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Jay Currie

One Damn Thing After Another

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Hubble Trouble

NASA announced that it will cease maintaining and expanding the Hubble telescope. While I think this is sad if it gets us closer to a telescope on the darkside of the moon - likely the best near earth place for auction, then fine. However,
NASA is not completely off the hook as far as the Hubble is concerned. The agency is committed to bringing it back to Earth safely after its useful life ends. Until the Columbia accident, NASA had planned to retrieve the telescope with a shuttle and put it in the Smithsonian. Now the plan is to build a robotic rocket that would go up, attach itself to the telescope and fire its engine to brake Hubble out of orbit and drop it in the ocean.

Paradoxically, Dr. Spergel said, the cost of developing such a rocket, estimated at $300 million or more, would come out of the NASA astronomy budget. It is, he said, another double whammy.
This seems like a very bad idea. One of the principal costs in building anything in space is getting the mass into earth orbit. Various people come up with various numbers, but it seems a minimum number is $10,000 a pound. Hubble weighs 24,255 lbs. and so, arguably, its scrap value is a quarter of a billion dollars. The idea of building a 300 million dollar rocket to crash a 300 million dollar piece of high technology for no good reason could only be hatched by the geniuses at NASA.

Here's an idea. Put the Hubble up for auction in situ. The only requirement for the winning bidder would be to take insurance against a catastrophic return to Earth. One man's space junk is another's treasure trove.

Show of Weakness

Thousands of mostly Muslim demonstrators protested across France Saturday against a proposed law banning students from wearing headscarves and other religious symbols in schools.
Thousands of men and veiled women marched and chanted against the proposed scarf ban, during a chilly and overcast afternoon in Paris. They carried slogans saying "the veil is my choice," and "stop apartheid." Police say 3,000 to 5,000 people turned out for the demonstration, far fewer than the 20,000 people the organizers had hoped for.
voa news
Even though I think the French anti headscarf law is silly, I am encouraged to see the minimal turnout for the pro headscarf demos. 3000 people - there are 6 million Muslims in France. Could it be that the vast majority of the French Muslims are supportive or indifferent to the right to wear the political symbol of the head scarf?

Update: And here is a reason why more mainstream Muslims were not out:
Mainstream Muslim groups refused to participate in the event because it was organized by a small radical group, the Muslim Party of France, which is linked to the Lebanese group Hezbollah that appears on Canada's list of terror organizations.
globe and mail
Yes, the headscarf is political.

An anchor to a drowning man

All the options in Iraq come with considerable risks. But it seems to us the greatest of these would attach to a decision by the United States to press ahead in choosing a government over the opposition of the Shiite clergy. An Iraqi administration led by followers of Mr. Sistani might prove less amenable to cooperation with Washington, and might alienate the Iraqi Sunni and Kurdish populations. The United States must continue to insist that any government that takes power commit itself to democracy and respect for religious and ethnic minorities and human rights. But a democratically chosen government would at least have a genuine popular mandate and thus a better chance of stabilizing the country. If a democratic choice by Iraqis would produce leaders closer to Mr. Sistani than to the Iraqi Governing Council, then the Bush administration would do better to let such leaders emerge now and to begin looking for ways to work with them.
washington post
Paul Brenner and the Head of the Iraqi Governing Council are off to the UN to ask the dynamic Kofi Annan for assistance in the transition to Iraqi sovereignty. The essential problem the American administration in Iraq and the American Administration face is that the Shi'ites, lead by Mr. Sistani, can count. There are more Shi'ite in Iraq than there are Kurds or Sunnis. If you are a Shi'ite leader you want one man one vote national elections immediately if not sooner.

As a great defender of America I am always puzzled at the sheer ineptness with which it has handled the post War politics of Iraq. The vacillation between conquering nation and caring, sharing national social worker is impossible to fathom. American policy seems to have been driven by a deep seated belief that the 1917 artifact that is known as Iraq had to be kept whole, democratized and made to respect human rights. In so far as that belief is sincerely held it has hobbled American policy and almost certainly doomed Iraq to years of constitutional and political fragility.

A more realistic approach would be to recognize that, just like in Yugoslavia, Saddam's ruthless leadership role was to suppress the Shi'ite majority and the Kurdish and Marsh Arab minorities in the name of Sunni ascendency. Take Saddam down and you let lose the ethnic and religious demons he had so nastily repressed. This could not possibly have been news to the Americans. So why the rush to ersatz politics? No intelligent Shi'ite will every be satisfied with a united Iraq with a constitution and sovereignty created by unelected regional caucuses.

