Global News Blog
Two songs are battling to the top of the British music charts in memory of Margret Thatcher. One is, her supporters say, in bad taste, but the one adopted by fans of the late Conservative prime minister isn't quite what it seems, either.
Opponents of Thatcher have campaigned successfully to have "Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead", a song from the 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz" composed by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, to reach the top spot Britain's official charts.
The response from Conservative Party supporters was swift, with newspapers including The Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph demanding that the BBC refuse to play the song. The BBC has said it will play a five-second clip of the song along with a news item explaining why during its official chart rundown on Radio One, Sunday.
Equally irritated, though less outraged, Tories had another plan: counter Ding Dong with a song of their own. They chose the little-known 1979 punk number "I'm in Love with Margaret Thatcher" by the Notsensibles.
The British press loved it — and why not? It's a good story, in a silly sort of way: a bit of political argy-bargy in a fun and digestible package.
The media didn't exactly work hard to uncover the truth of the story, such as it is. A phone call to the band's former frontman, Michael Hargreaves, was all it took to discover that the campaign predated the Tories' adoption of it.
Hargreaves himself started the campaign with a Facebook page on Wednesday that soon garnered 8,000 likes. Surprisingly, though, by Friday it had been adopted by Conservative Party supporters as a counter to "Ding Dong." Facebook, Twitter and Tory blogs lit-up with requests that people buy the song in order to keep the anti-Thatcher song from reaching the top spot in the hit parade.
Would Maggie be proud?
In some press interviews, Hargreaves has implied, rather unconvincingly, that he is a supporter of Mrs. Thatcher. But if the song is a hit, the royalty checks may represent some private enterprise Margaret Thatcher would approve of.
Hargreaves, an ex-punk rocker who now works with adults with learning disabilities, is an unlikely figure for adoption by Conservative Party members, though he did say "Ding Dong" was disrespectful. (Read a in-depth profile of Margaret Thatcher here.)
"My grandfather was [both] a Christian and a communist. I'm a fat, 50-year-old punk. You make your mind up about my political sensibilities," he says.
Hargreaves, who is due to perform with his old band on BBC television news in Manchester on Monday, says he doesn't really mind how high the song charts in the end, but that the experience has been fun. "We dunked a pebble in the lake and there seems to be a few ripples."
"I find it hilarious that Tories have adopted it," he says. "The song is a sort-of tribute and sort-of not."
The official chart will be announced on Sunday afternoon, but by today it had already reached No. 6 in the iTunes chart.
"Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race." - James Joyce, 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man'
Red faces on the island of the green: A €10 coin minted to commemorate novelist James Joyce but misquoting his work will not be withdrawn, the Central Bank of Ireland has said.
He was one of Ireland's most renowned writers, and one of the few titans of modernism the country has ever produced, so it's no surprise that Ireland would seek to commemorate Mr. Joyce. It's a pity, then, that the launch of a commemorative €10 ($13) coin has been marred by a mistake.
Comedians may be inclined to ask if a €10 coin costing €46 ($60) is a sign of continuing turmoil in the eurozone. Or rather, they might have, if there wasn't an even easier target: The coin features an engraved misquote on its obverse.
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The quote from Joyce's masterpiece "Ulysses," one of the key texts of 20th century modernist literature, should have read: “Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read."
The script on the coin adds the extra word "that" to the second sentence, changing it to: "Signatures of all things that I am here to read."
The coin was designed in Ireland by Mary Gregoriy but minted by Mayer’s Mint in Germany, something that is itself a source of some mirth in the land of Joyce's birth, given widespread feeling the country has lost its economic sovereignty to Germany.
The design shows a stylized Joyce wearing his trademark spectacles with the words pouring in cursive script from his head.
Human error was blamed for the quotation mistake, with the Central Bank saying a staff member made a mistake copying the text.
Though the coin has sold out, the bank says a refund will be available to purchasers, who will be told of the misquote.
"While the error is regretted, it should be noted that the coin is an artistic representation of the author and text and not intended as a literal representation," the bank said in a statement.
