Tuesday, January 31, 2006

German press on Merkel's snubbing of Hamas

Even Der Spiegel, long a supporter of all things Palestine, finds Hamas distasteful. In this online article they report on what the German mainstream press thinks of Chancellor Merkel's recent decision to not meet with Hamas.

The business daily Handelsblatt shows understanding for Merkel's reluctance to be the first western leader to deal with Hamas. Nevertheless, the paper believes eventually both Israel and the west will be forced to work with the Muslim extremists. "No one wants to be the first to break the ice or get their hands dirty," writes the paper. "But the reality is that the Palestinian territories are so tightly tied to Israel that a dialogue or at least coordination with Hamas is unavoidable." The paper is hopeful that Hamas' participation in any future Palestinian government could be a moderating influence on the group. "After its election victory, Hamas should have the chance to work out and present its program for governing. Who knows, maybe a critical dialogue with the west will help it find the right way. The west gives up nothing by doing so, but rather simply respects a democratic decision." A political cartoon next to the editorial has a less rosy take on the situation: The drawing depicts Merkel talking to Abbas with a gigantic shoe labeled "Hamas" squishing him. "Yes, the pressure has increased a bit," reads the caption.

The left-wing Berliner Zeitung comments that during her visit Merkel will be emphasising the basic German position of solidarity with Israel. This is manifest in her demand that Hamas turn its back on terrorism and recognize Israel. "Her position carries some weight as she could be seen as a representative of the European Union, which supports the Palestinian Authority in the form of millions of euros worth of aid, which Hamas would also be dependent upon," the daily opines. However, the paper also points out that "it is not enough to make demands and then wait to see if and when Hamas comes around." Merkel and the Israeli government may have stipulated that a renunciation of violence is the basic precondition for talks but "in truth, they both know full well that this can only be the first aim in any dialogue with the new rulers in the Palestinian areas." The paper predicts that -- in the interest of Israeli security -- talks with the Hamas leadership will not only take place soon but that they will take place before there is any indication that Hamas have turned their backs on violence. "Yet this will not happen in the open," it writes. "The Middle East is entering a new phase of secret diplomacy."

The center-left newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung makes it clear that Merkel faces an extremely difficult and delicate task: "With the eyes of the world upon her, she is entering the minefield of the Middle East." The paper comments that she somehow has to show solidarity with the Israelis, without being used as an instrument in their election campaign, and she must also avoid any contact with the Hamas leadership. Merkel will also be trying to persuade President Abbas not to resign as "he seems weary of office" and is being blamed by his own movement for their loss of power. This weekend he had to cancel a trip to the Gaza Strip out of fear of being attacked by furious Fatah mobs. "Merkel's visit to Ramallah on Monday should serve to strengthen his position. In the future Abbas should serve as a bridge between the Hamas government and the west," writes the paper. The western states need Abbas so that they don't have to have any embarrassing encounters with a Hamas leadership that has not sworn off terrorism. The SZ also points out that Merkel's delicate mission to the Middle East is a continuation of the intermediary role played by former foreign minister Joschka Fischer, who had to try to dispel Israel's mistrust of the EU while at the same time reminding the Palestinians of their responsibilities to do all they could to tackle terrorism.

Let Hamas try to govern without Euros and dollars for a while. There is nothing like an angry mob at the gates demanding that political promises be kept to bring leaders around. In the meantime, Israel should continue targeting Hamas's leadership. The combination of economic pressure and fear for one's safety can yet work.

On Iran, Chirac steps in as Bush fears to tread

One of the best columnists at the IHT—John Vinocur ($)—sees some good coming out of France’s blunt—if ambiguous—talk about the nuclear proliferation threat. Iran may have to recalibrate its negotiating strategy, and Jacques gets to remind France he still has a role to play.

One area where I diverge from his assessment is that I feel France may be threatening Iran not so much out of a belief that Iran can be dissuaded from its plans, but because France accepts that Iran is destined to build a bomb, and wants it to give careful thought when deploying it.

France, once more the contrarian, is offering up some carefully ambiguous hard talk these days on managing the emergence of Iran as a nuclear threat - at a time when Hillary Clinton has accused the Bush administration of downplaying the problem. […]

Without referring to Iran, Jacques Chirac picked a blindingly obvious juncture a week after Iran resumed uranium enrichment this month to say that dealing with threats to France's vital interests posed by rogue states or state-sponsored terrorism fit the doctrine of French use of its nuclear arsenal. Those vital interests, determined by the president, he said, can be "French, European, or of another nature."

Chirac is certainly not menacing Iran with nuclear attack, but rather emphasizing France's prerogatives and independence at a time when he believes that his political interests at home and French status as a power-player are not best served by wordless caution. […]

For all its obstructionist ways, France understands that without a credible stick, the bunny will keep eating all the carrots it’s offered.

In writing about how to approach Iran last year, Thérèse Delpech, director of strategic affairs at the French Atomic Energy Commission, and the country's best-known commentator on nuclear proliferation, said, "you've got to have credible means of dissuasion."

"It's not in exclaiming that military action never resolves anything that you get results," she said, "especially if you eliminate the use of oil sanctions at the same time."

Unlike in the United States, where new political grief would await whatever Bush might say, or shies away from saying, about dealing with Iran beyond its eventual referral to the United Nations Security Council, in France there is no serious domestic downside built-in to challenge Chirac's approach. […]

From within France's mainstream left, former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, a would-be Socialist candidate in the 2007 presidential election, not only avoided criticism of Chirac's pointed reiteration of French nuclear doctrine, but has gone further, calling for an international ban on travel by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran in response to his assertion that Israel should be erased from the map.

On the right, even a backer of Nicolas Sarkozy like Pierre Lellouche - president of NATO's parliamentary assembly, a former security adviser to Chirac, and now author of a new book harshly critical of the president - described Chirac's stance as "important and necessary."
It’s quite clear that there will be no “who lost Iran” political questions in France. In contrast, expect the Democrats to use this tactic in 2006 and beyond.

Here Vinocur details some of the domestic political benefits Chirac can expect from his tough talk:

It's no mystery, of course, that in talking about rogue states, threats of terrorism, and French nuclear weapons capabilities, Chirac created an I'm-in-charge-here event to project his role as French commander-in-chief both at home and on the world stage. It is unmistakably a response to a growing characterization that he is a lame duck less than a year and a half before presidential elections here, and his reminder that he remains in control at a time of a hard decisions for the Western allies.

But people familiar with his thinking emphasize that Chirac has been deeply and consistently mistrustful of Iran. In agreement on Iran's destabilizing role in Lebanon and Syria, France and the United States have worked increasingly closely in the Middle East over the past year.
In noted contrast to France’s long-standing and profitable links with Saddam’s Iraq. Snark aside, Chirac’s bellicosity is not unexpected. France has always been on the lookout to demonstrate its relevance on the global stage. And despite the political calculus that went into Chirac’s words, it does serve to stiffen the EU’s spine.

At the same time, of all the nuclear players, France and the United States have been the firmest advocates of nonproliferation as opposed to disarmament. Beyond its concerns over proliferation's raising the risks of nuclear war, France knows its special levers on the international level would diminish in a world of nuclear promiscuity.

Another element in taking a tougher-sounding stance in relation to Iran may well come from a changing French assessment of its relationship with the Germany of Angela Merkel.

As it becomes clearer that France will no longer operate as senior partner in an international strategic duo of the kind that existed during Gerhard Schröder's second term as chancellor, France can prop up its international status by emphasizing its autonomy within the Security Council and as a nuclear power - a compensatory alternative to its loss of leverage in Germany.
Sparkling assessment. It all comes down to the neo-Gaullist view that France must, above all, be an important player in global matters. And few are as neo-Gaullist as Chirac. It certainly won’t be on his watch that France surrenders its place among the big boys. So naturally, if he can no longer manipulate Germany, Chirac will act unilaterally—which rates a 10 on the irony meter.

Now, before the potential challenge of a fanaticized and unpredictable regime that can actually put nuclear warheads on missiles, the Americans need all the help they can get from their friends. In a period of diplomatic effort, when sounding tough on Iran is awkward in Washington, it's not totally excessive to think that during the months he's got left, Chirac might extend a French hand.

Intelligent Design belittles God, Vatican director says

A top Church scientist will deliver a stinging rebuke in a speech today to proponents of Intelligent Design and the Church's own Cardinal Schonborn, who recently found much to admire in ID as it is currently formulated.

To the smackdown as presented in Catholic Online:

Intelligent Design reduces and belittles God’s power and might, according to the director of the Vatican Observatory.

Science is and should be seen as “completely neutral” on the issue of the theistic or atheistic implications of scientific results, says Father George V. Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory, while noting that “science and religion are totally separate pursuits.” [...]

Christianity is “radically creationist,” Father George V. Coyne said, but it is not best described by the “crude creationism” of the fundamental, literal, scientific interpretation of Genesis or by the Newtonian dictatorial God who makes the universe tick along like a watch. Rather, he stresses, God acts as a parent toward the universe, nurturing, encouraging and working with it.
Despite my delight in reading his remarks about ID, I must note that our view of God has altered tremendously over the past few hudred years. Today's God no longer takes notice of the dropping of a sparrow's feather. God is increasingly limited to having created the universe, and then stepping in occasionally.

