gambitch - now available in blue
Our constant efforts to reinvent ourselves reveal how much we fear our own images.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Talking about capital punishment has been very interesting, so I thought a second post on the topic is necessary, just to get something else out of the system. But I'm done with my side of the intellectual discourse. Thus, another kind of take.

I know C&B is going to have a quiet laugh at this, but yes, capital punishment was discussed at some length in one episode of The West Wing. It's a great show, by the way, which explains why I'm so hooked I'm trying to raise money to buy a full set of VCDs and/or DVDs of the show. Anyway, the episode in question is Take This Sabbath Day, and you can read the entire script here. It doesn't beat watching the episode, and I'm glad I've a VCD of that. But reading it is pretty good in itself.

There are a few sets of quotes from the episode that are interesting, and I suppose it'll be fun to share them here.

(From a scene where Chief of Staff Leo McGarry and Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn were talking something about the impending execution of a man by lethal injection, set for Monday, 12.01am. It's Friday, and the Supreme Court turned down an appeal earlier in the day.)

Leo: Sam.
Sam: Yeah?
Leo: Why Monday morning?
Sam: What do you mean?
Leo: The court denied the appeal. Why isn't he being executed at midnight tonight?
Sam: We don't execute people between sundown Friday and sundown Sunday.
Leo: Why?
Sam: Hard as it is to believe...
Leo: You're kidding me.
Sam: No.
Leo: We don't execute people on the Sabbath.
Sam: No.
Leo: Well, that's about the most bizarre thing I've ever heard.
Sam: Leo, I think you're gonna find as you go through this weekend that there's virtually no part of this discussion that isn't bizarre.

(The next day, from a conversation between Sam, political consultant Mandy Hampton and Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman.)

Mandy: Is there any evidence that capital punishment serves as a deterrent?
Sam: Speculative evidence at best.
Mandy: What are the stats on federal executions and the President stepping in?
Sam: '63 was the last execution.
Mandy: Who was the last President to commute the sentence?
Josh: Lincoln.
Mandy: Abraham?
Josh: No, Bert Lincoln. Mandy, what are you...
Mandy: I'm asking. I'm surprised.
Josh: I don't want a debate on the death penalty.

(A little later, President Bartlet calls for his personal aide Charlie and asks him to do two seemingly contradictory things - call for the President's Quaker priest to come over to the White House to spend some time with him, and set up a phone call to the Pope. After those instructions are given, they talk about something personal to Charlie.)

Bartlet: What happened to the guy who shot your mother?
Charlie: They haven't found him yet, sir.
Bartlet: If they did, would you want to see him executed? (Charlie just pauses and looks at him.) Killing a police officer's a capital crime. I figured you must have thought about it.
Charlie: Yes sir.
Bartlet: And?
Charlie: I wouldn't want to see him executed, sir - I'd want to do it myself.

(President Bartlet later talks to Joey Lucas, a campaign manager for a Democrat fighting to enter Congress. Well, actually Joey can't talk so well - she's deaf and her pronunciation isn't flawless - but she lip-reads well and has a wonderful assistant.)

Bartlet: Did you study St. Augustine at Stanford?
Joey: Yes, sir.
Bartlet: Thomas Aquinas?
Joey: Yes, sir.
Bartlet: Two pretty smart guys, right?
Joey: Yes, sir.
Bartlet: They believed in that part of the Old Testament which said "Who sheddeth a man's blood by man shall his blood be shed."
Joey: And Immanuel Kant said that the death penalty is a categorical imperative. But, Mr. President, those writings are from other centuries.
Bartlet: I've got a Harris poll says seventy-one percent of the American people support capital punishment.
Joey: That's a political problem.
Bartlet: I'm a politician.
Joey: Yes, sir.

(On Sunday morning, Communications Director Toby Ziegler, who's Jewish, goes to temple to see his rabbi. They discuss religious text.)

