31 January 2006

The land of the jezail

The British presence in Afghanistan is being expanded. This is not a good idea, as the British government should have learned from its nineteenth and early twentieth century experiences. I spent my childhood in Battersea, where street names (Cabul Road, Kandahar Road) recalled the Second Anglo-Afghan War.

In spite of the Western presence, the Taleban is resurgent:

The token international presence has given the Taliban carte blanche to terrorise at will. A mafia-style assassination campaign against Afghans linked to western aid has stepped up alarmingly in the past six months. In June, five
men working for an American contractor were executed at the side of the road.

Last month, gunmen walked into a mosque in Laskhar Gah, singled out a man named Engineer Mirwais from the rows of worshippers and shot him in the head. He
worked for a Bangladeshi aid agency providing clean water.

Teachers, as elsewhere in the south, have been particularly targeted. In recent weeks "night letters" - menacing tracts pinned to mosque doors and shop windows - have warned those teaching girls to stop. Defiance carries a heavy price. On December 15 the Taliban dragged Laghmani, a teacher from Nad Ali district, from a classroom of teenagers and shot him at the school gate. The bloodshed has left many Helmandis, influential tribal leaders in particular, hedging their bets, Hogberg says. "People are straddling the fence. They do not want to commit to the government yet."

Sad news

Coretta Scott King has died.

30 January 2006

Another reason for Francophilia

President Chirac has proclaimed 10 May in perpetuity a day of commemoration for the victims of slavery. This is certainly, in large part, due to the recent disturbances in France and the need to distance the French government from perceptions that it is racist. It is, nonetheless, a decent thing to do.

As Chirac said:

"Slavery fed racism," he said. "When people tried to justify the unjustifiable, that was when the first racist theories were elaborated.

"Racism is a crime of the heart and the spirit... which is why the memory of slavery remains a living wound for some of our fellow citizens."

Mr Chirac said he would propose a "European and international initiative" to tackle any company still using slave labour.

"We must ensure that when western companies invest in poor or emerging
countries they respect basic labour rules such as have been lain out in
international law," he said.

No sex for Berlusconi

What is it about rich right-wing politicians that causes them to be buffoons? Consider that:

Mr Berlusconi has been criticised in the past for using sexual innuendo and
making sexist jokes.

Last June, the prime minister stunned the Finnish government by saying he had used his "playboy" charms to persuade female President Tarja Halonen to give up attempts to house the EU food agency in Helsinki.

And in 2003 he told US business leaders they should invest in Italy because it had "beautiful secretaries... superb girls".

Perhaps it indicates that he has too much money.

29 January 2006

Freedom has to be for all, not just for the mainstream

Michael Bérubé on academic freedom. An excellent piece. John Stuart Mill, of course, made the central point on freedom of expression and thought:

Strange it is, that men should admit the validity of the arguments for free discussion, but object to their being "pushed to an extreme;" not seeing that unless the reasons are good for an extreme case, they are not good for any case. Strange that they should imagine that they are not assuming infallibility, when they acknowledge that there should be free discussion on all subjects which can possibly be doubtful, but think that some particular principle or doctrine should be forbidden to be questioned because it is so certain, that is, because they are certain that it is certain. To call any proposition certain, while there is any one who would deny its certainty if permitted, but who is not permitted, is to assume that we ourselves, and those who agree with us, are the judges of certainty, and judges without hearing the other side.

28 January 2006

Tsunami in the Desert

Tsunami in the Desert

John Maxwell

Journalists and statesmen and stateswomen round the world have confessed themselves astonished by the electoral triumph of Hamas in Palestine. There seems to be a general air of dismay, shock, not to say stupefaction, that free, fair and democratic elections could have brought to power and office a group described by the United States and Israel as a gang of terrorists.

I must confess I find this puzzlement difficult to understand, especially since the US and Israel have for the last five years, done their damnedest to discredit and destroy the Palestinian Authority (PA) and to humiliate and discredit its late leader, Yasser Arafat. Having managed this project, the US and its allies confess surprise that the Palestinians should have opted for the one group which did not seem intimidated by American and Israeli action.

If one remembers the rape of Jenin, the siege of Ramallah, the sequestration of Arafat in his last days and all the other punishments inflicted on the Arafat regime up to and including his death, is it really so strange that the Palestinians, with their backs to the wall, should have chosen to be defended by the only group which promised blood and fire for Israel?

What, exactly, was their alternative?

One of the most nauseating displays of the past few years has been the hypocrisy of an Israeli government under Ariel Sharon. The Israeli Defence Forces deliberately targeted the PA and specifically its police forces, and having largely destroyed and demoralised the Palestinian armed forces, demanded of Arafat that those same forces should disarm the people Israel described as terrorists.

Since I am well aware that the terminology I just used may well be used to identify me as a supporter and glorifier of terrorists let me explain myself, before I end up in an American gulag or find myself the object of an targeted assassination.

HAMAS justifies its behaviour – its armed struggle – as legally sanctioned resistance against an occupying power. It considers itself in a state of war. This is a very assymetric war, to use current terminology. Reports in the West suggest that the Palestinians are killing an enormous number of Israelis in various terror attacks and that all of those killed are innocent civilians. According to the Israeli Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B'Tselem) the reality is somewhat different.

Between the start of the latest intifada in September 2000 and January 15 this year, the Israelis killed 3,392 Palestinians, 670 of whom were minors. During that time Palestinians killed 992 Israelis of whom 309 were security force personnel and 683 were civilians, 118 of them minors.

In addition, 112 Palestinians were killed by Palestinians for suspected collaboration with Israelis. The kill ratio, to use the ghastly terminology of statistics gives the Israelis an advantage of 3.4 to one.