In his remarks, he also criticizes the cardinal archbishop of Vienna’s support for Intelligent Design and notes that Pope John Paul’s declaration that “evolution is no longer a mere hypothesis” is “a fundamental church teaching” which advances the evolutionary debate.

He calls “mistaken” the belief that the Bible should be used “as a source of scientific knowledge,” which then serves to “unduly complicate the debate over evolution.” [...]

He criticizes Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna for instigating a “tragic” episode “in the relationship of the Catholic Church to science” through the prelate’s July 7, 2005, article he wrote for the New York Times that “neo-Darwinian evolution is not compatible with Catholic doctrine,” while the Intelligent Design theory is.

Cardinal Schonborn “is in error,” the Vatican observatory director says, on “at least five fundamental issues.”

“One, the scientific theory of evolution, as all scientific theories, is completely neutral with respect to religious thinking; two, the message of John Paul II, which I have just referred to and which is dismissed by the cardinal as ‘rather vague and unimportant,’ is a fundamental church teaching which significantly advances the evolution debate; three, neo-Darwinian evolution is not in the words of the cardinal, ‘an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection;’ four, the apparent directionality seen by science in the evolutionary process does not require a designer; five, Intelligent Design is not science despite the cardinal’s statement that ‘neo-Darwinism and the multi-verse hypothesis in cosmology [were] invented to avoid the overwhelming evidence for purpose and design found in modern science,’” Father Coyne says.

Christianity is “radically creationist” and God is the “creator of the universe,” he says, but in “a totally different sense” than creationism has come to mean.

“It is unfortunate that, especially here in America, creationism has come to mean some fundamentalistic, literal, scientific interpretation of Genesis,” he stresses. “It is rooted in a belief that everything depends upon God, or better, all is a gift from God. The universe is not God and it cannot exist independently of God. Neither pantheism nor naturalism is true.” He says that God is not needed to explain the “scientific picture of life’s origins in terms of religious belief.” [...]
I wonder if he refers to the origin of life itself, or whether he means that speciation has occurred. Certainly a big difference.

“Religious believers must move away from the notion of a dictator God, a Newtonian God who made the universe as a watch that ticks along regularly.” [...]

He stresses that the theory of Intelligent Design diminishes God into “an engineer who designs systems rather than a lover.”

“God in his infinite freedom continuously creates a world which reflects that freedom at all levels of the evolutionary process to greater and greater complexity,” he said. “God lets the world be what it will be in its continuous evolution. He does not intervene, but rather allows, participates, loves.”
Following the Pope's recent impressive encyclical, one sees the idea of love popping up in many Church speeches, etc.

First seen at the Panda's Thumb

Latest RINO sightings are up

The newest RINO carnival is found at the Radical Centrist (which is as good a descriptor for RINO's as there is).

The R C is new to the herd, but fits in quite well. He has a fine collection of posts and does them all justice.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Islamist governments just as corrupt as secular ones

No real surprise, here. But it is important to the Palestinians, who voted Hamas in largely because the corruption and incompetance of Arafat's Fatah party left voters hungering for a government that put the populace first.

From the Telegraph comes this reminder that corruption isn't limited to secular governments:
Western liberal apologists for Islamism deplore the movement's murderous modus vivendi while secretly admiring what they imagine to be its ideological purity. In this respect, they resemble their predecessors, Left-wing British supporters of the Soviet Union at its most barbaric, who displayed a similar mixture of gullibility and ignorance.
An aside: an excellent book on the subject of how the Left continued to support Stalin is Martin Amis's "Koba the dread".
In reality, as David Blair's interview with the Sudanese extremist Hassan al-Turabi illustrates today, Islamism is no more ideologically pure than Stalinism. Although the movement is inspired by a body of fanatical teachings, and seduces its followers with promises of an exclusively Islamic utopia, its network of influence encompasses a grotesque menagerie of crooks and non-Muslim terrorists.

Mr Turabi was the architect of Africa's first Islamist state: he drafted the legislation that imposed Sharia law on the whole of Sudan, Islamic and Christian, in 1983; later, as leader of the ruling National Islamic Front, he extended the hospitality of President Omar al-Bashir's regime to Osama bin Laden, who used it to lay the foundations of al-Qa'eda.

But it was not just Islamists who benefited from the Sudanese safe haven. The Venezuelan terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal - who, in David Blair's phrase, "believed in nothing save murder" - was rescued from Syria by Mr Turabi's forces. Likewise, Mr Turabi sponsored the Lord's Resistance Army, a nominally Christian paramilitary cult from Uganda, which murders children or sells them into slavery.

Sudan was not an anomaly: the Afghan Taliban was happy to enrich itself from the drugs trade while quoting the Koran. The truth is that, once in power, Islamists usually turn out to be as venal and unscrupulous as their secular rivals. Let us hope that Palestine turns out to be the exception.

How the IAEA controls nuclear fuel

An interesting article at New Scientist on a potential aid to future policing of nuclear materials and an explanation of how the IAEA keeps tabs (in theory) on current civil nuclear programs.

The article notes that the new technology comes too late for Iran and North Korea, but it certainly has the potential to make the IAEA's monitoring job easier.

[...] [T]he issue of nuclear proliferation goes much wider than Iran. The number of nuclear reactors around the world is set to rise as nations look for ways to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, and all reactors can potentially be used to make plutonium for nuclear weapons. Because of this possibility, it might be useful for countries to be able to monitor each other to make sure weapons-grade plutonium is not being made on the sly.

At the moment there is no means of doing this, but researchers believe they have the beginnings of an answer. They are building devices they claim can detect whether a facility is producing radioactive material that could be used to produce a nuclear weapon. Their work is preliminary, and it won't solve the current political crisis involving Iran. Nor for that matter will it shed any light on North Korea's nuclear activities. But the surveillance device they are working on may prove invaluable to the nuclear police of the future.

If all new reactors were required to be fitted with such detectors, it would be very difficult for a country to produce weapons-grade plutonium in secret. It could also allow nuclear powers that have reached an agreement to halt the production of new fissile material to ensure that each country is keeping to the deal, says Cliff Singer, a physicist at the Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy in Washington DC, which advises the US government on science-related security issues. Discussions are under way between India, Pakistan and Israel on drawing up a treaty that could lead to such a moratorium.

At the moment, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the world's nuclear inspectorate, calculates the amount of plutonium produced by each of the reactors it safeguards by monitoring the amount of fuel entering the core, the total amount of time the reactor is on and its power output. The agency monitors the reactors in almost all countries that have them, with the exception of North Korea and some reactors in India and Pakistan. Iran has agreed to allow the IAEA to monitor any reactors that it builds.

The operators of each reactor also carry out their own calculations, and both sets of figures are verified by a mixture of planned and unannounced visits by inspectors, sealed surveillance cameras and satellite images of the steam and heat the reactor emits. But there is no way to directly measure the amount of plutonium a reactor is producing, says IAEA inspector Philip Durst, who is based at the agency's headquarters in Vienna, Austria.

Plutonium is produced as a by-product of the fission of uranium, and can also be used as fuel alongside uranium. By altering the type of fuel rods used in a reactor, or the rate at which neutrons permeate the reactor, it is possible to vary the amount of plutonium produced. This extra plutonium could be diverted to build a bomb without appearing as missing on the IAEA's books. "It is a potential route for proliferators to make plutonium for bombs," says Charles Ferguson, a nuclear proliferation specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank based in Washington DC.

This is where antineutrino detectors come in. The devices would be installed near reactors to detect these "ghostly" chargeless subatomic particles, which are generated as a by-product of the fission of both uranium-235 and plutonium. But the antineutrinos produced by uranium fission have more energy than those from plutonium fission, so a detector can determine their origin. As long as you know the amount of fuel going into the reactor, the rate at which the particles stream from the core can be used as a measure of the ratio of uranium and plutonium present.

Over the course of a year-long fuel cycle, as the uranium fissions and plutonium is produced, there is a gradual and predictable reduction in the number of high-energy antineutrinos released. This is because as the uranium is spent, a growing portion of the power produced is a result of plutonium fission, which produces fewer neutrinos at the higher energies necessary to be detected. If something untoward is going on and more plutonium is being produced than expected, the number of particles will fall at a faster rate. Because stepping up the rate of uranium fission to create more power would also have this effect, all antineutrino measurements must also be compared with the power output at the time they were released. This can be measured by comparing the temperature of the water going into the reactor with that of the water flowing out.

It should then be possible to calculate exactly how much plutonium is being produced, says Adam Bernstein, a researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. [...]

But while installing such detectors in the reactors of compliant nations would allow the IAEA to keep a more accurate record of global plutonium production, it would not help measure the output of those countries that refuse to have their facilities monitored, or which simply do not declare their reactors.

