Monday, February 21, 2005

The Middle East & Rafiq Hariri - a Sign of the Times?

I mentioned in a previous entry about the alternative news site "Signs of the Times". I was pondering that name the other day. What is it about "these times" that they have "signs" associated with them?

Etymology reference site documents the word sign as:
c.1225, "gesture or motion of the hand," from O.Fr. signe "sign, mark, signature," from L. signum "mark, token, indication, symbol," from PIE base *sekw- "point out" (see see). Meaning "a mark or device having some special importance" is recorded from 1290; that of "a miracle" is from c.1300. Sense of "characteristic device attached to the front of an inn, shop, etc., to distinguish it from others" is first recorded 1467.
A sign is a marker, something to "point out" to the observer something they might need or want to pay attention to. So is there anything in "these times" that we need to pay attention to?

I think the Middle East is one thing. It seems that since time immemorial, various clans of humanity have been waging bloody war over that particular area, and the main catalyst for this conflict seems to be religion. What the hell (no pun intended) is it about people that they feel the need to start butchering each other in the name of "Yahweh", "Jesus", "Allah" or whatever other "mysteeerious" trans-physical entity they represent?

Actually, this question is somewhat disingenuous as it is not usually religion that is the sole culprit of this kind of warmongering, but moreso a combination of autocratic government and religion. The political elite always find war a convenient tool to consolidate power or achieve some nefarious self-serving purpose - it is rarely the clergy alone who incite conflict.

In my experience, the Middle East seems to be one of those topics that always manages to generate a strong (and usually ill-informed) opinion, no matter how apolitical or apathetic the person might be to international affairs. I think the reason for this can mostly be laid at the media's doorstep, but that's another can of worms altogether.

So, getting back to the original question, what is it about this present "time" in the Middle East that is so deserving of our attention as a "Sign"? Well, the recent assassination of Rafiq Hariri, former Lebanese Prime Minister, is an event that threatens to destabilise the Middle East even further than it already is. Rym Ghazal writes in the Toronto Star:
I realize I'll have to cover about 200 metres. I start running, passing cars and people who seem glued to the spot. The smell of fire and ash increases in intensity.

I glance left and see cars with shattered front windows. Every car has shattered windows, with some dented and others completely deformed.

Glass, wood and pieces of metal are scattered all over the road and pavement. I take a photo and keep running to towards the fire.

I see the great Phoenicia Hotel's windows broken. The glass sign is shattered on the HSBC bank next door, wires bulging from its side.

I jump off the pavement into a swamp of mud, twisted metal and more glass.
I see people with debris on their clothes and blood on their faces shouting in pain and lying about.
Then people in military uniform start rushing in. Within minutes sirens are heard.

I continue taking photos until I reach the edge of what looks like a meteorite crater.

"Huge," was all I kept thinking as I looked into the pit where two cars are burning. I stand there for a few minutes. I hear people are shouting in the background.

I see a burnt body near one of the cars. To my left, a cameraman is taping for a local Lebanese station. We both look at each other.
"Do you know who got hurt?" I ask.
He says: "Hariri was passing through here. But it is just a rumour."

Rumour would soon become reality. Former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, who led the country for 10 years, was killed in the massive bombing that destroyed his armoured motorcade.

At least 14 others were killed and more than 135 injured in the explosion, which damaged several hotels and buildings along Beirut's Mediterranean waterfront.
This is quite a graphic description of the scene. Note the huge amount of collateral damage - 14 others killed and 135 injured, with significant property damage. This bomb was obviously intended to make sure its target was "got", with little room for escape or error. The article in the star contains a picture of the huge crater left behind after the explosion.

The logical conclusion here is that whoever was behind this was well-equipped and resourced: State Agencies behind Hariri Killing: Expert

But just who was responsible? No surprises that Syria was immediately singled out for blame by the US. Another analysis interprets it as a Syrian message to France.
Also, somewhat unsurprisingly, Iran and Syria have accused Israel's Mossad of the bombing.

Jim Lobe writes in ipsnews:
The hawks, centred primarily in the Pentagon's civilian leadership and Vice President Dick Cheney's office, have long favoured a "regime change" policy for Damascus anyway.

One of Cheney's top Middle East advisors, David Wurmser and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith -- both with strong ties to Israel's settler movement -- contributed to papers in the 1990s that urged Israel and the United States to arm and finance groups in both Lebanon and Syria to force Damascus' withdrawal from Lebanon and destabilise the Baathist regime.

Since Washington's invasion of Iraq in March 2003, they have argued Damascus' alleged failure to fully cooperate with the occupation justified a more aggressive policy, including military strikes. More pragmatic factions, centred in the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and among military commanders on the ground, countered that Assad had in fact steadily increased his cooperation and that U.S. measures to actively destabilise his regime could backfire.

