Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Foxes and bus drivers

I’ve mentioned before that I live in Bloomsbury, near Russell Square, notable for being the location of the British Museum. In fact the museum faces away from the square and a short quaint street called Montague Street leads from Russell Square to Great Russell Street (see map) which is where the grand museum entrance actually is.
For some reason whenever I pass through Montague Street I seem to have peculiar experiences. The other night I was on my way home on the 7 bus, which comes from Marble Arch/Oxford Street and reaches Russell Square (photo source).

Just as it was turning into Montague Street we hit a pedestrian quite hard, sending him flying to the pavement. Initially I was so shocked I couldn’t move, but the guy we hit got up almost immediately and seemed to be fine. Ironically the guy who had been hit apologised, while the bus driver – who hadn’t even bothered to ask him if he was all right – demanded his name and address for insurance reasons, as the impact had partially shattered the front window of the bus (must have been a hardheaded guy!). It's not the first time that I have noticed this attitude of entitlement that drivers in London have, which, for all its chaotic driving, I have rarely seen in Italy. At any rate, when the guy himself insisted he was fine, I walked the rest of the short distance home, and since then I have been extra careful when I cross the street!
Last night I was walking down Montague Street again, and as I approached the high fence that runs along the side of the British Museum I was stopped short when a fox jumped out onto the sidewalk from between the poles. I was flabbergasted: I guess Americans who are used to squirrels, racoons and the like in their cities would think nothing of it, but in continental Europe’s much more densely populated centers all you expect are pigeons and maybe rats. However there seems to be quite a large population of foxes living right here in London. Here is a picture of one:

Anyway, he (she?) ignored me, calmly walked to the edge of the sidewalk and was about to cross the street when a car came and he thought better of it. Then he turned around and went back to where he came from. Maybe he too had seen the guy being hit by the bus!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Weapons of Mass Destruction in Syria?

The New York Sun had a very interesting article yesterday:
The man who served as the no. 2 official in Saddam Hussein's air force says Iraq moved weapons of mass destruction into Syria before the war by loading the weapons into civilian aircraft in which the passenger seats were removed.
The Iraqi general, Georges Sada, makes the charges in a new book, "Saddam's Secrets," released this week. He detailed the transfers in an interview yesterday with The New York Sun.

"There are weapons of mass destruction gone out from Iraq to Syria, and they must be found and returned to safe hands," Mr. Sada said. "I am confident they were taken over."
Mr. Sada's comments come just more than a month after Israel's top general during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Moshe Yaalon, told the Sun that Saddam "transferred the chemical agents from Iraq to Syria."
Do read the whole article, which is quite balanced and thorough. Undoubtedly the book will make waves in the political sphere and I certainly hope we will soon get a chance to see for ourselves whether these weapons have in fact been stored in Syria. Mark in Mexico has an excellent roundup (via Instapundit and Michelle Malkin).

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hamas in power

Anyone who has seen the news today will know that Hamas has apparently won a resounding victory in yesterday’s Palestinian elections. There seems to be a lot of justifiable hand-wringing over this regrettable result. Nonetheless I feel it is not as tragic as people make out. This is not to say that Hamas is in any way acceptable to me, but I do feel increased democracy is still a step in the right direction. That said, it should be noted that Hamas is a despicable Islamist terrorist organization, which advocates Israel’s destruction outright. Meryl Yourish highlights their repeatedly and explicitly stated contemptible positions.
The White House has indicated its unwillingness (link requires subs.) to deal with them:
President Bush said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal Wednesday that he won't deal with any Hamas leaders until the organization renounces its call for the elimination of Israel. Whether Hamas is democratically elected or not, Mr. Bush said, the U.S. won't deal with the group. Hamas has claimed responsibility for many attacks on Israel over the years and continues to deny its right to exist.
"A political party, in order to be viable, is one that professes peace, in my judgment, in order that it will keep the peace," Mr. Bush said. "And so you're getting a sense of how I'm going to deal with Hamas if they end up in positions of responsibility. And the answer is: Not until you renounce your desire to destroy Israel will we deal with you," he said.
There is even talk of an interruption of US aid to the Palestinians:
McCormack also would not say whether the United States would withhold aid to the Palestinians if Hamas is in the government, although other U.S. officials have indicated that could happen.
Clearly dealing with the new Palestinian leadership will be tricky, particularly for Israeli Prime Minsiter Ehud Olmert. However I think one should not underestimate the effect that reaching power can have on what has until now been a "rebel." Hopefully their aura in the eyes of the Palestinians will quickly tarnish when faced with practical everyday concerns and failures. Additionally the organization itself is liable to inch towards "mainstream" at least to some extent simply as a result of coming to power. This will no doubt be a slow process, but for it to have even a slight chance of success Hamas must have a strong sense that it won’t get anywhere on the international scene as long as it does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and renounces armed conflict.
Until (or while) this happens Israel needs to do two important things, which will be difficult to pull off simultaneously.
  • It needs to respond militarily to attacks from the Palestinians, and in particular to institutional terrorism from Hamas, giving the strongest signals possible that it will not tolerate any escalation of violence.
  • At the same time, upon completion of the security fence (which was an excellent idea) next year, Israel needs to withdraw from most of the West Bank unilaterally, whilst keeping hold of Jerusalem, which is something that – it seems – is already in the cards.
Meticulously applying these policies, coupled with intransigence from the international community in the face of the current goals and methods of Hamas (which, as far as the EU is concerned, unfortunately cannot be counted on as much as one would wish), in addition to the continued democratization and increased transparency in the Palestinian leadership (which is to be welcomed no matter what the electoral results), will hopefully augur an improved situation in that part of the world.

Post Scriptum:
Harry's Place and OxBlog, who is in Gaza at the moment (via Instapundit) make some interesting points:
It's not clear anyone wanted this, least of all Hamas, who in assuming the administration of the Palestinian national authority's creaking and often corrupt bureaucracy single-handed in a moment when its sole lifeline of European and other international support appears threatened, may just have stumbled into the biggest molasses patch the Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyyah has ever faced. Unlike the Lib Dems of 1985, Hamas did not go to its constituencies to prepare for government. It had prepared for a coalition, or possibly pristine opposition, but not this.
The mood here, so recently jubilant, suddenly is somber. In Ramallah we are promised a press conference at 7, with final results, and Hamas has said it will declare its intentions after. Does Hamas continue to moderate in its now desperate need to keep foreign aid flowing? It may still yet form a coalition, to provide internationally palatable, unbearded, faces for Europeans and Americans to talk to. Khaled Mashaal has telephoned Abu Mazen to offer a coalition partnership; while Saeb Erekat indicated Fateh would go into opposition, Nabil Sha'ath said Fateh leaders would meet at 5 to determine their future. Watch this space.
We certainly will.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Slovakia leads the way

