Within moments of the announcement that the great man had passed away, left-wingers on twitter gleefully started posting quotes from Reagan-era conservatives about Mandela. At the time, most right-wingers’ opinions of Mandela — with one notable exception — ranged from skepticism to outright hostility. (This William H. Buckley column from 1990, which compares the recently-released Mandela to Lenin, was not atypical.)
Support for apartheid was never justifiable, but when that racist system was in its death throes, it was hardly unreasonable to worry about what might come next. Many political prisoners and “freedom fighters” have eventually come to power in their countries, only to become exactly what they once fought against — or worse. (One of the most infuriating examples is just over the South African border, where the once-promising Robert Mugabe has driven Zimbabwe into the abyss.)
The young Mandela was a revolutionary, and after spending his entire life as a second-class citizen, and 27 years behind bars, any bitterness on his part would have been understandable.
Instead, he chose an unprecedented path of reconciliation:
The real measure of one’s greatness comes when that person achieves power. And by that standard, Mandela was one of the greatest of them all. May he rest in peace.
Damian Penny, “Why Mandela was different”, DamianPenny.com, 2013-12-06
December 6, 2013
October 6, 2013
According to a report in the Mirror, over 100 lost Doctor Who episodes have turned up in the most unlikely spot:
A group of dedicated Doctor Who fans tracked down at least 100 long-lost episodes of the show gathering dust more than 3,000 miles away in Ethiopia.
It was feared the BBC programmes from the 1960s — featuring the first two doctors William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton — had vanished for all time after the Beeb flogged off a load of old footage.
But after months of detective work the tapes have been unearthed at the Ethiopian Radio and Television Agency.
A television insider said: “It is a triumph and fans everywhere will be thrilled.
“This is a really big deal for the BBC and is set to make them millions from the sale of the DVDs.”
H/T to Tabatha Southey for the link.
September 30, 2013
Tim Black discusses what we know and don’t know about the Kenyan terror attack and why recent terrorist attacks seem less directed at the organs of the state and much more at society as a whole:
Some analysts have even gone so far as to pinpoint Kenyan troops’ take over of the port of Kismayo, a lucrative trading position for al-Shabab, as the catalyst for the Westgate attack. As one commentator put it: ‘[The Westgate attack] wasn’t a random act. On the contrary, it was a direct consequence of Kenya’s own policy decisions. To say that in no way justifies this heinous attack – it merely identifies cause and effect.’
Yet tit-for-tat accounts miss something. They appear too glib, too easy. They may not excuse a drawn-out atrocity like Westgate, but they do give it a nicely polished rationale.
But it’s a rationale at odds with what actually happened. Yes, the Kenyan military, under the auspices of the African Union, did play a role in weakening al-Shabab’s position in Somalia. And no doubt members of al-Shabab, already a declining, increasingly unpopular grouping in Somalia (even Osama Bin Laden disowned it because of is brutality), did feel anger towards the Kenyan army. But there is a massive, unexplained causal gap between that sense of grievance and the attack on a shopping centre in Nairobi. That’s right, a shopping centre. This wasn’t an attack on the Kenyan state. This wasn’t a gun battle with the Kenyan army, the principal object of al-Shabab ire. No, this was an indiscriminate attack on men, women and children at a shopping centre. The people targeted weren’t intent on a conflict with militant Islamists in Somalia; they were shopping for Old El Paso fajita mix.
What’s important to grasp here is that the new terrorism does not draw its militants from any specific struggle in Somalia, or anywhere else for that matter. Rather, it draws upon a broad and deep disillusionment with modern society; it exploits the non-identity between society’s threadbare values and particular members. And it turns certain individuals upon society as a whole. Hence the new terrorism does not target the institutions of the state; it targets the institutions of civil society. In particular, it targets the embodiments of modern social life: a shopping centre in Nairobi, an office block in New York, a market in Baghdad.
In 1911, amid anarchist bomb plots, Vladamir Lenin wrote a scathing critique of what he called ‘individual terrorism’ — the act, for example, of assassinating a minister — on the grounds that it turned what could be a mass struggle into the act of a single individual. ‘In our eyes’, he wrote, ‘individual terror is inadmissible precisely because it belittles the role of the masses in their own consciousness, reconciles them to their powerlessness, and turns their eyes and hopes towards a great avenger and liberator who some day will come and accomplish his mission’. Today’s individual terrorist is far more degenerate than his anarchist precursors. So far removed from the masses is he, so little concerned is he with any actual struggle for something in particular, that his terror is turned against the masses. The consequences have been barbaric.
