Understanding American Civil War

On November 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln, one of the most obscure candidates, was elected as the sixteenth president of the United States and Keziah Goodwyn Hopkins, a slave owner in Columbia, SC was worried. Very worried. In her diary she wrote.

I have never been opposed to giveing up slavery if we could send them out of our country — I have often wished I had been born in just such a country — with all our religious previleges & liberties with none of them in our midst — if the North had let us alone — the Master & the servant were happy with out advantages — but we had had vile wretches ever making the restless worse than they would have been & from my experience my own negroes are as happy as I am: [A Slaveholder’s Diary]

If you have not educated yourselves about the American Civil War by watching Ken Burns’ excellent series, then you can follow the events of the war by subscribing to the Disunion blog. The latest entry describes the events of Nov 16-22 when Georgians were deciding the course of action.
In other civil war related news, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln movie now has a start date and Daniel Day-Lewis is starring as the President.

The Aura of Sanctity

  1. Bill Gates
  2. Mother Teresa
  3. Norman Borlaug

Who do you think is the most and least admirable? Steven Pinker writes

Yet a deeper look might lead you to rethink your answers. Borlaug, father of the “Green Revolution” that used agricultural science to reduce world hunger, has been credited with saving a billion lives, more than anyone else in history. Gates, in deciding what to do with his fortune, crunched the numbers and determined that he could alleviate the most misery by fighting everyday scourges in the developing world like malaria, diarrhea and parasites. Mother Teresa, for her part, extolled the virtue of suffering and ran her well-financed missions accordingly: their sick patrons were offered plenty of prayer but harsh conditions, few analgesics and dangerously primitive medical care.[The Moral Instinct]

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UN: Dictator love and Human Rights Fraud

Adrianus  Melkert, a Dutch politician who is also an associate administrator at United Nations Development Program has threatened to retaliate against the United States if it tries to get to the bottom of what UNDP was doing in North Korea. The UN Board of Auditors found that the UNDP violated many rules by  hiring staffers selected by the North Koreans, paying their salary directly to Pyongyang, and inspecting only a few projects. UNDP had no idea for what purpose the North Koreans were using the money for and Melkert did not like the American enquiries into the gory details of what his organization was doing and hence the anti-American stand.

When it comes to human rights activism, the United Nations would give the Booker prize winning verbal terrorist a run for her money. The UN’s new Human Rights Council, formed last year to replace the much discredited UN Human Rights Commission,  has decided to halt all investigation into Cuba and Belarus while continuing investigations of Israel. In fact  Israel is the only country mentioned by name by the council.

The very notion that Israel, a vibrant democracy surrounded by fanatical religious dictatorships seeking to hurl it into the sea and the only nation ever formally censored by the HRC, is a bigger threat to human rights than the totalitarian dictatorships in Cuba and Belarus is a crude slur on the intelligence of every person whose tax dollars fund the United Nations. How can the UN possibly claim any moral legitimacy to address human rights issues if it proceeds in this manner? The saddest thing of all is that this salaciously fraudulent enterprise is actually a replacement of another UN group that was so corrupt it had to be abolished.[Annals of HRC Fraud at the UN]

Isn’t it time the UN is moved from New York to Pyongyang or Havana?

Lebanon can learn from Nepal

The ceasefire mandated by the United Nations resolution 1701 has bought the cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah. The ceasefire also calls also upon the government of Lebanon and UNIFIL to deploy their troops to South Lebanon and make sure that there will be no weapons without the consent of the government of Lebanon and no authority other than that of the government of Lebanon. The Lebanese interpretation of this rule is that the Hezbollah can keep the arms so long as it does not display it in public. A Hezbollah leader said that they would just hide the weapons and melt into the local population which is a bad idea for the people of Israel as we know from the whole Soviet Union-Afghanistan-Pakistan episode.

After the Soviet Union left Afghanistan, the weapons supplied to the Mujahideen stayed with them. Many weapons were left unaccounted for. Later any terrorist groups wishing to inflict damage to the world could find the weapons in the open markets of Pakistan and these terrorists have been creating trouble for India and Afghanistan. Even now graduates from the center of the Jihadi universe are involved in every terrorist plot from 9/11 to the trans-Atlantic terror plot. Instead of waiting for the next Hezbollah attack on Israel, the United Nations should have worked towards disarming them like what they did in Nepal.

On June 16th, in Nepal, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and Maoist leader Prachanda reached an agreement in which the Maoists would join an interim government. The question then was if the Maoists would disarm before it. Though some Indian columnists (you know the more Catholic than the Pope types) wanted the world to accept the reality that the Maoists would not disarm, the Maoists agreed to have their arms counted and deposited under the supervision of the United Nations.

Now that the Israel-Hezbollah is over, Hezbollah has declared victory and the celebrations are going on. At the same time the Lebanese are roasting them for all the damage they caused. The leaders of the March 14th movement have demanded an investigation into the circumstances that led to the war. Prominent Hezbollah supporters like Michel Aoun has called for the Shiite militia to disband.

Hezbollah is also criticized from within the Lebanese Shiite community, which accounts for some 40% of the population. Sayyed Ali al-Amin, the grand old man of Lebanese Shiism, has broken years of silence to criticize Hezbollah for provoking the war, and called for its disarmament. In an interview granted to the Beirut An-Nahar, he rejected the claim that Hezbollah represented the whole of the Shiite community. “I don’t believe Hezbollah asked the Shiite community what they thought about [starting the] war,” Mr. al-Amin said. “The fact that the masses [of Shiites] fled from the south is proof that they rejected the war. The Shiite community never gave anyone the right to wage war in its name.”


There were even sharper attacks. Mona Fayed, a prominent Shiite academic in Beirut, wrote an article also published by An-Nahar last week. She asks: Who is a Shiite in Lebanon today? She provides a sarcastic answer: A Shiite is he who takes his instructions from Iran, terrorizes fellow believers into silence, and leads the nation into catastrophe without consulting anyone. Another academic, Zubair Abboud, writing in Elaph, a popular Arabic-language online newspaper, attacks Hezbollah as “one of the worst things to happen to Arabs in a long time.” He accuses Mr. Nasrallah of risking Lebanon’s existence in the service of Iran’s regional ambitions.[Hezbollah Didn’t Win (WSJ: subscription reqd)]

The problem  is that Nasrallah doesn’t care much about Lebanese opinion. Known for his dictatorial style of working, the kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers was ordered by him without informing the two Hezbollah ministers in the Siniora cabinet or the 12 Hezbollah members of the Lebanese parliament. He is accountable only to the Mullahs in Iran.

Now with an armed militia still around, what is to prevent him from conducting another attack against Israel?

Propaganda from Reuters

Lebanese photographer Adnan Hajj was covering the war between Israel and Hezbollah and took a photograph of an Israeli air strike on a Beiruit neighborhood. Somehow Adnan felt that the image was not good enough and he embellished it to make more darker smokes arising from it. He also added some extra buildings for more impact. Unfortunately for Adnan, his little trick was discovered by Charles Johnson of the blog  Little Green Footballs and now Reuters has admitted to the crime and has withdrawn all 920 images taken by him.

Another photograph by Adnan Hajj has also been found to be doctored. The photo shows an Israeli F-16 firing three missiles (according to the Reuters caption), which in fact turned out to be an F-16 firing one flare. The two other flares in the image are copies of the first one.
Soon after the draft of the Franco-American draft for a UN Security Council resolution was released, Reuters came out with an alert saying that the Lebanese had rejected the draft. Turns out the article was based on the comment of a single pro-Syrian, Hezbollah ally by the name of Nabih Berri.

All these incidents makes you wonder why Reuters is so bent on fanning this war and where their priorities lie.

Afghanistan and Somalia: The Similarities

Following the withdrawal of the Soviet forces in 1992, Afghanistan was thrown into a civil war. Warlords were in charge of various sectors and they enforced their own rules Businesses had to pay them for safe transport and there were competing warlords. So if a Pakistani businessman wanted to send goods via road to Turkmenistan, he would end up lining the pockets of many warlords, which affected the profit margin. Then came the Taliban, from the madrassas in Pakistan and took over the Afghanistan and bought “stability”. They defeated various warlords and established a single point of payment.
Then they imposed Islamic laws on the poor Afghanis. Criminal punishments included amputations, and stoning. Women could go out only with a male relative and Hindus were required to a special marking on their cloth. Finally they forged a relationship with Osama bin Laden and you know the rest.
Now this story is repeating in Somalia. Following the fall of Mohamed Siad Barre in 199, the county has been in chaos. In a scene by scene replay of the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, an alliance of Islamic militias have taken over the country. Now people can walk without fear in the streets of Mogadishu.

Somalis interviewed by Reuters in Mogadishu — and Jowhar and Balad to the north, which the Islamic militia also captured last week — almost unanimously expressed happiness at the new-found stability on their streets since the power shift.
Transport was moving more freely, business was flourishing, roadblocks had come down, and guns were less visible on the streets, they said. [Islamists bring rare peace, new worry to Mogadishu]

The new rulers have started enforcing their code of conduct as well.

Abdifatah Nur, 26, said he was watching a World Cup soccer match at a movie house when Islamic militiamen crashed through the doors and ordered the television turned off. They beat the children with lashes and took the young men to a jail. Before the militiamen let their prisoners free three days later, Nur said, they whipped him and cut off his long, curly hair.
Nur said that a few days later, in a different movie house, he watched as Islamic militiamen beat the owner to death, apparently for ignoring earlier orders to not show soccer matches."I hate what they are doing," Nur said. "We have no choice.">Several leaders of the Islamic militias have said they have issued no orders banning World Cup broadcasts or requiring men to cut their hair.

Now the Taliban were happily thinking of doing business with UNOCAL when the Al-Qaeda folks landed and became party poopers.Here is the composition of the groups that make up the Union of Islamic Courts.

Alas, the truth is that the Union is made up of at least four major jihadi groups: al-Ittihad al-Islami (“Islamic Union”), a group which used to appear on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations (the folks at Foggy Bottom apparently bought at face value the group’s previously self-proclaimed dissolution); al-Takfir wal-Hijra (“Excommunication and Exodus”), a group so extreme that it considered Osama bin Laden too moderate and tried to kill him in Sudan in 1996; al-Islah (“Reconciliation”), an Islamist group pushing for the establishment of a Islamic state in Somalia; and al-Tabligh (“Making Known”), an Islamist “missionary” group with links to the same madrassas in Pakistan which gave us the Taliban [WSJ:The New Taliban (subscription required)]

If you have a group which considers Osama bin Laden a moderate, you know which direction Somalia is heading.

Human Rights for Paparazzi

Recently the Chhattisgarh government decided to give a knockout punch to the Naxalites with the help of K.P.S.Gill and our friend Praful Bidwai came out strongly against it. He was sure that this police action would violate the human rights of Adivasis. For once he has not come out against the human rights violations by the Naxalites.
This model of opposing police action, while remaining silent on brutality and murder by terrorists is not just the trade mark of Naxal supporters like Bidwai, but also of many human rights organizations. While organizations like Amnesty International scream about police and state violence all around the world, not a word comes out of their mouth against terrorists, dictators and warlords.
If an award has to be given to a human rights organization for being ridiculous, then it has to go to the one in Namibia. Angelina Jolie recently gave birth to a baby in Namibia and the paparazzi have been camping there to get photographs of the celebrity parents and the baby. The couple wanted privacy and they got it there.

Bodyguards and undercover Namibian police officers shielded the celebrity parents from journalists, erecting green cloth screens around the beach resort where they stayed. A local human rights group accused the security services of using “heavy-handed tactics” to keep the paparazzi at bay. [Hello! sues over Jolie photo leak]

Now we know Namibia is so peaceful and quiet, except for this brutality against the paparazzi.

Heinrich Harrer

The first time I came to know about Heinrich Harrer was when I saw the movie Seven Years in Tibet. The movie was kind of boring, but Harrer’s life was fascinating. In the movie he escapes from a POW camp in Darjeeling in 1944 and crosses the mountainson foot to reach Tibet, thus being one of few westerners to reach there. He spends 7 years there, tutoring a young Dalai Lama, who many years later would take the reverse route to India

He was an accomplished mountaineer as well, climbing the Eiger, regarded as a major test of climbing ability.

After the Eiger’s hazardous east ridge was scaled in 1921, only the north face remained unconquered. The first nine climbers who attempted it in the 1930s all died.

In August 1935 two Germans, Max Sedlmayer and Karl Mehringer, made their assault on the wall. The men were abruptly halted 3,000 feet up by a terrible storm, accompanied by freezing temperatures and frequent avalanches.

They survived on the face for five agonising days, bivouacking there for four nights before freezing to death. Four more climbers died the next year while trying to retreat.

Then, in July 1938, an Austro-German team of four, Anderl Heckmair, Ludwig Vörg, Fritz Kasparek and Heinrich Harrer, made it to the top. It took the men, who had only decided to team up at the base of the wall, more than three days to reach the summit.[The ultimate alpine challenge]

They met Hitler and Goebbels who praised them for their achievement. Harrer died this week. In such an eventful life his only regret must have been that he was portrayed by Brad Pitt on screen.

Pipeline Politics

2005 seems to be the year of pipelines. India has signed an agreement with Iran, but the transport protocol has not been decided yet. On the Eastern border of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed to build a gas pipeline.
Land based gas pipelines are much cheaper than transporting it via tankers or deep sea pipeline and hence all this enthusiasm for building it even though it is through a country like Pakistan. Other than economics, the gas pipelines also give the countries involved an opportunity to indulge in some image improvement exercise as well as build relations.

For Iran, India

The World in 2020

The National Intelligence Council, a group of senior intelligence analysts who report to the CIA Director have a new report on future global trends.

China and India are likely to be among the leading beneficiaries of globalization, in part because of their low-cost labor and high technology capabilities. Many of their people, however, will remain poor.
“A combination of sustained high economic growth, expanding military capabilities and large populations will be at the root of the expected rapid rise in economic and political power for both countries,” the report said.
By 2020, China’s gross domestic product, the total value of goods and services, will be greater than that of any Western country except the United States, and India’s GDP will have overtaken or will be about to overtake European economies.
Led by China and India, Asia “looks set to displace Western countries as the focus of international economic dynamism – provided Asia’s rapid economic growth continues,” it said.[Report: India, China will be major powers in 2020 (requires bugmenot)]

The full report is available online.