Friday, May 26, 2006

But he's still brilliant...

Since in my last post I criticised Christopher Hitchens, I would like to point out that I often find his writing to be brilliant. It gives voice, in concise and biting prose, to ideas and convictions which I have long held and could never express as effectively as he does. A few weeks ago he had an article in Slate on the war in Iraq, and there is not one syllable in it with which I disagree:
So, now I come at last to my ideal war. Let us start with President Bush's speech to the United Nations on Sept. 12, 2002, which I recommend that you read. Contrary to innumerable sneers, he did not speak only about WMD and terrorism, important though those considerations were. He presented an argument for regime change and democracy in Iraq and said, in effect, that the international community had tolerated Saddam's deadly system for far too long. Who could disagree with that? Here's what should have happened. The other member states of the United Nations should have said: Mr. President, in principle you are correct. The list of flouted U.N. resolutions is disgracefully long. Law has been broken, genocide has been committed, other member-states have been invaded, and our own weapons inspectors insulted and coerced and cheated. Let us all collectively decide how to move long-suffering Iraq into the post-Saddam era. We shall need to consider how much to set aside to rebuild the Iraqi economy, how to sponsor free elections, how to recuperate the devastated areas of the marshes and Kurdistan, how to try the war criminals, and how many multinational forces to ready for this task. In the meantime—this is of special importance—all governments will make it unmistakably plain to Saddam Hussein that he can count on nobody to save him. All Iraqi diplomats outside the country, and all officers and officials within it, will receive the single message that it is time for them to switch sides or face the consequences. Then, when we are ready, we shall issue a unanimous ultimatum backed by the threat of overwhelming force. We call on all democratic forces in all countries to prepare to lend a hand to the Iraqi people and assist them in recovering from more than three decades of fascism and war.
Not a huge amount to ask, when you think about it. But what did the president get instead? The threat of unilateral veto from Paris, Moscow, and Beijing. Private assurances to Saddam Hussein from members of the U.N. Security Council. Pharisaic fatuities from the United Nations' secretary-general, who had never had a single problem wheeling and dealing with Baghdad. The refusal to reappoint Rolf Ekeus—the only serious man in the U.N. inspectorate—to the job of invigilation. A tirade of opprobrium, accusing Bush of everything from an oil grab to a vendetta on behalf of his father to a secret subordination to a Jewish cabal. Platforms set up in major cities so that crowds could be harangued by hardened supporters of Milosevic and Saddam, some of them paid out of the oil-for-food bordello.
Do read the whole thing, which touches on the main issues working up to the war. I was recently trying to make a similar point to a friend of mine: Chirac should have gotten behind Bush's statements before the war, and there probably would have been no war because it would have been unnecessary. Unfortunately this friend of mine has IMHO a disingenuous faith (belied by history) in the workings of international law and therefore claimed that such a strategy would have been wrong because Chirac would have been creating damaging legal precedents by supporting a crime, and that Bush was obviously not interested in humanitarian intervention, otherwise the US would have filed the appropriate legal arguments. I clearly think that's a load of tosh, and this article goes a long way to explain why.

Hitchens conflates matters

Yesterday Christopher Hitchens gave a lecture, which I would have gone to had I not had tickets for Embers with Jeremy Irons (which was brilliant, by the way). Hitchens is a very interesting writer, of socialist extraction, with whom I often agree (notably on the war in Iraq), but who sometimes says some odd things, to put it mildly. Here is part of his speech, referring to the three monotheistic religions (emphasis mine):
The beginning of wisdom is to say that all these three sides need to be condemned to death and to hell. These people seriously want us all to die, if we won't adopt their faith. They look--they think of us, they think of you, all of us, as dispensable, as mere extras, as digits in their cosmic horror show. They look forward to the day when Armageddon comes. They look forward to the day when all the achievements of human civilization are cast into a pit and they have all that in common with one another and this is the perfect demonstration case and it's right before our eyes and you can read about it every day and that's how far we've got from the Age of Reason as well as The Rights of Man, because when reason dies, the rights of man are so obviously and so clearly and so utterly negated.
If this were true I would probably agree with his sentiments. Unfortunately it is emphatically untrue, at least in regard to Judaism, which is the only religion I can claim to have a throrough knowledge of. The idea that a religious Jew would want anyone to die if they did not accept Judaism is simply laughable. Even a superficial knowledge of Judaism, of its most ancient teachings and of how it has been practiced for millenia, would be sufficient for anyone to realize this. According to Jewish law, not only must a non-Jew who wants to convert to Judaism be discouraged from doing so on three separate occasions, but it is forbidden for Jews to even mildly and verbally encourage people to convert (let alone coerce someone by force). The reason for this is simple: Jews do not believe (and never have) that it is necessary to be Jewish to be a good person and go to heaven. If I understand correctly, this is not the case with some (or maybe most) believers of the other monotheistic religions, in which case Hitchens' comments would seem to be somewhat more justified. But I find it unfortunate (and frankly insulting) that in his quasi-religious atheistic zeal he should conflate the matters, and call for the death of all religious people.

