Archive for June, 2005

Thursday, June 30th, 2005

Oil for food bananas
An article in The Guardian quotes Hugo at the inaguration of the PDV Caribe bribery blackmail agreement,

Chavez said the Venezuelan state oil company had created a new affiliate called PDV Caribe to coordinate the project, and that Venezuela would be willing to accept goods such as bananas or sugar for a portion of payments.

As the divine Celia would have said, ¡Azúca!

Prior to the PDV Caribe agreement signing, Fidel had paid a short visit to Caracas — short enough there are no photos (no photos of those two narcisstic media adicts?), and nobody tried to kill him. Not that Fidel doesn’t have reason for his paranoia. Fidel would be welcome in the Hamptons (via Babalu), at least on some clueless fool’s back, especially if he brings fresh cigars. I predict that Hugo, too, will soon be on a t-shirt in the Hamptons, at the rate he’s going, but no cigar so far.

In case there’s any doubt that the PDV Caribe deal is nothing other than bribery and blackmail, Trinidad and Tobago, which are more than self-sufficient in oil, weren’t signing (hat tip to Daniel and VCrisis).

Update Babalu has a nice round-up on the PDV.

Thursday, June 30th, 2005

Hillary’s next meme will be the budget deficit
SmadaNek overheard something in Washington. Don’t miss SmadaNek’s numbers:

The national debt ($7.78 trillion) amounts to about 66% of national production ($11.7 trillion). This could be compared to a family with an annual income of $50,000 holding a mortgage for about $76,000. The total monthly payment on a $76,000 mortgage (30-yr fixed @ 5.375%) would be $425.58, or $5,106.96 annual — 6.7% of the balance, 10% of gross income.

I’m more worried about trade wars with China, and property rights than the budget deficit.

As for Social Security, I kissed that one good-bye a long time ago. There isn’t going to be any.

Thursday, June 30th, 2005

Pondering private schools before the concert starts
Live 8 will be playing this weekend at a big city near you (in our location, Philadelphia), and then Bob Geldorf and Bono will be speaking at the upcoming G8 Summit. I hope they find time to read this article: Give Africa a private schooling.

In Africa, as here, parents want choice in schooling.

Bob Geldof and Bono rave about how an extra 1m-plus children are now enrolled in primary school in Kenya. All these children, the accepted wisdom goes, have been saved by the benevolence of the international community — which must give $7 to $8 billion (£3.8 to £4.4 billion) per year more so that other countries can emulate Kenya’s success.

The accepted wisdom is wrong. It ignores the remarkable reality that the poor in Africa have not been waiting, helplessly, for the munificence of pop stars and western chancellors to ensure that their children get a decent education. Private schools for the poor have emerged in huge numbers in some of the most impoverished slums and villages in Africa. They cater for a majority of poor children and outperform government schools, for a fraction of the cost.

The results are replicated in not only Kenya, but Ghana and Nigeria too.

Not that the “public” schools were free to begin with,

The final rub was that “free” primary education was not only poor quality, it was also not “free”. Perhaps to keep slum children out — certainly the headmistress from Olympic, where the chancellor visited, was candid that she objected to the “dirty, smelly and uncouth” slum children in her smart school — state schools insist that parents purchase two sets of uniforms before the term starts, including shoes — prohibitively expensive to parents from the slums. One parent told me: “I prefer to pay school fees and forget the uniform.”

Samizdata and Hispalibertas explore the subject. The Gantelope blog deals with school choice in our country.

Update: Welcome, Betsy’s Page readers!

Thursday, June 30th, 2005

Well, that’s one way of getting a Super Bowl ring . . .
but it only works if you’re Vladimir.
I bet Kim Jung Il wishes he’d thought of it.

Wednesday, June 29th, 2005

Ireland, France, and competitiveness
Thomas Freedman’s The End of the Rainbow

How Ireland went from the sick man of Europe to the rich man in less than a generation is an amazing story. It tells you a lot about Europe today: all the innovation is happening on the periphery by those countries embracing globalization in their own ways – Ireland, Britain, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe – while those following the French-German social model are suffering high unemployment and low growth.

