Friday, April 10, 2009

Words for Easter perhaps

"IV

My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table-top.

While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was bless├Ęd and could bless.

V

Although the summer Sunlight gild
Cloudy leafage of the sky,
Or wintry moonlight sink the field
In storm-scattered intricacy,
I cannot look thereon,
Responsibility so weighs me down.

Things said or done long years ago,
Or things I did not do or say
But thought that I might say or do,
Weigh me down, and not a day
But something is recalled,
My conscience or my vanity appalled.

VI

A rivery field spread out below,
An odour of the new-mown hay
In his nostrils, the great lord of Chou
Cried, casting off the mountain snow,
"Let all things pass away."

Wheels by milk-white asses drawn
Where Babylon or Nineveh
Rose; some conqueror drew rein
And cried to battle-weary men,
"Let all things pass away."

From man's blood-sodden heart are sprung
Those branches of the night and day
Where the gaudy moon is hung.
What's the meaning of all song?
"Let all things pass away."

(From "Vacillation", by W.B. Yeats)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Mr. Burns would be proud


"Since the beginning of time, man has yearned to destroy the sun."

Perhaps it isn't purely coincidental that in the picture above Monty is making an "O" sign with his hands. The Obama administration is seriously considering seeding the earth's atmosphere with pollution in order to control the weather. The pretext, of course, is the global warming that has been on hold for the past ten years.

Whatever will they think of next? Perhaps Obama can use the American nuclear arsenal to try to knock the earth into a wider, cooler orbit?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The shape of things to come

The first hundred days of Barack Obama's presidency are not yet fully elapsed, but even in this short space of time he has managed to drastically and perhaps even fatally weaken the standing of the United States in world affairs. Although there exists at the moment an emergent alliance of mutually cooperative nations such as Russia, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, North Korea and Cuba whose hostility is mainly driven by various anti- Western ideologies, Obama seems to imagine that the grievances of each of these countries have been provoked solely by the past mistakes of American foreign policy, and that everything can be smoothed over in the future with apologies and negotiations.

This is terribly naive. The Slavophile nationalism of Russia, the populist Marxism of Venezuela and Cuba, the fossilized Stalinism of North Korea and the anti- Zionist hatred of Syria and Iran are directly incompatible with American interests in every degree. The U.S. has nothing to offer these countries but its own acquiescence to their territorial and ideological ambitions, and this is exactly what has happened so far under Obama.

On Russia, it appears ever more likely that Hillary Clinton's famous "reset button" will entail the abandonment of America's nervous allies in Eastern Europe, many of whom are former vassal states of the Soviet empire; on Iran and North Korea, Obama will continue to pursue the futile U.N. route of strongly- worded letters and sanctions; on Venezuela and Cuba, the administration seems likely to seek a policy of rapprochement involving apologies for past U.S. imperialism in the Caribbean and South America.

It's notable that very little of Obama's would- be diplomacy so far has earned the respect of the targeted countries. Russia's Medvedev reproached him for "haggling" over the Polish missile defence shield, Hugo Chavez called him "a poor ignoramus" with a "stench" like that of George W. Bush, and Iran has so far snubbed Obama's attempts at outreach by setting impossible conditions for reconciliation. The reason is very simple: strong leaders despise weak ones. It is only the leaders of liberal Western countries who cling to the idea that an enemy is just a friend who hasn't yet been recognized.

What will be the likely consequences of this way of thinking? One may turn out to be the abandonment of Israel. Joe Biden has claimed that it would be "ill- advised" of Israel to attack Iran, even though it is obvious that diplomacy with the Iranians is getting nowhere. In the event that Israel understandably tries to cripple Iran's nuclear programme, it can probably expect only condemnation from the Obama administration, and this effectively means that Israel will lose its only faithful ally on the world stage -- leaving the way clear for another round of anti- Israeli hysteria at the United Nations, and possible international isolation of the Jewish state through sanctions.

And what about Eastern Europe? Ukraine is directly menaced by the revanchist ambitions of Russia, which has already invaded Georgia in the interests of defending alleged "Russian citizens", most of whom were not ethnic Russians at all. But millions of genuine ethnic Russians do live in Ukraine, and the Crimea is a point of vital strategic importance for the Russian navy's Black Sea fleet. It can safely be assumed that the U.S. would do nothing for Ukraine, and that Russia has a free hand in this matter if it chooses to act. Even this would only be a preliminary, however, to the reconstitution of a new Russian empire, brought about by the absorption of surrounding countries under the same pretext of defending the interests of Russian- speakers -- who are practically everywhere in the region, thanks to Soviet- era policies of resettlement.

North Korea will continue to defy the U.N. and test increasingly more powerful missiles capable of reaching not only South Korea and Japan, but Hawaii, Alaska, and the western states of the mainland U.S. Decades of negotiations on this matter have achieved precisely nothing, and will continue to achieve nothing -- so that increasingly lethal weaponry will continue to accumulate in the hands of an ailing Marxist fanatic who, presiding over a half- starved and enslaved population, may feel he has nothing to lose in starting a major regional war.

Cuba will likely continue to stagnate under its Communist regime after the death of Castro, without even the moderate incentive to change provided until now by American sanctions and travel restrictions. It appears that Obama will pursue a complete renormalization of relations between the two countries. But this may not prevent the Cubans from further military cooperation with Russia and Venezuela just 90 miles from the coast of Florida, even as Obama feels paradoxically obliged to defer to Russian interests in the latter's alleged "sphere of influence" in Europe.