To do this, you would need detectors capable of remotely monitoring antineutrino levels, something that is not yet possible. Computer simulations carried out by Eugene Guillian, a particle physicist at the University of Hawaii in Manoa, indicate that detectors sensitive enough to pick up distant signals would weigh about 10 million tonnes and cost around $100 million to build, putting them well out of the reach of the IAEA.

But a few strategically placed detectors close to countries of interest, such as Iran and North Korea, which would be smaller and cheaper than those needed for global monitoring, would be a more realistic goal, Guillian says. "Targeted monitoring might happen," he says.

Until the technology is worked out, it falls to the UN to sanction any nations suspected of clandestine nuclear programs. If sanctions fail, then the UN must act militarily. If the UN fails in its most basic role, individual nations are free to act (although to be clear: no nation is required to wait for the UN before defending itself).

Friday, January 27, 2006

Meteor Impacts: Life's Jump Starter?

Meteor impacts are losing support as mass extinction causing events. But they may be responsible for jump-starting the development of life by creating conditions under which life can either emerge and/or thrive.

The Geological Society of America's news bulletin has the story:
[...] [T]here is a chance the heavy bombardment of Earth by meteors during the planet's youth actually spurred early life on our planet, say Canadian geologists.

A study of the Haughton Impact Crater on Devon Island, in the Canadian Arctic, has revealed some very life-friendly features at ground zero. These include hydrothermal systems, blasted rocks that are easier for microbes to inhabit, plus the cozy, protected basin created by the crater itself. If true, impact craters could represent some of the best sites to look for signs of past or present life on Mars and other planets. [...]

The idea that meteor impacts could benefit or even create conditions suitable for the beginning of early life struck Canadian Space Agency geologist Gordon Osinski while he and colleagues were conducting a geological survey of the 24-kilometer (15-mile) diameter Haughton Crater. Along the rim of the crater they noticed what looked like fossilized hydrothermal pipes, a few meters in diameter.

"That set the bells ringing about possible biological implications," said Osinski. Hydrothermal systems are thought by many people to be the favourable places for life to evolve."

Detailed mineralogical analyses have since revealed that when the Haughton meteor smacked into the icy ground 23 million years ago it created not only a crater, but fractured the ground in such a way as to create a system of steamy hydrothermal springs reaching temperatures of 250 degrees C. The heat appears to have gradually dropped over a period of tens of thousands of years, the researchers report.

Besides providing heat and cracking the ground, the impact also created pore spaces in otherwise dense granitic rocks, giving microbes more access to the minerals and the surfaces inside the rocks — basically more real estate and more supplies.

The shocked rocks are also more translucent, which would be beneficial to organisms possessing any photosynthetic capabilities.

A crater shape itself also might serve as a protective environment, says Osinski. As such, impact craters are also good places to store evidence of past life. On Earth many craters fill with water and become lakes. Lakes accumulate sediments, the layers of which are a geological archive of the time after the crater formed. The Haughton Impact crater, for instance, contains the only Miocene-age sediments in the entire Canadian Arctic. [...]

"Most people put impacts with mass extinctions," said Osinski. "What we're trying to say is that following the impact, the impact sites are actually more favorable to life than the surrounding terrain."

It's interesting to note, says Osinski, that on Earth the heaviest meteor bombardment of the planet happened at about the same time as life is believed to have started: around 3.8 billion years ago. Impact craters of that age were long ago erased on Earth by erosion, volcanic resurfacing and plate tectonics.

But other planets and moons - including Mars - still bear the cosmic scars of that early debris-clogged period in the solar system. It may be possible, therefore, that the best places to look for at least fossil evidence of life on Mars is inside those very same craters, he said. [...]

WEF apology over 'Israel boycott'

The Beeb reports on the tempest raised at the WEF due to inclusion of an article--in an official WEF publication-- linking Israel and apartheid, and calling for an international boycott of Israel.

The founder and executive director of the World Economic Forum (WEF) has apologised after an in-house article called for a boycott of Israel.

The piece was in Global Agenda, given to WEF members at its 2006 annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

Klaus Schwab said the article was "totally in contradiction to my own, and the Forum's, mission and values".

He said the forum was "deeply involved" in efforts to create better relations in the Middle East and round the globe.

"As soon as I learned about this article, I immediately investigated how this situation could have developed," he added.

"I concluded there was an unacceptable failure in the editorial process, specifically an insufficiently short period for review of content - for which there is no excuse.

"I, on behalf of the Forum, profoundly apologise and express my regrets to everyone. I can assure you that appropriate steps have been instituted to ensure that this will never happen again."

He said the forum would do all it could to foster dialogue and open communication among all parties, "based on mutual respect and recognition, and not on confrontation".

Not in the report is that the article was written by a Muslim. Why the Beeb feels this info is unimportant is unclear.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

WEF kicks off the European moonbat season

Although European moonbats (Eurobats) don’t really have an off-season, all but the most committed tend lay low and work on their tinfoil hats during the Winter months. Usually they only pop up if a sufficiently high ranking US official visits.

However, just as ball season in Vienna opens the busy social calendar, every Eurobat sees the World Economic Forum (WEF) as the official opening of protest season. And what an event it is. Eurobats descend on Switzerland from all over, each seeking to outdo the other in imaginative street theater. This is the opportunity for the ambitious and well prepared to make their mark in Eurobat society. Doubtless some will be scorned as parvenue by those with tinfoil crowns (I’m looking at you, Frau Sheehan), but it’s worth being frowned on if one gets significant media play for one’s group/cause.

Because of the uncommonly cold January we’ve been having (curse you, global warming), Eurobat turnout may be somewhat lower than in years past, and wearing bulky clothes raises the degree of difficulty of some favourite Eurobat moves. Nevertheless, I anticipate an entertaining opening event.

Eurobats are much better trained and equipped than their US cousins. Because of the heavily socialized European societies which nurture and inspire them, they have more time to work on props, slogans, and costumes. They also tend to be more violence prone—in contradiction to their stated desire for world peace. But the Eurobat also is more likely to espouse revolution as a method to achieve goals, so the contradiction gives way to an “ends justify the means” rationalization.

The Swiss hosts of WEF are well prepared when it comes to diverting and isolating protestors. The WEF attendees won’t smell tear gas, and if they hear any chanting, it will be unintelligible.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Why German-American relations are so poor

From the excellent Atlantic Review blog comes this link to several heavyweight articles published by Germany's Council on Foreign Relations exploring aspects of Germany's foreign policy.

After some seven years of Schroeder chosing alignment with France and outright hostility to the US, new Chancellor Merkel is moving closer to a traditional Altlanticist foreign policy. However, Schroeder did such a good job of poisoning the well that the US and Germany need to make concerted efforts to find common ground beyond the obvious security risk Iran presents.

From German Self-Definition Against the US:

The article begins with this explanation of French anti-Americanism:

[...] It is discerningly said of the French that they will never be able to forgive the Americans for having liberated them. The very memory of the American triumph reminds France of the disgrace of having sunk to its knees almost without a fight against the Nazi conqueror. In the final analysis, however, the saying is so apt also because it expresses the neurotic family rivalry between the French and the American parvenu. France and the United States are considered the fundamental models of Western democracy, their common roots being the Enlightenment and revolution. But France, which long saw itself as civilization’s yardstick for all the world, finds it difficult to cope with the fact that the United States has clearly come out on top. France’s systematic anti-Americanism is thus essentially cultural. Little
brother has long since grown into an overwhelmingly big brother overseas with whom France finds itself competing not only for geopolitical influence and sales markets but also for recognition as the embodiment of the genuinely Western way of life and the ideal of true democratic society.

For France as a former world and colonial power, the postwar era and the concomitant ascendance of the United States to the rank of superpower are primarily linked to the decline of French importance in world politics. French ill will toward America may therefore be exaggerated and irrational, but it is relatively easy to explain. [...]

And ends with a similar explanation of German anti-Americanism, which stems from Germany's need to excuse its past history:

From that perspective, America appears to be the most formidable obstacle to the requisite rectification of the past. As proud as the Germans justifiably are of the structure of their well-functioning and very stable democracy, it still grates that this achievement would not have been possible without the use of external force and the presence of a re-educator and supervisor.

This gnawing, subliminal wound to the democratic sense of self explains the bitterness with which the debate on Allied guilt is occurring in many places. For example, it is striking with what frenzy historian JörgFriedrich repeatedly scourges the Western Allied bombardments of German cities as war crimes and acts of mass destruction, even though his point is hardly new.

This angry talk in an open, undefined space is precisely what makes the aggressiveness of its indictment so unusual. It is especially notable in view of the wide popular response it has elicited, as registered by the astronomical sales figures for Friedrich’s book, Der Brand [The Fire]. The German public evidently has a strong need to revisit the air war – without, however, bringing it before a judicial institution. The purpose of the exercise is inward instead. In the future, we want to be able to feel different, namely, morally equal, when looking at our calamitous history.

