Friday, March 31, 2006

Cocktail party goodness: art work restoration

Here's an interesting article to help your cocktail party small talk skills: a series of anecdotes on restoring damaged or faded artwork. The author does a fair amount of tut-tutting over the mistakes made by restorers and the artists themselves, making the article even more useful for light conversation.

Money tip: only dolts varnish their Cubist paintings. They're meant to be matte, not glossy.

You'll thank me the next time you're at a loss for a topic of conversation.

I think I know exactly how the restorers at the Fitzwilliam Museum felt as they contemplated the Chinese vases that fell victim to a gentleman's shoelace. In 1966, I was part of an international team of restorers sent on an emergency mission to rescue works of art damaged in the Florence floods. The sight of the scarred and battered paintings and manuscripts was desolating.

Scraps of invaluable pictures had been collected for us to reassemble as best we could. A small, home-made disaster occurred when flakes from the Cimabue Crucifixion placed on a plate were swept back into the mud by a workman who wanted to use the plate for lunch. The library, in the lowest area of the town, was the most seriously affected, with leaves of books plastered across walls and ceilings for specialists from the British Museum to disentangle and dry out.Since then most of the disasters I have confronted have been man-made.

Many are by restorers ancient and modern who have got carried away with so me fashionable technique, such as the synthetic varnishes that have been applied in many a great collection, on the assumption that they won't yellow. They don't: they go grey. Harder to take off than natural resin, their eventual removal risks damaging the picture surface.

Another fashion was for varnishing Cubist paintings, which should be matt. And of course modern restorers are constantly revealing breasts and genitalia on Old Masters that have been prudishly veiled, and not only by the Victorians.

Then there is the damage caused by artists themselves. I had to rejoin fragile swirls of impasto on a Jackson Pollock that had snapped off because his imagination outran his concern for how long his work would endure. I have lost count of the number of paintings by Reynolds, a notorious experimenter with new techniques, where I have struggled to revive faded colours or coax together gaping cracks.

One of the most difficult restorations was Whistler's Mother (currently on view in the "Americans in Paris" exhibition at the National Gallery) which I did some years back for the Louvre. In his hurry to be an instant Old Master, he scarcely primed the canvas, and used paint with the consistency of ink. It looked wonderful for a while - till it began sinking. I spent months in Paris trying to tease out the shadows in that great black skirt.

The philosophy of restoration is hotly debated, even when the objects for treatment are not valuable: I have attended conferences where people have got passionate about the ethical implications of the restoration of old comics, canoes and tractors. The first (and usually neglected) question is whether to do anything.

The answer in the case of the Chinese vases is clear, and it is a relief to know that they can be rescued. To be sexist, I am not surprised that the restorer is a woman. The job will take infinite patience, of which women seem to have a better store, and a readiness to resist the temptation of imposing their own solutions.

The thing that will strike the outsider will be the painstaking, surgical finesse of the operation. That is what a lot of restoration is about. Nearly always conservation is a more laborious business than the original creation. Just as Handel's Messiah requires more time to copy out than it did to write, so it takes far longer to recreate a single worn or damaged original brushstroke with expensive, minute brushes made of sable hairs.

In Florence, I saw Italians putting down vast blisters on panels that had swollen, then shrunk, by shaving the edge of each flake of paint to fit into a smaller space. Restorers today envy the freedom and cavalier attitudes of previous eras, when conservators were often artists themselves, and not only failed ones: Titian worked on the Mantegna paintings at Hampton Court well before they were bought by Charles I.

In the case of the Chinese vases, it is good to know that, after they have been painstakingly pieced together with modern glues, no attempt will be made to disguise the fact that they have been broken. The illusion that the ravages of time and man can invariably be disguised by contemporary science and the "original" faultlessly recreated is a modern myth, which earlier restorers never shared. In the past, valuable broken china was sometimes put together by the simple and unpretentious means of rivets.

Old crafts may have died out but it is not all loss. Apart from the benefits of science as a diagnostic tool (X-rays, infra-red), more effective techniques have been developed. One is joining up tears in paper with individual fibres. I once saw an exquisite Modigliani drawing of a girl that the impoverished artist had done on paper so cheap it had split right across. Strand by strand it was invisibly knitted together.

The same can now be done with tears in canvases, so as to avoid a patch on the back which would eventually change the texture of the front. [...]

Because it's Friday: the bounce-o-meter

Educate yourselves. For the men: careful, it can be hypnotizing.

George Will on fixing the immigration problem

George Will's take on illegal immigration makes for good reading.

[...] As the debate about immigration policy boils, augmented border control must not be the entire agenda, lest other thorny problems be ignored, and lest America turn a scowling face to the south and, to some extent, to many immigrants already here.

But control belongs at the top of the agenda, for four reasons. First, control of borders is an essential attribute of sovereignty. Second, conditions along the border mock the rule of law. Third, large rallies by immigrants, many of them here illegally, protesting more stringent control of immigration reveal that many immigrants have, alas, assimilated: They have acquired the entitlement mentality created by America's welfare state, asserting an entitlement to exemption from the laws of the society they invited themselves into. Fourth, giving Americans a sense that borders are controlled is a prerequisite for calm consideration of what policy that control should serve.
By all means, make illegal entry more difficult. This should not be a question in the debate over immigration reform.

Of the nation's illegal immigrants -- estimated to be at least 11 million, a cohort larger than the combined populations of 12 states -- 60 percent have been here at least five years. Most have roots in their communities. Their children born here are U.S. citizens. We are not going to take the draconian police measures necessary to deport 11 million people. [...]

Facts, a conservative (John Adams) said, are stubborn things, and regarding immigration, true conservatives take their bearings from facts such as those in the preceding paragraph. Conservatives should want, as the president proposes, a guest worker program to supply what the U.S. economy demands -- immigrant labor for entry-level jobs. Conservatives should favor a policy of encouraging unlimited immigration by educated people with math, engineering, technology or science skills that America's education system is not sufficiently supplying.
Such a system--albeit flawed--is largely in place. Quotas for talented, ambitious, educated immigrants should be raised. The process ought to be streamlined--although heightened security concerns make that difficult.

As to the guest worker program, I see good and bad aspects to it. However, until the southern border is secured, the guest worker program will be a joke. Illegal workers will continue to stream across the borders, competing with their legal compatriots for jobs, thus undermining the whole guest worker program.

And conservatives should favor reducing illegality by putting illegal immigrants on a path out of society's crevices and into citizenship by paying fines and back taxes and learning English. Faux conservatives absurdly call this price tag on legal status "amnesty." Actually, it would prevent the emergence of a sullen, simmering subculture of the permanently marginalized, akin to the Arab ghettos in France. The House-passed bill, making it a felony to be in the country illegally, would make 11 million people permanently ineligible for legal status. To what end?

Will makes a good point. As much as the protests--actually the behavior of the protesters--this past week upset me, there is little one can do other than to get the illegals on to the path of becoming Americans. Again, the best answer is to keep more from coming in to the country.

[...] Urban immigrant communities, with their support networks, are magnets for immigrants. Good. Investor's Business Daily reports a new study demonstrating that "over the past 30 years rising immigration led to higher wages for U.S.-born workers. Cities that served as migrant magnets did better than others. Why? Hiring one worker creates wealth with which to hire more workers."

The president, who has not hoarded his political capital, spent some trying to get the nation to face facts about the bleak future of an unreformed Social Security system. Concerning which: In 1940 there were 42 workers for every retiree; today there are 3.1. By 2030, when all 77 million baby boomers will have left the work force, there will be only 2.2. And that projection assumes net annual immigration, legal and illegal, of 900,000, more than double the 400,000 foreigners who, under the terms of proposed Senate legislation, could come here to work each year.

Today the president is spending more of his depleted political capital by standing to the left of much of his political base, which favors merely preventative and punitive measures regarding immigration. He is right to take his stand there.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Got Swiss roots? Of course you do

More than one million Americans have a Swiss connection. The Swiss government wants to reach out to them, doubtless hoping more than a few will want to come visit the old country.

Switzerland is launching a high profile campaign in the United States to reach out to the more than one million Americans with Swiss ancestry.

The special events this year include an exhibition on migration and a road show visiting some of the thousands of towns with Swiss names. Football star, Ben Roethlisberger, will be one of the campaign's special ambassadors. [...]

The star quarterback will come to Switzerland in May to search for his "Swiss roots" in the Emmental region, best known in the US as the place where "Swiss cheese" comes from.

The campaign organisers, who include the Swiss consulate in New York and the promotional organisation, Presence Switzerland, will use Roethlisberger to highlight a variety of Swiss-sponsored events in the US this year. [...]

The events include a temporary exhibition on Ellis Island in New York about Swiss immigrants titled, "small number – big impact", and the first showing outside of Switzerland of one of the country's most important historical documents.

More than 700 years old, the founding charter, the "Bundesbrief", will be on display at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia as part of the "Sister Republics" exhibition, highlighting the historical parallels between the Swiss and American constitutions.

A integral part of Swiss Roots is its website, enabling Americans of Swiss descent to find out more about their ancestors, where they came from, and what life was like in the Switzerland they left behind.

A number of different databases in the website's genealogy section, including Ellis Island passenger lists revised to correct misspellings and mishearings, will make it possible to search for ancestors by name and/or place of origin.

