Sunday, October 22, 2006

Understanding the A.C.M

Mullah Omar and his followers formed the Taliban in 1994 to, among other things, bring some justice to Afghanistan and to expel predatory commanders like Dado. But in the early days of Karzai’s government, these regional warlords re-established themselves, with American financing, to fill the power vacuum that the coalition forces were unwilling to fill themselves. The warlords freely labeled their many enemies Al Qaeda or Taliban in order to push the Americans to eradicate them. Some of these men were indeed Taliban. Most, like Abdul Baqi, had accepted their loss of power, but they rejoined the Taliban as a result of harassment. Amir Dado’s own abuses had eventually led to his removal from the Helmand government at United Nations insistence. As one Western diplomat, who requested anonymity out of personal safety concerns, put it: “Amir Dado kept his own prison, authorized the use of serious torture, had very little respect for human life and made security worse.” Yet when I later met Amir Dado in Kabul, he pulled out a letter that an officer in the U.S. Special Forces had written requesting that the Afghan Ministry of Defense install him as Helmand’s police chief and claiming that in his absence “the quality of security in the Helmand Province has dramatically declined.”
--Elizabeth Rubin: In the Land of the Taliban

Friday, October 20, 2006

Last days of the republic?

Chris Hedges, author of the outstanding book War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, is not optimistic (see Bush's nuclear apocalypse).

As noted in this blog back on 15 August (
Dates for your diary) , one analyst predicts 26 to 28 Oct for the attack.

Can I get odds on this at the bookies?

This being America, perhaps a movie man says it best. As Manola Dargis puts it in a
review of Clint Eastwood's new film Flags of our Fathers, the actor-director's work "considers annihilating violence as a condition of the American character, not an aberration".

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A richer conception

We cannot now today recover the passions with which mechanists and vitalists debated whether a "mechanical" account of life could be given. The point is not so much that the mechanists won and the vitalists lost, but that we got a much richer conception of the mechanisms. I think we are in a similar situation today with the problem of consciousness. It will, I predict, eventually receive a scientific solution. But like other scientific solutions in biology, it will have to give us a causal account. It will have to explain how brain processes cause conscious experiences, and this may well require a much richer conception of brain functioning than we now have.
John Searle,
Minding the Brain

Monday, October 16, 2006

China’s New Leftist

“People ask in the West, How could China develop capitalism with an authoritarian state? But that’s ignoring how modern capitalism grew in the West, without much democracy and with the help of imperialism and colonialism. You have to ask whether this unique economic model of the West can be globalized without great wars and destruction of the environment. This is not an abstract issue. China has stopped felling itsforests, most of which have disappeared, but some country still has to produce wood for Chinese consumption.”

Wang Hui as quoted by Pankaj Mishra in China’s New Leftist

And here, 100 intellectuals protest the shut down of Century China.

Er, I'm sorry

An update today from Edge carries note about a presentation over a month ago by Scott Atran to the National Security Council at The White House titled "Devoted Actor v Rational Actor Models for Understanding World Conflict"

Accepting that neither Atran himself nor, even, the White House thinks that what he is presenting is a whole answer, it remains the case that it is probably a bit fxxxing late for this one, including obviously the version that David Hayes and I presented shortly after the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

"Devoted Actor v Rational Actor Models for Understanding World Conflict" Presented By Scott Atran To The National Security Council At The White House, 14 September 2006 From extensive personal interviews and controlled psychological experiments with Israeli settlers, Palestinian refugees, leaders of Hamas, radical Islamic groups in Pakistan and Indonesia, and (ongoing pilot work) with certain non-Muslim fundamentalist groups, I (with my research team) find that when disputed issues are transformed into sacred values, as when land ceases to be a mere resource and becomes "holy" or when structures of brick and mortar become "sacred sites," then standard political and economic proposals for resolving conflicts don't suffice and can be counterproductive by raising levels of outrage and disgust. But even token symbolic concessions, such as an apology for a perceived wrong that touches a sacred value, can be more important than material trade-offs in making peace.

(See also Jan McGirk)

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Actively looking for deaths

Only when you go out and knock on the doors of families, actively looking for deaths, do you begin to get close to the right number. This method is now tried and tested. It has been the basis for mortality estimates in war zones such as Darfur and the Congo. Interestingly, when we report figures from these countries politicians do not challenge them. They frown, nod their heads and agree that the situation is grave and intolerable. The international community must act, they say. When it comes to Iraq the story is different. Expect the current government to mobilise all its efforts to undermine the work done by this American and Iraqi team. Expect the government to criticise the Lancet for being too political. Expect the government to do all it can to dismiss this story and wash its hands of its responsibility to take these latest findings seriously.
Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, on the midrange estimate of 650,000 deaths as a result of the Iraq invasion.

