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The Daily Briefing 28/11/05
1 Blair, Bush and a thousand leaks
What a comfort it must be for John Howard, as he watches his counterparts Bush and Blair being assailed over Iraq, to govern a country whose media cares so little for our national sovereignty and dignity that it does not similarly put him to the test. It seems our journalists accept that Howard was a mere lackey going along for the ride on this misadventure, and so there is no point questioning him about over-cooked intelligence, torture, white phosphorous or the failed occupation. Yet Australian troops helped invade Iraq, Australian troops are part of the occupation force and if predictions of decades of blowback in the form of terrorism are correct, Australian civilians will die because of Iraq. And yet Iraq barely rates as a domestic political issue.
In the UK, historian Simon Jenkins looks at the revelation that George Bush raised the possibility of bombing Aljazeera in Qatar and thinks the ban on further reporting of it is designed to cover up differences between the two to protect Bush domestically. "Blair is desperate not to have any split with Washington on public view. He senses that a dam may be about to burst, revealing Anglo-American splits over Iraq just when Bush’s policy there is facing domestic opposition. So far discipline has held on this front. Britain’s military and diplomatic elite may excoriate Pentagon policy in Iraq and excoriate Blair for failing to use leverage over it. But the public line has held that there is “not a rice paper” between the two leaders."
The Sunday Times reports that as chance would have it, Donald Rumsfeld slammed Aljazeera one day before the meeting at which Bush and Blair are said to have discussed bombing it.
SIMON JENKINS/THE SUNDAY TIMES
2 What wasn't a lie?
The sound of someone blowing their own trumpet is rarely pleasant, but allow us this one toot at least - Frank Rich refers and links to four articles in the column below, all of which were highlighted last week in TDB. And Rich makes a comment the briefing made along the way - is there a single aspect of the Bush-Blair-Howard case for war that has not been discredited in some way? "The more we learn about the road to Iraq, the more we realize that it's a losing game to ask what lies the White House told along the way. A simpler question might be: What was not a lie? The situation recalls Mary McCarthy's explanation to Dick Cavett about why she thought Lillian Hellman was a dishonest writer: "Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.' " If Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney believe they were truthful in the run-up to the war, it's easy for them to make their case. Instead of falsely claiming that they've been exonerated by two commissions that looked into prewar intelligence - neither of which addressed possible White House misuse and mischaracterization of that intelligence - they should just release the rest of the President's Daily Briefs and other prewar documents that are now trickling out. Instead, incriminatingly enough, they are fighting the release of any such information, including unclassified documents found in post-invasion Iraq requested from the Pentagon by the pro-war, neocon Weekly Standard."
3 India's 50 million missing women
Swami Agnivesh, a former education minister of Haryana State, Rama Mani, course director at the Geneva Center for Security Policy and Angelika Köster-Lossack, a former member of the German Parliament for the Green Party, declare India "the undeclared winner in the contest of violence against women" and explain why they participated in a march across its worst-affected northern states earlier this month. "The practice of female infanticide has a long history in India: Because of the widespread cultural preference for sons, many baby girls used to be killed after birth. But modern technology, particularly the ultrasound machine, has made it easier for parents, and highly profitable for doctors, to practice female foeticide without great risk of detection and punitive legal action."
But India has some tough competition when it comes to the oppression of women. The NYTimes reports on the millions of African girls forced into marriage often before puberty. "Mwaka ran away, and her parents took her back after six months. But a week's journey through Malawi's dry and mountainous north suggests that her escape is the exception. In remote lands like this, where boys are valued far more than girls, older men prize young wives, fathers covet dowries and mothers are powerless to intervene, many African girls like Mwaka must leap straight from childhood to marriage at a word from their fathers. Sometimes that word comes years before they reach puberty."
Not that the West is a matriarchal utopia. Figures published last week suggested Britain was experiencing an epidemic of violence toward women, and that many people still believed women were to blame if they were the victims of sexual violence. Naomi Wolfe says the only way to deal with both problems is tough action against offenders. "When rapists began to be locked up for rape - even rape of their wives, their dates, their ex-girlfriends, the kinds of rape that had been tolerated before - then attitudes on the street began to change. And when victims began to bring civil suits against their assailants, then attitudes really began to shift. The answer is not in softball advocacy but hardball politics."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE
4 How much genocide is too much?
The genocide goes on, Nicholas Kristof continues his campaign for international action to stop it, and TDB links to his columns. Same story, only the horrific details remain the same. In huge letters at the Dachau concentration camp are the words "Never Again". If only. "It's true that a few hundred thousand deaths in Darfur - a good guess of the toll so far - might not amount to much in a world where two million a year die of malaria. But there is something special about genocide. When humans deliberately wipe out others because of their tribe or skin color, when babies succumb not to diarrhea but to bayonets and bonfires, that is not just one more tragedy. It is a monstrosity that demands a response from other humans. We demean our own humanity, and that of the victims, when we avert our eyes."
