Monday, February 21, 2005

More on Hariri

The Syrian autocracy has been looking very shaky in the last few weeks, as Tom Friedman highlights again in his latest column today:
Throughout history, Beirut's streets have been reserved for the "defense of pan-Arab causes," wrote Mr. Kassir. But with the funeral for Rafik Hariri, Arab nationalism has taken on a new aim, he declared: "Today, the nationalist cause has shrunk into the single aim of getting rid of the regimes of terrorism and coups, and regaining the peoples' freedom as a prelude to a new Arab renaissance. Thus hundreds of thousands of free citizens walked in Rafik Hariri's funeral - while only a paltry cortege mobilized by the single party and its intelligence apparatuses walked in [former Syrian President] Hafez al-Assad's funeral a few years ago. [With the Hariri funeral] Beirut was the beating heart of a new Arab nationalism. ... This nationalism is based on the free will of citizens, male and female. And this is what the tyrannical [Syrian] regime should fear more than anything else if it tarries about ending its hegemony over Beirut and Lebanon."
I'm not so optimistic. Eeyore that I am, I'm not certain that any political change in Lebanon is likely to be an easy and bloodless one: The one people locked out of the coming together between the factions so far is Hezbollash and, from what I can make out, the Shia factions generally. Putting together their willingness to attack Israel and risk its becoming involved with the Syrian capacity to make mischief and you have a recipe for the same pre-Taif blood-letting that consumed the country up to 1990.

Furthermore, as bad as things are in Lebanon, I can't particularly see how political change in Syria, where the Sunni fundamentalists of the Muslim Brotherhood remain the only organised oppposition group with a mass following, would benefit either the US or any neighbouring state. More representative they may be, but they would almost certainly entusiastically and OVERTLY support terrorism in Lebanon, Iraq and against Israel.

Yours, pessimistically...

The Bush Tapes

One of the more interesting questions to ponder for the second Bush term is what sort of candidate he will try to offer for the inevitable vacancies on the Supreme Court now that Rehnquist is seriously ill.

The New York Times reports on the release of audio tapes made of long conversations between the President, then campaigning for his second term as Governor of Texas and one of his political consultants. Among the interesting insights into his attitudes and plans is this nugget pointing to the likelihood of a nominee that will please the Christian conservatives, regardless of how noisy the confirmation process:
During the primary contest, Mr. Bush often sized up his dozen Republican rivals, assessing their appeal to conservative Christian voters, their treatment of him and their prospects of serving in a future Bush administration. He paid particular attention to Senator John Ashcroft. "I like Ashcroft a lot," he told Mr. Wead in November 1998. "He is a competent man. He would be a good Supreme Court pick. He would be a good attorney general. He would be a good vice president." When Mr. Wead predicted an uproar if Mr. Ashcroft were appointed to the court because of his conservative religious views, Mr. Bush replied, "Well, tough."

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Why Bush and Sharon Agree

In contrast to the tumult during the Oslo peace process, these days both American and Israeli right-wingers are mostly reacting to the Gaza withdrawal proposals with equanimity, Ruthie Blum writes in the Jerusalem Post.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Still Don't Believe in the Axis of Evil?

"We are ready to help Syria on all grounds to confront threats," Iranian Vice-President Mohammad Reza Aref said after meeting Syrian PM Naji al-Otari, says the BBC. You read it here first.

America's Road to Damascus Might Pass Via Beirut

More on the Hariri assassination from Lee Smith in Slate. Again, the expanded US presence in the region is a powerful catalyst for change. What was that you were saying about the Arab street?
"The Lebanese opposition has materialized now largely in response to American and European pressure. It's an index of how bad Syria really is that President Bashar Assad's regime got the United States and France to agree on policy, as they did with 2004's U.N. Security Resolution 1559, demanding that Syria withdraw its troops from Lebanon immediately. And yet, arguably, what has most emboldened Lebanese opposition figures is the presence of U.S. forces on the Syrian border in Iraq.

Opposition leaders grabbed at the main chance when they saw how furious Washington was with Assad's continued support of the insurgency in Iraq. The White House has been threatening Syria for some time now and upped the ante by making the regime's occupation of Lebanon a high and very public priority in its Middle East policy."

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

More on Blogs and the Media

The left hates Bush, the right hates the media - says the ever-excellent Michael Barone.

Disgusted of Damascus

Lee Smith, who wrote a whole series of utterly original and superlatively written articles (such as this) in his previous life as Slate's resident Arabist, profiles Syrian liberal dissident and one-time Sunni fundamentalist Ammar Abdulhamid in the New York Times magazine.

Again, the theme emerges that Iraq's revolution from outside has emboldened and strengthened the Arab world's reformists, although they face a harsh and unforgiving struggle rather than enjoying the leadership of civil society as the Eastern Bloc dissidents did:
For the last half-century, the Islamist movement and Arab regimes themselves have pushed Arab liberals to the sidelines. As a result, the Arab world's democracy activists and intellectuals do not enjoy the same advantages their Central and Eastern European counterparts did back in the 80's: whereas the generation of Havel and Walesa was backed by the Catholic Church and its Polish-born pope, Arab activists enjoy no such solidarity with any established Muslim institutions. Indeed, while militant Islamist leaders have called for elections in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, they typically see liberal, secular reformers like Abdulhamid as a threat to the traditional foundations of their authority.

