Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Half the news is about America, and half of that is wrong

Megan McArdle of Asymmetrical Information takes a well-deserved swipe at Sky News, and the general level of laughably superficial and biased analysis common in much of the European media:
Watching Sky News is weird, because half the news is about America, and half of that is wrong. I mean, not factually wrong, but with a take on things that seems very strange to an American. For example, there was a very long piece on the "rising backlash" against George Bush on global warming. I care about global warming about as much as any quasi-libertarian, ever, I try to live a green(ish) lifestyle, and I follow the issue pretty closely. I had not noticed any rising backlash against anything except the rising gas prices preventing some Americans from taking long trips in their SUVs. Source of this "backlash"? Cities (and California) passing their own global warming ordinances.
This makes perfect sense from a British perspective, where about the only thing local councils are allowed to control is grotty public housing. But overlaying that worldview onto America has very strange results. Local governments can pass ordinances against global warming whenever they want; they can outlaw coveting your neighbour's wife, too, for all the good it will do. But in doing so, they don't strike a blow against the federal government; they are just making themselves part of the grand (classical) liberal experiment that is supposed to flower under federalism.
There was also a lot of talk about how all the extra American troops killed in Iraq will probably make Americans determined to bring the troops home. This is, indeed, what happens in Britain every time one of their soldiers is killed, but personally I hear a lot more complaints about the expense of the war, or the dead Iraqi civilians, than I do about dead American troops. Americans expected to lose soldiers in the war. What they didn't expect was to spend hundreds of billions of dollars igniting a low level (or, if you believe the Lancet, fast-and-furious) civil war.
Wait a minute, I thought Europeans were terribly smart and sophisticated and it was the Americans who were simplistic boors...

Skilling in perspective

The other day Jeffrey Skilling, the former CEO of Enron was sentenced to 24 years and four months in prison. I certainly think the bastard had it coming, but at the same time I think Homocon makes a very valid point:
Rapists, pedophiles and murderers get sentenced more lightly than this -- hell, even Lynn Stewart, who was convicted of aiding an imprisoned terrorist (Omar Abdul Rahman, who was the spiritual leader of a cell that carried out the first World Trade Center bombing and was planning to blow up the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels) and lying to federal investigators, only got 24 MONTHS!
What kind of message is this supposed to send? Rape someone, kill someone or assist terrorists and you'll maybe get a couple of years, but if we find out you're a shady CEO -- watch out!
And what about this case (via GayandRight)? Indeed, what kind of message are we sending?

Enjoying the landscape

The other day I was reading an essay, in the current issue of the New Criterion, by Karen Wilkin (an editor at the Hudson Review) in which she reviews the exhibition "Italia! Muse to American Artists, 1830–2005" which is currently showing at the National Academy Museum in New York. She writes:
From the eighteenth century on, Italy was an obligatory part of the Grand Tour for artists and non-artists alike, not only for the wealth of Old Master art to be seen in its palaces and churches or for the traces of antiquity visible throughout the peninsula but also for the landscape itself—the sites where myths were supposed to have taken place, where classical texts were set, and where crucial events in Roman history unfolded.
A similar sentiment, of seeing in person a street or landmark with which one is indirectly – but, in a sense, intimately – familiar, often grips me as I wander around London. As I grew up, most of my reading, both of literary classics and of more frivolous literature, was set in England - in London and the surrounding countryside in particular. As the depictions of places and the way I imagined them, which has been etched in my mind, are melded with my view of their real locations, I often have a feeling of reverence, maybe not because of the locations' intrinsic importance, but because the final touches are being added to the visual edifices that make up much of my childhood.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Latin news - from Finland

This is hilarious! BBC News reports about Finland:
It is the only country in the world which broadcasts the news in Latin. On its EU presidency website one can find descriptions of meetings in Latin.
There is also a man in the corner of the room singing Elvis Presley's songs in Latin, like Can't Help Falling In Love - or Non adamare non possum.
The news in Latin on national radio gets 75,000 listeners, which may not sound like much, but on a per capita basis is more than some BBC Radio 4 programmes get.
A list of the newsletters in Latin can be found here. From the latest issue:
Finnia hospita erit summo conventui Unionis Europaeae et Ucrainae, qui Helsinkii die Veneris 27 m. Octobris habebitur. Legatis UE praeerit primus minister Matti Vanhanen, legatis Ucrainae autem praesidens Victor Yushchenko. A parte Unionis Europaeae huic conventui intererunt etiam José Manuel Barroso, praeses Commissionis Europaeae, et Benita Ferrero-Waldner, membrum Commissionis Europaeae. Pro Finnis praesidentiam obtinentibus aderunt Erkki Tuomioja, minister a rebus exteris Finniae, et Paula Lehtomäki, ministra commercii et progressus.
This is rather similar to Italian so I can understand most of it, but I can't vouch for its grammatical correctness, because - unlike many Italians who learned it in high school - I never studied Latin (I went to high school in Baltimore, MD, and if necessary I can translate Aramaic...). At any rate the text above refers to an EU-Ukraine Summit in Helsinki which takes place tomorrow. Too bad the Latin newsletter discusses one of the most boring subjects on the planet: EU affairs.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Now we'll use force

