Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Take that!

As guilty as this makes me feel, I cannot suppress the feeling of schadenfreude at the news that Harvard will be suffering consequences for the indecorous defenestration of Larry Summers. Truly a victory against tyrants. Here's the story as reported by the Financial Times:
Larry Ellison, chief executive of Oracle, the business software group, has decided against a promised $115m donation to establish a centre for the study of health care projects at Harvard University.
The decision marks the first concrete fallout from the resignation earlier this year of Larry Summers, Harvard’s president, following a faculty revolt.
An Oracle spokesman said on Tuesday that Mr Ellison's decision to withdraw his pledge was "directly related" to the departure of Mr Summers, the controversial former US treasury secretary, whose brusque management style frequently clashed with members of the Harvard faculty.
"Larry Summers was the brainchild of this initiative. He and Larry Ellison had several dicussions about it. His last day at Harvard is this week, and his departure from Harvard is really the reason that Larry decided to reconsider the decision," the spokesman said.
He said Mr Ellison planned to announce a donation to another organisation within "several weeks."
Revenge is a dish best served cold!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

CND: Iran can have nukes, but not the UK

David T. (Tate) of Harry's Place has a post up in Comment is Free in which he notes an interesting double standard:
Kate Hudson, the chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is implacably opposed to the retention of a modern nuclear deterrent for Britain.
When it comes to Iran's nuclear programme, however, CND have a rather more, erm, nuanced position. In October 2005, CND invited a very special guest to address its annual conference:
The Iranian Ambassador, Dr Seyed Mohammed Hossein Adeli will speak at the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament's Annual Conference on the 15-16th October 2005. He will be giving Iran's perspective on the current controversy around the Iranian civil nuclear power programme.
CND members were treated to the Iranian regime's defence of that "civil nuclear programme."
Do read the whole thing.

What came first, the chicken or the egg?

Ann Althouse (via Instapundit) makes an interesting point:
You know, what the Democrats need is a presidential candidate who was critical of the war early on, but who now firmly supports the successful completion of the mission. Gore?
Well, I don't know about that (I mean the Gore part)... Simon (of I Respectfully Dissent) posts an interesting analysis in one of the comments there:
I know I'm usually the one leading the charge against comparative law, and this comparison isn't entirely a good fit, but the Dems seem to have gotten themselves into the same funk as did the Labour Party in Britain. Having been thoroughly discredited as a party of government, Labour got absolutely slaughtered in 1979 by a resurgent conservative party under the firm control of an unusually ideologically-driven leader, Margaret Thatcher. In 1983, they got an even sterner drubbing. Bits of the party began to detatch, thinking third party runs were the way to go (sound familiar?), others thought that all they had to do was sit back and do nothing, and when the Conservatives self-destructed, Labour would be returned to power without having to fundamentally change at all (sound familiar?) while some groups - particularly one called Militant Tendancy - essentially claimed that Labour had to move even further to the left (that should definitely sound familiar). Eventually, the realization set in that if they ever wanted to get back into power, they had to change, they had to get the ultra left out of the party, and they had to make a beeline back for a position that people could vote for. It took them until 1997 - nearly twenty years in the wilderness. It's easy to make the argument that Daily Kos is Militant Tendancy to Newt Gingrich's Margaret Thatcher, Al Gore's Jim Callaghan, and John Kerry's Paul Foot, and I suppose that there's an argument that Joe Biden is Neil Kinnock (no -- wait -- that's just Biden's speeches, sorry), but it's much harder, to see which Democrat is going to step up to the plate and say to the party, "shit, you guys, we're going to be out of power until kingdom come if we don't do something." In other words, the Democrats need their very own Tony Blair - the question is who.
Do read the whole thing. The cruel Biden joke was particularly appreciated...
At any rate, the odd thing about this analysis is that not too long ago people were saying that Bill Clinton did just that to get the Democrats out of the Reagan/Bush-induced funk (although that's not entirely true, as Clinton would never, ever have won in '92 without Ross Perot), and that Tony Blair was imitating Clinton to beat the Tories. However it is certainly true that as long as the Democratic leadership is populated by such cringe-inducing personages as John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi etc., and the party doesn't come up with a positive and unified vision of what it wants the US to mean for its citizens and for the world, it will be hard (thankfully) to convince the American people to entrust the keys of power to them.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Cats rule

