Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The North Korean idyll

I wish people were more focused on things like this (via Drudge):
North Korea has no people with physical disabilities because they are killed almost as soon as they are born, a physician who defected from the communist state said on Wednesday. Ri Kwang-chol, who fled to the South last year, told a forum of rights activists that the practice of killing newborns was widespread but denied he himself took part in it.
"There are no people with physical defects in North Korea," Ri told members of the New Right Union, which groups local activists and North Korean refugees. He said babies born with physical disabilities were killed in infancy in hospitals or in homes and were quickly buried.
The group urged the South Korean government to change course away from "silent diplomacy" and immediately begin taking action to pressure the North to improve its human rights record.
The South Korean government has refused to join international condemnation of human rights abuses in the North out of concern that such a move could rattle ties with Pyongyang, which considers any criticism of its human rights as deeply offensive.
Though there seem to have been positive movements in South Korea in recent times (also via Drudge) I think they really need to pull their act together and face up to what is happening in their own back yard, and whether they are doing their best to oppose it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Guns for all

Glenn Reynolds revisits a subject he has been mentioning for some time (also see here): making the right to bear arms an international human right:
An article forthcoming in the Notre Dame Law Review takes a much deeper look (pdf) at that very question, with particular emphasis on Darfur, and notes that the victims of the genocide are effectively disarmed by law and international embargo while the perpetrating janjaweed militias are armed and financed (as is common in genocides) by the Sudanese government. For the people of Darfur, relying on the government to protect them is absurd, as the government is behind their murder. Relying on the international community, on the other hand, is absurd because the international community is - at the most charitable - absurd. In fact, as is also the case with most genocides, much of the international community is complicit, at least to the extent of turning a blind eye to conduct that would otherwise imperil important government contracts, or oil ventures.
Given that this sort of behaviour is par for the course when genocides occur, who would dare to say that the inhabitants of Darfur do not have a right to arm themselves and resist their killers with force?
Do read the whole thing. There seems to have been some significant progress in furthering the intellectual underpinnings of this idea, as is evidenced by the academic writings that Glenn mentions. It will be interesting to see how this debate develops.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Long-term investing pays off

This is rather interesting:
GOOD DAY FOR: Buying and holding, as stock certificates issued by the collapsed energy-trading firm Enron have become collectors' items selling for as much as $375 on, a Web site specializing in the sale of old stock and bond certificates. (Associated Press)
You can see the whole AP story here. According to this Wikipedia entry, at its high in 2001, an Enron share was worth $90, which means that if someone held on to them until now and is managing to sell them on at $375 each, they would be making a 416% profit. Not bad...

In the mail

Alex Singleton, the director-general of the Globalisation Institute, kindly wrote to me – in response to this – saying that I might be interested in a post of his about "fair trade" coffee:
Earlier this week I suggested that the way forward for developing country coffee producers was to for them not just to grow the coffee but also to process and package the coffee and stick their own trademark on it.
"This is exactly what Café Britt has been saying for the past 20 years!" says Adrian Loening, Director of 100% Arabica, a company that sells Café Britt’s products in the UK.
Café Britt is a brand of coffee from Costa Rica and Peru. The coffee is processed and packaged in the producing countries. That's important because it enables developing countries get more of the value of the coffee and climb up the economic ladder - and apparently because the green coffee has not been shipped around the world, the quality is better, too.
I claim no expertise because, despite the fact that I am Italian, on the rare occasions that I do drink coffee I favour the instant kind - with lots of milk and sugar! Even so, I am very pleased to learn that rational ideas are being put into practice.
In other news, Meryl Yourish lets me know that she has kindly blogrolled this blog. Thank you, Meryl! Incidentally, the only other place (I know of) where I have been blogrolled (quite a long time ago) is Different River, so let me take this opportunity to thank him as well.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Getting rid of welfare

