Why Israel Is Not The Palestinian Problem

Many thanks to the Editorial Board at the International Herald Tribune for publishing a letter of mine on the Jan 9, 2009 printed paper, under the headline “When governments fail” (a modified version of yesterday’s blog “Are Palestinian Lives Truly Worthless?“):

David Brooks’s analysis (“The confidence war,” Views, Dec. 7) is missing the fact that the very strategies of successive Israeli governments, the Palestinian Authority and now Hamas have been based on the utter disregard of the value of the lives of individual Palestinians.

This has been true especially in the last decade or so. One side casually bombs crowded residential areas from afar only to release increasingly hypocritical apologetic press releases afterward. The other side sends youths on suicide missions or unleashes them armed with stones to throw at armored tanks – while proclaiming that thousands and thousands of dead women and children are a price worth paying for victory against “the Zionists.”

As shown repeatedly during the last century, it should be the job of international institutions to push hard for the safeguarding of lives, especially when the local governments are clearly unable or unwilling to do so. But I am afraid that with the way things are going, we can only expect a future made of innumerable deaths.

I’ll expand briefly upon that to argue why Israel is not the actual problem for the Palestinians, at the moment.

True, most of the actions undertaken during the latest conflict situation by the Jerusalem Government are at the edge or beyond the very limits of International Law and War Law. It also does look especially fishy how the Gaza invasion coincides with upcoming Israeli elections…one of the luckily few occasions where a democracy makes liberal use of somebody else’s blood for a few votes more.

But that’s less important to Palestinians than the gigantic failure of their leadership(s) to do anything positive on their behalf.

Like it or not, when there is a war one side usually shows little interest in protecting the other side’s civilian lives (it depends on the war, and on the propaganda, but the overall trend is alas towards more civilian deaths). However deplorable, if Azerbaijan declares war against Armenia (just an example) it goes without saying that Azerbaijanis will rather kill Armenians, and Armenians Azerbaijanis.

Usually, that is accompanied by each side trying as much as possible to protect its own: therefore Azerbaijan will do its best to defend Azerbaijanis, and Armenia Armenians. Sometimes that doesn’t actually work out as proclaimed (see Russian botched kidnap rescue attempts) but one can assume that at least the intention is always there.

That is not what happens for Palestinians. They must be the only people on Earth deliberately put in harm’s way by their own leaders. I am sure that even the incredibly locked-up Burmese junta, and the paranoid hermit North Korean state-wide prison, would try to lower casualties among their own citizens in case of war much, much better than Hamas (or Fatah for that matters) have ever managed even to imagine, let alone do.

In fact, just like in Communist states of old (USSR famine in the 1930’s, China famine in the 1950’s), in the world as seen by Hamas people are not people, but pawns to use for a higher ideological purpose (namely, the destruction of Israel). Horribly, a dead Palestinian child becomes more useful to them than a live Palestinian child, as it does make Israel look an abominable entity that doesn’t deserve to seat among Nations.

Whatever Israel has done or is doing, things don’t have to be the way they are. Resistance is a natural reaction to occupation, but suicide (or worse: making sure some of yours get killed for your political advantage) is not.

As suggested in the blog and the letter to the IHT, we would go a long way towards improving the Palestinians’ situation if only we could protect the people from Hamas (and from Fatah).

Now of course one would have to understand what brought Palestinians in the Occupied Territories to a situation that is perhaps worse than Somalia’s and definitely makes Haiti looks like Heaven on Earth. One would not do wrong by considering the issue of politicide by Israel, but that is as relevant to today’s situation as reconsidering the opportunity of wearing warm clothes in a snowstorm is to somebody that has already caught pneumonia.

In Italian University Education, A Crisis Being Wasted

(letter sent to the IHT)

Zoe Bray and Andrea Calderaro of the European University Institute in Fiesole, Italy, describe the Italian Government’s planned funding cuts as an “assault on an already fragile education system (Letters, IHT, Dec 12).

Perhaps so. But one wonders why “people [brought] together from all walks of Italian life” protesting against those cuts, have been (and still are!) so acquiescent to the one issue that hobbles every single University in Italy: namely, the incredible and totally unrestrained domination by the “Professori Ordinari”, the tenured professors that literally hold the power of academic life and death (and more).

For decades now, there have been plenty of Professori Ordinari in the Italian Parliament, and in successive Governments from all sides. Still, as Bray and Calderaro correctly point out, the education system has been based “in large part [on] the voluntary work of researchers“. Furthermore, nepotism abounds.

Funding cuts or not, the status quo is evidently untenable. Rather than sterile protests against a Government that is more or less obliged to restructure the infamous Italian public accounts, one would hope those working and studying in Universities could take advantage of the current crisis, and force the tenured professors to give an account of their flawed stewardship.

Morabito’s Turkish Defence on the LRB

The London Review of Books has kindly allocated some space in the Letters section of the latest issue to my letter on the (mis)treatment of Turkey by Perry Anderson, Professor at UCLA.

One important addendum, as my original text has been energetically and mercilessly shortened: at the end of the letter, when it says

“the left, the Kurds and the Alevis are precisely the factors impeding Turkey’s ‘accession process’”

it should actually read as

according to Anderson, the left, the Kurds and the Alevis are precisely the factors impeding Turkey’s ‘accession process’”

For reference, these are my original comments in full: on Turkey and on Cyprus.

and these Anderson’s articles I am referring to in my letter:

(a) On Cyprus
(b) On Kemal
(c) On Turkey after Kemal

Multi-decadal Single-Party President and Dictator Lectures the World on Human Rights

It may be good news to see that President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom of the Maldives preoccupies himself with human rights nowadays, just as global warming threatens the islands he has governed for 30 years (“With millions under threat, inaction is unethical“, IHT, Sep 9).

Some people will call his new worry a tad unethical and hypocritical, with him having won six elections as sole Presidential candidate and now trying to get re-elected for a seventh time.

