Friday, July 29, 2005

Good news for Germany: new Leftist coalition inaugurated

The Left has a new coalition of the clueless to vote for in Germany this September. The coalition is made up of ex-communists from the old East Germany and some radical defectors from the SPD/Greens. Not very surprising to see Oskar Lafontaine, a political gadfly these days, pop-up as one of the new coalition's heads.

Anything that gets Schroeder, the second worst Chancellor in German history, out of power can't be all bad. Perhaps the coalition will take enough votes from the SPD/Greens that Merkel's CDU/Free Democrats can achieve an absolute majority.

The coalition's prescription for a stronger, better Germany: Tax the rich, raise wages, and cement the welfare state in German society. That'll keep the wolf from the door.
[...] "We need a new culture," [Gregor Gysi, the best-known of the Democratic Socialism leaders] said, outlining the new party's program. "We need wage increases. We have to see social costs as something positive, and taxes have to be fair" - meaning, as he explained it, that there have to more of them on the rich.
...

Gysi's straightforward description of the Linkspartei program - higher wages for workers and higher taxes - is the sort of prescription that most economists think would turn Germany, already stumbling badly, into Ukraine - without Ukraine's optimism about the future.

But what disturbs many mainstream Germans is not so much the program, because nobody thinks the Linkspartei will ever have the occasion to implement a program, but the cultural phenomenon that the new formation represents: its reliance on false economic premises, its soak-the-rich demagogy and the whiffs of anti-foreign populist rhetoric emanating, in particular, from Lafontaine.

"It's an unsettling sign that Germany is doing badly enough to have generated a political reaction reminiscent of Weimar," Schneider said. In fact, he continued, Germany today is a very long way from turning into the Weimar of yesterday. And yet, the emerging similarity is bothersome. [...]

Thursday, July 28, 2005

French politicians are hypocrites? The IHT has an epiphany

French politicians went into protectionist rhetoric overdrive over the rumored takeover attempt of Danone by PepsiCo last week (PepsiCo was suitably deterred and never made the bid). I posted about it, and I'm pleased to note that I anticipated the outcome and the reasons the French would oppose the takeover. The IHT today discovers that French politicians behave just like politicians everywhere.

My original take: War to the knife over this for Villepin, who desperately needs some sort of victory for France....

The IHT editorial: French politicians have taken a battering of late, from the embarrassing defeat of the EU constitution in a referendum to the loss of the 2012 Olympics to Britain. So they sought to win back a few points by rallying the citizens around the national myth of a unique French social consciousness.

Roots of Islamic terrorism found in classical Islam?

Interesting opinion piece in today's IHT. What I take from the article is that a strict interpretation of Islam inescapedly leads to jihad with unbelievers. Can this be?

I have my doubts. Jihad currently takes the form of terror, and terror comes in and out of fashion; Islamic terror provided at least some of the impetues to the IRA's decision to lay down arms. Ever greater numbers of erstwhile IRA supporters now see terror as evil per se, and are unwilling to tolerate it.

The current willingness of Muslims to support terror may soon ebb--if a recent poll is correct, and if the poll's trend continues. What the article may mean however, is that a larger than expected pool of willing terrorists will always be around, no matter how frowned upon it is by the vast majority of Muslims, or how many "root causes" are discovered, and addressed and eliminated (so long as Leftists exist, root causes, which naturally render terrorists blameless, will exist).

Nevertheless, the authors certainly get kudos for pointing out unpleasant truths, such as an extensive history of military conquest in the name of Islam.

Most commentators argue that Islamic terrorism is a fanatical perversion of Islam which deviates from its true teachings. They call for a Western-style modernization of the Muslim world, hoping thereby that radical Islam will be tamed.

This analysis misses the point. The nature of the terrorist threat is unambiguously Islamic and is not so much a deviation from Muslim tradition as an appeal to it. Al Qaeda's ideology draws on two traditions to legitimize itself: one classical, the other modern.

Regarding classical Islam, the oft-quoted remark that Islam is a religion of peace is false. It is historically illiterate to claim that war is foreign to Islam and it is theologically uninformed to argue that jihad is merely a personal inner struggle with no external military correlate.

On the contrary, Islam is linked from the beginning with the practice of divinely sanctioned warfare and lethal injunctions against apostates and unbelievers. Islam experienced no period of wandering and exclusion; from its inception, Islam formed a unitary state bent on military conquest.

The Prophet died a successful military leader who created a single Islamic polity that expanded - through warfare - all over the known world. The caliphate combined the double logic of a religious community and an imperial state.

This dual identity explains how Islam can be simultaneously peaceful and warlike. While the Koran enjoins that there shall be "no compulsion in religion," Islam still regards it as a holy duty to extend militarily the borders of the House of Islam against the demonic world of unbelievers: "He who dies without having taken part in a campaign dies in a kind of unbelief."

Coupled with this irreconcilability between Islam and its enemies is an extreme territorial sense of the sacred. Hence bin Laden's principal demand for the departure of all infidels from holy Muslim lands. When extremists say they are killing in the name of Islam, they are in part appealing to Islamic traditions of long standing. Al Qaeda's modern origins go back to Wahhabism, named after the revivalist movement founded by Muhammad Ibn'Abd al-Wahhab in 1744. Wahhab called for a return to a pure and unadulterated form of Islam closer to the ideals of the Prophet.

Faced with a decadent society, Wahhabism (not unlike some radical Protestant sects) reduced Islam to a scriptural literalism, an absolutism utterly hostile to other more medieval traditions. In this sense of direct rule by God, Wahhabism is a truly modern theology. Not unlike Descartes and Kant, it argues for the unmediated and total knowledge of its object.

Al Qaeda then blended this theology with fascism. The Indian Muslim Abu Ala Maududi (1903-1979) condemned the degraded nature of all contemporary Muslim communities. He characterized Muslim governments that did not implement stringent Islamic law as apostate and commanded true believers to wage jihad against them.

Maududi was a decisive influence on Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), chief ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood. Like Maududi, Qutb fused the history of Mohammed's travails with a revolutionary vanguard-type ideology that removed medieval limits on warfare by championing a modern death cult in the quest for a revivified caliphate.

The ideology instigated by these two figures is fuelled by dreams of a prior Islamic golden age. Al Qaeda sympathizers avidly read European fascist literature and pursue religious ends via atheist methods. Recruits to the cause are not the excluded uneducated poor, they are intellectuals with a radical critique of Western society and its impact on Islam.

Neither the "war on terror" nor political negotiations will overcome Islam's totalitarian turn. Western repression is everywhere fuelling the ranks of radical Islam. Equally, there can be no accommodation with an ideology that seeks to fashion the whole world in its own image. The essentially Islamic nature of this terror demands nothing less than a reformation in the name of an alternative Islam.

Islam, with good reason, will never embrace Western secularization. But it could begin to develop a critique of its history by recovering some of its aborted traditions. Islam must place true religious conversion (like that of Sufism) over territorial conquest.

Islam needs to restore the legislative authority of communal consensus to allow Muslims to develop along with, rather than against, the future.

(Phillip Blond lectures in philosophy and religion at St. Martin's College, Lancaster. Adrian Pabst is a research fellow at the Luxembourg Institute for European and International Studies.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

EU is having a tough time selling itself to Europeans

The IHT has a weekly set of loosely-themed articles on page two. Sometimes they offer sharp political insight, sometimes a look at selected parts of the world, and othertimes how the world views the US.

Today's article concerns itself with how the EU is going about rebuilding its relationship with its populace. Actually, rebuilding is maybe too generous a descriptor; perhaps I should say the EU is attempting to build a relationship.

For an area that has produced the most famous writers in history, Europeans have yet to read or hear a compelling story about why the EU matters in their lives. To date, they have only been told: It's good for you, vote yes. Now Eurocrats are struggling to explain the EU's raison d'etre.

On June 23, Tony Blair, Britain's prime minister, went to the European Parliament and said that the challenge for Europe was no longer avoiding the devastation of war, but the danger of obscurity brought about by failure to react to the world of the 21st century.

