The sentence of the week is from Steve Negus:
It may be that the Islamic State's onslaught is the shock that transforms Iraq's political culture.
The sentence of the week is from Steve Negus:
It may be that the Islamic State's onslaught is the shock that transforms Iraq's political culture.
This is the way it started in Mali, too. (...)The Islamists overran the army, and then younger officers who refused to accept the humiliations staged a coup. (...) [Mali] is a warning sign for Nigeria. "Our military reflects the rotten state of the entire country.
Merci Hollande et Sarkozy!
Sugary excerpt of the day from a must-read but incomplete article plagued unfortunately by a lack of nuance and a comprehensive vision on the Central African Republic from Graeme Wood:
The French arrived in what’s now CAR in the late nineteenth century, and their history suggests they wish they had never come at all. They initially tried enslaving the population and turning the country into a cotton producer. But that didn’t work. CAR ended up being the place where the French sent their dumbest colonial officers, and when French colonies gained independence in the early ’60s, Paris wasn’t sorry to see this one go.
Still, perhaps out of colonial nostalgia, the French have continued to interfere in Central African politics. CAR provided a station for French troops during the 1980s and 1990s, and prominent French politicians acquired stakes in gold and diamond interests. (French President Giscard d’Estaing did not visit Emperor Bokassa merely to hunt bongo and sample the imperial charcuterie.)
All of which explains why Paris treats the presence of anti-French elements in Bangui as a stick in the eye. The French are uncomfortable with the rise of Rwanda—a locally grown power whose regional significance has waxed just as theirs has waned. They are keenly aware that Bangui’s Muslims, whom the Rwandans protect, killed two Sangaris and now tag their neighborhoods with “NO TO FRANCE, THE DOGS OF EUROPE” graffiti. And the French have loudly condemned Rwanda’s alleged sponsorship of rebel forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and assassination of political opponents. (Those opponents turn up dead with actuarially improbable frequency: At least one was shot dead in Bangui earlier this year, and Rwandan soldiers are rumored to have been responsible.)
Interesting but incomplete stuff from James Meek:
The truth is that Russia and Ukraine have been reunited for a long time, in a corrupt mosaic dominated by Moscow. Putin didn’t begin invading Ukraine to bring it back into the fold but to stop it escaping. He established a patriarchal-oligarchic police state in Russia; the now universally despised Ukrainian president-in-exile, Viktor Yanukovich, was well on his way to establishing one in Ukraine; the leaders of Belarus and the Central Asian republics have established similar repressive polities. Russophone Ukrainians have real fears about Ukraine’s new leaders. Putin’s great fear is that the people of a future better Ukraine might inspire an entirely different unification with their East Slav brethren on his side of the border – a common cause of popular revolt against him and other leaders like him. The revolution on Maidan Nezalezhnosti – Independence Square in Ukrainian – is the closest yet to a script for his own downfall. In that sense the invasion is a counter-revolution by Putin and his government against Russians and Ukrainians alike – against East Slav resistance as a whole.
I almost agree wholeheartedly with Patrick Cockburn on this:
The four wars fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria over the past 12 years have all involved overt or covert foreign intervention in deeply divided countries. In each case the involvement of the West exacerbated existing differences and pushed hostile parties towards civil war. In each country, all or part of the opposition have been hard-core jihadi fighters. Whatever the real issues at stake, the interventions have been presented as primarily humanitarian, in support of popular forces against dictators and police states. Despite apparent military successes, in none of these cases have the local opposition and their backers succeeded in consolidating power and establishing stable states.
A good reason to read and to love Belle Waring:
The past is a region ruled by the soft bigotry of low expectations. We all allow it to run up against the asymptote of any moral value we hold dear now. We are moved by the ideals of Thomas Jefferson even though we know he took his wife’s little sister, the sister she brought with her as a six-month old baby, the very youngest part of her dowerage when she married him—he took that grown girl as a slave concubine, and raped that woman until he died. We would all think it a very idiotic objection to The Good Soldier Švejk that women weren’t allowed to serve in the military at that time and so it didn’t bear reading. My favorite part of the Odyssey is book XXII, when Odysseus, having strung his bow, turns its arrows on the suitors and, eventually, kills them all. This is despite the fact that he and Telemachus go on to hang the 12 faithless maids with a ship’s cable strung between the courtyard and another interior building, so that none of them will die cleanly, and they struggle like birds with their feet fluttering above the ground for a little while, until they are still. There is no point in traveling into the land of “how many children had Lady MacBeth,” but, at the same time—the suitors raped those women, at least some of them, and likely all, if we use our imagination even in the most limited and machine-like fashion on the situation. Still it is my favorite, because I am vengeful.
From Colin Burrow :
We moderns have moved on. We’re all free agents. We make choices. Choices are what make us. So give me tragedy with choice and give it to me now. Instead of just blubbing and crying out ‘NOoooo’ while what you don’t want to happen happens, why not just turn to page 394 and get a new ending? Cool. Indeed, totally friggin’ awesome.
I am wondering whether choosing has the same importance/meaning when it is totally uninformed/ill-informed for after all the current times are ones where people are just passionate about what they don't know and what they don't care to know!
Question of the day from Norman Geras:
(...) who gives a cup of cold weak tea whether or not on some particular moral issue the view a person adopts is (regarded as being) left-wing?
