Sunday, October 24, 2004

Yet More Hot Air

Last week Friends of the Earth have launched, a new branch in Ireland, calling the country the dirty man of Europe. What contribution can we expect them to make in highlighting environmental problems and suggesting solutions to the public in Ireland?

In an article in Saturday's Guardian, Tom Burke, a long-time campaigner with the group, gives us an example. when he writes on the Danish political scientist Bjorn Lomborg, labelling his work "neither scepticism nor science - just nonsense".

Lomborg was visiting London to launch his new book, Global Crises, Global Solutions and spoke at the Adam Smith Institute last week, but this almost certainly isn't as lucrative as Burke's consultancy arrangement with the multinational mining conglomerate Rio Tinto Zinc.

The book reproduces the proceedins of the Copenhagen Consensus, a panel of a number of world-class economists assembled by Lomborg to discuss and prioritise solutions among key global problems in allocating development aid. The eight included three Nobel-winners - economic historians Robert Fogel and Douglass North, along with Vernon Smith, a pioneer of experimental economics. Two experts long thought deserving of the prize, Thomas Schelling, author of the classic work on game theory, The Strategy of Conflict and Indian trade economist Jagdish Bhagwati also took part.

Over time, foreign aid donors and international financial institutions have come to accept that in many instances their past practices have done little or no good in assisting the people of poor countries, being frittered away through corruption and state mismanagement. The UN Millennium Development Goals were introduced in an effort to set objectives for aid and monitor progress towards them on the part of governments in the third world. As the Economist commented in arch tones in September:
On the other hand, the weakness of the whole MDG concept is that it wills the ends without willing the means—something which the UN, perforce, has come to specialise in. A plan to spend an additional allocation of aid on specific interventions designed to reduce poverty, or combat AIDS, or whatever, could be judged for cost-effectiveness and ranked alongside alternative ways of expending resources on development. A statement of good intentions is unfortunately just that.
The Copenhagen Consenus was aimed to produce just such a plan for action, given fifty billion dollars in extra aid to poor countries.

In his previous book The Skeptical Environmentalist (a draft of the chapter was published in the Guardian), Lomborg criticised the conventional wisdom on global warming. The projections used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the UN body which gathers and the scientific evidence and seeks to facilitate policy-making among governments), were incorrect he argued, saying that they were taking an unduly pessimistic view in ignoring scientific factors that would limit the warming and the human ingenuity in adapting to it. In presenting this case, as reviewers such as environmental economist Matt Cole writing in the Economic Journal pointed out, he gave a distorted picture in some instances, giving more prominence to the risks on the downside, including in the case of climate change the potential for disruption of the ocean currents such as those in the North Atlantic that give Western Europe its comparatively mild climate.

Analysing the policies proposed, capping greenhouse gas emissions and trading allocations among nations globally, Lomborg was more dismissive. Using the comprehensive estimates for the costs and benefits of cutting emissions, taken from the IPCC and its contributing authors, he contended that the enormous costs of cutting emissions proposed under the Kyoto Protocol were greater than the losses avoided, even under what he considered to be the overpessimistic projections of the IPCC.

Burke focuses on the second of Lomborg's arguments, dismissing the usefulness of cost-benefit analysis
The reality is that applying cost-benefit analysis to questions such as these is junk economics. Junk economics done by Nobel laureates is simply distinguished junk economics. Applying the logic of the Copenhagen Consensus to the Iraq war illustrates this nicely.
Actually, by no small coincidence, quite a few economists have done exactly this analysis, including academics and government officials. The most detailed I've come across is one with a cautionary tone by William Nordhaus of Yale. Nordhaus is a leading expert on Integrated Climate Economy (ICE) models that have been reviewed and presented as part of the scientific consensus by the IPCC. Burke seems to either entirely ignorant both areas of research.

The IPCC, as its second assessment report from 1996 contains an extensive discussion by economists, including more Nobelists, Kenneth Arrow of Stanford and Joe Stiglitz of Columbia carrying out just this type of analysis. None of these authors are are known for being the glove puppets of the Bush administration.

Burke's views are in contrast to those of the US and Canadian governments. Scott Barrett of Johns Hopkins University has highlighted the role that cost-benefit policy analysis of this type played in getting both to commit to international agreements limiting ozone-depleting chemicals in his brilliant and powerful book Environment and Statecraft. Their careful and exhaustive estimates showed that the gains from avoiding skin cancers and cataracts far outweighed the costs of the switch to safe substitutes.

Burke "has been a professional environmentalist for more than 25 years", but what are his credentials that mean we must take him seriously when he evaluates the work of scientists and economists? His profile, alone among those teaching on the environmental law course at University College London, makes no mention of any degrees or professional qualifications or publications in the academic literature.

Absent the tools for rational policy-making given to us by law, science and economics, there would be no form of debate on the huge impacts and the trade-offs necessary in making environmental policy than the spectacle of sloppy reasoning, poor research and ad hominem hostility that Burke displays here.

Unlike his previous work, with the Copenhagen Consensus project Lomborg seems to have recognised the limits of his own knowledge with humility and realism. Rather than giving the Copenhagen Consensus panel his own work, three reports by experts in the field of climate change policy were presented.

Dr William Cline of the Institute for International Economics, a contributor to the IPCC and author of an early book on the economics of climate change, used projections from the Nordhaus models used by the IPCC (full documentation and the code for these models is available online) to argue in his paper that the damage expected from global warming will cost much more than measures we might take to reduce emissions, making Kyoto and other measures to tax greenhouse gas emissions economically justified.

Challenging this conclusion, Robert Mendelsohn of Yale University, who has contributed extensively to the studies estimating of damages from global warming, countered that damage estimates are low and becoming lower over time as researchers come understand the problem better:
A series of studies on the impacts of climate change have systematically shown that the older literature overestimated climate damages by failing to allow for adaptation and for climate benefits...Summing these regional impacts across the globe implies that warming benefits and damages will likely offset each other until warming passes 2.5C and even then it will be far smaller on net than originally thought.
Furthermore, Mendelsohn highlights the problem of valuing gains and losses that happen far in the future. Given that carbon dioxide emitted by the burning of fossil fuels could take up to three centuries to dissolve into the deep oceans, the impacts of global warming could be with us for a very long time . However, the costs of implementing a system like Kyoto, resulting in higher energy prices, increased regulation and hence foregone economic growth will be incurred now and in the near future.

Businesspeople and policy analysts are accustomed to using discounting, weighting receipts and payments in the future according to how far away they occur using an estimate of cost of capital to get an idea of how costs compare with benefits. Whereas Cline uses very low interest rates, down to 1.5% or even 0%, Mendelsohn argues that this is unrealistic. Discounting using the actual interest rates available to governments and the private sector, the benefits coming in the future add up to much less than the costs we take on.

Stanford's Alan Manne, working with another of the leading climate-economy models also took issue with Cline's low discount rates in his paper to the panel.

The messy world we live in is one in which an unstable climate will guarantee poverty for untold millions. But it is equally one in which, if we fail to solve the problem of poverty much more quickly and cleverly than we are doing at present, we will continue to destabilise the climate. The Lomborg argument that we can delay one until we have solved the other is a cruelly false prospect.

Given the urgency of the other problems that the panel addressed, such as AIDS, malaria, malnutrition and unfair trade restrictions on developing countries, it's hardly surprising that they chose, with almost complete unanimity, to place climate change policies towards the bottom of the list of priorities for funding. At the same time, a youth forum made up of postgraduate students from around the world (including four from Ireland representing the EU) agreed on an almost identical ranking.

In identifying climate change as a priority over economic growth and institutional reform in the third world, Burke is drawing a false dichotomy. It's precisely prosperity, good government, free markets and an active civil society that will allow the developed countries to manage climate change. The poorest countries, hobbled by poverty and runaway epidemics lack these institutions. An active policy of supporting civil society, encouraging economic growth and targeting our aid donations on building the capacity of governments in the developing world should be our priority.

The lesson to be drawn from this reporting of the Copenhagen Consensus is that the debate on environmental policy is too important to be left to campaign groups such as Friends of the Earth and their publicity stunts. To this end, as a proud contributer what Burke labels a "right-wing website", I'd offer some suggestions on improving the debate on environmental policy in Ireland.

Robert F Kennedy, one of a famous Irish-American clan, works as a lawyer and commentator on environmental issues. In a recent interview with the environmental magazine Grist, he was asked about the causes of environmental damage:

So is the culprit free-market capitalism?

No! The best thing that could happen to the environment is free-market capitalism. In a true free-market economy, you can't make yourself rich without making your neighbors rich and without enriching your community. In a true free-market economy, you get efficiencies and efficiency means the elimination of waste. Waste is pollution. So in true free-market capitalism, you eliminate pollution and you properly value our natural resources so you won't cut them down. What polluters do is escape the discipline of the free market. You show me a polluter, I'll show you a subsidy -- a fat cat who's using political clout to escape the discipline of the free market.
So you consider yourself a crusader for the free market first and an environmentalist second?

I don't even consider myself an environmentalist anymore. I'm a free-marketeer. I go out into the marketplace and I catch the polluters who are cheating the free market and I say, "We are going to force you to internalize your costs the same way you are internalizing your profit." That's what the federal environmental laws allow us to do: restore real property rights in America. You cannot get sustained environmental protection under any system but a democracy. There's a direct correlation around the planet between the level of tyranny in various countries and the level of environmental degradation.

He explains that problems come about when ownership rights are not established over certain assets, so that anyone might exploit them without having the incentive to maintain them, a tragedy of the commons.

So you're saying free-market economies have to be controlled by regulations and strong central government?

Laissez-faire capitalism does not work, particularly in the commons. Individuals pursuing their own self-interest will devour the commons very quickly. That's the economic law -- the tragedy of the commons. You have to force companies to internalize costs. All of the federal environmental laws are designed to restore free-market capitalism in America in this regard.
Meanwhile, the hybrid petrol/electric cars such as the Toyota Prius that dramatically reduce greenhouse gasses are, as Constantin Gurdgiev of the Open Republic Institute points out in an article in this week's Business and Finance magazine, an array of regulatory barriers hinder introduction of this and other cost-saving and environmentally-friendly technologies into the Irish market.

A Valuable Contribution to the Debate

In discussing environmental problems in Ireland, perhaps we might prefer to see the clowns exit the stage and give the experts their due. Peter Clinch of UCD, who reported in a recent study that Ireland is third after Japan and Singapore in delivering economic growth without overexploitation of natural resources or the environment is an excellent example of a rigorous and data-driven approach to highlighting the real problems.

The Mancunian Candidate

A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier.
HL Mencken

Yesterday's Guardian TV pages seem to be proving the truth of Mencken's aphorism, with columnist Charlie Booker, letting his Bush hatred get the better of him, wondering aloud:
On November 2, the entire civilised world will be praying, praying Bush loses. And Sod's law dictates he'll probably win, thereby disproving the existence of God once and for all. The world will endure four more years of idiocy, arrogance and unwarranted bloodshed, with no benevolent deity to watch over and save us. John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr - where are you now that we need you?
Not surprisingly, the web is alight right now with outraged comment, such as those on the Daily Ablution.

Unfortunately for the Guardian, all those gentlemen and their deranged causes - the Confederacy, Castro's Cuba, winning the love of Jody Foster - are safely defeated, but they have a champion in the man most likely to carry out such an attempt on President Bush's life in Osama bin Laden.

Some of the responses are excessive*, but unlike P J O'Rourke, who never seems to overstep the boundary of good taste, this column is as clever and original as farting loudly for public amusement. A fatuous fatwa indeed.

*But, we have to ask, what are the ROOT CAUSES of their anger?

Friday, October 22, 2004


Ketchup stains can be hard to remove, as John Kerry's finding out. His prospective First Lady in waiting just broadened the debate in the presidential election with an attack on motherhood, remarking of Laura Bush, "I don't know that she's ever had a real job -- I mean, since she's been grown up". Miaaaow!

Other icons don't seem to be earning her respect either. In the ritual cookie contest (in arena where the steely ambition of Hilary Clinton triumphed over Barbara Bush twelve years ago) Teresa offered Family Circle magazine a recipe producing something resembling the turds of a dog that's been eating gravel and which go well with what seems like some distinctly Un-American beverage.

Being First Lady seems a thankless role at the best of times, and Laura's bland invisibility is probably the best anyone can do given the incivility of partisan politics and especially the continuing confusion over the proper balance of roles for women. Hilary Clinton suffered vilification for her outspoken embrace of a professional and political role. If she reaches the White House, Teresa is set for a rough four years. I'm simply amazed that she's more outspoken than Betty Ford, even without pills and alcohol.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

More on the Comments

It's good to know that his labelling as a member of the black gang in my blogroll makes John feel dangerous. However, I thought I should explain the Maoist kitsch behind the names. I can't remember the sources for all of them; I think most of them come from Red China Blues, an account of life as a zealous Canadian-born Chinese (or "CBC") Red Guard during the cultural revolution by journalist Jan Wong. The book also describes the turbulent and difficult life of the modern Chinese and the Tiananmen massacre.

I was very surprised to come across a copy in a bookshop in Shanghai earlier this year. Perhaps censorship is less strict for foreign-language books or just gets ignored in cosmopolitan Shanghai: The mountains are high, the Emperor is far away, as the old saying has it. I'm not sure Wong has confessed everything she may have done in the book. Certainly she comes across as someone who would have easily thrown babies into ovens for the sake of the revolution.

This symbolism may be amusing irony for us, but this was perhaps the nadir of China's bloody history, when some even went so far as to offer the flesh of dead class enemies in workplace canteens.

Anyway, the blogs are divided, in a classic Marxist analysis, into classes.

The Cow Demon Counter-Revolutionaries are individuals whose ideas I find agreeable.

Black Hands are the think-tank blogs in the same vein.

The Old Stinking Ninth, the term for academics and the educated, is made up of the academic bloggers I like.

Foreign Devils are the China specialists, not all of whom have sound views, but who provide useful and interesting information about the Middle Kingdom.

Coming in at the bottom are those bloggers that I read but will usually disagree with, hobbled in their intellectual journeys by their faulty logic. Back Seat Drivers seem to have the back seat of a Dublin bus, so sound views of Jon Ihle are ever-more diluted amoung a growing number of incorrect opinions.

Sometime soon, I spend a few minutes to dig the proper characters out of the dictionary for the labels. Can everybody actually read the Chinese characters I've inserted?

Nelson's Column

I seldom write about The National Question, seeing as how I have no first hand experience of Northern Ireland (Being Dublin-centric, I always feared that going further north than the end of the DART line at Howth, I'd encounter polar bears and igloos) but Kevin Myers' Irishman's Diary on Thursday deserves a comment.

I've heard those I suspect are sympathetic to the Falls Road Rifle Club and Marching Band refer to the "West Brit's Diary", but perhaps labelling his newspaper slot Nelson's Column might be a bit more elegant.

Myers wrote:

Foreign readers of Irish newspapers must marvel at the degree to which we still argue about the unchangeable past, even in tones of contumely and disdain. Why? We are not alone in bearing a legacy from the period 1914-1922.

Russia was exiled into a living, 70-year hell. Germany, we know about. The British empire, seemingly enlarged by the Great War, was in fact desperately and terminally wounded. I doubt if their journalists spend so much time picking over the bones of 90 years ago.

Actually, "picking over the bones" hardly describes the tone in which much of the retrospection is done - vide Prof John A. Murphy's recent sneering reflections in the Sunday Independent on the Reform Movement's perceptions of the history of the 20th century.
However, perhaps he intended to entertain us when he paraphrased Yeats: "the real 'no petty people' of modern Ireland were the small tenant farmers of Ireland who refused to be cowed by a tyrannous Protestant gentry, magistracy, yeomanry and church establishment." Modern Ireland? Tyrannous Protestant what? The majority of magistrates by 1916 were Catholic, with the gentry - including the Catholics - doomed by the land acts which had already transferred 11 million acres to smallholders. The yeomanry had been disbanded long before any of the signatories of the Easter Proclamation had even been born, and James Connolly was the only one around for the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland - though since he was aged one, in Edinburgh, he is unlikely to have nurtured a strong personal grievance over its numerous tyrannies. So much for the history of "modern" Ireland - not from some ranting Shinner, now, but from the Emeritus Professor of Irish History at UCC.

In this newspaper last Saturday, Martin Mansergh dismissed those (which includes me, and - heavens - might even mean me) who question the assertion that the 1918 election validated the 1916 Rising by reference to the percentage vote rather than the number of seats won. This was "risible sophistry", he declared. No other democratic contest is so judged, he insisted.

Given that only last month, Myers was reminiscing in the Saturday weekend pages about how a family connection with a lecturer in UCD got him admitted there as academic charity case, saving him from having to continue working on a bin lorry in Oldham after failing his A-levels, maybe the advantage of credentials and knowledge weigh heavily in favour of Professor Murphy and Dr Mansergh, but the Irish Times never worries about providing a platform for the semi-educated.

Quite so. But the point stands. Sinn Féin won only 48 per cent of the votes cast. The overwhelming majority of seats it won would in any democracy certainly entitle it to form a government. But how does a 48 per cent vote for Sinn Féin constitute a post facto validation of the 1916 Rising? We who would say it doesn't deserve a more cogent response than the disdainful accusation of "risible sophistry".

Implicitly, he declared that those who can find no moral argument in favour of the use of force in 1916 (and afterwards) are accepting the moral right of the British to rule over Ireland. Not so. The defining feature of constitutional nationalism is its moral argument: that people have a right to depart in peace from a polity which they had never agreed to join in the first place, and such a polity has no moral authority to impose its rule upon its unwilling subjects. However, patience by the latter should not be mistaken for assent - by either the ruler or the impatient.

This was John Redmond's position. No one maintains that the Home Rule Bill of 1914 satisfied existing nationalist demands, or that it would necessarily have led down the gloriously primrose path of Irish history to this present republic. We cannot know what would have resulted without the 1916 Rising - against the very government which had legalised Home Rule - but we are entitled to doubt whether the virulent poisons which it introduced into Irish life, with the thousands of deaths and the economic ruin that followed, were all worth it.

Moreover, we wonder if the moral authority which entitled Constance Markievicz to murder the unarmed Constable Lahiffe in St Stephen's Green and Sean Connolly to blow the brains out of the similarly defenceless Constable O'Brien at Dublin Castle is the very same authority which authorised the Provisional IRA to levy its 25-year war from 1970 onwards. Because if that's so, we're not dealing with history any more.

Historical lies largely come about not by ignoring or distorting facts in the way of David Irving, but through anachronism. Israelis and Palestinians never tire of calling each other Nazis. We heard the poisonous rhetoric of modern Serb nationalists, who invoked the defeat by the Turks at the Field of Blackbirds in Kosovo in 1389 to justify genocide against their Muslim neighbours.

In Ireland, the same tiresome argument rolls endlessly on. The men of 1916 were heroic martyrs and so their modern imitators are national exemplars. No, the provos are callous killers, so the Anglo-Irish war was the handiwork of bloodthirsty sectarian terrorists.

Martin Mansergh pointed out that the French and the Americans do not question their historic days - the Boston tea party or the storming of the Bastille, say. Well, they should. France suffered a greater demographic catastrophe in the quarter-century after 1789 than it did in either world war; and that Bastille Day is still celebrated today is merely proof of how cretinous even the most intelligent and sophisticated people in Europe can be.

The American war for Independence was a large-scale forerunner of Ireland 1919-1922: it was primarily a civil war, with catastrophic divisions between families and regions, resulting in many forgotten atrocities and large-scale expulsions of loyalists.

So there is in fact every reason for Americans today to question the wisdom of their revolution - not least for its evil impact on the slave trade and the catastrophic consequences for the native Indian populations, both of which unrevolutionary Canada largely avoided.

Americans, being much more senisble than Myers, venerate their revolutionary generation, except for fringe nuts like Zinn and Chomsky. The world doesn't, by and large, stand in gratitude for the inspiration provided by Canadian ideals of liberty, although Mark Steyn is now making up some of the deficit. In fact, with virulent seperatism in Quebec and a politer form of the same in British Columbia, Canada is, as any Anglophone Canadian would admit, something of a one-teabag-for-the-teapot nation.

Certainly, English journalists don't passionately discuss their "Glorious" Revolution, which remains set in an intellectual stone, though there was absolutely nothing glorious about it. And for most of the Irish people it was an unmitigated calamity: like the American revolution a century later, it liberated British colonists to do their uninhibited worst upon the natives.

History is the stuff of modern journalism in Ireland, because we can still feel its pull beneath our keel. We, more than most, know that to ignore our past is to be doomed to renavigate its lethal riptides yet again.

Myers and Reform are missing the point. If there's one identity that's been exhaustively explored in literature, it's that of the Anglo-Irish, and fairly uniformly it documents the experience of estrangement from England. Between Dean Swift's exile from metropolitan politics and Beckett's alienated exile Murphy, rejection by Britain was painfully apparent. Few of the Anglo-Irish took the option of throwing in their lot with the low church Scots-Ulster people. Unlike in the USA, where Irish immigrants had both the sheer weight of numbers and a convenient anti-British revolutionary iconography to cling to, the Anglo-Irish are more adrift.

Whatever misunderstandings and tensions exist between London and Dublin, the Anglo-Irish persona is not the bridge on which they can meet. Even less so is this the case for those in Ulster who wish to remain British.

Signs of the Times

Following on from Tim Blair's hilarious snide captions for pictures of peacemongers, why not check out the excellent slideshow at the Pro-American website (click on the picture above) by Pete Hinkley.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Seals of Approval

Popbitch - who seem now seem to be the authentic voice of British neo-conservatism, are running an Beasts of Islam special this week, featuring the CIA-trained dogs that tortured Sayyid Qutb, the snake and kangaroo that escaped from Rafah zoo, and the stray dogs being taken home from Afghanistan by sentimental American military personnel.

The gem however is the following story, which sounds like something the Competitive Enterprise Institute might offer as corporate entertainment.

Tourists are being offered the chance to kill seals, with the company offering the sporting holidays reporting strong interest from the UK, Germany and France.

According to a report in the Daily Mail, the Norwegian company NorSafari is offering one-day excursions for £110, with four-day trips costing £650. Tourists are guaranteed at least one kill on the one-day trip, with two kills guaranteed on the longer packages.

The newspaper quotes the country’s fisheries minister as saying that the initiative would "help restore the balance" between seals and fish along Norway’s coastline.

The boss of another company, Polar Events, is quoted as saying: "Seals have been hunted in Norway for many years and it’s part of the culture. We want people who are interested in hunting, not just people who come to shoot the animal. The tradition here is that we hunt the seal to eat it. It’s food."

Unsurprisingly, the proposals have not found favour with everyone; Paul Watson, of the Sea Shepherd group, reportedly said: "Killing a baby seal is about the easiest thing you can if you’re inclined to be sadistic. You certainly can’t say there is any sport in it – the animal is totally defenceless."

Mr Watson doesn't seem to have looked up the website, which has pictures of strapping Scandanavian types dressing up like Serbian militiamen and shooting dumpster-size seals, who are probably pretty fast, rather than using a pickaxe to batter and then skin the white-furred babies as the alcoholic French-Canadian fishermen do.

Et maintenant, du petit dejeuner!

I started out this morning reading Thucydides, but I've eventually found myself reading the Clubbing Baby Seals webpage instead. So much for self-improvement.

New Blogroll

Before everybody listed starts emailing me in bafflement, the categories on the new list of blogs to the right are again taken from the slogans of the Cultural Revolution.

I'll explain when I get more time tomorrow. I've a miserable 'flu and I've been in bed most of the day, so I don't have the energy for anything other than curling up with The Peloponnesian War.

The Josef Brodsky of the Editorial Page

Constantin Gurdgiev, TCD economics lecturer and director of Open Republic has written some excellent opinion pieces recently, including this account of the invention of the iso-phone ("a service that can be described as a meeting of the telephone and the flotation tank" - who'd have thought it?) by the Media Lab Europe in Dublin.

Both of these links came via the extensive and useful archives maintained by Mark Humphreys of DCU. I like to think that I read a lot and integrate it, but Mark beats me hands down!

This article from the Sunday Independent of 4th July 2004
is probably the best account of the difficult reconstruction of Iraq that I've read all year.

Freedom is when you forget the spelling of the tyrant's name and your mouth's saliva is sweeter than Persian Pie, and though your brain is wrung tight as the horn of a ram, nothing drops from your pale-blue eye.

THESE words belong to a man who knew the value and responsibility of real freedom: by 1976, the date attributed to this poem, Joseph Brodsky had been through a Soviet show trial, labour camp and forced exile. A far cry from the venomous spite piled upon Iraqi history by the well-fed, nothing-to-fear pundits of doom and gloom greeting last week's handover of power in Baghdad with epithets like "ex-CIA", "marshall [sic] law" and "a year of wasted opportunities".

The journalists who put quotation marks around "liberation" in 2003 are failing to see the reality - Iraq did regain its independence, on June 28, and the Iraqi people are on the path to erasing their tyrant's name.

To be precise, the road from serfdom is long and arduous. Yet the Iraqis are learning their freedom - as of June 2004, 68 per cent of them express confidence in the interim government, 73 per cent approve of the new Prime Minister, Ayad Allawi, and 84 per cent support the new President, Ghazi Yawar. And up to 80 per cent of population believe that the new government, army and police forces will have a positive impact on the country. (Incidentally, these numbers are well above the approval ratings for the EU, yet the anti-Coalition pundits are not questioning Brussels' legitimacy.) Far from fearing martial law, 76 per cent of Iraqis feel freer to express their political views in public today than at any time before the liberation, while more than 80 per cent feel freer to exercise their religious beliefs.

So let us get other records straight. Drawing, as before, on the hard facts from the Brookings Institution, Gallup Polls and other sources, can we conclude that 2004 was "a year of wasted opportunities"? Magic mushrooms aside, no.

On March 8, the Iraqi Governing Council approved the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) that will serve as the country's interim constitution between now and the 2005 elections, which 67 per cent of the Iraqi population expect to be free and fair. Unprecedented for the region, it guarantees freedom of religion and speech, rights to organise political parties, to demonstrate, to strike, to receive a fair trial. It prohibits discrimination based on gender, nationality, religion or origin.

To back it up, today more than 600 Iraqi judges preside over more than 500 courts independent from Governing Council and Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). More than 170 newspapers and 70 radio stations operate throughout Iraq. Few of these rights are enjoyed by the people living under the regimes, such as the PLO, benignly overlooked by our press and subsidised by the EU.

The Governing Council and CPA have "wasted" a year on delivering millions of metric tons of food and products in Iraq, opening the country's 240 hospitals and more than 1,200 clinics. In a "wasted year", the Iraqi healthcare budget was US$950m - a 74-fold increase on 2002. More than 90 per cent of Iraqi children received immunisations, and doctors' salaries are now at least eight times what they were under Saddam.

The Council and CPA opened all 22 universities, 43 technical colleges, as well as over 90 per cent of the primary and secondary schools. The Coalition refurbished 3,900 schools and provided 58,500 teaching and 1.5 million student kits. Teachers earn up to 25 times their former salaries. Under the new regime that our grey cardinals of doom dismiss as the invaders' puppet, women's centres offering training and education opened throughout the country.

As of today, water delivery has been nearly doubled on the pre-war levels, electricity generation is at over 95 per cent of the pre-war capacity, while over 1.2 million phones are operating in the country - a 46 per cent rise on 2002. The national unemployment rate in April-May 2004 was 28-45 per cent, relative to 50-60 per cent in 2003. CPA alone created 435,000 jobs, while reinvigorated lending and a strengthening currency contributed to a significant increase in entrepreneurial activity.

The truth demands that we do not overlook the difficulties. In the absence of law enforcement, Iraq's progress is hampered by the continued violence against people and property. Since 2003, the most dangerous kinds of violence from Iraqi public perspective were (in order of decreasing importance): sectarian war, suicide bombers, explosive devices and street crime. In terms of private concerns, the priority is different: street crime, explosive devices, military actions and suicide bombers.

All said, over the last 12 months, 1,771 Iraqi civilians died due to acts of insurgents and Coalition forces - a homicide rate that falls below that of some OECD countries. Furthermore, despite claims of CPA unpopularity, 76 per cent do not believe their lives were made worse by the Coalition and 85 per cent feel safer with CPA in place.

These figures tell the real stories of Iraq. This is a learning curve. Transition to democracy in the Soviet Union taught us that in a society opening up to pluralism and freedom of press, scandalous facts temporarily take hold of the nation's perception of reality: learning about freedom does make your brain "tight as the horn of a ram".

So let us set the record straight - on June 28, Iraq rejoined the world community as a sovereign state, but it will take time before the Iraqis taste their Persian pie of prosperity and generations before they erase Saddam Hussein from their memory. I doubt our zealots of anti-Americanism ever will.

Constantin T Gurdgiev is a lecturer and research associate at TCD. He is also a director of the Open Republic Institute, Dublin.

Friday, October 08, 2004

More, Moore and Yet More

The most powerful class of institution on earth, the corporation, is by any reasonable measure hopelessly and unavoidably demented. The corporation lies, steals and kills without remorse and without hesitation when it serves the interests of its shareholders to do so.
So reads the breathless blurb for the new book The Corporation. The book has also been adapted for the screen in a film coming to Europe directed by Mark Achbar "co-director of the influential and inventive MANUFACTURING CONSENT: NOAM CHOMSKY AND THE MEDIA". As well as Chomsky himself, other analysts known for their careful research, attention to detail and objectivity such as Howard Zinn and Michael Moore are also to be seen exercising their jawbones in the movie.

As for corporations being the most powerful institutions on Earth, that's a typical piece of paranoid globaloney. I'm not particularly worried about the power of states vis-a-vis multinational corporations or financial institutions. When is Microsoft getting a seat on the UN Security Council. Will BP takes the ultimate step in renewable energy and build its own hydrogen bomb? Sheesh...

Leaving aside my sarcasm, what institution proved itself to be more dangerous in the past century? Inevitably, it's been the nation state, and invariably those who made the most ruthless attempts to annihilate the private sphere in economic and social life. From the Ukranian famine of the thirties, Stalin's butchering many more millions in the great terror, mass starvation under Mao in the Great Leap Forward, or euthenasia and genocide under the Nazis, right up to the national suicide attempted by the Khmer Rouge - and that Chomsky still denies - all came of conflict against capitalism.

Napolean famously said that no man would sell him his life, but many would give it in return for a slip of coloured ribbon. As an emigrant, I'm constantly aware that these nation states define our identities, not only as the first thing anyone meeting you will note, but defining which community you feel yourself part of and indicating what spot on the Earth is irrevocably yours. The state can give and take almost any amount of money it sees fit. It can ask you to kill and your patriotism absolves you of any guilt. Especially in this age, no profit-making corporation can make such a powerful claim on us.

New Comments Functionality

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

I like to think that the difficulty of adding comments in Blogger is to blame for the limited number I receive rather than the sheer banality of my writing.

Come to think of it, changing to Moveable Type is probably not a good idea, at least for some time yet. I'm making some plans for a seperate specialist joint blog and if those come to fruition, I will probably start off with MT instead.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Sully Turns on Bush

I thought that I should reply to Jon over at BSD, but Haloscan won't let me post the second half of my comments. As one of BSD's most verbose commenters, I'm still not pleased.


I wouldn't for a moment defend the FMA. It can't be anything other than an intrusive and blundering attempt to impose morality from government. Neither is there any shred of wisdom in taking the Irish approach and having a blackboard constitution updated as and when politicians feel a need to distract from their underperfomance.

I would agree that Bush has shown himself a mean-spirited moron and the FMA proposal was the final straw for me. I was disgusted when Bush went to speak at Bob Jones University - best known here as the alma mater of Ian Paisley after he sat out WW2 in a Cardiff bible college. I donated to McCain after seeing him speak in NY in 2000 and I still think he would have made a better President than Bush.

However, as Sullivan himself recognises (see his postings "Kerry's Case" and "Kerry's Failure" after the debate , the decision as to who gets to be President is inevitably binary in character. In rejecting Bush to abstain, vote Libertarian or punch a chad for Nader, you are tipping the scales towards Kerry.

Is Kerry any better? The foreign policy professionals in both parties are near identical in outlook, so the cabinet secretaries won't be very different in their approach.

My gut judgment is that in Kerry, the Democrats have gone for the Hu Jintao option by selecting the blandest and most inoffensive of the candidate. Now the country faces the prospect of having this piece of human wallpaper in the Oval Office; think Jimmy Carter without the attention to detail.

There's every reason to choose priorities or otherwise politics becomes an exercise in futile narcissism. The fact is that Dixie has held the balance of electoral power in the race for the White House since the start of the New Deal, if not back to the time of Calhoun, so it has to be pandered to. Or you can choose the Democrats, and support Jesse Jackson's shakedowns, the teachers' unions blissfully unconcerned about leavig poor children illiterate or the trial lawyers wrecking America's economy and health care system.

The war leadership must be an issue of much greater weight than some speeches about gay marriage. Making a voting decision based more on war than some culture war rhetoric would be irresponsible.



Tuesday, October 05, 2004

More Middle East News

Gerry Adams continues his reinvention as an internationally respected Irish statesman, according to the Portadown News. He tells the kidnappers of Liverpool man Ken Bigley, "Keeping this man in a cage and threatening to cut his head off is no way to advance your cause."

"Instead", he says, "Mr Bigley should be taken to a remote barn, strung up by the arms, tortured and savagely beaten for several weeks, interrogated at gunpoint, sentenced to death by Danny Morrison, shot once through the back of the head, dumped in a bog somewhere and never mentioned again".

Give her a Blue Peter badge!

Popbitch seems to be playing on a neo-con riff again this week. After last week's write-up for Jordanian terrorist al-Zarqawi, this week they write:
A suicide bombing in Israel this week was committed by an 18-year-old Arab children's TV talk show hostess. She came from a wealthy Arab family in Shechem, which owns the station where she worked. She detonated her bomb – presumably made from squeezy bottles and sticky-back-plastic explosives – when stopped by soldiers at a checkpoint.
Now, if only the cycle of violence was to sweep up Jonathan Ross...

Saturday, October 02, 2004

More Books

Two months later than scheduled, I finally took delivery of a big parcel that I ordered from Amazon in the US and that were sitting on a friend's desk ever since; at the time, he had planned to be in London within five days, but only got across the Atlantic yesterday to come to his sister's wedding in Dublin. The three books were one's I'd been seeking for some time without success. The Arabists: The Romance of an American Elite, which is the only book written by the Atlantic Monthly's Robert D Kaplan I've not yet read. Blinded by the Right, is the confessionak memoir by American journalist David Brock, previously best known for his hatchet-job The Real Anita Hill and expose of the world of the conservative "movement" media in nineties Washington. Finally, there is Thucydides' history of the conflict between Athens and Sparta. I've almost no knowledge of ancient Greeece - I'm embarassed to say I'm not even cultivated enough to know how to pronounce his name - so I was tempted to get the encyclopedic Landmark edition, stuffed with maps and explanatory background information.

Thinking the Unthinkable

From an interview with an American military official in Nuclear Nightmares, the book by science writer Nigel Calder to accompany a 1979 BBC TV series on atomic weapons in the Cold War:

A tactical nuclear weapon is one that's only ever going to be used in Germany.

The problem with all these cities in the northern part of West Germany is that all of them are only two kilotons of damage away from each other.

Change of Address?

After much frustration with Blogger, I'm looking into moving over to Moveable Type and hosting my personal blog and one for business on The decisive factor is the piss-poor comments features for blogger; even I hate to try and add anything to a post. I'll probably sign up for the thirty-day trial and see how I get on with the technology, but I can't imagine it will be too hard.

I'm toying as well with a name change. Not that I don't like the Black Line, but the theme and design are too specifically Chinese. In spite of my intentions at the beginning, I've only written two or three posts on the Middle Kingdom, including the one just above.

The alternatives might be

  • Peter Nolan - unimaginative, but it can't go wrong as a description
  • The Vogon - after the unimaginative, insensitive and brutal, but impressively factual race of bureaucrats that demolish the Earth in The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy
  • Sophist, economist and calculator - from Eddy Burke's famous lament. Chivalry? I prefer being the Madame Lafarge of the market economy
  • The Chestnut Tree Cafe - a fairly obscure reference to the haunt of the discredited party members in Orwell's 1984.

Any feedback would be welcome...

What's Going Down in Dun Laoire

When I was growing up, there was nothing to do in Dun Laoire, apart from maybe throwing oneself off the harbour pier in boredom. Now, of course, in the new wired Celtic Tiger economy, you have the alternative of passing the time in an internet cafe.

Friday, October 01, 2004

First Round to Bush

My first Presidential debate was certainly eventful. Before I go to any blogs or watch the TV commentary, I will try to give as unfiltered an evaluation as I can before my mind gets polluted by any spin.

TV has an effect that's overwhelmingly emotional, which is one reason I prefer to get my news from the print media and the web where one's perception can be sharper. However, completely contrary to my expectations, I think that President Bush came through this debate well. Had I not known, I would have tagged him and not Senator Kerry as the one-time captain of the Yale debate team and former prosecutor.

It was all very civilised, like any modern form of male dominance fighting. For my part, I wouldn’t tolerate having to stand up and stay in one spot for that long.

I've never hear either man speak at such length for long. Bush stumpled over his words now and again, and sometimes froze for a second or two before beginning speaking. Most of the time, however, he was like a boxer in command of the ring, jabbing from different angles and dancing away from any comeback. Looking tanned and relaxed, he showed much creater affability and an open demeanor. Sometimes slurring his words slightly, he seemed pithy and open, and didn't show any of his famous ticks, such as the shrug he gave after each rhetorical question in his address to the UN General Assembly in late 2002(?). He only said "folks" once two, again referring to al-Qaeda. Foreign names came out perfectly, although President Putin was "Vladimir" and Iran's rulers referred to with exageratted vowels as "moolaahs".

While Kerry focused intensely on the moderator, Bush mostly scanned the audience, sometimes gazing evenly into the camera to address the television audience directly. Kerry barely smiled only when in complete agreement with Bush, as when they exchanged compliments about their families. Kerry's body language was tight, almost hand-clasping while Bush was more open and expansive.

Bush seemed to have prepared well, repeating constantly that mixed messages would be a problem were Kerry to be elected. Kerry's points on Iraq in particular struck me as convoluted and left me unclear as to his position, apart from the fact that he fastened on "allies", mentioned three times in the first question alone, as the key component of the solution, along with a summit of those Arab and European countries with an interest in the country. There's a four point plan somewhere in the middle of everything he said, but I'm damned if I can figure out what it might be.

As a counterfactual, Kerry offered that if he had shown the patience to have another round of resolutions to get people to support the US, they would have dealt with him.

On Iraq, Bush repeated his mantra of hold fast, not sending "mixed message to our troops, our allies and the Iraqi people". He emphasised a number of times that Kerry had seen the same intelligence he had and had voted his approval for the war. While I am hardly an unbiased observer, I'm doubtful that Kerry's simplified plan - bring in the allies, hold a summit - would help. Bush pointed out that Britain, Australia and - with a little flourish - Poland - were faithful friends making a large contribution.

Parrying the alleged slighting to Iraqi interim PM Allawi and his suggestion of a six-month deadline for troops to withdraw seemed beyond Kerry.

The second major area of disagreement was North Korea. While mentioning that Kim Jong-Il had gone nuclear on Bush's watch, Kerry committed himself to direct bilateral talks. Bush strongly contesting this, laying out his strong preference for keeping the neighbouring countries, and China in particular, to work with America through the multilateral six-power talks process.

Kerry might have scored with his detailed points on preventing nuclear proliferation by buyback programs for loose materials from the former Soviet Union, promising a complete purchase within a four-year term. Kerry also seemed to hit a homer with the specific plans he offered on homeland security, shortages of resources for bridges, tunnels and subways and customs inspections.

One interesting phrase Kerry used, mixing foreign policy with what he seems to think of as an obvious bogeyman, was "outsourcing" the job of getting Bin Laden, specifically at Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in late 2001.

The Senator's responses often seemed to be grammatical wheels within wheels of nested clauses; he gave an impression of awkwardness in answering some questions, especially on Iraq.

In framing his anecdotes, Bush plainly employed the Clinton trick, telling of the soldier's widow in NC who said, "after we prayed and hugged and laughed some", that her husband understood what he was fighting for.

Kerry's were more impersonal, involving his foreign travels. He saw the files held in the KGB's Lubyanka headquarters at the collapse of the Soviet Union, which underscored the difficulty of Russia's transition to democracy and they didn't reinforce his argument in the same direct and simple way Bush's did.

Senator Kerry closed by reiterating, "I believe we are strongest when we reach out and build strong alliances", but the whole section seemed a less than whole-hearted pitch.

In his conclusion, Bush also seemed less direct than necessary, although offered that "I believe in the transformational power of liberty". Surpisingly, he also said that the US would keep an "all-volunteer army".

Kyoto Comes Alive

As I predicted in my article in Diplo magazine last month, Russia seems set to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in return for European Union support for its WTO accession. As well as this quid pro quo, the Russians also have huge quantities of rights to emit CO2 that they don’t need after the collapse of the Soviet economy, which Stanford expert David Victor believe might generate ten to twenty billion dollars a year in revenue for them, and leave Western Europe free to maintain emissions at their current level. Victor cautions, according to the NY Times:
Russia had nothing to lose in moving ahead, given that it surpassed its Kyoto targets even before they were negotiated. After the Russian economy collapsed with the fall of communism, the country's greenhouse-gas emissions plummeted far below 1990 levels, leaving it with a bonanza of tradable credits earned when it surpassed its targets.

Russia's agreement on the treaty's terms in 1997 hinged on its getting what could amount to billions of dollars in revenue from selling such credits to other industrial powers, which could use them as a cheap way of meeting their obligations under the treaty.

For Europe, however, this bundle of credits is a markedly mixed blessing now, Mr. Victor said.

The European Union recently passed legislation creating an internal trading market under the protocol's terms, so that its richer member states, like Britain, could get credit toward targets by investing in emissions-cutting projects in poorer, more polluted, ones, like Spain, where the cuts could come more cheaply.

But under the treaty's terms, Europe, Japan, and other industrialized participating countries can buy credits from Russia as well.

If Russia now starts selling its credits to Europe, there will be little incentive for companies within the European Union to push ahead with emissions-cutting schemes that would be more costly, Mr. Victor said.

That could lead to big fights within Europe, where the Green Party holds significant sway in many parliaments. Greenpeace and other environmental groups have derisively labeled the Russian credits "hot air," because they don't represent fresh reductions in emissions.

Russia's accounting system for its credits also remains murky, Dr. Victor said, meaning "there could be a potentially infinite supply."

Let Battle Commence!

Come to think of it, right now I’m not really sure if any of America’s interests or policies will change should John Kerry win, but I’ve slowly and reluctantly convinced that Bush is the lesser evil. Every time I have begun moving towards Kerry, he has managed to repel me – the Benedict Arnold accusations against outsourcing, the four year deadline for pulling troops out of Iraq, trumpeting non-existent support in NATO for sharing the military burden of the occupation.

Small is Questionable

While waiting for the Bush-Kerry debate to begin, I’m reading E.F. Schumacher’s environmentalist classic Small is Beautiful. It’s a cold night here in Dublin, but the extreme heat of the laptop, which has already cracked apart the surface of the desk in my bedroom in London, keeps me warmer than the central heating would. As long as it doesn't set my pants on fire, I should be OK.

Mere Anarchy

Today while I was travelling I did what I rarely do and read a novel, Ronan Bennett’s Havoc in its third year.

This is his first book since the publication of The Catastrophist six years ago, although he has become known for his influence on The Guardian’s editorial line on the Northern Ireland peace process. This month, just before the third anniversary of 9/11, the TV drama-documentary he wrote about the hijackers of Flight 93, The Hamburg Cell, was shown on Channel 4.

The title was probably chosen to echo the three unsettled years since the massacres of 2001, although neither the settings nor the storyline show the heavy-handed anti-Americanism of Wayne God Little or Dogville. One of the most repellent characters is a brutal constable named Scaife, possibly a reference to Richard Mellon Scaife, tormentor of the Clintons.

Set in the rural Yorkshire at the beginning of the sixteen thirties, the novel tells the story of coroner John Brigge, who is called from his farm and his wife’s labour to investigate the apparent murder of a newborn child.

In a small town convulsed by the religious fanaticism of the Puritans, a vagrant Irishwoman fits the role of villain convincingly if uncooperatively. Brigge, himself a crypto-Catholic under a police-state that hangs believers in the old religion, has no ambition apart from the safe delivery of a healthy firstborn child and a good harvest. Having first set out to reform the citizenry through charity, the bourgeois town governors who have wrested control from the local landlord have embarked with authoritarian zeal to whip and hang until sin is driven from their jurisdiction.

The narrative thrives on the conflicts that Bennett creates between Brigge’s longing for his family and the increasingly paranoid plotting among the leadership. This steadily engulfs Brigge while the tensions between the destitution of the landless beggars and the fearful insecurity of the townsmen, Brigge’s dalliance with a maidservant and the betrayal by his clerk who marries her, the violent rhetoric and ruthless repression of the religious, especially the disfigured clergyman Dr Favour.

The tormenting need to balance justice and mercy in human affairs gives the major theme of the book. The ambitious and ruthless puritans lack this and Bennett brings his trademark insight into chaos and violence to bear in describing the consequences - the persecution of the innocent, the brutal treatment of moral frailty and the justice denied the powerless poor. The writing is powerful and moving throughout, such as the mother waiting for the clean dry bones of her executed son to fall from the gibbet.

As a harsh portrait of the sour combination of sectarian fundamentalism, Havoc in its third year is a masterpiece in its power and refusal to stereotype, which carries a universal moral admonishment to see people as ends rather than means separate from condemnation of any one time or place. The only off-key element, in my opinion was the somewhat surprising lack of human weakness shown by Brigge, his seeming immunity to the temptations of position and power. Perhaps there is something in common with Bennett’s portrait of the hijacker Zaid Jarrah in The Hamburg Cell. In the film we saw his evolution from middle-class student to jihadi terrorist, but never saw him fulfil the role he prepared for - cutting the throats of the pilots and flight attendant and crashing Flight 93 rather than lose control to the resisting passengers.