Thursday, 26 November 2009

On useful idiocy

The Economist on former CNDer-turned-EU foreign policy czar Catherine Ashton and the double standard that seems to apply to the former communist fifth column in the West:

The real scandal, though, is the West’s continuing amnesia about the cold war. Given the Soviet Union’s history of mass murder, subversion, and deceit, it is astonishing that even tangential association with Soviet-backed causes in the past does not arouse the moral outrage now that is still so readily evoked by connections with the (undisputedly revolting) regime in South Africa. Most CND veterans see their peacenik days, at worst, as romantic youthful idealism. Warm-hearted but soft-headed, maybe: but better than being cold-hearted and hard-headed.

That is a shameful cop-out. Imagine a 1980s Europe where CND had triumphed, with left-wing governments in Britain and Germany scrapping NATO, surrendering to Kremlin pressure and propping up the evil empire. Her opponents complain that Lady Ashton is ineffective. As a CND organiser, that may have been a blessing.

This phenomenon is hardly unique to Cold War era; witness the continuing relative whitewash of Stalin’s crimes in comparison to Hitler’s for the most obvious example thereof. Or the vague sympathy—rather than outright revulsion—that seems to accompany much writing by western Sinophiles about Mao’s rule of China.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Things that aren't likely to appear as Facebook quizzes

Prof. Shugart passes along news of the EU Profiler. It seems to think I’d make a reasonably good Tory if I were British (which is probably true, given my moderately Thatcherite childhood socialization) but I’d be a better fit to the Liberal and Centre Union in Lithuania or the Free Democrats in Germany.

Wednesday, 1 February 2006

Learning to love Piss Christ, Islamic edition

Pieter Dorsman reasons by analogy between Andres Serrano’s infamous “Piss Christ” and the recent controversy over the caricatures of Muhammad that appeared in a Danish newspaper and are now spreading across Europe’s media outlets.

Monday, 11 July 2005

Joementum II: Luxembourg Nights

Ouch. You can tell someone’s suffering from Joementum when they’re making plans based on things that aren’t going to happen:

The Luxembourg vote, the 13th country to ratify the treaty, also gives renewed life to [Prime Minister] Juncker’s ambitions of high office in Brussels.

An influential figure in European affairs, the prime minister is thought to covet the role of permanent president of the European Council, representing the EU’s 450m citizens – if the post is created. [emphasis mine]

May I humbly suggest that Juncker go with the title Emperor Norton II?

Friday, 13 May 2005

Yadda yadda Yalta

Long-lost blogger Jacob Levy returns to The New Republic Online with a strong defense of President Bush’s condemnation of the Yalta agreement (and, I suppose, by extension, the Tehran agreement that preceded it) between Britain, the Soviets, and the United States during World War II. Money quote:

Yalta may not be a reference that excites many Americans but it's hardly a forgotten word in Eastern Europe or the Baltics. The historical chords struck by the word "Yalta"—in a week that was, after all, mainly about striking 60-year-old historical chords—continue to evoke for many in Eastern Europe the West's betrayal of their freedom. Twenty years ago, Zbigniew Brzezinski, hardly a right-wing nutcase, wrote in Foreign Affairs that the symbolic, as opposed to the historical, meaning of Yalta had come to serve as "the synonym for betrayal." This may be an obscure thought in America. It is certainly not in Poland or the Baltics.

Levy’s argument strikes me as rather more convincing than the dopey “coded slam at FDR” nonsense peddled by David Greenburg and others. Then again, one wonders how Levy managed to write the phrase “Bush’s skillful diplomacy” with a straight face—even I got a chuckle out of that one, although in this case he’s right.

(þ: Will Baude and Pejman Yousefzadeh)

Wednesday, 27 April 2005

Stereotype conformance

I walked around Belhaven with my camera today and took a few photos. This was by far the most amusing photo I took:

Belhaven patriotism/Freedom House

I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation why a French flag would be flying outside a house in Belhaven, but I found this juxtaposition incredibly funny nonetheless.

Tuesday, 26 April 2005

“No” is the new “yes”

Dan Drezner wonders aloud about the implications of French voters deciding to reject the proposed E.U. constitution; he certainly doesn’t buy the doomsday scenario advanced by former Italian prime minister Romano Prodi.

Since the referendum is likely to fail for reasons other than policy grounds* (French voters being as ignorant of policy as any other democratic public’s citizens), reworking parts of the treaty, as suggested in this Economist piece, seems to be an unlikely solution. Rather, I tend to think (as some of Dan’s commenters suggest) that France may say “no” today, but will say “yes” later; the French electorate will have its protest vote, then get back onboard in a few months, probably without any substantive concessions. Ditto for the Netherlands.

