Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Indymedia Surfs a Wave

Indymedia describes itself as "a collective of independent media organizations and hundreds of journalists offering grassroots, non-corporate coverage. Indymedia is a democratic media outlet for the creation of radical, accurate, and passionate tellings of truth."

Two out of three isn't bad. They seem to have figured out the causes of the huge Asian tidal-wave. Perhaps they are providing an alternative to the mainstream for-profit media, or certain parts of it.

The Great Divide

George Will writes on Iraq in the current City Journal.

My worry is the assault on the nation-state, which is an assault on self-government—the American project. It is the campaign to contract the sphere of politics by expanding the sway of supposedly disinterested experts, disconnected from democratic accountability and administering principles of universal applicability that they have discovered [....]

All this is pertinent to today’s headlines, for a reason that may, at first blush, seem paradoxical. The assault on the nation-state involves a breezy confidence that nations not only can be superseded by supranational laws and institutions, they can even be dispensed with. Furthermore, nations can be fabricated, and can be given this or that political attribute, by experts wielding universal principles.

When the Cold War ended, my friend Pat Moynihan asked me: "What are you conservatives going to hate, now that you can’t hate Moscow?" My instant response was: "We are going to hate Brussels" —Brussels, because it is the banal home of the metastasizing impulse to transfer political power from national parliaments to supranational agencies that are essentially unaccountable and unrepresentative."
I don't agree with him on Iraq, as it seems to me that the country has a Sunni problem and not one with "resistance". The more I read of David Held and his ilk, the more I come to expect that the whole debate over the European Union, "globalisation" and the proper world role for both the US and the UN are really all consequences of the same questioning of the nation-state as the foundation for political identity, action and legitimacy and how this might be affected, or seen to be, by transnational alternatives.

For those, like Professor Held's supposed "social democrats" who haven't won an election in Britain since 1945, the temptation to impose a vision rather than struggle futilely to persuade an unwilling electorate now seems overwhelming. Significantly this model now seems to have attracted the attention of others like the environmentalist Jeremy Rifkin, who've come to the conclusion that - to adapt Brecht's poem - the people have failed the movement, so let us dissolve the people and elect another.

Oil and Water

I've just added more links to my sidebar, including to the funniest sites on the web - the Onion, rec.humor.funny and Indymedia Ireland.

One site that I've pecked at for a while now and that I'll be visiting more often in the future is It has some fascinating links to information from people all the usual eejits are fastening onto. I found the interesting European Commission report on energy security there. Now, they've reproduced a report from my ex-colleagues at Deutsche Bank. These aren't the experts covering the oil products market, like strategist Michael Lewis, or the oils team in equity research but the long-sidelined German economists, who seem to have spent the last ten years since the revival of the investment bank desperately searching for a role, casting about for an audience in macroeconomics, real estate and now oil.

Ian Buruma's Letter from Amsterdam

Ian Buruma, probably the world's greatest cosmopolitan and one of my favourite writers, has a reportage piece on the current atmosphere in the Netherlands in the New Yorker. It's all worth reading, but puts his finger on how even apparently normal people can go seriously astray by weaving an internet coccoon around themselves.

"This is the problem. Although Theo van Gogh was Dutch and was killed by a Dutch citizen, in the end this is not just a Dutch story but a Middle Eastern one imported to the heart of Europe. Mohammed Bouyeri, and hundreds like him, have plugged into a wider world of violent Web-based rhetoric and terrorist cells. The integration of Muslims in the Netherlands has not been a greater failure than anywhere else. But the country may have been less prepared for the holy war."

This is probably what's happening, on a smaller scale, in Ireland right now.

What's Wrong with Academic Leftists?

I've mentioned before that I'm grappling, although ineffectively given my lack of experience with philosophy, with the doctrines of Foucault and other modern thinkers and their implications for contemporary political problems.

I'm currently reading Law, Pragmatism and Democracy by Richard Posner, who I believe has brilliantly captured the essence, not just of how American democracy works, but why it works as it does. Its peculiar structures, facturing power into a babel of competing institutions and the simultaneous empowerment and limitation on both majority and minority opinions make it fairly unique among the world's democracies. Defenders of the system as it is are regrettably rare, among socialists, centrists, libertarians and conservatives.

I think this is one book that doesn't repay my usual hurried scanning, so I take it slowly and carefully. It's extraordinarily rich in insights, so I think I might just post a list of some of the best quotes from it, as Brian has recently done with A T Q Stewart's The Shape of Irish History.

Posner mentioned the German legal theorist (and unapologetic Nazi) Carl Schmitt, which sent me to his entry in Wikipedia and thence to this essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education which brought together some threads of my recent thinking and offered one suggestion for why the political thinking of many academic leftists is so contemptously anti-liberal.
Given Schmitt's strident anti-Semitism and unambiguous Nazi commitments, the left's continuing fascination with him is difficult to comprehend. Yet as Jan-Werner Müller, a fellow at All Soul's College, Oxford, points out in his recently published A Dangerous Mind, that attraction is undeniable. Müller argues that Schmitt's spirit pervades Empire (2000), the intellectual manifesto of the antiglobalization movement, written by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri...

Telos, a journal founded in 1968 dedicated to bringing European critical theory to American audiences, had started a campaign in the 1980s to resurrect Schmitt's legacy, impressed by his no-nonsense attacks on liberalism and his contempt for Wilsonian idealism. A comprehensive study of Schmitt's early writings, Gopal Balakrishnan's The Enemy, published by the New Leftist firm of Verso in 2000, finds Schmitt's conclusion that liberal democracy had reached a crisis oddly reassuring, for it gives the left hope that its present stalemate [i.e. the triumphant dominance of liberal democracy and fairly free markets as the only desirable model of political economy, as Fukuyama rightly advocated, but didn't prove in The End of History and the Last Man] will not last indefinitely. Such prominent European thinkers as Slavoj Zizek, Chantal Mouffe, and Jacques Derrida have also been preoccupied with Schmitt's ideas. It is not that they admire Schmitt's political views. But they recognize in Schmitt someone who, very much like themselves, opposed humanism in favor of an emphasis on the role of power in modern society, a perspective that has more in common with a poststructuralist like Michel Foucault than with liberal thinkers such as John Rawls.
My apologies for any lapses into incoherence, as I'm both paddling the shallows of a very deep sea of theory and feeling pretty exhausted tonight.

The Spirit of Christmas

Massacre of the Innocents - Fra Angelico

Herod was probably the first person to have his Christmas plans go seriously awry, as mine did today. Having made an effort to organise a meeting of Irish bloggers, I turned up at the Market Bar at 1.30 pm to find it closed, an unexpected state for a Dublin pub, who would, in my experience, be happy to let anyone lick their mop after hours in return for a few coppers.

I ended up in Bar Mizu in the basement of the Powerscourt Centre. Any day that I manage to spend speaking with Tony Allwright, Michael MacGuinness, Darren O'Brien, Philip O'Sullivan, John McGuirk of the FI and John Fay is obviously a good day, but my profound apologies to anybody who came along to the Market Bar. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa...

Home Sweet Home

The best thing about Christmas is reliving those long-lost home comforts

Monday, December 27, 2004

Gilles Kepel on Middle East Studies

Gilles Kepel writes on the state of Middle East studies in American campuses.
It seems that he shares my increasing scepticism on the value of work made by Edward Said and Bernard Lewis, the Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai of the field:
...the masters themselves have become increasingly political, making forays into domains further from the supply lines of their original expertise - comparative literature on the one hand, history on the other.
I never trust Said or his disciples, believing as I do, that the study of opera libretti or novels is as indispensible to international relations as grand pianos are for rock-climbing. Neither do I think that analysing the language used by scholars of the Middle East to uncover hidden assumptions of racism and imperialism will tell us anything useful: If anything, the prejudice is almost certainly much stronger coming back the other way. By refusing to put the material factors - economics, geography, oil and armies - centre-stage and refusing to take the ideologies of the region seriously in their own right, Said and company are condemning themselves to playing futile academic parlour games.

On the other hand, I'm cautious about Lewis, who in his eighties, has his best years long behind him. I've read some of his books, but I'm never convinced that his sources are either up to date or more than a canary peck of the available information.

The bunfight over Tariq Ramadan's visa, which Kepel mentions, is one indicator of the vastly polarised state of the whole field. Another is the controversies linked to Juan Cole, who now finds himself being sued by the Middle East Media Monitoring Institute, after alleging bias in its work, accusing it of having murky funding and, in another use of an increasingly common code-word, of promoting "Likud" views. Paul Rogers lost my respect when he compared this to Germany in the thirties in his lecture at Birkbeck on 11th November.

