Saturday, October 30, 2004

Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq [PDF file]

/ murderousness / champions /

This from the Lancet, among the most authoritative medical journals in the world, not exactly a publication that publishes political op-eds:

Background: In March, 2003, military forces, mainly from the USA and the UK, invaded Iraq. We did a survey to compare mortality during the period of 14·6 months before the invasion with the 17·8 months after it.
Findings: The risk of death was estimated to be 2·5-fold (95% CI 1·6–4·2) higher after the invasion when compared with the preinvasion period. Two-thirds of all violent deaths were reported in one cluster in the city of Falluja. If we exclude the Falluja data, the risk of death is 1·5-fold (1·1–2·3) higher after the invasion. We estimate that 98 000 more deaths than expected (8000–194 000) happened after the invasion outside of Falluja and far more if the outlier Falluja cluster is included. The major causes of death before the invasion were myocardial infarction,cerebrovascular accidents, and other chronic disorders whereas after the invasion violence was the primary cause of death. Violent deaths were widespread, reported in 15 of 33 clusters, and were mainly attributed to coalition forces. Most individuals reportedly killed by coalition forces were women and children. The risk of death from violence in the period after the invasion was 58 times higher (95% CI 8·1–419) than in the period before the war.

100.000 in a year and a half... This is impressive even when compared with Saddam's worst years... How many dead can you see, by the dawn's early light? How many can you name?

Monday, October 25, 2004

The Greek agenda for the Security council

/ unsc / members / only /
Greece was recently elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council... Linked above is the statement of policy as far as the Greek membership in the UN Security Council is concerned. You'll see that it's short on specifics, other than that it intends to focus on the Balkans and Cyprus. About the more general and pressing agenda of the UNSC its has this to say:

The horizon over the Middle East remains dark. The Greek Government is convinced that only the implementation of the Road Map can lead to the two state solution, that is Israel and Palestine, coexisting in peace and security. Half measures could only complicate matters and add new sources of tension.

Essential progress in the peace process cannot be achieved without a comprehensive cessation of all kinds of violence, especially those directed against civilians. Terrorism cannot be a weapon to achieve political goals and terrorist attacks cannot be justified by any means.

As to Iraq, we are deeply committed to the territorial integrity and unity of the country in a federal system. We are deeply worried by the ongoing violence and we hope for progress in the political process which will lead to a stable and prosperous democratic country allowing all of its citizens to enjoy the fruits of peace and exploit the country's enormous potential.

Which isn't much, but, hey, times are rough...

Rather than elaborate on the problematic nature of the UN these past few years, let me point to this very interesting, utopian (in a good way) proposal for the transformation of the UN (into something that will have the black helicopter crowd in the US screaming "World Domination!"). This is part of a discussion concerning the necessary changes to the UN's internal structure and external responsibilities, that needs to begin soon, since the only visible alternative to the UN is currently a very dangerous form of absolute unilateralism.... and there's no telling what that will bring.

Filoglossia - Learning Greek as a foreign language

/ greek / to you / no longer /
In case my non-Greek visitors are interested in learning the language so that they can enjoy my much more eloquent (yet similarly inane) ramblings in Greek, over at the Greek Histologion (Ιστολόγιον), there is now the opportunity to learn Greek through the web, brought to you by the Greek Institute for Language and Speech Processing.

However, I feel that I must respectfully point out to those that succumb to the sirens of simplification, that it should be Philoglossia (as in Philipp, Philosophy, and Coprophilia to name a few similar composites...)

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The making of the terror myth

/ terrorism / organizations / contrived /
A documentary is about to be shown on BBC2, in three parts starting next Wednesday that is bound to stir some controversy. It's titled "The Power of Nightmares" and it "seeks to overturn much of what is widely believed about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. The latter, it argues, is not an organised international network. It does not have members or a leader. It does not have 'sleeper cells'. It does not have an overall strategy. In fact, it barely exists at all, except as an idea about cleansing a corrupt world through religious violence..."

