Short note on Dying in Politics 

It's one of these thoughts that I assume must be universally accepted and uncontroversial, yet I find it difficult and uncomfortable to deal with when reflecting about many political issues.

What if a public policy risks to kill people to achieve some objective that may or may not be related to these people? How can any policy-making body, even if it is, in the best case, something as universal as the UN, make a claim to the right to kill somebody? I know that in health economics, for example, it is common to assign a monetary value to each human life lost (usually in the order of magnitude of 1 million euros). It seems absurd. The person who's world is annihilated by death would never accept the deal, and who can claim to talk in his/her name?

Yet, if we were serious about this, many political decisions could never be made. Certainly no wars could be declared.

Now comes the bizarre part. Let's assume war is started anyway. It kills ten thousand people. None of these deaths can be justified. Then the fighting stops. Suddenly there is no problem anymore - everybody is at peace, nobody complains. Life is for the living, the ten thousand are not among them. The moral dilemma has disappeared (religious concepts like sin or retribution notwithstanding).

Dying is horrible before it happens, but irrelevant after it occurs. "History will forgive us", says Tony Blair. Is this democratic politics in the post-religious age?


Chomsky on the Invasion of Iraq 

Glad to see that Noam Chomsky, the genius scientist and, for many leftists, political idol, has (or at least officially licenses?) his own blog, Turning the Tide. As one might expect, the analysis is razor-sharp, if provocative.

In a March 27 2004 commentary on today's perspective on the invasion of Iraq, there is a lot I'm happy to see written, and some stuff that seems irritatingly hollow.

Here the quotes I loved:

All opponents of the invasion of Iraq ... took for granted that there would be beneficial effects, as is often the case with military interventions: the bombing of Pearl Harbor, for example, which led to the expulsion of Western imperial powers from Asia, saving millions of lives. Does that justify Japanese fascism and its crimes?


Uncontroversially, the invasion struck a serious blow at the system of international law and institutions that offers at least some hope of saving the world from destruction. And though victors do not tabulate the consequences of their crimes, there is little doubt that the numbers of Iraqis killed is in the tens of thousands.

I believe this estimate of Iraqi victims must be correct (that is, the number must be somewhere between 10,000 and several ten thousands, most of them in the military due to air and artillery bombardments) - it is incomprehensible to me why it is mentioned so seldomly as the counterweight of the benefits of the overthrow of Saddam.

(and earlier:)

Unless the population is at least given the opportunity to overthrow a murderous tyrant, as they did in the case of the other members of the rogue's gallery supported by the US and UK (including the current incumbents), there is no justification for resort to outside force to do so.

Note however, in the last quote, the reference to an argument Chomsky supports at length in his commentary, namely that the population of Iraq was denied the chance to overthrow Saddam by the regime of international sanctions that was in place before the invasion. Chomsky argues that if the sanctions had been lifted (or restricted to weapons purchases), the likelihood that Saddam would be overthrown would have increased dramatically. I see no reason at all why this assumption should hold; removing a negative does not automatically trigger a desired, but unrelated positive. As a sceptic, I'm inclined to believe that the social forces in Iraq were such that an overthrow of Saddam by the population would have been quite improbable in either scenario for a considerable period of time.


You stupid weekend pill 

Instead of making me better, you're just making me ill... This drug "is effective against [harmless intestinal problem]..." much further down, small print "side effects can include some stomach cramping which should be seen as part of the normal healing process" - ahem, in stark contrast with my original problem, this little bit of "stomach cramping" made me miss out on a night's worth of sleep in exchange for some of the worst stomach pain I've ever experienced, hello, manufacturer?


How not to become Austrian president 

Have a look at this nice parody website by fictitious candidate Limonetta Wagner-Rocher (all similarities with real candidates intentional).

The project is so sophisticated, and so much effort has been put into it, I'm wondering why Limonetta is not considering a real candidature, replacing the exaggeration of opinions of her mimetic target with her own opinions? Or does she consider her own opinions to be without interest?


Wondering about music 

The basket where we collect clothes that need to be ironed was bulging. Time for another boring, disciplined session of ironing my shirts.

The TV is broken, and nobody cares enough to have it fixed. So the only saviour was the record collection. Now it happens that I have strong, though not exclusive interest in, er, contemporary music - the serious stuff in the tradition of classical music. I must say that I have neglected this interest lately, and so I felt it was time to put a CD of, let's see, why not Wolfgang Rihm on, three violin quartets. I've always been inspired by his music in concerts, it's fierce and forceful, and at times funny.

