Because sometimes you just feel like bitching

Right now, for instance. Barry links to a newish blog called Unimpressed, which is subtitled Because Style Over Substance is Unacceptable. A pity then that the blog’s design is somewhat of a triumph of style over substance:

  • The layout is fairly standard, with the page divided into three columns, but the lefthand column is unused.
  • The middle column, which contain the posts is far too narrow and doesn’t read comfortably. Worse, it has a fixed, unadjustable width.
  • But the worst thing is, there’s a huge amount of space wasted in the header of the page, with the posts only starting “below the fold” of the webpage. That is, you actually have to scroll down to read the first post; when you first see the page all you see is the header! The comments popup has the same problem, btw.

These problems are easily fixed of course and I hope they will be, as it’s a shame to let style ruin a blog whose substance doesn’t deserve that.

UPDATE: I’ve put up a screenshot of the blog below to make clear what I mean.

a screenshot of clearly showing the problem discussed in the third bulletpoint

UPDATE the second: The blog looks normal now. Excellent.

Quickfire round

A quick round of sf links.

  • The online science fiction zine Infinity Plus has a new interview up with Christopher Priest (the UK sf
    writer, not the US comics writer). I just read his latest novel, The Separation, which I liked very much and which this interview is largely concerned with.
    Infinity Plus
    Christopher Priest interview
    The other Chris Priest
  • Also in Infinity Plus, an interview with Ted Chiang, short story writer extraordinary. He doesn’t write
    much, less than a story a year, but his stories are always excellent. They’re clever stories, both for
    their sf content as for their stylistic tricks and they feature believable characters.
    Interview with Ted Chiang
    (Both this and the above interview found via Sore Eyes.)
  • Meanwhile, as you have noticed, famed socialist Scottish science fiction writer Ken MacLeod has
    gotten a blog. Like his stories, it’s very politically orientated.
    The Early Days of a Better Nation
  • I found the following interview with Nicola Griffith while searching for something unrelated. Haven’t read any of her books yet, but the interview is still interesting. Not very up to date though, as it dates back to 1994. Explore the rest of the site too.
    Nicola Griffith
  • Finally, two Mary Gentle essays, one on worldbuilding and one on the attraction of villains and
    shop soiled heroes.
    Machiavelli, Marx And The Material Substratum
    Hunchbacks, Sadists, And Shop-Soiled Heroes

Excuses, excuses

It was entirely predictable that when the news of the looting of the National Museum of Iraq broke, the usual idiots would start making excuses for the coalition’s inaction. Let’s take a look at them.

  • The liberation of 24 million people is more important than guarding some pottery.
    It isn’t an either/or question. This socalled “liberation” does not require the destruction of musea.
  • It was a choice between guarding the museum and guarding the hospitals.
    They didn’t guard the hospitals either. Nor was Iraq’s main nuclear site.

  • There weren’t enough soldiers to stop the plundering, they were needed to deal with the last strongholds.

    But there were enough to guard the ministry of oil, the ministry of interior and irrigation.
  • We didn’t know this would happen.
    Au contraire. There were plenty of warnings. Even if there hadn’t been any warnings, anybody with half a brain should’ve realised that looting would followed the fall of Saddam’s regime, as surely as night follows day and planned for it.

  • Why aren’t you condemming the looters? It’s not the coalition’s fault they started plundering!

    The British encouraged looting
    in Bashra
    . Neither they nor the Americans did anything to stop the looting before it was far too
    late, even though they were begged to do so. Under the terms of the Geneva Convention, as Robert Fisk
    points out, the coalition has the explicit responsibility to maintain order and prevent pillage. In other words, it is the coalition’s fault this happened. There’s no need to condemn the looters themselves, because all sane persons already agree that looting is bad. (Instapundit, on the other hand…)
  • Why aren’t you condemming Saddam?” Etc.
    Perhaps because Bagdhad is under control of coalition force and the Ba’ath regime has been overthrown?
  • A bit of plundering is harmless, it shows that Saddam no longer is in charge.

