“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

Archive for September 2006

NATO, the Cold War and Afghanistan

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The current fiasco of scraping together NATO forces for Afghanistan brings to mind the Cold War.

Before the fall of the Soviet Union, NATO was on the front line to stop, as we were told at the time, the ever present possibility of conflict with the Warsaw Pact countries.

NATO was to be the bulwark against Soviet expansion and millions of Soviet troops.

Oh, how things have changed since the early 1990s.

NATO, instead of fighting millions of soldiers under the direction of the Kremlin, now faces a ragtag band of Taliban.

Of course, guerrilla actions can be unpredictable and hard to contain, but the probable thousands of Taliban fighters hardly compare with the millions of East European troops and the Red Army.

The undignified diplomatic shuffling and arm twisting which is going on now just to raise a few thousand troops for the NATO force in Afghanistan does not bode well for the future.

European nations seem more content when the threat is on the doorstep (has allegedly it was with the Warsaw Pact), but the ramifications of a rejuvenated Taliban retaking Afghanistan are too awful to consider, for the want of countries in the West fully engaging with the problems there.

The recent treaty signed by President Musharraf will, in all probability, give the Taliban a launch pad for attacks into Afghanistan from the lawless border region of Pakistan.

Combined with bumper crops of poppies it would seem that Afghanistan might regress.

Western countries have known for at least the past two years of the Taliban’s resurgence and yet have not taken up the challenge, there is much talk of winning “the hearts and minds” but comparatively little real change on the ground.

So the four broad problems of Afghanistan, as I see them, are:

1. Western countries pitiful contribution to the rebuilding of Afghanistan
2. insufficient aid and military expertise
3. a method for dealing with the growth of poppies
4. how to make the border region of Pakistan inhospitable for the Taliban and Al Qaeda

The first two points should be comparatively easy to deal with if Western countries feel that the rebuilding of Afghanistan is in their vested interest and not just another annoyance.

The third point could possibly be dealt with by buying up the crop entirely and using it for medical purposes rather than allowing it to be processed into hard drugs. It seems unlikely that an eradication programme would be feasible or achievable in Afghanistan, so the alternative is to spend money to mopping them up and win the hearts and minds, that way.

The fourth point is very tricky, that border region is incredibly inhospitable and as the British found probably unconquerable. It may be that tribal loyalties in the region take precedence over money or perceived self-interest, military operations would seem futile and buying off parts of the border region may be more effective and in the long run cheaper than military incursions. Either way it is unclear as to how to deal with this problem.

So Western countries have several choices: engage with Afghanistan, pour money and resources into the region or allow Afghanistan to become, yet again, a mediaeval barbaric regime under the Taliban.

I think I know what is more preferable but do the politicians in the West?

Written by modernityblog

30/09/2006 at 23:10

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Shock! Iran Wanted Nukes

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Shock, horror, we are surprised (sarcasm) has reported by the BBC:

“A letter from 1988 in which Iran’s top commander says Iran could need a nuclear bomb to win the war against Iraq has come to light in Tehran.

The commander is quoted in the letter, written by the father of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, to top officials in the final days of the war.

It has only now been made public – by former President Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The letter seems at odds with Tehran’s statements that Iran is not seeking a bomb because it is against Islam.


The letter from Ayatollah Khomeini lists the requirements of military commanders if they are to continue fighting against Iraq.

It mentions more aircraft, helicopters, men and weapons, and also quotes the top commander saying Iran would within five years need laser-guided and atomic weapons in order to win the war.

Some Iranian news agencies have, however, deleted the reference to atomic weapons in the letter.

It is sensitive because Iran has always said it is not seeking a nuclear weapon and leading clerics say an atomic bomb would be against Islam.

Ayatollah Khomeini’s letter also reveals how challenged Iran’s economy and military were by the eight years of war against Iraq.

The letter quotes the prime minister of the time saying the economy was operating at a level below zero and volunteers for the front were in short supply.

Ayatollah Khomeini’s letter has been made public at a time when Iran is preparing for a possible confrontation with the US over its nuclear programme.

But it also comes against a background of an argument between Mr Rafsanjani and a top military commander over who was instrumental in persuading Ayatollah Khomeini to agree to a ceasefire with Iraq that the Ayatollah himself likened to drinking a poisoned chalice. “

Written by modernityblog

30/09/2006 at 17:59

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Of Books and Things to Read

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Deciding which books to read can be a bit of a hit and miss process. I have more than my fair share of “looked good at the time but questionable quality” type books, so finding a good source of bibliography information is very valuable and saves time.

