Friday, April 28, 2006

Anacreon Zindabad!

George Bush is upset about Nuestro Himno, a Spanish language version of the Star Spangled Banner (produced by Adam Kidron, the new version can easily be found on the web - including an extract on this eye-poppingly angry right wing site)

Mr Bush is right. In the interests of purity and tradition it's time to go back to the true source, the glittering fountain... which is: To Anacreon in Heaven, a slightly smutty eighteenth century English drinking song (a nice audio version here, towards the bottom of the page).


From Hedrik Hertzberg:

A couple of weeks ago, answering a question from a student after giving a speech at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, Bush provided a hint of the emotional texture of his extraordinary dependence on his Secretary of Defense. “My question,” the young woman said,
is in regards to private military contractors. The Uniform Code of Military Justice does not apply to these contractors in Iraq. I asked your Secretary of Defense a couple months ago what law governs their actions.

The President: I was going to ask him. Go ahead. (Laughter) Help. (Laughter)

Q: I was hoping your answer might be a little more specific. (Laughter) Mr. Rumsfeld answered that Iraq has its own domestic laws, which he assumed applied to those private military contractors. However, Iraq is clearly not currently capable of enforcing its laws. . . . Mr. President, how do you propose to bring private military contractors under a system of law?

The President : I appreciate that very much. I wasn’t kidding. (Laughter ) I was going to—I pick up the phone and say, Mr. Secretary, I’ve got an interesting question. (Laughter ) This is what delegation—I don’t mean to be dodging the question, although it’s kind of convenient in this case, but never— (laughter ). I really will—I’m going to call the Secretary and say you brought up a very valid question, and what are we doing about it? That’s how I work. I’m—thanks. (Laughter )

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Sights on the river

This evening, under a red sky, was the first time this year I have seen a great crested grebe on the river. Last Saturday, a warm and sunny afternoon, I walked in the meadows. There was a thorn tree about twenty feet high so covered in brilliant white flowers that it was like a vision of life its fucking self. I lay down flat among the fritillaries -- one of them a double header (don't recall seeing that before). Big bees bumped among the hanging purple and white bells of the fritillaries. Predictable, but inevitable, the line came: "merrily, merrily shall I live now, under the blossom that hangs on the bough". On an ash tree, about thirty yards away, a kestrel watched me.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The odds

In The Atlantic Monthly, April 2006, Terrence Henry reports the following odds offered "earlier in the year" by on bombing Iran:
4:1 Overt air strike by US or Israel by 30 June 2006

3:1 Overt air strike by US or Israel by 31 Dec 2006

2:1 Overt air strike by US or Israel by 31 March 2007

Friday, April 21, 2006

Mark Mardell on Europe

"I think now you can understand the EU's institutions by imagining a feudal power of the early Middle Ages. The European Commission is the King and his court, the Council of Ministers is the House of Lords and the European Parliament is the House of Commons". (more)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

True judgement

Tony Judt is almost always worth reading. His recent demolition of Gaddis on the cold war (here) was mostly very good, and A lobby, not a conspiracy on the Mersheimer-Walt controversy is too.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Climate culture

Ana Unruh kindly writes to note that this event at the Center for American Progress was partly inspired by Bill McKibben's essay Can you imagine? that I commissioned for openDemocracy and noted as first comment to this post on RealClimate (a comment on which no one picked up in that thread so far as I have read).

More fun and games

Bearing in mind today's bomb in Tel Aviv, it's worth re-reading Henry Siegman's important and useful analysis, Hamas: The Last Chance for Peace? (29 March).

The BBC reports that Hamas has been observing a ceasefire more than a year, but that it does nothing to stop other militant groups from attacking Israel.

Siegman reports:
"the former head of the Shin Bet, Avi Dichter, now a star in the supposedly centrist Kadima party, announced that when the next terrorist act occurs, Ismail Haniyeh would be an appropriate target for assassination by the IDF. Not to be outdone, Israel's defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, declared afterward that every one of Hamas's seventy-four newly elected members of the PLC would be candidates for targeted assassination as well".

