Thursday, January 30, 2014

The power of denigration

I guess that many of you reading this weren't around during the Cold War, when the United States was the protector from communism we all loved to hate, although not entirely without reason. Yes, they were a  tad overbearing at times, I can remember the Reagan years, and being a teenager throughout most of that time, thought that the Americans were a bit too imperialistic.

Fast forward to now, I still think that they were a bit pushy then, but the rest of the world also said and did a lot of things about America and Americans that they should not have, and I believe that, going back ten years, it culminated in American foreign policy when they invaded Iraq and the toxic atmosphere in international relations that was created. The U.S. seemed to be reacting to all the trash-talk that it took from abroad for decades by returning all the insults it had previously seemed to take in stride, and much of the American conservative movement still seems to operate on this mindset, fighting a new Cold War against anyone who questions them, at home and abroad.

During this time, it was the Europeans, the French in particular, who took the brunt of the Americans' seemingly hostile new attitude toward anyone who did not support whatever they did. Whatever France's reasons were for not entering into the second Gulf War (most likely Jacques Chirac's general loathing of all things English-speaking), overnight, they were America's newest enemies, all things French are bad and needed to be changed (remember 'Freedom Fries'?), and their war record in the past century was cited over and over again, accusing them of cowardice in battle (surrendered to the Nazis after five days as one example).

Back to the present, France seems to have picked up the slack that the U.S. has left in being "the world's policeman" (which they seem very unwilling or unable to do at the moment), taking the lead on things like the ouster of Col. Khdaffy as one example. I do believe that this is a direct response to all the bashing that it took due to the Iraq invasion and they are trying to prove them wrong at every turn. It's quite understandable, as was the Americans' hyperdefensiveness during that war. It seemed that the entire American conservative movement was reacting to being beaten and held down for so long, but they have yet to get it entirely out of their system.

Some lessons here:
  1. People are fickle. For example, one day everyone's hating on the Americans, now they're not.
  2. National pride can be a fragile thing, even a superpower like the United States.
  3. Trash-talk in politics (particularly at the international level) ultimately leads to irrational decision-making and festering ill-feeling, even if it's delayed. 

This is a link I was looking for, just found it now. Apparently the U.S. is not disengaging from the world, and frankly I'm glad they're not. I do believe that the U.S. and what it stands for is a force for good in the world, but the Iraq war just exemplified doing it the wrong way with the wrong attitude.

Monday, January 13, 2014

These are the good old days

I keep hearing about economic inequality, I guess that is only here in the West. In most (but certainly not all) other places, things are getting better. Nations that we refer to as 'developing' are becoming 'developed', and more people are being lifted out of extreme poverty. According to a British magazine called the Spectator, rising international trade increased wealth and community-based programs are the reasons for it, not government programs. It also mentions UN Millenium Goals (without bashing the UN, pleasant surprise) being met and exceeded.

Someone else drawing much of the same conclusions, but from a liberal perspective.

What do we have to look forward to this year? Worldwide hunger is being halved, more people around the world are literate, and certain diseases are being eliminated, largely because more people are getting vaccinated. Again, UN Development goals are being met. Not that it was the UN's doing necessarily, but they set the goals, and I was, quite frankly, skeptical of any of them being met.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

How should we treat our rogues?

So Ronnie Biggs has just been buried (one of those people you did not realize was still alive). I first heard about him when they showed the weekly kids' half-hour news show "What's New?" which my Grade 5 teacher Mrs. Roblee gave up half an hour of teaching time to show us. Perhaps a small part of me was happy for him for winning a real-life version of 'Cops and Robbers'. It may have been a somewhat popular sentiment off-and-on while I was growing up, but these days we have little tolerance for people like him from reading the 'peanut gallery' in those links.

Just recently, I was reading a story from the book 'My Canada' by Pierre Berton about William 'Bill' Johnstone, the 'Pirate of the St. Lawrence'. He was born in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec in 1782 but grew up to despise Canada and fought for the American cause. He had a few successful raids from which he profited quite handsomely, and the few times he was imprisoned, he was a talented escape artist, and he had friends on the American side who helped to grant him a presidential pardon (by William Henry Harrison, who lasted only a month in office before dying of pneumonia).

Today, there is a famous (at least in Quebec) cricket club called 'The Pirates of the St. Lawrence' presumably in his honour. And they actually made a bronze plaque of him 120 years after he sacked and burned the 'Sir Robert Peel', in the country he despised, in 1958 in Ontario, and his memory was celebrated by local dignitaries at the time. As for Biggs, while it is highly unlikely his life will ever be commemorated in any way (at least not by public officials), what I read in the comments in some articles about his life basically call him a monster, or even a sociopath (that word does tend to get thrown around a lot), and I do not want do excuse or condone anything he did, but I do detect an air of increasing self-righteousness in people. Which may not be a bad thing in itself, but we should try to keep things in their proper perspective. Biggs was a petty criminal, nothing more, nothing less.

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