Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Start Your Own Revolution, Cut Out The Middleman: Boycott, Isolate, Sabotage.

In the more rarified corners of the interminable debates about Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Darfur, and on and on, the best conversations rarely bog down in antiquated drivel about imperialism or oil, but they do tend to get a bit hung up by routine invocations of the "responsibility to protect doctrine," the limited possibilities of "liberal interventionism," and on and on. To intervene or not to intervene? For any principled democrat of internationalist leanings, this is the wrong question. Every despotism is different, but in every case the proper question should never be about whether to come to the aid of slaves who rise against their masters, but how to do so most effectively.

In today's Guardian, Jonathan Freedland, who is a good egg, raises some interesting (and too rarely considered) questions in a preview of a new book by Carne Ross, an only slightly eccentric former British diplomat who has lately found himself interested in "alternate systems of organising our affairs, in particular anarchism." The book's title explains its content well enough: The Leaderless Revolution: How Ordinary People Will Take Power and Change Politics in the 21st Century. The way Freedland summarizes its contribution to the current debates about despot-defenestration: "Rather than waiting for an uprising to begin, says Ross, outsiders could embark on any combination of these three steps, depending on the circumstances: Boycott, Isolate, Sabotage."

The proposition is that we don't need to wait around for our governments to "do something," we could all put our shoulders to the anti-totalitarian wheel and make some revolutionary use of ourselves without doing things that involve unnecessarily loud noises. All well and good. I'm for it. But then things get a bit fuzzy, because in its broad outlines, it is not a new idea. Five years ago I wrote about this when it was called, alternatively, the new diplomacy, the new internationalism, the new institutionalism, and cooperative multilateralism. At the time, it was an almost distinctly Canadian idea.

It would be wrong to say it all went nowhere - some of those ideas did go places, although not in any especially effective direction, revolution-wise. But the academicians among the idea's proponents squandered its potential by reverting to sophomoric stoppist politics, in the case of Afghanistan, just for starters. And it all ended up getting thoroughly bogged down in the fashionably antiquated drivel about imperialism that usually masquerades as the left-wing perspective on these questions in Canada.

The always-reliable Norm Geras assesses the implications of the circumvent-the-state methods Carne Ross proposes in the cause of overthrowing tyrannical regimes, and in a nutshell, Norm concludes: "Action by governments, including military action on occasion, is also necessary. It is necessary for the same kind of reason that charity is not by itself an adequate way of dealing with poverty and other major social problems; of dealing with natural disasters; or epidemics; or major threats to national security."

More to the point is a question Ross himself raises about the state of internationalist activism in the world's democracies. On the point that we shouldn't wait for our governments to act, but organize actions on our own, as citizens, Freedland notes: "Such talk sounds fanciful until [Ross] recalls the example of the Spanish civil war, when 30,000 foreign volunteers went to fight for the republic. Ross asks the question: 'Why do people not do that anymore?'"

Well, there it is, why indeed. Where is the internationalist cadre that Ross foresees engaging in anti-fascist crowd-sourcing, organizing boycotts of companies that trade with Syria's Baathists, accumulating bandwidth for proxy clouds so that our Syrian comrades can access blocked websites, and mobilizing teams of hackers to mess with the tyranny's servers?

In the United States, as likely as not, it will be found organizing Dennis Kucinich for President clubs, while Kucinich can be found in just-exposed Libyan intelligence files providing public-relations and lobbying advice to Gaddafist blackshirts. In the Canadian case, our friend Michael Petrou of Macleans magazine, author of the absolutely must-read Renegades: Canadians in the Spanish Civil War, answers Ross's question this way: "There was a time, in the 1930s, when the NDP’s forefathers in the CCF took a stand against fascism in Spain. That the NDP has abandoned its heritage and now seeks accommodation with those they once fought is its own shame."

I have a go at these questions at some length in my own forthcoming effort: Come From the Shadows: The Long and Lonely Road to Peace in Afghanistan. My own answer to the question Ross raises shows up in the epilogue, like this: "By September 11, in what had become of “the left” in Canada, that gut instinct just wasn’t there anymore. It’s not fair to generalize, but it’s fair to say you’d be waiting a long time if you were expecting the West Point Grey Bolivarian study club and aromatherapy men’s group to put its back into the fight."

Fair play to Carne Ross, and the best of luck to all those who follow the course he counsels. But there comes a point when one gets a bit tired of waiting for the great leap forward, and thus it came to pass that on the Afghan front, so many of Canada's anti-totalitarian internationalists threw in their lot with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, the Royal 22nd Regiment, the Rocky Mountain Rangers and the rest. Up and onwards. Boycott, isolate, sabotage, oh ma corazón.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry.

When I first suggested filling Chicago airport with millions of bees, tended by former convicts, they all said I was mad. They said the same about Christopher Columbus.

I refused to take no for an answer. Like Luther Vandross nailing a worm to a church door, I could do no other. I’m going to fill that airport with bees, I said, whatever the cost, whoever gets hurt.

And today, my friends, that dream came true.

Harry Hutton is the Messiah. Or maybe not. Could be it's Noreen, who does not see the point of wolves: Fucking wolves, what is the point, there are dogs out there which are very similar, so why do you not stop howling and trembling and slashing people to death and just fuck off and get extinct, you miserable bastards.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Coming soon to a fine bookstore near you.

Oh, look. Quill and Quire has just posted an exhaustive preview of this fall's non-fiction titles on offer from Canadian publishers, and if I'm not mistaken - yes, I'm quite right - my most recent book, Come From the Shadows, gets top billing. How too auspicious. But enough about me, how do you think my new book will fare?

Am I impudent enough yet? Then carry on. Mind how you go.

I'm going to be just like this guy:

All Winnipeg All The Time.

Bread And Dignity: Why Does Neoliberal Capitalism Threaten Police States?

Because when the only alternative available to the poor is to overthrow the regime, that's exactly what the poor will attempt.

In Syria: "The grossly uneven distribution of the national income has concentrated incomes and capital in the hands of a limited few. The share of wages from the national income was less than 33 percent in 2008-2009, compared to nearly 40.5 per cent in 2004, meaning that profits and rents command more than 67 percent of the GDP. This measure does not exceed 50 percent in the most liberal capitalist states. . . Young people have transformed their personal agony into collective anger and rejection of the present situation and future prospects that offer them no hope of decent living standards. They have made the conscious connection between the regime’s repressive governance mechanism, corruption, and the difficult living conditions they endure."

In democracies, you can vote the bastards out. In police states, you can't. There is a pathetic tendency in the chattering classes of the NATO capitals to ignore the real distinctions and differences among and between what is apprehended as an undifferentiated mass of "Arabs." In the world's democracies, much is made of the Islamist threat. It is very real, but Islamism is a far greater threat to the Arab Spring: the Islamists do not articulate the aspirations of ordinary working people in any Muslim-majority society, and where they are not running the show directly, Islamists tend to be the best-organized and best-financed. One should not have to come from the "left" to notice that jihadists, who are merely Islamists in a hurry, are the spoiled children of the Muslim bourgeoisie. . .

Read the rest at the always reliably counterhegemonic (you're welcome) Propagandist Magazine.

When you're done, you should come back and take in some of the beautifully ecstatic Afghan Sufi chant songs in this fillum below, direct from the Shah-do Shamshira mosque in Kabul. And to all my Muslim sisters and brothers on this day, a most hearfelt and cheery Eid Mubarak!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Long Live Massoud, Lion of Panjshir.

The Massoudist movement is leading the campaign against Karzai and the Yanks. They derive their political and moral legacy from the fallen Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, known in life and death as the Lion of Panjshir because of his skillfulness in keeping Islamist riffraff out of a sensitive valley region 100 kilometres north of Kabul. Massoud was only killed by Al Qaeda agents masquerading as journalists a few days before 9/11.

