Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Time running out for Osama and his fellow cave dwelling cretins?

Even the caves aren't safe anymore.

Pursuing a suspect through an underground tunnel or cave is dangerous work for the police or military. But a system being developed at the University of Denver, Colorado, US, could make their lives a whole lot easier. Revealed in a recent patent finding, the system uses faint sound resonances to build a map of a hidden chamber and locate anyone hiding inside.

Low frequency noise – between 1 and 200 hertz – is fed into the tunnel from a loudspeaker placed at its mouth. The cavity will then resonate at different strengths and frequencies depending on its shape. A microphone detects these resonances and a connected computer converts the audio information into a map showing the size and shape of the chamber on a screen.

If anyone is hiding inside, their movement should alter the reflection pattern and thus changes the resonant spectrum. Tests show that the system works even when the person hiding is just 1/500th of the volume of the entire chamber. And the system should get more accurate with the creation of a database of resonant patterns relating to different cavity shapes.

Read the cave mapping patent here

Fortunately for the world, ObL will be long dead by the time this gizmo's ready for prime time.

BTW, I haven't heard much from him lately. Isn't it time for the media to gin up some "is Osama dead" speculation?

Chirac's annus horribilis

From the Financial Times, a review of the past year for Chirac:
This has undoubtedly been an annus horribilis for the French president. In May Mr Chirac lost a referendum he had called to approve the European Union’s constitutional treaty forcing him to sack Jean-Pierre Raffarin as prime minister and bring Nicolas Sarkozy, his popular arch-antagonist, back into the government as interior minister.

A few weeks later, London beat Paris, the favourite among odds-makers, to the rights to host the 2012 Olympic games in spite of Mr Chirac’s last-minute glad-handing in Singapore.

In September Mr Chirac was rushed to hospital after suffering a “vascular accident” affecting his eyesight. In late October urban riots erupted across France, highlighting how little progress had been made in healing the “social fracture” that Mr Chirac had promised to cure during his 1995 presidential campaign. [...]

An opinion poll published in Le Parisien newspaper on Sunday showed that 72 per cent of respondents thought that Mr Chirac now exercised only a weak influence over events in France as power had seeped to the prime minister’s office. [...]

Nicolas Baverez, a noted acerbic commentator, recently summed up France’s dilemma in Les Echos newspaper: “In view of a president who combines moral bankruptcy, absence of legitimacy, and a physical incapacity to perform his functions, a government in which rival ambitions and divergent political lines cohabit with each other, and a divided opposition that is absent from the public debate, there is a considerable risk of seeing the country abandon itself to the protectionist, nationalist, xenophobic, and extremist passions that torment it.”

It has already begun. Many politicians discount any change to the French social model, even though it is widely held to be unsustainable. Of course, should Sarkozy's frank talk continue to win him support among the electorate, more politicians will join him in calling for fundamental changes to the way France does things. To be sure, the recent proposed immigration law changes are in response to the public's hunger for action. Fear of the extreme Right--which pretty much owned this issue for years--forced politicians to do something.
Some politicians have even gone so far as to predict that France’s political malaise could signal the end of the Fifth Republic’s “monarchical” presidency adopted by Charles de Gaulle and carried on by Mr Chirac.

Pierre Giacometti, research director at Ipsos, the polling organisation, says that Mr Sarkozy, the current frontrunner to succeed Mr Chirac, has helped revolutionise French politics by speeding up its rhythm and by aiming to set a daily news agenda. He has also changed the language of political discourse by using everyday French.

“In a certain way the president of the republic - Chirac and Mitterrand - and their prime ministers over the past 20 years have pursued a policy in the media of appearing as little as possible to ensure their interventions were all the more eagerly awaited. The idea was to ‘sacralise’ the appearanes of a monarchical president,” he said. “Sarkozy has adopted the inverse strategy of being omnipresent in the media and developing a strategy of ‘I listen, I explain, I act’.”

It is a strategy that other presidential contenders, including Mr de Villepin, are now desperately trying to mimic as they aim to re-engage voters dissaffected during Mr Chirac’s reign.

Britain begins the nuclear power debate

Securing sufficient energy resources will be the great game of the 21st centruy. Volatillity in the Mid East means the ample petroleum resources still to be extracted there can never be fully booked as being available to the West.

Alternative energy sources such as wind (inefficient, eyesore), solar (expensive, requires lots of space to generate significant energy), and hydroelectric (great idea, but most sources are already dammed), are simply not projected to be able to supply our growing energy needs.

Nuclear power fulfills four important criteria: it is available, it is relatively cheap, it is safe, it provides ample power. Additionally, nuclear power is greenhouse gas neutral.

Unfortunately, environmentalists and fear mongers have so spooked the public that nuclear power hasn't been seriously considered for decades in Europe and the US, with one notable exception: France generates close to 80% of its energy needs through nuclear power and has yet to suffer a serious accident.

Now the debate over nuclear power has begun in Europe. Finland will go ahead with plans to expand its nuclear power plants. And Britain will rethink its opposition.

The Telegraph opines:
Yesterday, [Blair] announced that the Government would undertake an energy review [...], with the aim of publishing a statement on future policy early next summer. We are still far from a decision on Britain's new energy mix but at least the Prime Minister has at last set the ball rolling. More important, he has indicated that nuclear will have to be part of that mix.

For too long, Labour has been paralysed by an irrational fear of civil nuclear power. In the meantime, the dates for the decommissioning of coal and nuclear plants, which account for about 30 per cent of generating capacity, draw nearer. Britain has become a net importer of natural gas and within a few years is expected to be in the same position with regard to oil. The prices of both those fuels have risen sharply. Accelerating demand from industrialising nations such as China and India means they are unlikely to fall back to old levels.

And renewable sources - wind, tide, solar and biomass - as yet show no sign of reaching the Government's target of supplying 10 per cent of Britain's electricity by 2010, let alone its "aspiration" to see that proportion doubled by 2020.

All these factors indicate the need to commission a new generation of nuclear reactors if Britain is to meet its energy requirements. Apart from the explosion in Chernobyl in 1986, the industry has an excellent safety record. Its opponents raise the spectre of a terrorist attack on a nuclear plant, but that possibility should not preclude a hard-headed look at the contribution such a source of power can make to the economy and at the best ways of defending it from extremists.

Compared with fossil fuels, nuclear power offers clean energy whose provision is not over-dependent on volatile foreign suppliers. Compared with renewables, it has a proven record of substantial electricity production. Building new reactors will be expensive, will require a long lead time and, as indicated by the Greenpeace demonstration yesterday, will be fiercely opposed by some environmentalists.

During that period, new sources of energy such as tidal generation, which avoids the environmental blot of windmills, may come to promise more than they do at present. That is why the energy review must be comprehensive. It is the least to be demanded from a prime minister who has spent more than two terms in Downing Street before facing up to Britain's long-term energy needs.
I would like to see a similar debate in the US. The editorial pages of leading newspapers would make a good forum. I don't have high hopes for a breakthrough, though, as the Republican dominated Congress recently caved in on drilling in the ANWR.

What needs to be clear is that alternative energy will never amount to more than a few percent of our energy supplies. The choice then comes down to a combination of increased burning of fossil fuels and nuclear power. The debate must be about which relative percentages of each will be used to meet our growing energy needs.

Flannels Media start-up


Herr Kommissar is the brains behind Flannels Media, a competitor to PJ Media.

Join here.

Flannels Media: More wide awake and better dressed than the other blogosphere media conglomerate.

It's time to break out the flannel, America (and parts of Switzerland).

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

France to tighten immigration controls

In a move designed to co-opt the extreme right of France's political spectrum, the government will seek legislation to restrict immigrantion. This populist measure will bolster Villepin's appeal to voters, while removing a political arrow from the Right's quiver. However, it seems as if Villepin has been outmanuvered on this by his rival Sarkozy, who came out early on toughening immigration standards.
French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin on Tuesday announced tightened controls on immigration, part of the government's response to unrest that shook the country this month.

Marriages celebrated abroad between French people and foreigners will no longer be automatically recognized in France, Villepin said. Consulates must screen couples first before foreign partners can be granted French identity papers, he said.

The measure is to be adopted by parliament in the first half of 2006, Villepin said.

The prime minister also said the government should have the ability to enforce a law outlawing polygamy. There are 8,000-15,000 polygamous families in France, according to official figures. Some French officials cited polygamy as one reason that youths from underprivileged Muslim households joined in the rioting - a suggestion that outraged opposition politicians, human rights groups and others.

The government has moved swiftly to address the problems that led to the violence this month in France's impoverished suburbs, home to many immigrant families from North and west Africa. While promising to ease unemployment for youths and fight racial discrimination, the conservative government also promised tighter controls on immigration.
At the moment, everything proposed has been superficial, and designed simply to show the government is engaged. Real change will come when labor laws are loosened, when discrimination is lessened, and when assimilation is improved.

The polygamists, however, should be rounded up, stripped of citizenship (if naturalized, and it is proven that they lied on their application), and deported. This is a question of assimilation; France needs to show--even symbolically--that it is serious about immigrants adopting French values.

President Jacques Chirac said two weeks ago that France must be stricter in enforcing the regulations of a law that allows immigrants to bring spouses and children to France.

Villepin said he would not put that law into question, but wants to extend the period that immigrants must live in France before being able to bring their families here from the current one year to two years.

