Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Pancake Day!

One of the perks of working near Brick Lane is that during your lunch break you get to go see the Great Spitalfields Pancake Race, which takes place every year on Shrove Tuesday (photo source).

Today I went there with a group of colleagues and we had fun watching the race, and obviously tucking into a pancake as well!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

A March for Free Expression in London

A peaceful rally is being organised in London in support of freedom of expression (via Harry’s Place):
A Rally in Trafalgar Square between 2:00pm and 4:00pm on Saturday March 25th 2006. Depending on estimates of numbers, the details of a march to Trafalgar Square will be announced on March 15th 2006.
The strength and survival of free society and the advance of human knowledge depend on the free exchange of ideas. All ideas are capable of giving offence, and some of the most powerful ideas in human history, such as those of Galileo and Darwin, have given profound religious offence in their time. The free exchange of ideas depends on freedom of expression and this includes the right to criticise and mock. We assert and uphold the right of freedom of expression and call on our elected representatives to do the same. We abhor the fact that people throughout the world live under mortal threat simply for expressing ideas and we call on our elected representatives to protect them from attack and not to give comfort to the forces of intolerance that besiege them.
I will certainly do my best to be there.
Meanwhile, William J. Bennett and Alan M. Dershowitz have an excellent editorial in the Washington Post (via Instapundit):
The Boston Globe, speaking for many other outlets, editorialized: "[N]ewspapers ought to refrain from publishing offensive caricatures of Mohammed in the name of the ultimate Enlightenment value: tolerance."
But as for caricatures depicting Jews in the most medievally horrific stereotypes, or Christians as fanatics on any given issue, the mainstream press seems to hold no such value. And in the matter of disclosing classified information in wartime, the press competes for the scoop when it believes the public interest warrants it.
What has happened? To put it simply, radical Islamists have won a war of intimidation. They have cowed the major news media from showing these cartoons. The mainstream press has capitulated to the Islamists -- their threats more than their sensibilities. One did not see Catholics claiming the right to mayhem in the wake of the republished depiction of the Virgin Mary covered in cow dung, any more than one saw a rejuvenated Jewish Defense League take to the street or blow up an office when Ariel Sharon was depicted as Hitler or when the Israeli army was depicted as murdering the baby Jesus.
So far as we can tell, a new, twin policy from the mainstream media has been promulgated: (a) If a group is strong enough in its reaction to a story or caricature, the press will refrain from printing that story or caricature, and (b) if the group is pandered to by the mainstream media, the media then will go through elaborate contortions and defenses to justify its abdication of duty. At bottom, this is an unacceptable form of not-so-benign bigotry, representing a higher expectation from Christians and Jews than from Muslims.
While we may disagree among ourselves about whether and when the public interest justifies the disclosure of classified wartime information, our general agreement and understanding of the First Amendment and a free press is informed by the fact -- not opinion but fact -- that without broad freedom, without responsibility for the right to know carried out by courageous writers, editors, political cartoonists and publishers, our democracy would be weaker, if not nonexistent. There should be no group or mob veto of a story that is in the public interest.
When we were attacked on Sept. 11, we knew the main reason for the attack was that Islamists hated our way of life, our virtues, our freedoms. What we never imagined was that the free press -- an institution at the heart of those virtues and freedoms -- would be among the first to surrender.
Do read the whole thing.

