Sunday, 9 January 2005

The tsunami

Tsunami news has been all over the place and I haven’t commented much. I think we’ve reacted well, thus far, and have played an indispensable role. Only the U.S. is capable of deploying the assets needed in the immediate aftermath of that kind of disaster.

This has led to some unfortunate debates on the merits of the U.S. vis-a-vis the rest of the world—we don’t give as much annual aid to UN-related institutions, though we do well in responding to crises. It’s an approach I approve of since these organizations—the World Health Organization, the UN (their response has been laughable), the World Bank, the IMF, and so forth—don’t acquit themselves very well over the long term. I tend to prefer that we assist in well-defined projects where we can get unambiguous measures of progress and the Asian tsunami fits the bill.

I don’t even really care whether we get any “credit” as long as we are doing what we think is right. It seems to me that some Europeans got a little carried away in their hatred of President Bush and a Hindi guy set them straight:

“Can you let your hatred of George Bush end for just one minute? There are people dying! And what are your countries doing? has helped more than France has. You all have a role to play in the world, why can’t you see that? Thank God for the US Navy, they dont have to come and help, but they are. They helped you once and you should all thank God they did. They didnt have to, and no one but them would have done so. I’m ashamed of you all…”
Reagan said something along the lines of “we can accomplish great things as long as we don’t care who takes credit”. These days we’ll have to settle for getting no credit and doing the right thing anyway.

As for myself, I would rather America be right than be loved.

(þ: The Professor)

Update: The guys at Powerline found a great article that demonstrates the BBC's, and other MSM outlets, biased coverage:

The real story of the week should thus have been the startling contrast between the impotence of the international organisations, the UN and the EU, and the remarkable efficiency of the US and Australian military on the ground. Here and there, news organisations have tried to report this, such as the Frankfurter Allgemeine in Germany, and even the China News Agency, not to mention various weblogs, such as the wonderfully outspoken Diplomad, run undercover by members of the US State Department, and our own But when even Communist China's news agency tells us more about what is really going on than the BBC, we see just how strange the world has become.
Remember: in spite of the media coverage, we've continued to do the right thing while the UN has had numerous pre-planning meetings, which have had a net benefit of zero for the people of the region.

Common law versus civil law

Or, that perennial battle between the French and the British.

A couple of weeks ago, a person from Legal Affairs actually emailed us to let us know about this article on the apparent prosperity of countries that follow the British common law versus the French civil law. Chris handed the article off to me and I promptly forgot about it.

Today’s Boston Globe has a brief version of the article here, which reminded me of it. The argument in favor of the LLSV research seems pretty persuasive to me—indeed, the French have begun looking into it themselves, according to the Globe—but I suspect it will be argued about for some time to come before a real conclusion is reached. In the mean time it appears to me that the British common law is winning.

They use Malaysia (common law) and Indonesia (civil law) as examples; the former is prospering, the latter is not. The LLSV authors attribute the difference to the British common law and its protection of shareholder rights, among other things. The key graf, to me, is this one from the Globe:

Yet for all its mathematical sophistication, LLSV‘s research has not gone unchallenged by their fellow number-crunchers. According to Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago, the economic differences among countries may not come from something intrinsic to common law or civil law, but rather from some other correlated factor. Common law countries, for example, tend to speak English, tend to be Protestant, and tend not to have been decimated by World War II. The English, furthermore, may have done a better job than the French of finding economically viable locations to set up colonies.
As with most statistical studies, there’s the rub: show causality, rather than just correlation. The LLSV authors claim to have addressed these factors:
The LLSV scholars counter that their regression models try to take all of these variables into account, showing for example that civil law origin has much more of an impact on markets than religion does. They also note that at least they’ve found something that can be reformed. Legal origin may not explain everything, but changing laws is much easier than converting a country from Catholicism to Protestantism.

In the end, what LLSV has done is provide a giant statistical brief in support of the ideas of John Locke, James Madison, and Adam Smith, and they’ve updated those ideas for a world that’s as interested in economic success as in liberty. Creating a judicial branch that can check the executive and the legislature doesn’t just protect individual rights and prevent political persecution. It also improves your stock market and can transform your future. At least, that’s the theory.

I know where my sympathies lie—with the Brits, Adam Smith and John Locke, of course—but I’ll wait and see how the LLSV guys do at defending their research in the future. If I get time, I might even look the stuff up myself. I have some of the same questions as the LLSV guys when it comes to Haiti and the Dominican Republic: how can two countries that share the same spit of land be so dramatically different? In this case I imagine it has to do with more than just legal codes (DR is French, Haiti is unknown to me).

BTW, hell school resumes tomorrow and the impact on my own blogging can only be negative. Tough semester in front of me, with qualifying exams to come in May.

God, please let this happen!!

The last time I saw anything about purely hydrogen-driven cars, it required a flame-retardent vest when filling the tank. They say in this article that the problem of explosion has been dealt with, though they don’t address the “filling the tank” issue specifically. The guy quoted below seems awfully optimistic, but they do have a fully-functioning prototype, though it sounds like it would cost $1 million or more if you wanted one now:

GM, which has been slow to roll out hybrid products, is using the Sequel to try to win some of the attention for hydrogen, Brooke said."We're reaching out to show that this is truly doable," GM technology chief Lawrence D. Burns said. "We're talking about a real car. It's not affordable yet, but I can assure you it's doable."

In 2002, GM showed a fuel-cell concept car called the Hy-Wire that consisted of an 11-inch thick “skateboard” chassis that contained all the working parts—one-tenth as many as in a conventional car—with a body simply bolted on top. But the Hy-Wire was rickety to drive and could never have met federal highway standards, let alone satisfied demanding buyers.

The Sequel's biggest single advance, Burns said, is a compressed-hydrogen storage tank that can hold enough fuel to give the car a range of 300 miles. That is twice as far as the range of older versions of fuel-cell cars, and is considered the threshold distance to be marketable. With liquid hydrogen, the range could extend to 450 miles, Burns said. The Sequel also has a more powerful stack of fuel cells than previously possible, cutting 0-to-60 mph acceleration time to fewer than 10 seconds, comparable to most conventional cars.

GM is also working on the technology to produce and assemble the Sequel, hoping to be able to build 1 million a year by 2010, Burns said.

The hybrids have always seemed like a transitional technology and if it’s possible to get us to a fuel that doesn’t have any emissions (other than water) and that eliminates our need for oil altogether, so much the better.