Monday, July 31, 2006
While the theme may sound clichéd, and even dull, the settings for this film are appropriately majestic, and brilliantly authentic. The dialogue is both civilized and sophisticated, so don’t slouch in your seat – sit up and listen carefully. The film is an excellent peek into another era, when women could not inherit their father’s fortunes, where class culture dominated, and where women were forced to preoccupy themselves with the ambition of getting themselves, or their daughters, appropriate husbands. What makes Pride and Prejudice such a classic is that within this mainframe, Elizabeth attempts to contrive not only to marry well, but to marry for love.
Mathew MacFadyen plays the suave but somewhat inarticulate Mr Darcy. Donald Sutherland puts in an engaging performance as likable Mr Bennet, and Judi Dench does well to present the Upper Class at its most snobbish.
I’m impressed that this exquisite ballet of scenes was directed by a man. I am also the first to confess that this is not a movie you watch with your buddies. You book a table in advance at a romantic restaurant and then take a lady who can appreciate decorum to watch this film. Like Mr. Bennet, a gentleman might find the fluttery behaviour amusing, but it is not in the least asinine. In whatever culture or era one happens to be in, the business of getting married is a pretty sticky and often difficult process to go through. We admire the tenacity of Elizabeth, and we wish we’ll have her fortitude or resolve if and when we’re ever in her position. Women, I’m guessing, want to be her, and men want to be with her, or someone like her.
Knightley adds girlish touches to complement Elizabeth’s earnestness. While MacFadyen might come across as stoic and boring, I think it necessary that he not immediately present himself as exactly who he is. That’s how life is – we make prejudicial judgments about people, and our pride gets in the way of seeing things the way they are, even when reality begins to emerge. Impatient people will find this film boring, as it is filled with subtlety and nuance.
On the other hand, if you find one of the most famous opening sentences in all of literature compelling, then this film is for you.
Jane Austen begins Pride and Prejudice, with this somewhat ironic statement: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want for a wife.
Make sure you order a good wine afterwards, at the restaurant.
Compared to cavemen we live like gods
I do not hate progress, only its nature
Which makes all roofs and faces look the same
…Does sameness not revolt your being,
My Daughter? – Wole Soyinka, The Lion and the Jewel
In our era, we’ve moved from telegrams to text messages in less than 10 years. We’ve gone from walking, or riding horses, to propelling ourselves in the sky, even into space in about 100. We’ve built cities and suburbia (a modern invention) and endless ribbons and roads to connect them. We’ve added all sorts of products to our lives – like t-shirts, remote controls, cane sugar, cereal and chocolate, and condoms – that we can’t imagine never being there to begin with. We may take these developments for granted, after all, they were initiated before we were born, but in fact the modern era really is a very new development.
There was a time when men, much like us, walked the earth, and there were no roads, or towns or even houses. No one had even conjured up the idea of making a home, and a town was an impossibly sophisticated concept to invent without first being able to craft, defend, and own a home. That was because they spent all their time trying to survive, trying to stay alive, trying to outwit other groups whilst somehow feeding themselves. If you watch Survivor you can appreciate just how daunting, and exhausting, these simple processes become when you have no previous infrastructure to rely on – like we do. Just finding food in the caveman era, is a fulltime job, especially if you’re operating outside the economic concept of accumulating and storing (and possibly selling) surpluses.
If we remember that cavemen like Homo Augusta didn’t develop anything new in a million years (literally, and that means not a single new development in more than a hundred thousand lifetimes at least), we’ve done plenty in just 2 or 3 lifetimes. Of course, we relied on the gradual laying down on various infrastructures (technological, social, cognitive etc) by those who preceded us. Now we are accelerating in our inventiveness, and we will need all our skill and all our fortitude to deal with the multifarious future challenges facing us. For one, we’ll have to invent new, sustainable and much better ways of producing energy.
I am not suggesting we spend all our time in the past. Cowards do that, especially when faced with a difficult road ahead. But the pace that’s taking us forward needs to be appreciated for what it is, and we will have to downscale and downsize how we live. That will happen by choice or by force. To do so by choice means knowing and choosing the best living arrangements and systems from the past, like walkable communities, a cultural mindset devoid of irony and emphasis on a sense of community.
We’ll also need to put an end to the scourge of the modern era – mass producing humanity (and its accoutrements) in a world without meaning. It’s in the anonymity of our markets, of the masses of things, and of suburban sprawl, that we’ve gotten ourselves lost. A search for meaning begins with a search for why it’s no longer there.
Spoilt For Choice (Part 2)
Compared to cavemen we live like gods
There’s plenty of sameness in society, thanks to mass production. To truly appreciate this concept, try living in Korea, where it’s easy to get lost in that sameness. Unlike South Africa, there is too little land on Korea’s tiny, mountainous peninsula for houses, so people live in standard apartment buildings. There are hundreds of thousands of them, and an apartment building in Busan (in the South) looks exactly like one in Seoul, or in a satellite of Seoul like Ilsan (where I lived). From far away these identical structures resemble a giant (and grotesque) wedding cake of human habitation.
Korea is a particularly homogenized country. Not only does almost everyone look similar (dark eyes, similar height and complexion, same tear jerked eyes), but everyone eats the same (spicy) food, drives the same cars (almost always Korean, and only the classic colors) and all of them are most comfortable clicking away on a computer, all day, every day.
While Korea is an unusually homogenized community, just because we in South Africa drive red, yellow or blue cars (made by every manufacturer from Ford to Fiat) and like outdoor pursuits more than computer games, it doesn’t mean we aren’t following similar prescriptions of materialism and consumption ourselves.
If you have internet access, the chances are you also own a cellphone. So does everyone else who has the means to connect. Advertisements (and the media) tend to steer the masses into adopting ‘same’ behaviour. But despite mass production, despite the massive quantities of standardized goods, the average person (and really, we’re thinking about people in the 1st World or Developing World) is really spoilt for choice.
Over a period of months it is common to have sophisticated machines, services and products updated and improved on a regular basis. It’s actually unprecedented in human history, this pace of innovation. We forget that innovation is a new concept. Today we – the average citizen – have our own personal transports (we call them ‘automobiles’ or ‘cars’) like the popular Japanese made Tazz which is soon to be replayed by the smaller, even more fuel efficient Aygo). That’s a radical new development.
Cell phones now fit the dimensions of business cards, and notebook computers really are as lightweight and slim as the name suggests. Every week new products and gadgets appear on shelves or in the pages of magazines. And when it comes to food, just imagine what a caveman would make of Pick ‘n Pay. All that meat, all the varieties of yoghurt and produce and row upon row of something-to-eat from faraway lands and seas. A Bushman would probably be overwhelmed, trying to imagine how a small bunch of hunters possibly could scour a desert and come up with such a treasure?
Not so long ago, tradition was de rigueur, not innovation. Entire generations came and went where survival depended on not changing things, like the blades of plough-shares, the techniques of planting ordinary crops. To experiment meant that one was gambling with one’s survival. Markets didn’t really exist, and if they did they sold ordinary staples like grain, fabrics tended to be limited to materials like leather, and combinations of consumables like eggs, milk and meat, were exchanged for some other combination of these goods, and not much besides. This went on for hundreds of years.
Another modern era invention is the idea and massive application of democracy and human rights, private ownership for ordinary citizens, and profit. Here one person can own his or her own house, own car, plus a fantastic array of other things. And herein lies the rub. Each person owns a fantastic amount of stuff. Yes we can argue that the average standard of living for the haves is pretty good, and that our life spans are going to take us beyond the 100 year mark. There’s also sexual liberation now, meaning we have the technology (and the culture) allowing us to have a bunch of sexual partners until we find someone who really suits us (or something else happens). Long ago you pretty much had one or two chances at getting it right, and both were pretty much within the mainframe of marriage.
It’s all good, except that it isn’t. Education seems to be, on average, becoming a circus of disrespect. There are incredible levels of crime (in some societies), but generally there isn’t a sense of valuing human life, and even less value for the lives of animals (where industry has developed the industrialization of death into an unpleasant artform). Many citizens, even with all their accoutrements, are spoiled and unhappy, stressed and depressed, alienated and often lonely. I think it’s because we’ve become obsessed with things, not people, slaves to consumption, instead of supportive and neighborly to each other. In short, because we attach ourselves to things instead of developing complete relationships with a number of people.
We live in a world where we’re constantly running out of time. We forget that participation in the world (the way we think it works) is not compulsory. We can choose our responses to those things that are incompatible with a conscious attitude to living and thriving in the 21st century. Just because the media (or culture) proclaims something as fact or fashion does not mean it is worth subscribing to.
One way to appreciate our toys and the kaleidoscope of shopping available now is to spend time in nature, especially pristine or extreme natural environments, like a forest or a desert or a lonely mountain top. Get your water from a stream, your heat from a fire, your food from the surroundings. Pretty soon the simplest thing in the world (a tap with running water, a light switch, a toilet) reveals itself as sheer luxury.
We ought to step away from our habitualised existence as often as we can, and find moments to find ourselves. After participating in Survivor, many of the contestants, although busy with basic technologies, confessed to feeling ‘alive’, connecting deeply with themselves and with nature and enjoying the experience. While a few steps backward on the Progress Road don’t mean we all have to live like cavemen, a more simple life may be a lifestyle that we’ll enjoy a lot more than those that currently occupy our time.
