Tuesday, September 26, 2006

No blogging: I'm off to Rome and Vatican City

My family and I are off to visit the Eternal City for a lightning three day tour. For my first visit to Rome and Vatican City I predict lots of walking, gawking, and no blogging.

If things work out (meaning the kids don't whine too much), I'd like to view the Pope's traditional Wednesday address to the faithful. And see the mighty Swiss Guards, of course.

Monday, September 25, 2006

RINO carnival up at Tinkerty Tonk

Rachel at Tinkerty Tonk does her usual fine job of organizing, presenting, and introducing a week's worth of submissions from the Ragin' RINOs.

Swiss vote to adopt strict rules on asylum

The IHT carries this bit of news on its front page:
Swiss voters ratified new asylum and immigration laws Sunday, making it more difficult for refugees to receive assistance and effectively blocking non-European unskilled workers from entering the country.

More than 67 percent voted in favor of the stricter rules on asylum, originally approved by the Swiss government last December. The proposal was overwhelmingly accepted in all 26 cantons, according to results released by the federal government. [...]

The government said the asylum and immigration law was designed to prevent abuses in the system caused by non-refugees finding ways to stay indefinitely in Switzerland.

It makes it easier to send home people whose asylum requests have been rejected, an arrangement that the government said would allow it to devote more resources to real refugees.

Those refusing to leave despite a rejected application can now be denied social welfare. Adults deemed to be posing as refugees can be imprisoned for up to two years and children can be kept in state custody for one year even if they are never charged with a crime.

"We take note of the results of the referendum and regret that it has been adopted," said William Spindler, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency in Geneva. It criticized the law as being one of Europe's strictest and said its adoption came at a time when asylum applications in Switzerland had reached a two-decade low. [...]

There were 10,061 asylum applications in Switzerland last year, a 30 percent drop from 2004, according to the UN refugee agency. Most of those who sought refugee status came from Serbia, Turkey, Iraq and Russia.

Numbers have continued to fall this year, though Switzerland remains one of the world's top destinations for asylum seekers in proportion to its population of 7.4 million people.

Sixty-eight percent of voters also approved new rules that effectively cut off legal immigration routes for unskilled workers coming from non-European countries. Supporters of the law said it would alleviate unemployment, which has risen to an estimated 5.5 percent. [....]
Both questions experienced a surge of support in the closing days. I voted yes on both referendums--reluctantly on the asylum question, as Switzerland has a generally favorable history of admitting asylum seekers. In the end I felt there was too much abuse of the system despite the lower total number of asylum seekers.

Limiting non-skilled labor to the EU and other favored nations simply makes sense. These are peoples who share a common European culture, and who tend to assimilate readily. Switzerland's population is about 20% immigrant at the moment, making the ability to integrate very important.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Swiss doing well at World Road Racing Championships

The Swiss added gold in the men's time trial (individual race against the clock) to the silver won in the women's time trial. Not bad for a small nation.

Perhaps racing on archrival Austria's home turf provided extra motivation.

Karin Thuerig, who won silver, will next race in the Hawaii Ironman this October.

The Road World Championships site is here.

Nature articles on hominid evolution and development

The journal Nature is allowing free access to several papers and news features about the new hominid find in Ethiopia.

Especially interesting is this article discussing the geological setting of the area as it was some 3 million years ago.

The site also includes loads of useful links.

My vacation options are becoming constrained

Thanks to Muslim uproar over Pope Benedict's "insulting" the Prophet Mohammed, I can now scratch Germany (his home country) and Vatican City off my tourism list, as they have moved up the Islamic hit list.

Other European nations like Holland, Belguim, Spain, France, Denmark and the UK are under constant threat for various transgressions. Several of them have active al-Qeada affiliates within their borders.

Islamic majority nations were already excluded, simply because my very existence as an non-Muslim is an affront to Mohammed, and as this cleric in Pakistan notes: "all infidels should know that no Muslim, under any circumstances, can tolerate an insult to the Prophet."

Nations with significant minority Muslim populations are also stricken from the list. The minority Muslims seem to be busy planting bombs or otherwise terrorizing non-Muslims in a bid for either independence or separate Sharia laws, as in India, Thailand, and parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

I suppose that leaves Iceland or Greenland.

Just kidding, all locales are still options. In fact, it's off to Rome and the Vatican next week for my family and I. After that: Oktoberfest, with its beer and pig delicacies. Next year we'll splurge on a fantastic holiday. I'm looking at either India or somewhere in Africa.

Christians riot in Indonesia over executions

Three Christians were executed on thursday (Swiss time). Indonesian Christians, stealing a page from their Muslim countrymen, went on rampages on Sulawesi and Flores islands. Sulawesi is majority Muslim, but has lots of Christians. Flores is majority Christian.
The executions were felt by many Christians to be too harsh, as many Muslims involved in the same secterian violence were sentenced to no more than 15 years.

Hundreds of people in Atambua Friday attacked a prison in Atambua, following the executions of three Christians, who were sentenced to death for their roles in religious violations in Central Sulawesi's town of Poso.

The incident in the province, where Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus da Silva and Marianus Riwu, were born caused the escape of 190 prisoners, a report said.

Earlier, the mobs attacked Atambua Prosecutors's Office and burned official house of the office head, located just next to the office. A car in the house was also burned during the incident. [...]

Meanwhile, citing a police officer, AP news agency reported that mobs torched cars and police posts in restive Sulawesi province.

On the island of Flores, the executed men's birthplace, machete-wielding mobs ran through the streets, sending women and children running in panic. [...]

They were found guilty of leading a Christian militia that launched a series of attacks in May 2000 - including a machete and gun assault on an Islamic school that left at least 70 men dead.

It was one of the most brutal attacks during sectarian violence that swept Sulawesi province from 1998 in 2002, killing more than 1,000 people from both faiths. A peace deal largely ended the bloodshed, though isolated attacks have continued. [....]

AP: Fatah are moderates

Ah, relativism, your ability to transform is magical:
The statement came as Abbas' moderate Fatah faction struggles to win agreement from the governing Hamas to recognize Israel in negotiations to form a national unity government.
The paragraph notes that the Palestinian group Fatah is moderate. Only in relation to Hamas they would be moderates.

Thanks, AP, I'll update my dictionary.

Or maybe I'll let Fatah's moniker and emblem speak for themselves:
"Fatah" is a reverse acronym of the Arabic, Harekat at-Tahrir al-Wataniyyeh al-Falastiniyyeh. The word "Fatah" means "conquest by means of jihad". [an aside: Fatah backwards means sudden death in Arabic]

Note the grenade and crossed rifles, superimposed on the map of Israel in the emblem. This emphasizes the dedication of Fatah, along with the other "liberation" groups, to the "armed struggle" against Israel, a euphemism for terrorism against civilians.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

More pressure on Airbus: Aeroflot to buy Boeing

The executive lounge at Airbus must be a pretty glum place these days. Just a week after a state-owned Russian bank purchases 5% of Airbus' parent's stock--with its promise of Russian arm twisting of its domestic carriers to buy Airbus--Aeroflot, which was expected to purchase 44 A350 planes from Airbus, will order half of them from Boeing. Even the half reserved for the A350 is a face saving measure for Airbus. Aeroflot would clearly have preferred to lock in the 787.

Apparently Aeroflot needs the planes sooner than Airbus can deliver them, and turned to Boeing. The A350 was a late design by Airbus thrown together after it became clear Beoing had a hit with its 787. The A350 was badly outsold by the 787, so Airbus extensively redesigned it. Unfortunately for Airbus, it remains a market dud. Although it is competitive with the 787, it will be available only years after the 787. Even its anticipated roll out is in danger of being pushed back due to delays with the superjumbo A380.
Aeroflot, the Russian state- controlled airline, confirmed Wednesday that it planned to award half of a $6 billion aircraft order to Boeing of the United States. The decision steps up pressure on Airbus, Boeing's European rival, to clarify plans for a long-awaited midsize jet even as Air France-KLM said that deliveries of the troubled Airbus A380 could be further delayed.

"What we are talking about is buying both Boeing and Airbus," said the Aeroflot chief executive, Valery Okulov, the Russian news agency Interfax reported. He said the airline had already reached an agreement with Boeing to purchase 22 of its 787 "Dreamliners" for delivery between 2010 and 2012 and remained in negotiations with Airbus about the purchase of an equal number of A350 XWB jets for delivery between 2012 and 2016. [...]

Analysts interpreted the news as a setback for Airbus at a time when the plane maker is scrambling to regain customer confidence. Harsh industry criticism of the original A350 design forced Airbus to begin a major overhaul of the plane in July after receiving just 182 orders - less than half the 377 orders that Boeing has received for the 787. The new A350 design, including a wider fuselage and more extensive use of lighter composite materials, received a warmer reception, butAirbus has so far only secured one commitment for 20 of the redesigned planes, from Singapore Airlines.

"Airbus had originally thought that Aeroflot would order the full 44 planes from them," said Doug McVitie, a consultant at Arran Aerospace in Dinan, France. "Boeing has now cut into that potential buy significantly." [...]

Analysts argued that by committing to Boeing now, Aeroflot can be certain it will receive at least some of its new planes by 2010, which is two years before Airbus has said it expects to be able to deliver the first A350s.

