Monday, June 25, 2007

The best time?

Talking about being overworked. This is from 12 May ---
"Israelis tend to launch their wars of choice in the summer, in part because they know that European and American universities will be the primary nodes of popular opposition, and the universities are out in the summer. This war has nothing to do with captured Israeli soldiers." --Juan Cole at his blog, Informed Comment, July 23, 2006.
Gentleman C (head of Middle East 101, the Mossad unit that tracks American and European academics):  You'll see that in every war, our military operations have taken less incoming criticism during summer months. We call this the "Away From My Desk" effect. Professors on summer break are less likely to write op-eds and show up in the media. There aren't any students to attend their campus teach-ins, and there's no student press to cover them.
Or maybe not.
Director of Military Intelligence: We in Military Intelligence don't share the Mossad's assessment of the "Away From My Desk" effect. It may be true that the professors manage to fire off more rounds of criticism during the academic year. But these are mostly short-range projectiles--teach-ins and classroom agitprop that don't have a range beyond the campus. Most academics are too preoccupied during the school year to get off medium- to long-range op-eds in the New York Times or The Nation. They're too busy preparing lectures, fixing syllabi, keeping office hours, or quashing rivals in faculty committees.

We think that during the summer, the quality and range of attacks against us actually increase. You've got professors with lots of time on their hands, and the more senior, tenured ones are looking for distractions from their bigger projects. In particular, we think a summer war could expose us to sustained assault by academic bloggers.

GOC Southern Command: I thought sustained blogging by a professor was pretty much tantamount to a suicide bombing.

Director of Military Intelligence: There's ample evidence for that. But we're talking about a group of highly ideological and thoroughly indoctrinated fanatics. They're quite willing to sacrifice career prospects in order to advance the cause. The tenured ones, of course, think they've already died and gone to heaven. They spend most of the year in classrooms full of near-virgins. It's almost impossible to deter a tenured professor.
"Near-virgins": I like that.
,  posted Monday, 30 April 2007
Via drinksoakedtrotsforwar.blogspot (5 May).

Monday, June 18, 2007

Attack on the Samarra shrine, no.2

(15 Jun) With all the news coming out of Gaza and Lebanon, Iraq has been pushed a little down the news headlines from the Middle East. The large-scale reprisals, such as happened after the attack last year and which were feared after last Wednesday's bombs at the Samarra shrine, have not materialised (as yet). The New York Times reported one intriguing detail:
Iraqi and American officials said the minarets’ destruction in Samarra also appeared to be the work of Al Qaeda, and that the explosives that destroyed them were placed inside each minaret. The attackers used the same kind of explosives and method as in last year’s bombing, Ambassador Crocker said.

The explosives consisted of two improvised explosive devices planted under each minaret, each with more than 50 pounds of explosives, an official in the governor’s office in Samarra said. “This work is not easy,” the official added. “It can’t be done quickly.” [..]
A few days before the latest explosion, a new police force was sent from the Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry as a prelude to reconstruction. The guards surrounding the shrine ceded to the new police, but those inside refused to leave, according to an American military official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Surely forces from a Shi'a-dominated Ministry wouldn't carry out, or collude in, the destruction of their own shrine. Would they?

By the way, the large number of  refugees from Iraqi was prominent in the news a month or two ago. It was, though, pointed out by a few people, such as Michel Gabaudan of the UN Refugee Agency (C-Span, 22 Apr), that there was an Iraqi refugee problem before 2003. They were starting to return... until the attack on the Shi'a shrine in Samarra on 22 Feb 2006.

Tax proposals in France

(8 Jun) Ségolène Royal, was on France Inter's 'Inter-activ'. She returned to the point that she had a short time to prepare, from being designated as candidate until the presidential election, compared to the 5 years Nicolas Sarkozy had.
Policy was decided before the candidate was chosen. It is necessary to accept the "logic of 5th Republic" - of having a strong leader, a leader who is not stifled by the party, rather a party that supports the leader, she said.

