Saturday, April 24, 2004

Just what the European Union needs 

In a few days' time, on 1 May, 10 new countries, mostly from Central and Eastern Europe, are officially joining the European Union. It's a bit of a mixed blessing - on the positive side, states such as Poland or the Czech Republic are finally being recognised as belonging to the European family of nations; on the negative side, countries which have only recently emerged from the communist prison are now submerging themselves in a quasi-socialist, anti-American superpower-wannabe.

Still, the influx of poor cousins with attitude might shake things up a bit in Brussels:

" 'Extremely stubborn,' 'very aggressive,' 'difficult to deal with,' 'major laggards,' 'the ones who will argue most' - and those are just some of the nicer things anonymous European Commission officials say about Poles as they prepare for membership of the European Union on May 1.

" 'They adore confrontation,' said Eneko Landaburu, head of the commission's enlargement service between 1999 and 2003. 'Even if they are working on a crazy basis, if they get hit on the head, they don't give a damn, they keep going. That's their way of doing things'."

European Union, you can't say you haven't been warned.

The UPI story recounts Chirac's recent rebuke to the New Europe for its support of the US ("They missed a good opportunity to shut up" and were "badly brought up") and unfortunately goes overboard with commentary: "This kind of talk scares the living daylights out of Poles, who saw their 1,000-year old country wiped off the map in the 19th century, razed by the Nazis during World War II, and dominated by the Soviet Union for much of the post-war period."

Actually, it doesn't scare the living daylight of our Poles. For centuries Poland did look up to France for political and cultural inspiration, and the French was the second language for Polish nobility and intelligencia. However, since having been left dangling by the French in 1939 and watching France play footsie with the Soviet Union thereafter, had somewhat cooled the awe and admiration for all things French, including the attitude.

There's some interesting re-alignments going on in Europe at the moment. Watch this space.


UN envoy tells it like he sees it 

The UN undersecretary-general and envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, on the situation in the Middle East, in an interview with a French (who else?) radio station:

"There is no doubt that the great poison in the region is this Israeli policy of domination and the suffering imposed on the Palestinians as well as the perception of all of the population in the region, and beyond, of the injustice of this policy and the equally unjust support ... of the United States for this policy."

"There's a lot of hatred [in the Middle East] because the very violent and repressive security policy of the Israeli government as well as this determination to occupy more and more Palestinian territory."

Good God, occupying more and more Palestinian territory? Like what, the actual state of Israel?

But Kofi Annan tried to distance himself from the remarks. The UN spokesman, Fred Eckhard, had this to say:

"It's a politically complex issue... Mr. Brahimi was expressing his personal views. ... The secretary-general's views, as expressed over the last seven years, do not contain the word 'poison.'"

Oh, that's alright then, as long as he didn't use the word "poison."

The US is biased, but at the UN they're only expressing their personal views.


Blair on Pilger 

Hilarious. Tim Blair fisks Australia's answer to Robert Fisk and Noam Chomsky, our very own "useful idiot" John "no regime is too horrible for me, as long as it's anti-American" Pilger.

This, by the way, was Pilger a few months ago:

"I think the resistance in Iraq is incredibly important for all of us. I think that we depend on the resistance to win so that other countries might not be attacked, so that our world in a sense becomes more secure. Now, I don't like resistances that produce the kind of terrible civilian atrocities that this one has, but that is true of all of the resistances. This one is a resistance against a rapacious power, that if it is not stopped in Iraq will go on as we now know to North Korea where Mr. Cheney and others are just chomping at the bit to have a crack at that country. So, what the outcome of this resistance is terribly important for the rest of the world. I think if the United States' military machine and the Bush administration can suffer -- Well, the let's say, quote, defeat, unquote, because it was never a complete defeat in Vietnam, but if they suffer something like that in Iraq."

And you thought I was kidding about this whole "no regime is too horrible for me, as long as it's anti-American" thing?


Your state government at work - be alarmed but not alert 

This report in today's "Sydney Morning Herald": "The alleged mastermind of a planned terrorist attack in Australia used a NSW Government website to get maps, data and satellite images of potential targets, including Sydney's Centrepoint, the Parramatta CBD and transport systems."

The Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources' website, apparently allows the visitor to "zoom in on satellite images of the state's railways, motorways, other major roads, as well as rivers and residential and business zones. Information on buildings and vital structural information is also available."

The website proudly announces that "The NSW Government is committed to enhancing the public availability, dissemination and exchange of information . . . to enable you to quickly and easily access information."

Is the NSW Government by any chance running free flying lessons as part of their migrant outreach program?


Latham - a voracious reader 

The erstwhile Clinton-imitator, the Labor opposition leader Mark Latham, is at it again, according to this morning's claim by an Australian academic, that Mark had lifted a lot of ideas about multiculturalism from the said academic's new book, without acknowledging the source of his inspiration.

Melbourne University professor Brian Galligan claims that "several elements of Mr Latham's speech appeared common to the book. They include the idea that Australia has moved on from multiculturalism, that there is no point celebrating difference for its own sake, that multiculturalism is not an adequate description of what now exists in Australia but rather that there is a unifying national identity that brings together all the people and underlies citizenship, and that the English language has a homogenising effect."

Mark, of course, denies any wrong-doing, but the Prof thinks it's rather suspicious that after the leader of the opposition is sent an advanced copy of the book, a few weeks later the book's key ideas turn up in Mark's speech.

