Every year, I make a little post to remember those men who lost their lives in both world wars.
There can hardly be a family in this town, or any other, who went untouched by those two conflicts, and not simply in an abstract way. For every man who died in the mud of Flanders or on the beaches at Gallipoli, ten more were broken physically and mentally. Those men came home to Ireland and raised families or sank into alcoholism. They faced rejection, ostracism and general contempt for having joined the British army, even though many of them did so out of economic necessity.
Here’s what I think about it. These men were our grandfathers and our great-grandfathers. Some of them fought out of conviction. Some of them joined up, like many other young lads, in search of adventure, soon to be cut short by the brutality of war. Many chose, idealistically, to fight against Hitler and who could criticise them for that when our own country didn’t offer them the opportunity?
One way or another, we need to remember these men each year, just as we remember the others who went before us, because these men belong to us. We might not agree with their motivations, but they are our forebears and we must keep them in our hearts or else risk losing our past.
The other alternative is to hold on to old bitterness forever and poison ourselves in the process.
I’d rather cling to an old ancestor than cling to an old wrong. What about it?
How ironic that Barack Obama should become the new Richard Nixon. The cool, right-on, youthful President of 2009 has morphed into the CEO who presides over mass arrests of peaceful citizens protesting against the criminality of Wall Street. So much for the First Amendment.
For generations, the United States has been telling us about its love of Freedom. In film, on TV and from its politicians, we’re subjected to platitudes about the Free World, whatever that is, and about the US President’s place as leader of that free world, even though we didn’t elect him.
I don’t know if the poorer citizens of, for instance, El Salvador, were down on their knees thanking their God as the thugs of the Arena Party slaughtered them for seeking basic human rights. I doubt very much if the people of Nicaragua felt particularly free when Ollie North was selling guns to Iran on behalf of his boss, Ronnie Reagan, then Leader of the Free World, and channelling the money via the CIA to the Contra murderers who acted on the instructions of United Fruit and Nabisco. I’d be very surprised indeed if the people of VietNam felt especially free when the US installed a crook to control half their country and called it South VietNam. Did the Cambodians feel a surge of pride when Henry Kissinger bombed them into the Stone Age?
Did the Iraqis give praise as the Leader of the Free World sent tanks and bombers to destroy their country even though they had done nothing to provoke the assault?
But still, at least in the Heartland of the Free, you’d at least expect its own citizens to have liberties, would you not? Especially the right enshrined in the US constitution, second only to the Holy Bible as the greatest book in the world, and possibly written by the same author. Surely in America, it would be the inalienable right of Americans to speak their mind about reptiles like this guy:
It appears not. People are being rounded up by the hundred for walking the streets of US cities, expressing their opinions on what has been done to them by bankers. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect to see in the Soviet Union..
Forty years ago, in Kent State University, a bunch of kids protesting against the VietNam war were gunned down by the National Guard. This week, 700 people were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge for protesting about the activities of Wall Street, and it can only be a matter of time before someone is killed. Well, now it’s time to shit or get off the pot. Do they really hold freedom of speech in such esteem, or is it just another movie prop, a MacGuffin to be produced when the leading man needs to make a great speech? Certainly, on recent evidence, neither freedom of speech nor any of the other supposedly treasured principles such as presumption of innocence, seem to count for much in the new paranoid, fundamentalist United States, where the sound-bite has replaced rational thinking and Fox has replaced real news with a cartoon version to divert the idiot underclass.
Has all the great talk about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness just been hot air? It’s beginning to look that way, and people are starting to realise it.
Mahmoud comes from the mountains up North, but he has lived in the city for forty years, most of them working as a barman pulling pints of foamy Almaza bière à la pression. He has served many nationalities but never bothered much about learning other languages – even English. He has some handy phrases such as ‘another round?’ ‘one for the road’ ‘closing time’. He is good at mathematics and rarely gets a tally wrong when the time for l’addition comes. He has cautiously watched all the comings and goings since 1975 and has survived many hegemonies in West Beirut; Palestinians, Mourabitoun, Syrians, Israelis, Americans, French, Amal, Hezbollah and even the Phalange for a few crazy days in 1982. Mahmoud rarely expresses views on politics. But this year is different.
