Wednesday, March 31, 2004

headlines you thought you'd never see.
But now that you do, they dont surprise you at all.

Passengers yearn for the return of British Rail

By Barrie Clement, Transport Editor
30 March 2004

The privatisation of the rail network has failed and the system is in a "mess'', according to passengers' representatives.
Users of the system look back fondly on the state-owned British Rail which, at the time, was accused of a lack of vision and inability to invest, the report by the Rail Passengers' Council (RPC) said. Passengers wanted the industry to be controlled by one person with a strategic vision of how the railways should develop.
stepping out, staying in
Iraqi blogger Riverbend goes shopping in free Baghdad.

Karrada was quite crowded with people coming and going. Women, of course, were a startling minority. Karrada used to be full of women- mothers, daughters and wives sometimes alone and sometimes dragging along a weary male. As we got out of the car, my confidence and enthusiasm began to wane. I was one of the few women on the street not wearing a hijab, or head-cover. One, two, three women passed by with the hijab covering their hair… the fourth one had gone a step further and was wearing an abbaya or black cloak… I tugged gently at the sleeves of my shirt which were cuffed almost to my elbows. They slid down once more to my wrists and I was suddenly grateful that I had decided to wear a long denim skirt.

There were some strange-looking people in the street- heads covered in turbans, black and white… women shrouded from top to bottom in black cloth… men with long beards and abbayas. I was getting quite a few critical stares- why wasn't this girl wearing a hijab? The rational person in me was asking the same question- why aren't you wearing one? Is it too much to ask for you to throw something on top of your head when you leave the house? Everyone else is doing it… most of the women you know are just flinging on a head-cover to avoid those disapproving glares and harsh words. Ever since the war, even some Christian women have been pressured into hiding their hair- especially in the south. And on and on went the rational voice… The stubborn voice- the one that blogs- tried to drown out common sense with, "Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah... we won't be pressured..."

The San Jose Mercury News reports from Basra (via Juan Cole)

Menacing groups of men have been stopping cars at the university gates and haranguing women whose heads are uncovered, accusing them of violating Islamic law. Male students have accosted them as they walked to class. As al Asadi spoke to a reporter in a courtyard, a scruffy-looking man handed out fliers that likened uncovered women to prostitutes and murderers.

"I fear them," she said simply.

Shiite Muslim religious extremists, backed by armed militias, are waging a campaign of intimidation to enforce a strict Islamic code of conduct in Iraq's second largest city. Neither the Iraqi police nor the British military forces that occupy Basra seem willing or able to stop it.

While there are no known cases of women being attacked for not covering up, three alcohol vendors and two bystanders were gunned down in February, the latest in a string of such assaults. A few weeks ago, gunmen pumped six bullets into a woman who ran a shop that sold romantic videos.

It’s not hard to see a chain of events here. The US and British have come to rely on support, or at least quiescence, from Iraq’s majority Shia community. This is especially important for the British army as it tries to maintain stability in the Shi’a dominated south of the country. In practice, this seems to mean allowing Shi’a militias to exercise de-facto control of the streets, and, it seems, any women loose enough to walk in them, amidst a general resurgence of Islamist thinking.

Well, so what, you might ask. Liberating women usually limps along after all the other moral pretexts for aggressive war. It’s just a matter of wheeling on a presidential or prime ministerial spouse to shed a sisterly tear or two after the rough, tough, boys-own-stuff is over. The chicks just form the chorus line, they’re not the main event. The coalition depends on Shia quiescence, which means tolerating their militant confessional militias and the policies of social coercion they seem to be following. So back behind the veil with you Fatima, and don’t even think of embarrassing the folks who came to liberate you.

Of course, this is a particularly retrograde step because Iraq under Saddam had more and better educated women than anywhere else in the Arab world. This is a fact that’s half-heartedly acknowledged, since it seems to contradict the Saddam-as-Hitler narrative. For the record, I don’t think Saddam was any kind of feminist. But his regime did seem to follow the developmentalist ideology of the sixties and seventies, where educated women were considered a necessary accoutrement of modernity, along with Mig 29s and dams that silted up a year after opening. Therefore they were produced and encouraged to work.

The same factors seem to be operating in a lot of thoroughly ugly regimes, generally of a leftist bent. Afghanistan under the communists, for instance. Likewise the Soviet Union and China. The old block captain system in Chinese cities – a kind of loose neighborhood surveillance for law and order purposes - gave a lot of older women considerable clout in their neighborhoods. At a higher level, I remember meeting Wu Yi when she ran MOFTEC. She was a woman of considerable presence and enormous bingo wings, who looked like she’d spent a lot of time working on an oil derrick in Daqing, which indeed she had. No beauty myth here.

The shame in Iraq is that just as women’s opportunities were contingent to the real purposes of the regime they endured, so the ending of those opportunities seems to be contingent to the purposes of those who “liberated” them.

the arena
I’ve been reading Nicholas Rankin's biography of war correspondent George Steer. Steer is best known for bringing news of the bombing of Guernica to the world in 1937, and insisting that Guernica was indeed bombed despite propaganda from the Spanish fascists and their allies to the effect that it had been destroyed by the Basques themselves.

Rankin maintains that Guernica represented a turning point in modern warfare. In every decade since then, most of those who have died in war have been civilians. In the 90’s, he reports, civilians made up 90% of war casualties. I wonder if Iraq is the next stage in the process.

The US army is no so technologically advanced it’s practically impossible for any other force to take the field openly against it. To fight it you have to let it occupy territory and attack it everywhere at once, concentrating on the less hardened units in its supply and logistics cone. And by the same logic, you extend the conflict to the new regime’s security proxies and civilian allies. Following it still further, you raise a general insurrection and make the whole country ungovernable, concentrating especially on wiping out the kind of skilled, civically active people who bind society together, on either the pretext that they are "collaborators" or "baathists". Here's Riverbend on the subject :

Scientists, professors and doctors who aren't detained or assassinated all seem to be looking for a way out. It seems like everyone you talk to is keeping their eyes open for a job opportunity outside of the country. It depresses me. When I hear someone talking about how they intend to leave to Dubai or Lebanon or London, I want to beg them to stay… a part of me wants to scream, "But we need you here! You belong here!" Another more rational part of me knows that some of them have no options. Many have lost their jobs and don't know how to feed their families. Others just can't stand the constant worrying about their children or spouse. Many of the female doctors and scientists want to leave because it's no longer safe for women to work like before. For some, the option is becoming a housewife or leaving abroad to look for the security to work.

Her account adds confirmation to this Robert Fisk report from December.

In the Shia city of Najaf, 42 ex-members of the Baath have been murdered and not a single arrest has followed. In Basra, controlled by British troops, almost 50 Baathists have been found with their hands bound behind their backs and a single bullet hole in the neck. Again, there have been no arrests. Hussam Thafer, a doctor at the Baghdad city mortuary, says that every day he receives "five or six" bodies of people who worked for the old regime.