Even so, the liberals seem to be gathering a little momentum. Recently, intellectuals from Iraq, Jordan and Tunisia petitioned the United Nations for a tribunal to prosecute both terrorists and the religious figures who incite violence. In Egypt, two new publications, Nahdet Misr and Al Masry Al Youm, fault the region's leaders and clerics alike for keeping Arabs from joining the modern world. The Iraqi election posed a stark challenge to regional autocrats. While Abdulhamid harbors mixed feelings about the United States' decision to invade Iraq, he says he believes that the American presence in the region is vital to the prospects for reform. "We are an important part of the world," he says, "and our inability to produce change on our own terms invites people in. The world is not going to wait for us."

Monday, February 14, 2005

Lebanon Hots Up

Ex-PM Rafik Hariri, a vocal opponent of Syrian influence in Lebanon, has been killed in a large car-bombing in Beirut. Like his late father, Bashir Assad seems to be playing by what Tom Friedman called Hama rules: the utter ruthlessness of power-politics in the region. When the Sunni fundamentalists of the Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Hama revolted against the government in 1982 - Assad simply had the army destroy the city and cover it in cement - killing up to forty thousand inhabitants with tanks, artillery and poison gas. Survivors were screened by secret police who used a Soviet-made machine called the "black slave", which lessened their burden by automating the process of removing supsects' fingernails.

Friedman memorably describes driving in a taxi over a solid, even surface, with the outlines of the city's ruins visible in the concrete.

What's Wrong with the Irish Times?

Robin Lynch's article on the Irish blogs generated quite a lot of comment, some here below and some on the other Irish blogs.

Robin came back to me on the comments below.

Fair points, Peter.

How much of your ire is directed against my article and how much against the paper that I work for?

I think an even mix of both, with another equal share being reserved for the profession of journalism as whole, which I've come to believe cannot deliver, largely because accurate news and opinion don't pay either for journalists or for publishers, outside of information on the financial markets.

The paper has a number of problems. Every time I read it, and I do so fairly rarely because paper copies are hard to get here, I think that it comes out very poorly in comparison with my other regular reads, the Financial Times and New York Times. Needless to say, both of these have financial resources that the IT can only dream of, but there's a diversity of opinion and concern for examining perceptions there that the IT hasn't captured.

Sam Smyth wrote about this last year in his piece on being an Irish foreign correspondent in Studies.

I can't believe that you think that I would purposefully exclude blogs that criticise the IT, as if by pretending they don't exist they might go away. I chose five or six of the best blogs that I read on a daily basis; I could just have easily mentioned several others, including yours.

I don't mind the selection of blogs, and in spite of appearances, I'm no egomaniac!

Not elaborating on the inherent differences between blogs and newspapers is one big fault with the article, IMHO. I write this blog because a lot of what I read is simply poorly sourced and hamstrung by weak analysis. I think that this is a particular problem for the Irish Times columnists, of whom O'Toole is the biggest waste of space ever, Myers an eejit and Waters nothing beyond a stylist with nothing left to say once he's exhausted his Roscommon POV.

As far as falling behind the times, I think as a prominent Irish blogger you might be lacking a little perspective. Far from "explaining the world to the great unwashed" I hope the piece will encourage more people to get involved, which can only be a good thing.

I wrote: "I would have been impressed if I'd read this eighteen months ago: As it is, we've another example of some IT journo with a pass degree in English trying to explain the world to the great unwashed. I think that he's missing the point."

OK, here I'm breaking my own rules on not dishing out personal abuse - I'm sure you're a smart guy, so my apologies. I would however be curious to hear about your route into the paper.

My point is, as I go into in more detail below, that any of the bloggers you mention could probably have written a much better version of this article, laying out case studies of the effects of blogs on politics and the media and making some forecasts.

This gets to the key points. First, I perceive in the article, and this can be subjective, that there's the attitude that everybody with any brain cells is entirely in agreement with the Times' "liberal" view of the world, summed up in the famous quote from New Yorker film critc, Pauline Kael: "I don't understand how Nixon could have won! I don't know anyone who voted for him."

Second, Where the really important stories in which blogs have played a starring role? All of these might be a bit obscure to anyone who doesn't follow the American political scene, but I'd expect an article such as this to catch them. How can you leave out Drudge's breaking the Lewinsky story that the Washington Post turned down? The role of blogs in shining the light on Trent Lott's birthday oration about "all these problems"? The keruffle over the fake memos exposed by the blogs when Dan Rather was insisting on their accuracy?

Third, the Dean campaign showcased blogs, but two other innovations,'s ability to create an online community and convert it into a huge, self-sustaining grassroots campaign entirely seperate from the control of the churches, unions, businesses and various special interests - especially feminists, abortion rights campaigners, lawyers and the African-American and Jewish communities that have formed the backbone of the Democrats. You can find the sources I've come across on the Dean campaign in my archives, along with some other ruminations on the paper.

I did consider for a while becoming a journalist myself - but I think I would find it immensely frustrating not to be able to DO anything, rather than just report and feel impotent and unable to feel as if I really understand something by driving it.

I did offer to take a bet from all comers that the IT would be hit by a journalistic ethics scandal before May this year. This farce over the paper being sued by its own columnist seems to have proven me correct!

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The Blackline Blog Awards

The BAFTA's were on here in London town last night, with throngs of fat housewives from Essex completely filling Leicester Square. Since these film awards seem to be proliferating like weaponised anthrax among Middle East dictatorships, I thought that I myself should supplement the Freedom Institute Blog Awards with some nominated and judged, in a completely arbitrary and whimsical manner entirely by me.

