Archive for the ‘politics’ Category
I have hope: hope that Barack Obama is a liar.
By this I mean: I hope he has misrepresented himself, and his agenda, to the American people. The most obvious deception is in his platform of social reforms, reforms that garnered him the support of the working classes (which do still exist), but can not be paid for out of current funds. I don’t place much credence in the accusations of “socialism” that were tossed in his direction near the end of the campaign; despite the current financial crisis, money still talks. Banks have gone to the government for support, but the richest individuals in the USA are in no such difficulties, and will not permit explicit socialism to take hold.
A less obvious deception was the way Obama gained support from African-Americans, since a subtle distinction exists: he is not an African-American in the sense used by other African-Americans. His mother was a white lady from Hawaii, while his father was an immigrant from Kenya. Barack has no historic connection with Slavery, and no experience with the Civil Rights struggle. Was he justified in this deception? I think so; the alternative was yet another old white man as President.
The challenges facing President-Elect Obama are large, there are many of them, and they all require money. You can do most things if you are willing and able to throw money at a problem, but the money is not currently for the throwing. The baby Boom generation are aging, and the Medicare and Social Security bills are staggering. The cost of the military has to come down, both the direct costs (funding of the Iraq War and other adventures) and indirect costs (research and procurement). Obama’s stated policies do not talk about reducing these costs. There seems to be a temporary lull in the ongoing energy crisis, but it will be back. The Environment? Ouch.
During his Presidential campaign, Obama was occasionally accused of being an Elitist by the McCain camp, who portrayed their candidate as “the kind of guy you’d want to have a beer with”. The Democrat candidate was a university professor, for Heaven’s sake – one of those lily-livered Liberals who only talk to each other, and don’t really understand what “the people” go through.
If the Republican campaign was appealing to “the people”, what was the Democratic campaign appealing to? Why, “the people”, of course. They just did it in a slightly different way and, it turns out, more effectively. Here’s where I have a problem, however: when it comes to politics, “the people” are stupid. I’m not talking about a lack of the kind of intelligence measured by IQ tests; there are many kinds of intelligence, not all of which are easily measured.
In addition to the kinds of scientific intelligence that the tests measure, there’s “Emotional Intelligence”, which I’m not sure I believe in. (A lot of people do, so it hardly matters what I think!) I could say the same about “Social Intelligence”, the kinds of inter-personal and group-related skills that hold communities together and allow them to operate effectively. The kind of intelligence that concerns me most, however, is what I call “Temporal Intelligence” (TI): the ability to look backwards and forwards in time. It is a trait that is in short supply, in my opinion, and not just in the USA. A low TI rating implies, among other things, a failure to imagine the future impacts of current actions. Unprotected sex today leads to pregnancy and STDs in the future; saving money today means more money tomorrow, but if you take on debt today, you must repay it in the future. You sign a 30-year mortgage, but do you know how long 30 years is, and can you imagine where you will be by then?
What does this have to do with the Election in the USA? My theory is this: to get elected, Obama had to appeal to the short-term interests of the electorate. Today we hear “Yes We Can!”, but will we hear “Yes We Will!” tomorrow, or next year? By the end of Obama’s term(s) in office, will we hear “Yes We Did!” just as loudly and frequently?
That will be the real test of his presidency. Those problems I mentioned are long-term problems with no quick fixes. If Obama has two terms in office, the work will not be completed by the end of those eight years; they may be just barely under way. This will not sit well with an electorate with short attention spans. “The People” are the ones who thought that taking out larger and larger mortgages on their overpriced homes was a viable financial strategy – which it might have been, in the short term, but can never be, in the long term. I simply do not trust voters – in the USA or elsewhere – to find, and hold, a solid grasp on the real long-term issues.
In other words, I hope that Barack Obama is (or becomes) a real Politician, someone smart enough to know what really needs to be done, or to listen to those who do know, and then to lie to the American people while seeing that it is done. The ability to carry off such a mass deception is the mark of a politician, or a diplomat; it is not a job for a “man of the people”. It is a job for an Elite Politician, someone much smarter than “the people”, and it appears that the people of the United States of America just elected one as President. This is where the Hope comes in.