Of course, the longer-term issue is that the iterated game is much less likely to work in Britain, where the public has never really been sold on the E.U. since joining in 1973. But again it’s unlikely that any proposed constitution would pass muster with the British electorate—again, because voters’ ratification decisions on the constitution won’t be made on policy grounds.

Monday, 18 April 2005

There's inequality and then there's inequality

I hadn’t really paid much attention to this Sunday Times piece by an American expat living in Oslo comparing Scandinavia with the United States, but this post from Brett Marston made me curious. Marston asks:

How can the New York Times get away with publishing a Week in Review piece on income in Norway and not even mention income distribution (except disparagingly), the GINI index, or the effect of income inequality on aggregate statistics?

Well, the first potential response is that it is, after all, an opinion piece, and the writer has the choice of what evidence to marshall or respond to. But I do think Marston has a point… at least to an extent.

Income inequality, of course, does bias some statistics like the mean income; comparisons of median income would be more helpful, since it is unbiased by outliers. My suspicion, however, is that median U.S. income is substantially higher than median Norwegian income, regardless.

I also think a focus on inequality (and the Gini coefficient, which is a measure of inequality) might be worthwhile… but what does inequality mean in this context. Is the poorest Norwegian better off than the poorest American? If so, that might be a problem. However, by most consumption measures, a large share of poor Americans are only “poor” relative to other Americans (consider that even many of the poorest Americans have cellular phones and cable TV, not to mention $100 tennis shoes), although certainly there are poor Americans who fall through the cracks—as, for that matter, there are poor Norwegians in the same situation.

Certainly income inequality can be viewed as a problem—consider, for example, the well-known problem of relative deprivation. I’m not sure the solution to that problem is to force rich people to have less money so poorer people feel better about themselves, which seems to be the implicit solution to the problem: giving the money the rich have to the poor, while a nice concept, probably wouldn’t materially help the poor that much—and they’d still be poor relative to everyone else, so relative deprivation would kick in again.

In other words, I don’t know that income inequality is prima facie bad; certainly, poverty is bad, and that is something most societies could do better at solving, the United States included. But I think a focus on inequality over objective conditions probably is counterproductive.

Update: Jason Kuznicki has nicer things to say about the piece, and also discusses the rather silly “constitution in exlie” piece that has all the lawprofs and law students atwitter.

Friday, 15 April 2005

Berlusconi on the ropes

Saturday’s New York Times reports on the withdrawal of the Christian Democratic Union from Italy’s center-right coalition government under Silvio Berluconi. The withdrawal may lead to either a new government or fresh elections, the latter of which would probably favor a center-left coalition under former prime minister Romano Prodi. The CDU, however, is sending mixed signals about its withdrawal, so it’s possible Berlusconi will be able to maintain the coalition if he makes some policy changes.

As James Joyner points out, Italy hasn’t exactly been known for stable post-war governments, so if Berlusconi’s coalition collapses, it would hardly be unprecedented. (Italy manages to muddle through the instability largely because it has a remarkably strong civil service.)

Monday, 21 March 2005


Michael Jennings has photos up at Samizdata from his recent trip to view the highly impressive Millau Viaduct in France.

Saturday, 12 March 2005

How is this possible?

They wrote a report and everything!!

There’s been a lot of attention paid to this midterm meeting on the Lisbon Report, wherein the EU planned to catch up with the US on a number of economics measures. It’s apparently not working out (duh). Every time someone in the EU suggests substantial reforms, they’re shouted down as “neoliberals” (capitalists).

(þ: Tim Blair and The Professor.)

See also here, here, here and here.

Saturday, 1 January 2005

European Ascendancy

The Powerline guys are addressing the recent EU ascendancy meme; it’s still not persuasive. Europe is in decline, despite their posturing in recent years. I’ve discussed it elsewhere (here and here).

Wednesday, 22 December 2004


Michael Jennings has further thoughts on the Millau Viaduct and bridge design more generally, in response to this thread at Brian Micklethwait’s Culture Blog.

Cable-stayed designs are definitely in vogue on this side of the Atlantic; recent examples include the asymmetric Leonard Zakim bridge built as part of the “Big Dig” in Boston, the William H. Natcher Bridge over the Ohio River; closer to home, there’s the I-310 Hale Boggs Memorial Bridge crossing the Mississippi River just west of New Orleans, and in the future there’s the Greenville Bridge under construction on U.S. 82 and the proposed Charles W. Dean Great River Bridge on future I-69 and U.S. 278, both crossing the Mississippi River between Arkansas and Mississippi.

