1) Correction 2) Miliband and Sid Macaca 3) Manos and the Greek pigsty 4) Gillard
[next scheduled distribution 17 July with possibility of earlier supplements]
Correspondents have rebuked us for describing the gap between American ideals and what can happen in practice as ‘small’. Following the Ratzinger gambit we might reply that we are sorry to have readers who cannot spot irony even when it steps on their presuppositions. However, our old-fashioned inclination is towards a true apology: it was at least half our fault for using understatement. Irony was intended. One does not have to be a quaker to describe some recent actions as resembling mediaeval barbarism. One may not be hostile to the concept of America as the world’s leading nation and yet still say that violence and indifference to the sufferings of other nationalities is not only callous but contrary to her own interests. One does not have to be in any degree sympathetic to terrorism to recognise that much of the world’s population outside the most privileged nations has many fully justified grievances. Others continually take up issues under the first and third of these heads, so we leave those aside. We shall not even go into the utterly remarkable uses of the words ‘legal’ and ‘ethical’; to understand these one would need not a dictionary of English but an entirely new work of reference. (If the Nazis had taken the trouble to pass laws to ‘allow’ their activities during the Second World War would that have rendered them ‘legal’? The flouting of the constitution we leave to constitutional lawyers.) Thus, only some remarks about the second point.
In the drone attacks in South Asia even Washington accepts that many civilians have been killed. Others with no particular reason to lie, and closer links to some events put the figure far higher than does Washington. The defence of the policy is that it is tough on those civilians but on balance effective and saves lives that might be lost in terrorist attacks. This is not just hypothetical but makes the surprising assumption that intelligence good enough to identify an individual in remote mountain villages would be unable to detect when he might start to take any practical moves towards violent hostile acts. However, supposing that the policy is in its own terms effective, it meets a rejoinder: Yes, but for each activist killed several others emerge to take his place (another hypothesis, but not implausible). This then meets what appears to be its counter-rejoinder: Not so, because we see the level of hostile acts and the skill put into them diminishing. This may well be true. Nevertheless, it hides a crippling flaw in the policy. For it overlooks the time factor, both for 1) emergence (some survivors and relatives will nurse the desire for revenge – or as they might see it, justice – for many months or years before talking themselves into, or seeing the opportunity for, overt action) and for (2) training in the skills and materials needed for violent action.
There is empirical evidence to back up these considerations. Did the Nazi actions in countries (where they had the huge advantage of being in occupation) deliver resigned and quiescent populations and save the lives of German soldiers? In 1940 the French resistance inevitably was scattered and tiny. In the next three and a half years a programme of Nazi brutality designed to intimidate the résistance and eliminate its members (inter alia 30,000 French citizens shot) saw its numbers increase to some 200,000 active, with another 300,000 providing support; also, a large number of German soldiers killed. A comparable evolution in the Balkans and notably the Ukraine, where the Nazis were initially warmly welcomed and where they possibly threw away their best chance of winning the war by their brutal subjection of what could have been a major enthusiastic partner nation.. There is, though, something perhaps even more important that the policy overlooks, namely the drift to asymmetry in warfare. At present Washington believes it sees an effective return in making use of techniques of microwarfare. However, during the next few years, development of ever smaller and ever more capable weapons is inevitably going to continue, and knowledge of what can be done and how to do it will become ever more widely known. (Check what American highschool kids can do with one or two hundred dollars, right now back home.) On the other hand America is not going to become a smaller target for her enemies. Thus at present America is ahead, but in the years to come that superiority is bound to diminish even as the dangers increase. So the policy in practice aims at a short-term success, measured perhaps in a few months, getting in return a very unpromising future for herself and the rest of humanity.
Consider – if you have aerial control of a difficult region with an unfriendly population, which gives the better chance of forestalling attacks against you – constant air-drops of food, clothes and toys, or constant air-drops of bombs and anti-personnel explosives?
