Saturday, June 12, 2004


Another small milestone for "Chrenkoff" - 100,000 visits since I started this little blog two and a half months ago. Seems like ages. A big thank you to everyone who has dropped by, even bigger thank you to those who keep coming back, and of course thanks to all the blogs who supported me and linked to my work - from the really big guns to smaller guns - I hope I can over time return all the favours.

More Chrenkin' off tomorrow, and on Monday, which is a public holiday here in Brisbane.

By the way, to the lucky 100,000th visitor, from San Jose in California - unfortunately there are no prizes, but thank you anyway!

UPDATE: One of this blog's many fans, Maher Mughrabi, writes in the comments section: "I would like to know if you are going to post anything about this story. At the time (archive, April 25th) you waxed sarcastic on this, as I recall. More corrections than the NYT?"

What Maher is referring to is the news that the State Department's annual report on terrorism underestimated the number of terrorist incidents last year, thus giving the false impression that acts of terrorism are on decrease.

Apparently they are not. As Maher would agree, that's bad news. I'm sure, however, that the problem will be solved once and for all when the United States completely disengages from the Middle East, Palestinians get their own state, and the international community addresses the root causes of terrorism such as poverty.


Too many Khans, not enough Indians 

A heart-warming if rather bizarre story from Mongolia, where citizens have to invent their new surnames. Under communism, surnames were banned in this Central Asian country and people forced to rely just on their first names. Sounds like something from Orwell, doesn't it?

"Now, to fight incest and make official records more intelligible, the Government has set a deadline of June 27 for all 2.5 million Mongolians to choose a family name on pain of a fine equivalent to several months' salary."
The result? There are already 500 Mongolians in the capital city of Ulan Bator alone, calling themselves Genghis Khan.

Having a miniscule amount of Mongol blood in me (from Tartar tribesmen who settled in eastern Poland in the 16th century), I can only say: good on you. It's finally possible to put out the Mongolian edition of the White Pages.


Harry potters on 

Went to see the new "Harry Potter" movie on Thursday night, the day of its release in Australia, as becomes of somebody who, according to my wife, looks like Harry Potter in his early thirties (minus the embarrassing scar, which to me looks like a half-finished SS tattoo, anyway).

The movie is, as every critic under the sun has already noted, much darker and grittier than the previous two installments, arguably due to the change-over in the director's chair. Chris Columbus, who directed the first two Potter movies, made the Hogwarts school of magic an ur-private school somewhere on the northern reaches of England's "green and pleasant land". Alfonso Cuaron's Hogwarts has been shifted, by the looks of it, to somewhere in the Scottish Highlands and turned into a dark and mysterious Castle Frankenstein. Romanticism triumphs over the Enlightenment in "The Prisoner of Azkaban". The new Hogwarts looks and feels not just ancient, but also depilated and run-down, as if all the magic under its roof couldn't quite keep it repaired and clean anymore. Where's the British National Trust where you need it?

Aside from the new, quasi-Tim Burtonesque look of the film (which is actually an improvement as far as interiors are concerned), not much has changed since "The Philosopher's Stone" and "The Chamber of Secrets." Everyone's bigger, true, but the Radcliffe lad still can't act, and Draco Malfoy, now in his angry teens, looks like a trashy upper-class version of Eminem. Meanwhile, the Hermione-Ron love-hate relationship is slowly starting to gravitate towards the love pole. For the "Azkaban"'s gritty surrealism, however, the fans of Cuaron's previous work will be disappointed by the lack of vulgarity and explicit sex scenes. Accidental holding hands is as far as the teen wizards go; not even the first Quidditch base, if Quidditch had bases. Jokes aside, it was an interesting decision to let the director of the Mexican road movie "And [screw] your mom, too" to take the reins of this project. But it paid off.

If you've seen him as King Priam in "Troy", you might agree that the old warhorse Peter O'Toole would have made a better headmaster Dumbledore in replacement for the late Richard Harris. Bearing in mind O'Toole's age, the producers must have thought they took far less risk choosing younger Michael Gambon who, unfortunate car accidents on lightning strike aside, has a chance of taking his Dumbledore right to the end of the series, somewhere between five and ten years from now.

Overall, "Azkaban" is a lot of fun, mostly harmless, unless you believe that the whole Harry Potter franchise is one big advertisement for witchcraft, and is turning our children into occult-dabbling fiends. I prefer to look at it as another good early introduction to the age-old concept of a battle between good and evil, as well as values of friendship, honour and tradition.

Yes, I'm sure you can look at the Potter series as a indictment of the British class system (J K Rowling doesn't just dislike the upper class, but also the suburban middle class); yes, you can see Professor Lupin's werewolfism as an allegory for homosexuality. But the story of young orphaned wizard is otherwise relatively free from politics and heavy preaching - you won't see "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Abu Ghraib" any time soon. And thank God for that.


Friday, June 11, 2004

Should he get suspended? 

A disc jockey at the University of Alaska radio station was suspended, after he "turned a Sunday radio show into a 'celebration' that Ronald Reagan 'was finally dead'."

"No tape of the show was available. According to the disc jockey, he berated Reagan for his foreign policy in Latin America, Iraq and Afghanistan, and for what the student called a 'homophobic' response to the AIDS epidemic.

" 'I said that I was sick of all of the media that was glorifying Reagan and rewriting history that was pretty despicable,' he said. 'Basically, what the gist of the show was, it was a celebration that Ronald Reagan was dead, was finally dead'."
An interesting conundrum.

1) I believe that Reagan was the best American president in the last fifty years.

2) I believe that the disc jockey is a f**kwit.

3) But do I believe that f**wits should be punished for their opinion and publicly censored? I'm not so sure.

4) There is the free speech angle. Of course, the disc jockey is not being censored by the government but by the station management, who are perfectly entitled to make whatever decisions they want.

5) There's also the free market argument against censorship - the listeners who don't agree with the disc jockey in question will switch to other radio stations (which is what political news consumers are increasingly doing on a larger scale).

6) The extension of the free market argument is that the advertising revenue will follow wherever the sufficient number of listeners goes, thus punishing the "offending" station commercially.

7) On the other hand, hard-left political rhetoric might in turn attract new listeners to the station, balancing the outflow.

8) To complicate matters further, not all media outlets survive on advertising; BBC in the UK and ABC in Australia live off public funding, which makes them generally unresponsive to ratings and commercial pressures, and therefore havens of unreconstructed leftie bias. I'm not sure what the situation is at KSUA-FM.

What a topic. Any thought?