It is possible that I am not giving the American people enough credit, or failing to correctly measure the cumulative effects of their various intelligences. It would be better if people were always fully informed and aware, and always acted in their own best interests, but I do not expect to see that happen outside Science Fiction. As for John McCain; you may get the chance to enjoy a beer with him after all. He’ll have plenty of time on his hands, and moderate alcohol intake can have a beneficial effect on heart conditions.
An informative Project Syndicate article, here, delves into the reasons behind the current surge in interest in Scottish Independence, emphasising the independent institutions already in place. Its conclusion is surprising, but well thought-out: Scotland is in an unusual situation for a country seeking independence, with general approval of the status quo, despite the surge in voting for the Scottish National Party.
The article, for an American publication, does not look into the reasons behind this SNP surge: general dissatisfaction with the ruling Labour Party in Westminster, with the Conservative Party seen as English and foreign. After the elections earlier this year, the SNP is the largest party in the Scottish Parliament, and is set to lead a majority coalition, with negotiations in progress at time of writing. It is their stated aim, after this, to start negotiations to repeal the Acts of Union (1706-7) and hold a referendum on independence.
Following independence, what is the next step for Scotland? At the risk of stating the obvious, we can look forward to closer ties with Europe including adoption of the single currency, and an increase in trade with other European neighbours. Having seen the generally positive results of this in Ireland, I have no problem with any of that, though the article does pour cold water on any hopes for the level of Brussels largesse that Ireland has enjoyed.
Nevertheless, Scottish Independence is now firmly on the political agenda, and an exemplary continuation of the Scots realpolitik we read in the history books. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a Scotland that had made its peace with an imperial England was pioneering Enlightenment thinking and the Industrial Revolution. Instead of kicking England out of Scotland, they took Edinburgh to Westminster, to the extent that Scots have been in charge of the ruling Labour party for last 15 years. When John Smith died in 1994 he handed over the reins to Tony Blair (who was originally from Edinburgh); Blair became Prime Minister in 1997, and is soon to retire in favour of Gordon Brown (from Glasgow). Having a Caledonian in Number 10 will surely weigh heavily on the Scottish Independence process.
With the hard work done and less remaining to fight over, with an awareness of British Imperial history, and an emphasis on political structures and cultural identity, the kind of “struggle” that went on in Ireland looks like a collossal waste, counter-productive and unnecessary in the Scottish context. My nation of skinflints knows that there are cheaper ways of getting the job done!
Today, in London, five people were convicted of plotting to bomb targets in and around London. Those would not have been suicide bombings; the modus operandi was taken from Timothy McVeigh’s bomb attack on Oklahoma city, with fertilizer-based bombs in vans triggered remotely. There are more details at BBC News.
One of the planned targets was the Ministry Of Sound, a famous London nightclub. Transcripts of conversations (also at BBC News) between the bombers go in to detail on why this might have been a target. Something about “slags” (loose women) i.e. moral judgment on the people in the nightclub. They drink alcohol, dance, have adulterous sex outside marriage; so they deserve to die, right? Quote:
… no one can even turn around and say ‘Oh they were innocent,’ – those slags dancing around…
This line demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of Western society; more specifically, the emphasis on individuals and individual responsibility. It starts with the way the role of governments has evolved.
Today, a Western government has strictly defined limits on what it controls. It does not have Carte Blanche to decide what is a crime and what is not, even if it sometimes seems that way. It responds to what it perceives as the “will of the people”, expressed though the members of Parliament, who talk directly to their constituents. There is a certain level of party-politics involved, where individuals do not get what they want, but the electorate will only tolerate so much of that.
Are drinking, dancing, or adultery crimes in Britain today? No, they are not. Your religion might say otherwise, or you may even look down your nose in secular disapprobation, but it doesn’t matter: in a representative democracy you, as an individual, do not get to impose your personal sense of right and wrong on others. In a country as large as Britain, that would make everyone guilty of something.