This week's The Business carries an interesting article by Cato's Marian Tupy on how Slovakia is leading the way on privatizing pensions:
Politicians in Europe and America who remain in denial about the huge black holes at the heart of their state pension systems should take a look at the remarkable reforms pushed through by Slovakia. That tiny Eastern European country, already famed for its flat tax, launched its pension reform on 1 January last year.
Under Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda’s new ­system, Slovakia’s 2.2m workers were given a choice: they could either remain fully reliant on the pay-as-you-go pension system or take a part of their social security contributions and invest it in personal retirement accounts managed by a number of different investment funds.
Social security contributions in Slovakia amount to 28.75% of gross wages. Workers can now put 9% into their personal retirement accounts and 9% goes to the old system. The balance covers other types of insurance or administrative costs.
So far, roughly 1.1m people, or 50% of the eligible workers, opted for the personal retirement account, and it is expected that an additional 300,000 to 400,000 people will switch before the 30 June deadline.
Read the whole thing. The transition seems to have been managed quite effectively - convincing the public with clear arguments and giving workers choice in the amount of risk they want to take on - and hopefully it will be widely emulated.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Gun and self-defense rights: inching forward

There is no love lost between me and the rather absurd Lega Nord (Northern League) party, which is part of the current Italian coalition government, but this time I have to hand it to them. Finally some sense from the Berlusconi government:
Italy's parliament approved on Tuesday a law that allows citizens to shoot robbers in self-defence, a measure that critics say will encourage people to take the law into their own hands.
The reform was championed by the populist Northern League party, which regularly calls for the castration of rapists.
It authorises the use of guns and knives as legitimate defence by victims of robberies and break-ins in their own house, workplace or in a shop, whether it is to protect someone's life or belongings.
"Today criminals will have more to fear while there will be fewer problems for honest people," said Justice Minister Roberto Castelli, who belongs to the Northern League.
I have mentioned before how I feel about gun control, and the same goes for self-defense. This recent "Quote of the day" from Samizdata sums it up perfectly:
Last century over 170 million people were murdered by their own governments, and your government doesn't want you to have a gun. Doesn't that bother you just a little?
- Unknown
Barely anybody seems to have noticed this reform abroad, but the Italian leftist intelligentsia is up in arms over this new "Far West-style" law (link in Italian), and the headlines are screaming in indignation (Corriere della Sera, la Repubblica, l'Unità, La Stampa etc.). What a bunch of clowns: do we want to end up like the Brits?
After the gun-control referendum in Brazil (see Foreign Policy for background; requires subs.), is it another step towards the next international human right? Let's hope so.

Invasion or reform?

The BBC has released an extensive new worldwide poll, which brings good news:
Iraqis and Afghans are among the most optimistic people in the world when it comes to their economic future, a new survey for the BBC suggests.
In Afghanistan, 70% say their own circumstances are improving, and 57% believe that the country overall is on the way up. In Iraq, 65% believe their personal life is getting better, and 56% are upbeat about the country's economy.
Both Instapundit and Normblog quite rightly make comments focusing on Afghanistan and Iraq. But what tickled me most was something else:
Italians join people in Zimbabwe and DR Congo as the most downcast about their future, according to the poll of 37,500 people in 32 nations.
Should I be advocating regime change? Maybe Italy needs some foreign power to invade, impose a flat-tax and get rid of all the excess regulation.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The New Statesman and the KGB

Oliver Kamm (via Harry's Place) points out an interesting illustration of the breathtaking intellectual dishonesty of the New Statesman (the British weekly), in the context of a review of John Lewis Gaddis's new book The Cold War:
Gott believes by contrast - erroneously, and with scant evidence, but as is his reviewer's prerogative - that Gaddis's book "is an unashamedly American and triumphalist version of the long US-Soviet quarrel that broke out after the Second World War". He declares, having presumably consulted one or two of the relevant population: "Few British historians would accept it uncritically." And he depicts three schools of thought regarding the Cold War, of which he places himself in the Via Media: "A third group, to which I have long belonged, thought that the entire contest was a huge mistake, totally misconceived and possibly fabricated, both expensive and dangerous."
And here we return to my initial point. Nowhere in the review do you find the slightest hint or allusion - other than his claim that "the much-derided [Berlin] wall brought a measure of stability to the European scene" - that Gott was scarcely a disinterested party remote from the partisans of both camps. He in fact received covert payments from the KGB. When this was revealed in 1994, Gott resigned as Literary Editor of The Guardian and penned an apologia for the newspaper in which he claimed no harm had come from his activities. It was all a bit of a giggle, in fact: "I enjoyed it."
I would expect nothing less of Richard Gott. But I hope the NS editor, John Kampfner, can be persuaded to state explicitly his reasons for omitting this information (which he certainly knows) from his reviewer's byline.

Put Alitalia out of its misery

I was visiting my parents in Milan over the weekend and I flew back to London yesterday afternoon. Happily, I was not flying Alitalia, which was on strike: on the billboard at Linate I noticed at least two flights to London were cancelled, my heart stopped for a moment before I realized they were Alitalia flights, and then relief washed over me. So easyJet is not only significantly cheaper but actually gets you to your destination.
After years of pointless discussions and constant strikes there is finally talk of letting this useless relic of the past go bankrupt:
Alitalia SpA risks going bankrupt if labour unrest continues, welfare minister Roberto Maroni said in an interview with the daily La Repubblica. Maroni said that the unions oppose the group's relaunch plan, which includes job cuts, and expects the government to block it when the parties meet on Wednesday.
He added that he 'personally' believes that a bankruptcy could be a positive outcome because it would enable a thorough restructure of the airline.
And the original interview (in Italian) is even more explicit: Maroni absolutely rules out any government intervention, particularly more funds, though he says the government is always open to meeting with the unions. I wouldn't even have gone that far: the Italian government needs to sell its 50% shareholding in Alitalia and mind its own business. If Alitalia cannot survive in the open market it will close down and private companies will expand (or new ones will emerge) to serve its routes - providing work for Alitalia's employees. No big deal - and probably cheaper for the customers, who will, no doubt, also get a more pleasant service. The last time I attempted to fly with them, about a decade ago, they called the flight late for hours before admitting that it was cancelled due to some technical problem and we had to take a train (thankfully it was only a five hour train ride). Never got reimbursed, and there are few things I am not willing to do to avoid flying with them.
I admired the resolve of the Swiss government when it refused to bail out Swissair in 2001, even though it didn't have the EU breathing down its neck, as Italy does. It was the honest, efficient and rational thing to do. When will our government follow their lead?
Oh, and one more question: why is Alitalia, which has not made a profit in five years and is strapped for cash, acquiring another bankrupt airline? Does it feel lonely in its misery?

