Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Goat Friday

source w schedin

A traditional feature of Christmas in Sweden has been the Julbock, the Christmas Goat.

The nature of its role is subject to dispute, where the Julbock is sometimes thought to be closely associated with Tomte, the gnomish Swede equivalent of Santa Claus — or sometimes not at all.

Strangely, no one seems to know anymore. Swedish Christmas lore seems to have become mainstreamed in line with the rest of the Western world. Tomte himself, apparently, no longer resides under the floorboards but at the North Pole, as a good commercial Santa should.

Still, the Julbock remains central to the Swedes’ celebration of Christmas. Notably there’s the gigantic straw goat of Gävle, 150 kilometers north of Stockholm, which has been erected at the start of the Christmas season every year since 1966.

This year standing at more than 13 meters high, the Gävlebocken is intended to be ceremonially burned on New Years Eve as part of the seasonal festivities. However, part of this relatively recent tradition seems to be for sundry vandals to pre-emptively burn or otherwise destroy the thing almost as soon as it has been erected.

Since it was first erected on Dec. 3 in 1966, the goat has been hit by flaming arrows, run over by a car and even had its legs cut off — surviving only 10 times beyond Christmas Day.

So, it appears the Gävlebocken still has a sporting chance. May this unique yuletide tradition long continue.

With that upbeat thought, I take this opportunity to wish everyone

Merry Christmas


Happy New Year

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Victory desperately needed

A column in The Australian today by Fred 'Beltway' Barnes trumpets a new proposal from the American Enterprise Institute’s Frederick W. Kagan. It appears that this plan, or something like it, is under serious consideration by the Bush Whitehouse.

In essence, Kagan’s plan proposes that the US and Coalition scrape together another 50,000 troops to secure Baghdad from the insurgency and sectarian violence.

The document is optimistically titled “Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq”. Download the pdf and one is treated to what looks like, and indeed is, a Powerpoint presentation, with upbeat headings such as:

Victory Is Possible.

Success is Possible.

A New Approach Can Succeed.

We Desperately Need a Victory, Pleeeaasse.

Actually, the last one is my own attempt at levity, being what I half expected to read as I was paging through.

This document seems almost a motivational presentation, with evangelical overtones. For starters, the title of the document suggests that one can choose victory, presumably instead of opting to be a loser. It might be observed that, although the powers of positive thinking are fairly well known, so too are the dangers of hubris.

The upbeat tone is broken on page 10 with a section headed “Caveats”, consisting of five brief dot-points beginning with the following: “The proposal for establishing security that follows is an example, not an operational plan.” (My emphasis.) Well, that renders the report’s title more than a little overblown.

At the fourth dot-point we read: “Military commanders will adjust it [the plan] to changing circumstances on the ground.” Oh dear, the pessimist in me sees some possibility that this plan may go the way of the original Mk 2003 plan, as new contingencies and disasters arise unforeseen — or ignored — by the planners.

Barnes notes of Kagan’s plan that Baghdad “could be brought under control by the end of 2007”. Well, for me, there’s something worrying about the ease with which Kagan et al speaks of “clearing” insurgent and sectarian strongholds around Baghdad. The “clearing” of Fallujah is a quite recent memory that does raise the apprehensions somewhat. One wonders also what level of Iraqi civilian and US military casualties the proponents of this plan would consider acceptable in this highly speculative enterprise they envisage.

Anyway, Barnes ploughs on:

The Keane-Kagan plan is not revolutionary. Rather, it is an application of a counterinsurgency approach that has proved to be effective elsewhere, notably in Vietnam. There, Creighton Abrams cleared out the Viet Cong so successfully that the South Vietnamese government took control of the country. Only when Congress cut off funds to South Vietnam in 1974 were the North Vietnamese able to win.

Let’s leave aside for the moment the adducing of another failed enterprise, namely Vietnam, in support of this plan. But now, assuming the insurgency and other violence have been subdued in Baghdad, and haven’t merely been transferred to other parts of the country, then one wonders how long the US/Coalition presence will need to be maintained. Also worth considering are, the odds of success (of which, definition please) being achieved, and at what further cost to Iraqis and coalition troops.

And is positive thinking enough to carry the project through? I mean, just look where that’s got the President.