Friday, March 28, 2003
UK troops begin looting
I couldn't resist. That's one headline you could give this story. Another would be...
British troops prefer Iraqi boots to Her Majesty's standard issue
British soldiers have been scavenging the debris of war for Iraqi army boots because the British army variety are disintegrating in the hot desert sun.
Now how's that going to look on CNN? More importantly, how is a rag-tag army going to be perceived by Iraqis? Of course, this is an Agence France Presse article, so once again, it's all France's fault.
Yes, I'm a link whore
I notice from my hit count that somebody has linked to me today. It looks like I got a mention from fellow Canuck Henry Farrell and one from Californian-American (also my wife's nationality) Kevin Drum. Thanks guys!
Also, a new link from The ReachM High Cowboy Network Noose who has earned a place on the blogroll by linking to me AND writing appreciative e-mail. And Zizka whose prose frequently graces the comments, has added a link. And, I should also recommend the folks who've been linking to me for a while, especially fellow Belgian resident Vaara, who has put up a piece on the collateral damage from the heartland's francophobia, and Silentio, who is currently immersed in an eclectic interdisciplinary thesis that intersects with my own interests. Both have been sending me quite a lot of traffic lately and have great blogs that are well worth reading.
Anyway, since my hit count is briefly up I thought I should flog my blog a little harder by directing you to my continuing posts of edited portions of my grandfather's memoirs. Another bit will be going up this weekend. You can read them from in order by going to:
Part 1: Nestor Makhno and me
Part 2: Das Alter Buch
Part 3: Out of Friesia
Part 4: One third of the way around the world in 30 days
I'm going to put up an index page for them as soon as I get around to it.
Reading different accounts
The morning's press highlights another problem in trying to follow this war. The same events seem radically different in different media.
Take this for example:
Fleeing civilians wounded by Iraqi forces
The British military today claimed that a group of Iraqi civilians trying to flee the southern city of Basra were fired upon by Iraqi mortars that were being shot in the vicinity of British forces.
Iraqi Militias Pinning Down US/UK Forces in South
Iraqi militias are pinning down US/UK forces in southern Iraq, trapping civilians in the crossfire and thwarting the invaders’ bid to advance on main cities. While many people in southern Iraq have little sympathy for President Saddam Hussein, they are increasingly angered by the chaos they blame on troops sent in an operation dubbed “Iraqi Freedom” by US President George W. Bush.
Now, as far as I can tell, these two claims - Iraq is firing on fleeing Iraqis and There are civilians caught in the crossfire - are derived from the same set of observations. However, there is a world of difference between the two. The first is, to the minds of those so inclined, further evidence of the duplicity and cruelty of the Iraqi government, the second a regrettable by-product of modern combat whose blame falls on those who've caused the fighting in the first place.
There is no shortage of this sort of thing. Tony Blair claims that Iraq has been executing POW's and that:
If anyone needed further evidence of the depravity of Saddam's regime, this atrocity provided it. It is yet one more flagrant breach of the proper conventions of war.
Indeed, I saw Mr. Blair deliver these words on BBC and he was, by all appearances, quite emotional when he said them. And yet:
Dead British soldier's family accuse Blair of lying
The family of one of two British soldiers presumed dead in Iraq has accused Tony Blair of lying over how he was killed. Sapper Luke Allsopp, 24, from Dagenham, Essex, was last seen on Sunday when he and Staff Sergeant Simon Cullingworth, 36, were caught up in enemy fire near Basra.
This is the kind of thing that leads one to distrust politicians. Pouring on the emotion over a dead serviceman, only to be contradicted not only by your own spokesmen by the British military and by the family of the deceased is the sort of thing that can end careers.
The story of the continuing debate at the UN is another one that seems very different to different commentators. The NY Times doesn't seem to have covered it at all today. The Washington Post mentions it only towards the end of an article focusing on a different topic:
Fissures Show in United Front
Before he came to Washington, Blair had said he hoped to raise the issue of healing the wounds between the United States and Europe following the bruising and unsuccessful diplomatic effort to gain a U.N. resolution endorsing military action. But the subject did not arise today, except when Blair said, "At some point we will have to come back and discuss how the disagreement arose."
The Guardian, in contrast, brings the conflict over the UN resolution into a different light:
'We are working to make the world more peaceful'
Both leaders urged the UN to resolve its political difficulties and agree a new UN security council resolution permitting the restart of the oil for food programme on which half the Iraqi people depend. Mr Blair travelled to New York last night for talks with the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, to discuss the inability of the UN to reach agreement on the resolution.