Friday, January 20, 2006

New cure: heart attacks

I bet no one was ever happier of having suffered a heart attack (via Drudge):
A woman who had been blind for 25 years awoke in hospital after suffering a heart attack and found that she could see again. Since 1979, Joyce Urch had lived in a world of shadows and near-darkness, but was astonished to find her sight restored when she came round after being resuscitated. Doctors have been unable to explain what happened, but Mrs Urch, 74, was happy yesterday to put it down to a "miracle".
She said: "When I first came round I just opened my eyes and shouted, 'I can see, I can see.' When I looked in the mirror I said, 'Oh.' I said to [her husband] Eric, 'You've got older haven't you?' But I thought, 'I'm old myself, my husband must be too.'
"The first time you look in the mirror you look at yourself and think, 'Is that really me?' But a lot of things have changed."
Mrs Urch had been unable to see her five children properly since they were young adults and, for the first time, was able to look at her 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
I love stories like this.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Unusual friends

This is cute:
A rodent-eating snake and a hamster have developed an unusual bond at a zoo in the Japanese capital, Tokyo. Their relationship began in October last year, when zookeepers presented the hamster to the snake as a meal.

The rat snake, however, refused to eat the rodent. The two now share a cage, and the hamster sometimes falls asleep sitting on top of his natural foe.
I bet it's hard to cuddle though.

What is going on today?

Osama bin Laden seems to offer a long-term truce:
Arabic TV station al-Jazeera has broadcast an audio tape it says was by the al-Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden. In it the voice warns that new attacks on the US are being planned, but offers a "long-term truce" to the Americans. If confirmed, it would be the first time Bin Laden has been heard from since December 2004.
I'm not sure what he means by offering a truce while threatening attacks. But it certainly sounds like we are winning, which is always good. More "intelligence failures" like the recent one, please. Meanwhile Iran wants compromise (whatever that means):
Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, says his country is ready to compromise over its nuclear programme. He told the BBC that Iran was willing to discuss concerns about an alleged weapons programme and offer guarantees. However, the US and EU said there was no point in further negotiations unless Iran offered fresh proposals.
Which I certainly agree with. As the Financial Times noted the other day, in a piece about feeling sorry for Jack Straw (emphasis mine):
Iran was absent from the meeting, which included representatives of the US, Russia and China. The painfully earnest Mr Straw still asked the Westerner-hating nation for reassurances it does not want the bomb. But what else would a country with 10 per cent of the world's oil reserves want nuclear plants for? Does Mr Straw suppose that Iran, admiring the success of the Sellafield Visitor Centre, wants its own facilities to provide Tehran schoolkids with instructive day trips?
Good point. But Hillary goes even further: she accuses Bush of being a dangerous pacifist:
Sen. Hillary Clinton called for United Nations sanctions against Iran and faulted the Bush administration for "downplaying" the threat Tehran's nuclear program poses.
In an address Wednesday evening at Princeton University, Clinton, D-N.Y., said it was a mistake for the U.S. to have Britain, France and Germany head up nuclear talks with Iran over the past 2 1/2 years. Last week, Iran resumed nuclear research in a move Tehran claims is for energy, not weapons.
"I believe that we lost critical time in dealing with Iran because the White House chose to downplay the threats and chose to outsource the negotiations," Clinton said.
And Chirac says he is willing to hit terrorist states with nuclear weapons:
France said on Thursday it would be ready to use nuclear weapons against any state that carried out a terrorist attack against it, reaffirming the need for its nuclear deterrent.
Deflecting criticism of France's costly nuclear arms program, President Jacques Chirac said security came at a price and France must be able to hit back hard at a hostile state's centers of power and its "capacity to act."
Can you imagine what the outcry in France would have been if nuclear weapons had been used in Afghanistan? Not that I disagree with him (surprisingly!).

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

More babies (and a flat tax too!)

Low birth rates in the Western world are something that has interested and worried me for a long time, but I have always wondered how the state could encourage people to have more children in an effective way and without offending my libertarian instincts. Martin Helme at the Brussels Journal has a neat proposal that certainly appeals to me more than anything else I've heard before:
There is, however, a better solution for countries that wish to encourage people to have more children, namely to establish a tax bonus for raising children. For every child living in their household parents could be given a 5% tax break. In a flat tax system where adults are taxed at 30% of their income, a family with two children would then pay 20% income tax, a family with four children would pay 10%, and parents of six children would pay no income tax at all.
Such a system is simple and easy to administrate. There is little room for abuse of the system and it will act as an incentive to have children. It is also in line with the philosophy of small government. Taxes should not punish people or redistribute wealth.
Do read the whole thing, in which he smoothes away various apparent objections and problems. I quite like the idea of the state rewarding those who produce new wage earners by mitigating the expense incurred by temporarily lowering their tax burden. And I'm all in favor of the flat tax (see here and here).
There is one passage in the essay that will no doubt trigger accusations of racism:
As the purpose of the tax break would be to encourage higher birthrates among Europeans, it is clear that the tax break will apply only to citizens and not to immigrants (though the adopted children of citizens may of course be of foreign origin).
I think it would be perfectly reasonable to apply the tax break only to citizens, as long as it was reasonably straightforward for legal immigrants to become citizens after residing in the host country for a number of years and after having fulfilled a number of reasonable conditions to ensure integration with the surrounding society (including regular employment and language fluency). Clearly, if the process takes decades and is arbitrary, despite goodwill on the part of the immigrant, it would be problematic and wrong to exclude a portion of the long-established national population from this tax-break. At any rate, to me the above sentence does not smack of racism, as I understand "European" to mean any European citizen, whatever their race, religion or cultural background.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

British efficiency?

