Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mumbai and celebrity

Not sure this is right, but it is thought provoking:
Mumbai could represent something rather different in the history of terrorism, and possibly something far more disturbing even than global jihad. Perhaps we have come to the point where casually self-radicalised, sociopathic individuals can form a loose organisation, acquire sufficient weapons and equipment for a few thousand dollars, make a basic plan of action and indulge in a violent expression of their generalised disaffection and anomie.
Certainly, though, the attacks in Mumbai got vastly more attention in UK media (and I guess elsewhere internationally) than, for example the riots in Nigeria in which, it appears, many more people died.

1 Dec: Steve Coll

4 Dec: Armchair Generalist

5 Dec: Juan Cole

Saturday, November 29, 2008


"Britain's retention of a nuclear deterrent would be ridiculous if we were all lighting our cigars with tenners", says Marina Hyde. Hard to see the EU as a whole giving up (French) nukes, though.

Values voters

Suddenly...the doors shattered, and the shrieking mob surged through in a blind rush for holiday bargains. One worker, Jdimytai Damour, 34, was thrown back onto the black linoleum tiles and trampled in the stampede that streamed over and around him.
-- Wal-Mart Employee Trampled to Death

Friday, November 28, 2008



An analysis by Sumantra Bose.

'The lexicon of totalitarianism'

Three sentences for four years of a young Afghan’s life, written in language Orwell would have recognized.
-- Roger Cohen on what Obama is putting behind


Both the crisis of 1997-98 and the bursting of the dot-com bubble probably had the perverse effect of making both investors and public officials more, not less, complacent. Because neither crisis quite lived up to our worst fears, because neither brought about another Great Depression, investors came to believe that Mr. Greenspan had the magical power to solve all problems — and so, one suspects, did Mr. Greenspan himself, who opposed all proposals for prudential regulation of the financial system.
-- Paul Krugman

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Almost sensible

On the face of it, the IPPR's recommendations for a change in direction of U.K. foreign policy look promising.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The lower depths

At 13, walking to school, Saviano saw a car with a man’s legs sticking out of the front side-window. He had been turned upside down by the force of machine-gun bullets. When the police pulled the dead man out, an erection was poking through his torn clothes. The young Saviano stared, fascinated...

It seems that deeper even than the scandal of the Camorra, for Saviano, is the scandal of death itself. ‘Having seen dozens of murdered men, spattered with blood and dirt, giving off disgusting smells, corpses met by onlookers with curiosity or professional indifference, or kicked aside like toxic waste or wept over in desperation, I have grasped only one thing for sure, an idea so basic it seems dumb: death stinks.’
-- Tim Parks reviews Gomorrah: Italy’s Other Mafia by Roberto Saviano

Ice music

They make ice in factories that is perfect. It's crystal clear, no air bubbles, just perfect; but it's dead: it has no sound.
-- Terje Isungset

Sunday, November 23, 2008

End Afghan War '4'

"Afghanistan does not matter as much as Barack Obama thinks", argues Rory Stewart.

"Frankly, we can carry on killing the enemy and they can carry on trying to kill us for as long as they like, but we're not achieving anything", says Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Darby.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

“Carbon tax with 100 percent dividend”- Hansen

A “carbon tax with 100 percent dividend” is required for reversing the growth of atmospheric CO2. The tax, applied to oil, gas and coal at the mine or port of entry, is the fairest and most effective way to reduce emissions and transition to the post fossil fuel era.
-- from Tell Barack Obama the Truth – The Whole Truth by James Hansen.

He says "Criticisms are welcomed."

24 Nov: Andy Revkin quizzes Joe Romm's response

Friday, November 21, 2008

The future of journalism

Led by China, suggests James Fallows. Very wry.

But the 'real' story may be cyber espionage

What's going on here?

Andrew Sullivan is shocked by reports that Brennan is still Obama's front-runner pick to head the CIA. But could something be going on here a little like what may be his tactic with Hillary Clinton, in whose likely appointment Hendrik Hertzberg sees a possible plus?

That is, get the guys inside the tent who have authority with constituencies you don't and use/work with them to do the right thing (drop torture, push for peace in Israel/Palestine etc.)? I don't know.

P.S. 22 Nov: A NYT analysis on the 'tilt to the center'.

P.S. 25 Nov: George Packer.

45 years

for Zarganar

This has to be the worst government in the world. I recall a BBC correspondent earlier this year reporting that a minister spent more on his daughter's wedding than (I think) the *entire* country's education budget.

29 Nov: "It is easy, of course, to be outraged. Anger is cheap." -- Andrew Harding

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hoder banged up (?)

Apparently, Hossein Derakhshan may face the death penalty in Iran on allegations of spying for Israel.

As far as I understand, 'Hoder' is, first, a proud Iranian nationalist. To him this seems to mean supporting a strong Iran -- complete with its Islamic Revolution, nuclear (weapons) power and all -- a nation ready to engage in dialogue with other countries from a position of strength.

Those who, reportedly, had him arrested don't seem to have got that.

P.S. Solana Larsen cautions on rumours, and says:
We published a note on GV Advocacy with "arrested" in quotation marks:

And Ethan Zuckerman has written something more extensive in his blog:
Certainly, the comments on the GV note indicate sharply diverging views as to what may be going on.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The 'fourth' Afghan war

To govern Afghanistan is a bit like being a Chicago ward politician in the 1920s. It involves understanding power.
-- Rory Stewart, in Afghanistan -- Thirty Years of Conflict and Chaos.

Barack Obama understands power politics. But that doesn't mean that it's a good idea to be there in the first place.

Maybe not the cleverest place to go sticking a great big cross, guys.


Can we believe the intelligence and the vision of this man?
The Interviewer, Steve Kroft: When the price of oil was at $147 a barrel, there were a lot of spirited and profitable discussions that were held on energy independence. Now you’ve got the price of oil under $60.

Barack Obama: Right.

Mr. Kroft: Does doing something about energy, is it less important now than….?

Mr. Obama: It’s more important. It may be a little harder politically, but it’s more important.

Mr. Kroft: Why?

Mr. Obama: Well, because this has been our pattern. We go from shock to trance. You know, oil prices go up, gas prices at the pump go up, everybody goes into a flurry of activity. And then the prices go back down and suddenly we act like it’s not important, and we start, you know, filling up our S.U.V.’s again. And, as a consequence, we never make any progress. It’s part of the addiction, all right. That has to be broken. Now is the time to break it
-- from Shock to Trance energy pattern.

P.S. More at Climate Progress.

Another Bond is possible

...a country, and a people, always has a choice in each generation, of whether to do the right thing. They are not prisoners of their ancestors.

Craig's Bond is an intimation of the sort of Britain that could have been, if Tony Blair had stood up to Bush and refused to be dragged into an illegal war of choice, and into other actions and policies that profoundly contradicted the principles on which the Labour Party had been founded (and you could imagine Craig's Bond voting for Old Labour...
-- from A quantum of anti-imperialism by Juan Cole.

Cole notes that Bond's controller is bound through her masters to the U.S. cause. In real life Britain's former 'M' seems to have a little more oomph. (See Sanity from M)

26 Nov: Quantum of Wallace

The War on Olive Trees, contd.

Israeli Tanks Move Into Gaza, Level Farmland

Monday, November 17, 2008

No no, new nuke?

Reagan-Gorbachev revisited?
Obama has stated: "A world without nuclear weapons is profoundly in America's interest and the world's interest. It is our responsibility to make the commitment, and to do the hard work to make this vision a reality. That's what I've done as a senator and a candidate, and that's what I'll do as president."
-- from Can Obama Say No to Nuclear Weapons?. But the Indians, for one, take a different view.

P.S. 18 Nov. See Report on Nuclear Security Urges Prompt Global Action.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Plain speaking

'Enhanced interrogation techniques" my ass. It really did sound better in the original German. In English, we say torture. Like Englishmen.
-- AS

Up in smoke

The brownish haze, sometimes more than a mile thick and clearly visible from airplanes, stretches from the Arabian Peninsula to the Yellow Sea. During the spring, it sweeps past North and South Korea and Japan. Sometimes the cloud drifts as far east as California.
-- U.N. Report Sees New Pollution Threat.

