Tuesday, September 30, 2003
iraq > simplistic explanations > give the wrong impressions
This is Riverbend's latest post. In it she responds to this supposedly "objective" NYT article titled: "Iraqi Family Ties Complicate American Efforts for Change" [NYT free registration required]. The article, it turns out, is misleading in many respects - and it is refreshing to see an Iraqi woman eloquently tear some of its key premises to shreds. It's dangerous to draw simple pictures of complicated situations.
This type of analysis reminds me of the semi-accurate (and thus worse than inaccurate!) descriptions of Balkan history, societies, conflicts etc. which plagued the "serious" western press during the attack on Yugoslavia. It was then that I first realized the superficiality of knowledge of the supposed area "experts" and the naiveness (or even lack of intelligence) of many of the foreign correspondents. There were cab-drivers in Athens, butchers in Sofia and factory workers in Bucharest with deeper knowledge of the area's politics and attitudes, the limits that could be reached, and the possible outcomes of conflict. Yet a war was waged then, based on false premises and with rather questionable results.
Similarly in Iraq, this sort of coverage serves to present an easily digestible picture, a picture that can be used then as "fact" or as "background" in the political discussion. See for example how John Tierney's article attempts to, indirectly, demonstrate the backwardness of the Iraqis and thus "explain" the delay in handing Iraq back to its people:
"'Japan and India have managed to blend traditional social structures with modern democracy, and Iraq could do the same,' said Stanley Kurtz, an anthropologist at the Hoover Institution. But it will take time and finesse, he said, along with respect for traditions like women wearing the veil."
More confusion: ""A key purpose of veiling is to prevent outsiders from competing with a woman's cousins for marriage," Dr. Kurtz said. "Attack veiling, and you are attacking the core of the Middle Eastern social system.""
Well then, how come Iraq was a country in which women were least likely to wear the veil under the Ba'athist regimes (as compared to the rest of the Middle East)?
Much of the NYT analysis is thinly veiled colonial rhetoric with impressively misleading statements:
"The families resulting from these marriages have made nation-building a frustrating process in the Middle East, as King Faisal and T. E. Lawrence both complained after efforts to unite Arab tribes."
Well, Iraq was carved out by the British in such a way as to ensure that a. it wouldn't have too much of the Middle East's oil production and b. it will include very disparate national and religious elements so as to make a stable national state practically unachievable. It's kind of disingenuous to blame family structure before colonial calculations for this "predicament".
It's also worth mentioning that referring to T.E.Lawrence as a "nation builder" is to indulge in a serious misrepresentation of history.
Oh and I'm all for riverbend's virtual sheikhdom! Nice work riverbend. Debunking of misrepresentations about Iraq (and the Arab world in general) is sorely needed.
[Update Oct. 2: Riverbend has a few more things to add about the "veil" issue...]
immigration > illegal > massacre
This brings the total of people killed while trying to cross the Evros minefields to 42, in the past four years.
Since all 7 of the victims were Pakistani, their deaths were mentioned in the Pakistani press. But this is becoming such a common occurance that most papers, even here in Greece, don't consider it front page news any more.
This is becoming ridiculous. There are people who knowingly take them to the Greco-Turkish border and tell them to "walk that way" while aware that the area is thoroughly mined. Meanwhile the total number of people drowning yearly in rafts or rotting ships while trying to cross the Aegean illegally- is completely unknown.
languages > endangered
"It is used among women of the Yao ethnicity in Jiangyong County of Hunan." I had never even heard of a women's language before. I wonder how it's related to other Yao languages (the common language for both sexes) - I assume it belongs to the Miao-Yao linguistic family (it would be really interesting if it didn't though!)
politics > symbolic sex > international
"A hotel orgy involving nearly 400 Japanese male tourists and 500 Chinese prostitutes has sparked outrage on the mainland.
People were angry both because of the scale of the incident and the sensitive timing - two days before the 72nd anniversary of the start of the Japanese army's occupation of Northeast China in 1931."
There is a doctoral thesis in this item just waiting to be written. It would involve viewing sexuality as punishment/reward and triumph/humiliation according to sexual roles, stirring national sensitivities, national attitudes towards sex, symbolism as a factor of international relations, the historical roots of chinese animosity towards Japan and a Pazolinian (or de Sade-esque) description of 900 persons taking part in a sexual orgy that lasted three days.
Apparently the police "... have detained half a dozen people in connection with [these] claims..."
Meanwhile China itself is taking steps to curb the unsocial behavior of Chinese abroad... I'm aware of a few EU member countries that would be well advised to try out something similar.
politics > the backward march of > "progress"
"Rajasthan is a good case study of the links between international finance, ecological imbalance and health problems. The resurgence of malaria in this previously non-endemic area is the ecological and socio-economic consequence of the policies advocated by the Bretton Woods institutions "
A very interesting article showing explicitly the links between the World Bank and Structural Adjustment policies with third world health issues. From InfoChange India a "daily development news channel, providing news, views, perspectives and debates on India's social sector".
Also of note from InfoChange: "Hormone havoc: Pesticide contamination and women’s health".
hunger > non-solutions
Devinder Sharma writes about how biotechnology, far from being the touted "solution to world hunger", is in reality becoming part of the problem.
His article is directed at the writers of the UNDP Human Development Report. A very interesting perspective from someone in India who knows the issues only too well.
"The twin engines of economic growth - the technological revolution and globalisation - will only widen the existing gap. Biotechnology will, in reality, push more people in the hunger trap. With public attention and resources being diverted from the ground realities, hunger will only grow in the years to come. "
Monday, September 29, 2003
politics > propaganda > not very succesful
The american occupation forces' magazine "Hi!" which aimed to covince Iraqi youth about the benign nature of the american conquest, seems to be faring dismally, in part because of the crassness of the US propaganda:
"...The Hi editors are saying, 'Why have a dialogue on such issues as US Middle East policy, which, after all, is not up for discussion? We've had plenty of dialogue with Arabs about the subject, anyway. Learn to accept what you cannot change.'" According to Mr Toensing, "only the state department could have [come up with] a magazine so purportedly apolitical, and yet whose message is so essentially political"..."