If European countries decided to "huddle together, hoping we can avoid globalization, shrink away from confronting the changes around us, take refuge in the present policies of Europe," he said, "then we risk failure, failure on a grand strategic scale."

Blair's analysis smacked somewhat of internal nationalist point-scoring. His obvious targets were the moribund economies of Germany and France, while the paragon he held up for praise was his own job-creating economy (which is showing some signs of stumbling).

But Blair's stance does provide a story line: that the real antagonists for Europeans are no longer other European nations but the economic competitors in China and India. Europeans may want to unite around that rallying call.

What this omits is other ideas that stir Europeans: the EU as an essential forum to save the environment, or as an effective way to disrupt terrorism's cross-border networks.

Much these days is made of the EU's attractive qualities: Because they want to join the club, Ukraine, Croatia, Turkey will improve their human rights record and rule of law, and generally accept European values. Europeans might like the EU more if they think it is one of the few ways to get their ideas heard, and realized.

But once it has decided on its role, the EU must communicate it. "Facts and figures, dry and distant data - a human being is not designed to absorb that information because they do not have an emotional connection," said Alison Esse, director of the Storytellers, a British company that advises other companies such as Hertz about how to get their corporate messages understood.

"You have to bring humanity into it," she said. "Then it can be incredibly emotional and compelling."

John Simmons, author of "Dark Angels," a book about language and story, agrees. "It is a matter of putting an individual at the center of the story. And it is not whoever happens to be the president of the European Commission at the time."

In post-referendum Europe, the hero of the EU's story, in this view, will be each ordinary European. His or her antagonist is unemployment, or pollution, world poverty, the anti-reformers in a faraway country, or the terrorist on the subway train.

In this drama, the EU is the supporting actor, a deus ex machina who at the right moment helps voters feel they are changing things. If Wallstrom can deliver that narrative, people might just learn to love her protagonist.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Europe must come to a modus vivendi with Islam on Europe's terms

Europe awakens yet again to a problem in its midst, and of its own making. Not nearly the problem fascism was, but integrating Muslims into secular, but Christian-based societies is going to be difficult, as John Vinocur notes in his fine wide ranging article in the IHT.

The stakes, however are clear: will the outcome be an Islamicized Europe or an Europeanized Islam?

Europe has a particularly hard time dealing with Islamic terrorism from within because effectively confronting it in the long term means making and enforcing new, clearer definitions of how much Islam it can live with inside its borders.

It is a horribly awkward issue: Beyond the obvious police work, it involves defending not only Muslims' rights, but European national identities against intimidation that would make it illegitimate for European countries to draw a line at the place they think multiculturalism and parallel societies must stop.

The issue goes over the heads of the homegrown terrorists themselves. It involves combating political attempts from inside European society to turn into intolerance, fascism or hysteria every expression of resolve countering Islamic groups that reject European notions of democracy.

Control imams preaching hatred and violence? Search and detain suspects who fit the description of terrorist attackers with Yorkshire accents and European passports? Insist that Britain, France, the Netherlands or Germany have the right to demand the subordination of religion-based traditions to their own national laws and norms? Or argue that Islam's ultimate compatibility with European humanism is in question, even with a little more care and a little extra sensitivity (or submission) on offer from the European side?

...

Le Figaro talked in Leicester over the weekend with Hassan Patel, whom the newspaper described as the spokesman of a federation of Islamic student groups in England. Patel had his own view on where the frontier lay between parallel societies (the de facto situation of dozens of Muslim communities in Europe) and the purview of a country like Britain to insist that its standards hold sway everywhere, without footnotes or restrictions. His notion read a bit like a warning:

"The authorities won't be able to impose a secularized Islam on the Muslims against their will. If Britain takes discriminatory measures against the Muslims, young people's frustration will only mount and the cases of suicide attacks will develop."

These intimidating terms make a kind of test case for the rest of Europe out of Britain's stated will to more sharply define its relations with its Muslims. Positive results might well reiterate the necessity for European tolerance, but also demarcate the parameters of respect Muslim immigrants have to demonstrate for Europe's laws and traditions.

With some exceptions, notably in the Netherlands and to a lesser degree in France, this is a task whose extent has remained outside comfortable discussion in Europe.

Bernard Kouchner, the outspoken French Socialist and former cabinet minister, who for years has ranked first in national polls of preferred opposition politicians, signaled the immense challenge of drawing new lines of compliance for Muslim communities.

European laisser-aller, he told me, "has broken the framework of community that allowed the family to be maintained. We've killed the authority of the fathers in our countries. What's left over won't maintain discipline, schools in the ghettos don't, associations can't. We haven't demanded discipline on any level anywhere."

The Left, though, has yet to see the threat. Events have passed them by, as events often do, and they are left with slogans, and nothing more to show for their progressiveness.

When the Bavarian interior minister, Günter Beckstein, said last week that terrorist attacks in Germany were not a question of whether but when - the same language used by London police officials months before the July 7 bombings - Süddeutsche Zeitung, the left-of-center Munich newspaper, savaged him, calling his evaluation dangerous, irresponsible and frightening for the public.

Because Europe is torn by ideological differences - parts of its hard left have made multicultural egalitarianism a touchstone of anticapitalist decency - Spain's Socialist prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, could say months after Madrid's terrorist bombings that he would not use the term Islamic terrorism because it seemed offensive. The British Broadcasting Corporation has a hard time calling Britain's own homegrown bombers terrorists, as if the BBC's charter of objectivity were brought into doubt by the word's terrible exactness.

But there are also less politically correct approaches. Rita Verdonk, the Netherlands' right-of-center minister for integration, insists face-to-face in meetings with Muslim residents that they accept the standards and values of their Western host.

In Blair's case, as much as a Verdonk might on a similar wavelength, his capacity to win the rest of Europe to his case for dealing with homegrown Islamic fundamentalist killers hardly finds strength in his aversion to pairing the issue with Iraq.

Reality is that Islamic terrorism in Europe is emboldened by the situation in Iraq - but as has been argued in this space before, the incitation to violence in London or Madrid essentially lies in the coalition's incapacity to bring terrorism under control in Baghdad.

Obviously, a component in Europe's homegrown attacks is not the supposed humiliation of Islam by American troops in pulling down Saddam's statue, but the television images that demonstrate the impunity of terrorism in Iraq now.

Pushed, this notion may suggest that if Europe is going to ultimately defend itself against murder from within, it will have to address what more it can do to bring calm to Iraq. ...

This is a very good point. So long as terror remains fashionable, Muslims in Europe will seek to emulate their Irbrethrenhern. Nevertheless, Europe is being drawn willy-nilly into the global battle.

Europe's choices will have repercussionsions for decades to come on people's attitudes and lives. Of course, Europe is famous for avoiding facing problems, so the likelihood is that they won't do enough until too late, and then overdo it.

The Dutch seem to realize that a necessary start is assimilation (a concept the US practically invented), and will doubtless push it in the future.

I've posted on Europe's response to Islam several times. Find them here, here and here.

Marketing decision mistakes

Talk about poor timing. These handbags are made from plastic gas cans. You can imagine how popular they'll be with fellow mass transit passangers.

Although given teenagers' desire to shock and offend, there may be a nice little market for these things. Hope I never see one, though.

Saw it originally on Gizmodo.

Zimbabwe condemmed by UN; Mugabe yawns

Zimbabwe, perhaps Africa's most preventable economic disaster, makes the NYT editorial page, the UN is sending Kofi for a look-see, and several South African clergy have recently condemmed Robert Mugabe's murderous policies.

What a lot of moral weight we have here. Unfortunately, I am reminded of Stalin's quip about the Pope's lack of divisions. By way of background: Mugabe's government has been bulldozing shanty towns and tenements by the hundreds lately, leaving more than half a million homeless. Most of the displaced are believed to have opposed his rule.