One of the pleasures of living in London is being able to read The Business, one of my favourite weeklies, in its printed form on Sunday morning (not to mention the fact that I've found out that I can easily get a "complimentary copy" from the Holiday Inn around the corner from my house...).
This week they ran a hair-raising essay on public sector inefficiency by the authors of a new book: The Bumper Guide of Government Waste. It is always a comfort to find like-minded radicals (they advocate, as do the Liberal Democrats, abolishing the Department of Trade and Industry outright!):
Nothing better symbolises the cancerous waste at the heart of government than the exploding bills on consultants. Despite a public sector recruiting binge and 650,000 new employees since 1997, government spending on consultants has almost doubled in the past year to an annual £2bn – equivalent to adding a penny on the rate of income tax or an £80 tax refund for every household.
Everybody in government is at it: the obscure Department for Constitutional Affairs spends £9m on consultants, compared to £700,000 in 1997. One of the consultants is on a daily £2,100 and another is on £800 a day. The Home Office spent £74m hiring 142 consultants in 2004 – a cool half million each. One project involved interviewing 300 drugs dealers and smugglers to assess the business model of the average drugs dealer, perhaps not the best use of taxpayers’ money.
After consultants, the other great government waste scandal is information technology. The bill for recent and continuing projects is estimated to be £30bn. Yet according to the Public Accounts Committee, one in three projects is not checked properly for budget and systems failures to prevent deadlines being missed and plans running over budget. The resulting waste costs taxpayers billions of pounds each year.
Economists worldwide increasingly agree that gross inefficiency is endemic in Britain's public sector. The most rigorous assessment of the problem comes in a European Central Bank working paper by Antonio Afonso, Ludger Schuknecht and Vito Tanzi. They discovered that if Britain's public spending were as efficient as that of the US or Japan, the British government could spend 16% less than it currently does while still producing the same level of public services. Public spending and taxes could be slashed by about £83bn without any deterioration in service quality.
Do read the whole thing. The litany of botched or irrational projects is simply staggering.
However anyone who thinks a revitalised Tory party will, Maggie-style, put some order into this vision of mayhem has another think coming. Yesterday's Financial Times ran an excellent editorial by John O’Sullivan about three groups of people who have been cast under an illusory spell by David Cameron, the new Conservative leader:
The activists are trying to convince themselves that he is pulling off a brilliant trick. He is presenting orthodox Tory ideas in glittering centrist garb – or, if not quite that, adding new ideas to the existing corpus. For instance, asking Bob Geldof to help forge a world anti-poverty programme may be a roundabout way of undermining the Common Agricultural Policy.
This is too hopeful. If Mr Cameron abandoned the Tory policy of "nationalising" the EU common fisheries policy because he did not want to deal with an EU refusal, he will certainly not challenge the CAP. It is also unpersuasive. As the philosophical innovations mount – abandoning choice and selection, embracing "redistribution", endorsing global economic regulation – the case that Mr Cameron is not changing the substance of Toryism becomes ever more implausible. Even if he secretly intended to govern like Margaret Thatcher on entering office, he is creating public expectations that would make such a course impossible.
A smaller group of modernisers, perhaps including Mr Cameron himself, is in the grip of a more subtle delusion. They see the new leader deliberately “dissing” traditionalist supporters in order to win over LibDem voters. And Mr Cameron’s early overtures have paid off to the extent of causing chaos in the LibDem party.
But there are obvious problems with this strategy – notably, that even today there are many more Tory voters than LibDems. To complicate matters further, the strategists seem to think that the nationalist and moral traditionalist voters they want to drive away are relatively few in number. Many indicators suggest otherwise: for instance, in countries with proportional representation such as Germany the economic liberal parties poll many fewer votes than the moral conservatives. Nor do the "dissed" Tories lack somewhere to go. They could stay at home as about 12 per cent of the electorate, including many pre-Major Tories, have done in the last three elections. Otherwise, the UK Independence party, the British National party, even the Labour party under the new flag-waving Gordon Brown would all welcome them.
That leaves the party faithful. The Tories think they have elected Hugh Grant. In doing so, they believe, they have solved a nagging existential problem. Until the mid-1980s, the Tory faithful felt themselves the natural party of the middle class. But since then they have drifted apart as the Tories became Thatcherised and the middle class changed its self-image, political opinions and sensibility – became, in a word, "Curtisland" after Richard Curtis of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Love, Actually, in which a multi-faith, multi-ethnic London middle class swears terribly but is otherwise awfully nice and holds excruciatingly nice opinions. This is a global phenomenon as parties across the English-speaking world change composition with blue-collar workers moving right and others left. But the Tories don’t know that and would like to be accepted in Curtisland once again.
None of these spells, alas, has anything to do with the actual or potential problems facing Britain in the coming decade. To see how the Tories will handle those, we are waiting for Geldof.
Do read the whole thing. Meanwhile the UK Independence Party, apparently having recognised some of these realities seems to be attempting what may be a very smart move for them:
The UK Independence Party, which campaigned for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, is to lay out a domestic agenda aimed at wooing Conservatives dismayed with the leadership of David Cameron.
The party has appointed David Campbell-Bannerman, great nephew of the former Liberal Prime Minister Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, as its new chairman with a remit of conducting a radical libertarian policy review.
It aims to recast itself as a party campaigning for independence from government "whether in Brussels or in Westminster" and believes it can win funding from disgruntled Conservative donors.
After last week’s conferences, UKIP – which finished third in the 2004 European Parliament elections – decided to pitch itself as the only alternative to what it will call the "social democratic consensus" in Westminster.
Its policy review is likely to result in calls for a flat tax in Britain, and full liberalisation of the state health and education apparatus using a voucher system. This will in effect position it as a protest party for libertarian Conservatives.
I don't know much about UKIP, and what little I have heard is not very flattering, but I'm certainly willing to hear them out, and if they have reasonable proposals (and David Cameron completely loses his marbles, as he seems intent on doing) they may prove to be an interesting new entity in British politics. It is a time of upheaval in the UK political spectrum, with the Liberal Democrat leadership race wide open, the sudden "Cameronization" of the Tories and the waning influence of Tony Blair as people look to the expected transfer of power to Gordon Brown at the end of his term. It will be interesting to see how things turn out.

Resignations Italian style

Changing of the guard at the Italian central bank:
New Bank of Italy Governor Mario Draghi formally took over his new job Monday, hoping to restore confidence after a takeover scandal tarnished the central bank's reputation.
Draghi, a respected economist, was appointed by Premier Silvio Berlusconi's government last month after the scandal forced the previous governor, Antonio Fazio, to resign.
What I haven't seen mentioned in the international press is what Fazio is doing now. According to an article in yesterday's Corriere della Sera (in Italian):
Il segretario Fabi chiede lumi sul fatto che a Fazio sia stato messo a disposizione un ufficio al primo piano di villa Huffer (con segretaria e auto blu), dove troverà posto anche il famoso quadro di San Sebastiano che campeggiava dietro la scrivania del suo studio a palazzo Koch, insieme a due casseforti che l'ex governatore avrebbe richiesto. Una decisione che ha creato malumori fra gli impiegati degli uffici collocati in quello stabile di fronte a palazzo Koch, che sarebbero stati invitati a evitare le scale. Per non disturbare Fazio.
Apparently, Fazio, who is under investigation, has been offered an office in Villa Huffer, across the street from the headquarters of the central bank, a secretary and a chauffeured limousine. In addition he has taken with him the oft-mentioned painting of Saint Sebastian that used to hang behind his desk at the central bank and two safes. To add insult to injury the staff at Villa Huffer has been asked to avoid the stairs, so as not to disturb him.
What a joke. Makes me thankful I don't pay taxes in Italy...

Monday, January 16, 2006

Wind energy, anyone?

I just overheard someone making a big deal about how the evil oil companies are not investing enough in wind turbines. I'd say we have the opposite problem. Why does everyone talk of investing more in wind energy? Have we lost our minds?
And wind farms are far from environmentally benign. If you think a conventional power plant occupying 20 acres is an eyesore, think about this: In a January 2000 article in Foreign Affairs, Richard Rhodes and Denis Beller estimate that a 1,000-megawatt wind farm (equivalent to a medium-sized conventional power plant) would occupy 2,000 square miles. That means replacing the 604,000 megawatts of total generating capacity in the United States with windmills would occupy 1.2 million square miles, a third of the country's total land area. And even that wouldn't really work, since windmills typically produce only a third of their rated capacity because the wind doesn't always blow.
Not only do wind farms take up a lot of space; they're also noisy and hazardous to wildlife. While Mother Jones acknowledges this latter concern in passing, Sierra Club representatives have called windmills "cuisinarts of the air" because they kill so many hapless birds that fly into their rotating blades.
There is even evidence that they are harmful to the surrounding environment. These kind of fads would be amusing if they weren't so harmful and didn't guzzle billions of dollars of investment which could be put to better use.

