I don’t know a great deal about Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, the Libyan colonel’s son – he’s not the one who played for an Italian Serie A football club until he got banned for using steroids, who was the only junior Gadhafi I’d heard of.

However, he seems to think that it would be a good idea for Middle Eastern countries to bring in things like democracy and human rights, and for rulers not to pass power on to their sons, and that Israel has some good points.

It goes without saying that he’s right. It’s less clear that he necessarily believes the above, it’s less clear that he has his dad’s permission to say what he’s saying, and it’s less clear – even if he does and does – that it will actually have any effect on Moammar’s policies.

My guess, not enormously evidence-based, is that he does believe what he’s saying, he does have Moammar’s permission (because the colonel wants the West to like him…), but that it won’t have much policy effect for a while.

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International logic

“If we ban random garotting, then the people who make garottes will become poorer. Damn you evil Western imperialists, throwing our good, honest garotte-makers out of work”.

The debate on reducing sugar consumption to cut obesity rates seems to have taken a similar turn to the argument above.

(hat tip: Anthony C)

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Dangerous gambling

The USA’s deranged restrictions on Internet (and indeed, any other) gambling have been quite rightly ruled illegal.

Unfortunately, I can’t imagine John Ashcroft and his sober gang of puritans taking heed and removing the restrictions – not in an election year when the pious right are already upset by the President’s lack of religious mania.

So the concept of GATS will take another hit in the eyes of the rest of the world, Americans will increasingly view free trade as a fiendish and decadent plot to sell their children into white slavery (this seems to be broadly the moral objection to gambling), and the path towards the horrors of protectionism will be trodden a little more thoroughly.


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Libya question

Does anyone (other than those paid to believe impossible things) genuinely believe that Libya ordered the Lockerbie bombing?

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Missing the point

Regular readers may or may not be aware of my take on Pakistan: broadly, I’m against it.

Less glibly, I’m disturbed by its descent into fundamentalism (chiefly driven, as in the Middle East, by the hopeless corruption of its secular rulers), by its dictatorial president (is it better to have a dictatorship than a theocracy… probably yes, but that’s not saying much), by its woeful lack of economic progress, and by the way that its secret service backs terrorism in India. It’s one of those countries like Iran, which doesn’t pose a threat to the rest of the world or oppress its people as badly as Iraq and North Korea, but is still a worry – and it’s hard to come up with a good long-term strategy for dealing with it.

All that said, this New York Times article (found via the excellent OxBlog) seems to be rather wrong-headed. It relies on the premise that US officials are blithely unconcerned by the revelation that Pakistan’s top nuclear scientist was running a nuclear bomb shop (and the decision to pardon him), that the administration has granted Pakistan free rein to do whatever it likes as long as it agrees to chase the ex-Talibanites who lurk around the Afghan border, and that the decision to declare Pakistan a “major non-NATO ally” is driven by the State Department’s love and respect for Pervez Musharraf.

While I’m as happy as any Brit to mock the intelligence of US Intelligence, the NYT’s analysis seems somewhat unlikely to be true.

It seems more plausible that rather than pursuing closer ties and ingoring Pakistan’s rampant dodginess, Washington has come to a bargain with General Musharraf: “tell us *everything* about who you sold nuclear material to, stop selling it, and co-operate with us absolutely on tracking the Taliban, and not only will we not invade you, but we’ll also not make you look like an imperialist stooge in front of your rebellious people. Hell, we’ll even formally agree to be your ally – now don’t go starting a war with India and making us look stupid, or payback will occur.”

This seems to be a very good way of fighting terrorism and rogue states – even if public humiliation, threatened war and ritual denunciation are more fun.

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Letting babies die is bad…

…but nonetheless, this is a *fucking stupid waste* of scarce organs and scarce medical resources in the name of a surgeon’s vanity.

Even after the transplant, the child still has a >50% chance of dying in the next 10 years. Meanwhile, people of all ages regularly die because too many selfish idiots don’t want to donate their organs (“oooh, it’d be all icky if I was cut up after I died”).

Although the introduction of live dissection for anyone who refused consent for posthumous donation would be the most sensible solution for this problem, the net result in the meantime is that there aren’t enough organs to go round. So using up eight on someone who’s not old enough to be miffed about dying, who doesn’t have any dependants, and whose chances are still pretty bleak, is grossly irresponsible.

Meanwhile, millions of people across the world die of easily preventable diseases. For the $1 million (absolute minimum) cost of an operation like this one, you could innoculate five million babies against polio. OK, you couldn’t: the cost of needles and nurses and transport would be somewhat higher, but you could innoculate lots.