The Americans rush toward restoring Iraqi sovereignty simply failed to consider the possiblity of robust, but fragmentary direct democratic elections. It failed to consider the idea that it might be a good idea to look very seriously at a federal system and to divide the Shi'ite majority between two or more strong provinces. It failed to consider that thirty five years of the neo-Stalinist Baath Party's rule might not have equipped the Iraqis with a great deal of faith in elections, civil society or the law. And, tragically, it failed to offer the Iraqis the chance to elect dog catchers, aldermen, school boards, provincial officials and all of the other minor posts which are the sinews of a modern democratic state.

Much of the possible success of the Iraqi venture hangs on the capacity of the Iraqis to accept and internalize democratic ideas. On the one hand dropping them in the popular election deep end is a highly risky operation, on the other, you cannot learn to swim if you never go near the water.

Dean Imploding

"He just came in and went, `I'm sick of getting beaten up on. I'm going to go out and let it rip and not worry about it anymore,' " recalled Dean's campaign manager, Joe Trippi, as the former Vermont governor's bus tour rolled across southern Iowa.

A couple hours later, Dean stood in a spotless banquet room at Central College in Pella and made good on his vow. His campaign, he told a crowd of supporters, was "a struggle between us and the Washington politicians and the established press."
boston globe
That was last week. Yesterday, after a chat with Iowa Senator Tom Harkin - and a look at poll numbers rolling off a cliff - Dean threw on the Jimmy Carter sweater of positive thinking and made nice.

Lots of people suggest that the American perpetual campaign is pointless. It isn't. In fact, when it comes to selecting the most powerful man in the world a marathon is barely long enough. Dean's ride to date has been about momentum and beating diminished expectations. So long as he was beating about in the distant bushes he was not likely to attract much critical scrutiny. But, once he hit the pole position, the established press and the Washington politicians were obliged to take him seriously enough to nail any niggling concerns about his positions and personality.

The American Presidency is not about nice. It is about a certain mix of toughness and intelligence. It is also about consistency in the face of adversity. This election year, with Iraq on the boil, Al Qaeda circling and the American economy alternating between elation and dispair, the Democrats, if they have not already conceded the election, have to be looking for a man who will stay on message because he believes in that message. Flipping from negative to positive based on the slope of the daily polling results simply suggests a person unsure of why he is running in the first place.

Insurgent candidacies begin with the idea of running to place. To represent an important, but excluded, minority. To win moral victory. Very occasionally, insurgency acquires a critical mass and breaks out into a real chance. Which is where the two edged sword of the long run cuts so deeply. What a candidate has to say and be to get the campaign rolling comes back to bite him just when the mass of mainstream voters get to make their choice. What a candidate has to proclaim to get attention and committed activists at the beginning of a race is exactly what he desperately hopes no actual voter will ever hear.

Similarly, the naked ambition and political shrewdness needed to launch an insurgency are exactly the qualities which can sink a campaign when it's success comes under the scrutiny of a professionally sceptical press corps.

Arguably Dean's campaign jumped the shark a week or two ago when Bill Kristol and Andrew Sullivan began to endorse, as an useful (in the Lenin sense of that term), alternative. A position which the Fat Bastard and Madonna were unable to stomach.

Flipping from nice to nasty to nice in a couple of weeks suggests a fatal weakness of purpose. A weakness that only a long campaign can expose.

And we, the people, are smarter than that. Whether in politics or media or business, you make a mistake if you think we live on the edges. Network executives do it all the time: If we like one hour of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, we'll want 40 hours, right? And for a while, we do. We Americans are cultural and political and marketing bulimiacs -- binge, purge, binge, purge. But then we've finished purging our latest appetite, and suddenly you're Regis Philbin -- or Howard Dean -- left standing there, yesterday's fad, yesterday's news. Nobody wants to be a millionaire anymore. Nobody wants to just bitch anymore.

All the Deaniac pundits -- and the posters on those weblogs -- may have pushed Dean too far, not toward radical views but toward radical negativity (just read that Krugman snippet again). And Dean let himself be pushed. It felt so good. The people enjoyed getting that out of their tummies. But now it's time to get serious. Now it's time to build. Now it's time to find a winner.
jeff jarvis
Worth the trip to the BuzzMachine.


Reader Mail at The American Spectator

The Childrens' Hour my piece on the current state of the Democratic Party over at the American Spectator has garner gratifying reader mail. You should read that before reading my reply below.
There are plenty of adults in the Democratic Party. Most of the Senators, most of the Representatives and a number of Governors. Plus their staffs, fundraisers and consultants. The brighter ones are tending the home fires and mending fences and checking their caller ids in case a Dean supporter is calling for an endorsement.

The Deanies are sufficiently extreme that even the Fat Bastard realizes Doc is unelectable and is going for V 2.0 in the shape of General Clark. This suggests the Deanies are not likely to make many inroads in the real world of Democratic power. The Dean Campaign College CD will, however, be ripped and downloaded a couple of hundred thousand times. Like that will help in five years.

