Friday, August 29, 2008

Defending Exactly What?

Muslims are quick to express their exasperation at the West in general for mis-labelling Islam, for insisting that Islam is responsible for the prevailing situation which sees decidedly Muslim fanatics - having dedicated their lives to prosecuting Islamic (Islamist) jihad, in a strenuous effort to obliterate as many of the perceived enemies of Islam as possible - as representing Islam.

Great, outraged umbrage is taken at the expression "Islamofascism" and Muslim academics daintily point out that fascism as a political expression is relatively new in origin, whereas Islam is an ancient and respected religion, not a political movement. A weak claim, at the very least. Islam is one of the world's great religions, and its adherents are numerously represented, but it is also a political way of life.

One which has been subverted by hate, a burning detestation of other ways of life that have been successful in embracing a kind of modernity that Islam has eschewed. In the process, creating a social, political, scientific, technological backwardness in Muslim countries, struggling to keep up with the strides made by non-Muslim countries in advancing their economic futures.

Religion as a man-made construct in the belief of a superior and enlightened non-human existence that orchestrates the lives of humans, can be a force for good and has proven in the past to be a unifying social force to enable people to live in harmony with one another. On the other hand, it is also a tool that has been used successfully in the past to ensure estrangement between peoples.

Which makes it rather more than a trifle disingenuous for Muslim academics and clerics to claim that Western news media and self-serving politicians have chosen to identify Islam as a source of evil, intent on destroying Western influence for the purpose of re-installing an Islamic renaissance throughout the world. When the simple fact is that it is Muslims themselves, choosing to present as warriors of Allah, doing his bidding in a holy jihad, who make the news.

The monologue of hatred and bloodshed is an Islamist-inspired travelogue, presenting throughout the world as a menace that must be resisted and defeated. Bellicose threats of annihilation of others, the inflammatory rousing of religiously-devout and impressionably restless young Muslim men to fulfill their duties to Islam as fanatical warriors is of Islamic derivation, not Western.

One such as Mobashar Jawed Akbar who scornfully lashes the West for its fascination with "Islam and the West" in an attempt to come to terms with what is occurring on the world stage, on the basis that Islam is a religion and the West a geography cuts no ice when it is Islamic fundamentalists themselves who make the link between Islam and the West; it is from them that the term derives to describe the Muslim struggle.

The influence, power and ascendance of the West that appears so grating to the sensibilities of insecure Muslims, furious that Islamic influence waned after its great period during the Caliphate when Islam encouraged the acquisition of knowledge and the perfection of art and literature and industry and agriculture and trade has become the target of Islamist jihadists. The geography of the West did not create that antipathy for the purpose of engaging in a war of attrition.

Islam became too stridently devotional, too dedicated to statism and fundamentalism, shedding its curiosity, its inquisitiveness and sense of empowerment through social, scientific and educational advancement. Call it what you will, but if scholarly Islamic clerics and academics wish to ensure their religion be held in the respect it deserves and which they so ardently desire, it is incumbent upon them to take measures to defeat the rogues among them.

Those whom they airily term the "Fasad", the ill-doers among them. Who threaten to become legion, through aggrieved disaffection. Surely, Islam is failing them by not imbuing in their consciousness the true message that Islam is purported by its high-minded defenders to represent. The simple fact of the matter is, while the academics declare that Islam sturdily rejects murder, its terror contingent energetically commits wide-scale murder.

Quoting scriptures selectively to demonstrate that Islam stimulates its followers to goodness cannot belie reality. And that reality is that, though some verses indict those who would commit murder, other verses encourage believers to understand that murder in some signal circumstances is not only permitted, but is downright proper to the occasion.

Overt crimes such as murder are not condoned, we are informed, yet they can be punished by such kindly adverse-intervention punishments as "execution, crucifixion, maiming or exile". Convincing the non-Muslim of the kindliness of such religiously-inspired punishments for malefactors misses the point, however.

Telling us that the Koran recognizes the existence of different faiths, and that it is Allah's prerogative, not Islam's followers, to be the judge, does not alter the reality of influential clerics in mosques the world over taking it upon themselves to charge their followers to remain separate from others, to disdain those who do not recognize Islam.

Which, in and of itself, is no crime, but does set the stage for isolation and fear and suspicion. Harking back to a time when the Sultanate gave sanctuary to Christians and Jews in Spain recalls an imperfect history, but one which did, in some large part, present a shining picture of potentials, now long defunct.

Claiming that justice and equality express the soul of Islamic belief gives no comfort at a time when the world sees horrors otherwise expressed in situations of mass murder, of dreadful, ongoing crimes against humanity, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, the Philippines and elsewhere in the world.

Perhaps it's past time for influential Muslim clerics and academics to recognize that reality, to stop blaming liberal democracies and to collectively take steps to combat the carnage taking place in the name of Islam.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008


A senior Taliban official has issued a very specific warning to the government of Canada and the people of this country that they will be targeted deliberately and with every intent to obliterate their presence in Afghanistan if Canadian troops are not pulled out of the country.

This is fair warning, we're informed, because Canadian troops, along with other countries' forces representing the international community in Afghanistan have occupied a sovereign country.

The fanatical Taliban represent a legal presence in the country, since they are native to the country. NATO troops are not, and their presence there represents a challenge to the Taliban. Whose only purpose in battling the infidel presence is to restore Islam to the country, under Shariah law.

A reality that the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan overturned. The Taliban leadership purports to be outraged that Western forces have inadvertently - on lamentably too-frequent occasions targeting Taliban forces, but bombing off-target - killed Afghans. That the Taliban deliberately murder Afghans is a reality denied by them.

They have pledged themselves to deliver a complementary dispatch to Canadian troops in their country. It is, after all, their country. To dispose within as they choose. Not, however, according to the current government of Afghanistan which has gone out of its way to reassure international troops that their presence is a requirement to permit the re-building of vital infrastructure, and to fend off the advance of the Taliban.

This is the same Taliban that indiscriminately murders Afghan civilians, police and members of the armed services at will. To ensure that their message is delivered and well understood. Yet, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda, in the wake of harsh condemnation from some Islamic clerics and governments, now seek to distance themselves from that reality by claiming to have the best interests of Muslims at heart.

Recently, Al-Qaeda in the Magreb bombed a SNC-Lavalin bus taking the Canadian company's employees to their workplace in Algeria, result; all locally-engaged Algerians. AQIM claimed the attack had long been planned to kill Canadians, and they celebrated the success of their mission, claiming the victims to be Canadian.

Their statement claimed the attackers "made sure that passengers on the protected bus were Canadian citizens. Therefore, they targeted the bus, and it is not, as the apostates claim, that we are targeting our brothers, Muslim workers." How very pious. And how many in the Muslim world believe them? "We are choosing our targets carefully and we are always careful with your blood. We do not target the innocent."

Nor did they, ostensibly, target the innocent in Iraq, yet their Sunni brethren, so utterly appalled at the vicious brutality of al-Qaeda in Iraq against Iraqi Muslims, turned against them, fought and defeated them. Al-Qaeda, in fact, goes out of its way to target Muslims whose dedication to their faith does not represent the requisite and total surrender that Islamists insist upon.

From the Philippines to Somalia, Iraq to Algeria, Afghanistan to Pakistan, jihadist Islamists murder other Muslims, resistant to their version of Islam. So much for the veracity of their pledge to honour and safeguard the lives of other Muslims.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Orange Rift

Ukraine is now divided into two camps; wisely pro-Russian and incautiously otherwise. Actually, it's a word to the wise, that would have the country and its administrators desist in provoking their neighbour. The thing of it is, nationalistic pride is such that once branded, becomes more than sufficient. The experience was not a roaring success for the people of Ukraine.

With the singular exception of that 17% of Ukrainians whose ancestry is Russian. And when push comes to shove, they'll be there, clamouring for the necessity to bolster Russian claims in the country. Moscow's own special constituency. Reflective of a like situation in all former Soviet satellite countries. Those for whose safety and security Moscow claims the right to invade other countries.

President Victor Yuschchenko, whose face bears the results of personal experience of disciplinary measures Moscow can invoke against her detractors, remains staunchly determined to become a member of NATO. He sees Ukraine's future within the Western sphere of influence. Irritating Moscow no end.

He will have an opportunity, in two years' time, to contest an old adversary for control of his country's destiny. None other than Yulia Tymoshenko, the current prime minister. Ukraine's very own beautiful and braided Iron Maiden. Their initial exultant triumph in leading Ukraine toward its current trajectory didn't last very long.

After the briefest of honeymoons, he fired her, then accepted her back, now is burdened with her rejection of his policies. She is adamantly opposed to his rash restoration of military hardware displays in celebration of independence day. The parades of military might that would shrink in power and significance allayed against those of Russia.

Despite the most recent demonstration of Russia's response to the fiery kindling of territorial sovereignty from Georgia, Victor Yushchenko moves relentlessly forward, snubbing Russia with his demand that its fleet prepare to vacate Sevastopol. Ukraine, he insists, has no intention whatever of renewing Moscow's lease in 2017.

Ukraine, like Poland and other Eastern European countries once in thrall to Soviet Russia, is outraged at the violent intrusion into Georgia, its horrendous pounding by its neighbour. Incensed that the missile corvette that sank a Georgian patrol boat has returned to the Black Sea port.

Ukrainian anti-Russian protesters faced off against pro-Russian protesters. The presidential decree that imposed restrictions on Russian naval craft moving within Ukrainian waters, requiring permission and a Ukraine escort, has been flicked aside by Russia. There is a standing treaty, and Russia may move there with impunity.