A short blurb in Le Monde focuses instead on the level of agreement at the Security Council in the middle of a news round-up article:
Bagdad violemment bombardée; nouveaux renforts américains
Accord à l'ONU sur le programme "pétrole contre nourriture"
In short, Le Monde claims that the deal is already done on the "oil-for-food" programme and the resolution will be voted on today. However, it does not tell me how Russia and Syria's issues - especially their unwillingness to allow the UN to acquiesce to a US/UK occupation - were dealt with.
Finally, after a sweep of the news sites I usually read, I came across a more complete article at Le Figaro, and the only one I've found so far focusing specifically on the UN debate.
Débat sur la place de l'ONU dans l'après-guerre
Selon la résolution qu'il a lui-même esquissée, le secrétaire général pourra réorienter les ressources qui sont déjà «dans le tuyau» pour faire face aux nouvelles priorités. Il aura notamment le pouvoir de contacter les fournisseurs pour se renseigner sur l'état d'acheminement des marchandises alimentaires et médicales qui ont été bloquées par le déclenchement des hostilités et le retrait des personnels onusiens en Irak.
Short summary for the non-bilingual: The goods already allocated under the "oil-for-food" programme can be brought into Iraq and distributed by whatever means the Secretary-General deems necessary, even if that means dealing with the US and UK to do it or, for that matter, by having the UN deal with Saddam Hussein's regime. Kofi Annan will have this power is only for the next 45 days. The real debate over the fate of the programme is thus postponed for a month and a half. Nonetheless, the resolution "reaffirms [...] the sovereignty of Iraq and its sovereignty over its natural resources" - clearly forestalling any future arrangement that allows the US and UK to control Iraqi oil.
Iraq is still under UN sanctions and will remains so even after the US occupies it, unless the UN specifically ends them. I suspect what is going to happen is that Russia and possibly France and Germany will try to use the pre-existing sanctions regime to prevent the US from selling Iraqi oil on the world market unless the UN is able to basically administer post-war Iraq. Tony Blair is, by all evidence, totally okay with this. Bush, however, is not.
This seems to me to be an important story. It's unfortunate that only one newspaper out of the six major outlets I checked covered it specifically.
Thursday, March 27, 2003
Speaking of carping and griping
The morning's Washington Post brings us a comparison between the Bush administration and a past German government without violating Godwin's law.
Smart Bombs, Dumb War
What the administration either hasn't gauged or remains blithely indifferent to is the effect that the doctrine of preemption has had on even our closest allies. Apparently, arrogating to the president of the United States the right to wage war against any nation he deems an eventual threat to the United States makes a majority of our fellow humans feel less rather than more secure.
Bingo. Bush isn't Adolf Hitler, he's Kaiser Wilhelm. Kaiser Georg. I like the sound of that.
Actually, I've been thinking about snide things to call the inevitable occupation regime in Iraq. (That's me - always planning for the future.) How about referring to the current occupant of the White House as Caliph al-Dub'ya ibn Bush? After all, "caliph" is the traditional title of the rulers of Baghdad. Or perhaps the Franks Caliphate (if indeed Tommy Franks is put in charge) by analogy with the MacArthur Shogunate. Or Barbara Bodine, Queen of Sheba. (Yes, I know, Sheba isn't in Mesapotamia. I'm reaching.)
Anyway, I'm open to suggestions.
I said so
I said here that:
I expect France, Germany and Canada will end up paying plenty to rebuild a nation destroyed at least as much by American leaders as Saddam Hussein. Why will they do that? Because unlike America's leaders and so many of its hawks and counter to Mr Bruner's belief, those other nations' leaders and publics generally have a heart.
And from today's Globe and Mail:
Canada pledges $100-million in aid to Iraq
Ottawa — Canada will provide $100-million to aid people in Iraq, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien said Wednesday in the Commons.
As I pointed out here, the US is only offering $500 million in humanitarian aid. This means that Canada is contributing about 14% as much, even though it has less than a tenth of the GDP of the US and isn't even supporting this war. Offering aid money isn't going to improve Canada's relations with the US at all - the article implies that the money is going to the UN - and yet Canada is doing it anyway.
That's the kind of behaviour that makes Canadians proud of their country. Note the difference between this and shoring up patriotic sentiment by going off to war.
(This has been Pedantry's annual nationalistic outburst. We now return you to your regular expatriate carping and griping.)
