Monday, June 14, 2004
There is an element of the customary Thai house blessing rituals, whereby a thread or string encircles the place on the outside, is led in through a window to drape across the Buddha's image, on an altar placed for the occasion in whichever room the monks will conduct the ceremony. The thread continues along to drape across the clasped hands of the nine monks seated in a row, while they chant sutras and the gathered folks join in at appropriate points. There's a lot more to it than this of course, but it was the thread connecting it all that I wanted to invoke to start with today, because so much of what I've been saving up for the past week and a half seem to be fairly crying out for threads to join them together. Or for someone to draw the already apparent threads together, or just point at them and say "look", or maybe even to metaphorically lead the string out through the window into the outdoors.
I almost got something posted here last weekend - we were to go upcountry for the house ceremony on Saturday after work. So I expected I had at least until noon. Just about to prepare a couple of items to send, when about 10am it's "The van is here, let's go." Now, Agam has been in recent years developing his hermit nature, and tends not to really go for big shindig sort of events, but sometimes you just gotta and that's fine. The house is very nice, it's the first time I've actually seen it except in pictures. By Sunday morning, half the town was there - making food, preparing the monks' offerings, moving furniture out of the way, and various other projects. The younger fellas main project seemed to be consuming alcoholic beverages on a grassmat in the shade. The monks arrive mid morning, file into the entrance hall and take their places on prepared cushions. As many guests as can fit are seated on the floor, the rest are on the front porch and around the house. Much chanting of sutras, as it goes through several phases. The lead monk sprinkles water from a whisk, lightly dousing everyone present, and continues throughout the house blessing each room in like fashion. He draws symbols in white paste on the doors, adds a bit of gold leaf, rejoins the others for a little more chanting then it's time to eat.
I've been through this type of ritual a few times now, so it's all fairly familiar. I like it a lot, and I really love that sound of the monks' voices chanting the Pali verses. I don't understand it but it really sounds great. Anyway, yeah time to eat. A feast of every imaginable kind of dishes materializes on the mats, dividing up into three sets so that each set has every kind of food. Everyone sits patiently watching the monks dig in - it's all very relaxed with joking and conversation cropping up, but they are very intent on their food and eat heartily. It's about 11am, and they won't eat solid food again until the next day. When the monks are finished, the dishes gradually migrate back across the floor for later reference. Nine little offering baskets consisting of a monk's daily needs appear - soap, matches, toothpaste, robe, candles, a bucketful of stuff packed into an orange plastic bucket and wrapped in saran wrap. Each family member offers one of these to one of the monks, more chanting, then family members pour water into plates while another verse is chanted and each person in the room who isn't pouring, connects to a water-pourer by touching an arm or leg, or touching someone who is touching someone who touches the water-pourer..... The plates of water are sent outside to be distributed to the trees around the house, and when you get back from behind the house, the monks have magically all vanished. Now everybody else eats from the vast quantities that the monks have left over for us. Things wind down over the next few hours as people get full and gradually drift away, and the Bangkok contingent begins to get organised for the return trip to the Big Mango.
When we got home that evening I was curious to see what was happening on the Normandy coast, as it was still noon over there. This was to be an important day for the countries involved, and the leaders who had lately been somewhat at odds with each other. BBC seemed to be having good live coverage of the day's events, and one could hope that they would not mess it up too badly with their annoying partisan bias - after all, what's there to be partisan about the liberation of Europe? It was a good half hour before they got around to mentioning that Ronald Reagan had died. Hmm, maybe C-SPAN will be a better choice after all (a choice I only have on weekends anyway). These threads will be picked up again later. In the ensuing week, I wanted to write but somehow couldn't. Maybe it was a sudden aversion to being partisan myself. I think it may be because of some things I heard and saw that night. I could be wrong. I have been wrong once or twice in the past, and more than likely it could very well happen again...
I came across an op-ed piece in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof, who was in Beijing during the Chinese pro-democracy movement, and who witnessed the communist government's vicious response. For what it's worth, here is the link - if I'd posted this last weekend as intended, it would still be freely available. Sorry about that (sometimes these can be found elsewhere on the net with news.google.com searches, but this is the most interesting part of the piece).
I was in my Beijing apartment when I heard that troops had opened fire and were trying to force their way to Tiananmen. So I raced to the scene on my bicycle, dodging tank traps that protesters had erected.I really feel annoyed when I hear that argument - that this or that people are simply unprepared or incapable of handling democracy at this particular time. It's absolute nonsense of course, and just a pathetic excuse by those unwilling to share power. And it's quite surprising how often one hears it from apologists for the "People's" Republic.
The night was filled with gunfire -- and with Chinese standing their ground to block the troops. I parked my bike at Tiananmen, and the People's Liberation Army soon arrived from the other direction. The troops fired volley after volley at the crowd on the Avenue of Eternal Peace; at first I thought these were blanks, but then the night echoed with screams and people began to crumple.
