ཏ་ཱལའི་བླ་མ Tā la’i bla ma
Referendum in Ireland
Castro at the WTO
Magyar elections
Pilipinas elections
Colombia elections
Jerry Brown returns
Hypocrisy watch
Drug summit
World cup
Global fires
Česko elections
Ulster elections
Age of consent in Britain
الجزائر ’al-Ĝaza’īr
CNN and the military
Marches in Drumcree
Anglo-Saxons abroad
Романов reburial
日本 Nitupon government
Liberalization in ايران ’Īrān
日本 Nitupon government
Impeachment conclusions
US embassy bombings
افغانستان ’Afğānistān
Weather extremes
Animal rights in Hampshire
Spy satellite
Arctic wildlife refuge
Embassy bombings
Борис Ельцин
Politics of Omagh
طالبان Tālibān
Succession in 북조선 Puk Co Sən
طالبان Tālibān v. ايران ’Īrān
خمينى Xomejnī v. Rushdie
Central European elections
Electoral setbacks
ישראלי Jiśra’elī cabinet reshuffle
Pilipinas rape case

For translation of an unfamiliar word, place the cursor over the word; or read the English-only version.

Sycophants, 1998 May 17

བསྟན་འཛིན་རྒྱ་མཚོ Bstan ’Zin Rgja Ms‛o, the ཏ་ཱལའི་བླ་མ tā la’i bla ma, visited Atlanta this week, and the reaction was rather embarrassing. But that is typically the case where this individual goes. I applaud his work for human rights globally and his efforts to separate his land of བོད Bod from the 漢 Hàn empire. He is quite similar to another such cleric, John Paul II, and perhaps a step or two ahead. But we must remember that he is the exiled head of a theocracy. If he returns to a sovereign བོད Bod as a church leader, or assumes office only upon winning a general election, then his long struggle will have achieved a most desirable result. We can give him the benefit of the doubt; and we can respect him as dedicated opposition activist. But we should not fawn over him, or forget that he is, after all, primarily the head of a church that most of us do not believe in. In several days of ecstatic reporting, I heard him styled as ‘his holiness’ roughly three times more often than a descriptive ‘dalai lama’, an honor not even accorded to the pope, whose followers number a billion. Obviously the popularizing influence of a few Hollywood activists, notably Richard Gere, has given weight to the zealous sycophancy of some Buddhists who think we must all accord him the same worshipful deference they do. I think we have lost our way.

All-Ireland referendum, 1998 May 24

The agreement which has just been approved is an important step towards a more just situation. It would have been in the nature of any successful agreement to further the interests of peace and stability. This measure was a compromise; but there are specific provisions of this compromise, three in particular, which have the potential to take the situation beyond a mere return to normality.

First, it provides for home rule in the province. Democracy by itself is not sufficient; the exercise of power by the local majority must be just. But it is a step forward from governance directly from London, where the Irish had little representation and the republican Irish even less. Britain was overlord of Ireland by conquest, and recast itself as protector of a religious minority of the island. If the protestants wish to accept that protectorate, they can do so, for themselves, but democratically. But better a secular institution like the European Union should be given the power to protect all religious minorities on an equal basis. Let the colonial power withdraw further, and treat with its former subjects as peers.

Second, it should redress the balance of power between unionists and republicans in the province, long tilted towards the unionists. It should be noted that unionists are a very small minority in Ireland. They are a bare majority ― less than five-to-four ― in British Ulster. There is possibly not a minority in the industrial-democratic world that has been given such a good deal. Not only do they have self-determination, but they have a veto over the self-determination of the republicans within their province. By that standard, the British could have prevented Irish self-determination in the first place. For a slim unionist majority to prevent the unification of republican areas of Ulster with the rest of Ireland is patently undemocratic.

Third, and most importantly, it further alters the traditional (and greatly-flawed) concept of sovereignty, in Ireland, in Europe, and in the world. Western Europe is already experimenting with a mixed form of sovereignty, where neither the Union nor its members have all the traditional aspects of sovereignty. They are making explicit the fundamental idea of international law, that states can bind themselves, and in some cases be bound, in ways which limit their ability to act in whatever way they choose. Britain and Ireland, already partners in the European Union, are now overlapping their individual claims to Ulster, and including a fair amount of autonomy in the process.

Castro at the WTO, 1998 May 24

There is a growing body of opinion (though it has always existed) that economic sanctions against Cuba hurt the common people more than they hurt the régime, and that engagement and a rise in prosperity will be more effective at bringing political reform. There is a lingering romantic view of Fidel Castro himself as a dedicated humanitarian who brought down the dictator Batista. Opposition to Castro by the US government was virtually never honorable, virtually always done for the wrong reasons.

But to hear a tyrant, which is what Castro in fact is, rise before an international body as self-appointed voice of the developing world and excoriate a democracy, however unjustly it has behaved or does behave, would be divertísimo if not for the suffering involved. Castro has learned to distrust others in the world, but has not learned to trust the cubanos. He cannot love Cuba, not and treat it as he does. He may speak the words of the oppressed, but he does not speak for them, he is not one of them. He is an oppressor. Let him stand down and turn the island over to its people. If they want to send him to Genève or New York to represent them, that is their business. Then he can talk about the injustices against Cuba. But he knows full well that a liberalized Cuba would not suffer the same problems. The United States and most of the rest of the industrial world have never been the friends of the developing countries; but their emerging democracies would do well to recognize that their tolerance of Castro is not a cheap way to get back at their exploiters; it is a costly way, costly to Cuba, which is bearing the burden of Castro’s heroic self-image.

