Between this and that I even got some more painting done today. An earlier look at this here.
Saturday, 29 November 2008
Martin in the Margins: Mumbai and the theology of death.
Your Friend in the North: Waz de Joos wot dun it.
Friday, 28 November 2008
Wednesday, 26 November 2008
There are very few people dying from piracy. The areas that are being governed by the pirate companies are functioning and less violent than areas where piracy does not exist, indeed pirate cities are thriving. The pirates are not only commercial in nature, but they are enemies of the Islamic extremists that represent the enemy of the United States. It sounds crazy to say, but the pirates are essentially the secular, liberal capitalists of Somalia, and the United States would prefer to deal WITH not AGAINST those types of people. Know your history, the Europeans preferred dealing with the Brashaws of the Barbary states than the alternative, the Islamic militant armies. We are essentially allowing the pirates to build themselves as regional Brashaws of Somalia with the ransom money from piracy, while the Islamists who remain violent are struggling for funding.
Related, Neo-neocon on the unforseen consequences of the US withdrawal from Somalia under Clinton, of which more in this 2002 New Yorker article by Lawrence Wright, The Man Behind Bin Laden:
In 1993, bin Laden dispatched Mohamed Atef to Somalia to look for ways of attacking the American military forces that were participating in an international famine-relief effort. Bin Laden gloried in the fact that his men had trained the Somali militiamen who shot down two American helicopters in the ‘Black Hawk Down’ incident, in October of that year, prompting President Clinton to withdraw all American soldiers from the country. “Based on the reports we received from our brothers in Somalia,” bin Laden said, “we learned that they saw the weakness, frailty, and cowardice of U.S. troops. Only eighteen U.S. troops were killed. Nonetheless, they fled in the heart of darkness.”Earlier post on Somalia and pirates here.
The above illustration is a sketch for my current Dutch book project.
At Café Turco: History as written by other people, on Srebrenica and a gross misrepresentation of history in the drama film Resolution 819.
Related, in the New York Times: Never Forget. You’re Reminded, A.O. Scott on film dramatisations of the Holocaust.
Tuesday, 25 November 2008
Today at Politico: Gates agrees to stay on under Obama. Via the Small Wars Journal, who have been making the case for this for some time.
Small Wars Journal, June 13th 2008
Time, June 18th 2008
The Caucus, NY Times blog, October 2nd 2008
Washington Post, October 12th 2008
Wall Street Journal, October 30th 2008
The Wall Street Journal, November 21 2008
- - - - -
Related: More on Obama and the Hawks, from Roland at But I am a Liberal.
Recently I had to run an errand down to the t-shirt factory over Kentish Town tube station here in London. The place was in full swing mass-producing I (heart) BO shirts, with the face of the US president elect in the heart. Unprecedented.
Above, John Campbell has some fun with new t-shirt fashions. Click on the strip for the full version. Via Journalista.
Strip copyright © John Campbell
Monday, 24 November 2008
Not quite, but in a change just as radical and disturbing, this morning’s edition departs from the long established Normblog house style and features photographs inserted in the text! Visible on the page! Not safely tucked away behind a clickable link, but actually interrupting the previously pure flow of words! Some are even in colour. Surely the Normblog tabloid edition cannot be far behind. Appropriately enough the topic of the post is the grotesquely ugly, unwelcoming, unloved Euston Station, and its fine neoclassical predecessor, demolished in 1961. What a falling off, and all that.
Above is an image of another lost masterpiece from the heyday of British railway station building, taken from The Wonder Book of Railways, published sometime in the 1920s by Ward, Lock & Co., Limited, London and Melbourne.
Sunday, 23 November 2008
Friday, 21 November 2008
Yesterday, the International Herald Tribune, probably the most sober daily available at my corner shop, gave most of its front page over to the pirates and their booty. But if you’re worried about murderous threats in those waters then people smugglers seem worse. Another hazard on a lawless coast is illegal dumping.