Friday, September 26, 2003
politics > redistributive > afghanistan
Some nice supply side economics for the reinvigoration of the Afghan society. Also reported in Pakistan's Dawn.
A more general perspective: "Livin' Large Inside Karzai's Reconstruction Bubble", from Marc Herold's "Afghan Canon".
Edward Said died yesterday, September 25, 2003
The piece linked above is an autobiographical essay written by Said in 1998.
A great writer, fighter and human being passed away. It is the sort of loss that hurts even more in these circumstances of an attack unprecedented in its ferocity and shamelessness against the Palestinian people, and the tragedy of the Middle East.
Below, as a tiny web tribute are links to material about him and by him:
The Edward Said archive
Dreams and Delusions: his last published article.
Archaeology of the roadmap: Said's assessment of the "roadmap".
The only alternative: a statement of vision.
A window on the world: "...humanism is the only, and I would go as far as to say the final resistance we have against the inhuman practices and injustices that disfigure human history."
Audio and Video of Said's lecture on the tragedy of Palestine.
In the news:
Finally: Said's obituary from Ha'aretz.
politics > iraq > killings
"From April 14th to 31st August, 2,846 violent deaths were recorded by the Baghdad city morgue. When corrected for pre-war death rates in the city a total of at least 1,519 excess violent deaths in Baghdad emerges from reports based on the morgue's records."
Note that this number is excess deaths, that is 1500 more than under Saddam and sanctions last year.
Related: The Guardian's memorial and obituary pages for those killed in the recent war; and Regular Everyday People, attempts to show the human face of those "ungrateful Iraqis".
Thursday, September 25, 2003
aging > mice
"A contest to produce the oldest laboratory mouse, and so help to unravel the mysteries of human ageing, is launched in Britain today." This is coming on the heels of two studies that have found that a single letter change in the genetic code is responsible for a premature ageing condition. Note that if you starve the mice they live longer, (a very interesting effect that might be key in prologing the human lifespan) which is something the Greek government must never find out otherwise it will use it as a justification for its austerity plans...
Here is Nature's Web Focus on determining lifespan...
sex > intercurrency
"Advertising authorities in Moscow have banned a poster campaign showing the euro having sex with the US dollar."
Interestingly Ananova features this surreal story as "related".
via fistfull of euros
Wednesday, September 24, 2003
politics > iraq > occupation
A report summary from the International Crisis Group: a detailed analysis of the post-war landscape in Shiia society and politics in Iraq. Excerpt:
The struggles within the Shiite community will determine whether an organised political force can emerge as its legitimate representative and, if so, which it will be. It would be a serious mistake for the U.S. or others to assume the pre-existence of a Shiite political outlook which, in fact, is being shaped by current events, including the very policies the U.S. and others pursue.
The full report [.pdf]
Tuesday, September 23, 2003
politics > iraq > credibility problems
[Scroll down near the end to find... this:]
DR. KRAUTHAMMER: Hans Blix had five months to find weapons. He found nothing. We've had five weeks. Come back to me in five months. If we haven't found any, we will have a credibility problem. I don't have any doubt that we will locate them. I think it takes time. They've obviously been deeply hidden, and it will require that we get the information from people who know where they are.
Monday, September 22, 2003
The historian Carlo Ginzburg talks about his publications and his historical method of microhistory which he pioneered. Ginzburg dismisses the prevailing relativism of historical truth as intellectually, politically and morally lazy and argues against equating history with "mankind's collective memory". Instead, history must serve a sense of historical justice, whereby the past - however selective our memory may be - is acknowledged and truth is finally served.
Also from Eurozine: Jacques Le Goff on "The history of innovation and revolt" and the Annales school.
Friday, September 19, 2003
medicine > histology > flash
Histology world! and I post this not only because of the common word root, but also for the flash intro and the rather unmedical approach! Turn on the speakers. Taste the joys of histology.
politics > inane rants
[Again huge post...]
[Update: Greg Palast blows TF's bizarre piece to smithereens, much more articulately than I, and so does Lean Left...]
When it comes to astonishing claims and analysis that seems to be coming from a parallel universe, Thomas Friedman is in a league by himself.
That is an indisputable fact, as celebrated as his unique writing skills. His current NYT column, however, transcends the merely ridiculous and flies off to arguments of a quality previously observed only among flat-earthers and creationists. You think I'm exaggerating? Well, here is the title of his latest column: Our War With France.
Yep. He actually wrote a column titled Our War With France (one assumes that the ÂourÂ here is referring either to extravagantly paid, NYT pundits, or to his neo-con friends at the white house). This might come as no surprise as it is uttered by the same man who suggested that France be voted out of the security council and be replaced by India - in another stunning display of lack of both reasoning and observational powers. However this piece takes Friedman's obvious distaste for France and pushes it to another level. Here is the introductory paragraph of the said piece, verbatim:
It's time we Americans came to terms with something: France is not just our annoying ally. It is not just our jealous rival. France is becoming our enemy.
He then attempts to justify the above statement. To achieve this he uses a series of rhetorical and logical techniques. Let me outline them:
1. Inverting reality:
"[France made] it impossible for the Security Council to put a real ultimatum to Saddam Hussein that might have avoided a war".
This is a ridiculous statement that can only be based on the expectation that six months ago is too far back for his average reader to remember what had actually happened: Here is an excerpt from a Telegraph (not exactly a bastion of francophilia) report from March 2003:
Refusing to soften his country's anti-war stance, Dominique de Villepin, the French foreign minister, said weapons inspectors had not yet completed their work and should continue until they were sure no more progress could be made.
Mr. De Villepin was right of course. The weapons inspections were enormously successful since there was not a single WMD found in Iraq after the occupation. The "real" ultimatum Friedman was so giddy about was just a resolution for war authorizing the US and Britain to go ahead and savage Iraq. They didn't need it. They went and did it anyway. The opposition to the US aggression was not simply a French thing though. Nowhere does TF even mention that it was France, Germany and Russia (and to a lesser extent China), that refused to back the kind of resolution the Bush administration wanted.