. . .The political higher-ups of Massoudism include Abdullah Abdullah, the former foreign minister and a presidential candidate in 2009 whose true poll numbers may never be known thanks to widespread voter fraud in that election. Another is Amrullah Saleh, the former head of Afghan intelligence and once a comrade of Massoud. Saleh mistrusts Karzai’s closeness to Pakistan (one reason for his resignation a year ago) and believes that another bloody civil war is inevitable if a Pashtun supremacist party like the Taliban are legitimised. He’s warned in print against the impending Hezbollah-isation of Afghanistan if “reintegration and reconciliation” come off. . .

That's from an essay by Michael Weiss, in New Criterion. I get a kind mention, as does Mike Petrou of Macleans and our dear friend Fahim Dashty back in Kabul.

Michael Weiss is someone to to keep your eye on. I know of no other journalist who has been monitoring the Syrian uprising as hopefully and as closely as he has. If I ever write anything about the Syrian rebels that contradicts something Michael has written, it means I'm wrong. Michael can be found regularly in the Telegraph, keeps the currency of the Henry Jackson Society in circulation and does journeyman work around Just Journalism.

Against The Conventional Wisdom: On To Damascus.

Mohammad Rahhal, leader of the Revolutionary Council of the Syrian Coordination Committees, announced today that the SCC has decided that Syria's non-violent uprising must now turned to armed struggle.

"We made our decision to arm the revolution which will turn violent very soon because what we are being subjected to today is a global conspiracy that can only be faced by an armed uprising," he told the London-based As-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper. "We will use whatever, arms and rocks. . . we will respond to the people's calls to arm the revolution. Confronting this monster now requires arms, especially after it has become clear to everyone that the world only supports the Syrian uprising through speeches."

The conspiracy to which Rahhal refers appears to be the Tehran-sponsored effort to hijack the Syrian uprising in the interests of the Baathist regime. A counter-revolutionary grouping calling itself the Syrian National Council was established in Istanbul last week that Rahhal calls "ghosts. . . who have nothing to do with the revolution.” Further: "We do not want to get rid of [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad’s crimes to be stuck with the dictatorship of [Turkish Prime Minister] Recep Tayyip Erdogan who conspires on the Arab cause to serve his own interests.”

UPDATE: It gets more complicated. The Syrian Local Coordination Committees say that for now, at least, non-violence remains the means: "Militarization would put the Revolution in an arena where the regime has a distinct advantage, and would erode the moral superiority that has characterized the Revolution since its beginning." In the streets, meanwhile, protestors are beginning to clamour for military intervention, CNN reports, and there are signs that the opposition's grassroots are getting fed up with the growing numbers of Syrian dead.

What, then, to do? Are there lessons from Libya that we should immediately apply to the cause of overthrowing the tyranny in Damascus?

From a decent left-wing perspective, Andrew Rawnsley, the Observer's chief political columnist, writes:

"There are lessons that appear sound. There are lessons that sound attractive, but turn out on closer inspection to be dangerously wrong. One lesson – a rather familiar tutorial this – is that conventional wisdom is often wrong. We were told that it would be impossible to get a UN resolution – and one was secured. We were told that Arab support would not stay solid – and, by and large, it did. We were told, as recently as 10 days ago, that the campaign was stuck in a stalemate which exposed the folly of David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy in pursuing the enterprise. So much for the wisdom of the conventional. Another lesson is that sometimes there really is no alternative to decisive military action by outside powers to prevent a tyrant from unleashing atrocities."

From a decent right-wing perspective, Janet Daley, of the Telegraph, writes:

"The West must not funk this. If it does, it will not only put itself on the wrong side of history, but it will be cast forever in an unforgivable role: the observer of evil who stood by and did nothing. This is not just idealism talking: it is stark realism. It is more important than ever now that we do not lose our moral credibility. In a global power struggle with religious fundamentalists, the damage to our case would be incalculable. We cannot consign whole countries to the Middle Ages for the sake of a quiet life: as well as being wicked, it would not work. People everywhere know too much about the modern world and how it is possible to live. They will not willingly step back into the darkness."

Come from the shadows. On to Damascus. Long live the revolution.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Conventional Wisdom And Afghanistan: In And Out Of The Shadows.

Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing, through the graves the wind is blowing, freedom soon will come; then we'll come from the shadows. - “The Partisan,” Leonard Cohen, 1969. The wind blows through the graves, freedom will return. We will be forgotten. We will return to the shadows. - “Le Complainte du Partisan,” Emmanuel d‘Astier, 1943.

Do notice the subtle difference. In the 1969 version, freedom ushers the partisans from the shadows. In the original, freedom summons the partisans back to the shadows. I chose the 1969 version for the title of my forthcoming book on the subject. I am inclined to the 1943 version as being, in a word, prescient. But taken either way, the Afghan partisans persist, the wind is beginning to howl among the graves, and the way things are going the "war in Afghanistan," as people like to call it, has not yet even begun.

Last week, in one of his typically trenchant assessments, Hussain Yasa, senior editor of the Kabul daily newspaper Outlook Afghanistan, mentioned almost in passing that "the old allies from the days of the resistance to the Taliban have established a political alliance which is due to be announced after Eid, in early September." He goes on: "Until now Afghans who have worked for the success of the Bonn process have understood the presence of ISAF as a guarantee against the resurgence of the Taliban. . . but the certainties built up over the past ten years are starting to be stripped away. " Indeed, for many Afghans, it's already over.

Last May, Yasa pointed out the many reasons why the received wisdom in certain western establishment circles - the fantasy that negotiations with the Taliban will produce "peace" in his country - is a calamitous folly. He also had something to say about the origins of the conceit: "Contrary to popular belief, the UK, the US or Germany are not the first ones to moot this idea of talking to the so- called moderate Taliban. Earlier, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Maldives and Turkey too had been involved in mediating peace with the Taliban. As far as the Afghan government is concerned, it has been involved in such a peace process since 2004."

I'll notice that it is also a fiction that the late New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton was the first to see profit in the peace-talks racket. The NDP's specific policy formulation owes its origins to a concoction cooked up by the Islamist far-right in Afghanistan, the crypto-fascist Afghan Mellat party, and some of the more gruesome characters who were hanging around Donald Rumsfeld's office back in the day. Call it what you will, this is not a policy based on "love, hope and optimism,” anymore than it even vaguely resembles a true thing that Layton's memory should be savoured for his "prescient call for negotiations with the Taliban."

Stephen Lewis is not at all wrong to say that the NDP's support for talking peace with Talibs is now "conventional wisdom," if by that term we mean the doctrine consistently favoured in such establishment circles as include Pakistani generals, Khomeinist imams, Henry Kissinger acolytes and eccentric British Tories. Claiming authorship of the most reactionary and anti-progressive policy as the blood-soaked Iranian ruling class will counsel and then tarting it all up as a "progressive" posture is not what I thought the NDP was for. More fool me. But just as conventional wisdom also means the current fashion, as bell-bottoms used to be, I've long argued from what I admit is a minority position that the blame for Canada's peace-talks idiocies cannot be so easily laid at Layton's feet. Still, if New Democrats insist on taking all the glory, then they're going to have to take the shame along with it:

"Statistics show that over 9,000 insurgents had laid down their weapons and returned to normal life ever since the initiative kicked off. But the ground reality paints a different picture, where the situation has become bloodier with each passing year," Yasa points out. Here's how prescient Yasa has proved to be: The Taliban are now killing more Afghans than at any time since they were chased out of Kabul a decade ago.

Yasa vests a great deal of hope in the upcoming Bonn Conference, with the huge caveat that its chances rest on whether "strong Afghan political parties, civil society groups, women and the vibrant Afghan media can share their views and vision with world leaders." Don't count it, but still. Yasa: "The best way of ensuring that the conference makes a solid contribution is to get the opposition there en masse. This will make for a lively event, challenging the Afghan administration on its strategy. Far better the Afghan administration answer for itself on the conference floor than on the battlefield."