It's often said that an impoverished, poorly educated, agrarian country like China cannot sustain democracy. Yet my most powerful memory of that night 15 years ago is of the peasants who had come to Beijing to work as rickshaw drivers.
During each lull in the firing, we could see the injured, caught in a no-man's-land between us and the troops. We wanted to rescue them but didn't have the guts. While most of us in the crowd cowered and sought cover, it was those uneducated rickshaw drivers who pedaled out directly toward the troops to pick up the bodies of the dead and wounded.
Some of the rickshaw drivers were shot, but the rest saved many, many lives that night, rushing the wounded to hospitals as tears streamed down their cheeks. It would be churlish to point out that such people are ill-prepared for democracy, when they risked their lives for it.
By the way, the "new" generation of PRC leaders are seeming more and more like no different from the preceding three generations. Getting rich is still glorious, but speaking one's mind is not. I'd earlier written about Bao Tong, and linked to some of his material including his letter of this spring to the ruling tyrants about the elderly Dr. Jiang Yanyong. A little update with that: it seems that the brave old gentleman doctor (he's in his 80's) has disappeared in the week before the June 4th anniversary. Undoubtedly the government has placed him into protective custody, along the lines of the protection afforded to the young Panchen Lama (who, along with his family, hasn't been seen for the past 9 years).
And while on the subject, the shrill denunciations of Dalai Lama have not abated either, whose recent visit to England and Scotland brought out the usual responses and childish threats against him, his hosts, and anybody else deemed to be getting in the way of complete Tibetan assimilation and subjugation. They announced that he will have no role to play in Tibet's future, whether or not he halts his "splittist activities" - and of course the fact that "splittist activities" have not been seen coming from him, would have little bearing on their attitude. Communist China is no less an empire than the old Soviet Union ever was.
THE MOTHER CORPORATION AGAIN SHOWS HER COLOURS
This tipoff comes via a very interesting Canadian blogger located somewhere around Saskatoon. Kate McMillan picked it up from Glen, and I hereby tease you with a quote for your perusal. It's a theme I've noticed a lot recently, and possibly goes some way to explaining why I felt so disgusted by parts of the far left and much of their activity to preserve Saddam Hussein in power. Of course people can disagree thoughtfully and honourably over what happened, it's the strident overblown rhetoric (on any side) with obviously little basis in reality which I have no more tolerance for. Little surprise then to realise that the extreme left can be every bit as totalitarian as the fascism they pretend to oppose. Yet another reason that the old left / right spectrum is obsolete and inadequate, when it seems that it actually bends around into a circle enabling the far extremities on either end can be found standing side by side. (Of course, nothing new about the far left being totalitarian or fascist, refer to previous item on the "Peoples" Republic.)
As an aside, I've read some fascinating stuff from "left-leaning" writer Oliver Kamm in Britain (who I think I've mentioned or linked to before), on the commonalities between such groups as the Stop the War Coalition, International A.N.S.W.E.R., the Trotskyite Socialist Workers Party, and others. I'll add him to the blogroll at right, he's always worth the read. Michael Berg was the star speaker at the International A.N.S.W.E.R. big rally last weekend (which thankfully this time, C-SPAN was too occupied with Reagan and Normandy to bother with). Anyway, here's a bit of Nick Cohen's piece in the New Statesman. I'm afraid that once again, my worst suspicions regarding the BBC are being confirmed.
Just before the war against Iraq I began to receive strange calls from BBC journalists. Would I like information on how the leadership of the anti-war movement had been taken over by the Socialist Workers Party? Maybe, I replied. It was depressing that a totalitarian party was in the saddle, but that's where the SWP always tries to get. Why get excited?The article appeared in New Statesman which I understand is normally a left-leaning paper itself, along the lines of The Guardian. But I hear that it has already become a subscriber only article, so the piece has been thoughtfully kept available on a message board, so be sure to read the rest here if you're interested.
Oh there are lots of reasons, said the BBC hacks. The anti-war movement wasn't a simple repetition of the old story of the politically naive being led by the nose by sly operators. The far left was becoming the far right. It had gone as close to supporting Ba'athist fascism as it dared and had formed a working alliance with the Muslim Association of Britain, which, along with the usual misogyny and homophobia of such organisations, also believed that Muslims who decided that there was no God deserved to die for the crime of free thought. In a few weeks hundreds of thousands of people, maybe millions, would allow themselves to be organised by the opponents of democracy and modernity and would march through the streets of London without a flicker of self-doubt. Wasn't this a story?
It's a great story, I cried. But why don't you broadcast it?
We can't, said the bitter hacks. Our editors won't let us.
