Mozart opera cancelled for fear of offending Muslims

A Berlin opera house has cancelled performances of a Mozart opera, Idomeno, because of fears that it might offend Muslims, and that they could not guarantee the safety of their audiences.

In the ‘offending’ scene which already caused audience walk-outs mainly amongst Christians when it was premiered almost three years ago, King Idomeneo produces the heads of Poseidon, Jesus, Buddha and the Prophet Mohammed from a bloody sack, and displays them on four chairs.

Fascinating that they don’t fear offending followers of Jesus, Poseidon or Buddha. 

Anyway, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has shown some backbone and roundly criticised their decision:

“We must be careful that we do not increasingly shy away out of fear of violent radicals,” Merkel told the Hannover Neue Presse. “Self-censorship out of fear is not tolerable.”

Which will be equally fascinating news for those who regularly condemn Europeans for being lily-livered appeasers.

(By the way – Idomeno is set in Crete.  I’m going to Crete in a few days.  Which is why posting this has, oddly, put me in a holiday mood).

US passes ‘torture’ bill

The US House of Representatives passed an amended bill last night on how they should treat detainees in the US war on terror.  Or, to put it another way – how much they can torture people.

John McCain proposed an amendment which weakened some of the original bill’s more outrageous elements, but it’s still a pretty revolting bill, authorising ‘interrogation methods’. 

These methods include sleep depravation, exposing inmates to extreme temperatures and simulated drowning – also known as ‘waterboarding’. 

Waterboarding, as The Agonist points out, was one of the ‘war crimes’ that were cited in convicting Japanese prisoners at the end of World War Two.  The irony seems to have completely passed by the members of the House of Representatives. 

Many Democrats were content to support this bill.  Sean Paul, a longtime Democrat supporter, isn’t impressed:

All we heard we arguments why it was politically damaging to argue against the McCain compromise, or whatever. It really doesn’t get any more craven than that. I don’t care what anyone says, or how they justify varying levels of torture. Torture is torture and what the Senate did is a betrayal of our fundamental human values.

Neither am I.  Aside from the pure repulsiveness of this bill, it’s suffers from being just plain dumb.  This bill does nothing more than hand a spectacular propaganda victory to the United States opponents. 

Terror board game offends

War on Terror: The BoardgameWar on Terror: The Boardgame is just about to hit the streets in England. The aim of the game is world domination, with ‘terrorists’ fighting against ’empire builders’.

Predicatably, people are upset – particularly those who survived terrorist attacks:

“If someone had told me that barely a year after the London bombings someone would create a board game like this, I wouldn’t have believed them. It is beyond belief,” said Jacqui Putnam who was injured during the suicide bombings, which killed 52 commuters in the British capital.

“The idea that it can be reduced to a board game … amazing. And they announce the release on the anniversary of 9/11!” she said.

The decision to release it on the anniversary of 9/11 was certainly crass and, doubtless, the game itself will be too.

But, when it really comes down to it, I can’t see much of a difference between this game and Risk. Or any PC wargame.

Georgia – Russia tensions escalate

Georgia has arrested four Russian officers, accusing them of spying and planning a “major provocation”.

Mr Merabishvili [Georgia’s Interior Minister] said the detained Russians and Georgian citizens had been collecting information on Tbilisi’s relations with Nato, as well on its sea port and railway infrastructure, opposition parties and army.

“Today we neutralised a very serious and dangerous group,” he said.

Russia’s chief of army staff Yuri Baluyevsky, quoted by Russian news agencies, said the move was “sheer lawlessness”.

I must confess, the situation in Georgia is beginning to worry me.  Both sides seem to be ratcheting up the tension, with no real thought of the long term consequences. 

I think events to date have been little more than posturing – and I certainly can’t believe that either side wants to push the other too far.  But, all the same, I’m beginning to get the feeling that, sooner or later, someone’s going to miscalculate, and spark of a conflict that neither side really wants. 

Update 28/9: Georgia have upped the stakes by surrounding the Russian Army HQ in Tbilisi, preventing anyone from entering or leaving the building.  They’re demanding the surrender of a Russian intelligence officer – Lieutenant Colonel Konstantin Pugachin.

What? You couldn’t pick up the phone?

Afghan leader President Karzai, at a recent meeting with President Musharraf of Pakistan, handed over the telephone number, address and GPS number of a Mullah Omar.  An intelligence coup?

Not according to Musharraf, who was not impressed:

“Intelligence, to be effective, should be immediate. Nobody, no target sits there waiting for you (for) three months. If you give telephone numbers, which are three to six months old, this becomes ridiculous. And this is exactly what happened,” Musharraf said. “He gave these numbers to me when he came with his intelligence boss on a presidential visit.

