Sunday, October 31, 2004

Osama and the towers explained

Juan Cole's explanation of what Osama Bin Laden was referring to when he talked of the towers of Beirut is convincing (see post on his blog at 6.25am on 31 Oct).

Cole's historical analysis provides useful insight into an important element in the historical genesis of the pathological thinking of which Osama is part - or which he at least exploits - viz, the 1982 Israel bombardment of Beirut that killed 18,000 people, followed by Sabra and Chatila:

The horrible Israeli siege of Beirut in summer of 1982, which lasted for weeks, involved the brutal and indiscriminate bombing of the city. Many of the "towers" that were destroyed contained hundreds of innocent Beirutis. Sharon's proposed puppet ruler, Bashir Gemayyel, used to keep posters of Hitler in his locker at college. He was promptly assassinated and the whole scheme fell apart.

When I visited him in Beirut last December, Michael Stanton (who arrived long after the war) vividly conveyed to me the fear, anger, frustration that his neighbours had communicated to him when the Israeli jets buzzed their aparment blocks.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Tom Goreau

Good to see Tom Goreau for the first time since we parted in Palau last June. He has made a good recovery since a barracuda took a finger and a whole chunk of his left hand off in Mexico in August.

As every, Tom has a dozen or more projects on the go. The Lighthouse Foundation, which supported the work at Saya de Malha, interested to fund a very large project in Mexico. Big troubles with the Kuna project in Panama. A bad sign is no feedback from the funders of the Helen Reef project in Palau. And the signals from Australia, where - momentously - it looked as if Tom and colleagues were finally going to be able to do a project on the Great Barrier Reef, are now clouded.

But there's a chance of good news in the offing regarding work with the United Nations Development Programme Global Environmental Facility for the entire South American region.

We talked about trends in climate change research - what is really new and to what degree the media are recycling what is already well understood. Tom updated me on his assessments. Two points, among others:

  • global dimming, caused by presence of aerosols from large scale burning of coal which gives us a breathing space by "shading" the consequences of rapid CO2 increase (to which of course the burning is a major contributor);
  • even if all man made emissions of greenhouse gases stopped today, all coral reefs are set for extinction in this century anyway (because of the processes already in place in the system).
Tom drove me from Cambridge out to my sister's house in Lexington. A beautiful clear night, and not too cold. When we got there my sister and her son were enjoying the lunar eclipse. Tom and my nine year old nephew Harry hardly spoke, but I detected an instant liking. Tom, the former astronomer who has sacrificed so much to do something practical to "save the world". Harry the young son of an astronmer with his whole life before him.

Tom didn't stay long. He wanted to get home to share the eclipse with his daughter. Harry, though distracted by the Red Sox game, made a point of coming out to wave goodbye to Tom. A moment when two souls pass each other by.

Blame a Scot! - Robert Wright on George W. Bush

Robert Wright contributes a useful op-ed to the New York Times today (Faith, Hope and Clarity, 28 Oct):

Every morning President Bush reads a devotional from "My Utmost for His Highest," a collection of homilies by a Protestant minister named Oswald Chambers, who lived a century ago…

Chambers was Scottish, and he conforms to the stereotype of Scots as a bit dour (as in the joke about the Scot who responds to "What a lovely day!" by saying, "Just wait.") In the entry for Dec. 4, by way of underscoring adversity, Chambers asserts, "Everything outside my physical life is designed to cause my death."

In all things and at all times [according to Chambers], you must do God's will…But what exactly does God want? Chambers gives little substantive advice. There is no great stress on Jesus' ethical teaching - not much about loving your neighbor or loving your enemy. (And Chambers doesn't seem to share Isaiah's hope of beating swords into plowshares. "Life without war is impossible in the natural or the supernatural realm.") But the basic idea is that, once you surrender to God, divine guidance is palpable. "If you obey God in the first thing he shows you, then he instantly opens up the next truth to you," Chambers writes.

And you shouldn't let your powers of reflection get in the way. Chambers lauds Abraham for preparing to slay his son at God's command without, as the Bible put it, conferring "with flesh and blood."