Charles Murray, of The Bell Curve fame (see here for an update on that), has written a new, exciting book: In Our Hands (via RealClearPolitics; by the way, check out their revamped site) which advocates dismantling the welfare state. The publisher says:
America's population is wealthier than any in history. Every year, the American government redistributes more than a trillion dollars of that wealth to provide for retirement, health care, and the alleviation of poverty. We still have millions of people without comfortable retirements, without adequate health care, and living in poverty. Only a government can spend so much money so ineffectually. The solution is to give the money to the people.
This is the Plan, a radical new approach to social policy that defies any partisan label. Murray suggests eliminating all welfare transfer programs at the federal, state, and local levels and substituting an annual $10,000 cash grant to everyone age twenty-one or older. In Our Hands describes the financial feasibility of the Plan and its effects on retirement, health care, poverty, marriage and family, work, neighborhoods and civil society.
Charles Murray, whose previous books include Losing Ground and The Bell Curve, demonstrates that the Plan is financially feasible and then uses detailed analysis to argue that many goals of the welfare state – elimination of poverty, comfortable retirement for everyone, universal access to health care – would be better served under the Plan than under the current system. Murray also challenges the Left to confront their own rhetoric about the disadvantaged: why not give real resources and responsibility to them?.
More details here. Admittedly it's not a plan that is likely to be implemented anytime soon, but a compelling proposal it is nonetheless. I would be interested in seeing the details and technicalities of Murray's proposal: hopefully he will soon be illustrating a summary of his plan in the press.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A universal answer: it must be global warming!

Different River makes an interesting point about global warming:
So, if you are a global warming believer, then if temperatures go up it’s because of global warming – and if temperatures go down, it’s also because of global warming. There is no conceivable, let alone actual, evidence that might indicate there is not global warming. No matter what happens, it’s because of global warming.
Global warming is thus inherently unfalsifiable – which means it is not a scientific theory. The most basic requirement for a scientific theory is that it must be in principal falsifiable – that is, it must make some prediction which, if found to be untrue, would be regarded even by the promoter(s) of the theory as evidence that the theory is wrong. The Theory of Gravity is like this. It predicts that things will fall down, unless supported by something – your hand, a table, or in the case of hot-air balloons, denser air. If you drop a bowling ball and it doesn’t fall down, that would be proof that the Theory of Gravity is wrong. Even Isaac Newton would have accepted that proof. But with global warming, there is nothing you can imagine – let along that has actually occured – that would be regarded as a disproof of the global warming theory.
Do read the whole thing, in which he quotes an amusing Clayton Cramer post:
I suspect that the "Global Warming" fantasy will continue until polar bears start to eat environmentalists at global warming conferences in Miami.
But Different River thinks that not even this will stop them...

Movies and politics

The other day I went to the movies with a friend and we went to see The World’s Fastest Indian, which tells the story of Burt Munro. Though I have absolutely no interest in motorcycle (or any other) racing, it's undeniably a very compelling story, skillfully recounted, so much so that it brought tears to my eyes (and it's not a sad story).
We were also thinking of seeing Syriana, but decided against it. Apart from the excellent critique of the movie by Amir Taheri in the Arab News, the clincher was an excellent post in White Sun of the Desert (via Tim Worstall) which methodically destroys the movie and underlines the idiocy and sloppiness (dishonesty?) of the film makers:
Presumably the film's makers think American oil companies prefer corrupt dictatorships to progressive countries which undergo radical reforms, ushering in free market enterprise. Which is odd, because Hollywood's great and good - one of whom stars in this film - regularly lambasts the US for removing a corrupt dictator in order to reform a Middle East country and open it up to free market enterprise for the benefit of US oil companies.
In short, the film is awful. Evil oilmen, CIA assasinations, corrupt Arabs, noble reformists, desperate suicide bombers. They couldn’t have crammed more ignorant stereotypes into this film if they tried.
Do read the whole thing.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Fair trade hypocrisy