(I previously mentioned the viaduct here.)

Monday, 20 December 2004

European Union Again

Professor Bainbridge has a lengthy post where he dissects the EU triumphalists. I went into this at some length the other day and won’t do so again.

What I will do is note that I agree with Professor Bainbridge—we referenced the same Economist article for Europe’s median age problem—though I don’t find the EU quite as bothersome as he seems to. The EU is a declining power for the time being and will continue that way just due to demographics. Even if they were economically ascendant, I wouldn’t find it all that troublesome since economics isn’t zero-sum (they would have to undo their labor market rigidities and limit their fiscal burdensand would still have a hard time growing as fast as the U.S. in the coming decades). On foreign policy, they won’t spend what’s necessary to build a military so there’s no threat there. The only problem I’m aware of is their recent decision to start selling weapons to China. More than a little troubling ($).

You know that the EU ascendancy meme has jumped the shark—along with that phrase—though when Jeremy Rifkin and others start getting worked up over it ($):

Eurocrats are understandably flattered by this unusual American praise for the grand European project; Mr Rifkin’s book has gone down well in Brussels. But the mood of real “builders of Europe” is often decidedly more pessimistic. This week European leaders are likely to take a big step towards admitting Turkey to the EU, a decision about which many of them have deep misgivings. Mr Reid’s argument that there is an inexorable historical logic driving forward European unity is often made by Brussels federalists too. But these same people are also well aware of the fragility of a process of political integration that has very shallow popular support.

Then there is the economy. Europe’s economic growth continues to lag that of the United States, let alone China and India. And Europe’s population is ageing and shrinking. Two-thirds of the way into his book, Mr Rifkin interrupts his dream to note that “the sad truth is that without a massive increase in non-EU immigration in the next several decades, Europe is likely to wither and die.” This looks like a fairly big qualification to the book’s general mood of sunny optimism. But no matter: within a few pages we are back to the “politics of empathy”.

Awareness of the depth of the political and economic challenges that lie ahead accounts for the fact that many European officials are more inclined to troubled pessimism than to Rifkinesque optimism. This European willingness to be self-critical is, as it happens, a genuine strength. Unfortunately, there is a lot to be self-critical about.

When Rifkin starts pimping an idea, you know it’s time to write it off.

(þ: The Professor)

Thursday, 16 December 2004

A new wonder

Brian Micklethwait at Samizdata has a post on the Millau Viaduct, the final link in the Paris-Barcelona autoroute, which opens today in southern France. More information on this long cable-stayed span—which cost €394 million ($530 million) for a 2.5 km (1.6 mile) span—is available here.

Tuesday, 14 December 2004

Social democracy an inevitability?

John Quiggin has a post on an article by Milton Friedman that discusses the demise of socialism in recent decades, and a similar increase in "welfare" spending (the article is for subscribers, so I have to take his word for it).

Quiggin is a social democrat so, naturally, he sees the recent gains in capitalism (neoliberalism in his lingo) as just making the sectors where capitalism succeeds smaller and making the increase of government interference an inevitability due to capitalism’s own successes. For instance, he lists agriculture and manufacturing as areas that are appropriate to capitalism, but healthcare and education, not so much.

Europe will get increasingly economically weak for the next several decades and almost all of it can be accounted for in their demographics, not their philosophy. If their philosophy stays exactly the same, they will see much more government. That's not a philosophy that's ascendant; rather, one that is stuck in its own demographic constraints.

Like Quiggin, I’m influenced by my own views and disagree with his. He sees increased government interference, and he’s probably right about most of the rest of the world, but the U.S. is still an open question as I see it. Europe will be experiencing dramatically increasing median age, which will propel its welfare states even higher than they are now as a percentage of GDP (typically around 50%, as opposed to 32% for the U.S.). The only real hope they have for immigration is from the Middle East, from a culture largely untouched by the Enlightenment. In my opinion, it’s far more likely that we’ll be seeing a Europe in the future that’s far more illiberal (in the classical sense) if they accept new immigrants, and economically so even if they don’t.

The Economist has an excellent population survey from a couple of years ago that sheds a bit of light on the situation:

For 50 years, America and the nations of Western Europe have been lumped together as rich countries, sharing the same basic demographic features: stable populations, low and declining fertility, increasing numbers of old people. For much of that period, this was true. But in the 1980s, the two sides began to diverge. The effect was muted at first, because demographic change is slow. But it is also remorseless, and is now beginning to show up.