Now imagine that the bombing had taken place, and each of the victims was a “slag” in every sense, committing all of the “crimes” the bombers imagined them guilty of. Firstly, how would you get your message across? Press statement? Videos of guys in masks? Dangerous: a lot of smart people would be looking for you – mock them at your peril – and every piece of information that slips out builds up a picture that can lead them to you.
So you get your message broadcast on the BBC and Channel 4: what effect will that have? It’s not enough for you to say that the victims were “slags”; do you have proof? You do? Enough to convince their family. OK, but then how does it follow that they deserve to die?
In a civilized society, like it or not, “morality” is insufficient justification for someone to die. It might be in Pakistan etc., but you’re not in Pakistan, and there is no general desire to impose Pakistan’s Sharia laws on Britain. The accusations would not be accepted, because the accusers have no authority to pass judgments.
The response from the family and friends of the victims would drown out any accusations. Why? Because the right to life of an individual takes priority. Britain no longer has a death penalty, even for the most serious of crimes, and (reminder) the actions the “slags” are accused of not even considered to be crimes. Here parents don’t kill their children when they violate moral standards; they discipline them, instruct them, and forgive them. There is such a thing as an “ex-slag”.
It follows, logically, the Ministry Of Sound bombing would not have got the message to the people of Britain. It would been the senseless murder of people innocent of any crime under the laws of the society they live in. Had they lived elsewhere, they would have behaved differently. If you don’t understand how individuals can behave that way without the collapse of society, you have a lot to learn. Start with the Analects of Confucius – 500 years before Jesus, over 1000 years before Mohammad – and his advice:
- The superior man governs men, according to their nature, with what is proper to them, and as soon as they change what is wrong, he stops.
- When one cultivates to the utmost the principles of his nature, and exercises them on the principle of reciprocity, he is not far from the path. What you do not like when done to yourself, do not do to others.
Translation: coercion or violence will not change people; you have to deal with them as they are, and that works both ways.
Naturally, there are now calls for further inquiries in to the surveillance operations, to try to lay the blame for not catching these aspiring bombers sooner, and even the July 2005 bombers. You know what? I’m more than satisfied with the explanations, because it shows that surveillance is not 100% effective or comprehensive, and that there is still a chance of privacy in Big Brother Britain.
Once again I am reminded of The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand:
Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.
Today, we need governments and police forces to protect us from the actions of the uncivilized. The ideal civilization would need no policing, from without or within; a society of individuals who would know what to do, and why they do it. It would carry no burdens of fear or guilt, and require no coercion; it can not be forced into existence, but can only come about through the open-eyes acceptance of education and self-enlightenment. I will not live to see such a world, not as long as parents burden their children with their unjustified beliefs.
Since the middle of last week I’ve been feeling a lot better, and as the previous post hinted, the belated arrival of Spring in Dublin is also serving to lighten the gloom. So, let me take a little time to put down a controversial idea I’ve had for some time, but which I need to express carefully.
In my view of the world, one where religion and other beliefs are no justification for anything that harms anyone else, Israel is a major destabilizing force in the Middle East today. It is held together by the sheer will of a vigilant Israeli people, who have resisted onslaughts from all sides – military, political and economic – with the material support of the United States in particular. It is a country in which most young people – men and women alike – serve in the military, actively and in reserve.
After centuries in the wilderness of Diaspora, the state of Israel was founded in 1948, and since then has been the focal point of Islamic aggression. America’s support for Israel is an oft-given reason for the rise of Al-Qaeda terrorism. I have no patience for Islamic theocratic imperialism, the Allah-given drive to subjugate the world under the Mullahs. Though I am not keen on Nationalism in any form, I fully support the rights of the Israeli people, as any people, to self-determination, independence, and a homeland they can call their own.
But why, oh why, did they have to put the homeland there?
The answer is, of course, religion. One of the founders of Zionism in the United Kingdom, Dr. Chaim Weizmann, was a chemist whose process for mass production of acetone made a huge difference to British arms production in World War I: it was a major component of cordite, used in smokeless gunpowder. It gave Weizmann friends in high places, and direct influence over David Lloyd-George (Munitions Minister, then Prime Minister 1908-1915), and Lord Balfour (former Prime Minister, and Foreign Secretary 1916-19).
The Balfour Declaration of 1917, produced after a decade of urging by Weizmann, expressed Britain’s support for a “National Home” for Jewish people in what was then called Palestine. As reported in Lord Balfour’s biography (quoted in the Wikipedia article), Balfour had actually asked Weizmann, back in 1906, “why there”? His reply cited the historic connection of the Israeli people to the region, and he also said “anything less would be idolatry”. A curious turn of phrase: “idolatry”, as in “false worship”? As in Islam, this reverence for a mere piece of land explains much.
The wording of the Declaration is cautious, even conservative, insistent that no harm was done to existing non-Jewish people in the region. The idea of a sovereign state was played down at the time. Palestine was a British Mandate from 1920 to 1948, but Britain gradually lost control as their tacit approval of an Israeli state led to mass immigration. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the fallout from the Holocaust and further migration of Holocaust survivors in to the region, and Israeli attacks on British forces in the region, led Britain to call in the newly-formed United Nations to manage their abdication of control over Palestine.
The 1947 UN Partition Plan map is a mess, to be blunt; a compromise that tried to please everyone, and ended up pleasing no-one. The Wars of the next 30 years were the obvious instances of trouble, but there is a different kind of bomb ticking in Gaza; a demographic bomb. The Gaza Strip has a very high birth rate, and extrapolation of the 2005 UNESCO figures predicts a 44% population increase in 10 years, to over 2 million, with a population density approaching Hong Kong’s (5,700 per km²).
Today, I am concerned that the United States, having squandered most of its political capital in the Middle East, will leave Israel more exposed to attack. I thought the Hezbollah attacks on Israel in 2006 were insane, unrealistic, poorly planned and totally counter-productive; but they happened anyway. Israel will not be seriously endangered by such tactics any time soon.
No, my real concerns are long term; 10, 20, 50 years from now, when the USA may be hampered by oil shortages and domestic turmoil, and politically estranged from its allies far away. What happens when Egypt’s swing to the right puts an anti-democratic caliphate in place? When Saudi Arabia, its crude oil pipeline to the USA drying up, no longer needs to curry favour in Washington DC? When Lebanon becomes an extension of Syria, and Palestinian extremism distracts Jordan?
The fate of a small nation, isolated among enemies, without powerful allies, is a game that has been played out many times before, on paper, in computer simulation, and on the cold ground. The resolute Allies saw to Germany in World War II, but a more apt example is the Roman destruction of Israel in 66-73 CE; the impersonal, crushing response to a Jewish rebellion over religion.
I don’t know what the answer is; but if I was in charge of Israel’s long-term defence, I would be looking at every option, and a strategic withdrawal of the Jewish people from the region would be such an option. Then again, I am not one to invest a piece of ground with holy provenance; I would be left with mere history, and “I was here first” is no defence against an enemy who is equally tied to the same ground, for equally religious (i.e. irrational) reasons. An enemy who, by sheer birthrate and irrational blindness to consequences, has much to gain from Israel’s removal. I don’t like it – but that is no shield against reality, when it arrives.
(I wrote the following as a comment to an article lamenting the decline in fertility in the developed countries. Like many respondents, I’m not convinced it is a problem. Other comments have noted that attempts by countries such as Germany to import skills have been a failure: the immigrants tend to use more resources from the social system than any benefit they brought in – which is not an anti-immigrant opinion, just a demographic fact. I’m an immigrant, after all!)
Isn’t it a basic point that any given country or region is limited in the number of people it can support? NB: by “support” I’m factoring in everything, including politics & aid – factors that will change the numbers, drastically, but don’t invalidate my basic point. When the land can not support the people, they will starve, or leave; as this point is neared, costs soar, and people can’t afford to have large families any more. I see this here in Dublin, too – one colleague of mine is being so badly hammered by the care costs, for his one (1) child, that a second is out of the question, unless they move to a cheaper country (ideally where the in-laws are).