Elena Sakhnova, a transportation analyst at Deutsche UFG in Moscow, said the idea of a split order was looking more like a way for the Russian government to meet its delivery needs without offending the European governments that are shareholders in European Aeronautic Defense & Space, the parent company of Airbus.

"It's politics," she said. "It was done to save face." [....]

IMF reform could prompt EU power loss

EU member nations look sure to lose some of their clout under a US backed plan to bring IMF influence in line with reality.
The EU could lose out in terms of power in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the body is expected today to endorse a major overhaul of voting rights.

At an IMF meeting in Singapore on Sunday, the organisation's steering committee – the International Monetary and Financial Committee – backed reforms which boost the decision-making powers of emerging economies such as China, South Korea, Turkey and Mexico.

The IMF is a key international organisation which seeks to secure monetary and economic stability around the globe notably by providing credits to states with financial problems.

The proposals, strongly pushed by US president George W. Bush, are being put to a vote in the 184-member IMF today (18 September) with results of the vote expected to emerge later this week. [...]
I wonder if this loss of economic stroke has any correlation to many European nations expresing an increased willingness to take part in peacekeeping efforts. There is nothing like a loss of power to make a nation seek to project power.

The reforms seem fair and should be adopted.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Airbus set to announce further A380 delays

Things over at Airbus are more tangled than they first admitted to. The bottleneck with the wiring harness remains in place, while other problems with the super jumbo A380 ($) keep cropping up (including problems with the toilets; God help the airline whose crappers go out on 500+ passengers):
Airbus, the European aircraft maker, is expected to announce shortly further significant delays in the early delivery schedule for the A380 superjumbo.

According to Les Echos , the French sister newspaper of the Financial Times, Airbus is likely to be able to deliver only four A380s next year, less than half the revised level announced by the group in June.

Airbus had already been forced to disclose further embarrassing delays in the A380 superjumbo programme in June, when it said it would have to cut planned deliveries of the world's biggest passenger jet next year by almost two-thirds from 25 to only nine.

The group is also facing a tough battle to meet the most immediate deadline of delivering the first A380 for commercial service to Singapore Airlines by the end of this year, with the timing of the type certification approval by the European Aviation Safety Agency still in doubt. [...]

The first announcement of the delays in the A380 programme in June forced EADS to issue a €2bn ($2.5bn) profits warning, triggering a sharp decline in its share price. The problems led directly to a shake-up in the top management of both Airbus and of EADS, the Franco-German parent company of Airbus.

Noël Forgeard was ousted as French co-chief executive of EADS and replaced by Louis Gallois, while Christian Streiff, former deputy chief executive of the Saint-Gobain group, was brought in to replace Gustav Humbert as chief executive of Airbus.

Mr Streiff immediately launched a detailed review of the A380 industrial programme and the deep-seated problems the group was facing at its final assembly plant at Toulouse in south-west France, and at some of its other plants assembling the big A380 modules in Hamburg and St Nazaire. He has promised to deliver the results of the review by the end of September.

In the light of the problems with the A380, Airbus is also reviewing progress on other big projects including, most importantly, the A400M military transport aircraft, which is due to enter service with the French air force in 2009.

Mr Turner [of BAE systems, a part owner of Airbus parent EADS--P] said there were "concerns" about the development costs of the A400M, which has been dogged by rumours – denied by Airbus and EADS – that it is facing delays. [....]
I wonder if the negotiations with the stiffed customers are getted a bit tense. Airbus is going to have to offer up quite a few Euros in rebates to keep customers from publicly and nastily cancelling orders. How soon until EADS is back at the EU's teat?

Russia flexes energy muscles, emulates the mafia

Russia wants to guarantee a bigger stake for its state-owned gas giant, Gazprom, in a promising Siberian gas venture run by a Shell-led consortium. What better way to do so than by threatening the whole project with an enviromental stumbling block? Subtlety is not unknown in Russia, but if you want to make a point, being direct always works wonders.

Gazprom has exclusive rights to market Russian gas--except for this project. However, as this looks to be a real winner, Russia wants to up its stake. The deal is simple: Shell *invites* Gazprom to take a bigger stake in the venture, and the environmental concerns disappear. Pure thuggery.

A second deal is also threatened--making it appear to be more a trend that simply a greedy act. Other production sharing deals look to be in danger unless they are *voluntarily* renegotiated. In this case, Russia is no different from other petroleum exporting nations which seek to better control their resources, now that high prices (> $50/bbl) seem destined to last beyond the short term. Russia's heavy handed approach has led to a (probably doomed) backlash, as reported by the Financial Times ($, although when I clicked the link I got in free):
Russia was facing a global backlash on Tuesday over its threat to halt work on a $20bn (£10.6bn) energy project led by Royal Dutch Shell.

Japan led the chorus of anger. Shinzo Abe, chief cabinet secretary and front-runner to be next prime minister [since made official--P], warned the move would damage international relations and jeopardise foreign investment. The European Union voiced concern and Britain protested to the Russian authorities.

But even as the international community was protesting against the suspension of an environmental permit for the Royal Dutch Shell-led Sakhalin-2 project, it emerged that another large foreign energy project faced a similar threat.

Russian prosecutors have threatened to suspend an exploration licence for TNK-BP, the Anglo-Russian joint venture, to develop Kovykta, the massive gas field in Eastern Siberia.

A source familiar with the situation said prosecutors in Irkutsk, capital of Eastern Siberia, demanded a local agency for natural resources suspend TNK-BP’s licence on "environmental" grounds and for failing to fulfil its terms.

On Tuesday Russia insisted its move to cancel the environmental permit for Sakhalin-2 was not politically motivated and was prompted entirely by environmental concerns.

If the move is ratified by Russia’s industrial safety agency, work on the huge gas and oil development would be halted. [...]

The suspension of Shell’s permit has been widely seen as a tactic to secure a better stake in the project for the Russian government: a charge the authorities strongly rejected on Tuesday. The moves against Shell and TNK-BP come as the Kremlin looks to expand its influence over the energy sector. It is known to want Gazprom to take a substantial stake in Sakhalin-2. Gazprom is also seen as the front-runner to replace the private Russian partners in the TNK-BP venture.

Current state of Zimbabwe's opposition

Dismal, demoralized, routed.
With inflation exceeding 1,000 per cent, unemployment more than 80 per cent and about a third of the population in desperate need of food, Zimbabweans could do with a decent opposition to Robert Mugabe's catastrophic tyranny.

Sadly, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) have proved unequal to the task.

The MDC has split into two factions, headed by Morgan Tsvangirai, who stood against Mr Mugabe in the 2002 presidential election, and Arthur Mutambara.

Yesterday, after its leaders had been arrested, the ZCTU abandoned plans to stage anti-government protests.

In South Africa and Zambia, organised labour plays an important political role. The same applied to Zimbabwe in the 1990s, but today the ZCTU, through which Mr Tsvangirai emerged to prominence, is a busted flush.

The same goes for the MDC. Mr Mugabe's determination to retain power, buttressed by the repressive mechanisms of the state, has proved far stronger than his opponents' will to wrest it from him.

With the opposition crushed at home, South Africa is best placed to put pressure on Mr Mugabe. However, President Thabo Mbeki's attempts to facilitate the drafting of a more liberal constitution and to open a credit line in return for reforms have come to naught; the ruling Zanu-PF and the MDC fell out over the proposed constitution, and Mr Mugabe simply printed more money to pay off IMF arrears.
South Africa could pressure Mugabe into significant changes but chooses to speak only privately to Africa's worst tyrant. Such a shame that millions suffer because of a desire to keep solidarity with one of Africa's one time heroes.

UPDATE: It gets worse:
Shops in the Zimbabwe capital Harare are running short of bread after three top food-makers were arrested for over-charging for their products.

Prices of bread and other staple foods are controlled by the government and bakers say the official price does not even meet production costs.

In another sign of Zimbabwe's economic meltdown, its main internet connection has been shut because of unpaid debts. [....]
Zimbabwe's current life expectancy is 30 years, down considerably from when it achieved independance. Bob Mugabe claims it's because of a plot by the West.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A reasoned Muslim interpretation of the Pope's speech

The Pope placed great emphasis on reason in religion in his speech at the University of Regensberg. His words upset many Muslims. Here is the opinion one who put some thought into the speech as a whole. Not surprisingly, he currently lives in a Western land. He also teaches in Indonesia. It must be a blessing for his students to have such a thoughtful teacher (one internal link removed, the other link is in the original):
During his visit to his home country Germany, Pope Benedict XVI (formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) dropped in on Thursday Sept. 12, 2006, at his former Regensburg University. From 1969 to 1977 he was a professor of dogmatics at the school and this year he delivered a speech there, broadcast live on many German TV channels. More than 25,000 people in the hall of the university welcomed him and after the long formalities and various choirs, he spoke about Glaube, Vernunft und Universitedt (Faith, Reason and Universality).

The speech drew my interest as a Muslim, who by accident had turned on the TV and watched the live broadcast. The original text of the pope's speech can be read at www.oecumene.radiovaticana.org/ted/Articolo.asp?c=94864.

During his speech, the pope raised at least three concepts that seemed related directly to the current Muslim world and its relationship to the West. First, he mentioned three important scriptures in the modern world: the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Koran. He clearly stated that they were "drei gesetze (three rules/laws)."

