Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Ethiopia makes the islamist [s]hit list

Of course as Ethiopia was not yet governed by sharia law, they were on the list anyway. But by attacking and slowing the islamist advance in Somalia, they've moved up militant Islam's to-do list.
Frontline Islamist forces in Somalia retreated Tuesday toward their stronghold in Mogadishu, Somalia's battle-scarred seaside capital.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, citing internal military reports, said the Islamists had suffered numerous casualties as the Ethiopia- backed forces of the transitional government advanced, The Associated Press reported from Addis Ababa.
The islamists were feeling pretty good about themselves after a string of victories:

First Burhakaba, a large inland city, fell to the Islamists, then Dinsoor, not far away, and Bulo Burto, where just a few weeks ago, Islamists were threatening to behead people who did not pray.

By Tuesday afternoon, the transitional government troops were within 100 kilometers, or 60 miles, of Mogadishu and calling for the Islamists to surrender.

The Islamist leaders refused, saying they would take their fight "everywhere," which some people viewed as a veiled threat to unleash guerrilla tactics and suicide bombs.

The fast-moving developments seemed to confirm what UN officials on the ground in Somalia had been saying since the fighting erupted a week ago: that the young forces of the Islamists were no match for the better-trained, better-equipped Ethiopia-backed troops, with their tanks and fighter jets.

Still, the conflict is far from over. Thousands of people continue to march in the streets of Mogadishu, rallying behind the Islamists, and analysts are unanimous in their view that an Ethiopian occupation of Mogadishu, a city thick with weapons and xenophobia, could become a bloodbath.

In Baidoa, the seat of the transitional government, political leaders said they were planning on taking the capital.

"We feel great," said Hussein Saylan, chief of the transitional cabinet. "We're moving swiftly toward Mogadishu and the Islamists are panicking. We're finishing them off as we go."

Witnesses reported Ethiopian fighter jets and helicopter gunships firing missiles at Islamists retreating in pickup trucks, easy targets in the open desert.

In Mogadishu, the Islamists began fortifying the airport, radio station and other key buildings, preparing for a siege. Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, a top Islamist leader previously considered a moderate, vowed at a news conference that the Islamists would never buckle.

The term moderate seems to be very flexible when applied to islamists. Maybe they should quantify it somewhat. They could determine "moderateness" by examining who the islamist advocates beheading. If they limit their carnage to Americans, Jews, and Western Europeans, well that would qualify as moderate. Calling for the decapitation of all non-Muslims pushes the limits of the definition. Advocating beheading all non-sharia supporting Muslims would tend to pigeon-hole an islamist as an extremist.
"The war is entering a new phase," he said. "We will fight Ethiopia for a long, long time."
In fact, the islamists have called for jihad against Ethiopia. Welcome to the club.

Monday, December 18, 2006

"Mohammed's head" opera a go for tonight

How far into the opera until the first bomb threat? Will the curtain go up before some idiot tries to stop the production of Mozart's Idomeneo? Any attempt to stop the opera will backfire in the end. Germans take their opera culture seriously, and while bomb threats may force an evacuation, this will be seen as an unacceptable attack on Germany.
Audience members at Monday's Deutsche Oper production of Mozart's "Idomeneo" will be kindly asked to empty their pockets of all metal objects. And they should be prepared to leave - quickly - in case of a bomb alert.

The Austrian musical genius born 250 years ago was noted for an impish sense of humor and some directors take huge liberties with their interpretations of operas. But the security measures for the performance, which include electronic screening of opera goers and evacuation precautions, are not part of the plot.

It's a case of art meeting religious sensibility - and a decision that the show must go on, despite concerns that the production, featuring the severed head of the Prophet Muhammad, could prompt violence.

Mozart might wonder what the heads of Islam's founder, along with those of Jesus, Buddha and the Greek god of the seas, Poseidon, are doing in his opera. They are the brainchild of the director Hans Neuenfels, whose production first premiered three years ago. While some critics found the twist trite back then, it aroused little attention outside the opera world.

But that was before a Danish newspaper cartoon of Muhammad led to Muslim riots worldwide - and before comments by German-born Pope Benedict XVI further inflamed sensibilities in the Islamic world, just as the Neuenfels production was to be revived.

Such fears initially led the opera house to cancel plans to revive the production, but a city proud of its openness, tolerance and artistic verve was aghast.

While some Muslim leaders praised the decision, even Kenan Kolat, the leader of Germany's Turkish community, equated it with a step "back in the Middle Ages." Chancellor Angela Merkel warned against "self-censorship out of fear," and Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble - in charge of police - described it as "crazy."

So the show is back, though only after a last-minute scramble after the four props were either mislaid or stolen by pranksters. New ones were made.

Still, the performance comes with procedures that for some will make the experience more like clearing airport security than a night at the opera.

Staff are setting up electronic scanner gates at entrances, said opera spokesman Alexander Busche. A memo from Berlin police tells employees what to do in case of a bomb threat, and officers will be present in force - although low-key, so as not to intrude on what all hope will be nothing more than a musical and visual experience.

"We are ready for any eventuality," said police spokesman Berhard Schodrowski.

Kolat, the head of Germany's Turkish community, has said he plans to attend, as has Schaeuble, the interior minister. Ali Kizilkaya, head of Germany's Islamic Council, whose presence would have done much to defuse potential tensions, will not be there. [...]

Another German Muslim leader, Aiman Mazyek, also said he would not attend, saying the purpose of opera was "not to mix religion, art and politics." [....]

Swiss are top curlers

The ambiguity of this post's title aside, Swiss athletes are doing quite well at the moment. The men beat the world champion Scots in curling (an important sport in both nations), A Swiss is again the world's best tennis player, the ski team is bouncing back after several weak years, and the Swiss are the defending America's cup holders.

For such a small nation, the Swiss have a tremendous impact.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Mugabe to Zimbabwe: til death do us part

Eighty-two year old Bob Mugabe, tyrant-in-chief of Zimbabwe, is seeking to extend his time in power. He had previously promised to step down in 2008, but now, in an effort to "harmonise" the election calender, he finds that his nation would benefit from at least two more years of his monumental misrule.
Zimbabwe's leader Robert Mugabe has backed a plan to extend his presidency by two years until 2010, according to reports in Zimbabwe's state-run media.

The plan is likely to be endorsed during the annual conference of the ruling Zanu-PF party this weekend.

A Zanu-PF spokesman said postponing presidential elections until they could be held at the same time as parliamentary polls would save money.