In December, the hawks launched a more public campaign with a series of opinion pieces in their favoured press organs, the Washington Times, the Weekly Standard, and the Wall Street Journal, accusing Damascus of active support for the insurgency and calling for a major escalation.

"We could bomb Syrian military facilities," wrote William Kristol, the Standard's neo-conservative editor. "We could go across the border in force to stop infiltration; we could occupy the town of Abu Kamal in eastern Syria, a few miles from the border, which seems to be the planning and organising centre for Syrian activities; we could covertly help or overtly support the Syrian opposition..."

The campaign coincided, according to a Journal account, with the presentation to Bush of a list of options that included imposing tougher economic sanctions, downgrading diplomatic relations, more active U.S. support for anti-Syrian factions in Lebanon, and possible military strikes against alleged terrorist training camps in Syria.

None of these was approved at the time, however, although all of them -- and now possibly more, in the wake of Hariri's assassination -- remain on the table.

While many Middle East specialists here appear to believe that the Syrian regime, or possibly a rogue element within it, was responsible for the blast, that view is by no means universal, particularly given the likelihood that Washington would blame Damascus in any event.

Indeed, one "senior State Department official" told the New York Times: "Even though there's no evidence to link (the assassination) to Syria, Syria has, by negligence or design, allowed Lebanon to become destabilised."
Well, the rhetoric is flying, but what has the US actually done about this?

For starters, they've withdrawn their ambassador from Syria. Obviously they don't consider diplomacy with Syria a worthwhile option.

The big question to me is, "If Syria was behind this - what was the benefit to them"? They certainly don't seem to have benefited at all. Their relations with Washington are now decidedly icy; Bush is telling them in no uncertain terms to get out of Lebanon. Even Moscow (a Syrian "ally") has stepped in to caution them.

So, who are the real beneficiaries of this murder? Try here and here for some interesting analysis.

So was Israel behind the assassination? Perhaps it was... but the only way to discern the truth is to carefully watch the "Signs", or so it seems to me.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Pro....cras.......tin...... .....ay.............. ..shun

I remember once reading one of those "Demotivational" posters - parodies of those "Motivational" posters that somehow became a popular craze for offices everywhere around the world - about the subject of procrastination. The quirky punchline was: "Hard work often pays off after time, but laziness always pays off now."

Despite having a good chuckle at the time, the more I ponder that phrase, the more I wonder if it makes a pointed observation. Procrastination usually accomplishes nothing - not even the successful avoidance of whatever task one is procrastinating over. One still winds up doing it in the end anyway. So what, exactly, is the "payoff" of procrastination? Obviously there must be one, otherwise it wouldn't be such a popular human pastime!

Procrastination seems to be like a struggle between a little character inside us that says "Relax... you've got plenty of time yet... do it later!" and another that says "Hang on.. this is important - shouldn't you be DOING something about this right now?"

I came across the following interesting link the other day - it's an extract from J.G. Bennett's book "The Sevenfold Work".
We must not forget that the denying part of ourselves is part of reality and can rightly be called the "holy denying" as Gurdjieff phrased it. Without the element of denial, no triad can be set up and there can be no work. All action comes under the law of three and each of the three forces affirm­ative, receptive and reconciling - is required.

We must also be careful to recognize that although it is in the nature of man to transmit the affirming force; he is not a source. It would not be far from the truth to say that all that a man actually is, is denial: this is the very character of actuality.
This idea of denial being the character of man's lower, material, actualised nature fits very well with procrastination I think. Procrastination = the triumph of Denial.

In a certain sense, procrastination can be thought of as the "path of least resistance" which is where the "payoff" comes into it. Fighting procrastination is like swimming against the current - most certainly possible, but requires a net input of effort and energy. Not doing this is the equivalent of floating downstream - effortless, soothing and relaxing.

It is not without consequences though. When you float downstream for a while, you can end up quite far away from where you need to be, and the effort required to "get back" is often a lot more than if you just did the damn job in the first place! Perhaps in thermodynamic terms, procrastination is an activity that leads to a net larger increase in the entropy of a system than if one "seizes the day", so to speak.

This is all well and good, but it doesn't ameliorate the effort required when a task is upon me. Indeed, you have witnessed an act of a man struggling with procrastination merely by viewing this blog entry!

In fact, the thought struck me while writing this to do a "Google: I'm Feeling Lucky" search on the word "Procrastination". This unearthed a most entertaining essay which allowed me to waste minutes of valuable time reading instead of finishing this blog entry.

And how evil is that Navbar at the top of blogs? You can spend all day flicking through all sorts of blogs and not get around to writing entries in your own!

In fact, if that's what you're doing right now then I'm not going to help facilitate your procrastination one bit further. Get to work you lazy bum!