Syria will continue to sponsor terrorism against Israel, while holding out to American negotiators the elusive possibility that it will cease to do so once it regains the Golan Heights. Although there is not the slightest possible reason to believe that Syria will ever turn its back on its ally Iran and become a purely peaceful neighbour to Israel, U.S. diplomats will eagerly pursue this chimera for at least the next four years. That the Israelis -- already stung by their surrender of Gaza and that territory's transformation into a Hamas military base -- may be unwilling to trade yet more land for the deceptive prospect of "peace" will be taken by world leaders as a sign of incorrigible Zionist intransigence.

The only country I haven't mentioned so far is the one that may have the most impact of all on the fortunes of the Western world: China. It is true that the Chinese and American economies are at the moment interdependent, making any open conflict between the two powers unlikely for the foreseeable future. But this may change with the seemingly inexorable decline of the U.S. economy. A China which feels itself freed of the constraints of dealing primarily with America may find itself with a freer hand to deal with its own territorial preoccupations, such as Taiwan. Already, of course, there is abundant evidence of Chinese hostility to the U.S. Most notably, there have been significant attacks on American technological networks by Chinese hackers, who are in all probability working with the collusion of the Chinese government. Recently it was revealed that a China- based spy network had seriously compromised the security of foreign embassies and intelligence networks; today it has also emerged that sophisticated efforts have been made to undermine the U.S. electricity grid by the means of malware programmes that can be remotely activated to disrupt service. It is difficult to draw any conclusion from this other than that the Chinese are preparing for a possible future war with the U.S.

The West is in serious trouble. Western countries are already plagued with internal divisions, whether political -- partisan politics has sharply divided populations -- or ethno- religious, in those societies where years of mass immigration and multiculturalism have militated against a sense of shared national identity and interest. Even the economic might of the West is now on the wane. It is unclear that Westerners still have the will or the ability to defend themselves against a concerted attack from without, should one arise -- and with the formation of the new anti- Western alliance (explicitly touted as such by Hugo Chavez, who calls it a "new world order"), one may well arise sooner than we think. History tells us that wars of aggression and expansion have been far more common than prolonged periods of peace such as the one we have enjoyed since the end of World War II. And history is also sadly littered with accounts of societies which, having lost their will to survive, were submerged by others more aggressive or opportunistic. It may well be that the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency has marked the moment when the decline of the U.S. became irreversible, and its eventual death inevitable.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Out of the mouths of fools

Yesterday was April Fools' Day, and as in past years the British press expended great energies in creating fake stories that were just plausible enough to deceive the more gullible reader. The Guardian's contribution to this trend was to suggest that its newspaper was abandoning its traditional print format in favour of one consisting of stories delivered entirely by Twitter. Since the function of Twitter, a minimalistic blogging service, is to reduce every statement to an expression not exceeding 140 characters, the natural result was going to be "stories" such as "1832 Reform Act gives voting rights to one in five adult males yay!!!" and "JFK assassin8d @ Dallas, def. heard second gunshot from grassy knoll WTF?"

And that's pretty funny. But it's worth asking seriously what the popularity of Twitter (and other so- called Web 2.0 applications) tells us about contemporary culture. I'm already perplexed enough by the fact that, whenever I am using one of a bank of public computers, everyone sitting around me is looking at a picture of themselves on Facebook. Granted that other people are also sometimes in the same picture (and usually with the same idiotic expression on their face), how is this an improvement on simply seeing that other person in real life or -- if they are not available -- going home and staring at oneself in the mirror? It all seems so incredibly narcissistic.

Now, I'm willing to admit that I may just be too old to understand. (I'm two years shy of forty, which in modern technological terms is the new eighty.) The principal audience for this sort of thing is teenagers, and isn't the whole point of being a teenager that you think the world revolves around you, and that every little drama in your life is worth sharing with the world? But I see disturbing signs that over-25s -- and even over-40s! -- are getting into the act with this sort of thing, and enjoying trying (for example) to "poke" each other in some sort of boring, non- sexual way.

Which brings us to Twitter. Because whereas a normal blog has the natural disadvantage of allowing you to write an extended, complex, and well- reasoned entry that no- one will ever read, Twitter allows you to publish the online equivalent of a brain fart that no- one will ever read either. The maximum number of characters ensures that every observation is impossibly trivial and reductive. Still, isn't this what we've been working towards for the past forty or fifty years of Western civilization? Most of us by now feel that our lives are nothing more than journeys of personal self- discovery and self- fulfillment. Why on earth wouldn't we take this to its natural conclusion, and assume that every one of our random daily thoughts was worth being immortalized by being broadcast to a potential worldwide audience? "I ate a delicious pie today." "OMG pie is coming back as acid reflux." "WTF? Why does this always happen to me?"

There comes a time in everyone's life when, no matter how hard they've tried to keep up with new developments, they realize that they don't care anymore and that they may in fact even prefer the way things were in the past. And that is when they finally realize that they are old. Most people strive furiously to postpone this day of reckoning, but not me. I've had years to get used to it. After all, I don't have a cellphone either! So get off my goddamn lawn, you punks.