Considering the Counterfactuals in Northern Ireland

I mentioned recently that I was writing an evaluation of the book Losing Control by Paul Rogers, professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University. This overlaps with some of the discussion at Frank's , where our old friend the lethal passive voice has made an appearance "...a lot of lives were lost..." This turn of phrase, relating events without apparent human causes e.g. "bank managers had their families kidnapped and threatened with death" is long familiar with anyone forced to listen to spokesmen for "the republican movement".

I've often wondered as to whether there was an end to the conflict which didn't involve the distasteful step of political negotiations with the IRA. This is probably a solution which would have appealed to most Unionists, vindicating a view of the conflict as being a simple case of good contending with evil and perhaps precluding the need for any reform to the province's system of government. Many citizens of the Republic also have problems with the IRA's violence; perhaps a body of opinion at least as large as Sinn Fein's current electorate are strongly hostile to any coalition involving them.

For his part, Paul Rogers, dismisses as "liddism" the view that conflicts such as that in Northern Ireland or more generally can be dealt with using police and military action without attending to what he contends are their direct causes, namely economic inequality and environmental limits. I think that there are plenty of examples to the contrary that indicate otherwise.

In Ireland, both north and south, the IRA had four phases of conflict. Only one, the 1916-1922 Anglo-Irish War, and even that ended in partition, resulted in anything other than an unambiguous defeat.

The Civil War saw Republicans face military tribunals, summary execution and unacknowledged extra-judicial killing by the government.

During the "Emergency", internment was again used to control the IRA, many of whom had fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. Others went on to seek support from Nazi Germany. Some, such as Frank Ryan, did both; Ryan may have found himself subject to the uniquely persistant persuasion of the Germans after he was caught in France after the German invasion, but the link is stain on the IRA's reputation ever since.

The border campaign of the fifties again saw internment, this time carried out simultaneously on both sides of the border, and ended in humiliating failure, with much of the movement changing to a more socialist direction, ascribing the defeat to the futility of violent sectarian nationalism not rooted in solving the social problems of the working class.

(This period also brought about the most self-parodying of traditional Irish rebel songs, honouring Limerick IRA man, Sean Sabhat of Garryowen. These ballads follow a rigid convention, narrating how pure and noble patriots are cruelly martyred at the hands of perfidious Albion. Somehow, the lyrics of this one always makes me laugh, telling as it does of Sabhat being undone by the unprecedented treachery of their intended target in a border RUC station, "...the sergeant foiled their daring plan, He spied them thro' the door.")

Was the IRA, in its Provisional incarnation defeated? Not completely, but it was undoubtedly contained. If I had to choose a turning point, it would encompass the period between 1986 and 1992. The capture of the arms shipment on the Eksund scuppered the Provo's plan for an Ulster-version of the Tet Offensive, the surprise holiday-time attack by the Viet Cong on the Americans. That may have been fortunate for them. It doesn't seem to have occurred to the geniuses on the Army Council that Northern Ireland is not richly endowed with vast jungle canopy for guerrilla armies to hide under and no safe haven for retreat and resupply existed by then in the Republic.

Death squads, operating with some degree of support from within the security forces, created considerable pressure not just on the IRA but on Sinn Fein by assassinating activists and their families.

The centralisation of the IRA structure made the organisation more vulnerable to infiltration, with suspected intelligence failures apparent in the ambushes of IRA members attacking in Gibraltar and in Loughgall.

Adding to growing defeatism was the increased questioning of the legitimacy of the IRA's violence. As an increasingly political organisation, Sinn Fein felt the pressure from the high-profile butchery in Enniskillen, in the bombing of the Shankill Road and the deaths of two children in Warrington.

As well as the White House, the Congressional leadership of Senator Kennedy and Speaker Tip O'Neill squelched for the IRA as both the UK and US faced terrorism around the world, especially in the Middle East.

Over time, violence was increasingly directed either towards powerless victims among Catholics or targets in Britain, with economic damage prioritised over inflicting casualties. By the second ceasefire, both the team who bombed Canary Wharf in February 1996 and their sniper had been imprisoned.

Overall, it's perhaps a polite and useful fiction that the IRA were victorious in their "war".

Rogers gives other examples of popular insurgencies, all eliminated by states responding with violent repression rather than negotiation or economic or environmental reform. The Fujimora administration ended the rebellion of the Shining Path. Insurgents in Egypt and Algeria faced uncompromising crackdowns: Unrestrained violence by the rebels eventually alienated the public and even middle-class Islamists, leading to the isolation and defeat of the militants, as the French Arabist Gilles Keppel describes in his book Jihad.

Withdrawal of support from outside powers seems to have played a vital role in successful revolutions in Cuba, Nicaragua and Iran. For example, while Khomeini’s innovative ideology mobilised Iranians, the collapse of the Shah’s authority over the army and the perception that America would not use force to support him were crucial Fred Halliday writes.

Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and other states may be repeating these experiences, as economic instability and disgust at casualties among the domestic population weakens the support for anti-government forces fighting their own national governments, while credible outside support remains firm, even in the absence of significant reform.


Some new, and perhaps unfamiliar, names appeared on my blogroll when it was updated recently. One is Thomas Homer-Dixon, who anybody familiar with the work of Robert Kaplan, especially The Coming Anarchy, will probably already know.

The Canadian academic ran the largest study yet undertaken, godfathered by the then Vice-President Al Gore, on the potential for environmental problems to cause international war and civil unrest. He's particularly dismissive of the water-wars meme, concluding that, by and large, that causes and effects are more complex and unpredictable than those ever-reliable and objective people in the environmental movement predict. His work, as shown in this case-study of Chiapas, is one reason that I put little confidence in predictions of oil wars or the more recent Bare Branches line of argument that unmarried men will constitute a severe security problem for Asia.

He also co-wrote an interesting article in the current Foreign Affairs. making an optimistic forecast for the clean coal and carbon sequestration technologies that attained an unprecedented prominence during this year's presidential race.
carbon sequestration will add only an incremental cost—roughly five to ten percent—to today’s energy sources. The carbon dioxide of most of today’s emitters, such as coal-fired power plants, could then be captured, lowering emissions dramatically without affecting energy consumption. The technology is already available. The integrated gasified combined cycle (IGCC) coal-fired power plant crushes coal and mixes it with steam to make a hot combustible fluid called “syngas,” stripping out sulfur, mercury, and other toxic pollutants. When syngas is consumed, it releases large amounts of electric power, hydrogen, and a
stream of carbon dioxide suitable for capture and geologic storage. If the emissions are sequestered, the IGCC becomes a zero-emission plant. Coal-power generation has never looked so sexy

Under my Christmas Tree

I was very traumatised this year to learn that Santa Claus doesn't exist - or is somebody lying to me? Fortunately, I can console myself with some good books.

I've just finished Robert Cooper's "The Breaking of Nations" is slim, but thought-provoking. Formerly foreign policy advisor to Tony Blair, he writes on the three worlds of foreign policy - postmodern, where nation states are less important, as within the EU, the modern of traditional realpolitik, and the pre-modern, where weak or collapsed states may require, in extremis, to be substantially taken in hand by outside powers, as Britain did in Sierra Leone. The Demos paper it's based on is here. At a time when the EU and US are pooling their efforts to enmesh Ukraine in the EU's alliance of European democracies, he explains the different roles he sees for diplomacy and gives an interesting perspective on the wrapping up of the Cold War in Europe.

As I already mentioned, I completed Bob Woodward's latest, Plan of Attack, on the lead-up to the Iraq War, last week. It gives a detailed chronological account, day by day of the decisions and the planning for war. It confirmed my own analysis that the Saudis and Iranians were very much part of the coalition of the willing, ensuring stability in the oil market and basing and overflights for the Americans. Rumsfeld is shown in a positive light, as the key driver in the creation of a lean and adaptable war plan, giving much greater political flexibility to the president. The Army asked for 350,000 troops to go into Bosnia, and twenty thousand for securing Sarajevo airport alone, although the French eventually carried out that particular mission with just a thousand. Whatever his faults, Rumsfeld has probably banished the nappies-within-nappies risk aversion of the generals.

The most startling revelation in the book was the revelation that an unnamed neighbouring state wanted the Americans to hold back a number of days while it attempted to assassinate Saddam Hussein under the cover of a diplomatic mission. I can't imagine that anyone other than the Iranians would be bitter enough to attempt this and have the personnel suicidal enough to take part.