In an interview with the Berliner Zeitung not long ago, historian Joachim Fest saw a “political,” but no moral, difference between the selective murder of civilian populations, as at Oradour-sur-Glane in France, and the bombing of Dresden. Yet the reason that the Allies unleashed their air war begins to become clear only when one takes a look at everything that happened before Dresden. To be sure,there was Germany’s bombardment of Coventry and Rotterdam, but those acts were certainly not the chief reason behind the unscrupulousness demonstrated by the Allies in defeating Nazism. Nor was it Auschwitz, of which there was little or no mention at that time. The disinhibition of the Allies when it came to choosing their ways and means is explicable only if one realizes that Hitler’s war was no “normal” war, even when its unimaginably high death toll is discounted. His war was one of extermination and enslavement, an attack on the very bedrock of European and Western civilization as it had come to see itself over the course of at least two thousand years. [...]

Its American authorship has become embarrassing to German democracy. The hidden agenda of its now headlong recalibration of policy on dealing with the past is thus to reframe the story of Europe’s liberation and minimize the US’s role in it. [...]

The Germans have unmistakably buried the dream of world power once and for all. But deep within the recent German discourse on the search for identity, there seems to be a secret wish to witness the failure of the power that made it all the way to the top in Germany’s stead.

Presumably then, this explains much of Europe's hypercriticism of the US. Let's hope they get over this bit of weirdness soon. More to the point, they should worry about keeping up with the rest of the world lest they slip into the "who cares what they think" status now occupied by third tier nations.

The article is well worth reading as it also examines the political rationale behind Schroeder's abrupt abandonment of the strong trans-Atlantic ties between the US and Germany.

The Palestinians' Crisis of Leadership

Good op-ed piece in today's WaPo covering the problems the Palestinans are having and will have governing themselves.
More than 50 years after its creation, the Palestinian national movement -- in both its secular and Islamic guises -- lacks a coherent strategy and the means to realize Palestinian national aspirations. No matter what the outcome of tomorrow's elections, this will remain the central challenge confronting Palestinians and their politics. [...]

The Palestinians deserve a large share of the responsibility for their tragic predicament. Simply put, their leaders have failed to outline a coherent strategy, to devise effective tactics or to condition their public for compromise. Instead, a political culture of grievance and avoidance of responsibility has been the Palestinians' operating software.

The hardware has also failed. Armed struggle as a tactic has been a disaster. And while Hamas boasts (with some justification) that it was the gun that forced the Israelis out of the Gaza Strip, the gun has also wreaked havoc on the Palestinian society and image. Suicide terrorism has not only alienated Israel and America but also pushed them closer together. And without Israel and America, a Palestinian state will be stillborn. [...]

With Gaza a mess and their internal affairs in disarray, the Palestinians confront perhaps the deepest crisis and largest question for their nationalist hopes: how to maintain a monopoly on force. From its inception, the Palestinian national movement has never had its "Night of the Long Knives." Such a reckoning would have allowed Fatah -- its dominant faction -- to impose control and articulate a coherent national strategy. But Fatah, highly decentralized and ministering to its dispirited, dispossessed refugee constituency, chose to accommodate rather than confront. Indeed, it allowed smaller groups of varying political persuasions to undertake terrorism and violence that put the entire national movement in the dock. [...]

Israel and the United States may deserve much of the responsibility for not seizing the opportunity to empower Abbas in the wake of Arafat's demise, but the crisis facing Palestinians is largely one brought about by their own hand, and they must resolve it.

Perhaps this week's elections will bring the beginning of real politics and a parliament that will press for real reform, pragmatism and peacemaking. Given the cacophony of Palestinian voices and the inevitable competition between Fatah and Hamas, whatever change occurs is likely to be excruciatingly slow. And in the interim, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will grind on, inexorably eroding the possibility of a conflict-ending solution. But such is the fate reserved for peoples whose leaders, whether they be Palestinian, Israeli or American, bungle or pass up the rare moments of opportunity that history provides them.

Unlike many, I think a strong Hamas showing won't be so bad. Being in power will teach Hamas the necessity of moderating their views; after all, they will need to negotiate with Israel with something other than bombs. Hamas looks to be headed for power based not on their hatred for Israel, but their appearence of being less corrupt.

The same thing recently happened in a Malaysian state: the population voted in an hard-line Islamic party out of disgust with official corruption. Upon election, the Islamist party initially tried and failed to introduce strong Islamic mores. They then toned down their rhetoric and got down to governing--poorly, it turned out.

The Palestinians deserve to be led by some party other than the ultra-corrupt Fatah or the hyper-violent Hamas, but I wish the best of luck to whichever side wins.

RINO Canival at Phin's blog

Phin's blog is hosting the RINO stomp-a-thon this week. His commentary alone is worth the click.

Monday, January 23, 2006

China corners market in rare-earth metals

Are we headed for a rare-earth metals gap with China? As the article from the IHT makes clear, rare-earth metals are critical to modern society. China controls an estimated 95% of the minerals from which the pure metals are derived, although that number is disputed.

I don't think there is too much to worry about here--although the potential for economic blackmail can't be excluded. Should supplies get tight, other suppliers will emerge, and currently unprofitable mines will reopen or expand.
Even as China has come to depend on huge commodity imports to sustain its booming economy, it is cornering the market for an obscure group of minerals that are vital to high-technology industry.

China now supplies about 95 percent of the world's consumption of "rare earths," according to international mineral industry experts. Rare earths are a class of minerals with properties that make them essential for applications including miniaturized electronics, computer disk drives, display screens, missile guidance, pollution control catalysts and advanced materials. [...]

Chinese dominance in the mining, processing and industrial applications of rare earths has led to fears in the United States that Beijing could gain the upper hand in some important military and commercial technologies. [...]

"In terms of volume it is tiny, but we are just as addicted to rare earths as we are to hydrocarbons, but we don't know it," said Matthew James, general manager in Sydney for corporate and business development at Lynas, a company considering mining rare earths in Australia. "The variation of applications of rare earths is remarkable and expanding, especially in the high-technology area."

Over the last decade, China, which has major deposits of rare earths, has invested heavily in new mines and processing plants as part of its plan to dominate the industry. It has also made some critical foreign investments to secure important processing and manufacturing technology and has financed the world's biggest network of rare-earth research and development laboratories. [...]

Industry experts maintain that rare earths will become even more important in electronics as demand for performance overtakes the properties of existing materials, including silicon.

As the Chinese rare-earths industry grows, many of the processors and end users of these minerals are moving their advanced manufacturing and research and development facilities to China, increasing the growth of critical industries, particularly electronics. [...]
Clever and hard nosed business decision, that. China is inviting (read: forcing) high tech companies to build factories and laboratories there if businesses want guaranteed access to the metals, even though the quantities used are so small that they are easily and inexpensively shipped anywhere in the world.
Companies like Intel, Nokia, Motorola, Microsoft and Cisco Systems have all invested heavily in manufacturing and research in China, which now accounts for more than 30 percent of consumption of rare earths.

But some Chinese industry analysts say that foreign estimates of China's grip on the market are exaggerated. They say that Chinese producers actually control about 60 percent of output but that this is still remains an overwhelmingly dominant position in an industry the Chinese government has identified as a top priority for national development. [...]

Other major producing countries include India, Russia, Malaysia, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. [...]

In its July report to Congress, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said that from the early 1990s Beijing had embarked on a "detailed strategy to control the rare-earth market." [...]

Other analysts have noted that desire to control the market might have been one factor behind the controversial bid last year by the Chinese state-owned oil company Cnooc for Unocal.

Along with its oil and natural gas reserves, Unocal owned Molycorp, the operator of the Mountain Pass rare earth mine in California. Mountain Pass is the only major rare earth mine in the United States, but it has been closed since 2002 because of environmental and economic factors. [...]

Swiss guards celebrate 500 years of protecting Popes

It seems like just yesterday that Swiss mercenaries first were employed by Popes to be their bodyguards.

Swiss mercenaries were some of the most feared n the middle ages and beyond (Napolean is said to have valued them above all others), so it is small wonder that Pope Julius II selected them as a personal bodyguard.

Yesterday was the 500th anniversary of that historic day, and Swissinfo has the story:

For 500 years, popes have been protected by Swiss guards. Originally mercenaries, their bravery and loyalty convinced Julius II to enlist them permanently.

Visitors to the Vatican cannot fail to notice the Swiss guards. Armed with antique halberds and sporting helmets adorned with ostrich plumes, their garb is much the same as in medieval times.

Legend has it that Michelangelo himself designed their eye-catching gala uniforms. But decorative though they may be, they still play an important role in defending the papacy.

The tiny "Vatican army" is the last vestige of a long tradition of Swiss military service in foreign parts. Forced by poverty to seek their fortunes abroad, many young Swiss chose to enrol as mercenaries in the service of Europe's "great powers" – potentially a very profitable activity.

On the battlefield, they earned a reputation as loyal and invincible soldiers, to such an extent that Pope Julius II chose them for his personal bodyguard. The first 150 Swiss mercenaries entered the Eternal City on January, 22, 1506, now regarded as the founding date of the Pontifical Guard.

Over the years, Swiss troops have shown great devotion in serving the head of the Catholic Church. Their bloodiest sacrifice was made on May 6, 1527, during the Sack of Rome, when 147 Swiss guards died defending Pope Clement VII from a much larger army of Lansquenets (German mercenaries) in the pay of Emperor Charles V.