Since the Palestinians – Falastin – the Philistines of the Bible, were on the ground in Palestine long before Joshua led the Jews into the "Promised Land" it would seem that they have some sort of reasonable claim to at least live in Palestine. Unfortunately for them however, the Zionist movement, founded by Theodore Herzl in Basle, Switzerland in 1897, has other ideas.

Herzl was moved by the idea that anti-Semitism was a natural characteristic of European civilisation and proposed that the establishment of a national state for the Jews was the solution. He thought that "The Promised Land" would be the perfect site for a secular, socialist republic which would be a light to the world employing advanced technology and science for the furthering of human progress.

The Zionist organisation, financed by wealthy Jews from around the world, moved its headquarters to Muslim Jerusalem in 1936 and began to buy out Palestinian landowners and householders. In Europe, – three decades after Herzl's death – Hitler had begun to fulfil Herzl's worst fears by initiating an ethnic cleansing programme of wholesale murder which eventually accounted for more than 6 million Jews as well as other minorities.

For the Jews, the establishment of a safe haven outside of Europe became an inescapable priority and the Jewish colonisation of Palestine accelerated.

Although the British were initially opposed to the idea of handing Palestine over to the Jews, their opposition was soon broken by a campaign of terrorism led by Jewish extremists, two of whom, Shamir and begin, went on to become leaders of secular Israel.

By the end of the Second World War and the defeat of Nazi Germany, the Jewish position in Palestine had been transformed by a combination of worldwide sympathy for the jews coupled with what had by now become a war for independence by a well armed Jewish guerrilla.

Since the brief and bloody war of independence and the Israel's conquest of 78% of Palestine, every subsequent conflict has led to the confiscation of more Arab land by israel The result is what some critics of Israel call the bantustanisation of Palestine in which Palestinians were confined to increasingly smaller areas of land entirely surrounded by Israel.

The motive behind this programme was perhaps best expressed by Emanuel A Winston, an American pundit, who in 2002 wrote an article in USA Today entitled "No to a Palestinian State"

"Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization, like Syria and Iran, has taught the children of several generations to hate Israel so much that when they grow up they will commit ritual suicide for Islam and kill Jews. Arafat has thus programmed the ongoing genocide of his own young people as well as those of Israel.

"Regrettably, there is no ready solution for deprogramming the Arab culture that has taught its youth to hate and kill with such ferocity that nothing, including a state oftheir own, will change their minds or cure their murderous behavior."

Among solutions suggested by Winston and others is a genteel form of ethnic cleansing – transporting or relocating the Palestinians to Jordan or North Africa, so that secular Israel can more perfectly occupy the geographical position of all the land ever occupied by the nomads brought out of Egypt by Moses.

There is to my knowledge, no Israeli leader who does not contemplate at some time in the not too distant future, an "Eretz Isrsael" uncontaminated by Philistines/Falastin/Palestinians. And Eretz Israel includes vast areas of the Middle East including Cyprus, Syria, parts of Turkey and Iraq.

In little more than a century, Herzl's idea of a secular, socialist, tolerant state has been transformed and is being transformed into a religious construct, fundamentalist and warlike, able to impose its will on its neighbours.

It cannot be strange therefore, that Israel, having disposed of all rational opposition to its policies, having buried Arafat and the Palestinian Authority in failure and odium, finds that the vacuum it created has been filled by something which is almost a mirror image of itself: a fundamentalist, warlike entity which denies Israel the same recognition that Israel denies to Palestine.

Various newspapers in the Arab world and outside are busy exhorting Hamas to forswear its militancy and to recognise Israel. They, and Mr Bush and Israel, do not realise that these trappings of HAMAS are precisely the only cards that the Palestinians hold. Arafat and Fatah were defeated by long speeches, double dealing and wilful misbehaviour on the part of Israel. The Palestinians after more than fifty years in the prison of Palestine, can see no way out but violence. The Israeli apologists who have long preached the intransigence of the Arabs are now reaping their fulfilment of their rhetorical excesses.

In the Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz on Friday, an writer named Bradley Burston presented a novel view of the developments in Palestine. by comparing them to Israel in 1977 when the corrupt, futile Labour government was defeated by the Likud of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir.

"In 1977, the Likud of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir was derided abroad - and by the left at home - as a group led by terror warlords, a movement with roots in armed wings that had engaged in bombings and cold-blooded shootings.

"It was seen - incorrectly - as inexperienced in everything except opposition. It was seen - ingenuously, by the left - as little more than an outgrowth of the Irgun and Lehi, heirs to Deir Yassin, implacable in its opposition to sharing or ceding land.

"It was on May 17, 1977 that Begin's Likud defeated Labor. Exactly six months and two days later, the first leader of an Arab nation to publicly set foot on Israeli soil - a man who had ordered his armies to attack Israel on Yom Kippur - shook Begin's hand and drove with him to Jerusalem, where he would address the Knesset the next day."

Burston suggests that the unexpected may be the possible, because God, he says, is in the unexpected and if both Israel and its Arab enemy can claim victory in the same war, they may both be able to leverage that claim into some form of peace. That may be simply wishful thinking but it may be a wish worth making.

The fact is that both sides are now almost completely out of options other than peace. Unless Israel is willing to 'nuke' the Palestinians– and themselves in the bargain, there is now no alternative to peace.

Can the Israelis resume the targeted assassination of HAMAS leaders? I think not.

Can Israel survive harbouring in its body an implacable enemy, determined on its destruction? That is not practicable.