Second, he said the readers of the scriptures, the Christians and Muslims, should understand them through reasoning, not violence. To quote him directly, "Der Glaube ist Frucht der Seele, nicht des Kvrpers (faith is an expression of the soul not the body)." Taking an example, he said that to believe in the existence of God is to think with reason, not to use threats.

Therefore, any use of violence, war or weapons in the relations among believers of the same -- or different -- religion is unacceptable. God, he said, should be understood with "logos/words." In doing so, the pope defined how and why God exists. In the Muslim tradition, logos may be equated to the kalam of both the classical and modern Muslim intellectuals. In both logos and kalam, people are told to exercise their intellectual facilities, to think of the theology rather than take up arms. As a Muslim, I totally agree with this, and I think nobody would argue it.

Then the pope raised the interfaith dialog issue. In his careful words and wisdom, he made an example of the dialog in the past between Byzantium Caesar Manuel II Palaeologos in 1391 and an educated Persian about relations between Islam and Christianity. In short, the dialog led to a conclusion that the use of reasoning should be put higher than violence in matters of faith. Accordingly, the dialog should not be performed by using weapons or threats. The parties involved should exercise their commonsense to understand others, the pope said.

Listening to the pope's speech one may also relate this issue to the contemporary crisis in the current world, in the Middle East or even in Indonesia. Although the pope mentioned the word jihad in his speech, he did not comment further on the issue.

After listening to the speech as a whole, one might question why the peace of the world is under threat.

It is because people tend to use weapons to solve problems rather than sitting down together and talking. The former is violence, whereas the latter is reasoning.

In the past, during the Renaissance, many people argued against the existance of religions, especially against the Church. Religion was far from a reasoned ideal of humanity, people were told. People repeatedly questioned the role of faith in society and was not strange that a figure like Friedrich Nietzsche emerged.

In many of his works he provoked us to think about the origin of humanity, good, evil and religion. That was then, this is now. The current world situation seems to be little about deep thinking and more about politics; with religion used to justify violence for political ends.

One example is United States President George W. Bush's speech commemorating the five-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks [...]. He described when the terrorists ".... murdered people of all colors, creeds, and nationalities -- and made war upon the entire Free World."

The speech was made in the context of the numerous victims of the collapse of the twin towers. It was delivered on a day of mourning and it stressed that the security of the nation should be a top priority. It, of course, was Bush's right and duty to say this as a politician.

After that, the president spoke about the actions taken against the people responsible for the disaster: "Since that day, America and her allies have taken the offensive in a war unlike any we have fought before." During recent days the popularity of Bush and his Republican Party has been under extreme pressure and the Democrats will take any chance to lead public opinion, as the mid-term elections draw nearer. Bush reminded his people that "Dangerous enemies have declared their intention to destroy our way of life."

It would be misleading to compare the speech of the pope to that of the U.S. president; each serves its own purpose and has its own context. The first speaker is a religious leader, while the second is a head of state.

However, one thing is relevant. Both spoke about violence and enmity. Although the pope does not single out specific parties for using violence, reading his speech most people will understand that every war is violence. The pope delivered a clear message of peace.

Cardinal Kasper on Islam and Europe

Some quotes from a Der Spiegel interview with German Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Catholic Church's ecumenical representative.

On the current conflict with Islam:
The conflict with Islam has, after all, existed throughout European history, which is what the pope was pointing out. [...]
In fact, it existed soon after Charlemagne created the first European mega state since the fall of Rome.

On Islam itself (with a good explanation of why some in Islam sees it as an implacable enemy of the Christian West):
[...] Islam undoubtedly deserves respect. It has some things in common with Christianity, such as Abraham as a common progenitor, and the belief in only one God. But Islam developed in opposition to orthodox Christianity from the very start, and it considers itself superior to Christianity. So far, it has only been tolerant in places where it is in the minority. Where it is the majority religion, Islam does not recognize religious freedom, at least not as we understand it. Islam is a different culture. This doesn't mean that it's an inferior culture, but it is a culture that has yet to connect with the positive sides of our modern Western culture: religious freedom, human rights and equal rights for women. [...]
On the difficulties of integrating Muslims in Europe, and the importance of Western values:
Europe sees itself as a liberal-minded society. It has no desire to be, nor can it be, a "Christian club. But Europe's experiment with multiculturalism, or the side-by-side existence of different cultures, has failed throughout the continent. Integration requires a minimum basis of shared values, that is, a culture of mutual tolerance and respect -- in other words, what constitutes the heart of European culture. This is why integration is not possible without excluding those who do not recognize this culture. Those who are unprepared to demonstrate tolerance cannot expect or even demand tolerance for themselves. [...]

A Europe that qualifies its own values is not attractive in the eyes of Muslims. Europe must conduct itself as a strong partner, both intellectually and spiritually, and it must be convinced of its own advantages. This is the only way we will gain respect. Only a Europe that is conscious of its own values can be both an economically strong and a morally and intellectually respected partner, and thereby extend its hospitality to others. It's a cultural disgrace that we are forced to identify no-go areas for foreigners.
Well said. Multi-culti is a failure; integration of Muslims is proving exceedingly difficult, and Europe must stand up for it's values.

He very much seems to be throwing down the gauntlet to Europe and Muslims. The Church looks to be readying itslef for both dialog and confrontation with Islam.

Muslim op-ed: What bedevils the Islamic world (other than those lousy Jews, that is)

An opinion piece (by the President of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, no less) in the Jakarta Post (Indonesia's widest circulation English daily) discusses the Islamic world's relation to the West, and what it can do to improve itself. It's a roller-coaster ride of good and bad. The author notes that terror of any sort is against Islam, but then (as is so often the case) fudges:
We condemn any violation of human rights and acts of terror, including those performed in the name of religion. It is true that terrorist actions are performed by those who claim to be Islamic but they do not really understand Islam. On the other hand, we cannot close our eyes to the arrogance shown by a powerful country which reinforces its hegemony on this part of the world. So it should be understood, that any terrorist acts and conflict in this world cannot be separated from the arrogance and domination of the U.S.
And then there is this:
Arab countries have been accommodating of the U.S. since the U.S. started the exploitation of natural resources mainly oil in the region. Due to the oil exploitation, Arab countries like Saudi Arabia [Saudi Arabian petroleum has been nationalized since the 70s, I believe. Any exploitation is being done by his co-religionists--P] and Kuwait rely upon U.S. technology. This condition worsened after the Arab countries lost to Israel in wars from 1948 up to the 1970s. Anyway, the accommodative countries like Saudi and Kuwait promptly became rich and prosperous. While Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Yemen remain poor. This position enables U.S. to use the carrot and the stick strategy. The accommodative countries are given aid, while the resistant countries are punished. This strategy has helped Israel and the U.S. weaken the Arab League, even when it was led by Egypt.
Sorry, but the poor nations listed don't have huge petroleum resources, which is why they are poor. Also: Egypt is the number two benficiary of US aid, it is not poor due to America punishing it.

And no Muslim opinion piece is complete without this warhorse being trotted out (N.B. this comes from the head of the World Conference of Religions for Peace):
Following the John F Kennedy administration, U.S. policy changed dramatically. The country used to follow the pluralist aspirations of its people, but since the Jewish lobby in U.S. secured a strong position in the U.S. administration, Washington has tended to back Israeli interests. The lobby is controlled by AIPAC. It is this lobby group that steers U.S. policy, including its foreign policy.
I'd always thought the Jews were in charge long before LBJ. Such cunning folk to hide their power so well.

In any case, let's go out with the good:
To develop a better world, especially the Islamic world, it is imperative to help the Islamic world emerge from the economic doldrums. Poverty and low quality education remain the prime cause of the backwardness of the Islamic world, which also lacks awareness of cooperation in trade.
Amen, brother. He might also admit that these backwards nations share a stagnant Islam as their religion, as well as corrupt regimes.

Stop apologizing, and don't let Islamic over-reaction become acceptable

Muslims around the world are calling for the Pope's head, some literally, others figuratively. Anne Applebaum of the WaPo notes that little can be done about the thin-skinned response to Pope Benedict XVI's speech--or other manufactered outrages, but there is something we in the West can do: worry about our lack of unity in standing up for what we hold dear.
Already, angry Palestinian militants have assaulted seven West Bank and Gaza churches, destroying two of them. In Somalia, gunmen shot dead an elderly Italian nun. Radical clerics from Qatar to Qom have called, variously, for a "day of anger" or for worshipers to "hunt down" the pope and his followers. From Turkey to Malaysia, Muslim politicians have condemned the pope and called his apology "insufficient." And all of this because Benedict XVI, speaking at the University of Regensburg, quoted a Byzantine emperor who, more than 600 years ago, called Islam a faith "spread by the sword." We've been here before, of course. Similar protests were sparked last winter by cartoon portrayals of Muhammad in the Danish press. Similar apologies resulted, though Benedict's is more surprising than those of the Danish government. No one, apparently, can remember any pope, not even the media-friendly John Paul II, apologizing for anything in such specific terms: not for the Inquisition, not for the persecution of Galileo and certainly not for a single comment made to an academic audience in an unimportant German city.

