Monday, 28 May 2007

Copper thieves cause havoc for commuters "Soaring global demand for copper is a growing threat to the British railway network leading to a surge in trackside metal theft, police have warned." Internal disintegration-disorganisation-coupling Will (mass) transport in the West become faster, more efficient and safer - as it has in the past - or less reliable and more dangerous amidst shrinking public resources? Of course, the question is meant to be asked over and over again during the coming decades, since we are looking at a long-term process. Another travel-related story: Italy’s finances threaten rail tunnel plan
Yemen buys bombs from everyday folks "Yemen has spent millions of dollars in recent months buying up bombs, artillery, even anti-aircraft guns, from ordinary civilians as part of a crackdown in the Arab country where arms are openly carried." Internal integration? A succesful attempt at establishing a monopoly of legitimate force? Or a desperate effort to get hold of the proverbial tip of the iceberg?
Casualties in Sri Lanka explosion...Seven killed in Assam bomb blast...Dozens dead after Taliban clash Internal disintegration (low intensity conflict)
Swiss move to ban minarets "Members of the right-wing Swiss People's Party, currently the largest party in the Swiss parliament, have launched a campaign to have the building of minarets banned." Internal discohesion The discussion has in fact been going on for quite some time. One could interpret the move by the Swiss People's Party as an attempt at re-cohesion. But no matter whether a referendum will be held or not, and no matter whether minarets will be allowed to be built or not - the reality is that Swiss society, too, is undergoing a fundamental transition (of which the immigration of exotic cultures from less wealthier nations is only one aspect). The result of this process is, as in other Western nations, an ever more fragile cultural identity, more freedom and choices for the individual but also fewer certainties, a higher degree of social complexity and adaptability but - according to dark age theory - at some point also greater vulnerability of the system as a whole to sudden shocks.
US and Iran in landmark talks "It was the first formal, bilateral meeting between the two countries since relations were broken off in 1979." International re-cohesion?

