Monday, 30th June, 2003

Chinese 'takes more brainpower'

Researchers in Britain have found that people who speak Mandarin Chinese use both sides of their brain to understand the language.

This compares to English-language speakers who only need to use one side of their brain.

The researchers said the findings could boost understanding of how the brain processes languages.

This, in turn, could one day help scientists to develop better ways of helping people to re-learn languages after a stroke or similar damage to the brain.

Dr Sophie Scott and colleagues at the Wellcome Trust carried out brain scans on a group of Mandarin and English speakers.

They found that the left temporal lobe, which is located by the left temple, becomes active when English speakers hear English.

The researchers believe that this area of the brain links speech sounds together to form individual words.

They expected similar findings when they carried out scans on Mandarin speakers.

However, they found that both their left and right temporal lobes become active when they hear Mandarin.

"People who speak different sorts of languages use their brains to decode speech in different ways," said Dr Scott.

"It overturned some long-held theories."

Mandarin is a notoriously difficult language to learn. Unlike English, speakers use intonation to distinguish between completely different meanings of particular words.

For instance, the word "ma" can mean mother, scold, horse or hemp depending on how it is said.

The researchers believe that this need to interpret intonation is why Mandarin speakers need to use both sides of their brain.

The right temporal lobe is normally associated with being able to process music or tones.

"We think that Mandarin speakers interpret intonation and melody in the right temporal lobe to give the correct meaning to the spoken words," said Dr Scott.

"It seems that the structure of the language you learn as a child affects how the structure of your brain develops to decode speech.

"Native English speakers, for example, find it extraordinarily difficult to learn Mandarin."

Dr Scott said the findings could help scientists to understand how the brain learns language.

It could be particularly useful in trying to understand how it re-learns language after a stroke.

She suggested it could also lead to new drugs to help people who have lost their language skills.

"There is evidence from other studies that certain drugs affect learning in the brain regions that support hearing and speech," she said.

"This is something we can improve on."

Dr William Marslen-Wilson, of the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at Cambridge University, welcomed the study.

"It is an interesting finding," he told BBC News Online.

"Looking at languages that are very different from each other helps us to understand how the brain processes language.

"It can also help us to understand language rehabilitation," he said.

"This field is really opening up but it is very early days."

The findings will be included in the summer science exhibition at the Royal Society in London, which runs from 1 to 3 July.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Chinese 'takes more brainpower'
logged by alf at 14:38, Monday, 30th June, 2003

Tuesday, 24th June, 2003

A Nation of Victims : How Bush's language induces learned helplessness

by Renana Brooks
Issue of 30th June 2003 (posted on 12th June 2003)
The Nation

George W. Bush is generally regarded as a mangler of the English language. What is overlooked is his mastery of emotional language--especially negatively charged emotional language--as a political tool. Take a closer look at his speeches and public utterances, and his political success turns out to be no surprise. It is the predictable result of the intentional use of language to dominate others.

President Bush, like many dominant personality types, uses dependency-creating language. He employs language of contempt and intimidation to shame others into submission and desperate admiration. While we tend to think of the dominator as using physical force, in fact most dominators use verbal abuse to control others. Abusive language has been a major theme of psychological researchers on marital problems, such as John Gottman, and of philosophers and theologians, such as Josef Pieper. But little has been said about the key role it has come to play in political discourse, and in such "hot media" as talk radio and television.

Bush uses several dominating linguistic techniques to induce surrender to his will. The first is empty language. This term refers to broad statements that are so abstract and mean so little that they are virtually impossible to oppose. Empty language is the emotional equivalent of empty calories. Just as we seldom question the content of potato chips while enjoying their pleasurable taste, recipients of empty language are usually distracted from examining the content of what they are hearing. Dominators use empty language to conceal faulty generalizations; to ridicule viable alternatives; to attribute negative motivations to others, thus making them appear contemptible; and to rename and "reframe" opposing viewpoints.

Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech contained thirty-nine examples of empty language. He used it to reduce complex problems to images that left the listener relieved that George W. Bush was in charge. Rather than explaining the relationship between malpractice insurance and skyrocketing healthcare costs, Bush summed up: "No one has ever been healed by a frivolous lawsuit." The multiple fiscal and monetary policy tools that can be used to stimulate an economy were downsized to: "The best and fairest way to make sure Americans have that money is not to tax it away in the first place." The controversial plan to wage another war on Iraq was simplified to: "We will answer every danger and every enemy that threatens the American people." In an earlier study, I found that in the 2000 presidential debates Bush used at least four times as many phrases containing empty language as Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush Senior or Gore had used in their debates.

Another of Bush's dominant-language techniques is personalization. By personalization I mean localizing the attention of the listener on the speaker's personality. Bush projects himself as the only person capable of producing results. In his post-9/11 speech to Congress he said, "I will not forget this wound to our country or those who inflicted it. I will not yield; I will not rest; I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people." He substitutes his determination for that of the nation's. In the 2003 State of the Union speech he vowed, "I will defend the freedom and security of the American people." Contrast Bush's "I will not yield" etc. with John F. Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

The word "you" rarely appears in Bush's speeches. Instead, there are numerous statements referring to himself or his personal characteristics--folksiness, confidence, righteous anger or determination--as the answer to the problems of the country. Even when Bush uses "we," as he did many times in the State of the Union speech, he does it in a way that focuses attention on himself. For example, he stated: "Once again, we are called to defend the safety of our people, and the hopes of all mankind. And we accept this responsibility."

In an article in the January 16 New York Review of Books, Joan Didion highlighted Bush's high degree of personalization and contempt for argumentation in presenting his case for going to war in Iraq. As Didion
writes: "'I made up my mind,' he had said in April, 'that Saddam needs to go.' This was one of many curious, almost petulant statements offered in lieu of actually presenting a case. I've made up my mind, I've said in speech after speech, I've made myself clear. The repeated statements became their own reason."

Poll after poll demonstrates that Bush's political agenda is out of step with most Americans' core beliefs. Yet the public, their electoral resistance broken down by empty language and persuaded by personalization, is susceptible to Bush's most frequently used linguistic technique: negative framework. A negative framework is a pessimistic image of the world. Bush creates and maintains negative frameworks in his listeners' minds with a number of linguistic techniques borrowed from advertising and hypnosis to instill the image of a dark and evil world around us. Catastrophic words and phrases are repeatedly drilled into the listener's head until the opposition feels such a high level of anxiety that it appears pointless to do anything other than cower.

Psychologist Martin Seligman, in his extensive studies of "learned helplessness," showed that people's motivation to respond to outside threats and problems is undermined by a belief that they have no control over their environment. Learned helplessness is exacerbated by beliefs that problems caused by negative events are permanent; and when the underlying causes are perceived to apply to many other events, the condition becomes pervasive and paralyzing.

Bush is a master at inducing learned helplessness in the electorate. He uses pessimistic language that creates fear and disables people from feeling they can solve their problems. In his September 20, 2001, speech to Congress on the 9/11 attacks, he chose to increase people's sense of
vulnerability: "Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen.... I ask you to live your lives, and hug your children. I know many citizens have fears tonight.... Be calm and resolute, even in the face of a continuing threat." (Subsequent terror alerts by the FBI, CIA and Department of Homeland Security have maintained and expanded this fear of unknown, sinister enemies.)

Contrast this rhetoric with Franklin Roosevelt's speech delivered the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He said: "No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.... There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces--with the unbounding determination of our people--we will gain the inevitable triumph--so help us God." Roosevelt focuses on an optimistic future rather than an ongoing threat to Americans' personal survival.

All political leaders must define the present threats and problems faced by the country before describing their approach to a solution, but the ratio of negative to optimistic statements in Bush's speeches and policy declarations is much higher, more pervasive and more long-lasting than that of any other President. Let's compare "crisis" speeches by Bush and Ronald Reagan, the President with whom he most identifies himself. In Reagan's October 27, 1983, televised address to the nation on the bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut, he used nineteen images of crisis and twenty-one images of optimism, evenly balancing optimistic and negative depictions. He limited his evaluation of the problems to the past and present tense, saying only that "with patience and firmness we can bring peace to that strife-torn region--and make our own lives more secure." George W. Bush's October 7, 2002, major policy speech on Iraq, on the other hand, began with forty-four consecutive statements referring to the crisis and citing a multitude of possible catastrophic repercussions. The vast majority of these statements (for example: "Some ask how urgent this danger is to America and the world. The danger is already significant, and it only grows worse with time"; "Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual
terrorists") imply that the crisis will last into the indeterminate future. There is also no specific plan of action. The absence of plans is typical of a negative framework, and leaves the listener without hope that the crisis will ever end. Contrast this with Reagan, who, a third of the way into his explanation of the crisis in Lebanon, asked the following: "Where do we go from here? What can we do now to help Lebanon gain greater stability so that our Marines can come home? Well, I believe we can take three steps now that will make a difference."

To create a dependency dynamic between him and the electorate, Bush describes the nation as being in a perpetual state of crisis and then attempts to convince the electorate that it is powerless and that he is the only one with the strength to deal with it. He attempts to persuade people they must transfer power to him, thus crushing the power of the citizen, the Congress, the Democratic Party, even constitutional liberties, to concentrate all power in the imperial presidency and the Republican Party.