Americans are often inclined to describe the relationship of their country with Canada as "close friendship." The blunt, horrifying and awful truth - well known to basically everyone in Canada - is almost diametrically the opposite. No, Canadians are not likely to start sending suicide bombers into American buildings, but the relationship could be far more accurately described as intermittently acrimonious, like two neighbours who don't really see eye-to-eye very often, but have to live next to each other and usually try to remain civil about it.
Canada and the US are next to each other. For the most part, we both speak English and the border is fairly open. Neither side can dehumanise the other enough to make relations between the two openly hostile. However, US-Canada relations are about as bad as such circumstances allow, and they have always been that way.
Canada - in its former incarnation as the Dominion of Canada - was founded in part in response to US efforts to claim the whole territory as reparations for British support for the Confederacy in the US Civil War. By establishing Canada as a state - at least of sorts - it was able to cut off that whole line of thnking in Washington. Canada built the trans-Canada railway out of fear that if the US controlled transportation in and out of the Canadian west, they would eventually annex it. There was actually a brief shooting war in 1859 over the exact border between the US and Canada. Fortunately, the only casualty was a pig.
In the 1860's and 70's the US harboured and assisted a group of terrorists known as the Fenians, who had as their ambition the overthrow of the Canadian government. The US actively tried to gain control of western Canada in the aftermath of the Riel rebellion, and the two nations nearly came to war in disputes over Canadian inland fisheries in the 1880's. Then, at the turn of the century, the US used troops, political pressure on London and manipulative appointments to the border commission to get a new treaty over the disputed Alaskan border. This new border favoured the US beyond any reasonable interpretation of the old Russian border agreement, and enraged Canadians. It was in response to this betrayal by London that Canada finally obtained control over its own foreign policy.
It is only from about the end of WWI to the 1957 federal election that the US and Canada enjoyed anything that could be construed as good relations at all. Diefenbaker viscerally hated JFK, especially after the US started pressing Canada to join the OAS and take positions at the UN more in line with America's. There was the continuing fighting over Cuba, which did far more to damage to US-Canada relations than it actually hurt Cuba in the 60's, 70's and 80's. The US now has a law allowing it to deport Canadian businessmen visiting the US because they do business in Cuba, and although the Clinton administration kept blocking enforcement, with Bush it seems likely to become an issue again. Canada's position on the Vietnam war also earned it regular sniping from Washington, especially after '73 when the Canadian parliament passed a resolution condemning Nixon's efforts to prolong the war. If it hadn't been for Watergate, it is doubtful that Canada's oil industry nationalisation could have happened - especially in the middle of the 1973 oil embargo - without completely poisoning US-Canada relations.
It should surprise no one that Pierre Trudeau and Richard Nixon hated each other. Nixon went to far as to state that the US should start treating Canada like every other nation and do away with the special privileges created by the long common border.
It is time for us to recognize that we have very separate identities; that we have significant differences; and that nobody's interests are furthered when these realities are obscured. - Richard Nixon
Of course, this was from the man who called Pierre Trudeau an asshole, to which the man replied with one of the great comebacks of all time: "I've been called worse things by better men."
So, US-Canada animosity is hardly new. Vast areas of Canadian cultural life and political policy are defined in response and often by opposition to the US. Contrast this with Australia, arguably the most pro-American of the major former British colonies. Remoteness changes the whole nature of the relationship between the two.
So why then, do Americans believe that Canada is "their friend"? This is why:
Today's Aislin - go to Canada.com for his daily editorial cartoon
With the exception of the unusually perceptive Matthew Yglesias, Americans pay very little attention to Canadian affairs. People who - all of a sudden - have become experts on the history of the middle east when Bush decides to go to war with there, are unable to name two Canadian political parties. How many Americans even know that the US and Canada are engaged in a lengthy and expensive trade dispute over softwood lumber, one that had sharply lowered Canadian opinion of the US even before the Bush election? Or the running disputes - on one occaision resulting in direct action against Americans travelling through Canada - over fishing rights in the Pacific? I assure you that everyone in Canada knows about it.
How much reporting has this story had in the US? The US deported a Canadian citizen - in possession of a Canadian passport - to Syria! Canadian consular officials have been allowed only the bare minimum of access to him in Syria. Since he was born in Syria - and consequently can not forswear Syrian citizenship - Canada has no right to assist him when he is in Syria. Or this fiasco involving multiple violations of the Vienna Convention. Imagine if this had happened to an American. Bush would be bombing the country as we speak.
Quotes from members of the governing Liberal Party:
For Canadians, having the Bush administration send their enforcer to make veiled threats is just another sign of deep contempt from the United States government. I realise that it's more a sign of the mafia mindset of the current US president than any deep public sentiment, but for many Canadians it doesn't much matter who is in the White House. The only thing new about the Bush administration is that now they say and do these things in public.