Yet, as my ironing went on past the first half hour, my mind wandering as usual, I noticed that the music was getting on my nerves. I attributed it to having become unused again to atonal music, that my ear needed to re-accommodate, but it did not get better. So obviously it had to have something to do with my lack of attention to the music as I was working. I yearned for something harmonious, mellifluous I think is the word, to soothe my yawning, ironing brain. But wait a minute, that was so wrong, according to the dogma of modern music. Music is not supposed to be a background tranquilizer to comfort bourgois alienation, music must be existential and radical. But I did not want that right then, I wanted .. I already told you. So in a world where Wolfgang Rihm exists, what should the citizen do when ironing? Anything but listen to music? I'm sure neither Michael Nyman, Charlie Parker, Chopin, nor let's say, Lenny Kravitz would have minded if I was listening to their stuff, and I might have enjoyed it more for that. So is my entertainment-oriented use of music wrong, or is the mistake there in the contemporary music, which ignores all functions that music can have except its raw sensual and cognitive force and the potential to use that for analytical, philosophical explorations of the self? Music that requires the listener to train himself? Before I had a child, I was willing to believe that my emotional attachment to tonality in music was a result of childhood experiences, when I was exposed to a lot of classical music but to no Schönberg or beyond. But I have experimented with our son since he was born: his dislike of atonal stuff was there from birth, and it is getting stronger as he is becoming more articulate.

So maybe the scope of contemporary music is limited to highly attentive states of listeners, and in less attentive states there would always be different types of music that are appropriate at each level of attention and concentration, ranging from, what, Barber down to - hopefully not Shania Twain.


Der Falter on terrorism and the Swedish economy 

Attracted by the headline on the cover ("Terror - How to fight unlawfulness without breaking the law"), I bought the Viennese weekly Der Falter yesterday. The lead article is a disappointment. For example, the authors don't discuss whether international law must not be broken at all or whether there could be special circumstances where this should be considered. So instead they enumerate what policing measures could be taken - hardly any that are not already in place, it seems - and discuss is the division of responsibility between a secret service and a police force. But most of their article is about the question of how tasks in the European fight against terrorism should be distributed between the European nations and EU institutions, what should be done by Europol and what by national police and so on. For example, apparently a proposal by the Austrian interior minister to set up a "European CIA" has gained traction in Brussels.

Unfortunately, these EU-institutional questions are of hardly any impact in the real world. The fact that the discussion in Europe becomes focussed on them (see also the blog entry for 22 March by presidential candidate Ferrero-Waldner) is just a sign of the general cluelessness about what to do, which in turn is provoked by the general reluctance to take a more active approach to the issue.

It would seem that a few things need to be done now. The muslim communities in Europe, and also the muslim states, must be reassured that Europe continues to be interested in pluralism, dialog and engagement, including the Palestinian question. But at the same time, Al-Kaida and everybody who either supports it or is neutral towards it must be declared enemies of all European states. Terrorism supporters must be arrested by all means. Terrorism sympathisers must be evicted, always on an individual level, and never extending the forceful attitude to an individual's family or community.

In the same issue of Der Falter, an article about the success of the Swedish economy, which is explained by the genereous welfare provisions rather than - as is allegedly common - by the active innovation policies of the Swedish government. Again, a rather typical short-circuited argument. Could it not be that the Scandinavian countries have reached a more advanced state of social development, where individuals are better educated, more open to rational argument, less prone to intellectual laziness, and eventually for THESE reasons more effective as economic actors than the compromising, all too comfortable central Europeans?


Yassin assassination, terrorism 

I slowly come to think that a large part of the European debate about muslim terrorism is indeed misguided and illusionary. On the occasion of Sheik Yassin's assassination by the Israelis, Jack Straw's statement was quite comprehensive. It expressed understanding for the Israeli situation, denounced the violation of international law, and expressed a political evaluation (in this case, that the assassination would hurt Israel). Unfortunately, Javier Solana's statement additionally expressed "sadness" over the assassination, which would hurt the peace process, as if to extend condolences to the Sheik's followers. This really steps over the line.

There is one issue of legality in the fight against terrorism. Democratic states with a rule of the law are called to respect legality. The US and Israel, and to a lesser extent countries like Britain have abandoned this principle, claiming that they are leading an asymmetric "war" against terrorists.

But, the issue of using maximum force against terrorist mass-murderers must be seen as a separate issue from the legality issue, and every democrat should support a fierce response to terrorists in principle. Pandering to terrorists like Yassin or Al-Kaida is spineless - and also self-destructive, when one is dealing with fundamentalists whose goal is nothing less but to annihilate parts or the whole of Western civilisation. Unfortunately, many Europeans are not immune to this error, and this tends to provoke observers from the US and Israel a lot.

Read, for just one example, the article by social-democrat left winger Caspar Einem in DerStandard. Einem portrays what he considers a successful Austrian policy of dealing with islam both within Austria and internationally. The policy, he says, consists of political dialog and engagement, combined with a warning to the muslim political activists that violence will not be accepted. He contrasts this with the countries in the US-led coalition, who allegedly are not interested in the political dialog and engagement, and who do not allow peaceful political activism by muslims within their borders. As long as there is no violence in Austria itself, each and every political activist seems to be welcome to Einem.