In the great cat-dog debate, I am certainly a cat person. My sister has an adorably snobbish and indifferent cat (which I had to take care of regularly when I lived at home), and I generally think they are superior in many ways: cleaner, quieter and more independent (you can leave them alone for a weekend and they will pace themselves with the food even if you leave lots of it out, they won't pee on your couch or get desperately lonely...). Nevertheless I do recognise that honour must be paid to seeing-eye and rescue dogs, which I admire.
Anyway, I also happen to be a fan of the musical Cats, which gives living in Bloomsbury an additional dimension of fun, because that is where the story takes place. For instance according to an unpublished poem by T.S. Eliot which ended up in the musical, eventually cats go:
Up up up past the Russell Hotel,
up up up to the Heaviside Layer
I was surprised to notice that the Russell Hotel (which still stands and has a beautiful facade) is just around the corner from my house (and if you are wondering what the Heaviside Layer is, see here).
So I was very amused by this CNN report in which a couple return home to find their cat playing with a 7-foot snake. As Meryl Yourish says:
Superiority of felines over most of the other life forms is widely known (at least to the initiated). CNN provides a clip about another case when a representative of the felines manages quite nicely, thank you, in a contact with another life form.
Give 'em hell!

Never mind

The Jerusalem Post reports:
While sticking to its demand for the establishment of an independent inquiry into a blast on a Gaza beach 10 days ago that killed seven Palestinian civilians, the Human Rights Watch conceded Monday night for the first time since the incident that it could not contradict the IDF's exonerating findings.
On Monday, Maj.-Gen. Meir Klifi - head of the IDF inquiry commission that cleared the IDF of responsibility for the blast - met with Marc Garlasco, a military expert from the HRW who had last week claimed that the blast was caused by an IDF artillery shell. Following the three-hour meeting, described by both sides as cordial and pleasant, Garlasco praised the IDF's professional investigation into the blast, which he said was most likely caused by unexploded Israeli ordnance left laying on the beach, a possibility also raised by Klifi and his team.
Garlasco told Klifi during the meeting that he was impressed with the IDF's system of checks and balances concerning its artillery fire in the Gaza Strip and unlike Hamas which specifically targeted civilians in its rocket attacks, the Israelis, he said, invested a great amount of resources and efforts not to harm innocent civilians. "We do not believe the Israelis were targeting civilians." Garlasco said. "We just want to know if it was an Israeli shell that killed the Palestinians."
Adloyada (via Harry's Place and Instapundit – also see Haditha developments there) wonders:
As I commented previously, Mr Garlasco seems to have a remarkable tendency to radically recast his accounts of his actions to match emerging evidence. His entire previous case was about active Israeli shelling dropping out of the sky, which he had said was almost beyond doubt responsible.
And I wonder if Chris McGreal of the Guardian, Donald McIntyre of the Independent, and the BBC News web site will now report in full Garlasco and Human Rights Watch's latest statements that the Israeli forces invest such effort not to harm innocent civilians and were correct in stating that an errant shell did not cause the killings.
And will they raise questions about the Palestinian witness evidence they so graphically reported, which had barrages of shells landing in the midst of the family on the beach?
As they say in German: So siehst du aus!

Post Scriptum:
Also see these interesting comments from Meryl Yourish and Perry de Havilland.

Is the sky falling yet?

Something to chew on: the sea-level in the Arctic has been... falling! Madsen Pirie at the ASI Blog notes:

Scientists know that the world's oceans are not of uniform height, and it is possible, thinks Dr Proshutinsky, that the results might fit the so-called Arctic Oscillation, "a seesaw pattern of change in atmospheric pressure over the polar region and mid latitudes." The problem with fitting all this in is compounded by the regular cyclic changes which happen to the earth's climate, and indeed to the sun's output. What is by no means clear is whether any of these new Artcic findings can be laid at the door of human activity.
Do read the whole report, which underlines how little even scientists understand what drives the climate. Something I found odd is that the same page also has a graphic on Arctic sea ice extent, which is entitled: "Arctic Ice in Retreat." The data in the graphic plots as follows:

I do think the title is somewhat gratuitously misrepresenting the data... not to mention that the time frame is vanishingly small. Anyway, here (scroll down) is some more information about what is happening to glaciers in general.

Monday, June 19, 2006

'Mlle Thatcher' à l'Elysée?