The president had said he would retire in 2008 after 28 years in office.

Zimbabwe has the world high rate of inflation - more than 1,000% a year and chronic unemployment [as well as a steadily declining life expectancy--P].

Mr Mugabe's critics say he has ruined what was one of Africa's most developed economies.

He says he is the victim of a western plot to bring him down because of opposition to his seizure of white-owned land. [....]
At least the opposition retains a sense of humor:
Mugabe himself has decided to come clean about his succession. He basically has decided to succeed himself--Jonathan Moyo, Independent MP

Panel: eliminate oil dependence

Best advice Bush has gotten all year. Should the Democrat controlled Congress find time from running endless investigations into Iraq, acting on the panel's recommendations would be a fine way to do something for Americans.
The Bush administration should act decisively to break America’s dependence on oil, said a group of leading US business executives and senior military officers in a report presented on Wednesday to the White House and Congress.

The bipartisan group, which includes the chief executives of Fedex, UPS, Dow Chemicals and some of America’s best known retired generals, urged Washington to recognise that “pure market economics will never solve the problem” of US oil dependency.

The report poured cold water on the Bush administration’s goal of reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil, rather than on oil in general. It urged Mr Bush and the new Democrat-controlled Congress to set up a plan to halve the American economy’s oil-intensity by 2030.

George W. Bush has repeatedly identified “energy independence” and immigration reform as two of the issues most likely to attract bipartisan support following the Republican loss of control of Capitol Hill in mid-term elections last month.

“Events affecting supply or demand anywhere will affect consumers everywhere,” said the report, brought out by the Energy Security Leadership Council, a think tank. “Exposure to price shocks is a function of how much oil a nation consumes and is not significantly affected by the ratio of “domestic oil” to so-called “foreign oil”. [...]
True. Petroleum is fungible; the only reason to eliminate foreign oil dependency is to avoid enriching nations run by despots.

The chances of either Bush or Congress to get cracking? Just about nil. There is little political gain to be had in making the electorate suffer. The risk of our money going to terrorists and year after year of high oil prices doesn't seem horrible enough to motivate our leaders.
However, there is deep-seated scepticism about the willingness of the Bush administration, which has yet to endorse the theory of global warming, to take the tough steps most energy experts say are necessary to reduce America’s dependence on oil.

Last January Mr Bush declared that America was “addicted to oil”. But Mr Bush’s announcement was not followed by any significant change in energy strategy. “There is very little reason to believe that the White House will take the tough measures necessary to make this happen,” said a Washington-based energy lobbyist. “There is no appetite, say, to impose a carbon tax or for putting a floor under the price of oil that would incentivise investors to put their money into alternative energy.” [....]
Best bets for reducing our dependency: Nuclear power and alternative fuels. Forget wind and solar. Except for small scale uses by individuals, they are unreliable and wildly expensive.

Russia again playing the energy card in political disputes

As if more evidence of Russia's use of its vast energy resources (especially natural gas) for political purposes, the FT reports that Gazprom is preparing to disrupt shipments of natural gas to Belarus and Georgia:
Russia is preparing to cut off natural gas supplies to neighbouring Belarus and Georgia unless the two former Soviet republics agree by the year-end to pay much higher prices in 2007.

Coming a year after Gazprom, the Russian gas giant, briefly cut gas to Ukraine in a similar pricing dispute, such a move could provoke further international criticism that Moscow is using energy as a political tool. It might also intensify pressure on Russia to ratify the European Energy Charter treaty, which would require such disagreements to be resolved through arbitration.

Action against Belarus could affect supplies to Poland and Germany since a transit pipeline runs across the republic, though it carries only a third of the volumes running through a bigger export pipeline across Ukraine. Last January, pressure in the trans-Ukrainian pipeline to western Europe dropped as a result of what Gazprom said was Ukraine “stealing” gas for its own use.

Gazprom has made clear it is prepared to reduce price increases in exchange for stakes in the republics’ gas distribution networks. It is pushing hard for 50 per cent of Beltransgaz, the Belarusian company that also controls the export pipeline across the country, although Russia and Belarus differ sharply over its value. [....]
Where is ex-chancellor of Germany Gerhard Schroeder, Gazprom's highly paid advisor and media shill to explain how this is in Europe's best interests? I suspect he's finding that being associated with Putin's new Russia isn't what he signed up for.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Intelligent Design like whack-a-mole

Bopped on the head in one place, it reappears in another. The pernicious doctrine of Intelligent Design aka Creationism, recently handed a stinging setback in a Pennsylvannian federal court, has popped up in the UK. And is doing rather well.

The Guardian's science correspondent begins the counter attack:
'We're seeking to have intelligent design and criticisms of Darwinism taught in science lessons." That was Dr Richard Buggs, of the campaign group Truth in Science, putting the case for teaching intelligent design in British schools on the Guardian science podcast this week.

Proponents of ID claim that it is a viable scientific alternative to Darwinism. As such, they say, it deserves a place alongside Darwin in science lessons.

Who could argue with that? Darwin's theory has been around for nearly 150 years and has survived many challenges. Why not throw in ID too? Isn't education all about exposing children to ideas and letting them make up their own minds, not force-feeding them dogma?

This argument has been well used by ID's proponents in the US and it appears to be gaining ground over here. The Guardian has revealed that dozens of schools appear to be using teaching materials that promote the idea.

By framing the debate in this way, the creationists - and, yes, they are creationists - have pulled off an impressive rhetorical coup. They have cast the scientists as dogmatic, reactionary and even fundamentalist aggressors who would deny school pupils the chance to hear all sides of the debate.

In reality, ID is not a new idea at all, but one that goes back to Descartes and beyond. The Christian philosopher William Paley, in 1802, asked his readers to imagine finding a watch while walking on a heath. The intricate timepiece is so complex that we immediately assume a designer must have built it. The natural world is infinitely more complex than a mere pocket watch, so we should infer the hand of a designer here as well.

The ID movement has spun Paley's argument into more 21st-century terms - less pocket watch and more fancy molecular biology. How, they ask, can the intricate microscopic machines that propel bacteria have come about by chance? Such complexity must have originated with a designer.

It is true that complex things in nature look as if they have been designed. Darwin knew this. But the sublime truth about his theory is that it explains how complex things can come about without design. And natural selection works just as well for molecular machines as it does for eyes, flippers and wings. ID, by comparison, explains nothing. It is an intellectual dead end marked: "The designer did it." Why bother trying to understand the natural world when there is the cosy God-explanation in all-too-easy reach?