Their sacrifice is remembered every year at a ceremony in the Vatican on May 6, when new recruits swear an oath of loyalty to the pontiff.

The Vatican has had other guards besides the Swiss, namely the Noble Guard, created in 1801, and the Palatine Guard, founded in 1850. But they were both disbanded in 1970 by Paul VI who decided to do away with the Vatican's military trappings.

He made an exception for the Swiss guards because of their proven loyalty to the pontiff. [...]

As well as performing military service and providing a guard of honour, they control access to the Vatican City, watch over the Apostolic Palace and act as bodyguards to the pope. [...]

Wikipedia entry on Swiss mercenaries and the Swiss Guard is here.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

CAIR: release American hostage [duh]

Why is it news that a US Muslim group calls for the release of an American hostage?

And what are we to make of this line from CAIR's executive director:
[...] "Harming her will do no good at all. The only way is to release her," he said. [...]

Presumably if harming her would do some good, CAIR would approve. Maybe if she were a soldier CAIR would be more approving of the terrorists promises to kill her.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Nuclear deterrence is back in vogue

France's Center-Right paper of record brings back a golden oldie: nuclear deterrence (aka MAD).

Nuclear deterrence is not an outmoded strategic notion. Nuclear capability, which was originally developed to protect France from attack during the Cold War, has changed dramatically, but it is just as necessary in a world in which terrorism and nuclear proliferation have replaced the old threats.

Jacques Chirac delivered his last speech on the subject in June 2001, a few weeks before the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. It was necessary to explain how French strategy had adapted to the shifts in world geopolitical forces over the preceding years.

We no longer live with the threat of a massive attack from a major power. But the risk of a nuclear strike from a rogue state or a terrorist group has markedly increased.

Jacques Chirac has acknowledged the situation and named as explicit targets, “leaders of states who use terrorist methods against us, as well as those who consider using in one way or another weapons of mass destruction …” This represents a fundamental redefinition of French nuclear doctrine, which is, however, still designed to defend our “vital interests”. Those interests remain the integrity of the national territory, as well as protection of the population and of French sovereignty, but they can be extended to include the “guarantee our strategic sources of supply and the defence of our allies.” The threat having changed, the field of application of nuclear deterrence has been transformed and the notion of the defence of the entire European Union reaffirmed.

All of this is only possible because the French nuclear arsenal has retained its credibility through being modernised. The missiles located on the Plateau d’Albion in south-east France, long targeted at the Soviet Union, have been abandoned. The nuclear warheads carried by French submarines and bombers have been made smaller and more easily aimed at specific targets. Their objective is no longer to present a deterrent to civilian populations, but to pose a nuclear threat to the power centres of heads of state and terrorist groups.

Despite the strategic ambiguity without which deterrence would serve no purpose, the nuclear doctrine has not changed. “There is no prospect of nuclear weapons being used in a battlefield situation.” This point, made very explicitly, was aimed largely at the United States where, in the context of the war on terrorism, research is being carried out into the use of nuclear “mini-bombs” capable of penetrating underground bunkers. Public opinion is broadly in favour of nuclear deterrence, even though many people are worried about its ultimate use. Jacques Chirac’s speech had a pedagogical function. At a time when cut-backs are the order of the day, it was intended to underline the spirit of “strict necessity” which characterises an exercise in belt-tightening that will leave France with a nuclear deterrent enabling it to achieve its ambitions in the future.

Is it evidence that some in Europe have already accepted in principle a nuclear armed Iran? (*shakes magic 8 ball*: "signs point to yes"). However, it may be that his promise to consider going Cold War on a nation's ass (and release the force de frappe) is a shot across Iran's bow, designed to reinforce how serious Europe takes Iran's nuclear chase.

Of course, Chirac's enigmatic statement also has something to do with domestic politics, and the desire to remind the world that France remains a member in good standing of the nuclear club.

Misleading headline of the day

It's not what you would think from a literal reading of the headline.
British seen tied to secret flights

No eyewitness accounts of Brits being tied to airplanes exist. And anyway, the McCain ammendment should preclude that sort of torture.

This is what happens when brevity trumps clarity.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Lance Armstrong news roundup

Lance catches a break due to bad lawyering:

A Paris court has refused to hear a defamation charge brought by Filippo Simeoni against seven-times Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong.

Judicial officials revealed on Monday that the statute of limitations had expired and suggested that Simeoni's lawyers had misinterpreted French law.

Armstrong criticised the Italian cyclist in an interview with French newspaper Le Monde in 2003.

He still faces a 7 March trial in Italy on civil charges of defaming Simeoni.
Lance prognosticates on the 2006 Tour de France:
Jan Ullrich will win this year's Tour de France. [...]

"I have grown to love him over the years," said Armstrong. "He is a scary competitor. All our plans and strategies over the years have been how to keep Ullrich at bay. But we have great respect for each other, and the best moment of our relationship was when he arrived at my victory celebration party in Paris last year. "I believe 2006 is Ullrich's year," he added. "I predict that he will win by five minutes - maybe four, but Ullrich will win this year."
I can't disagree. Although it will very much come down to which team is strongest. At the moment, Ulrich is the favorite, but if Italian Ivan Basso's team is structured around a TdF victory, he can take it. Ulrich must have some real hangups about winning the TdF, while Basso has all the confidence in the world.

This year's race promises to be interesting.

Annual bet to my brother: you get first pick; loser buys rafts of beer.

In other news, the public still buys Lance's protestations of innocence.

The Vatican provides a qualified endorsement of evolution

The IHT reports:
Although not presented as an official church position, the Vatican newspaper published an article this week labeling as "correct" the decision by a judge in Pennsylvania last month that the concept of intelligent design could not be taught as a scientific alternative to evolution.

But the article, in the Vatican's most visible publication, seemed notable, given the strength of the comments on a delicate question much debated under the new pope, Benedict XVI.

"If the model proposed by Darwin is not considered sufficient, one should search for another one," Fiorenzo Facchini, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Bologna, wrote in the Jan. 16-17 edition of the paper, L'Osservatore Romano.

"But it is not correct from a methodological point of view to stray from the field of science while pretending to do science," he wrote. "It only creates confusion between the scientific plane and those that are philosophical or religious." [...]
In the Pennsylvania case, a U.S. federal judge ruled that it was unconstitutional for a school district in Dover to present intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in high school biology courses. The judge called it a religious viewpoint that advanced "a particular version of Christianity."

The case, the first in the United States to test the legal merits of intelligent design - which posits that biological life is so complex that it must have been designed by an intelligent source - was a stinging rebuke to advocates of the concept and provided strong support for scientists who have fought to bar it from the science curriculum.

Benedict himself has signaled an interest in the issue of evolution at least twice, prompting questions about where exactly he stood on the question of intelligent design.

In April, when he was formally installed as pope, he said human beings "are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution." In November, he called the creation of the universe an "intelligent project," wording lauded by intelligent-design supporters.

Many Catholic scientists have criticized intelligent design, notably the Reverend George Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory. "Intelligent design isn't science, even though it pretends to be," he said in November, according to the Italian press service ANSA. "Intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science."

In October, Schönborn sought to clarify his remarks [which appeared in the NYT and criticized evolution], saying that he meant to question not the science of evolution but what he called "evolutionism," or an attempt to use the theory to rule out the hand of God in creation.

"I see no difficulty in joining belief in the creator with the theory of evolution, but under the prerequisite that the borders of scientific theory are maintained," the cardinal said in a speech in Vienna.
Translation: keep your science away from the question of the origin of life, and everything will work out fine. Trouble is, scientists want to know how life began. Answering the question of where we came from and how we got here is at the root of scientific inquiry. Given the progress of science, religion will soon be limited to prescribing how God wishes to be worshipped.

As God is increasingly marginalized, I predict an upsurge in appeasement-type preachers like Pat Robertson. Having seen God's hand removed from mankind, they will attempt to place it back in Nature. Soon all natural disasters will be evidence of God's anger with us.

In adopting this tactic, they can avoid any contrary scientific evidence. No matter that earthquakes may eventually be predictable, they can always claim that it remains God's will that they occur. Expect a return of animal sacrifice.
In the Osservatore article, Facchini similarly wrote that scientists could not rule out a divine "superior design" to creation and the history of mankind. But he said that Catholic thought did not rule out that that design could take place through an evolutionary process.

"God's project of creation can be carried out through secondary causes in the natural course of events, without having to think of miraculous interventions that point in this or that direction," he wrote. [...]
Not that the Vatican has much moral or scientific authority on the matter, but it is nice that they feel the need to reconcile faith with fact.

The Hail Mary school of dealing with Iran

More and more opinion pieces on Iran see no other option other than supporting regime change from within. They see no decent military solution, and fear that sanctions won't work. All that is left, they feel, is an appeal to a Deus ex Machina solution. They hope that, with Western support, opposition groups in Iran can effect a coup or lead a widespread uprising, thus eliminating the regime and Iran's nuclear threat.