    Actually, no. Plundering just means other bastards with guns are stealing the wealth of Iraq.

If you are looking for what archeological finds were lost in this war, an attempt at a comprehensive
survey is available here. It doesn’t
make for pleasant reading.

More on the pillage of Iraq

Another troubling aspect of the plundering still going on in Iraq is that lots of vital official documents either will be or have been destroyed in the looting. Which means it becomes that much more difficult to find out the truth about Iraq’s NBC programmes. It also means it becomes harder to root out diehard Ba’athists, but since the party police in Bagdhad is being rehired anyway, this hardly seems like a consideration for Washington…

It’s hard to believe that the plundering wasn’t deliberately encouraged, even more so than the British already admitted to. After all, the more difficult it becomes to piece out the truth about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the easier it is to accuse Syria of having them…

The warmachine needs to be fed; it would be a shame to have all those troops there and not use them. More and more it seems like the greatest paranoid fears of any sensible person (as well as the fondest wish of the warbloggers) are coming true: Iraq as the stepping stone to further military adventures in the Middle East, ending in total US domination. After Iraq, Syria, after Syria, Iran?

Looting and pillaging

Via John Quiggin comes the news that British soldiers were actually encouraging looters:

The British view is that the sight of local youths dismantling the offices and barracks of a regime they used to fear shows they have confidence that Saddam Hussain’s henchmen will not be returning to these towns in southern Iraq.

One senior British officer said: “We believe this sends a powerful message that the old guard is truly finished.”

Armoured units from the Desert Rats stood by and watched earlier this week as scores of excited Iraqis picked clean every floor and every room of the Baath Party headquarters building in Basra after it had been raided by British troops.

Villas owned by the elite, army compounds, air bases and naval ports and even some of the regime’s former torture chambers and jails have been ransacked in the past week.

The results of which are now on view in Baghdad:

Iraqi mobs looted priceless antiquities from Baghdad’s premier cultural history museum on Friday –turning archaeologists’ worst nightmares into stark reality.

A dozen looters roamed undisturbed among broken and overturned statues that littered the ground floor of the sprawling National Museum of Iraq, according to Agence France-Presse. Two men were seen hauling away an ancient door frame. Empty wooden crates were scattered across the floor.

The museum housed more than 100,000 artifacts spanning 8,000 years, including irreplaceable sculptures, inscribed tablets and carved reliefs from a half-dozen cultures, including the Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian empires. Upstairs, portions of the museum seemed to have been spared from Friday’s assault, and there was hope that the museum’s 30 senior archaeologists had moved the most important collections to safety before the war.

In the comments to the post Quiggin wrote about this, several people excused the British actions. Because they had only called for the looting of Baath party headquarters and similar remnants of Saddam’s regime, they were supposedly blameless for the more widespread looting that actually occurred. This is wrong in several ways.

Looting, even “symbolic” looting, just is not a good idea. It’s clear what the UK and US tried to do by allowing the toppling of Saddam’s statues, the plundering of Ba’ath offices and army barracks:
recreating what happened in Eastern Europe in 1989 –but Iraq 2003 is nothing like East Germany 1989.
In East Germany, people freed themselves, a spontaneous revolt from below, there wasn’t the chaos of
invasion and the civil authorities were still present and able to keep order. In contrast, Iraq as a functioning state doesn’t exist anymore, there is nobody but the occupying forces to keep order and since they didn’t, things got more out of hand then they bargained for.

But apart from that, even allowing “symbolic” looting was stupid. Plundering the ill gotten gains of the
Ba’ath party faithful doesn’t help the country as a whole; it just means a redistribution of wealth
towards a new group of bastards with guns. What any responsible “liberators” would’ve done is make
sure that Ba’ath party resources would be available to actually help the country, e.g. to help pay for its rebuilding.

Instead, for the sake of symbolism hospitals, universities and musea have been stripped bare of anything valuable, while American and British soldiers looked on. Hey, at least the oil wells have been secured!