And, unlike Darwinism, the pseudo-science of ID can never be disproved. Show the creationists how the bacterial tail evolved and they will shift their argument to another complex structure which supposedly shows the hand of the creator. There is no evidence that could in principle disprove ID, so by definition it is not science.

ID was itself designed as a Trojan horse for creationism, with its origins in the Discovery Institute, a thinktank in Seattle whose stated aim is "to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God".

Even a conservative judge in Dover, Pennsylvania, saw through the sham last year when he heard a case brought by parents who objected to ID being taught in their school. "Intelligent design is a religious view, a mere re-labelling of creationism, and not a scientific theory," he wrote in his judgment.

Let's be honest: despite its scientific-sounding frills and baubles, ID is pure religion. It is a reincarnation of an old idea that Darwin dispensed with and it has no place in a science class.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Hand chopping coming to Aceh province (Indonesia)

The Indonesian government must be thinking, "what the hell have we done?" Aspects of Sharia law were recently instituted in the province (located in the island of Sumatra) as part of a peace deal. Given that Islamists will never be satisfied until they recreate 7th century Saudi Arabia, the introduction of such a barbaric punishmentcan't have been a surprise. (edited for readability)
Thieves could have their hands amputated in Indonesia's Aceh province under a proposed Islamic law that may alarm rights activists and Western governments.

The draft law was published Tuesday in an advertisement in Aceh's Serambi newspaper that was paid for by the agency responsible for implementing Islamic Shariah law in the tsunami-ravaged province, which only recently emerged from decades ofcivil war.

The advertisement called on readers to comment on the proposed law so it could be revised before being handed over to locallegislators for debate.

One article in the draft law says thieves found guilty ofstealing goods worth more than the market price of 94 grams (3ounces) of gold should have a hand amputated, a punishment stipulated in the Koran, Islam's holy book, and carried out in some Islamic countries.

The Indonesian government agreed to allow Shariah law in Aceh four years ago as part of negotiations to end the 29-year war between separatist rebels and the military. The province is slowly introducing elements of the legal code.

Last year, special Islamic courts began enforcing some of the laws, which include punishing gamblers with caning, forcing womento cover their heads in public and banning the consumption ofalcohol. [....]
After the lawlessness experienced by the province, I imagine law and order is a high priority for the people. This law should sail through. It's the subsequent laws the Islamists pass that will prove painful for the population.

Jimmy Carter: I'm being ignored

Jimmy Carter's own version of hell has descended: he's being ignored. In his opinion piece in today's Guardian (reprinted from an earlier LA Times piece), this paragraph stands out:
My new book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, is devoted to circumstances and events in Palestine and not in Israel, where democracy prevails and citizens live together and are legally guaranteed equal status. It is already possible to judge public and media reaction. Sales are brisk, and I have had interesting interviews on TV. But I have seen few news stories in major newspapers about what I have written.
Translation: the people may love me, but I want more media attention. Carter is well known for the way he pursues publicity. This must be tough to take.

Best explanation of what went wrong with the A380

Short answer: Political rivalry and the eternal desire not to be the bearer of bad news combined to delay the A380 superjumbo.

The IHT has a very long article explaining the engineering mishaps, the miscommunication between the German and French assemply plants, and most importantly, the political rivalries of the backers (hint: when dealing with examples of bureaucratic judo, it's always good to start your search with France--Cherchez la France).
[...] How this disaster occurred at the company that once symbolized European integration and competitiveness — Airbus's relentless but now interrupted rise against its U.S. archrival, Boeing, had been a point of European Union pride since the 1990s — is a story of hubris, haste, inattention and obfuscation.

Personal and cultural rivalries, at the very top level and below, got in the way of efficiency and openness. Computers in Toulouse and Hamburg proved incompatible. An overambitious production timetable for the superjumbo jet, with its super-size technical challenges, discouraged dissent that would cause postponements. A delay first set at six months grew to a devastating two years. [...]

The organization of EADS [parent company of Airbus], created in the summer of 2000, was particularly labyrinthine, an attempt to accommodate French and German national sensibilities rather than devise the most coherent way to build a very big plane.

Its establishment followed months of negotiations aimed at balancing management control between the two largest shareholder groups: DaimlerChrysler, which represented German interests, and a French holding company jointly owned by the French government and the media-to-missiles conglomerate, Lagardère. [...
Unintended, but inevitable consequences followed:
Late in the summer of 2004, Hertrich, the German co-chief executive of EADS, began informing colleagues that he planned to retire when his term ended in June of 2005. Forgeard, insiders said, saw an opportunity to wrest back some of the independence he had lost four years earlier with the creation of EADS.

Supported by Chirac, whom he served as a military adviser from 1986 to 1988, Forgeard campaigned to streamline the hydra-headed EADS management structure and argued that as chief of the group's most profitable division, he was best qualified to assume the role of sole EADS chief executive.

"Forgeard had one grand ambition for the company and that was that EADS become a major aerospace and defense group to rival Boeing," said Knepper of Force Ouvrière. "All his efforts were aimed at getting to the top of EADS and imposing this strategic vision." [...]
Had Forgeard won this battle, EADS would now be little more than a French fief.
But getting to the top would also involve unseating Hertrich's French counterpart, Camus. To that end, Forgeard sought a merger of EADS with the French military electronics group Thales — an effort that ultimately foundered in late 2004 in the face of staunch German opposition to the added weight the deal would give the French in EADS.

By the time of the A380's extravagant introduction in January of 2005, a bitter Camus had agreed to step down and make way for Forgeard. Executives at DaimlerChrysler, however, had successfully killed the idea of giving Forgeard sole executive control of the group. They nominated Thomas Enders, a DaimlerChrysler Aerospace executive and former German defense ministry aide, to succeed Hertrich.

