Was Trump’s strike on Syria motivated by geopolitical considerations or… genuine concern about the use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces (and they have form for that)… or the need to demonstrate he is not in Putin’s pocket? Or something else?
History, goes the old rhyme, is about chaps, while geography is about maps. Tim Marshall’s book, Prisoners of Geography, is all about how these two matters are actually very hard to separate. What the chaps think and do, says Marshall, is profoundly influenced and often downright determined by the circumstances described in the maps.
When I bought this book, in a remainder shop, I did not know who else was reading it. I am fascinated by the impact of geography upon history, but is anyone else? Since buying the book I have learned that it is now a best-seller. This pleases me, because it is a very good book, and in particular a very unsentimental book.
Britain and Western Europe, and then the other parts of the world where English is the dominant language, have mostly been blessed with a degree of geographically conferred freedom of manoeuvre that is denied to the inhabitants of pretty much all other nations. That is why these places got rich first. And it also now means that we Euros and Anglos are able to believe, as a matter of practical political policy rather than merely as privately pious aspiration, in a wide range of idealistic things of very variable value – things like freedom, democracy, equality, human rights, freedom for women, “social justice”. and so on and so forth – things that geographically more constrained people can only, as yet, dream of, and which they often regard as more as a threat to their own ways of doing things than as any kind of promise.
Another book that Marshall refers to quite frequently in this book is Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, which also offers a fundamentally geographical explanation for these facts. I share Marshall’s admiration for this book , and it heads the bibliographical list at the end of Prisoners of Geography, but this is an accident of spelling. I was also intrigued to see in that same list two works by Halford Mackinder, in particular Mackinder’s Democratic Ideals and Reality, a title which Marshall might have picked for his own book had it not already been taken.
Why, for starters, did the modern industrial era that helped to create all that freedom of political manoeuvre for the world’s luckier people, having kicked off in Britain, then, after an imitative surge in Western Europe, then see its centre of gravity shift to the USA? Well, there are many reasons.
→ Continue reading: Tim Marshall on chaps and maps
News reaches us from the Telegraph of rumblings in Rome, where an expansionist Pope appears to have burst the bonds set up by Mussolini and, setting his sights on the smallest ‘state’ within Rome, persuaded the British head of the International Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Grand Master Matthew Festing, to resign. Unlike a previous situation of Argentine aggression against a small group of islands sitting peacefully in a deep blue sea, this has passed off far more peacefully and entirely within Rome.
The background to this dispute is, we are told:
Mr Festing and the Vatican have been locked in a bitter dispute since one of the order’s top knights, Grand Chancellor Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, was sacked in December in the chivalric equivalent of a boardroom showdown – ostensibly because he allowed the use of condoms in a medical project for the poor.
Is the article hinting that the ‘condoms’ issue is a bit of a stretch?
When Festing fired von Boeselager, he accused the German of hiding the fact that he allowed the use of condoms when he ran Malteser International, the order’s humanitarian aid agency.
Von Boeselager and his supporters say the condom issue was an excuse by Festing and Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, an arch-conservative who has accused the pope of being too liberal, to increase their power.
Well since neither the Swiss Guard nor the St John’s Ambulance have got involved, it all seems rather peaceful. But the Pope seems to brook no dissent, not even in his last satellite ‘state’.
Francis has said he wants the 1.2 billion-member church to avoid so-called “culture wars” over moral teachings and show mercy to those who cannot live by all its rules, especially the poor.
Perhaps this is the Pope’s version of the Brezhnev Doctrine?
When forces that are hostile to socialism try to turn the development of some socialist country towards capitalism, it becomes not only a problem of the country concerned, but a common problem and concern of all socialist countries.
As to the position of intellectuals in Cuban society, it appeared that they had almost everything estranged Western intellectuals desired. There was, to start with, ample official recognition. They were taken seriously and, if loyal to the regime, given generous opportunities to share in power and the management of the new society. They were given responsibilities such as the visitors rarely enjoyed in their own societies. For the most part these were, in the words of Susan Sontag, “pedagogical functions,” and “a major role in the raising of the level of consciousness.” The jubilation on the part of the visitors, as they witnessed Cuban intellectuals moving into positions of power and responsibility, signaled their relief that at long last intellectuals could abandon their traditional roles as social critics and outsiders and could now joyously affirm, endorse, and assist an ongoing social system. At last the painful dichotomy between thought and action was dissolved; Cuban intellectuals were men of action, some actually fought as guerillas; others became revolutionary deans of universities, revolutionary officials in ministries of education, culture or propaganda, revolutionary writers, film-makers, academics. Most of them shared, from time to time, the manly burden of manual labor with the masses. Most importantly, they were fully integrated into society, there was nothing marginal about them.