Friday, 25 May 2007

US bolsters Lebanese Army as stand-off continues "The United States intervened directly in the crisis in Lebanon for the first time today, flying six military aircraft carrying ammunition into Beirut to help the country's Army battle against Islamic extremists holed up in a Palestinian refugee camp." International cohesion aimed at preventing further internal disintegration The US is playing an active role in many parts of the world in order to safeguard its interests. Two questions arise from a long term perspective: 1. Are the present interventions effective, is there some benificial economic and legitimatory by-product or is the result more disorder and hostility towards the world's strongest power? 2. For how long will the US be able to continue to intervene on the present scale, in view of the widening contradiction between political ambitions and economic realities (problem of "imperial overstretch") and domestic problems?
Beijing upgrades nuclear arsenal "The Pentagon said China was developing mobile, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles in addition to long-range, submarine-launched ballistic missiles that would be deployed on a new fleet of nuclear submarines." International disintegration Levelling the playing field. The international system is clearly shifting in the direction of a multi-polar system that will be difficult to dominate by one single power. See also: China Launches New Military Satellite
U.S. warships in Gulf for training "In one of the largest, most visible war games America has staged in the Persian Gulf since the start of the Iraq war, two U.S. aircraft carriers and seven other warships cruised near the Iranian coast Wednesday." Wars coming soon? Wars are, unfortunately, a constant in human history. A war does not by itself imply the presence of a dark age, which is characterised by very low levels of cohesion and organisation in addition to a state of general conflict. Such a state cannot be diagnosed for the West. In the Middle East, chaos, disorder and fragmentation is arguably gaining ground - despite the strong involvement of the United States in this region. The wars of the future may tell us something about the West's ability to shape international affairs according to its perceptions. See: See: Iraq and the coming dark age
North Korea test-fires missiles "The US envoy to North Korea played down the significance of the tests, but added that Pyongyang should concentrate its efforts on nuclear disarmament." International discohesion Snubbing the "hegemon" (US). However, the fact that the North Korean leadership has decided to use its nuclear weapons programme in order to negotiate the delivery of fuel might be an indication that the implosion of this government is approaching.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Police spy in the sky fuels 'Big Brother' fears "The country's first police ''drone'' took to the skies yesterday, opening a new era of flying CCTV cameras and adding to concerns about the extent of Britain's "surveillance society"." Internal integration Technology helping political authorities to keep control - or a(nother) tool by which the state aims to compensate for declining social cohesion (unruly behaviour, crime, etc.)?
The wind blows in Naples, and the nose knows "The southern Campania region...has been plagued by garbage crises in recent years. Dumps fill up, and local communities block efforts to build new ones or create temporary storage sites. In 2004, the garbage crisis prompted weeks of protests." Internal disorganisation Simply an anecdotal episode, or an indication that the quality of public services and hygienic standards may be declining? See also: Green light given to empty bins every 2 weeks
Mexican police commander gunned down "Assailants shot dead a police commander in a wealthy Monterrey suburb on Saturday, the latest in a wave of killings of law enforcement officials across Mexico." Internal disintegration The volatile situation in Mexico has become an issue of national security for the United States.
Popularity of early retirement wanes "The bank found that 11 per cent of people in their 70s and a third of those in their 60s are still in some kind of paid employment. The figure is even higher in some places like the US, where 19 per cent of those in their 70s are still working." Internal (dis)organisation(?) in the sense that life in the West is slowly becoming harder again for the ordinary employees (disorganisation - pensioners having to help themselves). In Russia, poverty among pensioners is (still) a big problem. Many choose to maintain a small garden in the back yard in order to get by. From another viewpoint, one can argue that today's western pensioners are healthier and therefore better prepared and more willing to continue to work (pro-organisation).
Thousands flee Lebanon violence "The fighting is the bloodiest internal conflict in Lebanon since the civil war ended 17 years ago. Dozens of soldiers, militants and civilians have been killed in the clashes, which began on Sunday." Interna(tion)al disintegration This is all happening despite the fact that Western nations have stationed substantial forces in or close to Lebanon for the promotion of regional security.
Explosion rocks Turkish capital "Turkey has been hit by bombings in recent years. Some have been blamed on Kurds and others on Islamic militants." Internal disintegration Since there are strong but also heterogenous Turkish communities in many European countries (particularly in Germany), European security services are likely to be monitoring events in Turkey carefully.
Spain sends African migrants home "The European Union's external borders agency, Frontex, suspended maritime patrols around the Spanish islands early last month, when its 2006 mission ended. The patrols are expected to restart within weeks, after the agency receives equipment including planes, helicopters and boats." "Barbarian" invasion, or the West's attempt to halt it. We do not use the adjective "barbarian" to imply any inferiority, and we do not wish to conjure up a polemic image of migration in general, which has been a constant in human history and has many facets. We intend to use the term to describe the mass-movement of predominantly young people from poorer regions to wealthier nations with a more complex economy but lower fertility rates. See also: [US] Senate extends immigration debate

Sunday, 20 May 2007

China pledges $20bn for Africa "China intends to provide about $20bn in infrastructure and trade financing to Africa during the next three years, eclipsing many of the continent’s traditional big donors by a single pledge." International organisation highlighting China's growing influence.
Nuclear cooling towers demolished "Their demolition is part of the decommissioning process at the plant, near Annan in Dumfriesshire, which has dominated the skyline since 1959." Innovation failure? We do not wish to take a political position on the issue of nuclear power. However, one doesn't have to be a narrow-minded lobbyist to agree that nuclear power represents - despite all its drawbacks - a significant break-through in the field of energy generation. Its promotion has, however, over the decades become a cumbersome and often unpopular business in many western countries. Meanwhile, regardless of any advances in energy conservation, wind power and solar cell technology, the West's dependence on hydrocarbons located in politically volatile regions remains high as our energy needs continue to rise. See also: Fearing energy shortage, Thailand mulls nuclear
Bomb hits historic India mosque...Suicide attack on Afghan market...Lebanese troops battle militants...Sri Lanka clash kills '15 rebels'
Internal disintegration low intensity conflict
Ivorian militias start to disarm "Ivory Coast has been split in half by civil war since September, 2002, but there is renewed optimism in the country that the crisis may be ending." Internal integration?