As it turns out, all these things – based around consumption – are fun, but they are not essential to the human spirit. We are. We’re spoilt for choice both in terms of our access to fellow human beings, and things. In the future we’ll need to focus more of our attention on the former, rather than the latter, as we are so prone to doing.
The Marriage Myth
My girlfriend and I recently watched Pride and Prejudice together. In summary, it’s about 5 daughters trying to find husbands. Much of the movie focuses on ardent Elizabeth’s travails, and it ends – I hope I am not giving too much away – with Elizabeth’s father tearfully giving his blessing to a daughter he obviously loves very much. And then the movie ends.
My girlfriend looked at me as the screen went black and the credits started to roll. “What? No wedding?” she complained. “She would have looked so beautiful in a wedding dress.” “Yes, but you see marriage, starting with the wedding, is the end of your life, and the beginning of misery. The happy part is what the movie is about.”
She accused me, naturally, of being anti-marriage, and then softened her position by saying: “It’s not your fault you’ve seen so many bad marriages in your life.” Yes I have. And no, I’ve never been married. But I am 34 years old and people around me are getting restless. One of my best friends has been married and divorced, and he has two souvenirs from that adventure, one is nine years old. All my best friends are married, and I’m usually surprised to find people I knew at school, or university, who are my age, that have never been married. I’m surprised because everyone seemed in such a rush to get married. I remember when a university friend of mine got married, Alex, his wife’s brother and sister both got married within months of each other. The same with my younger cousin and older cousin. There seems to be a sort of sibling competitiveness going on out there, which I think is a bit juvenile.
On the other hand, there may be something to it. After all, my brother who is 36 (and has a house and a Mercedes Benz), is not married, and my sister, who is 29, and stunning, is also in a relationship (she always has a boyfriend) but nowhere near ready (she says) to tie herself into knots. My father has said to me on more than one occasion, “I want grandchildren now. Get on with it.” A few years ago he liked my girlfriend-of-the-time so much he promised, if we got married, to give us a house. My girlfriend loved the idea (and still calls my father on his birthday), but I didn’t want to live in my father’s house, and anyway, I was much too raw and inexperienced in the world to even think about marriage. That girlfriend quickly jumped ship and is now married – without a degree – to a moneyed character who also takes care of her mother. I can’t help being grateful to have escaped that one – I just see these words in blinking red neon: Gold Digger Alert.
Don’t get me wrong. I like the idea of marriage. I like the framework where you can invest yourself into a partnership, and I think a life of loving and sharing, committing to something, believing in someone (and yourself) is a lot better than just selfish indulgence and accumulation of things. But who said we have to be married in order to share and commit?
I’m not sure that marriage isn’t just another very long, and very serious relationship, often with the added attribute (some would say bonus, others would say nuisance) of children. Given divorce statistics, and the pace at which things change in society today, as well as the demands of work, it’s hard to imagine a substrate that marriage can really grow on for an extended length of time. You have to change jobs, find a new direction, adapt, and your partner too, and I think this often happens in very different directions. You also change as a person, and with so many changes going on, in so many different areas, it’s the marriage mainframe, inevitably, that has to be bent or broken into a shape that fits. And if that doesn’t happen, one or both individuals in the marriage begin/s to unravel and then the suffering really sets in.
I think marriage can work, but then a great deal of society’s mainframe has to be blocked out. For example, the media, that presents us with scenario after scenario of adultery or simply of the temptress. We’re obsessed with our appearance, and being sexy is a priority often above all others.
If 50% of couples divorce in South Africa, I’m not sure that the remainder of married couples are really success stories. I’ve seen marriages in London, Singapore and Seoul that made as little sense as the marriages I was privy to in Cape Town and Johannesburg. I think they are composed largely out of people hanging on, resisting reality, trying to please their parents but basically living a lie and slowly wasting away in silent desperation. What else can you say about being in a position you’ve dreamed about for some years, finally being in it, and then finding oneself bored, fenced in and disappointed.
Marriage may not be for everyone, but for others it may be exactly what the doctor ordered. I had a girlfriend who, at the age of 19, wanted to get married. I didn’t think she was serious. I thought it was a nuclear crush or something, but she is married now, and I realize that she really did need the emotional and financial security that a marriage provides. Her life with her mother had being horrific and unstable – living in one (of her mother’s) boyfriend’s home after another, as a young girl. Having to pack up and uproot every time her mother broke up with another boyfriend – that’s got to be a pretty lousy childhood.
Having taught a few hundred children, I am the last person to want to add more kids to my already noisy and busy circumstances. I’m fond of children, one on one, or in a small group. But having kids is a big deal. Once they’re there they’re there for life, so you’d better be sure you’re ready. Be sure you’ve pretty much finished with all the important things in your life, because whatever’s left is going to be put on hold indefinitely. No more movies when you want to, no more going out for a run or training for the Argus when the idea grabs you. Of course, with the co-operation and understanding of your spouse, you can still pursue some of the things you want to do, but you’ll never be as free as you are now, to do the things you want to do, again.
Marriage does teach us how to sacrifice for others, and in a selfish society, that’s a valuable lesson to learn. Marriage, or at least being in a relationship, is good for us. They’ve proved that single men don’t live as long as men in relationships. Ironically, I believe that. Of course, a single man can also be a man who is divorced with three kids.
The sexual impulse overrides sanity and logical thought. It’s clear that sex is what makes marriage seem like a nice, romantic fairy tale. Sex blinds us to the simple reality that marriage is: living with one person for 30 or 40 years, and doing things for others, for the rest of your life. The Christian tradition of only allowing sex in marriage makes this even worse, because the person is getting married so that they can have sex as soon (and as often as possible). Of course, after a few months (years if you’re lucky), sex, the subconscious driving force behind getting married, falls away completely. Getting married just to have sex is a tragic death sentence you unleash upon yourself.
Mark these words when you decide to get married, and if you are already married, hats off to you.
What the corporate big shots are saying
In December a litre of petrol cost around R5. 8 months later, we’ll be paying R7 a litre. Where will we be by the end of the year?
On New years day this year I remember reading – with disbelief – that experts (people who called themselves bankers, or economists, and who are generally respected for their insights) were predicting oil prices to average around $50 a barrel this year. They maintained this delusion until April/May, and even for some time after oil prices first broached the $70 level. Does anyone know when last oil was in $60-something territory? It’s been more than a few weeks now, and it’s fair to say it’s heading north, to $80.
Right now we’re at $75.01, and we’re looking at another petrol price hike next week. I called a friend of mine, who works at Standard Bank (in the Merchant Division). He organizes finance and sets up deals between the big blue chips – most recently, companies like Sasol. I asked him, since future projections of oil prices form an important backdrop to these deals, what the industry insiders (some would say experts) were predicting. He said the feeling was that $100 was certainly possible over the short term, but that over the longer term (1-2 years) they saw oil slipping back to $50. Say what?
I asked him to substantiate the reasoning they were using, but I am under the impression they are playing with numbers, rather than astutely aware of a bottom-line in-the-desert-and-the-dust paradigm, an unshakable real-framework when dealing with oil prices.
Here’s reality: We’re in a new era. Things are different now. Two decades ago we were still in an era of Discovery. We could boost capacity when things got comfortable, because we had some West-controlled oil fields like Prudhoe, and the North Sea, and the Saudi fields were in good nick. Today we’re in an era of Depletion, meaning, as supply gets tighter, all we can do is pump faster. Unfortunately we’ve reached a stage now where we’re pretty efficient, and demand is starting to outpace our efforts at being both efficient producers and efficient consumers (if ‘efficient consumer’ makes sense).
Thus the overriding paradigm is that you have tightening supply, and demand inflation, which is simply a situation of consumers demanding more goods than what is being produced. And abracadabra, prices will increase.
And they are. There are a few headlines wailing: ‘Now for the big squeeze’ and ‘Markets stunned by 7.5% surge in factory gate prices’. There are also experts like Jim Rogers who are now openly stating the obvious: Without a major new oil discovery, prices are going to shoot upwards, and everyone (‘including me’, he confides) is going to be shocked. Merrill Lynch, for example, continue – I don’t know why – to pontificate, seeing $60 for the foreseeable future.
At the moment we have some serious things going on. We’ve got a disaster in Iraq – the country is nowhere near the production it was at Prewar, and is unlikely to come anywhere near those levels for months or years. We’ve also got a widening crisis in the Middle East, which threatens to suck in the world’s second largest supplier – Iran. And while all this is happening, China’s economy is galloping at almost 11%.
While my friend at Standard Bank suggested – even without a major discovery – that we’ll see prices somehow fall asleep at a $50 level (he’s even suggested $45) the above processes are continuing unabated. $45 would certainly be possible if 10% of the world stopped consuming at the rate they are consuming (but downscaling will happen whether we choose to or not in the future), if Israel and their enemies had a 1 year anniversary of being Forever Friends and if Hurricanes basically hovered in the same spot for days on end. It’s more likely that the Boks will beat New Zealand, cows will jump over the moon, and pigs will take flight.
So since higher – that’s much higher – oil prices are guaranteed in the near future (alarm bells aren’t ringing yet, but they will be), what are the implications?