Wright (who is a visiting fellow at Princeton University's Center for Human Values, is the author of Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny) explains he was raised a Southern Baptist, and remembers going to Calvary Baptist Church in Midland, Tex., his family's hometown as well as Mr. Bush's (though, because his father was a career soldier, he lived there only one year). He recalls the only theological pronouncement he ever heard from his father: "I don't think God tells you which car to buy."

Wright continues:

I find being human so deeply challenging that I can't imagine it without an anchoring spirituality in some sense of the word. So I respect Mr. Bush's religious impulse, and I even find Chambers's Scottish austerity true and appealing in a generic way…Still, it's another question whether Chambers's worldview, as mediated by Mr. Bush, should help shape the world's future.

Wright observes that even Chambers began to change his mind as the catastrophe of the First World War unfolded around him. And what of George W. Bush?

Some have marveled at Mr. Bush's refusal to admit any mistakes in Iraq other than "catastrophic success." But what looks like negative feedback to some of us - more than 1,100 dead Americans, more than 10,000 dead Iraqi civilians and the biggest incubator of anti-American terrorists in history - is, through Chambers's eyes, not cause for doubt. Indeed, seemingly negative feedback may be positive feedback, proof that God is there, testing your faith, strengthening your resolve.

To my mind, George W. Bush ’s logic leads, inexorably, to something akin to the situation described by Wilfred Owen in his Parable of the Old Man and the Young Man.

Corruption - from Iraq to Bangladesh

Further to an earlier post - Iraqi "Not Most Corrupt Country" - Roland Hodson commments:

On the [Transparency International] Corruption Index there is as you said considerable controvery. TI don't say exactly how they compile the index but I am sure that interviews with Multi-national companies would only be a part, probably a small part of their overall index. It is other survey's published by business risk organisations which only survey executives. Before TI started issuing their survey these were the only indexes of corruption available.

In Bangladesh TI has carried out massive and detailed studies of different government departments such as customs and ports and documented and measured the extent of the systematic corruption. I think you will find that the depth of the information and data that TI has varies considerably from country to country and depends on the funding and skill of their local offices and officers.

It is surprising to me that Iraq was judged to be on the same tier as Kenya and Pakistan. It would be helpful to everyone working for less corruption if TI would publish more of the data on which they base their ratings. That would help their index have more credibility.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

"Crocodile-Tears and Cookie-Jar Semantics"

A forceful e mail just arrived from contraction and convergence pioneer Aubrey Meyer, in which he accuses the New Economics Foundation of "Crocodile-Tears and Cookie-Jar Semantics"

It concerns Up in Smoke, a recent report about climate change from a consortium of NGOs organised by IIED and the New Economics Foundation. Meyer says:

[The report] is mostly about adaptation to climate change, but it also makes these points:

  • Thousands of people are aiming to make poverty history, but global warming has been critically overlooked.
  • To rescue the situation we need a global framework to stopclimate change that is based on equality, and we have to ensure thatplans for human development are made both climate-proof andclimate-friendly.
  • Faced by the intertwined challenges of obscene levels ofpoverty and a rapidly warming global climate, humanity has no choice.
The report’s first point is obvious and lacks rigor. The increasingly obvious reality is, “uncorrected, climate change will make all of us history.” Charity is relevant to charities.

To argue for a moral global framework on behalf of the vulnerable third parties who are in effect our victims, is vainly to argue again [like Jubilee 2000] from weakness with an in-built sub-text of defeat. Globally interdependent security and survival are self-evidently relevant to us all. As no-one can shoot or bomb climate change or solve it alone [including the US who have said as much], this is the realpolitik in the reasoning for the global framework.

The report’s advocacy of the need for a global argument is noted. However, not only does this lack rigor, playing antics with ‘semantics’, it services the arguments of its opponents. Without referencing C&C, the report authors cite “Contraction and Convergence” [C&C], but then idiotically describe it as a system of “entitlements-to-pollute”. As the contrarian lobby have successfully argued in court in the US, CO2 is not a pollutant. To saddle C&C with this is stupid. C&C is a calculus that organisesglobally equitable “entitlements to emit”.