From Wendy Kaminer:
There is much to decry in current hysteria about bullying: It teaches students that they have no right to give offence or make each other uncomfortable. It doesn’t teach them how to engage in debate. It redefines free speech as civil speech and then defines civility, between adults, as language fit for children.
I would like to be a contrarian and to agree...but I'm hesitating because I don't believe that all debates are useful.
Sugary excerpt of the day from Michele Pridmore-Brown's review of Paul Seabright's The War of the Sexes, How conflict and cooperation have shaped men and women from prehistory to the present :
In general, the male evolves to “want” to score at all costs – whether that means being a bully, a martyr or something else entirely. The female, however, “knows” the real stakes are viable offspring. Of course, neither sex “knows” or “wants”, which would imply sentience or introspection; rather, they are unconscious vehicles for such behaviours. Insects and humans alike, we are the descendants of those who happened to play the game exceptionally well.
Sentence of the day from Daniel Drezner:
Unless and until the GOP acknowledges that Iraq was a tragedy and a mistake, it will be as enfeebled on foreign policy as the Democratic Party was on this issue for a generation after the Vietnam War went south.
That will happen when the next Republican president candidate was a minor on 9/11 and will thus have no problem dissociating it from the Iraq war.
I agree wholeheartedly with Alex Massie on this:
Perhaps it wasn’t sufficiently appreciated at the time but Rushdie was the victim of a terrorist campaign. Not just Rushdie either. Anyone associated with The Satanic Verses was a target too. That meant publishers, translators, even bookshops and libraries. All these were targeted and people were murdered.
Rushdie was a test. In the west, your claim to be a decent liberal in a decent liberal society was at stake. In the east, the stakes were very much higher. Those people who pusillanimously suggested Rushdie must carry some responsibility for violence for which he bore no responsibility at all betrayed would-be modernisers in the Arab world and those Imams and other muslim “community leaders” who had the courage to say Iranian politics should reach no further than the Straits of Hormuz. Some of those people were murdered too.
All this, however, was the beginning of a time in which taking offence would be elevated to an art form. Not all such faux-outraged, manipulated, foolishness would be as consequential or as violent as the Rushdie affair but, viewed retrospectively, I think you can see The Satanic Verses as the unhappy opening to The Age of Hurt Feelings.
I am amazed that I live in an age when people can do whatever they want and can get away with unreason, stupidity and violence by asserting that their feelings are hurt as if being hurt means being right.
Thought-provoking stuff from Chris Dillow:
There's a conflict between freedom and happiness for capitalist people - consumers who do as they are told at work - but not for (market) socialist people, who are empowered to take control of their own lives.
Institutions shape culture. And capitalist institution give us a culture in which freedom and happiness conflict.
Perversely abstract questions: what is happiness and is it 'suitable' if it is blissful and if it is without any conflict?
Sugary excerpt of the day from David Simic :
What we have in this country is the rebellion of dull minds against the intellect. That’s why they love politicians who rail against teachers indoctrinating children against their parents’ values and resent the ones who show ability to think seriously and independently. Despite their bravado, these fools can always be counted on to vote against their self-interest. And that, as far as I’m concerned, is why millions are being spent to keep my fellow citizens ignorant.
Humm, I have the feeling that the point here is about more than stupidity and more about getting dull people to behave/vote/think the right way (pun intended). For too many in America, it is acceptable to stupid and anti-intellectual if you have presentable and palatable opinions and beliefs. In short, dumb and ignorant people have to be good and not to think for themselves about issues above their IQ even if they concern their lives, they have to be sheep and swallow chewed up thoughts.
Sugary except of the day from Norm Geras:
There are believers who, in the name of religion, act to silence, harm and sometimes indeed kill others, and there is, unfortunately, a lot of this sort of thing about. No secularist is obliged to adopt a relaxed attitude towards it. On the contrary, in defence of freedom of belief, they should be intolerant of it. Secularism, just like genuine liberalism, does not entail tolerance of the appeal to religion to justify intolerant, cruel or murderous ends.
Interesting question from Chris Dillow:
[...] could it be that the belief that talking to rioters can explain the riots reflects a form of middle-class self-hatred - that the truth is to be found on the “street”?
My answer is yes, but it doesn't end the debate. It complicates it for as we know there are truths and no truth and although perception may be reality, it is almost always limiting and limited!
C'est dur à dire mais …Lawrence Pintak is right to be disturbed by this :
On the morning Gaddafi was killed, an ebullient Wolf Blitzer told Sen. John McCain that he knew the senator was pleased on “this very special day.” The look on Blitzer’s face and the celebratory tone of his network left little doubt that he—or CNN—agreed.
As I said, “basic journalistic ethics” can be a slippery thing.
Sugary excerpt of the morning from Chris Dillow:
The problem with freedom is that it doesn’t just promote our own interests. It can harm these interests; laisser-faire required that banks collapse, with unpleasant externalities. And it can promote the interests of people who aren’t in our tribe. Freer planning laws help pikeys as well as Daily Mail readers. And the freedom to work where you want is good for foreigners as well as Brits.
This means that the cause of freedom is ill-served by tribalism and self-interest. And because the latter are significant forces in politics, we cannot hope that freedom will thrive.
Sentence of the day from Stephen Pollard:
It’s not the rich who are the problem it’s the protesters who behave as if the world owes them something rather than being prepared to graft for it.