The volume on the Arabic news channel Al Arabiya is turned off and not being able to read the script I have to ask Mahmoud about the shockingly gruesome footage clearly coming from Syria. Mahmoud begins to rattle off in an Arabic English mélange the lists of demonstrations and casualties and atrocities. Mahmoud is clearly unhappy. We explore the subject gently. This is dangerous ground. Syria dominates Lebanon in many ways still, even though the troops are gone since 2005. The al-Mukhabarrat intelligence services are rumoured to be still present and rumours surface occasionally of people disappearing to jails in Syria. The present Lebanese Government is dominated by the pro-Syrian March 8 coalition led by Shiite parties Hezbollah and Amal. The Syrian Government has been dominated by the Shiite Alawite minority for over forty years. There are many refugees finding their way across border despite efforts to stop them by the Lebanese authorities. Guns are being smuggled across the border to the opposition. Everybody is worried. Mahmoud is Sunni and he is worried.
We talk gingerly about the Assads — Hafez, Bachar, Rifaat and Maher, father and son and uncle and brother. Assad the father, says Mahmoud, ‘is the most bloodiest man in the whole world’, ‘more bloodiest than this Hitler or this Khadaffi’, neither of whom of course were Shiites. Mahmoud is still outraged about the Hama massacre of 1982 when Government forces allegedly killed 20,000 in crushing a revolt by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Ahmad is more circumspect. He is a businessman in his late fifties, speaks good English, and like anyone of that age in Ras an Beirut should be treated with respect as a survivor of many years of appalling events. Ahmad even remembers the notorious Phalange leader Bashir Gemayel inWest Beirut in 1982 with a glint in his eye because of course Bashir was blown to bits a few days later by a bomb planted by a fellow Christian. Ahmad has been to Europe and America and even owns companies in the US. However he hasn’t been to East Beirut since the 70s and has never been in the South. ‘Once to Byblos, once to Jbeil, once to Saida and Tyr, why go more than once to these places, we have all we need here inWest Beirut’. Even though he too is Sunni, Ahmad is worried about what will happen if Assad is overthrown. Ahmad’s information is that Assad has 2 billion dollars and that this will help him hold on to power for two years. You get the feeling that Ahmad would prefer Assad to hang on because the unknown is so frightening.
A friend who works for a European government in Damascus thinks the collapse might come sooner. Conscripts have had their service extended. They are deprived of mobile phones, satellite TV and internet. They have been promised one weekend’s leave over the next two months and there is no telling how they will react when they find out what has been going on. There are already reports of groups of army deserters operating as guerrillas in border areas. This friend thinks that Bashar meant to reform when he took over but he was too weak to take on the entrenched Alawite officials in Government who are terrified of the vengeance that change might bring. Now nobody seems to know how to prevent a catastrophic civil war.
Ali drives me in Beirut when I am stuck. He is an engineering student and a Shiite from the southern suburbs. His district was wrecked by Israeli bombing in 2006 and is undergoing major redevelopment led by Hezbollah. He is guarded on Syria but talks about Muslim extremists misleading people into joining protests against the regime. Even Lebanese Christians are worried what will happen to all minorities, Christians, Kurds as well as Alawite if the Assad regime collapses.
Peace in Lebanon is fragile. Between 150,000 and 200,000 are believed to have died between 1976 and 1990 and up to one million wounded. The population in 2010 was 4.3 million. That is a lot of hurt in one small country. Peace in 1990 was enforced and maintained by Syrian forces, a Pax Syriana. If Syria collapses Lebanon will shake. Nabil is an Egyptian who has lived in Beirut for 28 years. He will stay. He says that there is nowhere else for him to go. Ultimately that might be the best hope. That the Lebanese too will realise that there is nowhere else to go other than their present fragile peace. Whatever happens I am fairly confident that Mahmoud will still be pulling pints and his clientele will continue their intense analysis of politics and life. Inshallah.