But who knows? Perhaps President Gayoom will reconsider his priorities, and devote himself full time on solving the global warming issue: finally freeing up his people to choose their new, democratic leader. Ah, and to express their opinions unafraid of the State’s repressive policing.

Fact Checking Is Not What It Used To Be

Dear Editors of the IHT

It is commendable for William Falk to take upon himself the task of updating the wide world of what has been happening whilst Democrats and Republicans cavorted at their respective national political conventions (”The two weeks you missed”, IHT, Sep 8). However, it would have been even more commendable had Mr Falk checked all his “facts”: otherwise, rather than a news update, his effort will be just another act of disinformation.

In particular:

1- “Hezbollah…has a new base of operations in the Americas: Venezuela” – really? This has been an ongoing accusation for years, with little evidence ever provided. Shouldn’t one be a little bit more skeptical about it then, when the only source of the information are unnamed “Western intelligence officials”? This is a Presidential Election year in the USA, after all, and we all know which candidate stands to benefit if any international crisis explodes (or is concocted)

2- “Some [polar bears] were headed toward the edge of the ice shelf, 400 miles away – far beyond their endurance” – really? All we know is that by chance, a helicopter surveying the Arctic for oil-exploration has spotted nine polar bears swimming. The “400 miles away” detail has been reported not by those on the helicopter, and not even by the WWF that published the original story, but by a journalist at London-based “Daily Mail”, a newspaper that has retracted the story (=deleted from their website) since.

All in all, it looks like Mr Falk himself has been too busy watching Barack Obama, John McCain and assorted “dorky delegates bopping to the Beach Boys and Stevie Wonder”

Ruining the Planet, One Toad At A Time

Cornelia Dean is right in pondering the risks inherent in experimenting with scientific fixes meant to save the planet from global warming but with “environmental effects impossible to predict and impossible to undo” (“Experts ponder the hazards of using technology to save the planet“, IHT, Aug 12, 2008).

Actually, that is not just an issue for the future. There are several examples from the past of enviromental cures that have turned out to be worse than the original problem. One of the biggest, and perhaps the best known, is the story of the introduction of Cane Toads to Australia.

Originary of South America, and imported to Australia in 1935 as a scientific way to control beetles that were destroying sugarcane crops, cane toads are still spreading to this day. They are harming native wildlife, poison household pets, and are unstoppably expanding their range at up to 50 kilometers (30mi) per year.

And of course the cane toads have failed to do anything to the beetles.

There is no need to repeat such a mistake on an even larger scale, by depositing sulphur in the upper atmosphere or dumping iron in the open oceans. It is high time we admit that natural systems are way beyond our control and our best bet is adaptation and the use of simple, clear technology.

Kosovo: Good Guys vs. Bad Guys?

Letter to the International Herald Tribune

Dear Editors, dear Ms. Dempsey

Can anybody seriously describe the ongoing Kosovo crisis as a good-guys vs. bad-guys conflict, as attempted in Ms. Dempsey’s “Letter from Europe“, June 11, 2008, published on the IHT as “Deadlock in Kosovo risks Balkan instability“?

The articles is a relentless attack on everything Russia and Serbia have to say about Kosovo, with the EU depicted as the poor victim of a machination intending to deprive Kosovo of true independence, by keeping the UN around.

We are even treated to the classic “It is not for lack of trying by the Europeans or the United States to reach an agreement with Russia over Kosovo“, about the aborted Ahtisaari Plan.

Well, Ms Dempsey is well aware and even describes in the article the situation in Northern Mitrovica: could she please then try to explain on what basis would the Ahtisaari Plan free Albanian Kosovars from Belgrade’s rule, while effectively imprisoning the Mitrovican Serbs under Pristina’s?

Neither the EU nor the USA have shown much interest in upholding the rights of the minority Serbs in Kosovo, all too focused in promoting the rights of the minority Albanians in Serbia. This is no recipe for a lasting and peaceful settlement, with or without Russia: and in fact to this day there is no lasting peaceful settlement in sight.

It is also too easy for Ms Dempsey to push aside the legality question. It is not just a matter of Vladimir Putin “claiming that Kosovo’s independence had no international legal basis“. In fact, like Ms Dempsey, also the EU, the USA and legions of international legal experts still have not found any legal basis for Kosovo’s independence.

The best they could come up with, it’s a “sui generis” clause, hoping that all problems will evaporate if everybody agrees that Kosovo’s is a case unique in history, never to be repeated again.

That’s no legal explanation for bypassing the United Nations in order to create a new State in Europe.

Does anybody believe the situation is better today than before “independence” came to Kosovo, with the EU’s “undermined security ambitions” also thanks to its deep divisions on the topic, as correctly pointed out by Ms. Dempsey?

Are we any better down the path of Balkan stability, a “region where the slightest misunderstanding or provocation can lead to violence“? I for one am not sure about that. But if we want to be serious at dealing with this problem, that’s not just a question for Russia to answer.

regards
maurizio morabito

Evidence of Anti-China Reporting Bias in the IHT/NYT

In “Chinese students shed restraint in America” (IHT, Apr 30, published as “Chinese students in U.S. fight image of their home” on the NYT on Apr 29) Chou Wu, a Chinese doctorate student in the USA, is quoted by Shaila Dewan (in co-operation with Michael Anti) as saying that “Western media is even more biased than Chinese media“.

Ironically, in order to find evidence for his claim, Mr Wu should look no further than Ms Dewan’s article!

In fact, after reporting that Chinese students in America believe to be “still neglected or misunderstood (by Western news media) as either brainwashed or manipulated by the (Chinese) government“, Ms Dewan dutifully proceeds to portray those same students as…brainwashed and/or manipulated.

They are described as authoritarian, zealot nationalist prone to threats against Tibetans, also because “demonstrators couldintend to return home (too)”.

Ms Dewan even leaves the last word to Lionel Jensen, of the University of Notre Dame, IN, stating that Chinese students “dont’ ask” if Tibetans wanted the “aggressive modernization” brought by China to Tibet.