First the Grey Lady speaks:
...[UN diplomat] Anna Tibaijuka... has now reported that the forcible clearances, which began in May and have cost 700,000 people their homes or livelihoods, were carried out in an "indiscriminate and unjustified manner" with "indifference to human suffering." The damage from this "virtual state of emergency," she reported, will take years to undo. In the name of the United Nations, she demanded that the razing of homes and businesses be immediately halted, that the campaign's architects be prosecuted and that the victims of this "manmade disaster" be compensated. It is winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and hundreds of thousands of uprooted people, many of them women and children, are shivering in tents.

Mr. Mugabe, a tyrant, is increasingly out of touch with reality in the style of Stalin and Mao. He is starving and killing his own people, and the unwillingness of some of Africa's most prestigious leaders, like Presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania, to challenge him publicly is especially disturbing at a time when these same leaders prate on about a commitment to accountable governments and peer review of one another. Mrs. Tibaijuka's unflinching honesty shames their silence.
The real problem here, as the editorial mentions, is that nations bordering Zimbabwe are silent. Some of this is due to a reluctance to challange the one time freedom fighter, as well as African leaders' hands off policy regarding internal matters (a legacy from bitter colonial experience, handily forgotten when financial gain is to be had).

The complete UN report is here.

Mugabe has invited Annan to heer his side of the story. I am eager to see how hard Kofi comes down on Mugabe once his visit is over. Will his statment be an exercise in diplomatic phrasing or will he go so far as to condem Mugabe's actions?

Monday, July 25, 2005

Eco-porn, or how to hump for fun, profit and tree shrews

The free market at its finest. These two eco warriors put their hump-a-thons on the internet to rasie money to save the rain forests. Their simplistic arguments notwhithstanding, they have stumbled across a fine way to raise money. Allowing do-gooders to view non-exploitative porn is genius--it must uncover a whole new demographic of willing porn viewers. Until now, though, they would feel extra guilty for subsidizing a form of globalization. Now Greens can reach for their wallets and non-GM, bio-cotton hankerchiefs with a dirty mind but clean conscious.

From Der Spiegel: The two -- Leona Johansson is Ellingsen's better half -- see themselves as environmental activists and their public fornication foible was simply the medium through which they hoped to raise the profile of a cause very close to their hearts: saving the world's rain forests. F*** for Forest (FFF) is the eyebrow-raising fruit of their philosophy, a pornography Web site where online subscribers can access films and pictures of the couple and their friends getting up to all kinds of tantric, tree-hugging mischief.

View the article, it has a picture of the happy couple on stage, doing their bit for nature, while au natural.

UPDATE: What was I thinking. Here's what you really want to see.

RINO Sightings V

Countertop Chronicles has all the bloggy goodness this week. He provides an extensive write-up of many interesting posts. It's clear that Countertop put a good deal of effort into making this an especially fine RINO sightings collection.

Friday, July 22, 2005

European R&D stagnates. In other news, massive farm subsidies keep hedgerows tidy

This should be especially worrying to Europeans. By not investing in R&D, Europe is giving up its best chance to compete globally. European scientists are exceptionally bright and ambitious. However, they are practically being forced to move to the US if they want any sort of career.

The 2005 key figures show that EU R&D intensity is close to stagnation. Growth of R&D investment as a % of GDP has been slowing down since 2000 and only grew 0.2% between 2002 and 2003. Europe devotes a much lower share of its wealth to R&D than the US and Japan (1.93% of GDP in the EU in 2003, as compared to 2.59% in the US and 3.15% in Japan). While China has lower R&D intensity (1.31% of GDP in 2003) it grew at about 10% per year between 1997 and 2002. If these trends in the EU and China continue, China will be spending the same amount of GDP on research as the EU in 2010 – about 2.2%.
...

The most worrying conclusion of the key figures is that Europe is becoming a less attractive place to carry out research. Between 1997 and 2002, R&D expenditure by EU companies in the US increased much faster than R&D expenditure by US firms in the EU (by 54% compared to 38%). The net imbalance in favour of the US increased five-fold between 1997 and 2002, from about €300m in 1997 to almost €2b in 2002. Additionally, US investment has been growing at a much greater rate in areas outside the EU – about 8% per year in the EU and 25% per year in China.

These trends are worrying in the context of Europe’s intention to becoming a leading knowledge-based economy. A recent impact assessment by the European Commission showed that investment in R&D at European level has a positive effect on productivity and economic growth. The study also showed that funds spent at European level were successful in mobilising additional business spending. If Europe is to become an integrated research area where the best research can be carried out, able to attract investment from all over the world, there must be a substantial and wide-ranging European level programme, as proposed by the Commission in April 2005. Otherwise, Europe will remain a series of national programmes, with little coherence. Enterprises will keep relocating their research and innovation activities to other continents offering attractive public support and larger research, innovation and commercial markets. A recent public opinion survey showed that EU citizens support spending more on research at both national and European level.

Here we have more evidence for a failing Europe, and Chirac warns that farm subsidies are sacrosanct. Enjoy that 9th circle, Jacques.

Like looking at graphs? Here be numbers and graphs aplenty.

Battle for Muslim hearts and minds

The IHT has an excerpt from an opinion piece in the Straits Times:
Terrorism cannot be defeated by military means alone. Every society has the right to take defensive measures against it, but they would not be enough. In the final analysis, this has to be a battle for hearts and minds - within the Muslim community. The stakes are enormous: If there is no battle within Islamic civilization, with moderates and traditionalists taking on and defeating the extremists in their midst, this will slowly but inevitably become a battle between civilizations. Non-Muslim statesmen like Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain may bend over backward to ensure that this does not become a "clash of civilizations," but their efforts will be in vain if Muslim political leaders, opinion makers and clergy do not also play a vital role. Far more than the armed forces and intelligence agencies, they are the front-line soldiers in this battle.
The clash of civilizations is long underway, although not to the extent that will see East and West come to blows. This clash is taking part between the West and the Islamo-fascists. Bush, Howard and Blair get it. France, although it seeks to minimize its participation, also understands the stakes.

The article makes no mention of what Muslim governments could or should do, but that is to be expected. At this point, many Muslims still see the West as being the cause of terror, rather than as its victim. Governments, no matter where they are, often are the last to acknowledge problems in their backyard. Without doubt, though, the battle can't be won until Muslim governments join the fight for hearts and minds.

This may take a while as most Muslim governments have yet to conclude that they have a dog in this fight. Few are threatened by terror; what takes place in their nations tends to be small scale. Moreover, attacks can be used to strengthen a government's grip on power, at least in the short term.

Muslim terrorists spreading carnage and death looks to be unsustainable over a period of years. Once it is made "unfashionable"--to quote a British general whose task it was to defeat the Kenyan Mau-Mau rebellion in the 1950s-- its appeal will drop. A certain amount of terror will continue, but societies will accustom themselves to some barbarity in their midst.

Nevertheless, until that time, Islamic terrorist scum will likely score many a bloody attack, especially if they get their hands on WMDs.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

FYI: Avoiding woodies is key to penile surgery recovery

File it under no Scheisse, Sherlock: Doctors in Turkey note that erections can strain the sutures on newly operated johnsons.

Following penile surgery, erections are painful and may prejudice the result, because the sutures may not withstand a rigid erection. Therefore, prevention of erection and management of pain are extremely important following hypospadias repair, especially in adult patients.

They randomly assigned 20 patients undergoing wang repair to either receive epidural analgesia (group I) or not (group II).

Pain management was found to be more effective in group I. No erections occurred in group I, but the erection rate in group II was mean +/- s.d. = 1.7 +/- 0.2. The differences were found to be statistically significant (P<0.05). We highly recommend the technique described here, which offers efficient analgesia and control of erection in adult hypospadias patients.

Here's some free advice: banning porn from the room helps keep things down, as well.

Found this article while searching PubMed for regional anesthesia vs. general anesthesia outcomes. See what goodies you get if you cast your net wide enough?

France prepares for economic invasion, Parisians begin packing

France (easy target these days) is preparing to fight a speculative hostile takeover bid by "American ogre" PepsiCo for national treasure Danone.