Ten years ago, New York’s World Trade Center was destroyed by a combination of fire and certainty. Its destruction ignited fires all over the world, even more certainty, and many lies.
For every innocent American who died in the Twin Towers, a hundred innocent people perished in the global conflagration that followed, in countries far removed from the United States, and unconnected to the attacks.
New York is a place of diversity, of tolerance and of acceptance. You can be whoever you want there. If you feel like riding a unicycle with a parrot on your shoulder, that’s your own business. If you’re gay or transgendered, Pastafarian or atheist, short, tall, black, blue, purple or just plain weird, that’s fine. New Yorkers don’t care, and maybe that was part of what enraged the demented ideologues who planned the attack.
Perhaps it wasn’t just the financial district that drew their anger. After all, most people these days would be happy to see Wall Street obliterated if they could be sure the destruction was confined to bankers and not ordinary people. There’s no doubt that the extremists wanted to create a spectacular attack on what they perceived as the heart of western commerce, but was it also because of New York’s laid-back acceptance that the Saudi plotters focussed their destructive psychosis on the Apple? This, after all, was a scheme hatched in a land where they routinely kill women with stones and whip them for dressing in an unapproved manner.
A land of mega-rich goat-herds.
Of course, intelligent, informed Americans, as opposed to those who draw their opinions from Fox News, were unable to avoid the overwhelming question: why would these people choose to attack the United States? The answer to that lies in half a century of American foreign policy, but it’s a discussion for another day.
The first time I ever saw the World Trade Center was through a bus window. I’d just got off a ferry from Hoboken, and I was wandering around lower Manhattan, sight-seeing nothing in particular. I didn’t know that these strange tuning-fork windows were part of the gigantic WTC structure but I found their quasi-gothic cathedral regularity intriguing, so I got off the bus for a better look.
So this was the WTC? I had expected to find a huge office block, with a big desk at reception where they ask you what you want.
I’d like to meet Mr Merrill and Mr Lynch please. Tell him I’m from the Old Country.
Instead, I found a theme park with thousands of people milling around and a huge queue lining up to visit the observation deck at the top. Going up to the roof of the towers was an industry. They were shovelling in the entrance money. Once we got through the light security check, they even had a tour guide for the elevator journey, who told us that it took 58 seconds to reach the top, which is a very American thing to say. Not 57. Not 59. No: it’s 58. The lift was rocket-driven. Your ears popped. It did two floors per second and it was scarier than a Disneyland white-knuckle roller-coaster. The whole top floor was an exhibit and yes, it was astounding, even to a cynic such as myself, but luckily the simulated helicopter ride through Manhattan gave me an outlet for my cynicism .
As part of the admission price, you got a go in one of those theatres where the seats move, and you’re supposed to feel like you’re flying. Now look. I’ve been to Universal Studios. I’ve been piloted by Yogi Bear. I’ve flown Delta. I know simulated rides and this one was bullshit. A syrupy cabaret-style voiceover talked you through a blurred film that wasn’t even continuous. The video was so old you expected to see Harold Lloyd hanging out of the rooftops. You flew under a bridge and The Voice jokes, Hey-Hey! Careful with those rotors, pilot!
The top floor, in reality, was one big, cheesy shopping mall in the sky, but that’s not why anyone was up there. There was an escalator to the roof and when you got out there you realised what a staggering feat of construction the WTC was. Looking down at the tiny skyscrapers below, you began to realise how high you were: 1350 feet. You could see everywhere in New York, except North-West because that’s where the other, equally tall, Twin Tower stood, blocking your view. There’s the tiny Brooklyn Bridge. Up there is the even tinier 59th Street bridge, feelin’ groovy. Over there is the little Chrysler building and the miniature Empire State. You could stand into the windows and look down at the toy office blocks scattered around you like something a child abandoned until the whole thing began to feel utterly unreal in its vastness.