Dean in defeat will no more be the leader of the Democratic party than Fightin' Al Gore has been these last few years. The ultimate, numero uno leader of the Dems, the guy people pay big bucks to see, is capo di tutti capi, Slick Willy. Why? Because Bill is three times as smart and a billion times more attractive than I Robot and will be when he's a hundred.

The feminist fantasy matchup of the 21st century, which frankly I rather see as two scolds in need of a bridle, is not at all a sure thing for 2008. Much as I admire Dr. Rice she has all the stump appeal of Janet Reno on a bad hair day. Whether Miss Hillary can go from nodding along with Bill to real power in her own right is a open question. She seems to think being a policy wonk is an end in itself - an error the slightly better educated Bill never made.

On both sides of the aisle, '08 will be about a generational shift. Both parties are going to be combing their ranks of under 50's for serious candidates who can run on issues for the 21st century and appeal to voters on whom irony is entirely lost. Look at the keynoters at the conventions, not for themselves but rather as candidate manqués for '08.

Presidential Politics Explained

Look at presidential elections in modern times. The candidate with the less geeky public persona always wins. War hero Dwight Eisenhower versus egghead Adlai Stevenson. Debonair John Kennedy versus awkward Richard Nixon. Political fixer Lyndon Johnson versus conservative intellectual Barry Goldwater. Folksy Jimmy Carter versus bumbling Gerald Ford. Ex-actor Ronald Reagan versus malaise-ridden Jimmy Carter. And so on. In 1984, Reagan crushed the whiny Mondale. In 1988, both Dukakis and George Bush the Elder scored high on the geekometer. (In that campaign, Bush even had to deny he was a wimp.) But clearly Bush was less the nerd. (ed. note: Democrats should stay out of tanks.) Clinton the brainiac bubba defeated Bush I and after that Bob Dole, whose stilted campaign rhetoric seemed to have been designed by the Senate parliamentarian. In 2000, the geekier of the two contenders ? Al Gore, a certified policy-oholic who needed advice on how to be an alpha male ? did win more votes, but his frat-boyish, geekiness-free competitor came close enough to exploit lucky breaks and connections to win the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
la weekly
I am not at all sure how much traction this gives but it cuts to a critical fact about Presidential politics: elections are won and lost on how the electorate "feels" about a candidate. When Bush and Gore were debating the question which came up for me was how much more likeable Bush seemed to be. Commentators asked, "Who would you rather have dinner with?" The answer, for me, pre-9/11, pre-Iraq, pre dumb deficit was just so clearly Bush.

This is not, of course, how elections would be decided ideally. Ideally we would be living in a literate rather than post literate era and would read the yards of print and piles of position papers which characterized pre-television campaigning. (And which, almost always, were forgotten on Election Day and never seen again.) In an important sense however, even in the pre-television days, candidates for office have always felt it is important to get out and meet the voters. Any one who has actively participated in politics as a candidate or a staffer knows a campaign, even for President, is won as voters make up their minds about the person running. If the voters like a candidate and his policies are not completely crazy they'll vote for him even though they might actually agree with more of what his opponent is saying.


Kids Pay for Mars

via born again fiscal conservative, Andrew Sullivan. A very clever ad won the Bush in 30 seconds contest. You can see it here. I don't think going to Mars or the Moon is creating this problem; but Bush is certainly leaving himself open to charges of fiscal recklessness. Now, if the American economy continues to grow at anything like the speed it did in the last quarter the ability to pay down the Bush deficit quickly will increase. But that is rather like borrowing on your credit card in the firm expectation of a raise next month. Not very prudent.

Greg Easterbrook has looked at Bush's numbers and thinks he is out by around an order of magnitude. I suspect he is right if NASA can come up with nothing more innovative than a brand new, bigger and better Saturn V rocket and a plan to launch the romantically named "Crew Exploration vehicle" in one unit. The eggs in one basket approach suffers from the problem that the engineering has to avoid losing that basket. Which means everything will be triple redundant and thus absurdly expensive.

A better plan is to look at multiple unmanned launches of components with final assembly in space. What was assembled is open for debate. Easterbrook suggests:
a smarter approach might be to construct one spaceship that always stays in space, looping back and forth between Earth and Moon; people, supplies, and fuel would be launched to meet the ship in Earth-orbit, but the ship itself would never come down. (This was a Werner von Braun idea.) That would mean design, engineering, and construction of a type of flying machine that has never existed before. Development of the space shuttle cost between $50 billion and $100 billion in current dollars, depending on whose estimate you believe. The idea that something more challenging, the first-ever true spaceship, can be developed for $12 billion is bunkum.
I would rather doubt it could not be done for something on that order if the design was, in fact, austere. Essentially the moon ferry is a big can with some steering rockets. It has to be air tight and have a couple of airlocks. This is all technology which is very well understood. Due to the assembly of the space station putting stuff together in space is well understood.

