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Double think

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully-constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them; to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy; to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word 'doublethink' involved using doublethink. (Orwell)

From the novel that summarises most of the 20th century practical political ideology, 1984 (read it online).

Now have a look at this:
Cheney said that progress toward peace and stability in the Middle East would depend on responsible conduct by countries in the region, including respect for neighbors' sovereignty and compliance with international agreements.

"If you apply all these measures it becomes immediately clear that the government Iran falls far short and is a growing obstacle to peace in the Middle East," Cheney told the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (Reuters)


Israel recently bombed facilities in Syria, assisted by America (here) - sounds like a certain lack of "respect for neighbors' sovereignty" to me; not to mention the attack on Lebanon last year, and the list off American interferences can go on and on (Chile, Nicaragua, Granada, Afghanistan, ...). America's invasion of Iraq was illegal according to the then Secretary-General of the UN (here); Israel has repeatedly refused to stop illegal settlements and return the occupied territories to the Palestinians (e.g. here) - which "international agreements" does Cheney consider relevant?

528 page CV

I like reading autobiographies for two main reasons: you get to learn more about life from the point of view of a significant person – a sort of vicarious living out of the lives of the rich and famous; and you also learn how that person wants to be seen, what their version of history is.

Reading Hillary Clinton’s autobiography, Living History does certainly illuminate one on the second point. Frankly, it’s kind of boring and reads something like a very long CV; which is appropriate, given that it is really one long application letter for the job of President of America.

I’m on chapter 27 (out of 38), and she has yet to admit to any failing or mistakes – apart from over-reaching on her health reforms, which would be difficult to present in any other way given that it was a complete debacle.

It is interesting to some degree, but really it is so carefully written that most of the ‘authenticity’ of an autobiography is missing. The closest she gets is when talking about her daughter, whom she was careful to allow to live as normal a life as possible: in one incident she allowed her to ride with her friends to school, with the security behind (rather than driving her themselves); and in another she recounts how Chelsea wanted to go camping – they picked a spot and the Secret Service staked it out with night-vision toting agents. Chelsea made fun of their idea of sleeping rough, in a tent with floorboards.

Generally, it’s a list of whatever public engagements and issues she got involved in, with carefully crafted explanations that convey her political stance. Even her early life is a political genealogy, highlighting her staunchly Republican father, and her early days as a ‘Goldwater girl’ (a theme that has come up in her current campaign apparently). The importance of prayer and religion is asserted early on too.

Overall she does seem to be quite impressive: and I would probably vote for her if I was American. Not that there’s much of a choice…

The Economist have an informative article on her, pointing out amongst other things that she has been remarkably effective as a senator in terms of building alliances and influence. They also highlight how, if she gets in (a lot can happen, let’s not forget that the whole circus has more than year to go still), “members of the Bush and Clinton families will have been president for 24 years on the trot”, with a possible four extra years after. This is not good:
it divides America into “players”, who control political life, and “observers”, who simply comment on it. The dynastification of American politics is happening at a time when economic inequalities are growing, and the “haves” are proving increasingly successful at transmitting their privileges to their children.

and it also means that the whole point of democracy, that new people come into power with new ideas, is somewhat overlooked.

… and just for fun, some ‘proof’ that Hillary is a lesbian, one of the ‘Illumati’ (evil secret society that rules the world), AND an “Illuminist Witch”, aka a “powerful, Black Magic [witch], just as Antichrist will be when he arises” (Life Enterprises Unlimited). :-)

Myanmar - different reality

The outside world makes the mistake of assuming that the junta is amenable to negotiation on what we regard as common values: democracy, respect for human rights, protection from the arbitrary exercise of power. This is simply not the case.

Ne Win, Burma's dictator from 1962 to 1988, had blind faith in '9' as his lucky number... The hardline suppression of the latest protests began on the same date as the 1988 crackdown, with the added bonus of a third '9': 18/9/2007 (2+7= 9).

It is unlikely that UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari's programme included consultations with the junta's astrologers, and yet these are the people who hold the key to the leader's strategy. (Article by Tom White, "UK's cultural attaché in Burma during the 1988 protests")

Frightening, but it makes sense to me. Something I realised, is that the army in Burma has been in power since 1962 - forty-five years. This means that by now the army has become a generational inheritance - those in the army now were most likely born with their father planning on them following in his path. In Burma, the army also controls much of the economy so it's a viable career that combines political and financial security.

So by now, there are the basics of a caste: hereditary social and economic position, likelihood of in-marrying (I'm guessing), and an ideology to support it (by all accounts, a mishmash of nationalism and pseudo-feudalism). Also, apparently there was a tradition of "pagoda slaves" in Burma and Thailand. This could perhaps give the army an ideological basis for their use of forced labour which is apparently quite common.

in the final stages of the 41-day uprising in 1988, democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi privately admitted that a split in the army seemed the only remaining hope of overthrowing the dictatorship.

Also, very interesting to read, is this eyewitness account by "A Buddhism student" (BBC). Some quotes:

Those who took part were from the younger generation of monks, who hadn't experienced the events of 1988 and thought that they couldn't be attacked.

