Bahrain blogger Mahmood censored

This falls under the category “Not Europe” here at AFEM but on the internet the world is a global village and one of the voices in that village has just been silenced, albeit in his own neighbourhood, along with a few others. Mahmood from the Bahrain weblog Mahmood’s Den was presented with a site blocking order and, as he wrote yesterday:

I just heard confirmed news that this site (Mahmood’s Den) will be blocked effective immediately, together with 6 others (don’t know which yet) by order of the Minister of Information. The memo has been printed and delivered to all the ISP’s this afternoon apparently. I am yet to receive my copy. But if I go off the air for too long, you know the reason, and it’s not inconceivable that prisons will be used to silence criticism.

This is not good. And really bad PR for the Bahrain government.

Update (November 6th): Mahmood has been unblocked. Long live Bahrain!

The idealism of neocons

Sadly, No!: What’s The Phrase I’m Looking For?

The real concern to neocons is that the democracy in question is pro- or anti-American (or -Israel). And whatever new excuse they come up with to finesse their latest instance of double standard-bearing with regard to democracies, it will rest on the same nationalist underpinning as the Kirkpatrick Doctrine, disguised with a new false distinction (maybe the new “authoritarian vs totalitarian dictatorships” will be “liberal vs. illiberal democracies”).

One thing is certain: what is guaranteed to continue is neoconservative war-mongering.

Although in the days of detente neoconservatives often attacked Henry Kissinger (and always from the Right; he was never quite bloodthirsty enough for them, which is all you really need to know), they greatly resemble him in basic morality. The essential difference between neoconservatism and Kissingerian realism is not due to some high-minded idealism of the former, but rather due to neoconservatism’s greater love of aggression and its gift for manufacturing intellectual veneer. If Kissingerian realism can be described as pragmatically amoral, neoconservatism can be defined as aggressively immoral[.]

Not A Happy Week In Iraq

This seems to be the big-picture story in Iraq:

Sunni Arab politicians, meanwhile, expressed anger over remarks by Iraq’s most powerful Shiite politician suggesting that the new constitution, approved in October, would not be amended….

A key Sunni demand is weaker federalism and a stronger central government. The constitution now gives most power — including control over oil profits — to provincial governments. The Shiites in the south and the Kurds in the north control nearly all of Iraq’s oil.

To win their support, Sunni Arabs were promised they could propose amendments to the constitution in the first four months of the new parliament.

“We, the Iraqi Accordance Front and other lists will not bow to any kind of blackmail from any party and we will stand shoulder-to-shoulder to defend Iraq,” al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press.

Another prominent Sunni Arab politician, Saleh al-Mutlaq of the National Dialogue Front, agreed.

“If they do not accept key amendments to the country’s new constitution, including the regions issue, then let them work alone and divide the country, as for us we do not accept this,” al-Mutlaq told the AP by phone from Amman, Jordan.

Latin America’s First Woman President

A continent renowned for its supposed machismo seems about to get its first female president, Michelle Bachelet. This in itself is interesting, but equally interesting is the divide that can be seen across the continent between a more or less pragmatic group of politicians – Bachelet herself, Kirchner in Argentina, Lula in Brazil, or, to take a name not widely mentioned, Medellin’s new mayor Sergio Fajardo Valderrama, and the more “mediatic” group – Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and Commandante Marcos.

“Although originally from the hard-leftwing of Chile’s Socialist party, Ms Bachelet is expected to pursue broadly the same mixed economy policies as President Ricardo Lagos. She would inherit sound public finances and an economy that grew by more than 6 per cent last year. Mr Piñera is also an economic moderate, unlikely to change significantly the direction of Latin America’s most successful economy.”

Of course, my explanation for this very striking differential can be found here.

Continue To Denationalise Tamiflu!

Following up on my spoof post about the complexity of making bets when it comes to new pharma products, worries about Tamiflu continue. The original issue was one of unexplained deaths in Japan, which were, more or less, subsequently explained. Now there are questions about its efficacy in the case of the H5N1 flu strain, and this is important since Tamiflu is known to have side effects. All in all, something to treat with caution.

The study raises new questions about the drug, which more than 50 governments have ordered in significant quantities in recent months to stockpile as a potential prophylactic and treatment in the case of a flu pandemic.

An accompanying article in the Journal reinforced calls for alternative approaches to treatment for a pandemic, including the stockpiling of the rival drug zanamivir, or Relenza.

Dr Anne Moscona wrote that individuals’ stockpiling of Tamiflu was “potentially dangerous” because it could lead to insufficient doses and inadequate courses of therapy, in turn accelerating the development of resistance.

So maybe Brad Delong’s hypothetical government would have been better off nationalising Zanamivir (or maybe not). The thing is it is really hard to know in advance, and that is an in-principle problem. At the end of the day this is why the private sector solution may be better, because at least you have different horses in the race.

Iraq Oil Output Declines

There’s an interesting piece in the FT today about how oil output is steadily decining in Iraq due to over explotation of existing wells and the difficulties in attracting the technical staff necessary for serious development of new capacity:


Iraq’s oil industry has gone backwards since the fall of Mr Hussein in the spring of 2003. Oil production is barely more than 2m barrels a day, a far cry from the 3.5m b/d Iraq pumped before the first war with the US in 1990 and the level industry analysts thought the country could again achieve within a couple of years of the war ending.

The latest figures show Iraq produced 1.24m b/d in November, the lowest level in a year. Iraq’s capacity to produce oil appears to be declining, possibly because its southern fields are being driven too hard and damaged by officials keen to compensate for losses to production from the north, which has been hampered by frequent sabotage.

Planting The News?

Wow! The FT today has a very long and extensive story about how the US military have been ‘placing’ stories in the Iraqi press. While I don’t disagree with the observation by one commentator in that “I don’t think that there’s anything inherently evil or morally wrong with it” in a war situation, I do agree with another Pentagon spokesman quoted who argues that it is more than just efficacy which is at stake:

“Here we are trying to create the principles of democracy in Iraq. Every speech we give in that country is about democracy. And we’re breaking all the first principles of democracy when we’re doing it,” said a senior Pentagon official who opposes the practice of planting stories in the Iraqi media.

All this takes me back to my Afoe post last week about alleged suggestions that it might be a good idea to bomb the Doha headquarters of the Arabic satellite TV channel al-Jazeera. The point is, you don’t bomb people just because you disagree with their opinions. That in fact is terrorism, not anti-terrorism, and if you want a free and independent pressthen that is what you have to accept, that it won’t necessarily agree with, or support you. The big danger is that the official Iraqi press loses credibility through this kind of thing, and as a consequence the fragile Iraqi democracy also loses credibility.

Scrambled, Or Sunny-Side Up?

How would you like your eggs done here sir, scrambled or sunny- side up? Of course my hilarity here may be due to the fact that Huevos in Spanish has a rather different connotation:

A South Korean scientist whose cloning of a dog Time magazine called this year’s most amazing invention resigned on Thursday as head of a global hub for stem-cell work because two members on his team donated egg cells for study.

No Smoke Without Fire?

Does this add a new dimension to the term “laying down a smokescreen“?

The British military uses white phosphorous in Iraq but only to lay smoke screens, the government said Wednesday, after allegations that U.S. troops used the incendiary weapon against civilians during the battle of Fallujah last year…

“In the British army, we only use white phosphorous as a cover, as a smoke screen,” Defense Secretary John Reid told reporters at a NATO training exercise in Germany.