In March 2005 EADS formally announced the appointments of Enders and Forgeard. Meanwhile, the question of who would replace Forgeard as Airbus chief executive led to a new power struggle between Forgeard, who backed a Frenchman, Gerard Blanc, and executives at DaimlerChrysler, who favored the German chief operating officer of Airbus, Gustav Humbert. [...]
The upshot of this political wrangling? Executives took their eye off the goal of building the A380.
A much-lauded pan-European industrial process was in complete breakdown, an apt enough metaphor for the wider process of European integration that was collapsing at the same time with the rejection of a much-heralded proposed EU constitution. [...]
There was also the question of whether a superjumbo would sell enough to become profitable. Boeing bet on 787 Dreamliner, and its promise of bringing people directly to their destination. Airbus felt that the historical hub and spoke model would prevail. In the end, both are correct; or a t least correct enough to profit from their planes, although EADS will have to wait quite a bit longer.
Today, 17 superjumbos stand parked in various stages of completion at the Airbus assembly lines in Toulouse and Hamburg, where local governments have invested nearly €1 billion on facilities dedicated to the A380. Airbus now says it expects to deliver just one of the planes next year, to Singapore Airlines. The company is not likely to recoup the A380's $13 billion in development costs before 2017. [...]
The engineering aspect may be soon resolved, but EADS has other worries. Aside from pleasing their customers, EADS must please their political masters in Paris, Berlin, Madrid, and increasingly, Moscow.
There are also thorny political negotiations to come with labor unions and suppliers as Airbus implements an aggressive program to cut costs. [....]
Neither Paris nor Berlin wants to lose jobs when it comes time to outsource more production, nor is the funding method of the A350 settled. France wants to raise capital by issuing more stock (and buying them up to increase its leverage), while Germany seeks to issue bonds (which do not dilute the voting value of their stocks). The political maneuvering will go on so long as Airbus has political value.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Please, Al Gore: come to Switzerland

"No, I said two super-sized Big Mac meals. Do I look as if one would suffice?" (Photo from Chris Abraham's blog Because the medium is the message)

The ski season in Europe is imperiled. Several races have been cancelled or postponed. The Pontifex Maximus of global warming, Al Gore is also the nearest thing we have to a weather god. His mere arrival can send temperatures plummeting. Although he has used up several lifetime supplies of carbon credits jetting around to bore us into a non fossil-burning coma, he is also tirelessly working at lowering local temps wherever he lands, happy to do his bit.

Could his uncanny ability to decrease temps be related to his increasing ability to cast a shadow?

Whatever the reason, we need him here in Switzerland like polar bears need to learn to swim (urgently!).

Relaxing on a Monday night with a cigar and good wine

I don't blog about personal things very often, but tonight was very nice, and I'm feeling a bit expansive.

I took my oldest daughter to her riding lesson, and while there I enjoyed a Montecristo No. 2 smoke. It was wrapped beutifully and drew like a dream. She rode wonderfully, I nearly finished the cigar, and we had a good discussion about school and riding on the drive home. For dinner we opened a bottle of Monthelie (2001)--a lovely dry white wine from the Cote de Beaune region of Burgundy (while known for its reds, Monthelie also produces outstanding whiles from the chardonnay grape). Very pleasant. The only sad aspect: the cigar box is nearly empty; I'm down to the last one. Fortunately Cuban cigars are not verboten in Switzerland, so I'll be able to buy more.

In a nutshell: Why Turkey won't get into the EU

A couple of paragraphs at the end of a BBC article on the EU considering sanctioning Turkey over its treatment of Cyprus explains in a nutshell why the EU won't expand across the Bosphorus:
[W]hen it was decided that Cyprus could join the EU, the presumption amongst EU policy-makers was that it would join as a united island, and that the Turkish-sponsored breakaway north would be subsumed into some kind of confederal hole.

But, instead, the south rejected a reunification plan and joined the EU alone - and has subsequently used its veto power to block and delay negotiations with Turkey.

Our correspondent says that partly because of the baggage of history and partly because it feels the north has not been rewarded for agreeing to the reunification plan, Turkey has not budged over recognising the south, and so one of the EU's most ambitious enlargement projects is now at risk.

He adds that EU members that were never keen about taking on Turkey are only too happy to let Cyprus bring the project crashing down.
True. The only questions are when the negotiations are put on hold as a face saving measure, and who walks away first. My guess is that soon after the new year Turkey will have had enough of being humiliated and fold its tent.

The possibility of Turkey agreeing to the EU's terms remains, and it would be delicious to watch Brussels have its bluff called, but I don't see it happening. Turkey knows that there are any number of concerns Brussels could raise in order to drag out the negotiations.

Swiss return Nigerian money, it disappears

After taking great care to safeguard Nigerian money deposited in Switzerland by Nigeria's strongman Abacha, the Swiss recently returned it to the Nigerian government. Nobody should be surprised to learn that the money now cannot be accounted for.
The Nigerian ambassador to Switzerland has dismissed allegations that funds stolen by former dictator Sani Abacha were misappropriated.

Under an agreement between the Swiss and Nigerian governments the funds must go to health and education projects, as well as infrastructure development.

"The Nigerian government is pleased with the way the money was used," said Ambassador Joseph Ubaka Ayalogu on Friday in the Swiss capital, Bern.

He was responding to reports, based on information by unnamed Swiss sources, that part of the funds handed back by Switzerland had vanished.

About $700 million (SFr836 million) was frozen in Swiss bank accounts in 1999 before judges ruled the money should be returned to the Nigerian government. [...]

The suspicions of misappropriation were backed by a Swiss non-governmental organisation. It said an investigation by a Nigerian NGO had shown that the restitution had not gone as planned. [....]

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Tony Blair: Multi-culti is finished

Just as only Nixon could have gone to China, only the leader of Britain's Labour party could proclaim the end of multiculturism.

Bravo, Tony.
Tony Blair formally declared Britain's multicultural experiment over yesterday as he told immigrants they had ''a duty" to integrate with the mainstream of society.

Tony Blair yesterday: 'We don't want the hate-mongers'

In a speech that overturned more than three decades of Labour support for the idea, he set out a series of requirements that were now expected from ethnic minority groups if they wished to call themselves British.

These included "equality of respect" - especially better treatment of women by Muslim men - allegiance to the rule of law and a command of English.

If outsiders wishing to settle in Britain were not prepared to conform to the virtues of tolerance then they should stay away. He added: "Conform to it; or don't come here. We don't want the hate-mongers, whatever their race, religion or creed.

"If you come here lawfully, we welcome you. If you are permitted to stay here permanently, you become an equal member of our community and become one of us. The right to be different. The duty to integrate. That is what being British means."

Mr Blair's volte face - just eight years ago he championed multiculturalism - was the culmination of a long Labour retreat from the cause. [...]

Mr Blair, speaking in Downing Street, said the diversity of cultures in Britain should still be celebrated but the tone of his speech was against the ideology that became known as multiculturalism.

"The right to be in a multicultural society was always implicitly balanced by a duty to integrate, to be part of Britain, to be British and Asian, British and black, British and white," he said [....]
Well, that last bit is rewriting history, but it's about time the Brits realized their experiment was a failure.

