31 March 2006

Condi: British people have right to protest

Condoleeza Rice graciously grants the people of Blackburn the right to disagree with her. At least, that's what she says publicly. One has to wonder what W's domme says in private.

She's the boss

Portia Simpson-Miller is now Prime Minister of Jamaica. We can only hope that she will do the best job possible for the country. Elections are due next year, and it will be interesting to see what team she puts together before then.

30 March 2006

Or, maybe, god doesn't like being bothered

Not only does prayer not work, it makes things worse:

NEW YORK (AP) -- In the largest study of its kind, researchers found that having people pray for heart bypass surgery patients had no effect on their recovery. In fact, patients who knew they were being prayed for had a slightly higher rate of complications.

Subliminal messages in Renaissance art

If one wanted proof that the religious right was completely and totally bonkers, here it is.

More on Taylor

The war crimes trial of Charles Taylor may be moved to the Hague. This is not a bad idea, they've got a cell available, now that Milosevich has cheated the hangman.

Mr Taylor, who was captured on Wednesday in Nigeria, faces charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The 11 counts, including responsibility for murder, rape and mutilation, relate to his alleged role fomenting war in Sierra Leone.

29 March 2006

May justice be done

Charles Taylor is now in the hands of the War Crimes Tribunal; it's a pity it had to take so long for Obasanjo to hand him over. What bothers me is that there is simply no punishment commensurate with his crime. Death itself seems insufficient given the scale of his depredations on the peoples of Liberia and Sierra Leone. The hundreds of thousands of people killed, mutilated or displaced deserve justice, but there is no punishment that fits the enormity of Taylor's crimes. There is no pain that he could suffer that is in any way commensurate with the immense suffering the bastard caused. Faced with such crimes, there is no punishment that seems just or proper that could be inflicted by anyone with a claim to being human. Evil may be banal, but it can also be overwhelming. Humanity has rights which must be defended against such as Taylor, and such people need to know that what they visit will be visited on them. Except, of course, that it is simply not possible to do so.

It is not surprising to find that Taylor is a good Christian, and Pat Robertson has spoken out on his behalf. Robertson's statement is, indeed, a wonderful statement of Christian hypocrisy:

So we're undermining a Christian, Baptist president to bring in Muslim rebels to take over the country. And how dare the president of the United States say to the duly elected president of another country, 'You've got to step down.'

Justice, in one case, may be done.

Yesterday, the Nigerian government announced that Charles Taylor was going to be handed over to the UN War Crimes Tribunal in Sierra Leone. He promptly vanished. This morning, following widespread international condemnation of his 'disappearance', the bastard was caught at the Nigeria-Cameroon border. Taylor is to be handed over to the Liberian government, which is going to send him for trial in Sierra Leone.

28 March 2006

More imperial overstretch

Why is a Canadian bank operating in Jamaica operating under US domestic law with reference to the account of the Cuban embassy? That's a question the emperor without clothes is not answering.

Imperial overstretch and what it means

A very nice piece on imperial overstretch by Martin Jacques in the Grauniad.

It is clear that the US occupation of Iraq has been
a disaster from almost every angle one can think of, most of all for the Iraqi
people, not least for American foreign policy. The unpicking of the imperial
logic that led to it has already commenced: Hyde's speech is an example, and so
is Francis Fukuyama's new book After the Neocons, a merciless critique of Bush's
foreign policy and the school of thought that lay behind it. The war was a
delayed product of the end of the cold war and the triumphalist mentality that
imbued the neocons and eventually seduced the US. But triumphalism is a
dangerous brew, more suited to intoxication than hard-headed analysis. And so it
has proved. The US still has to reap the whirlwind for its stunning feat of
imperial overreach.
In becoming so catastrophically engaged in the Middle
East, making the region its overwhelming global priority, it downgraded the
importance of everywhere else, taking its eye off the ball in a crucial region
such as east Asia, which in the long run will be far more important to the US's
strategic interests than the Middle East. As such, the Iraqi adventure
represented a major misreading of global trends and how they are likely to
impact on the US. Hyde is clearly thinking in these terms: "We are well advanced
into an unformed era in which new and unfamiliar enemies are gathering forces,
where a phalanx of aspiring competitors must inevitably constrain and focus
options. In a world where the ratios of strength narrow, the consequences of
miscalculation will become progressively more debilitating. The costs of golden
theories [by which he means the worldwide promotion of democracy] will be paid
for in the base coin of our interests."
The promotion of the idea of the war
against terror as the central priority of US policy had little to do with the
actual threat posed by al-Qaida, which was always hugely exaggerated by the Bush
administration, as events over the last four and a half years have shown.
Al-Qaida never posed a threat to the US except in terms of the odd terrorist
outrage. Making it the central thrust of US foreign policy, in other words, had
nothing to do with the al-Qaida threat and everything to do with the Bush
administration seeking to mobilise US public opinion behind a neoconservative
foreign policy. There followed the tenuous - in reality nonexistent - link with
Saddam, which provided in large measure the justification for the invasion of
Iraq, an act which now threatens to unravel the bizarre adventurism, personified
by Donald Rumsfeld, which has been the hallmark of Bush foreign policy since
9/11. The latter has come unstuck in the killing fields of Iraq in the most
profound way imaginable.

Ian Hamilton Finlay.

I seem to be noting deaths this week. My last post was about Stanislaw Lem, and this morning I read in the Grauniad of the death of Ian Hamilton Finlay. One of Finlay's carvings, the stone blocks of Unda, was near my department in graduate school and I looked on it frequently.

27 March 2006

A great storyteller is gone

Stanislaw Lem, creator of the wonderful robots Trurl and Klapaucius, and of Solaris,has died.