Is it any wonder that many Israelis - and those who sympathise with them - consider the UN anti-Israel? After repeatedly and shrilly insisting that the UNIFIL forces would never dare disarm Hezbollah, we've finally found a case in which they would be willing to use force: against Israel!
Ha'aretz reports (via lgf):
Commanders of the French contingent of the United Nations force in Lebanon have warned that they might have to open fire if Israel Air Force warplanes continue their overflights in Lebanon, Defense Minister Amir Peretz told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday.
Peretz said that nevertheless, Israel would continue to patrol the skies over Lebanon as long as United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 remained unfulfilled, adding that such operations were critical for the country's security, especially as the abducted IDF soldiers remain in Hezbollah custody and the transfer of arms continue.
Over the past few days, Peretz said, Israel had gathered clear evidence that Syria was transferring arms and ammunition to Lebanon, meaning that the embargo imposed by UN Resolution 1701 was not being completely enforced.
Quelle surprise!
Meanwhile, I am sorry to have to admit that my previously cautiously optimistic view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, seems to be showing some cracks. If the Second Intifada dashed any hope of reviving the Oslo Accords, this summer's war with Hezbollah makes it much harder to argue in favour of Israel's unilateral withdrawal from any further territory. I was a firm supporter of the withdrawal from Gaza and the policy objectives that came with it, and although I still think it was a good idea, I think the argument that such moves put Israeli security in jeopardy has been strongly boosted by the discovery of Hezbollah's covert activities in the Lebanese territory Israel returned to Lebanon in 2000.
This month's Commentary magazine has some interesting reflections on these points, by Hillel Halkin, in Israel's New Reality (requires subs. after the end of the month; see here for free version).

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Quote of the day

Christian Ortner in today's Wall Street Journal (requires subs.):
Like most continental Europeans, Austrians now take for granted that, thanks to competition and liberalization, they can make cheap telephone calls. But they are indignant that jobs at the telephone company no longer come with a lifelong guarantee.
Too true. The WSJ also has a lucid discussion (free link) on this subject by Edmund Phelps who yesterday was awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize for economics.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

"Gob-smacking" news?

I popped into EnviroSpin Watch today and Professor Philip Stott has updated the site for the first time in a while. And what an update it is:
One especially eminent science writer has already declared: "The implications for climate physics, solar-terrestrial physics and terrestrial-galactic physics are pretty gob-smacking..."
I say, watch this space. Slowly, but surely, this revelation could well open a can of wormholes in climate-change science.
The reason is simple. The experiment ties in beautifully with the brilliant work of geochemist, Professor Ján Veizer of the Ruhr University at Bochum, Germany, and the University of Ottawa in Canada, and Dr. Nir Shaviv, an astrophysicist at the Racah Institute of Physics in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who for some time have been implicating cosmic rays and water vapour, rather than carbon dioxide, as the main drivers of climate change. Indeed, they have put down 75% of climate change to these drivers.
Cosmic rays are known to boost cloud formation - and, in turn, reduce temperatures on Earth - by creating ions that cause water droplets to condense. Ján Veizer and Nir Shaviv calculated temperature changes at the Earth's surface by studying oxygen isotopes trapped in rocks formed by ancient marine fossils. They then compared these with variations in cosmic-ray activity, determined by looking at how cosmic rays have affected iron isotopes in meteorites.
Their results suggest that temperature fluctuations over the past 550 million years are more likely to relate to cosmic-ray activity than to CO2. By contrast, they found no correlation between temperature variation and the changing patterns of CO2 in the atmosphere.
But the mechanism remained far from understood... until now. For it seems that Svensmark and Pedersen may well have discovered that mechanism.
Do read the whole thing, which has more details and links. I will certainly be "watching this space."

