Monthly Archives: September 2003

Davos Newbies Home

European blogroll  

A Fistful of Euros is looking for suggestions to build a European political blogroll.

Another reason 

Harry Brighouse on Crooked Timber highlights another reason why living in Britain is congenial for people like me. He reports on a conference in Newcastle organised by the Institute for Public Policy Research, where, among others, Gordon Brown and David Miliband spoke.

“The fact remains (as Americans I’ve described the conference to keep saying) that such a conference, in which senior elected politicians discuss the work of serious left-wing academics on their own terms, in the presence of senior policy-makers, is utterly unimaginable in the US.”

Davos Newbies Home

17, not 13 

If you ever wanted rock-hard evidence of the difference between US and British journalism, take this correction from yesterday’s New York Times: “An Op-Ed article on Friday about the playoff hopes of the Cubs and the White Sox incompletely described the life cycle of cicadas in Chicago. While some have appeared after 13 years underground, most emerge after 17 years.”


It’s revealing to see the differing treatments of the failure of the WTO talks in Cancun. According to the Financial Times, and most other comment I’ve seen in Europe, the key sticking point was Europe’s insistence on pushing the so-called Singapore issues of investment and competition rules.

In contrast, The New York Times squarely points the finger of blame at US intransigence in the shadow of next year’s presidential election.

I suspect both the Europeans and the Americans were too self-involved to keep sight of the bigger victory that might have been at hand.

Davos Newbies Home

328 and counting 

Brad DeLong offers instalment 328 in his pleas for a better press corp. A vital lesson in unpicking the facts behind seemingly innocuous, flabby statements in a newspaper article.

Politics, not economics 

There isn’t a lot new to say about Sweden’s resounding rejection of the euro yesterday. But I hope it puts paid to the notion that the case for the euro can be made by economic argument.

Despite Gordon Brown’s famous five tests nothing conclusive is ever going to be determined by looking at the economics. If one side produces 100 famous economists who are pro-euro, the other side will have no problem producing 100 who are anti-euro.

The currency decision is political. If you are against growing integration in Europe and believe the myths about Brussels bureaucrats, you are going to be anti. If you think closer European integration is a good thing, and you want to see your country at the heart of it, you will be pro. I’m pro, and disheartened by the failure of the pro movement in the UK (as in Sweden) to make the political argument with conviction.

The moment he fell out of love 

It’s generally a bad news day. If you want to let the gloom settle further, read Luke Harding’s report on India in The Guardian.

Cancun collapse 

The collapse of the WTO talks in Cancun is depressing news both for global economic recovery and the developing countries that hoped for so much from this Doha round. The talks seem to have failed because of European and American intransigence over agricultural subsidies — a system that is intellectually and morally bankrupt — and European determination to press through with investment rules that no one seems to have wanted.

Cafod’s Patrick Nicholson provides a useful instantaneous reaction. “A deal at Cancun that reflected the concerns of developing countries could have lifted millions of people out of poverty. The World Bank estimated that 144 million people in the Third World would benefit from the new round of trade talks.”

Davos Newbies Home

Agribusiness in the developing world 

Michael Lind has an alternative take on the movement to eliminate developed world agricultural subsidies. “If the third world becomes as attractive to agribusiness as the first, then machines will replace family farmers, who will become as rare in Thailand as they are in the United States.”

So, he argues, developed world consumers will benefit (from lower food prices) and largely multinational agribusinesses will benefit from reduced costs.

I’m eager to see someone knowledgeable about these issues to do the maths. Even if what Lind writes is true, I suspect the time of transition would see an increase in rural incomes in the developing world, before any consolidation of small family farms works through the system. And even in the long run, incomes in the developing world would increase as countries capture some of the benefits of increased exports. So I wonder how much his point matters.

Davos Newbies Home


A little over a week ago, director John Boorman decried the modern studio process in The Guardian: “When the picture is put together it will be test-marketed. Audiences will tell the makers what bits they don’t like. These will be recut or cut out or reshot. The audience is asked to rate the movie as excellent, very good, good, fair, poor. To be successful, a film must achieve over 80% in the top two categories. If it falls short, recutting and reshooting will continue until it does. During this process, any remaining fragments of originality that have slipped through the net will be ruthlessly expunged.”

