Friday, December 30, 2005

Russia Threatens To Cut Off Ukraine's Gas

As if to underscore the deep dodginess of Europe's energy supply - which is increasingly controlled by Russia - Gazprom, the state-controlled Russian energy company, has been threatening to cut off supplies to the Ukraine if it doesn't agree to an immediate fourfold increase in price.

Gazprom recently appointed ex-Chancellor Schroeder of Germany to a senior job, a reward for the way in which the tarnished German socialist politician pushed Gazprom's lucrative and controversial new pipeline deal through. In this new job, Schroeder is Putin's paid employee. The effect of the new pipeline, which is being subsidised by European taxpayers, will be to place European gas supplies at the mercy of Putin's Russia. The pipeline plan has raised much protest in Poland and the Ukraine, and it now looks as though Gazprom will be aiming to profit from increased prices across Europe.

The European Union, typically, has taken the line of least resistance, sided with the biggest political interests, and has said it would not intervene. And yet the EU - as well as the ex-Soviet states which Putin now punishes or rewards at will - would be far better advised to search out alternative sources of power, instead of placing itself at the mercy of the increasingly autocratic Putin.
Telegraph Money Russian gas war brinkmanship threatens higher energy costs in Britain

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Galileo Will Undermine EU-USA Relationship

The Galileo satellite positioning system looks to be on track, following the successful launch of its first satellite, by 2008.

The Galileo project is an expression of the EU's wish to distance itself from the USA. Everyone is saying that Galileo will be more accurate thanthe US's GPS system, and how Galileo will be run by a commercial consortium, as opposed to the military. This is specious; Galileo will be used for military purposes every bit as much as GPS, and given that the governments of China, Israel and Argentina are involved, alongside the EU, the question of control over the system is never likely to be resolved. Presumably each of those countries will have some measure of control over the system.

What is likely is that if the armies of European countries start using Galileo (instead of GPS), they will be compromised in their effectiveness at fighting alongside US troops, as they will need to use both systems - a recipe duplication and confusion.

Galileo, indeed, can only be used against US troops, not alongside them. Whilst this might not prove problematic for the French or Chinese governments, it is likely to be more controversial in countries like Britain or Holland, which do not base their foreign policies purely on aggressive anti-Americanism. Research Europe's space race with US begins

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Released German Hostage: 'My Kidnappers Were Not Criminals'

Susanne Osthoff, who was held for 24 days by kidnappers before being released on December 18th has defended her abductors. "I was so happy to know I had not fallen into the hands of criminals", she told Al-Jazeera yesterday.

Frau Osthoff says her captors were seeking humanitarian aid from Germany for Iraq's Sunnis.

In Germany, nobody knows what to make of Frau Osthoff, who hasn't been in touvh with her family (including her young child) since her release. As a Muslim convert, an Arabic speaker who was married to an Iraqi, Susanne Osthoff seems to prefer Iraq to her country of birth, and this bemuses many.

Reports in the German press this morning suggest that the German government is freezing payments to charities and projects championed by Frau Osthoff - as part of a bizarre effort to get her to return to Germany. These reports seem unlikely, but show the confusion that attaches to the whole Susanne Osthoff case.
Aljazeera.Net - 'My kidnappers were not criminals'

A Questionable Assessment of Anthony Powell

Christopher Caldwell, writing in the Weekly Standard, makes some dubious assertions (amongst many good ones) about Anthony Powell's life and novels, and about the society which informed them.

Caldwell quotes with approval V.S. Pritchett's view that "the key English value" is cruelty, and that Powell expressed this in the "cruel" social system his books "remorselessly" depicted.

Caldwell, whilst disapproving of this social system, still thinks that Americans will "envy the intricacy and elaboration of a social system that can create such beautiful patterns of charm and power."

This seems precious, in a style once de rigeur amongst a certain species of Anglophile US academic - at once patronising yet forelock-tugging - and it seems to be central to Caldwell's take on Powell, on literature and society. But to hold a society as "enviable" or not in proportion to the quality of its "patterns" is to judge societies with the measuring-stick of literature (or whatever it is that elucidates those "patterns" for us) alone - a myopic venture, at best, and one to which few poets, not even Shelley's unacknowledged legislators, would subscribe.

"It is impossible," Caldwell concludes, "to write a novel of the very highest sort unless you believe that behavior is more interesting (and no more superficial) than ´what human beings are`."

In the context of literature, this is a strange and unhelpful distinction to make. Whilst the essence of what people are is clearly distinguishable from the social constructs within which they live, it is quite unnecessary for a writer to focus on one, as Caldwell suggests, at the expense of the other. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine how a novelist might accomplish such a task. Later, and most embarrassingly, Caldwell seems to think that cruel social systems somehow equate to "the poetry of life". This is egregious nonsense, and Caldwell deserves a sharp rap across the knuckles for purveying it in the course of his otherwise entertaining piece.
PREVIEW: Anthony Powell's Century

Monday, December 19, 2005

Iran Bans Western Music

Holocaust-denying, Israel-off-the-map-wiping, cartoon-villain Iranian President Ahmadinejad has unleashed his latest weapon in the war on the west: he has called for the enactment of a ban on "indecent and Western" music.

Western music was first banned by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 but it managed to return to Iran after the tyrant's death. President Ahmadinejad, however, clearly feels that music is too dangerous to be allowed to pollute his country further. - Iran bans Western music - Dec 19, 2005

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Return Of "Class War" In Britain: Prescott Weighs In

In an interview in today's Sunday Telegraph, John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister of the UK, claims that his party is "always better fighting class". Prescott attacks plans to reform schools and bring back an element of competition for places. He says that parents will want their children to go to good schools and he clearly considers this dangerous. He also mocks the new Conservative leader's background as an Old Etonian.

In lashing out in this way Prescott reminds one of another cerebrally-challenged political bruiser, Franz Müntefering of the German socialists. Müntefering attacked "capitalist locusts" for Germany's economic troubles.

Both of these men are unabashed throwbacks and both are capable of inspiring a small measure of atavistim, a yearning to return to simpler days of "class enemies" and denunciations. But is there any point to such statements, given that their constituency appears to be shrinking?

Telegraph News Class war: Prescott attacks Blair's education reforms and Cameron's 'Eton Mafia'

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Cartoonist Describes President Bush As Literally "A Chimp"

A bizarre piece by Steve Bell, the left-wing cartoonist, in which he suggests that President Bush is a chimpanzee because of his closeness to God: Guardian Unlimited Special reports 'How often does a leader of the free world come along who resembles a monkey in every particular?'

"His (Bush's) confidence in his line of communication with the Almighty is total for the very simple reason that he knows he is God, and that is his most chimp-like feature."

As a blog-of-the-world, we read reams of sorry drivel on a daily basis with no undue squeamishness. But we still wonder how something as half-witted, unfunny and nonsensical as this can get published in a national British newspaper.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Harold Pinter's Nobel Acceptance Speech Flayed

Professor Niall Ferguson lays into Harold Pinter's lazy anti-American relativism in today's Sunday Telegraph. Telegraph Opinion Do the sums, then compare US and Communist crimes from the Cold War

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Ex-Chancellor Schroeder Rewarded With Job By Putin

When ex-Chancellor Schroeder was in office, this blog often wondered what motivated his mean-minded attitudes in relation to the USA, on the war on terror, and to the "new" eastern European countries which questioned Schroeder's anti-American stance. It also mystified us that Schroeder should be so adamant that Russia was a "perfect democracy" ("lupenreine Demokratie") when evidence from Chechnya and show-trials of billionaires who'd got on the wrong side of the President suggested otherwise.

Now, two short weeks after Schroeder left the Chancellory, things are becoming clearer. He has just accepted a job from President Vladimir Putin to help run the Russian energy company Gazprom. Gazprom hugely benefited from the Schroeder-Putin friendship, which prepared the ground for it to build a vast 1200 kilometre, 5 billion euro undersea pipeline to supply Germany with gas. Controversially, the new pipeline will supersede existing pipelines, which run through the Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The Poles are especially worried that they will be cut out of the future gas supply.

When it was first rumoured that Schroeder was in line for such a job, back in October, his henchmen rubbished the rumours! "Baseless speculation" ("haltlose Spekulation"), commented the government spokesman Bela Anda. "It isn't true." "A vile rumour" ("ein übles Gerucht"), said SPD General Secretary Benneter.

Back then, the people around him could see Schroeder's acceptance of this post as scandalous - likely to tarnish not merely his personal reputation, but also the political path by which this controversial project came to fruition - a path tarnishing also those who merely tolerated it. It's a shame that they could not cut through Schroeder's greed to make him see that too. But the news helps put some of the more disgraceful actions of Schroeder's government in a much clearer light. And Schroeder's departure, true to form, has done as much to corrupt the Chancellorship as his occupancy of it.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Abu Qatada Begs "Swords Of Righteousness" To Release Christian Peace Activists

Abu Qatada, an Islamist "firebrand" awaiting deportation from Britain to Jordan, has made a video appeal beseeching the Swords of Righteousness terrorist group to release four Christian peace activists kidnapped in Iraq, "in accordance with the fundamental principle of mercy of our faith."

These video appeals are becoming more and more commonplace. Gerhard Schroeder, recently ejected Chancellor of Germany, has recorded a similar appeal on behalf of the German activist Susanne Osthoff.

The blog prays for the survival of all hostages in Iraq, but can't help wonder whether high-profile media appeals such as these - made by such questionable people - are really motivated by noble fellow-feeling, or rather by a concern to showcase the men making the appeals in a flattering spotlight.