SADDAM - AL QAEDA
This is an issue which has achieved almost religious faith status among the mainstream media, something like the frequently repeated, "Saddam had no chemical or bio weapons, Bush lied people died" refrain. It's funny how a sarin gas device in a binary weapon form is not enough proof of its own existence. Could it be believable that they only made one? I'd say that would be as unlikely as I once would have thought a reputable "newspaper of record" would be to have termed 3 - 4 litres of liquid sarin... close to a gallon in a single device.... as no more notable than that "traces of sarin agent were present." As I recall, that's how the New York Times described it. Egads, can these people be any more obvious?
As I've written before, the WMD issue was never the principle one for me on the side of taking out Saddam once and for all. In fact I think that if anything, this was an issue arguing more for non-action if we actually believed he was fully stocked and crazy enough to use them. The fact that confirmation on this issue was not absolute, was a small point weighing against total inaction. Capability was there for sure, willingness to use it was there for sure, support to terrorist groups was there for sure, evidence of increasing willingness to cooperate or collaborate was beginning to emerge (even after Sept. 11 - some information on this was available before the Iraq war and much more has been coming to light since), but the extent of stockpiles was acknowledged to be undetermined. So as far as I can see, although several other issues ranked higher than WMD in weighing pros and cons for me, the WMD thing even by itself tended slightly more on the 'do it now rather than wait' side of the scale.
As I wrote at the beginning here, the issue of Saddam's connection with al Qaeda has become a similar kind of received wisdom or consistent article of faith in the mainstream media. That is, that there wasn't any. Much is made of the American citizen's rank stupidity by citing polls which indicated a fairly high tendency to think Saddam had something to do with Sept. 11, usually followed by blaming the Bush admin. for outright lying about the issue and making up false intelligence to support their lies. The more moderate media would couch it as more of an intent to "mislead" through the dropping of hints and inferences, using verbal sleight of hand to create the desired effect. I had lately come across some passing references to what is actually known about this issue, including finding a pointer somewhere along the way to this Wall Street Journal editorial. It only touches the surface, but it told me that much more is actually known than is being admitted by the press at large.
We realize that even raising this subject now is politically incorrect. It is an article of faith among war opponents that there were no links whatsoever--that "secular" Saddam and fundamentalist Islamic terrorists didn't mix. But John Ashcroft's press conference yesterday reminds us that the terror threat remains, and it seems especially irresponsible for journalists not to be open to new evidence. If the CIA was wrong about WMD, couldn't it have also missed Saddam's terror links?This piqued my interest, because I knew that this touched on one of the acknowledged intel failures which might have revealed the Sept. 11 plot in advance: two of the eventual hijackers were actually under surveillance during this "summit" in Kuala Lumpur. Whether the CIA were watching them directly or merely relying on Malaysians to stay on top of things, I don't know. Whichever it is, the future hijackers flew to Bangkok for a week and disappeared, from where they later flew to Los Angeles. That was admitted to have been a bad mistake, where the spooks really dropped the ball by losing track of these guys.
One striking bit of new evidence is that the name Ahmed Hikmat Shakir appears on three captured rosters of officers in Saddam Fedayeen, the elite paramilitary group run by Saddam's son Uday and entrusted with doing much of the regime's dirty work. Our government sources, who have seen translations of the documents, say Shakir is listed with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
This matters because if Shakir was an officer in the Fedayeen, it would establish a direct link between Iraq and the al Qaeda operatives who planned 9/11. Shakir was present at the January 2000 al Qaeda "summit" in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at which the 9/11 attacks were planned. The U.S. has never been sure whether he was there on behalf of the Iraqi regime or whether he was an Iraqi Islamicist who hooked up with al Qaeda on his own.
Well, I've been doing some research during my quiet week. It seems that a couple of journalists have been dogging this story for quite some time, and one of them, Stephen F. Hayes, has drawn the many threads together in a book which was published just a week or so ago. While I don't expect to be seeing The Connection: How al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein has Endangered America anytime soon (and i have a big stack of books already awaiting my attention), Mr. Hayes has written quite a lot on the subject in his capacity as a staff writer at the Weekly Standard. Here are just two of more than a dozen of his pieces which I read during my week of silence. The first was published last November, based on a secret government memorandum passed to him which had been intended only for the Senate Intelligence Committee. It details contacts between Saddam and al Qaeda going back more than a decade, and continuing right up until the Iraq war.
The second piece goes into more detail of the above mentioned Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, the officer in Fedayeen Saddam who shepherds the al Qaeda members to their planning summit in KL, among other parts of the story. This was published just last week.
Generally, if any of these many threads are ever mentioned in the mass media, it will be the single issue of an alleged meeting between Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi officer from their embassy in Prague, during April 2001 in that Czech city. The repeated mantra is that the Bush admin had claimed this meeting, but that the Czech intelligence and President Vaclav Havel have categorically denied that anything of the sort ever took place. This is another one of those things that one sloppy reporter says once, and the others simply continue repeating it like trained seals. President Havel rebuked this assertion immediately after it was made, no less than five Czech officials have repeated and continue to stand by their assertion that the meeting did take place, and the Czech intelligence agency continues to affirm the truth of the account.