He had abandoned this treadmill, apparently, to make independent films where his creativity could hold sway. Well last night I went to the test screening of Boorman’s new film, Truth (a working title, it seems). Lo and behold, at the end of the screening, we were given questionaires which asked us “to rate the movie as excellent, very good, good, fair, poor”.

There were many good things about Truth, which tells the story of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission through the experiences of Anna Malan (Juliette Binoche), a radicalised Afrikaaner poet, and Langston Whitfield (L Samuel Jackson), a Washington Post journalist. As anyone familiar with the TRC would reckon, it’s a moving story, and one that I think many people should know.

Binoche is wonderful, and wholly convincing as the Afrikaaner who comes to recognise the complicity of all white South Africans in the horrors of apartheid. But Jackson is for me a cartoon character, ludicrous as an American journalist and without spark on the screen. I bridle at the notion that South Africa needed a forthright black American to see it like it is, when there were and are so many South African journalists — black and white — who have exposed the truth for years.

And the script does clunk along. The didactic points (“sometimes it isn’t just black and white, but grey”) are knocked into the viewers mind so there is no ambiguity allowed.

Who knows what changes will happen after this and presumably other test screenings. I’d love for the film to bring the truth and reconciliation process to a wide audience, many attracted by stars like Binoche and Jackson. But I’m afraid on the basis of my questionnaire, the film doesn’t succeed.

Two years 

I find it hard to believe the shock and tragedy of 9/11 was only two years ago. It seems that far more than two years of history have intervened.

Davos Newbies Home

Swedish stabbing  

In some ways, Sweden still hasn’t recovered from the shock murder in central Stockholm of Olof Palme. Now foreign minister Anna Lindh has been stabbed. Incomprehensible.

When will Euripides die?  

As a perfect example of the gifts James McGee writes about (see below), Rogue Classicism directed me to an interview with Irene Papas in the English-language Greek paper Kathimerini. The actress is performing two Euripides plays, Hecuba and The Trojan Women, in Rome and Valencia. She was asked whether she chose them for their anti-war message.

“No way! God help us! I would never be able to humiliate Euripides to the extent of saying that I chose him because he was current. I chose The Trojan Women because it suited the location at which it would be played in Sagundo — a warehouse at the port. What should I think? That the play is current today and won’t be tomorrow? These plays always have something to do with people and Euripides is always current. Unfortunately. I always say, ‘When will Euripides die?’ Because that would mean that we’ve evolved as human beings. That we can communicate, stop killing each other.”


An inspiring observation from James McGee: “We live in a world that denigrates thinking. With blogs you can surround yourself with those who revel in it. It’s a gift economy where the gifts are thoughts, ideas, and perspectives that can widen your horizons if you’re willing to accept the gifts as they appear on the threshold of your aggregator.”

Davos Newbies Home

Wie geht’s? 

First the French, now the Germans. Apparently the growth of Denglish is troubling some Germans. Canute and tides come to mind.

Who knew? 

Who was the only first-class cricketer to win a Nobel prize? Via Rogue Semiotics.

Open access  

Living Code provides a good argument for open access publishing in science.

“How well does something like Open Access work? Well, as a scientist I found these numbers, from Open Access News, very interesting. Articles from Elsevier’s closed access site, ScienceDirect, were downloaded an average of 28 times in one year. At BioMed Central, the average article was downloaded 2500 times in the same period. This is a huge difference for something that is in the early stages of a paradigm shift. As time goes on, it may very well shift much further.

“I have no real incentive to publish in a journal with very few readers, as opposed to one that everyone in the world can read. We will have to work out some aspects of peer review in all this but the benefits are so huge, I am sure scientific publishing will be moving in this direction.”

Beyond banging his head against the wall 

I’m beginning to worry about Brad DeLong’s blood pressure. The Wall Street Journal’s Alan Murray wrote that “for a moment” president Bush reminded him of Comical Ali, the former Iraqi information minister. DeLong responds:

“Only for a moment, Alan?