“I said, ‘Is this your sense of intelligence that you were waiting for a presidential visit to hand over this file of numbers to me? That you couldn’t pick up the telephone and tell me there is this man on this number, and we get word of it?'”

Ouch.  Musharraf’s autobiography, by the way, is out on Monday.  Expect more embarrasing revelations of his dealing with world leaders. 

Time to think properly about air support

When a British Major criticised the air support he was receiving in Afghanistan – “utterly, utterly useless” – it unleashed the predictable response from analysts of condemning the treasury, and questioning whether Britain should really be in Afghanistan at all.

So, it’s good to see someone with a real knowledge of aircraft weighing in on the debate.  Joe Katzman argues that, although British Harriers are underequipped in contrast to US Harriers, the real problem is that we are using the wrong kind of plane for the job.  He quotes a US Army Sergeant:

“The aircraft that we have are awesome, but they are too awesome, they are too fast, too high speed. The older technology, the A-10, is far better than the new technology, Antenori said.

And concludes:

[I]f the kinds of failed state/ peacemaking conflict represented by Afghanistan are indeed a future norm, the same Western militaries that are rethinking their wheeled patrol vehicles may also wish to rethink the balance and composition of their air assets. In order to provide the support required by their troops on the ground, “new” items like “Bronco” type forward air control aircraft (currently under US consideration) at the low end, purpose-built aircraft like the A-10 or lighter options like options like the Brazilian Super Tucano et. al., and even light gunship aircraft may be necessary, in order to handle forward observation and light precision attack roles properly.

The Treasury won’t like it – buying a whole new set of planes is going to cost money.  But it’s something that needs to be done.  We need to accept that a great deal of the missions undertaken by British troops over the next couple of decades will involve ground combat against insurgents.  They are not – usually – going to require Top Gun style dogfights against highly skilled Soviet pilots.

While the Harrier and Eurofighter are able to play both air combat and ground support roles, they are expert in one, and amateur in the other.  Far, far better for the British government to invest in two experts. 

Blogger hits the big time

Catherine Sanderson, the woman behind Petite Anglaise has apparently just netted a two book deal with Penguin – worth a cool £400,000.  Colin Randall, at the Telegraph Blog, has the scoop. 

No one likes talking figures on these occasions, but I have reason to believe the contract is worth in the region of £400,000 and that more may end up going her way from deals with America and the rest of the world.

An eventual film also seems a strong possibility.

Not bad for the Yorkshire lass who, only a few months ago, was wondering how she would ever keep up payments on the flat she was buying, having been summarily dismissed from her job at an English accountancy firm.

Kudos to her – it’s a great blog, and she deserves every penny.  But I kind of get the feeling I’m in the wrong blogging niche…

Realism explains everything

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Hans Morgenthau quoted.  Nitin Pai, over at Winds of Change thinks his classic realism can explain what’s really behind international Islamic terrorism

First, Morgenthau:

The nation that dispensed with ideologies and frankly stated that it wanted power would…at once find itself at a great and perhaps decisive disadvantage in the struggle for power. [Hans J Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations pp98-99]

Next Pai:

Nazi Germany’s quest for lebensraum that set off World War II, the Communist bloc’s anti-imperialist cry and the West’s banner of feedom during the Cold War are in this sense similar to the contemporary Islamist agenda. Hitler’s grouch was that the German people were denied the “living space” that they were entitled to, the Islamists’ bone is that the West is denying them their rightful place in the global power structure.

I don’t think I’d disagree with the basic thesis, although little things like ideology tend to have a habit of overheating things, leading events to run out of the control of their supposed puppetmasters – the state.

Godwins Law strikes British politics

Tony Blair as HitlerThe No2ID folks have just run this advert in the press. Too cowardly to actually say the ‘H’ word in the advert, they’ve drawn a barcode moustache on Tony Blair’s face.

The do grudgingly admit that Blair isn’t Hitler on their website, but not many people will see that – instead, they’ll see the full page picture of Blair in their paper with a funny barcode moustache and they’ll think – ‘oh my God – Tony Blair looks just like Hitler’.

Godwin’s law is more usually applied to blog comment threads that have grown so entrenched that people have abandoned debate in favour of insults, and have run so low on insults that the only option that remains open to them is to compare their opponent to Hitler:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

So, lets just quickly recap the state of political debate in our mighty country:

  • Hitler thought ID cards were great.
  • Tony Blair thinks ID cards are great.
  • Hitler killed millions of people.
  • Tony Blair… um, didn’t kill millions of people.
  • But, whatever.  Tony Blair’s just like Hitler.

I tell you what, the government sure didn’t waste their money when they paid for me to read for a degree in politics.