But Western reactions to Muslim "days of anger" have followed a familiar pattern, too. Last winter, some Western newspapers defended their Danish colleagues, even going so far as to reprint the cartoons -- but others, including the Vatican, attacked the Danes for giving offense. Some leading Catholics have now defended the pope -- but others, no doubt including some Danes, have complained that his statement should have been better vetted, or never given at all. This isn't surprising: By definition, the West is not monolithic. Left-leaning journalists don't identify with right-leaning colleagues (or right-leaning Catholic colleagues), and vice versa. Not all Christians, let alone all Catholics -- even all German Catholics -- identify with the pope either, and certainly they don't want to defend his every scholarly quotation.

Unfortunately, these subtle distinctions are lost on the fanatics who torch embassies and churches. And they may also be preventing all of us from finding a useful response to the waves of anti-Western anger and violence that periodically engulf parts of the Muslim world. Clearly, a handful of apologies and some random public debate -- should the pope have said X, should the Danish prime minister have done Y -- are ineffective and irrelevant: None of the radical clerics accepts Western apologies, and none of their radical followers reads the Western press. Instead, Western politicians, writers, thinkers and speakers should stop apologizing -- and start uniting.

By this, I don't mean that we all need to rush to defend or to analyze this particular sermon; I leave that to experts on Byzantine theology. But we can all unite in our support for freedom of speech -- surely the pope is allowed to quote from medieval texts -- and of the press. And we can also unite, loudly, in our condemnation of violent, unprovoked attacks on churches, embassies and elderly nuns. By "we" I mean here the White House, the Vatican, the German Greens, the French Foreign Ministry, NATO, Greenpeace, Le Monde and Fox News -- Western institutions of the left, the right and everything in between. True, these principles sound pretty elementary -- "we're pro-free speech and anti-gratuitous violence" -- but in the days since the pope's sermon, I don't feel that I've heard them defended in anything like a unanimous chorus. A lot more time has been spent analyzing what the pontiff meant to say, or should have said, or might have said if he had been given better advice.

All of which is simply beside the point, since nothing the pope has ever said comes even close to matching the vitriol, extremism and hatred that pour out of the mouths of radical imams and fanatical clerics every day, all across Europe and the Muslim world, almost none of which ever provokes any Western response at all. And maybe it's time that it should: When Saudi Arabia publishes textbooks commanding good Wahhabi Muslims to "hate" Christians, Jews and non-Wahhabi Muslims, for example, why shouldn't the Vatican, the Southern Baptists, Britain's chief rabbi and the Council on American-Islamic Relations all condemn them -- simultaneously?

Maybe it's a pipe dream: The day when the White House and Greenpeace can issue a joint statement is surely distant indeed. But if stray comments by Western leaders -- not to mention Western films, books, cartoons, traditions and values -- are going to inspire regular violence, I don't feel that it's asking too much for the West to quit saying sorry and unite, occasionally, in its own defense. The fanatics attacking the pope already limit the right to free speech among their own followers. I don't see why we should allow them to limit our right to free speech, too.
The Muslim response to the Pope's comments is completely out of proportion to any perceived insult. Ms Applebaum is correct: we need to stand up to these threatening bullies with a strong defense of our values. By all means, keep explaining ourselves, but make it clear we won't be stifled because some Muslim firebrands overreact.

UPDATE: Der Speigel agrees:
[...] [T]he response needs to be firm. Freedom of speech, after all, is a vital value and needs to be defended. Any attempt to make political speech hostage to some imagined will of God must be resisted.

Grouchy RINOs on parade

The 62nd iteration of the RINO (Repubs/Independants Not Overdosed on the party kool-aid) carnival is up at Evolution. J.D. has done a great job of organizing and introducing the various posts.

He notes that the RINOs are in a grumpy mood these days. Go over and see what has got us upset or just off our feed.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Islam is not above criticism

The Telegraph looks through the forced complaints of Islam's defenders and finds the religion of perpetual outrage:

The Pope quotes a barbed medieval criticism of Islamic violence in the course of a scholarly discourse, and Muslims all over the world go into uproar; churches are firebombed. [...]

We are living in a world that has lost not only its sense of proportion but also its ability to discriminate. [...]

[I]t is not immediately apparent how much blame to attach to Benedict XVI for the worldwide furore over last week's lecture. On reflection, the answer must be: not very much.

Presumably, the Pope regrets quoting the Byzantine emperor's opinion that aspects of Islam were "inhuman". Moderate Muslims have been upset by it, and Benedict reiterated yesterday that he was sorry that they had taken offence. But he is even more sorry that this offence has been exacerbated by the deliberate manipulation of his words by Islamic firebrands and their slick media operation.

The combination of grievance-nurturing multiculturalism and instant headlines is having a disastrous effect on the worldwide Muslim community. There seems to be no limit to its spokesmen's willingness to voice outrage; and their messages are then picked up by fanatics who mount appalling attacks on Christians in Muslim countries. When was the last time a Muslim leader apologised for such atrocities?

The truth is that barbaric attacks happen weekly. No wonder that Benedict favours an urgent dialogue with Muslims on the subject of religious violence, rather than the usual touchy-feely exchange of compliments.

Well, he has started a dialogue now, albeit not quite in the way that he intended. And it is essential that it continue. A self-abasing apology from the Pope would have postponed that discussion yet again.

We suspect that Western public opinion is not displeased that Benedict has said the unsayable. Now it is time for other churchmen to tell their Muslim counterparts that, in addition to dishing out criticism, they must learn how to take it.

Yes, the endless whining about poor treatment and imagined insults wears thin. Mainstream Islam has gone into a dangerous reactionary mode; anything remotely unpalatable to Muslims is protested, with the faithful being urged to the barricades over trifles.

Islam needs to regain a sense of perspective lest it tumble into the laps of the Islamists, which is surely where it is heading. Should that come to pass it will bring about its own destruction, but not before harming a great deal of the world.

Big Easy's "toxic soup" not so toxic after all

The term toxic soup was one of the most effective metaphors to come out of the destruction Hurricane Katrina left behind. It caught the fancy of reporters, editorialists, pundits, and bloggers.

Pity that the description was merely sound and fury, signifying nothing:
New Orleans' waters and soils seem to have survived the ravages of Hurricane Katrina without being contaminated by any toxic sludge.

The massive hurricane flooded the city in August last year with waters that were expected to be contaminated by sewage, petrol, and various household and industrial pollutants, from asbestos to pesticides. But just how toxic those floodwaters were, and what mess they might leave behind, wasn't known.

By October 2005, researchers from Lousiana State University had reported that the floodwaters themselves were not the 'toxic soup' feared, but instead looked much like the drainage you might expect in a city after heavy rain.
The reporters' and others' taste for the dramatic has again been shown up. It's too bad no lessons will be learned or behaviors altered.

At least Sean Penn needn't worry that he was somehow contaminated during his heroic rescue missions.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Meet the next head of the UN

Although it remains true that there are many a slip between cup and lip, it looks as though South Korea's Foreign Minister will be the UN's next Secretary General:
SOUTH KOREA’S Foreign Minister emerged yesterday as the clear front-runner to become the next United Nations Secretary-General.

Ban Ki Moon won support from 14 of the 15 Security Council members in the latest straw poll to pick a successor to Kofi Annan at the end of the year.

The secret ballot came when Mr Ban was in Washington for a summit between President Bush and Roh Moo Hyun, the South Korean leader.

“We are determined to make a decision on the next Secretary-General by the end of September or early October, so we are going to press ahead in that direction,” John Bolton, Washington’s UN Ambassador, said.

The cautious Mr Ban, who became Foreign Minister in January 2004, has played a key role in the North Korean nuclear stand-off, where South Korea is a partner of China, Japan, Russia and the United States in six-party talks with Pyongyang. [...]

Most UN members believed that the next UN chief should come from Asia under an informal system of rotation, because Asian nations agreed to support Boutros Boutros Ghali and Mr Annan for three consecutive African turns. Mr Ban made a surprisingly strong showing yesterday, picking up two more positive votes than he did in the Security Council’s first straw poll in July. [....]
Wiki entry on Mr. Ban

The costs of war with Tehran vs. the costs of a later war with Tehran

Krauthammer lays out the costs of attacking Iran's nuclear production sites. It's a grim listing of blood and coin.

On the other hand, in his final paragraphs he notes the cost of doing nothing:
Then there is the larger danger of permitting nuclear weapons to be acquired by religious fanatics seized with an eschatological belief in the imminent apocalypse and in their own divine duty to hasten the End of Days. The mullahs are infinitely more likely to use these weapons than anyone in the history of the nuclear age. Every city in the civilized world will live under the specter of instant annihilation delivered either by missile or by terrorist. This from a country that has an official Death to America Day and has declared since Ayatollah Khomeini's ascension that Israel must be wiped off the map.

Against millenarian fanaticism glorying in a cult of death, deterrence is a mere wish. Is the West prepared to wager its cities with their millions of inhabitants on that feeble gamble?

These are the questions. These are the calculations. The decision is no more than a year away.
One can quibble with his time frame (presumably he cites one year because no president wants to pass such a judgment on to his successor. If Iran is seemingly bargaining in good faith at that time no strike will come), but not with the potential risks we face if Iran should get a bomb.