That doesn’t bode well for the impartiality of the article: a feeling that is confirmed when we are told that Chinese students’ “handouts on Tibet and Chinacontained a jumble of abbreviated history, slogans and maps with little context“.

Is “jumble” the appropriate word for a reporting piece? Methinks there is too much contempt for the report’s subject showing there.

We have to take Ms Dewan’s word for her judgements, as the only detail provided concerns “a chart showing infant mortality in Tibet had plummeted since 1951” (a positive thing if there ever was any). Alas, we are told, the students “did not provide any means for comparison with mortality rates in China or other countries“.

Too bad one is left none the wiser, as Ms Dewan herself provides no such a comparison either.

Once upon a time newspapers clearly separated news from news analysis. And journalists tried to report impartially. I know, that may be the stuff of Utopia nowadays, but is nobody trying anymore?

Is China’s Authoritarian Capitalism Better Than Liberal Democracy?

(No it isn’t: just like trying to earn a living by gambling is not better than having a salary, even if potential returns are much higher)

Is China’s authoritarian capitalism better than liberal democracy (as “the condition and motor of economic development“)? That’s more or less what Slavoj Žižek, co-Director of the International Centre for Humanities at Birkbeck College, asks in the Letters section of the London Review of Books (Vol. 30 No. 8 · Cover date: 24 April 2008), at the end of a singularly even-handed description of the Tibet-China relationship (that by the way only victims of their respective propaganda machines will believe to be a story of good guys vs. bad guys).

Fareed Zakaria has pointed out that democracy can only ‘catch on’ in economically developed countries: if developing countries are ‘prematurely democratised’, the result is a populism that ends in economic catastrophe and political despotism. No wonder that today’s economically most successful Third World countries (Taiwan, South Korea, Chile) embraced full democracy only after a period of authoritarian rule.

Following this path, the Chinese used unencumbered authoritarian state power to control the social costs of the transition to capitalism. The weird combination of capitalism and Communist rule proved not to be a ridiculous paradox, but a blessing. China has developed so fast not in spite of authoritarian Communist rule, but because of it.

There are a few i’s to dot, and t’s to cross in Mr Žižek’s discourse. First of all, Taiwan, South Korea and Chile became “today’s economically most successful Third World countriesafter getting rid of “authoritarian rule“. So from those examples it appears that dictatorship may gestate a successful economy, but more often than not “Authoritarian Rule” transforms itself into a suffocating mother, if not an evil stepmother.

More importantly, China itself is in a sense only the last manifestation of a truism: an (economically) enlightened dictatorship can be much more efficient than the collection of dirty tricks known as democracy. Voltaire likely believed in that, just as Plato and countless others, and even if it does sound like an elitist concept, it is obvious nevertheless. An intelligent, caring, politically and economically wise Prince can decide for the best of everybody in minutes, rather than wasting months trying to convince, negotiate, win over people, perhaps in interminable parliamentary committees.

Such a Prince can also guarantee decades of good governance, truly a blessing for his (or her) people.

There is a small matter though. Say, your Prince is Octavianus Augustus and peace and prosperity is for everybody. Then comes Tiberius, and things start out ok: only, to worsen with his increasing paranoia.

Then you’re stuck with Caligula. And Nero is not too far away either.

Things haven’t changed much in the intevening 2,000 years. The trouble with authoritarian rule, hence with authoritarian capitalism, is not its ability to generate prosperity: rather, its perfectly equivalent capacity to degenerate, quickly because almost without control, thereby hampering the growth of that prosperity if not killing it off entirely.

Speaking the language of the financial world: just like a new CEO can resurrect or destroy a Company, so a despotic Prince (or committee of Princes, aka the “Communist Party of China Central Committee“) is a recipe for increased earning opportunities and, for the very same reasons, for an increase in risk.

And that’s something that should definitely be factored in in any judgement about what to choose as “the condition and motor of economic development“. After all, who wants to continuously gamble all of one’s wealth?

Practical Consequences of Climate Worries

(comment to the IHT’s “Welcome to the new nuclear era”)

Let me understand…so far, the only practical consequences of all the climate change brouhaha have been:

(1) The transfer of billions of euros from European taxpayers to Big Oil/Big Energy firms, under the emission trading scheme

(2) The ballooning of agriculture subsidies to farmers to push them into cultivating corn (despite everybody well knowing the environmental impact from corn fuel will be worse)

(3) A substantial increase in food prices especially for very poor people in many parts of the world

(4) The return of a nuclear industry that will prosper on State guarantees and produce large amounts of radioactive garbage nobody has found as yet a good way to dispose of

???

If that’s what a cleaner, greener world looks like, I’d rather have it brown and dirty, thank you!

On Nuclear Hypocrisy

Letter published on the International Herald Tribune, Dec 14, 2007

Regarding “Get Tehran inside the tent” by Vali Nasr and Ray Takeyh (Views, Dec. 7): The one underlying issue that the writers do not mention, and that does not appear in the article by Valerie Lincy and Gary Milhollin (“In Tehran we trust?” Views, Dec. 7), is that Iran is alone in a sea of hostile neighbors.

Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear bomb is as logical as Israel’s or Pakistan’s. For the current Iranian regime, and perhaps even for a hypothetical Iranian democracy, it would be extremely foolish to leave the fortunes of the state to the whims of the United States, Europe, Russia, or the Sunni Arab states, especially with troubled neighbors like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It is obvious that the West needs a new policy for Iran. Perhaps once – just once – the powers that be will pay attention to the basic needs of Iran, starting by ruling out an invasion.

Isn’t it telling that Nasr and Takeyh repeat the old fairy tale that during the Cold War “confronting Communism meant promoting capitalism and democracy,” forgetting to mention an egregiously contrary example? In a most tragic decision 54 years ago, the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mossadegh was toppled and an autocratic monarch reintroduced, all in the name of fighting world Communism.

Maurizio Morabito, England

The Economist: Does Charlemagne Speak Any French?

