Monday, January 28, 2008

On inappropriate names

While watching the BBC ten o'clock news this evening I was moved to wonder as to its serious mindedness over Japanese whale hunting. Fiona Bruce cut live to Greenpeace's boat the Esperanza where we were given an overview of the Greenpeace-Japan tussle by a correspondent named Jonah Fisher.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

On whether “It’s better to bomb Iran that risk Iran getting the bomb”

By the time I took my seat in the Royal Geographical Society for last night’s debate I was in something of a foul mood. A bad day including a text argument, untold hassle at work, two friends then calling off at the last minute then culminated in being fleeced by an elderly woman at the door who wanted to buy my remaining ticket at a concessionary rate. However, by the evening’s end I was pleased I’d dragged my self-pitying frame to what was a spirited and entertaining debate.

The proposers for the motion “It’s better to bomb Iran that risk Iran getting the bomb” were Dr Bruno Tertrais, Senior Research Fellow at the Fondation pour la recherche strategique (FRS), Dr Emanuele Ottolenghi, Executive Director of the Transatlantic Institute, and Reuel Marc Gerecht, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former CIA Middle East expert. A friend had been disappointed on seeing this line-up that their number did not include John Bolton to which at the time I agreed. However, whatever one might have expected of Bolton was far surpassed by the booming tones and flailing arms of – by his own admission – an obviously wine-fuelled Gerecht (“I’m not as bad as Christopher Hitchens, but I can run him pretty close.”)

Against the motion were Sir Richard Dalton, British Ambassador to Iran from 2002 to 2006 (who stood in marked contrast to Gerecht: softly spoken, fastidious, composed), Dr Ali Ansari, Professor of Iranian History at the University of St Andrews, and the journalist and author Simon Jenkins.

The audience were polled on entering the hall and it was announced at the debate’s commencement that 118 were for the motion with 480 against and around 200 undecided. At the end those in favour of the motion had increased to (I think) 154 with over 600 against. And this was surely on account of the compelling arguments of both Simon Jenkins and Dr Ansari. Jenkins felt the motion itself was “nonsense” arguing that to bomb Iran because of a mere risk that it could acquire a nuclear warhead was ludicrous. Ansari, of all the panel, was probably the person whose arguments were most evidentially based. He was at times dismissive and bordered on appearing arrogant but was amusing watching whenever his opponents had the floor: twitching, contorting and furiously scribbling notes to Jenkins and Dalton.

Both sides were could perhaps be accused of fudging the question to a degree. Ottolenghi constantly reminded the audience that he and his co-proposers were not talking about bombing “tomorrow” but were vague as to what date it was they favoured. Jenkins submitted that a pre-emptive strike is illegal under international law unless the perceived threat was imminent. He allowed that he’d “jolly well” bomb Iran first if Britain faced impending destruction. Ansari also pointed to international law and the necessity for it to be observed. But he conceded that the West was vulnerable to accusations of ignoring international law when it was expedient to do so. He did not reconcile these two positions to my satisfaction.

However, even less satisfying to my ears was the failure of either side to identify precisely the groups or individuals we ought to fear. “Militaristic elements” and “hardliners” were often referred to but never named. Gerecht ranted about Rafsanjani and Khamenei but then eulogised Khamenei as a learned and rational man. Still, I wondered, should, as is likely, Ahmadinejad loses the forthcoming March elections will there be cause for hope? Again this was not focused on as it ought to have been. Only Ansari saw it as a pivotal future event but he also believed the change of administration in Washington would be as important.

The discussion was peppered with criticism for Israel and its nuclear capabilities and Ottolenghi achieved the loudest laughs and jeers of the evening when he said that no countries in the Middle East saw Israel as a threat.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

On Olympic overspend

It seems blackly humorous that as economists everywhere warn us of the impending credit crunch or 'economic perfect storm' that we are told again today of the spiralling costs of the London Olympics. The average Briton is estimated to be around £33000 in debt. We might expect a responsible government to be alarmed and urge caution but rather it leads by example in raiding every spare penny (and some not so spare) in ratcheting up the cost of the games to over £9 billion, four times the original estimate for an event few Londoners want. Paris doesn't know how lucky it was.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

On Lynton Down Under

This direct from the Grauniad's weekly email update the 'Backbencher':

Boris's flights of fancy

Relief at 30 Millbank was unbounded when Lynton Crosby agreed to help
Boris defeat King Newt. Perhaps he can repeat the fine job he did for
Michael Howard three years ago. The only problem is that he still has
a part-time job in Sydney, which is good news for Qantas but bad news
for Boris - not least because Lynton will be commuting between the
two capitals until the final stages of the campaign. Not only does
this mean that Lynton may be asleep or in the air when Boris needs
him, it makes the would-be mayor's scepticism about Heathrow
expansion plans look rather silly. Indeed, on December 27, Boris's
people put out a press release complaining about the number of
domestic flights that staff in the mayor's office were taking. That
particular document was scratched from the archive when
relaunched this week. Very sensible.

Very. Cripes, as the blond-thatched one might himself exclaim.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

On Alex bloody Ferguson

Yet another throw-away post. I need to up my game I know. But this did make me laugh.
After Manchester United limped to a one nil victory over Birmingham City, Fergie moaned:

"That was the quietest I have heard the crowd and it's disappointing because we needed the crowd today. We have come through a difficult period of game after game and in moments like these we need a lift. But it was like a funeral out there."

Could not the crowd's taciturn behaviour be explained by something they might have been doing the previous evening, 31 December 2007? Perhaps Sir Alex was still suffering the effects himself.

I can never mention Alex Ferguson without being reminded of celebrated food critic and little Englander, AA Gill's assessment of the chef Gordon Ramsey. I paraphrase: "Ferguson is a wonderful manager, just a really second-rate human being."

Good night.