Copyright expired on Joyce's work on Jan. 1, 2012. Prior to this his estate, run by his grandson Stephen Joyce, had fiercely guarded the writer's work, virtually forbidding all but the shortest quotations.
Irish-born novelist Gerry Feehily, now living in Paris, pours cold water on the cult of Joyce, not because he wasn't a great writer, but because his function today is quasi-political and at odds with history.
"Few people read Joyce, certainly they didn't at the time," he says.
According to Mr. Feehily, the error on the commemorative coin is doubly embarrassing given Ireland uses its literary figures as form of identity creation and tourism marketing.
"Ireland spends all its time talking up writers it hated. No Irish writer was ever accepted in their time. It's only through this conscious, revisionist reinvention of the Irish identity that we've decided to make something of Joyce, [Samuel] Beckett, and even poor old silly [Oscar] Wilde," he says.
Nonetheless, perhaps there is a certain poetry in the gaffe. Although the Joyce novel quoted on the coin, "Ulysses," is a difficult read, Joyce's last major work, "Finnegans Wake" (yes, there's no apostrophe) is famously close to unreadable, composed as it is of stream of consciousness, linguistic acrobatics, neologisms and, well, gibberish.
As Joyce himself wrote: "bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!”
Nonetheless, Antony Farrell, founder of publisher Lilliput Press in Dublin, says there is a serious side to the error.
"My editor, Danis Rose, who edited the definitive editions of 'Ulysses' and 'Finnegans Wake,' was in today and he found it risible. It's incredible that [the bank] didn't hire a Joyce consultant and that they haven't withdrawn it."
Mr. Farrell says while the lack of attention to detail may make the coin even more of a collector's item, it doesn't speak well of Ireland.
"Calling it artistic license, as people are, diminishes the idea that we value our culture – it's demeaning, frankly."
A Taliban attack killed 13 Afghan soldiers Friday at a remote Army outpost in the eastern province of Kunar, underscoring the rising challenges that face the country’s Army as foreign troops withdraw over the coming year.
Some 200 Taliban fighters ambushed the soldiers around 5 a.m., attacking the outpost before setting it on fire, The New York Times reports. Every soldier present at the base was killed, making the attack was the deadliest in the region in six months, according to local officials.
The soldiers killed were members of the Army’s Third Battalion, one of only a small number of Afghan Army units rated as fully self-sufficient by the US military. They patrolled a mountainous district on the Pakistani border that serves as a major gateway for insurgents from that country.
The attack is part of a rising tide of violence in the region as winter thaws, easing passage across the mountainous terrain.
There has been a steady uptick in the number of Afghan soldiers and police officers killed in recent years as they have grown their ranks and gradually assumed greater responsibility from NATO forces.
In 2012, the Afghan government estimated that some 1,000 soldiers and 1,400 police officers were killed. By the end of the year, a military spokesman estimated that 110 soldiers and 200 policemen were dying every month, the Times reports.
By contrast, 32 NATO soldiers have been killed in the first three months of 2013, according to the monitoring group casualties.
Currently about 100,000 international troops are based in Afghanistan, including 66,000 from the United States. That number is expected to drop by half by early 2014, with most of the remaining forces moving back into support and training positions.
Within the next few months, Afghan forces are expected to be responsible for security across the entire country.
A contingent of Australian lawmakers visiting Afghanistan this week praised the “enormous progress” that Afghan security forces had made toward that goal.
''The Afghan National Security Forces are bigger than the insurgency, they are significantly more capable, they are better war fighters and they are more well resourced,'' said Member of Parliament Wyatt Roy in an interview with an Australian news site.
The border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan is a key battleground in the fight against the militants, many of whom use safe havens inside Pakistan to launch attacks against Afghan soldiers and the U.S.-led military coalition.
For years, leaders in Kabul and Islamabad have traded accusations of blame over the Islamist extremists who pose a threat to security in both countries and criss-cross the porous border with impunity….