The measure concerning families is the second source of legal immigration to France today, after marriage, concerning some 25.000 people in 2004.
More evidence the proposed measure is politically motivated is that it will impact very few.

The Kyoto Protocol is effectively dead

Not good news for the next pie-in-the-sky treaty. Maybe the next attempt at controlling greenhouse gases will take economic concerns slightly more seriously. The Beeb has the news:

The European Union is likely to miss its greenhouse gas targets by a wide margin, according to an official assessment of the Union's environment.

The European Environment Agency says that the 15 longest-standing members of the EU are likely to cut emissions to just 2.5% below 1990 levels.

This falls well short of their target 8% cut.

Growth in the transport sector is partly to blame, with increased air travel offsetting gains made elsewhere.

The European Union is at the heart of the Kyoto process, and is committed to substantial cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

But real performance is poor according to the new report on Europe's environmental health - emissions have in fact been rising since the year 2000.

Improvements in industrial efficiency and reductions in methane emissions from waste tips have given the most dramatic gains.

But elsewhere the story is one of reverses.

Longer car journeys have more than eaten into any gains in engine performance, and ship and airline journeys are also increasing fast.

Environmentalists will be disappointed that the share of renewable sources of electricity has increased by only 0.5% since 1990.

Renewables like wind and biomass being seen as the key to any low-carbon economy.
On the other hand, the report does include a glimmer of hope - that if measures that have been promised are implemented, the Kyoto target will be more than met.

The trouble is that reality and promise don't seem to be matched at the moment.
The usually reliable "if only nations had kept their promises" argument fails here because the treaty was so badly flawed that no one expected to keep their commitments. At least the US was honest enough to not endorse it.

From Mark Steyn, this spot-on comment: "Signing Kyoto is nothing to do with reducing "global warming" so much as advertising one's transnational moral virtue."

The Protocol expires in 2012. A climate meeting in Montreal seeks to come up with the next treaty.

England to build more nuclear power plants

So speculates the Scotsman newspaper in the run-up to Blair's speech. Good thing, too, if Blair follows through. Nuclear power is safer by far than just 20 years ago, with several new designs promising increased efficiency and safety.

The two best arguments for nuclear power are the threat of increasingly tight oil supplies (I remain convinced that plenty of oil is out there, but that supplies can be cut off through terror, war or embargos), and that nuclear power produces no extra greenhouse gases.

TONY Blair will today launch the case for a new generation of nuclear power stations, as he publishes the terms of a review which will lay out in stark terms the energy supply choices facing Britain.

The Prime Minister will tell the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) that he understands and shares the concerns over soaring gas prices - and accepts ministers can no longer duck tough decisions. [...]

The nuclear industry has said it requires no subsidy to build the plants - and can do so on existing sites. It said it simply requires planning permission and for ministers to place a floor under British energy prices to guard against a future collapse. [...]

But first Mr Blair is keen to create a political consensus for new nuclear power - knowing that the Conservatives are firmly in favour, even if the Liberal Democrats are firmly opposed.

Mr Blair will approach the debate with two arguments: that Britain cannot afford to be so dependent on increasingly volatile fossil fuel, and it needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

With trade unions also warming to the idea - with many fearing for the 4,000 jobs in British Energy's nuclear plants - Mr Blair believes the consultation being launched today will set the conditions for new plants. He will argue for an extension in wind farms, but the review is expected to conclude that a diverse supply of energy sources must contain a strong nuclear component. [...]

Environmental campaigners have said they are not convinced by arguments that nuclear power stations are carbon-neutral as they emit no greenhouse gasses - and that they alone have the clout to fill an energy gap.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) said it was preparing for a long battle where it hoped to make the case that renewable energy sources, such as wind farms, can fill the gap being left by the drop in nuclear energy. [...]

ENVIRONMENTALISTS insist that there is a simple solution to Britain's looming power crisis - renewable sources.

This is the eternal siren song of environmentalists. No matter that they can only point to limited success, like communists they are touching in their belief that if only their ideas was properly implemented, everything would be fine.

But experts disagree, arguing that wind, hydro and wave power could not fill the gap left by the closure of the country's nuclear and coal stations. [...]

Richard Barry, a former petroleum engineer, now a writer and consultant, is not convinced by renewable energy targets. Because wind blows intermittently, he says, a typical turbine yields about 30 per cent of capacity and some poorly-sited turbines manage less than 20 per cent.

The intermittent flow of electricity produced might also need a lot of gas-powered back-up to even the flow, producing carbon dioxide and defeating the environmentally-friendly argument.

John Stewart, a dedicated anti-wind farm campaigner who lives at Glenfarg, Perthshire, was unequivocal. "We have to go nuclear because none of the renewables work," he said. "There is no chance of the Executive's 2020 target for renewables being reached."

A retired industrial scientist, his argument against wind farms is based on their poor efficiency and lack of cost-effectiveness. He dismisses wave and tidal power on the same grounds and sees hydro power as only a minor option.

Overblown fears--thanks, MSM and Greens--have placed nuclear power in the doghouse for much of the past 30 years. This finally seems set to change. It's a pity the decision comes so late.

6 top Paris hotels fined on pricing

I wonder what their new prices will be. I've long wanted to stay and dine at the Crillon; perhaps if the price drops enough my wife and I can swing a two day and one night stay in low season.
In a five-star case of collusion, six of the most prestigious luxury hotels in Paris were fined Monday for running an illegal price-fixing cartel that at one point pushed their room prices - already among the highest in the world - to an average of more than E700 per night.

The Hôtel de Crillon, the Four Seasons Hôtel George V, the Hôtel Ritz, the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, the Hôtel Meurice, and Hôtel Le Bristol were fined a total of E709,000, or $831,000, by the French Competition Council, which issued a 57-page decision replete with e-mail trails and charts detailing how the hotels worked together on a weekly and monthly basis to shift prices.

"The investigation showed regular exchanges of confidential information among the six hotels regarding their business and the elements necessary for their marketing plans," the council, a government watchdog charged with stopping market collusion, said in a statement. [...]

The French government report highlighted how the hotels dominate the luxury hotel market in central Paris.

It described them as occupying "a prestigious site in the center Paris; a high proportion of suites, some of which are exceptional; a gastronomic restaurant; exceptional amenities such as swimming pools or gyms; a large number of personnel at the disposal of guests." [...]
Bastards. Thankfully my uncle and several cousins live in and around Paris, so we rarely stay in a hotel when visiting.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Switzerland bans GM food

Sometimes referendums make no sense. And this was one of them. But as a supporter of them, I have to take the bad with the good.
BERN, Switzerland -- Swiss voters approved a referendum Sunday to tighten curbs on genetically modified farm products, a divisive topic in a country that already prohibits most of such technology from being used in agriculture.

Over 55 percent of participants in the national referendum voted for the five-year moratorium on all genetically modified animals and crops, except for use in certain research and to produce medicine.

Sunday's referendum was forced by environmentalists and consumer groups who easily gathered the 100,000 signatures they needed to oppose a January 2004 law that would have permitted cultivation of genetically modified crops once they passed a "multiyear testing procedure."

The groups claimed the 2004 law threatened Swiss farmers while benefiting multinational agricultural business and would have forced products onto the market that people are not interested in buying.

The campaigners also needed to gain a majority in over half the country's 26 cantons for the initiative to be approved. Voters in all 26 cantons cast their ballots in favor of the ban.Switzerland's system of direct democracy means that the people's consent is required on any major issue.

Concerns about the safety of biotech foods for consumers and the environment have led many Europeans to resist the introduction of such products. [...]

Swiss business groups argued that the moratorium threatened the country's leading position as a center for gene technology research.

The Zurich-based Swiss Institute for Business Cycle Research, an opponent of the moratorium, also claimed it would prevent farmers from using crops which are more pest- and disease-resistant. [...]
I can understand people not wanting to buy GM food. But I dislike being precluded from doing so, based on little more than effective scare tactics.

Wow. These guys take voting irregularities seriously

GAZA (Reuters) - Palestinian gunmen, firing in the air, stormed on Monday into several polling stations in the Gaza Strip where President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party was holding primary elections and forced them to close, witnesses said.

The gunmen, members of Fatah, complained of irregularities in voter lists, the witnesses said about the incidents in the central Gaza Strip. [emphasis supplied]

Think of the outrage these paragons of voting rights would suffer if they lived in Ohio, St. Louis, Chicago, or Philly.

RINO Sightings at Don Surber's

Don takes the RINO (Republican/Independant Not Overdosed on the party kool-aid) moniker seriously, as you'll see by the photos and commentary.

He's posted disturbing but apt graphics for many Republicans troubled by our party's direction.

As always, plenty of good reading.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Sex can leave crickets legless

With this research, these folks can book their trip to the IgNoble Awards.
Crickets are known to shed a leg if they get caught in a sticky situation, but only if they have had sex first, according to new research.

Philip Bateman from the University of Pretoria in South Africa and Patricia Fleming from Murdoch University in Australia have shown that virgin female crickets are very reluctant to leave their front legs behind, whereas male crickets and females that have mated will readily rip off a leg to escape danger.

The scientists collected 160 crickets and timed how long it took each to decide to shed its leg when the leg was trapped in a finger and thumb pinch.

All the crickets happily shed their hind legs in less than 10 seconds. But when it came to front legs, virgin female crickets were particularly slow, taking an average of 26 seconds. Bateman and Fleming believe this is because front legs are vital for females to find a mate.