Galloway shows his true colours

George Galloway (via Drudge) never fails to impress with the raving lunacy of his despicable world view:
The Respect MP George Galloway has said it would be morally justified for a suicide bomber to murder Tony Blair.
In an interview with GQ magazine, the reporter asked him: "Would the assassination of, say, Tony Blair by a suicide bomber - if there were no other casualties - be justified as revenge for the war on Iraq?"
Mr Galloway replied: "Yes, it would be morally justified. I am not calling for it - but if it happened it would be of a wholly different moral order to the events of 7/7. It would be entirely logical and explicable. And morally equivalent to ordering the deaths of thousands of innocent people in Iraq - as Blair did."
See Harry's Place for some interesting comments.

Quote of the day

Philip Stephens in today's Financial Times:
For all that the rhetoric is warmer and the US has rediscovered the mechanics of diplomacy, the sense of distance between the two sides is palpable. Even where they agree on the objective – as in the case of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability – they see the world through different lenses. The impatience for pre-emptive action of the sole superpower still collides with the European predilection for thumb-sucking.
Europe just makes pride swell in my chest...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Lies about Iraq

Peter Wehner has an excellent editorial in the Wall Street Journal (via Instapundit) in which he ably debunks some of the antiwar myths (and even outright lies) which the MSM loves to perpetuate:
Iraqis can participate in three historic elections, pass the most liberal constitution in the Arab world, and form a unity government despite terrorist attacks and provocations. Yet for some critics of the president, these are minor matters. Like swallows to Capistrano, they keep returning to the same allegations--the president misled the country in order to justify the Iraq war; his administration pressured intelligence agencies to bias their judgments; Saddam Hussein turned out to be no threat since he didn't possess weapons of mass destruction; and helping democracy take root in the Middle East was a postwar rationalization. The problem with these charges is that they are false and can be shown to be so--and yet people continue to believe, and spread, them.
Do read the whole thing. A few months ago Commentary (pdf; see here for an html version) also published an indispensable and lucid editorial by Norman Podhoretz on the lengths which some people will go to, to dishonestly represent recent history. Independently of whether the war was right or wrong (and I'm absolutely convinced it was right, in case you hadn't noticed) more energy needs to be expended in eradicating these despicable attempts to rewrite history.

Erroneous report? Not so fast!

Yesterday, Financial Times columnist Victor Mallet made an interesting point about Western companies' cravenness when faced with Chinese censorship, and notes that it isn't limited to media and technology firms:
But what if Beijing’s interference were to extend to the suppression of the economic and financial information on which investors rely to make business decisions? Would executives in China feel as sanguine as they do today about curbs on free speech?
The publication and humiliating withdrawal of Ernst & Young's global report on non-performing loans this month serves as a warning that open discussion of the economy – especially politically sensitive matters such as the health of the big banks – is, in fact, already compromised.
In the China section of its report on May 3, E&Y estimated the total exposure of China's financial system to bad loans to be $911bn. That included $358bn – nearly three times the official figure – at the big four state banks. Nine days later, E&Y withdrew the whole report, saying the $358bn figure was "factually erroneous" and lamenting the absence of the "normal internal review and approval process" before publication.
E&Y's explanation is hard to swallow, if only because it suggests the organisation was unusually incompetent at its work as well as unusually lax with its controls. A more likely reason is that E&Y is trying to protect its China business and mollify the People's Bank of China, the central bank, which had publicly called the report "ridiculous and barely understandable" hours before E&Y backed down.
E&Y's report on China, however, was carefully worded. It noted the scarcity of accurate information in "a banking culture that resists openness" and referred to bad loans that could lurk in the category of "special mention" credits not included in official non-performing loan ratios.
It should not be forgotten that E&Y described its $911bn estimate as "conservative" or that its concerns (although not the exact numbers) are shared by PwC, McKinsey Global Institute and the International Monetary Fund.
At worst, E&Y put out a report that could be criticised and debated – not one that should have been dismissed out of hand.
That makes it all the sadder that E&Y backed down. Much more is at stake than the fate of the state banks, although it is easy to see signs of frenzied over-investment in property and infrastructure financed by the banks in China's big cities. The underlying problem is Beijing's determination to curb the free flow of awkward information. That will ultimately threaten China's economic modernisation as well as its political development.
Do read the whole thing. No doubt most people will remember E&Y's retraction and not the valid points it had made. Even so, sooner or later China's problems will come to light, and thankfully they do not bode well for the "It's the next superpower!" cheerleading squad.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

