Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sometimes I wonder...

...has this country gone mad?!
This morning the BBC News website front page had two leading stories that provide a telling contrast. The first refers to the introduction of school lessons to tackle domestic violence:
Every school pupil in England is to be taught that domestic violence is unacceptable, as part of a new government strategy.
The second story tells us that a former royal aide, Jane Andrews, who had absconded from an open prison in Kent is back in police custody. At the very bottom the story notes:
Andrews beat 39-year-old Mr Cressman with a cricket bat and stabbed him with a kitchen knife at their Fulham home on 17 September 2000.
An Old Bailey jury decided by a majority of 11 to one that she killed the wealthy businessman in a jealous rage after he refused to marry her.
To summarise: a woman who brutally murdered her boyfriend (without even the suggestion that self-defence was a factor) was being held in an open prison eight and a half years into a 12 year sentence (which had been reduced from an initial 15 year sentence, after she had been "jailed for life"). This in a country where a majority support the death penalty, and presumably a big chunk of the people who have qualms about the death penalty would support the (admittedly innovative) idea that when someone commits murder they should be jailed for life, that is to say, kept in prison until they die.
I'm not really sure how effective and appropriate it is to "teach" common decency (for example, that domestic violence is bad) in schools. Be that as it may, how absurd and perverse is it that the same State which is trying to tackle the problem of domestic violence through some cockamamie school scheme, at the same time makes it clear to all and sundry that at the end of the day murdering your boyfriend in a fit of rage is not such a terrible thing - in fact we'll send you to live in an Elizabethan brick house dating from 1570 (i.e. East Sutton Park Prison, which was, oddly enough, criticised by the Chief Inspector of Prisons in 2003 for having a "disrespectful culture") and from which it is fairly easy to escape.
As I said, have we gone mad?!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The mind boggles

Despite my deep-seated skepticism and cynicism regarding the international law apparatus and its ability and willingness to protect human rights and improve the lot of the world's downtrodden, I am simply amazed at the double standard that the world's governments and international organisations are applying to two current crises: the uprising in Iran and the removal of Honduran president Mel Zelaya. Obviously I am most disappointed in the attitude of the Western democracies (and their supposedly impartial media organisations), because after all what can one expect of the tinpot dictators who hold court at the UN General Assembly.
In the case of the popular uprising in Iran which followed the sham presidential election, the caution with which the West, particularly the pitifully Carteresque US administration, reacted was truly emabrassing. Of course (despite my ongoing support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) I am not saying that the West should have threatened immediate military action. However there are plenty of policies that fall short of breaching a country's sovereignty and at the same time could effectively defang one of the more despicable regimes we have to contend with nowadays. Instead the US has only been able to muster this:
Protesters take to the streets in Iran in opposition to election fraud, and against a regime which is openly hostile to the U.S., and Obama treads with the greatest of care. First silence, then mixed messages assuring the regime we want to negotiate with it regardless of election fraud. Only after almost two weeks are there strong statements against regime violence.
It is heartbreaking to say so, but one had hoped that after all that has happened the Western pundits who have been endlessly going on about the "demonisation" of Iran by the ghastly Bush regime and who have gone on for years insisting that Iran is really quite a progressive democracy, would have finally come to their senses (and maybe felt a bit shamefull and penitent. Instead we have the blind leading the blind.
Meanwhile there has been a constitutional crisis in Honduras.
That Mr. Zelaya acted as if he were above the law, there is no doubt. While Honduran law allows for a constitutional rewrite, the power to open that door does not lie with the president. A constituent assembly can only be called through a national referendum approved by its Congress.
But Mr. Zelaya declared the vote on his own and had Mr. Chávez ship him the necessary ballots from Venezuela. The Supreme Court ruled his referendum unconstitutional, and it instructed the military not to carry out the logistics of the vote as it normally would do.
The top military commander, Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, told the president that he would have to comply. Mr. Zelaya promptly fired him. The Supreme Court ordered him reinstated. Mr. Zelaya refused.
Calculating that some critical mass of Hondurans would take his side, the president decided he would run the referendum himself. So on Thursday he led a mob that broke into the military installation where the ballots from Venezuela were being stored and then had his supporters distribute them in defiance of the Supreme Court's order.
The attorney general had already made clear that the referendum was illegal, and he further announced that he would prosecute anyone involved in carrying it out. Yesterday, Mr. Zelaya was arrested by the military and is now in exile in Costa Rica.
This time, unlike with Iran, the international community reacted with fury, firmness and unity:
The United Nations General Assembly has approved a resolution calling for the reinstatement of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.
It was co-sponsored by a group of Latin American and Caribbean nations and was supported by the United States.
Our correspondent notes that even US President Barack Obama and his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez have found themselves in rare agreement over the issue - with both declaring that his expulsion was illegal.
A number of countries in the region have withdrawn ambassadors from Honduras.
Meanwhile, World Bank president Robert Zoellick said the institution had "put a pause" on its lending to Honduras.
Mr Zoellick said the bank was "working closely with the OAS and looking to the OAS to deal with its handling of the crisis under its democratic charter".
And the US particularly has been incredibly harsh and outspoken compared to their muted reaction in the Iranian case.
Have they all taken leave of their senses? If, for argument's sake, the Italian prime minister tried to push through some extra-constitutional referendum after being repeatedly told by the other branches of government that this was illegal and he was, as a consequence, stopped by the military which was following Supreme Court orders, nobody in their right mind would call that a coup. They would thank their lucky stars that a megalomaniac anti-democratic bully was prevented from perverting the democratic process. Why is this any different? And what is the Obama administration thinking?!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Disraeli and perspective

In the morning, on my way to work, I am usually one of the nebechs who take the Hammersmith and City Line to work. This is a great time to catch up on some reading, and this morning I was hacking away at the October issue of Commentary magazine. In a review of a book about Benjamin Disraeli I came across a phrase that struck me:
Plainly he could never have succeeded in translating his power fantasies into reality if he had not been exceptionally intelligent and a notably gifted writer and orator. But he owed at least as much to his nerve, and to his spirit of defiance. He was reckless in his handling of money, bold in his approach to women, and undeterred (except for a period in his twenties when he suffered a breakdown) by insults and setbacks.
The phrase I set in bold made me think about how easily we lose sight of perspective. If someone I knew now, in their twenties, "suffered a breakdown" I would never for a moment think they could end up becoming prime minister, or some such. I would say that it is almost impossible for us to escape the urge to give proximate events more weight than they are due. I surmise that it is for this reason that, for instance, every US election seems to be widely billed as the "most important" in a generation and all sorts of current problems are described as debilitating and unprecedented despite the fact that humanity has endured sorer trials. Remembering that is one of the keys to peace of mind.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Something to ponder

Guess which countries have the lowest level of anti-Muslim sentiment in the Western world? The UK and the US (in a tie). And guess which countries have the lowest level of anti-Jewish sentiment? The US, closely followed by the UK.
So maybe all those Europeans who harp about how incredibly bigoted the US supposedly is, should take a closer look at their own back yard. And at the same time, maybe it would be helpful if those Americans who wish their country was more closely aligned with European cultural "sensibilities" and are oh-so-worried about America's reputation in the world, should be careful what they wish for.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


