Pedantry - Moved to http://pedantry.fistfulofeuros.net
Friday, July 18, 2003
Vive le courriel!
The current top two documents on Technorati's Breaking News, which is a link monitoring service for blogs, are both to an AP article concerning the June 20th publication of the Journal officiel of the French Republic. An extract follows:
France bans 'e-mail' from vocabulary
The blogosphere can't let this one slide apparently. Some responses:
Sign of the Times
Oh, and then there is this gem of erudition:
Dumb gringo. It ain't "gunna" hafta. In Canada, people have been using other words for "e-mail" in French for years.
I assume the bigger name right-wingers of the blog world will pick this up before too long. I'm betting on a Volokh, and at least one of the unholy trinity of Instapundit, Lileks or Little Green Footballs. Allow me to respond to those who have already blogged this as yet another example of French perfidity, and those who no doubt will soon: You are all a bunch of idiots.
Here is exactly what appeared in the Journal Officiel:
Let me draw your attention to the last line, which I will translate:
Attention: This term supersedes and replaces "courrier électronique", published in the Journal officiel on December 2, 1997.
In short, the French government has been promoting a replacement term for e-mail for five and a half years, and seeing how that term has not been widely adopted, they are now promoting another term to replace it. This is:
Now, tonight on Pedantry, you're in for something special. Most of the topics I post on are philosophical, political and public affairs related, with occasional jaunts into the social sciences and less classifiable material. I comment a lot on blogs run by people with extensive backgrounds in philosophy and economics. I always feel a mite bit reserved, because I have had exactly one undergraduate class in economics, one in theology, and one graduate class in philosophy. Well, tonight, you're going to get a dose of me mouthing off on my own personal field of expertise.
You see, once upon a time, I aspired to become the first anglo terminologist at the Office de la langue française, Quebec's language authority. I was well on my way too. My last big thesis before I ran out of money for school showed that as far computer terminology was concerned, the Académie Française had an abysmal record of normalising terms that failed, while the OLF and various French-language and bilingual technical normalisation committees - in Canada, the EU, and at the ISO level - had been extremely successful in establishing and promoting widely used French terminology in IT. I followed the Académie's recommendations over the course of some 30 years, from the early 60's to the early 90's, and found that they had an incredible record for picking dogs. I even advanced a hypothesis as to why the Académie was so ineffective, but that's for another post.
(Actually, the whole history - which isn't hard to find on the 'Net if you can read French and you know where to look - fits perfectly my 1994 criticisms of the Académie Française: First, they wanted "message électronique", then "courrier électronique", and now they go with the spontaeously created Canadian term "courriel." Blew it twice before going with something simpler, easier to pronounce, easier to spell and easier to remember. Thank God they didn't take the OLF's recommended spelling "courriél.")
Let me try to clear up a few misconceptions about French language authorities:
Now, let me return to the task at hand: "e-mail", "courrier électronique" and "courriel." Let's do a little empirical linguistics. Try the following links to Google searches, and look carefully at the document counts in the upper right hand corner:
Think for a bit about those numbers. There are over 400,000 pages using "courriel" and about the same number using "courrier électronique." That suggests that the terms recommended by official committees do get used, and do make a difference. "Courriel" is catching on, and it is easier to say and spell than "courrier électronique." Furthermore, by adopting it, France is moving in line with Quebec usage, helping to prevent vocabulary from drifting too much across the French-speaking world.
In contrast, on the Culture Ministry's website itself, you find "e-mail" almost twice as often as "courrier électronique" and almost ten times as often as "courriel." That hardly suggests that this official endorsement of vocabulary has much force of law.
So, let me reiterate: Get a freaking life, francophobic losers and Paris-based AP reporters! You have no friggin' clue what you're talking about!
Added to my list of posts to write: Why every other language in the world has a language commission and why that's a good thing.
Update: 1:32 CET July 19 -- We have a Volokh. Can I call'em or what?