Friday questions on my mind 

Now that "[t]he leaders of the world's most powerful nations appealed to the United Nations yesterday to help prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Sudan, where ethnic violence in the western Darfur region has displaced more than a million people," the United Nations will step in and put a stop to it - they will, won't they?

Now that the Labor Party's (rock) star recruit, Peter Garrett, finally admitted that he - apparently - voted in several federal election and a referendum without actually being enrolled to vote, will Labor finally admit that the current electoral system is open to fraud?

Now that graphic photos of diseased body parts damaged by smoking are to appear on all packets of cigarettes sold in Australia, will this trend continue to include labeling all beer bottles with graphic photos of people you might wake up next to in the morning?


Thursday, June 10, 2004

Good news from Iraq, Part III; bigger and better than ever 

Welcome to the third installment of the ever-popular "Good news from Iraq" segment. The news from Mesopotamia hasn't been too bad lately, with the successful UN resolution, countdown to sovereignty, and the new Iraqi government generating a lot of good-will throughout the world. Still, the prisoner abuse, terrorism, kidnappings, and casualties otherwise continue to crowd out and overwhelm any of the good news you're read below.

To get you started, check out this piece by Pejman Yousefzadeh, who discusses the good, the bad and the ugly of the mainstream media's Iraq coverage. Also, by way of overview, this from ABC News:
"Most thinking these days on Iraq is decidedly pessimistic. Part of that is traditional political/intelligence 'worst case analysis.' Part of it is a very justifiable fear of the unknown, because the surest thing to be said about Iraq's political future is that it is unknown. Nevertheless, here's a more - but not completely - optimistic view."
RE-BUILDING THE SOCIETY: Democracy continues to grow from roots up:
"The Baghdad City Council, largely a mix of previously apolitical technocrats, ranging from sheiks to secularists and from lawyers to engineers, has become a power in its own right. Council members were selected by their neighbors almost a year ago, and after first focusing on their neighborhoods, have since started to speak out on national issues."
Meanwhile, Western institutions and individuals continue to give practical assistance to Iraqis; for example lawyers from Nothingam University in the UK, who in week-long seminars are training Iraqi officials in how to build human rights programs. Or Kristi Gruizenga, a U.S. State Department specialist stationed in Baghdad, who advises female Iraqi politicians: "These Iraqi women are so brave, so smart and well educated, so motivated. They know they're making themselves targets for terrorists, but it doesn't faze them. This shows the Iraqi people are taking ownership of their country." Or a retired US Navy commander, who is converting a former secret police facility into a first-class camp for Iraqi Boy Scouts.

Iraqis want their own domain code ".iq". According to the Iraqi chairman of the National Communications & Media Commission, Siyamend Othman, "the .IQ domain name would allow Iraqis to stake a 'virtual flag' in the worldwide Internet community. It is 'an important tangible and symbolic milestone for this nation, as well as the freedom and hopes of the Iraqi people'." Only 6% of Iraqis have access to the Internet, and fewer than 2% use it regularly (about 12% have a computer, though), but the progress is good after Saddam's years.

And let us not forget the humanitarian problem that doesn't exist anymore: in the first quarter of 2004, 92,679 applications for asylum in the West were lodged; this represents a 16% decrease on the previous quarter and a 25% on the same quarter in 2003. The reason? "Iraqis and Afghans comprised the two biggest asylum groups in 2001 and 2002, but their numbers have dropped dramatically since then. The number of Iraqi asylum-seekers in the first quarter of 2004, for example, was 2,143 - 81 per cent below the figure from the corresponding period last year." That's what's called solving the refugee problem at the source - the only method that really works. Meanwhile, more than 11,000 Iraqi refugees looked after by the United Nations have returned home since July last year.

Let me close this section with the words of an Iraqi blogger:

"Under Saddam, we had no dreams. We only had nightmares of wars, which still haunt me even though I left Iraq 10 years ago. After Saddam, everyone could dream. When you dream, you know you are alive. When you dream, every moment of life is worth a fortune.

"Under Saddam, we had no tongues. We were silent ghosts. We couldn't trust the people around us including us, who live thousands of miles away from Iraq. After Saddam, we have tongues. We have freedom of speech. We have scores of newspapers. We have more than 40 blogs that range from extreme left to extreme right."
In case you were wondering if it was all worth it. "The new government is [also] thanking America and Bush. Why are the media silent?" asks the "Opinion Journal." Indeed.

THE ECONOMY: Efforts continue to arrange for the forgiveness of at least a part of the $120 billion debt raked up by Saddam Hussein. Adel Abdul-Mahdi, Iraq's new finance minister is confident that up to 90% of debt will be written off. While the United States is pushing for 80-90% forgiveness, guess who is against a "massive cancellation"? Yes, that's right, our friends the French. No wonder they preferred Saddam in control in Iraq. Meanwhile, Australia will forgive a $420 million debt owed by Iraq for past wheat shipments.

In May this year, Iraqi Central Bank was established, with full independence, to oversee the emerging banking system. "Inflation last year averaged just under 35%. It has fallen considerably since then. There are signs that an economic recovery of sorts is taking place, the Economist Intelligence Unit report for April forecast a strong recovery in growth of around 60% of GDP this year and about 25% next," the story also notes.

In other economic news, the Coalition policies are bearing fruit: "The coalition introduced a new currency, cut taxes and customs fees, reopened banks and helped the interim government put together its budget. Iraqi bazaars are brimming with imports: satellite dishes, air conditioners, computers, refrigerators and other goods. Authorities say 300,000 new cars have entered the country over the past year." The new finance minister is optimistic: "There is no doubt security affects economic development but it doesn't cancel everything. There is relative calm in many regions in Iraq and we can start several projects." Employment and vocation centres are springing up, too, to train Iraqis to give them skills to take advantage of reconstruction opportunities.

According to the Middle East business confidence index, surveying over 800 businesses and individuals based or working in 14 countries in the region, "60 percent said they would expect their company to generate at least some extra business in Iraq, with 13 percent of those saying Iraq would be their company's most important foreign market in 2004." Even Israelis are getting on the bandwagon, slowly but surely.

The oil sales, meanwhile, had recently hit the $10 billion level - all money set aside for reconstruction of Iraq. Indeed, the Iraqi authorities have already resumed full control of their oil resources, weeks ahead of the transfer of power: "[T]he most important natural resource has been returned to Iraqis to serve all Iraqis," said Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

In order to keep the oil flowing, the Iraqi Oil Ministry is setting aside $800 million to boost production and increase security. Says the Minister: "We have a force of 14,000 people [of a "security force made up of locals from each hotspot and tribesmen"] and we are expanding. If things go well, we want to sustain an export figure of two million barrels a day in the coming months." The Minister is also hoping that the production will reach 3 million barrels per day at the end of the year, and "[e]ventually, we will be looking to produce even more and finally take full advantage of Iraq's extraordinary reserves," the second largest in the world, after Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, a Japanese company has signed an oil deal with an Iraqi enterprise for the first time since the end of the war; as part of the deal the Japanese will make "improvements to oil-related facilities at oil-shipping ports facing the Persian Gulf and repair run-down oil fields in the southern part of Iraq."