In a word, inflation. Inflation hurts creditors, so expect banks to backfire with higher interest rates (and that’s going to hurt everyone: credit card holders, anyone in debt).
Holders of fixed assets like property can usually expect the value of these assets to increase (as inflation increases).
I believe we are moving towards a condition known as galloping inflation. Prices are going to increase too rapidly over a short period of time. Nobody expects this to happen. It’s known as a ‘hard landing’, but I prefer to call a spade a spade: it’s a crash. In a crash, people lose their jobs in the millions, and soon no one has any money. There’s a lot of panic selling, including cars and homes. Under those conditions, things that we thought had a lot of value (like a house, or a car), suddenly have a lot less value. Everyone is selling because the middle class is taking a hit. I don’t believe this is a ‘negative’ or pessimistic’ view. I honestly see a number of signals supporting this view (and I am not the only one) and I sincerely hope I’ve miscalculated.
The only class to come out of this mess more or less intact will not be the rich, but the super rich. They can pick up these properties at bargain sale after bargain sale, by dipping into their vast fortunes and expanding their empires. That’s not to say the super rich have orchestrated a crash – over the very long term I doubt whether depletion is in anyone’s interest. Perhaps major landowners who have the relics of feudalism hanging on their walls (spears, shields, coats of arms etc) might come into their own again.
While the opinion expressed in the above paragraph might seem overly imaginative, I do suggest people start to think, and use their own imaginations. Things are happening in the world now that are not normal. We are way beyond normal, and the crazy thing is, nobody seems to be picking up these signals. Oh and one more thing, I received an sms yesterday from my friend, the banker. Here’s the exact quote:
“I am busy changing my mind, thinking that the price is actually only going up from here.”
When oil does reach $100, we’ll pay about R1 extra per litre for petrol at current exchange rates.
Music Review: Katie Melua_Piece by Piece
This is the first music CD I’ve bought in about 2 years. To be honest, I only bought it for the song (number 2 on the CD), Nine Million Bicycles. I’m sorry I did. Don’t get me wrong, I love the song, but having bought the CD, I can’t help thinking it’s the brilliant music video that has catapulted Melea into popular consciousness. The Nine Million Bicycles music video is excellent, but on its own, the song is good, but not brilliant.
I discovered this only after buying the CD and listening to the song ten times without the benefit of moving pictures. It’s still is a great song. There is something very connected-to-the-world and beautiful about Nine Million Bicycles. Here’s a peek into some of the lyrics:
‘There are nine million
bicycles in Beijing.
That’s a fact,
It’s a thing we can’t deny
Like the fact that
I will love you ‘til I die.’
The best part of the song is the very first line, but the rest is also witty and touching. I have a feeling 4 years in Asia has made me into a soft target for anything with a hint of the Orient in it (in this song it is the word ‘Beijing’, and faint Eastern ting-a-ling sounds). I love the way Melua coos the word ‘Beijing’. Chinese is a language that even when spoken, sounds like soft birdsong. ‘Hello’ is ‘Knee How’, and when you listen to Chinese people talking, there are no sharp edges to their language. I should know, I had a Chinese girlfriend in Singapore who spoke Mandarin and Cantonese. She even spoke English – with a British and faint Chinese accent – better than me.
I was surprised at how beautiful and subtle the Chinese language is – on a par with English as a level 5 (that means very complicated, very difficult to learn and understand) language.
I’m sure as China grows in its influence we’re going to see more of everything Chinese, from actors to music to everything else.
S.H.E is a Taiwanese band that combines English with Chinese lyrics. When Asia becomes cool, this sort of thing is going to be everywhere, and it’s going to be big.
You’re probably wondering why I am writing about a Chinese girlfriend, another band called S.H.E. and the complexities of language in a music review about Katie Melua. Well, the reason is there isn’t an awful lot to say about this album.
I’m sorry but I found it pretty disappointing. I’m not a jazz buff. I like Sting, but I find a lot of the other songs on her album tedious listening. It still hasn’t grown on me. Just Like Heaven (number 10) is also quite nice, but my advice is to buy the download (www.musica.co.za or www.itunes.com) and get just the piece you want.
Going to skip school tomorrow because I am still not rested, and will probably resume everything on Tuesday.
I have managed to catch up on writing work over the weekend, and also watched Pride and Prejudice (prescribed University work) on DVD. Quite enjoyed it.
Barendine is also sick, and icy weather is headed this way again. Apparently going to be -2 and 12 maximum later in the week. I think I need to hold off the spinning classes until it's a lot warmer. The combination of being wet and cold isn't a good one.
I decided your World Cup story needed further airing, so I've put it up on the Sunday Times website - with full credit to you, naturally.
Thanks for the work you put into it, and best regards
[Click on the title of this post to link directly]
Friday, July 28, 2006
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
DAMASCUS, Syria, July 27 — At the onset of the Lebanese crisis, Arab governments, starting with Saudi Arabia, slammed Hezbollah for recklessly provoking a war, providing what the United States and Israel took as a wink and a nod to continue the fight.
Now, with hundreds of Lebanese dead and Hezbollah holding out against the vaunted Israeli military for more than two weeks, the tide of public opinion across the Arab world is surging behind the organization, transforming the Shiite group’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, into a folk hero and forcing a change in official statements.
The Saudi royal family and King Abdullah II of Jordan, who were initially more worried about the rising power of Shiite Iran, Hezbollah’s main sponsor, are scrambling to distance themselves from Washington.
An outpouring of newspaper columns, cartoons, blogs and public poetry readings have showered praise on Hezbollah while attacking the United States and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for trumpeting American plans for a “new Middle East” that they say has led only to violence and repression.
Even Al Qaeda, run by violent Sunni Muslim extremists normally hostile to all Shiites, has gotten into the act, with its deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, releasing a taped message saying that through its fighting in Iraq, his organization was also trying to liberate Palestine.
Mouin Rabbani, a senior Middle East analyst in Amman, Jordan, with the International Crisis Group, said, “The Arab-Israeli conflict remains the most potent issue in this part of the world.”
Distinctive changes in tone are audible throughout the Sunni world. This week, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt emphasized his attempts to arrange a cease-fire to protect all sects in Lebanon, while the Jordanian king announced that his country was dispatching medical teams “for the victims of Israeli aggression.” Both countries have peace treaties with Israel.
The Saudi royal court has issued a dire warning that its 2002 peace plan — offering Israel full recognition by all Arab states in exchange for returning to the borders that predated the 1967 Arab-Israeli war — could well perish.
“If the peace option is rejected due to the Israeli arrogance,” it said, “then only the war option remains, and no one knows the repercussions befalling the region, including wars and conflict that will spare no one, including those whose military power is now tempting them to play with fire.”
The Saudis were putting the West on notice that they would not exert pressure on anyone in the Arab world until Washington did something to halt the destruction of Lebanon, Saudi commentators said.
American officials say that while the Arab leaders need to take a harder line publicly for domestic political reasons, what matters more is what they tell the United States in private, which the Americans still see as a wink and a nod.
There are evident concerns among Arab governments that a victory for Hezbollah — and it has already achieved something of a victory by holding out this long — would further nourish the Islamist tide engulfing the region and challenge their authority. Hence their first priority is to cool simmering public opinion.
But perhaps not since President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt made his emotional outpourings about Arab unity in the 1960’s, before the Arab defeat in the 1967 war, has the public been so electrified by a confrontation with Israel, played out repeatedly on satellite television stations with horrific images from Lebanon of wounded children and distraught women fleeing their homes.
Egypt’s opposition press has had a field day comparing Sheik Nasrallah to Nasser, while demonstrators waved pictures of both.
An editorial in the weekly Al Dustur by Ibrahim Issa, who faces a lengthy jail sentence for his previous criticism of President Mubarak, compared current Arab leaders to the medieval princes who let the Crusaders chip away at Muslim lands until they controlled them all.
After attending an intellectual rally in Cairo for Lebanon, the Egyptian poet Ahmed Fouad Negm wrote a column describing how he had watched a companion buy 20 posters of Sheik Nasrallah.
“People are praying for him as they walk in the street, because we were made to feel oppressed, weak and handicapped,” Mr. Negm said in an interview. “I asked the man who sweeps the street under my building what he thought, and he said: ‘Uncle Ahmed, he has awakened the dead man inside me! May God make him triumphant!’ ”
In Lebanon, Rasha Salti, a freelance writer, summarized the sense that Sheik Nasrallah differed from other Arab leaders.
“Since the war broke out, Hassan Nasrallah has displayed a persona, and public behavior also, to the exact opposite of Arab heads of states,” she wrote in an e-mail message posted on many blogs.
In comparison, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s brief visit to the region sparked widespread criticism of her cold demeanor and her choice of words, particularly a statement that the bloodshed represented the birth pangs of a “new Middle East.” That catchphrase was much used by Shimon Peres, the veteran Israeli leader who was a principal negotiator of the 1993 Oslo Accords, which ultimately failed to lead to the Palestinian state they envisaged.
A cartoon by Emad Hajjaj in Jordan labeled “The New Middle East” showed an Israeli tank sitting on a broken apartment house in the shape of the Arab world.
Fawaz al-Trabalsi, a columnist in the Lebanese daily As Safir, suggested that the real new thing in the Middle East was the ability of one group to challenge Israeli militarily.