Good stuff in this week's Exile
First, Mark Ames' editorial this week seems to either mourn or celebrate (I'm not sure which) the passing of Russia's short-lived stability under Vladimir Putin:
There's a part of me - the masochistic part with a penchant for packing his bags and changing countries when he's bored - who is thinking great! There's still a part of eastern Europe that deserves to be called the "Wild East"! I haven't missed out yet! The more rational part of me, however, knows that if my wife couldn't face winter in Montreal, Russia is out of the question.
As Ames' editorial notes, Edvard Limonov has been released from prision. Now, Limonov is not the most repuatable character in Russia, and I do not in any way endorse his politics - or at least I think I don't, since I've honestly never managed to work out precisely what they are and I certainly can't see myself supporting anything called "the National Bolshevik party" - but I do recommend his novels. If you don't know who Limonov is, the Exile has published a summary "for Dummies" to help you out as well as an account from Limonov himself.
But I want to draw special attention to this week's War Nerd commentary:
Iraq: the “Duh!” Theory
Not to be too Instapundity, but "duh" indeed.
Mr Blair goes to Washington
I skipped out on Blair's speech before Congress last night. It was on at "precisely" 19:53 British time - or so BBC World kept claiming in the run-up - and there was a movie about women sumo wrestlers on another channel at eight. It was a tough choice. Watch Blair spout nonsense in front of America's most exclusive geriatric millionaires' club or watch zaftig British women toss each other out of a sandy ring?
I missed the speech, but Ryan at Beatnik Salad didn't:
I recommend clicking through and reading the rest. Also via Beatnik Salad, I recommend the post at Billmon's Whisky Bar on the same speech.
Mad Dogs and Englishmen
There is always a temptation to engage in conspiracy theorising, especially when some decisions actaully do seem to get made by conspiracies. (Who did put the "45 minutes" remark in Tony blair's speech on Iraq, and the Niger uranium claim in Bush's?) However, I am beginning to face the real possibility that men who seem corrupt in power may actually believein what they're doing. Blair is beginning to remind me of a Yiddish short story I ran into a couple weeks ago.
I just don't get it otherwise, unless it was the price for this:
Guantanamo trials to be suspended
Does this mean no military tribunals, or just none for British citizens? The dateline is less than 90 minutes old, so we'll have to see.
Found in a Matt Taibbi column
For those of you unfamiliar with him, Matt Taibbi is a columnist for the NY Press and a former editor of the Moscow's The Exile. I was looking through some of his old columns today and came across this gem, which more or less summarises all my problems with the Democratic party and the center-left:
It has been 14 years, almost to the day, since Fukuyama–a former Reagan advisor and an influence on Paul Wolfowitz–published, to great fanfare, an article entitled "The End of History?" in the summer issue of The National Interest. The essay was a labyrinthine piece of theory that recalled Marx, Hegel, and Reaganite foreign policy simultaneously, and was joyously misinterpreted by people on all sides.
I am quite happy - gratified even - if large chunks of the population want nothing more than "mild improvements to this best of all possible worlds." I just think that position ought to be called conservative, and I am much happier sharing the world with those kinds of conservatives than the kind who think that 1950 (or 1900, or 1880, or 1860, or a Nozickite "state of nature") was the best of all possible worlds.
But, there still need to be people who imagine a fundamentally better world and who want to make it happen, because history isn't over. I can find a few in Belgium. Some of them are nuts, but most are not. Are there any in the US anymore? Has imagining a better world become an act of science fiction?
Sorry, I just did a circuit of the blogs and I'm feeling frustrated that the most radical project I see on the American left is getting people to understand that a president who starts unprovoked wars and runs up trillion-plus dollar debts on regressive tax cuts might not be a very good leadership choice.
Thursday, July 17, 2003
Humping on the bandwagon
I suppose this probably going to be the most blogged topic today, but I'm going to link to it anyway.
