Now blogging at diego's weblog. See you over there!

no words, again

Another day of deep sadness today, this time for London and its people.

It happened about two hours ago, and there's a lot of conflicting reports. The underground network and buses are shutdown, and there isn't much to be found online--bbc.co.uk and sky are timing out for me at the moment, but this BBC URL works.

I remember what I wrote when Madrid happened, and I can't think of much more to add, except to reiterate--how long must we sing this song?

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on July 7, 2005 at 11:06 AM

"forget oil" revisited

Almost a year ago I posted a short entry titled forget oil. Aside from the facts that bottled water costs more than gas at the pump in every country I can think of, and that more than one sixth of the world's population still has no running water, this New York Times article on China's river-management policy caught my attention. "Something to keep in mind" indeed.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on March 20, 2005 at 5:59 AM

listen. think. act.

And get started by watching Bono's speech to this year's TED conference. The whole address is about 30 minutes. Highly recommended.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on March 8, 2005 at 11:05 PM

you have it all figured out -- until you don't

An interesting quote from an article in this week's Economist:

Inflation used to be described as too much money chasing too few goods. In a world where the supply of goods is more elastic—either because of technological advances or new sources of supply such as China—inflation becomes too much money chasing too few assets.
In the last couple of decades, most of science has been bent on accelerating the reinvention curve. Everything from Physics and Mathematics to Biology and Medicine has increased its rate of advance. But with Economics, save for some movement in the area of complex systems, we seem to have become content with the idea that market-based economies are really the ultimate solution. There are small "experiments" in various countries that are timidly moving in different directions, but no broad discussion of alternatives that I'm aware of. I remember some puzzlement in recent years as to how growth rates could be maintained without sparking widespread inflation.

So, are we to believe that when everything else in the world has changed drastically economics should remain unchanged? We already know the answer to that. The real question is whether economists will start seriously questioning the assumptions and techniques for analysis of our economies before or after difficult problems arise.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on February 26, 2005 at 6:43 PM

four more years it is

The last couple of days I've been busy with a couple of other things (work and still recovering from my flu/cold from the last two weeks) but of course, politics junkie that I am, I watched closely the comings and goings of the US Presidential election.

Yesterday I watched both Sen. Kerry's concession speech and President Bush's victory speech. I thought that Kerry did a good thing in not keeping this going on for too long when it was clear that it was almost impossible to win, and I wish more people would point out that it was a graceful gesture. They could have continued on, but didn't, and everyone was spared another draining and bitter fight that would almost certainly ended up with the same result. I also thought that Bush's speech was ok, and I sincerely hope he will act on some of the things he said, and maybe (such as working to earn the support of those who didn't vote for him), just maybe, now that the GOP has such clear control, and that Mr. Bush isn't running again for re-election, he will tilt a bit more towards the center, and help generate a climate of more cooperation and mutual respect. Likely? Maybe not. Possible? Yes. As the New York Times noted yesterday: "[...] after the inevitable, and necessary, period of disappointment, mourning, and even anger, among those who opposed his re-election, there should be a period in which his calls today for partisan healing should be taken at face value." No less would have been asked of the other side had Kerry won.

Bush won a clear majority, but that was still determined only by a difference of a couple of percentage points and about 5% of the electoral votes. Half of the US still thinks differently. It's a nation where political (and even philosophical) discourse is being held on a global scale. And there has to be a way for it to be come a bit more reasonable, and reasoned. There was a brief moment after the first debate during which the campaigns suddenly started debating real issues, questions of use of force, or the US's role in the world, etc. After a few days it quickly degenerated back into the usual he said/I said baloney. But that moment showed that a real discussion is possible. Here's hoping that becomes the norm, rather than the exception (I know, I'm an idealist, what can I say).

At least what I was thinking of a clear victory more or less happened. There was no protracted legal fight, and little uncertainty, which is good (Again, kudos to Kerry for that).

Finally: One comment I got a couple of days ago pointed to William Gibson's weblog, who had started to blog again in mid-October to make his voice heard. I totally missed it, I kept the link but had unsubscribed from the feed (which you can bet won't happen again) because back at the beginning of the year he said he wasn't blogging again until his new book came out. Anyway, yesterday he had a good quote:

Virgil, as ever, has it down: "Dis aliter visum."

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on November 4, 2004 at 10:40 AM

one more day

I started writing an entry that somehow, very quickly, became a complete mess of ideas.

So I'll just say this: I hope that the result tomorrow is clear-cut. A prolonged fight like in 2000 (except this time it's likely to be in multiple states) will not be a good thing. At least a clear electoral-college victory--I have the feeling this will happen, regardless of how close the popular vote is, but I have no idea why I think that!

I was watching CNN and they were describing all the new "safeguards" they put in place to avoid the embarrasment of 2000. Which means they'll make entirely new mistakes this time.

Anyway. Tomorrow night will surely be interesting. :)

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on November 1, 2004 at 8:20 PM

unamuno's words

Thinking about Iraq and what it really means for a country to evolve from a dictatorship into a democracy (in the context of writing something about how hard the next few decades will be for Iraq, even if it is able to hold elections next January), I was reading a book on Argentina's experience between 1976-82, a time of military rule that coined the grim term "disappeared", and looking for some references I found this quote by Miguel Unamuno (Spanish writer, philosopher and poet):

Callar a veces significa mentir
por que el silencio puede interpretarse como un estar de acuerdo ...”
“Yo no podría sobrevivir
a un divorcio entre mi conciencia y mi palabra.

Miguel Unamuno Lugo (1864-1936)

Which, roughly translated, reads:
To be silent sometimes means to lie
because the silence could be understood as agreement ...
I could not survive a divorce
between my conscience and my word.
Strikingly appropriate to the times we live in.

By the way, the "disappeared" in Argentina where sometimes buried under the name "N.N." which is an acronym that dates back to the Nazis. In Nazi Germany N.N. meant "Nacht und Nebel", or "Night and Fog", the cover under which these unknown people had been taken.

Something to keep in mind about the consequences of dictatorships and the rule of fear.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on October 30, 2004 at 12:31 PM

the economist endorses Kerry

The Economist endorses Kerry. I find this significant not just because they endored Bush in 2000, but also because they were (and still are) supporters of the war in Iraq and of many of President Bush's policies. They bring up as crucial the subject of accountability, which is one of the topics of my second "questions..." post (upcoming).

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on October 29, 2004 at 10:42 AM

chain of command

The Economist reviews Seymour Hersh's new book Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib. I watched Hersh discuss the book a few weeks ago on Meet the Press and it sounded interesting. Another one to add to the list.

PS: I just remembered that I recently read House of Bush, House of Saud and I didn't comment on it. Hm. Must fix that.

PS2 (Later): Before that, though, I should talk about the book Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers which I read weeks ago.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on October 28, 2004 at 3:26 PM

the new eminem video

Mosh, from his upcoming album Encore, is online at GNN. A strinking video on its own right, and a potent political message. I wonder if MTV or anyone else will play it though--if they did, I'd expect a pretty strong backlash...

Categories: art.media, geopolitics
Posted by diego on October 26, 2004 at 7:24 PM

one week--and then four years

So one week from today, the US will elect its new president. Or, rather, the US will go to the polls. Whether the election will actually be decided that day and through votes (or later, and through the courts) is another matter.

So, for the next few days, I will (flu willing) be talking a bit more politics than usual. :)

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on October 26, 2004 at 5:55 PM

the state of the union

The Economist this week has a survey on the European Union that is quite interesting. Lots of commentary that is right on the mark. Recommended.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on September 30, 2004 at 11:23 PM

the price of silence

A couple of days ago Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, moved to tighten his grip on power (more coverage here, here and here) after the Beslan massacre. After stifling the Russian media and opposition for months (with resulting stories like these) without more than a whisper of complaint from Europe or the US, this would appear to be a logical move on his part. The latest move, which in practice puts Russia a few steps away from a dictatorship (by removing most of locally elected government officials and replacing them with his own choices), has finally elicited a reaction from the major press outlets. The Washington Post had a great editorial yesterday on the topic. The Posts's Robert Kagan also noted that: "Putin's decision on Monday to end the system of direct popular election of Russia's governors, and to have the Russian parliament elected on the basis of slates chosen by national party leaders he mostly controls, is an unambiguous step toward tyranny in Russia." The New York Times also had something to say. The Wall Street Journal Opinion Board, on the other end of the spectrum, was clear-cut in calling the changes "[...] utterly irrelevant to the task at hand, and quite likely counterproductive" and "[...] sweeping constitutional changes that could erase Russia's last vestiges of pluralistic democracy." The Guardian also has a good roundup of editorials from around the world.

The reaction of the press has, for once, been quick and to the point. But governments, EU Nations and the US foremost, have been a lot more equivocal. A Bush administration official was quoted in the Times as saying that this was a "domestic problem of the Russian people." By Tuesday, Colin Powell had changed tack a bit, by saying that "the fight against terrorism should not become an excuse to move away from 'democratic reforms of the democratic process.'" Yesterday, President Bush inched forward a little more saying he is "concerned about the decisions that are being made in Russia that could undermine democracy in Russia." To this mild rebuke, the Kremlin replied that "the processes that are under way in Russia are our internal affair."

So that's as far as the Bush Administration is concerned. I have heard nay a peep from the British government, the Irish government, or any other major European government for that matter. The silence of Blair, and the muted response of the Bush administration, are more worrying. Spreading democracy and freedom to stabilize the world have been, after all, the major rationales for the war in Iraq after the WMDs went the way of the Dodo.

My question has less to do with consistency (although that would be nice) and more with the effect that something like this has in fostering distrust on the world's most powerful nations. Just like western support for middle east dictatorships (and others around the world) creates cynicism and despair (and is then used as an excuse for nihilistic mass murder) letting Russia fall back under dictatorial rule would be an even bigger blow than dabbling with North Korea while they produce fissile material like McDonald's produces burgers.