Toby: The Torah doesn't prohibit capital punishment.
Rabbi: No.
Toby: It says, "An eye for an eye."
Rabbi: You know what it also says? It says a rebellious child can be brought to the city gates and stoned to death. It says homosexuality is an abomination and punishable by death. It says men can be polygamous and slavery is acceptable. For all I know, that thinking reflected the best wisdom of its time, but it's just plain wrong by any modern standard. Society has a right to protect itself, but it doesn't have a right to be vengeful. It has a right to punish, but it doesn't have a right to kill.

Well, that's what the Torah says. And just what does the Bible say? I don't know, I haven't read it, but here's a link from somewhere.

Have a good weekend.

gambitch [ 6:41 AM]

Friday, November 05, 2004

Some of my friends met up the other day and had an idle chat over coffee. Along the way the topic strayed towards crime and punishment (just how it got there I don't know). I'm not the type to be too concerned about crime and punishment, mostly because committing crimes and breaking the law aren't exactly things I'm thinking about doing. Poor as I may be, I wouldn't do something that would mean breaking the law, so I really have nothing much to fear, at least at present.

But that's me. If everybody thought like me maybe we'd have a society that would be crime-free, but that's not what happens in practice. Every society has to deal with the fact that some of its citizens are going to break a law some time or other. Sometimes the crimes can be really bad, like serial murders or drug trafficking. These aren't exactly crimes we could punish by making them pay a big fine and then walk away. But the question hotly debated in most societies (some more than others) is whether the answer lies in capital punishment. I live in a place that actually does, and I don't have a problem with that mostly because I don't expect to do something that will lead to me being executed. But having come from "the profession" as I do, let's just have some fun and talk about it anyway.

The classic (and perhaps, classical) main argument against the death penalty is the straight and simple pro-life argument that an individual's right to life is sacrosanct and paramount, and that therefore neither an individual nor the state had a right to kill people. I'm not in a hurry to comment on that, because sometimes it comes to a point where we have to claim that Right X trumps Right Y. My personal problem with this approach is that none of it is mathematical, that none of it is necessarily based upon anything axiomatic and postulative. In that sense, the stuff isn't hard. But I won't digress too far into that except to say that "sanctity of life" arguments are more about pathos than anything else. That's not necessarily bad, but perhaps we should also lean on something else.

I want to take this from another plane, so let's start with some questions about justice. One of the other common problems with the death penalty is the fact that, obviously, the process includes the action of killing the convicted. At the risk of making a Bush-esque dumb statement, once a person is killed, he isn't going to be brought back to life. Two things arise as a consequence. Firstly, there is the risk of erroneous conviction, that is, the person found guilty by the court of law turns out to be innocent after all. Secondly, even if the person is indeed guilty the death penalty robs us of the possibility of rehabilitating him. These two issues are straightforward enough, and indeed saying them isn't really saying anything new.

The fashionable response to the first issue of wrong convictions is to say that advances in forensic science sharply reduce the possibility of error. In fact (someone was polite enough to point it out to me the other day) an American study says that forensic science today is such that we can achieve 99.98% certainty that we've nailed the right guy. So really, the point of wrongful conviction isn't really that rampant. We tend to get it right.

That's true, I suppose, but the point isn't that there's virtually no chance of getting the wrong guy. The real point is that "crack the case" work is a human exercise, and as hard as we human beings try to double-check and triple-check that we've done everything right, we are not immune to error. Detectives do great work, and they have my respect for that, but detectives can get it wrong. The judicial system is ultimately run by human beings too, and somewhere along the way, one of us can get it wrong.

Given that fact, the choice is between whether to recognize that we can make mistakes or to pretend that we never do. A judicial system that respects its own potential for fallibility, despite its strongest and most earnest attempts to get it right ten times out of ten, is a judicial system that commands in turn the respect of those that come before it. And a judicial system that is willing to reverse its decision and restore unto the wrongly convicted what they had lost the first time round is one that, I think, commands the maximum moral respect.

