The American Empire

Instruction: fill in the blank with the first US Administration that comes to mind as you are reading the following passage:

The contemporary United States expresses the greatest of all paradoxes. It is at one and the same time a democracy — at any rate a pluralist open society — and an empire. No other country has ever been, or had, both things at once. Or not for long. And there must be some question about the durability of this present coexistence, too. Already spokesmen of the … Administration say plainly that their foreign and military policy is incompatible with the disloyalty and division that stem from a deliberative Congress and an inquisitive press. They laughably exaggerate the reflective capacity of the first and the adversary character of the second, but they have a point. If it is to have the least chance of success, their strategy calls for an imposed national unanimity, a well-cultivated awareness of “enemies within,” and a strong draft of amnesia.

If you had guessed George W. Bush, you could be forgiven for the mistake. The missing word was Reagan, the passage taken from Christopher Hitchens’ defense of Noam Chomsky, in his 1985 essay
The Chorus and Cassandra.

The passage is as relevant then as it is now – just like the following quote:

How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?
John Kerry, 1971

As Iraqis brave insurgent attacks to vote today, let us hope that, unlike the war in Indo-china that Kerry courageously denounced, the American mission in Iraq can still be salvaged. They owe the Iraqi people at least that much.

SpongeBob welcomed by UCC

From The Gamer’s Nook,

CLEVELAND — Joining the animated fray, the United Church of Christ today (Jan. 24) said that Jesus’ message of extravagant welcome extends to all, including SpongeBob Squarepants – the cartoon character that has come under fire for allegedly holding hands with a starfish.

“Absolutely, the UCC extends an unequivocal welcome to SpongeBob,” the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC’s general minister and president, said, only partly in jest. “Jesus didn’t turn people away. Neither do we.”

For that matter, Thomas explained, the 1.3-million-member church, if given the opportunity, would warmly receive Barney, Big Bird, Tinky-Winky, Clifford the Big Red Dog or, for that matter, any who have experienced the Christian message as a harsh word of judgment rather than Jesus’ offering of grace.

The UCC’s welcome comes in the wake of laughable accusations by James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, that the popular SpongeBob and other well-known cartoon characters are crossing “a moral line” by stressing tolerance in a national We Are Family Foundation-sponsored video that will be distributed to U.S. schools on March 11, 2005.

After all the hysteria surrounding TV cartoon by right-wing fundamentalists such as James C. Dobson from the Focus on the Family, it is refreshing to see a humorous, inclusive response hopefully more representative of American Christians than those who are more outspokenly misrepresenting them in the media.

Further reading:
Photos of a “visit” by SpongeBob
• Wikipedia entry on UCC
• Wikipedia entry on United Church of Canada, a similar organization in Canada
Older entry on my other blog on Clinton’s speech at the Riverside Church in NY, affiliated with UCC

Ukraine: the beginning of the end?

The tumultuous presidential elections in Ukraine is finally over.. at least on the surface. There were worries that the Russian government of Vladimir Putin, after publicly backing Viktor Yanukovych, the anointed heir of outgoing (now ex-) President Leonid Kuchma, would continue in its refusal to acknowledge the result of the Dec 26 rerun, which Yuschenko decidedly won by a margin of around 8%. Considering Russian involvements in separatist movements in Moldova and Georgia, such continued hostility could have been potentially disastrous for the region.

It is quite interesting to note that a closed Yuschenko ally, Yulia Timoshenko, considered by some to be too radical for the Prime Minister position,
extended an olive branch
to Russia in an editorial published by
the Moscow Times on January 12th. One week later Yuschenko’s side sealed victory when the Supreme Court rejected Yanukovych’s last appeal of the results, and the Russian government finally offered its congratulations to the President-elect.

On the inauguration day itself, it is notable that while heads of state from the ex-Soviet Baltic republics and the ex-satellites in East Europe attended – and outgoing US Secretary of State Colin Powell, in his last overseas trip – Russia only sent a low-level dignitary. Relations between Ukraine and Russia is likely to be thornier than that between US and the European Union for the time being.

It is interesting to note that Timoshenko is insisting that she is not in the running for any position in the new government. That she will get a position is assured, so her insistence might be aimed at assuaging Russia and the Russian speakers, or part of negotiations between the parties in Rada, the parliament. The line-up of the upcoming cabinet will be something to watch: the challenge will be to push for reforms, which could potentially be economically painful for the industrial East, and moving closer to Europe, without alienating Ukraine’s giant neighbour to the East. The upcoming constitutional changes ceding power from the President to the Rada, originally pushed through by Kuchma’s administration as the chance of a Yanukovych victory grew dimmer, might throw a spanner in the works, unless Yuschenko capitalized on his popular support by holding snap parliamentary elections. Heady times..