Last January, in Belgium, Yasa was, if I can use that word again, "prescient." Echoing what anyone who knows or cares anything about the prospects for a sovereign and democratic Afghan republic has long insisted (see the findings of Konrad Adenauer Stiftung's Babak Khalatbari, for one small example), Yasa put it this way. "What we need is a complete revamp of the ruling system in Afghanistan – the administrative system, the political system – which is a breeding ground for instability. The whole process should have started ten years back. At that time, when there were talks about reviewing the political and administrative systems, the international community was in a completely different mood. They just found a leader for Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, and they wanted to control the country through one man. They didn’t care that these roots of chaos were lying around in the streets – if you’re not going to fix that, one day it will resurface eventually."

Further: "Now, the most important question is whether the international community, or the region, can achieve anything through the current government. And the answer is no. At this stage, everybody is feeling that security has almost collapsed, and Afghans feel that they are losing despite all of the new institutions of the last nine years. . . What we need is a system that would change the status of an Afghan from a subject to a citizen."

Before we jump at the always-handy idiocy that these troublesome Afghans are simply costing the "west" too much money, can we please at least acknowledge, as William Marsden does in journeyman fashion in today's Montreal Gazette, that while most Afghans somehow persist on roughly $2 a day the US military in Afghanistan has spent roughly $20 billion over the past two years just on air conditioning for itself? Ten years after September 11, NATO is still shipping in almost all of its soldiers' daily requirements. While Afghan farmers produce a remarkable variety of breads, fruits and vegetables, the excuse of "military health standards" is still relied upon to sink billions of dollars every year into the bank accounts of such flush contractors as the Amsterdam-based Supreme Group and the U.S. contractor KBR (between 2007 and 2009, $13.1 billion has been shovelled into KBR pockets, almost all for its NATO contracts in Afghanistan).

There's only so much that the international community or the "west" can do for that country, granted. There's only so much that the United States can afford to do. But at the very least, the Obama White House should stop making things worse. At a minumum, the Americans should accept responsibility for their catastrophic mistakes in Afghanistan and reverse them before the absurd 2014 exit-date rolls around.

In this month's Foreign Affairs magazine, the anthropologist and historian Thomas Barfield, author of Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History, surveys the broad sweep of Afghan history and deftly catalogues the main grave errors the Americans have most recently made in Afghanistan (here's a summary), most notably thehorror show the White House made of the Afghan constitution at the Bonn Conference of December, 2001. Barfield concludes with three main recommendations, and unlike the various troops-out and peace-talks narratives, Barfield's propositions do not require a belief in either fairies or unicorns.

To summarize Barfield, the Americans should:

1. Insist on a new political arrangement in Afghanistan that jettisons the structural disincentives that hobble political parties. If the Taliban want to reconstitute as some sort of gargoyle political party, then let them, then we'll see how they fare - they'll certainly do no better than they would in any "backroom deal" that Karzai might attempt to make with them on his own.

2. More democracy, not less. It's where "stability" comes from. Devolve power to provinces and districts, let citizens elect their own governors, let provincial governments raise local taxes to fund local services, and get rid of the largely American-imposed 2001 system that only retained the worst Afghan traditions of "kings and dictators."

3. Give your head a shake about 2014, which Barfield calls a "taboo" of the Americans' own making. Despite his avowals, Karzai is still widely suspected of harbouring plans for an end-run around the Afghan constitution, to hang on after 2014, and "most Afghans believe that without pressure from his patrons in the West, Karzai will not step down." Focus on a new democratic horizon post-2014 and Afghans will mass towards it. This will open up democratic space for "new ideas and personalities, particularly to the younger generation of Afghans who have so far been excluded from the political process."

This is most sensible, and it requires no prescience at all.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Planxty Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh. Down Into The Very Marrow.

We see you, and we raise you.

. . . Although there have been some intermittent noises from the International Criminal Court, it ought to be said in very unequivocal tones, by our government and others, that the Qaddafis and Assads and their accomplices are on notice. They should be told that the names of their military and security officers have been taken down, as have the names of their victims, and that prosecutions are even now being readied for a range of serious crimes. The continuing slaughter of those who will be needed in the rebuilding of Libya and Syria will not be countenanced. This is no longer a matter of asset seizures or sanctions, or of statements saying that the Baath Party has lost its legitimacy. It is a matter of raising the cost of war crimes, and of doing so while there is still time.

Aye and aye.

From Tehran Bureau: Libya, Afghanistan and the myth of Muslim unity. In Ottawa: A hearty welcome to His Excellency, Abubaker Karmos, while from the Canadian Peace Alliance, we are admonished to oppose this "failed intervention," and instructed thus: "It's time to send a message to all MPs that Canada should have no more to do with NATO's war on Libya." NATO's war on Libya, if you don't mind. A failed intervention. Then the sound of crickets, and weeping, and gnashing of teeth. How too sad for them. Another embarrassment: Gaddafi daughter, who "died" in 1986, appears to be alive and well after all.

Want to do some small thing to fight the power? Fight the power. And cheer the hell up:

Tell me how you got the hat!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A bit over the top - but only just the tiniest bit.

"Given the record of the UN and other international powers in Afghanistan, Libyans could hardly do any worse than trust to themselves. Building on ‘lessons learnt’ in Afghanistan, we would advise the Libyans to say a polite ‘no’ to offers of expert advice. . ."

Meanwhile, how's Obama's Afghanistan strategy coming along?

"There is a real sense of despair in Afghanistan right now. Most Afghans I have spoken with seem to think this is one of the lowest points in their country's history for at least 30 years. I think this comes from the sense that without the presence of international troops, things are likely to degenerate quickly into civil war and chaos." You have to read to the bottom of all this before you get to the part about what Afghans think, but still, worth a look.

Meanwhile, next door, in The Republic of Lies:

"In such a country —so fearful of India, distrustful of America and protective of its traditional influence over Afghanistan as a counterweight to Indian power —conspiracy theories fester unchecked.

"Wahab Khan Maseeb, 20, leaves his lectures at the medical faculty in Abbottabad. A young Pakistani-American in jeans and a T-shirt, he was in school in Brooklyn on that fateful day 10 years ago. He saw the ash cover everything. But was it an militant attack? Wahab hesitates. Like others, he saw the 'Loose Change' series of documentary films, which accused elements of the US government of carrying out the 9/11 attacks. 'It was pretty convincing,' he says.

"In a country awash with anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism, Pakistani newspapers peddled totally unsubstantiated claims that 4,000 Jews didn’t turn up to work in New York that day, so the attacks were somehow a Zionist plot. Such theories are preached from mosques and propagated by madrassas responsible for the education of millions of largely penniless children. . ."

Closer to home, another Wikileaks cable containing absolutely nothing that was not already known to everyone and his dog.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

True North.

Imagine paying $33 for a bottle of Cheez Whiz, $13 for a pack of spaghetti noodles, $40 for a bottle of cranberry juice, and a stinging $77 for a bag of breaded chicken. That’s what some grocery stores in remote fly-in Arctic communities were offering early this year. Incriminating photos of sticker prices blazed across newspapers and social media sites across the North – reaching southern Canadians, too. It was the fall –perishable and household items were suddenly eliminated from a list of products previously subsidized by the federal government for people shopping at all fly-in communities across Northern Canada. From Old Crow, Yukon, to Sachs Harbour, NWT, to Igloolik, Nunavut, people were scared, angry and confused. How would they feed their families?

So begins the excellent reportage of Margo Pfeiff in the brilliant Up Here magazine.

