Tuesday, November 29, 2005

London, here I come!

Lately things have been moving much too fast for my taste. I have mentioned before that I work in the field of corporate governance and proxy voting. I have lived in Brussels for the past year and a half, and I am currently in my last week of work under a temporary contract for a market leader in this domain. A few weeks ago I sent my resume to a smaller London-based competitor and within days I was invited for an interview and offered a permanent job in London. I was there for the past several days (narrowly escaping the snow-induced chaos in much of the rest of Europe), I signed the contract last Friday and I am moving on Sunday. I'm still a little dazed by the speed of it all.
I'm really happy about this, not only for the job - which sounds interesting - but also for the location: London is a lovely, bustling and exciting city where I have several friends and relatives. Not to mention the fact that I feel a close intellectual connection to the Anglo-Saxon world...
However, the technicalities of moving are not as glamorous. I am frantically looking for a place to stay (though I don't lack stopgap solutions) and there are all sorts of annoying administrative things that need to be taken care of.
Nevertheless this morning I am in a buoyant mood: I was finishing this week's The Business on my way to work, and I see that my new, rather obscure, employer is referred to as "highly regarded." Well, that's nice to know!

Friday, November 25, 2005

My home country has its uses

Currently I am in London (that's why there hasn't been any posting) and the news of the day (other than George Best's passing) is the supposedly dastardly attitude of Israel towards East Jerusalem.
The Guardian reports on the front page (also see the Financial Times):

A confidential Foreign Office document accuses Israel of rushing to annex the Arab area of Jerusalem, using illegal Jewish settlement construction and the vast West Bank barrier, in a move to prevent it becoming a Palestinian capital.
In an unusually frank insight into British assessments of Israeli intentions, the document says that Ariel Sharon's government is jeopardising the prospect of a peace agreement by trying to put the future of Arab East Jerusalem beyond negotiation and risks driving Palestinians living in the city into radical groups. The document, obtained by the Guardian, was presented to an EU council of ministers meeting chaired by the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, on Monday with recommendations to counter the Israeli policy, including recognition of Palestinian political activities in East Jerusalem.
But the council put the issue on hold until next month under pressure from Italy, according to sources, which Israel considers its most reliable EU ally.

Finally the government of my home country does something I can be proud of. The reason I say this is not because I want the Palestinians disenfranchised, but because I feel that Israel and its current government are going above and beyond the call of duty to try to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians, as this World Tribune story evidences:

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has drafted a plan for Israel's withdrawal from virtually all of the West Bank by 2008.
Political sources said Sharon has begun briefing senior U.S. officials of his intention to withdraw unilaterally from more than 95 percent of the West Bank. They said Sharon, who quit the ruling Likud Party on Nov. 21, would seek a U.S. and international security presence in the area as well as a commitment for the dismantling of Palestinian insurgency groups.
On Wednesday, Haim Ramon, a Cabinet minister who joined Sharon's new party, said the prime minister plans to withdraw unilaterally to what would constitute Israel's final borders, Middle East Newsline reported. Ramon said Sharon does not plan to discuss this before the parliamentary elections, scheduled for March 28.
"His decision [to quit the Likud] stems from his desire to bring the state of Israel to permanent borders during his term of office," Eli Landau, a longtime confidante of Sharon, said. "He knows that this step will be a dramatic one."
The sources said Sharon's plan was based on an assessment that the Palestinian Authority was not prepared to sign a formal peace agreement with Israel. They said that under this scenario Sharon would order a unilateral withdrawal from more than 90 percent of the West Bank, but retain control over air space.
The pullout would be accompanied by a pledge from Sharon of an additional pullout and full Palestinian independence should the PA dismantle insurgency groups and maintain security cooperation with Israel. The sources said a version of the plan has already been drafted by Israel's National Security Council.

I think this is an excellent idea, and I hope Ariel Sharon garners sufficient votes in the next general election to enact it. And, by the way, I wonder why nobody in the MSM noted the story.
To return to the subject of East Jerusalem, it should also be noted that the Muslim claim to Jerusalem may be more tenuous than generally believed, and apparently the Palestinians living there are, at best, ambiguous about PA control over it:

In the Palestinian Authority's (PA) elections that took place in January 2005, a significant percentage of Arab Jerusalemites stayed away from the polls out of concern that voting in them might jeopardize their status as residents of Israel. For example, the Associated Press quoted one Rabi Mimi, a 28-year-old truck driver, who expressed strong support for Mahmoud Abbas but said he had no plans to vote: "I can't vote. I'm afraid I'll get into trouble. I don't want to take any chances." Asked if he would vote, a taxi driver responded with indignation, "Are you kidding? To bring a corrupt [Palestinian] Authority here. This is just what we are missing."
This reluctance—as well as administrative incompetence—helped explain why, in the words of the Jerusalem Post, "at several balloting locations in the city [of Jerusalem], there were more foreign election observers, journalists, and police forces out than voters." It also explains why, in the previous PA election in 1996, a mere 10 percent of Jerusalem's eligible population voted, far lower than the proportions elsewhere.
At first blush surprising, the worry about jeopardizing Israeli residency turns out to be widespread among the Palestinians in Israel. When given a choice of living under Zionist or Palestinian rule, they decidedly prefer the former. More than that, there is a body of pro-Israel sentiments from which to draw. No opinion surveys cover this delicate subject, but a substantial record of statements and actions suggest that, despite their anti-Zionist swagger, Israel's most fervid enemies do perceive its political virtues. Even Palestinian leaders, between their fulminations, sometimes let down their guard and acknowledge Israel's virtues. This undercurrent of Palestinian love of Zion has hopeful and potentially significant implications.

Do read the whole thing, it is very interesting.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Hindsight is always 20:20

As usual, the Los Angeles Times ran a breathtakingly idiotic and dishonest front page story the other day (via Drudge):

The German intelligence officials responsible for one of the most important informants on Saddam Hussein's suspected weapons of mass destruction say that the Bush administration and the CIA repeatedly exaggerated his claims during the run-up to the war in Iraq.
The senior BND officer who supervised Curveball's case said he was aghast when he watched Powell misstate Curveball's claims as a justification for war.
"We were shocked," the official said. "Mein Gott! We had always told them it was not proven…. It was not hard intelligence."

Sheesh, the sheer chutzpah of these people is incredible. Where were they before the Iraq war? Have they just woken up from a two-year slumber?
The Man Without Qualities suggests a motivation:

So why now? Why would the German government authorize its intelligence officers to speak up now - in a manner that can scarcely be expected to help relations between Berlin and Washington?
Could it have something to do with the fact that the person these "five senior officers" currently work for, departing Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, despises George Bush and is just about to leave office and the German government entirely? Could it have something to do with the fact that incoming Chancellor Angela Merkel, the leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Party, is known to be quite a bit more sympathetic to Mr. Bush than is Herr Schröder?

Be that as it may, I am appalled by the ease with which history is being rewritten. Why are so many people fawning over this supposed clarity of thought when in actual fact such clarity demonstrably never existed at the time (and still doesn't)? Does what actually happened count for nothing?

