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Holy Night [Dec. 25th, 2006|08:39 am]
[mood |cheerfulcheerful]

Greetings from Oz and merry Christmas/Happy Holidays to everyone.

On the flight on the way over, I was lucky enough to see the French film 'Joyeux Noel' about the famous ‘Christmas Truce’ on the western front in 1914.

Amidst the carnage of the opening months of the war, the film depicts the fraternising and mutual affection of enemy troops on Christmas Eve. It depicts a triangle of cultures: the Germans appear with their opera singer, fir trees and Pickelhaube on one side, the nostalgic and laconic French, and cheeky bagpiping Scots on the other.

On Christmas Eve and Day, the antagonists and allies sing, play football, smoke cigars, pose for shared photographs and generally affirm their common humanity.

In the ‘No Man’s Land’ between trenches, the film revisits some classic folk memories about the war: a naïve rush to the colours by uninformed youth who are deluded that it will be a bloodless jaunt over by Christmas; the young versus the old; nationalism versus internationalism; warlike ideology and certainty against irony and iconoclasm.

In all three sides, they show a nostalgia for a prewar life that is being dismantled by the apocalyptic nightmare. Against the world view of their military superiors, who insist on rigid discipline, and of their national populations, who were driven by hate and ignorance, the combatants are presented as figures of pathos, who mostly refuse to indulge in hysterical jingoism against the enemy, and want to resist the war’s brutalising nature.

It’s a sad film with the lineaments of tragedy. The men who want to lay aside hostilities will ultimately be powerless to maintain their humanitarian posture, let alone stop the war itself. The war and the hatred that powers it are both incomprehensible and irresistible.

The main problem with the film is that for artistic effect, it presents rather too sharply two contrasting visions of the war: the hate-filled, culturally blind and dehumanised aggression of nationalism on one side is pitted against the pacific gentleness and culturally enlightened alternative, embodied in the ‘poor bloody infantry’ of western Europe.

One way that it presents these two conflicting stances is through two characters. The murderous war theology of a senior clergyman who arrives as a chaplain is contrasted with the fraternal spirit of a Scottish priest and First Aid Worker, who takes a combined field service and preaches peace and brotherhood.

Incidentally, the field service actually did happen, but not exactly as the film suggests. Regiments that probably were all bi-confessional are Catholicised by the film into unanimously repeating the Latin Liturgy!

In reality, there was in fact a Scottish padre who conducted a join field service, a funeral, for opposing soldiers. He was a Presbyterian, Esselmount Adams, Chaplain to the Gordon Highlanders.

But Adams was not the one-dimensional non-belligerent that the film suggests. In fact, he would write a pamphlet about the purpose of the war, in which he gave the war a very high meaning.

He made a point of finding an alternative cause than simple racial hatred. For him, the war was about dismantling Prussian militarism. Not a Germanophobe, he believed the essentially advanced German civilisation had been led astray by a cabal of militarists who had overtaken the Kaiserreich.

He also believed the war was about transforming British society into a ‘New Jerusalem’ – through the return to sacrifice for the common good, he hoped it would develop social solidarity and piety that would be translated into alleviating poverty and strengthening piety in the post-war period.

A few years later, Adams wrote an account of the atrocities committed by German armies in Belgium and north-eastern France, atrocities which suggested that there was a serious threat to civilisation that had to be resisted.

In other words, Adams demonstrated something that I found often in my own research about the war, that participants could fraternise and empathise with the enemy while believing in the cause.

There were many cases in the archives, in letters, diaries, censor’s reports, trench newspapers and other literature, of combatants who were neither mindless chauvinists nor disillusioned humanitarians.

Instead, the more predominant pattern amongst the combatants who appeared in the first months of the war was of people who had mixed, even contradictory responses to the war.

More broadly, many accepted in varying degrees the basic legitimacy of the cause, defining it as a war for higher principles than crude tribal patriotism.

For the French, their compatriots were under German occupation, or more distressingly in one view, under the jackboot of Prussian militarism. For Germans, the triple Entente was trying to encircle and destroy the Fatherland, and East Prussia had already been invaded and to some extent pillaged by Czarist armies.

