for representation and an independent judiciary and against military rule, I can't quite see Pakistan solely in those terms. I think we should be careful what we wish for.

So does Mark Steyn, who rightly reminds us that "Pakistan is both a nuclear power and a nation that cannot enforce sovereignty over significant chunks of its territory. Large tracts are run by the Taliban." Nuclear + Taliban. The use of the word "humility" in the first sentence below is entirely "appropriate".

It seems to me a certain humility is appropriate when offering advice to Islamabad. Gen. Musharraf is — as George S. Kaufman remarked when the Germans invaded Russia — shooting without a script. But that's because he presides over a country that defies the neatness of scripted narratives. In the days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America, President Bush told the world you're either with us or against us. Gen. Musharraf said he was with us, which was jolly decent of him considering that 99.9999 percent of his people are against us. In the teeth of that glum reality, he has ridden a difficult tightrope with some skill.

As John Negroponte, U.S. deputy secretary of state, put it, aside from America, "No country has done more in terms of inflicting damage and punishment on the Taliban and al-Qaeda since September 11" — which, given the proportion of Pakistanis that loathe America and actively supports the Taliban and al Qaeda, is not unimpressive.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Game over

The French unions have lost this one. How do I know? Because I've heard no-one mention "pension rights"; instead, everyone says, "pension privileges". Even on the BBC 6 o'clock News, the three Parisians they interviewed all used the same word. What happens to privileges? Come the revolution, ...


Monday, November 12, 2007

Music of the loaves

Music of the spheres. The light music of Irish whiskey. Music of the loaves? Doesn't ring out, does it? What about if I said it was a code in a painting by Leonardo da Vinci? You'd believe me even less, wouldn't you?

But this one actually sounds possible. The symbolism works.

Pala first saw that by drawing the five lines of a musical staff across the painting, the loaves of bread on the table as well as the hands of Jesus and the Apostles could each represent a musical note.

This fit the relation in Christian symbolism between the bread, representing the body of Christ, and the hands, which are used to bless the food, he said. But the notes made no sense musically until Pala realized that the score had to be read from right to left, following Leonardo's particular writing style.

He even found a time signature, though I wonder about this historically.

His first attempt at deciphering the musical clues failed. But then he noticed the apostles grouped in threes -- giving him the idea the piece should be played in 3/4-time...

I don't quite see how he can get the relative values of the notes. Nevertheless, this is good one. And it doesn't stop there.

The musician also claims to have discovered a chalice and Hebrew writings hidden in the 15th century masterpiece.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Others' vices

From a review of Ibn Warraq's Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism. Said's thinking, which has destroyed departments of Middle Eastern Studies throughout the world by turning scholars into activists (which means they do both things badly - as do journalists who propogate Pallywood fictions), is finally coming under consistent attack. The latest is this book by Ibn Warraq, the review of which includes the quote below.

Warraq then turns to Said’s misrepresentation of the West as a xenophobic culture, fearful of the “Other” and cultural difference. Warraq explodes this canard by identifying what he calls the “three golden threads” woven through Western culture since the time of the Greeks: rationalism, universalism, and self-criticism. As Warraq argues, Western intellectual curiosity has driven an interest in other cultures and peoples and created a magnificent edifice of scholarship formalizing that interest. The Western notion of a universal human nature reinforced this intellectual openness to other cultures. And self-criticism has been the engine of the West’s improvement, leading to the rejection of traditional practices that were unjust or inefficient, as Warraq shows with his discussion of the British Empire’s war on slavery. In fact, the West’s most trenchant critics, Said included, have always been Westerners.

It is the absence of these golden threads, Warraq believes, not Western crimes abetted by “Orientalism,” that accounts for the backwardness and stagnation of the Muslim Middle East—a region that with few exceptions lacks interest in other peoples, adheres unthinkingly to fossilized traditions, and is unable to look critically at its failures. These characteristics have fostered a paranoid cult of victimhood that blames the West for the failures of Middle Eastern regimes. Said’s work encourages such thinking: “In cultures already immune to self-criticism,” Warraq writes, “Said helped Muslims and particularly Arabs, perfect their already well-developed sense of self-pity.”

To which should be added:

Warraq, however, is honest enough to accept that his three golden threads have a tendency to degenerate into dangerous weaknesses. Rationalism becomes scientism, universalism becomes a flabby tolerance that disguises a lack of conviction, and self-criticism becomes an irrational self-hatred. Add multiculturalism’s sentimental adulation of a non-Western “Other,” superior to the money-grubbing Westerner, and the self-loathing West has essentially validated the jihadists’ reasons for wanting to destroy it.