Well, unless religious fanatics stopped you (I’m torn between the same fate for these crazies as the one outlined above, or a slow death from preventable disease. The latter would be more appropriate, but less utilitarian). Or secular fanatics, come to that.

Incidentally, in the (hopefully unlikely) event that this is true, the measured and appropriate response would be to burn our illustrious First Lady at the stake…

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Fear and loathing return

I’m sure this has been noted by others, but I’ve just realised that Americans are living in 1972.

The decade of peace, prosperity and idealism is dead; the US is embroiled in a war that’s probably the most divisive it’s ever been on the home front.

Occupying the presidency is a disgraceful crook, whose vice-president and other cronies are even worse, and whose administration is already being investigated for a wide array of crimes and stupidities.

The Democratic presidential candidate, who anyone sensible would support at the drop of a hat, is dismissed as naive and incapable of winning the – largely manufactured – “war”.

While a large community [1] of non-mainstream journalists, readers and commentators are well aware of the president’s unsuitability for his office, the mainstream media hasn’t (yet) summoned up the bravery to investigate his misdeeds properly.

So… on the minus side, Bush will win in November. On the plus side, his corruption will finally catch up with him and dog his second term; Cheney will be forced to resign in October 2005 to be replaced by Tom DeLay; and Bush will follow suit in August 2006. The DeLay administration will achieve next-to-nothing over the following two years, and Phil Bredesen [2] will emerge from nowhere to become Democrat president in the 2008 election.

Britain appears not to be living in 1972, other than with reference to the mysterious success of The Darkness. This is probably Just As Well.

[1] 1972: alternative print outlets; 2004: web.

[2] The present governor of Georgia is a Republican; Tennessee is a similar-ish venue run by a Democrat.

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Spanish sophistry

This is the best take I’ve seen so far on the “Al-Qaeda is run by expert psephologists who can exactly predict their bombs’ political effects” argument. It was originally posted by someone named Josh Yelon (who appears not to have a web presence) in Matthew Yglesias’s comments section; it deserves republication:


Actually, I think Al-Qaeda engineered the entire process:

Step 1. They observed that the conservatives produce ridiculous lies whenever placed under stress.

Step 2. They observed that the spanish populace won’t tolerate lying.

Step 3. They deduced that if they bombed a train station, the conservatives would lie about it, and that the spanish wouldn’t tolerate the lies, which would cause the conservatives to lose the election.

Step 4. They bombed a train station, and the pieces fell into place, as intended.


Well, it’s more convincing than any of the other related theories…

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Iraq question

When the future of Iraq is discussed, people who know a lot about Iraq (and people who don’t, but let’s discount them) frequently discuss a break-up of the country as if it would be a terribly bad thing.

I understand that the Turks might not welcome an independent Kurdistan, but can’t see why anyone else would object to creating a relatively sensible new country in the Middle East. I also find it hard to see why we should force Sunnis and Shias to co-exist in the rest of the country: why not split Iraq into a Kurdish north, a Sunni middle, and a Shia south?

Coalition troops could ensure that the inevitable ethnic homogenisation of each region came about through migration rather than through genocide; the end result would be three stable states instead of one festering mess of hatred and old-score-settling…

I’m sure there are good reasons why this wouldn’t work. I’d be interested to know what they are, however.

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Far worse than his near-namesake

There’s not a lot left to say about the attacks on Spain. In short:

* They’re a terrible thing

* We’ll probably never know whether or not they were provoked/hastened by Spain’s support for the invasion of Iraq

* The government lost the election for some combination of four reasons: the bombing led to increased turnout (which generally favors leftwing parties, although poll data doesn’t necessarily support this in Spain); the government attempted to mislead the Spanish people that the attackers were ETA; people perceived that government support for the Iraq invasion drove the attack; and the Socialists were slightly ahead even before the bombings.

Anyway, enough of that. I’m going to focus on American writer Michael Morris, who is an idiot.

Mr Morris is upset because after September 11, some British people suggested that American foreign policy might have contributed to the attacks, and some British people pointed out that Americans might want to rethink their long-time support for the IRA. He thinks it’s most unfair that when the Spanish bombs went off, the British reaction was to support the Spanish wholeheartedly without raising such points.

However, he seems to miss the reasons for this: that (since the Americans took away all their colonies a hundred years ago) the Spanish don’t have a record of brutal and abusive foreign policy; and that rather than backing the IRA the Spanish have long suffered exactly the same problems from their homegrown regionalist terrorists.

(he also thinks it’s churlish of the British not to support the country which sacrificed to much to save us from the Nazis during WWII. I agree that Russia doesn’t get enough support or credit in the UK, but I don’t think this is his point…)

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