Not wanting to defend Mark, but Professor Galligan is hardly the first or the only person to claim that multiculturalism is not all that hot - conservatives have been saying that for decades. That celebrating diversity for its own sake may be pointless, and that the common Australian identity is important, might be a shattering - and controversial - revelation among the ivory towers dwellers, but it's hardly news for the majority of Australians.

Still, if Mark is now plagiarising conservative ideas, can anyone send him a "post advance" copy of "The Case for Iraq" by Kegan and Kristol?


Friday, April 23, 2004

Those wacky Christians with their apocalyptic foreign policies 

Stop the press: a British leftie believes that "US Christian fundamentalists are driving Bush's Middle East policy", or as the title of his op-ed piece tactfully puts it, "Their beliefs are bonkers, but they are at the heart of power."

"To understand what is happening in the Middle East, you must first understand what is happening in Texas," George Monbiot opens his screed, and goes on to try to persuade the reader (not that the "Guardian" readers need much persuasion) that America's biased approach to the Middle East conflict is the fault of them wacky Christians who believe that Israel will make a nice scenery for the apocalyptic end game.

There's nothing particularly new in Monbiot's analysis; self-important and pseudo-sophisticated intellectual Euro trash has been sneering at America's religiosity for generations. Reagan was portrayed as a dangerous fanatic because he appeared to take the Bible seriously; Clinton was forgiven his Baptism, probably because he was sophisticated enough to get blown by a girl half his age. Now, with Bush Jr in the White House, the post-Christian Eurostablishment is able again to thump its secular chest and establish its moral and intellectual superiority over the fanatics across the ocean.

"We can laugh at these people, but we should not dismiss them," patronises Monbiot. We shouldn't dismiss them because they represent 15-18% of the American electorate, and include in their ranks some influential people like John Ashcroft and Tom DeLay. Oh, and when those people get angry, they send lots of emails to the White House.

And... Well, that's pretty much it. This is what nowadays apparently passes for serious political analysis in Europe.

Yes, a lot of Americans ascribe to a literal interpretation of the Bible (or, as Euro left likes to say, they are "religious fundamentalist", because that way they can be put in the same category as people who strap themselves with explosives and blow up restaurants in Israel - just joking, Christians are far more dangerous). Yes, a lot of Americans believe that the events surrounding the Second Coming of Christ will take place in Israel, and therefore they prefer it be in Jewish rather than Arab hands when it happens. And yes, the Religious Right is a significant political lobby group (unlike the trade unions and minorities).

But "at the heart of power" and "driving Bush's Middle East policy"? Put it back in your pants, Monbiot.

The left doesn't seem to be able to grasp the fact that there might be some legitimate reasons why the US supports Israel, hence they have to focus on illegitimate ones - like religious fanaticism. It doesn't occur to Monbiot that what drives Bush's (and most other presidents' before him) Middle East policy is the fact that Israel is one of America's closest allies and the most dependable one in the region; or that fact that Israel, like the US, is a liberal democracy (again, the only one in the region); or the fact that both countries share in the same broad Judeo-Christian Western heritage. Even if America's Christians were expecting the Second Coming to take place in Patagonia, the US would still be supporting Israel.

As for Christians being at the heart of the American Middle East policy, I would have expected Monbiot to do a bit better than come up with two bit players like Ashcroft and DeLay. Bush himself is a God-botherer (of which fact Monbiot strangely fails to remind his readers), but what about the others who actually make the foreign policy? What about Rice, Powell, Chaney, Rumsfeld, Armitage, Wolfowitz, Bolton? Are they all speaking in tongues and rolling on the floor of the Oval Office, enraptured by the Holy Spirit?

But any intrusion of reality would only spoil a good story of America the Wacky and Ignorant.

The left doesn't seem to be able to make up its mind whether the US foreign policy is run by fundamentalist Christian zealots or canny Jewish neo-conservatives. Either alternative is deeply disturbing and unacceptable, and so either will do. God forbid that the foreign policy should actually express the democratic wishes of the people. No, Europeans are far too sophisticated for that sort of "bonker" idea.


Knight Ridder at it again 

The Western naivete continues...

Ben Stocking of the Knight Ridder newspapers goes to Vietnam and find out that - surprise - the Vietnamese people he has interviewed think there are strong parallels between the Vietnam war and the Iraq war, and that the Americans should "get out of Iraq before it's too late."

Memo to Ben: when you go to a totalitarian communist country, whose oppressive government remains anti-American, and you interview people on record, do you seriously expect anyone to say: "Way to go, USA, keep up the good work"?

I don't know whether the Hanoi government provided you with a list of people to interview, or supplied you with an Information Ministry minder to "translate" the interviews - but even if neither was the case, do you think that people whom you interviewed in your article will be honest with you, considering that after almost three decades of living in a police state they know that the government knows their names (you've printed them in your article, for God's sake) and is watching them very closely (or do you think that Vietnamese secret police doesn't monitor media)?

Western journalists kept making the same mistake in communist Eastern Europe, then in Saddam's Iraq, and now the proud tradition of totally misunderstanding the nature of totalitarian societies continues. When will the media learn that there is a difference between interviewing a person on the street of New York or Paris where he or she is perfectly free to exercise their right to free speech, and interviewing a person in Hanoi, who knows that they can end up in prison (at best) if they don't tow the official government line.

