Monday, October 31, 2005

Who's lying?

Captain's Quarters has a thorough explanation of why Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame have no credibility and are certainly not the victims of Plamegate:
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence made this quite clear in their unanimous report on the use of intelligence leading up to the Iraq war. Plame didn't get dragged into this controversy by the Bush administration -- she initiated the entire event by getting her husband a job to investigate the Niger data, based on the CIA's curiousity about the British intelligence on the subject.
If anyone other than Plame bears responsibility for Plame's outing, it's her martyr-playing husband, Joe Wilson. As I've written before, Wilson repeatedly lied about how he got his assignment and why. The SSCI did not get fooled.
None of this should consist of breaking news to anyone -- anyone, that is, except the addled Wolf Blitzer at CNN. I have plenty more at my earlier post explaining why Joe Wilson has absolutely no credibility on WMD or Niger, and how his wife played a key role, if possibly unwitting, in getting false information leaked to the press through her loudmouth husband. The notion of either of them as victims is laughably absurd.
Do read the whole thing. It is meticulously argued and puts Plamegate into much-needed perspective.

Post Scriptum:
Also see this excellent Gateway Pundit post (via Instapundit) which underlines why it was important for the public to know who this Joe Wilson guy was and how he got involved.

Oh, please!

Hugo Chavez should get a life (and a brain, while he's at it):
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has urged families not to mark Halloween, calling it a US custom alien to the South American nation.
"Families go and begin to disguise their children as witches. This is contrary to our way," Mr Chavez said during his weekly radio and TV show.
He also said Halloween was a "game of terror", the AP news agency reported.
If Venezuelans (or Italians, for that matter) have started celebrating Halloween en masse in recent years, which I think they have, this means their own culture does not appeal to them sufficiently to stick to traditions and that is certainly not a fault of so-called "American cultural imperialism." If it is anything, it would be a failure of Venezuelan (or Italian) culture.
This is not unlike the ridiculous (and typically French) attitude with respect to Hollywood and McDonalds, which - surprise, surprise - is counterproductive.

Hitler's lake

Exactly 42 years ago, on October 31st 1963, the lifeless body of Alfred Egner, a 19-year-old scuba diver from Munich was found at the bottom of Lake Toplitz (Toplitzsee), in the Steiermark region of Austria. Three weeks earlier, on October 5th, shortly before midnight, he and two older men had come to find something at the bottom of the lake. Egner never made it out alive.
Toplitzsee is a fascinating lake quite high up (718 m.) in the Austrian Alps not far from Bad Ischl, a watering place favoured by the Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Elisabeth. It can only be reached from one side, driving along Grundlsee, in a rather wide and sunny valley dotted with villages. As one approaches Toplitzsee the valley becomes narrower and when one reaches Gössl, at the end of Grundlsee, the road ends and one has to take a 20-minute walk to reach Toplitzsee.
The lake is over 100 meters deep and as it's not very wide the mountain-sides plunge into the water quite steeply. In fact the only accessible side is where the Fischerhütte am Toplitzsee is marked on the above map: the only way to get safely to the other end, and take the short walk to Kammersee, is to go by boat. Even the waters themselves are treacherous:
After 30 feet, the sun goes dark. Below 100 feet, the water is nearly freezing. At 348 feet, the bottom comes into view. There is no life (no plants and no fish) because there is no oxygen in the water.
Additionally there is a thick barrier of logs floating near the bottom. It is therefore easy to understand why the Nazis considered it an ideal hiding place - so ideal, in fact that more than 60 years later the lake has still not given up many of its secrets.
While there is some debate about how seriously the Nazis considered creating the so-called Alpenfestung- an Alpine area where they would make a last stand - there seems no doubt that Nazi officials did in fact drop scores of metal boxes into the lake during the waning days of the Third Reich. If it was not done with a view to organizing the Alpenfestung, it might have been to hide damning evidence or valuables for later retrieval. Part of these crates were recovered starting in 1959, and proved to contain counterfeit British banknotes which had been intended for Operation Bernhard.

The banknotes pictured above (source) were recovered in an otherwise inconclusive expedition in 2000. The idea behind Operation Bernhard was three-fold: to enable the cheap acquisition of raw materials for the war effort (in neutral countries), to destabilize the British economy and to pay the salaries and expenses of German spies and operatives abroad. The scale, humongous: 8.9 million banknotes were printed, with an overall value of £134.6 million, just £2.4 million short of the total gold reserves of the Bank of England, which in 1933 amounted to £137 million. Furthermore, if one takes into account the devaluation (in neutral countries) of the Reichsmark during the war, the total value of the counterfeit pound notes amounted to RM 5.4 billion. But the notes were printed by selected inmates at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and their covert sabotage ensured that there were so many delays that the notes were ultimately of little use: most of them were dumped into Lake Toplitz.
Over the years there have been many diving attempts in Lake Toplitz with varying degrees of success, some official, some not, and many illegal.
In 1947 a US navy diver became entangled in Lake Toplitz's many submerged logs and drowned.
Then in 1959 a team financed by the German magazine Stern had more luck, retrieving £72m in forged sterling currency hidden in boxes, and a printing press.
The currency, it turned out, was part of a secret counterfeiting operation, Operation Bernhard, personally authorised by Adolf Hitler to weaken the British economy.
Nazis and Nazi sympathisers who had retreated to the Austrian Alps intending to fight a last-ditch guerrilla battle apparently dumped the currency to prevent its discovery.
In 1963 the Austrian government imposed a ban on explorations after another diver, led to the lake by an SS officer, drowned during an illegal dive. More recent expeditions have had mixed fortunes.
In 1983 a German biologist accidentally discovered more forged British pounds, numerous Nazi-era rockets and missiles that had crashed into the lake, and a previously unknown worm.
The last diving team to explore the lake, in 2000, had less luck. After a three-week search in an underwater diving capsule they came away with nothing more than a box full of beer lids, apparently dumped in the lake as a practical joke.
If this book (in German) is to be believed the events surrounding Lake Toplitz are even more sinister than is commonly believed. According to the authors a string of at least eight unexplained deaths occured between 1946 and 1963 involving German tourists (most of whom had been members of the SS). Though I haven't read the whole book, from the excerpts that are online it becomes clear that only a small part of the reams of SS documents that were found at the bottom of the lake, together with the counterfeit pound notes, by the 1959 Stern magazine expedition (and then confiscated by the Austrian authorities) have been made public. Whether in the hands of the Austrian government or still lying at the bottom of Lake Toplitz, the authors seem to believe that there is compelling evidence (apparently confirmed by the intense interest taken in the lake by former high-ranking SS officers) that valuable information - about the Swiss bank accounts into which the Nazis poured an estimated $750 million (at 1945 values) - was part of the loot sunk into the lake.
What is certain is that there are some unexplained circumstances around the death of Alfred Egner: his companions, who included a former SS official, in fact did not report his drowning until 20 hours later when they had arrived in Munich (as corroborated here by ZDF). They were convicted for involuntary manslaughter and served five months in prison, though the court heard from forensic analysts (according to this; see footnote 1 here) that the safety line to which Egner was tied had not ripped, as claimed by one of the defendants, but had been cleanly cut.
At any rate in the coming months the mystery of whether there is in fact anything else (more documents, gold, diamonds etc.) in the depths of the lake may finally be cleared up:
The Austrian government has given a US team permission to make an underwater expedition to the log-infested bottom of the lake.
Later this month Mr Scott will begin a detailed underwater survey of the 107 metre (350ft) deep lake, though there is profound official scepticism that there is anything left to find.
In a sense it will be a pity if the aura of mystery is removed (particularly for local tourism!), but there is a good chance that it will be possible to draw some reasonably certain conclusions at the end of this expedition. After all, the lake is not that large (consider that Loch Ness is 37 km long and reaches depths of 226 meters) and the explorers seem to be organized, well-financed and determined. Good luck to them.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Berlusconi's circus

