Archive for January 17th, 2008

Breaking Eggs

Miliband has invented a catchphrase – the “civilian surge“. He develops this theme: “There are 200 million Chinese learning English; there are more bloggers in Iran than any other country in the world per capita; Buddhist monks march for democracy in Burma. I got the idea of a civilian surge when I was talking to David Petraeus [the US military commander] in Iraq because, he says, ‘You can’t kill your way out of this problem – you need politics as well as security.'”

Miliband’s shouldn’t stop there in his bumlicking quest for inspiration. If one can have a ‘civilian surge’, then one can apply civilian to other military terms to produce expressions of splendidly democratic reverie. Like civilian aerial bombing, or civilian air strikes, or civilian terror, or civilian murder. His rhetorical skills would be more than sufficient to disambiguate between his own inspirational catchphrases and nasty events such as aerial bombing of civilians, air strikes on civilians, terror on civilians or murder of civilians.

His hero Petraeus would doubtless be among the first to acknowledge that whilst you can’t kill your way out of the problem, you can sure kill a good way in that direction:

The U.S.-led coalition dropped 1,447 bombs on Iraq last year, an average of nearly four a day, compared with 229 bombs, or about four each week, in 2006.

The core reason why we see the increase in strikes is the offensive strategy taken by General [David H.] Petraeus,” said Air Force Col. Gary Crowder, commander of the 609th Combined Air Operations Center in Southwest Asia. Because the United States has sent more troops into areas rife with insurgent activity, he said, “we integrated more airstrikes into those operations.”

The greater reliance on air power has raised concerns from human rights groups, which say that 500-pound and 2,000-pound munitions threaten civilians, especially when dropped in residential neighborhoods where insurgents mix with the population. The military assures that the precision attacks are designed to minimize civilian casualties — particularly as Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy emphasizes moving more troops into local communities and winning over the Iraqi population — but rights groups say bombings carry an especially high risk.

“The Iraqi population remains at risk of harm during these operations,” said Eliane Nabaa, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq. “The presence of individual combatants among a great number of civilians does not alter the civilian character of an area.”

Note how blithely the article accepts the dropping of a 2000lb bomb as a ‘precision attack’. Then there’s this:

Marc Garlasco, a military analyst at Human Rights Watch who tracks airstrikes in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the strikes carry unique risks. “My major concern with what’s going on in Iraq is massive population density,” he said. “You have the potential for very high civilian casualties, so you need really granular intelligence on what you’re going to hit. But I don’t think they’re being careless.”

Well, if they’re not being careless, that’s ok then.

Someone on Slugger O’Toole the other day said that whilst the IRA were reckless in their actions when setting off the Shankill bomb, they did not deliberately intend to kill civilians. I replied as follows:

Suppose I blow up a bus with a load of civilians on it. I have no intention of blowing up the load of civilians. Rather, I want to blow up the bus, but an inevitable consequence is that I am going to blow up civilians. How, then, can I deliberately intend to blow up the bus without deliberately intending to blow up civilians? It seems to me like saying that whilst I deliberately intended to make an omelette, I did not deliberately intend to break the eggs: breaking the eggs were just an inevitable consequence of my intended actions.

I think it’s fair to observe that the US continues to deliberately kill civilians in Iraq (and Israel does the same in Gaza with US approval), whilst the public is regaled with sentimental claptrap about snow in Baghdad.

Hugh Green’s Online Dictionary Vol. 926

In the process of


Normally used in the present continuous to describe an action carried out in theory, if not in fact.

Example: ‘I am in the process of putting together that report for you’.

Got it infamy

Nicholas Lezard rails against ‘crapsheets‘:

And as for the copy – well, the question is not so much “who reads this shit?” as “who writes this shit?” Were I one of their writers, having to pull out 300 words every day on Amy Winehouse’s gastro-intestinal tract, I think I’d kill myself. I would not be surprised if there is an anomalously huge suicide rate among the people who fill up the crapsheet pages with their garbage.

Today’s, in its Hotlinks feature showing a miscellany of internet links, makes the following recommendation:

Check out the original footage of Martin Luther King’s infamous ‘I have a dream’ speech.

Either the world has changed, employs Klansmen, or someone should make more use of their online dictionary.

Rent This Space

Brendan Keenan has an interesting article in the Independent today on the services sector:

Most of the growth in services exports is based on the same model as the previous boom in merchandise exports; the performance of foreign companies which have located operations here, for tax reasons to a large extent.

Despite its 50 years of success, there has always been scepticism about this model. If anything, the scepticism has grown, partly because Ireland has become more expensive, and partly in the belief that, 50 years notwithstanding, it cannot last forever and therefore must one day come to an end.

Neither of these propositions is self-evident. Total labour costs in Ireland are still among the lowest in the EU, according to this week’s survey from Deloitte. There is more of a problem with non-pay costs, but a tough-minded government could sort out a lot of that if the situation really demanded.

My own (fairly limited) experience of this -in terms of decisive factors for companies looking to expand or reduce service operations here- is that the cost of commercial rental property constitutes a thumping proportion of running costs.

A lot of service firms will look at their requirements in terms of the number of transactions to be handled (invoices to be processed, calls to be answered, whatever), and then assess their options based on how much it would cost to have a single transaction performed in a range of locations (Dublin, Warsaw, Mumbai, wherever). So for instance they’ll say $120 in Chicago, $50 in Dublin, $26 in Warsaw, etc. Having spoken to a few people about this, it would appear that in the case of Dublin, a lot of that $50 is made up of rental costs for office space. In dollars, transaction costs in Ireland over the last number of years for firms investing in Ireland have risen pretty dramatically relative to other locations, but -from what I have been told- this is not down significantly to wage inflation, but rather to rental prices (as well, of course, as a falling dollar).

In commercial property, prime rent per square metre per year in Dublin is €646, compared with €300 in Warsaw, and €210 in Budapest, according to this report by Knight Frank. Now before I proceed, I should point out that I know nothing about the specifics of the commercial rental market, so I don’t know how inelastic the overall demand for rental property in Ireland is.

What I do know is that there are plenty of places constantly looking to shift operations to other locations because Ireland is not cheap enough, and for these firms, demand for rental property is relatively elastic. Not so much the case for firms where transactions are relatively complex, requiring a lot of specialist knowledge, since it costs more to shift things, but for those jobs where you can train someone to do the job in a couple of months or less, there is constant pressure to shift operations elsewhere.

It would be interesting to see if the ‘tough mindedness’ Brendan Keenan sees as required from the government would extend to bringing down commercial property rents. I’m cynically inclined to think that such ‘tough mindedness’ would be applied to not bringing down commercial property rents, it being somewhat easier to focus, even though labour costs are still relatively low, on ‘wage restraint across all sectors‘, calling on our sense of duty to the nation, and by extension, to the prosperity of commercial property investors.

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January 2008