2006/12/28

Happy Solstice and New Year!

We're still traveling, with little chance to stop and write a blog. When we get back home (we leave Buenos Aires for Madrid on December 31, expect to be back in Carboneras on 3 Kings Day, January 6) I'll try to catch everybody up on our adventures in Buenos Aires (capital), Buenos Aires Province (La Plata and many little towns in the pampa), Santiago de Chile, Viña del Mar and Valparaíso. Lots of pictures and stories to come. Thanks for your notes and cards, and please excuse this unpersonalized reply -- time on Internet is pretty limited while we're on the move. Have a wonderful 2007, full of new experiences, understandings and satisfactions.

2006/11/30

A glimpse into Israeli collective psychosis

Thanks to Lois and Khalil Nakhleh for pointing me to this analysis. It will help us understand a psychopathology in which our U.S. Government has become complicit. A glimpse into Israeli collective psychosis

2006/11/29

Arrested for watching TV!

This is deranged patriotism -- "Fahrenheit 451" applied to the airwaves. Two Individuals Arrested for Supporting Hizballah

No comment (Awk!)

Laura Bush bought a parrot for George Bush's birthday.
She told Dick Cheney, "This bird is so smart! George has already taught him to mispronounce over 200 words!"
"Wow, that's pretty impressive," Cheney said. "But you realize that he just 'says' the words. He doesn't understand what they mean."
"That's okay," Laura replied. "Neither does the parrot."
--From a friend

Drawing of Joe Carioca by Don Rosa,

"Duck Man"

2006/11/25

The future of the world


They took all the trees,
put 'em in a tree museum / And they charged the people / a dollar and a half just to see 'em.
(Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi, 1970)

Photo of "Protected Ancient Tree. Sister of Sequoia." Brisbane, Australia.
Photo: Glenn Weiss

2006/11/22

Boycotting the Enemy, boycotting oneself

Sensible words from Uri Avnery: "This distinction between "moderates" and "fanatics" on the Arab side is superficial and misleading. Basically, this is an American invention. It evades the real problems. It contains a large measure of contempt for Arab society. It leads to a dead end." Grossman's Dilemma - Gush Shalom - Israeli Peace Bloc

Meanwhile, BBC NEWS | Middle East | Iraqi death toll hits record high

Responsible shopping is not enough

Mark Engler has an article in the November issue of New Internationalist, which is on the stands but not yet on-line. Meanwhile, you can check out the September issue of NI (always interesting), and then check back in (I suppose) a few days to read Mark's piece, which is clearly argued and well researched as usual: Sweating over sweatshops: Supporting 'clean clothes' campaigns to end the exploitative labour practices that pervade the textile industry is not as simple as just picking the 'right' brand to buy, reveals Mark Engler.

2006/11/20

Doomsday and rebirth

As I read what the scientists say and watch what the politicians and the lords of industry do, I wonder which of us will perish first: I or the planet. As things stand now, I'm the one in better health. But if Earth continues to sicken, that's it for me too.

Unexpected things could happen. They always do. The planet could survive by some as yet unforeseen reaction against all that our race has been doing to it. Some great cataclysm, more powerful than any tsunami or eruption we remember, may free it to survive without us. If intelligent life eventually reappears, will it find any trace of who we were? And will it care? Or will it be doomed to repeat the same mistakes?

2006/11/13

Massacre in Beit Hanoun: Gush Shalom - Israeli Peace Bloc

See Uri Avnery's column in Gush Shalom - Israeli Peace Bloc: In One Word: MASSACRE! And on the impact of the U.S. elections on the near future:
A cynic might say: Democracy is wonderful, it enables the voter to kick out the moron they elected last time and replace them with a new moron.

But let's not be too cynical. The fact is that the American people has accepted, after a delay of three years and tens of thousands of dead, what the advocates of peace around the word - including us here in Israel - were saying already on the first day: that the war will cause a disaster. That it will not solve any problem, but have the opposite effect.

The change will not be quick and dramatic. The US is a huge ship. When it turns around, it makes a very big circle and needs a lot of time - unlike Israel, a small speed-boat that can turn almost on the spot. But the direction is clear.

Of course, in both new houses of Congress, the pro-Israeli lobby (meaning: the supporters of the Israeli Right) has a huge influence, perhaps even more than in the last ones. But the American army will have to start leaving Iraq. The danger of another military adventure in Iran and/or Syria is much diminished. The crazy neo-conservatives, most of them Jews who support the extreme Right in Israel, are gradually losing power, together with their allies, the crazy Christian fundamentalists.

2006/11/10

Finding bad news in the good

Lighten up, guys! Of course, we all know that Tuesday's election doesn't solve all our problems, but ferkryssakes, it was a victory! And even a small victory is better than a defeat. The point is not that one marginally less corrupt gang of politicians replaced a more corrupt gang, as this sourpuss wants us to believe: Election 2006: Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me

First of all, "corruption" is a process that can affect any living organism, not a congenital defect peculiar to politicians. That's why we have the cleverly designed institutions in our U.S. Constitution, the checks and balances, to control or limit the opportunities for corruption. Politicians, or probably any of us, can submit to influence, unless they or we are suicidally fanatic. A congress made up of incorruptible men and women would mean a chaos of people who absolutely refuse to waver from previously held positions. The closest thing I can remember from history was the early sessions of the French revolution, where nobody was willing to give ground to anybody. And we know where that led: la Terreur (including the invention of Dr. Guillotin), counterterror, and then Napoleon and what was in reality (though not called that) the first world war. Not a pretty picture.

Second, the real victory in this election was not the replacing of one set of politicians with another (though that is not insignificant), but what that process implies in a democracy: a massive public education about our responsibilities and our rights, about what aggression abroad is costing, and so on. These election results confirm once again Lincoln's dictum: You can fool some of the people all of the time, you can even fool all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time. As a result of this latest electoral campaign more of the American people are a little more savvy, and it's going to be harder to fool all or even most of them (us) even some of the time.

Photo of Abraham Lincoln from For Counsel

Small change

BBC NEWS | Business | Baghdad's 'missing' billions

Ted Rall: New dangers from old foes?


Lest Tuesday's Democratic and democratic triumph appear too sweet, Ted Rall offers us a dash of bitters. uExpress.com: Ted Rall by Ted Rall -- (11/07/2006) RALL 11/7/06.

And another comment by Tony Auth.

Still, the triumph was sweet!

2006/11/09

Capture the flag

Our warmest congratulations to all of us who worked hard to overcome the ceaseless propaganda, prevarication and vote-manipulation of the Bush-Cheney cabal to regain our U.S. Congress for the U.S. people. Now let's hold the Democrats to higher standards, to prove a real check on presidential power, eliminate torture as national policy, and restore an American politics of optimism in place of the politics of fear!

2006/10/31

Venice album, cont.

Two views from atop the Campanile, and finally, farewell from the dock before boarding the Allilaguna ferry for the airport.



Venice album, 1

From our last day in the city. Canal, St. Mark's Place and the Basilica, and the Basilica again with the Campanile.


2006/10/29

Horses

These are the real, original bronze ones, stolen from Constantinople by the Venetians when they conquered the city in 1204. They were probably taken from the Hippodrome in Constantinople (there's some doubt, though, as to where they had been placed). The Venetians put them up on their Basilica. Napoleon stole them again, but after Napoleon's downfall the Venetians (not the Constantinopolitans) recovered them. But they were suffering from the elements in their perch on the Basilica, and now they are kept inside the Basilica museum.


Just a few paces away from the originals are these copies, placed where the Venetians displayed them in the days of their vast commercial empire. (Ignore the guy in dark glasses who looks like he's about to be clobbered by a hoof.)

Vittorio and the Venice monster

Vittorio il gondoliere is worried. As he poled us along the back canals, he got excited and voluble in response to Susana's questions, delighted to have found a passenger who could understand his rapid Italian and was interested in his problems. He like most Venetians was torn by the debate over the huge flood-gate project, the modulo sperimentale elettromeccanico or MoSE, and its likely ecological consequences. Mostly though, he was worried about spills from the petroleum tankers that are, unpardonably in his view, allowed into the Venetian lagoon.