Under these circumstances, it was possible to accept with a clear conscience the material benefits and privileges the regime bestowed on them, unlike in Western societies, where the material privileges and status advantages of estranged intellectuals often became a major sources of their bitterness, inner conflict, or self-contempt. Wishing to be severe social critics of the societies they lived in and half expecting some measure of retribution or mild martyrdom for their criticism, instead they often found themselves either ignored by the holders of power or, worse, in positions of influence or high social status despite their relentless castigation of the social system which continued, almost absent-mindedly, to feed generously the mouths that so regularly bit it.
– Political Pilgrims: Travels of Western Intellectuals to the Soviet Union, China and Cuba, 1928-78, Paul Hollander, page 264.
With the TTIP, the EU and US set out trying to construct a slightly watered down version of the single market – in which corporations would be able to use the courts to force governments to open up their public services to foreign providers. It was doomed to collapse because there is such an obvious asymmetry between the US and the EU on this. The US already has high involvement of private companies in the provision of public services. As for those where the state does still retain a monopoly – like defence – there is no way US courts are going to allow, say, French missile manufacturers to supply weapons. It will be ruled out on grounds of national security.
Europe, by contrast, has a relatively high degree of state involvement in the economy, giving plenty of juicy opportunities for US firms – and plenty of reason for left wing parties in France and Germany to oppose TTIP. Britain may now be at the back of Barack Obama’s queue – though what relevance that has given that it will soon be where we stand in Hilary Clinton’s or Donald Trump’s queue that matters. But my money would be on post-Brexit Britain sewing up a trade deal with the US before the EU has managed it.
Ross Clark, having fun at the expense of Barack Obama, whose comment earlier this year that the UK would be at the “back of the queue” in trade deals with Washington if it had the temerity to quit the European Union has, along with so many others, backfired.
We are often told that President Obama was going to bring us an era of smart diplomacy, unlike that that moron Bush, etc, etc. The gap between the promise, and the reality, is wider than ever.
In truth, the appointment of Boris as Foreign Secretary is just about the most awesome thing ever.
In another Telegraph column, in November 2007, Mr Johnson described Hillary Clinton as having “a steely blue stare, like a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital”.
How perfect is that? Words can scarcely describe how much I am looking forward to seeing this unfold 😀
Of course the appointment that really matters is David Davis to head up Brexit. I simply cannot imagine a better choice for he is staunchly free market and was known in EU circles as the “charming bastard“.
This is no flight of rhetoric. It is literally true. British aid money also goes to reward the killer of a British woman. These payments aren’t incidental: their purpose is to reward the killers for the killing.
Ian Austin, Labour MP for Dudley North (undeclared on the Brexit issue, in case you’re interested) has written an article for Labour List about some of what Britain’s foreign aid is actually spent on.
British aid feeds 25 million under-fives. It supports midwives, nurses and doctors so 4.3 million babies can be born safely.
Our aid spending helped tackle Ebola in Africa. It feeds the starving, helps refugees and provides jobs.
It builds stronger economies around the world. It helps the poorest countries tackle the most desperate poverty.
It does all that and so much more. And we should be very proud of it.
But it also funds terrorists. And that obscures and undermines all the good work it does.
That’s why this week Parliament debated whether Britain should have an international aid budget at all. You might not be aware of it, since it was prompted by a petition in the Daily Mail, which is hardly the in-house reading of choice around these parts.
Like other Labour MPs, I’ll be speaking up in support of our aid budget, but I’ll also be calling for our money to be used to promote peace, not reward terrorism.
Last week four people were murdered when terrorists opened fire in a Tel Aviv cafe.
People in Britain will be horrified by the deliberate, indiscriminate murder of civilians. There can be no justification. But they will be appalled that the two murderers could now be eligible for government salaries – paid for by international aid money from Britain.
Mary Gardner, a Scottish visitor to Israel, died five years ago when terrorists bombed a bus stop. Hassin Qawasme, who led the attack, has been paid almost £14,000 since his arrest.
Amjad and Hakim Awad, killed Ehud and Ruth Fogel and their three children aged 11, four and just three months in 2011. Since then it’s estimated that Amjad alone has been paid up to £16,000 from PA funds.
Emphasis added. A Guardian article by Edwin Black from November 2013 has more about these payments:
When a Palestinian is convicted of an act of terror against the Israeli government or innocent civilians, such as a bombing or a murder, that convicted terrorist automatically receives a generous salary from the Palestinian Authority.
So, the EU is primarily a political project. Just think about it. The mantra of the Remain camp is “to trade with Europe you have to be part of it”. But this is bizarre. Nobody says “to trade with China you have to be part of it”. That would be very scary. They don’t even say “to trade with the USA, you have to be part of it”. Nobody suggests accepting the US constitution or the dollar as part of the price to trade with America.
– Alan Sked
Oh, they’ll report it. Every now and then, tucked away among “other news”. But not in any depth. The evasion is not conscious. Such a strange and disturbing story unsettles their deepest assumptions about humanity, about what is happening to the world. They would rather not think about it.
Most of the time I have fairly tight choice over the sort of people I talk to and associate with, which means that I usually have a reasonable chance of not breaking bread, so to speak, with sympathisers with Islamic terror, haters of Jews, haters of capitalism, America, the West, fun, etc. Okay, there are one or two people who are in social circles I mix in who have what I consider to be “out there” views (I know one lady who seems, in her dottily amusing way, to be a full-on Jeremy Corbyn fan), but they are few and I can ignore them without giving offence. A more challenging problem are those family gatherings (I have just been involved in one) where a person I know who is quite close to my family stating why it wasn’t odd or bad that the inhabitants of Israel should be “transported” to the US (as has been suggested by a Labour MP and councilllor), or some other large continent, far away from the Middle East, and that Ken Livingstone should not be pilloried for saying Hitler was a sort of Zionist, and that Jewish people are over-sensitive, and anyway they control the media, and that this person never buys anything which might have come from Israel…
In that situation, what do I do? (I was sitting at a table, having a family dinner). Do I:
Get up slowly, announce that I am not sharing the same room with this person again?
Try and think of a smart rejoinder that will shut the person up (if so, anyone got a suggestion)?
Send a copy of George Gilder’s The Israel Test?
Put laxative in the coffee?
Also, how do commenters here deal with the “maniac in the room” problem, such as the Uncle who brings up violent opinions or views so batshit ugly that no-one knows where to look? The responses may be different on which side of the Atlantic one is on. In the UK, it has been for a long time considered bad form to have arguments about politics and religion at all, particularly in family settings where there are children around, etc. In the US, it may be different.
I’d be very interested to know what people think.
The endless scamming of NGOs seems to be a plague on the World, but the Federal Government of India is resisting claims from an NGO, I understand it to be the All India Human Rights and Social Justice Front (but what’s in a name?*),that it should seek to obtain the Koh-i-Noor diamond from Her Britannic Majesty.
Ownership of the famous gem is an emotional issue for many Indians, who believe it was stolen by the British.
However, the solicitor-general said was “neither stolen nor forcibly taken”.
Ranjit Kumar said the 105-carat diamond had been “gifted” to the East India company by the former rulers of Punjab in 1849.
The case is being heard by the Supreme Court after an Indian NGO filed a petition asking the court to direct the Indian government to bring back the diamond.
Oddly, despite its secession from India at independence, a lawyer in Pakistan has claimed the Koh-i-Noor for Pakistan, presumably on the basis that it was the property of a ruler of the Punjab.
The Pakistani petition, lodged with a court in Lahore by Javed Iqbal Jaffry, names Queen Elizabeth II as a respondent.
“Grabbing and snatching it was a private, illegal act which is justified by no law,” he told Reuters.
He is quoted as saying that he has written 786 letters to the Queen and Pakistani officials about it.
Thankfully, most of Mr Jaffry’s fellow citizens do not seem to share his enthusiasm. And a cheer for them too.
There has never been a popular debate or campaign to get the Koh-i-Noor diamond returned in Pakistan, our correspondent adds.
Now will India’s sensible example be enough for Greece to shut up about the Elgin Marbles? After all, they named a whole musical film after the place, and yet they complain about Macedonia daring to speak its own name.
* This group appears to have some form in litigation, without it being immediately clear that Human Rights were foremost in their consideration, trying to get a Bangladeshi lady kicked out of India.
The bench was hearing the appeal filed by NGO ‘All India Human Rights and Social Justice Front’ seeking cancellation of Nasreen’s visa alleging that she has been violating the Foreigners Order of 1948 and the Foreigners Act of 1946 by airing her views on every issue without prior permission.
UPDATE: as Tim’ points out, it appears that another element of the Indian government seeks to maintain the claim, despite the concession made by the Right Honourable and learned Solicitor General in open court. So perhaps the attitude of those bothered is to maintain the ‘learned grudge’ that we find in Greece, Argentina and other delightful places.