The interview also clarified certain points that I may not have fully understood before:
70% of estates are already exempt from inheritance tax: this would pass to 90% under Sarkozy's proposals.
The bouclier fiscale (tax cap) benefits only the 15,000 richest taxpayers.
The government also proposes to exempt interest on prime residences from tax. Ségolène is not opposed to this, but warns that increase in costs and property prices could wipe out any benefits. Controlling them would run counter to liberalism, she said.
But the major point of discussion as far as economic / fiscal proposals has been the TVA sociale, that is increases in Value Added Tax : the new Prime Minister, François Fillon, has described this as a TVA anti-délocalisation (against job-losses to abroad). This is not necessarily a bad thing, as has been shown in Germany, since VAT is imposed on imports, in contrast to taxes and other charges on income.  But the PS have been able to portray it as a means of financing tax cuts for the better-off.

Update (17 Jun). I'm listening to the radio: the Socialists seem to have done relatively well. The BBC WS reports that initial results show the UMP with 328 seats, the PS 206. By midnight, the final results are in. It's looking even better:  UMP 314, PS 218. So, 40 seats gained by the Socialists from the UMP (compared to 2002). Also, Alain Juppé, who was going to be number 2 in the new government has been defeated. There is no constitutional reason why this should bar him from office (in fact, ministers have to resign their seats anyway), but Sarkozy has said that anyone who stands for election and is defeated cannot be part of the government (- see the FT, 9 Jun).

At 7:00, I heard that Royal and Hollande had split up as a couple: France Inter had just had aired their exclusive interview with Ségolène Royal. The news had been released the previous evening by a press agency, it seems. When the BBC reported the story, they said, rather brutally, that she had accused him of having affairs. In the extract from the interview that I heard, she said that he could carry out his vie sentimentale elsewhere (vie sentimentale = love life).

Correction (19 Jun). After listening to the whole of Ségolène's latest interview, she does not actually mention there anything about the vie sentimentale. But it is supposed to be in a book that was due to come out on Wednesday. Le Monde had this: "J'ai demandé à François Hollande de quitter le domicile, de vivre son histoire sentimentale de son côté..." A download of the interview is available here.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Interview on the French election (Jeff Weintraub)

(9 Jun) I know it's a long time now since this interview, but I just wanted to make a couple of comments.

On the uneven pattern of migration from Eastern Europe, it's relatively simple really. Only the UK and Ireland allowed unlimited access when Poland and the rest joined the EU in 2004. France, Germany etc. imposed restrictions. Even the British government, though, thought it necessary to impose limits when Rumania and Bulgaria joined at the beginning of 2007.

Spain's immigration "problem", I thought, comes more from the South: all those people from Africa trying to reach Europe via the Canaries.

Italy's policy has certainly been unwelcoming, especially under Berlusconi, but it's worth reading an article from the FT Magazine a couple of years ago that I posted about previously
Because of its geographic position and long coastline — more than 7,000 kilometres — Italy has now become the first country of arrival for more asylum seekers and migrants than any of its EU partners. A few go overland from the former Yugoslavia, but most arrive by sea...
I also don't altogether agree with your analysis that Sarkozy has received a clear mandate, unlike Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher in 1983 and Blair in 1997 got more than 40% but less than 45% of the popular vote, which gave them overwhelming majorities in Parliament.

Sarkozy got 31% of the vote in the first round of the Presidential election (in Britain, of course, there is only one round). Opinion polls now suggest that, with 41% of the vote, the UMP could get as many as 420 out of 577 deputies in the National Assembly (Le Monde, 8 Jun; FT, 9 Jun). So, it appears that having two rounds as against one does not make that much difference. But a two-round system is intrinsically fairer - a transferable vote would be fairer still - and I think it would have reduced Thatcher's majority in 1983.