Doubtless multi-culti will struggle on. After all it is the latest "ism" beloved of the Left. And few things bring out the fighting nature of liberals more than attacks on their beliefs (remember how long the USSR was defended?).

Saw the article first on Don Surber's fine blog.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Saturday quick links

Sharia law makes life in Aceh province (Indonesia) tough.
Aceh is the only Indonesian province allowed to apply Sharia, or Islamic, law.

But with the province preparing for its first election since last year's peace deal ended years of separatist violence, the Sharia police's role has become increasinglycontroversial.

As the truck moves through the early evening traffic, Yustina explains the rules.

"We just patrol around," she said. "We look for anyone not wearing proper Islamic dress, or any couples who are hanging out together without being married. We usually head down towards the beach - there's where lots of people hang out."

It does not take long to find their first target - a couple sitting in a parked car, at the side of the road.

One by one, the team surrounds them. A discussion develops and after a few minutes the couple drive off.

"We reminded them that in Aceh you have Sharia Law now and you're not allowed to do this," the leader of the patrol said, "even though they were actually husband and wife. This is a public place and it stirs up socially jealousy - people don't know they're husband and wife, so they're not allowed to do it."

In fact the Sharia police should not be targeting married couples at all. Their brief is quite specific - to check for alcohol and gambling, for anyone not conforming to the Islamic dress codes and for signs of sexual contact between unmarried couples. [...]

Across town, chief police investigator Suedi Husen said that despite the tensions, his officers broadly welcome the support from the Sharia police - especially as the peace agreement has restricted the number of regular police allowed to operate in Aceh.

But he said there was a need for more training to ensure the Sharia patrols keep within the remit of their authority.

"There are several people in that organisation who over-react to the problems they find. But the dividing line is clear, it's been kept that way - the Sharia police cannot act on violations." But plans for the Sharia police are focused less on ensuring they work within their authority than on expanding it. The province is currently rolling out a programme giving them new powers of investigation. [....]
People love having power over others. Religion makes it easy to get that power, and Islam, being especially censorious gives them wonderful powers to meddle. Today Aceh, tomorrow Sumatra, and the day after, Indonesia.

Zimbabwe: more screwed than ever, thanks to Mugabe.
[...] More than 63 percent of the rural population, and 53 percent of the urban population, couldn’t meet "basic food and non-food requirements" in 2003, the last year for which figures were available, and things have gotten far worse since. Malnutrition among children is up 35 percent, people without access to health care is up 35 percent, H.I.V./AIDS afflicts 18.1 percent of the population, unemployment is over 70 percent, life expectancy is down to 36.

Mr. Mugabe’s government blames sanctions, weather, former colonial rule, market conditions. Yet the real culprit is Mr. Mugabe, who has run Zimbabwe since 1980. Now 82, the president is a master at the blame game, accusing the West of colonialism and racism when it criticizes his scheme to redistribute white-owned commercial farms among blacks, or the cruel expulsion of 750,000 slum dwellers from cities, or whatever else he does.

There’s not much the West can do; more sanctions would only bring more suffering. But Africans could make a difference, if they joined in condemning Mr. Mugabe. For understandable reasons, African leaders have been reluctant to publicly criticize fellow Africans. But as Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, declared yesterday, “human rights are perhaps more in need of protection in Africa than in any other continent.”

The suffering Zimbabwean people are in desperate need of protection, the sooner the better.
The hopelessness of the Zimbabwean people is complete. The west won't get involved, and Africa has a strict hands-off policy (born of colonialism, but maintained because it suits the corrupt leadership so much of Africa is lumbered with).

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Forced and arranged marriages a real problem in Switzerland

I don't know about the methodology involved in obtaining the data, but if it bears up under scrutiny, then something is rotten in Switzerland:
Thousands of women trapped in forced marriages in Switzerland are suffering severe mental and physical abuse, say the authors of the first Swiss study into the practice.

The charity Surgir (Rise), which carried out the survey, is now calling on the government to draw up a national strategy to aid victims.

Announcing the findings in Geneva on Wednesday, Jacqueline Thibault, the organisation's president, described the scale of the problem as "enormous".

She added that many victims were too afraid to escape forced marriages for fear of reprisals, including so-called "honour killings".

"The study is going to be presented to the authorities and then they will have to decide what action to take," Thibault told swissinfo. "Right now there is no strategy in Switzerland concerning forced marriages." [...]

Thibault said awareness was growing slowly and she drew some comfort from a recent court case in which a 26-year-old Pakistani man was jailed for 18 years after battering his wife to death with a hammer.
That's a pretty long sentence for Switzerland's judicial system.
The 21-year-old woman, who had lived in Switzerland since the age of three and who held a Swiss passport, had asked for a divorce after only four months of their arranged marriage.

Thibault said the sentence sent out a strong message that this type of "honour crime" would not be tolerated.

According to the study, those forced into marriage tend to come from eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, North and sub-Saharan Africa. [...]

The study found that in extreme cases rape was used as a means of pressuring women into marriage. Almost all victims said they had been threatened with death.

Those who try to break free face a number of obstacles: language barrier, severing of family ties, lack of money and not knowing where to turn to. Surgir says there is only one centre specialising in forced marriages in Switzerland – the Mädchenhaus in Zurich. It has room for just seven women. [...]

The Federal Justice Office said the cabinet was preparing a report to be presented to parliament on existing criminal and civil sanctions against forced or arranged marriages involving Swiss residents.

Boeing 747 cutting into A380 sales

The repercussions from the A380 delay are starting to bite. First FedEx cancelled its order for 10 cargo planes, now comes this report noting that Boeing's venerable 747 is capturing sales from the A380. Worse for Airbus, it's a German company doing the buying:
[...] The 747 "was on a heart-lung machine," recalled Howard Rubel, an aviation analyst at Jeffries. "It looked like Boeing was about to shut it down."

But a funny thing happened to the 747 on the way to the graveyard: It found a new tailwind — and a strong one at that.

Today, orders are stacking up for the new 747-8, which Boeing introduced in November 2005. It now has 73 firm orders.

Boeing got its latest lift Wednesday, when Lufthansa, the big German carrier, announced that it was ordering 20 of the 747-8 aircraft and said that it would take options to buy 20 more as it expanded its fleet. Lufthansa also said that it would buy seven Airbus A340- 600 planes.The order for Boeing's new "Intercontinental" passenger model was made as the Airbus A380 has stumbled, falling two years behind on its delivery schedule after persistent wiring problems and a management shakeup at the company.