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Shaking things up

Anne Applebaum explains in the Washington Post (via Instapundit) what should be apparent to anyone here in the Old World:
In fact, the fuss over the Deutsche Oper and its bloody heads demonstrates that Germany, like much of Europe, remains totally unprepared for the reality of modern terrorism.
As a Washingtonian who has always been skeptical about the need to examine every child's backpack at the entrance to the National Air and Space Museum, I can say the near absence of security at museums and monuments in Berlin is delightful. I'd feel a lot better, though, if I was certain that the absence of metal detectors reflected the absence of threats.
In truth, the fact that Germany still hasn't experienced a Madrid- or London-style bombing is thanks to good luck, not good planning. As recently as July, German police discovered two unexploded -- because of poor design -- suitcase bombs on a train.
That Germany contains the kinds of radicals who could and would carry out such a threat is beyond doubt: Mohamed Atta, leader of the Sept. 11 hijackers, studied in Hamburg. That Germans don't want to think about this is beyond dispute, too: More than 80 percent have told pollsters that they don't feel personally threatened by terrorism at all.
Thinking about what are, unfortunately, many Germans' current beliefs and attitudes tends to make me queasy. On the other hand I have no good proposal to counter the appalling trends.
However, maybe the Pope (and I'm not necessarily a fan of the Vatican) is on to something. According to an intriguing analysis from Stratfor (quoted by Melanie Phillips – btw, do read her whole post which makes several interesting points), he knows exactly what he's doing:
It is obvious that Benedict delivered a well-thought-out statement. It is also obvious that the Vatican had no illusions as to how the Muslim world would respond. The statement contained a verbal blast, crafted in a way that allowed Benedict to maintain plausible deniability. Indeed, the pope already has taken the exit, noting that these were not his thoughts but those of another scholar. The Pope and his staff were certainly aware that this would make no difference in the grand scheme of things, save for giving Benedict the means for distancing himself from the statement when the inevitable backlash occurred. Indeed, the anger in the Muslim world remained intense, and there also have been emerging pockets of anger among Catholics over the Muslim world's reaction to the pope, considering the history of Islamic attacks against Christianity. Because he reads the newspapers — not to mention the fact that the Vatican maintains a highly capable intelligence service of its own — Benedict also had to have known how the war was going, and that his statement likely would aid Bush politically, at least indirectly. Finally, he would be aware of the political dynamics in Europe and that the statement would strengthen his position with the church's base there.
The question is how far Benedict is going to go with this. His predecessor took on the Soviet Union and then, after the collapse of communism, started sniping at the United States over its materialism and foreign policy. Benedict may have decided that the time has come to throw the weight of the church against radical Islamists. In fact, there is a logic here: If the Muslims reject Benedict's statement, they have to acknowledge the rationalist aspects of Islam. The burden is on the Ummah to lift the religion out of the hands of radicals and extremist scholars by demonstrating that Muslims can adhere to reason.
From an intellectual and political standpoint, therefore, Benedict's statement was an elegant move. He has strengthened his political base and perhaps legitimized a stronger response to anti-Catholic rhetoric in the Muslim world. And he has done it with superb misdirection. His options are open: He now can move away from the statement and let nature take its course, repudiate it and challenge Muslim leaders to do the same with regard to anti-Catholic statements or extend and expand the criticism of Islam that was implicit in the dialogue.
The pope has thrown a hand grenade and is now observing the response. We are assuming that he knew what he was doing; in fact, we find it impossible to imagine that he did not. He is too careful not to have known. Therefore, he must have anticipated the response and planned his partial retreat.
If that is the case then he would be doing not only the West but even the Islamic world an enormous favour. It will be interesting to see how things play out on this front.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Facts or ideology?

Here we go again. In a Guardian column by Jonathan Freedland:
Suddenly the applause died as the prime minister announced that terrorism is unconnected to foreign policy, and only enemy propaganda would say otherwise. Blair is one of the very few people left on the planet who still believes this: even the CIA now concedes that the invasion of Iraq has fuelled terrorism rather than curbed it. So when Blair said that a withdrawal from Iraq or Afghanistan would be "a craven act of surrender", he said it to silence.
I have noted before what I think of that, but at least it's a matter of opinion. It seems however, that Freedland also has problems with his facts:
In a Comment piece headed A storming send-off - but the silences show why he had to go, page 29, September 27, we said that Tony Blair's statement that a withdrawal from Iraq or Afghanistan would be "a craven act of surrender" was received by conference delegates in silence. That was not the case. As our "clapometer" recorded on page 6 of the same issue, the statement drew 11.44 seconds of applause.
At least (unlike other times) they ran a correction. But how such an egregious mistake could have occurred in the first place is still staggering. The whole column revolves around an event (the silence) which did not in fact take place - not even remotely. I cannot conceive that such a significant misstating of the facts could be anything other than intentional or grossly negligent. Marcus notes:
Even if Freedland's hearing aid had malfunctioned for a full twelve seconds one might expect the reporter to have witnessed the massed palms of the delegates' left and right hands being brought together in the universal physical gesture of agreement and approval for the same amount of time.
Doing so, however, would have meant admitting that the view common among metropolitan journalists that Labour foreign policy is hugely unpopular with Party members isn't supported by the facts though.
Of what value is a paper (and writer) if its relationship with the facts has become so tenuous that they are adapted a priori to an ideological position?