Outside Sulaymaniya, "a futuristic glass and steel building is nearing completion against the unlikely backdrop of the rolling Kurdish countryside" - a $40 million first commercial airport in Kurdistan, built on the airfield that Saddam had used as a launching pad for his chemical weapon attacks against the Kurds in 1988. Elsewhere in Kurdistan, Irbil, "the capital of the north, is abuzz with activity. A huge Toyota dealership, as big as any in the United States, is about to open near a striking, 165-room hotel that could soon be part of the Sheraton chain. In the thriving city center, work is under way on four, 25-story towers that will house hundreds of stores and offices." Still in Kurdistan, the demand for telecommunication services outstrips demand:

"These are busy days for Jaksi Mustafa, chief accountant for the Iraqi Kurdish communications company Korek Telecom. Some 60,000 clients have applied for a new SIM card since the beginning of May, and he has 40,000 to sell - at $100 apiece. 'We're rarely out of here before 9.00pm,' he sighed, pointing to the crowds gathered outside his office in central Irbil, and to the piles of application forms cluttering his desk."
Read also this story of Tony McDonald, Australian Treasury official, who "between losing his room in the hotel Al-Rasheed to a rocket attack and working himself to the bone... helped transform the 'gangster economy' of Saddam Hussein's regime."

RECONSTRUCTION: Having restored services and infrastructure to pre-war levels (just in the past couple of weeks, the authorities and contractors "finished a $64,000 courthouse renovation in Maysan; completed the $1 million refurbishment of Basra Technical College; handed over 3,000 donated medical textbooks; reopened dual two-lane bridges between Mosul and Irbil; and converted a key power plant from hard-to-get diesel to more plentiful crude oil"), the reconstruction effort is entering its second phase. David Nash, the retired U.S. admiral now in charge of Iraqi reconstruction,

"will oversee 2,300 projects to be completed over four years: new and repaired bridges, roads, power plants, transmission lines, hospitals, schools, police stations, army bases, airfields, refineries, rail stations, town halls, wells, irrigation canals, water-treatment plants, sewers, prisons, ports and a phone network. To help build goodwill, U.S. military commanders around the country will have their own $500 million kitty to draw on to fund local projects."
And Otak, Portland, Oregon-based design and engineering firm had opened two offices in Baghdad and Erbil to train Iraqi engineers, architects and other specialists to assist in the reconstruction of their country.

The authorities have earmarked $2 bln next year to rehabilitate the national electricity grid. The electricity delivery still leaves a lot to be desired, not least due to continuing sabotage. Lt. Gen. Faris Rasheed al-Bayati, who heads the Electricity Grid Protection force,
"is now trying to mobilize as many Iraqi tribes as possible to join his force. He says he has struck deals with 250 tribes whose elders have pledged to protect lines and installations in their areas. Under the deals the tribes will be fined for loss or damage inflicted on electricity lines in areas within their writ... Bayati's force has pledged to equip the tribesmen with arms necessary to fight the saboteurs. His force will soon be supplied with 12 helicopters to guard pylons crossing the desert in remote areas."
In Baghdad, thanks to the US, which has given $278 million, the World Bank, with $33 million, and the finance ministry with $12.5 million, the Municipality can now spend more money on reconstruction and vital services - this time without political favouritism, which in Saddam's days meant that "[w]hile rundown areas like Shuala and the former Saddam Town, currently Sadr City, suffered and looked like any of the Third World’s worst slums, smart districts mushroomed with some resembling those of Paris and London."

And at the Baghdad airport, Iraqi civilian air-traffic controllers are taking over the tasks from Australian and American specialists. Air safety over Baghdad must have improved somewhat since before the war, when Saddam ordered windows on one side of air traffic control tower to be painted over so that the staff wouldn't be able to look down on him in one of his palaces.

THE SOCIAL INFRASTRUCTURE: Huge challenges lie ahead for the education system; after years of Saddam's misrule and misallocation of resources, "one-third of Iraqi men aged 15 and older -- and more than one-half of Iraqi women -- are illiterate... 40 percent of the country's schools are in need of 'major rehabilitation' and almost 10 percent 'in need of demolition or rebuilding'." But the transformation is already on its way, as one new headmaster observes:

"When the school year started, there where no books. So what I did is have the students lend each other books, because the students are from the same neighborhood. [Education authorities] have brought us new books now. It's the same topics, but the books are printed in a better way. Most of the pictures [of Saddam] have been removed and any that [could not be because of their placement in the text] are taken out by the students. When [one student] saw a picture [of Saddam], it was like he was having a nightmare, and he started tearing it away."
In addition to physical infrastructure, The Iraqi children are getting their new textbooks, for the first time without Baathist propaganda, as the World Bank is providing $40 million to print 72 million textbooks for 6 million students: 600 titles for all 12 grades of the primary and secondary system. This is part of the commitment to give the new generation of Iraqis a fresh start; as the Iraqi education minister, Aladin Alwan, says "the school texts with racist and sectarian overtones will disappear off school shelves and in their place there will appear ones having universal values related to 'religion, democracy, freedom of expression, human rights, justice, equality and tolerance'." That's surely a good start for the whole region.

The health system also continues to revive, in part due to assistance given by Western humanitarians like Gary Selnow, and a group of 30 American doctors trying to build morale among Iraqi physicians. But bear in mind the price that brave Iraqi medical workers have to pay to be able to help their fellow citizens:

"Health officials and doctors estimate that as many as 100 surgeons, specialists and general physicians have been abducted from their homes and clinics since the beginning of April. Some were beaten and tortured. Most were released after the payment of between $20,000 and $200,000 in ransom. Ransom, it seems, is not the only motivation for the crimes. In many cases, abductors have ordered the physicians to leave Iraq, sometimes setting a deadline. Iraqi officials fear that the abductions and threats are an organized attempt to cripple the country's healthcare network, likening the tactics to terrorist attacks on the country's oil pipelines or electricity plants."
Puts it all in a perspective, doesn't it? Meanwhile, a group of Iraqi surgeons is starting to perform reconstructive surgery on a group of 3,500 former Iraqi soldiers who had their ears cut off under Saddam's orders for desertion.