America’s census in 2000 contained a shock. The population turned out to be rising faster than anyone had expected when the 1990 census was taken. There are disputes about exactly why this was (more on that shortly). What is not in doubt is that a gap is beginning to open with Europe. America’s fertility rate is rising. Europe’s is falling. America’s immigration outstrips Europe’s and its immigrant population is reproducing faster than native-born Americans. America’s population will soon be getting younger. Europe’s is ageing.

Unless things change substantially, these trends will accelerate over coming decades, driving the two sides of the Atlantic farther apart. By 2040, and possibly earlier, America will overtake Europe in population and will come to look remarkably (and, in many ways, worryingly) different from the Old World.

In 1950, Western Europe was exactly twice as populous as the United States: 304m against 152m. (This article uses the US Census Bureau’s definition of “Europe”, which includes all countries that were not communist during the cold war. The 15 countries that make up the European Union are a slightly smaller sample: they had a population of 296m in 1950.) Both sides of the Atlantic saw their populations surge during the baby boom, then grow more slowly until the mid-1980s. Even now, Europe’s population remains more than 100m larger than America’s.

In the 1980s, however, something curious began to happen. American fertility rates—the average number of children a woman can expect to bear in her lifetime—suddenly began to reverse their decline. Between 1960 and 1985, the American fertility rate had fallen faster than Europe’s, to 1.8, slightly below European levels and far below the “replacement level” of 2.1 (the rate required to keep the population steady). By the 1990s American fertility had rebounded, rising back to just below the 2.1 mark.

They go on to list the details of the change in median age, which are simply astounding:
According to Bill Frey, a demographer at the University of Michigan, the median age in America in 2050 will be 36.2. In Europe it will be 52.7. That is a stunning difference, accounted for almost entirely by the dramatic ageing of the European population. At the moment, the median age is 35.5 in America and 37.7 in Europe. In other words, the difference in the median age is likely to rise from two to 17 years by 2050.
Read the last sentence again: “the difference in the median age is likely to rise from two to 17 years by 2050”. Europe will get increasingly economically weak for the next several decades and almost all of it can be accounted for in their demographics, not their philosophy. If their philosophy stays exactly the same, they will see much more government. That's not a philosophy that's ascendant; rather, one that is stuck in its own demographic constraints.

The U.S. is not settled by a long shot. First, we had a chance to follow Europe towards social democracy in the 1970s. Instead, we elected Reagan and enacted tax cuts—very steep ones which were partially repealed in the coming years. We’ve done something similar with President Bush who has been characteristically headstrong in his refusal to raise taxes as the boomers start to retire. He’s pushing for reform of social security and has already implemented MSAs on a limited basis. He’s right to do it, as well. I would far rather experience some short-term pain—even excruciating pain—rather than suffer slow decline, which will surely happen with the expansion of government that Quiggin envisions.

He’s an Australian and I’ll wish him well in his country’s little adventure. I just don’t want us to follow them.

I hate British Nazis

Perry is on a bit of a roll. It appears that the UK is need of an ACLU, and perhaps a First Amendment as well. The UK apparently has a semi-funtioning Nazi Party whose members are getting arrested for “thought crimes”.

As Perry notes in his title, Nazis are pretty easy pickings. Totalitarians routinely go after easy targets—other totalitarians they oppose, pornographers and the like—to establish a precedent for broader moves against freedom. The UK is looking increasingly hostile to free speech—the canary in the coalmine for freedom, you might say.

Update: In a later comment to the same post, Perry, correctly in my estimation, says that imams, as well as their opponents, should be allowed to say whatever hateful things they wish to say. Fellow Brits should likewise be able to call them morons for saying as much. It's the exchange of ideas, however repugnant.

Another Update: Surprisingly, I managed to forget to include this quote from Jefferson, which seems wholly appropriate:

"It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself. Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors?" - Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, 11 December 2004

Then again, maybe he just grew up in Love Canal

To the shock of virtually no one, the New York Times reports that Ukranian opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxin. It’s still not entirely clear who was responsible, but the smart money is either on the Russian FSB—the organization formerly known as the KGB—or its Ukranian equivalent (þ: PoliBlog).

Thursday, 25 November 2004

The Ukraine situation

I’m afraid I don’t have any great expertise to offer in the realm of Ukranian politics, so I’ve not really had anything to say about the ongoing crisis there. That said, I tend to agree with Dan Drezner that the internal dynamics of Ukranian politics suggest that the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, is unlikely to succeed in his effort to get the (apparently fraudulent) poll results overturned.