Was this the first trillion dollar plus "minor" war.

P.S. 15 Oct: Paul Reynolds notes Huge gap in Iraqi death estimates.

P.P.S. 15 Oct: How army chief staged no 10 ambush
Those soft edges became razor sharp, leaving Blair little option but to claim last Friday that he agreed with 'every' word Dannatt had told Radio 4 in his interview. That meant that the Prime Minister actually believed the presence of British troops was exacerbating the violence in parts of Iraq; that the army risked being broken by the conflict and that the whole debate over withdrawal was not really news. Not even Blair's most trusted lieutenants thought that Blair believed that.

"Genocide liberalism"

You know that the forces of darkness have almost won when it is OK to conflate genocide with liberalism, as did David Frum.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Iftar bangers

Entrepreneur Asghar Ali, 32, has built a business on the back of changing trends among British Muslims. The biggest seller at Cafe Lahore in Bradford's west end is not biryani or spicy karahi chicken, but hot jam roly-poly and custard. Dressed in designer jeans and a Von Dutch cap, he tells me it is common for the cafe to be buzzing at iftar time, with people clamouring for their portions of pudding.

-- Saima Raza:
If it's sausages it must be Ramadan

Monday, October 09, 2006

Anna's darkness

The heroism of Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead over the weekend, is beyond doubt (see Putin silent...).

It is sobering to read of the
hatred in which she was held ("It was as though with the bloody act, a vassal was bringing his master [Vladimir Putin] the head of his arch enemy as a [birthday] present").

My own (very brief) impression of her was as someone nearly in thrall to the dark forces she sought to combat. At a reception by English PEN some months ago, I approached her to ask if she would contribute to openDemocracy. Her reaction seemed to be one of disgust, as if I was a corpse with maggots coming out of my eyes or, perhaps, an FSB agent. This is silly, of course. I guess I was just witnessing something in her way of being -- a mind obsessed with infinitely worse things than gauche liberals at a London meeting.

Iranian mirrors

America, with its characteristic readiness to forget the offences it has done to others while burnishing the memory of those it has suffered itself, thinks a great deal about the seizure of the embassy hostages in 1979, but very little about the coup it staged in Iran with Britain in 1953.
-- Martin Woollacott in a review of 7 books about Iran, all of which look like they are worth reading.

Fritz Stern

In 1979, when [Fritz Stern] was walking through the still bombed out centre of Berlin with Raymond Aron, [Stern and Aron] agreed that were it not for Hitler, the twentieth century might have been Germany's century. [Stern] had a grudging admiration for Germany of the kind voiced by Charles De Gaulle when he first ventured to Russia during World War II. Amid the ruins of Stalingrad, site of the farthest advance and greatest defeat of the German army, De Gaulle muttered "Quelle peuple!" An aide inquired, "You mean the Russians?" "No, " said De Gaulle, "the Germans". The general's judgement, [Stern] writes, says much about the German drama of the past century...Germany had "corrupted and nearly destroyed historic Europe" -- and civilisation itself --and yet its "prodigiously creative" people "would be indispensible for the post war recovery of Europe".
--from Amos Elon's review of Five Germanys I Have Known by Fritz Stern

Short lives, long summers

Birds were what became of the dinosaurs. Those mountains of flesh whose petrified bones were on display at the Museum of Naturla History had done some brillian retooling over the ages and could now be found in the form of orioles in the sycamores across the street. As solutions to the problems of earthly existence, the dinosaurs had been pretty great, but blue headed vieos and yellow warblers and white throated sparrows -- feather light, hollow boned, full of song -- were even greater. Birds were like dinosaurs better selves. They had short lives and long summers. We all should be so luck as to leave behind such heirs
-- from My Bird Problem by Jonathan Franzen

Friday, October 06, 2006

US too hard up for hard power?

US "soft power" may have been seriously damaged by Guantanamo, the abolition of habeas corpus etc. But when it comes to hard power, one of the things that really matters, behind the guns, is the money. Debt (largely to the US) destroyed British power in World War Two and after, and turned Britain into a editorial comes close to suggesting this:
...While foreign investors were putting up most of the $1.5 trillion the federal government has borrowed since 2001, they were also snapping up hundreds of billions of dollars in private sector securities, transactions that have been a big source of the easy money that allowed Americans to borrow heavily against their homes.