There's too much detail to go through here, but sadly, there is no doubt anymore that the media is willfully misleading on this issue wherever possible, and simply ignoring it wherever it can't be spun into the "Bush lied" theme. Not only are al Qaeda contacts with Saddam simply too numerous to put down to coincidence, cash payments and weapons acquisition assistance are also documented, as is Saddam's direct involvement in an aborted terrorist attack against US interests. He was so infuriated by the broadcasts of Radio Free Iraq - via the facilities of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty located in Prague - that he had directed the embassy officer previous to Mohammed Atta's buddy, to organise an operation to blow the station up. We know this because the official decided to jump ship rather than carry out the bombing.
We are already well informed with Iraq embassy involvement in terrorist planning and attacks in Philippines, including the Bojinka plot to blow up 12 airliners over the Pacific well before Sept. 11. The cell phone trails tie Iraqi embassy people firmly to terrorism in the Philippines. I want somebody to dig into the activities of one particular white haired Iraqi embassy official who used to be based in Jakarta. Ever since the growth of Islamic fundamentalist group activity in Indonesia following "reformasi", whether it was mass meetings of the Islamic Defenders Front or the various jihadi groups which organised to go to Ambon and Malukku to fight Christians back in 1999 and 2000, this same Iraqi official was always there like a dirty shirt. These and other more religious oriented events sponsored by fundamentalist groups were openly covered in the media, and I watched these events by satellite tv. If there was ever any sort of fundamentalist or militant flavoured event, you could be sure that this fellow would be front row centre. Of course, after the fall of the regime, he was never seen again. I'd sure love to know where he went, and I'd know him instantly if I ever see him again.
But its curious, isn't it? How is it that the 'ignorant and sheeplike' American public could have formed the perception that Saddam had something to do with either al Qaeda, Islamic fundamentalist terrorism or Sept. 11 - if in fact the media has been so dedicated in denigrating the notion? Coupled with the fact that the Bush admin. had actually not gone any further in this than having mentioned them in the same speech, and indeed when one starts to dig one gets the impression that, if anything, the admin. has been markedly downplaying this connection. Most of the supporting evidence which is known for sure, has not been touted by the admin. at all. In fact Mr. Bush had actually said, incorrectly and in a clear attempt to downplay, that "there is no evidence". What he perhaps meant was that there is, as yet no ironclad, watertight, court-standard open and shut case of proof that Saddam was involved with Sept. 11. Mr. Cheney was in fact correct in his chosen words to answer that direct question: he said, "We simply don't know for sure." Of course the media jumped all over that one and screamed about misleading impressions. I believe he was actually being quite careful and considered with that reply. So anyway, if Bush officials aren't telling them about it, and the media is continuously rejecting any connection, why do the polls show this "false" impression?
Very simple. The media don't agree with the connection NOW. They certainly did a few years ago. Almost to the point that the Saddam - bin Laden collaboration was at that time the same sort of accepted received wisdom that its absence is considered to be today. In some cases, the very same journalists who falsely and ignorantly sneer at established facts now on this issue, were in 1998 and 1999 writing that this collaboration was common knowledge. And I'm talking about mainstream respected media, like Newsweek, Time, NYT and Washington Post. Some real juicy examples of this hypocrisy can be found in some of Stephen Hayes' articles, if not the two I've linked to, then just pull up them all by searching their site for his name. There's one Newsweek writer that, if I were him and wanted to continue writing in public, should really consider changing his name. That's just how blatant the contradiction is. I'm really getting discouraged if this is actually the standard of trustworthiness we have to expect from a supposedly respected newsmagazine like Newsweek.
GOH CHOK TONG
It's nice to see that at least one Asian leader gets it:
The JI has tried to create the conditions for Christians and Muslims in Southeast Asia to set against one another. In December 2000, it attacked churches in Indonesia, including one church in an Indonesian island off Singapore. It has sent its members to fight and stir up trouble in Ambon against Christians.His reference to "JI" is of course, Jema'ah Islamiyah, the pan-Asian jihadi group which carried out the Bali bombing in Kuta, and the Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta. I was actually in Yogyakarta at Christman of 2000, and accompanied a friend there for Christmas Eve Catholic Mass. It was a nice experience, and luckily not one of the churches targeted across the archipelago that night. Oh, I suppose I shouldn't assume anything, and should not forget to mention that Mr. Goh is the Prime Minister of Singapore.
One of those we detained in Singapore was a service engineer with an American company. He confessed that he actually liked his American friends
and bosses. He was nevertheless involved in targeting American interests. We
have a sense that he had struggled with this. He eventually decided to testify against the spiritual leader of JI, Abu Bakar Bashir, but only because he felt betrayed by Bashir's denial of the very existence of the JI organisation which Bashir headed and to whom he and other members had sworn allegiance.