Anybody visiting Venice knows that the city is sinking. On one day last week, the narrow pedestrian "streets" to the places we wanted to visit were flooded up to our knees. We saw other tourists sloshing along in gaudy, flimsy plastic knee-high boots (€12 a pair from your nearest edicola) or sturdier rubber boots (€25), but we chose to sit out the wait till low-tide in a little restaurant. By about 3 p.m., the paths were dry enough for walking. This kind of thing, the flooding of St. Mark's Square and other low areas of the city, is now occurring as many as 250 times a year, according to a big sign at the edge of the Grand Canal explaining the problem. Several times we passed store-front offices of the Partito della Rifondazione Comunista (still using the hammer and sickle emblem on a red background) with posters denouncing the MoSE Monster eating up Venice. It's a complicated issue, not only technically and environmentally but also politically, as are many big projects in Italy. Here's the clearest explanation I've found: Flood barriers | Saving Venice | Economist.com

2006/10/19

From my balcony

This morning in Carboneras, Almería, Spain. Photo: Susana Torre

Poetecstasy: Communally hated!

Here's a poet who can help us feel the anger of those our leaders Bush and Blair are trying to "democratize". Poetecstasy: Communally hated! See also this same writer's comments on The Amitava Kumar - Salman Rushdie Controversy. This John Matthew is a thoughtful man, with a refreshingly open (possibly naive?) faith in the power of the word.

2006/10/18

How Lancet calculated Iraqi death toll

As a sociologist, I say the methodology looks pretty solid to me. Here´s how The Lancet determined that 655,000 Iraqis, over and above the normal death rate for the country, have died as a result of the U.S.-British invasion and its consequences. That´s 20 times as many as Bush is willing to acknowledge. But, alas, it's a very credible figure. "More deadly than Saddam," by Gwynne Dyer The Japan Times Online Articles

Iraq Through a Rebel's Eyes

À propos of my comment below about insurgent "terrorists" in the American Revolution, here's a more developed argument:

"Thomas Jefferson was a rebel, as so many of his comments demonstrated. He also was a gun enthusiast, and not the bird-shooting kind. His gang of insurgents fought the British with the eighteenth century equivalents of assault rifles, RPGs, and roadside bombs — and that is why they are worth recalling when our conversation turns to Iraq." Iraq Through a Rebel's Eyes

2006/10/17

The War Prayer

A very short story, very angry, very pertinent to today's events -- though Mark Twain was thinking about the U.S. war in the Philippines at the time.
The War Prayer

Photo from rotten.com: Mark Twain

Revolutionary terrorists: Benjamin Franklin?

Regarding Luis Posada Carriles, Cuban former C.I.A. operative and free-lance assassin and mass murderer (he planted the explosive toothpaste tupe that blew up a Cuban airline in 1976, killing all its 76 occupants):

"How can you call someone a terrorist who allegedly committed acts on your behalf?" asked Felipe D. J. Millan, Mr. Posada's El Paso-based lawyer. "This would be the equivalent of calling Patrick Henry or Paul Revere or Benjamin Franklin a terrorist." Castro Foe With C.I.A. Ties Puts U.S. in an Awkward Spot - New York Times

No, Mr. Millan, not those guys. Henry was an orator, Revere a silversmith famous for a midnight ride warning of an attack, and Franklin -- well, Franklin was many things, printer, author, diplomat, inventor. Not one of them was an assassin or, as far as I can tell, ever fired a shot at a human being. Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys would be better examples of terrorists among the American revolutionaries, if we apply the Bush standards. In fact, by those standards (the ones applied in Afghanistan, that fighters without regular uniforms or with authorization of a recognized state are not "soldiers"), the entire Continental Army should have been sent to Guantánamo. But not Franklin, Revere or Henry. Though if they had fallen into British hands they would have been hanged as abettors of terrorism, or insurrection as it was then called.

2006/10/15

Orhan Pamuk

Now that he has won the Nobel Prize for Literature, you may be curious to see my comments on three of his books, a memoir of Istanbul and two novels. As you will see, I was less enthusiastic than the Nobel jury.

Istanbul: Memoirs of a City (Scroll down to see reviews of The White Castle and My Name is Red.)

2006/10/13

Constructions

As you may recall, my partner and I are engaged in two major projects. Above is a picture taken 3 days ago of our progress on the one we're constructing of bricks, a condominium of 7 units on the coast of Carboneras, province of Almería, Spain.

And below, here's an idea of what we will be looking at as we complete the other project, built of words, a history of architecture and urbanism in Latin America.

2006/10/11

Caracas, 1963-64: Buckets of cement

Someone signing as "Curious" has asked: "You say in your personal description that after college you "worked in the barrios of Caracas, Venezuela"-- that seems to have been a pivital experience for you, so we'd like to know--under whose auspicios was that experience (we may not have the right English word, we mean, which group provided that opportunity for you to do that)?"

The organization was called "ACCION en Venezuela" ("ACCION" was an acronym for a long name that we in the organization could never remember -- "Americans for Community Cooperation" in something or other). Created by an American (i.e., U.S. citizen), Joseph Blatchford, and some young associates around (I think) 1961, and funded by private corporations with investments in Venezuela, it recruited both young foreigners like me and Venezuelan nationals, mostly college students, to work in poor urban neighborhoods to foment community associations, or asociaciones de vecinos, for social improvements. I personally worked and lived in Barrio Sucre in Petare and later in Bo. Las Minas de Baruta, in close association with Venezuelan co-workers who, like me, were in their early 20s. Our projects included building cement stairways, digging ditches for sewer and waterline installation, and even building a small school, all in operaciones cayapas -- campaigns of collective volunteer labor by the men and women of the community. Our little organization used its contacts to acquire bags of cement and other materials needed, including usually the food that the women prepared for us laborers in every operación cayapa. Years later I went back to visit, and could see one of our stairways in constant use. It gave me a thrill. I even found one of the men I'd worked with on that occasion, shouldering buckets of cement mix to climb the hill and dump into the frame. Toribio Blanco, in Bo. Sucre, Petare -- if you see him, please give him my regards.

For an interesting discussion of the history of community development and asociaciones de vecinos in Venezuela, see DHV para nosotros. "ACCION en Venezuela" is one of the many programs mentioned there.

2006/10/07

Guiris and other immigrants



I had it in mind to give a full analysis of Spain's immigration dilemmas, but my buddy Baltasar made a face like Mafalda when her mother serves soup.

Balta, who is now editing our Spanish-language blog Lecturas y lectores, thinks our blogs should be amusing and snappy. In his opinion, Spain's biggest immigration problem is the invasion of the guiris -- meaning (the origin of the word is obscure) Englishmen and other northern Europeans and their kin (including North Americans) who wear ridiculous clothes, never get the jokes, and dance like the mechanical scarecrows in Grass's Dog Years. Balta has found this view of guiris partying, which he finds hilarious: YouTube - EL GUIRI

But it's another kind of immigrant that gets more attention in the Spanish news these days. These folks seem to dance even as they walk, sometimes wear colorful clothes from their homeland, and do get the jokes -- even jokes that nobody else gets. Even though a lot of what they go through to get here doesn't seem very funny. They come from Senegal, Mauritania, Mali and other countries of Africa, in cayucos (big open fishing boats used in Senegal) to the Canary Islands or in pateras (smaller open boats, often inflatable, originally used on the Spanish coast and in the Strait of Gibraltar to carry supplies to ships).

But the really big numbers of immigrants come from Eastern Europe, especially Rumania, Bulgaria and Poland, in chartered buses. And the next biggest numbers from South America, especially from Ecuador and Colombia, by plane and usually with tourist visas. Most of all of these groups (except the guiris) are looking to make a buck, bucks (or rather euros) being much more plentiful in Spain these days than in their home countries. They work in construction, in restaurants, or (especially the Africans) fishing boats, or in agriculture. Low-paid and often dangerous jobs, especially construction where rushed foremen ignore safety regulations.

And a lot --a minority surely, but a big minority -- in criminal enterprises of one sort or another. Spain is especially attractive to criminals from northern Africa (Morocco, Algeria), Eastern Europe and South America, partly for geographical reasons (as a gateway between one of these regions and the others) but more because (a) the economy is booming and (b) it floats on an ocean of black and gray money, that is, money that can't be traced. A lot of that money comes from the construction industry, where people make unregistered cash transactions to avoid heavy taxes. And a lot of the rest of it comes from prostitution rings, drug traffic and various other frauds.

So, all of that is going on, making some Spaniards rush to close the gates -- except maybe to the guiris, who spend a lot money. Spain, for over a century an exporter of migrants (first to South America, later to France, Germany and other northern countries), is suddenly the receiving country, and that's hard to get used to.

BUT closing the gates can't be done! Spain cannot physically close the oceans to the cayucos and pateras, and as a member of the European Union it can't legally close its land or airport borders to other Europeans. And for sentimental and historical reasons, it is not easy to close the borders to South Americans either.