Some commentators have decided that the Hamas victory means the end of the peace process. Others say it is the end of dialogue. But there has been no peace process and no dialogue for several years.Mr Sharon kept on saying that he was looking for a partner for peace, , but in shunning Arafat and the Fatah, he little knew how well he was preparing the ground for HAMAS. At this moment, the leader of Arafat's party, Marwan Barghouti, is serving several life sentences in an Israeli jail. He can't be a partner for peace.

According to Barghouti, "Israelis must abandon the myth that it is possible to have peace and occupation at the same time, that peaceful coexistence is possible between slave and master."

The leadership of HAMAS has been under attack too, with several killed by 'targeted assassinations" carried out by the Israeli Defence Forces.
As I pointed out after the 9/11 atrocity, people who kill themselves in order to kill their enemies obviously have nothing to lose. The Palestinian suicide bombers have been making that clear for years. But those were individuals.

The leadership of HAMAS are not suicide bombers.

And they have moderated their original positions.

Under its founder, Sheik Yassin (assassinated by Israel last year) HAMAS offered a long term ceasefire in return for the withdrawal of Israel from the occupied West Bank and Gaza and the establishment of a Palestinian state on that land.
They are not asking for a rollback to 1948.

If Israel is serious there does seem to be room for peace. But, and it is a huge but, the Israeli body politic has moved increasingly to the right and towards fundamentalism in recent years. Less than two years ago dozens of right-wing Israeli leaders announced the creation of a new political party dedicated to the expulsion of millions of Muslims and Christians from Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Analysts say that Ariel Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza and part of the West Bank were a ploy to short-circuit such rightwingers; he intended to establish huge Israeli presences in other parts of the West Bank and allow the creation of a Palestinian state which would be a dismembered, dysfunctional entity with little more than a name, a national anthem, and a seat, perhaps, in the UN.

But Sharon is hors de combat and with Arafat preceding him, Palestine and Israel are now led by men who do not have to be prisoners of the past. Both sides claim God. Both sides claim Palestine. If they can find a way to share Palestine as they share the same God, they may make it work.

The omens, however, are not propitious. On Thursday morning, as the news of the HAMAS upset spread round the world, the Israeli Defence Force shot and killed a nine year old girl.

Adolf Hitler's ghost must have smiled. They need to make sure he doesn't smile again, ever.

John Maxwell;

Rightwing nutcase note

Ann Coulter is an idiot. If someone were to joke about poisoning her, I'm certain that she would have something to say. Something along the lines of 'that person should be arrested at once'.

It's worth noting that in that speech she also said that the crack cocaine problem had 'largely gone away'. From what planet is she visiting?

Global warming continues

It's beginning to look pretty serious. Sea levels are expected to rise by more than a foot over the course of this century. Coastal areas and low lying islands -- including entire countries made up of islands just a few feet above sea level -- are going to be seriously affected. Of course, the Emperor W in Washington just sticks his head in the sand. After all, what does he care about dark-skinned people in places like Tuvalu or the Maldives. The latter, after all, is full of dark-skinned Muslims, so they don't matter in the least. Dark-skinned Christians such as the Tuvaluans are unlikely to fare any better, given the way in which the 'compassionate conservative' initially responded to the disaster in New Orleans.

27 January 2006

The fairest isle

Every so often someone does a story about tourists staying in their luxurious prisons, er, hotels and not seeing the real Jamaica. This is the latest.

Not the West alone

Every so often, I come across something online of immense relevance to the political theory classes I teach. This is one such. The author makes the excellent point that

Though departments of religious studies, literature, geography, political science and others in the humanities increasingly recognise that the world is not the west, in philosophy the rest of the world does not yet exist. Asian traditions tend to be confined to religious studies or area studies, where philosophy competes with anthropological, political and historical approaches to the study of Asian traditions—and this despite a shift in how philosophy itself is taught, away from canonical writers towards key concepts.

And one could substitute 'African' for 'Asian' without any trouble.

The reality is that the canon of philosophical thought (or of theoretical thinking -- thinking that produces theory) in the West is narrowly ethnocentric. I teach undergraduate political theory using a standard text, Princeton Readings in Political Thought, that is exclusively Western in content. Thus, for example, the political thought of Confucius and Mencius is excluded, even though the former came before Plato (and in his concern about the development of virtue and the relationship of the virtuous individual to the state is looking at the same sort of issue -- albeit from a different perspective), and the latter sees the foundation of the state as being the support of the people in a way that was not to be argued in the West until Locke. And this is without mentioning Kautilya, Mozi, Xunzi, Han Feizi, Islamic thought, and modern reactions to the hegemony of the West. As the writer concludes:

It may be that terms from non-western traditions will also become keys of analysis in a future global tradition of thought, but those of western philosophy, their uses conceived in many novel ways, will continue to be used, as they are bequeathed to a global successor. But to give thus, western philosophy must first also receive, even if on its own terms. Parochialism and fear of the unknown on the part of western philosophers, and a loss of nerve on the part of Asian thinkers, stand in the way of that reception.

Happy Birthday, Wolfie!

Today is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart was an extraordinary musician, a child prodigy prodded by his father into early development both as a composer and performer. It is a day of celebration (indeed, this is a year of celebration of the composer) in his native (more or less) Austria. One can even read Mozart's diary, and hear excerpts of his music, on the British Library's website.

26 January 2006

My Serenity character

Your results:
You are Wash (Ship Pilot)
Wash (Ship Pilot)
Malcolm Reynolds (Captain)
Dr. Simon Tam (Ship Medic)
Zoe Washburne (Second-in-command)
Kaylee Frye (Ship Mechanic)
A Reaver (Cannibal)
Inara Serra (Companion)
Derrial Book (Shepherd)
River (Stowaway)
Jayne Cobb (Mercenary)
You are a pilot with a good
if not silly sense of humor.
You take pride in your collection of toys.
You love your significant other.
Click here to take the "Which Serenity character are you?" quiz...