August 31, 2013
Most Americans think slavery was abolished in 1865 with the Union victory in the American Civil War, but there may be more slaves in the world today than there were before the war:
Slavery contributes to the churning out of at least 122 different types of goods according to the US Department of Labor in the world. That could range from food such as shrimp in Asia or diamonds from Africa. Slavery has increased to such an extent in our modern times due to population increases. Industrialization and increased economic activity have also resulted in social changes, catapulting people into urban areas, with no social safety net to protect them in countries like China for example. Lastly, we could point the finger at corrupt administrators that allow it to continue complacently.
There are more slaves today working in the world than ever before. More means cheaper. If we were to compare the cost of a slave back in the mid-19th century in the USA, then it would have cost roughly $40,000 to buy a slave in today’s money. Today, however, you need only pay out under a $100 for one. Not bad for a reduction in price.
Bonded labor is commonplace, where the slave has contracted a loan and has to work to pay it back to the lender. Child forced labor affects over 5 million kids in the world today. Forced Labor is recognized by the US Department of State as being: “involuntary servitude, forced labor may result when unscrupulous employers exploit workers made more vulnerable by high rates of unemployment, poverty, crime, discrimination, corruption, political conflict, or even cultural acceptance of the practice.”
August 10, 2013
This is probably the most attention the CBC has paid to REAL Women of Canada since … well, ever:
REAL Women of Canada, a privately funded socially conservative group, says Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is imposing his own views on Uganda, Kenya and Russia when he criticizes those countries for passing legislation targeting homosexuals.
The group, which describes itself as a “pro-family conservative women’s movement,” issued a press release Wednesday decrying what it called Baird’s “abuse of office” and his awarding of a $200,000 grant to “special interest groups” in Uganda and Kenya “to further his own perspective on homosexuality.”
REAL Women also lambasted Baird for admitting he worked extensively behind the scenes to persuade Russia not to pass laws restricting foreign adoption of Russian children by gay couples and cracking down on gay rights activism to control the spread of “homosexual propaganda.”
Finally, the press release states, “Mr. Baird’s actions are destructive to the conservative base in Canada and causing collateral damage to his party.”
It’s not often that the CBC can find this kind of anti-Harper criticism coming from a group they would identify as being “core” Harper supporters, so it’s not surprising they give it the full treatment it really doesn’t deserve.
H/T to Brendan McKenna for the link.
July 25, 2013
Strategy Page on the plight of a number of kidnapped ship crews in the hands of Somali pirates and the hard times those pirates are facing themselves:
Somalia is a sad place and one of the saddest tragedies ever is being played out where pirates in the north are holding 40 sailors and several ramshackle ships that no one will pay a ransom for. These are seagoing fishing boats and small freighters owned by small operators with no insurance to cover ransoms and not enough cash, or inclination, to pay what the pirates demand. The negotiators (who work for the pirates) have explained all this to the pirate chiefs, who are facing hard times themselves and stubbornly refuse to face the fact that they will never get anything for these 40 sailors and their ramshackle ships (one of which recently sank at anchor). Just killing the remaining prisoners (some held for three years) and sinking the ships risks retribution from the anti-piracy patrol off shore. Countries the prisoners are from have been pressured to pay ransom, but all of them adhere to the “no negotiating with terrorists” code. There is growing pressure on the pirates to simply release the unwanted prisoners on “humanitarian grounds” and at least get some good press out of this mess. That’s a bitter solution for the pirates, who have not captured a ship that could be ransomed in over a year. Several pirate gangs have disbanded and those still around have shrunk and cut the payroll considerably.
The big time piracy is largely out of business because warship patrols and better security aboard large ships passing Somalia has made it nearly impossible to seize these vessels. Holding ships for ransom only worked initially because Somalia, a state without a government since 1991, provided small ports on the coast of East Africa where pirates could bring the merchant ships they had captured, and keep them there, safe from rescue attempts, until a ransom could be negotiated.
Pirates usually function on the margins of society, trying to get a cut of the good life in situations where there aren’t many options. This is usually in areas where state control is weakest or absent, in failing and “flailed” states (a flailing state is something like Nigeria, Indonesia, or the Philippines, where the government is managing to just barely keep things together, unlike a failed state such as Somalia, where there isn’t any government at all).