This of course is where the doubt comes in. As Iran approaches the bomb, we in the West will be increasingly likely to see the threat as merely one potential among many; Iran can aid in this deception by behaving in a more moderate manner. When faced with conflict, we too often just hope for the best. This was fine when our enemies had only conventional weapons. It won't do in the face of a belligerant, nuclear-armed Tehran.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

An analysis of Sharia law in Indonesia: big disaster

The Indonesian region of Aceh has one of the harshest interpretations of Sharia law in place. It will only get worse under the Indonesian government's plans to devolve more power to religious leaders.
After the World Food Program's compound in Banda Aceh, the capital of Indonesia's Aceh Province, was raided last month by the local Shariah police, a UN official told the Deutsche Press Agentur, "No one wants to make a big deal about it publicly at the moment."

Indeed, no one seems prepared to raise the issue - not the United Nations, not Europe, not the United States. Because despite the billions of dollars spent to help Aceh recover after the 2004 tsunami and a 29- year separatist war, no one has so far paid attention to the implications of allowing the police who enforce Shariah, or Islamic law, to become stronger than the state police or any other law-enforcement authority - or of allowing a law to be implemented that imposes Taliban-style local government.

In Aceh, the first to suffer the consequences of the rise of Shariah are women, who face being beaten and arrested if they don't wear their head scarves "properly." The organizers of the All Acehnese Women's Congresses raise these and many other worries. Devout Muslims, they follow Shariah as a personal commandment but find an officially enforced extremist interpretation of Shariah offensive and un-Islamic.

For them this perversion of the peace process shows how much women's voices, interests and human rights, have been blatantly disregarded by the Indonesian government, the rebel movement GAM and the international facilitators, including the European Union.

A GAM representative, Yusuf Irwandi, said the movement had never fought for the enforcement of Shariah, and was worried about the way Shariah was being implemented but unwilling to make religion an issue.

In Indonesia's Parliament, however, legislators have approved a law on governing Aceh that paves the way for more power for local religious leaders. In effect, it creates a theocracy within Aceh that has little accountability and makes a mockery out of Indonesia's positive developments toward greater democracy and the rule of law. [...]

The problems go beyond Aceh. The soft-spoken head of Aceh's Shariah department, Aliyasa Abubakar, made no secret of the fact that Aceh is a pilot project for those who want all of Indonesia to drop its secular foundations and become an Islamic state with an extreme version of Shariah.

This was candidly confirmed by Nasir Jamil, a young member of the Indonesian Parliament from PKS, the Islamist political party driving the national Shariah campaign, part of the coalition that elected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. He actually worried that the Shariah police in Aceh was overdoing it and scaring people with their military uniforms and brutal raids, but he said the severest forms of punishment, such as cutting off hands and stoning, would gradually be enforced.

Attempts to radicalize Indonesia are triggering a strong reaction in many parts of the country where other religions are in the majority. In Bali, which is mainly Hindu, people are increasingly talking of separating from Jakarta. The same goes for Flores and other Catholic islands of eastern Indonesia, where tensions are growing between non- Muslim and Muslim communities.

What is at stake is Indonesia's national integrity.

The European Commission and EU member states should embark immediately and decisively on a strategy to help all those in Jakarta, Aceh and throughout Indonesia who are eager to keep Indonesia united, secular and tolerant. These people are fighting to consolidate democracy, combat terrorism and promote human rights, women's rights and sustainable development for the people of Indonesia. All these are values Europe claims to defend. The fate of Indonesia is decisive for a world that aims to avoid the dire prophecy of a clash of civilizations.
Add Indonesia to the list of regional nations (Malaysia, parts of Thailand) increasingly under the sway of conservative Islam.

For a more optimistic view about Aceh and Indonesia as a whole, read this opinion piece from the IHT:
[...] Defeated nationally, Islamists have gone local, empowered by a decentralization movement allowing greater regional autonomy - most notably in conservative Aceh, where canings of Shariah offenders have drawn international condemnation.

But "Aceh does not represent Indonesia," as an Australian diplomat told me. In a nation of 240 million people, Shariah in a few cities and districts is an aberration. In fact, there already are signs of a backlash against Shariah among Indonesian Muslims, who largely espouse a less rigid form of Islam that blends Hinduism, Buddhism and Javanese mysticism. [...]

Indeed, a major poll last month showed that the vast majority of Indonesians reject Shariah and still embrace Pancasila [belief in one God, humanitarianism, national unity, democracy and social justice--P]. But in treating the symptoms of extremism, Jakarta must not ignore underlying causes.

With 40 million chronically unemployed and perhaps 100 million living in poverty, "we are running out of time," says Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono, who oversees a military that considers itself a guardian of constitutional pluralism.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, accused of being indecisive on the economic front, now appears to understand the urgency. Jakarta is alive with rumors that he plans a dramatic "October Surprise," reshuffling his cabinet, with an eye toward a bold New Deal-style program to create jobs and combat poverty.

The murderous acts and militant agenda of a radical few here are making headlines. But historically, culturally, religiously and politically, Indonesians give hope that the center will hold - that they will succeed in what Sudarsono calls "the big challenge of daring young Muslims not to die for Islam, but to live for Islam."

Chilling list: 10 reasons why the West cannot defeat Islamists

I missed this when it came out several days ago in The Times. It is a list of reasons why the rising tide of Islamist thought will swamp the West. According to the writer, it is all but inevitable. I disagree. Some of his reasons are sound, but are not in themselves (or together) strong enough to defeat the West (numbers 1, 3, 5, 6, 9) . Other reasons have their importance inflated or are false (numbers 2, 4, 7, 8, 10). Interestingly, "progressives" play important roles in three of his reasons (5, 6, 7).

The political disarray (which ground several of the authors reasons) in the West is troublesome and continues to offer Islamists significant advantages. Nevertheless, this misreads the West's history of eventually facing up to global problems. It will take time, but the West will confront this latest threating "ism" (admittedly, the author allows for this when listing several of his reasons). There is little to do other than vote for leaders willing to intelligently and imaginatively confront the Islamists, both at home and abroad, and support efforts by Muslim nations to root out the Islamists (even if it means holding our noses) while encouraging them to become more open.

The West has far more to offer the average Muslim than do the Islamists, who in any case become more extremist with every advance, and thus less attractive. The overwhelming choice of Muslims must be for progress rather than a return to medieval times. In addition, many Muslim nations also see the Islamists as a threat and will work to deafeat them.
1) The first is the extent of political division in the non-Muslim world about what is afoot. Some reject outright that there is a war at all; others agree with the assertion by the US President that “the war we fight is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century”. Divided counsels have also dictated everything from “dialogue” to the use of nuclear weapons, and from reliance on “public diplomacy” to “taking out Islamic sites”, Mecca included. Adding to this incoherence has been the gulf between those bristling to take the fight to the “terrorist” and those who would impede such a fight, whether from domestic civil libertarian concerns or from rivalrous geopolitical calculation.

2) The second reason why, as things stand, Islam will not be defeated is that the strengths of the world community of Muslims are being underestimated, and the nature of Islam misunderstood. It is neither a “religion of peace” nor a “religion hijacked” or “perverted” by “the few”. Instead, its moral intransigence and revived ardours, its jihadist ethic and the refusal of most diaspora Muslims to “share a common set of values” with non-Muslims are all one, and justified by the Koran itself.

Islam is not even a religion in the conventional sense of the term. It is a transnational political and ethical movement that believes that it holds the solution to mankind’s problems. It therefore holds that it is in mankind’s own interests to be subdued under Islam’s rule. Such belief therefore makes an absurdity of the project to “democratise” Muslim nations in the West’s interests, an inversion that Islam cannot accept and, in its own terms, rightly so. It renders naive, too, the distinction between the military and political wings of Islamic movements; and makes Donald Rumsfeld’s assertion in June 2005 that the insurgents in Iraq “don’t have vision, they’re losers” merely foolish. In this war, if there is a war, the boot is on the other foot.

3) Indeed, the third reason why Islam will not be defeated, as things stand, is the low level of Western leadership, in particular in the United States. During the half-century of the Islamic revival, it has shown itself at sixes and sevens both diplomatically and militarily. It has been without a sense of strategic direction, and been unable to settle upon coherent war plans. It has even lacked the gifts of language to make its purposes plain. Or, as Burke put it in March, 1775, “a great empire and little minds go ill together”. In this war with Islam, if it is a war, the combination bodes defeat.

4) Next is the contribution to the disarray of Western policy-making being made by the egotistical competitiveness, and in some cases hysterics, of “experts” and commentators on Islam. They include hyperventilating Islamophobes as well as academic apologists for the worst that is being done in Islam’s name. On this battleground, with its personalised blogsites to assist self-promotion, many seem to think that their opinions are more important than the issues upon which they are passing judgment; and amid the babel of advisory voices, policy has become increasingly inconsistent.

5) The fifth disablement is to be found in the confusion of “progressives” about the Islamic advance. With their political and moral bearings lost since the defeat of the “socialist project”, many on the Left have only the fag-end of anti-colonial positions on which to take their stand. To attribute the West’s problems to our colonial past contains some truth. But it is again to misunderstand the inner strength of Islam’s revival, which is owed not to victimhood but to advancing confidence in its own belief system.

Moreover, to Islam’s further advantage, it has led most of today’s “progressives” to say little, or even to keep silent, about what would once have been regarded as the reactionary aspects of Islam: its oppressive hostility to dissent, its maltreatment of women, its supremacist hatred of selected out-groups such as Jews and gays, and its readiness to incite and to use extremes of violence against them. Mein Kampf circulates in Arab countries under the title Jihadi.