The topic of the Middle East is unlikely to disappear from our horizons any time shortly, and I think it pays to be well-informed on the region and its goings-on, so why not try the Mideastweb as it provides a searchable bibliography of books relating to the region..

Written by modernityblog

30/09/2006 at 00:15

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David Aaronovitch – Fighting Terror

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Whilst I remember, here are the clips which make up David Aaronovitch’s Fighting Terror programme shown recently on Channel 5.

Thanks to Harry’s Place.

Written by modernityblog

28/09/2006 at 17:15

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YouTube and Fighting Terrorism

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YouTube is very handy, and the recent Channel 5 programme Don’t Get Me Started by David Aaronovitch is a fine example of how technology is allowing people across the world access to British Television.

Watching clips directly on YouTube is okay, but if you want to download the clip, then help is at hand.

1. Get the URL of the clip, e.g.

2. Goto

3. Paste into the space below “Download direct from most video sites” and on the right toggle bring “YouTube” and click on download (right handside).

4. Wait a moment and the file download link will appear, do a right click and save the file.

5. Bring up Media Player Classic or your favourite media player and watch locally.

6. If your player complains about missing FLV codecs, visit the FDDshow page, download, install and try again.

7. Alternatively use this FLV player.

8. NB: Make sure that the downloaded file has the FLV extension.

Update: I forgot to add that the VLC media player will probably play FLV files too.

Written by modernityblog

27/09/2006 at 19:32

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Better Fox?

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Version 2.0 of Firefox is coming out of Beta, with the first release candidate being shipped today.

Firefox 2.0 has a wide range of new features, which include, but not limited to:

Built-in phishing protection
Enhanced search capabilities
Previewing and subscribing to Web feeds
Inline spell checking
Improved Add-ons manager
JavaScript 1.7
Extended search plugin format.
Updates to the extension system
New Windows installer

A fair few existing extensions don’t work with the Beta 2.0 of Firefox, but hopefully those problems will be resolved shortly.

Written by modernityblog

27/09/2006 at 12:01

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BBC Radio 4 Listen Again

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The BBC Radio 4 Listen Again is great, it allows listeners to re-play programmes that might have been missed or just to enjoy again, I would recommend tonight’s offering: With Great Pleasure

Written by modernityblog

24/09/2006 at 23:29

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Nasrallah View: from the Jordan to the Mediterranean

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According to reports, in his recent speech, which was aimed at shoring up his position, Hassan Nasrallah made many grandiose claims but one in particular will find some resonance amongst the historical illiterates:

“Mr Nasrallah said that the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon showed that if Arab states had the will, they could destroy Israel. “The Arab armies and Arab peoples are able not only to liberate Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In all simplicity, with decision and will they can restore Palestine from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] sea,” he said.”

Nasrallah is playing to his audience’s ignorance, “just one last push and the Jews will be thrown in the sea” is his sub-text, conveniently forgetting that generations of Arab rulers, dictators, military has-beens have tried such tactics since 1948, without any success.

Since 1948 Israel has defeated the combined armies of all neighbouring states and it is barely seems conceivable that feuding local Arab dictators, theocrats and monarchs will summon up the unity and gross stupidity to try it again.

Nevertheless, Israel should not drop its guard, where possible it should sign peace treaties with neighbouring states and reduce to an absolute minimum the low level conflict with the Palestinians, which hopefully will lead to a Palestinian state and remove any festering sore that could unite the disparate Arab rulers and their ballooning military budgets:

“Saudi Arabia’s defense budget of dlrs 25.4 billion corresponds to dlrs 962 per capita, spending by Oman of $3.02 bn equates to $1,007 per head and the UAE’s $2.65 bn expenditure works out at $1,035 each for its 2.56 million inhabitants.

The ratio is even higher for Kuwait, an equivalent of dlrs 1,856 per head for its dlrs 4.27 bn defense budget in 2005. In Qatar, the cost reaches $2,538 per capita to make up its dlrs 3.02 bn expenditure.

In terms of the country’s GDP, Iran’s defense spending works out at only 3.5 percent, higher than only than the UAE’s 2.23 percent among Persian Gulf countries.

Expenditure in Bahrain, which is equivalent to $764 per capita, is 4.1 percent of GDP. In Qatar it is 6.19 percent, in Kuwait 6.24 percent, in Saudi Arabia 8.44 percent and in Oman 9.64 percent, the report said”

Oh great, poverty spreading across the Middle East and it is Guns before Butter, how social ‘progressive’ in the 21st century!

Written by modernityblog

24/09/2006 at 19:17

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Light Relief

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As way of light relief and instead of any drugs, it is good to visit JibJab, and their funny takes on DC, this land, etc but also human ingenuity

Written by modernityblog

22/09/2006 at 12:27

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Tonge tired or Lack of Education?