Perhaps it would be better for commentators in European matters to travel and live a bit more around Europe

Letter to The Economist:

Dear Editors

The author of the “Charlemagne” column makes quite a fuss about the alleged ability in EU documents for fish to “fish themselves” (“A fishy tale“, Dec 13).

The incipit and a lot of the sarcasm in the article are about “a daring, if grammatically correct, use of reflexive verbs, so that a ministerial statement blamed undersized hake that se pêchaient et se vendaient, suggesting the fish had fished and sold themselves.”

The actual ploy though appears to be based on “Charlemagne“‘s own challenged relationship with the French language.

Far from being “daring“, “passive impersonal” (or “passive reflexive”) is a very common construct in French and in other languages, with the reflexive pronoun “se” used to avoid the seldom-liked standard passive voice.

No French speaker, and nobody but a person with plenty of negative prejudices against the European Union, would have imagined that anybody had ever suggested that “the fish had fished and sold themselves“.

If you have something to criticise about the EU (and there is plenty of material in that respect!) could you please at least make an effort not to concoct baseless innuendos.

Iran: Security, Not Insults

Vali Nasr and Ray Takeyh’s op-ed on the IHT (“Get Tehran inside the tent“, Dec 7) may be finally pointing to the obvious: provide stability to the Middle East by realizing that Iran is not going to move elsewhere any time soon.

But for that be achieved, a better vocabulary wouldn’t hurt. In fact, what would any Nation make if not insults of words such as “opportunistic“, “seeking predominance“, “to be contained“?

The one underlying issue that Nasr and Takeyh don’t mention, and does not even appear in Valerie Lincy and Gary Milhollin’s other op-ed in the same newspaper about Iranian nuclear activities (“In Tehran we trust?“) is that the former Persian state is alone in a sea of neighbours all of whom are hostile to various degrees.

Its pursuit of a nuclear bomb capability is as logical as Israel’s or Pakistan’s. For the current Iranian religious regime, and perhaps even for a hypothetical fully-fledged liberal Iranian democracy, it would be extremely foolish to leave the fortunes of the State to the whims of the USA, Europe or Russia, or of the Sunni Arab states, especially with troubled places like Iraq immediately to the West, and Afghanistan and Pakistan just to the East.

With the recent collapse of years of strong-armed American attempts at isolating Iran, it is obvious that there is a need for “a new policy now for going forward“, as one European official is quoted saying. Perhaps once, just once, the Powers will pay attention to the basic needs of Iran, starting from the elemental security of not risking any invasion, war, or foreign-concocted “regime change“.

Isn’t it telling that Nasr and Takeyh repeat the old fairy tale that during the Cold War, “confronting communism meant promoting capitalism and democracy“? Forgetting therefore to mention an egregiously contrary example.

In a most tragic decision 54 years ago by the CIA, the democratically elected government of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh was toppled and an autocratic monarch reintroduced, all in the name of fighting world communism.

And where did that happen? Why, in Iran.

Did We Just Miss George W Bush’s Election as President of Venezuela?

Roger Cohen’s thoughtful piece on Venezuela (“The limits of 21st-century revolution“, IHT, Dec 3) may have missed some important news coming from Caracas…

In fact, President Hugo Chavez said on the eve of the recent Venezuelan referendum that “Anyone who votes ‘No’ is voting for George W. Bush“.

Now, since the majority of people actually did vote “No”, doesn’t that mean George W Bush has just been elected President of Venezuela?

One wonders…

Ever Heard of Cretinism?

Graham Robb’s dreams about French villagers sleeping their ways through winter in extraordinarily unhealthy bovine and swine company could perhaps be disregarded as idle fantasies. (“Why work when you can hibernate?“, IHT, Nov 26)

Actually, it’s worse than that.

Has Mr Robb ever heard of “Alpine cretinism“, a condition that made people lose muscle tone and co-ordination, restricted their height and greatly impeded their cognitive development?

“Alpine cretinism”, as the name implies, was endemic in much of the Alps until very recently, when diets finally became rich in iodine.

Rather than practicethe forgotten art of doing nothing at all for months on end“, those people may have been literally unable to do anything else.

Are there “lessons to be learned from those hibernating ancestors“? Well, there is one: get your recommended dose of iodine, daily.

Twenty Missing, Three Dead, No Space on the Front Page

Letter To the Editors of the International Herald Tribune

As a long-time subscriber of the IHT I write to complain about your absurd choice of playing down both the death of 3 sailors during the recent storms in the Black Sea, and the fact that 20 more are missing and likely dead themselves due to the cold.

In the front page of the IHT’s paper edition of Nov 13, there is a short unsigned article titled “Counting losses in Black Sea storm“. In 59 words there is not a single mention of the human losses, and the reader is left with the impression that the ships’ captains and owners will be sued only for “environmental damage“. Has human life become as cheap as to be free to be taken?

True, there is a larger article at page 2, by Andrew E Kramer, where finally we learn of the human tragedy in the title “Black Sea toll: 3 dead and 20 lost“. This appears to be similar to an article on the IHT web site, again by Mr Kramer, although over there it is titled “Environmental disaster unfolding in Russia“.

The paper version starts “Three dead sailor and dozen of birds slicked with oil…“. Just a few words later “Another 20 sailors were missing“. Roughly a little less than half of the piece is dedicated to environmental issues (but again, there is no mention of any ongoing prosecution for the loss of human life).

The online version starts with “An environmental disaster began to unfold” and only talks about humans in the second paragraph. But then, dead and missing people are literally forgotten about, and roughly more than three quarters of the article is about environmental problems. For the third time, the only mentioned prosecution is about “environmental damage“.

Interestingly, in the paper article a Greenpeace Russia campaigner, Vladimir Chuprov, is said to have “called the spill a catastrophe of local rather than international scale“. No such a thing is mentioned online.

=======

All in all the above indicates a very poor choice by front-page and online Editors to find an excuse to push the “right buttons” about the environment, for some unfathomable reason deciding to play down the human cost of the Black Sea storm.

Shall we worship the Environment to the point of forgetting the people? That is a false dichotomy. We can take care of the environment and take care of humans too.