The orbital dynamics are understood. Speed, at least to the moon is not a huge factor, so the ferry need not burn all that much fuel. Getting the stuff into space might be expensive and it is too bad all those Russian ICBMs were chopped up. But in relatively small pieces the material could be taken into orbit. The initial Moon landers are going to be pretty basic and a lot of material is going to be robot "landed" or crashed into the moon. But with a constant moon ferry in operation material can get to the moon fairly cheaply. The hard part is getting it out of Earth's gravity well.

Feckless in Gaza

Israeli military authorities swiftly sealed off the crossing, and the army said it was expected to remain closed for some time. Israel shut down the industrial zone and sent home the roughly 4,000 Palestinian workers employed in its factories.

The industrial zone straddling the Israel-Gaza border provides crucial jobs to residents of the impoverished coastal plain, where 60 percent of working-age people are unemployed. Both Israeli and U.S. officials expressed dismay that militant groups would select a target that put livelihoods as well as lives at risk.

"This is a terminal that we opened up to allow ordinary Palestinians to bring bread to their tables, and what do the militant groups do? They bring in a suicide bomber," said Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "This is a strategy to bring chaos, to make normal life for the Palestinians impossible."
The horror of homicide bombers is redoubled when their victims include their own people. What the mother of two did, as she blew herself up, is kill four Israelis and the slim livelihood of several thousand Palestinians. So who exactly was the enemy?

Within the factions which make up the Palestinians, there are a few which are intractably against peace of any sort. Hamas is at the forefront of this absolute rejectionism. The problem that Hamas has is that the Palestinians are growing weary of a fruitless campaign which, to date, has merely ensured that a wall is being built around the whole of the territory some Palestinians hope to make into a state. When that wall is done Israel will have the capacity to close its gates and leave the Palestinians to seethe in their own juices. Moderate Palestinians know this. And they know that their economic future is utterly bleak if Israel decides enough is enough and closes access.

For the extremists this poses a real threat. After all, there is no reason to believe that the moderate Palestinians will not, at some point, demand an end to terror so that they can get on with their own lives. And this is exactly what terrifies the gunmen. Faced with this possibility Hamas and Fatah chose to make conditions for the Palestinians in Gaza even worse. Because they know their real enemy, the real threat to their terror and their absolutism, is the growing frustration of ordinary Palestinians with a leadership unwilling and seemingly unable to accept peace.

Copps Appeal

It is difficult to imagine the glee which must permeate Paul Martin's PMO at the thought of finally being rid of Sheila. And if she could take that rather tacky Carolyn Parrish "Those American bastards, I hate them." there would be the happy prospect of all the nuts in one basket. Not that some of us didn't see, (well hope), this was coming.

For my American readers: Canadian politics is not quite what you are used to. For one thing there are three parties - and a weird little separatist rump in Quebec. One is well to the left of Howard Dean, one embraces a very broad middle, and one which is right wing in the West, centerist in Central Canada and pretty darn Progressive in the Maritimes. It is quite possible that none of the Canadian politics posts will make sense to you - frankly, they make only slightly more sense to me and I grew up with the stuff. Welcome anyway and enjoy!


The U.S. Relationship With Saddam--Fantasy vs. Reality

My lefty friends are fond of suggesting that while Saddam is indeed the spawn of Satan, he was invented by America. Darren Kaplan begs to differ and he has the links to prove it. The comments are fascinating. (Thanks Deb!)

Sean Penn?!

It is a compelling experience to have been in Baghdad just one year ago, where not a single Iraqi expressed to me opinions outside Baathist party lines, and just one year later, when so many express their opinions and so many opinions compete for attention. Where the debate is similar to that in the United States is over the way in which the business of war will administer the opportunity for peace and freedom, and the reasonable expectation of Iraqi self-rule.
Sean is happy to find fault but the actual experience of seeing Iraqis free seems to have shaken him a bit.

Finally, a Moron of our Own

I missed this yesterday:
Some refer to George W. Bush as another Hitler. This is a gross exaggeration. He has constructed no death camps and only one concentration camp ? at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

While it does seem, in Nuremberg terms, that Bush could be called a war criminal (invading other countries on the flimsiest of pretexts), he has not engaged in genocide. Nor, unlike Volkswagen supporter Hitler, does he promote the production of small, cheap cars.

True, both came to power constitutionally (although under dubious circumstances and with the support of only a minority of voters). True, both masterfully used traumatic events at home (the 1933 Reichstag fire for Hitler; 9/11 for Bush) to make a frightened and resentful populace accept restrictions on civil liberties.
the toronto star
The temptation to administer a good fisking is strong but the desire to write about more interesting things is stronger. Tom Walkom is not worth the bother. But here's one, small, fisk - there is a good deal of evidence which suggests that the Reichstag fire was, in fact, set by the Nazis. (Opps, I forget, for those in the tinfoil hats which Walkom seems to favour, it was Bush who organized, by proxy, possibly through Halliburton, 9/11. So the point doesn't count.)

