US in Pakistan: Diplomats or Missonaries? [updated]

Fail - photo from Flickr user The Happy Robot

Reading the papers over breakfast in Lahore, I was dumbfounded by the story of a US diplomatic official being attacked while she attempted to distribute – personally! – aid to a hundred or so Christians who have been victims of communal violence.

Sitting on a stage, Carmella Conroy, who heads the US consulate in Lahore, kicked off proceedings by presenting a relief package to Shahbaz Hameed.

Hameed, who saw 7 members of his family burnt alive in Gojra after an alleged desecration of the Koran, was not happy. He refused the aid, saying that Christians needed not food, but justice. A minor riot ensued, with the crowd throwing aid parcels back at Ms Conroy.

This story seems wrong in so many ways.  Does USAID really see its job as spinning charity into PR opportunities (and doing so hamfistedly)? And is the US’s mission in Pakistan to act as a defender of the Christian faith? It certainly seems that way when you read the newspaper report. Continue reading

Deutsche Bank: oil at $175 a barrel by 2016 – then back to $70 by 2030

Deutsche Bank have good news and bad news, as the Wall Street Journal’s excellent Environmental Capital blog recounts:

Here’s an intriguing thought: Global oil supplies are indeed set to peak within a few years, and no, that is not bullish for oil. Quite the contrary—it will spell the end of the “oil age.”

That’s the take from Deutsche Bank’s new report, “The Peak Oil Market.” In a nutshell: The oil industry chronically under invests in finding new supplies, exemplified both by Big Oil’s recent love of share buybacks and under-investment by big oil-producing nations. That spells a looming supply crunch.

That will send oil to $175 a barrel by 2016—and will simultaneously put the final nail in oil’s coffin and send prices plummeting back to $70 by 2030. That’s because there’s an even more important “peak” moment on the horizon: A global peak in oil demand. That has already begun in the world’s biggest oil-consuming nation, Deutsche Bank notes:

US demand is the key. It is the last market-priced, oil inefficient, major oil consumer. We believe Obama’s environmental agenda, the bankruptcy of the US auto industry, the war in Iraq, and global oil supply challenges have dovetailed to spell the end of the oil era.

The big driver? The coming-of-age of electric and hybrid vehicles, which promise massive fuel-economy gains for short-hop commuting but which so far have not been economic.

Deutsche Bank expects the electric car to become a truly “disruptive technology” which takes off around the world, sending demand for gasoline into an “inexorable and accelerating decline.”

Is the Atlantic widening again?

There’s recently been a small flurry of pieces warning that transatlantic relations are starting to sour (again).  First up, the Economist:

A “flashing yellow light”. That is how one American official describes warning signs of trouble between his administration and Europe. Less than a year after Barack Obama’s election, European euphoria over the end of the Bush era is fading. Relations are still far better than in the dark days before the Iraq war. But as the official puts it, there is “a lot of sniping” going back and forth across the Atlantic. And, he adds, there is a recognition at the “highest levels” that such snippiness is becoming unhelpful.

European Union politicians and officials are dismayed that, with a poisonous debate over health reform chewing up his political capital in Congress, Mr Obama may not secure legislation fixing binding emissions targets for America before the climate-change summit in Copenhagen in December. They also think the health-care impasse explains the lack of progress on the Doha world-trade talks. Nor did Europeans enjoy the G20 meeting that Mr Obama hosted in Pittsburgh. Despite hogging a ludicrous number of seats at the table, the EU came away with only one big Europe-specific agreement: alas, for them, it was a plan to cut their voting power at the IMF.

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Keanu Reeves, John Cleese and, er, global level non-zero-sum co-operation

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So there I am on a long plane flight home, in need of something to watch. Hailing as I do from the Global Dashboard stable, the preferred option was clear: a disaster movie. And lo, what should be playing on BA routes this month but the 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still.

My expectations were along the lines of I am Legend or The Day After Tomorrow. You know how it goes: massive catastrophe, civilisation collapses, a veritable smorgasbord of SFX, a couple of doughty folk live to fight another day, and (as the credits roll) the prospect of a gradual rebuild.

As it turned out, this was not the case.  In a nutshell: Keanu Reeves is an alien. He has been sent here by a confederation of highly evolved alien civilisations to “save the earth” – by wiping us out, given that we’re cheerfully running our own mass extinction event. Pretty scientist Jennifer Conolly, initially part of the US government scratch team of scientists (“We need you to come with us right away, ma’am. It’s a matter of national security”) comes to befriend the alien, and must persuade him of humanity’s case; and so it goes for the next hour or two.

Where it gets fun, though, is when she takes Keanu to see her mentor, a Nobel Prize-winning uber-scientist – played, somewhat improbably, by John Cleese – whereupon the following dialogue ensues:

Boffin: Well, there must be alternatives. You must have some technology you have that could solve the problem.

Alien: The problem is not technology. The problem is you. You lack the will to change.

Boffin: Then help us change.

Alien: I cannot change your nature. You treat the world as you treat each other.

Boffin: But every civilisation reaches a crisis point eventually.

Alien: Most of them don’t make it.

Boffin: Yours did. How?

Alien: Our sun was dying. We had to evolve in order to survive.

Boffin: So it was only when your world was threatened with destruction that you became what you are now.

Alien: Yes.

Boffin: Well, that’s where we are. You say we’re on the brink of destruction, and you’re right.  But it’s only on the brink that people find the will to change; only on the precipice that we evolve. This is our moment – don’t take it from us. We are close to an answer.

That’s right, readers: I spent ten minutes doing pause and rewind on British Airways’ crappy touch screen entertainment system, juggling a laptop and an economy class meal, and I did it all for you. Why, you ask? Because when was the last time you saw a movie that expounds the necessity of crisis for global-level non-zero-sum co-operation – and uses Basil Fawlty to do so?

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Stop Blair? No thanks.

Now that ratification of Lisbon has moved a big step closer (not only with the Irish yes, but also the news that Czech President Vaclav Klaus is likely to bow to pressure not to hold it up), the idea of Tony Blair being the first permanent President of the European Council is looking a lot more likely. Predictably, a large strand of liberal opinion is furious about this.  As an e-petition currently being circulated has it,

In violation of international law, Tony Blair committed his country to a war in Iraq that a large majority of European citizens opposed. This war has claimed hundreds of thousands of victims and displaced millions of refugees. It has been a major factor in today’s profound destabilisation of the Middle East, and has weakened world security. In order to lead his country into war, Mr Blair made systematic use of fabricated evidence and the manipulation of information …

The steps taken by Tony Blair’s government, and his complicity with the Bush administration in the illegal programme of “extraordinary renditions”, have led to an unprecedented decline in civil liberties.

All true.  But for all that, Blair is far and away our best option for the job.

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