6) The sixth reason for Islam’s growing strength is the vicarious satisfaction felt by many non-Muslims at America’s reverses. Those who feel such satisfaction could be regarded as Trojan horses, a cavalry whose number is legion and which is growing. For some, their principle — or anti-principle — is that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”. Others believe their refusal of support for the war with Islam, if there is such a war, is a righteous one. But the consequences are the same: Islam’s advance is being borne along by Muslims and non-Muslims together.

7) The seventh reason lies in the moral poverty of the West’s, and especially America’s, own value system. Doctrines of market freedom, free choice and competition — or “freedom ’n’ liberty” — are no match for the ethics of Islam and Sharia, like them or not. Yet in the “battle for hearts and minds” the US First Cavalry Division saw fit to set up “Operation Adam Smith” in Iraq to teach marketing skills, among other things, to local entrepreneurs. There can be no victory here. Or, as Sheikh Mohammed al-Tabatabi told thousands of worshippers in Baghdad in May 2003: “The West calls for freedom and liberty. Islam rejects such liberty. True liberty is obedience to Allah.”

8) The next indication that Islam’s advance will continue lies in the skilful use being made of the media and of the world wide web in the service both of the “electronic jihad” and the bamboozling of Western opinion by Muslim spokesmen. It is also a political enterprise in which Muslims and non-Muslims can now be found acting together in furthering the reach of Islam’s world view; the help being given by Western producers and broadcasters to al-Jazeera is the most notable instance of it.

9) The ninth factor guaranteeing Islam’s onward march is the West’s dependency on the material resources of Arab and Muslim countries. In April 1917, Woodrow Wilson, recommending to the US Congress an American declaration of war against Germany, could say that “we have no selfish ends to serve”. American levels of consumption make no such statement possible now. The US is, so to speak, over a barrel. It will remain so.

10) Finally, the West is convinced that its notions of technology-driven modernity and market-driven prog- ress are innately superior to the ideals of “backward” Islam. This is an old delusion. In 1899, Winston Churchill asserted that there was “no stronger retrograde force in the world” than Islam. More than a century later, it is fondly believed that sophisticated hardware and Star Wars defences will ensure Western mastery in this war, if it is a war.

But as the Saudi “scholar” Suleiman al-Omar declared in June 2004: “Islam is advancing according to a steady plan. America will be destroyed.” As things stand, given the ten factors set out here, he is more likely to be proved right than wrong.

The siren song of Oktoberfest

Although Munich is fairly close to Bern (where I live), I've never been to the famous Oktoberfest. Maybe this year I'll skip up for a day or two of boozing and pigging out. I'll be able to cross one more thing off my to-do list.

It starts this Saturday:
The Oktoberfest, which starts on Saturday Sept. 16 and runs until Oct. 3, is the biggest folk festival in the world. It had 6.1 million visitors last year, including hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists. They drank 6.1 million liters of beer brewed specially for the occasion by the city's six breweries.

The food consumption statistics are similarly gargantuan -- visitors wolfed down 95 oxen, 55,913 knuckles of pork, 479,610 fried chickens and 179,557 pairs of sausages last year.

The Oktoberfest is Bavaria at its most Bavarian. The new visitor may be taken aback by the sight of steaming tents packed with 10,000 people, many standing on the tables, the women in low-cut "Dirndl" dresses and the men stamping their Lederhosen-clad legs to the trumpet sounds of an Oompah band as they hold up their glasses in never-ending toasts.

Powerful waitresses, some of them capable of carrying eight full beer glasses, blow whistles or shout "Vorsicht!" ("Look Out!") as they barge their way through the crowds. Collisions are rare but messy, especially if they're bearing giant trays laden with pork knuckles and chicken. Brezels the size of steering wheels are also on offer. [....]

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Sarko in the US: boffo

French presidential candidate and Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy is touring parts of the US. As the most media savvy of French politicians, he knows how to keep his mug in front of the cameras and get quoted back home. An article in the IHT discusses Sarko's affinity for the US and the general manuevering in French political circles.

Here are excerpts from a NYT piece by one of my favorite columnists ($):

A restless politician came to town for the 9/11 anniversary. The man, a strong supporter of Israel, a firm believer in the vitality of the American economy, a straight-talker who sometimes misspeaks, thanked New York firefighters, handed out medals, attended a religious ceremony and moved briskly through crowds.

President George W. Bush? Nope, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French interior minister, leader of the center-right Union for a Popular Movement party, and the guy who wants to shake up Europe's most conservative country, France, by becoming president in next year's election. Shake it up with a dose of Americanism. As he put it to the crowd at the French Consulate on Fifth Avenue, in advising them to pass on the merits of the U.S. to compatriots back home: "You could tell them, for example, that when you want to earn more, it's not forbidden to work more!"

You've got to hand it to Sarko, he has chutzpah, perhaps inherited from his maternal family, assimilated French Jews who converted to Roman Catholicism. Choosing to tread in the footsteps of Bush, the man France loves to hate, on an occasion of solemn American remembrance takes some doing.

But Sarkozy may be onto something. He gets the hypocrisies of French life, where what is outwardly stated may not correspond to what is inwardly believed, and he knows the bottled-up Gallic anger that takes delight in seeing a politician shove the politically correct and stick it to somebody. [...]

Sarkozy was pretty funny here on the subject of that French aversion to American capitalism, noting that his presence in New York had ruffled feathers back home. Why, he mused, given that he wants to slash French unemployment to 5 percent, should he not seek some "inspiration" in a country where the jobless rate is around that level?

Fair question. And, given that he wants a democratic system allowing both "stability and movement," why should he not spend some time in a country that seems to have just that? [...]

Sarko on terrorists is spot on:
"Terrorists," he said here, "are assassins and barbarians, without faith or law," adding that nothing - not misery, not the situation of the Palestinians, nothing - could explain what happened here five years ago. The danger, he added, in starting to try to explain, was that attempted explanations can easily resemble attempted excuses. [....]
He is incredibly quick on his feet, very calculating, and has enormous energy. Should he win France's presidency, he will challenge the status quo like no other politician.

Ever present anti-Americanism

Following the fifth anniversary of 9/11, there have been many articles claiming President Bush managed to drain the reservoir of sympathy and good-will the terror attacks built up for America. And caused rampant anti-Americanism.

Not true.

Anti-Americanism was born on 5 July, 1776, and existed under other names before that. Whatever the reason behind it: fear, envy, or unfamiliarity, the fact of anti-Americanism has long been noted.

The invasions of Afganistan and Iraq neither created, diminished, nor ended the dislike of the US. The support in the immediate aftermath was transient and vaporous, consisting largely of platitudes. In short, there was little good will to lose.

Via American Future is this recent Anne Applebaum opinion piece in The Telegraph:
[…] Nevertheless, I think it's worth looking back at what people really felt on September 11, 2001, because not everyone felt the same, then or later. Certainly it's true that, five years ago, Tony Blair spoke of standing "shoulder to shoulder" with America, that Iain Duncan Smith (remember him?) echoed him, and that Jacques Chirac was on his way to Washington to say the same.

But it's also true that this initial wave of goodwill hardly outlasted the news cycle. Within a couple of days a Guardian columnist wrote of the "unabashed national egotism and arrogance that drives anti-Americanism among swaths of the world's population". A Daily Mail columnist denounced the "self-sought imperial role" of the United States, which he said had "made it enemies of every sort across the globe". […]

The dislike of America, the hatred for what it was believed to stand for – capitalism, globalisation, militarism, Zionism, Hollywood or McDonald's, depending on your point of view – was well entrenched. To put it differently, the scorn now widely felt in Britain and across Europe for America's "war on terrorism" actually preceded the "war on terrorism" itself. It was already there on September 12 and 13, right out in the open for everyone to see. […]
More insight on anti-Americanism from the Fall 2003 issue of Foreign Policy:

Pollsters report rising anti-Americanism worldwide. The United States, they imply, squandered global sympathy after the September 11 terrorist attacks through its arrogant unilateralism. In truth, there was never any sympathy to squander. Anti-Americanism was already entrenched in the world's psyche—a backlash against a nation that comes bearing modernism to those who want it but who also fear and despise it. […]

To come bearing modernism to those who want it but who rail against it at the same time, to represent and embody so much of what the world yearns for and fears— that is the American burden. The United States lends itself to contradictory interpretations. To the Europeans, and to the French in particular, who are enamored of their laïcisme (secularism), the United States is unduly religious, almost embarrassingly so, its culture suffused with sacred symbolism. In the Islamic world, the burden is precisely the opposite: There, the United States scandalizes the devout, its message represents nothing short of an affront to the pious and a temptation to the gullible and the impressionable young. According to the June BBC survey, 78 percent of French polled identified the United States as a "religious" country, while only 10 percent of Jordanians endowed it with that label. Religious to the secularists, faithless to the devout— such is the way the United States is seen in foreign lands. […]

In a hauntingly astute set of remarks made to the New Yorker in the days that followed the terrorism of September 11, the Egyptian playwright Ali Salem— a free spirit at odds with the intellectual class in his country and a maverick who journeyed to Israel and wrote of his time there and of his acceptance of that country— went to the heart of the anti-American phenomenon. He was thinking of his own country's reaction to the United States, no doubt, but what he says clearly goes beyond Egypt:

People say that Americans are arrogant, but it's not true. Americans enjoy life and they are proud of their lives, and they are boastful of their wonderful inventions that have made life so much easier and more convenient. It's very difficult to understand the machinery of hatred, because you wind up resorting to logic, but trying to understand this with logic is like measuring distance in kilograms….
These are people who are envious. To them, life is an unbearable burden. Modernism is the only way out. But modernism is frightening. It means we have to compete. It means we can't explain everything away with conspiracy theories. Bernard Shaw said it best, you know. In the preface to 'St. Joan,' he said Joan of Arc was burned not for any reason except that she was talented. Talent gives rise to jealousy in the hearts of the untalented. [….]
To go further back in history, I’ll excerpt from an excellent article found through the Atlantic-Review website (internal citations and footnotes removed):
[It] is […] quite clear that there never was a “golden age” in which European elites genuinely liked America. To be more precise still, there never existed an era in which European intellectuals and literati – European elites – viewed the United States without a huge residue of ressentiment,[defined as: including dimensions of envy, jealousy and above all lingering hate arising from a certain degree of impotence--P] […]

[T]his goes back all the way to 1492 and the so-called “discovery” of the so called “New World” – what was to become America and the Americas – by Christopher Columbus. As Ira Strauss argues in a perceptive paper, a simpler, pre-ideological fear of and ressentiment towards America emerged among Europe’s elites – both the aristocracy and the clergy – who understood all too well that the changes in the world that Columbus’s journeys wrought could potentially undermine their established positions and ordered views. Well before America had any power, and well before it was an independent country, tropes emerged in its perception that were to become mainstays of European anti-Americanism to this day: venality, vulgarity, mediocrity, inauthenticity but also a clear sense of danger in its undefinable but clearly evident attraction. […] [E]ven when the United States had virtually no power, certainly when compared to the big European players such as Britain and France, Europeans bore hostility towards this new entity. From the very beginning until today, European elites have continued to view America as this threatening parvenu. By the eighteenth century, Europeans begin to depict America as “degenerate,” which is particularly odd since the country had barely been born.

[…] European antipathy towards America can easily be traced to July 5, 1776, the beginning of the republic. […] No lesser observer of the United States than the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville completely understood – and in part reflected – this European ressentiment towards America which already by the early nineteenth century bespoke a clear fear of a loss of control on the part of the Europeans, which rested partly in America’s potential as a powerful country but also in its undeniable – almost irresistible – attraction, especially to Europe’s masses, surely not the aristocracy’s friends. […] From the get go, there was something eerily attractive about the place well beyond the new life that it offered to millions of Europe’s masses. It was similar, yet different; weak, yet powerful; repellent, yet attractive. In notable contrast to any other country, from the very beginning the enemy for European elites was not “America the Conqueror – not the ‘Imperial Republic’ – but America the Beguiling.” [….]
The author supplies countless examples of the historic roots of anti-Americanism, focusing particularly on Germany. Well worth the read. Also worth visiting are the websites Atlantic Review and David’s Medienkritik; the latter specializes in German examples of anti-American bias.

Tariq Ramadan, noted Muslim scholar, on the fifth anniversary of 9/11

Tariq Ramadan, who was famously denied a US visa that would have allowed him to teach at Notre Dame, was interviewed for the fifth anniversary of 9/11.

Mr. Ramadan is often held out out as a model Muslim. He advocates assimilation and the adoption of western values, and argues against a literalist interpretation of the Koran. He aslo serves on PM Blair's advisory committee on Islamist terror and extremism.

Nevertheless, he is deeply distrusted by the French intelligence services, and will not call for an end to stoning of adulterors or other such barbaric punishments (though he has called for a moratorium).
swissinfo: How do Muslims feel about September 11?

Tariq Ramadan: I think the great majority of Muslim people around the world expressed their condemnation of what happened. The feeling is that it was not Islamic and was against our values. But there is a very deep lack of trust because of what happened afterwards at a global level. Plus there is the reality of Western security policy and the way Muslims feel they are treated or targeted. So the overall perception of the consequences of 9/11 is quite negative.
I disagree. While many Muslims expressed horror and sympathy for the victims of the attack, most were not prepared to condemn the terrorists' actions. This attitude still prevails.
swissinfo: So five years on, you would describe the relationship between Islam and the West as one of deep mistrust?

T.R.: Yes. There is still this perception in the West that Islam is a potential threat, not only the extremists and radicals but Muslims in general. What showed us the reality of this was the whole business surrounding the [Mohammed] caricatures, with on one side the West saying Muslims are against its values and freedom of speech and on the other Muslims saying the West is against Islam. Some Muslim leaders are also playing a negative role in that sense.
Mr. Ramadan forgets the large numbers of ordinary Muslims--many of them British citizens--marching through London promising to avenge the insult to their Prophet, which demonstrates a reluctance to accept Western values.
swissinfo: After September 11 there were multiple calls for better understanding between the two camps. Five years on, have we really made no progress at all?

T.R.: I think the situation is problematic. Over the past five years there have been many people saying we need more mutual understanding, but since September 11 events around the world have conspired against this. At the end of the day people are heavily influenced by US policy, and the silence and disunity among European governments.

Muslims hear the West talking about democracy and human rights, yet they see that intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan has not brought democracy and that people are not being treated in a dignified way [as opposed to the way many Middle Eastern nations treat their citizens--P]. On top of this, Muslim countries believe Israel was effectively given the green light to kill civilians in Lebanon for more than five weeks.

To this list needs to be added what is going on in Europe and the United States regarding security policy, immigration and the recent confirmation of extraordinary renditions.

swissinfo: Is there any difference between Europe and the United States in the minds of most Muslims?

T.R.: Yes. The current US administration under Bush is perceived as untrustworthy and merely acting in favour of specific interests. Europe is seen as having the potential to be different but instead follows the lead set by the US. After [their opposition to] the war in Iraq, there had been hope that some European governments might show another face. But the war in Lebanon showed that little can be expected from Europe and that it is not courageous enough to take a stand on the Arab side.

swissinfo: What should the West be doing to change this negative perception?

T.R.: I think it's a question of consistency. You cannot say on the one hand that you are promoting democracy when on the other you are dealing with dictatorships who support your interests or are not stopping a war [Lebanon] that is killing innocent people.

Also this continuous discourse on the impossibility of integration is pushing Muslims to the margins of society. In Europe and the United States we still present Islam as something that is alien, as if we don't have shared values and cannot live together.
Good point. But he should also admit that many Muslims see the West as a horrible place and, finding themselves there, not only don't assimilate, but make every effort not to assimilate. No western nation is placing obstacles in the path of assimilation.

Also, read this lengthy interview from his website. He comes across as a most reasonable man.

Simplisitic argument of the day award

Today's award goes to WaPo columnist David Ignatius, who in an attempt to quantify the threat that Iran presents to the US, writes:
Now I submit to you: A nation that is wearing seat belts is probably not a mortal enemy of the United States.
Nor would he imagine that a nation capable of producing Heine, Schiller, Beethoven, and Wagner could be a mortal threat to the US, yet Germany was just that at one point.

I prefer to look at how a government behaves toward the US and its allies when assesssing its potential threat.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Nadine Gordimer defends Guenter Grass

Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer defends her fellow prize winner (first letter to the editors), but misses the point. She chooses to dwell on the fact that he had little choice in serving in the Nazi era military--a fact no one disputes. Many commentators are upset with his silence and subsequent dissmembling on the fact that he served and kept quiet for some 60 years, while simultaneously wagging his finger in Germany's face over any number of ethical questions.

Ms. Gordimer--one of the world's foremost psychological novelists--chooses to attack non-issues in her quest to defend one of the "most courageous individuals of our time" (her characterization).
It is ugly to have to contemplate the salivating glee with which the media in the world is reveling in an evident determination to splatter the image of one of the most courageous individuals of our time. Günter Grass's life-long public actions and statements, against all avatars of fascism, dictatorship, racism and the imaginative exposure of these through his genius as a novelist, have kept our eyes open to the deep sources of danger within our human fallibility. His penetration of distorted values and his ability to confront us with this, in the flesh of his characters, is unmatched.

His self-righteous, pious detractors are apparently ignorant of the facts of army conscription of adolescents under dictatorship. In 1944, Hitler was losing the war and desperate to sacrifice any number of youths to shore up their bodies against the descent. It appears that Grass was transferred, recruited from his post in the naval forces: whether or not he was willing is beside the point.

Do those sitting comfortably behind their computers not understand that individuals who live in countries where there is the "honourable alternative" of declaring oneself as a "conscientious objector" have a choice when refusing to serve in an army - disgraced, they will be condemned to serve a prison sentence. In Nazi Germany at war, the alternative would have been a bullet in the head.