Thursday, 17 May 2007

22 die in Mexico drug gang-police shootout "Twenty-two people, including five police officers, were killed in a gunfight in northern Mexico in the bloodiest clash of a five-month-old government offensive against drug gangs." Internal disintegration Mexico's problems are deeply entangled with larger societal developments in the United States. As demand for drugs remains high, Mexico will continue to act as a conveyor belt between the coca fields in Colombia and cities in the US which in turn will strengthen the criminal economy in Mexico. See also: Armed gang kills Mexican police
Korean boats seized off Somalia "Since the start of this year, there has been a sharp increase in piracy attacks off the Somali coast. Piracy had been brought under control until Ethiopian and Somali troops ousted the Union of Islamic Courts. "

International disintegration When the Roman Empire declined, piracy in the Mediterranean benefited. Within the context of dark age theory, the present situation off various coasts can be interpreted as a reflection of the leading powers' capacity to guarantee the safety of navigation on the high seas (some may point at the USA, others at China). Click on map to enlarge. Source: global security
"Thou shalt not kill our sacred bull, say Hindus "Hindus across Britain are threatening to form a human chain to prevent the slaughter of a sacred bull after it tested positive for tuberculosis." Internal discohesion implies the emergence of a multitude of competing worldviews and values. To be sure, in any society at any time the dominant view is being challenged by some - cohesion is never perfect, indeed too much of it may be harmful, for example with respect to innovation. Returning to the news-story, quite a few British natives are likely to sympathise with the aim of these Hindus while others will oppose them. At any rate, there is no doubt that British society as a whole, and the notion of what constitutes Britain, are changing fundamentally. Such changes can be understood as a part of long term human history. While the Saxon invader may have appeared menacing to the Roman settler in Britannia at the time, today both have been "integrated" into what British people see as their history. A similar process may occur in the future with regards to changes we witness in our societies today.
Russia accused of unleashing cyberwar to disable Estonia "Relations between the Kremlin and the west are at their worst for years, with Russia engaged in bitter disputes not only with Estonia, but with Poland, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, and Georgia - all former parts of the Soviet Union or ex-members of the Warsaw Pact. The electronic offensive is making matters much worse." International discohesion From a dark age perspective, the news may highlight two aspects: the deteriorating relations between western nations and Russia (intl. discohesion) and the vulnerability of mature, high-scale societies to methods of asymmetrical (cyber) warfare. Scale (see: "terms and concepts") is "the number of distinct actors with whom a given actor comes in contact in a given time interval. It depends on population size, population density and transport and communications technology."
Russia to build nuclear reactor for Burma "Russia’s atomic energy agency, Rosatom, said yesterday that it had agreed to build a nuclear research reactor for military-ruled Burma, which has been branded by the US as an “outpost of tyranny”." International disintegration (levelling the playing field) On the one hand, technological innovation is being promoted in a third world country. Hence, we could register this as a potential move away from a less wealthy and more disorderly world which would constitute a dark age. On the other hand, however, the news illustrates how the monopoly the West (1945: the US) once enjoyed in the field of nuclear power is being eroded. In this sense, the international playing field is becoming more level again.
Fresh militant attack on Nigerian oil fields "Tuesday’s attack was the most damaging on oil facilities in about a year, and brings the total amount of oil shut in to close to 850,000 bpd or almost 30 per cent of Nigeria’s total output." Internal disintegration, with severe effects for the country's temporary economic performance (=disorganisation). In the long run, the functioning of today's complex, fast-moving world economy may be found to be increasingly incompatible with worsening political instability.
War-torn Iraq 'facing collapse' "The briefing paper, entitled Accepting Realities in Iraq [ by the foreign policy think tank Chatham House], says: "There is not 'a' civil war in Iraq, but many civil wars and insurgencies involving a number of communities and organisations struggling for power." Internal disintegration Rome was not built in one day and one should not make a premature judgement. At the moment, though, it looks as if the situation will become worse before it can get better, with negative security implications for Iraq's neighbours.
