An oft-told tale, of visitors to some suitably remote 'paradise', retold here by Stanley Johnson:
The past few days have had a surreal tinge. I have been sitting on the terrace of our house, looking out over the olive groves to the calm blue waters of the Pagasitic Gulf and the mountains of mainland Greece beyond, while my mental and emotional energies have been almost wholly absorbed in Jung and Halliday's 800-page masterpiece.
This is a story of megalomania, torture, depravity and indifference on a titanic scale. Apart from the hideous suffering that Mao visited upon the Chinese people (well over 70 million deaths, according to the book), the most astonishing thing is how so much of the rest of the world has been ready to turn a blind eye to the atrocities of Mao's regime.
I have been indulging, in true Maoist fashion, in my own small bout of self-criticism... the focus of my attention has been on August 1975 when, with a group of colleagues from the European Commission, I spent three weeks travelling around the country on an itinerary which, remarkably for those days, included Peking, Shenyang, Wuxi, Nanking, Shanghai and Canton.
This was the tail-end of the Mao era. Mao himself was still alive, though ailing. The Gang of Four was jostling Deng Xiao-Ping and his allies for pole position in the race to succeed him. Though the worst excesses were probably over, it was not a happy time, or a happy place.
What astonishes me, looking back, is that we not only swallowed all the garbage we were fed, as we visited one commune, one factory after another; we positively lapped it up. Some of us actually sported Mao hats. All of us had notebooks and pencils in hand and scribbled away as we listened to endless lectures about how the "correct application of Mao-Tse-Tung thought" had led to record steel production from a million backyard furnaces, or to staggering rises in agricultural production.
In the evenings, wherever we happened to be, we were treated to performances of Chinese operas and ballets, all designed to reinforce the message. I can remember the titles of some of them now: The Two Heroic Sisters of the Steppe, The Gallant Aviator Sacrifices Himself for the Party.
The Chinese who were dragooned into attending such events had no option but to applaud. They knew they could be thrown into jail and tortured if they didn't. But we had no such excuse...
... We were grown-up, intelligent men and women, yet we colluded in China's sustained act of self-delusion...
What each of the G8 leaders wants and what he's likely to get - according to James G. Forsyth in Foreign Policy. A couple of highlights:
Vladimir Putin, Russia Wants: To avoid criticism of his authoritarian ways. Commentators have pointed out the rich irony of Putin's lecturing Africans on the importance of the rule of law. Responding to one journalist, Putin said, "African countries used to have a tradition of eating their adversaries. We don't have such a tradition, and I believe the comparison of Africa and Russia is not quite just."
..... Gerhard Schröder, Germany Wants: Bush to assault him. His party is trailing by roughly 20 points in the polls, and a public dust-up with Bush is probably the only thing that can save him from defeat in Germany's upcoming election.
[T]he ultra Orthodox Jewish and Muslim communities in the holy city had tried to prevent the [Gay Pride] parade...
I've got an original suggestion here, to go with an unoriginal thought. The thought first. Everybody has sensitivities. The fact that you feel yours are infringed is not by itself a good enough reason to limit my personal freedom. You need something more than that. The fact that the sensitivities are religious ones doesn't change anything. I have irreligious sensitivities that get offended when religious people suggest that atheists like me must have a poorer inner life than religious people like them. But I don't expect anyone - or the law - to stop them from saying it.
That's the thought; here's the suggestion. Instead of thinking 'infringe', people with very sensitive sensitivities should think 'fringe'. They should, like, put a fringe over the eyes of their sensitivities so as to protect these from offence. Then all would be well. We might call this enfringing their sensitivities.
If machines can master the Sicilian Defence (Scheveningen Variation), none of us is safe.
It's from a piece by Stephen Moss about Britain's top chess player Michael Adams being beaten in a best-of-six contest by the Hydra supercomputer. The Hydra won five games. Adams didn't win any. Moss writes:
[German computer expert Ulf Lorenz] let me play a game against his Frankenstein's monster. I am a fair-to-middling player and lasted a respectable 38 moves, but I can't claim Hydra was ever sweating. He - why do I assume Hydra is male? - grabbed a pawn, I launched a speculative attack and eventually got my comeuppance. It was a little disconcerting when, at about move 32, Lorenz told me Hydra was predicting "mate in eight"...
Lorenz claims Hydra is now the strongest chess-playing entity in the world. "We think we have crossed the 3,000 ELO line," he says. ELO measures the strength of chess players; Kasparov, at his strongest, would have been just above 2,800, so to reach 3,000 is like cutting 20 seconds from the world record for the 1500 metres. No human player could compete with that.
Hydra's programmers say that human players rarely play 10 optimum moves in succession; the computer plays optimum moves all the time.