My take on this: in any mature society, the population will stabilize, because some resources are fundamentally limited – such as land to build houses on. A country like Japan has gone just about as far as it can down this road. Yes, the balance is currently on the side of the elderly, and the young are bearing the burden of caring for them, but is that the way it’s always going to be? To be blunt: more of the Baby Boomer elderly will die per year than normal, which means the resources they use (esp. property) is freed up more quickly, restoring the balance eventually.
So, in a stable society the supported numbers are stable, and the population can adapt to them, eventually. (Oversimplification, I know!) In an unstable society, the number of people a country can support can change suddenly, due to factors beyond the control of the people. Zimbabwe is a great example: people are starving because of recent politics, not because of poor land or lack of natural resources, and there is hope that that can be reversed.
But in other parts of Africa, where countries & regions have been poor for generations, I would say the supported population is stable at a level well below the actual population. I really do not understand why women continue to have large numbers of children – or why men continue to force repeated pregnancy on women. They KNOW most of the children will die, but they still have them, and we get badgered by charities to “save the children”!
I think we don’t need more people: we need better people, which means dedicating more resources to each of them. Which means lower fertility is a good thing, in my opinion.
Saturday will be over by the time I post this, and I will be asleep soon after. This was a day marked by violence and collisions, none of them involving me, thankfully, but still jarring.
In the afternoon I went shopping, and carried my camera, because I heard there was going to be a parade of Unionists through Dublin. I thought there might be an photogenic angry scene or two, but the reality was far far worse, and I’m not annoyed that I missed most of it. The mere presence of Unionists in Dublin was enough to attract Republican thugs from across the 26 counties, and they didn’t even need to see the Unionists to go on the rampage, attacking police and wrecking half of O’Connell Street.
Unlike London in 1999, I didn’t get to see the fighting for myself, only some running people, and a long view of a Garda (police) baton charge. A view of the aftermath was quite enough.
Next: a bruising Rugby clash between Scotland and England, the “Auld Enemy”, at Murrayfield near Edinburgh. After 80 minutes of scrums and rucks, plenty of kicks but no tries, Scotland came out 18-12 winners to pick up the Calcutta Cup for the first time since 2000.
At least I got a leather jacket at a good price. Can I go to sleep now?
Hurricane Katrina hit Dublin yesterday, a faint shadow of her former self, a mere series of rainshowers, preceded by 100% humidity that kept me up half of Saturday night. Hardly compares to the dire situation in Biloxi and New Orleans, does it?
We’ll be hearing about the criminally incompetent handling of the evacuation for the rest of Dubya’s final term, at least. I hesitate to get involved in any further discussion on this; partly because I’ve noticed Americans are a little sensitive about their country, understandably, partly because it might sound like Euro-peonic schadenfreude. We may wryly joke aboutKatrina and the Waves, but anyone familiar with Shakespeare’s Hamlet will be a little concerned at the approach of Opheila next week.
Sometimes I read stories that make me think the world is becoming a better place. Today I read that women in Kuwait will be allowed to vote from now on; what is surprising is that the change was decreed by Sheikh Jabir al-Ahmad al-Sabah back in 1999, but had been blocked by Islamic elements in the Kuwaiti parliament until today.
Then there’s this story on boing-boing today. A woman living in a hard-line Islamic regime, racing cars and beating men at their own sport? If it can happen in Iran, it can happen in Saudi Arabia and other repressive regimes too.
When I visited Dubai, a fairly liberal Islamic country, I saw many women walking around in normal clothes, and not just visitors either. Yet a majority still wore the djellaba, even with full face mask. I’ve been told it’s a question of familiarity as much as law; it’s what they’re used to, and it has its advantages, such as comfort, secrecy and perhaps even voyeurism. (I can see them, but they can’t see me!)
