Saturday, January 25, 2003
Dumbledore lowered his hands and surveyed Harry through his half-moon glasses. "It is time," he said, for me to tell you what I should have told you five years ago, Harry. Please sit down. I am going to tell you everything.""
(Yes, this does mean I've been sad enough to pre-order it. It's 50% off, and will let me converse intellegently with younger relations for a year or so)
"The huge capitalist machine seems to be faltering, even as it grinds down the vast majority of citizens. None the less, George Bush proposes another large tax cut for the 1% of the population that is comparatively rich."
The oddest thing about this description of the USA is the use of "comparatively".
Option A: the majority of the population of America are reasonably rich (the view of most of the world's population), in which case the richest 1% might only be "comparatively rich. However, if most of the population are reasonably well off, then how come the "vast majority" of them are being ground down by the boot of capitalism.
Option B: the vast majority of Americans (per capita annual disposable income in November 2002: $27,638) are being crushed by the system, and the rich of America are not just comparatively, but genuinely rich.
Option C: the word "comparatively" has no place in this absurd sentence. The richest 1% of America's population are rich by any standards of comparison, be they in the modern world or against any historical era.
"In the case of Iraq, with no weapons of mass destruction to speak of, the US plans a war; in the case of North Korea, it offers economic and energy aid."
The standard reading, I would think, of "X has no Y to speak of" is that X has at least some Y, or perhaps even quite a lot of Y but less than Z has. If Iraq has weapons of mass destruction (and has been trying to get more), then they should be stopped. If North Korea has quite a lot of them, and is militarily unassailable at a sane cost, then we must look to alternatives. Note also that "in the case of North Korea", economic and energy aid was offered in 1994 before NK had weapons of mass destruction as a bribe to cease developing them. Energy aid was withdrawn by the US after North Korean diplomats admitted that they had been developing weapons regardless. I've been working pretty long hours for the last three weeks, so I may not be up on all developments, but I thought the current state of play was that US had moved more military forces into the area, was sensibly trying to avoid conflict, but had not yet reopened negotiations based around offering North Korea treats to behave.
"What a humiliating difference between contempt for the Arabs and respect for North Korea, an equally grim and cruel dictatorship."
So: Iraq is a grim and cruel dictatorship. Perhaps we should use try to overthrow it?
"For almost a year American politicians, regional experts, administration officials and journalists have repeated the charges that have become standard fare so far as Islam and the Arabs are concerned. Most of this predates September 11. To today's practically unanimous chorus has been added the authority of the UN human development report on the Arab world, which certified that Arabs dramatically lag behind the rest of the world in democracy, knowledge and women's rights."
Note that the UN human development report was written mostly, if not exclusively, by Arab academics, who would be most likely to know what's going on. And given examples such as Dubai prosecuting a gang-raped French businesswoman for adultery, you can't help but buy into what they say.
"Everyone says (with some justification, of course) that Islam needs reform and that the Arab educational system is a disaster - in effect, a school for religious fanatics and suicide bombers funded not just by crazy imams and their wealthy followers (such as Osama bin Laden) but also by governments who are the supposed allies of the US."
So, there's "some justification". Would you care to go into that at all? Non? Quelle surprise. There's a paragraph or two or abuse of everyone who disagrees with Said, particularly the Arab authors "whose very language reeks of subservience, inauthenticity and the hopelessly stilted mimicry that has been thrust upon them." Without a familiarity with their oeuvre, I'm not willing to dispute this further. We now rejoin our scheduled Fisking.
"Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority offers a return to peacemaking and, presumably, to Oslo. Having been burned for 10 years, Arafat seems inexplicably to want to have another go at it. His faithful lieutenants make declarations and write opinion pieces for the press, suggesting their willingness to accept anything, more or less."
This is, of course, the same Arafat who didn't accept the best offer that the Palestinians have had in the last 30 years, and probably now the best they'll receive for the next 30. Whatever the rights or wrongs of Barak's offer, it was definitely something, and it wasn't accepted.
"Remarkably, though, the great mass of this heroic people seems willing to go on, without peace and without respite, bleeding, going hungry, dying day by day. They have too much dignity and confidence in the justice of their cause to submit shamefully to Israel, as their leaders have done. What could be more discouraging for the average Gazan who goes on resisting Israeli occupation than to see his or her leaders kneel as supplicants before the Americans?"
I'm curious as to when Arafat "submit[ted] shamefully" to Israel, and given the main variety of "resistance" in the last two years has been the use of suicide bombers against civilian targets, I doubt that Said should shout too loudly in their praise.
