Thursday, May 31, 2007
Michael Ignatieff has his good days. This was one of them. (Iggy speaks towards the middle of the clip.)
We have eroded not only the good will of the post-9-11 days but also any residual appreciation from the countries we supported during the Cold War. This is due to several actions taken by the Bush administration, including pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol (environment), refusing to take part in the International Criminal Court (rule of law), and pulling out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (arms control). The prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib and the continuing controversy over the detainees in Guantanamo also sullied the image of America.And how much success did he have with that? Fred Kaplan writes:
Collectively, these actions have sent an unequivocal message: The U.S. does not want to be a collaborative partner. That is the policy we have been "selling" through our actions, which speak the loudest of all.
As the director of media affairs at State, this is the conundrum that I faced every day. I tried through the traditional domestic media and, for the first time, through the pan-Arab TV and print media -- Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, Al Hayat -- to reach people in the U.S. and abroad and to convince them that we should not be judged by our actions, only our words.
Back in 2004, the RAND Corporation issued a report that anticipated the main point Floyd would later make from the inside, equally in vain—that the key factor in public diplomacy is not what the U.S. government says but rather what it does.The funny thing is, I don't think Americans understood that asking the very question "why do they hate us?" made parts of the world, in fact, hate them more. It takes a very particular form of obnoxious ignorance about yourself to a) piss of so many people around you, and b) maintain a totally pollyanna-ish self-image that bridles at even the suggestion that you might, in fact, be pissing people off by your own actions.
"Misunderstanding of American values is not the principal source of anti-Americanism," the report concluded. Many foreigners understand us just fine; they simply don't like what they see. It's "some U.S. policies [that] have been, are, and will continue to be major sources of anti-Americanism." (Italics are in the original.)
In particular, don't miss James Galbraith, Paul Krugman, or Max Sawicky. Sawicky gets extra points for mentioning Nobel-Prize winner William Vickrey, who tragically died before he could accept his prize. So instead of delivering a speech in Stockholm where he went after the Worst Idea of 1975-1995 hammer and tong, as he had been late in life at every public event he could, one of his apostles -- quite sincerely, I'm sure -- delivered a speech about congestion pricing and asymmetric information. But to get an idea of what William Vickrey thought about NAIRU, you can read a little here. Also, read Chapter 2 of Linda McQuaig's "The Cult of Impotence."
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
In August , sitting at a cafe in Aachen, a German scientist said to the American journalist Irwin Cobb: "We Germans are the most industrious, the most earnest, the best educated race in Europe. Russia stands for reaction, England for selfishness and perfidy, France for decadence, Germany for progress. German Kultur will enlighten the world and after this war there will never be another..."
Talk of this kind for years before the war had not increased friendliness for Germany. "We often got on the world's nerves," admitted Bethmann-Hollweg, by frequently proclaiming Germany's right to lead the world. This, he explained, was interpreted as lust for world domination but was really a "boyish and unbalanced ebullience."
The world somehow failed to see it that way. There was a stridency in the German tone that conveyed more menace than ebullience.
I was stopped by someone the other week who said it was not surprising there was so much terrorism in the world when we invaded their countries (meaning Afghanistan and Iraq). No wonder Muslims felt angry.Because clearly, nobody could have predicted that a population viewing the invasion as illegitimate would have chosen violent resistance. That's just crazy talk.
When he had finished, I said to him: tell me exactly what they feel angry about. We remove two utterly brutal and dictatorial regimes; we replace them with a United Nations-supervised democratic process and the Muslims in both countries get the chance to vote, which incidentally they take in very large numbers. And the only reason it is difficult still is because other Muslims are using terrorism to try to destroy the fledgling democracy and, in doing so, are killing fellow Muslims.
What’s more, British troops are risking their lives trying to prevent the killing. Why should anyone feel angry about us? Why aren’t they angry about the people doing the killing? The odd thing about the conversation is that I could tell it was the first time he had even heard the alternative argument.This would be the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who apparently has managed to spend the last five years not actually thinking about any of the orders he's given, or decisions he's made. This pile of poor reasoning and simple delusions about human nature comes soon after a recent admission that the war in Iraq went badly because... the Iraqis fought back.
It's sad, really. Tony Blair was the best public face the war against Iraq had -- perhaps even more influential than Colin Powell, in his own way. It's a sign of how shitty the war has gone that he's reduced to this: The war went wrong because... people don't like being killed. If this is what it takes to become Prime Minister of the UK, I'm thinking I might throw my hat in the ring...
For every single Canadian whose life is inconvenienced in even the slightest way to combat global warming, at least one other person on Earth will have to die. This is the minimum we are willing to inflict on the poor for their callous demand that we stop killing them.The math is very simple. Canada is a small country, only 30 million people, but the population of people at risk is orders of magnitude larger -- the several billion people in Asia who are fed because of disappearing glaciers are just one example. So if even a small percentage (2% of 3 billion is 60 million) of the at-risk population actually kicks it because we refuse to give up SUVs and exurban mansions, it's possible that it could be worse.
(Please, don't write in telling me that Canada's emissions are too small to matter. If a pair of gunmen both shoot a hostage, they aren't each charged with half a murder. Human lives are indivisible, and we're gladly playing along with this game.)
So the question is: how do we live with ourselves?
