Friday, February 29, 2008

In his own words

They will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.
-- Matan Vilnai, Israel's deputy defence minister, speaking to Israeli army radio about inhabitants of the Gaza strip. (report).

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Far from victory in the Cold War, the superpower nuclear-arms race and the corresponding militarization of the American economy gave [the U.S.] ramshackle cities, broken bridges, failing schools, entrenched poverty, impeded life expectancy, and a menacing and secretive national-security state.
-- Richard Rhodes, quoted by Joseph Cirincione. And so it goes for The true cost of Iraq war.

At the brink

...Paul Nitze, the principal author of the 1950 NSC report, intentionally exaggerated Soviet nuclear capacities and minimized those of the US in order to "bludgeon the mass mind of 'government'"—as Nitze's superior, Secretary of State Dean Acheson, admitted years later. Although the Soviet Union had lost at least 25 million people and half its industry in World War II, Nitze portrayed the USSR as a fanatical enemy that, within a few years, would threaten America with an estimated two hundred nuclear weapons. According to his report, the then American stockpile of 1,400 weapons would be insufficient to counter such a threat. Nitze's report came at a time when international events, including the Korean War, seemed to validate this dark vision. In response, Truman quadrupled the defense budget and began a strategic program that would increase the US nuclear arsenal to some 20,000 thermonuclear bombs by 1960 and 32,000 by 1966.

The threats [though exaggerated] were real, but the aggressive American buildup created new dangers without diminishing the Soviet problem. When Richard Nixon began his policy of d├ętente with the Soviets to reverse these trends, Nitze formed, with Albert Wohlsetter at the University of Chicago, the Committee to Maintain a Prudent Defense Policy. It was the first of several private organizations that recruited young graduate students, including Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, with the explicit aim of subverting any plans to reduce the nuclear arsenal. "In doing so," [Richard] Rhodes writes, Nitze "unleashed a team of sorcerer's apprentices whose trail of wreckage extends well into the present century."...

...As with Team B, the [2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq] was wrong in every single assertion. Saddam Hussein had abandoned his nuclear and chemical weapons programs in 1991 and his biological weapons program in 1994. The leader of the Iraq Survey Group, David Kay, concluded in January 2004 that the regime had been in a "death spiral," growing weaker, not stronger. For the US, the result of this rush to invade Iraq has been one of the most devastating declines in security, power, and prestige in American history...

...[Today,] for the first time since the initial efforts of the Truman administration in the 1940s, a movement to eliminate nuclear weapons has developed not from the political left but from the "realist" center of the security elite. This promises to give the cause of arms reduction a political plausibility and importance that previous efforts, including the broad-based Nuclear Freeze Movement of the 1980s, have lacked...
-- from The Greatest Threat to Us All by Joseph Cirincione (7 Feb).
...The US should put its concerns forward in negotiations with Iran—not necessarily to make a grand bargain, but as a way to begin seeking common ground. We should not seek a comprehensive agreement on all the issues that divide us, but instead agree to work toward enlarging areas of common interest and diminishing and containing the differences...

...This is a historic moment for US leadership. It should take the initiative and encourage Iran, a powerful nation of proud people and ancient culture, to become integrated into the world community. The US is the only nation that can take on this task directly and achieve the breakthroughs that will be necessary. The process is likely to be painful and difficult, but the reward may be a more stable and peaceful Middle East.
-- from A Solution for the US–Iran Nuclear Standoff by William Luers, Thomas R. Pickering, Jim Walsh (20 Feb).

There will be oil

Although people speak of renewed “war,” the violence is more likely to resemble what happens in a stockyard. If it is like the last time, government-sponsored Arab militias will slaughter civilians so as to terrorize local populations and drive them far away from oil wells.
-- Nicholas Kristof from southern Sudan.

The Mad Gasser of Mattoon and Gef the Talking Mongoose

Until the idea of space flight became credible, there were no aliens; instead there were green men who hid in the woods. In the same way, psychotic delusions keep up with scientific change: the people once pursued by phantasms of the dead are now pestered by living celebrities who watch them from inside their TV sets, and those who used to confess themselves possessed now say there is a bomb inside them. The dictionary attests to the power and antiquity of the need to believe we are sharing the planet with beings not animal and not human, with ‘little greys’ from spacecraft, with goblins and domestic deities: beings who suspend the laws of nature wherever they pop up, and suspend moral laws too, for household sprites and pucks often have a fierce, childlike sense of justice, and retaliate without fear if they are slighted; aliens who want sex never ask nicely. On the lonely road by moonlight, the parts of ourselves oppressed by our intelligence come out to play. We meet ancestral selves, neither gods nor demons but short semi-humans with hairy ears and senses differently attuned – the eyesight of an eagle, the nose of a hound. The phenomena are internal, generated by the psychological mechanisms that connect us to each other and to our evolutionary past.
-- from Hilary Mantel's review (24 Jan) of the Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained. She says that "Only a few entries feature sentences like: ‘The aliens returned, exchanging barking sounds with one another as they stripped him naked and sponged him down.' "

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

E by gum

Matt Prescott calls to say the E-Day web site is live.

Energy saved will not be apparent until 6pm, when the switch-off starts, he says.

update: BBC online story here at 2.51pm

P.S. checking in at 8.45pm, consumption today actually seems to be running at some 2,000 MWh higher than "normal": a negative saving (i.e. excess) of 1.7%

Modern Muslims

Laleh Bhaktiar's translation of the Koran may upset traditionalists. [Her] English text has removed derogatory references to Christians and Jews. It changes many of the most important words, even substituting the word "God" for "Allah", which she says is more inclusive. Most controversially, her Koran rejects the idea, in Chapter Four, verse 34, that men may beat their wives.

"The word for "beat" has 25 meanings", she says. "We need to look therefore at what Muhammad did. He didn't beat but walked away. So why are we saying 'beat' when we can say 'go away' - which is what he did.
-- from US Muslim women seek active faith role. (How do I beat thee? Let me count the ways)
"One of the team doing the revision said they are nearly finished," said Mustafa Akyol, an Istanbul commentator who reflects the thinking of the liberal camp in Erdogan's governing AK party. "They have problems with the misogynistic hadith, the ones against women. They may delete some from the collection, declaring them not authentic. That would be a very bold step. Or they may just add footnotes, saying they should be understood from a different historical context."
-- from Turkey strives for 21st century form of Islam.

P.S. not so modern: Osama bin London (plus video clip).

An ornery beast

According to both the 2001 and 2007 IPCC reports, neither Greenland nor Antarctica should lose significant mass by 2100. They both already are. Here again, the conservative nature of the IPCC process puts it at odds with observed empirical realities that are the basis of all science.
-- from Joseph Romm on The cold truth about climate change

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Useful poetry

In Something in nothing, Neil Astley asks whether poetry has any real agency in the world:
...[Seamus] Heaney's personal mantra is a phrase by an earlier Nobel prizewinner, the Greek poet George Seferis, who felt that poetry should be "strong enough to help"...

...David Constantine developed this theme in his essay The Usefulness of Poetry (2000), showing how Bertolt Brecht's dogmatic requirement that lyric poetry should be "useful" was subverted in his own work. The effect of Brecht's poems on the reader is not an engagement with his political ideas, says Constantine, but rather "a shock, a quickening of consciousness, a becoming alert to better possibilities, an extension, a liberation", for such poetry is, "to put it mildly, a useful thing if, when reading it, we sense a better way of being in the world"...
Others will disagree regarding Brecht and propaganda, but I think Constantine's analysis is also relevant to at least two of Brecht's greatest plays: Galileo, and Mother Courage. And I think the shock of the two moments identified in my comments on Burning Capital comes from how those moments help one sense both a better way of being, and also a very much worse one.

[Note: Three others including me are sharing a stage with Neil Astley on 29 Feb.]

Back to petroleum

Burning Capital, "a documentary on BP's fourth quarter and full year results 2007" by Platform (see note 1) was published on the web on 5 Feb. I watched it a couple of days ago and hazard a few comments here.

As its subtitle makes clear, Burning Capital is not trying to be 'art'. But neither is it 'just' a documentary either. The film has a strong polemical intent, coloured by a concern for aesthetics, feeling and imagination that is typical of much of Platform's work, and one of the reasons that work is often interesting.

The film has a clear message: that far from starting to move beyond petroleum, BP is refocussing its strategy for half a century ahead on heavily polluting fossil fuels (BP goes back to petroleum); and that this strategy is fundamentally at odds with avoiding dangerous climate change. The narrator, James Marriott, asks pointedly what responsibility named individuals bear for this, and says that BP's strategy will, or should, put in question its social license to operate in countries like the U.K., U.S., and Germany. Were consumers/citizens to demand that BP factor in the cost of carbon of its operations and products, the balance sheet and share price of Britain's largest corporation would probably go into free fall.

So far, so predictable: the leopard does not change its spots (see, for example, The metamorphosis of oil?). Oil executives are 'bad', even sociopathic. And, as the professors of business at the major schools observe, the most important technological and social disruptions often come from new entrants, not established players.

Less easy to judge, but potentially interesting and important, is what contribution Burning Capital may make to changing minds and provoking actions. What might it add to the sense that things can be different, to making something happen...such as the fundamental strategic shift in energy investment that some environmentalists have been recommending for at least twenty years (but which climate change science now indicates is more urgent than ever)?

Activists and others may see Burning Capital as a useful educational and motivational tool ("Did they really sneak out the TNK announcement at midnight during the Bali conference? Have they really been playing a multi-year game in Iraq all along, and deep into the Canadian establishment since 1919? The absolute rotters! I am shocked, shocked!, to find gambling taking place in this establishment" [see note 2]), and that may be fine as far as it goes. Their opponents may see it as simplistic, and criticise the film for what they think it leaves out. That's for them to say.

But I will speculate about two moments in the film which are among its most 'artistic' and least 'political'. The first is the account, in Act 1.2, of the "vast liquid clock" that is the Forties extraction and pipeline system in the North Sea and the refineries to which it is connected. The system takes ten days to turn crude oil into aviation fuel that powers a 747 across the Atlantic:
The liquid clock takes ten days to run its course, ten days for the oil to move from 8,000 feet below the sea level to 31,000 feet above it, for liquid rocks to melt into air, ten days for geology laid down 57 million years ago to be incinerated into gas.
The second, in Act 3.1, features footage of freefall from extreme altitude. (Perhaps Joseph Kittinger's 1960 jump from about 31,300 metres which put him into free fall for four and a half minutes, reaching a speed of about 990 kmph before he opened his parachute at 5,500 metres? Burning Capital does not say.)

In my view, the power of these moments, which help to make the film watchable, inheres in the way they touch on profound questions for human existence: time and death. While much of the film is full - perhaps too full - of busy (but very well spoken) narrative with explicit designs on the intellect (carrying it over a few clunky bits to end deftly located in front of a filling station where 'we' as consumers 'choose' to fill up), these moments (with antecedents in the likes of Koyaanisqatsi, 1982) communicate directly to the imagination. Their relationship to the main narrative is not solely instrumental, and may even question its designs: not with fatalism, exactly, but with an invitation to step beyond a normal way of perception (as, for example, "inhabiting the instant of one's
 death...knowing that this is the last breath that you are 
going to draw and not being afraid" as Simon Critchley puts it in his analysis of Terrence Malick's Thin Red Line), only to return in a state of being that is more engaged and open to change...or not.

Note 1. Disclosure: I have followed Platform's Carbon Web project for some years, and on occasion have been peripherally involved with it. I reviewed And While London Burns here, and a very long time ago created a student project -- a version of Brecht's Man Equals Man set in the Falklands War -- that carried a Platform 'stamp'.

Footnote 2: one of my favourite examples concerns Tony Blair's jaunt to Libya just before he left office. See John Company.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Desde Gaza

As Israel Increases Its Gaza Forces, Jen Marlowe reports on Gaza Struggling under Siege.


I would be interested to hear of more striking example of institutionalized failure than the UK government's likely upcoming decision to cut funding for home energy efficiency (reported in FoE issues fuel poverty ultimatum). Defra officials see the £2 million it provides to National Energy Action as a cost, to be pruned. If the HMG was serious about factoring the cost of carbon into investment decisions, it would recognize that an allocation towards energy efficiency one hundred times the size was a serious under-investment.

P.S. 25 Feb: "The government has switched money meant to support low carbon and renewable technologies to clean up the waste from Britain's nuclear power stations" - see Green Cash Raid - end note to Atomic waste clean-up plan comes under fire.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Names and actions

Andy Revkin usefully discusses a perennial topic: how labels on climate change can shape and frame thinking. One of the points he quotes Seth Godin:
Global is good. Warm is good. Even greenhouses are good places. How can “global warming” be bad? I’m not being facetious. If the problem were called “Atmosphere cancer” or “Pollution death” the entire conversation would be framed in a different way.
(Thanks to RB for this: I am almost outside of the world of thought and work at present.)

Tom Athanasiou asks Where do we go from here?, sketches what he thinks are moves towards a defensible climate realism, and recommends Climate Code Red from David Spratt and Phillip Sutton.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Why 'peak oil' is a red herring

[liquid fuels from coal] could be economic if oil prices stay consistently above US$25-40 a barrel. Oil currently costs double that, and briefly touched $100 a barrel last month...

Of the 30 or so large-scale coal-to-liquids plants being worked on around the world, only one in Australia plans to conduct a carbon capture trial.

Even capturing the carbon may not solve the problem. An analysis by the [US DOE] last year said that liquid fuels from coal, even with carbon capture and storage employed, would still produce at least 20% more carbon dioxide than petrol and diesel made from oil.
-- from Alarm over new oil-from-coal plans.

But Krugman is sceptical: things like coal-to-oil "always fall short of expectations", he thinks. Really?

Tuna to go

Cod have been reduced to between 1% and 3% of their natural abundance and people still want to fish them. Are we going to do the same thing with tuna?
-- Daniel Pauly of UBC quoted in Tuna fisheries facing a cod-like collapse.

(As for invasive species, Tara Grescoe says the solution is eat them.)


Many Americans were puzzled by the news, in 1902, that United States soldiers were torturing Filipinos with water. The United States, throughout its emergence as a world power, had spoken the language of liberation, rescue, and freedom...
-- Paul Kramer on The Water Cure.

More than Lolita

DP recommends Rafia Zakaria's review of Jasmine and Stars: Reading More Than Lolita in Tehran by Fatemeh Keshavarz and Rethinking Global Sisterhood: Western Feminism and Iran by Nima Naghibi.
[Both authors] reveal the conundrum facing Muslim women, who must articulate a discourse that both opposes patriarchy in their local contexts and also remains committed to deflating the insidious discourse of orientalist stereotypes.

Friday, February 15, 2008

'Poised for significant reorganisation'

Scientists fear 'tipping point' in Pacific Ocean - a media report on a paper titled Emergence of Anoxia in the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem.

And these are our friends

The judge said of the Saudi threat: "If that had happened in our jurisdiction, they would have been guilty of a criminal offence."...

... the [Serious Fraud Office]'s assistant director...described attending a meeting at the Foreign Office where "we had been told that 'British lives on British streets' were at risk"
-- from Government rolled over to Saudi BAE threats, says judge

Thursday, February 14, 2008


There was an embarrass not all of it de richesse around the anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth a couple of days ago. Among the more efficient pieces was Kevin Padian in Nature on Darwin's enduring legacy, which included a quote from Thomas Hardy of all people ("Let me enjoy the earth no less / Because the all-enacting Might / That fashioned forth its loveliness / Had other aims than my delight"). Olivia Judson (A tyrannical romance) was reliably fluid, knowledgeable and naughty (although there was a touch of Phil Space about it). But I'd like to mark the date with a passage from Lowly Origins (2003) by Jonathan Kingdon from the end of his chapter on early primates From Gondwana to the forests of Egypt:
With larger size, there are further development of the primate brain, arboreal agility and versatility in the use of limbs, hands and feet; but all these developments are subordinate to that great crossing of the day-night borderline. When our ancestors abandoned a furtive existence in the forests of the night, a way of life that had lasted for many tens of millions of years, the curtain rose on a new chapter in primate evolution. By invading the day, they thrust a new mammal presence into the teeming theatre of bird, lizards, insects, and millions of lowering, fruiting, sun-fed plants.

Even today there are countless night-to-day successions that mirror, or at least symbolise, that extraordinarily prolific and significant evolutionary event. I remember a dawn in Uganda. A blush of pink had begun to suffuse the eastern sky, a delayed fruit bat winged urgently back to its communal roost, but the red-tailed monkey troop that I had risen so early to be with was already on the move. Animals followed one another out of their sleeping tree in the valley bottom and, in an untidy procession, moved up the slope, through a broken canopy. Before the sun was up they were into the red milkwood trees, stuffing their cheek pouches with sweet orange cherries. By the time parrots swept in with fast, braking swoops and the hornbills arrived, braying, low over the treetops, the red-tails were half ready to go, having creamed off the ripest fruit from the richest clusters. By mid morning the trees were alive with pigeons and barbets, turacos, still more hornbills, gentle monkeys and mangabeys; but the red-tails were gone. In hastening to make the most of another dawn in their ever-changing forest, I envisioned those monkeys as triumphant successors to a procession of long-extinct primates, among them my own direct ancestors. As I lumbered through the undergrowth, I could find some solace in the thought that I, too, once traversed branches high in a dawn-lit canopy, close on the heels of my fellow troop members, all of us drawn by the anticipation of savoury cockchafers of sweet cherry pulp. It is only now, with an imagination that is informed and inspired by Darwinian (or Mendelian) insights, that we can treasure and value such moments, snatched from the rich texture of primate life in equatorial Africa. We can connect, today, with some of the most vital and vivacious expressions of life that have ever flourished on this planet: primates here for some 100 million years, diverse, constantly changing, and source of our own existence.

Development and freedom

A friend working in Bangladesh notes Flat and Wet, a post by David Miliband about his recent visit to a development project in that country.

There are things here to welcome, but I think the line about ID cards, for one, is disingenuous. The Bangladeshi system is unlikely to be similar to the one proposed by his govt in the UK, on which see Timothy Garton Ash:Our state collects more data than the Stasi ever did. On democracy promotion, Garton Ash (drop Iraq, add Europe) is also worth reading.

The case of Sami al-Hajj

If the Bush administration appointed an Under Secretary of State for Antagonizing the Islamic World, with advice from a Blue Ribbon Commission for Sullying America’s Image, it couldn’t have done a more systematic job of discrediting our reputation around the globe.
-- from Nicholas Kristof's When we torture.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The 'land-use cascade'

Maribo on biofuel impacts.

The world tree

Of all the charts I have seen in recent weeks, this is one of the best simplified overviews of the whole shebang and the relation between different forms.

Three for today

Paddy Ashdown says the priorities for Nato in Afghanistan should be to support security, governance and the rule of law (A strategy to save Afghanistan). A UN report says CO2 emissions from shipping are about 1.12bn tonnes, nearly 4.5% of all global total, and three times higher than previously thought (True scale of C02 emissions from shipping revealed). Robert Reich says raising wages of the bottom two thirds of U.S. earners, allowing them to organise, and improving schooling is the way to keep America in one piece (Totally Spent).

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Who we are

Good to read the sane voice of Richard Flanagan (An invitation to the future) regarding the stolen generation ("some hundred thousand indigenous children were taken from their families and tribes - often forcibly - and raised in institutions and foster families where they would pointedly not be allowed their language or culture")

Earlier today I came across a nice line in The Subtlety of Emotions by Aaron Ben Ze'ev. This purported quote from an Aborginal elder may be a Chief Seattle moment -- that is, a bogus Western forgery of recent origin that speaks to our own sentimentality rather than indigenous reality -- but I'll quote it anyway:
You white people are so strange. We think it very primitive for a child to have only two parents.
[Kevin Rudd's sorry speech is here]

P.S. 24 Feb: Teo Kermeliotis takes issue here.

Antarctic antics

Spencer Weart makes a welcome contribution at Real Climate (Antarctica is Cold? Yeah, We Knew That):
In 1980 a New York University group reported that “the influence of deep sea thermal storage could delay the full value of temperature increment predicted by equilibrium models by 10 to 20 years” just between 1980 and 2000

The march of folly

Danny Postel reviews Targeting Iran.

With war [always?] just around the corner, perhaps it is time to quote this from Hafez:
Hide the goblet in the sleeve of the patchwork cloak,
For the time, like the eye of the decanter, pours forth blood.

Biofuel questions

On Admit it: we were right, I commented:
Should environmentalists campaign against all biofuels forever? What about jatropha and sugarcane derived fuels for local use in regions such as rural West Africa and the Caribbean? What about biofuels from algae? What about switchgrass and cellulosic ethanol?

The Princes

Rob Evans and Tony Levene's report Ultra-rich lobby group with influence at No 10, and the efforts behind it, show the value of the UK Freedom of Information law, however limited it may be.

Reading of super special provision for those who are already rich and powerful, I realise it doesn't get one very far to ask couldn't these top cats be just as happy with marginally less supercalafragalisticexpialidocious reward packages? The size of the rewards, and the inequity involved, is precisely about reinforcing the exercise of power. A more germane place to start a critique, perhaps, is regarding the interaction of profits and war -- British companies wanted to be sure of a share of the spoils in Iraq -- and the reported lobbying to get Blair "not to bring in tougher rules after the scandals involving Enron and other American corporations".

Friday, February 08, 2008

Cabon and finance

At a lecture yesterday, Nick Robins, now at HSBC, sketched a programme for finance with regard to climate change:
* Make climate change a standard part of accounting, disclosure and listing rules;
* Modernise fiduciary duty to reflect the reality of climate change;
* Design financial products whose risk profiles make climate change imperatives clear; and
* Match corporate disclosure with reporting on investment funds.
He described this a fairly modest reform package. And, sure, there are several schemes which appear to attempt to speak to parts of this agenda. The Carbon Disclosure Project, for example, now "mobilises $57 trillion in asset data for 3,000 companies" (note the phrasing). Just this week Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley announced their Carbon Principles. (Nick has of course done pioneering work himself, including The Carbon 100).

But among the key points, at least as it seemed to me, were: 1) how great the distance still appears to be before a set of provisions such as these is made comprehensive and mandatory; and 2) how little progress is being made on investment in energy efficiency, CCS and deforestation (the three areas where largest emissions reductions are thought be achievable in the next two decades or so), and how difficult progress in these areas appears to be. Am I unduly pessimistic?

Hot and bothered

AB recommends Cranmer on Williams and Sharia. John Harris dissects New Labour's approach to those satirised in the background of this cartoon here.

P.S. 1pm: Asim Siddiqui is quite sensible.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

String theory

Perhaps I should get out more, but for some time I have noticed that our (now nearly) ten month old daughter has a particular fascination for manipulating fine strings and ribbons. Maybe it is foolish to read anything into this, but I came across this in Jonathan Kingdon's Self Made Man and His Undoing:
A strong ‘feeling’ for string, cordage and basketry is evident in all gathering, hunting and fishing communities up to the present. Men and women spend long hours processing, repairing and tying [plant or animal] fibres into nets or weaving ingenious traps. Games are played with cat’s cradles and the breaking points of various fibres are not only discussed and well known but also tested in tug of war games. Some of these traditions probably have a history of 2 million years. In my view traps are likely to have harvested much more food than active hunting did throughout most of prehistory.

N of the affair

Paul Ehrlich draws attention to Nitrogen pollution stomps on biodiversity, a Nature news report which says that the long-term effects of low-level pollution may have been underestimated.

Meanwhile, studies in Science here and here conclude that almost all biofuels have a negative net impact and tat land use change has been left out of analysis of the costs and benefits (NYT report here).

Values and votes

I was born in Bangladesh, but raised in Paris, New York and Bangkok, and I now live in London. I'm not even a US citizen. Nor am I a campaign addict. I have never campaigned for any Bangladeshi candidate. I have never asked anyone for their time, their attention, their vote. But here I am, on the corner of Prospect and Mass Ave, cheering for a man who will never be my president.
--the Bangladeshi novelist Tahmima Anam explains why she supports Barack Obama. Anam is a secular liberal. But Nicholas Kristof, writing about electability, notes that Obama polls "surprisingly well among [U.S.] evangelical Christians, an important constituency in swing states":
Relevant magazine, which caters to young evangelicals, asked its readers: “Who would Jesus vote for?” Mr. Obama was the winner and came out 27 percentage points ahead of Mrs. Clinton.
Part of the reason for Obama's appeal seems to be that he articulates clear values (see Ganz) that have both a religious and internationalist non-sectarian dimension ("Religious commitment did not require me to suspend critical thinking, disengage from the battle for economic and social justice, or otherwise retreat from the world that I knew and loved". -- The Audacity of Hope). He may be seen as, among other things, the positive to the 2004 negative which Simon Critchley analyses in an essay on Crypto-Schmittianism:
The astonishing and much-discussed factoid about the presence of moral values in the exit polls from [November 2004] and which caused a minor panic amongst American liberals, is [that] Citizens are making political decisions that are really moral judgments and these judgments flow from a dogmatic metaphysics, to be precise God as the depoliticizing instance par excellence...One might say that the strong connection between faith, morality and politics is one of the most enduring features of civil society in the US since the time of the original violent settlement, through to the eulogies of Tom Paine and Tocqueville. The left ignores that connection at its peril.
[Timothy Garton Ash notes the phenomenon of the U.S. primaries as a political version of the World Cup: "participation without representation", and makes several good points. "Suppose the election were not for another country's president but for the leadership of the United Nations, the World Bank or the IMF". What about the EU, Tim?]

P.S. The "other" values: McCain to CPAC. Andrew Sullivan says this is conservatism to be proud of. The rhetoric is impressive. What are the deliverables? They include: easily available assault weapons for personal use, a cut in corporate tax rates, and bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran.

P.S. 10 Feb: Only today did I catch up with Anthony Barnett on Taking Obama Seriously which is well worth reading. It includes a reminder of Obama's foresight on Iraq ("I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars" - excerpted from here). AB cites this convincingly in support Toni Morrison's claim that creative imagination coupled with brilliance adds up to wisdom in this case.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

O what a lovely

[The Bush administration official told] the Chinese leadership that they’d better warn Iran that we can’t hold back Israel, and that the Iranians should look at Syria and see what’s coming next if diplomacy fails. His message was that the Syrian attack was in part aimed at Iran.
-- a source quoted by Seymour Hersch in A strike in the dark: Why did Israel bomb Syria?

La Casta Europeana

Clemente Mastella, who resigned as the Minister of Justice on January 16th, after it was revealed that he was under investigation for several crimes, including extortion, has been in parliament for thirty-one years, as a member of four different political parties. Mastella has denied any wrongdoing. Last week, he withdrew his party, the Udeur, from the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Romano Prodi, a move that, on January 24th, after a no-confidence vote in the Senate, led to the fall of the government.
-- from Beppe's Inferno by Tom Mueller.

If, as a result of the fall of Prodi's government, Berlusconi makes a comeback, then his holiday-buddy Tony Blair, who is said to already have Sarkozy's support, could make a comeback as Presna Yurp. It may be that only Merkel, Zapatero and few others stand in the way.

Down but not out

Obama lost in California, New York and Massachussetts but the campaign is not over. A family member circulates this endorsement by Marshall Ganz, who thinks Obama 'gets' the lesson of social movements of the past. He says:
Self interest is not enough around which to mobilise social change...Self interest can keep things the way they are. But if you are going to organise change you need levels of commitment, courage, willingness to take risks, go into uncertain waters. And that requires moral commitments, values commitments.
The video is here.

[P.S. 6pm: Andrew Sullivan on The Natural]

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

E Day

Matt Prescott sends word of that BBC News Online has just published an article announcing E-Day's "Leave It Off" on 27 Feb. He has also set up a Facebook group and a You Tube channel.

Hooray for Matt for sticking with this through real difficulties and making it happen.

Monday, February 04, 2008

al-Walid the Inadequate, and regrettable aspects of nation-building

If the Christians took Spain from the Muslims, the Muslims had taken it from the Visigoths, who had appropriated it from the Romans, who had seized it from the Carthaginians, who had thrown out the Phoenicians. Lewis does not pretend that the Muslims were not conquerors; he simply justifies their conquest on the ground of their belief in convivencia, a pressing matter today. I can foresee a time when another matter important to us, the threat of ecological catastrophe, will prompt a historian to write a book in praise of the early Europeans whom Lewis finds so inferior to the Muslims. The Franks lived in uncleared forests, while the Muslims built fine cities, with palaces and aqueducts? All the better for the earth. The Franks were fond of incest? Endogamy keeps societies small, prevents the growth of rapacious nation-states. The same goes for the Franks’ largely barter economy. Trade such as the Muslims practiced—far-flung and transacted with money—leads to consolidation. That’s how we got global corporations.
-- Joan Acocella, tongue in cheek, in a review of David Levering Lewis’s God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570 to 1215

A plain view

In How oily is your candidate?, Catherine Brahic points out that big oil couldn't deliver Giuliani in '08 (see graph). But where will future bungs go? Below: How it was in 2004

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Life, not fate

One of the most successful acts of resistance in the Third Reich is not well known. In 1943, when the Nazis were undecided about whether to deport and murder Jewish spouses of non-Jews, they tested the waters by rounding up nearly 2,000 Jewish men whose non-Jewish wives had already withstood considerable government pressure to divorce them. These wives spontaneously gathered in front of the building in the Rosenstrasse where their husbands were being held. For one long week they refused to leave the little square in central Berlin, despite the Gestapo machine guns trained upon them.

...[And] the police backed down. The men were released. They and their families survived. And in a country that devotes so much time and energy to commemorating the victims, these brave women remain anonymous; all that really marks their story is a small clay-colored memorial in a park that few Berliners know. Seeing it moves many to tears. But what’s tragic are not these heroes, but the fact that there were not more. Others were deterred less by the Nazi terror than by a much older message: heroic action is futile, and mostly ends in death, besides.

After all these years, isn’t it time to send a message to Germany’s children — and everyone else’s — that will help them to stand up against present evils as well as mourning past ones?
- Susan Neiman, who argues that Germany has chosen the wrong resistance heroes.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Beast

Anthony Barnett draws attention to Peter Oborne's review of Flat Earth News by Nick Davies. And Peter Wilby reviews Who Runs Britain? by Robert Peston.

P.S. 3 Feb Mary Riddell criticises Nick Davies.

Dark, dark

A BBC crew has filmed the Panamanian golden frog in the wild, waving, wrestling and courting, shortly before it became extinct. See clip and story.

Middle Kingdom meltdown

One...key area that I’m concerned about is China...As you know, they get a lot of their water from melting glaciers and snow in the Himalayas. And as it gets warmer, these glaciers...are melting at an accelerated rate. That’s been shown. Right now it looks good for the people there because they have more water than they’re used to. But what happens when the glaciers go away? That’s fossil water--they were formed thousands of years ago--and when they’re gone, just like somebody turning the tap off. It’s all over. So, in northwest China roughly 300 million people there are facing a water crisis within the next couple of decades. Where are they going to go? I don’t know, but the answers are not very attractive.
--Tim Barnett of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and co-author of Human-Induced Changes in the Hydrology of the Western United States in the 1 Feb Science podcast (transcript pdf).

See also Prioritizing Climate Change Adaptation Needs for Food Security in 2030.

It could have been different

Ian Jack reviews Memories of Eden by Violette Shamash.