I used to at least feel confidient that it could never get too bad between the US and Canada. For Americans to dehumanise Canadians the way Arabs have been dehumanised since Sept 11 is something I considered just about impossible. Recently, I have had to rethink that conclusion, because I would have thought it nearly as difficult to do to the French. I had long thought advocating a a belligerent position towards Canada would induce a reality check in any mentally healthy American. However, take a look at a couple of the posters here:
All you need to do to change canadian policy is create 10 hour lines at the border... and have everyone using airports go through a 30 minute interview... you could effectively close the border without any real actions... 40% of canada's gdp is based on us exports... so a little pressure goes a long way (and effect is immediate!)
I know a couple of trolls aren't representative of all America, but for the last 20 years I've watched the jackasses go from victory to victory, and the new xenophobia in America scares the shit out of me. It is no longer beyond credibility that Americans could treat Canada the way Europe is getting treated now.
Wednesday, March 26, 2003
You can't just go pushing Canada around
Calpundit draws some much needed attention to the way the Bushvitsii are trying to push Canada around, and the way this is certain to just alienate and create resentment. I'll see if I have time in the morning to blog more substantially on the matter.
Also, great quote from Hobsbawn, who is a just about endless source of good one-liners:
For 80% of humanity the middle ages ended suddenly in the 1950's; or perhaps better still, they were i>felt to end in the 1960's.
Too much going on to have a general theme to blog on, and I've got too much work since the Danish client now wants the stuff we've been offering the English client - and I am the source of said stuff.
I hope everyone is enjoying their first war on Internet time. I'd point to a few specific novelties of the new war:
Überblogger Sean Paul Kelley, who has volunteered his services as your non-stop archived war news resource, posting so fast he has to warn us when he's going to take a dump.
Salam Pax blogging at you from the heart of Baghdad. Illegitimi non carborundum.
Venik's Aviation - the best source of rumours, innuendo and war gossip on the web. It's probably all bullshit - but who cares? At least it's entertaining bullshit. I especially like this bit:
The US experts already call this war a "crisis". "It was enough for the enemy to show a little resistance and some creative thinking as our technological superiority begun to quickly lose all its meaning. Our expenses are not justified by the obtained results. The enemy is using an order of magnitude cheaper weapons to reach the same goals for which we spend billions on technological whims of the defense industry!" said Gen. Stanley McCrystal during the same Pentagon meeting.
Anyway - I have to admit, if nothing else it's been an entertaining war so far. But when do we see act three? The current set of subplots - Nassirah, Basra, Umm Qasr - is getting old. Fortunately, it seems Iraq is mounting a counter-offensive in a sandstorm, just as the fighting was starting to bog down.
Maybe by morning there'll be something worth commenting on.
Tuesday, March 25, 2003
Our Leader Speaks
The latest from the cartoonist lauriate of the left-coast dot-com experience, Patrick Farley. Also see his previous shot at Dubya, Empathy in Our Time.
I'm thinking of putting up links to comics - the obscure web comics that I read - on the irregular basis that they come out. Any interest out there?
US Congress gets $75bn war bill
As part of our continuing series on the cost of war, I direct you to this new spending bill before Congress. It represents the first effort to obtain funding for the conflict. The bill essentially breaks down in two parts: $60 billion for the war, and $14.7 billion for the peace. Total: $74.7 billion, or $1037.50 per US household. This is just for fiscal 2003 - which ends in October. The president is expecting to request additional funding to bring the total for the war to $62.5 billion, if I am correctly reading the BBC article, which uses too damn many passive verbs. The war alone is therefore costing US households $868 a piece.
What is interesting is to look at this on a per Iraqi basis. With 24 million Iraqis, the war is costing $2604.17 per Iraqi or 104% of estimated Iraqi GDP per capita at PPP. It would cost about the same to give every person in Iraq more than a year's wages, free of charge, and let them take the next year off. It would, to my mind, be a significantly better use for the money than fighting the war in the first place. Indeed, had the US promised a six-month sabatical for the whole country and a free billion in cash for whoever came out on top if only they'd put Saddam Hussein's head on a stake, I have to wonder if it wouldn't have worked out better than this whole sorry business. There are certainly days when I could kill for a vacation.
You would think, therefore, that the US must be putting up a load of cash to rebuild the country, feed the masses, and get them doctors, schools and roads. You would of course be wrong. Bush has asked for a total of $2.2 billion for Iraqi reconstruction and aid, $500 million in humanitarian assistance and $1.7 billion in reconstruction aid. This comes to $20.83 in humantiarian aid per Iraqi and only $70.83 per Iraqi in reconstruction aid. The grand total that the US instends to spend on nation building in Iraq in the next six months is only 3.83% of Iraqi GDP.