Monday, May 28, 2007
We can dream of bringing in the international community, but they will largely have no interest in contributing funds as long as the money pit of US contractors is still there. Who would be stupid enough to throw more cash into that giant black hole?Exactly. Just as no sane person had any business expecting a good-faith effort to fight and win a war in Iraq from the Bush Administration, nobody has any business expecting a good-faith effort to salvage this wreck from the same monsters who wrecked it.
The fact is that right now the choice is, as it has always been, between Bush's war and getting out. There's no Peter Beinart's war, there's no Tom Friedman's war, there's no Adele Stan's war. There is no good liberal way out of this mess.
It's done. We're done. You can't fix it, you can't even make it less worse. Time to go.
Friday, May 25, 2007
Olaf and Antonio both react with their expected horror. Surely, there's nothing worse than the idea of talking with the enemy. Both basically express the idea that a) the Taliban won't agree to anything we would compromise on, and b) even if they did, we couldn't trust them to live up to their end of the bargain.
Note that no polling data says Canadians support negotiations as a first step to leave Afghanistan. (It's possible that Canadians do believe that, but we have no data.) Given the near-majority of support for staying in Afghanistan, we can say mathematically that at least some of the people who support negotiations categorically do not want to see negotiations as a prelude to departure.
So what is it that Canadians are actually suggesting? Perhaps, as in Yugoslavia, negotiations should lead to an end to hostilities, the conditions of a cease-fire which would then be enforced by a NATO or UN peacekeeping force. It would make sense that this would be prominent in Canadians' thinking -- it is the most recent example of Canadian military action overseas. But polls aren't mind-readings. There are plenty of other possibilities.
Because the alternative is not outright victory, despite what too many seem to believe. The most likely alternative is something like this. A grinding war that just doesn't end. There's always going to be some new offensive, some new "strategy" (not an actual change in strategy, you understand) or some barely plausible excuse to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And the military is simply not going to admit that they can't get the job done. Even if we dismiss the simplistic accusation that the military is pro-Afghanistan simply to expand the DND budget, there's an obvious reason why soldiers don't like to admit defeat: this is what they do for a living. Have you ever enjoyed being told that you suck? Shouldn't we view all the reports of the good work we're doing through this lens?
I don't know why Olaf and Antonio find even the idea of negotiations so reprehensible. Israel negotiated with Egypt, Nixon went to China, and the stakes in Afghanistan are just so much lower than any other case you can name. The worst case is the negotiations turn out to have been useless. What's the downside -- keeping in mind that we're still losing Canadians, including one today? That we're going to "legitimize" them? Please, look around. The Taliban have been legitimized by the Presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan (both of whom support negotiations), the Afghanistan Parliament, and the people of southern Afghanistan themselves who clearly support the Taliban in large numbers.
We have to deal with the reality on the ground, as they say. The Taliban clearly have the support of large numbers of people, they're well armed and well funded. We lack the military resources to defeat our enemies outright, as much as the United States lacks them in Iraq today, or lacked them in Vietnam or Korea. Nobody really contends that our forces in Afghanistan are sufficient, nor are they going to be reinforced any time soon. That leaves either leaving outright, or negotiations.
And yet the very idea terrifies some people. Why?
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
By far, the most interesting part of the book is, unsurprisingly, the most interesting part of Stephane Dion's political career thus far: the reaction to the near-miss of the Quebec referendum in 1995, Dion's entry in to politics, and the one-two punch of the Secession Reference and the Clarity Act.
What interested me most was Dion's motivations for the Clarity Act. Here is a man facing the biggest political crisis in Canada's recent history, asked to take up the portfolio of Intergovernmental Affairs before he's even been elected to a House seat, but he's not really a "Unity Minister", per se. He believed (and presumably, still believes) in Canada, and in Quebec's place in Canada, but the motivation behind the Clarity Act was simply this: If Quebeckers decided that they wanted to leave, then it wouldn't be right for Canada to force them to stay. All the same, there still needed to be a process guided by law. The PQ and the Bloc were busy spinning romantic stories about unilateral secession, but Dion's response was to (rightly) call this nonsense. Canada is a modern, functioning, liberal democracy, and it's simply not possible for one part of the state to illegally declare itself separate.
So to sum up: during a political crisis (that lasted, in some fashion, for years) Canadian politics produced a leadership (the Chretien-Dion team) whose primary tactic to disarm the threat to national unity was simply to insist on the rule of law. Amazing, when you think about it. Look at the GOP in the US competing over who can torture the most people, or our own Conservatives basically laughing at the idea that Afghan prisoners are being tortured, and Dion's insistence on the rule of law looks like a beacon in darkness.
Problem is, it's in Iran. Anne Korin and Gal Luft at the IAGS have an interesting article (PDF link here) on how the Iranian government is trying to get around the threat of international sanctions by replacing domestic gasoline demand with natural gas -- something Iran has in abundance.
Clearly, America doesn't have huge amounts of natural gas left under the ground. But that's really not the point. If America is serious about reducing it's vulnerability to foreign disruptions, rather than passing stupid bills that won't fix the problem, American policymakers should be working on using the resources that America actually has and could replace gasoline and diesel consumption. When Iran -- theocratic, closed-minded, hobbled by incompetence -- is pursuing better energy policies than the US Congress, there's something seriously wrong.
Please, Democrats, stop talking like this.
Championed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., the bill would essentially make it illegal for foreign nations like those in OPEC to operate a cartel.
Under federal law, foreign governments cannot be sued for failing to comply with federal antitrust laws.