Magyar elections, 1998 May 31

It seems unlikely that the new Fidesz government in Magyarország will actually be a step forward. We can hope that in a few years such a development can be taken on face value. But in this case, the mere fact of yet another peaceful transition is worthy of note. Democracy in Magyarország is not yet a decade old, though the events of 1956 suggest that it was the most determined of peoples in eastern Europe to control its own fate. Now the Magyar people is essentially exercising that control. That in turn brings the balance of sovereignty closer to the individual. Ironically, the next step in that process is for Magyarország to surrender its national sovereignty, to eliminate the intermediation between the individual and the world. The body which is going to facilitate that process is the European Union, and the further demonstration of democratic stability makes Magyar accession more certain.

Pilipinas, 1998 May 31

The Marcos era fades further into the past as Pilipinas prepares for its second peaceful transition of power. The official winner of the elections, declared this week, was an opposition candidate, Joseph Estrada ― he serves as vice president, but was not the choice of Fidel Ramos, the outgoing president. The establishment candidate conceded early and without duress. The parliament has certified the election. It would be a disservice to democracy to focus exclusively on the office of head of government. But the office is a powerful one here, and its occupant is chosen at large, and so is, as with many tribunes, an appropriate symbol of the functioning of democracy. The process is not yet to the point of complete reliability or regularity. On the other hand, at least one people, this one, seems to take its electoral responsibility seriously, and the level of emotion and vitality in this campaign is a good sign. We can begin to hope for the progress of liberalization that is the near-exclusive province of stable democracies.

Colombia, 1998 June 7

As expected, the first round of polling did not result in a majority for a single candidate. Amid the expected violence, there was a record turnout, apparently due to the draw of what many viewed as a real alternative, Noemí Sanín, who won 27% of the vote and three cities, including Bogotá. But it was not sufficient to make the second round, which will match the government candidate, Horacio Serpa, against the rightist opposition candidate, Andrés Pastrana. In essence this is a choice between the problem and a misguided solution. There is little here to be excited about. Pastrana may crack down on the guerrilleros and the traficantes, but the answer to Colombia’s problems is not more capitalism and an extension of power to the military. This will certainly not bring an end to corrupting influences on the government. Serpa was not expected to finish first, and may pull off another surprise June 21; but whether his administration would be any less corrupt than that of Ernesto Samper, whom he would replace and whom he served, is a question difficult to answer affirmatively. But that is to be the choice. It now becomes necessary to hope for small progress, over none at all.

Jerry Brown returns, 1998 June 7

The spirit of metropolitan San Francisco, always well represented in the municipalities of San Francisco and Berkeley, has also had a hold in Oakland now and again. And now, or, we should say, again. In a field of eleven candidates, Jerry Brown has outpolled the entire competition combined three to two, and will be the next mayor of the East Bay’s largest jurisdiction. Brown is a rather wacky figure with even wackier ideas from time to time, but he seems to mean well, and is a free spirit and an open mind. He will not transform anything, as he will lack the power and does lack the vision. But he will do some good, and his tenure should be on the whole a positive for the city. Without benefit of local coverage it is hard to know what he has promised the voters; but he is a known quantity in California, and if Oakland thinks it is ready for Jerry Brown, perhaps it is.

Hypocrisy watch, 1998 June 7

The global war élite, Yankeeland, Россия, Britain, France, and 中國 Zhōng Guó, have now further refined the choreography of their nuclear-brat act. Membership in the group is indeed valuable: it brings a veto over all important United Nations business, an exclusive pseudolegal nuclear status, and a business license de facto for the weapons trade (when last known, they were the world’s five largest arms exporters). It figures that they would not want competition. It only remained for them to assemble chummily (what a seemly sight that was) to express their outrage over the pretensions of भारत B‛ārat and پاکستان Pākistān to join them, and their complete unwillingness to consider it. (Though they would seem to have less say in the matter than they believe.) They state repeatedly how awful these weapons are, but they have not promised and they do not intend universal disarmament. The rhetoric is well past tiresome.

Meanwhile, in Washington, which may be the global center for empty posturing, there is new evidence that absolutely no one elected to office can speak morally about tyranny. The Republican Party, which held the diplomacy portfolio during the 天安門 Tiān Ān Mén Square massacre, now wishes to commemorate its anniversary by recording a strong sense of indignation at continued human-rights abuses in 中國 Zhōng Guó. The Democratic Party, which holds the diplomacy portfolio now, wishes to pursue a policy of constructive engagement. When the power positions were reversed, the rhetorical positions were reversed. The Republicans are financed by capitalist entrepreneurs, who view 中國 Zhōng Guó as a billion potential customers. But the Republicans are elected by conservative Christians, who view 中國 Zhōng Guó instead as a billion potential converts. Religious oppression has always been a reality in 中國 Zhōng Guó, but now suddenly it is an issue, and now the great moral majority cares about human rights in 中國 Zhōng Guó. Meanwhile, the Democrats have decided that power brings responsibility, and that the only responsible thing to do in foreign policy is to play geopolitics. Each side merely demonstrates a lack of trustworthiness, an empty morality, and a cynical willingness to score partisan points at home at every turn.

Drug summit, 1998 June 14

The gathering in New York of governments for discussion and coordination of global anti-drug policy seems an appropriate occasion for reexamining this new World War. Just as the global drug trade is driven by the engine of US drug consumption, so the global drug war is driven by the engine of US drug hysteria. Sentiment against drug use, which applies only to those substances not favored by the masses, is largely idiotic. Drug use itself is foolish, to be sure, but this applies to alcohol, tobacco, many medicinal drugs, and also to many kinds of food. Are they criminalized to protect the masses from themselves? US drug policy is paternalistic and hypocritical. But it is also, as this summit demonstrates, imperialist. Yankeeland is forcing its own lunacy on the rest of the world, wielding its economic and military weight like the great sumo wrestler of Earth, tossing any impudent developing state from the ring. It has the power, but not the moral authority.