Perhaps nothing underscored Hezbollah’s rising stock more than the sudden appearance of a tape from the Qaeda leadership attempting to grab some of the limelight.
Al Jazeera satellite television broadcast a tape from Mr. Zawahri (za-WAH-ri). Large panels behind him showed a picture of the exploding World Trade Center as well as portraits of two Egyptian Qaeda members, Muhammad Atef, a Qaeda commander who was killed by an American airstrike in Afghanistan, and Mohamed Atta, the lead hijacker on Sept. 11, 2001. He described the two as fighters for the Palestinians.
Mr. Zawahri tried to argue that the fight against American forces in Iraq paralleled what Hezbollah was doing, though he did not mention the organization by name.
“It is an advantage that Iraq is near Palestine,” he said. “Muslims should support its holy warriors until an Islamic emirate dedicated to jihad is established there, which could then transfer the jihad to the borders of Palestine.”
Mr. Zawahri also adopted some of the language of Hezbollah and Shiite Muslims in general. That was rather ironic, since previously in Iraq, Al Qaeda has labeled Shiites Muslim as infidels and claimed responsibility for some of the bloodier assaults on Shiite neighborhoods there.
But by taking on Israel, Hezbollah had instantly eclipsed Al Qaeda, analysts said. “Everyone will be asking, ‘Where is Al Qaeda now?’ ” said Adel al-Toraifi, a Saudi columnist and expert on Sunni extremists.
Mr. Rabbani of the International Crisis Group said Hezbollah’s ability to withstand the Israeli assault and to continue to lob missiles well into Israel exposed the weaknesses of Arab governments with far greater resources than Hezbollah.
“Public opinion says that if they are getting more on the battlefield than you are at the negotiating table, and you have so many more means at your disposal, then what the hell are you doing?” Mr. Rabbani said. “In comparison with the small embattled guerrilla movement, the Arab states seem to be standing idly by twiddling their thumbs.”
Mona el-Naggar contributed reporting from Cairo for this article, and Suha Maayeh from Amman, Jordan.
FLOYD LANDIS, winner of the Tour de France, after testing positive for illegally high levels of testosterone.
sms'ed me last night to say that he may have made an error in terms of oil coming back down to $50 (as the experts are saying). So seems like an awakening is starting spread. I'm baffled that there's panic going around - prices are at records now, $75 - with no alternatives (or end in sight). I guess the reason why it's not bothering anyone is because the media keeps repeating long-shot or delusion options. This or that alternative, or tar sands that will save us.
There are 10 teachers absent today. I might have been aswell - I woke up feeling chilly and irritible. Jeane calling me first thing in the morning didn't help either.
I've also been spared one grade 10 class so that's going to make life easier.
Cycle race tomorrow and may do a short 30km cycle now after lunch. Feeling a bit crap though, which is not the best way to head into a weekend, buit I'll try to make the best of it. Take in a movie or something.
$100 oil would hit airlines, car makers hard, S&P says
Last Update: 3:38 PM ET Jul 27, 2006
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- If oil prices soared to $100 a barrel, U.S. growth would slow significantly and the automotive and airline industries would be hit particularly hard, said analysts at Standard & Poor's.
"Even a $100 [oil] price will not result in a U.S. recession," but it will trim U.S. GDP next year by about 1.5%, said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor's, in a conference call on Thursday.
Crude oil for September delivery was last trading up 31 cents at $74.25 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Thursday. Crude has rallied recently on supply worries and global political tensions, particularly violence in the Middle East.
Although Standard & Poor's is not forecasting that oil prices will climb to $100 a barrel, economists at the ratings firm discussed the potential impact of such a hike on various industries.
Oil prices at $100 a barrel would be "extremely negative" for the credit profile of U.S.-based automotive companies such as Ford Motor Co. said Robert Schulz of Standard & Poor's.
A significant rise in oil prices would also hurt the American airline industry, which has already experienced a dramatic increase in fuel prices in recent years. While jet fuel cost about 80 cents per gallon on average in the period 2000-2003, prices climbed to $1.50 per gallon in 2005 and $1.95 per gallon during the first five months of this year.
In contrast to freight transportation companies which can rely on fuel surcharges, airlines have to raise airfares to keep up with soaring fuel costs.
"Airlines would be one of the industries at greatest risk in a $100 oil scenario," said Philip Baggaley of Standard & Poor's.
Attended my second lecture of the semester today. Basically had to scramble from the southern city limits after the hockey match (we won 2-0, both goals in first half), then skedaddle back to the campus but made it into class fairly comfortably.
I'm not sure if Pride & Prejudice is my cup of tea. I guess I would never have read it if I wasn't doing an English course, but perhaps I'll at least extend my limits (in terms of the language).
I didn't manage to train today at all, but I think that's a blessing in disguise: legs are still stiff from spinning, and there's a race again on Saturday.
I got an email from Andrea today, saying they're busy now on the 3rd issue and I can have a look at their edit when they're done. Have heard nothing from Toni (Younghusband, of Shape magazine) presumably because their next issue is due any day now. Will probably call her next week and peddle the article to someone else (Oxygen or Elle, or perhaps Runner's World).
I am soooo glad tomorrow is Friday, it's unreal.
Notice the airborne brick...
At the same time, daily bloodshed is pushing the country closer to a civil war. These two dynamics at work in Iraq — the quest for prosperity amid an endless struggle for security — tug firmly on Iraq's future and the U.S. involvement here.
Since resuming petroleum exports after the U.S. invasion in 2003, Iraq has struggled for lasting security of its pipelines and refineries. It sits atop the world's third-largest reserves, but saboteurs routinely disrupt the 4,300-mile system of pipelines.
For weeks in June, Iraq exported millions of barrels to Turkey. But during the second week of July, flow to the country's largest refinery in Beiji stopped when pipelines were attacked. Such topsy-turvy progress is symbolic of the delicate balance between oil and security.
The irony, military and U.S. government officials say, is that oil is both the quickest fix to rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure and a source of considerable violence.
More than 250 Oil Ministry officials, workers and security guards have been assassinated since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003, according to the ministry.
During a recent visit to Baghdad, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said frequent attacks on oil workers and infrastructure have kept Iraq from moving forward. International investors won't come, and Iraq continues to struggle, he said.
Back in 2003, then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told Congress that Iraq's oil could bring as much as $100 billion in the two years immediately following the invasion.
But continual attacks, including some in the last week, have kept Iraq's largest refinery in Beiji, about 155 miles north of Baghdad, from producing amid an oil shortage.
Iraq's oil ministry estimates about $6.25 billion was lost in damage to oil infrastructure and shortfalls in revenues that could have been generated from crude oil exports in 2005. That money, if funneled back into the country, could change the face of Iraq.
"It's critical. What else do they have to export? It's such a huge source of revenue for them. And until they get any type of secondary industry developed, that's all they have," said Lt. Col. Craig Collier, deputy commander of the 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division.
Military commanders have struggled to understand the system of long-practiced corruption surrounding the country's oil industry.
Under Saddam Hussein's regime, various government and provincial leaders quietly skimmed from the country's oil revenue. It was a way to secure a vulnerable system of unguarded pipelines by paying off those who might otherwise attack it, officials said.
Officials say the U.S. mission in Iraq hinges on the future of the country's oil. Iraq has the capability with its resources to sustain itself but it cannot prosper without selling its oil.
Oil has always been an albatross for the U.S. in Iraq. Some alleged it was the reason behind the invasion; the White House promised it would be the key to rebuilding Iraq.
Before recent attacks crippling the country's northern oil flow, Iraq exported millions of barrels from the oil-rich region near Kirkuk to Turkey. Of the three lines running south from Kirkuk, at least two have collapsed, officials said.
The cause is an ancient pipeline system Westerners compare to the former Soviet Union's oil industry. After the fall of communism, world leaders were astonished to find an industry believed to be booming in rust and ruin.
More than three years after the fall of Saddam's regime, the fight to resurrect Iraq's industry continues.
"Due to the former regime's wars and its foolish, disastrous policies, the country is totally dependent on oil," Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told parliament earlier this month. "Iraqis are suffering."
Thursday, July 27, 2006
Helene (from Virgin Active) came to give the students a presentation on becoming a personal instructor with her company (eta). I spoke to her afterwards. She says she's played squash with CJ in the past. Unfortunately I missed 99% of it as I had to write comments on all the reports.
Class has gone quite well today. Got students sitting alphabetically, according to a seating plan, and got a lot of work done and provided some good background and analogies. Also quickly took charge of misbehaving students, including 4 bunkers who came 35 minutes late.
Have a hockey match today at 3pm (Sand du Plessis) and two classes this evening before hostel duty.
Took in an Ideology class last night. Seems interesting. Need to get some training in today if at all possible.
No response so far from Toni Younghusband at Shape magazine.
Hezbollah fighters kill 9 Israeli troops
By SAM F. GHATTAS, Associated Press Writer 3 minutes ago
BEIRUT, Lebanon - Hezbollah dealt
Israel' name=c1> SEARCHNews News Photos Images Web' name=c3> Israel its heaviest losses in the Lebanon campaign Wednesday, killing nine soldiers in fierce firefights. With key Mideast players failing to agree on a formula for a cease-fire, an Israeli general said the operation could last weeks.