Yowzers! The mainstream media's meltdown over the Sarah Palin candidacy for the Vice Presidency is truly astounding to behold. Have these people no sense of how transparently biased, dishonest and petty they sound?
Jim Lindgren quotes an exhaustive rebuttal of the charge that there was insufficient vetting (from National Review), and says:
To say that the press is doing the Democrats’ work for them would be an understatement.
I don't get it. Are the New York Times reporters just printing what the Obama people are telling them (as Byron York is explicitly doing for the other side)? Or is one side or the other simply lying? Or both?
I guess we should be happy that there are now alternative sources of information, or too often most of us would hear only one side of the story.
Mitchell Blatt writes:
Hillary Clinton's campaign complained about sexism in the media during his primary battle vs. Barack Obama, and we are seeing now just how right she was about sexism in the media.
Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol has been revealed as being pregnant, and that story has dominated election coverage recently. (Note to networks: Bristol isn’t running for VP; Sarah is.)
Not only are the networks trying to drag this story out, they are also saying Palin is neglecting her children by running for vice president. (Stay at home, women, preferably in the kitchen!)
Do read the whole thing.
And have you heard people saying that she's a rabid evangelical who will impose creationism in the classroom? Little Green Footballs clears a few things up:
One of the smears being circulated against Sarah Palin is that she is in favor of teaching creationism in public school science classes, but as I pointed out last week this simply isn't true. Apparently, she has a rather confused attitude toward evolution (an attitude she shares with about 50% of the US population), but when asked explicitly whether she would support teaching the pseudo-science of "intelligent design," her answer was "No." And today even the Associated Press has to admit that Palin has not pushed creationism as governor.
And by the way, John McCain is also on the right side of this issue.
More at the link.
Confederate Yankee has some more on vetting:
We now know far more about Sarah Palin in just four days than we've learned about Barack Obama in 17 months. That is just sad. It's a pathetic reflection of the mainstream media's unwillingness to do their jobs for fear of finding stories that would hurt the candidate so many of them openly desire to win.
But periodically appearing to read teleprompters isn't vetting, not matter how many months a candidate has done it, and Obama's ability to perform in set-piece debates is both dubious—Hillary once famously took him apart—and irrelevant. Barack Obama really has never been fully vetted. He hasn't even come close.
You want examples?
To their great dishonor, the media has focused more energy on Sarah Palin's religious background in just the few days since her announcement as the Republican Vice Presidential candidate than they have on Obama's in the entire campaign.

And a few sound words on experience from Newt Gingrich:
And some home truths from Rudy Giuliani:
Nonetheless, if one looks carefully, there are some members of the MSM, such as the managing editor of the FT's US edition, who haven't completely lost their marbles:
During the Democratic primaries, Gloria Steinem, pioneering feminist and Hillary Clinton supporter, argued that the contest had revealed that gender was "probably the most restricting force in American life". She illustrated her point by imagining a female version of Barack Obama and contending that no woman with such a slender biography would be considered seriously for the presidency.
It is now clear that Ms Steinem was right – although proof comes not from the treatment of the Democratic lioness Mrs Clinton but from the responses, particularly on the left, to the Republican newcomer Sarah Palin. Less than 24 hours after the triumphant close of a convention that nominated a 47-year-old first-term senator as its party’s candidate to be president of the United States, Democratic heavyweights were sputtering with horror at the idea of a 44-year-old, first-term governor as Republican vice-presidential nominee.
As the Democrats absorb Senator McCain's truly maverick decision, I suspect we will hear less of this "experience" argument. Governor Palin, who took on her own party's good ole boys and won, has as much of a record of political achievement as does Senator Obama: running a state, no matter how sparsely populated, is a bigger executive job than being a senator. More­over, you do not have to be Karl Rove to point out that the inexperienced candidate on the Republican ticket is running to be vice-president, not commander-in-chief.
What Democrats, and progressives generally, will have a harder time accepting is that Gov Palin's nomination could be a milestone for American women: in many ways she is an even better feminist icon than America’s reigning top gal Hillary Clinton. In contrast with Mrs Clinton, whose most important political decision was whom she married, Mrs Palin is a genuinely self-made woman, who broke into politics without the head start of a powerful husband or father. Moreover, like Sen Clinton, Gov Palin is a working mother role model, giving birth to her fifth child less than five months ago, going back to work three days later.
It will be interesting to see how the truly despicable reaction on most of the mainstream media's part will play out in the next few days, particularly in light of Sarah Palin's speech at the Republican convention tonight. I believe that if they don't pull their act together soon, there will be a serious backlash from large swathes of the voting public, who already hold the coastal-elite dominated media in low regard for its naked bias.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Georgian aggression is a figment of Putin's imagination

The general consensus on the Georgian crisis seems to be that although Russia is behaving like a thug and is unjustified, the crisis could have been averted if only the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, had not attacked the separatist forces in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. However, Bernard-Henri Lévy writes in today's Wall Street Journal that this is not so:
We know now that the Russian army had been hard at work on its war preparations since before Aug. 8. We know that it massed at the "border" between Georgia and Ossetia a considerable military and paramilitary logistical presence. We know the Russians had methodically repaired the railroad tracks that the troop-transport trains were to take, and we know that at least 150 tanks went through the Roky tunnel separating the two Ossetias the morning of Aug. 8. In other words, no one can ignore the fact that President Saakhashvili only decided to act when he no longer had a choice, and war had already come. In spite of this accumulation of facts that should have been blindingly obvious to all scrupulous, good-faith observers, many in the media rushed as one man toward the thesis of the Georgians as instigators, as irresponsible provocateurs of the war.
I was surprised that this sequence of events has not been made clearer in the Western media. Meanwhile, independent blogger and journalist Michael Totten, has been doing the honourable legwork.
Russia's Orwellian rhetoric must not be allowed to stand and the West needs to hit back hard in the face of Russia's violent, nationalistic and anti-democratic expansionism. At this point the push-back need not involve military retaliation, although I think the West should help Georgia rebuild its shattered armed forces and the US should go ahead with the developement of its missile shield (and, of course, military retaliation would be de rigueur if Russia escalates its aggression either in Georgia or starts another one in the Ukraine). What Europe needs to do (in addition to the more general goals of increasing our defence spending and investing heavily in nuclear energy) is to immediately kick Russia out of the G8 (as John McCain has suggested), officially state that Russia can forget about its application to join the WTO (for the time being), fast-track both Georgia's and the Ukraine's application to enter NATO and most importantly Germany needs to put the kibosh on the Nord-Stream pipeline while at the same time Europe must encourage the Nabucco pipeline and other projects like it. There is only one language regimes like Russia understand, and as Vegetius says: Si vis pacem, para bellum.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Obama's brother thinks the media is biased against McCain?

Instapundit has a discussion regarding Obama's laughable claim that Americans are selfish. The DC Examiner essay he links to quotes an interesting and cogently argued piece which should put this myth to rest once and for all (it appeared in The American, an excellent periodical published by the American Enterprise Institute).
In the context of this discussion, Glenn also links to a story which has been making the rounds about the fact that the Italian edition of Vanity Fair has identified one of Barack Obama's half brothers in a Kenyan slum.
Though this seems to me a trivial matter, I am intrigued by a minor detail: many news outlets have reported the story (which doesn't seem to be posted online at Condé Nast's Italian website) mentioning George Hussein Onyango's living conditions and quoting some of his thoughts. However the Italian press has reported that he said something I haven't seen in the English-language press. According to La Stampa:
Ma a differenza degli altri familiari di Barack, lui appare infastidito dal clamore che circonda il fratellastro: «Obama, Obama, sempre Obama, ma non dovreste parlare anche di McCain?», dice. E a chi gli chiede informazioni risponde che non sono neanche parenti: «Mi vergogno, c’è poco di cui vantarsi».
Which means (my translation):
However unlike Barack's other family members, he seems irritated by the media circus surrounding his half-brother: "Obama, Obama, always Obama; shouldn't they also talk about McCain?", he says. And to those who ask him for information he tells them they aren't even related: "I am ashamed, there's not much to brag about".
The same quotes also appear in Corriere della Sera and elsewhere. From other sources I take it he means he is ashamed of his own circumstances, not his brother. However it is still interesting that George Hussein Onyango's irritation (maybe resentment?) seems to have been brushed out of the English-language reporting.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Still paying the consequences