Ireland’s innovation is economic and social:

Ireland’s advice is very simple: Make high school and college education free; make your corporate taxes low, simple and transparent; actively seek out global companies; open your economy to competition; speak English; keep your fiscal house in order; and build a consensus around the whole package with labor and management – then hang in there, because there will be bumps in the road – and you, too, can become one of the richest countries in Europe.

France’s is techonological. But, which makes a country more competitive?

France specializes in huge-scale engineering projects that showcase technology and can only be financed by the taxpayer — and not only the French taxpayer, but the taxpayers of other, richer countries:
The Concorde, which is now a museum piece, but there might be a son of Concorde in the making.
The Eurotunnel, a.k.a. the chunnel, which is broke to the tune of 6.4billion ($11.5bn; 9.6bn euros).
The bullet trains, which are great.
The Millau Viaduct, financed with EU funds, which presents security issues in this age of terrorism.
The Airbus A380, which is facing delivery delays of six months, even when it wasn’t scheduled to go into service for another two years.

Now the ITER fusion reactor is going to France. The BBC has a Q&A: Nuclear fusion reactor page on the project, which is financed by the EU, the US, Japan, Russia, China and South Korea. Australia had opted out of the project

Last year The Economist stated,

On the face of it, that sounds impressive. But even if this trend continues, it will take, according to a report compiled last year by Britain’s Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, until 2043 for fusion to become commercially viable. This forecast is even worse than the traditional 30-year horizon. A doubling every 1.8 years would lead to something like a 4m-fold improvement in performance over four decades. That sounds impressive but, in fact, it shows just how primitive existing fusion technology is. And the analogy with Moore’s law is specious for another reason. Even the most primitive computer chips were useful, and found a market. Commercially, fusion is just money down the drain until a reactor that is powerful and reliable enough can be built.

And so fusion advocates are reduced to the last refuge of the desperate engineer—spin-offs. No doubt these would come. Reactors of the ITER design, known as tokamaks (from the Russian for “toroidal magnetic chamber”), look like giant, hollow doughnuts. They work by heating special isotopes of hydrogen contained in the hollow of the doughnut to the point where the electrons and atomic nuclei in the gas part company to create an electrically conducting mixture called a plasma. Further heating speeds the nuclei up to the point where, if they collide, they merge and release the binding energy that will eventually, so the plan goes, be harnessed to make electricity.

Some spin-offs may come from a better understanding of high-temperature plasmas, though they are hard to predict. More plausible spin-offs would be in the field of superconductivity. The electromagnets needed to “confine” the hydrogen while it is heated to fusion temperatures will rely on superconducting wire to feed electricity to them. Superconductivity (which employs a combination of special materials and low temperatures to achieve resistance-free electrical transmission) is another “nearly” technology which has been promising more than it has delivered for many decades. But it is a lot more “nearly” than fusion, and a concerted, technically demanding push in this area might, just, bring it to the point where it could break out of the specialist applications to which it is now confined and contribute to, say, long-distance power transmission.

Whether these spin-offs would justify the price-tag, though, is questionable. If they are worth pursuing, it would surely be better to invest in projects focused on them, rather than hoping they will magically emerge from something else. All in all, ITER seems more boondoggle than boon. Governments should spend their research money on other things.

Last evening’s France2 broadcast optimistically said that Cadarache (the ITER’s location) would be the “center of the world”, while shedding some light on just how big a gamble this is:

  • the ITER would take 10 years to build, and 20 years of experiements, before it could be decided if any of the technology would be of commercial value.
  • The project will not generate electricity; instead it will need massive amounts of energy to heat up.
  • It will generate the same amount of nuclear waste as an existing nuclear reactor, but the waste would be shorter-lived.
  • The Greens aren’t happy about it,as you can read in this article by the Spanish Communist Party (via Hispalibertas), and Greenpeace‘s press release.

Here in Princeton the local fusion reactor was dismantled after decades of experiments. I hope, for France’s sakes, they have better luck.

