The Early Days of a Better Nation

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Learning the World

I've just had the very good news that Learning the World, published in the UK by Orbit and in the US by Tor, has been shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award. The full shortlist is:

NEVER LET ME GO - Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber)
LEARNING THE WORLD - Ken MacLeod (Orbit)
PUSHING ICE - Alastair Reynolds (Gollancz)
AIR - Geoff Ryman (Gollancz)
ACCELERANDO - Charles Stross (Orbit)
BANNER OF SOULS - Liz Williams (Tor)

The book has also been shortlisted in the novel category of the BSFA Award:

9TAIL FOX -- Jon Courtenay Grimwood (Gollancz)
ACCELERANDO -- Charles Stross (Orbit) (Free ebook edition)
AIR -- Geoff Ryman (Gollancz)
LEARNING THE WORLD -- Ken MacLeod (Orbit)
LIVING NEXT DOOR TO THE GOD OF LOVE -- Justina Robson (Macmillan)
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Friday, January 20, 2006

That Nineteen-Fourteen Feeling

In his latest tape Osama bin Laden quotes the introduction to Rogue State by William Blum:
And if Bush decides to carry on with his lies and oppression, then it would be useful for you to read the book "Rogue State," which states in its introduction: "If I were president, I would stop the attacks on the United States: First I would give an apology to all the widows and orphans and those who were tortured. Then I would announce that American interference in the nations of the world has ended once and for all."
I can't find the quote in the online version of the book's introduction, but I do recall seeing it in print. I wonder if he's also read chapter 53 of Blum's Killing Hope, which documents in considerable detail how massively the US backed the mujahedin while they bled the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. But of course, he knows that already.

He must also know that if his threatened terrorist attack inside the US is carried out it will revive popular support for expanding or escalating the war, including a pre-emptive attack on Iran. According to the widely cited and still undenied Philip Geraldi article in The American Conservative, contingency plans have been prepared for just that. [Added, for the benefit of anyone determined not to understand: This doesn't mean I think bin Laden is acting as a covert agent of the US, or that an attack will somehow be staged, or anything like that.] A US attack on Iran may happen anyway, in which case all bets are off. I don't think, yet, that it would lead to an armed clash with Russia and/or China, but even short of that the consequences are incalculable. That doesn't mean it won't happen.

'There is a feeling of 1914 in the air,' Denis MacShane remarked the other day, about Iran. That feeling is of watching as the machinery grinds towards a war that future historians will look upon with horrified amazement. The Trotskyite-Benthamites of the decent left will no doubt whip out their moral calculators and demonstrate to each other's satisfaction a net gain in QALYs (Quality Adjusted Life Years, the unit used by the NHS in deciding when it's time to hang the NTBR (Not To Be Resuscitated) tag on your toe) from a pre-emptive nuclear attack on Iran. The rest of us may perhaps wish to anticipate the future historians while there is still time to prevent their books being written.
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Monday, January 02, 2006

The flight forward

Avedon cites the English version of the Der Spiegel article referred to in the UPI piece cited below. Worth reading in full.

According to The Times today, British diplomatic and military officials have withdrawn earlier claims that infrared-triggered IEDs used by Iraqi insurgents are supplied by Iran. It never seemed very plausible that the technology of the shaped charge was a mystery to Iraqi army officers, not to mention that of the television remote control or the burglar alarm. (That story always had the fingerprint of Brit disinfo, which is that anything smart done by natives is evidence of a hidden hand: Jews and Bolsheviks in the good old days; more recently, and I must say a personal favourite, the tale in the early 70s that the violence in Northern Ireland was in part a People's War organised by Peking through a network of Chinese restaurants.)

In yesterday's Sunday Herald, Iain MacWhirter mentions that Blair sounded so chipper at a pre-Christmas press briefing that hacks were left wondering if he knows something they don't. Given what the man is capable of, that should send a shiver down the spine. I once argued that Blair couldn't talk us into another war, but that was based on the mistaken assumption that he would have to. A sudden attack, no doubt after some casus belli whose real story might come out in 2030 or so, would skip 'stop the war' and fast-forward to 'support our boys', whose genuine peril would keep us glued to the box.

An attack on Iran seems feasible just because it would be destabilising. Neoconservatism, as has often been pointed out, is not conservative but revolutionary. What's stability worth when nothing has really been resolved? A Shia sectarian state, sullen about occupation and aligned with Iran, must seem a disappointing outcome for the global democratic struggle against Islamofascism. It might be possible to spin this as the result of Iranian interference, which has unfortunately given the Sunnis a legitimate grievance that unfairly but understandably also burns against the occupiers. So Blair could blame Iran for Sunni resistance as well as Shia resentment.

Iran has everything Saddam's Iraq didn't: effective armed forces, mass militias, long-range missiles, and a terror network non-state clients happy to help. The aftermath of an attack on Iran would feel like a real war, with bombs and queues and everything. It would do wonders for moral clarity on the home front, for a while.
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