Bush's political opponents are caught in a fantasy that they can win against him simply by proving the superiority of their ideas. However, people do not support Bush for the power of his ideas, but out of the despair and desperation in their hearts. Whenever people are in the grip of a desperate dependency, they won't respond to rational criticisms of the people they are dependent on. They will respond to plausible and forceful statements and alternatives that put the American electorate back in touch with their core optimism. Bush's opponents must combat his dark imagery with hope and restore American vigor and optimism in the coming years. They should heed the example of Reagan, who used optimism against Carter and the "national malaise"; Franklin Roosevelt, who used it against Hoover and the pessimism induced by the Depression ("the only thing we have to fear is fear itself"); and Clinton (the "Man from Hope"), who used positive language against the senior Bush's lack of vision. This is the linguistic prescription for those who wish to retire Bush in 2004.

Burned Iraqi Children Said Turn Away

by Donna Abu-Nasr
Associated Press Writer
23rd June 2003
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

BALAD, Iraq (AP)--On a scorching afternoon, while on duty at an Army airfield, Sgt. David J. Borell was approached by an Iraqi who pleaded for help for his three children, burned when they set fire to a bag containing explosive powder left over from war in Iraq.

Borell immediately called for assistance. But the two Army doctors who arrived about an hour later refused to help the children because their injuries were not life-threatening and had not been inflicted by U.S. troops.

Now the two girls and a boy are covered with scabs and the boy cannot use his right leg. And Borell is shattered.

"I have never seen in almost 14 years of Army experience anything that callous," said Borell, who recounted the June 13 incident to The Associated Press.

A U.S. military spokesman said the children's condition did not fall into a category that requires Army physicians to treat them - and that there was no inappropriate response on the part of the doctors.

The incident comes at a time when U.S. troops are trying to win the confidence of Iraqis, an undertaking that has been overwhelmed by the need to protect themselves against attacks. Boosting security has led to suspicion in encounters between Iraqis and Americans. There are increased pat-downs, raids on homes and arrests in which U.S. troops force people to the ground at gunpoint - measures the Iraqis believe are meant to humiliate them.

In addition, Iraqis maintain the Americans have not lived up to their promises to improve security and living conditions, and incidents like the turning away of the children only reinforce the belief that Americans are in Iraq only for their own interests.

For Borell, who has been in Iraq since April 17, what happened with the injured children has made him question what it means to be an American soldier.

"What would it have cost us to treat these children? A few dollars perhaps. Some investment of time and resources," said Borell, 30, of Toledo, Ohio.

"I cannot imagine the heartlessness required to look into the eyes of a child in horrid pain and suffering and, with medical resources only a brief trip up the road, ignore their plight as though they are insignificant," he added.

Maj. David Accetta, public affairs officer with the 3rd Corps Support Command, said the children's condition did not fall into a category that requires Army doctors to care for them. Only patients with conditions threatening life, limb or eyesight and not resulting from a chronic illness are considered for treatment.

"Our goal is for the Iraqis to use their own existing infrastructure and become self-sufficient, not dependent on U.S. forces for medical care," Accetta said in an e-mail to AP.

The incident came to light after an AP photographer took a picture of Borell being comforted by a colleague after the doctors refused to care for the children. When Borell's wife, Rachelle Douglas-Borell, saw the photo, she contacted AP with a copy of a letter he sent her describing what happened.

When Borell talks about the children, he pauses between sentences, keeps his head down, clears his throat.

Seated on a cot in a bare room at an Army air base in Balad, 55 miles northwest of Baghdad, Borell said when he saw the three children, especially the girls, Ahlam, 11, and Budur, 10, he visualized his daughters, Ashley, 8, and Brianna, 5.

Borell, who spoke to the family through an Iraqi bystander with some English, did not understand exactly what happened to the children.

But the children's father, Falah Mutlaq, told AP they set fire to a bag of explosives they found on a street in their village, Bihishmeh, a few miles from the base.

Mutlaq, 36, who has 14 children from two wives, said he took the children to a hospital in Balad, but they were turned away because the facility could not treat them. He then took them to the base.

Borell's eyes cloud with pain when he describes the children.

Madeeha Mutlaq was holding her son, Haidar, 10, fanning him with a piece of cardboard. His legs, arms and half of his face were singed. Ahlam, Haidar's full sister, and Budur, his half-sister, had fewer but still extensive burns.

What struck Borell was the children's silence.

"They did not utter a single sound," he said.

Borell radioed his superiors, who contacted the base hospital.

Two Army doctors, both of them majors, responded.

One of them, according to Borell, "looked at (Haidar) ... didn't examine him, didn't ask him questions."

"(He) never looked at the girls," said Borell.

"Through the interpreter, one of the doctors told the father that we didn't have any medicine here ... and were not able to provide them care," said Borell. "And he also expounded on the fact that they needed long-term care."

Borell said the combat hospital was fully stocked.

"Right before they left, I looked at the one doctor, asked him if he could at least give them comfort care," said Borell. "He told me they were not here to be the treatment center for Iraq."

"He didn't show any compassion," the sergeant added.

Borell grabbed his first-aid kit and gave the father some bandages and IV solution to clean the wounds.

Mutlaq, who grows oranges and apples with water he gets from the Tigris River, laughed when he recalled the doctor's words.

"He lied," Mutlaq said. "The world's greatest power going to war without burn medicine? Who can believe that?"

Mutlaq took the children the next day to Baghdad for treatment.

Budur, a chubby, giggly child with light brown eyes, seems to have recovered except for a large scab on her right arm.

Ahlam and Haidar are covered with yellowish scabs scattered over raw red flesh. Haidar keeps his left fingers bent and hops on his left leg because it's too painful to use the right one. A smile rarely leaves his face despite the discomfort.

Mutlaq said he often hears the children whimper at night from the pain.

Despite their suffering, Mutlaq said he feels no bitterness. "How can I not love the Americans? They helped me with a flat tire the other day," he said.

Borell said he felt betrayed by the Army, which he joined after high school. Besides the letter to his wife, he also wrote to his congresswoman and several media outlets describing the incident.

His superiors have not said a word, said Borell, "although I get the impression that they're probably not very happy."

Borell's wife gave him a silver bracelet that says: "Duty, Honor, Country." He wears it to remind him why he's in Iraq.

"After today, I wonder if I will still be able to carry the title 'soldier' with any pride at all," said Borell.

Burned Iraqi Children Said Turn Away
logged by alf at 14:29, Tuesday, 24th June, 2003

Tuesday, 17th June, 2003

Where I'm Coming From

by Monica Ali
Tuesday June 17, 2003
The Guardian

If, on one of those murderous nights, the knock came at our door, we knew what to do. I was three years old. My brother was five. Next door to our apartment building in Tejgoan was an orphanage, and in the grounds was an orchard. It was the big mango tree that would save us. We slept with our parents on the balcony, fully dressed, my father with a roll of banknotes in his sock. The week before, my father had been summoned, along with 15 of his colleagues, to a meeting at the Dhaka university campus. "Don't go," said my mother. Eleven men went to the meeting. None came back.

The streets belonged to the tanks: the Shermans, Pattons and Chafees of the Pakistan Army. Only the dead, piled in roadside ditches, could share the streets with impunity. If the knock came, my father would climb over the balcony rail on to that big mango tree. My mother would hand him his son and daughter, and we would go then in silence among the orphans.

When people talk to me now about my novel, the first question they ask is: "What inspired you to write this?" I cite a number of factors. My experience, for instance, of conflict between first- and second-generation immigrants. The stories that my father used to tell about village life. A book of case studies about Bangladeshi women garment workers in Dhaka and the East End of London, disparate lives drawn together by the common goal of self-empowerment. The question has turned into something of a greeting. And I respond in that semi-automatic way that we all tend to adopt with greetings. Very well, thanks. Not so bad. How are you? I tell the truth, but a truth so attenuated by the circumstances of the exchange that it casts as much light as a candle in a gale.

There is no "balcony scene" in Brick Lane. No account of the genocidal midwifery that delivered the Bangladeshi nation. My book does not trace my family history. It is not concerned with all that. And yet there is something there: difficult to define, but demanding - in my eyes, at least
- recognition.

There is a character in my novel called Hasina. She lives in Dhaka, while my protagonist and her family live in London's Tower Hamlets. The reader is introduced to her through a series of letters. Her life is a pedestrian (that is to say, unexceptional) tale of outrageous misfortune. How did I construct Hasina? From books, articles, academic researches? From that fastidious disclaimer, Imagination? The first-timer's bosom buddy, Experience? I can point to this and that. But the only thing that interests me in this analysis is the impulse to create her - and that brings me back to the Dhaka balcony: my inherited memory, my internalised folklore that tells me that life hangs by a thread.

The process of becoming a published author for the first time holds only a few mysteries. These are the chief ones. Why is selling the Catalan language rights the most exciting thing that ever happened to you in your life? And, why do you not keep a photocopy of the changes you marked all the way through the copy-edited manuscript so that when it goes missing for days in the post there is no need to start foaming at the mouth? The writing process is not like this. It nurses its mysteries like grievances against casual inquiry. When I am asked, "What inspired you to write this?", my response deals in black and white, not the half-tones which shade any passable writing.

Flights out of Dhaka were suspended for some time. My mother took us, my brother and I, to the airport every day for two weeks, not knowing when they would resume, not knowing - we were not on her British passport - if we would be allowed out of the country. On some days she thought it would be better to face the Pak tanks than the wrath of the crowd that mobbed the booking halls; a neater end to fall beneath the caterpillar tracks. But half way across the world there was a place she could call home and it gave her the strength, time after time, to push her way through.

The rules of civil war meant, of course, that my father - a government employee - could not come with us. He would try to find a way to join us and, in the meantime, concentrate on staying alive. My parents wrote to each other. They had agreed code words (they knew the letters would be read by the censor) for sensitive issues: passport, money, high commission. Then my father received a letter which puzzled him greatly. "I want to come back now," wrote my mother. "I want to come back to Dhaka with the children." He had no way of deciphering this. He wrote back: "Are you mad? Have you forgotten the small matter of the war?"