Günter Grass survived, yes, to be the invaluable witness of his country's traumatized survival. If he has not also been a victim, could he have presented with such authority and fearlessness what, to repeat as one must, has to be remembered in order for it not to be allowed to happen again. His experience of one of the many kinds of Nazi victimization has always been encoded, there, in his writings.
None of the well written criticisms of Grass claimed that he was, at 17, anything but a victim of Nazism. Ms Gordimer is attempting to obscure the issue. Namely, why Grass kept his silence, while being a "self-righteous, pious" scold who constantly called for Germans and Germany to confront their shared past. It is his manifest hypocrisy that so offends, not his wartime service.
In South Africa, to face the facts of the terrible truths of apartheid, we had a truth and reconciliation commission. The principle was the individual's confession of what he had done within political purpose in the context of the horrors of racial conflict. Sixty years have passed without any source bringing to public knowledge any reprobation against Günter Grass for whatever was his connection with the SS. He could so easily have let the matter rest. But he has chosen to call himself before his own truth and reconciliation commission. All honor to him.
His recollection has come too late, and is too vague. He lost his chance for honor. All opprobrium to him, and deservedly so.

Russia buys stake in Airbus' parent

In what looks to be a very symbiotic move, a state-owned Russian bank has snapped up 5% of EADS, Airbus' parent company. Apparantly many Russian airlines are looking to upgrade their fleets. Airbus could all but lock up this market with the help of the Russian government.

For EADS, this looks to be an admission that it needs help selling it's planes. Russian factories and labor--as cost cutting moves-- are being bandied about, as well. This would seem to be risky. Russian laborers are not highly regarded, and assembling aircraft components is a tricky business, as recent bottlenecks at Airbus (European workers) and Boeing (Asian workers) show.

What Russia's long-term plans are is unclear. Certainly it will be happy to twist some airline purchasing managers' arms and enjoy the profit in the short term. The article speculates on the long term.
European Aeronautic Defense & Space confirmed Monday that a Russian state-owned bank had acquired more than 5 percent of the French-German company, the first time that a Russian institution had acquired a significant holding in a Western aerospace manufacturer. The move brought intense speculation that the Russian government might seek to leverage the investment into a strategic partnership with the parent company of Airbus. [...]

"For Airbus, it makes a lot of sense to start hitting the Russian market, especially at a time when Aeroflot is trying to modernize its fleet," said Ashbourne [an analyst], referring to the Russian flag carrier.

Russia is also retooling its aircraft industry, backing out of sectors like wide- body passenger jets that directly compete with Airbus and its American rival, Boeing, while throwing government support behind regional and cargo airplanes. To do this, Moscow is consolidating a dozen factories and design shops into a single, state-owned holding, Unified Aircraft Corporation.

"It would be very reasonable if Vneshtorgbank transferred this stake to UAC," said Elena Sakhnova, an aerospace analyst at Deutsche UFG. "It will be a strategic investment; it will strengthen ties between UAC and EADS."

Recent comments from Russian officials indicate that Moscow sees the purchase as the first step toward a strategic partnership with Europe's largest aeronautics and defense contractor. The chief executive of MiG, the fighter jet maker, said Friday that Russia wanted eventually to double its stake in EADS to 10 percent. [...]

Meanwhile, some analysts noted that a strategic partnership in Russia could be just what Airbus, which is 80 percent owned by EADS, needed to stay competitive with Boeing. Airbus, which was created from a consortium of European state-controlled aerospace companies, has concentrated the production of aircraft components with European sub- contractors, which has kept production costs relatively high. Given the spiraling costs of the A380 and A350 projects, outsourcing production to a lower-cost country like Russia could be one solution.

"Their tendency to source from European companies has got to be questioned," said Nick Cunningham, an analyst at Panmure Gordon in London. He pointed to Boeing and the popular 787 Dreamliner - most of the design and construction of which is being done by subcontractors in China and hundreds of suppliers around the world. Airbus does outsource some assembly of its planes overseas, notably in China, but the design and manufacturing of aircraft components is still done primarily by European companies.

"It is a sharp nettle to grasp," Cunningham said. "But Airbus is at the stage where it needs to start thinking the unthinkable." [....]

Chirac attempts to insulate himself from post-presidential prosecution

Having dithered away any chance for a Nobel Peace Prize nomination with his behavior over French peace keepers in Lebanon, President Chirac is looking to safeguard what remains of his legacy by doing his utmost to stay out of jail once he's again subject to French law.

His latest attempt revolves around plans to place a trustworthy lackey in a position to derail any potential prosecutions of Chirac, as the FT reports:
French president Jacques Chirac yesterday faced accusations of seeking to install an ally in an influential judicial role in order to insulate himself from a political corruption scandal when he leaves office.

Laurent Le Mesle, a former legal adviser to the president and currently right-hand man to the justice minister Pascal Clément, is viewed as a contender for the post of chief public prosecutor for Paris.

The possibility that someone closely linked to the president could be appointed to such a sensitive position was yesterday denounced by François Hollande, leader of the opposition Socialist party.

He claimed it was common knowledge that when he leaves office Mr Chirac could once more become embroiled in a scandal dating back to his time as mayor of Paris, in which members of his party were surreptitiously put on the city payroll.

Alain Juppé, a former political protégé of Mr Chirac, was jailed in 2004 for his part in the episode. The president has immunity against being questioned or prosecuted while in office. However, his second and almost certainly final term of office ends next year.

Mr Hollande said the elevation of Mr Chirac's former adviser to the prosecutor's job would constitute a deliberate attempt to protect the veteran politician from possible legal fall-out when he leaves the Elysée.

"The opposition will do all that it can to prevent the private use of such nominations," he said. The possibility of Mr Le Mesle being named chief public prosecutor for Paris has also angered magistrates.

Dominique Barella, head of the USM magistrates' union, said the prospect was "shocking" because of his "extreme closeness" to Mr Chirac.

Once the president left office, he could be questioned over a separate scandal involving social housing contracts in Paris, Mr Barella claimed. "Who would be charged with setting in motion and following this procedure? His former adviser." [....]

Monday, September 11, 2006

Ragin' RINO posts are up

Agent Bedhead has this week's posts submitted by the RINOs (Rebubs/Independants Not Overdosed on the party kool-aid).

Given that this week's carnival falls on 9/11, many RINOs submitted recollections and reviews of the past five years. Doubtless they will make interesting reading.

No post 9/11 economic collapse

In what must be a bitter disappointment to bin Laden and many Muslims around the world, the expected economic downturn predicted for the US and the world failed to materialize. Rather, the markets have proven remarkably resilient.

The Independant (whom I number among the mildly disappointed) has the story:
As economists stared aghast at TV images of the wreckage of New York's Twin Towers after the attacks of September 11, it was hard to imagine the world was about to embark on its biggest boom for a generation.

However, five years on, it looks clear that a global economic collapse was the dog that did not bark. At the time, many forecasters worried that that the events of 9/11 would deliver a shock to the US economy that would reverberate around the world. Trade would collapse, as would airline travel, while unemployment would rise sharply as businesses found their demand shrinking and their cost bill for security and associated services mushrooming.

In fact the world economy has grown above 4 per cent in each of the past three years and is forecast to do so again this year - the first time this has happened since the early 1970s.

Stephen King, managing director of economics at the investment bank HSBC, said: "People at the time misinterpreted the impact of 9/11 because they saw it as the trigger for the recession."

He says that the events of 9/11 and unity that it engendered across the US political landscape gave support to the massive cuts in interest rates and taxes allied with a surge in defence spending that delivered a massive cash injection into the US economy. [....]

Muslims and post 9/11

Perhaps not the best day to bring up the impact of 9/11 on Muslims, but I found this article in today's BBC discussing how Muslims are re-examining their faith in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks to be interesting. After reading it's description of the tepid examination, one can't be too hopeful of the near-term future of Islam.

September 11 really shook the Muslim community. As a result, Muslims have been looking at their faith much more critically and asking which tenets of Islam are axiomatic, and which can be changed or reformed.

In particular, issues such as the meaning and significance of the Sharia in the 21st century are now being seriously examined. Also the desirability of a theocratic "Islamic state" - the dominant idea of the late 20th century - is being questioned.

Another issue that is being hotly debated concerns the power of the religious scholars: should the authority for reinterpretation of the Koran for contemporary times be limited to a handful of scholars or should it be democratised?

In other words, should ordinary Muslims have the agency to rethink and reinterpret their faith? Before 9/11, these kinds of questions were largely avoided. But now we are seeing them openly discussed and debated. This is not just happening in Britain, but all over the Muslim world from Indonesia and Malaysia to Pakistan and Bangladesh to Morocco and Turkey.

There has been an increase in radicalisation but radicalisation itself isn't new - it really emerged in Britain in the early 1990s. But before the attacks, few Muslims paid attention to the radicalisation of Islam.

Since 9/11, it has definitely become more entrenched and widespread. But the general trend now is to focus on the radicals, to question what they are doing in the name of Islam and to ask what can be done about rescuing Islam from their clutches. The silent majority is silent no more.

Another consequence of 9/11 is that Muslims are now very aware of globalisation and the fact that they don't live in isolation. They realise that what happens in Pakistan, for example, impacts on the community in, say, Bradford.

While I agree that many Muslims are looking and wondering at how the radicals captured their religion, others--if not most--are not displeased with the results. Poll after poll shows that Muslims increasingly see terrorism as a reasonable response to the West.

The tide of Islamist belief keeps rising. Previously moderate nations such as Malaysia and Indonesia are threatened by a creeping form of conservative Islam. Iran seeks to become a beacon for the Shi'a branch of Muslims, while Hamas and al-Qeada vie for leadership claims over the Sunni branch. These groups all assert their claim not on piety, but on their willingness to confront, massacre, and attack the West and Israel. Not a pretty future for moderate Muslims or the West.