Here is a story about someone I mentioned some time ago:
Sabine Hérold, who sprang to fame when she led a protest movement against French workers' readiness to go on strike, now hopes to exploit growing disillusionment with her country's political elite by winning a seat in parliament.
Miss Hérold, 25, who regards her French media nickname - Mlle Thatcher - as a compliment, also refuses to rule out standing as a candidate to replace Jacques Chirac as president next year.
Miss Hérold, a prominent figure in the new Liberal Alternative Party, told The Daily Telegraph last night that her aim was to restore French people's confidence in their country and society.
"I don't see myself as being of the Right," she insisted from Turkey, where she is on holiday. "Our concept of liberalism doesn't translate easily into English, but essentially means giving individuals the freedom and responsibility to make their own decisions in all areas of life." Miss Hérold found herself addressing crowds of up to 80,000 three years ago when she became the spearhead of a campaign against crippling anti-government strikes by public sector workers.
In her first attempt to win the hearts of French voters, she has chosen Paris's smart 16th arrondissement for her battleground. There, she will try to unseat Françoise de Panafieu, from the ruling centre-Right UMP party, who won a comfortable victory in the 2002 general election.
Quite a long shot, I would say, and that's all the more reason to admire her for fighting for these ideals. Maybe she'll do better than Abraham Lincoln... that's when the real fun would start.

Is reality malleable?

Here's a rather amusing look at how the same events can be presented in a different light. The BBC News website informs us:
Japan gains key whaling victory

Pro-whaling nations have won their first vote towards the resumption of commercial whaling for 20 years. The meeting of the International Whaling Commission backed the declaration by a majority of just one.
Anti-whaling countries say they will challenge the outcome, which Japan has described as "historic". But pro-whaling nations need support from three-quarters of the commission to overturn the 1986 ban aimed at protecting the endangered species.
The resolution, tabled by St Kitts and Nevis where the meeting is being held, declared: "The moratorium, which was clearly intended as a temporary measure, is no longer necessary."
The (London) Telegraph on the other hand reports:
Anti-whaling nations win 'great victory' against Japan proposals

Japan suffered an unexpected and total defeat when it tried to start attacking a 20-year-old ban on commercial whaling at the International Whaling Commission's meeting in the Caribbean state of St Kitts and Nevis last night.
The member countries of the UN whaling treaty voted down two proposals by Japan - the most significant one for secret ballots so that small Pacific and Caribbean nations that receive Japanese aid could unpick the protection of whales without fear of retribution. The other proposal sought to prevent the commission from discussing the fate of dolphins and porpoises as well as whales.
Meanwhile this seems to be the most factual account:
How the voting went at the IWC meeting

Japan won its first pro-whaling majority in more than two decades today at the International Whaling Commission when the group approved a declaration criticizing a 1986 ban on commercial whaling.
But Japan lost four more substantive votes at the IWC's June 16-20 meeting in St. Kitts and Nevis.
The first vote, proposed by Japan, was to prevent the IWC from discussing the fate of dolphins, porpoises and small whales in addition to great whales. Japan lost 30-32, with one abstention.
The second vote, also proposed by Japan, was to introduce secret balloting. It lost that vote 30-33, with one abstention.
The third vote, which would have allowed Japanese coastal communities to hunt a limited number of whales -- effectively circumventing the moratorium -- was lost by 30 votes to 31, with four abstentions.
Japan lost its fourth vote when it proposed eliminating a Southern Ocean whale sanctuary, for which it needed and did not expect a three-quarters majority. Japan had hoped to at least win a simple majority but lost 28-33, with four abstentions.
The fifth vote on the declaration, which called the moratorium unnecessary and which accused whales of eating "huge quantities of fish," was won by 33 votes to 32, with one abstention. Environmental activists blamed a "yes" vote by Denmark for passage of the statement.
They also have the voting list.
It's funny how even something apparently simple can seem so different depending on which account one reads. No doubt this is even more true of the really important and controversial stuff.

Post Scriptum:
À propos whaling, Daniel Drezner (via Instapundit) explains why the International Whaling Commission is his favourite international body, and notes the Independent's "rather hyperbolic" coverage of the story. No surprises from what has deliciously been called the "Daily Mail for people who recycle."