Post June 30, we can expect the US army to retire for the most part to its bases. With the new Iraqi army in no real shape to take up the slack yet this sets the stage for the world’s first all-civilian war, conducted by part time militiamen, terrorist cells, vigilantes, mercenaries and civilian police and security forces. The professional armies will revert to a limit setting role, a kind of hobbesian version of a nightwatchman state. It’s as though we’re back in the Roman arena, except this time the gladiators are the audience.
we like it here
Whither France? John Kay keeps it simple.

France is a different country, and when the French voted strongly for socialists last weekend they expressed dissatisfaction with the country's economic performance but greater dissatisfaction with the efforts of Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the prime minister, to change it. They like things as they are. So do I: that is why I am here.

I wonder how we'd vote if we actually had the option to create a country which half of its people didn't want to leave?

via AFOE

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

behind the scenes at the House of Blood & Treasure
Well, it finally happened the other night. One of those rite-of-passage, pass-the-baton moments which breach the yearning gulf between youth and age. One of those moments after which there is nothing to do but wipe the tear from the eye, the drip from the nose and retire into the shadows while waiting for the legalisation of euthanasia.

Yep, the stepson came home pissed for the first time. Not rat-arsed, you understand. Not completely bladdered. Just a bit later than usual, kind of loose in his demeanour and emitting fragrant billows.

About time, too. He’s been eighteen for over a month, and frankly his mum and I had been getting a touch impatient. There was a practical reason for this. Sometime sooner or later he was going to come home in drink, and we wanted to see how he handled it before he went off to university. It’s better to start one’s drinking career staggering home along familiar streets, crawling on hands and knees up well known stairs and laughing into the great white telephone of home.

But there was an element of ‘what’s today’s youth coming to’ in our concern. Like everyone else I knew I had been on the ale as soon as I could get away with it – old enough to shave, old enough to puke. It’s an ancient British liberty. I believe it’s in the Magna Carta. No, go on, look.

This didn’t apply to Mrs Treasure, of course. But Stella Artois became available in Britain for the first time in the early eighties and she spent a good part of her middle teens working up an acquaintance.

We are now both Responsible and Mature, though not at the same time. But all of us want the kids to share familiar points of reference as we journey through the wider cultural landscape. Some folks hope their kids will be vegans or trots. I’d be happy with a civilised drinking man.

And civilised he was. Back in the earlies, I used to occasionally come home in a truly disgraceful state. By contrast, our kid was just a bit more talkative than usual and quite happy and friendly. He’d waited till he was legal, which maybe shows some want of spirit, but he made up for that by conducting himself with better sense when he got necking.

He wasn’t even hung over. This was a bit of a letdown. My mum had told Mrs T how she used to hoover my bedroom singing loudly and off-key, while I huddled miserably under the sheets, just as a way of teaching me that life went on and that I had to face the consequences of my actions. Mrs T had been looking forward to doing something along those lines, but it wasn’t to be.

But there was a nasty postscript. It turned out that he’d been drinking alcopops. Well, never mind – it’s only a beginning, as the soixante-huitards used to say.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

it's great value Sunday and Blood & Treasure!
Two - yes two - inane quizzes in one day.

But this one was unmissable.

Being sucked dry by leeches isn't so bad.
You will be sucked dry by a leech. I'd stay away
from swimming holes, and stick to good old
cement. Even if it does hurt like hell when
your toe scrapes the bottom.

What horrible Edward Gorey Death will you die?
brought to you by Quizilla

via Dave Trowbridge
never mind the genocide, feel the wat

You're Cambodia!

Life's been really rough, but it's slowly improving.  You know
way too much about the skeletal structure of humans, mostly from being forced to study
it.  This has given you a fear of many things, most especially the color red.
 The future has to be more promising though, and your greatest adversary can now
never come back to hurt you any more.

the Country Quiz at the href="">Blue Pyramid

Which country are you?

Saturday, March 27, 2004

enemies of pleasure
One up for the enemies of pleasure. As of Monday, the lace curtains of the republic will twitch victorious as Ireland’s blanket public anti-smoking ban takes effect. Opponents are predicting a disaster for business. Well, maybe. The people who support smoking bans certainly seem to be the type who prefer to sit at home enjoying the thought of others having their pleasures curtailed rather than getting out and frolicking in the newly smoke-free pubs and bars. But my guess is that people will knuckle down and take their medicine. The fact that they should be forced to do so is what’s fundamentally wrong with the new law.

In part, the whole issue demonstrates what happens when business priorities colonize public discourse. The effects on business turn into privileged arguments, even where more pertinent arguments are available. Then the business arguments themselves are buried beneath a blizzard of competing statistics from both sides of the issue, as has happened after the smoking bans in California and New York

So will the great crusade cross the Irish sea, as interested parties fervently hope? My guess is not. The government have already ducked the issue, handing responsibility in this area to local authorities. And with tobacco taxes in Britain higher than in any other European country, the entity that profits most from smoking is the government. After the estimated £1.5 billion spent on smoking related illnesses per year, there’s still an annual tax take of £7.7 billion. He won’t want to lose that amount of revenue. In fact, I would argue the function that anti-smoking advocacy plays in the UK is to make smokers too cowed and harassed to protect effectively at the outrageous taxes they have to pay.

Ironically, the amount of duty free smuggled tobacco smoked in Britain now makes a pretty good case for lowering taxes on optimality grounds. But the anti-smoking lobby won’t let that go by without a terrific fight. As for us smokers, maybe our best tactic would be to demand that all tax revenue from smoking goes to the NHS. It would highlight the prominence of the snout barons at the treasury in the whole business and short circuit any attempts to deny smokers access to NHS services. And if it were successful, it would give the health service a handy cash injection without raising general taxation.

Friday, March 26, 2004

What's Spanish for danegeld?
...and is Beowulf a neoconservative?

xi d: Her neah sunnupgonge in Madride þe is Hispaniae cyneceastre sume macodon .xi. utberstunge in þrim irenweg-hýðboldum ond acwelledon unrihte .cci. ond wundodon .mcdxxi. oððe maran. Ond æfterra ETA segde þæt þis hnæs hira geweorc, ond Al Qaeda segde þæt þis wæs hira geweorc. Ond ETA is Bascisc1) dyrnwearghere. Godes wite sie on þæm mandædwyrcum. Ond þreo utberstendas ne utberston. Ond in Madrides riman man fand wægn ond in him seofon detonatores ond ánne swegwriðan ond on him dælas þæs Qur'ânes.

from the New Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
atheist in the foxhole
A year or so ago, Californian doctor and ornery atheist Michael Newdow won the initial round of his battle to stop his child having to swear religious loyalty oaths in class. Now he’s up against the Supreme Court, and sticking hard to his guns.

When Newdow, a physician who also has a law degree but has no appellate court experience, said "under God" is "divisive," Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist saw an opportunity to trip up a novice.

"Do we know what the vote was in Congress . . . to adopt the 'under God' phrase?" Rehnquist asked, feigning ignorance of the fact that it passed unopposed in 1954.