The ties that bind

It seems that the Internet promotes social connections, rather than reducing them. It supplements relationships rather than replacing them.

I'd say also that it builds new connections as well -- it promotes friendship, community, and solidarity over distances. I think of the Internet as bringing together affinity groups from all over, and making it easy to stumble upon like-minded people all over the planet.

Lying in the funny pages

Earlier this week the comic strip 'Prickly City' (which the AJC runs on the regular cartoon pages rather than with the other 'political' strips [The Boondocks', 'Doonesbury'] which it places on another page) did a short series on Harry Belafonte's speech in Venezuela. What I found interesting was that one strip called Hugo Chávez the 'Venezuelan dictator'. Apparently, in the funhouse mirror that is contemporary 'conservatism', arriving in office via open election makes you a dictator if you don't toe the line drawn by W. Or, put another way, it is acceptable to lie in promoting the policies of the dear leader.

25 January 2006

Wondrous landscapes.

I found this at the Nielsen Haydens' Making Light: Amazing photographs of Chinese landscapes.

The Immortal Memory

Tonight is Burns nicht, the commemoration of the poet's birth in 1759 (which means his sesquicentenary is just three years down the road). Unfortunately, I have to work tomorrow which means that I can't toast Burns's memory with a ball of malt. However, I can post a poem or two.

So, here are two poems by Burns. The criterion of choice being that I like them. They're both works of a free man writing for free men. And each is worthy on its own account. I especially like the criticism of 'Poet Willie', who undoubtedly deserved what he got. But, a man's a man, for a' that.

To the Immortal Memory!

First: The Kirk of Scotland's Alarm

Orthodox! orthodox, who believe in John Knox,
Let me sound an alarm to your conscience:
A heretic blast has been blown in the West,
"That what is no sense must be nonsense,"
Orthodox! That what is no sense must be nonsense.

Doctor Mac! Doctor Mac, you should streek on a rack,
To strike evil-doers wi' terror:
To join Faith and Sense, upon any pretence,
Was heretic, damnable error,
Doctor Mac!^1 'Twas heretic, damnable error.

Town of Ayr! town of Ayr, it was mad, I declare,
To meddle wi' mischief a-brewing,^2
Provost John^3 is still deaf to the Church's relief,
And Orator Bob^4 is its ruin,
Town of Ayr! Yes, Orator Bob is its ruin.

D'rymple mild! D'rymple mild, tho' your heart's like a child,
And your life like the new-driven snaw,
Yet that winna save you, auld Satan must have you,
For preaching that three's ane an' twa,
D'rymple mild!^5 For preaching that three's ane an' twa.

Rumble John! rumble John, mount the steps with a groan,
Cry the book is with heresy cramm'd;
Then out wi' your ladle, deal brimstone like aidle,
And roar ev'ry note of the damn'd.
Rumble John!^6 And roar ev'ry note of the damn'd.

Simper James! simper James, leave your fair Killie dames,
There's a holier chase in your view:
I'll lay on your head, that the pack you'll soon lead,
For puppies like you there's but few,
Simper James!^7 For puppies like you there's but few.

Singet Sawnie! singet Sawnie, are ye huirdin the penny,
Unconscious what evils await?
With a jump, yell, and howl, alarm ev'ry soul,
For the foul thief is just at your gate.
Singet Sawnie!^8 For the foul thief is just at your gate.

Poet Willie! poet Willie, gie the Doctor a volley,
Wi' your "Liberty's Chain" and your wit;
O'er Pegasus' side ye ne'er laid a stride,
Ye but smelt, man, the place where he shit.
Poet Willie!^9 Ye but smelt man, the place where he shit.

Barr Steenie! Barr Steenie, what mean ye, what mean ye?
If ye meddle nae mair wi' the matter,
Ye may hae some pretence to havins and sense,
Wi' people that ken ye nae better,
Barr Steenie!^10 Wi'people that ken ye nae better.

Jamie Goose! Jamie Goose, ye made but toom roose,
In hunting the wicked Lieutenant;
But the Doctor's your mark, for the Lord's holy ark,
He has cooper'd an' ca'd a wrang pin in't,
Jamie Goose!^11 He has cooper'd an' ca'd a wrang pin in't.

Davie Bluster! Davie Bluster, for a saint ye do muster,
The corps is no nice o' recruits;

Yet to worth let's be just, royal blood ye might boast,
If the Ass were the king o' the brutes,
Davie Bluster!^12 If the Ass were the king o' the brutes.

Irvine Side! Irvine Side, wi' your turkey-cock pride
Of manhood but sma' is your share:
Ye've the figure, 'tis true, ev'n your foes will allow,
And your friends they dare grant you nae mair,
Irvine Side!^13 And your friends they dare grant you nae mair.

Muirland Jock! muirland Jock, when the Lord makes a rock,
To crush common-sense for her sins;
If ill-manners were wit, there's no mortal so fit
To confound the poor Doctor at ance,
Muirland Jock!^14 To confound the poor Doctor at ance.

Andro Gowk! Andro Gowk, ye may slander the Book,
An' the Book nought the waur, let me tell ye;
Tho' ye're rich, an' look big, yet, lay by hat an' wig,
An' ye'll hae a calf's-had o' sma' value,
Andro Gowk!^15 Ye'll hae a calf's head o' sma value.

Daddy Auld! daddy Auld, there'a a tod in the fauld,
A tod meikle waur than the clerk;
Tho' ye do little skaith, ye'll be in at the death,
For gif ye canna bite, ye may bark,
Daddy Auld!^16 Gif ye canna bite, ye may bark.