Please try.

NATO’s Historical Blunders

Sarah Chayes may be right in defending NATO’s contribution to the war in Afghanistan, and in pointing out the USA “snubbing” of its allies immediately after 9/11.

But one cannot blame the situation on a callous/gung-ho American administration.

NATO was in fact not snubbed at all during the Kosovo conflict. The USA did their utmost to present and conduct that campaign as part of the larger NATO umbrella.

Unfortunately, few if any of the other members of the alliance seemed to understand much about military strategy, and they all preferred to play their own form of national politics.

The result was a nightmare for the American commanders, evidently more at ease with fighting an enemy than having to accommodate all the quirky requests and vetos of their own allies.

Having then shown itself excessively argumentative to the point of being almost ineffectual, little wonder NATO was mistrusted by the USA at the beginning of the latest Afghan conflict.

Please Rescue Scientific American

To: editors@sciam.com

Dear Editors

May I ask if anybody could please rescue Scientific American (SciAm)?

Time and again in the past year or so, I have been disappointed by what comes up in SciAm, especially compared to the though-provoking, ground-breaking stuff that regularly graces American Scientist (AS).

Here’s an example. In SciAm‘s July 2007 magazine, you published an already-outdated article “Warmer Oceans, Stronger Hurricanes“, by K.E. Trenberth.

The author barely mentions the issue of wind shear, that most if not all models indicate will increase because of Global Warming, thereby creating a huge obstacle for the formation of hurricanes.

Talk about negative feedback…

In American Scientist‘s July 2007 magazine for comparison, one can find the excitingly great science made by people that, despite being convinced there is a problem with anthropogenic global warming, still don’t have any fear to state that there may be other reasons for the glaciers of Mt Kilimanjaro to disappear.

=======

I hope you’ll be able to get your act together sooner rather than later, and go back to what Scientific American has been known for, for more than a century: a magazine where ordinary people can stand on the shoulder of giants, instead of being fed their stale crumbs.

Addendum

Am I saying that SciAm needs rescuing because their articles accept anthropogenic climate change? Not at all.

If that were the problem I’d be even less keen to read from American Scientist and Sigma Xi, the scientists’ organization behind it. They are into Anthropogenic Climate Change right, left and center.

The relation between the articles I mention is that the hurricane one is old and incomplete (*), whilst the Kilimanjaro piece is new and challenging.

That’s why my plea is to the Editors of SciAm, not the author of the hurricane article.

(*) check this: Vecchi, G. A., and B. J. Soden (2007), “Increased tropical Atlantic wind shear in model projections of global warming“, Geophys. Res. Lett., 34, L08702, doi:10.1029/2006GL028905

=========

I have a long-standing respect for SciAm. “All” I am asking is for it to get back to cutting-edge stuff covered in deep by major contributors challenging their readers into reconsidering long-standing beliefs.

Why was it AS rather than SciAm that published the article shattering the myth that Easter Island was destroyed by humans?

These days, the SciAm Editors are so concerned about appearing mainstream,
they can publish an article by AIDS-theory-dissident Duisberg on cancer only after plastering it up with disclaimers.

=========

So please Editors of SciAm: get the fluff out of the magazine, “un-button up” a little bit, stop worrying so much about Science vs. Religion, and about what is mainstream science and what is not, and Scientific American will be once again as great as ever.

I am still hopeful. Perhaps one day the richness of the SciAm website will make it into the magazine.

TB or not TB: The Speaker’s Affair as a Monument to Our Fears

I am aghast at finding out it’s open season on Andrew Speaker, the American lawyer that honeymooned around Europe despite being affected by a particularly dangerous strain of TB.

See for example a letter on the IHT asking for Speaker’s incarceration.

Emotional outpourings like that say a lot more about our current Age of Fear than of any recklessness on the part of Mr Speaker.

Fact is that nobody anywhere has ever caught TB because of a shared flight with a TB carrier.

The whole story is actually too murky to understand, with Speaker getting diagnosed by chance after breaking a rib, his father recording conversations with health care officials, and his father-in-law a prominent federal microbiologist and an expert on TB of all things.

It remains pretty much unexplicable why Speaker was not stopped before or whilst travelling, when there were plenty of occasions to do so: unless of course the whole “scandal” has been overbloated.

Methinks nobody will die out of Speaker’s travels; he himself will not suffer of any consequence, and will not develop any TB symptoms; the diagnosis will be revealed incorrect in the future; and no lessons will be learned in how to handle potential health scares…especially as there was no basis to speak of for the “scare” in the first place.

The Elephant In Europe’s Integration Room

HDS Greenway leaves as an exercise to the reader to complete his reasoning on European attitudes on integration (“Europe’s integration problems“, IHT, May 4).

What would it mean if Europeans accepted “that theirs is a society of immigrants the way America has always been“?

Under those most unlikely of circumstances, Europeans would publicly recognize that no nation comes from a single heritage, and immigrants have been positively adding to the new home nation’s culture for centuries.

It is high time indeed that European societies abandon their superiority complex to allow those to contribute culturally and socially as well as economically.t

Alas, nothing of the sort is currently allowed by the snobbish ways of France’s total assimilation or the UK’s diversity-conservation. And so there is no such a thing as a Moroccan-French or Indian-Briton to compare to Irish-Americans or Italian-Americans.

Even President Sarkozy of France is and cannot be no Hungarian-French…he is, and he has to be, just French. Anything else, and he would be rejected.

Misleading Pictures, Wrong Caption…

And so once more Global Warming has meant the publication of misleading pictures, with a wrong caption…why oh why does the mere mention of AGW force so many otherwise thoughtful and wise people to switch their brains off?

Here a “Letter to the Editors” just sent to the New York Review Of Books:

Dear Editors

Clarifications and at least one correction are required about the pictures of the Upsala Glacier in Patagonia, Argentina, “from Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (2006)”, on the first page of Bill McKibben’s “Warning on Warming” (NYRB, March 15, 2007).

At the top, the 1928 photograph of a vast flat glacier; at the bottom, the 2004 ice-free landscape as captured from a similar vantage point as the one 76 years earlier (at least two peaks are clearly distinguishable).

I was surprised indeed to see the New York Review of Books reproduce without much commentary and with a wrong caption a couple of photographs that may turn out to be exceedingly misleading.

(A) CORRECTION

First of all: the caption is wrong. Contrarily to the published text, it is _not true_ that by 2004, “most of the glacier had melted“.

Upsala Glacier still occupies well in excess of 850 sq km (330+ sq mi), an area vastly larger than the one covered by the photographs.

You can see pictures of Upsala taken from the Space Shuttle in January 2004 at the NASA website.

A discussion of the situation 2001-2004 is available on the same site.

================

(B) CLARIFICATIONS

If one could rely on photographs alone, those of Upsala could be the definitive, final, closing, incontrovertible evidence that something has warmed up during the XX century, at least at the location of the Upsala Glacier.

Pictures, however, are not everything, as any modern consumer must have learnt one way or another by now.

Do some little research about Upsala, in fact, and more than one doubt arises about the glacier’s changes having not been mostly caused by warming, global or local or otherwise.

They may be the result instead of the behavior of a large glacier when subjected to particular mechanical stresses.

See for example “Historic Fluctuations of Outlet Glaciers from the Patagonian Ice Fields” at the USGS web site.

That web site reports a picture from “Thinning and retreating of Glaciar Upsala, and an estimate of annual ablation changes in southern Patagonia“, by R. Naruse, P. Skvarca and Y. Takeuchi (Annals of Glaciology, Vol. 24, 1997).

In that paper, it is suggested that “considerable retreat due to calving may have resulted in reduction of longitudinal compressive stress exerted from bedrock rises and islands near the glacier front, causing a considerable decrease in the emergence flow.”

R. Naruse repeated similar considerations at the 2nd International Symposium on Arctic and Antarctic Issues, at Punta Arenas, Chile, in November 1998 (“Dynamic features of glaciers in Patagonia“).

More recently, in “Recent behavior of Glaciar Upsala, a fast-flowing calving glacier in Lago Argentino, southern Patagonia” (Annals of Glaciology, 36, 2003), P. Skvarca, B. Raup and H. De Angelis proposed again that “drastic glacier retreat in the last two decades” may be explained “partly due to the release of back stress when the glacier retreated beyond the islands in Brazo Upsala [...] which acted as pinning points.”

You can also read an earlier paper by Mr Skvarca: “Significant Ice Retreat in the Region Patagonia – Antarctic Peninsula Observed by ERS SAR” (ESA ERS 1997 Workshop, 1997) by H. Rott, W. Rack, M. Stuefer and P. Skvarca:

It cannot yet be assessed if the ice retreat in Patagonia [...] indicates just regional changes of the atmospheric circulation patterns or can be assigned to global climatic change.”

Last but not least, Upsala is not the only glacier in Patagonia.

Surely if the dramatic retreat of Upsala were related to global warming, all the other glaciers would be retreating too? And yet that is clearly not the case.

Read “Recent Fluctuations and Damming of Glacier Perito Moreno, Patagonia” by H. Rott, M. Stuefer, T. Nagler and C. Riedl (ESA Envisat and ERS 2004 Symposium):

The satellite data, in synergy with field measurements, confirm the stability of the [Perito Moreno] glacier, showing only minor front fluctuations and indicating an approximately balanced mass budget since many years.”

Furthermore, they report the Pio XI glacier as having experienced a “net advance of about 10 km [...] from 1945 to 1995“.

=================

Some revealing considerations should be made about Perito Moreno glacier indeed, the advancing glacier whose pictures have been used by Frank Capra in 1958 and by Al Gore in 2006 to demonstrate the retreat of glaciers due to global warming: but those will have to wait for a future article or letter.

For the time being, I am confident the above makes the main points clear:

(1) Most of the Upsala glacier has not melted.

(2) The Upsala glacier 1928-2004 pictures can only be seriously understood with an in-depth commentary of what is being shown, including “what lies beneath”.

And there are all the indications that the local characteristics of the terrain, rather than “Global Warming”, have had a major role in what has been happening.

======================

Given the reputation of the New York Review of Books then, I will be expecting a prompt publication of this letter and of all the necessary explanations.

Keep up the good work

Regards

Maurizio Morabito

UPDATE: The NYRB went only as far as admitting the caption was wrong (read it here)…

Global Warming Overkill – My Letter on the IHT

For the 12th time, the International Herald Tribune has published a letter by Yours Truly.

As usual, here the text as printed in the newspaper, followed by my original message.

Letter on the IHT:

Global warming overkill (March 8 )

I have been rather disappointed by your three-part “Global warming, land by land” commentaries (March 5).

In “Losing Bangladesh, by degrees,” Tahmima Anam barely mentions the country’s real problems — poverty and overpopulation. We may discuss which one generates the other, but the main issue is not global warming. It’s Bangladesh’s inability to cope with any change.

In “While Australia burns,” Iain McCalman makes the flimsiest of connections to global warming. We barely get a hint of the fact that Australia’s environment has been shaped by thousands of years of fires, independent of any recent climatic change.

Finally, “Memories of a colder Iceland” by Kristin Steinsdottir appears to be an exercise in self-delusion. We are treated to a series of Icelandic climatic quirks and changes, but, for no apparent reason, they are ominously linked to global warming.

If you wanted to demonstrate that global warming is an all-encompassing Mother of All Evils that risks distracting us from real issues, impeding our understanding of nature, you have been successful.

Maurizio Morabito, England

Original:

Dear Editors

I have been rather disappointed by your choice of Opinions for page 6 of the IHT on March 5 (“Global Warming, land by land”).

In “Losing Bangladesh, by degrees“, Tahmima Anam barely mentions the real problems of that country: poverty, and overpopulation. We may discuss which one generates the other, but the main issue is not “Global Warming”: rather, Bangladesh’s inability to cope with _any_ change.

In “While Australia Burns” Iain McCalman makes the flimsiest of connections to “Global Warming”. Again, we barely get a hint of the fact that the Australian natural environment has been shaped by thousands of years of fires, independently of any recent climatic change.

Finally, “Memories of a colder Iceland” by Kristin Steinsdottir appears to be an exercise in self-delusion. Just like years ago everybody seemed to be developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, nowadays everybody can feel “Global Warming” in anything that can happen. In the case of Ms. Steinsdottir, we are treated to a series of Icelandic climatic quirks and changes, but still for no apparent reason whatsoever they are ominously linked to “Global Warming”.

Not sure what you had in mind when designing that page. Anyway, you have been very successful if all you wanted to demonstrate was that “Global Warming” is an all-encompassing Mother of All Evils that risks distracting us from the real issues, impeding our understanding of nature, and in general consigning us all to a depressing, self-castrating mood.

The Economist…and the economists

(Letter sent to The Economist)

Dear Editors

One wonders how much to read in what you don’t appear to be daring to explicitly write, in your commentary about Sir Nicholas Stern’s review of the economics of climate change (“It may be hot in Washington too“, Nov 2nd 2006)

Let’s see: Sir Nicholas, the “head of Britain’s government economic service” and with a past in very senior positions at the World Bank, delivers a series of economical figures…perfectly in line with what is politically needed by the commissioner of his latest effort, Gordon Brown

Contrarily to the Financial Times, only very obliquely you suggest that all that economics may as well have no value (apart of course from Mr Brown’s effort to get “America involved in the global effort to mitigate climate change“)

All in all, Sir Nicholas’s report may end up being remembered as a travesty of economics

Do you really hold expert economists in such a low esteem, not to feel any outrage at seeing their profession so heavily manipulated for political ends? And if that is true, what is the point of your Buttonwood and other economics columns?

One may even ask, what is the point of your magazine? Why not close it down, perhaps, to open it anew as “The Politician”?

Climate Hysteria – a letter published on the IHT

The following letter of mine has been published top on the International Herald Tribune on October 16, 2006

Title: Climate Hysteria

[Dear Editors] 

Your editorial criticizes Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma for dismissing media “hysteria” about global warming (“Hysterical climate doubters,” Oct. 13)

But panic and frenzied reporting about global warming is indeed the norm, with a barrage of stories on disappearing species, uncontrollable pests, rising seas, floods, droughts, heat waves, fires, violent storms, scarce food and forecasts of millions of human deaths

“Global warming hysteria” is unfortunately what appears on the pages of countless newspapers and publications. The real debate is whether that hysteria is justified and if it serves any purpose apart from scaring people

Maurizio Morabito England

The original was bit longer and a tad less harsh 8-)

Dear Editors

You criticize Sen James Inhofe of Oklahoma for “dismissing media ‘hysteria’ ” about global warming (“Hysterical climate doubters”, IHT, Editorial, Oct 13)

But panic, frenzied reporting about global warming is indeed the norm, with a barrage of stories on disappearing species, uncontrollable pests, rising seas, floods, droughts, heat waves, fires, violent storms, scarce food/jobs/resources, and forecasts of millions of human deaths

On your very pages, Nicholas D Kristof lamented the catastrophist stance of mainstream environmentalim (“I Have a Nightmare“, IHT, March 12, 2005). And a left-leaning UK think-tank has explicitly compared it to adults-only horror movies ( “Warm Words: How are we telling the climate story and can we tell it better?“, IPPR, July 2006)

“Global Warming Hysteria” is unfortunately what appears on the pages of countless newspapers and publications

What is really a matter of debate, is if that “hysteria” is justified, and if it serves any purpose apart from scaring people

Some people answer yes on both counts

Asteroids and Global Warming

No, I am not going to suggest that Global Warming will cause huge meteors to fall from the sky (but I am sure somebody somewhere is just blogging about that…)

Here instead a letter I have just sent to The Economist on risk mitigation, global warming and asteroids:

Dear Editors

In “Dismal Calculations” (inside The Survey on Climate Change, Sep 7th 2006) you write that “Global warming poses a serious risk, and the costs of mitigation are not so large as to be politically unthinkable. Mitigation is better done gradually than swiftly, because the faster it is done, the more it will cost” but then conclude that “the economics of the subject are too uncertain for policymakers to lean heavily upon them

Well, there is at least one topic where there is a serious risk, a risk that is far more certain and whose economical consequences are well accepted in a consensus far larger than global warming’s. That topic is the destruction that will be caused by an asteroid 20 meters or larger hitting our planet 

One would expect people making the case for mitigating global warming because of its potentially serious consequences, to be even more active and more concerned about setting up a planetary defence system to protect us all from the killer space rocks that we know for sure are going to hurtle our way

Why talk only about mitigating global warming then? Is it because it gives its proponents a chance to enact their own dreams of social engineering?

Shermer wins against Sachs in the July 2006 Scientific American magazine

Date: Wed, 26 Jul 2006 15:44:23 -0700 (PDT)
From: “Maurizio Morabito”
Subject: Shermer vs. Sachs on the July 2006 magazine: Shermer wins
To: editors@sciam.com
CC: “Michael Shermer”
Dear Editors

Still puzzled by your choice of providing Jeffrey D. Sachs with a full page of your magazine _not_ to talk about science, I could only appreciate the (unintentional?) irony of seeing the Sustainable Developments column juxtaposed with Michael Shermer’s (definitely science-related) Skeptic musings.

And especially so in the July 2006 magazine: on the left side, Mr Shermer discussing how skepticism should be applied to politics, because “partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want“.

On the right side, Mr Sachs…twirling “the cognitive kaleidoscope” until he got the conclusions he wanted.

For example, Mr Sachs mentions the Darfur crisis saying “the deadly carnage…has roots in ecological crisis directly arising from climate change“.

That is not given out by Mr Sachs as a possibility or a hypothesis: rather, it is clearly described as a “fact”

Would you mind asking Mr Sachs where he took that “fact” from?

I know that the relationship Darfur-“war on scarce resources” has been mentioned recently by some clergy members in the media. But it would be big news indeed to hear that _that_ has been “demonstrated”, let alone accepted as a “fact”

Mr Sachs goes on to more politicized statements, such as “A drought-induced famine is much more likely to trigger conflict in a place that is already impoverished“. Could you please ask Mr Sachs to provide a list of all conflicts triggered by drought-induced famines, say, during the last 100 years?

Please do follow Mr Shermer’s suggestion: and do control for “confirmation bias” on all your contributors, _including_ those writing about something else than science
 

Ethics and Coal

Is this sad or cool? I just had my seventh published letter on the pages of the International Herald Tribune (June 28, 2006)

“Coal’s False Promise”

Jeff Goodell indulges in circular reasoning when he writes that the biggest problem with coal is “what it does to our minds. It preserves the illusion that we don’t have to change our lives” (“Coal’s false promise to America,” Views, June 24).

If coal is abundant and available, as Goodell reports, surely there are fewer reasons to worry about the end of cheap oil? And if coal causes environmental problems because of antiquated extraction and burning practices, isn’t the problem one of improving those technologies and processes, rather than abandoning coal altogether? 

One is left with the impression that the campaign against coal is just another moralizing enterprise, taking advantage of purported shortages to corral us into living a “more ethical” life.

Maurizio Morabito Orpington, England

I will blog about the other six letters published so far (and all the ones never printed), but for now a list is available by searching for “maurizio morabito” at this link

Borders that matter

From "A Muso Duro" (Marco Belpoliti, La Stampa, 20 June 2006 (in italian)):

In truth the geographic divide in the Italian Peninsula is not between the North and the South, but between East and West. The Italian "Boot" is more tilted than it appears in classrooms' maps, and it is possible to travel from North to South on the Adriatic side without crossing any mountain: from Venice to Bari there is no separation clear border, apart from the Po, which it is not a true dividing line between North and South (are Emilia and Romagna regions of the Italian South?). The geographers have explained to us for a long time that the true geographic difference in Italy is that between the Adriatic and the Tyrrhenian sides, even if it is obvious that the cultures follow the "geographic quotas", and the differences between the villages placed East or West of the Appennini are never clear-cut

This is not just a phenomenon of the Appennini

Think of the Alps, where cultures have diffused among the mountains: therefore distributing themselves across the watersheds, instead of considering those like border lines

Mountain chains all over the planet (look at the Caucasus, the Himalayas, the Rocky Mountains), looking to the modern eye like "natural borders", have been demonstrated time and again as lines of union, and not of separation

A "geographic border" with more important social consequences exists, and it is the border between those within easy approach of great ways of communication, and those far away or on the periphery: the wealth of the Po Valley instead of the history of poverty on the surrounding mountains; the powerful economy of the close-to-Europe Italian North, instead of the perennial crisis of the faraway Italian South; and looking at other countries, the opulence of Paris and London instead of the marginalization of their peripheries

Inaccurate reporting on the National Geographic Magazine

Just got acknowledgement from the National Geographic Society of some inaccuracy I have found on one of the articles published on their famous Magazine

The article is Gretel Ehrlich's "Last Days of the Ice Hunters", published in January 2006

Ms. Ehrlich writes: "[...] By the time the light fades about 11 p.m., we head toward shore [...] About midnight the fading sun is a red orb hanging at the horizon. As darkness bleeds into it, the temperature plummets to minus 40°F. Night will be brief — in a few hours the sun will swing east again.[...]"

In fact, from the context of the article we know the above must have happened on the 19th or 20th of March ("[...] March 21, the vernal equinox and our fourth day on the sea ice [...]"). So near the spring equinox, when as we all know there are 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness on the entire globe (Greenland included).

This puts into doubt the midnight fading sun reported above

————-

To check the actual situation, I used the U.S. Naval Observatory Astronomical Applications Department's tool, that can be used online starting from Weatherimages.org

I entered the location for Qaanaaq (the town where Ms. Ehrlich was reporting from) as Longitude W 69deg 00min, Latitude N 77deg 40m

I assumed also that Qaanaaq, like the rest of Greenland, uses GMT-2 as its time zone

These are the results

Saturday 19 March 2005         Universal Time – 2h
Begin civil twilight      06:56
Sunrise                   08:36
Sun transit               14:44
Sunset                    20:55
End civil twilight        22:38

Sunday 20 March 2005         Universal Time – 2h
Begin civil twilight      06:39
Sunrise                   08:21
Sun transit               14:35
Sunset                    20:54
End civil twilight        22:38

Friday 19 March 2004         Universal Time – 2h
Begin civil twilight      06:46
Sunrise                   08:26
Sun transit               14:36
Sunset                    20:49
End civil twilight        22:32

Saturday 20 March 2004         Universal Time – 2h
Begin civil twilight      06:37
Sunrise                   08:19
Sun transit               14:35
Sunset                    20:56
End civil twilight        22:40

——————- 

From the above it can be argued that, contrarily to what reported by Ms.Ehrlich:

  1. The light faded to below-twilight levels between 20 and 30 minutes before 11pm
  2. Accordingly, about midnight the sun was not visible, instead than being "a red horb hanging at the horizon"
  3. Nights were not brief (they were lasting between 11h20m and 11h40m)

Notably, conditions as reported by Ms. Ehrlich can be experienced in Qaanaaq around April 12

Monday 12 April 2004         Universal Time – 2h
Sunrise                   05:03
Sun transit               14:29
Sunset                    00:04 on following day

And it is not a problem of time zones. With the Sun transiting at 2h30pm, Qaanaaq's clock appears to be already 2 hours ahead of the local solar time

———-

In summary, Ms.Ehrlich has incorrectly reported seeing a sunset much later than when it happened

This would be a minor accident in any magazine other than the National Geographic. However, as that publication is presumed to be a factual reporting of what happens in the world exactly as it happens, one can only hope that their editorial processes will be improved to catch elementary mistakes like the one above