All GCI referencing for the last ten years is clear about this. Consortium bosses contracted to correct this and include appropriate referencing. However, on publication they reneged saying the point was semantic. Whatever the reason, it embeds again the veteran objections to C&C from the Climate Action Network who have made their livings out of this for 15 years. The third point - "obscene levels of poverty" - is truly awash with crocodile tears. Using their charitable status and citing themselves as having world C&C expertise, NEF is raising £1,000,000,000 of charitable money to write a book about Contraction and Convergence.Put aside the lack of referencing to GCI, just look at the cookie-jar salaries . . . . £70,000 a year . . .

Aubrey can be fierce. His passion and wisdom are sometimes mistaken for monomania. One can predict a mean-minded reaction: "he's just jealous because he's not being paid like that". The billion pound figure is surely wrong. But look closely: it seems to me he has a case (even if the "Lords of Poverty"-type argument is not always useful). What will NEF say?

In Search of England

Leaving England, as I will do in a few hours, usually makes me think for at least a moment about what it is.

Paul Kingsnorth is contemplating writing a book about England, but is still searching for a way into the subject. One book I recommended to him – without having actually read it myself, but on hearsay! – is Michael Wood’s In Search of England. Paul has a copy and will lend it to me.

I used not to pay attention to Michael Wood but changed my mind when I heard him speak at a memorial service earlier this year for his friend Sayyid Abdul Majid Khoei, the Iraqi Shi’ia cleric who was murdered last year.

Among the essays on England that I have read and found exceptionally useful is Peter Linebaugh’s The Secret History of the Magna Carta (Boston Review, Summer 2003).

Also quite good is a recent essay on the countryside by the novelist John Lanchester Field of Dreams (Guardian 25 Oct) . It includes the following:

I have lived in quite a few places in quite a few different countries, and I have never lived anywhere as essentially unfriendly, broken-up, atomised and fragmented as the English countryside.

That was, in the end, the reason we left. Our house had a few acres of marsh land - unusable but beautiful - attached. One day I took my father out in my canoe and we saw that a stretch of trees, mainly beautiful low-hanging willows, had been cut down. It had obviously happened very recently. We investigated and found out that, with nods and winks, a group of locals had agreed to cut down our trees, in order to allow access for sailing boats down a side-creek. Nobody asked my father, and the feeling that the same people who would smile and nod and make small-talk about the weather would do this behind his back caused him to feel he couldn't live in that place any more. He realised that after 11 years, he was still an outsider; that the locals still did not trust him. He felt a deep, bitter, sense of personal betrayal. It gave him an intense feeling of insecurity. By my next holiday from university, three months later, he had sold the house and moved into Norwich. Three months after that he died of a heart attack. The business with the trees did not cause that, but it certainly did not help.

It’s a pessimistic piece, but funny, and the kicker at the end is especially good. But it’s not the whole picture (see, for example, these letters).

Another good recent piece Guardian piece is Hilary Mackaskill’s Dust to Dust, which is about the end of the coal fields (26 Oct).

Dervla Murphy, the Irish writer and cyclist, also wrote an excellent book on inner city Northern England which I read part of once. But I cannot remember the title.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Einstein's Gravediggers - again

The New York Times reports that James E. Hansen, a top NASA climate expert who twice briefed Vice President Dick Cheney on global warming, plans to criticize the administration's approach to the issue in a lecture at the University of Iowa tonight. He will say that a senior administration official told him last year not to discuss dangerous consequences of rising temperatures.

Hard to know what to say about this. I've nothing immediately to add to Einstein's Gravediggers, published in the Globolog series.

Further confirmation, as if it were needed, for the administration's contempt for what one of them described to Ron Suskind as "the reality-based community".

Spin This!

The Note reported earlier today on NBC's apparent rebuttal of the New York Times story that the Kerry campaign have been using to spread fear and anger [see blog below, Suskind's Without a Doubt (1)].

NBC News, 25 Oct, suggested that 350 tonnes of explosives went missing from an Iraqi facility before April 10, 2003 — before U.S. troops ever got to the site in Iraq. This, says the Note, has led to "an avalanche of push-back from the Bush campaign last night. If the 101st Airborne Division was indeed there one day after liberation and they could not find any of the high grade explosives, that does cast doubt on the suggestion that the Bush Administration's alleged failure to plan for post-war eventualities was to blame".