When I got back to ground level, people were lying on the ground looking up at the towers so I did the same. It was the only way to comprehend what a huge, mind-unhinging thing we were looking at and yet, three years later, it would all be rubble, brought down by fire and by certainty.
The US president, GW Bush, and his Vice-President, Dick Cheney, used the attacks as a pretext to invade Iraq in a decision that many now regard as an act of treason. It wasn’t difficult to fool the people. Even though Saddam Hussein, for all his brutality, presided over a secular regime and was hated by Osama bin Laden, it’s a measure of how poorly the United States is served by its news media that one in three Americans still believes Iraq had something to do with the attack.
Bush’s cabal of neocons promoted an aggressive, and futile, agenda of retribution, sometimes against those who perpetrated the atrocity, but mostly against countries that had nothing to do with what happened on the 11th of September 2001.
The one country that had everything to do with the 9-11 outrage was Saudi Arabia. Most of the attackers were Saudi citizens. The extreme religious certainty emanated from there. The money for the operation was Saudi cash. And yet, instead of bombing Saudi Arabia, Bush invaded Afghanistan and later Iraq. In doing so, he whipped up anti-Islam fervour and turned his shock-and-awe invasion of Iraq into a religious war. One kind of religious, hate-filled certainty became mirrored by another and each believed itself incapable of error.
Cheney, of course, has no principles and no beliefs. All he wanted was profits for his company, Halliburton, and in this he was successful beyond his dreams.
What did the invasion of Iraq achieve? Nothing, unless you happen to be Halliburton or Blackwater, in which case you made a fortune out of it — a fortune based on the Iraqis’ own money. Apart from that, all that the invasion achieved was to cast a country into murderous turmoil. All the talk of deposing a dictator was guff. The world is full of brutal dictators who pass unnoticed and untouched because they aren’t sitting on giant oil deposits.
The invasion of Afghanistan achieved nothing. No foreign invader has ever won a war there. Not Attila, not the Russians, not the British and not the Americans. The US is looking for its exit strategy, and as soon as the troops leave, Afghanistan will revert to tribal rule and that will be the end of it until another invading army arrives in a generation or two. Afghans take a glacial view of history.
Cheney’s part in the entire affair is pivotal. The US constitution explicitly limits the role of the Vice-President to two specific things: taking over from the President if the incumbent becomes unable to serve, and acting as the presiding officer of the US Senate. He has no other role under the constitution, and yet Dick Cheney became the driving force behind the decision to invade Iraq. He adopted an executive role that is not provided for in the US constitution, and in so doing, gravely overstepped his brief. Having resigned as CEO of Halliburton in July, 2000, it was Cheney who made speech after speech mentioning 9-11 and Iraq in the same breath until all of America became convinced that Saddam Hussein, and not the Saudis, was behind the attacks.
We all know the legal term by now: cui bono? Literally, it means Who benefits? but figuratively, it means Follow the money, and in Cheney’s case there was an awful lot of money to follow as a result of his war. The man who had been Chief Executive of Halliburton only three years earlier was now launching a war which would ultimately enrich that company beyond its most extravagant imaginings. Halliburton’s core business is drilling-mud, the thixotropic substance they pump down boreholes when drilling for oil. And yet, Halliburton managed to secure all the logistics contracts in support of the military. They did all the catering. All the transport. Everything. They flipped the burgers in the Green Zone. The supplied the drink. They delivered the entertainment. They hired the bands. They paid the bouncers. For all I know, they might even have recruited the hookers.
Here’s the nice bit — it was all paid for with Iraq’s money.
Of course, the whole adventure was ultimately paid for in lives and suffering too. Iraqi lives but also American, and all these people died, not to defend the United States from attack, since Iraq had never threatened the US in the first place, but to make Cheney and his buddies even more obscenely rich than they already were. Iraqis always knew this, but lately, it seems Americans are also beginning to realise that their sons died in Iraq not to defend their country but to make Cheney richer.
