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The Daily Briefing 25/11/05
1 Labor, democracy and the legacy of Whitlam
The last time TDB heard from Labor's intellectual/activist Peter Botsman, he was explaining the inner workings of the NSW ALP. This time the former head of the Whitlam and Brisbane Institutes turns his attention to the national party, and look at Gough Whitlam's legacy as a party reformer for ideas on how to bring about the internal changes he says are needed to make Labor truly democratic, relevant and politically successful. This article is a great mix of research, passion and ideas. (The link below will take you to a substantial excerpt from the article (top and tail), but to read the whole thing, with footnotes, asides and the bibliography, you will have to go here.)
PETER BOTSMAN/AUSTRALIAN PROSPECT
2 Isolationism and the US empire
The Power and Interest News Report (link below), "an independent organization that utilizes open source intelligence to provide conflict analysis services in the context of international relations", looks at US geostrategic interests following its agreement with Romania to build American military bases near the Black Sea, and talks with Bulgaria about using its bases.
In The New Republic John Judis looks at the return to isolationism he finds evidence for, and at its likely impacts on US politics and foreign policy. "Under the impact of the administration's failure in Iraq, the public has become wary of American involvement overseas. It increasingly rejects both a liberal internationalist and a neoconservative approach to foreign affairs. Instead, its attitude is similar to the prevailing outlook of the 1920s and '30s and to the worldview held by many Americans in the '90s. Voters, in short, are becoming more isolationist. This change in mood will likely affect the elections of 2006 and 2008; and more important, it could affect how future American administrations conduct themselves in the world."
And in the NYTimes, David Lipsky reviews "Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground" by Robert D. Kaplan, and is seriously unimpressed. "And it turns out we've been too thrifty with our troops; to prevail in the war on terror, he advises, we ought to become more tolerant of American casualties. So what's the holdup? "It was the elites that had a more difficult time with the deaths of soldiers and marines." Their concern is misplaced. The grunts have an "unpretentious willingness to die," which is in part "the product of their working-class origins. The working classes had always been accustomed to rough, unfair lives and turns." This isn't anti-elitism: it's the regular old callous elitism in new packaging, and it sends one back into a consideration of the author."
THE POWER AND INTEREST NEWS REPORT
3 Bush, Aljazeera and Boris
The world is still trying to make up its mind about the story, linked to yesterday, reporting that Tony Blair had to talk George Bush out of bombing Aljazeera's offices in Qatar. But Conservative MP and Spectator editor Boris Johnson has made up his mind about one thing - if he can get his hands on anything relating to the story, he will ignore the ban on publishing it, and be damned. Johnson also notes on the way through, that the US has, in the recent past, killed journalists, including some from Aljazeera. "But if there is an ounce of truth in the notion that George Bush seriously proposed the destruction of al-Jazeera, and was only dissuaded by the Prime Minister, then we need to know, and we need to know urgently. We need to know what we have been fighting for, and there is only one way to find out ... If someone passes me the document within the next few days I will be very happy to publish it in The Spectator, and risk a jail sentence."
Over at the possible target of the attack, Aljazeera, the story is the most emailed article, which means it is probably not doing US standing in the Arab world any good.
The Times reports that the publication ban was designed to spare George Bush some embarrassment, but in the short term at least it has given the story added momentum and credibility.
And the left-leaning Nation looks at the case for thinking Bush was serious. It points out that the suggestion was made at the height of the assault on Falluja, which is now said to have been where the US military used White Phosphorous. "What Al Jazeera was doing in Falluja is exactly what it was doing when the United States bombed its offices in Afghanistan in 2001 and when US forces killed Al Jazeera's Baghdad correspondent, Tareq Ayoub, during the April 2003 occupation of Baghdad. Al Jazeera was witnessing and reporting on events Washington did not want the world to see."
BORIS JOHNSON/THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
4 Neoliberalism causes crime
TDB can't resist a good stir, and there is certainly one in here. Robert Reiner is a professor of criminology at the London School of Economics, and he argues that good policing is largely a smoke and mirrors myth - that low crime rates depend on social capital and a sense of social cohesion. Those have been undermined, he argues, by neoliberalism, which therefore leads to higher rates of crime. "The crucial shift underlying the current crisis came in the early 1990s, when New Labour accepted the economic and social framework of Thatcherism. This meant that the second half of the celebrated slogan "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" could only have a very narrow meaning. The basic driver of crime, triumphant neoliberalism, was deemed beyond government control. So the police had to start living up to their myth, delivering the effective crime control once produced by the social cohesion that was being ripped apart."
