Support Iraqi democrats – get them out of Iraq

Sorry for crossposting, but this needs wider visibility. This time, Blair seems to mean it about British troops beginning to draw-down their presence in southern Iraq. All the usual provisos still apply – so far, it’s just part of the extra force that is going, and the last squaddie is scheduled to leave in three Friedman units’ time, like he has been since 2003. But this time we have a timetable within one Friedman and a number.

So it’s time to talk seriously about the people who have worked for us in Iraq. The Americans are only accepting risible numbers of refugees. 50 per cent of Iraqi refugees in Europe are in Sweden. It won’t do to claim that the situation is peachy in Iraq. The interpreters, for example, are marked men.

Back in August, 2005 I said that

Unfortunately, the best form of support the British Left can offer secular Iraqis would be to countersign their applications for political asylum. I think someone suggested this recently – perhaps we could get a Pledgebank going?

The government is still trying to force existing refugees onto aeroplanes to Irbil in Kurdistan, this being the only place not so dangerous that the law would forbid it – apparently, if you get killed between Irbil and home that’s OK. It’s high time that we went operational on this.

I’m aware that the Danish government, for example, is also trying to leave its people behind.

Somewhere it’s always still the DDR

Who knew that there is a place that is forever East Germany? The fine Strange Maps posts a satellite image of Playa RDA, or DDR Beach, a 15 kilometre long by 500 metres wide sand spit on the southern coast of Cuba. On the 5th of June, 1972, Fidel Castro gave the sliver of land to the DDR during a state visit, renaming the island Isla Ernst Thälmann and the beach, Playa RDA. You can view it via Google Maps here.

Thälmann was the German Communist leader up to 1933, and was commemorated by a couple of other things, such as a German battalion in the International Brigades during the Spanish civil war. Later, a statue of him was erected on the island after a ceremony at which some hundred guests took part.

According to German Wikipedia, there was a serious point to all this. World trade in sugar was subject to a quota system at the time, and the transfer of the island was theoretically in exchange for an East German sugar refinery’s share of the European export market. No wonder the Cubans were pleased.

The island is in a Cuban military training area near the Bay of Pigs. Which makes me wonder, if during the late 1970s, when East German warships regularly sailed to African and South American ports, they ever visited it? And what is the communist equivalent of “15 men on a dead man’s chest, yo ho ho! and a bottle of rum!”?

Italy’s Economic Problems Under The Spotlight

As Manuel points out in the accompanying post, Romano Prodi’s resignation as Italy’s Prime Minister is a rather sudden and dramatic, but scarcely unexpected, development. The immediate political crisis may be resolved as rapidly as it appeared, but again as Manuel indicates it may only serve as a prelude for further things to come, and the fragility of any government coalition which may be put together only underlines the difficulties Italy will almost certainly have in addressing what are important ongoing economic problems. The present post will simply attempt to outline some of the main economic problems Italy faces, in order to contextualize the political problem a little.
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A Crisis is Born in Italy

Well as almost everyone must surely know by now, Romano Prodi’s government resigned earlier in the week. The present situation is still far from clear, with President Giorgio Napolitano holding urgent consultations with the various interested parties even as I write. Since my interest in Italy is largely an economic one (see accompanying post to follow this) and since I do not consider myself to be any sort of expert on the Italian political process, I asked Manuel Alvarez Rivera (who runs the Election Resources on the Internet site) and who is a political scientist with detailed knowledge of Italian politics for an opinion. Below the fold you can find what he sent me.

At the same time anyone inside or outside of Italy with a different take or perspective please feel free to add something in the comments section.
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Eurovision: The Quickening.

78 days until Eurovision.

This is the season for choosing national entrants. The deadline is March 13; every candidate will have picked an entrant by March 10. Only a few countries have already made their choice. So, over the next three weeks, millions of people in over 30 countries will be choosing their national representatives.

It’s awe-inspiring, really.