What did it all achieve?
Iraq, a formerly secular country, is now radicalised and filled with resentment towards America. Afghanistan will continue to treat foreigners with contempt, wearing them down over generations and eventually expelling them as it did the Huns, the Russians and the English. It will revert to its tribal, Islamic intolerance despite anything we in the West think. The United States is no safer and no more in danger than it ever was, despite the paranoia generated by Bush’s simplistic meanderings and the nonsense of Fox News, but the whole mindless upheaval managed to create the most moronic political movement ever seen in America — the Tea Party. More dangerous certainty.
Well, Dick Cheney’s Halliburton was the big winner, but there are many more, including the private army formerly known as Blackwater and run by a Christian fundamentalist. Everywhere we look, we see fundamentalism.
Israel was a clear winner, since the entire world was aligned against Muslims of whatever stripe, and this is probably the reason we have heard so many conspiracy theories suggesting that Mossad was behind the Twin Towers attacks.
Who else? How about GW Bush, whose family has such strong associations with Carlton, the world’s biggest arms dealer? Every Cruise missile fired under Dubya’s leadership has to be replaced sometime. Maybe not today, but eventually, and who makes the profit when the replacement is delivered? That’s right. GW Bush. Is it any wonder he’d be in favour of Shock and Awe? Fire as many expensive missiles as you can and let’s not be too worried about boots on the ground for now. No long-term money in boots on the ground.
It’s the tenth anniversary of 9-11, an atrocity in which a civilised city was assaulted by maniacs running on certainty, ignorance, anger and fire in their bellies, hell-bent on inflicting suffering. And yet, if you interrogated any of these young men, I suspect they were not the sort who might assault you in the street, or steal your property or even drop litter. I suspect that they were well-brought-up young men, imbued with a sense of their absolute religious certainty who managed to avoid thinking about the men and women they were going to kill. The wives, husbands, sons, daughters whose lives they planned to extinguish.
I often wonder how many of those people I met in the World Trade Center lost their lives on 9-11. They couldn’t all have survived. I often wonder if the bereaved families feel a sense of connection with those who lost loved-ones as a result of the wars initiated by GW Bush to distract attention from the involvement of the Saudis. Maybe not. Maybe they just think of these people as the bad guys. Who knows?
That’s what happens when dangerous, cynical ideologues send young men out to kill, whether those young men happen to be religiously-driven fanatics murdering New Yorkers, or unquestioning grunts in fatigues killing Arabs in the cradle of civilisation.
Membership of a military cabal is a very strange thing. Even though these men came from ordinary families for the most part, after exposure to military indoctrination, they morph into something other than the common run of society.
They become soldier ants in our colony as if the hive had somehow sprayed them with transforming hormones.
It’s a very strange phenomenon.
Here in Ireland, a country that has never attacked anyone, we have a military with a strong culture of discipline and adherence to authority, as one would expect, and yet we have almost no ruling class. The officers in our military come from among the people, as do the lower ranks, and in fact they all have far more in common culturally than in most other countries, though of course we have striven to create artificial class differences in the interest of deference.
Unlike the rest of society, it worked in the army, where the culture of obedience and deference is palpable, even when a highly-competent NCO is reporting to a 21-year-old imbecile of an officer. I never understood that, and the best of our senior officers never bought into it either, but it’s there.
Creating a military brotherhood requires the dislocation of our society’s norms, and it requires a concomitant decision by the people who join the brotherhood to set themselves outside, though not above, the norms of society. After all, these are the people who will be asked, in an extreme situation, to forget about their children, partners, parents and siblings and perhaps to go out on the streets water-cannoning their neighbours, or worse. That’s what you buy into when you join the military.
Military people are different even though they might spend their spare hours watching football matches with friends or swamping pints of beer or doing all the silly things the rest of us do. When things go wrong, their programming kicks in and suddenly they’re in the zone, no longer your friend, your brother or your father.