For the British, conservatives and liberals united around the sovereign neutrality of Belgium, the survival of the empire and the popular view that the enemy embodied the belligerent spirit, so that to fight it was to serve the cause of peace. It was above all a war of consent.

At the same time, while the war evoked their hostility and hatred, they were often capable of being dismayed at the horrors shared by the other side. Moreover, they wanted often to believe that they represented a compassionate and humane cause, as reflected in their own rhetoric and propaganda. It was, after all, widely seen as a war that represented one of the ultimate liberal causes – not as a war of annihilation, but as the last war that would end war forever.

And the notion that the ‘generation of 1914’ was driven by a naïve enthusiasm for a short glorious war has been shown to be a vast overstatement. The predominant reactions, at least in Germany and Britain, were a sense of stoic duty, uncertainty, and fear, sometimes mingled with excitement. Highly literate populations had read about the Russo-Japanese, Balkan and even American Civil Wars, and were aware of the potential destructiveness of industrial power. Volunteers enlisted more intensely after the first month or so, when it was becoming widely known that it was a desperate and lethal struggle.

It is also more helpful to decouple the concepts of a ‘short’ war and a ‘nice’ war. Those who expected a short war often did so not on the assumption of a jaunt to overwhelm the enemy effortlessly, but on the assumption that it would be so intense that its human and material costs could not be sustained for long. This thinking is understandable. ‘Over by Christmas’, a phrase in reality rarely heard, did not necessarily imply a bloodless war. Even if the war had ended by Christmas 1914, a million men would already be dead. The German Kaiser, who promised that German forces would be home by autumn, also openly predicted that the war would be a dark and destructive time for the nation.

So while it was moving at times, the film with its sharp dichotomies was a missed opportunity. It failed to capture the more ambiguous and fraught nature of many attitudes to the war, glimpsed in the paradox that men like Adams were drawn to the sacred peace of Christmas even while believing in the duty to keep waging a bloody and terrible war. It was possible to both thoughts simultaneously, and to be aware of the paradox, in a mental universe which was often messier and richer.
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(no subject) [Oct. 22nd, 2006|07:03 pm]
[mood |impressedimpressed]

"Those who scorn the notion of humanitarian intervention, from the Brent Scowcroft-type realists to the nativists of Pat Buchanan's American Conservative magazine, along with their counterparts on the anti-American 'progressive' wing of politics, are, in essence, a coalition of reactionaries, whose judgement has already been tried and shown up as flawed." (Oliver Kamm)

Amen to that.
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a tonic to castro romance [Aug. 11th, 2006|03:33 pm]
Just an anticipatory tonic for any efforts to romanticise the ailing Castro. Literacy and health care, like full employment under a far worse dictator, should not overshadow the human rights violations of his regime:

"Cubans are well educated, but they cannot speak their minds. Castro does not allow other political parties, rallies or free elections. Those who voice opinions he does not agree with are driven from the country or thrown into jail.

According to Human Rights Watch, Castro’s regime “denies its citizens basic rights to free expression, association, assembly, movement and a fair trial” and imposes its will through “surveillance, detentions, house arrests, travel restrictions, criminal prosecutions and politically motivated dismissals from employment”. Amnesty International says that there are up to 70 political prisoners in Cuba; Human Rights Watch puts that figure at more than 300.

Castro bars Cubans from leaving the country without government approval. Those caught trying to escape are punished with hefty fines or thrown in jail. Cubans are not allowed to read, listen to or view foreign media. Only state-controlled television or newspapers, extolling the virtues of the Cuban leader, are permitted. Private citizens are banned from buying computers or viewing the internet without a special permit. Some Cubans find ways around the regulations but, by and large, the Government has succeeded in restricting access. In 2004, there were only 13 internet users per 1,000 people in Cuba, compared with 119 in Brazil and 135 in Mexico."
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(no subject) [Aug. 3rd, 2006|12:50 pm]
Hey all,

sorry about the delay, had the small matter of moving house and starting new job. Below is an interesting chat I had via email with a good mate of mine who dabbles in management consulting. read from the bottom:

Interesting stuff - thanks for that.