Climate change revisited

The Weekly Standard has an excellent overview by Steven F. Hayward on where we stand in the climate change debate:
How do you go about sorting out sense from nonsense? Very few people who follow closely the subject of climate change argue that there's nothing to it. There is unanimity that the planet has warmed by about 1 degree over the last century. Just about everyone agrees that the growth of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels cannot continue forever. That's where the agreement ends. The range of possible temperature increase over the next century is fairly wide in the official forecasts, from 1.4 degrees Celsius on the low side, which might not be difficult to cope with, to 5.8 degrees Celsius on the high side, which would mean major environmental problems for the planet. How probable is any point along the distribution? For reasons having to do with the cascading statistical uncertainties of the thousands of variables in computer climate models, we can't assign a probability to any narrower range of temperature forecasts, though very clever people are trying.
Ultimately, policymakers will have to exercise their best judgment rather than wait for oracular scientific conclusiveness, which will never come. Notwithstanding the relentless drumbeat of studies offered as proof of onrushing catastrophe, policymakers are rightly wary of handing over the keys of the economy to the very same people who brought us the population bomb that turned out to be a wet firecracker, predicted imminent resource scarcity, which also fizzled, and even, in the 1970s, hyperventilated that our greatest climate risk was a new ice age. (The ice age scare was not the tiny sideshow climate action advocates today try to claim that it was; the EPA in the early 1970s thought one reason to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions was that "aerosols" like SO2 were reflecting too much sunlight and increasing the risk of cooling the planet.) The suspicion of hidden agendas is buttressed by the default position of the most vocal environmentalists and the front-page-seeking reporters who cover the climate beat: They greet with complete credulity the most extreme forecasts and portents, whether it is melting ice, boiling oceans, or expiring frogs.
The case of David Henderson and Ian Castles is a good example. Henderson, the former chief economist of the OECD, and Castles, a highly regarded Australian economist, noticed three years ago a serious methodological anomaly in the IPCC's 100-year greenhouse gas emission forecasts, which are the primary input for the computer climate models. Henderson and Castles made a compelling argument that the forecasts were unrealistically high. Everyone recalls the first day of computer science class: garbage in, garbage out. If future greenhouse gas emissions are badly overestimated, then even a perfect computer climate model will spit out a false temperature prediction. If Henderson and Castles are right, it means we may have more time to address even the most alarmist global warming forecasts. Since Henderson and Castles opened the debate, the IPCC's emissions forecasts have been subject to withering criticism from dozens of other reputable economists, including from a number of climate alarmists who, to their credit, argue that this crucial question should be got right.
The IPCC's reaction to Henderson and Castles was startling. The panel issued a vituperative press release blasting the two men for peddling "disinformation." A few scientists and economists connected with the IPCC had the decency to say publicly that the press release was a regrettable error. But it is typical of the increasingly arrogant IPCC leadership. The IPCC's chairman, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, compared Danish eco-skeptic Bjorn Lomborg to Hitler because of Lomborg's wholly sensible and well-founded calculation that near-term emissions reductions make no economic sense. "What is the difference between Lomborg's view of humanity and Hitler's?" Pachauri told a Danish newspaper in 2004. "If you were to accept Lomborg's way of thinking, then maybe what Hitler did was the right thing." It is hard to have much confidence in an organization whose chairman can say this and keep his job. (The reductio ad Hitlerum is contagious: Two weeks ago NASA's James Hansen compared having a Bush political appointee listen in on his media phone calls--an obnoxious but routine practice in the federal government--to Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, eliciting rapturous applause from an audience in New York. And Hansen wonders why people call him an alarmist.)
Do read the whole thing, which is quite thorough and level-headed.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

And if the West rioted?

The Times has a very amusing (or is it sad?) humorous piece on what the world would be like if the West behaved the way the Arab world has over the cartoon issue:
News stories in al-Ahram (Cairo)
Bookseller shot dead in Poland, by teenager shouting: "For God, and the Pope!"
Ten killed in Lisbon Dan Brown riots, when police opened fire on mob ransacking the Canadian Embassy. "We thought he was Canadian," says riot leader.
Violence in northwest London as Jews go on rampage against Holocaust denial in Muslim countries. Kebab restaurants and curry houses ablaze from the Finchley Road to Edgware.
Iranian and Syrian embassies and consulates attacked in 20 cities worldwide. Iranian Embassy destroyed in Canberra. Australian Government describes violence as "regrettable, but understandable".
Reuters report from Berlin
"German Chancellor Angela Merkel today caused alarm in diplomatic circles when she called for the Netherlands to be 'wiped from the face of the earth'." She went on, "The establishment of the Dutch regime was a move by the world oppressor against the Catholic world."
Summary of an article in French government newspaper, Le Monde
The Netherlands may have created the avian flu virus in order to damage the economies of Europe, and cleverly planted it first in the Far East to divert attention away from the real plan.
Do read the whole thing. Maybe if we went around threatening (and perpetrating) violence and rioted like crazed lunatics we'd get more things done too! (NB: Obviously, I'm being facetious.)

More on the ports deal

I am pleased to see that the hawkish Wall Street Journal agrees with me (and unusurprisingly makes the case better than I ever could):
Some of us are scratching our heads all right, but we're wondering why Mr. Graham and others believe Dubai Ports World has been insufficiently vetted for the task at hand. So far, none of the critics have provided any evidence that the Administration hasn't done its due diligence. The deal has been blessed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a multiagency panel that includes representatives from the departments of Treasury, Defense and Homeland Security.
Yes, some of the 9/11 hijackers were UAE citizens. But then the London subway bombings last year were perpetrated by citizens of Britain, home to the company (P&O) that currently manages the ports that Dubai Ports World would take over. Which tells us three things: First, this work is already being outsourced to "a foreign-based company"; second, discriminating against a Mideast company offers no security guarantees because attacks are sometimes homegrown; and third, Mr. Graham likes to talk first and ask questions later.
Besides, the notion that the Bush Administration is farming out port "security" to hostile Arab nations is alarmist nonsense. Dubai Ports World would be managing the commercial activities of these U.S. ports, not securing them. There's a difference. Port security falls to Coast Guard and U.S. Customs officials. "Nothing changes with respect to security under the contract," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said yesterday. "The Coast Guard is in charge of security, not the corporation."
The timing of this sudden uproar is also a tad suspicious. A bidding war for the British-owned P&O has been going on since last autumn, and the P&O board accepted Dubai's latest offer last month. The story only blew up last week, as a Florida firm that is a partner with P&O in Miami, Continental Stevedoring and Terminals Inc., filed a suit to block the purchase. Miami's mayor also sent a letter of protest to Mr. Bush. It wouldn't be the first time if certain politicians were acting here on behalf of private American commercial interests.
Critics also forget, or conveniently ignore, that the UAE government has been among the most helpful Arab countries in the war on terror. It was one of the first countries to join the U.S. container security initiative, which seeks to inspect cargo in foreign ports. The UAE has assisted in training security forces in Iraq, and at home it has worked hard to stem terrorist financing and WMD proliferation. UAE leaders are as much an al Qaeda target as Tony Blair.
Do read the whole thing. What I find most upsetting is that this politically motivated campaign on the part of Congress will damage the War on Terror (which I strongly support). Though threatening a veto is a good start, the White House now needs to forcefully and repeatedly attack those Members of Congress (from both sides of the aisle) who have been going around spewing utter nonsense and innuendo, doing everything in its power to delegitimize and expose this disgusting and wrongheaded campaign.
To avoid any misunderstanding: the above comments in no way mean that I have changed my mind on US foreign policy. I have always thought and still firmly believe the Iraq War was justified and necessary and the concomitant GWOT should be vigorously pursued. Which is precisely why I am appalled by the current furore which appeals to America's worst (thankfully rare) populist and protectionist instincts.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Hold your horses

I am very happy with President Bush's reaction to the current uproar over the DP World acquisition of P&O:
Brushing aside objections from Republicans and Democrats alike, President Bush endorsed the takeover of shipping operations at six major U.S. seaports by a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates. He pledged to veto any bill Congress might approve to block the agreement.
"It sends a terrible signal to friends around the world that it's OK for a company from one country to manage the port, but not a country that plays by the rules and has got a good track record from another part of the world," Bush said.
I particularly admire him since it seems to be quite an unpopular stance. Clearly if there was reason to believe that security would be compromised by the deal, this should be investigated, but the arguments I have seen until now sound most unconvincing: UAE citizens were part of 9/11? So what? If you give me proof that UAE were implicated in terrorism etc. I would be more willing to listen (though port security is still not run by the port owner). Additionally, since the acquisition was announced in October 2005, I find it a bit rich that people should wake up now. Today's Financial Times has a very critical editorial on the furore, and though I consider myself a hawk on these issues, I cannot but help agreeing with some of it (excepting the "racist" jibe):
The current furore in Washington about the takeover of P&O, the UK-based ports operator, by Dubai Ports World says more about the United States Congress than the United Arab Emirates. The bluster about national security conceals one of the uglier faces of US protectionism - the one with the slightly racist tinge.
This is a more strident response than last year's rebuff of CNOOC, the Chinese state-owned oil company, and its $18bn bid for Unocal. The UAE is a strategic US ally in the Middle East. The Bush administration is right to defend the deal and the alliance.
First, the deal has been vetted by an inter-agency committee. And ports, in any case, are in one of the most highly regulated sectors in the US. What matters is how they are managed, not who owns them.
Second, leading Dubai companies such as DP World bring with them certain advantages. They habitually: spend money to make money; headhunt the best professionals (in DP World that includes top Americans); and produce high rates of growth. The ambitious new $15bn aerospace enterprise Dubai announced this week will be built around that formula.
Third, the honourable senators might get this purchase in perspective by pondering the extent to which the Gulf allies they so distrust already own vast quantities of US assets, as well as dollar assets held offshore. For Abu Dhabi alone, a 1 percentage point move in US interest rates now means more than a $10 per barrel swing in the price of oil. Do the math.
So, though I wish Bush would veto more legislation (spending bills in particular) and I generally agree with the criticisms levelled at him by Instapundit, I strenuously object to Glenn's insulting dismissal of Bush's decision to threaten to veto Congressional blocks to the deal:
SO NOW BUSH IS THREATENING TO VETO any legislation that would block the Dubai ports deal? Either this deal is somehow a lot more important than it seems (a quid pro quo for, well, something . . . ) or Bush is an idiot. Your call.
He might disagree with the President's arguments, but it belies a narrowness of thought to say that he is either hiding something or an idiot, reminscent of looney Democrats (also read the updates, which qualify the statement and mention supporters of the President's decision). Is it that difficult to see how blocking this deal on such flimsy pretexts will look to the rest of the world?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Italian ex-Minister under investigation