Telegraph News Islamic firebrand pleads for release of British hostage

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Iraqi Author Fadhil Rashad Accuses George Galloway Of "Robbing The Iraqi People" And Warns Him That He Will Be Tried

"Gorgeous" George Galloway, the British Labour MP, was for years a public apologist for Saddam Hussein and his dictatorship. He has remained a high-profile opponent of Saddam's toppling and efforts to make Iraq's new democracy a success. Allegations that Galloway benefitted from the UN's corrupt "Oil for Food" programme have been widespread. So far none of them has stuck. But now Iraqi writer Fadhil Rashad has warned Galloway that he will face charges in Iraq. It would certainly be appropriate for Galloway to be tried in Iraq - rather than, say the USA or the UK itself - for his alleged misdemeanours. It would also enable him to be punished in accordance with a system of law more congenial to him than our western one.

In the UK or a European court, Galloway would probably get off scot-free, or with a rap on the knuckles at best. In the US, it is most unlikely that he would be fried or given a lethal injection. But in Iraq, the odds on Galloway being hanged or shot would be much more sporting. And Mr Rashad's charge against Galloway - of "robbing the Iraqi people" - sounds like he means business. The blog wishes Mr Rashad all the best in his quest for justice, truth and retribution.

MEMRI: Latest News

David Cameron Elected Leader Of British Conservatives

David Cameron, the new leader of the Tories, wants to recapture the centre ground for the British Conservative Party. The question is whether he can do so whilst keeping the Conservatives conservative. So far, Cameron has given few clues as to his true orientation on such divisive matters as the European Union, the euro, and taxation.

Still, his supporters are intoxicated with a sense of new possibilities. Cameron is a media-friendly performer whom everyone is greeting with relief as a plausible potential Prime Minister. Cameron makes no bones about his admiration for Tony Blair's rebranding of the old Labour Party into New Labour, and would love to emulate that reconnecting gambit with the Tories. The "Notting Hill Tories" Cameron personifies represent a younger brand of would-be "inclusive" politically-correct conservatism. This has been espoused by a new generation of Tories, one in some ways reassuringly traditional in terms of social background.

Cameron is the first Old Etonian leader of the Tories since Alec Douglas-Home over 40 years ago. As with many Etonians, Cameron's surface smoothy-chops charm overlays a seam of seemingly self-satisfied smugness. But that may be a superficial judgment.
Telegraph News The new boy v yesterday's men

Monday, December 05, 2005

Kamikaze Pilots and Suicide Bombers

Yuki Tanaka, writing in Japan Focus, makes some comparisons between the Japanese kamikaze pilots of WWII and today's suicide bombers. He believes both groups were and are motivated primarily by a desire to protect their homelands, and that religious justifications essentially do no more than provide a structure and rationalisation for deeds impelled by despair. He also says that the "state terrorism" of bombing civilians, both during WWII and currently in Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq, should deserve at least equal opprobrium. He sees "state terrorism" of this sort as morally equivalent to suicide bombing.

This strikes the blog as signally unconvincing. Today's suicide bombers are attacking democratic states, they're intent on forcing those states to act against their own interests. "State terrrorism" - a highly sententious description of the military actions of Israel and the USA in the Middle East - is aimed at protecting or extending democracy.

That both kinds of violence kill innocent people is undeniable, but the difference is that while suicide bombers deliberately target innocents, the so-called "state terrorism" of USA and Israeli governments bends over backwards to avoid them. Voters would soon turn against governments guilty of gross contempt for civilian life.

No such sanction, needless to say, applies to the sponsors of suicide bombers.
Japan Focus Article

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Europe, Austerlitz And The Holy Roman Empire

On the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Austerlitz - the victory which allowed Napoleon to destroy the Holy Roman Empire - Niall Ferguson draws some parallels between that empire and the European Union. He detects the roots of Europe's dirigisme in the Napoleonic period, and suggests that Britain escaped it because the Channel held back the Corsican adventurer's armies. Ferguson ends somewhat apocalyptically, wondering who will emerge to sweep away the EU, as Napoleon removed the old order, only to replace it with his own brand of morally-self-congratulatory despotism.

Full article in today's Sunday Telegraph: Telegraph Opinion Boney's ghost is haunting Blair (but look closely and you might see it weeping)

How European "Moral Outrage" Is A Front For Anti-Americanism: An American View

Whilst most of the moral outrage expressed by European governments and insitutions is outright hypocrisy, it is often also the expression of a burgeoning anti-Americanism, according to today's Wall Street Journal: OpinionJournal - Featured Article

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Weaker Gulf Stream May Freeze Europe

Scientists have been collecting data in the Atlantic Ocean about the Gulf stream, the current which brings northern Europe a much warmer climate than it would otherwise have. Their tentative findings suggest that the Gulf Stream may be in significant decline. They are also careful to say that it could just be a glitch in the data, however.

Report in today's Guardian:Guardian Unlimited Special reports Alarm over dramatic weakening of Gulf Stream

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

German Aid Worker Abducted In Nineveh

Terrorists kidnapped 43 year old archeologist and aid worker Susanne Osthoff last Friday in the Iraqi province of Nineveh. Yesterday morning, the Baghdad office of German TV station ARD received a video from the abductors, a still from which has been released to this morning's press.

Frau Osthoff is by all accounts a brave woman. She has put years of work into Iraq (on behalf of the Medeor charity, and previously on archeological digs), converted to Islam and married a Jordanian. She is the first German victim of Islamist kidnapping.

As this morning's Rheinische Post comments on the motivation of the kidnappers: "If they are really struggling against western civilisation, politics and dominance, an anti-war, Arab-supporting German convert to Islam ought to come last on their list of targets."

But whilst this reaction may feel right, it is way off the mark. The Islamists want to kill off the pacifist German approach to life as much as the more aggressive Anglo-Saxon version.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Social Worker Flays "Liberal" Values

Shaun Bailey, a social worker, describes how liberal pieties have destroyed communities and the prospects of kids brought up on sink estates, such as the one in North Kensington where he himself grew up. He pleads for the family, for traditional patriotic and moral values, and the reassumption of personal responsibility. His pamphlet (no Man's Land: how Britain's Inner City Youth Are Being Failed) is published today by the Centre for Policy Studies.

Such first-hand analysis, with similarly conservative conclusions, has been available for years, from the likes of Theodore Dalrymple, the prison doctor, for example. But it's refreshing to hear from a social worker, a tribe traditionally keener on the "society's to blame" angle.

Focus: My battle with liberal Britain - Sunday Times - Times Online

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Ni Putes Ni Soumises ("Neither Whores Nor Doormats")

A march today through Neuilly-sur-Marne is organised by the Ni Putes ni soumises movement (roughly translated as "Neither whores nor doormats"), in support of Chahrazad Belayni, an eighteen year old girl set alight on November 13th by her spurned, would-be husband, a Pakistani workmate, who is now on the run.

Link to Ni Putes ni Soumises site (English version): presentationanglais

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Angela Merkel's Travels (And Her Limits)

As soon as Angela Merkel was inaugurated as Chancellor of Germany, she went to Paris - as all her post-war predecessors have done. Unlike them, however, she left France, shortly after the Elyseean hand-kiss, for Belgium, to see EU Commission President Barroso, NATO boss Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and even the Belgian PM. She will be in Britain today to see Tony Blair.

Everyone assumes that Merkel is signalling that the Franco-German-Russian axis -which did so much damage under ex-Chancellor Schroeder and ex-Foreign Minister Fischer - will no longer determine German foreign policy. Merkel, apparently, was also keen to visit Poland as part of her inaugural trip, and was prevented only by Warsaw diary problems. This suggests that she is keen to get the smaller, newer, more vital European nations back on side, after their repeated rebuffs at the hands of the Franco-German-Russian axis.

She is limited in what she can do: hemmed in on all sides by her socialist SPD partners in the grand colaition. Her Foreign Minister is an SPD man called Steinmeier, who worked for Schroeder and will not countenance any major shift away from Germany's pusillanimous foreign policy. This pusaillanimity took hold under the previous government, and most German voters seem to support it, if only because nobody, except for President Bush, has been bold enough to articulate an alternative. But Bush is widely loathed here, mostly on "cretinous trigger-happy cowboy" grounds (exactly the same way Ronald Reagan was perceived during his presidencies), and noone really understands, let alone buys into, his anti-terrorism doctrine.

Under Merkel, Germany's foreign policy focus will free itself of Schroeder's shortsighted French fixation, and she will desist from the anti-American posturing which so disfigured Schroeder and Fischer's tenure. Germany assumes the EU Presidency in 2007, so these small signs of opening up to the outside world are mildly encouraging for proponents of such things as reform of the EU budget, including the ludicrous CAP system, a more Atlanticist foreign policy, and integration of the new, eastern EU countries.

But the important socialists in Merkel's government, such as the rabid anti-capitalist demagogue Müntefering, who is vice-Chancellor, will probably see to it that she can't book any notable successes on these fronts. This is a dispiriting but fair reflection of Germany's election results, which didn't give Merkel the mandate to do more.

Monday, November 07, 2005


The blog is off to Morocco for a couple of weeks, searching for sun and truth.

As French Car- and Kindergarten-Burning Continues, Berliners Stage Copycat Violence

The French unrest continues into its 12th successive day, and has just claimed its first life. Thousands of cars across France have been burned, alongside a few kindergartens and the inevitable McDonald's. The rioters are testing the strength of the rule of the law they so despise. Al-Jazeera says that a copycat action may have occurred in Berlin early this morning, with five cars torched, but the German press haven't yet picked up on that. But it seems that the French example may yet inflame the rage of lawless Muslims - and their lawless Western allies - elsewhere in Europe.

This does not appear at first sight to be Islamist violence, but of course it is: it is low-level civil unrest of the sort that has been simmering away for years and is now happening on a bigger scale than we have seen before. The French rioters are overwhelmingly (if not exclusively) Muslim. If they are not motivated directly by jihadist emotions, the idea of jihad does inform their actions, giving it a broader context than mere tedium or frustration.

The question is what effect, if any, French political incompetence, dithering and overreaction may now have.