5 God and science
Martin Kettle checks in on the American Museum of Natural History's tribute to the life and work of Darwin and says the whole world should be grateful for it. "We live in a world dominated by the United States. The US claims and asserts military and economic -and moral - primacy in that world. And yet, not least in the estimation of many of its people, the US is not like the rest of the world. In their eyes, it is a special place whose specialness is part, and even proof, of a divine purpose. It is but a small step from there to say that divine claims should take precedence over science, and rhetoric over reason. Is America a nation in the vanguard of the modern world? Or is it also a nation in revolt against the modern world? One thing is clear: America will not resolve this dilemma until it is more honest and courageous with itself about science and religion than many Americans are today."
In the Journal of Philosophy and Scripture, Lewis Gordon looks at the difficulty of teaching theology in a secular age. " The search for Truth is a philosophical one through which we encounter a struggle with religion as well. Religion, whose province is myth and faith, has the luxury of taking on this task without the encumbrance of the limits faced by philosophy.25 Its media can therefore be poetic, mythic, and mystical. Philosophy, after all, seems to stop where the mystical and the faithful would both leap, although, as Jaspers correctly points out, "Reason is 'mysticism for the understanding'" and that "Philosophy through the millennia is like one great hymn to reason—though it continually misunderstands itself as finished knowledge, and declines continually into reasonless understanding.""
In The Observer, Lynn Barber interviewed Robert Winston about his new book and television series "The Story of God" (panned by some reviewers) and a somewhat tetchy Dr Winston, who seems to have completed the transition from scientist to media celebrity. "But surely it is not unreasonable to ask the author of The Story of God whether he believes in God? 'Do I believe in the conventional God who sits on a throne in heaven and judges people on earth? No I don't. I don't believe that because I believe in free will. And if you have free will then you can't have a god that intervenes - it doesn't make sense. But you can have a divine idea or divine spirit within you, which I believe. And I come from a religious tradition which is as much concerned with how you behave as how you believe. Judaism is one of the few religions which makes no demands on faith.'"
MARTIN KETTLE/THE GUARDIAN
6 Mutually assured destruction, the map
Poland's newly elected government has revealed some of the secrets from its Warsaw Pact military archives, including a map which shows how the Russians expected a nuclear exchange from either side of the Iron Curtain to be played out. "On the map, western Europe lay beneath a chilling overlay of large red mushroom clouds: Warsaw Pact nuclear strikes, using giant warheads to compensate for their relative lack of precision. Soviet bombs rain down on cities from northern Denmark down to Brussels, the political headquarters of Nato. Large red clouds blot out cities such as Hamburg, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich and Baden Baden, Haarlem, Antwerp and Charleroi, above the Franco-Belgian border. "
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
7 Children and death denial
It may take a village to raise a child, but as Jenni Russell describes the modern world, children are being raised in a cocoon, shared only by their parents. According to Russell, this has come about because adults are fearful of being accused of s*xual abuse if they interact with children not their own, and through parents insisting on their own individualistic approach to child-rearing. "This is a historically unprecedented way for children to be brought up - leaving the job exclusively to parents and paid professionals. It is a toxic combination, for just as adults have been forced to retreat from a generalised responsibility for socialising the young, so many of the families that retain it have either been disintegrating, or finding themselves so preoccupied with work and their own needs that there is little time left to respond to their children. The evidence of inadequate socialisation is everywhere, from Ofsted's concerns about increasing numbers of four-year-olds arriving at school unable to talk, to the anxiety about teenagers behaving badly."
And yet more words on the baby-boomers, this one something of a mish-mash (with all the usual cliches), but it does occasionally become interesting when it wonders if Western denial of death isn't more pronounced among boomers. "Conquering death can be seen as the supreme boomer project. These are secular-minded people; they don’t expect an afterlife in heaven or hell. They just want this life, with its sat navs and its snowboarding, to go on for ever. And so they’ve gone way beyond death-denial to something like death-refusal. During the Vietnam war, boomers chanted “Hell, no, we won’t go!” Now, approaching 60, they’re looking at the cemeteries and chanting the same thing. And the weird thing is, given their record, it just might work."
JENNI RUSSELL/THE GUARDIAN
8 Why I didn't sleep with George Best
Millions of words have been written about George Best, soccer genius and flawed human being, but none are more interesting than Germaine Greer's as she describes the person she knew, explains why she didn't sleep with him and shows off an unexpected knowledge of football. "George was a genuinely hard man, but hardness results in fragility. His working-class Ulster-Scots upbringing afforded him no way of coming to terms with that fragility, except to deny it and order another round of drinks. Throughout his illness, he showed again and again that, though he would not conform, would not make even the slightest attempt to deserve his new liver, he would not complain either."