The death penalty precludes this chance, more so than any amount of time done behind bars ever would. Ask anyone who the courts found guilty of a crime and threw into prison for any amount of time, including those not sentenced to life, and subsequently found innocent in a re-trial years later and freed without question. The vindication they feel all these years afterwards is nothing short of priceless, but it only means anything if they're alive to feel it. If they're dead by the time the retrial ends or even starts, then the retrial really serves much less of a point, especially if they died not of illness or natural causes, but by lethal injection or electric chair.

So it's not about the chance of wrongful conviction, at least, not so much as it is about the moral courage of the judiciary system to hold its hands up and say, "Alright, I can get it wrong even though I try not to, but if I do, I want to be in a position to right it as best as I can." That's the real gist and the meat of the argument. True, it's moral and it's pathos, but I suppose it makes some sense.

As for the second part about rehabilitation, the usual response to that is to say that the criminals who dare to commit such crimes that would be punishable by death are probably hardcore recalcitrants, perhaps even of the psychopathic variety. You know, the type who grew up torturing and killing stray cats before moving on to human subjects. These are supposedly guys with a record of returning to their criminal tendencies, because their minds are so twisted in the first place that the concept of rehabilitation does not even remotely apply. It would be dangerous, it is often argued, if these people had any chance of walking out of prison alive and well one day, because we're letting loose a heinous monster. So we might as well kill them.

Let's sit down for a minute here and think through that. It doesn't take a genius to work out that, as long as a convicted criminal is alive, there is the potential for rehabilitation. I'm not saying that he'll necessarily be amenable to it, but the chance is there. Killing him off, be it ten days later or ten months later, denies that potential, or at least makes it pointless. Even if an inmate on death row suddenly realized the folly of his ways and wanted to make up for it, or at least vow to be contributive to society, he can't - they're not going to let him out alive. Imprisonment with an option for parole or nationwide amnesty (though amnesty is nowadays not in vogue anymore) keeps that possibility of successful rehabilitation open, and if we like the whole concept of rehabilitation in the first place, then surely that should be preferable.

Slightly apart from that, any crime investigator worth his salt would usually have to figure out a plausible motive. In that regard not all crimes are the same. Some people shoplift because they want to shoplift; others may target certain shops because of some personal agenda. The same idea applies somewhat to crimes like murder. Some people are murdered by complete strangers or fleeting acquaintances, while in other cases the cause may lie somewhere within the interpersonal relationship between the killer and the killed. In that regard, serial killers or serial rapists are more dangerous than those who killed someone they knew well personally, and who can't really conjure up an excuse to kill a total stranger. The latter group may be much easier to rehabilitate, because their crimes involved very specific individuals and very specific experiences which, regrettably perhaps, directly led up to the crime. These people may not even need that much rehabilitation, save perhaps coming to terms with the fact that they did something wrong that has seriously hurt their relationship with the deceased and his family and friends. Not everyone on death row is a twisted psychopath or converted terrorist. And as rah-rah as we are when we argue for the death penalty to be an available option for punishment in theory, we don't actually know who we're going to slap it on in practice.

As for those criminals hard as nuts and who refuse to respond positively to rehabilitation, well, slap a real life sentence on them, without possibility of parole based on good behaviour in prison! That's really a technicality problem when we define life imprisonment as "we'll put them in the slammer for 25 years to the day, and if they survive those 25 years we'll let them out". If we want the option of a life sentence, we should just have the guts to jolly well mean it. It effectively achieves all the things that a death sentence would do in terms of removing the miscreant - he's put away from the remaining, law-abiding elements of society and he won't come back (short of a jailbreak).

That deals with the classics, so we'll move on from there now and talk about something else - racism. Actually, it's more an American problem mostly because it's most obvious there, although I'll be happy if international readers - particularly the Europeans and residents of other multiracial societies - fill me in on their situation. The problem with America (I like that phrase) is that there seems to be a certain racist slant when it comes to punishment. We acknowledge the possibility of duality in terms of the range of options for punitive measures; the death penalty and life imprisonment options don't have to be mutually exclusive in a justice system. However, there is a problem when this duality intersects with racism, leading to something that looks suspiciously duplicitous in the way American courts mete out sentences. Statistical evidence consistently shows that blacks, Hispanics and some other minorities are more likely to be put on death row than whites, assuming they are found guilty. Filtering out such possibilities as blacks being thrown into court more often than whites do, the statistical point is that, put crudely, death row is for blacks and whites usually get 25 years, not considering parole.