Off-the-beaten-path: Trivias from the Macworld Keynote

Apple – QuickTime – Macworld San Francisco 2005 Expo Keynote

  • 101 Apple Retail Stores
  • Latest, largest store in London

I get an ironic sense of déja vù at this point – remember that the Mac was launched with a Superbowl ad referring to George Orwell’s 1984? Think of ‘room 101’ and the fact that 1984 is set in London.

Spotlight demo

  • OS X Tiger froze when Jobs opened an image full-screen – guess it’s not just Bill Gates that’s having problems with OS demos. He handled it quite well though
  • iTunes Artwork screensaver is cool

Apple’s QuickTime server seems totally swamped right now, so I’ll post this now and add to this entry later. Of course, you can check out the Mac mini, iPod Shuffle and Pages right now..

Update: 01/12/05 1:37 PM

  • integrates with iPhoto and Spotlight
  • has slideshow for images (with ‘add to iPhoto’ support)
  • They use the House of Flying Daggers trailer for the H.264 demo.. nice!
  • on-screen controls from iPhoto used in both and QT7
  • Dashboard widgets are really awesome – Konfabulator stands no chance, alas
  • Steve Jobs’ favourite onomatopoeic word: boom
  • Colour scheme of iChat icon changed from blue-yellow to blue-white?
  • No exact date for Tiger launch – still ‘first half of 2005’
  • iPhoto photo editing seems much improved. Quick links to other photos in the same album, and much more options. Remains to be seen if resizing a photo using iPhoto still results in a much larger image than using, say, Gimp
  • Al Gore was in the audience (he’s an Apple VP, IIRC)
  • Am I falling under the RDF? For the iMovie demo Jobs used Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s Over the Rainbow, which I adore..
  • Mac mini: BYODKM – bring your own display, keyboard, mouse. Tiny 6″x6″x2″ computer (power adapter external, obviously, and it uses 2.5″ laptop drives). Very impressive when Jobs showed it around for the first time.. while on the HDTV screen, it was superimposed with an iPod mini!
  • iPod: iPod adapter now available on, among others, Scion cars. Reminds me of a Scion advertisement I saw in a cinema recently; I recall thinking that the Scion logo looks a lot like Toyota’s .. well, it’s because it is one. Just like Honda has Accura and Toyota has Lexus for their high-end models, now they have Scion to target Gen Y yuppies.
  • iPod Shuffle: Hmm, not sure about this one. Nice and small, not so much more expensive than a normal thumbdrive, but.. I like to know what song I’m listening too. Though I’m tempted to get one to use when exercising ..

Politicking as usual in the wake of the tsunami

From Jakarta Post via AP: Taiwan is accusing China of blocking its tsunami relief efforts:

Taiwan’s vice president on Monday accused rival China of trying to block Taiwanese efforts to send tsunami relief to Southeast Asia using military aircraft and vessels.

Taiwan has offered to use the craft to speed up delivery of rice, medical goods and other supplies to Indonesia and Thailand — but Taiwanese officials said those governments were concerned about China’s possible objection.

Indonesia and Thailand have not publicly confirmed those concerns.

Vice President Annette Lu said China also blocked Taiwan from attending an international relief summit in Indonesia last week.

Emphasis mine. The first issue, the use of military aircraft, seems like it will be perceived as a de facto assertion of independence, and it is understandable that the governments of Indonesia and Thailand would not want to offend China in this matter.

The second issue is more tragic. Like during the SARS crisis, China is hell-bent on preventing Taiwanese participation in international organizations and fora, even those dealing with humanitarian matters (like the WHO, and this relief summit). The irony is that during the Cold War, Ukraine (then part of the Soviet Union) already had a seat in the United Nations, even though it is de facto and de jure not independent. Taiwan, on the other hand, is de facto independent, which makes its exclusion from international bodies all the more important.

So it’s Chinese callousness against Taiwanese opportunism. Not a pretty sight.

A similar development is occuring in Aceh: the military warning aid workers that separatists have taken shelter in survivor camps, the government denying this, and Australia feeling compelled to state that their troops on the ground will not be involved militarily.

Civilian control over the Indonesian military is, alas, still rather shaky, even though the current president is an ex-general. Whether this has to do with the re-appointment of Abdurrahman Wahid’s defense minister, Dr. Juwono Sudarsono – Indonesia’s first civilian holding that post – or just general intransigence on the part of the military, now excluded from politics, protecting its turf, is hard to say.

There has been reports of the military interfering with delivery of aid, but at least for now foreigners are allowed on the ground, putting constraints on the former’s freedom of action. The lesson of history is that people don’t learn from it – Aceh was turning into our Vietnam + Afghanistan + Iraq combined – the guerillas are probably less popular than the Viet-cong among the local populace but more than the Sunni insurgents in Iraq, the army earns a tidy sum contracting out to protect Western oil and gas fields, and both sides are alleged to be involved in drug trafficking.. hopefully the tsunami gave all sides a chance to start anew.

After all, even piracy in the Strait of Malacca is down to nothing.. at least for the moment.