It seems Interior Minister Nicolas "Sarko" Sarkozy is most interested in building his presidential standing by placating petit-bourgeois xenophobia. The trouble is not that he described the rioters as "scum", for scum is only an accurate term of mild disapprobation. The trouble is that the epithet is assumed to refer to all Muslims, rather than to the relatively small number of malcontents. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, meanwhile, is more interested in appearing statesmanlike by appeasing the rioters. Chirac has been sitting on his hands so far, more interested in seeing the outcome of the struggle between his would-be successors than in restoring peace to the streets of the banlieux.

And this is all wrong. Now would surely be the ideal time to get law-abiding Muslims on-side. That doesn't mean treating the scummy rioters with kid gloves, but it does mean unambiguously standing up for the rule of law. Another problem is the prissy political correctness under which the rioters are never referred to (by politicians or on the media) as Muslims - as if ignoring this reality is in any way helpful. The council of Muslim organisations has been firmer and less-mealy mouthed than most: it has issued a fatwa against the rioters and affirmed that their actions are against Islam. This is much to be welcomed.

This wave of futile violence is terrible not just for France but for all of Europe. For all over Europe we share a fatal tendency to shut our eyes to actual and potential Islamist outrages, pretending that we can wish the problems of Muslim immigration away. But they won't be wished away, not in our lifetimes.

Aljazeera.Net - Police shot, wounded in France unrest

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Beginning of the End for Blair?

Over in the UK, David Blunkett, the minister for Work and Pensions, resigned yesterday - for the second time, despite Tony Blair's urging him to stay. Blunkett felt that his latest scandal - a failure to declare his holdings in a controversial DNA company he joined whilst he was out of office - was taking too much attention away from government. Blunkett is always said to be a key Blair ally but this is his second mistake (his first was fast-tracking his nanny's immigration papers when he was Home Secretary) and given Blair's current weakness he really had to go.

Blair received a second blow when a clause in his draft anti-terrorism legislation - the so-called "glorification" clause (clamping down on public expressions of support for terrorism), was passed by only a single vote in the House of Commons yesterday. It was pointed out that Cheire Blair herself could be prosecuted under this ruling - she once said she could understand why Palestinians would become suicide bombers. The government was forced to back down on the infamous proposal that terrorist suspects should be held in custody for up to 90 days without charges being brought.

Simon Hoggart writing in today's Guardian detects signs that even Blair's own MP's are beginning to "enjoy" the process of dismembering their leader.Guardian Unlimited Politics Special Reports Simon Hoggart's sketch

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

RIP: Theo van Gogh

Today is the first anniversary of the murder of Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam.

The murderer is now in gaol with a life sentence. People say that Dutch society changed radically since the murder; this is probably exaggerated. At any rate, even a few months ago there were plenty of young Muslims in Holland who were happy to support the murder.

The blog hasn't yet seen any ideas on how to quell the support of "integrated" western Muslims for the murderous barbarism of al-Qaeda. Van Gogh's murder, like the London bombings in July, was the quintessential expression of this barbarism - and both attacks were pepetrated by seemingly well-integrated, well-educated young men, thriving in the societies they seek to destroy.

Osama Bin Laden In His Own Write

Bruce B. Lawrence writes about Osama bin Laden's public ejaculations. The one attractive feature of this fanatic's style is that bin Laden writes in an antiquated, neo-classical Arabic, and often coins rhyming verses to spread his message.

He believes killing women and children is an acceptable response to the "Judeo-Christian Crusade" which has been launched, apparently, against Islam. Bin Laden is a nihilist, who wishes to destroy societies on earth in anticipation of heavenly delights after death. He isn't interested in improving conditions for the people left alive on earth.

His rejection of the modern world, and the purist simplicity of his destructive urges, may seem romantic, and attract adolescent malcontents eager to die for a cause, to give meaning to their lives by violently denying it to others.

His use of the Koran and the writings of distinguished Muslims is subtle and polemical; his use of modern media, especially Al-Jazeera but also Islamist websites, has given his words a wider audience than would have been possible a decade ago.

It's still astounding, though, that a psychopathic mass-murdering nihilist should be taken so seriously, beyond the confines of some sick computer game.

The Chronicle: 11/4/2005: In Bin Laden's Words

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Germany's Putatative Coalition Undermined By Resurgence of Hard-Left Within Socialist Party: Chairman Müntefering Resigns

German politics, opaque enough at the best of times, is in even more of a mess than normal.

Admittedly the Chancellor-elect, Angela Merkel, has seen off the preposterous Chancellor Schroeder - who somehow persuaded himself, in the face of his election defeat, that he remained the only man to lead the country. After a few weeks of populist posturing, he finally had the grace to back off.

So under Angela Merkel's leadership, the centrist CDU/CSU duly set to cobbling together a government with the socialist SPD. The socialists, for their part, were fronted by the notorious Chairman Müntefering. "Münte" as he is known in Germany, has long been a bug-bear of this blog for his advocacy of undiluted socialist dogma - command economy, denunciations of evil international Jewish capitalists and all - to solve Germany's dire economic plight.

Yesterday, however, this mastadon of the left announced his resignation. His nominee for the post of SPD General Secretary had just been defeated by an even more hard left candidate, an ambitious woman called Andrea Nehles. The rebuke from his own party was too much and "Münte" has chucked the chairmanship, although he claims to want to continue putting the coalition together.

But his resignation obviously throws into the deepest doubt Müntefering's ability to represent the SPD in coalition negotiations, let alone serve in a putative Merkel cabinet, so the future of the coalition is now in doubt. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Merkel's centrist partner, Edmund Stoiber of the CSU, may use Müntefering's exit as an excuse to withdraw from his (putative) role as trade and technology minister in Merkel's (putative) cabinet. Ironically, this will strengthen Merkel, as Stoiber is a very uncomfortable partner, touchy about not being number 1, and given to embarrassing outbursts about the innate superiority of his native Bayern and the inferiority of the east and so on.

But the return of the leftists within the SPD is the most immediately worrying thing for Merkel. Even if the "grand coalition" survives, its policy formulation and ability to govern will be made much harder given a resurgent left.

Should it all come unstuck, the likely date for new elections is 26th March 2006, the date on which regional elections will be held in Baden-Württemberg, Rheinland-Pfalz and Sachsen-Anhalt.

Monday, October 31, 2005

"Are We Beasts?" - RIP Dresden 1945

"Are we beasts?" Churchill cried out when he first saw photographs of the devastation caused by the bombing of civilian targets in 1943.

His question is especially pertinent in light of the bombing of Dresden, late in the war, apparently at the urging of the Russians, an act from which Bomber Command subsequently sought to distance itself.

Even in those less squeamish times, the toll of 60,000 dead - mostly women and children, many of them refugees - caused widespread revulsion, even (or perhaps especially) amongst those who ordered it.

The answer to Churchill's question appears to be, "Yes, 'we' are beasts (indeed, our capacity for large-scale, indiscriminate murder puts us in another context altogether from the merely beastly) - but we probably had to be in order to win the war."

The restoration and rededication of Dresden's Frauenkirche yesterday, more than 60 years after its destruction, marks an opportunity to mourn those thousands of innocents who died in the ruins of Europe during the 1939 war.

Telegraph Opinion Necessary or not, Dresden remains a topic of anguish

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Horrors of English Humour - A.A. Gill On English Rage

"English comedy is war by other means," writes A.A. Gill in today's Sunday Times. "Most people share a joke, the English aim them."

Gill, a Scot who's spent all his life in England (and has no plans to move away), cannot reconcile himself to his Englishness. He thinks (for example) that the English ability to invent sports (and the codes which govern them), springs - as English humour and snobbery do - from an urge to suppress a very English, brutal rage.

In this suppression of rage we find the greatness of the English , Gill reckons. This may be so, for all we know. The rage in his condemnation seems a little half-hearted (maybe all too Caledonian), all the same.

I hate England - Review - Times Online

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Chirac Allies Sentenced In French Corruption Trials

The Daily Telegraph writes about the many sleazy senior political allies of President Chirac who were yesterday sentenced for corruption. The case focussed on kickbacks received by the politicians - for school building contracts.

Chirac's RPR party was the principal beneficiary, leading a defence lawyer to comment on the "empty chairs" in the courtroom, one of which, he suggested, should be filled by "the president whose name we dare not utter."

Telegraph News President's men tumble in Chirac sleaze trial

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Iraqis Approve Draft Constitution

Everyone - well, everyone who's bothered to notice it - is being very downbeat about the approval of the Iraqi constitution by Iraqi voters. But the fact that a majority of Sunnis have now bought into the idea of a federal Iraq is surely news of unalloyed excellence, removing one of the most-cited justifications of the Islamist jihad, which was that the Sunnis were being excluded from the political process.

This signal from the Sunnis, that they would prefer to participate in setting up a federal democracy, added to Saddam Hussein's upcoming trial, are two huge milestones, and anyone would've thought they deserved a little more recognition than they're getting.

Guardian Unlimited Special reports A small and fragile step forward

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

European "Transparency" Proposals Shelved

Siim Kallas' plans for greater transparency concerning European Union farm subsidies and lobbying "gifts", which were due to have been adopted by the EU Commission yesterday, were taken off the agenda at the last minute.

A spokeswoman for Jose Manuel Barroso, the Commission President, said this was due to practical considerations about how to implement the proposal, rather than to substantive objections to its spirit.

A move to transparency in the matter of subsidies has already been started in Denmark and Holland. In Denmark, where getting the information from the government proved an Herculean task, the Danes learned that the great majority of EU subsidies went to the likes of an ex-minister for food and agriculture, the current farm Commissioner, the royal family and big corporations like Danisco.