The solution to piracy is essentially on land, where you go into uncontrolled areas and institute some law and order and remove the pirate safe havens. This has been the best approach since the Romans eliminated piracy in the Mediterranean over 2,000 years ago. Trying to tackle piracy just on the maritime end can reduce the incidence of piracy but can’t eliminate it. In the modern world the “land” solution often can’t be implemented. Who wants to put enough troops into Somalia to eliminate piracy? And flailing states are likely to be very sensitive about their sovereignty if you offer to help them control marginal areas.
A new industry has developed that attempts to “pirate proof” ships operating off Somalia. The most successful (and most expensive) technique is to put a small number of armed guards on each ship. That, and warship patrols, has greatly reduced piracy off East Africa (Somalia). But off West Africa (especially the Gulf of Guinea) the piracy threat is growing because pirates have found ways to get more valuables off ships before security forces (police, coast guard, or navy) can show up.
July 16, 2013
Yep, it’s back to the weird news season apparently:
The week has barely begun and already the gods have served us up a fresh piece of crazy. It seems that teachers at the Nashongo and Makaba primary schools in Siavonga, Zambia have threatened to abandon their posts after a rash of indecent incidents involving invisible witches. According to Chief Sinadambwe of the Tonga-speaking people, the saucy sorcerers have been projecting their spirits into the teachers’ bedrooms and molesting them. And they don’t even have the decency to call in the morning.
[. . .]
I could check my privilege and acknowledge that fear of incubi and succubi was also once common in Europe, or else write sensitively about a foreign culture still rooted in cultural tradition. But Zambia is a country on the move (with a growth rate of around 6.5 per cent, it’s outstripping the UK) and it’s not unreasonable to say that invisible sex attacks should not still be happening anywhere in the world in the 21st century — especially when they are reported by teachers, who one hopes would be educated to a point of thinking such things are a Medieval fairy tale.
Alas, it seems that randy psychic witches are still regarded as quite common in modern Zambia. Back in May, the Mbala District Commissioner also felt compelled to ask local “wizards” to stop molesting teachers and pupils at Chipoka Primary School — the second of such incidents in nine years. What’s worrying about these stories is that a) they represent a sort of sexual abuse in themselves, either because they foster mass delusion or else disguise genuine incidents of physical rape, and b) they encourage violence against so-called witches. Just this month, an elderly Zambian couple was accused of black magic, beaten and burned to death. How strange it is that we live in an age of science and light and yet some of the people that we share the planet with still exist in a state of superstitious darkness. If what they believe is preposterous, we should have no shame is stating it — especially if it also potentially dangerous.
March 26, 2013
Timothy Geigner on the Tunisian response to a government that fails to comprehend YouTube:
You will remember the nation of Tunisia for being a flash point of the Arab Spring revolution, in which social media and the internet played a massive role, as well as for the post-revolution government’s subsequent crackdown on those tools that brought them into power. There seems to be something of an ongoing problem within Middle East governments, in that they simply don’t recognize how to handle popular dissent, often taking on the very characteristics of the dissenter’s complaints to an almost caricature level. In that respect, while it may sound silly, any government learning to deal with the open communication system of the net is going to have to come to terms with memes and the manner in which they spread.
Which brings us back to Tunisia. They seem to have a problem with this Gangnam Style, Harlem Shake combo-video produced by some apparently fun-loving Tunisian students (the original was taken down due to a highly questionable copyright claim, by the way, because while even the Tunisian government wasn’t evil enough to block the video, a bogus DMCA claim had no such qualms).
You can guess how the Tunisians reacted…
February 25, 2013
In the Telegraph, Brendan O’Neill shows how the western media has managed to ignore horrific things in South Africa, but suddenly the murder of a pretty white woman has them all utterly rivetted to what’s happening in that country:
Last year, 34 black striking miners were gunned down by South African police at the Lonmin mine in Marikana. Some were shot in the back as they attempted to flee. Some were killed as they surrendered. Others were killed 300 metres from where the main massacre took place, suggesting they had been chased — that is, hunted down — by the armed servants of the ANC. Yet there was no outrage in the Western liberal press. There were no fuming leaders; very few angry columns. Amnesty International, guardian of the modern liberal conscience, issued a weak, almost uninterested statement about this act of mass murder, and then went back to throwing money and staff at the campaign to have Pussy Riot — prettier and way more fashionable than those dead miners — freed from jail in Russia.