Racism is a fact of life anywhere; it's just a matter of degree. In the Old South of America, it's especially bad. It hurts me to even say it, but blacks and Hispanics get the short end of the stick on nearly everything. They get shafted pretty bad on education, on voting rights, and on healthcare, and certainly on legal and judiciary procedure. If you're going to have a population that can be so biased their duplicity carries over to something as grave as crime and punishment, then surely we have to question whether it is so right to reward their duplicity by letting them get to choose whether a convict lives or dies based on the colour of his skin. To me, that's just plain senseless, for it goes totally against that enduring symbol of justice, the blindfolded lady carrying a set of scales in her hand. We can do all sorts of things to gradually tackle that problem of racism at its root, but one of the first things we should do is to deny the possibility of that duplicity manifesting itself in a court of law and doing direct harm to a key pillar of society.

Tangentially related to racism, we know that American politicians, particularly the Republicans, are racist. We've heard the story about systematic disenfranchisement of the black vote that had a hand in sending Bush into the White House back in 2000 (and I suspect similar tactics may well have had a hand in keeping him there this week). But there's something else about Bush and the Republican agenda - they're a very religious as well as conservative bunch, and the interaction between church and state is pretty strong. Bush claims to advance the Christian (Catholic?) agenda, and he's pretty vocal and firm when it comes to saying he's pro-life, anti-abortion and anti-embryonic stem cell research. Well, Mr Bush, here's something for you - if you are genuinely consistent on your pro-life stance, then perhaps you should outlaw the death penalty too because the death penalty isn't really pro-life! I don't think the Republicans can be religious and racist at the same time, unless there's some way the two aren't contradictory.

I've typed quite a bit, so even though I have other things to say, I'll pause here for now. In summary, I think the case against the death penalty boils down to a few things apart from the classic "sanctity of life" argument. It is about the judiciary acknowledging its fallibility because it's a system run by humans, and about having a system where, on the rare occasion that a mistake happens, the possibility of righting that wrong remains open if we ever need to access it. It is about recognizing the tenet of rehabilitation when it comes to crime and punishment, which is no less valid than the other tenets of punishment, catharsis and deterrence. It is about having a system where we can rehabilitate those who may be amenable, without necessarily going soft on those for whom there is no hope for recovery. It is about preventing arbitrary race-based justice that happens when you give a range of options to a racist and duplicitous society like some sections of America. In addition, it is also about chest-thumping politicians that want to biblicize the Constitution and making them practice what they preach about them being pro-life.

There are things I haven't covered here that I did have thoughts about, and I'll just quickly mention them here without going into them. There is the issue about the deterrent element and whether death threats by the state really scare those planning on heinous crimes. There is the whole question of whether life imprisonment is too soft and whether capital punishment crosses a line we want to cross that life imprisonment doesn't. There are things from the Bible and other religious texts I haven't actually read (I'm not a big religion fan, by the way). But I don't think I want to tire myself out writing that much more, having come this far already.

Another time, perhaps?

gambitch [ 11:00 PM]

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Manchester United were magnificently majestic in attack last night, if a little disturbing in defence. Heinze looked more Roberto Carlos than Denis Irwin, and too much seemed to hinge around good individual play by Rio Ferdinand, but Ruud showed us he was the man with four goals to his name against Sparta Prague.

Where Arsenal failed so miserably the night before against Panathinaikos, United succeeded with an emphatic 4-1 win. There will be those who will say "it's only Sparta Prague". My retort to that would be "it's only Panathinaikos". Team for team, Sparta are, I think, more impressive than the Greeks. Shame about their defence falling asleep though.