"We don't have to stand by and watch OPEC dictate the price of our gas," Conyers said. "We can do something about ... this anti-competitive, anti-consumer behavior. And we are."
Uh, unless I totally missed that day in Political Science 101, I'm relatively certain that American sovereignty ends at the EEZ. And where the hell did we get the idea that it's America's gas? America produces less oil today than it did during the Eisenhower administration, half as much as it did during the Nixon administration, but somehow this is OPEC's fault? There's no evidence that OPEC is restricting supply, which makes this a demand-side issue. That's something that America could have addressed at any time over the last, uh, thirty years or so. Like Dick Cheney, America had other priorities.
And what if we get our wish, and Americans start suing the House of Saud? Would we lower the price of oil one jot? No, because there's always more buyers for oil. The only viable strategy is to lower demand. This freakshow of a bill needs to be killed, and soon.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Gasoline prices have soared to levels never seen before as even the inflation-adjusted price for a gallon of unleaded topped the 1981 record spike in price that had stood for 26 years.Who wants to put money on gas at $4/gallon by August? Do I hear $5? Oil at $90/barrel?
And higher prices could be on the way as Americans get ready to hit the road for the Memorial Day holiday and the start of the summer driving season.
The Lundberg Survey, a bi-weekly gas price tracking service, put the price of a gallon of unleaded at $3.18 in its latest reading released late Sunday, up more than 11 cents from its reading of two weeks ago.
Al Hurra television, the U.S. government's $63 million-a-year effort at public diplomacy broadcasting in the Middle East, is run by executives and officials who cannot speak Arabic, according to a senior official who oversees the program."Questionable practices." I'd say.
That might explain why critics say the service has recently been caught broadcasting terrorist messages, including an hour-long tirade on the importance of anti-Jewish violence, among other questionable pieces.
I count three monitors and a TV, and that's not counting the screens that weren't in the camera's line of sight. How much screen real-estate can a man use, really?
Two funny excerpts:
Since Gore is sometimes accused of profiting from the climate crisis, it's worth noting that he donates all his profits from the Inconvenient Truth movie and book to the alliance. He can afford to: he's a senior adviser at Google and sits on the board of directors at Apple. He's also a co-founder of Current TV, the cable network that was an early champion of user-generated content, and chairman of Generation Investment Management, a sustainable investment fund with assets approaching $1 billion. "I'm working harder than I ever have in my life," he says. "The other day a friend said, 'Why don't you just take a break, Al, and run for President?'"And this:
It has been five years since Tipper first urged her husband to dust off his slide show. The couple was still climbing from the wreckage of 2000, and she was convinced that his survival depended on reconnecting with his core beliefs. He assembled the earliest slide show in 1989, while writing Earth in the Balance—carrying an easel to a dinner party at David Brinkley's house, standing on a chair to show CO2 emissions heading off the charts. She wanted him to find that passion again. They were living in Virginia, and the Kodak slides were gathering dust in the basement. So he pulled them out, arranged them in the carousel and gave his first show with the images mostly backward and upside down. Tipper said, "Hey, Mr. Information Superhighway, they have computers now. Maybe you should use one."And the rest, I suppose, is history.
Mr. Hansen said, "we need to be more careful in describing the hurricane story than he is."The actual quote:
"We need to be more careful in describing the hurricane story than he is," Dr. Hansen said of Mr. Gore. "On the other hand," Dr. Hansen said, "he has the bottom line right: most storms, at least those driven by the latent heat of vaporization, will tend to be stronger, or have the potential to be stronger, in a warmer climate."But it gets better! Another Hansen quote:
The reader might assume that I have long been close to Gore, since I testified before his Senate committee in 1989 and participated in scientific "roundtable" discussions in his Senate office. In fact, Gore was displeased when I declined to provide him with images of increasing drought generated by a computer model of climate change. (I didn't trust the model's estimates of precipitation.) After Clinton and Gore were elected, I declined a suggestion from the White House to write a rebuttal to a New York Times Op-Ed article that played down global warming and criticized the Vice President. I did not hear from Gore for more than a decade, until January of this year, when he asked me to critically assess his slide show. When we met, he said that he "wanted to apologize," but, without letting him explain what he was apologizing for, I said, "Your insight was better than mine."Hell, some days I almost feel good about our chances. They can't win without lying, and they can't even get their lies to stick.
Indeed, Gore was prescient. For decades he has maintained that the Earth was teetering in the balance, even when doing so subjected him to ridicule from other politicians and cost him votes. By telling the story of climate change with striking clarity in both his book and movie, Al Gore may have done for global warming what Silent Spring did for pesticides. He will be attacked, but the public will have the information needed to distinguish our long-term well-being from short-term special interests.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Friday, May 18, 2007
Anyway, this is all just my long-winded way of saying that when Norman Podhoretz writes that World War IV is upon us, I'm really not interested except in an anthropological sense. Even monkeys flinging feces have some interesting behaviours to study, after all. But this really the most interesting bit to me:
Of course, by the grace of God, the dissidents behind the Iron Curtain, and Ronald Reagan, we won World War III and were therefore spared the depredations that Finlandization would have brought.It's interesting to me, because one of the hallmarks of western thought since, oh, Herodotus has been the movement away from the supernatural explanations of human events. But here we are -- Ronald Reagan is elected President not because of race-baiting, incompetent Democrats, or any material, tangible cause. Nope, "by the grace of God" the Cold War ended. It's beneath serious thought. But that goes without saying -- Norman Podhoretz wrote it.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Solar: the 800-lb gorilla of renewable energy. The Earth intercepts enough energy on a single day to power all of human activity for a quarter-century, if we could convert it all with 100% efficiency (clearly an impossibility, but it gives you a sense of scale.) Solar PV technologies have had a 30-year cost decline and production growth curve that makes Chinese exporters look like retarded slackers -- 20% growth last year. Still more expensive than you can get from the grid in most industrialized countries, but rapidly filling more and more niches across the world, including the developing world. And solar PV is a technology even the Amish can love.
Solar thermal plants are at least as promising, where the heat of the sun is concentrated on an operating fluid and turned in to grid-exportable energy. Some have proposed massive solar thermal plants in North Africa, exporting clean electricity to one of the world's industrial cores. I wonder if they've considered combining solar thermal with desalination: there's still a lot of waste heat to get rid of, and boiling seawater with it would be a good fit for parched North African countries. (Later answer: Yes, they do mention it in their materials. See #6 in this PDF.) On top of everything else, solar thermal is storable in a way that electricity is not yet.
So: clean energy, clean water, and giving poor countries an export that the industrialized world can't do without? Add to this the possibility of repeating the Israeli kibbutz' success -- making the desert bloom -- and I think you see the potential. By my quick math, if the countries of the EU were to fuel all of their electrical consumption from North African solar (again, an obvious impossibility, but go with me here) the 320 million inhabitants of North Africa would have, between them, 375 cubic meters of freshwater per person per year. (Assuming that only the electrons, and not water, are exported.) This would be roughly 15 times what the inhabitants of North Africa currently have available to them, and a bit less than the US's (absurdly profligate) irrigation use. Repeating the same math for the US gives us a figure of about 115% of the US's projected 2030 water demand could be met by desalination. Again, assuming the impossible 100% reliance on solar thermal. The cycle is virtuous, not vicious: the more energy we use, the more freshwater there is for the people of these countries.
And we're going to need more electricity, not less. Clearly, coal has to die a quick death as humanity's fuel of choice. So we've got to replace that with wind, solar, or efficiency. As hyrdocarbons of all kinds look worse and worse, the only real solution is to move transportation and heating from gas or oil to electricity generated by renewable sources (home heating can be substituted with efficiency and home geothermal.) Biofuels look more and more questionable, and in any case worse than the humble electron for most applications, including the lowest of low-hanging fruit, automobiles and light trucks. Add population and economic growth, and even with the most aggressive efficiencies plausible, I can't see energy demand (especially electricity) declining outside of the most wasteful industrialized countries (US & Canada.) California has cut pollution while keeping electricity demand level for decades by fuel-switching to natural gas in a big way, but I don't know of a western country that has reduced total energy consumption. (As always, corrections welcome.)
I keep stomping on this one because it's so obvious it's painful: if you truly value the economy, you should be pushing renewable energy as fast as you can. Not one of humanity's hydrocarbon crutches exists in sufficient abundance to power a growing global economy beyond 2050, optimistically. If you value an expanding economy capable of supporting your grandchildren in any kind of prosperity, renewable sources of energy are the only way to do that. We can fight over the last scraps of the fossil fuel age, or we can tap in to resources several orders of magnitude more abundant.
I vividly remember a turning point in that Senate campaign when my opponent, a fine public servant named Victor Ashe who has since become a close friend, was narrowing the lead I had in the polls. After a detailed review of all the polling information and careful testing of potential TV commercials, the anticipated response from my opponent's campaign and the planned response to the response, my advisers made a recommendation and prediction that surprised me with its specificity: "If you run this ad at this many 'points' [a measure of the size of the advertising buy], and if Ashe responds as we anticipate, and then we purchase this many points to air our response to his response, the net result after three weeks will be an increase of 8.5% in your lead in the polls."Al Gore's life gives me hope that I too, as a bookish, dull, wooden public speaker could rise to the second-highest office in public life, only to lose my life's most important contest to an arrogant fucking idiot. On the plus side, maybe they'll give me an Oscar, too.
I authorized the plan and was astonished when three weeks later my lead had increased by exactly 8.5%. Though pleased, of course, for my own campaign, I had a sense of foreboding for what this revealed about our democracy. Clearly, at least to some degree, the "consent of the governed" was becoming a commodity to be purchased by the highest bidder. To the extent that money and the clever use of electronic mass media could be used to manipulate the outcome of elections, the role of reason began to diminish.
U.S. Navy veteran David Miller said that when he checked into the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Iowa City, he didn't realize he would get a hard sell for Christian fundamentalism along with treatment for his kidney stones.Imagine refusing food to a medical patient in pain. Imagine refusing to let a patient contact their spiritual guide. Or don't, just read the article. Disgusting.
Miller, 46, an Orthodox Jew, said he was repeatedly proselytized by hospital chaplains and staff in attempts to convert him to Christianity during three hospitalizations over the past two years.
He said he went hungry each time because the hospital wouldn't serve him kosher food, and the staff refused to contact his rabbi, who could have brought him something to eat.
Both Eisenhower and, kind of, Nixon would do that. Via Ross Douthat, here's the ad for their re-election campaign in 1956.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
There are 9672 homes for sale in California's mosquito-plagued Sacramento and Yolo counties. Around 1400 have swimming pools. Many of them are not being properly maintained while they sit on the market, and mosquitos are beginning to breed in their algae-infested waters like, well, flies. This is raising fears of a particularly virulent West Nile season.In a million years, I don't think I would have thought, "Boy, this crappy housing market is going to be a boon for the Anopheles Mosquito."
The fact that Makiya still believes in an argument for regime change is almost admirable, considering that most everyone else has since bailed. "I don't support or excuse everything that has happened since the start of the war," Makiya tells me. "But the justness of the war doesn't change because it doesn't turn out the way we thought it would."Makiya's right: the justness of the war wouldn't have changed if Iraq had turned out to be filled with pro-American, pro-Israeli puppies and rainbows. Because that was never going to happen, outside of Makiya's fevered imaginations, we don't really need to bother contemplating whether that war would have been worthwhile. But even if it had turned out much worse than Makiya publicly said it would in 2002-2003, it still couldn't have justified the invasion.
"You have to hold two separate things," he says, reaching his hands out in the air as he tries to explain his position. "There is a distinction between the reasons for the war and the aftermath and what went wrong. An apology requires that you blur those distinctions. The moment you do that, you stop thinking. Can I apologize for removing one of the worst dictators of the twentieth century? I would not think of it."
Makiya through his support -- his extremely influential support, it turns out -- behind an incompetently waged war that succeeded only in destroying his homeland, expelling 4 million refugees and counting, with probably on the order of a million dead by now. But he still can't seem to deal with the fact that, in a fundamental sense, he's not an Iraqi anymore:
"Of course I still support the war," he says with a pained expression on his face. "How can I not? I don't know an Iraqi who doesn't."I think Makiya's probably being honest here. Thing is, I also think that Makiya doesn't know an Iraqi who is currently living in Iraq. Call me uncharitable if you will, but when public opinion polls overwhelmingly show that most Iraqis think they were better off before the invasion, Makiya must move in a pretty rarefied circle of friends.
Given that the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet Kyoto targets would be through higher gas prices, should the Liberals and NDP really be calling for the government to intervene and lower gas prices?The correct answer, and one we're going to go through every summer until people wake up, is no, reducing gasoline prices is not going to do anything for climate change. The good news is that it's probably not going to do anything against climate change, or less than you'd think. The demand for gasoline is highly inelastic, meaning a change in price does not force a proportional change in demand. You've also got the fact that fuel is only one, and not the largest, component of the cost of owning a car (insurance is, for most people, significantly more expensive and a "sunk cost" -- they pay it if they drive a million miles or not at all.)
This is why a carbon tax, on it's own, is not particularly useful. (Coal and oil companies will still fight it tooth and nail, even though it won't necessarily reduce their business that much.) Now, a carbon tax where the proceeds are immediately spent on reducing the use of carbon fuels would be very effective indeed, in the medium-to-long term.
Monday, May 14, 2007
Will this cause any of the pro-more-dead-Iraqi caucus to reconsider their stand? Will it cause them to even, for a moment, reconsider accusing sane people of "abandoning the troops"? The answers can only be assumed to be no, and no.
OTTAWA – Stéphane Dion is resisting pressure to fire the Liberal party's national director who suggested that former leadership rivals may be plotting against the new boss....The kind of loyalty Dion tried to buy, post-victory, simply cannot be bought. The defeated candidates either accept your victory, or they don't and spend the next decade basically undermining you at every turn from their post as Minister of Finance. Or so I'm told.
In Against the Current, author Linda Diebel writes that two months ago Carroll began to doubt the wisdom of Dion giving key roles to all his former rivals – including his choice to make Ignatieff deputy leader.
"I am starting to wonder if he may not have been a little too good to his former competitors," Carroll is quoted as saying.
Diebel writes that Carroll "lived in fear of an all-out drive against Dion," orchestrated by one or more of Dion's top three leadership rivals – Ignatieff, Bob Rae and Gerard Kennedy.
In the excerpt The Star published, Diebel makes it clear that Carroll is right -- Dion offered Ignatieff a job that didn't flatter his ego enough, Ignatieff said he wanted the deputy leader post, and rather than stick to his guns (what guns, really?) Dion caved. Ignatieff isn't the only one who comes out looking bad -- Bob Rae ends up looking pretty petulant, too. A good read, in any case, and I'm looking forward to the book.
Today, I can pick up about 1Gb of FLASH memory in a postage stamp sized card for that much money. fast-forward a decade and that'll be 100Gb. Two decades and we'll be up to 10Tb.No kidding. But for some reason, the eventuality that scares me is not the obvious one -- malicious laws passed by the state requiring you to document everything you do, see, or hear. Rather, I have this nightmare of some poor schmuck or schmuckette's significant other meeting with his or her ex-significant other, and downloading all the memories of every argument, every forgotten birthday or anniversary, and every unintentional slight. Worse yet, the idea of some kind of flickr-derivative, except instead of people swapping and publishing pictures, they're publishing their own memories. The kind of things ex-boyfriends will do to women in the future makes my hair curl just thinking about it...
10Tb is an interesting number. That's a megabit for every second in a year — there are roughly 10 million seconds per year. That's enough to store a live DivX video stream — compressed a lot relative to a DVD, but the same overall resolution — of everything I look at for a year, including time I spend sleeping, or in the bathroom. Realistically, with multiplexing, it puts three or four video channels and a sound channel and other telemetry — a heart monitor, say, a running GPS/Galileo location signal, everything I type and every mouse event I send — onto that chip, while I'm awake. All the time. It's a life log; replay it and you've got a journal file for my life. Ten euros a year in 2027, or maybe a thousand euros a year in 2017. (Cheaper if we use those pesky rotating hard disks — it's actually about five thousand euros if we want to do this right now.)
Why would anyone want to do this?...
We may even end up being required to do this, by our employers or insurers — in many towns in the UK, it is impossible for shops to get insurance, a condition of doing business, without demonstrating that they have CCTV cameras in place. Having such a lifelog would certainly make things easier for teachers and social workers at risk of being maliciously accused by a student or client.
(There are also a whole bunch of very nasty drawbacks to this technology — I'll talk about some of them later, but right now I'd just like to note that it would fundamentally change our understanding of privacy...
If you'd like to watch an entirely mediocre and forgettable film along those lines, you can watch Strange Days with Ralph Fiennes.
Friday, May 11, 2007
Study: Same-sex couples just as good, if not better, at parentingI was reading something yesterday that made me laugh, just because of the ironic humour to it all: if there's a genetic link to homosexuality, it will be more present in societies where there's greater oppression of gays and lesbians. Gays and lesbians, after all, do not normally choose to live in reproductive, heterosexual relationships (ones where their genes are passed on) unless forced to by societal pressure.
OTTAWA -- Parenting by same-sex families is just as good -- if not slightly advantageous -- for children when compared to heterosexual families, a Justice Department study has concluded.
Commissioned by the then-Liberal federal government in 2003 at the height of the same-sex marriage debate, the academic study was not released until recently when its main author, Professor Paul Hastings at Concordia University, obtained it by making a request using the Access to Information Act.
So if you really wanted gays and lesbians to "weed themselves out" of the population, you'd let them live happy, open, lives free of judgment and persecution. They'd adopt children (and raise them as good as anyone else) and die having never passed their genes on. We wouldn't be wasting our time with arguments over marriage or whatnot, and we'd all be better off.
Clearly, this isn't going to happen.
I have to say though, this part leaves me scratching my head:
Let me put the point even more starkly. It was imports, it was globalization -- and not the Federal Reserve -- that cured America's inflation problem in the early 1980s. That was painful, but the adjustment has been made. The war on inflation, which the Fed continues to pretend to fight, is actually over, and it has been over for several decades.Okay, so the US lowered unemployment (accidentally) by the mechanism of Alan Greenspan momentarily forgetting to raise interest rates in 1996, and being surprised that the world didn't end. Intrigued, he let the party continue for... too long, as it turned out.
Why not take advantage, as we did in the late 1990s, when we drove the unemployment rate below four percent for three years, while wages rose? Nothing bad happened. And certainly nothing on the trade front is stopping us from doing it again.
But earlier in his piece, Galbraith argues that basically the position of the US dollar allows the US to run a perpetual trade deficit. He says this position could end, but doesn't look likely to. Specifically, he says:
Is the system risky? Yes, it is. Could our bond holders, notably China, panic? Could they act to cut us off for political reasons, such as a crisis over Taiwan? Or even Iran? Yes, they could. Could our currency collapse? Yes, those things are possible. The system, hugely favorable to us though it is, is fragile and dangerous.Okay, but what happens when you combine perpetual trade deficits with a low-interest, high employment policy at the Fed? I don't think the modern era has seen that kind of combination (please, corrections welcome) for a long period of time (1995-1999 is the obvious, and noted, exception.) That is to say, as sympathetic as I am to Galbraith's prescription, I wonder if it's actually sustainable.
But those are financial risks. They have nothing to do with trade agreements.
I think it's worth remembering how little people thought of Gilles Duceppe until Paul Martin came to town. This is a guy who, after all, has demonstrated little actual political acumen, and largely benefited from the errors of his opponents more than any brilliant strategy on his own.
Say what you will about the ADQ, but I don't see Duceppe helping the PQ's position in Quebec City when he's faced with a) a real opposition, and b) a Party that is already um, pretty lukewarm to his presence. (Charitably.) Apparently, at least one poll shows Marois beating him handily, so this should be interesting.
Oh, and I think Paul Wells is right on here.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
But of course, that's not how this programme was sold to the public. Thatcher's mantra from the outset was, in fact, "there is no alternative." Reagan and Mulroney said pretty much the same, and Chretien/Martin made it in to a spending-cutting fetish. We had to pursue a programme of layoffs, deindustrialization, and union-busting (not to mention social program cuts) here in North America because it was the only way. And if it was the only way, then we didn't need to waste a lot of time on empathy for the people that got trampled. So instead of extending a helping hand, we did the opposite -- cutting what welfare programs existed in Canada and increasing the ranks of the homeless. Yay for us.
We could have done things a different way sine the mid-1970s. We didn't, fine. And a lot of the transition has been unquestionably good, no doubt. A world in which India and China have a better chance of getting, being, and staying rich is a world I want to live in. But the column by Alan Blinder that made me so angry has very little to do with any of that, and really has to do with a very simple question: who do we help when global trade threatens their livelihood? For Alan Blinder, the answer is: professionals, who already make up the wealthiest half of society and are best prepared to survive without any help whatsoever. The correct answer -- the humane answer -- I think is exactly the opposite: you help the people who can't help themselves: the poor, the working class, and the people who's lives didn't prepare them for the kind of new jobs they'd have to learn.
After decades of us refusing to help those in dire need, Blinder wants us to turn around and rush to the aid of people who don't need it, but who are pretty certain to get it because they're far more influential than the people who deserve it. It's basically the ugly class division of North American society laid bare.
Monday, May 07, 2007
I'm a free trader down to my toes. Always have been. Yet lately, I'm being treated as a heretic by many of my fellow economists. Why? Because I have stuck my neck out and predicted that the offshoring of service jobs from rich countries such as the United States to poor countries such as India may pose major problems for tens of millions of American workers over the coming decades. In fact, I think offshoring may be the biggest political issue in economics for a generation.First off, Alan: 2004 called, it wants it's election issue back. Secondly, you've got to love the desperate attempt to reassure readers that he's still a level-headed economist, because after all he's a free-trader "down to his toes". Not like those smelly hippies who value things like "clean air" or "liveable wages". Down the page a bit:
The first is technology, especially information and communications technology, which has been improving at an astonishing pace in recent decades.... And it's not just low-skill services such as key punching, transcription and telemarketing. It's also high-skill services such as radiology, architecture and engineering -- maybe even college teaching. [Lord, I hope that was a joke Alan.]So. Technological change and a growing population in the rapidly-developing world are an unprecedented danger to the core economies? Gee, that's never happened before, unless you count Japan, Germany, or even the United States back in the day.
The second driver is the entry of about 1.5 billion "new" workers into the world economy. These folks aren't new to the world, of course. But they live in places such as China, India and the former Soviet bloc -- countries that used to stand outside the world economy....
What is happening here is not, as Alan Blinder would have us believe, unprecedented Nor is he trying to "save free trade from itself." He's trying to save himself from free trade. The world would not, in fact, be much worse off if some Indian Econ. Phd could teach Alan Blinder's classes for 1/10 the cost. His students would be much better off, his university could afford more books -- the only person who would be worse off would be, you guessed it, Alan Blinder.
What is being made here is not an argument about politics or economics, but rather ethics:
For these same forces don't look so benign from the viewpoint of an American computer programmer or accountant. They've done what they were told to do: They went to college and prepared for well-paid careers with bountiful employment opportunities. But now their bosses are eyeing legions of well-qualified, English-speaking programmers and accountants in India, for example, who will happily work for a fraction of what Americans earn. Such prospective competition puts a damper on wage increases. And if the jobs do move offshore, displaced American workers may lose not only their jobs but also their pensions and health insurance. These people can be forgiven if they have doubts about the virtues of globalization.For Blinder, the American army of accountants, lawyers, programmers, etc. are deserving of protection because they played by the rules of the game -- the rules Blinder helped write -- and still look to be screwed over. This isn't an issue of efficiency or politics, but of a morally privileged position. Because the professional class behaved like good little Homo Economicus like the Chicago School told them to, they deserve to be saved. Alan Blinder is Noah, trying to build an ark for the professionals of the United States, two by two.
But of course, this isn't the first generation of people to "do what they were told to do." The baby boomer generation of industrial workers was told to work hard every day, save up for their kids and a pension, and they'd retire well in old age. About halfway through that process, economists like Alan Blinder -- guys who were "free-traders down to their toes" -- decided that, in fact, being an industrial worker was a thing of the past (especially if you belonged to a union, God forbid) and that your job could be better performed in Taiwan, Mexico, Malaysia, or any number of other places. And the downsizing of the 1980s and 1990s ensued, and the hemorrhage continues today.
This is worse than self-serving. It's grossly callous, and it sounds like Alan Blinder believes that the millions of people who lost their jobs because of "free" "trade" deserved their fates, while the millions of professionals who still stand to lose theirs don't. Alan Blinder wants to build a life raft for him and his family, after his profession helped push millions of people overboard in a storm.
And what kind of life raft does he want to build? Why, more of the same of course:
In addition, we need to rethink our education system so that it turns out more people who are trained for the jobs that will remain in the United States and fewer for the jobs that will migrate overseas. We cannot, of course, foresee exactly which jobs will go and which will stay. But one good bet is that many electronic service jobs will move offshore, whereas personal service jobs will not. Here are a few examples. Tax accounting is easily offshorable; onsite auditing is not. Computer programming is offshorable; computer repair is not. Architects could be endangered, but builders aren't.Boy, that surname is sounding really appropriate right now, Prof. Blinder. As in "nobody is blinder to reality than I am": remember, the very professionals whose livelihoods are now threatened by offshoring got themselves educated in fields that were supposed to be "safe", as in immune to deindustrialization. Blinder's answer: more education! In different fields! Just because it's always failed in the past, that's no reason to give up hope now! Just keep clapping your hands, Alan.
Finally, this part is simply wrong. Not "open to interpretation", not "experts disagree", just plain stupid ignorant wrong:
Trade protection won't work. You can't block electrons from crossing national borders.Oh yes, God Forbid we think about anything quite so, um, heretical as "trade protection." Because we all know that electrons can't be stopped at the border. Unless, of course, you work in China. Or any government office building. Or most workplaces with computers in North America. Yes, blocking electronic access to undesirable computers is actually a simple matter, and we do it every hour of every day, though the Chinese do it a bit more thoroughly than the rest of us. If we actually wanted to block Indian call centers from the North American phone network, we could do it. Whether we should bother would of course be another question, but there's no question we could do it, and quickly.