And now we lie in Flanders fields

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Al-Dura exposed?

This Thursday, November 14, the France2 al-Dura rushes will be shown in open court. Richard Landes, who has done so much to bring this case to public attention, writes here about the journalistic issues highlighted by the case. It is understandable that the Palestinians view news as just another front in their war. What is more disturbing is that Western journalists should co-operate in telling the 'higher truth' at the expense of every other. There's a thesis there on the ramifications of moral relativism and the oppressor-oppressed paradigm that is still taught in our universities. Together they amount to moral squalor.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Shia awakening

This is good. This is very good.

The reporter on the 6 o'clock news was almost incredulous. This ain't like it was s'possed to be.

Back to source

SBSP. Now that's is the sort of thing that's needed.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Snuffed it

I really had wondered how Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials could be put on the screen by an American studio. Just to tell the story with any sort of faithfulness is to mount an attack on organised religion. In addition, the moment, the climax prepared for over 1,000 pages is a sexual awakening. Anti-God plus adolescent sexuality in a children's story. No. I couldn't imagine they would take the risk.

So, guess what the big offering is this Christmas. Chistmas. Pullman must be chewing his pencils to pulp. According to this article at the Atlantic, he is right to. They've done exactly what you'd expect them to. Just one example. Instead of the Magisterium, a sort of Calvinistic Catholic Church, we're to have "a fascistic, totalitarian dictatorship, Russian/KGB/SS" ... thing. Pullman must be chewing doorhandles.

It's not as if I even like Pullman's 'theology'. It's like something from a 1930s Fabian - you know, if everyone could just behave like English middle class gentlemen, with a bit of socialism thrown in, then everyone would be a damn sight better off. The great final battle in which the oppressive forces of Old Heaven are defeated and feeble old God snuffs it stikes me just as Milton's battle does - ridiculous. And the last two lines are just embarrassing.

"And then what?" said her daimon sleepily. "Build what?"
"The republic of heaven," said Lyra.

I mean, hasn't he heard? Done that. Been there. Neither a republic nor heaven.

All that apart, these three books make up one of the greatest imaginative creations in English literature. His fantasy worlds, his characters, his plotting, his landscapes, his melding of the old and the new, the fantastic and realism, metaphysics and physics, all of this I find easily superior to Tolkein. Not, I repeat, his philosphy, but his craft. Unfortunately, the one is necessary to the other. That story, without the rebellion against God, will be engaging if well done; it will not be thrilling. It will be a fun Christmas extravaganza, not an enthralling, elemental experience of a reality authentically different. Such a shame.

Thanks and praise.

Now that's not something you see every day. Baghdadis putting a cross back on a church - St John's, to be precise. Michael Yon sent the photo to Glenn Reynolds with a few quotes from the men involved. Choked me up, it did. Go and read it.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


I’d compile a list, but I’m too worn out by the tremors in my limbs and my wildly beating heart.

However, if terrorism, Eurabia, global warming, demographic decline, life-style induced cancer, diet-induced cancer, [add at will], have not burrowed deep down into your congenitally perverse optimism, then here’s another one: THE OIL IS RUNNING OUT!!!!

It’s no good telling yourself you’ve heard it all before (how many times?). That doesn’t count. This time it’s REALLY RUNNING OUT. It’s all in a movie called A Crude Awakening (is that syntactically reminiscence of another call to alarm?), which is here to tell you that THE OIL IS RUNNING OUT!!!

[Except it isn’t. Derek Brower explains.]

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Secret Speech

Victor Grayevsky has died.

No, I'd never heard of him either. Michael Ledeen wants him to be "the man of the century", which is maybe a bit of an over-reaction to the death of a 'middleman'. Mind you, the process he 'middled' was that of obtaining and relaying to the world the text of Khrushchev’s Secret Speech, the one that revealed to the incredulous ears of the oppressive bourgeois world the joy of the new life under Stalin. He was also a double agent and won the Lenin Medal.

So hardly an uneventful life. But man of the century? Wasn't that Stalin?


The chart traces the path of GDP and Foreign Aid in the Palestinian Authority since the Oslo Accords. Would it be too daring to assume that the pink and blue lines will continue to diverge? A GDP does not a country make. But it sure is difficult to have one without.

This article claims that the Peace Dividend (if it is ever paid) will be of far more benefit to the Palestinians than to Israel. This one looks more closely at the GDP/Aid question, and includes this quote:

The assessments of none other than George Abed, a Palestinian and senior IMF economist, and of James Prince, a consultant to the Palestinian Investment Fund, offer an important summary of the phenomenon of increased aid correlating with economic deterioration. Abed recognized the futility of providing donor aid, asserting that it was counterproductive. What was needed, he said, was investment. This view was echoed in Prince's conclusion that, "many of the donor programs have not only been ineffective, they have harmed the economy." ( "Expert says Palestinians don't need financial aid," San Francisco Chronicle, Sept. 5, 2005).