Sentence of the day from Paul Krugman:
(...) by blaming democracy, the people who have gotten everything wrong are letting themselves off the hook. The elites on both sides of the Atlantic have messed up catastrophically, and need to face that fact.
Nichi Hodgson 's 'review' of Catherine Hakim's Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital made me laugh to tears. Sugar except:
The reason women have failed to capitalise on their erotic capital, says Hakim, is the fault of feminism allied with Christian conservatism. Puritan Anglo-Saxon feminism, including post-feminism, Hakim claims, is "profoundly uncomfortable with sexuality, and frames it in a relentlessly negative perspective." As such, "feminists have been so brainwashed by patriarchal ideology that they have been quite unable to understand how sexuality and erotic capital can be sources of erotic power." Feminism has established a "false dichotomy" between beauty and brains.
While I doubt Hakim would recognise a post-feminist if fondled by one in a bi-curious flurry, she seems to be blaming mind-body dualism on feminists, despite identifying "Western thought" as its source elsewhere in the book. She also seems to have missed the point of what feminism has ever wanted from sex. A minority of radicals excepted, all feminists have ever asked for is women's stake in imagining and enacting sexual desire. Employing your erotic capital may be sensible opportunism but it's also pretty boring manipulating men whose sexual fantasies are predicated on the script for a "Girls Gone Wild" episode; depressing too, if these same men constitute your pool of potential life partners.(...)That erotic capital enhances professional, market-place performance makes perfect sense. But applying it to personal, intimate relationships overlooks one very important point. You don't need to be living in a tree house and swapping sacks of millet for acorns to want to leave commercial transactions at the bedroom door. In the Anglo-Saxon West, now that we don't need to marry to preserve family fortunes, secure male heirs or find someone to "keep" us, some things are worth more than erotic capital-love, for example.
My view on Hodgson's take of Hakim is that it is unnecessary and a further indication that too many still don't understand that there is a difference between feminism and femininity and that feminism is to women's identity and rights (I have an deepening aversion for the term women's rights) what socialism is to liberalism/progressivism. It is tiresome even though often comically entertaining to see women still elevating and generalizing their personal views and differences as if speaking as a woman or as feminism means speaking for women and representing some other than an individual and therefore limited (and often irrelevant) viewpoint.
Sugary excerpt from Hanif Kureishi:
I come from a Muslim family; I come from a Muslim country: Pakistan. I’m well aware of how dangerous religions like Islam can be. It’s ridiculous to think it’s racist to attack a religion. In fact, it’s racist not to attack a religion. These are systems of power, huge political forces of the world—you have to speak back against it, otherwise you exist in an authoritarian system. Look at the way these societies have attacked and tortured intellectuals in the past, in places like Iran, Egypt and Libya. The West has continued to patronise them and refuse to attack them. A very robust exchange is extremely important.
The lesson here seems clear: if you think you’ll get raped and want to bring a case about it to trial, try to live a blameless life.
Of course, the above sentence is troublesome, but it reflects a disturbing reality. I never believed that DSK would be convicted. What troubles me is that behind my certitude was solely the realization that it would have been extremely difficult for the accuser to be clean enough to convince a jury that a man whose 'status' and 'identity' give him the presumption of decency and thus makes it hard believe that he could just snap and rape.
The issue isn't about class (it is but not in the traditional sense) and race, but one of gender and to see it one needs only to imagine what would be happening if the roles were reversed. Let me say it more clearly and bluntly: DSK could afford to have a 'past,' a less than perfect sexual history, the accused could not afford to have any problematic past history and to do dumbt and dishonest things before and after the incident. I'm not talking here about DSK's guilt or innocence and that is what bugs me for it doesn't matter whether he did it or not for the central issue is and always was the ability of the accuser to be the perfect victim and the fact that she is far from perfect dooms the case.
I'm not implying that she is a victim of her past, but rather that who she is much more than what she did killed this case for there was always going to be something to make her not credible. That said, the District Attorney should let DSK go already especially if he doesn't believe his own witness.
Honestly, I have to say that I hope that she made the whole thing up, it would make what is happening less vile. I hope also that DSK is an innocent man; my problem is that I know that the accuser's lies don't make her necessarily an impostor (in the sense that she made the whole thing up), but that it doesn't matter. In spite of my own tribulations, I do not believe that anybody ought to have her/his life destroyed when there is reasonable doubt and there is undoubtedly more than reasonable doubts in this case. What bugs me is that those doubts have become reasonable because of the accuser/victim, but that's the way the American judicial system words and it has already shown its shortcomings.
I agree almost completely and for different reasons with Amanda Marcotte on this:
We’re in the throes of a cultural bout of misogyny, and its focus is on sex. And the people who pay the highest price are women whose access to abortion and contraception is threatened by this national game of “Shoot the Slut”.
The word 'slut' is in need of a re/definition and an explanation of why being a slut is the worst thing that a woman can be.
Paul Berman needs to revise his French, but that said he makes a decent point on the impact of the DSK affair on the French-American relationship when he says this:
The more he is defended, the thicker and chillier will be the trans-Atlantic fogs, in the future. Dear champions of DSK, réflichissez-vous! But no one is going to reflect. Anyway, a bit more caution on the part of his loyalists would scarcely help, at this point. The ocean-liner of American justice and the ice floes of French conspiracy theories are already bobbing in one another’s direction, and nothing is to be done about it, and, oh dear, has anyone figured out what to do next, post-collision?