But there is an even more serious reason why Spain can't close the gates. "Spain will need at least four million immigrants from now until 2020," headlines El País (6 October 2006: "España necesitará al menos cuatro millones de inmigrantes hasta 2020"). Without them, the country will not be able to fill the jobs it is creating. That is because the Spanish birthrate is so low ("In the 1970s we decided to stop having kids," says a Spanish demographer, referring to the lack of state support for families), and because the population is aging.

So the only viable option, if Spaniards want to preserve Spanish identity, is to make it as easy as possible for the newcomers to learn the language, accept and be protected by the laws, and to become Spaniards. It's happened before in this country, though not always peacefully: Iberians and Celts (including Basques?) were followed by Phoenicians who were followed by the Vandals and other Goths who were followed by the Berbers who were followed by the Arabs and the Jews and the Gypsies and on and on, to all the many peoples who have made modern Spain.

Chart at top of page from El País, 14 February 2000
Photo of immigrants in a cayuco from Leyendo a la sombra
Mafalda cartoon (by Quino) from historieteca.com

More journalists killed

BBC NEWS | Europe | Chechen war reporter found dead
BBC NEWS | South Asia | Journalists killed in Afghanistan

Day


Dawn comes late to the east coast of Andalusia. Here in Carboneras, we are almost 2 degrees west of Greenwich (1.53 degrees, to be precise), but the clocks of all of Spain (except the Canary Islands) are set to the same hour as Paris, which is 2.2 degrees east of Greenwich. At seven in the morning the sky and sea are black. (In Greenwich, it is only 6 a.m.) Then, without warning, a glimmer of bright pink marks the line where sea meets sky, just a few minutes before eight. The glimmer grows wider and diffuses, soft layers of light above and ripples of pink and orange below, where the light from the sky flashes against the broken sea. The fishing boats have not yet extinguished their deck lights, but the sky is now light enough for us to see the silhouette of a small sloop, a black shape like a saucer on the water, its black mast bare and its stays slack. Softer grows the light, and wider. More little boats become evident through the disappearing gloom, even now a a tiny low craft with human lumps, like a motorized log or maybe a kayak, and a more serious working boat, just large enough for three men to work the nets and pulley, and with a box-like cabin in which maybe two of those thin and knotted men could crouch to fetch or store their gear. And now at last it is day, inspiring the raucous hilarity of the gulls.

2006/10/06

Fashions in fanaticism: Redeker & the mullahs

The usual agitators of the Muslim masses have expressed their outrage at French philosophy teacher Robert Redeker for saying things like this:
Exaltation de la violence : chef de guerre impitoyable, pillard, massacreur de juifs et polygame, tel se révèle Mahomet à travers le Coran.
("Exalting violence: a pitiless warlord, robber, mass killer of Jews and polygamist, that is the Mohammed revealed in the Koran.") Somebody claiming to be a defender of the faith has even emailed death threats and called for attacks on him, posting a map to his house.

How fashions in fanaticism change! Tamerlane of Samarkand, who was as vociferous a Muslim as ever was, would have had no problem with Redeker's description of Mohammed or himself as a pitiless mass killer. He styled himself the "Scourge of God" as he piled up the skulls of those he had massacred in the name of Allah in Baghdad and in India. To Tamerlane and countless other Muslim warriors, from Saladdin to modern Chechen guerrillas, Mohammed's trickiness and mercilessness in war have been considered admirable.

Or maybe what really set off the European Muslims was Redeker's concluding statement:
Haine et violence habitent le livre dans lequel tout musulman est éduqué, le Coran. Comme aux temps de la guerre froide, violence et intimidation sont les voies utilisées par une idéologie à vocation hégémonique, l’islam, pour poser sa chape de plomb sur le monde.
("Hate and violence live in the book in which every Muslim is educated, the Koran. ...") That may be debatable. But if so, let's debate it. The stupidest response is to send the message, "If you call me violent, I'll kill you!"

Here's the original text: 20minutes.fr - Le texte de Robert Redeker qui fait polémique

2006/10/04

Network of Spiritual Progressives - An Interfaith movement

Sounds good, but is there room for us nonspiritual progressives too? We support most of the same things, it's just that we don't try to palm off any of the responsibility on a Higher Being. Network of Spiritual Progressives - An Interfaith movement Religious people sometimes have trouble believing that we non-religious people can have any ethics, while we non-religious wonder if the ethics of the religious are real -- that is, a responsibility assumed by the individual as his/her own, rather than an edict from an imagined spiritual father.

2006/09/29

The smell of sulphur

Hugo's UN performance was political comedy, which played very well for his intended audience. "Taste" had nothing to do with it , any more than it does for George Carlin or Stephen Colbert. It's a kind of comedy very familiar in Venezuela, where everybody makes outrageous statements as the only way to attract attention. The alcalde mayor of Caracas -- part of Chávez's team -- got off some real zingers a week or so ago, and is probably still spouting off, but the most outrageous of all come from Chávez's opposition, who pride themselves on being better educated and should know better. The lamentable historian Guillermo Morón (I had the dubious honor of being his house guest for a few weeks, many years ago) formally and pompously declared that "magnicidio" would be appropriate in the case of Chávez ("“es lícito matar a un gobernante cuando éste incumple las leyes, comete injusticias y deja de gobernar”).

See La bárbara e irreflexiva oposición venezolana

Portrait of Satan pursued by the people is from El Phineas » Blog Archive » La Carta de Satanas

2006/09/28

Why do people read?

Our reading club in the public library of Carboneras has started off with a workshop, aimed to help us all "read better." It has been more fun than I had expected -- our librarian María José Rufete has brought in

Waples, Douglas, Bernard Berlson, and Franklyn R. Bradshaw. 1940. What Reading Does to People. A Summary of Evidence on the Social Effects of Reading and a Statement of Problems for Research. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Excruciatingly dull--"pedestrian" the authors themselves call their conclusion, which is actually their starting point: that one has to take into account all the relevant "major factors"; survey of literature on reading tastes (who reads what), effects of propaganda (esp. Lasswell's work), etc. It is literally no more than "a summary of evidence," with no critique of any study mentioned. People read for (1) "instrumental effects" (learning something they want to know), (2) "prestige effects" (feeling better about themselves, e.g. by identifying with a dashing hero/heroine), (3) "reinforcement effects" (to strengthen their previously held opinions), (4) "aesthetic effects" (some people appreciate "belles lettres" for themselves), and/or (5) "respite effects" (to take a break). "Prestige" seems the most amusing as a category, could maybe become a short story.

2006/09/27

Politics & demography: Spain's immigration problem

Every day TV news brings images of open boats crowded with Africans arriving in the Canary Islands. Sometimes a boat is crowded with people from further away, from Pakistan. Medical, judicial and customs personnel claim to be overwhelmed by the sudden increase in these "illegal" arrivals.

The Canaries (named not for the birds but for the fierce dogs or canes that used to roam there) were conquered by Spain in the 15th century and are now -- though geographically African -- a region of Spain, like Andalucía or Catalunya. If you can reach the Canaries, you have reached the European Union, and (if the Spanish authorities don't do something about it) you face no legal impediment to traveling anywhere in the EU. The Pakistanis who arrived the other day were probably heading to the United Kingdom, the French-speaking Africans from Mali, Senegal or Mauritania are probably thinking of France or Belgium. Thus, even though most of the French-speaking magrebíes (Morrocans and Algerians from the Maghreb) and Sub-Saharan Africans remain in Spain (where jobs are relatively plentiful), Spain's problem of immigration control is Europe's problem.

Or anyway, that's what the Spanish government is arguing in the European Parliament. Spain wants help in financing helicopters, patrol boats and vigilance systems (Spain has deployed several infrared detectors of outboard motors and human body warmth, but not enough to cope with the great numbers of clandestine immigrant craft). But so far countries remote from the African coast, and especially those with "conservative" (meaning, among other things, anti-immigrant) governments insist that controlling its borders is Spain's problem. Same with Malta and Italy, the other "front line" countries targeted by would-be immigrants from the south.

But then, how can it be just Spain's problem, if there are no longer any real borders among the European countries? Spain's coasts are now the southern frontier of all of Europe. It's the age-old philosphical debate, Whose responsibility is it to see to the welfare of all?

But there are also practical questions, not philosophical so much as sociological. First, What has spurred the great increase in illegal immigration in the past five or six years? Second, is this increase a problem for the richer countries that are receiving the immigrants? And if so, what kind of problem? Economic, political, cultural? And is it a problem (or perhaps a solution) for the poorer, sending countries? And thirdly, a sociological question which is also a big political question these days, regardless of whether it is really a problem or not, can it be stopped or even significantly reduced?