Arms, and machines I sing, that, forc'd by fate,
And haughty Homo's unrelenting hate,
Expell'd and exil'd, left the Terran shore. . .

The new army...

Apparently, the crisis in Iraq is even worse than we've thought. It seems that the US military has scraped the bottom of the barrel.

What an Islamic constitution means

After it was announced that Abdul Rahman, the Afghan convert to Christianity, who had been charged with apostasy from Islam was to be freed, hundreds of Afghans demonstrated in protest. This is not a clash-of-civilisations issue, no matter what Huntington may think, this is a combination of anti-Americanism and cultural nationalism. It is another sign that if and when the Americans go, Karzai's life expectancy will become very short.

26 March 2006

Even a stopped clock.

Under pressure from Britain and the US and even from the Pope, Abdul Rahman, the Afghan charged with apostasy because of his conversion from Islam to Christianity is to be freed. This is a good thing, even though it is the result of pressure from the powers that are propping up the government of Hamid Karzai.

Just a note

One of the reasons I put SiteMeter on this blog is to see where my readers are (and if I have any). I've noticed that I've had a couple of repeat visitors, and I'd like them to say hello if they don't mind. One's from Tasmania, a place I'd love to visit someday (although I worry about falling off the earth). Some are from the Green and Pleasant, and I'd enjoy hearing from them too.

The many eyes of God

The many eyes of God
Common Sense
John Maxwell
Sunday, March 26, 2006

I have discovered that I may be more important than I thought. The story begins nearly 50 years ago, in April 1959, when I was having lunch in the restaurant of the Dupont Hotel on Dupont Circle in Washington, D C with an amiable gent named David Hoopes.

I was the only black face in the restaurant; Washington had only recently been desegregated and most of the black Americans I met still did not dare to set foot in such a place.

David Hoopes was a liberated man; he had several black acquaintances. He was my handler in a State Department-sponsored fellowship which allowed me to visit the United States for the first time, ostensibly for an internship with an American radio station. They weren't ready for somebody like me, so I got, instead, a series of appointments with bored executives of radio and TV stations in Washington, New York and Utica, in upstate New York and in Puerto Rico.

My talk with David Hoopes got round almost inevitably, to the racial situation in the United States. Having been in Washington for six weeks or so, what did I think of the chances of an America in which all men were equal? This was five years after Brown v Board of Education, not quite four years after Rosa Parkes had been arrested for refusing to give up her seat in a bus in Montgomery, Alabama and a little more than two years after the ensuing 13-month Bus boycott had forced desegregation on transportation in Alabama.

Martin Luther King, who led the boycott, was becoming better known. Ghana and Guinea had been independent for a year and blacks in Washington speculated that that was the reason the US capital had been desegregated. It would not do to have an Ambassador arrested for trying to eat in the wrong place.

Two years before, in Little Rock, Arkansas, Governor Orval Faubus was doing his damnedest to prevent the integration of the Central High School. Someone said Eisenhower could have solved the problem symbolically by taking a little black girl by the hand and leading her into the school.

Satirist Mort Sahl said he knew that Eisenhower was perfectly happy to do that, except that, according to Sahl, the president, an enthusiastic golfer, was preoccupied in trying to decide whether to use an overlapping grip when he held the little girl's hand.

Few people had heard of Senator John F Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson, the Senate majority leader, was still thought to be a simple segregationist wheeler dealer from Texas.

I was pessimistic about the chances of racial equality, integration and peace in the US. Not entirely seriously, I suggested to David Hoopes, who I liked, that perhaps the Black Muslims had the right idea: give Georgia and Alabama to the blacks for an independent nation. It wasn't that I was sympathetic to the Black Muslims, only that I didn't see white America ready to integrate or mate with Black America. I thought divorce was the obvious solution. That was probably a mistake.

I don't know why, but I've had the feeling that since that day in 1959 I became a person of interest to the American intelligence services. There were several signals later, particularly when, during the first JBC civil disobedience demo at Half-Way-Tree in 1964, one of the two CIA photographers present seemed to concentrate on documenting my every move.

Then in 1991, the US Embassy here told me they didn't know why I had been denied a visa, the instructions had come from Washington. "It is political," they said. At that time Gorbachev and Trevor Monroe were honoured guests in Washington. Michael Manley interceded with the ambassador. Surprise! I got a 10-year multiple entry visa.

No one has called me anti-Jamaican for criticising Mr Patterson. The Jamaican yuppie culture, however, abhors the slightest criticism of the president of the United States. He is the fount from which all blessings flow and who must be praised, flattered and brown-nosed whenever the occasion or the fundament presents itself.

Since I was not impressed by Mr Bush either as candidate or as appointed president, I have been sharply criticised for being anti-American, partly because I do not see Mr Bush as representing American values. He does represent Texas oil-man values, but that cannot be an avatar for the United States.

Most Americans have seen their standards of living drop since 1975 and never more precipitously or disastrously than under Mr Bush's programmes to subsidise the rich and devalue the poor.

And my contention is that a war on terror is an oxymoron, since you cannot fight an abstraction. The real meaning of the War on Terror is that Americans - like their prisoners in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Diego Garcia, Bagram and the rest of the gulag archipelago - have been subjected to a psycho-sexual campaign to reduce them - like Pauline Reage's eponymous victim "O" - to be accomplices in their own degradation, abasement and debasement. This Orwellian campaign began to lose its effectiveness when, last August, Cindy Sheehan discarded her assigned victimhood and thereby confined to barracks the inhabitant of the Summer White House in Crawford, Texas. It's been downhill all the way since then.