The election in Iraq a few weeks ago was a triumph for freedom, and there are signs that the Sunni factions are increasingly getting involved in the democratic institutions of their country. Nobody denies the situation is very difficult, but the progress in Iraq is unmistakable, as Bruce Kesler argues in this excellent editorial.
Meanwhile the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who is doing his best to destroy the Italian economy, kisses up to Putin, hasn't gotten rid of Antonio Fazio and generally makes a fool of himself has repudiated the only remaining reason for which I could barely stomach him, his stance towards the Iraq War:
"I was never convinced that war was the best system to bring democracy to the country and to get rid of a bloody dictatorship," Mr. Berlusconi said of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. "I tried several times to convince the American president to not go to war."
"I believed that military action should have been avoided," he was quoted as saying.
I find these statements somewhat galling when just a few days ago it emerged that a Berlusconi ally, Roberto Formigoni, was involved in the Oil-for-Food scandal that is rocking the UN. The prime minister, who is a caricature of all the worse characteristics attributed to Italians, wants to prove the prejudices: he is making these statements because he faces an uphill re-election battle.
Berlusconi is a cynic "who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing," - if that. He clearly thinks the Italian people are too stupid to recognize his tactics and he may be right. Worse of all, the alternatives are at best nothing to write home about: on the contrary - while the opposition Unione coalition's economic policy might be better (if Fausto Bertinotti does badly) - their foreign policy instinct with respect to America is going to be irritating knee-jerk antagonism. The only moderately interesting outcome would be if Gianfranco Fini (who as the head of Alleanza Nazionale is a member of the current governing coalition) trounced Berlusconi's Forza Italia: with the exit of Alessandra Mussolini and the consequent purge of extremists from AN, Fini would seem to be an interesting, pragmatic and capable leader of a center-right coalition, whether it ends up being re-elected or in (hopefully strong) opposition.

Makes you wonder...

Tim Worstall wonders whether there is a "Clinton Curse." Unlike the Kennedy Curse, this one never seems to affect the Clintons themselves (good for them), but rather anyone who does business with them. You've been warned!

Are we running out of oil?

Michael Fumento looks to the future of oil (via MM):
It was a tenet of the late great economist Julian Simon that we'll never run out of any commodity. That's because before we do the increasing scarcity of that resource will drive up the price and force us to adopt alternatives. For example, as firewood grew scarce people turned to coal, and as the whale oil supply dwindled 'twas petroleum that saved the whales.
Now we're told we're running out of petroleum. The "proof" is the high prices at the pump. In fact, oil cost about 50% more per barrel in 1979-80 than now when adjusted for inflation. Yet it's also true that industrializing nations like China and India are making serious demands on the world's ability to provide oil and are driving prices up. So is this the beginning of the end?
Nope. The Julian Simon effect is already occurring.
The evidence is in something called oil sands (also called oil shale), a tar-like substance that can be surface mined as coal often is. The oil is then separated from the dirt using energy from oil or natural gas extracted from the site itself to produce a tar-like goo called bitumen. It's then chemically split to produce crude as light as from a well head.
Oil sands in a single Venezuelan deposit contain an estimated 1.8 trillion barrels of petroleum, with 1.7 trillion in a single Canadian deposit. In all, about 70 countries (including the U.S.), have oil sand deposits although technology hasn't yet made them economical for exploitation. Of Canada's reserves alone, over 300 billion barrels (more than the entire proved oil reserves of Saudi Arabia) is currently considered recoverable. And recovering it they are.
Do read the whole thing. Despite some concerns (which mostly ignore recent positive developments and consistently assume the worse case scenarios) it seems that this should be an interesting compound to nuclear energy in the future.

Dishonesty at the Times

Michelle Malkin unearths another example of the creeping dishonesty of the New York Times. Tim Blair posts an excellent open letter to the Times public editor Byron Calame addressing this incident:
The paper quotes from a letter written by Cpl Starr to his girlfriend, found after his death by Starr’s father. The erstwhile paper of record states:
"Sifting through Corporal Starr’s laptop computer after his death, his father found a letter to be delivered to the marine’s girlfriend. 'I kind of predicted this,' Corporal Starr wrote of his own death. 'A third time just seemed like I’m pushing my chances.'"
Perfectly in keeping, may I say, with the defeatist, elegiac, Vietnam-like attitude of the entire piece.
I'm sorry to say that the Times reporter dishonestly deleted the rest of the letter. Thanks to the brave corporal's family, who forwarded the remainder of the letter to Michelle Malkin, we actually know what Corporal Starr really thought, not what the Times would like to use him to stand for.
Here's what the rest of the letter says.
He wrote: "Obviously if you are reading this then I have died in Iraq. I kind of predicted this, that is why I’m writing this in November. A third time just seemed like I'm pushing my chances. I don't regret going, everybody dies but few get to do it for something as important as freedom. It may seem confusing why we are in Iraq, it's not to me. I'm here helping these people, so that they can live the way we live. Not have to worry about tyrants or vicious dictators. To do what they want with their lives. To me that is why I died. Others have died for my freedom, now this is my mark."
These people who courageously stand up for our freedoms deserve and have my undying respect and admiration. Shame on the Times.


In conjunction with the recent Iranian kerfuffle, Peaktalk links to this interesting article by Judea Pearl (the father of Daniel Pearl) who argues that Anti-Zionism is racism:
Jewishness is more than just a religion. It is an intricate and intertwined mixture of ancestry, religion, history, country, culture, tradition, attitude, nationhood and ethnicity, and we need not apologize for not fitting neatly into the standard molds of textbook taxonomies — we did not choose our turbulent history.
As a form of racism, anti-Zionism is worse than anti-Semitism. It targets the most vulnerable part of the Jewish people, namely, the people of Israel, who rely on the sovereignty of their state for physical safety, national identity and personal dignity. To put it more bluntly, anti-Zionism condemns 5 million human beings, mostly refugees or children of refugees, to eternal statelessness, traumatized by historical images of persecution and genocide.
Anti-Zionism also attacks the pivotal component of our identity, the glue that bonds us together — our nationhood, our history. And while people of conscience reject anti-Semitism, anti-Zionist rhetoric has become a mark of academic sophistication and social acceptance in Europe and in some U.S. campuses.
Do read the whole thing.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Chill out!

Amazingly this telling story has received close to no attention in the mainstream media:
Islam is no laughing matter. The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten is being protected by security guards and several cartoonists have gone into hiding after the newspaper published a series of twelve cartoons (view them here) about the prophet Muhammad. According to the Islam it is blasphemous to make images of the prophet. Muslim fundamentalists have threatened to bomb the paper’s offices and kill the cartoonists.
Not only that, but it has turned into a major diplomatic incident:
The case of the Muhammad cartoons, published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten two weeks ago, is escalating into a major conflict between Denmark and the Muslim world. Eleven Muslim ambassadors to Copenhagen, who had protested to Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen demanding apologies from the newspaper, decided to take the matter to international Muslim organisations, such as the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.
It seems the Danish government intends to stand its ground, and that is a comfort. I can't help but wonder what would happen if significant segments of all ethnic and religious groups were as easily offended and reacted by planting bombs and beheading people...