Up at The American Spectator

ruthless self promotion time: my article The Childrens' Hour, about what the pros in the Democratic Party are really thinking, is up at The American Spectator. Enjoy!

Where's the money?

Hit by waning support from fatigued donor nations, the Palestinian Authority (news - web sites) has been forced to borrow from banks to pay salaries to its 125,000 employees and may be unable to meet its February payroll, the economy minister said Tuesday.
I wonder if this cash shortage has anything to do with the Debka allegation that the Troll of RamallahTMsimply withdrew all of the money in the PA's bank accounts? Hmmmm.

We run a decent city here ma'am

A woman who drove a car bearing the airbrushed image of a stripper to pick up her daughter at school could face up to three years in prison...."I would concede it probably is a First Amendment issue, but not all First Amendment cases mean that you can't restrict the speech," Prosecutor Carl Brizzi said. "Protecting third- and fourth-graders from a centerfold on wheels is one of those valid restrictions."

An officer noticed the 3-by-5-foot image on the car's trunk Thursday after police stopped Meredith for driving with a broken taillight. She said she drove the 1976 Buick to pick up her 8-year-old daughter at school about a block from her home.
local six
Can't have the little tykes exposed to pictures of naked women. No sireee.


Going Negative

Colby Cosh has some interesting things to say about negative advertising in Canada including,
Negative advertising is a balancing act which sometimes backfires and, sometimes, works out fine. The 1993 Chretien's-face ad didn't prove that Canadians don't like negative ads; it proved only that they need to be executed with a modicum of subtlety to succeed. The other example of backlash in the Canadian canon of nicedom is a 1997 Reform Party ad which asked exactly how much longer Canada was going to be governed from Quebec, anyhoo. Reform war-roomer Andre Turcotte later made a strong inferential case from the poll numbers that the ad had helped increase Reform's support in Ontario: it didn't seem to hurt, in any event, and the Quebec question was a fair one to put before the voters, especially since the answer now seems to be "forever".
colby cosh
My suspicion is that in the next election we are going to see two or three weeks of "Scramble the Canada Geese, The Land is Strong" ads from the Grits, some positioning "Hi, I'm Steve Harper and I am a really...I'm not scary. I was barely a member of the Reform Party." ads from the Tories and some really down and dirty ads from the no-hopers over at the NDP, "Its about oiiiiiil." "Why is George Bush smiling?"

In the last week, if the Liberals are heading towards a majority, the geese will give way to Martin with world leaders, children, in a wheat field, beside a mountain. The Tories will be running "No, Steve Harper, I'm a conservative...never even heard of the Reform Party, I'm not scary." east of the Lakehead and, I suspect, one of those silly scrolls with "Homosexual Marriage, Legal Marijuana, Basi Boys (a twofer that one)....Mr. Martin, you could have said no." The NDP will pump up the volume. Layton, who is at least marginally interesting and has a pulse, is likely to score well on the passion front at the debates and we'll see that. We'll also see at least one ad with Martin and Bush with a good old class warfare line like "American Millionaires".

Negative advertising is largely a strategy for people with not very much to lose and a very loyal core constituency. Done right it is a reminder to the faithful to get out and vote against the evil devil on the other side. It rarely convinces the undecided or the opposition. It is also, as Colby points out, a calculated risk for a relatively short term advantage. The biggest risk is that it will alienate your own supporters if it is tasteless or dumb. For Layton and the NDP, with no chance of forming a government, the downside is minimal. The true believers will remain believers.

Harper has a harder decision. He is not going to win the next election but he may just win a few seats in Ontario and the Maritimes and, if he boxes smart, may be able to hold a few seats in BC. The temptation to take the high road and run for position five years down the road is huge. And, I suspect, the smart thing to do. Going negative is unlikely to help in this election and it might well hurt Harper with the right thinking pinkish high WASP Tories who have been delivered, slightly askance, by Peter McKay. For Harper the trick will be to look like a man who might, when Paul Martin shuffles off the stage, make a good centerist Prime Minister. For the moment he has time.

It works for Saudi

Net users and internet service providers in France are mounting a last-ditch protest against a piece of legislation entitled A Bill to Promote Confidence in the Digital Economy, which entered its final reading in the French national assembly Thursday.

Among other things, it will oblige service providers to filter net traffic for illegal content, with criminal sanctions for companies that fail to block pedophile images, material excusing crimes against humanity and incitement to racial hatred.