Instead of the misguided attacks on producers and consumers, there are wiser, more humane, more just approaches. Treatment can end the addiction of those who would like to quit. Crop substitution assistance can move some lands into useful production, but requires that the financial incentive be removed. Decriminalization can have a great effect on pricing, as well as opening addicts up to treatment, and finally to the end of the violent underground supply and distribution networks, and their terrorism of peasant farmers, ghetto residents, and politicians. If the violence is not abated, it can be combatted as violence. Hypocritical politicians and voters alike want to rail against some impersonal villain which is not themselves. But at some point, this idiocy crosses into malevolence. All Earth should not suffer from the insecure rage of some of its population.

The World Cup, 1998 June 14

Physical activity is certainly a good thing, beneficial and even necessary to health. Competitiveness is not necessarily good, but where the effect is merely to encourage excellence, it has served a useful purpose. A sense of community can be a good thing, and sport seems to foster that. And there is nothing wrong with a little harmless recreation.

Professional sport is somewhat more ambiguous. It is worthwhile to ask whether the copious resources diverted to professional sport could not better be spent elsewhere. But the verdict of the great mass of humanity at present seems to be that it could not. They view high-level athletic competition as further harmless recreation, and are willing to devote their own resources to it, in a major way.

As the World Cup finals begin in France, the world is working itself up to another frenzy of empty nationalism and extravagant indulgence. Football is the most popular sport on Earth, and the World Cup is its pinnacle. All of the patriotic fervor and the historical antagonism will play out in a proxy fight on turf, and the devoted fanatics will tie their emotional well-being and even their self-worth to the fortunes of their national teams. But perhaps, on reflection, this is not such a bad thing.

Let the World Cup become a global Palio. The Palio is a horserace (and the banner which serves as its prize) in Siena Italia. The city’s contrade, arbitrary geographical regions to which the inhabitants are zealously attached and fiercely patriotic, spend six months building up to this brief sporting event, waving their colors and clashing with rivals. It is spirited and earnest and doesn’t mean anything. The participating districts have no real differences. The divisions and hence the rivalries are artificial. Those of Siena would deny this, but it is obvious to outsiders. So are the divisions and hence the rivalries of Earth. Nations and states bicker and boast and stage military exercises. Eventually they fight, and individuals die. For nothing, usually. Let them waste their energies on the football pitch. And those of us who do not wish to be involved in this nonsense can continue with our lives.

1998 June 14

日本 Nitupon has gone into recession, and the potential consequences for the economies of Asia and Earth are great, and greatly troubling. The Asia crisis could drag the entire world down, and we all know what happens politically during economic crises.... Pauline Hanson and the One Nation Party have apparently secured 23% of the popular vote in Queensland elections. Hopefully this is not an omen of a nationalist surge throughout Australia.... Ted Turner’s donation of a billion dollars to the UN is undergoing its first official dispersal. Whatever else Turner may do, this is an enlightened act, and his past commitments to globalism are proving to be mere shadows of what he was willing to do for world peace. Let all tycoons be so generous; but especially let all Yankees heed this rejection of the demagoguery surrounding the UN.

Global fires, 1998 June 21

With destructive fires still burning in North America, including fires in México which wiped out huge tracts of forest land and sent pollution as far north as Canada, ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have appealed for international assistance in preventing and fighting fires in their part of the world. They were looking back to the devastating fires of last year, and looking forward to the dry season this year, which starts soon. The world was aware at the time of the public health and ecological effects of the fires in Indonesia, but has not shown much interest in the possibility of a recurrence. This despite, among other things, the reaction in the United States to the public health effects of the much less severe pollution from the fires in México.

Whether we act to spare the forests, or the populations at risk, or even just the global economy, it must be clear that negligence and complacency will punish us all, and that thoughtful action can benefit us all. How many disasters, of what magnitude, will be required before a collective responsibility is recognized, and a collective structure is established to exercise it? A global response force for disasters, both to prevent and mitigate, would be a small part of the stewardship of Earth which must eventually be instituted. Some of that stewardship will always be controversial; but this should not be.

Česko elections, 1998 June 21

The last of eastern Europe’s most advanced democracies to witness a substantial shift in power has just handed the social democrats a significant plurality in the parliament. The prospects for a social-democratic government in Praha are not especially good, but Česko is apparently less capitalist than it was, and this represents some progress, as does the very possibility of a peaceful transition in power. But such signs of placid political temperament are hardly needed here, where the fight against the Сталинist hegemony both in 1968 and 1989, and the dissolution of Československo, were astoundingly nonviolent, nonbelligerent, and even to some extent non-nationalist.

It may seem out of place for a resident of the relative opulence in the United States to say so, but 1989 will have been a failure if the eastern bloc peoples view the demise of their former systems in economic, rather than political, terms. The capitalists in the west always focused primarily on central planning and the lack of property for common individuals, but that was not the problem in the eastern bloc. The easterners may wish to be more prosperous, but they should not embrace capitalism simply because their former dictators railed against it. The problem in the eastern bloc was dominion. Political dominion has been lessened there. But capitalism is dominion as well, and though it is less malevolent, it is still not the way to go.