What Prodi has (not) wrought

When the Economist theatrically accused former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi of being unfit to lead a Western democracy (here and here; requires subs.), the main centrist Italian daily, Corriere della Sera, (and the press in general) made a big deal of it. During the recent election campaign, articles which appeared in the foreign press - critical of Berlusconi or his accomplishments - got widespread attention. Isn't it odd then, that when this week's Economist, rightfully, savages the composition of the new Prodi government, nobody seems to have noticed? Here are the juicy bits:
His government may be the most left-leaning that Italy has ever had. Of its 26 members, one belongs to the Green party, which in Italy stands well to the left; two are communists; and nine (including the foreign minister, Massimo D'Alema) are Democrats of the Left, heirs to the former Italian Communist Party. As expected, the finance ministry will go to a distinguished independent, Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa. But the other main economic portfolios—industry, employment and transport—are all going to communists or ex-communists. That scarcely augurs well for the radical (ie, liberal) reforms that Mr Prodi's centre-left alliance had promised.
One of these second-class ministers is a spirited former European commissioner, Emma Bonino, who will be Europe minister. She had wanted the defence ministry. Her failure to get it shows the problems created for Mr Prodi by his narrow victory—and suggests that his government may not last all that long.
To break the deadlock, Mr Prodi gave defence to a close associate, Arturo Parisi. But to pacify the troublesome Mr Mastella, he handed him the even more prestigious justice ministry. Mr Mastella expressed delighted surprise. As well he might: for he is utterly unsuitable. More than once, he has chided prosecutors for their impertinent curiosity about political corruption. Only three months ago he was questioned at the headquarters of the national anti-Mafia directorate about his friendship with a man who admitted to helping the Sicilian Cosa Nostra's former "boss of bosses", Bernardo Provenzano, when he was on the run.
Francesco Campanella, a town councillor in Sicily who turned state's evidence after being investigated, has acknowledged giving Mr Provenzano documents that helped him to go abroad for medical treatment. A year earlier, Mr Mastella was a witness at Mr Campanella's wedding.
The truth is that some of the members of Prodi's cabinet are well-respected, reform-minded policy experts. Nonetheless, it seems to me that they will not get very far. Given his paper-thin majority, Prodi should have offered the main center-right parties a grand coalition, instead of going with the awkward mixture of small and radical leftwing parties with which he is now stuck, dashing any hopes for meaningful reform. In doing so he could have posed the condition that Berlusconi step down from the Forza Italia party leadership (which Silvio had hinted he was willing to do, and his deputies are eagerly hoping for), finally ridding the political landscape of an inappropriate (albeit tragically amusing) figure. That Prodi did not do so means that Berlusconi is now as powerful as ever within his coalition (because his side did significantly better than expected), and already ahead of Prodi in the polls, while the current government is hostage to the whims of a group of oddballs, who are bent on undoing the few positive reforms which had been implemented in recent years. Excepting miracles, expect Prodi to accomplish little and Berlusconi to be back in the driver's seat sometime in the future. And we can thank Prodi's narrow-mindedness for that.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Do you hear something?