Home, you see, was not as she dreamed it. In London there was no one to meet us. My mother carried us across London on the buses and then got on a train to Manchester. She had no money left. My grandfather, who met us at the station, paid the guard. My grandmother was waiting at home. She was very concerned, she said, about how my mother intended to pay back the fare.

My father escaped from East Pakistan, over the border to India. From there he finally got permission to join his wife in the UK. It was a temporary situation. When things got sorted out, we would go back. His children settled into school, we stopped speaking to him in Bengali and then we stopped even understanding. The new status quo was accepted. There was no plan, after that, to "go home". Sounding philosophical, my father would
say: "I just got stuck here, that's all." And home, because it could never be reached, became mythical: Tagore's golden Bengal, a teasing counterpoint to our drab northern milltown lives.

A glossy women's magazine that interviewed me recently ran its piece under the headline: "I turned my life into a book." This was interesting. I did not grow up like Nazneen (my protagonist) in a small Bangladeshi village, have an arranged marriage, and move to Tower Hamlets unable to speak a word of English. But since reading that headline I have been trying it on for size. How much of what I have written as fiction is drawn from experience? "Going Home Syndrome", as one of the characters in the book terms it, might be a fertile area to examine. Many of the characters in Brick Lane nurture their dreams of home, even (or perhaps especially) the young radical who was born in this country and has never even visited Bangladesh. I cannot draw any clear parallels with my family history. But I can feel the reverberations. It is not so much a question of what inspired me. The issue is one of resonance.

For VS Naipaul, "finding the centre" has been an important part of his journey as a writer. Taking my first steps as a writer, I could argue, has involved the inverse process: seeking out the periphery. I find it difficult to fill these words with any meaning. The Muslim world (of which I have written a small section about) is at the centre of our gaze as never before; "subcontinent" literature (Narayan, Rushdie, now Seth, Mistry and so on) has always been more than a speck on my reading horizon, and many authors are firmly within the literary establishment; and in any case, what do we have, at the notional centre, to set against the periphery - VS Naipaul, writing about Wiltshire?

Periphery is, nevertheless, a word which is useful to me. Beyond the "inspiration" question, I could set lines of inquiry about my book into two broad camps. Tell us about "them", is one. The tyranny of representation - the phrase is not mine but belongs, I think, to CLR James - means that when I speak, my brown skin is the dominant signifier. The other reaction is rather different. What gives you the right to write about "us", when you're clearly one of "them"? In an audience recently at the Bengali World Literature Centre in the East End, a woman invited me to take a test. "How can you know what it is like to be a Bengali mother," she protested, "when you don't even speak our language? Come on, speak to us in Bangla." I've never subscribed to the "cricket test" and I declined the questioner's test also. (My Bengali is limited now to some tourist-phrase-type inquiries, a few nursery rhymes or song fragments and a quite extensive culinary

Of course, any literary endeavour must be judged on the work alone. It stands or falls on its own merits regardless of the colour, gender and so on of the author. A male author does not need "permission" to write about a female character, a white author does not transgress in taking a black protagonist. But the "two camp" split in my case brings me back to the idea of the periphery. How can I write about a community to which I do not truly belong? Perhaps, the answer is I can write about it because I do not truly belong. Growing up with an English mother and a Bengali father means never being an insider. Standing neither behind a closed door, nor in the thick of things, but rather in the shadow of the doorway, is a good place from which to observe. Good training, I feel, for life as a writer.

Brick Lane by Monica Ali is published by Doubleday (£12.99).

Where I'm Coming From
logged by alf at 17:14, Tuesday, 17th June, 2003

Monday, 16th June, 2003

Games and theories

Perhaps your best-known work involves using game theory to shed light on the evolution of different behavioural strategies in animals, the "Hawks and Doves" idea. How has this area developed?

If you look at the animal signalling literature now, it's entirely based on game theory. I've just finished a book on the evolution of animal signals where we talk about religion quite a bit. You mustn't think it is confined to human beings: religion, meaning ritual behaviour functioning to create emotional commitments - there is plenty of it. You find it in a group of hunting dogs about to go out for the day, in a group of birds about to migrate, and in some very odd circumstances in chimpanzees. Chimpanzees go in for a thing called a rain dance. Usually the adult males perform it: they jump up and down, they shout, they pull branches off trees, they go berserk. Nobody really knows what the function is.

There is one anecdote about a rain dance that really fascinates me. A group is going through the forest and they come to a waterfall, and the alpha male, only, proceeds to perform a rain dance. He splashes, he shouts, he throws rocks - it's a big deal. What I think is going on is that he is recruiting a force of nature to strengthen his own personal position, increasing his own prestige by allying himself with something "out there". Isn't that what priests do? - John Maynard Smith

New Scientist

Games and theories
logged by alf at 11:25, Monday, 16th June, 2003

Tuesday, 10th June, 2003

Singaporeans mourn culled cats

Cat lovers in Singapore have been mourning hundreds of stray animals destroyed under a public health campaign triggered by the Sars outbreak.

One group of cat-mad Singaporeans even held a memorial service at a five-star hotel - a means of protest that does not breach Singapore's strict laws on public demonstrations.

The Straits Times reported that many people wept openly at Sunday's service, which included a minute's silence for the victims, as well as songs and floral tributes.

One man who attended the 80-minute service said cats should be sterilised rather than killed.

"Cats provide companionship and good memories. It pains me and my family to see them being netted," he said.

In a more unusual protest, a Singaporean fitness instructor, Balakrishnan Matchap, had whiskers painted on his face when he took part in the annual National Vertical Marathon, which involved running up 43 stories backwards, the Associated Press reported.

Public protests in Singapore are extremely rare. All gatherings require a permit and speakers must seek police approval.

In another attempt to highlight the plight of their feline friends, animal welfare activists are promoting T-shirt campaigns and raising funds to build shelters for rescued strays.

The authorities estimate the number of stray cats in Singapore at more than 80,000.


Singaporeans mourn culled cats
logged by alf at 10:56, Tuesday, 10th June, 2003

It Couldn't Be Verse

June 8, 2003

The Democrats are trying hard to sprout hair on their chests.

They have to compete with the Bush buckoes to show they can be even more aggressive in fighting terrorist vermin than the cowboy in chief and his shoot-'em-up-now-and-check-for-weapons-later posse.

And so John Kerry toted up his manly deeds for Laura Blumenfeld of The Washington Post: hunting doves, gutting deer, riding a Harley, playing ice hockey, snowboarding, windsurfing, kitesurfing, Purple Hearting. (The only thing poor Joe Lieberman has is speeding and not wearing a seat belt, and the Breck Girl, as the Bushies call John Edwards, merely musters limp trash talk: "Mr. President: Bring it on.")

While chest-pounding, Senator Kerry let slip a lyrical side, reciting a poem of his own composition: "I had a talk with a deer today/we met upon the road some way . . . between his frequent snorts/He asked me if I sought his pelt/cause if I did he said he felt/quite out of sorts." So very Robert Frost (D-Mass.).

It's risky in politics, showing your feminine side, even for a woman. Gary Hart's colleagues were leery of his novel-writing. "Political journalists wanted to put you in a box," Mr. Hart recalls drily. "They thought I was strange because I was caught reading Tolstoy and Kierkegaard."

Mr. Hart's co-author on a novel, William Cohen, the Republican senator from Maine and Clinton defense secretary, wrote a book of gooey poetry about the "knot intrinsicate" and plucking "at the plum of your lips," and a Watergate elegy ("The foul breath of scandal hangs heavy from/the high ceilings/of Congress").

Jimmy Carter published a book of verse about peace and geese. "The geese passed overhead/and then without a word/we went down to a peaceful sleep/marveling at what we'd seen and heard." (That deserves the Nobel Geese Prize.)

A new book, subtitled "The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld," slyly arranges Rummy's real quotes into verse, like "Gerbil": "I feel like a gerbil/I get on that thing/And I run like hell."

Eugene McCarthy, 87, now at the Georgetown Retirement Residence, which he describes as "a cruise ship on the River Styx," muses it was easier to be a poet running for president on an antiwar platform. Though he has written genuine poems, like "The Public Man" — "His words rise, like water/Twice used, from the cistern pump/And then go out in a wavering line/As beagles run, intent on catching rabbits" — he agreed most pols were dead to real poetry.

"Once the Library of Congress published a book on the favorite poetry of members of Congress," he says. "The most popular poems were `If' and St. Francis's `Prayer for Animals.' One House member contributed a poem he'd written called `I Am the Daddy of a Nun.' "

Dennis Kucinich, the Democratic congressman from Ohio who's running for president, admits to writing hundreds of poems. Asked the subject matter, he replies: "Metaphysics. Love. Urban America."

"There was a whole series about life in the city — kind of a combination of Langston Hughes and Salvador Dali," says the former mayor of Cleveland. "Under the Patriot Act, they may be seized." Or executed.

As the president surveys his poetaster rivals, he should know that the U.N. boulevardier who betrayed him, Dominique Galouzeau de Villepin, just published an essay on poetry and some of his own poems. One he read in French to a reporter: "Man moves on, prosterned in the raucousness of the gongs/their body soaked in the salves of the dune/and the message of their hearts imprisoned in the schists/They instruct the dream directed by the hand of the blind helmsman/rustling still from the travels of lamentations and boats." Reason enough for Mr. Bush to break with France.

I call Mr. Kerry to talk about his inner frost — I mean, inner Frost.