They’ll shoot you, brother or not.
Now, take the never-ending conflict in Afghanistan, where no invading army has ever prevailed.
Afghanistan is a tribal place entirely alien to the understanding of European and American culture. In many ways, it’s vile. Afghan tribal society treats its women abominably. It places little value on broad education. It takes its guidance from a medieval desert religion. It murders teachers. Ignorant tribal chiefs are the final arbiters of great issues.
The Taliban are brutes who, in their ignorant stupidity, blew up the wonderful Buddhist statues of Bamyan, and dynamited the lapis lazuli mines for short-term gain.
Extremely wealthy Afghan chieftains pump heroin westwards, aided and supported by the CIA, to facilitate oil pipelines across their land.
Nothing in Afghanistan is clean and therefore it was no surprise that those who planned the 9-11 attacks should have used it as a base, but it was an act of utter stupidity by the Bush administration to launch a pointless war and invasion against this chaotic land, and an even bigger error to install a bunch of crooks as a proxy government. People like Hamid Karzai are the same as the insiders who hijacked western economies, and yet they somehow managed to gain the backing of the US government.
The United States sent an army into that place after the attacks of September 2001, and it was understandable that they might do so, but it was also pointless. Nobody has ever won a war in that insane mountainous region. Not the British. Not the Russians. And now, definitely not the Americans. Afghanistan will wear them down, even if they’re right.
Stanley McChrystal was supposed to be different, and in many ways he is. McChrystal is a Special Operations guy. He could kill you with his little finger. He commanded units in Iraq that abused prisoners and assassinated perceived enemies at will. His people took out al-Zarqawi. Many were disciplined for brutality. He was Colonel Kurtz.
McChrystal is a trained killer and he was put into Afghanistan to kill. His first act as commander of NATO operations, was to demand more men, and he got them by expressing a highly pessimistic view about the number of personnel on the ground. It forced the President to act but it wasn’t a wise move, politically, and although Obama gave him what he wanted, McChrystal’s days were numbered. Killers don’t always make good politicians.
On the other hand, killers — members of the military cabal trained to obedience — don’t understand nuance. They see only what they see and sometime they make the unforgivable mistake of telling it as they see it.
In a moment of madness, McChrystal and his staff gave an interview to Rolling Stone in which they laugh at the Vice President Joe Biden, a man with no role, Karl Eikenberry, the US ambassador to Afghanistan and Richard Holbrooke. These are people most of us might laugh at, but most of us are not in uniform.
McChrystal was sacked, but the world can feel at ease, since McChrystal has been replaced by David Petraeus, soldier-philosopher and future presidential candidate.
However, nobody has yet stated exactly why American and British soldiers are in Afghanistan.
Right. Today is Munster versus Leinster in Thomond Park, and I’m about to collect the tickets from Limehouse Dick, the scoundrel.
It’s a strange disconnected day. Due to our ludicrous, religious-influenced licensing law, Limerick is the only place in the country where the pubs will be open. This means that every maniac in Ireland will be travelling here for one night, and the majority of them won’t give a rat’s arse about the rugby.
I don’t think I’ll bother going for a pint after the game, because the chances are all the pubs will be full wall-to-wall with demented bastards who arrived half-drunk on buses from every corner of the country.
It should be an interesting game. We’re missing POC and Earls, but Jerry Flannery is back, while Micko and Warwick step in as able replacements. Leinster are missing BOD and have opted for bulk up front, but with Munster fielding a highly-mobile and fast back row, Cheika could be taking a big gamble.
Of course, everyone wants to see how the No. 10s shape up to each other. Will the Thomond Park silence unnerve Sexton as it does Charlie Hodgson? Will ROG impose his shape on the game and book his seat on the plane to New Zealand, or will the young pretender finally silence his harshest critics in their home town?