Masturbating may protect against prostate cancer
So that's right boys, go ahead and wipe your pipe, spank the monkey, polish your flagpole, test fire your Death Star and put Mr Hanky's kids through college. It's safe, it's clean, it's easy and it not only feels good, it's good for you! Now, if anyone catches you hunting the one-eyed trouser snake, you've got the perfect excuse. I see a future of public health posters: The Surgeon General advises men aged 18-34 to masturbate at least once a day to reduce the risk of prostate cancer. I forsee discussions of technique in high school sex ed classes. I look forward to seeing Hustler sold at pharmacies and fitness stores and strip joints calling themselves "health clubs." Yes folks, those of us who are "outies" instead of "innies" can expect a much brighter, happier future for the next generation. Heck, why wait! I'm sure the Unablogger would be glad to help you get started on a prostate cancer free future right now.
Okay, having gotten that out of they way, I note that Brian Weatherson over at Crooked Timber is having a hard time coming up with an original evolutionary explanation for this interesting little research result, while Gummo Trotsky is far more interested in hearing the creation science take on matters. I have to admit to being a bit curious myself.
Wednesday, July 16, 2003
Some quick stuff I've been meaning to blog
Tuesday, July 15, 2003
History and ambiguity in Prague and Harry Potter
One of the benefits I get out of vacations is a chance to read.
I'm not a very good tourist, you see, and I suppose it's all Guy Debord's fault, but that's for another post. The great thing about vacations is that I can sit somewhere, a train, a café, even a hotel room (just not on aeroplanes), and get some reading done. Despite tromping around Prague full time, I did manage to get several books read on this trip.
On the way to the airport in Brussels, I finished off Engine City, the last of Ken MacLeod's Engines of Light series. On the whole, I give it a thumbs up, but I don't think it was as good as the second volume. My only complaint is about the almost literal deux ex machina ending. I have no difficulty swallowing the "gods" that underlie the trilogy's premises - intelligent organisms that look a lot like asteroids, and that they might be conspiratorial beings with their own agenda. I had no trouble with genetically engineered intelligent dinosaurs or that giants squids were the first intelligent species on Earth.
No, what bothered me was introducing, in the very last volume and without a hint in the previous ones as far as I could tell, the idea that planets also host similar "gods" and that these gods are able to mess with our heads. Furthermore, it was never clear to me why the gods living in planets would want to make people protective of the gods living in asteroids. It would make a lot more sense to me if they turned their intelligent inhabitants into environmentalists. It is on this very point that the end of the third novel turns. I can see why a series of books whose main characters are immortal would have to end with their executions - I've sort of been expecting it since the first volume - but the crime for which they are executed, and the reason why the sentence was carried out, fits terribly poorly with the rest. A book that seems to spend most of its time focusing on the idea of human empowerment seems to end by telling us that humans are powerless against the gods.
The next book I finished off was one that I purchased on a discount rack at a bookstore on the American army base at Schinnen, Netherlands a couple of weeks ago. (One of these days, there will be a post about my visit to the American PX at Schinnen, but I'm holding onto it for the moment.) The book was The Telling by Ursula Le Guin, her first Hainish novel in some 20 years. Again, I have to give a qualified thumbs-up. There were a lot of elements I liked, like the world where a radical capitalist revolution has established a state as dehumanising as anything in the old communist world, complete with its "producer/consumers" in the model of the New Soviet Man. I also rather liked the ideas behind the Telling itself, a religion of sorts more on the Confucian model than the Christian one that the new progress-oriented state has driven underground.
I do have some issues with the book, in particular its very one-sided treatment of the "Corporation State" and its enemies. Le Guin does make the point that Aka - the planet most of the novel is set on - has made immense technological progress in a very short time, but that seems to count for little to her in the face of its more oppressive aspects. The Telling and its adherents are described in only the best terms, without any shading as far as I could tell. When the story's protagonist - an Earth-born linguist and anthropologist - finally discovers the reason the state hates its history and traditions so much, it is ultimately very unedifying.