And just as Osama bin Laden is trying to drive a wedge between Europe and America, in Southeast Asia, JI was plotting to do the same thing by blowing up the pipelines that supply water from Malaysia to Singapore. The JI knew that water from Malaysia is a matter of life and death for Singapore. They knew that race and religion have historically been the major fault lines within and between both countries. The JI's intention was to provoke a conflict between Singapore and Malaysia and portray a "Chinese Singapore" as threatening a "Muslim Malaysia," and use the ensuing confusion to try and overthrow the Malaysian government and establish an Islamic state in Malaysia.
MEDALLION POLLO D'ESPANA
In news certain to warm the hearts of all the committed pollos of Spain, Prime Minister and Mr. Bean look-alike Mr. Zapatero has awarded medals of honour to a number of Generals in the nation's military services, as well as to his government's new Minister of Defence. The medals mark their brave service in pulling Spain's contribution to Iraqi security out of the country as quickly as possible, well before Mr. Bean's threatened deadline which was contingent upon an expected United Nations resolution. Seeing no need to fulfill Mr. Zap's promise, the medal winners were recognised for having organised the speediest retreat in Spanish history. However the government minister, having only been in office a few weeks, was evidently shamed by the whooping catcalls from parliamentary benches into
returning his medal. Oh well. Evidently the senior officers suffered no such humiliation, and decided to keep their medals for 'valour in hasty retreat'. After all, the long suffering Iraqi people didn't really need Spanish help, did they? Nah, after all... no tenemos huevos con mucho gusto, senor!
And in further interesting Iberian peninsula news, the Syrian Ba'athist dictator comes calling, with the missus along for shopping, no doubt:
"The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that the Syrian intelligence service ordered Hizbollah to cut ties with the Basque terrorists while President President Bashar al-Asad, of Syria, and his wife, Ashma visited Madrid."That Italian paper by the way, Corriere della Sera has also been digging up a lot of this Saddam - bin Laden stuff. Syrian Ba'ath party (the one and only original!) - Hizbollah (Army of Allah) - ETA Basque nationalism terrorists ... hmm, secular Arab national socialist totalitarians, Islamic fundamentalist jihadis, and a non-Arab, non-Muslim ethnic nationalist terrorism group ... nah it's not possible, no way, never happened, quelle impossiblement!
He's why I couldn't bring myself to write this week, and be my usual ornery and one-sided self. I mentioned a while back about how we tended to accept it and even feel moved or inspired when John F. Kennedy talked about the "free world", whereas it was much more common to sneer at or castigate Ronald Reagan for being a shallow and simple minded war monger for saying the same kind of thing. I've been quite struck this week by the number of people whom I regularly read these days, expressing how much they had despised Mr. Reagan during his term, and feel very regretful about their previous attitude today. Even more of these people than I would have expected, actually also came to similar views on the struggle against the movement of Islamic fascism, the liberation of Iraq, communism, international affairs etc. from a similar left-leaning origin back in the Reagan period. One fellow simply wrote something like, "I hated him when he was in office, and today I can't stop crying."
Well I'm not going to go that far on either extreme, but my feelings about his politics have softened a lot since communism's almost total collapse (still a few straggling countries waiting to stand up). It used to be so annoying to hear the clacking and crowing from the boastful right wingers, "We won the cold war, we won the cold war." Well some of them certainly were annoying people, but I'm damn glad it did come out the way it did. We did win the cold war, and I mean we all of us did. Freedom won and tyranny lost. So it's not "we right wingers" (I mean those other annoying boasters who mean just themselves by the word) and it's not "we in western countries"... it's "we, all of us". The people living under the Soviet boot won every bit as much, and probably more than we did. Reagan wasn't half as shallow as I think we painted him to be, just like I know that Bush is not half as stupid as the current left wants to paint him to be. It sounded simple, but it was fundamental, not simplistic. It's like water flows downhill, hot air rises, and people gravitate toward freedom. Was it him who coined the phase, that they were on the wrong side of history? I'm not sure, but it's the same kind of thing. If you can look at the big sweep of history, it can only go one way eventually - the trick is managing it so as few people as possible will get hurt in the process of change.
So he was right after all, and what really drove home for me in remembering him last weekend, and seeing some stuff that C-SPAN showed that night - and I must admit, it's something that I had no right not to acknowledge back in the day (but many of us chose to ignore it, which I'm sorry for), was that he was a very decent sort of fellow. Oh I'm sure I can think of plenty of things that I might still think he was wrong about, and some things that he did or policies which were wrong or bad. Iran-contra, praising Efraim Rios Montt of Guatemala, ignoring certain things while caring about certain others... plenty of things not to agree about. But he was decent, he wasn't malicious against people who opposed him, he conducted the political debates and battles with good grace - and so many of his opponents admitted all this through this past week.
