Monthly Archives: March 2005

Davos Newbies Home

From a Groove user 

Dave Winer asks whether there are any Groove users, in the wake of Microsoft’s acquisition of Ray Ozzie’s collaborative software company.

I’ve been using Groove extensively for the last eight months for a new venture I’m putting together with three partners. We’re scattered across the globe, and I’ve found the synchronisation, filing system and storage (and hence backup) really wonderful for us. It’s fairly cheap and easy to use. I’m a fan.

Another aspect that has been very good has been Groove’s support. One of my partners has had a series of technology problems (unrelated to Groove), but they’ve been available, patient and helpful. I worry about that side of things under Redmond’s embrace.

Anatomy 101 

The BBC’s Interactive Body is amazing (hat tip Lloyd Shepherd). I’m “shaky” on the skeleton and worse on organs. I clearly need some practice before I step into the operating room.

Davos Newbies Home

The water scandal 

Apparently London is losing 1 billion litres of water a year because of leaks. In my road, this doesn’t seem surprising. A burst water main, which has occasioned a babbling brook running down our street, was reported to Thames Water last week and there has still been no action.

London’s losses could just be a sad comment on corporate incompetence, but water is the major problem for much of the world. About six million people die globally each year because of contaminated water, and 90% of the world’s diseases are still water-related.

I’ve felt the irony acutely as I step over the gusher outside my door. I’m chairing a debate tonight on water problems in the developing world. London’s blind neglect of its water — echoed in much of the developed world — is an insult to the major part of the world that lacks clean water.

Davos Newbies Home

A cut more swingeing  

Brad DeLong has some advice for student writers:

  Nobody ever told them that if you are going to hand in a first draft, an easy way to significantly improve it is to, when you are finished, cut the last paragraph from the paper and paste it at the beginning. Your final sum-up paragraph–written at the end, as you have by trying to write down what you think discovered what you really do think–is almost always going to make a better first paragraph than the first paragraph that you wrote.

Nearly 30 years ago I was given advice that is one step more radical than Brad’s. Neil Rudenstine, then provost of Princeton and an occasional English professor, told me to take a look at an essay when I had finished and then cut the first and final paragraphs. It was sage advice then and something I’ve tried to follow ever since.

From a world that seems totally alien 

“The tax cut turned out to be politically more difficult than Johnson had foreseen… Conservatives worried that higher deficits would drive up inflation.”

I’m having a wonderful time reading Judgment Days by Nick Kotz, his account of the relationship between LBJ and Martin Luther King and their role in passing historic civil rights legislation.

What’s striking is how different the country was only 40 years ago. I’m not referring to the entrenched segregation and racism. What’s remarkable instead is the courage of Johnson to defy his southern base and roots, and the determination to do the right thing, not the politically easy or advantageous thing. And political alignments in 1964, as the quote above shows, were very different to today.

Davos Newbies Home

Greenspan jumps the shark 

Bull Moose:

  Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan descended from the heavens this week to inform us lowly earthlings that we face a deficit crisis. Who would have thunk it? But, in his infinite wisdom, the man who knows all told Congress,
  “Unless we do something to ameliorate” rising debt levels, he told the House Budget Committee on Wednesday, “we will be in a state of stagnation.”
  This is from the man who has granted his blessing on the very tax cuts tilted toward the wealthy that has created this debt mess. Perhaps Mr. Greenspan has been residing on Planet Chutzpah!
  The Fed Chair has jumped the shark. His tenure as the gray eminence is over, kaput. Maybe, he doesn’t receive cable in his part of the universe, but the nation has been at war at the same time the Administration has been on a tax cutting and spending binge.

I would have dated the shark-jumping to his benediction of the tax cuts in Bush’s first year in office.

British Spin is back 

Here’s the best news of the week, in terms of UK politics.

Since the anonymous author is reticent about his RSS feed, you can find it here.

Davos Newbies Home

Blog v op-ed 

Matthew Yglesias: “I’m thrilled that Paul Krugman has a column at the Times because the Times op-ed page is very influential and Krugman’s voice is invaluable. As a reader, however, I’d actually be much more interested in reading a Krugman-blog. The same is true, I would venture, of just about every columnist whose work I like. This, however, is a rather unstable situation. The value of the op-ed writer really only lies in the fact that more people read op-ed pages than read blogs. But as more and more people start reading blogs, the mere prestige factor of the column will decline. Eventually, I think, the format will vanish in favor of the greater flexibility afforded by online media.”