I think another part of the problem is trying to copy-and-paste an idea from one organisation to another. It's a bit like development
economics: its all the rage in some circles to argue that the US &
Western Europe are rich countries, and they have good property rights
and the rule of law, so that's what Africa needs.
I think Africa does need good property rights and the rule of law, but that alone isn't going to lead to economic development overnight. And the same is true of anything else. The West has good education/good physical infrastructure/higher level of human capital/greater stock of knowledge/whatever but no one thing is the answer to African development. It would be nice if it was, but sadly it's more complicated than that.

So too with managerial ideas. General Electric (about the best
performing company in the US over last 15-20 years) had a focus on
being no 1 or 2 in every market, ranked every employee and fired the
bottom 10% every year, invented `six sigma' which is all about ensuring zero errors in every process, and so on. Which one is the magic bullet? None - it's the combination, and probably a bit more. Just like military history, it's not just about adding up the arsenal and manpower at your disposal and you know who is going to win - the military culture and the ability of the key leaders to identify when, where and how to strike, and to motivate their troops (Henry V might have been talked up a bit by Shakespeare but the point is correct) is also critical. You can't just cut and paste what the British SAS do well into any other special forces unit with the same number of men and the same sort of weapons.

There are of course lessons, and consultants and their clients should
try and understand those lessons, and work out where, when and how they can apply them. But the idea that you can revolutionise a business every year or two is nonsense. You can try and transform something over a number of years, if you're really focused on it, and are prepared to run a bunch of different initiatives - some of which will probably fail, but the old line about losing battles but winning wars is apt - you have to try a few things, and if the odd one doesn't do very well, acknowledge it early and honestly, then shut it down, and learn the lesson from it.

I think part of the problem is people don't really understand risks and mistakes very well. Business ventures are a risky thing - if it was so obvious that the right thing to do is X then your rivals will all get there before you. What may be a good decision ex ante may not be such a good decision ex post. Beta was a better product than VHS, according to most accounts, but that doesn't mean Beta won out. VHS managed to become the dominant technology. Does that mean the people who invented Beta were 'wrong' - or the people who bought it? Not really - it was uncertain at the time they made there decisions, and it panned out the right way. If we toss a coin, it comes up heads and I win, I'm not any smarter than you. Of course, you can do more in business (or in war) to influence the probabilities, but things don't always work out the way you hope. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don't. Good managers and good generals probably get 'lucky' more often because they are better at planning, leading, reacting, being prepared to react to new information, etc, etc... but sometimes they also just get lucky.

I think management 'science' (which deserves the apostrophes, as much
as I hate it when people usually do that) is not very good at working
out when people were a bit lucky and when they were brilliant. I'm sure there are good military examples of a small bunch of soldiers doing something extraordinary and getting lots of praise, but when you look at it you think 'that's actually pretty dumb, and while it worked this time, that's no way to run a war day in, day out'.

Hmm... I'd better get on with some exam revision. One last thought
though - I read a phrase 'quantophrenia' the other day, not sure where.
Not even sure if it's the right phrase/spelling. It means giving
inordinate weight to numerical data, even if the numbers are not very
reliable or informative.

I saw it a bit when I was working. One really shocking example was when we were supposed to be helping a multi-national improve its human resources departments (they had one in every country) to better support the business. As part of that, we worked out how the ratio of how many HR staff they had, relative to normal staff. The 'wisdom' is 1:100 is
about right. One office had more like 1:50, so on the numbers they had about twice as many HR staff as 'best practice' and a lot more than most other offices.

But when I spent 2 hours on the phone to the CEO of the local office,
he waxed lyrical about how good his HR staff were, said they were a
massive asset, and had done heaps to improve the business and improve
profits. They had even won some HR awards in their country as an
excellent HR department.

