The Death Of The Killer

The leader de facto of Libya, Muammar al-Gaddafi.
The most shocking of all images of Gaddafi - as a sane, smiling human being

I.Doubt.It is pleased to announce that we for one will not be showing you pictures of Muammar Gaddafi’s damaged corpse. Why so squeamish, some ask. Are we too sheltered from death? I think not. We all come across plenty real death in our lives, not least our own, and we are saturated with incredible amounts of fake death in the guise of entertainment.

It’s just decency. I think all humans feel that the dead deserve a measure of respect. As far as we can tell even our closest relatives like homo erectus, who used tools and fire and probably spoke, did not do anything with the bodies of their dead. Nomads, they simply moved on, leaving corpses where they lay. With sadness no doubt, but without ceremony. By contrast all humans, even those who have no belief in an afterlife, treat the bodies of the dead with a special respect – when they can. It appears to be an instinct, one unique to our species.

So when we turn images of real dead people into a lurid form of quasi-entertainment, parading them for shock, sales, or triumphalism, it is quite literally dehumanising.

I’m not surprised that they killed him of course. It’s a war. Should we care that they did? Yes. We should always care that the right thing is done. And I don’t think it was here. Gaddafi died in custody. According to the BBC, acting Prime Minister Mahmoud…

…confirmed that Col Gaddafi had been taken alive, but died of bullet wounds minutes before reaching hospital.

It remains unclear just how and when Gaddafi got those bullet wounds.

Nonetheless this is good news for Libya, and I hope an example for the rest of the Middle East. In Tunisia and Egypt, leaders stepped down in the face of mass protest and are alive to this day. Gaddafi clung to power, and was shot in the belly and head. That may give other dictators – like, say, Syria‘s Assad –  something to sleep on.


Libya – Beginning Of The Start

Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi (in Dimashq, Syr...
On the positive side, at least we won't be seeing much more of the world's most failed moustache

Sorry for the absence yesterday. I was helping an 11-year-old jailbreak an iPhone. It seems they still have children here in the future.

And I was also waiting for the full-time result from Libya. It isn’t over of course, in the sense that innocent people haven’t finished dying yet, but the end of the Gaddafi regime does seem inevitable now.

How will we know it’s truly gone? Simple. That’ll be when the rebels start fighting each other. What unites them all, apart from the conviction that Gaddafi could be defeated? Not a lot. Democracy? No one really fights for the opportunity to lose an election.

They’ve already managed to assassinate their own military leader in what was, even in the most charitable view, a factional revenge attack. So that doesn’t exactly bode well.

And even if the Gaddafis are out out of the picture, some of the forces nominally fighting for them will probably be happy to continue the war of their own behalf, and will seek common cause with factions within the rebellion. So in all likelihood we’re now moving from a two-sided war to a multi-polar conflict.

Celebration seems a little premature.


Libyan Rebels ‘Undemocratic’

History of Fine Gael

Mayo Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin thinks that the rebels in Libya should not be supported because, as quoted in the Times, they “did not follow democratic means. They took up arms against their leader.”

I will allow you a moment to take that in.

The rebels against Gaddafi should not be supported because they… are rebels.

Fine Gael, the party of obedience.

I wonder what democratic means she supposes are open to the inhabitants of a dictatorship – other than the one of mass protest, which I think we can safely say was exhausted when he started shooting them.

There are many clear reasons to be against intervention in the Libyan uprising, and they must be weighed against the good it might possibly do. I outlined what I think is the most important one days ago. There are even reasons why it might be wrong to rise up against Gaddafi. But his being the legally constituted dictator for life according to the constitution which he wrote personally, that is not one of them.

You idiot.


When Not Enough Is Too Much (#Libya)

Location of Benghazi within Libya.
Image via Wikipedia

Weird to sit here watching the Allies bombarding from the air and sea in the film The Longest Day, when something very similar is happening in Libya. Except of course that they will be stopping short of actually invading this time. We hope.