But, more importantly, did the US care about the UN at the time? Did the Bush gang want to avoid war? A quick reading of Richard Pearle's article titled: "Thank God for the Death of the UN", leaves no doubt about the answers: a resounding "Not a bit" and "Not at all" respectively. It would be hard to miss this minor angle if you were living on planet Earth last March, yet Friedman manages to do just that.
2. Half truths
"[French] foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, refused to answer the question of whether he wanted Saddam or America to win in Iraq".
First of all the question itself was utterly stupid: there was never any doubt in any sane person's mind that the US would "win". Secondly, if you believe a war is unjust, then there is no way that you can simply "take sides" as if this were a football match (although the Bush administration and its fans in the US no doubt see this that way). People were being slaughtered by smart and dumb bombs and there was popular resistance to the invading armies in Basra at the time. It would be stupid for France to "root" for one side (the one inflicting the most casualties at that). Yet it did. It did.
3. Surreal assessments
"[France is now] demanding some kind of loopy symbolic transfer of Iraqi sovereignty to some kind of hastily thrown together Iraqi provisional government, with the rest of Iraq's transition to democracy to be overseen more by a divided U.N. than by America".
Well now, what's really loopy is the sentence above. "Some kind of symbolic transfer of Iraqi sovereignty?" Who gave it to you in the first place Tom? The proposal actually calls for the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty - the correct word to use if one is referring to independence and/or self-government. Iraq is not an independent state at this moment. France suggested that it become one soon: with a draft constitution by the end of the year and elections sometime in 2004. All this overseen, indeed, by a UN that has a lot more legitimacy than America, which has absolutely no argument other than brute force for its "mandate". And there is no "transition to democracy" in the cards, Mr. Friedman, as long as a colonial force is occupying Iraq - anymore than there can be a Palestinian democracy with Israeli troops strolling and killing Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza. And if a "divided" UN is a problem, lets give the mandate to the EU which has a track record of supporting democracy certainly much better than America's. Why should the instigator of this bloody war and equally bloody occupation (already responsible for a death rate among Iraqis comparable if not greater to that under Saddam Hussein) be supported in its bid to continue its disastrous administration of Iraq? Why should France, Germany, the EU in general, Russia or China support neo-con megalomaniac fantasies?
4. Delusional ramblings
"France wants America to sink in a quagmire there in the crazy hope that a weakened U.S. will pave the way for France to assume its 'rightful' place as America's equal, if not superior, in shaping world affairs."
Let's leave aside the notion, apparently held by TF, that countries have psyches and that the foreign policy of a major industrial power like France is based on whim, jealousy and spitefulness alone. Let's not even start: to discuss this would require another post entirely. LetÂs just agree that it's totally ridiculous and go along with it for a moment...
"France" (and its not as if the whole country has identical interests) has absolutely nothing to gain if the whole Middle East goes up in flames and that, as much as popular resentment against the war, was behind its policies on Iraq. Make no mistake: the French establishment (and certainly Chirac) has as many qualms about killing foreigners as the US does - none. Ditto for Germany (certainly a prime villain in the Yugoslav wars). They were enthusiastic about taking part in the final destruction of Afghanistan, which brought into power a Burka alliance, as before but now christened "democratic", and threw in the bonus of total chaos. They had no problem with the first Gulf war. They enthusiastically bombed Serbia and Montenegro to the middle ages. They're made from the same moral fibre as successive US governments and have been quite subservient to the US when it suited the game of their corporate elite (practically pan European and transatlantic: the French "oil interests" i.e. Total have a minority of French-based shareholders). They are quite reserved on Iraq because, again unlike the current US government, the European elites are loath to contribute to the further destabilization of the Middle East. Their strategy is caution - which is the less bloody of the two strategies right now and the least likely to lead to permanent destabilization of the region. Plus they have a slightly more rowdy public opinion to reckon with.
The "rightful" and "superior" part of the quoted sentence is completely unsupported by fact and would be laughable if it appeared in Jo Blogger's warblog. Seeing it in the NYT is kind of scary..
5. Baseless, unfactual pronouncements
"What I have no doubts about, though, is that there is no coherent, legitimate Iraqi authority able to assume power in the near term, and trying to force one now would lead to a dangerous internal struggle and delay the building of the democratic institutions Iraq so badly needs. Iraqis know this. France knows this, which is why its original proposal (which it now seems to be backtracking on a bit) could only be malicious."
He knows this. No evidence is necessary. He just knows.To force such an authority would lead to a "dangerous internal struggle". Wake up Thomas: The dangerous internal struggle has already started... supervised by the US. As for Iraqis knowing this, even the Zogby poll I discussed about recently, has the Iraqis responding to the question "Should America and Britain help make sure a fair government is set up in Iraq, or should they just let Iraqis work this out themselves?" 60% "by themselves" and only 32% "with the help of the US & the UK", and that, despite US/UK help being the only help option available to those polled. When asked whether in the next 5 years the US will help or hurt Iraq 50% said "hurt" and 35% said "help", compared to 50% that said the UN would help Iraq in the same period and 18% that said the UN would hurt it. And this in a pro US-biased sample and poll as detailed previously in this blog. But wait! Even the figurehead "Iraqi Governing Council" in Iraq is in agreement with the French proposal:
The call for a swift transfer of power has been backed by members of the Iraqi Governing Council in Baghdad, all 25 of whom have been appointed by the Americans. 'We are anxious to expedite the political process so that we can have a constitution and elections as soon as possible,' said Adnan Pachachi, one member of the council.
The conclusion about France's proposal being "malicious" is thus based on false premises...
"...if America is defeated in Iraq by a coalition of Saddamists and Islamists, radical Muslim groups "from Baghdad to the Muslim slums of Paris" will all be energized, and the forces of modernism and tolerance within these Muslim communities will be on the run..."
First of all Saddamists and Islamists cannot permanently mix. Saddam's regime was secular and modernist (Iraqi women were probably the most "liberated" in the Middle East under Ba'ath). He has probably killed more Islamists than the whole US army in Afghanistan... the "Muslim slums" in Paris run no risk of confusing French (or European) policy with American policy and, if anything, the opposition to this war has brought the French, Arab and non-Arab, closer together, and brought a lot of these occupants of the "Paris slums" closer to the (very) secular French left. Indeed one can argue that the only way democracy won't be confused with submission to neo-colonialism is the defeat of the US forces in Iraq and the creation of a secular, democratic resistance movement there.
"If France were serious, it would be using its influence within the European Union to assemble an army of 25,000 Eurotroops, and a $5 billion reconstruction package, and then saying to the Bush team: Here, we're sincere about helping to rebuild Iraq, but now we want a real seat at the management table."
So let me get this straight: France and the EU (that means me, the EU taxpayer) should finance the US colonial war, sacrifice their armed personnel and submit under a US command in order to get some crumbs out of the plunder of Iraq? I suggest that the moral choice happens to be the self-interested choice in this case: the EU should distance itself from this bloody folly, thus increasing its credibility in the Arab world (already high because of its financial and political support of the Palestinian Authority) and use this credibility to enhance its trade and influence in the region, while supporting moves towards real democracy there.
8.Shooting himself on the foot
"But then France has never been interested in promoting democracy in the modern Arab world, which is why its pose as the new protector of Iraqi representative government - after being so content with Saddam's one-man rule - is so patently cynical."
The fact that TF cannot realise that, while the above paragraph might be true (partially) for France, the same exact sentence could fit US policy in the Middle East perfectly, is an amazing illustration of cognitive dissonance:
"But then the US has never been interested in promoting democracy in the modern Arab world (Saudi Arabia, Saddat, Mubarak, Gulf Royals, Saddam, Palestine), which is why its pose as the new protector of Iraqi representative government - after being so content with Saddam's one-man rule - is so patently cynical."
"Clearly, not all E.U. countries are comfortable with this French mischief, yet many are going along for the ride."
Most EU countries including Germany and, more importantly the people of these countries (remember them?) have shown an unprecedented enthusiasm for the actions of the French and German governments on the Iraq issue, a rare enthusiasm, indeed.
10.Faulty premises, false parallels
"...It's stunning to me that the E.U., misled by France, could let itself be written out of the most important political development project in modern Middle East history. The whole tone and direction of the Arab-Muslim world, which is right on Europe's doorstep, will be affected by the outcome in Iraq. It would be as if America said it did not care what happened in Mexico because it was mad at Spain".
This isn't a political development project Mr. Friedman, no more than the Russian adventures in Chechnya, or the USSR's predicament in Afghanistan, French involvement in Indochina, or indeed American involvement in Vietnam and Nicaragua.
As for Mexico: This might come as a shock, but, Spain or not, America doesn't give a flying fuck about Mexico as long as US interests are protected and the natives don't become too independence-minded. Really: ask the average Mexican on the street and see what he tells you...
And then he ends lamenting all the good help that France could be providing in Iraq but fails to do so.
Some observations: He seems to target his anger on France despite the fact that the proposal he is referring to was supported by Germany and Russia. He does not for a moment pause to ponder how unpopular an involvement in the chaos that is Iraq nowadays would be in France. But what really gets me is the hidden assumption that's being taken as a given: The US is in Iraq to do good, whereas French policies are driven by vulgar self-interest - and a deluded self-interest at that. That this viewpoint is naive and ahistorical is self-evident, that this passes as serious opinion writing nowadays in the corporate press is frightening.
Space > Business > Wars
"'The point is that if a country opts for Galileo, it will too for defence systems that are compatible with Galileo,' the Financial Times quoted an EU diplomat involved in the development of Galileo as saying."
See also the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology website, turn of the annoying music and note that they actually have a "Long March Launch Vehicle User's Manual"! [Warning, annoying full screen flash pop-up...]
Thursday, September 18, 2003
economics > primate
"Monkeys have a sense of justice. They will protest if they see another monkey get paid more for the same task.
Researchers taught brown capuchin monkeys to swap tokens for food. Usually they were happy to exchange this "money" for cucumber.
But if they saw another monkey getting a grape - a more-liked food - they took offence. Some refused to work, others took the food and refused to eat it.
Scientists say this work suggests that human's sense of justice is inherited and not a social construct..."
Fascinating research: This is the Brosnan and de Waal paper from "Letters to Nature" [pdf format].
Politically and philosophically, research in primate ethology can hardly become more relevant than this. (and a rather direct blow to the hard versions of social constructivism I'd say...)
Wednesday, September 17, 2003
politics > iraq > cruel and unusual punishment
"The architect of Russia's at times disastrous transition to a market economy, Yegor Gaidar, has been invited by the U.S.-led coalition authority in Iraq to help craft a recovery plan for that country's war-torn economy."
I've been looking for a commentary article on this astounding and farcical development, in which Gaidar, the architect of one of the past century's greatest economical disasters, is invited to advise on a recovery plan for Iraq; hell, I even started to write one myself, but became bogged down on the evil little details of the most effective mass pauperization effort ever conceived and executed... But Matt Taibbi has done an excellent and much more efficient and informed (not to mention delightfully worded) job of it, than I ever could:
Gaidar last week noted the "similarities" between the post-Soviet economy and Iraq, and the World Bank has noted that the Ba'athist party "modeled its economy on Eastern European communism," hinting that similar reforms might be needed. Anyone who's lived in those places knows what this means: privatization, mass layoffs, the gutting of healthcare and education and the creation of a super-rich class of ruthless, America-friendly dickheads.
Tuesday, September 16, 2003
martial arts > bosnia
“It is like when you have to explain a joke to some people. But we live in times when you have to explain,” Gatalo said. “People have gotten so stupid that we have to explain irony. But that is not hard for us.”
Brilliant. Beautiful. Inspired.
The NY power outages again
corporate > plunder
I return to this subject, since the deregulatory vampires are breathing down our necks, in Greece, and yet another public utility is about to be given away to the usual plunderers [pdf] around here - and their EU and US partners, in accordance with PASOK's relaxed interpretation of socialist principles.
So here is Greg Palast's take on the power outage in NY during this past August.
"...Here's what happened. After LILCO was hammered by the law, after government regulators slammed Niagara Mohawk and dozens of other book-cooking, document-doctoring utility comanies all over America with fines and penalties totaling in the tens of billions of dollars, the industry leaders got together to swear never to break the regulations again. Their plan was not to follow the rules, but to ELIMINATE the rules. They called it 'deregulation.'
It was like a committee of bank robbers figuring out how to make safecracking legal..."
Monday, September 15, 2003
greece > immigration
This is one in a series of many such tragedies occuring with an alarming frequency. Greece is now home to (probably) close to a million immigrants... half of whom have not even applied for the Green Card.
"Metoikos" [pdf document], is a new publication for the immigrant communities in Athens. It contains some interesting (but sanitized I suspect) stories from immigrants. It is funded by the ministry of Labour and the EU [I'll whine about the participants in these sort of "pro-immigrant actions", and the value they "contribute" to such projects, in my Greek blog where the audience is more accustomed to semi-conspiratorial government/corporate corruption charges (because they're true!) against the current "Socialist" scoundrels]. The EU is also funding this badly designed and architected "Migrants in Greece" website. Which at least has a functioning and regularly updated index of immigration related news in both Greek and English.
Sunday, September 14, 2003
Saturday, September 13, 2003
Friday, September 12, 2003
A reply to the WSJ article on the Zogby poll of Iraqi public opinion
debunking > propaganda
[Warning: huge post... I have included updates in brackets: I discovered the whole poll results that clarify some points raised]
The WSJ article, is based on a Zogby - AEM poll (summary here). The article is a prime example of propaganda, and it illustrates the methods used by the establishment press to turn a perfectly good (in the sense of "interesting" not in the sense of good practice) poll and spin it so as to present it as some sort of legitimization of the US occupation through "Iraqi public opinion".
The Zogby Poll's shortcomings
Before I go in detail about the article, I'd like to point out three serious shortcomings of the poll itself:
Two more points about the poll as it is presented:
After all of this let's see what the Opinion Journal aims to prove:
A few sentences into the article the author (Karl Zinsmeister) states the following: "some of us who have spent time recently in Iraq--I was an embedded reporter during the war--have been puzzled by the postwar news and media imagery, which is much more negative than what many individuals involved in reconstructing Iraq have been telling us."
Well if he wants to be really puzzled, he should check out Arab and European media imagery. He should also check out Salam Pax's and Riverbend's blogs for some first person accounts, as well as non-embedded reporters' accounts...
Early in the article it is already obvious that the author really believes things are good and getting better in Iraq. The rest of the article shows him struggling to validate his preconceptions through the poll.
1. Iraqis are optimistic. Seven out of 10 say they expect their country and their personal lives will be better five years from now. On both fronts, 32% say things will become much better.
What a surprise: this is a country that has just come out of a terrible war and 13 years of the most debilitating sanctions ever to have been imposed on a country. People were dying in large numbers of preventable and/or treatable diseases. There must be a feeling that they've reached rock bottom and the only way is up. A population whose majority expected things to be worse than they currently are would be a population of clinically depressed citizens in need of serious anti-depressant medication.
2. They are nervous about democracy. Asked which is closer to their own view--"Democracy can work well in Iraq," or "Democracy is a Western way of doing things"--five out of 10 said democracy is Western and won't work in Iraq. One in 10 wasn't sure. And four out of 10 said democracy can work in Iraq. This was posed as an either / or question. Note that the possible replies are not logically antithetical: It's not, "Democracy can work well in Iraq" vs. "Democracy won't work well in Iraq". To agree with the second option one must both see democracy as impossible in Iraq AND consider it a western way of doing things. Note also that this "democracy" isn't defined: what exactly do the pollsters mean by democracy? Yet despite the problematic nature of the question itself, this is in general a negative answer as far as the author's agenda is concerned. So he must try to find a silver lining. He does: Sunnis were negative on democracy by more than 2 to 1; but, critically, the majority Shiites were as likely to say democracy would work for Iraqis as not. People age 18-29 are much more rosy about democracy than other Iraqis, and women are significantly more positive than men. Apart from the fact that these are hardly unexpected results (especially about the younger age group), its worth noting that the details about the demographic breakdown of the numbers appear only when they are supportive of the authors opinion throughout the article.
3. Asked to name one country they would most like Iraq to model its new government on from five possibilities--neighboring, Baathist Syria; neighbor and Islamic monarchy Saudi Arabia; neighbor and Islamist republic Iran; Arab lodestar Egypt; or the U.S.--the most popular model by far was the U.S.
You must be kidding me... The options here were four dictatorships and a single representative democracy and we're supposed to be surprised that a (relative) majority chose the democracy as a preferred government? The question that would be really interesting would be to include another democratic country in the question (say Germany) and see what the results would be. Still as Zinsmeister mentions it is just a relative majority: The U.S. was preferred as a model by 37% of Iraqis selecting from those five [23.3% of the total mihalis]-- more than Syria, Iran and Egypt put together. Saudi Arabia was in second place at 28% [17.4% of the total]. This is bad news folks. There are only 23.3% (+ a possible 15.4% "other"), a total minority of the sample) that prefer a representative democracy over four different versions of authoritarianism. 17.5% of the sample look up to Saudi Arabia (a despotic monarchy, the most fundamentalist country after Afghanistan) as a role model. This is supposed to be good news...? Yet, again, when some sort of negative result emerges the author digs into the demographic breakdown to salvage something spinable as positive: Younger adults are especially favorable toward the U.S., and Shiites are more admiring than Sunnis. Interestingly, Iraqi Shiites, coreligionists with Iranians, do not admire Iran's Islamist government; the U.S. is six times as popular with them as a model for governance. Again, the fact that younger people have a more positive view of representative democracy is hardly a surprise. And to assume that "correligionist" Arabs would be admiring of Iran (having lost many of their children to the war against the Iranians) is ... uninformed. Oh and the real fundamentalist regime is not Iran (comparatively speaking) but Saudi Arabia, the approval of which among the Shiia remains unstated [update:its 18%!].
[Update: the US is actually selected by 23.3%, "Other" gets an unmentioned 15.4% and "Not Sure/None" gets a whopping 21.9%]
4. Our interviewers inquired whether Iraq should have an Islamic government, or instead let all people practice their own religion. Only 33% want an Islamic government; a solid 60% say no. Again the surprise is in that such a large percentage of Iraqis seem to be backing an Islamic government... This was a thoroughly (and violently) secularized society, in which women could walk around the cities without scarves on their heads. This is a surprise only among those for whom "Arab" is synonymous with "islamic fundamentalist". This statistic would be interesting if we had similar numbers for 3 months ago... A vital detail: Shiites (whom Western reporters frequently portray as self-flagellating maniacs) are least receptive to the idea of an Islamic government, saying no by 66% to 27%. It is only among the minority Sunnis that there is interest in a religious state, and they are split evenly on the question. True some western (he means American corporate media) reporters portray the Shiia as self-flagellating maniacs. However other, better informed, western reporters don't .
5. 57% of Iraqis with an opinion have an unfavorable view of Osama bin Laden, with 41% of those saying it is a very unfavorable view. (Women are especially down on him.) Except in the Sunni triangle (where the limited support that exists for bin Laden is heavily concentrated), negative views of the al Qaeda supremo are actually quite lopsided in all parts of the country.
Where to begin: Notice the evasion: among "Iraqis with an opinion". This is the first (but not the last) time in the article that this distinction is made. Obviously, without this distinction the percentage of people with an unfavorable view of ObL sinks below 50%, which, as far as spin is concerned, is bad [update: its 47% against, 36% for...]. The author claims that ObL is quite unpopular except in the "Sunni triangle" (I assume he means Ramadi because there are no other polling spots from the Sunni triangle in this report), which is the only part of Iraq he could be very popular, noting his distaste for Shiites in general [update: in Al Ramadi he has a positive 95% approval rating and no one polled disapproved of him]. And the meagerness of the support is never translated into a concrete number in the article... [update 22% favorable and 23% NF&NS]. Again though, if the numbers are truly against him - no surprise: a majority of secular and non-secular Arabs have little in common with the crazy bastard anyway...
6. The author also manages to act surprised that Iraqis hated Saddam. Stop the Press. Big News.
7. With this meager evidence (note that nowhere does he mention numbers directly related to the war or the occupation) the author makes a record-breaking leap of logic to claim that: This new evidence on Iraqi opinion suggests the country is manageable. If the small number of militants conducting sabotage and murder inside the country can gradually be eliminated by American troops (this is already happening), then the mass of citizens living along the Tigris-Euphrates Valley are likely to make reasonably sensible use of their new freedom.
It suggests no such thing of course. There is no question related to the degree of support these militants have among Iraqis, and the questions about the occupation forces that have been asked in the poll, Zinsmeister leaves to discuss after his conclusion. I cringe to ponder what possible meaning the word "responsible" might have in this context...
8. The bad news: Inchoate anxiety toward the U.S. showed up when we asked Iraqis if they thought the U.S. would help or hurt Iraq over a five-year period. By 50% to 36% they chose hurt over help. Let me also suggest that a heavy Kurdish bias [update: true, Kirkuk is very pro-american and Al Ramadi very anti-american] makes the answers to this question even more damning for the occupation forces. Note that the anxiety is "inchoate" (though none of the other opinions are affected by this). Well, do we follow the numbers to their logical conclusion? For true believers, true ideolepsy demands that we don't, so we write pitiable and unsupported excuses mentioning feminine aversion to war as a mitigating factor (how this has any bearing on the argument is beyond my humble reasoning skills). The ideoleptic seizure comes to a climax with what is by far the most ridiculous of statements in a thoroughly ridiculous piece of opinion writing: Evidence of the comparative gentleness of this war can be seen in our poll. Less than 30% of our sample of Iraqis knew or heard of anyone killed in the spring fighting... First of all the question didn't say "anyone". The question from the Zogby site is, verbatim, the following: "Were any of your own family members, neighbors, or friends killed in this spring's war?" Thus the question concerns being directly affected by someone's death, not witnessing or hearing of a stranger / acquaintance dying...
So. Let's get this straight: this is a war which lasted for a few weeks, a few weeks, yet between one in four and one in three of a population of 24 million (or at least those sampled), lost someone really close to them. And Baghdad wasn't even among the cities polled! This is evidence for the comparative gentleness of the war? What's the standard? Hiroshima? Dresden? The Huns? This statement transcends partisanship and moves into the realm of the complete pathological failure of rational faculties.
But wait! there's more! He then compares this number with the results of the following (as stated in the Zogby site) question: Were any of your own family members, neighbors, or friends killed in war or by security forces during the years that Saddam Hussein held power? [emphasis mine]. Which is carried over to the Opinion Journal piece as "...Meanwhile, fully half knew some family member, neighbor or friend who had been killed by Iraqi security forces during the years Saddam held power..." Note that the word in war is omitted (for a reason) from the Journal's article. So, one in two Iraqis had a person close to them die as a result of the Iran-Iraq war (~10 years, ~ 500,000 casualties), the invasion of Kuwait (Unknown number of casualties, quite probably near the 100,000 mark) 12 years of continuous bombarding by the US & UK air-forces, and 25 years of a cruel and murderous regime that killed rather than jailed its political opponents and this compares favorably (for the US) with three weeks of war resulting in one in four Iraqis losing a loved one!?!??? I'm speechless.
9. The article then concludes: Perhaps the ultimate indication of how comfortable Iraqis are with America's aims in their region came when we asked how long they would like to see American and British forces remain in their country: Six months? One year? Two years or more? Two thirds of those with an opinion urged that the coalition troops should stick around for at least another year. Ah! Those "with an opinion" again [10% don't have an opinion and the Kurdish unease is a big factor...]. Yet the fact that most of the responding Iraqis see the occupation forces as some sort of police force makes sense. This answer makes sense since there was no mention of possible alternatives in the survey question. Not "should the US forces leave and be replaced by a UN / Arab League force", nor "should leave and be replaced with the Iraqi army". Just a choice between lawlessness and occupation. Some choice!
The questions we don't hear about
Listed in the Zogby site are these questions, not mentioned in the Opinion piece:
- Should America and Britain help make sure a fair government is set up in Iraq, or should they just let Iraqis work this out themselves? [The answer is 32% "US and UK should help", 60% "Iraqis alone", the rest "Not Sure"... Yeah, I wonder why no mention was made of this result...]
- Over next five years will Iran help, hurt or have no influence on Iraq- [21% "help", 53% "hurt", 25% "No Influence & NS"]
- Over next five years will Saudi Arabia help, hurt or have no influence on Iraq [61% "help"(!!!), 7.5% "hurt", 32% "NI&NS"]
- Over next five years will The United Nations help, hurt or have no influence on Iraq [ 50% "help", 18% "hurt" and 25% "no influence"]
The questions never asked
A poll can never be exhaustive. However there is a conspicuous absence of questions related to a possible UN presence in Iraq, to Arab League involvement, to approval of the occupation forces' conduct, to an assessment of the occupation leadership, to an assessment of people like Chalabi who are being groomed for leadership, to attitudes towards Israel, to attitudes towards the EU and many, many, more. It's like someone took the trouble of excluding the questions with the potential for more damage to the tarnished image of american policy in the middle east (after all the American Enterprise Magazine is hardly non-partisan).
All in all: A less than perfect example of the art of spin...
Thursday, September 11, 2003
politics > opportunism
I used to enjoy Hitchens' writings (on some issues I still do). But his conversion to neo-conservative insanity has been spectacular. Finkelstein describes very nicely the profile of the professional apostate. Applies perfectly to quite a few folks over here as well...
"In contrast to bursting windbags like Vaclav Havel, Hitchens is too smart to take his vaporizings seriously. It's almost an inside joke as he signals each ridiculous point with the assertion that it's 'obvious.' "
An excellent, fully on-line, issue of the New Internationalist magazine. A year old but still relevant...
September 11 > legacy
by Robert Fisk. Excerpt:
...The future of the Middle East - which is what 11 September was partly about, though we are not allowed to say so - has never looked bleaker or more bloody. The United States and Britain are trapped in a war of their own making, responsible for their own appalling predicament but responsible, too, for the lives of thousands of innocent human beings - cut to pieces by American bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq, shot down in the streets of Iraq by trigger-happy GIs.
Also form Slate: What You Think You Know About Sept. 11… but don't.
politics > balkans > peace
"Presidents (of Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro) apologise over Croatian war". Despite the fact that I have little admiration for either of these guys, this was needed and necessary.
May the whole region meet again under a common European roof.
(Well let's... uhm... forget the European Water Polo Championships final... eh?)
politics > comparative
The exile commentary on the war on terrorism in Russia and the USA... Sarcasm so thick, you can cut it with a knife.
The output value of each American who died or suffered on that day was somewhere between three and eight times that of the average Russian in Dubrovka. It follows that if an American is worth more, then it counts more when he dies, suffers, or feels fear. Therefore, to compare the tragedy of 9/11 to the "tragedy" of Dubrovka, Krylya and other acts of "terror" in Russia is wrong and sickening.
Wednesday, September 10, 2003
Spiritual > marketplace
... and they're willing to pay good money for it. They'll even give you a free quote. Aparently my soul "is worth £15249 [that's around 22,000 €]. For your peace of mind, 49% of people have a purer soul than you." OK I guess...
(BTW, for what it's worth, it seems to be a marketing gimmick behind this record.)
Tuesday, September 9, 2003
trade > justice
Oxfam's recent report on trade focuses, among other things, on the injustice of EU & US farm subsidies and the disadvantage they put poorer nations in.
This has triggered the opening of some very interesting discussions among the "Global Justice" movement and beyond.
One such debate is with Dr. Vandana Shiva, founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology.
Another is with Colin Hines former head of Greenpeace's international economics unit and a proponent of localism. Watkins' response to Hines ( Watkins is a senior policy advisor of Oxfam). George Monbiot chimes in his disagreement with localism - the proposal that everything which can be produced locally should be produced locally. This is the second article in a series of three (the last one is still pending the first one can be found here).
Of note also, are Oxfam's exchanges with the European Commission and the discussion between Kevin Watkins and Jean-Pierre Lehmann.
The Guardian however, is running today an article titled: Why poor people would prefer to be protected from free trade. Things are seldom as simple as they seem...
Monday, September 8, 2003
"Here are the disastrous proportions, in the hope that someone in Israel will take notice: 80 percent of the Palestinians killed were not connected to armed actions."
From award winning Israeli journalist Amira Haas, a shining example of journalism unperturbed and unhazed by narrow (very narrow) "national interest". When this sad story of blood, occupation and tears is over, Amira Haas will be one of the true heroes of Israel and indeed of real journalism world-wide. She is, as this accolade from Palestine Media Watch mentions:
the only journalist that we know of who has actually done what any serious foreign correspondent covering a region does -- moved and lives in the place that she is covering, the West Bank (having done the same for Gaza).
Might I also add that Haaretz's english edition is probably among the most trustworthy sources of news in the region.
Related weblogs: Aaron's Israel peace weblog [another brave voice] and Live from Palestine: The diaries...
Marbles > Lost
The British Museum and its entire contents is to be moved to Athens in time for the 2004 Olympic Games, it was announced this week. The decision to relocate the museum is seen as the only way of resolving the 200-year old dispute between Britain and Greece over the future of the so-called Elgin Marbles.