Some of the unbelievably vile things that emanate from some quarters just seem like they belong on some other planet when one thinks of Reagan's time. The Ted Ralls and the Democratic Underground / Move On crowd, and so much else that I see coming from many different directions - although I don't think I'm exaggerating to say that far more nowadays seems to come from the radical left than from the far right. Maybe just cause they don't have Clinton to kick anymore. Pat Buchanan seems like a sort of freaky anomaly than anything representative. From the DU / Move On types I feel like nothing can be too extreme, and they still shock me. Agree with him or not, Ronald Reagan was an honourable man who respected his opponents, who invariably liked him in return. And that stands far taller than pipsqueak "radicals" gloating over his death, hoping it was painful and horrible for him, or imagining him being toasted to a crisp in hell, thinking they're so clever and getting even for injustice and oppression when they can't even spell at third grade level. One didn't even need to go looking for such garbage this week - so opposite to what the man was, that I just had no stomach to write anything. The many thousands who wanted to respect him, far outpacing all expectations at the lying-in-state in California and Washington, spoke enough.
So that Sunday night I watched the ceremonies which remembered the liberation of Europe - or at least the first step in a long hard struggle to free the continent - from fascism. And, bless C-SPAN, they played the 40th anniversary tape as well. It was President Reagan in 1984, and his words were inspired and moving - simple but far from simplistic. Soviet communism was still 6 or 7 years away from its end, and I'm sure if I'd been listening to it back then I would have thought, "whata bunch of nonsense." But hearing it today, it sounded fresh and true and so very right. There was another short clip of him making some sort of address about 20 years earlier, 1965 I think it was. And he was explaining how the commonly used political metaphor, the left / right continuum was out of date. 1965! The very thing that's been bugging me just lately, he was already throwing it out 40 years ago. How can such a complex thing, which should probably be more properly mapped out in three dimensions to have any hope in representing the vast possibilities, ever hope to be represented by a one dimensional measurement? Left and right, toss it out. He said something on that old tape along the lines of, if it has to be a bi-directional scale, better to make it up and down - up for more freedom, and down for more tyranny. Beautiful!
Anyway, it would be good to remember what he meant to those slaves of communism, who apparently took heart from his unswerving stand upon simple truths. There is an Aussie blogger named Arthur Chrenkoff, who just happens to have lived in Poland at the time:
Throughout the 1980s, during the Polish Spring of "Solidarity", and then through the dark winter of the martial law, and the slow decomposition of the system, Ronald Reagan was our undisputed leader in the free republic of our hearts. He was our beacon of hope, someone who understood our condition and spoke about it in our language. The Western sophisticates sneered when he spoke about the "Evil Empire"; we knew it was evil and that it was an empire - we lived in it. They laughed at him when he said that communism is being consigned to the ash heap of history - how ignorant, how simplistic, how unrealistic - we, on the other hand, took heart because we knew that for him it wasn't just an empty rhetoric; he meant exactly what he said and had every intention of seeing it through. In the end, he had the last laugh.The last old Reagan tape shown by the C-SPAN that night, came from around 1993 or 1994. He was addressing the Oxford Union, the debating society at Oxford University. The Oxford Union was famously known for having resolutely opposed the fight against fascism and National Socialism in 1939. But these young people welcomed him heartily. He seemed a little bit frail already, and I wondered if his disease would show at all. He was absolutely tremendous. The Berlin Wall was already gone, Soviet communism was all but dead, but there was still far from enough freedom in the world.
His words were powerful and very inspiring, they moved those students and they moved me 10 years later. It was a masterful performance, and I didn't detect a single slip or gaff during the fairly long address. He held us and moved us steadily and logically through a progression of ideas such that you ended up in a different place from where you started. It was his belief system, his grand vision of where we've been, where we are, and where we are heading. He was incredibly excited and optimistic for the future, like it just couldn't come fast enough. It was a voyage, a grand noble voyage, and it all seemed to come right off the top of his head. He spoke of our problems and how we should be looking at them for best results, homing in on how to best deal with the messy Yugoslavia problems, and the terrible crisis in Sudan. I thought of the present situation in Darfur, and how this man who was long castigated as a right wing bigot in fact clearly and simply held as much compassion in his soul for black Africans suffering tyranny as for white Europeans. While today the noble UN does little against the member state Sudan, which is supporting if not participating in a racially based genocidal tragedy, and that same country is accepted to sit proudly as a member of the UN's own Human Rights Committee.
I haven't seen that kind of state funeral for quite a while. I guess I wasn't paying much attention when LBJ had his in 1973. I do well remember JFK's in 1963. I was only nine, and I don't recall why I felt that way, but I know I did cry. That was a scary decade for a little kid. It seemed like the end of the world was always just around the corner, and I know I used to have nightmares about that. Seeing a nuclear end of the world movie on the late show one night, didn't help any. Nightmares. The last person left on earth, everybody else is either a skeleton on a city bus, or just a shadow on a brick wall. Nightmares. Cuba missile crisis, grade 2, get under your desk in event of an attack. Nightmares. Kennedy looked like a good guy to a kid, like maybe he could keep the end of the world from happening. He got us through that scary time in grade 2 when everybody was real worried, but then in grade 4 somebody killed him and it was all a lot scarier again.