The order was important not only for its cash value of about $5.5 billion — it was also a vote of confidence from a prestigious European carrier. [...]
The sale led to this sour grapes comment from Airbus:
"There is only so much you can do with a plane," McArtor [chairman of Airbus North America] added. "But it is irritating. Boeing is getting orders only because of our inability to meet demand. Had we not stumbled with the A380, there would not be orders like the Lufthansa order for the 747-800." [....]
Right. It's called doing business. If you can't please your customers, somebody else will. As to that "inability to meet demand" statement? Demand for the A380 is below expectations. The delay is due to manufacturing glitches.

Also from the aircraft wars: Airbus sees the need to lower it's costs. Workers in Germany and France can't be pleased; although the deal isn't for a production facility, that can't be far behind, and the workers know it.
Airbus on Thursday said it plans to invest some US$1 billion in India, setting up an engineering facility and a pilot training school.

The European airplane maker had committed to investing in India as part of a deal with the government, which is purchasing 43 Airbus aircraft for the state-run Indian Airlines in a deal valued at US$2.25 billion (€1.7 billion). [...]

Some US$300 million (€2.25 million) is to be invested in a pilot training center and another US$250 million (€187 million) in an engineering center, both in the southern city of Bangalore. [....]

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The two faces of Arab intellectualism

From signandsight comes this article--written by an Arab intellectual--about Arab intellectuals. It's not very flattering. Apparently, the leftist injunction to speak truth to power goes largely unheeded in the Arab and Muslim worlds (internal links in the original):
[...] Many of them are characterised by a carefully masked double standard. In their home countries they present themselves as guardians of traditional Arab values, but when writing in other languages for foreign audiences they express very different, more cosmopolitan views.

The Arab intellectual behaves like a despotic father. No internal family matter may be exposed to the outside world; regardless of what the reality may be, a façade of unbroken unity must be maintained. This is especially evident with respect to such matters as relations with Israel, the scandal over the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the attacks of 9/11, the Danish cartoons of Muhammad, or the recent war in Lebanon. In private talks with such people, one hears opinions that are radically different from what they publish in the newspapers the next day. It is as if the views propounded in the Arab media are not based on independent thinking, but formulated as opportunistic statements for public consumption.

Gamal al-Ghitani, the Egyptian novelist who is also editor-in-chief of the weekly literary journal Akhbar al-Adab, is notably restrained when commenting about such crimes against humanity as have been (and continue to be) committed in Rwanda, Darfour and Iraq. But when the affair of the Danish cartoons was at its height in February of this year, he sounded like some preacher at a mosque and called for a boycott of Danish products. When the Danes finally proffered an apology, he interpreted it as being motivated by fear for sales of Danish cheese rather than as an acknowledgement of respect for Islam.

Or take the famous poet Adonis: In the West he is seen as a Syrian exile who sharply criticises Islamism and the state of the Arab world. But his statements and his silences in recent decades present a completely different picture. Upon the death of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1970, the Arab masses went into profound mourning – and Adonis lamented his passing with a poem. This prominent exile has had nothing to say about the victims of the Syrian regime over the past four decades. But he published another old-fashioned panegyric to the victory of the Iranian Revolution in 1978, in which he wrote: "I shall sing for Qom, that it may transform itself in my ecstasy / Into a raging conflagration which surrounds the Gulf / The people of Iran write to the West: / Your visage, O West, is crumbling / Your face, O West, has died."

The Lebanese poet and journalist Abbas Beydoun is a cultural correspondent for the Lebanese daily as-Safir. He is also a frequent guest commentator for a number of German newspapers. Interestingly enough, those of his articles which appear in German differ markedly from his pieces in Arabic. In Der Tagespiegel of July 26, 2006 and in Die Zeit of July 27, for example, he criticised Hizbullah's solo attack and confrontation with Israel, going so far as to describe it as a military putsch. He also emphasised that the majority of Lebanese want peaceful development in their country. But in the edition of as-Safir dated July 28, we find him writing, in cliche-ridden rhetoric, about Hizbullah's great deeds, which, he stated, had generated respect even among the party's sceptics and critics: "Regardless of the former Arab position, Hizbullah has erased a guilt, and corrected the world's memory, in order to compensate for Arab frustration and expunge a sense of shame."

Many Arab writers and publishers regard themselves as secular, enlightened and critical – in other words, as intellectuals who stand up for freedom of speech and, of course, for human rights. Two months after the 9/11 attacks, during an Arab book fair, a rumour suddenly made the rounds that an aircraft had crashed into a high-rise building in Italy. Many people immediately thought this was a repeat of the previous attacks on America. Numerous publishers and editors shouted Allahu akbar (God is great) and welcomed the presumed act, which turned out never to have happened at all. Some of these intellectuals are welcome guests at conferences on Euro-Arab dialogue. But I wonder about the value of such events, when some participants lack all credibility and the emphasis is on mere politeness and flattery.
The common theme is tribalism; no one other than the members of the tribe is permitted to criticise the tribe. Additionally, the intellectuals seem to be of the opinion that before Arab and Muslim lands change, the West must change. Thanks to multi-culturism, their waiting game has paid dividends.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Frenchwoman Ségolène Royal and Hillary Clinton comparison

A comparison of France's Socialist party presidential candidate Royal, and expected Democratic party presidential candidate Clinton shows how different they are, with Clinton's appeal based on her politics, and Royal's coming from her gender.

Royal is hoping for some face time with Hillary later this year in order to burnish her international status:
[...] In seeking to pair up with Clinton, Royal gains ground on the obvious association of two women striving for leadership. But she faces trouble on more probing comparisons.

The reality is, whether Americans like or detest the idea of Hillary Clinton as a future president, it is more a matter of her politics than her status as a woman. But in France, the foundation of Royal's popularity is her being a woman: Polls show that's her single most appealing attribute.

For Royal, this means that the tangible content of her campaign or its absence will be the biggest variable in determining her chances. While Clinton is widely regarded as a politician whose strength is based on substance and clear positions, Royal's success beyond gender has been largely linked to her appearance of modernity and talking about modernizing a country on the decline.

This is while determinedly steering clear of a specific, far-reaching plan for economic and social measures. Indeed, Ségolène is stuck with her party's leftist electoral platform, denounced by the right as a blueprint from the 1970s.

Hillary, meanwhile, has cast herself as a centrist, convinced that the Democratic congressional election victory in November was one for the middle and that this is the only path to a Democratic presidency in 2008.