Last week the Italian Minister for Reform, Roberto Calderoli, started a cartoon row of his own. Since then there have been several riot-related deaths in Libya:
At least 10 people have been killed and several injured in Libya in clashes during a protest outside an Italian consulate, according to police. Police confronted protesters who had set fire to the building in the port city of Benghazi, in the latest protests over the Muhammad cartoons. They were said to be angry at Italian minister Roberto Calderoli, who had worn a T-shirt displaying the drawings.
Over the weekend Calderoli was forced to resign from the government and his party faces consequences at the EU level.
Now he has been put under investigation for "defaming religion" by a prosecuting magistrate in Rome. According to Corriere della Sera (in Italian) he "only" faces a fine of between €1,000 and €5,000, because a reform that came into effect last month has eliminated prison (up to three years!) as a punishment for this type of defamation. This is the same absurd "crime" for which Oriana Fallaci and a Muslim communal leader were charged last year.
But there's more: according to this Reuters story (in Italian; see a rather artless story in English here), Calderoli has also been sued by lawyer Tommaso Mancini, for "hostile acts against a foreign State which put Italy at risk of war." Oh, Puh-leaze!
I have said before that the Italian judiciary is a farce (though the law needs changing too, in this case). Unsurprisingly, the Italian people have the lowest confidence in their judicial system in Europe. Even so, I am still amazed that we could stoop to this level.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Don't say goodbye yet...

The New America Foundation’s Michael Lind has an interesting article in the Financial Times (requires subs.) which makes interesting predictions on America's place in the world over the rest of this century:
The truth is less dramatic but nonetheless fascinating: America’s share of global economic power, and its potential share of global military power, have been roughly the same for a century and may remain so for another century or more.
A country’s gross domestic product is a useful, though far from perfect, surrogate for its potential military power. According to the World Bank, in 2000 the US accounted for 27 per cent of the world’s GDP. That seems like a lot, until you learn that in 1913 the US share was even larger at 32 per cent and larger still even earlier, in 1900 (38 per cent). As the American political scientist Robert A. Pape points out: “For the past century, the US share of gross world product was often double (or more) the share of any other state: 32 per cent in 1913, 31 per cent in 1938, 26 per cent in 1960, 22 per cent in 1980.” At the end of the second world war, the US accounted for about half of all world manufacturing – but that was nothing new. As early as 1929, the US share of global manufacturing output was more than 43 per cent.
If the US had converted its economic potential into military power from the beginning, it would have been the dominant global power from the early 1900s onward. Americans deferred doing this as long as possible, in part because the US is a liberal, civilian society. In addition, in the early years of the two world wars, Americans hoped that Britain and other countries could restrain Germany with the help of US aid. Even in 1937, when Hitler’s Germany spent 23.5 per cent of its much smaller economy on the military, the US dedicated only 1.5 per cent of its own GDP to defence. The moment that the US mobilised its gargantuan economy for war, however, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were doomed. Later, by devoting a relatively small part of its economy to defence, the US was able to spend the far more militarised but smaller Soviet economy into bankruptcy.
But the rise of China and India will not mean the fall of the US. Instead, it will come at the expense of Europe, whose share of global GDP will decline, chiefly for demographic reasons. In some projections, Europe as a whole half a century from now will have fewer people than the US. If Goldman Sachs is right, the US, Mexico and Canada’s share of global GDP in 2050, at 23 per cent, will be roughly what the US share of the world total was 70 years earlier in 1980, when it was 22 per cent. And per capita income in the US will be far higher than that in China and India into the 22nd century, if not beyond.
The relative size of the US in the global economy, then, may prove to be astonishingly stable over the 150 years from 1900 to 2050. Some neo-conservatives tend to underestimate US strength when they compare the US to Britain in the years before the second world war. Jihadists notwithstanding, the world is far safer today than in the 1930s. But in any case, the contemporary US should be compared not to Britain in 1937, with 10.2 per cent of the world’s military power, but to the US in 1937, with 41.7 per cent of the total.
But supporters of US global hegemony would be mistaken to take heart from the underlying stability of America’s share of world power. A country which over the long term is likely to account for about a quarter of world GDP can be first among the great powers in a multipolar world for generations to come. But an attempt to be the New Rome, by undermining economic strength with excessive military mobilisation, would most likely make the US the next Soviet Union.
Do read the whole thing. Certainly something for Europeans to ponder as we relax on the deck of our sinking ship.

