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