"The largest power in history is about to launch a war against a sovereign Arab country now ruled by a dreadful regime, the clear purpose of which is not only to destroy the Ba'ath regime but to redesign the entire region. The Pentagon has made no secret that its plans are to redraw the map of the whole Arab world, perhaps changing other regimes and borders in the process. No one can be shielded from the cataclysm if and when it comes. And yet, there is only long silence followed by a few vague bleats of polite demurral in response. Millions of people will be affected, yet America contemptuously plans for their future without consulting them. Do we deserve such racist derision?"
The justification behind regime change through most of the Arab world is that the states lack any democratic legitimacy, and, besides their human rights abuses against their own populations, they fuel terrorism locally and globally either through ideological motives or as a means of buying off the discontent of their population. What legitimate bodies are there to "consult" with in the region? Surely it would be equally racist to plan for the future of the region based on the opinions of dictators, tyrants, and petty monarchs as it is to decide on the need for people to choose freely without consulting them?
"This is not only unacceptable: it is impossible to believe. How can a region of almost 300 million Arabs wait passively for the blows to fall without attempting a collective roar of resistance? Has the Arab will completely dissolved? Even a prisoner about to be executed usually has some last words to pronounce. Why is there now no last testimonial to an era of history, to a civilisation about to be crushed and transformed utterly, to a society that, despite its drawbacks and weaknesses, nevertheless goes on functioning?
Arab babies are born every hour, children go to school, men and women marry and work and have children, they play and laugh and eat, they are sad, they suffer illness and death. There is love and companionship, friendship and excitement. Yes, Arabs are repressed and misruled, terribly misruled, but they manage to go on with the business of living despite everything. This is the reality that both the Arab leaders and the US ignore when they fling empty gestures at the so-called "Arab street" invented by banal Orientalists."
Compare and contrast:
In Apartheid South Africa - "Black babies are born every hour, children go to school, men and women marry and work and have children, they play and laugh and eat, they are sad, they suffer illness and death. There is love and companionship, friendship and excitement"
From the 70s - "CambodianArab babies are born every hour, children go to school, men and women marry and work and have children, they play and laugh and eat, they are sad, they suffer illness and death. There is love and companionship, friendship and excitement."
From 1990s Rwanda - "Tutsi babies are born every hour, children go to school, men and women marry and work and have children, they play and laugh and eat, they are sad, they suffer illness and death. There is love and companionship, friendship and excitement"
From 1930s Germany - "Jewish babies are born every hour, children go to school, men and women marry and work and have children, they play and laugh and eat, they are sad, they suffer illness and death. There is love and companionship, friendship and excitement"
Etc, etc. Just because people have survived (and, in less dramatic instances than I cite, thrived) in terrible circumstances, does not mean that "terrible misrule" should not be ameliorated.
"Who is now asking the existential questions about our future as a people? The task cannot be left to a cacophony of religious fanatics and submissive, fatalistic sheep. But that seems to be the case. The Arab governments - no, most of the Arab countries from top to bottom - sit back in their seats and just wait as America postures, lines up, threatens and ships out more soldiers and F-16s to deliver the punch. The silence is deafening.
Years of sacrifice and struggle, of bones broken in hundreds of prisons and torture chambers from the Atlantic to the Gulf, families destroyed, endless poverty and suffering. Huge, expensive armies. For what?"
I don't quite follow these paragraphs. Presumably the implication is that the former opponents of the Arab regimes (who've suffered "sacrifice and struggle") should be "asking existential questions". However, that interpretation makes little sense in light of the reference to "huge, expensive armies".
That reference suggests a "grand narrative" of the Arab world since the Second World War. The misrule, torture, poverty, suffering, and funding of huge, expensive armies would be all worthwhile if the architects of the misrule, torture, etc, etc were willing to use the huge, expensive armies in a "collective roar of resistance" to defend the regimes that are guilty, collectively and individually, of misrule, torture, etc, etc.
In keeping with an accusation often levied by the "Orientalists" Said so despises, provided that pride is maintained, the Arab world can go to hell in a handbasket. It's just important that they do it their way.
"This is not a matter of party or ideology or faction: it's a matter of what the great theologian Paul Tillich used to call ultimate seriousness. Technology, modernisation and certainly globalisation are not the answer for what threatens us as a people now. We have in our tradition an entire body of secular and religious discourse that treats of beginnings and endings, of life and death, of love and anger, of society and history. This is there, but no voice, no individual with great vision and moral authority seems able now to tap into that and bring it to attention.