Which is voicing in a well argued (it is claimed) manner, the concerns of everyone that's been paying attention to the scant evidence of the group's existence that has been offered till now.

I wonder if one can actually order this from the BBC somehow...?

Update Oct. 24 Ask and you shall receive...: From a comment at Barista, to Silt and from there to a bittorrent version of part one of the documentary! Ain't the internets something! However the file is over 350 Megs so I'll have to wait to download this... The bittorrent software can be freely downloaded here...

Monday, October 18, 2004

Chechnya: The New Magic Kingdom

/ caucasus / projects / surreal /
I first saw it in MosNews (check the image collage!), but couldn't believe it so I turned to the BBC and...there it was:

"Chechnya is to get its own version of Disneyland under plans announced by the war-battered republic's prime minister. Sergei Abramov, who heads Chechnya's pro-Moscow government, said on Friday that the park would be built next year along with a range of cultural and entertainment facilities, including a new football stadium."

This is the sort of unintentional very dark humour coming from the former USSR I find astonishing. MosNews is a treasure trove of similar forrays into the world of "visiously surreal yet real", covering news items that boggle the mind, and leave you agog, such as:
  • Two Mental Patients Detained in Urals on Suspicion of Organizing Terrorist Attacks

  • Russia’s Far East Region to Reopen Czarist Penal Labor Camps as Tourist Attraction [You see its a national web of adventure theme parks!]

  • Russian Policeman Uses Hammer to Finish off Old Woman After Running Her Over in Car

  • Russian Pensioner Kills Intruder with Zucchini

  • Siberian Villager Builds Missile Fence, and then a day later: Missile Falls Near Private House in Russian Far East

  • Rafting Tournament on Sex Dolls in North Russia, possibly connected with the Monument to the Potato Erected in North Russia

  • and in what is possibly the funniest (yet exaggerated) headline of the year, from everyone's favourite deranged dictator, Sparmurat Niyazov: Turkmen Leader Orders People to Stop Chewing Chicken Crap

    For even darker humour there's always the exile's Death Porn

    Sunday, October 17, 2004

    Well.. he should know...

    / politics / demonic /
    Apparently Wojtyla isn't the only one with this concern. Numerology is invoked, while others are publically asking the question. The internet hosts at least 871 related pages. Apparently this issue was first publically discussed by an evangelical christian who gave a negative (but was it really?) answer.

    Anyway the seriously scary story is about dubya's world view... Truly frightening... [last link from Metafilter]

    Saturday, October 16, 2004

    Muslim seperatists apply for association with Russia

    / caucasus / geopolitics / more complicated than you thought
    Apparently "the People’s Assembly (legislature) of the self-proclaimed republic of Abkhazia has addressed the Russian president and Federal Assembly with a request for supporting the idea of establishing Abkhazia’s associate membership relations with Russia."
    Now Russia might already have troops in Abkhazia, despite protestations to the contrary. The situation is tense and it seems that trouble is brewing in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where Russia is making warning sounds...

    I think this might put to rest the idea that the conflicts in the Caucasus are an "Islam vs. Christianity" issue or simply an instance of the Islamic terrorist mentality.

    (That last link leads to a WSJ editorial, which - I must point out - contains this incredible phrase: "Whatever Russian President Vladimir Putin's mistakes in Chechnya (see David Satter's article in The Wall Street Journal today), they don't justify the deliberate targeting of innocents." Well, Putin's mistakes included the massive and deliberate targeting of innocents, a fact that the author seems to find irrelevant.)

    Thursday, October 14, 2004

    Meaningful choices

    / politics / choices /

    Can you properly attribute the quotes to the two US presidential candidates? Good luck.

    A telling quiz.

    Did Derrida Die?