"Poetry is a highly inflated word for it," he says. "I consider it doggerel." He says he loves Frost, Keats, Yeats, Emily Dickinson, Eliot and Neruda. "I do a great `Prufrock,' if you want to hear it," he offered. "I can do Kipling's `Gunga Din,' anytime you want. I'm ready."

Is he worried he might seem too flowery at a time when Mr. Bush's cactus locution is admired? Nah. "I can meet him at the O.K. Corral, too."

They can shoot it out with their trousers rolled.

It Couldn't Be Verse
logged by alf at 10:14, Tuesday, 10th June, 2003

Monday, 9th June, 2003

On the luminosity of being

For 2500 years, Buddhists have used a strict methodology in an attempt to free themselves of destructive emotions and become more compassionate, less selfish, happier human beings. Their experiences suggest that our minds are, to a degree, "plastic" a concept that neuroscientists have also been studying. Here Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, who has spent many hours debating the nature of mind with neuroscientists, explains the "inner science" of Buddhism, in particular its approach to perception, cognition and the emotions :

IN BUDDHISM, we make a distinction between two principal categories of experience. On the one hand are experiences related to and contingent on our senses. On the other are experiences that are less dependent on the senses, which Buddhists describe as "mental".

Sensory experiences are unmediated by language or concepts. They are direct and non-discriminatory. Take seeing a flower. Visual cognition is very direct -- it only apprehends the flower in terms of colours and shapes. But when you think about a flower -- a mental cognition -- then that includes flowers you have seen in the past as well as the flower you are seeing today.

If you constantly reaffirm the thought of the flower and focus on it, you are directly engaging with an object that is a construct of your mind -- not a physical object, but rather an imagined form of the flower. Thus the idea of something can get mixed up with its mental image.

In this way, many of our emotional "afflictions", such as attachment or desire, can increase to such a point that the image does not correspond to reality outside the mind. These "imaginary forms" might include what the West would call projections, or fantasies about something or someone.

Imagine a case where someone holds a nihilistic view and asserts the utter cessation of something that in reality has an ongoing existence. This is a distorted view, an expression of "afflictive" intelligence. If one simply responds to that affliction by saying, "That 's bad, I don 't like it", that doesn 't make the distorted view go away. You cannot make a distortion go away simply by reprimanding it. Rather, one needs to bring in reason. To counteract afflicted intelligence, you have to bring in unafflicted intelligence.

Let 's take this Western term "emotion"and draw on its Latin etymology of "that which sets in motion". In Buddhist understanding, there are two ways in which the mind is set in motion or aroused. One is cognitive, using reasoning and taking evidence into account. This more thoughtful mode tends to give rise to positive emotions, as in arousing loving kindness. Then there is another, much more spontaneous way in which the mind is set in motion. There may be a little bit of reasoning that goes on in this process, as when one looks at an object and says, "That 's attractive", but the reasoning is pretty flimsy.

A lot of the negative or destructive emotions arise from the more spontaneous category. Therefore from a Buddhist point of view, in dealing with the afflictions, understanding the nature of reality becomes very important because lack of understanding leads either to some kind of nihilism, or to false denial.

When Buddhists talk about afflictions of mind not being an inherent part of the mind, they are certainly not claiming that these afflictions are unnatural. Just like any other qualities of the mind, these afflictions are also innate aspects of it. Rather, the afflictions have not penetrated into what is called the luminous nature of mind, which is seen as its most fundamental aspect.

This claim is based on several premises. One is that the luminous nature of the mind is primordial, fundamental and essential. The second is that all the afflictions we experience are rooted in a fundamentally distorted way of perceiving the world. In some sense they do not have a solid, stable support -- they are not based on reality, so that makes them fragile.

Another premise is that powerful antidotes exist that allow us to counter these afflictions and their underlying basis. These antidotes engage with reality in valid ways. They are qualities of mind, which implies that they can be enhanced and cultivated.

Emotion is like death in that it is part of our mind, part of our life, part of our nature. However, within the realm of emotions, some are destructive, some are positive. So it is worthwhile analysing what kinds of emotion are destructive, and which are constructive or beneficial. With this awareness, let us try to minimise the destructive emotions, and let us try to increase the positive emotions, because we want a happier society.

Now I 'd like to say more about the fundamental nature of the mind. There is no reason to believe that the innate mind, the very essential luminous nature of awareness, has neural correlates, because it is not physical, not contingent upon the brain. So while I agree with neuroscience that gross mental events correlate with brain activity, I also feel that on a more subtle level of consciousness, brain and mind are two separate entities.

Indeed, I believe the automatic assumption in cognitive neuroscience that brain and mind are invariably two sides of the same activity limits the scope of scientific enquiry. That assumption means that science looks for its answers only within an arbitrarily limited framework. With so many new developments and discoveries in brain science, perhaps scientists might break out of this paradigm and expand the parameters brain science has set for itself.

For instance, one phenomenon I would like scientists to study is what Tibetans call "abiding in the state of clear light" after death. In this state, it is said, some advanced practitioners are able to remain in a meditative state for several days after the breath stops, during which time their body shows no signs of decomposition.

I am also interested in the idea of a "subtle cognition", almost beneath the threshold of consciousness. When one is simply sitting quietly and pondering something, and out of this quiet thinking you start to get angry, without any external stimuli at all, where is the causal arrow pointing?

Are there any compelling empirical grounds for asserting that the brain gave rise to that subtle cogitation leading to anger or other emotions? Or might this subtle threshold or quasi-conscious cogitation be having an impact upon the brain which, of course, would then have a reciprocal influence, arousing other emotions?

Since, from the Buddhist perspective, we consider all other mental processes to be derivative of the innate mind, the luminosity that is the fundamental nature of awareness, one could say that all mental processes that have been studied by neuroscience are emergent properties of this essential nature of awareness. I think there is quite a different perspective in modern neuroscience, where they are understood as emergent properties not of some essential luminosity of awareness, but of the brain. That's a big difference.

A crucial reason why this is important in Buddhism is that when you have such a total emphasis on environment and brain, as you do in neuroscience, you have to look to somebody else in order to change. They have to do it for you rather than you doing it yourself. Even many religious practitioners feel that any good change in their lives will come from outside, for example from God, without much personal effort. I think that's the greatest mistake.

This article was extracted from Destructive Emotions A dialogue with the Dalai Lama , narrated by Daniel Goleman (Bloomsbury 2003)

New Scientist Magazine 24 May 03

On the luminosity of being
logged by alf at 13:08, Monday, 9th June, 2003

Tuesday, 3rd June, 2003

M'sia: Don't buy original CDs and DVDs

By Winston Chai, CNETAsia

Anti-piracy groups in Malaysia are upset at comments made by a politician blaming piracy on the recording industry itself, through its policy of charging high prices for CDs and DVDs.

The refusal of recording companies to lower prices despite repeated calls by the government was helping fuel the trade in pirated movies, music and software, alleged Deputy Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister S. Subramaniam.

Music and movie companies were forcing consumers to opt for pirated versions, he said.

The minister pointed out that some genuine movie video CDs (VCD)--a popular format in Asia--cost as little as US$2.60, indicating that some profit is possible even at that price. These cheaper discs also do not get pirated, he said.

"Those priced at RM$30 (US$7.90) and above are normally the ones that get pirated. This proves that the price factor is the main reason consumers buy pirated CDs and VCDs," he told the news daily the New Straits Times.

Intellectual property rights advocates, such as the Recording Industry Association of Malaysia (RIM), are outraged at the minister's remarks.

Lam Tuck Seng, RIM's general manager told CNETAsia that the ends--being able to help consumers by offering a cheap product--did not justify the means.

"What is stolen is always cheap," he said, and disagreed with the minister's belief that consumers deserved a low price for CDs and DVDs.

Music and movies are luxury items and so should have prices fixed by the market and not the government, said Lam.

"Music, like movies is not a daily necessity. Hence consumers can make their own decision but there should not be a stolen market alternative," he said.

"In Malaysia, prices are fixed individually by the respective recording company. If one company fixes a price too high, it will find itself priced out of the market."

Lam said the RIM and its media partners have jointly issued a statement to voice their anger at what they described as a remark that was "unbecoming" of a minister.

However, he believes the minister's views are not widespread among government officials, and do not reflect Malaysia's stance on piracy.

"The Malaysian government has on occasions felt embarrassed by the continued pressure from intellectual property lobbying groups, but they have never endorsed piracy in any form," he said.

Malaysia, like several other piracy-plagued countries in Asia, is often a target of criticism from the U.S. government and its anti-piracy organizations, who feel Asian authorities should do more to stamp out the theft of intellectual property.

Dropping the price of legitimate music, movies and software to help stamp out piracy is a solution which has long been proposed by consumer groups around the world, but one which the recording companies and its allies disagree with.

Asia, in particular countries like China, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, has been under constant scrutiny by intellectual property rights groups for being abreeding ground for pirated material.

Last year, the region accounted for 87 percent of the seven million pirated DVDs seized globally.

M'sia: Don't buy original CDs and DVDs
logged by alf at 18:30, Tuesday, 3rd June, 2003

Stay God's hand



Three years ago, a former speechwriter to Presidents Reagan and Bush Sr, predicted terror attacks on America. Never before has life been so comfortable - but at what price, she asked. This is her warning

New York, November 30, 1998

I suppose it is commonplace to say it, but it’s true: there is no such thing as time. The past is gone and no longer exists, the future is an assumption that has not yet come, all you have is the moment — this one — but it too has passed . . . just now. The moment we are having is an awfully good one, though. History has handed us one of the easiest rides in all the story of man. It has handed us a wave of wealth so broad and deep that it would be almost disorientating if we thought about it a lot, which we don’t.