Since my bet is that DSK is going to be acquitted , I think that it will become only more obvious how different France is from America, even from Obama's America and there is as Jean Daniel of the Nouvel Obs would say a 'civilization gap' between America and France, which is essentially created by both countries's fanatical beliefs that their way is not only the best, but the only way to civilization. I'm still wondering why being part of an older county makes one more civilized or less barbaric.
The sugary excerpt of the day comes from the great Stephen Smith from his must-read article on Laurent Gbagbo:
‘Gbagbo was born before shame,’ ordinary people in Abidjan used to say. It didn’t necessarily mean they disapproved of him. It was more a case of stating the obvious. The way he looked at it, history was the victors’ account of a merciless fight. ‘It’s difficult for us to make history,’ he once explained to me. ‘We have to carry out our own French Revolution with Amnesty International peering over our shoulder.’ Murder, intrigue, corruption, bare-faced lies, betrayal, ethnic cleansing: all means would be justifiable provided the end was attained. In Gbagbo’s home region, where Ivory Coast’s main cash crops are grown, the sons of the soil, the Bété, turned against migrant workers from poor Sahel states and against fellow Ivorians from other parts of the country.
It is alarming, to say the least, that so many political leaders are worried about making history rather than governing and improving the lives of their 'people.' Obsession with history is one of the reasons why there have been so many Mugabe, Gbagbo, Amin, Doe, Taylor, Gaddafi on the African continent for after all if one's only concern is history, the people become means to achieve greatness not much else, politics is religionized and political violence becomes acceptal and even normal.
I almost agree completely with this:
Bin Laden’s killing is very likely justified under the laws (such as they are) of war. But, as best as I understand them, these laws are not intended to conduct towards justice; instead they are intended to conduct towards a minimization of those regrettable little side-effects (massacres of prisoners; the deaths of multitudes of civilians &c) that tend to go together with military disputes. It may also possibly be justified in purely pragmatic terms – very possibly, many more people would have died over the longer run had he been captured rather than killed. But it cannot be justified in terms of the procedural requirements of justice as practiced by democracies, which usually do require trials, evidence, judgments that can be appealed and so on.
For those of us too cerebral even in their passions to believe in conspiracy theories and to understand why on earth, the POTUS has to prove that he was born in the good old USA when he is as American as apple pie, Daniel Drezner puts it all in perspective:
Think of conspiracy theories like international institutions -- they don't actually explain much, but they never go away either. Even global governance structures that have longed outlived their usefulness do not disappear -- they just persist with fewer adherents. Popular conspiracy theories work the same way, because there will always be a hard core of believers who can sustain their belief regardless of things like "facts" and evidence." Indeed, scorn from the mainstream just fuels their conviction that they must be onto something.
The only conspiracy theory that I ever believed in was that my parents made sure that I was born in December just not to give me two great presents at the end of the year.
I agree with Mick Hume on this:
Today, over Libya, NATO stands exposed as an empty shell, an alliance in name alone. The US no longer exercises global leadership through NATO. Instead it has effectively withdrawn from the Libyan conflict and pushed NATO forwards in its stead. Yet no other NATO member has the wherewithal or the will to take the lead. For all their pretensions to playing an independent role, even the French government is now reduced to complaining that the Americans should do more.
When the US, French and British leaders published their joint call to arms on Libya earlier this month, it looked less like a collective show of strength than an exercise in buck-passing, each trying to hide behind one another and the paper shield of NATO. It was striking that no NATO members responded to the request to send more warplanes to bomb the Gaddafi regime – not even US president Barack Obama. Lacking leadership and direction, the NATO states are now like longstanding members of a club who still begrudgingly pay their dues, but take little active part in its activities, while grumbling about one another’s habits and especially about the self-aggrandising committee members.
Just one question, no two : why does NATO still exist? And why did Sarkozy thought it was a brilliant idea for France to reintegrate NATO''s military command? The answer to one of these questions is pretty obvious.
A good question from Gideon Rachman:
If the UN and western military forces are prepared to intervene so forcefully in Libya, why has the response to Ivory Coast been so relatively feeble?
The answer is an easy, but alarming one: Ivory Coast Côte d'Ivoire is Côte d'Ivoire and Libya is Libya. That statement of fact means simply that it is easier to deal with the dead of Côte d'Ivoire than with the ones of Libya because there is a widely accepted presumption that some parts of the African continent are at the heart of darkness, and thus too barbaric, and too 'out there' to be helped/saved. That explains why Congo (DRC) has never captured the world 's attention. In shot, it all comes that to that silly Obamanian world hope. It is easier to accept hopelessness in Côte d'Ivoire than in Libya.
Bernard-Henri Lévy on Germany's stand on the Libyan intervention (it abstained on the UN security council's vote of resolution 1973 establishing a No fly zone):
We lost a great deal of time because of the Germans, which is a disaster, mainly for the Libyans, but also for the Germans, who will pay bitterly for abstaining. What happened here will leave a lasting impression in Europe. And Germany will run into problems in its legitimate effort to secure a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel jettisoned all principles of German foreign policy since the end of World War II: There was the principle that something like National Socialism should never happen again. Never again crimes against humanity. Merkel and (German Foreign Minister Guido) Westerwelle violated this pact. This is a serious incident, not a minor detail. (...) Angela Merkel has the worst foreign minister Germany has had in a long time. Guido Westerwelle is a disaster. Immediately after the German abstention, he told your magazine: "Gadhafi has to go." It's really Westerwelle who ought to go, but he doesn't even seem to be ashamed of his decision, of this valley of shame.