And read this story, of a 10-year old partially blinded Iraqi boy who might recover his vision thanks to the efforts of a Japanese photojournalist killed in Iraq. And about an 8-month-old Iraqi girl with a possibly fatal growth in her neck who is receiving free treatment at the Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

COALITION FORCES AND THE LOCALS: They don't all get shot at, blown up, or hauled before court martials for torturing prisoners. And they have a lot of good news to report - but why would anyone want to listen to some nefarious Pentagon propaganda?

SFC Loren Kickland and SSG Morgan Muller from Nebraska talk about the commercial explosion (that's the best kind) and the growth of civilian traffic on Iraqi streets; bad news for environmentalists, good news for ordinary Iraqis. Sgt. Brad Cory from Florida comments on the growing prosperity, as Iraqis earn a day what they used to earn in a week under Saddam, and a reservist Erik Jacobs sees the revival of Iraqi spirits: "Instead of funerals we started to see weddings." Capt. Jami Kahne from New Jersey tells how American children from her home town collected school supplies for their Iraqi peers: "I never left the village without lots of hugs and lots of kisses," after her unit "renovated three schools, wired them for electricity, built desks and soccer goals, and finally handed out pens and pencils, notebooks, glue and other supplies to the Iraqi children." And this, from Lt. Col. Gregory Politowicz from Pennsylvania, stationed in Kurdistan: "They don't hate anybody else, they focus on getting their kids an education and they stick by the rules."

Read also about the Marines from the 1st Marine Division who, together with the Spirit of America charity, raised $80,000 to buy essential audio and visual equipment to help build unbiased Iraqi media infrastructure. And about the Marines and Navy SeaBees who are conducting trade school for Iraqi men. Says LtCol John Lutkenhouse about the "Tools for Iraq" initiative:

"We are initiating a training program to teach Iraqis trade skills with Seabees as instructors. Upon course completion, we plan to issue the graduate his tool belt so he is now armed to apply his new skills, earn a living, and assist in the rebuilding of his country. The instruction will last 6 weeks."
And see this gallery of photos that you won't find in the mainstream media.

SECURITY SITUATION: Al Sadr's uprising is winding down, private militias are getting demobilised.

Read this story of one of the faithful, a Kurd: "Mohammed Jumaa fought against Arab insurgents in Fallujah long after many of his Arab comrades in the 36th Battalion of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps quit working with U.S. Marines fighting in the Sunni Muslim city."

Despite past disappointments, the US Army continues to train a special Iraqi division to fight terrorist after June 30:

"A surreal scene is unfolding at the Taji army base. Two Iraqi men fire a rocket-propelled grenade at a passing army truck sending up a huge plume of smoke.

"From what appears to be the wreckage, a US soldier emerges and walks over to correct their firing posture. 'The first shot was good,' he says. 'Make the next one better'."
Meanwhile, there's reconstruction going on in part of Iraq that al Sadr has recently chosen as his battleground with the infidel occupiers:

"Karbala's leaders have stepped up efforts to revive the economy. Mr. al-Saud, the governor, said his staff and the coalition officials had spent the past few days discussing how to proceed on reconstruction. Ayatollah al-Modaressi said he had sent word to Iranians that it is safe to visit Karbala again.

"Faced with the prospect of losing their livelihoods, the restaurant's staff and management came to a decision: They would work night and day without pay to fix up the restaurant. After seven days working 18 hours a day, they managed to open for business. On Saturday, a trickle of customers - mostly locals - came in for lunch."
Al Sadr himself came under increased criticism from fellow Shias - this from Sheikh Qassem al-Hashimi, of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI): "The leadership of the Mehdi Army has been infiltrated by Baathists and terrorists and we have a list of their names. You [militiamen] will have no one to blame but yourselves and we will not come to your aid if the Americans kill you one by one."

And in Saddam's birthplace, Tikrit, attacks are down and spirits are up; according to Gen. Batiste

"All the work we're doing with respect to quality of life, infrastructure improvement, setting up the Iraqi security forces is phenomenal. We're spending $62 million in a short period of time on projects to help the people. They see it coming, and they like it. There is a change of attitude in the northern provinces."
As for Fallujah, read this piece by Brendan Miniter on the ground in the "triangle": "the city of 200,000 is relatively quiet, and there's little reporting on why." And a Marine stationed outside Fallujah writes how the insurgents, with their violence and criminal activity, are slowly but unintentionally winning the propaganda war for the Americans.

THAT'S ALL, FOLKS, FOR NOW: Click here for part one and part two of "Good news from Iraq". While you're at it, why not check out "All in the same EU-Boat", for all the news that prick the bubble of European moral superiority.


From hanging chads to stolen chads 

The spectre of Florida haunts the northern England as the European Parliament election draws near: "There could be lawyers arguing in court for weeks or months," comments Charles Kennedy, the leader of Liberal Democrats, as police investigate potentially huge postal ballots fraud (in UK, the European Parliament elections are conducted exclusively this way).

"3,856,000 ballot papers, representing 27 per cent of the electorate, had been returned in the four pilot regions by Tuesday night, two days before polls closed. That compared with a total of 2,870,735 votes (20 per cent) cast in the 1999 European elections."
What's happening? The left-wing "Guardian" puts a positive spin on the figures: "Postal system boosts voter turnout, figures show." That's alright, then. Well, maybe not (returning to the previously quoted "Telegraph" story):

"Ann Cryer, Labour MP for Keighley, West Yorks, feared that the majority of the ballot frauds were part of 'a cultural problem' that faced Asians in the North.

"She said Muslims were coming under pressure from community elders to surrender their votes.

" 'People are going to homes, demanding that the voters give up their ballot papers - and that is what they are doing.' She said the Asian community 'tends to stick together' and, if one of its leaders knocked at the door and asked people to do something, 'they by and large do it'.

"She said: 'It is the sort of thing I was anxious about in the early stages of getting the Bill [setting up the procedure for conducting elections] through to have an all-postal ballot. But I did not dare mention it because you are accused then of being a racist. But the chickens are coming home to roost'."
Goodness, I hope that somebody's not trying to pervert the democratic process in order to get even with Tony Blair for his pro-American policies? In all the fairness, some reports suggest that all there major political parties are breaching the electoral guidelines (what a nice euphemism). Only time will tell (hopefully) who's been doing most of the dodgy stuff.


Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Our friends, the Spanish 

How's this for bizarre:

"Spanish prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said on Monday his government is not worried about the US decision to designate Morocco a major non-Nato ally."
Now, why would anyone possibly think that a Western European friend of the US, such as Spain, could be worried about America having allies in the Arab world?