    / deconstructing / death /

    Sort of morbid but in a completely non-hegemonic way, fafblog's "Flowers for Derrida", refuses to privilege the dead/alive binary discourse. The exchanges in the blog's comment section are further instances of blog-culture narrativity as voicing the subaltern concern (and you all won't believe it but I have actually personally shadow written a graduate paper about the subaltern. Really. I swear. I probably helped secure a decent grade as well. No, I mean it!)

    This too. While this is a real obituary.

    via Phersu

    More about Kosovo

    / kosovo / fallout / reviewed /

    Doug Muir has posted a very interesting commentary on an article by William Montgomery, former US ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro. The article is quite frank about the failings of the "International Community" as far as Kosovo is concerned, and confirms what seemed to me pretty obvious at the time, namely that far from being a "solution" to the Kosovo problem, the NATO action turned it into an unsolvable problem. Even worse it turned it into a perpetuating and potentially expanding problem, principally because the attack on Yugoslavia was only ostensibly about Kosovo. In reality it was meant as a display of military resolve for potential "troublemakers" and a roadmap for use of lethal force as a tool for obtaining immediate compliance. Thus the, much less unilateral, diplomatic process was abandoned. And let's not ignore its value as a precedent for ignoring the UN SC, which made the current Iraqi debacle easier to justify (see my comments on Douglas' post for more).

    It is also instructive to note that considerations of who's running the show on the Albanian side are missing, as the ambassador's proposal of a decentralization on a city scale would give legal control of much of the countryside to the KLA associated mafias that are thriving in the region - or anyone with enough firepower. It is also instructive to note that considerations of who's running the show on the Albanian side are missing, as the ambassador's proposal of a decentralization on a city scale would give legal control of much of the countryside to the KLA associated mafias that are thriving in the region - or anyone with enough firepower.

    ...Anyway, nothing of what is happening was not easily predictable. That alone is argument enough for the total wrongness of the war. In September 1999 Lord Carrington was making all the significant observations:

    ...did Lord Carrington believe that Nato’'s action in Kosovo in the past few months had been mistaken?



    “Well, to start with, it was impossible for Milosevic to accept the Rambouillet agreement because what it asked him to do was allow Nato to use Serbia as a part of the Nato organisation. Sovereignty would have been lost over it. He couldn’'t accept that.

    “I think what Nato did by bombing Serbia actually precipitated the exodus of the Kosovo Albanians into Macedonia and Montenegro. I think the bombing did cause the ethnic cleansing.

    “I’'m not sticking up for the Serbs because I think they behaved badly and extremely stupidly by removing the autonomy of Kosovo, given them by Tito, in the first place. But I think what we did made things very much worse and what we are now faced with is a sort of ethnic cleansing in reverse. The Serbs are now being cleared out. I think it’s a great mistake to intervene in a civil war.”

    Lord Carrington has no liking for President Milosevic but, again, he thinks it was wrong to brand him officially as a war criminal. “I don’t think he is any more a war criminal than President Tudjman of Croatia who ethnically cleansed 200,000 Serbs out of [Krajina]. Nobody kicked up a fuss about that. I think we are a little bit selective about our condemnation of ethnic cleansing, in Africa as well as in Europe.

    Chris Deliso
    has more about the protectorate and its relation to the Iraqi occupation (plus other worrying stuff).

    Me, I can see a real solution emerging only as part of a real democratization process in the area, which can come only after a thorough re-examination by the EU, of the situation in the Balkans and an offer of a total plan for the region (including all minorities and the situation in Bosnia). This should be accompanied by a serious, generous and carefully managed aid/reconstruction programme. Then, Kosovar Albanians could be lured into a federal solution pending an EU date for a much decentralized Serbia and Montenegro (& Kosovo?). This could conceivably work - but is unfortunately a rather unlikely scenario.

    Tuesday, October 12, 2004

    Chomsky replies to Nader

    / evils / lesser / debate

    Noam Chomsky was one of the signatories of the "Nader 2000 Leaders Organize To Defeat Bush" petition. Apparently Ralph Nader responded to the issues the signatories were raising, in an interview he gave to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now.
    This is Chomsky's reply
    An exerpt:

    Nader: “Well, it’s a total loss of nerve. I mean, first of all, they didn’t ask anything of Kerry.”