"The NBC story does not exonerate the president", the Note continues, "but it does add context that rebuts, at least to some extent, the most hyperbolic charges that we heard yesterday".

How will the administration push back the news, filed 3pm UK time today, that the interim Iraqi prime minister, Ayad Allawi, said today that "negligence" by US-led forces brought about the massacre of 49 Iraqi soldiers last weekend?

In Cambridge with Tom Goreau

Tomorrow I fly from London to Boston, and will meet with Dr Tom Goreau of the Global Coral Reef Alliance. We will, I hope, have a beer at The Plough and Stars. I will also visit family.

Some recent work with Tom and colleagues is featured in A Pacific Odyssey (part of the Shorelines series on openDemocracy, with a finale by Maryam Maruf and Candida Clark).

It will be good to be with Tom, and find out how he's doing. It will be good to be looking at one small part of the longer view - however dire that view is - as a change from the febrile pre US election atmosphere.

Iraq "not the most corrupt country"

So that's a relief! David Hayes forwards the following:

In today's Weekly Review I stated that "Transparency International announced that Iraq is now the most corrupt country on Earth." This is an error. In fact, Iraq scored 2.1 on TI's corruption index, along with Cameroon, Kenya, and Pakistan. Sixteen countries received lower scores. Bangladesh and Haiti were the most corrupt with a score of 1.5.
Roger D. Hodge, Weekly Review, Harper's Magazine

Seriously, though, David Hayes comments: “Haiti is desperate. You sometimes think there is no hope. Especially when I heard on [BBC] World Service about all the trees being cut down for fuel. Then you see people reading and children learning and there's another side".

It will be interesting to hear from Roland Hodson, a long time battler against corruption who now runs a very large official assistance programme in Bangladesh.

More than once I've heard the TI index methodology criticised on the grounds that it is largely based on polling executives of large corporations as to which countries they think are most corrupt. Is this correct? If so, is there a need for another index on corrupt corporations? And if it already exists, how sound is the methodology? If the methodology is sound then why is it not better known? And what would Maria Cattuai say?

Desmond Tutu on law and laughter

Retired South African Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu is one of 20 "leaders in world opinion", ranging from Israel to China and Italy to Japan (interestingly, nobody from India, where one in six people live or from Latin America), who were asked about their highest priority or fondest hope for the next U.S. administration. He says:

Perhaps this new administration will change and affirm that the best hope for this vulnerable planet is when all the nations abide by the rule of law, with none arrogating to themselves the position of being above the law. It is sad to see your great democracy thumbing its nose so disdainfully at the rest of the human community. We can survive only together. We can be free only together. We can be secure and safe only together in a world characterised by goodness, gentleness, compassion, laughter and sharing. God bless you, God bless America, and God bless all of us

Christine Loh, interviewed twice this year on openDemocracy, is among the other contributors.

Happy Birthday, Patriot Act

ABC's The Note reminds that today is the third birthday of the Patriot Act. John Ashcroft has written a celebratory editorial in the Wall Street Journal. Frustratingly, this is not available without subscription.

The Patriot Act: Wise Beyond Its Years Why we've been successful at capturing and prosecuting terrorists in America. By JOHN ASHCROFT

Suskind's "Without a Doubt" (2)

In Without a Doubt Suskind also dissects Bush's education. Perhaps this particularly struck me because I have recently interviewed one the Professors at the Harvard Business School critical of the president's policies.

Suskind reports:

Bush has been called the C.E.O. president, but that's just a catch phrase - he never ran anything of consequence in the private sector. The M.B.A. president would be more accurate: he did, after all, graduate from Harvard Business School. And some who have worked under him in the White House and know about business have spotted a strange business-school time warp. It's as if a 1975 graduate from H.B.S. - one who had little chance to season theory with practice during the past few decades of change in corporate America - has simply been dropped into the most challenging management job in the world.

