If you only read one article this year on how politicians following Bernard Lewis’s wrongheaded theories have buggered up chances of Middle Eastern democracy (and whether the situation is salvagable), make it this one. An excellent read.

In other news, America needs to cut its current account deficit now or face a long and deep recession. That’s Japan-levels of long and deep. Given the economic competence and willingness-to-take-unpopular-decisions of the people in charge at the moment, it’s probably time to buy shares in repo companies and loan sharks.

Speaking of sharks, we should reintroduce them to Britain’s lakes and seas. I actually wholeheartedly approve of George Monbiot’s suggestion of adding more wild animals to the UK (he suggests wolves, bears, lynx, wild boar and bison): it’ll make the countryside much more exciting, and has no drawbacks (I don’t count ‘farmers being eaten’ as a drawback, so much as a socially useful way of reducing headcount in that pointless, dying industry).

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Factoid: Optical of Ed Rush and Optical, and Matrix of International Rude Boys, are the sons of Blunkett cuckold Stephen Quinn.

Their mother is Mr Quinn’s first wife, not Kimberly Fortier, so hopefully there’s no danger of Blunkett-ular involvement in their parentage… (via Mike S in Harry’s comments)

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Nut cases make bad law

Under the draft UK ID card legislation, the following summons could legitimately be sent out: "You are required to attend the summit of Mt. Snowdon at 0300h tomorrow morning so that we can take your fingerprints; failure to attend will be punished by a civil penalty of £1,000.". And that’s not even the silliest bit.

Read Chris Lightfoot’s latest article on the subject, and then shoot David Blunkett join NO2ID.

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Made to make your eyes water

A lot of people are spouting a load of nonsense about Bhopal, presumably in order to celebrate the anniversary of the tragedy there. "Hooray, it’s the anniverary of a tragedy, we can go bash a multinational! That’ll be worthy and tasteful."

The Union Carbide factory in Bhopal made pesticides to be used on Indian crops. Government tariffs made it economically unviable to import pesticides from abroad. Union Carbide set up a plant in India not to dodgily outsource production to somewhere cheap, but because it was the only way to do business in India. Famine was eradicated in India after the introduction of synthetic pesticides.

The Union Carbide factory in Bhopal met all Indian safety standards. It was designed and built by local engineers, again largely due to the protectionist regulations that banned foreigners from doing much of anything in India.

Following the tragedy, Union Carbide USA sold its Indian subsidiary and used all the money plus additional cash from its US operations to pay half a billion dollars to the victims. According to Union Carbide’s estimate of 3000 fatalities and 3000 non-fatal but disabled casualties, then this works out as $83,000 per head. According to pressure groups’ estimates of 15,000 fatalities and 45,000 disabilities, this still works out as $8000 per head.

The first figure is 80 years’ income. The second figure is 8 years’ income. While it may seem like a pittance in the west, it really isn’t – and if the plant had belonged to an Indian company, then the victims would have got nothing.

The Indian government enormously ballsed-up allocating the money, to the extent that many survivors died before they received a penny. This is not Union Carbide (or its new parent company Dow Chemical)’s fault. If you’re scandalised by Bhopal, go and protest against the Indian government’s incompetence – this is, after all, the thing that has kept India poor for the last 50 years.

Protesting against Dow for daring to buy a company that dared to do business helping people (yes, and obviously making money) in the developing world is somewhat pathetic.

NB it’s not only acceptable, but morally correct, to apply less stringent safety standards in India than in the US. In India, poverty is the biggest cause of premature death. In the US, it is not. Building a dangerous factory in India that makes its workers rich enough to afford food and medicine is better than not doing so (this is also why developing-world sweatshops are *good* – the people who work there are less abysmally badly-off than if they didn’t work in developing-world sweatshops).

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Sharing a planet with the unspeakably dreadful

I assume you’ve heard of the horrors of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Even if you’re a neo-Nazi and don’t belive in them. But if not, then apparently you’re among 45% of British young adults.

Once again, I’m ashamed of a vast proportion of my countrymen.At the risk of trivialising something terrible, if you can’t even be bothered to learn about Auschwitz, you probably deserve to be gassed.

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Assorted ‘who knew?’s

The pro-Bush-left site Who Knew? says that the 380 tons of explosive that went missing in Iraq were stolen by Baathist high-ups in order to carry out suicide bombings. No, seriously, colour me shocked.

Curiously, both Who Knew and Norm seem to think this exculpates US military planning; not, perhaps, the natural conclusion to draw.

Meanwhile, in the combination "who knew / shameless self promotion" category, the Independent reports that "14th century Russians believed vodka contained a spirit". Good story, though; they’ve found some quality candidates to interview.

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Tolerating everything but intolerance

I think I might need a break. I get one in 2.5 weeks, but that may be insufficiently soon.

I just saw someone reading the Daily Mail in the local cafe, and felt a near-irresistible compulsion to go up to him and scream "are you a Nazi? Are you a fucking Nazi? Do you hate the blacks and the gays? If not, why are you reading that fucking Nazi rag? The Times and the Independent are both tabloid-size now, so you can’t give that as an excuse; you’re clearly just a fucking Nazi. I hope you die, you piece of shit", while punching him repeatedly in the head.

Even though I managed to resist said compulsion, I still don’t think this is good.

The way I’m currently keeping myself sane is by discovering new conspiracy theories. The latest one I’ve found would impress even Dr Andrew Wakefield.

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"I’m hoping that since they’re cutting funding for science, they’re going to jack up the luxury rate, triggering "We Love the President" celebrations in all the cities. That will cause a rapid jump in population, and since the big cities tend to vote blue, well, it will be a Democratic administration that launches the expedition to Alpha Centauri…" – Mitch Mills, commenting at The Poor Man.

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