"The front legs bear the hearing organ. Even loss of a single front leg has consequences since it disables hearing directionality, vital for females to move towards a calling mate," they write in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.
More evidence that sex is way important. Maybe it's the over riding biological pressure to have sex and pass on our genes that is partially why evolution is so offensive to the religious Right.

My curiosity aroused, I went to the article, and found that the crickets were segregated by sex from the nymph stage until adulthood--thus ensuring virgin status. I confess to being disappointed, as I wanted some mention of a poor bastard who had to check.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Economic growth as an engine for social progress

Gregg Easterbrook reviews a book with this thesis: namely, that increased prosperity leads to social progress. That's an idea many conservatives have long taken as gospel.
Economic growth has gotten a bad name in recent decades - seen in many quarters as a cause of resource depletion, stress and sprawl, and as an excuse for pro-business policies that mainly benefit plutocrats. [...]

If economic growth were no longer the goal, there would be less anxiety and more leisurely meals.

But would there be more social justice?

No, says Benjamin Friedman, a professor of economics at Harvard University, in "The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth."
I agree wholeheardtedly. In fact the opposite is true: economic decline and stasis bring less social justice, with more risk of making scapegoats out of minorities, and increased discrimination and racism. The laboratory for this at the moment is France, which is under tremendous economic pressure to keep its social model afloat.
Friedman argues that economic growth is essential to "greater opportunity, tolerance of diversity, social mobility, commitment to fairness and dedication to democracy."

During times of expansion, he writes, nations tend to liberalize - increasing rights, reducing restrictions, expanding benefits for the needy. During times of stagnation, they veer toward authoritarianism. Economic growth not only raises living standards and makes liberal social policies possible, it causes people to be optimistic about the future, which improves human happiness.

"It is simply not true that moral considerations argue wholly against economic growth," Friedman contends.

Instead, moral considerations argue that large-scale growth must continue at least for several generations, both in the West and the developing world. [...]

"The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth" is an impressive work: commanding, insistent and meticulously researched.

Much of it is devoted to showing that in the past two centuries, periods of growth have in most nations coincided with progress toward fairness, social mobility, openness and other desirable goals, while periods of stagnation have coincided with retreat from progressive goals. [...]

More important, Friedman's attempt to argue that there is something close to an inevitable link between economic growth and social advancement is not entirely successful, a troublesome point since such a link is essential to his thesis.

For example, Friedman contends that economic growth aided American, French and English social reforms of the second half of the 19th century.

Probably, but there was also a recession in the United States beginning in 1893 [true, but this and other "panics" of the time were short lived. Moreover, people felt that America was moving forward, and that the setbacks were a part of growth--pigilito], yet pressure for liberal reforms continued: the suffrage, good-government and social-gospel movements strengthened during that time. It was in the midst of a depression, in 1935, that Social Security, a huge progressive leap, was enacted [it was previous growth which enabled this sort of social justice--pigilito].

Economic growth has sometimes been weak in the United States for much of the past three decades, yet in this period American society has become significantly more open and tolerant - discrimination appears at an all-time low.

On the flip side, the 20s were the heyday of the Klan in the United States, though the "roaring" economy of the decade was growing briskly.

None of this disproves Friedman's hypothesis, only clouds its horizon. Surely liberalization works better where there is growth, while growth works better where there is liberalization - as China is learning.

But the relationship between the two forces may always be fuzzy; the modern era might have seen movement toward greater personal freedom and social fairness regardless of whether high-output industrial economies replaced low-growth agrarian systems.

Repressive forces, from skinheads to Nazis and Maoists, may spring more from evil in the human psyche than from any economic indicator.

Friedman's thesis is now being tested in China, home of the world's most impressive economic growth. If he's right, China will rapidly become more open, gentle and democratic. Let's hope he's right.

Though "The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth" may not quite succeed in showing an iron law of growth and liberalization, Friedman is surely correct when he contends that economic expansion must remain the world's goal, at least for the next few generations. Growth, he notes, has already placed mankind on a course toward the elimination of destitution.

Despite the popular misconception of worsening developing-world misery, the fraction of people in poverty is in steady decline. Thirty years ago 20 percent of the planet lived on $1 or less a day; today, even adjusting for inflation, only 5 percent does, despite a much larger global population.

Probably one reason democracy is taking hold is that living standards are rising, putting men and women in a position to demand liberty.

And with democracy spreading and rising wages giving ever more people a stake in the global economic system, it could be expected that war would decline. It has.

Even taking Iraq into account, a study by the Center for International Development and Conflict Management, at the University of Maryland, found that the extent and intensity of combat in the world is only about half what it was 15 years ago.

Friedman concludes his book by turning to psychology, which shows that people's assumptions about whether their lives will improve are at least as important as whether their lives are good in the present. Right now, American living standards and household income are the highest they have ever been; but because middle-class income has been stagnant for more than two decades, while the wealthy hoard society's gains, many Americans have negative expectations.

"America's greatest need today is to restore the reality. . . that our people are moving ahead," Friedman writes.

How? He recommends lower government spending (freeing money for private investment), repealing upper-income tax cuts (to shrink the federal deficit), higher Social Security retirement ages, choice-based Medicare and big improvements in the educational system (educated workers are more productive, which accelerates growth).

Friedman doesn't worry that we will run out of petroleum, trees or living space. What he does worry about is that we will run out of growth.
This book (The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth. By Benjamin M. Friedman. 570 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $35) has shot to the top of my Christmas list.

EU to lower sugar subsidies

The EU, in a bid to help its dismal negotiating position at trade talks, has proposed cuts in the subsidies it pays sugar beet farmers. Although the deal doesn't go far enough, and is flawed in other respects, it is an important first step for the EU. This should result in savings to the EU, which can be used in other areas. More importantly, developing nations will be able to sell their sugar on the world market, thus bringing in needed capital and investors.

From the Financial Times:
European Union agriculture ministers on Thursday bolstered the EU's negotiating stance in world trade talks by agreeing to the first significant cut in European sugar subsidies in almost 40 years.

After three days of talks, the ministers decided to cut the EU’s guaranteed sugar price by 36 per cent over four years. This was instead of an initially envisaged cut of 39 per cent over two years.Ministers also agreed a more generous compensation scheme for those inefficient European sugar producers that will be forced to halt production because of the lower price. [...]

The expected fall in European production is designed to cut EU dumping of sugar on the world market after the practice was successfully challenged by Brazil, Australia and Thailand at the World Trade Organisation.

In the run-up to next month's WTO ministerial meeting in Hong Kong, the EU has been under intense pressure to help break the deadlock in the Doha round of global trade talks by allowing more farm exports into its market, with Brazil, the world's leading sugar producer, leading the attack on the EU.

Mariann Fischer Boel, the EU's agriculture commissioner, said on Thursday it would have been difficult for EU negotiators to travel to Hong Kong without a sugar agreement, a deal demonstrating that the EU could tackle one of the bastions of its common agricultural policy while also respecting WTO rulings.

“If we didn't have a proposal in the pocket, we would have nothing to defend,” she said. “This will strengthen our hand at next month's WTO Hong Kong ministerial.”

The EU has 312,000 sugar beet farmers and Brussels currently buys sugar from European producers at €632 a tonne, three times the world market price.

The UK Industrial Sugar Users Group on Thursday deplored last-minute concessions that would still leave the EU price about double the world sugar price. “This deal takes the easy way out by simply dumping increased compensation costs on consumers and industrial users,” it said.

Margaret Beckett, the British agriculture minister, nevertheless, claimed the deal marked “a historic day” for the EU, given the political sensitivities surrounding European agriculture and the degree to which practices have become entrenched in the European sugar sector.

“Although there has long been the recognition of the very strong case and logic of reforming the sugar sector, this was a decision of considerably difficulty and complexity,” she said. [...]

Sugar has become one of the most hotly contested issues in international farm trade and the deal will have a significant impact on many developing countries, especially sugar-cane producers among the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of countries.

French politician blames riots on rappers

First it was polygamy, now rap singers are getting blamed for the French riots. Doubtless there is some truth to the argument that listening to violent, hateful lyrics makes one more likely to be a violent hateful person, but to blame rappers for the outbreak of riots drifts into Pat Robertson territory. From the Beeb:

A French MP has publicly accused rappers of fuelling the country's recent riots with their songs. It comes a day after 200 politicians backed his petition calling for legal action against seven rap musicians and bands it alleges have incited racism. [...]

The petition, handed to Justice Minister Pascal Clement, has been signed by 153 members of the lower house of parliament and 49 senators.

The Justice Department has said it cannot immediately comment on its call for legal sanctions. As well as Monsieur R, it names artists Smala, Fabe and Salif and bands Ministere Amer, 113 and Lunatic.

Mr Grosdidier, a member of President Jacques Chirac's conservative ruling UMP party, said songs like Monsieur R's FranSSe incite racism and hatred, and should be banned from radio play.

He told France-Info: "When people hear this all day long and when these words swirl round in their heads, it is no surprise that they then see red as soon as they walk past policemen or simply people who are different from them." [...]

An examination of NYT editorials on Iraq at American Future

American Future has an exhaustive list of NYT editiorials on all things Iraq stretching back to 1993. Blogger Marc Schulman collected all the editorials concerned with Iraq, then analyzed them to determine whether the Grey Lady changed her tune over the years. The first analysis covers the Clinton years. Read it all.