Altruism - The ant and the officer

Roger Scruton thinks that the modern concept of altruism is possible only by warping the meaning of the word so that it denotes the opposite of what it used to. The causes of this are what he calls "the gospel of selfishness" (as expressed by Ayn Rand) and "the biological theory of 'altruism', defined as an act whereby one organism benefits another at a cost to itself", but only as another, more 'elevated' act of selfishness, or enlightened self-interest.

To illustrate the latter:

On this definition the lioness who dies in defense of her cubs is altruistic. So too is the soldier ant marching by instinct against the fire encroaching on the ant-heap, or the bat distributing its booty around the nest. Geneticists have worried about how to reconcile "altruism" with the theory of the selfish gene; but the rest of us ought to worry rather more about the use of this term to run so many disparate phenomena together. Is it really the case that the officer who throws himself onto a live grenade in defense of his men is obeying the same biological imperative as the soldier ant who marches to his death in the fire? And if so, is there anything really praiseworthy about the officer's action?

I would agree that there needs to be a way of distinguishing the officer's action from that of the ant. It is interesting that in Marxism, and related creeds, the human qualities of greed and selfishness would become non-existent in the post-revolutionary order. 'Altruism' would become systemic. According to such thinking, the act of the officer would be a case of false consciousness - a mode of thinking imposed in order to shore up the existing unjust system. Selfishness in the pre-revolutionary world was seen as a measure or a proof of the injustice of the system or else as a reaction (more or less justified depending on who was in power) to it. Thus the actors had greater agency than the ant, but not much. They could choose to be victims of the system or to overthrow it. But for the most part, they were, in the end, merely products of it.

Scruton is going back to a vision of the individual that is still fighting its corner, but has been under threat for 2 centuries. It is one that acknowledges the greater good, but whose measure is either God or an elevated idea of duty. In this vision, true altruism (selflessness) is an ideal to be sought after, and it is not natural, but acquired; it is cultural. Looking for it in nature, in order to justify it, is a waste of time. It is about a society inculcating/imposing ideals. But to inculcate them, it first has to have them. And to have these ideals, it needs a framework of individual responsibility and something approaching honour as well as the assumption of a reality higher than the Self.

One of the great challenges of the secular world is to be able to assert such a reality without denying its residents responsibility for their actions, to uuphold ideals without them being contradictory and/or murderous, and to encourage altruism without emptying it of all meaning.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Relatively new

Mark Steyn quotes the famous first line of Allan Bloom's The Closing Of The American Mind,

There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.

and ends his lament with

What Allan Bloom observed in his students can now be found in the teachers.

Yet I have noticed a difference recently in at least one place. No. 3 son started this September at the local high school, where we've had children for 10 years. This time at the Year 7 Parents' Evening, the Head spoke in tones that I hadn't heard since my childhood. It was about developing responsibility in the kids, yes, but it was mostly about the responsibility of the adults. Who are expected to be adults; ie aware of the right way to do things and determined to show their kids. There was little of the wishy-washy multi-culti stuff. Is this a sign that the Adult is on the way back? That there are school ma'ams again?

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Factor in boredom

Simon Heffer in Australia, which, in case you haven't heard, is about to have an election whose universally forecast result is that the incumbent PM, John Howard, will be thrown out so that Labour's Kevin Rudd can take his place.

Yet for an Englishman – or anyone else – coming here now, the place is humbling.

We really do see a people who have never had it so good.

Indeed, it is hard to name a nation in history that has ever had it so good as the Australians are having it now.

This is a happy country: happy not just because of its opulence, its climate and its beauty, but because it is, to use a ghastly politician's phrase, largely at ease with itself.

It's good. It's never been better. Therefore, they are going to change government. Right!?

I think people underestimate greatly the importance in politics, and in much else, of boredom. People, especially media people, just get sick and tired of the same faces and, because things are basically OK, whimsically decide to change those faces for other faces, no matter what those other faces say or may do. Then, if things go badly, people, even media people, get serious again, and look at reality and experience and even listen to what the faces are saying.

Unreconstructed humanity. Richly deserving to be wiped out by Global Warming (or by the people who preach it).

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BBC catching up

David Kilcullen is interviewed by Frank Gardner about Iraq and Afghanistan. It's on the Analysis programme. It's basically what you will have heard and read in other places, but it's good to see the BBC slowly coming up to date.