Ulster elections, 1998 June 28

The second stage of the peace resolution in British Ulster has again demonstrated a significant public mandate for the recent agreement and the new institutional situation it envisioned. The showing of the pro-agreement unionists, the strong republican second and the astounding success of Sinn Féin all mark a rejection of the assumptions formerly in place about the populace in the province. They are not ultraunionists, devoted to London and living in fear of a united Ireland imposed by force (as if Dublin could ever win such a contest). There are no grounds for the ultraunionists to thwart the all-Ireland bodies, no basis to claim that British Ulster is more British than Irish in identity. And dialogue and even cooperation are inherent in this new framework, and if allowed to work it will bring peace.

Age of consent, 1998 June 28

Britain’s House of Commons has voted to lower the age of consent for gay sex to sixteen years, which brings it to par with the age for straight sex. This is welcome; though it was reported during the debate that the average age of consent in Europe is fifteen years (I would have to see this confirmed, to be sure; it seems unlikely). This was framed for the most part as a matter of equality (though it becomes legal for a male to consent to anal sex at sixteen, but a female not until eighteen, so we are back to special “protections” for females, who must then be presumed inferior of intellect). Certainly preventing discrimination against gays is important. There is another broad principle being affirmed here ― that nonviolent acts have no business being criminalized. (In contrast, there are many large jurisdictions within the United States where sodomy and even oral sex are illegal to consenting individuals of any age.) To make illegal a harmless act which is simply not enjoyed by a voting majority of the electorate or their representatives is an example of a very superstitious legal theory.

But another fundamental question is raised by this issue. At what point does an individual become mature enough to be trusted with decisions? There is no single answer for all individuals. But the state must treat all individuals equally. And it is absolute absurdity to suppose that a person can be trusted for some decisions but not others, to establish in law a graduated ascension to adulthood. The state must set an age, certainly no higher than eighteen years and probably closer to sixteen years, at which a person comes to majority in all matters ― voting, marriage, leaving school, working, paying taxes, drinking, smoking, serving in the military (voluntarily, of course), and holding public office. An adult is an adult. There is only one sort of adult ― a full member of society, allowed by the rest of society to function as a peer, and if to make mistakes, then to make its own mistakes. If making irresponsible choices is taken as evidence of immaturity, we will be forced to disenfranchise most of the voters in the world’s democracies. I am certain there is a working majority against that prospect.

الجزائر ’al-Ĝaza’īr, 1998 July 12

The military rulers of الجزائر ’al-Ĝaza’īr have always portrayed themselves as guardians of a secular society against the intentions, stated or otherwise, of the radical مسلمون Muslimūn who would have come to power democratically in the last free elections. That the FIS would have established a theocracy, not a democracy, is the one point I will concede to the military. But they are not heroes, as they have just demonstrated yet again. Tamazight, the dialect of a native population preceding the عربى Carabī migration/conquest, and currently a quarter of the entire population of الجزائر ’al-Ĝaza’īr, has lost its status as an official language alongside the عربى Carabī dialect. A state cannot conduct its business in an unlimited number of dialects; but when a quarter of the population no longer has the ability to communicate with the state in its own tongue, and thus a large portion can no longer communicate with the state at all, the reality is no longer one of pragmatism but of a deliberate denial of civil rights. And more is affected than simply government business (which should be the people’s business, after all, but such does not obtain in الجزائر ’al-Ĝaza’īr). It is no longer possible to broadcast in Tamazight. Within two years it will not be permitted in universities. The result of this mandate is clearly a limitation of the intellectual development of the Amazigh population. It may technically qualify as genocide (noting that genocide does not equate to mass murder, but to a deliberate attempt to eliminate a culture or people, which would include forced assimilation). It certainly is the beginning of an intended end to Amazigh culture within الجزائر ’al-Ĝaza’īr. Its implementation this week went virtually unmarked. But its potential consequences are grave, and the international community is letting slide another instance of the barbarisms (sic) it is nominally and rhetorically opposed to. Ah, well.

CNN and the military, 1998 July 12

It was not possible to say definitively that the earlier report by CNN and Time on Operation Tailwind, in which the United States military reportedly dropped sarin nerve gas on defectors in ລາວ Lāŭ from its own ranks, was accurate. But it is possible to say, quite definitively, that the reaction and the retraction and the ongoing fallout are misguided. We know that ultranationalist sentiment in the US, and especially in the US military, is high, and that treason and defection and even apostasy are viewed with virulent hatred, and attacked emotionally and sometimes physically, without recourse to tolerance or patience or justice. We know that the US military has used nuclear weapons, produced chemical and biological weapons, and used hazardous chemicals in theaters of war which, intentionally or not, functioned as anti-personnel weapons. We know that the war in and around Việt Nam was conducted by the military in a manner which produced numerous atrocities. No realistic person can deny the plausibility of the story. And there were sufficient credible sources to make the story worth reporting. It was in fact the counter-report which taxed credibility. The original report was not a fabrication. The resulting retraction was not an exoneration of the military. Of course there were denials. Of course the government offered every possible countersource to discredit the report. Perhaps (but only perhaps) this time they were telling the truth. But the Yankee government is a master of secrecy and disinformation. That they should deny it proves nothing. Nothing remains proven, except that CNN is not up to a fight with the dominion.

