Tag Archives: politics

Right Nation

I was amused when, while working in North Carolina in 2003, I visited some friends for Thanksgiving. All their neighbours introduced themselves and then, on finding I was English, apologised. “It’s not our fault, we didn’t vote for him!” Stood amongst those liberal, well travelled and smart people it was difficult to reconcile this with the fact that they lived in a country that had a president that was none of those things.

It’s bizarre. Virtually every American I’ve met has disliked Dubya, yet over the whole country, despite a number of obvious set-backs, his popularity has rarely been in question. Why such a contradiction? How did it get like that and how soon will the US be returning to normal?

I decided to read “Right Nation” by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge to find out.

It is split into four sections, starting with the history, then the anatomy (the various parts that make up the American Right), then prophecy (what comes next) and finally exception (what makes America different). It drills down into each area in detail, exploring their main ideas from any number of different angles.

For those that are looking for Dubya-bashing, this is not the book for them. In fact, if anything, he has gone up in my estimation after reading it. Not to say that he comes out smelling of roses. In fact the main villain of the piece turns out to be John Ashcroft, not necessarily because he did the worst things (although the PATRIOT Act takes some beating) but because, given the power, he ended up doing the exact opposite of what he professed to support.

I can’t say that I necessarily agreed with everything in the book, but I would say that was to its credit. The authors proudly claim that they have been accused of being sympathisers of both sides of the debate, which just goes to show how even handed they’ve been. The main criticism that I would level is that it was very dry and academic in tone. The langage is precise and functional, the structure shows detailed research and clear thinking. Maybe it’s just in the nature of a non-fiction tome like it and, while not entirely off-putting, didn’t make it a page-turner. I also found some US-centric terms not defined anywhere, or maybe they’re defined once but are just well hidden. For example, I thought you bought jeans at The GOP until I looked it up and realised my mistake.

But back to our original questions — why and how much longer do we have to put up with Bush and his cronies? Does the book answer those questions? For the most part, yes. You may not agree with (or like) the conclusion, but it does give some serious food for thought and is well worth a read.

Train to the Roof of the World

I couldn’t let the inaugural train journey betweeen Beijing and Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, go by without comment. It represents a huge shift for the Tibetans and, while it could bring some positive changes, it’s more likely to bring large numbers of Chinese and a quickening of the pace of the decline of their unique culture.

Wired has a nice article — “Train to the Roof of the World” — that takes a balanced view of the technology and politics. The BBC’s — “First Beijing train reaches Lhasa” — is much shorter if you’re pushed for time!

Also see the pictures from my 2002 trip to the region.

Civil liberties, national security and irony

This is a big subject and one where I’m increasingly of the opinion that we’re going too far in the wrong direction. ID Cards and imprisonment without trial are bad enough but things seem to be going even worse on the other side of the Atlantic (or the UK Government is better at hiding their nefarious plans).

Last weekend I came across an article in the Washington Post that says that the Bush administration is trying to pass a law which would restrict the rights of the press. It would, for example, make it possible to prosecute reporters who found that the President did something illegal or to publish information about a wiretap.

Fortunately press freedom hasn’t been completely decimated yet. The University of Chicago recently held a panel discussion on Civil liberties vs. national security. This write-up on Artstechnica is scary in places — why are such senior legal experts willing to toe the party line based on such flawed logic?

Meanwhile, apparently missing out on the irony, Congress is investigating some big Internet companies activities in China to see whether they’re doing naughty things like helping suppress free speech and imprison dissidents.

Tibet, 2002

I assure you: it’s not deliberate. I’d like to go on record and say that I do not plan to only go to obscure — some have even said dangerous — places. I just go where my interests lie.

I’ve been to a couple of Buddhist countries recently (Thailand and Sri Lanka), but they both practise the same kind of Buddhism — called Theravada. I originally thought that they were the less pure form, the Church of England to Tibet’s Catholicism. I went to Tibet to see the “real” Buddhism, however it turns out that, in some ways, the opposite is true (it’s a long story; leave comments!). Tibetan Buddhism (Mahayana) is actually a merger of the traditional Tibetan religion, B?n, with more normal Buddhism.

My confusion over their form of Buddhism was only the start of it. It’s a schizophrenic place, one where the peoples army destroyed some temples and preserved others, fighting between themselves on more than one occasion.

The Chinese have transformed Lhasa to such an extent that there’s now a “Tibetan Quarter,” yet the Tibetans still seem to be certain of their own identity.

It’s easy to see how people become passionate about the cause of the Tibetan people, however to deny that the Chinese have had a significant positive effect (in some ways) is undeniable.

So I’m in two minds about the place. Maybe with these pictures you’ll be able to make up your own mind. Let me know if you do!

The first few pictures here are all in Kathmandu; there are so few of them that it didn’t seem worth creating a new page for them.

Click the small pictures below for a full size version.

All pictures were taken on my EOS300 using Fuji Reala ISO100 negative film except for the first two in Kathmandu which were taken using Fuji Sensia II ISO 100 slide film. Most outdoor photographs were taken with a polarising filter.

If the pictures have piqued your interest, there are a few web Sites that you might want to visit:

  • I’ve deliberately avoided talking about the politics of the area, but as a member of Amnesty it’s difficult not to feel involved to some extent. Have a look at the Free Tibet Campaign or the main Amnesty International site if you want to read more.
  • As always, there’s a Lonely Planet guide. You can buy a copy from Amazon (UK or US). However, I found the Footprint guide to be much better (UK or US).
  • You might also like to read “Sorrow Mountain” by Ani Pachen, a Tibetan Nun. The language used is almost child-like in its simplicity, but, because of what she had to endure, it’s not an easy read. Worth the effort, though. (Available from Amazon UK or US.)
  • Tibetan Buddhism Timeline. On the trip we saw many of the important sites mentioned in this list.