Sounds like another version of Dave’s bet.

Great leaders of the world, part XLIV 

BBC News:

  Reports from Turkmenistan say President Niyazov has ordered the closure of all the hospitals in the country except those in the capital, Ashgabat.
  The order, announced by a government spokesman, is part of the president’s radical health care policies.
  Thousands of medical workers have already been sacked under the plan.
  Civil rights activists have accused the president of sacrificing public services in favour of vast projects that glorify his regime.
  President Niyazov apparently took the decision to close the hospitals at a meeting with local officials on Monday.
  “Why do we need such hospitals?” he said. “If people are ill, they can come to Ashgabat.” …
  At the same time, the president has also ordered the closure of rural libraries, saying they are pointless because village Turkmens do not read.
  Criticism of the president is not allowed in Turkmenistan, but civil rights activists abroad say he has destroyed social services while spending millions of dollars of public money on grand projects, such as gold statues of the leader and a vast marble and gold mosque, one of the biggest in Asia.

Shortly after the break-up of the Soviet Union, the magazine I edited ran a series of who’s who features about the new countries of the former Soviet bloc. Covering the “stans” was particularly difficult, as so few people had any good information on them at the time.

I recall two tidbits from that feature. Niyazov was trying to get people to call him Turkmenbashy (leader of the Turkmens) rather than his rather Slavic name. And his neighbouring president, Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan, listed water skiing as one of his interests. As journalists sometimes do, we had “water skiing and gross human rights violations” as his recreations in early versions of the pages.

More hours, please  

Tyler Cowen’s latest China snippet is striking:

  Taiwanese factories in Dongguan [a city between Hong Kong and Guangzhou and a major centre of manufacturing] are facing a problem. According to a news report in the United Daily in Taiwan, over a thousand workers at a factory, which produces goods for big brand names such as Nike, demonstrated for two days and damaged equipment and factory cars. 500 armed police arrived and quashed the riot. Several leaders were arrested.
  The main cause for the riot was the limitation [sic] on working hours at the factory. The shorter hours have been requested by US companies so as to avoid criticism from various groups on long working hours. However, the mainly migrant workforce want to work longer hours so they can earn more [emphasis added]. Consensus had been reached by the US companies, the Taiwanese-invested factory and local government that the maximum working hours per week should be set at 60 hours [which is still a breach of Chinese Labour Law, but less than other manufacturing plants]. However, this reduction in hours was unsatisfactory for the workers and the resulting riot was serious.

World Bank: which is worse? 

Depending which source you read, there have been two names floating around as likely World Bank presidents to succeed Jim Wolfensohn. The Financial Times reckons Paul Wolfowitz is in the lead. The New York Times plumps for recently fired Carly Fiorina.

Here’s Mark Schmitt on Wolfowitz:

  If you were the Bush entourage, securely back home after a nicely scripted European trip, confident that you won’t have to pretend to like Jacques Chirac or any other people who speak foreign languages for a long time, what would be a good way to quickly send the signal that all that stuff about cooperation, consultation, multilateralism was about as serious as, oh, “humility” in foreign policy or “uniter not a divider”?
  Hmm, this requires some real creativity. A devious, twisted mind. Can’t invade another country — no troops left. Don’t want to bother Congress, too much trouble up there already. Apparently a lot of them didn’t have such a pleasant vacation last week, since dealing with pissed-off seniors is a little harder than getting garcon to bring extra ketchup for your fois gras.
  “I’ve got it,” says the quiet guy with the most devious imagination of all: “We’ve got that vacancy at the World Bank. Let’s put Paul Wolfowitz in there. Make the world come begging to him for their precious money.”

Not to be outdone, Dave Taylor vents his spleen on Carly:

  Am I the only one who finds this all surreal? She’s gained experience, but not the kind we’d want in the World Bank. I’m sorry, but when I look at Carly’s track record, I don’t see a “proven record in the corporate world”, I see a self-aggrandizing ego-centric manager who never stopped to understand or appreciate the culture and values of the company she ran, a CEO who embodies all that business guru Jim Collins warns against in his best-selling book Good to Great.
  The world’s poor, the third-world nations, and the global economy deserve someone smarter, more savvy, and more in tune with the culture and values of the organization that she leads.