Here are some hypotheses.

1 - The main causes of increased illegal immigration may be a sudden relative impoverishment of the sending countries (relative to the beckoning prosperity of Spain and its northern neighbors). We'll need to look at the economic stats of the countries that sent the most migrants to Spain last year. OR it may be the increased efficiency of underground people-exporting business. OR the active recruitment by employers in Spain and elsewhere in Europe. Likely employers include construction industry, agriculture (big employer in southern Spain), and brothels, among others. All three of these things are going on, but which are more important probably varies by country.

These (rounded) figures are for numbers of applications for residence in Spain last year (thus, not counting the undocumented), but they may give an idea of the proportions:
AFRICA
Morocco 63,000
Algeria 8,000
Senegal 7,000
Nigeria 5,000
Mauritania 3,000

SOUTH AMERICA
Ecuador 21,000
Colombia 14,000
Brazil 3,000
Argentina 3,000

EUROPE
Rumania 9,000
Poland 4,000
Ukraine 4,000
Bulgaria 3,000

ASIA
China 10,000
Pakistan 6,000

Further thoughts to come.

(This note is two days later than promised. My apologies. Things happen.)

2006/09/25

Günter Grass

It's hard to take seriously the expressions of shock and disdain at Günter Grass's recent revelation that he was, very briefly in the last months of the war when he was 17, a member of the SS. It's not as though we hadn't known that he was a Nazi sympathizer as a youth or that he had served in the armed forces (in an anti-aircraft unit initially). He had reserved this embarrassing added detail, as he told interviewer Hermann Tertsch in El País, until he was ready and had found a way to tell it. But in fact his most famous work is all about coming to terms with, and unsuccessful denials of, the unacceptable past. That in any event is the theme that came through most strongly in the novel I just finished reading, Dog Years.

I had picked up this novel just by chance, a week or so before Grass reappeared in the headlines for his new memoir. Now I want to read its predecessors in the Danzig Trilogy, The Tin Drum and Cat and Mouse. (Little by little and author by author, I'm trying to make up for my cultural deficits.)

See Günter Grass - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

2006/09/22

Back in touch!

Just a little more than an hour ago, we got our ADSL connection established in the place we're renting here in Carboneras, Spain. To celebrate, I plan to inaugurate a new series of "Letters from Spain," aimed at telling U.S. readers what I think my countrymen might want to know about the many things happening, very rapidly, in this country. Beginning next Monday, I intend to post such an essay weekly, to attract some new readers, to interest those I already have, and to come to a better understanding of Spain myself.

There are several reasons why Spanish politics and cultural dynamics should interest U.S. readers. Since 1492 the country has been the most powerful node amplifying and retransmitting currents between Europe, Asia, Africa and America, and a large part of its internal turmoil has to do with the static from all those currents. The topics I plan to take up here (one at a time or in combination) suggest how wide are the effects of Spanish political and cultural events. These topics include:

• Immigration (from Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe) and the dilemma it presents to the social equality and civil liberties agenda of the Socialist Party.
• The water crisis, and the urgency of strengthening Spain’s weak instruments for water management and conservation.
• Depradations of the consumer society: the paving of the coast and countryside and the corruption of municipal governments, more blatant here than in most places (except maybe Italy)
• Church, state and civil liberties: in the face of Catholic tradition and (possibly related) tradition of machismo, Spain is pioneering laws against domestic violence and facilitating abortion, divorce and homosexual marriage
• Confronting terrorism: ETA, Al-Qaeda, and Spanish troops in Lebanon and Afghanistan.

And much else. For starters I want to say something about immigration -- which is more of a political than a demographic problem.

But first, a clarification of an earlier note. Some of you have taken the trouble to look up this town (as I suggested) in Google Earth, and were wondering exactly where to find our building project. These are the coordinates: 37˚00'32.22" N, and 1˚53'12.12" W.

2006/09/14

The drive for war

Mark Engler has just sent me and other friends a copy of his review of A history of nonviolence | Salon Books, by Mark Kurlansky. Kurlansky maintains (among other things) that "The case can be made that it was not the American Revolution that secured independence from Britain; it was not the Civil War that freed the slaves; and World War II did not save the Jews." Rather, all these goals could have been achieved more cheaply (in money and human lives) and efficiently by non-violent political struggle.

I agree with Mark Engler's conclusions. Kurlansky makes an interesting, even stimulating argument, but hardly convincing when applied to extreme cases. For example, the Nazi genocide in Holland, Ukraine, Poland and other countries could hardly have been stopped by the type of non-violent resistance that proved effective in Denmark. Perhaps American independence from Britain could have been achieved without war (after all, the Canadians managed it), but there are deep, ineluctable reasons why that option was not attractive to the most influential colonists in Boston, Virgina, Philadelphia and New York.

I recently read William James' Varieties of Religious Experience (see my note), which is one of the places where he talks about the "moral equivalence to war". James recognized a psychological need (among males -- he is very insistent on the "masculine" character of this impulse) to kill, destroy or at least to test oneself by undergoing physical hardship. Sea voyages and mountain climbing might do the trick, but James was more taken by monastic penitents, who forced themselves to undergo hunger or other forms of deprivation or pain.

As I think James would say, the violence of the American war of independence, or "revolution", and the other wars Kurlansky discusses, is the expression of some deep, "hard-wired" or instinctive need to strike out and to test oneself. Whether or not such violence is the best way of accomplishing some political goal is quite beside the point. As in Bush's totally unnecessary war on Iraq, the political goals are generally merely pious lies to cover the drive to demonstrate one's high testosterone count. More recently I've been reading Günter Grass, Dog Years (more on that in a later note) which seems to confirm this hypothesis. Especially, it helps understand why passive resistance to Hitler became almost inconceivable to many German men, even when they were dimly aware that the Führer was marching them to their doom.

2006/09/08

In case you were wondering

Susana and I are back in Spain, where we're building a small condominium (7 units) on the sea. We arrived last Friday, after a couple of months back in Manhattan, settling accounts and packing and trying to get some of our writing done. We've spent this week getting settled into the apartment in Carboneras that we're renting for the duration of our building project, which we expect to have completed by late fall 2007.

We got our book cases set up, and the books themselves have begun arriving (in boxes in the USPS's "M-bags", the cheapest way to ship books), so we expect next Monday to get back to our much interrupted work on our next book: a history of architecture and urbanism in Latin America (to be published by W. W. Norton once we finally get it finished). If you want to see just where we are, go to Google Earth and type in "Carboneras, Almería, Spain". The aerial photography is amazingly detailed. We can even find our construction site. Just keep going up the coast from the three ports in town (the cement factory's, Endesa's, and the fishing port), past the outcropping of beach called "La Puntica", to the NE edge of town.

2006/08/30

More on Mexico: What to watch for

Remember my questions about the Mexico election dispute? (See below: posting of 2006/08/27.) Fred Rosen has given me permission to post his very thoughtful replies. He's a keen observer, and was definitely the right man to ask about these issues.

Hi Geoff,

Good questions; the subject of lots of speculation and few hard answers.

First, lots of panistas and other anti-perredistas, more-or-less sure of their victory have endorsed a recount for the sake of legitimacy. The word is that Fox, for reasons unknown, convinced Calderón not to take that position. Maybe he (and other high-ranking panistas) knew of some fraud (perhaps, as you suggest, by PRI operatives in northern Mexico). Maybe they foresaw AMLO's civil disobedience and welcomed it as a way to marginalize (they thought) AMLO and the PRD. Maybe they think they can coopt the neoliberal wing of the PRI and rule a polarized Mexico more effectively than Fox was able to rule a "consensual" political class that emerged from the "voto útil." I think (thinking as a panista) that was a huge mistake. Combined with the bronca in Oaxaca and the regular drug-cartel shootouts, Mexico may well become ungovernable. Not good for business (though maybe good for the other half of the PAN culture: the Catholic Church).

Second, AMLO's political future is pretty cloudy no matter how this turns out. He is already mistrusted by the loyal cardenistas in the party for being too much of an opportunistic centrist. The street actions may have been directed at those militants who, based on no policy proposals whatsoever but rather on AMLO's willingness to take the struggle to the streets, now accept him as a "moral leader" of sorts. On the other hand, he is now mistrusted by those center-left voters whose votes he got on July 2 but who now may feel that he has auto-demonized himself, much the way he was pictured in the PAN commercials calling him a danger to Mexico. The street actions are mobilizing fewer and fewer people and are alienating a crucial sector of the electorate.