Frank has a wider range than anyone, IMHO and comes up with a lot that you wouldn't expect, so I'd leave him as being best overall.

The problem with Mark's site is that I often don't know what I miss, but I'm hopeless at understanding complex non-verbal logical structures.

As an alternative, I'd definitely hand out to Mark an award for being Ireland's most unblinking Zionist blog, followed by Atlantic Blog.

I think that I mentioned Eagle's political comment, because I thought his posting, which might have been on BSD(?) after the November election was brilliant. He wrote that only liberals would want to leave America after the results because they want it to become like other countries, while conservatives don't even after electoral defeats because they prefer America to other countries. I'd tack on an award for best baseball prediction last year for the Sox v Yankees games - he got the right result but the wrong scores!

I'd probably tie Eagle and Tony on producing text that reads immediately as if it's newspaper-ready, but Frank is by far the best debater out there.

I would nominate Twenty Major as the funniest blog in Ireland, with his classic biting Dublin sense of humour. Scott Burgess, a friend and apparently a one-time classmate of Bill Sjostrom of AtlanticBlog

I'd nominate Back Seat Drivers as the best of the "incorrect" blogs. Dick O'Brien et al. deserve kudos for being a worthy opponent in debate, although Dick isn't the most skilled user of economic statistics in the Irish blogosphere.

The War on Terror - Up Close and Personal

After 9/11, "Chris Mackey", a London-based American accountant found himself called-up to serve in Afghanistan. An Army reservist in Military Intelligence and Arabic linguist, he tells of his experiences gathering information from captives suspected of involvement with the Taliban and al-Qaida in his new book The Interrogator's War

As the Abu Ghraib scandal and the scrutiny given to new AG Alberto Gonzalez has highlighted, he and his fellow intelligence specialists found themselves rewriting the rules under immense pressure of discomfort and danger. He sums up his story in his epilogue and tries honestly to go beyond the common pieties for and against coercive interrogation.

I don't believe for a moment that our emb race of "monstering" [techniques of sleep-deprivation and other discomforts inflicted on prisoners] in any way presaged the behavior by those MPs [Military Police] at Abu Ghraib. Those soldiers truly were monsters. But the comments they claim to have heard from interrogators ring true to me and reflect a hardening of attitudes that is not difficult to trace. By the time we left Afghanistan, we had come to embrace methods we would not have countenanced at the beginning of the war. And while those who followed us at Bagram dismissed much of the so-called wisdom we sought to pass on, they took to monstering with alacrity. Indeed, as we left, it was clear they did not regard this as a method of last resort but as a primary option in the interrogation playbook. What was an ending point for us was a starting point for them. And during their stint in Afghanistan, they undoubtedly added their own plays, many of which were probably exported to Iraq. As the babble against al-Qaida shifted to a battle against Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi insurgency, pressure to adopt more aggressive methods must have only intensified, and the trend line we established was reinforced.
In all of the soul-searching over the scandal and the effort to understand what interrogators do, there has been a familiar refrain - the adage that harsh treatment of prisoners only produces bad intelligence, that a tortured prisoner will say anything to stop the pain. That line has been recited for years by schoolhouse instructors and has gained new currency among those rightly condemning the abuses at Abu Ghraib. I know many experienced and fine interrogators who believe that tenet of interrogation doctrine wholeheartedly. But I don't find it particularly persuasive. If a prisoner will say anything to stop the pain, my guess is he will start with the truth. Our experience in Afghanistan showed that the harsher the methods we used - though they never contravened the Conventions, let alone crossed over into torture - the better the information we got and the sooner we got it. Other agencies seem to have learned the same lesson. In its interrogation of high-ranking al-Qaida figures, the CIA has obtained secret legal rulings from the Justice Department to use certain coercive methods, including one called water-boarding in which a prisoner is strapped to a board and submerged in water until he is sure he will drown. If coercion doesn't work, why would the agency go to the trouble?

The Ground Shifts in Lebanon

David Gardner writes in last week's FT on recent developments in Lebanon. Who would have thought that the sectarians divisions are increasingly being set aside by local leaders eager to remove Syria's heavy hand from the country? That the recent economic recovery doesn't herald the rebirth of the playground of the Levant? That Syrian economic and political reform has stalled under Bashir Assad while foreign policy drifts? That the French, of all people, would be encouraging American intervention?

I'd expect that Lebanon, Syria and Iran will all catch fire should any one burst into flames this year, as each is bound by Syria and Iran's opposition to America. We'll see....

Ian Buruma on attitudes to Israel worldwide

Rootless cosmopolitan - and my second favourite journalist - Ian Buruma writes on perceptions of Israel, America and the relationship between the two in the NY Times magazine. As ever, Buruma's probably the only person who, as an ex-Far Eastern Economic Review culture editor, ex-foreign editor of the Spectator, prolific journalist and Anglo-Dutchman to be able to draw links across so many cultures and understand the ways in which very different cultures misunderstand each other.

Earlier this year, Representative James Moran, a Democrat, said that ''if it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this.'' In Britain, Tam Dalyell, a longstanding Labor member of Parliament, expressed a similar view. Tony Blair, he opined, was listening too much to a ''cabal'' of Jews around President Bush that included Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; an under secretary of defense, Douglas Feith; Richard Perle, a member of the Defense Policy Board; Elliott Abrams, director of Middle East Affairs in the White House; and the former presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer. ''Those people drive this policy,'' Dalyell said.