But: we know such comfort! We sleep on beds that are soft and supporting, eat food that is both good and plentiful. We touch small levers and heat our homes to exactly the degree we desire; the pores of our bare arms are open and relaxed as we read The Times in our T-shirts, while two feet away, on the other side of the plate-glass window, a blizzard rages. We turn levers and get clean water, push a button for hot coffee, open doors and get ice-cream, take short car trips to places where planes wait before whisking us across continents as we nap. It is all so fantastically fine.

Lately this leaves me uneasy. Does it you? Do you wonder how and why exactly we have it so different, so nice compared with thousands of years of peasants eating rocks? Is it possible that we, the people of the world, are being given a last great gift before everything changes? To me it feels like a gift. Only three generations ago, my family had to sweat in the sun to pull food from the ground.

Another thing. The marvels that are part of our everyday lives — computers, machines that can look into your body and see everything but your soul — are so astounding that most of us who use them don’t really understand exactly what they’re doing or how they do it. This too is strange. The day the wheel was invented, the crowd watching understood immediately what it was and how it worked. But I cannot explain with any true command how the MRI that finds a tumour works. Or how, for that matter, the fax machine works.

We would feel amazement, or even, again, a mild disorientation, if we were busy feeling and thinking long thoughts instead of doing — planning the next meeting, appointment, consultation, presentation, vacation. We are too busy doing these things to take time to see, feel, parse and explain amazement.

Which gets me to time.

We have no time! Is it that way for you? Everyone seems so busy. Once, a few years ago, I sat on the Spanish Steps in Rome. Suddenly I realised that everyone, all the people going up and down the steps, was hurrying along on his or her way somewhere. I thought, everyone is doing something. On the streets of Manhattan, they hurry along and I think, everyone is busy. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone amble, except at a summer place, in a long time. I am thinking here of a man I saw four years ago at a little pier in Martha’s Vineyard. He had plaid shorts and white legs, and he was walking sort of stiffly, jerkily. Maybe he had mild Parkinson’s disease, but I think: maybe he has just arrived and is trying to get out of his sprint and into a stroll.

All our splendour, our comfort, takes time to pay for. And affluence wants to increase; it carries within it an unspoken command: more! Affluence is like nature, which always moves toward new life. Nature does its job; affluence enlists us to do it. We hear the command for “More!” with immigrant ears that also hear “Do better!” or old American ears that hear “Sutter is rich, there’s gold in them thar hills, onward to California!” We carry California within us; that is what it is to be human, and American.

So we work. The more you have, the more you need, the more you work and plan. This is odd in part because of all the spare time we should have. We don’t, after all, have to haul water from the “crick”. We don’t have to kill an antelope for dinner. I can microwave a Lean Cuisine meal in four minutes and eat it in five. I should have a lot of extra time — more, say, than a cavewoman. And yet I feel I do not. And I think: that cavewoman watching the antelope turn on the spit, she was probably happily day-dreaming about how shadows played on the walls of her cave. She had time.

It’s not just work. We all know the applications of Parkinson’s Law, that work expands to fill the time allotted to complete it. This isn’t new. But this is: so many of us feel we have no time to cook and serve a lovely three-course dinner, to write the long, thoughtful letter, to tutor ever so patiently the child. But other generations, not so long ago, did. And we have more time-saving devices than they did. We invented new technologies so that work could be done more efficiently and quickly. We wished it done more quickly so we could have more leisure time. (Wasn’t that the plan? Or was it to increase our productivity?) But we have less leisure time, it seems, because these technologies encroach on our leisure time.

You can be beeped on safari! Be faxed while riding an elephant and receive e-mail while being menaced by a tiger. And if you can be beeped on safari, you will be beeped on safari. This gives you less time to enjoy being away from the demands of time.

Twenty years ago, when I was starting out at CBS on the radio desk, we would try each day to track down our roving foreign correspondents and get them to file on the phone for our morning news broadcasts. I would go to the daily log to see who was where. And not infrequently it would say that Smith, in Beirut, is “out of pocket”, ie, unreachable, unfindable for a few days. The official implication was that Smith was out in the field travelling with the guerrillas. But I thought it was code for “Smith is drunk”, or “Smith is on deep background with a really cute source”. I’d think, Oh, to be an out-of-pocket correspondent on the loose in Cairo, Jerusalem, Paris — what a thing.

But now there is no “out of pocket”. Now everyone can be reached and found, anywhere, anytime. Now there is no hiding place. We are “in the pocket”.

What are we in the pocket of? An illusion, perhaps, or rather many illusions: that we must know the latest, that we must have a say, that we are players, are needed, that the next score will change things, that through work we can quench our thirst, that, as they said in the sign over the entrance to Auschwitz, “Work Brings Freedom”. That we must bow to “More!” and pay homage to California. I live a life of only average intensity, and yet by 9pm I am quite stupid, struck dumb with stimuli fatigue. I am tired from ten hours of the unconscious strain of planning, meeting, talking, thinking. If you clench your fist for ten hours and then let go, your hand will jerk and tremble. My brain trembles.

I sit on the couch at night with my son. He watches TV as I read the National Enquirer and the Star. This is wicked of me, I know, but the Enquirer and the Star have almost more pictures than words; there are bright pictures of movie stars, of television anchors, of the woman who almost choked to death when, in a state of morning confusion, she accidentally put spermicidal jelly on her toast. These stories are just right for the mind that wants to be diverted by something that makes no demands.

I have time at nine. But I am so flat-lined that I find it hard to make the heartening phone call to the nephew, to write the long letter. Often I feel guilty and treat myself with Häagen-Dazs therapy. I will join a gym if I get time.

When a man can work while at home, he will work while at home. When a man works at home, the wall between workplace and living place, between colleague and family, is lowered or removed. Does family life spill over into work life? No. Work life spills over into family life. You do not wind up taking your son for a walk at work, you wind up teleconferencing during softball practice. This is not progress. It is not more time but less. Maybe our kids will remember us as there but not there, physically present but carrying the faces of men and women who are strategising the sale.

I often think how much I’d like to have a horse. Not that I ride, but I often think I’d like to learn. But if I had a horse, I would be making room for the one hour a day in which I would ride. I would be losing hours seeing to Flicka’s feeding and housing and cleaning and loving and overall wellbeing. This would cost money. I would have to work hard to get it. I would have less time.

Who could do this? The rich. The rich have time because they buy it. They buy the grooms and stable keepers and accountants and bill payers and negotiators for the price of oats. Do they enjoy it? Do they think, it’s great to be rich, I get to ride a horse? Oh, I hope so! If you can buy time, you should buy it. This year I am going to work very hard to get some.

DURING the summer, when you were a kid, your dad worked a few towns away and left at 8:30; your mum stayed home smoking and talking and ironing. You biked to the local schoolyard for summer activities — twirling, lanyard-making, dodgeball — until afternoon. Then you’d go home and play in the street. At 5:30 Dad was home and at six there was dinner — meatloaf, mashed potatoes and tinned corn. Then TV and lights out.

Now it’s more like this: Dad goes to work at 6:15, to the city, where he is an executive; Mum goes to work at the bank, where she’s a vice-president, but not before giving the sitter the keys and bundling the kids into the car to go to, respectively, soccer camp, arts camp, Chinese lessons, therapy, the swim meet, computer camp, a birthday party, a play date. Then home for an impromptu barbecue of turkey burgers and a salad with fresh Parmesan cheese followed by summer homework, Nintendo and TV — the kids lying splayed on the couch, dead eyed, like denizens of a Chinese opium den — followed by “Hi Mum”, “Hi, Dad”, and bed.

Life is so much more interesting now! It’s not boring, like 1957. There are things to do: the culture is broader, more sophisticated; there’s more wit and creativity to be witnessed and enjoyed. Mums, kids and dads have more options, more possibilities. This is good. The bad news is that our options leave us exhausted when we pursue them and embarrassed when we don’t.

Good news: mothers do not become secret Valium addicts out of boredom and loneliness, as they did 30 and 40 years ago. And Dad’s conversation is more interesting than his father’s. He knows how Michael Jordan acted on the Nike shoot, and tells us. The other night Dad worked late and then they all went to a celebratory dinner at Rao’s, where they sat in a booth next to Warren Beatty, who was discussing with his publicist the media campaign for Bulworth. Beatty looked great, had a certain watchful dignity, ordered the vodka penne.

Bad news: Mum hasn’t noticed but she’s half mad from stress. Her face is older than her mother’s, less innocent, because she has burnt through her facial subcutaneous fat and because she unconsciously holds her jaw muscles in a tense way. But it’s OK because the collagen, the Botox, the Retin-A and alpha hydroxy, and a better diet than her mother’s (Grandma lived on starch, it was the all-carbo diet) leave her looking more . . . fit. She does not have her mother’s soft, maternal weight. The kids do not feel a pillowy yielding when they hug her; they feel muscles and smell Chanel body moisturiser.

When Mother makes fund-raising calls for the school, she does not know it but she barks: “Yeah, this is Claire Marietta on the cookie drive we need your cookies tomorrow at three in the gym if you’re late the office is open till four or you can write a check for $12 any questions call me.” Click.

Mum never wanted to be Barbara Billingsley (who played a sitcom mother in the Fifties and Sixties). Mum got her wish.

WHAT WILL happen? How will the future play out? Well, we’re going to get more time. But it’s not pretty how it will happen, so if you’re in a good mood, stop reading here and go hug the kids and relax and have a drink and a nice pointless conversation with your spouse.

