Saturday, April 23, 2005

Dude, where's my country? 

How careless. Somebody misplaced a whole country and no one really cared:
"Belize, the only English-speaking country in Central America, disappeared off the map for the past week and almost no one noticed.

"Since April 15 the tiny country the size of Wales has been without telephone links as a result of strikes and protests. Only a few internet cafes with satellite connections provide a tenuous link to the outside world...

"The outside world barely noticed that a country of 260,000 people had dropped off the map.

"A British colony until 1981, Belize is 100 miles from tip to tip, much of it sparsely-populated rain forest. It was Monday evening before the first international news agency, Associated Press, reported the trouble."
A fate we could wish to any of the world's many trouble spots.


Saying sorry 

Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi offers perhaps the fullest apology ever given on behalf of his country, and certainly in the biggest international forum yet, at a Jakarta summit of Asian and African leaders:
"In the past, Japan, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations... Japan squarely faces these facts of history in a spirit of humility with feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology always engraved in mind."
I've never been a big fun of historical apologies. For me, being sorry implies accepting personal responsibility for your own wrongful actions; I hit you, I was wrong, I'm sorry. Apologizing on behalf of others, even if they're your ancestors or fellow countrymen and women is from a moral perspective an altogether different kettle of fish.

I don't believe that the sins of the fathers are visited upon their children. For example, I do not believe that a 33-year old German owes me, a Pole, an apology for the Second World War, a 33-year old Russian for inflicting communism on my homeland, or a 33-year old Japanese for the war in Pacific and mistreatment of Australian prisoners of war. By the same token I don't expect to have to say sorry for any past wrongs committed by my fellow Poles, or Australians, or white males.

I also don't believe that the sins of past governments are visited on their successors. For example, the Bush administration is not responsible for its predecessors' support of the institution of slavery. The argument is even stronger in the case of past misdeeds by non-democratic governments.

The best we can do, instead, is to acknowledge that the past wrongs were indeed wrong, feel a regret that these things ever occurred, be committed to ensuring that our generation will not let it happen again, and move on in the spirit of not letting the past be a constant slow poison infecting the future.

Thus, getting back to our initial example, I don't think that the issue should be whether Junichiro Koizumi is sorry, either as an individual Japanese or as the voice of the Japanese government, for the actions he had nothing to do with, but which were taken by his countrymen over sixty years ago and sanctioned by the Japanese government. The real issue is that there are still too many people in Japan, particularly important people, who don't think that Japan has done anything wrong during the war, people who continue to venerate war criminals and try to whitewash history.

Lest I be accused of hypocrisy and "do as I say, not as I so" attitude, I'm going to go out on a limb here and perhaps incur wrath of some of my fellow Poles. In a few weeks' time we will be commemorating the end of the Second World War, with official celebrations to be held in Moscow. I know that many Poles and other Eastern and Central Europeans think this would be an opportune time - although they know it's not going to happen - for Vladimir Putin to make a clean break with the past and apologize for communization of the region, for prisons and gulags, for mass graves and forced exiles.

I, too, don't expect Putin to say sorry - but I also don't think he needs to. What would be infinitely more important would be an acknowledgment that he and the people he represents understand that imposition of communist rule was wrong and so was killing and imprisoning millions of people and denying the Eastern Europe its freedom for almost five decades. And what would be infinitely more productive would be a commitment not to let dictatorship and violence to ever re-emerge, and to ensure that we can all work together to build a better, freer and more peaceful future.


Friday, April 22, 2005

"The American people need to know the full story" 

Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is beating his head against the wall, or to be more precise, against the media:
"The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is encouraging newspaper editors to tell America the full story of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

" 'It’s particularly important today... because the American people need to know the full story,' Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers said in addressing the American Society of Newspaper Editors, 'because it is going to be their resolve that is so critical to our ability to confront the extremist threat'."
Which is precisely why many in the media insist on focusing on the bad news. Not all, by any means - many reporters and editors do their best to provide fair and balanced reporting; others are simply naturally biased in favor of the "exciting" bad news at the expense of the "boring" good news, whether they're writing from Boston or Baghdad - but a significant minority, which is personally opposed to Republican foreign policy, has been doing its best to repeat the brilliant performance of their Vietnam-era predecessors.

Wellington famously remarked that the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton; today, America's wars are being lost in the cafeteria of the Columbia School of Journalism.
"Myers told the editors he reads far more about the problems of servicemembers’ equipment and the latest insurgent attack than about 'the thousands of amazing things our troops are accomplishing'...

"The chairman said that part of the problem lies with the military. He said commanders must be more responsive and give more access to reporters. 'We’re working on that,' he told the editors.