Unsurprisingly, such revelations are terrible PR for the EU's discredited CAP policy, and for its lacklustre reputation for combatting fraud. To stymie Kallas' modest proposal may keep the lid on the whole sorry business a bit longer, but sooner or later the EU's supine toleration of corruption is going to backfire on all those who benefit from it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Margot Wallström's "Plan D" for the EU Commission

Claude de Bigny, the blog's irrepressible historical correspondent, has been mixing it over at Margot Wallström's blog (Margot Wallstrom, a Swedish politician whom many suspect of wishing to leave Brussels to return to Stockholm, is the EU Communications Commissioner).

Today Margot writes about the long comment threads which are such an attractive feature of her blog, as they are written by a cross-section of people, most, if not all, confirmed Eurosceptics. Amongst them is a fair smattering of Little Englanders who continuously berate Margot for being, as they say, a moron, an evil, unelected bureaucrat with sinister power over every little aspect of their lives.. Margot today refers to a question which Claude de Bigny has been posing of late - whether her much-vaunted "Plan D" for democracy and so on, is a genuine listening exercise, or merely a "closed" PR exercise.

Some of the Eurosceptics, notably Dr Richard North, are refusing to join in the debate about the future of the EU because they say the EU is not democratic and must, therefore, "be destroyed". This stance upsets Claude as it seems to leave no other option but armed insurrection, a kind of wilful intemperacy which is not at all to de Bigny's fastidious taste.

Margot comments on Claude's question as follows:

" The exchange I found the most interesting recently is between Claude and some others. He says that perhaps some ‘eurosceptics‘ (still don‘t like that term) prefer to stay out of the mainstream and continue to sneer from the sideline in a superior way. I could say today is Wednesday and some people would say that was the fault of the EU and that I am an unelected bureaucrat.

"Claude asks if it is naïve to take me at my word about Plan D. Might Plan D cause a radically different model for the EU to emerge? I don‘t know Claude, but my intention is certainly that this listening to what citizens have to say should be real and should be a serious exercise, with a follow-up. It can not be just “bla bla”."

The challenge is now for the Eurosceptics to show that they are not Euronihilists. The challenge for Margot Wallström is to deliver a debate that is as open and radical in its terms of reference as she implies she is up for.

EUROPA - Margot Wallstr?m, Vice-President of the European Commission: my blog

The Psychological Make-up of a Suicide Bomber

In The Psychological Make-up of a Suicide Bomber: , Joan Lachkar writes:

"Suicide bombers share many of the group dynamics of gang members. They are highly traumatized children who have been abandoned, have had severe losses, have been betrayed, and have been raised by unavailable or absent caretakers (alcoholic, abusive or violent parents). They grow up with endless, relentless rage, shame, and humiliation. Their most dominant feature is the desire to retaliate, get even, find a scapegoat (the police, a school principal, a teacher, a vulnerable new kid in the block, a victim on whom to project their most vulnerable parts."

Sounds plausible, up to a point. But only up to a point, and its very plausibility betrays its weakness, trying to explain the irrational in the easily understood terminolgy of a rational bien-pensant. And it flies in the face of what has been a central learning of recent suicide bombings and attacks in the west: - that perpetrators are often seemingly well-adjusted, non-traumatised members of the societies they want to destroy.

The blog thinks it's time for a revised psychological model to explain that fact - or, perhaps better, an admission that long-established psychological preconceptions cannot adequately explain - let alone deal with - this mentality of evil nihilism.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

In Memoriam: Balthasar Oomkens von Esens

Claude de Bigny, the blog's historical correspondent, writes:

Today is the 465th anniversary of the death of Balthasar Oomkens von Esens, Lord of Harlingerland, during the siege of Esens by troops of Bremen in 1540.

Balthasar was the son of Hero Oomkens the Younger von Esens (+1522) and Irmgard (or Armgard) Countess of Oldenburg.

He was first cousin to the King of Denmark and a descendant of an old Frisian landowning family which was also involved, after the manner of the time, in maritime trade - otherwise described, by unkind critics, as "piracy" or freebooting. The arrangement was that the lord would commission seamen to carry out raids or boardings of "enemy" ships. This practice aroused the ire of the Hanseatic cities, such as Groningen, Hamburg and Bremen, which fell victim to it (although they were involved in similar piracy themselves).

On one occasion, a crew of 50 "pirates" commissioned by Balthasar fell into the hands of the Bremen city authorities, who in a disgusting act of legal murder, beheaded all of the men. Balthasar's rage was such that he in his turn - according to some historians - beheaded the Bremen hostages held by him in Harlingerland, as was his right.

The County of Harlingerland, which came to Balthasar as a mixed patri- and matrimony, comprised the lordships of Esens, Stedesdorf and Wittmund and had first been pulled together into a single lordship by Balthasar's grandfather, Sibet Attena von Esens. The strand which runs through the lives of both Balthasar and his father, Hero Oomkens the Younger, was that of protecting the ancient liberty of Harlingerland against the depredations of the Cirksena family, which attempted to subjugate the historically free Frisian lands from the late fifteenth century.

Both Hero and Balthasar conducted innumerable campaigns to uphold this ancient tradition of freedom and independence, a struggle which was ultimately successful, albeit at a high price.

There is a picturesque legend associated with Balthasar. During an earlier siege of his residence-city of Esens, a musician and his dancing bear were caught in the city. As the siege wore on, provisions ran out and the people were close to starvation. The bear, who had been put into a tower cellar under the city walls, was quite forgotten. In due course, the bear's hunger and frustration became unbearable, as it were, and he broke out of the cellar and started to climb up towards the light.

When he got to the top of the tower, the bear roared out his displeasure and in his confusion his paws dislodged some of the stones from the old city walls, casting them out towards the besieging army. When the besiegers saw this crazed bear roaring and hurling stones at them from the tower, they thought that if the people of Esens had enough food to feed the bear, they must have plenty for themselves, and could probably withstand a much longer siege. The soldiers were also none too keen on facing this manic beast in close combat, so they called off the siege and decamped.

The citizens of Esens led the bear back down the tower and fed him a meal fit for heroes, and adopted him as the symbol of their city, something he remains to this day (he is in the coat of arms of Esens, of Harlingerland (Wittmund district) and East Frisia).

Balthasar Oomkens von Esens died in a later siege. He died childless, so the inheritance passed through his sisters, Onna (or Anna) and Adelaide. Onna married Otto von Rietberg, and Adelaide married her distant cousin, a descendant of Tancko Omcken (also known as Tancko Oomkens van Ommeland), who lived in the family heartland , the Oldambt, in the Ommelanden of Groningen. Although the family no longer have a direct connection to Esens, their descendants are thriving in Holland today. Balthasar, for his part, is honoured with a yearly festival in his name, "Das Jünker Balthasar Fest".

Razzia Against Hell's Angels in Holland

The Dutch police are on a roll. Having just made a mass-arrest of Al-Qaeda-linked Hofstad group members, they have now arrested 45 Hell's Angels across Holland. This represents a quarter of the Dutch Hell's Angels membership, apparently.

The Angels are involved in the drugs trade and also stand accused of extortion and weapons smuggling. Police secured a bazooka, hand grenades and an assortment of automatic weapons during the raids.

Thousands of police have been involved in the crackdown at dozens of locations across Holland. It's a big and necessary change from previous official policy - until quite recently, Hell's Angels were a subsidised minority grouping, with state-supported clubhouses and so forth. Putting them in jail seems a much better use of taxpayers' money.

Link to Volkskrant article (in Dutch):de Volkskrant - Kwart van Angels opgepakt bij actie

Monday, October 17, 2005

Ophover Motte, Wegberg, October 2005

IMG_1323, originally uploaded by Claude de Bigny.

Claude de Bigny, the blog's historical correspondent, who periodically posts on miscellaneous subjects here, has been visiting the old Wegberger Land (part of the Carolingian Mühlgau) in the Rhineland. He has been doing ancestral research in that quarter, and has discovered some little-known but interesting archeological sites, including a selection of mottes. He writes:

"The Ophover Motte is one of three mottes in Wegberg/Beeck, all of which were constructed in the late 10th/early 11th century. Unusually, all three have survived, albeit in a state not instantly identifiable as ancient fortifications. Whilst the other two are scarcely recognisable at all, being surrounded by thick woodland, the Ophover Motte is integrated into a public park - easily accessible and, with a little imagination, recognisable as a motte.

"It is highly probable this defensive network was commissioned by Gerhard (and/or his brother Rutger) d'Antoing von Wassenberg, whom the Saint-Emperor Henry II granted extensive lands in the Niederrhein between 1020 and 1024. In return for the grant of estates and lordships, the brothers were charged with keeping the peace in this anarchic area during a time of unrest.

"These holdings were originally centred around Wassenberg, and it is highly likely they also included the nearby "Wegberger Land".

"Whilst Gerhard's descendants became the Earls (later Dukes) of Gelre (Gelderland), Rutger's succeeded to the earldom (later dukedom) of Cleve. Wegberg remained part of the Gelre estates until recent times. The forests nearby were used as the earl's hunting grounds. And the river Schwalm, which was the old border between the dukedom of Gelre and the neighboring dukedom of Jülich, runs right through the centre of Wegberg.

"In line with this descendancy, it seems likeliest that Gerhard d'Antoing van Wassenberg was responsible for the three Wegberg mottes - this one, which is close by the old Ophoven mill, the one near the Beeck manor house, and the one in the woods between them - even though this isn't directly affirmed by contemporary documentation. What is certain is that he was responsible for appointing the motte at Wassenberg as his family's seat, and the place from which he took his original earldom.

"Further mottes in the area include the famous Alde Berg near Arsbeck (possibly also built by Gerhard d'Antoing van Wassenberg, although later associated with the Helpenstein family), which is the largest in the Niederrhein; the island-motte of Tüschenbroich; and numerous others, including an overgrown, scarcely identifiable motte north-east of Wegberg and another just south of Arsbeck.

"In all honesty, a taste for mottes is hardly widespread, but this landscape is profusely studded with their remains. They are agreeably low-key places - with nothing to identify them as historic monuments, aside from the atmosphere of abandoned timelessness which infuses them."