Holy Will! holy Will, there was wit in your skull,
When ye pilfer'd the alms o' the poor;
The timmer is scant when ye're taen for a saunt,
Wha should swing in a rape for an hour,
Holy Will!^17 Ye should swing in a rape for an hour.

Calvin's sons! Calvin's sons, seize your spiritual guns,
Ammunition you never can need;

Your hearts are the stuff will be powder enough,
And your skulls are a storehouse o' lead,
Calvin's sons! Your skulls are a storehouse o' lead.

Poet Burns! poet Burns, wi" your priest-skelpin turns,
Why desert ye your auld native shire?
Your muse is a gipsy, yet were she e'en tipsy,
She could ca'us nae waur than we are,
Poet Burns! She could ca'us nae waur than we are.

[Footnote 1: Dr. M'Gill, Ayr.-R.B,]

[Footnote 2: See the advertisement.-R.B.]

[Footnote 3: John Ballantine,-R.B.]

[Footnote 4: Robert Aiken.-R.B.]

[Footnote 5: Dr. Dalrymple, Ayr.-R.B.]

[Footnote 6: John Russell, Kilmarnock.-R.B.]

[Footnote 7: James Mackinlay, Kilmarnock.-R.B.]

[Footnote 8: Alexander Moodie of Riccarton.-R.B.]

[Footnote 9: William Peebles, in Newton-upon-Ayr, a poetaster, who, among many
other things, published an ode on the "Centenary of the Revolution," in which
was the line: "And bound in Liberty's endering chain."-R.B.]

[Footnote 10: Stephen Young of Barr.-R.B.]

[Footnote 11: James Young, in New Cumnock, who had lately been foiled in an
ecclesiastical prosecution against a Lieutenant Mitchel-R.B.]

[Footnote 12: David Grant, Ochiltree.-R.B.]

[Footnote 13: George Smith, Galston.-R.B.]

[Footnote 14: John Shepherd Muirkirk.-R.B.]

[Footnote 15: Dr. Andrew Mitchel, Monkton.-R.B.]

[Footnote 16: William Auld, Mauchline; for the clerk, see "Holy Willie"s

[Footnote 17: Vide the "Prayer" of this saint.-R.B.]
Second: A Man's a Man for A' that

Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an' a' that;
The coward slave-we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an' a' that.
Our toils obscure an' a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The Man's the gowd for a' that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an' a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man's a Man for a' that:
For a' that, and a' that,
Their tinsel show, an' a' that;
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that.

Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof for a' that:
For a' that, an' a' that,
His ribband, star, an' a' that:
The man o' independent mind
He looks an' laughs at a' that.

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an' a' that;
But an honest man's abon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their dignities an' a' that;
The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,
Are higher rank than a' that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that.

Getting out of the quaqmire

An op-ed piece in the New York Times makes the point that the US (and the West more generally) doesn't at the moment have the ability to provide a counter-story to al-Qaeda's in the Muslim world. Why not?

Realistically, we cannot deploy a counter-narrative - one that emphasizes that we are a benign superpower - so long as our troops are in Iraq. That will make it difficult to separate moderates from extremists, as an ideological struggle requires. We must focus more on developing that story and getting out of Iraq with the least damage to our interests and less on the phony truce offers of a guileful enemy.

24 January 2006

What Holocaust deniers do

A nice little piece on Jews getting beyond the Holocaust, by Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian. What is keeping them from doing so? Holocaust deniers, like David Irving, play a role. So do things like this:

But this desire to emerge from the Shoah shadow runs into constant obstacles. For one thing, it seems to loom larger the further we get away from it. The flow of books and films on the Nazi era does not slow; switch on any of the TV documentary channels and it's a good bet you'll come across archive footage of goosesteppers and brownshirts. Other than Henry VIII, Hitler may be the only historical figure children in British schools ever learn about.

And there is a larger, sadder problem. No matter how much time seeks to heal this wound, there are those determined to reopen it. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran may be too ignorant to realise what effect it has when he strives again and again to question the veracity of the death of 6 million Jews at the hands of the Nazis. He has, in the six short months since his election, variously called for Israel to be wiped off the map, branded the Holocaust a myth, suggested a Tehran conference for the world's Holocaust deniers and, most recently, told Europe to brace itself to take in millions of Jewish refugees from Israel.

Coming from a man apparently bent on building a nuclear bomb, how does he expect all that to sound to Jewish ears, except like a warning of a terrible calamity to come, one with the most painful historical echoes? The rest of the world may look at Jews and see a well-established, secure community, and they may look at Israel and see an armed occupier and regional superpower. But when a man like Ahmadinejad starts talking, Jews and Israelis look in the mirror and see something very different: that famous image of a frightened child, his arms in the air, cowering from Nazi guns. It may sound like a form of collective madness, but remember: the gas chambers were in operation only 60 years ago. If the Jewish psyche is still wounded, that should hardly be a surprise.

Democratic killer

The plague that devastated Athens in 430 BCE, and by killing Pericles, may have helped assure the ultimate defeat of the democratic polis by the Spartans, appears to have been typhoid fever.

Human, All Too Human

Scientists at Georgia Tech have compared the genomes of humans and chimpanzees, and concluded that chimps are closer to humans than to the great apes. I wonder what the fundies are going to make of this. Tim Dowling of the Grauniad has his own take on it.

23 January 2006

The rot begins at the core

Ford is going to close its plant in Hapeville, GA. That's south of Atlanta near the airport. General Motors last year announced it was closing its plant in Doraville, north of the city. These are among the last heavy industrial plants in Georgia. Certainly the last American-owned ones.