It also includes an illustrated timeline with important events in both Swiss and American history, as well as portraits of Swiss immigrants who made important contributions in all fields of human endeavour.

Roethlisberger is the latest in a long line of prominent Americans with Swiss ancestry.

They include car engine designer Louis Chevrolet, President Herbert Hoover, the chocolate maker, Milton Hershey, and Johann August Sutter –the legendary adventurer and colonizer of California [?-ed.], as well as film stars Yul Brynner and Renée Zellweger. [...]

The Swiss Roots website is here.

American nuclear primacy. how, why and what it may mean

Foreign Affairs has a lengthy essay on the United States' overwhelming nuclear superiority, how it compares to Russian and Chinese nuclear forces, how it was achieved, and how it may dictate US foreign policy over the few decades.

The article discusses in depth the vastly superior US arsenal, and contends that the US is now in a position to make a first strike on any nation (likely) without fear of a retalitory strike. It is the "(likely)" which remains the key word. The stability afforded by MAD was built up over decades.

Now that one country is so dominant that it can reasonably assume no nuclear response to a first strike, that stability is gone. The upshot is that use of nuclear weapons becomes somewhat more likely. Of course, Russia is very much aware of the situation, and is doubtless coming up with ways to get around the advantage held by the US. Even so, it is unlikely that anything they develop (e.g. highly portable nuclear weapons that can be smuggled into the US and detonated are too risky; the lack of command and control of such weapons make them more dangerous to Russia than to the US) will return us to the days of MAD.

To be sure: I am pleased that my children don't have to live under the threat of a nuclear conflageration. But the changes the instability brings need to carefully worked out.

Exciting times, indeed.
To determine how much the nuclear balance has changed since the Cold War, we ran a computer model of a hypothetical U.S. attack on Russia's nuclear arsenal using the standard unclassified formulas that defense analysts have used for decades. We assigned U.S. nuclear warheads to Russian targets on the basis of two criteria: the most accurate weapons were aimed at the hardest targets, and the fastest-arriving weapons at the Russian forces that can react most quickly. Because Russia is essentially blind to a submarine attack from the Pacific and would have great difficulty detecting the approach of low-flying stealthy nuclear-armed cruise missiles, we targeted each Russian weapon system with at least one submarine-based warhead or cruise missile. An attack organized in this manner would give Russian leaders virtually no warning.

According to our model, such a simplified surprise attack would have a good chance of destroying every Russian bomber base, submarine, and ICBM. This finding is not based on best-case assumptions or an unrealistic scenario in which U.S. missiles perform perfectly and the warheads hit their targets without fail. Rather, we used standard assumptions to estimate the likely inaccuracy and unreliability of U.S. weapons systems. Moreover, our model indicates that all of Russia's strategic nuclear arsenal would still be destroyed even if U.S. weapons were 20 percent less accurate than we assumed, or if U.S. weapons were only 70 percent reliable, or if Russian ICBM silos were 50 percent "harder" (more reinforced, and hence more resistant to attack) than we expected. (Of course, the unclassified estimates we used may understate the capabilities of U.S. forces, making an attack even more likely to succeed.)

To be clear, this does not mean that a first strike by the United States would be guaranteed to work in reality; such an attack would entail many uncertainties. Nor, of course, does it mean that such a first strike is likely. But what our analysis suggests is profound: Russia's leaders can no longer count on a survivable nuclear deterrent. And unless they reverse course rapidly, Russia's vulnerability will only increase over time.
The authors go on to note that China is even more vulnerable.

How did we get to this position, and what does it mean? The authors conclude that achieving nuclear primacy was a long standing goal of the US. Doing so furthers our global military dominance, thus helping ensure our nation's interests are safeguarded.
Is the United States intentionally pursuing nuclear primacy? Or is primacy an unintended byproduct of intra-Pentagon competition for budget share or of programs designed to counter new threats from terrorists and so-called rogue states? Motivations are always hard to pin down, but the weight of the evidence suggests that Washington is, in fact, deliberately seeking nuclear primacy. For one thing, U.S. leaders have always aspired to this goal. And the nature of the changes to the current arsenal and official rhetoric and policies support this conclusion. [...]

Washington's pursuit of nuclear primacy helps explain its missile-defense strategy, for example. Critics of missile defense argue that a national missile shield, such as the prototype the United States has deployed in Alaska and California, would be easily overwhelmed by a cloud of warheads and decoys launched by Russia or China. They are right: even a multilayered system with land-, air-, sea-, and space-based elements, is highly unlikely to protect the United States from a major nuclear attack. But they are wrong to conclude that such a missile-defense system is therefore worthless -- as are the supporters of missile defense who argue that, for similar reasons, such a system could be of concern only to rogue states and terrorists and not to other major nuclear powers.

What both of these camps overlook is that the sort of missile defenses that the United States might plausibly deploy would be valuable primarily in an offensive context, not a defensive one -- as an adjunct to a U.S. first-strike capability, not as a standalone shield. If the United States launched a nuclear attack against Russia (or China), the targeted country would be left with a tiny surviving arsenal -- if any at all. At that point, even a relatively modest or inefficient missile-defense system might well be enough to protect against any retaliatory strikes, because the devastated enemy would have so few warheads and decoys left.
The risks and benfits of our superiority:
One's views on the implications of this change will depend on one's theoretical perspective. Hawks, who believe that the United States is a benevolent force in the world, will welcome the new nuclear era because they trust that U.S. dominance in both conventional and nuclear weapons will help deter aggression by other countries. For example, as U.S. nuclear primacy grows, China's leaders may act more cautiously on issues such as Taiwan, realizing that their vulnerable nuclear forces will not deter U.S. intervention -- and that Chinese nuclear threats could invite a U.S. strike on Beijing's arsenal. But doves, who oppose using nuclear threats to coerce other states and fear an emboldened and unconstrained United States, will worry. Nuclear primacy might lure Washington into more aggressive behavior, they argue, especially when combined with U.S. dominance in so many other dimensions of national power. Finally, a third group -- owls, who worry about the possibility of inadvertent conflict -- will fret that U.S. nuclear primacy could prompt other nuclear powers to adopt strategic postures, such as by giving control of nuclear weapons to lower-level commanders, that would make an unauthorized nuclear strike more likely -- thereby creating what strategic theorists call "crisis instability."
The conclusion raises some intriguing policy questions:
Ultimately, the wisdom of pursuing nuclear primacy must be evaluated in the context of the United States' foreign policy goals. The United States is now seeking to maintain its global preeminence, which the Bush administration defines as the ability to stave off the emergence of a peer competitor and prevent weaker countries from being able to challenge the United States in critical regions such as the Persian Gulf. If Washington continues to believe such preeminence is necessary for its security, then the benefits of nuclear primacy might exceed the risks. But if the United States adopts a more restrained foreign policy -- for example, one premised on greater skepticism of the wisdom of forcibly exporting democracy, launching military strikes to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and aggressively checking rising challengers -- then the benefits of nuclear primacy will be trumped by the dangers.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

50 years ago yesterday, the Soviet people were told that Stalin was a monster

1956: Destroying the Myth

MOSCOW: The Russian people were told today [March 28] that Stalin practiced "monstrous forms" of one-man rule that threatened the cause of Communism. This indictment of the late ruler was spread in an editorial over two pages in "Pravda," the organ of the central committee of the Communist party, and bible for Communists throughout the world. It was the first time in Soviet history that "Pravda" has attacked Stalin by name. In gravity and thoroughness it surpassed any criticism of Stalin that had ever before been published in this country. The editorial opened the third - and public - phase of the campaign to destroy the myth of Stalin as an all-wise, always-benevolent and infallible leader. The newspaper made it clear that Stalin himself was the chief architect of his self-glorification. Nikita S. Khrushchev, First Secretary of the party, opened this drive at last month's party congress when he denounced the "cult of personality" without mentioning Stalin. In a still unpublished speech that closed the congress, he made specific charges against the old Generalissimo.

Many Soviet who suffered under him were very upset when he finally passed. Even after the Soviet archives were largely opened and Stalin's true evilness was no longer a secret, Stalin's personal popularity remains high.

Putin seems happy to continue the rehabilitation of the monster for his own ends.

Saddam's delusions--well, the operative ones, at least

From Foreign Affairs comes this synopsis of an article written by three authors of the Pentagon's secret analysis of Saddam's regime. It paints a picture of a really, really, deluded ruler. It makes for head-shaking reading:

Did Iraq have WMD? No -- but Saddam wanted others, particular in the region, to think he did, so he maintained a calculated ambiguity on the question. In the last months before the war he realized that it was too dangerous to continue playing this double game and finally decided to cooperate fully with international inspectors. But at that point his track record of repeatedly lying meant that no one believed him:

When it came to weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Saddam attempted to convince one audience that they were gone while simultaneously convincing another that Iraq still had them. . . . According to Chemical Ali [Ali Hassan al-Majid], Saddam was asked about the weapons during a meeting with members of the Revolutionary Command Council. He replied that Iraq did not have WMD but flatly rejected a suggestion that the regime remove all doubts to the contrary, going on to explain that such a declaration it might encourage the Israelis to attack.