The older monks were too frightened and hesitant. Those who had responsible positions in the monastery were particularly against anybody taking part in protests.

They issued orders to other monks not to take part. They were saying 'don't do anything, if you leave, you will be disassociated'.

The middle-level monks were sandwiched between the senior monks and the young ones. Many sneaked in and out.

The whole thing started as a religious movement. It was not an organised democratic movement and there was no intention whatsoever for it to be turned into one. Monks were adamant about it.

They knew that there is no point in asking the generals for freedom. They knew that they don't have guns and can't beat the army. All they wanted to do was show the world what their situation is and that they are prepared to die.

They were very hopeful about the UN envoy coming to Burma. But they were quite surprised to hear that he met Aung San Suu Kyi.

They love and respect her, but they felt that this time it is about them and that the UN envoy should be speaking to them. They felt that it's a distraction from them while they are being shot at and need protection.

This is important I think: the first quote at the top of this post, and the one about the UN meeting Aung San Suu Kyi, point to one thing: the deficiencies of an ethnocentric approach to negotiating with the Burmese regime. I wonder if the UN envoy actually tried to meet the monks; maybe he did. Maybe the regime allow him to see Aung San Suu Kyi because ultimately they know that she has less power than the monks.

Rats in their hole...

Well, following on from the previous post, here's what the BBC says regarding the motivations of the Burmese dictators:

In Burma, complete isolation means the generals have little to lose from international sanctions. Nor is there a large and powerful middle class with a lot to lose. There is only the military - the most powerful institution in the country - with its fingers in every aspect of daily life.

It suffers little from isolation, except in the increasingly narrow view of its officers.

Soldiers are taught that they are an elite class, entitled to special respect - and that anyone who opposes them is an enemy bent on returning the country to chaos and civil war.

That will almost certainly be the warped instruction given now to the troops who have shot at unarmed monks and civilians in Rangoon. (BBC News)

The Burmese protestors will never be able to beat the army at their own murderous game, so the only solution is satyagraha. Which means extreme courage and many more dead...

Or someone go in there and make a deal with some generals - appeal to their sense of self importance and greed...

A rat in a corner…

…is always the most dangerous.

Pondering the recent events in Burma, I have suddenly realised why sometimes it’s better to arrange for some kind of get out route for nasty dictators – rather than letting them fight till the end and get their just rewards.

By all accounts the people in power in Burma are despicable, and deep in their hearts they must know how unpopular they are: though by moving the capital 400 km inland, away from the historic capital, they may have been exteriorising their internal shift to self-delusion.

"The ruling generals say a seven-step roadmap to democracy is moving forward, though they are still at step one. No one knows when the new parliament building could be occupied." Source.

But just put yourself in their shoes: they know that if their enemies take power, they will most likely whack them in jail for corruption, human-rights abuse, etc. – at best – and at worst they will get strung up. Which is what they would do in that situation.

At moments like this, when there are thousands of people brave enough to stand up to the government – when people manage to put aside their individual fear of being hurt, and put their faith in the crowd – the oppressive regime knows that it’s a fight to the finish. Crush them, or they’ll crush you. So, unfortunately, as eye-witnesses recount today – it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. I fear a repeat of the thousands killed in 1988 - it's so despairingly disgusting when you think of it...

What could one do?
• Scare the regime leaders into scarpering. This will only happen at the last possible moment, and it will take a lot to get there.
• Find allies in the regime, and promise them leniency if they go turncoat. This is the most common I think – sometimes it’s as simple as soldiers or police refusing to carry out the dirty work of the regime, and the effects knock on up the ranks. In Burma, it is the army that holds power, so this is less likely – so it is by approaching some major generals that one might get them to switch sides.
• Give the leaders a way out. Tell them – leave now and we’ll not punish you. This has happened often enough, it stinks but often is the best way to avoid a massacre.

In any case: I stand in awe of those people who dare to stand up to the brutal regime and risk torture and death. Let's put our trust in the goodness of humanity, and hope to see peace and dignity restored to the Burmese.

Plus ça change…

Just a quick one to provide a link to a transcription of Bin Laden’s full speech . Worth reading, to understand his argument – ‘know thy enemy’ and all that.

He develops an argument which really owes a lot to Lenin’s analysis of global imperialism and the World War I (for example, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism) – basically saying that foreign policy in America is driven by multinational corporations. Specifically, blaming Kennedy’s assassination on “the owners of the major corporations who were benefiting from its [the Vietnam War] continuation”; asking why the Democratic Party did not force withdrawal from Iraq after the last elections, he says “they are the same reasons which led to the failure of former president Kennedy to stop the Vietnam war. Those with real power and influence are those with the most capital.”

Then he develops some more modern themes: global warming, poverty in Africa, globalisation – these are also blamed on “The capitalist system [which] seeks to turn the entire world into a fiefdom of the major corporations under the label of "globalization" in order to protect democracy.” This message seems somewhat more directed at your average younger person, of the anti-globalisation type.

Then, interestingly, he whacks in a message to the middle-classes too: “the reeling of many of you under the burden of interest-related debts, insane taxes and real estate mortgages”; later, he promises taxes (zakat) of only 2.5% under Islamic rule.


Continue reading "Plus ça change…"