This is not how to deal with demography

Demography matters, as Ed constantly points out. It matters so much they’re even talking about it up at Davos, where they’ve invited “the world’s most important bloggers” into the bargain. So, from the AFOE (Europe’s No.1, according to E-Sharp magazine) forward bureau in the Hotel Derby, we’d like to point out that this probably won’t solve Japan’s demographic problems:

“The number of women aged between 15 and 50 is fixed. Because the number of birth-giving machines and devices is fixed, all we can ask for is for them to do their best per head, although it may not be so appropriate to call them machines.”

Ya think? So says Health Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa.

BTW, if this is Davos it looks a lot like my front room…you see, we at AFOE have a deployable blog-unit in a standard shipping container that contains everything we need to support our mission of pan-European opinion in remote locations. Or something. Ho hum.

Thomas Barnett joins Shrillaholics Anonymous

Thomas P.M. Barnett, Pentagon thinker and tech entrepreneur, stands up in the centre of the circle and says…I am Thomas Barnett….and I…am shrill! You’ll feel better now you’ve said it, Tom. See his latest column, here, in which he says that:

That’s how we’ll master this allegedly chaotic world: recalling that we’re history’s first and most wildly successful multinational economic and political union. Our greatest source of stability is our vast web of horizontally connecting networks.

Does that sound like a union of states not far from you, anyone? That has been the subject of much criticism, nay, contempt from Tom’s employers recently?

Meanwhile, back at his blog, he asks: Can Israel and Iran grow up, making the good point that everyone else has had to get used to nuclear deterrence. Our octopus-like tentacles of technocratic integration, economic interdependence and international law inch closer to his occiput. Soon he’ll be one with the Borg.. After all, what better example of his “SysAdmin shrinking the Gap” is there but EU enlargement?

One goes up, one goes down

An unacknowledged fact of world economics is the role of command or planning mechanisms in what is held to be a global market economy. J.K. Galbraith raised the point that large companies are in a sense planned economies within their walls, with technical and commercial decisions made by management, wage and pricing structures determined either managerially or by negotiation with trade unions, and the whole enforced through targeting and budgeting exercises.

Hence, China announces a cut in petrol prices, presumably passing-on some of the $20 drop in the oil price since the summer of 2006, or perhaps trying to supply-manage inflation. Sometimes, though, decisions driven by nonmarket procedures can be just as quick as market ones..

Iran, Venezuela and other oil exporters are lobbying for an OPEC production cut. I think Jerome of Eurotrib suggested that the Saudis were targeting US stock levels. Here is, perhaps, another interesting indicator.

Survey of the Year

The US hard right is constantly telling anyone who’ll listen that France is on the brink of civil war. The latest version of this furphy is the claim that the French government has officially recognised areas of France it “doesn’t control”, that are under “sharia law.” Meant are the so-called zones urbaines sensibles, rough housing projects in the suburbs the Interior Ministry statisticians say have a high crime rate.

So, what happened when Nicolas Sarkozy’s pollsters headed for the frontline? Le Canard Enchainé has the results. Much as it may surprise Daniel Pipes, nobody cut their heads off. In fact, the 2,039 members of their representative sample rather disagreed with the hype. Although 53 per cent wanted to move, 48 per cent of the sample said they wanted to move to another place within their neighbourhood rather than leave. 80 per cent said they were satisfied with public transport, and a similar proportion with schools. A majority thought there were enough shops.

Asked to give their views of the cause of last year’s riots, 52 per cent blamed Sarko, with 44.5 per cent claiming that TV reporting had contributed to escalation. 25 per cent blamed police brutality, and 20 per cent criminals protecting their patch. Despite that, 72 per cent of persons “of metropolitan origin” said they trusted the police, as did 55 per cent of those originating from the Maghreb, Africa, and the overseas territories. This latter group reported being asked for their papers by the police twice as often as the first group.

58 per cent of those who said they would vote, said they would vote for Ségoléne Royal, as against 37 per cent for Nicolas Sarkozy. This trend held across all ethnic groups.