Romain Poite, the world’s worst referee, is the man with the whistle, to the dismay of everyone, both in Munster and Leinster. Given the uncertainty regarding policing of the breakdown, the shape of this game is is impossible to predict, and even the most experienced players will be unsure of themselves in the tackle. It depends on how the mercurial M. Poite interprets his brief, but we can probably say with confidence that whatever he does, it will make tonight’s game worse.
We’ve learned not to take Leinster for granted. They’re formidable opposition, but neither side will want to sustain heavy injuries a week ahead of the crucial European Cup quarter finals. That doesn’t mean either side will take it easy, but I suspect POC’s groin strain, and the identical injury to Earls, are being treated more conservatively than usual. I don’t know if BOD also has groin strain, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Maybe the three boys can discuss their treatments as they watch the game from the sideline. If Flannery didn’t need match time before the Northampton game, he might well have been struck down with groin strain too.
We didn’t win. Leinster were better. They won by a point.
Romain Poite was, as predicted, a complete idiot, but his decisions towards Leinster were as stupid as his decisions concerning Munster, and therefore all he succeeded in doing was distorting what could have been a very good game. This man is by far the worst referee in the entire world.
Here’s his WIkipedia entry:
Romain Poite (born September 14, 1975) is a French rugby union international referee. He made his World Cup debut in 2007 during the match between Ireland and Namibia. He also officiated (as touch judge or television match official) during three games in the 2009 Six Nations Championship. He will referee his first Six Nations match in 2010. He is well known for being consistent in decision making by mistakingly awarding penalties and yellow cards to each team equally.
Here’s 26,000 people staying silent for the penalty kicker.
Look, Barack (do you mind if I call you that? It’s just that Mr President seems a bit formal, especially since you’re not my president).
Barack, look, I’ve been reading these things about your doctors telling you to quit smoking, and I have to tell you, as a former smoker myself, that you shouldn’t listen to them.
Doctors do what doctors do, especially when they’re employed at enormous expense to doctor POTUS.
You can’t take them seriously. They have an agenda, and the agenda is not about you, Barack, so just take a few minutes and listen to me over here.
By the way, would you like a beer?
There ya go. Light?
See, I’ve been reading this stuff about how much you smoke, and all the reports that say you have eight cigarettes a day.
Now look, Barack, don’t kid a kidder. I was a serious smoker and I know the crap you tell people when you’re trying to fool yourself.
Eight means twenty.
And twenty means forty when things turn rough, like for instance an all-night meeting with the generals about bombing Iran. Maybe even sixty and a couple of Cuban cigars. (Not that I’ve ever convened a meeting of generals, but you get the idea).
Barack, you’re a smoker. Don’t tell me you smoke eight cigarettes a day or I’ll have to hit you.
Eight cigarettes a day? Newborn babies smoke eight cigarettes a day. What kind of pussy smoker would that make you? If you’re going to smoke, Barack, smoke like a man, with serious, high-tar, heavy-duty, lung-wrenching torpedoes.
I hear you’re a bit tetchy with reporters when they ask about your smoking habit.
Hey, easy, big boy. Back off there and grab yourself another beer.
I hear your famous smooooooooth exterior cracks a little when they push you on the baccy issue, and I can understand that. I used to be the same. Ain’t nobody’s business but my own (and in your case another 300 million Americans but we’ll move on from that rapidly).
I used to be ugly when people tackled me about my smoking, so I can understand your position. I used to quit, and then I’d sneak one or two, or five, or even eight – as many as you smoke. I used to buy small cigars instead, but then I ended up smoking 20 small cigars a day. Not good.
Barack, here’s the bottom line.
I thought maybe I might just share with you my secret for stopping smoking, in the interests of world peace. After all, nobody wants an angry ex-smoker with his finger on the big red button. Right?
Now Barack, here’s where you have to listen really hard. Just put down that basketball for a moment, if you wouldn’t mind.
See, these doctors are telling you to try harder with the quitting but that’s not going to work unless you want to quit. It just won’t work, and you’ll be hiding in the dressingroom of the Oval Office sneaking cigarettes, which admittedly is better than other uses of smoking materials witnessed by that room.
