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The Daily Briefing 24/11/05
1 Two nations: need and greed
A return to Disraeli's "Two Nations"? Jonathan Freedland begins his column with a recipe for the world's most expensive cocktail (Richard Hennessy cognac, Dom Perignon champagne, fresh lemongrass and lychees - all topped off with an extract of yohimbe bark - £333 a glass) and concludes by saying that the unfashionable debate about the growing gap between rich and poor is making a come back. "Talk to anyone in politics about this and they will look at you blankly: this is the deadest of dead letters. Labour won't touch it for fear of seeming like anti-wealth, socialist dinosaurs. Few yearn for a Maoist-style cap on salaries, but there are other options ... Above all, we need to start talking about it. Like wearing flares or tight tank tops, people will mock at first. But this issue's coming back - just watch."
(Shades of Ross Gittins' column yesterday, which you'll find here for those who missed it.)
JONATHAN FREEDLAND/THE GUARDIAN
2 Private affluence, public squalor
Why are we prepared to spend so much on junk for ourselves and run in horror at the suggestion of a tax increase for social spending? David Boyle (link below) thinks part of the answer is a cynicism about institutions and offers some suggestions on how to deal with it. "‘Private affluence, public squalor’, as economist John Kenneth Galbraith dubbed it back in 1958, is a central issue when it comes to working out how to save the planet. Our chances of tackling global warming are pretty slim if we consume so inefficiently, yet baulk when it comes to paying for a congestion charge in Edinburgh – or complain about the fuel tax, although it barely pays for half the actual cost to society of driving."
And the NYTimes reports on business profiting from going green. "It is impossible to quantify the size of the environmental industry. Many of the newer companies are privately held. And many "green" products - more efficient power generators, say, or biodegradable plastics - are parts of other industries. But investors are clearly funneling ever more money into green technologies."
DAVID BOYLE/GREEN FUTURES
3 Nuclear energy, climate change and soybeans
The debate the world has to have in response to climate change, is nuclear energy the alternative, has gathered momentum in the UK following the report that Prime Minister Tony Blair will support the building of more nuclear power plants. Magnus Linklatter in The Times (link below) argues against: "Nuclear power stations of the future will have to rely on second-grade ore, which requires huge amounts of conventional energy to refine it. For each tonne of poor-quality uranium, some 5,000 tonnes of granite that contains it will have to be mined, milled and then disposed of. This could rise to 10,000 tonnes if the quality deteriorates further. At some point, and it could happen soon, the nuclear industry will be emitting as much carbon dioxide from mining and treating its ore as it saves from the “clean” power it produces thanks to nuclear fission."
In The Guardian, Simon Jenkins argues for, while acknowledging that more will need to be done. "Fighting our way through the vested interests dogging this debate is near impossible. The rub is that if Britain can only overcome the nuclear taboo, as have Sweden, Finland, France and other countries, there is no point in wasting subsidy on the relatively small relief to global warming offered by most renewables. Nuclear can do it all, as France shows. Spend money instead on energy-saving - with money raised by taxing energy-greed."
Also in The Guardian, science writer Ian Sample reports that England will face greater extremes of climate. "The report found that while rainfall is set to increase significantly during coming winters, summers in the north-west and south-east are likely to be 25% drier, leading to a greater risk of water shortages in the months it is needed most. "The picture is one of much wetter winters, leading to an increased risk of flooding, and more heatwaves during the summer, which is likely to put pressure on agriculture," said Malcolm Haylock, one of the authors of the report."
The Washington Post reports that the biodiesel industry is looking to soybeans as an energy source. "In such rural areas as Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, where farming is slowly waning, some officials are hoping that the biodiesel market for soybeans might help halt that slide."
And the NYTimes reports on one man's passion about the potential of obtaining clean fuel from dirty coal. "Governor Schweitzer, a Democrat, has a two-fisted idea for energy independence that he carries around with him. In one fist is a shank of Montana coal, black and hard. In the other fist is a vial of nearly odorless clear liquid - a synthetic fuel that came from the coal and could run cars, jets and trucks or heat homes without contributing to global warming or setting off a major fight with environmental groups, he said."
MAGNUS LINKLATTER/THE TIMES
4 More talk, still no action in Darfur
The tragedy the world seems determined to ignore continues in Darfur, Nicholas Kristof continues his campaign for action, and TDB continues to link (below) to his columns.
In The New Yorker, Samantha Power explains why she thinks the African Union's mission is failing, and what can be done to make it a success. "Persuading these countries to send their troops to Darfur won’t be easy. Nor will obtaining permission from Sudan, which, in a ghastly coincidence of timing, takes over the A.U.’s rotating presidency in January. But the alternative is a far bigger African problem—with no African, or international, solution."
5 No Saddam-Osama link
Just when you may have thought there was nothing more to be revealed about the "sexed up" intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq, along comes Murray Waas in the respected National Journal with one more revelation. Bush administration figures continually connected Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda in the lead up to the invasion, to the point that most Americans thought Hussein had something to do with the 9/11 attack. According to Waas, Bush was told in the "President's Daily Brief" for September 21, 2001 (which the White House still refuses to release) that there was no such connection. "Ten days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush was told in a highly classified briefing that the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks and that there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda, according to government records and current and former officials with firsthand knowledge of the matter."
And this is the revelation the world's media does not seem to know what to do with. The Daily Mirror has reported that Tony Blair had to talk George Bush out of bombing Aljazeera. The White House has denied it (well, dismissed it to be precise), but the British Government gave the story more legs by banning reporting of the memo on which the Mirror's story was based.
The Washington Post has a round-up of reaction to the story; and even Bush critic Josh Marshall is not sure what to make of it but he does have some thoughts on it: "With my very limited sense of how George W. Bush operates in private, I think it does sound the like the sort of thing the president might joke about or say merely for effect, though I wouldn't say that shows him in such a great light either."
MURRAY WAAS/THE NATIONAL JOURNAL
6 Iraq, better than it seems
Because TDB can only link to what is available out there on the net, and because sentiment has turned so solidly and so quickly against the invasion of Iraq, there has been little word of late from the pro-war camp. But two pieces today will redress that a little. Christopher Hitchens in Slate (link below) shows no signs of joining the 'liberal hawks' deserting the cause, but he does sort of come close to admitting that the invasion has been badly handled. "For reasons that I have explained at length elsewhere, I think that the continuation of the Saddam Hussein regime would have been even more dangerous than the Bush administration has ever claimed. I also think that that regime should have been removed many years before it actually was, which is why the Bush administration is right to remind people of exactly what Democrats used to say when they had the power to do that and did not use it. No, there are two absolutely crucial things that made me a supporter of regime change before Bush, and that will keep me that way whether he fights a competent war or not."
And Max Boot in the LATimes argues that things on the ground in Iraq are better than media reports would suggest. Boot, the neo-conservative in residence at the Centre on Foreign Relations refers to the Brookings Institution's Iraq Index which you can find here.
7 Voltaire, Rouseau and post-modernism
The Enlightenment. How quaint it all seems, in the "age of terror", when fear drives the body politic and commentators, notably Gerard Henderson, insists that thinkers and intellectuals should be silent in the face of the demands of the "great majority". David Bell, Professor in the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University, says that the movement always was a fragile thing as he reviews biographies of Voltaire and Rouseau. "If nothing else, though, our own century's retreat from the Enlightenment should help us appreciate that this great movement of ideas has been a fragile thing all along, and never more than in its supposed eighteenth-century heyday. Its swift apparent triumph in the American and French revolutions makes it easy to forget that its greatest authors constantly ran afoul of the authorities and took great personal risks throughout their careers. Both Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, as these two excellent new biographies point out, had books officially shredded and burned in Paris--even if, in Voltaire's case, the responsible official surreptitiously substituted another volume at the last minute, so as to take the offending one home for himself."
And Larissa MacFarquhar from The New Yorker went along to listen to Jean Baudrillard promote his new book “The Conspiracy of Art".
DAVID BELL/THE NATION
8 Left, right or in the middle
Nigel Bowen examines the conventional wisdom that the children of the children of the revolutions are far more conservative than the Baby Boomers, and comes up with one of the better examples of journalism's cultural analysis genre, which often tend to be a string of cliches held together by a few "telling" anecdotes. "And their supposedly reactionary offspring? They were actually keener on legalised marijuana and premarital sex than their parents. The putatively conformist Gen Yers were also revealed to be more willing to experiment, to be “different” and do their own thing than boomers at a similar age. Only 34% expected they would “have a fuller and happier life if they choose legal marriage rather than just living with someone”. Gen Yers were slightly more religious than their parents but no data was collected on what form that took. While it’s become conventional wisdom they’re all trooping off to Hillsong, the fastest-growing religion in Australia isn’t pentecostal Christianity but Buddhism."
And John Lennon fans from all generations will probably enjoy this essay by Jeff Giles to mark the 25th anniversary of his death.
NIGEL BOWEN/THE BULLETIN
9 Human remains, sharks and Maggie
A hell of a job, but somebody has to do it, literally. The NYTimes (below) reports on a company that cleans up the mess that humans leave on the way out of this vale of tears. "Mr. Gospodarski, a paramedic for 23 years, is what is known as a bio-recovery technician, a highly trained, extremely efficient, self-employed house-cleaner of sorts whose specialty is removing the unpleasant aftereffects of suicides, attempted suicides, shotgun murders, accidental impalements and, in the case of lonely, unnoticed passings like that of the man in 6-F, "decomps." In a city like New York, Mr. Gospodarski and his six employees are rarely idle."
Analyse this. The Guardian reports that Maggie Thatcher threatened to nuke Buenos Aires during the Falklands War to force François Mitterrand to give her the codes to disable Argentina's deadly French-made missiles, according to the book "Rendez-vous" by Ali Magoudi the former president's psychoanalyst.
The NYTimes reports that Fabien Cousteau, grandson of Jacques, has been swimming with White Pointers and thinks they are much misunderstood.