The last time France attempted to repel a large hostile takover, they would up speaking German for a few years. Let's hope they learned something in the meantime. Actually, the politicians wouldn't be making noises if they weren't confident that they could fight and beat any takeover attempt by ensuring that the French, at least, would spurn Danone products following a takeover.

This from the prime minister:

Dominique de Villepin told a news conference that, while he did not want to comment on market rumors, he had called Danone's chief executive, Franck Riboud, to assure him of the government's support in fending off unwanted suitors, Agence-France Presse reported.

"A group like Danone is obviously one of our industrial treasures and we will of course defend the interests of France," de Villepin said.

War to the knife over this for Villepin, who desperately needs some sort of victory for France in order to take some steam out of Sarkozy's push to the presidency.

In other business news:

The WTO is set to referee the grudge match that is Boeing--Airbus. The investigation began yesterday in Geneva. Good political bloodsport from the sidelines is sure to enliven what otherwise looks like a boring 18 month enquiry into subsidies. Look for an out of court resolution to this as both sides have too much to lose.

Another reason for the US to consider negotiation is that the head of the WTO is a Frenchman, as I noted in this post.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Der Spiegel interview: Islam in a civil war

Great interview with Brit author Ian McEwan on terror and his new book.

SPIEGEL: But isn't the West providing the best advertisement for terrorist recruiters by being in Iraq and killing Islamic civilians, torturing Muslim prisoners a la Abu Ghraib and spreading pictures of the deeds around the world?

McEwan: I don't think terror needs a breeding ground. I don't buy the arguments in the Iraq war. What keeps getting forgotten here is that the people committing massacres in Iraq right now belong to al-Qaida. We're witnessing a civil war that's taking place in Islam. The most breathtaking statement was the one of al-Qaida claiming responsibility the London bombings saying it was in return for the massacre in Iraq. But the massacres in Iraq now are being conducted by al-Qaida against Muslims. I also think it's extraordinary the way in which we get morally selective in our outrages. When there was a rumor that someone at Guantanamo Bay had flushed a Koran down the lavatory, the pages in The Guardian almost caught fire with outrage, but only months before the Taliban had set fire to a mosque and destroyed 300 ancient Korans.

Interesting take on one of the reasons the terrorists are attacking their countrymen. Doubtless some of the motivation stems from a religious fury that your victim follows the wrong branch of Islam.

In general, Islam does seem to be on the verge of a reckoning. Moderate Muslims must stand up to the scum that pretends to speak for "true" Islam. A good start would be for imans to stop praising or speaking sympathetically about terrorist acts. Throwing Islamo-fascists out of their mosques before they can spread their hate is also necessary if Islam is to prosper in the West.

SPIEGEL: In your book, the Iraq war still hasn't happened yet. And the day in which the book takes place, Feb. 15, 2003, is the day in which massive peace demonstrations took place in London. Henry's daughter Daisy is among the protesters and he is full of ire and sarcasm about them. He doubts they can rightfully claim morality for themselves. Do these passages echo your own ambivalent views on the matter?

McEwan: Yes, it does. I never thought that in the run up to the war we were discussing simply the difference between war and peace. We were discussing the difference between war and continued torture and genocide and abuse of human rights by a fascist state. I missed any sense of that complexity in the peace camp. I certainly had the feeling that whatever the strong moral arguments were for deposing Saddam, the Americans would not be good nation-builders. But I had a moralproblem with this view among the 2 million protesters that you should leave Saddam in power in a fascist state with 27 million Iraqis under him. The problem is that they felt good about it. I thought they should have opposed the war but also felt bad about it.

Okay, the Lefts' hypocrisy on this matter has been pointed out before, but I still like being reminded of its revolting scale.

Want to lose weight? Try frownercise

Because frowning--a Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)--uses more muscles than smiling, those seeking weight loss should use this innovative method. Frowning exercises 11 facial muscles, and provides numerous other benefits.


Winston Churchill, noted frownercise proponent, goes for the burn in this photo from 1941. Frowning kept Winnie alive for many years beyond his predicted life span.

N.B. Before we proceed, we need to define our terms. When I refer to smiling, I speak of a reflexive upturning of the corners of the mouth, which uses only the two Risorius muscles. A true zygomatic smile brings 12 muscles into play, thus is even more beneficial then frowning. However, walking around grinning like a maniac is disconcerting for those around you.

Any time we contract and release muscles, we burn calories. How many calories frowning burns is yet to be quantified. However, fidgeting is known to burn up to 350 extra calories per day, so intensive frowning can be assumed to burn an extra 1-2000 calories per day. Rhythmic finger tapping is known to raise the heart rates of those nearby through cardiac-locomoter coupling (also by pissing them off-ed.). It may be that rhythmic frowning also provides cardiac benefits to those around us.

Frowning, aside from burning more calories than a typical insincere smile flashed at colleagues, has the benefit of making one look grave and thoughtful, in short: important; one to be cultivated and promoted. Moreover, because most peoples' frown muscles are used less often than smiling ones, there is an inherent imbalance and asymmetry in our faces. This is particularly troubling for body builders, who strive for symmetry. Frowning addresses this imbalance.

Combine frowning with fidgeting, toe-tapping, finger drumming and you have turned your whole body into a calorie burning, promotion garnering machine.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

German SPD: vote CDU and you invite Islamic terror

Well, it looks as though Schroeder's SPD party and his Green allies have settled on at least one aspect of their strategy: scare the hell out of voters.

While looking through the excellent David's Medienkritik blog, I read this: Today, SPD Vice-Chairwoman Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul ... went on to claim that German troops would be in Baghdad today had the Christian Democrats been in power ....

In the same post, the author (Ray D.) noted that Joschka Fischer claims the CDU leader is a "follower" of the United States.

The subtext for voters: if you elect Merkel and her CDU, you risk moving Germany to near the top of the Islamo-fascists' terror targets. The logic being that politicians favoring close ties with the US place their countries in al Qeada's cross-hairs.

The CDU also has a strategy, though it relys somewhat less on pure scare tactics. They figure a law and order campaign will go over well in this time of uncertainty. Of course, Merkel has lots of damning economic data to throw at Schroeder as well. But it looks as if terror wil be a constant in the campaign.

Just how far the SPD/Greens will go in claiming election of the CDU will threaten German security remains to be seen.

German high court places limits on EU powers

Good news, bad news out of Germany. Yesterday's ruling by Germany's Constitutional Court that a European wide extradition order violates German citizens due process rights freed a terror suspect wanted in Spain, and threw the EU's terror coordination efforts into disarray.
... The court reasoned that the law infringes every German citizen's right, enshrined in this country's Basic Law, to a hearing in a German court before any extradition can take place....
The bad news, obviously, is that bringing terror suspects to justice is now more cumbersome. By streamlining the process, Europe was making coordination easier and thus allowing better use of resources. Additionally, by shortening the delay between request and extradition, police and intelligence were better able to use any information obtained from the suspects. Nevertheless, a bit of fine tuning to the law will harmonize it with Germany's constitutional requirements.

The good news is unquestionably that Germany still regards itself as a nation with a functioning constitution. I recall in an EU law class (easily the most tedious I had in law school) that Germany's high court always held that they would appove of EU wide regulations only so long as they didn't conflict with the constitution--they were by far the most aggresive when talking about protecting Germany's basic civil rights. Although they had previously rubber stamped much of everything out of Brussels, this seems to have been to much to sign off on. Interestingly, Germany had ratified the law itself.

A Tour de France story everyone can enjoy

Don't like bike racing? Do yourself a favor and read Sam Abt's article on Danish racer and climber Rasmussen, it may change your mind.

Abt can't resist allusions to Hamlet throughout his discussion of Rasmussen's chances to go on the offensive in today's final mountain stage. He feels the Dane may be content with his achievements.

I imagine Rasmussen will attempt to stir things up today. He is a poor time trialer and will likely drop out of the top three overall unless he puts a bit more time between himself and his rivals. Saturday's time trial will allow quite a few people to make up minutes on the Dane, so if he hopes for a podium finish, he'll have to put in a good effort today.

