Archive for the ‘War’ Category

Yes we fucking could!

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

I suppose I would have been less shocked and disappointed if Obama had lost than when Kerry did because I could not, still cannot, imagine how anyone could have regarded Bush as even minimally competent by November 2004. But still it was extraordinary to wake at ten past four this morning, and switch on the kitchen radio in the middle of McCain’s concession speech. It was the best news since 1989. I don’t really suppose that Obama can rescue America but what gives me hope is the fantastic volunteer effort that got him elected. It’s impossible to imagine that kind of popular movement in this country, even for donkey welfare.

One other point: Tim Bray, in his comments, was lamenting the absence of a credible conservative voice in American politics. But as far as I can hear, this is exactly the voice they have elected. Just as Kerry was an Eisenhower Republican, Obama seems to me to be exactly the kind of conservative who understands when change is inevitable. The great question is he will prove enough of a statesman to manage things so that everything changes in order for everything to stay the same. Whatever else he is, he’s not a destructive revolutionary, far less so than Bush was in his blundering way.

Why should anyone else feel good?

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

Something about the events of the last week have convinced me that Obama will lose horribly this autumn, and that the Clintonites were right in their assumption that America will not elect a black, metropolitan liberal president. I can’t quite put my finger on the evidence that persuaded me that—to put it crudely—racism will decide this election. Mary Dejevsky’s piece in today’s Independent is part of it. But I think the most telling nugget of information was the poll showing that 24% of Americans think their country is “not ready” for a black president. This is more than five times as many as those who say they wouldn’t vote for such a candidate, but in the privacy of the voting booth it means the same thing. There’ll be plenty of occasion to cry “God Damn America” as this goes on.

The Saunders defence bites back

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008
Do we really want a certified nutter running Pakistan? It would appear from today’s FT that the US and Britain are perfectly happy with the prospect. When Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir Bhutto’s widow, was trying to fight off corruption charges in the High Court here in Britain last year, he visited various doctors of the utmost excellence in New York.

They did what he presumably then wanted, and diagnosed him as suffering from “a range of serious illnesses including dementia, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder in a series of medical reports spanning more than two years.”

“I do not foresee any improvement in these issues for at least a year,” wrote one of them in March 2007. Since then, Mr Zardari has had his wife assassinated endured the assassination of his wife, not something which normally improves your mental health. But the High Commissioner in London, speaking on his behalf, told the FT he is now fit and well. So that’s all right then. Isn’t it.

Who we, white man? (part xxxvi)

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

Larry Moran quotes an interview with Dan Dennett:

“The very fact that we agree that there are moral limits that trump any claim of religious freedom—we wouldn’t accept a religion that engaged in human sacrifice or slavery, for instance—shows that we do not cede to religion, to any religion, the final authority on moral injunctions”
This shows up very neatly the second great systematic weakness of Dennett on religion (the first, of course, being the belief that “memes” have any explanatory value). He is extremely parochial. The “We” for whom he speaks are post-protestant liberal North Americans. An admirable tribe, but one losing influence everywhere. We live in a time when there are supposed to be more slaves alive than every before. Someone, somewhere, clearly finds slavery perfectly acceptable, and is probably fortified in this by their religious beliefs, though of course the great twentieth century slave empires were avowedly atheistic.

Human sacrifice in its old form is, I admit, almost everywhere out of fashion, but I think you will find a residual enthusiasm for sacrificing our enemies can be found in even the most respectable quarters. You might try a poll question in America on whether God is pleased by the death of a terrorist.


Saturday, June 7th, 2008

The current issue of the New Yorker is a real winner. There are some classic cartoons, an unspeakably grim story by Annie Proulx about lives of two poor soldiers from Wyoming, and a series of small, thoughtful and illuminating stories about faith. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to write my cookbook.

A Pelican History

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

England in the Eighteenth Century is a lovely, succinct and succulent volume from the Pelican History of England, written in 1950, at a time of fierce self-improvement. To quote the contemporary review in the Listener: As a portent in the broadening of popular culture the influence of this wonderful series has yet to receive full recognition and precise assessment. No venture could be more enterprising or show more confidence in the public’s willingness to purchase thoughtful books”. So there it was in the Oxfam bookshop, alongside more modern works less eloquent of the public’s desire for thoughtful books.

I had forgotten how terrible were the lives of the urban poor—that until the very end of the period, the population of the cities were maintained only by immigration from the countryside because the infant mortality rate was so high; things grew better in London until the adoption of plumbing, and water closets, which meant that all the shit was flushed into the Thames, instead of being collected for night-soil and carried out of the city, so that typhoid became a scourge. Men and horses drowned in the potholes of the Great North Road. But then I suppose it was very little larger than the bridleway that presently runs on a chalk ridge north of Saffron Walden, which at one point crosses clay, and there turns to a quagmire every time it rains.