Heh! From the persistently funny ArtNose... which provides a link to this interesting (serious) website about the Parthenon Frieze.
politics > former Yugoslavia
While the Kosovo "success story" is being shaken (receiving scant international media coverage) - Kosovo still simmers and in the neighbouring Republic of Macedonia, the shady Albanian National Army [note the dynamic gif map in the header] has taken action and is about to cause more trouble. Encouraging irredentist nationalism- in this day and age- in the Balkans has proven yet again disastrous. [Albanian National Army's English pages and their idea about "true" Albanian borders.]
Meanwhile, back in Kosovo, there is unrest and signs (quite a few of them) that the real issue is about to explode...
Sunday, September 7, 2003
Saturday, September 6, 2003
Friday, September 5, 2003
greece > treasures > and controversies
This monastic haven is under threat of an invasion of females. For 1000 years now the "Holy Mountain" peninsula has been banned for women. This guardian article does a great job of describing the effect this has on the place and the monks.
The Greek government has argued in favour of the monks rights to keep the ban. Yet, understandably, quite a few women are pissed off about it.
In 1997 an Exhibit of Mount Athos Treasures was opened for the first time to the Greek public. This is sampled here.
anthropology > civilizations
A very interesting talk. The actual transcript starts here. This can be seen as a synopsis of Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, one of the most profound books in anthropology and the rise of civilisation ever written in my, most humble, opinion.
Diamond, with all of this, destroys racist fantasies in the most definitive of ways.
Thursday, September 4, 2003
iraq > occupation
A forceful piece from Riverbend's blog in Baghdad. The perfect andidote for Fox News idiocies, Bremer's invaders and warmongers cheering the "liberators".
...I remember February 13, 1991. I remember the missiles dropped on Al-Amriyah shelter- a civilian bomb shelter in a populated, residential area in Baghdad. Bombs so sophisticated, that the first one drilled through to the heart of the shelter and the second one exploded inside. The shelter was full of women and children- boys over the age of 15 weren’t allowed. I remember watching images of horrified people clinging to the fence circling the shelter, crying, screaming, begging to know what had happened to a daughter, a mother, a son, a family that had been seeking protection within the shelter’s walls...
[Update, Sept. 5: I have, with riverbend's permission translated this post of hers in Greek and it is already up at the Greek Histologion.]
Tuesday, September 2, 2003
pseudoscience > quackery
More on the homeopathy scam: The scientific evidence for homeopathy.
Homeopathy: the ultimate fake and the first debunking of homeopathy on record (1842): Homeopathy and Its Kindred Delusions.
This form of charlatanism is very popular here in Greece as well...
the end > of the world > no, seriously!
Don't bet on it though:
A potential asteroid impact on 21 March 2014 has been given a Torino hazard rating of 1, defined as ‘an event meriting careful monitoring’. The newly discovered 1.2 km wide asteroid, known to scientists as 2003 QQ47, has a mass of around 2 600 billion kg, and would deliver around 350 000 MT of energy in an impact with Earth. Currently, the overall probability of this asteroid impacting Earth is 1 in 909 000.
Monday, September 1, 2003
politics > iraq > is glowing in the dark
Another potent legacy of the "liberators".
Science > Art > Interface
Infinities is remarkable in its seamless merging of form and content. It gives new meaning to the concept of "science plays" through its highly visual exploration of various mathematical and philosophical postulations about infinity.
This I'd love to see...
via Missing Matter, an excellent science weblog.
health > smoking while drunk > is better than just smoking
For all my still smoking friends out there: drink on. Unsurprisingly, the research was done in Greece at Alexandra University Hospital in Athens by Greek doctors ( and I'm willing to bet that more than one of the team is a smoker...)
Maybe Olympic Airways (or "Olympic Airlines" as they are about to be renamed) should consider offering more wine in their international flights to keep them from being sued, in this international climate of anti-smoking hysteria...
Recently on Znet
Znet > Articles
11/09/2001 > conspiracies
From Time magazine, a story of startling connections between Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Al Qaeda. One is left to wonder though about how the CIA, closely connected, to say the least, with ISI (Pakistan's secret sevice), could have known nothing about this... More in the, soon to be bublished, book Why America Slept: The Failure to Prevent 9/11 by Gerald L. Posner.
An aside for Greek audiences; the Time article contains the following paragraph:
Posner elaborates in startling detail how U.S. interrogators used drugs—an unnamed "quick-on, quick-off" painkiller and Sodium Pentothal, the old movie truth serum—in a chemical version of reward and punishment to make Zubaydah talk. When questioning stalled, according to Posner, cia men flew Zubaydah to an Afghan complex fitted out as a fake Saudi jail chamber, where "two Arab-Americans, now with Special Forces," pretending to be Saudi inquisitors, used drugs and threats to scare him into more confessions.
So much I guess for the "non-existence" of truth inducing drugs: Savvas Xiros was certainly strictly on aspirin and antibiotics in "Evangelismos".
politics > iraq > occupation > resistance
Walid is a tough-looking, compact little man with a stubble beard and the universally short-cropped hair of young Iraqis. He has thick calluses on his hands from playing handball and he says that he used to stub out cigarettes on them. But he is not all bravura, and in many ways he does not seem to conform to the picture that has emerged of the typical Iraqi resistance fighter. He is no friend of Saddam or the Baath regime, he is not a Muslim fundamentalist and as a student of English Literature at Baghdad University, he is not anti-Western.
In fact, throughout the interview, Walid takes great pains to emphasize that he is tolerant, a man of the world. "You see," he tells a reporter, "I drink cola with you, even though my group has issued a call to boycott all American products." His tale, however, is one of gradually increasing opposition to the presence of U.S. soldiers in the countryside and finally, of a decision to join the resistance. The account cannot be independently verified, but a fellow student from Baghdad University confirms that Walid told him about the same events at the time when they happened over the past few months.