As for the PRD, they just won in Chiapas against a multi-party coalition. As a "collection of tribes" they have a lot more contenders than AMLO, and they (as a party) are not taking the brunt of the blame for the disruptions. PAN so effectively demonized AMLO as a human being that very little of it stuck to the party.

I don't think we know yet how this will all play out for the PRI. They have been marginalized -- for now. They have some pretty savvy operatives (like Elba Esther Gordillo) and could bounce back under new leadership. Most of those operatives are playing a waiting game now to see how they might play their strongest cards in the upcoming legislative season and the Calderón sexenio. My gut feeling, however, is that Elba Esther and the salinista neoliberals will drift into the PAN while the social democratic corporatists will join with their "primos hermanos" in one wing or another of the PRD. We'll see.

un abrazo,
Fred

Naguib Mahfouz -In Memoriam

The man credited with inventing the modern Egyptian novel, Nobel-prize winner Naguib Mahfouz, has just died at age 94. As my little homage, I give you links to my notes on his audacious early novel Children of Gebelawi (which provoked a knifing attack on him by a God-crazed Muslim), and his politically daring short novel The Day the Leader Was Killed -- about frustrations of the Cairene lower-middle class running parallel to but separate from the crises leading to the death of Anwar al-Sadat on October 6, 1981.

Here's Naguib Mahfouz - Biography

And here is today's obit from the Washington Post: Nobel prize winning author Naguib Mahfouz dies

2006/08/28

Some Palestinian voices: Captured Prisoners

Moving testimonies by Palestinian former prisoners and "detainees" (imprisoned without charges and often without provocation) of the Israeli military can be seen and heard here: Captured Prisoners

That the Israeli punishment of the people they have conquered is generalized, arbitrary and cruel, and that it has gone on for decades, is not surprising. That is what occupying forces do. It is what U.S. forces are doing in Iraq (not just in Abu Ghraib, but the rapes of teenagers, the destruction of whole cities and all the rest), what the Spanish conquistadores did when they mutilated and massacred inoffensive people in the "New World," the Japanese to the Chinese in Manchukuo and elsewhere, the Germans of the 1940s everywhere in Europe that they conquered. Israelis are only human, which means they can be as savage as the rest of us, no matter what their humanitarian traditions.

What I find harder to explain, and impossible to justify, is the elaborate structure of denial of this cruelty and savagery, maintained by U.S. and British opinion-formers (Rupert Murdoch and friends, other TV and newspapers, preachers, politicians). And especially their insistent claim that Israel is a "democracy." Democracy means "government by the demos, i.e. by the people governed." But in Israel half of the demos it governs is crushed under its army's boots -- including those Arabs to whom it has deigned to grant citizenship and especially all those in the occupied territories to whom it has not.

People in most of the world are not taken in by this; it seems mainly a U.S. and British self-deception (and not all the Brits are convinced, either). So, though it doesn't solve anything, it gives a certain sporting pleasure to see and hear George Galloway go after one of those media people committed to supporting the deception. Check out YouTube - George Galloway Vs. Sky News - SKY NEWS KO'D!!!

2006/08/27

Mexico: All politics is intra-party

Fred Rosen, based in Mexico City, just sent me his latest column on Andrés Manuel López Amador's (AMLO's) campaign for vote-recount: Everybody’s right and everybody’s wrong (Miami Herald/El Universal, Saturday, August 26, 2006). He argues that "AMLO’s evidence of hands-on, election-day fraud has been weak and, in many cases as deliberately oblivious to the facts as the PAN’s general campaign," but that the campaign run by the apparent victor, Calderón was dirty and possibly unfair -- unless you believe, like U.S.party operatives, that slander is "fair" in politics. And, says Fred, while "public opinion" according to polls doesn't entirely trust López Obrador, it/they (the public) generally think a recount is in order. He concludes, "A certain acceptance of contradictions, a certain being-of-two-minds seems necessary to understand the frequently bizarre, occasionally surreal post-electoral process Mexico is now living through."

I just sent Fred this note, which I share with you:


Well, all your points seem well-argued, but where does that leave us? Or rather, where does it leave the Mexican electorate?

Some questions that I hope to see explored (maybe someone already had and you can point me to the analysis):

(1) If Calderón is truly convinced that he won a majority, why does he not endorse AMLO's demand for a recount? Or more specifically, what would be the political (or other) costs to him of doing so?

As a first guess, I'd think maybe he owes rather specific debts to PRI operatives, who most likely were involved in whatever vote-tampering took place. If he allows them to be embarrassed, they can surely make life very difficult for him (by claiming greater fechorías on the part of the PAN, for example, or by sabotaging a future Calderón government from their seats in Congress). He probably also fears embarrassing copartidarios who may also have been involved.

(2) What political future might AMLO have if he conceded? Probably not much: His heir as gobernador of the D.F. seems better positioned to take the reins of the PRD, don't you think? Or maybe not -- might the PRD split? It's more of a federation of groups than a tightly unified party on the PRI model, was my impression. And that federation could just fall apart into its component pieces (especially since the new Mexico City mayor's bona fides have been questioned by rivals in the PRD, and given obvious though muted friction between AMLO and Cárdenas). If I'm right, then AMLO's insistence on his recount campaign is as much a question of internal PRD politics as of a supposed national interest.

(3) What might be the PRD's prospects if AMLO conceded? Could Calderón reasonably expect to govern if PRD legislators, and the Mexico City government, opposed him fiercely? Is it reasonable to suppose that the PRD as a party might do quite well for itself, and position itself for power in the next sexenio, if AMLO were out of the picture?

That's my guess, but I'm just observing from a distance, and there must be many important issues I haven't considered.

(4) And what does the PRI have to gain or to lose in the outcome of this recount campaign?

In short, what I think would be most useful would be to look at the internal dynamics of the three major parties to clarify why they're doing what they're doing and possible results.

2006/08/19

Israel: "From mania to depression"

From Uri Avneri of Gush Shalom - Israeli Peace Bloc: "THE ISRAELI public is now in a state of shock and disorientation. Accusations - justified and unjustified - are flung around in all directions, and it cannot be foreseen how things will develop.

Perhaps, in the end, it is logic that will win. Logic says: what has thoroughly been demonstrated is that there is no military solution. That is true in the North. That is also true in the South, where we are confronting a whole people that has nothing to lose anymore. The success of the Lebanese guerilla will encourage the Palestinian guerilla."

2006/08/18

Comment is free: Cuba's humanitarian mission

While much of the world has been focused on Fidel Castro's health, Castro and the system he has guided for the past 47 years has been worried about everybody's health around the world. The article by Tom Fawthrop in The Guardian is a good reminder of something important about Cuba's brand of socialism. Comment is free: Cuba's humanitarian mission

2006/08/15

Photo Fraud in Lebanon

The Israelis wreaked plenty of real damage on Lebanon, so there should be no need to exaggerate. But, yes, there has been exaggeration in at least some of the photojournalism. I suspect that such "photo fraud" is career- rather than politically-motivated. That is, the photographer just wants to get (or to fabricate) the most dramatic shot possible to call attention to his (her?) work and self. Whatever the motives, we should be aware that it's going on. Check out Photo Fraud in Lebanon.

Some other consequences of Israel's war

This from César Chelala, M.D. and political analyst: The Japan Times Online - Children died as Western leaders stared

LRB | Yitzhak Laor : You are terrorists, we are virtuous

This is the clearest explanation I have yet read of why Israel waged the kind of war it did, and especially why the Israeli public overwhelmingly supported it. This popular support, regardless of how many Lebanese lives and livelihoods were destroyed, I found astonishing from a people so familiar with the horrors of state violence. Regarding the first question, Laor writes:
The IDF is the most powerful institution in Israeli society, and one which we are discouraged from criticising. Few have studied the dominant role it plays in the Israeli economy. Even while they are still serving, our generals become friendly with the US companies that sell arms to Israel; they then retire, loaded with money, and become corporate executives. The IDF is the biggest customer for everything and anything in Israel. In addition, our high-tech industries are staffed by a mixture of military and ex-military who work closely with the Western military complex. The current war is the first to become a branding opportunity for one of our largest mobile phone companies, which is using it to run a huge promotional campaign. Israel’s second biggest bank, Bank Leumi, used inserts in the three largest newspapers to distribute bumper stickers saying: ‘Israel is powerful.’ The military and the universities are intimately linked too, with joint research projects and an array of army scholarships.
And on the second question, he says (in part)
There is no institution in Israel that can approach the army’s ability to disseminate images and news or to shape a national political class and an academic elite or to produce memory, history, value, wealth, desire. ...