Emer very kindly gave me her copy of John Mearsheimer's The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, the third book on Dan Drezner's list I've been thrilled with. Mearsheimer, an ex-USAF planner and now a U Chicago polsci professor sets himself up as the Lemony Snicket of international politics, warning of the inescapable threat of of war and weakness of security arrangements based on anything other than the balance of military power.

I've still to finish, but his analysis of the Cold War, from which he concludes that military competition continue even among nuclear states is one of the most important insights I've read. My teachers tend to be either liberal internationalists or critical-theory (i.e. Marxist, post-modernist, feminist or other "human security" advocates), so this is a powerful counterweight.

I have reservations but I'm fairly content that this and other realist works, are the best descriptions of how power politics operates, as, by and large, state security and national identity almost always trump all other considerations, including the economic ones. However, like most realists, he has contempt for morality as an input to foreign policy, like most of those people recently educated in classical music have a taste for the modern compositions of Stockhausen that the public ignores.

For academic purposes, I'm reading Global Covenant: The Social Democratic Alternative to the Washington Consensus by LSE political theorist David Held. It's well constructed, but I strongly disagree with the author. His proposed system of cosmopolitan world governance, where states are constrained and deconstructed by NGOs and international organisations, is a complete fantasy. The most fundamental objection I have towards the concept is that none of these mechanisms can, as yet, provide the monopoly on legitimate violence that is the essence of a state. Their experience in Afghanistan and especially in Iraq shows, NGOs, the UN and the private sector cannot operate where they are not awarded neutral status and where they are without the protection of a nation-state's armed forces.

Neither does Held build a convincing case that any problems actually NEED global governance. On two issues, drugs and refugeees, states have their hands tied by the UN treaties that mandate the criminalisation of soft drugs and the legal rights of asylum-seekers, locking-in insane rules on these conentious issues. On environmental issues too, the key actors are again states, as one would expect, as they have the expertise and legitimacy to solve thorny problems of collective action that can involve contests over huge economic costs and benefits. To put it bluntly, what worked better, America's Clean Air Act or the UN Oil for Food Program?

A third, and I think fatal flaw, is that Held never considers how democracy might work if democratic nation-states are hamstrung. In all seriousness, how much more influence, would I, as the Irish environment minister or the Nigerian oil minister or the Prime Minister of Fiji in deciding on climate policy gain from "democratising" and extending the scope of international bodies? Regardless of new institutions, the imbalances of geography, population, knowledge and wealth will persist and would leave the distribution of power much the same as it exists now.

Neither does there seem to be any prospect of any of us plebs having much of a say in designing this new world, and certainly no freedom to reject it. In summary, Held has come up with yet another program for solving the supposed "problem" of American power, one even more at variance with reality than most.

I have a terror of running out of things to read, so I also took out a golden-oldie from the library. Michael Barone, political columnist and editor of The Almanac of American Politics, wrote a detailed and impressive political history, Our Country: The Shaping America from Roosevelt to Reagan, published in 1990. The fruit of long observation, he explains that Americans have always been divided on their cultural and not economic beliefs, which in turn has driven the country's politics.

Finally, there's no present as well-selected as those that you buy for yourself, so I finally bought the only book by Atlantic Monthly foreign correspondent Robert Kaplan that I've not already read, his synthesis of realist political thought, Warrior Politics.

I also got Blood and Oil, a new book on energy security by Michael Klare, an American academic and columnist for the Nation. While I don't expect to be swayed by his argument - nobody I've found so far covers the technical, economic and political factors to my satisfaction, it's backed with source material on most of the major powers. Reinforcing my belief that our brave new world of international concern for human rights and environmental protection imposed by NGOs, the UN and western states anxious for an "ethical foreign policy" is a mirage, he tells of how Russia, China and India collaborate extensively with some of the world's most repressive governments in Central Asia and Africa, while most multinationals are kept out by sanctions.

Ya Basta Subcommondante Marcos!

Frank reported that Subcommondante Marcos, the masked spokesman for the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, Mexico, has turned from political philosophy towards crime writing as a new outlook for his talent for fiction.

I've had to read on the Zapatistas for my IR course, with Naomi Klein's collection , Fences and Windows being one item on the reading list. It highlights both her own faults as an analyst and journalist and the stupidity of those who think that the Zapatistas represent some major evolution that challenges the global economic and political order.

It was ten years to the day on 20th December since the sudden devaluation of the Mexican Peso launched the so-called tequilla crisis, and almost eleven (on January 1st) since the execution of the North American Free Trade Agreement that extended the US-Canada trade pact to Mexico. Ex-president Carlos Salinas, facing charges of corruption and plotting the assassination of a presidential candidate, dissappeared and was then discovered while paddling on Dolymount Strand in Dublin one fine summer's day, probably the only person, so he claimed, ever to leave Mexico behind for the sunshine and beaches of Ireland. The lack of an extradition treaty between the two countries probably had something to do with it too. The FT had a piece marking the anniversary of the crisis so, I thought it would be a good time to put some of my own thoughts down.

First, it occurred to me that she's quite cute, at least by the photo that recently appeared in the London edition of Time Out showing her Bridget Bardot-style with her bra-strap showing - and probably wouldn't mind continually arguing politics with me, although it would make for a volatile relationship, with lots of biting and scratching.

She begins by relating how a backpacking trip to Chiapas to see the revolution at first hand has become a common rite of passage among left-minded youths. This got me thinking - perhaps the whole revolution is nothing more than a tourist strategy: Las Vegas is the destination for gambling, Disneyworld for family fun, Castro's Cuba for sex tourism and Chiapas for the revolution. Maybe that's the real reason for Marcos' publicity efforts.

Irony, she says, is a key feature of the Zapatista philosophy. I like irony myself - in small doses, but too much of it quickly becomes tiresome. On the Zapatistas, Klein describes a philosophy that remains hidden, like a Japanese soldier hiding on a desert island and determined to fight on for the Emperor, unwilling to contend with either stronger and articulated ideas - be they left or right - or the mechanics of economic and political reality. There is, as yet, no alternative that they can point to, apart from North Korea, the Zapatistas themselves and some squaters in an Argentine tile factory. Oh, and don't forget Moqtada al-Sadr.

The key to the Zapatistas' popularity among all the frustrated totalitarians though is the sense that they have mobilised the new unique power challenge. Er, no. They've huffed and they've puffed and NAFTA's still there, the only effective challenge against it coming from the protectionists in the US - both nativists like Ross Perot with his "giant sucking sound" - and unions like the Teamsters, who'd probably have buried US trade negotiator Mickey Kantor under the Jersey turnpike like Jimmy Hoffa, given the chance. The rebellion, almost a year before, didn't precipitate the peso crash and Mexico, first under Zedillo and now the conservative Harvard MBA Vicente Fox has continued on its course of liberalisation, exactly as Paul Krugman predicted.

As an ethical consumer, Naomi is fortunate to live next to the local branches of Ronit Zilkha and Joseph according to one Guardian interview"I'm lucky in that I happen to live a few blocks from some great independent designers, so I actually can shop in stores where I know where stuff is produced", as well as being published by Rupert Murdoch's Flamingo imprint. The rest of us aren't quite so lucky, especially those unfortunate Mexicans who've made Wal-Mart the country's leading retailer.

The world needs more of these ineffectual left-wing rebels like the Zaps. With any luck, they'll take over the US Democratic Party and consign it to irrelevance.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Open Republic Opens for Business

Your first new year's resolution: Go have a read of their new Policy Watch periodical, with comments on the north, Aer Lingus and ar teanga naisiunta.

Are You in Your Right Mind? A Dublin Blogger Meeting

I'm going to be meeting up with a few Irish blog readers and writers. In keeping with an established tradition, this will be at the Market Bar, off Exchequer Street, at 2pm on Tuesday if anybody would like to come along. I'll have my mobile (+44 7748 678 768) with me if you have any problems getting there.

Comment Spam Attack

I'm getting hit with an attack of spam to my comments today for some reason. The blog may loadi without comments at all. Haloscan has probably come under attack, as other blogs using it such as Back Seat Drivers are similarly crippled. Apologies...

Happy Nuclear Year!