First thoughts on this year’s contest below the fold.
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Bloodthirsty Slavs vs. Racist, Revisionist Italians

Actually, it’s racist, revisionist, and revanchist Italians. But we’ll get to that.

Short version: Italy and Croatia have just had a brief but bitter diplomatic dispute over statements made by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and Croatian President Stipe Mesic. There’s not really a good or bad side here, either; both nations seem to have had a short but violent attack of what my grandmother used to call “the stupids”.

On the plus side, it seems to be over now, and cooler heads have prevailed.

Much more below, if you’re interested.
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What do you need to bomb Iran?

The National Security Archive‘s publication of the original powerpoint slides used in planning for war with Iraq has got a lot of attention, especially the prediction that by now there would only be 5,000 US soldiers in Iraq. But it’s also interesting as an index of tension with Iran.

The briefing includes several scenarios on what to do if a “triggering event” occurred before the completion of the ground forces deployment. These specify a range of options, from minimal, through a week-long Desert Fox-like campaign of air raids, up to a 14-day bombardment. This last one, option Red would have encompassed all suspected WMD targets and a range of military ones, and would have included 3,000 individual weapon aiming points from 2,100 aircraft sorties and a considerable number of Tomahawk cruise missiles. (See document E(pdf doc).)

So what does this tell us?
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Spam filtration

The problem that has caused comments from regular readers to be treated as spam should now be resolved.

For the information of other MT and Akismet users, it relates to how MT handles multiple spam tests. MT-Akismet assigns a score of +/-6 to each comment, then the e-mail and URL fields are checked against past comments in order to establish trust. You used to get a score of +1 for previous publication of your e-mail and +1 for a URL.

The problem arose at the next step, where the total score is averaged across the three tests. MT doesn’t include zero scores in this, so the following bug results: if you get one point for each of the trust checks, and six from Akismet, your average score is +2.67, which is below the trigger level. If, however, you had never commented before, rather than divide the 6 points from Akismet across the three tests, MT disregards the zero scores, so you get a final score of +6 and instant publication.

The workaround is to increase the scores for links and e-mail to 2.

The Third Annual Satin Pajama Awards

The purpose of the awards is to recognize the efforts and contributions of Europe’s many talented bloggers, to maybe help build a sense of community among us, and, more than anything, it’s a chance for people to discover lots of new good blogs.

A blog is eligible if it’s written by Europeans or has a European (Czech, Catalan…) theme. Our own blogs aren’t eligible. Finalists are chosen based on the number of nominations as well as editorial discretion. So you want to nominate a favorite blog even if someone else already mentioned it.

Nominees for Best Southeastern European Weblog
Nominees for Best CIS blog
Nominees for Best Writing
Nominate Best Culture Weblog
Nominees for Best Personal Weblog
Nominate Best New Weblog
Nominees for Best European Weblog Overall
Nominate Best Political Weblog
Nominate Most Underappreciated Weblog
Nominees for Best Humor Blog
Nominees for Best German Blog
Nominees for Best French Weblog
Nominate Best UK Blog
Nominees for Best Expat Blog
Nominate Best Academic Weblog

…the final will be in mid-February.

…next week.

Spam filtration

Regular commenters may have noticed that a disturbingly large percentage of their comments have been held as spam. This issue should now be resolved. For the information of other Akismet/MT users, the problem was that our spam filter assigned a score of +1 if one’s URL had been previously published, and likewise if one’s required e-mail address had been. With the introduction of Akismet, which we can heartily recommend, a problem developed.

Specifically, the spam filter averages the score across all tests, so a genuine comment might have the +6 from Akismet and +1 from each of the other tests. Hence, an average of +2.67 – unfortunately, the threshold value is +3. This would not have been so much of a problem, had it not been that the filter disregards negative tests before averaging. Therefore, commenters with no track record who passed Akismet would get the full +6 points as their final score, but regulars, although getting a total of +8, would be averaged to +2.67

I have now increased the score for previous publishing, and we haven’t yet had a false positive.