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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

Read This Book

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Awhile ago I posted about the stuff I had been reading about Rwanda and Sudan. Well, the reading (and watching and listening) has continued, and I think I've just read the most valuable thing yet: Romeo Dallaire's Shake Hands With The Devil; The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda.

Dallaire was the Force Commander of the UN peacekeeping troops in Rwanda from the summer of 1993 to the summer of 1994. What makes his account of what happened in Rwanda so valuable is that, whereas most accounts of the genocide begin with the actual killing itself, Dallaire spends almost half the book narrating the months leading up to the beginning of the genocide, months spent painstakingly trying to implement a peace agreement and get a Broad-Based Transitional Government off the ground. In that process, the most crucial people were the moderates in the Rwandan government; those were the people who were sought out and systematically executed by the extremists as the genocide's opening salvo.

Dallaire's account places accountability for the genocide first at the feet of the Rwandans themselves who meticulously plotted, organized, and carried out the murder of over 800,000 of their countrymen in 100 days. But he also places a huge chunk of accountability at the feet of the western world, namely France and the United States, nations who had (and have) the wherewithall and the resources to put an end to the killing before it even began, but who could not find it within themselves to risk the political fallout of even 1 casualty from their own military (one U.S. State Department staffer told Dallaire over the phone that it would take 850 Rwandan deaths to warrant the death of one U.S. soldier).

And finally, Dallaire places accountability for the disaster at the feet of the U.N., which is to say, largely, himself. The guilt and responsibility that Dallaire feels at having been unable to orchestrate a peaceful transition in government, to anticipate the actions of the extremists, and then to stop them once they got going--that guilt just leaps off the page. God help him.

Dallaire over and over again adjusted his plans to head off the incumbent catastrophe; he was again and again shot down by his superiors (who include Kofi Anan) at the U.N. He was repeatedly told not to fire unless fired upon, and his mandate as a peacekeeper was repeatedly enforced. Yet the utter lack of resources he was given to even enforce that mandate is shocking. Dallaire sums up the position of the U.N.'s member nations, particularly the members of the Security Council: they all thought something should be done, and they all had excuses as to why they shouldn't be the ones to do it.

Romeo Dallaire, to my mind, is a hero. He is a hero of the type of conciliarism that is so crucial in the world today. A Canadian, a man who never before had set foot in Africa, dropped into the middle of a complicated cultural and political crisis and then left to try and make peace. Ultimately, there was no peace. And Dallaire will be the first to tell you that he is largely to blame for that fact. But the assumptions of "neutrality" and "national interest" that so govern the United Nations and its member states are, I think, more to blame. Because what can a General in the field be expected to do (as he watches bands of militias attack scores of civilians in churches with machetes) when the people in charge of the money and the supplies that he needs are dressed in neatly pressed suits and seated in comfortable chairs in New York, and all they can say is "sorry?"

Here and here are some audio clips of Dallaire being interviewed by NPR.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:10 AM | link | 0 comments |

Oh, It's On

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Production is set to begin this month on M. Night Shyamalan's next film, The Lady in The Water. The early buzz is that the script is about an apartmet building super who finds a sea nymph living in the building's swimming pool. Interestingly, Shyamalan has left Disney's studios (who produced his first four movies) for this one. Paul Giamatti is the building super.

In case there's any confusion, I love--let me reiterate: L-O-V-E--M. Night Shyamalan's movies. The Sixth Sense: saw it three times; Unbreakable: three times; Signs: twice; The Village: twice.

There simply is no other filmmaker out there right now as adept as Shyamalan at telling a really good story, utilizing all the elements: character, music, color, plot, suspence.

It will be a long wait for this one to come out.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:00 PM | link | 5 comments |

My Yahoo, Why Yahoo

Thursday, August 04, 2005

"The milieu in which Technopoly flourishes is one in which the tie between information and human purpose has been severed, i.e., information appears indiscriminately, directed at no one in particular, in enormous volume and at high speeds, and disconnected from theory, meaning, or purpose." (Neil Postman, Technopoly)

Surprisingly, that sentence was published in 1992, during the infancy of the internet. If Postman was distressed by the speed and volume of information then, he's having a coniption fit now. Consider MyYahoo, the home page on my web browser. The page is customized, so that every time I access the page, bits of information that I have selected are in front of me: headlines from anywhere in the world I want, sports scores, weather reports, movie times, television schedules, and so on and so on. Most of it goes unread (or is, at most, skimmed). It is simply there.

What would happen if I just quit using it? What would happen if I spent less time accessing information via the internet? Surely nothing would happen to the internet, but might something happen to me? Might space be freed up in my brain that is presently occupied by headlines and context-less numbers and names? Might the energy that I expend on consuming this information be directed to some larger purpose? Of course. And of course.

Which brings me back to backfence.com. Again, Postman:
" . . . in a technopoly there can be no transcendent sense of purpose of meaning, no cultural coherence. Information is dangerous when it has no place to go, when there is no theory to which it applies, no pattern in which it fits, when there is no higher purpose that it serves. Information without regulation can be lethal."

What I love about the idea of backfence.com is that it is information that has somewhere to go, information that belongs somewhere, namely in the two communities where the project has launched. To some, such a local project is a poor use of the seemingly limitless and global potential for information on the internet. Yet I submit that only in local application can that potential be of any use. In fact, apart from some sort of local individual or collective application, the potential may hold more ill than good.

So MyYahoo, I'm afraid, will have to go. Instead, give me information that directs me to a purpose, to some meaning, to something to do.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:30 PM | link | 2 comments |

Meet Up


Some months ago, I posted about backfence.com, an internet-based mechanism for connecting to one's community. That site has been launched in two communities, and it may spread to more soon. It's a very practical site, full of information about community goings on and what not.

Well, now I've discovered Meetup.com (click the title link above). Meetup.com is a web-based forum for organizing interest groups in a local area. Here's how it works: you search the site either for your locality or for an area of interest (for example politics or literature of Greyhound dogs). The site then searches its' database and tells you if a group already exists around that area of interest and if there's one in your area. It's pretty neat. The drawback is that groups have to have an organizer, and, as you can imagine, very few people go to a site and want to sign on as a group organizer before they've even met anyone.

What's great about meetup.com is that it is using the internet to build face-to-face community connection. I've signed up to hear about a local coffee group, a local Denver Broncos Fan group, and a local French group for Meredith.

You should try it out; there's no telling what you might find.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:01 PM | link | 0 comments |

Rock The Vote

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


It's election day in Kansas City, and I'll be heading to the polls later this afternoon to vote on a couple of bond issues. The city of KC is seeking $500 million in new bonds for the purpose of improving the city's water infrastructure. Half of the bonds will go for waterway upgrades and half of them for sewer upgrades.

I'm for them both.

People in this city are reluctant (at best) to pass new things; I've seen curbside recycling get squashed here and a number of mass transit initiatives get squelched as well. But I think this one is safe. People no doubt worry about rising water costs (costs which, in KC, are lower than anywhere else in the metro), but in my opinion that's the price you pay for solid infrastructure and good services.

Here's a link to a KC Star story on the bonds, and here's a link to what the ballot will actually look like. And here's a link to the website of the questions' campaign.

Time to get out the vote baby!
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:46 AM | link | 2 comments |