Monthly Archives: June 2005

The G8 hits rock bottom

Jeff Garten has a devastating piece in today’s Financial Times (subscribers only) on the farce of Russia taking leadership of the G8 after Britain’s chairmanship.

If ever there were a travesty of leadership by example, this is it. Two trends are changing the world for the better – freer markets and democrat­isation. Is it too much to expect that the G8 should stand for both? But, alone among the summit members, Russia is moving in the opposite direction of what is desirable. Moscow’s leadership of the G8 reduces the credibility and the relevance of the group to zero. It also makes a mockery of the Bush administration’s push for democratic, market-oriented societies around the world. Putting Russia in charge of the G8 is akin to the United Nations having allowed Sudan and Liberia to play big roles in its UN Human Rights Commission – a move that resulted in the irrelevance of the commission and a subsequent plan for radical reorganisation.

Soft power, Korean style

Many surprising things have emerged from Korea in recent years. There’s Oh My News, the world’s highest penetration of broadband and a successful national football team.

But I certainly didn’t know that Korea had become a powerful player in Asian popular culture.

South Korea, historically more worried about fending off cultural domination by China and Japan than spreading its own culture abroad, is emerging as the pop culture leader of Asia. From well-packaged television dramas to slick movies, from pop music to online games, South Korean companies and stars are increasingly defining what the disparate people in East Asia watch, listen to and play.

The size of South Korea’s entertainment industry, which began attracting heavy government investment only in the late 1990′s, jumped from $8.5 billion in 1999 to $43.5 billion in 2003. In 2003, South Korea exported $650 million in cultural products; the amount was so insignificant before 1998 that the government could not provide figures.

The New York Times article concentrates on the impact this is having on Taiwan. Korean television shows now are more popular than Japanese ones, and tourism to Korea has surged. Economists have long discussed how countries migrate up from domestic industries, to low-value export manufacturing, to high-value manufacturing. Making the leap to export of culture is probably the last step in the chain. It could well be more significant than having a Samsung flat-panel television.

Fifth columnists

I mistakenly fell out of the habit of reading Whiskey Bar for a while. Today’s post shows why that was a big mistake:

I’m looking at the results of the latest New York Times-CBS poll, which show that 20% of the Americans surveyed freely and voluntarily identified themselves as liberals. That’s not too far below the 28% who identified themselves as Republicans (i.e. patriots).

Granted, the number of self-confessed liberals was down somewhat from the 23% who admitted to the same sin back in February. But that still means that approximately one in five Americans is a traitor and/or terrorist sympathizer!

By my rough calculation, that adds up to over 59 million potential spies and saboteurs (although that number admittedly includes young children, who might be useful as smugglers and suicide bombers, but probably aren’t as dangerous as your hardcore liberal movie makers — Michael Moore, for example.)

I don’t think history holds any example of a nation that has survived for long with so many internal enemies plotting against it. Even in Germany, the number of dedicated Bolsheviks, Jews and Freemasons actively involved in stabbing the troops in the back probably never amounted to more than 15% of the population — and I’m throwing the Gypsies into the mix, too.

Personally, I think it’s reckless — if not defeatist — for Rove and the rest of the Republican high command to talk about this perilous situation in public. If Americans learn the truth, if they realize that one in five of their fellow citizens (their doctor? their garbage man? their hairdresser?) is a liberal fifth columnist working for Osama, they could become demoralized. They might lose confidence in their leaders, in the party, and in America’s ultimate victory — despite the new miracle weapons that surely will turn the tide any day now.

When galaxies collide!

This is super cool.

Here’s the explanation: “This is an interactive java applet which allows you to model galaxy collisions on your own computer. With this applet you can study how galaxies collide and merge gravitationally and how the effects of the collision depend on the properties of the galaxies. You can also recreate collisions between real interacting galaxies observed in the sky.”

Via Mark SubbaRao (when can I get my own copy of the Black Hole Flight Simulator he discusses?).

Echoes of Indochina

Max Hastings:

Yet in significant respects Vietnam comparisons have become unavoidable. First, it is hard to believe that Washington’s objective – the creation of a viable local government and institutions to run Iraq as a unitary state – is achievable within an acceptable time-frame.

Second, intelligence is proving a critical weakness. Recently, I heard an American commander deplore the extraordinary paucity of information on the ground: “We spend all these billions of dollars on the CIA and your SIS, and we know next to nothing about what the other side is doing. We need less technology and more spies.”

Third, and most important, whatever military successes American forces achieve against the insurgents, there is no sign that they are winning the critical battle, for hearts and minds. The experience of ordinary Iraqis with the US military is at best alienating, at worst terrifying. There is no hint of shared purpose, mutual sympathy and respect between the armoured columns rolling along the roads, intermittently belching fire, and the hapless mass of local people, caring only for survival.

Hastings is a former newspaper editor, military historian and notedly conservative in his politics.

Diminishing Russia

One of the world’s most frightening demographic stories is occuring in Russia. Its population is diminishing so rapidly that by mid-century it could have one-third fewer people than today.

I can hardly believe this sentence from the BBC story: “Statistically, a baby boy born in Russia today is unlikely to see his 60th birthday.” [I originally had "16th", not 60th. I don't think it was my typo -- I think the mistake was in the original BBC article, since changed.] The problem isn’t just poverty; in fact, poverty levels have diminished in Russia in recent years. It’s the continuation of a long-term, terrible trend that results from poor environment, poor diet and poor lifestyle.

Murray Feshbach spoke eloquently about these issues in Davos in the early ’90s. Then, hardly anyone listened to Murray’s explanations of what he called ecocide in Russia. We should have listened harder.

Back in action

Given that I haven’t been on holiday, I think I may have set a record for Davos Newbies inaction over the last few weeks. I’ll try to get back on track in the coming weeks.

I’m back in Berkeley for 10 days or so, for the last time without family. My next trip back here, on July 11, will be with family in tow. That’s a huge relief. I haven’t particularly enjoyed the schizophrenic existence of living in London, working in Berkeley, and spending an inordinate amount of time on airplanes flying between the two.