Your Holiday Assignment

This is usually Crooked Timber‘s turf, but I might as well deliver the good news to the masses here: the much-awaited annual King William’s College General Knowledge Paper, aka the most difficult quiz in the world, is now online (pdf).

Readers are invited to spoil the “fun” for all the others by posting answers in comments. I think I found half a dozen out of 180 on a first, googleless sitting, one because the question (18.10) was -uncharacteristically- a gimme, two others by unfairly taking advantage of my Frenchness (hey, it’s got to help sometimes) and a few more because section 3 is really full of low-hanging fruits. The rest looks much harder, though.

Addendum (12/23) : C’mon people, everybody loves quizzes, right? If it is the .pdf file that bothers you, here is the quiz in convenient html form on The Guardian website. And remember that “scire ubi aliquid invenire possis ea demummaximapars eruditionis est“.

La Febbre

A couple of weeks back I had the pleasure of seeing Alessandro D’Alatri’s recent film La Febbre (Fever). As the reviewer says (Italian link), this is a ‘normal’ (everyday) film, not a great one, even if it does include one or two memorable moments, like the scenes shot along the river bank, which were (and I imagine this is not entirely unintentional) rather reminiscent of some which are to be found in the unforgettable L’Albero Degli Zoccoli from that giant of Italian cinema Ermanno Olmi.

La Febbre è il classico film italiano, che vuol raccontare una storia normale, di tutti i giorni, e che per farlo non trascende dai canoni della buona creanza del plot, e da quel pizzico di amara critica sociale che lo rende molto politically correct.”

(La Febbre (the fever) is a typical Italian film, the kind of film which tries to tell a simple, ‘normal’ story – an everyday one – and which in order to do this stays well within the bounds of what is normally thought to be an acceptable plot structure, and then, following the recipe, there is added just enough social criticism to make the film a highly politically correct one.)

My point of interest in this post, however, is not really the film itself, but rather the film as a reflection of something else: the disenchantment and frustration that many young Italians seem to feel with contemporary Italian society, and the impact that the evident failure of Italian civil society to adjust to Italy’s contemporary social and demographic reality may have on the future evolution of Italian economy and society.
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North Sea neuroses

Matthias Matussek, once London correspondent of Der Spiegel and now its culture editor, not to mention brother of top diplomat Thomas Matussek, has a book out. Wir Deutschen: warum die anderen uns gern haben können is meant to be a call for a renewed German patriotism and pride in culture. This would usually suggest a very dull book, but I enjoyed it immensely. Not for the right reasons, though.

Matussek’s approach is idiosyncratic, not that there is anything wrong with that, and the book is really a collection of essays, on topics ranging from Heinrich Heine and Angela Merkel to Britain, Britain, the German economy, Vergangenheitsbewältigung, the World Cup, Britain, Danish cartoonists, the East after reunification, and Britain. In fact, an obsession with Britain runs through this book like letters through a stick of rock-hardly a page passes without comparing some German institution, writer, company, statesman or building to one in Britain, and no chapter is complete with a volley of snark directed roughly westward.

Now, it is a truism that Britain and Germany share a mutual obsession. But this would be less interesting if it wasn’t for the sheer wordcount devoted to complaining about the British obsession with Germany. There is a complete chapter on Anglo-German relations, which I looked forward to-the possibilities are immense. Would he dig into the pre-1914 closeness that gave Bradford a Little Germany (and its own Nazi, Ernst-Wilhelm Bohle, born there in 1903 and later Rudolf Hess’s right hand) and Leeds a Dortmund Square, Robert Graves a relative on the Oberste Heeresleitung?

Nah. Instead, most of the chapter is dedicated to the results of a trip to Germany for some schoolteachers his brother’s embassy organised, and a pleasant but uninformative weekend in the country with John Le Carré.
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Stephen Maturin, Drug Fiend

From The Commodore, pp. 187-88

Yet [Maturin] had some faults [as a physician], and one was a habit of dosing himself, generally from a spirit of inquiry, as in his period of inhaling large quantities of the nitrous oxide and of the vapour of hemp, to say nothing of tobacco, bhang in all its charming varieties in India, betel in Java and the neighbouring islands, qat in the Red Sea, and hallucinating cacti in South America, but sometimes for relief from distress, as when he became addicted to opium in one form or another; and now he was busily poisoning himself with coca-leaves, whose virtue he had learnt in Peru.

An open thread for considering Patrick O’Brian as a European author.

The secular jihadi two-step

In a previous post, I argued that the extreme Right has rebranded itself as a “secular jihad” against “Eurabia” to appeal to the liberal hawk/”decent left” tendency. Where once the New York Times‘s op-ed pages wrung hands and wagged fingers against the rise of Haider and Le Pen as a renaissance of anti-semitism, now Melanie Phillips flirts with the Vlaams Belang as strugglers for Western civilisation.

Blogistan reports that the BNP is trying to make nice with the Jewish Chronicle over an article, ironically by Melanie Phillips, which accused them of being anti-Semitic and allies of Hezbollah. (One wonders exactly how.) Amusingly, she quotes the Communist Morning Star‘s pointing out that BNP leader Nick Griffin has both supported Israeli military action in Lebanon and crazy Eurabia propagandist Bat Ye’or as evidence that the Left is anti-Semitic and so is the BNP. The only logical route to this proposition is that “the Left criticise the BNP for being pro-Israel, therefore the left is anti-Semitic because all criticism of Israel, or even the Eurabia mythos, is anti-Semitic by definition” – something which a lot of JC readers would have been outraged by had it been made explicit.

The further leap, that the BNP is really anti-Semitic despite its explicit and noisy support for the Israeli hard right, is based on a statement by some BNP “theorist” that the party needs to stop being obsessed by Jews. At some point here, clearly, we have slipped the surly bonds of logic and sailed off into the pure air of propagandist ravings. This is an example of using a point in debate that means the exact opposite of what you wish to say. There is absolutely no doubt that the BNP *is* anti-Semitic, in that many if not most of its members are and much of its past history is. But it is very significant that its leadership and its “theorist” are trying to retarget its hatred onto Muslims.

Phillips’ mental model is founded on the assumption that a) the CPGB is representative of all leftwing opinion, a highly noticeable step, and b) not only is criticism of Israeli policy equivalent to Nazism, but this protection extends to the Eurabia meme, rather as “extended deterrence” was held to protect Western Europe as well as North America.

This kind of ideological acrobatics is usually a signal of a big realignment a-coming. It is reminiscent of the good communist who had to believe in the necessity of war against fascism up to the moment he or she learnt of the Nazi-Soviet pact, then of the essential non-dangerousness of Hitler, and then the exact opposite immediately on hearing the morning news on June 22, 1941. After all, precisely the people in Europe who believe in the Eurabia meme are…the BNP and Co. And if it is now the acid test of fascism, then Melanie Phillips can’t logically avoid lining up with Nick Griffin.

Slight update: I recall that a few years ago, the “Loyalists” in Northern Ireland were reported to have started adopting Israeli iconography, and the Republicans had begun to wave Palestinian flags in response. No doubt part of the reason is that the colours were roughly right for Glasgow Rangers, but still. The BNP, C18, NF and Co are known to have contacts with the “Loyalist” paramilitaries.

Twitchers

Torture, war, elections. Let’s talk about birdwatching for a bit.

Twitchers. The term is British. When a rare bird shows up, twitchers are people who will drop everything and rush to the scene.

They used to have phone trees, then for a while it was beepers. It’s cell-phones and e-mail now. Here is an interesting thing: if you look back to the early days of twitching, the 1960s and ’70s, you see them using an alert system that’s eerily similar to the formal regime for planespotting developed by British civil defense during WWII. Direct copy, inspiration, accident? I wonder. Does anyone here know?

Anyway. Your classic twitcher will leave job, family, or church service behind, seize camera, binoculars and notebook, jump in the car, and roar off to the copse where the black-bellied whistling duck has appeared for only the third time in Britain since 1937.
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