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The Daily Briefing 2/11/05
1 Leave Iraq, impeach Bush
The visit to Iraq last week by Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa gave rise to hopes that the league could play a role in promoting national reconciliation. The report by Dina Ezzat for Al-Ahram (link below) shares the optimism, though it does hint at greater autonomy for the regions of Iraq than provided for even under the federalist constitution. "With the exception of the charismatic Shia leader Moqtada Al-Sadr, Moussa seems to have successfully convinced Iraq's factional leaders to come together for a national dialogue conducted under the umbrella of the Arab League. Representatives of many of Iraq's tribes and ethnic and religious groups, including Christians, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Sabaens and Yazdies, came at short notice to meet with Moussa for talks on the proposed national dialogue that is intended to be a precursor to a fully blown conference of reconciliation."
This editorial in The Daily Star (Beirut) supports Moussa's call for the removal of foreign troops from Iraq (or at least a timetable for it) while acknowledging that the end result could be ugly. "While the U.S. should not give up its goal of a united and stable Iraq, it is an appropriate time for the Americans to rethink their methods and strategies for achieving this objective. A timetable for withdrawal is one new strategy among many that ought to be considered. So is scaling down ineffective military operations and using U.S. troops to promote peace and provide badly needed security."
And while it remains on the fringes of US national debate, a cause taken up only by those on the left, the suggestion that George Bush should be impeached does come up from time to time. Elizabeth de la Vega makes the case in The Nation. "Third, we can no longer shrink from the prospect of impeachment. Impeachment would require, as John Bonifaz, constitutional attorney, author of Warrior-King: The Case for Impeaching George Bush and co-founder of AfterDowningStreet.org, has explained, that the House pass a "resolution of inquiry or impeachment calling on the Judiciary Committee to launch an investigation into whether grounds exist for the House to exercise its constitutional power to impeach George W. Bush." If the committee found such grounds, it would draft articles of impeachment and submit them to the full House for a vote. If those articles passed, the President would be tried by the Senate."
2 China, the rise and rise
In the first of what is to be a two-part series, Robert Skidelsky, Professor of Political Economy at Warwick University, reviews two books ("Three Billion New Capitalists: The Great Shift of Wealth and Power to the East" by Clyde Prestowitz; and "China Inc.: How the Rise of the Next Superpower Challenges America and the World" by Ted C. Fishman) as he explores by now familiar questions following on from China's economic rise - will it pose a military threat to the West, and can it remain a one-party state? (Without, it must be said, any adding anything startlingly new.) "Prestowitz's and Fishman's books are about the impact of China on the economy of the West. But what about the West's impact on China? To what extent are Chinese society and politics being transformed by China's integration into the global economy, and what might this tell us about the future of the relationship between West and East? These topics will be discussed in a second article."
And the Financial Times reports that China is preparing to privatise its rail network. "Private and foreign investors have in recent decades played only a marginal role in the development of China's rail network, which is still operated along Communist planned economy lines. Transport bottlenecks have become a serious economic problem and officials are increasingly aware of the challenge of raising funds to build a planned new 25,000km of line over the next 15 years."
ROBERT SKIDELSKY/NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS
3 The need for philosophers
Wang Shuhai (no, hadn't heard of him before either) is concerned about falling enrollments in philosophy courses and calls for them to lose government support in China. "The argument that a nation does not need many philosophers or philosophy majors just as it does not need many mathematicians and theoretical physics scientists is questionable. In fact, a country needs large numbers of mathematicians and theoretical physics scientists - and even more outstanding philosophers. This is where the driving force of a nation's creative thinking lies and where the basis for the continuation of the Chinese Civilization will be found."
WANG SHUHAI/CHINA DAILY
4 Why Tony loves the bomb
The debate about whether or not Britain should replace its Trident nuclear force has been bubbling along for months now, and former Labour government adviser David Clark thinks that is just the way the Blair government wants it. Clark says the government is hoping that "those looking for answers about how and when a decision is going to be taken will give up out of sheer exasperation" when in fact there is little doubt what it will do. "Like Iraq, the decision will have been taken in principle long before it is announced in public; and like Iraq, it will be taken for the worst of all reasons - as an act of political positioning. Real security considerations are a negligible factor in the development of Labour's nuclear-weapons policy, the burden of the past weighing too heavily for objectivity to intrude."
In The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientist, Joseph Cirincione from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace takes a long look at the "roads not taken" along the failure to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. At each turn, he says, the nuclear expansionists have prevailed, and that bold action is now required to ensure this does not continue. "A policy that seeks to limit nuclear weapons to U.S. allies offers only superficial security. Alliances and the governments that form them are ephemeral. Iran used to be a friend; the United States sold Tehran its first nuclear reactor. Iraq used to be a friend, armed by U.S. aid. Pakistan is a friend now, but a change in government could put nuclear weapons directly in the hands of Islamic extremists. Even "responsible" nuclear states cannot always prevent the illicit transfer or theft of nuclear technology. The best way to limit proliferation is to limit the number of nuclear states, weapons, and materials."
