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Wednesday, April 28, 2004

The Diplomatic Bombshell
All those ex-ambassadors who signed the protest letter to Blair are listed in the version on Juan Cole's site. Most UK papers just list the headline signatories 'and 50 others'. Take a look at the names and trace the careers on Google... these are not bit-part players.

I note that there is a smear campaign going the rounds labelling these ex-diplomats as 'The Camel Corps' or even (shudder) 'Arabists'. Implying that special knowledge of the conditions in this region makes these people unsound and of suspect judgement. Robin Cooke in the Independent (full article barred by 'paid-for status required', to Independent's shame) says:
"Even Roget's Thesaurus would be hard pressed to come up with words that do justice to yesterday's defiance by professional diplomats. Unprecedented would be accurate but does not capture the dramatic character of their mutiny. Remember these are people who've spent their entire careers working under a code of discretion which valued secrecy, viewed publicity with distaste and made understatement a habit. It is eloquent testimony to their frustration with current policy that they felt driven to go public. By the standards of diplomatic communiqués their statement is off the Richter scale."
Cook goes on to say that the famous fifty-plus would never have written this letter if they hadn't been absolutely sure that current serving diplomats were in substantial agreement with the contents. Juan Cole says that in particular the current UK Special Envoy to Iraq is in agreement with the contents...

The letter ends:
"We share your view that the British government has an interest in working as closely as possible with the United States on both these related issues, and in exerting real influence as a loyal ally. We believe that the need for such influence is now a matter of the highest urgency. If that is unacceptable or unwelcome there is no case for supporting policies which are doomed to failure."

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Tuesday, April 27, 2004

The USa is hardly a stranger to Flag Controversies (Upholding the Divinity of Old Glory for example, or the presence and absence of the Confederate Battle flag from the state flags of the Southern states). So it can hardly claim to be surprised that the New Iraqi National Flag proposal has met with some emotional opposition.
Josh Marshall has the outline of the story...
It really does look more like the Israeli flag than the flags of any other Arab state. The secularist Saddam Hussein added the words Alahu Akhbar (God is the most great) to the flag during the Gulf War to bolster his pretensions and a number of anti-Saddam groups inlcuding some theoctratic ones have been using the Old Version of the Flag without the words... expect a public consensus now that the flag-with-words is essential to Iraqi National dignity.

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Monday, April 26, 2004

With breaking news as at writing that US troops have entered Najaf, it is hard to keep a mind on the good analysis available to everyone except apparently to White House planners. take this article 'Think again, al-Quaeda' by Jason Burke in the current issue of International affairs for example ( link may not work after a month). synopsis: "The mere mention of al Qaeda conjures images of an efficient terrorist network guided by a powerful criminal mastermind. Yet al Qaeda is more lethal as an ideology than as an organization. “Al Qaedaism” will continue to attract supporters in the years to come—whether Osama bin Laden is around to lead them or not."

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The Swansea Connection - NOT
It appears that some US Neocons thought way back in the mid-1990's that Swansea (or Swansea, Wales as it is known over the pond) was a centre for terrorist plotting. Though this version of the story refers to England, thus displaying the keen knowledge of overseas affairs evidneced by the knowledge the US had of Iraq before the recent invasion. Anyway
"According to Clarke, Wolfowitz commissioned former CIA director Jim Woolsey to fly to England to retrieve fingerprints of WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef, in order to show that Yousef was a "false double" inserted by Iraqi intelligence. The FBI objected to this wild-goose chase, but Wolfowitz insisted. As it turned out, the fingerprints disproved Mylroie's theory—they matched those of the Ramzi Yousef sitting in a U.S. federal prison." The Laurie Mylorie referred to is a well known analyst who tried to establish a connection between Iraq and the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing - and completely failed to do so. This 2001 story completes the Swansea non-picture . "Woolsey's pursuit of the World Trade Center connection led him to the small town of Swansea, Wales, where his sleuthing piqued the curiosity of the local constabulary, whose chief decided to ring the U.S. Embassy in London for clarification as to whether Woolsey was visiting in an official capacity. This was the first anyone at State or CIA had heard of Woolsey's British expedition, and upon being apprised of it, Powell and Tenet were not amused. "It was a stupid, stupid, and just plain wrong thing to do," an intelligence consultant familiar with the "operation" said.
All this past excitement down in the parish of our own Peter Black ! Makes leafletting in the unexpected bayside Sun a bit tame..

