ALL GOOD THINGS…

March 12, 2009

ReHeated are no longer together, so this blog won’t be getting any more new posts. Sadly, the band weren’t able to reconcile their musical differences.

All is not lost, however. One of the group has gone solo, and come out from under the cover of anonymity. You can read about his adventures here.


Why I don’t support the Olympic torch protesters

April 14, 2008

We’ve all seen the footage. Demonstrators decked out in Tibetan flags being man-handled by the toughs in the blue tracksuits. A microcosm, you might say, of the Chinese attitude to human rights: the weak, seeking only a platform for free expression, beating beaten down by the faceless strong. Silly arguments about sovereignty and trite comparisons with Israel aside, few could disagree that the Chinese have done many bad things in Tibet, for which they should rightly be condemned.

But in this way, and at this time? The Olympics have been effectively politicised before – remember Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s epoch-defining statement for black power on the podium in Mexico in 1968 – but they have also been ruined, and their purpose debased, by extensions of power-politicking into a realm where it does not belong. Did the American boycott of Moscow 1980, and the Soviet reprisal in Los Angeles in 1984, really make either side anymore morally pure? It entrenched antagonisms, exacerbated differences, and sunk into the muddied waters of everyday pettiness perhaps the only world forum that seeks, for a brief few weeks, to set common humanity apart from ideology.

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Sudan man forced to ‘marry’ goat

March 10, 2008

Curently “most emailed” story on the BBC website.

Apparently putting “marry” in inverted commas allows it to stand for “came up with a perfectly sensible solution that does not, in fact, involve marriage in any way”.

19%? Almost one in five? Sounds far too high to me…


Arsene Wenger: public intellectual

February 27, 2008

arsene_wenge.jpg

Word reaches me that Prospect magazine are inviting submissions from prominent types for their second Global Intellectuals Poll. The last one, in 2005, had Noam Chomsky, Umberto Eco and Richard Dawkins in the medal positions.

Not being one of the prominent types in question, I haven’t been asked to give my recommendations. Were I to be though, I would only have one man in mind. Our most important living public intellectual is clearly Arsene Wenger.

Think about it – he’s got it all:
– As thoughtful as Sen.
– As witty as Hitchens.
– As iconoclastic as Dawkins.
– The broad appeal of Chomsky.
– The patriotism of Havel.
– The ability to stir up a shit load of fuss of Rowan Williams.
He’s got that turns-out-he-was-right-after-all thing the best intellectuals always have. And he’s probably given more to public life than the rest of them put together.

ps. This is not – heaven forbid – an Arsenal thing. I say this as a Spurs fan. We can afford to be magnanimous these days.


Why China is on our side

February 25, 2008

I went to a talk the other day about China…the Olympics…human rights…Darfur recently. Here’s what struck me:

Some people see the world divided up into two teams. On one side, there’s the dictatorships and their tyrannical leaders (sturdy Kim Jong Il in goal); on the other there’s the democracies (George Bush marooned on the right flank).

Internally, the division makes sense. So calling China a dictatorship gets at the brutal way the Chinese regime treats its own people. When it comes to foreign policy, however, the black-and-white view can only be misleading.

Democracies make cruel and nasty foreign policy just as effectively as dictatorships. The history of American colonialism in Latin America show this all too clearly. So does the behaviour of Britain and France after WWI, as Pankaj Mishra said recently in the LRB: “in Paris, Lloyd George and Clemenceau demonstrated that leaders of democracies could be just as brazenly imperialistic as military dictators”.

China’s human rights record is related to its foreign policy – but the link is not nearly as important as some people (alright, Nick Cohen) would have you think.

In this case, as so often, black-and-white thinking is simply muddle-headed. For all the wrong reasons, China is already on our team.

++++

West Wing reference: Series 7, “Internal Displacement”; after a dinner date with Danny, C. J. decides to sort out Darfur.


What does Kenya mean for democracy?

January 31, 2008

The terrible suffering unleashed by the recent elections in Kenya poses searching questions for democrats everywhere. How can this process of democracy that we laud so highly, that is supposed to insure us against the vagaries of power, have seemingly unleashed such terrible, visceral forces?

It’s a question that I haven’t yet fully understood, but I suggest a couple of opening thoughts. Firstly, that democracy is not a value. Democracy is a selection process; the liberal values of tolerance, fairness, and respect for rights that we associate with it are incidental. These are complex, organic creations, born of deeper social and intellectual forces, and whilst they complement democracies extremely well, they are neither necessary nor exclusive to them. Witness the emergence of democratic authoritarianism in Russia, and authoritarian liberalism in China, to see the disintegration of this connection. That the democratic process in Kenya could unleash intolerance, tribalism and extreme violations of rights, is no surprise if liberal values are not sustained within Kenyan political culture; instead, democracy merely exposes the societal fissures that authoritarian rule papers over.

Secondly, that democracy depends on nationalism. In a mature democracy, the losing side in an election, however viciously fought, accepts defeat in the belief that its fundamental interests are protected, whoever sits in power. Certainly, the loser knows that sinecures will be rewarded to the victor’s acolytes, but he is assured of his essential position in society, because he knows that both he and his victor believe in the same thing: the health of the nation. All sides trust that this core shared goal will be prioritised. It is this belief that ties the political community together, and mitigates the costs of defeat for losing parties. Thus elections pass without incident, and the defeated lick their wounds until their next legal opportunity to vie for power.

In a country like Kenya where nationalism is weak, and the idea of the nation ill-developed, the losers of the democratic process do not have this security. As events have shown, the primary loyalty of many Kenyans is to tribe. The whole tone of the election campaign was “now we eat”: the rewards of power will be directed to our tribe, not theirs. In this climate, why should the losers accept the result passively? What functions does this government fulfil for them that they could not fulfil themselves? A lack of underpinning nationalism increases the risks and rewards of democracy exponentially – and therefore increases the lengths to which people will go not to be the losers of the process.  

 


Sovereignty in a globalising world

January 31, 2008

A thought:

We live in a historically unprecedented age. In the past, sovereignty and wealth were synonymous. Sovereign control over territory meant control over productive resources, control over resources meant wealth, and wealth, in symbiosis with power, secured sovereignty.

This is no longer so; we live in an age where, for the first time, economic gain can be pursued independently of sovereignty. The key dynamics of this change are the increasing integration of states into global economic structures, and their reliance on the gains from these structures for their legitimacy.

Take the case of the South East Asian Tigers. They depend heavily on external investment, over which they have no control, and the North American market, over which they have no influence, for their economic growth, and depend on this growth for their domestic legitimacy. They are therefore takers, not makers, of the rules that most fundamentally define their political standing. This is not, by any definition, sovereignty.

And yet, they thrive. Wealth accrues whilst sovereignty wanes. This gives lie to the oft spouted claim that globalisation is undermining the position of states in the international economy. In fact, many are richer, happier and more confident than ever before; but in a Faustian twist, they may be selling their political souls to be so.