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The Daily Briefing 18/10/05
1 NIxon and Bush - getting out of wars
Reaction to the referendum on the Iraq constitution has been notably muted, especially by comparison with the (premature) gloating among advocates of the US-led invasion after the January 30 election for the interim Parliament. The NYTimes this morning is reporting that the vote may be called into question after some results showed unusually high turn-outs of up to 99 percent. (Shades of the old days when Saddam was running elections.) And The Washington Post, in an analysis piece by Glenn Kessler, says "publicly, administration officials hailed the result but privately some officials acknowledged that the road ahead is still very difficult, especially because Sunni Arab voters appeared to have rejected the constitution by wide margins".
Meanwhile, an essay in the respected journal Foreign Affairs (published by the Council on Foreign Relations) by Melvin Laird has attracted interest in the US. Laird was secretary of state to Richard Nixon and anyone with an interest in politics, foreign policy, Iraq or Vietnam should read this piece. It is truly one of the more significant essays in this field in a very long time. If you don't have time for the full thing, David Broder in The Washington Post has a good synopsis of it. Laird starts with a great opening line: "Richard Nixon was elected in 1968 on the assumption that he had a plan to end the Vietnam War. He didn't have any such plan, and my job as his first secretary of defense was to remedy that -- quickly." (The lies politicians tell, the world over.)
He then goes on to give a detailed account of the Vietnam War, conceding along the way that it was unnecessary (Ho Chi Minh was above all a nationalist, not a communist) and that the Gulf of Tonkin incident used as the basis for American involvement was a concoction, not unlike "Weapons of Mass Destruction". Laird holds to the questionable belief that Vietnam was winnable, and offers lessons from it for Iraq. "As was the case in Vietnam, the task in Iraq involves building a new society from the ground up. Two Vietnam experts, Jeffrey Record and W. Andrew Terrill, recently produced an exhaustive comparison of the Vietnam and Iraq wars for the Army War College. They note that in both wars, the United States sought to establish a legitimate indigenous government. In Iraq, the goal is a democratic government, whereas in Vietnam the United States would have settled for any regime that advanced our Cold War agenda. Those who call the new Iraqi government Washington's "puppet" don't know what a real puppet government is. The Iraqis are as eager to be on their own as we are to have them succeed. In Vietnam, an American, Ambassador Philip Habib, wrote the constitution in 1967. Elections were choreographed by the United States to empower corrupt, selfish men who were no more than dictators in the garb of statesmen."
MELVIN LAIRD/FOREIGN AFFAIRS
2 The law, civil liberties and terrorism
The UK debate over its anti-terrorism laws often mirrors the debate here, which is to be expected given that our laws were modelled on those of Tony Blair. Martin Kettle (link below) attempts to find a middle path between civil liberty concerns and a government he says is prone to legislate its way out of every political problem (and aren't they all. Politicians haven't seen a problem yet that another couple of hundred pages of legislation wouldn't fix.) "The result is too much legislation, poorly thought out, badly drafted and capriciously replaced when the next crisis comes along. There is another important lesson too. We are constantly told that the government is legislating because the police ask it to. But I am hearing a different, and in this context more credible account - in which No 10, not the police, takes the political initiative, with Downing Street inviting the security and police chiefs to name any legislative requirements they may have. The new terrorism bill reflects these political dynamics."
The left-leaning Independent reports that judges, lawyers and politicians oppose the bill , warning that it undermines "freedoms citizens have taken for granted for centuries and that Britain risks drifting towards a police state".
In The Observer, A Sivanandan (Director of the Institute of Race Relations) says calls for Muslims to integrate are misplaced, and that the cause of July 7 bombings was anger over the invasion of Iraq. "When our rulers ask us old colonials, new refugees, desperate asylum seekers - the sub-homines - to live up to British values, they are not referring to the values that they themselves exhibit, but those of the Enlightenment which they have betrayed. We, the sub-homines, in our struggle for basic human rights, not only uphold basic human values, but challenge Britain to return to them. But the greatest threat to Western values arises from globalisation and market fundamentalism, changes that affect personal morality. For the market reduces even personal relationships to a cash nexus. And the transition from welfare to market state has made corporations rather than people the priority of government, which, in turn, replaces moral values with commercial values, caring with indifference, altruism with selfishness, generosity with greed."