By late 2002, Saddam finally tilted toward trying to persuade the international community that Iraq was cooperating with UN inspectors and that it no longer had WMD programs. As 2002 drew to a close, his regime worked hard to counter anything that might be seen as supporting the coalition's assertion that WMD still remained in Iraq. Saddam was insistent that Iraq would give full access to UN inspectors "in order not to give President Bush any excuses to start a war." But after years of purposeful obfuscation, it was difficult to convince anyone that Iraq was not once again being economical with the truth.

What made Saddam so complacent? His belief that the United States did not have the will to take casualties in a serious war and that if necessary France and Russia would keep him safe:According to [Tariq] Aziz, Saddam's confidence was firmly rooted in his belief in the nexus between the economic interests of France and Russia and his own strategic goals: "France and Russia each secured millions of dollars worth of trade and service contracts in Iraq, with the implied understanding that their political posture with regard to sanctions on Iraq would be pro-Iraqi. . . . Moreover, [the French] wanted to prove their importance in the world as members of the Security Council -- that they could use their veto to show they still had power."

What did Saddam care about? First and foremost, preventing a coup. His entire regime was set up to prevent the emergence of any alternate centers of power that could threaten his position. He created an astonishing array of different military and paramilitary forces to maintain domestic control, but made sure to stock them with lackeys and cronies, have them check and balance each other, and have everybody watched carefully at all times. This allowed him to stay in power, but it meant that his armed forces were almost completely ineffective at dealing with actual military operations against a competent foreign enemy:

Before the war, coalition planners generally assumed that the quality of Iraqi military officers improved as one moved up the military hierarchy from the militias to the regular army, to the Republican Guard, and then to the Special Republican Guard. It stood to reason that the commander of the Special Republican Guard -- Iraq's most elite fighting force -- would be highly competent. . . . In fact, after the war [Major General Barzan Abdel Ghafur's] peers and colleagues were all openly derisive of his abilities. Saddam had selected Barzan, one general noted, because Barzan had several qualities that Saddam held dear. "He was Saddam's cousin, but he had two other important qualities which made him the best man for the job," this general noted. "First, he was not intelligent enough to represent a threat to the regime, and second, he was not brave enough to participate in anyone else's plots." . . . [Barzan], the man who was to command the last stand of Saddam's most impressive military forces, spent most of the war hiding.

Every senior commander interviewed after the start of hostilities emphasized the psychological costs of being forced to constantly look over his shoulder. At any one time, each of these commanders had to contend with at least five major [internal] security organizations . . . . The Second Republican Guard Corps commander described the influence of the internal security environment on a typical corps-level staff meeting: "[all the appropriate military] participants would assemble at the corps headquarters. The corps commander had to ensure then that all the spies were in the room before the meeting began so that there would not be any suspicions in Baghdad as to my purpose . . . .I spent considerable time finding clever ways to invite even the spies I was not supposed to know about."

Did Saddam plan the current insurgency? No. He thought the United States would never attack, and was confident that even if it did, the resulting war would follow essentially the same script as the first Gulf War in 1991, without a full-scale invasion all the way to Baghdad. He did preposition a lot of military materiel around the country before the war started, but only to disperse it and keep it safe, so that it would be available either in the later stages of a long and drawn-out campaign against the coalition, or to reestablish control at home afterwards (as he did in 1991, when the Kurds and Shia revolted):

As far as can be determined from the interviews and records reviewed so far, there were no national plans to embark on a guerrilla war in the event of military defeat. Nor did the regime appear to cobble together such plans as its world crumbled around it . . . . [T]he regime ordered the [prewar] distribution of ammunition [around the country] in order to preserve it for a prolonged war with coalition forces.

How did Saddam think the war was going? Swimmingly. Because everyone knew that Saddam severely punished anybody who told him unpleasant truths, the entire regime was built on lies. During wartime, this meant that junior officers told senior officers that everything was going well, they reported it up the chain of command, and Saddam himself remained a prisoner of his delusions:

As late as the end of March 2003, Saddam apparently still believed the war to be going the way he had expected. If Iraq was not actually winning it, neither was it losing -- or at least so it seemed to the dictator. Americans may have listened with amusement to the seemingly obvious fabrications of ["Baghdad Bob"]. But the evidence now clearly shows that Saddam and those around him believed virtually every word issued by their own propaganda machine . . . . [On March 30] Saddam's principal secretary directed the Iraqi foreign minister to tell the French and Russian governments that Baghdad would accept only an "unconditional withdrawal" of U.S. forces because "Iraq is now winning and . . . the United States has sunk in the mud of defeat." At that moment, U.S. tanks were a hundred miles south of Baghdad, refueling and rearming for the final push.

The full article is here.

Download the Pentagon report (.pdf, 7.2 MB).

Economists seeing light amid gloom of Europe

Things in Europe are looking up, for the moment at least.

Certainly Germany has a brighter future, given that it is the world's leading exporter and that world demand for goods is expected to increase.

France can also look to a somewhat brighter economic future. However, any economic gains will be used to delay badly needed labor reforms, thus harming France in the long term.

Italy is the least likely to benefit. While there will be stronger demand for luxury goods. Too many Italian businesses are family run, with high costs and inefficeint business models.

[...] From his perch as a top central banker, Yves Mersch sees a European recovery that is gaining momentum faster than many economists expected - and could lead to another interest rate increase sooner than expected.

Despite the gloomy tone in Europe occasioned by cross-border tussles over steel and energy giants, noisy strikes and persistently high unemployment, the European Central Bank - and much of the business world - appear overwhelmingly inclined to peer through the fog and see the brighter side.

More confirmation of a recovery came Tuesday, as Germany's Ifo index of business confidence surged unexpectedly, to a 15-year high, and a similar gauge in Italy broke a five-year record.

Over the past month, retail sales have picked up in Germany, and household income has improved in France, suggesting that European consumers are finally contributing more economic activity and rounding out a picture that Mersch said holds far more good than bad. [...]

To a central banker, the rise in labor unrest in Europe, which includes not only a general strike in France but warning strikes in Germany by IG Metall in advance of contract negotiations, only heightens worries, economists note. Explosive labor relations could bring costs that companies can only cover by raising prices. [....]

It remains to be seen if Europe's politicians will support labor and market reform in the face of a brithening economic outlook. All agree that something must be done; the time to tackle the structural reforms is when things are getting better, rather than on the way down. Europe proved itself extremely reactionary when times were rough these past several years.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

How to defeat the insugency? Drain the pond they swim in

This opinion piece in the IHT looks back to Britain's successful defeat of two insugencies in the 1950s. One was the communist uprising in Malaysia, the other a nationalist affair in Kenya (the dreaded Mau-Mau).

While the author leads off with the unfeasible advice to move the population into secure areas (as done successfully in Malaysia, and less so in Vietnam), he soon moves on to a decent suggestion: Quarantine a large part of the troublesome Sunni triangle. Rigoruosly check all in and out movement, and dry up the flow of arms.

Unfortunately, this suggestion won't happen; the time for large scale quarantine has passed. The top problems are the lack of man-power, and much of the arms and expertise now seem to be coming in from Iran. More effective would be to seal the Iranian border. This would be dangerous work, making it likely to be vetoed by the politicians, who also will shudder away from increasing troop levels after dangling promises of bringing some of the boys home this year. A small part of the Kenya action was to discredit the uprising in the eyes of the Kenyans, something quite difficult to accomplish in Iraq.
[...] A different tactic based on the British experience would be to cordon off the most toxic part of the Sunni Triangle, letting nobody in or out except under stringent controls at the perimeter, across which only food and medicine could move.

This is what the British did in Nairobi and other urban areas of Kenya in the 50s; the security forces screened everyone and everything coming in or out. The advantages were that supplies of weapons and fighters were choked in both directions, and the population inside the quarantine zone had to work out a better destiny for itself than perpetual war. The disadvantages of such a quarantine are that it might backfire by fueling resentments and that it involves a manpower-intensive effort of perimeter policing.

In the end, British colonial solutions to insurgency tended to involve aspects of both strategies. Once combatants and noncombatants had been separated, the civilians had to be kept quarantined from the fighters so that the contrasting methods of dealing with both - seduction of the latter, coercion of the former - could proceed effectively. But the aim was always realistic: Britain recognized that an insurgency cannot be defeated, only damped down and eventually ended through a political settlement. [...]

Morning news

In the news this morning:

France strikes: Voters are increasinly pissed, but not at the strikers. Odds for some sort of a French capitulation now 1:1

Israel votes: Olmert leads

Hamas takes a page from the Iranian playbook: Dialog buys time

Excellent news: the UN Human Rights Commission is closed

Palace of Homer's hero rises out of the myths

As a lover of Greek mythology, the news that a palace belonging to Greece's second greatest warrior at the Trojan war has been found is big news.
ARCHAEOLOGISTS claim to have unearthed the remains of the 3,500-year-old palace of Ajax, the warrior-king who according to Homer’s Iliad was one of the most revered fighters in the Trojan War.

Classicists hailed the discovery, made on a small Greek island, as evidence that the myths recounted by Homer in his epic poem were based on historical fact.

The ruins include a large palace, measuring about 750sq m (8,000sq ft), and believed to have been at least four storeys high with more than thirty rooms.