Meanwhile, Spanish government figures continue to be quite modest in their claims:

"Spain's Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos claimed Tuesday the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq was the 'trigger' that will prompt the end of the occupation of the country.

"Moratinos said the decision to bring home the 1,300-strong Spanish contingent was not hasty, 'but the trigger and today we find ourselves at the end of the

"The Foreign Minister said that the Spanish position on Iraq was an 'instrument to return to multilateralism'."
Ah, so that's what it was. Having achieved the end of the occupation of Iraq, no wonder they awarded themselves medals.


The left's got nothing to offer but fat, sweat and tears 

"The war on obesity" appears to be well underway throughout the Western world, despite the warnings from the left that you can't wage a war on a noun (hang on, that was "terror"; "poverty", "AIDS", and now "obesity" are of course alright. All nouns are equal, but some nouns are obviously more equal than others).

But now a voice of dissent:

"Dr. Jeffrey Friedman, an obesity researcher at Rockefeller University, argues that contrary to popular opinion, national data do not show Americans growing uniformly fatter. Instead, he says, the statistics demonstrate clearly that while the very fat are getting fatter, thinner people have remained pretty much the same."
It reminds me of something else - the fact that contrary to the commonly-accepted (i.e. left-wing) wisdom, the rich are getting richer, but the poor are not getting poorer - they're also getting richer but not as fast as the rich.

I think there's a pattern here - the activist left hates what it considers to be excess. It doesn't matter what the excess is of, all that counts is that some people have more of something than others. And that's not fair. Before you start sending me angry emails, I'm not commenting on the medical aspect of the controversy. Obesity, unlike wealth, is a problem. But God help a good fight when the left latches on and takes over.

While you're at it, check out Mark Steyn's take on this latest crusade.


One more quote about the Gipper 

Some nice words from a person I wouldn't necessarily expect them from. The historian Michael Beschloss:

"After FDR's death in 1945, The New York Times predicted that 'men will thank God on their knees a hundred years from now' that FDR had been the president to fight Hitler and Tojo. It is not too much to suggest that, with Ronald Reagan's death, Americans might now give similar thanks that they twice elected a president who saw the chance to end the cold war in his own time."


Musicians and terrorists 

Australian political scene hasn't seen this much amusement for quite some time, as the Labor Opposition Leader Mark Latham attempts to "parachute" Peter Garrett, the ex-lead singer of the protest band Midnight Oil, into a safe Labor seat in Sydney.

Tim Blair's got the round-up of news and views, and Niner Charlie says that if you thought that Mark Latham is bad for the Australia-US alliance, just remember some of Peter Garrett's kooky ideas.

In other local news, Gnu Hunter discovers that one of our two Aussie detainees at Guantanamo Bay had been assaulted - alas, back in 2001, and by his fellow alleged jihadi on a Sydney street. It's a farce, but one with some dangerous implications.


Tuesday, June 08, 2004

They will get their wish 

John Kennett reports on South Korea's main growth industry - anti-Americanism, with "No Americans" or "GI's not welcome" signs appearing in Seoul's bars and nightclubs. Yes, American soldiers do occasionally commit crimes (as opposed to young Korean males), but South Koreans might get their wish sooner than they think. I hope that the Seoul bar owners won't have to find out the hard way that "No North Korean soldiers" signs just don't work quite the same magic on their targets.


All in the same EU-Boat 

Disclaimer: Some call her Zeropa, other Eurabia, others still EUtopia. I like Europe, and things I like usually also make me laugh. Besides, aren't we supposed to hate the sin, and not the sinner? So let's check out what's been happening lately in the Old World.

The number one political news on the continent is the coming European Parliament election. Number one news to those who care, that is, which seems to exclude the majority of the population. Unlike those uncivically-minded Americans who hardly bother to vote, eh? Not too worry, the European political parties are bringing out all sorts of funky props to chase people into the polling stations: beer mats, appeals from soccer stars, hot air balloons, comic strips and websites. "In Estonia, one party, Pro Patria (Isamaaliit), is serving coffee in the larger bus stops and in front of shopping centres early in the morning and after work to encourage voters to discuss the issues affecting the country's first elections to the European Parliament." Hopefully, soup kitchens will be left out of the campaign.

And remember how the sophisticated world media went bananas over the Californian gubernatorial election circus? (you know, a muscleman action star, a porn star, a child midget star, an ageing socialite populist, and so on?) Well, are not the Euro Parliament elections just a sream with their list of candidates that includes a top Estonian model (and that country's richest woman), a Czech porn star (running against Ostrava-Is-Having-a-Good-Time Party), a Czech astronaut, a Polish astronaut, Polish footballer, sprinter, Lech Walesa's son, and two contestants from the local version of "Big Brother", as well as a Finnish car racing legend (he's actually running in Lyon, France, instead of his native land). Isn't it a good sign that average people from all walks of life are taking interest in representative politics, instead of faceless party men and women? Probably not for the Eurocrats.

From the Union's future back to its roots, the 60th anniversary of the D-Day has been generating a lot of international good will. Not necessarily for the American though, as one poll had found that 50% of French people feel their country no longer has any moral debt to the United States (this percentage jumps to 63% among those aged 18 to 24 years, and 58% of those aged 25 to 34). In another poll, 82% of French feel that Germany is now France's strongest and trustworthy ally, and only 55% see America in that role. This probably explains why "French press sees Schroeder presence in Normandy as ultimate D-Day triumph." What a difference 60 years make; the 1944 success - getting Germans out of Normandy, the 2004 success - getting them back in.

Meanwhile, the Old Europe's struggle against the dastardly New European regimes and their "unfair" low corporate tax rates continues unabated (for some background, see my previous post). The bad news is that Gerrit Zalm, the Dutch finance minister who will take over the EU's finance policy for the next six months, agrees with Germany's and France's push to set a minimum (higher) corporate tax base across the Union. The good news is, he is not in favour of sanctions against countries that break the proposed minimum tax base. That's a relief. But still, we couldn't have some competition and pro-business policies in the EU, could we?

This matter has been brought up again by the German Chancellor Schroeder at a meeting with the Polish Prime Minister Belka. In response to Schroeder not-so-subtle hints, Belka "congratulated the German Chancellor on the development level of his country and promised that it would be easier to discuss tax harmonization once [Poland] reached a similar level." I saw Belka on TV when he delivered this line - he was looking straight at Schroeder and grinning broadly; it's as close as you can get in diplomatic-speak to saying "Fuck off and don't try to ruin our economic growth." Germany, of course, could harmonise its taxed downwards, which could possibly help to reduce its 4.3 million-long unemployment queue. Here's hoping.