The mandate is vague – sufficiently vague to get an agreement – but we’re led to believe that NATO and friends will only do the minimum necessary to thwart Gaddafi’s counter-offensive on rebel strongholds such as Benghazi. After that we must hope that the Libyans can and will handle it themselves. Anything more, and it begins to look like another Western oil-grab. (Remember, Libya has the largest proven oil reserves in Africa.) Already the Arab League has accused the NATO allies of going beyond what was agreed, though one might fairly assume the Arab League would have said that if they’d bombed with flowers and guided kittens.

And they have a point really. NATO may pragmatically accept that they will have to inflict civilian casualties if they are going to prevent Gaddafi inflicting civilian casualties. But on the ground, death inflicted by the domestic enemy will be seen very differently from death dealt by foreign powers. It could all so easily go horribly wrong, turn popular support across the Arab world against the Libyan rebels – perhaps even against all pro-democracy uprisings. Nothing could damage their cause more than being seen as Western proxies, fifth columns preparing their countries for ‘Crusader’ invasion. The hard thing for the allies, with their vastly superior fire-power, will be to stop firing – to know when they’ve done enough but not too much.

Unless of course they actually want to undermine Middle East democracy movements. That’s one Machiavellian possibility we may need to consider.

Politics Technology

Adding One Word Turns Science Into Bullshit

©William Murphy, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license
Met Éireann's headquarters were modelled on the Death Star

I was wondering what Gaddafi was really up to when he declared a ceasefire. Taking a chance to regroup perhaps, or attempting to bargain? In fact it was something a whole lot more audacious: He would continue to kill people, while saying “Stop fighting back, this is a ceasefire”.

Meanwhile for some reason, the Independent thinks it’s clever to publish the headline “Explosion could send contamination to Ireland“, as if there was actually some reason to fear that happening.

The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland said it was “extremely unlikely” that any material being released from the nuclear plant would have health implications here.
But Met Éireann forecaster Pat Clarke warned that if an explosion occurred, Ireland could be affected.
“If there was an explosion of up to 30,000 feet, that (material) would be carried (across the world),” he said.

Let’s leave aside the image of 30,000 exploding feet. If we can read even more into his words that has been already, he presumably means an explosion that ejects radioactive debris to a height of 30,000 feet. This would be possible if a Chernobyl-like explosion and fire does occur. Indeed, debris from Chernobyl was carried to the furthest corners of the globe.

Where it did… pretty much nothing.

While it clearly had deadly effect in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus and probably killed in Western Europe too, the fallout was gradually dispersed as it spread, eventually becoming so diluted as to be insignificant next to normal background radiation. So the probability that the explosion of a reactor as far away as Japan will actually harm anyone in Ireland? To use a round number, zero.

Which is what the story here is actually saying – if you ignore the spin. See that “but” in the second sentence of the part quoted? It suggests that this statement disagrees with the previous, that one national agency is contradicting another. That’s what turns these two rather anodyne statements into a story. Ask two different questions, “Can debris from Fukushima hurt us?” (answer: No) and “Could debris from Fukushima get here?” (answer: Yes), then put the two together so that what is actually a reassuring agreement between experts sounds like a worrying conflict. Voilà, news.

Humour Politics

Here Are The News

Artist's Impression of a Queen
Artist's Impression of a Queen


While we in Ireland were trying to take a day off, the world elsewhere got on with things. Action on Libya, which apparently is having some effect. This morning the Gaddafi faction claimed they were calling a ceasefire. I trust them about as far as I can throw grenades at them, but it’s a start.

Signs of hope too from Fukushima. Having discussed this with engineers I’m a little more sanguine now that the pool of molten fuel rods isn’t necessarily doomed to burn its way through the Earth’s crust. Still not entirely clear what they can do with it, but at least they don’t consider it to be their most pressing problem.

Er, I think that’s a good thing.

And of course, not unrelated to the day that was in it, President Obama made a date to visit Ireland next year because, like all American Presidents, he is part Irish. In his case, 1/32nd part. It amazes me how successful Ireland has been at creating this image of being a place where people come from. Just about every single US President had some English ancestry, usually a lot, but I’ve yet to see one of them stand outside 10 Downing Street and say “You know, I’m always glad to come here because there’s a little English in me too”.

