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

Thursday, September 01, 2005

New Orleans

>, originally uploaded by kable.

Jürgen Trittin Blames Bush Again: Bad Science, Bad Morals, Bad Blood, Bad Electioneering

Jürgen Trittin, an ex-communist, is, incredibly, a minister in Chancellor Schroeder's leftist government, agitating on behalf of the environment. His appalling article this week in the Frankfurter Rundschau has received a lot of publicity. Trittin blames President Bush for Hurricane Katrina.

This is a most strange intervention on the part of one country's environment minister, reacting to the awful climatic misfortunes in another. But with an election looming on September 18th, Trittin clings to the talismanic faith this doomed German government places in anti-Americanism and its purportedly foolproof potency at winning votes.

Trittin, of course, is catastrophically wrong on all possible counts. His remarks are bad science: even if "man" (read: USA, in Trittin's view) has a significant effect on global warming, global warming has absolutely no connection with the formation of hurricanes. None. And even Trittin's beloved, handwringing, inutile Kyoto agreement, to which America doesn't subscribe, would, if implemented, have no effect on global warming for the foreseeable future.

Morally, the blog finds queasily repugnant Tritttin's crowing on the sidelines as thousands die, are injured and made homeless. Trittin should be soundly rebuked: it is simply no business of a minister - silly nitwit or not - to display Schadenfreude at such a time.

Trittin's regrettable handwringing is merely the latest installment of agitprop from a government which has never made the slightest effort to mask its deep-seated anti-Americanism - from Fischer's "we are not convinced" petulance, to the ex-Justice Minister's comparison of Bush to Hitler.

Trittin, a Green, is completely out of his depth as environment minister, hardly the most tasking of jobs. But he's not the only dud in the Bundestag - this has been the worst ever post-War German government, led by the weakest ever post-War Chancellor, and when they are all consigned to the dustbin of history on September 18th, it will be good riddance to bad rubbish in almost every conceivable way.

Frankfurter Rundschau online