Friday, January 24, 2003

French Pissing on the USA

"As far as we are concerned, war always means failure and therefore everything must be done to avoid war."
- Jacques Chirac

Like bitching, moaning and finally surrendering. Why exactly does this country have a veto in the Security Council? If the French feel there's nothing worth fighting for why don't they give up their delusions of international power and retreat to their comfortable Gallic utopia? That way they can sit on their superior backsides contentedly lobbing exasperated comments across the Atlantic, untroubled by the burden of living up to their responsibilities.

Grrr. The French insistence on keeping the UN weapons inspectors in a sort of Groundhog Day timeloop (inspectors check, Iraq dodges, UN wants more time, inspectors check and on and on...) has been praised by Europhiles here and in the States. It's maddening because these objections don't look like they're based on principle at all, as Jonah Goldberg points out. If these UN inspections are so wonderful at blocking Iraq's programmes to create weapons of mass destruction then these programmes must be real, and are only being frustrated as long as Hans Blix and his team are around:

Well, if France knows for "a fact," then France also knows for a fact that Iraq has such weapons programs. After all, you can't block or freeze what doesn't exist (if you don't find this logic compelling, go right now and tell your wife that your longstanding efforts to bed Filipino hookers have been "largely blocked, even frozen" by her constant inspections into your bank account and that she therefore has no reason to take a more aggressive posture towards you. Then, see what happens).

But even if indefinite containment was a feasible solution the French commitment to it still don't look convincing, especially since they withdrew their fighters from the northern no-fly zone in 1996 and from the southern one two years later. For believers in the efficacy of containment they have been eager to denounce the sanctions that make it possible. Now they're trying to grab the ideological high ground again by proposing the next option down the scale from war.

All this vapid posturing would be bad enough but this week the French have gone right off the conceit-o-meter by inviting Robert Mugabe for an African Summit in Paris next month, completely contrary to the spirit of EU sanctions against the dictator. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Francois Rivasseau said of the invitation:

"We respect the appropriate European procedures and it is in this context that we wanted to invite President Mugabe to take part in the France-Africa summit."

The only possible "context" is an interpretation of events flatly at odds with reality, the same sort of context that lets France wield international influence out of all proportion to its military commitment.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Acting Up

Ed Harris has a bit of a problem with George Bush. Now Bush's policies can be lampooned and criticised quite justly but is there any real need to resort this sort of character attack?

"We've got this guy in the White House who thinks he is a man . . . who projects himself as a man. Because he has a certain masculinity and he's a good old boy and he used to drink and he knows how to shoot a gun and drive a pickup truck . . . That's not the definition of a man ... "

This attracted "wild applause". Now I'm sure Ed Harris isn't lacking in balls. Anyone who endured James Cameron's brutal shoot for The Abyss (known as "The Abuse" by the cast and crew) has to be made of stern stuff. However, he isn't Judge of Men anymore than George Bush is a teacher of the Method.

I wonder if Ed counts himself among the luvvies who think Fidel Castro is a paragon of vigourous Latin masculinity?

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Free Poetry In Today's Guardian!

Not about to be outdone by the recent masterwork produced by Andrew 'Second Hand' Motion, Harold Pinter has published this opus (dopus, maybe?):

Here they go again,
The Yanks in their armoured parade
Chanting their ballads of joy
As they gallop across the big world
Praising America's God.

The gutters are clogged with the dead
The ones who couldn't join in
The others refusing to sing
The ones who are losing their voice
The ones who've forgotten the tune.

The riders have whips which cut.
Your head rolls onto the sand
Your head is a pool in the dirt
Your head is a stain in the dust
Your eyes have gone out and your nose
Sniffs only the pong of the dead
And all the dead air is alive
With the smell of America's God.

Thanks for that, Harold. I'm so glad you chose to spurn stridency in favour of gentle persuasion. A writer as educated as you clearly understands that using bilious invective will convince no-one of your case.

Seriously, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more noxious fart-cloud of self-righteousness than this, reading as it does like a cross between adolescent angst and mid-period Metallica lyrics.