Cheerful prospects for the future in the New York Times today. Dr A Q Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist found smuggling nuclear weapons components to paying customers all over the world, and his associates seem not to be undergoing the most rigorous of interrogations:

In the 11 months since Dr. Khan's partial confession, Pakistan has denied American investigators access to him. They have passed questions through the Pakistanis, but report that there is virtually no new information on critical questions like who else obtained the bomb design. Nor have American investigators been given access to Dr. Khan's chief operating officer, Buhari Sayed Abu Tahir, who is in a Malaysian jail.
"This disjunction has helped to keep many questions about the network unanswered, including whether the Pakistani military was involved in the black market and what other countries, or nonstate groups, beyond Libya, Iran and North Korea, received what one Bush administration official called Dr. Khan's "nuclear starter kit" - everything from centrifuge designs to raw uranium fuel to the blueprints for the bomb.
Federal and private experts said the suspected list of customers included Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Algeria, Kuwait, Myanmar and Abu Dhabi."
According to Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack, that I read a few weeks ago, the White House believed that he had given terrorists a nuclear weapon to be detonated in Manhattan. That was a false alarm, but how many more might there be? Maybe I should find myself a nice little house in the countryside with its own water supply, upwind of any large cities.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Girl Power Grows Up

It's time someone dubbed Fair City into Japanese!

Magill Fails the World Politics Test

I see that the editor of the relaunched Magill, Eamon Delaney, is peddling the Reform Movement line on the advantages of membership of the Commonwealth introducing some interesting facts that I hadn't mentioned before in my last comment on Kevin Myers' pitch. Personally, I think if we need some dull German Lutherans to rule over us, we might as well just cold call those listed in the Almanach de Gotha.

According to Delaney, who as a former diplomat, should know his world geography better than George W Bush does, "This is a formidable grouping, which comprises 30 per cent of the world's population, many millions of whom claim Irish descent."

That's funny! I hadn't thought that among the 1.8 billion people in Commonwealth countries, that Indians (1,100 million), Pakistanis (150 million), Nigerians (134 million), Bangladeshis (141 million), South Africans (45 million) Malaysians (25 million), who account for about 1.65 billion of that total, have their roots in our rainy island home.

The weakness of the demographic argument is that Canada, Australia, New Zealand and indeed the UK itself, are all dominated not by Irish immigrants, but others in the four traditions whose persistent cultural characteristics David Hackett Fisher traced in "Albion's Seed". He argues and Huntington agrees that these cultural legacies still drive American politics today, with the irascible and militant low church Scots-Irish - otherwise known as the southern evangelical Republicans - being particularly important at the moment. A cursory examination of Irish history since at least the Great Rebellion of 1641 might tell us that fellow-feeling is particularly elusive among us and them and it provides a poor basis for constructing lasting diplomatic alliances.

Eamo must be one of these arts graduates who doesn't know very much: I'm a bit worried that foreign policy should be in the hands of such people. He writes: "And there's a further motivation. Twenty three per cent of world trade takes place between Commonwealth countries . As with the Anglosphere, there are practical everyday reasons for these closer links...By re-joining, the Irish State [Why the strange title and capitalisation? Is he thinking "Free State"?] would find itself with a new forum for dealing with economic ....matters of mutual interest".

Nonsense! The WTO regulates world trade and the European Commission negotiates there on Ireland's behalf. In many instances, Ireland's interests runs counter to those of the Commonwealth countries, since we benefit from agricultural protectionism, strong intellectual property protection for pharam and IT industries and unrestricted trade in services. The Commonwealth plays absolutely no role in trade or finance, except as another forum for third-world countries to play the beal bocht. Britain's turning its back on its legacy of imperial protectionism in favour of Europe ended the Commonwealth's economic role.

I see they're arguing for this concept of the anglosphere too, which I also think is another bad historical overgeneralisation that provides no rational basis for Ireland's international posture.

Coming soon!

These promises are, like pie crusts, made to be broken, but anyway, here's what I'm planning to write in the very near future.

  • Eco-terrorism?
  • The absurdity of the anglosphere
  • Argumentative anarchists...
  • ...and libertarian ludramain

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

"Zaire with Permafrost"

Abiola writes on the death of Russia: He may not realise exactly how aptly this describes the future of that miserable country.

The political situation is dreadful. By now, nobody can realistically give the benefit of the doubt to Vladimir Putin and assume that he intends to rule as a reformer, democrat or even an authoritarian technocrat in the mold of Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore or Alberto Fujimora of Peru or Mohatir Mohamed of Malaysia.

Russia has now become, in most respects, a typical failing state like those found in southern Africa, with a predatory government, an economy based on plunder of natural resources and a new factor not before seen in Europe: demographic catastrophe.

Regular readers will now how much I despise apocalyptic environmental scare-mongering. Well, this time, I've come to believe the story that Russia faces that characteristic third-world problem, a catastrophic health crisis, with pervasive AIDS infection and resulting social collapse. A vivid reportage in the New Yorker brings to life the prognosis made by American Enterprise Institute demographer Nicholas Eberstadt:

The economic future of a sickly nation with a shrinking population cannot be bright. "Russian health statistics are so bad that we have all run them, many times," [Eberstadt]told me. "They never get better. The country just keeps going down—in numbers, in health, and in its possibilities for the future. It seems to get worse every year, and I don’t see even the slightest suggestion that that is going to change. Russia, like Africa, I am very sorry to say, is taking a detour from the rest of humanity as far as progress is measured by improving general health."

This means that apart from a blighted economy and fractured society, that Russia will have an available population of military-age men of about 6 million, or almost as many as are already under arms in China.

My residual sense of Irish Catholic conservatism wasn't surprised to see that part of this is down to looser social mores - a decline in marriage and STDs spread by promiscuity together with frequent abortion causing serious problems with Russians' reproductive health - a surprising vindication of the Pope's rhetoric on "the culture of death". Evangelical Protestantism or indeed of Catholicism - for the US seems to have been to stitch the social fabric back together after a period of turmoil, an unlikely prospect in Russia.

The New Cold War

Why does all this political turmoil and national decline matter, if you're not swayed by Russophile altruism? The answer is that, according to a new report by the European Commission that I've just read, Europe is increasingly going to rely on Russia for its energy needs, not only for oil, but also for gas, which reliles on an existant pipeline network and increasingly, if oil starts running short, on coal as well. Converting to cleaner and less carbon-intensive natural gas to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions would exacerbate this.

Without the military power that the US can wield to reshape the Persian Gulf, the report authors conclude that Europe needs to build a global regime of markets supported by multilateral institutions to enable commercial investment and international trade to meet the continent's growing hunger for energy. This news from Russia makes this liberal and logical relationship less likely.

However, even if Russia can moderninse enough to provide reliable supplies, geographical facts could mean that the rest of the EU will, like the former Warsaw Pact countries already are, be dependent on Russia for most of their needs, leaving them open to coercive "gas diplomacy", with the Kremlin using the increasingly powerful Gazprom as its sword of Damocles.

This time, the Cold War may literally be cold.

So, this is Christmas

So...I'm back in Dublin.

I was exhausted after wrapping up a Christmas party very late in London last night, leaving me to come home at 4am this morning to begin packing for my stay. It's been a busy few weeks too, with some difficult deadlines to meet, but the new year should be interesting.

Although I have lots that I want to say, and blogger is full of draft articles, I still haven't been able to summon up much motivation to post every day, as I feel I should. That will probably be my only new year's resolution.

My readership has now expanded to take in my mother, so expect regular dispatches on my frequent mass attendance and healthy diet.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The Indymedia IQ Test

A simple test: Does the bag of animal feed with the label below contain GM ingredients?

Yet again, the courage and incorruptability of Indymedia Ireland pull the MSM wool from our eyes, revealing a sinister plot to inflict animal feed containing GM maize on the Irish public. How was this deception uncovered? [Cue X-files theme...] Read the label! As I'm sure that anyone can, unless farmers just randomly buy random sacks of stuff - sheep feed, cattle feed, cement - thinking, "I wonder what'll happen if I feed this to the animals?"

This doesn't worry me too much, as food supplements for ewes aren't a regular part of my diet.

Monday, December 20, 2004

The Blogroll is Back

Are youse happy now? I spent ages trying to think of a new scheme for classifying the blogs and other places that I visit regularly, but I decided just to go back with the old Cultural Revolution-era titles. It seems to make for a consistent theme. If you REALLY object, I'll think about putting your link into another category.

From time to time, I'll write a little about each of the links with which you might or might not already be familiar.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

A Slight Overexaggeration...