Yannos Lolos, the Greek archaeologist who made the discovery, said he was certain that he had come across the home of the Aiacid dynasty, a legendary line of kings mentioned in the Iliad and the Classical Greek tragedies. One of the kings, Ajax (or Aias), was described by Homer as a formidable fighter who, at one point in the Trojan campaign, held off the Trojans almost singlehandedly while his fellow Greek Achilles sulked in his tent because his slave-girl had been taken away from him.

The city of Troy is believed to have fallen about 1180BC — at about the same time, according to Mr Lolos, that the palace he has discovered was abandoned and left to crumble. Ajax, therefore, would have been the last king to have lived there before setting off on the ten-year Trojan expedition.

“This is one of the few cases in which a Mycenaean-era palace can be almost certainly attributed to a Homeric hero,” Mr Lolos said. [...]

The Mycenaean ruins appear to be at the site where Homer records a fleet of ships setting out to take part in the war on Troy. The Iliad is believed to portray conditions at the close of the dominance of Mycenae, the prime Greek power of the second millennium BC.

The ruins have been excavated over the past five years at a site near the village of Kanakia on the island of Salamis, a few miles off the coast of Athens.

The palace was built in the style of those of the period, including the vast acropolis at Mycenae. “The complex was found beneath a virgin tract of pine woods on two heights by the coast,” Mr Lolos said. “All the finds so far corroborate what we see in the Homeric epics.”

Homer compares Ajax to a wall and describes him carrying a shield made of seven layers of thick oxhide. Unlike other heroes, he fights without the aid of deities or the supernatural. According to Sophocles, who wrote 800 years after the Trojan War, Ajax committed suicide after the fall of Troy without seeing his homeland again.

I recall that Ajax went mad after the disgrace of not winning Achilles' armor, killed a bunch of sheep thinking they were Greeks, and threw himself on his sword upon coming to his senses (Wikipedia supports my version).

Ajax was always one of my favorites from the Trojan war because no God watched out for him, unlike Paris, Hector, or Achilles. His deeds were entirely his own.

Several relics of oriental and Cypriot origin were found at the site at Kanakia, such as bronze armour strips stamped with the emblem of Pharaoh Rameses II of Egypt, indicating trade or possible war in the 13th century BC.

Salamis became famous as the site of a sea battle in 480BC in which the Greek navies destroyed the invasion fleet of the Persian king Xerxes and put paid to the Persian threat.

The other main site where archaeologists claim to have discovered relics of places recounted in the Iliad is at the castle of Pylos in southeastern Greece, believed to be the home of King Nestor. [...]

Monday, March 27, 2006

RINOs running loose at Cold Hearted Truth

The Cold Hearted Truth blog has the latest RINO postings. Bonus: a picture of a rhino. Good political and social commentary in this week's RINO carnival.

Modern Islam contravenes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

While Der Spiegel Online's English edition bemoans how Afghanistan has made little progress in human rights after five years of western support, they conveniently avoid noting that under the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Islam itself is the largest obstacle to full implementation of the historic document, written and adopted in the years following WWII.

In the field of human rights law, I can think of no more important document than the UDHR.

From Der Spiegel:
Aside from a general deterioration in security, disregard for human rights has once again become the norm in Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, although Der Spiegel notes that the Afghani constitution pays lip service to the UDHR, the magazine fails to reach the logical conclusion that how a nation treats its citizens under Sharia law is simply incompatible with the UDHR.
Incongruously, Article 7 [of the Afghan constitution] affirms "adherence to the General Declaration on Human Rights," which also includes freedom of religion.
Article 18 of the UDHR states:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
I can't imagine any clearer statement. Nor is it possible to find any clearer statement in oppostition than this:

009.084.057 Volume 9, Book 84, Number 57: [... Muhammed,] Allah's Apostle, [said :] 'Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.'"

There are passages in the Bible or Torah that call for death for other crimes, but enforcing such prohibitions/penalties is no longer contemplated. Islam, on the other hand, is in full agreement that apostasy remains a capital crime.

Freedom of religion is a bedrock principle in the West. Although there remains discrimination against other beliefs in many parts of the West, nothing even approaches Islam's intolerance of atheists or apostates. Moreover, Chritians and Jews have a difficult existence in most countries run under Islamic guidelines.

Maybe Der Spiegel might be able to work that tidbit into their next "exposé".

Although there are important voices in Islam urging a rethinking of the death penalty for apostasy, at the moment, all four branches of Islamic Sharia law require death for apostates.

It seems high time that an Islamic Erasmus stepped forward.

Thankfully, of all the Muslims I know, none support the barbarisms mandated in the Koran and the Sunnah. Demonstrating that, once again, people are far ahead of their religious leaders.

Swiss cheese ueber alles

An emmenteller cheese from Switzerland captured top honors at this year's world cheese championships. Wallace, of Wallace and Grommit fame, was seen lurking nearby.

From the competition:
After tasting some 50 cheeses in a two-hour championship round, judge Mark Johnson said the swiss crafted by Walo Von Muhlenen was near perfect.

``The workmanship that had to go into that piece of cheese was outstanding,'' said Johnson, who works at the University of Wisconsin's Center for Dairy Research as a troubleshooter for cheese makers.
Saw it on Fark.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Carnival of German-American relations

The second German-American relations blog carnival is up. Hosting this iteration are American Future (English submissions), Statler & Waldorf (German submissions, and Atlantic Review (German and English submissions).

These are some heavy hitters among the policy blogs. They have assembled dozens of good posts covering German-Anerican relations, catagorized them, and given each a short introduction.

Go have a look; it's a Saturday morning well spent. All submissions are found here.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Quote of the day, the French Left's hypocrisy version

Racism and anti-semitism are on the rise pretty much throughout Europe. More distressingly, it has now become an almost casual thing. People no longer care who overhears their conversations. This is especially true in France and Austria, I have found.

For French politicians, racism and anti-semitism were the domain of the far Right. Because the Left feared the rise of the Right, all forms of intolerance towards individuals were condemned (and rightly so, purely on moral grounds). France led the EU boycott of Austria after Joerg Haider's party did well in elections, in part because the Left was desperate to link the Right with racism in the eyes of the public, thus hoping to discredit all groups with rightest political leanings. As disagreeable as Haider and France's LePen are, however, I find the Left's two-facedness on racism equally horrible.

From the IHT comes this quote:
[...] As long as anti-Semitism came from the extreme right there was a reaction," said Lefébvre, who has written about anti-Semitism and sexism in schools. "But when it came from that part of the population that itself was a victim of racism, no one wanted to see it."
Typical of the Left, to condemn in others what it ignores in its supporters. The quote offers the timeless justification used by the Left to ignore or rationalize how their natural constituents--Arabs and Blacks--treat Jews and other minorities.

Chirac channels King Canute, can't stop tide of English use

French President Chirac walked out of an EU summit meeting because a Frenchman choose to address the gathering in English, which he refered to as the language of business.

Bravo, Jacques. Way to stand up for France. Oh, and thanks for the laughs at your country's expense.

The Times is very happy to report this story:
PRESIDENT CHIRAC stormed out of the first session of a European Union summit dominated by a row over French nationalism because a fellow Frenchman insisted on speaking English.

President Chirac and three of his ministers walked out of the room when Ernest-Antoine Seillière, the leader of the European business lobby UNICE, punctured Gallic pride by insisting on speaking the language of Shakespeare rather than that of Molière.

When M Seillière, who is an English-educated steel baron, started a presentation to all 25 EU leaders, President Chirac interrupted to ask why he was speaking in English. M Seillière explained: “I’m going to speak in English because that is the language of business.”

Without saying another word, President Chirac, who lived in the US as a student and speaks fluent English, walked out, followed by his Foreign, Finance and Europe ministers, leaving the 24 other European leaders stunned. They returned only after M Seilière had finished speaking.

The meeting was furnished with full interpretation services, and anyone in the room could speak or listen in any of the 20 official EU languages. Embarrassed French diplomats tried to explain away the walk-out, saying that their ministers all needed a toilet break at the same time.

In the absence of his President, M Seillière gave warning about the dangers of the “economic nationalism” being pursued by the French Government. The summit, aimed at restoring confidence in the future of the EU, has been overshadowed by a row over the tide of protectionism sweeping the continent, with Tony Blair and Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, cautioning about the danger of raising barriers to foreign competition.

President Chirac, who recently denounced British food as the worst in the world after Finnish, has led an increasingly eccentric campaign to try to turn back the growing dominance of English in the EU and across the world. French and English are equal official languages in the EU, but the enlargement of the Union has entrenched the dominance of English.

Jacques Delors, the former President of the European Commission, used to ban journalists from posing questions in English in the press room.

More of Chirac's King Canute-like campaign to stop the rising tide of English:
When President Chirac had a one-to-one dinner last year with President Bush, he insisted on speaking his mother tongue the whole time, even though the US President could understand him only through an interpreter.

At one UN summit where there was no translation, President Chirac pretended not to understand questions in English and demanded that Tony Blair, who speaks French, act as his interpreter.

President Chirac has announced plans to start a French version of CNN to promote culture. He was furious when its managers disclosed that most of the output would be in English because otherwise few would understand it.

Culturally and economically, the French have their heads in the sand.

Methane-making microbes appeared early on Earth, helped warm it up for other life

From the journal Nature comes more information about conditions at the dawn of life. Scientists have long known that the sun was much weaker some four billion years ago than it is now, making it more difficult to hypothesize on how early life started and spread.

