30 April 2004

Internet craze

Via Tim Blair I learn the lastest craze is:

  1. Grab the nearest book.
  2. Open the book to page 23.
  3. Find the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

I got:

Many of the akritai belonged to the separated Armenian church, and almost all of them willingly gave protection to heretics; while Moslem heretics could always find protection with Moslem frontier lords.

So there...

29 April 2004

WTO rules American cotton subsidy illegal

Brazil has won a landmark victory at the World Trade Organisation that could spell the beginning of the end of rich countries' subsidy payments to their farmers.

The WTO, based in Geneva, has ruled that US$1.5bn (AU$2.5bn) of annual subsidies given by the United States government to its 25,000 cotton farmers are mostly illegal.

The provisional ruling is confidential, but trade sources said pubic confirmation would be available as soon as next month and could start a domino effect whereby much of the %uFFFD300bn in subsidies lavished on the rich world's farmers might tumble.

'This could be the first domino,' one said.

The ruling is the first time a developing country has won such a decision from the WTO when arguing against one of the big trade powers.

The European Union is also under pressure from countries such as Brazil, Australia and Thailand over the massive subsidies it makes available to sugar beet growers.

The agricultural subsidies attracted by farms in the richer nations have been one of the main sticking points in the latest round of world trade talks, known as the Doha round, which collapsed spectacularly in Mexico last year.

In ways, this could be the most important international event this year. The massive agricultural subsidies paid by much of the developed world (Australia, for once, is a notable exception) are perhaps the single greatest contributor to world poverty.

The mess in Iraq will pass in time. Even if the US re-elects the Boy Emperor he will only have 4 more years. But some of these agricultural subsidies and protections are generations old.

28 April 2004

Iraq's Transition: On a Knife Edge

The history of post-Saddam Iraq is one of successive, short-lived attempts by the U.S. to mould a political reality to its liking. With each false start and failed plan, realistic options for a successful and stable political transition have become narrower and less attractive. Getting it right this time is urgent and vital. There may not be many, or any, opportunities left.

In undertaking his mission, Brahimi inherited several stark and in some ways conflicting political constraints: the U.S. commitment to 'transfer sovereignty' to an unspecified Iraqi body by 30 June 2004; the unrepresentative character of the existing Iraqi institution, the Interim Governing Council; the absence for the foreseeable future of a credible and reliable Iraqi security force and therefore the need for a continued U.S.-led force; strong objection by the most influential Shiite representative, Ayatollah Sistani, to endowing any non-elected government with genuine authority; and the practical impossibility of holding national, democratic elections before January 2005.

Added together, these factors lead to two clear conclusions: first, fundamental change is needed soon if the growing vacuum separating the occupation's governing institutions from the Iraqi people is to be narrowed; and secondly, whatever happens on 30 June will at best involve a delegation of something far less than full sovereign powers to a body falling far short of being representative.

Someone in the International Crisis Group has been channeling Galadriel. More later when I've read it.

Yours, in the hope Britain will think again on the direction we are heading

The conduct of the war in Iraq has made it clear that there was no effective plan for the post-Saddam settlement. All those with experience of the area predicted that the occupation of Iraq by the coalition forces would meet serious and stubborn resistance, as has proved to be the case. To describe the resistance as led by terrorists, fanatics and foreigners is neither convincing nor helpful. Policy must take account of the nature and history of Iraq, the most complex country in the region. However much Iraqis may yearn for a democratic society, the belief that one could now be created by the coalition is naive.

The military actions of the coalition forces must be guided by political objectives and by the requirements of the Iraq theatre itself, not by criteria remote from them. It is not good enough to say the use of force is a matter for local commanders. Heavy weapons unsuited to the task in hand, inflammatory language, the confrontations in Najaf and Falluja, all these have built up rather than isolated the opposition. The Iraqis killed by coalition forces probably total 10,000-15,000 (it is a disgrace that the coalition forces appear to have no estimate), and the number killed in the last month in Falluja alone is apparently several hundred, including many civilian men, women and children.

We share your view that we have an interest in working as closely as possible with the US on both these related issues, and in exerting real influence as a loyal ally. We believe the need for such influence is a matter of the highest urgency. If that is unacceptable or unwelcome, there is no case for supporting policies which are doomed to failure.

One of the war party's resounding themes before the war was to invoke the mass graves of the period when Saddam was acting as a US proxy and the US was providing diplomatic cover. Halabjais one example.

Iraq has newer mass graves than that. The ones in Falluja is only a few weeks old.

25 April 2004

Dogs On The Scent Of Better Behaviour

Dogs in animal shelters can be helped to behave better by wafting special scents throughout their kennels and corridors, animal behaviour experts from the University of Edinburgh have found. The research may lead to more dogs being rehomed after they have been placed in shelters for a variety of reasons including excessive barking and other bad behaviour.

I am as much of a dog junkie as anyone I know. But the question must and will be asked. Exactly which smells have this happy effect?

Are we going to see little electric gizmos that cheer up your dog by filling the house with the pleasing scent of whatever unspeakable thing they'd really rather be out rolling in? Are there dog owners in the world silly enough to buy these devices? Have you watched much late-night TV recently?

White House Says Iraq Sovereignty Could Be Limited

These diplomats, and some American officials, said that if the American military command ordered a siege of an Iraqi city, for example, and there was no language calling for an Iraqi government to participate in the decision, the government might not be able to survive protests that could follow.

The diplomats added that it might be unrealistic to expect the new Iraqi government not to demand the right to change Iraqi laws put in place by the American occupation under L. Paul Bremer III, including provisions limiting the influence of Islamic religious law.

Democratic and Republican senators appeared frustrated on Thursday that so few details were known at this late stage in the transition process, and several senators focused on the question of who would be in charge of Iraq's security.

In Harry Turtledove's Balance alternate history, the planet gets invaded in 1944 by an alien race with deeply conservative ideas. The alien language has no word for a government independent of their empire so they end up talking about not-empires like the US and Britain. The aliens also go to some lengths to demonstrate to the leadership of the Third Reich that their racial theories are unfounded in fact and get tremendously confused when this produces no change in the Reich's racial policies. But I digress.

The Bush administration is shifting its Iraq policy from fantasy to science fiction. They have invented not-sovereignty. It is laid out in some detail in the transitional adminsitrative diktat.

The areas of sovereignty excised from the not-sovereignty to be handed to Iraq are security, finance, anything covered by a CPA proclamation, and anything covered by a UN resolution. Strangely, because the not-sovereign ITG cannot make laws it will be incpable of changing CPA laws and appointees (yeah, I mean Chalabi).

This top-secret and unsuspected plan was carefully laid out in the CPA's interim constitution a month ago. Did no-one read it?