Power couple

Here's a nice detail from the profile of Matthew Freud and Elizabeth Murdoch by John Harris:
after a stint as a press officer at the record label RCA, Freud was introduced by his father to the spoon-bender, Uri Geller, and the pair came up with a lucrative wheeze: convincing an Australian mining company to pay Geller £250,000 to dowse for gold. Freud took 10%, and he was off...

IEA: '$180 per tonne'

A plea from the IEA to avert ‘shocking’ climate change, reports Ed Crooks in the FT:
the leading non-OECD economies such as China and India would need to join a global emissions reduction framework, as well as all OECD members. The price of emissions in such a system would have to be high: $180 (€143, £119) per tonne of carbon dioxide to get to 450ppm in the atmosphere, compared with Wednesday’s price of about $23 in the European Union’s emissions trading scheme.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

UK energy top ten

Meanwhile, back in wee Blighty, a bracing challenge from Chris Goodall, whose talk for the launch of his new book Ten Technologies to Save the Planet I attended last night. Here are his top ten priorities for UK energy policy, with a nod to global challenges (the chapter references are for the book):
a) Reinforce grid to allow better connection to EU and greater capacity from Scotland to England. Link to Norwegian hydro as most secure source of emergency power. Without changing the way the National Grid is regulated, renewables will be held up by decades thanks to 'first come, first served' rules. Chapter 1 of book.

b) Hundreds of millions a year in subsidy, enhanced tariffs, prizes for tidal and wave power. UK has competitive advantage. Large export potential. Infant industry. Chapter 3

c) Electric car subsidy. Pay people to drive them. Set up charging infrastructure. Battery technology is nearly competitive with liquid fuels. Needs a sustained push and we can decarbonise private driving. Chapter 6

d) Eco-renovations. Copy the Germans and introduce sustained and plausible programme of incentivising major (85% +) improvements in energy efficiency of existing (not new) buildings. Chapter 5

e) Join with other EU governments to back Sahara concentrated solar power. (see TREC) Chapter 2

f) Don't do Feed-In Tariffs for small renewables. Do Feed-In Tariffs for big renewables and phase out ROCs. Far more bang for the buck.

g) Ban coal unless with carbon capture. Offer prizes, and guaranteed prices for CCS delivered power.Chapter 8

h) Large research programme into improving soil carbon storage in tropics. Biochar, pastoral, land management improvements. Chapters 9 and 10

i) See if we can Areva to guarantee €3bn for a PWR reactor as they did with FInland. Epilogue

j) Major programme of land use planning to grow energy crops for fuel, ethanol for cars and fuel cells. Chapter 7.
Among the striking points Chris Goodall made last night was that the average Brit consumes, directly and indirectly, enough energy to keep two electric kettles boiling 24 hours a day (more on that here).

He also has an incisive take on The Nuclear New Deal.

Change they can believe in (2)

The most serious test for the Democracts since the election of Obama may be whether they can negotiate a deal for the big three U.S. car makers and the unions that facilitates meaningful progress on miles per gallon. This would be something like a good start in the direction outlined by Al Gore.

P.S. See Friedman on fixing a flat,and Joe Romm on Obama and energy and bailing out auto: " if the Medium Two actually use the $25 billion Congress authorized in September for retooling their factories to make fuel-efficient cars, then that money will be going to good use." James Surowiecki says "one of the big reasons why bailing out the automakers feels necessary is precisely because we let Lehman Brothers fail."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Move him into the sun -
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds, -
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,
Full-nerved, - still warm, - too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
- O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth's sleep at all?