This month, a pretty white woman, Reeva Steenkamp, was killed by her boyfriend, Oscar Pistorius, in a gated community in South Africa. And this time, right-thinking observers went crazy. The shock and outrage have been palpable. Feminists have popularised the Twitter hashtag #hernamewasReevaSteenkamp, to draw attention to the scourge of domestic violence in South Africa. Column after column tells us that the Steenkamp killing shows that the New South Africa is sick, that it’s a fear-ruled, crime-ridden, corrupt nation. This tragic shooting and the fractured court case and debate it has given rise to have cast a “lurid light” on South Africa, commentators tell us, calling into question its image as a “Rainbow Nation”. Where the massacre of 34 black workers elicited a collective shrug of the shoulder among observers over here, the killing of Steenkamp has got them tearing their hair out, demanding answers, wondering what the hell went wrong with the country they once admired (the New South Africa) and its ruling party that they once cheered (the ANC).
All of which raises a very awkward question: why is the shooting of a white woman in a domestic setting more shocking to liberal commentators than the massacre of 34 black miners at a public strike and demonstration? This isn’t a complaint about how the media elevates celebrity news over all other forms of news. I can understand why there is so much media and public interest in the Pistorius/Steenkamp case: it isn’t every day a global sports star shoots his famous, beautiful girlfriend in questionable circumstances. But what is striking is the fact that it took this incident — and not, say, the ANC’s massacre of 34 miners — to open Western liberals’ eyes to the profound problems, the moral and political decay, in modern-day South Africa.
February 3, 2013
Sheldon Richman explains why it could be a problem if the American presence in northwestern Africa is further expanded:
Ominously but unsurprisingly, the U.S. military’s Africa Command wants to increase its footprint in northwest Africa. What began as low-profile assistance to France’s campaign to wrest control of northern Mali (a former colony) from unwelcome jihadists could end up becoming something more.
The Washington Post reports that Africom “is preparing to establish a drone base in northwest Africa [probably Niger] so that it can increase surveillance missions on the local affiliate of Al Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups that American and other Western officials say pose a growing menace to the region.” But before that word “surveillance” can bring a sigh of relief, the Post adds, “For now, officials say they envision flying only unarmed surveillance drones from the base, though they have not ruled out conducting missile strikes at some point if the threat worsens.”
Meanwhile Bloomberg, citing American military officials, says Niger and the U.S. government have “reached an agreement allowing American military personnel to be stationed in the West African country and enabling them to take on Islamist militants in neighboring Mali, according to U.S. officials.… No decision has been made to station the drones.”
The irony is that surveillance drones could become the reason the “threat worsens,” and could provide the pretext to use drones armed with Hellfire missiles — the same kind used over 400 times in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, killing hundreds of noncombatants. Moving from surveillance to lethal strikes would be a boost for jihadist recruiters.
January 24, 2013
Strategy Page counts the number of attacks by pirates in two hotspots around Africa:
Piracy attacks were down last year, returning to 2007 levels. The greatest reductions occurred off Somalia, where more effective anti-pirate patrols and escort operations made it very difficult for the pirates to even get close to merchant ships. When pirates did close in, the crews were better equipped and trained to get away. Many ships now carry some armed guards when off Somalia, who can shoot back (much more accurately) if the pirates get too close. No ship with armed guards has been taken.
Last year there were 75 pirate attacks on large ships off Somalia, compared to 237 in 2011. Last year pirates took 14 ships, compared to 28 in 2011. It’s been more than six months since pirates have taken a ship off Somalia and several large pirate gangs have simply gone out of business. Others have switched to smuggling people from Africa to Yemen. That business is booming.
There has been more piracy off the west coast of Africa, where there were 58 incidents last year. Most of this has been taking place in the Gulf of Guinea where the pirates have become bolder and are hijacking ships (which they mainly take only long enough to steal the cargo). This is not a new trend (it has long been common in Asia) but it is new for West Africa.
January 13, 2013
In the Guardian, Simon Jenkins discusses the negative aspects of the drone war:
The greatest threat to world peace is not from nuclear weapons and their possible proliferation. It is from drones and their certain proliferation. Nuclear bombs are useless weapons, playthings for the powerful or those aspiring to power. Drones are now sweeping the global arms market. There are some 10,000 said to be in service, of which a thousand are armed and mostly American. Some reports say they have killed more non-combatant civilians than died in 9/11.
I have not read one independent study of the current drone wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the horn of Africa that suggests these weapons serve any strategic purpose. Their “success” is expressed solely in body count, the number of so-called “al-Qaida-linked commanders” killed. If body count were victory, the Germans would have won Stalingrad and the Americans Vietnam.