I sometimes wonder whether Jimmy Carter (whose brand of utter incompetence boggles the mind) ever feels guilty about the incredible number of disasters his policies have caused or at least inflamed. One example is the violent misrule of Zimbabwe by Robert Mugabe. James Kirchik goes over the history briefly in the Wall Street Journal to remind us of a litte known fact: the Rhodesian civil war would have reached a peaceful and democratic conclusion, if not for Carter's obtuseness.
The events of the past few months echo those of nearly 30 years ago, when Zimbabwe was a rebellious British colony called Rhodesia. In April 1979, three million blacks (64% of the native population) voted in the country's first multiracial election in hopes of putting an end to its brutal civil war between the white-led government and black liberation groups. After five days of balloting, the black Methodist bishop Abel Muzorewa was duly elected prime minister of the newfangled Zimbabwe-Rhodesia.
Under the plan agreed to by the white government and moderate black leaders, whites would get 28 out of 100 parliamentary seats and retain control over some government agencies for 10 years. This was hardly a perfect compromise, but Zimbabwe-Rhodesia's "internal settlement" offered the best opportunity to end white supremacy and establish multiracial democracy.
Mugabe, the Chinese-funded, Marxist-Leninist guerilla leader, threatened to kill anyone who participated in that election. Militias led by him and Joshua Nkomo of the Zimbabwe African People's Union killed 10 people. While he claimed that the "internal settlement" was a "bourgeois" swindle, Mugabe really wanted to rule the country by force.
In solidarity with Mugabe and Nkomo, the administration of President Jimmy Carter refused to send election observers. Two weeks after Mr. Muzorewa was elected, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for the administration to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, which President Carter ignored.
It's heartbreaking to think what might have been if the US had defended Zimbabwe's democratically elected government when it counted.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Shockingly doctrinaire

Naomi Klein, whose works I have never read, has always come across to me as a misguided, but ultimately well-intentioned individual. Yesterday, while flying home (to London) from visiting my parents in Milan, I had the occasion of reading a long but excellent review of Klein's latest book, The Shock Doctrine, which has changed my mind. This truly devastating review, by Cato Institute senior fellow Johan Norberg, really deserves to be read in full. Here is part of the executive summary:
Klein's analysis is hopelessly flawed at virtually every level. Friedman's own words reveal him to be an advocate of peace, democracy, and individual rights. He argued that gradual economic reforms were often preferable to swift ones and that the public should be fully informed about them, the better to prepare themselves in advance. Further, Friedman condemned the Pinochet regime and opposed the war in Iraq.
Klein's historical examples also fall apart under scrutiny. For example, Klein alleges that the Tiananmen Square crackdown was intended to crush opposition to pro-market reforms, when in fact it caused liberalization to stall for years. She also argues that Thatcher used the Falklands War as cover for her unpopular economic policies, when actually those economic policies and their results enjoyed strong public support.
Norberg meticulously deconstructs Klein's arguments and provides sources for all his claims. Additionally he wisely goes out of his way not to impugn Klein's character or intentions, even when it strains credulity to think that the blatant inaccuracies of the book could have been unintentional. Here is a video interview in which he summarises his defence of Milton Friedman:
However, in his review Norberg not only shows that Klein is misrepresenting Milton Friedman's positions, but develops a convincing case that the mechanism which she falsely accuses Friedman of supporting, doesn't actually work in the real world:
Even though Klein is wrong about Friedman, she could be right about her broader thesis that it is easier to liberalize in times of crisis, and that there is a close connection between economic liberalization and violence and dictatorships. She gives examples of dictatorships that have liberalized the economy, like Chile and China, but she also makes a metaphorical case about the relationship between "shock therapy" in economics and electrical shocks as a means of torture. The connection is that they are both used to erase the past and create something new—torture is "a metaphor of the shock doctrine's underlying logic."
Hidden in Klein's word games is a real argument—the fact that several dictatorships have liberalized their economies in recent years and that some of these have also tortured their opponents. But how strong is this connection? If we look at the Fraser Institute's Economic Freedom of the World statistics (EFW), we find only four economies about which we have data that haven't liberalized at all since 1980. All the others have. Obviously this also means that we will see economic liberalization even in brutal dictatorships, just as in peaceful democracies.
Klein relies on her personal interpretation of anecdotes and examples and never tries to supply broad, statistical evidence for her case. It's an understandable omission, because the data don't support her argument. There is a very strong correlation between economic freedom on the one hand and political rights and civil liberties on the other. The quarter of countries with the most economic freedom score 1.8 on average in Freedom House's measure of political rights (1 = most free, 7 = least); the second freest quarter gets 2.0; the third; 3.4, and the least economically free quarter of countries gets 4.4. On average, the economically freest quarter is more democratic than Taiwan, and the least economically free quarter is less democratic than Nigeria.
This thread is developed further in the review, to devastating effect. It really does make one wonder how this book has been accorded so much respect and praise. Or as Norberg concludes "It is probably not a coincidence that there are blurbs from four fiction writers on the back of the book."