When Newdow acknowledged as much, the chief justice pounced: "Well, that doesn't sound divisive."
But Newdow would not be ambushed. "That's only because no atheist can get elected to public office," he countered, evoking spontaneous laughter and a sound rarely, if ever, heard at oral argument in Rehnquist's tightly run courtroom -- applause.

Although only one member of the court, Justice John Paul Stevens, seemed sympathetic to Newdow's position, the others appeared anything but certain about how to rule against him, if indeed they want to.

"The chief [justice] threw him a curveball, and I thought he grand-slammed it," said Richard Lazarus, a professor of law at Georgetown University. "That doesn't mean the justices were satisfied, but I think he did a very effective job."

via Sam Smith

Thursday, March 25, 2004

noam service
Bloody hell. Chomsky's got a blog. Confession: I actually like his prose, or maybe in this case the transcriptions from his interviews. The "rattling teletype" quality of it reminds me of watching final score on Grandstand as a child, and invokes simultaneous feelings of anxiety and comfort. Thus was the twig bent.
welcome to the homeland
Maria at Crooked Timber brings news of today’s EU agreement on counter-terrorism measures. As many suspected, a wishlist of generally repressive measures has been nodded through, while others that would require police agencies in individual EU states and the ministries responsible for them to give up their prerogatives and genuinely work together to isolate and target terrorists are nowhere to be seen. There’s a strong emphasis on mass surveillance through biometric record keeping, passenger data retention, website visitor tracking and so on. We’ve also got the EU-wide arrest warrant, so we’ll be able to sleep safe in our beds knowing that more plane spotters will be arrested in Greece. There’s no commitment to restrict these new powers solely to the pursuit of terrorists, but there is plenty of scope to have whoever is irritating an EU member government right now to be declared a terrorist. Give a lingering farewell to your liberties at Statewatch. Well, we can’t sneer at the yanks about homeland security anymore. And here in the Euro heimat, the spooks don’t even have to go to the trouble of abrogating a constitution.
too disgusted to care: the Blair effect
Politics is on the verge of becoming a minority interest, the Electoral Commission warned yesterday.

Its audit of political engagement paints a bleak picture of a nation with little political interest, knowledge or satisfaction. Its poll, conducted by Mori, found that political apathy is so extreme that only about half (51%) of those questioned were certain to vote at the next election and just 42% could name their MP.


The poll comes as the government and the commission, the independent body that promotes participation in elections, seek to reduce voter apathy. Turnout at the last general election was just 59% - the lowest since 1918 and down from 71.5% when Labour came to power in 1997.

So between 1997 and now, the response of 20% of the electorate to New Labour government is to drop out of the political process altogether. Throughout most of this time it's been an article of faith amongst his supporters that Blair himself was more popular than Jesus with free drugs. There are any number proximate causes of course: the general narrowing of political choice; the expression of those choices that remain entirely in terms of shopping; the recasting of its traditional vote base as a problem to the rest of society rather than people whose concerns it is Labour's particular job to adress. There's the overweening attitude of smugness and condescension, the jokey pseudo-egalitarianism, the general air of a cargo cult on its last legs. There's the inability to tell a straight story about what it's doing or even to get its story straight. The moral flatulence about rights and responsibility, the staginess and narcissim, the freeloading on popular culture, the strange fetish for expressing all civic preferences in terms of shopping. There's the sense that they're just power drunk - not in the usual sense, but reeling around, battered by next day's headlines, randomly puking legislation over the public, then promising that they've really changed and next time it'll be different.

Taken overall, it's such a poisonous mixture that trying to respond directly is like trying to punch toxic fog. Better to just turn away and have done with the whole thing...

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

where interests are more interesting
At last, honesty in advertising.

The Project for the New American Empire is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to a few fundamental propositions: that American hegemony is good both for America and for America; that such hegemony requires military dominance, diplomatic stonewalling and commitment to corporate principle; and that too few political leaders today are making the case for American interests being the most interesting interests there are.

Yes, indeed. Much more interesting. Forget the jabber and prevarication. It's time to rip the mask off and howl at the moon. It's year zero and the world is what we make it.

Consider Albert Einstein’s famed Theory of Relativity. Is a universe conforming to this esoteric jumble of numbers one in which the United States is the pre-eminent power? Can the theoretical scribblings of an avowed socialist describe a reality Americans should accept?

When pressed about Einstein’s theory, scientists hem and haw. They complain that it describes only part of the physical universe, that a new theory reconciling the General Theory of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics will answer all our questions.

Yet there is only one question that matters. Is such science in our national interests?

Physics, biology, chemistry, astronomy and the other sciences are based on a more fundamental structure. This structure is mathematics itself - and we should not shy away from questioning the usefulness of this discipline, too.

Consider the following simple algebraic equation:

n = 2(x) where x = 3

Anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of mathematics will quickly say that n = 6.

But is America stronger because this is so? Is it not possible that our interests would be furthered even more if n were to equal 7? Or 8, or 9 or even 10? Why should the United States be limited by such a small number as 6? For that matter, why should Americans be limited by mathematicians and physicists and biologists and other suspect interests who tell us that we cannot build missiles that travel the speed of light? That other people in other countries are made of the same basic stuff as we are? That we cannot send Arnold Schwarzenegger back in time to assassinate Bill Clinton?

Who in the world would be interested in limiting American power in so subtle a fashion?

The answer is not so difficult to guess. Ask any young person anywhere for the solution to the algebra problem posed above. Whether from France, Nigeria or Nepal, the answer will be the same. Clearly the “international community” has reached a consensus on the supposedly “pure” nature of mathematics and the science derived from it. The same “international community” that has proved to be so obstructionist in so many other areas in which we seek to promote our national interests.

We must develop our own, American brand of mathematics and science. Let the Nigerians have the Theory of Relativity. Let the Nepalese have sub-light speed missiles.

Let the French have n = 6 ... and see how far it gets them.

via Atrios

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

sowing, reaping…reaping, sowing
Coverage of the assassination of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, formerly Hamas’ hotline to Allah, reminded me of this report from a couple of years back

Israel and Hamas may currently be locked in deadly combat, but, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials, beginning in the late 1970s, Tel Aviv gave direct and indirect financial aid to Hamas over a period of years.

Israel "aided Hamas directly -- the Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization)," said Tony Cordesman, Middle East analyst for the Center for Strategic Studies.

Israel's support for Hamas "was a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative," said a former senior CIA official.
When the intifada began, Israeli leadership was surprised when Islamic groups began to surge in membership and strength. Hamas immediately grew in numbers and violence. The group had always embraced the doctrine of armed struggle, but the doctrine had not been practiced and Islamic groups had not been subjected to suppression the way groups like Fatah had been, according to U.S. government officials.

But with the triumph of the Khomeini revolution in Iran, with the birth of Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorism in Lebanon, Hamas began to gain in strength in Gaza and then in the West Bank, relying on terror to resist the Israeli occupation.
Israel was certainly funding the group at that time. One U.S. intelligence source who asked not to be named said that not only was Hamas being funded as a "counterweight" to the PLO, Israeli aid had another purpose: "To help identify and channel towards Israeli agents Hamas members who were dangerous terrorists."