Considering that from perusing the MSM one would get the impression that there is no rational and informed human being on earth who would deny that climate change is the major threat humanity is facing, a recent Melanie Phillips post on the issue of the melting scientific consensus is well worth reading. A group of eminent scientists have sent an open letter to the Canadian Prime Minister, asking that the debate over Kyoto be reopened. Melanie, who has long been skeptical, wonders:
Is that faint thundering I hear the sound of the cavalry arriving at last?
Well, if it is, it would certainly be music to my ears. The entire letter including its eye-popping list of signatories can be read here. Some of the highlights:
Observational evidence does not support today's computer climate models, so there is little reason to trust model predictions of the future. Yet this is precisely what the United Nations did in creating and promoting Kyoto and still does in the alarmist forecasts on which Canada's climate policies are based. Even if the climate models were realistic, the environmental impact of Canada delaying implementation of Kyoto or other greenhouse-gas reduction schemes, pending completion of consultations, would be insignificant.
While the confident pronouncements of scientifically unqualified environmental groups may provide for sensational headlines, they are no basis for mature policy formulation. The study of global climate change is, as you have said, an "emerging science," one that is perhaps the most complex ever tackled. It may be many years yet before we properly understand the Earth's climate system. Nevertheless, significant advances have been made since the protocol was created, many of which are taking us away from a concern about increasing greenhouse gases. If, back in the mid-1990s, we knew what we know today about climate, Kyoto would almost certainly not exist, because we would have concluded it was not necessary.
"Climate change is real" is a meaningless phrase used repeatedly by activists to convince the public that a climate catastrophe is looming and humanity is the cause. Neither of these fears is justified. Global climate changes all the time due to natural causes and the human impact still remains impossible to distinguish from this natural "noise." The new Canadian government's commitment to reducing air, land and water pollution is commendable, but allocating funds to "stopping climate change" would be irrational. We need to continue intensive research into the real causes of climate change and help our most vulnerable citizens adapt to whatever nature throws at us next.
And here, for the sake of its dramatic effect, is the list of signatories:
Dr. Ian D. Clark, professor, isotope hydrogeology and paleoclimatology, Dept. of Earth Sciences, University of Ottawa

Dr. Tad Murty, former senior research scientist, Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans, former director of Australia's National Tidal Facility and professor of earth sciences, Flinders University, Adelaide; currently adjunct professor, Departments of Civil Engineering and Earth Sciences, University of Ottawa

Dr. R. Timothy Patterson, professor, Dept. of Earth Sciences (paleoclimatology), Carleton University, Ottawa

Dr. Fred Michel, director, Institute of Environmental Science and associate professor, Dept. of Earth Sciences, Carleton University, Ottawa

Dr. Madhav Khandekar, former research scientist, Environment Canada. Member of editorial board of Climate Research and Natural Hazards

Dr. Paul Copper, FRSC, professor emeritus, Dept. of Earth Sciences, Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ont.

Dr. Ross McKitrick, associate professor, Dept. of Economics, University of Guelph, Ont.

Dr. Tim Ball, former professor of climatology, University of Winnipeg; environmental consultant

Dr. Andreas Prokoph, adjunct professor of earth sciences, University of Ottawa; consultant in statistics and geology

Mr. David Nowell, M.Sc. (Meteorology), fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society, Canadian member and past chairman of the NATO Meteorological Group, Ottawa

Dr. Christopher Essex, professor of applied mathematics and associate director of the Program in Theoretical Physics, University of Western Ontario, London, Ont.

Dr. Gordon E. Swaters, professor of applied mathematics, Dept. of Mathematical Sciences, and member, Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Research Group, University of Alberta

Dr. L. Graham Smith, associate professor, Dept. of Geography, University of Western Ontario, London, Ont.

Dr. G. Cornelis van Kooten, professor and Canada Research Chair in environmental studies and climate change, Dept. of Economics, University of Victoria

Dr. Petr Chylek, adjunct professor, Dept. of Physics and Atmospheric Science, Dalhousie University, Halifax

Dr./Cdr. M. R. Morgan, FRMS, climate consultant, former meteorology advisor to the World Meteorological Organization. Previously research scientist in climatology at University of Exeter, U.K.

Dr. Keith D. Hage, climate consultant and professor emeritus of Meteorology, University of Alberta

Dr. David E. Wojick, P.Eng., energy consultant, Star Tannery, Va., and Sioux Lookout, Ont.

Rob Scagel, M.Sc., forest microclimate specialist, principal consultant, Pacific Phytometric Consultants, Surrey, B.C.

Dr. Douglas Leahey, meteorologist and air-quality consultant, Calgary

Paavo Siitam, M.Sc., agronomist, chemist, Cobourg, Ont.

Dr. Chris de Freitas, climate scientist, associate professor, The University of Auckland, N.Z.