Here goes: it has been said that when an idea’s time has come a lot of people are likely to get it at the same time. In the same way, when something begins to flicker out there in the cosmos a number of people, a small group at first, begin to pick up the signals. They start to see what’s coming.

Our entertainment industry, interestingly enough, has plucked something from the unconscious of a small collective. For about 30 years now, but accelerating quickly, the industry has been telling us about The Big Terrible Thing. Space aliens come and scare us, nuts with nukes try to blow us up.

This is not new: in the 1950s Michael Rennie came from space to tell us in The Day the Earth Stood Still that if we don’t become more peaceful, our planet will be obliterated. But now in movies the monsters aren’t coming close, they’re hitting us directly. Meteors the size of Texas come down and take out the eastern seaboard, volcanoes swallow Los Angeles, Martians blow up the White House. The biggest grosser of all time was about the end of a world, the catastrophic sinking of an unsinkable entity.

Something’s up. And deep down, where the body meets the soul, we are fearful. We fear, down so deep it hasn’t even risen to the point of articulation, that with all our comforts and amusements, with all our toys and bells and whistles . . . we wonder if what we really have is . . . a first-class stateroom on the Titanic. Everything’s wonderful, but a world is ending and we sense it.

I don’t mean “Uh-oh, there’s a depression coming”, I mean “We live in a world of three billion men and hundreds of thousands of nuclear bombs, missiles, warheads; it’s a world of extraordinary germs that can be harnessed and used to kill whole populations, a world of extraordinary chemicals that can be harnessed and used to do the same.”

Three billion men, and it takes only half a dozen bright and evil ones to harness and deploy.

What are the odds it will happen? Put it another way: what are the odds it will not? Low. Non-existent, I think.

When you consider who is gifted and crazed with rage . . . when you think of the terrorist places and the terrorist countries . . . who do they hate most? The Great Satan, the United States. What is its most important place? Some would say Washington. I would say the great city of the United States is the great city of the world, the dense, ten-mile-long island called Manhattan, where the economic and media power of the nation resides, the city that is the psychological centre of our modernity, our hedonism, our creativity, our hardshouldered hipness, our unthinking arrogance.

If someone does the big, terrible thing to New York or Washington, there will be a lot of chaos and a lot of lines going down, a lot of damage, and a lot of things won’t be working so well any more. And thus a lot more . . . time. Something tells me we won’t be teleconferencing and faxing about the Ford account for a while.

The psychic blow — and that is what it will be as people absorb it, a blow, an insult that reorders and changes — will shift our perspective and priorities, dramatically, and for longer than a while. Something tells me more of us will be praying, and hard, one side-benefit of which is that there is sometimes a quality of stopped time when you pray. You get outside time.

Maybe, of course, I’m wrong. But I think of the friend who lives on Park Avenue who turned to me once and said, out of nowhere: “If ever something bad is going to happen to the city, I pray each day that God will give me a sign. That He will let me see a rat stand up on the sidewalk. So I’ll know to gather the kids and go.” I absorbed this and, two years later, just a month ago, poured out my fears to a former high official of the United States Government. His face turned grim. I apologised for being morbid. He said no, he thinks the same thing. He thinks it will happen in the next year and a half. I was surprised, and more surprised when he said that an acquaintance, a former arms expert for another country, thinks that it will happen in a matter of months.

So now I have frightened you. But we must not sit around and be depressed. “Don’t cry,” Jimmy Cagney once said. “There’s enough water in the goulash already.”

We must take the time to do some things. We must press government officials to face the big, terrible thing. They know it could happen tomorrow; they just haven’t focused on it because there’s no Armageddon constituency. We should press for more from our foreign intelligence and defence systems, and press local, state and federal leaders to become more serious about civil defence and emergency management.

The other thing we must do is the most important.

I once talked to a man who had a friend who had done something that took his breath away. She was single, middle-aged and middle class, and wanted to find a child to love. She searched the orphanages of South America and took the child who was in the most trouble, sick and emotionally unwell. She took the little girl home and loved her hard, and in time the little girl grew and became strong, became, in fact, the kind of person who could and did help others. Twelve years later, at the girl’s high-school graduation, she won the award for best all-round student. She played the piano for the recessional. Now she’s at college.

The man’s eyes grew moist. He had just been to the graduation. “These are the things that stay God’s hand,” he told me. I didn’t know what that meant. He explained: these are the things that keep God from letting us kill us all.

So be good. Do good. Stay His hand. And pray. When the Virgin Mary makes her visitations — she has never made so many in all of recorded history as she has in this century — she says: Pray! Pray unceasingly! I myself don’t, but I think about it a lot and sometimes pray when I think. But you don’t have to be Roman Catholic to take this advice. Pray. Unceasingly. Take the time.

Stay God's hand
logged by alf at 13:47, Tuesday, 3rd June, 2003


NEW DELHI (31 Aug 2001) - Worried that the darkness may be encouraging a baby boom, the New Delhi government is considering giving away cheap television sets to distract the masses at night.

Consideration of this innovative measure emerged on Wednesday during a session of Parliament.

- Health Minister C.P. Thakur

According to a report by The Times of India, MPs expressed concerns that India would soon overtake China as the world\'s most populous country given its current rate of population growth.

Union Health Minister C. P. Thakur 'candidly admitted' that an entertainment-starved people indulged in procreation, said the report.

"Entertainment is an important component of the population policy. We want people to watch television," the minister was quoted as saying.

When Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav asked him if cheap television sets could be made available to the poor, Mr Thakur said the government would indeed consider that option.

The Health Minister also said that a contraceptive pill for men, currently being developed by a government institute, would soon be on the market.

He agreed with a member of Parliament that men were reluctant to adopt contraceptive methods.

The government, he said, was keen to try out pills on men if only to drive home the point that all were equal in bed.

Providing incentives to states which had done well in arresting the population growth rate was also important, he added.

logged by alf at 11:41, Tuesday, 3rd June, 2003


from The New Republic

History is not physics. Studying the past does not yield objective laws that can unerringly predict the course of events. But peoples do draw lessons from history and change their behavior accordingly. Western European countries, for instance, took the experience of two world wars as reason to change radically their relations with one another. The United States took the experience of the Great Depression as reason to alter the relationship between government and the market. Historical lessons can also be unlearned or forgotten. The New Left of the 1960s, for instance, forgot the lessons of an earlier "God that failed" and projected the same hopes for a communist utopia onto Castro's Cuba or Ho Chi Minh's Vietnam that earlier generations had projected onto the Soviet Union. And, today, the right is going through its own bout of historical amnesia. Conservatives, forgetting the lessons of the early twentieth century, are attempting to rehabilitate the long-discredited strategy of imperialism. The revival is centered in East Coast journals and think tanks, from National Review and The Wall Street Journal editorial page in New York to the American Enterprise Institute, The Weekly Standard, Policy Review, and the Project for the New American Century in Washington. In an October 2001 Weekly Standard cover story, Max Boot called on the United States "unambiguously to embrace its imperial role." In Foreign Affairs last July, Thomas Donnelly, a former Lockheed official who is a senior fellow at the Project for the New American Century, wrote that "American imperialism can bring with it new hopes of liberty, security, and prosperity." In Policy Review last April, Stanley Kurtz called for a new "democratic imperialism." Although the Bush administration's foreign policy is a mix of different ideologies, it has clearly been influenced by this new imperialism. Evidence can be found in the cultlike popularity of Theodore Roosevelt, the president many conservatives take as their guide to a neo-imperial strategy. (George W. Bush has declared Roosevelt his favorite president, and Donald Rumsfeld displays a plaque quoting TR on his Pentagon desk.) More important, it is evident in the administration's attitude toward international institutions, its arguments for invading and occupying Iraq, its case for preventive war, and even its international economic strategy. This new imperialism differs in some respects from the older U.S. imperialism of Roosevelt and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge-the new imperialists don't assume, for instance, the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race or seek the spread of Christian civilization-but it is sufficiently similar to raise the question of whether these new imperialists are reviving a strategy that failed the United States 80 years ago. That failure was understood most clearly by Woodrow Wilson, who offered not only the most compelling critique of U.S. imperialism but also the most thoughtful alternative-a liberal internationalism that served the United States well in the second half of the twentieth century and could guide Americans again today.