In addition, by infiltrating Hamas, Israeli informers could only listen to debates on policy and identify Hamas members who "were dangerous hard-liners," the official said.

It makes me wonder sometimes. Is there any disaster in the Middle East which actually isn’t a result of blowback? I’m also wondering about the timing of the assassination, given that it’s bound to result in both an escalation of attacks on Israel and contribute to instability in the region as a whole, not least in Iraq.

Arab rage at Israel's assassination of the Hamas founder quickly spilled into Iraq yesterday, signaling that the killing of the Palestinian militant could undermine U.S. policies and interests across the region.

Protesters at two demonstrations against the U.S.-led coalition — one in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and the other in the southern city of Basra — chanted in support of Sheik Ahmed Yassin.

"Do not worry, Palestine. Iraq will avenge the assassination of Sheik Yassin," protesters in Mosul chanted.

The article goes on to state that demonstrators blame the US for the killings. It seems that some people can’t decide whether Israel is manipulating the US or vice versa. However, this was an entirely predictable response, especially since both the missiles that killed Yassin and the helicopter that fired them were US made. And given that this response is predictable, it’s reasonable to speculate on whether it was intended.

Whatever you think of the mood music about freedom and democracy in the “new Iraq”, the government that eventually emerges there will be expected to perform certain functions for its sponsors. Ideally, it’s supposed to be a showcase for US goals in the region; democratic, peaceful, pro-Western. Part of this package involves recognizing Israel and undermining support for the Palestinian Intifada. Naturally, from Israel’s point of view, this last would be the main objective. It’s also an objective for the US, but a secondary one. Given the situation right now in Iraq, my guess is that the US would settle for the first items on the menu – a credible, plausibly representative government that keeps the peace locally is the best that can be hoped for right now. Hence the government’s vulnerability to pressure from Ayatollah Sistani. America has invested too much in Iraq to risk it all for Israel’s sake.

And that’s where US and Israeli interests start to diverge. It’s fine from the Israeli point of view to overthrow an enemy like Saddam and replace him with a government friendly to Israel. It’s not so fine from the same point of view for the US to work closely with Sistani and end up endorsing a credible, popular pro-Palestinian government, especially one that looks for inspiration to a man who describes Israel as a “zionist entity.” And it’s even worse if this government comes rivals Israel as the US’ main partner in the Middle East. Better, perhaps, to try and break that alliance before it’s fully formed.

"We call upon the sons of the Arab and Islamic nations to close ranks, unite and work hard for the liberation of the usurped land and restore rights," Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani said in a statement released by his office in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.

"This morning, the occupying Zionist entity committed an ugly crime against the Palestinian people by killing one of their heroes, scholar martyr Ahmed Yassin," the statement said.

(including links from Juan Cole)

Sunday, March 21, 2004

a candidate for privatization
Over the gay marriage issue, I find myself baffled by faint solidarity. People should be able to join any club they wish, including the Future Divorcees of America. But is it a club worth joining? And as a long-term cohabitee I find myself wondering why it's OK for gay people to have institutional privileges denied to myself.

And there's an essential absurdity about the whole thing. There's a good reason to get married if you believe in having your relationship solemnized in the presence of your diety. And from a pomo perspective, why not celebrate the joining of two credit facilities with a great belch of conspicuous consumption? But two people solemnly convening to tell a civil servant that they love each other seems both intrusive and ridiculous. Civil unions, which as far as I understand are essentially legal contracts, cover the relevant institional bases - from nest of kin status to visiting rights in hospital - without having David Blunkett poking his white stick into your business.

Alex Cockburn provides a lucid summary of the whole affair.

Why rejoice when the state extends its grip? Assimilation is not liberation. Peter Tatchell, the British gay leader, put it even more strongly a couple of years ago: "Equality is a good start, but it is not sufficient. Equality for queers inevitably means equal rights on straight terms, since they are the ones who dominate and determine the existing legal framework. We conform -- albeit equally -- with their screwed up system. That is not liberation. It is capitulation."

So the good news, as my favorite paper, UltraViolet (newsletter of LAGAI -- Queer Insurrection) recently put it, is not that 400 gay couples are now legally married in San Francisco but that 69,201 in the city (UltraViolet's number) are still living in sin.

Civil unions for all, he proposes. Seconded.

Friday, March 19, 2004

he had to go
He really, really had to go.

Despite the call by European governments to step up co-operation in sharing intelligence, the council of ministers and the Commission, the EU's central institutions, and even member states on a bilateral level, cannot agree how to co-ordinate. The "counter-terrorism tsar" is supposed to remedy these shortcomings.

Germany was reminded of this last weekend. Its federal criminal bureau said the Spanish authorities intentionally withheld information and misled German officials over the explosives used in the Madrid bombings. The Spanish conservative government had insisted the Goma 2 Eco dynamite for the explosives had been frequently used by Eta, the Basque separatist movement. On Monday, it admitted that was not the case.

So Aznar’s government deliberately misled an ally over an al-Qaeda terrorist atrocity for electoral reasons. I think that ends the “appeaser” argument. It also leads naturally to a counter-argument: that Bush, Blair and Aznar form an axis of entitlement, for whom terrorism means a license to do as they please and gives them the right to hold on to power permanently. Brits, Yanks and Spanish were all lied to over Iraq. So why not lie about 3/11 as well? There's a public event on you might find embarrassing? Rally the troops by calling a terror alert! Fancy a bit of martial glory but the folks are dubious? Get some bollocks off the internet and hand it round the office so everyone can put stuff in! Punters want to vote or someone else? Appeasers! We're “tough on terror”, so we've got impunity. This is where the real threat to democracy comes from.

from Kevin Drum.
flagellation Friday
Peter Bagge cracks on...

Thursday, March 18, 2004

economist eats rich, likes taste
Anthropophagous leftist economist Max Sawicky brings what could be either very good or very bad news. A new version of Dawn of the Dead is in the offing. Like Max, I’ve got videos of all three of Romero’s “Dead” movies. I’ve also got three copies of Dawn of the Dead – a film which was, appropriately enough, hacked around quite badly on release. One is the director’s cut, which seems to consist of Romero shouting "More Blood!" at regular intervals.

Whatever the version, Dawn of the Dead is a truly great film, and as Max points out one with a fairly solid but unobtrusive political grounding. Max gets the feminist and anti-racist subtexts, but misses out on the aspect perhaps most relevant today, namely its critique of consumerism. In DoD, the heroes hole up from marauding zombies in a shopping mall only to find that the place attracts them, appealing to some lizard-brained urge to grab and posess and co-terminous with an awful hunger to tear apart and devour the flesh of the living.

Lets say that this is not an argument backed up by careful research. But it is weirdly convincing. I can’t walk through the Arndale Centre without looking at the blank expression on the faces of my fellow shoppers, wondering if I too have those wall eyes and faint flecks of drool round the mouth. Remaking DoD for the no logo generation makes, ironically enough, good commercial sense.