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I hadn’t intended to blog on the comments of Baroness Tonge, but two issues occurred to me: words and education.

By words, I mean the primary medium which politicians can communicate by. A mechanic has his toolbox of wrenches, an engineer has a toolbox of screwdrivers and assorted equipment, etc, but a politician only has words and how he or she uses them determines their career and livelihood.

As a result politicians tend or at least try to use words in a more pointed and occasionally precise way than the rest of us (excluding barristers, lawyers, journalists and associated jobs, which politicians often do as well).

As words and the choice of them are of utter importance to a politician, particularly when composing a speech for a meeting at party conference. The politician will consider and measure the impact of the words in his or her speech: are they appropriate for the audience? Do they convey the right message? Are they too extreme? What point is being made? Can the speech be misconstrued?

And so it is with Baroness Tonge’s comments at the Liberal Democratic Party fringe meeting on Palestine, in Brighton. Baroness Tonge has been a politician for some 25 years, starting as a local councillor and finally acquiring ermine in 2005. She is not a political novice.

Therefore, it is not unreasonable to assume that she knew what she was saying and the impact that it would have.

Turning to education, Baroness Tonge is not, as many people might suppose, ill educated. Far from it, she is a Doctor and has a degree from University College (although biographical details on the Web seem a bit scant at the moment).

In Baroness Tonge, we have essentially an educated career politician and that seeks to conjure up or inadvertently uses borderline antisemitic imagery: Jews controlling finance/banks.

I am at a loss to understand why Baroness chose to say the words that she did, I can only assume that she is undereducated in terms of antisemitic myths or imagery.

Which brings me to the final point, I think that across the political spectrum there are a wide range of people who are barely conscious of the creeping antisemitism which is entering the mainstream discourse, highlighted by the recent Parliamentary report.

I am unsure as to whether this is intentional or not, but I think there is a need for a concerted campaign to cover 3000 years of antisemitic myths and explain them in detail to all types of people, supposedly educated or not.

Politicians and political activists will be reluctant to ever admit that they don’t know something and certainly antisemitism is a topic which falls into that area.

Many of them would probably be able to give a summary of the most overt Nazi antisemitic myths, but how would they fare when trying to discern the subtler manifestations and demonisation which regularly takes place in the media?

So, my contribution to the topic is to recommend that Baroness Tonge and many others read Anti-Semitism: The Longest Hatred by Robert S. Wistrich, ISBN: 041365320X, before they have another Mel Gibson “moment”.

Written by modernityblog

21/09/2006 at 18:09

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It Had to Happen?

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Who’s to blame for 9/11, the Asian Tsunami, Katrina, Climate Change and now genocide in Sudan?

You got it! Israel and Jews are to blame for these problems, according to President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. The President dispenses with the normal camouflage of saying ‘Zionists’:

“It is very clear there is a plan to redraw the region,” especially after the invasion of Iraq, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir told a news conference on the sidelines of a ministerial U.N. General Assembly session.

“The main purpose is the security of Israel. Any state in the region should be weakened, dismembered in order to protect the Israelis, to guarantee the Israeli security,” he said.”

How tediously predictable.

You could almost foretell for each up-and-coming modern catastrophe: hurricane, earthquake, thunder or lightning or genocide, who people will blame.

In one shape of words or the other they say “it was the Zionists/Jews/Israelis that are to blame”.

The chronic antisemitism and conspiracy theories that pervade much of modern thinking are a throwback
to the Middle Ages when Jews were blamed for the Black Death:

“In the Middle Ages, Jews were accused of all kinds of slanders and were scapegoats for the problems of the day.

* Blood Libel _ In 1144, a myth began in England that Jews murdered Christian children. This myth was expanded to become an accusation which persisted for centuries that the Jews used the blood of Christian children in the preparation of their Passover unleavened bread (matzohs). This “blood libel” was ironic in that the consumption of any blood is expressly prohibited by Jewish law.

* Black Death_ the bubonic plague, the cause of the Black Death that liquidated a quarter of the population of Europe in the 14th century, was blamed on the Jews in Europe and Asia. The Pope issued a bull declaring that Jews were not responsible for the plague, but not before many Jews were burned alive or hanged by enraged mobs.”

How regressive, it is as if cranky marginal beliefs normally confined to neo-Nazis, their camp followers or fellow travellers are spreading through modern thought on a daily basis.

Written by modernityblog

20/09/2006 at 17:43

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Google Single Sign On

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Google accounts which allow a single sign on to Google services will shortly add Writely to the services offered.

Less hassle or are Google trying to take over the world? you decide.