A study performed on rocks nearly 3.5 billion years old show that microbes were busily pumping out the greenhouse gas methane. Large numbers of these microbes could have produced enough methane to have raised the temperature at the surface enough to support other forms of life.

This summary is from New Scientist:

Climate-changing microbes that produced methane may have appeared on Earth700 million years earlier than previously thought – perhaps helping the world to keep warm while life took hold.

These "methanogens" could have helped regulate the early Earth's climate by providing greenhouse gases, helping to prevent freezing conditions that would have stifled the fragile development of life on Earth.

Methane comes from three sources: through the thermal decomposition of organic material; from non-biological reactions of simple inorganic compounds; or through metabolic activity of methanogenic microbes. Each leaves a different carbon isotope signature.

Until now, no geological evidence for methanogens had been found in the early Archaean Eon that represents the first 1.5 billion years of Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history. But a team led by geologist Yuichiro Ueno of Tokyo Institute of Technology, Yokohama, has found the depleted carbon 13 isotope signature produced by modern methanogens in 3.46-billion-year-old rocks.

The researchers examined hydrothermal dykes – sheets of precipitated minerals intruded into rock by the flow of hydrothermal water - in the Pilbara craton in Western Australia.

The Pilbara rocks represent some of the few vestiges of Archaean continents, known as cratons, which still exist relatively unchanged by geological processes. The carbon samples were preserved in tiny bubbles of fluid trapped in the minerals.

“This study supports conjectures that methanogenesis was one, if not the, primordial form of metabolism powering the earliest organisms on Earth,” says Roger Buick at the University of Washington in Seattle, US, a specialist in the origin of life on Earth. The finding boosts the idea that "methane was an important greenhouse gas at a time when the Sun was much less bright than it is today."

The Nature article is here.

For what it may have meant to Archaean life, see another Nature piece (internal links removed):

With this backdrop, let us enquire more broadly into the nature of life 3.5 billion years ago. Evidence for the activities of sulphate-reducing bacteria, which use sulphate rather than oxygen in energy production, has been reported from the Dresser Formation. Fossil structures known as stromatolites, which are probably of biological origin, have been found in slightly younger rocks from the same stratigraphic sequence. The organisms involved in stromatolite growth are unknown. However, microbial mats have been identified in 3.42-billion-year-old rocks from South Africa, and the chemistry of the rocks indicates that anoxygenic phototrophs (photosynthetic organisms that do not produce oxygen) were probably the dominant mat-forming organisms.

What about oxygen? An aerobic biosphere was not possible before the evolution of oxygen-producing cyanobacteria, and oxygen-producing photosynthesis accomplishes the vast majority of the primary production today. So whether or not cyanobacteria were present is crucial to our understanding of the nature of the biosphere 3.5 billion years ago.

To explore this issue, we return to Western Australia and to the Apex Chert, which is slightly younger than the Dresser Formation. Here, a series of organic remains has been interpreted as possibly being those of cyanobacteria. Unfortunately, a cyanobacterial affiliation cannot be decided by morphology alone, and the interpretation of these remains as biogenic is controversial7. We cannot, therefore, be confident that oxygen-producing organisms existed 3.5 billion years ago. But we can be certain that an active biosphere was in place. It was probably quite complex, including many of the components of modern anaerobic ecosystems. Of these, we can identify anoxygenic phototrophs, sulphate reducers and methanogens.

Another intriguing aspect to Ueno and colleagues' research is its geological setting. The silica dykes housing the methane originated from deep in Earth's crust — maybe as much as 1 kilometre below the surface. This is not the normal bubbly lake or coastal marine sediment usually associated with methanogenesis. These results, therefore, point to an active subsurface biosphere. A deep subsurface biosphere exists today, and by some estimates it is as massive as the one on the Earth's surface. The results of Ueno et al. do not tell us anything about the magnitude of the ancient subsurface biosphere. But the presence of life within Earth's crust, combined with good evidence for life in surface environments, suggest that by 3.5 billion years ago the Earth was teeming with microorganisms.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

French politicians unpack their fiddles. French economy burns, surrenders

France is in deep trouble. Many who like the country and its quirky people hoped that Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy would win the presidency in 2007. Of all the politicians, he was the only one seemingly willing to contemplate more than tinkering with France's failing social model.

Now, in the face of massive protests over what is a relatively minor change in France's labor laws, Sarkozy has crumbled. He clearly sees his support for the law as a losing propostion for himself politically, and is distancing himself from Prime Minister Villepin--doubtless hoping the protests will further weaken his expected challenger for the presidency.

The IHT has the story:
[...] On Wednesday, Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister, who, like Villepin, wants to run for president next year, for the first time distanced himself from his boss over the new labor law.

"I am showing solidarity while being different," Sarkozy told the Paris Match weekly in an interview released in advance of its publication Thursday. "Or if you prefer, I am being different while being in solidarity."

In what will certainly be perceived as a direct criticism of Villepin, Sarkozy added, "You should never break the line of dialogue in a complex country like France." He also said that the jobs initiative should be tried as an "experiment" for six months. [...]

Certainly Villepin is finding himself more and more isolated in his fight to preserve even part of a modest initiative that would allow employers to hire and fire people younger than 26 for first-time jobs. [...]

There is broad agreement between both politicians and throughout France that something has to be done to solve the problem of chronic joblessness, particularly among the young. But there are only 13 months until the presidential election, and politicians of both the right and the left are unwilling to support any initiative that is remotely unpopular.

The law in question has become the subject of a political battle that is focused less on restructuring France's jobs and benefits policies and more on scoring political points.

As Claude Bébéar, chairman of the insurance giant AXA, said after a meeting with Villepin and other business leaders on Monday, "We're just in one of those psychodramas that the French love but that is not justified." [...]
So there we have it. France is to be held in stasis for the next year. Although much of the French public likes the idea of keeping things as they are, the world does not wait for laggards. 13 months is a long time, especially with a French media determined to play up the negative (no one does malaise like the French).

Unable to pass even minor legislation without a major battle, France is in a lose-lose situation.

Sources of death penalty for apostates in Islamic law

The Afghan who allegedly converted to Christianity is in danger of receiving the death penalty for his apostasy if convicted by a Sharia compliant court.

Where the penalty comes from seemed a good question, so off I went, searching through the Koran and the Sunnah (two primary sources of Islamic law).

Earthly punishment for Muslim apostates is not mentioned specifically in the Koran, although unbelievers who reject the Koran face a nasty end (Sura 40).

Turn to the Sunnah, however, and Mohammed's feelings--and thus Islamic law's feelings--on the matter--are clear.

Type *apostate* into USC's compendium of Muslim texts search engine (use the one for Hadeeth Search), and you get many results. Here are those which are on point:

From the Complete Sahih Bukhari (for the importance of these quotes: Sahih Bukhari is a collection of sayings and deeds of Prophet Muhammad, also known as the sunnah. They are accepted as the most scholarly of the collections, and thus are important sources of Islamic law).

009.084.057 Volume 9, Book 84, Number 57: Narrated 'Ikrima: Some Zanadiqa (atheists) were brought to 'Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event, reached Ibn 'Abbas who said, "If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah's Apostle forbade it, saying, 'Do not punish anybody with Allah's punishment (fire).' I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah's Apostle, 'Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.'"

005.059.632 Volume 5, Book 59, Number 632: Narrated Abu Burda: Once Muadh paid a visit to Abu Musa and saw a chained man. Muadh asked, "What is this?" Abu Musa said, "(He was) a Jew who embraced Islam and has now turned apostate." Muadh said, "I will surely chop off his neck!"

009.083.017 Volume 9, Book 83, Number 17: Narrated 'Abdullah: Allah's Apostle said, "The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims."

I have read that the Afghan may escape punishment if found to be mentally unfit for trial. He can also reconvert to Islam, and the apostasy charge no longer applies.

British high court rules against Muslim attire

The British high court has overturned a lower court ruling that a Muslim girl should be allowed to wear a hajib rather than a school uniform. The school, largely attended by Muslims, had gone to great lengths to offer a range of uniforms acceptable to all students.

School uniform decisions are left to individual schools to decide, so the ruling doesn't apply across the board.

It is nice, however, to see that being kept from wearing a hajib was held not to be a violation of the student's human rights--as the lower court had ruled.

From the IHT:
Britain's highest court ruled Wednesday that a secondary school was within its rights to bar a Muslim female student from wearing a jilbab, a loose, ankle-length gown, instead of the regular school uniform.

Overturning a lower court ruling in favor of the student, Shabina Begum, a five-judge panel in the House of Lords pointed out that the school, Denbigh High School in Luton, had taken great care to make its uniform acceptable to its students, 79 percent of whom are Muslim.

"The school was entitled to consider that the rules about uniform were necessary for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others," one of the judges, Lord Hoffmann, said in his written opinion. [...]

By such standards, the British policy is comparatively liberal. Girls at Denbigh, for instance, have a wide choice of uniform - a skirt, pants, or the shalwar kameez, a flowing pants-and-tunic combination worn and considered acceptable by many Muslims. They can also wear head scarves. In addition, there are three nearby schools that allow students to wear the jilbab.