Alex Singleton has an excellent editorial in this week’s The Business about "fair trade" and free trade:
When efficient producers start to win trade, vested interests cry wolf and say it is "unfair". This is what is happening in textiles, where more affluent developing countries have combined in an unholy alliance with French and Italian producers to complain about cheap Chinese textiles. Poverty relief would be much better served by pursuing a free trade agenda, instead of the "fair trade" policies supported by the European trade commissioner Peter Mandelson and an assortment of ethical consumer activists. Such policies, whether government enforced or done through consumer schemes, encourage more affluent producers to stay in the market. This kicks away the ladder from the poorest producers who have no choice but to stay in the market. A quarter of "fair trade" coffee comes from Mexico, a relatively affluent developing country, where only 18% of the workforce is employed in agriculture. Mexico is a country which, if it so chose, could easily exit the coffee market. Because of the incentive of "fair trade", many producers have decided to stay producing coffee, even expanding production. This is a disaster for the poorest coffee producers, such as in Ethiopia, where drinking coffee was invented.
Do read the whole thing.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Scrap quarterly reporting

This week’s Economist (requires subs.) has an interesting article on the balance of power between shareholders and managers, in which the paper makes an original proposal (emphasis mine):
Boards of directors could be much tougher with themselves, for instance by scrapping the poison pills that are designed to inhibit the market for corporate control by entrenching ownership (and, typically, managers, too). Similarly, both owners and managers need to think through what is the right way to assess performance and then reward or punish it. Part of the problem is public markets' obsession with quarterly results, which presses managers to pursue meaningless targets rather than think about what is best for the company—one reason why private equity has become more popular in the corporate world. So here's a thought: why not make the whole board stand for re-election under majority voting every two or three years, but leave it to get on with the job in the interstices by scrapping quarterly reporting? Shareholders could challenge incumbents in the meantime only through a hostile takeover bid. That might be just the recalibration American capitalism needs.
Do read the whole thing. Can you imagine what an uproar scrapping quarterly results would cause? Keeping in mind that the Dutch East India Company – the first true publicly traded, limited liability company, founded in 1602 – initially reported financial results (if memory serves) every twenty years or so, should help us keep things in perspective.
When justified, I quite like these bold proposals: let's shake things up!

Gays in marriages

Recently there has been some interest in the phenomenon of women who are married to gay men. I assume the focus is a reaction to the portrayal of two such couples in the film Brokeback Mountain.
The New York Times ran a story about it:
Helen Fisher, a research anthropologist at Rutgers University, said in an interview that human partnerships are shaped by three independent neurochemical brain-body systems, responsible respectively for sexual attraction, romantic yearning and long-term attachment.
"The three systems are very fickle. They can act together, or they can act separately," Dr. Fisher said. This, she said, helps explain why people can be wildly sexually attracted to those they have no romantic interest in, and romantically drawn to — or permanently attached to — people who hold no sexual interest.
"Once the system is triggered, it's so chemically powerful that you can easily overlook everything about that person that doesn't work for you," Dr. Fisher said. "Even straight people have fallen in love with people they could never make a life with," she said.
The (London) Times also published an account (via Tim Worstall) of a person who had to face this issue (albeit shortly before the wedding):
But even if Mr Normal decides that he is bisexual — or even straight — could I ever forgive his betrayal? A close male friend of mine said I was looking at it wrongly, that it wasn’t about betrayal and forgiveness. "The trouble with women is that they think everything is about them. They love martyring themselves. If their boyfriends cheat on them, they think 'What's wrong with me?' But it has nothing to do with them. Most blokes need a lot of sex, and want a wide variety of sex. When they cheat it’s about them and their weakness, it’s not about you."
I don't agree. It is about you, it's about the fact that your partner goes ahead and does something that he doesn't need, but wants, knowing full well that if you find out you'll be devastated. In other words, he doesn't care about you enough to forgo something for your sake. Regardless of where you fall within the straight-bisexual-gay continuum, I would have said that betrayal is betrayal.
But having talked night and day with this man, I have come to the conclusion that there might be an exception to this rule: the person who is truly in denial. A person in denial can't betray you, because he doesn't know what the truth is himself. If he betrays anyone, he betrays himself, and by comparison you're a minor casualty. Unless you know someone in denial, you probably have no idea of the power it can hold over a person. An alcoholic who is truly in denial does not lie to you when he tells you he does not have a problem with booze, he really believes he hasn't got one. He’s running away from what he sees as the awful truth of himself so fast that it has become a blur.
Perhaps being in denial is an extenuating circumstance. However most of all I agree with the author's point about betrayal. In fact, two thoughts spring to mind:
1. I find it deeply offensive to say that people have such a limited control over their emotional and sexual desires and impulses. I think "betrayal" cannot be justified by claiming "irresistible urges." Chemical imbalances?! Puh-leaze!
It is eminently possible that this view depends on my personality (which has been defined "icy" – though I, and hopefully those who know me best, would dispute that). Even so, it seems to me that if there are people who have such irresistible sexual drives, they should refrain from marrying – and if they have married, and are unwilling to divorce, they should make the effort and forego the fulfillment of these urges instead of forcing the rather sordid situations described in the articles above, on their spouses.
2. The other thing I found mildly odd is that the discussion in the media only centers on straight women married to gay men, while undoubtedly the opposite also exists: straight men married to lesbian women. True, this phenomenon is surely not as common (actually, the whole phenomenon is probably rarer than claimed, as Tim Worstall points out) but I still think it worthy of note that women always seem to be projected as the victims (in this respect and in others), while this is clearly not necessarily the case anymore (in the West).