Anglo-Saxons abroad, 1998 July 12

The progressives in Australia are denouncing the latest “settlement” of the aboriginal land claim issue, passed by the Senate this week. Moderates are calling it a “balanced” solution. These are not particularly good signs. Naturally, details are not available, and I can only guess at its consequences. The lands at issue here were public lands leased to white farmers and ranchers. Why do all land issues sound alike? The United States, which has an atrocious history of dealing with the American aboriginals, is giving away public land use to private commercial interests, and picking up the bill for any long-term damage. The users treat their exploitation of public lands as an entitlement. This despite their self-congratulatory claims to rugged individualism. The truth of the Wild West is that it was conquered from the aboriginals and the mexicanos by the federal government. Much of the land was essentially donated to white settlers in a deliberate colonization program. But much of the land remains in the public domain. This refers, naturally, to the public of the entire United States. But the westerners want the rest of the public to go away, and leave them to dispose of the great interior of the continent as best suits them, the white settlers. This must not happen. Those conservatives who hate taxes and government have no right to expect taxes from the rest of the country to support their destruction of the wilderness and depletion of natural resources. Certainly they have no right to expect the rest of the country to listen to their hypocrisies.

Australia, Canada, and Yankeeland are alike in the ultimate results of British colonization. The aboriginal populations have been almost completely supplanted by Europeans, in countries that should have been large and wealthy enough to support both. The Canadians are slowly redressing the situation. The Yankees are not, and will not. The Australians have been somewhere in between. They should ask themselves: Is there not enough of Australia to go around? Can we not as a society spare some of our luxury to preserve a way of life that we were too ignorant to protect when we first encountered it? Can we do no better? I can assure Australia that there are examples preferrable to my own native society.

Anglo-Saxons abroad, 1998 July 19

I will allow Pauline Hanson, leader of Australia’s One Nation Party and new electoral force, to speak for herself:

Aboriginals have had it very tough in the past, and I admit that ― that they were mistreated. They didn’t have the right to vote until the Australian people, in a referendum in 1967, when they cast that vote, believed that aboriginals should have the right to vote, and should be treated equally and the same as everyone else. But if Australians knew today what was ... foreshadowed for them, they would have thought twice about casting that vote. Because they were working at giving the aboriginal race equality; but over the years the pendulum has gone too far the other way, and now there is so much discrimination, so much inequality in our society, that it is causing resentment amongst all people.
It would seem that the white people of the world are doomed to suffer. They try to do the right thing, but such upstanding virtue has cost them, again and again. You can’t trust the darkies with anything....

Drumcree, 1998 July 19

The marching season in Ulster is an issue every year, and a tedious one. The sectarian tensions which simmer all year and boil over in summer are transparent and barely worth comment. This year, obviously, showed great progress in the general situation in British Ulster, but only as a snapshot of years of gradual progress. Nothing magical has happened to make the Protestants and Catholics or the Unionists and Nationalists (the two dichotomies are not necessarily identical) stand down from their traditional enmity. That enmity is frustrating to watch. Each side cultivates a self-portrait as a beleaguered minority (Protestants in Ireland, Catholics in Northern Ireland) while making full use, to the point of gloating, of its inverse majority. The Orange Order march is at the same time historical triumphalism and siege defensiveness. The Orangemen would remind the Catholics of Garvaghy Road of the power-political situation in British Ulster, while complaining to the world that they are persecuted and denied their civil rights.

But it is necessary to separate seemliness from justice. The attitude of the Orange Order may be provocative, boastful, even hateful, but they are right to claim an abrogation of just treatment. If any parades are tolerated at all, they must all be tolerated. A Catholic majority cannot close its streets to Protestant marches out of political disagreement. The rights of expression and assembly are universal, and only necessary to protect viewpoints that have no political protection. The issue of self-determination in Ulster is complicated. This is not. The march must go forward.

Pageant in Россия, 1998 July 19

There has been a consistent public justification of the spectacle in Санкт-Петербург this week ― it was an “atonement” for past sins, an effort at “reconciliation”. Борис Ельцин, Романов relatives in Россия and abroad, and foreign representatives of the past and present aristocracy gathered to rebury Николай Романов, his wife, three of their daughters, and several household servants, executed eighty years ago in Екатеринбург by a Большевик death squad. The murder was indeed gruesome, and solid early evidence that even Ленин and Троцкий were no saints. But does it follow that Романов was? That is what many adherents of the Orthodox church in Россия believe. The Orthodox patriarch eschewed the ceremony lest it taint the official church program for canonization. This is not a joke; merely by virtue of the religious beliefs of his executioners (atheists, officially), this person is being considered as a Christian martyr. Whatever his life was witnessing for, it was not the best of Christianity, and the church is damaging itself by holding him up as an exemplar. Ельцин, skillful (and shameless) politician that he has ever been, has played the resurgent nationalism for its full political value. But the shame of the past in Россия goes back further than 1918. Nationalism is not healthy, and monarchism, nostalgic or not, is regressive. Ельцин personally participated in the Большевик cover-up of the murder. But he is too clever to believe that he is making up for his complicity with this nonsense. Reconciliation between the reds and the whites is impossible, and neither party was good for the people of Россия. And it is impossible to atone for the murder of children by honoring an autocrat.

日本 Nitupon government, 1998 July 19

The resignation in 日本 Nitupon of 橋本 龍太郎 Hasimoto Rijuutarou after his party’s defeat in second-house elections is not by itself significant. The ruling party is always blamed for economic troubles, and 日本 Nitupon is seeing its worst for some time. 橋本 Hasimoto’s government was elected by the first house, and the composition of that house has not changed. 橋本 Hasimoto himself will make way only for another member of his own party, whose tenure has been so long-lived, whose position in power has been so entrenched, that reform has always had dim prospects. The personal, relatively minor scandal which brought down 細川 護煕 Hosokaŭa Morihiro was deemed enough, apparently, to discredit political reform. Political reform is not much of an issue at present. Economic reform may be, but the successor of 橋本 Hasimoto, whoever that is, is quite unlikely to be the engine of any sort of reform. But all conclusions will have to wait.