The mainstream left has never seriously tried to oppose the military. The notion that we had no alternative but to attack Lebanon and that we cannot stop until we have finished the job: these are army-sponsored truths, decided by the military and articulated by state intellectuals and commentators.... Military thinking has become our only thinking.
You can read the rest of this angry, sorrowful analysis at the London Review of Books: LRB | Yitzhak Laor : You are terrorists, we are virtuous

2006/08/10

A difficult century

Friends just forwarded me this, from Dan Plesch of The Guardian: The end of the beginning. "US forces are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in the Middle East in a few hours. US readiness for more war is just one indicator that the present war is likely to spread and intensify in the coming months," it begins.

Very scary.

It looks like this is going to be a difficult century, worse in at least some ways than the last one. The next several wars will all be asymmetrical, most likely. No more Red Army vs. the Wehrmacht or Axis vs. the Allied armies, but one side with all the air power and enormous bombs, the other with an inventive variety of cheaper, mobile weapons such as the bombs that, according to Scotland Yard this morning, 21 or more British-born persons were planning to carry aboard planes as hand luggage.

Actually, the dismal prospects are pretty similar to what they were 100 years ago. The messy, bloody Boer War had just ended, the Japanese had just defeated Russia, and those two empires (the British and the Japanese), the Belgians and the French were just barely maintaining order by their regimes of violence. The U.S. was meanwhile murdering Filipinos. And the British launched the battleship H.M.S. Dreadnought, with ten 12-inch guns -- the first battleship whose guns were all so large, says The People's Chronology. Then, one unanticipated outcome of all this tension among the great powers -- besides the Great European War, which should have been anticipated -- was the Russian revolution as a kind of (imperfect) counterforce to imperialism (before it devolved into something itself resembling empire, after yet another world war).

The problem now is what sort of counterforce we can be building, and even how to define the force we oppose. Back then, Lenin plausibly argued that the enemy was "imperialism," which he described as the latest stage of capitalism. I don't think that's as useful a description as it was then. If this is "imperialism," it is of a different kind, having evolved beyond its original meaning, the projection of one national state's power over other peoples. And the Leninist response of a conspiratorial, proletariat-based party assumed a different kind of proletariat than what we see now. Rational (that is, not faith-driven), secular, humanitarian revolutionaries are going to have to create some new model.

Fukuyama on Hugo Chávez

Not all the news is from Lebanon. This is an analysis worth pondering, by Francis Fukuyama in Sundays Washington Post. History's Against Him

2006/08/09

Cluster attacks and international law

César Chelala is a good friend and a serious essayist, especially knowledgeable about medical affairs. What he reports here confirms what I've seen in other reports in The New York Times and elsewhere, but with greater detail on these terrible weapons. We should not tolerate their use anywhere, by anybody. Here's his article: Cluster attacks and international law

For more on these weapons (before their reported use by Israel), see:

What are cluster weapons?
Al-Ahram Weekly | Special | Butchery by any other name (illustration above is from this site)
BBC NEWS | In Depth | Fact file: Cluster bombs - introduction (includes more illustrations)

Understanding the world in hopes of changing it

(Regarding the Israeli assault on Lebanon and the petition of U.S. Jews mentioned below, I just sent this note to my friends in Ramallah, Lois & Khalil Nakhleh. Khalil is an anthropologist and all-round intellectual; years ago he and I were colleagues in the Sociology and Anthropology Department of St. John's University in Minnesota.)

I don't know what I can do. Something, I hope. I didn't sign this petition because I'm not Jewish, but I've signed others. It's a small gesture, barely noticed anywhere, but then, even serious, risk-taking journalism is not taken into account by the decision-makers. And I'm a little old for such adventures, anyway, and my skills are different. The only thing I can think to do -- to save my conscience, if not the world -- is try to understand and then explain events clearly enough that other people may avoid repeating such barbarities. Sociology and fiction (the two modalities in which I write) work slowly, painfully slowly, but it is better to affect generations of the future than to surrender and have no effect at all.

Not quite all Israelis pro-war

Prominent front-page headline in today's NYT: Left or Right, Israelis Are Pro-War. Pretty depressing. Even the peaceniks in "Peace Now" see it as a "necessary" war rather than a "war of choice" that Olmert could easily have avoided if he had only agreed to talk to the other side (about those prisoners, to start with). But not quite all Israelis have gone berserkly jingoistic. Check out Uri Avnery's sad, angry analysis: Junkies of War

Petition for U.S. Jewish Solidarity with Muslim and Arab Peoples of the Middle East

I'm not Jewish, nor were any of my known ancestors (but then, one never really knows about ancestors), but I am a human being with the usual human capacity for empathy -- especially with those who like Jews, Lebanese and other Arabs, Serbs and Kosovars and Bosniacs, Chechens, Uighurs, Sudanese, and too many others have been victims of mass historical outrages during my lifetime. One outrage does not justify another, as this petition states eloquently. The drafters of the petition have asked Jews to sign. If you consider yourself (or are considered by others) a Jew, maybe you can bring yourself to add your name, to stop the reciprocal outrages. Petition for U.S. Jewish Solidarity with Muslim and Arab Peoples of the Middle East

2006/08/06

Ending the neoconservative nightmare - Haaretz - Israel News

Daniel Levy asks, "After this crisis will Israel belatedly wake up to the implications of the tectonic shift that has taken place in U.S.-Middle East policy?" Ending the neoconservative nightmare - Haaretz - Israel News
Finding themselves somewhat bogged down in the Iraqi quagmire, the neoconservatives are reveling in the latest crisis, displaying their customary hubris in re-seizing the initiative. The U.S. press and blogosphere is awash with neocon-inspired calls for indefinite shooting, no talking and extension of hostilities to Syria and Iran, with Gingrich calling this a third world war to "defend civilization." ...

Israel does have enemies, interests and security imperatives, but there is no logic in the country volunteering itself for the frontline of an ideologically misguided and avoidable war of civilizations. ...

A U.S. return to proactive diplomacy, realism and multilateralism, with sustained and hard engagement that delivers concrete progress, would best serve its own, Israeli and regional interests. Israel should encourage this. Israel may even have to lead, for instance, in rethinking policy on Hamas or Syria, and should certainly work intensely with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in encouraging his efforts to reach a Palestinian national understanding as a basis for stable governance, security quiet and future peace negotiations. A policy that comes with a Jerusalem kosher stamp of approval might be viewed as less of an abomination in Washington. ...

Internationalist Republicans, Democrats and mainstream Israelis must construct an alternative narrative to the neocon nightmare...
Daniel Levy was a member of the official Israeli negotiating team at the Oslo and Taba talks and the lead Israeli drafter of the Geneva Initiative.

2006/08/01

WorldNetDaily: Our moral culpability for Qana

It's sometimes surprising how much sense Patrick Buchanan can make. WorldNetDaily: Our moral culpability for Qana

Mike Davis on the History of the Car Bomb

Davis takes it back to a 1920 attack by an Italian American anarchist, Mario Buda, and traces the evolution of the weapon through the Mafia, the pieds noirs of Algeria, Israel's Stern Gang and Palestinian reciprocity, the CIA in Vietnam during French colonial days, the Hezbollah in the 1980s, and on down to today. TomDispatch - Tomgram: Mike Davis on the History of the Car Bomb Very cheap and effective as a destructive weapon, disastrous politically because it alienates its employers' base, argues Davis: viz., Spain's ETA and Northern Ireland's IRA. But sometimes a political movement isn't interested in mobilizing its civilian supporters, just in sowing terror.

What's missing (maybe Davis will give it in his Part II, to be posted next week, he says) is analysis of the kinds of situations that encourage use of this weapon. As a first guess, I'd say they are those where there seems to be nothing to gain by more peaceful, democratic political means. Because when there is some hope of gaining power by democratic means, then the leaders are going to be very cautious about using a weapon that makes potential supporters fear for their lives. If I'm right, then the best (probably the only) way to eliminate (or even reduce) terror is to guarantee dissidents that democratic chance, whether we're talking about Sunnis in Iraq or Shiites in Lebanon or Maoists in Nepal. Not an easy thing to do, but I can think of no better alternative.