Here's a Clinton who has sponsored an anti-flag-burning constitutional amendment and now says the Democrats "are ready to roll up our sleeves and work with our Republican counterparts. Our country works best when we work from the vital, dynamic center."

And here's Royal who has summed up her view of outreach from the left by saying, "The capitalists have to be frightened. There's no alternative."

Royal's biggest problem for Clinton, and the place where comparisons with her become invidious, comes in the Frenchwoman's core statement about America's nature as an international political incorrigible.

Unlike her choice over the weekend in Beirut to back off from saying she shared "the analysis of the role of the United States" contained in a Hezbollah man's description of the "American administration's unlimited lunacy," Royal has never withdrawn a more official foreign policy declaration on America's incapacity for change.

"Make no mistake," she told an international group in October, "a less conservative government could succeed Bush and dialogue with the United States might be easier. But it's in the nature of a solitary power without a counterweight to make unilateral decisions and be tempted by the use of force."

Europe, Royal said, "is the single peaceful power capable of representing an alternative to American hyperpower." [....]
They do, however, have some things in common, like their respective excuses when terrorists and their supporters behave badly in their prescence.

First Hillary (emphasis supplied):
Mrs. Clinton fueled these lingering doubts in November 1999 when she kissed Yasser Arafat's wife, Suha, immediately after Mrs. Arafat delivered a speech accusing Israel of murdering Arab children — with poison gas, no less. Mrs. Clinton said she didnot understand the simultaneous translation of Mrs. Arafat's Arabic remarks. In any case, why the smooch? Given the PLO's legacy of violence, wouldn't a handshake have sufficed?
Now Royal (emphasis supplied)
In Lebanon, Royal failed to immediately react when a Hezbollah lawmaker with whom she met Friday compared Israel's former occupation of Lebanon to that of the Nazis in France during World War II.

The next day, as criticism of her mounted, Royal insisted that she simply had not heard the remark, made in Arabic and translated for French reporters covering her trip. Royal, who had a different translator, said she would have left the meeting in protest if she had heard. The comments, she said, were "unacceptable, abominable and hateful."
Yeah, the solidarity thing with terrorists is tough to pull off--especially when terrorists insist on behaving like, well, terrorists.

Lebanon now the play toy of Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia

Simon Tisdall of The Guardian (who occasionally gets things right) notes that Lebanon is quickly turning into a game board where international and regional powers are content to play:
[...] A Hizbullah political success would plainly complement the group's self-proclaimed military successes of August. And like Israel, the US and Britain see the potential "loss" of Lebanon as a direct gain not only for Syria and its favourite militia, but more worryingly, for Iran. This places the battle for Beirut squarely in the wider context of a regional power struggle with an increasingly confident Tehran.

"I have no doubt that if this [Lebanese] government loses power and there is a shift there, the northern front might heat up again and there could be even more escalation than there was this year," Aharon Zeevi-Farkash, a former head of military intelligence, told Israel Army Radio. "If the Siniora government falls, it means Lebanon will be controlled by the long arm of Iran," said an Israeli cabinet minister, Meir Sheetrit.

No less nervous about Shia Iran's supposedly malign spreading influence are Sunni-led regimes in Cairo, Amman and Riyadh. Saudi Arabia's particular worries were highlighted recently by a one-stop visit by Dick Cheney. The US vice-president has to watch his health. He rarely travels. But he went all the way to Riyadh to hear Saudi concerns about Iran's activities in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and the Gulf.

For all his trouble, Mr Cheney seems to have come away with a polite flea in his ear. A Saudi statement said US policies should be "in accord with the region's actual condition and its historical equilibrium". Translated from diplomat-speak, that was a call for greater White House responsibility. And that in turn meant, for instance, that any post-Baker review attempt to cut and run in Iraq, or "cut and walk" as Washington wags are now terming the proposed withdrawal strategy, should be firmly resisted.

Riyadh is indirectly confronting Tehran in Palestine, where it supports President Mahmoud Abbas against the Iranian-backed Hamas, and in Lebanon, where it is bankrolling the Siniora government.
Tisdall also offers this bit of alarming news: regional strains are nearing the breaking point, with the Suadi's ready to support their co-religionists in Iraq with weapons and money.
But the key battleground is Iraq. The Saudis fear that a failure of the US there would confirm the country's domination by Iran, jeopardise the survival of Iraq's Sunni minority and upset political and religious power balances along the entire western Gulf littoral. "Since America came into Iraq uninvited, it should not leave uninvited," a Saudi government adviser, Nawaf Obaid, told the Washington Post, quoting Prince Turki al-Faisal. "If it does, one of the first consequences will be a massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shia militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis."

Saudi Arabia was ready, if need be, to provide weapons and financial support to Sunnis, as Iran did to the Shias, he added. It could even massively expand oil production to deflate world prices and ruin Iran's oil-based economy.

Iran says Saudi concerns are misplaced. Tehran has no grand regional imperialist design, a government official said. "The Saudis have nothing to fear from Iran. We should work together with them. What we want is an end to western interference in Iraq, in Lebanon, in all these places. The west must accept that regional problems should be solved by regional players."
Translation: Iran has no problems keeping the pot bubbling until it is given more regional power.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Russia is a dangerous "ally" for Europe

Russia has slipped back into a familiar guise: A strong leader at the top firmly grasping the organs of power (although how much influence is wielded by the oligarchs is an open question). Europe has mistakenly hitched its energy future to Putin and Russia, signing contracts which places Europe at Russia's mercy. Not that I imagine Putin would be so crude as to turn off the taps and demand to be obeyed, but it is possible to see Russia closing a section of pipeline for "maintenence" during periods of strife.

Russia is very much behaving as it did during the cold war. Any criticism is met with howls of displeasure, no matter how deserved the criticism may be.
Russia, too, is angry – not over Mr Litvinenko's death, but over the fact that the British did not suppress his deathbed tirade against Vladimir Putin, the man he named as his killer. It is possible to see Mr Putin's point: being accused of murder is doubtless unpleasant. But Russia's protest to the Foreign Office demonstrated a lack of understanding of democratic norms that is deeply worrying.

As Liam Fox, the Shadow Defence Secretary, told this newspaper yesterday, "it's symptomatic of a state that does not understand any longer the concept of free speech". Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, the former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, was more succinct: she called the protest "absolute bloody cheek".

The normal reaction of a state entangled in such an affair would be to offer any assistance it could to get to the bottom of it. But Russia's response, irrespective of the question of its guilt, demonstrates a different approach: that of a country apparently determined to enter into a one-way relationship with the outside world.