Barack, you’ll only quit when you realise that you’re not giving anything up. You’re just stopping. Just stopping a thing that causes you grief.
You good with that?
OK. Here’s my one-step plan to being a non-smoker, forever.
It is not often that this site finds itself praising the actions of anyone associated with our present Government.
However the visit of the Minister for Foreign Affairs to Gaza last Thursday was a singular achievement.
This was the first visit of an EU minister to Gaza since the ‘war’ which devastated the ‘strip’ last January. It took place despite the trenchant opposition of Israel. Israel had turned down a request by Martin to visit Gaza last year and had also refused a number of requests from other EU ministers. The visit required a major diplomatic effort by Irish officials in Cairo, Ramallah and Tel Aviv. The Cairo link was especially important in persuading a reluctant Egypt to allow Martin to enter Gaza via the Rafah crossing from Egypt — the only entry point into Gaza not directly controlled by Israel.
The visit was strongly welcomed by most international organisations active in Gaza, none more appreciative than the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA), the largest employer in Gaza, headed by former Irish Army officer John Ging. Martin correctly highlighted the unacceptable nature of the Israeli blockade on Gaza which has been in force since 2007 after Hamas defeated Fatah in a brief civil war. Israel had earlier imposed economic sanctions on Gaza when Hamas took power in Gaza after winning elections there in 2006.
In September 2009 a UN ‘fact-finding mission’ found the blockade to be in breach of international law as it ‘amounted’ to a collective punishment of the entire population and recommended that it be investigated by the International Criminal Court as a war crime or a crime against humanity.
Micheál Martin discreetly avoided all personal contact with Hamas officials in line with European Union policy. Martin avoided political comment and focused instead on the humanitarian crisis — in particular on the blocking by Israel of international aid allocated to Gaza which has so frustrated John Ging and his colleagues.
However while Martin’s visit was widely reported throughout the Irish and the Arab media, the response elsewhere was quite disappointing. Neither Sky nor the BBC appear to have picked it up. Even the French media who had widely reported Martin’s statement on the Dubai passports issue were relatively silent on the Gaza visit.
Martin’s visit does not provide any definitive answer to the problems of Gaza, Palestine and the wider Middle East. It doesn’t address the political and moral issues which exercised contributors to this site on the forged passports issue. However, it was an act of political courage which has highlighted the appalling conditions in which Gazans are now living. Israel has tried to minimise knowledge of this humanitarian crisis and Martin’s visit has briefly lifted that veil. This is a humanitarian crisis where avoidable human suffering can be alleviated. It is in the same category as the aftermath of hurricanes, earthquakes and famine.
The international community should be allowed to address it without prejudice to the emotive political disputes in the region. Indeed, a smart Israeli Government would do well to heed the advice of John Ging and Micheál Martin. Many individual Israeli citizens would agre, but with Bibi in charge now, and with international media apathy, it is hard to be optimistic.
What do you call somebody who enters another sovereign state under a false passport and murders a man?
Well, in most civilised countries, such a person would be called a terrorist, but not in Israel. In fact, the Israelis have gone a step further and denied that they had anything to do with the murder of Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai.
According to Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, the Arabs blame Israel for anything that happens in the Middle East.
He’s right, of course. Why blame the Israelis, simply because all the terrorists were using names from a database of people who had passed through Israeli airports? Why blame the Israelis just because Hamas is a Palestinian resistance organisation and the Israelis just happen to be imprisoning Palestinians in the Gaza concentration camp? Why blame the Israelis, just because Mossad is the only organisation in the region with the ability to mount such an operation?
You know what?
It was probably the Fijians who whacked Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. Or the Amish. Or maybe the Haitians.
Every one of them had more reason to kill a Hamas leader than the Israelis did and every one of them was capable of forging EU passports using names on an Israeli intelligence list, and delivering highly-trained assassins in a coordinated operation.
As Judge Judy says, Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining.