Bloggers on the news that Iraqi leaders give up on reconciliation.

The latest chatter in cyberspace.
Oct. 8 2007 6:25 PM

Unhappy Together

Bloggers debate the news that Iraqi leaders have given up on reconciliation; scrutinize "Skeptical Environmentalist" Bjorn Lomborg's unconventional thoughts on global warming; and digest the news that the appendix is not useless.

Unhappy together: Several major Iraqi leaders believe that reconciling Iraq's three dominant ethnic groups is a lost cause. Their new goals: "streamlining the government bureaucracy, placing experienced technocrats in positions of authority and improving the dismal record of providing basic services."

The news seems to confirm long-standing liberal misgivings. To the Washington Monthly's Political Animal, Kevin Drum, a statement by Shiite cleric Humam Hamoudi—"You should create the atmosphere for correct relationships, and not wave slogans that 'I want to reconcile with you' "—is a green light to "pack up and go home." But Balloon Juice's John Cole draws the opposite conclusion from the same quote: "Oddly enough, though, the quote from Human Hamoudi actually reflects a level of politically maturity that makes me hopeful about the future of the region." And with a nod to American history, right-leaning Murdoc Online also goes for a more generous interpretation: "Look at the long, rough road the United States had to travel following the Civil War. … I wouldn't hold my breath on a sudden outbreak of peace, love, and understanding between Sunni and Shiite Iraqis. I'd settle for a cessation of open warfare between the sides and fair equal rights laws enforced fairly at this point."

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Seventh Sense's Ken Ashford extrapolates the story's likely impact: "They're not missing benchmarks or running behind schedule, they're just saying it's not going to happen. The surge hasn't worked, isn't working, and won't, according to Iraqis, ever work. Somehow though, I don't think this is going to change U.S. policy." And on Mother Jones' Mojo blog, Jonathan Stein wonders: "If the U.S. can't achieve reconciliation of Iraq's national political parties, is our best option government by warlord? I think it's very possible that in five years Iraq will be ruled by a Saddam Hussein clone."

Conservative Andrew Sullivan links to a related profile of Kanan Makiya, the Iraqi ex-pat academic, and writes: "My concern is that a permanent occupation of the place has even more unintended consequences … the enormous costs required to keep the ungrateful volcano from constant eruption; and the near-impossibility of any sectarian reconciliation to the point of a viable nation-state for the foreseeable future." He ends on a grim note: "We will, I think, never leave."

Read more about the latest from Iraq.

Hot and cold: In Sunday's Washington Post, Danish academic Bjorn Lomborg renewed his attack on conventional approaches to global warming and singled out the Kyoto Protocol's emphasis on the costly process of reducing carbon emissions. Lomborg suggests looking for "balance" and finding less-expensive ways to combat the effects of global warming, like lowering temperatures in urban areas by planting trees and fighting malaria directly with mosquito nets, etc.

Lomborg's critics marshal a range of counterarguments.Enviro blog Gristmill's Joseph Romm consults a few scientific studies to contradict Lomborg: "Lomborg can't concern himself with true worst-case scenarios for global warming, because that would smash his entire argument to pieces. When a real economist examines such scenarios, they overwhelm all other aspects of cost-benefit analysis, which is Lomborg's favorite weapon for arguing against taking action on climate change." Liberal Ezra Klein critiques his methods: "These arguments do not argue for reprioritization -- in fact, they accept the stated priorities of the reformers. What they try and do, rather, is disrupt actual reform by offering weak, insufficient solutions that powerful interests prefer. It's the status quo in reformist clothing, and all the more dangerous for it."

But on libertarian Samizdata, Johnathan Pearce defends Lomborg. Noting that Lomborg acknowledges that man-made global warming is a problem, Pearce writes: "What Lomborg keeps banging on about is that if we use or sacrifice resources to combat such threats, then those resources cannot be used on other things, which might be just as important from the point of view of human wellbeing, such as clean drinking water, sanitation, health care, etc. Lomborg has had the temerity to remind people that resources are scarce and they have alternate uses." And Demerzel's Echoes, the blog of an IT specialist, has a more measured response: "Do I agree with Lomborg's view that hybrid cars are a waste of time? No. But do I agree with Lomborg's view that the real solution to global warming is to put the money into research that makes alternative sources of renewable energy competitive with fossil fuels? Yes, I do."

Read more about Bjorn Lomborg.

Addendum to appendix: A new Duke University study suggests that the human appendix, long thought to be vestigial, may be of some use after all. Researchers contend that the organ is a "safe-house" for beneficial intestinal bacteria and that its "job is to reboot the digestive system" if disease wipes out such bacteria.

This news has prompted loads of speculation. My Life, My Glass…and Other Things' Cynthia asks, "I had my tonsils out when I was 4 or 5 (still remember it vividly, in fact). Do you suppose they were the repository of my extra brain cells?" On Metafilter, a lively discussion has cropped up. "Pope Guilty" reveals, "I always felt that the surest proof that God hates us is the appendix- what kind of loving creator would create us with an organ that serves no purpose other than to occasionally get massively infected and cause us to die in excruciating agony?" On Telic Thoughts, MikeGene puzzles out whether creationists will use this new discovery to their advantage. "There is nothing in evolutionary theory that mandates the appendix would be useless and non-functional."

And on Unremitting Failure, a Pennsylvania blogger personifies the appendix: "Basically, it sits around doing nothing but telling your other organs, 'I could do that better.' "

Read more about the appendix.

Bidisha Banerjee is the San Francisco-based co-author of a forthcoming Yale Climate and Energy Institute/Centre for International Governance Innovation report on scenario planning for solar radiation management. She is collaborating on a geoengineering game and has written about geoengineering governance for Slate and the Stanford Journal of Law, Science, and Policy.