Monthly Archives: May 2002

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You do the math

I’m glad Paul Krugman has raised his sights from his preoccupation with purely domestic economic issues. “Faced with a proposal that would save the lives of eight million people every year, many of them children, we balk at the cost. But when asked to give up revenue equal to twice that cost, in order to allow each of 3,300 lucky families to collect its full $16 million inheritance rather than a mere $10 million, we don’t hesitate.”

It seems, not to anyone’s surprise, that the Bono-O’Neill roadshow through Africa isn’t changing the Treasury Secretary’s views. Krugman charitably reckons O’Neill isn’t deaf or blind to Africa’s needs. From everything I’ve seen, part of the problem is he just doesn’t have the intellectual grasp of economic issues to get what’s going on.

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Not the Jubilee

This coming weekend is an extended holiday in the UK, to mark 50 years of Queen Elizabeth’s rule. Although I have lived in the UK for the best part of 24 years, I remain a staunch republican (that lower case “r” is important). 

It’s a minority position here, but not as small as many people think. Singer Billy Bragg has long been a voice for progressive causes and he has chosen the Jubilee to release a new song, Take Down the Union Jack. I’m not that fussed about the issue, but I did find Bragg’s cogent views on music and copyright well worth reading. “People who download some of your music and enjoy it will be encouraged to buy more and come to your gigs. I’m relaxed about it as it’s happening anyway… There’s no point chucking your rattle out of the pram! The first music I owned was tapes of the chart rundown from the radio and that didn’t stop me from buying music.”

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Seeing what’s happening

I think Henry Porter understands what’s happening in Kashmir. “American intelligence estimates put the toll in the event of a full exchange of the two nuclear arsenals at 12 million dead with maybe seven million wounded — an instant slaughter unprecedented in the history of mankind. But despite the movement of missiles yesterday and the tests which took place in Pakistan over the weekend, the possibility of nuclear warfare still strikes the west as either remote or not really very important.”

The New York Times has finally got around to editorialising on the subject, about a week too late in my opinion. But what it says is sensible:  “At a time when the world is pleading for statesmanship, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee of India and Gen. Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan have irresponsibly escalated threats of war.”

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Where weblogs are going

Edward Cone, a North Carolina-based journalist, has written an intelligent perspective on the power of weblogs.

I was most struck by two of his points. “The key is that there will bloggers in those cities [where major media may or may not have a bureau], too, who will report first-hand both fact and opinion. This is part of blogging’s true power, the democratization of the distribution of information… Bloggers will lead, drive, and shape the news coverage of the major media.” As someone exercised by the India-Pakistan dispute, for example, I’d love to have a directory of weblogs on both sides of the divide (but they’d need to be in English).

Cone also cites community. “Another important element is blogging’s network effect-the tendency of bloggers to link to each other, providing a running conversation between interested parties that is available for anyone to read.” It’s still true that most of the traffic in the weblog world concerns technology issues. But I’m confident that over time there will be a richer diet of conversation on other spheres of thought and activity.  

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Here’s a good use of email. Jon Snow, the anchorman for the Channel 4 News, sends out an afternoon bulletin with a heads-up on the key stories he’ll be covering that evening.

I know lots of stations do this in the US, but Snow’s email is clearly written by the man himself and it isn’t just a promotional tool. Here’s today’s offering: “He’s gone. Stephen Byers of whom we shall no longer be able to say ‘the embattled Transport Secretary’. He has fallen on his sword in a rather dramatic moment in an upstairs room in 10 Downing Street. Cameras were summoned for an undescribed event, the rumour mill churning with such fanciful ideas ranging from Cherie’s 5th pregnancy to a Tony Blair quote ‘I’m off to become a corporate lawyer’. But in the end it was Stephen Byers and an end that came as unexpectedly as his decision not to resign when the original September 11th email row broke.”

It’s a parochial story on the world stage, but I was certainly interested.

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Joe’s great adventure

Joe Klein, of Primary Colors fame, is tramping around Europe for six weeks on behalf of The Guardian. He intends to explore the apparently widening divide between the US and Europe. I’m usually suspicious of series constructed by parachuting a writer into somewhere they have little knowledge of. But on the basis of the first instalment, in France, I certainly intend to follow Klein’s journey.

His stay in Paris is interesting, but rounds up the usual suspects to a degree. But he had a good reporter’s instinct to head to the depressed northeast of France and find out a bit about the disaffected immigrant community there. Well worth a read.

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The real pirates

Alex Cox, the director who made the great Repo Man, provides a feisty riposte to corporate Hollywood’s stance on copyright piracy. “When the MPAA complains that it is losing billions to piracy, my first reaction is, so what?”

He continues, “Corporate multinationals, wielding unchecked power, terrify me far more than kids with video cameras. In fact, the latter… encourage me greatly: their resourcefulness and creativity — rather than the special pleading and restrictive practices of the MPAA — represent a possible bright future for our industry.”


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Beautiful things are difficult

While my US-based relatives and friends are enjoying Memorial Day, I did something today that I last did 22 years ago. I took an exam.

Fortunately, I’ve never had a test phobia, in fact I’ve always rather enjoyed them, for some strange reason. My exam today was the culmination of my first year learning classical Greek, something I’ve long desired and finally decided to do something about.

Way back in September, the first phrase we learned in Greek was “chalepa ta kala” (excuse the transliteration), which means beautiful things are difficult. I think our teacher meant this to be both daunting and encouraging. And there are certainly difficulties in learning ancient Greek: the multiplicity of tenses, cases and voices does threaten to drive students around the bend.

You should add to that some difficulties inherent in an ancient language. Because you are learning to read and not to speak, there is no chance to develop much of an ear for what sounds right, which happens when you learn languages conversationally. You also have unusual vocabulary to tackle: I know how to talk about oxen, flocks, libations, battles and blindness, but very little everyday language.

But I think it’s worth it. After a year, I can begin to read some real texts, including Herodotus and Plato. My goal, of reading Homer in the original, remains a little way off, but I think I can see a path clear to that summit. And the exam? I think I did well on the Greek to English translations (a few passages from Herodotus), so-so on the English to Greek (“The captain shouted loudly, but we weren’t afraid”), and not very well on the grammar.

But it’s true: beautiful things are difficult.

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Votes versus free trade

“In the case of steel, Karl Rove weighed three electoral votes in West Virginia against the world trading system built up over 60 years, and the answer was apparently obvious.” Paul Krugman explains why free trade remains important, and why the steel tariffs were such a bad idea.

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Foreseeable war

“India and Pakistan are three to four weeks from a foreseeable war that the United States has done too little to prevent.” Jim Hoagland in The Washington Post seems to be the only US columnist alert to the dangers in south Asia. The New York Times makes the intensifying conflict only the third story on their international news page.

What happened to the notion that post-9/11, the US would open its eyes to what is going on in the world?