what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Monday, November 29, 2010

The naked Emperor


I started the morning reading a couple of the “peak oil” blogs – those who not only accept that the sort of lives modern capitalism has created for us is unsustainable but have adopted a minimal and more traditional way of life. The title of the first blog is a bit discouraging - the arch druid report - but the content is very good!
I then wasted an hour trying to get Amazon to bring back the 22 objects in my basket – most of which have vanished (with my wishlist). I could not understand what the first guy was saying – he and his accent were both so thick – and he eventually just left me hanging. The woman who came next was also awful and almost refused to help me because I could not immediately give her the postal code on top of the rest of the address. Her only advice was to contact my server company. I hung up on her – but realise that I should have been more sympathetic. They are treated like shit – so why should they behave otherwise. On the other hand, I have been very impressed with the patience and skills of those on the helpline at Vodaphone here when I needed help!
Then onto The Guardian’s initial coverage of the 250 US Embassy cables given recently to WikiLeaks – of which we will hear a great deal more this week. Simon Jenkins’post seems to me to strike the right note -
Anything said or done in the name of a democracy is, prima facie, of public interest. When that democracy purports to be "world policeman" that interest is global. Nonetheless, the Guardian had to consider two things in abetting disclosure, irrespective of what is anyway published by WikiLeaks. It could not be party to putting the lives of individuals or sources at risk, nor reveal material that might compromise ongoing military operations or the location of special forces.
In this light, two backup checks were applied. The US government was told in advance the areas or themes covered, and "representations" were invited in return. These were considered. Details of "redactions" were then shared with the other four media recipients of the material and sent to WikiLeaks itself, to establish, albeit voluntarily, some common standard.
The state department knew of the leak several months ago and had ample time to alert staff in sensitive locations. Its pre-emptive scaremongering over the weekend stupidly contrived to hint at material not in fact being published. Nor is the material classified top secret, being at a level that more than 3 million US government employees are cleared to see, and available on the defence department's internal Siprnet. Such dissemination of "secrets" might be thought reckless.
The revelations do not have the startling, coldblooded immediacy of the WikiLeaks war logs from Iraq and Afghanistan, with their astonishing insight into the minds of fighting men seemingly detached from the ethics of war. These disclosures are largely of analysis and high-grade gossip. Insofar as they are sensational, it is in showing the corruption and mendacity of those in power, and the mismatch between what they claim and what they do.
Few will be surprised to know that Vladimir Putin runs the world's most sensational kleptocracy, that the Saudis wanted the Americans to bomb Iran, or that Pakistan's ISI is hopelessly involved with Taliban groups of fiendish complexity.
We now know that Washington knows too.
The full extent of American dealings with Yemen might upset that country's government, but is hardly surprising. If it is true that the Pentagon targeted refugee camps for bombing, it should be of general concern. American congressmen might also be interested in the sums of money given to certain foreign generals supposedly to pay for military equipment.
The job of the media is not to protect power from embarrassment. If American spies are breaking United Nations rules by seeking the DNA biometrics of the UN director general, he is entitled to hear of it. British voters should know what Afghan leaders thought of British troops. American (and British) taxpayers might question, too, how most of the billions of dollars going in aid to Afghanistan simply exits the country at Kabul airport.
No harm is done by high-class chatter about President Nicolas Sarkozy's vulgarity and lack of house-training, or about the British royal family. What the American embassy in London thinks about the coalition suggests not an alliance at risk but an embassy with a talent problem.
The money wasting is staggering. Aid payments are never followed, never audited, never evaluated. The impression is of the world's superpower roaming helpless in a world in which nobody behaves as bidden. Iran, Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, the United Nations, are all perpetually off script. Washington reacts like a wounded bear, its instincts imperial but its power projection unproductive. America's foreign policy is revealed as a slave to rightwing drift, terrified of a bomb exploding abroad or of a pro-Israeli congressman at home
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Note the key sentence - Insofar as they are sensational, it is in showing the corruption and mendacity of those in power, and the mismatch between what they claim and what they do. Which takes us back to the questions which have been worrying me these last few months – (a) the apparently inherent incapacity of our modern “democratic systems”; (b) the implications of this for the so-called discipline of public management; and (c) for the work of instition-building in transition countries.
A google book I encountered on the first theme is The Climate Change Challenge and the failure of democracy (2007)
The sketch is a Mark Behar (BG 1950s) I have hanging in my bathroom!

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