Moreover, many other riders will want to impress potential employers. Given that this is Armstrong's final tour, next year's tour will be wide open. The opportunity to put together a winning team is greater than ever now that there won't be a dominant rider. Consequently, teams will be shuffled and good climbers will be at a premium--either as lead riders or specialist helpers.

A certain measure of pride must also be at stake here. Most riders have performed poorly to date. This is the last mountainous stage, riders know they will be able to recover somewhat on the flats over the next few days, so there is no reason to hold back.

Finally, a desire for revenge may motivate some of the riders Armstrong regularly humiliated over the years. Aside from the final time trial on Saturday, Armstrong won't be actively racing after today's stage.

Go get him, boys.

UPDATE: It looks as though Ullrich and Basso had a go at discomfiting Armstrong. The best news is that Pereiro, screwed over by Hincapie on Sunday, took the stage.

Monday, July 18, 2005

God says: I am displeased with the Bastille Day celebrations

My Lord. Could it be that God is a Republican? Or at the very least dislikes hypocritical governments?

France plagued by locusts. Alert Moses.

Irony quote: "There is nothing we can do for the 700 or 800 farmers affected," said Patrice Lemoux, an agriculture official. "The locust has no known predator and the only insecticides which might make a difference are banned."

UPDATE: Plans to release a plague of frogs on France have been rescinded as doing so would be akin to shipping coal to Newcastle, or owls to Athens.

RINO redux IV

Way cool. The RINO's newest carnival is hosted this week by Andy at the World Wide Rant.

Also check out the RINO community page at the Truth Laid Bear.

German opposition makes play for voters with flawed security plan

Germany's CDU party, which is widely expected to win a majority this September, has plumped for security as a major theme in the run up to the elections.

Difficult to argue with that. Germany's Muslim population is alienated, many Muslim youth are unemployed, and too many of them find extremism provides a central organizing principle for their lives. Germany is clearly a ticking time bomb, to use the phrase du jour.

However, the CDU has advanced some troubling proposals. This article in the IHT provides details and offers a quick primer on the history of Muslim immigration to Germany. Specifically, the CDU proposes:
... [I]nstalling video cameras in mosques as well as recruiting members of the Muslim community who would be informers for the security authorities. They also suggested that prayers in the mosque be conducted in German.

The CDU has little to worry about politically from Muslims, as almost all now vote against them anyway. And Germany certainly needs to keep a weather eye on the many extremist groups already active. But putting surveillance cameras in mosques is beyond stupid. It is incredibly provocative, and will only provide fodder for extremist recruiters.

Same goes for requiring sermons to be conducted in German. As common sense, it is proper, however as propaganda value for the crazies, it is priceless. Better to license or otherwise require a level of learning before imams are allowed to preach.

On the other hand, this statement regarding what goes on in German mosques, by the spokesman for the Central Council of Muslims in Germany is pretty laughable: "... We have nothing to hide."

Germany needs better penetration of radical cells and unhealthy mosques. Better that the CDU put forward a decent plan to combat extremism rather than inflame it.

Mugabe under pressure to end slum clearance policy

And not a moment too soon. The Beeb notes that hundreds of thousands have been left homeless in winter by Mugabe's purges (this article points out that huge clearances are not uncommon in Africa). Now it seems that international pressure is growing. As always, if South Africa will use its considerable influence, there is a chance Mugabe will alter his murderous policies. To date, however, South Africa has been reluctant to pressure its one time front-line ally in South Africa's apartheid battles.

Mugabe appears likely to escape responsibility for ruining his nation. Zimbabwe until just 10 years ago seemed full of promise and vitality. His vindictive rule, combined with AIDS, has all but brought Zimbabwe to its knees.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Photo blogging the Aare river (Bern, Switzerland)

My family and I spent Sunday, July 17th, at Bern's famed Marzili baths (never heard of them? number yourself among the philistines). I took some poor snaps, and now inflict them on you, pitied reader.

The Marzili baths were the first public baths in Switzerland, having opened in 1828. They lie along the river Aare (reputedly the swiftest flowing river in Europe), and under the gaze of the Federal Parliament. The river defines the peninsula that encompassed medieval Bern. The Marzili lies slightly upstream of the tourist area, and is a welcome escape from the hordes of camera wielding Japanese and Americans.

The baths still keep separate areas for women and men who prefer that arrangement (not a bad idea as these areas are less full). The baths were originally segregated by sex.

Marzili (website in German. good aerial photo here--look for the blue pools. here are tons of other pictures) is open from 0830 to 2000 hours in the summer, often filling to bursting on the hottest weekend days. Others set up in campsites and other areas along the river. All told there must be several thousand people along a two kilometer stretch of the river.

Many of the people never set foot in the Aare, preferring to splash in one of the five pools. But several hundred make the approximately 1 km pilgrimage upstream (just above and across from the zoo). The walk up is a part of the experience. Everyone from pre-teens to those in their 70s walks in a long line along a paved path; bank presidents walk next to hippie buskers. People peel off all the time to enter at a favorite spot, while others continue to the end-- about a 20 minute walk. If entering from the small beach, one is supposed to stay upright as long as possible before the current sweeps you away.

During a hot summer, the Aare temp gets up to 19C(about 66F). Pretty chilly, but far more refreshing than any other I've ever been in. I swam twice yesterday, and bobbed happily along with scores of others.


A view of the Parliament, where Switzerland's federal government meets. Switzerland subscribes to federalist principles to a degree that makes US federalists seem socialistic.


Another view of Parliament from the green grass of the Marzili baths. The grounds later filled with people as the temperature reached into the 90s.

These swimmers are exiting by one of the many rails and stairs in place to help swimmers get out safely. Note the pot of geraniums. You can get an idea of the swiftness of the river from the horizontal position of the bathers and the whitewater behind them (and this is one of the slower sections).

There are dozens of such points along the roughly 1 km stretch that people swim. As one gets closer to the end of the swim zone, they appear every 10 meters or so. Miss the last one, and you have another few hundred meters to scramble out before you tumble over a small sluice. Because the water is channeled at that point, it moves incredibly swiftly and is well aerated. I'm told dozens if not hundreds of people have died there over the years.


The three Pigilito women. Anna-lise, Andrea, and Alexandra. At the top of the frame is the fearsome four-legged Marzili troll.

Raised wooden platforms ring the area, which allow for a measure of peace. The baths also have a large cafe (but no beer!) and massage tent. A fantastic restaurant is just upstream. You can watch the endless parade of walkers from their outdoor garden.

UPDATE: The square in front of the Parliament has been awarded a prize from my homestate of California. The square used to be simply a parking area. Now it is a wonderful gathering place with recessed fountains.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Terror in Europe. Three views from the IHT op-ed pages

The IHT features three pieces dealing with terrorism in Europe in today's edition. All three are read-worthy.

The first notes the worrying emergence of home grown terrorists, as well as the high number of attractive targets. The authors' hope? That Europe and the US will combine forces. Obviously, this is what the Bush administration has been preaching for some time. Perhaps Europe is finally getting the message: Friend or foe of America's Middle East policies, no one is safe from these vermin.

Piece two raises the alarm for Germany, which has more than 3 million Muslims, mostly from Eastern Turkey. Many of these Muslims were brought over to do the work Germans refused to perform. They were treated horribly (same in Austria), and never integrated to any meaningful degree. Now the second and third generation are seen as having a high likelihood of being recruited into radical Islam.

By way of comparison, by the second or third generation, most immigrant families in the US are more American than Americans, having thrown themselves into the process of being American.

I find the lack of integration in Europe fairly scandalous. Although it was not contemplated that many Muslims would choose to stay, once it became possible to bring families over the authorities should have made good faith efforts to put pressure on the immigrants to integrate, as in the US.

The author's solution is to make radical Islam a discredited idea in the minds of Muslims. I would start by pressuring local imans to tone down their rhetoric on penalty of jail or deportation.

