Monday, April 25, 2005

Blair's Law

Tony Blair sought the council of Pope John Paul II in advance of committing Britain to the war in Iraq, and was famously denied support for his action. He sought the council of his attorney general, and was delivered, at best, an equivocation. He sought the council of his cabinet, and was faced with two resignations, albeit one belatedly. Everywhere he looked for advice on how to act properly, he was refused succour. Except of course when he was advised by the most biased of interests, the White House.

It needs to be understood why Blair chose to go to war. In the greater scheme of things, maintaining good international relations are hugely important for the viability and stability of the domestic economy, and the well-being of the people in that economy. Maintaining an offensive line on terrorism is an important aspect of preserving domestic security. The core principles of the New Republic - democracy and the rule of law - are both strengths in terms of the freedom they deliver to individuals, and weaknesses in the advantage that one's enemies can derive from such principled positions.

Blair went to war to preserve a strong relationship with the United States. To protect the interests of British Big Business and the global oil economy. To send a message to terrorists anywhere that democracy and the rule of law could tolerate excesses in the face of such threats. That democracy and democratic political systems (Plato's mob) could withstand the pressures that international, or supra-national terrorism brought to bear. The results of his actions are undeniable - the domestic economy remains strong, the terrorist threat is no doubt diminished, the Middle East is witnessing rapid change and a compliant fervour in the most unlikely of places, from Saudi Arabia to Syria, and even to an extent in Iran.

He now faces the election on May 5th with a dwindling majority in the polls, and the beginnings this week of a concerted effort by both the Tories and the Lib Dems to paint him as a dishonest and misleading prime minister, a man who chose to make a decision in the face of all opinion counselled, breaking international law in the process and compromising the rule of law itself. Should he be called to account?

The attorney general's advice was quite obviously pushed to breaking point by the political requirement that he was required to support. Any and all international lawyers (including your correpsondant) would have had great difficulty in finding any grounds for support, much less unequivocal support under the current international regime. The damage that this will have done to international law has yet to be seen. Where it will matter most is where the authority of the international criminal court is questioned by a defendant claiming that all he did was followed the example of Messers. Blair and Bush. The law, whatever its system, deplores unpredictability, discrimination, and uncertainty. Notwithstanding the fledgling nature of the Public International Law canon (which in and of itself presents such problems) this setback will be significant. The damage done to the authority of the United Nations is not like that done by Israel, whose blatant ignorance of its directives has frustrated many delegates. While Israel's defiance was secured by US backing, this was an overt action designed and executed by two permanent members of the security council. The members define the Union, and the Union, lamentably, does not remain above the members. This is different to a domestic system where the state clearly has a status above its constituents, a synergistic and timeless entity emboldened by support and mandate, solidified by age, and generally respected by the players. Just as domestic sovereignty is recognised by the international community and internal politics are therefore (often frustratingly) ultra vires the international order, it is respected and deferred to at a domestic level also.

The problem has been addressed in a poor way by the international legal community. Apart from individuals such as Hans Blix who have railed against this heresy from a position of authority albeit outside the system, the system itself prevents, largely, dissenting opinion in this case. International Lawyers have their heads in the sand, hoping that it all goes away. Phillippe Sands recent tome, Lawless World, begins to address it, but Sands and his compatriots are only citizens, advisors, recommendors. Those who have the power, responsibility and obligation to defend philosophical positions of principle must lead. They are only, it seems, led, and that, as they say in Dubya's America, is the ball game.

Friday, April 01, 2005

A Papacy Ends

As Pope John Paul II remains gravely ill, it appears the star is fading on a papacy that has been combative, controversial, long, and transformational. As a truly multinational institution, the Catholic Church has been steadfastly toiling in its efforts to develop its faithful across every continent, within every culture. With such a disparate constituency, it was inevitable that so-called 'out-of-date' views such as those on homosexuality and contraception would be controversial in the west. Similarly, it is important to note that the segmented nature of the Curch's target markets bestow upon it a kind of timelessness. If one can argue that all peoples evolve or grow in roughly the same way to be less and less dependent on immediately accessible materials - less self-sufficient and more inter-dependent in a global sense - then with peoples at the highly developed and highly under-developed ends of the spectrum among its flock, there is no 'time' for the Vatican, no 'date' to be 'out of'. There are relative stages of development, as there are minimum levels of development (albeit not that far from absolute zero, whatever that is).

When the Pope speaks on contraception, is he speaking to New Orelans barmaids, London city bankers, Burmese villagers or Zimbabwean farmers? Each has a different ear, an alternative socialitation and culturalisation that has defined them, and defined 'their' church. Therefore those words described as controversial by the banker may not have been intended for him.