ايران ’Īrān, 1998 July 26

Political liberalization is easily the most popular movement in the country at present. محمد خاتمى Muham:ad Xātamī was elected to the weak (but democratic) post of president with seven-tenths of the vote. The most popular newspaper in ايران ’Īrān was Ĝameceh, known for its support of خاتمى Xātamī. Also popular was the mayor of طهران Tehrān, غلامحسين کرباسچى Ğolāmħusajn Karbāsčī, an ally of خاتمى Xātamī. The revolution of الاسلام ’al-’Islām is over, as far as the common folk of ايران ’Īrān are concerned. They have had it with fundamentalism and the reign of the آيت الله ’ājat’ollah.

But the آيت الله ’ājat’ollah, على خامنه اى Calī Xāmeneh’ī, does reign supreme. He is the chief of the theocracy which controls the true governmental power in the جمهورى اسلامى Ĝumhūrī ’Islāmī. As witness to that, کرباسچى Karbāsčī, as a result of an earlier (wholly suspect) corruption trial, has been sentenced to sixty lashes, five years in prison, a fine, and twenty years banishment from political office. (Perhaps he should be grateful; large numbers of zealots were calling for his execution). On the same day, Ĝameceh was ordered closed. کرباسچى Karbāsčī will appeal; Ĝameceh began publishing the next day under a new name. But these moves were direct assaults on the liberalization movement, and on خاتمى Xātamī personally, and their success, whether temporary or permanent, is a great setback to the program of bringing ايران ’Īrān out of its dark period.

日本 Nitupon government, 1998 July 26

The next prime minister of 日本 Nitupon will be 小渕恵三 Obuti Keizo, thought to be a decent, caring person, but not imaginative, not a serious reformer, and not likely to bring political change to 日本 Nitupon. The question of economic change may have been decided for him....

Georgetown Follies, 1998 August 2

Monica Lewinsky did have a sexual relationship with Bill Clinton. Ken Starr was simply on a crusade to impeach the president. And Bill Clinton is the biggest liar to hold the presidency since George Bush. Have we learned anything?

Embassy bombings, 1998 August 9

International crimes seem to inspire precisely the same mixture of reactions as local crimes. After this tremendous loss of life in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, the first reaction was horror and grief; but this was supplanted, entirely supplanted, within minutes, by calls for revenge. Can we not muster any other emotion but hatred and anger at times of trouble? We should find out who has done this. We should take steps to hold them accountable, as a part of efforts to prevent such actions in the future. But humanity is demeaned when all we can think about in the face of death is retribution. That, to use the word of the week, is also cowardly.

افغانستان ’Afğānistān, 1998 August 9

The طالبان Tālibān is about to take the last stronghold of the افغانى ’Afğānī government it replaced, in مزار شريف Mazār-e Šarīf. No outcome will be good, not properly understood; but the prospect of the طالبان Tālibān forcing its oppressive theocracy on افغانستان ’Afğānistān unchallenged should concern everyone.

About the weather, 1998 August 16

In one hundred eighteen years of weather records, there has never been a hotter January than that in 1998. February, March, April, May, and June were also the hottest months for their respective times of year. And July of 1998 has turned out to be the hottest single month in the entire record. Meteorological records have been falling at a disturbing rate for several years. Extreme weather phenomena have been apparent in the news. This year’s weather records may in part be blamed on el niño, but an explanation would then be needed for the severity of that recurring phenomenon in 1998. Some would call global warming that explanation. Some believe that the obvious global warming we are facing now is only part of the usual flux of climate, a mere blip in the general, multimillenial trends. They may, technically, be right.

But conservationists need to remember, as they work to persuade the humans of the world to act responsibly, that global warming is not essential to the argument. Whether the suspect gases are responsible for negative environmental changes or not, they are still pollution. Humans are unquestionably altering the biosphere, and in the context of long evolution, altering it drastically. We do not understand nature well enough to dismiss some pollution as harmless. We must preserve the state of Earth before civilization, for only then can our cultural and physical evolution work towards our own preservation. If global warming is insignificant, and we yet show restraint in our alteration of the environment, then we have at worst put industrial progress on hold for a short span. But if global warming is a sign of impending disaster, and we ignore it, then we will be lucky if our industrial society has the ability to rectify its damage before our race goes down with our civilization.

Animal rights, 1998 August 16

The release of thousands of minks from a farm in Hampshire’s New Forest was undoubtedly motivated by compassion. The minks were going to be killed, and those who criticize the release on the grounds that the minks will die in the wild are being vacuous. The minks were living cramped and are now running free, and those who criticize the release on the grounds that the minks will suffer before they die are right on isolated particulars but mistaken on the predominant generalities. The accusation by the farmer that his critics are hypocrites who eat meat and wear leather is almost certainly unjust if applied to those of his critics who carried out the release.

But the activists were misguided just the same. They did not execute a controlled release of animals into their original habitat. They flooded a nature preserve with predators who instantaneously altered the ecological balance. The sentiment was admirable; helping the minks was good for the minks. But it was bad for the world. The activists sacrificed a sensitive wildlife area. We do not have any such areas that we can afford to sacrifice. The stewardship is not an army with centralized command, and individual stewards must take the responsibility to decide and act for themselves. But in doing so, they may be wrong. This is a failure of the stewardship as a whole. We must hold ourselves accountable.