Internet access providers are unwilling to take on responsibility for policing French net users. Such a measure would be the first taken by a democratic state, the Association of French Internet Access and Service Providers (AFA) wrote in an open letter to French deputies. Other countries that had considered net censorship, such as Canada and Australia, had rejected it, they said. The letter, signed by the chairmen of 10 of France's largest internet access providers, added that filtering technology is just as likely to block legal content as illegal content, and asked the deputies to reject this part of the bill.
In another part of my life I work with a filtering company and I'm pretty aware of what filters can and can't do. For example, it is virtually impossible to block "material excusing crimes against humanity and incitement to racial hatred" because both are entirely subjective. For example, there are various sites on the net that suggest the solution the the Arab Israeli conflict is to drive the Jews into the sea. Much as I abhor this sort of idiocy, the fact is these sites will argue they are speaking metaphorically. Block them and you ensure that a particular voice is not heard rather than rebutted.

In totalitarian nations there is no such thing as free speech and therefore no problem; but if France actually imposes this legislation it will be throwing out one of the pillars of a liberal democracy. And, being France, one wonders what they would define as incitement? Would support for the Iraq war - which more than a few French politicians characterized as a violation of international law - be blocked?

What is even more amazing is that this law would effect every ISP in France. While the American Congress passed the egregious Children's Internet Protection Act it only applies to schools and public libraries accepting public funding. The internet cafe down the street is not required to block anything nor are the ISPs. But the French law owes far more to the ever wonderful Saudi regulations for the Internet which mandate blocking of anything which is - and I quote from memory - contrary to Islam. Which, if you happen to be a Wahhabi, is pretty much the entire content of the Internet. (I'll see if I can find the delightful policy page where this is spelt out.)

I suppose they don't call it "Old Europe" for nothing.

Arab Voices

There is a much more significant aspect to the debate, however. Adonis, among the most celebrated of Arab poets alive today, wrote recently asking: "...why do fundamentalist Muslims who have emigrated to the West see in the openness of their new home nothing more than an opportunity to proclaim their narrow-mindedness and isolation? Why do they choose to 'emigrate' once more from their point of their arrival?"
Hani Shukrallah in Al-Ahramvia salon
Why indeed. I suspect for the reasons cited in the note immediately below.


It appears that Kilroy-Silk has been re-instated by the BBC after hundreds of thousands of people protested his suspension for telling a few home truths about the Arab world. Mark Steyn is instructive as usual on the issues involved and quotes The Times Clifford Longley:
Fifteen years ago, when the fatwa against Salman Rushdie was declared and both his defenders and detractors managed to miss what the business was really about, the Times's Clifford Longley nailed it very well. Surveying the threats from British Muslim groups, he wrote that certain Muslim beliefs "are not compatible with a plural society: Islam does not know how to exist as a minority culture. For it is not just a set of private individual principles and beliefs. Islam is a social creed above all, a radically different way of organising society as a whole."


Up at Tech Central

My piece, Virtual Israelis, is up at Tech Central Station. Regular readers will have seen the notes posted below.

Now that's a grow op

Nancy Fielding over at covers the pot in a vat operation in Toronto. Way cool.

Remarkably dumb

The Globe and Mail runs a daily poll which is utterly unscientific but sometimes amusing. Today they asked "With a number of the Middle East's so-called pariah states making diplomatic overtures to the West, do you now think that the U.S.-led war on Iraq was worthwhile?" Of 15,000 respondents, 10,000 say no, 5000 yes. I bet Howard Dean wishes he was running in Canada.

"I'm not even an anti-Zionist,"

Roundhead is back with a post on the nexus between covert anti-Semitism and opposition to current American foreign policy. Interesting read.


Will Hutton on the Limits of Diversity

We cannot and should not respond with an unrigorous, soft multiculturalism that pleads such values are equivalent to our own and legitimate within their own cultural context. Nor should we fall into the trap of stereotyping Islam as universally menacing. Rather, I am at one with Professor Brian Barry, the finest egalitarian since Tawney, who, in Culture and Equality, argues that what lies behind the Western position on human rights and democracy is the Enlightenment proposition that men and women are intrinsically equal and have equal rights to dignity and self-realisation.

Thus, the West has to object to Islamic sexism - whether arranged marriage, headscarves, limiting career options or the more extreme manifestations, female circumcision and stoning women for adultery. We cannot give ground in the name of multiculturalism. As Barry argues, this is to deny values that are right, and in which democracy and respect for human rights are ultimately grounded. We should certainly respect diversity, but we cannot abandon or qualify our own beliefs in the process.
Hutton walks a tightrope trying to balance his faith in multi-culturalism with a desire to make some defence of the Enlightenment values he values.

Not good enough for Faisal Bodi who writes:
The other reaction, epitomised by Will Hutton in yesterday's Observer, has been that Islam must assume a post-Enlightenment view of the world, failing which it must be dragged there kicking and screaming. This is the more troubling attitude, because it negates the prospect of genuine coexistence and presupposes a horrible clash of civilisations.