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The other shoe hasn't dropped yet

The Financial Times has an interesting essay by Robert Matthews on an ongoing story, about quantum mechanics and supposedly incredible new energy sources, that has popped up now and again in recent years, and which I mentioned here. Though nobody seems to know for certain (yet) whether the fantastic claims made by Dr. Randell Mills are credible or not, the author seems to express benign interest in future developments and pokes fun at those who dismiss the claims a priori:
And no wonder: this medical student turned physicist claims to have debunked the textbook account of how atoms are put together – and in the process discovered a new source of clean, cheap energy.
So which is it: is Dr Mills a crank or a genius? Faced with making up their minds, many scientists have shown the classic symptom of cognitive dissonance: spluttering rage (it is a safe bet that some are even now tapping out letters of complaint to this newspaper). They simply refuse point-blank to believe that Dr Mills could have found a form of atomic energy missed by the likes of Albert Einstein and Ernest Rutherford.
But – again in line with psychological theory – those with rather less investment in the current scientific paradigm tend to have fewer problems countenancing the other possibility: that Dr Mills really is a genius. Some have even gone as far as investing a total of $50m in his New Jersey-based company, Blacklight Power, whose board members include Neil Moskowitz, the chief financial officer of Credit Suisse, and Michael Jordan, chairman of Electronic Data Systems.
Yet most of Dr Mills’ critics have probably never bothered to read any of his research papers. Some have, however, and have gone on to attempt the acid test of any scientific claim: replication by independent researchers. Among those to test Dr Mills’ ideas is a team led by Professor Gerrit Kroesen at the University of Technology in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. So far their results have confirmed that hydrogen atoms do indeed behave strangely in the presence of certain elements, in line with Dr Mills’ theory, and they plan to test the key claim of net energy output later this year.
While many scientists express doubts off the record, the fact remains that no one has published a knock-out argument against Dr Mills’ basic theory (though some claim it is so silly it is not worth a rebuttal).
Whether his theory is right is ultimately irrelevant, however. What really matters is whether hot hydrogen can be persuaded to give out more energy than it takes in, making it a viable power source.
The article goes on to cite several telling instances in which it took the scientific establishment longer than seemly to recognize breakthroughs. I thought the most amusing one was (emphasis mine):
When two American bicycle repairmen claimed to have built the world’s first aircraft in 1903, they were dismissed as cranks. Newspapers refused to send reporters or photographers to witness any of the flights. More than two years later, Scientific American magazine was still insisting that the story was a hoax. By that time, the Wright brothers had completed a half-hour flight covering 24 miles.
Do read the whole thing. The vision of such cheap, clean and efficient energy is certainly tantalizing. Who knows if the coming months will hold exciting news on this front?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Dishonesty by omission?

