Friday, July 21, 2006

Never more free

Iranian liberals today do not deny that the liberties appropriate to a liberal society can be derived from a theory or stated in a system of principles, but their view of a liberal society is related to a view of humanity and truth as inherently unfinished, incomplete, and self-transforming. The principles of Iranian liberalism cannot be grounded in religious truth, because the very idea of free agency, as it is understood today by Iranian liberals, goes against any form of determinism (religious or historical)
-- from an interview with Ramin Jahanbegloo by Danny Postel. Danny once again enriching our lives by bringing this to us.

[Reminded of Furtwangler (was it?) when asked how he could conduct Fidelio, the tremendous hymn to liberty and conscience, in Germany under the National Socialists. He replied "Where else?"]

Make a paella, destroy the planet

Jeffrey McNeely's focus on mangroves to highlight the need for a new global initiative on biodiversity is well chosen:
"Scientists including economists have made it very clear that mangroves are incredibly valuable as mangroves, much more valuable than they are as shrimp farms...But because of political reasons, mangroves get converted into shrimp ponds which produce cheap shrimps for export at the cost of long-term environmental protection".
One of the fairly new surprises for some has been the possible importance of mangroves in the biogeochemical cycle (see here).

Can the rich one billion of us be bothered enough to change our purchasing habits regarding shrimps?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Not impressed by this ratio

"On the bloodiest day so far, [Israeli] air strikes killed 58 civilians and one Hizbollar fighter" --Financial Times, 19 July 2006

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The cost of the Iran and Syria wars

Leading American commentators like David Brooks and William Kristol are calling for direct confrontation with Syria and Iran. It's hard to see how this would not edge into direct war. But if those states were brought down, what would replace them, and how much would the whole party cost?

Reading Kristol's contribution and other material on the FT site (which syndicated it from the Weekly Standard), I noticed in the margins a reference to an article by Martin Wolf back in January regarding the study by Joe Stiglitz on the economic costs of the Iraq war (on a conservative scenario $839bn direct costs and $1,026bn if indirect costs are included, on a moderate scenario $1,104 direct and $1,854bn indirect). Good to be reminded of the orignal study, which did not of course account for the fact that more than 900 Iraqi civilians has been killed for everyone who died in the bombings in London last July.

How about some estimates for war on Syria and Iran, taking a few scenarios from airstrike through full blown occupation but not necessarily accounting for blowback over the next one to fifty years?

Mark Mazower suggests that the Europeans, as Israel's largest trading partner, exert some pressure to persuade Israel to adhere to the 4th Geneva convention in the territories and Lebanon:

One reason for the virtual unanimity behind the 1949 Geneva prohibition on collective punishment in wartime was the sense that it was both morally unpalatable and militarily ineffective. Recent history suggested collective punishment usually played into the hands of well-organised and popular insurgencies. The latter may deliberately provoke it – as resistance groups frequently did in wartime Europe – because it often brings new recruits, weakens alternative sources of authority and discredits the perpetrators.

I guess this advice will be dismissed in Washington and Tel Aviv as impossibly quaint, at best.

More sober thoughts here (Billmon, via Juan Cole) and here:

As for taking on Iran, well that decision still rests with a higher authority, and while Bill Kristol and David Horowitz can burn up the Internets with their cries to let loose the dogs of war (again), I'm getting the impression that the Cheney administration has had its fill of world wars of choice, at least for the moment. It may be that the IDF is going to have to content itself with shelling and bombing defenseless population centers, at least until after our November elections. But I could be wrong; it has been known to happen. And if I am, and the Third World War, or Fourth, or whatever, now looms, well, it's certainly been nice knowing you all.

The irony of all this is that Israel has the world's leading authority on fourth generation war -- the man who literally wrote the book -- at its immediate disposal, and yet at the moment it looks almost as unprepared to fight one as Uncle Sam. I'm a little surprised by that, but then again the tribes of Israel have something of a track record of ignoring their prophets.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The house of war

We made a major error by going to war in Iraq. We overestimated the probability of success and ignored warnings of a likely insurgency. We were unprepared for a long occupation and unprepared to create a functioning state. And we did not fully consider how a protracted war would benefit our terrorist enemies for decades to come by allowing them to train against the most powerful military in history and reinforcing the incorrect but increasingly compelling idea that America is determined to humiliate and harm the Islamic world.

Some errors yield not only bad outcomes, but also bad choices, and this is one. It will be dangerous for both Iraqis and Americans if we leave Iraq as a failed state. But it is even more dangerous to remain where our continuing presence will inevitably result in further cruelties and atrocities, providing more arguments for more videos to attract more terrorist recruits around the globe — including here at home.

-- Jessica Stern: Al Qaeda, American-style

Blatnaya pesnya

Aficionados say it has become the ultimate crossover genre, with Johnny Cash-type singing about sin and redemption, a Spice Girls-style girl-group singing about girlish antics, and a remarkable number of very tough-looking, thick-necked middle-aged men in gold chains singing about a mother’s love.
-- Sophia Kishkovsky Notes from a Russian Musical Underground.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Scenes from a marriage

"The lesson they took from Iraq is that there should have been more troops on the ground" -- an impossibility in Iran, because of the overextension of American forces in Iraq -- " so the air war in Iran will be one of overwhelming force".

"If you engage a superpower, you feel you are a superpower...And now the haggling in the Persian bazaar begins. We are negotiating over a carpet" -- the suspected [nuclear] weapons program -- "that we're not sure exists, and that we don't want to exist. And if at the end there never was a carpet it'll be the negotiation of the century".
-- respectively, a government consultant with ties to the Pentagon and Giandomienico Picco, as quoted by Seymour Hersh in Last Stand

Thursday, July 06, 2006

London not calling

In the run up to the anniversary, the British media has dwelt on almost every conceivable aspect of the bombings in London last 7 July. Some of the coverage has been thoughtful and sensible. But the huge focus seems disproportionate given that more than fifty dead from bombs planted by militants/crazies would be not far off a normal day in Iraq.

P.S. (7 July) Paul Rogers writes:
The London bombings were horrific – for those killed, injured or directly traumatised, for their families and friends, and for many people in the wider community. It may also be remembered that for each person who died on the bus and underground trains that day, 900 civilians have been killed in Iraq since March 2003. Each month, the death toll in Iraq is equivalent to twenty London attacks.
See also Johann Hari: 7/7 A requiem

The Great Race

If a "Glasgow kiss" is actually a head-butt, then abuse in lieu of contrition perhaps ought to be called the "London apology" -- Neil Hallows

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A black flag

A black flag hangs over the "rolling" operation in Gaza. The more the operation "rolls," the darker the flag becomes. The "summer rains" we are showering on Gaza are not only pointless, but are first and foremost blatantly illegitimate. It is not legitimate to cut off 750,000 people from electricity. It is not legitimate to call on 20,000 people to run from their homes and turn their towns into ghost towns. It is not legitimate to penetrate Syria's airspace. It is not legitimate to kidnap half a government and a quarter of a parliament.

A state that takes such steps is no longer distinguishable from a terror organization.
-- Gideon Levy in Haaretz