In other economic news, the Belgians are considering the introduction of a four-day working week. "In an interview with Flemish newspaper Het Niewsblad, [Prime Minister] Verhofstadt said he thought the move could help Belgian firms become more competitive." More competitive against what, North Korean firms? But I guess the concept had worked so well in France, why not adopt it elsewhere? Staying for a moment in Belgium, one of the country's top tax officials is under the investigation for, you guessed it, tax evasion. "It is alleged that [the official in question] Van Den Abeele, among other things, claimed for EUR 115,000 in bogus expenses on his 2002 tax return, that he has a non-declared bank account in Luxembourg and that he passed confidential tax information to friends and acquaintances."

Germany, meanwhile, is slowly finding out how it feels when the shoe's on the other foot (or the fake electrode attached to the other testicle, so to speak):

"Germany's Defense Minister Peter Struck dismissed a newspaper report... that alleged German troops serving as peacekeepers in Kosovo had been involved in torture, saying an investigation had turned up no evidence supporting the article. The article in the tabloid newspaper 'Bild' reported that photos are circulating among soldier that show some of them in torture scenes... Struck said although he thought the report baseless, he had instigated an investigation since he 'could not let such an accusation against our soldiers stand' and said that after considerable research, no torture photos could be found. He accused the newspaper of careless reporting, which he said was unfair to the soldiers on the ground in Kosovo."
On behalf of American friends and allies: our hearts bleed. The German Army might still be safe for prisoners, but German schools are definitely becoming as dangerous as Abu Ghraib:

"Teenagers on trial in Germany for abusing and humiliating a fellow student and videotaping the acts on Wednesday admitted to having committed the crimes. Ten of the 11 students on trial at a youth offender court in the northern city of Hildesheim confessed to having tormented the student for months at a time... An entire class of the Werner von Siemens Vocational School is being tried for bullying the male student in 26 different instances between November 2003 and January 2004. In the attacks, they beat and kicked the student and forced him to eat chalk, chew on cigarette butts and show his genitals, prosecutors said. Some of the attacks were videotaped and later distributed on the Internet, drawing outrage across Germany and fueling a debate over abuse in classrooms."
Must be the nefarious influence of the American culture. Don't let the kids watch too much TV and don't let them enlist in the army.

It's not all gloom and doom in Germany, however: "Trade between Germany and the Arab world continues to rise despite Middle East tensions, said officials attending a major German-Arab trade conference in Berlin." Shouldn't it be "because", rather than "despite"? Who says that appeasement doesn't pay, at least economically?

Speaking of appeasement, you might have missed my earlier story about the Spanish Prime Minister awarding his Defence Minister and three generals medals for their role in withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq. It seems that this is becoming a bit of a touchy subject in Iberia:

"A row broke out between Spain and the United States Friday over remarks by US Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld who claimed Spain was one of the leading terrorist targets this summer.

"Spain's vice-president Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega immediately condemned the comments as 'irresponsible' and 'imprudent'."
C'mon Rummy, the Spanish Government obviously believes that appeasement works - don't try to shatter their illusions; let al Quaeda do it at some stage in the future. Then again, maybe the Spaniards can rest easy after all, with the news that scientists have discovered the remains of Atlantis is southern Spain. That should conclusively prove to the irredentist al Quaeda types that somebody else had lived there before the Moors.

Speaking of the European contribution to the war against terror and tyranny, a bank in Munich, Germany, has frozen accounts belonging to Slobodan Milosevic - that's Slobodan Milosevic, the local bus driver, not the ex-Serbian dictator. Mr Milosevic, who migrated to Germany some 32 years ago, has been given a week by the bank to prove he's not the former dictator, otherwise his savings will be seized for future war reparations.

From the war on terror, to a war on AIDS (and who said that you can't fight a war against a noun?), a Swedish aid organisation is starting up a brave new concept - a condom ambulance. Couples in need will be able to dial a hotline and have emergency supply delivered, all at a reasonable price. The amorous recipients of the aid should however beware; if they're too noisy during the act they run a risk of their "distressed, angry and tense all over" neighbour suing them in the official environment health committee. Who said that the culture of litigation affects only America? But getting sued is not the only risk that our amorous couples are running, as this new research suggest:

"A German scientific research institute has warned that most condoms on the market contain a cancer-causing chemical and has urged that their manufacture be subjected to stringent quality control.

"The Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Institute in Stuttgart said on Friday it had found the carcinogen N-Nitrosamine in 29 of 32 types of condoms it tested in simulated conditions."
The Chemical and Veterinary Institute? Gosh, I hope they didn't test it on animals. And what's this about "tested in simulated conditions"? Worry not, all that apparently means is the condoms were kept in a chemical solution with artificial sweat.

Still in Germany, the local officials in town named Kotzen (Puke) have voted 5 to 3 against changing the town's name. And in the "big smoke", "[s]ome 250,000 cyclists rode through the streets of the German capital yesterday in a big demonstration for more respect from car drivers, organisers said. Under the motto 'Respect for bicycle riders,' the cyclists rode 16 different routes, covering more than 300 miles of Berlin streets in total." Which will obviously endear cyclists to Berlin car drivers to no end.

And speaking of cyclists, "[a] planned nudist bicycle tour in the Netherlands' so-called 'Bible Belt' has upset local church officials who are holding their own youth charity bike ride the same day."

"They have tried in vain to get local authorities to ban the nudists to stop them clashing with the youth chapter of the Reformed Church when they both take to the road in the eastern town of Apeldoorn on June 12.

"The nudist tour is part of the World Naked Bike Ride that also takes place in London, Chicago, Los Angeles, Montreal, Toronto and Pforzheim, Germany."
The roads just aren't safe in Holland, anymore. If nude cyclists are not enough, there's also this official attempt to kill them not so softly:

"Motorists in the Netherlands will in future be allowed to drive at 90kmh, where possible, next to road works starting from this summer. The maximum speed limit on roads with road works is currently 70kmh.

"The Ministry of Waterways and Public Works said research had shown some unnecessary speed restrictions caused significant annoyance for road users and led to aggression, which was bad for road safety."
But obviously not as bad as running over road-workers. By comparison, the relevant speed limit in Australia is 40kmh.

Speaking of Holland, "[a] Dutch weekend magazine has called on its readers to take drastic measures to ensure Holland beat Germany in their Euro 2004 Group D [soccer] match in Porto on June 15." The drastic measures consist of an attached voodoo doll dressed in a white shirt and black pants (Germany's soccer colours), and three pins. I'm afraid that in the interests of building comity and friendship between its member nations, the EU will have to ban soccer. In other news, Belgian authorities have discovered that a local company has been using dog food meat in 20,000kg of "chicken" burgers and hot dog mince exported to Holland. Dog food, the other white meat.