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Friday, April 23, 2004

Man-Traps and Spring Guns
"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun". (Ecclesiastes 1:9 ) So here we are back with Tony Martin and his prospective Law. And therefore back also with the strange arguments raised in the 19th century against the abolition of man-traps and spring-guns. Oh the agonised fury of those demanding for 19th Century landholders the continued right to take 'any means' to protect their property, the predictions that preventing the setting of lethal traps would mean the plundering of all landed estates of all Game by poachers. If you want an account of this strange episode (and also accounts of the opposition to Hanging Drawing and Quartering for Treason and the introduction of the Plimsoll line on cargo ships)raid the second hand bookshops for a copy of E.S.Turners great book 'Roads To Ruin; the shocking history of social reform'. It happens to be one of Tony Benn's top ten books but don't let that put you off.

Turner's description of the Man traps debate makes clear that the Tony Martin Bill is History repeating itself first as a deadly farce then as a policy of the 2004 conservative Party. A must read to prepare for the emotive nonsense to come form those demanding the right to kill intruders into their homes. Dickens of course had a mention of the armed property protection mania in Bleak House. Martin's farm of course was called Bleak House...

Still it is possible to have some reasonable differences of opinion on this current Martin issue, thank heavens.

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Thursday, April 22, 2004

With events in Saudi getting a little heated, I'd draw attention to the Religious Policeman blog by Alhamedi Almanezi. He is a Saudi in Saudi Arabia and its safe to say that he doesn't appreciate the activities of the Religious Police there.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Some interesting comments Chris Barratt on 'Wedge Politics' in this article in the Gadflyer. Wedge politics is when a candiade or party aims to tear the country apart on an emotive issue and pick up the larger piece. With Michael Howard getting all excited on 'asylum' we may be faced with this yet in the UK.
The article draws on a book by Princeton political scientist Tali Mendelberg (2001) "The Race Card: Campaign Strategy, Implicit Messages, and the Norm of Equality". This looks at Bush Seniors winning campaign in the 1988 US Presidential elections. The willy Horton televison ads which appeared on the surface to be about crime and punishment but wee in fact about 'race'.
Baratt notes:
" Mendelberg uses sophisticated cognitive experiments and careful statistical analysis of the (election data) to prove this seemingly counter-intuitive finding: that racial messages only induce an electoral response when they are made in implicit terms. Even more tellingly, she shows that if they can be exposed as racial in nature, they lose their effectiveness, leading the very voters who responded to the racial appeal in the first place to desert the candidate when the appeal's true nature becomes clear. Mendelberg goes on to show through a series of cognitive experiments that the norm of racial equality has become so pervasive that even racially resentful voters are repelled by explicit appeals to racial prejudice.

It's worth pausing here to explain this unusual finding. What Mendelberg has found is that voters must be confident that their motives in supporting a candidate are unimpeachable. If they believe that a candidate has become associated with an unsavory political view, they will abandon that candidate, even – and this is important – if part of them agrees with that view."

In other words when Charles Kennedy exposed the Conservative immigration policy as racist during the Romsey by-election, it was no accident that voters were repelled from the Conservatives. Looks like a message of hope here as we face tough campaigns in the coming year in the UK when we can expect many Conservative wedges..


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Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The rage to copy the United States in badly-understood ways gathers new labour pace. In Open Democracy a good article by Godfrey Hodson points out that the so-called British FBI proposal is actually " more like a French-style gendarmerie nationale. But Britain’s Eurosceptic and Francophobe press (much of it owned by Rupert Murdoch, a US citizen) would make that politically impossible to create."
Thoughts too on the Identity card propsals muddying their way forwards. Thanks to Peter Black AM for this link to STAND.ORG which has the essential questions to ask ID card enthusiasts. There is a campaign brewing against biometric data on Passports, which (let's remind ourselves) will be compulsory for all passports presented for entry into the USA from October.

Projected cost for UK ID cards is 6 thousand million pounds. Privacy International suggest some other ways of spending this kind of money.

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Well done indeed Lara! Ouch...


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Friday, April 09, 2004

Now I wonder if this load of monkeys explains anything about some current international politics. If you want to talk like a chimp here's how but please don't wear a LibDem party badge while doing it!

" Animal behaviour experts at Zoological Society of London are asking volunteers to 'talk chimp' in everyday life and see how primate patter can resolve workplace conflicts, express emotions and strengthen human bonds. The results of this major study will be published later in the year to see just how 'talking chimp' can help in everyday life."

And one of the suggested behaviours: Chimp authority signals:
" Usually used by males in a group to show who's boss
Make as much noise as possible, while brandishing objects so as to appear bigger. "

Nothing new there, then.