Maybe the difference in France 2007 is that, in spite of Francois Bayrou's strong showing in the Presidentielle, the centre is weaker, being now split between the old UDF and Bayrou's new party, the Mouvement Democrate (MoDem). (Also, if I understand correctly, for the legislature, the second round is not between the top 2 candidates, but between all those scoring more than 12.5%  in the first round.

Update (11 Jun). Listen to this in English, while it's still available: analysis from Alasdair Sandford, one of the BBC's correspondents in Paris (Friday 8 Jun). He concludes that, just as the supporters of the far-left parties switched their support to Mitterand in 1981, so they did to Ségolène Royal, but they are now fewer in number.
On the other hand, Bertrand Le Gendre in Le Monde, 4/5 Jun, argues that the Parti socialiste has come out of the Presidential election stronger, in spite of appearances: its left-wing is shattered, its rival parties on the Left are weakened. They are thus confirmed as the only credible opposition to the Right in a bipartisme (two-party system).

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Neither war nor...

(21 May) A small correction on Bernard Kouchner, occasioned by posts from Jeff Weintraub and Norman Geras.

I know it's been in the FT and the NYT and on the BBC, but I don't think it's altogether accurate to say that Bernard Kouchner favoured the forcible removal from power of Saddam Hussein. I would put it like this:
Most French intellectuals and politicians felt few qualms about supporting a policy to keep Saddam Hussein in power. One exception was Bernard Kouchner.
Shortly before the 2003 war, he wrote an article called 'Ni la guerre ni Saddam' ('Neither war nor Saddam').

Or, as Richard  Holbrooke puts it, “he does not come with a visceral anger towards the American ‘hyperpower.’”

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Churchill vs Princess Diana

(20 May) This from Jeff Weintraub ...

To start with the aside
unlike Brighouse, I thought "The Queen" was actually quite a good movie ...
(In reply to Harry Brighouse's 'Its difficult for a republican to watch The Queen, and for several reasons. First, its not very good...')

I enjoyed "The Queen", too. But John Lloyd made an important point recently, in the context of British culture now. See below. The 'actor playing Blair' (Michael Sheen) also appeared as Blair before, in 'The Deal', a TV drama from 2003. Another appendix below (if it makes any sense). This, I think, is exempt from the criticism of the shallow and cynical nature of much political drama.

Five Days in London, May 1940? The story is pretty well known: I remember hearing a radio play about it a year or two ago.

There is another story, from after 1945. After the war, Britain faced terrible economic problems and sought a loan from the US. There were doubts on the part of many Americans as to whether such a loan should be granted, when Britain had such a left-wing government. But on a visit to the US, Churchill said of the leaders of the new government that, although they were Socialists, they were good men, "they  served in my wartime coalition."

That seemed to me to be an act of extraordinary patriotism.

('Mortgaged to the Yanks', BBC4, first broadcast 3 Jan 2007, by (Sir) Christopher ('Red Socks') Meyer, former British ambassador to Washington.)

The weak in politics By John Lloyd     Friday Mar 30 2007 10:30 [extracts] 

Alistair Beaton's play King of Hearts shows a prime minister and leader of the opposition gathered at Windsor. The king, after three and a half decades as heir apparent, has had a stroke a few months after his coronation. He is dying. His eldest son is eminently suited to succeed him – except that he is engaged to a young Muslim woman and wants to convert to Islam. [..] As in his television plays A Very Social Secretary and The Trial of Tony Blair, Beaton presents what a significant part of the cultural and media establishment thinks we should think about trust. Briefly, we should never trust the people we elect to govern and manage our society.

As Peter Morgan's script for The Queen tells us, we can, on the other hand, have trust in the monarch. Just as the Queen emerged as the moral centre in the eponymous film, so the fictional Prince Richard, the character modelled on real Prince William in the King of Hearts, is almost the only principled character.