Post Scriptum:
Italy's attitude to nuclear power harks back to the stone age, though there is some vague talk of it being reconsidered (which means - if you want to be optimistic - that we'll start thinking of building an actual power plant in maybe two decades). Meanwhile, UK public opinion seems to be softening (albeit for the wrong reasons), though it is clearly in the grip of some misapprehensions about the viability, cost and side-effects of "renewables." The BBC says:
A majority of people in Britain would accept new nuclear power stations if they helped fight climate change, a poll suggests. Some 54% said they would accept new stations being built for this reason, the Mori survey of 1,500 people for the University of East Anglia found. But in general, more people were against nuclear power than in favour. Nearly 80% thought renewable technologies and energy efficiency were better ways of tackling global warming.
Don't get me wrong, I love renewables just as much as the next person, but we simply must face the fact that they just won't even remotely fulfill our energy needs.

My legs hurt...

I was quite busy at home this weekend, but I made time to further my intensive museum-visiting program. On Saturday I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum, whose vast array of collections are somewhat difficult to categorize but mostly comprise historical and contemporary objects associated with households and buildings in general. The actual building where it is housed is itself worth a visit and I certainly enjoyed myself.
On Sunday I went next door to the Natural History Museum, which was also fascinating, though if you visit museums for the relaxing tranquility, this is not the place for you as it is full of hands-on exhibits, overrun with kids and a lot of the stuff shown is not for the squeamish. At any rate I only got through the ground floor of the Life Galleries, leaving the upper floors and all the Earth Galleries for another time.
After that I walked home, which considering I had to get from South Kensington to Bloomsbury took quite a while but was also scenic: past Harrod's and Hyde Park Corner, along the south side of Green Park to Buckingham Palace and down Constitution Hill, where (I found out from this week's Time Out) Queen Victoria suffered three separate attempts on her life. Then I walked up Regent Street to Piccadilly Circus and up Shaftesbury Avenue along home, via the British Museum. And no, I didn't visit that too...

Friday, January 13, 2006

Salutary reading on healthcare

For anyone interested in understanding how healthcare works across European countries, and for an analysis of combinations of private and public funding for healthcare, Paul Belien at Brussels Journal has an interesting overview:
Europe has basically two types of healthcare financing systems: the single payer systems, in which healthcare is paid for and organised by the government with money from income taxes (as in Britain and Sweden), and the social insurance or sickness fund systems (as in Germany and France), in which healthcare is financed through mandatory premiums calculated as a percentage of wages. Whatever way European countries have organised their healthcare, they have all seen their costs rise over the past four decades. The European countries provide more equity in healthcare than the United States, but they do so increasingly by shifting the price tag for healthcare to the next generation, by rationing health to the elderly, and by suppressing useful innovations.
As a result, access of patients to costly healthcare services is being restricted everywhere. The only ones who escape this are the privately insured patients. Usually a citizen takes private insurance on top of statutory or official health insurance in order to cover certain medical treatments that are not – or no longer – provided by the official system. Consequently a two-tier healthcare system is developing with, on the one hand, those who can afford to pay twice for healthcare and, on the other hand, those who cannot and are trapped within the official system.
Do read the whole thing in which he analyses the particularly interesting cases of Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany.
And for those who grumble about how barbaric Americans leave the poor dying in the street because there is no public healthcare spending, reading this mind-blowing EU Rota post would no doubt be even more salutary!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Scientific consensus?

Interesting news:
Scientists in Germany have discovered that ordinary plants produce significant amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas which helps trap the sun's energy in the atmosphere. The findings, reported in the journal Nature, have been described as "startling", and may force a rethink of the role played by forests in holding back the pace of global warming.
And the BBC News Website has learned that the research, based on observations in the laboratory, appears to be corroborated by unpublished observations of methane levels in the Brazilian Amazon. Until now, it had been thought that natural sources of methane were mainly limited to environments where bacteria acted on vegetation in conditions of low oxygen levels, such as in swamps and rice paddies.
So much for the oft-quoted "scientific consensus"! Anyway, what are the enviro-fundamentalists going to do now? Advocate cutting down the forests? Here is the press release from the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, which came up with the findings (via Junk Science, which lamentably does not have permalinks). At any rate, Steven J. Milloy there says:
So, in the space of a couple of weeks we've had temperate forests harvesting too much sunlight and warming the globe, high latitude forest trees getting 'skinnier' and absorbing less carbon than guesstimated and now, tropical forests as a source of the much more potent greenhouse gas, methane. Anyone get the feeling wannabe energy rationers are getting really desperate to deny there could be any possible avenue to mitigate warming other than ceding control of energy? Anyone noticed that, despite the gales of hysteria, the alleged warming of ~0.7 °C over the 20th Century is about the same as the error range on estimated global mean temperature? Anyone noticed that, while atmospheric carbon levels have measurably increased and global temperature has probably increased, crop yields have more than kept pace with human population growth from ~1.7 billion to over 6 billion while hunger has declined? Anyone noticed that during this time developed nations have returned marginal farmlands to forest and wildlife habitat? Anyone figure the global picture may not be quite as bleak as wannabe energy rationers would like to paint it?
I wouldn't go as far as to say that this is a ploy to get us to cut energy consumption but it certainly lends credence to what I have long believed (quote from BBC News, of all places):
The study highlights, however, the extreme complexity of the relationship between the biological processes of the Earth and the chemistry of our atmosphere - and how much there is yet to discover.
Which to my ears resonates thus: before destroying the world's economy, let's find out what we are talking about and invest the money saved in radically improving technology (and while we're at it, let's focus on real pollutants that affect people's health, instead of carbon dioxide, an essential and life-giving substance). And this is exactly what the US, Australia and the other members of the much-maligned Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate seem to be trying to do. As John Howard put it a while back:
Australian Prime Minister John Howard said it was unrealistic to expect nations to sacrifice economic growth in order to halt global climate change. Howard told a conference of Asia-Pacific nations and corporations that growth was the only way many nations could reduce poverty levels among their populations.
'The idea that we can address climate change matters successfully at the expense of economic growth is not only unrealistic but it also unacceptable to the population of Australia which I represent,' Howard said. '(It's also) I'm sure, unacceptable to the populations of all the other countries that are represented around this table.'
Thankfully that's where the whole world seems to be headed (Europe last, as usual), since few countries are actually succeeding in applying the Kyoto Protocol (via EU Rota), and no wonder they aren't!

Our savior?