Dr. Richard S. Lindzen, Alfred P. Sloan professor of meteorology, Dept. of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Dr. Freeman J. Dyson, emeritus professor of physics, Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton, N.J.

Mr. George Taylor, Dept. of Meteorology, Oregon State University; Oregon State climatologist; past president, American Association of State Climatologists

Dr. Ian Plimer, professor of geology, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Adelaide; emeritus professor of earth sciences, University of Melbourne, Australia

Dr. R.M. Carter, professor, Marine Geophysical Laboratory, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia

Mr. William Kininmonth, Australasian Climate Research, former Head National Climate Centre, Australian Bureau of Meteorology; former Australian delegate to World Meteorological Organization Commission for Climatology, Scientific and Technical Review

Dr. Hendrik Tennekes, former director of research, Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute

Dr. Gerrit J. van der Lingen, geologist/paleoclimatologist, Climate Change Consultant, Geoscience Research and Investigations, New Zealand

Dr. Patrick J. Michaels, professor of environmental sciences, University of Virginia

Dr. Nils-Axel Morner, emeritus professor of paleogeophysics & geodynamics, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden

Dr. Gary D. Sharp, Center for Climate/Ocean Resources Study, Salinas, Calif.

Dr. Roy W. Spencer, principal research scientist, Earth System Science Center, The University of Alabama, Huntsville

Dr. Al Pekarek, associate professor of geology, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Dept., St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, Minn.

Dr. Marcel Leroux, professor emeritus of climatology, University of Lyon, France; former director of Laboratory of Climatology, Risks and Environment, CNRS

Dr. Paul Reiter, professor, Institut Pasteur, Unit of Insects and Infectious Diseases, Paris, France. Expert reviewer, IPCC Working group II, chapter 8 (human health)

Dr. Zbigniew Jaworowski, physicist and chairman, Scientific Council of Central Laboratory for Radiological Protection, Warsaw, Poland

Dr. Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, reader, Dept. of Geography, University of Hull, U.K.; editor, Energy & Environment

Dr. Hans H.J. Labohm, former advisor to the executive board, Clingendael Institute (The Netherlands Institute of International Relations) and an economist who has focused on climate change

Dr. Lee C. Gerhard, senior scientist emeritus, University of Kansas, past director and state geologist, Kansas Geological Survey

Dr. Asmunn Moene, past head of the Forecasting Centre, Meteorological Institute, Norway

Dr. August H. Auer, past professor of atmospheric science, University of Wyoming; previously chief meteorologist, Meteorological Service (MetService) of New Zealand

Dr. Vincent Gray, expert reviewer for the IPCC and author of The Greenhouse Delusion: A Critique of 'Climate Change 2001,' Wellington, N.Z.

Dr. Howard Hayden, emeritus professor of physics, University of Connecticut

Dr Benny Peiser, professor of social anthropology, Faculty of Science, Liverpool John Moores University, U.K.

Dr. Jack Barrett, chemist and spectroscopist, formerly with Imperial College London, U.K.

Dr. William J.R. Alexander, professor emeritus, Dept. of Civil and Biosystems Engineering, University of Pretoria, South Africa. Member, United Nations Scientific and Technical Committee on Natural Disasters, 1994-2000

Dr. S. Fred Singer, professor emeritus of environmental sciences, University of Virginia; former director, U.S. Weather Satellite Service

Dr. Harry N.A. Priem, emeritus professor of planetary geology and isotope geophysics, Utrecht University; former director of the Netherlands Institute for Isotope Geosciences; past president of the Royal Netherlands Geological & Mining Society

Dr. Robert H. Essenhigh, E.G. Bailey professor of energy conversion, Dept. of Mechanical Engineering, The Ohio State University

Dr. Sallie Baliunas, astrophysicist and climate researcher, Boston, Mass.

Douglas Hoyt, senior scientist at Raytheon (retired) and co-author of the book The Role of the Sun in Climate Change; previously with NCAR, NOAA, and the World Radiation Center, Davos, Switzerland

Dipl.-Ing. Peter Dietze, independent energy advisor and scientific climate and carbon modeller, official IPCC reviewer, Bavaria, Germany

Dr. Boris Winterhalter, senior marine researcher (retired), Geological Survey of Finland, former professor in marine geology, University of Helsinki, Finland

Dr. Wibjorn Karlen, emeritus professor, Dept. of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, Stockholm University, Sweden

Dr. Hugh W. Ellsaesser, physicist/meteorologist, previously with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Calif.; atmospheric consultant.