What the pirates do underline once again is that problems in failed states don’t stay within failed states. It may be possible to contain a hostile government in control of its own territory, but it’s impossible to contain a failed state.
Detailed pirate coverage can be found at EagleSpeak.
Illustration: sketch for the book in progress.
It has become quite fashionable to say there is no military solution: in Iraq “the solution in Iraq is political, it is not military,” in Afghanistan “there can be no military solution to this conflict only a political one,” and in the Democratic Republic of Congo “there is only a solution to this by discussion and not by military means.” So it was some small relief to read the words, “this is not about political settlement or humanitarian aid or military protection: it is about all three.”
Whether action follows is another matter - three thousand more peacekeepers doesn’t quite sound like the whole world rolling into action.
The comparative explanations of the geographic scale of the problem have been varied. Congo is as big as Europe. But the eastern region currently in crisis is about the size of Sierra Leone, implying that 3,000 of the right troops might be more than enough, if only without blue helmets. Or it’s twice as big as Belgium, which given Belgium’s political problems makes it potentially the size of two times two, that is to say four little countries.
If you want a reason not to act, then the bigger the better, maybe. Or more sensibly one might think it’s better to act while the problem is contained within two Belgiums, rather than wait once more for the all-of-Europe-sized disaster.
And it doesn’t need to stop there. I’m reminded of this map.
Thursday, 20 November 2008
My old friend Ray, formerly front man for legendary Galway band The Kathleens, now performs solo in London under the name John Dog. Have a listen.
Above, sketch for a CD cover. The final version was a little different.
In Finnish my darling flying cat is called Siiri Peloton Postilentäjä. From January 14th until March 15th 2009 the Post Museum in Helsinki will be exhibiting 24 original paintings of her adventures. The pictures are boxed and ready to go. I’m holding my breath -
Wednesday, 19 November 2008
Of the animation blogs in the mix listed on the right, Michael Sporn’s is perhaps my favourite, generous with knowledge and imagery, and broad in scope. Earlier this week he had a post on Jiri Trnka, the latest in a series on the Czech artist and animator, mainly of puppet films.
For anyone coming here for the politics, I recommend looking at Trnka’s work, and beginning at the end. His final film, The Hand, was released in the lead up to the Prague Spring, and banned after the tanks came in. You can watch it online here. It’s also available on DVD with his wonderful feature of The Emperor’s Nightingale.
Michael Sporn’s earlier posts on Jiri Trnka: Trnka Art, Buyout, The Hand, Merry Circus, Trnka in Graphis.
And here’s an Animation World Magazine article on Trnka.
The best way to fight racist parties like the BNP is to get out and vote for somebody else, anybody else. Well, maybe not anybody.
At Harry’s Place: Black Shirt! Brown Shirt! Green Shirt?
It seems the BNP membership list includes a Green Party election candidate from 2001 and 2005. More on the list from BBC News.
At Harry’s Place: Black Shirt! Brown Shirt! Green Shirt?
It seems the BNP membership list includes a Green Party election candidate from 2001 and 2005. More on the list from BBC News.
How will the Greens deal with this? Getting rid of one cuckoo from the nest is the easy part. Asking why a neo-fascist might feel comfortable running as a Green Party candidate could be more difficult.
Update: Green Party Statement.
Update 2: Your Friend in the North has some words to say on the list leak, while Francis is tuned in to that BBC report.
Follow up post: Greens and fascists.
Monday, 17 November 2008
It brought to mind a riot of colour, exciting music, handweaving, pottery. Actually it’s about racists rioting. The racist rioters don’t seem to be part of an ethnic minority, though they are targeting one. The actual riot seems to just involve the racists and the police, not the targeted ethnic minority, so might not racist riot have been clearer?