I wonder if Max has seen Romero’s the Crazies, a biohazard shlockfest centering around an escape of a virus from what appears to be Fort Detrick in Maryland, which I believe is in his neck of the woods.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

on the other hand you have a hand with a bomb in it
A year after US led coalition forces toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, a majority of Iraqis still oppose what over 40% regard as a humiliation at the hands of the West, according to a comprehensive survey by the BBC and international media organisations. And a year into the occupation, almost one sixth of the Iraqi population support attacks on the coalition and its Iraqi partners and employees that have left thousands dead and which threaten to destabilise the country in its transition to democracy.

A year after US led coalition forces toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, a majority of Iraqis now hail those they call the “liberators” of their country, according to a comprehensive survey by the BBC and international media organisations. Iraqi opinion is mainly united against the terrorist attacks by insurgents, and a majority want coalition forces to stay on and help oversee the country’s transition to democracy.

Yes, it’s the same poll. Given the variety if interpretations that it’s justifiable to make from it, it’s notable that every outlet I’ve seen have led on the good news and tucked the caveats below the fold. A couple of features I found significant:

In one change from the first national poll in Iraq by Oxford Research International last fall, more now call for a "single strong Iraqi leader" — 47 percent say one will be needed a year from now, up from 27 percent previously. That's more than say "an Iraqi democracy" will be needed, now 28 percent (essentially unchanged).

35% also say that they want a “single, strong leader” five years from now.

There’s also a bit more than meets the eye than the headline figures reveal. Once Kurdish opinion is separated out from Arab opinion, the positive numbers are still good, but not quite as impressive. Perhaops the most salient of these is am,ongst those who say they support the insurgents. Strip out the Kurds and the figure rises from 15-20%. One fifth is poor by electoral standards, but easily enough to sustain a bombing campaign indefinitely.

What the poll does not do in this question is separate Sunni and Shia respondents. Given that Shia muslims and their Imams have been a target for insurgents, it follows that they are going to be hostile to the insurgency in overwhelming numbers. That being the case, the numbers of Sunnis who support the insurgents would rise sharply. Maybe enough for a civil war, as Robert Fisk argues in his majestic anniversary piece published last Sunday? Surely enough for at least a medium intensity guerilla conflict.
the late blood & treasure
Everyone else seems to have got to this first, but no matter.

WHAT do you give someone who’s been proved innocent after spending the best part of their life behind bars, wrongfully convicted of a crime they didn’t commit?

An apology, maybe? Counselling? Champagne? Compensation? Well, if you’re David Blunkett, the Labour Home Secretary, the choice is simple: you give them a big, fat bill for the cost of board and lodgings for the time they spent freeloading at Her Majesty’s Pleasure in British prisons.

On Tuesday, Blunkett will fight in the Royal Courts of Justice in London for the right to charge victims of miscarriages of justice more than £3000 for every year they spent in jail while wrongly convicted. The logic is that the innocent man shouldn’t have been in prison eating free porridge and sleeping for nothing under regulation grey blankets

I saw this early on via Nick Barlow, and wanted to say something at the time. But frankly, I couldn't think of anything that would meet the sheer depravity of it. If words fail, then perhaps new words are needed. Back during the dirty war in Argentina in the seventies, the local papers used to round up the preceding night's tally of kidnappings, assassinations, bombings, extra-judicial executions and general mayhem in a column down one side of the front page, under the general title "guerillerismo".

I hereby propose that any expecially crass, morally stunted piece of authoritarian legal bullying of the kind that makes one ashamed of one's nationality be henceforth known as Blunkettismo. Let his name live on in infamy.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

famous first words
Michael Brooke recounts his favourite attention grabbing opening lines, with reference to Anthony Burgess’ Earthly Powers. I think it’s hard to beat the first line from J G Ballard’s High Rise.

Later, as he sat on the balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building over the past three months…
property is theft, once more
While valiant Spaniards were resisting the twin jihads of terrorism and demagoguery, China’s National People’s Congress rubber stamped measures to protect property rights, in the country’s latest affirmation of market Leninism.

Given that the party has been encouraging people to get rich for 25 years now, this legal protection of their rights is long-overdue, in the view of Liu Junning, a political scientist in Beijing.

"For fifty years there has been no constitutional guarantee of private property rights," he told BBC News Online.
"No matter what the real purpose of those proposing this revision, the common people will be able to use it to defend their property from plunder by the state".

Local officials and unscrupulous but well-connected property developers often seize land and requisition private assets for little or no compensation.

The new law offers protection only to "legally held" private property, leading some to believe that it is mainly for show and that officials will be as free as ever to decide what is legal and what is not.

It’s true that there’s been no constitutional guarantee of property rights in China since the Communist Party came to power. But it’s arguable whether there has ever been a constitutional guarantee of such rights in China. Over centuries of dynastic rule, the accrual of too much wealth and power by a landlord class was regarded as a threat to the authoritarian state and dealt with as such. According to figures given in Jasper Becker’s Hungry Ghosts, only about 3% of the Chinese population counted as proprietors after the Communists won power in 1949, in the sense that they owned land that they did not directly use or farm. Ironically, Mao Zedong’s own family were one of this group.

That didn’t stop Mao purging the landlord class in 1949 and after, amid scenes of possibly oedipal savagery. In the first stage of the revolution in the countryside, land was distributed amnongst the peasants. From 1955 onwards it was collectivized. And from 1979 onwards, it was restyored to the peasantry in the “household responsibility system” that marked the first stage of market reform.

You can’t build the world’s fastest growing economy on the back of small scale peasant proprietorship. And, according to Chinese political scientist Qin Hui, further market-led economic reform has seen the state grab back from the peasantry what it granted them in the early years of the reform process.

But the great danger facing the population of the countryside is not a merger of peasant holdings, but state expropriation of peasant lands for commercial development. This is now a widespread phenomenon in China. In Jiangxi, for example, the local government recently forced peasants off some 8,000 acres, capable of supporting 20,000 people, to lease the land to a company supposedly engaged in ecologically enlightened agriculture. In practice, all the compensation the peasants received was to be excused from paying taxes—they got nothing from the deal, and when they protested, the government sent the police to quell them. Had the land been the private property of the peasants, the company would have found it very difficult to annex an area as large as this by market exchange. The scale of this abuse stirred up strong reactions, but it is not an isolated instance. Thus, many people now hold the view that the only way to protect peasants is to hand land over to them and deprive the authorities of the power to make land deals behind their backs..

It’s possible to argue that the constitutional guarantee of private property will put an end to this abuse of power. More likely, it draws a line under it, since land expropriated for private uses can now be retrospectively legalized, giving the dispossessed no rights at all. A few years back, the admission of entrepreneurs to the communist party was hailed as a liberalization of the system. More accurately, it was a signal to the powerful and well connected to go out and grab what they can. Now they have been given the additional right to keep what they have grabbed. Qin Hui is pessimistic about the consequences.

