Monthly Archives: September 2012

American Decline: The Politicians

Shadia Drury has a piece in Free Inquiry on the decay of American democracy. The problem is not with the quality of the institutions but the character of the politicians. She points to an erosion of courage and moderation among the political class.

Waning courage:

[Politicians] are motivated by fear—fear that they will find themselves facing a well-funded opponent when seeking reelection. The result of this widespread corruption is gargantuan profits for large corporations that ship jobs overseas, environmental degradation, impoverishment of the working classes, shrinking of the middle class, and useless wars in the Middle East that serve neither the interests of America nor her client state—they merely augment the financial coffers of security companies and the arms industry. It is time for Americans to look for courage among their elected leaders. It is time to expose the cowards who have not the courage to stand up for the good of their nation.

Waning moderation:

America’s political elites are plagued by a sharp rise in fanaticism and a corresponding decline in moderation.

The divide between Democrats and Republicans has reached religious proportions. Ironically, this is happening when the difference between the two political parties is less and less discernible.

I agree on the shoddy quality of the American political elite at present. I confess to not  knowing what are the causes and what may be the remedy for this decline.

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Walls – What Are They Good For?

Walls, barriers, border fences – Marcello Di Cintio had the good idea to write book (Walls: Travels Along the Barricades) describing his travels to several of them around the world.

Are these dividing lines a good thing or not?

To the conventional mind, of course they are evil! Diversity is good, separation is bad.

Note this assumption in Will Ferguson’s review of Walls:

the most divided, disputed regions on earth, where violent religious, cultural, political and economic divides are made of steel and concrete, in razor wire and desert berms … provide a testament to the psychological, social and environmental damage they create.

Wait a minute. Violent divides are never made of steel, concrete, razor wire, or desert berm. Violent divides are only ever made of rival groups, fighting. Damage is created by conflicts, not by walls.

In fact, walls generally lessen conflict. In the West Bank, the barrier has lowered attacks; it is the settlements that are the problem. The walls in Belfast helped to end the violence there. The division of Cyprus ended the fighting. Border fences too (India’s with Bangladesh for instance) are there for a reason.

Walls, barriers, border fences – often they have a useful purpose.

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Perry Anderson on India

Perry Anderson has a trilogy of essays in the London Review of Books on India:
Gandhi
Partition
Nehru and After

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A Trudeau Political Dynasty?

Could Justin Trudeau be the next Canadian Prime Minister? As news breaks that Justin Trudeau is going to seek the Liberal Party leadership, a poll finds he would lead it to victory. The National Post reports a Forum Research poll:

if Mr. Trudeau were leader of the Liberal Party and an election were held today, the Grits would win, handily, with 39% of the popular vote.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives would come in second, with 32% of the vote, and the NDP — today the Official Opposition and led by Thomas Mulcair — would return to third-party status, with just 20% of the vote.

Some say: Lamentable effect of name recognition in a celebrity-obsessed world! Maybe.

Others say: Better to judge him only on his record and positions. But this is not realistic. He has no record. His policy positions are typically vague and liable to shift.

My view: People are responding by using their natural political intuition, which is to judge him by using the kinds of shortcut we use in everyday life. To know who someone is, ask who is their family. We have little information about Justin Trudeau. But what information we do have is about his parents. You can tell a lot about someone by looking at their parents.

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Aid Realism

An idealistic aid worker in Haiti feels the onset of realism:

I still believe in helping people. I still believe my heart is in the right place. But I question myself more these days, and question what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. I question whether the work I’ve done here will really even make any difference. Is it even working? We’ll know that as we conduct final follow-ups over the next two months, now that production and installations are nearly finished. I’m wary though. Every biosand filter I’ve ever seen in Haiti that was not one of ours was broken and unused. Just today I went to get a sandwich and found four or five of them in front of the sandwich shop, all in various stages of malrepair, waiting to be turned to rubble and probably used to patch holes in the street.

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To Separate or to Unite

Frank Jacobs and Parag Khanna in The NYT speculate on areas of the world that might either break-up or unite.

I’m generally for separating ethnic groups in conflict, so let’s take a look.

First, Jacobs and Khanna’s envisaged break-ups:

1-Mali. I am mildly for the Tuaregs of the North to separate. Quite what form that might best take remains to be seen.

2-Belgium. A good idea. Walloons and Flemings are drifting apart. What to do with Brussels is the limiting problem here.

3-Congo. I’m agnostic. The problem is less rival ethnicities and more predatory rulers at all levels. Separation will not solve that problem.

4-Somalia. A good idea. The northern part (Somaliland) is already de facto separate. Somaliland should be recognized as sovereign.

5-Syria. I’m tentatively for separating Alawi and Sunni. Full break-up may not be practicable, but autonomous areas may be.

6-Kurds. Already the Iraq Kurds have autonomy, which has been a positive development. Shows the benefits of separation.

7-Pakistan. Many parts of Pakistan already have a fair amount of autonomy. Afghanistan may benefit from separating the Pushtuns from the others.

Jacob and Khanna’s potential unifications:

8-Arab Gulf. What for?

9-Azerbaijan uniting with the Azeris in Iran. No need.

10-China & E Siberia. Why? China has no historic claim to Eastern Siberia.

11-Korea. Let us hope it happens one day, peacefully.

(See also Steve Saideman’s comments.)

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From the Cabinet of Curiosities

The Marischal Museum, Aberdeen, has one of these:

This kayak was found off the coast at Belhelvie, Aberdeenshire c. 1720 with an Inuit man aboard, who died shortly afterwards.

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