Is George Bush tyring to turning the clock back for American society? Priya Jain, writing in Salon about a new book on Heloise and Abelard seems to think so:

While the era's worldview was dramatically different from our own, its political battles were strikingly similar. The reform movement, which you might call the religious right of its day, believed that not only sex but also sexual fantasies were inherently evil, and enforced chastity was high on its agenda. It saw the prostitution, fornication and even the women's fashion of pointy shoes as evidence of a corrupt society. Burge, a documentary filmmaker for the BBC and Discovery Channel, puts the controversial love story of Abelard and Heloise squarely in the middle of this movement, and the result is a riveting study of faith and sex, set against a conservative uprising so familiar it will make you gasp with recognition.

For my part, I'll withhold judgment until John Kerry gets castrated...

Friday, December 17, 2004

Burning the Midnight Oil

I'll probably be up for another few hours writing this essay. I'm in a good flow now, probably because I'm covering the issues of oil, natural resources and climate change and their effect on security and I'm dealing with Paul Rogers' very weakly argued and poorly-supported case.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Newfound Prominence

Look who's being quoted over at the Freedom Instiute blog!

I'm particularly sceptial of Kyoto's science, just the economic and political ideas and tactics of many of its more zealous supporters, British activist Mark Lynas being one example.

A lot of people write shite about climate change, including Paul Rogers, Bradford University's Professor of Peace Studies (i.e. how to self-righteously demand that the world's democracies disarm themselves, whether against the Soviet threat in the eighties or Islamist terrorists these days), whose book Losing Control I am "critically assessing" in an essay for Birkbeck due tomorrow night, hence the reduced posting here. My basic argument is that Rogers is, not to put too fine a point on it, full of shit, and has written a book with no serious knowledge of the environmental, energy and economics literatures, instead repeating cliches from some seventies environmentalists and other activist sources.

Security, unless redefined as some kind of "social security" is probably going to be largely unaffected by climate change according to this paper, the only one on the topic I've seen by a respectable scholar apart from Thomas Schelling's 1992 American Economic Review article (email me if you want a copy of this).

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Peace and Goodwill to All Middle Class Males

It's that time of year again. I'm going to be in Dublin from the 22nd to the 3rd of January, so while I'm there, I'm trying to gather together all the evil right-wing bastards in town. Anybody who's around over Christmas, please leave me a comment below or email me at Peter.Nolan@[nospam]

What I'm Reading Next?

If any grateful reader wants to buy it for me, I'm looking forward to getting my hands on an interesting new book, Schopenhaur's The Art of Always Being Right edited by A C Grayling. I wonder has Abiola already read this, or would he think that he needs to?

The Cuban Connection

I see the long-running argument on Chile has resurfaced over at Back Seat Drivers; I never did go back to offer an elaboration on Dick's sneer (go to comment 32 here) that I was portraying "Fidel Castro having Sauron like abilities to infect and destroy..."

I'm reading the book Revolution and World Politics by Fred Halliday right now too. He has some fascinating accounts of Cuban involvement in revoutionary guerilla warfare all over the world.

Apparently, they had armed and trained the Sandanistas since their foundation in 1961 and contributed most of their arms, including 500 tons delivered during the final two years of war before they took power from the Somoza regime in 1979, being greeted on arrival at the capital's airport by the Cuban consul to Costa Rica holding an M16. They went on to collaborate in supporting uprisings in Guatemala and El Salvador.

Regular military forces, were committed to Algeria, Ethiopia and Angola where 4,000 were killed. Halliday writes that "This record of more than thirty years of committment, from 1962 until 1992 [when the Russians stopped their foreign aid] ranks as one of the most extraordinary and sustained engagements by any state to the export of revolution".

No kidding!

Monday, December 13, 2004

A Little Light Reading

Frank is recommending books to me. Just to show everyone, here's an extract of my reading list from my course in International Security for the first week's lecture, which particularly interests me, but even I blanche at such a volume of material.

  • Bobbitt, J. The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History, London: Penguin, 2000, Introduction and Part III, SLC 327 BOB
  • Hirst, P. War and Power in 21st Century, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000, chapter 3 and 4. SLC 355.020905 HIR
  • Rogers, P. Losing Control, London: Pluto Press, 2002, chapters 5-7. SLC 327.1 ROG
  • Barber, B. Fear’s Empire: War, Terrorism and Democracy, New York: WW Norton, 2003. o/o
  • Booth, K. and T. Dunne eds, Worlds In Collision: Terror and the Future Global Order, Houndsmills: Palgrave, 2002.
  • Foreign Affairs Editor’s Choice, The War on Terror, New York: WW Norton, 2002.
  • Halliday, F. The World At 2000, London: Palgrave 2001.
  • Fukuyama, F., State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century, London: Profile Books, 2004.
  • Harvey, D. The New Imperialism, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, chapter 5.
  • Johnson, B. Blowback: the Costs and Consequences of American Empire, London: Timer Warner Paperbacks, 2002.
  • Kagan, R. Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order, Atlantic Books, 2004.
  • Khalidi, R. Resurrecting Empire: America and the Western Adventure in the Middle East, Boston: Beacon Press, 2004.
  • Kaldor, M. Global Civil Society: A Response to War, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004.
  • Mann, M. Incoherent Empire, London and New York: Verso, 2003.
  • Mearsheimer, J. The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, New York: WW Norton, 2002.
  • Mahmood, M. Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror, Panthenon Books, 2004. o/o
  • Nye, Jr, J., The Paradox of American Power: Why the World’s Only Superpower Can’t Go It Alone, New York: OUP, 2002.
  • Plesch, D. The Beauty Queen's Guide to World Peace: Money, Power and Mayhem in the Twenty-First Century, London: Politico’s, 2004. o/o
  • Prins, G., The Heart of War, Routledge, 2002.

Incorrect Opinions: The Error Striks Back

I'm not, it seems, the only one whose recently read Judge Posner's Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline, which was recently translated and published in China.

Posner argues that most public intellectuals are nowadays entertainers rather than thinkers, with a life-story, such as Robert Bork's being turned down for a seat on the Supreme Court, that makes us identify with them as if they were soap-opera characters. He argues that, like dentists, lawyers or pharmacists, we can't evaluate their output a priori, so instead, we buy inferior products.

I find this economic explanation convincing. I'd add my own twist, namely that public intellectuals are like public toilets. In general, the "private" intellectuals - the medical doctors, bankers, lawyers, engineers and academics - get enough of a payback from their activities carried out away from the media gaze not to need or want to adapt their thoughts for the media and can be satisfied by their professional life or their families and friends. Only if there is no reward in either of these two spheres - and who would take Tolstoy or Marx or Sartre as an example of an upstanding husband or father? - will you look for the cold comforts of the newspaper page or TV studio.

One of my own hobby horses, which I indulge mostly on other blogs, is ridiculing such people, since I generally find that few know even enough about my own areas of expertise that any basic textbook would tell you. Their favourite perches the public intellectuals' tabloids write about ideas, but outside the authors' area of experience or academic expertise, without a basic check by anyone more informed. Worst of all are those building a political analysis based on a lifetime studying novels, poetry, photographs, pottery or old matchboxes without reference to more solid forms of knowledge.

Let it not be said that British academia is amiss in jumping on the bandwagon. Now, from the industry that brought you degrees in computer games studies, you can now sign up for a course to train as a public intellectual, to be run by Slavoj Zizek, whoever he is . Besides being the author of Lacan in Hollywood, Zizek seems short on impact; in fact, until reading the press release, I'd always confused him with the other Yugoslav philosopher, Milovan Djilas, who does seem to have achieved something with his time on the planet other than wasting all our oxygen.

Zizek comments: "When you speak out from the left today, you are seen by many as either harking back to the nostalgia of the miners’ strikes, or some kind of postmodern madman… but there is another perspective that is not well represented in the public arena."

Yeah, Professor, it's called the RIGHT. You should try it sometime.

Bye for now!

I'm under two tight deadlines, so I'm unlikely to be posting for the next week or so until the 20th. I'll still write comments and respond to others, but otherwise, watch this space!

The Republican Revolution, Like Saturn, Devours its Own Children

Just to highlight how little change came about after the 1994 Republican sweep of Congress, the Weekly Standard tells the tale of lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his innovative applications of the ideology of limited government on behalf of Indian tribes with casinos on their reservations:
Abramoff told the Post earlier this year that those Indian tribes "are engaged in the same ideological and philosophical efforts that conservatives are--basically saying, 'Look, we want to be left alone.'"...And we should add that the tribes don't want to be left alone, you know, all the time. Abramoff has also bragged of the millions of tax dollars he has snagged for his Indian clients, in the form of more conventional pork-barrel appropriations for roads, schools, water projects, sewers, and the rest.
The Republicans, it seems, may be winning elections, but it comes at the cost of gorging themselves to death on public money.