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Springer question

The Financial Times reports:
Germany's cartel office has raised the chances of a foreign bidding war for the country's second-largest private broadcaster by warning Axel Springer, the newspaper publisher, that it has grave concerns about the proposed takeover of ProSiebenSat1.
The monopoly watchdog informed Springer late Friday that "the conditions for the prohibition of the merger are given" as it would split the German TV advertising market between it and Bertelsmann, which owns market leader RTL.
What the story doesn't note is that at least part of this "grave concern" stems from political motives, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out (via Davids Medienkritik) when the deal was announced:
German democracy is under attack. At least that is what a flock of the media elite has been claiming since Axel Springer, Germany's largest newspaper publisher, said Friday it would buy ProSiebenSat.1, the country's second-largest broadcasting group. This "cannot be in the interest of democracy," said Michael Konken, the chairman of Germany's journalist association. Frank Werneke, a trade union leader, called for "the containment of media power across sectors."
These concerns would sound more sincere if they also had been voiced four years ago when Bertelsmann, the world's fourth-largest media company, took control of RTL Group, Germany's largest broadcaster. But back then, there were no such warnings about democracy's imminent decline. Bertelsmann's outlets are more to the liking of the German left.
Let's look at some of the facts. Although the acquisition will nearly double Springer's sales to about €4.2 billion, Bertelsmann still dwarfs its competitor, with global sales more than four times higher. Bertelsmann's German business alone still outpaces its rival with about €5 billion in sales. RTL is slightly more popular than ProSiebenSat.1 but neither broadcaster reaches 25% of the German audience -- the ceiling regulators have set for combined print and television companies.
The principles Springer journalists are expected to support are freedom and democracy in Germany and efforts to bring the peoples of Europe closer together; reconciliation between Jews and Germans, which includes support for Israel's right to exist; the trans-Atlantic alliance and the liberal value community with the U.S.; the rejection of totalitarianism and the defense of Germany's free, social-market economy.
What sounds like a manifesto that any reasonable democrat in Germany should be able to sign is now being called a threat to the country's democracy. Without doubt, the company's commitment to the trans-Atlantic relationship is what irks its opponents the most. Springer publications often criticize U.S. policies but its readers will not find the kind of hysterical anti-Americanism now so prevalent in much of Germany's media.
Meanwhile, Wolfgang Münchau writes in today's Financial Times that it is the disastrous foreign policy of Gerhard Schröder, so strongly (and dishonestly) peddled by Bertelsmann's media outlets, that has put Germany in its worse strategic position of the post-War period:
When Gerhard Schröder became chancellor in 1998, he altered both elements of the doctrine. He was never an instinctive European. During his seven-year term in office he failed to build effective alliances in the EU and picked numerous fights, especially with the European Commission. At the same time, German foreign policy became gradually less transatlantic. Mr Schröder's decision to exploit anti-American sentiments during the 2002 election campaign has done lasting damage to US-German relations.
Mr Schröder has said frequently that under his leadership Germany has turned into an "emancipated" mid-sized political power. I would argue that, on the contrary, Germany is politically less relevant today than at any time since the second world war. This decline in power is to a large extent the result of his catastrophic foreign policy.
All in all, the style of German foreign policy will probably change for the better. The real question is whether this matters. There are four reasons to think that it might not.
First, during the Schröder years, public opinion in Germany has turned progressively more anti-American. Iraq may have been the trigger for this development but the trend had already set in before September 11. The change in sentiment towards the US was probably more pronounced in Germany than in any other European country. Turning back the clock on transatlantic relations would have to involve more than subtle diplomacy.
Second, there will be just as many substantive disagreements with Washington, if not more, under the new government. Germany will still not be sending troops to Iraq. Ms Merkel and Mr Bush disagree on a whole range of issues, from climate change to Turkish EU membership.
Third, the German political class has become far more inward-looking since unification. Domestic politicians such as Mr Schröder have often portrayed the European Commission as an institution infested with Anglo-Saxon libertarian zealots who are out to destroy German industry.
Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, Germany's persistently disappointing economic performance will act as an over-arching constraint on the effectiveness of any foreign policy. An economically feeble Germany is going to be politically feeble. In the long run, the best foreign policy would be to sort out the economy. Yet this is not what the grand coalition will do.
In spite of all this, a new style of foreign policy may still achieve something. But it would be a mistake to expect too much of Germany's new chancellor.
I wish he was wrong, though I doubt he is.
At any rate, returning to the Axel Springer question, the amusing result of blocking the merger is probably going to be even less pleasant for the anti-Americans in the German intelligentsia:
This would open the way for a possible bidding war between foreign rivals. Rupert Murdoch, the media tycoon, in February denied he wanted to take over ProSieben. But German industry observers have said that his company, News Corp, and US rivals Viacom and General Electric, all had a look at the company before Springer made a bid.
Should Mr Döpfner apply for special permission from the government, Angela Merkel, the new chancellor, would have to choose between overruling her regulator and opening the door to foreign media players.
Though I prefer Mr. Döpfner, I'm not going to complain if Mr. Murdoch acquires ProSiebenSat.1 instead. Actually, I think Rupert is more hands-on politically, which can only be a good thing, considering the German media-market's lamentable and mindless anti-American consensus.

A dangerous smoke(r)

The French are priceless:
A French woman has admitted attempting to open an aeroplane door mid-flight so that she could smoke a cigarette. Sandrine Helene Sellies, 34, who has a fear of flying, had drunk alcohol and taken sleeping tablets ahead of the flight from Hong Kong to Brisbane. She was seen on the Cathay Pacific plane walking towards a door with an unlit cigarette and a lighter. She then began tampering with the emergency exit until she was stopped by a flight attendant.
Boy, am I glad I wasn't on that flight!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Lazy or smart?

This is peculiar:

Growing numbers of migratory birds are too lazy to fly all the way to Africa for the winter and are staying in Britain.
Unprecedented numbers of warblers, blackcaps and chiffchaffs shirked the flight to warmer climes last year and even more are expected to stay this winter. Most surprising is the number of species of warblers that can now be found in Britain in the coldest months, according to a survey by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).
Greg Conway, who organised the survey for the trust, said: "It's as if they're saying, 'I can't be bothered to go abroad this year, dear — let's stay here'. They're too lazy to migrate to Africa."

Apparently this has little to do with warmer winters in Europe, which are still too cold for them. It seems that the birds migrate from Germany and have discovered that they get the best breeding grounds when they fly back (in the spring) if they spend the winter in the UK instead of flying all the way to Africa: first come, first served.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Quote of the day

From Instapundit reader Jeff Medcalf:
It seems to me that the Left's position is inconsistent: if WP (White Phosphorus) rounds are WMD, then Saddam clearly had massive WMD stockpiles, and the war was justified.
See here and here for background.
Meanwhile the White House is finally back amongst the living, and Tammy Bruce (the "openly gay, pro-choice, gun owning, pro-death penalty, voted-for-President Bush progressive feminist" author, activist and radio talk show host) makes an excellent historical comparison (via Instapundit):
Think about it this way--if during World War II the Republicans kept arguing that the war was a "quagmire" and that President Roosevelt "lied" about Pearl Harbor, and that the Germans had done nothing to us, as a result he had "misled" us into the war. Then they would be asking for a "time table" to get out of Europe. Does that sound normal to you? Or reasonable? Or does it sound like a defeatist, Hate-America first attitude?
Here is the time table for all war: it ends when the enemy is vanguished. The time table for Europe was when the Axis Powers all eventually surrendered. It's now obscene what the Dems are doing and has moved far past the "loyal opposition" expected of the minority.
It's about time the White House respond to the absurdity of the Dems. Their attacks are not only absurd, they put this entire nation in increasing danger as our enemies look for more ways to kill our families and destroy civilization. This is not a game, but the Dems are treating it as though it were. Shame on them.
Amen to that. Not to mention the fact that it is still far from clear what actually happened to the WMD programs that we know for certain Saddam Hussein at some point had.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Abysmal literacy levels

The other day a study was released by UNLA (the Italian "National Union for the Fight against Illiteracy") about the level of education and literacy in Italy. It paints a hair-raising picture. The study is an analysis of the latest census data, which dates back to 2001. The key findings:
  1. Almost six million people (about 12% of the population) are either totally illiterate or hold no diploma of any kind (i.e. they have not even completed elementary school).
  2. Amazingly, just under 36 million people (about 66% of the population) have not obtained a high school diploma, meaning that their level of education does not enable them to fully interact with society.
  3. Only about four million people (7.5% of the population) have a college degree.
I could not find the actual report, and it is not clear what portion of the population is included in these figures. The Istat (Italian census bureau) statistics on literacy absurdly start with six-year-olds. According to La Stampa the illiterate population is mostly "old." However Il Giornale specifically says that the study only includes people under 70, while the numbers for older people are significantly worse. In any case it is particularly alarming that the situation is getting better only very slowly: the number of college graduates has increased by only 1.19% in the past decade (and the literacy level of students coming out of junior high school does not bode well for the future).
For all those Italians who for some reason are convinced that Italy has a great system of public education (which is true - to a limited extent - if you go through with it) it will be sobering to know that among the 30 OECD countries we rank third-to-last in literacy and educational attainment, ahead only of Portugal and Mexico.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

She's a real old-timer

This is really cool:

A zoo in Australia has held a 175th birthday party for one of the world's oldest known living creatures, a Giant Galapagos tortoise. Australia Zoo, where the tortoise has lived for the last 17 years, marked the day with a pink hibiscus flower cake.

Although the animal's exact date of birth is not known, DNA testing has indicated its approximate age. Some people believe the tortoise, known as Harriet, was studied by British naturalist Charles Darwin. Darwin took several young Giant Galapagos tortoises back to London after his epic voyage on board HMS Beagle. DNA testing has suggested the giant creature was born around 1830, a few years before Darwin visited the Galapagos archipelago in 1835. However, Harriet belongs to a sub-species of tortoise only found on an island that Darwin never visited.

Can you believe this creature was born while Andrew Jackson was President of the United States and almost a decade before Queen Victoria ascended the British throne? All I can say is: a very happy birthday!

Switch on brain, please

It's enough to make you want to tear your hair out. Why can't the EU come up with a good idea for a change?

On top of this, the European Commission is considering environmental regulations that could add £55 to the cost of an airline ticket. These developments will be hailed by ailing national carriers and condemned by the successful budget airlines. That's because British Airways can absorb such a price increase, while the increase would destroy EasyJet's competitive advantage of low costs.
Environmental rules already require airlines to increase energy use. High-angle landing and takeoff patterns require more power and so increase fuel use. Altitude restrictions -- now being considered as a separate climate change prevention measure -- add miles to the journey and increase fuel use. In fact, we should be looking at ways to reduce journey lengths. Today, government regulates the paths that aircraft must take on any given journey, while air-traffic control prohibits pilots from choosing their own route. Allowing 'free flight' would yield greenhouse-gas emissions reduction of up to 17 per cent.

Read the whole thing for the real reasons behind the measure.
And if by any chance you have been hoaxed into believing that the oceans are about to flood the earth, you should read this excellent article. When will we follow Tony Blair's lead, and admit that the Kyoto Protocol is an embarassingly stupid idea?
And, of course, we need to go nuclear (via GayandRight).

Hoping the EU fails

Only somebody as idiotic as an EU Commissioner could possibly think it would be a good idea to entrust the internet to the UN. Thankfully the EU rarely gets anything done, and the thing seems to be fizzling out. Here are some reasons why this is a terrible idea:

As the author notes, the advertised reasons for this proposal - increasing access and receiving global input - seem to be masking some less noble motives and outcomes:
Censorship. Despite having made a declaration of support for freedom of speech, many WGIG members come from nations that severely curtail this right; China, for example, has one of the most restrictive and sophisticated Internet control mechanisms in the world. Just as other UN bodies have been "co-opted" by non-democratic governments, "an 'International Internet Commission' chaired by China might not be far off," Rasmussen observed.
Taxes. Since the Internet's infancy the UN has crafted detailed proposals to tax online traffic. Rasmussen calculates that one 1999 plan for a "bit tax," adjusted for today's number of Internet users, would raise 12 trillion dollars this year - roughly equal to America's Gross Domestic Product. Even less ambitious money-raising models such as the independent, Switzerland-based "Digital Solidarity Fund" could feasibly be transformed into future collectors of compulsory Internet taxes and fees.
Bureaucratic Corruption. Given recent oil-for-food scandals, UN-style Internet agencies would present the inherent risk of "giving ruling members of regimes in the developing world shiny new computers rather than furnishing the poor with Internet access," Rasmussen said.
Although the US State Department (and more recently federal lawmakers) are moving to oppose a UN Internet takeover, and ICANN officials are advocating privatization, the author contends that vigorous opposition to WGIG's plans from taxpayers around the world is vital.

Here is a thoughtful interview on the subject in Foreign Policy. The Economist is also against UN control. And Tunisia is doing its part in underlining the potential problems. Well done.

No connection?

So much for the "no connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda" meme (via GayandRight):

The number two of the al-Qaeda network, Ayman al-Zawahiri, visited Iraq under a false name in September 1999 to take part in the ninth Popular Islamic Congress, former Iraqi premier Iyad Allawi has revealed to pan-Arab daily al-Hayat. In an interview, Allawi made public information discovered by the Iraqi secret service in the archives of the Saddam Hussein regime, which sheds light on the relationship between Saddam Hussein and the Islamic terrorist network. He also said that both al-Zawahiri and Jordanian militant al-Zarqawi probably entered Iraq in the same period.
According to Allawi, important information has been gathered regarding the presence of another key terrorist figure operating in Iraq - the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
"The Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi entered Iraq secretly in the same period," Allawi affirmed, "and began to form a terrorist cell, even though the Iraqi services do not have precise information on his entry into the country," he said.
Allawi's remarks come after statements to al-Hayat by King Abdallah II of Jordan over Saddam's refusal to hand over al-Zarqawi to the authorities in Amman.
In Allawi's view, Saddam's government "sponsored" the birth of al-Qaeda in Iraq, coordinating with other terrorist groups, both Arab and Muslim. "The Iraqi secret services had links to these groups through a person called Faruq Hajizi, later named Iraq's ambassador to Turkey and arrested after the fall of Saddam's regime as he tried to re-enter Iraq. Iraqi secret agents helped terrorists enter the country and directed them to the Ansar al-Islam camps in the Halbija area," he said.
The former prime minister claims that Saddam's regime sought to involve even Palestinian Abu Nidal - head of a group once considered the world's most dangerous terrorist organisation - in its terrorist circuit. Abu Nidal's organisation was responsible for terrorist attacks in some 20 countries, killing more than 300 people and wounding hundreds more.

Hmmm. I'm happy to hear Saddam was a peaceful and rational secular leader who would never have tried to put nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists. What were the Americans thinking when they invaded?! He will be sorely missed. And didn't Adnkronos get the memo not to let the news out?

Equality and foolishness

This is going to be hilarious (via GayandRight):

Norway has said it might close down companies that fail to meet proposed boardroom quotas for women. The new coalition government in Oslo said it was considering introducing a law which would require 40% of boardroom posts to be filled by women.
Norway's previous government drew up the law, which it threatened to apply if companies failed voluntarily to meet minimum quotas by 1 July this year. Only a fifth of Norway's 590 publicly listed firms comply with the quotas. "It's not going fast enough," said Karita Bekkemellem, Norway's minister for family and children. "I don't want to wait 20 or 30 years until sufficiently intelligent men finally appoint women to the boardrooms." She added: "I wish to establish, from January 1 2006, a system of sanctions which makes it possible to break up companies."

One thing is clear, if they implement this terrible law a lot of companies are going to be moving out of Norway, as well they should. I wonder, when push comes to shove, whether the Norwegians will prefer to keep their economy intact?
Mind you, I am the first to say that having more women on company's boards would be a good thing and absolute equality is very important, but these things must be earned on merit.
Meanwhile, another victim of the gender-feminist orthodoxy is thankfully getting more attention (via GR):

For centuries, women have been stereotyped as the passive victims of violence and aggression. Yet experts are now warning that record numbers of men are being physically abused by their stressed- out wives and girlfriends.
New figures show that the number of calls to domestic violence helplines from male victims has more than doubled over the past five years. And now one of the world's leading feminist journals will investigate the issue of male abuse for the first time in its history: the Psychology of Women Quarterly will devote a whole edition to research on violent women and their behaviour towards men.

The current issue of the journal can be found here. Public awareness is the first step in dispelling the absurd myth that men are all bad and women are all victims.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Hit them hard!

Instapundit has an excellent roundup on the White House's invigorated PR effort. This is music to my ears: I hope it won't be long before the effort goes global.
And if you want a good laugh, you should read this post, which compares past and present statements of notable Bush critics Ted Kennedy and Jay Rockefeller. Some nerve!

Movie endings

A while ago I went to a premiere of the new Pride and Prejudice movie. Since the Jane Austen book is one of my favourite novels, I did not have high expectations of the movie, as adaptations usually never measure up. However I was quite impressed: it follows the novel's plot quite closely, the historical details were meticulously reconstructed and the views are quite impressive. Plus, it was a cool evening because Brenda Blethyn (who plays Mrs. Bennet in the movie) was present at the screening, and I really like her work.
At any rate I found this story quite amusing:
The US release of Pride and Prejudice is eight minutes longer than the UK version because British test audiences hated the extended romantic ending. Matthew MacFayden, who plays Mr Darcy, told USA Today, UK audiences disliked the more "sugary" ending so it was cut.
In the US version, the two main characters Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy embrace at the end.
There is no doubt that the ending is a little muddled. Starting from Lady Catherine de Bourgh's rude visit to the Bennet's house the movie changes the plot in several slight but totally unnecessary respects, making the story more implausible. Obviously I was not happy with that. I saw the shorter version, and though I don't know what the "sugary" ending is like, I must say the abrupt ending of the UK version is less than ideal. Even the novel has a chapter on life after the engagement. Anyway, read the book - it beats any movie both in wit and wisdom.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Dangerous Hollywood

Froggy Ruminations (via Instapundit) lists a series of gross inaccuracies in Jarhead, the new movie about the first Gulf War (also see here). Unlike the French, who whine about American "cultural imperialism," it is this kind of anti-American propaganda that annoys me most about Hollywood - particularly because it will get extensive play in Europe and elsewhere and significantly impact how America is viewed around the world. Most people will assume that, after all, if Americans say such things about themselves they must be true.
Among actors there are some exceptions however. Bruce Willis sounds like he has his head screwed on the right way (via Instapundit):
Bruce Willis told Cosby he would offer one million dollars to any civilian who would turn in Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Willis talks to Cosby about his support for embedded blogger Michael Yon, and the actor says he is in talks about a possible film about the Deuce Four, the soldiers Yon is embedded with in Iraq.
"I am baffled to understand why the things that I saw happening in Iraq, really good things happening in Iraq, are not being reported on."
And my personal favorite is John Malkovich:
Malkovich caused controversy in the United Kingdom in 2002 by announcing he wanted to shoot journalist Robert Fisk and politician George Galloway, both of whom have been accused of sympathizing with Islamic terrorists.
Forget you criminal coddlers, Malkovich believes in an eye for an eye. And he'll dole out some of that punishment himself, he says. He told an interviewer: "The left-wing wants criminals coddled and no one wants anyone punished. I would have no problem pushing the switch while having dinner. I actually think they should change the name of the death penalty. We're all going to die, so it should just be called the early death penalty."
So you see, occasionally Hollywood does produce some coherent stars.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Unexpected fires

After spending some time in Milan, yesterday I flew back to Brussels. Ironically, while I had some vague worries about the situation in Brussels, I ended up coming much closer to harm and fire in Italy during the one hour bus ride to Orio al Serio airport. At 7 am I took the bus in Milan to catch my morning flight. Just a few kilometers outside Bergamo (where the airport is) we hit an enormous traffic jam, which held us up for about two hours. Needless to say I missed my flight.
When we did start moving again we drove past a completely burned out truck.

Apparently the vehicle was carrying sodium cyanide, one of the most powerful poisons known to man, and it had caught fire shortly after 6 am. Because of the material involved both sides of the highway were blocked off for several hours. I could find no information on what happened to the driver. Otherwise, I am thankful that others were apparently not harmed, and Virgin Express (unlike Ryanair) graciously allowed all the passengers who had missed their morning flight as a result of the accident to transfer to the afternoon flight free of charge. During the wait I took a walk around Bergamo, which is a very picturesque town, and the rest of my journey was uneventful (though I am still knackered).
Today I went around central Brussels a bit, but everything seemed normal. I hope this doesn't degenerate:
In Belgium’s sixth consecutive night of car torching, fifteen cars, including one truck and a bus, were damaged by fire – eight of them in Brussels.
The Belgian police has always looked a little feckless to me. I guess now we'll find out what they are really made of. Though that's slightly unfair: it is really up to the politicians to authorize what measures are to be taken (and they haven't been doing a great job of it).

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Signs of progress

Kurdistan thanks the US and the UK (via Instapundit) and 150,000 Moroccans demonstrate against Al Qaeda.
Meanwhile, I think this shows Bush really means it when he says he wants to spread democracy:
President George W. Bush met at the White House on Wednesday with the Dalai Lama, exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, ignoring objections from China 10 days before he makes an official visit to Beijing.
The private meeting with the president and the first lady came one day after the Bush administration named China a serious violator of religious freedom in a report to Congress.
And let's hope for another, peaceful, "Orange Revolution:" Azeri protesters are crying out for freedom and calling on Bush to help them establish democracy (via Gateway Pundit) in Azerbaijan.
Thousands of protesters set off on a march through Azerbaijan's capital on Wednesday, answering the call by the main opposition movement to come into the streets to defend their right to free and fair elections.
The protest was the first test of the opposition's ability to mobilize supporters following last weekend's flawed parliamentary elections, and the movement hoped it would generate unstoppable momentum.
Photo from Reuters (via GP):

When will people recognize America's hand in this glorious trend?

Against "narratives"

Adloyada has an excellent post about Kristallnacht and the creation of narratives:
It's funny, isn't it, that this use of "narratives" to discuss historical conflicts and related debates is never applied outside the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
We never hear about the Allied narrative versus the Nazi narrative, or about the Western narrative versus the Soviet narrative.
Recasting historical debates as a choice between narratives creates a moral equivalence between meticulously documented historical research, which stands up to peer review, and mendacious falsifications and fabrications.
Well worth reading. Meanwhile the French seem to be creating their own, rather odd, Riot narrative (via Gateway Pundit).

Moaning and groaning

The Joy of Knitting observes:
Italians don’t have a high opinion of themselves. Whenever national characteristics are discussed by a group of people, doom and gloom prevail. It is a ritual, and like every ritual it has its rules which must be followed punctiliously. "We are awful," intones one. "We are worse than awful," goes on another upping the ante, and everyone in turn participates in this ritual of self-abasement adding some more of our faults to the horror list, while those who listen on sadly shake their heads, murmuring "Poor Italy" and "What are we coming to". Once I dared point out that we aren't that bad and was instantly swept off my feet by a volley of self-abuse. You mustn't think that Italians berate themselves in public while inwardly basking in the sense of their own superiority. It isn't so. Italians say they're bad and think they're worse than bad, and in their heart of hearts they fear they're the worst of the worst.
This is mostly true, though it may be overdone a bit. I have the feeling that many Italians moan and groan because there is a lot to moan and groan about - and that, if anything, though there may be too much moaning and groaning, not enough interest is taken into actually solving the problems. In fact, the Italy-bashing which is brought to absurd lengths without any sense of irony, seems to be counterproductive. At the height of the Fazio scandal it emerged that during a telephone call Giampiero Fiorani, who at the time was shamelessly committing colossal financial irregularities, had the chutzpah to say that "a country cannot go on functioning like this," without considering that he was one of the people creating problems for Italy.
Nonetheless, I feel the moaning is often justified. For instance an Italian commenter notes below:
There are no real journalists in Italy.
Politicians of any color, and Corporations, replaced them all with prostitutes a long time ago (way back before Berlusconi or Prodi).
When it comes to give some real service to the public, and inform, and nobody is ordering them to go in one direction or another, the prostitutes are kind of left on their own. It shold be funny (so to speak) to see from the inside what happens when no political line is given to an editorial staff.
And though it sounds implausibly awful, I really believe it is mostly true (as I have noted before, both my parents are journalists, so I have first-hand experience). And I should make it clear that this is not at all a political observation: this problem pervades media across the political spectrum; it's just how things are usually done in Italy. And so we moan and groan.

Engaging is essential

Interesting demographic trends among haredim (plural of haredi):
By the year 2020, the haredi population of Israel will double to 1 million and make up 17 percent of the total population, said Hebrew University demographer Professor Sergio Della Pergola Tuesday.
I consider this a positive trend, as Jewish assimilation has become a dramatic problem (see here) for the survival of the Jewish people as a culture:
Demographically, it must be said, the high growth rate of a religiously committed group of Jews should be celebrated. Jewish population trends abroad have been notoriously grim, and even Israel's growth has been modest as secular sabras continue to marry later in life and choose to have fewer children than previous generations.
When it comes to ensuring a Jewish majority in the Jewish homeland, the haredi sector is doing more than its fair share - and it does not deserve to be lampooned or even criticized for doing so, as it currently is by much of the secular and even the modern Orthodox public.
At the same time I do think it is very important for an ethnic minority to positively interact with the surrounding society. Though I consider religious and cultural identity very important, I feel that it is possible to be fully Italian (in my case) - engaged in a positive and constructive way with my surroundings - while at the same time being a committed and observant Jew. However to reach that healthy equilibrium the haredi community will need to change (without compromising their religious commitment):
To truly engage, however, the haredi public would have to stop avoiding military service, as the overwhelming majority currently does. It would mean that far more haredim would have to accept a greater role in the country's economy - not just as consumers but as producers, too.
None of these things is, intrinsically, a sacrifice in the commitment to a haredi lifestyle. There are already numerous examples of haredim who have served in defense of their country while maintaining stringent standards of kashrut and personal conduct. In recent years, haredi involvement in the hi-tech industry (and their much longer involvement in the diamond industry) has shown that it is possible for both haredi men and women to earn a decent living working in a "mixed" environment while remaining faithful to their beliefs and to their disciplined Torah study habits.
I fully agree with this assessment. In the 1950's it made sense to establish an exemption for yeshiva students from military service because of the fragility of Judaism at the time (not just physically but intellectually). However as a result of its growth the haredi community must now begin to face an inherent contradiction: it is a goal among haredim to convince all Jews to return to the faith, while at the same time haredi students are exempt from military service. Considering the ascendancy of haredim, in the future who is going to go into the army? The answer is that the Torah never intended - even under what haredim view as ideal circumstances (i.e. all Jews being observant) - the whole, or even most, of the Jewish people to be exclusively dedicated to scholarship. If haredim, for the sake of fostering high level religious scholarship, want to allow a certain portion of students to avoid military service altogether they will have to come up with a meritocratic, fair and transparent system to do so. Additionally economic and other general policies will also have to be hammered out by the haredi parties: until now they have acted more like narrow interest groups than candidates to seriously and responsibly run all aspects of a Western and democratic government.
I think an increased engagement on the part of haredim will positively impact Israeli society as a whole, but it will also cause desirable developments within the haredi community which needs to (at least partially) come out of a cocoon that is unsustainable and unacceptable in such a large community. I hope we will stand up to the challenge.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Propaganda, as usual

Anybody relying on Italian state-controlled broadcaster RAI (or most other Italian media organizations) for an accurate investigative report would have to be desperate and foolhardy:
Italian state TV, Rai, has broadcast a documentary accusing the US military of using white phosphorus bombs against civilians in the Iraqi city of Falluja.
Rai says this amounts to the illegal use of chemical arms, though the bombs are considered incendiary devices.
Considering that a lot of foreign coverage in Italy is on the same level as this hatchet job I mentioned the other day, I am not surprised that these claims are being thoroughly debunked (not in Italy of course). The Daily Ablution has the goods (via Instapundit):
Predictably, the "US used chemical weapons at Fallujah" story is spreading like phosphorus fire, and the Independent reprises its coverage today.
Interestingly, a careful reading of the latest Indy article (though not in the print edition, where the crucial section has been omitted, apparently due to a production error), especially when combined with a viewing of the RAI video that was the catalyst for the story (and a bit of research), casts grave doubt on the contention that the horrible injuries pictured were in fact the result of phosphorus bombs.
Do read the whole post. The video can be seen here. I have a profound contempt for the Italian journalistic establishment (I have plenty of first-hand experience: both my parents are journalists), and the utter garbage the media spews out most of the time. This story (in Italian) clearly gives the impression that the US has indiscriminately used "chemical weapons" and partially admitted to doing so, without even the slightest attempt at presenting the actual facts. Incredibly it is much more biased than the Indy article!
What I want to know is: where is the US ambassador to Italy? How can the US expect all Italians to go hunting around the blogosphere to find out the truth about this story (and countless others)? Let us hear your voice!

Post Scriptum:
Gateway Pundit has an excellent reconstruction of events.

More detention days, but not ninety

The Guardian reports:
Tony Blair's government tonight suffered its first ever defeat since coming to power, as MPs voted down proposals to allow police to hold terrorist suspects for 90 days without charge.
Despite last-minute appeals from the prime minister, and the return from overseas visits of both Gordon Brown and Jack Straw in order to vote, the government was defeated on the issue by 322 votes to 291, a larger than expected margin of 31.
A few minutes later, MPs voted for a rebel Labour amendment increasing the detention period to 28 days. That was passed by 323 votes to 290.
But the defeat on 90 days is a personal blow for Mr Blair, who strongly backed the police's demand for a three-month period.
I am quite happy with this outcome, though I feel bad for Blair. Recess Monkey recounts (via Tim Worstall) a personal incident illustrating why 90 day detentions would not have been a good thing:
I work on the assumption that you should never give a current government a power if you wouldn't trust a previous government with it. Under Thatcher, my dear Mum was arrested for beating up six police officers, who went to trial and gave radically different accounts of the event (because it wasn't true).
On being accused, while pummelling six defenceless police officers, of screaming "Leave him alone you bastards, he ain't done nuffink!" (they happened to be giving a man a good kicking at the time) my mother told the Judge in her finest Maidstone Girls Grammar School RP, "Well, your honour, I wouldn't call a police officer a bastard to his face and I certainly wouldn't use a double negative under any circumstances". And the case was thrown out of court with an apology and costs paid.
But if Maggie had had the powers that Charles Clarke is now seeking? Would my mother have spent three months in prison before having her case dismissed? Maybe a bit of porridge would have done her good.
Until now the number of days a terrorism suspect could be held without charges was 14. I feel 28 days is not too much, as the police does need time to do its work. Considering that in France terrorism suspects can be detained for up to three years, it can even be argued that 90 days isn't too much. However the French case is very different as it is investigative magistrates who make these decisions and not the police, and the legal and judicial systems are completely different. Additionally the French system, though supposedly very effective in anti-terrorism, does raise some eyebrows with regard to civil liberties, to say the least. It must also be noted that the British and Americans have a much more stand-offish relationship with their police forces than is the case in many European civil-law countries. In Italy, for instance, people have to have an identifying document on them at all times and present it upon request from the police - an idea which would make a Briton swoon - and most Italians see this as completely normal: I have never heard anyone even mildly questioning this curb on our liberties.

Norman strikes again!

After the magisterial essays on World War IV, Norman Podhoretz, the former longtime editor of Commentary, turns to another pressing question: Who is lying about Iraq?
Among the many distortions, misrepresentations, and outright falsifications that have emerged from the debate over Iraq, one in particular stands out above all others. This is the charge that George W. Bush misled us into an immoral and/or unnecessary war in Iraq by telling a series of lies that have now been definitively exposed.
What makes this charge so special is the amazing success it has enjoyed in getting itself established as a self-evident truth even though it has been refuted and discredited over and over again by evidence and argument alike. In this it resembles nothing so much as those animated cartoon characters who, after being flattened, blown up, or pushed over a cliff, always spring back to life with their bodies perfectly intact. Perhaps, like those cartoon characters, this allegation simply cannot be killed off, no matter what.
Do read the whole thing, it is well worth your time.

Bush finally recognizes his great results

Good news from the Wall Street Journal:
A year ago the Bush administration tried to destroy Ahmed Chalabi's chances of ever leading a free Iraq. This week the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister has meetings scheduled with Bush Cabinet members Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and John Snow, as well as National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. What gives?
Let's hope it's a sign of maturity from a Bush foreign policy team that realizes it erred badly last year. Mr. Chalabi's political success in Iraq since that fiasco is impossible to ignore. The same man once derided as an "exile" with "no support" in Iraq brokered the Shiite alliance that dominated the country's free elections in January. Though a secular Shiite who believes in separation of mosque and state, Mr. Chalabi may be the Iraqi politician most trusted by Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. He gets along well with Kurdish leaders and has influential Sunni allies as well, including Iraqi Defense Minister Saddoun Dulaimi.
In his current role, Mr. Chalabi was a central figure in drafting Iraq's new constitution, where he successfully pushed for language to create an Alaska-style trust to share oil revenues equally among Iraqi citizens. And he assumed special responsibility for oil and infrastructure protection, resulting in what one observer called "the highest crude oil exports in anyone's memory."
After being villified by one and all, Chalabi has managed to expertly navigate Iraq's fraught political waters. It is gratifying that a believer in Western democratic values and a friend of Israel has democratically reached such a position of influence in an Arab and Muslim country. I'm pleased the Bush administration is recognizing the fruit of its own efforts.
Plus I am a big fan of the oil trust idea for the Iraqi people. Keep up the good work!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Waiting for the other shoe to drop

I'm not sure what to think of this (via Instapundit):
It seems too good to be true: a new source of near-limitless power that costs virtually nothing, uses tiny amounts of water as its fuel and produces next to no waste. If that does not sound radical enough, how about this: the principle behind the source turns modern physics on its head.
Randell Mills, a Harvard University medic who also studied electrical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, claims to have built a prototype power source that generates up to 1,000 times more heat than conventional fuel. Independent scientists claim to have verified the experiments and Dr Mills says that his company, Blacklight Power, has tens of millions of dollars in investment lined up to bring the idea to market. And he claims to be just months away from unveiling his creation.
According to Dr Mills, there can be only one explanation: quantum mechanics must be wrong. "We've done a lot of testing. We've got 50 independent validation reports, we've got 65 peer-reviewed journal articles," he said. "We ran into this theoretical resistance and there are some vested interests here. People are very strong and fervent protectors of this [quantum] theory that they use."
But Prof Maas and Randy Booker, a UNC physicist, left under no doubt about Dr Mill's claims. "All of us who are not quantum physicists are looking at Dr Mills's data and we find it very compelling," said Prof Maas. "Dr Booker and I have both put our professional reputations on the line as far as that goes."
Here is the company's website. Is this going to be huge? Or is it just a big mistake/hoax? It certainly sounds too good to be true. But then why would other scientists corroborate the research? The earliest mention I could find of this project in the MSM appeared in the Village Voice in December 1999. Well, I guess we'll find out over the next few months.

The war we are losing

I have always thought that most Europeans underestimate the importance of military might as a component of what constitutes "power" in this world. Thankfully the United States (and not some crackpot dictator) has the upper hand in this domain, and it would be nice if Continental Europe also pulled its act together on this front as its increased bargaining power on the world stage would (hopefully) be a force for the good.
However, and there is simply no way to stress this enough, in this day and age it is at least equally important to unleash intellectual fire-power. Unfortunately this aspect has been woefully neglected by the Bush administration. As Anne Applebaum noted a while back there are millions of pro-Americans in the world, and they are under siege. Additionally there are millions of freedom-loving and fair-minded people who are in thrall to misconceptions that can and must be rectified. The US needs to decisively reach out to these people.
Stephen Green of Vodkapundit brilliantly makes the case (via Instapundit):
Four years into the Terror War, "What's the most important element for victory?" is a question long overdue. It's also a question our national leadership, nearly all of our intellectuals, and none of our mainstream media have yet to answer.
So what does matter? What is the postmodern arm of decision?
Previously, I wrote that in order to win the Terror War, we must "prove the enemy ideology to be ineffective," just as we did in the Cold War. In that conflict, we did so in three ways: by fighting where we had to while maintaining our freedoms, but most importantly by out-growing the Communist economies. I argued that similar methods would win the Terror War. We'd have to fight, we'd have to maintain our freedoms, but the primary key to victory in the Current Mess is taking the initiative.
What I didn't see then - but what I do see today - is what "taking the initiative" really means.
It means, fighting a media war. It means, turning the enemy's one great strength into our own. Broadcast words, sounds, and images are the arm of decision in today's world.
And if that assessment is correct, then we're losing this war and badly.
Germany lost WW I because they couldn't match our manpower. They lost again in 1945, because they couldn't match Allied productive might. We could very well lose this war, because our leadership has so far failed to recognize the power of the media. We might also lose because our enemies are oftentimes more media-savvy than we are. We could lose also because our mainstream media seems to find terrorists less unattractive than having a conservative Texan in the White House.
Do read the whole thing. I think the blogosphere is having an increasingly positive effect: keeping the US media in check. The real problem is abroad. It is nice to see that Condoleezza Rice is travelling a lot, but it is simply not enough. The US Diplomatic Corps needs an overhaul more than the CIA does: it needs to become an army of highly educated, trained and motivated individuals who are deeply involved in the public discourse in the countries where they serve and relentlessly make the argument in favour of the United States. They have to be well spoken in the local language, meticulously briefed about the cultural intricacies and they have to be ready and willing to wage an all-out intellectual and media war on the immense number of distortions and lies that appear even in the Western media (not to mention elsewhere). At the very least this means intensive letter-writing, constant television appearances, debates and speeches.
Nobody in his right mind would suggest that an individual deserves to become a high-ranking officer in the army because he made generous campaign contributions. In the same way it must become absolutely unacceptable to use this criterion to make ambassadorial appointments (see the third paragraph here). Here is an excellent example of a breathtaking incident which incredibly elicited no response from the embassy, and no wonder: the ambassador doesn't even speak the local language!
From personal experience I can say that most of the anti-Americanism I encounter (and there is a lot) is the fruit of the subtle, but relentless, stream of inaccuracies that people absorb from the media. The US cannot rely on amateurish bloggers (or the rare journalist) to make the case for it. It needs to realize the incredible importance of having worldwide "public opinion" on its side, and mount an intensive and professional campaign to reach that goal. Obviously in some countries this will be harder than in others, and there will always be some intensely unpopular policies, but I have the feeling that there are really a lot of people who can be influenced, if not to change their minds, at least to see Ameica's point of view, and realize that most of the time Americans are not war-mongering crazed fools. And in a world with an increasing number of democracies public opinion matters. A lot.

Sleeping at the wheel

Yesterday I wrote that IMHO the Paris riots have less to do with Islamism and intifada-like wars of attrition than with the lack of integration. Neo-neocon has prescient comments that cannot be dismissed:
So, are we in a clash of civilizations, or aren't we? Clive is always worth reading and listening to, and I think he is correct to ask the question, and to say the answer is not a simple "either-or."
But sometimes the answer is "maybe," or "yes, and." Unfortunately, I don't think we are in any position to say for sure that we are not in such a clash, much as I would like this to be the case. The "fog of riots" has not lifted. And although there may be no point in being apocalyptic (not Now, at least), I don't think it's a good idea to dismiss the "clash" possibility out of hand.
Reasonable people may differ on this, of course. But I tend to think the evidence is quite strong that if we aren't in a clash of civilizations at the moment, we are at least teetering on the brink. Whether or not these particular riots fall into the category "clash of civilizations" remains to be seen. But pundits and bloggers and people in the street are going to rush in to fill the vacuum of knowledge with theories, and the idea that there are Islamic fundamentalist supremicists behind this, pulling at least some of the strings (directly or indirectly, intially or presently), is not an entirely unreasonable one.
Do read the whole thing. Another interesting aspect that is worth noting (via ¡No Pasarán!, who has the translation):
But, like criminals always leaving their mark, the riots revealed their true objective through their targets: social schools, cribs, centers, community gyms, etc...
In other words they were mainly buildings representing the French Republic, those which symbolized the "policy of integration" the most were most prominently attacked.
These riots didn’t take place because "France refuses to integrate its Moslems", [or some such blather], but exactly for the opposite reason: because France tries to integrate its Moslems.
Whatever ends up being the significance of the riots, it is clear that the French government should have reacted more forcefully and earlier. Here is why it hasn't:
Sarkozy's decision to send the police back to the suburbs which had been abandoned by previous governments was resented by the "youths" who now rule there. That this would lead to riots was inevitable. Sarkozy knew it, and so did Chirac, Villepin and the others. Sarkozy intended to crack down hard on the rioters. If the French government had sent in the army last week, it would have been responding to the thugs in a language they understand: force. And the riots would long have ceased.
What happened instead was that Sarkozy's "colleagues" in government used the riots as an excuse to turn on the "immigrant" in their own midst. Paris is well worth a mass, King Henri IV of France once said. Bringing down Nicolas Sarközy de Nagy-Bocsa is well worth a riot, King Chirac must have thought. Contrary to the normal French policy in dealing with trouble makers, the authorities decided to use a soft approach. Chirac and his designated crown prince Villepin blamed Sarkozy’s "disrespectful rhetoric" – such as calling thugs thugs – for having detonated the explosive situation in the suburbs. Dominique de Villepin stepped in and took over the task of restoring calm from Sarkozy. While the latter was told to shut up and keep a low profile, Villepin began a "dialogue" with the rioters. As a result the riots have spilled over from Paris to other French cities. Do not be surprised if this French epidemic soon crosses France’s borders into the North African areas surrounding cities in Belgium and the Netherlands.
Also see this. I wonder if this political trick is spinning out of control? And what do the French people think?
Many protesters have focused their anger on Mr Sarkozy, the early favourite for the 2007 presidential elections, who said he wanted to "vacuum clean" the suburbs of "scum" and "riff raff".
However, the ambitious interior minister hit back, citing in an article in Le Monde a 17 per cent drop in crime rates over the past four years. "Obviously, if the criminals and thugs do not like our security policy, the French support it," he said.
In spite of the growing unrest, Mr Sarkozy's popularity has survived relatively unscathed. According to an opinion poll published this weekend for Le Parisien newspaper, 57 per cent of people had a positive image of Mr Sarkozy.
Good. Meanwhile, I am in Milan at the moment, but I will be going back to Brussels this week. I wonder what I'll find?

Post Scriptum:
Adloyada has an excellent roundup with personal observations:
When I was in Paris [in 1960], I was pretty much left to my own devices by my hostess and took to walking across the city, much as I had done when I acquired a taste for truanting afternoons in London in my previous year at school. I found I constantly got picked up by young Algerian men. It eventually penetrated my consciousness that the reason they made such a beeline for me was that no French girl would so much as look at them, and they were desperate for some sort of social and preferably sexual outlet.
I did begin spontaneously to think about what led to this state of affairs. Previously I would have thought of it as the product of something we in those days called prejudice. But I worked out for myself that it was more than that. There was clearly a system of importing the poor and desperate of actual or former colonies as cheap labour, and that the system would discard this labour as soon as it had served its purpose.
Do read the whole thing.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Growing up

Kathleen Parker answers Maureen Dowd's questions (via GR):
Men haven't turned away from smart, successful women because they're smart and successful. More likely they've turned away because the feminist movement that encouraged women to be smart and successful also encouraged them to be hostile and demeaning to men.
Returning to Dowd's original question, yes, the feminist movement was a hoax inasmuch as it told only half the story. As even feminist matriarch Betty Friedan eventually noted, feminism failed to recognize that even smart, successful women also want to be mothers. It's called Nature. Social engineering can no more change that fact than mechanical engineering can change the laws of physics.
I would never insist that women have to have children to be fully female. Some women aren't mother material - and some men don't deserve the children they sire. But something vital and poignant happens when one's own interests become secondary to the more compelling needs of children.
You grow up. In the process of sacrificing your infant-self for the real baby, you stop obsessing and fixating on the looking glass. Instead, you focus your energies on trying to raise healthy boys and girls to become smart, successful men and women.
I couldn't agree more: it has always been my impression that it is (at least partly) because many Italians seem to have lost the aspiration to dedicate themselves to something other than their own comfort and amusement that we have such dramatic social and demographic problems.
And don't misunderstand me: I strongly believe that women should not feel at all obligated to stop working in order to have children. However this doesn't seem to be Italy's problem: not only do we not have enough children, but Italian women also don't work as much as elsewhere (no doubt through no fault of their own). The current US total fertility rate stands at 2.08, the highest in the Western world and close to the replacement rate of 2.1, while Italy's is 1.28 - way under the replacement rate. At the same time in 2004 the female employment rate in the US was 65.4%, while Italy's stood at 45.2%. What gives?

Intent and opportunity

Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, of Hitler's Willing Executioners fame, argues (via GayandRight) that the Iranian rhetoric is much more dangerous than most people recognize:
For genocide to occur, two components must be present, intent and opportunity, with intent often long preceding the acquisition of the means and circumstances necessary to implement it. In South-West Africa, the intent could not have been clearer, and the opportunity was also present, given the overwhelming German military superiority. The Germans systematically slaughtered three-quarters of the Herero people. Hitler had already articulated his wish to "exterminate" the Jews in 1920, but not until the German conquest of Europe did the opportunity exist for him to carry out his wishes, which he promptly did, murdering 6 million.
How has the world reacted to Mr. Ahmadinejad, von Trotta and Hitler's rhetorical heir? With the exception of the Palestinian Authority's spokesman, the leaders of Arab and other Islamic countries have been silent. Their countries' newspapers, with tacit approval, have printed on their front pages Mr. Ahmadinejad's speech without commentary. In the democratic world, political leaders and editorialists alike have roundly condemned Mr. Ahmadinejad's words. Yet the critical questions remain unanswered: How seriously should we take Mr. Ahmadinejad's statements? More specifically, what is the relationship of Mr. Ahmadinejad's words to any real intent? And will intent find opportunity?
Well worth reading.

Breathtaking dishonesty

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent editorial on the Democrats' withdrawal from reality:
What Mr. Reid's pose is "really all about" is the emergence of the Clare Boothe Luce Democrats. We're referring to the 20th-century playwright, and wife of Time magazine founder Henry Luce, who was most famous for declaring that Franklin D. Roosevelt had "lied us into war" with the Nazis and Tojo. So intense was the hatred of FDR among some Republicans that they held fast to this slander for years, with many taking their paranoia to their graves.
Do read the whole thing. Meanwhile the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reveals that famed former Marine Sgt. Jimmy Massey has been lying for all these months (via Gateway Pundit):
For more than a year, former Marine Staff Sgt. Jimmy Massey has been telling anybody who will listen about the atrocities that he and other Marines committed in Iraq.
In scores of newspaper, magazine and broadcast stories, at a Canadian immigration hearing and in numerous speeches across the country, Massey has told how he and other Marines recklessly, sometimes intentionally, killed dozens of innocent Iraqi civilians.
Among his claims:
  • Marines fired on and killed peaceful Iraqi protesters.
  • Americans shot a 4-year-old Iraqi girl in the head.
  • A tractor-trailer was filled with the bodies of civilian men, women and children killed by American artillery.
Massey's claims have gained him celebrity. Last month, Massey's book, "Kill, Kill, Kill," was released in France. His allegations have been reported in nationwide publications such as Vanity Fair and USA Today, as well as numerous broadcast reports. Earlier this year, he joined the anti-war bus tour of Cindy Sheehan, and he's spoken at Cornell and Syracuse universities, among others.
News organizations worldwide published or broadcast Massey's claims without any corroboration and in most cases without investigation. Outside of the Marines, almost no one has seriously questioned whether Massey, a 12-year veteran who was honorably discharged, was telling the truth.
He wasn't.
Each of his claims is either demonstrably false or exaggerated - according to his fellow Marines, Massey's own admissions, and the five journalists who were embedded with Massey's unit, including a reporter and photographer from the Post-Dispatch and reporters from The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal.
Read this article too, which asks how such a hoax could have happened.
And when does the New York Times plan on apologizing for this? Don't hold your breath.

Needed: honesty and seriousness

There is some debate over whether the Paris riots are in fact an Islamist intifada-style phenomenon or rather a result of the failure of the French state to integrate its significant immigrant minorities. While the Islamist angle should not be ignored (via Instapundit), Greg Djerejian of The Belgravia Dispatch makes a solid and nuanced argument for the latter:
The violence the roving gangs of youth are engaging in is borne of various causes and grievances. This profound alienation needs to be analyzed, to be sure. And at the end of the day, while there is some room for jihadist radicals to play on these sentiments to lure more towards piety, the book and perhaps terror--what this is really about is not some religiosity-infused intifada on the Seine but bread and butter issues of jobs and racism. Sarkozy is right that so called positive discrimination (affirmative action), at least in calibrated fashion, needs to be experimented with. But he is also at least equally right that criminals, even young ones just 18, must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Stoking mayhem cannot be rewarded. Such 'chantage'-like tactics should not be in the cards. And yet, there is reason for some of the fury, and I'd hazard most of it stems from unemployment in the 30% zone among many in their early 20s. This is likely the largest variable that must be addressed head-on, but also, let us be honest here, the feelings of 'otherness' that stem from largely North African communities believing they are viewed by many as, more or less, barbarians at the gates--too near the prim and proper bourgeois districts of the fabled capital.
Meanwhile Steven Plaut has an amusing, tongue-in-cheek proposal (via Transterrestrial Musings):
Well, now that the French are experiencing their own intifada, we suggest that they resolve the problem using the very same plan that they have been trying for decades to impose upon Israel. Yes, comrades, it is time to implement the Land for Peace Plan, Paris style. Here it is:
The French Solution: Land for Peace
So after leading the Solidarity-with-the-Baathists movement in Europe during the recent Gulf War, France is now enjoying its own intifada by urban Moslem resistance fighters, in suburban Paris! Of course, this is all on TOP of France's long history of supporting Islamist fascism and Palestinian terrorism.
Though I think French foreign policy is not the key aspect in understanding the current riots he does make several valid (and funny) points. At any rate Greg Djerejian concludes his excellent piece by explaining what the way forward should be:
The government must muster up unity and resolve and, yes, signal compassion too. The message must be that such criminal behavior is beyond the pale, and will be strictly prosecuted--but also that the political class takes some responsibility for its manifest weakness in, for far too long, simply wishing, somehow, that the problems of the banlieu would just go away. Yes, it's beyond time to face some hard realities. No more beating up on the lame Anglo-Saxon 'model' then, or cowboy brutes in Mesopotamia killing innocents, and so on. It's time to shine a strong light right there at home, put aside the defensive, diversionary pseudo-narratives and deceptions, and get to the hard work of putting the nation on a better course (particularly the dismal employment picture). If not, openings to more radical avenues will likely result--whether of a rightist or leftist variety (more likely the former, I'd say). Oh, and I suspect talk of racial inequalities being so atrociously bad in the U.S., not an insignificant talking point in Parisian salons around the time of Katrina, perhaps such talk will abate a tad given recent events.
Let's hope the French government pulls its act together.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

You call this reporting?

In the past few days there has been some talk about this story:
The U.S. Senate added language barring inhumane treatment of enemy combatants to legislation that sets military policy, the second major defense measure the chamber has amended with this provision.
The amendment sponsored by Arizona Republican Senator John McCain passed by a voice vote. It was attached to the Senate's fiscal 2006 defense spending bill Oct. 6 by a vote of 90-9. That bill is being negotiated with members of the U.S. House, including Republicans whose support is in question.
McCain said his intent is to prevent abuses such as those at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He vowed today that his measure would be "on every vehicle that goes through this body" until it's enacted into law. "It's not going away," he said on the Senate floor. "This issue is incredibly harmful to the United States of America and our image throughout the world."
President George W. Bush threatened to veto the entire defense spending bill over McCain's amendment. More recently, the White House offered to go along if Central Intelligence Agency agents working overseas were exempt from any restrictions. The CIA is holding accused terrorists at secret prisons in Eastern Europe, The Washington Post reported Nov. 2.
McCain said he had "no idea" why the White House was pushing the CIA exemption. That loophole "would be totally unacceptable," McCain said earlier this week, adding he's communicated that view to Vice President Dick Cheney.
This amendment seems to be an excellent idea, and since the more recent vote was a unanimous voice vote in favor I am confident it will pass and easily withstand any possible vetoes. Wide support has been expressed across the political spectrum (only 9 senators voted against the provision when it was first proposed on October 6th), and hawks in the blogosphere have criticised the Bush administration's reluctance to approve the provision (see this roundup). I would also like to note that Senator McCain is a hawkish, pro-Iraq War Republican.
In the great tradition of Italian journalism (ha!), the first page of today's Corriere della Sera carries this laughably clumsy and totally dishonest article on the subject. It should be noted that Corriere della Sera, which has the highest circulation among national newspapers, is widely considered the most sober and centrist daily in Italy. What follows is my (meticulous, if I may say so myself) translation of the entire article:
The latest battle of the American Vice President Dick Cheney
License to torture for CIA agents
US Senators: No more violent intimidation of terrorist-detainees
But Bush’s deputy: Immunity to avoid attacks

November 6, 2005
By Guido Olimpio

The American Vice-President Dick Cheney has asked the Senate to grant immunity to CIA agents in case they should be compelled to use force to avoid an attack. "Cruel, inhuman, and degrading" treatment would therefore be possible in emergency situations. Drastic measures, which on the other hand some sentors would like to abolish.
The standard bearer of this position is the Arizona senator John McCain, who at the time of the Vietnam War spent a long period as a prisoner. The initiative represents the attempt to reverse President Bush’s post-9/11 decision that determined that the Geneva convention on the treatment of prisoners does not apply to terrorists. A command that has encouraged a no-holds-barred campaign against extremists, whether real or alleged. This is the origin of the prison in Guantanamo in Cuba, the proliferation of secret prisons across the world (the "Hotel Californias") where the CIA has sent its prisoners and the recourse to the practice of "special deliveries." A member of Al Qaeda is caught in a country and deported by American spies to another state, where they know how to make him talk. This is what happened in February 2003 in Milan with the imam Abu Omar, who was kidnapped and transferred to Egypt.
But what was supposed to become a precisely aimed response turned into a generalized threat. As several agents have admitted, only few of the detainees had something important to reveal.
But what are the methods used? Let’s see them in brief:
  1. To overset the biological clock of the detainee
  2. Sleep deprivation
  3. Exposure to extreme temperatures, i.e. forcing the detainee to live in the cold
  4. Light always on in the prison cell, music at high volumes for days
  5. Manipulation of nourishment
  6. To keep the prisoner standing or on his heels for hours
  7. Prolonged isolation
  8. The "submarine:" the detainee is submerged in water tanks
  9. Possible presence of dogs (an impure animal for Muslims)
  10. The use of female soldiers during interrogations
The revelations of violence at Abu Ghraib (Iraq) have intensified the push for change. But the more conservative circles have not stood idly by. A key figure is David S. Addington, a Cheney adviser who was recently nominated Chief of Staff to replace Lewis Libby, swept away by CIA-gate. The hawk nosedived on an official who dared to refer to the Geneva Conference: "He ate him for lunch" [trans. note: i.e. "He went off the deep end"]. A harshness that is not fortuitous. It was Addington who established the legal aspects of the post-September 11th strategy and today he is one of the few left in the trenches.
I am simply flabbergasted (though I shouldn't be). This is the kind of trash that is printed in the most serious paper in the country? No wonder people are misinformed!
How can any serious individual call this "reporting"? The author makes a slew of statements and accusations, without even hinting at a source, as if they were established fact and common knowledge (which they are not). He fails to mention that the US Senate unanimously backed the provision banning inhumane treatment and he does not explain that it is far from clear that the Geneva Conventions actually apply to Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters (the question the US Senate is considering is whether the US should extend some protections to them nonetheless). Not to mention the fact that some of the treatments mentioned hardly seem to be torture (prolonged isolation?).
The article is accompanied by this rather imaginative "diagram:"

The text on the bottom left reads:
The 'Treatments:' Beatings with sticks, electric shocks, sleep deprivation and hot-cold treatment: the detainee is held in a room with the heating at the highest level and is then doused with freezing water.
The red box in the upper right says:
150: This is the number of terrorists with ties to Al Qaeda that have been transferred by the CIA to secret prisons.
This is utter fantasy! Beatings? Electrocutions? I am always the first to encourage whistle-blowers and full investigations, but who is making these accusations? Have they been refuted? Whatever happened to showing both sides of an issue? How can this possibly be considered an accurate and honest representation of the issues at hand?
In all seriousness I wonder: Are we reading the National Enquirer or a serious paper?