We are told that one of the ethnic groups on Aka - presumably the wealthiest and most powerful before the revolution - had a social structure in which the Telling was linked to economic and political power. According to the explanation given to her, that ethnic group was the source of the corrupted religion that was abolished by the new regime. This explanation puts me in mind of Christian theologians and historians who believe that the early church was inherently less corrupt than the Christian institutions that survive today. There are people who think that it was either Paul the Apostle or the spread of Christianity among pagan Europeans that corrupted the faith. Alternatively, I have heard Muslims say that the Taliban are a product of the barbarian nature of Afghanistan's Pashtuns. In other corners of the world, there are Hindus who will tell you that India's castes are the fault of some invader, or that Confucianism is corrupted by Taoist and Buddhist influence (or the other way around.) This sort of explanation is common enough, and in many cases may even be true in some sense, but it does not excuse a religion of a history of oppression. It only suggests that there might be another, less oppressive form of that religion.
I am bothered by the appearance that Le Guin wants us to accept such a simple explanation. I would have liked to have learned that at the time of the revolution, the Telling really was an oppressive force. I would have liked to have seen at least one character who viewed the Corporate State as a mixed bag instead of as an unmitigated good or bad. I would have found it more credible and much more interesting to conclude that it was a good thing that the revolution swept away a corrupt religion, even though it was wrong cut people off from their past and drive their traditions underground.
On that count, MacLeod does a lot better. The anti-hero of the Engines of Light novels is a politically astute Russian officer named Volkov, who, as the second novel ends, is off to Nova Babylonia, the wealthy bright core of the Second Sphere and some 100 light-years away from the setting of the second novel. There, it is his intention to precipitate a social revolution in order to overthrow the arbitrary rule of the gods.
He succeeds, and the state that comes from it has been portrayed with the successes and failures of the Soviet Union in mind. On the one hand, it looks a bit like the state one might have imagined Lenin founding had he lived. It lacks the arbitrary brutality of Stalin's rule and its borders are not so closed that no one can escape. Yet, it is hardly a paradise either. There is ample evidence of economic inefficiency and coercive propaganda. Like the Soviet Union's brutal industrialisation under Stalin, it is both horrible and necessary - a response to an enemy held to be so dangerous that it justifies doing whatever is necessary.
Unlike Stalin's Russia, that enemy doesn't exactly materialise, or at least doesn't do so in the expected manner. As bad as the "Modern Regime" is, it is still a mixed blessing. That point is laid out explicitly in an exchange between one of the major characters, Lydia, a member of Nova Balylonia's former bourgeoisie, and Gaius, a spy for the smaller neighbouring capitalist state, Illyria.
"[Volkov] gave us back our pride," [Lydia] said, "He showed us we could be a great people, that we didn't need to limit ourselves to what the saurs would accept. All but a few of them cringe before the gods. Volkov said we can go out to space ourselves, face and fight the aliens, and deflect anything the gods care to throw at us. The saurs went away, they stopped sharing their skiffs and the krakens stopped sharing their ships. New Babylon built rockets. For the first time in 10,000 years, people stopped travelling to the stars - but for the first time they actually visited the planets of this system. The saurs stopped healing us, and thousands upon thousands died in plagues. Maybe millions on the planet as a whole. The Modern Regime built hospitals, invented medicines, expanded health services to fill the gap. We lost the trade with the saurs and everything they produced in their manufacturing plant. The Modern Regime built factories. The provinces broke away under the burden of Volkov's space defence taxes - and what are they now? They're nations, like yours, independent centres of development, with the capacity- if not yet the will - to build rockets of their own. You have no idea, [Gaius], no idea at all how much of a triumph it is for Volkov that I'm sitting here talking to you - gods above, an Illyrian, uh, businessman of all things! Without Volkov, Illyria would would still be a sleepy agricultural province, with nothing to sell but sheep, and a dozy patrician on the Senate of Nova Babylonia, who left every hard problem to his saur scribe!"