Imperialism, to Wilson, was not an instrument of democracy but an obstacle to it.
There have been empires since the Greeks and Romans, but modern imperialism, and the term "imperialism" itself, appeared in the late nineteenth century. From 1870 to 1914, when World War I began, the great European powers and Japan carved up Asia and Africa into colonies, protectorates, and client regimes. The United States, still recovering from the Civil War and having not yet completed its continental expansion, initially forswore any imperial ambitions. But, by the 1890s, a powerful lobby led by Roosevelt (who would become assistant secretary of the Navy in the McKinley administration) and Lodge was calling for an "expansionist" foreign policy. Like their European counterparts, the American imperialists were worried about ensuring national prosperity. They contended, particularly after the depression of the mid-1890s, that, if the United States failed to gain a foothold in Asia and Africa, it would be denied access to raw materials and important markets for the surplus of goods that its factories could now produce. But Roosevelt and Lodge also saw imperialism through the prism of geopolitics, social Darwinism, and evangelical Protestantism. Roosevelt regarded it as integral to a struggle for the "domination of the world" that the United States must either win or lose. If the United States failed to seize the Hawaiian Islands, Roosevelt warned in 1898, they could be "transformed into the most dangerous possible base of operations against our Pacific cities." Imperialism also offered a way to provide moral uplift to Americans-by fostering a spirit of what Roosevelt called "national greatness"-and to extend the benefits of American, and more broadly Anglo-Saxon and Christian, civilization to the "barbarous" peoples of Asia and Africa. Wrote Roosevelt in 1901, "It is our duty toward the people living in barbarism to see that they are freed from their chains." The American imperialists first got their chance in 1898. Accusing the Spanish of blowing up the battleship Maine in the Havana harbor (the explosion later turned out to be from a defective boiler), the United States declared war on Spain and seized its possessions in the Caribbean and the Pacific, including Cuba and the Philippines. The United States, it seemed, had enthusiastically entered the imperial fray. Yet, in less than a decade, the United States would abandon its imperial mission and, five years after that, explicitly repudiate it. The abandonment of imperialism began, ironically, with Roosevelt. While publicly continuing to support an imperialist foreign policy, Roosevelt actually allowed U.S. possessions to shrink during his two terms as president (1901-1908) and resisted pleas to establish new U.S. bases in China and the Caribbean. In 1902, he wrote to prominent New York lawyer Frederick Coudert, "Barring the possible necessity of fortifying the Isthmian canal or getting a naval station, I hope it will not become our duty to take a foot of soil south of us." Like Roosevelt, Wilson was an early advocate of imperialism-for example, arguing in 1902 that the "impulse to expansion is the natural and wholesome impulse, which comes from a consciousness of matured strength"-but refrained from endorsing it once he ascended to the presidency. In 1913, his first year in office, Wilson withdrew America's support for a bank consortium in China that the United States, along with Britain and other occupying powers, had established to parcel out China's economy. "I will not help any man buy a power which he ought not to exercise over fellow beings," he commented. He also pressured Congress to grant early independence to the Philippines and citizenship to Puerto Ricans. Most important, Wilson made self-determination and an end to colonialism the hallmarks of his plan for ending World War I and preventing future wars. During the Senate debate in 1920 over the League of Nations, Wilson argued that Americans had "a choice between ... the ideal of democracy, which represents the rights of free peoples everywhere to govern themselves, and... the ideal of imperialism, which seeks to dominate by force and unjust power." Imperialism, to Wilson, was not an instrument of democracy but an obstacle to it.

Imperialism was not simply a strategy or policy but a system of international relations that had to be thoroughly uprooted
What initially turned Roosevelt privately and Wilson publicly against imperialism were the nationalist backlashes that America's imperialist policies provoked. Roosevelt and other American imperialists had believed they could impose U.S. civilization upon conquered peoples as readily as they had transformed the continental frontier. But, in the first decades of the twentieth century, they were to discover that imperial intervention inspired anti-imperial nationalist movements that frustrated U.S. objectives. Roosevelt had promised to "civilize" the Filipinos, but, soon after the United States took power in 1898, it faced a succession of violent national rebellions. By 1902, at least 4,000 Americans and 200,000 Filipinos had been killed. When World War I began, Roosevelt finally urged U.S. withdrawal from the Philippines. Wilson experienced similar frustration in Mexico. The Mexican Revolution had begun in 1910, and the next year liberal constitutionalist Francisco Madero overthrew dictator Porfirio Diaz. In 1913, Madero was murdered and replaced by General Victoriano Huerta. With Mexico on the verge of civil war, Wilson landed troops in Veracruz to depose the unpopular Huerta. "I am going to teach the South American republics to elect good men," Wilson declared. But Huerta used Wilson's intervention to rally support against Yankee imperialism. And Huerta's successor, the revolutionary Venustiano Carranza, fearful of being identified with the Yankee invaders, rebuffed Wilson's diplomatic overtures. Wilson, biographer Kendrick A. Clements writes, was "stunned by the fury with which the invasion was greeted by Mexicans of all political persuasions." Although Roosevelt and others urged him to impose a pliant regime on Mexico by force, Wilson instead withdrew the troops and recognized Carranza. "There are in my judgment no conceivable circumstances which would make it right for us to direct by force or threat of force the internal processes of what is a revolution as profound as that which occurred in France," Wilson wrote to his secretary of war in August 1914. Wilson's opposition to imperialism was hardened by World War I. Proponents of empire had previously argued that imperial expansion would reduce the chances of global war by eliminating unstable regimes in Africa and Asia. "Peace cannot be had until the civilized nations have expanded in some shape over the barbarous nations," wrote Roosevelt in 1894. But, by making the struggle for imperial domination integral to a nation's power and prosperity, imperialism instead led to a succession of conflicts culminating in world war: the Russo-Japanese war in 1904-1905 over Manchuria and Korea; the clashes between Germany and France over French North Africa in 1906 and in 1911; the Anglo-German naval arms race for control of the seas and the world's commerce; the growing tensions in the Middle East, where oil had been discovered; and, finally, the outbreak of war in 1914 between Austria and Russia over Turkey's former possessions in the Balkans, a conflict that quickly pulled in all of Europe's great powers. When the United States entered the war in 1917, Wilson would publicly blame it on German militarism. But, when it came to making proposals to prevent future wars, Wilson showed that he believed imperial rivalry lay at the root of the conflagration. "For my own part," he told the Senate in 1920, "I am as intolerant of imperialistic designs on the part of other nations as I was of such designs on the part of Germany." Wilson saw imperialism not simply as a strategy or policy but as a system of international relations that had to be thoroughly uprooted. It was characterized by a hierarchy of power in which the larger, more powerful nations competed violently with each other to dominate the smaller, less powerful ones. To the extent it didn't immediately lead to war, it was because of a coincidental and transient balance of power among the larger powers. The system itself, he believed, was inherently unstable as well as unjust.

Wilson didn't believe he could eliminate hierarchies of power, but he contrived to create a mediating system of international law and organizations that would protect the sovereignty and independence of smaller, weaker nations. Within this realm, all nations would become equal, just as all citizens were legally equal, regardless of their strength or wealth, within a democracy. In his Fourteen Points, which he announced to Congress in January 1918, and in the draft charter of a new League of Nations that he wrote and introduced the next year, Wilson called for phasing out colonialism, eliminating protectionist trade barriers, and establishing a worldwide system of free trade. "There must be, not a balance of power, but a community of power," he explained, "not organized rivalries, but an organized common peace." Like Roosevelt, Wilson believed that Americans were chosen to transform the backward nations of the world. He thought of the United States "as the light of the world as created to lead the world in the assertion of the rights of peoples and the rights of free nations." Citing this commitment to global democracy, some of today's neoconservatives, including my colleague Lawrence F. Kaplan, have argued that they are the true heirs of Wilsonianism. But, unlike the turn-of-the-century imperialists or today's neoconservatives, Wilson did not believe the world's great powers, acting individually, should impose their political beliefs or economic systems on former colonies or protectorates. Instead, Wilson believed the great nations had to act together within an organization such as the League of Nations. He proposed a "mandate system" by which the transition to self-government in Africa or Asia would be overseen by smaller, non-imperial nations, such as Sweden. Wilson believed in spreading democracy and Christian civilization, but he believed the United States had to do it through international organizations and outside the framework of imperial power. At Versailles, America's allies rejected Wilson's proposals for free trade and an end to imperialism. They insisted that German aggression was the sole cause of World War I and sought to curb it through reparations and a divvying up of German colonies. Back home, Lodge and conservative Republicans rejected even the weakened League of Nations because they feared it put America's foreign policy at the mercy of an international organization. Wilson's internationalism was shelved for two decades, but the outbreak of World War II, precipitated by Germany, Italy, and Japan's efforts to conquer Europe, Africa, and Asia, confirmed Wilson's warnings that the system of imperialism, if not uprooted, would again lead to war. And so the Franklin Roosevelt and Truman administrations adopted the outlines of Wilson's approach. They made ending imperialism and dismantling trade and currency blocs one of their principal war aims; and, rejecting Wilson's reliance on a single organization, they built many international organizations-including the United Nations, NATO, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank-that attempted to create a "community of power" without ignoring existing disparities of power. The events of the last 50 years have confirmed the correctness of this neo-Wilsonian strategy. The second half of the twentieth century, when compared with the first, was prosperous and pacific. The international institutions the United States built helped to win the cold war against the Soviet Union, which under Stalin became heir to czarist Russia's imperial ambitions. The British, French, Germans, Italians, and Dutch abandoned their empires and subordinated their national ambitions to a new, supranational organization, the European Union. Under the IMF, gatt, and now the World Trade Organization, the world has tempered the older cycle of boom and extreme bust. In addition, the World Bank-along with the United Nations, the European Union, and NATO-has, to a considerable extent, taken over the civilizing and stabilizing functions that the imperial nations once claimed for themselves. Some of these efforts have been less than successful, but, in Africa and Asia, these organizations have helped guide former colonies toward self-government. As a last resort, the United Nations and NATO have sanctioned the use of force to protect or expand the community of power-in 1991, the United Nations backed the coalition that drove Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, defending the sovereignty of a smaller, weaker nation, and, in 1995 and 1999, NATO took action against Slobodan Milosevic in the former Yugoslavia.