Claude de Bigny, October 2005.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Seven Islamists Arrested in Holland In Preemptive Strike

The Dutch police have arrested seven Islamist members of the Hofstad group in Amsterdam, The Hague, Leiden and Almere in a preemptive action to prevent them assassinating unnamed politicians in the Dutch Parliament. The likely targets would be the MP's Ayaan Hirsi Ali (who wrote the script for assassinated director Theo van Gogh's Submission) and Geert Wilders, another prominent anti-Islamist politician.

At least two of the arrested would-be terrorists had been arrested before but let go due to lack of evidence. No gunshots were fired but the security forces blew up a door in The Hague.

Neighbours of one of the men in The Hague - a married Moroccan with a Surinamese wife and a child - described him as "very nice".

Assuming a major terrorist outrage has truly been prevented, the Dutch are to be congratulated. Furthermore, it seems that letting suspected Islamists go when there is insufficient evidence to try them may be a better idea than suspending habeas corpus to keep them cooped up - an identified suspect on the loose may lead the police to further suspects or, as in this case, specific plots.

Pinter's Prize

The blog is in several minds about the award of the Nobel literature prize to Harold Pinter, an obnoxious lefty actor who turned his hand to play-writing in the sixties.

On the one hand, he is a bolshy luvvie pontificator of the most objectionable kind.

Then again, there's a hint of good old-fashioned social ambition about him - shacking up with Lady Antonia Fraser, a beautiful, charming aristocrat. He is also unapologetically English, something not often seen in the purlieux of the left. Moreover, he's had considerable commercial success with his writing and appears relaxed about his wealth. All this is greatly to his credit.

The plays, of course, are the thing. They appear to be Beckettian gloom-fests, capable of raising a few laughs, but in the blog's limited experience, have neither amused nor disturbed. But thousands would disagree, amongst them, we now see, the bien-pensant, left-leaning panel of Nobel judges.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Socialist Deadbeats Nominated For Key German Government Posts

The three new socialist cabinet German minister-candidates put forward by the SPD today to serve in Angela Merkel's coalition government are truly awful news for Germany's prospects.

Worst of all is Franz Müntefering, who is lined up to be employment minister. This unreconstructed Marxist polemicist became notorious earlier this year when he seemed to blame Jewish capitalists - rather than 8 years' rule by the SPD (of which he is Chairman) - for Germany's economic woes. Chairman Müntefering described capitalists as "locusts" and drew up a list of largely Jewish companies to act as scapegoats. Despite widespread protests, Müntefering remained shameless and unrepentant.

The SPD-proposed Foreign Minister is ex-Chancellor Schroeder's long-term aide, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who can be expected to maintain Schroeder's policy of lining up with the French and Russians against the USA, to push for lifting the arms embargo against China and other such policies.

The finance minister will be Peter Steinbruck, whom voters kicked out of office as prime minister of Nordrhein-Westphalen earlier this year and who will perpetuate the policies that gave Germany's largest state's highest-ever numbers of unemployed.

If these appointments go through (and nothing suggests they won't), it looks like Angela Merkel's coalition government is set for a truly appalling start.

The Genetic Roots of Religious Belief

Robert Winston sets out some interesting thoughts on how religious belief may be a part of our genetic make-up, and how religion may have helped early human societies to suvive better than non-religious societies. He also mentions some smallscale qualitative research amongst identical twins (conducted by Thomas Bouchard) which suggests that the religious impulse is driven more by genetic make-up than by environment.

Winston refers to the difference between "extrinsic" and "intrinsic" religious practice, a distinction first mooted by Harvard psycholgist Gordon Allport in the 1950's. "Extrinsic" religion, Allport proposed, is practised primarily to further an individual's social goals; "intrinsic" religion is an ordering principle of life. Not surprisingly, the fomer is associated with higher levels of guilt and shame, whilst the more spiritual "intrinsics" appear to have lower levels of stress.

Bouchard's research with the identical twins (aside from being purely qualitative) seems to me to raise more questions than it answers. For if the religious impule is indeed genetically useful - rather than, as Richard Dawkins seems to suggest, an "evolutionary disaster area" - it is so primarily at the level of the group, rather than the individual. This would suggest it would be handed down the generations through social interaction, tradition and education, rather than through an individual's genes. Yet the identical twin study suggests that the generational handing down of the religious impulse is genetic more than environmental.

Aside from that, these ideas about religion seem commonsensical enough. Indeed, our own Claude de Bigny has written in similar terms about the prehistorical and future functions of religion, if with a characteristically de Bignyesque twist.

Link to the full article in today's Guardian: Guardian Unlimited The Guardian Robert Winston: Why do we believe in God?

Friday, October 07, 2005

Why the British Today Treat Their Lunatics Worse Than In Hogarth's Day

Theodore Dalrymple, ex-prison doctor, explains that it is due to a misapplication of the writings of people like Foucault - who suggested that lunatic asylums were an expression of the medical "will to power", and of R.D. Laing - who thought that the mad were sane and vice versa.

Such ideas became a kind of official dogma in Britain. This, combined with a wish to reduce the costs of treatment, has led to a dehumanising debacle in which doctors, nurses and prison officers regularly lie and perjure themselves, refusing to deal with the truth about the mad, who are then often treated with appalling barbarity. Dalrymple refers to the gradual "erosion of common humanity," because this evil is not willed by the mostly well-meaning people who commit it, but is the result of laziness, or ambition, or daily routine.

More on Foucault and his misunderestimated insights here.

Link to Dalrymple's article:City Journal Summer 2005 In the Asylum by Theodore Dalrymple

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The War on Terror and the Left

Sasha Abramsky, writing in Open Democracy, argues that the left, in opposing the war on terror on the grounds that it is being waged by the right, thus allows the right to dictate the terms on which the war is being fought (and debated). This is dangerous, he says: it is in the interests of all citizens of the open society that this war is pursued and won. It would therefore be more contructive, Abramsky continues, if the left could identify how they might win it better. He gives some specific examples:

- bring Russia's "loose nukes" under control
- reinforce protection of nuclear and chemical plants
- address problem of legal "black holes" for terror suspects.

Good to see a left wing voice saying these things.

Link to Abramsky's article in Open Democracy:Whose al-Qaida problem? Sasha Abramsky - openDemocracy

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Hollywood Sex and Drug Scenes Not Politically Correct Enough, Australian Researchers Conclude

A silly study by Australian researchers into Hollywood blockbusters reveals that successful films often show people having sex without specifically featuring condoms.

Nor is the harm that can come of unprotected recreational intercourse adequately portrayed.

Drugs too, it seems, are often shown being used without dramatising the baleful effects of addiction (see The Kate Moss Situation for more insight into this).

Link to Turkish Daily News article about the survey:Turkish Daily News - 'Hollywood fails to show negative consequences of sex, drug use'

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Turkey and the EU

After embarrassing, drawn-out "negotiations", the EU's foreign ministers have agreed to honour the commitments made to Turkey about accession. It is now possible that Turkey will be a full member by 2014.

The trouble is that the undertakings made by foreign ministers at EU meetings rarely have any connection with what their voters want. This was so at the time of the original undertakings and remains so now. The role of Frau Plassnik of Austria, in aiming to offer Turkey only a reduced partnership with the EU, gave voice to the concerns of the majority of European voters.

The whole subject of Turkey's accession is plagued by hoary preconceptions. Most Europeans who feel uneasy about it do so because they view Turkey as a large poor country which will have to be baled out by EU taxes. This is shortsighted: it would be true if Turkey were to join today, but by 2014, relative strengths will have changed fundamentally. Turkey has a fast growing economy. Demographically, it is a young country. The EU, by contrast, is neither; it has minimal levels of growth and is an ageing society. It desperately needs more growth and younger people.

The religious question is even more vexed: whilst Turkey is a secular society (and a fine, rare example of how that can be achieved with a Muslim population) it is overwhelmingly Muslim and in an age of Islamist terrorism this obviously worries many. The question here is whether it is really wise for the EU to become an ever-emptier Christian's club of helpless elderly people living on their pensions, trying vainly to keep out the seething masses of Muslims outside its gates. Even if that kind of exclusion were possible, it would be undesirable.

On another level, Turkey's accession to the EU will fundamentally change the political face of the EU. Using the old distinction between ever "wider" and "deeper" union, Turkey will hugely "widen" the EU, its 70 million citizens currently represent the second largest European population after Germany. This will, one assumes, render impossible the "deepening" fantasies of the older generation of Eurocrats of creating a crazed bureaucratic Moloch.

The debate about Turkey is thus also a debate about what the EU should be. The French, Germans and Austrian governments (for example) want a EU which is highly regulated, conforming to a code of EU laws and "guidelines" in every aspect of national life. The British and Dutch (for example) want a looser, less interfering union more focussed on cooperation in trade. To the first grouping, Turkey's accession presents insuperable problems. To the second, Turkey offers an opportunity to chop off some of the spare fat of the EU.

The benefits to Turkey itself aren't especially clear-cut either. On the positive side, the process of joining the EU is benefiting justice, freedom of speech, the role of women, and the elimination of torture. The EU seems to be providing a framework and some helpful impulses here. It may be that these will end up making Turkish society more pleasant for more of its citizens. Then again, if taken too far, and into less obviously meritorious areas, Turkey could end up saddled with a set of outdated regulations.

As I wrote in July, "I am delighted that the Turks are still minded to join us in our gently decaying, would-be superstate." But the devil is in the detail, and one of the details is that some countries will put Turkey's accession to the vote. If current opinion polls are to be believed, some 80% of EU citizens would not support Turkish accession. Not for the first time, the gap between the ambitions of the EU politicians and their electorates is yawning. The reason is simple: being a success on the EU stage has little or nothing to do with connecting to voters. The rejection of the draft EU constitution by voters in Holland and France (despite taxpyer-funded promotion of the document by most of the political mainstream), was a sign of this.