A spokesman for the prime minister has expressed her unease with the military pride and demonstrations blanketing Kiev. "The prime minister thinks the military parade is inappropriate because of the cost at a time when Ukraine has to cope with severe flooding but also because this flexing of muscles is a provocation."

The prime minister has taken steps to distance herself from the potential for NATO membership. Her spokesman pointed out that whatever military upgrading Ukraine has resorted to, is certain to prove inadequate in protecting the country; the best assurance for self-preservation lies in preserving peace with Russia.

The future resembles the past. It's all in the geography.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

"Why Would We Do That?"

Fair enough question, albeit an ingenuous one, given past history. Why would Russia do such a thing? Why would Russia contemplate acquiescing to a suggestion, nothing short of gleefully mischievous, from one of Israel's declared enemies, to place it in an even more unbalanced situation than currently exists? But then that question begs responses to more questions. Such as why would Russia have encouraged and armed and assisted with their own military personnel, attacks by Arab countries on Israel?

Why, come to think of it, would an irate Russia deliver dire warning to Poland that it would earn itself the very real potential of attack, including nuclear, for its willingness to host American anti-ballistic missile silos? Why would Russia be enraged by the celebratory mounting of Ukraine's annual military parade? Why would Russia permit itself to become so inordinately ravaged by hatred and anger that it undertook to brutally invade a smaller neighbour?

Why resist the temptation to deliver its message of irritation with the Orange Revolution in Ukraine? Why not interrupt the delivery of energy during a hard winter season in Ukraine, and just incidentally tease the European Union as well with the prolonged prospect of a churlish Russia denying them full energy needs? Why growl with nationalistic umbrage at Estonia for presuming to re-position a Soviet era statue by cutting off its Internet access?

The pretext of self-righteously lending itself to a peaceful solution to settling a territorial misadventure between Georgia and its two breakaway provinces seems to have persuaded Russia that the world would reasonably accept its charge of genocidal intent through ethnic cleansing by Georgia. That Russia had little option but to invade and occupy, destroy Georgia's military infrastructure, murder its citizens, render a quarter-million homeless. All in the name of peace and concern for human rights.

This is the same honour-challenged Russia that charged into bloody battle against Chechnya, intent on accomplishing for itself what Russia claims South Ossetia and Abkhazia must rightfully achieve, with their domineering assistance. Why would they do that? Something like having a new toy and chafing at the bit to give it a try. All that expensive new military equipment just sitting around waiting for an opportunity to be thrown into an active theatre of war. Irresistible.

A shrug of the Russian shoulder to the world's singularly absurd position in throwing its support behind Georgia, in recognition of international laws establishing the inviolability of state territorial integrity. Russia can casually deliver as good as it gets from its outraged critics. So its defence ministry has delivered tit for tat and taken steps to "halt international military co-operation events between Russia and NATO countries until further instructions."

Does the encouragement Russia accepts as support from an unctuously-admiring Bashar Assad give impetus to Russia's decline of courteous international interplay? Is Russia that very anxious to receive support to ensure it is not completely isolated that a world-class peace-disturber like Syria can exert influence over it to the extent that it would consider facing off with the United States with its own advanced missile system in place in that incendiary part of the world?

A distinct possibility, given Russia's legendary relationship with Persia, now the Islamic Republic of Iran, with whom it traded intrigue and insult over the centuries when it sparred with Great Britain over ascendancy in the geography. Trade and colonial aspirations being the name of that game. But no, Russia would contemplate no such move, according to Russia's ambassador to Israel, responding to Israeli queries.

No Iksander missiles to be deployed in Syria. Despite the inviting blandishments of Syria's president who would just leap at the opportunity to host them, to have them encircle the country, offsetting American and international criticism of Syria's delicately disturbing relationship with Iran, with Hezbollah, with Hamas, and the fiction that it has no further hegemonic designs on Lebanon.

Russia's spirit of adventure has entanglements the world over. No need to curry favour any longer, to anxiously await notice by other nations. Acceptance and courtesy was simply too slow and too reluctant to advance Russia's relations with the West. Not that Great Britain, France and Germany, among others, are not inordinately anxious to forestall complete estrangement.

It would be so nice if none of this latest catastrophic evidence of Russia's destabilizing agenda in Eastern Europe had never surfaced. To live with the illusion that the Russian bear had accustomed itself finally to finesse agreeable relations with other developed countries of the world was a comfort. To have that comfort so rudely shattered is a great disappointment.

This is the conundrum, however; does a completely alienated and isolated Russia do anything but nurse its grievances against Western Europe and North America? Does the world need to re-adjust its reality compass to recognizing that irritable and dangerous beast for what it is, and simply ignore its excesses for fear of further addling and aggravating it?

Practically, realistically, nastily-disturbing events do not dissipate into history without being recorded, and recalled. Ignoring them does not ensure a future without further stress from that same source. How to tame the untameable beast? Russia's current administration has reverted to its historical post-revolutionary position on the world stage. Impossible to ignore Russia's belligerent predations on other states.

Territorial accession, ownership claims of natural resources, human greed, tyrannical aspirations; the world is such a complicated place. Such a small and helpless place with no means by which it can effectively still the ravaging intent of the great hordes of psycho-social misfits among us.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Iron Noose Tightens; Then What?

A tense situation grown ever more tense. Russia's grievance against the impudence of the United States, encouraging Russia's former satellites to clasp themselves ever closer to Western interests rankles Russia no end. It's a humiliation they are not willing to endure forever. And with former allies agreeing to join with the United States in its putative plans to protect itself and its allies against potential strikes from homicidally hostile countries, the burden of ill will has become too great.

Each time Russia expressed its unhappiness over American plans to install interceptor missiles in Poland, it received light-hearted assurances that its concerns were for naught. No, the missiles that would, in effect, encircle Russia, would not be directed at Russia, not at all. Their placement is meant as a deterrent and a protective ploy against the possibility of Iran or North Korea launching missiles against the United States. Or Poland, for that matter, get it?

Russia remains unconvinced and is not at all reluctant to demonstrate how unconvinced it is. After all, if a far-flung nation takes the initiative to interest close neighbours to take potentially hostile steps against a near neighbour, it makes for a very nervous situation, one in which the near neighbour must see itself as the primary target. Particularly given past misunderstandings, and hostilities, not quite yet resolved.

The interceptor missiles are to be placed 1,360 kilometres from Moscow. "It's clear to us, and the American leadership doesn't deny it, that the so-called missile shield in Europe will be widened and modernized. In that case Russia will be compelled to react - and not only by diplomatic protests," declared the Russian Foreign Ministry, ominously. If not diplomatically, then how, asks the innocent....

Poland denies that the recent Russian incursion into Georgia had anything to do with the signing of a deal that had hitherto been dithered about with. Pure coincidence. Poland would even invite Russia to survey the silo and its interceptor missiles once it's in place. Be their guest on a guided tour. Swallow the insult and come along to an opening-night party.

Include the Czech Republic; they're part of the infrastructure for protection from far off neighbours intent on wreaking destruction on Europe and North America. Russia's churlish response is that Poland is flirting with military disaster, for they will not sit by complacently while the silos are put in place and then extended for a complete iron circle of deterrence - or more, around Russia.

This is the ultimate threat, an existential potential for complete disaster. If not for Russia, then for Poland, in the short-range. Since Russia has solemnly given its promise that it is prepared to target the installation; that having agreed to formalize the deal, Poland is now "100%" exposed to the potential of - even nuclear - strikes. Russia's obligation to its own security and that of its people is a foregone conclusion.

And it doesn't stop there. Since the United States has effectively pledged to reflect exactly what Russia has done in mounting a defence of South Ossetia by invading and battling Georgia. The U.S. Secretary of State has stated her country's "guarantee" of Poland's safety. Another very direct challenge to the possibility that Russia will take steps to express its dissatisfaction with its former ally, militarily.

Now that's something for the world to contemplate, something to keep everyone up at night, tossing and turning, sleep eluding us.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Study In Convoluted Extremes

What a formula for disaster. A country now teetering on the cusp of complete destabilization, one which has the great misfortune (that is, as it portends and pertains to the international community, let alone internally) to be comprised of a politically-fractured population, a surging tide of Islamism, and possessing nuclear proficiency - cemented with direly dreadful relations with its nearest neighbours.

India, faced with the very real prospect of a political melt-down in Pakistan, must be in a state of breathtakingly nervous apprehension. Bad enough its traditional relationship with its one-time provinces, and with the dreadful religious enmity exacerbated by ever-resurgent belligerence over ownership of Kashmir. Now, the very Pakistani politician with whom a brief grace of detente was achieved, is gone.

And the two major parties, each contending for leadership after a fractionated election no longer recognize much in common, with the final resignation of Pervez Musharraf. Pakistan can celebrate the end of its "dictatorship", but what now can it anticipate for its near future other than on one hand the ascension of authoritarian rule with the Pakistan Peoples Party or an Islamist regime with the Pakistan Muslim League.

With the rationale for their co-operation now evaporated, Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif do not really have all that much to work together for; one a determinedly secular, democracy-aspiring party, the other a renascent Islamist party, intent on re-introducing shariah law to the country. Unhappily it appears that a benevolent totalitarian government is in the offing; one that bodes ill for the geography.

As they circle one another for opportunity to each lay claim to and cement their superior position to govern, the underlying suspicion and hostility natural to each party begins to surface, and each can indulge in plotting to undo the other's aspirations. And in the background, the country's potential to achieve some modicum of political and social moderation dwindles.

The forces of Islamism surge triumphantly ahead. Little wonder, that, given the background of Saudi-fuelled madrassas flourishing there, to instill the concept of fundamentalist Islam and the jihad-inspired eschewing of any other influences in its surge to install the regime they violently espouse. Aided and effectively abetted by their very own Taliban streaming out of mountainous tribal border villages.

So their own home-grown terror groups, intent on suicide bombings to make their point, erodes the security of the country at large. How can they fail to succeed, in large part, given the encouragement and active assistance of Pakistan's own security services (Inter Services Agency), long since infiltrated by Islamists. Themselves battling Pakistan's security forces; those that aren't themselves tainted.

Will it be Mr. Sharif with his shaded past of al-Qaeda co-operation, who instilled, during his rule, sharia law, and oversaw Pakistan's first test nuclear explosion; who himself was responsible for incarcerating Benazir Bhutto's corrupt husband? Or will it be Mr. Zardari, whose father-in-law was responsible for funding nuclear development, the very man whom Mr. Sharif's mentor imposed a death sentence on?

Either side of the flipped coin will deliver results sufficient to flagellate the tender hopes of any Pakistani citizen looking for an end to uncertainty and confusion, and a beginning of moderation-inspired national normalcy.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Leave Or Be Killed

Must have missed something there. Who is it now that's engaged in ethnic cleansing? Oh yes, the government of Georgia. We have it on good authority. Moscow tells us that, so it must be so. No, really. None other than Russia's prime minister, Vladimir Putin himself has spoken of Georgian troops committing such unspeakable atrocities as genocide, purposefully running their tanks over South Ossentian children.

Which more than adequately explains Russia's outrage over Georgian President Saakashvili's decision to march on South Ossetia, to Tskhinvali, to reclaim the region as part of Georgia, when everyone knows the truth, that they are all Russian citizens. Their passports, surreptitiously handed out in the last few months, speak the truth. Russia had no option but to arouse itself to act for humanitarian purposes.

Yet, peculiarly, it would appear that foreign reporters claim the damage sustained in Tskhinvali was the result of the five-day barrage of missiles relating to Russian troops and Ossetians battling the Georgian forces. As for the unspeakable deaths of South Ossetians, numbering 2,000 unfortunate souls, the Tskhinvali Regional Hospital could officially confirm a count of 40 deaths.

The flattening of the town's entire civil infrastructure, its residential areas, as claimed by Russian official sources appears to have been the figment of someone's feverish imagination. If memory serves, that's old-fashioned inflated, inflammatory, bombastic, war-mongering hyper-propaganda. Fact is, however, the Kremlin knows the truth, when they speak of genocide and thousands of corpses littering the landscape.

The brutality of the Georgian government in dispatching its ill-disciplined, terror inspiring troops upon a helpless population cannot be over-emphasized. After all, that was the impetus that sent Russian troops to the rescue. That unleashed its bombing campaign, that forced Russia to seize Georgian territory outside the two breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Which also explains why Russian troops are still stationed in Gori. Why should they decamp, and leave Georgian citizens feeling complacent and supportive about their criminal government? Occupation of Gori, informing its people that they must exert pressure on Tbilisi to force a new election and make President Saakashvili step down in an expression of the peoples' power, must conclude the impasse.

Otherwise, folks, get used to the hostile uniforms surrounding you. Oh yes, the pull-back, it's taking place, right now, even as the world looks on uncomprehendingly. The country's east-west highway where Russian troops are stationed has split the country most effectively. Nothing moves. "We were the first in, so we'll be the last out", said Major-General Vyacheslav Borisov.

For an army preparing to leave, Russian soldiers, weaving through Gori in armoured personnel carriers, Kalashnikovs held aloft while their compatriots dig fortified positions east and west of the city, trucking in radio equipment to broadcast events back home, the stated intent to depart seems rather opaque in nature. But of course they need the broadcast equipment, having destroyed Georgia's.

The trouble is, Russians cannot trust the Georgians. They know there's a dark plot afoot to make them look bad; Georgia is giving Russian uniforms to roaming mercenaries, encouraging them to loot and pillage. How can one trust such people! Of course the mendacious Georgians claim this little ploy is a device to ensure Russian military units remain on site.

Yet, how puzzling; a UN aid convoy reported evidence of large-scale looting in Gori: "While the buildings did not appear to be very damaged, there are clear signs of massive looting of both shops and private accommodations", according to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

It's not only the Tbilisi administrative elite who play so promiscuously with the truth, but the Georgian population itself. Who claim to have been ordered to leave or be killed. "They said, 'Putin has given us an order that everyone must be either shot or forced to leave'. They told us we should ask the Americans for help now because they would kill us if we stayed."

The internal refugee population has now swelled to 158,000 ousted from towns and villages, their possessions what they wear on their backs. Who claim Ossentian militias had returned after shooting some of their neighbours, to torch houses, and to threaten to slit the throats of any remaining residents. These were the pathetic and patently untrue stories told by people huddling in Gori, far from their homes.

Where refugees scramble anxiously each time they are informed that distribution of food will take place, to patiently stand in line and wait until the trucks arrive.

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Are You Lonely Tonight?

There's always food for thought. You just have to look for it. Sometimes not very far, in fact. For me, it was an article in my local newspaper, re-printed from the New York Times. Written by David Brooks from Chengdu, China, it was entitled "A lavish statement in resurgent collectivism", and it super-charged my thought processes. It made such good sense.

Three is a life-affirming crowd. One, a sadly solitary emotional chasm. People are by their very basic nature, tied to other people for their emotional needs. We take naturally to crowds, although there are of course many people who do find themselves conflicted in the company of others; those who prefer their own silent presence, the hermits among us.

Like other animals we are gregarious in nature and primal temperament. We find comfort and emotional support in the company of others. Admittedly, others like ourselves. Or those others to whom we are inextricably bound, through bloodlines or tribal affiliation. Those links can be further extended to ethnic groups, shared cultures, nationalities.

David Brooks's article was an enticing read because it points out the differences in populations and in their countries' prevailing social cultures. There are, he wrote, collectivist countries and individualist countries. Those countries of the world where the collective ideal reigns supreme, and those where individuality does. Where, in one, the individual is subject to the collective, and those where it is not.

Oriental countries are by their nature collectivist. People are bonded to the group, they work in harmony, they share, they tend to think in terms of their relationships. Whereas countries for whom the collective ideal is a foreign social concept, celebrate the rights of the individual, as opposed to that of the collective. The social engineering political movement known as Communism based itself on the collective ideal.

It took root readily in countries other than where it originated, mostly Asian countries, where it still maintains its brooding presence. Asian countries of the world; China, Japan, Indonesia, Burma, India, for example, are highly pressed for geography, monumentally blessed with people. People crowded together in huge numbers where privacy and isolation of the person is simply not possible.

Their social convention takes its cue from the collective ideal. Countries such as the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, for example, have great wide open geographic spaces and relatively sparse populations. Where Asian countries can boast of ancient traditions and cultures, these new-world countries were based on the pioneer model of home-steading.

They were populated in large part from Europe; courageous emigrants setting out to discover their own brave new worlds in geographic spaces already populated, but relatively sparsely, by primitive tribes whom they overwhelmed and took charge of. The European-derived populations were the flotsam of their original homelands. As Europe shed its extraneous, indigent peoples, and sought to empty its overpopulated prisons.

In these new-world places the pioneer spirit that settled the country, tended to be self-reliant, individualistic, determined to succeed on the strength of their own belief in self; that they could overcome all obstacles that nature and happenstance could place in their path to fulfillment. They could do this, they had to do this, where geographic space was not at a premium and they carved out a place for themselves in the wilderness.

In countries like Japan and China and India with their overwhelmingly large populations versus their finite geographies, religious and political social order - as opposed to law and order - insisted that people accommodate one another's near presence. And that closeness also meant that the country prospered when the people worked willingly, in tandem with each another.

In Japan, crime as it is known in the countries of the Western Hemisphere is virtually absent. People are safe to walk anywhere they wish, at any time of day or night. Of course that is also because people do walk everywhere and anywhere at any time of day or night. Day-time, night-time, there are crowds of people out and about, going about their business.

In the United States and in Canada, close proximity to others is a matter of choice, not necessity. There is ample room for everyone. People are less dependent upon one another. And they become, in these societies, alienated from one another, reliant on their own devices, driving themselves in their personal vehicles from place to place.

People are not seen on the streets where they live, engaged in any kind of activity. They remain in their houses. Children are not permitted to play untended in the outdoors. Crime is too present. There is a disconnect, not seen in immigrant societies that settle there, who bring their comfort of clannishness with them.

Egos loom large in individualistic societies. People believe in their singularity in a way that people from collective societies do not. Individuals are infused with a sense of their own importance, whereas in collectivist societies people are aware of the importance of their society, and their place within that society. In collectivist societies the pegboard is round, and so are the pegs. Square pegs are hammered into place.

In collectivist societies there is a general air of humility. Even grumpily. There is an appreciation for the whole. It is comforting, and the shared values and traditions give meaning to life. People rarely feel abandoned or alone, to face life's vicissitudes on their own. They are reliant on others surrounding them, on the constructs of the collective; social, political or religious.

In singularly individualistic countries where people are felt to be empowered to do as they wish as long as they adhere to society's laws that are put in place for the protection of individual rights, people are able to pursue their own agendas. At least those who are capable of doing that. Those who fall through the cracks of missed opportunities are bereft of comfort, but advanced state assistance.

Little wonder at the runaway success of social networking Internet sites to fill the emotional and social gaps people in North America, for example, feel are missing in their lives. Emotional and social support at a remove; a virtual collectivity. On sites such as Facebook, people can have it both ways; enhancing their ego, while at the same time achieving the comforting satisfaction of friendly support.

The consequences of the individual framework of national social life as opposed to the collectivist one are grave and unsettling, but perfectly understandable. As David Brooks's article points out: "People who live in the densest social networks tend to flourish, while people who live with few social bonds are much more prone to depression and suicide."

We like to think of ourselves as responsible, individualistic, capable, and able to get on with our lives without the interference and aggravation of too much social-emotional inter-relationships. And when we're young and vibrant and life is urgently demanding that we live it to the fullest, we are anxious to forge on, on our own, leaving childhood and entanglements behind.

Then the years having passed and our lives fleeting behind us, with scant few years before us, we recall the friends we made along the way and wonder whatever happened to them. We're not surrounded by family members, we've become distant, and often estranged. Friends come and go, and most of them have gone on to other interests, just as we have.

Suddenly there are no social supports, no familiar and comforting entanglements to engage us and comfort us. Not that this could not occur, and must most certainly in some respects, in collectivist societies. As gregarious as we are by nature, we are also self-absorbed, selfish, and we tend to distance ourselves from others when there are no social traditions in place to bond us.

Life, though we scarcely recognize it when we are young, is a long search for meaning, fulfillment, satisfaction and companionship.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Once And Future Tyrant

The ceasefire co-signed by the belligerents - invading-occupying Russia, and apoplectic yet unbowed Georgia. No great rush to implement its provisions, however, since Russia has yet, despite its promises to the contrary, to decamp. To pull back its troops, back to pre-confrontation borders. Russia takes its peacekeeping mission seriously. It is so heartfelt about its humanitarian obligations.

It was so painful for Russia to see its citizens confronted with the demand that they cease fulminating for secession, and with it their assaults on neighbouring Georgian towns. Russia as the benevolent tyrant of the past, returns to her former role, anxious to serve the will of her people. Meaning no real harm to the population of a former satellite-nation encompassed within the U.S.S.R., to be certain.

They just happened to be in the way of a military exercise. That exercise just happened to be related to a disagreement between Moscow and Tbilisi. But that's all right; everything has since been settled to everyone's satisfaction and everything is now on schedule to return to normal. These things happen, even between the best of neighbours.

Of course, it's debatable how many "best" neighbours Russia can celebrate. Just one of those things. A strong, assertive personality with a penchant for bellicosity, threats of reprisals against presumed insult, the pursuance of strong-arm blackmail when it seems advisable, makes others understandably nervous. Insinuations of "genocidal" intent lodged against neighbours which the stronger one actually practices cements insecurity.

It all comes down to perspective. And, to be sure, misperceptions. Russia, however, can be trusted to mean what it says, and if Russia says it has pledged itself to good relations with its neighbours, to upholding the peace, then why would the international community feel it has reasons for doubt? Something about actions speaking louder than words, they mumble, to mocking laughter from Russia.

Now a UN Security Council resolution is awaited to clarify and solidify intent - and just incidentally launch another international peace-keeping mission to keep the two erstwhile allies at arms' length from one another. Unfortunate that Georgian President Saakashvili remains so triflingly, irrelevantly irritating, insisting that Russia withdraw its forces from Georgia.

Russian willingness to demonstrate goodwill by blasting vital rail bridges and other civil infrastructures, including the setting of fires in forests and towns has been taken in poor spirit by Georgia. After all, Russia's foreign minister did put the world and Georgia on notice that Moscow will pull its forces in good time. Patience, patience.

"We are constantly encountering various problems with the Georgian side and it will depend how quickly and effectively this problem will be solved" before Russian troops will be pulled back, warned Sergei Lavrov rather crankily. Tbilisi could be a trifle more appreciate of the strenuous efforts Moscow is evidencing in goodwill for future relationships.

Of course Georgia is a trifle annoyed by the "Armed gangs of the Abkhasian separatist regime together with the units of the Russian regular army", shifting borders of administration. And they've been somewhat aggravated by the Russian military aircraft intent on dropping firebombs on Georgian forests. With predictably blistering results. Completely unreasonable accusations, according to Russia.

"We are now in peacetime. Why should we be blowing up bridges when our job is to restore?" complained the Russian deputy chief of the general staff. Mind, this peace has been problematical to the population, facing severe food shortages because of the Russian blockages at critical highways and seaports, and now the rail system. In fact the French ambassador to Georgia emphasized the deteriorating humanitarian plight.

"We're getting bodies mutiliated, eyes gouged, arms severed", mourned Georgia's health minister. "I'm horrified. I don't know ... if it's Russians or mercenaries doing it." Well, what on earth do they expect, confronting and maddening their neighbour whose only interest in intervention is for the good of their citizens, after all?

Can't have a country risking destabilizing the entire geography by insisting on its territorial integrity, now can we? Hey, can we?!

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Human Machine

Everyone has their own idea of perfection in the ideal human face and body. Our ideals conform to our ethno-geographic groupings as human beings, but some elements of how we view perfection remain universal. Strength and agility in the human male, expressed by a powerful musculature, and voluptuous hints of fecundity in the human female body.

And that's quite aside from personality characteristics of humour, sensitivity to others, integrity and curiosity.

When one considers the ideal in the male physiognomy we look for kindness of expression, a balance of equal spacing between the eyes, a firm chin and wide mouth, narrow nose and spacious forehead. And then there's the ideal in human anatomy, latterly upset somewhat by the unequivocal triumph of an American-born male whose trunk is so elongated as to make his legs appear proportionally short; an obvious mismatch of nature's balance.

Michael Phelps, a whippet of 23, whose height is 6'4", but those arms and hands-length give him an additional stretch-advantage of 3". One visualizes lop-sidedness, another of nature's miscalculations in the attainment of balanced physical perfection. On the aesthetically plus-side is the contrast between his broad shoulders and narrow waist.

He has a decidedly slender-shaped head for such a massive trunk, and owns size-14 feet, flipper-sized and -natured. His hands have been described as paddle-shaped. In the lottery of physical attributes he hasn't been poorly equipped by his genetic endowment. But he's hardly the ultimate expression of physical perfection through the lens of aesthetic balance.

Yet there's far more, obviously, than meets the critical eye, since he's also been endowed with an extraordinarily efficient heart-lung combination, and an ability to process his oxygen intake in a manner that produces little blood lactate. He has become one of the modern marvels of the athletic world. Building upon his natural physical physiological endowments through endless practise, he has become the ultimate Olympiad warrior.

He was born physically and mechanically advantaged, and was granted the opportunity to hone his natural proclivities to the kind of exquisite perfection that quite has no peer. His energy-output, his incredible endurance levels, his mastery of the swimming form, his ability to muster from his deep sources of physical stores the additional stamina he needs at critical performance times has become legendary.

Where does all that energy derive from? Apart from the mental fitness, the fixation on surmounting any difficulties he may encounter, the absolute control he exhibits, the superior assurance he feels that he is capable of bettering the advances of his competitors. The lean and muscled man weighs 195 pounds. And eats the equivalent of 12,000 calories each day. Six times what a normal adult male consumes.

He consumes simple carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Fried egg sandwiches with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise. Make that three, please. While you're at it, include a five-egg omelette. Throw in a bowl of grits, and three slices of French toast, and powder some sugar on top. Oh yes, three chocolate chip pancakes and two cups of coffee.

Lunch is a modest half kilogram of enriched pasta, two large ham and cheese sandwiches on white bread with mayonnaise, and a thousand-calories-worth of energy drinks. As for dinner, another half kilo of enriched pasta, along with a whole pizza, and ditto for lunch's energy drinks. Got that? Try that and you won't be able to move for a week. Other than to the thunder pot.

Work yourself up to consuming anything remotely similar for an extended period of time and you're preparing yourself for an early grave. One can only assume this is Michael Phelps's very particular Olympics energy-power diet, not truly representative of the kind of food choices he routinely makes throughout the course of his everyday life experiences.

Unless, that is, his swimming prowess and the constant need to practise has become his very particular lifetime neurosis, and he has no other life than attaining his current level of Olympic-grade and hitherto unparalleled expertise as the world's greatest swimming champion. But apart from that, what a boring diet. No fresh fruits and vegetables, utterly colourless, lacking in some basic nutrients and vitamins.

To envision any human being ingesting that very precise type of food on a continual basis, and the concomitant level of energy-output required to sustain his level of fitness and expert physical professionalism, is also to conceive of a future breakdown of that body.

Aside from the gargantuan food portions and the huge energy output in facilitating Mr. Phelps's level of physical perfection, there is the question of how long the human anatomy can sustain such abuse? There is no balance of moderation in any of this; everything is in excess of what we believe humans can conceivably attain to.

In the process of which, Michael Phelps's success in becoming the most celebrated, most gold-medalled athlete in the history of the Olympics has set the bar at a super-human elevation perhaps never to be repeated.

So, whatever else obtains from this 2008 Beijing Olympics and Michael Phelps part in it, good on him. But have a care.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Everything Will Be A-OK

Here is "new Europe" standing up and shouting they won't have it again. They've been through it, experienced it, and will no longer submit - through bellicose threats, through bloody militancy - to reverting to their former position as unwilling hostage-satellites to Russian's hegemonic demands.

They know what they've left behind, and have no wish - neither their governments, nor their people (with the exception of the Russians settled among them) of re-attaching themselves to anything remotely resembling the Soviet Union. They now control their destiny. They alone have the potential to advance their goals, as sovereign nations.

And as sovereign nations they now take full advantage of all their geographic endowments, their national and natural resources. They are answerable to their populations, not to a near-neighbour sitting on an elevated plane of political control over them. The freedom to be themselves, in respect of their singular histories, cultures and traditions is now their future.

They stand united in opposition to any future feudal claims on their autonomy. It was they who were forced to sacrifice to Russia throughout their enforced union, and neither they nor their people have any desire to repeat the experiment. An experiment that boded so well in theory, but which turned out to be devastatingly burdensome and horribly costly in human lives to all of them, in varying degrees.

One would think, having witnessed the brutal aggression the newly-confident Russia of today is capable of, they might shrink back in horrified apprehension that they are next in turn. Which seems precisely Russia's intent in exercising what she deems is her prerogative in gross interference in a neighbour's territorial integrity.

It seems they understand they have little choice but to relent and return to their once-servile position, or to stand together and defy this newly-awakened malevolent authoritarianism linked with military ambition that Vladimir Putin has re-introduced to the East European geography. Once in thrall, no longer enthralled by the prospect of surrender to the demands of Russian oversight.

Unimaginable that they would stand together in defiance of the world's super-bully. Their independence is not for barter; it is theirs and will remain so. "We know that if other peoples' freedom is threatened...then it's not long before our freedom is threatened", said Estonia's Toomas Hendrik. Paraphrasing Pastor Niemoller in mid-20th-Century fascist Germany.

"You could say that the nation of Russia yet again showed its true face here today", affirmed Poland's Lech Kaczynski. And Ukraine's Victor Yushchenko, whose orange revolution Russia so avidly, angrily resisted, spoke for all his presidential counterparts when he said "We have come to confirm your independence and territorial integrity. These are our values."

Solace for Georgians facing their bleak, black night of invasion and occupation. Scant little, on the other hand, to be had from Old Europe, whose statements have been placatory toward Russia, given more to appeasement than to confrontation. But then they, unlike "New Europe" did not suffer the loss of dignity and freedom under the Soviet yoke.

The German foreign minister is on record, urging Europe not to isolate Russia. Well, would imposing a 900-day sentence in a padded ward in an remote asylum somewhere help to point the Kremlin toward a little self-introspection? The Gulag intermission worked for Solzenitzen. Guess not. In which case, what response would Old Europe prefer? Forgive and forget. They would not wish, after all, to freeze in the dark this coming winter.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, on the other hand, is quite correct in stating "It just doesn't seem to be to be very smart in such a time of crisis to decide whether we should revert to the previous situation". Right; another Iron Curtain descending with a resounding !clank!, and the resumption of the Cold War. And the suspense of MAD.

No one wants the other shoe to drop; on the other hand, reverting to the previous situation is what Russia is attempting, in trying to force its former satellites back into the fold. What splendid irony; Russia's former satellites burn with a white-hot anger, demanding tough sanctions against Moscow. How else does a recalcitrant bully learn that he cannot behave in such a manner?

While the Europe that had no part of the U.S.S.R., only cringing at its prickly nuclear belligerence, warns against the consequences of further antagonizing a militarily-resurgent Russia. It's not Russia's military might that makes this Europe exceedingly nervous, however, it's the far-reaching consequences of Russia casually cutting off their oil and gas supplies, as their major supplier.

Russia's hand in this card game is very strong, leading to the European Union heavy-weights allowing the Putin-Medvedev duo to dictate the ceasefire points to reflect Russia's strategic plans. Which in turn, through vague phraseology and unwarranted neutrality, leaves Georgia hanging in the wind. Which in turn doesn't sit well with Russia's former satellites, Georgia's champions.

Who, mostly themselves NATO and EU members, insist that both entities take a seriously tough line and deploy all their resources, instead of sitting back helplessly. While the other European countries speak in terms of deploying unarmed monitors into the contested area to keep the belligerents separated. Which does nothing, in fact, to solve Georgia's problem.

How does that old saw go? Depends on whose ox is being gored...?

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

And The Backlash

An outraged Georgian president furiously condemns Moscow's flagrant dismissal of the ceasefire agreement it had obligingly signed at the behest of Vladimir Putin's great good friend, Nikolas Sarkozy. President Sarkozy is no doubt more than a little put out himself at this betrayal of his good intentions by his formerly good friend, Prime Minister Putin and his presidential minion, Dmitri Medvedev.

Russia, it should be noted, yet again, is on a mission of peace, a humanitarian mission to ensure the safeguarding of (Russian-style) democracy in the region and the security of its citizens. Surprise for Georgia, assuming that South Ossetians were Georgian citizens, but then there's always a pepper-sprinkling of Russians anywhere and everywhere, in greater or lesser numbers in all of the former U.S.S.R's satellites.

Russian troops are good-naturedly sitting back, observing the very busy activities of those needy dependent-populations whose interests they have been tasked with protecting. As South Ossentian militias embark upon a mission of their own; to wreak vengeance on Georgian civilians in various towns and villages not all that far from the main road leading to Tbilisi.

"All the young men have been killed. the Ossentians are shooting them", shouted a distraught man escaping on the back of a truck piled with desperately frightened people escaping the area. This is a mischievous rumour, of course, there always exists people of ill intent whose purpose it is to blacken the name of Russia and her emissaries of peace.

And who, after all, would believe a representative of the United States, envoy Matthew Bryza who claims having received "credible reports of villages being burned, shootings and killings." Preposterous and nasty in the extreme, to claim that the still-advancing Russian military have had any part in prosecuting this kind of bloody misery.

As for Human Rights Watch claiming that they can confidently state that looting and pillaging in Georgian villages is ongoing, we can dismiss that out of hand. Their researchers claiming that they have "witnessed terrifying scenes of destruction in four villages that used to be populated exclusively by ethnic Georgians" is a verifiable exercise in malicious slander.

Still, amazingly, there are many who believe that this is happening, are disgusted and furious and who, placing their own countries in danger by siding with and supporting Georgia are speaking out. "Russia's aggression against sovereign neighbouring country Georgia shows to the whole world that the peaceful period after the end of the Cold War has ended" claimed Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip.

As he stood on a shared podium with the leaders of Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania and Latvia, at a televised rally in Tbilisi. Moreover, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, in solidarity with Georgia, is raising restrictions on the movement of the Russian fleet, based in the Ukraine's Sevastopol. Bravery, courage, mutiny. In unity there is strength.

But can they match the resolve, the strength of numbers and armaments, the economic might and the resurgent imperial designs of their one-time benevolent/malevolent dictator? Will a newly confident and belligerently determined Russia be the means of their involuntary in-gathering?

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Under Cover of Assent

Or perhaps blatant dissent, posing as helpful agreement, buying time and opportunity. Nikolas Sarkozy in his double role as France's president and current European Union chief placator-and-reason-monger, felt confident he had bargained in good faith with Vladimir Putin through Dmitri Medvedev, and a cessation of hostilities was in the works - instanter.

A pull-back of troops, re-positioning to the former boundaries, time-out to sanely and humanely discuss the trifling disagreement between big and little brother that has erupted into a horrendous family quarrel with the parents committing furiously out-of-control infanticide.

Victory in achieving peace was lamentably short-lived, however, as Russia's convoy of vehicles, field guns, armoured personnel carriers left embattled Gori only to feint a march toward Tbilisi. Panic in the streets, as a very chastened and hugely furious Georgian military set up positions outside their capital to defend it to their very last breath.

Vladimir Putin is enjoying himself enormously. Nothing quite like playing cat-and-mouse when you're the cat and the mouse has been insufficiently cowed and humiliated. Lay it on. Last time around it was Mr. Putin who was humiliated and driven to distraction when the West coddled Kosovo into sovereignty, snubbing Serbia's sovereign borders.

Now Moscow has freed Ossentians and Abkhazians to emulate them, giving them free rein to invade Georgian villages and murder their people, and loot to their hearts' content. Equal opportunity in wild celebrations, rape, murder, looting, instilling a further pandemonium of fear into the hearts of the Georgian population, still awaiting American rescue.

And here's the most precious irony of all; it is Chechen conscripts who have been tasked with the forward mission, advancing into Georgia, guarding checkpoints, halting traffic between Georgia's Black Sea ports, to Tbilisi. Chechnya, which sought to advance its own bid for autonomous separation from its tyrannical master. How darkly, bleakly poetic can an infuriated bear aspire to?

"Chechens and South Ossentians are killing people in the villages"! shouted an old woman, making her painfully wounded way toward Tbilisi. Russian soldiers know better; this is hysterical nonsense. They and their country are motivated solely by a humanitarian desire to assist wherever they can. As they stand by while South Ossentians go on about their looting adventure.

A desperate Georgian population, besieged and bewildered, angered by their president's lack of awareness, will in all probability not seek to unseat him, simply because that would be to perform a dirty little task that Moscow has recommended. Instead, they are picking up arms and going along to the front line.

Russia ignores its honour-bound signature on a pact to halt its military incursion into Georgia, and Georgia's civilian population is determined to retain its sovereign independence, its geographic borders and its honour.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Not To Worry, All Is Well

There, that got everyone's attention. Diluting China's current place on the world stage. Invasion of a sovereign country is an attention-getter. It's a more rare occasion than the staging of the International Olympic Games, after all.

In its own inimitable way a more riveting form of entertainment for those not under the gun of the aggressor than vying for athletic-perfection recognition. The challenges bear certain similarities. Its also a cautionary tale, is it not?

If you cannot trust your friends not to rain on your parade,then who can you trust? Who indeed, former enemies become cautious allies; former allies because incautious enemies.

While China grits her teeth with abandoned irritation against Russia's impetuous drive through Georgia, the world watches in horrified fascination - and helpless inaction - as the Georgian army is routed, its planes are smashed, its ships sunk in its harbour, its citizens' homes are bombed.

Peace-keeping is, after all, a serious commitment, and the country so single-mindedly intent on pursuing peace and protecting its people from "genocidal" intent by their own country's politicians is of singular interest to other nations. Russia takes itself and its initiatives, whatever they happen to be at any given time, seriously.

Can't blame Russia, they're only doing what every responsible country is pledged to do; protect their own. No mind that Russia's "citizens" are in fact, citizens of quite another country, even if it's a country that Russia enjoys blisteringly hostile relations with.

That simply makes the tale more interesting. That Russia, with no malice aforethought whatever, has taken an interest in the welfare of the South Ossetians and the Abkhazians. Selflessly stationing its peace-keepers in the region. And while they're there, encouraging internal dissent, training and equipping dissenters. Oops.

How very high-minded of Russia. And how perfectly unfair for the onlooking world to gasp in dread and wring its collectively helpless hands. Well, Moscow is reasonable, Dmitri Medvedev feels Russian troops have adequately punished Georgia for its intransigence in insisting that its interior affairs are its own, and resisting Russia's interference.

Perhaps he hadn't, at that point, adequately consulted with Vladimir Putin, before making that statement.

Yes, a French-and-Finnish-sponsored agreement for cessation of hostilities has been signed by both parties - with a few notable alterations by Moscow. Isn't it quite wonderful that France's foreign minister has been shuttling about desperately attempting to persuade the aroused bear to calm down?

Mr. Kouchner knows bloody violence when he sees it; he is himself a spectacular world-class upholder of human rights, and we have confidence in him. He is familiar with the kind of diplomacy required in these touchy situations.

Unlike President G.W. Bush and his world-class scold who are both fulminating with white-hot outrage over Russia's reversion to Soviet-style brutality. President Bush, who quite recognized the "goodness" in then-President Putin's wan smile and warmer eyes, wonders where the humanity he invested in that figure has disappeared to.

He might ask himself whether it's always present at times of white-hot anger. There was, let's see, Grenada, a helpless little island that just got on the wrong side of a powerfully annoyed superpower. And of course, more recent events. Serbia comes to mind and support for Kosovo. And, there's always Iraq....

An accord for peaceful resolution is on, hurrah! Oops, it's off; unaccountably, Russian tanks are still advancing....

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Bear Wagging Its Stump

The message was blunt, brutal and to the point. The message underlying the peace-keeping invasion that saw Russia trash international agreements on recognition of the inviolability of sovereign rights of nations; that their borders must not be breached by other countries' armies has received recognition. Russia felt that Georgia deserved a whupping. And Russia was prepared to deliver. Any pretext would do, and Georgia more or less walked - or drove its tanks - into the quicksand that Russia had carefully staged.

No one has to give credibility to the irate descriptions of "genocidal intent" that Russia has promulgated as her reason for assembling a massive force - so strangely at the ready - to protect her "citizens". One must ask, if South Ossetia is part of Georgia's geography even though it was granted autonomy, and its people were citizens of Georgia, did they carry dual passports? South Ossetians' desire for complete independence was too convenient for words, enabling Russia to plan its slap alongside Georgia's face.

The military invasion was a necessity for Russia. Sweet persuasion isn't its way and in any event crude and rude does it for Russia, not diplomatic overtures. For one thing, Russia's neighbours have no reason to trust Russian motivation; they've been too well versed in its hegemonic greed, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union was the answer to their prayers. Not likely they felt eager to stand obediently in line waiting to be re-absorbed.

Yet it's the manner of Russia's former satellites' departure and subsequent cozying up to Western Europe and the United States that particularly rankles Russia's governing elite. No one loves ingrates, those who don't appreciate the overtures and efforts made on the part of others to ingratiate themselves with those who spurn them. National pride and honour don't take kindly to loss of prestige and respect.

Force of argument, threats and finally instilling fear through a violent message such as bombing civilian enclaves and government infrastructures will most certainly do the trick. When a bear's instinctual aggressive tendencies have been aroused, it is difficult-to-impossible to talk it down from its hostile intent. Anxious onlookers in the guise of representatives from the international community can wring their hands, entreat and plead for calm and a restoration of relations, but Russia acts with impunity.

Who will step forward to be the first country to pledge to put themselves and their armies in harm's way? Not surprisingly, the timid warnings emanating from the industrialized countries of the world that Russia risks future good relations with them, falls on deaf ears. The message is clear, and Russia's neighbours, from Ukraine to Estonia get it. It's loud and clear, and expressly violent. Mission accomplished.

The world has an astonishingly short memory. Relations of one kind or another will be restored. Just another adjustment in the world order.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Humanizing, Banned

Whoops, they're at it again, those Saudis. Psychical-social cleansing of the population. The religious police have been tasked, yet again, to exert themselves to ensure that Saudis do not exercise their private conceits lest they conflict with the dictates of Islam. Dog and cat ownership is not to be countenanced. Pet animals may no longer be walked with impunity, in public spaces.

For to do so will be to invite the displeasure of the ruling elite. Who have instructed the Muttawa in Riyadh to enforce Saudi Arabia's wahhabist Islamist code of conduct. Which prohibits the filthy Western practise of pet ownership, of lavishing affection and care on companion animals, of taking pride and pleasure in their company, of sharing life with small furry creatures.

Although conservative Muslims do regard dogs as beneath them, as dirty, not to be allowed into their presence, let alone their homes, it would appear that some Saudis have softened toward the appeal of companion animals, clasping the presence of pets to their bosoms. All would have been well, had it not been for the fact that it has been observed that women walking dogs have attracted the attention of men.

In the West, when people have pets and walk them in public, the presence of the pets often serve as a social ice-breaker, an opportunity for people to lift the aloofness of privacy in public, to greet one another, to admire other peoples' pets, to share a moment of social grace. Not so in Saudi Arabia, evidently, where men see a pet as an opportunity to advance another type of agenda.

Which the head of the religious police claims has the effect of potentially destabilizing relationships, to "disturb families", by unscrupulous men flirting with women walking their pets. Interesting, that point of view. Dogs in particular are hailed as companions for people, as an empathizing-learning experience for children, as emotional companions for the elderly and the lonely.

The presence of pets gives comfort and pleasure, provides entertainment, teaches responsibility and empathy. Human traits of emotional necessity for well-rounded personalities. In Muslim countries, where stray dogs and cats are viewed as pests, rather than as needy creatures to be salvaged and looked after, the values inherent in sharing lives with other creatures is sadly overlooked.

Leading one to speculate that perhaps there is something vital missing in those lives.

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Desperately Adrift, Abandoned

That, in any event, is what it must seem like to the people of Georgia. They were given to believe that they had been accepted by the Western powers, that their own sacrifices in sending troops to join the U.S.'s "coalition of the willing" to fight against terror in Iraq would have earned them respect and support. They may now have the respect of the rest of the world, but support is somehow being withheld. Hardly surprising, given that no other nation feels like risking their own safety in angering a resurgently-aggressive Russia.

While the European Union and other countries of the world desperately scramble to provide diplomatic impetus to persuade Russia to withdraw from its destructive mission to utterly destabilize and humiliate Georgia for its effrontery in standing up for its legal and state rights against Russian demands, they're powerless. Russia insists that Georgia has engaged in "genocide", something that Russia and its troops have been well schooled in provoking on their own, although the descriptive is absurdly, redundantly overblown.

Russia, on its peace-keeping mission within Georgia, claims it has no intention of venturing beyond South Ossetia, but it has mobilized a huge number of troops and transports along with armaments and it is obviously set to deliver an immense blow to Georgia. As a message to the world at large, that it remains a power to be reckoned with. As a direct message to its former satellites, those that have not yet joined the EU and NATO, that they should cease and desist.

There's also a message for the United States and for Israel in there, not a very oblique one, at that. Informing both that if they persist in arming and supporting Georgia, Russia will in turn step up the quality and quantity of support and arms it gives to Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. A most persuasive argument, to be certain. The United States, in turn, can afford to sit tight and condemn Russian aggression from its steady-state podium.

Israel can afford to do no such thing, and having received the message, immediately took steps to refrain from further support for Georgia, despite its close ties with the country. For special emphasis, to ensure that its message would not be lost, Russia bombed a military plant in Georgia where Israeli experts were in the process of upgrading Georgian military jet fighters. Those Israeli defence experts currently in Georgia will be withdrawn. They will no longer engage in training the country's air force and infantry.

Whatever will be left of both, once Russia has finally concluded its brutal rampage. No further sales of artillery systems and aerial vehicles will take place. Georgian army units will no longer be trained by Israelis. And a horribly beset small country summarily invaded by a powerful,much larger aggressor, infinitely better equipped, far more determined to prevail, is left adrift on the world stage, in a paroxysm of violent upheaval.

Georgian President Saakashvili may have ordered his forces to withdraw and cease firing. Offering a cessation of hostilities and to take part in peace talks with Russia, to take place immediately, please and thank you very much. But Russia will have no part of it. Russia has other plans. Did anyone really think that Vladimir Putin was standing down, and taking on a diplomatic back-seat role as prime minister? What is another country's sovereign rights in the face of Russia's implacability in its righteous anger over former satellites' casual disregard of its former status?

Georgia can now take heart that the world will continue to recognize Georgia's "territorial integrity", its right to advance with military determination against a breakaway province whose separatist intriguers have themselves attacked villages outside South Ossetia to make certain their message of violent disagreement and discontent with the proffered autonomy does not suit their purpose. Intervention of any kind of military direction, not so much.

Diplomatic overtures to Russia, however, those in abundance. Alas, how could it be otherwise?

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Malevolence Incarnate

The evil that men do long outlives them. The proliferation of nuclear weaponry know-how by the activities of a Pakistani nuclear scientist in assisting countries like North Korea and Iran, and hopefuls like Syria to attain nuclear installations and ultimately nuclear weaponry has placed the world closer to the knife-edge of extinction. Future incidents of such devices falling into the hands of terror groups remain a potential, accelerating the possibility of utter disaster.

Saddam Hussein was determined to obtain bigger and better armaments, and he was on his way to possessing weapons of mass destruction before the first Iraq invasion. Iran is now well on its way to possessing nuclear capability in the production of nuclear warheads. Yet another country whose belligerent and malevolent views of its neighbours and whose aspirations to complete political ascendancy in the geography marks it as a source of concern for the future.

Should the world mourn the destabilization of such evil-minded countries, or the assassinations of their enablers? It's unnerving to anyone with a modicum of common sense to recognize the danger to which ownership of fissionable materials meant for destruction places us all in. There's a feeling of incredulous dismay when we learn of the sinister plans of one country against another.

The world's countries are all engaged in feverish attainment of conventional weaponry, even those whose national purse strings are constrained. How much more frightening that politically unstable countries with a historical record of enmity toward their neighbours are in possession of nuclear weaponry?

The brittle, bitter, truly hostile relationship between two nuclear powers like India and Pakistan represent a possible tinderbox of huge proportions. A conflict that could, if it emerged, swiftly swallow up the civil advance of both countries, and affect all their neighbours. A conflagration whose proportions would be vastly beyond redemption.

News of the assassination of Syria's Brigadier-General Mohammed Suleiman may be cause for great concern within Syria and Iran and Lebanon, but it spells just desserts for someone who made it his business to make the world just a little less stable. He's reported to have supplied Hezbollah with a superior anti-aircraft missile system capable of producing immense damage to Israel. The man held a position of great prominence in Syria and he dealt closely with North Korea and Iran.

He will, undoubtedly, be missed by his contacts there, and most certainly by the Assad regime, given his great responsibilities there. As a main contact with Hezbollah, a premier terror group with no humane scruples whatever and whose determination to battle and overthrow Israel, opening its territory to Palestinian control after the destruction of the Jewish state, he succeeded in performing more than enough damage in the geography.

The manner of his death is known; a single bullet through his head, while he enjoyed the comfort and solace of his garden. The mystery is the agent of his death, said to have been accomplished by a sniper firing from a passing speedboat.

Sounds like the fantastic stuff of which master-spy-fiction is constructed. Sounds like the finger of suspicion would gravitate to Israel. As it would, as a matter of course, in any event. Syria has been pushing its luck, of late. Its ongoing commitment to arming and training Hezbollah, alongside Iran, is a costly one in terms of its place in the Middle East and elsewhere.

And Hezbollah too, is growing restive, complacent with its armaments store and its readiness for another armed conflict with Israel. Confident that this time around confrontation will result in a complete victory. Their unceasing need to engage in bloody armed conflict, a reflection of the Arab neurosis relating to Israel, will not soon evaporate to be replaced with a willingness to recognize Israel's right to exist in peace with its neighbours.

And as long as countries like Syria and Iran foment unrest and violence and themselves hope, with the help of their surrogates, or on their own, to destroy Israel, they will remain pariahs on the world stage. Apart from which there will be a reckoning, and in the final analysis, it will be telling who will survive and who will pass, unlamented, from human memory.

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Ultra Gamesmanship

The greatest show on earth is underway. The spectacle of the Olympic Games presented to the world at large. An especial gift from China, this year pairing with stunning opening theatricals. Precision presentation of human choreography, a triumph of human ingenuity, a celebration of all that human beings can aspire to in song and dance and a fireworks of aspirations to achieve the status of first-place winner in a frenetic contest to be acclaimed the greatest of their time.

It's become a cliche, but nonetheless true, that these games of the Olympic spirit whose purpose it is to provide a hiatus between world conflicts, to distract from enmities, to attract to the arena of sport and athletics the best and the brightest from around the world, are, in the reality of their demonstrable nationalist contestant-capability a proxy for war itself.

Their achievements to reflect the pride of their nations. A very visible and very valued demonstration of that nation's ability to stimulate athletic prowess unequalled elsewhere, in a sporadic, ongoing gathering of aspirants. Trading, however temporarily, the martial arts of battle for the arenas of athletic competition. The glory of first-place achievement reflecting on the alter-competence of the nation.

Hostilities between countries diplomatically set aside for the duration of the games. Political and ideological differences, suspicions, grievances taking a back seat to the allure and the glamour and the hopes inherent in each country's elite athletes competing to burnish the honour of the nation. With the medals come the country's anthem, a solemn flag-bearing and pride-enhancing metaphor for victory on another type of battlefield.

The host country going out of its way to welcome its guests, anxious that its hospitality be seen as sincere cordiality so that the watching world, enraptured with the athletic prowess displayed, the breathtaking displays of human achievement in motion, the grace of performance, the anxiety of placing at the forefront of success, will also reflect well upon it. And what better venue for athletes to compete than on their very own turf, passionately encouraged by their countrymen?

China, in particular, has been breathless with anxiety over the suspension of goodwill extended to most other countries that have hosted the games. The criticisms that have been levelled at China, the bane of her self-regard in reminding her time and again how the world perceives that great nation lacking in respect of human rights, have rankled beyond endurance. China's grace in insisting beyond reality that all will be resolved, and let the games proceed, has prevailed.

A breathtaking sum funding equally breathtaking games infrastructures. A well rehearsed and precise theatre of immense proportions, skill and aptitude to entertain world leaders and those fortunate enough to be in attendance, beamed by satellite all over the world. The behemoth that is China, the geography, the population, now the emerging economic giant, demonstrating its pride before the world.

It has invested much in these games, and it will have been well repaid if, in years to come, peoples' perception of China, its politics and its relations with other countries will have graduated toward support of human rights universally. In the meantime, the grand spectacle of an entertainment unmatched anywhere in the venues of the past, unfolds as it will. The unfortunate aspects of climate, weather and the country's dismal atmospheric pollution remain an obvious sour point.

The costs associated with Beijing's horribly polluting industries having been shut down for a month will be telling on its economy, already in a backward slide, given the world economic downturn and current energy prices. But for the moment, it is the sterling qualities of world-class athletes demonstrating their amazing athletic prowess, their skill and capability, their determination, that has the world agog.

China is determined to fete the world in a grand style and in that it is succeeding. The irritants of protest for Tibet, of Muslim separatist assaults, even of a deranged Chinese man mortally attacking visitors to the country are background to the success that China demands of her monumental effort. Success counted in terms of high regard for her efforts, of recognition of the huge changes that have taken place in the country, of the record-count of Chinese athletic awards.

For the athletes, the events mark the culmination of their dreams as elite performers. Their talent, fitness, health, commitment, arduous practise of a sport that has consumed them as they set aside for the time it takes to reach prime condition, all other aspects of their life, mark this as their life goal. For the athletes it's not power politics, but the power of positive thinking and forcing their bodies to perform beyond the slight edge of human endurance.

For them the contest has the potential to result in a personal victory, vindication of their single-minded focus on their sport. Their victory will be their country's gain in pride and prestige, and that too has great meaning for the successful athlete. In providing that outstanding proof that their victory highlights the heights to which humankind can aspire, they are celebrated as premiers in their field, without peer.

For the countries whose athletes' performances are in the highest percentile of perfection, the suspense and tension of the contest reflect on their perceived success as a country, providing the opportunities for their superior citizens to perform at this stratospheric level of physical attainment. China and the United States, those two huge powers, facing off, their proxies contesting one another's abilities.

The International Olympic Committee is fond of describing itself and its goals as strictly non-political, but they've always been political. Granting venue dispensation at cardinal times of national importance to any number of countries of the world. When Russia invaded Afghanistan, the United States and others boycotted the games held there. A compliment later returned by Russia when the games were held in the United States.

Russia has now invaded Georgia in a spectacular display of boorish militancy, calling its involvement there a "peacekeeping" operation. Russia, with its massive armaments, soldiery, and anger, as opposed to Georgia's relatively minuscule forces and military equipment. No contest there, as Georgia pulls back and Russia continues its brutal advance. The world pleads for calm. And the games go on.

Diplomacy prevails in the games venue. Russian and Georgian competitors shake hands. While Russian planes bomb Georgian cities, its international airport. Another distraction for the Beijing-held Olympics, one that the world can help China shrug off, for the moment. The IOC did not feel it was required of it to suspend the day's activities, nor hang its flag at half-mast, when Israeli athletes were murdered in 1972 in Munich, why would it be disturbed now?

The ideal of human perfection in athletic performance goes on, and so it should. The ideal implied in the venue of the games where the world contributes its most capable and outstanding athletes to a temporary truce in suspicion and hostilities with the hope of extension far beyond the games will remain an illusion.