This is not to brush over the differences between western and Islamic value systems and their epistemological foundations. They are real. But in western liberal societies the choice is between a peaceful engagement and survival of the fittest or a likely violent conflict brought about by the imposition of secular liberalism over Islam.
Hutton, for all of his even handedness recognizes that an un-Enlightened Islam is a dagger at the throat of the core values of the West. Bodi wants to believe that a parallel structure is possible. Bodi is, I fear, dreaming.

The issue is not the mainstream of Islamic culture. There is no doubt at all that mainstream Muslims can and will adapt to the 21st century in whatever nation they find themselves. Rather, the issue comes down to the tiny fraction of Muslims who admire and follow bin Laden and his ilk. These are the gunmen, the homicide bombers, the poisoners and the WMD enthusiasts who are perfectly prepared to kill scores if not tens of thousands of people to attain their goal of an Islamic world.

The strategic goal of the West must be to eliminate that tiny fraction and the influences which have created it. Tactically, the West can hope it will be able to prevent mega terror and homicide bombings through diligent police work. But a purely tactical approach will, eventually fail. At best a bomber will get through, at worst a co-ordinated chemical, biological or a dirty bomb attack will occur. That possibility will continue so long as the Wahhabist and other radical forms of Islam continue to flourish.

The Impediments to Peace

How do we re-establish the conditions for fresh negotiations? Outside pressure might help but, regrettably, in Europe - where there has been a naïve tendency to turn the Palestinian terrorists into freedom fighters - the prevailing anti-Israeli bias has hardly helped persuade Arafat that he needs to respond. Indeed, the European Union supplies Arafat with ample amounts of your tax money both to fill his own Swiss bank accounts and to fund the appalling official Palestinian television service, with its constant diet of music videos extolling Palestinian youths to become suicide bombers.
george kerevan, the scotsman
Kerevan's thoughtful article concludes that it is the Troll of RamallahTMwho unleashed the Palestinian terror campaign and who has driven all shades of Israeli opinion away from a negotiated settlement and toward a unilateral fencing away of the Palestinian problem. A good example of a European giving his head a shake and figuring out where the real ostacles to peace lie. He also points out,
In Europe, this security fence is castigated as a new Berlin Wall. In fact, as I’ve seen for myself, it is, for the most part, a rather fragile barbed-wire fence, with electronic sensors to detect the passage of any would-be suicide bombers. A similar fence surrounds the Gaza Strip, where it has successfully ensured that not one local suicide bomber has ever penetrated Israel proper. The fence is not a prison wall for Palestinians. It seems more of a psychological comfort blanket for Israelis who just want the West Bank to go away.
At some point the Israelis will say, "Enough" and lock down the fence. They do not need the Palestinians but the Palestinians, tyranized by one of the very worst sorts of thugocracies, desperately need the jobs the Israelis can provide and the PA can't.

A more Serious Set of Questions about Mars

Gregg Easterbrook launches into the very idea of a Mars mission with the dollars, cents and fuel ratios. The points he brings up are real and meeting them is more or less impossible with current NASA technology. Which raises the question of whether Bush will propose that the Mars shot begin with existing technology or seek new tech. Easterbrook tends to be right on his numbers:
Now, about this business of going to Mars. The Red Planet is plenty interesting, and men and women are sure to go there someday. For the moment, talk of a Mars mission is complete bunkum.

The Apollo spacecraft weighed 45 tons at departure from low-Earth orbit: it was gone for about ten days, carried three people and traveled about 800,000 miles total. A Mars mission would be gone for a minimum of a year (probably longer), carry at least six people (a geologist, a biologist, two physicians, and two career astronauts would be a skeleton crew), and travel 100 million miles or more total (the distance to Mars varies significantly depending on the launch year). So let's make a conservative guess and say an austere Mars-bound mission would weigh 25 times what an Apollo mission weighed, at departure from low-Earth orbit.

Now we're up to an 1,125-ton spacecraft and a $28 billion launch cost. (Probably a Mars mission would operate in segments, with several robot supply ships departing long before the manned craft; but for the cost calculation, the driving factor is total weight.) Twenty-eight billion is twice NASA's budget and, again, that is just the cost to launch the thing, not to build the ship, staff it and support it. When Bush's father asked NASA in 1989 about a Mars mission, the agency shot back a total program cost of $400 billion. That's $600 billion in today's money, and sounds about right as a Mars mission estimate. This is assuming no pointless stopover at the Moon; add a Moon base and the price zooms toward $1 trillion! We're getting into the range here of the national debt.

Update: Belmont Club does not specifically mention Easterbrook's analysis but comes to the same conclusions. But he also suggests that the new technology required to bring the cost of going to Mars within reason is likely to be found simply by deciding to look for it.