The Archbishop of Canterbury's moral muddle-headedness is contrasted with the steady faith of Nasreen, the Prince's fiancée. And this is the predominant reason why Prince Richard chooses to renounce his role as head of the Church of England and convert to Islam: "Because they believe in something."

Trust attaches only to non-elected authority and to unwavering faith - of whatever content. Here, amid the guffaws, is a radically anti-Enlightenment vision. Whether or not those who promote it are aware of the implications is open to doubt, but this is anti-liberal democracy lite, which can fall back on the rationale that it is satire, or just a laugh at the expense of public figures.

Trust should be a matter of the head - conferred on those you have reason to believe deserve it. Instead, trust has apparently become at least as much a matter of the heart. 
[..]  If we withhold trust from authority figures because they are authority figures and instead trust those with whom we feel apparently intimate, we have suborned reason to sentiment.

If a climate is being created in which it is wrong in principle to trust public figures (as opposed to using one's reason to determine when to trust them or not), then we are entering a new intellectual age that seeks, through art, to deprive politicians and public figures not just of all credibility, but of all possibility of credibility.  Our political conversation and our professed attitudes all point to a gigantic loss of trust. But what is really being lost is our capacity to reason. - []
'The Deal' [notes from 2003]

... : totally brilliant - archive footage of Kinnock, Thatcher (also seen slumped in back of car). John Smith smiling at Brown's maiden speech. Brown and Blair making a nuisance in committee [though faced with an overwhelming Tory majority in Parliament], Brown quoting E.M.Forster '2 Cheers for democracy', Blair : no other Western European country interferes with Trade Unions' organisation. Smith holds up 5 fingers to Blair, for years. Smith on the train from London to Scotland joking about Thatcher [talking to one of her MPs about why people voted for him] '30,000 for me, 486 for you'.

Brown to Blair : don't be ashamed of being English - it's your greatest asset. Blair in Islington, worrying about pissing it away in opposition, while his friends make good money. Thatcherwasm.

[Brown on Blair standing as deputy in '92 : even with John's backing, he'd only get 30% of the votes.]

Brown to Smith about Blair : he's just a blow-in.

And I've only watched half of it.

[Brown : have we come this far to go crawling to the T&G (union) ?
Whelan : have we come this far to have a tory leading the party ? ]

Monday, June 11, 2007

Ségolène Royal: the gender effect

(16 May) This via e-mail
Ms. Royal had repeatedly appealed to the women of France to vote for her in a show of female solidarity. But Mr. Sarkozy ... got the majority of the women’s vote,
I should imagine that Sarkozy also got the majority of the men’s vote. I have a little anecdotal evidence that women may have voted for her in spite of the fact that she is a Socialist. It's interesting, though, that in her closing remarks in the televised debate with Sarkozy, Ségolène held up the example of another female leader, Angela Merkel.

There's something else: Ségolène Royal is one half of a political couple. I don't think it's sexist to mention that, since it's part of the condition of women that they tend to be married to men. It's interesting to compare Hillary and Bill, but I don't really think there are any comparisons. Francois Hollande, her partner, is I think fairly described as a dinosaur of the Left (the French call them 'elephants'). Apart from the usual economic issues, there is another example: the case of Cesare Battisti, a former extremist, wanted in Italy in connection with four murders, whose cause many on the French Left have taken up for some unaccountable reason (This is hardly ever reported outside France, but here is a piece from the BBC).

When the affair was back in the news in March, Le Monde reported that Ségolène has avoided speaking about this publicly, but those close to her say that, in private, there is no secret about the reservations she had when Hollande went to support Battisti, in February 2004. ("Depuis trois ans, elle a d'ailleurs toujours évité ce sujet sensible, pour lequel une parti de la gauche s'était mobilisée. En privé, ses proches ne font pas mystère des réserves qu'elle éprouvait lorsque François Hollande était allé soutenir, en février 2004, l'ex-activiste écroué à la prison de la Santé." )