Simon our intern, son of the distinguished businessman who is our largest shareholder (but who leaves us complete editorial freedom. we have to say), asked to include a short item of his own, and we have of course given him a free hand:
Sorry, guys, left this mega-late (paintballing!), so it won’t be superelegant like the editors want. ‘Ten minutes or it’s cut.’ Slavedrivers! Anyway, in my opinion this site’s been too full of gloom and sarcastic comments. I’d like something more encouraging. So let’s hear it for the human race.
On the left, a picture of Ed Miliband, thanks to the Independent (fine newspaper even if it does lean a bit far to the left.), Ed doing some political stuff, in London probably. On the right, a great self-portrait taken by Sid Macaca (under the guidance of David Slater, wildlife photographer) on a recent holiday in the Celebes. Now which one would you pick for the next prime minister? I don’t want to be mean to poor Sid, who never had even a year of schooling, but just looking at them both I really think Ed must come out ahead on most of the key qualifications, and he’s certainly better dressed. So I say Ed wins. (See, no smart-arse stuff like the Editor said I’d try.)
We are glad now to offer another contribution from our own office, from Manos, our doorkeeper and handyman. Manos used to be a linesman for the Greek national electricity company, but was thrown out of work, when the company was closed down as a cost-cutting measure, and on the very same day he received a demand for back taxes easily exceeding the total amount of all his assets. He arrived at our offices in the Channel Islands in a state of extreme (and monolingual) exhaustion having rowed from Greece in a small boat which he obtained in exchange for his wife. The splendid fellow not only keeps the place in excellent order but provides rembetika for our informal parties once work is over for the day, having seized on an old bouzouki serving as a waste paper basket in the Deputy Editor’s office. He has only been here six months but passed five A-levels with grade A* in May and is now studying for a degree at the Open University.
Here in Guernsey I like it. I eat well. I get money for easy work. People are friendly, especially ladies who think this Greek fellow with the big beard is a romantic man. I talk with people (some of them are also clever). But one thing I hate. Everybody here talks to me about ‘democracy’. ‘You are from Greece,’ they say. ‘Is it not terrible to see the birthplace of democracy now becoming a pigsty!’ Pay attention to me. If you think like that it is your ignorance which is terrible. You are wrong at both ends of the history. Now there is no pigsty in Greece. Before, there was. What is a pigsty? It is a place of dirt where big fat animals make the dirt. But how can this happen? It is because men outside push food into those animals to make them big and fat. The animals do not like the place because they cannot get out, then they cannot stop themselves for making the place dirty. It was not Greek people who made the pigsty, except only the party New Democracy who made contract with men in Brussels. Then the men in Brussels fed our pigs, which before were nice, good animals, and made them fat and dirty. Then the smell was too terrible, and Papandreou who was a good man saw there was a bad business, and there has come a great cleaning, and it is no more like a pigsty, but now it is like a prison. Still the food comes in, but it is for the guards of the prison, not for the prisoners, who have no food. They have no freedom. That is why the prison has riot, and also that is why I made escape. But I think you have a wrong idea also for the first end of the history. ‘Ah, Greece of the fifth century, the perfect democracy,’ you say. The Assembly of all the people was the ruler of the country, yes. But you have not translated right the parts of our Greek word demokratia. It was an assembly of all citizens. And who was a citizen? To start, no woman. Also no man under twenty years. And no immigrant. You must be of Athenian family on both sides, if not, then no citizen. And of course no slave. In my school we must learn all this. The people of Athens were more than 300,000 but the citizens, we do not know exact, maybe 40,000. That is not how you think is democracy. But for me, I like it very much. I say it is the most honest, most just government of history.
Congratulations to Julia Gillard for bringing in the Australian tax on carbon emissions last Sunday. A brave act since it exactly contradicts her explicit promise that her government would not bring in a tax on carbon emissions. (So what is free speech for, if you can’t say what your audience wants to hear? How free is it if you are stuck with standing by what you say afterwards?) But she had already notched up the most significant marker in her career. As the present fades and becomes ancient times long ago – if humanity lasts that long – the last handbook of political history containing her name will preserve a single fact: ‘Australia’s first (and only) female prime minister‘ (just as Obama is America’s first and only black president, before the Latinos to come).
objections are welcome, especially if ill-founded
honor honestique floreant