The horse drawn gun carriage...clop...clop...clop... bearing the casket. A caisson they called it - I remember that word from Kennedy. Funny what you remember. The riderless horse, I think Kennedy had that too. Boots reversed in the stirrups, that I don't remember. Time slowed down, definitely. Of course now the colours are all there; then, tv pictures weren't all that good, and monochrome. I think I remember Cronkite crying for Kennedy on tv. Nobody in the media would ever cry for Reagan of course. Nancy did, and George H.W. did, in the cathedral. I couldn't stand the commentary and analysis. C-SPAN had it right, I wish I could have that option all the time instead of just weekends. Plenty of callers to Washington Journal thanked them for it, for doing it right. Just show the thing as it is, and shut up about it. BBC of course had to choose commentators and guest analysts bent on scoring cheap points against a dead man. With a few welcome exceptions. The Guardian editor who was spouting off yesterday morning, can go get stuffed. No class at all.
I watched the Cathedral service on re-air without boneheaded analysis. I wish I'd appreciated this guy better while he was still alive, but I was younger (of course) and knew everything (Ha!). Sorry Ronny old boy, you'll understand. That Irish tenor was phenomenal. Lady Thatcher's video was very nice, hat's off to her for just being there (and flying out west for the sunset thing). Bush the elder said some good things, and obviously felt it deeply. Mulroney was rather flat, but he talked because Reagan wanted him to. A pair of Irish boys, or something. Bush the younger did his part right - no wrapping himself in Reagan, no political point scoring, just simple and real, and understated if anything. Good. To see Gorbachev chatting with Thatcher, and Mulroney beside them interjecting into the conversation, kind of nice, and how long ago their times seem now. But not really so long in fact. Straight across were the Clintons, looking a bit separate even while being in the ex-presidents section. One wag called Washington Journal the other night, noting that everyone seemed able to stay awake - even the 80+ year olds - except for two. The Clintons. And even I happened to notice that Bill looked pretty strange at times, head back, eyes closed, mouth catchin' flies. Didn't notice he or Hillary talking at all. The humourist on the line to the Journal said that Ronny had succeeded where all else had failed - he managed to get Bill and Hillary sleeping together again! Heh heh. I'm not trying to be mean - I like Bill. Especially if he's teaming up with Bob Dole though. If anybody happens to know what music was used as the casket was carried out of the Cathedral, I'd like to know. Stirring stuff.
Just a little more on this. I thought it worth jotting down the words enscribed at what I presume will be the resting place, where Nancy finally broke down at the end. She'd kept it together for a whole week, and I think everyone must have had at least a tear at that scene. But this is enscribed on the curved wall, his own words:
that what is right will always eventually triumph
and there is purpose and worth in each and every life
I think rather than remember him as a hardened cold warrior, he seems rather more like an idealistic and decent man, who was sometimes right and sometimes wrong. When he was right, he was very very right. I think it's probably true that he never hated anybody, and did his best, as he knew it, to be honourable. How could it be otherwise for a guy who remembered in his diary, that after being shot he wanted to say a prayer for the man who shot him. For a guy whose disposition was such that when they wheeled him into the operating room still conscious after the assassination attempt, he looked around at the doctors and said, "I sure hope you fellas are Republicans."
This is extracted from a theatre review recently appearing in the Village Voice. An example of the sick sort of loony "radical" rhetoric that seems to say anything goes nowadays. Where opposing some nebulous, ill defined "right wing evil" can justify virtually any repulsive nonsense and almost (in some eyes) render it honourable. This is what I see in Reagan this week, was the antithesis of this type of junk. The Voice should be ashamed of itself.
Republicans don't believe in the imagination, partly because so few of them have one, but mostly because it gets in the way of their chosen work, which is to destroy the human race and the planet. Human beings, who have imaginations, can see a recipe for disaster in the making; Republicans, whose goal in life is to profit from disaster and who don't give a hoot about human beings, either can't or won't. Which is why I personally think they should be exterminated before they cause any more harm.I will not provide a link for this. It was much quoted and linked in the blog world last week. But I think it just doesn't deserve one single redirect of traffic. If you really want to find it, it shouldn't be too hard.
This opinion is presumably not shared by Foreman; you can gauge the breadth of his imaginative compassion from his willingness to extend it even toward George W. Bush, idiot scion of a genetically criminal family that should have been sterilized three generations ago.
HOW DO OUR BRAVE FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS BEHAVE THEMSELVES ABROAD?