Religiously European

There are interesting comments at Instapundit about political polarization. Among other things Glenn links to an article he wrote for the Guardian a few years ago. One sentence caught my eye:
The language of righteousness and sin, if not that of redemption and grace, remains a hallmark of the purportedly secular left, though I find it no more attractive than the language of the religious right.
I don't fit into the religious right or the religious left. But, in America, you don't get to choose a major political party that does not have some sort of religious strain to it.
I imagine that no implication is intended, but just to clarify I would like to point out that in Europe the situation is no different. Au contraire, it is much worse: a good part of the political-cultural establishment in Europe also has its gospel, which is often much more absurd, entrenched and pernicious than anything you generally see in America.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

I bet you didn't expect that

I think it's a scandal that EU leaders, after coming up with an unwieldy and simply bad proposal, and having it soundly defeated in two referendums, keep on bringing up the idea of "reviving the EU Constitution." So I found this story, which was first reported in the Brussels Journal, particularly hilarious (via Drudge):
In the decade since they voted to join the European Union the islanders of the Aland archipelago in the Baltic Sea have been outvoted and overruled by Brussels, time and again. Now Aland, a unique, autonomous region of Finland, is about to teach Brussels a lesson in democracy it may never forget.
Thanks to a quirk of early 20th-century history, Aland's 26,000 people are essentially sovereign co-rulers of their home nation of Finland. As such, they can veto any international treaty that Finland wants to enter, including EU treaties.
And the islanders are threatening to do just that when the European Commission attempts to revive the moribund EU constitution later this year.
Do read the whole thing. I daresay if I wasn't against the Constitution I wouldn't be as amused by the whole story, but I'm only human after all, and I really think the EU elites had it coming.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Is global cooling back?

According to a Climate Care certificate that was pinned in the office kitchen today my employer has "offset 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide." I must say I'm, er, delighted. I guess if it makes your conscience feel better, then it's all right. Though it would make more sense to me if instead we kept the heating in the office a tad lower than the usual tropical levels...
Meanwhile in the real world:
Ironically, just as global warming scare-mongering reaches new heights, the global cooling hypothesis is making a come back. It should be recalled that the frightening images of imminent global warming disaster are of fairly recent vintage. After all, in the 1960s and 1970s various prominent climatologists held the view that it was not global warming that formed a mortal threat to humanity but global cooling.
Recently the astronomer Khabibullo Abdusamatov of the Pulkovo Astronomic Observatory in St. Petersburg declared that the Earth will experience a "mini Ice Age" in the middle of this century, caused by low solar activity. Temperatures will begin falling six or seven years from now, when global warming caused by increased solar activity in the 20th century reaches its peak. The coldest period will occur 15 to 20 years after a major solar output decline between 2035 and 2045, Abdusamatov said. This view is shared by the Belgian astronomer, Dirk Callebaut, who expects a "grand minimum" in the middle of this century, just like the Maunder Minimum (1650-1700), a period during which the Thames, the Seine and the Dutch canals were frozen in winter.
If these astronomers are right, the hundreds of billions of dollars the world will spend every year on the fight against global warming will have gone down the drain. But, of course, we are not sure of imminent global cooling. On the other hand, we are not sure whether there will be catastrophic global warming either.
Do read the whole thing. If it comes to that, skating on the Thames would be bloody good fun, and if they survived the colder clime in the 1600s I'm sure we will too.
And if you're thinking about the famed "scientific consensus" also read this and this.