Israel said it intends to damage Hezbollah and establish a "security zone" that would be free of the guerrillas and extend 1.2 miles into Lebanon from the Israeli border. Such a zone would prevent Hezbollah from carrying out cross-border raids such as the one two weeks ago which triggered the Israeli military response.
Israel said it would maintain such a zone, with firepower or other means, until the arrival of an international force with muscle to be deployed in a wider swath of southern Lebanon — as opposed to the U.N. force already there that has failed to prevent the violence.
The Israeli bombardment has failed to stop guerrilla rocket fire, even while killing hundreds, driving up to 750,000 people from their homes and causing billion of dollars in damage. Hezbollah fired another large barrage into northern Israel on Wednesday — 151 rockets that wounded at least 31 people and damaged property from the suburbs of the port on Haifa on the Mediterranean Sea to the Hula Valley above the Sea of Galilee. Over the past two weeks, the guerrillas have fired 1,436 rockets into Israel.
Pushing Hezbollah back with ground troops was proving to be bloody. Several thousand troops are in Lebanon, Israeli military officials said — mainly in a roughly 6-square-mile pocket around the town of Bint Jbail, a Hezbollah stronghold just over two miles from the border.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and top Cabinet ministers were to decide Thursday whether to broaden the offensive, military and government officials said on condition of anonymity since they were not authorized to discuss such matters with the press. Israel's Haaretz newspaper said military officials have criticized the government for not ordering a larger ground offensive, which they said would give troops an advantage over Hezbollah.
The Hezbollah fighters are still heavily outnumbered, with some 100 in Bint Jbail and several hundred more in surrounding fields, bunkers and cave, according to the officials. But they use classic guerrilla tactics, choosing when to strike in the hilly territory they know well. They are dug in with extensive tunnel networks and stockpiling weapons, including rockets with which they pelted Israeli forces Wednesday.
Violence was also increasing on the other front of Israel's fight on Islamic militants: Gaza, where Hamas-linked militants are holding an Israeli soldier seized a month ago. A force of 50 tanks and bulldozers entered the northern Gaza Strip' to battle Hamas gunmen. Israeli air and artillery attacks killed 23 Palestinians, including at least 16 militants and three young girls.
Israel was feeling pressure on the international front — and anger over a bombing Tuesday night that directly hit a U.N. observation post on the border, killing four U.N. observers.
Australian troops would not join a new international force in southern Lebanon unless it had the strength and will to disarm Hezbollah, the prime minister said Thursday after his government decided to withdraw its 12 peacekeeping troops from southern Lebanon.
"It's no good sending a token force there, and I make it clear that Australian forces will never be part of a token force because it would be too dangerous," Prime Minister John Howard told an Australian radio station. A "serious" force would be made up of "tens of thousands," he said.
In Malaysia, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer offered stronger language, saying "there's no point in sending an international peacekeeping force on a suicide mission."
At the Rome talks, Rice resisted pressure from allies for Washington to change its stance and call for an immediate halt to the violence.
Rice insisted any cease-fire must be "sustainable" and that there could be "no return to the status quo" — a reference to the U.S. and Israeli position that Hezbollah must first be pushed back from the border and the Lebanese army backed by international forces deployed in the south.
The chief of Israel's northern command warned that the fight would drag on.
"I assume it will continue for several more weeks, and in a number of weeks we will be able to (declare) a victory," Maj. Gen. Udi Adam told a news conference.
While the ground battle was intensifying, the bombardment in rest of Lebanon appeared to be easing. Israeli jets were heard repeatedly over Beirut in the evening, but the capital saw no strikes.
But early Thursday, local broadcasters said Israel warplanes hit an army base and an adjacent relay station belonging to Lebanese state radio at Aamchit, 30 miles north of Beirut, knocking down a transmission tower. The Israeli military said it had targeted a Hezbollah radar base like the one used in the July 14 attack on an Israeli vessel that killed four soldiers.
About 24 airstrikes were reported outside the immediate border region Wednesday, down from nearly 30 a day recently. One strike in the center of the southern port of Tyre collapsed the top floor and ripped the facade off an empty seven-story building where Hezbollah's top commander in the south has offices. The strike wounded 13 people, including six children, nearby.
Warplanes continued to target trucks at a time when aid groups are worried about moving aid to the south by truck. Three trucks carrying vegetables were hit in the Bekaa Valley and another on a road between Syria and Beirut.
The eight deaths in Bint Jbail, which Israel has been trying to take for four days, were the heaviest Israeli casualties in a single battle during the Lebanon campaign.
Israeli troops had thought they secured the area around the town, but the guerrillas ambushed a patrol before dawn, said Capt. Jacob Dallal, an Israeli army spokesman. A rescue force went in, and fighting escalated. Hezbollah said its guerrillas ambushed an Israeli unit from three sides as it tried to advance from a ridge on the outskirts of the town.
Eight soldiers were killed and 22 wounded in the fighting, the army said. It later reported a ninth soldier killed and several other casualties in the nearby village of Maroun al-Ras.
At least 30 guerrillas were killed Wednesday, an Israeli military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information. Hezbollah announced no casualties; it has acknowledged 19 dead in four days of fighting around Bint Jbail.
The area features dense growth of underbrush and trees, with hills and narrow, winding roads — ideal for guerrilla emplacements and ambushes. Israeli media reported that some of the casualties resulted from direct hits by anti-tank rockets and others from roadside bombs.
So far, Israeli troops have gone house to house taking positions on the outskirts of the town, without going far inside Bint Jbail, the Israeli official said.
Bint Jbail has great symbolic importance for the Hezbollah guerrillas, who are Shiite Muslims. It has the largest Shiite community in the border area and was known as the "capital of the resistance" during Israel's 1982-2000 occupation because of its vehement support for Hezbollah.
An Israeli seizure of the town would rob Hezbollah of a significant refuge overlooking northern Israel and force its fighters to operate from smaller, more vulnerable villages in the south.
Wednesday's deaths brought to 51 the number of Israelis killed in the campaign, including 32 members of the military, according to the military.
In Lebanon, at least 423 people have been killed — including 376 civilians reported by the Health Ministry and security officials, 20 Lebanese soldiers and 27 fighters Hezbollah has acknowledged were killed. Israel says more than 100 guerrillas have been killed.
Rice defends U.S. over Mideast cease-fire
By KATHERINE SHRADER, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 50 minutes ago
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Sticking to a position that has complicated relations with allies, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended the United States' insistence on a lasting Middle East cease-fire that addresses deep-seeded conflicts on the Lebanon-Israeli border.
Even with the issue consuming her agenda, Rice turns her attention Thursday to a long-scheduled meeting on the other side of the globe that's certain to address another festering diplomatic problem for the United States: North Korea.
Rice spent three days traveling to Beirut, Jerusalem, the West Bank and Rome, trying to convince world leaders that the Bush administration's insistence that a cease-fire on the Lebanon-Israeli border must come with terms to ensure the violence doesn't flare weeks or months later.
The position isolated her from nearly all U.S. allies, who are seeking a quick end to the fighting that has cost millions of dollars and hundreds of lives. They want to stop the fighting before engaging in complex negotiations about disarming the Lebanon's well-armed Hezbollah militia, strengthening the country's central government and other difficult issues.
As a result, a meeting of senior diplomats in Rome on Wednesday failed to produce an unanimous, concrete course for a cease-fire, falling back to a broad outline aimed at peace.
Briefing reporters on her way to Asia, Rice stressed areas where she found common ground with the 17 other international leaders who gathered in Rome. She acknowledged that many countries called for an immediate cease-fire, but said several did not.
"I thought that a way forward got a big boost today in the consensus around that table," she said, including an agreement on the need for an international force to help stabilize Lebanon, particularly to its south, which is controlled by Shiite militants with Hezbollah.
"Yes, we want a cease-fire urgently," Rice said. "But let's create the conditions for a cease-fire, and create them quickly and urgently that will make the end of violence finally last."
Rice's position effectively gives Israel more time to continue its strikes against the capabilities of Hezbollah. She has said she does not want to dictate to Israel how it should handle its affairs.
At a press conference, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said he regretted that the delegates couldn't agree on the precise language calling for a cease-fire. He said the French had wanted to call for an "immediate cessation of hostilities," but Rice successfully pressed for "we will work immediately for the cessation of hostilities."
Lebanon's Prime Minister Fuad Saniora pleaded for more. "The more we delay the cease-fire, the more we are going to witness (that) more are being killed, more destruction, more aggression against the civilians in Lebanon."
Aboard her plane en route to Asia, Rice tried to downplay expectations of a quick fix in the Lebanon or the Middle East. "I am a student of history, so perhaps I have a little bit more patience with the enormous change in the international system and the complete shifting of tectonic plates, and I don't expect it to happen in a few days or even a year," she said.
Rice indicated she plans to stay engaged in the issue, even as she meets with leaders from Asia to discuss how to deal with North Korea at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The opaque regime has pressed ahead with its nuclear program despite international demands and launched seven missiles earlier this month, also angering the world community. The
United Nations Security Council responded with an unanimous U.N. resolution to impose limited sanctions on North Korea. It also demanded that the reclusive communist nation suspend its ballistic missile program.
