Monthly Archives: July 2006

The problem with global warming

Davis Sweet: “The phrase ‘global warming’ sounds way too nice… ‘Warming’ is something we do to a cinnamon bun on a drizzly Sunday morning. It’s what one’s frozen-footed wife is looking for when she snuggles her tootsies against hubby’s toasty calf. ‘Global warming’ sounds like a pleasant resolution to the Cold War.”

The responsibility of global citizens

Ethan Zuckerman, who for some misguided reason I’ve only just started reading regularly:

I mourn the deaths of everyone killed on both sides of the current conflict in the Middle East and I pray for a speedy end to the conflict, followed by negotiations that lead to progress, not a resumption of conflict. But I also pray that elections go smoothly in Congo, that they augur progress towards stability… and that somebody outside of Africa notices.

I believe that it is a responsibility of all global citizens to read the news, to discuss issues and to be knowledgeable about global events. But I wonder whether people are a bit too knowledgeable about the Middle East. That if we heard fewer opinions, less analysis, less constant rehashing of every event, we might view situations like the current conflict with new eyes and see different possible outcomes. Far be it from me to suggest that anyone stop reading the newspaper. Let me suggest an experiment instead:

When you read a story on the Israel/Lebanon conflict, assign yourself some homework: a story on the ongoing conflicts in northern Uganda, DRC or Sudan. You won’t find many on Google News – you’ll need to lean on or Global Voices. If you find yourself interested in the role of minerals in the DRC – critical to understanding the situation, IMHO – I recommend Global Witness’s reports on the region. You’ll likely find the news confusing, complicated, incomplete and unhelpful in forming your opinions about how Central Africa can move towards a peaceful future. And that, oddly enough, is a useful first step.

Good things happening in Estonia

I knew Skype’s development team was based in Tallinn, but I didn’t know how wired Estonia had become. From the Oxford University Press blog: “The Estonian cabinet conducts its paperless meetings entirely online in the capital city of Tallinn. Nearly four times larger than the country’s next biggest city, Tallinn is the center of an electronic society as well as an e-government. Internet access is considered a constitutional right and throughout the city blue traffic signs with the @ symbol direct citizens to hundreds of free Public Internet Access Points (PIAPs).”

Brad's invisible college

Brad DeLong on the many benefits of academic blogging:

I would like a larger college, an invisible college, of more people to talk to, pointing me to more interesting things. People whose views and opinions I can react to, and who will react to my reasoned and well-thought-out opinions, and to my unreasoned and off-the-cuff ones as well. It would be really nice to have Paul Krugman three doors down, so I could bump into him occasionally and ask, “Hey, Paul, what do you think of…” Aggressive younger people interested in public policy and public finance would be excellent. Berkeley is deficient in not having enough right-wingers; a healthy college has a well-diversified intellectual portfolio. The political scientists are too far away to run into by accident — somebody like Dan Drezner would be nice to have around (even if he does get incidence wrong sometimes).

Over the past three years, with the arrival of Web logging, I have been able to add such people to those I bump into — in a virtual sense — every week. My invisible college is paradise squared, for an academic at least…

The hope of all of us who blog is that we will become smarter, do more useful work, be happier and more productive, and will also impress our deans so they will raise our salaries. The first three hopes are clearly true: Academics who blog think more profound thoughts, have a bigger influence on the world — both the academic and the broader worlds — and are happier for it. Are we more productive in an academic sense? Maybe. We will see when things settle down.

Are our deans impressed? Not so far, but they should be. A lot of a university’s long-run success depends on attracting good undergraduates. Undergraduates and their parents are profoundly influenced by the public face of the university. And these days, a thoughtful, intelligent, well-informed Web logger like Juan Cole or Dan Drezner is an important part of a university’s public face. Michigan gains in reputation and mindshare from having a Cole on its faculty. Yale loses from not having an equivalent.

A great university has faculty members who do a great many things — teaching undergraduates, teaching graduate students, the many things that are “research,” public education, public service, and the turbocharging of the public sphere of information and debate that is a principal reason that governments finance and donors give to universities. Web logs may well be becoming an important part of that last university mission.

For your eyes only

Washington Post: “Christine Axsmith, a software contractor for the CIA, considered her blog a success within the select circle of people who could actually access it. Only people with top-secret security clearances could read her musings, which were posted on Intelink, the intelligence community’s classified intranet. Writing as Covert Communications, CC for short, she opined in her online journal on such national security conundrums as stagflation, the war of ideas in the Middle East and — in her most popular post — bad food in the CIA cafeteria.”

She lost her job for a post in May writing something like “Waterboarding is Torture and Torture is Wrong”. Can’t have that, can we?

No PhD, no comment

A friend who needs to remain anonymous had a ridiculous blow to his ego the other day. He recently published a well-reviewed book on a fascinating historical episode. It’s the definitive work on the event. Wonderfully, National Geographic TV decided to do a documentary on the incident. My friend’s book is understandably the main source for the film. They interviewed him extensively.

But not on camera. You see, they explained, we won’t show people without a doctorate.

Some of my best friends have PhDs, but to see the holders of a degree as the sole possessors of authority is nonsensical. I think the gifted writer or researcher outside the academy should be cherished and celebrated. And the twin powers of widespread access to knowledge through the Internet and the distribution channels of blogs, podcasts and vlogs mean that contributions from outside conventional centers will grow in importance and recognition.

You wouldn't happen to have a monkey in your pocket?

Reading glasses

I think I first got glasses when I was eight or nine years old. My eyesight steadily deteriorated from there (a combination of genetics and lots and lots reading) for 20 or so years. And then stability.

Until recently. Like many of my peers, I have found that the muscles that control the eye have been losing their suppleness. Reading bedtime stories to my children necessitates taking my glasses off. Reading the newspaper means holding it at arms length (or beyond: hence Groucho‘s line quoted in the title of this post).

So today I took the plunge and bought a pair of readers at lunchtime. Lo and behold, I could actually read the Financial Times over my lunchtime sandwich without extraordinary contortions. The miracles of (old) technology.

A French joke?

Via Chris Coyne: “The French government recently announced the creation of ‘Council for the Diffusion of Economic Culture’ to communicate the benefits of capitalism, markets and entrepreneurship to French citizens. Good idea. There is nothing quite like a state run propaganda campaign to increase awareness of the importance of liberty and private property for the creation of wealth.”