Wearing the cartoons

I'm not a fan of the Lega Nord, but I have to hand it to them, this gimmick is fantastic (and I'm still considering how to vote in the upcoming general election...):
Italy's Reform Minister Roberto Calderoli has had T-shirts made emblazoned with cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a move that could embarrass Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government. Calderoli, a member of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, told Ansa news agency on Tuesday that the West had to stand up against Islamist extremists and offered to hand out T-shirts to anyone who wanted them.
"I have had T-shirts made with the cartoons that have upset Islam and I will start wearing them today," Ansa quoted Calderoli as saying. He said the T-shirts were not meant to be a provocation but added that he saw no point trying to appease extremists. "We have to put an end to this story that we can talk to these people. They only want to humiliate people. Full stop. And what are we becoming? The civilization of melted butter?" Calderoli said.
Meanwhile moderate Muslims are finally coming out of the woodwork, and Victor Davis Hanson predicts, quite optimistically, what Europe will do next.

Friday, February 10, 2006


Yesterday was the first time since Autumn that I got out from work while there was still light outside. It gave me a glorious feeling, making me think of how beautiful London really is and how much I love it here.
A lot of people - particularly my snooty compatriots - when they hear where I live, commiserate with me. "The weather must be terribly rainy and foggy," they say, "the people are so unfriendly and British food is terrible! How do you stand it?"
The truth is that I’m really enjoying it. And not only because the sheer amount and quality of theaters, cinemas, museums etc. is overwhelming, but even the urban environment and weather is quite pleasant. Over the few months that I've lived here the weather has been slightly milder than Milan’s and it has rarely rained.
Having grown up in Trieste (which, by the way, is a truly fascinating city) I have a special affection for the Bora and wind in general (though I do draw the line at hurricanes and tornadoes). So, after years of suffering the suffocating pollution and stagnation of Milan, it came as a pleasant surprise that London is often a windy place with fresh air which can be inhaled deeply and gusts of wind that ruffle your hair.
And the parks! The glorious parks with rolling lawns, that can be found all over London: Hyde Park, Green Park, St. James Park, Regent Park… and so many smaller ones tucked away between the streets.
Not to mention the Thames. (Photo source)

Walking along its banks is a special pleasure for me, as I grew up by the seaside, both in Trieste and in Baltimore, MD, but was denied that special feeling of movement, openness and potential adventure that bodies of water give a city, while living in Milan and Brussels. Here is an aerial view from above the Canary Wharf skyscrapers in the east (Photo source)

And though there are so many more people here (7.5 million) than in Brussels (1 million) or Milan (1.3 million), the city feels less crowded and suffocating. The people themselves are incredibly diverse: virtually the total spectrum of any human endeavor or interest - whether it be spiritual, cultural, emotional, culinary, physical or political - is represented here, and so anyone can find like-minded people as well as learning about different perspectives (though I admit the search is not always easy).
Naturally, there are things I don’t like about London, such as the absurd separate faucets for hot and cold water (as well as more serious things), but even the British eccentricity - at least with respect to faucets - fascinates me. So, thanks for the concern, but I'm really doing fine right here where I am.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Is Dr. King like bin Laden? Ask Jimmy