The introductory paragraph:

Baghdad forfeits the protection of the U.N. cease-fire resolution every time it violates the cease-fire terms. [January 21, 1993 editorial]

This page remains persuaded of the vital need to disarm Iraq. But it is a process that should go through the United Nations. [March 17, 2003 editorial]

A war can be lost because public opinion turns against its continued prosecution. The New York Times – the self-described “newspaper of record” – is among the world’s most influential opinion leaders. As shown by the cited quotations, the newspaper’s stance on Iraq underwent a complete transformation during the decade separating 1993 and 2003. While its editors never lost their fear of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD), their prescription for countering the threat posed by the weapons was altered beyond recognition. In 1993, by arguing that cease-fire violations nullified U.N. protection, the Times affirmed the right of a victorious party to resume hostilities at its sole discretion if the party it defeated did not abide by the terms of the agreement to which it affixed its signature. Ten years later, the Times reversed its stance, asserting that the United States should not go to war without the approval of the United Nations. In so doing, the Times implicitly argued that going to war with the approval of a multilateral institution took precedence over the use of military force to expeditiously eliminate the threat posed by Iraq’s WMD.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Turning academia into a cafeteria

UCLA History professor Jacoby pens a dynamite op-ed in today's LA Times covering academia and which clearly serves to get something off his chest.
[...] We live in a choice-addled society. The jargon of choice, a second cousin of diversity and multiculturalism, undermines intellectual integrity and coherence. "Choice" and "diversity" are universal passwords that unlock all doors. Who can oppose them without appearing authoritarian?

These terms dazzle an academic and liberal left, which regularly uses them to disassemble a curriculum. For instance, reformers some years ago floated to great effect a proposal "to teach the conflict." If some instructors could not decide whether a classic English novel was homophobic or imperialist, they should "teach" the "conflict" and let the students decide.

The notion was seductive, but it opened the way to teach anything and everything in the name of airing a dispute. Were television situation comedies great literature? Teach the conflict. For a while, one counted on resolute conservatives to resist this intellectual guff and to remind us that not every view is worth teaching. No longer. Conservatives and even religious fundamentalists now talk the talk of diversity and choice. [...]

But the jargon of choice and diversity actually corrodes academic freedom, which once referred to the freedom of college instructors to teach what they considered salient, subject to the review of their peers, not outside authorities. Today, it increasingly means the freedom of students to hear what they — or their parents — want.

Several conservative groups now view academic freedom through the lens of diversity and choice. An outfit called Students for Academic Freedom, which claims chapters on hundreds of campuses, collects information on what it considers one-sided or controversial classes. The group pushes the so-called Academic Bill of Rights, written by the conservative activist David Horowitz. It defines academic freedom as lots of choices for students.

"While teachers are and should be free to pursue their own findings and perspectives in presenting their views," reads Principle No. 4, "they should consider and make their students aware of other viewpoints." It adds that professors should "welcome a diversity of approaches."

As attractive as these principles seem to be — diversity, choice, alternatives — what do they actually mean in the classroom? Must an astronomer teach astrology? The course on early Christianity include militant atheists? A class on the Holocaust, the Holocaust deniers? A lecture on 9/11, the conspiracy theorists? These "other viewpoints" all have a bevy of experts behind them. The few qualifiers tossed into the proposed Academic Bill of Rights, which specify that diverse views be aired only "where appropriate," do not undo the damage.

Under such proposals, the locus of academic freedom moves from teachers to students and parents. "Diversity" and "alternatives" and "choice" for students actually signal the eclipse of academic freedom for teachers, and the spread of bland, if not dishonest, courses. Teachers become purveyors of choice in a full-service cafeteria. Let the students decide between Darwin and Trofim Lysenko or "The Origin of Species" and Genesis. Mesmerized by the jargon of choice, we forget a basic principle: Truth itself is partisan.

The French riots: A higher calling for the courts

A very interesting opinion piece in the IHT. The author discusses the French legal system's inability to provide legal redress for many problems. As a lawyer, he naturally seeks to open French courts to lawsuits, and makes a compelling case. He also cites some important cases of judicial activism in the US, reminding me that it isn't always such a bad thing (so long as I agree with the goal, of course).
With French judges having been working overtime to convict, and in some cases deport, the troublemakers who were recently burning cars and sacking property, it is worth recalling a more positive use of a judicial system.

The role of judges need not be limited to punishment. Courts assume a more constructive social role when they act to redress wrongs and relieve grievances. They can be a safety valve, serving to channel and ease some of the pent-up pressures that exist in every society.

For many reasons - a dominating executive branch, a divided and historically weak legal profession, a judiciary that is a civil service and hence bureaucratic, a lack of financial resources - French courts generally fail to fulfill this role. The French court system is honest, competent, accessible in terms of cost, and relatively quick as legal systems go, but it has no history of providing redress for the kinds of social problems that France is currently undergoing. By failing to use its judicial system as a pressure valve, France neglects a useful tool of social control.

Even if France takes the steps necessary to mend the problems underlying the current unrest, it will still take decades for those problems to be resolved. In the interim they must be managed.

The French government could act to encourage its minorities to seek judicial redress of their grievances and encourage the courts to grant it, despite the fact that some of that financial redress would undoubtedly be against the government itself. The Ministry of Justice could actively prosecute discriminators as well as troublemakers. It could encourage and perhaps finance friend-of-the court (amicus curiae) briefs by interested parties and require the courts to accept them. This would raise the level of legal representation. It could push for higher damages to be awarded.

The American experience provides constructive examples. The West Coast received waves of Chinese immigrants in the second half of the 19th century, which resulted in anti-Chinese sentiment. In the 1880's San Francisco passed a city ordinance requiring Chinese laundries to close but allowing non-Chinese laundries to remain open. Yick Wo sued. The case ended up in the Supreme Court, which held that the city had violated the equal protection clause and that the Constitution protected all persons and not just citizens.

The movement for U.S. racial equality had a long history. City zoning on racial grounds was struck down in 1917; discrimination in interstate commerce in 1941; racial covenants in deeds for the sale of land were declared unlawful in 1948. There are many other examples, but the point is that beginning in the 1960's, private organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Bar Association, as well as the Justice Department, played significant roles in assisting minorities to assert their rights and to obtain damages in cases where they were appropriate.

The courts thus played a vital role, not only in implementing rights that were part of the national mythology but often not available to minority individuals, but also as a safety valve. With persistence and good legal counsel it was possible to prevail. Many people failed to get the benefit of rights to which they were legally entitled, but enough did so to make many minority citizens believe that they could prevail through the judicial system rather than by trashing the nation's institutions and private property.

In theory, minorities in France have access to the French courts. They get the benefit of French law and the European Convention on Human Rights. They can get legal aid if they are too poor to retain counsel. To a limited extent, that access is used, but not enough to provide a real safety valve, and the reason for that is simple. The redress is too feeble, and the access is not that simple. There are few organizations to help. On all counts, there is much that France could do to improve the situation.

There is talk of different social models, but when it comes down to it, America is not that different from France. Where America has done much better is in giving access to minorities to rise to the highest levels. There are no blacks or people of North African origin on the French Supreme Court or as ministry heads or mayors of large cities or chief executives of major French companies.

While there is much mythology in America's proclamation of "equal opportunity," it remains nonetheless an active quest. The quest is totally absent in France, and until it occurs the current social problems can only get worse.

France misses another opportunity: chooses appeasement

Prefering appeasement to confrontation, France caves in to demands by railway workers in order to end a strike. This is unfortunate, as the strike was not widely supported in France (small wonder given the riots this past month).

The IHT reports:
A strike that stranded travelers and delayed commuters across France on Tuesday appeared to be dissipating more quickly than anticipated after the successful conclusion of five hours of negotiations between union leaders and the management of the SNCF railroad company.

With France's president, Jacques Chirac, offering a personal guarantee that the company would not be privatized and with the SNCF agreeing to raises, bonuses and other concessions for workers, the government appeared eager to avoid a fresh crisis after three weeks of urban rioting.

Unions also were on the defensive Tuesday, facing skeptical comments in the media about the motives for their strike and defending the turnout of only 23 percent of the rail company's staff for the strike. The low turnout was deceptive, however: Two out of three trains were canceled, mainly because the strikers included a high percentage of the train operators. [...]

Newspapers were not much more kind: Le Figaro called the strike an "absurdity," and Le Parisien, a popular tabloid, accusing the CGT union, the country's largest, of playing games with the public for the sake of union politics. Analysts said this strike did not seem to have the momentum of previous ones, like the one that nearly paralyzed France in 1995.

The strike is the sixth by French railroad workers his year. "People are less sympathetic about such strikes," said Nicolas Sobczak, an economist at Goldman Sachs in Paris. "They have the impression that workers are well paid and have good social protection. They say that times are tough for everyone and that the unions are asking too much." [...]

The waning of the strike may be seen as a victory for Chirac, who sought to reassure the strikers Tuesday that the SNCF "is a state-owned company and will stay that way no matter what."

"I can guarantee that," Chirac said.
Parsing his words ("state-owned" means at least 51%, not 100% as newspapers seem to understand it) leads me to conclude that partial privatization remains a future possibility.
But the French government must now convince other countries in the European Union that it still plans to open its rail freight market to outside competition. Under an EU agreement, France must allow foreign rail freight operators on international routes by Jan. 1 and domestic routes by March 31.