"But still, 'a bomb blast is seen as more newsworthy than the steady progress of rebuilding communities and lives, remodeling schools and running vaccination programs and water purification plants'."
See any edition of my "Good news from Iraq".
"Myers challenged the newspaper editors to ensure the American people understand the hundreds of ways their sons and daughters are improving lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

" 'In your profession and mine, (we are) working hard to defend our values, our way of life and our Constitution,' Myers said. 'We risk our comfort, our safety and our lives for what we believe in.' The chairman noted that more than 40 journalists have been killed while covering operations in Iraq. The 'Fourth Estate' always has covered conflicts, Myers noted, but what is different today is the amount of news and that it travels so much faster than in the past.

" 'What questions are the news reports trying to answer?' the chairman asked. 'The theme of the coverage lately seems to be "When are the troops coming home?" rather than "What are we accomplishing?"'"
That's a rather charitable interpretation and a brave attempt by the General to find some common ground. In fact, "our values", "our way of life" and "our Constitution" quite often tend to mean totally different things to military people and journalists.
"He said the military will work with the press. 'Our task is to give you better access, more timely information and we will do that,' he said. 'In return I would ask you to keep at the task of trying to show as complete a picture as you can. I know our troops deserve that, and I think the American people deserve it as well'."
As we all know, just because you deserve something, it doesn't mean you're going to get it. Thank God for blogs.


Phoenix rises in Arizona 

A group of super-rich plutocrats meets in secrecy to plot influencing the American intellectual and political process. Trash your Marxist textbooks - they're all lefties:

"George Soros told a carefully vetted gathering of 70 likeminded millionaires and billionaires last weekend that they must be patient if they want to realize long-term political and ideological yields from an expected massive investment in 'startup' progressive think tanks.

"The Scottsdale, Ariz., meeting, called to start the process of building an ideas production line for liberal politicians, began what organizers hope will be a long dialogue with the 'partners,' many from the high-tech industry. Participants have begun to refer to themselves as the Phoenix Group.

"Rob Stein, a veteran of President Bill Clinton’s Commerce Department and of New York investment banking, convened the meeting of venture capitalists, left-leaning moneymen and a select few D.C. strategists on how to seed pro-Democratic think tanks, media outlets and leadership schools to compete with such entrenched conservative institutions as the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and the Leadership Institute."
This underdog act by the left has always struck me as disingenuous and rather pathetic. Here we have a group of people subscribing to the same philosophy which has for the past few decades dominated the print and the electronic media, the universities, the foundations, the world of culture, arts and entertainment, the unions and the public service, and yet they keep complaining that they can't seem to get their messages across. Pro-Democratic think tanks don't need any more seeding; Harvard, Princeton and Berkeley are all pretty well funded. The reason that somebody like Daniel Pipes had to start his own Middle East Forum is because no "self-respecting" Mid East studies department at a major American university would now have such an outspoken enemy of Islamofascism onboard. And if the Heritage Foundation and the AEI are winning the battle of ideas against the combined might of the liberal academia and the media, not wanting to detract anything from the fantastic work of these two think tanks, it really says something about the liberal ideas themselves.

Yet the people who made millions and billions riding the waves of supply and demand think that if a product that's already been promoted to death is not selling, the solution is not to reevaluate the product but to increase the advertising budget. If Soros and the rest of the Phoenix Group run their businesses the way they run their politics they would be bankrupt by now. As it is, they're only intellectually bankrupt.


Flying the flag 

A minor controversy in a small Australia town:
"Neighbours say a Nazi flag flying in the backyard of a New South Wales Central Coast family home has been taken down after criticism from the [Returned Servicemen League], Jewish groups and other neighbours.

"The flag had been flying in the backyard of the home of Mannering Park residents Darren Mackay and Jenni Duncombe for about a week."
Nothing unusual there except for this:
"Ms Duncombe had told the Daily Telegraph she did not know what the flag signified until the controversy erupted, but would not remove it because her four-month-old daughter liked its bright colours."
Behold Ms Duncombe, a perfect noble savage, untouched not only by the most basic historical knowledge, but also, by the sounds of it, by the popular culture.

But as Maureen Dowd would say, Ms Duncombe was probably merely celebrating the election of the new Pope.

(Ratzinger is, of course right; by that stage of the war everyone had to join Hitler Youth. The former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl had had a very similar experience as a 15-year old drafted to man a Hitler Jugend anti-aircraft battery - you can read about it in Martin Gilbert's excellent book, "The Day the War Ended". Former Australian left-wing Senator Sid Spindler was another case in point).


The theo-left just can't win 

Reader Eric takes me to task for my statement two days ago that
"While the commentators all too often tend to reduce the religion to a matter of 'helping the poor', the poor themselves [particularly in the developing world] look to their faith for the promise of the next life rather than a change in this one."
He writes:
"[This] is precisely why the Catholic Church faces the challenge of increasing numbers of its flock, particularly in Latin America, converting to evangelical Protestantism. And that's because the Protestants push the notion that you CAN make a difference in this life, you CAN improve your lot, and that resonates powerfully with folks who have previously been encouraged to be fatalistic."
I agree; the growth of evangelical Protestantism, particularly in the once impregnable Catholic bastion of Latin America is an undisputed fact, and it is happening at least in part because of the reasons that Eric mentions.

This might be a bad news for Catholicism (if one considers intra-Christian competition a zero-sum game), but it is even worse news for the Western progressives. This is because this Protestant-inspired drive to improve one's material condition is not based on Marxist Liberation Theology and the redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor, but on the ethic of hard work, education, entrepreneurship, and - yes - capitalism.

And so, the Western trendies are ending up with the worst of both worlds: developing world Christians who aren't just socially conservative - they're also anti-statist and pro-market.


Thursday, April 21, 2005

Born under a dark star 

One great thing about having my birthday on April 21, is the great company I keep. I have particularly in mind Hitler on April 20 and Lenin on April 22. As reluctant I am to expand this bountiful horizon, I'm reminded of Kim Il Sung's birthday on April 15 and Saddam's on April 28. Indeed, I have once read somewhere that astrologers consider the period of mid to late April to be somewhat ominous, with birthday boys and girls over those two or so weeks said to have been "born under a dark star".

Outside of the "dark star" period, may I also remind you of another one of my fellow Taureans, Karl Marx, on May 5, and a Taurus/Gemini combination Pol Pot on May 22.

Should you feel sorry for me, spare a thought for Jesus, surrounded by Stalin on December 21 and Mao on December 26 (the old Christian tradition, however, actually puts the birth of Christ in early January).

April 21 itself, seems to be thankfully bloodthirsty dictator-free: Charlotte Bronte, Anthony Quinn, Iggy Pop, Tony Danza, Andie MacDowell, as well as Queen Elizabeth II, still the Queen of Australia, as well as Robert Smith of one of my favorite 1980s Goth bands, the Cure.


What's in the name, part 2 

In the follow up to my yesterday's post, The Bottom Line has turned my attention to this "Daily Telegraph" opinion piece by Charles Moore, which makes a good argument for St Benedict, the founder of Western monasticism, as the inspiration for Ratzinger's Benedict XVI, rather than the World War One pontiff.

If you think that divining the message behind the new Pope's choice of name is a meaningless exercise for bored theo-historical nerds, think again. This is all getting very interesting:

"I would suggest a historically more distant inspiration as well: St Benedict, the man who had given birth to monasticism in the twilight of the Roman Empire. His 'rule' - his instructions to monks - laid the foundations, Ratzinger believes, for the methods of democracy. His spiritual spark kept the light of Christianity alive through centuries of darkness.

" 'Think of late antiquity,' Ratzinger once told an interviewer. 'Where St Benedict probably wasn't noted at all. He was also a dropout who came from noble Roman society and did something bizarre, something that later turned out to be the "ark on which the West survived".' "
Far be it for the humble me to try to get inside the head of the new Pope, but if I were to speculate, this is what Benedict XVI might be thinking:

1) The West, or more precisely Europe, is in trouble. The situation today closely mirrors the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, when the once great and universal civilization slowly declined under the weight of external threats and internal problems. Ratzinger looks at the European Union today, with its declining birth rates, loss of morale and civility, decadence, public disengagement, increasingly out-of-touch elites, intrusive government and thinks: sadly, we've seen it all before (you might argue with each and all of these points, but remember - the point is how he perceives the situation).

2) In this light, Ratzinger's
opposition to Muslim Turkey joining the Christian Europe in the European Union, as well as his distrust of multiculturalism, start to make a lot more sense. Again, think back to the 4th and 5th century AD, and how the slow infiltration (combined with outright invasion) by various barbarian tribes contributed to the death of the Western Empire and led to five centuries of Dark Ages. It's another deja-vu for Ratzinger, this time with migrants - mostly Muslim migrants - flooding into Europe, and with time and demographic trends going the way they're going, changing the complexion and character of the whole continent. In many ways, Ratzinger would think, the situation is even more dire than fifteen centuries ago: after all, most of the barbarian tribes were, or eventually became, Christian, and were attracted to the Western Empire because they wanted to partake in its fading glory (the Huns being virtually the only exception). For Ratzinger, the new wave of immigrants shares neither Europe's religion nor its culture, and doesn't want to assimilate but ultimately change the face of Europe.

3) St Benedict, the founder of the Western monastic tradition, can be largely credited with helping to preserve the legacy of the Christianized Western Empire through five centuries of Dark Ages, when religion, writing, learning and culture (as they were) only survived sheltered inside a network of monasteries spanning the Western Europe. If we're in for another Dark Ages, and if the Church is again to be the bearer of a spark that will reignite the civilization one day, it needs shock troops rather than lukewarm masses, pure quality rather than adulterated quantity. Hence, Ratzinger's preference for a smaller but orthodox Catholic community over a lowest common denominator religious community without passion or zeal.

I might be misreading Ratzinger - maybe he does not think of the current situation in quite such apocalyptic terms - but the new Pontiff is clearly concerned about the survival of Christianity in our post-West West, and he won't roll over and accept any "inevitable trends".

As an aside, I had a feeling that this would eventually pop up: a reader sends me a link to this
World Net Daily story, which dredges up the Prophecies of St Malachy, a 12th century monk who is said to have listed all the pontiffs the Catholic Church had and will ever have, giving each a brief Latin motto. The pope number 110, De labore Solis, was the description of Pope John II, and "Labor of the sun" fits his life on many different levels. His successor, Gloria olivæ, "Glory of the olive" was thought to either refer to the Pope's skin color (hence Latin American or Mediterranean) or the fact that he will be a member of the Benedictine order, also known as Olivetans, who sport the olive branch as a symbol. Ratzinger is not a Benedictine, but he chose as his name the founder of the order, St Benedict.

Bad news: there is only one more Pope left, Peter the Roman, in whose pontificate the Church will face many persecutions, Rome will be destroyed, and the world will end. Something to look forward to.


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Irony watch 

Only few hours have passed since the elevation of Cardinal Ratzinger to the Throne of St Peter and already the commentariat is buzzing with talk about a "missed opportunity" to elect a representative of the developing world (most likely a Latin American) who would have a better understanding and better outreach to the world's poor. Conservative German apparently simply won't do.

Pope John Paul II was, of course, a conservative Pole, but that did not prevent him from being wildly popular among the world's Catholics, particularly those outside the First World. Yes, the Pope's undoubted charisma obviously must have had something to do with, but what too many Western observers, forever locked in their own progressive echo-chamber, tend to forget is that the Catholic population of the developing world tends to be significantly more orthodox in terms of their theology and observance and significantly more socially conservative than their fellow Catholics in Europe or North America. While the commentators all too often tend to reduce the religion to a matter of "helping the poor", the poor themselves look to their faith for the promise of the next life rather than a change in this one.


What's in the name? 

Welcome to the new parlor game: trying to guess the meaning behind Cardinal Ratzinger's choice of Benedict as his papal name.

Agence France-Presse leads off with this theory:

"In choosing the name Benedict XVI, Germany's Joseph Ratzinger has harked back to history, with the previous Benedict being an Italian who steered the Catholic Church through the pain of World War I...

"Benedict XV, Giacomo Della Chiesa, became pontiff in 1914 and led the Church through most of the four-year conflict and the initial period of peace which followed... In 1917 he floated a peace plan which was rejected by both sides in the Great War. Undeterred, he devoted himself to international reconciliation in the wake of the conflict."
Appropriately, there is French angle there, too: "During his relatively brief papacy of seven years he also canonized the 15th-century French heroine Joan of Arc in 1920, which helped thaw the Vatican's relations with France and led to diplomatic ties being restored."

Meanwhile, in "The Independent", Catholic journalist
Catherine Pepinster speculates:

"Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - Pope Benedict XVI - is a Pope for Europe. It cannot be by chance that he has taken the name of Benedict, patron saint of Europe, for his papal title. As prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a post he held under the late Pope John Paul II for 23 years, Joseph Ratzinger became increasingly concerned about the secularisation of Europe, the threats to its very Christian soul."
It is somewhat ironic that Benedict XV, the European peacemaker, had a statue erected in his honor in Istanbul as "the benefactor of all people, regardless of nation or creed", while the new Benedict XVI has voiced his opposition to Muslim Turkey joining the Christian Europe in the European Union. "Turkey has always represented a different continent, in permanent contrast to Europe," he told "Le Figaro" last year.

Ratzinger, who also doesn't think much of multiculturalism ("fleeing from what is one's own"), obviously has a different vision of Europe to that of the Paris-Berlin axis. Benedict, the patron saint of Christian Europe, and Benedict, the papal conciliator and bridge-builder, seem not to sit too comfortably with each other. Time will tell which Benedict will prove to be the stronger and more lasting inspiration for Ratzinger.