    Chomsky: Nor of Bush. Kerry and Bush are not my audience. Nor their predecessors. Nor the party leaders.

    Activists have quite different concerns. They are engaged with the public, and try to help in the growth and development of popular organizations that will become powerful enough so that they cannot be ignored by centers of power. If Pat Robertson says, as he recently did, that he’ll start a third party unless the Republicans are sufficiently extreme in “support of Israel,” that’s a threat, because he might be able to mobilize tens of millions of evangelical Christians who already form a significant political force, thanks to extensive work over decades from local levels and on, and on numerous issues apart from the political choices from school boards to presidents. If I were to ask something of the Democratic or Republican campaigns, it would be a joke. If we had succeeded in creating mass popular organizations, they would be able to influence campaign rhetoric (and, if powerful enough, decisions) as well. The way we “ask something of Kerry” or Bush is by joining in the work to develop those popular forces.

    Monday, October 11, 2004

    " person at a time..."

    / caucasus / blood / bad /

    Ossetia is boiling after the Beslan tragedy, and prearations for violent retribution are being made.

    “There will be violence. It won’t be noisy. It will be quiet —- one person at a time,’’ Kuizev said as he wandered through the burned-out husk of the school, stepping over flowers and stuffed animals left in memory of the victims.

    Although Kuizev’s 12-year-daughter was among the hostages, she survived. But that hasn’t softened his anger.

    ”They say, ’forgive, forgive.’ How do you forgive something like this? How do you explain this? Forgive? No way,’’ Kuizev said.

    “It’s not a secret that we are waiting’’ for the end of the 40-day [mourning] period, said 67-year-old SergeiTandaleyev of the village of Sunja.

    ”We will demand that (the Ingush) leave. All of them,’’ he said. If they don’t, “there will be war.’’

    Coming from a region of Greece where blood feuds still exist (Crete), this mentality doesn't seem too foreign - or improbable. Indeed it seems like a natural next step that would require a major policing operation to prevent. Yet the Ingush president is downplaying the threat, but he would, wouldn't he?

    This falls in quite nicely with Gary Brecher's theory, over at the "exile", that Ossetia was chosen deliberately by the Beslan terrorists in order to ignite the Caucasus with a Christian vs. Muslim war:

    Everybody's calling it "senseless," the Chechen raid on Beslan in North Ossetia. Well, the sad thing is, it wasn't senseless. Look at it coldly and it makes a horrible kind of strategic sense.

    The thing to keep in mind is that the Chechens who organized this always knew it was going to end with lots of Ossetian kids dead. The Chechens were playing a game of dominoes, Caucasus-style. It's a nasty, twisted, gory game, and to understand it you have to get an idea of how the Caucasian homelands line up...

    ... [the fallout of the Beslan murders] turns their fight with Russia into a much bigger regional war, and better yet it turns the whole thing into a Muslim vs. Christian fight, with the two Christian tribes, Russian and Ossetian, attacking the Muslim Ingush and Chechens. It's a great way to recruit other Muslims, like the little tribes in Dagestan, or the Ingush, the Tatars in central Russia, and also suck in the big money from the Saudis and the Emirates.

    It could be the big equalizer for the Chechens. Russia vs. Chechnya -- not good odds for the Chechens. But Orthodox Christians vs. Muslims -- that's very, very good odds. The Orthodox have been losing out for decades -- just look at the poor old Serbs -- and there's a huge Muslim birthrate popping out millions of surplus believers who don't have a hope in Hell of getting a job and don't know anything but the Quran and how to disassemble an AK-47. Once you've turned the whole of the Caucasus into a bonfire, the light will bring those guys running to help

    Sunday, October 10, 2004

    The Abu Ghraib Supplementary Documents

    / torture / investigations / forgotten /

    "The military's mission at Abu Ghraib was inadequately planned almost from conception. It was subordinated to political and intelligence goals and bogged down at every level by inadequate resources and hostile conditions, according to classified documents reviewed and now posted by the Center for Public Integrity.

    The documents, the first installment of background materials from Army Major General Anthony Taguba's investigation [pdf file] into abuses of military detainees in Iraq, were provided to the Center by Rolling Stone contributor Osha Gray Davidson. The Center plans to post the second installment of the documents later this month."

    Some chilling documents... Especially upsetting is the document of the CID investigation [pdf file ~6Mb -not for the slowly connected].

    Wednesday, October 6, 2004

    The Unofficial Stephen Jay Gould Archive

    / evolution / theorists /

    This is the unofficial site since the official site is not yet up and running completely. A great resource with a plethora of the late evolutionary biologist's (and essayist's) works and related material.

    It is now mandated by international law, I think, to always mention Dawkins whenever SJG is discussed. Thus I present the Richard Dawkins unofficial website.

    Tuesday, October 5, 2004

    A message from February, 2003

    / prophetic / trotskyites /

    This from a communique of the Workers Communist Party of Iraq, just before the invasion started. This is a group that is very much against the occupation, but very much against the Islamist and Baathist resistance. They seem to have the gift of seeing the future (or maybe guessing the consequences of the invasion wasn't that hard...):

    "This war is not about fighting terrorism. Terrorism will only increase as a result of this war. This war and its aftermath will provide another grievance and another excuse for Islamic terrorists to exploit for many years to come for their own horrific and reactionary ends – just as they have been doing with the injustices against the Palestinian people...

    ...The reactionary opposition groupings in Iraq, the monarchists, Islamists, Kurdish nationalist gangs and former army officers and secret service agents of the Iraqi regime, are not the representatives of the Iraqi people. They are warlords and self-appointed rulers who already have a dark and bloody record of repression against the people of Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan. They are not the ‘liberators’ of the people of Iraq. They are, rather, the new Iraqi Contras - armed and financed by the CIA and Pentagon and/or various repressive regional states such as the Islamic regime in Iran. A devastating war and the unleashing of these forces is the grim future being planned by Bush and Blair for the Iraqi people."

    This was a, clearly visible, looming catastrophe...

    Monday, October 4, 2004

    The convenient bogeyman

    / iraq / terror / monopoly /

    One of the latest atrocities in "liberated Iraq", involving the murder of 40 children, was again blamed on comic-book-type evil arch-villain Abu Musab al-Zarqawi... In the quest for the evil Zarqawi, the US indulges in precision bombing of random neighborhoods that kill an imprecise number of women and children...

    So Riverbend (who's thankfully starting to blog again more frequently), in the liked post logically asks:

    One wonders who is behind the explosions and the car bombs. Bin Laden? Zarqawi? Possibly... but it's just too easy. It's too perfect. Bin Laden hit the WTC and Afghanistan was attacked. Iraq was occupied. At first, any explosion or attack on troops was quickly blamed on "loyalists" and "Baathists" and EVERYTHING was being coordinated by Saddam. As soon as he was caught, it became the work of "Islamic extremists" and Al-Qaida and Zarqawi suddenly made his debut. One wonders who it will be after it is discovered that Zarqawi has been dead for several months or that he never even existed. Whoever it is, you can bet his name will three syllables or less because that is Bush's limit.

    A week ago, four men were caught by Iraqi security in the area of A'adhamiya in Baghdad. No one covered this on television or on the internet, as far as I know- we heard it from a friend involved in the whole thing. The four men were caught trying to set up some explosives in a residential area by some of the residents themselves. One of the four men got away, one of them was killed on the spot and two were detained and interrogated. They turned out to be a part of Badir's Brigade (Faylaq Badir), the militia belonging to the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Should the culprits never have been caught, and should the explosives have gone off, would Zarqawi have been blamed? Of course.