Thursday, December 06, 2007

More puzzling over Ron Paul

I have received a few replies to my post on Ron Paul which I would like to respond to. One person commented the following (on Facebook):
Ron Paul is NOT an isolationist. He has been consistently non interventionist for decades. You can read it for yourself in his book, "A Foreign Policy of Freedom", a compilation of Ron Paul’s speeches on the floor of The House of Representatives which is a very prophetic read.
Isolationism is a foreign policy which combines a non-interventionist military policy and a political policy of economic nationalism (protectionism). In other words, it asserts both of the following:
Non-interventionism - Political rulers should avoid entangling alliances with other nations and avoid all wars not related to direct territorial self-defense.
Protectionism - There should be legal barriers to control trade and cultural exchange with people in other states.
A friend of mine, Charlie, wrote (in a follow up comment):
Isolationism depicts a totally autarkic nation going alone; non-intervention simply means not doing liberal intervention - i.e. not invading countries to force them to become liberal democracies. You can still make an impact on the international scene and trade freely without spreading democracy through the barrel of a gun. Paul advocates 'letters of marque' as well - basically the concept I have long advocated of declaring open house on your enemies. So instead of spending trillions of dollars occupying Iraq you simply remove protections prohibiting your citizens going and waging private war against the regime (though obviously in the process they forfeit their own protections).
I'd much rather hawks set up a charity to raise money to pay Blackwater or Sandline to go and kick the shit out of Saddam or Shwe than to tie the entire resources of the state to that purpose when large numbers of taxpayers vehemently disagree and the cost is huge and ongoing, victory vaguely defined and by no means guaranteed.
First of all, I find the intensity of support for Ron Paul from people who believe in non-interventionism a bit odd. While Paul is not a pure isolationist, it is my understanding that non-interventionists are meant to be in favour of open immigration, which Paul clearly in not.
Secondly, I think non-interventionism is a terrible idea. This has nothing to do with the War in Iraq: although I was and am in favour of that intervention, I recognise that there were valid arguments against it (unrelated to non-interventionist dogma). However had non-interventionism been applied as a general concept, it would have affected the course of the 20th century (for example) in ways that, as far as I can make out, would have been disastrous and appalling. As everyone knows the US involvement in the Great War was not directly related to "territorial self-defense," and during the Second World War the US would have been compelled to fight only in the Pacific, if it was to restrict its foreign operations to "territorial self-defense." As Lee Harris writes:
A libertarian like Buckle can recommend a policy of non-intervention in domestic politics and recommend it with a clear conscience; but a policy of non-intervention in international politics is another matter. We may persuade our own government not to intervene, but what have we achieved if other nations do not follow suit? Dean Acheson used to say: "Don't just do something—stand there." His point was that by just doing something, we often find ourselves confronted with the unexpected negative consequence of our action. Yet it is a beguiling illusion to think that by standing there and doing nothing we can manage to avoid blowback. When another party commits an act of aggression, and we take no action against it—as the English and French took no action against Hitler's march into the de-militarized Rhineland in 1935—we will inevitably find that our passivity has only served to embolden the aggressor to behave even more aggressively, which was precisely what happened in the case of Hitler.
This brings us back to Ron Paul's remark. If the inherent complexity of the world exposes any foreign policy to the risk of blowback, then it would be absurd to criticize a nation's foreign policy simply because it led to unintended negative consequences. Furthermore, such criticism would be unwarranted in direct proportion to the degree that the behavior of other players on the world stage was unpredictable and inscrutable, since any factor that increases the complexity of a system makes it more difficult to manage intelligently. Given the fact that the behavior of radical Islam is on an order of unpredictability and inscrutability that eclipses all previous geopolitical challenges that our nation has faced, it is a utopian dream to imagine that the United States, as the world's dominant power, could possibly escape blowback by any course of action it tried to pursue. We are both damned if we do, and damned if we don't.
We may agree with Ron Paul that our interventionist policy in the Middle East has led to unintended negative consequences, including even 9/11, but this admission offers us absolutely no insight into what unintended consequences his preferred policy of non-intervention would have exposed us to. It is simply a myth to believe that only interventionism yields unintended consequence, since doing nothing at all may produce the same unexpected results. If American foreign policy had followed a course of strict non-interventionism, the world would certainly be different from what it is today; but there is no obvious reason to think that it would have been better.
Letters of marque, which Charlie mentions above, are documents that have to be approved by Congress which, according to some interpretations, would allow private individuals to undertake hostilites against foreign targets while remaining "privateers," i.e. without falling under the definition of "pirates." Although the US is not a signatory to the Paris Declaration (1856) banning such practices, the US has since then abided by its principles and I believe that from an international law standpoint would be obligated to continue to do so under the rubric of customary law. Although I am convinced that the Westphalian system has some flaws (to wit, that state sovereignty and legal equality between the states should not be absolute: the sovereignty and equality of states that are undemocratic need not be accorded the same respect that democratic states rightfully enjoy) it seems to me that Charlie's proposal would establish a sort of unilateral state-sponsored anarchy in which the states that don't follow his vision would simply gain the upper hand on the international stage (potentially applying principles that conflict with what I view as superior Western values), while the US would not allow itself to mount a defence unless its territory was breached. On the other hand I agree with Charlie on the importance of democratic principles, and that war and foreign interventions should only be undertaken within such a framework. In this regard I might note that this is exactly what happened in both the US and the UK in the run up to the War in Iraq.
Whatever our disagreements on non-interventionism, however, it is another matter - monetary policy - which really makes me leery of Ron Paul's Weltanschauung. The first commenter I quoted also wrote:
Foreign policy goes hand in hand with monetary policy. The federal reserve is responsible for inflation which pays for the wars of neoconservatives and neoliberals who pursue a interventionist foreign policy and are the only ones benefiting from the military-industrial complex and central banking complex. Every one that is not part of this group of elites are the ones suffering economically and socially (civil liberties).
And Charlie wrote:
I think the most challenging, marginalising and complex part of Ron Paul's message concerns Monetarism. He is pro metal-backed money supply and wants to abolish the federal reserve system. Whilst I can see strong motivations for thinking like this and am myself quite skeptical of national monopolies on the money supply I am not intimately familiar with the details. I think perhaps the best solution is to repeal laws prohibiting use of alternate money supplies in a country - i.e. if I want to set up my own gold-backed currency and compete with the Euro or Dollar I should be able to.
I'm glad Charlie recognises that Ron Paul's vision in monetary matters is "challenging, marginalising and complex." Indeed, there are several dubious statements in the above two comments. It seems to me that foreign policy and monetary policy do not go "hand in hand" and it is certainly untrue that wars are paid for by inflation - they are paid for by taxes (and I'd like to note that the richest 5% of taxpayers - are these the "elites"? - pay 60% of income tax revenues in the US). Megan McArdle ably explains why returning to the gold standard would be a crazy idea. Additionally, although I'm not particularly against the idea of allowing alternative currencies, it doesn't seem like a particularly pressing matter to me. Why would you want to set up your own gold-backed currency? How will this improve society, and what problem are we trying to address? Megan, again, puts it best:
Ron Paul's supporters see the might of his common sense slashing through the doubletalk of the financial solons. I see a really, really smart economist responding to Ron Paul the same way you react to Cousin Mildred when she corners you after Christmas dinner to complain about the flouridation of the water supply. What Congressman Dr. Paul is saying doesn't make any particular sense; American consumers are not particularly suffering because of the decline of the dollar, the dollar is not declining because of Fed policy, and the Federal Reserve has nothing to do with a relative scarcity of oil and food, which is what is driving the CPI increases he complains about. If we were on the gold standard, oil and food would still be getting more expensive, and people on fixed incomes would still be feeling the pinch.
Finally, presumably in response to my claim that Ron Paul has "odd associations," Charlie sent me this message:
This is not anti-semitism. If some people against the state of Israel existing are somehow giving money to the Ron Paul campaign it doesn't seem much different to me from Log Cabin Republicans funding Mick Huckabee's campaign - you take any support you get, as long as there are no conditions tied to it. Obviously if a Neo-Nazi walks up to Ron Paul and offers him a million dollars then that calls him into question, but nothing like that is what has happened.
I certainly do not believe, and have not seen evidence to suggest, that Ron Paul is an anti-Semite. However his associations are odd and at times unsavoury. As far as I know no neo-Nazi has given Ron Paul a million dollars, but he has refused to return a smaller donation ($500) from Don Black of Stormfront. In addition Paul gives credence to cliches about libertarians and their belief in conspiracy theories, which is something I particularly dislike.
To conclude, for the reasons mentioned above (also see Stephen Bainbridge's excellent overview), although I agree with some of Ron Paul's policy positions, I do not support his candidacy and even on strictly libertarian grounds I think it would be disastrous for that cause.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Puzzling over Ron Paul

As you may imagine, although I agree with some of his policy positions, I am not at all a fan of Ron Paul (mainly for his isolationist ideas, but also for his rather odd associations). However, I think his relative popularity may be a good sign, as Glenn Reynolds notes:
Paul's doing better than anyone expected. It's abundantly clear that he's not doing it on charisma and rhetorical skill. Which means that libertarian ideas are actually appealing, since Ron Paul isn't. Paul's flaws as a vessel for those ideas prove the ideas' appeal. If they sell with him as the pitchman, they must be really resonating.
So, although there is some room for doubt, I think he might have a positive effect on the Republican Party.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Discussing Iraq

I have been involved in a discussion on Facebook with a friend of mine over the War in Iraq. However, since my response is rather complex and formatting things on Facebook is a nightmare, I have decided to post it here.
The whole thing started with Charlie (my friend) pointing to this video of Dick Cheney defending the decision of the Bush père administration (in which he served as Defense Secretary) not to topple Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War:

Charlie asks: "What changed in ten years?"
Echoing a previous comment, I wrote:
Indeed, September 11th. That's not to say that Saddam had anything to do with 9/11 (although he did foster indisputable connections to various terrorist networks including Al Qaeda), but that 9/11 alerted us to a threat gathering on the horizon, and the War in Iraq is one of the responses to that threat.
Also, I would contend that it is premature to claim that Iraq is a hopeless quagmire, as I suspect the Democrats will find to their embarassment over the coming months.
In response to this comment Charlie posted his point of view, which I would like reply to.
Charlie writes:
None of what happened on 11th September 2001 changed the fundamental problems with an Iraqi invasion that Dick Cheney so eloquently points out above.
Dick Cheney is generally considered a Realist in terms of international relations. As Realist and Neoconservative thought (which is where my sympathies lie) have very strong disagreements on a host of IR issues, I do not aim to defend his every position. I was certainly in favour of pushing for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein well before September 11th. However I can speculate that the event which convinced some Realists, including Dick Cheney, that the risks and costs of an invasion of Iraq were outweighed by the potential benefits, were in fact the September 11th attacks, which alerted many people to a threat which had until then been underestimated. At any rate, my position on foreign policy is much closer to Christopher Hitchens' (unlike on some other subjects) and Norman Podhoretz's.
Charlie continues:
I have never heard of a convincing link between Saddam Hussein and Al Queda - there are many other Middle Eastern countries which have far more connection with the current terrorism and even back then it would seem Iran was more of a threat on the WMD front. I'm still not convinced we're fighting an advanced network vis a vis Al Queda at any rate - its a viral idea we're fighting against, an idea that has motivated disparate groups to make relatively low tech explosive devices and cause indiscriminate mass carnage on several occasions.
I certainly cannot claim to be an expert on the subject, but it seems to me that while Al Qaeda may be loosely organised and highly flexible it is far from being only a "viral idea." As far as I can tell, although Al Qaeda lacks a clear hierarchy and bureaucracy, it is still a sufficiently organised network to warrant viewing it as a single entity and fighting it on such terms (somewhat like the Mafia). I agree that there are other countries that are very much involved in encouraging terrorism and doing other unsavoury things, and I think our (the West's) policies towards them should be much more robust. On the WMD front, I don't know what "back then" is referring to but it seems to me that Iran was not a focal point of WMD/Nuclear development until more recent years. Not only did Saddam Hussein develop and in fact use chemical weapons against his own citizens decades ago, but he was only prevented from developing nuclear capabilities by a "rogue" Israeli raid.
This brings me back to why, since the mid-1990s, when I started following current events as a teenager, I have been in favour of increasing international pressure on Iraq and if ultimately necessary intervening militarily. The reason is not tied just to one specific justification, each of which taken separately may be too weak to impel the West to breach another country's sovereignty (a concept which I think is important, but should not be absolute). However, by the end of the last century Iraq's situation was such that the threat of a military intervention seemed to me the best course to address several festering problems.
Even ignoring Saddam's connections to Al Qaeda (and there is proof that some connection did exist), his regime supported terrorism through other channels, such as his harbouring Abu Abbas and Abu Nidal (and then purportedly assassinating him) and his sponsoring of suicide bomber families in the West Bank (just to mention a few). In addition, as I noted above, Saddam had developed and used chemical weapons on his own people in the 1980s and almost succeeded in developing nuclear capabilities at the same time (not to mention more recent suspect activity). He invaded Kuwait and demonstrated a repeated disregard for human rights and principles of common decency. Over a period of decades the brutality of the regime, the repeated invasions of Iraq's neighbours, the continued and longstanding flouting of Security Council resolutions regarding the Gulf War, Saddam's ability to completely corrupt the UN and its already ineffective and unpopular Oil-for-Food program, his use of chemical weapons on his Kurdish subjects without scruple and his close brush with success on the nuclear front, all indicated that Saddam needed to be removed for both humanitarian and security reasons. At the time there was, in my opinion, no other regime on earth which had posed such varied, sustained and worrying challenges to the international community, and it is precisely the mushy response of the international community which forced the Anglosphere's hand: if the entire West had presented a united front, my bet is that Saddam would have folded and outright war would have been avoided. Incidentally, the case in favour of the Bush Doctrine is presented with clarity and elegance by Norman Podhoretz in a series of articles for Commentary Magazine (and in his new book World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism).
Charlie goes on to write:
Right now Iraq is a hellhole, let alone a Quagmire - just as Cheney predicted - a Kurdish-Turk war now looks inevitable. Iran arms insurgents in the east and gradually increases its influence over those oil rich regions. As yet, the Western Iraqi problems - in Anbar Province - seem to have marginally subsided with the troop surge and the loss of civilian support for the Jihadists trying to stir up more trouble.
Although Iraq is certainly going through a difficult time, I think it is hardly a hellhole and certainly not the most violent spot on the planet. In fact, there seems to be an increasing consensus that - for the moment at least (and as I expected) - things are looking much better than they have for years. That is why the Democrats are starting to fret over what to do if, God forbid, the surge actually continues to do well.
At the same time I think it is quite clear that while Iran is rattling sabers, it is actually having quite a few problems of its own both economically and politically. Therefore it is only by obtaining nuclear weapons that Iran will pose a truly daunting threat, which is why a stop should be put to Ahmadinejad's plans.
Charlie concludes:
I hope Iraq can come out of its current troubles and I hope the limited success of the surge in some areas spread to others and a peaceful solution to the Kurdish-Turk problem can be found. I am skeptical though. Cheney still knew in 2003 what he knew in 1994 so I am guessing he was either over-ruled or there is some larger imperative in which the problems he describes are deemed an acceptable cost. Whatever that is, I very much doubt it's the destruction of 'Al Queda'.
I'm glad to hear that Charlie hopes Iraq can overcome its troubles, and I am much more confident than him that indeed it will. It seems to me that some people who oppose the War, do not in fact share Charlie's hopes, which I find both a pity and objectionable. As I note above, the Iraq War was not fought on the narrow justification of an Al Qaeda connection, and there certainly were larger imperatives at stake. I don't think changing one's mind (as Cheney seems to have done) is necessarily a bad thing, not least when he has moved from a deeply cynical, short-termist, balance-of-power view of the world - to a neconservative (more idealistic but robust) vision.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Greenspan's forbearance

Megan McArdle admires Alan Greenspan's forbearance in the face of Naomi Klein's aggressiveness:
My favorite moment is when Naomi Klein accuses Greenspan of having pursued a crisis of faith in capitalism through his income-inequality producing policies of privatisation, deregulation, and free trade, which is a terrific twofer: not only have none of these things been convincingly linked to income inequality; but also, none of them have anything to do with Alan Greenspan's job at the Federal Reserve. Nonetheless, Greenspan a) doesn't point out that she's completely ignorant b) keeps his temper and c) tries to actually explain the problems of income inequality. I doubt I'd be so well behaved.
The updates are amusing as well.

Mugabe's transformation?

James Kirchik has an interesting essay in the Los Angeles Times revisiting what has become conventional wisdom about the Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, namely that he "was a promising leader who became corrupted over time by power." This is clearly nonesense, and only serves to assuage the conscience of the "enlightened" elites who enthusiastically supported him at the time of his struggle for power. Kirchik explains:
But this popular conception of Mugabe -- propagated by the liberals who championed him in the 1970s and 1980s -- is absolutely wrong. From the beginning of his political career, Mugabe was not just a Marxist but one who repeatedly made clear his intention to run Zimbabwe as an authoritarian, one-party state. Characteristic of this historical revisionism is former Newsweek southern Africa correspondent Joshua Hammer, writing recently in the liberal Washington Monthly that "more than a quarter-century after leading his guerrilla army to victory over the racist regime of Ian Smith in white-minority-ruled Rhodesia, President Robert Mugabe has morphed into a caricature of the African Big Man."
But Mugabe did not "morph" into "a caricature of the African Big Man." He has been one since he took power in 1980 -- and he displayed unmistakable authoritarian traits well before that. Those who were watching at the time should have known what kind of man Mugabe was, and the fact that so many today persist in the contention that Mugabe was a once-benign ruler speaks much about liberal illusions of African nationalism.
All the participants in the Rhodesian war used vicious tactics. But Mugabe displayed a particular ruthlessness that ought to have indicated what sort of ruler he might one day become. In 1978, four black moderates announced that they had reached an "internal settlement" with the white regime, paving the way for democratic elections. One of these leaders, Ndabaningi Sithole, dispatched 39 envoys to meet representatives of Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo, another guerrilla leader. The envoys were captured, murdered and, according to Time magazine, "their bodies were then laid out by the guerrillas in a grisly line at the side of the road as a warning to local tribespeople."
The following year, in protest of the election that then-Premier Ian Smith had organized with black leaders willing to lay down their arms, Mugabe's organization released a death list naming 50 "Zimbabwean black bourgeoisie, traitors, fellow-travelers and puppets of the Ian Smith regime, opportunistic running-dogs and other capitalist vultures." During those elections, Mugabe and Nkomo's forces killed 10 black civilians attempting to vote. Mugabe's men also blew up a Woolworth's store and massacred Catholic missionaries.
Mugabe was clear about his preference for authoritarian rule. Years before taking office, asked what sort of political future he envisioned for Zimbabwe, Mugabe expressed his belief that "the multiparty system . . . is a luxury" and that if Zimbabweans did not like Marxism, "then we will have to re-educate them."
Do read the whole thing.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Duke lacrosse "rape" case

For those who haven't been following the Duke "rape" case, here is a good overview by Power Line:
Yesterday, Stuart Taylor spoke to the Washington, D.C. chapter of the Federalist Society about the Duke lacrosse "rape" case. In my view, Taylor is probably the pre-eminent reporter of legal/political matters, an enterprise to which he brings to bear great intelligence, strong knowledge of the law, and stubborn fair-mindedness.
Along with K.C. Johnson, he has written Until Proven Innocent, Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case. Today, he provided an overview of this wretched affair which, in essence, was the product of three rotten forces -- a corrupt prosecutor, a rotten academic institution, and the liberal MSM.
Do read the whole thing. The Weekly Standard also published an interesting essay on this travesty in January 2007.
And here is a hilarious video of Amy Poehler spoofing Nancy Grace on Saturday Night Live:

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Greenspan explained

I suspect there are still quite a few "blood for oil" conspiracists who are in whoops over a quote from Greenspan's recent autobiography:
I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.
I wasn't surprised when I discovered that there is more to his position than that (via Ed Morrissey):
Greenspan clarified his remarks in an interview with the Washington Post, telling the newspaper that although securing global oil supplies was "not the administration's motive," he had presented the White House with a case for why removing Hussein was important for the global economy.
"I was not saying that that's the administration's motive," Greenspan said. "I'm just saying that if somebody asked me, 'Are we fortunate in taking out Saddam?,' I would say it was essential."
He said that in his discussions with President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, "I have never heard them basically say, 'We've got to protect the oil supplies of the world,' but that would have been my motive."
Not only this, but Greenspan (like most rational actors on the global stage) believed that Saddam Hussein had WMD - he just thought there were other good reasons to get rid of him as well:
As for Iraq, Greenspan said that at the time of the invasion, he believed, like Bush, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction "because Saddam was acting so guiltily trying to protect something." While he was "reasonably sure he did not have an atomic weapon," he added, "my view was that if we do nothing, eventually he would gain control of a weapon."
His main support for Hussein's ouster, though, was economically motivated. "If Saddam Hussein had been head of Iraq and there was no oil under those sands," Greenspan said, "our response to him would not have been as strong as it was in the first gulf war. And the second gulf war is an extension of the first. My view is that Saddam, looking over his 30-year history, very clearly was giving evidence of moving towards controlling the Straits of Hormuz, where there are 17, 18, 19 million barrels a day" passing through.
Greenspan said disruption of even 3 to 4 million barrels a day could translate into oil prices as high as $120 a barrel -- far above even the recent highs of $80 set last week -- and the loss of anything more would mean "chaos" to the global economy.
Given that, "I'm saying taking Saddam out was essential," he said. But he added that he was not implying that the war was an oil grab.
"No, no, no," he said. Getting rid of Hussein achieved the purpose of "making certain that the existing system [of oil markets] continues to work, frankly, until we find other [energy supplies], which ultimately we will."
So he was simply saying that if the Middle East didn't have a lot of oil we would be less interested in it (which doesn't seem to be an earth-shattering statement). One could add to that, that the Middle East would probably have less intractable problems if it didn't sit on so much oil. Ed Morrissey spells it out:
In general, Greenspan has it right. People have turned oil into a protest chant, but the global economy depends on a free flow of oil to provide energy. A great portion of that oil comes from the Middle East, which makes its politics a matter of interest to most nations of the world. We can’t ignore people like Saddam Hussein when they threaten oil supplies, and Greenspan understands this better than most.
Unfortunately, the White House can’t even afford to make this common-sense argument. Of course the US has to protect foreign petroleum supplies; hardly any other nation has that capability. Only Britain has a large enough navy to deploy significant surface forces in that area, which is why we have partnered with them to ensure that tinpot dictators like Saddam and lunatics like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cannot use oil to hold the rest of the world hostage to their demands. The other option would be to open up our own resources for drilling to offset our own vulnerability to those kind of extortions, and our political class refuses to do that.
Until we develop a domestic energy production that makes the West impervious to financial disruption from oil stoppages, we have to protect our interests in the Middle East. It doesn’t take a Greenspan to figure that out, but apparently it takes a Greenspan to explain it to the media.
Which is why I'm in favour of nuclear power.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Scrap the CAP!

A friend of mine sent me an unintentionally amusing article from the Guardian (emphases mine; she reads it so I don't have to!):
Because China has no tradition of dairy farming, there is a shortage of home-produced milk. A third of all the milk produced worldwide is now being transported to China, much of it from the EU and a significant amount from Germany, which produces 27bn litres a year.
EU dairy farmers would like to increase production to cope with a current shortfall, but are prevented from doing so by EU milk quotas, imposed in 1984 and in force until 2015. Instead German dairy farmers have taken the obvious step of putting up their prices, which they have long claimed were artificially low. Blaming the Chinese has helped to deflect criticism from the farmers.
Now outraged consumer groups and politicians have called for the government to raise unemployment benefit to cover the rise.
The only effective way to increase global milk yields without breaking the milk quotas, according to experts, is to encourage the breeding of cows outside the EU.
This is simply hilarious! China wants more milk, EU farmers would be more than happy to offer it to them (presumably this increased demand would help the European agricultural sector, which the CAP is supposedly meant to protect), but since the farmers are not allowed to produce more, prices are skyrocketing. What's the German solution? Raise unemployment benefits! Wouldn't it just be easier (and more beneficial) to remove the milk quotas?