We are on the eve of a catastrophe that our political, moral and religious leaders can only just denounce a little bit while, behind whispers and winks and closed doors, they make plans somehow to ride out the storm. They think of survival, and perhaps of heaven. But who is in charge of the present, the worldly, the land, the water, the air and the lives dependent on each other for existence? No one seems to be in charge.
There is a wonderful expression that very precisely and ironically catches our unacceptable helplessness, our passivity and inability to help ourselves now when our strength is most needed. The expression is: will the last person to leave please turn out the lights? We are that close to a kind of upheaval that will leave very little standing and perilously little left even to record, except for the last injunction that begs for extinction.
Hasn't the time come for us collectively to demand and formulate a genuinely Arab alternative to the wreckage about to engulf our world? This is not only a trivial matter of regime change, although God knows that we can do with quite a bit of that. Surely it can't be a return to Oslo, another offer to Israel to please accept our existence and let us live in peace, another cringing, crawling, inaudible plea for mercy? Will no one come out into the light of day to express a vision for our future that isn't based on a script written by Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, those two symbols of vacant power and overweening arrogance? I hope someone is listening."
1) America is screwed by capitalism, but still plots a (racist) war (query - why is America only racist about Arabs? Given the "Orientalist" root of their racism, why don't they have a big issue with North Korea too?).
2) This involves Israel, a) "just because", and b) because the Palestinian leaders who've rejected just about every damn thing ever offered them, except baby wipes, are betraying the "resistance" of the average Palestinian (rather than any putative desire to have a homeland, live in peace, etc).
3) Because the Palestinians aren't getting, and probably won't get, exactly what they, or at least Prof. Edward Said, want, and are suffering as a direct result of their "resistance" (/terrorism/genocidal-in-intent violence (delete depening on the group)), and because the "grim and cruel dictatorship" of Iraq is going to fall as part of a plan for reshaping the region and removing the regimes that have left "Arabs... repressed and misruled, terribly misruled", the Arab world should engage in a "collective roar of resistance".
4) In some unmentioned and undescribed way, and even though the Arab world on Said's account needs it, such regime change would be a disaster, because, hey, just like under most tyrannical regimes, Arabs have managed to get by, and also because it would come from outside.
5) In spite of the lack of any reason to think that internal change would be likely to succeed without a stimulus from outside, what's needed is a "genuinely Arab alternative", though we're not told what that sort of alternative would be.
However, we can speculate a little. Regime change is a "trivial matter" (though also a looming catastrophe). The "wreckage about to engulf [the Arab] world" would appear to involve a "return to Oslo, another offer to Israel to please accept our existence and let us live in peace". I'm not entirely clear. But the implication of this all appears to be that
a) The Arab world should reject peace with Israel on the wrong terms,
b) The Arab world should unite to reject US interference and regime change, and
c) The Arab world should use its "huge, expensive armies" to do something for their Palestinian brothers.
I may be seriously misunderstanding. Said may want a genuine, peaceful, Arab alternative to the current prospects for the region. But he seems strongly against any "shameful" acceptance of offers from Israel, and to be against the Oslo proposals. This implies any peace to come must be bought from a position of Palestinian pride, and how is that to be achieved, in keeping with his calls for pan-Arab solutions, other than down the barrel of a gun.
Thursday, January 23, 2003
"GREASE 3!!! Kylie Minogue to play Olivia and John's Teenage Daughter!"
Yes, the story comes illustrated with a picture of her in a red cape to show that "Kylie definitely doesn't look anything like her age and shouldn't have any problem playing a teenager" . Yeah, like that's why you copied the picture...
"The tobacco companies (all run by men) have been extremely successful in convincing the firearms lobby to pacify the car manufacturers by distributing crack cocaine in 132 nuclear plants so that now up to 69% of women between the ages of 28 and 39 are unable to drive their kids to school without inhaling harmful emissions from the ozone layer caused by taoxic fumes radiated by President Bush under direct instructions from - yes, you guessed it - the tobacco companies."
Who knows? It could be real...
By Our Man in Baghdad, Sarah Sands.
The United Nations weapons inspectors today reported "an incredible find" that makes war inevitable.
The discovery of a huge quantity of oil buried deep under the desert is sure to prompt military intervention.
Washington hawks were jubilant at the find. Said General H.J. Kickassburger, "Saddam thought he could hide it. But we know he is sitting on vast stockpiles of WMD (Wells of Major Dimensions). Now we can send in the tankers.""
Yes, it's from Private Eye - if you're going to be cynical, it might as well be funny...
Sunday, January 19, 2003