Not to mention that a quasi-Russian dictatorship (a "Putinist" Russia) would be quite a lot more dangerous for world stability than any of the components of the much vaunted "Axis of Evil". Russia doesn't need "weapons-of-mass-destruction-related-programs-capability" (as US's National Security Advisor Rice one described the finds in Iraq). They already have WMDs, biological, chemical, and, of course, nuclear. Plus the delivery systems. Plus one of the biggest armies in the world.

So it is clear to me that Europe and the US have to respond quickly and without equivocation: these "reforms" should be rolled back. But how? The famous "You're either with us, or you're with the terrorists," while true in a narrow sense, creates a problem for open discussion and disagreement. After all, if that's the choice, then almost everyone would be "with us". But it's a false choice, because it doesn't allow for being against the terrorists, but by other means: you have to accept whatever "us" has chosen. While this proclamation might be sustainable in a democracy with a long history like the US, it is not sustainable in a newly-formed democracy with a history of opression, like Russia. But of course, Putin (as others, like Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf) silently invoke the "with us or against us" mantra, twisting it into "you either accept what I say, whatever it is, or you're with the terrorists."

It is probably unrealistic to ask the US or UK governments (or the EU) to step back from this rethoric, but they and the EU governments can certainly draw a line in the sand and stop a trend from becoming widely accepted reality.

The G8 has a number of carrots to take steps in this direction. If they are not used soon, the moment will pass, and it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible to pull back. If history has taught us anything is that dictatorships always emerge slowly, inch by inch, many times after the dictator has been "rightfully" elected, and sheepishly accepted by others and the people as the "necessary response" to attacks from within or outside.

Ignoring the hypocrisy of saying that the US and Europe are for freedom while letting something like this happen, I can't see any strategic scenario under which a newly dictatorial Russia would be anything but a disaster for the world. (If somebody has one, I'd very much like to hear about it).

Western nations, particularly the G8, should act now. The price of silence will be high otherwise.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on September 16, 2004 at 12:23 PM

the unknown advantages of space exploration

[Saudi Arabia's Ruling Religious Group of] Wahhabi clerics repeatedly issued fatwas [legal opinions issued by qualified Muslim scholars on matters of religious belief and practice] that were not necessarily in keeping with traditional Islam. There were fatwas against women driving, fatwas opposing the telephone, fatwas declaring that the earth was a flat disk and ordering the severe punishment of anyone who believed otherwise.

In 1985, the blind Wahhabi imam Abdul Aziz bin Baz retracted his fatwa punishing people who believed the earth was round after a conversation with Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, the grandson of Ibn Saud. The prince had just been a passenger in the American space shuttle Discovery and told the imam that having been in outer space, he could personally attest that the world was round.

from House of Bush, House of Saud by Craig Unger.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on September 8, 2004 at 6:15 PM

operation overlord, 60 years on

Through the weekend I've been reading articles on the 60th anniversary of the beginning of Operation Overlord. NYTimes, On Omaha Beach Today, Where's the Comradeship?, Economist: 60 Years on, or in the Washington Post, a theme persists: the comparisons, then and now, WW2 and Iraq, the alliance between the US and Europe, and so on. How anyone can compare World War Two with Iraq, or Hitler to Hussein, (or come up with similar analogies), is beyond me. This editorial makes some good points along those lines.

Less concerned about the current geopolitical situation, there's this In Depth Report from the BBC which includes a lot of good historical material, including news on that day in 1944. The Long Shadow (a book review), and this interesting tidbit BBC article on arguments between Eisenhower and Churchill as D-Day, H-Hour approached, and a page from the Eisenhower Library with his messages to the troops, including the draft of the D-Day message as well as the final version.

"The eyes of the world are upon you." And it was true.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on June 6, 2004 at 1:45 PM

strange news of the day

Quote:

[...] The peace agreement, reached over the weekend, involved members from several factions and laid out a 10-point plan including an immediate cease-fire.

[...]

Under the truce, gang members also vowed to designate places like schools, churches and parks as neutral zones and to avoid encroaching on each other's territory without notice.

Where did this happen? Lebanon? Somalia?

Try Newark, New Jersey.

Here's the CNN/Reuters article.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on May 26, 2004 at 11:40 AM

china rising

Something I read last week that has stayed with me: an article in the Washington Post, Booming China Devouring Raw Materials. Quote:

The China Syndrome, as it known, explains why as many as one-fifth of the bulk freighters in the world are effectively unavailable on any given day and why the cost of moving bulk freight has more than doubled in just over a year. The same ships that sit stranded outside Newcastle, or at iron ore ports in Brazil, India and western Australia, must line up again for as long as three weeks to unload at congested Chinese ports such as Qingdao and Ningbo.

The construction frenzy that is crowning China's cities with skyscrapers and laying the works for modern industry has transformed it from a minor consumer of raw materials into a country that -- according to its official statistics -- absorbed roughly half the world's cement production last year, one-third of its steel, one-fifth of its aluminum and nearly one-fourth of its copper. Last year China eclipsed Japan to become the world's second-largest importer of oil after the United States.

Wow. A couple of weeks ago The Economist had an article on this from another point of view: The greal fall of China, which started with "If China's soaring economy has a hard landing, the rest of the world will feel the bump". One way or another, we're in for an interesting few years...

Oh, and related (and a little alarming): China warns over Taiwan moves.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on May 25, 2004 at 6:44 PM

today's reading...

...The 1992 Winner of the Strategy Essay Competition at the US National Defense University: The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012, by Lt. Col. Charles J. Dunlap. (Awarded by then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell). Quote:

The letter that follows takes us on a darkly imagined excursion into the future. A military coup has taken place in the United States--the year is 2012--and General Thomas E. T. Brutus, Commander-in-Chief of the Unified Armed Forces of the United States, now occupies the White House as permanent Military Plenipotentiary. His position has been ratified by a national referendum, though scattered disorders still prevail and arrests for acts of sedition are underway. A senior retired officer of the Unified Armed Forces, known here simply as Prisoner 222305759, is one of those arrested, having been convicted by court-martial for opposing the coup. Prior to his execution, he is able to smuggle out of prison a letter to an old War College classmate discussing the "Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012." In it, he argues that the coup was the outgrowth of trends visible as far back as 1992. These trends were the massive diversion of military forces to civilian uses, the monolithic unification of the armed forces, and the insularity of the military community. His letter survives and is here presented verbatim.

It goes without saying (I hope) that the coup scenario above is purely a literary device intended to dramatize my concern over certain contemporary developments affecting the armed forces, and is emphatically not a prediction. -- The Author

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on May 13, 2004 at 3:47 PM

forget oil

Today I read this article on water problems in the North American West. And it reminded me of this, this, this and this. Something to keep in mind...

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on May 2, 2004 at 12:52 PM

EU++

eu-logo.jpg
Today the EU is admitting ten new member countries (Here's a guide from the Guardian with more information on EU enlargement). It is both a day of celebration and of pause. It is also a day of protests (almost predictable as well, I must say) from people that, sometimes, strike me as hypocritical in denouncing something from which they benefit greatly. "Something" in this case equals globalization, more porous borders, and a more integrated and (hopefully) peaceful Europe. The hypocrisy comes from a collusion between ideas and actions. The protesters, to organize, use the Internet, cellphones, and so on, and some of them are quite good at using the media as well. The same Internet that was originally created by the US DoD. The same cellphones that are built using rare minerals from Africa, exported from war-torn regions. Many of them shop at stores that sell the products they claim to abhor. They move from place to place to protest using mostly air travel, based on freedom of movement that, it appears, should only be restricted to certain things (such as protesting). They are middle class, sometimes upper-middle class, a middle class that exists because of the economic results of policies and political decisions and markets that they deride. And, in fact, many times you have people standing together protesting against the same thing and organizing for exactly the opposite reason, such as the protests in Seattle a few years back when you had anti-globalization protesters that wanted better treatment for workers in third-world countries together with Union representatives from the US that wanted third-world countries to be taken off the table completely so that their own workers would have a better chance at getting a job. Right now, here, you have people that oppose globalization on the grounds that it's unfair to poor countries in the same camp as those that think that the poor should stay home in their poor countries and not be admitted entrance at all.

The same hypocrisy, of course, is present on the other side, for example when rich countries proclaim free trade all the while they maintain outrageous farm subsidies that do nothing except sustain industries that should be better served by poorer countries that haven't developed high-tech industry yet. (Did you know that the subsidies that the US and Europe give to their farm industries basically equals the amount of aid they send to countries that can't sell their product because of high-prices that are sustained in those countries precisely because of those subsidies? Isn't that a bit, um, iffy?)

Now, this is not to say that the EU or the WTO or globalization are perfect, far from it. But they have happened without a master plan, these organizations have been created and evolved in response to very specific problems (to which I'll get in a minute), and pretending that someone can pull the strings in a world as chaotic and unpredictable as ours, with so many opposing forces, all with their own agenda, is just to engage in a ludricous paranoid conspiracy.

Governments deal with practical (and political) needs, but idealism can't. Otherwise it's not idealism.

I am all for trying to improve what we have, and for not forgetting the many, many, many people that don't have freedom, or food, or even water to drink. I would dearly like to know how we can move to sustainable farming and industry, and to know how we can have a world that gives real meaning to the word "equality." But I will not say that everything we have now is a disaster. What we have is the best that people, most of them with good intentions, many of them brilliant, have attempted as a solutions to the problems they've faced.