This piece from The Australian is representative:

A NUCLEAR-ARMED Iran under an Ahmadinejad regime is a terrifying prospect. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad believes he is being divinely guided to help bring about the reappearance of the Imam Mahdi, the Shia Muslim equivalent of the Messiah, which would herald the Last Judgment and the end of the world.

This suggests that, unlike the former Soviet Union, a nuclear Iran would not be constrained by the doctrine of mutually assured destruction. The certain demise of his country in the event of a nuclear exchange does not seem to have made Ahmadinejad sober and realistic about the potential consequences of following the nuclear path.

The Iranian regime's protestations that it seeks to develop nuclear energy for purely peaceful purposes are falling on increasingly sceptical ears. None of the proposals put forward by the international community to allow Iran to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, while imposing safeguards that would make it more difficult for it to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, has been accepted by the regime.

Instead it has succeeded in completing many of its nuclear projects and building sufficient centrifuges to put it in a position to enrich weapons-grade uranium. And Iran already possesses missiles that can reach not only Jerusalem, but also the Vatican.

There is talk in Washington that an early and decisive use of force to bring down the Iranian regime is the only answer to the gathering threat to humanity. But the use of force against Iran would be a mistake. Even the largest of the Iranian opposition groups, the People's Mujahedin Organisation of Iran (aka Mujahedin-e Khalq), says so. Significantly, the PMOI, unlike Iraqi opposition groups who supported the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein, is adamant that the dictatorship in its country must be brought down by an internal popular revolution, not by external intervention.

[...] Although it is impossible to gauge the regime's real level of popular support, its constant and overwhelming repression of its people suggests a regime that sees itself as eternally beset by enemies, within Iran and beyond.

Any external use of force will simply drive the fiercely nationalistic Iranians back into the arms of the regime. There is no guarantee that force would be effective against Iran's nuclear facilities, which are dispersed throughout the country and buried deep underground.

Economic sanctions are also an unattractive option. The experience with Iraq demonstrates how easily sanctions can be subverted and corrupted. The burden, if any, would be borne overwhelmingly by the people, not the regime.

The only remaining options are political and diplomatic. This does not necessarily mean more negotiations. Further talks with the Ahmadinejad regime may prove to be as fruitless as those that have already occurred. What is essential is that the Iranian dictatorship be made to pay a high political and diplomatic price for its misdeeds. How?

First, there needs to be a determination by the UN Security Council under Article 39 of the charter that Iran's violations of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, sponsorship of international terrorism, belligerent rhetoric and incitement against Israel and violations of the fundamental human rights of its own citizens constitute a threat to international peace and security. Such a determination could be followed by a recommendation that member states downgrade or break off their diplomatic relations with Iran. The possibility of further Security Council action should be left open.

Second, it is critical for all governments concerned to support those components of the Iranian opposition that want what we have: namely, a democratic political system that respects human rights and the rule of law. That means that the Australian Government, and the governments of other Western countries, including the European Union and the US, need to reverse their designation of the PMOI and the National Council of Resistance of Iran as terrorist organisations. The NCRI is an umbrella coalition of Iranian opposition groups to which the PMOI belongs, and which functions as a government-in-exile.

The PMOI has operated as a broad-based democratic opposition movement since the time of the shah. Its original listing by the US as a terrorist organisation occurred in 1997, when the Clinton administration was interested in opening up a dialogue with the Iranian government. In 2001, many European countries followed. Australia too included the NCRI and PMOI on its list of organisations banned from raising funds because they are "associated with terrorism".

The PMOI has unquestionably resorted to armed resistance against the clerical regime. It has in the past assassinated officials of that regime. It has not targeted civilians. Significantly, in July 2001 the PMOI renounced any further use of violence and since that date has not engaged in any violent activity. [...]

By de-proscribing and supporting the largest of the Iranian opposition groups, Western and other governments can hit the clerical dictatorship where it will hurt the most: in the eyes of the politically savvy Iranian people. It would also send the clearest possible signal that the policy of appeasement is finished. Energetic efforts are under way with the British and other European parliaments to de-proscribe the PMOI. Australia should do likewise. The idea of regime change in Iran through people power is far from fanciful. The Iranian people have done it before.
The flaw in this argument: The ability of Iran to spin their pursuit of nuclear weapons as an us vs. them argument, or claiming that they seek to return Iran to its rightful place in the world order, will strengthen the regime's popular support, thus making a people power uprising more difficult. Even announcing sanctions will bolster the regime's legitimacy.

Nevertheless, the West should absolutely deploy all its options. Meaningful economic and diplomatic sanctions, covert missions to degrade Iran's military capabilities and gather intelligence, support for opposition groups, and military planning should all be pursued.

The world simply cannot hope that the Iranians will oust the Mullahs and renounce any intent to build a nuclear bomb.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Krauthammer on the EU3: waste of time

Charles Krauthammer is sick of Europe's touting of soft power as the answer to Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons, and predicts they will be useless in attempts to deter Iran:

"It was what made this E.U. Three approach so successful. They [Britain, France and Germany] stood together and they had one uniform position."-- German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Jan. 13

Makes you want to weep. One day earlier, Britain, France and Germany admitted that their two years of talks to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program had collapsed. The Iranians had broken the seals on their nuclear facilities and were resuming activity in defiance of their pledges to the "E.U. Three." This negotiating exercise, designed as an alternative to the U.S. approach of imposing sanctions on Iran for its violations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, had proved entirely futile. If anything, the two-year hiatus gave Iran time to harden its nuclear facilities against bombardment, acquire new antiaircraft capacities and clandestinely advance its program.

With all this, the chancellor of Germany declared the exercise a success because the allies stuck together! The last such success was Dunkirk. Lots of solidarity there, too. [...]

Ah, success. Instead of being years away from the point of no return for an Iranian bomb, as we were before we allowed Europe to divert anti-proliferation efforts into transparently useless talks, Iran is probably just months away. And now, of course, Iran is run by an even more radical government, led by a president who fervently believes in the imminence of the apocalypse.
Krauthammer ought to be fair, here. If meaningful sanctions are to be implemented, negotiations had to be seen to run their course. The UN SC would never have allowed sanctions without the predictable lack of progress through negotiations.
Ah, success. Having delayed two years, we now have to deal with a set of fanatical Islamists who we know will not be deterred from pursuing nuclear weapons by any sanctions. Even if we could get real sanctions. Which we will not. The remaining months before Iran goes nuclear are about to be frittered away in pursuit of this newest placebo.

First, because Russia and China will threaten to veto any serious sanctions. The Chinese in particular have secured in Iran a source of oil and gas outside the American sphere to feed their growing economy and are quite happy geopolitically to support a rogue power that -- like North Korea -- threatens, distracts and diminishes the power of China's chief global rival, the United States.

Excellent point. And it goes for North Korea, as well. Anything that upsets or damages your rival is a plus for you. Even if it leads to the short sighted decision by China not to intervene in North Korea.

Second, because the Europeans have no appetite for real sanctions either. A travel ban on Iranian leaders would be a joke; they don't travel anyway. A cutoff of investment and high-tech trade from Europe would be a minor irritant to a country of 70 million people with the second-largest oil reserves in the world and with oil at $60 a barrel. North Korea tolerated 2 million dead from starvation to get its nuclear weapons. Iran will tolerate a shortage of flat-screen TVs.

The only sanctions that might conceivably have any effect would be a boycott of Iranian oil. No one is even talking about that, because no one can bear the thought of the oil shock that would follow, taking 4.2 million barrels a day off the market, from a total output of about 84 million barrels.

The threat works in reverse. It is the Iranians who have the world over a barrel. On Jan. 15, Iran's economy minister warned that Iran would retaliate for any sanctions by cutting its exports to "raise oil prices beyond levels the West expects." A full cutoff could bring $100 oil and plunge the world into economic crisis.

Which is one of the reasons the Europeans are so mortified by the very thought of a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. The problem is not just that they are spread out and hardened, making them difficult to find and to damage sufficiently to seriously set back Iran's program.

The problem that mortifies the Europeans is what Iran might do after such an attack -- not just cut off its oil exports but shut down the Strait of Hormuz by firing missiles at tankers or scuttling its vessels to make the strait impassable. It would require an international armada led by the United States to break such a blockade.

Such consequences -- serious economic disruption and possible naval action -- are something a cocooned, aging, post-historic Europe cannot even contemplate. Which is why the Europeans have had their heads in the sand for two years. And why they will spend the little time remaining -- before a group of apocalyptic madmen go nuclear -- putting their heads back in the sand. And congratulating themselves on allied solidarity as they do so in unison.
Wow. I have to concur on his opinion of Europe's lack of stomach for hardship. They will simply rather learn to live with a nuclear Iran, than face economic turmoil; after all, they will tell themselves, they survived the USSR and Warsaw Pact on their doorstep. Of course, once Iran has a decent stockpile, they will feel perfectly safe in using their petroleum to blackmail and intimidate Europe with the threat of economic turmoil.

Switzerland is more inovative than the US?

Not likely. But then again, this was a study designed by Europeans, so it's hardly surprising that European nations do well. The results are best viewed as another attempt by the bureaucrats to claim that their way is still the best.