The match was a nice end to an otherwise disastrously moody day, no thanks in part to George W Bush winning the US Presidential Election, by fair means or foul. I am genuinely fearful of what the world will become in the next four years under America's favourite idiot. We've not had the best past four years under Bush. From New York to Bali to Madrid, things have been pretty bad. Never before has the world feared for its lives the way it has while Bush was in charge. Yes, it was difficult to walk through Central Park in New York because of all the robbers and rapists in the area. But at least robbers and rapists target individuals. If a bomb exploded or a smallpox vial broke in Times Square, thousands if not millions would be hurt or, worse, killed in a single blow. This is a very different threat. In the past we could pray to ourselves that the unlucky one was the person next to us. Now we live together and, touch wood, we might die together.

I've seen a couple of columns written by Kerry supporters or sympathizers, and they've all been depressed, like Ian McG or this man called Oyster. Some have been more vocal or expressive, others have been a little milder, trying to laugh it off but likely to wake up with depressive hangovers for the next four years - if they don't die in Iraq first. The funny observation so far is that all the sites I've come into contact with seem to be based in Louisiana, many from Lafayette. I say funny, because Louisiana fell to Bush. But perhaps I have not yet come into contact with pro-Kerry bloggers from Massachusetts, California or Michigan.

Of course, the Bushites will be cheering for a few days at least. They will applaud Bush's victory louder than they did four years ago, because this time he also snared the popular vote, even if 51% isn't much of a margin. Still, vox populi, vox dei, they will cry. Let them; the American constitution does allow freedom of expression virtually regardless of all. It does not stipulate that only supporters of God may have freedom of expression and the rest have to shut the bloody... Well, you know what I mean.

In closing, though, just to remind us that America is not the perfect land that many may still think it is, here's a slab of something from Greg Palast, that American in exile because the mainstream 'liberal' media won't publish what he writes (although, funnily enough, the British press and BBC will).

gambitch [ 3:55 PM]

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

I just realized that I jumped 5000 places in the BlogShares rankings.

That's sort of fun. I didn't know I had earned so much playing with a fake stock market.

Of course there's some comfort knowing that if I screwed up there and lost big, it's going to have no repercussions on real life.

gambitch [ 1:54 PM]

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Osama bin Laden (uttering that name might just make my blog turn up somewhere on the search engines) has stated that he wants to drag the US into financial ruin. It is a strategy that apparently worked very well against the former Soviet Union, and Osama believes it will also work against the US. He may well be right. Actually, he may be too right.

The collapse of the former Soviet Union was more than a decade ago, yet even today its former component states cannot really claim to be in great economic shape. At least the likes of Russia and the Ukraine, the two biggest countries from the old Soviet Union, are a very long way from reliving the kind of might and wealth we would associate with the old Russian empires of the Napoleonic era and before. Russia in those days was a big and powerful country with much to be proud of, and had industrial might that could compare with some of the superpowers of Europe. I don't know if they can say the same thing today. When people mention Russia nowadays they think of abandoned old industrial lands full of dilapidated factories and the odd underground (in several senses of the word) nuclear science laboratory. The story does not seem much better in places like Lithuania, Armenia and Estonia. Or, for that matter, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. None of these countries can really claim to be economically strong and seriously attracting investment. Or at least that's the conventional belief.

The point is that if Osama claims that he wants to drag the US into a war of attrition where the Americans will spend their way into bankruptcy, then perhaps we want to look at what actually happened to the old Soviet Union and think just what it would be like if the US ended up pretty much the same way. I'm sure Moscow is a decent city (its own version of the Mafia notwithstanding), but many of the smaller towns and villages out there aren't doing nearly so well. Many of these people will be happy if they have something of a decent meal and enough vodka to keep them warm in the chilling Siberian winter.

Some years ago Manchester United flew out to this ex-Soviet town called Volgograd for a European fixture. The accounts of one or two players showed just how depressing the situation was in this particular town. According to them, there were one or two fruit stalls in the streets that had maybe one or two apples, about half a dozen pears, and that was pretty much all they had for sale. It wasn't because everyone loved fruit and the stuff were selling out. That's how poor the people were.