Korean trains in historic link-up "But Thursday's crossing remains largely symbolic, the BBC's Charles Scanlon says. North Korea has so far only agreed to a one-off test-run...South Korea has agreed to supply it with $80 million (£41m) worth of economic aid for the development of light industry." International cohesion The examples of Britain and Ireland, India and Pakistan, Israel and Palestine, the break-up of the former Soviet Union and of former Yugoslavia, let alone many African states, suggest that, over the last few decades, the long-standing tendency for social units to increase has stalled. Arguably, there is a counter-movement, one of the most important being the European Union. Moreover, the possiblity exists that NAFTA might lead to some form of overarching governent on the American continent. The train crossing is said to have been primarily symbolic (which is why we didn't label it at as "integration"). Despite this, it potentially represents a move away from discord and fragmentation towards more cohesion and understanding between two political entities.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Violence brings Pakistan full circle "But many believe Saturday's events have shown instead that Karachi may descend into the same pattern of ethnic strife that pitted the MQM's main support group against the others from 1986 to 1996. " Internal disintegration Pakistan is by no means a pacified nation. In many places, such as Balochistan, the state does not hold a monopoly of force. We should remember that it took a long time for the unitary state to assert itself in European nations. It now has to be seen whether this process will be accelerated or rather obstructed by higher levels of scale (technology, modern communications etc.) in today's developing nations.
Taliban's top military commander killed during fighting "Taliban insurgents suffered a grave loss when their top military commander, Mullah Dadullah ... was killed in fighting in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, it was claimed yesterday." International integration? Or merely a drop in the ocean, similar to reports of a new great success in the "war on drugs"?
'Big rise' in tagging crimes - MP "Grant Shapps says one in 40 tagged offenders committed a crime when the project started in 1999, but by 2006 that had jumped to one in nine...Electronic tagging, officially known as the Home Detention Curfew (HDC) scheme, was launched in 1999. Since then, more than 137,000 prisoners have been released under the initiative, which has cost a total of £342 million. " Internal disintegration? Despite the fact that record numbers of young men are behind bars in the UK and others are being "tagged", neither the crime problem in the UK nor the costs to control and administrate it does not appear to be diminishing.
Deadly bombing hits Izmir market "The blast occurred one day before a planned rally by secular Turks in the city against the governing AK Party. The secular opposition blocked the election of the party's candidate for president, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, claiming he had an Islamist agenda. " Internal disintegration To be fair, not too much should be read into such isolated events. However, as for today, low intensity warfare remains a problem in modern Turkey.
Army on alert in Philippines poll "Security officials have said communist rebels are planning to disrupt the vote and thousands of soldiers have joined police guarding polling centres. More than 110 people have been killed in a violent election campaign period. " Internal integration or disintegration? Voting becoming more secure or more dangerous?

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Zimbabweans face power cuts for up to 20 hours a day "We are going backwards. We used to have electricity, water, food and fuel, now we don't have regular supplies of any of those things," said Harare worker Iddah Mandaza. "We will be scavenging for firewood just like back in the rural areas." African dark age
Pakistan progress on Afghan fence "Pakistan says it has completed work on the first section of a controversial fence on the Afghan border aimed at restricting Taleban militants. " Internal disintegration A similar fence is being built by Saudi Arabia to protect it from the impact of Iraq's disintegration. According to our interpretation, both measures are not genuine improvements in the sense that public safety is growing but rather reactions to a worsening security situation.
Koreas agree cross-border train "Military officers from North and South Korea have given the go-ahead for the first train crossing over the heavily fortified border in more than 50 years." International cohesion
Colombian rebels kill nine police "The authorities say it was planted by the Farc left-wing rebel group near Landazuri, 160km (100 miles) north of the capital, Bogota. The policemen were taking part in a mission to destroy coca bushes, which supply the raw material for cocaine, a key source of income for the rebels." Internal disintegration An abundance of natural resources (oil, diamonds, opium, coca...) appears to aggravate what Paul Collier has termed the "economics of civil war".