He tries to inject some realism into the timescale expectations, explains what "winning hearts and minds" actually means, why "information ops" have to come first, why the use of the word "war" is misguided and puts warning marks on (surprise!) Pakistan, Bangladesh, and ...Europe.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

How dare he!

God doesn’t exist — the bastard!

I just came across this line of Samuel Beckett's, which, in its assertion of non-existence and existence in the same breath, reminds me of the Jewish joke I posted a while back.

Resident evil

There are times I think that there is a organisation entirely devoted to making up stories to appeal to my deepest prejudices. I generally work on the assumption that whatever I believe to be true is necessarily limited and subject to my own inadequacies. Then I hear stories like this.

The University of Delaware runs a special programme for its 7,000 resident students. It hires Resident Assistants (RAs) to conduct seminars and one-to-one sessions with new arrivals. This in itself, I think, is not unusual. What is unusual (I hope) are the intended outcomes of these sessions (called "treatments"): correct views on politics, race, sexuality, sociology, moral philosophy, and environmentalism.

For example, define 'racist'

A racist is one who is both privileged and socialized on the basis of race by a white supremacist (racist) system. The term applies to all white people (i.e., people of European descent) living in the United States, regardless of class, gender, religion, culture or sexuality.

Or, 'non-racist'?

A non-term. The term was created by whites to deny responsibility for systemic racism.

Questions that the RAs put in the one-to-one treatment.

1. When were you first made aware of your race?
2. When did you discover your sexual identity?
4. When was a time when you confronted someone regarding
an issue of diversity? What was the confrontation about?
If haven’t [sic], why not?
5. When was a time you felt oppressed? Who was oppressing
you? How did you feel?

What should the students get from their treatment?

B. Students will recognize that systemic oppression exists in our society.
C. Students will recognize the benefits of dismantling systems of oppression.

Link this with the definition of racism, and the conclusion is clear: dismantle the whole system (except tenure).

What happens in a treatment session?

In one activity we were required to agree or disagree with a statement, when asked if we could abstain or be neutral, our RA promptly said that she would not proceed with the activity until everyone had taken a side...everyone was forced to take a side they might have disagreed with and everyone at some point was forced to justify their choosing of the side they did, and I say forced because refusing to justify oneself was not acceptable.

Obviously a case of unacceptable indifference.

After a campaign by FIRE, the President of the University of Delaware has cancelled the programme. Why are we becoming more and more like the Evil Empire we defeated in 1989?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Police work

Google Earth against the baddies.

LTC Frank told me the other day that his best weapon system is his cell phone. Calls come to him (through his interpreter) every day and into the night, with information from locals about the whereabouts of wanted JAM members. Many local people are clearly fed up with the violence. Some even send e-mails with Google Earth maps showing exactly where suspects are, and they are doing it in real time.

We'll be sitting there in the TOC (tactical operations center or HQ) and an e-mail comes in and it's literally a map (or a photo of one) with detailed descriptions of wanted men and/or caches. And the information is turning out to be true. I have never seen anything like this before,

It's becoming almost bizarre how specific the informants are becoming. Informants have called up saying they are with bad guys right now and giving their location. Our guys show up and arrest everyone. Hours later, the U.S. soldiers let the informants go. JAM and AQI are getting slammed in many areas because local people are sick of the violence and local people trust Americans to help them end it.

Michael Yon in the New York Post.

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A hundred schools of thought

A lovely paragraph from Clive James.

Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend.
Mao Zedong, April 1956, as quoted by Philip Short in Mao, p 455

The pretty rubric looks so harmless even today, now that we have some idea of what it cost. Halfway between a poem and a slogan, it is a small thought that would fit on a big T-shirt. It doesn't even sound wrong. Mao designed it to sound right. For the trick to work, thousands of people had to believe that the words meant what they said, even though the Party, within long memory, had never rewarded a contentious voice with anything except torture and death. Anyway, the suckers fell for it. The flowers bloomed, the schools of thought contended, and Mao's executioners went to work. The slogan had the same function as the Constitution of the Soviet Union, which Aleksandr Zinoviev tellingly defined as a document published in order to find out who agreed with it, so that they could be dealt with.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Something so fragile

How short life must be, if something so fragile can last a lifetime.
Franz Kafka

I read the quote without context and thought that the word "something" referred to life. Quiet explosion in the head.

It actually refers to a young woman's body. But I'm going to keep my mistaken idea. It's not true to the intention of the author, but it's true all the same.

I read it in Clive James' Cultural Amnesia, a resuscitation of real humanism.