The Dutch, however, might have slightly more important issues to think about than soccer prowess or food quality:

"The percentage of migrant residents in the four largest Dutch cities, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague, increased sharply from 36 to 43 percent between 1995 and 2003, the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) said on Monday. The CBS also said the percentage of native Dutch residents has thus fallen from 64 to 57 percent, news agency nu.nl reported. The population of non-western immigrants makes up 31 percent of the four largest cities and western immigrants account for 12 percent."
And you thought that Mark Steyn was joking when he said that the Netherlands will be the first European country to adopt sharia law.

And lastly, from the outskirts of Europa, we're hearing that Mikhail Gorbachev doesn't like Hollywood movies, as he "finds them too market-oriented." "What annoys me is that they are frequently very commercial. It takes away the magic," said the Great Spotted One. Unlike the good ol' communism, which was so full of magic.

Over and out for now. I hope you'll join me for future Grand Tours of Europe.


The secret of long life 

"Why do some people live longer than others?" asks BBC. Because they don't ask stupid questions, as my grandmother would answer. Anyway, the story goes to note that Sir Michael Marmot, professor of epidemiology and public health at University College London, has just published a book called "Status Syndrome", which argues that "our health and how long we live is influenced to a high degree by our social standing":

"People with PhDs live longer than those with masters degrees. Those with a masters live longer than those with a degree, while those with a degree live longer than those who left school early.

"Similarly, actors who have won an Oscar will live on average three years longer than those who were nominated for the award but missed out."
Now all I need to do is also win an Oscar and I'll outlive every bastard on the planet. Interesting topic, though, in all seriousness.


Monday, June 07, 2004

Spinning the corpse 

I know that politics is politics, but it still seems to me somewhat unseemly:

"[S]ome Democrats said they were concerned that the death of Mr. Reagan would provide a welcome, if perhaps temporary, tonic for a president who had been going through tough political times.

" 'I've been dreading this every election year for three cycles,' said Jim Jordan, Mr. Kerry's former campaign manager. 'Bush has totally attached himself to Ronald Reagan. He's going to turn Reagan into his own verifier.'

"Still, Mr. Kerry's aides said they believed Mr. Reagan's death would be, as a political matter, far in the background by the summer. And Republicans said there were risks in too conspicuously invoking Mr. Reagan as part of Mr. Bush's campaign.

"Advisers to Mr. Bush said they had not determined how prominently Mr. Bush should identify his presidency with Mr. Reagan, whether Mr. Reagan's image should be incorporated in Mr. Bush's advertisements and whether Nancy Reagan might appear on Mr. Bush's behalf in the fall."
At least no one is arguing yet that Bush has engineered Reagan's death to boost his polling at this stage of the electoral cycle.

One thing is certain though; the Reagan factor will not help John Kerry. People might or might not start comparing Bush to Reagan and find the former lacking, but who would ever turn to Kerry instead, because Bush is insufficiently like Reagan? Bush might not have the Gipper's charm or communication skills, but at least has similar ideological clarity (the left calls it extremism). Kerry scores low on all three. Stiff, boring and nuanced will not win Kerry this election; it's one for Bush to lose, and the only way he will lose it, is if by November enough swinging voters decide they dislike his enough that they will rather settle for stiff, boring and nuanced - effectively anything but Bush.


Always positive 

Everyone around the world, it seems, including his former enemies, has nice things to say about Ronald Reagan. But there is one region where the old sayings "don't say bad things about dead people" and "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it all" don't stand a chance:

"The Reagan years marked the beginning of what Lebanon's culture minister, Ghazi Aridi, called a 'bad era' of American Mideast policy that he said continues to this day.

"Political analyst and former Syrian ambassador to the United Nations Haitham al-Kilani agreed. 'Reagan's role was bad for the Arab-Israeli conflict and was specifically against Syria. He was the victim of the Israeli right wing that was, and still is, dominating the White House,' al-Kilani said.

"Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi said he was sorry that Reagan died without standing trial for 1986 air strikes he ordered that killed Gadhafi's adopted daughter and 36 other people... 'I express my deep regret because Reagan died before facing justice for his ugly crime that he committed in 1986 against the Libyan children,' Libya's official JANA news agency quoted Gadhafi as saying Sunday."
Some people are just never happy.


Chirac's history lesson 

The "allies" exchange blows on the beaches of Normandy, when as the "Daily Telegraph" puts it, the French President Jacques Chirac "takes a swipe at US and Britain over Iraq war."

"[I]n an apparent response to remarks by President Bush earlier in the day on the need for the allies to stick together, M Chirac pointedly recalled that it was the allied victory that led to the UN Charter...

"Speaking at the international ceremony, M Chirac cited his willingness to invite German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder as a model for a peaceful world.

"He said: 'We hold up the example of Franco-German reconciliation, to show the world that hatred has no future, that a path to peace is always possible'."
Memo to President Chirac: for the "path of peace" to be actually possible, Germany had to totally defeated militarily, forced into unconditional surrender, Nazism had to be weeded out, and democratic institutions revived and nurtured over decades. Even after all that, it's only 60 years after the fact that a German leader is invited for the first time to participate in commemorations.

So Mr President, the "path of peace" is most definitely possible - but first you have to actually defeat evil. I do hope to live to see, 60 year from now, President of the United States and President of Iraq coming together in Baghdad to celebrate the anniversary of liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein's tyranny. If the President of Iraq at that time feels particularly forgiving, he (or she - wouldn't that be something?) might even invite the French President to join them - in the spirit of "reconciliation."


Question of the day 

Now that a BBC cameraman has been killed and a BBC journalist wounded in a gun attack in Saudi Arabia, will BBC finally start using the word "terrorist" to describe a person who attacks non-combatants? Judging by the past track record, probably not.

Meanwhile, Agence France-Presse titles its dispatch: "BBC cameraman slain, journalist wounded in Saudi as terror takes uglier turn." An "uglier turn"? So killing journalists is now somehow uglier then killing, say, engineers?


Oz jihad  

Gnu Hunter does the work that Australian journalists should be doing: untangling Australia's very own al Quaeda nest. "Wheels within wheels and they all turn around the axis of Lakemba in Sydney's south-west." Gnu Hunter finds more links between various participants then you would ever see on Instapundit.

It would be nice to read that sort of work in newspapers, but I guess that's what blogs are for nowadays. Just a suggestion to the big media - why don't get one less person trying to find out what and when the Prime Minister knew about the prison abuse in Iraq which at no time involved Australian troops, and assign that person to find out a bit more about what our home-based jihadis were up to.


