Gay creationists in government

Hessia’s education minister Karin Wolff has recently drawn attention for proposing that school biology lessons include the biblical creation story. Now she has drawn attention by outing herself as gay. All too many politicians pander to creationists; and some out themselves. But it’s pretty rare, I’d think, that the same politician does both.

Wolff will have needed a bit of courage to come out; but probably not too much. There are some homophobes in Germany, and I suppose Wolff’s conservative Christian Democratic Union is where they’d feel most at home. But even CDU people, for the most part, won’t be much bothered. (It’s public knowledge, for example, that the CDU mayor of Hamburg, Ole von Beust, is gay; the Union wouldn’t dream of sidelining him. His title is misleading, by the way. Because Hamburg is both a city and a federal state, von Beust is no mere mayor but head of a state government.)

By coming out, perhaps Wolff hoped to draw attention away from the creationism flap. The Frankfurter Rundschau, by contrast, suggests she outed herself as a tactic against intra-party opponents — by announcing she is a lesbian, she makes it harder for enemies within the CDU to criticise her without appearing bigots. Well, ‘maybe’ on both counts. But perhaps Wolff simply thought, ‘This is who I am, I’m not ashamed of it and I’m not going to hide any more.’ If that’s the case, good for her.

She still needs her ears boxed over the creationism thing, mind you.

Bosnia: Exit the Doctor

Here’s the short version. Bosnia has this thing called a “High Representative”. The High Rep is not a Bosnian. He’s a European charged with overseeing implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement (the 1995 treaty that has kept the various Bosnian groups from each others’ throats), and also with “representing the international community” in Bosnia.

The High Rep is much more than a diplomat. He’s really more like a colonial governor. He can pass laws and fire Bosnian politicians. If he flexes his muscles, he’s really the final authority in the country. You might think this is strange in what’s nominally a sovereign European state, but Bosnia is a strange place.

For four years, 2002-6, the High Rep was a British fellow named Paddy Ashdown. Paddy took his job seriously and did not hesitate to use his powers. He didn’t like nationalist politicians and he wanted Bosnia to act like a real country. So he banged some heads and stepped on a lot of toes.

Many, both in Bosnia and in the international community, did not like this. Paddy was accused of being an old-fashioned imperialist, high-handed, divisive. Furthermore, said many, he was stunting the political growth of the Bosnian state. As long as Paddy was there to twist arms, the Bosnians would never learn to solve their own problems.

So when Paddy left, the job was given to an elderly, mild-mannered German politician, Dr. Christian Schwarz-Schilling. Dr. Schwarz-Schilling made it clear in advance that he did not plan to use the powers of the High Rep’s office. In fact, he saw his job as overseeing the position’s liquidation. He “didn’t believe in colonialism for Bosnia,” said the good Doctor. The High Rep’s office would gradually ramp down, aiming for a complete shutdown within a year or two. The Bosnians would assume responsibility for their own destiny. Polite clapping all around.

That was a year ago.
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Virtual politics and real bullets

The Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, renowned for her reporting on the North Caucasus wars, was murdered yesterday in an evident assassination (three shots, two to the chest and one to the head) in the lift leading to her home. It was the birthday of the Russian President, and just after the birthday of the Russian-appointed prime minister of Chechnya, who she was about to accuse of torture. After a week of rising hysteria in the Russian media and state, with a wave of goon-squad assaults on Georgian businesses and the collection of sinister lists of Georgian-sounding schoolchildren – what, pray, is the purpose of this? – this ought to inter any lingering myths of Russian democracy. It is time to grasp that we are sharing a continent with a very large tyranny, in fact, that we never ceased to do so.

Exactly what will happen next is unclear, but the worst must be assumed. The reaction of Europe so far appears to be deafening silence. See the BBC report above for a tasty quote from the secretary of the Council of Europe, Terry Davis, suggesting she was killed by “self-appointed executioners”. Self-appointed? I don’t think his Midlands constituents lost very much when they voted him out back in 2004. No Baltic gas pipelines were involved, so German silence is a given, France will presumably continue to find Russian support on the UNSC useful, and Britain will probably shut up – hasn’t Tony Blair prided himself on his personal relationship with Putin? (Personal politics, the great delusion of the last hundred years.)

If you need any convincing, I recommend Andrew Wilson’s book Virtual Politics: Faking Democracy in the Post-Soviet World. This is a truly impressive march through a morass of deceit and state-sponsored bullshit, whose central thesis is simply that most of Russian politics, as it was marketed both to the Russians and also to the western politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats who funded it through the 1990s, does not exist. Parties do not have members, policies, or constitutions, and do not represent real interest groups. Even when, like the Communist Party, they actually do exist, they are frequently not actually trying to win the elections-sensationally, Wilson quotes a senior Communist as being horrified how close the party came to unwanted victory in 1996.