This may sound naive but Belmont Club has some good examples. And the history of technology, not science, technology, is as much about focussing what we already know on a problem as inventing something entirely new. Going back to and improving the X15 technology - replace Chuck Yaeger with a really good computer - or looking seriously at a space elevator or a concerted attempt to find fuel on the Moon are all possiblities. As a priority finding a good solution for launching mass out of Earth's gravity well seems sensible. (Rail gun?) Belmont Club points out that it took Prince Henry the Navigator 35 years to come up with the combination of technologies and skills which made open ocean voyaging a reality.

Bruce Sterling in Reason

A really fascinating interview with Bruce Sterling is up over at Reason:
You get this database toxicity. You go into a system like Lexis-Nexis and you put in a search word and get 60,000 hits, and you think, this is all the knowledge there is in the universe. But it’s actually 10,000 references to six different things, and the actual story is something very few people know.
Or this:
singled out the Greening Earth Society as a psychological experiment in the manufacture of a social movement because I’ve noticed that other social movements hate heretics far more than they hate pagans. Pagans who have never heard the gospel -- you should clothe them. You should send out missionaries. They just don’t know. It’s the people who do know, who have the opposite idea, whom you hate.

The Flea is Dancing

Go here...Click

Report from the Front

Mahdjoub's arrest was a minor victory in a major war being fought, bitterly and secretly, in cities from London to Warsaw, from Madrid to Oslo. It pits the best investigative officers in Europe against a fanatical network of men dedicated to the prosecution of jihad both in Europe and overseas. It is a war security officials know they cannot afford to lose - and that they know they will be fighting for the foreseeable future.

Previously seen as a relative backwater in the war on terror, Europe is now in the frontline. 'It's trench warfare,' said one security expert. 'We keep taking them out. They keep coming at us. And every time they are coming at us harder.'
the guardian
A long article on the secret war being waged against the jihadis throughout Europe. It is not, frankly, encouraging.
'We act when we can,' said one police source. 'But we are stretched enough going after the clear and immediate threats, let alone their back-up.'
The fear is that there will be a major attack in a European city fairly soon. Then what?

After 9/11 the Americans had clear targets and took them out. The issue now is more difficult. Especially in Europe. There are substantial and unassimilated Muslim populations in France, England, Holland, Germany and many other European nations. These populations are, for the most part, peace loving. But even a tiny fraction of a large number can be more than enough to provide the infrastructure for a terrorist campaign.

Add to that the European's commitment to civil and human rights and the rule of law and the situation may become desperate. Pinpointing terrorists before they strike requires brilliant intelligence and the ability to penetrate the targets. Where those targets are hidden behind the walls of mosques, in Islamic schools and in legitimate organizations, monitoring and penetrating the targets becomes all the more difficult.

At the moment the Europeans are relying on steady police and intelligence work to contain the threat; but if a series of conventional bombs rip through EU cities? Again, the question, "And then what?" becomes troubling. We are in the early stages of something which could quickly escalate to all out war. The British fought such a war in Northern Ireland. They kept the two sides apart but at the cost of most of the civil liberties of each side being ignored. And still the bombers and the gunmen continued.

Worst case would be if, rather than conventional bombs, the jihadi used chemical or biological weapons. Because now, instead of dozens of casualties and a call for more intensive policing, there would be thousands or tens of thousands and the calls would be for massive detention and deportation. If the threat of the jihadis is essentially local, a measured, local response is likely; but if the jihadis are able to cause mass casualties it is more than likely that the Europeans will act against their Muslim populations as a whole. It would not be the first time Europe has been engulfed by religious and ethnic warfare.

UpDate: The Guardian is reporting:
The French police are convinced that their country has escaped a planned chemical or biological attack by an Islamist cell linked to al-Qaida.
An interior ministry official said evidence from Islamist militants arrested in the Lyon area last week made it "very plain" that an attack with the deadly botulism or ricin toxins was being actively prepared.

UpDate II Wretchard at Belmont Club is thinking and linking along the same lines: "The challenge will be not simply to reform Islamic society, but to avoid destroying it in order to save it."

Bridges or Ditches

Third, and most revealing, was the statement made by the father of one of the Turkish suicide bombers who hit the synagogues.

"We are a respectful family who love our nation, flag and the Koran," the grieving father, Sefik Elaltuntas, told the Zaman newspaper. "But we cannot understand why this child had done the thing he had done . . . First, let us meet with the chief rabbi of our Jewish brothers. Let me hug him. Let me kiss his hands and flowing robe. Let me apologize in the name of my son and offer my condolences for the deaths. . . . We will be damned if we do not reconcile with them."
Thomas Friedman, nyt
Part 2 of Friedman's series on how best to wage the war of ideas with Islam. This time looking at Turkey as a Muslim state which works. Of course Turkey is constitutionally secular and that makes a huge difference. So does being a democracy and having a capitalist economy. Turkey does offer a possible route for other Muslim states and Friedman is absolutely right in saying that its admission to the EU is a vital part of the overall program of winning the Islamic world for the 21st century.