Sunday, 16 November 2008
Terry Glavin opens at a newspaper and reads:
“Today, the blunt reality and central problem in Afghanistan is that most of its people believe they were better off under the Taliban than they are under President Hamid Karzai.”His response:
This is the opposite of the truth, and on a matter of such critical importance - what the Afghan masses actually think - it is an inexcusable error. I am now aware of 14 public opinion polls and focus group surveys conducted in Afghanistan that refute this fashionable and persistent falsehood, which has been making the rounds from almost the morning after the Taliban were routed from Kabul in 2001.
My TV Drama
by Dan Turèll
I have always wanted to make a TV drama
There will be just two characters
I can see them now
They’ll be a relatively younger couple
who are sitting by the fireplace after lunch
it’s all the same which social group they belong to
they could well be academics
or they might just as well work in a bank
and have a weakness for Pavarotti that’s quite alright
it just has to be a relatively younger couple by a fireplace
they have rented a summerhouse and there is a fireplace
and they want to light a fire
they don’t have too much open authentic old-fashioned acoustic fire in the air-conditioned back home
they have all day long experienced such violent forces of nature as Sun and Sea
so now they want to experience Fire
and then it is that it won’t light
They pile log upon log
but the fire doesn’t catch hold
they take turns to find new possibilities
and new explanations and new methods
but it will not work
and gradually the irritation rises
everyone hates being unable to do what they want
they don’t necessarily begin to argue
it doesn’t have to be like that
but there hangs an irritation about the place
and it could at any time explode
And so it is that to get the fire to catch he grabs a newspaper
he throws in the newspaper
the flame rises
now it’s there
but soon it dies away again
so another newspaper is needed, quickly
and then one more
and then there is only one newspaper left, in with it
and that was today’s
so she asks if that was necessary
‘that was the new one’
and he sees only the fire and the flame that rises
and it’s as if it isn’t his own voice he hears
when he says: ‘but there’s never anything in those newspapers’
and he knows well it was him who absolutely wanted to get the newspaper this morning
but suddenly it becomes clear to him that he likes to see it burn
he likes to see these murders and muggings and share prices
and commodity prices and book reviews and car ads
just burn, nice and slow
it’s exactly as though he gets a just revenge
it’s as though he becomes a little younger with every scrap of paper that burns up
a little lighter in his body
he gets the desire to burn the business correspondence
that he took with to the summerhouse because ‘there’s always something’
and he fetches it and throws it on the fire
and he smiles at her
and at the fire
and she rises suddenly and fetches the novel she’s reading
and throws it on the fire
she will never know how it ends
but she knows there is something else that is ending
And so they burn
and they burn
I don’t know how long they’ll burn
in reality it would in any case take an evening
they burn their identities and their old letters
all their days peel off them as though burnt out
and all the while they laugh and they laugh
for the first time high
on emptiness -
My translation from the Danish original,
Mit TV-drama by Dan Turèll.
Copyright © the estate of Dan Turèll.
Photos from the family album, a house in Denmark, 1968.
Saturday, 15 November 2008
David Kilcullen interviewed by George Packer of The New Yorker.
From January it’s Obama’s war. Not the time to run, or break promises, but time to commit to victory.
Of personal interest: Denmark also has forces in Afghanistan, about 650 soldiers. In the last six months public support for the deployment has dropped from 53% to 46%.
Denmark’s four helicopters are coming home from Afghanistan this month for a two year break. Because the helicopters are not armoured and have to fly high, and are not powerful enough for heavier equipment, their infrared cameras are only half as effective as those used by British forces.
Earlier this year Danish Defence Ministry officials turned down a NATO request to send fighter jets to Afghanistan, without informing the Danish Defence Minister of the request. Danish forces in Afghanistan are unable to get air support on dangerous patrols in 30 to 40 percent of cases, according to First Lieutenant and Forward Air Controller Kenn Christensen.
I was born in NATO member Denmark, but my family moved to neutral Ireland when I was three and I have dual citizenship. At age 19 I lived for a while in Denmark, and was eligible for national service, but got myself excused as I had grown up in Ireland.
This was 1986, in the last years of the Cold War. At the time I felt more Irish than Danish, and I believed neutrality was a good thing. On that last point I was very wrong. There is nothing good in neutrality when faced with evil. I can’t help regretting the path not taken.
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
By David T. This is Harry’s Place at its best.
Brett encapsulates it in the comments:
The bigots’ talking about “The Muslims”, the Government’s impulse to seek out “Community Leaders” and the Islamists vision of “The Ummah” are all part of the same undermining of the average Muslim person’s autonomy, and a failure to understand the complexities of identity - where religious belief or affiliation may not even be a person’s dominant identity. In this sense, bigots, misguided government figures and the Islamists all collude in robbing Muslim people of their individuality, personality and, for that matter, citizenship.
Many more good responses there.
Monday, 10 November 2008
How long is this election campaign going to continue? I am so much looking forward to when it’s over and we can talk about issues in terms beyond the old ‘my guy is right, your guy is wrong.’
What’s that? It’s over already? You jest.
In August the most important thing about the Russian invasion of Georgia, according to Gene of Harry’s Place, was that it showed McCain was wrong. Now the most important thing about the Russian invasion of Georgia is not just that it confirms that McCain was wrong, but that it proves Gene was right. At least according to Gene’s reading of a New York Times article from last thursday.
Recalling reaction to his post of August 12th, Gene writes:
For suggesting that the government of Mikheil Saakashvili may have been at least partly responsible for the outbreak of fighting, I was righteously condemned as naive (at best) by some commenters.
. . . and he points to the opening of last week’s New York Times report:
Newly available accounts by independent military observers of the beginning of the war between Georgia and Russia this summer call into question the longstanding Georgian assertion that it was acting defensively against separatist and Russian aggression.
Instead, the accounts suggest that Georgia’s inexperienced military attacked the isolated separatist capital of Tskhinvali on Aug. 7 with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire, exposing civilians, Russian peacekeepers and unarmed monitors to harm.
Curiously, nobody wrote anything contrary to this in those comments responding to Gene back in August. I don’t think anybody on that thread whitewashed the Georgian government. What commenters did point to was the buildup of provocative acts of aggression by Russia and its South Ossetian allies against Georgia, and the well-prepared character of the Russian invasion. The New York Times article now cited by Gene is primarily concerned with events in the hours before the invasion, not the months before the invasion which were the focus for many of Gene’s critics.
I was one of those critical commenters. I was extremely surprised that he would see the invasion primarily in terms of the US election. This post of mine was written partially in response to Gene.
Back to the New York Times article, and the questions it raised regarding the Georgian government account of events on August 7th. The final paragraphs:
Interviews by The Times have found a mixed picture on the question of whether Georgian villages were shelled after Mr. Saakashvili declared the cease-fire. Residents of the village of Zemo Nigozi, one of the villages that Georgia has said was under heavy fire, said they were shelled from 6 p.m. on, supporting Georgian statements.
In two other villages, interviews did not support Georgian claims. In Avnevi, several residents said the shelling stopped before the cease-fire and did not resume until roughly the same time as the Georgian bombardment. In Tamarasheni, some residents said they were lightly shelled on the evening of Aug. 7, but felt safe enough not to retreat to their basements. Others said they were not shelled until Aug 9.
With a paucity of reliable and unbiased information available, the O.S.C.E. observations put the United States in a potentially difficult position. The United States, Mr. Saakashvili’s principal source of international support, has for years accepted the organization’s conclusions and praised its professionalism. Mr. Bryza refrained from passing judgment on the conflicting accounts.
“I wasn’t there,” he said, referring to the battle. “We didn’t have people there. But the O.S.C.E. really has been our benchmark on many things over the years.”
The O.S.C.E. itself, while refusing to discuss its internal findings, stood by the accuracy of its work but urged caution in interpreting it too broadly. “We are confident that all O.S.C.E. observations are expert, accurate and unbiased,” Martha Freeman, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail message. “However, monitoring activities in certain areas at certain times cannot be taken in isolation to provide a comprehensive account.”
UPDATE: The same article was also siezed on by Thomas PM Barnett, about whom I wrote extensively back in September.
Here are a few other recent New York Times pieces on Georgia:
Nov. 9th 2008: Ossetians Tighten Hold on Village
South Ossetian forces on Sunday began reinforcing a border in the village of Perevi, an ethnically Georgian community that has been absorbed into South Ossetian territory despite a Russian pledge to withdraw to the enclave’s old boundaries.
A Human Rights Watch report focusing on the Georgian military. The report also mentions allegations of Russian use of cluster bombs.
Oct. 31st: Georgia’s Battered Face in a Separatist Republic (Profile of Dmitri Sanakoev)
For 18 months, Mr. Sanakoev was the public face of Georgia’s “hearts and minds” campaign, president of an alternative government that challenged the separatist president, Eduard Kokoity.
I saw that Puffin Books have relaunched the Puffin Post, so I’ve been having a look at a few issues from the early 1980s. This one is from 1981. The Guardian has a selection of covers online from this period, but I wanted to have a look inside the pages. Most contemporary children’s magazine layouts give me a headache, but the old Puffin Post’s playful style still looks good.
The absence of computers encouraged a direct engagement with the page. Instead of messing about with tacky effects they got out pencil, pen, scissors and glue.
This guide to knots is a happy find - just what I need for my current project.
I wonder does the new incarnation of the magazine live up to its predecessor?
All that cutting and pasting reminded me of this, Piet Schreuders at work in Amsterdam:
Piet doesn’t limit himself to cutting up newspapers, here he is cutting up Laurel and Hardy films so that he can hear the music better:
Puffin Post images copyright © Penguin Books Ltd.
Sunday, 9 November 2008
Flesh is Grass on Remembrance Day at 90, and on Remembering Kristallnacht.
An excerpt from Erich Kästner’s account of Kristallnacht, translation by Harrie Verstappen:
When, on November 10 1938 at 3 o’clock in the morning, I drove up the Berlin Tauentzien in a taxi, I heard glass tinkling on both sides of the street. It sounded as if dozens of wagons full of glass were being turned over. I looked out and saw, on the left and right, a man standing in front of about every fifth house, each using an iron rod to smash store windows with mighty blows. The job done, he walked over to the next shop with a measured pace and, with powerful calmth, dedicated himself to that one’s still intact window-pane.
Except for these men, wearing black breeches, riding boots and civil jackets, there was no human being in sight. The taxi turned into the Kurfürstendamm. Here, too, men were standing at regular distances and with long bars smashed ‘Jewish’ show windows. Each one seemed to have some five to ten windows for a job. Cascades of glass fell down, crushing on the concrete. It sounded as if the entire town existed of nothing but crashing glass. It was a drive right through a madman’s dream.
Between Uhlandstraße and Knesebeckstraße I asked to stop, opened the door and was just putting my right foot on the street, when a man emerged from the nearest tree and softly and energetically told me: “Don't get out! Drive on at once!” It was a man in hat and cloak. “But listen,” I started, “I just wanted to…” “No,” he interrupted threateningly. “Getting out is forbidden! Get on your way at once!” He pushed me back into the car, beckoned the driver, threw the door shut, and the driver obeyed. On we went through the ghostly ‘splinter night’. In Wilmersdorfer Straße I made us stop again. Again a man in civilian cloth walked softly over to us. “Police! Drive on! Make it snappy!”
The afternoon newspapers carried the story that the boiling soul of the people, because of the government patience with the Jewish businesses, had spontaneously resorted to self help.
Norman Geras has more links for the day.
Thursday, 6 November 2008
At Harry’s Place, Nutters: “We’re already disappointed by Obama” and The Rahm Factor. Roland Dodds on the same topic, Obama Already Pissing Off Jihadists. Yes, so far the upside is much in evidence.
Also from Roland, A Delusional Republican Talking Point, and a contrary view from Lee at A Second Hand Conjecture, Blaming the Social Conservatives.
I’m in the wrong place to be able to draw any conclusion, but much as I’d like Roland to be right I suspect the successful strategy for an American centre right leader might not be to ‘put the social conservatives in their place,’ but to refocus them onto issues with broader appeal. And look, someone was already having a go at doing something like that this year. From the June 30th issue of The New Yorker:
On Super Tuesday, thirty per cent of evangelical Republicans voted for John McCain, the favorite of moderates and independents. Even more surprising, a third of evangelicals in Missouri and Tennessee chose to vote Democratic, as did, a month later, forty-three per cent in Ohio. Meanwhile, Barack Obama - unlike John Kerry, in 2004 - has been trying to win over white evangelicals. In televised discussions sponsored by religious organizations, he has spoken of his faith, and framed issues such as health care and the war in Iraq in moral terms. In recent weeks, he has met privately with evangelical leaders and started to reach out to values voters. These efforts suggest that he is hoping to do as well as, if not better than, Bill Clinton, who won a third of the white evangelical vote in both 1992 and 1996.
Update: More reactions to Rahm at The Contentious Centrist.
Wednesday, 5 November 2008
Terry Glavin writes from Kabul.
His earlier posts from Afghanistan begin here.
Also of interest: The Death of the Anbar Militia Strategy in Afghanistan, from Ghosts of Alexander. Note particularly in the closing quote who’s following who.
And on BBC Radio 4, the first of two programmes on the recent history of Afghanistan, starting with the Soviet occupation.
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
. . . but I slept right through it. Not to worry, our friend in the North stayed awake so I didn’t have to. Brilliant coverage of the evening’s greatest moments.
Despite what the clock says on this blog, it’s eight in the morning here in London, the 5th of November in this glorious new world, and I’ve got to get breakfast ready for the kids.
I had the strangest dream last night about old age, memory, and moss.
A little extra: Roland tells us what happened to that pesky ballot.
Marko Attila Hoare sums it up.
Most of my earlier posts on the US election:
A couple of people have said that Obama will be more like Clinton than Carter. This I do not find reassuring.
Who wants another president who will hesitate for years over a massacre like Bosnia, with more care for domestic opinion polls than for doing what is right?
Who wants another Somalia? A scramble to withdraw in the face of public unhappiness, a disaster which strengthened Al Qaeda and left that country in a disastrous state from which there is still no sign of recovery.
Who wants another Rwanda?
But Samantha Power was one of his advisers, so surely he will act against such atrocities? Sorry, no, I get no reassurance from an academic who can describe victims of ethnic cleansing as exercising a choice.
The issue of Iraq has faded from consciousness as violence falls, and while Obama has never withdrawn his ‘withdrawal in 16 months’ policy, it has been allowed to be forgotten for now, along with his vociferous opposition to the surge.
Here though is a reminder of what the consequences would have been of following Obama’s policies over the last two years, from David Kilcullen:
The question of whether we were right to invade Iraq is a fascinating debate for historians and politicians, and a valid issue for the American people to consider in an election year. As it happens, I think it was a mistake. But that is not my key concern. The issue for practitioners in the field is not to second-guess a decision from six years ago, but to get on with the job at hand which, I believe, is what both Americans and Iraqis expect of us. In that respect, the new strategy and tactics implemented in 2007, and which relied for their effectiveness on the extra troop numbers of the Surge, ARE succeeding and need to be supported. In 2006, a normal night in Baghdad involved 120 to 150 dead Iraqi civilians, and each month we lost dozens of Americans killed or maimed. This year, a bad night involves one or two dead civilians, U.S. losses are dramatically down, and security is restored. Therefore, even on the most conservative estimate, in the eighteen months of the surge to date we have saved 12 to 16 thousand Iraqis and hundreds of American lives.Who would have preferred Obama’s path?
Of course you can always hope, like Hitchens, that Obama is learning. But my hopes for Obama are more than equalled by my fears.