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Factory Jobs: 3 Million Lost Since 2000 "High-tech industries, where the U.S. is still seen as having the edge, include pharmaceuticals, medical devices and airplanes. But even high-tech industries are facing pressure from imports. The U.S. Business and Industry Council... found that between 1997 and 110 of the 114 U.S. industries it studied had lost ground to imports in the U.S. market." Relative decline implies international disintegration in the long run, i. e. a weakened position of the leading power, the US, as opposed to that of rising powers.
(left: British Grand Fleet 1914; right: USS Stennis and HMS Invincible)
Nigeria militants bomb oil pipelines, Market bomb kills 3 in Philippines Internal disintegration (low intensity conflict)
Northern Ireland begins 'new era' "Northern Ireland's major Protestant and Catholic parties joined together Tuesday to form a power-sharing government, marking a "new era of politics" and an end to three decades of sectarian conflict in the province." Internal cohesion in the sense that both sides agree to refrain from violent means to achieve political ends . One could argue that, on the part of the protestants, there has over the decades been a decline in the very strong community cohesion which in turn has now led to this solution. A downside of very cohesive societies is intolerance and too much of it may stifle creative thought/innovation. For further thoughts on the causes behind recent developments, see comment below (4 May 2007).

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Headscarf war threatens to split Turkey "The battle over the headscarf is not just about religious beliefs. It also represents a clash between a fiercely secular elite, the so-called “white Turks”, and a new urban entrepreneurial class, many of whom came from the countryside. These generally support the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development (AK) party that swept to power in 2002 after an economic collapse." Internal discohesion implies, amongst other things, the existence of competing worldviews, values and ways of life in a society. The success of the secular movement in Turkey has since its inception been closely attached to the country's process of modernisation and the resulting benefits for the population. The country's future will strongly depend on the transformation of its economy (which is still heavily reliant on the textile industry). Civil disorder or a deterioration of the economic outlook in Iraq, Iran and Syria will help Turkey as little as increased drugs production in Colombia or Venezuela helps Mexico.
Minister Plans to Largely Abolish Prison Sentences "Most criminals in the Netherlands should be able to serve their sentence at home in the future. Justice Minister Hirsch Ballin is to introduce house arrest as a new main punishment...The measure is primarily intended to relieve the prisons. The Netherlands has been struggling for years with a shortage of cells..." Internal integration or disintegration? Perhaps it is best to view such news as an indication of discohesion: The state takes reacts by using coercion (attempt at integration) as social institutions defining a common morality (e.g., church, schools) and acceptable behaviour no longer have the influence they previously enjoyed. See also: 3,000 'freed early' to ease prison crowding

Riot alert for Sarkozy victory "The interior ministry said that 8,000 riot police were being placed on stand-by in the suburbs — equivalent to the force deployed at the height of the violence, when 10,000 cars and dozens of businesses were burnt in three weeks of mayhem." Internal disintegration and societal discohesion are forcing the state to mobilise greater resources to maintain law and order in the early 21st century.