But Denbigh, a coeducational school that has 1,000 students, had argued that permitting Begum, now 17, to wear the jilbab could prove divisive, possibly leading to arguments among students about whether it represented a more devout adherence to Islam. In addition, the school said, the jilbab is too constricting and would pose safety risks.

Tahir Alam, the education spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, a lobby group, was quoted by the Bloomberg news service as saying that the safety argument was "an excuse."

In their unanimous ruling, the judges said that Denbigh had "taken immense pains to devise a uniform policy which respected Muslim beliefs," laying down rules that "were as far from being mindless as uniform rules could ever be" and that were apparently "acceptable to mainstream Muslim opinion." [...]

The student now attends a school where the hajib is accepted. Which is what she should have done in the first place. This attempt to force a change through the courts thankfully backfired.

I searched for an answer to the question of whether any state supported schools require women and girls to wear clothing that covers most skin, but was unable to find any examples. If none now exist, it is only a matter of time until a heavily Muslim school attempts to adopt such rules.

UPDATE: This editorial in The Telegraph notes that the student is contemplating taking her case to the European Court of Human Rights, where she might get a more sympathetic hearing, and where (I think) a successful appeal would compel UK schools to be more accomodating.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Islamist Challenge to the U.S. Constitution

American Future has found an intriguing article discussing the push by some Muslim groups in the US to set up enclaves which adhere as much as possible to the Muslim ideal.

Much of that ideal is in conflict with US tradition and law. How and where the legal conflicts arise will be of their choosing. How far they are able to advance their plans will be left to municipalities and the courts.

From the article:

Is concern over internal Muslim enclaves justified? On their face, the fundamental principles of the internal Muslim enclave are no more invidious than any other religious enclave. But ideology matters. Many proponents of an Islamic polity promote an ideology at odds with U.S. constitutional jurisprudence and the prohibition against the establishment of a state-sponsored religion. The refusal to recognize federal law makes Islamist enclaves more akin to Ruby Ridge than to the Hasidic and Amish cases cited by Eisgruber.

I would love to see a ConLaw prof or the ACLU tackle just how far such enclaves will likely be able to go in their push to live under Sharia concepts.

Recipe for angst: A German soccer coach with U.S. style

Germany is worried. Their soccer team is foundering--has been for several years--and it looks as though some Germans are looking for scapegoats months before the World Cup's opening match. Hands down the most likely to be reviled: coach Klinsmann, who lives in California and has imported some US training methods.

The Germans are upset about the state of their game; traditional German skill levels have dropped, and worst of all, the German soccer player's steely self-confidence is missing. Gone are the days of when, in an English player's words: 22 men played soccer for 90 minutes and at the end, Germany won.

From the IHT:
With the World Cup opening June 9, Germany is in a familiar panic as the host country, fearing that its coach is merely a "Baywatch" blond, more concerned with his tan lines than with the bottom line of winning a global soccer championship.

Since Jürgen Klinsmann, a former star forward and captain of Germany's national team, became the coach in July 2004, he has continued to live half of each month in Southern California with his American wife and two young children. This transcontinental commuting has aroused three of Germany's favorite preoccupations - soccer, the United States and the weather.

A self-described cosmopolitan who speaks four languages, Klinsmann has hired an American trainer, as well as a sports psychologist, and has opened his roster to younger players. These reforms have unsettled the insular and conservative German soccer federation, which appears to want and fear change, said Oliver Bierhoff, the national team manager.
Sport is truly a metaphor for life in this case. Germany knows they need to change much about their society, and yet they consistently vote for stasis.

Germany is split between those who embrace Klinsmann and those who vaguely fear an Americanization of German soccer, according to Andrei Markovits, a professor of German studies at the University of Michigan who has written about Klinsmann and anti-Americanism in Europe.

The United States is still considered a soccer upstart in Germany. In the view of some soccer officials, journalists and politicians, whatever New World approaches Klinsmann has learned in America have little application for an Old World soccer power like Germany.

"It's a clash between the new and the old in Germany," Markovits said by telephone. "There is a real cleavage between the left, liberal, urbane, youngish Germany that really likes him and the 'real' guys who go to the bar every night and think he's the worst because he's sort of an intellectual, he lives in L.A. and brings in American methods and married an American wife."

Particular dread set in March 1, when Italy routed Germany, 4-1, in an exhibition in Florence. Klinsmann was blamed for everything from poisoning German soccer to grinning too much to undermining the brittle economy.

Speculation even arose that Klinsmann could be fired if Germany were to lose an exhibition to the United States on Wednesday in Dortmund.

Criticism grew so intense by last week that Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, felt it necessary to deflate mounting pressure on Klinsmann. She declared that he was "on the right track" and urged him to ignore his critics.

"It's simply sad for a country that is going full speed to their biggest sporting event for the next 50 years," Klinsmann, 41, said Sunday in an interview in Düsseldorf.

"The World Cup is bigger than the Olympics," Klinsmann said. "It's the biggest thing you can host. And it seems like we do everything possible to be far too skeptical, far too critical, instead of being happy and proud and honored that you have that competition."

Hmm. Sounds like the doom-sayers may be right. That resembles the sort of speech losers give after being trounced. Very un-German.
Something else might influence the dissatisfaction with Klinsmann - Germany's obsession with the weather, which has been particularly cold this winter, said Peter Zygowski, a language consultant at the Goethe Institute in San Francisco.

"They are completely obsessed with sunshine and the beach, and when they hear about Klinsmann in California, it conjures images of vacation, slacking off," Zygowski said by telephone.
Doubtless some psych student can mine that for a Ph.D thesis.
That was certainly not his image as a rapacious goal scorer. Klinsmann scored 47 goals in 108 appearances with the national team, played forward for the team that won the 1990 World Cup and captained the squad that won the 1996 European championship.

After a professional club career in Germany, Italy, France and England, Klinsmann retired in 1998 and settled in Huntington Beach, California. He prefers the privacy afforded him in the United States, believing that anonymity abroad will allow his son and daughter to grow beyond his considerable sporting shadow.

The United States, he said, also appealed to him for its "let's go for it" attitude. Many Germans seem pleased by the new attacking style Klinsmann has installed. There was widespread agreement that change was necessary after Germany's embarrassing exit in the first round of the 2004 European championships, only two years after reaching the final of the World Cup (it lost to Brazil).

National team coaches face constant second-guessing in soccer-consumed nations. But Klinsmann's style has been especially provocative: He spends half of each month in California, communicating with his players via e-mail and telephone, and following their club matches on satellite television.

Germany's recent exhibition loss to Italy unleashed a bilious response. "Disaster," proclaimed the soccer magazine Kicker. The Bild tabloid, Germany's largest daily and one that has been highly critical of Klinsmann, mourned, "Mama Mia We Are Bad." The tabloid showed a picture of a grinning Klinsmann ("Grinsi Klinsi") and snickered, "With you, one can only cry about our national team."

After that loss, Klinsmann returned to California on the anniversary of his father's death, missing a workshop for World Cup coaches. That prompted a rebuke from Germany's greatest soccer hero, Franz Beckenbauer, who led West Germany to the 1974 World Cup title as captain and the 1990 World Cup title as coach.

"Time is running out," Beckenbauer, who is president of the 2006 World Cup organizing committee, told reporters.

Some politicians even wanted Klinsmann censured before a sports subcommittee of German Parliament, according to Markovits, the Michigan professor. "That's like Larry Brown being cited before Congress for only bringing home a bronze from the Athens Olympics," Markovits said, referring to the coach of the New York Knicks professional basketball team. "Absurd."

In recent days, the criticism has subsided, with Merkel supporting Klinsmann and saying: "We should not destroy our justified joy of anticipation with all this negativity. Do not let yourself be deterred from your path."

Beckenbauer, too, offered encouragement, saying, "There is no question that Germany can win the World Cup."

But he also could not resist a dig at Klinsmann as they met in Berlin, telling reporters: "It is fine that Jürgen will now stay in Germany. He has had enough of the sun."

The German team lacks the skill of Brazil and Argentina, and the tactical sophistication of Italy, Klinsmann acknowledged. But he also noted that his team would enjoy a tremendous home field advantage in the World Cup. "The truth will be on the field," he said.

If Germany wins the World Cup, Klinsmann will again be a national icon. If things go badly, well, Markovits said a German journalist recently suggested to him that Klinsmann would become persona non grata in his home country.

"Maybe he could visit his parents, but he would be completely vilified," Markovits said. "I would seriously worry about his safety if the Germans lose in the quarterfinals."

Sliderule-to-calculator missing link unearthed. Creationists cringe

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In what should be the final nail in the coffin of Creationism--but a real boost for Intelligent design advocates, a recently unearthed calculator/sliderule transitional fossil displays a rudimentary calculator function combined with a vestigal--but fully functioning--sliderule on its dorsal side.

Sliderules as a species couldn't compete with the swifter and handier calculator species and soon became extinct. Rare examples of functioning sliderule fossils can be found in various science laboratories, where it is considered a mark of higher geekiness to still be able to use them.

This transitional fossil is thought to have given birth to at least one line of current hand calculators, and may have led to personal computers if one controversial theory is true.