Jesus wept...


Our Palestinian friends 

Now they tell us...

In an interview with the Jordanian newspaper "Al-Arab", Farouk Kaddoumi, the PLO's foreign minister, made some interesting statements, "The Jerusalem Post" reports. According to Kaddoumi:

- the PLO still doesn't recognise Israel's right to existence. The movement's charter, which was supposed to have been amended in the early 1990s to recognise the state of Israel, was never officially so amended, contrary to commonly accepted wisdom.

- when Arafat refers to the struggle against Israel, he is referring to "armed struggle" as that is the only way to force Israel to accept Palestinian "national aspirations".

As Kaddoumi says: "If Israel wants to leave the Gaza Strip, then it should do so. This means that the Palestinian resistance has forced it to leave. But the resistance will continue. Let the Gaza Strip be South Vietnam. We will use all available methods to liberate North Vietnam."

- Kaddoumi has also been appointed by the PLO leadership to a "special portfolio" of supporting anti-American "resistance" in Iraq.

The article describes Kaddoumi as a hard-liner, so perhaps his views are not reflective of the whole of Arafat's organisation, but haven't we been told repeatedly that the PLO belongs to the moderate and reasonable section of the Palestinian political spectrum?

Oh well, back to the peace process and back to the negotiating table.


North and South of the 38th parallel 

North Korea in the news again:

"About 3000 people were killed or injured after two trains laden with fuel collided and exploded today at a North Korean railway station, just hours after North Korea's Kim Jong-Il passed through on his return from China, reports said."

Unsurprisingly, "[t]he North Korean government, which often keeps its own citizens in the dark over events at home and abroad, immediately cut off international phone services to the devastated area in an effort to impose a news blackout."

The question is, will the North Korean commies try to blame the explosion on Western sabotage? As of this morning there was nothing about the crash on the official North Korean news agency website.

Speaking of things Korean, just when you thought that cultural protectionism was bad in France or even Australia, check out Kennett on the absurd system they have in South Korea.


Thursday, April 22, 2004

"We thank Allah that there is a superpower like America..." 

"There is no doubt that the defeat of Jose Maria Aznar's conservative Spanish Partido Popular should be considered a victory for terror. The terrorists doubtless distributed sweets among themselves as they did after the Ashoura murders in Iraq…

"It is known that the Spanish Socialist Party opposed the war on Saddam Hussein and showed indifference to the suffering of the Iraqi people, like the rest of the forces of the Left in the world. This was in order to anger America even if its deeds are for the good of the catastrophe-struck peoples. The Left's position stands in contradiction to its pretensions of defending human rights and oppressed peoples…

"The excuse [of the Left] is that the war against Saddam was not legitimate because the decision was not made in the [U.N.] Security Council… A U.N. resolution is more important to them than annihilation by a hangman gripped by lust for murder and genocide. We thank Allah that there is a superpower like America that took upon itself the mission of saving the peoples, without caring about Security Council resolutions. Otherwise the peoples of the Balkans, Sierra Leone, Iraq, and East Timor would expect annihilation by hangmen gripped by lust for mass murder, such as Milosevic, Suharto, Saddam Hussein, and other hangmen…

"These declarations [by the European Left] emanate from the fact that they do not sense the danger of Islamic terror that threatens the security of the nations, democracy, and civilization in the world. The Spanish Socialist Party victory will encourage the terrorists to continue [to perpetrate] additional criminal operations, and thus to extort the West and its democratic parties so they meet the terrorist demands, until these democratic regimes surrender to the will of the terrorists. This is the toppling of Western democracy. But will this be enough for the Islamists?

"It was already noted in another article that the Al-Qaida organization attacked American institutions before America launched the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, even before George Bush rose to power. The false claim that this wave of terror is the result of the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq is nothing but a feeble excuse for the continuation of terrorist operations against the Western countries…"

From an Iraqi columnist Abd Al-Khaliq Hussein, courtesy of MEMRI.

Abd must have been brainwashed by those horrible imperialist Zionist neo-conservatives. Poor man obviously doesn't understand what's good for him.


Reality conspires against Latham again 

Our esteemed Labor leader, Mark "Clinton's deputy speech-writer" Latham, has earlier this month, according to news reports, accused "the Howard government of turning its back on Asia in favour of an 'insurance policy' alliance with the United States, and said Australia had lost the gains made under the previous Labor governments of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating."

Elsewhere, Latham complained that "the big gain in [trade in] Asia is that it is multilateral, and they are forming up the ASEAN Plus Three Trade Group and Australia is outside it... Basically we have no seat at the table in Asia other than two forums established under the last Labor Government."

Ah, if only that misguided Howard government stopped sucking up to the Yanks, focused back on Asia, and stopped alienating our neighbours.

"The [South East Asian] economics ministers will be recommending to ASEAN leaders that we should work on the launch of a free trade agreement with Australia and New Zealand," Singapore Trade Minister George Yeo told media today.


Better check if Bill Clinton had anything to say about that.


German army in sex blitzkrieg 

Germany takes a giant step towards regaining its status as world's preeminent military power:

"German soldiers who are in relationships with each other will be able to sleep together in barracks and on foreign missions. Peter Struck, the defence minister, said the new guidelines applied to homosexual as well as heterosexual couples. They were necessary to reflect 'social normality'. Until now, sex between married or cohabiting servicemen has been forbidden in barracks and on operations at home and abroad.

