söndag, oktober 31, 2004

The Whiskey Bar is open again!

Cheers to your beein back, barkeep'! A double Balvenie cask strength for me!

lördag, oktober 30, 2004

Thirteen Minus Nine

Svt showed 'Thirteen Days' on friday night, the Kevin Costner movie about the Cuba Crisis. Excellent timing, as it ended exactly 42 years ago, and with the presidential election four days away.
I'm not alone in beeing struck by the contrast in how the Kennedy admin. managed the Cuba crisis compared to the Bush admin's handling of Iraq. Of course, it's a very hollywoodian movie with "good guys" that can do no wrong (Kennedy & his team,) and "bad guys" (the military top brass) that are just bastards*. Still, I can't help thinking how the tables have turned; now the civilian leadership recklessly drives for war while it's the military's turn to try getting out of their clusterfucks.

The detail that struck most though, was Kennedy mentioning 'the Guns of August'. He was afraid, that just like European leaders in the early days of august '14 got caught by the cogs of a mobilization machine through sheer bellicose foolishness, he and Chrushtshev were on the inescapable path of mutual assured destruction; black rain would have fallen down if Kaiserish types on any side had prevailed.

Reading history books is not a sure-fire way of avoiding mistakes however; I read somewhere that Dick Cheney sought solace in Victor Hanson's books** during the run-up of the Iraq war in late '02, how people were thrashing antique leaders for taking them to war and then build triumph arches for them when they came back with a 'veni, vidi, vici' on their lips***.

Another book by Barbara Tuchman I've read that is even more relevant is 'the March to Folly: From Troy to Vietnam'; folly she defines as 'the pursuit of policy contrary to self-interest'. Was she alive, she would probably add it as the fifth folly; her four examples are the Trojan horse, how Renaissance popes split Christiandom, how King George (not dubya) lost America, and the Vietnam war.

A few years from now, the debacle in the middle east will be held up as another example of such a pursuit. A high price in gold, blood and tears to pay for something we already knew.

*although it had more than its fair share of people like Curtis LeMay.

**scroll down past the reviews of the 'Iliad' and the 'Odyssey', to 'Carnage and Culture'. It was written partly in response to Jared Diamond's excellent 'Guns, Germs, and Steel'. I think that Hanson, as far as his points about Western cultural superiority are valid, misses the question of where those cultural factors come from. Fascinated as I am by all things evolutionary (which Hanson cannot tell apart from geographical determinism), I can only note it as another example of how little influence evolution theory has on people's thinking compared to, say, newtonian mechanics. Everybody's familiar with the concept of 'action' and 'reaction', but even doctors and psychologists have a rather dim grasp of it. Like engineers beeing taught math as a nice to have, but not really essential subject...

***if at least 'our' leaders had the honour of living by what Gorgo said to her husband the king of Sparta, when he went fighting at Thermopylae: 'come back victorious or on your shield', which would correspond to a flag-draped coffin in our times...
their style is like, more kind of WWI château generalship.

torsdag, oktober 28, 2004

Ground Control to Major Tomcat

You know how a cat always* lands on its feet when it falls down? But have you ever wondered what if there's no down?
Watch a kitty in zero gravity and still your curiosity, without killing the cat (quicktime, via boing-boing). It gives a good idea of how a toast/cat anti-gravity engine would work.

*well, not stricly scientifically speaking

lördag, oktober 09, 2004


the heaven's wholly blue
the clouds are pink
the day just flew
now in my bath i'll sink

tisdag, oktober 05, 2004

Colourful alert

Non-Americans may not be familiar with Attorney General Ashcroft and his terror alerts. Watch this clip.

It has now been scientifically proved that they raise Bush's approval rating (via cleek's diary at Tacitus).
Of course, to the Bush administration all scientists are anti-republican partisan hacks, unless employed by Halliburton or a conservative think-tank.

måndag, oktober 04, 2004

I'm a flip floper, yes I am!

In a comment in the Stockholm Spectator's blog, I kind of say that Iran was semi-democratic, with respect that they have "free" elections, sort of. That was confusing. Guess I'm not much of a straight-talker... So I'm feeling obliged to nuance myself... err, 'make a flip-flop':

Thank you for the link to that article (though I didn't say anything about southerners, much less equate all of them with fanatics, or even fundamentalists). I see now that I forgot to link "1/3 republicans" (not americans, sorry) to another guardian article:
American pollsters believe that 15-18% of US voters belong to churches or movements which subscribe to these teachings. A survey in 1999 suggested that this figure included 33% of Republicans

-I don't believe for a second that more than a tiny minority of those church members are rapture ready lunatics (I'll admit that I expressed myself with a tabloid sensationalism on par with an Expressen billnews...) Don't you believe the proportion of Iranian fundamentalist shi'as that are jihadist fanatics is about the same?
Whatever the figure for the proportion of fundamentalists in the US, it's one or two order of magnitude more than in Europe (to apply physics thinking to another field). More to the point, they nowadays have a disproportional influence in the Republican party.
But a tiny minority of extremists can effectively take power as the self-appointed elite of a larger ideological movement. Not that I believe that the risk of Christian fundamentalist coup d'état is anything but negligeable. As I said, what scares me is the level of influence they have on the agenda of the Republican party.

-I call Iran a theocracy, not 'a functioning democracy of any sort'. Euphemisms are not entirely abhorrent to me, so you may be justified in counting 'may not be a model democracy' as one. I totally agree that 'free' elections do not a democracy make; human rights & free speech are much more important (viz. Hong Kong under British rule), and the Iranian record on that is appalling. It is an authoritarian regime, but it is not a totalitarian one like North Korea, Saddam's Iraq, Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany (I know, degrees of hell...) The problem is that people say "democracy" when they mean "open society", in the popperian sense.
I can't tell if Thors Hans Hansson really believes Iran is democratic like Israel or the USA, or if he just expressed his view in a confusing manner. I think it is the latter: a litterary critic, though as much or as little of an Islam expert, would probably haven't made such a gaffe; and nobody would come to think of questionning a critic reviewing a book for not beeing an expert on it's subject, would they?
But I wholly agree with him when he says "One should never forget that for religious fanatics the word of God stands above the will of the people".

-'The elections will be freer than under Saddam' sounds almost as bad as 'the torture was worse under Saddam'... you'll find more of my take on them here.

The Stockholm Spectator is something I think has been missing in the Swedish media, an English-language paper. When I've been in Asia, there's always a paper like the The Mainichi Daily News, The Bangkok Post and even The Vientiane Times* in tiny Laos, and I thought, why not in Sweden? So, it's a welcome fill in the gap.
Already it has shown it's usefulness by broking a story about a Swedish Jayson Blair, a story that has been ignored by the Swedish mainstream media.

*with wonderful Eastern Marxistic prose

söndag, oktober 03, 2004

Oct. 15th

Première for "Team America: World Police"

lördag, oktober 02, 2004

War & Blogging

When I first heard of the plans for war on Iraq, sometime during the summer of 2002, my first thought was "Iraq will be invaded next spring". You don't threaten war if you don't mean it, and it was hard to imagine Saddam backing down. Spring is the natural season for campaigning, and the timeframe was just right for the inevitable pre-war diplomatic activity. And coincidentally, just right with the election calendar too: what better than the winds of war blowing the ballots your way in the mid-terms, and then having achieved victory in good time for the presidentials? It seemed that O. Bin Laden had slipped away, and counter-terrorism doesn't yield the same spectacular results than a good short ol'fashioned war, with the boys home by Thanksgivin an all.

During the autumn, I began to dimly realise that there was something more sinister at work than mere electioneering. At the time, I viewed the Bush administration as "same as daddy's, with Junior a figurehead". I hadn't been interested in politics for several years, and wasn't until this spring. Unlike Senior's, this administration was totally uninterested in upholding good relations with the USA's allies, and nobody could seriously believe Saddam's embryonic WMD program was an imminent threat. All the brouhaha with the inspections was just for show, and they would go to war come hell or high water.

There was also a marked difference in the public debate compared with Afghanistan: after 9/11, the same opinion that has routinely opposed any international intervention as "imperialism" said the same about Afghanistan, while traditional pro-europeans (Swedish eurosceptisim is largely left-wing) and pro-americans were in favour of the war. For me personally, it was a very simple choice (why, myself I had been in favour of invading the Talibans ever since they blew up those Buddha statues).

It was a whole different story as the Iraq War loomed. Massive anti-war demonstrations with people from the whole political spectrum, while most non-opponents were either silent or wrangling arguments over whether war or Saddam was the lesser evil, and only a few isolated voices mouthpiecing the NRO and Weekly Standard talking points.
I myself was sitting on the fence, thinking that war shouldn't be waged without a broad consensus in the international community, the WMD threat grossly exaggerated propaganda (exaggerated beyond my most cynical expectations as it would turn out), that it was rash to start a new war before Afghanistan was stabilized and Al-Qaeda crushed, but that the UN sanctions had led nowhere and were just hurting the Iraqi people, the removal of Saddam an inarguably good thing, and the prospect of a democratic iraq, while a highly uncertain proposition, might still make the whole thing worthwhile.

Still, I wasn't really interested, and if I talked about the war, it was mainly about whether Saddam could put up any kind of serious defense. The only way seemed large-scale house-to-house urban combat, and hope that the outcry from the international community would force the US to a settlement. With a couple of friends I thought about making a 'Battle of Baghdad' boardgame, loosely based on Turningpoint: Stalingrad, with media warfare special rules.

It turned out Saddam didn't demand such a stalinesque sacrifice of his people, so the invasion looked even more like dangerous live-fire manoeuvres for the US Army than the Kuwait War.

Any hope i had for this thing turning out for the best started crumbling with the reports of the museum lootings. How can you establish democracy if you can't maintain order? But then again, I was going on a trip to South-East Asia that summer, so yet again I didn't follow what was happening.

The next time I started to care was this spring. I was to visit a friend in San Francisco, and I wondered how the mood was in an "America at war". When I came back, I started to learn about the neo-cons and their monumental incompetence. The belief in "cheering-crowds-and-rose-petals", the consequent insufficient number of occupation troops to maintain security, how the staffing of the Coalition Provisional Authority had nothing to do with competence and everything with party loyalty, the dismal mismanagement of the reconstruction, the cluelessness to the political reality of Iraq, the jackbooted behaviour of the GI's towards the civilian population... and then, Abu Ghraib made to all the miserable failure plain to see*. All this I discovered by drifting around in the blogosphere.

So, this a kind of introduction to my blog. I'll write about the Iraq War, since it may be the most important thing that has happened since WWII. At the same time, I feel I want to write about a lot of other stuff, and that it diverts focus from that. We'll see if I can find some kind of right balance.

*Warning. Graphic pictures.