Nobody, least of all me, knows if an experiment like the EU can work, if we can see past our petty differences and to the greater things that unite us. If we can stop with the senseless cycles of destruction that we, humans, sadly seem to be so fond of. But shouldn't we try? Shouldn't we try, in spite of all the problems we see? Idealism is great, but the world has become too complicated to simply extol Marxism or Capitalism or whatever. We know that these linear theories don't work. We know we need better answers. And that's what we should be striving to find. The soundbite solutions proposed by some governments are as useful as the soundbite complaints of some protesters.

About those "specific problems" I just mentioned. At the beginning I said "a time for celebration and pause." Celebration, because the conditions for EU membership contain a number of items that have more to do with acknowledgement of basic human rights, and the fact that these countries have passed it under whatever arbitrary yardstick the EU has set can be nothing but good news.

But then there's pause, because we also forget. We forget that the EU was created on the ashes of a Europe utterly destroyed by the worst war this planet has ever known, one that even saw the use of Nuclear Weapons and mass extermination on a scale never seen before or since. We forget that one of the central aims of the EU was to drive Europe closer together economically and politically so that something like that could never happen again, ever, and that a united Europe could be, if possible, an example, and its troubled past a cautionary tale. We forget that many "solutions" have been tried before, with disastrous consequences.

Will it work? Maybe not. But we have to try.

Because we forget.

Let's try not to do that, shall we?

ps: since Ireland is holding the 6-month rotating presidency of the EU many ceremonies are happening here today, which also means many protests happening here today. Many streets and shops were closed in anticipation of them, and in the end I can say that nothing happened. At the beginning it looked as if I wouldn't even be able to get out of my apartment (thanks to some less-than-enlightened property management) but then that was eased--probably someone that used their brain. I wandered off into the street this afternoon and mostly it looked like a rally of policemen (Gardai here). There was no one else. In fact, most of the police presence was located in a pub across the street, maybe on a mission to verify that no one unsavory was consuming beer. Anyway, nothing happened. Media hype works both ways...

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on May 1, 2004 at 11:21 PM

how long must we sing this song?

What happened today in Madrid filled me with a deep, deep sadness and incredible pain. Nearly 200 people dead, and over 1,000 wounded at last count. As far as know, the worst terrorist attack not just in the history of Spain, but in the history of Europe as well. As it happens, yesterday I was listening to the soundtrack of U2's movie Rattle & Hum, which has a version of Sunday Bloody Sunday which, though originally linking both Bloody Sunday (1971) and Easter Sunday (1920), went beyond that original link (though in doing that solidifying its intended meaning) during the Joshua Tree tour with the Enniskillen bombing. Here's the full text of the performance, including Bono's speech during the performance, on the day of the bombing.

Before it though, let me say that whoever thinks that in quoting this I'm comparing A to B or Madrid to Belfast or New York or whatever, or that the IRA is like ETA, or that anything that involves murder and destruction at this level can be somehow compared, or any other thing of that sort, should have their heads examined. I am most decidedly not doing that. The situation in Northern Ireland, thankfully, has improved since the bombing in Omagh in 1998. But it's the questions, not the event. The simple fact that, somehow, this has to stop. We have global communications but instead of learning the hard lessons paid for by others in blood and tears and suffering we just broadcast soap operas across the ocean and somehow manage to repeat the worst of ourselves, as a species, over and over.

If you read the notes at the end with quotes from interviews with Bono in which he explains what they went through in writing and performing the song, you'll understand. It's bigger than a single place or a single indicent. This is just something that I think captures the moment.

And in the end this is a lopsided way of me to ask: how much more bloodshed? How much more needless destruction? How many more murders in the name of some random "cause"? How is it that a something like this can be so recurrent?

How long must we sing this song?

Read on, and if you can, listen to it as well.

Well here we are, the Irish in America.

The Irish have been coming to America for years... going back to the Great Famine when the Irish where on the run from starvation... and a British government that couldn't care less. Right up to today, you know, there are more Irish immigrants here in America today that ever... some illegal... some legal. A lot of them are running from high unemployment... some run from the troubles in Northern Ireland... from the hatred of the H-blocks... and torture... others from wild acts of terrorism like we had today in a town called Enniskillen, where eleven people lay dead, and many more injured... on a Sunday Bloody Sunday.

[song begins]

I can't believe the news today
I can't close my eyes and make it go away
How long
How long must we sing this song
How long

Tonight
We can be as one
Tonight

Broken bottles under children's feet
Bodies strewn across a dead-end street
but I won't heed the battle call
it puts my back up,
my back up against the wall

Sunday Bloody Sunday
Sunday Bloody Sunday

And this battle's yet begun
There's many lost, but tell me, who has won?
The trenches dug within our hearts
and mothers, children, brothers, sisters, torn apart

Sunday Bloody Sunday
Sunday Bloody Sunday

How long
How long must we sing this song
How long

Tonight
We can be as one
Tonight

[Bono holds the music as he launches into an improptu speech]

Yeah! And let me tell you something... I've had enough of Irish-Americans who haven't been back to their country in 20 or 30 years, come up to me and talk about the resistance, the revolution back home. And the glory of the revolution. And the glory of dying for the revolution.

Fuck the revolution!

They don't talk about the glory of killing for the revolution...

What's the glory... in taking a man from his bed, and gunning him down in front of his wife and his children? Where's the glory in that? Where's the glory in bombing a remembrance day parade of old-age pensioners, their medals taken out and polished up for the day? Where's the glory in that? To leave them dying.... or crippled for life... or dead... under the rubble... of a revolution... that the majority of the people in my country don't want.

No more! Sing! No more!

[song restarts]

No more!

Wipe your tears away...

Wipe your tears away...

Wipe your bloodshot eyes...

Sunday Bloody Sunday
Sunday Bloody Sunday

And it's true we are immune
When fact is fiction and TV reality
And today the millions die
We eat and drink while tomorrow they die

And the battle's just begun
To claim the victory that Jesus won...

Sunday Bloody Sunday
Sunday Bloody Sunday

And here are some quotes from Interviews in which Bono and Edge talk in more detail about the song, and what it means for them:

Host: "Sunday, Bloody Sunday," one of the cuts from the current album... is that about that day in Ireland when, what, 13 people were killed in a protest...?

Bono: It's not important even what was the incident. That's not the point. It's not a rebel song. We're not taking sides. We're just saying, "HOW long must we sing this song?" I'm trying to say that worse than the buildings that have been torn down, worse than the wreckage of Northern Ireland is the BITTERNESS in peoples' hearts. That's what you've got to fight against. That's why music has the ability to LIFT people up. It lifts me up when I listen to our music, or to other peoples' music that inspires me. It lifts me up and makes me want to fight back, not with sticks and stones, but fight back in yourself -- refusing to compromise your own beliefs and standing up and saying, "NO, there's MUCH more, much more!" That's what it's about, isn't it really, when you're faced with an audience... not to hide behind your haircut, not behind your stance or your statement. Just be who you are FOR people.

(from MTV's "Fast Forward" (?) series, 1983, transcript posted on Wire by G.G.)

Bono: "'Sunday Bloody Sunday' is a day that no Irishman can forget but should forget which is what we were saying -- 'how long must we sing this song?' When I introduce it I say: 'this isn't a rebel song.' The name comes up all the time and we're saying 'how long must we have songs called 'Sunday Bloody Sunday.'' That's one area in which I agree with Bob Geldof -- history is just one mistake after anotther."

"And what I was trying to say in that song is: 'There it is. In close-up. I'm sick of it. How long must it go on?' It's a statement. It's not even saying here's an answer."

"It's just saying -- how long must this go on?"

(from "Articulate Speech Of The Heart" by Liam Mackey, Hot Press, July 22, 1983)

Bono: "It means so much to me, that song, because... I'm not sure I got it right. I mighta got it wrong, I'm not sure. I originally wanted to contrast the day, Sunday Bloody Sunday, when 13 innocent people were shot dead in Derry by the British army, with Easter Sunday. I wanted to make this contrast because I thought that it pointed out the awful irony of the fact that these two warring faiths share the same belief in the one God. And I thought how... it's so absurd, really, this Catholic and Protestant rivalry. So that's what I wanted to do. In the end, I'm not sure I did that successfully with the words. But we certainly did it with the music. The spirit of the song speaks louder than the flesh of it."

(from "Timothy White's Rock Stars", radio interview, June 01, 1987)

[...] By 1982, heavily influenced by the Clash, Bono was writing political songs. However, the lyrics to "Sunday Bloody Sunday" were actually begun by The Edge while Bono was away on his honeymoon. The guitarist who was in his seaside holiday home writing songs, was inspired by how the friendly and humorous Belfast people were being torn apart by their religious problems. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" referred to two incidents -- a football match in Dublin 1920, and the streets of Derry in 1972 -- when British soldiers opened fire on unarmed civilians. It was not an angry condemnation but, like "New Year's Day" asked for understanding and forgiveness. "How long must we sing this song?"

"The song's not specifically about those two incidents," points out the singer. "We borrowed the title to convey the power of the song. We were really nervous the first time we played it in Belfast. We told the crowd, this is about what's happening here. If you don't like it, we won't play it again. But they just went wild for it."

(from an interview in Sanity record store's magazine by Jenny Raine, November 1998)

Sunday Bloody Sunday -- Suddenly, U2 entered the political arena with a song which linked Ireland's two Bloody Sundays, 1920 and 1971, with the crucifixion ("The real battle is begun / To claim the victory Jesus won / On a Sunday, bloody Sunday"). The Edge reckons they wrote it naively, without considering the consequences. But it might have caused a more serious backlash if the guitarist had got his way. Unusually he conceived the original lyric as well as the music. It began, "Don't talk to me about the rights of the IRA." He can smile about it now: "My words were pretty clumsy, a polemic. Bono shifted it to being much less political, more of a personal reflection." After Noraid-supporting Irish-Americans misunderstood and began throwing money on the stage when U2 played the song, Bono responded with the introduction: "This is not a rebel song!" When they played it the day after the Enniskillen bombing in 1988, as immortalised by the Rattle And Hum movie, he added a raging "Fuck the revolution!" Sunday Bloody Sunday resulted in enduring opprobrium from Republicans, and prompted a denunciation from Gerry Adams. "Thankfully those days are long gone," says Edge. "We're optimistic about what's been happening."