Moscow is happy to reap the benefits of selling its energy to Western markets, of reaching accords with the European Union, and of being accepted into the World Trade Organisation, vetoes from its former satellites permitting. But as soon as it is pointed out that Russia is sliding towards autocracy, that its record of human rights is not up to standard – in fact, as soon as any substantive criticism is made – the response is truculence, belligerence and outrage.

The calculation in the Kremlin is that our need for Russian gas will outweigh our moral scruples over such behaviour. We trust this will not be so. But the further Mr Putin and his officials move away from the principles of accountability and open government, the worse things get for Westerners and Russians alike.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Funding set for Airbus A350

The BBC has the latest info on the financial package put together to fund the A350. The basics: it's worth about $13 billion, but whether this will be raised by the issuance of stocks (France's goal) or through a bond offering (Germany's hope) is yet unclear.

The FT website has a fuller story, but one needs to be a subscriber.

In any case, this is something that needs to be built. The market for these midsized planes will be enormous; Airbus can not afford to concede the market to Boeing's excellent 777 and 787 series.

The details of funding the A350 should be out today or this weekend. I think some sort of compromise will take care of raising the money. Germany very much wants to keep the balance of stock ownership stable, while France wants to increase its percentage. Must make for a wonderfully tense board meeting and news conference.

My new investment strategy: buy beer stocks

Global warming got you down? Don't mope, drink a beer. You'll feel better and more importantly, you'll help put my two kids through college if Al Gore is right and we're burning up the planet. The fine summer England just had led to an increase in pub visits and brewers report handsome profits.
Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries has reported a 13.2% rise in profit, as it benefited from the fine summer weather and football World Cup-related trade.
All that extra heat floating around is going to make for some thirsty folk. If the Islamists don't take over, it means lots of refreshing beer will be sold.

It's science Friday

Antiquity science Friday, that is. Two neat stories on the how and why of ancient pyramids and Stonehenge, respectively, demonstrate thinking outside of the box.

First up, were some of the pyramid's stones poured concrete, rather than quarried limestone?:
The Ancient Egyptians built their great Pyramids by pouring concrete into blocks high on the site rather than hauling up giant stones, according to a new Franco-American study.

The research, by materials scientists from national institutions, adds fuel to a theory that the pharaohs’ craftsmen had enough skill and materials at hand to cast the two-tonne limestone blocks that dress the Cheops and other Pyramids.

Despite mounting support from scientists, Egyptologists have rejected the concrete claim, first made in the late 1970s by Joseph Davidovits, a French chemist. [...]

Until recently it was hard for geologists to distinguish between natural limestone and the kind that would have been made by reconstituting liquefied lime.

But according to Professor Gilles Hug, of the French National Aerospace Research Agency (Onera), and Professor Michel Barsoum, of Drexel University in Philadelphia, the covering of the great Pyramids at Giza consists of two types of stone: one from the quarries and one man-made. “There’s no way around it. The chemistry is well and truly different,” Professor Hug told Science et Vie magazine. Their study is being published this month in the Journal of the American Ceramic Society.

The pair used X-rays, a plasma torch and electron microscopes to compare small fragments from pyramids with stone from the Toura and Maadi quarries.

They found “traces of a rapid chemical reaction which did not allow natural crystalisation . . . The reaction would be inexplicable if the stones were quarried, but perfectly comprehensible if one accepts that they were cast like concrete.” [...]

The concrete theorists also point out differences in density of the pyramid stones, which have a higher mass near the bottom and bubbles near the top, like old-style cement blocks.

Opponents of the theory dispute the scientific evidence. They also say that the diverse shapes of the stones show that moulds were not used. They add that a huge amount of limestone chalk and burnt wood would have been needed to make the concrete, while the Egyptians had the manpower to hoist all the natural stone they wanted.

The concrete theorists say that they will be unable to prove their theory conclusively until the Egyptian authorities give them access to substantial samples.
Second is the idea that some of the blocks making up Stonehenge, which came from Wales, were used because the ancients associated them with strong healing powers. In essence, it is argued, Stonehenge was a early Lourdes: where the faithful come to be healed.
The origin of Stonehenge is British archaeology's oldest unsolved mystery, its Fermat's last theorem. How the four-ton bluestones were brought to Salisbury Plain from the Preseli hills of south Wales has been answered by engineers, but nobody has found out why.

Why go to the colossal expense of such transportation, when Stonehenge's sandstone monoliths were dragged from down the road at Marlborough? What was so special about the bluestones? [...]

The answer had to lie in Preseli itself, in the hills of Carn Menyn and Carn Goedog where Stonehenge's dolerite and rhyolite bluestones were quarried. [...]

What is most remarkable about Preseli is the plethora of springs on the hillside. Many "holy wells" have been ascribed miraculous healing powers throughout history. But Preseli's are remarkable for their number and for the dolmens, enclosures and barrows surrounding the area. More remarkable still, in front of each are bluestones, rearranged and decorated as if to create an altar and a pool. This was clearly a place of prehistoric pilgrimage, and the bluestones were thought to hold its magic.

By the agrarian revolution of the third millennium BC Stonehenge was already an important site, but its extension about 2300BC was clearly intended by its guardians to make it a major pilgrimage attraction. This needed some sensational draw, and what could be more sensational than a henge composed of the fabled Preseli bluestones, fount of a hundred holy wells? It was worth any Olympian expense. [...]

Stonehenge was distinct among British henges - in its scale and spacious setting, and in the exceptional number of burial mounds round it. [...] True its architecture is dominated by astronomical calculations, implying a priesthood and time-related rituals. But this would have meant nothing to ordinary mortals. What drew them to Stonehenge from across Europe must have been specific, a reputation for relief from disease and disability. [...]

The curative properties in wells relate, if at all, to their cleanliness and chemical composition. To the best of my knowledge there has been no analysis of Preseli's water to see if it has any "spa" components such as iron salts. Either way, moving the bluestones was a massive leap of medical faith. But it was one that clearly worked. As [Professor and author] Darvill points out, the burial mounds round Stonehenge are not just unprecedented in their number but also in the deformities of their inmates.

I find this theory convincing. [...] In the third millennium BC - as in the third AD - the rich would go anywhere and believe any nonsense if they thought it might win them health and longevity. [...] Stonehenge's appeal was not religious. It answered to the simplest of human cravings, the relief of pain and the postponement of death. [....]