Interestingly, Senator John McCain, whose just been bumped off one committee because of the term limits introduced a decade ago, has now ended up in charge of the Indian Affairs and is positioning himself for the 2008 nomination for President. These Washington lobbyists might well end up getting the same treatment from the Senator as Hanoi did so many years ago.

Pardon my Igerance

Dan Drezner's started an online game of Humiliation, where you have to confess what important books you have never read which are supposed to be related to your areas of expertise. I've read a bit, but I'd have quite a few on my list, including

Most philosophers - Not a word of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, St Augustine, Kant or anybody else, apart from my recent excursion into Foucault; everything else has come through extracts in anthologies or via the work of Leo Straus or Francis Fukuyama.

Marx - not a word, ever, although maybe I should at some point

Angela's Ashes - obviously TB just wasn't rampant enough in the Limerick slums to wipe out Frank McCourt and his brother Malachy whose first book is probably the worst thing I've read in the last decade. Typically of the city on the Shannon, after the book became a bestseller, the city council apparently decided to rebuild the particular slums he described.

The New Testament - I've never read anything apart from the Book of Revelations

Hayek - I tried to read the Road to Serfdom when I was sixteen without success. I'm in no hurry to repeat the experience, although there's now a comic strip version online: Who says you can't be a libertarian if you move your lips while you read?

The World of the Irish Media

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Welcome to London

Now, carry yer own bleedin' luggage!

The Economist (sub required, otherwise email me) writes on English attitudes to immigration:

Hostility to those who do not come openly to work is not new. Even in 2000, before the asylum panic, just 12% believed that genuine refugees should be accepted unreservedly—the lowest number in Europe. But Britons are more blasé than other Europeans about the effect of immigration on national harmony. Of those who reckon there are too many, only a quarter worry about racial balance. “Britain has become a multicultural society; it just doesn't want any more people to come in,” says John Solomos, who follows the subject at City University in London.

The biggest reason cited is pressure on public services. Council housing seems like one obvious issue, especially here in Docklands, the brother administered one case, that later became notorious in the British press, where a family of Bangladeshi asylum-seekers got three houses joined into one for the proud paterfamilias, his two wives and eighteen children.

Health services, which are severely rationed are probably the other pressure point. A friend told me that in London now, you can, if suicidal, make an appointment to see a psychiatrist - in a year's time.

Economist YouGov survey: 45% Immigrants pressure public services, 22% Immigration upsetting racial balance, 10% Crime, 5% Jobs

The Eurobarometer survey cited is here. I'm surprised that support for economic immigration is as high as it is reported here, and that a common asylum policy is also overwhelmingly popular. Most Europeans agree that legal immigrants should have the same rights as citizens. Fortress Europe doesn't seem to be on the cards, at least originating in Brussels anyway.

Back by Popular Demand

OK, OK, I'll put the blogroll back. I'll just think of a new way to present it first.

Go read Brian McDermott in the meantime.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Love and Marriage

I don't spend all my time thinking about serious things. I went to see the Bridget Jones sequel recently. All these ads for tampons and lingerie seemed well targeted, as I think I was the only male present in the cinema. Perhaps this gives me a unique perspective on the story.

As I sometimes do, I had a hard time suspending my disbelief. One thing Renee Zellweger does very well is the ringing English accent; not only is it entertaining, I've just met someone recently who speaks in exactly the same way.

The film starts off there the first one ended, with Bridget a short-time into a relationship with her human-rights lawyer boyfriend. The first jarring note is that all the human rights activist lawyers I've ever encountered aren't affluent Old Etonians. Rather, they tend to carry their papers in plastic supermarket bags and look undernourished.

It's a disastrous coupling: She's emotionally incontinent, socially guache and empty-headed. Her Mr Darcy's on the other hand, is a upper-class stiff in a Saville Row suit, snobbish, unempathetic and frequently hostile. They can't seem to have a rational discussion about anything without a bitter argument. I can't see the point of a happy ending for these two: I'd expect their marriage, shoud it materialise to end up with her an overweight alcoholic and him a wife-beater.

It's a little early to get in the mood for Valentine's Day. However, Nobelist Gary Becker also hypothesises that rational choices, convenient to model with microeconomic models, will play a key role in marriage and divorce, "...persons marry when the utility expected from marriage exceeds the utility expected from remaining single. It is natural to assume further that couples separate when the utility expected from remaining married falls belci the utility expected from divorcing and possibly remarrying. One way to reconcile the relatively high utility expected from marriage at the time of marriage and the relatively low utility expected at the time of dissolution is to introduce uncertainty and deviations between expected and realized utilities. That is to say, persons separating presumably had less favorable outcomes from their marriage than they expected when marrying."

He also notes: Instead of basing the distinction between quits and layoffs on rigidity in the wage or marital division, a more promising approach relies on the causeof a job or marital separation. A quit could be said to result from an improvement in opportunities elsewhere, and a layoff from a (usually unexpected) worsening in opportunities in this job or marriage. This way of distinguishing quits from layoffs has many implications, among them that persons quitting have shorter spells of unemployment (or duration of time to remarriage) than persons laid off, and improve their circumstances more in their new jobs (or marriages).

I think that the patterns I observed of divorce among my circle of acquaintences was consistent with a rational expectations model of divorce by the spouses of bankers, so there was a rash of writs through 2002 and 2003, when alimony was calculated based on the bonuses earned at the peak of the bull market in the early part of the decade,

Another noticeable trend was an epidemic of pregnancy among female bankers during 2002 and 2003, as their time was much less valuable during a downturn. The fact that British employment legislation makes it almost impossible to sack a woman on maternity leave probably played its part during the mass-redundancies that cleared out entire buildings in the City of London.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

A Modest Proposal for Dublin

And people say that I'm right-wing? Looks like a new star spokesman for the Freedom Institute is in the making. It's a brilliant expression of Dubliners' aggresive and mocking humour.

Advice on Christmas

The one pain about this time of year is the whole rigmorole of selecting, ranking and transporting presents to all and sundy. However, Gary Becker also has a helpful analysis in a 1974 NBER paper:
...when one member cares sufficiently about other members to be the head, all members have the same motivation as the head to maximize family opportunities, and to internalize fully all within family "externalities", regardless of how selfish (or indeed, how envious) these members are. Even a selfish child receiving transfers from his parents would atomatically consider the effects of his actions on other siblings as well as on his parents. Put still differently, sufficient "love" by one member guarantees that all members act as if they loved other members as much as themselves. As it were, the amount of "love" required in a family is economized: sufficient "love" by one member leads all other members by "an invisible hand" to act as if they too loved everyone.

Running Out of Blogroll

I'm still not very good at formatting this blog, as one might see from the posts below. However, I finally managed to figure out how to operate trackback last night, which will, I hope be a regular feature in the future.

I'm also removing the blogroll - as I'm pretty sure it's no actual use to anybody. Everyone who reads this will know where I get a lot of my informaton, and increasingly that means books or academic papers, which often aren't online.

Posting comments to most of the blogs I read regularly is already a habit, so there's hardly much of a signal of mutual recognition in adding a blog to the list.

Asking for a link can take up time and often, in spite of the best intentions, the asked for link just doesn't materialise.

Anyway, I should stop writing blog posts when I'm supposed to be listening to someone talking on the other end of the phone line.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Give Me Your Tired, Huddled Masses...

Whatever about being free, I'm yearning for some hard information in the midst of all this philosophisal argument about immigration by Frank and Abiola. I remember reading about the Harvard economist George Borjas, himself a Cuban immigrant, in the Economist years ago, but never took much note. He teaches a course at the Kennedy School of Government on immigration policy. For my part, I'm not going to engage in the threads any more except in relation to either this or other concrete academic treatments of the subject. The full syllabus is here and the paper I will read, from the Journal of Economic Perspectives, is here. The papers from other journals are probably much more technical or targeted for an audience specialising in that area of economics. Otherwise, just take your pick from the JEP through JSTORS - I don't have the space to cache these.

Do They Mean Me?

Some anonymous feedback from the Freedom Institute message boards:
I've been lobbied by...members who say that they're a bit concerned that the FI Forum isn't user friendly. Specifically...all have mentioned that unless you're able to back up your points with at least 4 different sources, people have a tendency to jump on you
Who can they be referring to?