The naked greed for empire, too, was something we easily forget. There is nothing in the American attitudes to Mesopotamia today which is not to be found in British attitudes to North America in the eighteenth century, right down to the preference for trade over empire. Here are Pitt’s reasons for capturing Canada from the French …

set out in a memorandum, sent by the Duke of Bedford, with Pitt’s approval, to Newcastle. It contained five points, and their order is interesting and significant. They were:
1. The conquest would secure the entire trade in fur and fish.
2. The French would be prevented from supplying their West Indian islands with lumber, which would drive up the price of French sugar, to the advantage of our sugar merchants.
3. France would lose a market for manufactures.
4. France would no longer be able to build ships in America or acquire masts and timber. Their naval armament would be limited.
5. The expulsion of the French would give security to British North American colonies.
The last point carried the most weight with Newcastle, but not enough. He was haunted by the increasing cost of the war, which had led to a sharp increase in taxation, with consequent grumbling from the landed interest in Parliament. To embark on a costly expedition which would gratify neither the King nor Parliament, but only a handful of merchants in America and London, seemed folly and waste to Newcastle. The project was dismissed, but carefully preserved by Pitt.
Should we perhaps regard him as a neo-Whig?

But there are also moments of pure delight to be had from the contemplation of eighteenth century science: Louis XV was so impressed by the discovery of electricity that he had a line of monks a mile long hold hands, and then ran a shock through all of them, and was himself convulsed with laughter when they leaped into the air.

To see brandy ignited by a spark shooting from a man’s finger became one of the wonders of the age. Wesley became a firm believer in electricity’s curative powers because he regarded it as a kind of elan vital, and he warmly recommended intense and prolonged electric shocks for a wide range of diseases from malaria to hysteria.

The things that Telegraph readers say

Friday, May 16th, 2008

Perhaps by coincidence, Damian Thompson was very quiet for a couple of months after I wrote about him reproducing a neo-nazi propaganda story on his Daily Telegraph blog, though he did ring up to say he would never speak to me again. But recently he has resumed his usual mixture of hating Catholic bishops because they are liberal and hating Muslims because they are not.Telegraph readers just lap it up. In the excerpts below from the latest comments thread I particularly like the call for Muslims to be “interred without trial”. I hope it was a misprint, but one can never be certain.


The Telegraph brings news

Friday, May 9th, 2008

I hope it’s not going to be another summer when the Daily Telegraph is the paper that knows what’s going on. I don’t mean that its reports are true, but that they are uniquely informative because they tell us what the Bush junta wants us to believe, and so what it is planning to do. In the summer of 2002 it was the only British paper which wrote as if war with Iraq were inevitable as well as desirable; for the last few years, after the catastrophe in Iraq, became apparent, the Telegraph has been pretty subdued. But now I see Con Coughlin mongering war again.

Deliver us from Godwin, oh Lord, but not yet

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

I just found this unexpectedly lucid quote from Adolf Hitler when someone asked him why he was so anti-Semitic, when the Jews had benefitted Germany so much: “It is manifestly clear and has been proven in practice and by the facts of all revolutions that a struggle for ideals, for improvements of any kind whatsoever, absolutely must be supplemented with a struggle against some social class or caste.”

What makes it so creepy is that he said it in 1922, which must have been about the last moment in his career when he could afford to be truthful to a journalist. Of course, anyone following that line of reasoning in Europe today would use the Muslims for their enemies. The parallel is by no means exact, but it’s close enough to be worrying.

Dumb as all the rocks you’d need to stone a harlot

Monday, April 14th, 2008

I have just watched a documentary about Swedish jihadis, Det Svider i Hjärtat, which has not, so far as I know, been discussed in England, though it has been shown at the Barbican, something I only found out while posting. I mean to write more about it, and perhaps more seriously, in the Guardian, and bits of it are truly horrifying. But by the end, my horror was interrupted by gusts of laughter because the main character completely beats out Doug Feith for the title of stupidest man on the planet.

He is a native Swede called, apparently, Ralf Lennart, though he prefers to call himself “Abu Usama el Swede” (pronounced swayday). On the back of his neck is tattooed GBG hooligan, and on the side of it, in wedding-invitation script, ACAB, which stands, of course, for “All coppers are bastards”. As a youth he was a neo-nazi skinhead, part of a gang who beat an Iranian half to death in a park in Gothenburg; and he is still troubled by the memory of another crime he never got caught for. But in one of his jails, he converted to Islam, because — he gestured at his teeming head as he explained this — “It fits with what’s up here in my head: that’s how I see the world. There’s nothing vague about it. Islam has answers for everything from A to Z”

The thug mixture of self-satisfaction with injured self-righteousness seemed quite unaffected by his conversion: when he talked about himself he always seemed to be in an invisible interview room, hoping that the cops didn’t have the evidence to pin anything on him.

He has three children by three different women, and keeps his present wife shut in the bedroom when the film maker comes around. Obviously, he is unemployed; for the rest of his life the Swedish state will subsidise him while he spends his days talking about Islam with his friend and splicing together Jihadi videos to put up on the internet. But some of his friends are slightly less gormless, and one of them had set off, from Kungälv of all dumps, to blow himself up in Bosnia. Naturally, he had arrived some time after the war was over, and been rapidly caught, and jailed for fifteen years in Sarajevo. All this was partly horrible, but also, when Abu Usama el Swede went there, gut-burstingly funny. For once he left the suburbs of Gothenburg this global warrior against Western decadence was could have been any self-satisfied and invicibly ignorant Swedish tourist there has ever been. Forty years ago, he would have wondered around China marvelling at the Cultural Revolution. Now, he was bewildered that the Bosnians, after eight years of bitter war, had not embraced fundamentalist Islam: “None of them are wearing a hijab. I don’t know what’s wrong with them” he said.

I know that in some lights, this represents a blinkered and fanatical determination to overthrow freedom and enlightenment. I know that being really stupid does not make anyone harmless. I know he is, to the best of his abilities, wicked. But still, I laughed and laughed.