Italian women

A few weeks ago the Financial Times had an interesting essay by Adrian Michaels about feminism (or lack thereof) in Italy, which even ruffled some feathers back home. In my experience the tone and content of the piece are accurate, and indeed there is a serious problem on this front, as I noted a few years ago. Michaels writes:
If you are home before the 8pm news on Rai Uno, Italy's main television station, you will discover it is preceded by a quiz show called L’Eredita' ("The Inheritance"). In the middle of the programme, four ritzy women interrupt the competition to dance. "My jewels!" the male host exclaims. The dancing has no connection to the rest of the show; Rai Uno explains on its website that the "girls... with their presence and beauty, cheer up everyone watching, particularly men".
Bonino points out that Italian feminism was vigorous in the 1970s when abortion and divorce were legalised – "even with the church next door and the Pope on television every day". In 1976, she says, 11 per cent of members of parliament were women, the same as today. "Most of my colleagues fell asleep in some way… the women's movement never pressed for structural reforms and there is still nothing on the agenda. When women fell asleep they followed the cultural mainstream."
The problem is evident in both parliament and the boardroom. Italy came above only Cyprus, Egypt and South Korea in 48 countries surveyed by the International Labour Organisation for female share of legislators, senior officials and managers. In the largest Italian companies, women represent about two per cent of board directors, according to the European Professional Women's Network, compared with 23 per cent for Scandinavia and Finland and 15 per cent in the US.
Indeed, the statistic about corporate boards may be even worse than is initially apparent. As a part of my job I analyse the corporate governance of the largest Italian companies (specifically the constituents of the FTSE Eurofirst 300 and MSCI Europe indices - about 30 companies), and a cursory glance shows that several of the women on these boards (approximately 15 out of 500 board members) have family connections which suggest they did not reach their positions exclusively by dint of their strong will and hard work. This is not to say that they haven't earned their current positions, but I don't think one can count people who grew up under the strongly entrepreneurial influence of having a parent who founded or ran a blue chip company as average women. Only one Italian large cap company is run by a woman, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore SpA, a publishing house, and the CEO is the daughter of the controlling shareholder, Silvio Berlusconi.
In fact, even well-known (in Italy) managers of smaller companies that I do not generally analyse, such as Diana Bracco and Emma Marcegaglia run companies they inherited.
The FT article goes on to mention the role of television in this sorry state of affairs:
"Television is still in the hands of men," says Parati at Dartmouth College. "This recreates the illusion of how women can be subjugated and is reassuring... Berlusconi has not created the situation but he has made it bigger."
Striscia La Notizia ("The News Slithers"), a satirical news programme, is one of the most popular shows on Canale 5, one of Berlusconi's channels. It goes out six nights a week at 8.30pm presented by two men but regularly interrupted by two gyrating and minimally dressed women. Competitions to replace the two female dancers are deemed newsworthy in their own right.
The show is just one example of the astonishingly restricted use of women on Italian television. A study last year of almost 600 television shows on the largest channels by Censis, an Italian research institute, showed that women mostly appeared as actors, singers and models. "The most common image seemed to be that of women in light entertainment," Censis said. When women were present as experts, they tended to be talking about astrology or handicrafts. Professional or political women were extremely rare.
I am skeptical of the idea that Italian men are in thrall to the "illusion of how women can be subjugated" and that this is "reassuring." I think the women's role in this state of affairs must not be minimised. It seems that becoming a velina (one of the skimpily dressed dancers on Italian television) is the ambition of many Italian teenage girls, and the competition to get one of these roles is fierce. Ironically one of the only executives without family connections who serves on the board of an Italian blue chip company is Gina Nieri who works for Mediaset, Berlusconi's television company (the other being Sabina Grossi).
Some of these problems are not exclusive to Italy. The Times last week had an editorial which skirted on a related issue:
A while ago I read the results of a survey that asked a thousand teenage girls what they'd like to be when they grew up. Sixty-three per cent replied glamour model. That's glamour model. Not a catwalk model, where you get to jetset around the world, snort piles of cocaine and wear outfits that occupy that fraught Sudetenland between high fashion and care-in-the-community.
Nope, they just wanted to take their clothes off for the papers, ideally in Swindon. If their horizons were any lower, they would be, technically, ants. Their favourite role model (chosen from a list that included Germaine Greer and – one of the world’s most successful people – J. K. Rowling), was Abi Titmuss, a woman so pointless that she is a valid argument for the reintroduction of slavery. A quarter of them said that they would be perfectly happy to be lap dancers one day. I think that's what our society has been lacking in this age of frenzied economic change – an eighth of the population becoming lap dancers.
The rest of the editorial is not of particular interest, but there was a more in-depth analysis in the health section of the paper. I hope to put down my thoughts on whether and how such attitudes should be countered in a future post.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

A new Cold War?

During a radio broadcast in 1939, Winston Churchill once famously said: "I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." This statement seems to be as true today as it was then. What I find particularly puzzling about Russia is not so much its appalling leadership, but the popularity it enjoys. But that's not the only oddity, as Reuters recently reported:
Russia's youths admire Soviet dictator Josef Stalin -- who presided over the deaths of millions of people -- and want to kick immigrants out of Russia, according to a poll released on Wednesday. The poll, carried out by the Yuri Levada Centre, was presented by two U.S. academics who called it "The Putin Generation: the political views of Russia's youth".
When asked if Stalin was a wise leader, half of the 1,802 respondents, aged from 16 to 19, agreed he was. "Fifty-four percent agreed that Stalin did more good than bad," said Theodore Gerber, a sociologist from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Forty-six percent disagreed with the statement that Stalin was a cruel tyrant."
Stalin, who took over from Vladimir Lenin, built a system of terror and repression in which tens millions of people died or were killed. He died in 1953.
"What we find troubling is that there is a substantial proportion of young people in Russia today who hold positive or ambivalent views on Stalin and his legacy," Gerber said.
If this wasn't disturbing enough, Edward Lucas, the central and east European correspondent of the Economist and author of a forthcoming book entitled The New Cold War and How to Win It, has a rather hair-raising essay in the Daily Mail, describing another expression of Putin's increasingly sinister authoritarian bent:
Obediently, couples move to a special section of dormitory tents arranged in a heart-shape and called the Love Oasis, where they can start procreating for the motherland. With its relentlessly upbeat tone, bizarre ideas and tight control, it sounds like a weird indoctrination session for a phoney religious cult.
But this organisation - known as "Nashi", meaning "Ours" - is youth movement run by Vladimir Putin's Kremlin that has become a central part of Russian political life.
Nashi's annual camp, 200 miles outside Moscow, is attended by 10,000 uniformed youngsters and involves two weeks of lectures and physical fitness. Attendance is monitored via compulsory electronic badges and anyone who misses three events is expelled. So are drinkers; alcohol is banned. But sex is encouraged, and condoms are nowhere on sale. Bizarrely, young women are encouraged to hand in thongs and other skimpy underwear - supposedly a cause of sterility - and given more wholesome and substantial undergarments.
Twenty-five couples marry at the start of the camp's first week and ten more at the start of the second. These mass weddings, the ultimate expression of devotion to the motherland, are legal and conducted by a civil official. Attempting to raise Russia's dismally low birthrate even by eccentric-seeming means might be understandable. Certainly, the country's demographic outlook is dire. The hard-drinking, hardsmoking and disease-ridden population is set to plunge by a million a year in the next decade.
But the real aim of the youth camp - and the 100,000-strong movement behind it - is not to improve Russia's demographic profile, but to attack democracy. Under Mr Putin, Russia is sliding into fascism, with state control of the economy, media, politics and society becoming increasingly heavy-handed. And Nashi, along with other similar youth movements, such as 'Young Guard', and 'Young Russia', is in the forefront of the charge.
At the start, it was all too easy to mock. I attended an early event run by its predecessor, 'Walking together', in the heart of Moscow in 2000. A motley collection of youngsters were collecting 'unpatriotic' works of fiction for destruction. It was sinister in theory, recalling the Nazis' book-burning in the 1930s, but it was laughable in practice. There was no sign of ordinary members of the public handing in books (the copies piled on the pavement had been brought by the organisers). Once the television cameras had left, the event organisers admitted that they were not really volunteers, but being paid by "sponsors". The idea that Russia's anarchic, apathetic youth would ever be attracted into a disciplined mass movement in support of their president - what critics called a "Putinjugend", recalling the "Hitlerjugend" (German for "Hitler Youth") - seemed fanciful.
How wrong we were. Life for young people in Russia without connections is a mixture of inadequate and corrupt education, and a choice of boring dead-end jobs. Like the Hitler Youth and the Soviet Union's Young Pioneers, Nashi and its allied movements offer not just excitement, friendship and a sense of purpose - but a leg up in life, too.
Nashi's senior officials - known, in an eerie echo of the Soviet era, as "Commissars" - get free places at top universities. Thereafter, they can expect good jobs in politics or business - which in Russia nowadays, under the Kremlin's crony capitalism, are increasingly the same thing.
Nashi and similar outfits are the Kremlin's first line of defence against its greatest fear: real democracy. Like the sheep chanting "Four legs good, two legs bad" in George Orwell's Animal Farm, they can intimidate through noise and numbers. Nashi supporters drown out protests by Russia's feeble and divided democratic opposition and use violence to drive them off the streets. The group's leaders insist that the only connection to officialdom is loyalty to the president. If so, they seem remarkably well-informed.
In July 2006, the British ambassador, Sir Anthony Brenton, infuriated the Kremlin by attending an opposition meeting. For months afterwards, he was noisily harassed by groups of Nashi supporters demanding that he "apologise". With uncanny accuracy, the hooligans knew his movements in advance - a sign of official tip-offs.
Even when Nashi flagrantly breaks the law, the authorities do not intervene. After Estonia enraged Russia by moving a Soviet era war memorial in April, Nashi led the blockade of Estonia's Moscow embassy. It daubed the building with graffiti, blasted it with Stalinera military music, ripped down the Estonian flag and attacked a visiting ambassador's car. The Moscow police, who normally stamp ruthlessly on public protest, stood by.
Do read the whole thing. Although I tend to agree that currently the greatest threat to the West, and civilisation in general, is Islamofascism - and I am comfortable with calling the struggle against it World War IV - we must not lose sight of the fact that other, more localised problems also arise, and unfortunately Russia seems to increasingly represent one of them. I will be interested to see what strategies Edward Lucas proposes to counter this threat, when his book is published.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Cooler heads?

It would seem that cooler heads may be prevailing in the global warming debate. Even in the UK where the global warming orthodoxy is actively supported by many media outlets - for example, I bet you weren't aware that US carbon emissions fell in 2006 - according to a recent survey by Pocket Issue more than two-thirds of the respondents believe that climate change is a natural phenomenon which has little to do with human actions:
Almost three quarters of people believe global warming is a 'natural occurrence' and not a result of carbon emissions, a survey claimed today. This goes against the views of the vast majority of scientists who believe the rise in the earth's temperatures is due to pollution. The online study which polled nearly 4000 votes found that a staggering 71 percent of people think that the rise in air temperature happens naturally. And 65 percent think that scientists' catastrophic predictions if pollution isn't curbed are 'far fetched'.
Admittedly this is an online survey, whose accuracy is unclear to me, but the results still seem encouraging.
Meanwhile, isn't it ironic that Al Gore constantly invokes science and reason, while peddling the most exaggerated (and unscientific) claims to encourage people to join his global warming cult? If you think I'm just being snarky about him because I disagree with his politics and policies, I think a recent essay in the Chicago Sun Times would be well worth reading. In it James Taylor points out how many of the Goracle's most famous claims have little relation to scientific research published in mainstream scientific journals. Here are the juicy bits:
For example, Gore claims that Himalayan glaciers are shrinking and global warming is to blame. Yet the September 2006 issue of the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Climate reported, "Glaciers are growing in the Himalayan Mountains, confounding global warming alarmists who recently claimed the glaciers were shrinking and that global warming was to blame."
Gore claims the snowcap atop Africa's Mt. Kilimanjaro is shrinking and that global warming is to blame. Yet according to the November 23, 2003, issue of Nature magazine, "Although it's tempting to blame the ice loss on global warming, researchers think that deforestation of the mountain's foothills is the more likely culprit. Without the forests' humidity, previously moisture-laden winds blew dry. No longer replenished with water, the ice is evaporating in the strong equatorial sunshine."
Gore claims global warming is causing more tornadoes. Yet the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated in February that there has been no scientific link established between global warming and tornadoes.
Gore claims global warming is causing more frequent and severe hurricanes. However, hurricane expert Chris Landsea published a study on May 1 documenting that hurricane activity is no higher now than in decades past. Hurricane expert William Gray reported just a few days earlier, on April 27, that the number of major hurricanes making landfall on the U.S. Atlantic coast has declined in the past 40 years. Hurricane scientists reported in the April 18 Geophysical Research Letters that global warming enhances wind shear, which will prevent a significant increase in future hurricane activity.
Gore claims global warming is causing an expansion of African deserts. However, the Sept. 16, 2002, issue of New Scientist reports, "Africa's deserts are in 'spectacular' retreat . . . making farming viable again in what were some of the most arid parts of Africa."
Gore argues Greenland is in rapid meltdown, and that this threatens to raise sea levels by 20 feet. But according to a 2005 study in the Journal of Glaciology, "the Greenland ice sheet is thinning at the margins and growing inland, with a small overall mass gain." In late 2006, researchers at the Danish Meteorological Institute reported that the past two decades were the coldest for Greenland since the 1910s.
Gore claims the Antarctic ice sheet is melting because of global warming. Yet the Jan. 14, 2002, issue of Nature magazine reported Antarctica as a whole has been dramatically cooling for decades. More recently, scientists reported in the September 2006 issue of the British journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Series A: Mathematical, Physical, and Engineering Sciences, that satellite measurements of the Antarctic ice sheet showed significant growth between 1992 and 2003. And the U.N. Climate Change panel reported in February 2007 that Antarctica is unlikely to lose any ice mass during the remainder of the century.
Do read the whole thing.

Post Scriptum:
As I expected, the online poll I mention above, seems to be far from accurate, but underlines a real trend: a majority of people in the UK, according to a more traditional poll, seem to be skeptical of the global warming orthodoxy. BBC News reports:
The public believes the effects of global warming on the climate are not as bad as politicians and scientists claim, a poll has suggested. The Ipsos Mori poll of 2,032 adults - interviewed between 14 and 20 June - found 56% believed scientists were still questioning climate change. There was a feeling the problem was exaggerated to make money, it found.
The Royal Society said most climate scientists believed humans were having an "unprecedented" effect on climate. The survey suggested that terrorism, graffiti, crime and dog mess were all of more concern than climate change.
I must say I'm very pleased about this.
Meanwhile Tim Blair has a hilarious takedown of the Live Earth concerts:
Consider the vast carbon footprint of Live Earth, during which the world's most indulgent people - rock stars - will demand that their followers pledge to "take personal action to help solve the climate crises by reducing my own C02 pollution as much as I can."
Has Live Earth performer Keith Urban sold his Bentleys yet? (Actually, merely selling those 12-cylinder babies won’t reduce C02 emissions; he must destroy them.) I’ve been trying to come up with a violently destructive Gaia-raping stunt for us to participate in on Live Earth day, but it is literally impossible for even several thousand non-millionaires to match Live Earth's own level of eco-vandalism while remaining within their means and the law.
We've been out-carboned by Big Environmentalism. There’s simply no way we can come close to matching the colossal carbon output of Gore and his musical mates.
Do read the whole thing.

Friday, June 29, 2007


The other day Alan Dershowitz had an interesting and even-keeled comment in the Wall Street Journal (requires subs.) on the UCU-supported British academic boycott of Israel. I found this part heartening:
It is for these reasons that so many American academics, of all religious, ideological and political backgrounds, reacted so strongly to the threat of an academic boycott against Israel. As soon as it was reported, I helped to draft a simple petition in which signatories agreed to regard themselves as honorary Israeli academics for purposes of any boycott and "decline to participate in any activity from which Israeli academics are excluded."
Working with Prof. Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate in physics, and Ed Beck, the president of Scholars For Peace in the Middle East, we circulated the petition. I expected to gather several hundred signatures.
To my surprise, we have secured nearly 6,000 signatures, including those of 20 Nobel Prize winners, 14 university presidents as well as several heads of academic and professional societies. Three university presidents -- Lee Bollinger of Columbia, Robert Birgeneau of Berkeley and John Sexton of New York University -- have issued public statements declaring that if Israeli universities are boycotted, their American universities should be boycotted as well. Every day, I receive emails from other academics asking to be included as honorary Israeli academics for purposes of any boycott. We expect to reach at least 10,000 names on our petition.
It is fair to say, therefore, that the British boycott appears to be backfiring. British academics are on notice that if they try to isolate Israeli academics, it is they -- the British academics -- who will end up being isolated from some of the world's most prominent academics and scientists.
Also see here and here for similar moves.