“How about: ‘Every single effing day since he started running for President’? Whether its the consistency of his tax-cut plans with a budget surplus larger than the Social Security surplus, the number of stem cell lines, the cost of the war in Iraq, the ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, the airborne toxic load from the terror attack on the World Trade Center, the likely effects of economic policies. We all know that George W. Bush and his administration lied about the long-term consequences of his tax-cut plans on the budget, lied about the number of lines of stem cells his policies would let exist, lied about the cost of the war in Iraq (and fired Larry Lindsey in large part because he’d let something like the truth slip out), lied about the (nearly nonexistent) ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, lied about the airborne toxic load from the terror attack on the World Trade Center, lied about the likely effects of his economic policies on employment — I could go on.

“Why doesn’t George W. Bush remind you of Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf in his ‘brazen denial of reality’ not just for a moment, but every morning when you wake up, every noon when you sit down to lunch, and every night when you go to bed?”

Davos Newbies Home

The anarchic zone of vitriol 

“Journalism of left and right converges in an anarchic zone of vitriol where elected politicians are always contemptible, their policies not just wrong but their motives all self-interest. Those on the left should take this very seriously indeed. The right is individualist, anti-government, anti-tax, anti-collective provision. Undermining the idea that government is a force for good is its ideological aim, alongside the mad militias of Idaho. But the left, which purports to believe in government, should be wary of joining the same all-governments-are-rubbish camp. This anarcho-individualism is a very British mindset — and it is not compatible with social democracy.”

Polly Toynbee makes a host of important points in her commentary on the relationship between government and media. As I travel around, I encounter more and more people preoccupied with the unscrutinised power of the press. As an advocate of media freedom, this attention worries me. But observing the generally irresponsible behaviour of the media in the UK — on the left and right, as Toynbee points out — I wonder how long media rights can flourish.

What did they expect?  

Paul Krugman is back on form, discussing Treasury secretary John Snow’s appeal to China to devalue the yuan. “The U.S. currently has very little leverage over China. Mr. Bush needs China’s help to deal with North Korea — another crisis that was allowed to fester while the administration focused on Iraq. Furthermore, purchases of Treasury bills by China’s central bank are one of the main ways the US finances its trade deficit.”

Davos Newbies Home

Widening Atlantic 

“While a firm majority of European respondents — 64 percent — last year favored a strong American presence in the world, that number dropped to 45 percent this year. In France, 7 of 10 respondents said American global leadership was ‘undesirable,’ and half the Italians and Germans agreed.” I’m unsure whether the latest Marshall Fund survey is capturing a transitory moment, or whether this is going to be an enduring gap.

Group blogs 

Group blogs are catching on. The excellent Crooked Timber points to two new group blogs: A Fistful of Euros and Open Source Politics. Early indications are particularly promising on A Fistful of Euros.

Only six years to wait 

Here’s exciting news. The first ancient Greek-English lexicon since the nineteenth century is being prepared. The BBC’s Today Programme, taking a break from the Hutton enquiry, had this to say.

Davos Newbies Home

The seven pillars 

Dave Winer has provided seven simple tips regarding weblogs for political candidates. I think his first point is the most important: “Run a real weblog. Embrace the key feature of the Web, linking — which means you must link to all articles about your candidate, not just favorable ones. You should also link to articles about your opponents.”

Read the full seven points.

Do the maths 

Richard Gayle provides an instructive statistical analysis on how useless facial recognition systems are. The conclusion: “This is one reason why biometrics is such a lousy idea. Add in the inability to work around a disguise and you end up with thousands of people being inconvenienced. The large number of false positives will serve to screen the real positives through tedious drugery. No Thanks.”

Vote Karzoun 

I’m not always comfortable with Tom Friedman’s exuberance about American-style globalisation. But he does spot unlikely but important connections, such as his column today about the significance of the Arab world version of Pop Idol.

Jordanian singer Diana Karzoun won 52%-48% in a contest in which 4.5 million people voted. Tom quotes Rami Khouri of The Beirut Daily Star: “I do not recall in my happy adult life a national vote that resulted in a 52 to 48 percent victory. Most of the `referenda’ or `elections’ that take place in our region usually result in fantastic pre-fixed victories.… So a 52 to 48 percent outcome — even for just a song contest — is a breath of fresh air.”

Who you gonna call? 

At long last, the US is approaching the UN for greater help in Iraq. If you want to understand some of the thinking behind it, Talking Points Memo has an excellent analysis.

“In real life we have a word for this sort of situation: a jam. We’ve managed to leverage our mammoth strength into an improbable weakness. And so much of it was not only predictable, but predicted.”