Dalyell was ''worried about my country being led up the garden path on a Likudnik-Sharon agenda'' by British Jews close to Blair. He included among them Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, a Christian, whose rather distant Jewish family connections are very unlikely to make him a Likudnik.

The fact that James Moran had to apologize immediately, while the British M.P. was under no compulsion to do so, shows a profound difference between the United States and Europe, or indeed anywhere else in the world. Although Moran's opinion may be shared by other Americans, it is not something mainstream politicians can vocalize. Even legitimate criticism of Israel, or of Zionism, is often quickly denounced as anti-Semitism by various watchdogs. In European political discourse, not only is anti-Zionism quite acceptable, but so are vague allegations of too much Jewish influence in public life, especially across the Atlantic. And in the non-Western world, it's not even necessary to keep such allegations vague.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

The Catham House Version

Blogger and London TimesOliver Kamm writes on Chatham House (the Royal Institute of International Affairs, which I have linked to below), questioning the assumptions and approach taken by one of the associates at this most prestiguous and establishment-friendly of Britain's foreign policy think tanks. I've written previously on my encounter with another associate, the liberal Saudi academic Mai Yamani (also here). Perhaps I've taken the excellence and objectivity of the organisation's other staff too much on trust.

[RIAA associate] Mrs Allaf is energetic, however, in conveying that she has no sympathy for:

... the extremely belligerent and irresponsible statements Bush made about Syria and Iran, practically calling on their people to rise against their government, and promising threateningly (and without much proof) to “confront the regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and pursue weapons of mass murder.”

She takes her stand instead with those who assault Israel, literally as well as metaphorically, as she made clear in an ‘open letter’ to President Clinton five years ago:

We are determined to keep a united front. Remember, we the people have not yet begun to fight. But fight we will, literally and symbolically. Those who can’t throw rocks in frustration will at the very least throw words in determination. I hope you and your ally are ready.

I found Bush’s declaration of solidarity (which is what it was) with those suffering under totalitarianism inspiring and a prerequisite of a decent politics. I find Mrs Allaf’s solidarity with political violence despicable. But then I’m a biased blogger and columnist.

Today's New Word

Neo-pad (noun) An Irish neo-conservative Origin: Devised by my classmates at Birkbeck College

Shifting Sands in Cairo

Mark Leonard, London think-tank talking-head and self-publicist extraordinaire, has a piece in today's FT magazine on the difficult birth of the first legal reformist party in Egypt. This is another indicator of a degree of political turmoil in the Middle East that seems to have been midwifed by the US and to be unambiguously liberal.

One founder says:
"The Pandora’s box has been opened by George Bush. The internal pressures have been reinvigorated and people are speaking out, which they never did so openly or vigorously before. There is a sense of malaise. The question of the rotation of power is on the table. The question of term-limits is on the table. Change is now inevitable. The government can’t say we are foreign stooges because we have been saying these things for years. The Ghad party is a home-grown thing. It is not part of the Bush project.
We are modern. We talk about globalisation, access to the ideas of the west and justice. Young people who felt marginalised can have a platform and a voice. We want to instil a sense of hope, a sense that Egyptians are no less than the Indonesians and Malaysians who have made it. We want to draw people away from Islamism."
This being Egypt, the Mubarak government has been quick to realise the danger and has imprisoned the party's leader and begun trying to smash the organisation. A similar fate befell sociologist and human rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim last year, who was sentenced to several years in jail for taking money from that cat's paw of neo-con Zionism, the European Commission.

Friday, February 11, 2005

The Irish Times Can't Keep Up With the Changing Times

Forwarded from Philip:

Peter, article on blogging in today's Irish Times. I note the
bias towards blogs who don't share our "world view", and the salivating
over Howard Dean.

Lots of blogs but few talking about Irish matters

Weblogs are taking off, but Irish bloggers talk about Iraq, the US and anything except Ireland, writes Robin O'Brien-Lynch.

The World Wide Web may have been invented by an Englishman (Tim Berners-Lee) working in Switzerland (at CERN, near Geneva) but it is the Americans who have stolen all the attention.

The rest of us invariably look Stateside for inspiration and innovation on the Web, and the US is home to several of the world's most popular websites, including Yahoo, Google, Slashdot, eBay, and, more recently, Blogger.

The idea of blogging - keeping a personal weblog to air one's views, as opposed to joining a multi-user discussion forum - may or may not have been dreamed up in the US but the term was coined there and the most widely read blogs on the Web are based there.

Expat North Americans are among the mostprominent bloggers in other countries, including the Republic.

Blogging in the State has seen significant growth over the past six months as the original ground-breaking sites are joined by increasing numbers of new blogs. However, there is a perception that the Irish blogging community is not quite the real thing.

It is a subjective distinction, but one important for the Irish political parties as
they look ahead to the next general election, even at this early stage. Important because of the Deaniacs, another innovation to come from the US.

The Deaniacs are the young, Web-savvy volunteers whose support turned Howard Dean from a little-known Vermont governor into the front-runner for the US Democratic presidential nomination in 2003.

Mr Dean came from a standing start to leave allhis rivals behind - and on the way smashed records for fund-raising. His success was driven by the Web community and, more specifically, bloggers who gave him vital feedback and encouraged others to get out on the streets, canvass, write letters and hold public meetings. And, of course, to hit on the "contribute" button on Mr Dean's homepage.