I found it interesting, when I was listening to an NPR report on the closing of the Doraville plant, that the workers got wages larger than my salary. Industrial wages that could support a family at a middle-class level; wages that had nothing to do with the formal level of education. The industrial workplace was one in which men and women with limited education were first exploited, and then, with the advent of unions and their success, paid a living wage. Bit by bit, that guarantee of a middle-class life for working class families is being eaten away. Yet, oddly, the very people who will lose out will cheerfully, proudly vote for people who will not only do nothing to halt the process, they will accelerate it.

The welfare state had (and has) its flaws, but as it rots away we can see the shape of the predatory capitalism of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, triumphant and triumphalist. The suffering poor? Their fault. The working poor? Let them turn to Jesus. We are in a second gilded age; alas, without a Mark Twain to limn it.

Twain's commentary on the US's behaviour in the Philippines presages the 'War on Terror' very directly:

I have seen him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling
They have builded him an altar in the Eastern dews and damps;
have read his doomful mission by the dim and flaring lamps --
His night is
marching on.

I have read his bandit gospel writ in burnished rows
of steel:
"As ye deal with my pretensions, so with you my wrath shall deal;
Let the faithless son of Freedom crush the patriot with his heel;
Greed is marching on!"

We have legalized the strumpet and are
guarding her retreat;*
Greed is seeking out commercial souls before his
judgement seat;
O, be swift, ye clods, to answer him! be jubilant my feet!
Our god is marching on!

In a sordid slime harmonious Greed was
born in yonder ditch,
With a longing in his bosom -- and for others' goods
an itch.
As Christ died to make men holy, let men die to make us rich --
Our god is marching on.

Brokeback down-low

Gary Younge of the Grauniad makes a very interesting point about black and white American perceptions of married men who have sex with other men behind their wives' backs. For one group, bisexuality is an individual character flaw or characteristic, for the other it is a public health crisis.

What was Brokeback Mountain but a brilliant film about two men on the
down-low set to glorious music and enchanting scenery? "It's pretty clear that
if they had been two black men it would have been a different reaction," says
Keith Boykin, the author of Beyond the Down Low. "It would have been an evil,
nefarious story about deception and disease. These are guys who blatantly cheat
on their wives with other men. There's no way it would have been called a love
story if they were black."

Left there, the down-low would be just one more attempt to pathologise black male sexuality - a titillating riff on the long-held myth of the untamed bestial urges that increase with the melanin count. But the down-low is different. It has gained legitimacy and traction in
the African-American community because of the dramatic rise in HIV among
African-American women. In 2003 the rate of Aids diagnoses for black women was
25 times that of white women, according to the US government's Centres for
Disease Control; between 2001 and 2004 black women accounted for 68% of new HIV
infections. HIV/Aids is now the number-one killer of black women aged between 25
and 34. The leading cause of infection, says the CDC, is heterosexual contact.
Meanwhile other CDC studies reveal that a "significant number" of black men who
sleep with men still "identify themselves as heterosexual".

22 January 2006

Piracy off the Horn of Africa

A US Navy ship has captured some Somali pirates. One of the most intriguing facts of the story was the name of the American destroyer. Its eponym got into trouble in Africa (though not off the coast, in spite of being, at one time, a 'naval person'. The coast of Somalia has been a haven for pirates since the collapse of government in 1991. Oddly, the best way to deal with them seems to be to make noise.

21 January 2006

One aspect of the new South Africa.

I wasn't going to add another entry tonight, but then I read a story in the Observer (of tomorrow thanks to the miracle of the Internet) , that struck me as more than merely interesting. One group in South Africa is losing out as a result of the abolition of apartheid, working-class Afrikaners. The 1948 electoral victory of the National Party in effect led to South Africa becoming a welfare state for poor Afrikaners. Now that they have to compete for jobs, and their whiteness is not a guarantee of employment or lifetime security, they are feeling marginalised, and they're demoralised and, it seems, incapable of regular work. The conclusion is worthy, apartheid has claimed a final victim, but a bit glib:

It is these working-class whites previously protected by apartheid and still clinging to past ideologies who are the least equipped to adapt to current conditions. They are the new victims of apartheid. Hope for this new society lies with their children, many of whom are learning to integrate. When assimilation is complete, for the whites of South Africa, the story of apartheid will finally be over.

The rat speaks, and demonstrates his rattishness

David Irving, behind bars in Austria, has been interviewed by an Austrian journalist. Prison does not seem to have tamed him:

They treat him well in prison, but, Irving confides, he lacks money and equipment: 'Thank God someone sent me some ink.' Then again, when he doesn't show himself off as an innocent victim pursued by the powerful forces of what he calls the 'enemies of truth', Irving likes to show off his wealth. He may have had to sell his spacious Mayfair townhouse after losing the case against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin in 2000, but now, he boasts, he has something even better. 'We just moved into a enormous luxury flat near Downing Street. I did that deliberately in order to provoke.' Irving, it becomes abundantly clear, hates Blair, New Labour, and the multi-coloured society of today's Britain.
His lawyer is appropriate and clueless:

In the afternoon, I meet his lawyer, Elmar Kresbach, who produces a bundle of letters from his briefcase. Kresbach, a smartly dressed, formidable barrister who normally represents murderers and Mafia members, shakes his head at the incoherent and confused hate mail that has clogged his letterbox since he took over Irving's mandate. 'He doesn't understand that himself,' Kresbach says of his client. 'I think he is becoming fed up with these nutty people, too.' Kresbach maintains that his British client cannot be expected to be familiar enough with the Austrian political scene to know where the groups and societies that invited him stand politically. Irving himself claims to be ignorant of the extreme right-wing ideology of his hosts.
Irving is an educated man, and an expert on German history who gets invited to speak by groups of the same type, in the US and Europe, but, apparently, doesn't know anything about them. Indeed, the reporter shows that he's being disingenuous in the very next paragraph:

It is a claim that is hard to believe when you visit Willi Lasek in the Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance. A balding and softly spoken middle-aged man, the archivist looks every inch the opposite of the bullish Irving as he sits behind his desk in an office crammed to the ceiling with files. And Lasek, unlike Irving, is extraordinarily cautious with his statements. 'I cannot tell you whether Irving actively denied the holocaust recently,' he says as he picks up two bulging files labelled "David Irving" from the shelf, 'but this will show you that his contacts to the Austrian and German neo-Nazi scene go back all the way to the early 1980s.' The boxes reveal a stack of yellowed flyers announcing a 1984 Irving lecture, in which 'the courageous taboo-breaker of history' would reveal 'sensational secrets' about the Third Reich. At the bottom of the page there is a rallying call for 'solidarity with Rudolf Hess', Hitler's one-time deputy.

Sex selection abortions

One effect of the clash of cultures.

Sad news

The Thames whale has died, alas.

Het Groene Boekje

Dit is niet de boek dat Moammar Qathafi geschrijven hebben.

Let's scare people into voting Republican.

When in doubt, distract. This is the political wisdom of those who want the US to glide gently towards oligarchy and empire.

Whatever Lola Wants

Whatever Lola Wants …

John Maxwell

Most of us tend to think of our environment – if we think of it at all – as simply the natural world in which we live, the trees and flowers around us, the birds, bees butterflies and other living things which we try to tame, exploit or exterminate – whatever fancy strikes us.

Our environment is in reality, a universe of things living and dead or inert, things built and natural as well as the emotional, intellectual and social ambiances in which we must swim to survive. Crime, for instance – like terrorism – is not some abstraction upon which we can wage rhetorical war; it is part of our evironment and usually a symptom of a diseased environment.

The Jamaican Prime Minister, the Most Honorable and Right Honorable (MH&RH) Percival James Patterson, is, with the exception of Fidel Castro, the only head of state or government still in office who signed the Treaty of Rio – Agenda 21 – in Rio de Janeiro 14 years ago.
Unlike Castro, the Jamaican leader has paid scant attention to his country's environments, with the result that while Cuba is quite close to fulfilling its Millennium Development Goals, Jamaica is about as far away from doing that as it was when the goals were formulated.

So while most Jamaican citizens, wherever they live, are afraid to go into their front yards or gated parking lots at night, most Cubans feel quite easy strolling hand in hand on the Malecon or wherever in their country they happen to want to stroll at midnight.
This week it was announced that the Cabinet has approved a new Town and Country Planning Authority, a group which has broad authority over whatever is planned, built, planted, excavated or otherwise executed anywhere in Jamaica. That, at any rate is the theory.

Disrespecting the Past

In practice, as people all over this country can attest, the Government or its organs, like the Urban Development Corporation,or its friends like Roosevelt Thompson and Robert Cartade, get whatever they want. Thompson and Cartade were the developers who wanted to build houses in Hope Gardens. Foiled in their bid to deface this national treasure, Thompson and Cartade were apparently given, free of cost, land in Long Mountain, Wareika Hill, to build a monstrous gated development which is causing problems for its neighbours in addition to destroying a world-important biodiversity space and the archaeological remains of pre-Colombian aboriginal settlements. The UDC, known to some of us as the Universal Devastation Consortium, has become a private enterprise style property developer, as well as being itself a local planning authority, answerable to no one but itself.

The UDC is on the board of the new Town and Country Planning Authority, (TC&PA)and the Chair person of this authority is the Chairman of the Petroleum Corporation of jamaica, an organisation whose compliance with environmental regulations has not been noteworthy. Most of the other members are representatives of Government agencies. One of the few miscreants missing is the Jamaica Bauxite Authority which has been in a sulk since it was foiled in an attempt to build a PCB incineration facility here some years ago. This of course means that with its TC&PA is in a position, like Judge Alito, to give carte blanche to whichever tyrant is in office.

The government, despite theoretically being bound by the Natural Resources Conservation Authority law, will, like Lola, get what it wants. The MH&RH P.J Patterson, who glides by giving the impression that 'him can't mash ants' as we say in Jamaica, will leave a legacy of official irresponsibility and unaccountability, public frustration and anger.
In his svelte, almost invisible progress through Jamaica's recent history, our MH&RH has mashed many ants, not to speak of assorted iguanas, birds, plants and rare and endangered species of all genera, as well as the rights of his constituents.

His most egregious and visible attempt to suppress our rights was his denunciation of the Optional Protocol on Civil and Political Rights, annexed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He tried, but failed to remove Jamaica from the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, because he wanted to dispatch convicted murderers more expeditiously.

His Universal Devastation Consortium, aided and abetted by the National Environmental Protection Agency (successor to the NRCA) and the Town & Country Planning Authority, has mashed up a sizable piece of the natural heritage in Pear Tree River, St Ann, to build hotels which will be destroyed by the next tsunami to hit Jamaica. The UDC is merrily on its way to annexing important public beaches around the island to sell – for whose profit? – to similar misconceived heavy metal developers.
It is a record of which Herman Goering could be proud.

But that isn't all. His Ministry of Water, once headed by Dr Karl Blythe, blithely undertook planning to privatise Jamaica's water supplies and at least two of these are already privatised – for what consideration, no one knows.
In the meantime, the National Water Commission has disconnected water supplies from people who have paid their bills but have the misfortune to live in areas in which other people do not.