Friday, October 28, 2005

More stick, less carrot

According to Foreign Policy the British government has been taking a tougher stance towards Iran:
British officials used to be certain that a military attack on Iran was out of the question. Now, it seems, they’re not so sure.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has decided to play hardball with Iran. Frustrated by the lack of progress in negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program, the British—who used to give Iran the benefit of the doubt—are now hedging their bets on nuclear diplomacy by using Iran’s meddling in Iraq to make military options more palatable to the British public.
Blair’s policy of treating Iran with kid gloves was born out of the conviction that Iran would soon evolve into a democracy. In 1998, a year after Blair won his first election, full diplomatic relations were restored between Britain and Iran (despite the fatwa on British author Salman Rushdie remaining in place). Jack Straw became the first British foreign secretary to visit Tehran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Straw assured the Iranians they were not a target in the post-9/11 war on terror.
Now, though, the tide is turning. Jonathan Lindley, a Middle East expert at the Royal United Services Institute in London, says that the prime minister’s office has decided to use “more stick and less carrot” in its relations with Iran.
I'm surprised but gratified that the British government has not been cowed into meekness as a result of widespread, and mostly unjustified, criticism of the war in Iraq. At any rate this trend seems to have intensified since the Iranian president called for Israel to be "wiped off the map." The Times reports:
Tony Blair gave warning last night that the West might have to take military action against Iran after worldwide condemnation of its President’s call for Israel to be "wiped off the map".
Ending a one-day European Union summit, the Prime Minister called the explosive declaration by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday a disgrace. Promising discussions with Washington and other allies over how to react, Mr Blair said that he had often been urged not to take action against Iran.
But he added: "If they carry on like this the question people will be asking us is — when are you going to do something about Iran? Can you imagine a State like that with an attitude like that having nuclear weapons?"
It was the first time Mr Blair had even hinted at military action and his words are likely to alarm Labour MPs. Mr Blair, clearly angry at the President’s outburst, said that there were people in Iran’s leadership who believed that the world was sufficiently distracted that it could not afford to focus on the nuclear arms issue.
"They will be making a very big mistake if they do that. Those sentiments are completely unacceptable,” he said. “I have never come across a situation in which the president of a country has said they want to wipe out another country. That is unacceptable."
Maybe this tougher attitude will give the diplomatic efforts a higher chance of success.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


The Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union is a scandalous monstrosity:
How could anybody regard €40 billion ($39 billion) a year of direct subsidy (plus twice as much again in higher prices demanded of European consumers) as too much to pay for producing food nobody wants, keeping third-world farmers poor and wrecking Europe's rural environment?
But surely we don't want to give way to barbaric capitalism and let all those cute little farms close down in the face of unbridled competition from the developing world, horror of horrors?! It turns out, as the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, that this concern is total bollocks:
But there is clear progress in one little-noticed area: transparency. Last Thursday -- after much pushing and prodding and not without a fight -- Belgium became the latest EU member state to reveal who gets what from the CAP. Surprise, surprise: The main beneficiaries are large agribusinesses that shouldn't need taxpayer-funded handouts, not those small farmers "struggling to survive" so often cited by subsidy defenders.
Here are some enlightening facts about the €546 million that Belgium divided among 399 recipients last year:
• The largest recipient, Raffinerie Tirlemontoise, a sugar refiner based in Brussels, received €91.9 million -- more than the bottom 378 recipients combined. The RT Group, as the company is also known, is part of the Südzucker AG Group -- which, according to its Web site, is "the biggest sugar group in the European Union."
The Belgian government explained that much of its CAP allotment doesn't end up in Belgium, but is channeled to firms in other EU countries as an export refund. It is distributed through Belgian companies because they do the actual exporting. Even if RT doesn't add the subsidy directly to its bottom line, the subsidy allows the EU to be a net exporter of sugar whereas in a truly free market it would surely be an importer.
• Ninety percent of Belgium's subsidies went to just 29 firms. That includes such mom-and-pop operations as Campina, the European dairy cooperative, which received more than €24.5 million. Just missing the cut for the top 29 were Tate & Lyle (more than €6 million, in addition to the £127 million it received in Britain), BASF (€1.2 million) and Nestlé (just over €1 million).
So let me get this straight: not only are we paying enormous amounts of money in order to double (sic) the cost of our food, but we are doing so to subsidize multinational companies which could easily do without the extra money. How dumb is that?! Oh wait, not dumb enough apparently:
Jacques Chirac, French president, on Thursday warned he would block a world trade deal rather than make deep cuts to the European Union's farm subsidy regime, as EU leaders tried to present a united front at an economic summit.
At any rate considering these follies it is no wonder we have such high tax rates (which as George Adair shows, slow down economic growth). Scrap the CAP and give us the flat tax! And get rid of Chirac, while you're at it.

Let's be bold

It turns out that Charles Krauthammer was right when he wrote about a week ago that conflicts over the release of documents protected by executive privilege would be an excellent justification to withdraw Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers with dignity:
Hence the perfectly honorable way to solve the conundrum: Miers withdraws out of respect for both the Senate and the executive's prerogatives, the Senate expresses appreciation for this gracious acknowledgment of its needs and responsibilities, and the White House accepts her decision with the deepest regret and with gratitude for Miers's putting preservation of executive prerogative above personal ambition.
Faces saved. And we start again.
Now that she has withdrawn:
The White House said Miers had withdrawn her name because of a bipartisan effort in Congress to gain access to internal documents related to her role as counsel to the president.
And see Miers' letter to Bush. At any rate, while I do feel sorry for her, I thought she was a poor choice, for a host of reasons. Though I sometimes cringe at Ann Coulter's rhetoric, I think she puts it nicely:
But without a conservative theory of constitutional interpretation, Miers will lay the groundwork for a million more Roes. We're told she has terrific "common sense." Common sense is the last thing you want in a judge! The maxim "Hard cases make bad law" could be expanded to "Hard cases being decided by judges with 'common sense' make unfathomably bad law."
The sickness of what liberals have done to America is that so many citizens – even conservative citizens – seem to believe the job of a Supreme Court justice entails nothing more than "voting" on public-policy issues. The White House considers it relevant to tell us Miers' religious beliefs, her hobbies, her hopes and dreams. She's a good bowler! A stickler for detail! Great dancer! Makes her own clothes!
That's nice for her, but what we're really in the market for is a constitutional scholar who can forcefully say, "No – that's not my job."
We've been waiting 30 years to end the lunacy of nine demigods on the Supreme Court deciding every burning social issue of the day for us, loyal subjects in a judicial theocracy. We don't want someone who will decide those issues for us – but decide them "our" way. If we did, a White House bureaucrat with good horse sense might be just the ticket.
That's exactly the point: the issue here is not (or rather should not be) whether to permit abortions or not, but the role the judiciary should have in American society.
What I am anxious to know is whether we'll get a truly exciting nominee this time, someone worth fighting for. Real Clear Politics has a short list, and Jessica McBride thoroughly makes the case for Diane Sykes (via Ann Althouse). She lists several good reasons, but this one is most amusing:
Here's the reason it's genius: As mentioned by my email writer, a Sykes' nomination puts Wisconsin Democratic Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold in a box. Wisconsin is unique in that we have TWO Democratic senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both voted for Sykes last time. But they did more than that; they actively pushed her for the federal appeals court. And they were liberally quoted lavishing praise on her, saying they couldn't think of a reason to oppose her and citing the fact that she was so highly qualified blah blah blah. The humorous part is that I didn't believe Kohl and Feingold one bit that they think the Conservative Diane Sykes is the best thing since sliced bread. They just wanted Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle to get an appointment to the state Supreme Court. He appointed Louis Butler, who has solidified a new liberal majority on the court that is responsible for the decision on medical malpractice, among others. But now Kohl and Feingold would be in a box of their own creation. Which is deliciously humorous. What goes around comes around. They deserve it. NO RESERVATIONS about Sykes, both senators said then, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Do read the whole thing.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

French madness

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent editorial (requires subs.) on Electricité de France, the French state-owned electricity utility (2004 revenues: €46.9 bil), and the frustratingly dishonest approach French unions have to business:
In the case of EdF, let's review the perks: employment for life, free health insurance, "special" retirement benefits (at 55 years of age with a pension much higher than a private-sector employee). EdF's 110,000 French employees work a 32-hour work week, a 1,440-hour work year, enjoy many extra vacation days (for example three days for the death of a in-law), and 20% discounts on vacation plans with the company workers committee (CCAS). Half the meals are paid for. They also get a 10% discount on gas and electricity bills, tax rebates and a starting salary 36% higher than the minimum wage that -- with promotions based on seniority -- leaves them earning more than peers in the private sector. On top of that, consider the €416 million annual budget of the CCAS, which goes, in part, to bankroll the CGT labor union and the French Communist Party.
Of course everyone in France pays for electricity, including minimum-wage earners, the unemployed and welfare recipients. Indeed, they pay the full fare, even though the average EdF employee earns significantly more than the French average -- about €5,334 per month compared to €3,000. So it is especially rich -- we can even say scandalous -- that the CGT, on behalf of EdF workers, every few weeks calls its people onto the streets against any plans to change this cozy arrangement using the rhetoric of social welfare and public service. For in reality, EdF symbolizes France's upside-down social welfare system: The poor pay for the better off.
What I find totally baffling is that such protests not only get so much attention but significantly influence public policy.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Here we go again

Echoing these charges, this story was recently all over the news:
A Spanish judge issued an international arrest order today for three American soldiers in connection with the death of a Spanish journalist killed in 2003 when an American tank fired at a hotel in Baghdad during the Army's advance on the Iraqi capital.
Judge Santiago Pedraz Gómez of the National Court in Madrid said that the evidence suggested the three soldiers committed murder and a "crime against the international community" in firing at the hotel, where more than 100 journalists were staying.
Apparently the charges are even more groundless than I had at first assumed (via Tim Blair):
The incident was witnessed by Boston Herald City Editor Jules Crittenden, who was embedded with the unit.
Jose Couso was working for the Spanish television network Telecinco when he was killed April 8, 2003, after the tank crew fired on the Hotel Palestine in Baghdad – where many journalists hunkered down while covering the war. The shell also killed Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk.
Crittenden, who was within about 100 yards of Gibson's tank when he fired, said the tankers believed they were firing on an Iraqi forward artillery observer.
"This incident has been investigated by the Pentagon and several media organizations, and no evidence has been produced to suggest this was anything but a tragic accident of war by well-intentioned soldiers who had been in combat for up to 30 hours," Crittenden said.
"The men who were killed accepted the same risk that all of us did who went willingly to Iraq, and unfortunately they paid the full price for their devotion to their professions."
Tim Blair says:
"You can add," writes Crittenden in an e-mail, "that I consider the persecution of the officers misguided and politically motivated."
Too bad most people only read the headlines.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The deafening silence

While the scientific Nobel prizes certainly have a value, the peace and literature prizes are rather ridiculous. The peace prize is awarded by a committee elected by the Norwegian parliament, and is consequently unabashedly politicized (also see here), while the literature prize, as recently noted by Christopher Hitchens in the Wall Street Journal (requires subs., see here for an exerpt) tends to reward mediocrities:
The Nobel committee allowed Borges and Nabokov to go to their graves unrecognized, while choosing writers who it is difficult to remember without wincing. Last year's selection, of a mediocre Austrian Stalinist named Elfriede Jellinek, caused a few winces even in Stockholm. And Dario Fo? What can one possibly say -- except that the theater of the absurd is apparently always on the road. Jose Saramago can certainly write -- just as Frau Jellinek can certainly not -- but one is compelled to suspect that without his staunch post-1989 membership of the unusually degenerated Portuguese Communist Party he would not have been considered. As with the Peace Prize, the award of the laureateship for literature has come to approximate the value of a resolution of the U.N. Special Committee on Human Rights. The occasional exceptions -- I would want to instance Sir Vidia Naipaul in spite of his own toxic political views -- only throw the general sinister mediocrity into sharper relief.
As Jean-François Revel sarcastically says in his excellent book Anti-Americanism (my translation, from page 121 of this French edition):
[The idea that poverty justifies anti-American terrorism] is also held by Nobel laureate Dario Fo who writes (Corriere della Sera, 15 September 2001): "What are the 20,000 dead in New York (sic) compared to the millions of people who every year are victims of the great speculators?" The attribution of the Nobel prize in literature to a literary nonentity such as Dario Fo had raised doubts about the competence of the Swedish Academy. The misunderstanding is finally cleared up: they must have intended to award him the prize in economics.
Having said this, receiving such prizes should not result in automatic condemnation: at times, almost by accident, it is actually awarded to worthy individuals. An example is José Ramos Horta, East Timor's minister of foreign affairs, who received (via Normblog) the peace prize in 1996. Last week he had an excellent editorial in the Asian Wall Street Journal (requires subs., excerpted in The Australian, via Tim Blair):
Time and again as I watch the barbarity inflicted on innocent Iraqi civilians, often women and children, pass with seeming silence and indifference from the rest of the world, I ask where are those who are so quick to take to the streets to protest every alleged U.S. sin -- be it real or imaginary? If they are so appalled at the graphic photos showing the depraved acts committed by a small number of American servicemen -- photos that, never let it be forgotten, were unearthed as a result of the U.S. Army's own investigation -- surely they should be even more appalled by the daily carnage inflicted on the Shia majority in Iraq. Instead, those who hate the U.S. seem to believe that every wrong committed by an American serviceman must not only be loudly condemned but portrayed as a deliberate act by the U.S. government, while the systematic and daily barbarities perpetrated predominantly by Sunni Muslims upon their fellow Muslims pass without comment.
Do read the whole thing.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Hold on for the ride!

The Speculist (via Instapundit) has a post that rather buoyed my mood in which he rounds up all sorts of positive developments that we can expect in the near future. Do read the whole thing. The one item that jumped out at me is about economic growth, in which this fascinating Arnold Kling column is quoted:
Technological innovation is what drives productivity growth. Kurzweil argues that the rate of technological innovation is doubling every decade, which to me would imply that the rate of productivity growth will double every decade. If annual productivity growth was 3.5 percent in the decade ending in 2005, then it will be 7 percent in the decade ending in 2015 and 14 percent in the decade ending in 2025. By that time, productivity would be more than 7 times what it is today. Thus, if average income per person is $35,000 today, then it will be over $250,000 per person (in today's purchasing power) in 2025.
At a growth rate of 14 percent, output per person "only" doubles at a rate of about every 5 years. Using a more elegant mathematical model of technological change, George Mason University economist Robin Hanson arrives at an even more striking forecast. He writes, "we might see yet another transition to a much faster mode, if such faster modes are possible. The suggestion is fantastic, namely of a transition to a doubling time of two weeks or less sometime within roughly the next century."
Well I certainly wouldn't mind that... The assumptions on which these numbers are based come from The Singularity Is Near, a rather unsettling and widely celebrated book by Ray Kurzweil, which is reviewed here.

Friday, October 21, 2005

When will Italy grow up?

Equal rights for men and women is a fundamental concept that I think all civilized people can support wholeheartedly. In most of the Western world women have virtually achieved equal rights and this is something to be celebrated (see here for a look at the UK; here and here for the US). Having said this, much of the feminist movement, which in the past has wrought important and laudable reform and changes in attitude, has morphed into a radical group that advocates "gender feminism" (see a critique from "equity feminist" Wendy McElroy, who is the editor of
As is explained thoroughly in Who Stole Feminism? an excellent book by Christina Hoff Sommers, the radical feminist movement has caused significant damage to the cause of equal rights and to society in general. Just a few examples of the absurd excesses:
The Swedish Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a 39-year old Swedish man who donated his sperm to a lesbian couple has to pay child support for their three children. Three sons were born to the lesbian couple between 1992 and 1996. The man had donated his sperm to the couple on condition that he would play no role in the children’s upbringing and that the two women would be their parents. He had signed a document, however, in which he acknowledged to be the children’s biological father.
When the lesbian couple “divorced” the biological mother demanded that the man pay for his sons’ upbringing. He refused and took the case to court, losing in the district court and the appeals courts and finally before the Supreme Court in Stockholm, which upheld the previous rulings stating that biological parents are required to pay child support for their offspring.
Norwegian corporations will have to make significant changes to their governing boards or face liquidation by the hands of the Norwegian state. Sound scary? Wait for the really scary part: By July 1 of this year, the law mandates that companies must have a governing board made up of at least 40 percent women.
The requirement to have women on corporate boards will weaken corporate governance in Norway. A large number of women will be put on boards without the skills needed to be good governors. This will marginalize both skilled and unskilled female board members, because the good ones have to work even harder to prove that they are equipped for the job. The collectivist feminists have given successful women another burden to carry when they passed the equal opportunity regulation of corporate governance.
A good friend of mine works in investment banking, and though she is often the only woman at meetings, she insists there is no trace of discrimination - there are simply not that many women interested in the subject.
The gender feminists' attitudes have (negatively) influenced the education of children:
The trouble, of course, is that despite all the indoctrination, boys will still be boys. As a result, many educators today regard the normal play of little boys with disapproval--and some ban it outright. Carol Kennedy, the principal of a school in Missouri, told the Washington Post, "We do take away a lot of opportunity to do things boys like to do. That is be rowdy, run and jump, and roll around. We don't allow that."
Unfortunately, Kennedy is far from alone in her thinking. In 1998, Atlanta eliminated recess, with all its rowdiness, in all its elementary schools. In Philadelphia, school officials replaced traditional recess with "socialized recesses," in which the children are assigned structured activities and carefully monitored. No unstructured running and jumping allowed. It's against the rules to be a boy, at least behaviorally.
They have caused problems in science education and even sports:
So what happens when, as Gelernter says, some of affirmative action's goals aren't reached because they can't be reached? Well, Gavora's book has shown us what has happened in the sports realm -- when getting enough women to play sports isn't possible, cut men's programs.
Think something similar won't happen in the hard sciences? The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights already has the ball rolling. They released a report in 1997 titled "Equal Education Opportunity and Nondiscrimination for Girls in Advanced Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education: Federal Enforcement of Title IX."
Do read the whole article. Thankfully not everyone has lost their sense of humour.
Having said all this, it is befuddling to observe the situation in Italy, where a proposal for female quotas was recently rejected by Parliament:
The Italian parliament was branded "misogynistic" on Thursday after the defeat of a reform proposal which would have guaranteed more seats for women in parliament .
The proposal - known as the 'pink quota' - was presented as an amendment to the centre-right government's controversial electoral reform bill designed to return Italy to an entirely proportional system .
Put forward by the governing coalition, the amendment would have forced parties to candidate one female for every three males with stiff penalties for parties which failed to comply .
The measure was crushed in a secret House vote on Wednesday by 452 votes to 140, meaning lawmakers on both sides of the political divide voted it down.
Though I find it ridiculous that MPs should be able to vote in secret, one of the reasons given for voting down this amendment seems justified:
But Minister for Relations with Parliament Carlo Giovanardi, a member of the centrist, Catholic UDC party, said that "the 'pink quota' is anti-constitutional. The real problem is that very few women are active in politics." UDC MP Emerenzio Barbieri said that "either women are good politicians or they're not - it's got nothing to do with sex and if they're good, they will emerge."
Nonetheless, real problems persist in many Italians' attitude towards women. Examples of this range from the general tolerance and even amusement in the face of the breathtakingly crass comments the prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, consistently makes (see this infuriating article in Italian), to the attitude men have toward family and fatherhood:
Italian men become fathers at a later age than any other nationality, and do little or nothing to help their wives once their babies are born, statistics office Istat said on Thursday.
Italian men have their first child at an average age of 33, against less than 31 for fathers in Spain, France and Finland, Istat said.
Part of the problem was that many Italian men lived with their parents for longer than elsewhere in the world, with 40 percent of 30-34 year-old Italian males still staying at home.
Though these trends are terrible, I doubt state intervention could improve the situation. Maybe, in the face of the mounting problems my fellow countrymen will grow up a little:
To compound all these problems, Italy faces the most serious demographic crisis of all the EU economies. By 2050, according to the United Nations, more than a third of Italians will be 65 or older, roughly double the current proportion. Increased longevity and the recent collapse in Italian fertility are the prime culprits.
Cherish those memories of Italy as a country of narcissistic young Lotharios, buxom Mamas and multitudes of bambini. The Italy of the future is an old folks' home.
I, for one, hope we get our acts together before then.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Give 'em hell, Joan!

I love it when people stand up for themselves (via Drudge, who also has the audio):
Neither Darcus Howe, the Trinidad-born social commentator, nor Joan Rivers, the formidable New York comedienne, is known for stepping away from an argument but no one could have predicted the furious row that erupted when the two clashed on Radio 4 yesterday morning.
Rivers, 72, broke in, saying: "I'm so, so bored of race. I think people should inter-marry. Everybody should be part this, part that and part everything. Race doesn't mean a damn thing. Everybody should just relax, take the best of their cultures and move forward."
Purves suggested that was a "very American approach" but Howe disagreed, saying: "That's not an American approach. America is one of the most savagely racial places in the world."
And then he later suggested: "Since black offends Joan…"
This drove Rivers into a complete tizzy. "Wait!" she cried. "Just stop right now. Black does not offend me. How dare you? How dare you say that? 'Black offends me!' You know nothing about me. How dare you."
Their exchanges culminated with Rivers shrieking: "Don't you dare call me a racist. I'm sorry. How dare you."
As a somewhat harassed Purves tried to calm the situation, Rivers said to Howe: "Now please continue, but don't you dare call me that. Son of a bitch."
Do listen to the whole thing, it is very amusing. Here is the exact transcript from the Guardian. I love the way Joan stands up to what is unequivocally an insult. Additionally the whole "America is one of the most savagely racial places in the world" attitude chaps my ass (and believe me - it's a common refrain around these parts): see this excellent Star Parker column on the Hurricane Katrina relief effort (and this one by Heather MacDonald too). Also see here, where Thomas Sowell debunks another pernicious refrain.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Who knew?

In case you were wondering, it is inadvisable to get drunk when you are in a crocodile-infested area:
Almost one in three people attacked by crocodiles were drunk at the time, Australia's most comprehensive review of croc attacks reveals.
The figures show why it's not a good idea to drink too much if you're in or near water in northern Australia, says zoologist Dr Adam Britton of Wildlife Management International, who has co-authored research showing a 30-fold increase in crocodile attacks over the past three decades.
I'm certainly not a risk taker so just reading about these things gives me goose bumps.

Markets and trust

Today is the anniversary of Black Monday, the worst single-day stock market crash in history:
On Monday, October 19, 1987, the Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 22.6% in the largest single-day drop in history.

This one day decline was not confined to the United States, but mirrored all over the world. By the end of October, Australia had fallen 41.8%, Canada 22.5%, Hong Kong 45.8%, and the United Kingdom 26.4%.
Black Monday, as it has become known, was almost twice as bad as the stock market crash of October 29, 1929. The 1929 decline approximated 11.7% and started the Great Depression.
Amazingly there is still debate as to what caused the crash:
A certain degree of mystery is associated with the 1987 crash. Many have noted that no major news or events occurred prior to the Monday of the crash, the decline seeming to have come from nowhere. Important assumptions concerning human rationality, the efficient market hypothesis, and economic equilibrium were brought into question by the event. Debate as to the cause of the crash still continues many years after the event, no firm conclusions having been reached.
Follow the link for some theories, which range from the apparently computer-related (Program trading) to the peculiarities of human nature (see, for instance, the Efficient market hypothesis and Behavioural finance). The unquantifiable aspects of the markets are underscored by the recent bankruptcy of Refco, an established, respectable and financially sound commodity trading firm:
Refco was a model 21st-century business—a highly digitized, high-tech services company that traded complicated financial instruments on behalf of customers all over the globe. But its meltdown shows that its real assets were not its New Economy algorithms and brainpower. Rather, this extremely modern company depended ultimately on the kind of assets that built American capitalism in the 19th century: trust, integrity, and the personal reputation of executives.
It is fascinating how in the apparently ever more impersonal modern world so much still depends on trust.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Principled opposition?

It is funny that in the minds of anti-war activists the United States, which is spending billions of dollars (not to speak of the human sacrifices) to liberate and rebuild a democratic Iraq, really did it all for the oil (!?) while the French (who, as I recall, have rarely sacrificed anything for anyone) made a principled and honourable stand for multilateralism and peace. Oh, wait (via Gay and Right):
Two former French ambassadors have admitted earning hundreds of thousands of dollars from the sale of oil that Iraq had assigned to them under the United Nations Oil-for-Food programme.
The disclosure tarnished France’s moral stand against the invasion of Iraq, and its Foreign Ministry scrambled to distance itself from the alleged illicit activities of Serge Boidevaix, a former director of the ministry, and of Jean-Bernard Mérimée, a former French Ambassador to the UN. Both are facing corruption charges.
While Russia's opposition must have surely been principled too:
Former members of the Russian military have been secretly helping Iran to acquire technology needed to produce missiles capable of striking European capitals.
The Russians are acting as go-betweens with North Korea as part of a multi-million pound deal they negotiated between Teheran and Pyongyang in 2003. It has enabled Teheran to receive regular clandestine shipments of top secret missile technology, believed to be channelled through Russia.

Western intelligence officials believe that the technology will enable Iran to complete development of a missile with a range of 2,200 miles, capable of hitting much of Europe. It is designed to carry a 1.2-ton payload, sufficient for a basic nuclear device.
At this point the most rational course would be for the US to completely dismantle its armed forces (and Europe, what little is left of theirs). Right.

Historical spam

Today a friend of mine sent me a chain letter, almost exactly like the one described in this Wired Magazine article:
The email started with a list of recipients that was longer, and arguably more impressive, than the holy lineage at the start of the New Testament: dozens of people from Harvard and HarperCollins and The Wall Street Journal. This was a highbrow crowd. Then it got down to business. I was invited by a lawyer named Pearlas Sanborn to participate in a Microsoft/AOL/Intel email beta test designed to help Internet Explorer maintain its dominance in the marketplace. But first they needed more testers. "When you forward this email to friends, Microsoft can and will track it (if you are a Microsoft Windows user) for a two-week time period. For every person that you forward this email to, Microsoft will pay you $245, for every person that you sent it to that forwards it on, Microsoft will pay you $243, and for every third person that receives it, you will be paid $241."
As a Macintosh user, I was ineligible for this windfall. Still, I couldn't help but be a little curious - and perplexed. Why would AOL help its archrival, and what does Intel have to do with this? The remainder of the message didn't clarify matters. It simply went on to recount tales of fortunes earned ($4,324.44, $24,800), and then reiterated the offer, except that now Microsoft was running the beta test to facilitate an AOL/Intel merger and had decreased the reward to $203.15 for every forward. Why AOL and Intel would join forces with Microsoft was not explained.
While my version of the message did not have every detail mentioned above, it was strikingly similar and all the dollar amounts corresponded exactly, which is amusing since the article was published in July 2004. The author painstakingly proves that the message is a total hoax and discovers that its origins date from a joke among college friends in November 1997:
I found the same text preserved by an amateur Internet archivist named Martin Miller, a University of Houston student who'd saved every copy of the hoax he received over a seven-year period and posted the collection on his Web site (where he was also selling calendars for Lent). He informed me this version was sent to him in late 1997 and that he believes it's the first. When it got to him, there were just 10 names on the recipient list. The first was Bryan Mack at Iowa State.
Bryan Mack was no longer a student by the time I came calling. He'd graduated in 2001 and had taken a job programming databases at the Colorado School of Mines. He's a regular guy. He answers his own phone. "I wasn't trying to trick people," he told me. "It was just a joke between a couple friends." Then he described how the joke got a little out of hand.
It all started on November 18, 1997, when the guy sitting beside him in the computer lab received a get-rich-quick email, one of the first examples of spam that either of them had seen. "I can come up with something better than that," Mack boasted. Three minutes later, Bill Gates' email-tracing program was born. Mack thought it was funny enough to send to a friend at Loras College in Dubuque, with "bill gates here" in the subject line. It made the guy laugh, so he passed it on.
Within days, the message was being read by strangers. A few wrote Mack, asking about their money. Whatever, he thought. Then he went home for Thanksgiving break. "When I got back to school, my account was locked up. There was like a gigabyte of mail, thousands upon thousands of messages." He set up a filter to block the onslaught. But two weeks later, someone forwarded him a new version. His name was no longer in the header. It came from and offered $1,000 and a complimentary copy of Windows 98. Then he got another, signed by Walt Disney Jr., that promised $5,000 and a free vacation. "I started getting scared," he says. "I thought maybe I was going to get in trouble for fraud." But Bryan Mack had already been forgotten. He went on with his studies in computer science.
I generally hate this kind of thing, and I am certainly not sending it on to anyone else, but it was still amusing to be a part of what can only be termed a revered fixture of the internet - the original, and apparently most enduring chain-letter hoax of the digital age. It has been going on now for almost exactly eight years - I wonder if humanity has finally discovered a (useless) perpetual motion machine?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Jealousy, perhaps

George Adair has an excellent series of posts at his blog, EU Rota, that expose the MSM's anti-American "template":

In visiting some of my favorite blogs I noticed one component was missing from my recent "dead and dying in America" series, the series should have been "dead, dying, and poor in America". These anti-US themes are part and parcel of the MSM's core beliefs on both sides of the Atlantic, a template if you will. Dead, dying, and poor Americans fits the MSM template far better than "alive, vibrant, and prospering" Americans. But are the anti-US pronouncements by the MSM true? As it relates to the "dead and dying" portion of the anti-US template fostered and advanced by members of the MSM, obviously not (here and here).
The third pillar of the MSM template, poverty. What about the MSM generated perception that 99% of all Americans are living in a subjugated state of poverty many steps below serfdom? Fortunately for our friends on the extreme Left and the MSM, poverty and economic trends are quantifiable. Despite the attempts by many bloggers to provide actual facts and data (my own here), the MSM seems to be too busy in their world of grays to notice reality. Some time back a friend provided me with an excellent and factual report of poverty in the US and the EU courtesy of Timbro. What does the report find about economic comparisons between the two?
Do read the whole post. Here is the Timbro report's abstract:
If the European Union were a state in the USA it would belong to the poorest group of states. France, Italy, Great Britain and Germany have lower GDP per capita than all but four of the states in the United States. In fact, GDP per capita is lower in the vast majority of the EU-countries (EU 15) than in most of the individual American states. This puts Europeans at a level of prosperity on par with states such as Arkansas, Mississippi and West Virginia. Only the miniscule country of Luxembourg has higher per capita GDP than the average state in the USA. The results of the new study represent a grave critique of European economic policy.
Stark differences become apparent when comparing official economic statistics. Europe lags behind the USA when comparing GDP per capita and GDP growth rates. The current economic debate among EU leaders lacks an understanding of the gravity of the situation in many European countries. Structural reforms of the European economy as well as far reaching welfare reforms are well overdue. The Lisbon process lacks true impetus, nor is it sufficient to improve the economic prospects of the EU.
While this summary is suitably scathing, I could not resist copying EU Rota's much more striking table that appears at right. The thought of all those superior-feeling Euro-lefties choking and spluttering when they actually see how most of the deplorable "Red states" rank higher than their vaunted social economies just made me smile.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Spreading myths

No wonder many people have the impression the mainstream media is biased against Bush to the point of dishonesty - it is! This paragraph from a recent Tina Brown column has been making the rounds of the blogosphere:
The former chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, Lord Palumbo, who lunched with Mrs. T six months ago, told me recently what she said when he asked her if, given the intelligence at the time, she would have made the decision to invade Iraq. "I was a scientist before I was a politician, Peter," she told him carefully. "And as a scientist I know you need facts, evidence and proof -- and then you check, recheck and check again. The fact was that there were no facts, there was no evidence, and there was no proof. As a politician the most serious decision you can take is to commit your armed services to war from which they may not return."
In fact this is a typically unreliable representation of reality, which is more evident after reading this excellent post (via The Wide Awake Cafe). Here is a summary of the main points from the comments:
The story should be treated with high skepticism because it is sorely lacking in journalistic integrity. The headline conveys as fact that Thatcher has turned on Bush. This is how dozens of exuberant bloggers on the left and dozens of depressed bloggers on the right have read the story. Two leftists transmitted orally a recollection of a private conversation from six months ago with the most consistently aggressive instigator of deposing Saddam as a nuclear threat and coincidentally come away hearing left-wing anti-war talking points?
Then the article implies that "silence is assent" because her office didn't deny on the spot the specific words of a private conversation? As I emphasized, her secretary strongly contradicted the main implication of the story--that she had turned 180 degrees on the war. Why did the article have to then be rushed into print? It was one day from the time Tina Brown published her column until the time when the Independent researched, wrote and published their story. I strongly doubt that there was time for Thatcher's secretary to contact an 80-year-old in ill health and return an answer to the reporter with her specific comments when she had withdrawn from public life long ago.
Clearly they were trying to tie the story to Thatcher's 80th birthday party. When I first saw the story, I automatically connected the story to the celebration and assumed she had denounced the war there.
Do read the whole post which has more arguments and all the links. After noting that Margaret Thatcher was and remains a strong supporter of the war in Iraq, I wonder how crass one has to be to run a partial and unconfirmed quote of an 80-year-old lady just to dishonestly score political points.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Final dose of dishonest rhetoric

I guess it's business as usual for Gerhard Schroeder with his revolting pandering to (totally unfounded) popular prejudices:
The chancellor seemed to enjoy himself, taking parting shots at some of his rivals, including the British prime minister, with whom he has clashed over the future direction of the European Union, and emphasised his preferred partnership with Paris.
"I say to my British friend that people in Germany, in Europe, don't want complete denationalisation, they don't want the privatisation of lifetime risks," he said.
"The Anglo-Saxon model will have no chance in Europe," Schroeder added.
"Anyone who wants to defend the European social model must ensure that the German-French relationship remains intact."
Schroeder also took a jab at the US president over the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina, which he said showed the need for a strong and effective state able to help people.
"I don't want to name any examples of catastrophes, where you can see what happens when there is no organised state. I could name countries, but the office I still hold forbids that - but everybody knows I mean America," he said, drawing laughter and long applause.
I am delighted to hear he is finally leaving. As Davids Medienkritik notes, statism really helped here:
France recorded 11,435 extra deaths during a heat wave in the first two weeks of August when temperatures soared over 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), according to officials.
Amazingly many Germans seem to enjoy listening to this load of tripe. What they should be wondering about (but apparently aren't) is why the leader of a country that has lower public spending on healthcare than the US has the gall to make such ridiculous statements (do follow the link and see the graphs, they are really worth it). Truly, as the saying goes, there are none so blind as those who will not see.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Clear thinking, finally

It boggles the mind how so many people, particularly in Europe, are calling for the withdrawal of troops in Iraq. The other day the Times ran an outstanding column (via Melanie Phillips) by the President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, which clearly and concisely explains why these people are worthy of contempt:
The Baathist regime, guilty of aggression and genocide, was overturned because Britain and the United States had courageously enforced the UN Security Council resolutions that others would barely support with words. Today the painstaking effort to enable Iraqis to express their views freely is also grounded in international legality. Foreign troops are in Iraq on the basis of a Security Council resolution, just as Iraq was liberated through the enforcement of 17 such resolutions that Saddam chose to flout.
Those who preferred the stability of the mass grave to liberation, and who raised their voices to save Saddam, but not his victims, have spuriously claimed that the war was fought to discover stocks of weapons of mass destruction. But Rolf Ekeus, the first head of the UN weapons inspectors, has argued that stocks were not the issue. Saddam could always re-create his stocks and until the end he could restart mustard gas production within months and nerve gas production within a couple of years. Moreover, Saddam used chemical weapons casually, gassing 5,000 Kurdish civilians at Halabja in 1988 and then using chemical bombs against Shia Arab civilians in 1991 — after the Gulf War ceasefire.
It is from this perspective, of the need to rebuild Iraq after decades of being run by a criminal state, that I have come to ask Tony Blair to keep British troops in Iraq. There are very few countries whose armed forces have the broad range of skills that Britain’s do, skills vital to the sometimes volatile situation in Iraq and skills that have been evident in your troops’ impressive performance.
While Iraq has often proved unpredictable, substantial progress has been made in rehabilitating a country that from the moment of its British colonial creation in 1921 was a failed state. Unfortunately, many in Britain are unaware of the advance of Iraqi democracy and of the desire of its first democratically elected government to have British and other foreign troops remain. Instead, some parts of the media have elevated the hooligans of Basra into tribunes of the people.
The stone throwers of Basra do not speak for the 8.5 million Iraqis who defied terrorist violence to vote on January 30, 2005. Nor do they speak for the vast majority of Iraqis whose democratically chosen representatives negotiated a final constitution in record time. That constitution reflects the realities of today’s Iraq and is, like the March 2004 interim charter, a remarkably progressive document. No constitution elsewhere in the Islamic Middle East is as democratic.
Similarly, those who attack mosques and churches, who murder schoolchildren and labourers, who behead foreigners and who kidnap humanitarian workers are not engaged in "resistance". Those sabotaging Iraq’s first democracy bear no resemblance to the resistors of foreign occupation in wartime Europe. Rather, they are, in their ideology and record, contemporary representatives of the fascism that wreaked such havoc 60 years ago in Europe. They are supremacists and racists, as worthy of our contempt as those who practised apartheid in South Africa.
Nor do these terrorists have a popular base. They are drawn from a minority within Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority. They have no political wing and no manifesto beyond punishing their fellow Iraqis for welcoming British and American liberation and for daring to vote. Many of the suicide terrorists are not even Iraqis, but foreigners driven by religious fanaticism and al-Qaeda’s death cult — the poisonous gift of the Arab world that supported Saddam and now vilifies our nascent democracy.
To abandon us now would be murderously irresponsible and cynical. The resulting devastation would outstrip that of the spring of 1991, when the Kurdish and Shia Arab uprisings were encouraged and then betrayed. Even Saddam’s regime conceded that during those few weeks in 1991 that some 30,000 were killed. The true number was many times higher.
Building democracy in Iraq is not a fanciful quest, but a recognition that all other approaches have failed. True stability comes from consent, not from the illusory "stability" of dictatorships. It is therefore in our mutual interest that we pursue the cause of democracy. We may falter, we may tire, but if we persevere, we shall not be defeated.
Do read the whole thing.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Underwhelmed but hopeful

The Financial Times is not sanguine about the prospects of the new German government, predicting it will struggle to last more than two years (echoeing Bill Emmot's estimates):
Germans heaved a collective sigh of relief on Monday when they heard that the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats had finally cut a deal to form a grand coalition government, to be headed by Angela Merkel. Germans do not much like uncertainty, and they certainly do not like it in their politics. After three weeks of wrangling following the inconclusive September 18 poll, it seemed any news would be good news. But just how good is it, and for whom?
The advent of Germany’s first female chancellor is good news for women, who make up half the electorate. Look where you will, in terms of promotion equality in the workplace and work-life-balance, German women lag 10 years behind the rest of Europe and at least 15 years behind the US. Having women in top jobs matters – and this particular promotion is the biggest any German woman has ever achieved.
But what are they likely to be able to agree upon? Reform of Germany’s creaking federalist structures? Yes, because both parties have worked on this together in the parliament’s upper house (the Bundesrat) for years. Greater centralisation and liberalisation might make it easier to shake up Germany’s underperforming universities and schools, and allow police and domestic security services to co-operate in combating terrorism. Healthcare or tax reform? Perhaps.
But on the really crucial issue – reform of Germany’s rigid and restrictive labour market – majorities in both parties oppose the radical changes necessary to crank up the ailing economy. Only a tiny fraction of the newly elected members of the Bundestag, which must convene on October 18 to elect the new government, are entrepreneurs. For most of the others, "liberal" is a four-letter word.
The (London) Times also has an excellent column illustrating the difficult task Angela Merkel has before her. The piece does seem to contain a (minor) mistake, which jumped out at me because it is in the opening sentence:
After the most protracted wrangling in its postwar history, Germany finally has a new government. Angela Merkel has prevailed in her insistence, fully justified electorally and morally, on leading the new grand coalition and becoming the first female Chancellor of the Federal Republic.
If this recent article in the German daily Die Welt is to be believed, the longest coalition wrangling in Germany's postwar history went on for 73 days and happened in 1976, after Helmut Schmidt's re-election.

Eroding the consensus

It is a never-ending refrain of the "progressive" left (in the Anglosphere) and most everyone (in Continental Europe) that the War on Terror and the Iraqi War have made the participating countries targets of Islamist terrorism, and that this serves them right for being imperialistic aggressors. This is an absurd and revolting idea as Oliver Kamm eloquently explains in this outstanding post (via Samizdata, emphasis mine):
Since the London bombings three months ago, the political debate in this country has taken a predictable form. Anti-war campaigners assert that UK participation in the Iraq War made us a target; the Government insists that Iraq had nothing to do with it. Neither judgement is right, but the anti-war view is in far more serious error.
Against the Government's position, I can see no purpose in disputing that our helping to overthrow Saddam Hussein has inflamed Islamist totalitarian groups. Why deny what we should take pride in?
Yet the Government is still right to point to the incidence of terrorist acts of war before we overthrew Saddam - not because it demonstrates the independence of terrorist acts from our foreign policy, but because there is no foreign policy we could adopt that would not provoke our enemies into indiscriminate (and if they have the ability, apocalyptic) violence.
Absolutely do read the whole thing. It is quite frustrating to me that while the West is being attacked not for what it does wrong but for what it does right, the first instinct of most of the people around me is to run for cover, avoid going to London and to call for the withdrawal of troops. Why is Europe cowed so easily? Aren't our liberties, our way of life and our institutions worth the fight now, just as they were then?

Monday, October 10, 2005

Not with a bang but a whimper

In the last lines of "The Hollow Men" T. S. Eliot wrote:
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
I wouldn't be too sure about that, but it's certainly how the German elections have ended.
Conservative leader Angela Merkel will become Germany's first woman chancellor under a deal that sees Gerhard Schroeder step aside but gives his Social Democrats top posts in a new government, sources said on Monday.
Three weeks after voters gave Merkel's conservatives an unexpectedly narrow win over Schroeder's SPD in a federal election, sources from both parties said an agreement had been struck that would set the stage for a power-sharing cabinet and break Germany's political deadlock.
A rather uninspiring recipe for deadlock and confusion (comments from before the news broke this morning):
Not that it matters much for Germany's economic problems. Merkel won't make much of a difference, compared to Schroeder. Still, Merkel would be more accomodating for German-American relations, and less Putin-oriented than Schroeder. However, even Merkel won't send German soldiers to Iraq or Iran (if need be), given Germany's public opposition to such a decision. Militarily, Germany is too weak anyway.
Schroeder as foreign minister - I doubt it, even though, as Ray reports, the media speculate on it. A foreign minister Schroeder would offset any improvements in German-American relations a chancellor Merkel might aim for. It is a testament to the confusing policies of the conservative CDU/CSU that they themselves would recommend a foreign minister Schroeder...
I still hope that Schroeder's macho character keeps him from serving as minister under Merkel. On the other hand - the guy is unpredictable, as he has demonstrated numerous times...
We'll see what happens.

The revenge of the bellicose libertarians

Many Europeans are delighted that US President George Bush is losing popularity. Ironically he is taking a beating not for being too bold, as Europeans hope, but for not being bold enough. See this roundup on the Miers debacle, and this too:
"I am seriously pissed off with Bush," says my buddy Jim the other night, apropos of nothing. "Yeah," say I, "who the hell is this Miers woman?" "Screw that," replies Jim. "What I want to know is why we haven't invaded Syria yet."
Jim, you see, is one of those bellicose libertarians that voted for GWB in droves. We carried on slating Bush for some time, listing the manifest idiocies and betrayals this administration has foisted on us. It was quite a litany. The Highway Bill. Medicaid. NCLB. SCOTUS. Not exploding Bashir Assad's skull. Letting the decadent Saudi toads finance world terror. Jim said he was probably going to sit the midterms out.
We'll see if this turns into a larger movement... I wish it did, because I do think there is still a chance that Bush will be responsive to it, if he sees that it will be necessary for a Republican win in 2006. I wonder if this development is a first sign:
As it steps up pressure on Damascus, the US is actively seeking an alternative who would take over from President Bashar al-Assad, according to sources close to the Bush administration.
Washington has consulted its allies in an inter-agency search co-ordinated by Stephen Hadley, the president's national security adviser. The US is also said to be considering military strikes on the Syrian border in response to its alleged support for Iraqi insurgents.
Meanwhile see this roundup of some excellent defenses of the war in Iraq.