This is equivalent to giving each American household $5000, so it's not quite so bad as it seems, however, five grand is not enough money to rescue a destitute family in America, and $90 isn't enough to do it in Iraq. Is this really enough money to make Iraqis glad to live under American rule? It comes to $30.56 per American household. This is only 2.9% of the whole fiscal 2003 cast of the war.
There will be aid going to other countries as well. There is $400 million for Afghanistanistan, which is $14.41 per Afghani or 1.80% of GDP. Egypt and Jordan are getting $1 billion each, or $14.14 per Egyptian (home of several 9/11 terrorists) and $188.68 per Jordanian - almost four and half percent of GDP in Jordan. The big winner though is - surprise! - Israel. With their $10 billion in grants and loans they will be getting $1658.65 per Israeli (not counting Palestinians since you know they're not going to spend it on social services in Gaza.) This comes to a whopping 8.73% of Israeli GDP at PPP. Israel will be receiving more than twice the aid being given to all the Muslim states put together. I assume this will buy us a lot of hearts and minds in Israel.
All this should, of course, be put in light of the existing budget deficit, which is projected to reach $300 billion this fiscal year. On a per household basis, that means the government is going $4166.67 on your behalf this year alone, not including the cost of war.
Monday, March 24, 2003
What an unholy mess
The Dow's down over 300 points, and the dollar's dropped one and a half eurocents from Friday's close. Since American business seems to be all that matters to this administration, the war is clearly going badly.
The Dow over the last five days
The US dollar versus the Euro over the last five days
Even the NYT is reporting that things aren't going according to plan. In the Guardian, they're reporting resistance across the country, and even among those not resisting, there is no real enthusiasm for an American occupation.
It seems even Umm Qasr, a small port city basically on the Kuwaiti border, still isn't fully secure. There's talk among the war nerds that it's been a real mistake to go so far so fast and that the supply lines of the advancing troops aren't secure.
Most disturbing perhaps is this:
Marines losing the battle for hearts and minds
Hopes of a joyful liberation of a grateful Iraq by US and British armies are evaporating fast in the Euphrates valley as a sense of bitterness, germinated from blood spilled and humiliations endured, begins to grow in the hearts of invaded and invader alike.
If the Marines are getting angry at taking casualties in what was supposed to be an easy war and taking it out on civil populations - or even if they are merely perceived as doing so - they are just asking for blowback. If true, it's grossly unprofessional and cowardly behaviour, but even if it just seems that way, it's bad.
Even worse - for those of us not threatened directly by the war - is this piece:
Death to French fries
Vilification of the enemy is normal in wartime. But, last we heard, the French were not the actual enemy. [...]
If the German opposition has been in contact with the US, it lends one to consider the possibility that in the not too distant future, the next German government may take America's side on foreign policy, while Blair- who seems likely to have terminiated his career - may well be replaced with someone less inclined towards the US and more willing to cooperate with France.
Of course, if Bush screws his German allies the way he seems to be screwing up all America's other relationships, the next German government may not take the American line at all.
Even Guillaume Parmentier in Le Figaro, who is about as pro-American as mainstream French conservatives get, hasn't missed the instability of America's new friendships and the degree to which the US has shafted its allies.
Paris-Washington: le prix à payer
[L]e divorce est prononcé entre les opinions publiques et les gouvernements des Etats de l'Union européenne ayant choisi le suivisme à l'égard de l'Administration Bush. Mais l'Europe centrale et orientale a manifesté un tropisme atlantiste dont personne ne peut dire combien de temps il durera. La clé proviendra sans doute des implications qui seront tirées, dans les pays dont les gouvernements ont préféré suivre les Américains, du lâchage récent de Tony Blair par l'Administration Bush en marquant sa détermination à attaquer l'Irak même sans résolution du Conseil de Sécurité, alors que cette perspective pourrait être lourde politiquement pour leur allié.
Parmentier points out - correctly I think - that there isn't likely to be very much economic blowback from France's stand on Iraq.
C'est cependant dans notre relation avec les Etats-Unis que le prix à payer risque d'être le plus élevé. Encore ne faut-il pas commettre d'erreur. Beaucoup de commentateurs évoquent la perspective de conséquences économiques et commerciales, mais peu se sont penchés sur le prix politique que la France aura à payer. Or c'est l'inverse qu'il convient de faire. Sur le plan économique, toute action officielle des Etats-Unis aurait pour effet de les placer en contravention avec les règles de l'Organisation mondiale du commerce, et aboutirait nécessairement à leur condamnation devant l'organe de règlement des différends de l'OMC. On peut donc exclure que les Américains se placent dans cette situation.
Parmentier appears to agree with Le Monde - see below - that a grand federal Europe working with one mind and one policy appears to be out of the question.
Quant aux pays européens qui se sont alignés sur les positions américaines, ils seront trop heureux demain de contrer les positions européennes de notre pays. C'est une des raisons pour lesquelles la Convention européenne présidée par M. Giscard d'Estaing est en danger. L'ambition française de faire de l'Union européenne un véritable acteur de la vie internationale n'est pas réalisable sans un satisfecit au moins passif des Etats-Unis, ne serait-ce que parce que nos partenaires européens ne souscriront pas à un projet qu'ils jugeraient contraire à l'entente transatlantique.
However, he wants to solve this problem by repairing US-French relations, and I think the tacit support for a federal Europe that he believes Europe needs will never come from this or any other administration. He does, however, correctly see that a long and difficult war will make repairing relations with the US much harder to do.
Le multilatéralisme auquel la France est attachée ne peut en effet fonctionner que quand un minimum d'unité existe entre les Etats qui le pratiquent. Il est heureux que le président Chirac ait affirmé son souhait que la guerre menée par les Américains soit brève et victorieuse, car plus elle sera longue et difficile, plus elle compliquera le rapprochement franco-américain, qui constitue la condition d'un succès des ambitions internationales de la France.
Fat chance. If French international aspirations require good relations with Washington, they're screwed. I'm not sure that there will be any way to repair Franco-American relations short of the complete repudiation of the Republican Party, or at least the last decade of Republican leadership by American voters.
When I started studying Chinese, I did so in large part because I asked myself, if in my old age I have to fall back on my language skills to find work, what language will be most in demand? I decided that what would be most useful would be speaking the language of whoever the US considered its biggest enemy. I gambled that it would be Chinese. If I had known Sept. 11 was coming, I would have studied Arabic. Now, I'm asking myself if French isn't going to become the language of resistance to America. This certainly has advantages for me - I already speak French. Once again, I stand to profit from that jackass in the White House.
If it turns out that way, it will be because America created its enemy. The process seems already to be well underway if Jean-Marie Colombani's editorial by in today's Le Monde is to be taken as a guide.
Au-delà du "non"
Et s'il ne s'agissait que de cela : la fumée et les flammes sur le palais présidentiel de Bagdad, pour faire oublier, pour venger la fumée et les flammes sur les tours jumelles de Manhattan ? Comment ne pas rapprocher les deux images ? Comment ne pas percevoir ce message délibéré ? Après le 11 septembre 2001, il fallait que l'Amérique fût vengée.
Le Monde is right to be looking for ways to continue without the US and these are good questions, but look where this thinking is leading. Colombani is advocating a core Europe - Europe à deux vitesses - with a common defense and foreign policy as well as a strategic doctrine and the force to back it up and the marginalisation of other European states. An editor at Le Monde is advocating that Europe rearm itself in order to keep America from being able to take the route it is taking now in Iraq - that's what it has come to. And he's right to ask the French government to tread softly with Tony Blair, seeing I think the distinct possiblity that the UK will be more alligned with France in the future, and less aligned with America.
He's also asking the right question: would this war in Iraq even have been possible if half the troops in the Persian Gulf had been European? He's also come to what I think is the right conclusion about the EU. It will not be possible in the forseeable future to build a coherent power ot of the existing EU. There will have to be a core alliance within the EU that takes the next step in building a common sovereignty and drags the rest along.
Colombani is not adovacating taking a defensive stance against the US directly (clearly he hasn't been reading Seteven den Beste) but rather demanding that the EU be able to send comparable sized forces everywhere that America sends troops. But it's hard for me to see how this can possibly avoid raising tensions and creating new hostility.
I grew up in the last Cold War and I don't really want to raise children in another one.
Looks like Salam Pax is still blogging, wherever he is
Where is Raed? has a new - but not very informative - post up. It's about an hour old as I type this. Assuming he is for real, he must have survived the last few nights of bombing. Rock on, dude.
(You're gong to have to excuse me - it's a slooooow day in the code mines. First cats, and now a link without comment.)
Since everybody else seems to be using their blogs to put up cat photos, I thought I ought to do what all the cool kids are doing.
This is (from left to right) Boris and Natasha lying on our bed in Leuven.
The blogroll, the road to Bactra and other pedantry
I have been meaning to update the blogroll for a copuple weeks now, and I just haven't gotten around to it. Vaara's URL has moved, and there are a few other folks I ought to add. It's a pain in the ass because the blogroll is hard-coded into my template, and every URL in my template with an ampersand in it suddenly has an "&" in it. I then have to go through it manually.
However, I'm going to draw attention to one special blog: 3-toed sloth. 3-toed sloth is run by one Cosma Shalizi - something of a 'Net personality from the olden days. I've been reading Cosma since his psychoceramics days, and his PhD thesis was what finally crystalised my - hopefully not too far in the future - PhD thesis plan, in part because I disagree with him on several matters, and in part because I didn't see why he and Jim Crutchfield should be having all the fun messing with information and computing theory. You see, I got into soft computing, strange math and the philosophy of science in large part because I had been reading Cosma Shalizi, which is why I now have a Master's in Applied Science instead of linguistics.
Cosma's been posting bits and pieces of interesting notions, book reviews, reading lists for very funky research plans, and an incredible collection of notes on diverse topics on his website for years now. Furthermore, I've just discovered that - first - he links to me, and second has a blog which he hasn't updated in a month. Actually, I've noticed that since he got married, he hasn't done nearly so many book reviews or additions to his notebook. I suppose that's a good sign for him, but a whole lot less good for me as someone who has nearly built a career stealing his ideas.
Well Cosma - I'm going to link to you to encourage you to keep blogging. You're going on the blogroll - in the morning when I get around to it - so now you gotta write because I may actually have a dozen readers, and they're all going to click through to your blog.
Update: Done fixing the blogroll. There is no fixed policy or order to it. I try to link to everybody who links to me or who regularly comments here, so if I've missed someone, drop me a line. The other sites are just the places I read regularly.
Sunday, March 23, 2003
Americans attacked at Brussels peace demo! - Not
Vaara has some photos up from yesterday's march on the American embassy in Brussels. It was a pretty angry crowd - there was even a flag burning. But, we were there and chatting in English the whole time, and no one bothered us about it.
One third of the way around the world in 30 days
(Read Part 1, 2, 3)
I've always been fascinated by travelling. Those moments in life that are between places are so full of purpose and intent and so much more a stage for the human drama than a trip to the mall or eating in a restaurant. People who would otherwise never in all their lives come into contact are - in modern times - frequently compelled to share public transportation facilities.
Not that airports and railways stations are egalitarian places - quite the opposite. Nowhere is class and the privileges that money can buy more on display than in the modern airport, where first class, business class and "economy" passengers are herded into different parts of aeroplanes with different levels of comfort. No one who has flown coach on the Singapore airlines San Francisco-Hong Kong-Singapore route at the end of the school year and had to share it with young Asian graduate students with multiple young children will have missed the benefits of flying first class. Even on the ground, well-heeled passengers have access to lounges, free drinks, showers and special bathrooms to make transit just that much less unpleasant, not to mention shorter check-in lines and quicker inspections.
But travel - not simply shuttling between places or going on vacation but changing your scenery by moving permanently - is something besides just a trip. Perhaps it is because I - like my father and grandfather - have moved around so much that it means something to me. It means being in a netherworld of impermanence and flux, where only direction and destination have any substance. It's a chance to examine yourself without the distractions of day-to-day life pulling you back into routine, and to reinvent yourself by leaving the past behind. That is what I find fascinating in travel.
The romantic in me would like to say it's because of my ancestor - Grandpa's maternal grandmother - who was a gypsy infant abandoned in a Mennonite village and adopted by a local couple. Her highly ungermanic complexion ran in my family right up to my father, who had approximately the skin and hair colour of Cheech Marin and was constantly assumed to be Hispanic when we lived in the US. Unfortunately, so many generations of marriage to blonds has done in the family's dark, mysterious look, and my brother and I both have a more traditional German sort of complexion.
Besides, considering my well-known opinion of evolutionary psychology, it would be pretty strange for me to say that travel was in my genes. Grandpa moved around a lot for a number of different reasons, as did my parents. I can account for my wanderlust far more easily by simply saying that it's what I'm used to and nowadays there aren't any barriers to stop me.