I have stopped taking BHL seriously on those matters (it took me a long time because often I agree with his conclusions, but never with his argumentation) because even when he is right, he can't get out of his own way and resist the temptation of self-righteousness. The fact that he was so involved on Sarkozy's decision to take the lead in Libya worries me not because BHL is an unsavory and unserious character, but because he doesn't understand foreign policy when it becomes about more than postures, grand gestures, and cinematographic heroism.
This sugary excerpt from Gideon Rachman is the best remedy to the headache I feel after a short weekend :
There has been a certain amount of sniggering about the fact that it was Obama’s female advisers who were most prominent in pressing for military intervention in Libya, while the men hung back. Amongst the interventionists were the evocatively-named pair of Power and Slaughter – that is Samantha Power on the National Security Council and Anne-Marie Slaughter, who recently stepped down as head of the Policy Planning staff at the State Department and tweeted effectively from her new perch at Princeton. And then there was Susan Rice, the US ambassador at the UN and, finally (and decisively), Hillary Clinton.
The implication of all this is that it was the women who turned out to be the real men – prepared to get tough – while the men were wusses, who hung back. In this account, Obama is cast as the hesitant king, with Hillary as Lady Macbeth, hissing – “Infirm of purpose, hand me the dagger.”
Ahhh I wish I could take all of this seriously, but I cannot because we are in 2011 and that I am over gender. That said I think the bigger point of Rachman's point is about Obama and about the fact that America needs its commander in chief to be firm and to look in command when it is 'at war.' Obama doesn't look in command because it is obvious that he knows that the Libyan intervention os problematic for America because it increases the uncertainty and the instability in a region key to its strategic interest.
I disagree strongly with the following assertion by Norman Geras:
Whatever you may think about it, similar to and/or different from the intervention in Iraq, the Libyan action is a vindication of sorts for Tony Blair and his doctrine of liberal intervention.
What!? Why by the same token isn't it a vindication of the crusades or simply of war in general? Geras's assertion is as true as saying as the financial collapse of 2008 is a vindication of Marxism.
It isn't all about the concept, the context does matter so do actions and their consequences. I'm sure that if people look hard enough they can find events to vindicate all the wrongs in history and those who made fanatically, in spite of evidence, the conscious decision to do the knowing full well that smart people like Geras will always find reasons in the future to clean their dirty hands. Juan Cole has a persuasive post, which explains why Libya 2010 isn't Iraq 2003.
Sugary excerpt of the day from Rory Stewart on the 'use of force' in Libya:
If the crises of Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, which have consumed more than 100,000 lives, four trillion dollars and absorbed a million foreign soldiers from 60 countries, have not made us more prudent, they should at least have made us wiser. For two decades our policies in these countries have been described, explained and criticised by political philosophers, civil servants, human rights activists, journalists, development workers, film-makers and 10,000 consultants. Parliamentarians round the world refer confidently to ‘Chapter 7 resolutions’, ‘no-fly zones’, ‘the experience of the Kurds’ and ‘the responsibility to protect’. But the basic questions about intervention seem to remain as obvious as they are unhelpful. You do not need to be able to name four cities in Libya to have four arguments against or for what we are doing. You can simply deploy those which were used in 1960s Vietnam, 1920s Syria and 1860s Afghanistan.
Just one question: does the rightfulness of an intervention depends on or is tied to its success?
Okay, this is the last sugary excerpt of what must have seemed as 'bash Obama week' and it is from Glenn Greenwald:
(...)in Barack Obama's administration, it's perfectly acceptable to abuse an American citizen in detention who has been convicted of nothing by consigning him to 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement, barring him from exercising in his cell, punitively imposing "suicide watch" restrictions on him against the recommendations of brig psychiatrists, and subjecting him to prolonged, forced nudity designed to humiliate and degrade. But speaking out against that abuse is a firing offense. Good to know.
Well, I guess none of this matters since there is no alternative to Obama as John Quiggin and others would argue. Yeah, doesn't it feel great to live in a world where hope and the one killed ethics?
Back in the days when the cause of humanitarian intervention was on the rise, during the argument over Bosnia policy, Madeleine Albright (in Colin Powell's telling) encapsulated the thinking in a pithy phrase: "What's the point of having this superb military you're always talking about if we can't use it?" Mr Powell wrote in his memoirs that he "almost had an aneurysm"; the military was not a toy to be used because we had it sitting around. But basically, Ms Albright was right: the United States inherited the world's strongest military because of the Cold War, and if in the post-Cold War world there were no longer any plausible uses for that military, there really was no point in having it. Mr Powell, in fact, presided over dramatic cuts in the size of the defence establishment. It was the embrace of humanitarian intervention in the cause of promoting democracy, first in Kosovo, then (after the September 11 attacks) in Afghanistan and finally Iraq, that provided the new justification for a military buildup.