North Korea immediately rejected the resolution and vowed to launch more missiles. North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-Sun was expected to attend the sessions
Rice said she doesn't anticipate any talks with the six nations who have met formally to address the North Korea problem. They haven't met since last November, when Pyongyang began boycotting the talks in November, protesting U.S. sanctions for alleged counterfeiting and money laundering activities.
"I've said anytime people want to talk in the six-party framework, I am ready to do it," Rice said. "But I don't have any indication that the North Koreans intend to take up the call that was there in the resolution, that they should re-engage."
Rice skipped the annual conference in Asia last year, drawing criticism from participants afterward. This time, Rice flew in with two fellow diplomats, the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and Canadian Foreign Minister Peter McKay.
I'm not feeling superior at all to my colleague, Mr Schabbord, who quit this week. Finding it tough to be back at school, shouting my way through class after class after class. Lots of kids slipping in and out of class during periods, and have already been in trouble for a mob of my students (who won't come in) hovering outside my class. When you want them to come in they stay outside, when you want them to leave, they stay inside. Going to try reverse psychology tomorrow: "Please stay outside for the next 10 minutes, I need to set your tests..."
Cycled to varsity today. A fast paced 15 minutes. Going to improve my fitness a lot I think if I do it twice or more a week. Think I am going to enjoy Ideology a lot this semester - we're studying how Soapie's are constructed (for example, no resolution).
Went spinning yesterday. CJ was there, and Barendine. Charl's class was tough as usual but I seemed to handle it okay.
Not to rush back to hostel duty. Yippee, but can start reading Pride and Prejudice and catch up on our reading I've missed. Need to train again tomorrow...maybe a 5am spin...
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
The principal of Brebner asked the staff last week whether it made sense for a child to aim for grades of 50% or 60% or 65% when there are only two academic goals: a pass and a distinction. He admitted that this was an odd thing for the principal of a school to even be suggesting, but pointed out that his son had explained this attitude to him - his son is a medical student at the same university I'm at.
In terms of a school situation, I am not sure if I agree. I think getting 69% is a lot better than getting 41%. Of course, if you're able to get 40% for all your subjects, the results at the end of the day correspond - both students will pass. I got it all the wrong the way round. I got merit certificates almost every year, and then, since my mother died just days before my matric exams, my matric average was probably my worse average percentage in my school career. At least it was good enough to get me into university, but I often wonder if my life would have taken a different direction had I heeded my principal's offer then to take the marks I'd already accrued, and run. I guess my whole school career had been heading to this moment and now that I was upon them...well, I just couldn't walk away from it.
At university it does some to be a fairly adequate strategy. I used to belong to the just-pass category. After all I was studying a lot of stuff that I didn't find particularly stimulating (think Latin, Building Science, Applied Maths and Accounting). I think I have about 4 or 5 subjects on my university record where I have an average mark (predicate and exam) that add up to exactly 50%. Of course, I have painful memories of just-just failing Private Law (by something like 4%) and I repeated this blunder in Economics and at least one other subject. At university level it means a tedious extra year doing more of the same. It's knock to one's confidence, and it certainly spoils momentum.
So it feels strange and good to be at university writing another exam today (I wrote yesterday as well), but this one is an exam that I really don't have to write, because with a 71% predicate I already get promoted. I guess it's because I enjoy what I am studying that I am prepared to spend time on it, and there is the incentive that a distinction means a discount on the next year of study. But there's also the personal standard that is being set, and the psychology of CANI. CANI is an acronym for Constant And Never Ending Improvement. Once you start to set standards (that are not compulsory but self chosen) you also develop the personal discipline that is needed to excel or perform to a high standard in the other quadrants of ones life.
Doing just enough is not enough.
A number of people have been very upset with me for suggesting a life without antidepressants. I’ve been accused of not being qualified to have an opinion on the subject.
My response is the same response I gave when I was in advertising school and I was accused of having no advertising experience. “I’ve been a consumer my whole life. I’ve been on the receiving end of advertising for more than two decades. I think I’m qualified to have a few ideas of what works and what doesn’t.” In the same way I’ve experienced depression and suicidal people around me for more than two decades.
On Saturday night I went to see someone who used to train with myself and a squad of other swimmers, every day, summer and winter, year after year after year. In the twenty years since we swam together, almost all the swimmers have become doctors. With a gulp I realized that I seem to be the underachiever amongst our group.
She educated herself at Cambridge and is currently living with her German husband in Houston. She’s a doctor of psychopathology, which emphasizes the mental diseases that are associated with depression.
That’s an important distinction. Depression is a common, curable disorder, but mania, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia etc are a lot more troublesome and difficult to treat. They’re associated with genetic triggers she tells me, and may take root irrespective of environmental or behavioral patterns.
I spoke to her about my experiences of depression. I’ve read extensively on the subject, but it’s quite correct to accuse me of not being an educated specialist on the subject. I suggested the following:
In ordinary depression, you don’t just wake up one day with a chemical imbalance. A lot of depressed people seem to think that the imbalance ‘just happens’ and chemicals are needed to reverse it. It’s more realistic, I suggested, that behaviour patterns, the (high sugar content) food we habitually eat, the bad habits we develop over time, negative destructive thinking, just cycle after cycle of negative behaviour, negative responses (when we can choose how to respond to reality) – all these add up to an eventually depressed person suffering from low serotonin levels in the brain. While the depressed person will blame depression (as if it were some exterior illness), there’s no acknowledgement of the behaviour (or lack of) that leads to depression.
I find this lack of accountability disturbing. It’s upsetting, because it’s delusional when you behave your way into a sickness, then blame the sickness for your symptoms. I believe even when we suffer from a common cold, in large part we are responsible for getting sick. Did we allow ourselves to become sleep deprived? Did we maintain a healthy diet, and allow ourselves plenty of rest and relaxation despite work pressures?
The chances are, a lot of the reason we suffer from colds and flu are a result of our not taking adequate care of ourselves. Depression is no different. We’re responsible for mental health too, and failure to control our behaviour can lead to a break down. This includes undisciplined thinking, undisciplined eating and a failure to exercise. In layman’s terms – becoming lazy and excessively self indulgent. So if these behaviours bring us to depression, and all we do is take chemicals to produce pleasurable (happy) reactions in our brains, it’s unlikely that the depression will ever lift because the behaviour that perpetuates depression remains.
Of course, anyone happy to be depressed-and-taking-antidepressants (now there’s a contrast in terms) doesn’t need to change their behaviour, but it’s irrational not to. I asked Dr Sharp: “Wouldn’t a logical course of action be to reverse all those behaviours that lead to depression? In other words, behave yourself happy. Exercise, control your thoughts, develop an affirming attitude and identity, and control your appetites. In short: redeveloping discipline. Recreating good habits.”
Dr Sharp agreed. What was interesting was that all these behaviors were useful in mental diseases like mania, but, she said, someone suffering from a genetically triggered mental disease simply cannot function consistently without medication. I didn’t know that. She said that exercise is one of the best ways to behave your way back to happiness. But exercise alone is not going to be enough for people with advanced mental disease. Ordinary depression yes, schizophrenia or mania, no.
There’s another kind of depression too that is not inherited, and is serious. It’s the sort of depression that occurs as a result of extreme trauma. I asked Dr Sharp if a doctor could prescribe antidepressants as a lifelong sentence for someone young, but suffering from severe trauma. Imagine having survived a car accident but seeing your sister die in your arms. Imagine the pain of the original event being revisited time and again in over 16 surgeries to reconstruct your face. Imagine revisiting the accident over and over again when you realize your body has been too damaged for you to do sport (at school) like everyone else. Unhappily, the list goes on.
In this case, Dr Sharp said, behaviour (including healthy diet and exercise) is essential but incomplete. If the goal is to be weaned away from antidepressants, a person needs extensive psychotherapy, which is expensive, in addition to antidepressants. It’s likely to be a long road, but with perseverance, a whole person can emerge, healed and whole, on the other end.
We live in a culture of short cuts, quick fixes and false appearances. The idea that taking pills will make us happy is an offshoot of another culture, the culture of taking recreational chemicals purely for the purpose of feeling happy. So it’s not such a long walk to wonder why people expect, when they feel depressed, that they can just swallow some chemical laden pills and they’ll get through their days and hours feeling less moody and gloomy.
The good news is that antidepressants are an alternative, a window of release. For those with the will to go the Pinocchio road (wanting to become real, fully fledged, fully functioning human beings again, capable of enjoying the taste of food, able to have and enjoy sex, able to concentrate and listen, able to sleep soundly), the good news is we can behave our way to happiness. And for those of us who are happy, we have an idea now how to stay happy.
Incidentally, everyone we know in that swimming squad of twenty years ago, still swim, including Dr Sharp.
But while we're at it, what actually is this world opinion? The nation-players and teams they belong to have various motives for adopting their positions. The Europeans are content to deplore the Israeli response to Hezbollah violence for several reasons. One, they are terrified of their own Muslim immigrant populations and don't want any smash-up riots or subway bombings. Second, they want to appear sympathetic to the oil exporting nations (including Iran) in order to continue enjoying a regular stream of oil imports without paying extra costs, which they are content to shift onto Israel and the United States -- namely, the cost of engaging the aggressive emnity of a restive and belligerent Islam. Third, the Europeans want to capture the geopolitical moral high ground once occupied by US after the collapse of communism.