Colombo airport in night closure "Officials at Sri Lanka's only international airport have ordered it to be closed at night time following a series of Tamil Tiger air strikes. They say that closure will come into effect from next week." Internal disintegration-disorganisation coupling
Kenya gets US anti-terror funds "The US administration will provide $14m-worth of training and equipment. Kenya is a close US ally in the region - several terror suspects have been arrested in Kenya and sent to Somalia or Ethiopia for questioning." International integration The United States consolidating its influence in Africa.
Brazil to break Aids drug patent "Brazil's president has authorised the country to bypass the patent on an Aids drug manufactured by Merck, a US pharmaceutical giant. The country will import a cheaper, generic Indian-made version of the patented Efavirenz drug." A reflection of international discohesion. Brasil and a growing number of other nations are questioning the west's legal and moral authority (here: patent on an Aids drug) and contribute to the gradual erosion of its economic leadership.
Guns banned from Somali streets "The new mayor of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, has banned people from carrying weapons on the streets." Internal integration? The state establishing a monopoly of legitimate force?

Friday, 4 May 2007

UVF to put weapons beyond reach "The UVF is the last of Northern Ireland main paramilitary organisations to abandon violence, with the IRA announcing it was ending its campaign in 2003..." Internal integration During the heights of the "troubles" Northern Ireland was a highly desintegrated territory which required the permanent stationing of British army troops. One of the major causes behind the conflict in Northern Ireland, the economic discrimination of catholic people, is no longer of the same relevance today. Moreover, the economic situation in Ireland itself has improved significantly. Finally, the gradual demographic transition, i. e. the slow disappearance of a large bulge of young, angry men may play a role, too.
Los Angeles mayor shortens Mexico trip after clash "Some 25,000 people marched through Los Angeles on May 1 as part of nationwide protests intended to demonstrate the political might of Latinos and help win amnesty for illegal immigrants." Internal discohesion, in the wake of "barbarian" invasion. We do not use the adjective "barbarian" to imply any moral inferiority, and we do not wish to conjure up a polemic and politicised image of migration in general, which has been a constant in human history. We intend to use the whole term to describe the mass-movement of people from economically poorer regions to wealthier nations, which brings about a profound demagraphic/ethnic transformation in these countries and partly raises cocerns among their populations.
Projectile bomb attacks hit record high in Iraq "The growing use of the projectiles is a major concern for American commanders because the weapons are powerful enough to punch through the heaviest U.S. armored vehicles, including the Abrams tank." Intern(ation)al disintegration Gone are the times, when western nations were able invade far away countries at a low material (and moral) cost. (This sober observation doesn't mean we're longing for the age of western imperialism to return.)

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Uneasy echoes of Berlin in G8 wall "This barrier is transforming the elegant 18th century beach resort of Heiligendamm on Germany's Baltic coast into the tightest high-security zone the country has known for the G8 summit on June 6-8. Access through it will be controlled with airport-style x-ray machines and only those with passes will be allowed in." Internal integration or disintegration? Are Western states succesfully implementing measures to ensure public safety or are they losing the race against threats to open societies? An answer might arise through asking from time to time whether travelling around is becoming easier for the ordinary person or more cumbersome due to security restrictions.
Few celebrations on 300th anniversary of union with Scotland "In Downing Street the protesters will hand in a 20,000-address petition demanding an English parliament... The protest is being organised by English campaign groups to commemorate the 300th anniversary of what they regard as "the death of England's identity, independence, and the English parliament"." Internal discohesion
India eyes 25 million automotive jobs "The metallic noise, the sparks, the industrial smell: here is a good, old-fashioned car factory, the kind whose closures in the West - along with the loss of thousands of jobs - used to spark industrial strife..."In Europe, you see robots," explains plant manager Kevin Whipp.." Internal organisation As the article points out, comparatively little innovation aappears to be involved. Some readers may be interested in the "Luddite fallacy"
Terror attacks increase, says US "The number of attacks in Iraq nearly doubled to 6,630, accounting for 45% of the global total. Iraq alone accounts for nearly two-thirds of all terrorism-related deaths last year. " Intern(ation)al disintegration "A ghost is stalking the corridors of general staffs and defense departments all over the developed world-the fear of military impotence, even irrelevance." (Martin van Crefeld, the transformation of war, 1992)