Most of Jimmy Carter’s actions seem to be specifically aimed at proving to everyone that he is an idiot, and I must say that he has me convinced (via Instapundit):
Carter, for example, used the opportunity to insinuate that Bush's "domestic spying" was like the spying done by the FBI on Dr. King. Carter commiserated with the King family for having been subjected to such an ordeal at the hands of their government, and, by implication, he also commiserated with those Americans who had been subjected to Bush's domestic surveillance. But does this analogy honor the memory of Dr. King and his movement?
Let's make a simple thought experiment to find out.
Suppose al-Qaeda had decided to air its grievances against the United States by holding a massive peaceful "sit in" at the Twin Towers on 9/11. Suppose Islamic terrorists, instead of blowing up innocent human beings, had vowed only to use civil disobedience. Suppose Osama bin Laden, like Dr. King, had struggled with all his might to keep his organization from turning to bloodshed and violence. Would Bush have felt the need to launch a domestic surveillance program on such a pacifistic movement? Maybe; maybe not. But the fact that al-Qaeda embraces violence and celebrates terrorism -- doesn't this small detail destroy the basis of Carter's analogy? If you can equate bin Laden with Martin Luther King, and al-Qaeda to King's non-violent movement, then, by all means, go ahead and draw the same analogy that Mr. Carter drew about Bush's domestic surveillance program. If, on the other hand, you cannot equate the two, then Carter's analogy becomes at best ridiculous and at worst obscene.
Do read the whole thing. Have you no shame? Is there really no limit to the indecencies you will commit in the (thankfully unsuccessful) quest for political advantage? You are an embarrassment to your people.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

You tell 'em!

With respect to the continuing Mohammed cartoon row (see Amir Taheri's editorial in today's Wall Street Journal, and my previous posts) the German weekly Der Spiegel has an excellent interview with heroic Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali (via Harry's Place):
SPIEGEL: Was apologizing for the cartoons the wrong thing to do?
Hirsi Ali: Once again, the West pursued the principle of turning first one cheek, then the other. In fact, it's already a tradition. In 1980, privately owned British broadcaster ITV aired a documentary about the stoning of a Saudi Arabian princess who had allegedly committed adultery. The government in Riyadh intervened and the British government issued an apology. We saw the same kowtowing response in 1987 when (Dutch comedian) Rudi Carrell derided (Iranian revolutionary leader) Ayatollah Khomeini in a comedy skit (that was aired on German television). In 2000, a play about the youngest wife of the Prophet Mohammed, titled "Aisha," was cancelled before it ever opened in Rotterdam. Then there was the van Gogh murder and now the cartoons. We are constantly apologizing, and we don't notice how much abuse we're taking. Meanwhile, the other side doesn't give an inch.
SPIEGEL: What should the appropriate European response look like?
Hirsi Ali: There should be solidarity. The cartoons should be displayed everywhere. After all, the Arabs can't boycott goods from every country. They're far too dependent on imports. And Scandinavian companies should be compensated for their losses. Freedom of speech should at least be worth that much to us.
It is well worth reading the whole thing.
Meanwhile the Drudge Report links to this interesting story:
The Danish editor behind the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that ignited deadly riots in the Muslim world said Wednesday he's trying to coordinate with an Iranian paper soliciting cartoons on the Holocaust.
I think this is an excellent idea. I obviouly have the utmost contempt for any Holocaust denial or diminishing. However, not only will the lack of riots and deaths in reaction to the publication of these cartoons be telling, but in so doing we will also prove that we do in fact practice freedom of expression. Furthermore, the best way to combat Holocaust denial is in the free market of ideas, not by banning free speech. Finally I fully support the prominent publication of the disgusting material that regularly appears in the Arab press (via Buzzurro, who has apt comments), simply because it will hopefully further alert the West to the challenge we face.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Concerns? You mean murder!

BBC News has a rather odd explanatory box alongside this article on the cartoon row. The text reads (emphases mine):
1989: Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini calls on Muslims to kill British author Salman Rushdie for alleged blasphemy in his book The Satanic Verses
2002: Nigerian journalist Isioma Daniel's article about Prophet and Miss World contestants sparks deadly riots
2004: Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh killed after release of his documentary about violence against Muslim women
2005: London's Tate Britain museum cancels plans to display sculpture by John Latham for fear of offending Muslims after July bombings
Who in their right mind would term these unconscionable reactions "concerns"? And why is it so hard for some people to distinguish between being offended or disagreeing about something and going around calling for and actually murdering people?
I guess the silver lining of this whole affair is that hopefully more Europeans will be awoken from their slumber.