Jan Scherp, the European Union's principal administrator for rail transport, said at a conference in Amsterdam on Monday that France was one of the chief obstacles to opening Europe to serious freight competition. He listed France and Spain as the only two major state railroad systems that had failed to open their borders to significant freight competition. [...]
One way or anther, France's railways will be privatized. Either willingly or due to bankruptcy.
While many commuters said they were certain the strikers had a good reason for stopping work, none of more than a dozen interviewed could say why the strike had been called.

"In the last 20 years, conditions have degraded for workers," said Erik Ferran, 37, a primary school teacher whose commute had been mildly affected. "If workers are on strike there must be a good reason."
Good application of critical thinking skills, there. Old habits die hard in sclerotic countries. Strikers are traditionally supported in France, no matter how selfish their demands.

Terry Waite: America is the same as my hostage takers

Terry Waite, who was held hostage in Lebanon two decades ago (free advice: let it go, Terry) has weighed in on how America treats those held in captivity. He joins Cindy Sheehan and Jimmy Carter in proclaiming America's race to the bottom (interesting thought: which of the three would come out on top if there were only time for one interview? My guess: Carter; Cindy stills needs time to get teary eyed, and Terry hasn't the instinctive lunge to the camera that Carter has).

Terry's point in his opinion piece in the Guardian: little distinguishes America from those who held him hostage. The piece is from an essay chock full of PC sensibility.

Here comes the moral relativism:
On my first visit to Lebanon since my release as a hostage in 1991 I visited a refugee camp. I met some young people who were on a computer-literacy course. They had made good progress. "What about your future?" I asked. "What future?" one replied. "To get a job in Lebanon is virtually impossible as jobs go first to Lebanese citizens. We have no right of return to the place our grandfathers came from, and how can we go abroad when we are refugees? We are trapped."

That young man uttered the sentiments of thousands of displaced people in the Middle East and beyond. As I left the classroom I thought it remarkable that more young people did not join "terrorist" groups. The point I want to make is this: war, as well as being a blunt instrument, fails totally to deal with the root issues underlying terrorism. In the political realm it requires statesmen and women; individuals who can think beyond the next election and who have the wisdom that comes from making an attempt to understand cultures other than those of the west.
It requires little understanding to determine there are people out there who don't care what kind of far thinking statesmen we produce. They would have been extra happy to have slit Gandhi's throat (Muslim fanatics have an especially deep hatred of Hindus. Has something to do with filthy polytheism). As to wondering why economic hardship doesn't produce thousands of terrorists: because it doesn't. Terrorists targeting the West are produced by one thing: Islamic fundamentalism.

Western democracy has many attractive features and has brought manifold benefits. It takes no intelligence to recognise that it also has its dark side and that it cannot, nor necessarily ought it to be, exported to all parts of the world. If the optimistic statements made by some British and US politicians before the Iraqi war - when it was stated that the conflict would be concluded in weeks - were truly believed then one can only despair at the level of understanding demonstrated.

As one of those with limited intelligence, I'd like to know what constitutes a dark side? It must be something unique to western democracy--as opposed to something like increased consumerism--otherwise it's simply a poor argument.

The destructive eruption following 9/11 has struck at the roots of democratic freedom. The arguments will continue for a long time about which particular category terrorist suspects belong to. The fact is that on the basis of suspicion alone people have been detained, and in some cases subjected to processes that should not be part of a civilised nation.

Let me give a personal example. I was detained by a group of hostage takers in Beirut because they suspected me of engaging in dubious political activity. They blindfolded me and kept me in poor conditions without any contact with the outside world. They subjected me to physical and mental abuse during a lengthy period of interrogation. Had I not been able to convince them of my innocence I would not be walking free today. What is the essential difference between the methods deployed by my captors, who were labelled terrorists, and those of the authorities that detain suspects in Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere? They have been detained on suspicion and treated in a way that no civilised nation ought to condone.

One must make reference to the belief that sometimes evidence obtained under torture has been used against suspects. Such measures should have no place in a society that respects the rule of law. Such methods must be outlawed. One does not fight terrorism by adopting the methods of the terrorist. When one does, the terrorist has won a victory, for he has succeeded in undermining some of the fundamental values of society.

The process has seeped through to Britain, where men have been detained in Belmarsh by legislation rushed through by politicians seemingly anxious to maintain credibility. I don't doubt that some politicians have the public interest at heart; nor do I doubt that it is possible that some of those detained are dangerous. However, it must be stated that the avoidance of due process leads us into deeper difficulties. Our connivance with the war against Iraq is linked with the shallowness of thought that appears to be part of parliamentary decision-making. It seems decisions are taken without any concern for the long-term consequences.

The moral framework of the nation is shaky and it is little use political leaders lecturing the young on morality when their own conduct is so dubious. As a member of the church I am obliged to say that, although some have spoken out against the matters to which I have referred, the church as a body has hardly been vociferous about them. In case any critic accuses me of displaying an anti-western bias, let me say I believe that as a member of a free society one has the responsibility to look at the beam in one's own eye first. Having lived in most parts of the world I am not ignorant of the defects of others. I recognise that there are states that are corrupt. There are evil dictators and brutal regimes. I am aware of the economic imbalance in many Arab states and elsewhere.
Clearly, though, the beam in the West's eye must be eradicated before we can presume to combat those who would kill us all. Until our society is cured of all ills, we'll have to accept terrorism.
But I do not believe the world's wrongs will be resolved by warfare or economic dominance by one nation over another. We must grow into a world communitywhere difference can be celebrated rather than seen as divisive. To progress we need people of stature who will be able to demonstrate compassionate wisdom and political acumen that brings hope to those in despair. It is likely that such people will have been forged in the crucible of suffering, and through that experience will have learned that suffering need not destroy. They are the ones who can bring hope to this world and enable us to regain the moral dignity that is an essential part of our heritage as human beings.
By my quick calculation, we have these Leftist gems: celebrate multiculturism; appease those who disagree with us; seek to better understand other cultures; we are morally equivalent to hostage takers.

And no mention of the terrorist's motivating ideology. Not very insightful; but perfectly in keeping with the blame the West outlook.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Schröder's foreign policy legacy will haunt Merkel

While Henry Kissinger sees a return to transatlantic normalcy in diplomatic affairs (previous post), this Financial Times column by Wolfgang Munchau is more cautious. He views the damage done by Schroeder as lasting and difficult to overcome.
[...] Ms Merkel intends to return to the foreign policy doctrine that prevailed under Helmut Kohl, the last Christian Democrat chancellor. Mr Kohl managed to combine unwavering support for European integration - often in seeming contradiction to the national interest - with a firm commitment to transatlantic relations. It was this policy that made Germany, more than Britain, a diplomatic bridge between the US and the EU during his chancellorship.

When Gerhard Schröder became chancellor in 1998, he altered both elements of the doctrine. He was never an instinctive European. During his seven-year term in office he failed to build effective alliances in the EU and picked numerous fights, especially with the European Commission. At the same time, German foreign policy became gradually less transatlantic. Mr Schröder's decision to exploit anti-American sentiments during the 2002 election campaign has done lasting damage to US-German relations.

Mr Schröder has said frequently that under his leadership Germany has turned into an "emancipated" mid-sized political power. I would argue that, on the contrary, Germany is politically less relevant today than at any time since the second world war. This decline in power is to a large extent the result of his catastrophic foreign policy.
This is the result of Schroeder's seven years of politically directed foreign policy. He first gave up friendly relations with the smaller EU countries after being seduced by Chiracs' promises of increased influence if Germany and France teamed up (recall the Europe as counter-weight to American power argument put forward by Chirac. Odd that one doesn't hear that phrase anymore). Then came his decision to play up his government's opposition to the Iraq war.

No one can object to a principled disagreement over fighting the Iraq war, but Schroeder's turning disagrement into political hay has lasting implications for the German-American relationship. His actions so deeply embedded suspicion of American goals in German minds that politicians will be leery of appearing too close to Bush. Even should a Democrat win in 2008 the availability of the US as political whipping boy is guaranteed.

Against this backdrop, what can we expect Ms Merkel to achieve? She is a committed Atlanticist. She will seek good relations with President George W. Bush, and she will try do so without sacrificing the Franco-German alliance. Her relations with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, will not be quite as close as Mr Schröder's. [...]

What about Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the new foreign minister and a Social Democrat? Mr Steinmeier spent most of his political career as Mr Schröder's chief of staff in Berlin and previously in Hanover, when Mr Schröder was premier of Lower Saxony. According to diplomats, he is not comfortable conversing in English, nor is he considered to be particularly expert in foreign policy. He also lacks front-line political experience, having operated behind the scenes most of his career. US officials still remember Mr Steinmeier as the co-architect of Mr Schröder's policy on Iraq. [...]

All in all, the style of German foreign policy will probably change for the better. The real question is whether this matters. There are four reasons to think that it might not.

First, during the Schröder years, public opinion in Germany has turned progressively more anti-American. Iraq may have been the trigger for this development but the trend had already set in before September 11. The change in sentiment towards the US was probably more pronounced in Germany than in any other European country. Turning back the clock on transatlantic relations would have to involve more than subtle diplomacy.

Second, there will be just as many substantive disagreements with Washington, if not more, under the new government. Germany will still not be sending troops to Iraq. Ms Merkel and Mr Bush disagree on a whole range of issues, from climate change to Turkish EU membership.
Nevertheless, having a chancellor who is at least neutral towards the US already benefits both sides.
Third, the German political class has become far more inward-looking since unification. Domestic politicians such as Mr Schröder have often portrayed the European Commission as an institution infested with Anglo-Saxon libertarian zealots who are out to destroy German industry.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, Germany's persistently disappointing economic performance will act as an over-arching constraint on the effectiveness of any foreign policy. An economically feeble Germany is going to be politically feeble. In the long run, the best foreign policy would be to sort out the economy. Yet this is not what the grand coalition will do.