Red Hot Chile

I finally managed to find a link to the paper by Arminio Fraga, the ex-governor of the Brazilian Central Bank, noted development economist and ex-Soros hedge fund manager, comparing the economic performance of Latin American countries. He writes:
Chile is the main economic success story of Latin America, with by far the highest rates of per capita GDP growth in both the 1980s and the 1990s. Chile suffered an economic crisis in 1972–1973 under the populist economic policies of the Allende government, which helped to drive the military takeover in 1973. However, the military dictatorship then experienced its own economic crisis in 1982–1983, which paved the way for what we now know turned out to be a permanent shift to sound macro and micro policies starting about 1985. Following Chile’s transition back to democracy in 1989, these sound macroeconomic policies were maintained and in many instances deepened. Within a few years, investment as a proportion of GDP jumped up by 6 percentage points and per capita GDP growth increased by almost 3 points, as usefully reviewed by Schmidt-Hebbel(1999). In the case of Chile, it seems likely that memories of the economic fiasco under Allende in the early 1970s were still fresh in the minds of the highly competent group that took over after the military.

In Medias Res

Sullivan also linked today to an article by Robert D Kaplan, the Atlantic's veteran foreign correspondent. Formed by long and vast experience, deep reflection and expressive brilliance, he's probably my favourite among living journalists and writers and by now I have read all of his books, including the obscure ones like The Arabists, on America's community of orientalist scholars and diplomats and Surrender or Starve on Ethiopa, which teach a myriad of lessons.

He articulates some of the themes that I express with much less clarity, especially a dislike of our new lords and masters in the media, few of whom seem to have any claim to experience, knowledge or character that would make them worth listening to. It's a true mystery to me why someone should take the word of a George Monbiot, for example, over an academic economist, an official of the IMF, an emerging markets investment banker, a businessman from the developing countries, or anyone who learns by doing and being involved without abstraction or second-hand information into the
day-by-day building of history.

Politicians are weaker than ever; journalists, stronger. To be regularly mouthing opinions on television is to be, as they say, accomplished: To be an assistant or deputy assistant secretary of state, defense, agriculture, or commerce — jobs requiring much higher levels of expertise and stress management — means often to slip into oblivion, at a significantly lower salary. A journalist friend who had been a presidential speechwriter [I'll bet that's David Frum, of the National Review and author of a good Bush biography The Right Man]agreed that were a successful journalist to accept a typical assistant or deputy assistant secretary’s slot, it would be as though he had gone missing for four years.

The more I read about Paul Wolfowitz, such as this recent interview in the New Yorker, the more it brings home to me how central, original and important to modern history has been the experience of even this relatively junior official. What journalist can match that?

Like Richard Posner in Public Intellectuals, he highlights the general lack of reliable indicators of a commentator's foresight, accuracy and understanding - a problem Posner likens to that facing customers of doctors, dentists and lawyers.

Ultimately, the NGOs, the media and the UN have no very important role to play, Kaplan argues. In contrast to the powerful antiwar book by NYT writer Chris Hedges', he writes:

Celebrating military heroism is not glorifying killing. War is a sad fact of existence, but a fact nevertheless. To be heroic can be an indication of character rather than of bloodthirstiness. Moreover, the American military — active in dozens of countries each week, fighting terrorism away from the headlines — is providing the security armature for an emerging global civilization whose own institutions are still in their infancy. And while the U.S. military may employ a variety of methods, including humanitarian aid, in the fight against terrorism, the use of force is central to its enterprise. Al-Jazeera, a quasi-independent television organ, is itself a product of the creeping liberalization of Middle Eastern society for which the American military deserves partial credit.

Increasingly, the more I read about NGOs trying to prosecute NATO at the UN for war crimes committed DURING the Kosovo air war - and the UN opening the investigation, American environmentalists hysterical at the plight of Rwanda's gorillas at the of the genocide there, (both examples from Samantha Powers' The Problem from Hell) or now. Kofi Annan being caught with his hand in the Oil for Food poorbox, the more I'm inclined to agree with him. There is no such thing as global "civil society", except as leeches and mosquitos.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Fools Seldom Differ

Two great minds think alike. But on the other hand, I've never particularly respected either the objectivity or knowledge that the Blogfather brings to the Middle East.

National Pride and Prejudice

Apparently the sources of national pride cited by a National Opinion Research Center paper I found were the military, economy, democratic institutions and political influence for the US and "fair and equal treatment" in Ireland. This sounds consistent with this indistinct warm glow of moral self-satisfaction that I've always felt underpinned common base Irish patriotism, which may be some legacy of Catholic belief.

On the other hand, I've never been sure whether, if asked, any of the many Chinese, Romanians or Nigerian immigrants feel welcomed or at home.

What's Next for Iran?

Abiola has an interesting story on Iran's nuclear spending, which reminds me that I'm very keen to get a copy of the new book by head of Persian Gulf affairs on Clinton's NSC, Kenneth Pollack. I read his exhaustive and eminently rational book arguing for the invasion of Iraq, The Threatening Storm, which was published in 2002, after picking it up in a library sale a few months ago.

Terror Returns to Saudi

Terrorists are active in Saudi again, contrary to my expectations that things had been finally calming down once the government finally started feeling the issue was their problem too. It seems obvious that these elements feel at home there, both literally and figuratively. I went to a lecture by Dr Mai Yamani, a Saudi expert at the Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House) in London who attributed their seeming impunity to the tribal links between the security forces and the insurgents, which also, she said, a common identity that also explains the willingness of Saudis, Syrians and Jordanians to cross the border to fight in Iraq.

It was an interesting lecture, and she answered a number of questions, including two from me. Unlike the French Arabist Gilles Kepel has written in his books, especially Jihad: The Rise and Fall of Political Islam, she seems to put little faith in the capability of the Middle East states to effectively oppress the insurgents. I think that this is a naive view, and that the Al Saud, as shown in the revolt of the Ikhwan in the twenties and the takeover of the Mecca mosques in 1980, is as ruthless as it needs to be to ensure its own survival.

She also told me that she believed that the Saudi government was uncertain, afraid and fractured in supporting the Iraq war, which is consistent with the analysis published by Michael Scott Doran of Princeton in Foreign Affairs earlier this year. This is quite different from the picture of eager support from Prince Abdullah and Ambassador to the US Prince Bandar painted in Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack, which reinforced my own opinion that Saudi was a vital silent partner in the coalition of the willing that took on Iraq, facilitating the war with basing rights, diplomatic support for its smaller neighbours and an accomodating oil policy.

I'll take a look out for her new book, although I suspect that her expertise lies much more in culture and soft issues than the hard questions of security, economics and politics that fascinate me.

Sasta Linn Fein

The question I posed last week - what nation is the most patriotic in the world - has a surprising answer. While one might expect the Americans to be the most enthusiastic flag-wavers, they only reach second place, with just over seventy percent claiming to be very proud of their nationality according to a 1990 survey reported in the last chapter of Who Are We?

So who are the world's top patriots? The haughty French? No, only half as many felt the same way about their country. The Japanese, Nihonjinro or not, were just a little bit lower. Those ever so superior English, who never seem to show anything on TV apart from documentaries about World War 2, are in the middle of the range at 55%.

Coming out on top are...the Irish. Are there dreams of world domination lurking in the national psyche? Maybe it's a good thing the country is so small and not as big as, say, China, or we'd all be causing no end of trouble.

Speaking in Tongues in America

Far be it from me to tangle with Juan, what with him an expert expert and all, "In any case, I spent a week in New Mexico a few years ago and Spanish and English seem to co-exist quite easily on a day to day basis."

Huntington's point - and I think that he's entirely correct - is that a bilingual or multilingual polity will have no coherence or continuity. The examples of Belgium, Canada, the Soviet Union and others would indicate that the shared national and cultural identities are fragile and secondary. I think you're being complacent on this point and putting too much stress on your feelings of an American sonderweg.

IF there were an homogenous bloc of speakers of a non-English language perpetuating their identity through education and media in that language, then there would be a problem, provided they were up to some critical level, say about twenty percent of the population of the US. Hispanics now make up about twelve percent according to the 2000 Census. An identifiable, self-aware and mobilised minority of 20% or more - the analogy of Israeli Arabs comes immediately to mind - would create tensions under most systems.

However, and here is where I disagree with Huntington, the unique features of American democracy - federalism, the seperation of powers and especially the electoral college and two-party system will continue to squash seperatism. According to a book on Farrakhan I read recently, up to half of African-Americans want a black political party. There's no point to trying this in the current system and no possible gain to be had from altering this.