Here in Jamaica, I managed to collide with the interests of the US Embassy in public debates with their spokesmen before the Iraq war.
I clearly have a serious problem. My mentors in journalism, including Hector Bernard, Vic Reid and Peter Abrahams were, like me, people who believed that the proper place for a journalist was between the oppressor and the oppressed and that the first loyalty is to the truth and the public interest. That means that journalists like me are unlikely to be either rich or popular.

Many of us entertain the delusion that our phones are tapped and our electronic communications intercepted.
I've actually had proof of both things. A few years ago, I got an apology from a website in Israel which had been messing with my computer. I got no apology from another in Stanford, California or from a number of unused sites/servers apparently owned by respectable entities such as Cable and Wireless, Level Three Communications and America Online.

But these last few days have been more exciting than usual. My computer has been under systematic attack by two servers, one named "Black Hole" and another called "Venera" or "TNT", both owned by the Information Sciences Institute, a division of the School of Engineering at the University of Southern California.

The attacks began a few weeks ago and were apparently initiated through a piece of software called Windows Media Player, which I downloaded to view what turned out to be an X-rated video clip e-mailed to me by a friend.
Then, on Wednesday, March 15 the fun started. Instead of my daily burden of 60 to 100 e-mails, I got less than half-a-dozen. Same thing next day.

And I was finding it difficult to send mail. This sort of interference has happened before, especially on the days when I am scheduled to e-mail my column to the Observer. We employ a number of artifices to make sure the column gets through. Very occasionally it doesn't.

To make a long story less boring, I have discovered that Windows Media Player (WMP) is basically spyware, and its preferences included sending back data concerning references to words like 'intifada'.

I deduce that WMP signalled its authors that my computer was an object of interest to Mr Bush's illegal wire-tapping and electronic surveillance programme and therefore introduced my computer to the supercomputers of an outfit named the Information Sciences Institute (ISI), part of the School of Engineering of the University of Southern California.

According to the ISI website: "The Artificial Intelligence Group at ISI is one of the largest in the US, and is continuing to experience rapid growth. Research here follows three main threads: intelligent agents and organisations, information/knowledge management and human language processing."

ISI research areas include knowledge-based systems, natural language processing and machine translation, intelligent agents and robotics, machine learning, virtual reality, polymorphic robots, data mining, information integration, human computer interfaces, interactive education and digital government (!)

In other words, they are perfectly equipped to act as elements of Messrs Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld's international Thought Police, mining data from computers anywhere in the world. ISI has contracts from several US agencies, including NASA and the Pentagon.

Some time ago, I wrote about Echelon, the immense, all pervasive American electronic spying initiative which, in September 2001, was being opposed by the French, among others, because it could mean that other people's trade secrets would soon become available to American entrepreneurs.

As it happened, Echelon was what I was researching on the morning of September 11, 2001, when somebody phoned me to tell me to watch television as the horrific events of that day unfolded.

I have no idea what happened to Echelon, but I doubt that the system has been dismantled since 9/11. What I don't understand is why it is thought necessary to duplicate the system. Or, perhaps ISI is a part of the Echelon system. However, it is not for mere mortals to question the actions of the Lords of the Earth.

What I do know is that particularly since March 15, two Wednesdays ago, my computer has been under systematic, incessant and relentless attack by the supercomputers of the Information Sciences Institute.

Among other things, these supercomputers have tried to change the ownership of my machine and may very well have done so temporarily, in order to instal their own preferences on it. They also attempted - or may have managed - to sign into my machine as "Root User", giving them administrative privileges over my computer.

Here is a snippet of one of my computer's logs on March 19. (I use the 24-hour clock) Mar 19 18:07:06 John-Maxwells-Computer ipfw: 35000 Deny UDP in via en1
Mar 19 18:07:06 John-Maxwells-Computer ipfw: 35000 Deny UDP in via en1

Mar 19 18:07:06 John-Maxwells-Computer ipfw: 35000 Deny UDP in via en1
Mar 19 18:07:15 John-Maxwells-Computer ipfw: Stealth Mode connection attempt to TCP from
Mar 19 18:07:19 John-Maxwells-Computer ipfw: Stealth Mode connection attempt to TCP from

These attempts are made at the rate of between 10 and 15 per minute, which means that my computer spends a great deal of its time in fending off these indefatigable interlopers. This adds up: 15 strikes per minute means nearly 22,000 strikes per day if I keep my broadband connection switched on.

If they e-mailed me and told me what they wanted from me it would save both of us lots of computer effort, but that is not the way of spies. The other possibility is, of course, not that they want something from my machine, but that they want to put something on it.

Eventually, I presume, they will break in again, because although my Mac's security systems are good, they can't, I believe, withstand the persistent electronic frottage of a government suitor.

Sooner or later the resources of the ISI and NASA, the Defence Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the CIA, must overwhelm the resources of an IBook. What happens then is anybody's guess.

I do not intend to go quietly into their baleful night. I am assembling my logs with a view to instituting legal action against those who are trespassing on my intellectual property and those who are enabling them to do so.

I don't think I need to state that I have not, am not, and have never been an associate of terrorists. I am, however, a critic of whatever seems to me to be wrong. If a man's quality is to be judged by the character of his enemies, it seems to me that I must be doing something right.

Copyright ©2006 John Maxwell

25 March 2006

Democracy, not a Western product only

Amartya Sen makes the point that democracy isn't a Western invention, and that, in consequence, we can't speak of 'imposing' it on the non-Western world.

No criminals left to catch

The FBI investigates people who don't like the USA Patriot Act. One fascinating point:

On March 14, [Common Cause President Chellie] Pingree participated on a panel on open government sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Berrien and Cass Counties, Michigan that received news coverage in the local newspaper on March 17.