One perhaps unfortunate element is that the visits by the US President and the Queen of England will be within a week of each other. So if you have any sort of even slight association with a Muslim political organisation, and don’t want searchlights poked up your every orifice, that might be a very good week to take a holiday.


Look Behind You

Foreign troops have entered Bahrain to quell the month-long uprising. Some are calling it an invited peacekeeping force from neighbouring Gulf Cooperation Council states. Others are calling it what it looks like – military intervention by Saudi Arabia.

Remember the raving lunatic Gaddafi who seemed to be under the delusion that he was the ruler of Libya? Well he’s winning. He may only have minority support, but it’s the minority with most of the heavy weapons.

There is little the rest of the world can do for Japan now. They have the resources to deal with the disaster; any specialised help needed they will get. The danger is that while we are fixated on the human tragedy and nuclear drama, besieged dictatorships in the Middle East will move to crush their nascent democracy movements.


Interactive Television

Interactive TV CartoonI wish we had Al Jazeera here. I mean we get it of course – I’ve been watching it for hours every day recently – but I wish we had an Al Jazeera of our own. In the West, TV stations can be accused of having a liberal bias if they don’t actively advocate shooting Mexicans. Al Jazeera – now that’s a liberal bias. While they try to keep up the traditional detached tone with neutral headlines like “Overnight Disturbances in Tripoli”, occasionally a “March of Freedom” slips through.

They’re perfectly aware, and proud, of the active role they are playing in bringing down dictatorship in the Middle East. “There we are!” said a news reporter, as footage from celebrations in Benghazi showed that they were projecting Al Jazeera onto a wall of the square. This is the most important TV news channel in the world today, the only international broadcaster that could effectively advocate democracy in the Middle East.

Of course Friday was a good day for democracy here too. Saturday may be better, may be worse, as we discover how people actually voted. Join me here through the day as I watch them prise open the boxes.


Live from the Death

Gaddafi's Enemy CartoonMuammar Gaddafi delivering his address to the people of Libya. It is like watching someone die live on television. I think that this may be the longest living (prehumous?) obituary ever.

He is proudly in favour of what the Chinese did in Tiananmen Square. He thinks that he is the victim of a conspiracy between bearded Islamists and the United States – a refreshingly idiosyncratic position. The protesters are cockroaches on pills. He will execute those who commit crimes against the army.

He genuinely believes that he is protecting and saving his people – believes this so strongly that he is willing to pay out of his own pocket for mercenaries to machine-gun them.

Douglas Adams was right it seems. Evil will read you its poetry.


Libya’s Warning From History

Muammar's CarI really need to stop confusing Ban Ki-moon with Sun Myung Moon. It’s making the news seem very odd. At least though the UN Secretary General (not the businessman who says he is Jesus) gave an unequivocal response to the massacres in Libya. Our own government still seem to feel there are pros and cons to gunning your own citizens down en masse. It’s probably just as well that they’re resigning power next week.

Unless that is they’re looking at Qadhafi’s dogged approach to politics and thinking “Well, that is another option.”

You may think there is little connection between Ireland and Libya, but the world can be astonishingly small sometimes. Yesterday one of the candidates running in next week’s election lost his brother to the fighting in Benghazi. In fact three members of Ireland’s Libyan community have lost family members so far, a statistic which hints that the number of deaths may be much higher than reported.

The Belfast Telegraph reports that a Dr Ibrihim El Sherif and about 60 Libyans delivered a letter to the Department of Foreign Affairs yesterday, urging our government to condemn the violence.

“We want freedom. We want justice. We want freedom of expression, we want the freedom that we can go to the ballot box like the Irish people in coming days,” he said.

Come on, Libyans. You can do better than that. You’ll only get the same freedom at the ballot box as the Irish people if (a) your uprising turns out to be led by people who are fundamentally conservative, (b) they take control, but then immediately have a civil war between the very conservative and the very, very conservative, and (c) every election for ever after is basically just a choice between one of these nasty, small-minded factions and the other.

And really, what are the odds of that?

That reminds me – found out that one of the Fianna Fáil canvassers I swore at yesterday was the great-grandson of revolutionary leader Éamon de Valera himself. Dev the One-Eighth; I feel like I’ve been touched by mediocrity.

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