Saturday, December 24, 2005
Thursday, December 22, 2005
May the coming months bring more awareness of the wonders of existence, from creatures like this spotted cuscus to the mind blowing potential of quantum computation in a universe that may be just one among 10500.
This blog will pretty much shut down until mid January (see travel plans here).
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
...In the coming months, diplomats will debate and international organisations will issue their periodic rebukes and contemplate their sanctions. And, all along, Iran will inexorably edge closer to the nuclear threshold"
- Ray Takeyh: Diplomacy will not end Iran’s nuclear programme.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Betrand Russell quoted by Gavin Schmidt in How to be a real sceptic, a useful piece that's been needed for a while.
Monday, December 19, 2005
Joh Uys of Bellville, South Africa quoted in Does Anything Eat Wasps? (page 23)
Only about 85,000 out of South Africa's approximately five million HIV positive people can get the ARVs, which cost about £15 per person (not cheap, but affordable for a middle income country like RSA, even if you don't take into account the enormous benefits to the economy of bringing very large numbers of adults of working age back into the economically active population).
(another demonstration, as if it were needed that John le Carre and his film making successors, for all theirstory-telling skills, chose the wrong moment with The Constant Gardener. Big pharma is no longer the big villain, in this case at least) .
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Friday, December 16, 2005
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Louis Menand: Everybody's an Expert , a review of Tetlock's Expert Political Judgement: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? (New Yorker, 5 Dec), which should be read in full.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Ken Silverstein of the Los Angeles Times quoted by Michael Massing in The Press: The Enemy Within.
(see also The False Objectivity of Balance, which I was glad to quote in public discussion at IMES)
Monday, December 12, 2005
Kanan Makiya, 11 Dec
Sunday, December 11, 2005
The press release issued today Oxford Research Group's report of this title contains a call, among other things, for “build[ing] legitimacy in the Iraqi political process” post election by:
Reach[ing] agreement among the communities on key constitutional provisions, in particular on the equitable distribution of future oil reserves, and establish a genuinely inclusive political process enabling a negotiated end to the nationalist insurgency.
But if the analysis in Crude Designs from Platform et al is correct then something that will appear to Iraqi eyes to be the equitable allocation of future oil revenues may prove especially hard. According to this study, at least 64% of the country's oil reserves have already been allocated for development by multinational (US and British) oil companies.
Without question, ethical monotheism. The idea of one true god. The idea that our life and ethical conduct on earth determines how we will go in the next world. This has been responsible for most of the wars and bigotry in history.
But religion has also been responsible for investing countless lives with meaning and inner richness.
I lead a perfectly healthy, satisfactory life without being religious. And I think more people should try it.
(from What's the big idea?, an interview with Peter Watson)
Friday, December 09, 2005
Isabel Hilton’s interview for openDemocracy with Daniel Ellsberg who leaked the Pentagon papers (published 7 Dec) contains much that is interesting. I guess few people will listen to it as it takes the best part of an hour to do so. Further, the blurb on the web site undersells the content of the interview, and is carelessly written (for example, in the second quote the words “to be killed” are omitted after “any number of Americans”). A well cut and restructured transcript might attract more of the attention this exchange deserves. Here are quick comments:
- Six hundred million dead in
Russia, Chinaand Eastern Europeas a result of nuclear attack in the early 1960s would have been quite a party. Ellsberg does not mention the likely level of casualties in the US, although his reference to the Russian determination to totally anihilate in the event of war is notable. His comments make a useful complement to McNamara’s ninety million or so American deaths – a price which (according to McNamara) Fidel Castro would have been glad to inflict along with the eradication of his own country in 1961 just to make a point. Germany
- The proposition that the
USdoes not plan to get out of until the oil runs out – forty or years or more – may be about right. James Fallows was prescient to describe it as The Fifty-first State. But can it "work"? If Hersh is right, then plans to maintain control by Iraq air power in support of a friendly Iraqi government’s ground forces could run into severe problems. US
- Philip Giraldi’s assertion in The American Conservative that Dick Cheney has ordered plans for a full scale air attack on Iran to be ready by June [05, presumably] would seem to accord with what I heard in Washington on 4 Nov 04 (see my 12 Nov 04 post War Gaming Iran in Grains of Sand Nov 04 archive). Among the notable things Ellsberg says here: “There probably is not one general or full colonel in the Pentagon who wants war with Iran. They are appalled but they are doing the plan, which is always the case”.
- Ellsberg’s two key recommendations for averting an attack on
Iran, which he considers extremely likely (if by the only to avert the Israelis doing it first), should be more widely circulated and discussed. The first is that just a small handful of insiders need to leak key papers now in acts of Zivilcourage. The second is for European countries to put their airspace and air bases off limits for US forces preparing for and executing the attack. This doesn’t look likely at present. But if it is to happen then civil society groups in US Europeneed to start organising now, not a few months hence when it is likely to be too late.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Ramadan said true respect meant being ready to pay attention to the full complexity of "the other" - and specifically the complexity of different Muslim interpretations and experiences as they are now playing out in Europe. This needed to be acknowledged by all of us alongside other European experiences, be they Christian, Jewish or indeed Buddhist.
He said there was a danger of a rising idiology of fear. He warned against the dangers of a victim mentality. He called for more education across European societies of the different memories and traditions of more recently established communities. And he stressed the importance of a critical mind.
He said much more that was all well and good, and - given the perilous times we live in - worth repeating however platitudinous much of it may seem. (For something a little more challenging, see John Vinocur on The US model for Europe: Immigrant work ethic, NYT 5 Dec.)
But in my view Ramadan said at least one thing that was not all well and good. For Ramadan "Islam is not a culture"; it is a fundamental which is mediated through various cultural forms.
I put it to him that for people who define themselves as secular, Islam - like other religions - is, precisely, a product of historical contigency and culture. Where, I asked, would he put in his mental model the experience of those from a Muslim background who self-define as secular - as do, for example, some Brits of Pakistani ancestry that I know?
Ramadan's answer bore no relation to my question. (He talked of the importance of distinguishing cultural practices in some Muslim communities that are against women's rights from the true Islam).
My interim hunch is that Ramadan avoided the question because even to acknowledge it opens a crack in the foundation of his world view. He calls for universal recognition of the complexity of the experience of the other but - from the evidence of this encounter at least - dodges the most important developments in Europe over the last five hundred years or so from Copernicus through Voltaire, Kant and beyond: the move beyond reliance on revelation from spirits, gods and magical thinking to the exercise of reason (notwithstanding the catastrophes that result when reason is abused).
I'd be glad of further discussion.
And I wish Tariq Ramadan well and am open to honest and respectful encounters.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
In Batang Ai national park I was one of the guests of WWF Malaysia and Sarawak Forestry. The chief technical officer for WWF's Borneo Programme alerted us to news that appears here on the sighting of what may be a new species of mammal. The timing is fortuitous for WWF's campaign for a huge transboundary "Heart of Borneo" reserve.
The day before yesterday I was hiking high on a precipitous ridge in the forest not too far from where the discovery was made. A Mexican colleague and I were with biologists and local assistants surveying wild orang utans. We didn't see any of our primate brethren, but did count seventeen of their "nests" high in the canopy.
The local Iban people do not kill orang utans because they believe them to be descendents of their ancestors. This is, of course, literally true in a scientific sense.
We did see a tiny, very fast-moving squirrel that resembles our much more remote ancestors. Later when traveling upriver we saw two large eagle owls, and beautiful frogs in the rushing cascade of fast water over smooth ancient stone.