Finally, we have an article on France's own Muslim problem. Hard to have too much sympathy here as we listened to endless French lectures on how they best understood the Muslim mind during the run up to the Iraq war. Turns out that France, even with her superior culture and world-wise experience, is a target. France made the same mistakes as the rest of Europe: not putting cultural pressure on immigrants to integrate.

After decades of navel gazing, smugness and complacency, Europes' Islamic chickens have come home to roost (to coin a phrase).

Pew poll: Muslims increasingly opposed to extremism

The IHT discusses a new Pew Global Attitudes Project poll showing that increasing numbers of Muslims see Islamic extremism as wrong.

Of course, in the short term this won't lead to any diminution of attacks as the terrorists were always only a small percentage of Muslims, and they had no problem justifying even the most horrific acts.

Nevertheless, if the trend continues--and I see no reason it shouldn't, especially if democratic values make more headway in Muslim nations--this brand of terror will lose much of its cachet, and thus its sources of funding, as people no longer choose to be associated with it. This has consequences for the long term level of sophisticated terror attacks.

Interestingly, countries having experienced attacks (at least in the graphs I saw) are more likely to condemn extremism. Two with the highest disapproval ratings are Morocco and Indonesia--each underwent disastrous bombings. And just like with nuclear power, erstwhile supporters of terror subscribe to the NIMBY view: Kill the infidel somewhere else. Nice to see that even extremist supporting folks keep property values in mind.


Many Muslims see Islam as as their first identity--and presumably where their loyalties lie--with citizenship coming second. This is problematic, but should European countries improve intergration of Muslims, no easy task--especially in France, where Muslims feel very much excluded because of France's near total emphasis on secularism--then this, too, will be a declining problem. Of considerable importance is whether Imans will start preaching anti-terror, or at the very least, not preaching sympathy with the terrorist's methods and goals.

On the other hand, with increasing immigration to Europe, Muslims can be expected to achieve higher levels of political representation, thus allowing them to make their new countries more Islam friendly.

In the end, it will depend on how successful Europe is in Europeanizing Islam. Should it fail, Muslims will certainly Islamisize Europe to an unhealthy degree.

Analysis to the poll results from around the world is
here.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Typically biased BBC covers London's moment of silence

The BBC managed to demonstrate anti-American bias yet again in one of its radio broadcasts. This time it took place during coverage of the two minute silence remembering the victims of the London terror attack.

As background, they included detailed coverage of Madrid's and Bali's moments of silence. No mention of anything occuring in New York, Virginia or Pennsylvania.

Why exclude the US? Could it be that they only included places attacked by suicide bombers? Nope, that would leave out both Bali and Madrid. How about where lots of Brits were killed? Again, the US attacks killed far more than either of the other two. Attackers used a means of transportation to kill? Include Madrid but drop Bali.

Most likely reason the Beeb would offer: Madrid and Bali were attacked by small bombs assembled by terrorists.

Wild guess here: maybe they feel the US somehow bears responsibility for being attacked on 11 September.

Medical blockbuster research: often flawed

Too often, flawed studies are published which then receive major media attention. Now a new study (irony intended) reported by CNN finds that about 1/3 of results published in influential medical journals (in this case NEJM, JAMA, The Lancet) are either wrong, or the importance of the result was overstated.

Flaws such as poor study design or a too small sample size are often to blame. Since these are frequently seminal studies, it is not uncommon for even highly experienced researchers to make faulty assumptions when writing protocols or interpreting results.

Keep it in mind when CNN headlines the next medical breakthrough. It's often subsequent studies, which tend to be better designed, that validate, refute, or qualify the seminal research.


How long until the Intelligent Design munchkins attempt to use the fact that scientific/medical research is sometimes flawed in their campaign for recognition that evolution is a scientific theory in trouble? Granted it's a stretch, but this blemish on Conservatism is simply the other side of the moonbat coin, so I don't put it past them.

Can the European identity survive Islam?

This topic is much discussed, and often produces thunderous but ultimately speculative pieces. The latest entry is written by Bassam Tibi for the Financial Times Deutschland, and summarized in Der Spiegel Online (scroll 2/3 of the way down):
[...] Tibi wonders whether Islam will ever be "Europeanized" or whether Europe is on the way toward being "Islamized." Tibi takes as his starting point the visit two weeks ago by Iran's president to Brussels. Apparently, when his hosts began drinking wine and beer at a state diner, the Iranian got up and left the table in protest. Even worse, the Iranian guest refused to shake hands with a female member of parliament.

Both actions, says Tibi, come from an adherence to the Islamic law of Sharia -- which forbids the consumption of alcohol and clearly places men above women in the social and religious pecking order. And given the press reaction -- which tended to lampoon European politicians for having made a number of diplomatic faux pas during the visit -- Tibi asks provocatively, "Is deference to Islam to be taken so far that one even has to follow the laws of the Sharia here in Europe?"

Tibi is making the point that it's time for Europe to decide how much European identity belongs in Europe. In other words, "What makes up the civil ... identity of Europe?... Does the opening of Europe to other cultures mean Europe's self-destruction?" Tibi concludes: "The behavior of the Iranian politician in Brussels should not be the butt of jokes. Rather, it should lead Europeans to think hard about its identity. The question is not (as British Prime Minister Tony Blair put it) one of organization. It is one of ... Europe's identity as a "beautiful idea" (as Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende called it) -- an idea that can only be realized if Europeans stand up for it."
I'm all for Europe finding it's inner-Europe. But I worry that to get there, Eurpoe will again fall prey to populist nationalism. Since moving here more than two years ago I have been astounded at the levels of racism and anti-semitism I find in German speaking countries and France. Politicians are notorious for seeking any advantage, so I fear the worst. How it will all turn out remains unclear.

What is clear though is that Europe can no longer stand still, either economically or culturally. European culture is more than the treasures found in museums, it produced dynamic, forward-looking, optimistic, and ambitious societies that set the standard for centuries. It has since degenerated into the sort of societies one can expect from socialism: fearful, risk adverse, wanting everything to follow a predictable path, and existing in a state of continous apology for its history.

The glory days are long past, but Europe can certainly reclaim a leading role if it shakes off its socialist shackles, seeks its spiritual roots (this from an atheist!), and takes a bit of pride in being Europe.

An American in Paris? The Cannibal speaks

Sure beginning to look that way. Unless Armstrong suffers a serious loss of form, he ought to ride into Paris with his 7th Tour de France victory.

Der Spiegel has a lengthy interview with the "Cannibal", Eddy Merckx--the greatest bike racer of all time. He has lots of things to say about Armstrong, devotion to cycling, and Jan Ullrich.

The interview is killer.

Happy Bastille day to France

Biggest holiday in France. Unfortunately, the threat of terrorism is putting a damper on the festivities, at least in Paris. I look forward to a translation of Chirac's traditional Bastille day speech. Will it be somber? Defiant (given the many recent setbacks to himself and France)? or quietly confident and forward-looking. Probably a little from column A, B, and C.

I wish the best on this happy day for all the French. (Nearly 20 years ago I was on a three month bike tour through Europe with my brother. Bastille day found us in the south of France watching the start of a Tour de France stage--the day was way fun)

Also, in the aftermath of the London bombings, France is executing a clause in the Schengen border agreements allowing nations to reinforce border controls. Good for them. Dumb luck often plays a part in breaking criminal rings; perhaps a gendarme will make a critical arrest.

An aside to chuckle at French politicians: Interior Minister Sarkozy, the front runner to replace Chirac as President of the Republic, is known as something of a loose cannon. More evidence: His comments on the London investigation have drawn a pretty stern rebuke from his British counterpart.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke has denied some of the London bomb suspects were arrested last year.

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said the UK delegation made the claim at an EU terrorism meeting.

Mr Clarke said the comments were "completely and utterly untrue", and said there had been no conversation on the issue.
...
Mr Sarkozy was inaccurate, shall I put it gently, in suggesting that there had been a discussion of this kind because there was not," Mr Clarke told journalists.