A week after the panel, an FBI agent contacted the local League president, Susan Gilbert, to raise questions about Pingree’s published remarks at the panel. In her brief comments addressing the law, Pingree raised some privacy and secrecy concerns about the USA PATRIOT Act, and praised Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) for their leadership on Freedom of Information issue.

According to Gilbert, FBI agent Al Dibrito said that Pingree’s comments on the USA PATRIOT Act were “way off base,” and that the League should have invited someone from the federal government to be on the panel and to respond. DiBrito then told Gilbert that she would be contacted by someone from the assistant U.S. attorney’s office in Grand Rapids to give her the real story on the Patriot Act.

…”Citizens can be intimidated when an FBI agent calls and questions their activities,” said Pingree.

Night Piece

Night Piece

Three men came talking up the road
And still 'tomorrow' was the word.
The night was clear with the lamp's glitter
The first man spoke and his voice was bitter
"Tomorrow like another day
I draw the dole and rust away."
The second one said scared and low,
"Tomorrow I may have to go."
And the two spoke never another word
But drew together and looked at the third.
And the third man said "If tomorrow exists
It's a day of streets like rivers of fists.
It's the end of crawling, the end of doles,
And men are treated as human souls."
I stood in the doorway and heard these things
As the three came past with the step of kings.

--John Manifold, 1928

Like father like son

Jimmy Carter's son is a candidate in Nevada, and his father is very proud.

It would be nice if he was as decent a chap as his father. Decency is in increasingly short supply in American public life, obscenity having replaced it.

24 March 2006

Walter Rodney remembered

Yesterday was the 64th anniversary of the birth of Walter Rodney. The third annual Rodney Symposium was held, at the Catholic Centre across the road from the AUC Library. Today, there's going to be a panel on Rodney at the National Conference of Black Political Scientists meeting. I'll be presenting a paper on the Groundings. The idiot who put the programme together decided to change my name to 'Srigano' (ugh!), change 'Groundings' to 'Grounding' and insert an unecessary apostrophe in '1960s'. I'm tempted to call for the jackass (or jennyass) to be decapitated. But, today is a day for academic seriousness. I present below the introduction to the paper, which is about the setting of the Groundings.

Walter Rodney became a public figure – as distinguished from someone well known in academic or radical circles – as a result of his being made persona non grata by the government of Jamaica in 1968. To understand that exclusion, we have to look at Rodney in the context of the Jamaica of the 1960s. This means we have to reexamine The Groundings with my Brothers, which contains Rodney’s lectures to slum-dwellers that so alarmed the government of prime minister Hugh Shearer. We also have to consider what kind of country Jamaica was at the time, and what the attitude of Jamaica’s government was to academic freedom.

Jamaica became independent on 6 August, 1962. That did not mean that it instantly shed its colonial past. “The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the minds of the living,” wrote Marx.[1] This is even more the case when those generations are not in fact dead.

No impassable barrier separates colonial Jamaica from post-colonial Jamaica. Indeed, Jamaica became independent with a state structure that combined authoritarian and democratic elements;[2] the former the result of long colonial rule, the latter the result of processes of decolonization that began in the 1940s.

Early independent Jamaica was a continuation of what it had been under late colonial rule with one substantial difference – apart from the fact that the governor no longer exercised a power of veto over the elected government – that until independence the local authorities were subject to the British and after independence paid close attention to the wishes of the United States.[3] A two-party system, the conservative Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) facing the social-democratic People’s National Party (PNP), had been established over the course of the 1940s and 1950s, and local politicians had, in stages, taken over responsibility for local affairs from the Colonial Office between 1944, when universal adult suffrage was introduced, and independence in 1962.

The JLP government, which came to office shortly before independence and was to remain in power for the first decade of independent Jamaica, was sensitive both to the concerns of the United States government and to social pressures which manifested themselves in the emergence of the Rastafari movement and in such events as the anti-Chinese riots of 1965.[4] Foreign investment (particularly in bauxite and sugar), tourism, and the continued existence of ethno-racial minorities (particularly since some of them controlled much of the wealth of the island), were central concerns to the JLP prime ministers, Sir Alexander Bustamante, Sir Donald Sangster, and Hugh Shearer, as they presided over the government. They had been central concerns of the pre-independence PNP administration of Norman Manley.[5]

The island’s social structure, in the years following the achievement of independence, showed little change from the years preceding. The upper class continued to be dominated by whites, with a few Chinese and brown (mixed race) Jamaicans on its fringes, the middle class was made up mostly, but by no means entirely, of brown Jamaicans, and the lower classes, urban and rural, were overwhelmingly black. Habits of deference, and habits of dominance, developed over the three centuries of British rule, and the long period of plantation slavery during that rule, were still ingrained in parts of the population.[6]

Others, however, had developed and refined forms of resistance to racial and class oppression, of which the most significant was Rastafarianism[7]. And that drew, in its turn, from the black nationalism of Marcus Garvey, perhaps the most important political figure to emerge in late colonial Jamaica, given the impact of Garveyism on Africans and peoples of African origin outside that continent. That resistance constituted a counternarrative to the official account of Jamaica’s movement from colonial rule to independence.

[1] In the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. URL: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/ch01.htm

[2] Obika Gray, Radicalism and Social Change in Jamaica, 1960-1972; Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991, 1.

[3] Gray also notes that colonial laws continued to be used after independence against ‘groups and individuals thought to be subversive’ (Gray, 47).

[4] American concerns were driven by the exigencies of the US role in the Cold War. In the case of Jamaica, this meant fear of possible Cuban or other Communist influences.

[5] Gray, 38.

[6] John Charles Gannon “The Origins and Development of Jamaica’s Two-Party System, 1930-1975”; Ph.D. Dissertation, Washington University, St Louis, 1975, 257 fn 2.