Dr. Art Robinson, founder, Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, Cave Junction, Ore.

Dr. Arthur Rorsch, emeritus professor of molecular genetics, Leiden University, The Netherlands; past board member, Netherlands organization for applied research (TNO) in environmental, food and public health

Dr. Alister McFarquhar, Downing College, Cambridge, U.K.; international economist

Dr. Richard S. Courtney, climate and atmospheric science consultant, IPCC expert reviewer, U.K.
I do believe I hear the thundering as well.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Freedom and punishment

In many respects I consider myself a libertarian, and I agree with much of the outrage expressed in some quarters (Samizdata, for one) over the UK government's curtailing of civil liberties. On the other hand there are trends and behaviours which I think it is the responsibility of the State to curtail, decisively if need be, and I don't feel that these two concepts are at all contradictory. This dichotomy is inherent in some rather interesting recent comments by Theodore Dalrymple in City Journal:
Returning briefly to England from France for a speaking engagement, I bought three of the major dailies to catch up on the latest developments in my native land. The impression they gave was of a country in the grip of a thoroughgoing moral frivolity. In a strange inversion of proper priorities, important matters are taken lightly and trivial ones taken seriously.
This is not the charming or uplifting frivolity of Feydeau's farces or Oscar Wilde's comedies; it is the frivolity of real decadence, bespeaking a profound failure of nerve bound to have disastrous consequences for the country's quality of life. The newspapers portrayed frivolity without gaiety and earnestness without seriousness—a most unattractive combination.
Do read the whole thing. In this respect today’s remarks by Tony Blair seem to be somewhat encouraging:
Launching Labour's Let's Talk consultation, Mr Blair said: "I believe people want a society without prejudice but with rules - rules that are fair, that we all play by, and rules that when broken carry a penalty.
"And the truth is that most people don't think we have sufficiently such a society."
Mr Blair said there should not be "continual legal battles to deport people who are committing serious crimes or inciting extremism".
Drug-abusing offenders should not be put back out on the street without proper supervision, he said, and people flouting probation orders had to be penalised.
The lack of a connection between what the public expects from the criminal justice system and what it gets is becoming a recurrent theme for Mr Blair.
Maybe he too reads Dalrymple? It seems to me that if what he is saying is in fact a realistic assessment of the prevailing public opinion, then there is still hope for reform, be it under his watch or under his successor's.
At any rate, it seems clear to me that an appropriate balance can be stricken, and that there is much work to be done to reach that point. On the one hand it is appalling that people are being arrested for making frivolous comments. Everyone should be able to say absolutely anything they want, no matter how controversial, counterfactual or offensive it may be, as long as they are not directly inciting to acts of violence. This is clealy not the case at the moment, which I find deplorable. At the same time a person who visits violence on others (unless it is clearly in self-defence) needs to be subjected to extremely severe punishment, which should allow (limited) flexibility only in extraordinary cases of intense remorse and a proven willingness and ability to make a new start. This is also not the case at the moment, and Tony Blair, rightfully in this respect, indirectly blames the "human rights" and "civil liberties" crowd for this, as they focus exclusively on the rights and liberties of those who should be punished and not on those of everyone else.

Friday, May 12, 2006

A price floor for Oil?

Here's an interesting idea from the Brookings Institution's Philip Gordon, in today's Financial Times:
Instead of supporting politically cynical palliatives, Mr Bush should take the opportunity created by high oil prices to ask Congress to impose a "price floor" on a barrel of oil. The mechanism would be very simple. The government would announce that, as part of a comprehensive energy strategy, it will henceforth not allow the price of oil to fall below a particular floor of, say, $60 per barrel. If high oil prices continue, the proposal would have little impact and cost nothing, either politically or financially.
But if prices fall below that level – as they might well do once the impact of recent prices on demand and investment in alternative energy sources work their way through the world economy – the government would intervene to keep the price stable, with the difference between the floor and the market price reverting to the state as revenue.
If consumers and industry knew that the price of a barrel of oil would never again fall below $60 per barrel – the level around which US-produced corn-based ethanol fuel becomes economically viable – they could make long-term investment and consumption decisions in a way that makes little economic sense so long as price stability is not guaranteed. Americans will not take long-term decisions to buy fuel-efficient automobiles, create distribution networks for alternative fuels, or invest in technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells, flex-fuel vehicles or wind power unless they know that a future sharp fall in oil prices will not undercut them.
To make the proposal even more palatable politically, Washington could promise to spend any revenue on education, healthcare, homeland security and even tax cuts rather than use it for deficit reduction, a noble purpose but one that rarely excites voters. Senator Richard Lugar, an influential leader in the energy policy debate, has already come out in favour of a modest, revenue-neutral oil price floor.
Imposing such a "price floor" seems like a good idea, as it would also eliminate the oil-powers' ability of destroying the nascent alternative energy industry (nuclear, ethanol, oil shale etc.), as they did in the eighties, by flooding the oil market (and thereby slashing the price of oil), which they would no doubt love to do (assuming they still have the leverage to) as soon as enough money and resources have been invested in such projects. Also see an excellent related article in this month's Reason Magazine.