The United States is a vast country. Which means that not every place could possibly be bright lights and big city like New York, Chicago or LA. Yet the smaller towns are just, for the most part, smaller. Extreme destitution like what happened in Volgograd all those years ago (I don't know if things have improved significantly since) is not something we hear an awful lot about. Even the smaller towns we see from American pop culture and literature (the town in the play Our Town as well as Riverdale of Archie fame come to mind) are just small, quaint, not very rich but nowhere near painful poverty. There are the farming communities that stretch far beyond the horizon, and the images of American farmland always come with that golden, glistening tint of corn fields in the sunset.

The thing is, that could well be what Russia was like too once upon a time. Yet today, years after their Afghanistan campaign had come to a largely fruitless end, they still have not come anywhere near proper, functional recovery. Japan was ravaged after World War II, bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki adding to an economic pulverization that seems to mock the whole concept of the Greater Far Eastern Co-Prosperity Circle. Yet they have recovered, as have Germany (although their path took a little longer). These were countries that suffered from counter-invasion (although, to be sure, I don't remember too many stories of Allied troops doing battle on any of Japan's four main islands). The Afghans never really strayed that deep into the Soviet Union, yet without a single industrial structure wrecked by direct enemy fire, look where the former Soviet states are today.

Some will be quick to point to me that the Central Asian territories are pretty much stuck. They don't really have an abundance of natural resources, and the traditional Central Asian way of life revolved around nomadic herding rather than sedentary farming. That is true, but when an entire economic machine could be brought down by a war of financial attrition at the hands of a bunch of people who spent far less in comparison, it does get somewhat disturbing.

It has been argued before that America has been gradually losing its soft power on the world. People are finding fewer and fewer reasons to have a favourable image of America, despite Chinese aspirations to live the American dream and do their degrees in Stanford and MIT. There is no contradiction - America the conceptual ideal is just a brand name; people want to be rich and advanced and that happens to be where America finds itself. But America the institution is another matter. What it does with its economic and cultural wealth is quite different from the wealth itself. We can all be wealthy without being American.

But I digress.

Over the years, America has invited antagonistic sentiment because it tries too hard to colonize the entire world. George W Bush's claim that the "bad guys" hate America for its wealth and freedom is, I feel, a bit off. Yes, it is true that wealth draws envy from those who aren't nearly as well-to-do. But that's only if the wealthy one thumbs his nose at everyone else and turns away beggars at the door by slamming it shut. A little bit of consideration for the rest of the world never hurt international relations. But America hasn't always been like that. In fact, quite often it has been nothing like that.

America has often been perceived by the common man as a champion of democracy - indeed it touts itself as such. But the claim may be a little bit questionable. There is nothing democratic and altruistic about sending troops into Iraq to remove an admittedly wicked despot and pretty much shoving democracy down people's throats. Before the war one could come up with the excuse that the Iraqis really love democracy but Saddam would not allow them to say it. Now that the entire Saddam regime is practically dismantled that excuse just doesn't quite hold anymore. Not enough people love democracy enough to come out of their shacks and rebuild their homeland. What we have instead are a glut of insurgencies by followers of men like al-Sadr and Zarqawi. Which goes to show that the Iraqis don't really love democracy the way the peddlers say they do. And it doesn't help that the self-same peddlers had themselves propped Saddam up in the first place, using him as an agent in the proxy war on the old USSR via Iran.

I could go on with more examples, but I suppose I don't have to - plus it does get tiring to type so much heavy stuff out in pretty much one sitting. In short, I do sincerely believe that America is trying too hard to homogenize the world and unify it under the concept of Pax Americana. The original model of world domination, Pax Romana, never quite lasted. We could say that individuals wrecked that system, but it was a system that could never hold in perpetuity. The greedy ones way up there in the various highest echelons of America don't seem to quite grasp that.