The result... is that for the first time in at least 90 years, the United States is now paying noticeably more to foreign creditors than it receives from its investments abroad.
In How to Fix the Global Economy (3 Oct) Joseph Stiglitz wrote:
China knows well the terms of its hidden “deal” with the United States: China helps finance the American deficits by buying treasury bonds with the money it gets from its exports. If it doesn’t, the dollar will weaken further, which will lower the value of China’s dollar reserves (by the end of the year, these will exceed $1 trillion). Any country that might benefit from China’s loss of export market share would put its money into a strong currency, like the euro, rather than the unstable and weakening dollar — or it might choose to invest the money at home, rather than holding more reserves. In short, the United States would find it increasingly difficult to finance its deficits, and the world as a whole might face greater, not less, instability.
Stiglitz suggests that, drawing on ideas from Keynes, a new reserve system based on a new international currency, could help stabilise the world economy.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

China: time for a politics of climate change

Yesterday I joined Isabel Hilton and Becky Hogge in talking about with the Democracy Club in London. Isabel gave an overview. Becky described some of the technical challenges and achievements. This was fascinating and is worth a post and perhaps an article and discussion on chinadialogue itself. Some good points also came up in the discussion that followed. But here I want to publish some things I said regarding China's emissions, and the country's responsibilities.

My main point -- or challenge to engage -- for activists and others both inside and outside China is as follows. Yes, the richest industrialised nations need to act faster and more effectively to tackle climate change at home; but failure in the West is not a reason for people in China not to act urgently too. China may already exceed its share of globally sustainable emissions or is close to doing so, and the trend is negative notwithstanding all sorts of "green' investments. For reasons of basic self interest as well as natural justice, it is time for people in China to start engaging more actively with each other and the outside world on the politics of climate change.

The key points (or so I argue) are three. Here they are as a, b and c, followed by a request for responses:

A. China is close to or already exceeding its fair share of a "safe" level of emissions, and things are likely to get worse quickly.

Global emissions are currently about 7bn tonnes of carbon a year. China is the second largest single polluter, although the EU as a whole emits more. In 2004 China’s total emissions were about 1.2 billion tonnes – that is, about 17%, or slightly more than one sixth of the global total.

About one in five people on this planet is Chinese (actually 22%). If present day global emissions were allocated equally China would be entitled to about 1.5bn tonnes.

At recent rates of growth, Chinese emissions could take little more than three years to grow from 1.2bn tonnes, the level in 2004 to 1.5bn tonnes. This is assuming 10% annual economic growth and emissions rising more or less in step, which given consumption trends in China –- rising automobile ownership, more appliances in every household etc –- looks to me like a plausible scenario, although not of course the only one. (Incidentally, 10% growth gives a doubling time of a little over 8 years).

B. Where next?

Suppose you want to avoid dangerous climate change, or at least reduce the risk of it happening. The first step would be to slow and then stop the increasing rate of emission of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The next step would be to reduce total global emissions.

A proposal for a first step embraced by some policy makers in rich industrial countries is that emissions be stabilised at twice pre-industrial levels – that at approximately 560ppm of C02 (see, for example, Socolow et al, Scientific American, Sept 2006).

Each part per million of C02 corresponds to about 2.1bn tonnes of atmospheric carbon. The current level – about 380ppm – is 800bn tonnes. 560ppm would mean about 1,200 tonnes. So another 400bn tonnes would take us to 1,200. On this reasoning, it looks as if the world could emit another 400 billion tonnes, but no more, and not exceed this target.

Some people argue that we could actually emit twice that amount because the oceans and vegetation on land will soak up half of it. That argument has been challenged. Changes in the earth system as the world warms can mean that vegetation and soils become a net source rather than sink; using the oceans as a sink is causing acidification which is likely to have other serious consequences).

Further, it is open to question whether a doubling of GHG concentrations is “safe” – that is whether it means we avoid some [potentially disasterous impacts in China], and others. Advisors to the British Government and others have suggested that 450 or even 400ppm may be nearer the mark (see, for example, Schellnhuber et al Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change - and this discussion at RealClimate)

Virtually every advance in climate science points to bigger human impacts and more serious consequences than previously predicted. That being the case, caution is wise. And time is short. 560ppm would allow 57 years at present rate. 450 would allow 21 years. 400 would allow just 7 years. But in each case, emissions would have to be zero in the year after so there is even less time available for a feasible and rational transition, supposing you wanted to do it.

C. A political challenge

One of the first things that comes up when China and climate change are mentioned in the same breath is that the richest countries, historically and still today, are by far the biggest emitters per head, and have the responsibility to act first. This is certainly true. And it is often stressed, including, on chinadialogue, by Yu Hongyuan of the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.

The responsibility of the rich industrialised nations to act first was recognised in the UNFCC in 1992 and in the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. China is a signatory to the Protocol, and benefits from some investment in clean and renewable energy projects under the CDM. The Europeans are also offering modest help for one coal plant with CCS by 2020 (you can read more on this an article by Jon Gibbins on chinadialogue).

In my view, as well as that of many others, the present level of commitment in rich countries is inadequate. These countries need to massively ratchet up their commitment to energy efficiency, demand management and clean energy at home and abroad. But – and again this is my view, that does not mean China has no responsibilities. Recall that is already close to or even past its “fair share” of the 7billion tonnes per year that is probably not safe.

In UK, after more than 20 years of concerted effort from scientists and their allies, we now have a mainstream politics of climate change. (Incidentally, openDemocracy hosted the first forum and debate with this title in spring 2005. It’s still there to view)

So far Britain’s politics of climate change includes such delightful spectacles as the son of Margaret Thatcher’s favourite corporate raider calling for limits on aviation at the Conservative Party Conference, and a motion being defeated.

It also includes David Miliband, the environment secretary, telling the Labour Party Conference that cutting carbon emissions should become the European Union’s primary purpose. He told delegates the EU would appeal to a new generation only if it came to stand for Environmental Union.

(It is notable by the way that both Zac Goldsmith and David Milliband are among the youngest members of the shadow team and the government)

Could something like this emerge in China? So far there are few outward signs. In November this year, for example, there will be demonstrations in over 50 countries calling for faster action to reduce emissions by the Conference of the Parties to the Climate Change Convention (). Activists in some poor and vulnerable countries, such as Bangladesh, will be taking part. Two of the major countries where no events are listed are China and India.

Perhaps the first steps for a visible politics of climate change China will come elsewhere. Maybe they will be modelled on the kind of work that Ma Jun, a writer and campaigner on water issues, is doing with his colleagues. Ma Jun recently launched a site that names 2,500 companies that have broken pollution regulations in the water environment (see his recent interview on chinadialogue).

Responses, please

If you have read this far and are still awake and interested, please let me know what you think is right, wrong (irrelevant, passe) with the arguments I have outlined. I haven't even touched on inequalities within China, for example. My calculations regarding emissions should be checked too.

The full text on which I based my remarks is attached as a comment.

Perhaps this could help inform future dialogue on chinadialogue or elsewhere.

By the way, Isabel disagreed that there were few signs of a politics of climate change inside China. She pointed out that in a one party state (albeit a fragile one) much of the politics tends to take place inside the party. Deputy Environment Minister Pan Yue, she said, was among those pushing for political change on this issue.

"A disaster by any measure"

"Iraq now seems all but certain to be left broken as a state, immersed in sectarian violence and terrorism, in far worse condition than it was under Saddam Hussein's secular dictatorship (which would have come to an end when Saddam died, or when he was overturned by a coup, or a revolt, as has happened to all of modern Iraq's previous leaders).

Afghanistan already is once again the world's principal producer of opium poppies, dominated by regional warlords, with the Taliban back and in control of a large part of the country beyond Kabul; the central government is feeble and American and NATO forces are struggling to enforce Kabul's authority.

For those who like conspiratorial explanations, involving oil and Israel, consider that now Iraq will produce little or no oil for the United States, or anyone else, for years to come, and the Saudi monarchy and the Gulf oil-producer governments are newly threatened by fundamentalist militants.

Saddam Hussein has been eliminated as a distant threat to Israel, and a ring of aggressive Shiite states and movements has been substituted, with Hezbollah having already brought Israel under rocket fire, and humiliated the Israeli army. Iran's influence in the world has grown larger than ever.

These results are due in part to the amateur geopoliticians of the neoconservative New American Century initiative, and their Washington allies. Israel needed no such friends, nor does George W. Bush, who with their help, on the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, looked more than ever as though he'll finish his term as the most disastrous president in American history.
-- William Pfaff, 21 September

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

India not so shining

"[India's] hi-tech boom... is seen by some as a force that is transforming Indian society, but the reality is more prosaic. The IT sector employs about 1 million people in a country where 8 million join the labour force each year. Employment in the formal manufacturing sector has fallen over the past decade. Meanwhile, agriculture, the source of livelihood for three in every four people, is trapped in a cycle of low growth and under-investment.

Poor public services reinforce the impact of unbalanced growth. Uttar Pradesh, with a population bigger than Germany and Britain combined, has immunisation rates that compare unfavourably with those in Mali, and child death rates to match Sudan's."
-- Kevin Watkins

"Few foreign tourists visit Kanpur, and the city gets little attention even within India, where most people would rather visit, invest and live in places like Bangalore or Gurgaon, which epitomize the shining new India of technology and rapid economic growth. But far from being a relic of the past, Kanpur, which is among India's most polluted cities, is a harbinger of the future."
-- Aravind Adiga