Join the army, see the world, 1998 August 16

The United States military launched a one-billion-dollar spy satellite this week, only to have it explode over the Atlantic. The Pentagon will undoubtedly seek to launch another, lest it know too little about the doings of foreign governments. And lest anyone know too much about the doings of the Yankee government, the Pentagon immediately broadcast a transparent piece of disinformation. The warning was that the pieces of the downed satellite were hazardous, and should not be handled by the public. I suppose that depends on a person’s definition of ‘hazardous’.

ANWR, 1998 August 16

It appears that the United States is going to take a soft line against drilling for oil in the Arctic wildlife refuge. Bruce Babbitt, who announced the limited drilling, is one of the few admirable figures in Yankee public life, a politician who has integrity and will take an unpopular stand for it. But his boss, Bill Clinton, has never met a constituency he wouldn’t pander to. He is the soft line.

Retaliation, 1998 August 23

The United States continues to confront a problem of its own making. Its own misguided cold-war policies are ultimately responsible for the bombings in Africa. And now it is likely to extend the cycle of retaliation as it looks to punish someone for the attack. And being what it is, the US will punish someone.

In carrying out the response strikes, the US stated that it attempted to minimize “collateral damage”, which is the military’s preferred euphemism for the death of innocents. But it was willing to kill some innocents, clearly. It uses a wartime justification for this, in which the standard is not culpability or even complicity but proximity. أسامة بن لادن ’Usāmaĥ bin Lādan, if he was the mastermind of the bombings, was attacking those who worked for his enemy and killed bystanders in the process. So as far as the conduct of this war goes, the difference between the combatants is one of degree. The United States can only criticize أسامة بن لادن ’Usāmaĥ bin Lādan’s goals, not his methods; but if so, it must be righteous in its own goals, and that condition obtains only some of the time.

Царь Борис, 1998 August 30

The volatility and instability of the political and economic situation in Россия, it is increasingly clear, will not end before the autocratic tribunacy of the volatile, unstable Борис Ельцин. This person defines the word ‘mercurial’. His own creation, the recently appointed premier Сергей Кириенко, has fallen out of favor, along with the two other prominent economic reformers in the government, Борис Немцов and Анатолий Чубайс. They have all been fired. Россия has essentially defaulted on its international loans. Those who continue to view Ельцин as the stalwart of reform are deluded. He is erratic, he is unreliable, he does not have the will for reform, he will not brook rivals, and now, clearly, he has not even any fear of international consequences. Those who tolerated the creation of this omnipotent iron presidency on the grounds that it was needed to bring a market economy to Россия (which is all many persons care about) have surely been disabused of that hope this week. Now they will have to fall back to that other great rightist dream, geopolitical stability. If that doesn’t work out, maybe they will be satisfied if the trains run on time.

Politics and Omagh, 1998 August 30

Apparently the best solution the British Isles can devise to terrorism at home and abroad is a rollback of the open society. Britain and Ireland have both overreacted to the Omagh bombing, awful as it certainly was. Specific proposals include limits on the right to silence, and the sufficiency of the testimony of a single senior police official to convict an individual of certain terrorist charges. On top of that, Britain is taking steps to improve its image as a state that shelters terrorism. This can only be done by curtailing civil and political liberties. Terrorists congregate in permissive societies, but that does not argue for totalitarianism.

طالبان Tālibān, 1998 September 6

Amnesty International reports that the طالبان Tālibān has murdered or executed thousands connected to the resistance to their attempts to control the entirety of the former افغانى ’Afğānī state. This appears to include ten ايرانى ’Īrānī diplomats; and ايران ’Īrān has now amassed 70000 troops near the افغانى ’Afğānī border, and an invasion, in some views, is imminent. This movement is disaster, of course, not only because of the conflict they might bring, but because of the conflict and oppression they have brought already. If ايران ’Īrān invades, it will just mean more of what has obtained in افغانستان ’Afğānistān for the last twenty years. The tendency of governments (which is what the طالبان Tālibān is) to curtail liberties during crisis has almost nonsensical implications in this instance. But miraculously, the طالبان Tālibān may have found a way to make things worse.

Birthright, 1998 September 6

The grand design of 김일성 Kim Il Səŋ to be succeeded by his son, 김정일 Kim Cəŋ Il, has gone off, though perhaps better than the self-aggrandizing senior 김 Kim might have wished. 김정일 Kim Cəŋ Il was annointed as 북조선 Puk Co Sən’s “위대한 영도자 Ui Tæ Han Jəŋ To Ca”, an appellation previously reserved for his father. Bizarrely, 일성 Il Səŋ will retain the title of ‘주석 Cu Sək’. Logic would have suggested the reverse, but presumably the son took the title that most appealed to him. 정일 Cəŋ Il was mythologized as the “친애하는 지도자 C‛in Æ Ha Nun Ci To Ca” during his father’s lifetime, and stories were presented, rather like another mythological character, of his delivering scholarly lectures to adults when he was still a small child. Such must have adequately generated his current self-importance. As an inaugural, apparently, 북조선 Puk Co Sən fired a ballistic missile over 日本 Nitupon. (Россия, still protective of its sphere of influence, described the launch as a satellite.) 日本 Nitupon promptly withdrew from efforts to improve bilateral relations. This does not appear auspicious.