(from "Boys To Men" by Phil Sutcliffe, Q Magazine, November 1998)

[source]

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on March 11, 2004 at 5:38 PM

weather chaos: an analysis of its strategic implications

Related to my post a few weeks ago on 'weather chaos', I was just reading a Pentagon report on the strategic implications of such a change (SF Chronicle article here). Here's a link to the full report (PDF, about 1 MB). Quote from the summary:

There is substantial evidence to indicate that significant global warming will occur during the 21st century. Because changes have been gradual so far, and are projected to be similarly gradual in the future, the effects of global warming have the potential to be manageable for most nations. Recent research, however, suggests that there is a possibility that this gradual global warming could lead to a relatively abrupt slowing of the oceans thermohaline conveyor, which could lead to harsher winter weather conditions, sharply reduced soil moisture, and more intense winds in certain regions that currently provide a significant fraction of the worlds food production. With inadequate preparation, the result could be a significant drop in the human carrying capacity of the Earths environment.

[...]

The report explores how such an abrupt climate change scenario could potentially de-stabilize the geo-political environment, leading to skirmishes, battles, and even war due to resource constraints such as:

  1. Food shortages due to decreases in net global agricultural production
  2. Decreased availability and quality of fresh water in key regions due to shifted precipitation patters, causing more frequent floods and droughts
  3. Disrupted access to energy supplies due to extensive sea ice and storminess
As global and local carrying capacities are reduced, tensions could mount around the world, leading to two fundamental strategies: defensive and offensive. Nations with the resources to do so may build virtual fortresses around their countries, preserving resources for themselves. Less fortunate nations especially those with ancient enmities with their neighbors, may initiate in struggles for access to food, clean water, or energy. Unlikely alliances could be formed as defense priorities shift and the goal is resources for survival rather than religion, ideology, or national honor.
Harsh, yes, but a good objective analysis as far as I can see. Must read. Only criticism I can think of is that the report seems to downplay completely internal strife within the US, something that would be unlikely given that coastal communities would be seriously disrupted creating internal migration patterns and the subsequent pressures on society (not counting that the SF Bay area and the New York area are responsible for huge amounts of the economic output of the US). They predict that the political integrity of the EU would be in doubt given these conditions, but similar (though milder) results could be expected within the US. Maybe they consider that as part of the "internally manageable" stuff... I'm not sure.

I'm working non-stop, but that doesn't mean I can't take a break for a moment and read depressing stuff like this. Right.

Categories: geopolitics, science
Posted by diego on February 29, 2004 at 2:48 PM

what went wrong?

One year after Colin Powell's presentation to the UN prior to the war, the New York Times revisits the claims Powell made and how they hold up to what has actually been found so far, going all the way from the "imminent danger of WMD" to the newly en-vogue doublespeak phrase "weapons of mass destruction program-related activities." On this side of the Atlantic, the Guardian has some news in relation to all this just as it seems that an investigation will be launched in the US to look at what went wrong with the asessment of the US intelligence community (predictably enough, the results would be known after the US elections, and the panel would study problems in other areas too, such as Iran or North Korea, presumably to avoid admitting that Iraq was the biggest failure of all, with the most serious consequences). About Iraq, I remember that others, including French, Russian, and Germans, agreed with many US and UK intelligence estimates in this regard (although they didn't read it in such alarming terms). I think that this will be a wake-up call to all intelligence agencies and governments. Obviously Cold-War-style intelligence gathering doesn't quite work anymore... but what will take its place?

Update: a good Washington Post article with more on the topic, along with an Editorial, and a CNN article on a similar push for an inquiry in the UK.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on February 2, 2004 at 1:27 AM

c-span.org

One of the most interesting things to watch right now in politics world-wide is, for me, the US presidential race. I get the good stuff from prints and blogs (including, for example, cool things like channel Dean), but there's the live side that you just have to see However, being in Ireland, and not having any US News networks, coverage on TV is pretty sparse. So it was great to find yesterday CSPAN.ORG which carries video of all sorts of political and other events in the US. For example, just this afternoon I watched yesterday's Dean Campaign Rally in Iowa in which his wife made her first appearance there. It was all incredibly interesting... it had the feeling of a rock concert somehow. Lots of energy. (Some of the other rallies too!).

Anyway, Very cool resource.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on January 19, 2004 at 10:37 PM

surface and depth

In which Diego takes a philosophical look at perception and reality in our connected world...

A Japanese Karaoke party can be an unsettling experience for many people (me included--Brrr, shudder!): grown men and women, mostly in business attire, sometimes drunk to the point where speech disintegrates into babble, heartily singing to rehashed versions of popular songs re-recorded for that purpose. Behind the singer, a screen showing strange images supposedly synched to the music, and a crowd, cheering, singing along, each person waiting for their turn at the microphone.

On the surface, to a foreigner, it looks excessive, pointless, embarrassing.

The Japanese, however, know different: they understand that perceptions and surface are just that. The phenomenon of Karaoke or the exuberance of Tokyo are good examples of the Japanese attitude towards surface: something that would be considered corny, embarrassing or shameful in the US or Europe is accepted, even embraced. (In the case of "nights out" where Karaoke happens there are other factors at play, such as enabling communication that might not happen in the rigid environment of the office, but that's beside the point).

The Internet, pervasive media, fast and relatively cheap travel, the thirst of people everywhere to have access to information (regardless of the use to them, or its importance), have fueled the assumption that, since distance seems be fading in importance, culture has, too. This is pushing to new areas the limits of what is considered public, which in turn creates pressure -and fuels resistance-- for social and economic change, both locally and globally. Every weblog read, every vacation taken, every casual 5-second IM conversation, every business trip reinforces this perception both by the speed with which it is done as well as by the ease with which it happens.

Pervasive communications, media and travel make us dismiss geography and allow us to pretend that "there" is almost "here". They make us think that we can always give good solutions for other people's problems. Predictably enough, things are not that simple. To the superficial perceptions of a casual traveler two cities in different parts of the world might sometimes look pretty much the same; in reality they will always be anything but.

We've been gradually erasing the old concept of "borders", the change from a world perceived as a collection of cultures to a world perceived as a set of localized forms of capitalism. That has turned into a shift from a geographically-based state of tension (supported by ideology: two competing political, economic and social worldviews), centered around Berlin and spread throughout Europe and the world; to a purely ideologically-based state of tension: the layer of geography has been removed. Travel and communications seem to have both invalidated distance and reinforced history, creating the perception that only ideas matter. If before ideology expressed itself through geographical conflict at the borders, the fading of those borders is pushing the conflict back into the sphere of ideas, with ethereal battlegrounds like stock markets, exchange rates, corporations and the like--- and very real ones, as evidenced by the threat of terrorism, hunger and disease. Capitalism seems to have won the "war" against communism (notably, with currency and not bullets), but it's becoming clear that capitalism on its own is not the answer, simply because it tries to homogenize everything into a market, every person into a buyer and a seller, every culture into a culture of money, and many cultures are bound to resist that homogenization. Groups and organizations in powerful countries continue to assume that things that worked well in one place can work equally as well in another, which creates new problems every day, from IMF intervention in countries that are facing economic crises, to the intervention of external powers in local conflicts, such as those of Northern Ireland or the Middle East, which in turn is both reinforced and generated by the "export" of those conflicts through terrorism, war, trade, and even politics.

It is the Japanese, with their understanding of the difference between surface and depth, the ones that, in my view, have a culture that aligns better with this world of pure perceptions (and yet their cultural introspectiveness hinders them), a media-based society where careers can be destroyed by unsubstantiated rumors or wars have to be fought on television (or in the field of "public opinion") as much as in the battlefield. Or in other words: in a world where perception is treated as reality.

Language is an excellent reflection of a culture, and Japanese is one of the most context-dependent languages in the world, heavily dependent on situations to establish meaning. At the same time, Kanji is a polar opposite: ideographic, a literal representation of the concept that has to be communicated (the Kanji for "drunk", for example, literally means "9/10 Sake").

Similar trends are observable in other societies, for example the US. Maybe it's no coincidence that English as a language has over time (faster than, say, Spanish) incorporated Japanese-like features: Dependency on context, and thus on perception and appearances, and literal concept representations. Maybe it's no coincidence, if perceptions are being exacerbated in importance by the growing connectedness of the world and the subsequent growing impression that everything is the same.

"Are you flying home for Christmas?" Is an example of a sentence in English that is meaningless without the proper context--that traveling by plane is a common occurrence. In Spanish the same question would be phrased, in its literal translation: "Are you traveling home for Christmas?" Simply referring to the action (flying) would not do in general, since as we all know, humans don't fly. And while English writing has not turned ideographic and it doesn't appear to be doing so (although spoken language usually predates any change in the written language by a long time), it is full of examples where the representation of a concept in the language is literal. For example, the electrochemical device used in cars to produce a spark and ignite the explosion inside a cylinder is called just that, a spark, while Spanish has its own particular word for the device.

The idea of "politically correct" behavior has many parallels with the way Japanese society behaves on the surface. Still, many cultures today, unlike the Japanese, maintain a public pretense of morality every day and in all contexts, even though behind closed doors that is not the case, something (in)famously exposed in its most extreme example in the US with the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. Japanese businessmen read pornographic comic books on the subway, in full view. If Bill Gates did that in the US (assuming he could find a subway around Redmond!), it would be front-page news. The Japanese have contexts for things, and for businessmen a subway or a train is different than the office. Americans are always supposed to be businessmen, or pretend they are. While appearing to embrace the concept of surface as the main interface to our world, we are still reluctant to accept that context matters for judging behavior and that public and private life are not necessarily related, and, more importantly, we demand that they be.