Normally speaking, voters don't get given the chance to speak on such weighty matters. If they did, EU politicians might show them more respect, maybe even opening up debates about the weighty matters. It would be better for all concerned if this happened with the Turkey accession debate sooner rather than later.

Telegraph News Turkey wins deal to start EU talks

Monday, October 03, 2005

Day of German Unity, 2005

A day of quiet reflection in Esens, as we remember the words which heralded the reunification of Germany, some two years after they were spoken:

""General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: - Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

"As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner: "This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality." Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.

"And I would like, before I close, to say one word. I have read, and I have been questioned since I've been here about certain demonstrations against my coming. And I would like to say just one thing, and to those who demonstrate so. I wonder if they have ever asked themselves that if they should have the kind of government they apparently seek, no one would ever be able to do what they're doing again.
Thank you and God bless you all."

Ronald Reagan, Berlin, 1987. May God bless the great man's soul.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Kate Moss Situation

Kate Moss, originally uploaded by Hero von Esens.
It seems Kate Moss is off to some drying out clinic in the States to kick the coke and booze. Good luck to her with that, even if seaminess and excess are inextricably intertwined in her image. All the companies who sacked her this week are guilty of the rankest hypocrisy and short-term thinking. I reckon Kate despises them even more now than when she first signed contracts with them.
I doubt "Clean Kate" will sell as well as "Cocaine Kate", but I suspect she's beyond such calculations now. She will have to knuckle down and suffer the infinite tedium of her fellow addicts' self-regarding, self-pitying remorse. Hard to see her in that state for long.

Compassion's Dystopia

William Easterly writes (in Foreign Policy) on how the compassion and financial generosity of citizens in rich countries rarely translates into help for the citizens of poor countries. The reasons? Overambitious goal-setting, bureaucratic overkill, and no follow-through in terms of evaluation. The solution? Not quite "Charity Begins at Home" - but aiming to do less better.

Link to Easterly's article: Foreign Policy: The Utopian Nightmare

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Saatchi Gallery Ditches South Bank to Go to Chelsea

After less than three years, the Saatchi Gallery's tenancy of County Hall on the South Bank is sadly being terminated, the result of an unworkable relationship with County Hall's owner, Makota Okamoto. Charles Saatchi said that the gallery couldn't develop "in this malevolent atmosphere."

Okamoto, who sounds like a Guardian pantomime villain, has been accused not only of kicking Gavin Turk's sculpture of a sleeping homeless person, but of denying visitors access to a disabled loo.

So Charles Saatchi is calling time on the 30 year lease, despite the 3 million pounds he invested in the difficult (ex Greater London Council HQ) but interesting spaces of County Hall. The Saatchi Gallery's new home (as of 2007) will be the Duke of York's headquarters, built in 1801, on the King's Road in Chelsea. It is another location that will require the spending of millions. Whilst Chelsea is far smarter than the South Bank, it has much less visitor volume and fewer nearby tourist-traps to swell the numbers. Saatchi is sanguine: "As long as it breaks even, I'll be happy enough."

Link to Guardian article:Guardian Unlimited Arts news Saatchi blames 'malevolent' atmosphere and says sad goodbye to the South Bank

RIP: M Scott Peck

M Scott Peck, who has died aged 69, wrote "The Road Less Travelled" a spiritual growth self-help book especially popular with members of Alcoholics Anonymous. An alcoholic with problems relating to his parents and wives, Peck always saw himself as "a prophet, not a saint."
Telegraph | News | M Scott Peck

Monday, September 26, 2005

Prince Saud: Iraq's Arabian Threat

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, warns of the disaster Iraq's disintegration would mean for the region.

Prince Saud sees the prime threat not in the wish of the Kurds for self-sufficiency, but in the divisions between the Sunnis and the Shias. He does not believe Iraq is now at civil war, but he warns that the constitution and the elections alone will not suffice to unify the country. He refers to Iran's Iraqi ambitions as a major source of unrest. He underlines mutual Saudi and US objectives in the region.

Saudi Arabia renews warning over division of Iraq

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Wild Boar Hunting

The wild boar season has opened and all across the Rhineland countryside hunters are beginning the cull.

Last night when we were asleep an unknown number of wild boar, flying from the guns, converged on our meadow unnoticed and, using their fearsome tusks, ripped open a hundred square metres or so of lawn. By the time I woke and saw the damage this morning, the boar were long gone.

Detremined to avoid a repetition of this porcine outrage, I shall await their return, armed with Hero Oomkens the Younger's fifteenth century tournament lance - the quintessential boar-spearing weapon.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Howard Jacobsen Flays Women's Reading Groups

Howard Jacobsen, the Birmingham-born comic novelist, was in Foyles to address an audience composed largely of the members of women-only book clubs.

"There are 50,000 reading groups going on, but nobody is reading," Jacobsen said. He was especially annoyed that reading groups don't tend to discuss comic novels.

"They don't want to laugh," he snarled. "They're at war with the world."

The women were motivated to join these groups out of "gender rage", he added thoughtfully.

The result of this female anger and failure to read comic novels? Book clubs are "adding to the world's stock of stupidity."

Link to Bookseller's full coverage of the Foyles - Howard's end?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

RIP: Lord Kingsale

Lord Kingsale, who has died aged 64, was the Premier Baron of Ireland, and the only man in Britain entitled to keep his hat on in the presence of the Queen.

John de Courcy, the 35th Lord Kingsale, worked mostly as an odd-job man, with spells as a plumber and a bingo-caller, and he ended his days in sheltered housing - a fate he accepted with some equanimity. He listed "self-deception" as a recreation in Who's Who, "because I consider myself important and nobody else does." Aside from the hat-wearing right, John de Courcy owned a lighthouse in Kinsale and the ruins of a castle whose walls were a foot high at their highest point. The Courcys had been downwardly mobile for centuries before John de Courcy's birth, so he represented an old family tradition. A book about the Nouveaux Pauvres brought him some celebrity, and a little extra income, in the 1990s.

Despite advertising in the Lonely Hearts pages, he never managed to find a suitable wife, and the title now passes to his New Zealand cousin, Nevinson Mark de Courcy, whose father was a municipal drains inspector.

Telegraph News Lord Kingsale

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

End of the Line for Joschka Fischer

One of the few cheering events in the aftermath of Germany's stalemated election is the resignation of Joschka Fischer.

Fischer, a street-fighting, policeman-beating pacifist, somehow became Germany's Foreign Minister. Admittedly this was in the worst-ever post-war government, a byword for incompetence and arrogance. Fischer fitted well into this government of sleazy hacks. He was by a long measure the worst German Foreign Secretary since Joachim von Ribbentrop - if far less effective, and more eager to sacrifice his "beliefs" to the greater good of political survival.

Fischer was a member of the Green party, whose principles, however - like all principles he espoused - he unceremoniously ditched when they clashed with his quest for power. The best example of this was Fischer's support of the government's shameful attempts to lift the EU's arms embargo on China. Even though this crazy policy was against the Green party's deepest principles, as it flew in the face of human rights, and even though Fischer later claimed not to agree with the policy himself, he propounded it as Foreign Minister. It was a key plank in the German administration's continued attempts to embarrass the USA and act, alongside France, as a "counterweight" to America.

Seldom has a politician so compromised himself to so little effect.

The only drawback to Fischer's timely departure is that, like other deadbeats (eg Peter Mandelson) he will be offered something to do by the EU or by the UN - two organisations where his low instincts should serve him well. The danger is that Fischer could then cause continent-wide chaos and damage with his outdated and arrogant assumptions.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

RIP: Simon Wiesenthal

Simon Wiesenthal, who has died aged 96 in Vienna, was the world's highest profile "Nazi-hunter", a term which does him too little credit, even if it encapsulates the role which brought him global fame.

Wiesenthal believed in "justice, not vengeance". He rejected notions of collective guilt, collective punishment and collective forgiveness. All crimes were to be dealt with individually, he believed - this was the best way both to deal with the traumatic aftermath of the crimes, and to help prevent a repetition.

"Nazi-hunting" was a role he stumbled into: immediately after the war (he had been in 11 concentration camps and had thrice tried to commit suicide during captivity), he helped the American War Crimes Unit with efforts to bring Nazi criminals to justice. Having given them the information he personally remembered, he saw that much was left to be done. He reckoned it might require perhaps two years' commitment, litle realising that he had found his life's work. Even so, Wiesenthal remained a victim to periodic doubts and frustrations. He gave up the effort for a while from 1954, deflated by lack of interest and support.

The capture in Argentina of Adolf Eichmann, the SS "desk murderer", by Mossad in 1960, was the result of Wiesenthal's work, and the cause of its resumption. Wiesenthal had refused to accept that Eichmann was dead - as his "widow" asserted - and had gotten eyewitness evidence, via a philatelist friend, that Eichmann was in Buenos Aires. The ensuing trial and execution of Eichmann gave Wiesenthal huge recognition and helped persuade him to take up his painstaking labours again.

Throughout his career, a lot of people looked askance at Wiesenthal's monumental commitment. Perhaps they saw a kind of psychological imbalance in it, perhaps his example shamed them. There is a story about Wiesenthal discussing this with a couple of friends not very long after the war. Wiesenthal's friends had done well for themselves, were visibly prosperous. They upbraided him for not taking enough care of his material comfort. He said that when he died, the 6 million murdered Jews would welcome him, as having kept their memory alive in the world. Then, said Wiesenthal, he would be the rich one.

Wiesenthal's focus on the individual has thrown light on the overwhelming volume of individuals that were wiped away by the Nazis, and of the difficulties of saving such remnants as we can. A single illustration: Simon Wiesenthal and his mother.