"The change was announced after protests from several Social Democrat MPs who said that the ban on cohabitation in barracks was putting women off becoming soldiers."

Meanwhile, earlier in the year, the erstwhile defence minister Struck has "ordered drastic cuts in the military and slashed defence spending by £18 billion. He said changes since the Cold War and a government austerity drive were behind the decision to reduce numbers by 35,000 to 250,000 and to close 111 bases in the next eight years."

While as a Pole I don't actually mind the prospect of German army being finally piss-weak after one thousand years, it annoys me, on behalf of my American friends, that the US army continues to underwrite German security so that the German army can enjoy undisturbed sex in the barracks. Memo to Secretary Rumsfeld: shift the bases east of Oder River. If you're going to spend money stationing US troops in Europe, Poland will be much more grateful.


Joyti De-Laurey - the new martyr for the envy brigade 

Today's "Guardian" promotes Robin Hood ethics: "Stealing things is wrong, as a rule," unless you are stealing from the rich, in which case it's a "service to the community."

You think I'm kidding? Richard Adams is not.

He is commenting on the case of Joyti De-Laurey, personal assistant who stole £4 million from the bank accounts of three City of London bankers. De-Laurey will shortly be sentenced by the court, but according to Adams she deserves nothing more than a medal for demonstrating the need for higher taxes.

"The most mind-blowing aspect of the whole affair is that the personal assistant managed to remove £4m from the accounts of three City bankers - and they didn't even notice. Is that crazy? Yes, but it's a sign of the twisted world they live in."

It truly is a sick, sick world where people are allowed to have more money than Adams thinks they should have. Fortunately, he's got a solution to this horrid social problem:

"[I]f these people don't notice a few million quid leaving their current account, then they could live with a 50% top rate of income tax. If they don't need the money, then the government could also 'borrow' it to build a school or something."

But Dick (I can call you Dick, can't I?), the government's been doing that for a long time already. And in my experience, it is much more careless than any private individual in not noticing where the money's going. Maybe instead we should "borrow" some of our taxes back and, I don't know, build a business or something?

But never mind. The bankers of course deserve their fate because "De-Laurey was only doing to the bankers what they have been doing to investors and governments for years - fleecing them. Goldman Sachs once made more annual profit ($2.6bn) than the national income of Tanzania ($2.2bn)."

It never occurs to people like Adams that if Tanzania was run as well as Goldman Sachs, it might actually be doing a lot better than it is. (although I shouldn't pick on Tanzania, as it is with some success pursuing economic policies that would make Adams froth at the mouth and faint.)

As for all those governments that have been fleeced by the banks for years - poor things, I think we need some laws to protect them from rapacious predators, don't you think?


Our Saudi friends, Part II 

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, announced today that Saudi Arabia is now in "total war" against al-Quaeda terrorists following a car bombing in Riyadh, which killed four people and wounded 148.

"This shows that this group is evil, and they consider everybody their enemy," announced the ambassador after meeting with Condi Rice at the White House.

In all that talk about Saudi Arabia being now in total war against terrorists, I hope that Prince bin Sultan wasn't suggesting that until today his country's effort in the war on terror has been rather half-assed?


Africa's powerhouse powers on 

Zimbabwe's scumbag "President" Mugabe is hosting an "anti-colonial summit" of former African guerrillas and freedom fighters. "An official from the ruling Zanu-PF party - itself once a guerrilla force - said the meeting would focus on Zimbabwe's moves to redistribute land."

...while what was once one of the richest countries in Africa is going down the toilet, with 70% unemployment, inflation at 526%, and chronic shortages of just about everything.

"[I]n a recent speech marking the 24th anniversary of Zimbabwe's independence from foreign rule, Mr Mugabe said the country's difficulties stemmed from a Western plot to re-colonise it."

The nefarious Western influence that is sabotaging Zimbabwe's economy is called socialism; a disease that Mugabe had picked up in his youth. Isn't it time to end the neo-colonisation of Africa by failed economic theories of dead white males like Marx?


Our Saudi friends just can't win 

"The American Thinker" on 10 March 2004:

"Saudi Arabia has launched an undeclared war on George W. Bush... [b]y using the 'oil weapon' to torpedo the American economy over the next eight months, and thereby weaken electoral support for George W. Bush’s candidacy in November... By restricting OPEC output since the end of hostilities in Iraq, the Saudis have forced oil prices up over the past several months."

Associated Press on 21 April 2004:

"The Saudi ambassador to the United States on Wednesday denied any linkage between the U.S. presidential election campaign and a Saudi pledge to the Bush administration to push for lower oil prices."


Is that what Perot had in mind when he warned about "the giant sucking sound"? 

John Kerry, the first French-American to aspire to US Presidency, rallies against American companies outsourcing jobs to cheaper overseas localities. Governor Schwarzenegger is trying very hard to make sure that American movie jobs stay in California instead of migrating elsewhere.

Now we know why:

"The recent news that actor Darren James contracted HIV while filming in Brazil and infected at least one other person upon his return has uncovered an open secret no one has wanted to confront: Adult film companies often shoot movies in foreign locales like Brazil, Budapest and Prague, in part to save money on less expensive local talent, in part to find new faces to fill the voracious demand for adult films."