Republican conservatives embraced this Wilsonian approach grudgingly during the cold war, backing NATO, if not the United Nations, as a means to defeat communism. But, after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, conservatives divided into two camps. Some, led by former Reagan official Pat Buchanan and House Republicans, reverted to the isolationism and protectionism of 1920s Republicans. Others, led by neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol, Richard Perle, and Robert Kagan, continued to advocate the transformation of the world in America's image, but they repudiated Wilson's internationalist methods in favor of Roosevelt's imperial strategy. As Kristol explained in Commentary in January 2000, "[T]here is a fundamental difference between us and the true Wilsonians-between, that is, the muscular patriotism of Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan and the utopian multilateralism of Woodrow Wilson and Bill Clinton." Like Roosevelt and the late-nineteenth-century expansionists, the new imperialists want to transform the politics and allegiances of countries and regions, and they are willing to use force unilaterally to do so. Like the old imperialists, the new ones see overseas intervention in evangelical, although secular, terms. They believe in what the Hoover Institution's Dinesh d'Souza has called "America's evident moral superiority" and see the United States as having a special responsibility to transform the world in its image. "[I]mperialism as the midwife of democratic self-rule is an undeniable good," Kurtz writes.

The organizing principle of empire rests on the existence of an overarching power that creates and enforces the principle of hierarchy, but is not itself bound by such rules.
And, like Roosevelt, they see the politics of this new imperialism as an expression of patriotism and of support for "national greatness." The new imperialists are even less equivocal than the old in rejecting multilateral institutions. Now that the United States has become the premier world power, they argue, it has no need for international organizations except on an ad hoc basis. Unlike Wilson, or contemporary Wilsonians such as Bill Clinton, they actually prefer for the United States to act alone or in ad hoc coalitions that the United States dominates. And they despise the United Nations, which Perle has described as the "chatterbox on the Hudson" and columnist Charles Krauthammer has opined should "sink ... into irrelevance." Wilson wanted a world in which the community of power would eventually overshadow the balance of power. The new imperialists regard that as a dangerous illusion. They think the United States will always have to depend on superior military power for its security; employing it, if necessary, to eliminate or intimidate potential competitors and adversaries. Wilson wanted a mediating realm of equal, independent nations governed by Kantian moral universality, in which what is justifiable for one country must be justifiable for all. The new imperialists invoke America's global mission to limit the prerogatives of other nations but not the United States. They support sustained violations of other nations' sovereignty, for instance, in the name of nonproliferation and human rights, but reject virtually any infringements on U.S. sovereignty at all. As Stephen Peter Rosen wrote in The National Interest, "The organizing principle of empire rests ... on the existence of an overarching power that creates and enforces the principle of hierarchy, but is not itself bound by such rules." During Bush's presidency, the primary goal of the new imperialists has been winning support for an invasion of Iraq that would overthrow Saddam's regime and transform the entire region. By democratizing Iraq and pulling its oil industry out of the Saudi-dominated opec, they believed they could bring the region into America's orbit in much the way the older imperialists had imagined turning the western Pacific into an American sphere of influence. Colin Powell and the State Department, by contrast, advocated conditioning the invasion on U.N. support. But, even after Bush acceded to Powell's arguments and went to the United Nations in September 2002, it was clear that the United States was committed to an invasion with or without U.N. support. After Baghdad fell, Powell once again advocated a Wilsonian approach, but once again he appears to have lost the debate to the neo-imperialists in the Pentagon. The United States has taken control of Iraq's oil industry (hinting already it will not honor opec quotas) and shunned international supervision of Iraq's transition to self-rule. If the Bush administration continues its present course, Iraq will be a good test of whether America's new imperial strategy can escape the pitfalls that doomed the last one. Indeed, there are already warning signs that the United States could encounter the same anti-imperial nationalism in Iraq that bedeviled it in the Philippines in the early 1900s and in Mexico in 1914. Since Saddam's statue fell on April 9, there have been continual demonstrations calling for the United States to leave Iraq. (By contrast, there have been very few organized expressions of support for the U.S. occupation.) On May 20, in Baghdad, 10,000 marched from a Sunni mosque to a Shia shrine bearing signs that read, no, no, no u.s.a. The two major Shia clerics currently vying for leadership-Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr Al Hakim and Moktada Al Sadr-have both called for the United States to leave Iraq. Even the generally pro-American Kurdish leaders have turned truculent since the U.S. decision to postpone the creation of an interim Iraqi government. The U.S. show of force in Iraq may have cowed neighboring regimes, but it does not seem to have intimidated Islamic radicals, who have resumed and even stepped up terrorist attacks in the region. Writing in the British Guardian, Saad Al Fagih, a leading Saudi dissident, warned that the U.S. invasion and occupation in Iraq could strengthen Islamic radicalism: "The invasion and occupation of Iraq will never be seen as a liberation. The sight of U.S. tanks in Baghdad has been regarded as the most humiliating event for Arabs and Muslims since 1967. ... [Osama] Bin Laden and his supporters can now be expected to see his war as more justified than ever because of the occupation of Iraq." Many European intelligence agencies seem to agree. Americans generally interpret this growing Islamic radicalism as a new phenomenon. And to some extent it is. But it is also a particularly ugly manifestation of a Third World nationalism that has frustrated imperialist efforts since China's Boxer Rebellion of 1900. In neighboring Iran, for instance, the Islamic radicals of the late '70s saw themselves as the successors to nationalist Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq, whom the United States had helped overthrow in 1953. Olivier Roy, an authority on and critic of radical Islam, wrote in The New York Times this month, "The United States cannot stand alone when dealing with the driving force in the Middle East. This is neither Islamism nor the appetite for democracy, but simply nationalism-whether it comes in the guise of democracy, secular totalitarianism or Islamic fervor." Nor has the Bush administration's imperialist approach been limited to Iraq. It has been evident in its dismissive attitude toward European allies that have worked closely with the United States in the Balkans and Afghanistan and in its rejection of international treaties. The administration has even adopted the rudiments of a protectionist economic strategy. While mouthing support for free trade, it has slapped tariffs on imported steel and, instead of allowing the dollar's value to reflect impersonal currency markets, has driven down its price by actively encouraging speculation against it. Reducing the dollar's value against other countries' currencies makes U.S. exports cheaper and their imports more expensive. It is equivalent to putting a tariff on imports and is likely to elicit reprisals from abroad.

The Bush administration's rejection of international institutions, its readiness to wage aggressive, preventive wars to dominate a vital region, and its protectionist trade strategy have already aroused considerable popular opposition-not just in surrounding Arab nations, but in Europe and Asia as well. In recent elections in countries as diverse as Belgium, Germany, Spain, South Korea, and Pakistan, the parties most identified with opposition to U.S. foreign policy emerged victorious.

The best way for the United States to retain its superiority is to repudiate the very strategy that the new imperialists have devised to perpetuate it.
This popular opposition is already sparking a challenge to U.S. hegemony. Initially, such a challenge is taking the form of terrorism by Islamic radicals-asymmetric military challenges, in the current jargon-and of what political scientists call "soft balancing." These latter tactics focus on economic policy and on diplomacy in the United Nations, NATO, and other international organizations. In response to U.S. steel tariffs, the European Union has convinced the World Trade Organization to rule against their legality and has refused to remove its ban on genetically modified food imports. EU hostility to the United States also contributed to the failure of last February's World Trade Organization negotiations in Tokyo. Also, according to Cox News, "Many Muslim clerics [have begun] demanding that Arab countries sell oil for euros, not dollars"-and the Russian and Iranian parliaments are considering doing exactly that. If a significant percentage of oil sales were in euros rather than dollars, the price of oil imports would rise in the United States. More important, the United States would lose the freedom it now has to run large budget deficits financed by oil exporters using their surplus dollars to buy Treasury notes. There is also growing discussion in Europe of expanding the European Union to meet the challenge of U.S. hegemony. In a recent report on Europe's economic future, France's leading think tank, the Institut Français des Rélations Internationales, warned that, if Europe doesn't want to be dominated by the United States, it must create an economic bloc that would stretch to Russia in the east and to Arab North Africa in the south. Such a bloc would enjoy natural resources and a pool of well-educated professionals and low-wage service workers. Eventually, attempts to balance America's imperial efforts may even take "hard," military forms. The U.S. war in Iraq pushed the EU countries closer to developing an independent military, with Germany, France, Belgium, and Luxembourg meeting in April to plan a new, multinational force. The war also brought France, Germany, and Russia closer together. A military, as well as economic, alliance between Western Europe and nuclear-armed Russia could one day pose a real threat to U.S. dominance. Together with the inevitable growth of China as an economic and military power, it could lead to a world divided into hostile U.S., Euro-Russian, and Chinese power blocs. That's highly speculative, of course, but this disaggregation of a "unipolar" world dominated by a single imperial power into hostile alliances has happened once before-during the last era of British-dominated great-power imperialism. The new American imperialists, who view the world as a hierarchy governed by military power, would argue that the development of such blocs is inevitable-unless the United States actively discourages its allies as well as rogue states from competing against it. But Wilsonians see the world and the future differently. They would argue that, by encouraging supranational institutions and agreements, and by exercising its authority benignly, the United States stands a far better chance of preventing the older imperial rivalries from reemerging. Realists, such as University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape, concur. Writes Pape, "Aside from the Soviet Union, major powers have never made serious efforts to balance against the United States. The reason is not American weakness. The United States has been the world's strongest state throughout the 20th century and a sole superpower since the end of the Cold War. ... Rather, the key reason is America's unparalleled reputation for nonaggressive intentions." The best way for the United States to retain its superiority, in other words, is to repudiate the very strategy that the new imperialists have devised to perpetuate it. An imperial strategy is inherently self-defeating. Wilson understood that paradox in 1919, and it was borne out by America's experience in the last half of the twentieth century. But it is a historical lesson being ignored by the conservatives who now shape foreign policy in Washington. They believe the United States has entered a new world in which the lessons of the old no longer apply. That is almost certainly wrong. History is not physics. But we ignore its lessons at our peril.

John B. Judis is a senior editor at TNR.

logged by alf at 10:32, Tuesday, 3rd June, 2003