What society teaches

I don't consider myself prudish, but this is simply appalling:
The case of an 11-year-old schoolgirl who became pregnant has prompted calls for better education on sexual health. The girl, now aged 12, is set to break the record for being the UK's youngest mother. She told a national newspaper she is "really excited" about having a child after losing her virginity to a boy aged 15 in Edinburgh.
The girl's 34-year-old mother told the Sun she was proud of her daughter. The mother-to-be, who smokes up to 20 cigarettes a day according to the newspaper, said she hoped the baby would be a boy.
How can people be so naive as to think that this has anything at all to do with sex education? You can educate until you turn blue in the face, and this will still happen, if the mother is proud of her and the state resolves her problems for her. I'm reading a riveting book, Our Culture, What's Left of It by Theodore Dalrymple, which explains how these problems stem from the British intellectual elite. I don't really know what policy options would reverse this trend decisively, although drastically scaling back the British welfare state (which, for instance, puts single mothers at the top of the list to get into council housing) would seem to be a good place to start: people only behave as if there were no consequences, when there are no consequences (for example, when the state will take care of you no matter how dumb your actions are). I truly believe that people in distress need to be helped, but one also has to take into account what incentives we create. The economic incentives are a much more powerful education than any sex-ed class could ever be.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Dick Cheney: A hero for gay people?

The Drudge Report has some interesting quotes from the Vice-Presidential daughter's new book:
In her new memoir, NOW IT'S MY TURN (Simon & Schuster/Threshold Editions, 2006), Mary Cheney writes that when she told her parents she was gay, the first words out of her father’s mouth "were exactly the ones that I wanted to hear: 'You're my daughter, and I love you, and I just want you to be happy.'"
VANITY FAIR editor Todd Purdum reports that Mary Cheney tells her story in a voice very much like her father's, and that she came out to her parents when she was a junior in high school, on a day when, after breaking up with her first girlfriend, she skipped school, ran a red light, and crashed the family car. Cheney writes that her mother hugged her, but then burst into tears, worried that she would face a life of pain and prejudice.
I wonder how many people would be willing to give the Cheneys credit for their reaction.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The UN prefers genocide to using mercenaries

Jim Miller (via Instapundit) notes an interesting thing in relation to a recent article about private security firms that appeared in the Boston Globe:
This is the solution to some of Africa's many civil wars that I have favored for years, not because it is a good solution, but because it is the least bad solution available. UN forces have been — at best — ineffectual, in many of these conflicts, because the UN soldiers are too few, too poorly trained, too poorly equipped, and too undisciplined. Nations that do have effective military forces are unwilling to commit them to Africa. But the military tasks are often small enough so that they could be handled by mercenaries. (Sorry, private security firms.)
So far, the answer to that second question is yes. The "international community", specifically the UN, does prefer genocide to using mercenaries. I was not surprised to learn, for example, that Kofi Annan had specifically rejected using a private firm during what Weiner calls the "Rwandan refugee crisis". (I assume she is talking about the time after the genocide.)
Finally, it is worth noting that, though the situation in Darfur is horrendous, there are many other civil wars in Africa. As far as deaths go, the worst is probably the civil war in the Congo, where three million may have died, according to common estimates. (That's far more than the US has lost in all our wars put together.) It might be possible to put together an effective international force for one or two of these conflicts, but not for all of them. All the more reason to use mercenaries to end some of these wars.
Shouldn't there be an outpouring of outrage that in the name of a moralistic rejection of mercenaries, the West has condemned so many people to death?