On that thought, as Americans go to the polls today, the rest of the world will wait and watch. Whether Bush or Kerry gets to boss America for the next four years is expected to have a great impact on the international attitude towards America in the short term. But in the long term, America as a whole has to rethink quite thoroughly just how it wants to let the rest of the world perceive it. Does it want to be powerful but despised, or does it want to regain some of its popularity by finally treating the world with a little bit more respect? Does it want to talk to every other country as if they were potential colonies or potential equals?

gambitch [ 11:24 PM]

Monday, November 01, 2004

I'm not around reading newspapers as much as I would like to, but with the US presidential election heating up the time has probably come.

A review, then, of some of the more major pieces of news I've heard in the past week.

GPS vs Galileo - see article below.

Continents clash in outer space

A fascinating row has erupted between the US and the EU over their rival satellite positioning systems. The Americans' GPS and the Europeans' Galileo (based on the 30 satellites that the EU plans to have in space by 2008) are the source of an increasingly bitter hostility. Last week a storm of denials greeted a front-page report in The Business that the US is developing "killer satellites", to blow the EU's Galileo system out of the sky if necessary (as reported in this column last July).

The British Government has persistently denied that Galileo, in which China this month took a 20 per cent share, is intended for anything other than civil purposes. But on every side evidence accumulates that part of its purpose is to provide a system for military use, to prevent the US denying its enemies access to satellite-positioning in time of war.

On October 11, a private debate between senior US, NATO and EU officials at the Royal United Services Institute in Whitehall centred on whether, in the event of armed conflict, the EU would be prepared to deny military use of Galileo to America's enemies. When the answer was no, the Americans replied that they would be forced either to jam Galileo or, if necessary, to take "irreversible action" and destroy its satellites.

On Monday the Chinese government denied the press report, claiming that it had only joined Galileo for "civil navigation purposes". It was time "certain people abandoned the Cold War mentality". By Thursday, however, the China Daily, under the headline "Earth Must Resist US Monopoly of Space", was claiming that any US attempt to threaten the access of users to Galileo, "both civil and military", must be resisted. This week, during Thursday's debate on defence, Gerald Howarth MP, the Tory spokesman, will attempt to get our own Government at last to come clean as to what Galileo is really about.

(Source: The Telegraph, UK)

If you think that Boeing vs Airbus was bad enough, I personally think this one is worse. The aircraft disagreement is clearly a trade issue laced somewhat with political agendas, but this one regarding GPS technology is a markedly more significant standoff. You've got the America vs Europe tensions, plus now China is in the mix as well. It is rather clear that the US fears a scenario where one of its most advanced and nonpareil technologies will no longer be nonpareil. Nuclear weapon technology is relatively commonplace - even North Korea is capable of it - but the development of a system that can rival American GPS is something else altogether. Advanced as India is, it is still not anything of a player in the 21st Century Space Race.

American monopoly over GPS-type systems is vital to its ambitions of world domination - or at least the ambitions held by certain groups of politicos, army men and corporate kings. As anyone who has played Civilization 3 or Age of Empires would know, staying ahead of your exponents in the race down the technology tree is a critical component of overall strategy. A whole division's worth of riflemen count for nothing against a company of crack special operations commandos armed with far superior weaponry. If Europe and China had their own kind of satellite-aided positioning technology, the US would be in no position to control them by using such data behind their backs. This wouldn't be a problem to the US, except they might actually want to have such control. After all, coordinate positioning technology did help Russia to track and kill a Chechen rebel leader.

America's alleged threat to destroy Galileo technology if it should ever threaten US interests should not be taken lightly. It is a clear sign that America will do whatever it deems necessary to preserve its technological advantage having acquired the advantage in the first place. More importantly, America seems prepared to act even if the so-called threat is only theoretical. The Europeans have not said that they will avail Galileo technology to Syria, Iran or North Korea merely because the Europeans themselves now have such technology. All they said was they weren't prepared to deny such access to enemies of America just because Uncle Sam asked (read: demanded) them to do so. I think that's quite fair - unless Europe itself is drawn into the armed conflict militarily it really does make sense for it not to take sides on the technology front, on a principle level at least. But the US Army doesn't seem to think so. "Either you're with us or you're against us."