Because, OK?!

"When we do not know the reason behind the forbiddenness of an act, we are bound to obey in absolute obedience. There is a reason for it, but we do not know it and when we do not know it, it does not mean that we should not abide by it".
Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Husayni Sistani when asked why chess is forbidden.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

History and national stupidity

"There is no such thing as human history. Nothing can be more profoundly, sadly true. The annals of mankind have never been written, never can be written; not would it be within human capacity to read them if they were written. We have a leaf or two from the great book of human fate as it flutters in the stormwinds ever sweeping the earth. We decipher them was best we can with purblind eyes, and endeavor to learn their mystery as we float along to the abyss; but it is all confused babble, hieroglyphics of which the key is lost".
Lorthrop Motley, December 1868 - quoted by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in History and National Stupidity.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Balham Broadside

from Paul Anderson

"Walking" (1862)

"When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shopkeepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them—as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon—I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago".
Henry David Thoreau on sauntering, republished in The Atlantic along with Robert Frost, Annie Dillard and others

Thursday, April 13, 2006

An ANC more ordinary

"Almost a century old now, the [African National Congress] has for most of its life been a revolutionary liberation movement fighting a quasi-fascist regime in the midst of the cold war. Many of its exiled leaders, including Mr Mbeki, went to school or university in Britain or America, but also trained in the Soviet Union to win their armed struggle.

The ANC still has a top-down, authoritarian structure where loyalty to the political cause is prized above almost everything else, including competence.

...There is growing resentment of the way the party imposes its politics from the centre, often by forcing candidates for municipal or provincial elections on its local branches. In last month's local elections, hundreds of local ANC members protested by standing as independent candidates, and much of the rioting was about the government's redrawing of provincial boundaries with little or no consultation.

But the greatest weakness of the ANC's top-down system is that the party is inclined to dismiss ideas from outside its own bureaucracy".
From Richard Cockett's survey of South Africa for The Economist (6 April)

Cry Havoc

"the civilized world has already lost: to enter into negotiations with a jurisdiction headed by a Holocaust-denying millenarian nut job is, in itself, an act of profound weakness—the first concession, regardless of what weaselly settlement might eventually emerge"
Mark Steyn Facing Down Iran . Woof woof

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Nuclear or not?

A potential client asked me to write a trial post for a forthcoming blog/debate on whether Britain should build new nuclear power stations or not. Here it is:

It’s perfectly obvious to anyone who takes the trouble to look around that the world is flat.

I had thought until recently that it was equally apparent that a fleet of new nuclear power stations in the UK was a bad idea. Is this view equally mistaken?

The UK government’s own Commission on Sustainable Development recently concluded there was no justification for bringing forward a new nuclear power programme at present. Case closed, I thought.

Wrong. The government says nuclear new build is still an option under the terms of the Energy Review (although Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks has stressed he has a lot of hard questions for potential providers).

Puzzled and in search of enlightenment, I went to Energy…for the future, a no-holds barred investigation and debate at the Royal Society earlier this week. Where better to go for first rate thinking and analysis?

Prof. Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith served up the entre with a well-honed presentation about fusion. It was on the verge of viability now, he said, and could be commercially available in forty to fifty years... providing sufficient funds are made available.

Next up, the main dish. Sue Ion, Group Director of Technology for British Nuclear Fuels, argued that fission could “plug the gap” until the potential of fusion was realised.

Britain had a great history of innovative design and improvement, she said; but the future was with internationally established standard designs like the Westinghouse AP1000 and the Framatome EPR.

According to Dr Ion, the economics of such stations were “well founded, easily verifiable and…compete well with other technologies… especially in the face of rising fossil fuel prices and the pricing in of costs for greenhouse gas emissions”.

Waste volumes from modern plants are a fraction of those from earlier designs, she said, and could be dealt with safely and effectively. There was plenty of uranium available for “sixty years or more”. Generation IV systems would be ready for deployment by 2020.