Like the soft drink and sanitary towel commercials say: women, like men, can be free to do whatever they want. It doesn’t mean they’re going to go there, of course, but it’s important to know that the door is unlocked. If there’s one thing that Islamic societies can learn from the West, it’s that societies can be largely self-regulating. Imposing the kind of control they do can be self-defeating and disproportionate, since the majority don’t need written laws to behave themselves. If sex and the city was any guide, a New York woman’s bible is the latest issue ofVanity Fair, not any religious tract.
Think about the huge size of countries like South Africa, Russia, and the USA; in remote areas there are no police to tell you how to drive, what side of the road to drive on, what speed to go. For all practical purposes, remote roads are unregulated, yet the majority of drivers stick close to the rules. When the occasional driver goes low-flying down the freeway from Cheyenne to Spokane at 120mph, the chances of harm to anyone but themselves are low, and a properly-trained driver will know what not to do.
“Put Foot” was a bit of slang I occasionally heard in South Africa, one which came across clearly in Afrikaans too; the equivalent of “floor it” or “put the pedal to the metal” in the USA – it’s not just a driving reference, it’s an expression of a wider freedom. If I was in the USA I might be called a “libertarian”, though it’s a lot more complex than that, I think. We do need rules, and governments, to set a baseline of structure and support for the minority of society who can’t take care of themselves. You could call it a bell-curve theory of society.
Before modern governments and taxation, the Church fulfilled some of that function in the West, or Emirs and Chieftains in other parts. I’m not advocating a return to any archaic method; I’m saying there are things we can learn from the past regarding the self-sufficiency of societies without tight regulation. The idea of the “nanny state” is a relatively new one, and not entirely successful, if we can find three generations of a family, none of whom have ever held a steady job, in parts of the UK. I’ve written before about Germany’s problems, the way over-regulation has led to the current unemployment crisis.
This is why the current regime in the USA is the cause of so much concern; as expressed in the US Constitution, the power of the Federal government is clearly proscribed, yet it is now being expanded into areas where was previously excluded. The Department of Homeland Security is implementing Total Information Awareness processes, trying to break down the information safeguards that were in place between different government agencies (FBI, CIA, ATF, MVA etc) and the private sector (banking, insurance etc).
OK, there’s a long way to go before the US regime becomes as restrictive as Iran’s, but if Democracy is on the wane in the USA, what the hell are they doing in Iraq and Afghanistan? Answers on a postcard, please…
There’s only one proper way for a soldier to die: from the last bullet, of the last battle, of the last war.
I’ve just taken the time to watch the film Patton for the first time, the biography of the controversial US Army General, based on his memoirs and those of Omar Bradley. Bradley fought under Patton in North Africa, but later became his commanding officer; Patton’s career was hampered by an inability to think politically and a propensity for speaking his mind.
If the film is correct in its analysis, Patton was so feared by the Germans – one general describes him as a “glorious anachronism” – that his non-involvement in the Normandy landings, for political reasons, made him more useful as a decoy. He could not be kept back indefinitely, of course, and was soon back in action in command of the 3rd Army. The irony in the quote stems from the fact that Patton died, from injuries sustained in a car crash, before the end of 1945. The unpretentious “GI General” Bradley went on to become the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and had a “fighting vehicle” named after him.
How many times have I been criticized, at work, for speaking my mind? For ignoring political considerations in favour of the realities of the situation? For neglecting the expedient in favour of the essential? More generally, how important is it to be liked? If you’re running for US President today, it’s crucial. That wasn’t always the case: just ask Abraham Lincoln, who said: “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing”. He understood the distinction clearly, and once said about someone: “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better”. By the 20th Century, however, Adlai E Stevenson III could say “A free society is one where it is safe to be unpopular”… and go on to lose two elections to Eisenhower (1952 & 56).
I guess that makes me an “unglorious anachronism”, then; someone all too aware of the advocracy* in which we live, where what we say is more important than what we do, where a gesture is more important than action. Yet I am tolerated, to a point, at least partly because I understand the importance of action; both by myself and those who come to me for advice. A more extreme example is the soldier, whose clash with modern civilzation is the subject of much modern debate and fiction, from The Red Badge Of Courage, through to The Seven Samurai and Apocalypse Now.