[R]ebel bases in Pakistan infuriate Afghan President Hamid Karzai and remain a major obstacle to peace as U.S.-led troops prepare to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Key constraints on China’s ascendency include suspicious and fast-growing neighbors combined with obstacles imposed by China’s state-controlled economic system, says Mr. Dyer. So even if China overtakes the United States and becomes the world’s largest economy – as some experts predict will happen within the next 10 years – the Asian giant will not dislodge Washington from its place as the world’s leading power for the foreseeable future, Dyer argues.
China “is implementing plans which challenge U.S. military, economic, and even political supremacy. But on each front, the last few years have demonstrated China’s limitations, not the inevitability of its rise,” says Dyer, a former Beijing bureau chief for the Financial Times.
One limit on China’s rise is that its assertiveness is generating suspicion among economically vibrant neighboring nations, including South Korea and Vietnam. “China’s strategic misfortune is to be bordered by robust and proud nation-states which expect their own stake in the modern world,” Dyer says.
As for China’s efforts to have its currency rival the dollar, “it can have an international currency that might challenge the U.S. dollar or it can keep its brand of state capitalism,” Dyer says. “But it cannot have both.”
The America that works
“Cheer up” is the advice from The Economist in its 14-page special report on American competitiveness.
True, there are worrisome developments on a variety of issues – innovation, energy policy, education, immigration, and infrastructure. “America’s politicians have been feckless,” the magazine concludes. “The combination of dysfunctional politics and empty coffers” is preventing Congress from dealing with many problems.
Still, the magazine comes away hopeful about the long-term prospects for the US economy: “The America That Works” is the title of the cover package. The optimism stems from what is happening out in the country, away from Washington. “[T]he main reason for cheer is that beyond the Beltway no one is waiting for the federal government to fix the economy. At the regional and local level America is already reforming and innovating vigorously,” The Economist reports, with the states serving as laboratories for experimentation.
Of course, political feuding in Washington imposes costs. “The United States could become far more competitive far more quickly if Congress punched its weight,” The Economist says, adding that so far “the politicians in Washington have not inflicted any crippling damage yet.”
Surprising facts about charitable giving
Just in time for tax season, The Atlantic serves up a fascinating look at charitable giving in the US.
“One of the most surprising, and perhaps confounding, facts of charity in America is that the people who can least afford to give are the ones who donate the greatest percentage of their income,” writes Ken Stern, author of a recent book on charities.
The wealthiest Americans – those with earnings in the top 20 percent – gave on average 1.3 percent of their income to charity in 2011, the latest year for which statistics are available. By comparison, Americans with incomes in the bottom 20 percent donated 3.2 percent of their income.
Wealth helps determine the recipients of charity. The poor tend to give to religious organizations and social service charities like the Salvation Army, The Atlantic says. The wealthy tend to focus their giving on colleges and museums.
What you see around you also influences how much you give, Mr. Stern says. Wealthy people who live where most of their neighbors make $200,000 a year or more give less than those who live in more socioeconomically diverse surroundings and see people in need on a daily basis.
A New York view of childhood
To celebrate its 45th anniversary, New York Magazine features a wide array of current and former city residents reminiscing about their childhoods in the city. It is an eclectic group ranging from comedian Whoopi Goldberg to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Some of the memories are specific to New York City, but many speak to the joys and sometimes painful lessons of childhood in general. Ms. Goldberg says of her mother that she “demanded that you tell the truth or be insanely creative about lying. It had to be a good story. If it was a terrible story, you ran the risk of really having her disappointed in your lack of imagination.”
Justice Scalia writes about a girl named Theresa, the object of his first crush, and also about his sixth-grade teacher, Consuela Goins. Of this lovingly remembered teacher Scalia observes, “Every cloud has a silver lining, and one of the benefits of the exclusion of women from most professions was that we had wonderful teachers, especially the women who today would probably be CEOs.”
The number of executions carried out globally has dropped steadily over the past decade, but that downward momentum stalled in 2012, according to a report released Wednesday by Amnesty International.
The organization recorded 682 executions around the world last year, up two from 2011. That tally included executions in four countries that had not used the death penalty in several years – India, Japan, Pakistan, and Gambia – and a doubling of the number of executions in Iraq, from 68 in 2011 to 129 in 2012.