David Aaronovitch has an interesting editorial in the Times (via Harry’s Place) about British attitudes towards the Guantanamo prison:
If this account is to be believed then these three are either the luckiest or unluckiest men in Britain, and certainly among the stupidest. Winterbottom, asked about their reasons for going to Afghanistan, replied: "If you’re talking about people’s motives, it’s very difficult . . . It’s very hard to pin down your motives to one thing. But what they say in the film is that they were interested to see Afghanistan, and wanted to help the people there."
What the film doesn’t tell you is that the Karachi mosque that the three boys happened across, the Binori Mosque, had already, in 2001, been described as "the alma mater for jihadis". The most militant elements in the battle for Kashmir studied at the Binori madrassa — a centre of the extreme Deobandi ideology — as did many members of the Taleban. It was thought to be the spiritual home of the Harkat ul-Ansar terrorist organisation, and in the autumn of 2001 the mosque and seminary were openly recruiting fighters to go to the aid of the Taleban.
There is also a curiosity in the timeline of the film. The boys left Karachi on the October 12, crossing the border on the 14th. They hadn’t, they told the film-makers, really expected that a war would actually happen. That’s how innocent they were. But the bombing of Kabul and Kandahar began at 7.45pm local time on October 7, and the battle was already five days old before they left Karachi. The film glosses over this fact, too.
Finally, though the Tipton lads are shown as having been lovable rogues back home, there are no interviews with those who have claimed that, by September 2001, they had already become religiously zealous, and anxious to listen to the preaching of men like Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal, the imam later jailed in Britain for calling upon Muslims to murder Jews.
I am emphatically not saying here that I believe that the Tipton Three took up arms in Afghanistan and fought for the Taleban. Their story may be implausible, but it isn’t impossible. What I am noting here is the way in which Winterbottom banishes ambivalence. His Guantanamo detainees are innocent, even if the facts have to be selected carefully so as to reinforce that impression.
Do read the whole thing.

Monday, March 06, 2006


Pushed by circumstance and the state of my wardrobe, on Sunday I indulged in one of the activities I most loathe: clothes shopping. At least I didn’t have to make a pilgrimage of it, as my house is not far from Oxford Street, the place to go for shopping. I was planning to buy one, maybe two, pairs of "business casual" trousers, and I told myself beforehand that I did not want to spend more than £150/£170. It was the first time I was doing this in London (and guess what: in 1½ years I have never bought any clothes in Brussels, though I did go shopping on rare occasions while visiting my parents in Milan) so I was a little apprehensive about what to expect, both in terms of what would be on offer and how expensive it would be. As a result of my ignorance I started out going by name recognition.
My first stop was Selfridges, which is one of the most famous department stores in the world. It was appalling. I did not see a single item I would even remotely consider buying: everything was fashionable and nothing was elegant. Already bored, but still determined to come away with something, I went into the Marks & Spencer next door, which to my surprise proved to be much more to my taste. After (seemingly?) endless browsing and trying on ill-fitting trousers, I ended up getting a pair of pure cotton chinos for £15 and a pair of blue jeans for, I kid you not, £9. So much for London being exorbitantly expensive. As much as I hate crowds, on my way home I couldn't help having that giddy feeling that I had gotten a great deal. I wonder how long it will take for the trousers to fall apart...

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The End of Fukuyama?

Christopher Hitchens debunks Francis Fukuyama's recent anti-Neocon tirade, in an amusingly titled piece, The End of Fukuyama, for Slate (via Instapundit):
I have my own criticisms both of my one-time Trotskyist comrades and of my temporary neocon allies, but it can be said of the former that they saw Hitlerism and Stalinism coming—and also saw that the two foes would one day fuse together—and so did what they could to sound the alarm. And it can be said of the latter (which, alas, it can't be said of the former) that they looked at Milosevic and Saddam and the Taliban and realized that they would have to be confronted sooner rather than later. Fukuyama's essay betrays a secret academic wish to be living in "normal" times once more, times that will "restore the authority of foreign policy 'realists' in the tradition of Henry Kissinger." Fat chance, Francis! Kissinger is moribund, and the memory of his failed dictator's club is too fresh to be dignified with the term "tradition." If you can't have a sense of policy, you should at least try to have a sense of history. America at the Crossroads evidently has neither.
Do read the whole thing.

Intellectuals risk life for free speech

The other day it was noted in the blogosphere (see here and here) that several influential writers and intellectuals of Muslim origin had courageously signed a strongly worded manifesto in support of free speech, as a response to the cartoon row. I was surprised to see it reported very prominently on the BBC News website:
Salman Rushdie is among a dozen writers to have put their names to a statement in a French weekly paper warning against Islamic "totalitarianism". The writers say the violence sparked by the publication of cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad shows the need to fight for secular values and freedom. The statement is published in Charlie Hebdo, one of several European papers to reprint the caricatures.
"After having overcome fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism, the world now faces a new global threat: Islamism," the manifesto says. "We, writers, journalists, intellectuals, call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all." The clashes over the cartoons "revealed the necessity of the struggle for these universal values," the statement continues. "It is not a clash of civilisations nor an antagonism of West and East that we are witnessing, but a global struggle that confronts democrats and theocrats."
They have also posted the whole text of the manifesto. I'm impressed.
Meanwhile, if you're in London, do consider attending the March for Free Expression on March 25th at 2pm in Trafalgar Sqaure, details here.

Post Scriptum:
Timothy Garton Ash has related comments in today’s Guardian (via Harry’s Place):
If the intimidators succeed, then the lesson for any group that strongly believes in anything is: shout more loudly, be more extreme, threaten violence, and you will get your way. Frightened firms, newspapers or universities will cave in, as will softbellied democratic states, where politicians scrabble to keep the votes of diverse constituencies. But in our increasingly mixed-up, multicultural world, there are so many groups that care so strongly about so many different things, from fruitarians to anti-abortionists and from Jehovah's Witnesses to Kurdish nationalists. Aggregate all their taboos and you have a vast herd of sacred cows. Let the frightened nanny state enshrine all those taboos in new laws or bureaucratic prohibitions, and you have a drastic loss of freedom. That, I think, is what is happening to us, issue by issue.
If someone says "the Nazis didn't kill so many Jews and had no plan for their systematic extermination", he is a distorter of history who deserves to be intellectually refuted and morally condemned, but not imprisoned. If, however, someone says "kill the Jews", or "kill the Muslims", or "kill the Americans", or "kill the animal experimenters", and points to particular groups of Jews, Muslims, Americans or animal experimenters, they should be met with the full rigour of the law. That's why, of all the recent high-profile cases where free speech has been at issue, that of the London-based hatepreacher Abu Hamza is the only one where I feel a criminal conviction was justified. Not because he was a Muslim rather than a Christian, a Jew or a secular European. No. Because he was guilty of incitement to murder. This is the line on which we must take our stand. Facing down intimidation, backed by the threat of violence, is the key to resisting the creeping tyranny of the group veto. Here there can be no compromise.
Do read the whole thing.