Nowhere do I see this more expressed clearly today than in Tom Clancy’s books, where lawyers and politicians practice “plausible deniability” while soldiers deal with the reality of force at the sharp end. His protagonist, Jack Ryan, has been occasionally forced to cross the divide, and take actions that haunt him later. By those standards I have it easy, and generally get on well with people without the need to resort to physical violence, though it can get a bit verbal at times.
My point is: politics may be defined as “the art of the possible”, with an emphasis on keeping up friendly relations with others, but if “the possible” is not enough, politics alone will not get the job done, and someone, somewhere, is going to be offended. To me this a crucial insight, with value in a typical business environment; it may be arrogance to think you know better than someone else, but if you do, then you need to have enough belief in yourself to go beyond the polite, and risk offence. If you get it wrong, there will be consequences, but get it right, and it’s worth the effort.
* advocracy: a society ruled by lawyers
More fun from my website referer logs:
- Why did Guinness’ wheat beer, Brèo, fail in the marketplace? My opinion is: it wasn’t much good as a beer, a quality wheat beer like Erdinger is doing well enough today.
- I’m used to the repeated queries about the tallest actress in Hollywood, – some kind of cached query from AltaVista – but why are people asking me about the bra sizes of marathon runner Paula Radcliffe and Will & Grace star Debra Messing?
- Audrey Hepburn and Kirin Beer in the same query? WAV recordings of Jimmy Saville’s voice? Answers on a postcard, please.
- A search for “low-bandwidth sites” leads here? You bet, it’s stereoroid.com policy.
- No, I don’t know what costumes the Wildboyz wear, but I can tell you that your condoms will need to be x-rayed at the airport. If you keep them in your pocket, I suspect the foil will set the metal detector off. No, the foil will not hide anything from the x-ray machine.
- How the hell would I know whether Matt Le Blanc is circumcised? Ask Matt, or perhaps his Mom!
Today, on TV, I watched Two Funerals And … no, that’s it.
The first was that of Yasser Arafat, the former PLO terrorist and leader of the Palestinian people. After a politically-correct state sendoff from Cairo, nothing the about the actual ceremony was dignified. Crowds of people chanting and firing AK-47s into the air, all in veneration of someone who had done more to short-circuit Palestinian nationalism than any number of Israelis. Even Arafat’s grave is an expression of his hope for the destruction of Israel, his coffin is designed to be moved to Jerusalem after it becomes the capital of a unified Palestine. According to the Western calendar, Arafat died on the day commemorated variously as Veteran’s Day, Armistice Day or Rememberance Day: the anniversary of the end of World War I, when we think about those who went to war and didn’t come home. The end of the war? Well, one of them, we can hope.
The other was more dignifed, even though it ended with the playing of Teenage Kicks by The Undertones: John Peel’s life and work was celebrated in a fairly small ceremony attended by those he worked with and supported, including Feargal Sharkey, Undertones singer and writer of Peel’s favourite song. As someone who assisted in the creation of lasting works, he will be remembered more fondly, in England, than Arafat, who tried to justify terrorism and murder as the price it took to build his nation.
It’s Friday, and payday, because Monday is the Halloween Bank Holiday here in Ireland. Yes, you read that right – Halloween is a big thing here, probably because it’s in opposition to the Guy Fawkes Day celebrations in England. A day off for some, but not for me. I’m working, but I get a day credit that I will use later in the year.
Earlier this week I saw the first part of a new BBC documentary, The Power Of Nightmares, which has some very interesting things to say about the origins of the Neo-Conservative movement in the USA (the NeoCons), and Al-Qaeda, even how their respective ideas may have evolved from the apparent “moral vacuity” in 1960′s America. The Guardian preview and Times Online review have more detail on the ideas presented here, but the most interesting aspect for me was the apparent influence of NeoCons at the highest levels of the US government.