The fact that the debate on Libya in America and elsewhere has become about intervening and not doing alarming. It simplifies a complex issue. Few seem to have learned the lessons of the past, which isn't that humanitarian interventions are futile, but rather that they can't be done in a vacuum and motivated solely by noble, and self-indulgent sentiments. The point isn't that the US, France, and others are powerless, but that what is happening shouldn't become about them. The Obama administration's position irks me because it is timid and the fear of failure has crippled its imagination in the time when decisiveness is needed. Military might means nothing without vision and the audacity not of hope, but of originality and action.
We’ve got lots of problems in Wisconsin and Ohio and California and New Jersey and Indiana, and just so we’re clear, here’s the deal. If we agree that the UN is the place to deal with all your funny and hard to figure out and frankly not very relevant or interesting foreigner stuff, will you all just sod off and let us get on with figuring out our new VAT tax and our grandchildren’s interest payment schedule to China?
Since the Obama's administration has no good choices in the Libyan crisis, it is trying to let the UN take the lead to avoid having to take responsibility for the worst and to be able to take credit for the good.
In short, we are in 2011, next year is a presidential election year, that fact is having disastrous effects on the foreign policies of both America and France (the french presidential election is in also next year).
Alarmingly, Norman Geras is right when he makes the following assertion:
(...) the global human rights community overlaps significantly with left-liberal political 'orthodoxy' - a sector of opinion in which the wrongs done by democratic Western governments are always to be condemned outright, whereas those committed by tyrants, terrorists and other such criminals may be softeningly 'explained' and thereby either wholly or partially excused (see here and here). It's one of the major moral and ideological disgraces of our time, and the human rights community has not been immune to it.
Are we really all just prisoners of the past and of history?
Sugary excerpt from Brendan O'Neill:
In their fear that Egypt doesn’t have the right amount of middle-classness or the correct type of civil service to do democracy properly, we can glimpse Western observers’ conviction that politics is best done away from the people, insulated from the masses, in grey buildings occupied by experts and judges. At a time when even young American voters can be described as a ‘glassy-eyed, brainwashed cult’ (as Barack Obama’s youthful champions were branded in 2008), when white working-class voters in Britain are looked upon by the liberal elite as an alien breed of ‘bigots’, and when leading Western thinkers deliver speeches titled ‘Why democracy is overrated’, it’s not surprising that Egyptians, too, are seen as a marauding mob with weird passions. From the outright anti-Arab sentiments to the demand that a better middle class be created in Egypt before the creation of democracy, from the colonialist snobbery about foreigners to the cultural relativism about whether ‘our’ political systems are suitable for them, the response to the Egyptian uprising has revealed Western observers’ multifaceted lack of faith in the very ideal of democracy. The general sentiment is not so much that ‘democracy is okay for us but not for those people’, à la Clive of India, so much as ‘democracy – eeurgh’.
The problem of course is as much one of condescension as it is one of culturalism for the assumption and the assertion is that some, because their 'culture' and identity are too immature and too savage for democracy.
The abomination of the day is from Neil Reynolds:
It’s the exceptional vulnerability of democracy that, in the end, justifies the use of force to defend or extend it – as the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights implicitly recognizes.
I guess that means that the UN should send troops to Iran and other places to 'install' democracies everywhere. But of course, the key issues here are one of definition and power. What is democracy and who decides when, how, it has to defended with the use of force? Sermons are great in church, but futile and even dangerous in international politics even though they may be inspiring.
Sugary excerpt from Stephen Steinberg's must-read essay in the Boston Review on the return of the culture of poverty arguments:
Notwithstanding the election of Barack Obama, the last 40 years have been a period of racial backlash. The three pillars of anti-racist public policy—affirmative action, school integration, and racial districting (to prevent the dilution of the black vote)—have all been eviscerated, thanks in large part to rulings of a Supreme Court packed with Republican appointees. Indeed, the comeback of the culture of poverty, albeit in new rhetorical guise, signifies a reversion to the status quo ante: to the discourses and concomitant policy agenda that existed before the black protest movement forced the nation to confront its collective guilt and responsibility for two centuries of slavery and a century of Jim Crow—racism that pervaded all major institutions of our society, North and South. Such momentous issues are brushed away as a new generation of sociologists delves into deliberately myopic examinations of a small sphere where culture makes some measurable difference—to prove that “culture matters.”
I don't believe in culture even though I'm a strong believer in free will in the sense that I'm convinced that personal decisions matter especially in difficult circumstances. That said, I think that blaming poverty on culture is as stupid as asserting that race determines culture. What I'm trying to say without finding the words to do so eloquently is that culturalism is dangerous because it encourages both scapegoating and prejudices, without the important acknowledgments that who people are matters and that the type of society within which they evolve has a role in what they are and can become.
Fraser Nelson over at the Spectator's Coffee House can't step out his way to see the forest through the trees:
In Egypt, the army look like they are settling in. If there is regime change, I doubt that whoever takes over will be pro-Western (the crowds will likely remember that the tear gas used on them was dispensed in canisters saying “Made in USA”). The grim fact remains that Iran is racing towards the bomb, and if they succeed then the Sunni world – in Saudi Arabia and Cairo – will likely follow suit. I’d love to see some wind of change blowing through Arab street, but I still fear that we’re heading for a multi-polar nuclear standoff in the only part of the world which is mad enough to use nuclear weapons. I do hope I’m wrong.