In spite of all this, a new style of foreign policy may still achieve something. But it would be a mistake to expect too much of Germany's new chancellor.
Too true. Germany's energies will be directed to battles within the EU. Although I expect that Bush will make a point of consulting with Germany on international affairs, in order to bolster the idea that transatlantic cooperation is again the norm (also not least to finally squelch talk of European counter-weights).

Kissinger on Germany's coalition

Henry Kissinger has a more positive outlook than do I (here and here) regarding Germany's chances to field an effective coalition.

Here is his opinion in today's WaPo:

Angela Merkel takes office as chancellor of Germany at a moment of crisis for a country poised between domestic reform and economic doldrums and social deadlock, between stalemate and new creativity on European integration, and between tradition and the need for new patterns in the Atlantic Alliance.

When I first saw the close election results and the makeup of the Grand Coalition that is to govern, I feared deadlock. How would a chancellor with disappointing electoral results tame a coalition of parties historically in strident opposition to one another, and that had bitterly split on almost all issues in the recent election? And the foreign policy issues -- especially the disputes with the United States -- have become so embedded in German public opinion that significant modifications might prove unfeasible, especially as the new foreign minister is one of the closest associates of the outgoing chancellor.

But there is an alternative prospect to which I am increasingly leaning. Both coalition parties know that if they frustrate each other, the coalition will break up and each will face the dilemmas that obliged them to form it in the first place. When the departing chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, attempted marginal reforms, it threatened to split the Social Democratic Party.

When Merkel offered a far-reaching, market-oriented alternative, it divided the electorate almost evenly -- indeed, with a slight majority for the left if one includes former communists. Thus a deadlock might make the dominant parties irrelevant by producing a major electoral shift to minor parties or to new ones at the extremes of the political spectrum.

The personality of the new chancellor provides additional hope. It was fashionable to deprecate Merkel's apparent charisma deficit during the electoral campaign. But for the chancellor's office, the extraordinary achievement of her rise may prove more relevant. Within a short time, she advanced from obscure scientific researcher in communist East Germany to chancellor, without representing a special constituency of her own, against opponents in her own party who had spent their lives scrambling up the political ladder. Her single-minded persistence in the pursuit of substantive goals may create its own impetus in the day-to-day business of governing.
Not likely. Because she has not consolidated a strong base in her own party, she is in constant danger of being undermined by political rivals.

Foreign policy is the field where the scope for leadership is greatest. During the Cold War, Europe needed American power for its security. And the trauma of its wartime history produced a moral impulse in Germany to return to the world community as a partner of the United States. A sense of a common destiny evolved which led to the foundation of the Atlantic Alliance, spurred European integration and helped submerge tactical differences.

The collapse of the Soviet Union ended Europe's strategic dependence on the United States; the emergence of a new generation ended Germany's emotional dependence on U.S. policy. For those who came to maturity in the 1960s and afterward, the great emotional political experience was opposition to the Vietnam War and deployment of medium-range missiles in Germany. This dissociation from the United States escalated into massive demonstrations, especially in 1968 and '82. When the collapse of the Soviet Union coincided with a change of government in Germany, the stage was set for a modification in the tone as well as the substance of allied relationships. A similar shift of generations in the United States moved the center of gravity of U.S. politics to regions less emotionally tied to Europe.

It is likely that any German chancellor would have been reluctant to join the war in Iraq. But no chancellor or foreign minister not of the '68 generation would have based his policy on overt opposition to the United States and conducted two election campaigns on a theme of profound distrust of America's ultimate motives. Nor would demonstrative joint efforts with France and Russia to thwart American diplomatic efforts at the United Nations have been likely.

Mistakes were made on both sides of the Atlantic. The proclamation by the Bush administration of a new strategic doctrine of preemptive war was one of them. The doctrine was intellectually defensible in light of changed technology, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and terrorism. But announcing unilaterally what appeared as a radical change of doctrine ran counter to traditional alliance practice.

In the end, the issue of multilateralism vs. unilateralism does not concern procedure but substance. When purposes are parallel, multilateral decision follows nearly automatically. When they diverge, multilateral decision making turns into an empty shell. The challenge to the Atlantic Alliance has been less the abandonment of procedure than the gradual evaporation of a sense of common destiny.

Both sides seem committed to restoring a more positive collaboration. In America, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice outlined a new consultative approach in a February speech. In Germany, the Merkel government marks the advent of a third postwar generation: less in thrall to the emotional pro-Americanism of the 1950s and '60s but not shaped by the passions of the so-called '68 generation. This will be the case with the new foreign minister from the Social Democratic Party. The generational change is especially pronounced in the case of the chancellor.

With her systematic scientist's approach, Merkel will avoid choosing between Atlanticism and Europe or confusing sentimental moves toward Russia with grand strategy. Matter-of-fact, serious and thoughtful, she will strive to be a partner for a set of relationships appropriate to the new international order -- one that refuses to choose between France and the United States but rather establishes a framework embracing both.

The Bush administration has shown willingness to cooperate. Indeed, one concern is that cooperation may shade into an enthusiasm that overwhelms the dialogue with short-term schemes drawn from the period of strain. The administration needs to take care to restrain its proclivity to conduct consultation as a strenuous exercise in pressing American preferences. Scope needs to be left for the elaboration of a German view of the future.

The key challenge before the Atlantic nations is to develop a new sense of common destiny in the age of jihad, the rise of Asia, and the emerging universal problems of poverty, pandemics and energy, among many others.
This is all well and good (and true). But his piece touches little on whether Merkel can change things enough that Germans see a positive difference. Having Schroeder--who made a political fetish out of opposing the US--gone guarantees improved transatlantic ties. However Merkel can't be seen as too friendly to America while Bush is president, so improvement will take place in ways that are not politically obvious.

Butterflies shine brighter by design

No, not through Intelligent Design. Rather by evolution (although anything this cool is like catnip for the ID crowd). This trick seems to have conferred a communication benefit, as Nature News reports.
African butterflies have light-emitting wings that share a trick with high-tech light-emitting diodes (LEDs), researchers in Britain have found.

The swallowtail butterflies of eastern and central Africa (Princeps nireus) have bands of blue spots composed of fluorescent scales: these do not simply reflect light; they actively shine. And now physicists Pete Vukusic and Ian Hooper at Exeter University have discovered that the brightness of this emission is boosted by the structure of the wing scales, which channels the fluorescent light in a single direction away from the wing. [...]

"The first thing we did was to stick them under an ultraviolet light," says Vukusic, to induce fluorescence. "They glowed as brightly as anything I've seen."Natural techniqueThe physics responsible for this effect, that of photonic crystals, was only discovered in the past decade.

A photonic crystal is filled with an array of holes, making it impervious to light in a certain band of wavelengths. Such a crystal can be used to control light beams of those wavelengths: a tunnel passing through it, for example, acts like an optical fibre, because the light cannot escape from the channel by passing into the crystal walls. The crystal can similarly be used to shepherd light in a certain direction, rather than letting it spread out. This technology is used to make some state-of-the-art LEDs brighter. [...]

The swallowtail butterfly uses the blue colour in its wings to signal to other members of its species. The wing scales in these patches are impregnated with natural pigments that absorb the deep blue component of sunlight and emit it as fluorescence with a slightly longer wavelength, in the blue to blue-green part of the spectrum. The butterflies' visual system is closely attuned to this colour. [...]

The two researchers calculate that the photonic crystals of the butterflies' wing scales block light of precisely the colour that the pigment molecules emit. This suggests that the perforated structure has evolved to direct the emitted light outwards, preventing it from being absorbed in the wing, they report in Science.

The opalescence of opal, as well as the bright blue of other butterfly wings, comes from a similar phenomenon. Vukusic has himself seen other examples of photonic crystals in butterfly wings, but had never before seen them used to boost fluorescence, which makes for an extra bright, startling effect. [...]

New generation takes the lead in Germany

Angie Merkel will be sworn in as Germany's first woman chancellor later today. And will then embark on visits to Paris and Brussels on her first full day in office. Good for her to present herself in a fresh light. Germany under Schroeder had all sorts of problems with the EU; this visit is symbolic of Germany's new start. She can certainly expect a cordial welcome when she travels to Washington.

Apart from making history, Merkel will have much to tackle, as the EU Observer notes:

When Angela Merkel is sworn in later today (22 November) as the first woman chancellor in Germany, a whole new generation of German politicians will be taking the lead of the EU’s largest country.

Two month after the elections, Mrs Merkel, leader of the Christian Democrat party, can finally take the reins of her country, in a "grand coalition" with her former main rivals, the Social Democrat party. [...]

With Merkel’s arrival a whole new generation has come to power in the EU's biggest economy.

With the post-war generation of chancellors like Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl long gone, the first post-unification generation represented by Gerhard Schroder and his foreign minister, Joschka Fischer is also on its way out.

Fifty one year old Mrs Merkel, a pastor's daughter, is the first chancellor to have grown up in Germany's formerly communist east. She is now to rule in close partnership with the Social Democratic Party's new leader, Matthias Platzeck, also from the east.