The Zimbabwean Pundit links to an interview by SW Radio with Roy Bennett who just came out of prison in Zimbabwe. Bennett is asked by the interviewer about prison conditions and this is his reply:
I've seen many films about prisoners and prisons, I've read books on prisons. Let me tell you, Zimbabwe prisons today [have] got to be amongst the worst prison systems in the world. It is absolutely terrible. There has been no... maintenance done to any of the ablutions. All the beds that were in the cells have been removed. The sewerage is absolutely terrible. Because the government is going through an economic crisis they are unable to sustain their own prison regulations. You no longer get supplied with basic commodities like toothpaste or toothbrush. The food is absolutely disgusting, and there's very, very little, so you're basically living in hunger the whole time; and as of yesterday they started introducing a one meal a day... you get a cup of porridge in the morning and then one meal of sadza a day - the midday meal you didn't get. So, you know, absolutely horrific...
You know, even more horrific are the conditions in which the prisoners are held. They are constantly beaten, they are constantly dehumanized, they are strip-searched, have their clothing taken off them, are forced to do star jumps; when the gangs come in from work [they] are beaten, are forced to squat on their haunches the whole time. And basically it's a whole [process] of taking away someone's dignity. So the prisoners, the whole time, are made to feel that they are absolutely nothing: they're shouted at... they're called the most horrific names, and never ever once are they treated in a decent manner, they're treated like animals the whole time; so it's very, very, very degrading and very, very horrible.
The cell conditions are absolutely horrific: mostly overcrowded, unless the prisons are not, you know, there's a bit of a break... But most of time they're fully overcrowded; [cells] that should hold eight people and are filled with 20 people. The beds have all been removed so you can squeeze more people in, lying on the floor. You get four blankets: you've got, basically, one blanket to lie on... two blankets to cover yourself and one blanket to use as a pillow. So you're constantly cold; we weren't allowed jerseys... so you're basically wearing a canvas shirt and a canvas pants with absolutely no underwear, so you are fully freezing the whole time.
Consider. Three years ago, when the Bush administration started ramping up the case for invading Iraq, Afghanistan had recently been liberated from both the Taliban and the al-Qaida terrorists who had attacked the US. There was still a vast amount to be done to make Afghanistan a safe place. Iraq, meanwhile, was a hideous dictatorship under Saddam Hussein. But, as the United States' own September 11 commission subsequently concluded, Saddam's regime had no connection with the 9/11 attacks. Iraq was not then a recruiting sergeant or training ground for jihadist terrorists. Now it is. The US-led invasion, and Washington's grievous mishandling of the subsequent occupation, have made it so. General Wesley Clark puts it plainly: "We are creating enemies." And the president observes: our great achievement will be to prevent Iraq becoming another Taliban-style, al-Qaida-harbouring Afghanistan! This is like a man who shoots himself in the foot and then says: "We must prevent it turning gangrenous, then you'll understand why I was right to shoot myself in the foot."
In short, whether or not the invasion of Iraq was a crime, it's now clear that - at least in the form in which the invasion and occupation was executed by the Bush administration - it was a massive blunder.
Got it? If not, I'll give you a clue. It's in the simile, 'like a man who shoots himself in the foot'. Before, you see, there was a healthy foot; after, it's a matter of preventing it turning gangrenous. From good to possibly very bad. Spotted it now? Yes, Garton Ash does the throat clearing, 'hideous dictatorship', sentence. By the time he comes to the pay-off, though, and with the help of his little simile, he only has two options for us: crime or blunder. Nothing about the release from decades of murderous tyranny.
No worries. It's just another morning, another 'liberal' Guardian opinion piece. (The decades of murderous tyranny don't show up too clearly or too often on the anti-war radar, because of what being against the war implied about the life-span of that tyranny.) And it's part of that paper's response to the Bush speech, the response it merely began yesterday, and has built on (inspades) today.
While I'm on Lost Dimensions, I'll also throw in this little gem from Garton Ash:
One is still gobsmacked by things American Republicans say. Take the glorification of the military, for example. In his speech, Bush insisted "there is no higher calling than service in our armed forces". What? No higher calling! How about being a doctor, a nurse, a teacher, an aid worker? Unimaginable that any European leader could say such a thing.
I, too, have the highest regard for what doctors, nurses, teachers and aid workers do. However, Garton Ash must have overlooked the fact that, in what they do, soldiers sometimes give their lives, and on behalf of others like him and me; or he wouldn't have implied that theirs must be a lower calling than all of these. If it's really true that no European leader could say what he here wonders at, this would be Europe's problem.
There's an interesting article by Anne Applebaum in the latest issue of Foreign Policy, in which she looks at who the pro-Americans are around the world. It's a long piece, and these are merely a few titbits:
When people older than 60 are surveyed, 63.5 percent of Britons, 59.6 percent of Italians, 50.2 percent of Australians, and 46.8 percent of Canadians feel that the United States is a "mainly positive" influence on the world.
In Britain... it is absolutely clear that the greatest support for the United States comes from people in the lowest income brackets, and those with the least amount of formal education... 57.6 percent of those whose income is very low believe the United States has a mainly positive influence. Only 37.1 percent of those whose income is very high, by contrast, believe the same.
There is... one other factor that is associated almost everywhere in the world with pro–Americanism: In Europe, Asia, and South America, men are far more likely than women to have positive feelings about the United States.