In Eastern Europe, by contrast, privatization and democratization took place more or less at the same time. When democratization occurred, publicly owned assets were still relatively intact, so that their division was accomplished through a bargaining process, which—though people grumbled about it—was perceived as relatively legitimate. No one, on the left or right, now seeks to overturn the results, even if people on the left might criticize its lack of ‘substantive’ justice.

But in China, privatization is occurring before democratization. If all our public assets are to be confiscated by oligarchs, the result will be blatantly piratical and unjust. No doubt if democracy is postponed for another two hundred years, people will have forgotten the brazen injustice being perpetrated today, and accept the results. But if democratization comes soon there will be no Mandela-style ‘political reconciliation’, but great popular anger and determination to reverse the injustice. Then the outcome could be like Russia all over again—the new Stolypins in China producing a new Bolshevik revolution, leading to a new despotism once again

Monday, March 15, 2004

you voted wrong so I hope you die
The disgraceful response of the pro-war right to the Spanish people’s affirmation of democracy is summarized here, here and here, amongst other places.

Let’s get one thing straight. No Spanish election result would have been a “victory for terrorism.” In this instance, a victory for terrorism would mean the establishment of a pan-Islamic caliphate across the Muslim world and in parts of Europe. I’m curious to know how Sunday’s result contributes to that in any material form.

The best you can say about the warbloggers attitudes is that they confuse a response to the acts of terror itself with a response to the government’s handling of terrorism. Spaniards voted out the PP because enough of them were convinced that the Party had taken the Madrid atrocity and the WOT generally as an opportunity for manipulation, demagoguery and partisan advancement, and that they had done so in a way that exposed the Spanish people to greater danger. And so the Spanish said Ya Basta. What really scares the warbloggers is the possibility that the US electorate may say the same next November

Sunday, March 14, 2004

civics lesson from hell
Slaughter is transient, but politics is eternal. The initial squeamishness about speculating on the political consequences of the Madrid bombings inevitably subsides under electoral pressure. The typical calculus allocates votes to responsibility. If the bombings were the work of Eta, then more of Aznar and the hard line. If it was Al Qaeda, then voters will punish Aznar for getting them involved in Iraq and so painting a big, bright target on their collective foreheads.

I don’t think responsibility for the bombings will in itself do much to change the way people vote. It doesn’t seem likely, for instance, that conservative Spaniards who preferred the Pope’s position on Iraq to Aznar’s will therefore vote socialist. Spain was a target anyway, potentially, along with the rest of the West. It’s more the fact that we’re voting that puts us at risk rather than who we’re voting for.

What may make a difference is if the electorate think that Aznar and co have manipulated news of the bombings to ensure electoral success. There may be signs of that, but it’s probably too soon for people to have made up their minds on that subject (if it was Blair, that would be another issue entirely, given the general level of distrust in which he is held).

All we can say right now, as of Sunday afternoon, is that the bombings have increased people’s determination to vote. The disillusioned and cynical both left and right seem impelled to make a more general statement of faith in their society, along with all the true believers. So the result may depend on whether there are more disillusioned lefties around than rightists, or vice versa.

update: truly insightful blogging about Spain from Edward Hugh at a Fistful of Euros

Friday, March 12, 2004

weekend reading...
Notable thoughts: a marketer gloats over the ad free future...the terrible warning from Easter Island...the soul of man under socialism dug up and revived...the Bush re-election campaign re-imagined...a new arsehole, Professor Huntington?
can I have my city back, please?
911 days after 9/11 - exactly two years and six months - hundreds are killed by a series of bombs on commuter trains in Mardrid. In the intervening period, we have helped invade two countries and placed many and varied restrictions on general civil liberties. And all with the result that we don't even know, as of Friday, if the Madrid bombings were by Al Qaeda or not.

And on the day after, the Labour Party turn the centre of Manchester into something resembling a South American city during a coup attempt. And why are they here? To move our thoughts in more constructive directions, of course.

Around 1,500 party members - along with up to 2,000 members of the media - will hear the government's big beasts try to shift the nation's attention back to key domestic issues

And to do so, they've had to stage a paramilitary occupation of the city to ensure their safety. Our safety? Hey, let's invade Syria...

Thursday, March 11, 2004

more from the pre-history of the institute of ideas
Ken MaCleod points B&T in the direction of the Fortean Times’ account of the Work of Manuel Posada, sometime leading figure in the Trotskyist 4th International, fulltime advocate of revolutionary solidarity between earthbound Marxists and extraterrestrials:

Just as Trotsky rejected “socialism in one country”, so Posada rejected socialism on one planet. Posada’s Les Soucoupes Volantes (Flying Saucers) opens in the baffling, tortured, long-winded style that became his hallmark: “A new ray has been discovered in the Soviet Union which is infinitely more rapid than light… This energy must have a property and strength infinitely superior to what we know.”

Flying Saucers ends with a call to our extraterrestrial comrades: “We must call upon beings from other planets when they come to intervene, to collaborate with the inhabitants of the Earth to overcome misery. We must launch a call on them to use their resources to help us.”

From what I can glean, the Posadists were using sound logic from a demented perspective. Marxism is the highest stage of development of mankind. Extraterrestrials are obviously at a higher stage of development than earthbound humans. Extraterrestrials must therefore be Marxists.

This wasn’t the only quirk to the Posadists. They were also advocates of revolutionary thermonuclear warfare.

Posadist “atomic war” theory emerged at the first congress of the fully independent Fourth International (Posadist), held shortly after its definitive split with all other versions of the International in 1962. At this meeting – appropriately titled “Extraordinary Congress” – Posadas announced: “Atomic war is inevitable. It will destroy half of humanity: it is going to destroy immense human riches. It is very possible. The atomic war is going to provoke a true inferno on Earth. But it will not impede Communism.”

Ah, the workers’ bomb. Now where had I heard that before? From a correspondent at Gauche:

Anti-nuclear meetings were routinely packed with RCT members who would denounce CND and call for the invention and immediate use of what was referred to as "the worker's bomb" which would wipe out in one stroke the entire world's bourgeoisie.

As not enough of the world knows, the RCT became the RCP, which in turn became Spiked, and the Insitute of Ideas, sleek purveyors of the corporate libertarian line and good friends with those fine extropians at tech central station, many of whom themselves seek validation of their political views away from planet earth.

Farce repeats itself, ever more farcically. Strange how stuff that looks plainly mad when issues in rough print by a fringe leftist group becomes influential conjecture when a change of political line enables access to decent funding. Stranger still if all the Posadist libertarians get themselves into space only to stumble on to a plenary session of the Union of Soviet Socialist Planets.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

whiling away the lazy afternoon...
making posters for George Bush's re-election campaign

Just stick your slogan above the Bush/Cheney logo, press the button and the finished article appears in acrobat format, ready for printing. It's an official feature of the presidential re-election website. Nonetheless it allows jokers and rude people considerable latitude. I got away with:

how many divisions does the pope have?

Nah, too obscure - and it won't let you use question marks. Then there's:

You have nothing to lose but your job. And your house.