Monday, June 05, 2006

The situation in Iraq

Gateway Pundit (via MP) makes some interesting points on Iraq, and how things are going there:
The recorded Iraqi civilian fatalities (including insurgents, military, morgue counts, police, etc.) were down 16% (16% maximum) in 2005... 38% (48% maximum) less than 2003 (via Leftist anti-war site Iraq Body Count). If you take out the numbers from that horrible day in August 2005 when nearly one thousand panicked Iraqis were trampled or drowned near a Muslim shrine, the year shows striking progress compared to 2003 and 2004 with fatalities one third less than in 2004.
Do read the whole thing. Melanie Phillips notes:
Yes, abuses such as occurred at Abu Ghraib and now maybe Haditha have had a profound effect too. But once again, the way these have been reported -- as if the behaviour of the US military has been as bad as, if not even wose then, the terror perpetrated by Saddam -- has played a major role in breaking the public's spirit. Abuses happen in all military conflicts. Soldiers fighting for the most noble of ends sometimes behave in appalling ways. It's reprehensible, and should be punished. But dwelling upon it obsessively, inflating or distorting what happened and equating such aberrations with systematic tyranny, are all fuelling an atmosphere of hysteria in the west and handing Zarqawi his most potent weapon. If we had behaved like this during World War Two, we would have lost it.
Meanwhile Gene at Harry's Place expands a very interesting, and rarely mentioned, comparison with World War II:
He quotes from a book by Norman Lewis, who was stationed with the British army in Naples toward the end of World War II.
"What we saw was ineptitude and cowardice spreading down from the command, and this resulted in chaos...
"I saw an ugly sight: a British officer interrogating a civilian, and repeatedly hitting him about the head with the chair; treatment which the [civilian], his face a mask of blood, suffered with stoicism. At the end of the interrogation, which had not been considered successful, the officer called on a private and asked him in a pleasant, conversational sort of manner, 'Would you like to take this man away, and shoot him?' The private's reply was to spit on his hands, and say, 'I don't mind if I do, sir.'
"I received confirmation ... that American combat units were ordered by their officers to beat to death [those] who attempted to surrender to them. These men seem very naive and childlike, but some of them are beginning to question the ethics of this order.
"We liberated them from the Fascist Monster. And what is the prize? The rebirth of democracy. The glorious prospect of being able one day to choose their rulers from a list of powerful men, most of whose corruptions are generally known and accepted with weary resignation. The days of Mussolini must seem like a lost paradise compared to us."
Replace "Mussolini" with "Saddam" and you get one of the more mindless criticisms of the invasion of Iraq-- which doesn't stop Michael "Flying Kites" Moore and countless others from repeating it.
Add to Lewis's account the thousands of other atrocities surely committed by Allied forces during World War II, and the hundreds of thousands of German and Japanese civilians killed by the deliberate bombing of their neighborhoods, and the Iraq war seems almost pristine by comparison. And yet who will say that the world isn't a better place for the Allies having fought and defeated the Axis? Who will argue (as some have about Abu Ghraib and Haditha) that the Second World War atrocities were sufficient cause for stopping the fight and going home?
Abu Ghraib and Haditha have sickened me, and those responsible need to be held to account-- up to the highest ranks, including the secretary of defense. Having never experienced combat, I can't begin to imagine how stressful it is. But neither can I imagine any circumstances in which it is justified to shoot defenseless women and children.
And yet I also know that on the coalition side, atrocities are the exception and not a matter of strategy-- in contrast to the other side in the fight.
Do read the whole thing: I think he really strikes the correct balance in this piece.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Tiananmen Square Massacre

Today is the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Slate has an interesting photo essay and here is a gut-wrenching video which is well worth seeing (both via Instapundit).

(Photo: Jeff Widener - The Associated Press; source)
The victims' families and the world are still waiting for China to face up to its past.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Lomborg is winning, thankfully

I became aware of the Johann Hari and Scott Burgess debate (which IMHO Scott is winning hands down) through the excellent EnviroSpin Watch. Some people where I work are fans of Harry's Place (which I enjoy as well), and came to the same debate through this post. After reading through it they came to the flabbergasting conclusion that Lomborg is misrepresenting himself. Huh?! It's funny how people who make the heritage of the Enlightenment their own, seem to have such trouble accepting hard facts, i.e. that Hari is clearly misrepresenting reality, Lomborg's positions and much else besides.
Anyway, as Philip points out, thankfully Lomborg etc. are clearly winning the practical debate:
Yet, despite the vitriol and abuse, in the solid world, beyond the febrile and hysterical rantings of a few (surprisingly few, I might add) European 'Greens', and some of the 'liberal' media, like The Independent, BBC television (far less BBC radio), and Channel 4, Lomborg is quietly winning the debate.
As Canada's The National Post (May 30) points out in 'Ottawa's Kyoto plan wins backers in Bonn', the Kyoto Protocol is slowly and inexorably being ditched and abandoned.
The economic imperative, coupled with dynamic adaptive innovation, will continue to thrive. Lomborg, in essence, has won. Hence the ill-tempered outbursts of Mr. Hari and his ilk. Sadly, in the meantime, such people have caused us to waste so much energy on sheer fantasies. As Lomborg says, we should be concentrating on getting the best outcomes for our money, especially for the poorest and the most disadvantaged in the world.
Do read the whole thing. Unfortunately Hari etc. seem intent on proving that they are totally unhinged from reality, which is a pity.