Having gotten rather exercised about Antonio Fazio's disgraceful antics over the past months, I must now express satisfaction at the recent nomination of Mario Draghi to serve as the first post-reform Italian central bank governor. This week's The Business has an outstanding profile of him:
Draghi is more worldly wise. His experience ranges from the Italian treasury, European Union (EU) institutions, G7 negotiations, consultancy for the World Bank and as a partner at investment bank Goldman Sachs. He feels as much at home on Wall Street and in the City of London as he does in Rome – or most other European capitals for that matter. So do the rest of his close family. Wife, Serena, is an English literature expert; his daughter, a biologist who studied in New York, has biotech ambitions while his son, a graduate from Milan’s business school, Bocconi, has been a trader at Morgan Stanley. But the offspring will have their work cut out if they are to emulate papa. He was born in Rome on 3 September 1947. After graduating from Rome University with a degree in economics he did a PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That led him to a 10-year stint as an academic at Florence University from 1981, although he also found time to work for the World Bank and the Italian government during that period.
It was all preparation for the role that made him, for a while at least, the most powerful man in the Italian economy. He was appointed director-general at the Italian treasury in 1991. A year later he was made head of the privatisation committee that had been set up shortly before.
The enthusiasm with which Italian president Azeglio Ciampi, greeted the appointment of Draghi is a sign of the success of their working relationship. As prime minister, and later finance minister, Ciampi played a crucial role in guiding Italy into the European single currency. The director-general of the treasury probably played an even more important part. Draghi was entrusted with planning and executing privatisation. He needed to raise huge amounts of money so Italy could reduce its debt and meet the European budgetary requirements; it was also intended to show the markets that Italy was not an economic basket case.
A meeting with foreign bankers on the British royal yacht, Britannia, was organised. Draghi made such a convincing case for the treasury’s privatisation plans that the event has become an historic one from which Italy’s rehabilitation started. Large state-owned companies, such as Telecom Italia, energy group ENI, insurer INA and electricity generator Enel were transformed into joint stock companies. There followed a succession of sales of public assets.
In the financial sector, the privatisations may have indirectly led to the takeover battles this year. BNL’s share offer brought in Banca Bilbao Vizcaya as a shareholder with a 10% stake. ABN Amro also exploited the privatisation sales to build a stake in Capitalia. Both foreign banks set their sights firmly on becoming significant forces in the Italian market. Not all the privatisation sales were successful but the scale of the achievement was enough in itself. State assets worth nearly E91bn ($110bn, £62bn) were sold while Draghi worked at the treasury. Italy is said to have accounted for more than 10% of all privatisation sales in the world during the 1990s. Involving international investors and banks was crucial to the plan working – even if it meant uncomfortable breaks with the past. Political barons suddenly found themselves without a source of patronage, former communist leaders inexplicably started embracing free market principles and privileged Italian bankers – except Fazio of course – had to accept that the country was opening up to international financial institutions.
Do read the whole thing. Hopefully he will diplomatically bang heads together and ensure the further liberalisation of the Italian banking market, and of the economy in general, as the central banker holds some sway on the general direction that should be taken by the government in economic policy.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Nuclear Iran

Everyone seems to agree that Iranian nuclear ambitions need to be stopped - and nobody seems to know how. The Financial Times has an interesting editorial by Mark Fitzpatrick, a senior fellow for non-proliferation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies:
Iran’s defiant decision to resume what it calls “research” into nuclear enrichment spells the end of the negotiation strategy the Europeans have so persistently pursued for two and a half years. Having bent over backwards to pursue every possible compromise and receiving nothing for their efforts, the Europeans should persuade the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency to report immediately Iran’s transgressions to the United Nations Security Council.
The EU3 had been hoping to persuade Iran to prolong the suspension of enrichment, one day at a time if necessary, while relying on intelligence collection and IAEA inspections to detect any undeclared enrichment activity. As long as Iran was not enriching uranium (nor reprocessing plutonium – a more distant technology for Iran) it could not build a bomb. The International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that if Iran threw caution to the wind and went ahead with an enrichment programme, it could produce enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon by the end of the decade at the earliest. The trick for the European negotiations was to keep that five-year deadline a rolling estimate. The clock now starts ticking.
What the UN Security Council would do is anyone's guess, but according to the distinctly more worrying picture painted by The Business, it will do virtually nothing if one takes account of Russian and Chinese attitudes (both veto-wielding members):
The significance of this for Iran? Simple: this renewed (albeit barely reported) renaissance in US-Russian rivalry threatens to spill over in the Middle East, thanks to Iran. Russia has confirmed a deal to sell TOR-M1 surface-to-air missiles to Iran. The most advanced system available, it uses mobile launchers to shoot down multiple targets such as missiles or planes. Also on Christmas Eve, the Kremlin offered to process uranium for Tehran, a deal which has since been rejected by Iran, preferring to do it itself. Moscow has also refused to condemn Tehran’s nuclear programme, arguing that it should be handled by the toothless IAEA rather than the UN Security Council.
China has also behaved badly, refusing to haul Iran in front of the Security Council. The Iranians have cleverly ensured China’s support by signing a $200bn trade deal with Beijing to supply energy-hungry China with gas and oil. Iran will export 10m tonnes of liquefied natural gas annually for 25 years; the Chinese will help in exploration and drilling. So if military action against Iran is ruled out, so too are sanctions. Russia and China will veto any move by America, Great Britain and France to slap sanctions on Iran. The situation could hardly be grimmer, though few in the West seem to realise it.
Do read the whole thing. I wonder what Israel will do if the UN Security Council is deadlocked? Everyone (including the Israeli government) says a repeat of the Osirak raid is out of the question, but you never know.

Useful tidbit

As I don't have a TV, occasionally I risk mispronouncing names or peculiar words that I have only seen in written form. So I am relieved to have discovered (before making a gaffe) that Sir Menzies Campbell's name is pronounced "Mingis" (via Harry's Place):
Blame the "yogh", a letter in old English and Scots (see image, right) which has no exact equivalent today.
Pronounced "yog", it used to be written a bit like the old copperplate-style "z" with a tail, which helps explain the discrepancy between the spelling of Menzies and the pronunciation.
The rise of printing in the 16th Century coincided with the decline of the yogh, and so it tended to be rendered in print as a "z", and pronounced as such.
Amazingly, getting the pronounciation exactly right is even more difficult: read the rest of the explanation!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Relaxing Sunday

On Sunday I went to see the Imperial War Museum, which, on top of a fascinating collection of military weapons (including the remains of the Messerschmitt with which Rudolf Hess crash-landed in Scotland in 1941, and a German V2 missile), has several very interesting permanent exhibits ranging from overviews of WW I and II, the Holocaust, D-Day and the Secret Services. Though I spent the whole afternoon there, the only collections I managed to look at thoroughly were the one on weapons and a smaller exhibit on the people who have won the Victoria Cross or the George Cross, which was quite awe-inspiring. I walked through the others, which all look very detailed and interesting, and I am determined to return soon.
The evening turned out to be movie night. I went to a friend of mine's house, and as we plan to go see the new Producers movie this week in the cinema, we watched the original movie on DVD, which was very amusing. After that, the BBC was showing The Gathering Storm, a biographical film about Winston Churchill, and we watched that too. The acting was excellent and Churchill's story was as compelling as ever.
As a tube strike had been called, I was afraid I would have trouble getting home, but service seemed to be as good as usual (as was the case on Monday morning) and I got home without a hitch. I even went to do a bit of grocery shopping at the 24-hour Tesco around the corner from my house, which is always fun at 1 in the morning.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Fertility and immigration