Angela Merkel will travel to Paris as early as tomorrow (23 November) to see French president Jacques Chirac and to Brussels on the same day for meetings with EU officials.

"It is a tradition for Germany's chancellor to travel to France first," an official of her Christian Democratic party said, according to the Guardian.

But the fact that Mrs Merkel flies also to Brussels on the first day is more unusual, with German media interpreting it as a clear sign that the new leader wants to make a fresh start in the country's slightly troubled relations with the European Commission.

Ms Merkel also placed a visit to London on Thursday and to Warsaw next week.

The new chancellor is expected to work towards repairing relations with the US, strained by Schroder's outspoken opposition to the US-led war in Iraq. [...]

The biggest problem facing the incoming coalition government is the sluggish German economy leaving more than 4.5 million Germans without a job. The new chancellor was forced during tough, month-long coalition talks to scrap a fundamental change of the German social welfare system that had been a key part of her economic reforms.

The Bundesbank, Germany’s national bank, has called for sanctions against its own capital if Berlin continues to break the EU’s stability and growth pact, which sets a limit of 3 percent to member states’ budget deficits.

Only if Brussels steps up its infringement procedure against Berlin, will it be forced to consolidate its budget, the bank said.

The Bundesbank also blasted the new German coalition budget consolidation deal, saying it was insufficient to tackle the country’s mounting deficit.


Given what Merkel had to negotiate away, and adding in the SPD's new tilt to the Left, it is difficult to imagine the Grand Coalition as anything but a place holder until one partner feels strong enough to call new elections.

The good news is that the German economy, while fragile, is improving, which favors Merkel's party in the long term. If Germans see some benefit from Merkel's changes, she will will have the wind at her back and can confidently either dictate new terms to her coalition partners or call new elections.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Muslim fanatics terrorise the Dutch

From The Australian comes this bleak picture of sic transit gloria Holland. Doomed by a cultural relativism that was only too happy to favor cultures other than its own, and a too easy immigration policy, Holland has limited chances of regaining the sort of society that enabled it to be a European leader. Only the legendary Dutch resiliance offers me any hope that Holland can shine again.
[...] A year after his [Dutch film maker van Gogh] murder, The Netherlands is a country transformed. Previously, only the Queen and Prime Minister had police protection, and ministers cycled to their ministries.

Now, many politicians, writers and artists are considered to be in such danger that they have permanent armed guards and are driven around in bomb-proof armoured cars. The Interior Ministry has set up a special unit assessing death threats from Islamic extremists and providing protection squads.

"In a democracy, strong opinion-leaders must be able to say what they want to say. Therefore, the Government will take the responsibility to protect them," a spokesman from the ministry said, refusing to divulge the number of people receiving protection.

In the parliament in The Hague, inside the airport-style security, two besuited bodyguards stand erect outside the office of Geert Wilders, Ali's political rival, checking closely anyone who has permission to enter. "I have been deluged with death threats," said the maverick right-wing MP, who has called for the deportation of Islamic extremists.

Across town, police are investigating the shot fired at the window of Rita Verdonk, the Immigration Minister, who has become a hate figure among Muslim communities for introducing some of the strictest immigration laws in Europe, and insisting that Muslims should integrate.

Amsterdam councillor Ahmed Aboutaleb, a Dutch-Moroccan who has said that Moroccans who do not like The Netherlands should leave, is also under permanent protection. "He never gives interviews on that issue," a spokeswoman said.

Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen has tried to build bridges with the Muslim community but, as the country's highest-profile Jew, he also needs 24-hour protection.

At Leiden University law school, professor Afshin Ellian, an Iranian refugee who has called for reform of Islam and even suggested that comedians should make jokes about it, is hustled through the electronically locked doors to his office by two bodyguards.

"In The Netherlands, terrorists want to threaten not only the public ... they also want to kill public figures, such as artists, academics and politicians," he said. "It is not special in terms of Islam -- in Iran, it is normal to kill people who criticise Islam, as in Egypt and Iraq. It is legitimised by Islamic political theology, which says it is all right to kill someone if they are an enemy of Allah. But this is happening in Europe."

Academics and authorities in The Netherlands are trying to understand why, in their country, Islamic extremism has gone down the path of assassination, while in Britain and Spain it has produced bombings.

The rise in the death threats started in 2002 when Pim Fortuyn, a flamboyant, gay, right-wing maverick, called for a halt to Islamic immigration. He complained that police did not take the death threats against him seriously. He was killed not by a Muslim, but by a left-wing activist who said he did it "for the Muslims".

It was the first political killing in The Netherlands for three centuries and was seen as a one-off. But the murder of van Gogh two years later convinced people that the threat of political killing had become permanent.

A study by Frank Bovenkerk of the University of Utrecht confirmed the rise in death threats across the country, and their seriousness.

"They are under real threat -- they would be killed without protection," he said.
"We have a type of provocateur which is unprecedented in The Netherlands. They claim it is about freedom of speech, but it is about freedom of cursing."

Even if the would-be assassins are foiled by the intelligence services and the protection squads, the death threats are already having some success in silencing criticism. "People are very afraid of saying things now," Professor Ellian said.

"There is self-censorship."

French Socialists embrace irrelevancy

In a further move to the left, France's Socialist party makes itself even less electable in the run-up to the 2007 presidential elections. The only questions to be ansered politically are how well populist anti-immigrant candidates can do in regional elections, and when Villepin and Sarkozy will begin their campaigns for president in earnest.

More on the Socialists from the Financial Times:
The French Socialist party on Sunday shifted to the left on social and economic issues as it put a year of infighting behind it in a bid to win the presidency in 2007.

Although the party’s weekend conference in Le Mans ended with agreement on a policy platform, deep personal rivalries were still bubbling near the surface as senior figures jostled to become the Socialist candidate for presidential elections in 18 months.

François Hollande seems certain, as the only candidate, to be re-elected leader of the party on Thursday. While he is still not considered a likely presidential candidate, he won plaudits for a rousing closing speech, declaring: “The Socialist party is united.”

Recent opinion polls show voters have lost confidence in the Socialists as a credible alternative to the centre-right government, especially after its divided and tame reaction to the recent riots.

Mr Hollande faces a tough challenge to stop rivalries for the presidential race destroying the party’s new-found unity. The party’s presidential candidate will not be chosen until November 2006, in a vote by members, leaving plenty of time for a new split. The riots highlighted “the failure of the right”, Mr Hollande said, pledging to spend “1 per cent of the country’s wealth” on poor suburbs. He accused the government of “putting the economy in bankruptcy, social cohesion in pieces, the republican model in court and its institutions in crisis”.
All true, but the Socialists certainly helped things along, and would have done it faster had they been in power these past several years.
The Socialist party’s new platform marks a sharp left turn. It proposes “external tariffs” to protect European industry, a reinforced eurozone with a new stability pact and “political democratic control” of the European Central Bank to boost jobs and growth, not just fight inflation.
More of their plan to bring France and Europe to their knees economically:
It wants to boost the European budget to 2 per cent of GDP by imposing a special corporate tax. It would raise the minimum wage, strengthen the 35-hour week and tax French companies moving production offshore, laying off workers for profit and over-using temporary contracts. Mr Hollande promised to undo the government’s tax and labour reforms and to renationalise EDF, the power utility floating today. He also proposed constitutional reform to give parliament and the prime minister more power against the president, but stopped short of calling for a sixth republic. [...]

Latest RINO sighting at Searchlight Crusade

DM at Searchlight Crusade (the place to go if you have questions about home buying) is hosting this week's RINO (Republicans/Independants Not Overdosed on the party kool-aid) carnival.

Lots of goodness on display.

New method of predicting earthquakes?

A reliable method of predicting earthquakes would be a tremendous lifesaver, and would certainly garner the developer kudos from around the world. At the moment we can predict temblors about as accurately as predicting a Gabor sister marriage used to be: we knew it would happen, just not when.

Although the damage to housing and infrastructure would still occur, the thousands who died in the recent Pakistani temblor would have been spared. The new method highlighted in this New Scientist article is far from producing a working quake predictor (anything worth while would need to warn at least two days in advance).

WITH refugees still huddling in tents across Kashmir after tens of thousands died in October's earthquake there, the need for earthquake prediction systems is once again thrown into stark relief. Knowing that the geologically restless Himalayas will produce more, stronger quakes is no use: what people need to know is when and where a quake will strike next.

So far, however, earthquake prediction has proved an elusive art: no one has worked out how to read Earth's vital signs to provide accurate warnings. But there is hope. Among the welter of dead ends - from monitoring animal behaviour to measuring radioactive gas emissions or the flow of groundwater - a new bellwether is coming to the fore: electromagnetic radiation.

Prior to some recent quakes, scientists have detected electromagnetic pulses emanating from the ground and electromagnetic disturbances in the ionosphere, the planet's tenuous envelope of charged particles extending from about 80 to 1000 kilometres up. "There are definitely hints of something [electromagnetic] happening in the region of earthquakes before the earth moves," says Colin Price, a geophysicist at Tel Aviv University in Israel.

Price and others have been working in quake-prone regions in California, Japan and Russia. At a meeting of the International Union of Radio Science (URSI) in New Delhi, India, in October, he and his colleagues speculated that as underground stresses build up, rocks containing magnetic particles begin to fracture, generating ultra-low-frequency (ULF) radio waves - below 1 hertz - as they are torn apart. Detect these radio waves, suggest the researchers, and you might have the makings of a prediction system.