People a lot smarter than me have been noticing that there is rather a lot of wind these days about arctic sovereignty. Here, Mark Collins notices: "No foreign country makes any claim to that territory (the Danish claim to tiny Hans Island aside); there is as much need to assert our sovereignty by increasing Canada’s military and governmental presence in the north as there is in, say, Labrador. Yet no one is suggesting that government take action to ensure Labrador stays safely within Canada. . ." More recently: "Can’t we just get a grip? Those brigades are going to be on Russian soil damn it–not about to invade Canada. One doesn’t see the Russian media ranting on about the threat from Operation NANOOK 11 . . ."

One doesn't see much Canadian media ranting about the predicament northerners have been facing these days, all in the effort to merely feed their kids. Those of us who live south of 60 need more journalism of the kind Pfeiff has undertaken in that essay. It's a complicated story, with no ready reference points on who the good guys are and who the bad guys are - like real life, in other words. But the story raises a real life question: For a country like Canada, if we want people to be able to live something approaching a normal life in the northern half of our country, shouldn't we be doing a better job of making that possible without expecting northerners to bear so much of the burden on their own?

Bravo to the Iqaluit for having brought home, only the other day, their first bowhead whale in a century. That's close to 70 tonnes of rich protein and hearty meals for hundreds of people. Bravo as well to my pal Madeleine Redfern, mayor of Iqaluit, who points out that with a population of at least 14,000 bowheads in area waters, local whalers could be taking 18 bowheads a year, quite sustainably. While I'm at it, bravo to the Canadian Rangers, the mostly Inuit army reserve unit that serves to help defend Canada's sovereignty in the arctic, and to ranger David Ukutak Jr., whose idea for disabusing southern politicians of their misconceptions of northern life is a good one: "Give them to us for six months. We'll change their minds."

The first thing southern politicians need to get their heads around is that northerners need to eat. Worrying about Russian incursions into Canadian airspace should be rather lower down the list. In the meantime, to keep on top of what happens up there, keep an eye on Nunatsiaq News. It's one of the best newspapers in the country.

I Just Came Down From Chippewa. . .

Jonas Shandel belting it out on guitar with Matt Bryant singing and shredding a mandolin: Headwater, in Berlin, boys from the north shore of Burrard Inlet, been at it since they were kids:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rebels In The House.

Messing with Mo's stuff. Righteous:

Here's a little fillum of a rebel with Old Mo's golden gun. Here's some of the lads riding in his golf buggy. Here's a cool thing the rebels used: Made in Canada.

Meanwhile, in Syria, Michael Weiss reports: Maxim Gorky pays a visit to Homs. The UN delegation drove through in their fancy cars. As soon as they were gone, this is what happened:

The entire western foreign policy establishment and its associated punditocracy seem to be utterly preoccupied with whether things will be better for "us" after these revolutions are over, whether some uglier cast of strongmen will arise, and whether these inscrutible Muslims will only throw up forces that are hostile to "our" interests. Such preoccupations, with all the attendant mewling and simpering - in place of proper international solidarity and robust support for the revolutionaries - will almost certainly ensure the rise of more strongmen hostile to "us" and "our" interests. Will the revolutionaries prove to be "our" enemies? Unless we befriend them in the darkest hours, yes, they will be, and it will bloody well serve "us" right.

What is the result of Barack Obama's massage-therapy innovations, his sweet entreaties to Islamist blockheads, and all the ginger and nuanced flattery he lavishes upon his soft-palmed American constituencies? America's favorability rating in the storied "Arab Street" is now lower than it was during the tenure of George Bush.

In the matter of Libya, Shadi Hamid also notices: "We should always tread carefully with counterfactuals. But it is difficult to deny that the alternative to doing something -- doing nothing -- would almost certainly have led to a bloody, tragic massacre in Benghazi and other pockets of rebel resistance. Libya would have likely been held up as one of the great tragedies of Western neglect or outright subversion, on par with Iran in 1953 or Algeria and Iraq in the early 1990s. When you have the ability to act, doing nothing is no longer a neutral position."

We should get over it. In the revolution, refusing to choose sides is to choose sides, and in the real world, the revolution will never be "over."

Marg bar diktator.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Gaddafist Propaganda Central: Ottawa, Ontario.

The Centre for Research on Globalization is - how to put it delicately- a Canadian clubhouse for crackpots of the anti-war, 911-truth, anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist variety. The Centre would not normally be worth noticing except for a laugh. But, today is not a normal day.

Run by the loopy Michel Chossudovsky, economics professor emeritus at the University of Ottawa, the Centre has for some long while adopted what could be called a friendly demeanour towards the Libyan regime of Moammar Gaddafi. The Centre also enjoys an intimate and wildly successful relationship with one of the world's pre-eminent cable "news" networks, and it has put that relationship to the purpose of disseminating undiluted Gaddafist propaganda. As I write this, it's all crashing down around their heads.

The news network is Russia Today, a massively-subsidized Moscow propaganda agency with about 2,000 staff (almost twice as big as Fox News) and roughly 200 million viewers worldwide. Two years ago, Nielsen Media Research found that more Washington, D.C., area viewers were watching prime-time news on RT than on any other foreign broadcaster. Russia Today is one of the top 10 news channels on Youtube, and rarely does Google's news page not prominently feature an RT version of the day's big news stories.

One of the "journalists" the Centre for Research on Globalization relies upon in Tripoli is Thierry Meyssan, a French national who claims French president Nicholas Sarkozy is a CIA agent of some kind, and 911 was an inside job. There is also the Centre's increasingly frantic and incoherent research associate, Mahdi Nazemroaya, a "Canadian-based sociologist and scholar." Both appear regularly in Centre dispatches and on RT broadcasts, presented to viewers as journalists and political analysts.

Here is Meyssan, only today, whose dispatch to Centre for Research and Globalization explains the dizzying events in Tripoli on Sunday as having begun when "a NATO warship sailed up and anchored just off the shore at Tripoli, delivering heavy weapons and debarking Al Qaeda jihadi forces, which were led by NATO officers." No massive popular uprising, no victorious rebels flooding into Tripoli greeted by throngs of well-wishers among the city's populace. It was a NATO - Al Qaida job.

Meyssan and Nazemroaya are now in very deep trouble. Here is Nazemroaya today, telling RT all about how he's now "trapped" in his hotel, that rebels are firing at the hotel and so on. Actually he's filing directly from the Libyan government's propaganda office, purporting to expose the ravages of alleged looters who have taken the Gaddafists' files on "journalists." No doubt those files will show which "journalists" could be counted on to serve as mouthpieces for the regime, and, I fully expect, which so-called journalists were on the regime's payroll to broadcast regime propaganda. Nazemroaya is clearly terrified. He is begging for some kind of "airlift" out of Tripoli. One shouldn't wonder why.

UPDATE: About those files, The Telegraph reports on their contents, which include plans for a multi-million-dollar slush fund to finance "anti-war" influence peddling in Britain.

By whatever means Centre boss Chossudovksy finances his outrageous services to police states, I do hope for the distressed and hysterical Nazemroaya's sake that the nutty professor finds some method to get him safely out of Libya and back to Canada. I also hope that we're not all going to have our intelligence insulted by some revisionist lunacy of this variety, imploring us to accept Nazemroaya as a "journalist" to whose aid we must rally.

[UPDATE: It's already happening. UPDATE 2: His mum is understandably worried, and she's right that Foreign Affairs should really do something. UPDATE FINAL: The Red Cross has now intervened, the fuss is over, Mahdi Nazemroaya is, most hilariously, at sea, in an IOM boat - after earlier ridiculing reports about the IOM's presence in Tripoli as propaganda - and here's just one more tiny little detail poor young Mahdi failed to mention in his hyperventilated "reports" from the Hotel Rixos: All of the 36 journalists marooned at the hotel were being held "essentially against their will, in what we all considered — all along — to be a hostage situation," reports Matthew Chance of CNN. Perhaps Chance is really one of the MI6 goons masquerading as CNN reporters that we've been hearing about? Note well: the hostage-takers were Gaddafists, not the scary rebels Mahdi was on about.]