I do think, however, that nowadays the Japanese mostly go through the motions, repeating behaviors learned long ago that have for the most part lost their meaning, and yet it is the distinction between surface and depth that underlies their behavior what will be, in my opinion, the key in the future to effectively deal with a world where it's sometimes easier to know what's happening on the West Bank than in a nearby town, or where a trip to another country can be faster than traveling to some parts of a person's own.

As geography slowly has given way to knowledge as the defining element of power and prosperity, allegiances have shifted from countries to ideas. Places have started to feel more and more alike, and many people have become less concerned about what should be done for each case and switched their interest about what should be done in general, in many cases based on the assumption that perception and underlying reality are the same. This has created a situation where there aren't many viable local proposals to achieve evidently worthy global goals.

The world, as connected as it seems on the surface, is actually, on a closer look, as divided as ever, perhaps because that illusion of closeness that is so easy to believe doesn't intrigue people to go further. Maybe if we learn to better understand and accept the difference between surface and depth we will be able to turn into a force for good the tools that technology and social evolution have given us: the key that will either unlock our understanding of each other, or open the doors to a more violent and chaotic world.

Categories: geopolitics, technology
Posted by diego on December 2, 2003 at 12:32 PM

JFK: 40 years later

I'm wondering if I should start a category for "history"... :-)

Early this morning I was reading more of The Sword and the Shield, The Secret History of the KGB (that I've mentioned before, for example, here) and, what do you know, I get to a chapter that deals largely with the KGB's "active measures" (disinformation, black ops, etc) against the "Main Adversary" (the US). I finish reading the chapter and later I realized that today was the day. Weird.

Anyway, then I'm reading news, and of course today there was a lot of coverage on JFK all over the place. The New York Times has a special section with many articles and tons of information, particularly interesting is the note that the event signaled the arrival of TV as the most powerful medium, something that is not obvious now but scratching a little under the surface becomes quite impressive: round-the-clock coverage, more than 72 hours of live TV with no interruptions, all networks cancelled their programming---capturing not only everything that happened right before and after the shooting (though, in a nod to conspiracy theories, not the shooting itself!), to the killing of the suspect, Oswald, to the burial. Now we don't think twice about it, but TV before November 22, 1963, was a whole different universe.

Back to topic, over at the Washington Post I see an editorial that deals with the role of the KGB on conspiracy theories and such, and sure enough the information from The Sword and the Shield features prominently in it. Example:

Five months later, in June 1964, a freelance journalist named Joachim Joesten posited a strikingly similar analysis in his book "Oswald: Assassin or Fall Guy?" Following a chapter on "Oswald and the CIA," Joesten asserted that the agency was beyond presidential control and bitterly opposed to Kennedy's policy of "easing the Cold War." It has long been a matter of record that Joesten's book was the first published in the United States on the subject of the assassination. Until the notes of a former KGB archivist named Vasili Mitrokhin were published in 1999, however, it was not known that Joesten's publisher, the small New York firm of Marzani & Munsell, received subsidies totaling $672,000 from the Central Committee of the Communist Party in the early 1960s.
A lot of the information in the article is a direct quote of the information in the book, even though it does not mention the book explicitly. (Example, there's a reference to a document cited by Boris Yeltsin in his 1994 memoirs which is also referenced in the book.)

Now, this defense of the CIA by the Washington Post is fine (notwhistanding that I've seen interviews of many people, including reporters, that were there when it happened, that have mentioned that the idea of a conspiracy or a "coup d'etat" had run through everyone's minds at some point immediately when they heard of the shooting). But what is really interesting is what the editorial doesn't mention: that the KGB actually, truly, really believed that the Kennedy assassination had seen some CIA involvement:

The KGB reported that a journalist from the Baltimore Sun "said in a private conversation in early December that on a ssignment from a group of Texas financers and industrialists headed by millionaire Hunt, Jack Ruby, who is now under arrest, proposed a large sum of money to Oswald for the murder of Kennedy." Oswald had subsequently been shot by Ruby to prevent him revealing the plot. Khrushchev seems to have been convinced by the KGB viwe that the aim of the right-wing conspirators behind Kennedy's assassination was to intensify the Cold War and "strengthen the reactionary and aggressive elements of American foreign policy."

The choice of Oswald as Kennedy's assassin, the KGB believed, was intended to divert public attention from the racist oil magnates and make the assassination appear to be a Communist plot. The Centre [KGB Headquarters] had strong reasons of its own to wish to deflect responsibility for the assassination from Oswald. It was deeply embarrassed by the fact that in 1959 Oswald had defected to Russia, professing disgust with the American way of life and admiration for the Soviet system. Initially the KGB had suspected that he might have been sent on a secret mission by the CIA, but eventually concluded that he was an unstable nuisance and were glad to see the back of him when he returned to Texas with his Russian wife in 1962.

There is more mentioned afterwards that details how the KGB's own records show that they were suspicious of Oswald and his motives for defecting first and then attempting to re-establish contact with CPUSA (the US branch of the communist party) later.

So. None of this means, obviously, that there was such thing as a "CIA plot". But it does mean that the intentions of the Soviets were, quite likely, a lot less sinister than that the editorial from the Post describes. In large part, the KGB and by extension the Soviet Union where putting out information that would pre-empt a possible attempt to link them to the assassination. They saw themselves as being set up along with Oswald, and everything in that particular conspiracy theory fit their own paranoid view of the US (which I described in the previous post about the book, linked above).

More importantly, (and this is a matter of public record as well) the book describes how Khrushchev and Kennedy had established "backchannels" of communication (which were used extensively to resolve the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962). The Soviet Union knew that they were outgunned (the "missile gap" that Kennedy touted so effectively for the 1960 elections was in fact working to the US's advantage---the US had at that time ten times more intercontinental ballistic missiles than the Soviet Union), had hints that American military leadership was working on "first strike" plans and, in keeping with their pervasive paranoia, thought that the assassination was an "obvious" attempt to get Kennedy "out of the way". The strong possibility that Kennedy was thinking of withrawing from Vietnam starting in late 1963, with or without victory, and whiffs of that information only added the icing on the cake for the Soviets. (While the idea that Kennedy had decided to withdraw from Vietnam is heavily disputed, there's a couple of interesting articles on this here and here, and Robert McNamara himself, Secretary of Defense at the time, has said publicly that this was the case).

Since, in fact, there have been suggestions that Johnson pressured the Warren Commission to come up with a simple, "lone gunman" explanation for fear that anything else would lead to world war three, we could say that at a minimum the Soviets were not alone in their paranoia. Regardless of whether those suggestions are true or not (there's not a lot of evidence as far as I'm concerned) I think that anyone with half a neuron firing would see that this was a distinct possibility given the tension at the time, and that, had LBJ actually done that, it would not have been irrational of him to do so.

I find it interesting to see how far we can keep peeling layers on this. The KGB believed in a CIA plot. It spreads (dis)information to that effect. Then others react, saying that it was KGB disinformation, sometimes trying to cover their tracks, which spreads even more disinformation. Then the KGB tries to cover its tracks...

But who killed Kennedy then?

I'd respond: Does it matter?

What comes to mind is a small piece of dialogue in V for Vendetta written by Alan Moore, which is in my opinion one of the best graphic novels ever written. The main character, V, pulls a gun out of a would-be killer's hands, and says:

Did you think to kill me? There's no flesh or blood within this cloak to kill.

There's only an idea.

Ideas are bulletproof.

And isn't that what really matters?

"[...] in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal."

John F. Kennedy, June 10, 1963

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on November 22, 2003 at 5:35 PM

enron's email diaries

Wow. A Salon article with excerpts from the Enron emails released last week as part of the publication of material related to the investigation of its collapse:

[...] the Enron e-mail library posted on FERC's Web site [...] contains a remarkable glimpse into the culture of Enron -- how the family of Ken Lay lived large in the glory days, how Tom DeLay and other members of Congress used the company as a veritable ATM for campaign contributions, how Enron plotted to place employees in the Bush-Cheney administration, how company executives almost obsessively followed the investigation into price gouging during California's energy crisis, and ultimately how Enron employees suffered when the company collapsed.

Amid a sea of dick jokes, spam and Internet porn, the e-mails offer a window into the soul, such as it was, of Enron: from the high-flying days when the company decorated its top executive office suites in holiday themes -- according to a 2000 e-mail, Ken Lay's office was done up in honor of St. Lucia, Jeff Skilling's had Kwanzaa, and Andrew Fastow's was lit up for Hanukkah -- to the end, when things had gone so far south that members of the Lay family began to fear they'd be kidnapped.

The Enron e-mails are available for searching and browsing at the FERC's Web site. For those with better things to do, here are some of the highlights.

You get to see the incredible power these people wielded, if not in provably in practice certainly in theory, with mentions of "Recommend [some guy] to [US VP Dick] Cheney]", or, being incredibly confident (as if it was simply a matter of picking up the phone) in getting their friends in the US administration for their own purposes, as this quote shows:
He is familiar with state and federal energy regulation as well as the state and federal policy makers who have played an active role in deregulation efforts. He would be great to have on a vetting team for commission nominees. I have talked to [him] and he is interested.
Fascinating. (And also either a bit scary or a cynicism booster, depending on your view).

I've been trying to understand how to use the FERC database to see a little more--it's not obvious how to do it. Anyway, I'll figure it out when I have a bit of time.

Again: Wow. :)

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on October 14, 2003 at 5:39 PM

and about that arnold thing...

Simply put: mind-bending. Here are two articles on the subject, particularly from the media/celebrity/etc point of view, that I found interesting: one (from Salon) and two (from The Guardian).