2006/07/31

"Let me be serious now ": Zbig has some things to say

"Let me be serious now because this is a serious time that calls for serious reflection,"says Zbigniew Brzezinski in an address in Washington, .
I hate to say this but I will say it. I think what the Israelis are doing today for example in Lebanon is in effect, in effect--maybe not in intent--the killing of hostages. The killing of hostages. Because when you kill 300 people, 400 people, who have nothing to do with the provocations Hezbollah staged, but you do it in effect deliberately by being indifferent to the scale of collateral damage, you’re killing hostages in the hope of intimidating those that you want to intimidate. And more likely than not you will not intimidate them. You’ll simply outrage them and make them into permanent enemies with the number of such enemies increasing.

Can I say something?: KERBLOG

Drawings by Beiruti artist and musician Mazen Kerbaj in his KERBLOG.

And yes, finally some people ARE saying something that makes sense. Paul Krugman's essay in today's NYT, Shock and Awe, makes a lot of sense to me.

"For Americans who care deeply about Israel, one of the truly nightmarish things about the war in Lebanon has been watching Israel repeat the same mistakes the United States made in Iraq. It’s as if Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been possessed by the deranged spirit of Donald Rumsfeld," he writes.
There is a case for a full-scale Israeli ground offensive against Hezbollah. It may yet come to that, if Israel can’t find any other way to protect itself. There is also a case for restraint — limited counterstrikes combined with diplomacy, an effort to get other players to rein Hezbollah in, with the option of that full-scale offensive always in the background.

But the actual course Israel has chosen — a bombing campaign that clearly isn’t crippling Hezbollah, but is destroying Lebanon’s infrastructure and killing lots of civilians — achieves the worst of both worlds. Presumably there were people in the Israeli government who assured the political leadership that a rain of smart bombs would smash and/or intimidate Hezbollah into submission. Those people should be fired.

And the full page ad sponsored by Tikkun is exactly what is needed to end this conflict and build for an enduring peace -- even if we can't agree on every point (wisely, perhaps, they have omitted any mention about what to do about Jerusalem. "Stop the Slaughter in Lebanon, Israel and the Occupied Territories!" Yes! Right away!

The signers printed in today's NYT ad are all identified as "The Network of Spiritual Progressives," headed by Rabbi Michael Lerner, Sr. Joan Chittister and Prof. Cornell West. I don't know if I'm a "spiritual" progressive (seems to imply some religious affiliation), but I was eager to sign. Read the ad, and if you agree you'll sign too.

Meanwhile, as Mazen Kerbaj reminds us, it's awfully hard to maintain the optimism of music with bombs raining down upon you.

2006/07/30

The Iraq War is a Huge Success

Too true. Not,of course, a success for humanity or for democracy, but undoubtedly a success for its sponsors. The Iraq War is a Huge Success Will the Israeli war on Lebanon be a similar success, though? For the U.S. and other companies supplying the ever-more-expensive killing devices, perhaps. But how will wiping out families and industries bring profits to other sectors, as in Iraq? Will the surviving Lebanese be expected to pay Haliburton and Bechtel to rebuild? With what? They don't have oil. That infrastructure was their capital, with an economy based on services (banking, tourism, etc.) and light manufacturing, all gone.

2006/07/29

Why the Israeli offensive was doomed to fail

Very interesting and, when you think about it, very logical. Hezbollah stays as far away from civilians as it can, most of the time, for their own good. See The "hiding among civilians" myth | Salon News

This does not mean that Hezbollah is particularly concerned about avoiding civilian casualties, however, as blogger USS Neverdock points out, with evidence. Rather, Hezbollah stays away from civilians for their own safety.

Actually, this is only one among several reasons that the Israeli offensive had to fail, world opinion -- slow to move but finally under way -- being another. But the military mind can only think of military solutions to every problem, and the political minds in Israel were too inexperienced and too awed by the helmeted ones to see the flaws.

2006/07/28

New link: "Caracas Connect"

Since some people come to this blog for information on Venezuela, I've added the link (in the listing at right) to Caracas Connect, a blog dedicated exclusively to locating and linking to new stories about events there. Occasional "Commentary" is generally pro-Hugo Chávez, but the site links to anybody -- mostly U.S. & British mainstream outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, etc. -- so it's a useful, well-rounded service.

Karaoke for freedom: A hymn to the FCC

Lovely voices, beautiful sentiments. And you can sing along! YouTube - FCCFU

A triple loss for Israel?

By failing so ostentatiously to meet its objectives (destroying Hezbollah or at least reducing the rocket attacks), Israel has already lost this war by its own military estimates (which doesn't mean the other side has "won"; Hezbollah's goals are equally unrealizable, but they are at least surviving this battle). Israel has also lost world-wide support in its public relations campaign, sustained now for over half a century at enormous cost, depicting the country as the victim rather than victimizer; outside of the U.S. (where the current administration seems to think it needs Israel, no matter what the cost, and where the pro-Israel lobby is strongest), hardly anybody still buys into that argument (well, except Blair, to the disgust of most of his constituents).

This article by Oren Ben-Dor seems to argue that there is another loss: Israel's "soul," if you will permit the metaphor, the state's whole reason and justification for being.

"What exactly is being defended by the violence in Gaza and Lebanon?" he asks in London's Independent.
Is it the citizens of Israel or the nature of the Israeli state? I suggest the latter. Israel's statehood is based on an unjust ideology which causes indignity and suffering for those who are classified as non-Jewish by either a religious or ethnic test. To hide this primordial immorality, Israel fosters an image of victimhood. Provoking violence, consciously or unconsciously, against which one must defend oneself is a key feature of the victim-mentality. By perpetuating such a tragic cycle, Israel is a terrorist state like no other. (...)

In Hebrew, the word elem (a stunned silence resulting from oppression or shock) is etymologically linked to the word almut (violence). Silence about the immoral core of Israeli statehood makes us all complicit in breeding the terrorism that threatens a catastrophe which could tear the world apart.
Independent Online Edition > Commentators: "Oren Ben-Dor"

And who is Oren Ben-Dor, who speaks so authoritatively of Israeli history and Hebrew etymology? He has been in the news before, for attempting to organize a UK boycott of Israeli scholars. (See Counterpunch.) He describes himself as an "ex-Israeli" (he grew up in Israel), and currently teaches law at the University of Southampton. For more info and a photo, see his U. of Southampton web page.

Latin America: protests against Israeli attacks


From Weekly News Update on the Americas, which "covers news from Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and written from a progressive perspective. It has been published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York since 1990." Write to wnu@igc.org for a free one-month subscription.

We sometimes forget how many people of Lebanese and Palestinian descent live in Latin America, including the current president Elias Antonio Saca of El Salvador -- who has sent troops to Iraq and is being condemned by his compatriots "for not condemning the aggression." And the Lebanese-Colombian Shakira (left), who is condemning it -- though that's probably not what she was doing in this photo.

---------------------------
Thousands of people demonstrated across Latin America the week of July 17 to protest Israel's air and ground attacks in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip starting the week before.

About 500 protesters rallied on July 17 outside the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in a demonstration organized by Argentine Arab associations, leftist groups and activist organizations, including the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Anibal Veron piquetero ("picketer") organization of the poor and unemployed. "Today the state of Israel is applying state terrorism and a plan for extermination the way the [1976-1983] Argentine dictatorship did," Confederation of Arab Entities of Argentina vice president Roberto Ahuad told the French news service AFP.

The protest came the day before the anniversary of the still unsolved July 18, 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA), in which at least 85 people were killed and 300 were injured; this was the worst antisemitic terror attack anywhere since World War 2. Asked if the protesters would attend the ceremonies commemorating the victims, Ahuad said: "Yes, as we do every year. We have always been with the relatives of the victims. We don't have an anti-Jewish feeling. On the contrary, there are Jews who defend our position of condemning the government of Israel." There are about 300,000 people in Argentina's Jewish community and 700,000 to one million in its Arab community. [AFP
7/7/06]

Some 2,000 Lebanese living the Triple Border region, where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet, rallied in the Plaza of Nations in Foz do Iguacu, Brazil, on July 19 to call for peace and solidarity with the people of Lebanon and Palestine. Brazilian Arab Commission in Support of the People of Lebanon president Aly Osman, whose wife and daughter managed to leave Lebanon for Syria, said the current attack on Lebanon
was the worst ever. "Not even the 1982 invasion [by Israel] was this cruel," he said.