This month's New Criterion has an excellent essay about demography, by Mark Steyn (also published in Opinion Journal) which has been making the rounds of the blogosphere. I generally agree with what he says: low fertility and dropping populations is, it seems to me, a very serious problem that the Western world is facing:
Most people reading this have strong stomachs, so let me lay it out as baldly as I can: Much of what we loosely call the Western world will not survive this century, and much of it will effectively disappear within our lifetimes, including many if not most Western European countries. There'll probably still be a geographical area on the map marked as Italy or the Netherlands--probably--just as in Istanbul there's still a building called St. Sophia's Cathedral. But it's not a cathedral; it's merely a designation for a piece of real estate. Likewise, Italy and the Netherlands will merely be designations for real estate. The challenge for those who reckon Western civilization is on balance better than the alternatives is to figure out a way to save at least some parts of the West.
Do read the whole thing. That said, it should be kept in mind that population projections have proven wrong before, and as the Muslim world (and the rest of the third world) develops and hopefully modernises both economically and intellectually, its population wave will wane too. Meanwhile this week's Economist has an editorial about how declining population could be construed as a positive sign:
The crucial question is therefore what the effect of demographic decline is on the growth of GDP per person. The bad news is that this looks likely to slow because working-age populations will decline more rapidly than overall populations. Yet this need not happen. Productivity growth may keep up growth in GDP per person: as labour becomes scarcer, and pressure to introduce new technologies to boost workers' efficiency increases, so the productivity of labour may rise faster. Anyway, retirement ages can be lifted to increase the supply of labour even when the population is declining.
People love to worry—maybe it's a symptom of ageing populations—but the gloom surrounding population declines misses the main point. The new demographics that are causing populations to age and to shrink are something to celebrate. Humanity was once caught in the trap of high fertility and high mortality. Now it has escaped into the freedom of low fertility and low mortality. Women's control over the number of children they have is an unqualified good—as is the average person's enjoyment, in rich countries, of ten more years of life than they had in 1960. Politicians may fear the decline of their nations' economic prowess, but people should celebrate the new demographics as heralding a golden age.
I think The Economist is taking a rather cavalier attitude towards the fact that the reform needed to maintain (or even increase) GDP per person is not likely to be implemented anytime soon (at least in Europe).
In addition, I think an important distinction should be made between the US and most of Europe, independently of their specific rates of fertility: the US has significant inflows of immigrants who mostly have a strong desire and commitment to integrate into the surrounding society (nobody in their right mind would move to the US because of the social security or the unemployment benefits), and, in my experience, they are almost unquestioningly accepted as Americans by the "locals," rather quickly after arrival. Conversely, many of the people immigrating into Europe, are here for the money they can squeeze out of the various states, and therefore have little incentive to integrate and learn the host-country's language, usually a precondition to finding gainful employment. As a result they keep to themselves, weigh on the host-country's finances, and are regarded with resentment by the original population. This in turn fosters hostility on the part of the immigrants, and results in a total failure to integrate them into the intellectual and cultural framework of Europe. I perceive this as a major threat, and I think it needs to be urgently adressed. Mind, its cause is not the immigration, but (I believe) in most cases the institutional framework, incentives and attitutes most immigrants find on arrival.
Therefore Europe clearly needs to change the way it views and treats immigrants. It should open its borders to accept more people, cut back its social security (for all of us), accept only people who have proven they are willing and able to integrate (as well as refugees, of course), and give all immigrants strong incentives to make themselves useful. Ironically, many of the wrong-headed policies that create problematic immigration also damage the economy as a whole - all the more reason to get rid of them.
Engendering these positive immigration flows will ensure the continuing pre-eminence of the Western view of the world, as our populations remain stable or grow, and as our mostly superior intellectual framework is brought back and spread around the world by successful and sympathetic immigrants returning to their lands of origin.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Ehud Olmert

There seems to be an increasing consensus that Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon's deputy, will succeed in keeping the nascent Kadima party together and that he even has a good chance of winning the next elections: polls suggest he would trounce both Likud and Labour. This, at least, is excellent news, as I happen to like Olmert and agree with the direction taken by the Sharon-Olmert duo.
Winds of Change had an excellent roundup yesterday, that perfectly reflects how things looked at that time. However, with the release of two new polls and the expressions of support for Olmert on the part of all the main members Kadima (who are all heavy hitters in the Israeli political world), including that of Shimon Peres, the outlook seems to be much more positive, as Meryl Yourish presciently explains:
Shimon Peres, the former Labor leader who joined Sharon's Kadima party, is giving his support to Ehud Olmert. This is a big one: Polls indicate Peres would pull more votes as head of Kadima than Olmert. But that's not what Kadima wants–a "senior figure" says the party would fall apart if Peres took the reins.
Obviously there are many obstacles, but I think that - politically at least - the picture is significantly more positive than most like-minded pundits had feared. Let's hope things turn out better than expected for Sharon too.

Israel in the balance

My prayers are with Ariel Sharon and his family, in hoping for a full recovery. On the political front I wish that the recent positive developments in Israeli politics will not be damaged by his probable inability to return to office.
Meanwhile, the Iranian president is up to his usual tricks:
Iran's president said Thursday he hoped for the death of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the latest anti-Israeli comment by a leader who has already provoked international criticism for suggesting that Israel be "wiped off the map."
"Hopefully, the news that the criminal of Sabra and Chatilla has joined his ancestors is final," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the semiofficial Iranian Students News Agency.
Which proves Amir Taheri's prescient point (via GayandRight):
You may be surprised but I also regard the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the new president of the Islamic Republic as good news. The reason is simple: Ahmadinejad has the courage, some might say recklessness, to cast aside the hypocritical mask worn by his two predecessors, both businessmen-mullahs, in a strategy of deception. He has eschewed taqiyah (dissimulation) and that, believe me, is welcome news. His presidency will force the people of Iran and the rest of the world either to come to terms with the Khomeinist revolution or challenge it in a meaningful way.
I hope we're going for the challenge...
Meanwhile Pat Robertson has also, as is his wont, gone off the deep end.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Our Planet is doomed!