At one time, the Martenses travelled first class. I have known for as long as I can remember that they were well-off in Russia. Grandpa's memoirs make this abundantly clear with its talk of estates, servants and advanced university educations. The men of the family were engineers - making me at least a sixth generation techno-dweeb - and apparently they were good at it. While researching Grandpa's story, I discovered just how wealthy they were. Although Grandpa only talks about the family's share in the neighbouring farm implement factory, I have discovered through other sources that they were part owners of the A. J. Koop Company, which in 1913 merged with two other companies to form the massive Urozhay (Russian for "Harvest") conglomerate - a public stock company that traded on the Moscow Stock Exchange. This company controlled the farm machinery industry in all of the Russian Empire and was worth tens of millions of roubles, doubtless hundreds of millions of dollars in modern currency.
Advertisement for the A. J. Koop Company 50th anniversary in 1914
The Martenses were major figures in the company - having a huge company house next to a factory is a dead give-away - although exactly what their role was I don't know. It is possible that my great-grandfather was a scion of one of the wealthiest families in the country short of the titled nobility. It is therefore no surprise that so much of Grandpa's complaints about the Bolsheviks has to do with the idea that they were thieves. This is the complaint of expropriated bourgeois everywhere. While Nestor Makhno is to Russian Mennonites something like what Adolf Hitler is to Jews, the resentment towards the Bolsheviks has a whole other sort of feel to it. It's always about the "godless communists" and how they "stole from the people."
The company - or at least something that enjoys some continuity with the A. J. Koop Company - existed beyond 1920. In 1921 the nationalised factories were reopened under the name Kommunar and in 1930 one of the company's Mennonite engineers - a man named Peter Dyck - received the Order of Lenin for designing and bringing into production Russia's first combine. This was, apparently, a key component of Stalin's plan for increasing agricultural production in collectivised farms. In 1959, the plant began producing automobiles, building Zaporozhets model cars, and later the Tauria. In 1998, after privatisation, it became part of a joint venture with the Daewoo company in South Korea, manufacturing in the late 1990's Tavria-Nova, Lanos, Nubira, Leganza and Slavuta model cars. For the last couple of years, it has assembled Mercedes model "E" and "ML" cars. The joint-venture company is now called AvtoZAZ-Daewoo and has a website.
Current Logo of AvtoZAZ
But, Grandpa's story is set in 1927. The nationalisation of the factories is over and done with and the Martenses are reduced to living like everyone else in Russia - in poverty and uncertainty. There is no evidence that they had been the special target of the police or the Communist Party. I have received no tales of them being especially harassed after the disappearance of Nestor Makhno, just stories of resentment and poverty. Later on, Stalin did make the Mennonites suffer - more for the crime of being German and for having uncertain loyalties than anything else. But so many people were inconvenient to Stalin, and the Mennonites didn't really suffer any more than so many others.
Grandpa's mother and the Martens family must have had some money - although from what source I don't know - because they were still able to pay their own way to Canada. My guess is that they were, ultimately, willing to serve the Soviet Union's crying need for technicians and engineers until they were able to get out. They travelled in third class, like common immigrants, which at the time was all that they were.
Grandpa has kept quite a mass of documentation from his trip to Canada. I have photocopies of great-grandmother's red USSR passport, immigration paperwork from along the way, as well as a photo of the "S.S. Montroyal" and a breakfast menu from one morning aboard. They travelled a third of the way around the world in under one month, a remarkable achievement considering that when Mennonites first came to Manitoba 50 years earlier, it took a half a year, going via the Great Lakes on a paddle-wheel ferry and by coach across the plains. Fifty years later - when Grandpa's uncle visited - it took only a day to make the same trip, Aeroflot to Montreal via Leningrad and Air Canada to Winnipeg.
That is how I have always taken this part of Grandpa's story - as a sort of reverse science fiction story. It is a tale not of how wonderful the future will be but of how different the past was, and how much more wonderful it was than what preceded it. Consider how remarkable it must have been to live in a world where refugees could rely on a network of agents and offices spanning the globe to assist them in reaching a destination on the other side of the world, to be able to pre-pay for travel in a distant country weeks in advance, and to put yourself on the other side of the planet in under a month. And all of this was co-ordinated by high-tech international telegram and telephone technology.
It was the beginning of the new world, an era of stamps and papers and immigration offices that had not existed before. And the Martenses would have to navigate this new world largely on their wits, for their money was long gone. But I should let Grandpa tell you about the trip first.
Although I was seven years old, my mother managed to keep me out of school because she did not want me to go to school with the communists. Mother and Aunt Njuta took the initiative to acquire passports for the family. All of Einlage had to be evacuated because the water would rise, the town would be flooded. Maybe that made it easier to get passports. Mother could not explain why she had been registered as the daughter of labourers. Her parents had been estate owners. God has unexplainable ways of doing things.