We can do better

Martin Wolf has an interesting column in the Financial Times in which he explains why the so-called "European social model" is unsustainable and risks failure:
The time has come for Europeans to ask themselves the unthinkable: can their vaunted social model endure? It is a question I have wished to avoid. But it is irresponsible to persist in doing so. Something is rotten in the state of western Europe. The continent retains valuable assets from the past. But these are showing symptoms of decay. The underlying cause seems increasingly evident: the hypertrophy of the state.
Symptoms are not hard to find: this is a continent of high and persistent unemployment, declining productivity growth, rapid ageing and growing fiscal strains; it is also one whose once-proud role in knowledge-creation is in decline.
If one is to assess this possibility one must look not at where the model works least well but where it works best. The maternal state is most fully developed in the Nordic countries and particularly in Sweden. In a forceful new polemic, Johnny Munkhammar of Timbro, a free-market Swedish think- tank, convinces me that trouble abounds even in Sweden’s social democratic paradise. Indeed, its long-run performance shows this.
What, then, are the failings of the big state? The answers include: fiscal unsustainability; mediocrity of provision; slackening work effort; slowing productivity growth; resistance to economic adjustment; flight of valuable economic resources; difficulties in absorbing immigrants; and even the undermining of the family. A social system that protects people from the consequences of their own decisions is rife with moral hazard: in the long run, it changes not just behaviour but even values in a less productive direction.
Fourth, since 2005, productivity in the EU has been losing ground to the US after a long-period of catching up. Some small countries did quite well. But the US should be compared with Europe as a whole: between 1995 and 2005, US productivity per hour rose one percentage point a year faster than in the EU. Robert Gordon of Northwestern University notes that between 1995 and 2003 western Europe lost a fifth of its catch-up on US average living standards of the years between 1950 and 1995.
Do read the whole thing, which has more interesting charts and in which Wolf compellingly expands on these themes. The book he cites approvingly is called European Dawn by Johnny Munkhammar and looks really interesting. What caught my eye is that it seems to approach the subject of Europe's dismal economic perforamance in a positive light: focusing on how much better things could be if the appropriate free-market reforms were implemented. I’ll see if I can get my hands on a copy.

Jack Straw should go

James Forsyth has an interesting editorial in this week’s The Business in which he explains why the British Foreign Secretary is shattering any hope of convincing Iran of giving up it’s nuclear arms ambitions:
To stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the West must convince the authorities in Tehran that it is prepared to use force. But one politician keeps getting in the way of this strategy and making it seem that force would never be even an option: Jack Straw, the UK Foreign Secretary, whose words keep reassuring the Iranians that they can do whatever they want.
In recent weeks, there have been signs that Tehran was beginning to worry about a military strike.
Straw, though, seems intent on soothing jangled Iranian nerves. In a recent interview with the BBC Persian service he all but dismissed the prospect of military action. “You know what I’ve said about that,” he barked. Sadly, we do. On 28 January, as Iran was rejecting warnings about restarting its nuclear programme, Straw announced: “There isn’t a military option.”
“It doesn’t make any sense to rule out an option that provides you with some degree of leverage in negotiations. That’s just a basic rule of negotiation even if you never have any intention of using it,” says Jeremy Shapiro, a fellow at the centrist Brookings Institution.
What’s behind Straw’s unhelpful outbursts? The answer is internal Labour Party politics. Straw knows that being foreign secretary during the Iraq war hurt his standing in the party and will hurt him even more in the post-Blair era. He needs to contain the damage and his grandstanding on Iran combined with glimpses of his reservations about the Iraq war play well with the Labour base. He also has a keen eye on his shrinking majority in his Blackburn constituency, where over a quarter of the electorate is Muslim.
Do read the whole thing. He concludes that Blair should get rid of him, and I agree. The political game Jack Straw is playing is very dangerous and quite despicable. I am convinced that if all Western powers had unequivocally and forcefully threatened Saddam Hussein with military action in 2003 the chance of an actual invasion taking place would have been greatly reduced. It is this (mostly European) attitude, which always opposes the dirty but necessary work - even when done by somebody else - that gave Saddam the (thankfully false) impression that he could get away with anything. Shame on Jack Straw for putting us in a weaker negotiating position with Iran for his personal political gain.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A dark future?

Douglas Murray had an interesting article in the Sunday Times (via Instapundit) about where Europe is headed if it doesn’t stand up to extremist Islamist intimidation:
Europe is shuffling into darkness. It is proving incapable of standing up to its enemies, and in an effort to accommodate the peripheral rights of a minority is failing to protect the most basic rights of its own people.
The governments of Europe have been tricked into believing that criticism of a belief is the same thing as criticism of a race. And so it is becoming increasingly difficult and dangerous to criticise a growing and powerful ideology within our midst. It may soon, in addition, be made illegal.
Do read the whole thing, which recounts telling personal experiences. On the same subject, also see the latest installment of the Glenn and Helen Show where they interview the author of Menace in Europe, Claire Berlinski.