Seen at Gizmodo.com

Britain pushes for military option to restrain Tehran

Britain wants to make clear to Iran the consequences of its continued push to acquire nuclear arms, and is pushing for a tough UNSC resolution. The UK hopes to bring China and Russia on board by early Summer according to this piece in The Times:
BRITAIN is pressing for a United Nations resolution that would open the way for punitive sanctions and even the use of force if Iran were to refuse to halt its controversial nuclear programme.

In a confidential letter obtained by The Times, a leading British diplomat outlines a strategy for winning Russian and Chinese support by early summer for a so-called Chapter VII resolution demanding that Iran cease its nuclear activities.

If the Government in Tehran refused to comply with such a resolution, the UN Security Council would be legally compelled to enforce it.

The strategy marks a significant hardening of the Government’s position. It contrasts with public statements by Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, this month. On March 13 he insisted that military action was “inconceivable” and that the dispute with Iran “has to be resolved by peaceful democratic means”.

The confidential letter was written only three days later by John Sawers, the political director at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and sent to his American, French and German counterparts.

“They (the Iranians) will need to know that more serious measures are likely,” wrote Mr Sawers, in a letter first leaked to the Associated Press. “This means putting the Iran dossier on to a Chapter VII basis.”

He suggested making a suspension of all uranium enrichment by Iran “a mandatory requirement of the Security Council, in a resolution we would aim to adopt, I say, early May”.

Mark Fitzpatrick, an expert on nuclear proliferation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that securing a Chapter VII resolution would provide the international community with a “stick” it could use against Iran. “It would be an important breakthrough,” he said. “It would open the door to sanctions and other measures.”

Before wielding any stick, however, Mr Sawers proposed that the international community give Iran a final chance in the form of a “revised offer” of incentives as a face-saving solution to allow it to back down peacefully.

The two-track diplomacy was devised by the British in an attempt to reach a compromise between the five permanent members of the UN Security Council: America, China, Britain, France and Russia.

The US favours moving straight to a tough resolution that would punish Iran if it failed to halt its nuclear programme. Russia and China, which both have important commercial ties with Iran, favour a slower, less confrontational approach handled by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear watchdog.

“We are not going to bring the Russians and Chinese to accept significant sanctions over the coming months, certainly not without further efforts to bring the Iranians around,” Mr Sawers wrote.

“In parallel with agreeing a new proposal, we will also want to bind Russia and China into agreeing to further measures that will be taken by the Security Council should the Iranians fail to engage positively,” he wrote.

But the British initiative has so far failed to bring the parties together. On Monday Mr Sawers hosted talks at the UN between the five permanent members and Germany which broke up without agreement.

The US refused to take steps that would reward Iran or ease pressure on the regime. Russia, which has billions of pounds in contracts to supply Iran with civilian nuclear technology and sophisticated arms, and China, which has multibillion-pound deals to import Iranian oil and gas, rejected any move that could lead to punitive action. Yesterday follow-up talks at the UN were postponed.

The American stance here should be softened somewhat. It is essential that Iran be given a face saving way out of this problem. The hardliners in Iran won't agree to halting their nuclear program unless they can point to some concessions from the West. As unpleasant as it would be to compromise with Irans rulers, it is necessary to secure an agreement which opens Iran to nuclear inspectors.

Mr Sawers anticipated the hurdles in his letter. “I suspect we will need a meeting at ministerial level anyway to get agreement to this sort of approach, including an early Chapter VII resolution,” he wrote.

Nevertheless the international community will have to reach agreement if it hopes to halt Iran’s uranium enrichment work, which it resumed in February at Natanz.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Where are you?

Image hosting by Photobucket



If you said Indonesia, congratulations. This is Mount Merapi. Indonesian geologists fear it may erupt soon. The last large eruption killed dozens of villagers.



Bonus trivia: I climbed this in 1994. It was a beautiful hike up in the dark and I was able to watch the sun come up.

Apostasy in Islam

The case of a man in Afghanistan sentenced to death for his apostasy is found all over the internet (on the other hand, it looks as though that simply reconverting to Islam will extend his life expectancy).

Fellow RINO Below the Beltway has a couple of posts discussing it which made me go to two websites looking for why renouncing Islam is held to be such a crime.

Islam Q&A offers this:

The punishment for apostasy from the religion of Islam is execution. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):

“And whosoever of you turns back from his religion and dies as a disbeliever, then his deeds will be lost in this life and in the Hereafter, and they will be the dwellers of the Fire. They will abide therein forever” [al-Baqarah 2:217]

And it was proven that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Whoever changes his religion, execute him.” Narrated by al-Bukhaari in his Saheeh. What this hadeeth means is that whoever leaves Islam and changes to another religion and persists in that and does not repent, is to be executed. It was also proven that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “It is not permissible to shed the blood of a person who bears witness that there is no god but Allaah and that I am the Messenger of Allaah except in three cases: a life for a life, a previously-married person who commits adultery, and one who leaves Islam and forsakes the jamaa’ah.” Narrated by al-Bukhaari and Muslim.

This harsh punishment is for a number of reasons:

1 – This punishment is a deterrent to anyone who wants to enter Islam just to follow the crowd or for hypocritical purposes. This will motivate him to examine the matter thoroughly and not to proceed unless he understands the consequences of that in this world and in the Hereafter. The one who announces his Islam has agreed to adhere to all the rulings of Islam of his own free will and consent, one of which rulings is that he is to be executed if he apostatizes from the faith.

2 – The one who announces his Islam has joined the jamaa’ah (main body) of the Muslims, and whoever joins the main body of the Muslims is required to be completely loyal and to support it and protect it against anything that may lead to fitnah or destroy it or cause division. Apostasy from Islam means forsaking the jamaa’ah and its divine order, and has a harmful effect on it. Execution is the greatest deterrent that will prevent people from committing such a crime.

3 – Those Muslims who are weak in faith and others who are against Islam may think that the apostate has only left Islam because of what he has found out about its real nature, because if it were the truth then he would never have turned away from it. So they learn from him all the doubts, lies and fabrications which are aimed at extinguishing the light of Islam and putting people off from it. In this case executing the apostate is obligatory, in order to protect the true religion from the defamation of the liars and to protect the faith of its adherents and remove obstacles from the path of those who are entering the faith.

4 – We also say that the death penalty exists in the modern laws of man to protect the system from disorder in some situation and to protect society against certain crimes which may cause its disintegration, such as drugs etc. If execution can serve as a deterrent to protect man-made systems, then it is more appropriate that the true religion of Allaah, which Falsehood cannot come to it from before it or behind it [cf. Fussilat 41:42], and which is all goodness, happiness and tranquility in this world and in the Hereafter should punish those who commit acts of aggression against it and seek to extinguish its light and defame its image, and who fabricate lies against it to justify their apostasy and deviation.

Fataawa al-Lajnah al-Daa’imah, 21/234-231.

Clearly, deterrence was important to early Islam. What the explanation doesn't mention: any new religion--especially one fighting for its survival--can ill afford to lose converts. To my mind, Muhammad wanted to keep all his converts during his battles with the Arab tribes. He likely viewed them as soldiers in the war he was fighting on behalf of Allah. Soldiers who desert in times of war are subject to the death penalty.

If my idea is correct, there is no religious reason to punish apostasy with death.

Interestingly, the death penalty for apostasy appears not in the Koran, but in writings that quoted Muhammad.

The USC compendium of Muslim texts offers a searchable database of the Koran and other major writings. Searching for "apostate" in the Hadeeth brings up any number of citations. All require the apostate to be killed.

Fatwas R Us: disrespecting Allah or Prophet easy to avoid

Got any papers with the Prophet's name or Allah's name on them in your house? Don't know how to dispose of them properly?

Let Islam's foremost thinkers issue the appropriate fatwa. You'll know it's Sharia compliant:
Question : What is the sharia's ruling about personal names found in newspapers etc that include either the prophet's name or Allah's name (Abdullah, AbdulKarim)? How may these papers be disposed of or destroyed?

Answer : Praise be to Allaah. These papers on which Allaah’s name is mentioned should be kept and protected against being handled with disrespect until you have finished with them. When you have finished with them and no longer have any need of them, they should be buried in a clean place, or burnt, or kept in a place where they will be protected against disrespect, such as in a cupboard or on shelves, etc.

Fatwa of Shaykh Ibn Baaz from Fataawa Islamiyyah, vol. 4, p. 313. (www.islamqa.com)

Monday, March 20, 2006

EU constitution lives on, The Telegraph calls for silver bullet

A Tory penned op-ed by The Telegraph sees the EU constitution as more alive than dead, and that's a problem:
Two years from now, the European constitution will be in force - certainly de facto and probably de jure, too. Never mind that 15 million Frenchmen and five million swag-bellied Hollanders voted against it.

The Eurocrats have worked out a deft way of getting around them. Here's how they'll do it.

First, they will shove through as many of the constitution's contents as they can under the existing legal framework - a process they had already begun even before the referendums.

Around 85 per cent of the text can, with some creative interpretation, be implemented this way.

True, there are one or two clauses that will require a formal treaty amendment: a European president to replace the system whereby the member nations take it in turns to chair EU meetings; a new voting system; legal personality for the Union.

These outstanding items will be formalised at a miniature inter-governmental conference, probably in 2007. There will be no need to debate them again: all 25 governments accepted them in principle when they signed the constitution 17 months ago.