Written by modernityblog

19/09/2006 at 23:10

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Terrible news from Oslo:

“OSLO, Norway (Reuters) — Shots were fired at a synagogue in central Oslo early on Sunday and police said they were investigating whether the incident was linked to religious hatred.

Armed police sealed off the synagogue after the incident at around 2.30 a.m. (0030 GMT). No one was injured.

“It seems some of the shots hit the synagogue,” said Bjoern Christian Joergensen, a police spokesman.

Asked if the shooting was connected to religious intolerance, he said: “We are keeping all options open and investigating this possibility.”

The Mosaic Religious Community, which owns the synagogue, had asked for better protection of its property following threats and after the site was vandalized in early August.

“This is the last in a series of incidents this summer whose purpose, it sees, is to scare us,” Anne Sender, the leader of the Mosaic Religious Community, told Reuters.”

Written by modernityblog

19/09/2006 at 01:49

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News from Germany

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Depressing news from Germany, 6.4% too many:

“Neo-Nazis capture seats in Merkel’s home state
By Tony Paterson in Berlin
Published: 18 September 2006

Neo-Nazis dealt an embarrassing political blow to Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday after winning parliamentary seats in her eastern home state for the first time since the country’s reunification in 1990.

The overtly racist National Democratic Party, won 6.4 per cent of votes in the Baltic coastal state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, where Mrs Merkel has her parliamentary constituency and keeps a holiday home.

Mrs Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats were narrowly beaten by the ruling Social Democrats in the state, which is renowned for having the highest unemployment in Germany. However, the Social Democrats lost more than 10 per cent of the vote, and it was unclear whether the party would continue its so-called “Red-Red” ruling coalition with reform Communists or attempt a grand coalition with the conservatives. Harald Ringstorff, the state’s Social Democrat prime minister, described the NPD’s gains as an ” absolute catastrophe” yesterday.

He added: “Our most important task now is to take on these brown brothers and defeat them through argument.” The NPD campaigned on a strongly anti-foreigner platform. Its share of the vote was enough to enable the party to enter the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern state parliament.

However, its leaders admitted the party’s role would be confined to ” stirring up opposition” to the established parties.

The party shocked Germany two years ago after obtaining seats in the eastern state of Saxony for the first time in 36 years.

In Berlin, where city state elections were also held yesterday, the ruling Social Democrats headed by the city’s openly gay mayor, Klaus Wowereit, captured 31 per cent of the vote to stay in power.

The Social Democrats faced the choice of continuing their ruling “Red Red” coalition with the reform-Communist Left party, or forming a new alliance with the Greens, who won over 13 per cent of the vote.

In Berlin, the outcome was also interpreted as a defeat for Mrs Merkel’s conservatives, who won 21.6 per cent of the vote.”

Written by modernityblog

18/09/2006 at 00:15

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Say No to Rome?

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I don’t normally comment on religion, it is not one of my major concerns, as an atheist.

I think faith is a private matter and for each individual to decide upon, but when religion, religious beliefs or its exponents cause major social damage or death (as we saw with the cartoon fiasco) then I feel that the matter is worthy of comment.

As far as I can discern from extracts of the Pope’s speech, he is quoting a 14th century individual, and the words should probably be best viewed in that world wide and historical context.

Spats between religions are nothing new, historically speaking, many religions manufacture conflicts to differentiate themselves and acquire power, but should it concerned believers in secular society (and by that I mean the separation of Church and State, etc)?

Should religions be beyond criticism? Should secularists walk on eggshells when discussing religion?

I think we all should be concerned, religions are not beyond, criticism after the Reformation, and in contemporary society we should expect a vigorous debate on religion, its impact on society and where to draw some boundaries.

I don’t think that we should necessarily go out of our way to the offensive to individuals concerning religion, but the Reformation happened and so did the age of Enlightenment.

We are no longer compelled to seek religious guidance for every action in life, we are no longer compelled to defer to the Papacy or watch as the Inquisition burns people.

Puritans no longer control British life as they did in the 17th century, so believers in civil society, religious or otherwise, need to make the point clear that incitement to violence or killing people merely because they wish to discuss some aspect of religious belief must not be tolerated in any way shape or form.

Killing people because they offend your religion or belief system, with words or cartoons, is murder pure and simple.

Ironically, the last word goes to Popery:

“The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably (“syn logo”) is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats…. To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death….”

Update 1: The Taliban wants in on the act “Afghanistan’s Taliban on Saturday demanded Pope Benedict XVI to apologise for remarks linking Islam with violence, adding the comment showed the Christian West was waging war against Muslims.”

Surreal or what?

Written by modernityblog

16/09/2006 at 23:35

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