In 1944, his frail mother was taken away by the Nazis. Wiesenthal never discovered what happened to her. He did not even have a photograph of her.

"When I was taken from the ghetto to the concentration camp," Wiesenthal explained, "everything that I still possessed was taken from me. There is nothing left from my home or my family, not even a handkerchief, and I would give anything to have a picture of my mother."

May God bless Simon Wiesenthal and may we all learn from his great and monumental example.

Monday, September 19, 2005

German Election: Deadlocked Disaster

Although Chancellor Schröder's socialist-Green government has lost its electoral majority, and Angela Merkel's centrist CDU/CSU is now the largest single party (225 seats to the SDP's 222), the CDU/FDP alliance has not gained a majority mandate to govern.

This result is a terrible disaster for Merkel, the CDU and Germany. The prospects of a so-called "grand coalition" between the centrists and the socialists suggest that no effective reform package will ever be passed to deal with Germany's economic crisis.

What went wrong for the CDU? It seems that Merkel's moderately ambitious programme - to reduce bureaucracy, cut taxes and streamline employment practices - was successfully demonised by the left as a harbinger of socially-unjust capitalistic exploitation. The effect of the new, populist, hard left Linke Partei - made up of ex-communist misfits and disaffected socialists - was to make the SPD seem reasonably middle-of-the-road and solid, despite the 5 million unemployed. Merkel's decision to bring in the academic Paul Kirchof as her economics adviser was exploited by Schröder, who spoke constantly of "the professor from Heidelberg" and his evil plans to simplify the tax regime (he wanted a 25% flat rate) and treat the German people as "laboratory rabbits".

The contempt with which Merkel's ally, Edmund Stoiber (CSU leader), spoke of east Germany during the campaign also contributed to low levels of support for the centrists there, and added to the impression that there was something slightly provincial about Merkel's team. In the end, the headline CDU message, which should have been "Time for a Change", was blotted out, both by the confusion caused by Kirchof's demonised tax plans and by the agitation for change coming from the hard left. The scare-stories about the CDU's tax plans inhibited the support of the 20% "undecideds" from flowing to Merkel, the agitprop of the lefties drained away much of the protest vote.

The pollsters got it all wrong, too: all had indicated a slim overall majority for the CDU. Merkel must now attempt to forge a new coalition, possibly seeking an alliance between the CDU/CSU, the FDP and the dreaded Greens - a formation known as the "Jamaica Coalition" because the three parties' colours - green and black and yellow - are those of Jamaica's flag. From deadlock to dreadlocks, in other words.

At any rate, there's no winners at all for the moment, even if both Schröder and Merkel yesterday, bizarrely, claimed "victory".

Thursday, September 15, 2005

United Nations Can't Define "Terrorism"

The United Nations session in New York was unable to agree what "terrorism" means. At issue is the status especially of Palestinian terrorists - whom some Middle Eastern countries still cast in the role of "freedom fighters". The daily murders of children and other non-combatants thus become mere statistics-of-war in the Palestinian struggle.

The UN has a role to play as a forum of nations, but if it cannot come to terms about a primary item like terrorism, one is allowed to wonder what that role could be. One suspects the UN itself to be quite incapable of defining its own role so as to satisfy everyone.

When one looks at the UN website one isn't surprised to see much worthiness and fudgy handwringing. This, for example from the UN's environmental committee, UNEP:

"UNEP inspires, informs and enables Nations and Peoples, Children, Youth and Business to improve the quality of life without compromising that of future generations."

But people who formulate a statement of that sort are ill-suited to the task of producing an agreeable definition of "terrorism". In attempting to combine worthy handwringing with realpolitik, the UN can succeed at neither role.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Rice Flays Critics Who Detect Racism in US Hurricane Response

America has come in for a lot of criticism in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Whilst a few foolish Greens, like Jürgen Trittin, Germany's environment minister, blame President Bush for the hurricane itself, most people have focussed on the lacklustre response to the disaster. President Bush has now stated he will accept any responsibility for this "to the extent that the federal government didn't do its job right", whilst an enquiry will soon show precisely who failed when and where.

The Economist and the Spectator ran covers last week ("The shame of America"/"What's wrong with America?") which cast the disaster as a morality tale about the state of the USA. This approach was echoed by most magazines and newspapers across Europe. The hurricane has become like a deus ex machina, exposing the shaky moral base on which America is built.

The trouble with making Hurricane Katrina a morality tale about America is that the fallguy of the story is tiresomely predictable: Bush. Bush, it is claimed, slashed levee-building budgets, ignored storm warnings, refused to evacuate poor blacks out of New Orleans, dragged his heels in rescuing them, etc.

Needless to say, the specific accusations against Bush (and America's moral base, for that matter) are quite unsubstantiated. But as often in these matters, the Big Picture is built up of pixels of ingrained prejudice, rather than of direct observation.

An interview with Condoleezza Rice in today's New York Times puts us right on one widely-held assumption - that American racism against blacks has something to do with the response to the disaster. She pours scorn on the idea that Bush is himself racist. Regarding America as a whole, she is careful not to minimise real problems about race and poverty, but she does say:

"... I also hope that around the world it's noted that (...) the United States is about 100 percent ahead of any place else in the world in issues of race. And I say that absolutely fundamentally. You go to any other meeting around the world and show me the kind of diversity that you see in America's cabinet, in America's Foreign Service, in America's business community, in America's journalistic community. Show me that kind of diversity any place else in the world, and I'm prepared to be lectured about race."

She also remembers that her first impression of Bush was when he spoke of "the soft bigotry of low expectations" whilst Governor of Texas, as this had been a negative force in her own life, and continues to be one in the lives of many.

Anyway, with so much to be ashamed of, according to its European critics, America can at least be proud of its Secretary of State.

Link to full transcript of the Rice interview:Interview With The New York Times Publisher's Group

Monday, September 12, 2005

President Talabani Says Iraq Is United

Iraq's President Talabani says that current troubles in Iraq are a sign of a functioning democratic society. Whilst recognising that the proposed Iraqi constitution has drawn criticism, especially from the Sunni's, he says that the people will decide (in the referendum on October 15th) whether or not to pursue a federal route.

"If they don't want federation, OK," Talabani said. "If they didn't want it, put it aside."

The trouble, of course, is what happens if it is "put aside." The break-up of Iraq may benefit the semi-autonmous Kurds and the oil-rich Shiites, but would cause consternation among the Sunni's and their Iranian sponsors.

President Talabani, himself a Kurd, distanced himself from the Turkish Kurdish opposition group PKK. He also said that although Iraq is building up its security forces, and that American troops could be downscaled over the year, US troops are needed in Iraq, not only for internal security but also "to frighten our neighbours not to interfere in our internal affairs."
Iraq's president sees Iraqi society united

Masons and Jews Planned Iraq War, Says Blair's Adviser

Ahmed Thomson, who advises Tony Blair on Isamic questions, is a holocaust-denying Muslim convert and member of the Association of Muslim Lawyers. He believes that the invasion of Iraq was all part of a Zionist and Freemason-led "plan" which is "shaping events".

When Number 10 spokespeople were asked to explain why they seek advice from such creatures, they said they often spoke to people they don't agree with. Quite so. It's all about balance, knowing where the other chap's coming from and so forth, innit?

Link to today's Daily Telegraph article:Telegraph News Jews and Freemasons controlled war on Iraq, says No 10 adviser

Friday, September 09, 2005

Against Populism

John Lukacs' new book, Democracy and Populism: Fear and Hatred, is reviewed on the Wilson Centre site. It is a polemic directed at "conservative" emanations of populism. Thus, Lukacs castigates the current President Bush's motives for invading Iraq as seeking popularity - a charge subsequent developments make distinctly risible.

Lukacs defines populism as the glorification of "ordinary people" at the expense of the undemocratic elite, cut off from mundane concerns. Lukacs' analysis benefits from his knowledge of Nazi-era Germany, and he links the aggressive nationalism Hitler's National Socialism to regimes which perpetuated a similar approach, such as Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Juan Péron's Argentina.

His anti-populist stance is certainly redolent of a certain stripe of patrician old-school conservatism, with its disdain for the proletarian. And aspects of President Bush's policies, notably the Iraq invasion, don't exactly enthuse traditional conservatives. But one does wonder whether populism is altogether as reprehensible as Lukacs appears to suggest. Surely any democratic political movement needs to be plugged into the demos, and surely this isn't possible without a concomitant commitment to the culture of that demos, and the use of its demotic, too?

Link to Michael Kazin's Wilson Center review:

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

De Bigny's Hypothesis: Concerning the Paucity of the Female Orgasm's Regular Occurrence (POFORO)

"The Case of the Female Orgasm", by Elisabeth A. Lloyd, is savaged in this review by David Barash of the University of Washington.

Barash points out, en passant, that human design flaws - such as narrow birth canal, male nipples and (arguably) the infrequency of the female orgasm - are all evidence unfavourable to the notion of a benign intelligent designer.

Looked at another way, of course, the existence of the female orgasm per se (and all of this is, of course, highly controversial in the sense of the female orgasm being adaptive or not), could be seen as clinching evidence that an intelligent designer does exist.

Coming Closer to God

The indefatigable Claude de Bigny, the blog's historical correspondent, has been brooding about this matter for a while now (see links below), and is proposing the De Bigny Hypothesis: Concerning the Paucity of the Female Orgasm's Regular Occurrence (POFORO). De Bigny postulates that the female orgasm's unreliability, far from being a result of incompetent males or the physical cycles and mental moodswings of females, is actually the work of a benign Intelligent Designer.

"He did it to help perpetuate the species by means of a non-rational, physical yet quasi-godly impulse - sexual love," de Bigny declares. "It is an impulse which, in part, impels and influences the species to believe in a force beyond rationality alone. Thus, paradoxically, by means of an unthinking physicality it introduces a possibility for the species to transcend this mundane earthly plot. The orgasm's periodic unattainability is the crux: it makes its achievement seem a truly transcendental moment of connection. It is all about coming closer to God."