Those damned foreigners - first they take our jobs, then they take our men and women.

Just wait for the left to call for regulation of those "sweatshops." Actually, here you go already. Now all we need the International Labor Organisation to step in.


It just keeps getting better and better 

This story might well dwarf Enron, Parmelat and BCCI, as the biggest financial fraud and scandal in history. Yes, we're onto the UN-sponsored Oil for Food scam again (see here and here for previous posts).

Claude Hankes-Drielsma, the former chairman of Price Waterhouse, who is now overseeing on behalf of the Iraqi Governing Council the KPMG investigation into the programme, expects that hundreds of politicians, businesspeople and UN officials could face criminal charges over siphoning off up to $10 billion from funds which were designed to give Iraqis food and medicine during the economic sanction years. That's your "international community" in action.

Says Hankes-Drielsma: "From the evidence I have so far, the report will produce some of the most disturbing information that you have ever seen... There is no question that where the evidence is beyond doubt, the US will take action to put people who defrauded the system to court, and for the courts to apply appropriate justice. That may be criminal courts as well as civil ones."

"Every person within the UN knew what was going on, irrespective of whether they benefited."

The report goes to say Hankes-Drielsma "believes investigations will show that France and Russia, both staunch opponents of the Iraq war, were the greatest beneficiaries of the scheme."

The KPMG report into the Oil for Spoils fiasco is expected in May.

Meanwhile the stench of corruption is getting so strong, that the UN has finally been forced to act, with the former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Paul Volcker, being appointed to head an internal investigation.

"Volcker assumed his post as head of a three-man team after he was assured that all 15 members of the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution to back the investigation, which will include a probe of contracts with Iraq around the world," Reuters reports.

Kofi Annan says he wants to get to the bottom of it. And so he should, seeing that the documents from Saddam's oil ministry allegedly show that the Oil for Food's UN director, Benon Sevan, might have himself scammed off up to $3.5 million worth of oil.

Sevan has apparently been on holidays in Australia since the scandal broke. Welcome Down Under, Mr Sevan, and enjoy your well deserved break.


Live from a Qatar jail: delusions of grandeur 

The Arabic press, quoting a US counsel working with the Coalition Provisional Authority, reports that Saddam still thinks he's the president of Iraq. Saddam, apparently is "not aware of any of the developments taking place outside prison."

I don't know what's worse: the fact that Saddam still thinks he's the president, or the fact that much of the left seems to think that it would have been better if he still was.

The report goes to note that "Saddam was writing daily, always demanding pens and paper."

If he's writing his own "Mein Kampf" now, then Saddam has got the whole Hitler thing the other way around; you write your book before you become a bloodthirsty dictator. If Saddam's really doing it in reverse we can expect him next to start painting watercolours. Unless the firing squad gets to him first.


Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Democracy and the legacy of totalitarianism 

The recent events in Iraq re-spark the debate: are Iraqis capable of creating a democratic society? Were the neo-cons too optimistic in their claim that democracy and human rights are universal? Is America the modern-day Sisyphus, trying to achieve the impossible in the Middle East?

Lawrence Auster thinks the Coalition in Iraq might have gone about its task the wrong way, concentrating on trying to create democratic institutions and processes, without first creating a strong authority with the monopoly on the use of force. And the Iraqis aren't helping very much:

"[T]he desire of individuals for those nice things [freedom, democracy, etc.], even the desire of the majority of the people in a given country for those nice things, does not necessarily mean that they will possess the collective will to put down the lawless minorities in their midst and thus be able to have those nice things. It is not a sign of wisdom in our political and intellectual elites that they fail to see this elemental truth of political existence."

Zeyad at Healing Iraq provides a similarly pessimistic perspective in a specially translated article by Iraqi writer and columnist Abdul Mun'im Al-Assam:

"We, Iraqis, are not qualified to administer ourselves. Let us admit it. The time for truth has dawned. The time for confession. The whole world deals with us as minors: When we debate with each other, we do it with knives and sticks. When we disagree we grit our teeth and shake fists. When we love someone we take off the fig leaves that cover us. When we hate someone we hate the adversary up to his seventh neighbour. If it were not so, why did we fill Imam Ali's heart with anguish, if we could truly hear its beats? Why did the Ottomans resort to ruling us with Janissaries, if we could distinguish rights from duties? And why did they have to fetch us the kind Prince Faisal I from Paris to be our monarch, if we did not require someone to rehabilitate and teach us all about politics and parliamentary sessions? Why did they bring us the nice polite Miss Bell if it were not to teach us how to eat with a knive [sic] and fork? Why did they push Mishel Aflaq on to us if not to give us lessons on coups? And why do we have to live now under the auspices of Mr. Paul Bremer, with the world's consent, if we didn't need someone to polish our language, teach us discipline, and to respect traffic lights?"

Daniel Pipes, usually a strong voice of reason in all debates on things Islamic, also thinks that democracy in Iraq is a mirage, at least in short term:

"I therefore counsel the occupying forces quickly to leave Iraqi cities and then, when feasible, to leave Iraq as a whole. They should seek out what I have been calling for since a year ago: a democratically-minded Iraqi strongman, someone who will work with the coalition forces, provide decent government, and move eventually toward a more open political system."

So what's the story? I think we are discovering, once again, how difficult it is to make a normal society and normal nation out of people who have been brutalised for so long. Speaking from personal experience, I see how often intelligent and well-meaning Westerners underestimate the dreadful legacy that totalitarianism leaves in souls, hearts and minds of its victims long after statues are toppled secret police abolished. Autocracy infantilises the whole society, robbing people of their dignity, courage, initiative and energy. In many cases, the old society with its old ways gives way to the new only when there are few left to remember it. This is not an optimistic view, as it condemns us to decades of painful transition. Some societies are more fortunate than others: those with some traditions of democracy, freedom and openness move towards the ultimate goal (Germany and Japan after World War Two, Poland and Czech Republic post-1989). Those others are not necessarily condemned to failure, but they are condemned to a long and dreary wait.

In Iraq today we have to rely on respected imams and clan leaders to manage the transition to normalcy, but it will be the young people of Iraq who will make the new nation. It's their hearts and minds that we have to win, otherwise we're all in for a long ride.


The UN powers on 

Forget the world peace, terrorism and the refugee problem; the United Nations is onto some heavy stuff now.

"Some 150 experts gathered Tuesday at U.N. World Headquarters to encourage the development of more consistency and accuracy in the use of place names. Representing 22 linguistic or geographical divisions around the world, the U.N. Group of Experts on Geographical Names is hopeful that during its 10 day meeting at New York it will reach accords for maps and gazetteers."

No word as yet if the UN has any official plans to rename Iraq as Vietnam.


Mother Russia: laughing at them foreign soldiers while selling off national heritage 

Just like the "good" old days, that famed paragon on journalism, "Pravda", gleefully reports on how drunken NATO soldiers are being assaulted and robbed on the streets of Lithuania.

For the locals it must make a nice change to drunken Russian soldiers assaulting and robbing on the streets of Lithuania.

Meanwhile, the city of St Petersburg is planning to "privatise" its numerous historic palaces.

"The city's governor, Valentina Matvienko, said it was the only way to save from total ruin decrepit mansions that were once the homes of pre-Revolutionary Russia's most noted families.

"The government can not afford the cost of maintaining or restoring the numerous palaces scattered throughout the city's famous canal-side streets. 'Many businessmen have told me that if leasehold agreements for the rental of palaces provided for property rights they would not be scared to put their own money into restoration projects,' she said."

While there is no doubt that privately supported heritage is better than the publicly owned falling apart heritage, let's hope that this privatisation will be more successful than Russia's previous efforts in this direction.


Sun rising again? 

And now for something totally different. An interesting piece from an Australian expatriate about the rebirth of Japanese nationalism, mostly through the education system - and what it means for the future of Japan and her neighbours.


Chrenkin' off 

It's been a nice present for yours truly's birthday today - all those thousands of visits since yesterday afternoon. I hope that at least some of you like what you see and will keep coming back to take an occasional peak inside my head and be exposed to my "chrenkin' off" about what's going on around the world.

Since you're all here, a word about where I'm coming from. I was born in the then communist Poland (in Krakow to be precise) and I grew up in a stifling, oppressive, dreary society that (I'm paraphrasing P. J. O'Rourke from memory) didn't kill you anymore, just bored you to death. In 1988 I migrated with my parents to Australia; it was a year before the Wall collapsed; and no, just like the CIA and all the experts, we had no inkling when we left that the communism wouldn't be around much longer. I was then still a naive youngster who thought that the Cold War was a simple struggle between the communist world (where everyone but the elite wanted the other side to win) and the Western world, which was free, capitalist, and fiercely anti-communism.

Boy, wasn't I in for a shock. Very soon I discovered that while I was correct in first part, the West, to a large extent, was either indifferent or quite friendly to the whole idea of socialism. In particular I was shocked to find out just how many among the Western elites (political, media, academic, etc.) thought that the communists were the good guys, or at least believed in moral equivalence between the free and the un-free world; how many thought that free market was bad and socialism in some form was still the way of the future; and how many were hostile and patronising to the values that I held dear.

Well, almost 16 years on, nothing shocks me anymore. But thanks to the magic of information technology I no longer have to rave on about it only to my friends. So welcome to the world of Chrenkoff.

...and this, boys and girls, is why most* of the left shits me to tears.

* having friends on the "other side" and appreciating good debate with decent people of genuine good will on the left.


The last few words about Iraq and Vietnam 

The biggest problem I have with the whole comparison between Iraq and Vietnam is that most, though by no means all, of those who peddle it, use it (as the old saying goes) like a drunk uses a lamp post; not for enlightenment but for support.

There seems to be a large constituency in the West, which believes that: 1) the war in Vietnam was morally and/or strategically wrong, and 2) that in any case it turned out to be a quagmire and the US had made an absolute mess of it. Therefore to compare any subsequent American military involvement with that in Vietnam is to both deny it the legitimacy and to make a judgment about its conduct and its chances of success.

The problem is that it will be up to history, and not the contemporaries in the heat of the battle, to judge what will become of the liberation of Iraq. It is far, far too early to say whether Iraq will indeed be remembered as another Vietnam, or another Lebanon, or maybe another Korea, an earlier Lebanon (1958), or the Malayan emergency.

I am certainly hoping - for the sake of the Iraqis as well as the US and the rest of the international community - that Iraq will not turn out to be another something, but that it will in turn become a model for the future, a new reference point for the situation where people oppressed by a cruel dictator are given a chance to lead normal lives and to rejoin the community of decent nations.

The left will probably call me a naive idealist. How ironic.


Tuesday, April 20, 2004

How to turn Iraq into Vietnam 

...easy. Just play around with figures. Like this story from Drew Brown of Knight-Ridder/Tribune (also reprinted in Brisbane "Courier Mail" but not available on the net):

"With fighting in Iraq now at its worst, the number of U.S. troops killed by enemy fire has reached the highest level since the Vietnam War."

How does Brown reach that conclusion? He asks an expert: David Segal, director of the University of Maryland's Center for Research on Military Organization. "This has been some pretty intense fighting... We're looking at what happened during the major battles of Vietnam," observed Segal.

And Brown's story continues: "The last time U.S. troops experienced a two-week loss such as this one in Iraq was October 1971, two years before U.S. ground involvement ended in Vietnam."

Major battles in Vietnam? Two week loss in October 1971? Really?

There have been 98 American deaths so far this month, the highest total for any month since the fighting began last year.

47,413 American soldiers died in combat in Vietnam (that's the so called "hostile deaths", since there were also 10,785 other deaths, which we won't count for this purpose). The war lasted for 90 months (August 1964, post Tonkin Gulf incident, to January 1972 when South Vietnamese army took over most operations). This comes to an average of just under 527 killed in action per month.

Between 1966 and 1971, which when the major combat operations were taking place in Vietnam, the lowest monthly casualty rates were January 1966 (196 killed) and December 1971 (157 killed). Picking a month at random, in June 1968, 536 Americans were killed in combat.

October 1971 had 196 killed in action. I don't have the fortnightly figures that Brown writes about, but averaging out we'll get 98 killed, so he's right, the April casualties in Iraq are comparable to October 1971 in Vietnam - albeit Brown seems to compare a two week period in Vietnam with an almost three week period in Iraq.

We can forgive him that. But...

To answer my initial question: how do we turn Iraq into Vietnam? Just take the lowest monthly death count from Vietnam and compare it to the highest monthly death count from Iraq. I told you it was easy.

What Brown should have written is that the number of U.S. troops killed by enemy fire has reached the highest level since the tail-end of Vietnam War. And Segal obviously doesn't have a clue what "the major battles of Vietnam" involved.

Then again, why should Brown and Segal let facts get in the way of a good (or indeed, bad) story?

The left just never learns. That includes to count.


A few hours later, and a lot more traffic later (thank you Andrew Sullivan). I stand behind my conclusions (and I thank readers for their comments, both pro and against).

I might just raise three quick points:

1) It is inappropriate to compare casualty rates in Iraq to those in Vietnam at any point before late 1965, as until then the troop levels on the ground were insignificant (as was the nature of the fighting, compared to what came later on).

2) Brown's statement that "With fighting in Iraq now at its worst, the number of U.S. troops killed by enemy fire has reached the highest level since the Vietnam War" is technically true but misleading, since the action in Iraq is the longest and most intensive American military engagement since the Vietnam War.

While the casualty levels might be the highest since Vietnam War, the point I and numerous other commentators are making is that they are nowhere near as high as the casualty levels during the Vietnam War.

3) Lastly, let us remember the 241 Marines killed in one day in Beirut, Lebanon in October 1983 - surely the bloodiest day (and still the bloodiest month) for US military since the Vietnam War.


The reign in Spain (of terror, that is) 

BBC reports: "Vandals have desecrated the grave of a Spanish policeman who was killed when a group of Madrid bomb suspects blew themselves up. A Spanish radio station said his coffin was dragged from its tomb, doused with fuel and set on fire."

Who's the courageous individuals, I wonder?

And are we going to see the returning Spanish troops being spat upon in the streets for their part in the fascist invasion of peaceful Iraq? This is another Vietnam after all.


Monday, April 19, 2004

Oil for Spoils: the story just keep getting better 

The UN-Saddamite cesspool of corruption and influence peddling that was the Oil for Food "humanitarian" programme is revealing itself murkier and smellier (if that's at all possible) with every new page of documentary evidence turned over.

You've read before how the Hussein regime had turned this UN initiative into a shopping spree for foreign politicians and influential businesspeople - now emerges the possibility that some of the money might have been laundered through the programme to finance Islamist terrorists.

Now let's just get the people who were supervising the Oil for Fraud programme (the UN) and get them running the post-liberation Iraq. Fantastic idea, Messrs Kerry and Latham.


The decline and fall of "The Spectator", Part II 

I've written about it before, but it's getting worse - have a look at the selection in the latest issue of "The Spectator":

"The sound of rockets in the morning: Iraq is a disaster in the making, says Andrew Gilligan, unless the Americans learn to stop playing into the hands of their enemies."

"Things were better under Saddam: The coalition has destroyed Baathism, says Rod Liddle, and with it all hopes of the emergence of secular democracy."

"The hogs of war: Mercenaries make big money in Iraq but, says Sam Kiley, the ‘outsourcing’ of security work is adding to the chaos in the country."

But then there is this:

"The deadly Mail: Michael Gove says that the Daily Mail has been taken over by Tory appeasers who detest Americans, and the fight for Western civilisation in the Middle East."

Hey, why worry about "The Daily Mail" when it looks like they've taken over "The Spectator" too.

Not that the Brits have much credibility on the whole issue. As Mark Steyn writes: "When you look at the current hotspots of the Islamist threat — Iraq, the Khyber Pass, Kashmir, the West Bank, Sudan — America is spending a lot of time mopping up the failures of British imperialism — or, to be more charitable, of late-period fag-end fainthearted British imperialism."

Alas, Mark is the only reason still left to read "The Spectator". And he's Canadian.


North Korean commies - always good for a laugh (unless you are a North Korean) 

"North Korea slammed US Vice President Dick Cheney as 'mentally deranged' and accused him of using his recent Asian tour to incite bitterness toward the communist country," reports AFP.

One might think that's pretty rich coming from a country where people eat grass and their fellow citizens as a result of the government's highly successful economic policies.

But then again, who are we to judge a country that so courageously rejected globalisation and the nefarious influence of American imperialism.


Libya thaws? 

Could this be really happening? Hard to believe, but...

"Moammar Gadhafi on Sunday called for the abolition of Libya's three decade-old exceptional courts and other strict laws criticized by human rights groups... Libya's exceptional laws have, among other things, banned the formation of political parties and stipulated death penalties for dissidents."

Meanwhile, Gaddafi's (pick your spelling) son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, has urged Libya's Jews, who in the past were forced to flee their homeland, to come back to Libya.

He also had this to say to his fellow Arabs about America's project to democratise the Middle East: "Instead of shouting and criticising the American initiative, you have to bring democracy to your countries, and then there will be no need to fear America or your people."

Any if you believe that these things would have been happening in the Middle East but for the invasion of Iraq, then I've got a nice mosque in Mecca to sell.


Make a wish... 

Dreams do come true, even in the Middle East:

"[The newly assassinated head of Hamas] Dr Rantissi had prophetically declared after Yassin's assassination on March 22: 'We will all die one day, if by Apache (helicopter) or by cardiac arrest. I prefer Apache'."

I'm reminded of the good work being done by the Starlight Foundation, which grants wishes of terminally ill children. How about extending this great idea into a new territory? How about the Hellfire Foundation, where terrorist leaders expecting a sudden demise can make their last wish? All the donations are tax deductible and should be sent c/- Israeli Defence Forces.


Sunday, April 18, 2004

The Third Way - spitting on capitalism while wallowing in profits 

The author of "The State We're In" is in a pretty good one himself, thanks for asking. This is a delightful story from the UK:

"Will Hutton, Britain's foremost critic of capitalism and an outspoken advocate for affordable social housing, is married to a property developer who has made a fortune out of selling and renting inner-city properties, often at rates which local council housing officers describe as exorbitant.

"Mr Hutton's wife heads a company called First Premise, which owns and manages dozens of commercial and residential properties in London.

"The company specialises in renovating rundown properties - often with the help of public grants - and then makes a profit by selling or renting them out.

"The disclosure that Mr Hutton's own family is among those capitalising on Britain's property boom will be an acute embarrassment for him."

I doubt it - lefties are beyond embarrassment or shame.

Plus, if Marx could live off the profits of Engels' factory, why can't Hutton be a hypocrite too?


What colour is the ribbon for hypocrisy? 

The sheltered workshop that is Australia's "artz" community is not happy about the free trade agreement with the United States, and they are not afraid to show it at tonight Logie Awards:

"Australian actors will pin green and gold ribbons to their designer outfits at tonight's TV Week Logie Awards to protest against the 'pawning' of Australian culture in free trade negotiations with the US.

" 'Our culture is not a commodity,' said Alan Fletcher, who plays Dr Karl Kennedy on Neighbours and is the Victorian president of the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA)."

Our culture is not a commodity? I presume then, Alan, that you work for free.

Meanwhile, Queensland's Labor Education and Arts Minister and the premier in waiting, Anna Bligh, is heading to California to ensure that the Hollywood money keeps flowing to finance American productions made Down Under. Guvernator Schwarzenegger has promised during the election campaign to try to stem the flow of estimated $A5.4 billion that the American movie industry is spending offshore in countries with cheaper production costs such as Australia and New Zealand. And so our newest defender of free trade is flying off shortly to fight Conan the Protectionist.

Common guys, you can't have it both ways - reaping the financial rewards whenever an American studio or a TV channel choose to film over here, creating jobs for Australian film industry professionals, but then throwing a tantrum to prevent American productions from "swamping" Australia.

And God forbid that viewers should actually be allowed to watch what they want - what would those peasants know about culture, anyway?


The world's most dangerous job 

An established terrorist organisation based in Gaza, seeks an energetic and committed leader to take it forward to the next level of violence. Our brand name is strong but we need some new blood with new ideas, having just suffered a minor downturn (the assassinations of our "spiritual" leader and operational leader).

Hamas just ain't having much luck lately, with the second successful assassination conducted by Israeli army, this time taking out Abdelaziz Rantissi.

And this just in: "The Hamas group named a new Gaza Strip leader today, but declined to reveal his identity as part of a new policy launched after Israel assassinated - for the second time in less than a month - the group's leader."

They could almost run a game show on Gaza TV, "Who Wants to be the Dead Terrorist Leader". Or maybe a reality show (seeing we're talking about the Middle East, it might be an unreality show).


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