If you think I'm being mean to Chossudovsky, here he is on RT, mouthing Baathist propaganda on behalf of the regime in Damascus. What is the Syrian revolt all about? Is it not a popular uprising against a despotism run by the mass-murderer Bashar al-Assad? Not at all, Professor Chossudovsky explains: "What we have are Islamists, gunmen, Salafi as well as Muslim Brotherhood gunmen, snipers shooting at civilians as well as police. . .these are death squads which are supported directly by Turkey and Israel. It is an intelligence operation. They come in, they cross the border, they go into communities. . they go into the Christian communities, they intimidate people, they shoot on them, they kill them. . ."

How does one deal with "experts" and "journalists" like this? Here is the way the Libyan rebel front's Guma El Gamaty deals with the dizzy presenter Phil Rees, who had the audacity to expect him to debate with the Mao-admiring goofball Sukant Chandan, a Chossudovsky favorite who has also, curiously, "reported" from Tripoli in ways that pleased the Gaddafists. While even Chandan describes himself as a ten-year veteran "Garage and Jungle/Drum&Bass MC with the DubNeg crew" in London, Rees describes him on air, as "a political analayst and writer for the respected socialist magazine, The Monthly Review." Good for El Gamaty for having none of that rubbish.

For a real journalist, reporting from Tripoli, here's Alex Crawford:

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Here's what your fancy hermeneutics will get you.

"While post-modernist academics have infested national and international universities and are trying to popularise the radical right-wing narrative as representing the people’s popular instinct, the fact is that these academics base their analysis on elite ethnographies. . . . to top it all, the fashionable post-modernist narrative is inherently right-wing. The Pakistani post-modernist academics are in the process of creating a narrative that will eventually replace any existing liberal narrative which, in any case, is scant."

What is uncontroversial among such wise liberal-left intellectuals in Pakistan as Ayesha Siddiqa is lost on the inferior Canadian liberal-left, which, in much of its modes of thinking, is objectively and "inherently right-wing."

Just noticing is all. Carry on.

While Cowards Flinch And Traitors Sneer.

You know what? I'm not going to say "I hate to say I told you so." I don't hate it at all this afternoon. I am raising a glass to the Libyan rebel front, to their bedraggled courage and persistence, to the crew of the HMCS Charlottetown, and to France. As for the frightwallah Robert Spencer, the red fascist anti-rebel George Galloway (Gaddafi "has the men, he has the money, he has the track record, by jingo if he decides to come out fighting. . ."), the interference-running reactionary isolationist Canadian Peace Alliance - which was "opposed to any military intevention in Libya", the NDP party brass that has opposed regime change all along, the delicate footdraggers, the hollow boasters, the "quagmire" cassandras of the right and of the demented-hippie left, even though it's nowhere near over yet (the revolution will never be "over"), you can all kiss Libyan rebel ass, and my rosy Irish ass while you're at it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Zero Hour In Tripoli.

"The zero hour has started. The rebels in Tripoli have risen up," said Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice-chairman of the NTC, based in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. "There is co-ordination with the rebels in Tripoli. This was a pre-set plan. They've been preparing for a while. There's coordination with the rebels approaching from the east, west and south."

CONSTANT UPDATES HERE: Libyans Forever United - From Benghazi To Fezzan.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Don't worry. Obama is 'winning' in Afghanistan. Go back to work.

While the White House continues to insist that its "surge" has reversed Taliban momentum, the Talibs are now killing more Afghans than at any time since they were chased out of Kabul a decade ago. This is the consequence of a perfectly straightforward equation. If the President of the United States declares that he has no intention of winning anything more than the means to force the Afghan people to "reconcile" with Talibs, why wouldn't the Taliban fight on? When Barack Obama settles on a policy that will "please anti-war Democrats while also encouraging the Taliban to hang on and keep fighting," should we be surprised that this is exactly what the Taliban are doing?

Yesterday, the Taliban killed at least 24 Afghan civilians, including 12 young children, in roadside bomb attacks on two minibuses near Herat. In a separate incident on the far side of the country two Afghan security guards were killed in a suicide attack on an American base. Today, a Taliban suicide bomber slaughtered at least 40 people attending prayers at mosque in Khyber Pakhtunkwa. At least 100 are wounded. Yesterday in Kabul, at least a dozen people were killed in a Taliban attack on a non-military British Council office, and local resident Shah Agha reported: "When the dust cleared I could see dead municipality workers on the ground and the body of a policeman without a head." Lovely.

In the real world, a senior Pakistani military officer says that Pakistan can deliver the Haqqani Taliban to the negotiating table. Why, then, can't Pakistan deliver the Haqqani Taliban to the graveyard? Because that's not what Pakistan is for. It's not what Iran is for, either, and yet for two years, Barack Obama has trundled along with his hopes to build "constructive ties" with the Khomeinists. How is Obama's "diplomatic engagement" faring in Tehran?

Today, the US State Department admitted that Iran is still the world's "most active state sponsor of terrorism," and here's just a few things that Iran has been up to lately in Afghanistan: "Iran's Qods Force provided training to the Taliban in Afghanistan on small unit tactics, small arms, explosives, and indirect fire weapons, such as mortars, artillery, and rockets. Since at least 2006, Iran has arranged arms shipments to select Taliban members, including small arms and associated ammunition, rocket propelled grenades, mortar rounds, 107mm rockets, and plastic explosives. Iran has shipped a large number of weapons to Kandahar, Afghanistan, aiming to increase its influence in the country."

This follows the US State Department's embarassing disclosure last month that an Al Qaida cell is operating out of Iran under the terms of an agreement with the Khomeinist regime that allows it to do so.

If being the laughing stock of Central Asia is what "winning" looks like, what would losing make America look like?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Business Partnership: The Associated Press And Police States.

It is a despotism of the sort where you cannot meet with a gathering of friends without running the risk of being hauled up on charges of subversion. You cannot organize a book club - you will only rarely find an unofficial book of any kind anyway - and while you may avail yourself of a clandestine lending library you will risk imprisonment for doing so. You can get arrested for being in possession of a banned novel, there's barely any access to the internet, what you may think is yours can be expropriated at a moment's notice, you can't change jobs without the boss's permission, the boss is the government, and you are not allowed to leave the country without permission from the boss. Join a punk band and you can be arrested for "pre-criminal dangerousness."

There is no free press, but the Associated Press has just partnered with the state propaganda agency. The country is Cuba, the agency is Prensa Latina, and Associated Press is offering you a bargain: "Don't miss our collection of exclusive, iconic black and white photos of Castro from our image partner Prensa Latina, based in Havana, Cuba." What does AP tell us about Prensa Latina? The agency "now has a worldwide presence and transmits each day in Spanish, English, Portuguese, Italian, Russian and Turkish"! Thor Halvorssen asks: "Is any of this undeniable reality of life under Castro mentioned in a single caption of the thousands of photographs offered by the AP?" He answers: "Not once. Castro, they repeat, is a 'revolutionary hero.'"

It gets worse. The Prensa Latina deal follows an Associated Press management decision to enter into a series of agreements with the chief propaganda arm of one of the most brutal and savage polices state in history - the so-called Democratic People's Republic of Korea, in Pyongyang. At right is a June 28 photo of Associated Press CEO Tom Curley signing over the last shreds of his journalistic credibility to Kim Pyong Ho of the so-called Korean Central News Agency at their get-together in New York.