Seeing the new Prague set this in an interesting context. Most people forget that with the exception of Czechoslovakia, and even then only in a part of the Czech half, the formerly socialist nations of eastern Europe were very poor before socialism. Russia was the worst of the lot. Before 1917, it was poor and ill-led even by eastern European standards. Yet, it was backwards Russia that gave the west seventy years of fear. The Soviet Union's popularity as an example in the third world derived in large part from its very real successes transforming itself from a joke of a nation into a superpower. It had pulled itself up from poverty, played the leading role in the destruction of far wealthier and more technologically advanced Nazi Germany, and built an empire - and they did this on their own.
It is of course true that many other very poor nations grew far wealthier in the same period outside the socialist block, but behind each of those successes is a fairly large sum of foreign capital, and for each one there are a daunting number of failures. It made a difference in the world that an eastern European nation managed to pull itself up and make itself into something. People forget the disdain eastern Europe was once held in.
It is unfortunate to see in Prague how unindependent the post-socialist Czech Republic seems to be. Czech culture seems to have been replaced by a sort of transplanted generic western-Europeanism, reified as a commodity and deprived of its historical basis. There, you see the empowering revolution evoked by MacLeod in reverse, almost a parallel of Le Guin's Aka. Present-day Prague seems to have had no history between 1938 and 1992. Medieval Prague is alive and well and flourishes in the tourist quarter. Austro-Hungarian Prague is also alive, although only in the form of iconic figures pulled from their real history - German and Jewish names celebrated in a nation that has destroyed its ethnically mixed past. The pre-WWII independent Czechoslovakia is also remembered by odd monuments and plaques.
But, much like The Telling, Prague's more recent past has been swept away, replaced by casinos and international brand names. The city made Le Guin's descriptions of Aka's garish commercialism that much more alive. While the excellent communist-era public transit system still sweeps people to and from their Stalin Gothic paneleky, the only clearly marked reminder of Prague's 40-odd years of single party socialism was the Museum of Communism, an exhibition built by an American - the "bagel king of Prague" - and housed in a casino above a McDonald's.
I strongly doubt it reflects most people's memories of communism. It was as if the Mises Foundation had built a museum on communism. The first sign of trouble was right past the entrance: a quote from Stalin. One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic. The context was intended to condemn Stalin for this remark - the one simple, honest, true thing I can think of the paranoid bastard ever saying.
If I have any readers who doubt the truth of this particular quote, consider the difference in press coverage between the rescue of Jessica Lynch during the recent war in Iraq and the entire coverage of civilian casualties in Iraq. One is an individual, personified, given a name, a face and a concerned family. And the others? In the press coverage I have seen, they are just statistics. 5000 dead, 10,000 dead... You can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs, you know? As far as I know, only the Guardian broke with this impersonal treatment, featuring brief biographies of some of the individual Iraqi dead.
It went from there to a truly gross misunderstanding of Karl Marx - who receives brief mention and a good deal of blame at the beginning of the exhibition. The most telling bit was blaming Karl Marx for the collectivisation of Czech agricultural because he neglected to talk about agriculture much in his works. This shortcoming is attributed to Marx "not thinking highly" of agriculture. Good Lord! Marx thought the peasantry was going to be destroyed by capitalism, which, in every developed capitalist country, it ultimately was. It's true that Marx didn't think very highly of the rural peasant life, and I can hardly blame him. I'm all of one generation off the farm myself, and both of my parents hated agricultural work.
It goes downhill from there. I can handle the bad translations (the English has been written by an amateur translator), the misdirection (talking, in the abstract, about how the foreign currency exchange system worked, and using the example of a prostitute who sleeps with western men as the example), the very business-oriented perspective on communism's problems, and the ability to simultaneously imply that communism had no popular support in Czechoslovakia after 1948 and that many Czechs supported "socialism with a human face" in 1968. In fact, the museum glosses over Dubcek and 1968, highlighting the Russian tanks and the two kids who immolated themselves in protest, but never even using the words "socialism with a human face." The exhibit concludes with a statement that "communism could not be reformed ." Through an unexplained leap, Dubcek's failure is then used to explain Gorbachev's failure to reform communism in the 1980's.