A bit literal. How about:

because you can never have enough plutocracy

or the simple and profound

arbeit macht frei!

Oooooh dear. A bit wicked that. There are limits. Apparently

Did you kill Jesus?

crosses them. Anyway, have fun.

via Wonkette, which is running a contest for best slogan.
sing if you work for godzilla
Crooked Timber brings good tidings from hard rockin' capitalists Nihon Break Koyogo, whose shaka - corporate anthem - currently tops the Japanese charts. Musically, it's a repirse of all those rubber monster films from the sixties. Lyrically, it an IMF structural adjustment programme:

"We will destroy houses! We will destroy bridges! We will destroy buildings! To the east, to the west — Run, Run, Nihon Break Kogyo!"

Corporate anthems have acquired a kind of despairing hipness since Chris Raettig started collecting them a few years back (I interviewed him for the China Daily at that time. His site seems to have shut down since). A list of the most popular can be found here. Look out for KPMG's "Our vision of a global strategy".

KPMG, we're strong as can be
A team of power and energy
We go for the gold
Together we hold onto our vision of global strategy

Oh all right then, don't.

Generally considered a Japanese invention, the company song seems to originate with IBM sometime in the fifties, where it was dedicated to erecting the personality cult of the company's founder Thomas J Watson.

We're here to cheer each pioneer
And also proudly boast,
Of that man of men
Our friend and guiding hand
The name of T.J. Watson means
A courage none can stem
And we feel honored to be
Here to toast the IBM.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

considerably richer than you

I'm the 667,373,869 richest person on earth!

Discover how rich you are! >>

via Lili Marleen
know thyself
I am impure, but with a test result of 41 my "libertarian credentials are obvious".

It's nice to see Bryan Caplan's libertarian purity test get into the limelight after all these years. His site was one of the first I found when I went online back in '97. His anarchist FAQ is still the best concise treatment I've seen of that subject.

Ah, the memories of those days : grey screens! Suck! personal sites with "welcome to my little corner of the internet" printed in purple-on-green 36 point serif italics! A shame this whole interwebnet thing never amounted to much.
comrades, to the mall!
In the New Yorker, Macolm Gladwell outlines the odd relationship between European socialism and American commercialism in the person of Victor Gruen, father of the shopping mall.

Not long after Southdale was built, Gruen gave the keynote address at a Progressive Architecture awards ceremony in New Orleans, and he took the occasion to lash out at American suburbia, whose roads, he said, were “avenues of horror,” “flanked by the greatest collection of vulgarity—billboards, motels, gas stations, shanties, car lots, miscellaneous industrial equipment, hot dog stands, wayside stores—ever collected by mankind.” American suburbia was chaos, and the only solution to chaos was planning. When Gruen first drew up the plans for Southdale, he placed the shopping center at the heart of a tidy four-hundred-and-sixty-three-acre development, complete with apartment buildings, houses, schools, a medical center, a park, and a lake.

As we know, all the happy, caring-sharing stuff was ditched. What remains is a testament to the commercial power of central planning. In fact, the whole purpose of a mall is to enable its owners to have total control over its environment:

The same goes for parking. Suppose that there was a downtown where the biggest draw was a major department store. Ideally, you ought to put the garage across the street and two blocks away, so shoppers, on their way from their cars and to their destination, would pass by the stores in between—dramatically increasing the traffic for all the intervening merchants. But in a downtown, obviously, you can’t put a parking garage just anywhere, and even if you could, you couldn’t insure that the stores in that high-traffic corridor had the optimal adjacencies, or that the sidewalk would feel right under the thin soles of women’s shoes. And because the stores are arrayed along a road with cars on it, you don’t really have a mall where customers can wander from side to side. And what happens when they get to the department store? It’s four or five floors high, and shoppers are like water, remember: they flow downhill. So it’s going to be hard to generate traffic on the upper levels. There is a tendency in America to wax nostalgic for the traditional downtown, but those who first believed in the mall—and understood its potential—found it hard to look at the old downtown with anything but frustration.

Gruen was Viennese and Jewish, arriving in the US in 1938, with eight dollars to his name. It’s curious how much the modern world has been influenced by the old Austro-Hungarian empire. Consider the litany: free market economics, psychoanalysis, urban planning, shopping malls, musical theatre, the question of equitable governbance of a multi-ethnic state, the general notion that popular pleasures could be developed in such a way as to constitute a civilization.

A couple of other thoughts occur. The first is that the Austro-Hungarian model of governance, where different linguistic and cultural groups exist cheek by jowl with their own traditional forms of governance, but are administered throughout by a unified civil service under a central authority prefigures the EU. And finally, your topic for today: the split in opinion over the war in Iraq amongst US conservatives and libertarians is really a debate between Austrians and Prussians. Discuss.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

the blood libel never dries
I wonder if in the light of this (via Atrios)

I am a high school teacher and the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Monday morning, Period 1, a student, age 17, comes into my room. She asks me if I had seen the film "The Passion."

I answer, "No."

She continues, "It was so sad. I cried so much. I hate the Jews."

and this... (via tbogg)

A billboard unveiled on Ash Wednesday, the same day that a controversial movie depicting the last hours of Jesus Christ premiered, is sparking criticism from people of all faiths.

The large-size outdoor marquee, which sits on the property of the Lovingway United Pentecostal Church at Colorado and Mississippi, says, "Jews Killed The Lord Jesus" and the word "Settled!"

certain lobbyists regret stuff like this

We had suspected this but didn't get a confirmation until a questioner in the audience asked Wisse about Billy Graham's 1972 conversation with Richard Nixon, memorialized on the White House tapes, and made public earlier this year by the National Archives.

In the conversation, Graham says to Nixon that "a lot of Jews are great friends of mine."
"They swarm around me and are friendly to me," Graham says. "Because they know I am friendly to Israel and so forth. They don't know how I really feel about what they're doing to this country."
And how does he feel?

Graham tells Nixon that the Jews have a "stranglehold" on the country, and "this stranglehold has got to be broken or the country's going down the drain."

"You believe that?" Nixon says.

"Yes, sir," Graham replies.

"Oh boy," Nixon says. "So do I. I can't ever say that, but I believe it."

So, the questioner wanted to know whether Professor Wisse considered these sentiments, as expressed by Graham and widely publicized earlier this year, to be anti-Semitic.

No, they are not anti-Semitic, Professor Wisse says.

Not anti-Semitic?

No, anti-Semitism exists today in the form of "political organization" against Israel.

I wonder if we've reached the stage where being pro-Israeli has become a reliable indicator of being anti-semitic amongst non jews?

Saturday, March 06, 2004

work is the curse...
..of the blogging classes, so B&T will be a desert of the surreal for the next few days.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

hand in glove
Andrew O'Hagan gets beneath the skin of Smiths obsessives.

What happens to pop fans as they grow older? As with other religions, some find it impossible to leave behind: at the Star and Garter pub near the railway station in Manchester, hundreds of Morrissey clones come every month to spend an evening comparing quiffs and dancing to his master's voice.