The trouble with Nelson isn't that he may be wrong or can be right, but rather that he sees Egypt not as a country like his own or any 'normal' one (I would use Western, but I don't believe in the existence of the West or in the division of the world between the West and the rest). Egypt to Nelson is a means to an end or worst a part of a jungle whose happenings must not be allowed to disturb the peace and stability of the 'modern world.' The issue isn't about what the events of Egypt means for the rest of the world, but about what they mean for Egyptians. It is alarming to realize that too many including the prominent members of the Obama administration haven't learned from the greatest mistakes of the past. Doing so would have taught them that tolerating wrongs to avoid the worst never works in international politics for the simple reason that it legitimates the worst by delegitimating the moral arguments against it.
Thus, tying to the fall of Mubarak to the nuclearisation of Iran and of the whole middle east is like tying the fall of Louis XVI to the rise of anarchy in Europe and of the reign of terror. History isn't gastronomy and Egyptians are thus neither ingredients nor slaves of a predictable or controllable future.
Sugary excerpt of the day from Kay Hymowitz's article on Sarah Palin and Feminism:
Other feminists defined their movement in such meaningless generalities as to surrender to the conservatives at the gate. “Feminism to me means equality for all women and regard for women’s choices,” the legal journalist Dahlia Lithwick ventured in the Slate forum. Elsewhere, phrases like “women’s progress,” “women’s interests,” “policies that move women forward,” and “goals that benefit women” also appeared in the public discussion about the meaning of feminism.
But the Palinites have drawn big question marks around language like this. What does “equality” mean? Is it equal opportunity, as the newcomers would probably say? Or equal results, as many feminists appear to believe? Does it mean women’s choosing how to run their lives, just as men do? (Grizzlies.) Or does it refer to absolute parity between men and women? (Liberals.) How can both sides claim the feminist mantle with such different understandings of government’s function and of women’s progress?
And these divisions don’t begin to address the biggest bone of contention of all: abortion. The writer and movie director Nora Ephron answered the what-is-feminism quiz simply by announcing: “You can’t call yourself a feminist if you don’t believe in the right to abortion.”
This debate about feminism and women's issue is fluffy and therefore irrelevant because feminism is dead. Women should stop thinking that they represent all women or saying that others do. People may not like it , it may be too complicated for the American way of doing politics but women are individuals. The problem with Feminists, Palin and America is that it doesn't understand that women aren't a homogeneous group and can disagree without it putting in question their women. It may put into question their level of sophistication and of education or whatever else but not their femininity.
For some reason, which I can explain intelligently, this from Professor Bainbridge troubles me:
Some things are just too yucky for a civilized society to tolerate. This is what Leon Kass calls the "wisdom of repugnance," which makes good sense to me in this case and a number of others.
I'm wondering if the fact that something is too repulsive for words doesn't precisely mean that one needs to make an extra effort to 'reason' one's repulsion.
It's almost Thanksgiving and the one thing I'm thankful for after reading this is that I have never been able to take Pascal Bruckner seriously:
These are all dark episodes in the respective national epics that have to be explained, brought to light and made known to everyone. This work of memory is the greatness and the honor of free governments.
The paradox is that democracies seem more corrupt and criminal than other governments because they admit their faults, whereas tyrannies conceal them and represent themselves as irreproachable.
But this culture of suspicion is always in danger of degenerating into vilification and facile defeatism. The critical spirit then devours itself in a kind of self-cannibalization, taking a gloomy pleasure in destroying itself that leaves nothing intact. Hyper-criticism ends in self-hatred and leaves nothing but ruins behind.
That is more or less the current state of France, which is brooding on its failures and lost grandeur, and throwing itself into strikes that are not signs of vitality but rather of exhaustion and national depression.
Although sometimes a particularly serious crime must be expiated, a community cannot excuse itself for existing unless it dissolves and disappears. History consists in common remembering and forgetting, in the cancellation of the blood debts that human societies contract with one another.
The problem with Bruckner is that he has never been able to separate the concept of guilt with the one of responsibility and that there are things that he refuses/is unable to know or to see because he is too emotional to comprehend and accept the Sartrean notion of the dirty hands. Hey Pascal, on peut être responsable sans être coupable, to get it just reread Camus's l'Homme révolté.
I agree with David Cole on this:
It turns out that looking forward, not back, will never resolve the torture legacy. Until we own up to and provide a reckoning for the moral and criminal wrongs committed by officials at the very highest levels of the former administration, the fact that we tortured will continue to fester—and cause problems for its successor. The prevailing view in Washington seems to be that we should move on, but such wrongs cannot be forgotten. Try as we might to ignore it, the fact that we tortured and did nothing about it will periodically raise its head—in a failed prosecution, a foreign court judgment, or a terrorist incident inspired by images from Abu Ghraib. And even when it does not manifest itself so dramatically, the fact that the president of the United States was able to order torture, boast about it in a best-selling book, and walk way scot-free will fuel a deep vein of worldwide resentment. Torture and its after-effects will be with us until we are willing to confront them head-on.
In short, even the 'One' or rather especially the 'One' cannot redeem America's moral failings without doing more than simply saying that a page has been turned and that the past has passed. Obama has more than a torture problem, he has a moral one for he was elected to save America, to cleanse its soul; it is thus more difficult for him than for anyone else to argue that he is change if his point because that his sole election put Humpty Dumpty together again and makes clear that a lot was happened before him happened before him and therefore no longer matters.