    Admittedly Zarqawi is far too active for an allegedly dead person. Not only that, he's eager to claim responsibility for an attack that killed 40 innocent children... why? To win friends in Iraq? This is the kind of murderous thuggery that no one claims responsibility for... unless one has a Hollywood-type manichean view of the world as divided between the Forces of Evil and the Forces of Good, in which case Zarqawi is simply acting out his evilness, one fails to understand what possible good would it do the group to celebrate this as a "heroic operation"?

    Adrian Blomfield in the Age, quotes an unnamed US agent, about the elusiveness of this Zarqawi concept:

    "We were basically paying up to $US10,000... a time to opportunists, criminals and chancers who passed off fiction and supposition about Zarqawi as cast-iron fact, making him out as the linchpin of just about every attack in Iraq," one agent said.

    "Back home this stuff was gratefully received and formed the basis of policy decisions. We needed a villain, someone identifiable for the public to latch on to, and we got one."

    Seymour Hersh, also sees Zarqawi as a "composite figure":

    ...Zarqawi is mister everybody, he’s never liked bin Laden, and it’s not clear that the person that we claim responsible for all those acts is he. Some of the people who know the Arab world very well and very carefully and listen to his statements. He’s a Jordanian, and many of the comments that have been alleged to have been in his name are not made by him. In other words, the suggestion is that he’s a composite figure. He’s very convenient.

    I don’t want to suggest to you that we’ve ever been propagandized by our government [laughter], but it’s very convenient. It’s very convenient to keep on telling the press that Zarqawi’s — my favorite one is that nice kid that was beheaded, remember. The guy that beheaded him had a hood over him. He was described very confidently by the American establishment government as Zarqawi. Well, if they can see through hoods...

    Elsewhere in Iraq Naomi Klein explains the obvious about yet another Iraqi villain:

    Muqtada al-Sadr's calls for press freedom may not include the freedom of women journalists to cover him. Yet he still deserves to have his right to publish a political newspaper — not because he believes in freedom but because we supposedly do. Similarly, Sadr's calls for fair elections and an end to occupation demand our unequivocal support — not because we are blind to the threat he would pose if he were actually elected but because believing in self-determination means admitting that the outcome of democracy is not ours to control.

    Friday, October 1, 2004


    / budget? / ah, that budget! /
    Continuing, in a sense, the previous post about the Greek military budget, it might be interesting to connect the country's military overspending to this recent scandal:

    The Defense Ministry yesterday forwarded two cases relating to the procurement of arms by the previous government for further investigation by prosecutors. It also looks increasingly likely that a parliamentary committee will be formed to look at a report into the purchase of two other weapons systems.

    The new cases relate to the purchase of four Russian hovercraft in 2000 and a contract to buy 20 NH-90 helicopters in 2003 from a multinational company based in France. The hovercraft deal was worth 62.8 million euros. The helicopter contract amounted to 699 million euros.

    Files on these cases were sent to Athens chief prosecutor Dimitris Papangelopoulos yesterday, by the head of economic planning at the Defense Ministry, Giorgos Zorbas, with the overall allegation that the two deals harmed the Greek State. The report claims that among other things, several procurement rules were broken, the hovercraft have never been used and each helicopter was overpriced by 8 million euros.

    Note that the unit prices for the transport version of the NH-90 are quoted at 20 million Euros... times 20 equals 400 million Euros, even if one purchased them one at a time... Reportedly the Finns paid half the amount Greece paid for the exact same number and type of NH-90 helicopters... (Initially, Greece was supposed to purchase 42 helicopters (find NH-90 near the bottom of the page) for the same amount of money , but then the number of helicopters inexplicably was halved, while the price remained the same...

    The situation is pretty much as Kathimerini describes it:

    It is common knowledge that the military has often purchased weaponry that does not meet the country’s genuine security needs. Overblown procurements are often only a pretext for kickbacks, bribery and illegal profit by a dark group of middlemen who have set their eye on public wealth. In this sector, corruption, deception and fraud are king.