From one of the watchers of the European media, Erik Svane (who can also be found contributing to No Pasaran!) comes the story of how some Iraqis Complain of Western and Arab Journalistic Practices:
A sculptor in Bagdad's Shabander Teahouse definitely takes a low view of French journalists. "They come here and talk against the U.S. in a stupid way. They don't care about the crimes of Saddam Hussein." And it's not only the French, notes a friend: "European and Arab journalists talk to us, but they don't care about our happiness in being liberated. They only want us to make anti-American comments." After spending five to six weeks in Iraq, Steven Vincent wrote an article for Reason concerning his experience and his discussions with "as close to a full panoply of current Baghdad life as I could". He heard many stories about foreign correspondents staging news events to discredit the U.S. One Spanish photographer had posed an Iraqi woman in a nearby pile of rubble looking plaintively toward heaven, as if seeking deliverance from U.S. bombs. "These journalists come here with their minds already made up," a Bagdad painter groused. "They're not interested in anything that contradicts their anti-American viewpoint"...If you visit either Erik's own site or the collaborative No Pasaran! don't miss the pics of their direct action in response to the French D-Day anniversary anti American anti imperialist liberator no blood for oil and so on and so forth demonstration in Paris. Not a single American flag anywhere to be seen along the Champs Elysee (go figure, huh?) - while scant weeks ago they honoured the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the "Peoples" Republic of China with reams of commie flags, red bunting attached to every available point of display, and they even turned the entire Eiffel Tower completely Red in honour of his Redness and the Red Star over China and the general East is Red and communism is Red, and Tibet is also Red so let's all be Red in solidarity! or something like that. Yawn.
60 YEARS APRES LA LIBERATION - AND SOMETHING ELSE
I guess nobody noticed it much, or mentioned it while the French were trying to avoid having to say thanks with any sort of genuine feeling, in response to the actual purpose of the whole fancy preparations and ceremonial rituals. I mean, here we were last weekend honouring those young men of so long ago who willingly gave themselves not just for their own people's benefit, or just their country, or just the Allied countries, but their cause was actually the very future of the entire world. At bottom, for the very same principles and fundamental need of every human being that Mr. Reagan idealized so much. They offered their own young lives in the hopes for freedom for every human life, the same freedom which even poor and not very educated people will show with their bravery - like the Tiananmen rickshaw pullers - that absolutely nobody is undeserving of. And all we can do now is to bow our heads in awe, offer a smile and shake the hands of the few who are left now. To say a heartfelt thank you for your service, we'll never forget.
Some of the commentators and writers and others in the land where "liberte" is one of the three key words, went to great lengths to distance those issues of 60 years earlier in their own country, with another more recent liberation from another viscious and very similar fascism. Oh they came up with many reasons why there was no conceivable comparison, but they did miss one thing. June 6, 2004 is the 60th anniversary of another event. It marks the founding of the original Arab Ba'athist Party by some fellow whose name I've misplaced now, in Syria. The original Ba'ath Party, which was actually inspired and philosophically based upon the German National Socialism of Hitler and Mussolini's Italian fascist party (which I have no idea what the proper name is). Yes that's right. Ba'athism is a direct outgrowth of European fascism, planted itself in Syria as a pan-Arabist fascist movement and was later taken up by the rising Saddam Hussein as his prefered vehicle for advancement.
Put that in your pipe, Mr. Chiraq.
A JOB ACTION WITH SERIOUS IMPLICATIONS
I just don't know how we will cope with this diabolical witholding of labour. Could criminals actually go on strike? What will they do if management resists collective bargaining? What happens if the strike drags on for months and years? The mind boggles.
This is a proposal from the Australian Prisoners Union that there be a call for a strike by prisoners in Australia and their supporters. We would call for parallel actions around the world. It is time to assert ourselves as human beings with a common issue. We know the comradeship of the prison experience.Now I want to be clear, I don't actually read any of those creepy "indymedia" sites, and picked this up from Tim Blair as I recall. But obviously I'm missing some serious sources of genuine humour by not paying them any attention. I mean sheesh - a worldwide strike of criminals refusing to break the law. Oops, it's not apparent from the limited quoted material here, but this strike by lawbreakers is in solidarity with the abused prisoners of Abu Ghraib prison. Now I'd be careful if I were a strategist for the Prisoners' Union. If a few dog collars and leashes and flowered panties upon heads can set off job action like this... well it might tend to give certain people certain ideas, if you know what I mean. In fact even if this job action was limited only to Iraq's own criminal population, I would think such a strike - withholding in solidarity of all criminal endeavours, in other words a terribly diabolical keeping of the peace - could quickly gain some serious public support. Perhaps it could conceivably become the single most publicly supported job action to be seen since the time the earth cooled.
Prisoners and their communities could decide on a crime strike, and tell the public what would make that possible. To make a conscious decision to not break the law for a day. The police could be asked to show goodwill and tolerance at the same time. If we can show that we can make a difference that would lead to greater possibilities in the future. Worldwide the effect would be enormous.