“The regression we saw in some countries this year was disappointing, but it does not reverse the worldwide trend against using the death penalty,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty’s secretary general, in a statement.
Since 2003, Amnesty reports, the number of countries using the death penalty has dropped from 28 to 21, and the number of countries that have completely abolished the penalty has risen from 80 to 97.
The organization’s data, however, exhibit one glaring omission: They do not include figures for China, widely believed to execute more people than all other countries in the world combined. The Chinese government considers execution figures a state secret, but Chinese human rights watchdog Dui Hua estimates that the country kills up to 5,000 people each year for a wide spectrum of offenses, including drug trafficking and financial crimes. (To learn more about controversy surrounding the death penalty in China, read about the wealthy businesswoman originally sentenced to death for failing to repay investor loans last year.)
Trailing China in Amnesty’s top five “executing countries” in 2012 were Iran (314), Iraq (129), Saudi Arabia (79), and the United States (43). Together those five countries accounted for four of every five executions recorded globally last year.
Indeed, only 10 percent of the world’s countries use the death penalty in a given year, the Amnesty report notes, the vast majority clustered in the Middle East and East Asia. A few of those countries, notably North Korea, are widely believed to execute far more than the number they publicly record (North Korea reported 6 executions in 2012).
While the report noted that the number of US states conducting executions fell from 13 in 2011 to nine in 2012, the total number of uses of the death penalty in the country remained constant. One-third of executions in the US (15) occurred in Texas.
Several high-profile executions and death penalty sentences have already become global flashpoints in 2013. In January, for instance, Saudi Arabia sparked international outrage for beheading a Sri Lankan woman charged at age 17 with killing a child left in her care.
The same month, an Indonesian court sentenced a British woman to death for drug trafficking (she claims to have been intimidated into the crime by a gang).
And in March, prosecutors in the US state of Colorado announced they would seek the death penalty for James Holmes, the man accused of killing 12 people at a movie theater in a Denver suburb last summer.
Fifteen years ago today, one of Europe's longest and seemingly most intractable conflicts came to an end. On April 10, 1998, Irish republicans and unionists signed the Good Friday Agreement, a peace accord that put a formal end to the "Troubles," a slow-burn civil war that had been going on in earnest since 1969.
Well, in fact, they didn't sign it. Nothing was actually signed on paper by the opposing sides. But they did agree to it, marking the end of the beginning of the Irish peace process.
The guns had already fallen silent two years previously, with both the Irish Republican Army and their unionist antagonists declaring a cease-fire within a six-week span. In the years that followed, a new British prime minister, Tony Blair, and his Irish counterpart, Bertie Ahern, worked to bring reluctant unionists to the table with their hated and feared old enemies.
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And on this date 15 years ago, they succeeded: the Ulster Unionist Party agreed to work with republicans, something that would have been unimaginable just a short time earlier.
Life in Northern Ireland has been transformed since that day, no one disputes that. But the conflict has not been replaced with perfect peace. In July 1998, three young Catholic children were killed when the Ulster Volunteer Force, supposedly on ceasefire, firebombed their home. The infamous Omagh bomb, planted by dissident republicans, was to go off on August 15 of the same year, killing 29. And there have been murders carried out by both unionist and republican groups since then, as well as annualized rioting.
In some ways, the post-Good Friday state of affairs mirrors that of Northern Ireland prior to 1969, with sporadic episodes of violence punctuating a shaky peace. Still, with Irish republicans represented in government and Catholics no longer discriminated against in jobs, education, and housing, it is difficult to imagine the same sense of grievance that give birth to the conflict being nurtured ever again.
The problem, as with so many conflicts today, is that an honest desire to put an end to bloodshed and misery may not so much bring about peace as transform violence into deep-frozen cultural and pseudo-political resentments.
In Northern Ireland, as elsewhere, there was no single winner or loser. Both sides can legitimately claim to have won, or to have lost. Whichever they claim depends on how they are feeling at any given moment. This year's rioting in Northern Ireland, sparked by a decision to fly the British Union flag over Belfast city hall on state occasions rather than every day, speaks of a unionist community that is brittle and fearful. A community that thinks it has lost. A community that feels abandoned and is itself now nursing a sense of grievance.