And while we're at it, why is Islam in such a dark mood? Not just because the Palestinians are agrieved at the Israelis. I think the violent intemperance of Jihad is the expression of an ecological crisis: too many people suddenly occupying a region of the world that could not support them without the artificial nutrient of oil -- plus the fact that this region has reached its point of all-time maximum oil production, with the awful prospect of having less and less oil from now on and absolutely no other resources to support these overgrown populations when that oil is gone.
I think these circumstance have driven Islam, well, nuts. Jihad is carried out almost entirely by young men and the Islamic oil nations have a vast supply of young men with no other job opportunities except service in Jihad. Their despair at the prospects of their societies must be great, and easily converted into aggressive rage. Plus, they are given huge inducements to believe that this employment is a holy mission, and fabulous promises of deferred pay in the form of early retirement to paradise and the consort of lusty virgins. As Peak Oil becomes more of a reality in the Middle East, I think these societies will only act crazier.
Where are Russia and China on this? Well, Russia benefits whenever the glare of Islam is diverted from Russia's vast, fractious southern border with dozens of Islamic states and quasi-states, like Chechnya, poised to make trouble. Since Russia is one of the world's top oil producers (though past peak itself), and is sitting on quite a bit of natural gas, too, it doesn't have to worry about a cut-off of energy supplies from elsewhere. Russia would also like to recapture the geopolitical influence it enjoyed back in the Soviet days, and anything that weakens American authority and power in the Eastern Hemisphere leaves a vacuum that Russia can reoccupy. China benefits from Islamic antipathy to the West because the less oil is available to the West, the more there will be for oil-poor China. The problem for them, of course, is that an energy-strapped, impoverished America would no longer be buying all those Chinese-made salad shooters at the WalMart.
An interesting sidelight to all this is the emergence here in the US of a virulent strain of antisemitism. A lot of it has shown up in the "Comments" section of my mirror site (Kunstler's blog on Typepad). It seems to me, that it's mostly emanating from what remains of the US political left, who have either run out of homegrown downtrodden groups to champion, or been disappointed with the results of their previous efforts. Lately, the frustrating impotence of the left to formulate a coherent opposition to Bush-style conservative Republicanism has led them into a craziness not unlike the craziness of Jihadist Islam. If all the Bush Republicans were suddenly vacuumed out of North America by a righteous cosmic force, the American left would probably start an American Jihad of their own against a host of imagined "class enemies" in the remaining population.
I hasten to add that I am myself an opponent of American culture and polity in many of their current manifestations -- everything from Nascar to US Department of Agriculture subsidies, and plenty in between -- and yet I do not regard any victory of Islamic Jihad, whether in Iraq or Jordon or the subway tunnels of London or the skyscrapers of Manhattan, to be necessarily a good thing for the world.
Nobody knows where the conflict in the Middle East is headed now. My own guess is that in the weeks to come Iran will find new ways to enlarge and aggravate the situation there. A problem at the heart of things not much discussed in the public arena is the fact that a virtually limitless supply of potent small arms and rockets is available from Iran to anyone who wants the stuff. This has implications for any effort to disarm Hezbollah or Hamas or al Qaeda or sixteen guys in a suburb of Dusseldorf. It remains to be seen whether Iran will try to produce more potent weapons.
The West would be foolish to let that happen, but this dirty job, too, may be left to Israel and the US. I suspect that Iran will foment an oil crisis before that happens by shutting down the Straits of Hormuz by some means. When that happens, Mr. Ahmadinejad can put his head between his knees and kiss his ass goodbye.
Don’t think you can just waltz into a studio and join a spin class. First of all, you have to book yourself a bike well in advance (especially in peak periods). And second, you might find it a heck of a lot tougher than you thought.
The good news is that you can’t spin without making some major adjustments to your belly line. It’s not unusual to see puddles of sweat growing under your bicycle. If, like me, you think that being a cyclist will make spinning even easier, think again.
Be a little cautious in your first class. A spin bike is different from an ordinary bike in that the pedals keep moving after you stop peddling. This can mean, if you develop a touch of cramp (not as far fetched as you might think) in your legs, and or otherwise want to slow down, it’s not easy.
Remember your feet are almost always strapped to the pedals, and since the pace varies constantly, you can sometimes find the bike taking your legs to places that sometimes feel too tired to reach.
You also need to set your bike according to your preferences. Spend some time doing this. In my very first class the handlebar was so far away I got rapped on the knuckles for sukkeling in the class: “C’mon bike number 3, get with the program.”
Some instructors get you to do some amazing acrobatics on the bike. From riding (standing up) without holding onto the handlebar (requires excellent core stability and a lightweight body), to very slow pedaling, in a standing position, where the knees are bent and the thighs are kept still. This also quickly turns the hamstrings and quads into acid filled sponges.
I’m a power cyclist. I push the gears. I’ve got good endurance. Spinning exercises a different set of tissues. It’s far more cardiovascular, it’s fast and breathless and it’ll kick your heart rate a lot higher than you might think.
While the cardiovascular element is important, people who spin exclusively (as a form of cycle training) will do fantastically well for about the first hour of a cycle race, maybe two, and then crumble, especially on long steep hills. That’s because spinning doesn’t really improve endurance or power, just a bit of stamina and aerobic capacity.
That said, spinning is a lot of fun, and if you think sitting on a chair and making your legs do the talking is boring, think again. The bodies that take their positions are sculpted and slim, and there’s a great energy when the instructor gets you going. Plus your legs will do plenty of talking once you’ve done a few classes.
Interestingly, the settings on the bike (levels of effort) depend entirely on the rider. The instructor might say, “Ok, we’re going to level 5.” Well, there’s no dial or lever that marks the levels, just one knob and you turn it a little higher to make the exercise progressively harder. This means the workout is tailor-made (by you and the instructor).
Make sure to take a bottle filled with fluids (the bikes have bottle carriers), a sweat towel and stretch carefully afterwards.
My exam went well, and tomorrow's I'd like to get a distinction, but the main goal is to skip teaching (a 3 day work week, yessss!)
The guy who started teaching a week after me quit today, and so did another teacher. Apparently 8 teachers or so didn't turn up today.
Managed to catch up on a bit of sleep this afternoon. Not enough, but at least I'm not walking through a fog.
The exam tomorrow is on 4 books. I think I can gobble up two or three quickly (tonight) and quickly squizz through the fourth.
I wonder if I am gonna have the werewithal to get up before 5am tomorrow to go spinning. Will set a small bomb under my bed...
Monday, July 24, 2006
We clamoured off the TGV at dusk, or just before, and being to poor to pay for a taxi (and too dumb to find a bus) we walked from the station in the direction of the magical castle. Actually, I don’t think it was a matter of being dumb. I think we’d just missed the last bus and were impatient to get to the World Heritage Site.
It was heavy going because we were both doing the tortoise backpacker thing. If I ever go to Europe again I am going to stay as far away from house sized backpacks, and travel instead with a daypack and two or three grubby t-shirts. I’ll buy (I couldn’t afford it then) a tux and appropriate shoes in situ. Anyway, so Shannon and I are tortoising our way to the causeway when the fairy lights and silhouette of that most famous silhouette etched against the darkening sky. It’s on eof those cases where reality exceeds even the pictures and symbols we’ve used to depct and sell it to ourselves.
But it was getting dark and the causeway went a long way across desolate wastes. I kept urging Shannon on, but as one spinal vertebra crushed into the next, I decided to call off the slogging, and we retreated slowly to a nearby hotel, specifically, a bunker in the verdant garden. Being young and Shannon’s credit card was nearing its limit (I didn’t even have one), we hunkered down under a tall oak. The next morning we discovered that Shannon had been shat upon by the trees residents, while I, right next to her, had been graciously spared a single blob of guano. Thanks guys.
Chuckling about this, we headed to the hotel where we left our bags, while I stocked up on baguettes. We trekked to the island that repelled every enemey and were soon completely under its spell. From every angle, from every rampart, it’s a stunning complement to an already lovely landscape. The addition of water and flat emptiness around such dramatic scenery merely serves to strengthen its magical power.
We were so taken by Mont-Saint-Michel that we spent the whole day there – a beautiful blue and sunny day – and decided to sleep somewhere on the rock to extend our experience to the last possible second.
We laid our plans carefully, electing to wait on a bit of bare cliff for the tourists and traffic to evacuate (there is very little accomodation on the island for outsiders, because the island has its own resident population). Under the cover of darkness we slunk into a small and ancient courtyard on the northern quadrant, and unfolded our tightly wrapped sleeping bags. There we lay, the cobblestones under us pushing us like the chiding fingers of a an ancient giant. With stones under our backs, and an ancient door behind our heads, we looked up to the golden spear that pierced night, and the stars at the top of the Abbey’s spire.
At some point a lost flocks of tourists stumbled upon our lair, shot torchlight briefly at our pretending-to-be-asleep faces, then hurried off in a desperate attempt to burn the magnificence into their brains.
That night has got to rate as a top three for most romantic, most memorable night spent in any place.