But the fuckwit project manager was fixated with the 1:100 ratio -
"they are too fat", "they should downsize" blah blah blah. But every
other country wanted a better HR department who provided more support, but admitted that their current staff were too busy to do much more...
but the one dept that the business was actually happy with was clearly too big! Happily the fuckwit project manager was moved along, and yours truly put in her place, but it was frightening how she was just fixated with numerical data, because it's much easier to digest and make some recommendations on. The article I read suggested America had more quantophrenia than most countries - maybe so, maybe not, but it is probably true among mgt 'gurus' and the US is the home of the management guru and indeed management science/mgt theory. Which causes the other is an interesting question. The problem is mgt theory tends to rely on very rubbery numbers.

One caveat - I'm on slightly thin ice - because I regard a lot of the
theory with contempt, I don't read much of it, so I'm basing this on
impressions not a detailed understanding - but that's never stopped us having opinions now, has it?

Enjoyed the thoughts re Rumsfeld, etc. It was always my biggest
reservation about Iraq. Obviously didn't want Saddam to stay, and think Iraqis deserve a shot at democracy as much as everyone else. I
suspected the US would knock off the Iraqi army pretty quickly (though not as quickly as they did), but worried about how they'd go at actually rebuilding the country. Jury is still out, but I think it's fair to say they could have done a whole lot better. I also thought they should have waited longer, and sorted Afghanistan out more thoroughly, including getting the economy off opium, etc, etc. In hindsight, with no WMDs maybe that's more obviously true than at the time, but I was always a bit of a WMD sceptic. Anyway, that's for
another day.

Patrick Porter wrote:

Mate if I may, I will anonymously quote some of that, its too interesting just to be read by me. You have put in a more intimate way the problems that the article identified.

On the 'silver bullet' point, it reminds me of the critiqe of Rumsfeld's mentality - obsessed with a sexy, slimmed down, high tech armed force that would not only paralyse america's enemies but create a more economical way of war, he didn't want to hear that the aftermath of the conventional war might erupt into a civil war and an insurgency.

Hence, his refusal to entertain post-war planning beyond a very limited degree. Advisers and military officers couldn't even use the word for a long time. Violence in postbellum Iraq, he assumed, was just fleeting low-level crime. Its not that he thought Iraqis were universally keen to democratise. He just didn't take the postwar logistical and strategic issues seriously as a defence-related issue.

Essentially, he just wanted to wield his finely tuned, expensive toy (the military), showcase its awesomeness, and then fuck off home without long-term commitments. In the new 'Cobra' account of the war, it makes clear that Rumsfeld spent almost all of his time pestering Tommy Franks to make the expeditionary force smaller and faster. Almost no word on electricity, banking, policing, interim political arrangements, language skills for the army, water supply, what to do with the Baathist organs of police/military etc, almost nothing.

In a bizarre sort of way, in his complacency he embraced elements of some leftist critiques of the war against terrorism - that terrorism/insurgencies are just a law-enforcement issue, rather than a form of warfare. Which then contributed to a lowering of morale, as combatants going to Iraq were expecting to act as policemen rather than as warriors.

All of this meant that America failed to cultivate many people who might actively help them against the jihadists/Baathists, who are otherwise skeptical and silent. The best tactical and strategic insights have actually come from the heads of various combat divisions who had to develop their own local knowledge.

The real problem for the Administration was as follows: you have a President who in my view is strong on ideas but unbelievably uninterested in logistics, practicalities, details and policy-implementation (I'm almost the only bloke I know who listens seriously to Bush's speeches); and a Defence Secretary who only was willing to apply his greater administrative skill to transforming the way America fights conventional wars, rather than preparing it to combat guerillas.

Getting back to your point, the slavish addiction to feeling like you speak for a revolutionary new idea rather than asking 'what would work' can blind you to uncomfortable information and realities. Obviously we can't always divorce ourselves from ideology and assumptions, and they are sometimes useful, but its necessary to try and temper it with open-minded receptiveness to the data. Come to think of it, managerial issues are just as relevant in war stuff.



Hi mate,

I think that it's right to be a very sceptical about a lot of management theory. Much of the scholarship is shit. It's not a very easy area to research, because people are only really interested in the here and now, so you don't get much interest in a good study of Ford in 1914-1918 in the way military history does. I imagine that most historians would caution that trying to write a history of the Iraq invasion right now would be problematic - perhaps not - but I think you could describe a lot about what happened but it would be more difficult to set it accurately in the broader context of the historical forces shaping the time... maybe that's a load of crap... sounds like it as I read back on it.

I'll try critiquing it by comparing it to something I actually know
something about: the real problem with management theory (in the view of an economist) is that a lot of it falls between the two groups of economic research. The 'theory' stuff isn't as (mathematically) rigorous as economic theory - it's more 'common sense' and catchy anagrams. The empirical stuff just doesn't have any where near enough data to be rigorous: they compare 5 companies (with massive questions about selection bias) or look at one company over 4 years or similar - stuff that would make any econometrician's blood turn cold. It's kind of like 'I know all Americans are stupid, cos I once sat next to an idiot on the plane...' Methodologically very unsound. It stems from the problem of trying to have the next new big idea - no-one gets much credit for going back and saying 'actually that idea from 1973 made a lot of sense...' -
not unless they can repackage it and market it as sexy and themselves as a new guru.
I don't think he's the only one who's sceptical about the value of an MBA - I was actively discouraged from doing one by the managing partner in Australia (who has an MBA). When I said I was tossing up between economics and politics, he thought I should go for politics. We recruit people like x because they are often a lot better of thinking for themselves and don't just want to roll out some MBA framework.

In terms of the value of management consultants, I think the main ones are:1) A team of people who will spend 4-8 weeks focused on one particular problem. Senior managers are always extremely busy with a million things to do, including lots of short-term problems. They don't have time to just lock themselves away, gather data, interview people, etc and really analyse a problem for a month or two.
2) Expertise in areas the client doesn't know much about. There is a
fair bit of criticism (some, perhaps even a lot) of consultants who
'borrow your watch and tell you the time'. There are a lot of situations though, like a merger of two companies, where managers will never have been involved in a merger before, let alone tried to co-ordinate one. A team of consultants who have worked on multiple mergers before can be a real help.
3) Outside perspective. People always build up biases about certain
ideas or ways of doing things. Being challenged by an outside
perspective can be valuable... even if it's called something stupid like 'out of the box' thinking.
As you say, getting smart enthusiastic people is important - they are willing to work long hours and challenge the status quo. Clients have lots of smart people too, but they find it harder to challenge the status quo, and to get a mandate to interview people, collect data, etc to be able to do the same analysis consultants can do.

Having some frameworks, theories, etc can be useful for helping think about different issues, but there is a huge amount of faddish searching for the new trend, and the new 'silver bullet' that will make a badly under-performing company suddenly become a superstar. Decent consultants should be very realistic with their clients about what they actually hope to achieve - but everyone needs to sell their services so a bit of hyperbole is inevitable. Unfortunately it often turns into bullshit. I think that's particularly true of some of the smaller consultants (possibly like the bloke who wrote the article) - x company is hardly perfect, but the brand name means there is less pressure to try and convince people to hire you. If your one of a million small boutiques, you've got to have a pretty good story.
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Argumentative tactics II: More fatuous gambits [Jun. 23rd, 2006|12:52 pm]
This is an interest I share with both Vardaman and Erudito, namely spotting shallow and irritating argumentative tactics. No doubt I have sunk to using some of these occasionally, but that doesn't stop them being shallow and irritating.

Tactics discussed so far:
1) abuse of personal experience to intimidate the opponent instead of argue ("well my aunt was raped by a vegetarian";

2) invocation of one's emotional attachment to an issue to forestall or close down a discussion ("I happen to feel very strongly about this");

3)premature and irrelevant dismissal of the opponent: 'well, we know that John Smith was obviously wrong about Iran's foreign policy, so his views on Iraq needn't detain us too long.' this is the classic 'poisoned well' fallacy - impugning the integrity of the opponent so that one needn't contend with their reasoning;

Some more culprits:

1) misuse of emotive verbs to describe the adversary's opinions: instead of saying "Economist x claims that Third World debt relief is less effective than free trade in combating poverty", you say "Economist x assures us that..." or more aggressively: "Economist x sneers that protectionism is inefficient."

As far as I can tell, this gambit is used most rampantly in academia.

the worst offender I have ever come across is an Oz historian, who wrote a book about the political battles between different Oz historians. If he or his allies had ever criticised someone, the description would be "dared to suggest", "reminded us" or "challenged" x. But if x criticised them, it would be that x "attacked", or even "vilified" us.

2) shudder quotes: replacing content with sarcasim - putting sarcastic talking marks around a phrase or word to distance oneself from the idea, thus avoiding the burden of actually rationally analysing and refuting the concept. (hat-tip to Erudito)
eg: that was before the "Renaissance"
Since the "democratic" world overcame the Soviet "evil empire"
The "achievements" of Western civilisation.
A "backward" society.
The "Fall" of Rome.

3) crass or selective use of opinion polls / appeals to majoritarian sentiment: I am right because opinion polls say that 90% of people agree with me.

(and the spin that is placed on this: when someone has a minority opinion, they are brave dissidents speaking out against the mob, the media and the crude nationalism of ignorant mainstream population. when they have the majority opinion, they represent the oppressed masses and the responsible nations of the world speaking out against elites who are out of touch with mainstream opinion.)

4) calling people who oppose a war unpatriotic (when one's patriotism can inform an opinion that a war should not be fought because it will be bad for one's country). of course, there are proudly anti-patriotic antiwarrists, but one does not necessarily entail the other.

4a) or calling someone who supports a war a "warmonger" (a warmonger is a person who deliberately and habitually incites conflict in an irresponsible way, not a person who reluctantly thinks that a war is the lesser evil and a necessary step in restoring justice or averting a worse evil). again, there are warmonger pro-warrists, but one does not necessarily entail the other.

5) promiscuous use of the Arab-Israeli conflict to change the subject:
x:"well, I think its a good thing that Saddam Hussein is on trial"
y:"yeah, but but what about the Palestinians?"

x: "its Holocaust Memorial Day. what a terrible thing to happen. My god, what a fucking awful tragedy."
y: "and Palestinian children are being killed right now as we speak. when do they get some attention?"

6) apologetic discourse: someone denounces a dictator, and someon else claims to explain the horrific actions of a dictator, but actually is trying to dilute the force of the condemnation of the dictator and turn the conversation into a castigation of the west/neoliberalism/insert bad thing here:
(true example)
x: "I dislike Hugo Chavez because he locks up people who criticise him"
y: "yes that is bad. mind you, we need to remember why he is popular and successful. its the fault of neoliberalism for making people poor and desperate."
x: "I don't want to discuss who else is to blame, lets not dilute the force of our condemnation and lets remember that he is ultimately responsible for his policy."
x: Explain it some other time. Lets just focus on criticising an inhumane policy, shall we?
y: "You're ahistorical if you think things don't have causes."
x: "didn't say that. I said that imprisoning political critics is a bad thing. Which you can't just simply agree on, for some reason."
y: Lets compare Chavez's record with Bush then. He hasn't killed as many people. (agenda revealed).
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GOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLL! [Jun. 22nd, 2006|05:13 pm]
[mood |ecstaticecstatic]

My heart almost exploded. After the ref turned down a good penalty claim for handball, Kewell cushioned a cross and gracefully stroked it into the net. Australia progresses for the first time EVER into the knockout rounds. An ocean of gold shirts dances and sings in the terraces and we are there, and I will be in some Oxford pub to see us throw everything at Italy. I'm so excited. We're in the last 16 countries in the WORLD! Not bad, given that quality teams like the Czech Republic are out. Its not even our favourite sport!