Swissinfo reports:
A European Union study on innovation, which puts Switzerland ahead of the United States should be taken with a pinch of salt, says a top competition expert.

The EU Innovation Scoreboard 2005, published last week, ranks Switzerland second behind Sweden and ahead of the US and Japan.

The Scoreboard ranks 33 countries based on the innovativeness of their industries, businesses and science institutes, measuring such factors as the number of science and engineering graduates, patents, spending on research and development (R&D) and technology exports.

Switzerland leads the way in patents and company R&D spending, but falls down when it comes to producing science graduates and exporting hi-tech goods, according to the report.

Professor Stéphane Garelli of IMD in Lausanne says the country's poor record of turning ideas into products is largely down to conservative voters, who tend to scupper attempts to innovate at the ballot box.

"Small countries can only prosper if they are innovative and create added value, but the [Swiss] population does not follow this fact in their conservative voting," he told swissinfo.

"You could see that they were afraid of research-friendly ideas when they rejected genetically modified crops [in a vote last November]. Swiss people seem fearful of innovation."
This analogy doesn't stand. At the moment, nearly all of Europe is against GM food. It can't therefore be put down to conservative Swiss voters. The Greens have simply done a marvelous job of scaring people. Moreover, there is a European-wide backlash against change. One need only look at the rejection of the EU constitution by France and Holland to see this in action. Economic uncertainty brings reactionary sentiments.
Garelli says federalism is also a restraining factor because it inhibits cooperation among the cantons and the federal government. [...]
I find it odd that the report notes that the Swiss do quite well in R & D and patents (two measures of success), but the mamagement guru claims Federalism holds the nation back. Doubtless he would prefer a stronger central government.

The report is here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

EU: Turkey's chickens are suffering needlessly

Another reason to keep Turkey out of the EU: they violate chickens' rights. What bastards those Turks are to place the health of their children above the rights of fowl.
European Union politicians and human rights groups accuse Turkey of mistreating chickens and other birds as they prepare to cull them in the wake of a major bird flu outbreak. EU law bans the inhumane treatment of animals -- even if they are headed for slaughter.

Images of the culling of birds in Turkey, which is currently fighting the spread of bird flu, is angering animal rights activists. Live chickens and other birds fidget wildly as they are tossed into sacks carelessly by workers wearing white protective suits -- the birds are thrown into hastily dug graves and sand is poured over them. Voila. Problem solved.

Is it a lack of emotion on the part of workers or simply the general hectic atmosphere that has accompanied Turkey's effort to stop the spread of avian flu? Regardless, animal rights groups and some European politicians are upset.

If it were currently a member of the European Union, the way in which Ankara has been handling poultry would be illegal and punishable. Since 1993, an EU law has been on the books that orders that animals be spared of any "unnecessary pain or suffering" during their keeping and slaughter and also in cases of culling after an outbreak of disease.
Here are a couple of good quotes:
Renate Sommer, a German member of the European Parliament from the conservative Christian Democratic Union, said Turkey's recent handling of poultry following the outbreak confirmed her view "that Turkey hasn't yet arrived in modern times." Michael Mann, the European Commission's spokesman for agricultural issues also lamented the way Turkey has treated the birds. "At every international forum, the EU is pushing the rest of the world to adopt its animal protection standards," he said. But the EU hasn't gotten very far, he said. Most countries either observe their own laws when it comes to slaughtering animals during disease outbreaks -- or they have none at all.
It must be tough to be rebuffed over such matters, for if the EU can't provide global leadership on animal protection, they can't expect Iran to listen to them. Or perhaps it's because the EU seeks global leadership on animal protection that Iran doesn't take them seriously.

Surprisingly, PETA has no position on Turkey's culling methods.

William Kristol: Do not appease Tehran

A tough-minded opinion piece in The Australian by the Weekly Standard's William Kristol on how best to confront Iran over its nuclear weapons program notes that it is time for the doves and hawks to stop fantasizing, and get down to brass tacks.

The sooner Iran sees the West is pushing back, the sooner our options for dealing with Iran will increase:
AN unrepentant rogue state with a history of sponsoring terrorists seeks to develop weapons of mass destruction. The US tries to work with European allies to deal with the problem peacefully, depending on International Atomic Energy Agency inspections and UN sanctions. The Europeans are generally hesitant and wishful. Russia and China are difficult and obstructive. Eventually the reality of the threat, the obduracy of the rogue state regime in power, becomes too obvious to be ignored.

This is not a history lesson about Iraq. These are today's headlines about Iran, where the regime is openly pursuing its ambition to become a nuclear power. "But this time diplomacy has to be given a chance to work," the doves coo. "Maybe this time Israel will take care of the problem," some hawks whisper. Both are being escapist.
The Left was ready to trust to the USSR's good intentions on the basing of missiles in Europe in the '70s, and haven't changed their outlook one whit. They can't be trusted to come up with a solution to this problem.
Doves profess concern about Iran's nuclear program and endorse various diplomatic responses to it. But they don't want even to contemplate the threat of military action. Perhaps military action won't ultimately be necessary. But the only way diplomatic, political and economic pressure has a chance to work in the coming months is if the military option -- or various military options -- are kept on the table.

Meanwhile, some hawks, defenders of the Iraq war, would prefer to deal with one challenge at a time. They hope we can kick the can down the road a while longer, or that a deus ex machina -- a Jewish one -- will appear to do our job for us. But great powers don't get to avoid their urgent responsibilities because they'd prefer to deal with only one problem at a time, or to slough those responsibilities on to others.

Let's support diplomatic, political and economic efforts to halt the nuclear program of the Iranian regime. Let's support multilateral efforts through the IAEA and the UN, and the assembling of coalitions of the willing, if necessary, to support sanctions and other forms of pressure. Let's support serious efforts to help democrats and dissidents in Iran, in the hope that regime change can be achieved without military action from the outside. Let's support strengthening our covert and intelligence capabilities. And let's support holding open the possibility of, and beginning to prepare for, various forms of military action.

Many people -- much of Europe and even some in the Bush administration -- don't really believe a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. They, of course, are all for various multilateral efforts to persuade President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hashemi Rafsanjani, head of Iran's Council of Expediency, as well as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to change their minds and abandon their nuclear ambitions.

But much of Europe and some in the administration don't really pretend that these attempts at persuasion are likely to work. At the end of the day, they think we can live with a nuclear Iran. After all, containment and deterrence worked with the Soviet Union; they could also work with Iran, one mid-level State Department official said in an unguarded moment in my presence a couple of months ago.

I don't agree -- and I don't think George W. Bush does, either. A Cuban missile crisis with Nikita Khrushchev's Soviet Union was bad enough. Are we willing to risk it with Ahmadinejad's Iran? What about nuclear proliferation throughout the region? What about the hopes for a liberal, less extremist and less terror-friendly Middle East?
Good point. With a nuclear armed Iran, nearly every sort of regional strong dictatorship will be supported or tolerated by its citizens so long as they feel safe. US policy would necessarily return to the days of "he may be a tyrant, but at least he's our tyrant", and democracy's promise would be snuffed out.
Advocates of containment and deterrence should step forward to make their case openly and honestly. If you read The New York Times editorial page, or Timothy Garton Ash in Britain's The Guardian, there's lots of talk about the unfortunate behaviour of Iran, lots of urging of good-faith multilateral efforts, and lots of finger-wagging warnings against even thinking of military action. This isn't serious.

Others, fortunately, are more serious. The Washington Post's editorial page, for one, endorses political and economic steps of real consequence, warns against letting diplomacy degenerate into appeasement, proposes to test the seriousness of our allies and nations such as Russia and China, and refuses to rule out the threat of military action.

And Bush and Condoleezza Rice are serious. They are speaking with new urgency, as the Iranian Government is testing us and its nuclear program could well be getting close to the point of no return. And they know that they have to speak with confidence and authority. Our adversaries cannot be allowed to believe that because some of the intelligence on Iraq was bad, or because the insurgency in Iraq has been difficult, we will be intimidated from taking the necessary steps against the regime in Tehran.

Steyn on Iran and Europe's bold response

Steyn turns his pen on Europe's endless dithering over how to deal with Iran's race to nuclear weapons.

[... Foreign Minister] Jack Straw has been at pains to emphasise that no military action against Iran is being contemplated by him or anybody else, but in a sign that he's losing patience with the mullahs Mr Straw's officials have indicated that they're prepared to consider the possibility of possibly considering the preparation of a possible motion on sanctions for the UN Security Council to consider the possibility of considering.

But don't worry, we're not escalating this thing any more than necessary. Initially, the FCO is considering "narrowly targeted sanctions such as a travel ban on Iranian leaders".

That'll show 'em: Iranian missiles may be able to leave Iranian airspace, but the deputy trade minister won't. No more trips to Paris for the spring collections or skiing in Gstaad for the A-list ayatollahs.

Needless to say, the German deputy foreign minister, Gernot Erler, has already cautioned that this may be going too far, and that sanctions could well hurt us more than it hurts the Iranians. Perhaps this is what passes is for a good cop/bad cop routine, with Herr Erler affably suggesting to the punks that they might want to cooperate or he'll have to send his pal Jack in to tear up their tickets for the Michael Moore première at the Cannes Film Festival.