"A lot of the people on the Net have given upon traditional politics precisely because it was about television and the ballot box, and they had no way to shout back," Dean said at the time. "What we've given people is a way to shout back, and we listen - they don't even have to shout anymore."

No future presidential hopeful will run his campaign without taking at least something from Mr Dean's ideas (even though he lost). By studying the best-known blogs, his staff could glean more about the opinions of the US public from sea to shining sea than from weeks of doorstep canvassing.

Mr Dean also raised more than $30 million (€23.5 million), winning the "invisible primary" and propelling himself ahead of his rivals, and gaining the attention and respect of the media.

Are there any pointers here for the Irish parties? Fine Gael's (FG's) website is the one that most closely resembles that of the US parties. The Democrats' site,, features the slogan "Kick Ass!", referring to their donkey logo, and proactive features condemning the Bush administration and offering ways that supporters can help.

Most of the political websites in the Republic act as mere virtual pamphlets, carrying only the anaemic trio of press releases, profiles and policy manifestos. As well as their well-publicised site, Fine Gael features a "PDs – No Thanks!" parody piece and a list of "broken promises" from the coalition.

Despite this, FG director of communications, Mr Ciarán Conlon, believes the Dean model wouldn't work in the State. "The benefits for Howard Dean is that he could reach out across a vast country," he says. "There is nowhere in Ireland that can't be reached very quickly."

So glad-handing and baby-kissing will probably remain the methods of choice for Irish politicians. Even if a party did try to follow Mr Dean's example, it's doubtful that the message would go far.

The two biggest problems for the Irish blogosphere are out of its control; its infancy and audience. Blogging is a relatively new phenomenon and many of the Irish blogs researched for this article had only begun in the past six to nine months. A small national population means a small readership, and the blogging community in this State is a close-knit affair.

Bloggers worldwide have an obsession with referrals from other sites bordering on the neurotic, and most sites will have "blogroll" - a list of "blogs I like" - followed by "who's reading me".

In the Republic this practice leads to constant cross-referrals between a small group of people. Most of the comments left by readers come from other bloggers ("Love your site!" is a common one), and a couple of hours spent flitting from site to site will bring up the same names again and again. This insularity means that a lot of comment is back-slapping between internet buddies. Bloggers post links to other blogs rather than making comment themselves.

This is an unfortunate state of affairs, as there is some excellent Irish work waiting to be discovered.

Rainy Day ( by Eamonn Fitzgerald is a little heavy on homespun whimsy for some tastes but erudite and well-written. There is perhaps too much focus on foreign affairs at the expense of local comment.

On the other side of the coin, Dervala ( is an Irishwoman living in the US whose observations resonate with Irish readers.

"Planet Potato - an Irish blog" lives up to its name, with recent comments on Sinn Féin, Eircom and ubiquitous Niquitin ads.

Caustic humour is a rarity among Irish sites, but Twenty Major ( is probably the best of the bunch and very local
in its focus.

These have in common originality, personal views and readability.

Too many Irish blogs feature "dear diary" warblings, excessive links to articles on the Web or just poor writing.

The dynamics of blogging in the Republic mean that the best sites refer readers to some of the worst, and there is no natural selection.

The better sites listed above are to be found on the blogroll of several of the most prominent Irish sites.

Unfortunately for the brainstormers in Leinster House's press offices, a lot of the best examples like these are cultural commentary, leaving even less room for the political parties to manoeuvre.

When Irish bloggers want to talk politics, they tend to discuss US and global affairs, particularly Iraq. This is a self-defeating process; US politics and the war in Iraq are well-documented, with thousands of bloggers based in Iraq.

Admittedly, Irish bloggers extend their potential audience by keeping their subject matter universal, but there also seems to be an unconscious snobbery towards Irish current affairs - all Iraq and no IRA. Perhaps unsurprisingly, when Irish political blogs do come up trumps, the focus is on the North.

Two of the best examples are and, both of which are written by several authors.

Gavin's blog ( is one of the older kids on the block, has a lengthy blogroll and is a good place to start reading what's out there and help break into the clique. After all, influence is nothing without audience

I would have been impressed if I'd read this eighteen months ago: As it is, we've another example of some IT journo with a pass degree in English trying to explain the world to the great unwashed. I think that he's missing the point.

Increasingly his own paper is going to have its facts checked and narrow range of consensus opinions challenged by the blogs, our one included. Note that he doesn't cite any of the multitude of blogs that bitterly criticise the Irish Times itself, my own, or John Fay's Irish Eagle, or Mark Humphrys or Frank. Neither has he figured out that a large proportion of the bloggers, Eamonn and I among them, are expats.

Cross-posted to

Thursday, February 10, 2005

A Note On Comments

If you're going to comment here, and in general everybody is very welcome to do so, take a moment to consider some suggestions that will allow us all to get along nicely. For my part, I find responding to comments on postings the most enjoyable thing about reading blogs, equaled only by the satisfaction of making a post of my own that combines both original thinking and skill in expression.

Abiola gets a lot more blogroaches than I have, so he posted a sensible set of guidelines for commenting, which I approve of and intend to follow here too.

1. Feel free to post
As Dick O'Brien will tell you, I don't mind having an argument; in fact, I find it very hard to tear myself away from one, so if you post I am more than likely to respond, whether or not I agree, and to continue.

2.I edit, I don't censor
This is my blog. If you feel you must comment and that you are being suppressed here, then you have every resource available to you, including the ability to set up and host your own blog for free. Just sign up on Blogger.