What this Pope has done is succeeded in retaining an overarching respect for the Papacy. And he has done this, it must be said, against overwhelming odds. With materialism rampant in the developed world, few were unmoved by his current plight. Despite countless paedophile scandals that attracted massive global publicity, his resoluteness, strength and conviction remained above all else dignified. In a world where leaders are increasingly seen as populist and self-serving, as democracy falls in upon itself, and apathy spreads, this leader was never one to canvass popular opinion.

Carol Wojtyla will be an impossible act to follow. In a sweeping irony, his reign may end up destroying the church, as no man can hope to sustain such insistent and patient strength - surely the temptation to increase the tempo will be too great to resist? One must realise, one must know, that time is everything, and nothing, in Vatican City.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Consulting 'A Higher Power'

The Colorado Supreme Court has upheld a decision of a lower court to dismiss a jury death penalty on the basis of a bible consultation on the part of some of the jurors. In particular, one juror consulted Leviticus, the 'eye for an eye' book, and the majority verdict was arrived at because she had ostenibly referred to 'a higher power' than the court itself in considering her decision. The court was split 3-2, and the case may yet find its way to the Federal Supreme Court. The case offers some brief respite from what is becoming an onslaught of bible-thumping in the ascendancy in GWBII America, though one suspects that the strength of the minority indicates that this is something of an anomaly.

Colorado is unique in the US in that its law requires a direction to the jury in such cases that they make an 'individual moral assessment'. The majority judgement stated that '...the judicial system works very hard to emphasize the rarified, solemn and sequestered nature of jury deliberations. Jurors must deliberate in that atmosphere without the aid or distraction of extraneous texts.'

The juxtaposition of an 'individual moral assessment' with the absence of 'extraneous texts' is indeed tricky when that extraneous text is perhaps the basis upon which one makes a moral assessment. For the minority, the bible acted as a source of wisdom, not overt morality. Indeed, the bible offers as much guidance in favour of mercy as it does against. It is a book of contradictions and justifications. In legal terms, if it were a statute, its openness to interpretation would be so broad as to make it unusable. But this is not the point.

The court in this instance asserted its separation from religion. As an organ of state, it should not be driven by the non-secular preachings of any church. Where, then, lies the basis for a moral assessment where the state professes no position? If the state does not lead in matters of morality, but rather acknowledges and codifies that which it deems its people believe to be right and wrong, why have juries at all? For the juries themselves draw from disparate sources, from Religion and God to TV and the Simpsons. The presumption on the part of the court that an innate morality will direct people to the appropriate decision assigns to the juror a capacity for internal moral dialogue that is often absent. The bible acts for many people as a guide when they simply do not know the way. And, if they do not know the way, should they abdicate such lofty decisions to their moral mentor, or to another citizen capable of having that internal moral dialogue?

Which brings us, once more, to the masses and the state. Simplistic reasoning that is influenced by narrow experience and perhaps inadequate education, leads us all down an arbitrary path. To have one's life placed in the hands of 'the common man' is to have one's life placed in the hands of people who rarely retain unbreakable principles, and who are socialised into conformity. Let us think about this for a moment, and extend the decision to support a Government that kills thousands of innocent civilians in pre-emptive wars, tortures, maims and murders defenceless prisoners, destroys entire races and oppresses millions through external economic interference. Are we comfortable that 'the common man' is having his own 'internal moral dialogue', and making the right choice?

Friday, March 25, 2005

Deporting Babies

It's an ugly sight. Last week, the young Nigerian man about to sit his final school exams was deported; on Thursday he was reprieved; now it has emerged that a three year old child was take from her classroom and deported to Nigeria last week, with fifty others, including the child's mother. Thinking back to twelve months ago, the Irish people overwhelmingly passed a constitutional referendum denying citizenship to those children born in Ireland of non-Irish parents. Some sort of selfish, narcissistic pleasure perhaps in keeping a tight hold on all of the gold this Celtic Tiger has borne us. It is a strange one indeed - these people are not taking our jobs, they are not taking ourplace in the breadline. They are seeking to share in our success, to contribute to a growing economy that demands an ever increasing contribution, according to the ESRI. We are not taking advantage of the skills of immigrant workers, the august body declared on Wednesday.

Then there is the Filipino lady forced to work on an Irish Ferries boat as a beautician for €1 per hour. She wasn't the first, according to Irish Ferries, and they should have taken more care. The ones that are here, we exploit them. And the one's we can't exploit, we deport them. We are creating for ourselves a prison, who's walls are made of solid gold, and who's foundations are of sand.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Democracy in Action? Kyrgyzstan and the Folly of Revolution

The language of democracy is a curious thing. From origins in Greece through Rousseau, the French and American revolutions, through the Cold War and the Media revolution, it has changed irrevocably into a populism that was never intended. The dilution of Platonic democracy (everyone gets a vote if they're smart and rich) to universal suffrage (everyone gets a vote even if they're stupid, gullible, easily led and unlikely to contribute to society) has never been designed, but guided by a power-lust that we creatures have in us. Being somewhere in the middle was OK, in theory, but the natural inclination of man has pushed us too far towards the mob.

Recently, Victor Yuschenko's velvet revolution in Ukraine, overthrew a democratically elected government and the people rejoiced. Basically, they weren't happy with things, and the rule-book was thrown out the window. Recently, encouraged by this, the Kyrgyzstan people have begun a similar battle. This is not how democracy should work. In both instances, rigged elections acted as a catalyst for popular revolt - but does the rigging of the election or the 'necessary' unilateral popular force that overthrows its result rank higher in the pantheon of 'offences against democracy'? Can Yuschenko's people truly say, hand on heart, that they were entirely fair and honest in their management of the first election, or could it be argued that their petty meddling provided the necessary provocation (justification?) for the electoral larceny of the incumbent? Who therefore gave them the right, the mandate, the legitimacy to decide that their dissappointment in not stealing enough votes trumped the legitimate votes of the victors?

The American's are no pin-up for how things should go either. While one could argue that Bush stole the election in 2000, one could argue that he almost had it stolen from him, such were the abuses on both sides. The corruption and manipulation of voting systems around the world, and in every democracy in the world, is undermining the principles for which democratic governments claim as their legitimacy.

Corruption is crippling the legitimacy of democracy. There are several reasons for this - greed, the lack of religion (and implicitly idealism), the lack of true global leadership, the gullibility of the populace, the abuse of the power of the media, the ever increasing power of the media, the lack of international support for truly just causes, the absolute international support for politically relevant or strategic unjust causes, the lack of consistency, predictability, integrity.

People can't see these problems, but can see the symptoms. While the World Economy powers ahead, things will be fine. When the World Economy runs into difficulty, what will happen then? If the price of oil hits $200 a barrell in the next ten years, will the populace remain so compliant, and acquiesce? Perhaps Pat Rabbitte and the Labour Party will once more find a voice.

Michael McDowell's Volte Face

Michael McDowell’s climb-down on 19-year-old Nigerian student Olunkunle Eluhanla was no less than stunning. Following a robust defence of the position – quoting policy and immigration law on Morning Ireland on Tuesday morning – where he said that the decision was in the best interests of the Irish people, suggesting that a chaotic situation would emerge were this decision to be reversed. Now, he claims to be sorry, and that the decision was wrong, and a one-off, that would not set a precedent.

Perhaps this is our justice minister in microcosm – part lawyer, part politician. Legal certainty required the original deportation order; public opinion demanded the reverse. Yet McDowell would do well to decide which he is, and do it fast, or he will fall between the stools of politics and law.

In capitulating to public opinion, McDowell has undermined his key strength – a stubborn high-mindedness in doing what he thinks is right (or right-wing!) – and done little to assuage the concerns of those who believe that his strength is a bad thing. He is not comfortable in the u-turn, within which his Taoiseach revels. His lawyerly instinct detests instability, uncertainty, and unpredictability. The absolutism of his positions on asylum, law and order, and Sinn Féin paints McDowell into a tidy box where he is clearly identifiable. You either hate Michael McDowell, or you support him.

McDowell’s absolutism bleeds into the Progressive Democrat position, and clouds the relatively gentler and populist tones of Mary Harney. Her pro-business, all business style appeals to Irelands nouveau riche, the rising middle classes, and the post-trade union worker. It is a case of optimism triumphing over pessimism – trade unions were important, relevant and popular when people believed that they would be first on the redundancy list were there to be cut backs. Harney’s PD’s are supported by people who believe that they have a real chance of promotion when the next expansion is announced.

The Labour party, for whom McDowell is the pin-up nemesis (alongside Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams – whatever happened to the theory about one’s enemy’s enemy?) remain stuck in this time warp. The Celtic Tiger has moved on without them. Socialism and inclusiveness are now the objects of Ireland’s nouveau pauvre: the asylum seekers, migrant workers, refugees and people with disability and special needs. The trade unions are as much attached to Fianna Fail through partnership negotiations as they are to the Labour Party, yet those same Unions control the Labour Party’s constitution.