High-flown talk about plurality and neutrality simply do not reflect reality on the ground, except perhaps in a few well-to-do areas.
No one, other than a few extremists on the fringes of unionism and republicanism, wants to see a return to violence in Northern Ireland, and so the architects of the Good Friday Accord can rightfully claim a victory on that front. A permanent peace remains a more remote prize.
How’s this for a Chinese start-up? Finishing school.
Good manners are not necessarily deeply instilled in your average Chinese citizen, and here I am being as polite as Ms. Ho teaches her students to be. But as she points out, only 50 years ago, people here “were fighting to get to the front of the food ration line, for survival. They were not thinking of manners.”
Today, though, wealthy Chinese businesswomen, housewives, and ladies of leisure are anxious to learn the social skills of their Western counterparts. And for a cool $15,000 for a 12-day course, Ho will initiate them into the mysteries of foreign etiquette at her Institute Sarita.
She has the background – both a business degree from Harvard and an etiquette diploma from the Institute Villa Pierrefeu, a Swiss finishing school – and she covers all the bases.
One moment her clients, gathered in Ho’s plush offices in the Park Hyatt Residences in downtown Beijing, will be learning what “black tie” means; the next moment they are practicing the correct pronunciation of “Louis Vuitton” or being given the “Introduction to Expensive Sports” course, which explains why they ought to enjoy horseback riding.
Predictably, perhaps, for women accustomed to eating even the grandest banquet with a simple pair of chopsticks, laying a Western table and learning how to handle knives and forks are especially puzzling skills. Nor does Ho make it easy: Her students have to remember such arcane details as the difference between the fork for extracting snails from their shells and the fork used to eat oysters.
But Ho says she also hopes to give etiquette a deeper meaning, to teach “the philosophy behind the mechanics.”
“Good manners go along with good morals,” she preaches, with a nod to Confucius. “Virtuous people do not commit murder … and nor do they behave in obnoxious ways when they travel.”
In the end, she points out, good manners are the same the world over once you get past such questions of which hand you should hold your fork in. “Good manners means respect for other people,” says Ho, and that is something that some of China’s new rich find even harder to learn than how to distinguish a Californian Chardonnay from a Bordeaux claret.
“I tell them [my clients] that they have to treat people as people no matter who they are speaking to,” she says. “You are not above other people just because you are in a rush or have more money. But that takes a long time to learn.”
“BRITAIN AT THE CROSSROADS,” blared a Monitor headline in July 1978, less than a year before Margaret Thatcher became the country’s prime minister. “Are law and order wilting?”
“Political, labor storms grow louder in Britain,” warned another, in January 1979.
“Britons’ patience … wears thin,” read a third.
As both tributes to Mrs. Thatcher and attacks on her leadership have poured in since her death, it is easy to forget the near-crisis that gripped Britain in the years preceding her rule, as the economy sagged under the weight of rampant inflation and broad unemployment. During the winter of 1978-79, just before the Tories swept to power, strikes rippled across the public sector – the infamous British “Winter of Discontent” – in response to a government wage cap.
As a look through Monitor archives show, this was the deeply divided Britain that Thatcher and her Conservative Party took control of in May 1979 – beleaguered and world-weary, its patience for government tanking and its economy on shaky ground.
As the Monitor’s Takashi Oka reported,
In London’s Golden Square, behind fashionable Regent Street, a gardener lovingly tends his neatly trimmed rosebushes surrounding an Everest-high pile of black plastic rubbish bags. A cleaner from one of the smart offices surrounding the square drags over a roll of carpeting to add to the base of the towering pyramid.
Two weeks’ worth of uncollected garbage is the most visible sign of the labor discontent that grips strike-weary Britain this winter.… With hundreds of schools closed, more than a thousand hospitals reduced to emergency operations only, and wage demands spreading on numerous fronts, the hard-pressed Labour government, with traditionally close ties to the unions, is facing an increasingly embittered public.
What is the government doing about all this? Why must it mollycoddle the trade unions so? Why doesn’t it show some firmness for a change?