Look, you can accept the premise of free traders like Alan Blinder does with the 90% of American workers that aren't him or people like him, that free trade is a net plus. Or you can argue that, in fact, the reality of the global economy is far more complicated and that, yes, governments can intervene in international trade at least as much as they intervene in domestic trade, and if done competently we can all benefit. But you can't have both. Blinder was fine to let a generation of workers be ravaged by forces he's too much of a coward to face himself. So why the hell should I care what he thinks, and why the hell does he have a page in the Washington Post for this crap?
via Sinister Greg, the video for "1,2,3,4":
The one undeniable virtue to Heath's book is his attack on The Myth of 1988. You know the one: The NDP brought us free trade by doing the unthinkable for a Canadian political party -- contest an election with candidates and a then-popular leader. The result? A shocking disaster: the party that won a large plurality... won the election! I know! How could we Dippers let something so horrible happen to Fair Maiden Canada?
Heath takes aim at the most obvious problem in the NDP-is-Satan myth that Liberals love so much: Mulroney's strength wasn't in areas where the NDP won seats. The one area of Canada where Mulroney's support stayed rock-solid in 1988 was in Quebec, where his appeals (coded and otherwise) to the separatist vote won him 63 seats. Quebec is the only province where Mulroney's public support actually grew between 1984 and 1988. Or to put it another way, Mulroney won more seats in Quebec, 1988, than the Liberals and NDP won in Ontario combined.
But of course, to actually deal with these facts, Liberals would have to look at why Quebec was such fertile ground for Mulroney in the 1980s, and the answers there, if dealt with honestly, would lead directly to questioning the unquestionable Cult of Trudeau. And it wouldn't serve the (apparent) main purpose of Liberals today, which is hating the NDP with a fiery passion.
This shouldn't matter, anymore. We're almost 20 years removed from 1988, and back then I was grappling with the thorny issues of... long division and proper conjugation of the french verb "avoir". But sure enough, a few months ago when Jack Layton was on TVO, you've got useless idiots like Rick Salutin blaming Jack for Harper, "just like in 1988." Clearly, this situation is hopeless.
Speaking of doomed Liberals leading their party to successive defeats under a bumbling leader against a rejuvenated Conservative party, I'm also reading Right Side Up by Paul Wells, finally. I'm enjoying it much more than Heath's (sorry Jamey!) and hopefully not just because it confirms every low opinion of Paul Martin that I ever had. A more thorough review should be coming.
This is a particularly good example of the perils of talking about "energy security." I've written about this at Gristmill, but the bumper-sticker summary is this:
If you make energy a military-industrial issue, you'll get a military-industrial solution. That means no wind power, no solar panels, no efficiency. Instead, you get coal, nuclear, and increased dependence on the "reliable" providers like Canada.
The alternative is to make energy a climate change issue, emphasize efficiency, renewables, and other green goodies -- and you get energy security as a byproduct anyway. But the two partners in Tom Friedman's "Geo-green" coalition have totally different frames of reference, and it distorts the means that they're pushing for the goal of sustainability.
WASHINGTON (AP) - The surprise explanation behind the U.S. government's sensational but false warnings about mysterious Canadian spy coins is the harmless "poppy quarter," the world's first colorized coin, The Associated Press has learned.
The odd-looking coins with a bright red flower were so unfamiliar to suspicious U.S. Army contractors traveling in Canada they filed confidential espionage accounts about them. The worried contractors described the coins as "anomalous" and "filled with something man-made that looked like nano-technology," according to once-classified U.S. government reports and e-mails obtained by the AP.
Friday, May 04, 2007
Unless, of course, Harper isn't so dangerous that it's worth actually practicing politics like an intelligent organization.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Last I checked, we actually do have several matters of national importance on our plate -- Afghanistan, climate change, oh and the small matter of whether the government will survive until July or not.
But, because a hockey player is alleged to have said something -- something, mind you, that nobody can prove he actually said -- we're wasting our time on this? As if in the history of sports this is the only occasion where an athlete might have said something hurtful about the other team's players?
The fact that the Bloc is riding this is unsurprising. The fact that Dion and Layton joined in is depressing. And the fact that Stephen Harper is going to come out of this looking good is simply maddening -- an issue that shouldn't have even been brought up, is now going to give Harper a bump in the polls.
Nobody in Ottawa seems to actually know how this game is played, do they?
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
Under some circumstances, the rule of law must yield to the need for energy.... The American republic was the first to have a strong executive that was intended to be republican as well as strong... law is always imperfect by being universal, thus an average solution even in the best case, that is inferior to the living intelligence of a wise man on the spot... The best source of energy turns out to be the same as the best source of reason--one man.via Wikipedia:
Hermann Graf Keyserling, founder of the School of Wisdom at Darmstadt, was the first to use the term "Führerprinzip". His work was astonishingly influential during the 1930s and 1940s, not only in Germany. He recommended that Europeans should adopt something resembling the Hindu caste system. It was, however, Keyserling's claim that certain 'gifted individuals' were 'born to rule', not on the basis of birth or class but of 'the laws of nature'
When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup.There's actually a long argument to be made that, in fact, the country Sowell yearns for so intently was only ever created by military coups, or a commensurate application of violence in the service of conservative ideology. (See Spain, Greece, or most of the Americas south of the Rio Grande throughout the 20th century.) Except it's late and the point is this: you have an American Republican [haw!] publicly speculating on the beneficial aspects of a military coup. That would be the kind of thing that George Washington publicly humiliated himself to avoid, by the way.
On my sunnier days, I actually think America will manage to muddle through the next century, more or less. The question isn't can America be saved -- it's can American rightists be saved from their nuttiest brethren?