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Consuming Life

Human beings are so supremely suggestible. We are so vulnerable to being manipulated. We seem to invite interference in our lives, to tolerate, even welcome intrusions in our most private and intimate thoughts and feelings. Nothing is too sacrosanct from the invasion of entrepreneurs who claim they have the means to fulfill our most ardent desires.

Consumables of all kinds are there for the taking, and whether they fill a required niche in our lives or not, they represent "must-haves" because advertising informs us that our lives will be incomplete without them. Take, for example, childless couples who feel their lives to be incomplete without the eventual appearance of children to round out their familial intent and aspirations. Their absence is a source of real sorrow for those incapable of conceiving.

That's the developed world, where increasingly people have more disposable income than ever before. Where a great and ever-burgeoning upper middle-class considers as mundane and basic a style of living never thought possible by their forebears. European or Caribbean vacations, not merely in the summer, but during March break when the children are out of school. Backyard in-ground swimming pools. Four-bedroom, great-room, four-bathroom houses.

Not to be seen side-by-side with what pertains as normal and even desirable in developing countries. Those countries of the world where people barely have sufficient to support themselves, let alone a growing brood of children they seem incapable of controlling through birth control. But then, such a large percentage of very young children die well before they reach five years of age, and those that survive will be responsible in young adulthood, for the support of their parents.

In the developed world children have become less prevalent in society, as educated and professional families simply have fewer of them. Where countries like Canada experience greater numbers of funerals than live births. Children are valued for the status they convey among some women who see them as a completion of their destiny, while other women consider their offspring to be impediments to their aspirations as professionals, and barely tolerate their presence, shuffling them off to the care of paid parental surrogates.

And isn't life just like that? The people who really want children because they want to love them, enjoy their development, make every conceivable sacrifice to ensure they are emotionally secure and intellectually inspired, seem to be the people who for one reason or another, are unable to conceive. While the people for whom having a family replete with children is just something that happens, and they make the best of it - have no trouble at all conceiving. Or so it would often seem.

Couples for whom conception simply hasn't occurred either accept the inevitable, and keep trying, or become desperately involved in searching out alternative and meagerly successful means of conception. Medical science has done its part in attempting to solve the problems of infertility in males and females. And sometimes there appears to be no medically identifiable reason why a couple remains infertile. To them are offered alternative methods of attempting conception.

Legally approved drugs, and artificial insemination as modes of treatment, not by any means always successful. But still realizing a modicum of success, in the low double-digit percentile. These are seen to be relatively inexpensive treatments, not involving the more serious and expensive treatment involving time, energy and determination, often resulting in disappointment when IVF does not work.

Now researchers from the universities of Aberdeen and Oxford along with hospitals in Edinburgh, Dundee, Falkirk and Glasgow have published the results of research, in the
British Medical Journal, questioning not only the presumed efficacy of the expensive, time-consuming, and sometimes painful stimulation of a woman's ovaries to achieve conception, but the value in total of prescribing it.

Their research appears to conclude that women left to continue attempting natural conception, and another group prescribed climifene citrate which is used to correct subtle ovulatory dysfunction, reaches a similar success rate as the intrusive, expensive method, around which an entire medical-conception industry reaping its practitioners huge heaps of money has obtained.

Clinics which specialize in the extremely expensive, and most often publicly-paid for procedure whereby a woman's eggs are collected, fertilized outside the body, then returned to the womb do a booming business. Their services are widely advertised to desperate couples wanting to have children, living their little hells of dissatisfaction of life's unfairness. Public relations claims for success entice women who are informed they still have a chance for success.

Yet the alternate methods, including IUI, which enhances the chance of pregnancy by injecting sperm behind the cervical barrier, seem to be just as successful as IVF. We remain, as an entitled group of people, dissatisfied with our lives, regardless, it seems, of how they evolve. If and when we perceive ourselves to have been ill dealt with by fate, we seek out remedies, not always practical, even minimally promising.

None are too costly, too time-consuming, life-disrupting, to attain our ends. Particularly when the process is supported by public funding. And that's another story; publicly funded medicine is meant to solve medical crises, to aid and to heal human frailties and disease. To view parenthood as an assured entitlement is questionable to begin with. Yet there are those who feel resolutely entitled to aspire to parenthood even if nature tells them otherwise.

Well, the good thing about all of this is the encouragement to keep trying. Through the natural process. That promises a whole lot of recreation time, doesn't it?

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Hegemonic Power Politics

Thus has it always been, thus will it always be. If the power behind the Soviet Union has anything to say about it. So we have another classic example of the kettle blackening the pot. Where Russia is self-empowered by entitlement as eastern Europe's prime bully to wreak havoc on any country that presumes to challenge its pre-eminence as a military power by virtue of its leaders' determining aggressive acts to ensure that questioners remain timid and suppressed.

Afghanistan happens, Chechnya happens, as did Czechoslovakia and still does a cowering Ukraine, let alone all the other bordering states hesitant to rouse the irascible temper of a glowering giant in world politics. One that has, furthermore, in the last few years, become a resurgent force in other spheres; economic and energy-wise, enabling it to indulge in other types of bullying. In a sense, Russia has re-emerged to take its former place as one of the duo of world bullies.

If one had a choice, however, one might self-protectively select the bullying of the United States, as long as it too wasn't poked too insolently in its abundantly self-serving eye. The reason is simple enough; while Russian citizens bask in the reflected glory of a resurgent albeit nascent Russian super-power and will support their government in whatever aggressions it takes on, Americans are not quiet as sanguine about their government's like decisions.

Americans require accountability, some recognition of the universal rule of law, and their humane system of values and justice in trust help enormously to keep some ambitions of some of their politicians in check. Now here is Russia, playing the uber-bully once again, militarily invading the territory of a former satellite. Georgia has been playing it too cozy with the West for Russian comfort. Russia has lost too many of its former satellites to the West, and it stings.

Even Serbia, whose outrage at the United Nations and particularly countries of the West lending formal support and recognition to Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence, has lent itself to closer relations with the very countries which supported Kosovo's decision. Russia simply cannot abide the very thought, let alone the reality, that its former allies and dependent-countries have abandoned it.

So it drew the line for Georgia. Giving Russian citizenship to South Ossetians as a warning to Georgia that it may not take steps to do as Russia does, in aggressive military action to ensure that province does not succeed in breaking away and declaring its independence. Russia has been encouraging the rebel forces in South Ossetia, arming and training them, and steadfastly denying it has been engaged in any such skulduggery.

Trouble is, the Georgian leadership has proof positive of Russian involvement, with Russian planes having been filmed engaged in shooting down Georgian surveillance drones, among other matters. The Ossetian separatists are determined to have their way, to be re-united with North Ossetia, itself part of Russia. And how long does Russian intelligence feel it would take for a united Ossetia, North-South, to assert its need for independence from Russia?

In a very real sense, it's hard not to feel some sympathy for any ethnic/social/religious clan where borders have summarily assembled them into a nation they have no empathy with, anywhere in the world, from Spain to Iraq, Turkey to Georgia, Sri Lanka to Congo. The Kurds want a nation of their own, and they agitate between Turkey and Afghanistan and Iraq, to secede. Tamils desire their own independence, and they've perfected violent persuasion to achieve that end.

Once borders have been established, often with no regard for the tribal affiliations they bisect through the auspices of colonial powers departing the scene, the emergent countries' governing bodies - from the Middle East to Africa - have no intention whatever to entertain the yearnings of disparate ethnic minorities to succeed in separation. Diplomacy is rarely invoked as a reasoning tool. More often military force settles the question.

When Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili sought a truce from hostilities, Ossetian separatists launched attacks against Georgian villages in response. There was no other option, under those circumstances, but to invade its province of South Ossetia in an attempt to restore order. While South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity claimed his forces were capable of holding their own against the Georgian forces, and he had no intention of calling for Russian assistance.

A day later, with the South Ossetian capital in flames, Russia condemned Georgia harshly: "Georgia's step is absolutely incomprehensible and shows that the Georgian leadership has zero credit of trust. Georgia's behaviour is treacherous." Which, if it were not so serious, would be downright amusing, given Russia's military advance on its own would-be separatists, let alone neighbouring countries who dissent from Russian dominance.

Now, Georgia is in deep trouble. A full-scale Russian military interference is in play, with Russian belligerence at the highest level of determination to protect 'its own'; the South Ossetian Georgian citizens it had extended Russian citizenship to in a provocative move to warn Georgia to call off improvident thought of any potential measures to ensure that separation would not succeed.

"If the whole world does not stop Russia today, then Russian tanks will be able to reach any other European capital" warned Georgia's president. Russia will be condemned. But Georgia is in this conflict not entirely of its own design, on its own. A lot of United Nations' sponsored tut-tutting will commence, and the situation deplored. Russia will be asked, politely, to cease and desist. It will, of course, ignore world opinion, world censure.

It will be recommended to Georgia that it take nice steps to placate the separatists; restore autonomy and promise non-interference, for the time being, until the matter can be fully resolved to everyone's satisfaction. Former Russian president, now Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, informed U.S. President George W. Bush in Beijing, that "war has started today in South Ossetia".

Not their fault that Georgia has launched an all-out war on Russia's allies.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is discussing the issues involved, with his national security council. "We will not tolerate the death of our citizens" declared he, a rather spurious statement, under the background circumstances and current decision to bring death to Georgians for their impudence in defying Russia's carefully laid trap. "Those guilty will receive due punishment."

Doubtless they will. Russia is very adept at delivering punishment.

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