Nov 28, 2009

More ways of killing a cat than choking it with cream

“There are more ways of killing a cat than choking it with cream.”

The opposition leader in Myanmar (Burma) Aung Sang Su Ky has been criticized by some of her followers and supporters for having preserved her Buddhist purity while things have only become worse for the population during the many years of her arrest.

It is certainly true that the discovery of one senior general stark naked in his office marching up and down giving salutes and bellowing orders, and his removal to a sanatorium, provided no relief for the population, nor any decrease in the power of the generals, whose grip grew ever tighter.

Generally speaking, Buddhists have a tendency to follow the advice of the Japanese master swordsman, “Instead of thinking maybe I could do this, or maybe I could do that, the first thing you must do is create a self as solid and unmoving as Mount Fuji.” Those who think of Buddhists as a subspecies of wimpy tree huggers might be gently reminded that all the martial arts there are were invented by Buddhist monks forbidden to carry weapons by the local war lords. The martial arts remain; the war lords are long forgotten. So it goes.

Gently reminded? “How do you get the attention of a political animal? Hit it between the eyes with a two by four.” A two by four does not qualify as a weapon and may be acquired at very modest cost from any local timber yard.

Awareness of possibilities is not limited to any particular culture or ethnicity. The tale of a property manager under notice to quit making some mutually beneficial arrangements with various debtors and creditors of the estate with an eye to the future is told by one Yeshua bin Youssef (aka Jesus of Nazareth) with the moral, or injunction, at the end of the tale “Study therefore the ways of the children of darkness, for they are wiser in their generation than the children of light.”

So what exactly did the supporters of Aung Sang Su Ky have in mind when they voiced their criticism that the lady had preserved inviolate her Buddhist purity over the years, but that everything had just got worse? What else could she have done?

Well, one can imagine a scenario where the lady carrying all the trappings of world fame and a Nobel Prize might have announced a conversion to the philosophy of the generals, offered to use her good offices to present their case to world opinion, strengthen their influence with neighboring states, generate new sources of income, spread their power further over Asia, mollify and enthuse the population.

There are a number of avenues to elbowing her way to a seat at the table, and then genuinely opening up and improving international relations up to the very moment when the two by four hits the generals between the eyes.

Burmese have a reputation for xenophobia and isolationism, but macho types with a secret yearning to strut in the altogether yelling orders should be putty in the hands of a resourceful woman.

Update November 9, 2010:

Aung San Su Ky is free, released by Than Shwe and the generals. Barbed wire and guards removed from house, free to go, meets with supporters at NLD headquarters.

"If she resumes where she left off in 2003 — campaigning against the regime — I'm afraid the likelihood is that she will return to house arrest fairly soon," he told the U.K. broadcaster. "However ... we are allowed to hope."

Good one, girl.

Nov 27, 2009

The ancestry of Harry Reid

Judy Wallman, a professional genealogy researcher in southern California, was doing some personal work on her own family tree. She discovered that Congressman Harry Reid's great-great uncle, Remus Reid, was hanged for horse stealing and train robbery in Montana in 1889. Both Judy and Harry Reid share this common ancestor.

The only known photograph of Remus shows him standing on the gallows in Montana territory.

On the back of the picture Judy obtained during her research is this inscription: 'Remus Reid, horse thief, sent to Montana Territorial Prison 1885, escaped 1887, robbed the Montana Flyer six times. Caught by Pinkerton detectives, convicted and hanged in 1889.'

So Judy recently e-mailed Congressman Harry Reid for information about their great-great uncle.

Harry Reid's staff sent back the following biographical sketch for her genealogy research:

"Remus Reid was a famous cowboy in the Montana Territory. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Montana railroad. Beginning in 1883, he devoted several years of his life to government service, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency. In 1889, Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honor when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed."

Nov 19, 2009

Why did Obama bow to the emperor Hirohito of Japan?

America dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Most Americans have probably succeeded in forgetting this, if they ever knew it, but it is highly unlikely the Japanese have forgotten it.

You do not cease to be yourself when you become president of the United States. Obama had a clear run in his election to the Senate; his opponent withdrew unexpectedly at the last moment, leaving him unopposed. (Remember Napoleon’s demand of all the generals he appointed that they be lucky.)

Diplomatic protocol does not demand that any head of state should bow to any other head of state. Was Obama’s action a momentary oversight, practicing what he knew was a local form of courtesy, or was it deliberate?

Obama’s first action has to be to maintain, and even increase, the power he has; if he becomes powerless he can do nothing. This would come naturally to the little Luo, a member of the minority tribe in Kenya. Having allied himself to the most powerful groups around, he must then begin to increase the area of his own action independently of them, while continuing to keep them at least propitiated. So much is simple realpolitik.

I have often suspected that Obama may have the art of leading from behind. How does that work? Well, for example, the problem of graphic depictions of American brutality to conquered and imprisoned nations may arise. The trick is to keep the subject alive by occasional statements that these pictures can not be allowed to be made public, thus leaving the public to use their own imagination on just how awful the depictions might be, and leaving the busy army of hackers and diggers up of unsuspected corpses to get going on finding the actual videos or at least graphic descriptions of them. If public knowledge and outcry become overwhelming, you then pass the entire problem to a public prosecutor or independent investigator, and make clear the administration has zero control over them. You’ve done your best.

Nov 13, 2009

"A government not of men, but of laws."

"A government not of men, but of laws."

Under the Symington Amendment to the 1961 Foreign Appropriations Bill, the United States Government is banned from sending aid to any nation with nuclear weapons who has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Therefore, it is illegal for the Obama administration to send so much as a single penny to North Korea, India, Pakistan and Israel.

"The Iraqis are writing a new constitution? Hey, take ours; we're not using it." Robin Williams

My mum's birthday today - Happy Birthday, Mum.

Nov 1, 2009

Robert Mugabe

It would take someone with the meticulous discrimination of Mr. Greenwald (of to understand that one does not throw one’s weight behind the oppressed of the earth because of any faith that they possess moral standards superior to their oppressors, and if one does, one is likely to be disappointed. The oppressed have experienced brutality – how could they not do likewise given the chance? “It seemed the way grown ups did, and we had not made the world.”

In the far distant struggle of the Patriotic Front against the Selous Scouts we were losing 900 men a month at the height of the carnage, farm boys, no match for the trained killers and their weapons, and another nine hundred the next month – we drowned those f*ckers in blood, but we did win, thereby establishing Mugabe as the first African leader to inflict a signal defeat on superior white forces, a position of prestige he used to the full to turn his country from the breadbasket of Africa into a graveyard, and inflict cruelties on his own people that would have made the smirking “Smitty” blench and taken the plastic grins off the faces of his Rhodesian followers. So were we wrong?

Not at all. The oppressed ended up with their fate in their own hands, just like the rest of us, and the Selous Scouts were free to get in line at the Haringey Job Centre, or for the more stubborn ones, end up in other African courts for smuggling in weapons to foment a coup – they also had their fate in their own hands.

Mugabe turned out to be a monster, but we needed a monster to deal with the Selous Scouts – Joshua Nkomo, who turned up at Heathrow Airport to ask for asylum would not have served to do the business. This proves little except “what all schoolkids learn/that those to whom evil is done/will do evil in return,” and not necessarily to those who did it to them, either.