Monthly Archives: May 2004

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MTV and the Core-Gap thesis 

Thomas Barnett, purveyor of the Core-Gap thesis,
has become a voluminous weblogger and a must read for those interested in geopolitical instability.

First gem from today:

“Good tidbit from my old Pentagon boss Art Cebrowski: he says he was invited recently to brief Bill Gates and a host of his business friends from around the world. He gives them the Core-Gap thesis and describes the military-market nexus (the Decalogue). The response? As always, the business world gets that stuff intuitively. That’s why I say this new vision I push is not mine but the world’s: it’s a reality I capture, not a dream I concoct. It’s happening and will happen within the Defense Department not because people like myself advocate it, but because the environment simply demands it from us.

“And if you think that makes me an economic determinist, you’re right. Doesn’t mean I ignore irrational actors. In fact, it just means they are naturally cast as the enemy in this grand historical process. To not ‘get’ this reality is simply to be irrational on some level, unless you think it’s some grand accident of history that the global economy has developed and spread around the planet in the manner that it has over the last century and a half.”

And slightly more way out, on the relationship between MTV and globalisation: “When MTV steps out ahead of the pack (but not much, considering Bravo and Showtime) to announce a new network aimed at gays, it pushes the envelope not just within our borders, but ultimately — through its inevitable extension — throughout the Core. And yes, like McDonald’s or other key content ‘global’ networks, the spread of MTV (and all its regional variants) around the world is a decent proxy measure of globalization’s advance—namely, the extent of the Core.”

Server change 

I’ve changed the host of Davos Newbies, and there are a few problems as the change propagates through the Domain Name Server system. I hope normal service will be resumed tomorrow.

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A challenge to Alpine climbers 

Olympus Mons caldera: The caldera at the summit of Olympus Mons on Mars, photographed by Mars Express. Olympus Mons has an elevation of 24 km relative to the surrounding surface (three times Mt Everest) and the caldera has a depth of about 3 km

I could spend days staring at the extraordinary photos coming from the Mars Express. Olympus Mons is three times the height of Mt Everest and at its summit the caldera (above) is up to 3km deep.

Terrorism tracks the constitutional order it attacks 

Via John Robb, this observation from Philip Bobbitt, author of The Shield of Achilles: “Terrorism tracks the constitutional order it attacks. National liberation movements tracked the 20th century nation-state. Movements like al Qaeda (networked, outsourcing, providing infrastructure but not much else, decentralized) track the 21st century market state.”

Better honesty 

The New York Times’s mea culpa for its pre-war coverage of the Iraq crisis shows once again a particularly admirable side of the best of American journalism.

“We have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged – or failed to emerge.”

The Times does, of course, take itself immensely seriously. There’s little of the inventiveness and fun that the better British newspapers display. But British papers are worryingly loath to admit to their own errors.

An excellent piece by Toby Moore in the Financial Times Magazine (subscribers only) dissected the problem. It isn’t only The Mirror’s faked Iraq photos, according to Moore. He lists a number of incidents in The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph where fabrications were uncovered and then swept under the carpet.

Honesty and openness is a far better policy if papers want to retain any of their readers’ trust.

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More bad news 

Stuart Hughes writes that the International Institute for Strategic Studies annual report reaches the following conclusions:

  Al-Qaeda has fully reconstituted and set its sights firmly on the US and its closest western allies in Europe.
  Al-Qaeda must be expected to keep trying to develop more promising plans for terrorist operations in North America and Europe, potentially involving weapons of mass destruction.
  There appears to be little chance in the immediate future that the security vacuum that has dominated Iraq since liberation can be filled.
  The war against terror and the Iraq conflict has led to diplomatic underinvestment in the Middle East peace process.

And to think that I was puzzled today as to why I was feeling a bit gloomy.

Return to Long Bow 

For the politically interested of a certain generation, reading Fanshen was one of the rites of passage. I haven’t a clue how William Hinton’s book would stand up to a rereading in light of what we all now know about the tyranny of the Mao years in China. But Hinton’s life story, as recounted in The Guardian’s obituary, certainly bears the telling.

Here’s Hinton in rural China in 1947: “Over the course of the next year, he gathered a thousand pages of notes, packed with earthy detail, on the struggle against landlords — and between different strata of peasants — in the village of Long Bow. Much later, he would recall ‘the lice, the fleas and all the hardships, and eating that terrible gruel out of an unwashed bowl while a young girl lay dying of tuberculosis’.”

Old age doesn’t seem to have dimmed his involvement in rural issues. “In 1995 [aged 76!], Hinton moved to Mongolia with his third wife Katherine Chiu, when she was appointed to the Unicef office in Ulan Bator. He lectured on no-till farming — the technique of leaving the soil untouched from planting to harvest, which he had developed on his own farm in Pennsylvania — and proudly announced that he had ‘grown a prolific vegetable garden for home use’.”

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Increased economic growth in Africa  

There’s also some passably good news from Africa. The OECD reports that economic growth in Africa in 2003 was 3.6%, up from the 2.7% of 2002. This is still well below what Africa needs.

Terrible events in Sudan 

Jim Moore has started an important campaign to raise awareness of the continuing genocide in southern Sudan, The Passion of the Present. Part of Jim’s campaign is to encourage weblogs — and other news sources — to write about the horror that is being perpetrated by the Sudanese government.

Fortunately, the BBC has needed no persuading on this issue. Hilary Andersson produced a powerful report for tonight’s 10 O’Clock News, available here. Her key line: “A hidden catastrophe is unfolding.” This BBC page has links to a lot of information on Darfur.