"There is absolutely no foundation in them.

"Mr Sarkozy was a little late to the event today and I had a brief conversation in the corridor with him and had a discussion in the full council about some of these issues.

"In neither the full council discussion nor the discussion with Mr Sarkozy personally was there any exchange or discussion on this matter whatsoever."

...

Asked whether he had approached Mr Sarkozy to correct his comments, the home secretary said: "I haven't seen him yet. He left the council halfway through. "He didn't feel it appropriate to stay until the end of the discussions, perhaps that is his style.["]

....

Awkward moment, to say the least.

And then there is this example of the French acting, well, French--this time in Japan.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Tour de Frog stage 11

Quickie post. Just saw the finish of today's brutal stage, won by Vinokurov of T-mobile. My first thought was that allowing him to go off was a tacit admission that his team leader, perennial second Jan Ullrich, had no real hope of contesting the yellow jersey.

However, having seen how Armstrong's team fought pretty hard to reduce the time lost to Vinokurov, it may be that T-mobile has big plans for this weekend's stages in the Pyranees. Not that it will make much difference.

Unless Armstrong has to climb in extreme heat, or otherwise has a bad day, it is unlikely that he will lose very much time to a rider who is a decent time trialer. It is conceivable that teams with riders in the top five could launch attacks on the next few flat days, thus tiring Armstrong's teammates, but too many other teams looking for stage victories would help the Discovery team reel in breakaways.

Nevertheless, some excellent racing remains before the riders head north again. I hope to see Rasmussen pressure Armstrong on at least one mountain day, preferably a stage with an uphill finish.


Behind the scenes TdF gossip here.

Oil rig in Gulf of Mexico news

Big Cat Chronicles (BCC) has been following the saga of the Thunder Horse oil rig. Located in the Gulf of Mexico, it is listing and although the info remains sketchy, it appears to be somewhat damaged.

BCC is published by a one-time oil exploration geophysicist who knows her stuff. I have yet to see this fascinating story anywhere else. An army of engineers must be pulling out their hair trying to get a grip on this problem. BCC's post provides good links, insight and analysis. The rig is terribly sophisticated and represents an enormous investment. The story promises plenty of drama.

UPDATE: In a new post, BCC details what the financial stakes are for BP/ExxonMobile.

Europe starting to get it?

Maybe. Two articles in today's IHT show that at the least, Europe knows how to talk as if they understand that something needs to be done about the twin problems facing it: terrorism and economic competitiveness. However, Europe, like the Democratic party in the US, is adept at making the right noises while doing precious little.

Of course, a Brit pol is pushing structural changes to labor markets and an Italian is calling for increased police powers to combat terror, and both these nations are at the forefront of the respective concerns. Nevertheless, it is heartening to hear that parts of Europe may be getting off its duff on these matters. I'll be more pleased when Schroeder stops promising to uphold the status quo to German trade unions, and Chirac ceases defending outrageous farm subsidies. I know: but I dare to dream.

Following Madrid and London, Europeans can no longer call Islamic terror an American or Middle Eastern problem. Worryingly, the home-grown nature of the London attacks is likely a foretaste of what other countries can expect. Italy's interior minister says it's time to give the police and courts greater latitude to deal with terrorists.


Warning that "terrorism is knocking on Italy's door" in the wake of the London bombings, Italy's interior minister went before Parliament on Tuesday to request new security powers that he said would help combat the threat. Giuseppe Pisanu proposed, for example, that security forces be allowed to hold terrorism suspects for 24 hours without charges, instead of the current 12 hours, and that the government be allowed to archive e-mail communications for prolonged periods. He suggested that people buying prepaid phone cards for cellphones be required to register and provide identification. He asked that the police be allowed to question terrorism suspects without a lawyer in attendance, and he requested expanded powers to expel illegal immigrants suspected of connections with terrorist groups[....]
In Paris, the research arm of the OECD called for increased competitiveness with the stark prediction that Europe could be dooming itself to 1% growth over the next couple of decades.


Europe risks decades of anemic growth unless governments in countries like France and Italy open their economies to greater competition and shake up their labor markets, the OECD said Tuesday.

Failure by European governments to take tougher measures, the agency said, like making it easier for businesses to hire and fire employees, could mean annual growth of 1.3 percent between 2010 and 2020 and 0.9 percent between 2020 and 2030, compared with average rates of about 2 percent during the late 1990s.

...

Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown summed it up nicely:


[Europe] faces ''global forces from which there is no shelter.''

....

Of the two problems, terror is the lesser in that it directly effects far fewer people. Actively attacking terror bases along with increased intelligence gathering and policing has the ability to significantly reduce the numbers of successful attacks. Decreased economic vitality, however, will harm all Europeans, and will be even more difficult to overcome.

Time is yet to be at premium for both these concerns, but the debate needs to be joined so a solution can be hashed out.


UPDATE: France chooses the band-aid (emphasis supplied by moi):

In a bid to keep research-based industries in France, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin announced plans Tuesday to spend 1.5 billion [euros] on nearly 70 industrial projects spanning technology-heavy sectors from aerospace to medicine.

...

Patrick Dubarle, an analyst for regional development in Europe with the Paris-based Organization for Cooperation and Development, said the French initiative was probably the largest of its kind in Europe and stood a good chance of helping French companies take risks on uncertain technologies.

''French companies seem to prefer a secure bet, but the negative result of this is that French entrepreneurs often end up moving to the U.S. or even Asia,'' Dubarle said.

''When that happens the potential is lost.''

Even so, Dubarle cautioned, the choice of nearly 70 winners could dilute the pump priming effect of the subsidies.

''There is a risk that in this current round of funding that France will just scatter the money by trying to please everyone,'' he said.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Merkel appeals to moderates in D-land

Looks like the CDU has a good jump on Schroeder's Social Democrats in the run-up to the expected September vote. While Schroeder has to work his base, Merkel is setting out to win back moderate voters. The IHT has a breakdown of the CDU's election planks.

It's a pity that Merekl's campaigning abilities make Helmut Kohl look light on his feet. She seems to be a gaffe making machine so far into her run for the chancellorship. Should she continue her mis-statements she will give Schroeder a much needed lifeline. Fortunately, she appears to be making the role her own:

[...] A confident, businesslike Merkel spent nearly two hours discussing in detail the party's program and answering questions from a packed conference hall of journalists in the heart of Berlin's government quarter....

So far Schroeder is the man for the Social Dems. It is beyond belief that they would keep such an ineffectual loser as their leader. Perhaps if things look dismal for them come August, they will turn to a new face, and Schroeder can shuffle off to the ash heap of history.

France's power caste is tuned only to itself

John Vinocur has a weekly column in the IHT. Today's is especially good. Apparently France's Prime Minister lives in his own reality-based world where glorious leader Chirac is a glorious leader.

[...] But the country's novice prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, decided a couple of weeks ago (as if the referendum never took place) to send this hallucinatory message to Europeans on France's place in their lives:

"Never before have the peoples of Europe expressed with so much force their hope to build a Europe of values and determination. True to the continent's history and our vision of the future, France wants to advance with them along the path marked out by Jacques Chirac."
....

Vinocur provides plenty more examples of the conversations that take place in France's airless little political minds.

Obligatory vacation post

My family and I returned to Bern from Mallorca yesterday evening. I had dropped the kids off with my parents in Mallorca and met my wife in London for a few days. We managed to cram quite a lot of touristy things into our visit. What I enjoyed most about the visit was stopping into St. Bartholomew church while the chorus was practicing for evensong. The place was empty except for the singers and a couple of worshippers. The church's acoustics were fabulous. Another favorite was the Smithfield market area, which was right around the corner from our hotel. Bustling, with (relatively) few tourists, and packed with more than its share of history, the place was a delight to walk through.

We left the day before the terrorists bombings. Having been through King's Cross several times a day during our stay, I have to say that it made an inviting target. It was always packed and was a real warren of subways, and pedestrian tunnels.