Responses from participants at the Royal Society meeting were muted. Oliver Morton of Nature asked what impact a single terrorist incident involving a nuclear site would have on the economics of nuclear power.

Afterwards I caught up with Prof. Keith Barnham of Imperial College. He said Sue Ion was playing fast and loose with key facts, including the quantities of uranium available, the nature of the waste that would be generated and the challenge of its disposal.

Dr Ion’s optimism also looks likely to get a knock from a report from the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee to be published in the next few days.

Looking ahead, our focus may be the UK, but we cannot just focus on our own navals. Britain import nuclear-generated electricity from France and we all live in world with mushrooming nuclear new build in China and elsewhere. The challenges are huge, and this is no time for flat earthers.

One thing is sure: the nuclear power debate is caught in a maelstrom of money and politics. Navigators will need foul weather gear and a compass and – for those who like to take argument at its strongest – this blog as their Fisherman’s Friend.

Her name is Hadil Ghraben

Gaza, 11 April. So it goes.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Even if Prodi wins

"...we still have a formidable enemy, the more formidable because it exists among the ignorant classes, where it rules by falsehood" (Giuseppe Garibaldi)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Cold obstruction

"The world of the dying is different. When well, they may have sometimes wondered in momentary fear or idle apprehension what this Time would bring, the shape it would take, whether by age or accident, stroke or cancer ... the list is long. Then, that blinding fear could be dismissed as idle introspection, an impairment to the constant alertness needed to answer all the demands of the day. Inevitably, the dreaded and discarded time arrives and has its own shape: suddenly the waitress pouring coffee at tables, the builder laying blocks, a girl opening a window, the men collecting refuse, belong to a world that went mostly unregarded when it was ours but now becomes a place of unobtainable happiness, in even the meanest of forms ... Life goes on, but not for the dying, and this must be hidden or obscured or denied."
John McGahern quoted by Ian Jack (see also Saving Grace).

Thursday, April 06, 2006

This we do

A clear graphic, and a bigger audience for Iraq Body Count

Return of the Subjective

Science came into its own when it managed to refuse the subjective and embrace the objective. The repeatability of an experiment by another, perhaps less enthusiastic, observer was instrumental in keeping science rational. But as science plunges into the outer limits of scale – at the largest and smallest ends – and confronts the weirdness of the fundamental principles of matter/energy/information such as that inherent in quantum effects, it may not be able to ignore the role of observer. Existence seems to be a paradox of self-causality, and any science exploring the origins of existence will eventually have to embrace the subjective, without become irrational. The tools for managing paradox are still undeveloped.

- from Speculations on the future of science by Kevin Kelly

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


...most experts in the field agree that the situation is, legally speaking, quite straightforward. Faced with terrorists, states can either class them as warriors, who would then be held as prisoners of war, with all the Geneva protections. Or they can decide they are criminals, to be treated by the normal process of law. Even the men picked up in Afghanistan, and now rotting in Guantánamo, could have been placed in either of these categories, rather than held to constitute a whole new category - "unlawful combatants" - and then duly plunged into a legal black hole.
Jonathan Freedland - No, international law doesn't have to be dumped because of al-Qaida

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

UK energy and climate - your views

I am commissioning and editing a special for New Statesman on energy and climate policy - the UK in context.

Please contact me ASAP (via my profile) if there's something you'd like to suggest for inclusion.

In particular, I am looking for stories that follow the money...

Monday, April 03, 2006

Chutzpah from a cheeky chappy

"Sudanese foreign ministry spokesman Jamal Ibrahim said the government had asked [Jan Egeland, the UN's top humanitarian official] to delay his visit [to Darfur] because it coincided with a holiday to mark the birthday of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad".

Holy hoot

Some of the buzz around DTRA's new bunker buster (here and here) focuses on unfamiliar second word in its code name divine strake. I had to look this up too (guessing, probably wrongly, the mining connection from among the OED definitions).

But the first part of its designation under the nickname exercise codeword system seems more in keeping with a situation in which leading figures on both sides have a mind set for religious war.

Will the Iranian white whale (the hoot) live up to its description?