One can only hope that the whole mess will end up well (more or less ... -- regardless of the politics). California is too big, too important an economy to stay screwed up for long.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on October 10, 2003 at 1:50 AM

new passports for US visits--when?

According to the New York Times, it's on October 2004:

Technologies that scan faces and fingerprints will become a standard part of travel for foreign visitors next year, and for all travelers in the near future.

The technology, known as biometrics, has been developing for years, but largely because of security concerns after the attacks on Sept. 11, its arrival has been greatly accelerated.

One deadline looms large Oct. 26, 2004. In a little more than a year, the State Department and immigration bureau must begin issuing visas and other documents with the body-identifying technologies to foreign visitors. The change is mandated by border security legislation passed by Congress last May. The federal government has started issuing border-crossing cards for Mexican citizens and green cards that display fingerprints and photos.

By the same deadline, the 27 countries whose citizens can travel to the United States without visas must begin issuing passports with computer chips containing facial recognition data or lose their special status. People from those countries with passports issued before the deadline may still travel to the United States without visas as long as their governments have begun biometric identification programs.

But I thought it was October this year. I'm confused.

And it sounds like quite a lot of information on foreign citizens doesn't it? Biometrics and so on.... I think it will be interesting to see what happens when (or if) they actually try to impose this same system for their own passports/documents. And if it doesn't happen, one would have to ask why should the rest of the world be treated with so much suspicion, and if that's something healthy for an open society.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on August 25, 2003 at 1:45 AM

the danger for the US

[via Karlin]: Ian Clarke, creator of Freenet has said that he will leave the US. His reasons? In his own words:

As an Irish citizen living in the US - I have decided that it is time to leave this country - it is starting to look, smell, and act as Germany did during the 1930s. I wish you Americans luck in regaining civilized justice in your broken country, if not, I hope that the EU will be accepting of political refugees from this brave but failed experiment.
Apparently what triggered this was the recent guilty plea accepted by an ex-Intel employee, Mike Hawash. Russ was expressing similar thoughts a few days ago, talking about his concern for his wife, who is not an American citizen and her diminished rights in the US under this new environment. What Russ didn't realize is that he, even being an American citizen, is really in the same situation as her. The US has already detained an American citizen without trial, without charges, and without access to legal representation, and people have reacted to it, to no avail so far. There are supporters of this system, for example, you can read one view in support of this here.

Hawash, the ex-Intel employee, in his plea agreement, accepted that he was "aiding the enemy" (the enemy being, in this case, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda). Ian's concerns are not unfounded, but in the case of Hawash there's more to it than meets the eye. I've read the plea agreement document (PDF) and apparently Hawahs also travelled to China with the intention of crossing the border into Afghanistan to fight against US forces. I stress: apparently. That's what it says in the document. Is that real? Was Hawash railroaded into accepting things he didn't do? We don't know. And that really, is the main problem the US is facing right now: everything is secret (leaving aside the question of whether the intention of doing something actually warrants ten years or so in prison). Hawash was detained without contact for a long time. The records of his interrogation, the proof, almost everything related to his case is sealed. One of the pillars of democratic societies is free access to information, and free public discourse, which includes free discussion on what the government is doing, and how (which theoretically allows citizens to change it later in the next election). This all-encompassing quest for pure secrecy, this distrust for the public getting a chance to see what's going on in the background, is really what could create a problem, long term, for the US. The secrecy implies that the government knows best, and people should simply take it at its word (and this, coming from a hard-line republican administration! Didn't republicans stand for small government, state independence, individual rights, privacy, gun ownership, etcetera?). Paul Krugman, writing in the New York Times, recently gave another good example of this broad trend in the US's administration behavior. Also, Karlin posted today another example (Commenting on this must-read entry by Danny O'Brien) of where this kind of paranoia can take things.

I don't think things are so incredibly bad as Ian says (For starters, I wouldn't compare the US government today with the Third Reich as he does), but certainly there's a worrying trend developing here. The important thing will be, IMO, whether this is relaxed in the future or not. A line was crossed, but returning is still possible, and many people are not happy with the way things are going in the US. That's the nature of things: the swing of the pendulum (Compare what's happening today with what was happening in the Nixon administration...). And if you somehow think that isn't true, you can read the transcript for a speech that Al Gore gave last week. It ain't over yet.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on August 11, 2003 at 5:40 PM

US election jokes

I'm about to get back to work but there's a number of things that I've seen over the past couple of days that I wanted to make a note of. To start with, since US politics seems to be one of the topics of the moment (because of its strange freakiness, from a maverick Democratic candidate for president and its "internet insurgency" to a one-line actor who now wants to be governor of a state that is one of the biggest ten economies in the world), here's this list of jokes. Quite funny.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on August 11, 2003 at 4:41 PM

the group, or the individual?

A Salon article on the politics of global warming. Truly a case in which it would be better to be safe than sorry--if I had to pick one drawback from Capitalism, is that since each player is only focused on their own survival, they ignore the "greater good" which in the end actually ends up harming them.

Probably the most dramatic example of this in recent times is the greed of the financers/corporations that played a big role in laying to waste Argentina's markets recently. In many cases, even when the problems were created by politicians, politicians were actually responding to special interests... so sometimes the same game was being played by the special interests both overtly and covertly. The end result? A collapse of the financial system, and a loss not just for the society, but also for the companies themselves. True, many of them made a killing and took the money out in time. But some didn't. Now they are trying to sue the government.

The seemingly never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict is another example of this.

With this topic I always end up thinking of Carl Sagan's concept of "technological adolescence", in which the capabilities of a species grow much faster than its ability to understand them or use them properly. While this creates visible threats (nuclear proliferation for example) it also creates less visible threats, such as manipulation in the global financial system. We better start getting our act together though. There are much darker possibilities in the future.

And, yes, I am just re-reading this, and this kind of self-destructive behavior that all of us, as a group, seem intent in engaging on, obviously applies to other things, that while less critical are also a symptom of the larger trend.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on August 7, 2003 at 10:37 AM

argentina didn't fall on its own

A story from the Washington Post that details how the bubble-attitudes from Wall Street firms helped create the conditions for Argentina's default at the beginning of 2002.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on August 4, 2003 at 12:05 AM

and the prize for stupid idea of the month goes to...

...the Pentagon, for their announcement that they would create a "futures market" for terrorist attacks. As I read the article, I had to double-check a few times to make sure that I hadn't ended up at The Onion by mistake (with competition like this in the pentagon, the onion might have to shut down, or change its domain to ".mil" to be taken seriously). In any case, one can certainly understand the logic behind this idea, as a theoretical undertaking. But we're talking about reality here (aren't we?). The group of guys at the Pentagon that keeps coming up with things like these look to me to be a tiny (tiny, tiny) bit out of touch. This comment (from the article) by a senator says it all I think:

One [senator, Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota] said the idea seemed so preposterous that he had trouble persuading people it was not a hoax. "Can you imagine," Mr. Dorgan asked, "if another country set up a betting parlor so that people could go in and is sponsored by the government itself people could go in and bet on the assassination of [a] political figure?"
Yes, I think we can all imagine. (This same senator later sharpened his commentary slightly by saying, according to CNN, that the plan was "unbelievably stupid").

Besides, eight million dollars for this? I guess they had some leftover change from some smart bombs and such.

Since we're on this kind of mood :-) the Onion has this hilarious "News In Brief" item today:

Bush Not Heard From For Over A Month
WASHINGTON, DCBeltway insiders and members of the media expressed concern Monday that President Bush has not been heard from for nearly five weeks. "I hope he's okay," said Secretary of State Colin Powell. "It's just like him to go off on a fishing trip to Alaska or something and not tell anyone. Which is fine. I mean, he's the president and can do what he wants and all that, but we kind of need to wrap up this whole Liberia thing we started." White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan admitted that he was unclear about the president's whereabouts, but figured he must be "off somewhere busy with something."
Bush does seem to get a lot of leeway from the press on this matter, doesn't he? On the other hand, look at poor Blair on this side of the Atlantic. He's on TV so much, his close relatives probably need to sneak into a press conference to see him in the flesh.

And, btw, about Pentagon thing, we could also give it the prize for "fastest to be shot down". CNN was announcing this afternoon that the plan will be abandoned. Oh well. It was fun while it lasted. All twenty-four hours of it.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on July 29, 2003 at 8:26 PM

remember afghanistan?

The Economist has a sobering summary of the current situation there.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on July 29, 2003 at 7:58 PM

what's that button say?

[via Slashdot]: Read and be amazed. (Some more links here). A story from one of the co-founders of the EFF.

On the topic: Cringely on security holes in security systems (Followup with more info here).

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on July 21, 2003 at 4:19 PM

in the land of guantanamo

From the New York Times: an in-depth article on the prison camp the US has created in Guantanamo, how it's managed, and how it has evolved since it began as "Camp X-Ray".

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on June 28, 2003 at 12:19 AM

NGOs or GOs?

Naomi Klein writes for The Guardian on the pressures that USAid is putting on NGOs. Weird.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on June 25, 2003 at 12:43 PM

politics, media... and war

A fascinating (and scary) summary and analysis from Salon's Jake Tapper of how the rethoric of politicians in the US shifted as the Iraq war drew closer. I say "fascinating" in how the media and the power of institutions is "managed" to adjust the public's reaction; in its end result it is, of course, worrying, if not really new. One conclusion: decentralized media (of which weblogs are the tip of the iceberg) will have to thrive to counterbalance these forces, since "big media" is out of the game of "objectivity" at this point. And it's not just about those dreaded "special interests" controlling media; another big factor is that these days it's easier to form feedback loops between content consumers and providers, and so the focus of mainstream media is following the fickle interests of the mob (note: the mob, not the individuals that compose it). Individuals want depth and objectivity, and if necessary complexity. The mob prefers shallow, subjective, easy-to-understand soundbites. Weblogs are the best tools of individuality at the moment, but they're just a start.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on June 20, 2003 at 8:08 PM

spy game

A couple of weeks I was wondering about "cold war relics" (right...) of a sort. And here's something new about that other kind of "cold war relic", the spy business:

When Moscow revealed last week that a Russian intelligence officer who had settled in the United States had been lured back home and arrested, the news was the talk of American and Russian veterans of the intelligence battles of the cold war, who viewed the incident as evidence that an old-fashioned spy war has quietly flared anew.
At least this is less dangerous that that other thing...