One aspect of the H.B.S. method, with its emphasis on problems of actual corporations, is sometimes referred to as the "case cracker" problem. The case studies are static, generally a snapshot of a troubled company, frozen in time; the various "solutions" students proffer, and then defend in class against tough questioning, tend to have very short shelf lives. They promote rigidity, inappropriate surety. This is something H.B.S. graduates, most of whom land at large or midsize firms, learn in their first few years in business. They discover, often to their surprise, that the world is dynamic, it flows and changes, often for no good reason. The key is flexibility, rather than sticking to your guns in a debate, and constant reassessment of shifting realities. In short, thoughtful second-guessing.

George W. Bush, who went off to Texas to be an oil wildcatter, never had a chance to learn these lessons about the power of nuanced, fact-based analysis. The small oil companies he ran tended to lose money; much of their value was as tax shelters. (The investors were often friends of his father's.) Later, with the Texas Rangers baseball team, he would act as an able front man but never really as a boss.

I guess the Harvard B School Profs would say their method has moved on since 1975, but Suskind makes a convincing case that Bush hasn't.

When I talked to to Prof. Wells I asked him if senior people in government, or influential on the administration had responded to the letter he and his colleaugues had written. He said none had directly, but he hoped I would get some comments. I contacted the office of Paul O'Neill, Bush's former Treasury Sectretary (and focus of Ron Suskind's brilliant book). His PA passed on my request, (commenting in passing that she thought the letter was "powerful"). But O'Neill declined to comment.

Suskind's "Without a Doubt" (1)

Ron Suskind's 17 October New York Times article Without a Doubt is one of the best and most important pieces of writing on George W. Bush there has been. Not suprisingly, lots of bloggers have linked to it

Suskind's insight is not only into the nature of Bush's religious faith but also into how it interacts with other parts of his characater, and how crucial this has been to the evolution of his administration's policies

There's a lot in the article that repays careful attention. This post and the next one will touch on two things, among others, that struck me because of issues I am working on right now. The first is to do with security issues:

In the Oval Office in December 2002, the president met with a few ranking senators and members of the House, both Republicans and Democrats. In those days, there were high hopes that the United States-sponsored "road map" for the Israelis and Palestinians would be a pathway to peace, and the discussion that wintry day was, in part, about countries providing peacekeeping forces in the region. The problem, everyone agreed, was that a number of European countries, like France and Germany, had armies that were not trusted by either the Israelis or Palestinians. One congressman - the Hungarian-born Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California and the only Holocaust survivor in Congress - mentioned that the Scandinavian countries were viewed more positively. Lantos went on to describe for the president how the Swedish Army might be an ideal candidate to anchor a small peacekeeping force on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Sweden has a well-trained force of about 25,000. The president looked at him appraisingly, several people in the room recall.

"I don't know why you're talking about Sweden," Bush said. "They're the neutral one. They don't have an army."

Lantos paused, a little shocked, and offered a gentlemanly reply: "Mr. President, you may have thought that I said Switzerland. They're the ones that are historically neutral, without an army." Then Lantos mentioned, in a gracious aside, that the Swiss do have a tough national guard to protect the country in the event of invasion.

Bush held to his view. "No, no, it's Sweden that has no army."

The room went silent, until someone changed the subject.

(The incident has a new poignance at a time when the Sharon administration is pushing for a withdrawal of Israeli troops fromt the Gaza strip. Former US supreme commander in Europe Joseph Ralston argued in the 25 October Financial Times that "Nato must prepare for possible Gaza call-up". What would Mary Kaldor and the Human Security Doctrine crowd say to that?)

Monday, October 25, 2004

"Tormented Births" - Isam Al-Khafaji

This note came earlier today from Isam Al-Khafaji:

Dear Friends and colleagues,

My life-long work: Tormented Births: Passages to Modernity in Europe and the Middle East, has just been published by I.B.Tauris, London and Palgarave-MacMillan, New York.