These questions, in essence, sum up the opposition Conservative Party’s challenge to Prime Minister James Callaghan and his Labour Cabinet. (“Britons’ patience with strikes wears thin,” Feb. 8, 1979)
The strikes were just the last spasm of the economic malaise of 1970s Britain, which featured high unemployment and double-digit inflation. In Sept. 1976, Mr. Oka noted that nearly 1.5 million Britons – 6.2 percent of the working population – were unemployed (“Soaring joblessness challenges Britain,” Sept. 22, 1976), a number that held roughly as national elections approached (“more than 1.5 million” in “Sunny Jim and Iron Lady about to face off in Britain,” Sept. 7 1978). Inflation averaged around 13 percent throughout the ‘70s, peaking at 25 percent.
Hamilton, Scotland – The integrity of the United Kingdom is being challenged.
It is under attack from within by the Scottish and Welsh nationalists and, in a somewhat different context, by the Northern Ireland Unionists.
It is also under attack from without, as the sovereignty of the traditional nation-state is eroded in small – but not insignificant – chunks by membership in the nine-nation European Community (EC). …
Is this old continent, where the modern nation-state was born and where it fought some of mankind’s most disastrous wars, to see its gradual transformation into something neither fish nor fowl, a kind of hybrid in which the trappings of sovereignty remain but much of the content is gone.
And if such a transformation does take place, what will this do to the Britishness of Britain, the Englishness of England? (“Britain at the Crossroads: Nationalist pressure,” July 10, 1978)
If those were the looming questions that faced Thatcher as she took office, however, she had also already earned some of the fierce loyalty that still characterizes her supporters. As Oka reported shortly after Thatcher became head of the Conservative Party in 1975,
The constituency chairman’s voice range out across the hall filled to bursting with Conservative Party faithful.
"Paraphrasing William Blake," as he put it, he began with familiar words, "I will not cease from mental fight, nor shall my sword sleep in my hand.… “
Then, swelling to a climax, “till Margaret Thatcher is in power,” he thundered, “in England’s green and pleasant land.”
Cheers, laughter, and applause. All eyes were riveted on the blue-eyed, golden-haired woman in turquoise-blue dress standing beside the chairman.…
“It has been said that we are a middle-class party,” she said … “We’re not, you know … We’re the party of all the people who believe in independence and freedom, who believe in living up to the best of Britain and not the worst.”
“More cheers and applause,” Oka went on. “It was a rousing partisan speech, as it was meant to be.”
Irreverent, brisk, and decisive.
As Margaret Thatcher was in life, so are the tweets that have followed her death.
In the minutes following the announcement of the former British prime minister's death Monday, #Thatcher shot to the top of global Twitter trends as the world weighed in on her legacy – or at least as much of it as they could cram into 140 characters or less.
Here are some highlights of the global Twitter reaction.
World leaders were among the first to weigh in on Thatcher's legacy with carefully curated messages of condolence.
"Lady Thatcher didn’t just lead our country, she saved our country," wrote @David_Cameron, the official Twitter account of the British Prime Minister. (And the snarky backlash quickly followed. "From equality and happiness?" one tweeter replied, one of some 2,000 who responded to the prime minister's initial tweet. "Just how out of touch can one man be?" asked another.)
"She stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered," weighed in @BarackObama, while India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh (@PMOIndia) wrote blandly, "She was a transformative figure under whom the United Kingdom registered important progress on the national and international arena."
But in at least one corner of the world where Thatcher's legacy is particularly fraught, there was silence on official Twitter accounts.
'Like a tank barrel'
Elsewhere in the Twitter-verse, reactions were more raucous, mixing critiques and memories of the Iron Lady's towering personality.
"Asking Thatcher a q at a press conf was intimidating," remembered Australian journalist Mark Colvin (@Colvinius). "Her gaze swivelled on you like a tank-barrel."
He continued: "A friend of mine, interviewing Thatcher, asked her qs she didn't like. Just out of camera view, her press sec kicked him in the shins."