[7] Rastafarianism is a much-studied religious and cultural phenomenon. Some of the most significant works on the subject are The Rastafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica, by M.G. Smith, F.R. Augier, and R.M. Nettleford (Mona, Jamaica: Institute for Social and Economic Studies, 1960), Dread: The Rastafarians of Jamaica, by Joseph Owens (Kingston: Sangster’s Bookstores, 1976), The Rastafarians: The Dreadlocks of Jamaica, by Leonard Barrett (Kingston: Sangster’s Bookstores, 1977), Race, Class and Political Symbols: Rastafari and Reggae in Jamaican Politics, by Anita M. Waters (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1984), and Rasta and Resistance: From Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney, by Horace Campbell (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1987)

23 March 2006

The migration crisis, in Europe

Spain is increasing naval and coastguard patrols as thousands of Africans risk their lives to get into Europe. They've also offered assistance to Mauritania to patrol their waters looking for illegal migrants. Mauritania is, obviously, the last stop for people trying to get to the Canary Islands, and thus into the EU.

The Canaries are only one front. Illegal immigrants also try to enter the EU through the Spanish north African cities of Ceuta and Melilla.

For vast numbers of Africans facing grinding poverty, incessant political crises, war, and tyranny, Europe is, increasingly, the promised land. Spain is the front line of Europe -- the country closest to the African continent. So it is the goal for thousands of people hoping to improve their lives. For Spaniards, and Europeans in general, the question is how to handle this influx. That's going to be a critical issue over the next few years.

22 March 2006

World Water Day.

Today is World Water Day. We should think today of all those people who have little or no access to clean water. Water is life, and to be without it is to face death -- slowly from disease, or less slowly from starvation and thirst. We who live in the developed world take clean, safe water for granted. We think of it as a free gift, when its reaching us is the result of a vast infrastructure that guarantees that it comes out of our taps in a steady, bright stream. We are lucky, but so many people in the world are not.

21 March 2006

And the speeches of the president are the ravings of a clown

Chimpy is denying that Iraq is in civil war. At the same time, another low-ranking peon is taking the fall for war crimes. And W's poodle is yapping. Meanwhile, we slide further and further towards barbarism. Consider: four years after the Taleban was removed from power, this happens. What was that about freedom again? Another lie from the White House.

Read the Rukhnama and go to heaven

Saparmurat Niyazov, the tyrant of Turkmenistan, who calls himself Turkmenbashi, has jumped the shark. This isn't to say that he hadn't been distinctly odd before. Niyazov has stated that anyone who reads his bore, er, book Rukhnama, three times will go to heaven.

"A person that reads Rukhnama becomes smart ... and after it,
he will go straight to heaven. I asked Allah that for a person who reads it
three times - at home, at sunset and at dawn - to go straight to heaven."

Massacre at Haditha?

The Beeb reports that the Pentagon is investigating an incident last November in which US Marines allegedly killed 15 Iraqi civilians.

The military's initial claim
that the civilians died in a roadside blast was disproved by an earlier
Investigators will now ask if the civilians died in crossfire
or were targeted deliberately in a potential war crime.
Iraqis often accuse
US troops fighting insurgents of committing war crimes.
Their bodies were
riddled with bullets... there were blood spatters inside their homes
Ghosh Time reporter
Local residents in Haditha say the marines went on the
rampage after one of their number was killed in a roadside blast and another two
were injured.
They say the soldiers began shooting dead the inhabitants of
nearby homes and others from the area.

20 March 2006

War without end, amen

W is spinning the war positively on its third anniversary. His chief war drummer, Donald Rumsfeld is being accused of incompetence by a former general. Thousands of people around the world have protested the continuing war. All in all, Iraq continues to be a mess and the rationale for the war has long been exposed as a tissue of falsehoods. It would be a farce, except people are dying every day for W's lies.

19 March 2006

What sort of writer should I be?

You Should Be a Science Fiction Writer

Your ideas are very strange, and people often wonder what planet you're from.
And while you may have some problems being "normal," you'll have no problems writing sci-fi.
Whether it's epic films, important novels, or vivid comics...
Your own little universe could leave an important mark on the world!

Sign of the times, alas

A question

Civil war in Iraq

Former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi says that Iraq is in civil war. This is, shall we say, a strongly indicative sign that Iraq is experiencing a civil war. Meanwhile, Donald Rumsfeld says that leaving Iraq now would be like conquering Germany and then handing it back to the Nazis. This looks like an application of Godwin's Law.

18 March 2006

More heart and mind stuff

The NY Times is reporting on a US army unit that's engaged in torture in Iraq.

Military and legal experts say the full breadth of abuses committed by Task Force 6-26 may never be known because of the secrecy surrounding the unit, and the likelihood that some allegations went unreported.

In the summer of 2004, Camp Nama closed and the unit moved to a new headquarters in Balad, 45 miles north of Baghdad. The unit's operations are now shrouded in even tighter secrecy.

Soon after their rank-and-file clashed in 2004, D.I.A. officials in Washington and military commanders at Fort Bragg agreed to improve how the task force integrated specialists into its ranks. The D.I.A. is now sending small teams of interrogators, debriefers and case officers, called "deployable Humint teams," to work with Special Operations forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senior military commanders insist that the elite warriors, who will be relied on more than ever in the campaign against terrorism, are now treating detainees more humanely and can police themselves. The C.I.A. has resumed conducting debriefings with the task force, but does not permit harsh questioning, a C.I.A. official said.

A Sense of Perspective

A Sense of Perspective

John Maxwell

Three years ago several millions of us round the world were busy
marching and demonstrating our objection to the brutal war we knew
was coming in Iraq. We knew then that the Mr Bush's reasons for war
were bogus. We knew that Iraq had not been involved in the 9/11
atrocities, we suspected that Iraq had no weapons of mass
destruction and many of us, myself included, carried posters
reading "No blood for Oil!"