We shall then be told that these are detailed and technical changes, far too abstruse to be worth pestering the voters with.

The EU will thus have equipped itself with 100 per cent of the constitution, but without having held any more referendums. Clever, no?
Clever, yes; but not likely--at least by 2007. Europe is involved in some serious navel gazing at the moment. There are great fears over giving up the last shreds of national government, and populists will exploit such fears.

Europe is already seeing a wave of economic protectionism; national and cultural protectionism evidenced by the French and Dutch "No" votes will only be strengthened. The next few years will be given over to intra-EU squabbles, not cooperation.

Don't take my word for it: listen to what the EU's own leaders are saying. Here is Wolfgang Schüssel, Chancellor of Austria and the EU's current president: "The constitution is not dead." Here is Angela Merkel, leader of Europe's most powerful and populous state: "Europe needs the constitution… We are willing to make whatever contribution is necessary to bring the constitution into force."

Here is Dominique de Villepin, who, in true European style, has risen to the prime ministership of France without ever having run for elected office: "France did not say no to Europe."

And, on Tuesday, our own Europe minister, Douglas Alexander, repeatedly refused to rule out pushing ahead with the bulk of the text without a referendum.

For the purest statement of the Eurocrats' contempt for the voters, however, we must turn to the constitution's author, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. [...]

"Let's be clear about this," pronounced Giscard a couple of weeks ago. "The rejection of the constitution was a mistake that will have to be corrected."

He went on to remind his audience that the Danish and Irish electorates had once been presumptuous enough to vote against a European treaty, but that no one had paid them the slightest attention.

The same thing is happening today. Since the French and Dutch "No" votes, three countries have approved the text and three more - Finland, Estonia and Belgium - look set to follow in the coming weeks, which would bring to 16 the number of states to have ratified.

At the same time, the European Commission has launched a massive exercise to sell the constitution to the doltish national electorates.

Their scheme goes under the splendidly James Bondish title of "Plan D". I forget what the D stands for: deceit, I think, or possibly disdain. [...]

While all this is going on, the EU is proceeding as if the constitution were already in force. Most of the institutions and policies that it would have authorised are being enacted anyway: the External Borders Agency, the European Public Prosecutor, the External Action Service, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the European Defence Agency, the European Space Programme.

The text is not, as the cliché of the moment has it, being "smuggled in through the back door"; it is swaggering brazenly through the front. [...]

To be fair, this is how the European project has always advanced. First, Brussels extends its jurisdiction into a new field of policy and then, often years later, it gets around to regularising that extension in a new treaty. [...]

In swatting aside two referendum results, the EU is being true to its foundational principles. Born out of a reaction against the Second World War, and the plebiscitary democracy that had preceded it, the EU is based on the notion that "populism" (or "democracy", as you and I call it) is a dangerous thing. [...]

To complain that the EU is undemocratic is like attacking a cow for being bovine, or a butterfly for being flighty. In disregarding public opinion, the EU is doing what it has been programmed to do. It is fulfilling its prime directive. [...]
True enough, and yet Europe's voters eventually go along.

RINOs seen stampeding Below the Beltway

The latest iteration of the RINO (Republicans/Independants Not Overdosed on the party kool-aid) is up at Below the Beltway.

This week's submissions have a definite political flavor.

Ursula Andress, the first Bond girl, turned 70

From the *you're older than you think* file:
Actress Ursula Andress, Switzerland's most illustrious export to Hollywood, and famous for "that" bikini scene in the first ever Bond film, turn[ed] 70 on Sunday. [...]

Andress was born in 1936 in the Bern suburb of Ostermundigen, to which she still has close ties. [...]

In her late teens, Andress decided to spread her wings and leave her six siblings and conservative parents behind in Ostermundigen.

At the age of 17, she fled with an actor lover to Italy but was soon persuaded to return to the parental fold.

The film industry in Italy, Switzerland's southern neighbour, first cast the beauty in minor roles. But it wasn't until meeting Hollywood heavyweight Marlon Brando, who reportedly became her lover, that the golden gates to cinema heaven opened.

She moved to the United States after signing a contract with Columbia Pictures but, before making a single film with them, she met and married a young actor named John Derek in 1957.

Five years later, Andress made cinema history as Honey Ryder by emerging from the waves in a cream-coloured bikini, a sheathed knife hanging from a belt below her hips.

The year was 1962. The film, Dr No, was the first part of the long-running Bond series revolving around the high jinks of author Ian Fleming's super smooth spy, James Bond.

Andress was the first Bond girl and, for many, the only. The scene – frequently voted as one of the best cinematic moments in history – is said to evoke Sandro Botticelli's painting, Birth of Venus, painted in the 15th century.

This could explain its attraction, although many cinema-goers might not have had Renaissance painting in mind when they watched the bikini-clad siren rise from the waters.

After that, Andress went on to have a Hollywood career, which peaked in the 1960s, acting alongside stars such as Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Peter Sellers.

Her filmography in later years included projects, many of them Italian, where she frequently displayed her buxom charms, earning her the sobriquet "Ursula Undressed".

However, 44 years later, it's still Honey Ryder who evokes a sigh from men across the world.

And in 2001, the infamous cream swimsuit was sold at auction for more than £35, 000 ($85,050), unfortunately well below its estimate.

She also was in the June 1965 issue of Playboy magazine, where her charms were on good display (NSFW).

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Europe fails to adjust to U.S. shift of focus, risks losing more influence

Europe had high hopes for the EU. It was supposed to make for a single market, lower barriers to international trade and, most ambitiously, lead to a Europe with real heft on the global stage.

Many Europeans and Europe watchers are increasingly concluding that Europe's navel gazing and protectionist instincts are harming it. Importantly for the US, Europe is less likely to help in diplomacy and war, thus making it more likely the US will act unilaterally.

From the IHT:
With the United States shifting its attention to Asia and the Middle East, Europe needs to reverse its drift toward protectionism and reassert itself on the world stage, veteran European politicians and analysts are warning.

While Europe has been through protectionist phases before, they say, the new twist is that the United States is undergoing a radical review of its diplomatic and military presence on the Continent. Engaged elsewhere, it is not present to act as a galvanizing force.

In this situation, the experts warn, if the European Union does not address what some cast as its failure of nerve, the 25-member bloc could become steadily weaker, more divided and less able to deal with globalization.

Bronislaw Geremek, the Polish historian and European Parliament legislator who helped his country gain its independence in 1989, argues that protectionism is eating into Europe's power as a unified presence internationally. [...]

Dennis MacShane of Britain, a senior diplomat and former minister for Europe, said the European Union was "missing a chance" by failing to act as a concerted force in response to Washington's shift in priorities.

"It is reverting to its two favorite vices, populism and protectionism," said MacShane, who is an adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair and a member of Britain's delegation to the Council of Europe. "Europe is failing to pull together at a time when there is a major change taking place in U.S. foreign policy."

Indeed, observers of the shifting trends on both sides of the Atlantic say this protectionist mood bodes ill for a trans-Atlantic relationship that is undergoing change.

The United States is shifting its attention to Asia, said Karen Donfried, senior director for policy programs at the Washington office of the German Marshall Fund, in the belief that "the trans- Atlantic relationship is no longer based on dependence, as it was during the Cold War, but on now trying to work together in a wider world."

At the same time, she noted, although the Bush administration would welcome a stronger Europe, the EU is "not speaking with one voice on many issues." [...]

Last month, the Pentagon published its Quadrennial Defense Review Report, setting out defense strategy, force structure and budget. It focused on the Asia-Pacific region, particularly China, Japan and South Korea. Little was said about Europe except that the NATO military alliance would need to become more flexible and global. [...]

Ideally, said Donfried and other observers, these new American priorities could provide an opportunity for the EU to strengthen its economic, foreign and security policies in order to complement the U.S. role on the world stage. Instead, they say, the opposite is happening.

Alyson Bailes, director of the Stockholm Peace Research Institute, says Europe is "losing its nerve."

"The nerve has failed over internal issues such as structural readjustments to international competition," said Bailes, a former senior British diplomat. "This is happening when the second Bush administration favors a strong and united Europe, unlike the first administration, which did much to divide the Europeans. "Despite this change in Washington, the EU's ability to use its collective will has not been there. It is at a crunch point."

Geremek says one reason for this lack of common initiative was the enlargement of the EU from 15 to 25 countries in May 2004.

At the time, West European economies "were in very bad shape," he noted. "What should have been seen as a signal of a victory of the European idea degenerated into fear. In such a situation, politicians, instead of appealing to hope, appeal to fear to win the support of their constituents."

Such populism will only increase as western Europeans see further economic decline. As soft as Americans view Europeans, there are any number of old resentments and grudges that can be exploited: Europe remains fertile ground for demagogues.
The crisis over the European constitution last spring, when French and Dutch voters rejected the document, "was an expression of this," Geremek said, adding: "One cannot continue the process of European integration with such nationalist thinking."

MacShane said that several member states had filled this constitutional vacuum by defending their national interests. Other EU experts warn that such individualist thinking could seriously damage Europe's ability to deal with pending crises. [...]

Since Europe is clearly unable to act cohesively, their best bet would be to enlarge NATO's reach and mission. European power would thus piggyback on to American power, aloowing Europe a much greater say in the world's affairs.