The deal gives the Associated Press what its own public-relations bumpf calls "unprecedented access." In return, Associated Press readers in the world's democracies get fluff like this: "A little boy skips along grasping a classmate's hand, his cheeks flushed and a badge of the Great Leader's smiling face pinned to his Winnie the Pooh sweatshirt. Men in military green share a joke over beers at a German-style pub next door to the Juche tower. Schoolgirls wearing the red scarves of the Young Pioneers sway in unison as they sing a classic Korean tune I, too, learned as a child. . ."

One of the agreements gives AP exclusive rights to video from KCNA’s archive, "providing a new source of video content from North Korea to AP’s members and customers around the world." Says Curley: "We are grateful for this opportunity and look forward to providing coverage for AP’s global audience in our usually reliable and insightful way." Reliable. Got that? In return, the DPRK regime gets AP's "cooperation on journalistic and photo/video technology issues." And heck, the regime sure could use some help with its "issues."

Take this latest KCNA news dispatch, for example. Headline: Kim Jong Il's Songun Revolutionary Leadership Praised by Foreign Political Party. "Pyongyang, August 17 (KCNA) -- The Socialist Party of Benin-Baanitee made public a statement on August 10 on the 51st anniversary of leader Kim Jong Il's start of his Songun revolutionary leadership. The statement said that his Songun revolutionary leadership made it possible for socialist Korea to steadily advance, winning one victory after another, adding that the Korean People's Army could grow to be invincible armed forces thanks to the Songun revolutionary leadership."

On it goes like that. Not the least bit interesting, not even newsworthy, and nothing in any KCNA dispatch about the Songun revolutionary leadership advancing so invincibly that it is sending appointed academics to Canada to figure out how a real economy works, and nothing from AP's partner journalists on the outbreaks of famine in the country, or about their government's inability to cope with flooding without the help of dole handouts from the Americans. Certainly no comment from glorious leader leader Kim Jong-Il. But then, to be fair, he is unreachable at the moment, holidaying on his yacht and hanging out at his swank seaside villa.

I'm thinking of starting a regular series: Journalism Fail Survivor Apprentice. This week's winner, hands down, is the Associated Press.

Barack Obama's Afghan Hostages.

Among Afghans, the great hope of an Obama presidency was that Donald Rumsfeld’s “we don’t do nation-building” approach was finally over and done with. The Bush administration came late to the realization that its so-called light footprint was precisely what had allowed the Taliban to regroup and reassert itself throughout Afghanistan’s southern provinces. It’s why there is still a war in Afghanistan at all.

You don’t need to scour tea leaves for worrying evidence of a return to Rumsfeld’s policy in Washington. Last February, unveiling the administration’s Afghanistan and Pakistan Regional Stabilization Strategy, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was explicit: the strategy is “far from an exercise in nation-building.”

The message to Afghan democrats could not be clearer. Hope and change has come to mean despair and a recrudescence of the same old self-flattery, shortcut remedy prescription, and attention-deficit disorder that has afflicted American policy in Afghanistan since at least Bill Clinton’s time. “I am not optimistic at all,” Suraya Parlika of the Afghan Women’s Union recently told Reuters. “Women are at risk of losing everything they have regained.”

It’s not even the idea of “negotiations” that’s the problem anymore. The deep anxieties among Afghans about who would be doing the negotiations, what they’d be for, and what would be on the table—it’s gone past that now. . .

That's from my essay in today's Dissent magazine, followed by a friendly argument of sorts with Michael Walzer.

And did I mention my book? No? Oh, well then, here it is. I have placed myself in the position of having written a book about Afghanistan that will make pretty well everyone (except the majority of Afghans, who won't get a chance to read it anyway) very, very angry with me. This will either be good for sales or absolutely fatal for sales. Oh well.

And no, it is not that I like making enemies, or that I enjoy controversy. One simply takes notes, writes it all down, and the enemies will follow as surely as night follows day. The trick is to maintain at least the semblance of a cheery disposition, of which I am possessed in abundance.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

And all along I thought a rhizome was some sort of mushroom.

September 6 – December 2, 2011 CCFI 502 (3 credits): Cyborgs, Rhizomes & Margins: A Cross-cultural Conversation in Education

Thursdays, 4:30 to 7:30 pm Dr. Pat O'Riley (EDCP).

Drawing on a range of transdisciplinary and cross-cultural theoretical perspectives, this course examines the complicities, complexities, and potentialities of the dominant technology narratives in education in a time of neo-colonialism, global capitalism and global warming. Students have an opportunity to critically reflect on the shape these technology discourses might take when intersected with social justice, civil society, Indigenous and environmental voices and agencies. What are the power/knowledge dynamics of the emerging geo/cyber/politics, respacialization, and limitless new frontiers of empire and technological capabilities? Making affiliations with the work of Donna Haraway, Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari, Jody Berland, Vandana Shiva and other nomadic/ rhizomatic thinkers and activists, this course is a space for reimagining and remapping potential shapes, text(ure)s, and actions for a radicalized/rhizomatic technology conversation in education.

Monday, August 15, 2011

An Audience With His Eminence John McPhee.

McPhee is something of a God to me, I confess. On account of that, this was most heartening:

. . . OK, it’s nine in the morning. All I’ve got to do is write. But I go hours before I’m able to write a word. I make tea. I mean, I used to make tea all day long. And exercise, I do that every other day. I sharpened pencils in the old days when pencils were sharpened. I just ran pencils down. Ten, eleven, twelve, one, two, three, four—this is every day. This is damn near every day. It’s four-thirty and I’m beginning to panic. It’s like a coiling spring. I’m really unhappy. I mean, you’re going to lose the day if you keep this up long enough. Five: I start to write. Seven: I go home. That happens over and over and over again. So why don’t I work at a bank and then come in at five and start writing? Because I need those seven hours of gonging around. I’m just not that disciplined. I don’t write in the morning—I just try to write.

That sounds like the way my days play themselves out, more often than I'd like to admit.

. . . And if somebody says to me, You’re a prolific writer—it seems so odd. It’s like the difference between geological time and human time. On a certain scale, it does look like I do a lot. But that’s my day, all day long, sitting there wondering when I’m going to be able to get started. And the routine of doing this six days a week puts a little drop in a bucket each day, and that’s the key. Because if you put a drop in a bucket every day, after three hundred and sixty-five days, the bucket’s going to have some water in it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Obama's Catastrophic Afghan Policy.

The town of Charikar is as lovely as Afghan towns get. It's a bustling, lively and friendly place, set in the lap of a range of hills that overlook the lush and vast Shomali Plains. For as long as anyone can remember, Kabuli families have been making the bumpy journey north for camping weekends on the hillsides above the town, in the springtime of the year, when the flowers are in bloom.

Last year I stopped into Charikar with some friends for some of the thick and rich almond ice cream for which the town is famous. In a crowded sidestreet ice cream shop, the locals laughed and beamed as I wolfed mine down. Thumbs up all round. In the streets, the only military presence I noticed was a small American convoy, a couple of humvees and a troop carrier of some sort. Passersby waved and smiled at the soldiers and hurried about their business.

I can't help but wonder if the locals are so friendly to Americans, or to anyone who might be mistaken for an American, now that President Barack Obama is offering the hated Taliban every possible incentive to fight harder and more savagely to ensure themselves a post-2014 role in the Afghan government. Plumping the cushions in Kabul for Taliban mass-murderers is now the official (and apparently the only) American strategy in Afghanistan. In his triumphant speech following the US Navy SEALs' daring and successful execution of Osama bin Laden, President Barack Obama explicitly instructed the Afghan people to reconcile themselves to Mullah Omar and his blood-soaked coterie, by 2014. This is what "winning" is now supposed to look like. Are American soldiers still greeted with casual friendliness in Charikar?