From all I've heard about the Brits' response, it seems as those underground at the time of the explosion handled themselves with typical British aplomb--something I thought had gone the way of the Dodo. With all the CCTVs I saw around London, I hold out real hope that the bastards responsible will soon be caught.

From London we flew to Mallorca and the beach. We all managed to get good tans and I saw plenty of Spanish breasts on display. Quite a difference from when Franco was in power. Another visual benefit was the appearance of long swim trunks on the men. For decades men had worn stretchy bikini-type swim trunks. Thanks to US cultural imperialism, longer and baggier trunks are now in fashion, thus saving us from watching 40 something widebodies trundle around nearly naked.

My mother arranged for tickets to a concert at the
Bellver castle, a beautiful 14th century round castle atop a hill overlooking the bay of Palma. The music paid tribute to Cervantes' classic Don Quixote, which was published 400 years ago. The program featured de Falla (new to me), Ravel and Poulenc.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Light to no blogging for the next ten days

I'll be dropping the kids off at my parents in Mallorca tomorrow, then joining my wife in London (my first visit) for a few days before returning to Mallorca for a bit of sun and fun.

For both my readers: don't expect much posting, unless I get ambitious and inflict a photo blog or two on you.

I hope everyone has a great July 4th.

Zimbabwe's slide into latest African basket case

Mugabe will doubtless blame "wreckers" (a catch-all from Leninist and Stalinist times) for the accelerating crumbling of his nation, but it is his government's persecution of its opposition, failure to deal with AIDS, and a beyond-stupid agriculture policy which has the head of the World Food Program warning that Zimbabwe, and southern Africa in general are in deep trouble.

The head of the World Food Programme says the current food shortages in Zimbabwe make it one of the countries he is most worried about in the world.
...

He told the UN Security Council "the greatest humanitarian crisis we face today" was not in Darfur, Afghanistan or North Korea, but in southern Africa.
...

Mr Morris told the Council that the disintegration of social structures in southern Africa and the accompanying hunger meant it was the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

"A lethal mix of Aids, recurring drought and failing governance is eroding social and political stability," he said.

...

Britain's ambassador to the UN, Emyr Jones-Parry, said the government was to blame for many of the problems facing Zimbabwe. "It's important to realise that this particular crisis has been caused by the Zimbabwean government," he said.

"It is man-made and not a natural phenomenon. The economic collapse in Zimbabwe is the result of bad policies and bad governance."

Just as Lenin and Stalin presided over the largest non-war related economic reversal in history, Mugabe is endangering millions of of his people largely due to ideology and poor decision making.

Tour de France begins tomorrow

Oh, man, am I looking forward to this year's TdF. It has all the makings of drama and pathos. Six-time winner and ueber-doper (my opinion) Armstrong is racing for the final time. The course route and daily stages favor no one, although teams with good climbers should be able to protect their leaders better if they suffer a loss of condition in the mountain stages.

Armstrong picks his chief competition in this
IHT article. More than in the past few years, it is difficult to rate the riders. Armstrong rode acceptably in his final tune-up, but I felt he lacked stamina. That was a month ago, he has since prepared in private.

Same for Ullrich. He started out well in the Tour de Suisse, but then faded. With gamesmanship on the increase in bike racing, it is difficult to know whether these two were simply dogging it or behind in their preparations. Ullrich often would hurt his chances with poor training and being overweight, but looked very fit in the TdS. He and Armstrong have the strongest teams.

Another favorite, Italian Ivan Basso, rode very well in the Giro d'Italia last month, but suffered a loss of condition due to a virus. Vinokourov is fit, a good climber and can avoid losing too much time in the time trials, but he is slated to ride for in support of Ullrich, so I don't see him on the podium. Iban Mayo is a pure climber, but has weak time trialing skills. I place him no higher than fourth.

Not many riders have realistic chances of winning as so much depends on having a strong team to help in the mountains and on the Team Time Trial (last winner with a dismal team: Greg Lemond).

My brother and I have been betting on the outcome since the days Miguel Indurain was dominating. Quick aside: my nickname, pigilito, comes from a taunt my brother would throw at me when we used to ride together, and is a play on Indurain's name. This year we are each picking four riders. Whoever does the best wins beer. His choices: Basso, Armstrong, Vinokourov, Ullrich. My choices: Armstrong, Ullrich, Basso, Mayo.

Please leave your predictions in the comments. Should your riders do better than mine, I'll stand you a beer.

Side bet: how many riders will be picked up for doping once the race begins? I predict two. No, change that to one.

Favored websites: BBC sport, Eurosport, IHT (Samuel Abt knows bike racers). Forget the OLN website; not for nothing is it known as the Only Lance Network.

UPDATE: This
blog is Tour central. For the next 3+ weeks I'll be checking it several times a day.

What if EU farm subsidies stopped?

Short answer: highly benificial to everybody but a few farmers. The IHT has a series of articles on EU subsidies written by Thomas Fuller. Yesterday's discussed who received the subsidies, and how farmers in France felt about the question (selfish French farmer alert). Today's asks the question of what happens if subsidies are curtailed and eventually stopped.

Fuller discusses the obvious results: lower consumer food costs, more money available for research (unless they are politically connected, European scientists have a hard time gaining access to funding; consequently many end up in the US), and better opportunities for third world farmers who won't face subsidized competition.

He also notes this unexpected consequence: a fall in the Euro due to fewer exports would make European manufactured goods easier to sell abroad.

[...] Experts in European agriculture say dismantling the system in Europe would have far-reaching consequences, both good and bad. The European countryside might indeed become less attractive, with scrub and forest taking over failed farms.

But Europe would become more competitive and the money that is today spent on subsidies could be channeled into such things as scientific research, where Europe has long lagged behind the United States.

Perhaps as many as a third of Europe's farmers would go out of business, economists say. Europe would also import more products that it cannot produce efficiently, such as sugar.
...

European agriculture is protected in some ways by European tastes - the opposition, for instance, to genetically modified foods.
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Shoppers would probably benefit from cheaper food because subsidies distort the price of crops. This would put money in consumers' pockets for other uses. The OECD calculates that agricultural products in the European Union are 29 percent more expensive than they would be without the aid.
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But there could also be more unexpected consequences, said Stefan Tangermann, the head of the agriculture division at the OECD.
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Nonfarming industries would also benefit simply because they would no longer be paying the subsidies to farmers through taxes.
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There is also the possibility, favored by northern countries, that Europe "re-nationalize" agriculture: that farmers continue to be paid subsidies but on a national level instead of through the EU.

Agriculture today is the only area of the EU where there is a truly pan-European policy. But renationalizing would likely be fought by the largest recipients of the program: France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

And what about the countryside?

For one, the price of agricultural land would decline without subsidies, according to Swinnen.

As for the fabled texture of the countryside, the small country roads and neat fields, this, too, could change, according to Vicki Swales, head of agriculture and rural development at the Institute for European Environmental Policy in London.

There is some truth in the farmers' warnings, she said. "Without agriculture there would be some natural succession toward scrub and woodlands," she said.
...

Especially in France it is difficult to overstate the attachment to farms and the countryside in general. "It is not only wheat that emerges from the plowed earth, it is an entire civilization," said the 19th-century poet Alphonse de Lamartine. Today the French regularly refer to the "terroir" - the regions where different food is made or wine produced.
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Ultimately, experts in European farming say that with or without subsidies, the number of farmers in Europe has been steadily declining by 2 to 3 percent a year. "In percentage terms it's a straight line downward," Swinnen said.
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But those who must chart the future of the EU's farm program, say Europe must think about more than just being competitive. [...]

What I came away with is that this isn't simply about Europeans becoming more competitive by either shrinking their budgets, or putting the money into R & D, as important as that is for the EU's future. Europe, especially France, places enormous cultural store in its farms and dairys. And as subsidies are cut back, some of the countryside's charms must necessarily be lost.

In the near future it will be a moot point as any reductions will be minor. Should Europe's economies shift from bad to worse, though, it will be interesting to see how quickly Europe's favorite charity--farmers, become scapegoats and are viewed as selfish.