Lileks is bang on today about the overlap between the antiwar movement and some unsavoury charaters:

Do reporters suppress the nature of ANSWER / ACTION because they don't want to embarrass the movement? No. Do they secretly admire the ANSWER / ACTION / WWP positions on China, North Korea, and other dictatorships? Of course not. (Cuba is another story.) Are they inclined to wonder who's behind the rallies? No. NeoNazis, Klansmen, Separatists, Militias, the Promise Keepers - these words make reporters' antennae quiver. "Communist" does not. It's an institutional blindspot, and if you doubt it, consider this:

A fashion designer premiers a line of clothes emblazoned with the hammer-and-sickle. The story runs in the variety section; there are quotes from fashionistas about retro iconography, the kitschy appeal of Socialist Realist art, and nostalgia for the stability of a binary, pre-terrorist world. The story would have the tone of a worldly cultured person peering through a monocle at a butterfly whose wings were amusingly deformed.

Now imagine that a fashion designer splatters swastikas all over the Spring Line. Would the items be reviewed with the same bemused detachment?

Quite right. The fact that the hammer and sickle and the red star were the symbols of actual tyrannies who killed millions of actual people is often watered down by excuses about how the ideal they represented wasn't inherently evil, unlike the blatant racism symbolised by the swastika.

The only response I can think of to that is if you're dead, you're dead. The precise political stripe of the ideology behind the killing matters much less than its conduct in the real world.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

A world with pre-emption

It may be the curse of men to live in interesting times, but one positive aspect of the international situation is that it does focus some people's minds on the real issues behind the rhetoric. Chris Bertram and Kevin Drum outline realistic concerns about what the doctrine of pre-emption might mean.

I think the moral case for war is strong, not because Iraq is an imminent danger to the West - it is not - but because at the end of the day a world without Saddam's regime will be better off than a world with it. It is essential to think through the implications of military action but that straightforward fact carries a lot of weight with me. Andrew Sullivan said something a while back that resonated with me too, along the lines of "if you wish the end, it's only honest to wish the means." Once pre-emption is out of the bag the world may look a bit different but I don't think the doctrine will be adopted by all and sundry as long as the United States remains boss nation.

Trying to anticipate the problems of the future is worthwhile but we shouldn't let it become the most important factor in our thinking. No matter what happens over the coming months we're going to have to deal with the future when we get there, same as usual.

Monday, January 20, 2003

You may scoff, or maybe not

Here's an multi-agency approach I'm not wild about. Strathclyde Police are setting up an number of special "family protection units" aimed at tackling domestic violence and child abuse. However, this indicates that the units will have a wider remit, being able to visit children's homes and inspect their diets.

If children are genuinely being neglected to the point of starvation, fair enough. But the quality of what they eat is no business of the Police, social workers or anyone else. Assistant Chief Constable Graeme Pearson seems set on poking his nose in:

He said: "We want to check on them and identify these issues.

"If children are malnourished or unable to sleep, they may not cope at school and, ultimately, become programmed to failure.

"Having failed at school, they are more likely to truant and become victims or get involved in crime. It is in all our interests to ensure that does not happen."

No, I think it is in all our interests if the police stick to catching criminals and leave dinner to us. Their efforts are doomed to failure anyway. A dab of social engineering here and a bit of healthy eating advice there isn't going to change the culture that created the deep-fried Mars Bar.

Schoolkids aren't going to start drinking Evian if you take away the fizzy drinks machines in their schools. The shops and fast-food outlets in the school's vicinity will just do brisker business, that's all. The West of Scotland has the worst diet in Europe and there isn't a thing the state can do about it. The government can create as many hit squads as it wants but it is fighting a hopeless battle against the bothersome reality that people eat what they like.

Which is fine by me.

A shining example to us all

More proof if any is needed that the United Nations commands the same level of moral authority as your average knocking shop. Libya has been elected as chair of the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

Actually, that's unfair to prostitutes because at least they don't indulge in worthless international powerplay. No analysis of this decision can elevate it above the level of the sick joke that it is. I could have predicted that the Commission would snub the United States, but couldn't they have chosen some innocuous developing country? Did they have to pick Libya?

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