Mont Saint Michel (if I remember correctly) is just 2 or 3 hours from Paris by TGV, between the coasts of Britanny and Normandy (near the D-Day invasions), and close to the seaside resort town of ST Malo. It’s basically in the north western corner of France (roughly opposite Southampton in England). When you’re in France, make sure you find and fully absorbe this magical massif and its towers.
But they kept coming, from Gary Player to Kepler Wessels to Morne du Plessis. There were others like MT Steyn (son or grandson of the ex president) and others from a long gone era. Believe in yourself, that was the mantra.
I did, or I thought I did.
I'm 34 years old now and looking back I'm aware that the message is a subtle and complex one. Believing in yourself is how you start to pursue difficult goals with ambition and imagination. It's not that difficult, especially in the school context. Perhaps that's arrogant for an ex-child to say, because after all, when you've never ridden a bike, swung a hockey stick, or sat for an Algebra exam, it's a big deal. Anything conducted for the frist time usually is.
Nevertheless, the epithet: believe in yourself is incomplete, at least in the sense that it is meant.
I've just written an Applied Linguistics exam, so at the moment (and I mean, at this second in time), I'm very aware of how language has the ability to manipulate, both when we intend it to, and otherwise. For example, power can be applied to meaning, instead of applying meaning to power. Think about that for a moment. So in a sense, we need to apply an extra meaning (with more power) to belief in oneself.
Here's what I mean: it is one thing to believe in yourself, and go for it. It's simpler matter to identify a goal (the Comrades, the Ironman, getting the girl, distinction, jon whatever) and conjure up belief in oneself (on one's own terms), than to have that same belief tested and applied, and importantly (wait for the word!) demonstrated on the playing field of reality. In essence, believing in yourself means very little if, surrounded by an audience, by the application of your life in reality (with all its concomitant shocks, knocks and disappointments) you're not able to maintain that belief.
Believing in yourself means not only an inward projection, but an outward reality. It's important to distinguish the appearance of believing in oneself with the reality of believing in oneself. Obviously if you live and breathe your personal doctrines (and you probably do if they work, and you're getting on with the job with good results), they are self evident. That means you don't have to keep up an appearance of believing in yourself, at least, not in an artificial way, and not based on baseless performances.
Keeping up appearances is a vital part of how we function as a society. We see it when we decide who we want as a mate (and thus have to present ourselves as mate-worthy). When we set a standard for ourselves in terms of work, we have an internalised set of standards that we believe we can meet. Whether a potential partner or employer (or investor) believes in us is another matter. Much of their perceptions is influenced by what their perceptions of our own self belief, and that is then multiplied by their own confidence in their decisions and their beliefs about themselves and situations.
The world though has taken the flipside as the most important, where appearances are all important. This is not wrong necessarily, as a book can often be judged by its cover, and often someone who appears healthy, for example, is healthy. But not everything is self evident, or clear cut, or simple. Subtlities lurk quietly like virusses in tissue or corrupt politicians in government. We have our weaknesses too. Our egoes ask us to bullshit when we're unsure. Confidence is king.
You have to start somewhere in this process, and the place is an instrinc (internal belief in oneself). This should automatically develop into an external manifestation, which may need some customising when in various environments. It's very important though, to remember, that believing in yourself must exists in both the internal and external environment. The internal paradigm remains the true indicator, and nothing worthwhile or meaningful can be achieved without having one's beliefs firmly vested in personal truths. These are ancient and changeless, and some would say old fashioned, but need to be balanced by external and more contemporary (outward) behaviour.
Believing in yourself is simple, but not necessarily easy. The subtleties are not always easy to understand, but believing in ourselves and thriving in a real world requires that we do.
World War III brewing
The implications of the latest hostilities in the Middle East are serious
While the media and the masses continue to be playfully entertained by celebrities and cell phones, pretending everything is normal in the world, the machinations in the Middle East have reached a critical moment.
Yes, at first glance the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah may seem more of the same – more of the stuff we’ve seen in the last decade or so – but in reality the geopolitical battlefield is actually a lot more precarious and desperate now than ever before.
Consider the following:
- Current regional years-long conflict in Iraq (which appears to be escalating, with over 100 civilians dying per day)
- After already spawning a $300 billion price tag, America still feels their presence in Iraq is justified (‘worth it’)
- Serious recent diplomatic confrontations between Iran and the US (and others) over nuclear weapons, as well as overt support for Hezbollah by Iran
- Iran has stated they would like to ‘wipe Israel off the face of the Earth’
- The US has included Iran (as it did with Iraq) in its ‘axis of evil’
If none of these points seem particularly troublesome, consider then that strategically, Israel, a Jewish state, is surrounded (directly and indirectly) by many militant non-Jewish states. These non-Jewish states include states with high levels of fundamentalist groups, especially in Iraq, Iran and Syria. Israel, outnumbered and surrounded, is supported by powerful allies of the West. War is currently being waged in Iraq – based on these same Western powers, principally a US force, attempting to crush waves of (Iran supported) insurgents.
The danger obviously exists (and cannot be overstated) that the stage is set for the Iraq conflict to broaden. While the world might see the conflict as one over ideology (fundamentalist Jews /Christians vs fundamentalist Muslims), the powers that be know it is about something far less amorphous. That being said, the leader of the most powerful state on the planet is a fundamentalist Christian, with a Jewish vice President. Reality (and the plots of industry leaders and businessmen) may become increasingly irrelevant in this setup.
While Israel cannot be faulted for responding to Hezbollah, they certainly can be criticized, even condemned for the overwhelming force (a US tactic) they’ve used to respond to Hezbollah. While Israel has suffered 30-something casualties as a result of Hezbollah’s missile lobbing (mostly into the modern port of Haifa), Israel has incurred over 300 (mostly civilian) deaths in Lebanon. It’s important to make the following distinction: Hezbollah is not Lebanon. Thus Israel’s attacks on Hezbollah, especially the intensity of these attacks, are likely to cause a response from the Lebanese army (from Lebanese forces).
At the moment Israel is massing its forces on its Northern border with Southern Lebanon, and seems to be planning to set up a 25 mile buffer zone. It has already targeted one village and occupied it, and plans to clear other towns in the area. They have made their intentions clear by dropping thousands of leaflets telling local residents to leave so they can wipe out infrastructure in this zone. Although Israel don’t see their actions as an ‘invasion’ how can Lebanon not see it that way? How can Lebanon tolerate a 25 mile band of Israeli produced rubble?
Meanwhile over 700 000 people have been displaced in Lebanon, and 25 000 people (mostly foreign nationals) have already left for Cyprus. President Bush has not being coy about picking sides: he has condemned Hezbollah, and British and American forces are already on the ground, in the area, engaged in assisting the evacuation. Rice has not called for a ceasefire, saying to do so would merely bring about a return to the current status quo. She has also said that American forces are ‘unlikely’ to participate in the on-the-ground battles. Despite this stated lack of involvement, she left for high level meetings in the region on Sunday. So a ceasefire is apparently not on the agenda. Precision guided missiles (able to hit specific targets) have been dispatched from the US to Israel. Meanwhile Israel believes Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal is being provided by Iran.
The Iranian president has called on Muslims worldwide to get involved.
If we look at the local press and television, it’s hard to believe we’re facing anything more than a temporary crisis in the Middle East. I believe the interest of the West in this region has to be more intense than ever (given high global energy prices) and thus the West is prepared, and in fact hoping for any excuse to enter the region and interfere with impunity.
It should be remembered that most of the world’s liquid energy reserves are located in countries unfriendly to the West, and to the USA in particular. Given the world’s addiction to these fuels, and the economic imperative to keep these fuels ‘cheap’, war can be seen as the most likely alternative to achieving this end. It’s possible (especially if you’re a car driver in Kansas or the Karoo) that the idea (of war for cheap fuel) actually makes sense. Unfortunately, the Iraq experiment has proved that the expenses even of a relatively low grade war are much too high, and facilities can simply not be protected, despite the massive presence of occupying forces. Iraq’s oil infrastructure and production remains much lower than prewar levels, and currently they are in fact suffering local fuel shortages at service stations (tanker trucks on the move are favorite targets) and power failures. President Bush, while making his case for war in Iraq, said America would pay the bill (for damaged infrastructure etc) using Iraqi oil. As it stands, America will have to cough up far more than their stated $30 billion investment, and this money will come from American taxpayers, not Iraqi oil..
It’s clear that the tinderbox of the Middle East is set to explode, and in this order:
The Lebanese army assisting Hezbollah (in Lebanon), escalations leading to Syrian involvement, a widening and unified battle theatre that includes land spanning from Israel and Syria to Iraq, and an amalgamation of the forces of both sides currently deployed in Iraq with new fighting forces, then on to Iran, Saudi Arabia and beyond.
In Lebanon locals have been living in bomb shelters for the past 11 days. This is because Israel is conducting round-the-clock air strikes. British foreign minister Kim Howell has criticized Israel for the number of non-surgical strikes. He has visited the region and seen large numbers of dead or wounded children, communication infrastructure and other non-Hezbollah structures destroyed.
Given the long term problems in Iraq, and Israel’s intention for a limited ‘weeks-long’ incursion (if you’re a Muslim this word translates to ‘invasion’), as well as the geopolitical and economic knife point the world is on, we can expect to see a lot more of Cheney’s Infinite War. It’s a war that will not end in our lifetimes.