I haven't been following the news regularly in the past weeks, what with my move to London, vacations and irregular access to the internet. As a result I had partially forgotten the sheer amount of annoying global warming myths floating around. So, back to the fight.
Different River notes how bad the SUVs must have been 55 million years ago:
Between 5 and 8 degrees Celsius! Egads! Even nowadays, the most pessimistic estimates nowadays say we’ve only had 0.6 of a degree in the last century.
Gosh, what kind of SUVs must they have been driving 55 million years ago? Is this what wiped out the dinosaurs? Or was it too many fire-breathing dragons?
Surprisingly Der Spiegel (via EnviroSpin Watch) has an interesting and balanced article on the developing orthodoxy on climate change. Meanwhile The Australian has an excellent editorial by Ian Plimer (a professor of geology at the University of Adelaide and former head of the school of earth sciences at the University of Melbourne; via Junk Science) about the absurdities of the environmentalists' obsessions:
Heat, bushfires. Just another Australian summer, some hotter, some wetter, some cooler, some drier. As per usual, the northern hemisphere freezes and the blame game is in overdrive. At the 2005 UN Climate Change Conference in Montreal, Greenpeace's Steven Guilbeault stated: "Global warming can mean colder, it can mean drier, it can mean wetter, that's what we're dealing with."
It is that simple! If it's hot, it's global warming; if it's cold, it's global warming. Demonstrators in frigid temperatures in Montreal chanted: "It's hot in here! There's too much carbon in the atmosphere!" The same apocalyptic Guilbeault says: "Time is running out to deal with climate change. Ten years ago, we thought we had a lot of time, five years ago we thought we had a lot of time, but now science is telling us that we don't have a lot of time." Really.
In 1992, Greenpeace's Henry Kendall gave us the Chicken Little quote, "Time is running out"; in 1994, The Irish Times tried to frighten the leprechauns with "Time running out for action on global warming, Greenpeace claims"; and in 1997 Chris Rose of Greenpeace maintained the religious mantra with "Time is running out for the climate". We've heard such failed catastrophist predictions before. The Club of Rome on resources, Paul Erlich on population, Y2K, and now Greenpeace on global warming.
During the past 30 years, the US economy grew by 50 per cent, car numbers grew by 143 per cent, energy consumption grew by 45 per cent and air pollutants declined by 29 per cent, toxic emissions by 48.5 per cent, sulphur dioxide levels by 65.3 per cent and airborne lead by 97.3 per cent. Most European signatories to the Kyoto Protocol had greenhouse gas emissions increase since 2001, whereas in the US emissions fell by nearly 1per cent. Furthermore, carbon credits rewarded Russia, (east) Germany and Britain, which had technically and economically backward energy production in 1990.
By the end of this century, the demographically doomed French, Italians and Spaniards may have too few environmentalists to fund Greenpeace's business. So what really does Greenpeace want? A habitable environment with no humans left to inhabit it? Destruction of the major economies for .07C change?
Good question! Do read the whole thing.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The moral high ground?

I find it baffling that Gerhard Schroeder hasn't gotten the urge to bury himself in shame, yet. The Belgravia Dispatch notes an excellent John Vinocur editorial in the New York Times (requires subs.; via Instapundit):
The manager in charge of the company Schröder will chair is Matthias Warnig, a former major in the East German secret police, or Stasi, who currently serves as chairman of Dresdner Bank ZAO, a Russia-based unit of the German bank. A Wall Street Journal article, published 10 months ago, quoting former colleagues of Putin and Warnig, said Warnig helped Putin recruit spies in the West when the Russian president served as a KGB man in East Germany in the 1980s. The same article reported a Kremlin spokesman's denial that the two men knew each other as Stasi and KGB agents.
More: The new pipeline company itself is headquartered in Zug, Switzerland, a town known as a tax paradise sometimes associated with companies run by the "capitalist locusts" Schröder's Social Democrats love to denounce.
Reporting from Zug, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the leading Swiss newspaper, has investigated a Swiss lawyer who is the lone administrative board member of Schröder's pipeline corporation. It said he was previously an officer of a Swiss firm shown in Stasi documents to have furnished East Germany with strategically sensitive electronics from Western embargo lists during the 1980s.
Talk of an accumulating sense of discomfort! Just days before the German elections in September that propelled him from power, Schröder signed the pipeline deal that will carry Russian gas under the Baltic Sea directly to Germany, bypassing American allies like Ukraine and Poland. Announcement of his new Gazprom job followed weeks later.
See No Pasaran (via Davids Medienkritik) for a more complete excerpt, and related comments. Thankfully not only Schroeder has gotten egg on his face, but his dear friend Putin also looks stupid (via Instapundit):
Like a flashy celebrity caught smacking his ex-girlfriend in public, Russia’s Vladimir Putin has had to retreat from his decision Sunday to blackmail Ukraine by cutting off the country’s natural gas supplies. Following an outcry from West Europeans, Russia resumed piping 100 percent of the required gas through Ukraine on Tuesday.
The lesson? Length of time autocratic Russia could put the screws to a neighbor in the imperial and Soviet era: decades. Length of time autocratic Russia can put the screws to that neighbor in an era of globalization: three days.
Just as Russia last year discovered it couldn’t hand-pick a communist to serve as the Ukrainian president, it cannot now use gas prices to punish Ukraine for asserting its political independence. The broader lesson for Russia’s neighbors -- or any expansionist bully’s neighbors -- is that you must integrate in the region beyond you, economically and politically, so that you spend as little time as possible with the bully behind closed doors.
Here's hoping for a trend... And who had the foresight to see that Europe was going to have problems with dependence on Russia? Ronald Reagan, of course.
And the Russians have voices of reason too, which Putin has promptly put in their place:
As readers of the Brussels Journal know, Andrei Illarionov, one of the bravest men in Europe today (who now runs the serious risk of ending up with a face like Mr Yushchenko’s), has been replaced as Putin’s advisor by one of the most repulsive of Europeans: the German Socialist former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Since last month Herr Schröder is cashing in 1 million euro a month as political advisor of Gazprom. This is the booty Herr Schröder earned for agreeing, in his final weeks as Chancellor, to build a gas pipeline on the Baltic seabed. By 2010 the line will allow the Kremlin to pump gas directly from Siberia to Western Europe, bypassing nations such as Ukraine, Poland and the Baltics.
As the events of the past three days have shown, it is difficult today for Russia to deprive these nations of their energy supplies because the pipelines to Western Europe pass through their territories. The axing of gas supplies to Ukraine initiated a domino effect causing a drop in Russian gas deliveries to Western Europe, which imports a quarter of its gas needs from Russia.
As I've said before, we need to go nuclear (and growing a spine would help too)!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Back at home

Today is my first day back at work (as yesterday was a bank holiday in England) and amazingly enough I am really happy to be back. Don't get me wrong, my vacation in Lech went really well, I had lots of fun skiing, and my trip to Zürich was very exciting and interesting. As I mentioned before, I met a friend I haven't seen in over a decade and we spent hours catching up on everything. It's really amazing how, notwithstanding all the talk about a "shrinking world in the age of globalization," it is still so easy to lose track of people who literally live just a short train ride away from you. Nonetheless, though it was a welcome break, I am happy to be home again and eager to get back into my everyday routine.