Friday, December 30, 2005


An email from a reader in response to my recent comment on the Brace craniofacial findings:

Thank you for linking to the Brace et al article -- in the normal course of events I would never have seen it. In general, it confirms my own prejudices, so naturally I agree.

There are at present, and have been for some time, two competing models of human evolutionary history: the replacement model and the evolution in place model.

1) The replacement model postulates that hominids arose in Africa and spread throughout the world, in successive waves. Homo habilis _may_ have gotten outside of Africa (but probably didn't.) Homo erectus did and spread as far as China in the east and France and Spain in the north.

Neanderthals in this scenario are a purely European dead end, the result of Erectus being trapped in Europe during the ice ages and having to adapt.
There was then another radiation from Africa, that of anatomically modern Human beings, who replaced the Neandertals in Europe and the Erectines in Asia, gradually evolving into modern human populations. Thus we are all descended from the African Homo erectines who evolved into modern human beings. "Out of Africa." "Eve." etc. Stringer is one of the major proponents.

2) the Evolution in place model argues that early humans (probably Erectines) spread out of Africa into Europe and Asia, adapted to their environments, and proceeded to evolove gradually into modern human types. In this model, Europeans are descended from the Homo erectus forms that settled in Europe 500,000 years ago, evolved into Neandertals, and then into Cro-Magnons, und so weiter. Peking man's descendants live in Peking. The descendants of African Homo erectus live in Africa. Milford Wolpoff is the most prominent proponent of this view (and I thought that Brace was on the other side. Maybe he changed his mind.)

Viewpoint #1 assumes that successor and predecessor populations cannot exchange genes (either because they are too different culturally or because of physical intersterility. This assumes there was no gene flow between europe and the middle east for more than 100,000 years. This is highly unlikely. Also, there are some African remains from the right time period which _look_ Neanderthal, or would if they were in Europe, and stone tools which look like the ones Neanderthal's made.

The European Neandertals were clearly physically adapted to their environment, ice age Europe. The long face provides protection for the brain against the cold coming in throuigh the nasal passages (and the occipital bun ballances the rest of the head while running.) The arms and legs were put under so much stress by their muscles that the bones bent like bows (Ahnold was clearly a girly-man compared to Ug.) The heavy brow ridges provided support for the rest of the face (biological spandrels.)

When Europe's climate changed, so did they. It is probable they were non-sapient and adapted physically to their environment over time (and the 200,000 year long existence of the Mousterian tool 'culture' certainly argues that this is the case)

Now, what would Neandertals in Euope look like. Well, skin without high concentrations of melanin has been shown to survive frostbite better than with high concentrations of melanin (the work was one by the US air force in the 50s when they discovered that black American airmen in Greenland and other northern bases had higher rates of frostbite than their white fellow soldiers, despite the same training and equipment.) while fair hair and blue eyes are another likely adapation, although not a necessary one Remember North Asians have fair skin (which is where vitimin D is produced.). That is, they must have looked like the present day population of the Scandinavian countries. Except they were built bigger than Schwartenegger.

The conflict between the two has grand religious elements. Back in the 50s #2 was proposed by Carleton Coon, the leading physical anthropologist and archaeologist of his day. He had limited paleontological data to go on, but there are strong correspondences between the teeth of Peking Man and modern Chinese (shovel shaped incisors.) Also, the European face _looks_ a lot like the Neandertal face, compared to those of Africans and Asians (our Asians, not yours; yours are of Neandertal ancestry in this view as well.) Alas, his arguments were taken up by the KKK to proclaim that whites evolved to sentience first, and Coon was tarred as a racist (which he was not.) A biography of Coon recounts the arguments and details and hints at international intrigue by the Israelis (Coon was doing major archaeological work in Yemen.) We will skip the religion ad the politics and concentrate on the evidence, which is scanty, and some interesting theoretical models.

a) Farming did very clearly originate in the middle east -- there is no reasonable argument against it -- the closest wild relatives we have to modern grains are found in Iran. In terms of archaeological dating Farming settlements move from east to west in Europe over time, with the settlers taking a two pronged attack on the continent, with one group moving up the rivers inland from the Black Sea, while others move along the coast. Thus John Rhys-Davies and I both share ancestors who moved closer and closer to Britain over time.

b) Early farming communities were small and isolated, and usually had to move ever few years because they used swidden (slash and burn) agriculture, so their numbers get overestimated. Also, not all soils are good for early farming technology (parts of Poland could not be farmed until the Middle Ages!) The local hunter gatherers would hardly have viewed them as a threat, more as a source of trade goods. As an Australian you are inclined to think of settlers as displacing the 'natives,' which is also a very American view. And, at the same time, you are thinking of 'hunters' as 'warriors.' Neither is the case. The basic technolgies of both groups would have been comparable: stone implements. The farming villiages I've seen mapped out indicate just what we would call extended families. Only later do we get the massive earthwork defended villages that preceed the Indo-European invasions (I am doing all this from memory so I cannot cite sources. Check out Gimbutas's early farming in Europe book. You are thinking in terms of Maori tribes or Zulus, who had far better developed agriclture. Early neolithic farmers had to do a lot of hunting on the side as well.)

c) Hunter gatherers generally cannot organize themselves into armies. The British Empire faced threats from the Zulus, who were settled agriculturists and pastoralists who had dense populations and an elaborate social organization. Australian aboriginies certainly had elaborate social organizations, but how much of a threat did they ever pose?

The usual way HG groups deal with each other is through marriage. You give your sister or daughter away to someone in another group with a different territory so you can have claims on that group's resources in times of environmental stress. The locals would outnumber the newcommers, and the locals would swamp the newcomer's genes in the future population.

There are two good historical analogies. Bulgarians and Turks. At one time both these groups were Central Asian. The Bulgarians made the unpardonable error of losing their women to an enemy attack, and when they reached Eastern Europe they had to ally themselves with the local Slavs to obtain access to women and a posterity, leaving behind, over time, their language, their physical appearance, everything but their name. The Turks on the other hand had a passion for Circassian women, and sold off their own daughters to obtain them. That, and the fact that they never exterminated the native Anatolian population, gives us the modern day Turkish population. Their name and language survived.

There is also Newfoundland. I probably have Beothuk ancestors, but wave after wave of British, French, German, Portugese, etc. fishermen swamped them over
the years from 1586 to 1820 when the last pure blood Beothuk woman died.

Now, the reason Turks and Bulgarians look the way they do is because they did _not_ wipe out the native inhabitants, who were too numerous anyway.

If you look at a wide enough subset of modern day Europeans you will see most of the features posessed by the Neandertals, but almost never together on the same individual.

Then again, look at the small sample sizes Brace et al had to work with. 1,284 individuals from 52 seprate groups over thousands of years. I would make that my principal criticism of the argument. I would argue that we need far more work done in the field to prodcure more samples. More work for archaeologists!

Monday, December 26, 2005


An email from a reader:

What I'm writing here will involve some speculation, and some well known facts.

At the time of the hurricane I was in a hospital with pneumonia. One of the nurses looked at the TV just below the ceiling (in American Hospitals TVs are placed so they can be watched by people layiing down) and said: "How could such a thing happen to an American city?" My nurse was born in Haiti, and I felt too sick at the time to tell her that NOLA was not an "American" city -- it was Port au Prince North, but with a lot more money. Port au Prince as if the French had never left (or had their thorats cut, actually.)

New Orleans was always an economic backwater. It lived off tourism, much like my neighboring city of Salem, MA, which still lives off the notorious 17th century witchcraft trials. Part of it is economically important for traffic on the Mississippi, but for the most part it is bypassed.

At the same time, since the 1960s, NOLA's black population was shunted into welfare dependency, black families encouraged to break up, and black children (as usual, as they are the property of the democratic party's teacher unions) given piss-poor educations. In terms of public safety, NOLA would have to reduce its murder rate by 80% to match New York's.

In terms of political corruption, well, the public boards that control the funding of the levees have been investing heavilly in casinos and hotels.

Come Katrina, and the vast majority of those people found themselves displaced to Houston, Dallas, and other economically booming areas. Their kids have been placed in far better schools, some have found work (and others are living off of welfare) and, for the most part, they do not have homes to return to in NOLA. The homes, if owned, now need to be demolished. If rented, they still need to be demolished (NOLA is below sea level mostly, and the flood made much of the housing stock unliviable. In fact, entire areas of the city should just be closed down and bulldozed -- the areas stretching along the lake to the east and some to the south, which are flooded if it mists.) It really does not make any sense for someone who wants a future for their children to move back there.

The NOLA police force was supposed to have numbered some 1700 members (for a city of half a million!) before the hurricane. In fact, some 700 of those men were phantoms created to get Federal Aid. They were always paid ridiculously low rates because it was assumed they would make up for it with extortion and bribes. We'll just casually mention the 50 NOLA cops who have been arrested (and some put on death row) over the last twenty years, etc.

My ***speculation*** is that a large number of those 'missing' people may, like the 700 non-existent cops, be phantoms as well, created for political and economic purposes by the city government.

If those people cannot be induced 'somehow' to return to NOLA, the 2006 and 2008 elections are going to produce drastically different results from the last ones. The surrounding areas are republican. The people in NOLA's flooded areas were voted by Nagin and other democrats. The State of Louisianna has very peculiar election laws, which are designed to produce a 3 way governor's race between a democrat and two republicans. The democrat will certainly get less than 50% of the vote, but there is no run-off. Plurality wins. That is how the current idiot became Governor. The same for House and Senate.

Gradually, the real reasons for the flooding have come out in the papers -- the levees did not burst, there was no over-topping along lake Ponchatrain, rather the flood walls that line the canals that come into the city were poorly supported ***in sand***, were built that way only because of political machinations by the local politiciains, and the Army Corps of Engineers were ***told*** they would not survive by an engineering firm decades ago.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


In response to my recent posts about the U.S. birthrate a reader has emailed me as follows:

Not having any kids I'm hardly an 'in' source, but in general I'd have to agree with you, although not on the 'poor' angle. If you read the data again you can see that the biggest set of breeders were Hispanics of all races, that is Hispanic surnamed people who are white, indian, mexican, cuban, and black (although not necesssarily directly from Spain -- there are Hernandezes in Louisiana and Arkansas who have been there since Colonial times who are intermarried with Yankees and French etc -- since 'Spaniards' are 'european' rather than 'hispanic' or 'chicano' or....)

In general the people who breed least are college educated women. This goes back to the first women's colleges where someone noted that it took three to four graduating classes from Bryn Mawr to produce another graduating class. The people I hang out with most are university educated, mostly SF fans, and they do not have all that many children. Some have one. Fewer have two. This tends to be normal for academics as well. Kathryn Cramer, a publishing professional, was complaining recently on her blog ( about the problems of going to a con with small children in tow, and the even greater expense of leaving them at home (leaving your dog at a kennel would be cheaper, I'd say.) Most conventions have day long baby sitting facilities now, I believe it began when the people at the New England Science Fiction Society that runs Boskones and Noreascon worldcons in Boston found themselves facing their 'breed now or not at all!' time periods.

The people I work with are another story. They are not academics (I now work in retail) and they have children, and very often use extended family relationships to allow both parents to work. Grandmother lives in the house and looks after the kids. My cousin (an executive secretary) and her husband (a fork-lift operator) have two sons; my aunt babysat for both. One co-worker's daughter has twins, and my co-worker is delighted to baby-sit at the odd times her daughter and son-in-law go out to a movie.

I work in a garden shop selling trees, flowers, fertilizer, etc., during the summer, and christmas trees during the winter (and we had a great year this year! Much better than last year) and I get whole families coming through at christmas looking for trees, and the families tend to be large. Couples in their twenties with three kids in tow. A pregnant woman coming for her tree with a small boy in the car (the father is in Iraq.) A college educated woman with one son, aged about nine, who says "Dad has a van with a rack. You should have married him and we'd have that car." The vast majority of these people are white and working class, some are Asians (both your type of 'Asians' and ours), some are black, probably more are mixed couples (black and white, white and chinese or japanese) etc than just black (it's because of the local demographics, and the fact that we are on a highway where there is no bus service. Really poor people in the US do not have cars. That is how you tell if someone is poor.) Some are millionaires (one of my customers was a baseball player with the Boston Red Socks, something I only found out when I checked his credit card) but you don't have to go to college to become a baseball player, many go into farm teams out of high school -- he had three kids with him.

Now, the reasons for this are obvious and have less to do with income than with the extended childhood of the academic class. If you marry your high-school sweetheart she can start having children in her twenties. If the two of you meet in college both going for your doctorates... Consider the problems of a female doctoral archaeology student going down a ten foot pit to dig for her disseration project while pregnant. Academics with large families tend to have started where the wife worked while putting the husband through school and popped babies that her parents cared for ("Why did you marry this deadbeat? Couldn't you have found someone to support you?") and sometimes they get tossed out when their full professor husband finds a nuble grad student who thinks he's God (one such creep gave his own son 'an unsolicited disrecomendation' to a university that accepted him after the son sided with his mother during the divorce.)

The really poor and welfare dependent also have children. Lots of them. However, they are not so large a group, and the problem both for and with throw away kids is that they get thrown away. Years ago there was a nature program on female kangaroos in Australia on TV here and one of the females was simply unable to rear her young to the point of independent survival. She got careless. She couldn't find them in the tall grass. None survived. Generally, it's the throw-away-males who get 'discarded,' or sent off to the Crips and Bloods to go make their fortunes killing and selling dope, and if they survive, fine. If not, there are always more, and the daughters tend to stay at home.

The well-educated upper middle class families also have ways of reducing their children's long term survival prospects. Some parents cannot let go. They make the child dependent so they cannot leave, or give them so much money they never learn how to live in the real world. One of my best friends was kept in this position by his grandmother (the countess) and his mother until he was well over 40, with the kicker that when his mother died his annuity from the countess ended (and the one time I met his mother she constantly put him down to me in his presence!). My friend was of much tougher stuff than the females foresaw, however; he retrenched, married (into the Brazilian former nobility!) and gave both harpies an unwarranted and undeserved posterity.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Tookie Williams Is Executed

Convicted killer Stanley Tookie Williams, the Crips gang co-founder whose case stirred a national debate about capital punishment versus the possibility of redemption, was executed Tuesday morning.

Williams, 51, died at 12:35 a.m.

Officials at San Quentin State Prison seemed to have trouble injecting the lethal mixture into his muscular arm, apparently struggling to find a vein.

"It took them, it may have been 10 minutes to deal with that. Williams at one point grimaced, it looked almost at frustration at the difficulty there," media witness John Simerman of the Contra Costa Times told CBS Radio News.

"You doing that right?" it sounded as if he asked one of the men with a needle.

Five of his supporters witnessed his death.

"One witness pumped his fist in the air, a symbol of black power," said Crystal Carreon of the Sacramento Bee.

And three of Williams supporters shouted as they left the room after his death.

Barbara Becknell and the supporters said, "the State Of California just killed an innocent man," said Rita Cosby of MSNBC, another media witness.

Outside the prison, there was "utter silence for maybe 30, 45 seconds, no one moving. You could hear a pin drop. People letting it sink in that it had finally happened," reports Ron Kilgore of CBS radio station KNX-AM. Then Williams' supporters broke out again in song.

In the final hours before his execution, Williams refused to have the last meal traditionally offered to the condemned, and he told prison officials he didn't want to be visited by a spiritual advisor or the prison chaplain, reports CBS News correspondent John Blackstone. As he waited in a holding cell near the execution chamber he was given a bundle of letters sent to him from people across the country.

The case became the state's highest-profile execution in decades. Hollywood stars and capital punishment foes argued that Williams' sentence should be commuted to life in prison because he had made amends by writing children's books about the dangers of gangs and violence.

In the days leading up to the execution, state and federal courts refused to reopen his case. Monday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger denied Williams' request for clemency, suggesting that his supposed change of heart was not genuine because he had not shown any real remorse for the killings committed by the Crips.

"Is Williams' redemption complete and sincere, or is it just a hollow promise?" Schwarzenegger wrote. "Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings, there can be no redemption."

Williams was condemned in 1981 for gunning down convenience store clerk Albert Owens, 26, at a 7-Eleven in Whittier and killing Yen-I Yang, 76, Tsai-Shai Chen Yang, 63, and the couple's daughter Yu-Chin Yang Lin, 43, at the Los Angeles motel they owned. Williams claimed he was innocent.

Witnesses at the trial said he boasted about the killings, stating "You should have heard the way he sounded when I shot him." Williams then made a growling noise and laughed for five to six minutes, according to the transcript that the governor referenced in his denial of clemency.

About 1,000 death penalty opponents and a few death penalty supporters gathered outside the prison to await the execution. Singer Joan Baez, M*A*S*H actor Mike Farrell and the Rev. Jesse Jackson were among the celebrities who protested the execution.

"A wise man once said the death penalty is about three things: politics, politics and politics and what we have seen today is that Governor Schwarzenegger is another cowardly politician," said Farrell.

"Tonight is planned, efficient, calculated, antiseptic, cold-blooded murder and I think everyone who is here is here to try to enlist the morality and soul of this country," said Baez, who sang "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" on a small plywood stage set up just outside the gates.

A contingent of 40 people who had walked the approximately 25 miles from San Francisco held signs calling for an end to "state-sponsored murder." But others, including Debbie Lynch, 52, of Milpitas, said they wanted to honor the victims.

"If he admitted to it, the governor might have had a reason to spare his life," Lynch said.

Former Crips member Donald Archie, 51, was among those attending a candlelight vigil outside a federal building in Los Angeles. He said he would work to spread Williams' anti-gang message.

"The work ain't going to stop," said Archie, who said he was known as "Sweetback" as a young Crips member. "Tookie's body might lay down, but his spirit ain't going nowhere. I want everyone to know that, the spirit lives."

Among the celebrities who took up Williams' cause were Jamie Foxx, who played the gang leader in a cable movie about Williams; rapper Snoop Dogg, himself a former Crip; Sister Helen Prejean, the nun depicted in "Dead Man Walking"; and Bianca Jagger. During Williams' 24 years on death row, a Swiss legislator, college professors and others nominated him for the Nobel Prizes in peace and literature.

"There is no part of me that existed then that exists now," Williams said recently during an interview with The Associated Press.

"I haven't had a lot of joy in my life. But in here," he said, pointing to his heart, "I'm happy. I am peaceful in here. I am joyful in here."

Williams' statements did not sway some relatives of his victims, including Lora Owens, Albert Owens' stepmother. In the days before his death, she was among the outspoken advocates who argued the execution should go forward.

"(Williams) chose to shoot Albert in the back twice. He didn't do anything to deserve it. He begged for his life," she said during a recent interview. "He shot him not once, but twice in the back. ... I believe Williams needs to get the punishment he was given when he was tried and sentenced."


Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Bonaparte legacy: The victory France forgot

Two hundred years ago, Napoleon's victory at the Battle of Austerlitz sealed his reputation as a military genius. Today, his country seems undecided as to whether he was a hero or a villain. John Lichfield reports from Paris

In period uniforms, and thermal underwear, military enthusiasts from all over the world will gather on Saturday to re-enact one of the greatest victories in French history. They will come from the United States, from Australia, from Canada, from Russia, from Britain, and even some from France. They will converge on an obscure village in the Czech Republic which was once called Austerlitz.

Two hundred years ago tomorrow, a valley and a plateau near the village were the scene of a bloody six-hour battle which, above all others, sealed the reputation of Napoleon Bonaparte as a military genius and brought the Emperor Napoleon to the apogee of his power. The part of the emperor in Saturday's re-enactment will be played by an American Napoleonophile, Mark Schneider from Virginia.

In Paris, tomorrow night, on the actual bicentenary of the battle, a discreet ceremony and son et lumiére will be organised by the French army in the Place de Vendôme. President Jacques Chirac will not be present. Neither will the Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, (even though he has written poetically about Napoleon and, according to some of his colleagues, believes himself to be the direct, spiritual descendant of the Great Man).

As of yesterday, the French army could not say who would represent the French state at its Austerlitz party tomorrow. "We have been promised a minister but we don't yet know which one," a spokesman said, bravely.

Comparison is inevitable with the elaborate and joyful British commemorations of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, which began last summer and are still going on. So far the French press has been slow to make this comparison but a cannonade of media protests is expected today and tomorrow.

Of the two battles - fought within six weeks of one another - Napoleon was in no doubt which was the more important. The emperor dismissed Trafalgar as an "irrelevance".

Britain had been master of the seas; it remained master of the seas. So what? Austerlitz, Napoleon said, would change the map, and destiny, of the European continent for ever.

In truth, Austerlitz - now called Slavkov - changed the map of Europe for, at best, nine years. Its impact on the destiny of Europe was immense - but not in the way Napoleon had hoped.

British historians have always insisted that Trafalgar was the real turning point in the Napoleonic Wars. It is surprising to find the French state, seeming to agree with them, even 200 years later.

Paris has, after all, a railway station named after Austerlitz, as London has its Waterloo. The French capital is dotted with avenues named after Napoleonic victories and generals. Why the shyness about commemorating the bicentenary of the emperor's greatest victory?

Napoleonophiles believe that a decision was taken to downplay the bicentenary so as not to upset the "losers" of Austerlitz - Russia and Austria. They believe that the French government decided that an elaborate Austerlitz celebration would give the wrong impression of a France still obsessed with its past glories. (Tony Blair's Cool Britannia, it seems, has no similar hang-ups).

Thierry Lentz, director of the Fondation Napoleon, an academic think-tank devoted to the serious study of the period, said: "It is a little of many things. It is partly the fact that France has never made up its mind, officially, whether Napoleon was a great hero or a great villain.

"But it is, above all, a great failure of imagination, and a great admission of ignorance, on the part of our politicians. There is enormous, popular interest in history at present. Perhaps our politicians don't read but the French public does. Their greatest appetite is for books on history.

"A commemoration of Austerlitz did not have to be a jingoistic celebration. It could have been something intelligent which explored the history of the times and the many connections with the politics of Europe today. The wonderful exhibition on Nelson and Napoleon showing at present at the Maritime Museum in Greenwich is a model of how it should have been done."

A mammoth Austerlitz exhibition, drawing on historical scholarship from all over the world, had, in fact, been planned at the national army museum in the Invalides in Paris. Several years of work was put into the planning and research. Organisers cancelled the exhibition 18 months ago citing " lack of funds".

The core problem is that, in France, history is politics. Both the left and right sides of the French political classes remain divided on the key question of whether the emperor was "a Good Thing".

Was Napoleone di Buonaparte - a Corsican of Italian extraction who became emperor of the French and briefly the master of Europe - a wicked despot or a tragic hero? Was he an impostor who led hundreds of thousands to their deaths by charging down a historical cul-de-sac? Or was he the father of the modern French state? A genius? An insignificant nonentity? A monster and a butcher? Or a man of peace and a pan-European idealist?

Two centuries on, the French buy part of the myth but remain doubtful about the man. Paris may be littered with avenues and streets which commemorate Napoleon's generals, armies, victories and treaties but there is no grand avenue or square named after the emperor (only a street on the Left Bank, called the Rue Bonaparte).

Even this week a book has been published in France accusing Napoleon of being a genocidal racist and forerunner of Hitler. In Le Crime de Napoleon the historian Claude Ribbe recalls that the emperor brought back slavery in the French empire in 1802, a decade after it had been abolished by the Revolution. The decision led to brutal fighting in France's Caribbean colonies in which thousands died. Less well known, according to the book, is his imposition of racial laws in metropolitan France, which led to the internment of blacks and the forced break-up of inter-racial marriages.

Even Napoleon's military genius is doubted by some historians. Was Austerlitz won through a great stroke of tactical ingenuity? Or because fog blanketed the battlefield at an awkward moment, leaving the Austrian and Russian armies blundering around in the mist? Napoleon was certainly lucky on the battlefield of Austerlitz but the campaign leading there demonstrated all the brutal, decisive qualities which made him - for 15 years - the supreme figure in Europe.

Napoleon transformed late 18th-century warfare by abandoning the dilettant, aristocratic, almost sporting approach to battles which had gone before. He marched troops rapidly from one place to another over huge distances; he attacked enemies from the rear; he fought battles to destroy the strength of the enemy, not just to win the day.

Thus the Austerlitz campaign, which ended 60 miles east of Vienna in early December, began in Boulogne-sur-Mer, on the Channel in early August.

Napoleon was vaguely planning to invade Britain but could not do so while Nelson ruled the waves. As soon as Britain signed a three-way alliance with Austria and Russia against France, Napoleon ordered the 200,000 troops of the Grand Army to march east to make a pre-emptive attack on the Austrians. A little later, he ordered the French navy out of port in the Mediterranean, more as a diversion than anything else.

By turning his army east, he, in effect, abandoned his plans to invade Britain - hence his judgement that Trafalgar on 21 October, 1805 was an "irrelevance". (In truth, had Nelson lost the battle as well as his life, Britain would have been vulnerable to a post-Austerlitz invasion and 19th-century history would have been rather different).

After a number of skirmishes and smaller battles, Napoleon, with 70,000 men, took on 90,000 Russians and Austrians on the morning of 2 December, 1805.

Within six hours, although they held the best ground, the Russians and Austrians were not only defeated but crushed. More than 20,000 Russian and Austrian soldiers died; another 20,000 were captured. The French lost 9,000 men, killed and wounded.

Napoleon was one of the first masters of PR and propaganda. He wrote the history of the battle himself soon afterwards, insisting he had pre-planned every move.

In truth, the victory at Austerlitz was won partly through the fog of war - in this case, literal fog. Napoleon feinted to retreat, encouraging the Austrians to leave their high ground and try to cut off the French route to Vienna. Heavy mist descended. The Austrians poured down from the plateau they held and French troops poured on to it. By the time the mist lifted, the French dominated the battlefield and chopped up the enemy at will.

Napoleon fought a brilliant battle, adapting to events more rapidly than his enemies. But would his tactics have worked without the fog? His account fails to mention the weather.

The victory placed Napoleon in an utterly dominant position on the European continent. It also went to his head and hastened his end.

The positive, but intelligent, French view of Napoleon is that he turned into a brutal dictator but that the French Revolution, and its Napoleonic aftermath, were, at least, the Beginning of Modern Times.

British historians argue that the Revolution and Napoleon - far from speeding the "modernisation" of France - delayed for many decades the political, economic and industrial developments which were already starting under the ancien régime. The real "beginning of Modern Times" occurred, not at the Bastille or Austerlitz, but in the factories of Lancashire and the West Midlands.

The French see this as a smugly British view of history. By introducing basic property and legal rights - and by the very fact of being a meritocratic upstart, rather than an aristocrat - they say Napoleon hastened the end of feudalism all over Europe and laid the foundations for modern economics and politics.

There is also a suggestion - first made by Napoleon himself over a glass of wine, and possibly arsenic, in exile in Saint Helena - that the emperor was the first "European"; that his intention, all along, was to create a Europe without borders and without "civil wars". To do that he had to defeat Albion by imposing a single European market - "the continental system" - from which the incorrigible and un-European British would be excluded. This theory may be attractive to French romantics, and British Eurosceptics, but it makes little sense.

After Austerlitz, Napoleon was advised by his foreign minister, Talleyrand, to treat the Austrians magnanimously, encouraging a kind of exhausted peace in Europe in which France would be the dominant but not the overwhelming, imperial power. The British, without a serious army, would be powerless to intervene. Instead, Napoleon imposed humiliating conditions on Austria, consolidated his control of Italy and broke up what remained of the Holy Roman Empire.

In doing so he awakened national hatreds which brought about his downfall, nine - and then 10 - years later. He also, accidentally, helped to create the antagonistic, European nation states which dominated the next 150 years and generated two world wars. So much for Napoleon as the "father of the European dream".

None of these conflicting, and confusing, interpretations justify the failure of the French government to mark the battle of Austerlitz properly. As Thierry Lentz of the Fondation Napoleon points out: Austerlitz is not just French history, it is European history. It was not just a military event but a political one.

Commemorated sensibly, and intelligently, as on the whole Trafalgar has been, it could have been an occasion, not for flag-waving, but for contemplating the tangled roots of our common European past. And present.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Napoleon's genocide 'on a par with Hitler'

By Colin Randall in Paris

A French historian has caused uproar by claiming Napoleon provided the model for Hitler's Final Solution with the slaughter of more than 100,000 Caribbean slaves.

In The Crime of Napoleon, Claude Ribbe accuses the emperor of genocide, gassing rebellious blacks more than a century before the Nazis' extermination of the Jews.

His accusations refer to the extreme methods used to put down a ferocious uprising in Haiti at the start of the 19th century. Then known as San Domingo, the colony was considered a jewel of the French empire and to save it troops launched a campaign to kill all blacks aged over 12.

"In simple terms, Napoleon ordered the killing of as many blacks as possible in Haiti and Guadeloupe to be replaced by new, docile slaves from Africa," Ribbe said yesterday.

He said he had found accounts from officers who refused to take part in the massacres, especially the use of sulphur dioxide to kill slaves held in ships' holds.

His book is already provoking controversy prior to its publication on Thursday. The newspaper France Soir juxtaposed images of Napoleon and Hitler yesterday before asking: "Did Napoleon invent the Final Solution?"

But in an editorial, it condemned the "inanity" of Ribbe's argument. Ribbe, 51, who is of French-Guadeloupe extraction, said he was unrepentant.

"I want the French to know exactly what happened in that period," he said. "As for the good things Napoleon did, that is irrelevant. Hitler developed the autobahns and inspired the Volkswagen; are we supposed to excuse him for his war crimes?"

Ribbe, who was recently appointed a human rights commissioner by the prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, added: "I was taught to think of Napoleon as a superstar. To mention his crimes against humanity has been a taboo."

Friday, November 25, 2005


(An email from an Australian of German origins)

In a few years, Germany is likely to experience a political catastrophe of historic proportions. The underlying cause may well be the biased and narrow-minded view of the German press, in publications as wide-spread as from 'Spiegel' to 'Stern'. One example of decades of such of brainwashing is the almost 100% anti-American attitude of Germans.

This led a few years ago to the very narrow election of the Schroeder/Fischer team, on the basis of a very clear anti-American position. Without that very strong stance, Schroeder would have lost that election. A more business-oriented government could then still have saved the economy in the nick of time. But with the Social Democrats in power, the urgently needed economic reforms could not be carried out, since they would necessarily have weakened the power of their friends and partners, the labour unions. A few years down the track, the country is in despair, with 11% unemployment. The election this year showed voters in panic mode, paralysed by indecision. The result - no clear winner - a 'grand coalition'.

In negotiations with the Social Democrats to join in a coalition, Mrs Merkel had to jettison important aspects of her original program, which was aimed at loosening labour laws, cutting taxes and trimming generous social welfare benefits.

The SPD's slogan of 'Social Justice' will continue to dominate, with more big brother intervention, rather than less government and more free market guidance. Successful businesses will increasingly be handicapped by government and union constraints. Inefficient business areas will continue to be subsidised by German and European taxpayers, and will be protected from the realities of a changing world economy. Successful businesses will be forced to diversify out of Germany in order to survive, while economically unsound businesses will continue to flourish. With the new government in place, the boat has now ultimately been missed. An economic turn-around appears now impossible.

To what level will unemployment have risen in a few years? Whatever number you estimate, double it for youth unemployment. And what will the political consequences be? The recent riots in France have clearly shown what high levels of unemployment lead to. For Germany, an economic and political catastrophe of historic proportions is now in the making.

The German press appears clueless. They prefer emotional self-gratification to realistic analysis and constructive thinking. Or are they thinking further? All that chaos, collapse and human suffering - what fantastic headlines it will make! How many papers it will sell!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Osama says thanks to Australia's public broadcasters -- the ABC and SBS

An email from a reader:

"Terror is the most dreaded weapon in the modern age and the Western media are mercilessly using it against their own people," Why is the Western media establishment so anti-humane? Because it implants fear and helplessness in the psyche of the people of Europe and the United States. It means that what the enemies of the United States cannot do, its media are doing!" ..............Osama bin Laden

My complaints re the ABC and SBS are of not just bias, but an overriding political agenda, with savage daily anti Australian, anti American propaganda, painting the United States and Australia as oppressors, torturers and killers of Muslims and then broadcasting it into 40 countries throughout SE Asia, home to some 230 million Muslims, where this vitriol is sending a very clear message of sympathy and support for the terrorists cause, thus putting Australians and Americans at home and abroad at even more risk.

As publicly funded broadcasters, the ABC and SBS have a statutory duty to gather and present information that is "accurate and impartial” especially of the news and current affairs programs.

Now all is all fine and dandy if it was some innocuous programming that produced no threat to the community. Any government ministers watching these programs are very aware that the ABC and SBS have not only ignored their charter requirements, but engaged in an agenda of sedition and vilification, designed to drive a wedge between the Australian and US co-alition, while they send a very clear message of sympathy and support for the terrorists cause.

Balanced reporting? Accurate and impartial? A case in point: SBS Dateline (or "The George Negus Hate America Hour") crew succeeded in conning young American marines in Afghanistan that they were actually friends and allies. The imbedded SBS crew then filmed the burnt bodies of Taliban insurgents, and SBS is now proudly boasting of their achievement that this film is now being shown around the world which has greatly disturbed the US military, and I am sure special attention will be paid to it by the world’s one billion Muslims. The fact that this has obviously put even more westerners, and especially those young American marines at even more risk means nothing to these multicultural cultist twits at SBS.

It turns out though the Australian journalist who videotaped the proceedings, Stephen Dupont, stated in an interview, that he believed the bodies were burned purely for reasons of hygiene when the local villagers refused to retrieve them, and that the American soldiers didn't do anything wrong. Any apologies to the US government for the damage that SBS has done? Any clarification to the SBS viewers. Hell no! But we do have a very angry and outraged George Negus ranting that in the upcoming interview with the those tortured in Abu Ghraib prison that the Americans will not let any cameras in. Gee I wonder why? Could it be that they don't trust those "impartial" journo's at SBS?

And then there was the absolute beat up of the Bush administration re hurricane Katrina. Seems one beat up wasn't enough so SBS went for seconds. And then of course the ABC had to do their vitriolic piece. Yet an inquiry found that while FEMA was slow in it's response it was because most of the blame for the breakdown in the evacuation plans and law and order belongs to Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, who froze in reaction to Katrina, and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, so overwhelmed by the hurricane that he didn't carry out the city's emergency plan. And then there was the New Orleans police chief who made sensational claims about carnage in the devastated city that have turned out to be false, resigned yesterday. Will we see any contrition for the three over the top bashings of the Bush administration by SBS and the ABC?...Don't hold your breath!

Click on to Datelines past stories, and out of the last five, four of them have been outright bashings of the US government. And tonight's story will be another in their stories of torture in Iraq. This is balanced reporting? and how do these endless America "hate" stories benefit multiculture in Australia?

Tonight's Dateline story. "Haj Ali says he is the hooded man with electrodes connected to his hands - a photo that has become an icon of everything that is wrong with America’s occupation of Iraq. He spent just 3 months in Abu Ghraib prison, but will spend the rest of his life reliving it. He has started an organisation for victims of torture and claims to have 40,000 members. 40,000 tortured? Please!

And then tonight's Dateline will pull out all stops to piss off Muslims worldwide so they can plan even more attacks on us.

Multicuculturism is dead, and no one knows this better than those in Denmark, Holland, Spain, Britain and France, and we better wake up too.

We can never really “win” this war, we can only hope to keep these psychopaths from committing the ultimate act of madness, with radiological, bio or chemical agents as long as possible. The government must act now, and stop another weapon, the weapon of words that nurtures the seeds of hatred.

Saturday, October 29, 2005


The following is a letter recently sent by one of my readers to to General Karl Eikenberry US Army Central Command Iraq and Afghanistan

"I would like make you aware that there are two Australian television and radio broadcasters, the ABC and SBS with embedded correspondents in Iraq and Afghanistan who are sending extremely strong anti American propaganda back to Australia. In the case of the ABC, which is now broadcasting into some forty countries in SE Asia, Osama bin Laden and associates could not have a more effective propaganda machine in this region, no matter how much money they paid. Amazingly both these broadcaster are funded by the Australian government which these broadcasters despise.

These broadcasters, staffed by extreme Leftists have a blantant agenda to divide the Australian and regional peoples from America's efforts to win the war on terrorism. Their focus is targeted at any US and coalition setbacks, harm done to civilians, and especially any stories related to US military prison camps, including Guantanomo.

In fact the ABC ran 57 stories on Iraqi prisoner abuse alone, yet only one on the world's biggest scam featuring the Left's favourite institution, the UN and it's oil for food program, which as you are aware, enabled Saddam to buy weapons that have been, and still are being used to kill coalition forces in Iraq. I have never seen a single program by these broadcasters showing the US in a good light. Even their three stories on Hurricane Katrina were nothing more than hysterical rants against the US Government, and yet, this is the ABC, SBS idea of "balanced reporting".

The fact that the ABC, SBS hate America , hate Australia propaganda is now being broadcast into a region that is home to over 230 million Muslims should concern us all. "A *review of these two broadcasters programs since the start of the war in Afghanistan would certainly prove that these broadcasters are not just biased against the governments of Australia, Britain, Israel and the US, but they are sending a very clear message of sympathy and support for the terrorists cause.

For the good of America's image and the war effort, and the morale of Australian troops in the field, and their countrymen back home, I believe it is imperative that these two broadcasters be denied access to any US military operations. In fact they (along with the British BBC) should be banned completely from all areas of conflict, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, as they are doing much harm in dividing Australians from the coalition, not to mention the harm done in the SE Asia region where these programs are viewed.

Even putting Australians and Americans at more risk will not even deter these broadcasters in their appointed mission of sowing the seeds of dissent amongst fellow Australians, and giving more cause to potential regional or at home terrorists. Those who will one day be willing to strap on a bomb because of the stories of the perceived Muslim abuse that he has seen or heard on all those programs paid for, courtesy of the Australian taxpayer.

There is absolutely no benefit in allowing these broadcasters any more ammunition to smear the US military at every possible opportunity, and believe me, this is something in which they excel.

How the Australian government can allow these two broadcasters carte blanche, in what they broadcast in a time of war ( while picking up the tab) is amazingly short-sighted and dangerous. Hopefully the new anti terror laws will apply to what is nothing less than sedition and the vilification of our principal ally, the United States.

* For a review of the stories broadcast on SBS, read here"

My reader goes on to add:

Doesn't it occur to anyone in the government that it's not very smart to be broadcasting, (as in the case of the ABC) anti American, anti Australian government stories of Muslim abuse into 40 countries in SE Asia where there are some 230 million Muslims?

We are at war and the ABC should immediately have strict wartime censorship controls imposed on the programs that have stories related to the war or coalition countries. These stories must be reduced to a reasonable number per week, and actually have merit and balance. No more hatchet jobs. And they must pass a review of non ABC staff, say three citizens from the Right and three from the Centre Left...No Red Ratbags. As the coalition now has the power in the senate, we must now end what is no less than fifth column propaganda. (or outright sedition ).

The government also has the option of say, halving the budget of the ABC. There will be those who will scream bloody murder, but those who do will be the ones that hate the government anyway.

While spending some $700 million per year on the ABC to denigrate and demonise Australia and the United States throughout the region, further putting Australians and Americans at risk, might seem like a good idea to some, to me ,it's the most absurd thing I have ever heard. And for the good of all Australians and our coalition partner, the United States, the government must show some gumption and end this absurd state of affairs where a leftist minority is painting the face of Australians and Americans throughout the region as if we are the enemy.

Last Wednesday night on SBS Dateline,the presenters were actually boasting that the filming of US troops using the burn bodies of Taliban to lure them out, were broadcast around the world. The fact that the journalists embedded with the trusting US troops have put these soldiers and their countrymen at even more risk seems to be of no concern... Just one more notch in the belt for the agents of "Hate America"

And guess what Dateline has in store for us this coming Wednesday?.."Olivia Rouset talks with Iraqi torture victims from Abu Ghraib prison." You gotta hand it to these Leftists. When they set out to accomplish something, such as trying to smear America they give it their all, no matter what the consequences are for all Westerners.

I believe it is essential that all of us who believe in the Australian/US alliance contact Senator Chris Ellison Attorney Generals office and Communications Minister Senator Helen Coonan at and register our complaint, as these broadcaster will continue to divide our country and place all Australians and Americans at an ever increasing risk.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


A little while back, I put up a post about Melanesians (and the people of New Guinea in particular) that speculated on why Melanesians seem pretty bright despite their having been in the Stone Age within living memory. A reader has offered the following interesting observations on the factors which may have affected their evolution and the evolution of civilization in general:

"As usual you've written something that is both interesting and correct, but which requires elaboration. In particular the the reasons for Papuan technobackwardness, which also relates to Ireland, Tasmania, the Cape Province, and Tierra del Fuego.

Back as an undergrad I took courses from one Charlie Nelson, an Africanist, at UMASS/Boston (where one of my classmates was a Papuan student, by the way, and a very good one. I hope he didn't have to become some government bureaucrat.) One day were were discussing the development of agriculture, a necessity for any even low tech society, and Nelson commented that the earliest civilizations were found in areas which were on trade routes. Mesopotamia is the perfect example, being along rivers that link the highlands of Anatolia with Mohenjo-Daro and India, with the highlands of Iran (the source of what) to the North East and Egypt way off to the far west beyond the Levant. Mesopotamia was able to take advantage of the resources from all those areas in building a stable, year supply base (chickens from Thailand via India, Copper from Anatolia, etc.) and so had the world's first true urban centers.

A similar situation existed in various parts of the New World, where the Valley of Mexico's nascent civilizations had access to materials from the highlands and lowlands (the Olmecs began in swamps, by the way, along the Gulf of Mexico -- they gave birth to the basic structures for both Mayans and Nahuatl speakers (who have totally different languages.) Civilization was held back by a lack of domesticable animals (the bison cannot be domesticated. Alas. And the paleoindians ate the last of the horses.) The same is also true of South America where the resource lines in the Andes were highly vertical (to survive a village has to keep farms at many elevations.) The civilzations of early China clearly began along river courses -- and we now know there was widespread communication with the 'west,' from which they got both the chariot and the word for it ("che" is the term for car now. Also iron technology.) The Cape Province is at the end of Africa. Take a look at a map of Africa -- what does it face? Where can you get to from there? What navigable rivers does it have? The areas which faced Europe and the Levant (and the one area which had a navigable river) developed high civilizations; the rest of the continent is, in many ways, as isolated as any Papuan valley. It wasn't until around 1AD that the Bantu acquired iron and the food complex that allowed them to explode out of the Bight of Benin area (the armpit of Africa, shall we say) and head in various streams south, east, and then south again, exterminating or absorbing the native Bushmen (take a look at Nelson Mandela's face as proof of that.)

Now, the most technobackward of all cultures were those at the ends of the supply lines. Austronesia is a case in point. The native Tasmanians were as primitvie technologically as the Tierra del Fuegans. The most primitive economy in Europe was the Irish (something that predated even the Celtic invasions) and remained that way until the island became part of the Viking era trading empire. Japan is more akin to Great Britian here, with its northenmost province being the most primitive, but they were also culturally dominated by China and the ancestors of the Japanese were relatively advanced when they moved to the Island from the Korean Peninsular.

Geographic determinism is very real in a number of senses, but rather it sets limits. Both the Greeks and Papuans were constrained by mountain valleys, yet the Greeks were on the trade routes from Persia to the Baltic and had the Med to play in, the Papuans were cut off from Asia and had Australia to the south".

Friday, October 21, 2005


This letter originally appeared on Oct. 17th. in an Oregon local paper called "The World" but does not appear to be online

On October 4 on this page, Monica Schreiber recommended that opponents of the war in Iraq go see the play “The White Rose” in order to be encouraged and “raise consciousness in our community” for resistance against that war. Because anybody who stages an amateur play at the On-Broadway deserves an audience, I hope lots of people saw it. But the facts don’t support Monica’s conclusions.

The real “White Rose” was a small group of medical students in Munich who set out, in the winter of 1942/43, to distribute anti-war pamphlets calling the Nazis irresponsible gangsters and urging the Germans to practice non-violent resistance against Hitler, whose troops were then suffering their first major defeat at Stalingrad. Monica Schreiber tells us that for the White Rose students in the play, “commitment to their beliefs serves them in maintaining their position.” I don’t think that was true of the real ones, who were stupid enough to scatter their pamphlets from a balcony at the university. They were promptly arrested and tried for sedition by Judge Roland Kreisler, a fanatical Nazi whose idea of a trial was to scream invectives at the accused before condemning them to death. And since the heads of the condemned were cut off that same day, they must have had trouble maintaining their positions. You see, for non-violence to work, your opponent must have scruples.

Roland Kreisler was the same judge, by the way, who tried the Stauffenberg conspirators who tried to murder Hitler with a bomb in July 1944. They were strung up with piano wire. Soon after this, a bomb fell on Kreisler and his courtroom. Poof, bang, all gone. What neither the White Rose nor Stauffenberg could do (wipe out a patch of evil) was achieved by an American B-17.

With regard to the war in Iraq, Saddam Hussein’s refusal to allow inspections of his nuclear program supplied the reasons for our invasion, which could be called a preventive war. Now, it is a curious fact that a preventive war against Hitler during the 1930s could have prevented the slaughter of the White Rose students, about 6 million Jews, and millions of others. That window of opportunity opened in March 1936, when Hitler’s Wehrmacht invaded the Rhineland. Under the terms of the World War I armistice, that area was to remain a demilitarized zone, like the DMZ that separates North and South Korea today. Against the advice of his generals, who knew they didn’t yet have the forces to fight neighboring France, Hitler marched his troops into the Rhineland anyway. Had the French intervened – which they were legally entitled to do - they would have beaten the Germans, and that would probably have been the end of Hitler. But the French government, dominated by leftist pacifists, had decreed that the French armed forces must only be used defensively. So they talked themselves into doing nothing. Hitler’s successful bluff emboldened him to swallow Austria next, then Czecho-Slovakia, and finally Poland. And this is how World War II started: a lot of the blame can be placed on the anti-war movements of the time.

Nobody knows for sure how history will treat America’s present war in Iraq. About the wisdom of any war, a much better perspective can often be obtained ten or twenty years later. Still, it amazes me how the anti-war left can twist history into pretzels. The White Rose conspiracy was futile, and doomed from the start. It had no effect whatsoever on World War II, and it may have discouraged many other Germans from doing anything.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


"I regret to report that Arthur Seldon died peacefully yesterday (Tuesday afternoon).

Arthur was the Founder and Director - the real intellectual fountainhead, creator and inspiration - of the Institute of Economic Affairs, which laid the intellectual and political foundations of the Thatcherite revolution in the UK. Whilst he received a CBE rather than a Lordship in recognition for his work with the Institute the true stature of his contribution was known to those close to him and to the Institute.

Unlike many other figures in the so-called movement Arthur was a genuine libertarian, idealist and a true comrade to others - motivated by more than simply desire for a huge pension or a lust for fame or control over others.

Arthur wrote and spoke for the Libertarian Alliance on various occasions, was a member of its Advisory Council, a financial donor and referred publicly repeatedly to the LA as the real successor to the IEA. He was deeply upset by the fate and inexorable decline of his beloved IEA following his retirement.

Marjorie, his wife and intellectual partner (and whose own health is not in that good a shape) does not wish to receive telephone calls. However, letters from those who knew and loved Arthur would be welcomed.

Obituaries will definitely be appearing in The Times and The Daily Telegraph (both by Lord Harris), in The Independent and elsewhere. I will try to post their texts here in LAF in due course.

Arthur will be deeply missed by not merely who knew him personally and who loved him, but by all those for whom he was an inspiration and a significant intellectual influence".

See also here

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Don't Worry About Post-Greenspan Era: Central Banking Itself Has Been Elevated

September 19, 2005; Page A2

This article no longer seems to be available online at its original source so I have reproduced it below

Last month, an Australian newspaper proposed a novel candidate to succeed Alan Greenspan as Federal Reserve chairman: Ian Macfarlane. Though an unknown in the U.S., Mr. Macfarlane has something no other candidate can boast: a track record that rivals Mr. Greenspan's.

Since Mr. Macfarlane became governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia nine years ago, that country's inflation rate has fallen a percentage point and its unemployment rate by three percentage points, to U.S. levels. Though buffeted by the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and a housing bubble, Australia has experienced just one quarter of negative growth.

As Mr. Greenspan's retirement approaches in January, anxious investors wonder: Can anyone reproduce his record? A glance at Australia and elsewhere suggests that the answer is yes. While the U.S.'s economic performance has been superb during the Greenspan era, it isn't unique. "Very similar results have been attained elsewhere," says Stanley Fischer, a former Citigroup executive who runs Israel's central bank.

A review of nine major countries' economic performance, based on data compiled by Global Insight Inc., an economic-consulting firm in Lexington, Mass., shows that Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and Spain have done as well or better than the U.S. in reducing inflation and unemployment since 1987. However, only Australia and Spain have grown faster overall, and the U.S. has enjoyed the most stability -- just five quarters of negative economic growth during that period.

Whatever qualities have made the Greenspan Fed successful, many other central banks appear to share them. This means that President Bush probably doesn't have to find a Fed chairman with Mr. Greenspan's eclectic mix of smarts, intuition and rigor, to continue his success. It does mean that choosing someone outside the mold of a modern central banker is risky.

What explains central banks' widespread success? In the past two decades, central banking has become a "much more professional, technical job," says Alan Budd, who served in the British Treasury and the Bank of England during the 1990s and is provost at Oxford University's Queen's College. "It's not just a question of taking the politics out, but of putting the economics in." The Bank of England adopted inflation targets, regular policy meetings and inflation reports in 1992, which Mr. Budd says were important precursors to the bank's formal independence in 1997.

Australia, Britain and Canada adopted numerical inflation targets in the early 1990s, a step the Fed has declined to take. Debate rages among academics about their value. Rory Robertson, an economist at Macquarie Bank in Sydney, Australia, says even with a target, Mr. Macfarlane has done more or less the same things Mr. Greenspan would: "put up rates when the economy is running strongly and the labor market is tightening, and cut rates when the economy is threatened."

While Mr. Greenspan is both praised and criticized for preferring judgment to rules, "It would be hard to write down precisely what any central banker has done through this period," Mr. Budd says. So while Mr. Greenspan responded quickly to the 1987 stock-market crash and the 2001 meltdown in technology stocks, his foreign peers have been flexible in the face of the unexpected. Shortly after Mr. Macfarlane, who had been at the RBA since 1979, became governor in 1996, the Asian financial crisis pummeled Australia's export markets and its dollar. He resisted the orthodox prescription of raising interest rates to counter the dollar's drop, and Australia's economy barely skipped a beat. Similarly, in 2003 the Bank of Canada reversed a string of rate increases when outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome and mad-cow disease suddenly undercut growth prospects.

Luck has also been important. While oil prices are rising, there has been no repeat of the massive shocks of 1973 and 1979 that hurt growth and elevated inflation. China's integration into the global market has put downward pressure on goods prices everywhere. In the U.S., Mr. Greenspan has benefited from a tech-fueled surge in productivity. Conversely, Germany owes its poor performance in part to the difficulties of reunification, and Japan to the aftershocks of a massive property bubble, and both suffer from stagnant population growth.

The four English-speaking countries have done particularly well. That's because their financial and labor markets are less regulated, so they are more "resilient and spontaneously self-correcting," says Jean-Philippe Cotis, chief economist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. If a worker loses his job in one industry, he is more likely to take one at a lower wage in another. Firms are more likely to cut prices and shrink capacity in the face of falling demand. This, Mr. Cotis says, makes it easier for a central bank to cut interest rates, and for those cuts to flow through to home buyers and businesses.

Other countries' good performance doesn't diminish Mr. Greenspan's achievements. Because of the U.S.'s overwhelming influence on world growth and financial markets, it is unlikely other countries could have done so well had the U.S. performed badly. As Mr. Macfarlane said earlier this year, "The major macroeconomic events that have affected Australia have to a large extent been imported rather than homegrown." And Alan Blinder, a former Fed vice chairman, says other central bankers have learned from Mr. Greenspan.

Because of the Fed's importance to their own economic stability, other countries are watching the Greenspan succession closely. Mr. Robertson says foreigners don't generally like Mr. Bush's foreign or fiscal policies but have taken comfort that "someone smart and sensible is running the Fed." Foreign investors want the next chairman to be a "straight up-and-down central banker type." The candidate who most closely fits that description, he says, is Ben Bernanke, a former Fed governor and monetary scholar who is Mr. Bush's economic adviser. Investors, he says, "know how he thinks."

Friday, September 30, 2005


Email from a reader:

"I live in Houston and my family is heavily involved in the petroleum industry. There were two causes of the gasoline shortages neither of which have anything to do with malice, price controls, government action or inaction, etc. though we can throw some blame on the media.

The local media was having a field day telling everyone that they were going to die. There are four evactuation regions. A, B, C and everyone else. Level A is areas that flood if you have a heavy dewfall. Level B is areas that will flood with heavier than normal rainfall. Level C is areas that will flood during a hurricane. Then there is everything else (sometimes referred to as 'white zones'.) Hurricanes are notoriously unpredictable. To err on the side of caution the local governments ordered the following evactuation procedure: Level A leave on Wednesday, Level B on Thursday, and Level C on Friday. This allows the government to evaluation condtions and cancel the higher level evactuations if necessary. Since level A will flood if a hurricane passes within 100 miles of us it was safe ordering those people out.

The media was shouting "Mandatory Evactuation For Everyone!!!!" then saying the Level ABC information without exclamation points and without explaining what they were. Alongside predictions that everyone was going to die.

Rather than an orderly evacuation it was a mass rush as 1% of the USA population entered two highways all at once. So you have a solid gridlock just by the mass volume of vehicles. Add car wrecks to the mix and breakdowns and you everyone coming to a stop, burning 10 times the fuel that would normally be burned.

Something people don't like to see is that the gasoline industry is not a monolithic entity. It takes a wide variety of independent companies to get the gasoline into your car, ending with the individual stations which are mostly individually owned. The main distributor made a bad decision for a good reason. They ordered their fleet to make their Thursday early morning deliveries, refill the tanks, then travel to Dallas. The thought process was that this way they would have a full fleet ready to return after the hurricane and could start deliveries immediately without having to worry about the conditions of the local storage or the refineries.

Good intentions but with horrid results. With the gridlock on the freeways vehicles started running out of gas. But since the stations along the way were no longer receiving deliveries there was no replacement fuel.

Now even in a truck 1/4 of a tank of gas will get you to San Antonio in normal conditions. So under normal conditions there would have been enough fuel in the service stations and in vehicles' tanks to handle the evacuation. But the panic ruined everything.

Price controls had nothing to do with it. If a station had wanted to charge $10 a gallon it would not have gotten those tankers back from Dallas".

Sunday, September 25, 2005


One of my readers (one of the various "Tims" that I correspond with) noted the excerpt from Tibor Machan that I put up on Dissecting Leftism recently. He noted the inset passage from Machan below and then argued why it is wrong. His analysis is a bit satirical but is pretty close to the truth nonetheless. Both Tim and Tibor however point out that Leftists seem to see themselves as exempt from the laws that govern ordinary mortals:

"Yet, as should be evident, the modern liberal's approach to advancing the lot of human beings is paradoxical. While denying that individuals can help themselves if left to their own resources and to voluntary cooperation, they affirm that governments-which are, after all, composed of individuals-can take the initiative and effectuate adequate solutions to human problems. How is this possible? Either we are helpless, in which case so is the government...

It's not paradoxical in the slightest. The author is simply making an assumption that leftists inherantly reject, and thus knocking down a straw man.

Let's not forget: From a leftist perspective, we can't just talk about "humanity" having one nature -- e.g. being helpless or capable, inherantly good or inherently bad -- since there are three fundamentally different types of people (forgive the grammar): WE, the VICTIMS, and the EVIL BAD PEOPLE.

The VICTIMS-- the poor, minorities, and all those other fishbowl-curiosities whose name and alleged benefit we will invoke -- can't think and/or act for themselves and thus require our protection. (Good thing too, because it gives us an excuse to do pretty much anything in their name!) They people are economically oppressed, disabled, uneducated and/or unintelligent, and can't improve their material or intellectual lot in life.

Then there are the EVIL BAD PEOPLE, who exploit them, who are much like US except they have black, hate-filled, shrunken hearts -- as obviously demonstrated by their failure to flatter us and obey our every command. These people cannot improve themselves morally -- so we don't have bother trying to convert them or explain our arguments to them (last time, they started asking all these pesky questions!) -- but in rare cases they do convert. Arianna Huffington, for example.

But WE, we are not helpless. WE already have it together. We are wiser, smarter, and more caring than the rest. The world would be a wonderful place if only it were run by US, so any failures must be the fault of the other two kinds of human beings. We fight the EVIL BAD PEOPLE who keep us from ruling over the VICTIMS and ushering the new era of amazing human potential, where all the smart and moral people (our type) demonstrate man's true capacity.

This is the basic leftist model: exploiter and exploited, necessitating the liberators.

So it's not contradictory at all -- one just needs to remember that humanity is composed of different and non-overlapping subspecies of humans having fundamentally different natures. It's the same mechanism as behind racism: Jews, oppressed German Volk, Nazis; decent white women and children, uppity negroes, Klansman. And allow me to invoke the Pharisees: Israel, "Sinners" (steeped in sin before birth -- Jesus was named among them -- John 9), and the true Sons of Abraham -- the teachers of the law.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


I received the following email from the Netherlands in response to a United Nations report that I linked to recently on Dissecting Leftism. I introduced the article excerpt with the heading: "Fat EU farmers impoverish Africa", which, like all headlines, was intended as a quick summary of the article rather than as a scholarly dissertation in its own right. I am sure that no conservative or libertarian expects much of United Nations reports and such suspicions would seem to have been well justified in this case too -- as the following email points out. By the way, the CAP is Europe's policy of protecting its farmers, not an old-fashioned contraceptive device.

"Are European farmers fat? Not if we look at their incomes. About 4% of the population in the EU-15 are farmers or farm families (corrected for part-timers etc.). Including subsidies their income share amounts to about 1,7% of total EU-15 income. So, in terms of their incomes, the majority of European farmers are certainly not 'fat' . On the contrary most European farmers belong to the low and very low income groups.This is confirmed by other data also.

Do European impoverish Africa? Not if one believes the very many general equilibrium studies that have been done on the subject. A consistent and main outcome of all these studies is: abolishing the Common Agricultural Policy will hardly has a positive effect on poverty in Africa. Australia, Brazil, Argentina etc. will be the main winners if agricultural trade is liberalised. Most African countries will hardly win, many of them will even lose. Why is that? Briefly speaking there are two reasons:

(i) Agricultural product prices on the world markets will go up after liberalisation (no dumping etc.anymore). Since nearly all African countries are net importers of food (with no capacity to become exporters) they have to pay more for their food that is imported.

(ii) The 50 poorest countries have nearly 'free access' to the EU. They get the same high price as EU -farmers for their exports. In case of trade liberalisation internal EU-prices will go down. As a consequence their export prices will go down also. Moreover, their is a serious risk then (i.e. when the CAP is abolished) that they will lose their (very small) share on the EU-markets to competitors from South America, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand etc.

At the moment there is, within the EU, a discussion on how to reform (i.e. decrease protection) the EU-sugar sector. In July one could see a protest march in Brussels: EU farmers hand in hand with farmers from third world countries who are afraid of loosing their trade preferences.

In an interview in the Far Eastern Review this Winter, Jagdish Bhagwati speaks of 'dangerous nonsense' with respect to the assertions of Oxfam and international aid institutions that agricultural subsidies in rich countries are keeping developing countries poor. See here (PDF). See also the paper by Arvind Panagarya ("Agricultural Liberalisation and the Least Developing Countries: six fallacies" -- to be published in: World Economy: Global Trade Policy).

To conclude, there are many reasons to reform the CAP and to abolish agricultural protection. But not because the majority of EU farmers are fat (rich) or, because they impoverish farmers in Africa".

I might add that I agree about the CAP being the least of Africa's problems. Robert Mugabe and his ilk are a far greater problem

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Rubin's humiliating fate no surprise


(This is an extended excerpt from Canada's Aug 27 Globe & Mail. I referred to the story briefly on PC Watch on August 31. The whole story is available to subscribers only)

"Hospitality will be your first lesson," my diversity trainer told me with a smile. I had offered her a coffee before we sat down for our session, and as it turned out, I was mighty glad I did. Many people do not, and that, she informed me, is a sign of cross-cultural insensitivity. The coffee offered my instructor an opening to explain the value that different cultures place on hospitality and the differences between individualist cultures (ours) and collective cultures (lots of other ones). This is the kind of thing they send you off to learn about when you screw up. And Jeffrey Rubin, apparently, screwed up.

Mr. Rubin is chief economist for the World Markets division of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. Every month he issues a research report on world trends that is aimed at the bank's sophisticated investing clients. Monthly Indicators, as it's called, is distributed to a few thousand select readers, and is posted on the bank's website. Despite the deadly dull title of the publication, Mr. Rubin is widely respected for his sharp mind, and his writing is unusually colourful for an economist. Perhaps too colourful for the times we live in now.

Because of a passing comment most people wouldn't pause to notice, Mr. Rubin was found guilty of insensitivity by his own employer, which issued a public apology for his misbehaviour. To signal its sincere contrition, the bank also instructed him to attend a training session in cross-cultural diversity, devised especially for him. The bank's instant climb-down was a triumph for the offended pressure group, an increasingly powerful outfit called the Council on American Islamic Relations - Canada, or CAIR-CAN. And it was an embarrassing humiliation for one of its star employees, whom friends describe as a decent, thoughtful -- and, yes, sensitive -- man.

The offending passage appeared last April 5, in a report predicting that oil prices would keep rising: "The first two oil shocks were transitory, as political events encouraged oil producers to seize full sovereignty over their resources and temporarily restrict supply," Mr. Rubin wrote. "This time around there won't be any tap that some appeased mullah or sheik can suddenly turn back on."

A few days later, the bank received a letter from CAIR-CAN. The organization keeps a close watch on the media, as well as on government agencies, businesses, universities and other institutions, for signs of bias against Muslims. It says it received several calls complaining about the passage in Monthly Indicators. "We are gravely concerned that Mr. Rubin is promoting stereotyp-ing of Muslims and Arabs in a CIBC publication," executive director Riad Saloojee wrote in a letter to the bank. "We request that Mr. Rubin and CIBC World Markets issue a letter of apology and undergo sensitization training regarding Muslims and Arabs."

The bank responded to CAIR-CAN's demands with remarkable alacrity. "Let me state that we take the concerns expressed in your letter very seriously," wrote Mr. Rubin's boss, Brian Shaw, who is the CEO of World Markets. "While the comments were in no way intentional or meant to offend anyone in the Muslim or Arab community, we agree that, in hindsight, the comments were insensitive." He added, "We have taken immediate steps to address this issue. We have reviewed all aspects of the matter with Jeff Rubin and we will be providing him with training to ensure that this situation does not occur again in the future."

On April 20, CAIR-CAN proclaimed victory in a triumphal press release.

The bank says no one thought twice about the offending words at the time. But, according to a bank spokesman, it realized that "in hindsight this could be viewed by some as being insensitive." The decision to apologize was made at the senior executive level. The bank would not say whether anyone raised the possibility that CAIR-CAN's concerns were overblown, or that many Muslims would find nothing wrong with Mr. Rubin's comments, or that it had an obligation to defend a valuable, talented and widely respected senior employee from frivolous attacks on his reputation. It would not say whether anyone asked any hard questions about CAIR-CAN, or took the trouble to learn a bit about its aggressive tactics. It would not say whether anyone raised the possibility that the language used by Mr. Rubin was, in fact, defensible.

The incident drew no further notice, until a Globe and Mail reporter ran across the press release on CAIR-CAN's website, under the headline, "CIBC apologizes to Canadian Muslims for 'insensitive' comments." The story made front-page news and was picked up by TV. Many people thought the bank had wildly overreacted. But other people heard only the TV news, which referred to Mr. Rubin's "gaffe."

Saturday, August 27, 2005

It is Never Going to Be Enough!

By Arlene Peck

Living here in Los Angeles, in the very heart of the entertainment industry and having a celebrity television talk show myself, I have become used to the excessive behaviour that passes for normal around here! I know women who are plastic surgery freaks. They seem to always be going back to a better surgeon for yet another nip and tuck. The same priorities consume the crowd at the gym. They pump iron for hours, live on lettuce and are always striving to lose that delusional last five pounds!

That, folks, is exactly how I perceive the attitude of the Arab world to be, when it comes to any and all concessions that have or are ever likely to come out of Israel. Nothing is going to make a difference! It will never be enough! The Arab world has a plan for Israel. And the rest of the world, and all the “nips and tucks” the so-called Palestinian State receives by way of concessions, cannot make a silk purse from a sow's ear. Their local plan, of course, is Israel's destruction, their global plan is world domination and submission of any and all religions to theirs!

Already, the rabidly anti-Semitic Los Angeles Times is publishing its ‘editorials': “Israel Leaves but Gaza is Hardly Free!" and articles decrying “ isolated they are in Gaza now, from the outside world, (not to mention the West Bank and Jerusalem) and as subject to Israeli domination as before”. Further on in their propaganda, the dreaded concept ‘collective punishment’ is invoked “Nearly half of all Palestinians live below the poverty line of $2 a day. The World Bank’s assessment of the cause of this dramatic deterioration in Palestinian living standards is unequivocal.”

In other words, following their impeccable logic, the fault lies, as always, with the usual suspect, Israel! Because the limited work force entering Israeli is no longer as infiltrated with terrorists, sabotaging everything in sight, blowing themselves and countless civilians to pieces with monotonous frequency, Israel has caused suffering to the Palestinians.

Wow, could it be that the Jewish state really doesn’t have responsibility for seeing that Arab living standards are raised and maintained? Maybe someone should have a serious talk with Suha Arafat, Abbas, and their cronies and somehow convince them to open up the secret Swiss vaults, take out some of that 8-11 BILLION dollars still hidden from the US, EU and United Nations 'donors' and do something constructive towards aiding the plight of their own people. Palestine does not need any more rocket manufacturing plants, it needs sewerage and water treatment plants. They don't need any more schools, they just need to clean up the ones they have. They do need hospitals if only to improve the lives of their people, rather than have the Israelis fix up the broken bodies. Actually, these donations in Suha's purse have come from nearly everyone but the Palestinian's own wealthy Arab brothers, who, for so long, have decried the deplorable refugee camps they placed them in, yet continue to do nothing about them except urge more killing.

The L.A Times article further states, “The Separation Barrier prevents the free flow of Palestinian economic transactions; they raise the cost of doing business and disrupt the predictability needed for orderly economic life.” Well, gol-ley, do you think that somewhere we just might want to mention that this ‘separation fence’ also keeps the residents of Israel (both Jewish and Arab) a lot safer than before? How about grasping that it’s not Israel's responsibility to do what their Arab brothers have never done, that is, share some of the oil money they have by virtue of location and not invention. Correct me if I am wrong but it certainly seems that everyone is concerned about the Palestinians except their "concerned" Arab brothers, their own kind and kin, who have never come to their aid in showing some of that compassion they force on the rest of the world. Recall last year's tsunami? Who gave the least? The Muslims nations, particularly the Arab ones! Who needed money the most? Other Muslims! Who gave first? Israel. But, I digress.

Interesting, though, how they portray the situation. “The Precipitator of this economic crisis has been ‘closure’, a multifaceted system of restrictions on the movement of the Palestinian people and goods, which the government of Israel argues is essential to protect Israelis in Israel and the settlements.” Well, yeah, it does tend to keep down the savage barbaric actions of their Arab neighbors who seem to now be giving that same 7th century lifestyle to the rest of the world, which, incidentally, doesn't seem to like it on their home grounds (but found it OK on Jewish soil).

Could I just ask, where does it say that Israel is legally obligated to conduct business with a known enemy? Surely a free nation like Israel can decide who it will support or not? Hell, Jews aren't even allowed in their countries, yet the United Nations meets regularly to censure Israel for "collective punishment" for not hiring these terrorists and bringing them into Israel. What in the world is this about creating employment opportunities for people who want you dead and are at war with you?

Media like the L.A. Times are always looking for the “bottom line”, so here’s my take on it. Bottom line, all the press statements issuing from Arab leaders and much of the world press is constantly declaring, “This is not Enough”, it is only the beginning. Dr. Condoleezza Rice is in full press conference mode, saying how nice the Israeli gesture was, but it is just not enough. Well, yeah, it’s not enough. It’s never going to be enough, until they have the entire country of Israel under Muslim control and things are back the way they were when Jerusalem was under Arab control way back when. They liked it when they were able to use the marble headstones from Jewish cemeteries to pave their roads and line the toilets of their new hotels, as the Intercontinental Hotel once did.

This is acceptable behaviour, apparently, and the people who consider it acceptable have the weight of the world’s press behind them, screaming, “Now the West Bank, now your ancient Capital, the Holy of Holies”. Of course, that would satisfy them….wouldn’t it?

Can I ask, where is the Palestinian strategic plan for evacuating the Israelis they displace? There is one, isn’t there? Of course there is. The PA has shown how sacred it considers even one Jewish life. Mass burial, that’s the PA Plan for Israel, extermination and deja vu all over again.

I remember visiting Israel before 1967 and not being able to visit the Jewish holy places. Oh, “The Wall” was still there but under Jordanian control and, what a surprise, Jews were not allowed in! Now, their cry is Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital! And, the terrorist-biased media is running headlines demanding that Gaza must not be isolated and that Israel must allow them free rein and unfettered access into Israel to do what they have to do. That being, of course, more terrorism! I fully expect the cry to be “Good-bye Gaza. Hello Hamas!”

One of the more recent L.A. Times headlines informed its shocked readers, "Israel says it will annex Palestinian Land!” Could they have been talking about the homes belonging to the residents of the settlement of Maale Adumin, which is only a rifle shot away Jerusalem?

Has anyone ever looked at a map of the surrounding 22 Arab nations, which, between them, possess vast tracts, literally millions of acres, of uninhabited land and enormous wealth-generating deposits of oil? Is anyone else unable to refrain from bursting out in hysterical laughter when they see that Palestinian leaders are now calling emergency meetings over the "seizure of 22 acres in the village of A-tur, where Israeli homes are to be built.” In their own land and country!

I wonder, has the word "thank you" ever been in the vocabulary of this "peaceful culture"? Because I’ve never heard it uttered once where Israel is concerned. Now, as the Arabs are getting ready to move into the fertile oasis that the Jews' passion carved out of barren land over the past generations, Saeb Erelat, their 'wonderful' Palestinian chief negotiator, is already criticizing how "...we are looking for hope and peace, but the step (the annex of 22 acres), this disastrous decision, undermines any attempt to resume meaningful negotiations." Sound to me like an excuse, that being to justify the violent terrorism that is surely on the way.

Hey, maybe I’m wrong. At last, the ball is in their court. It’s their choice. They can get cooking and actually set up a democratic government; build roads, infrastructure, and factories; tear down those wretched refugee camps they've been milking for PR purposes all this time; and even print their own stamps. They certainly have the money for it. However, want to make a bet on how long it's going to be before we see them rampaging through the streets, cheering their black-hooded Hamas terrorists in lock-step?

As I said, I could be wrong. In this instance, I really, really, really want to be wrong, I really want my Israeli brothers and sisters to finally be at peace with their new neighbor. Having said that and hoping it will happen, I doubt it will come to pass. Why? Because, in the case of these vermin, killing and death are more important than living and life. I’m all for giving them the death they revere.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


When American journalist Steven Vincent was murdered in Iraq, American academic Juan Cole wrote as follows:

"Was American journalist Steve Vincent killed in Basra as part of an honor killing? He was romantically involved with his Iraqi interpreter, who was shot 4 times. If her clan thought she was shaming them by appearing to be having an affair outside wedlock with an American male, they might well have decided to end it. In Mediterranean culture, a man's honor tends to be wrought up with his ability to protect his womenfolk from seduction by strange men. Where a woman of the family sleeps around, it brings enormous shame on her father, brothers and cousins, and it is not unknown for them to kill her. These sentiments and this sort of behavior tend to be rural and to hold among the uneducated, but are not unknown in urban areas. Vincent did not know anything serious about Middle Eastern culture and was aggressive about criticizing what he could see of it on the surface, and if he was behaving in the way the Telegraph article describes, he was acting in an extremely dangerous manner."

Steven Vincent's Sicilian-American wife replied:

Mr. Cole -

(I refuse to call you professor, because that would ennoble you. And please change the name of your blog to "Uninformed Comment", because that is precisely what the above paragraph is.)

I would like to refute this shameful post against a dead man who can no longer defend himself against your scurrilous accusations, a dead man who also happened to be my husband. Steven Vincent and I were together for 23 years, married for 13 of them, and I think I know him a wee bit better than you do.

For starters, Steven and Nour were not "romantically involved". If you knew anything at all about the Middle East, as you seem to think you do, then you would know that there is no physical way that he and she could have ever been alone together. Nour (who always made sure to get home before dark, so they were never together at night) could not go to his room; he could not go to her house; there was no hot-sheet motel for them to go to for a couple of hours. They met in public, they went about together in public, they parted in public. They were never alone. She would not let him touch her arm, pay her a compliment, buy her a banana on the street, hyper-aware of how such gestures might be interpreted by the mysogynistic cretins who surrounded her daily. So for you brazenly claim that she was "sleeping around," when there is no earthly way you could possibly know that, suggests to me that you are quite the misogynist as well. Cheap shot, Mr. Cole, against a remarkable woman who does not in any wise deserve it.

This is not to say that Steven did not love Nour - he did. And he was quite upfront about it to me. But it was not sexual love - he loved her for her courage, her bravery, her indomitable spirit in the face of the Muslim thugs who have oppressed their women for years. To him she represented a free and democratic Iraq, and all of the hopes he had for that still-elusive creature. And he loved her for the help she gave him - endangering herself by affiliating with him because she wanted the truth to come out about what was happening in her native city of Basra and the surrounding area. Perhaps you are unaware of the fact that it is possible to love someone in a strictly platonic way, but I assure you, it can happen - even between men and women.

And yes, he was planning to to convert to Islam and marry Nour, but only to take her out of the country to England, where she had a standing job offer, set her up with the friends she had over there, divorce her, and come back to New York. He had gotten her family's permission to do so (thereby debunking the "honor killing" theory), but more importantly, he had gotten mine. He called one night to say that it had been intimated to him that Nour's life was essentially going to be worthless after he left; since he was an honorable man (a breed you might want to familiarize yourself with), he then asked what I thought he might do to help her. I told him to get her out of the country and bring her here to New York. However, the only way she could have left Iraq was with a family member or husband. Since her family had no intention of going anywhere, Steven was her only recourse, and it would have been perfectly legal for him to convert, marry her, then take her out of Iraq to give her a chance at a real life. (Now that that avenue is closed to her, I have made inquiries to the State Department about the possibility of my sponsoring her in America. Do you perhaps labor under the misapprehension I am such a spineless cuckold that I would do put myself out thusly for the woman you believe my husband was traducing me with? If so, I'm guessing you don't know much about the Sicilian female temperament.)

As to your claim that "In Mediterranean culture, a man's honor tends to be wrought up with his ability to protect his womenfolk from seduction by strange men", it may perhaps have escaped your notice that Iraq does not abut, in any way, shape or form, the Mediterranean Sea. Italy is a Mediterranean culture, as are Spain, Greece, Southern France. In none of them is "honor killing" an accepted form of "protecting womanhood". As to the southerly lands like Morocco and Algeria, they are not, in the general scheme of things, considered Mediterranean cultures - they are considered Arabic, a whole different beast. For you to seemingly be unaware of this, and then to say that my husband "did not know anything serious about Middle Eastern culture" again begs the question, just where do you get off? If you cannot differentiate between Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures, how is it you feel qualified to pontificate so pompously?

How often have you been to the Middle East, Mr. Cole? In 2000 Steven and I spent almost a month in Iran on vacation. In 2003 we spent 10 days over Christmas in Jordan. In the last 2 years he had made not one, not two, but three trips to Iraq, and at the time of his death had about 7 months of daily living there under his belt. Can you offer comparables?

How much Arabic do you speak, Mr. Cole? Steven had been learning Arabic for the last two years, and was able to converse simply but effectively with the people he came into contact with. He had many expatriate friends in the Muslim world from whom he was always learning. As I sit here writing this at what was his desk, I can look at the literally dozens of books he devoured about Islam and the Middle East - each one thick with Post-It notes and personal observations he made in the pages - as he sought to comprehend and absorb the complexities of the culture and the religion he felt, and cared, so deeply about. If you would like a list of them, please email me back and I will be happy to send you a comprehensive accounting.

Yes, Steven was aggressive in criticizing what he saw around him and did not like. It's called courage, and it happens to be a tradition in the history of this country. Without this tradition there would have been no Revolutionary War, no Civil War, no civil rights movement, no a lot of things that America can be proud of. He had made many friends in Iraq, and was afraid for them if the religious fundamentalists were given the country to run under shari'a. You may dismiss that as naive, simplistic, foolish, but I say to you, as you sit safely in your ivory tower in Michigan with nothing threatening your comfy, tenured existance, that you should be ashamed at the depths to which you have sunk by libeling Steven and Nour. They were on the front lines, risking all, in an attempt to call attention to the growing storm threatening to overwhelm a fragile and fledgling experiment in democracy, trying to get the world to see that all was not right in Iraq. And for their efforts, Steven is dead and Nour is recuperating with three bullet wound in her back. Yes, that's right - the "honorable" men who abducted them, after binding them, holding them captive and beating them, set them free, told them to run - and then shot them both in the back. I've seen the autopsy report.

You did not know him - you did not have that honor, and you will never have the chance, thanks to the muerderous goons for whom you have appointed yourself an apologist. He was a brilliant, erudite, witty, charming, kind, generous, silly, funny, decent, honorable and complex man, who loved a good cigar, Bombay Sapphire gin martinis, Marvel Silver Age comic books, Frank Sinatra, opera and grossing me out with bathroom humor. And if he was acting in a dangerous manner, he had a very good excuse - he was utterly exhausted. He had been in Basra for 3 months under incredibly stressful conditions, working every day, and towards the end enduring heat of 135 degrees, often without air conditioning, which could not have helped his mental condition or judgment. He was yearning to come home, as his emails to me made crystal clear. But on August 2nd, two days before my birthday, he made the fatal mistake of walking one block - one - from his hotel to the money exchange, rather than take a cab, and now will never come back to me. I got a bouquet of flowers from him on August 4th, which he had ordered before he died, and the card said he was sorry to miss my birthday, but the flowers would stand in his stead until he made it home. They are drying now in the kitchen, the final gift from my soulmate.

I did not see your blog until tonight. I was busy doing other things - fighting the government to get Steven's body returned from Basra days after I was told he would be sent home, planning the funeral, buying a cemetary plot, choosing the clothes to bury him in, writing the prayer card, fending off the media, dealing with his aging parents, waking and then burying him - but I could not let the calumnies you posted so freely against two total strangers go unchallenged.

You strike me as a typical professor - self-opinionated, arrogant, so sure of the rightness of your position that you won't even begin to consider someone else's. I would suggest that you ought to be ashamed of yourself for your breathtaking presumption in eviscerating Steven in death and disparaging Nour in life, but, like any typical professor, I have no doubt that you are utterly shameless.


Lisa Ramaci-Vincent

The above letter is to be found in the "Comments" here, together with more background on the matter.