Neither the legality nor the ethics of drone attacks bear examination. Last year’s exhaustive report by lawyers from Stanford and New York universities concluded that they were in many cases illegal, killed civilians, and were militarily counter-productive. Among the deaths were an estimated 176 children. Such slaughter would have an infantry unit court-martialled. Air forces enjoy such prestige that civilian deaths are excused as a price worth paying for not jeopardising pilots’ lives.
[. . .]
Since the drone war began in earnest in 2008, there has been no decline in Taliban or al-Qaida performance attributable to it. Any let-up in recruitment is merely awaiting Nato’s departure. The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has called the attacks “in no way justifiable”. The Pakistan government, at whose territory they are increasingly directed, has withdrawn all permission.
The young Yemeni writer Ibrahim Mothana protested in the New York Times of the carnage drones are wreaking on the politics of his country, erasing “years of progress and trust-building with tribes”. Yemenis now face al-Qaida recruiters waving pictures of drone-butchered women and children in their faces. Notional membership of al-Qaida in Yemen is reported to have grown by three times since 2009.
January 2, 2013
Strategy Page has the advance listing of places around the world where peacekeeping or peace-making may be required this year:
Planning for peacekeeping works a lot better if you have a good idea of where the next crises will occur. For 2013 there are several potential hotspots where diplomats can’t handle the mess and armed peacekeepers may be needed. In some cases, there might also be a call for more peacekeepers in an existing hotspot. That might happen in the eastern Congo, where the largest force of UN peacekeepers has been trying to calm things down for nearly a decade, but the violence just keeps going. There’s increasing hostility between Sudan and newly created South Sudan. There are some peacekeepers there, but, like Darfur (western Sudan) the violence never seems to stop.
There’s always been the possibility of large scale fighting between Afghanistan and Pakistan. There’s been more and more small scale violence on the border and growing threats from both countries. There is still a lot of tension between Pakistan and India, over Pakistani support for Islamic terrorists making attacks in India. Pakistan denies any responsibility, despite a growing mountain of evidence. Neither country would be very hospitable to peacekeepers.
And then there the developing mess in the Western Pacific off China, where Chinese claims to a lot of uninhabited rocks and reefs is causing a growing outrage from the neighbors. China keeps pushing and with all those armed ships and aircraft facing off, an accidently, or deliberate, shot is possible. China will also be a major player if North Korea finally does its political collapse. The North Korean economy has already tanked as has morale and living standards. If the government loses control China and South Korea have both made claims on responsibility for taking over and dealing with the mess.
December 27, 2012
The crew of the Iceberg 1 are now free, after enduring the longest pirate kidnapping in modern history:
How’s this for a seasonal tale to warm the hearts? After almost three years in captivity, the crew of the Iceberg 1, a cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates, are home after finally being rescued.
For the benefit of those who haven’t followed the story — and there are probably plenty, as it’s had only scant coverage — the Iceberg 1 was captured back in March 2010, and has languished in pirate custody ever since.
As we reported back in the summer, the ship essentially fell between two stools. Its Dubai-based owner, who appears not to have been insured, refused to pay a ransom for it and simply went to ground, ignoring pleas for help from the hostages’ families.
Meanwhile, the governments representing the different sailors on board — six Indians, nine Yemenis, four Ghanaians, two Sudanese, two Pakistanis and one Filipino — were either unable or unwilling to mount a rescue attempt. So, too,was the multinational anti-piracy force, which generally prefers hijacked ships to be freed by ransom, on the basis that freeing sailors by force carries too much risk of casualties.
December 19, 2012
If you’ve been following the debt-related travails of the Argentine navy’s flagship, you’ll recall that the ship was impounded on a visit to Ghana back in October. The BBC is now reporting that the ship has been released, and Argentinian sailors will be able to take the frigate home after a UN court decision:
The Libertad set sail from Ghana’s main port of Tema after a United Nations court last week ordered its release.
Argentina sent almost 100 navy personnel to man the three-masted training ship.
It was impounded after a financial fund said it was owed money by Argentina’s government as a result of a debt default a decade ago.
[. . .]
In November, sailors on board the Libertad reportedly pulled guns on Ghanaian officials when they tried to board the vessel to move it to another berth.
The lengthy diplomatic row began when the ship was prevented from leaving Ghana on 2 October, after a local court ruled in favour of financial fund NML Capital. The fund is a subsidiary of US hedge fund Elliot Capital Management which is one of Argentina’s former creditors.