Monday, August 30, 2010

You can't get there from here

The outrage du jour in Germany is an interview with Thilo Sarrazin, veteran politician and currently member of the board of the real European Central Bank, the Bundesbank. Sarrazin has a record of concern about the impact of immigration from Muslim countries on Germany and the European Union, and he must feel that his time has come with the row over the "Ground Zero Mosque" in the US tapping into related anxieties. Anyway, here's an interesting part of the interview (with the German publication World on Sunday) run through The Google translator --

Until a few decades, immigration played for the gene pool of the European population only a minor role and, moreover, took place very slowly. Three-quarters of the ancestors of today's Ireland and the British were already 7500 years ago the British Isles. Indeed, it is wrong that it immigration movements of the scale, as we have it today, had always existed in Europe.

This is meant as a response to the claim that Europe has always had large population movements, so there's nothing unusual about the relatively recent wave of immigration from Muslim countries.

The interview doesn't provide any reference for the idea that the bulk of Britain and Ireland's current gene pool was in place 7500 years ago (note: pre-Celtic) but The Google (is there anything it can't do?) establishes that it traces to the respected Oxford geneticist Stephen Oppenheimer.

The problem is that Oppenheimer's genetic argument is a strange one to rely on for emphasizing the importance of cultural influences. In fact, the genetic perspective leads to the conclusion that genes have much less to do with culture and language than Romantics like to think. How much about modern Britain and Ireland would you understand from Newgrange and Stonehenge even if 3/4 of our ancestors were in place at that time?

In short, there's no harm in thinking intercultural interfaces can be a tad tricky in the modern world. But trying to relate these to genetic theories -- particularly if you're German -- is going to be a rocky road.

Photo source

Saturday, August 28, 2010


We've another post up on the Fistful of Euros platform about misinterpretations of Ireland's recent economic experience.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Don't mention the pork

Founder of disgraced military contractor Blackwater, Erik Prince, has, like the Sex and the City girls, decided that the real fun is to be in had in Abu Dhabi. Explaining his move --

"I’m trying [Abu Dhabi] because it feels a lot like Singapore. Rule of law, a friendly business climate, low to no taxes, free trade and no out of control trial lawyers or labour unions. It’s pro-business and opportunity.”

This from a man whose entire business model depends on government contracts.

UPDATE 13 May: He's actually building a mercenary army for the UAE.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

He's got a lot to do

The latest hit on the "Ground Zero Mosque" is a transcript of remarks made by Feisal Abdul Rauf, promoter of the cultural centre, during an address at the Univ of South Australia in 2005. Someone had to use a lot of the Google to find that one. The supposed outrage comes from Rauf comparing the excess deaths resulting from the sanctions on Iraq to al Qaeda's death toll. Part of the supposed rebuttal is to claim that the sanctions really didn't result in that many deaths -- which makes one wonder why a war to depose Saddam was so much the preferred alternative.

But anyway. Rauf gave his address to the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, in which lectures are supposed to give informed viewpoints in a way that engages communities. And Rauf was there to explain why the War on Terror can look different if you're a Muslim in a country on the receiving end as opposed to, say, being George Bush visiting Iraq but never addressing any crowds outside a military base. And his remarks, which are quite extensive, do a decent job of that. It's the kind of thing that someone like General David Petraeus, seeking to understand local populations, would read.

Interestingly, the prescient Bob Hawke (now 80 years old, and whose election winning skills apparently left Labor with him), in apparent recognition that Islamic issues were going to be on the cultural frontline for some time, has now gotten the university to establish an International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding. Rauf's 2005 address would be good material for that. But the problem now is that if you're a Muslim hoping for an American career, or even an American visa, what you can say at such a centre may be restricted to opinions that American conservatives find agreeable, with the scrutiny increasing as each election approaches.