I have been rereading what I said then and I found that I had
nothing to regret or correct:

"We are the world, we are the people, and last weekend, for the
first time in our half million years on this planet, humanity found
the means to speak with one voice. The global village had suddenly
become the global family, able to make its views known, to demand
that its conscience be heard.

"It was a giant step forward for the human race.

"[Nothing] could have affected the message we sent to our human
family councils ? to the United Nations and the governments of the
world: We want no tribal war; we want no blood on our hands; we
want Justice and commonsense; we want Peace!

"The globalisation of greed has called into existence its
antithesis, the globalisation of conscience ? the discovery of
the international public interest.

"While we cannot and will not defend Saddam Hussein, we remain to
be convinced that he has shown any predisposition to attack the
United States or anyone else, or that he possesses, as the British
and American leaders claim, weapons of mass destruction and the
means to deliver them.

"Natural justice would seem to demand a true bill of
particulars, a credible list of charges, an indictment, not
plagiarised theses and hearsay ?intelligence?.

That was then.

The then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US, General
Shinseki, was fired out of hand for suggesting that the US needed
hundreds of thousands of troops to subdue Iraq. He has nothing to
correct or regret either.

The neocons, the chicken-hawks, the Sunday soldiers and armchair
generals are in a somewhat different position.

Today, large majorities of people in the United States and among
the American soldiers in Iraq believe that the war is a mistake.
They want an end to it.

Today, Mr Bush's popularity is way down and dropping like a stone.
Most people in the world were right three years ago and the
generals and their satraps, Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney and Blair, were

But, if you will forgive me one last self-quotation, most of the
rest of us of us knew what was wrong and what is needed to correct it.

" The mechanisms meant to organise and advance the public
interest have been captured by the people we deputed to minister to
our needs and to fulfil our aspirations. They have been captured
by our delegates, our boards of directors, by the managers and the
politicians , and have been converted into instruments for the
aggrandisement of wealth and power, instruments of oppression.
Having jettisoned their responsibilities to their constituents ?
stakeholders, shareholders, electorates, consumers and taxpayers,
they now attempt to put themselves above the law and out of reach
of the public interest which they say they serve.

"The result is carnage; the wanton destruction, destitution and
demoralisation of people by war, slavery, starvation, unemployment
and alienation and by man-made plagues and cancers."

What we call democracy has proven to be an empty shell, a zombie's
carcase, manipulated and moved by a small horde of apparatchiks who
have used our apathy and our decency to hog-tie us, to demonstrate
that no matter what we want we will get what they want to deliver
false promises, empty slogans and brutal actions intended to
intimidate and silence.

The tide is turning; we are in slack water when it is not clear
which way things will go. The gaulieters are in disarray, in as
much disarray as we are, but we do not understand that we need to
seize the time and to try to ensure that we are not swept away
again in a boat piloted by greedy, selfish fools.

We can change governments all we want, but until we change the
systems of governance to make them answerable to us, there is no
hope that things will be much different five years or five decades
or five centuries from now.

What is certain is that if we allow our current leaders to continue
on their mad careers, we all will go over the cliff with them.

At this moment, stopping wars is important. Ending the torment of
the Haitian people and the Darfur refugees is important. They are
the women and children of Lifeboat Earth. But Lifeboat Earth has to
be put under new management because if it isn't, we will all sink
with it.

The Iraq war in all its brutal fatuity is in a way, a metaphor for
our existence on Earth. Our systems of production and consumption
are destroying our environment, our health, our children and
civilisation itself. The things that seems so important to the
Bushes and the Blairs, to the Rumsfelds and the heirs of Sharon are
small potatoes to the real problems that we face. Pieces of
Antarctica the size of Palestine have broken off the ice shelves
there, the glaciers of Greenland and Europe are melting at an
accelerating pace and the Arctic Ocean is becoming a seaway after
11,000 years.

Bird flu is not a disease of wild birds, as most people imagine; it
is the result of factory farming; the DDT and PCB found in mothers'
milk all over the world is produced by the same process. The Earth
has been yoked to systems of production which survive only because
there is still space in China and India for its final fatal
efflorescence. As the globalisation bird chases its own tail in
search of cheaper and cheaper labour, the Chinese are beginning to
go through the same disillusionments gone through by workers in New
York, watching their jobs flee to Georgia, to Mexico and then to
China. Sooner, rather than later the race to the bottom will end ?
at the bottom, somewhere in China.

Meanwhile, the treasure spent on war could have stopped the AIDS
pandemic in its tracks and could probably also have built a house
for every homeless person in the world. While the Jamaican Minister
of Finance glories in having sold 30 year, 10% bonds, people in
the US with bad credit records are fighting off mortgage lenders
eager to hand them money at 8%.

'Every Day Bucket go a well
one day the bottom must drop out', as the jamaican proverb has it.
As I get nearer to real old age, and increasingly to understand
that the world is just as crazy as I thought many many moons ago,
my one real regret is to watch the depreciation and increasing
depravity of what I once called the profession of journalism.

When Slobodan Milosevic died last week it soon became known that he
had been protesting against the medical treatment he had been
getting. One of the things he protested against was the fact that
his blood had shown the presence of rifampicin, a drug which is
used to treat tuberculosis and leprosy. Milosevic, in a letter to
the Russians, complained that he couldn't understand why he was
being given this drug.

A New York Times story on his death reported that "Preliminary
autopsy results said he had died of a heart attack, although
doctors who examined him just months ago said they did not believe
he had significant heart disease. Likewise, tests done before he
died detected the presence of a medicine he had not been
prescribed, one that would have put him at grave risk by reducing
the effectiveness of his blood pressure pills.