Speaking about the Millau Viaduct, Jacques Chirac said it represented “A modern France, an enterprising, successful France, a France which invests in its future.” As for the economy, maybe France should be taking a look at the enterprising, successful modern Ireland, and how Ireland invests in its future.

Also posted at Blogger News Network.

Wednesday, June 29th, 2005

Maybe Dick Durbin should read about child camel jockeys
Twenty-two child camel jockeys who returned from the United Arab Emirates last week are undergoing psychotherapy to help them deal with their traumatic experiences in the Gulf

The boys were evidently traumatised by the abject conditions under which they were kept by the camel and racetrack owners.

The boys were crowded into huts and slept on hard floors.
. . .
Shaukat recalls getting only a piece of bread and tea for breakfast and some rice with lentils for the rest of the day.
. . .
“My sheikh did not torture me,” he says. “Of course, sometimes he would slap me or beat me if I stole something from him or made a mistake.”

‘Not scared’

Independent researchers, including documentary makers have, however, talked of severe torture methods that involved boys being hung from chains and flogged with camel whips.

Children fell off camels all the time, but if you didn’t break a limb you just got up and continued.

All this is related to modern-time slavery: “The Child Protection and Welfare Bureau’s assistant director, Zubair Ahmad Shad, tells the BBC news website that the practice of sending young children to the Gulf to work as camel jockeys was linked to human trafficking.”

Wednesday, June 29th, 2005

Delman on sale
Inspired by my guru, The Manolo, who linked to the Delman Flats on the Sale at Bluefly, I found the Delman shoes on the sale at the Sierra Trading Post.

I don’t get any money for endorsing anything in this blog, but I’ve made several purchases at Sierra and have always been very pleased with their service and quality. And Delmans for $70? Can’t beat that! The Talbots knock-offs were more expensive than that.

In other shoe news, Zoe in downtown Princeton has Prada shoes on sale, 50% off.

Wednesday, June 29th, 2005

Shelby Foote, Historian and Novelist, Dies at 88
Mr. Foote wrote three of The Husband’s favorite books. From the NYT obit

What began as a Random House proposal for a short account of the Civil War as its centennial approached turned into an opus. Writing in an ornate script with an old-style dip pen in his rambling magnolia-shaded house in Memphis, where the Footes had moved in 1953, he produced the 2,934-page, three-volume, 1.5 million-word military history, “The Civil War: A Narrative.” At 500 to 600 words a day, with times out to visit battlefields on the anniversaries of the battles, it took him 20 years. The volumes appeared between 1958 and 1974.

Carrying readers from Fort Sumter to Appomattox, the work was greeted by most reviewers in the spirit of the New York Times Book Review contributor who called it “a remarkable achievement, prodigiously researched, vigorous, detailed, absorbing.” Others used words like “monumental,” “comprehensive,” and “even-handed.” In The New York Review of Books, C. Vann Woodward complimented the author on capturing the “intimacy of combat” with his “impressive narrative gifts and dramatic purposes.”

The Civil War: A Narrative (3 Vol. Set), at Amazon.

Wednesday, June 29th, 2005

Freestar Media wants to build on Justice Souter’s land
and have their own reality show.

Tuesday, June 28th, 2005

Hitchens in Iran
Hitchens ponders Iran’s Persian soul in the context of the Islamic republic in his article, Mind over Mullahs

The Islamic republic actually counts all of its subjects as infants, and all of its bosses as their parents. It is based, in theory and in practice, on a Muslim concept known as velayat-e faqih, or “guardianship of the jurist.” In its original phrasing, this can mean that the clergy assumes responsibility for orphans, for the insane, and for (aha!) abandoned or untenanted property. Here is the reason Ayatollah Khomeini became world-famous: in a treatise written while he was in exile in Najaf, in Iraq, in 1970, he argued that the velayat could and should be extended to the whole of society. A supreme religious authority should act as proxy father for everyone. His own charisma and bravery later convinced many people that Khomeini was entitled to claim the role of supreme leader (faqih) for himself.

But the theory has an obvious and lethal flaw, built into itself like a trapdoor.

A must-read.