We could thus be headed for the situation in which many conversations that Americans might find interesting can't happen in America, with Koranic interpretation left to such Arabic experts as Andrew McCarthy and Bill Kristol. Thank God there isn't any dodgy stuff in the Bible.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Latest Lower Manhattan mosque #analogyfail

Tom Friedman, this time actually leaving the airport (but not yet in the taxi) for his column material --

I just saw the movie “Invictus” — the story of how Nelson Mandela, in his first term as president of South Africa, enlists the country’s famed rugby team, the Springboks, on a mission to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup and, through that, to start the healing of that apartheid-torn land ... When the post-apartheid, black-led South African sports committee moved to change the team’s name and colors, President Mandela stopped them. He explained that part of making whites feel at home in a black-led South Africa was not uprooting all their cherished symbols ... Mandela adds, “We have to surprise them with restraint and generosity.” I love that line: “We have to surprise them.” I was watching the movie on an airplane and scribbled that line down on my napkin.

So far, so uplifting. But then on the question of the mosque --

This is also why the issue of the mosque and community center near the site of 9/11 is a sideshow.

So a column that begins with the transcendent importance of the issue of the name of South Africa's rugby team then swats away the symbolism of the row over the mosque? Now while one lesson is that any analogizing of other episodes to the mosque row is bound to fail, isn't Mandela's message that it's up to the people in power to be conciliatory, regardless of hard feelings from the past?

Photo: AP Photo/Themba Hadebe from last night's Tri-Nations in Johannesburg.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

About that Muslim President

Why, according to one poll, do an increasing number of Americans think that Barack Obama is Muslim? One thing to keep in mind is a context of relentless but subtle messaging from his conservative opponents. Take the case of Tom Sowell, a Stanford economist who should know a lot better:

The 2010 elections are one of the most, if not the most, important elections we’ve ever held. Because if Obama doesn’t get stopped in this fall’s election, I don’t know how he’ll ever be stopped. For one thing, people talk about his falling poll numbers. He’s still in the 40% range. If he can somehow make millions of illegal immigrants legal voters before 2012, he can win a second term. That would be the point of no return. The November elections are like the battle of Poitiers or the seige of Vienna. If those battles had gone a different way, the entire history of the world would have been different. In the November elections, this country will be at stake.

Note first the immigration paranoia -- there is no proposal to convert illegal immigrants to citizens. The proposal is for a long path to citizenship, which takes years even for legal immigrants. Then the battle references. It's not clear why he'd pick Poitiers from the various events during the Hundred Years War but he had to get in the Siege of Vienna -- a critical setback in the Ottoman (i.e. Muslim) encroachment in Europe. Who needs the contraptions in Inception when you've got this stuff?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lincoln at Ground Zero

At Gettysburg --

We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense we can not dedicate - we can not consecrate - we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled, here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.

The application to Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin deciding what buildings in Lower Manhattan are most appropriate to the 9/11 attack site seems clear.

Monday, August 16, 2010

That other America

Addressing the mosque-near-9/11 site controversy, Ross Douthat in the New York Times --

The first America tends to make the finer-sounding speeches, and the second America often strikes cruder, more xenophobic notes. The first America welcomed the poor, the tired, the huddled masses; the second America demanded that they change their names and drop their native languages, and often threw up hurdles to stop them coming altogether. The first America celebrated religious liberty; the second America persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics. But both understandings of this country have real wisdom to offer, and both have been necessary to the American experiment’s success. During the great waves of 19th-century immigration, the insistence that new arrivals adapt to Anglo-Saxon culture — and the threat of discrimination if they didn’t — was crucial to their swift assimilation.

It's a strange conjunction then to read one example of that that 19th century assimilation process might actually have been like --

Young and strapping, the 57 Irish immigrants began grueling work in the summer of 1832 on the Philadelphia and Columbia railroad. Within weeks, all were dead of cholera.

Or were they murdered? ... The brothers [researchers] have long hypothesized that many of the workers succumbed to cholera, a bacterial infection spread by contaminated water or food. The disease was rampant at the time, and had a typical mortality rate of 40 percent to 60 percent.

The other immigrants, they surmise, were killed by vigilantes because of anti-Irish prejudice, tension between affluent residents and poor transient workers, or intense fear of cholera — or a combination of all three.

In other words, it's important not to make those references to America's integration process in the 19th century sound too antiseptic. Even if you weren't Native American, it was pretty brutal. Libertarians in particular seem blind to this point.

Working holiday

Light posting here for another week but we have some actual on the ground reporting up for the audience at A Fistful of Euros.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Write-in candidate

RTE (Irish state broadcaster) Autumn schedule reveals a shocking omission --

The public will also be asked to vote on Ireland’s Greatest Person . The final five involved will be John Hume, Michael Collins, Bono, James Connolly and Mary Robinson.

Besides leaving out Terry Wogan, the presence of Mary Robinson on the list may attract international interest.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Outside his field

Robert "Robby" George is perhaps George W. Bush's favourite public intellectual; he holds down a professorship at Princeton University and is a specialist in the philosopy of "pro-life" issues; he is also a usual suspect in the various front groups that pop up to push aligned Republican and pro-life positions. But in the manner in which right-wingers like to branch out (such as Commentary magazine diversifying from angry pro-Israel positions to opposing Israel-style healthcare for Americans), Prof. George has decided to tell National Review of his outrage about the indeed outrageous release of Pan Am bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi.

But here's the problem. He's blaming Barack Obama for it. And specifically, he's blaming Barack Obama for not doing enough to get Gordon Brown to stop it. But read his comments. They show no awareness of the difference between "United Kingdom" and "Scotland", let alone the primacy in judicial matters of the latter -- the critical factor in how al-Megrahi was released. If the London government was indeed angling to release al-Megrahi (as cynics maintain they were), then Obama would have had more leverage. But Scotland explicitly chose to avoid the seeming route offered by London -- the Prisoner Transfer Agreement -- and made the decision on their own moral grounds. This is all stuff that's easy to look up, but apparently too much effort to do so in the quest for a 103rd reason why he doesn't think anyone should vote Democratic.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Behind the Murdoch paywall

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The fun stuff that you can't read anymore since The Times (UK) went subscription --

Former Tory politician Matthew Parris wrote in his Saturday Times column that he had swum across the river in central London in his vest and trunks.

"Frankly swimming in the Thames is not only ignorant it is selfish too," said David Snelson, Port of London Authority chief harbour master. "It was ignorant and it was dangerous," Mr Parris admitted in his column. "It could have ended in disaster," he added, admitting that he was "no great swimmer".

Mr Parris attempted to swim from the Globe Wharf apartment complex, in Rotherhithe, south-east London, across the river to Narrow Street, in Limehouse, north-east London.

The 60-year-old had planned to swim across the river at high tide to reduce the risk of being swept upstream

However, he had not realised that navigational tables were in Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). As it was British Summer Time (BST) when he made the swimming attempt, high tide was an hour later than he had expected.

Consequently he was swept three-quarters of a mile upriver from Limehouse.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The talking points will be televised

Sarah Palin showing Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace the scare trillions number written on her palm so she could remember it to argue against letting the Bush tax cuts for the top 2% of earners expire.

She also used the word "cojones."

It's somewhat bizarre that this circus is not generating more alarm.

The reserve army of the migrants

The latest in the Wall Street Journal's efforts to repackage the Celtic Tiger disaster as itself a triumph --

The Irish exodus is a grim indicator of just how far the Irish economy has fallen. But it's also instructive on how immigrants generally behave when free to come and go as they please: They show up when there's work to be had, and move on if their opportunities dry up. In Ireland's case, both before and after the crash, the result of open borders has been a more flexible and productive labor force. That's an achievement all Europeans can celebrate.

It's true that both the non-Irish and the Irish are leaving the fiscal austerity paradise, but as with Ireland's boom, it's tough to see the general lessons in any of this. The tale of Ireland as an immigrant country is essentially one of movement between the European Union's small economies, especially the Baltic states -- and the crucial factor of Poland. which managed its boom much better than smug and complacent Ireland did and so has been able to create opportunities for its former migrants in Britain and Ireland.

But global migration is not a story of movement between relatively wealthy countries already in an economic union. In particular, it's doubtful there's much in America's immigration debate that can be informed from Ireland.