"Court officials and some scientists have been quick to insinuate
that Mr. Milosevic was secretly ingesting the extra medicine to
exacerbate his medical problems, so that he could be transferred to
a clinic in Moscow, where his family now lives."

According to the New York Times, Mr Milosevic's blood pressure had
become increasingly difficult to control and prison doctors had
long suspected that he wasn't taking the medicines prescribed for
him The Times says: 'After several weeks of sleuthing, the
toxicologists recently determined that Mr. Milosevic ingested the
antibiotic rifampicin, which would blunt the effect of his blood
pressure medicine. Dr. Uges, as well as tribunal officials speaking
on condition of anonymity because an investigation is under way,
suggested that the antibiotic was taken intentionally, smuggled in
by visitors."

It is an odd story. Mr Milosevic complains that he was being given
the same drug which the responsible officials suspect that he was
taking intentionally.

Something doesn't make sense here, but my fellow journalists do not

In another story, this one from the Iraq war. the New York Times
reported on March 16 that American soldiers demolished a farmhouse
after encountering unexpected resistance from insurgents, killing a
number of civilians in the process. "The American military said
that only three civilians had been killed, while Iraqi officials
said an entire 11-member family - from a 75-year-old grandmother to
a 6-month-old baby - had died in the attack."

The Reuters version of the story begins: ' Iraqi police accused
U.S. troops of killing five children in a raid on an al Qaeda
suspect on Wednesday as ousted leader Saddam Hussein used his
televised trial to call on people to "resist the invaders".

"The judge promptly cut off the cameras and barred the press."

After a diversion about the court proceedings, the Reuter story
returns to the raid:?'A senior Iraqi police officer said autopsies
on the bodies, which included five children, showed each had been
shot in the head. Community leaders said they were outraged.

'Television footage showed the bodies of five children, two men and
four women in the Tikrit morgue. One infant had a gaping head
wound. All the children seemed younger than school age.

"Troops were engaged by enemy fire as they approached the
building," U.S. spokesman Major Tim Keefe said. "Coalition Forces
returned fire utilising both air and ground assets.

"There was one enemy killed. Two women and one child were also
killed in the firefight. The building ... (was) destroyed."
Keefe said the al Qaeda suspect had been captured."'

Reuters perseveres with the story however and makes it clear that
the US version is not accurate.

Under the subhead "Horrible crime" Reuters reports that

'Major Ali Ahmed of the Ishaqi police said U.S. forces had landed
on the roof and shot the 11 occupants. Colonel Farouq Hussein, said
autopsies found all had been shot in the head.

'Their hands were bound and they were dumped in one room before the
house was destroyed, Hussein said.
'"It's a clear and perfect crime without any doubt," he said.

'Ishaqi town administrator Rasheed Shather said. "We want the
Americans to give us an explanation for this horrible crime."'
Nothing more has been heard of this incident. The pictures of the
civilian bodies, including the children, were shown on American
television, at least in CNN, but no American reporter seems to have
been worried that every person in the building had been killed,
except, apparently, for the wanted Al Qaeda insurgent.!!!

After all that I am afraid there is no room for my own personal
saga of mystery and intrigue, concerning how my email appears and
disappears. Cable and Wireless has no explanation.

I am, however, writing it up to ask both my Internet Service
provider, C&W and my mail service provider, Mac.com to try to
explain some mysterious happenings which have dogged my
communications with the outside world. I suppose I should consider
myself lucky, however. Had I been practicing my profession in Iraq
I would no doubt by now, be among the more than one hundred
journalists caught in the crossfire and murdered by accident.

One needs an appropriate sense of perspective.

Copyright©2006 JOHN MAXWELL

Another step towards war with Iran

Iran wants to talk about Iraq with the US. The US says this is an evil ploy. War creeps ever closer. On the other hand, the US, seeking allies against the growing power of China, does a nukes-for-mangoes deal.

Sonnet 94

“They that have power to hurt and will do none”

THEY that have power to hurt and will do none
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow;
They rightly do inherit heaven’s graces,
And husband nature’s riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others but stewards of their excellence.
The summer’s flower is to the summer sweet,
Though to itself it only live and die,
But if that flower with base infection meet,
The basest weed outbraves his dignity:
For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

-- William Shakespeare

Keeping the old from freezing in the winter

A small victory for the good guys.

After over six months of wrangling by Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and John Kerry (D-MA), the Senate yesterday narrowly passed more funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The measure, which passed by a vote of 51-49, provides $3.3 billion in funding for fiscal year 2007 for this vital program that helps the elderly and disabled heat their homes in the winter. With the addition of this funding, the program is near the fully-authorized level of $5.1 billion, which had been approved by the Congress before it fell under the Bush administration’s budget-cutting knife. Every Democrat voted for the heating assistance -- championed again by Reed and cosponsored by 15 Democrats -- and they managed to get five cold-weather-state Republicans to side with them for the 51 votes needed for passage.

Fake butch

Linda Colley in the Grauniad says that the Bush administration is presenting itself as falsely masculine:

Bogus masculine posturing seems to be the style of the current US administration. Its most conspicuous expression was perhaps Bush's "Mission Accomplished" photo opportunity after the invasion of Iraq. There he was, this veteran of the home guard, clad in a snug-fitting flight suit, strutting the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln among real warriors, and claiming victory. It was, wrote one commentator, "a masculine drag performance". Similar posturing went on in the Republican convention before the last presidential election: politicians whose own warlike masculinity was nonexistent strove very effectively to effeminise John Kerry, who really had been a hero. So we had Cheney, rather obscenely, accusing the Democratic candidate of wanting to show al-Qaida a "softer side", and muscle-bound Arnold Schwarzenegger making his famous reference to "girlie-men".