Those things don't necessarily condemn a museum. Museums should be like newspapers: biased and up-front about it. If you go to a museum dedicated to a painter, you won't find the people who hated his work given equal time. What condemns this museum is its complete lack of insight into life under the ancien régime. It offered nothing you couldn't have learned from American anti-communists in the 80's, nothing new, nothing that even explains the events it endeavours to chronicle except the most simplistic equation of communism with bad things. All it had was a lot of old pre-1992 memorabilia, some photos, anti-communist propaganda postcards (I might have bought good reproductions of actual propaganda posters from the period), and a bit of dumbed-down, poorly translated reading, separated from any real historical context. It certainly had nothing to offer worth 180 crowns. I don't know what children in Prague learn about their country's history, but I hope that museum isn't representative of it.
This brings me to Benjamin Kuras' Is there life on Marx? I bought the book because after reading the first chapter in the Charles University bookstore it seemed witty and insightful. For example, in the opening Kuras recounts the following story, which he declares is true:
[A] BBC team are working on a documentary about Karl Marx. They succeed in finding an old man who, as a teenager, used to do evening cleaning at the British Library in the days when Karl Marx was known to study and write there.
Unfortunately, it deteriorates after the first chapter. Kuras attacks the new Czech regime as composed of the same people as the old Czech regime - that the communist bosses have simply transformed themselves into businessmen and machine politicians. He offers a number of tales of eastern Europe that lend support to the idea, and his reporting of the frauds perpetuated on the people of eastern Europe appears to be spot on.
I've heard variations on this analysis enough times to suspect that it's largely true, but Kuras has nothing to offer in response. I am of two minds on this subject. On the one hand, there is a part of me that would like to answer, well, what did you expect? They are the same Czechs as before, why would you think a different group of people would rise to power under the new rules? And on the other hand, I'd like to say that it isn't much of a revolution when all that changes is that the icons of old socialism get replaced with the Golden Arches. Maybe they should have taken another shot at "socialism with a human face."
That, however, is not where Kuras wants to go. Despite being an ethnic Czech himself, although by all appearances London-based since his early youth, Kuras is pretty critical of the Czechs as a people. He complains that they are lazy and shiftless, reliant on the state, and expecting the EU to bail them out. He offers only a single anecdote in support of this case. Kuras repeats - in a book written in 1999 - that the EU will never admit the Czech Republic. On this count, he was by all appearances dead wrong.
The part that really irritated me, where Kuras and I irrevocably go our separate ways, is the chapter where he extols the Czechs to adopt the Protestant work ethic. A lot of nonsense gets bandied about over the Protestant work ethic these days, generally by people with little belief in religion themselves or a personal history of hard work, and I don't think anyone who really believes that it is the key to national development can be taken seriously. Kuras even contrasts this to a supposed traditional Catholic belief in community values.
I would like a true believer in such things to explain to me how Belgium and the Netherlands can have comparable standards of living when one is the very source of the Protestant work ethic, and the other a nearly completely Catholic country. I would also like an explanation of why Belgians keep telling me that they are very individualistic by comparison to their communalist Protestant neighbours to the north. Honestly, I really don't understand how so many people can believe their countries to be paragons of individualism or community solidarity. I've become convinced that this entire line of thinking is utter nonsense.
Until fairly recently, the whole idea was something of an embarrassment to Weber scholars, and no one who mattered took it very seriously. Economic problems are not about psychoanalysis, and ethical standards have never proven very effective barriers to corruption when no mechanism of enforcement exists. Kuras's chapter on the Protestant work ethic is a real stomach-turner. He seems to imagine eastern Europe to be in the grip of some sort of post-totalitarian stress, and that they really need a good dose of capitalist values. I suspect the prostitute I met on the street in Prague understands capitalist values pretty well and thinks herself quite self-reliant. Certainly she is taking responsibility for her own income.