GERMAINE GREER/THE INDEPENDENT
9 When blogs sell-out
Historically, the internet has been anarchic, rebellious, and free, but inevitably as it grows in popularity, it has also become a means to buy, sell and make money. The article linked to below reports on how this is changing the nature of blogs. "After beginning as a vehicle for anti-establishment, noncommercial writers, many Web logs have laid out welcome mats for corporate America in the last couple of years. No one tracks how much advertising money is flowing to Web logs. Nor is it clear how many bloggers, like Ms. Campbell, disclose their sponsors. But when writers have not been completely open, their fellow bloggers have been quick to criticize."
The NYTimes also reports on how some retailers are trying to encourage more people to shop online. "This holiday season, shoppers are expected to spend nearly $20 billion on non-travel online purchases, up 24 percent from last year. While the Friday and Monday after Thanksgiving are typically bigger shopping days -- both online and in bricks-and-mortar stores -- some savvy shoppers checked their lists on Thanksgiving between bites of mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie."
10 Houellebecq, Cattullus and good s*x writing
As the Literary Review is about to announce its annual Bad S*x Awards, The Times, with the help of Bell de Jour (her of the infamous blog about life as a high class call girl, links in Archives), announces the Good S*x Writing wards. "Written s*x also has the distinction of being the only erotic art one can indulge in on public transport without fear of arrest. This is a truth well known by schoolgirls, who from the age of 13 onwards pass round dog-eared paperbacks, the good bits underlined for easy reference, as if they held the secret to life itself. Schoolboys, by contrast, are slaves to images, while we girls knew that in just a few years’ time we’d have our own three-dimensional versions of what the lads spent so much effort trying to catch a photographic glimpse of."
In The Sunday Times, Lesley White interviews Michel Houellebecq. "Houellebecq has become an international mascot for the dissenting classes, a black-humoured would-be rock star of ideas, one of the few novelists - or writers, for that matter - for decades with a radical and persuasive critique of how we live. He works in fiction but his vision of the greedy, lazy, morally disfigured wretches we've become is one with which no vote-conscious politician would ever dare concur, and every half-sentient reader relates to."
And in The New Republic, a fabulous essay by Emily Wilson as she reviews a new translation of the poetry of Cattulus. "It is a superb piece of work, despite some disappointments. Green's translation should encourage readers of all kinds to read or re-read Catullus, one of the greatest and most influential of all classical poets. " (If they won't let you read it for free, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org)
BELLE DE JOUR/THE TIMES
11 Postcards from hell
Some of the more quirky odds and sods around. Simon Hoggart takes a break from skewering politicians to report on the horrifyingly breezy messages parents sometimes receive from their children travelling abroad. "Met a chief of a neighbouring town on Thursday. He's actually rather nice, 35, seven wives, and apparently looking for an eighth. Hope all fab, Love Cat."
The Scotsman reports that Britons are the biggest cocaine users in Europe and are increasingly likely to die from it (so it's not all bad news then).
Those who prefer more traditional mind altering substances can now get their alcohol 24 hours a day, although the guardian of middle England, The Telegraph, worries that something is being lost: "Haven't you got homes to go to?"
As TDB recalls it, there were reports last year of Sydney being afflicted by a bed bug plague. The NYTimes reports that the same is now happening in New York.
The same paper reports that an exhibition devoted to its slave past is having an affect on many of those who see it. "A white lawyer went into the booth twice to sort out his feelings. "This has just been devastating," he said. As he looked at the exhibition's array of documents, he said, he realized that the some of the laws used to isolate and dehumanize enslaved black New Yorkers became custom after the laws vanished and "contributed to the way whites look at blacks," even today."
Perhaps you have been wondering whatever happened to Esperanto, designed to be the world's second language. Not much, although all is not lost. And if you don't go to the article, you might enjoy this quote from it. "'I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse," said Charles V, King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor."
Should you ever find yourself looking for a room at an inn in Birmingham, Jeremy Clarkson knows a motel where even the ugly get lucky. Must be quite a place if even this professional petrolhead and lad abroad was taken aback.
And Sacha Baron Cohen, who uses a boorish, sexist and racist Kazakh alter ego called Borat to poke fun at interviewees has responded to a legal threat from the Kazakh authorities by satirically welcoming the move. Borat's repsonse was: "I like to state, I have no connection with Mr Cohen and fully support my government's position to sue this Jew."
SIMON HOGGART/THE GUARDIAN