De Bigny frowns, as if in disapproval of his own, appalling pun.

"To be clear about this," he continues, warming to his theme, "the pleasure experienced by females is essential to the benign Intelligent Designer 's plan. It is essential to realise that we are not talking about the mere procreative urge here!"

The emphasis on female pleasure, de Bigny explains, and on the infrequency of its attainment, makes the De Bigny Hypothesis: Concerning the Paucity of the Female Orgasm's Regular Occurrence (POFORO) a logical, ID-specific, falsifiable theory, and a departure from the procreation- and mate-selection- type concepts favoured - as de Bigny expostulates, "by that old dog Dawkins and his pals."

When someone protests that there are other "design faults" for which such an explanation wouldn't work, de Bigny is only momentarily stumped.

"The appendix is a bit of a bugger as far as the benign Intelligent Designer goes", he concedes. "It doesn't falsify POFORO, but it does make one wonder. Whatever can he have been thinking of?"

But de Bigny is not to be put out of his stride.

"For a benign Intelligent Designer to be feasible," he reasons, "we need to posit an Unintelligent Designer working by his side - a Dumb Designer, mislaying the instruments, clumsily putting his thumb into delicate plasmic hominid designs, stubbing out his cigarillo into the prototype creature's eye, and so forth. Who can say? It's a mere detail."

Fighting words from young Claude de Bigny. It's now up to the scientists to take up the gauntlet and evaluate the De Bigny Hypothesis: Concerning the Paucity of the Female Orgasm`s Regular Occurrence (POFORO).

Read: The Cunning Contentlessness of Intelligent Design here.

Read Claude de Bigny's take on Intelligent Design here.

Link to David Barash's review in "Evolutionary Psychology":Let a Thousand Orgasms Bloom! by David P. Barash

Poll Shows Vast Majority of Europeans Support US's "Democracy Promotion"

A poll conducted for the German Marshall Fund shows that the vast majority of Europeans support the idea of spreading democracy. 74% support "democracy promotion", as opposed to only 51% in the US.

Europeans do not support the use of force to spread democracy, however. 72% of Europeans disapprove of President Bush's foreign policy, mainly because of the Iraq invasion. And 59% disapprove of US leadership in world affairs. This figure is unchanged from 2004.

It's the same old story: Europeans are much keener than Americans on the abstract notion of achieving democracy, but they are much less prepared than Americans to accept a policy that uses force to do so, especially when such a policy is led and driven by Americans.

Press Release in full

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

RIP: Sam Naswaali

Sam Naswaali was the Ugandan director of the "Send a Cow" charity, which sent cows to farmers in needy villages in Africa. Launched in 1999, the charity's annual turnover grew from 250,000 pounds to 4.6 million pounds within six years, and it now operates in 7 African countries.

Sam Naswaali was killed at his home in Kampala by intruders. He was 52.

Link to the Telegraph's obit:Telegraph News Sam Naswaali

Monday, September 05, 2005

Fake Sheikh and Princess Michael ("Princess Pushy") of Kent

Mazher Mahmoud, the News of the World reporter who has already fooled Sophie Wessex with this scam, posed as a sheikh interested in buying Prince and Princess Michael of Kent's agreeable Gloucestershire home, Nether Lypiatt.

If he hoped Princess Michael would say something mildly embarrassing, he got what he wanted. But, aside from referring to the late Princess Diana's alleged role, in Prince Charles' eyes, as a mere "womb" to bear royal heirs - a common enough aspersion, if distasteful and untrue - she came out of it perfectly well. The elegant Princess - daughter of Gunther von Reibnitz (who was dismissed from the SS in 1944 for his devout Catholicism), and mother of two charming children, Freddie and Gabriella Windsor - came out with the kind of stuff any of us might to pass the time of day with a fake sheikh, and the story Mahmoud has cobbled together reflects this. It isn't journalism, exactly, but it seems to keep the News of the World happy.

As it happens, Princess Michael is a distant cousin of the blog's, descending from Hero Oomkens "the Younger" (+1522) and his wife Armgard (née von Oldenburg) through their daughter, Onna Oomkens von Esens, who married Otto III von Cuyk-Rietberg. But such a descendancy is probably shared with dozens of people, and is certainly not the reason for the blog's warm feelings towards her. In fact, her persecution is yet another example of how powerful newspapers attack those who are in no position properly to fight back.

The News of the World is owned by rabid anti-royalist Rupert Murdoch, who pursues his vendettas tenaciously. But for all the spin the paper puts on the story, it reflects much more badly on the paper's own scummy sensationalism, and Murdoch's sour disrespect, than it does on Princess Michael.

Full story in:News Of the World - Online Edition

German Election Debate and the Prospects for Recovery

Angela Merkel, the CDU's centrist candidate, yesterday debated with Chancellor Schöder, leader of the tired, seven-year-in-office socialist administration. By German standards it was a reasonably lively affair. The expectation was that Schröder, the "media Chancellor" would "win" through being more relaxed and plausible, but Frau Merkel held her own.

As it happens, economic prospects are beginning to look brighter in Germany. It is now the biggest exporter in the world. Some labour costs are going down: in manufacturing, for example, unit labour costs have fallen by 4.4% over the last year. Nor is the share of GDP taken by the state as catastrophically high as in, say, France (Germany: 46%; UK: 45%; France: 56%). the problems in Germany are inflexible labour policies, Byzantine tax rules and excess bureaucracy.

Encouragingly, Angela Merkel has brought in Professor Paul Kirchof as her candidate for finance minister. He is a "flat rate" tax guru, an idea which has been successfully implemented in eastern Europe and is increasingly seen as a good move in the west. Kirchof also wants to take the axe to 90,000 arcane tax rules and exemptions which impede German business and add to bureaucratic overload.

Nevertheless, the debate never really caught fire. Merkel did not savage Schröder for his economic mismanagement - even if the 5 million unemployed and the record level of debt couldn't be avoided altogether. Nor did she rebuke the Chancellor for allowing his Green party colleague Trittin (German environment minister) to blame President Bush for the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, yet another sign of the German administration's loathing of Bush. Nor did she question the widom of the socialist party chairman, Chairman Müntefering, in attacking capitalists for their "locust-like" depredations on the German economy.

Instead, Merkel seemed concerned to appear calm and collected, a serious figure with rational solutions to the country's problems. She succeeded in this. Schröder, meanwhile, was grateful to be allowed to exude statesmanlike gravitas, dissociating himself from his government's many embarrassments. He was even given the chance to pose as the loving husband, justifiyng his wife Doris' impertinent remarks - that Angela Merkel's biography was not that of a typical German woman (Merkel is on her second marriage and remains childless). Chancellor Schröder - who has banned speculation about the uncannily black glossiness of his ageing hair - told the watching millions how dearly he loved Doris, his fourth wife.

A dull debate, therefore. But these politicians have a shrewd measure of what will appeal to the German voters, and have probably given it their best shot. The polls still show a narrow overall majority for a putative CDU/CSU/FDP coalition. Grounds for cautious optimism for the centrists, goodish news for Germany.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Instant Judgment on New Orleans Hurricane: "Genocide" and "Holocaust" on Halliburton's Behalf

The rush to instant judgment was underway even before the true extent of what had happened was known. We dealt with Jürgen Trittin's conspicuously inane contribution last Thursday, when the Green German environment minister blamed Bush for Hurricane Katrina. And the spectacle of party hacks seeking to make capital from a human tragedy continues unabashed:

The blacks abandoned to the flooded horror of what was New Orleans are being raped, beaten, shot dead, and left to die of thirst and disease. It is nothing less than a holocaust, although it is not inaccurate to describe it as "genocide."

The writer goes on to speculate that Halliburton may get a contract to help rebuild New Orleans. Go figure, eh?

So, the hurricane's aftermath, far from being an unprecedented natural disaster, was in fact a carefully thought-out plan to kill and dispossess poor black people. They lived in the lowest-lain parts of the city, which were developed only because of the Federal Flood Insurance scheme. They couldn't escape because they didn't have cars. Their land is needed for shopping malls. QED.

The dispiriting thing about this kind of twaddle is not merely that it shows a lack of taste, pontificating whilst the dead float through the streets of New Orleans. It is a tired and predictable narrative. It betrays an unwillingness to learn from what's really happened. The guilt of the Federal government, big business and the Republicans is blithely and unthinkingly assumed. This kind of approach can never lead to new insights or accurate conclusions, but will merely entrench existing prejudice.

Link to the Choire Sicha blog.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Michel Foucault's Misunderestimated Islamist Insights

The Nation features an article on Michel Foucault, "the gentle apostle of radiant uncertainty."

Michel Foucault, as a talismanic French intellectual superstar, is often misunderestimated by people who suspect he may have been an obscurantist, overpartial to left-wing dogma. But this is emphatically wrong: the reverse is true.

Foucault was driven by a deep scepticism about self-congratulatory Western "narratives" of modernity and progress. He saw obscurity as "a kind of despotism," even whilst admitting that his own writing sometimes suffered from effects of cafouillage (obscuram per obscurius, or making something more confused by one's explanation).

In his sole venture into journalism, Foucault went to Iran before the revolution there in 1979, and he gained some notable insights, most of which were misunderestimated, in their turn, by Foucault's leftist opponents back in Paris.

Foucault saw that the revolution was not so much against the ideas of "progress" - which many Western observers saw as represented by the Shah - but more against the corruption to which the Shah's regime had succumbed.

Additionally, Foucault was powerfully struck by Islam's "political spirituality" and saw that this could not be reduced to a retrogressive step back into anti-rationalist religiosity.

Both of these insights went counter to the approved leftist take on the Iranian revolution, and both are doubly relevant to an understanding of politicised Islam - and its declension into Islamism - today.

The Treason of the Clerics