Now imagine if American Presidents would have to choose new names when assuming office. I wonder if George W Bush would have chosen to call himself President Ronald II.


Benedict XVI 

At about half past two in the morning I got woken up by an SMS from a friend of mine who's two time-zones away. The SMS read: "Ratzinger". Habemus papam, I thought. We have a Pope. Or at least I thought I thought it; I was pretty sleepy. But this morning it got me thinking - I haven't heard these words since I was six and a half. Most Catholics around the world today don't have a memory of any other Pope but John Paul. Big St Peter's shoes to fill for Cardinal Ratzinger, indeed.

As a Pole, I found it quietly satisfying that we managed to get one before the Germans. That aside, I remember among all the speculation of the last few weeks an opinion that favored Ratzinger as John Paul's successor as a "transitory" Pontiff. He's 78 years old, so the cynical argument went, and is not expected to have as long a stint in the office as, say, somebody in their 60s, and this would allow the Church hierarchy a few more years to trash out among themselves the ultimate direction they want the Papacy to take in the new millennium. Well, Ratzinger looks pretty healthy to me, and God can have a pretty wicked sense of humor in these sorts of things.

One thing is for certain; the "moderates", "liberals" and "progressives" within the Church who expected a break from the past, will be disappointed. Ratzinger is not a trendy reformer. I'm sure we will be reminded countless times over the next few weeks that until now, he has been the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the body which in the past centuries used to be known as the Holy Inquisition. Of course, all institutions change over time, and it makes as much sense to tar Ratzinger with burning heretics in sixteenth century Spain, as saying that George W Bush currently holds the office which had once supported slavery. But tarred he will be, because the progressives did not get a Pontiff that "moves with the times", or at least with "The New York Times."

Andrew Sullivan is already foaming at the mouth: "the Grand Inquisitor" (there you have that meme), "it would be hard to over-state the radicalism of this decision", "a full-scale attack on the reformist wing of the church", "polarizing", "a coming civil war within Catholicism", "the hard right has now cemented its complete control", "we are back to the nineteenth century". Make some small changes and it reads like much of the post-Presidential election commentary last year. Ratzinger simply believes that Catholicism (or Christianity as a whole, for that matter), is built around some non-negotiable and unchanging truths - a concept totally alien for today's trendy relativists. For Sullivan it means that the new Pope won't be changing the Church's position on the same-sex marriage. Professor Bainbridge, needless to say, thinks that Andrew Sullivan is an ass.

Pundit Guy rounds up the news and reactions. James Taranto has more.


Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Something is rotten in the state of France 

This story had only popped up very briefly in the world media for a day or so in late March, but other than that it hasn't really made much waves outside of France - possibly because no greedy American oilmen were involved. Reminiscent of the recent scandal in Canada, but dwarfs it in magnitude. The opening paragraph from a story in a Polish magazine (my translation):
" 'The trial of the century,' 'the noose tightens around the president,' thunder French newspapers. In court, 47 people, including four former ministers and several directors of prominent firms, accused of funneling over 90 million Euros to political parties. Everything was working perfectly. In the early 1990s, each contract for the renovation of a Parisian high school included a 2 per cent "voluntary" donation. Later on, the bribes were shamelessly shared by the ruling right and the opposition left. Several of the accused are facing up to 10 years in jail. The man who was then the mayor of the capital is safe from prosecution, protected by his immunity. His name is Jacques Chirac, and since 1995 he's a president of France."
European politico-bureaucratic-business elites are rotten to the core. One day, when all the corrupt dealings between the Big Government and Big Euro Business finally bursts into the open, it will make Enron look like a secretary stealing pencils and post-it notes from work. But the European are starting to slowly wake from their slumber. If the EU constitution referendum goes down in France on May 29, it will be partly a well-aimed swing at Brussels and partly a slap for their own previously untouchable elites.


The favorites 

Ever wondered what other blogs the "A-list" bloggers read regularly?

Wonder no more - John Hawkins at the Right Wing News has done the research and
published the results. Honored to have made two guest appearances.


New poll from Iraq 

Our special correspondent and translator Haider Ajina wants you to know about a new opinion poll from Iraq. It was published in the April 18 edition of Iraqi Arabic newspaper "Almidhar". 778 Baghdadis were asked:

"Do you support the pull out of foreign troops?

"At once - 12.56%

"According to a future timetable - 81.80%

"Do not know - 5.64%

"Has the security situation improved since the start of the new government?

"Yes - 55%

"No - 35%

"No change - 10%"
Haider also writes:

"Most of us read, heard and saw the medias report of the April 9th demonstrations in Baghdad. Most of the U.S. media portrayed it as a massive anti American demonstration in the streets of Iraq. I noticed, however, from Iraqi Arabic newspapers that most the demonstrations were against terrorism & calling for Saddam’s trial & hanging (all these signs were in Arabic). I called my father in Baghdad to confirm this and he confirmed it. My father then confirmed that Al Sadr had asked his followers to demonstrate for the withdrawal of foreign troops, he also said that this group was very small and almost insignificant compared to the rest who were calling for Saddam’s trial & hanging and those against terrorism. My father said the Iraqi media reported the number like this 'about 200,000 demonstrators of which 8,000-10,000 were Al-Sadr & Sunni supporters' (strange bed fellows). He also said that when he listened to the Iraqi elected officials (on live T.V.) in the assembly, that every one (every one including those Sunnis initially opposed to the elections), every man and woman assembly member, reiterated the importance of foreign and specifically U.S. troops staying in Iraq till Iraq is ready to take over its own security. Most of them expressed their thanks for the troops being there and freeing Iraqis from Saddam. This I did not read, hear or see in any U.S. mainstream media outlet.

"These are the people Iraq elected, asking us to stay and thanking us. The poll shows only 12% want us to leave at once. This makes a complete mockery of the mainstream media coverage of the demonstrations. As my wife told me when she heard the coverage on CNN: 'Haider you are going to get mad when you hear this', and I am still mad. Forgive me for rehashing this point. I feel it really needs pointing out. Iraqis are grateful for what we did and continue to be grateful for us being there."
The mainstream media fails yet again. Spread the word.


Monday, April 18, 2005

China questions 

The things just keep getting more and more interesting in China:
"Anti-Japan protests swelled to their largest size yet in China on Sunday as relations between the two Asian powers continued their downward slide.

"Japan's foreign minister, in Beijing for talks with his Chinese counterpart, called for an emergency meeting between the countries' two leaders, both of whom will be in Indonesia later this week. But China didn't respond to the request, and the likelihood of a meeting seemed dim...

"Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people burned Japanese flags, tossed bottles and hurled paint at shops selling Japanese goods in Shenzhen, a booming industrial city near Hong Kong. A day earlier, mobs tossed bottles through windows of Japan's consulate in Shanghai, vandalized Japanese-made cars and smashed several Japanese restaurants."
A few thoughts:

1) The current stand-off between China and Japan presents an interesting moral conundrum: China is in the right as far as the official reason for the dispute is concerned - Japan still has not, sixty years on, come to terms with its role in the Second World War. Unlike Germany, which has tried very hard to exorcise the Nazi demons and make amends with the victims of its past aggression, Japan still can't get it why the rest of the East Asia resents having been invaded by the Japanese Imperial Army, it doesn't seem to accept that its actions led to deaths of millions, often in gruesome atrocities like the Rape of Nanking, and it continues to glorify and whitewash its militaristic past in public observance and history books.

Yet, Japan today is a Western democracy and a strong US ally (I fear that if I describe Japan as a "liberal market democracy", this tag will be querried the same way the "Holy Roman Empire" had been). China, on the other hand, is ruled by the legatees of people responsible for the deaths of several times as any of their own countrymen as were killed by the Japanese.

Japan still falsifies its history of relations with China; China still falsifies its history of relations with itself.

Furthermore, Japan is a stable, non-expansionist state, reasonably - albeit not completely - happy with its current role in international affairs. China, on the other hand, has clear designs against one small democracy (Taiwan), hegemonic ambitions over the whole region, and even greater dreams of superpowerdom to rival the United States.

As distasteful as Japan's continuing historical insensitivity is, it's clear where our loyalties should lie.

2) But revisionist history textbooks are, of course, merely an excuse for China's rulers to turn up the heat on Japan. Mao's and Deng's heirs are the ultimate pragmatists (what else could you expect from Marketist-Leninists); in truth, they couldn't care less what Japan thinks about its war-time history, or that the Japanese government never apologized for committing atrocities against the Chinese people. The current protests are being engineered by the Communist Party to signal its displeasure with Japan, which has been reasserting itself recently and is, therefore, becoming a clear regional competitor. Strengthening of Japan's alliance with the United States, Tokyo's increasingly close relations with Taipei, as well as the drive to secure a permanent seat on the UN's Security Council, all have China's Reds seeing red.

3) Make no mistake; the anti-Japanese riots are not a spontaneous expression of pent-up anger among the ordinary Chinese. This is not because there is no pent-up anger against Japan (which there understandably is in a country where many people can still remember the war), and not because spontaneous explosions do not occur in authoritarian societies - but because spontaneous explosions would not allowed to snowball for days. Had these tens of thousands been throwing bottles at the local Communist Party headquarters there would have been tanks in the streets by now. There is little doubt of official involvement behind, and sanction of, the rallies and riots.

4) Aside from sending a message internationally, as far as China's rulers are concerned there is also a safety valve element to the protests' utility. It is a phenomenon well known from other parts of the world, notably the Middle East: let's keep the population distracted with foreign enemies - better that they shout off against phantoms from abroad than against their own overlords. You can also be certain that the security services are keeping a watchful eye on those most enthusiastic among the amateur rioters; after all, a person who one day is angry enough about a historical slights to throw a brick through the window of a Japanese shop, is tomorrow potentially capable of doing the same his own regime.

5) Where will it all lead? To the eventual de-escalation. No one wants war, but China certainly intends to make a point and make it strong. However, Beijing's grandstanding is unlikely to have a desired effect on Japan; probably quite the opposite - the more assertive China becomes, the more Japan will want to ensure that it's capable of responding.

Longer term, all we have are questions: how long can China maintain its current economic and political course? When will the Chinese middle class reach the critical mass to demand more than just economic freedom? Can China survive as a unitary state? What role will the rapidly increasing Christian population play? Most importantly: can East Asia last without war until China - eventually and hopefully - makes the transition to a reasonably free and reasonably democratic modern state?


Even more bodies 

Didn't my last post about the recent discovery of two new mass graves in Iraq create a huge debate among pro and anti-war readers (or pro and anti-liberation, as I prefer to call them).

Well, guess what, two more mass graves have been discovered since then.

Near the city of Amarah, 180 miles southeast of Baghdad, a grave was unearthed containing bodies of
41 Kuwaitis, some of over 600 Kuwaitis missing and unaccounted for after Saddam's invasion and occupation in 1990/91.

Meanwhile, near Basra, a mass grave containing bodies of around
5,000 Shia has also been discovered late last week.

By the way, the 2,000 Kurdish bodies buried near Samawa, I mentioned previously, are now thought to be some of 8,000 clanspeople of the Kurdish opposition leader Massoud Barzani, detained in 1983 and never heard from again. According to Iraqi human rights organizations, anywhere up to 1 million Iraqis are missing following Saddam's reign of terror. That figure might well be inflated, but even if it's only a half or a third of that, it's still a horrifying number.

When you read some of the comments generated by my original post, you will discover that a new and very disturbing meme is developing among the angry left: Saddam wasn't really as bad as he's being portrayed. The natural conclusion of that argument is already being openly voiced by those with a pathological hatred of America: Bush killed more Iraqis than Saddam.

I guess we shouldn't be surprised - there are still some Holocaust deniers around (a few neo-Nazis in the West and disturbingly large number of people in the Middle East, where "Mein Kampf", "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" and "The Myth of the Six Million" continue their run on local bestseller lists), as well as Stalinist mass-murder deniers (most of them concentrated in American academia), not to mention Cambodian Killing Fields deniers (like, until recently,
Noam Chomsky). All because the Zio-neo-con Amerika has to maintain its status as the most evil force in the world today.


Off to Iraq 

Arriving soon at Camp Smitty:

"The advance party for a task force of 450 Australian troops bound for Iraq has landed at an airbase in Kuwait. The bulk of the Australian force is scheduled to arrive next week, said Lieutenant Colonel Mark Elliott, a spokesman for the Australian Defence Force. The troops are being sent to protect Japanese military engineers working in southern Iraq.

"The advance party, consisting of 40 soldiers and their light armoured vehicles, flew into the Ali Al Salem Air Base, north-west of Kuwait City, on an RAF Force troop transport on Sunday, Elliott said. An Australian navy ship, HMAS Tobruk, is expected to arrive in Kuwait with the task force's heavy equipment in 12 to 16 days.

"The Australians will train at a US desert camp in Kuwait before crossing into neighbouring Iraq and heading to their Dutch-run base at Camp Smitty in al-Muthana province."
This deployment will increase the Australian contingent in the region to 1350 personnel, which will put Australia behind the United States, Great Britain, South Korea, Italy, Poland and Ukraine, but expected to overtake the last two shortly, as both countries begin to withdraw their troops.


Confessions of a BBC foreign correspondent 

Almost beyond parody - but at least BBC's Stephen Sackur is honest, and even somewhat contrite for his insensitivity, as he looks back on his career as a foreign correspondent (hat tip: Tanker Schreiber):

"I'm leaving with a host of powerful memories, but my feelings about the job are best distilled in two very different episodes... [On one side, there's a] tendency toward vanity, self-absorption and callousness. Picture for a moment the scene on the morning of the 11 September 2001.

"I was on assignment in Nicaragua, far from my base in Washington DC. I watched the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on a flickering TV. And then I called my wife back home. She was tearful and distraught. Our kids had been rushed out of school in an emergency drill. It felt, she said, like war had broken out.

" 'God this is awful,' I said with feeling. 'I know,' she replied, 'there may be thousands dead'.

" 'I don't mean that', I snapped. 'I'm talking about me. I'm missing the biggest story of my life.'

"Every so often my wife reminds me of that shameful sentiment. But she doesn't need to. I haven't forgotten it."
Here's the other side, which

"came in Iraq. A country especially dear to me, as my wife's homeland. It was there I saw the most distressing sight of my life. Men and women clawing at the earth, uncovering the first of the mass graves discovered after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

"Thousands of stinking corpses came out of the ground that day. I saw infants with bullet holes blown through their skulls. I was the only reporter there. I sensed in that Iraqi field that I was a necessary witness, in the right place at the right time."
An experience more journalists should be exposed to.


Sunday, April 17, 2005

Thanks Mark Steyn... 

...for another mention in your "Jerusalem Post" column (registration required, but something similar could pop up for free in the "Chicago Sun-Times" soon, so keep an eye out (Update: read the whole thing without hassles at Free Republic - hat tip: Dan Foty)), as he takes on the mainstream media's forulatic reporting from Iraq (hat tip: Ninme):

"And in between their Bridges-Of-Madison-County imagery and Horse-Whisperer narrative devices the Western media somehow managed to lose the story – functioning municipal government in the south, booming tourism in the north, normality and progress in three-quarters of the country, and now the first Arab country with a non-Arab head of state. The insurgent-of-the-day approach to Iraq didn't even capture that element correctly: On the second anniversary of the invasion, Agence France-Presse ran a story remarkably like the AP's hypothetical specimen. The headline: '45 Killed In Insurgent Attacks.'

"The lead paragraph: 'At least 45 people have been killed in insurgent attacks across Iraq as Washington defended its decision to go to war on the second anniversary of the US-led invasion.'

"It took an Australian blogger, Arthur Chrenkoff, to poke deep down into the story and emerge with the most salient fact of this bloody toll – that of the 45 dead, 29 were 'insurgents' themselves. Terrorism is supposed to be one guy indiscriminately killing large numbers of the other side. No terrorist network can survive long if it's losing two of its own men for every one of the enemy. That's the story: a day of hope turned into yet another day of tears – for the insurgents.

"With a few honorable exceptions, Iraq coverage has been a truly spectacular failure. One day in the future, we'll dig out the yellowing cuttings and wonder how America managed to lose every daily battle and yet still win the war."
Worth reading for that last sentence alone, isn't it?

Update: This is almost as cool as guest appearance in a Mark Steyn column:

(hat tip: Drudge)


Old lawyers never die 

MSNBC's Dan Abrams is a bit surprised:
"It's been over one year since U.S. forces captured Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. When he does face justice, he'll have an unlikely ally: Ramsey Clark, former U.S. Attorney General under President Lyndon Johnson, the son of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice and civil rights activist."
Considering Clark's activities for the past few decades, it's hardly unlikely (on the general topic see my profile of Saddam's all-star defense team).

Everyone, of course, deserves the benefit of proper legal defense, and that includes scum of the earth like Saddam. If you practice in criminal law, the chances are that you'll get to represent some characters that you normally would not associate with in your non-professional life. In the end though, there is no obligation upon you to take the case, and if you are actually volunteering - serially - to defend shady characters, well, that's entirely different ballgame to your stock standard crim law practice. And so, some lawyers' choice of clients and cases seems to be motivated by more than just an impartial desire to ensure due and just process - and becomes a part of a perverse pattern of representing the enemies of your own society. Ramsey Clark is one such lawyer.

After being given a spiel about fairness and commitment to human rights as his motivating factors in taking on Saddam's defense, Abrams presses on:
"ABRAMS: But isn't there a moral choice also? I mean you've given me strictly sort of a legal answer, which is that he deserves as does everyone a fair trial and that you want to make sure that happens. But isn't there also a moral choice to say 'He needs somebody but I don't want to be that person based on what I know he's done in his past'?

"CLARK: That thought doesn't occur to me because that's me being a judge. A lawyer is not the judge."
What a monumental cop-out that is - for all his talk about being non-judgmental, you can never imagine Clark defending somebody from the "other side", like a soldier accused of abusing a prisoner at Abu Ghraib. One thought that certainly didn't occur to Clark since about 1967 is that his country might actually be right.


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