Speaking of America's enemies, here's the next piece of news up for review...

Castro next up in Bush crosshairs - I have no doubt that Fidel Castro plays no big part in America's greater war on terror. He has no nukes, he does not militarily bully his neighbours (it's rather hard to do that when you need to drive your tanks across the shoaly waters of the Caribbean), and his country exports fine cigars but not oil. Oh, and Cuba isn't Muslim. Cuba is not a threat to the global community in any meaningful way; the only important people who worry about Cuba are the Americans. Frankly, even the British don't care.

You could dismiss this promise as election talk by Bush, aimed primarily at the Cubans who fled to America, most of whom stay in Florida. In case you forget, Florida is Bush territory, since presidential brother Jeb is the Governor there. I suppose the GOPers are preparing for explanations on why Bush would end up winning the state and its 27 electoral votes, and they can't possibly talk about voter purges and rigged touchscreen chips.

On the other hand, if Bush is to be taken seriously and he actually goes on to do the deed, it would only be yet another of his unsubtle attempts to directly influence just who is bossing respective countries around the world. Think of it as a parallel to a king like Alexander removing a governor who wouldn't listen to him, even though the latter is doing an average to poor but not disastrous job running his territory. If Bush wants to remove Castro by methods involving forced change in political systems (they have no elections in Cuba, so I heard) and sending a couple of US Marines to storm Havana, he's only going to continue to invite international antagonism, not just from the Al-Qaeda and the Arab world.

Bush's overt disrespect for international state sovereignty when it does not fit his agenda will make him a highly unpopular figure in the world, yet if he does win the presidential election in two days' time and go on to kick Castro out of Cuba (a country that, unlike Taiwan, is internationally acknowledged as a sovereign state), it could well be the president after him who has to clean up the diplomatic mess. That person, especially if it turns out to be either of Gore, Kerry or Hillary Clinton, is going to have a hard time getting that done. Meanwhile Bush can enjoy his presidential retirement by working for Carlyle Group and wrecking the environment through his companies.

Finally, to wrap up, Chelsea have sacked Adrian Mutu to bring to an end speculation over the Romanian's fate after testing positive for drugs. It's rather amazing how the Romanian first said something about admitting he took cocaine, and then turned around and said it was really something he took to improve his sexual performance. Not that it made any difference to me - he hasn't been performing on the field for quite some time.

It also does not matter to me exactly which drug he was actually using. The fact that he took drugs at all - and knowingly, mind you - is itself a disgraceful thing. He deserves sympathy for being sucked into the temptations that fame and fortune have brought him, but he does not deserve sympathy for doing drugs. That's where he crossed the line. Michael Owen is a bad boy too for his gambling habits, but at least he didn't harm his body. Men like Paul McGrath and Tony Adams may have had real alcoholism problems and that harmed their bodies, but they didn't go down the drugs route - and let us remember that booze, unlike drugs, are available legally.

Chelsea have sacked a cocaine consumer before - namely Mark Bosnich, a man who could have become one of the best goalkeepers to play for a big English club. He blew it with his cocaine addiction; in fact now nobody knows where he is. Mutu is slightly luckier because he is still only 25. If he gets himself fully rehabilitated within the next two years, he can yet become a great player again. But this is a fate that should never have befallen him in the first place. That it has is at least partly his own fault.

Where will Chelsea go from here? They now have only three recognized strikers, and of the three, Drogba is injured for a little while. It's interesting to see just who Chelsea decide to buy once the January transfer window comes along. Will Mourinho raid the Spanish market, or the Italian, or the French? Or will he be happy to keep what he has, given that Chelsea have suddenly become a free-scoring force in the Premiership? It's something I'll be keeping my eyes on, to be sure.

gambitch [ 4:29 PM]


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