A strike worth supporting

I'm generally not a fan of strikes and labor unions, to put it mildly. However here is a strike to which I would give my heartfelt support (via Harry's Place):
Hundreds of "Tehran's Collective Bus Company" (TCBC) drivers, technicians and workers will stay home, this upcoming Friday, in order to protest against the brutal repression of their peaceful actions and the mistreatment of their colleagues and family members.
Hundreds of TCBC employees were arrested and tens, including wives and children, were wounded following last Saturday's strike, by brutal Islamist militiamen and Islamic regime's plain clothes' agents. Most of the arrested are kept in section 240 of the infamous Evin political jail and several of them have been put in solitary confinement in order to make false confessions on links with foreign intelligence.
The Greater Tehran has approximately around 12 millions of inhabitants and many are supportive of the strikers. Most workers and governmental employees, such as teachers, are openly supporting the bus drivers and tracts are widely distributed in order to condemn the regime.
I hope they prevail. And I'd like to know where the media is on this story.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The alcohol standard?

There has been some criticism of President Bush over his statement that the US is addicted to oil (also see the Wall Street Journal; requires subs.). The American Enterprise, however, has an excellent article (via Instapundit) explaining how Bush's plan is an excellent, realistic idea even in the short term:
To liberate ourselves from the threat of foreign economic domination, undercut the financiers of terror, and give ourselves the free hand necessary to deal with Middle Eastern extremists, we must devalue their resources and increase the value of our own. We can do this by taking the world off the petroleum standard and putting it on an alcohol standard.
This may sound like a huge and impossible task, but with gasoline prices well over $2 per gallon, the means to accomplish it are now at hand. Congress could make an enormous step toward American energy independence within a decade or so if it would simply pass a law stating that all new cars sold in the U.S.A. must be flexible-fuel vehicles capable of burning any combination of gasoline and alcohol. The alcohols so employed could be either methanol or ethanol.
Absolutely read the whole thing, which seems to be meticulously argued, and in which the author explains how easy and cheap this transition would be and why it would not only solve the oil dependence problem, but positively affect various other challenges the West is facing.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The cartoons (and liberty) spread

There has been a growing row between Denmark and parts of the Muslim world over a set of cartoons depicting Muhammad that were published in September by a Danish newspaper. The Brussels Journal has been assiduously following the story (see the links at the end of this article).
Now the French have entered the fray, with France Soir publishing the cartoons:
A French newspaper has reproduced a set of caricatures depicting the Prophet Muhammad that have caused outrage in the Muslim world. France Soir said it had published the cartoons to show that "religious dogma" had no place in a secular society. Their original publication in a Danish paper last September has led to boycotts and protests against Denmark in several Arab nations.
Islamic tradition bans depictions of the Prophet Muhammad or Allah. Under the headline "Yes, we have the right to caricature God", the paper ran a front page cartoon of Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim and Christian gods floating on a cloud. It shows the Christian deity saying: "Don't complain, Muhammad, we've all been caricatured here." The full set of Danish drawings, some of which depict the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist, were printed on the inside pages.
Though I don’t agree with the sentiments some of these cartoons express, I absolutely think people should have the right to publish such satire, as long as they don’t directly incite violence. Ironically, I feel that the boorish and even violent reactions of parts of the Muslim world to this episode give credence to the cartoons’ message.
Every religion under the sun has been satirized and insulted and has learned to live with it (sometimes more slowly than one would wish) and I don’t see why this should be such a big deal. Don’t papers in Islamic countries routinely run much more offensive and despicable cartoons about Jews? Has anyone heard of an even remotely comparable reaction?
I think the publication of these cartoons will encourage many elements of Islam to move into the modern world by bringing home the fact that having rights also means not infringing on those of others. It also underlines to the West the unacceptable principles that these fundamentalists are seeking to impose on the rest of the world.
Meanwhile, following the defeat of the most vile aspects of the "Religious Hatred" bill in the UK, the papers here can also print the cartoons without fear. I wonder if they were published in every Western nation whether we would all be subject to boycotts and what not.

Post Scriptum:
It gets better and better:
Newspapers across Europe have reprinted caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to show support for a Danish paper whose cartoons have sparked Muslim outrage. Seven publications in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain all carried some of the drawings. Their release in Denmark has led to protests in Arab nations, diplomatic sanctions and death threats.
By the way, I can't find the cartoons on the BBC News website (and I'm not the only one), but they can be seen here (scroll down). Can you imagine how many fewer people would have seen the cartoons if there hadn't been all this fuss?