O'Hagan also makes a good point that I haven't seen elsewhere. Despite their moping in bedists image, Mozza and the boys had a large working class fan base, often seemingly from de-industrialised nowheresvilles outside the big cities. In O'Hagan's case this meant depressed west of Scotland towns. I shared a house in London for a bit with a bunch of quiffed up lads from Cornwall, each with checked shirts and a penchant for waving vegetation about in the presence of miserable Mancunian singers. Apart from the other things they were, the Smiths were the only authentic British country and western band.

bring us your finest prostitutes
In Haiti, the victorious rebels relax from their labours.

The rebels were still celebrating their victory over Aristide, who they accused of human rights violations and corruption. Accompanied by prostitutes, about 50 rebels drank heavily in a luxury hotel late on Tuesday, slugging back beer as pistols and rifles lay casually on tables or a their sides.

Philippe's table ordered three bottles of $90-a-bottle champagne, which hotel sources said they failed to pay for.

So here's to good government in Haiti. Most debate concerns what role the US played in the whole affair, what with Airstide's claims of being bundeld aboard his flight to the Central African Republic, from where his ability to cause trouble in the Western Hemisphere will be somewhat limited. Economist Jeffery Sachs sets out the case for a US caper. Ivan Eland gives us the history of US intervention in Haiti.

Throughout the 20th century, the U.S. military intervened repeatedly in Haiti. From 1915 to 1934, the U.S. Marines even occupied the country. During that time, they dissolved Haiti’s parliament, instituted martial law and created the thuggish Haitian army. That army—containing senior officers on the CIA’s payroll— overthrew a democratically-elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991. The remnants of it, with U.S. help, have just done it again.

And yet it wasn't accomplished alone. France was the first to call for Aristide's ouster. French marines are helping occupy Port Au Prince. And just as US troops were there to see Aristide off at the airport - who knows, perhaps helping with the luggage - French troops were there to see him arrive in Bangui, where he remains under their guard.

According to the IHT, it's all a sign of general Franco-American rapprochement

By all accounts, the 15-to-0 vote was expedited by the joint pressure of the United States and France, two permanent Security Council members that just a year earlier were leading opposite camps in embittered debate over Iraq.

Diplomats at the UN welcomed the return to what they saw as a more normal and constructive functioning of the world body.

The French daily Le Monde suggested Monday that the joint effort on Haiti - the departure of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide clearly was precipitated by pressure from Paris and then from Washington - confirmed that the two were "spectacularly reconciled" after months of efforts to restore trust.

Haiti was certainly a neat joint operation. Sleazy, but neat. Compare the situation to a year ago, when the UK promised the US international endorsement for Iraq, but in the end could barely take itself into the war on time. Think of the fiasco of the second UN revolution, the eruptions of whistleblowing in the UK security services, the casual use of the suicidal Dr Kelly. It must come as a relief to the US to be able to work with a competent government. It couldn't have gone unnoticed at the time in the US that French diplomacy actually achieved its objectives.

Something like this has been in the air for a while, at least since the US tilted towards Beijing over the Taiwan missile referendum and granted Gadafy his license to tyrannise in Libya. A week or so ago, Henry over at Crooked Timber pointed out that at bottom the French and US administrations have certain similarities, and linked to an article in the Washington Post that made the same point.

The restoration of Aristide in Haiti in 1994 was one of the first experiments in the post-cold war policy of humanitarian military intervention. I wonder if his ouster, cold-shouldered by international sponsors and hustled on to a plane to be dumped in the heart of Africa, is evidence that we have come full circle. Mes amis, let us welcome the return of cynical realism to the heart of foreign affairs. Waiter, bring us champagne and your finest prostitutes.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

headless but potent
Kerry it is, then. Commentators I esteem don’t think much of his chances. He’s not only vacuous, but lifeless, say the Counterpunchers. He’s worse than a crime, he’s a blunder.

I’m not so sure. Kerry’s certainly a challenge to the attention span. But there seems to be something at work within the Democratic Party which makes me have more faith in their choice than I might have if we were judging by the usual political metrics.

Cut away their ideas and what they represent and you find that political parties are power seeking organisms. Let’s conduct a thought experiment. Imagine the whole of both the Democratic and Republican parties as two individuals. Invite them to state their cases in front of one of those spiffy town meetings that Americans seem so fond of. Grab each of them suddenly and cut both of their heads off. Which headless corpse flops about and collapses and which crawls slowly, grimly and inevitably towards the seat of power?

Casual observance of the primaries inclines me to believe that it is the headless Democrat. Consider the rise and fall of each candidate and the message put across by his progress. Dean came out swinging and hooting and banished the meme, much put about by Republicans, that the Democrats would be punished for even daring to fight seriously against Bush. But just as his rise seems inevitable, he begins to fade out. Meanwhile, the Dems are busy parading a general on a stick around the country. Having established that they are not “soft” – having flexed their biceps – Wesley Clark serves his purpose and is put aside. This leaves Kerry and Edwards. Youth sports its ideas and attractions, but duly gives way to experience and gravitas.

None of this was masterplanned or choreographed. Nor was it a matter of simply going along with party discipline. That would have got them another Alton B Parker. This was the hive mind of not-very-conservative-America at work, revealing its essential seriousness about the matter of power. Not-very-conservative-Americans have shown they want it badly and this year they seem instinctively to know where it is. His virtues remain a mystery to me, but the fact that they have chosen Kerry to go and get it for them tells in his favour.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Visit Helmut's Kitchen, where the entree has two legs.
bad thoughts
Despite the post below, I don't want B&T's many foreign friends to think that Britain has an underclass problem. I want you to realise that we have an overclass problem. Here's an example.

Words fail me. Or rather, they fail him. Now this is someone associated with an intellectual movement of substance, not the think tank equivalent of illegal billboard posters. Yet it's a genuinely atrocious piece of work. There's not much point in reproducing extracts, since its badness is of a whole, entire. None of the arguments presented make sense of themselves, and none connect to the conclusions for which they are offered as evidence. And the piece as a whole is based on propositions that are either dubious (that everyone should accept honours from the state)or ridiculous (that they would do so if honours were offered from the hands of the Speaker of the House of Commons, rather than the Queen).

The overall impression is as if the Guardian had conducted a thought experiment in which a sufficiently medicated schizophrenic was offered a chance to set forth his vision of reform of the honours system, or if a number of linguists had elaborated a beta version of a means of back translation out of powerpoint. And it would be wrong to say that the article is unique. It's more an exemplar of what passes for ideas formation amongst the managerial class as a whole, a distillation of the kind of nonsense spouted every day in local authorities, boardrooms, NGO's and perhaps the newer of our less-esteemed universities.

Jesus fucking wept, what's happened to us? When did we start taking the stupid pills?
come and have a go...
....if you think its hard enough. Take the supporter or deporter quiz. Which of those featured are clean and manly embodiments of English fighting spirit and which are taking those sentiments to their next logical stage?

via The Virtual Stoa