When Canadian Forces delivered control over the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team to the United States last year, it was hailed as the most successful PRT in all Afghanistan, and the model for the future. Kandahar is lately beginning to resemble something like a rabbit disappearing down the gullet of a giant snake. Today, in Charikar - peaceful, friendly Charikar, capital of Parwan province - they're picking up bits and pieces of 22 dead people and more than 30 wounded in a Taliban suicide attack on the headquarters of Parwan provincial governor Abdul Basir Salangi. The governor is putting on as brave a face as he can: "Parwan is still considered a peaceful province.”

And the Taliban are still considered the Taliban by sensible people, no matter how many uplifting speeches Obama might make. "Settlement with that type of group is a disaster for Afghanistan," Amrullah Saleh, a key leader in Afghanistan's emerging Basej-e-meli democratic front, has once again warned. Saleh is the former head of Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security. He was fighting Talibs long before September 11, 2001 and he has been fighting them in and out of government ever since. Whether Saleh will be fighting the Taliban after 2014 is a question that is at the moment as unanaswerable as this one: After 2014, if America is still in the fight at all, which side will Obama be on?

There will be no Afghan women's delegation at the upcoming Bonn conference on Afghanistan. Ryan Crocker, the new American ambassador to Afghanistan has made that much plain: "There is going to be one Afghan delegation and it is going to be led by the government of Afghanistan." Does the United States object to the Taliban being there? Say Crocker: That's all up to Hamid Karzai.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Prime Minister Has Come Back From Tuscany.

Friday, August 12, 2011

London Riots: Journalism Fail Survivor Apprentice.

Google news headline IPCC "misled press over shooting" bungles BBC headline Mark Duggan death: IPCC 'may have misled journalists', which derives from a bungled Guardian headline: Mark Duggan death: IPCC says it inadvertently misled media, which is not true, and it's not even what the headline's story asserts. The story reports that the police watchdog said it may have "inadvertently" misled journalists into believing the Tottenham man had fired at police. Looking even closer, the IPCC actually stated, in response to queries from the Guardian, that "it seems possible that we may have verbally led journalists to believe that shots were exchanged."

The Mark Duggan shooting is also widely reported (or misreported) to have "sparked" the mayhem and looting in Britain earlier this week. Anyway. . .

The officer who shot Duggan never said he was fired at "and is understood to be upset that the family might have been misled into believing this." I should say so. Further, it wasn't the IPCC that got the story wrong.

The IPCC's first statement made no reference to shots being fired at police. An IPCC spokesperson did say (i.e. "verbally") that an officer had been shot (which is true; it seems a bullet fired by the other cop lodged in the shot cop's radio). The Evening Standard (inaccurately) reported a "shootout" in which the officer who shot Duggan was "returning" fire. The Mirror quoted an IPCC spokesman in those first frenzied reports: "We do not know the order the shots were fired. We understand the officer was shot first, then the male," which also appears to be completely true.

The IPCC statement: "Analysis of media coverage and queries raised on Twitter have alerted to us to the possibility that we may have inadvertently given misleading information to journalists when responding to very early media queries following the shooting of Mark Duggan by MPS officers on the evening of 4 August." This is two full days before the riots began, which seems more than enough time for journalists to have corrected any mistakes they made. The IPCC concedes it was possible that its early information suggested shots were exchanged, and the IPCC added: "This was consistent with early information we received that an officer had been shot and taken to hospital. Any reference to an exchange of shots was not correct and did not feature in any of our formal statements, although an officer was taken to hospital after the incident."

A more suitable headline: Media Get Story Wrong, London Goes Up In Flames, Media Blame Police.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Eggheads Who Saw It Coming.

Seumas Milne, the Grauniad's resident tanky jackeen:

"But it's not as if rioting was unexpected when the government embarked on its reckless programme to shrink the state. Last autumn the Police Superintendents' Association warned of the dangers of slashing police numbers at a time when they were likely to be needed to deal with "social tensions" or "widespread disorder". Less than a fortnight ago, Tottenham youths told the Guardian they expected a riot.

"Politicians and media talking heads counter that none of that has anything to do with sociopathic teenagers smashing shop windows to walk off with plasma TVs and trainers. But where exactly did the rioters get the idea that there is no higher value than acquiring individual wealth, or that branded goods are the route to identity and self-respect?

"While bankers have publicly looted the country's wealth and got away with it, it's not hard to see why those who are locked out of the gravy train might think they were entitled to help themselves to a mobile phone. . ."

Theodore Dalrymple (whose daddy was a tanky), a conservative author of several books about the lumpenproletariat, is as unsurprised as Milne claims to be:

"Only someone who never looked around him and never drew any conclusions from the faces and manner of the young men he saw would have been surprised.

"The riots are the apotheosis of the welfare state and popular culture in their British form. A population thinks (because it has often been told so by intellectuals and the political class) that it is entitled to a high standard of consumption, irrespective of its personal efforts; and therefore it regards the fact that it does not receive that high standard, by comparison with the rest of society, as a sign of injustice. It believes itself deprived (because it has often been told so by intellectuals and the political class), even though each member of it has received an education costing $80,000, toward which neither he nor—quite likely—any member of his family has made much of a contribution; indeed, he may well have lived his entire life at others’ expense, such that every mouthful of food he has ever eaten, every shirt he has ever worn, every television he has ever watched, has been provided by others. Even if he were to recognize this, he would not be grateful, for dependency does not promote gratitude. On the contrary, he would simply feel that the subventions were not sufficient to allow him to live as he would have liked. . ."

It is possible that both are at least partly right and that neither are as clairvoyant as they claim (update - Norm Geras, a major egghead, points out this very thing, with an interesting "semi-formal model" of the sort familiar to students of logic.)

Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement's. You owe me five farthings, say the bells of St. Martin's. When will you pay me? Say the bells of Old Bailey. When I grow rich, Say the bells of Shoreditch. When will that be? Say the bells of Stepney. I do not know, Says the great bell of Bow.

But what do ordinary Britons say? Here comes a candle to light you to bed and here comes a chopper to chop off your head!

Ninety per cent say bring on the water cannons, 84 per cent want mounted police, 82 per cent say curfews, 78 per cent tear gas, 72 per cent tasers, 65 per cent plastic bullets, 33 per cent live ammunition, 77 per cent say send in the army.

As for me, I say send in the Kurdish shopkeepers.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Final Nail In The Coffin Of The Pakistani Pantomime?

If the history of the 21st century's first decade is ever properly written, the words "the war in Afghanistan" could probably serve as little more than an index entry from a footnote in a prominent chapter about Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency. The ISI deserves at least a chapter of its own, if only for the spectacularly cunning confidence trick it managed to play, year after year after year, with the United States of America as its most gullible victim.

Billions of dollars wasted and tens of thousands of lives lost, all the result of an elaborate pantomime carried off by the ISI, a parasitic, third-rate military-industrial lie machine that the White House still fancies as an American "ally." Chief among the ISI's successes, from 2001 until even now, is the propaganda fiction that after September 11, 2001, the Pakistani military stopped providing succor and sustenance to Al Qaida and the Taliban, and that if those entitities were present in Pakistan after 2001 at all it was only on account of those savage Pakhtuns from the hill country in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and their primitive "hospitality" code of Pakhtunwali.

I strike a glancing blow at all that in my book, Come from The Shadows, which is due out in October. It's one of several myths about Afghanistan that I easily dispose of (evidence is our friend) in the opening chapter, Welcome to Absurdistan. In dispelling the myth that the Pakhtuns of FATA are as angry about NATO drone strikes as the troops-out lobby keeps telling us, I have relied heavily on the splendid front-line work of the Pakistani journalist Farhat Taj, a research fellow at the University of Oslo. Last year, I noted her finding: “I have been discussing the issue of drone attacks with hundreds of people of Waziristan. They see the U.S. drone attacks as their liberators from the clutches of the terrorists into which, they say, their state has wilfully thrown them.”