For anyone who wants it, here's the link to the extract in Foreign Policy, entitled The Hispanic Challenge.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Dissing Uncle Sam

Since I've just finished reading it, and have been ceaselessly recommending it in other people's comments, I think I should offer a few words on my view of Samuel Huntington's latest book, Who Are We? America's Great Debate.

"America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals..." The style of the book seems familiar from the themes set out in Richard Hofstatder's celebrated essay, The Paranoid Style in American Politics.

Huntington, in spite of being unnecessarily obnoxious in expressing himself, has a point about the challenges of Hispanic immigration to the US. Since never before have such a big bloc of immigrants come from one country, namely Mexico, and clustering in particular areas, he forecasts, linguistic separation or even seperatism will result.

While, it's undeniable that it takes people time to assimilate and a shared language, the ability to pop over the Rio Grande for visits and to stay in touch by phone and email strengthens ties between diasporas and the home country, this isn't likely to translate into a fifth column of some sort.

Imagining Mexicans as some monolithic bloc is very flawed assumption. As even he himself wrote in Clash of Civilisations, its a country torn between the Latin and US elements in its culture. Beyond that, the population consists of a spectrum, rather than the discrete races in which America divided itself. Those of solely Spanish descent are in a small minority. Then there's the pure-blooded indians who speak no Spanish, are completely marginal to society and have been subject to periodic massacres right through history. Most people are mixed to some degree, with a characteristic cultural schizophrenia common to the whole country, so that Mexicans such as President Vicente Fox would proudly claim white European (i.e. Irish) but not Spanish or American ancestry or leave the most important Aztec monuments buried beneath Mexico City.

Add on to that the massively oppressive and dysfunctional nature of most Mexican institutions, most notoriously the police who rob many visiting emigrants and I doubt Chicanos will spend too long pining for a return to the motherland.

The veteran commentator Michael Barone, best known as editor of the almanac of American politics, points out in his book from 2001, The New Americans that Hispanics are largely American in their behaviour already: they fit in fully with the ethics of a country that matches Japan in its hours worked each year , with the higest participation rate of any group, and devotion to both Catholicism or evangelical Protestantism.

America's competitive advantage is assimilation. Getting German nationality would be impossible for the Munich-born grandson of Turkish gastarbiteren, but any immigrant can buy a Thanksgiving turkey and a $10 flag to feel at home in America after getting citizenship without any huge bureaucratic interference.

Finally, and this is probably the most important and overlooked element, both by restrictionists and by Huntington, the political system is set up to create and maintain consensus. Unlike in any other democracy, US legislators, courts and executive offices are mercifully free of the influence of ideological splinter groups such as socialists, communists, fascists and greens or ethnic seperatists. With the seperation of power among the branches and the federal system of government, nobody can get anywhere without entering into the embrace of two huge, all-embracing coalitions to get anything at all done. If the electoral college, federalism and a minimal level of constitutional nationalism in the courts is maintained, there'll just never be an influential Latino seperatist movement; everyone will just have to pick a party umbrella just like the gun-owners, Cubans, Jews and evangelicals.

Cogito Ergo Sum

This weekend brought my first ever encounter with the notoriously dense written work of French philosopher Michel Foucault, who I will be discussing in toninght's class at Birkbeck with Alex Colas. So far, I THINK I can gather something out of it, but I'll wait and see. At the least, I know now, after prompting from Emer, how to pronounce his name more correctly and not continue referring to him as "Fuck-oh". My vocabulary is being greatly enriched by these classes; as well as sharing my views (at length) with my classmates, I think I'll adopt Alex's admirably academic term for the current situation in Iraq: "contestation"

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Absolutely, positively, the last comments on Chile...

[Updated 8 Dec: Removed unnecessary personal abuse and cleaned formatting]
The End! After writing what seems like thousands of words on the thread that began with my dismissal of the credibility of Christopher Hitchens and went on to encompass the merits of Vanity Fair, General Pinochet, US foreign policy in the seventies, the role of Henry Kissinger in human rights abuses under Southern Cone military dictatorships, the Freedom Institute's supposed support for said abuses, the merits of market liberalisation in Chile, relative military strength of the two blocs during the Cold War and overarching theories of international relations, I should offer some last words, lifted from the transcript of a conference at Princeton.

I'm surprised that nobody either seemed to notice or comment on the fact that some of the FI's respones and my own postings are similar.

Anyway, I finally got some time today when I was in the library to look at some books and papers. I found some articles on economic and human development in Chile in old issues of the Journal of Economic Perspectives from spring this year while looking for something else. Apparently Chile comes out top of the class on growth, averaging 4.9% since 1990, compared to a flat zero for Venezuela, was more financially stable than any other LatAm country and saw its life expectancy and literacy improve to second place in the region, according to a paper by Arminio Fraga, the ex-Brazil central bank chief.

I came across this paper online too, an extended conversation among some Chilean politicians and American academics and policy-makers which contained interesting snippets among an extensive discussion of events before and after the coup. To quote from it:

"From 1964 onwards when Eduardo Frei, a Christian Democrat, was elected president, polarization increased very rapidly. You had an essentially reform-minded Frei government which was keen on what was called at the time structural reforms, especially agrarian reform, which was carried out with the blessing of the Alliance for Progress [JFK's "Marshall Plan" for South America, launched in response to the Cuban takeover] – so that it was not an anti-capitalist government at all."

"In turn, in 1967, the Socialist Party formally declared itself Marxist-Leninist
and accepted armed struggle as a possibility for the seizure of power."

[In 1973]But the seizure of private enterprises went further than the government had intended and moved into the medium-sized and smaller enterprises, and along with the rhetoric of the party leaders very deeply alienated the middle classes. The Popular Unity leaders described the middle classes in the most extreme rhetoric as exploiters and the enemy of the people, a group (which was a majority in Chilean society) that would inevitably side with the oligarchy when the day of confrontation came. The alienation of the middle class had tremendous consequences because it led the middle class into a strongly anti-Allende posture."

Whatever the US guilt feelings were at the time or are today, I really believe that the Americans were in no way decisive in terms of the outcome.

"Then afterwards imagine what the right thought after backing the 1964 Frei administration when Allende came to power in 1970. They thought it was the end. They thought that they were in a democratic system that was absolutely unable to stop what they thought and believed to be a totalitarian threat. Were they just guessing when they spoke of a totalitarian threat? The answer is, no. The speeches of those days,the books that were written by the leaders of the left were absolutely clear on their goal. The goal of the Chilean road to socialism was socialism, not in the way that socialism is understood by the left today, but in the way that socialism was understood by the left in the 1960s: a dictatorship."

"By 1973, not many people in Chile believed that the country was going to make it to the next elections in 1976. I was in the country several weeks before the coup and everybody talked about the coming event. The coup was not a surprise. The surprise was in its violence, in its ferocity. There were many different coup scenarios, but one that I kept hearing was that the government of Allende would be replaced by some sort of government of national unity, maybe with some generals and nonpolitical figures like judges, which would call new elections in which EduardoFrei would be eligible to run again. Of course we know that did not happen. But that was the perspective of the time."

"My conclusion in 1976 – and nothing has changed it in the interim – was that the United States was not directly involved in the coup. The emphasis there is on the word, directly. “Missing” is wrong in that sense. A good movie, but like most things we remember best, it never happened or it did not happen that way. The US did receive reports about coup plotting, but everybody has testified that there were coup rumors every week during that period, and in the end they all turned out to be wrong. So the US was getting information about coup plotting from some of its CIA relationships, but it was not directly involved, and the Chilean plotters had some reasons not to want the United States to be directly involved, nor even to tell them or to seek or ask their advice."

"It is also important to understand the suspicions within the military of some of the international political connections that Allende and his people were trying to push the army to make. For example there was a very large Cuban Embassy in Santiago, much larger than any country of Cuba’s size would normally have, including an outsized and very active Cuban security detachment. President Allende’s daughter even married one of the Cuban embassy security people. Then there was Allende’s constant attempt to get the Army and the Navy to buy Soviet equipment."

Fossil Fools

Bird-brains flocking together at With the SWP being so conspiracy-minded and even less careful in its journalism than the Guardian (this story MUST be joke, isn't it? Here's a photo of some people lying on the ground: What can we accuse America of doing now? ).

Now they've picked up on the peak oil theory too - God help us. All the more reason to finally write something about it all for the Freedom Institute. I was amazed that Dick never figured out that I was quoting myself in support of my own position. Hmmm...