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on June 18, 2003 at 1:28 AM

but the cold war's over... right?

If you feel like a few chills up your spine, instead of watching some cheap horror flick you can simply read this summary of the status of US Nuclear Forces for this year, published in the bulletin of atomic scientists. Some nuggets of information from the report follow (this is all public information regarding US nuclear force status, btw). The US has:

  • 384 submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), Trident I and II types (about half of the operational strategic nuclear arsenal) are deployed in 16 nuclear-powered submarines (2880 warheads in total).
  • 500 Minuteman III missiles with one or three warheads each deployed on land
  • There are three types of nuclear-delivery capable bombers: B-2B (15-20), B-52H (around 100) and B-1B (Although according to the report the B-1B wasn't supposed to be nuclear-capable, there are over 90 of those in operation and close to "retirement"). The bombers can deploy gravity bombs, "bunker-buster" nuclear weapons and cruise missiles (the latter only on the B-52H platform).
  • Over 1,100 non-strategic nuclear weapons (ie., tactical nuclear weapons. The bombs dropped Hiroshima and Nagasaki qualify as tactical).
Which gives a grand total of some 7650 warheads, give or take a few, including strategic and tactical devices.

According to the report they are deactivating 50 MX/Peacekeeper ICBMs (which are relics pretty much). Sounds like good news? Not really. The warheads will be redeployed to Minuteman III missiles.

Also interesting are the time-frames established for "retirement" of some of the technologies, warheads and delivery platforms (ie., missiles, planes, submarines, etc), and plans for their upgrade and/or replacement.

And I don't even want to know what's on the Russian arsenal...

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on June 3, 2003 at 5:08 PM

news from the world

A compilation of various news articles from around the world on the "crisis of democracy", from Salon.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on May 26, 2003 at 11:01 PM

in praise of cooperation

An excellent speech by former US President Bill Clinton.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on May 26, 2003 at 1:12 AM

the 'cabal'

Selective Intelligence, an interesting article in this week's New Yorker.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on May 12, 2003 at 3:01 AM

how good is 'bowling for columbine'?

I've heard many, many good comments about Michael Moore's documentary Bowling for Columbine in which he examines the 'gun culture' of the US, and tries to find reasons why the US has a higher rate of gun homicides than any other country in the world. However, I missed it when it got released here in Ireland, so now I'm waiting for the DVD.

In the meantime, I found two sites (here and here) that debunk several, if not all, the premises on which the documentary was built. Since I haven't seen the movie I can't really comment, but one thing I find interesting about this "debunking" is that it should be easy to verify; I mean, just watch the movie and these things should be obvious. For example, the splicing of different Charlton Heston speeches mentioned in the first article should be clear since it appears that he is wearing two different suits in a segment that implies the sequence is linear. The spinsanity piece (second link) is particularly interesting to me since they are non-partisan and have attacked spin in the left as much as in the right.

One thing I do find interesting is that, if true, Moore (an avowed lefty) is engaging in little more than what other people (particularly in the right, although no one is clean of this) have been doing more of recently: bending the truth or 'connecting dots' of dubious precedence. The White House in particular has been heavily engaged in this in the past few months when trying to shore up support for action in Iraq. Unless they are so extreme that they are disgusting, I respect (although I might disagree) almost any position, as long as the person/group espousing them is honest and consistent (or makes it clear when they've made a mistake--anyone can change their mind). But consider for example this quote from Bush's speech yesterday at an aircraft carrier, declaring the end of armed conflict (although not the end of the war--if they did that, under the Geneva convention they'd also have to release the estimated 6,000 POWs currently under Coalition control, which would be, shall we say, inconvenient). Bush

[...] spoke in emotional terms not only about the troops who toppled Mr. Hussein but also about the Sept. 11 attacks, melding the battle against terrorism with the battle against Iraq. "We have not forgotten the victims of Sept. 11th, the last phone calls, the cold murder of children, the searches in the rubble," he said. "With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States. And war is what they got."
I find it awful that the tragedy of Sept. 11 is used for this purpose. US intelligence agencies themselves identified the hijackers mainly as Saudis (12 of them) and the operation to be organized by Saudis. Today, as was widely reported before the war began (take, for example, this article), almost half of US citizens believe that Iraq was either heavily involved or somewhat involved in the Sept. 11 attacks. There are no facts whatsoever that point in that direction. The Bush Administration itself identified Al-Qaeda as the main culprit, and, when linking Iraq and Al-Qaeda in the UN in February, Collin Powell talked much more about the risk of Iraq's weapons falling in the hands of terrorists than on the apparent links (which, tenous or not, he argued as being recent).

Both Moore (if he did what is claimed with his documentary) and the Bush Administration (if they are, as it appears, encouraging overtly or covertly the spread of things that aren't true) could be say to be voicing things in a way that reinforces what they truly believe in. I guess it goes back to the question: "Would you be willing to lie (or at least not tell the whole truth) to advance a 'cause' you truly believe in"?

As far as I'm concerned, the answer is no. In more mundane situations, gray areas are more commons, but for these ethical/moral/philosophical questions, when you are affecting millions of people with your message, making your case truthfully and honestly is a major element that determines true success.

Okay, I veered off into a rant there, this is a contentious subject and the particulars of each case are not what matters for what I'm trying to say. My point is: whether you're on the left or on the right, and specially for ideological debates, what counts is being honest. Everyone is entitled to their point of view, voicing their opinions and so on, but manipulating perceptions through half-truths and fabrications always ends up creating more problems than in solves. It doesn't matter if you think your cause is just: in these situations, the end rarely justifies the means.

Categories: art.media, geopolitics
Posted by diego on May 2, 2003 at 3:59 PM

comparisons

[via William Gibson's Blog] Heard on Sky News:

"Umm Qasr is a town similar to Southampton", UK Defence Minister Geoff Hoon told the House of Commons yesterday. "He's either never been to Southampton, or he's never been to Umm Qasr", said one British soldier, informed of this while on patrol in Umm Qasr. Another added: "There's no beer, no prostitutes, and people are shooting at us. It's more like Portsmouth."

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on April 4, 2003 at 9:18 PM

9/12

This week salon is publishing excerpts from a book called "After: How America Confronted the September 12 Era" by Steven Brill. Looks very good, judging from the first in the series.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on April 1, 2003 at 12:14 AM

keegan on the war

[via Chris]: John Keegan, the famous military historian, is running a series of articles on The Telegraph analyzing the war. Here is the latest one. The full list can be obtained by going to the main page of The Telegraph and running a search for "Keegan". Recommended.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on April 1, 2003 at 12:11 AM

bowden on iraq

An article by Mark Bowden on the strategy apparently being used by Iraq and its consequences for an invasion of Baghdad. Bowden wrote Black Hawk Down (which before being a movie, or the book on which the movie was based, was a Philadelphia Inquirer series, online here) and Killing Pablo.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on March 27, 2003 at 9:41 AM

the real face of war

An article on media control and the war.

Categories: art.media, geopolitics
Posted by diego on March 24, 2003 at 10:34 PM

europe and america, part 2

Continued from here. I read this excellent essay by Brian Eno on the European Edition of Time magazine and posted it, then kept on writing somehow.

Eno looks at the situation from more of a cultural perspective, which is a welcome change. And here is a counter-essay from Christopher Caldwell (Editor for the conservative US magazine Weekly Standard), who writes much less with "longing for change" (as Eno does) than with spite for Europe and disregard for its opinions as "the result of specific historic experience". Caldwell's argument is slightly childish (bragging that "European food is no longer better than American food" (something that could be argued a bit) and then at the end, with a last paragraph that could apply to the US as much as it could to Europe:

that is what George Bernard Shaw was talking about when he defined a barbarian as one who mistakes the customs of his tribe for the laws of nature.
I tend to think that no side really has the upper hand in this debate (if that's what it can be called). There is too much irrational crap being thrown around. Both the US and Europe are being unreasonable, although to me the "unreasonability" of Europe is more palatable since it doesn't imply war. That is not to say that war can't exist, although if humans were less selfish (or is it less stupid?), it shouldn't.

What I do find interesting in these discussions is that the "America" that people talk about is that of its leaders, while the "Europe" is that of its people. When Chirac or Schroeder go against the war, they do it in part simply for political gain. All European countries, including the UK, have 60% or more of their population against the war. But in the US the percentage is around half. So "American behavior" should not be measured by what Bush does. Problem is, of course, once hostilities begin Americans are less divisive and tend to fall behind their leadership, defending it even if it's wrong (it took years of slaughter in Vietnam for that to change for that particular war). So then the "America" being discussed, that of its leadership, becomes that of its people.

I don't know. It vexes me that arguments as simpleminded as "our food is better" can really influence these kinds of decisions, later snowballing into real problems and even stupid things like "french fries" becoming "freedom fries". All countries have their good and bad things. Some have things that I agree with more, but there are no absolutes. My paradise could be someone else's hell. And many these ridiculous arguments reek of absolutism. Jason has some good comments on this (and on this subject in general) on a recent entry.