Some research groups are already tunnelling underground to pick up radio pulses in the ULF range, while others are using sensor-stuffed satellites to measure radio disturbances in the ionosphere above quake-prone regions. Because there have been many false dawns in earthquake prediction, Price is cautious. "But if the chances are one in a hundred that we succeed, the huge benefits of success make this research worth continuing," he says. [...]

Since then, others have tried to make similar measurements in seismically active regions. Groups in Japan and Russia have observed similar signals to Fraser-Smith's, but for up to one or two months before a quake. Could this be the long-sought early warning of seismic catastrophe?

Minoru Tsutsui at Kyoto Sangyo University in Japan is trying to find out. His team has bored a hole 100 metres deep and 10 centimetres wide in a back lot on the campus. They placed one directional ULF antenna at the bottom of the hole and another above the ground. The relative strengths of any ULF signals detected at the two antennas allow the team to work out which direction the pulses come from.

On 4 January 2004 the system began detecting ULF radio pulses coming from the south-east. Two days later, a magnitude-5.5 quake struck the area, with an epicentre 130 kilometres away - to the south-east. Six hours after the quake, the ULF signals spread out, arriving from both the south-east and south-west, and died off the next day.

Since then, the Kyoto team has discovered that this effect is only detectable above a certain threshold quake strength (Geophysical Research Letters, DOI: 10.1029/2005GL023691). Tsutsui now wants to investigate the mechanism that produces these ULF radio pulses. Until we know this, he says, "we cannot easily predict where the epicentre will be". [...]

They may not be measurable in any case, says Masashi Hayakawa, an electronics engineer at the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo, who has strong reservations about Tsutsui's conclusions. He points out that all kinds of natural phenomena produce ULF signals - thunderstorms, solar activity and meteors among them - and thinks Tsutsui won't be able to pick out ULF signals caused by imminent earthquakes from the noise.

Hayakawa thinks the atmosphere holds the answers: he measured ionospheric disturbances between 3 and 30 kilohertz a few days before Japan's 1995 Kobe quake. And Michel Parrot of France's National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Orleans agrees. He points to preliminary data from a European Space Agency satellite called the Detector for Electromagnetic Emissions Transmitted from Earthquake Regions (DEMETER). Using a battery of sensors that measure the temperature, density and composition of the ionosphere, DEMETER measured an increase in ion density and temperature of the ionosphere seven days before a quake of magnitude 7 hit Japan's Kii peninsula on 5 September 2004.

This year it observed similar disturbances two days before the 23 January quake in Indonesia and five days before a quake on 30 August near Japan, and last November two days before a quake close to New Zealand.

As luck would have it, DEMETER was turned off during the 26 December 2004 Asian tsunami quake off Sumatra and the quake in Kashmir on 8 October this year, so it captured no data on these two events, Parrot says.

Ian Main, a seismologist at the University of Edinburgh, UK, believes the ULF and ionospheric findings are intriguing, but not yet convincing enough to establish a link to earthquakes. To do that, a far larger number of quakes must be examined, he says.

This is indeed intriging. Although even if this turns out to work, I suspect it will be decades before it begins functioning reliably in high risk areas.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Interview with Nuremberg War Crimes Trial prosecutor

Whitney Harris (I believe he once taught at my law school) was instrumental in bringing justice to several war criminals at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. Der Spiegel interviewed him recently (I left out the anti-American stuff which is nearly always present in anything Der Spiegel publishes):

Sixty years ago on Sunday, the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial got under way to bring leading Nazis to justice. Whitney Harris was one of the principle figures for the prosecution. [...]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In 1945 when you began collecting evidence for the prosecution of Nazi war criminals, you had nothing more than a used typewriter, a German secretary and a lot of good will. Were you not overwhelmed by the huge responsibility of bringing charges against the former Nazi leaders?

Harris: The whole court case was a huge challenge. I was assigned to the case of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, meaning I had to investigate the murder of millions of Jews. Kaltenbrunner took over from Reinhard Heydrich as the head of Reich security and was in charge of tens of thousands of Gestapo agents, police and security forces.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How well informed were you before the start of the trial?

Harris: I did not have the slightest idea of the scale of genocide that had taken place in Germany. We didn't have much solid evidence when we started our investigations.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But then, through the questioning of former Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Hoess, you were able to present one of the first testimonies that confirmed the Holocaust.

Harris: That was indeed a dramatic turning point in the trials. The collection of evidence had actually already been completed when I heard that the British had captured Hoess. I requested he be handed over to the Nuremberg court and was granted three days to question him. Hoess explained to me that the Reichsführer of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, had personally ordered him to convert Auschwitz into a mass extermination camp in 1941. Hoess had gas chambers and crematoriums constructed in the new camp section at Birkenau. He provided detailed information about the Nazi atrocities and estimated that 2.5 million Jews, gypsies and prisoners of war had been killed -- plus another 1.5 million people who died of starvation, exhaustion, illness or mistreatment.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What was Hoess like?

Harris: He was not in the least bit imposing; there was nothing about him that suggested a monstrous murderer and he seemed like a totally normal guy. He spoke quietly and confidently. Of course he never divulged any information of his own free will. But as far as I know, he answered my questions truthfully. The dramatic thing was that we couldn't see any way to include his testimony in the trial because, as I mentioned earlier, we had already finished the collecting of evidence.

This was frequently remarked upon. The monsters of the '30s and '40s certainly didn't look or behave like monsters once in custody.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How did you get around this?

Harris: Kaltenbrunner's lawyer, Kurt Kauffmann, helped us out. He based the defense of his client on the claim that Kaltenbrunner became head of Reich security so that he could focus his energies on intelligence services and not the concentration camps. To support his case, Kauffmann claimed that Kaltenbrunner had never set foot in a concentration camp. Hoess was exactly the person to confirm this -- at least with regards to Auschwitz. So Kaufmann called Hoess as a witness and we were able to cross-examine him.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Hoess didn't do much to help Kaltenbrunner -- he was sentenced to death anyway. Do you think that Kaltenbrunner really believed he could avoid the death sentence by lying?

Harris: No. Most of the defendants admitted that war crimes and the Holocaust had occurred but tried to play down their own individual involvement. Kaltenbrunner did not believe that he would be spared. He was also the only one who did not appeal his death sentence.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Which of the defendants made the longest lasting impression on you?

Harris: The Jew hater and publisher of Stoermer Julius Streicher was without a doubt the most unpleasant of all. Absolutely everyone, including his own staff, despised him. Albert Speer, Hitler's architect and Minister of Armaments and War Production, on the other hand made a very positive impression because he did not try to talk his way out of it. He followed the trial in exact detail and was cooperative and repentant. Presumably his intelligence saved him from the death penalty.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Was the trial fair?

Harris: Without a doubt. I think that we managed to combine the best from each legal system. The crucial question wasn't whether Germany had carried out war crimes -- that was a foregone conclusion. We were only interested in the question: Was the respective defendant involved in the Nazi crimes? To what extent was he responsible for his deeds? To answer these questions as precisely as possible, we examined thousands of documents.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Many observers have described the preparations for the trial as chaotic. Was this really the case?

Harris: I wouldn't say chaotic. Of course we had problems because this was the first time anyone had attempted an international military tribunal. The Allies had a conference in London in the summer of 1945 to decide where and how the court would be established and what the charges would be.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Did the ideological differences and rivalries among the Allies harm the trial?

Harris: Sometimes the negotiations between the Allies were difficult. But I'm convinced that the disagreements did not have a negative impact on the trial. On the contrary: In some cases discussions among the prosecutors helped prevent us from making mistakes during the trial.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Your then boss, US Chief Prosecutor Robert Jackson, was esteemed as spiritual father and leader of the Nuremberg Trail. What role did he play?

Harris: Practically everyone was of the opinion that Jackson was the true leader of the prosecution. Already in his opening address, he set the tone and direction of the entire trial. It was Jackson who decided that the trial should be based entirely on hard evidence and witness interviews.

I recall reading the opening address while taking a Public International Law course. It remains a very moving speech.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What was the mood like on the day the executions were carried out?

Harris: Extremely tense. The media attention was huge. And when it became known that Hermann Goering committed suicide in his cell by taking cyanide, the reporters went crazy.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Was Goering's suicide a sort of personal triumph over the international tribunal?

Harris: Well, he did manage -- at the last minute -- to avoid death by hanging and thus dodged his executioner. Presumably he wanted to show his contempt for the Allies one last time.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How have you come to terms with the experience of the Nuremberg trial?

Harris: I wrote a book about the trial and then returned to the United States as law professor. At the time I told myself: I will put this part of my life behind me. I won't think, talk or write about it anymore. I just couldn't live with the memories anymore. It took more than 20 years before I was able to cope with it again. Even nowadays this horrific event in the history of humanity still really affects me. All these gruesome crimes are not exclusively a German phenomenon.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Rather?

Harris: I am totally convinced that Adolf Hitler was only a name that symbolized the absolute and worldwide breakdown of morality in the 20th century. It started in 1914 with World War I when everyone killed everyone and no moral standards remained. Revenge was the order of the day and any excuse was permissible. And afterwards? What did the communists do in Russia? And the Japanese in China? [...]

I go back and forth on the "there but for the grace of God goes my country" argument. I think Germany's history (back to Roman times) and culture made it especially vulnerable to Hitler's message. I'm not sure that the penniless tramp could have gotten a political foothold anywhere else.