I do note, however, that the world press seems to be taking concerns about this election much more seriously than concerns about the Hugo Chávez recall referendum—where similarly large gaps between exit poll results and the actual tallies appeared. I also regret that the combination of occasionally-incompetent election officials, opaque electronic voting equipment, and conspiracy-mongering by people who should know better have coincided to leave the U.S. in a weaker position to contest suspect elections elsewhere in the world.

Tuesday, 19 October 2004

OSCE observers get some practice

No doubt to the infinite shock of all attentive observers, the president of Belarus has won a referendum removing the country’s two-term limit for presidential service, which essentially is a precursor for him to be elected dictator-for-life; in a separate ballot for the national legislature, no opposition candidates won election to the body. Unsurprisingly, observers from the OSCE found numerous irregularities in the vote.

In not-entirely-unrelated news, today’s Clarion-Ledger carries a column on preparations for the November 2nd ballot here in Mississippi, and I’ve spent most of the past weekend working putting together an exit poll—somehow I managed to cram 46* legible questions on both sides of a sheet of letter paper.

Friday, 17 September 2004

International pricing

Lynne Kiesling notes that the British consumer goods price markup is a pretty standard practice—the “dollar sign becomes a pound sign” policy is, and has been, quite common over the years, even as the exchange rate has varied between near-parity and 2:1.

The fact that VAT is built into British prices, while state sales taxes are not incorporated in the “sticker” price in the U.S., accounts for 17.5% of the price differential—in the case of iTunes, about half of the difference between U.S. and British pricing, depending on the day’s exchange rate. Perhaps more interestingly, the remainder of the difference between U.S. and U.K. prices is about the same as the difference between British and Euro-zone pricing (which would also incorporate the quasi-standard European VAT rate), which seems to suggest that British adoption of the Euro would reduce consumer goods prices substantially, and thus significantly improve Britian’s GDP at purchasing power parity.

Sunday, 25 April 2004

Cypress Split

At the airport in Dallas† today, I broke down and bought a week-old Economist,* and in it I read about the then-current status of the Cyprus deal—the European Union made an ill-advised deal with the Greek Cypriots that basically let them in the EU regardless of whether or not they held up their end of the bargain to reunite the island, on the not entirely unreasonable but nonetheless incorrect assumption that the Turks would be the more recalcitrant party. Now the other shoe has dropped, with the Greek Cypriots rejecting the deal, and everyone is sort of standing around holding their proverbial Johnsons in response.

The moral of this story is Game Theory 101: don’t reward someone for their anticipated good behavior in advance, because otherwise they’ll see no reason to uphold their end of the bargain.

Friday, 26 March 2004

Good and bad news

The bad news first: two more Φ letters today. Neither, however, had the audacity to take the opportunity to tell me how great the person they hired is; for that, I am happy.

The good news: it looks like I’ll be spending about a week in France this summer at the Libre Software Meeting in Bordeaux, working on printing stuff for free software, like the semi-stalled Foomatic-GUI and the Debian Foomatic packages, thanks to the meeting’s sponsors (as I couldn’t afford the trip myself, that elusive tenure-track job still not having shown up at my door). It’s hard to believe I haven’t been to France in 14 years; I probably should brush up on my French, n’est-ce que pas?

Tuesday, 23 March 2004

Smart move

I was sort-of thinking in the back of my mind that if incoming Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero wanted to prove he was serious about terrorism, he’d reassign those troops he’s talking about removing from Iraq to Afghanistan. As Edward of Obsidian Wings notes, that’s pretty much what he plans to do. Good for him.

Now, if he’d actually been smart enough to announce this proposal at the time he was talking about withdrawing troops from Iraq, he might have been spared the blistering treatment he got from this side of the pond.

Wednesday, 17 March 2004

The endorsement of death

Mark Kleiman wondered a few days ago why countries don’t try to muck around with internal politics to pursue their preferred policies (except, of course, when they do—most notably, during the steel tarriffs flap, the European Union was on the verge of imposing sanctions against the U.S. that were conveniently targeted at “battleground” states that George Bush needs for reelection).

The ongoing kerfuffle over John Kerry’s backdoor endorsements by foreign leaders suggests a reason why: if public, such endorsements are often counterproductive. I trust that the news that incoming Spanish prime minister Zapatero favors the election of Kerry won’t be prominently featured in Kerry’s advertising for that very reason. Even if you presume that Zapatero’s comments were made purely for domestic consumption by the Bush-hating European masses, he might have done well to consider that Bush—unlike Bill Clinton—is into the “personal loyalty” approach and doesn’t stand for the traditional left-wing European game of trying to have it both ways in a relationship with the United States (something that Tony Blair rather wisely figured out on his own, yet somehow this lesson is lost on Blair’s continental counterparts.)