But what pisses me off more than that is the hypocrisy, and I think that's also what angers most people. Bush saying "we are defending freedom and the rule of law" and then dismissing out of hand international treaties and putting people in jail without due process is not a recipe for being respected. Saying that they care about democracy while being cuddly with Saudi Arabia, or changing their argument for war every five seconds isn't either. Chirac's position is more palatable since it implies peace (at least until yesterday--apparently they might be shifting their opennes to conflict), but it's still difficult to see how they can defend that "war is not okay now, but it would be okay in three months." Their shifts and counter shifts smell of political maneuvering, not of real conviction.

The absolutism implied in the positions of this whole discussion has the additional bad side-effect of artificially polarizing the discussion, which creates emotional rather than rational responses. In this sense I think that the US in general is overreacting a bit (more than Europe). All this talk about how "the US saved the French in world war two" is pretty strange as I mentioned before, since nobody seems to remember that the French helped the US in their war of independence against the British, and in both cases the one that "came to the rescue" had its own reasons for doing it aside from "defending freedom" or whatever it is they loftily declared.

We should be more open to listening to what others say, on both sides. Criticizing one thing in particular doesn't mean that you are criticizing everything. And honest criticism is always good.

When writing (or creating anything) it's difficult to take criticism at first, since you take it personally. Over time I learned to separate criticism of the things I do from criticism of me as a person (which also makes it easy to know when someone is actually criticizing me as a person). People, organizations, countries, etc, they all change and learn, and what I did yesterday might not be what I will do tomorrow. I think that if that could be applied to other situations, the world would be a bit better.

I hope this makes some sense. Too many ideas in too short a space.

Anyway, back to spaces.

Categories: geopolitics, personal
Posted by diego on March 14, 2003 at 7:27 PM

the road to war

An excellent Salon article: Sleepwalking toward Baghdad. A cogent analysis (with--quite literally-- a bit of poetic license) of most of the arguments for and against war. A few of the analogies are a bit stretched, but whether you agree with it or not, it makes you think, which is what really matters.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on March 12, 2003 at 12:50 AM

telling it like it is

Found this through Russ's blog: Arrest me, by William Rivers Pitt.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on March 11, 2003 at 1:57 AM

a bit of levity

Count on The Onion to put some humor to any situation. Bush offers taxpayers another $300 if we go to war:

Under the Bush plan, single taxpayers would be eligible for a $300 rebate, married filers $600, and heads of household $500. Attached to the proposal is a rider, penned by Bush himself, stating, "Plus, we also will invade Iraq right away, everyone promises."

Pending passage of the bill, titled Economic Growth And Tax Relief Reconciliation Act Of 2003 And We Bomb Iraq (H.R. 1936), some 91.3 million checks could be mailed as early as March 31.

"The plan is almost identical to the tax rebate offered in 2001," Bush said. "With the minor exception, of course, of the provision that Americans react favorably to the deployment of 210,000 troops to the Persian Gulf."

"Which reminds me, have you seen these new iPods?" added Bush, pulling an Apple-brand MP3 player from his pocket and holding it up to the crowd. "It costs $299 for one of these little buggers, but it holds a thousand songs. They're amazing."

Hilarious.

And speaking of hilarity. Here is a New York Times review of a new Bruce Willis picture that I hadn't heard about, Tears of the Sun:

Unfortunately, the movie's real setting is a sentimental fantasy world, and its story is a spectacularly incoherent exercise in geopolitical wish fulfillment. Bruce Willis, with the weary, haunted stoicism that has been his trademark since he gave up the smirky frat-boy bonhomie that made him a star, plays A. K. Waters, a Navy Seals lieutenant dispatched into the jungle to evacuate Lena Kendricks (Monica Bellucci), an American doctor who tends the wounded at a remote and vulnerable mission. In no uncertain terms, the doctor, whose khaki blouse appears to be missing its top three buttons, informs her would-be rescuer that she will not leave the refugees behind. She slaps the lieutenant and spits in his face, which helps to spark a crisis of conscience. He tells the rescue helicopter to turn around and, in direct violation of orders, to take the youngest and frailest Nigerians to safety.

[...]

The audience's tears are more likely to result from boredom, irritation at Hans Zimmer's wretched fake-world-music score and inadvertent amusement at the thunderously earnest dialogue and Ms. Bellucci's awkward line readings. (She has now made movies in three languages; whether she can act in any of them is an open question.) One of Waters's men (Eamonn Walker), who is African-American, declares, "These are my people, too," and urges his commander to persevere on their new mission. When the mission is almost over, a grateful African woman says: "We will never forget you. God will never forget you."

Hollywood never fails to reach new depths of unrealistic sappiness. Oh well. At least reading the review was fun.

Later: A couple of days later, actually... I found this Salon review of the same movie, also very good, and a bit more serious than the one from the New York Times. The movie was directed by Anthony Fuqua! I thought he did a great job with Training Day, but this new movie looks like a bomb (no pun intended). As I said at the end of the previous paragraph: Oh well.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on March 8, 2003 at 12:19 AM

the US and Europe

Karlin on the "US v. Old Europe" undercurrent that seems to be growing in the US Administration and media. Quote:

I am really saddened by the pathetically childish comments some Americans are making about "The French" and "The Germans" (as if the tens of millions of people in these two extremely diverse nations are somehow two undifferentiated lumps). I gave some examples of the kinds of things that I have been hearing to a dear German friend who came to stay with me for the weekend (including the accusation that the French have made no contribution to civilisation except wine and perfume and pastries. Good grief, the FRENCH -- no contribution?! This, as I read the biography of American patriot John Adams and his no-nonsense wife Abigail, two solid New Englanders who were struck and entranced by the intellectual life of France back in the late 18th century -- the talk, the theatre, the literature, the philosophers, the food, the granting of an intellectual life to women).
Full entry here.

And, I would add, that's not even going into the whole issue of the rethoric claiming that the US went into WW2 to "save" Europe, when in large part the US was also interested in protecting its own strategic interests from the Axis menace, and even so did not enter the conflict until it was attacked by Japan, two full years after the war had started, when most of Europe had been conquered and Russia was already under attack, and millions of innocents had been slaughtered? And even if the US had in fact gone into WW2 to "save Europe" why would that mean that because of that countries should blindly do what the US says?

On the other hand, much of the anti-American rethoric in Europe is also overly simplistic and often misplaced.

The Economist this week puts it well I think in the article (aptly titled "Enough, Children."):

THE spoof Google search doing the rounds in Washington, DC, runs: Your searchFrench military victoriesdid not match any documents. No pages were found. Did you mean French military defeats? An affable Frenchman might merely find it odd that Napoleon is unknown in America, despite selling a chunk of it to Jefferson, but other barbs will hurt. What do you call a Frenchman advancing on Baghdad?A salesman. On American talk shows, it is open season on continental Europeans, especially those cheese-eating surrender monkeys.

Politicians seem to have caught the tabloid spirit. I am particularly disgusted, thunders a California congressman, by the blind intransigence and utter ingratitude of France, Germany and Belgium. The failure of these states to honour their commitments is beneath contempt. Richard Perle, a Republican hawk, now says that France should no longer be considered an ally. The speaker of the House mutters about boycotting Beaujolais.

[...]

[...] American anti-Europeanism [is] different in scope from its opposite across the pond. It is more marginal, indifferent and shallow. But that does not make it irrelevant. At a time when many Americans and Europeans disagree about basic strategic assumptions, the current vitriol is disturbing. Opinion polls show a sharp drop in American fellow-feeling to Europeans in general and the French in particular. That can be put down to the quarrel over Iraq. But the polls also show a more gradual decline in Americans' perception of their vital interest in Europe, and this trend may prove harder to reverse.

The most dangerous part of America's anti-Europeanism, just like its mirror-image in Europe, is its willingness to ignore specific facts for the sake of a good stereotype. The current stereotype of Europeans, writes Robert Kagan in his new book, Of Paradise and Power, is easily summarised. Europeans are wimps. Which is all very wellexcept that half the members of the European Union and almost all the applicant members support a tougher line on Iraq than France and Germany do. European peacekeepers hold the Balkans together and form much of the Afghan peacekeeping force. Those cowardly French, like the rest of NATO, invoked Article Five, offering military help to America after September 11th.

Another problem with the anti-European rethoric in the US (compared to anti-American rethoric in Europe) is that it seems to be happening at much higher levels and more consistenly. There are other points in the article, some with which I don't totally agree (for example, it mentions that the Americans could claim that "they started it", but I think that Bush's treatment of the UN Security Council would inevitably create that response). In any case I think the title of the article says it all.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on March 5, 2003 at 7:49 PM

high security?

A Wired article on the security problems of Los Alamos National Laboratory:

There are no armed guards to knock out. No sensors to deactivate. No surveillance cameras to cripple. To sneak into Los Alamos National Laboratory, the world's most important nuclear research facility, all you do is step over a few strands of rusted, calf-high barbed wire.

I should know. On Saturday morning, I slipped into and out of a top-secret area of the lab while guards sat, unaware, less than a hundred yards away.

A few weeks ago, The Economist ran a related article on Los Alamos with the headline "Next stop for Blix? - Even America has a hard time keeping track of its arms programmes", and said:

IT BUILDS weapons of mass destruction. And it cannot account for dozens of computers and hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of other equipment. Were the goings-on that have lately been exposed at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to be uncovered in Iraq, the United Nations weapons inspectors would pounce on them with a furious cry.

Los Alamos, where the first atomic bombs were built, is in as bad a crisis as it has known since the end of the cold war. This time the concern is not about its fundamental job; indeed, the realisation that the world has not been made safe by the collapse of communism, and that there are still explosive dangers out there, has put a spring back in the step of nuclear-weapons designers. The current trouble is about that familiar old villain, simple mismanagement.

Categories: geopolitics, science, technology
Posted by diego on March 1, 2003 at 9:25 AM

shaking hands with saddam hussein

Now this is interesting.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on February 27, 2003 at 11:51 PM

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