And this editorial in The New Republic is well worth a look for anyone interested in the "global war on terror" (hopefully it is not one of the magazine's pay-to-view articles). TNR, which supported the invasion of Iraq, but has been critical of its conduct, says George Bush's recent speech on Islamic terrorism shows that he is finally beginning to understand it better, but not that he hit on the right response. "In a war of ideas, strategic and tactical wisdom is more, not less, important than in a conventional conflict, because errors that give us a reputation for malevolence are more difficult to reverse than battlefield losses. Alas, while the president may have spoken about the enemy we face with greater sophistication than he has evinced in the past, it's not clear that his views on the appropriate uses of U.S. power have evolved at all. For that, apparently, we will have to wait for another speech."
MARTIN KETTLE/THE GUARDIAN
3 Opus Dei and the secularist
The role of Opus Dei in NSW politics was given a brief airing recently following the demise of Liberal leader John Brogden, and allegations that members of the group were involved with the right-wing forces said to have brought him down. Anyone interested in that debate might be interested in Mary Kenny's New Statesman review of "Opus Dei: secrets and power inside the Catholic Church" by John Allen. Kenny says the book is favourably disposed toward Opus Dei, but provides a wealth of information about it.
On the other side of the faith divide, Iranian-born Maryam Namazie has won the National Secular Society's (NSS) first Irwin Prize for “Secularist of the Year”. Butterfly and Wheels has published her acceptance speech and a speech introducing her work.
Nick Cohen (link below) says Namazie, should be a "liberal poster girl", and perhaps would be if she didn't confront the "post-modern twaddle" that sees liberals give precedence to cultural and religious norms over human rights. "Namazie is on the right side of the great intellectual struggle of our time between incompatible versions of liberalism. One follows the fine and necessary principle of tolerance, but ends up having to tolerate the oppression of women, say, or gays in foreign cultures while opposing misogyny and homophobia in its own. (Or 'liberalism for the liberals and cannibalism for the cannibals!' as philosopher Martin Hollis elegantly described the hypocrisy of the manoeuvre.) The alternative is to support universal human rights and believe that if the oppression of women is wrong, it is wrong everywhere."
NICK COHEN/THE OBSERVER
4 Talking about Freud
The revisionists have been having a field day with Sigmund Freud in the past couple of decades, helped along in no small way by the work of Jeffrey Masson, author of "The Assault on Truth". The article linked to below is a short profile of Adam Phillips (described as a London-based psychoanalyst, a prolific author and a recognised authority on Freud) and his thoughts on the 'father of psychoanalysis' following an appearance at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. "After Phillips has finished reading, Holloway begins by asking him about his enthusiasm for Freud. Where people go wrong with Freud, says Phillips, is that they imagine his writing is an instruction book on how to live, rather than an inspiration that should evoke ideas of one’s own. He goes on to talk about the difference between hunger and s*xual desire. “By virtue of our having once been children,” he says, “our need for parents’ love is always greater than their need for us.” Later in life, this leads inevitably to a gulf between the fantasy and the reality of love. The difference between hunger and s*xual appetite is that hunger is a biological need that can be satisfied, whereas love is a desire which cannot - and should not - be fully sated."
But if you are after a more detailed discussion on Freud, then Butterfly and Wheels is the place to go. This article is a collection of letters written by Allen Esterson, Richard Warnotck and Paul Power to the magazine as they discussed Freud, Webster, Masson, the unconscious, and seduction theory.
JAMES HARKIN/THE FINANCIAL TIMES
5 The flu, its genome and preparedness
Perhaps TDB did Charles Krauthammer a disservice yesterday by sniggering at his concerns that the 'Spanish' flu genome had been published. The NYTimes has run a similar piece by Ray Kurzweil and Bill Joy (link below). "The genome is essentially the design of a weapon of mass destruction. No responsible scientist would advocate publishing precise designs for an atomic bomb, and in two ways revealing the sequence for the flu virus is even more dangerous."
Kurzweil is the inventor, "techno-visionary" and proponent of "The Singularity" who believes we can all live forever if we can stick around for the scientific know-how to be figured out; and that technology will one day outstrip human intelligence.
And while Wendy Orent (TDB yesterday) was saying there was no evidence of a flu pandemic, Britain's chief medical officer thinks one is inevitable, but unlikely to strike this northern winter (The Guardian).
And The Independent reports that the fruit star anise is central to the search for a flu cure.