Sunday, June 06, 2004

Grandchildren of the revolution 

I've had a coffee with a friend of mine this afternoon and we started talking about the disappearance from the musical mainstream of protest songs and "socially conscious" (left-wing) popular music generally.

Being the children of the 1980s, we both remember growing up with, although not necessarily following, the music of artists like Billy Bragg and Sex Pistols, Big Country and Simple Minds, Sting and Peter Gabriel and Bruce Springsteen (or Midnight Oil in Australia) and many many others who for years sang more or less overtly political anthems against the "system", or about the "cause of the week".

What is there now? Sure, some performers are still around (Ani di Franco comes to mind) but hardly register on the charts; others still crack the Top 100, but they generally steer clear of political material (like Sting, or the ambiguous, post-S11/"Rising" Bruce Springsteen). The only major exception seems to be U2, possibly because Bono has by now achieved such prominence and symbolic status as the champion of Third World and human rights causes.

Just about the only musical genre that occasionally flirts with politics is rap and hip-hop. The Asian Dub Foundation and Spearhead come to mind, neither however much of a Top of the Pops material. Most of the charting rap and R'n'B still revolves around "bitchez and niggaz" or at least women shaking their butts around swimming pools.

So what happened? It couldn't be because angry song-writers can't find enough words to rhyme with "globalisation" or "Iraq". While music industry doesn't quite operate in a total free market environment, it seems clear that rubbishing your government or saving the whales simply doesn't sell anymore. If the record companies could still make money out of it, you can bet your bottom dollar that the charts would be full of ditties like "Bush is Satan" and "Fuck Exxon". The most obvious reason why it's not the case seems to me to be that both Generations X and Y are far less political in a "fight the system and save the world" sense than their immediate predecessors. That of course applies both to the consumers and musicians alike.

It's actually quite ironic that nowadays you're far more likely to find religious messages and imagery on the charts (Creed, P.O.D. and so on) than you are to hear about evils of capitalism or the American foreign policy. I guess chalk this one up as one small victory in the culture wars.

Mark Steyn has written a piece for "Chicago Sun Times", contrasting the patriotism of the popular culture at the time of the D-Day with the moral vacuity of the present times. Where is the soundtrack and movie-track to the war on terror and Iraq, asks Steyn. Well, let's see the glass as half-full instead. Yes, the entertainment industry didn't give us pro-America and anti-terrorism products, but it also didn't really give us too many anti-America and pro-terrorism ones, and that's a good start. So while it's not 1944 again, neither is it 1970 or 1984.

Steyn does make a good point, though, about Hollywood continuing not to be too shy about pushing various political pet agendas. This makes for an interesting contrast with the music industry. Could the difference have something to do with the fact that while most Hollywood movie-makers (directors, producers, screenwriters) belong to the Baby Boom generation, it's their children who have by now taken over the Billboard charts. If it is indeed a generational phenomenon, like I think it is, then the future of popular culture, while not necessarily very bright from the right's point of view, is not looking as dark and murky as it used to in the past.

UPDATE: The "Christian Science Monitor" disagrees with my views.


Ship of fools 

As the world mourns the death of Ronald Reagan, in other former Presidents news, the US Navy has officially christened its newest submarine USS "Jimmy Carter":

"Carter, the only submariner to rise to the rank of chief executive, said at a news conference Friday that he was greatly honored by the Navy's decision to name a submarine after him and feels that submarines will continue to play a vital role in the nation's defense in the 21st century.

"The USS Jimmy Carter, the third and final Seawolf-class attack submarine, was built at the Electric Boat shipyard in Groton and moved outdoors for the first time on May 10. As long as one-and-a-half football fields and as tall as a four-story building, the sub has a 100-foot hull extension so that it can handle larger payloads."
The USS "Jimmy Carter", also to be known as an U-Turn-Boat, is equipped with reverse gear, four state-of-the-art torpedo bays pointing in the wrong direction, and an energy saving permanent down periscope. The submarine will be widely used to assist in hostage-rescue situations.


Ronald Reagan, we shall remember 

Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States died yesterday, aged 93.

Much ink will be spilled and much broadband taken over the next few weeks remembering the Gipper as a person, a politician, a leader, as well as discussing his achievements and legacy. A lot of the commentary will be written by those who have known and worked with him, or had a chance to observe his progress throughout his public life. I can't add much to it, except a personal observation.

The 1980 US Presidential election is the first one I can remember as a child. I recall newsreaders on the communist Polish TV telling us that we should all hope that Jimmy Carter gets re-elected, because Reagan would inevitably lead the whole world into a nuclear holocaust. Looking back, we know very well why the communists were so scared that this cowboy, as he was frequently caricatured in communist propaganda, would get into the Oval Office.

Throughout the 1980s, during the Polish Spring of "Solidarity", and then through the dark winter of the martial law, and the slow decomposition of the system, Ronald Reagan was our undisputed leader in the free republic of our hearts. He was our beacon of hope, someone who understood our condition and spoke about it in our language. The Western sophisticates sneered when he spoke about the "Evil Empire"; we knew it was evil and that it was an empire - we lived in it. They laughed at him when he said that communism is being consigned to the ash heap of history - how ignorant, how simplistic, how unrealistic - we, on the other hand, took heart because we knew that for him it wasn't just an empty rhetoric; he meant exactly what he said and had every intention of seeing it through. In the end, he had the last laugh.

Reagan was one of the few politicians last century who genuinely changed the world, and changed it for the better.

I can't escape thinking that for the United States and the free world it's 1980 again. A bitter enemy, who despises everything that we stand for and cherish, who wants to destroy our civilisation and build their own totalitarian utopia, is on the march, emboldened by years of compromises and appeasement. Will the people turn to a Democrat, who occasionally talks tough but whose heart isn't really in it, or will they choose a Republican, a "war-monger" and a laughing stock to the sophisticated and nuanced crowd, but for the rest of us someone who sees things clearly and is resolved to take the enemy on and consign him, too, to the ash-heap of history?

I know that I will be accused of being too simplistic; I know that there are always hundreds of differences between then and now one can point to, and hundreds of excuses not to do the right thing. But in the end it comes to a simple choice: do you just talk about freedom and democracy, or do you actually do something about it?

For their own sake, and for the sake of everyone else, I hope and pray that the American people will make the right choice in November.

As for Ronald Reagan, thank you. Not just for that candle that you kept lit in the window of the White House to show that you were with us, but more importantly for everything that you did to ensure that the candle wouldn't have to be lit forever.

P.S.: Check out the big compilation of the blogsphere's reactions to Reagan's death, at Tim Blair.


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