Why do current US political officeholders feel the need for such a transparent strategy, and why does it seem to work? To be sure, political power and shows of masculinity have traditionally gone closely together. In the past, rulers led their troops into battle and, even in peacetime, called themselves fathers of their people. And modern politics retains abundant masculine rituals. Prime minister's question time in Britain, for instance, is a stylised duel and tournament redolent of testosterone. By way of voice lessons, wearing severe suits and her own aggression, Margaret Thatcher mastered it (the verb seems appropriate).

Yet the historic fact that power has usually been male scarcely explains why American politicians now appear to feel an obligation to try so very hard. Nor does it explain why Kerry's Purple Heart and Silver Star, won in combat, didn't win greater electoral dividends. As far as the latter's failure with the voters was concerned, I suspect that his allusions to his own heroism in the Democratic convention ("reporting for duty") struck a false note. Anyone who has spoken to experienced combat troops knows that they rarely brag about their exploits. Strong and silent is the preferred style.

The fact that Kerry was encouraged by his advisers to deviate from this mode, rather than maintaining a dignified reticence about his Vietnam record and letting it speak for itself, was yet another aspect of the Democrats' ineptitude in the last presidential election. None the less, the tendency of some US voters to dismiss Kerry, despite all his medals, as "French" - which for Americans, as for Britons, is often a euphemism for effeminate - and to be impressed by George Bush's bluster, his wearing of a Stetson, a leather jacket and cowboy boots on his ranch, and images of him chain-sawing trees, suggests at the very least a degree of confusion about what does constitute masculinity.

This is surely one reason why the Republicans - and, indeed, some Democrats (think of Bill Clinton's busy sexual adventurism) - have been tempted in recent times to use postures of masculinity to such a crass degree. They are not acting this way because Americans possess a strong and confident cult of the masculine virtues, but rather because many are anxiously uncertain about just what these virtues are. These uncertainties stem in part from America's own domestic situation. In some respects, female emancipation has progressed further there than in Europe. At present both the Republican and Democratic parties possess powerful female figures who may well come into play in 2008, in Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. By contrast, in Britain female MPs were nowhere in the recent Conservative and Lib Dem leadership contests - just as they will be nowhere in the race to lead the Labour party when Tony Blair stands down.

17 March 2006

How the West was lost

Martin Jacques, blogging in the Grauniad, makes an interesting point about the increasing parochialism of the West.

The preoccupation with the Middle East has only fuelled this problem. I
recently wrote a Guardian
attacking European attitudes towards the Danish cartoons. I got 350
emails for my sins. Plenty agreed, but there was an extremely disturbing number
that showed a violent, intolerant and ignorant attitude towards Muslims. It was
scary. It felt as if I was living at the time of the Crusades. If that is the
trough that Europe is descending into, then I fear for its future. What the hell
is Europe going to be like when it has to defer to Beijing and Delhi as the new
global centres?
But it isn't just a European problem. The worst, the most
aggressive, the most racist responses came from the United States. Reading them
made it all too easy to understand the physical abuse that has been heaped on
the Iraqis by US soldiers. How are Americans going to react to their country's
decline and the rise of China and India? At the moment they don't believe it
could possibly happen. Despite the disgraceful mess they have made of Iraq, they
are still gung-ho. They are still convinced it is the right of God's chosen
people to boss the world. And 9/11, unilateralism, and the invasion of Iraq have
hugely encouraged that.
I suspect, though, that it was all a huge historical
miscalculation. Always beware your moment of triumphalism: such emotions are a
poor steer on the future. And that future is not primarily about the Middle
East, but east Asia. Condoleeza Rice is presently touring east Asian capitals
giving thinly-veiled threats about the rise of China. The Americans are
beginning to get worried. And they should be too.

Child held as 'guarantee'

Israeli discrimination against Arab citizens includes hospitals holding children to ransom. Apparently, Arab citizens are less equal.

Happy St Patrick's Day!

Labour's Call

A clarion voice rings out aloud:
"Rise, brothers, rise 'tis labour's call;
And you who fought from sire to son
Stand forth the battle host among.

"Rise, Irish workers, from your knees,
Fling forth your banner to the breeze.
See where its folds are tinged with red,
'Tis blood the Irish workers shed."

The worker's death I'll get today
When Connolly stood in war array,
And sent aloft with volleys three
The bright-hued flag of liberty.

We send our hail to lands afar,
Where'er our struggling brothers are:
Each shattered crown and crumbling throne
Is labour's call to claim their own.

Our toiling millions claim their own
From old Kinsale to Inishone;
No hireling's share shall they enjoy
But all therein from sea to sky.

Defeat ne'er causes joy nor pain,
We fought and fell and fought again,
But now the final die is cast
We fight for labour till the last.

"Rise, Irish workers, from your knees,
Fling forth your banner to the breeze;
See where its folds are tinged with red,
'Tis blood the Irish workers shed."

--- Peadar Kearney (author of the Irish National Anthem).

16 March 2006

Profit before people

It seems that Halliburton, the company once headed by Deadeye Dick Cheney, not only is guzzling at the public teat, it has also provided the men and women who are risking their lives in Iraq for the chimp-in-chief's erectile inadequacy with tainted water.

In Jamaican Creole, an allibutton man (Halliburton man) is a fool. Perhaps the people of Jamaica should redefine the word to mean 'villain'.

Logic escapes fundies, including Catholic fundies

It seems that homosexuality is caused by contraception. My question: Where do such people come from? And why do they want to dictate how, and under what conditions, everyone else can have sex?

World's tiniest map.

Scientists at CalTech have made a nano-map of the Americas. That's quite an achievement.