Something we’ll be hearing a lot 

Tim Dunlop captures the kind of conversation I think we’ll hear a lot this year: “I’ve never been involved in fundraising before; I’ve never donated to a candidate before; we really have to do something to get rid of the incumbent; I don’t want my children growing up in George W. Bush’s sort of America or his sort of world”.

Just in my own limited circle, I know several people who have never done anything more active than show up at the polling station who are actively involved in one way or another in getting rid of Bush. Straws in the wind.

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10 stories 

Via Crooked Timber, I’ve found the UN’s 10 stories the world needs to know more about. A wonderful initiative. Now all they need to do is provide RSS feeds for each of the 10 stories and those of us who are interested can really keep up.

More on Singh 

Edward Hugh has a good roundup of analyses on Manmohan Singh. Andy Mukharjee notes, “As an academic, Singh may be a believer in markets — for peanuts, as well as currencies. As prime minister, he may not get the chance to translate his wisdom into action.”

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Are there enough books? 

Having just read Paul Goldberger’s rave review of Rem Koolhaas’s Seattle Public Library, I was left with one unanswered question. Do they have the books that befit such an apparently grand building?

My native city, Chicago, built a new public library a few years ago. The building is okay (although Goldberger plainly doesn’t like it at all), but there are no books. Okay, there are some books. But it is hardly a collection of the scale that Chicago deserves. (The name gives the game away to me: it’s not the Harold Washington Public Library, but the Harold Washington Library Center. I think they knew it wasn’t much of a library, so it’s a centre instead.) It sounds like Seattle’s librarian, Deborah Jacobs, is very switched on. I hope she has the books that the building merits.

A case in point is my library of choice in London, The London Library. The building is plausibly close to falling apart. But its 1 million volumes are the right 1 million volumes. And they have a wonderfully responsive and active acquisitions policy.

Virtual London 

I may be late to the party on this, but University College London’s work on creating a three-dimensional, virtual London sounds wonderful.

“Virtual London will be distributed via a Multi-User Environment. Citizens will be able to roam around a Virtual Gallery as Avatars (digital representations of themselves) and explore the issues relating to London in a game like space.”

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One Day of War 

The BBC is working on what sounds like a great project: One Day of War. The idea is for filmmakers to follow people in 16 different conflicts on the same day, 22 March this year. The result will be broadcast on 27 May, but some clips are already on the website.

There’s also fascinating material about how they chose their subjects — the film is about individuals, rather than reports on conflicts — and how they tried to ensure the safety of their crews.

It’s an ideal companion piece to the Nobel Foundation’s interactive conflict map, which I wrote about a short time ago.

A Venetian conspiracy 

A reader, commenting on my Venice post, wondered whether I had noticed something fishy about the water bus service from the airport. I sure had.

You have a simple choice to get to Venice from the airport. You can take the Alilaguna bus (which is, of course, a boat) for €10. Or you can take a taxi, for which the standard fare seems to be €40 a head. With that difference, last Thursday we decided to take the Alilaguna bus.

Big mistake. As taxis (also boats, of course) zoomed past us, the Alilaguna went painfully slowly towards the islands of Venice. It takes over an hour to get to San Marco, which is visible from the airport. Was the problem technological? Did the boat need bigger engines? My conclusion, based on years of Italy watching and a painful year running a business in Italy, is no.

I’m certain that the Alilaguna waterbus keeps to its painfully slow timetable because of some shady deal with the taxi company. If the bus went at normal speeds, it would take perhaps 30 minutes to get to San Marco. The taxis take 20 minutes. Most people would save the money for such a slight time difference. But when the time difference is three- or four-fold, if you can afford it, you take the taxi.

On Saturday, we took the taxi.

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Odd priorities 

Tonight’s evening news had a fascinating, lengthy report about the separatist insurgency in southern Thailand and what looks like its brutal suppression by Thai armed forces. A good example of the BBC’s depth and reach.

What’s bizarre, however, is that the motivation for the story was not the questions it raised about the limits to the war on terrorism, or the potential damage to Thailand’s image as a friendly nation. No, the issue was that Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra hopes to buy a chunk of Liverpool Football Club.

You may have thought it unlikely to hear the phrase “human rights” and “Premiership club” in the same sentence, but apparently thousands of Liverpool fans are concerned about Thailand’s human rights record. I think that’s a good thing, but I also suspect that if Thaksin gets his stake and Liverpool at long last have a highly successful season next year, those concerns will vanish.

Singh as PM 

I think it would be wonderful if, as now seems likely, Manmohan Singh becomes India’s prime minister. I ran a lot of articles about India’s economy in the ’90s, during Singh’s tenure. It’s a small point, but he was always gracious and helpful, and wore his intelligence lightly. There are a lot of very big egos in Indian politics, and Singh always seemed to stand aside from the fray.

More qualified observers than I are also excited. It’s possible Singh will be able to walk the tricky path of placating the reactionaries in the Congress coalition while pushing ahead with the economic reform that has served India so well since he initiated the programme.

It seemed like a good idea at the time 

The unmissable Daniel Davies on rights-based lending: “The reason that Wolfensohn’s suggestion of a rights-based approach to lending has been opposed by ‘countries as diverse as the UK and Chile’ every time he has mentioned it in the past is that it is a bad idea.”

Read the entire post to understand his explanation.

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A humane and progressive state 

I spent three days in Venice last week. In the wonderful Cadogan Guides book on Venice, there was this timely passage:

“In truth few states were as humane and progressive: prisoners had a legal right to a lawyer as early as the 970s; a prisoner had to be brought to trial in a month and no more; house arrest was invented for a sick prisoner in 1572; no one could be arrested without sufficient evidence; search warrants could only be issued by committee, and not by a single man; and along with Tuscany, the Republic abolished torture before anyone else, in the early 1700s.”