DAVID CLARK/THE GUARDIAN
5 The dismissal, 30 years on
No time to read it closely, but time enough to notice that The Bulletin has played it smart for a magazine with weeky deadlines and made sure it wasn't the last outlet to remember the 30th anniversary of the dismissal of the Whitlam government. The Laurie Oakes' article linked to below is but one of many (you'll find the rest here). "What strikes me now is how little difference that Remembrance Day and the events that led up to it made to the nation's politics in the long term. We thought the dismissal would shake the system to its foundations. At the very least, the Senate's wings would have to be clipped, otherwise any government without a Senate majority would always be under threat. In fact, no change has been made, and it's rare these days to hear anyone even argue the case for depriving the Senate of its power to block or reject money bills."
LAURIE OAKES/THE BULLETIN
6 Politics, reason and desire
Paul W. Kahn, Professor of Law and the Humanities at Yale Law School, says (link below) that from within the undeniable realities of politics and the family, the erotic is a madness that "promises only death" - but that it is a madness, a form of personal freedom (among other things) that humans can not live without. And this, he says, is a lesson most modern political thinkers cannot learn. "In the modern age, the erotic provides us with the ecstatic moment shorn of religion. It stands in the antipolitical tradition of the sacred. The sacred too can displace ordinary forms of language. In another age and another culture, the moment of spiritual rapture and complete identification with the oneness of the universe-Freud's oceanic feeling-was a counterpoint to the political. The erotic takes up this imagery of rebirth, but the new birth is wholly within the boundaries of the physical body. We should not be surprised that as the possibilities of religious transcendence diminish, the pornographic moment becomes the locus of an antistatist vision of freedom."
In The Washington Post, a fabulous essay by Lonnae O'Neal Parker on race, politics and s*x. Parker, who has a book on the subject out soon, offers a deeply personal account of her own journey as she looks at one of "the most politicized terrains on the planet" - the bodies of black women. "Aunt Ellen liked to point out that smart in the head usually means dumb down there. There was book sense, and there was bedroom sense, she maintained, and black women needed to have a generous helping of both. It can be tempting, in hindsight, to label those conversations as excessive -- to say grown people had no business talking to a young girl about such women things. But I don't think poorly of those working-class black women in my family who made bawdy references to sex. They faced a reality I cannot know. A reality circumscribed by race and gender and class, without the dimmest prospect of developing their range of talents to their full potential. Those women danced in the arena in which they found themselves, always searching for new moves, new ways to navigate and define themselves, instead of letting other folks (men, the larger white society) do it for them."
The Guardian reports that Islamic feminists from around the world this weekend launched what they hope will become a global movement to liberate Muslim women - a "gender jihad".
The clash between the state and the erotic, which Kahn explores, is evidenced by this report in The Times: "The "moral laxity" of women during the Second World War was perceived to be so degenerate that it strained relations between Britain and America." (Ah yes, always those immoral women.)
Onward Christian soldiers! The NYTimes reports: "An evangelical radio ministry has developed a book kit meant to help soldiers protect their s*xual purity, and is raising money to send 6,000 kits to chaplains who have requested them. The kits reportedly are a by-product of increasing presence of Army haplains from evangelical Christian traditions with a culture of proselytizing." (Soldiers and s*xual purity, a concept you don't hear much about.)
PAUL KAHN/AMERICAN S*XUALITY
7 Athiest dreaming
TDB gave a fair amount of time last year to the debate Alister McGrath generated when he famously renounced atheism ("The Twilight of Atheism") McGrath reports that the World Congress of the International Academy of Humanism took place on the week-end, but he held out little chance for its hopes of a new Enlightenment. "The Enlightenment is over, the world has changed, and atheism must change as well. But that is not the answer they are looking for in upstate New York. Instead, they want the Enlightenment all over again ... Atheism has, quite simply, lost much of its moral and intellectual cutting edge in recent decades. And unless it sorts itself out, it is not going to regain it."
And you think God doesn't have a (sick) sense of humour? Pastor Kyle Lake was recently electrocuted during a baptism in Texas. "A church worker says Lake was electrocuted when he grabbed a microphone while partially submerged for the baptism."
ALISTER MCGRATH/THE TIMES
8 Noughties, a cultural desert
And you thought the '80s were bad. Apparently the Social Issues Research Centre has just announced that this is the most rubbish decade, culturally, that it has ever researched - no defining music of the decade, fashion has contributed little more than the bare midriff, and that the rest of the first five years of the 21st century can by summed up by little more than "reality TV and iPods". Caitlin Moran notes hopefully there are still five years left, before wondering if it is such a bad thing. "Similarly, claims that there has been no Noughties "look" are bizarre. Consider a stocky blonde with grill-pan highlights and a muffin-top, holding a fake Louis Vuitton bag. There's your Noughties in a nutshell. In the gamer areas of Soho, even men can be seen sporting it. Most importantly, however, I think we have to ask: would it be so terrible if a big, overriding cultural movement never did actually materialise?"
CAITLIN MORAN/THE TIMES
9 Social, ethical, environmental audit
Apart from having a Readers' Editor (the equivalent of the Public Editor at the NYTimes), and a grown-up approach to corrections, both of which Australian newspapers would do well to adopt, The Guardian has begun conducting a social, ethical and environemental audit of its operations. The results can be found at the link below, and its response to environmental issues is here. (Although it is a bit hard to believe that all of the reader feedback was so laudatory.)