Sunday, 27 January 2013

Twit Archive 23-30 November 2011

Above, Pin Tailed Duck by John James Audubon, from the University of Pittsburgh’s digital library, via here.

Below the fold, a few more old tweets.

Twit Archive 16-22 November 2011

Above, beer and duck hunting, from a collection of Sebewaing Brewing Company labels.

Below the fold, more intemperate misfiring tweets.

Twit Archive 1-15 November 2011

Above, John Dog sings Imperfect Strangers.

Below the fold, tweets on Iran, Bahrain, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Gaza, Cuba, Afghanistan, and on comics, children’s books, film, and music.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

UN denies any money will go to Syrian government

From a report by Olivia Alabaster in The Daily Star, Lebanon:

BEIRUT: The humanitarian operations director for the U.N. denied Tuesday that any relief money would be given directly to the Syrian government in response to criticism from the opposition that a $519 million response plan, supposedly earmarked for the authorities in Damascus, was “hypocritical.”
In Beirut after a four-day visit to Syria, John Ging told a news conference that “the U.N. humanitarian assistance is not handed over to the Syrian government, not one dollar,” but rather, he added, channeled through partners on the ground and “in accordance with humanitarian principles which put on all of us the obligation to ensure that the aid is delivered with integrity, neutrality, and on the basis of need.”
Over the weekend Syria’s opposition National Coalition launched a petition against the U.N. and the U.S. government over the $519 million Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan, announced by the global body Dec. 19, and aimed at, in the U.N.’s words, “supporting the Government of Syria’s efforts in providing humanitarian assistance to the affected populations.”
Read the rest.

The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) is having a hard time countering stories that aid is to be handed over to the Assad regime. The problem seems to have begun with this announcement of the Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan (SHARP) for Syria  for 1 January-30 June 2013. As the Assad regime is still the legally recognised government, UN agencies are legally required to work with them, and so the document states that the plan is being launched by “the Government of Syria, in collaboration with UN agencies.” It also includes this paragraph:
All humanitarian assistance is, and will continue to be, delivered with full respect to the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic during the implementation of this Response Plan.  Decisions on strategic or logistical issues including field office locations should be done after formal consultations with the government in order to receive the clearance and accreditation.
... and also this:
This Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan aims at supporting the Government of Syria’s efforts in providing humanitarian assistance to the affected populations.  It will cover the period from 1 January 2013 until the end of June 2013.  The financial requirements amount to $519,627,047.
A number of people (see EA WorldView, Daily Kos, Avaaz) have taken these words to mean that the UN is providing funds or materials of that amount direct to the government, but later in the same document it makes clear that “the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) has been designated as the leading national provider of humanitarian relief.” According to Kristyan Benedict of Amnesty, the Syrian government gave a list of 110 local NGOs that the UN could contract for food assistance. The World Food Program reviewed their operational capabilities and selected 44.

There has historically been distrust of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent by some opposition activists, but it has also faced obstruction by the regime when trying to reach opposition areas. The SARC is a recognised member of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

The SHARP budget is intended to help four million people inside Syria, including two million internally displaced people, over six months. That works out as a budget of seventy cents per person per day, including overheads. It was launched simultaneously with the Syria Regional Response Plan (SRRP) to help Syrian refugees in Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt, budgeted at $1.1 billion. That effort is headed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). So far only 18% of the budget has been raised.

UNOCHA head Valerie Amos describes the humanitarian situation as “catastrophic” and “clearly getting worse.” Paranoia about the UN’s relief efforts won’t help.

UPDATE 29 January 2012:

From yesterday, a press conference by John Ging, Director of Operations, on last week’s UNOCHA visit to Syria, worth watching in full on UN Web TV.

Twit Archive 16-31 October 2011

Above, High Water on the Mississippi, 1868, a lithographic print by Frances F Palmer, from a collection of Currier and Ives prints at Steamboat Times.