Ms Sharon Hay Webster, MP for the area, defended the NWC's action saying "I don't think people understand that provision of water is a service and if we make sure that people understand that then appropriate standards in the community will be maintained."
The NWCD used to say that "Water is Life" Now it claims to have the competence to pull that plug.

Ms Hay Webster did not say how the government was helping to maintain standards in communities abandoned to the dons and 'area leaders' and which get minimal services for the horrendous taxes they pay via GCT. The issue also raises the human rights issue of "collective punishment" forbidden under a host of Declarations and Conventions.

The same malign inattention to planning and community welfare is apparent in the Shaw Park area of Ocho Rios, where the state and private enterprise are profiting hugely from tourism, but have made minimal arrangements to house the people and families drawn there by the same industry. The government's question must be– What right have they to share in the wealth?.

Sabotaging the Future

As the Prime Minister moves ever excruciatingly slowly towards demitting office, he must look back on a record strewn with blasted hopes and wasted popular delusions about the meaning of government. The windfall from Venezuela's generous PetroCaribe arrangements will not go to community development, as was intended, but to saving the bacon of the private developers of the misbegotten Doomsday Highway, otherwise known as the Millennium Highway.

This manic scheme has already had severe environmental effects and threatens even more dangerous disasters. Parts of the highway are, in my unlettered opinion, likely to fail in the same way the dykes (levees) in New Orleans failed, because of the underlying soil conditions.
The underlying soil conditions are making life miserable for the hundreds of thousands dumped at Portmore and Greater Portmore, partly because 30 years ago the NRCA insisted that if more houses were to be built in those areas, they should be properly reinforced against liquefaction due to earthquakes. The foundations of these settlements , built on top of unconsolidated alluvium, sand and organic detritus may now ensure that the houses do not sink during liquefaction, but provide no guarantee that they will be habitable afterwards; could you live in the Giddy House at Port Royal, with floors sloping every which way?

Additionally, the foundations make it impossible to grow trees in Greater Portmore. Most plant roots simply cannot penetrate the baselines, and if they did, the water they would reach would be brackish anyway.
But Portmore –even measured against the Doomsday Highway, is a greater enormity than any other legacy of the MH&RH. The reason is simple and I personally, warned the government about it nearly thirty years ago, because I had read the Stanley Report on the conditions at Portmore.

The Stanley Report, my copy of which was 'borrowed from me 14 years ago by a top government adviser – would tell them if any cared to read, that the highest point in Portmore is the gas station at Independence City which is a majestic 18 feet – 6 meters – above sea level.
What I warned about then, in my capacity as Chairman of the NRCA, was that sea surge from a Category Three hurricane would be at least 20 feet (nearly 7 meters) high and with over-topping waves of at least 11 feet (4 meters) would drown every house in the Portmore developments.

That is why, when Hurricane Allen appeared headed for Portmore in 1980, Richard Thelwell, Franklin McDonald and I dragooned Prime Minister Manley to get him to urge the people of Portmore to get out fast. With his speech, and my effectively capturing the JBC that night, we moved nearly half the population out of harm's way, several hours before we learned that the hurricane had changed course.

As you may imagine, my own personal involvement in and knowledge of these matters does not allow me to be quiet or to ignore the delinquencies of Mr Patterson and his inner circle.
They read not, neither do they think and, like the Bourbons of France, they forget nothing and learn nothing. Despite his initial assurances, the mild-mannered man who is 'just like any other ordinary Jamaican' is the most autocratic governor we have had since Sir Arthur Richards was the officially designated British dictator/Governor of this island sixty years ago.

Patterson has meekly taken instruction from the new Colonial authorities at the World Bank and the IMF, with the result that Jamaica's education system is a mess, our economics are worse, and the crime rate is among the most horrendous in the world.
Our private sector has fed well at Mr Patterson's table, having been enriched beyond the wildest dreams of any financial monomaniac in the last decade and a half. They have been encouraged to bet against Jamaica, knowing that the Government will always raise interest rates whenever the rich claim to have 'lost confidence' in Jamaica, and, by this simple stratagem, have guaranteed for themselves a totally loss-less version of capitalism, risk-free and unaccountable. And having done that, many still want to avoid the picayune ground rent they pay as income taxes; they want the poorest to pay even more via the poll tax misnamed the General Consumption Tax which weighs disproportionately on them.

We now export, either to the International Financial Institutions or to foreign banks and numbered bank accounts in Cayman and elsewhere, more than 60 cents of every dollar collected as tax in jamaica. As in the days of Henry Morgan and Thomas Modyford, money is Jamaica's chiefest export.
Meanwhile, at the University, lecturers are faced with very bright young people who can't speak English and haven't read a book in their entire lives. But we have exacted GCT on books and magazines.

Mr Patterson wants to protect his legacy by leaving it in the hands of one or other of his closest associates, the three Doctors – Phillips, Davies or Blythe. He desires, above all, that he should NOT be succeeded by Portia Simpson, the only one of his ministers who listens to the people and who, unlike the rest, is a woman and a product of the working class.

That wish is something I have dedicated myself to frustrating, with everything in my power. I love Jamaica too much to want Mr Patterson to have his way again. Above all, it is long past time for the people of this country to be taken into account and to manage their own development The alternative is, as far as I can see, is more frustration, more conflict and ultimately, disaster.

If you don't believe me, read about Slipe, a peaceful hamlet in the middle of the Great Morass, read about Brown's Town, a drowsy village in the St Ann hills, read about what happens daily in Jamaican communities.

Then, tell me I am wrong.

Copyright©2006 John Maxwell