What are Neo-Conservatives? The term is used today to denote those who studied under Leo Strauss, a professor at Chicago University, or who were influenced by Strauss’ writings. The best resource I have found so far is a detailed article on Wikipedia.
A new name to me was the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) which, in its own words, is “dedicated to a few fundamental propositions: that American leadership is good both for America and for the world; that such leadership requires military strength, diplomatic energy and commitment to moral principle; and that too few political leaders today are making the case for global leadership.” Three names are cause for concern in particular: Dick Cheney (US Vice-President), Donald Rumsfeld (US Secretary of Defense), and Paul Wolfowitz (Rumsfeld’s Deputy Secretary). All are signatories to the PNAC Statement Of Principles (1998), and Wikipedia even names Cheney and Rumsfeld as PNAC co-founders.
PNAC is only a recent development, but Rumsfeld was actually in the Nixon administration, and held the posts of Chief Of Staff and Secretary Of Defense under Ford (1973-76). The documentary alleges that Rumsfeld, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and others strongly influenced Reagan into starting the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, a.k.a. “Star Wars”) as a means of keeping the Soviet Union in the spotlight as a threat to the USA, when its economy was collapsing and was actually no real threat. The reasons were based on a theory that the best or only way of unifying the American people behind their leaders was the presence of a threat to their national security, and if one did not actually exist, then it had to be created.
Why all does this bother me? Because it goes a long way towards explaining US policy of the last 24 years as founded on ideology, and not pragmatism, an experiment that may have gone horribly wrong. Or has it? The attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in September 2001 may have been just the unifying factor the Neo-Conservatives looked for, and played out to their advantage. I clearly have to do a lot more reading on this topic before it will make much sense to me.
This morning features the opening of the new Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh: a remarkable building, beautifully designed, but a project marred by massive cost overruns. Queen Elizabeth II is attending amid some controversy: some wish she wasn’t there at all, while others expressed dismay over the II in her title. Queen Elizabeth I of England was, after all, never recognized in Scotland: during Elizabeth’s reign, Scotland was ruled by James V, who died in 1542 when his daughter Mary was just six days old. The story of Mary, Queen of Scots, is one I’m not all that familiar with, but the short version is like something out of a soap opera.
A Catholic, Mary was first married to the future King Francis II of France, but he died not long after taking the throne, so Mary married her Catholic cousin, Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley. Mary may have had an affair with one of her Italian advisors, David Rizzio, and he didn’t last long when Darnley found out: Rizzio was murdered. By 1567 Darnley tried to take over the line of succession for his heirs: he was strangled and his house blown up by Protestant saboteurs. The main Protestant conspirator was James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, whom Mary soon married after he divorced his wife.
The outcome of all this drama was as serious as it could possibly be: Mary had offended and alienated anyone who might have supported her, and the Scottish nobility raised an army against her. Before 1567 was over, she had been defeated and forced to abdicate the Scottish throne in favour of her son, James VI. Mary sought refuge in the English court of Elizabeth I, but was effectively a prisoner for the next 20 years. Because Elizabeth was Protestant, many Catholics believed that Mary should be Queen of England but, after several abortive conspiracies, Elizabeth had had enough and signed Mary’s execution warrant in 1587.
In a suitably ironic coda, Mary’s son James VI succeeded to the throne of England as James I when “Virgin Queen” Elizabeth died in 1603. Despite his Catholic heritage, James’ bloodline could be traced directly back to King Henry VII, and he had already succeeded in quelling Catholic ambitions, and married the Protestant Princess Anne of Denmark, despite having been kidnapped by Protestant militants earlier in life. With Britain largely united, the sectarian conflict was mostly over, and the focus shifted outward, leading to war with Spain over their refusal to let the Spanish infanta marry James’ son, the later Charles I. I could go on, but that will do for one day.
Sir Sean Connery is in attendance, and has naturally managed to offend a few people already. Strangest sight of the morning: the Queen entering the building and being greeted by officials, while the brass band plays, of all things, Mark Knopfler’s theme music from Going Home. Um…?