Jesus cannot be Pontius Pilate.
Sugary excerpt from Brendan O'Neill's attack on my village, New York City:
New York is now run by officials who conceive of themselves as morally superior to the city’s everyday inhabitants precisely because they’re healthier. On Marathon weekend in early November, a bone-chillingly cold couple of days, the New York Times published an interview with Bloomberg’s health commissioner and the author of many of NYC’s nudge policies, Dr Thomas A Farley. The most shocking thing about the interview is that nobody seemed shocked by it, at least not in the Starbucks at Columbus Circle, where I saw many a macchiato-quaffer look over it without a flicker of concern crossing their faces. The NYT presents Farley as a ‘superman’ (it actually uses that word) because he is healthy; even better, he’s thin. He has ‘grasshopper-like legs’, we’re told (thanks, but I’m trying to keep my coffee down), a result of the fact that ‘he exercises seven days a week, loves his vegetables and has never smoked a cigarette’. Also, he has ‘barely a ripple of fat’. To show how fantastically fat-free he is, the NYT published a photo of him leading a workout with a group of black people, none of whom had grasshopper-like legs.
The saddest thing is that I have nothing to say to defend my village because I believe that O'Neill is right. New York is becoming a city where people believe that they can nudge people in becoming healthier and better people by showing them the way to goodness and encouraging the way Pavlov did with his dog to make certain decisions. It wouldn't be a bad thing if that meant that people would still be free to choose what is bad for them without being ostracized for that decision. After all, if the freedom to choice means solely the freedom to make only good or appropriate choices, it becomes even more than a nudge, paternal order given to a child who doesn't know what is good for her/his or how dangerous the world can be.
Thoughtless and aggravating quote of the day from Max Rodenbeck :
Yemen is a messy place, with a fearsomely well-armed, fiercely tribal society of immense complexity.
So Yemen is America!
The point of my purposeful (I hope) provocation is to put an emphasis of the fact that too many use the world 'tribal' when their underlying assumption is that what they are describing is foreign, 'non-western (that doesn't mean anything),' barbaric, backwards, illegitimate, or just uncivilized. In short. tribal is a pejorative term, melting pot, countries filled with communities isn't. It occurs rarely to people to criticize the fact that America accepts to be divided into communities without ever questioning the fact that it might be hindering its progress. The assumption is that the difference between tribal and 'communitarism' is solely a matter of civilization,' of the level of a society sophistication.' Barbarians are tribal, modern men are cultured and civilized enough to acknowledge that race, religion, sexual orientation and other particularities matter more than commonness or an artificial universality.
Because I'm avoiding like the plague or just water-boarding the whole George W. Bush's 'I wasn't that bad' tour, I missed this:
Plugging his memoir Decision Points, Mr. Bush revealed the family secret (described in the book with his mother's permission) in an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer last night.
The former president said Barbara Bush asked doctors to save the fetus so she could show it to him. (He was a teenager.)
"There's no question that affected me, a philosophy that we should respect life," he told Mr. Lauer. "There was a human life, a little brother or sister."
I guess there is nothing stronger than the bond between a mother and her child. That said, I'm wondering whether 'values' can be said to be sacred and absolute when they are justified or rather legitimated without thought or analysis, but just with a 'being,' whether it is/was in itself or for itself.
Over at the OUPblog, Elvin Lim has the best article(and the last one I will quote) on the whole NPR and Juan Williams episode. Sugary excerpt:
But NPR, in firing Williams, wasted an opportunity to make such a pedagogical statement. It wrapped up its reasons in faux reasons of journalistic standards and objectivity, and ironically, ended up implicitly endorsing the legitimacy of Williams’ first, emotional, reaction. Indeed, I suspect that Juan Williams was fired because his bosses at NPR were, in turn, uncomfortable that he had articulated his own discomfort. And that is the problem. One reflex knee jerk begot another, but no reasonable explanation followed.
One thing we do know is that emotions cannot be bottled up. We either feel them or we don’t, and Juan Williams apparently feels them when he sees someone dressed up in Muslim garb. What NPR did, in firing him, was send the emotional message that his emotions were illegitimate. But – and here was their mistake – NPR said nothing about either the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the reasons which provoked Williams’ particular emotional reaction.
Emotions indicate the salience and intensity of issues, and they should be addressed even – and, in fact, especially – when they are based on bad reasons. NPR pushed a discussion of the legitimacy of these emotions under the carpet by firing Juan Williams under the faux reasons of journalistic objectivity and this is why in one fell swoop they lost both a journalist and a teaching moment. If NPR wanted to be politically correct, it might as well have gone all the way.
What has been alarming about the whole episode is the realization that America is under a strong emotional dictatorship, one where feelings ,especially when at their center is outrage or pain giving one the perception that s/he is victimized, are seldom questioned as the basis for political and other important decisions. I still remember George W. Bush responding to Al Gore's legitimate criticisms of his record as Texas's governor by saying that he was hurt that his heart was being questioned. Just take the one of Obama telling Democrats to either get over their disappointment or not to feel discouraged because it is only the first quarter of the game. In short, emotions are the center of every debate because they make it so difficult to think or rather so easy to shoot from the hip and to indulge on junk without even considering the need to exercise or to eat healthy.