That brings me to the common theme of these three books: The ambiguity of history and the importance of coping with it. That means being suspicious of histories with clear good guys or viewing events as unmixed blessings and curses. It is with that in mind that I want to discuss my last vacation novel: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
[I did promise to review Orwell's Coming up for air here too, but I realised that I had nothing very interesting to say about it.]
My wife had dibs on the book and finished a couple of days after we got to Prague. It's pretty easy reading, so despite its length I finished it before we left the city.
The new Harry Potter has been described as the Empire Strikes Back of the series. We discover that Harry has a dark side. For the most part, it's not much of a dark side. He's moody, irritable, overimpressed with his own powers, sometimes a jerk, and there is just the faintest hint that he might be horny. Frankly, I'm darker than that every morning before I get my coffee. There is a bit more to it. We see that Harry has a destiny, and it's not a terribly pleasant one.
I suppose by now all of civilisation knows that the new Harry Potter novel ends with the death of a moderately important character. Harry blames himself for the death, but then finds out that someone he trusts is still more responsible. Harry discovers that someone has been withholding something very important from him about his own past, believing it to be for his own good. The tragedy at the end of the novel springs directly from that.
My first thought upon finishing was of George Bush and Tony Blair, and that there may be lesson for them in Harry Potter about lying to the public to sell a war that they (I presume) believed in. But, I suspect that Blair doesn't get to read a lot of novels these days, and one is tempted to suggest that it might be above Dubya's reading level. However, the real lesson of the Order of the Phoenix is very much about ambiguity, history and truth. Harry finds out that his father and his godfather were jerks in their youths, just as Harry sometimes is, and that among those they tormented is the hated professor Snape.
That is the lesson I hope some of Harry Potter's hundreds of millions of readers take from this novel. The world does not divide neatly into good things and bad things, and the proof is in any honest study of the past. Not knowing the full truth about events is dangerous, both to those ignorant of it and to those around them.
Update: Ye gods! The typos, the dropped words, the stylistic problems... Usually I'm a better editor than this.
Sunday, July 13, 2003
The New World Order looks a lot like the Old World Order
Via Kevin Batcho (who I'm glad to see is back to blogging), I direct you to today's The Independent:
Blair seeks new powers to attack rogue states
Now, it seems to me that this bears a much closer resemblance to the 19th century world order than the one that was supposed to be established in the aftermath of WWII. If this article reflects Blair's intent accurately, it means that some group of elect states will be able to simply intervene whenever they feel some other nation isn't doing what they think it ought to.
There would actually be conditions under which I would agree to this: The group of states empowered to make that decision should include all nations able to meet clear criteria that would be applied by reasonably impartial judges, the criteria should not include having lots of money, and states lose their say in decisions if they fail to meet those criteria. Lastly, I would want to see clear criteria for when those states agree to take action against a sovereign government. Would it require a majority vote? Or perhaps a super majority of 2/3rds or 3/4ers? Or nations representing at least half of the member populations?
But that is surely not what Blair wants. The Iraq war would not have happened had it been subject to such terms, and I suspect that the "elect" who get to make those decisons means little more than the current occupant of the White House. Establishing an international authority able to enforce some sort of code on nations means creating mechanisms for overseeing that authority and requires the states that take on such powers to obey the rules they set out for others. If America is to be empowered to judge whether another nation is democratic, then other folks get to judge the fairness of America's elections too. If Saddam Hussein can be removed for taking away the liberties of the Iraqi people and causing their poverty, then it has to be possible to levy the same judgement on George W. Bush.
Without a law applicable to all, this new world order Blair is calling for nothing more than reviving the long dead "civilising mission" of European colonialism, perhaps expanded slightly to include a few rich Asian countries.