RAY KURZWEIL & BILL JOY/NYTIMES
6 Chomsky, the world's leading thinker
And the winner is ... Noam Chomsky. Oh my Gawd, if the right was furious at the awarding of the Nobel Peace prize to Mohamed ElBaradei as it was, and that the Nobel Prize for literature went to Harold Pinter, as it was, just wait until word of this spreads. Two serious magazines from the centre-right of politics, Prospect (UK) and Foreign Policy, combined to run a poll to find the world's leading intellectual and Chomsky, linguist, author and activist won handsomely with almost twice as many votes as Umberto Eco in second place. Prospect has the full list of contenders and how they fared, Foreign Policy has some analysis of the voting , and The Sunday Times (link below) offers the newspaper version of events. Jürgen Habermas, Paul Krugman, Naomi Klein and Christopher Hitchens all appear in the top 10, as does Indian economist and author Amartya Sen who is the subject of a profile in the latest Newsweek.
THE SUNDAY TIMES
7 Self-portraits, Beethoven and Palmer
Painter Samuel Palmer was child prodigy, a devoted fan of William Blake, whom he knew, and he is about to be the subject of an exhibition at the British Museum. Kathy Brewis (link below) says more would be known of him if his son hadn't burned some of his work. "Palmer made a self-portrait in the same year that he met Blake. His dark eyes fix the viewer with a melancholy gaze. He was young, impressionable and — the quality that endeared him to Blake — emotional. Palmer's son Albert Herbert said: "His mouth was difficult to draw, sensitive and full of expression and feeling." Herbert had a problem with expression and feeling. So much so that, after his father's death, he read through his father's precious sketchbooks, decided they were a bit namby-pamby and burnt them."
Another London exhibition, this time at the National Portrait Gallery, causes AS Byatt to reflect upon self-portraits. "It is hard to imagine how we construed our own faces before there were mirrors. Narcissus gazing into the liquid meniscus cannot really have met the eye of his phantom. Balzac describes a fairground hoax where punters are promised a vision of what God himself cannot see - and find their own resemblance in a huge looking glass. Sylvia Plath's Mirror sees the glass as "silver and exact", but also as a terrible version of Narcissus's pool."
And in what is undoubtedly the best essay of the three, Edmund Morris is exultant at the discovery of a Beethoven manuscript and expects that artists of the internet age will not leave such wonders for future generations. "The newly discovered manuscript - an 80-page piano version of his famous "Grosse Fuge" for string quartet, Op. 133 - dates from 1826, the last full year of Beethoven's life. It is reported to be typically three-dimensional, with erasures worn into holes, and a large patch of rewritten music spackled onto one page with sealing wax. Since the "Grosse Fuge" is the single most pugnacious movement in Beethoven - 15 minutes of furious contrapuntal combat, adored by Stravinsky - what we will be seeing at Sotheby's promises to be as much an artifact as an autograph."
KATHY BREWIS/THE SUNDAY TIMES
8 Don't judge a book by its genre
Peter Preston has obviously listened in as Ian Rankin and PD James spoke at the Cheltenham Festival, chewing over a favourite talking point in bookish circles - what separates popular fiction from literature and why doesn't crime fiction, for example, carry off awards like the Booker. Preston thinks it is time some of the walls in the world of literature came down. "Some major art forms, after all, have no hang-ups about genres. Any tolerable list of great movies would have John Ford's The Searchers in there somewhere, not to mention Howard Hawks's The Big Sleep and Ford Coppola's three Godfathers. That is a western, a private eye thriller and a gangster saga - genres immemorial. Choosing them wouldn't preclude other, wholly different choices, to be sure: a Truffaut, Fassbinder or Wajda. But the list itself would be catholic and generous, not narrowly restrictive."
PETER PRESTON/THE GUARDIAN
9 The devil, the marching band and the tangled web
A couple of reports that might convince you that the world is going mad at a faster than usual rate. A school marching band was banned from playing "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" by the Charlie Daniels Band after a complaint that it breached the separation of church and state. (link below)
And oh what an expensive tangled web. The Times reports on a London couple who are now up for a total of £11,000 in fines and costs, with an investigation by their professional body to come, after they concocted an elaborate scheme to avoid two £60 speeding fines. They tried to convince police the fines were incurred by a ficticious Bulgarian friend "Konstantin Koscov".
THE WASHINGTON POST