Below are some of the early previews describing the work:

"Superb, tantalising, iconoclastic, fundamental - it deserves the widest readership" - Prof. Paul Aarts, Middle East Studies,

"Isam al-Khafaji's Tormented Births is no less than a masterpiece - combining masterful historical analysis and a masterful polemical style." - Prof. Kees van der Pijl, Head of Department, International Relations and Politics, Director, Centre for Global Political Economy, University of Sussex

"Tormented Births impresses and inspires. It is seldom that one comes across a study of such scope and depth. Al-Khafaji has written a magnificent contribution to the literature on capitalist development and underdevelopment, on Marxist class theory, and on nationalism and his writing style is superb. Tormented Births is a sublime piece of work that will be widely recognized as being in the class of such people as Robert Brenner, Immanuel Wallerstein." -
Dr. H.W. Overbeek, Professor of International Relations, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam

"A highly original work. Compelling and well-written, it will surely be cited among the small number of outstanding and truly multidisciplinary trans-regional, historical-comparative studies produced in recent decades." - Dr. Sandra Halperin, Senior Lecturer in International Relations, University of Sussex

"Karl Rove in a Corner"

The November edition of The Atlantic includes an excellent article, still relevant in the final days of the US presidential election campaign, on Karl Rove's electoral strategies.

Karl Rover in a Corner by Joshua Green is fascinating on the detail - and brilliance - of Rove's techniques. The article is also chilling on just how outrageous are some of the lengths to which Rove will go.

Mark Kennedy, an incumbent Democratic justice in the state of Alambama was a Rove target in one of the strategist's earlier battles. Kennedy tells Green:

"People vote in Alabama for two reasons...Anger and fear. It's a state that votes against somebody rather than for them. Rove understood how to put his finger right on the trigger point."

The article speculates that Rove has less of an advantage in '04 than in many other campaigns he has fought and won. Green concludes:

[Rove] seems to understand—indeed, to count on—the media's unwillingness or inability, whether from squeamishness, laziness, or professional caution, ever to give a full estimate of him or his work. It is ultimately not just Rove's skill but his character that allows him to perform on an entirely different plane. Along with remarkable strategic skills, he has both an understanding of the media's unstated self-limitations and a willingness to fight in territory where conscience forbids most others.

The Democrats are playing the anger and fear card today. The difference seems to be that they have evidence and truth on their side.

Joe Lockhart, a senior advisor at, e mails their list serve citing an article in this morning's New York Times as "further proof of how the Bush administration's incompetence and arrogance has endangered the lives of our troops and the American people". The article is at

Human Politics

Draft openDemocracy vision statement comes back with the phrase"human politics".

Shoddy thinking. If anything, I guess the writer means "humane politics".

What is "non-human politics"? Stalin was human.

Test post

This is a test. I'm including some text from an interview conducted last Monday with Louis Wells of the Harvard Business School.

Unfortunately, when it was front paged on openDemocracy the letter concerned was described as being from economists rather than from business school professors, which is a bit like describing anthropologists as linguists

Caspar Henderson Randall Kroszner at the University of Chicago refused to sign the letter. He told a journalist at Business Week that the letter ignores or dismisses factors outside the control of the Bush administration such as corporate governance scandals, the 2001 recession, and the costs of the “war on terror”. Kroszner says the assumption that a deficit leads automatically to higher interest rates and inflation is simply wrong.

Louis Wells It’s not a very careful response to what the letter actually says. The letter does not say short-term deficits are bad. Keynesian ideas are deep enough that most of us think it’s OK to run short-term deficits in a recession. As long as the economy is not fully recovered, it’s clear that deficits needn’t lead to higher interest rates.

What bothered those who did sign the letter is the permanency of the tax cuts and therefore the likelihood that the deficits will continue on into a recovery.

Obviously the economy will recover at some point. But if we continue to run big deficits there is large inflationary pressure, which means monetary policy is the only stabilising tool and the only way to counteract the pressure is by tightening money supply, leading in turn to higher interest rates. I think that’s pretty widely accepted.

Kroszner has jumped on the short-term part and I don’t disagree with him. In the short term you do not get higher interest rates. But he’s ignored the main issue.

Caspar Henderson Do you accept that this is a very political letter? After all, you are saying a candidate for president of the United States is wrong, and many people would draw the conclusion that you’re saying he shouldn’t be re-elected.

Louis Wells That’s up to somebody who reads the letter. We did not endorse a candidate unlike the ten Nobelists who wrote a letter in support of John Kerry.

The full article can be found here: