Here We Go Again

The Financial Times is running this story this morning:

Britain is coming under pressure from the European Commission to say when it will honour its 25-year-old promise to go fully metric, converting miles to kilometres and pints to litres.G?nter Verheugen, EU enterprise commissioner, says he wants clarity on the issue, claiming he is facing pressure from British pro-metric campaigners to act.

Isn’t this really the kind of silly non-issue the EU could safely live without? UK consumers and citizens have every right to purchase their beer in pints or measure their journeys in miles if they chose so to do. Trying to force them to change is not non-intrusive government. And the argument about pressure from the ‘pro-metric’ lobby is a canard: if they want to lobby, they should lobby inside the UK, and try and convince public opinion there, while Verheugen should have the strength of character to tell them to get lost in the meantime.

Incidentally, on this issue I have no strong feelings personally, since frankly my dear I couldn’t give a damn.

Update, here’s another example:

The decision by the Netherlands to lock up 5.5m free-range birds as a precaution against the spread of avian flu may have breached European Union rules, it was claimed on Friday. The European Commission said its lawyers were studying whether the unilateral action was legal, since animal health is an EU matter and the Dutch action was taken before EU animal health experts had co-ordinated their response. Commission lawyers are also considering how long Dutch free-range egg producers should be allowed to market their products as such, following the decision to confine all poultry to sheds last week.

It seems little has been learned from the referendum ‘sebacks’. What we are in danger of creating is an intransigent’s paradise. If the Dutch government can’t take the measures it sees fit to protect its citizens because it’s against the rules then it’s time to ammend the rules in question and not castigate the government of the Netherlands. This is the case whether or not it could be claimed that the government have ‘overreacted’.

How Quickly We Forget

Coincidences never cease to surprise me. Last Friday I mentioned the work of Brookings analyst Fiona Hill on Afoe. Well today she writes in the FT (with Sara Mendelson) alerting us to the continuing problems of the North Caucasus and our continuing neglect (subscription only unfortunately).

This week, the one-year anniversary of the hostage siege and massacre of children and parents in the Beslan school gym is tinged with a specific sorrow; it could happen again. The political situation in Russia?s North Caucasus region is dangerously unstable but few outside the region are paying attention.

Beslan was an especially depraved example of what has spread well beyond Chechnya. Acts of intra-communal violence, brutal assassinations, explosions and armed clashes are the norm in places such as Dagestan and Ingushetia. Local politics is circumscribed by corruption, incompetence and a lack of interest in the wellbeing of ordinary people. Many regional leaders are running their fiefdoms into the ground. While some in the Russian government claim that the situation has ?normalised? (the Putin administration plans ?parliamentary elections? in Chechnya this November), a recently leaked document from the Kremlin?s own representative to the North Caucasus asserts that the situation is perilous.

Tell Me Why

Tell me why I should be bothered about ‘x’. This is an agument you often hear when proactive policies are proposed in connection with looming problems. Well a good example comes to mind today. The arrest in June on a Belgrade railway station of Abdelmajid Bouchar, a Moroccan, wanted by Spanish police for alleged involvement in last year’s Madrid bombings draws attention to the way some Balkan states can be used as ‘safe havens’ by would be terrorists. Of course there are many reasons why we need a Balkans policy in the EU, but if self-interest is what moves you, then here’s an important one.

A Certain Irony

In a post back in May about the bloody repression in Uzbekistan I noted that Crooked Timber’s John Quiggin was suggesting that US troops should be withdrawn immediately (I didn’t agree if you read the post). Well he seems to have got his way, and the reasoning behind the Uzbekistan parliament decision is of course interesting. The parliament has backed a government order which gives the United States six months to vacate the Karshi-Khanabad airbase. The suggestion is that this order is not entirely unconnected with the U.S. decision to join international demands for an independent investigation into May’s bloody crackdown.

While I’m up posting on Uzbekistan,
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One Important Detail

Back briefly to the July 7th London bombings. Many details still remain to be clarified, but bit-by-bit things are falling into place. The Chemist, for example, turns out to have been wrongly suspected. On the other hand, the suicide issue may well be finally receiving confirmation. The Guardian is running a story which suggests the bombers detonated the bombs themselves by pressing a device similar to a button, and did not use mobile phones as one senior New York police officer suggested. In fact there was quite a flurry of material at the time trying to tell us they were dupes more than fanatics. The Guardian say they have this on confirmation from several separate senior police and counter-terrorism sources, and they do repeat themselves on this, so while nothing here is guaranteed fact it seems they are aware of the disinformation charge and the role of the press in spreading this, and do seem to be trying to say ‘hey guys, this one is for real’. Anyway, judge for yourself.

Missing The Bus

Or if not the bus, certainly the bus driver. According to the latest UK Home Office estimates almost a quarter of a million (232,000) Central and East European workers have arrived to work in Britain over the past year, and everyone seems very content. Which has to lead you to ask: didn’t the German government make a major error in turning its back on this potential inflow of energetic young citizens? One more time New Economist has the full story.

Menarché and Low Fertility

Earlier this morning I read this intriguing paper by US researchers Robert Drago & Amy Varner. The title of the paper is “Fertility and Work in the United States: A Policy Perspective” and it addresses the important issues of gender equality and the historical trend towards declining fertility in the United States. Now while I was thinking of how to write a post on this general topic I wandered over to Brad Delong’s blog and found he had this highly relevant post entitled Menarché vs Monarchy.

OK, what’s this all about.
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An Ingenious Solution

The name of the late Ester Boserup came into my mind during a recent discussion in comments. The Danish economist – who is well respected by specialists, but perhaps insufficiently well known outside the ‘inner circle’ – had some pretty interesting views on global population, agriculture and technology. One of her central themes is that it is the pressure of rising population which acts as a motor of technological change (and not vice versa). A kind of Malthus in reverse. Now the point is that when a process hits a constraint, ingenuity may be brought to bear in a way which not only circumvents but supercedes the original problem. All of this was brought into my mind by news of what has been happening in Harvard recently:

“Scientists at Harvard University have found a way to ?reprogramme? adult human cells to an embryonic state. The discovery could provide an alternative to therapeutic cloning, as a way to make embryonic stem cells that are genetically identical to the patient.

The researchers fused adult skin cells with embryonic stem cells, producing hybrid cells in which the adult nucleus had returned to an embryonic state. The journal Science will publish their findings on Thursday.”

Ingenuity once more triumphs over adversity. This I think was also George Steiner’s point about the East European and Latin American novel in the 70s.

Getting Too Much Of A Good Thing

China is getting worried about the impact of the internet on one of its national passtimes:

China on Tuesday introduced an ?anti-online game addiction system? intended to protect players from the mental and physical perils of spending too much time in front of computers.

The system, which will encourage players to play less by cutting the benefits they gain in online games, is to be implemented by local internet companies that have signed a code of conduct drawn up by China’s press and publications administration.

Don’t Stand In The Middle, Just Duck

I don’t think this is ‘getting shot from both sides’ material, I think this is a question of post, and pull up a chair (or per llogar-hi cadires as we say in Catalan). When the loony right meets the looney left. Robertson vs Chavez. I don’t even need to write a post, since Tim Worstall has done a pretty accomplished job already. Basically the Guardian article Tim links to says it all in the first para:

America’s leading televangelist appeared to take Christian fundamentalism into uncharted territory yesterday when he called for the assassination of Venezuela’s president, Hugo Ch?vez.”

Taking Christian evangelism into uncharted territory, that just about gets to it.

I do have one reasonably important difference with Tim on the deontological level I think: political assasination. I do not favour this, and recent US history in Latin America is not a happy one in this regard to say the least. Maybe my perspective is coloured regionally, but little as I like Chavez, I regard Vladimir Putin as a much worse global menace, and he has nuclear weapons, but no, I don’t want anyone to ‘take him out for me’, not in this lifetime thank you very much.

Update: One commenter has just reminded me of a source on this that I forgot to mention, Venezuelan blogger Miguel Octavio, and his Devil’s Excrement blog.