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Thursday, April 08, 2004

Condottieri
Mercaneries, Private Military Companies ... an old curse or a new adaptation in a globalising world? There is a short discussion and a list of 63 PMCs in the Global Security site. UK PMCS include: AD Consultancy, AKE Limited, AMA Associates Ltd (who offer specialised training to the Child Support Agency, I see), ArmorGroup .. and thats only the start of the alphabet. Incidentially who guards the guardians themselves with the Hong Kong bases PMCs such as alpha five (can't find a webpage). There is an interesting post way back from 2002 in LimitedInc on such PMCS, including Executive Outcomes, the organisation embarrasingly flypapered by the Zimbawean Authorites a few weeks ago..

Two million fine on Thames Trains for the Paddington rail crash. No problems with the company getting a penalty but ... is 'fining' the way to go? Somehow I would be more reassured if Thames Trains was obliged to put two million more than it would otherwise do into safety measures. If that means no dividend, tough.


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Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Good to find another Karl Popper Enthusiast in the LIbDems - see Jonathan Calder's other site for further links. Popper's citation of Pericle's funeral oration in 'The Open Society and Its Enemies' was one of the key intellectual tools keeping me sane in the 1960's. Here is the key passage as translated by Popper. It would be good to be able to say the same about Britain with firmness and confidence.

"Our political system does not compete with with institutions which are elsewhere in force. We do not copy our neighbors, but try to be an example. Our administration favors the many instead of the few: this is why it is called a democracy. The laws afford equal justice to all alike in their private disputes, but we do not ignore the claims of excellence. When a citizen distinguishes himself, then he will be called to serve the state, in preference to others, not as a matter of privilege, but as a reward of merit; and poverty is no bar.

... Our city is thrown open to the world; we never expel a foreigner.... We are free to live exactly as we please, and yet, we are always ready to face any danger.... We love beauty without indulging in fancies, and although we try to improve our intellect. this does not weaken our will.... To admit one's poverty is no disgrace with us; but we consider it disgraceful not to make an effort to avoid it. An Athenian citizen does not neglect public affairs when attending to his private business.... We consider a man who takes no interest in the state not as harmless, but as useless; and although only a few may originate a policy, we are all able to judge it. [Emphasis in Popper.] We do not look upon discussion as a stumbling block in the way of political action, but as an indispensable preliminary to acting wisely....


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Monday, April 05, 2004

With all the uproars thinking about sport brings a small whif of Caldicott and Charters, the cricket-mad Brits on the train in "the Lady Vanishes" . Still, 3-0 up against the West Indies is a good news moment.

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Those wanting a guide to what is said in the Richard Clarke book can find a set of discussion on the Road to surfdom. Also Further Comment on this site highlighting the central theme of Clarke's argument:
"We invaded and occupied an oil-rich Arab country that posed no threat to us, while paying scant time and attention to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. We delivered to al Qaeda the greatest recruitment propaganda imaginable and made it difficult for friendly Islamic governments to be seen working closely with us."


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Article in the CSM by Mark LeVine on Globalisation and the Events in Iraq. Please take note of the CSM retransmission requirements.

Amongst other things LeVine says:
" It may be hard for Americans to understand the occupation of Iraq in the context of globalization. But Iraq today is clearly the epicenter of that trend. Here, military force was used to seize control of the world's most important commodity - oil. And corporations allied with the occupying power literally scrounge the country for profits, privatizing everything from health care to prisons, while Iraqi engineers, contractors, doctors, and educators are shunted aside.... The CPA budgets only $10,000 to "rehabilitate" schools that then receive little more than a paint job by CPA-hired contractors; Iraqi principals complain that they could do the job for $1,000, and wonder where the other $9,000 is going." And he goes on to say " A prominent Iraqi psychiatrist who has worked with the CPA and the US military explained to me (LeVine) that "there is no way the United States can be this incompetent. The chaos here has to be at least partly deliberate."

Well, er, looking at the United States of Enron, yes they could be that incompetent actually.




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Friday, April 02, 2004

Seems everybody and everything has its on website these days, including the Entente Cordiale. Good to see some attempts to remember better days with the French, though the original reason for Britain and France getting together doesn't get stressed so often. It gave Britain a free hand in Egypt leaving France a free hand in Morocco, thus avoiding nasty colonial clashes in the islamic world. Now of course in this day and 9/11 age that might not be the most diplomatic history to celebrate.

On more contemporary matters, the New Europe Festival in the Fine Rooms of the FCO looks like a nice day out. Just possible I will be there making a pig of myself on appropriate foods and celebrating Lithuanian accession to the EU.

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