I think our regular keeper Schwarzer might just sneak back into the starting 11 after Kalac's mind-boggling howler. Hiddink brought on a battery of strong and fresh substitutes - Aloisi, Bresciano, Kennedy. We've got depth. Not wishing to antagonise our English friends, but we are playing with more fluency and conviction than they did in their first two games, although their first half versus Sweden was pretty impressive.

the best thing about these moments, apart from going through to the next round, is that it reminds me of standing in the MCG with Dad watching a thriller match, drowning in the collective psychology of the crowd. You become a child again.

Thomas Kennealy, one of Australia's greatest writers, whose novel Schindler's Ark inspired Spielberg, described it nicely. He was writing about rugby but who wants to be a pedant when your nation is in the finals?

We go to the cupboard,
we take out club colours
and the air sings.

The season's close.
The pads are going on goalposts.
New lines are being marked,
Coaches hold heart-to-hearts
with old stars and new kids,
who might one day wear the best colours,
the green, the gold.

Our boys are running up sandhills.
Their legs pump,
"This season, this season, this is our season".

This year we all start equal.
Kids paint signs.
And I am seven again.
I know I will see see heroes soon.
I feel the excitement.
I have hope in March,
and I might share the glory in September.

Blow that whistle ref!
Send that ball soaring!
Blow that whistle ref!

Best of luck in the next game, Spangly. Forza Italia!
(But to paraphrase the Persian Emperor's servant, Remember the Koreans. and who managed them.)

See some of you in the UK.

all my love, and patriotism,


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galloway, mouthpiece for monsters [Jun. 5th, 2006|12:47 am]
[mood |nauseatednauseated]

Hey all,

I can't recall exactly what I was up to around late January of this year. Probably preparing for my thesis viva.

But I just discovered (now its June, gulp!) what happened then. A video emerged of Galloway amiably pledging his allegiance to Saddam Hussein's psychopathic son, Uday:

"In the video, Galloway is seen to greet Uday, shaking his hand twice and calling him "Excellency." He jokes about losing weight, going bald and failing to give up smoking cigars. Galloway also orders watching journalists not to publish parts of their conversation. Finally...he taunts the U.S. and vows to stick with Uday "until the end".

Which casts a little doubt on the claim Galloway made in New York on that balmy night in September 2005:

'not only do I think that Saddam Hussein committed real and serious crimes against the Iraqi people, I said so at the time he was committing them, I was denounced for saying so at the time he was committing them, as a communist trouble-maker, disrupting the profitable relations between Iraq and Britain.'

No you didn't. When Saddam's family was still torturing and murdering, you told them you would be with them 'until the end.' That is, a member of the House of Commons swears solidarity with a regime that had to be policed by no-fly zones to prevent it carrying out genocide.

What a lying sycophant.
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bureaucracy [Jun. 1st, 2006|01:40 pm]
[mood |frustratedfrustrated]

Got my work permit to work in the UK. Its coming via snail mail.
thought everything was sorted out.

thought I just had to apply for an entry clearance here in NYC.

then the British embassy in NYC tells me, in their efficious little way, that they don't normally
let people apply for entry clearance from outside their country of residence (which is Australia).

It is entirely up to their discretion, they tell me, not at all enjoying the little frisson of power.

I ask whether I can come in and see them. Oh yes, in two weeks we have a window of time for you.

Two weeks.

If they give it to me, its after two weeks of sweating on whether they will smile on my plea.

If not, I must fly to Australia: 800 pounds, 20 hours return.

And then fly to Canberra. Because, of course, the embassy there is the only one in Australia that processes passport-related matters.

Reluctant to apply for entry clearance via post to Canberra. there's just something about sending my passport away while visiting New York that makes me nervous.

I really really really really really don't want to fly out to Canberra just to get my passport stamped.

I'm told by the Home Office and workpermits.uk that I should be fine. They will be nice and use their discretion mercifully. Which is encouraging.

Any tips on how to tip the odds in my favour?
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The problem with the yank extreme right [May. 18th, 2006|05:46 pm]
[mood |disappointeddisappointed]

It seems not even George Bush is rightwing enough for some people.

Amongst the more xenophobic strands of the American right, its symptomatic of their absurd dogmatism that they now seem to regard George Bush as some kind of anarchist pariah for taking a pretty moderate position on immigration.

Its not enough that Bush opposes gay marriage, stem cell research, and abortion. He must have a hard-line position on everything to be welcome in the club.

Who do they want as President? Patrick fucking Buchanan? Ann Coulter? Rush Limbaugh? Do they really want to get every poor Mexican whose father crossed the border to earn a few pennies twenty years ago and boot him out? I thought these guys were supposed to stand for entrepreneurship and initiative and taking a risk to help your people.

John Mccain certainly won't be considered good enough, given his stance in favour of campaign finance reform and his treacherous opposition to torture.

This complaint about their foul-tempered authoritarian nature has been made much more eloquently by John Podhoretz. On their very own criteria, not even Ronald Reagan would have been a legitimate conservative:

"But the fact is that a more expansive view of immigration policy has long been part of the mainstream of the conservative movement — indeed, Ronald Reagan himself held such an opinion. We are moving into very dangerous territory here — territory in which it has been declared that there is to be no debate, no discussion, and no heterodoxy any longer. This is how political-intellectual movements become diseased and sclerotic. This is how they die."
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Immigration and civility [May. 18th, 2006|10:41 am]
[mood |impressedimpressed]

I stuck this on Oxblog as well. I thought it would fit in with our recent chats about the nature of public debate.

A PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS: Bush is a beleaguered President. His approval rating has plummetted to Nixonian levels. Violence in Iraq threatens to escalate further. He copped some unfair blame for Katrina, but he deserved some blame. He has overspent. His administration has been too willing to compromise basic civil liberties.

But as an outsider still grappling with the complexities of the immigration debate, I thought his recent address on immigration was balanced, humane and wise.

His message is a fair one: sovereignty and secure borders, are vital national interests and legitimate goals of government. A border that is not sufficiently monitored, for example, robs the state of vetting the majority of well-meaning immigrants from those who are evading the law. Its not racist to secure the borders, or to be concerned about the problem.

At the same time, millions of immigrants have come here in desparation and, other than entering illegally, have built upright lives and raised law-abiding families. They shouldn't be given a free pass to citizenship, but should be given a chance to amend their illegal behaviour by paying back taxes, and prove themselves worthy of citizenship by respecting the law and learning English. They will be behind legal immigrants in the queue.

On this issue, Bush has not capitulated to the more zealous and hysterical wings of the American right. It has been distressing to see how flippantly they have accused their critics of being 'unAmerican', just as they seem to want to redefine the war against radical and extreme Islamists into a war against Arabs and Muslims generally. Finding instances of illegal immigrants breaking the law, they have tried to misrepresent all illegal immigrants as criminal hordes. In the inflammatory tenor of their argument, they have trafficked on this issue as a 'dogwhistle' technique, deliberately mobilising racial antagonism without overt racist sentiment.

The shrillness of certain hard-core bloggers has been particularly disappointing, with their acerbic vocabulary (the mindless kind of 'moonbat unAmerican elites' chatter, high on emotion and hollow on argument). On the other side, too often words like 'fascist' and 'racist' are deployed against commentators who have legitimate concerns about social cohesion, language learning, and border security.

To be sure, there is probably much self-interest in Bush's carefully balanced position. A large Hispanic vote getting larger will not have been overlooked.

Nevertheless, most impressive of all was the spirit of Bush's address. He appealed to a certain civility of debate:

America needs to conduct this debate on immigration in a reasoned and respectful tone. Feelings run deep on this issue, and as we work it out, all of us need to keep some things in mind. We cannot build a unified country by inciting people to anger, or playing on anyone's fears, or exploiting the issue of immigration for political gain. We must always remember that real lives will be affected by our debates and decisions, and that every human being has dignity and value no matter what their citizenship papers say.

The immigration debate has an impact on the issue directly, but also has a wider significance for American civil society. An acrimonious and polemical debate will sour and embitter the public space in other areas, and make sober debate more difficult on other questions.

So dare I say it, in Bush's appeal for civility, there was just a frisson of Lincoln's first inaugural address:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
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