Archive | April, 2013

McCormick’s Bomb Dowsing Scam

28 Apr

James McCormickThe story of James McCormick, who was convicted for fraud, and his ADE devices exemplifies why cranks selling homeopathic remedies (via SGU #406) and advocating against vaccination are dangerous.

BBC Two’s Newsnight programme conducted an investigation into the devices sold by McCormick’s company, resulting in a UK government ban on their sale in Iraq and Afghanistan in January 2010.

It found that senior Iraqi officials knew the devices did not work and it alleged some had received bribes to ensure they were purchased.

Iraq spent more than $40m (£26.2m) on 6,000 devices between 2008 and 2010, the programme said.

General Jihad al-Jabiri, the head of the Baghdad bomb squad, is currently serving a jail term for corruption, along with two other Iraqi officials.

One senior Iraqi official told the BBC that the useless devices had created a false sense of security – and that no punishment would make up for the blood that had been shed as a result.

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Kissinger Redux, Again

27 Apr

Protesting KissingerHenry Kissinger is another of those iconic figures whom I alternately despise and admire.

I have been a close friend of Henry Kissinger’s for some time, but my relationship with him as a historical figure began decades ago. When I was growing up, the received wisdom painted him as the ogre of Vietnam. Later, as I experienced firsthand the stubborn realities of the developing world, and came to understand the task that a liberal polity like the United States faced in protecting its interests, Kissinger took his place among the other political philosophers whose books I consulted to make sense of it all. In the 1980s, when I was traveling through Central Europe and the Balkans, I encountered A World Restored, Kissinger’s first book, published in 1957, about the diplomatic aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. In that book, he laid out the significance of Austria as a “polyglot Empire [that] could never be part of a structure legitimized by nationalism,” and he offered a telling truth about Greece, where I had been living for most of the decade: whatever attraction the war for Greek independence had held for the literati of the 1820s, it was not born of “a revolution of middle-class origin to achieve political liberty,” he cautioned, “but a national movement with a religious basis.”

When policy makers disparage Kissinger in private, they tend to do so in a manner that reveals how much they measure themselves against him. The former secretary of state turns 90 this month. To mark his legacy, we need to begin in the 19th century.


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Marx The Misunderstood

27 Apr

Marx and Engels, FriendsTwo aspects of Karl Marx’s life and writings continue to impress me. His friend was Friedrich Engels, who never abandoned this odd and trying genius who never seemed to be solvent. And, for the founder of an -ism, his books are stuffed with facts. Jonathan Sperber, in Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life, is out to emphasize other aspects of Marx’s life.

Thus, there is no lack of serious and reliable Marx biographies, including relatively recent ones. Sperber’s entry is a worthy addition to the collection. He is to be commended particularly for his warning against the faddish tendency of modern scholars to make Marx’s ideas more relevant to the present by putting them through a Cuisinart along with various bromides of our time such as structuralism, postmodernism, existentialism and the like.

But Sperber’s nineteenth-century focus raises some interesting questions of its own. Marx’s historical importance, it could be argued, is mainly as the man who gave Lenin his ideas, not the polemicist who wrote a book attacking the theories of, for example, Carl Vogt, whose views are almost entirely in eclipse today. Sperber certainly is justified in dismissing various attempts to update Marx, which have ranged from the ridiculous to the absurd. At the same time, he may go too far in dismissing as useless the preoccupation with Marxism, which he calls “Marxology.” After all, Marx’s private life and his interventions in the politics of his time, interesting as they are, aren’t why he is remembered today.

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