But surely not every country can hide like this behind other countries that fight terrorism more aggressively - somebody will have to shoulder the burden to address those who plan or committ the actual attacks. And if they did not, even with Austria's policy the country would still be in the first line of targets for the next Al-Kaida terrorist act. In fact, there is speculation in the blogosphere that Vienna might be one of the next logical targets for fundamentalist muslim terrorism due to the battle over Vienna which the Turks lost in the 17th century.

Inciters to terrorism must be isolated and fought. The challenge is to do this in a discriminate way. The attack on Yassin killed nine people, not just one, and in other incidents countless innocent civilians have been killed by the Israelis and the US-led coalition. This is a huge tragedy and policy failure in each individual case. A democratic country, even if it has abandoned the rule of international law in its struggle with terrorism, must not allow itself to become careless about human life. This is one of the real scandals that is addressed far too little in either the Israeli, the US- or for that matter the European debate.


Electing the Austrian President (Bundespräsident) 

The candidates for the election on 25 April 2004 are: Heinz Fischer, a senior social-democrat and president of parliament, and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the conservative foreign minister.

Other would-be candidates, who will most likely fail to pass the conditions to run in the election (600 individual support signatures made at the council office) include Martin Wabl, Wolfgang Pöltl, Franz Josef Plank, Irene Schober, and, offline, Anna Gaia-Herzog, and Harald Lambacher. As far as I can see from the webpages, Martin Wabl seems to offer a coherent political agenda, with Wolfgang Pöltl and Franz Josef Plank as part time-authentic runners up.

Since I am not running this year (candidates must be at least 35 years old, a condition which I'll fulfill at the next election in 2010), the choice is a tough one :-). The Austrian president is not very powerful in the de-facto political system, where real power rests with the government and the chancellor (Bundeskanzler), but the president can play on his or her significant symbolic influence and publicity. I believe that the role could be used to some good purposes.


Is Europe dying? 

This article by Mark Steyn from the US argues it is, based mainly on the age demographics. Much fun is being had with the way this will explode the European pay-as-you-go pension systems. Actually, some probably semi-trustworthy poll recently claimed that two thirds of Austrian youths don't expect to receive a pension when they grow old.

Steyn uses Vienna to illustrate the European malaise:
Don’t get me wrong, I love Vienna. I especially like the way you can stroll down their streets and never hear any ghastly rockers and rappers caterwauling. When you go into a record store, the pop category’s a couple of bins at the back and there’s two floors of operetta. All very pleasant, though not if you’re into surfing the cutting edge of the zeitgeist.

Apart from the fact that Steyn seems to have been caught in an inner-city tourist trap on his visit, what about the Zeitgeist (if capitalization is allowed here)? It's funny that many visitors think like that about Vienna, whereas if you've grown up in the town, Vienna can at times almost feel like a model of human existence. Vienna today happens to be a mid-sized town between stagnant western Europe and emerging eastern Europe, with a lot of burdensome history, and with a fair share of intellectual excitement that occurred at the beginning of the 20th century, a period more interesting than some. The town seems at times ugly for what it has been and for what it has become, but it also is deep like hell. For locals, it is not one of these cities where it's hard to get below the surface of things, rather, the problem in Vienna is how not to drown. And isn't that the face of human existence? And so, if you live in a place that is like you, it will suck you up. You will think that if you can survive Vienna, you can survive life.

Can Vienna, can Europe survive? Or rather, can it survive itself?


The kind of day when you create a weblog 

..is not the kind of day when you are ticking smoothly like a clock, it is the kind of day when you seem to have too much unfinished business with the world to fit into your planned schedule, and so you break the schedule and open up a new unspecific channel of communication, just for the sake of it.

More violence in Kosovo 

Sad. A Serb teenager was shot. In revenge, allegedly three Albanian teenagers were forced into a river by Serbs, where they drowned. In revenge, ... around twenty people have been killed, mosques and churches burnt. Resignation is not allowed. There is however an issue of failing policies of reconciliation. Sometimes, a simple outburst of violence shows that a qualitative difference is required in the political strategy, that muddling on will eventually - probably - fail. It's difficult to take the responsibility for such a break with the current practice, but after five years of failed forced reconciliation it may be necessary. How? Maybe, in line with the trend of the day, a "war on racism" in Kosovo, where active radicals on both sides will be physically isolated (imprisoned) by a kind of special international police forces.

I noticed during the last days that the media I read don't write what I'd like to read. They don't see things right. So when I have an opinion that seems worth the typing, I'll let it be known here.


About Me/Impressum 

I am (email gniklfeld_ATlittlespam_hotmail.com), born in Graz/Austria in '71, living in Vienna. I studied, in alphabetical order, computer science, linguistics, philosophy, and technology management, but I doubt whether they have made me a much smarter person. I hope life so far has. I suffer from an analytical mind that keeps searching for food.

Legalese (most of this text copied from Horst with credits):

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