"They say there are terrorists in the Triple Border," Manuel Rocha, Catholic bishop of Foz do Iguacu, told the protesters while a Paraguayan police agent in plain clothes filmed the demonstration. "We are the terrorists of peace, of hope," the bishop said. The Triple Border region has one of the highest concentrations of Lebanese and other Arabs in the world. Some 500 Triple Border residents are currently trapped in Lebanon, and two adults and three children from Foz do Iguacu have been
killed by Israeli bombardments in southern Lebanon. [La Nacion (Paraguay) 7/20/06]

In Mexico, supporters of The Other Campaign of the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) held a rally at the US embassy in Mexico City on July 19 in solidarity with the people of Lebanon and Palestine. The protest followed a rally at the federal Attorney General's Office (PGR), also on the Reforma avenue, to protest the mistreatment and illegal detention of activists in San Salvador Atenco and Texcoco on May 3-4 [see Updates #849, 853]. Speakers noted the importance of
international solidarity protests, saying that rallies outside Mexico in May had helped get word out about the repression at Atenco. One speaker charged that Israel trains elite groups in Mexico's Federal Preventive Police (PFP) and the Federal Investigation Agency. The protesters announced plans for another demonstration at the US embassy on July 29. [Chiapas Indymedia 7/19/06]

On July 20 members of Mexico's Lebanese community rallied outside the UN's Mexico City offices to call for a ceasefire in Lebanon. They then went to the Lebanese embassy, where they placed roses in an urn and held a minute of silence. Francisco Jammal, former president of the Lebanese Center, said Mexico's effort to evacuate Mexicans from Lebanon was "enormous." [La Opinion (Los Angeles) 7/21/06 from AP] Mexico organized a convoy to evacuate 121 Mexicans and one Guatemalan from Beirut to
Istambul, Turkey. [La Nacion (Paraguay) 7/19/06]

In Venezuela some 2,000-3,000 people marched to the Israeli embassy in eastern Caracas on July 20 to deliver a document protesting Israel's actions. Carrying Lebanese and Palestinian flags and photographs of children killed or injured in the attacks, marchers chanted "Murderers!" and slogans against the US and burned an Israeli flag. Many protesters were of Lebanese or Palestinian origin. About 400,000 Venezuelans are Lebanese or of Lebanese origin. The Foreign Ministry is trying to
evacuate 400 Venezuelans from the Middle East. President Hugo Chavez Frias has harshly criticized Israel and the US for the attacks. [El Universal (Caracas) 7/20/06 from AFP]

Representatives of Salvadoran social, political and religious organizations demonstrated in front of the Israeli embassy in San Salvador on July 20 to protest what they called the "terrorist escalation against the people of Palestine" and to criticize Salvadoran president Elias Antonio Saca, who is of Palestinian origin, "for not condemning the aggression." Jhon Nasser, from the Friends of Palestine
Association, also condemned the United Nations (UN), "which is showing total indifference to these massacres." Legislative deputy Carlos Castaneda of the leftist Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN) announced that he was going to ask the Legislative Assembly to issue a public condemnation of "the policy of extermination." [La Opinion 7/21/06 from AP]

Castaneda was also trying to engineer a vote against Saca's plan to send another rotation of 380 Salvadoran soldiers to participate in the US-led occupation of Iraq. This would be the seventh six-month rotation since El Salvador's participation began in August 2003. Saca announced his decision to send the troops on July 19, at the same time that he announced the death of Sgt. Jose Miguel Sanchez Perdomo on July 18 in Al Kut, Wasit province, in Iraq. Sanchez Perdomo was killed by an explosive
device. He is the third soldier from the Salvadoran forces killed inIraq. One was killed by insurgents in April 2004 [see Update #741], and another died in a highway accident in June 2005. El Salvador is the only Latin American country with troops in Iraq. [La Nacion (Costa Rica) 7/19, 7/20/06 from ACAN-EFE, La Prensa Grafica (El Salvador) 7/20/06]

About 1,000 people demonstrated in Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, on July 21 to protest the attacks in Lebanon. The protesters--many carrying Lebanese flags and photographs of relatives in Lebanon or of victims of the violence--chanted "Israel out!" and called for Mercosur, a trade bloc made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, to end commercial ties with Israel. "We need for Brazil to help Palestine and Lebanon to end this war," Sheikh Kamal Yahya of the local Santo Amaro mosque told the government news agency Agencia Brasil. According to the Foreign Ministry, at least seven Brazilians have been killed in the attacks in Lebanon; an estimated 70,000-200,000 Brazilians live there, most of them Lebanese who lived in Brazil and became citizens but later returned to Lebanon. The government has sent at least two of the Air Force's Boeing 707s to start evacuating 1,000 Brazilians from
Beirut, Damascus and Amman. [Europa Press via Yahoo Argentina 7/21/06]

A dozen people demonstrated at the Plaza Israel in Guatemala City on July 22 to protest the bombing of Lebanon. According to Associated Press, no members of the Arab community participated. [El Nuevo Herald (Miami) 7/22/06 from AP]

About 600 Lebanese and Colombians of Lebanese origin marched in Bogota on July 23 from the Club Colombo-Libanes to a UN office, where they handed over a communique. The document condemned Israel's "unilateral and disproportionate attack" and warned of a "humanitarian catastrophe," according to a spokesperson for the march, Mario Helo. [La Cronica de Hoy (Mexico) 7/23/06 from EFE]

On July 21 the popular Colombian rock singer Shakira Mebarak Ripoll, on tour in Europe, called on "the leaders of the US and of the world's great powers to stop this war, since we all know they could stop it. We want something better for our children, for the children of Colombia, the children of Israel, the children of Palestine, the children of Lebanon, the children of the world." Shakira is of Lebanese origin on her father's side. [AFP 7/22/06]

Charles I: A Political Life

This is a bit off my usual topics, but I mention it to contextualize the review I wrote the other day of Sexing the Cherry. Dog-Woman's views of the unfortunate king who lost his head seem to have been pretty accurate. H-Net Review: Pauline Croft on Charles I: A Political Life

Charles I of England. Painted by Sir Anthony van Dyke c. 1635; Oil on canvas, 266 x 207 cm; Musée du Louvre, Paris. WebMuseum, Paris Click to enlarge.

2006/07/27

From Rasha in Beirut

My friends in Ramallah just forwarded to me the latest letter from Rasha, dated July 26 (yesterday). Her letters are very, very moving and reveal a sensitive appreciation of Arab politics. She describes herself in the July 26 letter as "a secular egalitarian democrat," but she understands the appeal of the Islamic radicals and especially Nasrallah, who (from everybody's point of view except Israel's) appears to be winning simply by successfully surviving and continuing to attack.

She apparently does not have her own website, and I've had trouble finding all her letters, which you will want to read. Here are those from July 20 & 21. NO QUARTER: From Rasha in Beirut. I don't know her surname; Rasha is a common name in Lebanon, and if you Google "Rasha Lebanon" as I did you will find a journalist named Rasha Saad, a computer science major named Rasha Ockaili, and an un-surnamed Lesbian activist interviewed by the BBC. I don't think she is any of these (well, possibly the last, but I kind of doubt it -- that Rasha doesn't express anything political). Rasha Salti sounds more likely, from the style and content of this year-old by-lined report: Beirut Diary: April 2005.

Turkey's Red Crescent does good

Sometimes something, maybe some small thing, goes right even in the midst of a disaster. In this case, the disaster is the post-tsunami reconstruction effort in Aceh, Indonesia, a monument to corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency. The not-so-small thing:
Not all the news is bad. Work on a highway down the devastated west coast of the province, financed by the United States government, is under way, and a new port has opened in Meulaboh, the seaside town that was smashed to smithereens.

Of the lucky ones with a roof over their heads, those with houses built by the Turkish Red Crescent Society are the most pleased.

“They’ve given us good quality,” said Khairuman, 45, a building laborer, and his wife, Suginah, 43, as they showed off their blue-tiled bathroom replete with bath and shower in the beachside community of Lampuuk. Like many Indonesians, they use one name.

The Red Crescent Society paid $10,000 for each brick house, about double the cost of houses built by other agencies. And it sent a team of engineers with experience from the 1999 earthquake in Turkey.

“The people of Aceh suffered; they need to stay in good houses,” said an engineer, Ali Pekoz. From the sunproof window glass to imported hinges on the doors, the Turks chose the best fittings, he said.
Aid Groups Are Criticized Over Tsunami Reconstruction - New York Times. By Jane Perlez.

Global Voices Online

I just discovered this great site, with links to news from a hundred or more countries. Just click on the name of a country, and some item will come up, along with items from other countries in its region. Do you have any idea what's going on in Central Asia right now? Click on "Mongolia" (or "Kyrgyzstan" or any other country in the region) to find out. Global Voices Online