Monday, November 10, 2008

New found land

[Marcus] Raichle and a handful of others are finally tackling this fundamental question - what exactly is the idling brain up to, anyway? Their work has led to the discovery of a major system within the brain, an organ within an organ, that hid for decades right before our eyes. Some call it the neural dynamo of daydreaming. Others assign it a more mysterious role, possibly selecting memories and knitting them seamlessly into a personal narrative. Whatever it does, it fires up whenever the brain is otherwise unoccupied and burns white hot, guzzling more oxygen, gram for gram, than your beating heart.

"It's a very important thing," says Giulio Tononi, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "It's not very frequent that a new functional system is identified in the brain, in fact it hasn't happened for I don't know how many years. It's like finding a new continent."
-- from The secret life of the brain by Douglas Fox.

Maya Lin's Wave Field

Movie here.

Wiki on patterned ground.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


Do you think poetry can play any practical or meaningful role in changing minds and hearts on environmental issues? In the past you have conceded that no poem is strong enough to stop a tank, so my question is: can a poem stop an SUV?

I think that one answers itself. What has happened, however, is that environmental issues have to a large extent changed the mind of poetry. Again, it's a question of the level of awareness, the horizon of consciousness within which poet and audience operate. There are those like Gary Snyder and Alice Oswald for whom these matters are an explicit concern, but at this stage nobody can have an uncomplicated Hopkinsian trust in the self-refreshing powers of nature. Yet if Philip Larkin were writing his poem on water nowadays, it would still be in order for him to end on a note of reverence, and "raise in the east / A glass of water / Where any-angled light / Would congregate endlessly". I suppose I'm saying that defiance is actually part of the lyric job.
-- Seamus Heaney in conversation with Dennis O'Driscoll

Change they can believe in (1)

Open Secrets reports that Rahm Emanuel "was the top House recipient in the 2008 election cycle of contributions from hedge funds, private equity firms and the larger securities/investment industry".
-- Wikipedia.

P.S. 12 Nov: Hedge fund billionaires to come out blinking into the spotlight.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Populist chic

AS links to this from Mark Lilla
Over the next 25 years there grew up a new generation of conservative writers who cultivated none of their elders' intellectual virtues -- indeed, who saw themselves as counter-intellectuals. Most are well-educated and many have attended Ivy League universities; in fact, one of the masterminds of the Palin nomination was once a Harvard professor. But their function within the conservative movement is no longer to educate and ennoble a populist political tendency, it is to defend that tendency against the supposedly monolithic and uniformly hostile educated classes. They mock the advice of Nobel Prize-winning economists and praise the financial acumen of plumbers and builders. They ridicule ambassadors and diplomats while promoting jingoistic journalists who have never lived abroad and speak no foreign languages. And with the rise of shock radio and television, they have found a large, popular audience that eagerly absorbs their contempt for intellectual elites. They hoped to shape that audience, but the truth is that their audience has now shaped them.

Back in the '70s, conservative intellectuals loved to talk about "radical chic," the well-known tendency of educated, often wealthy liberals to project their political fantasies onto brutal revolutionaries and street thugs, and romanticize their "struggles." But "populist chic" is just the inversion of "radical chic," and is no less absurd, comical or ominous.
Jonathan Raban outs Obama as an intellectual.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Just in case

Only fools find joy in the prospect of climate engineering. It's also foolish to think that risk of significant climate damage can be denied or wished away,” he said. “Perhaps we can depend on the transcendent human capacity for self-sacrifice when faced with unprecedented, shared, long-term risk, and therefore can depend on future reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. But just in case, we'd better have a plan.
-- Ken Caldeira

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

New morning

In his remarkable acceptance speech (at the end of one of the most remarkable days in world politics since this), Obama promised to work internationally for peace. Like many foreigners, I think that's great . But what to make of the mentality and analysis of hard-case shtarkers like Martin van Creveld, who believe only in a balance of terror?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


You may set the Negro free, but you cannot make him otherwise than an alien to the European. Nor is this all we scarcely acknowledge the common features of humanity in this stranger whom slavery has brought among us. His physiognomy is to our eyes hideous, his understanding weak, his tastes low; and we are almost inclined to look upon him as a being intermediate between man and the brutes.
-- Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville (1835)

Read, for example, this and this.