Great جهاد ĝihād, 1998 September 20

There are now, by the most conservative estimates, tens of thousands of ايران ’Īrānī soldiers within striking distance of افغانستان ’Afğānistān. It has been officially acknowledged by the طالبان Tālibān that its members did kill the missing ايران ’Īrānī diplomats during the sack of مزار شريف Mazār-e Šarīf. And independent reports have the طالبان Tālibān actively massacring the شيعى šīcī population under its control. So the طالبان Tālibān are not only oppressive, murderous, and incompetent; they are lacking in even basic tactical ability. They have secured an alliance with پاکستان Pākistān, apparently, but have alienated a natural ally on the other side. The world is now awaiting a war between two neighboring fundamentalist-اسلامى ’Islāmī states. ايران ’Īrān is unlikely to follow (or be able to follow) the example of Việt Nam, which ousted the ខ្មែរ K‛mer Rouge, thus forcing the humanitarian world to be grateful to an otherwise completely-undesirable régime. In this case, the more likely outcome would be a protracted, devastating, inconclusive war, of the sort that ايران ’Īrān fought withالعراق ’al-Cirāq. الله ’Al-Lah knows the last thing either of these peoples needs is such a conflict.

خمينى Xomejnī v. Rushdie, 1998 September 27

The attempts by محمد خاتمى Muham:ad Xātamī and his allies to liberalize ايرانى ’Īrānī society continue, and this week have produced a success, with the announcement that the government will no longer seek to enforce the فتوى fatŭaj against Salman Rushdie. This is indeed a most welcome development, even though it may come to nothing in practice. خاتمى Xātamī does not truly control the government, after all ― على خامنه اى Calī Xāmeneh’ī does. And the spirit of روح الله خمينى Rūћ’ollah Xomejnī is enough to inspire any number of zealots to extend the فتوى fatŭaj. But it is comforting to know that the tribune of the ايرانى ’Īrānī majority does not believe that an act of expression is worthy of execution, or that مسلمون Muslimūn, like mafiosi, are somehow forever bound to the group, not free to leave as conscience and intellect may demand. Rushdie is not quite the champion of secularism and apostasy that he once was, but he remains an important symbol of free expression, he deserves to walk in the sunlight without fearing for his life. Most of us do.

Elections in central Europe, 1998 September 27

Two incumbents have apparently been voted out of office this week ― Helmut Kohl of Deutschland and Vladimír Mečiar of Slovensko. The departure of Mečiar, a disturbing autocrat, is good for Slovensko for that reason alone, but it must also be remembered that, but for the Mečiar government, Slovensko would have been in the first tier of new admissions to the western European institutions of NATO and the EU, and thus closer to the future most residents of the old советск sphere want for themselves. The departure of Kohl is somewhat more ambiguous. While he was a right-of-center mild nationalist from a religious party, he was also a strong supporter of European cooperation and integration, and a believer in Deutschlands special obligation to the world. This attitude was the rough equivalent of affirmative action: the idea was not to punish Deutsche who were not themselves culpable in the atrocious past, but to ensure that they remained cognizant and vigilant against their own demonstrated worst tendencies. Gerhard Schröder should be an improvement on many fronts, but few conservatives would have rendered the service Kohl did, and Schröder is more conservative than the voters who elected him. Ambiguous indeed.

Electoral setbacks, 1998 October 11

Reading the election results in Australia is rather difficult. Premier John Howard’s conservative coalition has won power again, but with a reduced majority. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party did not duplicate its 23% polling from Queensland, but it did still manage 8%, which is an outrageous figure for such an overtly-racist political organization. The best, though unsatisfying, conclusion is that the progressive side of Australia’s electorate is much the weaker, though it did not fare so badly as it might have in this election. It is naturally difficult to celebrate a setback because it might have been worse.

Meanwhile in Italia, the moderate-progressive government of Romano Prodi lost a vote of confidence by one ballot and resigned. His budget had cost him the official support of the communists, though some voted to preserve his government. It is reasonable to wonder whether they really believe they and Italia will be better served by a center-right government, which is the most likely result, since it does not appear that new elections will be called.

It is comforting to see the practice of democracy in Brasil, regardless of the outcome. But the outcome there too could well have been better for the progressives. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the conservative incumbent, has won the presidential elections in the first round. This more or less guarantees that Brasil’s response to its threatened economic crisis will be based on the capitalist model. The poverty of this approach (all meanings here are intended) is not yet apparent to all policymakers, but some independent observers have noted an increasing awareness that laisser-faire, free-market absolutism has not served the world well in the post-перестройка era, and particularly not in the current global turmoil.

ישראלי Jiśra’elī cabinet, 1998 October 11

Old soldier אריאל שרון ’Arī’el Šaroŭn’s fortunes within the ליכוד Līkūd bloc have taken another turn with his appointment as foreign minister. Is בנימין נתניהו Binjamīn Netanjahū making a concession to the hardliners in ישראלי Jiśra’elī politics (who must love this announcement), or is he signaling a retrenchment? When Sinn Féin put Martin McGuinness in charge of arms decommissioning, this was interpreted as a commitment to the process. Putting אריאל שרון ’Arī’el Šaroŭn in charge of negotiating the handover of the ضفة الغربية Daf:aĥ ’al-Ğarbīaĥ may not be open to quite the same interpretations.

Pilipinas, 1998 October 11

Though Pilipinas has not executed any of the seven hundred individuals sentenced to death since the reintroduction of the death penalty in 1994, that can be of no comfort to Albert Wilson, convicted for the rape of his stepdaughter. The girl’s mother and brother have taken Wilson’s side, and there are serious doubts about the sufficiency of evidence. Rape, if proven, is a horrible act. But there is no act, even vicious mass murder, for which the state should be conducting retributive executions. And this execution, for a lesser offense which is in doubt, would be decidedly retributive ― the girl’s statements make that clear. It is unfortunate that a European must receive such a sentence to call attention to a system which produces such results.