Instead, parties, movements and politicians are usually prepared from whole cloth for specific political projects, and created in the public mind by a barrage of TV advertising for the mass and outrageous web propagandists for the elite. It is possible to buy an entire political party, tailored to one’s specifications, from $100,000.
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Forget It Jacques, It’s Clearstream

It never stops when your blog has to cover an entire continent. Hardly had the Italian left taken AFOE’s advice to get Giorgio Napolitano elected as president than the Clearstream scandal in France was getting out of hand, and nothing at all on the blog! Fortunately, at the moment the news from that quarter is coming so thick and at such a howling rate of speed that it wasn’t going to be hard to catch up. The latest despatches suggest that, firstly, it was De Villepin and Chirac, and secondly, that the victim-Nicolas Sarkozy-probably has something to hide too, as in any good film noir.

And that’s before you get on to the 300 million francs in the president’s secret Japanese bank account. Allegedly.

So what is a Clearstream and why is it a scandal? Clearstream is a bank clearing house in Luxembourg that permits banks to carry out international payments on a net basis, paying just the balance of their transactions in cash every business day. It has a bad reputation in France because of one Denis Robert, who has written three books alleging that it’s responsible for money laundering on a vast scale. But more relevantly, it’s also the supposed cause of a major political crisis.
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On Predictability.

While the entire world is admiring Londoners for their ability to not let the terror destroy their way of life, while London mayor Ken Livingston is taking the Tube each morning, because not doing so would prove the terrorists strategy right, the British government is reinforcing its ongoing quest to get hold of as much information about citizens as possible. I’d call it “opportunistic”, they’d call it “concerned”.
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‘Those Politicians’

Last Monday I had some ironing to do. Then I remembered that television still has one advantage over surfer-blogging: you can do the ironing at the same time. Of course the upcoming referendum was on several channels. I could not stand more than 20 minutes of it though (neither the ironing nor the tv). The various program presenters seemed to want to make it look like this was a political *debate as usual*, or so it seemed. National politicians dominated the guest lists. And most of them did what we expect from them nowadays: instead of seriously and conscientiously considering arguments, the majority of them seemed more intent on achieving a high score in something resembling a high-school debating-contest. Television comes in handy here.

In fact one of these *debates* was actually organized like a contest. Six politicians were invited. On every issue two of them went into a direct confrontation and the 6-minute sessions were immediately followed by a ‘flash vote’. And the winner is…
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If You’re Surprised By This You Shouldn’t Be

Really, much as I would like to see a marked and rapid improvement in the democratic climate in Iraq, forgive me if I can’t help considering most of the discussion about the possibilitiesof this occuring in the near future a bit like a contemporary revamp of ‘innocents abroad’. At the end of the day all these endless ‘corruption indexes’ that you see published from time to time in the press do actually mean something. Having lived in a society that was relatively less corrupt (the UK) and one that is relatively more (Spain), I do get to note some important differences. One of these relates to the social standing of politicians.
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Some thoughts

Scott said in comments to the Anna Lindh post: “They also claim that Sweden has a fairly high murder rate by European standards. Considering how often reports on this murder have evoked how safe Sweden is, and how politicians hardly need bodyguards, I found this claim very surprising.”

It turns out we’re at the EU average, but his comment did spawn these thoughts of mine:

Perhaps it wouldn’t be that surprising. The difference between crime frequency between the US and Sweden surely is huge, but I suspect the difference in how safe people feel is even greater. I know that crime was a much bigger election issue in for example France and other countries than in Sweden last year. It’s possible we have somewhat more crime than a some other countries, but feel a lot more safe and unconcerened than them.

An interesting thing I read is that residents of the poor immigrant suburbs of Stockholm felt much, much more unsafe than residents of neighbouring middle class neighbourhoods, to the point where it was seriously detrimental to their quality of life, even though the incidence of violent crimes was rougly similar.

People’s perceptions are (in this regard) more influenced by the media, by prejudice, and by the mood of the culture, than they are by actual facts.

As to not using bodyguards; we already had the Palme murder, and still it’s only the prime minister that always uses bodyguards. From what everyone tells me, most countries are different, I would guess that includes even ones without comparable experiences. It’s a cultural issue.

Partly it’s a question of our self-image and what I discussed above, but I believe it’s also because in some ways the political elites aren’t as far apart from the electorate as they are in many other countries. And what’s worth noting is that I’m not talking about the electorate’s attitude, but that of the politicians. To stop shopping in department stores and taking the train, etcetera, to stop living more or less like an ordinary middle class person, is an intolerable sacrifice for many Swedish politicians on the highest level. I’m only speculating here, but is that really as true of say French politicians?

This isn’t a minor thing, but a great strenghth of Swedish democracy, and that’s one reason why this is so horrible. On the other hand, again looking at the Palme case, maybe things will mostly stay the same after all.