3.Why should we take your word for it?
An academic training is a great thing. If you propose an argument, an appeal to credible theory or to empirical evidence provide the best support for it, especially if these have gone through the process of peer-review to ensure high-standards.

4.You're writing a letter, not graffiti
Leave your name. If you don't know how to spell it, just ask and we'll all help you.

5.Be polite
I've only tried banning people twice, and in both cases that was for personal abuse. Here and now, I'll admit to being absolutely infuriated by Provos, by antisemitism and by racist yahoos in general; post any of these and you'll be cut out straight away.

How not to Launch a Career as a Public Intellectual

One in an occassional series:

Michael Scheuer, author of Imperial Hubris, which I had read and thought gave an thought-provoking critique of US foreign policy, did himself no good at a talk at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

He began by repeating some of the points in the book, which called for both less intervention in the Middle East and also great ruthlessness in dealing with America's enemies there, a very traditional form of foreign policy thinking that neatly fits Walter Russell Mead's label of Jacksonian, after the hot-tempered, ferocious and populist general and President.
But clearly--and the president fell back on the idea that bad economics and poor education, bad sanitation and the rest of that stuff, is the spawning of the attacks against us, which is entirely not the case in this particular instance. We're still grasping or groping around to try to find out why we're being attacked, and it has nothing to do with who we are or what we believe in.
To secure as much of our way of life as possible, we will have to use military force in the way Americans used it on the fields of Virginia and Georgia, in France and on Pacific islands, and from skies over Tokyo and Dresden. Progress will be measured by the pace of killing and, yes, by body counts. Not the fatuous body counts of Vietnam, but precise counts that will run to extremely large numbers. The piles of dead will include as many or more civilians as combatants because our enemies wear no uniforms.

Killing large numbers is not enough to defeat our Muslim foes. With killing must come a Sherman-like razing of infrastructure. Roads and irrigation systems; bridges, power plants, and crops in the field; fertilizer plants and grain mills--all these and more will need to be destroyed to deny the enemy its support base. Land mines, moreover, will be massively reintroduced to seal borders and mountain passes too long, high, or numerous to close with U.S. soldiers. As noted, such actions will yield large civilian casualties, displaced populations, and refugee flows. Again, this sort of bloody mindedness is neither admirable nor desirable, but it will remain America's only option so long as she stands by her failed policies toward the Muslim world.
Like the chair, I'd pragmatically question whether such a slaughter woudl actually achieve anything, rather than following the precisely-targeted violence used by the Israeli military against senior terrorists, or the slow smothering and maintenance of the rule of law that the British counter-terrorism doctrine emphasises.

As many people do, he takes issue with the focus on rogue states rather than what are global terrorist organisations, which might well operate undetected anywhere from the New York suburbs to the Afghan mountains. Commenting on the invasion of Iraq and the possibility of action against Syria and Iran:
I think it means, in addition to Iraq, that they simply don't understand that the threats to the United States are transnational and not nation-state in dimension. And one of the reasons they went to Iraq is they don't understand that. The Clinton administration didn't understand it; this administration doesn't understand it. The idea that Syria is a threat to us is about as credible as me being the next queen of England, it's not. What threat is there?
Scheuer questions the nature and utility of the Israeli-American alliance, seeing America as having little benefit from it or influence over its junior partner.
I would certainly try to rearrange the relationship with Israel so it looked like we were the great power and they were the insignificant power, rather than the other way around.
Efraim Karsh, whose book Rethinking the Middle East I have just read, makes the same point that neither America nor the Russians were ever able to purchase influence over their allies in the region with their aid to any great degree. The EU seems to be destined to learn this the hard way.

The really suprising stuff comes later on.
I always have thought that there's nothing too dangerous to talk about in America, that there shouldn't be anything. And it happens that Israel is the one thing that seems to be too dangerous to talk about. And I wrote in my book that I congratulate them. It's probably the most successful covert action program in the history of man to control--the important political debate in a country of 270 million people is an extraordinary accomplishment. I wish our clandestine service could do as well
Well, the clandestine aspect is that, clearly, the ability to influence the Congress--that's a clandestine activity, a covert activity. You know to some extent, the idea that the Holocaust Museum here in our country is another great ability to somehow make people feel guilty about being the people who did the most to try to end the Holocaust. I find--I just find the whole debate in the United States unbearably restricted with the inability to factually discuss what goes on between our two countries.
However, to be fair, he does go on to backtrack somewhat:

QUESTIONER: [Inaudible] Teitelbaum [inaudible] Agency in Hamburg, Germany. Listening to you it sounds as if there is some kind--some sort of Jewish conspiracy about American policy. Can you just tell me in your mind how the Jews make it?

SCHEUER: Are what?

QUESTIONER: How the Jews do it? How do they do it?

SCHEUER: How do they do it?


SCHEUER: Well, mostly through abuse in the media. If someone says anything negative about Israel. We do it to ourselves in some way. [Inaudible]

Well, you know, the idea of the Jewish conspiracy is in your mouth, not mine. What I did was compliment Israel on its ability to control debate in the United States. I don't quite know how they do it, but clearly the reaction of most of our media, electronic and print, to anyone who says, "Geez, you know, maybe the Israelis shouldn't have the lead on all these things," is generally negative.
Via Andrew Sullivan, but its well worth reading the entire transcript - apart from just Sully's outrage quotes - to get a flavour of the book.

Outgoing Comments

From now on as well, I will be adopting another of Abiola's policies and posting comments, either here or on any other blogs, using a PGP signature. No signature means it's not my comment.

Subtle Diplomatic Signals from Hamas

At least twenty-five mortar shells and Kassam rockets have landed on Gaza Strip settlements since 2:00 a.m. Thursday, hitting settlements in Gush Katif, southern Gaza, and northern Gaza, according to the IDF.

OC Southern Command, Maj.-Gen. Dan Harel, is currently meeting with the commander of PA forces in Gaza, Mussa Arafat. The meeting was scheduled several days ago, but will naturally deal with Thursday's barrages. Harel is expected to demand of Arafat to crack down on the firing squads.
Jerusalem Post

Geography News

"Due to her immense size the government is contemplating reclassifying Mary Harney as a county." Twenty Major

Upgrade to Comments

I've upgraded to a premium account on Haloscan. This will allow more space for posts, searching for previous comments and, as some people have already found out, quick and easy mass deletion.

Hizbollah Takes Wing

That old, unstoppable Lebanese ingenuity is on show again according to the Atlantic Monthly (sub only, email me if you want any article)

Allah Is My Co-Pilot

In an incident that passed largely unnoticed in the American press, the Lebanese terrorist organization Hizbollah launched an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) late last year, according to a recent report by the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT), in Oklahoma. The unmanned aircraft flew from Lebanon into Israel late on the morning of November 7, passed over the northern Israeli town of Nahariya, and then turned west and returned to Lebanese territory, landing in the Mediterranean Sea not far from shore. The UAV spent roughly half an hour in Israel's airspace, undetected by Israeli air force radar but noticed by local residents (the UAV's engine is reportedly "quite noisy"). The next day Hizbollah triumphantly released a grainy twenty-second video of the flight, claiming that the aircraft could fly "deep, deep" into Israel. MIPT estimates that the aircraft can carry a payload of up to eighty-eight pounds, making it an "attractive option" for launching a covert attack with chemical or biological weapons. Israeli sources claim that Hizbollah's UAV is an Iranian-made aircraft, one of eight such planes given to the terrorist group by Iran; Hizbollah, on the other hand, claims it developed the UAV entirely on its own. It may be telling the truth: MIPT notes that "a small group of air model fans (or even someone alone) can build a capable UAV. All necessary equipment and parts are available in the open market at affordable prices."

Will the Ceasefire Hold?

The tentative understanding between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has been greeted with optimistic rejoicing by the British press and scarcely any less by the American papers. It seems to be holding, for now, but the lion isn't quite ready yet to lie down with the lamb and eat straw like oxen.

Rory Miller and Efraim Karsh, both of Kings College London, and Ehud Ya'ari both point out the real danger of the Palestinian Islamist militants seeking to continue stirring the cauldron. Karsh and Miller don't put much weight on Abu Mazen's supposedly moderate position:
During his brief prime ministerial tenure in 2003, Mr Abbas made no effort to disarm the numerous armed gangs, attempting instead to win their consent for a temporary suspension of hostilities. Whether or not he will change tack now that he has reached the Palestinian Authority’s top spot remains to be seen, but the indications thus far are hardly encouraging.
My personal opinion is that after four years, that both sides are near exhausted and willing to substitute politics for violence, so that we get peace, as Ambrose Bierce so accurately captured it in the Devil's Dictionary:
In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.
It seems not too dissimilar from my own troubled homeland!

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

What exactly is it about democracy that you don't like?

Update 1: Corrected description of RBB article
Update 2: Added link to IT article

Most people see the Iraqi insurgents' complete failure to either win representation, manipulate the ballots or indeed prevent the recent elections as a sign of their defeat and unpopularity. Another marginal figure, also familiar with repeated electoral defeat, Socialist Workers Party hard-nut Richard Boiled-Carrott (fine proletarian name there, Rick) wrote to an op-ed in the Irish Times decrying the Iraqi elections. Me ould mucker Joel wrote to the Times in response:

Madam, - The article by Richard Boyd Barrett in your edition of February 7th is a prime example of facts being distorted and conflated to fit a prior ideological position, in which the blackening of American intentions and actions is the overriding rule.

The anti-war left is understandably annoyed and discomfited at the apparent failure of the Iraqi people to follow the script set for them by the likes of Mr Boyd Barrett. Objective reports suggest that for the first time it looks possible that US attempts to put a representative government in place could succeed.
The election indicated that the insurgents are not supported by the Iraqi population at large. Indeed it made the insurgents appear the isolated and brutal terrorists they are.

Mr Boyd Barrett's assertion that the insurgency in Iraq is a response to the brutality of the occupation reveals a disturbing level of moral blindness in excusing the actions of these thugs merely because they share the anti-war left's extreme anti-Americanism. He would seem to prefer any regime, no matter how terrible, so long as America is seen to fail in its stated commitment to bring democracy to Iraq.
Following the success of the election, I suspect that Mr Boyd Barrett could well find himself on the wrong side of history, along with the insurgents.

His tone suggests he already knows this and is fearful of it. - Yours, etc.

Welcome to the Desert of the Theoretical

Normally, I would leave architecture and po-mo philosophers to others like Frank or Jon who take an interest in such things.

However, I've recently decided, being shamed of my ignorance in the noble art of philosophy, to start reading some. First in line was a slim book of essays by Frenchman Jean Baudrillard, The Spirit of Terrorism.

Ideas like his clash with some powerful emotional and intellectual blockages on my part. First, as someone extensively educated in the "inhumanities", I tend to lack much training in the foundations, which is fatal for disciplines in which cross-references and allusion is so important.

Since most of my intellect, when not preoccupied with cooking, films, learning languages, is taken up with with business, economics and politics, I would have a bias against accepting any theories based mainly on the non-material and non-empirical, poetry, novels, drama, visual art or philosophy.

Then, by and large, experience has taught me not to put much trust in theory; if economists, with their vast and sophisticated modelling and testing toolbox produce few useful predictions (and indeed, tend to have problems getting jobs) then why would less empirically-grounded and rigorous disciplines like sociology or cultural studies have much to say.

Also, I carry the conviction, reinforced by long experience in trying to explain complex financial products, that people who cannot write plainly simply are not really thinking. This was enunciated brilliantly by Orwell in his essay Politics and the English Language; if you haven't read this, then you simply cannot consider yourself educated.

It's an unfortunate coincidence that most of this species are political toilet mold, advocating wierd forms of identity struggles or cliched leftism.

Baudrillard talks about the manipulation of images by the terrorists of 9/11 - something of Al-Qaeda's hallmark:
As soon as they combine all the modern resources available to them with this highly sumbolic weapon, everthing changes. The destructive potential is multiplied to infinity. It is this multiplication of factors (which seem irreconcilable to us) that gies them such superiority. The "zero -death strategy, by contrast, the strategy of the "clean" technological war, precisely fails to match up to this transfiguration of "real" power by symbolic power.
However, I think here again, he underemphasises the material effects - the disruption to transport, finance and politics, the grief of 3,000 deaths and the exceptional importance of the most precious symbols of American civic nationalism - its archetypes - are first and foremost its flag and its common understanding of history.

What he is offering is some mildly interesting ideas, but written in the indistinct fairground-mirror imagery of Baudelaire's symbolist poetry or Bob Dylan's lyrics, with no sign of a distinct skeleton of ideas within these words. This was apparent in this passage later on in the book:
The violence of globalisation also involves architecture, and hence the violent protest against it also involves the violent destruction of that architecture. In terms of collective drama, we can say that the horror for the 4,000 victims of dying in those towers was inseperable from the horror of living in them - the horror of living and working in sarcophogai of concrete and steel.
Except for the small matter that normal workdays in the WTC didn't involve choosing between waiting for death as burning jet fuel heats the structural steel of the buildings you stand on red-hot or jumping hundreds of meters to the ground.

I've gone on to Carl Schmitt's famous essay "The Concept of the Political", which comes with an long commentary by Leo Strauss.

I'm enjoying this a lot more, although its much denser, because the wheels and gears of thought are visible, and unlike Monsieur B, they reference other major works extensively, rather than relying on half-remembered television images for their foundations.

I would have finished this sooner, but in a terrible piece of absent-mindedness, I put the book in the dishwasher on Sunday night: Oh my God, I'm turning into Garrett Fitzgerald!

Problems with the comments

Haloscan have received a scorching email from me about these repeated problems with the comments. I will try to edit out as many of the inadvertent repetitions as possible in the next few days. By popular demand, I will also upgrade haloscan to get the longer comments boxes. Apologies to anyone who has been sharing my frustration in the last few days.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Giving Saddam the Finger

MH Finger 2
"The tree of Liberty must from time to time be refreshed by the blood inky fingers of patriots."

My friend and Birkbeck classmate Muhamad shows the traces of ink left on his finger after he voted in last week's Iraqi elections. He cast his ballot while visiting the pilgrim cities in Saudi Arabia, covering the Hajj for an Iraqi news magazine. The Bagdhad native, who came to Britain just over three years ago, is a vocal supporter of George W Bush and the war he waged.

All I risk by supporting Bush and the war is an occasional episode of social embarassment. The soldiers and marines risk life and limb, but get to leave after six months, all the while knowing their families and friends are safe at home. For him, the stakes are much higher.

Many's the time I've sat in seminars, lectures and classes while some supposed authority, like Paul Rogers tell him how it supposedly is in Iraq, and various idiots in the audience concur and invoke Islamophobia, the Project for the New American Century, oil and Richard Clarke.

After the election, I'm both a lot more optimistic and somewhat more at peace with my own views. I've been very uncertain as to whether the invasion was unambiguously right: Now, I've come to realise that although the realist analyses of the risks are prudent and credible, the moral case for intervention was very strong and Bush and Blair could and should have acted to bring an outcome like this about.

Friday, February 04, 2005

I'd like to thank....

...Frank, Tony, John for the inspiration and Dick for publishing so much that leaves me typing in sputtering indignation.

Irish Blog Awards 2005 Winners Announced

DUBLIN – The Freedom Institute, a Dublin based think-tank which aims to formulate free-market policies designed to make Ireland a better place to live, today announced the winners of its inaugural Liberty Blog Awards for 2005. The Liberty Awards are a new initiative designed to promote high-quality online political commentary and discussion.
A panel comprising Paul MacDonnell (Director of the Open Republic Institute), Paul Daly (Journalist) and Philip O’Sullivan (Freedom Institute Spokesperson) judged the nominated blogs to determine the winners, which included:

Freedom Institute Blog Awards

I'm flattered and surprised, given that I myself voted for the holy trinity, but thanks to everyone for the recognition. It might even motivate me to actually do some long overdue posting.