So a good week for Pat Rabbitte, a terrible week for Michael McDowell. Yet in the greater scheme of things, Bertie’s sitting back and smiling.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The new Airbus Superjumbo

A while ago, a friend of mine criticised a technology company for its tagline, about the 'enabling the mobile lifestyle'. They provided software solutions for mobile telecoms companies, but he argued that it could be a tagline for Ford or Boeing just as easily. Anything that drives mobility. The concept of mobility is an intriguing one, and is related to its antonym, staying put. Mobility is of course relative, and implies that there is a fixed point from which one moves, or perhaps it represents the abdication of home, of place. The sense of place has long been important, whether related to the environment in which one lives, as for example with the nomadic peoples of the world that tend to travel within a region, or to a fixed location - the land, and ownership of the land.

The sense of place is being lost. There are a number of reasons for this. For one thing, the barriers to mobility have been coming down dramatically. Travel has never been easier, and access to information about remote places has never been so readily available. Social mobility too has meant that while one's geneology does not lend itself to advancement, liberal democracy and free market capitalism makes it possible for humans to advance beyond their social layer, and better themselves. Hereditary hierarchy is no longer la mode. Not only has the difficulty relating to getting places been removed, but the difficulty relating to the return trip have similarly been diminished. Going a long way away is not like a death. In the Irish famine (1840's), emigrants to America were waked before they left, because the family were pretty sure that they would never see them again. It's not so any more.

And so we build bigger planes, faster cars, smaller mobile phones, and more powerful computers that facilitate this abdication of place, the destruction of the need for presence. The impact of all of this has been to decimate communities and families. People leave as quickly as they can, moving away to centres of commerce and social betterment. People follow opportunity, capital and class. The farmers, the land people, remain rooted to the land, and somewhat in limbo. Having the farm is important (honour thy father and thy mother) but it is as much an albatross as it is a gift. It restrains potential progress, the development of intellectual capital which is so highly prized.

Yet the land is solid. The land is real, tangible, and far less susceptible to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The land offers up its bounty, provides shelter, food and place. It defines people, and people benefit from it. The absence of land, the absence of place, and the absence of community damages people.

Many of my friends (all of them, in fact) live in the cities of England and Ireland, a long way from home. They tend to have fleeting, fragile, ad hoc communities in which they live and work, and return often to the home community diaspora, if attending a Munster rugby game, an Irish soccer match, or attending to Christmas duties in the great return. There is true, unexplained and unquestioned solace in this, and the urging to return and stay permanently grows ever stronger each Christmas.

We will return someday, or we will carve out for ourselves a community of real substance in our adopted home. It is necessary for survival, as it is necessary for growth. Until that day, we will ride our Superjumbos, talk incessantly on our cellphones, and surf the web, thinking we know it all.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Been A While

2004 seems to have been wiped off the face of the calendar in a funny way. No postings at all. Can't understand it really. Must have been busy with stuff. Well, I'm back now.

Big issues currently under discussion: Edmund Burke and the French Revolution; and obituaries in backwater newspapers from different countries.

I think Burke was right. I spent a lot of money and a lot of time completing the Human Rights degree, and I've learned a lot. In particular, I've learned that human rights is essentially bunk. I've also learned that the myth of free education is exactly that. A myth. Edmund Burke was far more on the money. Human Rights theory tells us that all men are equal; they're not. Let's take a simple thing - height. It is better to be tall than to be short. We tall people (yes, I am not short) can reach the top nuts on the top branch of the tree, and are therefore more likely to survive when the revolution comes. Let's take a more complicated thing - wealth. It's better to be rich than to be poor right? Well, it's better to have food than not, but can't go much further than that. Many of the happiest people I've met have been poorer that any. Human Rights (and International Development) Theory tells us that we should remove this burden of contentment from the destitute, and make them enjoy our rat-race. Something's not right there. And Edmund Burke wrote far too well to be a crank. Tom Paine was more likely to be the crank. And don't get me started on Marx.

On Obituaries, I've found it remarkable that certain papers in America write brief words - JOhn Smith. Plumber. US Marine. Died. - and others a remarkable CV type discourse. John Smith. Plumbers apprentice New York for three years. Plumber New Jersey through '72. Set up own plumber's business, Ill. 1979. Bought van, 1980. Bought two vans, 1982. Hired four people, 1986. And on it goes. Oh, and he left a wife, two sons and a grandchild named Clinton. Typical. Democrat voters, GOP capitalists.

Led me to thinking what other states, country papers have in their obituaries, and I'm off to have a look. That led me to thinking about what one could learn from this - what could one learn from death, as it were, about life? That lead me to thinking about writing a book about it, and that led me to thinking about writing a book about writing a book about searching for some of life's answers in the obit columns. So that's what I plan to do. Might be 2006 before there's another blog if that's the case, we'll see.

Damn liberals everywhere. I disown the party.