Two years ago, she told the Washington Times that most of what passes for informed punditry about Pakistan's tribal areas is drawn from third-hand journalism written by journalists who don't know the first thing about what they're talking about. "They constantly distort the realities of our people and area. Most of them do not even bother to come and see what is happening.”

Now, Taj has got a book out, Taliban and Anti-Taliban. It is the result not just of historical scholarship but also roughly 2000 interviews and discussions undertaken throughout FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkwa (formerly the Northwest Frontier Province) over the past two years. A lot of nasty and violent people, along with very smart and well-situated people, are going to be quite displeased with what the book exposes, not least the nonsense that the Pakistani government would surrender the jihadist Arabs and Talib crackpots in the hill country, but the stubborn tribes just won't permit it because of that "Pakhtunwali" thing. Taj writes: "Some first-hand interactions with the tribesmen would have provided the scholars and journalists with a wealth of empirical evidence to establish that no tribes in FATA can dare to host anyone wanted by the state."

Further: "Where do Usama Bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri or other foreign terrorists fit in to this notion and practice of hospitality? Well-armed and battle hardened Al-Qaida terrorists never surrendered their weapons to the tribes in FATA. Instead they have overpowered the tribes and brutally killed those tribesmen who defied them. They entered Waziristan with full state consent and all the tribesmen who opposed their entry were killed with state collusion by the militants. Those that were left ran away or were overpowered by the militants covertly backed by the Pakistani state. If the Pakistani state wants today, no militants can ever stay in Waziristan or elsewhere in FATA.

"It is a myth that FATA tribes gave refuge to Al-Qaida terrorists under the code of Pakhtunwali. In the tribal context, public backing of any issues, including refuge to anyone, has to be discussed and agreed upon in a tribal jirga (council). . . I would challenge the scholars and journalists to produce evidence of any such jirgas. The fact is that Taliban and Al-Qaida banned the institution of jirga wherever they took control in FATA or at least rendered it ineffective through targeted killing and intimidation of the tribal leaders, and all this was thoroughly facilitated by the ISI. . ."

It's pretty straightforward. The Frontier Crimes Regulations that apply in the otherwise lawless FATA region allow the Pakistani military to bulldoze entire towns if a tribe refuses to hand over a fugitive. The ISI has done precisely that for offences less grave than harbouring al Qaida. Indeed, the ISI did bulldoze villages, recklessly and unnecessarily, when it finally felt obliged to go after the Haqanni Talibs. What has the ISI done to go after Mullah Omar's Taliban? Nothing. Why? Pakhtunwali? Please, get real.

I've only read the first few pages, but it promises to be a most useful book. You can order it here.

One of these things is not like the other (or is what the other was like once but isn't now).

Is this from a letter written by the venerable Amnesty International protesting the Conservative government's mollycoddling of known war criminals?

. . . You correctly note that these men have “been found ineligible for entry into Canada on the basis of these accusations, and have been ordered deported” (though the snide preface “apparently” is unnecessary and unworthy), but you object that “the details about the nature, basis or seriousness of the accusations against them have [not] been made public.” This is not entirely true and, where true, not fair.

Where the individuals have made their records public, either voluntarily or in federal court, the details of their cases are well known. For example, we know that one of the 30 men still at large, Jose Domingo Malaga Arica, admitted to participating in helicopter raids on villages in which women and children were machine-gunned indiscriminately and to transporting accused criminals to be tortured. We know this because his federal court record is public. However, in cases where no exception to the Privacy Act applies, the government has not revealed such detailed information. . . Is it your position that the Canadian public does not deserve to know that these men are hiding among us unless or until each of them has signed a privacy waiver allowing details of their complicity in crimes against humanity to be made public? If so, I respectfully disagree. I believe the Canadian public deserves better.

That's from a letter by Jason Kenney, Minister of Immigration, Citizenship and Multiculturalism, to Amnesty International, once an internationally-respected and venerable human rights organization, but these days, not so much.

To merely notice this grimly funny paradox is to risk being subjected to demands to surrender all claim to independence of thought, progressive political views, proletarian solidarity, non-Zionism, membership in Mountain Equipment Co-op and all such forms of fashionable virtue. I notice it anyway. Good one, Minister Kenney. More like that, please.

Monday, August 08, 2011

London's burning with boredom now, London's burning, dial 999. . .

Tottenham in cinders, Croydon a "war zone," buses set alight in Peckham, riots in Hackney, looting in Clapham, windows smashed in Ealing, bins on fire in Lewisham. Home secretary Theresa May returned from holiday early and convened a press conference to declare the disturbances "totally unacceptable." Thanks for clearing that up, Madam Secretary.

Everybody's sitting round watching television.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Kids In 40c Tehran Arrested For Cooling Off With Fun Water Fight.

RFL reports: They weren't chanting opposition slogans or protesting against the government, but they were having a good time in public, which can be seen to challenge state-enforced codes of conduct. Their photos were shared on websites, blogs, and social media. Many praised them for their creativity, for managing to organize the event, and also for having fun, which is not always easy in Iran. Not everyone was happy, though. Conservative websites used the "incriminating" photos to accuse the young people of immorality and corruption.

The Guardian reports: The head of Tehran's morality police, Ahmad Roozbehani said: "A mixed-gender event took place on Friday ... They had been asked to bring water pistol toys, which most of them had in hand ... they acted against social norms."

The always-reliable Potkin Azarmehr points out: All this is happening at a time, when the crime rate is soaring throughout Iran. Police are unable to deal with numerous knife fights and stabbings which have also included lethal attacks on several Iranian celebrities in recent weeks. Some of the knife attacks have taken place in front of the police which have simply looked on without daring to interfere. There is also an alarming increase in gang rapes of women, like the one which happened during a private birthday party in Khomeini-Shahr, where armed gangs which included members of the local Baseej stormed into the party, locked up the men and raped the women which included a pregnant mother. Police took several hours to turn up for the rescue and the official reaction of the local Friday prayer leader was to put portion of the blame on the women who were raped, because they had "provoked the peeping local youth by dancing in their own property without observing the proper hejab!".

Potkin updates here. More "incriminating" photos here.


Hama Is Oslo. Bashar al-Assad is Anders Behring Breivik, With An Army.

All day, every day: "People are being slaughtered like sheep while walking in the street. I saw with my own eyes one young boy on a motorcycle who was carrying vegetables being run over by a tank."

Tuesday, August 02, 2011


Nicholas Schmidle, in the New Yorker, has produced a work of utterly gripping narrative journalism in such a way that leaves little room for doubt, even though it is of the vaguely-sourced approved access variety, that almost all of it is absolutely true. Top marks.

Jamie Kirchick, in the New York Daily News, presents what I could happily call a thoroughly reliable compass heading to get you through all the weird recrimination, smearing and hysteria that has followed upon the savagery in Oslo: Why Islamist Terror Dwarfs Breivik's Brand.

It would be missing Kirchick's point to cite Fareed Zakaria's take as a counterpoint, and Zakaria wastes time on a sophomoric exposition on the Knights Templar, if you don't mind, before he gets to his case, which rests on a dubious resort to certain statistics. Still, very much worth the read, and a good point he makes regardless.

Meanwhile, total journalism fail at the Toronto Sun: Sheep slaughtered in "some sort of religious rite to ensure good fortune"? Ramadan, the Muslim version of Lent (sort of) just started. Sometimes Muslims slaughter and feast on a sheep right about now. Either the reporter doesn't know this (and thus failed to report it), or does know this and didn't report it, and chooses instead to make it sound totally weird. They did it in a park at night when no one was around (somebody call PETA!), and the reason? We're left to guess (another massive journalism fail); we're told that maybe it's illegal (fail again). Every Ash Wednesday moy payple emerge from darkened cavernous temples with our faces smeared with ash in order to frighten Protestants. My Muzzie homies are weird? Back the hell off.