ROB REINER/THE GUARDIAN
5 Poles part: Poland and the EU
A clash of cultures is now occurring within the EU, according to this report, as the religiously conservative countries of Eastern Europe exercise their newly won power as full members of the organisation. ""However, since the election last month of President Lech Kaczynski, a conservative defender of family values and a critic of abortion and homosexuality, concerns are being voiced that, on social policy at least, Poland is on a collision course with Brussels. "This is for real," said Christopher Bobinski, director of Unia I Polska, a pro-European research organization in Warsaw. "This is a very reactionary, conservative group of people that have taken the helm, and on these issues we are going in the reverse direction to the direction everyone else in Europe is going." The effects of Poland's religious conservatism were felt in 2003, during the drafting of the European Constitution, when Warsaw led the argument that the preamble should refer to Europe's Christian heritage. After much debate, the reference was not included."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE
6 Conrad Black and the US media, part two
Conrad Black, the neo-conservative former media magnate sometimes known as Lord Black of Coldharbour, is in a spot of bother as you may have noticed, fraud charges involving something like US$50 million, give or take. Nonetheless, Black still has his supporters, Mark Steyn (link below) foremost among them. Steyn's column is in part a response to this one in The Independent by Sir Peregrine Worsthorne (gotta love that name), but now unfortunately available only if you pay £1. Steyn thinks that Black will get off if he gets a fair trial, and wonders what all the fuss is about. "The implications of this pseudo-judicial usurpation of a functioning business ought to alarm anyone who wants to do business in the United States. The pursuit of Conrad Black is like a corporate version of those FBI sieges that every hapless survivalist compound or kooky cult was on the receiving end of back in the Nineties. Remember Waco? Or Ruby Ridge in Idaho, where the Feds entrapped Randy Weaver into a very minor technical firearms infraction and then gunned down his wife and kid? Weaver wasn’t the most likable cove, and what was remarkable was the number of people prepared to say, oh, well, he’s a white survivalist gun nut, so it’s OK to kill his wife and child. Likewise, because the Blacks charged their under-butlers to the company, it’s apparently OK to gut the business, sell it off for parts, leave it in an ownership limbo, and lend the full force of the state to a boardroom coup that makes a travesty of traditional concepts of capitalism."
TDB recently pointed readers in the direction of part one of Michael Massing's examination of the performance of the US media. For Those who want to find out how it all ends will find part two here. "For many reporters, the bold coverage of the effects of the hurricane, and of the administration's glaring failure to respond effectively, has helped to begin making up for their timid reporting on the existence of WMD. Among some journalists I've spoken with, shame has given way to pride, and there is much talk about the need to get back to the basic responsibility of reporters, to expose wrongdoing and the failures of the political system. In recent weeks, journalists have been asking more pointed questions at press conferences, attempting to investigate cronyism and corruption in the White House and Congress, and doing more to document the plight of people without jobs or a place to live."
MARK STEYN/THE SPECTATOR
7 Space and dimensions
Sean Carroll, assistant professor of physics, reviews two books exploring the concepts of extra, hidden dimensions, the possibility of which were opened up by Einstein's theory of general relativity and are a requirement for string theory. The books are "Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions" by Lisa Randall; and "Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos" by Michio Kaku. "Both of these books do an excellent job of explaining very esoteric concepts. As a theoretical physicist myself, I would be cheered to notice someone sitting at my local coffee shop engrossed in either book. "Parallel Worlds" is somewhat easier to dip into and provides a nice overview of many interesting ideas in modern physics. "Warped Passages", however, is useful and important both as an introduction to some key ideas in modern physics and as a window onto the way that physics is really done. Let us hope that the tradition of accessible books written for the general public by accomplished scientists continues to thrive."
Randall is considered one of the leading researchers in the field and was recently the subject of this profile in the NYTimes (now available only as a pay-to-view article).
SEAN CARROLL/THE AMERICAN SCIENTIST
8 Humanism, religion and Jesus
A charge much levelled of late against science (notably evolution) and environmentalism is that they are secular religions or faiths and that their adherents are true believers. AC Grayling, Professor of Philosophy at the University of London, challenges that notion. "The point of the Doubting Thomas story, remember, is that it is more blessed to believe without evidence than with it, as Kierkegaard likewise later insisted with his ‘leap of faith’ doctrine. No such leaps are required to ‘believe in’ science or reason. Science is always open to challenge and refutation, faith is not; reason must be rigorously tested by its own lights, faith rejoices in unreason. Once again, a humanistic outlook is as far from sharing the characteristics of religion as it can be. By definition, in short, humanism is not religion, any more than religion is or can be a form of humanism."
And in the NYTimes, Jonathan Rosen 'Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine,' by Harold Bloom. "Bloom calls himself a cultural Jew who does not "trust" in the covenant, trust being for him the hallmark of the normative Jew. And yet what dominates this book isn't the figure of Jesus or Yahweh. It is the image of Bloom, filled with post-Holocaust anguish and outrage, awakened at 2 a.m. by nightmares of Yahweh. What ultimately gives this book its power and poignancy is the image of a 74-year-old Jew, crying out to a silent God who nevertheless "won't go away." What could be more normative than that?"
AC GRAYLING/THE NEW HUMANIST
9 Buy nothing or buy the best
Today is a busy day. As well as being International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (as The Age notes on its business pages, see below) it is also Buy Nothing Day. Wired interviewed Kalle Lasn (link below) who started the whole thing off, and talked about the internet's role in spreading the message and about the laziness of many bloggers and the digital generation's disengagement from the real world. "Founded 14 years ago by an ex-advertising executive, BND is now celebrated in more than 65 countries by millions of people -- who participate by not participating in the shopping orgy."
But perhaps the magazine is not totally committed to the anti-consumerism cause. Wired also has "the ultimate geek gift guide" to what it thinks are the best gadgets and gizmos on offer.