More tweets of beauty and disaster below the fold.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Twit Archive 1-15 October 2011

Above, detail of De zeeslag bij Livorno, 14 maart 1653, a pen painting by Willem van de Velde I of the Battle of Livorno. The painting, in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, is over one metre high by over a metre and a half wide, and is entirely rendered in pen and ink lines too fine to see even in the high resolution view available on their website.

More art and war in the tweets below the fold.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Twit Archive 16-30 September 2011

Above, Turner’s The Shipwreck, from 1805, via the Google Art Project selection of paintings from Tate Britain.

Below, more art tweets, animation, comics, books and music tweets, Danish elections, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Niger, and sewers in London and New York.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Twit Archive 1-15 September 2011

Above, a detail from a 1784 engraving, Departure of the Harpy or amphibious monster of Cadiz to be taken to the King and Royal Family of Spain. See the entire image at the Monster Brains blog.

More art and monsters and foreign affairs in the tweets below the fold.

Twit Archive 25-31 August 2011

Above, a frame of animation drawn by John Kricfalusi, from a post at Uncle Eddie’s Theory Corner succinctly titled John Kricfalusi: Genius! And the short piece of animation that Eddie shares there is indeed extraordinary.

More links from that time in the tweets below the fold, on Libya, Mali, Syria, Bahrain, Afghanistan, and a few more art links too.

Twit Archive 1-24 August 2011

Above, from Hans Fischerkoesen’s 1943 cartoon Scherzo: Verwitterte Melodie / Weather-Beaten Melody, produced in Nazi Germany. The image comes from the website of Animateka 2012, an animation festival held last month in Lubljana, Slovenia, and is either a production sketch or a piece of promotional artwork, rather than a still.

As linked to in a tweet below, you can see the short and find out more about Hans Fischerkoesen at Michael Sporn’s Splog.

Other tweets below the fold on the liberation of Tripoli, Libya. Also Syria, Afghanistan, and more film, music, and art.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Syria, the US, and NATO: Failure yesterday, today, and tomorrow

Even now, with the rate of killing in Syria worse than the worst years of the Iraq war, there are still some who argue that the West’s policy in Syria, though a failure, remains a better option than military intervention.

In his Foreign Policy column this week, Marc Lynch, who has consistently argued against US military intervention in Syria and in favour of diplomatic efforts, writes that “US military intervention would very likely have made things in Syria worse.” However the only way in which he seems to see such a scenario as worse is that the US would have incurred the direct costs of military action.

This is not a small thing, and is of course a reasonable concern for the US if not for Syrians, but the acknowledged failure of non-military efforts to date also has a cost or the US, and continued failure could lead to very great costs indeed, including military ones, for the US and for allies in the region, including NATO.

Arguments about numbers killed in war are choked with contradictions between a desire to do justice to individual deaths and the impersonal anonymity of statistics. Worse, in these grim versions of the trolley problem, we see again and again how the dead of other nations are counted for less than ones own. But even if we allow the inevitability of this dehumanising abstraction, this contextualisation of the thousands dead in terms of national interest and strategy, the killings still count.

Returning to my comparison between rates of killing seen in the Iraq war and the rate of killing in Syria, in strategic terms the killing rate is relevant as an indicator of the likely outcome. The strategic aim for the US in both Iraq and Syria must be a stable state that doesn’t pose a threat to US interests. By extension, the aim must be for a state that largely respects the rule of law and is capable of enforcing it within its own borders. The higher the killing rate, the poorer the prospects for such an outcome in the near future.

The worse the killing now, the more likely a Somalia-like future where US drones pursue Islamist terror groups sheltering in the rubble of a fractured Syrian nation that is unable to maintain rule of law within its own borders.

In an earlier column this month, Marc Lynch suggested the lessons of Iraq had been “long since internalized” by Americans, while praising Obama for keeping the US military out of Syria. It seems to me that while he’s understood some of Iraq’s lessons, he is ignoring others.

While all can see much of the extent of failure in Iraq, a greater failure was possible, and was avoided, in the post-invasion civil war. If the US hadn’t backed lesser evils when the most extreme forces were at their height in 2006-2007, Iraq would be in a much worse state today. Now in Syria, by failing to back the more moderate elements in the uprising, the US is helping the extreme ones to flourish. This is a lesson from Iraq that Marc Lynch misses out. [1]

Marc Lynch also seems blind to lessons on military intervention in the recent history of Bosnia. In March 2012, Radwan Ziadeh published an article titled Have We Learned Nothing From the Nineties? Syria is the Balkans All Over Again. Ten months later, it’s worth re-reading. At the time Marc Lynch responded with an ill-judged tweet, “People do realize that Bosnia war eventually ended through diplomatic negotiations with Milosevic, right?”

This flip factoid wholly ignored the part played by NATO’s Operation Deliberate Force, the air campaign against Bosnian Serb forces carried out between 30 August and 20 September 1995 that belatedly brought an end to the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo and forced Serb leaders to negotiate. While the air campaign was successful in this, the negotiation ended in the Dayton Agreement which rewarded ethnic cleansing and failed to deter Milosevic from carrying out further crimes in Kosovo, leading to another NATO air campaign in 1999.

More usefully, in this blog post Marc Lynch points to some alternative views on Syria. They are A Syria Strategy for Obama by Andrew Tabler, Syria: Is It Too Late? by Frederic C Hof, and The Road Beyond Damascus by Michael Doran and Salman Shaikh.

The US and NATO’s Syria failures of yesterday and today can’t be allowed to excuse continuing failure tomorrow.

[1] Added 20 Jan: In his February 2012 policy paper for the Center for a New American Security, Pressure Not War (PDF), Marc Lynch does mention the 2006 arming of the Sons of Iraq militias, but uses it more as a lesson in unintended consequences than as an illustration of reducing violence by militarily strengthening a political centre against extremes. It must be remembered though that in February 2012 the estimated number of killed in Syria was a tenth of what it is today, and many still saw change by primarily peaceful means as a viable option. The relevant passage:
... However, providing weapons is not a politically neutral act. Those with greater access to the networks that distribute Western guns and equipment will grow stronger, politically as well as militarily. The arming of the Sons of Iraq in 2006, for instance, dramatically shifted the political power of competing Sunni tribes and families in unexpected ways, and the effects continue to unfold today. Better armed fighters will rise in political power, while groups that advocate nonviolence or advance political strategies will be marginalized.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Twit Archive 13-31 July 2011

Above, issue 56 of De Poezenkrant, a magazine by Piet Schreuders. It’s available to buy here, a bargain!

In its paper pages you’ll find a story also mentioned in a tweet below, Anne Billson’s study of the several stand-in cats appearing in Carol Reed’s The Third Man. The link in the tweet is broken as her Cats on Film blog has since moved, but here it is, Cat of the Day 078, or as it’s titled in the magazine, The Third Cat.

Below the fold, more tweets on films, books, music, comics and cartoons. And Libya, Iran, Gaza, Breivik.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Twit Archive 1-12 July 2011

Above, from the Calkin Family website, Harry Roy and his Band on the Alcantara, April 1938, with bass player Arthur Calkin on the right. Hear them play Mama Don’t Want No Rice an’ Peas or Coconut Oil.

Below the fold, tweets on phone hacking, Wikileaks, Libya, Syria, film, music, comics, and ships.

Twit Archive 22-30 June 2011

Below the fold, tweets mostly on Libya and Syria, with a little art and music also.

Above, a painting by Gao Huijun titled Huang Tingjian - Autumn,  from a set at But Does It Float.

Twit Archive 12-21 June 2011

Below the fold: tweets on Syria, Iran, Lybia, Afghanistan, Bahrain, and in the UK, Brian Haw and alternative medicine.

Also Danish silent comedians, Swedish cinema, and quite a bit of animation, including Otto Messmer, creator of Felix the Cat.

Above, Otto lends Felix a hand in Comicalamities, (1928) to the sound of The Real Tuesday Weld covering Abba’s The Day Before You Came.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Twit Archive 1-11 June 2011

Below the fold, tweets on Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and more. Also a little art.

Above, portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle and Lady Elizabeth Murray. Read more about the painting at Pauline’s Pirates and Privateers, English Heritage, and at Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal.

Twit Archive 21-31 May 2011

Below the fold, old tweets on Libya, Bahrain, Egypt, Gaza. Also publishing, illustration, music and film.

Above, drawing by Louis Crucius (or Crusius), from the BibliOdyssey blog of book art.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Sixty thousand dead in a strategic context

The latest UN count of Syrians killed in the ongoing war lists 59,648 dead from March 15th 2011 to November 30th 2012 according to a conservative survey, with the actual number expected to be greater. This puts the rate of killing in Syria higher than in the two worst years of the Iraq Body Count figures for the Iraq war, 29,026 for 2006 and 25,280 for 2007.

Update: IBC figures don’t include confirmed military casualties. From, Coalition military deaths in 2006 were 873, and in 2007 were 961, giving minimum totals of 29,899 killed in 2006 and 26,241 killed in 2007.

If one compares the figures as daily averages, these Iraq minimum counts showed a daily average of 82 people killed per day in 2006, and 72 people killed per day in 2007, while the UN report shows an average of 95 people killed a day in Syria over the entirety of the conflict. If one looked only at 2012 in Syria the average would be higher as the killing escalated significantly, particularly from April onwards.

US military figures given for insurgents killed in Iraq were 3,902 in 2006 and 6,747 in 2007, but these likely have some overlap with IBC figures for civilians. Taken at face value they add 11 killed on average per day in 2006 for a total of 93 per day, and 18 per day for 2007 for a total of 90 per day, still lower than the daily average for Syria.

Both the UN count for Syria and the Iraq Body Count numbers are minimum counts, which do not include the missing or the unreported. In another example, when the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia prepared its 2010 estimate of the death toll in the 1992-95 Bosnian War, it arrived at a list of 89,186 unique death records, the minimum number, but the undercount was estimated at 15,546 resulting in the total number of casualties of 104,732. See report here (PDF). Even this added margin doesn’t include excess deaths: indirect casualties caused by the disruption and destruction of war. The number of deaths resulting from the war in Syria will already be much higher than 60,000.

Making the comparison between the rate of killing in Syria now with the rate of killing in Iraq in 2006-07 might give some sense of scale. It also raises the question of whether a US led military intervention in 2012 might have reduced the killing, or whether such an intervention in 2013 might effectively reduce the killing. The numbers of course can’t give an answer, but they can call into question any expressions of certainty that US intervention is doomed to make things worse.

With the rate of killing higher than that seen in Iraq, and the minimum count of people killed already two-thirds of the minimum count for the Bosnian War, with the war being fought across NATO’s southern border, why is there still no sign of decisive intervention by the US and allies?

The cold horror of this war from a strategic view is that the further it goes without US involvement, the greater are the losses inflicted on rival powers (Iran, Russia) at the lowest cost to the US, at least until it reaches a point where diminishing returns on the war’s effects on rivals are outweighed by rising dangers to US allies. Prior to that point, if the US intervenes it assumes associated risks, military economic and diplomatic, and lets rivals like Russia off the hook to cut their losses and blame the consequences on ‘imperialists’.

The strategic problem is that the point where rising dangers exceed diminishing returns, where intervention may become preferable for the US, could be hard to identify before it’s already passed. And the more damaged the physical, social, and psychological fabric of the country and its people, the harder it will be to build a stable and safe neighbour for NATO and the other US allies bordering Syria.

In the meantime hundreds of people will continue to be killed every week, and they will weigh lightly in the US and NATO’s strategic balance.

Added: a detailed article from FP magazine dated March 2012 on Patrick Ball, the statistician primarily responsible for the UN’s new Syria report.

Also, Jeff Weintraub considers the implications of comparing Syria and Iraq.