And one Canadian journalist weighed in to make sure a crucial aspect of the prime minister's legacy wasn't forgotten in the chatter. "Most of what Thatcher is claimed to have done is exaggerated," he wrote. "Except inventing soft ice cream - as a chemist in the '50s, she did that."
The empire tweets back
Meanwhile, across the British commonwealth, tweeters pondered the Thatcher legacy in their own backyard.
South Africans were less generous. "Apartheid supporter Margaret Thatcher dead at last," wrote a popular opinion writer. "Apartheid would've ended a little earlier had it not been for her," said another.
And Irish comedy writer Colm Tobin put a finger on his country's national pulse when it came to Thatcher's legacy: "Not a lot of love for Margaret Thatcher in Ireland. As an enemy of the state she sits somewhere between Oliver Cromwell & Thierry Henry."
Amid the global haste to weigh on on Thatcher's death, however, Twitter also provided reminders about the dangers of the digital age scramble to be the first to a story.
Thatcher detractors, for instance, gleefully circulated a BBC-based headline typo announcing that Thatcher had "died of a strike."
The text was quickly corrected, but not before it was immortalized on Twitter, a moment of clumsy reaction captured in Internet amber for all the world to see.
None of the Twitter reaction, however, came as a shock to British journalist Martin Belam. In December he tweeted a pie chart he'd created called, "What Twitter will look like on the day Thatcher dies."
At last, a Thatcher tweet no one can dispute.
Once again, history thrust John Kerry today in front of microphones to speak about American youths who are cut down in the waning days of an unpopular war.
Mr. Kerry, now US secretary of State, urged Americans to “forge on” against terrorism in the wake of yesterday’s killing of Anne Smedinghoff, a 25-year-old US diplomat serving in Afghanistan. In 1971, a younger Kerry challenged Congress to stop elongating a fruitless war. He asked, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam?”
Kerry’s famous question, posed in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, came on behalf of fellow soldiers he had recently served with in Vietnam. Today’s remarks also came from a personal place: He had just met Ms. Smedinghoff when she assisted him on his visit to Afghanistan two weeks ago.
An explosion killed the Chicago native while on a mission to deliver textbooks to students in a wartorn part of southeastern Afghanistan. Three US soldiers, a civilian Defense Department employee, and an Afghan doctor also died in the attack, which may have been aimed at the governor of the province. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the Associated Press.
Kerry, speaking in Turkey, described Anne as “a selfless, idealistic young woman who woke up yesterday morning and set out to bring textbooks to schoolchildren, to bring them knowledge, children she had never met, to help them to be able to build a future.”
Smedinghoff’s parents released a heartbreaking statement highlighting their daughter’s enthusiasm for a post she volunteered to take: “We are consoled knowing that she was doing what she loved, and that she was serving her country by helping to make a positive difference in the world.”
The fact that the young diplomat volunteered for the post, and that US forces have similarly not been drafted into service, are important differences from Vietnam. But there are uncomfortable similarities in how the two wars limped painfully toward a very extended conclusion.
Most US troops will come home in 2014, President Obama promises. In the meantime, the US is trying to hand off responsibilities to Afghans.
In 1971, the White House was similarly trying to transition the war effort to the locals. The young Kerry saw it as an elongated effort to avoid the embarrassment of defeat at the cost of young Americans’ lives.
In a section of his testimony labeled “What was found and learned in Vietnam,” Kerry laid out the ground truths that made him a skeptic. The parallels to Afghanistan are legion – from villagers siding with whichever force is present at the time, to the difficulty of training local forces to “take up the fight against the threat we were supposedly saving them from,” to American tax money feeding “a corrupt dictatorial regime.”
Smedinghoff should be honored for taking the risks that the US asked of her. But her death should raise some questions about the long handover in Afghanistan. Is the Afghan government not capable of delivering textbooks to schools? If it is, then why are we getting in the way of Afghans running Afghan affairs? If not, will Hamid Karzai’s corrupt government be ready in a year’s time, when most US forces are set to depart?
It's these questions about whether this is time well spent that would prompt a younger Mr. Kerry to ask his older self: How do you ask a woman to be the last woman to die in Afghanistan?