But, if I were President Ahmadinejad or the wackier ayatollahs, I'd be mulling over the kid glove treatment from Jack Straw and Co and figuring: wow, if this is the respect we get before the nukes are fully operational, imagine how they'll be treating us this time next year. Incidentally, the assumption in the European press that the nuclear payload won't be ready to fly for three or four years is laughably optimistic.

So any Western strategy that takes time is in the regime's favour. After all, President Ahmaggedonouttahere's formative experience was his participation in the seizure of the US embassy in Teheran in 1979. I believe it was Andrei Gromyko who remarked that, if the students had pulled the same stunt at the Soviet embassy, Teheran would have been a crater by lunchtime.

So what can be done? Right now, Iran can count on at least two Security Council vetoes against any meaningful action by the "international community". As for the unilaterally inclined, the difficulty for the US and Israel is that there's really no Osirak-type resolution of the problem - a quick surgical strike, in and out. By most counts, there are upwards of a couple of hundred potential sites spread across a wide range of diverse terrain, from remote mountain fastnesses to residential suburbs. [...]

Steyn goes on to discuss setting up and supporting a Sunni insugency in Iran. It's a great idea, but won't stop the Mullah's headlong rush to building a nuclear stockpile, even if it may s cause the downfall of President Ahmadinejad.

Anything to confound the regime should be supported (and likely already is, to some extent). Nevertheless, Britain and Europe should stiffen their collective spines and support referring Iran to the UN Security Council, with the expectation that full economic sanctions will be enforced.

Iran has calculated that the West lacks the will to confront it. Bringing the Mullahs up short will go a long way to either bring about meanigful negotiations, or weaken Iran's military so any western strike has a greater chance of success.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Good posts at David's Medienkritik

One of the best blogs out there is Germany's David's Medienkritik, which has raised fisking to a high art (the pity is that they have so many oppportunities tohone their skills). Two recent posts highlight aspects of Europe's attitude towards America and how deeply anti-Americanism has penetrated Germany.

From the first post (which quotes another blog):
"A few years back, after a prolonged immersion in American Protestant fundamentalism (I was writing a book), I moved from the U.S. to Western Europe, ready to bask in an open, secular, liberal culture. Instead I discovered that European social democracy, too, was a kind of fundamentalism, rigid and doctrinaire, yielding what Swedish writer Johan Norberg calls "one-idea states"—nations where an echo chamber of insular elites calls the shots, where monochrome media daily reiterate statist mantras and shut out contrarian views, and where teachers and professors systematically misrepresent the U.S. (millions of Europeans believe that free public schools, unemployment insurance, and pensions are unknown in America). The more I saw of the European elites' chronic distrust of the public, and the public's habitual deference to those elites, the fonder I grew of the nasty, ridiculous rough-and-tumble of American democracy, in which every voice is heard—even if, as a result, the U.S. gets capital punishment and Europe gets gay marriage.
And from the second post (internal links are original):
Last week, Davids Medienkritik reported on a dubious German news site for children named "Helles Koepfchen" or "bright little head." One particularly troubling aspect of the site was a link provided on its "USA nation page" entitled "20 Lessons from September 11." The "20 lessons" provided by "Helles Koepfchen" as a resource for German children consisted of a litany of extremist conspiracy theories on the September 11 attacks. [...]

We are now happy to report that "Helles Koepfchen" has removed its link to this lunatic-fringe site. Of course the overall tone of the site hasn't changed at all. A major theme of HK's reporting on the United States is that George W. Bush and other Republicans are to blame for everything wrong in America and the world. Now that is just what we call "fair and balanced news Germany-style."
The site has plenty of other anti-American bias stories.

Latest RINO romps up

Inside Larry's Head has the latest round up of RINO posts. Under the rubric of the three day weekend (curse living in Switzerland), he introduces some pretty good posts.

Larry has been running several Zen themed posts lately, many of which are quite interesting (he also shares my opinion of France's Sarkozy as France's best hope for the future).

Go take a look around his fine blog.

Also, visit the RINO community page at TTLB for plenty of other excellent commentary and analysis.

Is George Galloway finally finished?

Nick Cohen of The Observer (sister publication of The Guardian, no less) sees an end to Gorgeous George Galloway, political and media gadfly, and supporter of vile regimes.

After appearing in Britain's Celebrity Big Brother show--where he acted like a big cat and licked imaginary cream from the hands of a has-been actress--Galloway seems to have gone too far for many Brits. While I'm certainly pleased the Galloway overplayed his hand and is in trouble, I can't believe that he was tolerated for as long as he was. His showmanship is what helped endear him to the Left, so it is pleasing to see this bit of symmetry at work.

[...] George Galloway and his backers in the Socialist Workers Party are finished now. The alliance they organised between the Trotskyist far left and the Islamic far right, which produced the most disgraceful protest movement since the Thirties, can no longer count on the indulgence of polite society.

Was it Galloway's support for every anti-American tyrant on the planet that did for him? Not at all. He could salute the 'courage, strength and indefatigability' of Saddam Hussein, Tariq Aziz and Bashar al-Assad with impunity. How about his apologetics for the 'martyrs' of al-Qaeda and the Baath Party who represent everything the liberal-left has been against since the Enlightenment? No, not at all, that was fine, too. Or perhaps his sickening attacks on 'quisling' Iraqi trade unionists when they were being murdered by those same al-Qaeda and Baathist terrorists?

Once again, polite society found no reason to take offence. Indeed, it cheered itself hoarse when Galloway dodged pertinent questions from US senators about how many starving Iraqi children had seen the profits from the option to buy 23 million barrels of oil Saddam gave his charity.

The liberal media have turned on Galloway because of a far more heinous crime: his appearance on Celebrity Big Brother. The Independent and the BBC are furious that Galloway is failing to represent his constituents while he is in the Big Brother house. Why they believe an operator who saluted Saddam and described the fall of the Soviet Union as 'the worst day of my life' should want to observe the niceties of parliamentary democracy is beyond me. He was hardly ever in the Commons when he wasn't on Big Brother[.]

However dunderheaded the charge, the SWP, which runs Galloway's Respect party, is panicking. The comrades in his Bethnal Green and Bow constituency admit in a communique to the faithful that 'it would be foolish to pretend that the issue will not cause us some damage'.

There is obviously an element of bourgeois snobbery about prole-TV at work here. But it is also the case that polite society couldn't break with the thug on anything resembling a serious point of principle because it had so compromised itself.

In every developed country, the story has been the same. At the beginning of the Iraq crisis, the far left moved to the far right and took control of the anti-war protests. Behind them came many decent people who were against war for good reasons. Unfortunately, their hatred of Bush was such they couldn't bring themselves to back democracy once it was over. They didn't go as far as Galloway and support the Baathists, but they didn't oppose them either. [...]

The madness is passing now, with a whimper, not a bang. When Galloway comes out of the Big Brother house, no one in the middle classes will want to know him and that will be for the good. Far from being sinister, Celebrity Big Brother deserves to win a Bafta for its exposure of the truly sinister.

Still, aren't they weird? The liberals who think it is worse to appear on a TV show than in the court of a fascist tyrant; the socialists who believe that it is left wing to ignore Iraq as the forces of the far right blow it to pieces. Not just fatuous and immoral, but weird beyond measure.
A bit overblown, but the author is correct in noting that for the Left, symbolism and words are of supreme importance, while concrete acts are easily overlooked.

Retinal replacements allow the blind to see

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It's cyborg time. A Swiss company recently implanted retina replacement devices into two of our future overlords.

Medgadget has the news (with cool explanatory drawings) which promises to help the blind see (internal links removed):
Intelligent Medical Implants AG (IMI), a Zug, Switzerland based company announced that its first-generation Learning Retinal Implant System, containing a 50-electrode device, was successfully implanted in two patients in December 2005. Clinical eval of the device with these two patients is scheduled this month at the University of Hamburg Medical School, Germany. [...]

IMI's Learning Retinal Implant System replaces the signal-processing functions of a healthy retina and provides input to the retinal nerve cells (the ganglion cells) that, in turn, provide input to the optic nerve and the brain.

The System comprises three main components:

1. an implant, "The Retinal Stimulator", which is surgically placed into the eye of a patient, who:

2. wears a pair of spectacles containing an integrated mini-camera and transmitter components for wireless signal and energy transmission ("The Visual Interface"). Via a cable, the spectacles are connected to:

3. "The Pocket Processor" worn at the patient's waist. This device replaces the information processing function of the formally healthy retina.

The use of a high-speed digital signal processor allows the provision of "intelligent information" to the implant (and the nerve cells) by using tuneable software to approximate the information processing normally carried out by the healthy retina. The entire process enables patients to optimize their visual perception during the learning phase. Indeed, using the patient's feedback on perception as an input for the tuning of The Pocket Processor is the unique, patent-protected feature of the System and constitutes the 'learning' [...]
While the technology won't allow perfect vision, it may allow previously blind people to move around confidently.