Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Flying Finns

Today's lesson: don't speed in Finland. Especially if you're rich.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Corporate Welfare: Good for you and me!

I'm too tired to tie these articles together, but these three recent pieces all offer interesting perspectives on the operation of American "free enterprise."

1. Air India is buying 50 jetliners from Boeing after "U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta visited New Delhi and said relations between the United States and India would benefit if Boeing gets the order. The French government has been lobbying on behalf of Europe-based Airbus."

2. Congressional meddling in the American shipbuilding duopoly may make it impossible for the Navy to get its fearsomely expensive "next generation" warship, the DD(X) destroyer: " The Navy wants a winner-take-all competition to build the destroyers. But Congress wants to give one to Northrop Grumman's shipyard in Mississippi, the next to General Dynamics' yard in Maine, to share the wealth and ensure more money for the yards. The dispute drags on. The Navy says the two-shipyard approach will add $300 million or more to the cost of each DD(X). The Navy now hopes to build five DD(X) destroyers, one a year, at a total cost of $20.6 billion, including research and development. But those plans are shaky."

3. Wal-Mart's success is due in substantial part to its ability to work around "free market" ideals at home and abroad: "By ignoring free market principles... Wal-Mart reduces its procurement costs by 10-20 percent, primarily by taking advantage of the artificially suppressed labor market in China. One can’t help note the delicious irony that Wal-Mart’s 'free market' leadership is powered by an authoritarian regime that still refers to itself as communist. Back at home... Wal-Mart has pulled in $1.5 billion dollars in taxpayer funded subsidies... Wal-Mart is happy to cash in on government largess like property tax abatements, infrastructure support, free land and just straight-out cold cash—all of which are the antithesis of 'free market' ideology."

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Disaster Capitalism

My friend Elise blogged this over at After School Snack, but it's worth stealing for Xferen: Naomi Klein's recent piece in the Nation about the rise of "disaster capitalism."
It certainly seems that ever-larger portions of the globe are under active reconstruction: being rebuilt by a parallel government made up of a familiar cast of for-profit consulting firms, engineering companies, mega-NGOs, government and UN aid agencies and international financial institutions. And from the people living in these reconstruction sites--Iraq to Aceh, Afghanistan to Haiti--a similar chorus of complaints can be heard. The work is far too slow, if it is happening at all. Foreign consultants live high on cost-plus expense accounts and thousand- dollar-a-day salaries, while locals are shut out of much-needed jobs, training and decision-making. Expert "democracy builders" lecture governments on the importance of transparency and "good governance," yet most contractors and NGOs refuse to open their books to those same governments, let alone give them control over how their aid money is spent.
Scrutinizing "reconstruction" in Afghanistan, Haiti, Iraq, East Timor, and Aceh, Klein writes a sickening picture of postmodern socialism in which the bloated American warfare state reinventing itself as a latter-day colonialist. Read it and weep - and maybe consider a tax strike.

Monday, April 18, 2005


It's an odd place to find such a good article, but the current issue of American Airlines' in-flight magazine, American Way, includes an amazing article on the flower marketplace in Aalsmeer, Netherlands, where most of the world's flowers are bought and sold in a very high-tech auction. Flowers are not commodities, but then again they are not custom products, either. How they are traded around the world is an illuminating glimpse into globalized capitalism - albeit the literally pretty side.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Water, Water Everywhere - Even in Your Brain

Huh. When running a marathon, you can kill yourself by drinking too much water. Better play it safe and not run a marathon. All these years of following that exercise regime, and I'm doing F-I-N-E fine.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Unrealised Moscow

This look at "Unrealised Moscow" demonstrates that the Stalinists' taste in architecture was about as poor as their taste in clothes or economic plans. The Palace of the Soviets (note some of the big names who submitted proposals!), the Hotel of the Moscow City Soviet, and the Aeroflot Building are all monumentally atrocious. The artistic renditions of the various proposed buildings, on the other hand, are gorgeous - subtle and rich, in a way that current digital renderings are not.

Woof, Woof!

A team of Hungarian scientists "has been studying canine cognition for the past decade and, in the process, has built a body of experimental evidence that suggests dogs have far greater mental capabilities than scientists have previously given them credit for. 'Our experiments indicate a high level of social understanding in dogs,' [Vilmos Csányi] says. In their relationship with humans, dogs have developed remarkable interspecies-communications skills, says Mr. Csányi. 'They easily accept a membership in the family, they can predict social events, they provide and request information, obey rules of conduct, and are able to cooperate and imitate human actions,' he says. His research even suggests that dogs can speculate on what we are thinking." More.

FedEx: Not just ugly colors and fast shipping.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

IKEA here and there and everywhere

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

John Paul II: Anti-capitalist intellectual

The late pope has come in for encomiums and condemnations, but I've been fascinated with the guy since most of my church went to see him in Detroit back when I was in high school. With his body now soon to pass into the great grotto under St. Peter's, I thought these two pieces on John Paul II as an intellectual in general and as an anti-capitalist thinker in particular were especially valuable as outside-the-mainstream views. I can't personally accept many of John Paul II's literally medieval sociopolitical views, much less his theology, but I can and do appreciate his brave stance against the depradations of modern capitalism, the mirror image of his stance against communism.

Medals of Honor and Terror

Sergeant Paul Ray Smith was this week awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award for military valor. Judging by the look on his son's face at the ceremony, the medal didn't make up for losing a dad.

Anyhow, Mother Jones magazine also weighs in this week with the Medal of Terror, "awarded for uncommon vigilance and surreal valor in defense of the homeland." The alarmist, jingoist nominees were Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.), Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), and - sadly - Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.). The winner...

Spik Inglich!

A Republican state legislator in North Dakota has introduced a bill there requiring all foreign-born teaching assistants in state universities to be able to proficiently speak English, on the grounds that the native sons and daughters of the prairie can't understand what they're being taught. Students who claim they can't understand their instructors would be able at least to withdraw from their classes and obtain refunds, at most to get the teacher removed from the classroom. More... (See the full story in the Chronicle of Higher Education or a briefer, less incisive account in the Fargo Forum.)

Krugman on Academic Freedom

For my money, the most interesting public conversation in America right now isn't the "culture of life" debate or the Social Security debacle, but the still largely hidden argument about political attitudes in higher education. Led by the ex-Marxist David Horowitz, and utilizing his entirely spurious "Academic Bill of Rights" as the main tool, conservatives are arguing all around the country that colleges and universities are bastions of liberalism and radicalism which must be opened up to "mainstream" thinking - that is, Bushian "conservatism."

It's all rubbish, of course, and few make that point better than Paul Krugman in today's column in the Times: "Today's Republican Party - increasingly dominated by people who believe truth should be determined by revelation, not research - doesn't respect science, or scholarship in general. It shouldn't be surprising that scholars have returned the favor by losing respect for the Republican Party. Conservatives should be worried by the alienation of the universities; they should at least wonder if some of the fault lies not in the professors, but in themselves. Instead, they're seeking a Lysenkoist solution that would have politics determine courses' content."

In this, as in so many other areas - reproductive rights, women's freedom, respect for martial power over all else - the Republican ironically begin to sound much like their sworn enemies, the mullahs and sheikhs. There, I think, is the hook on which some enterprising scholar will hang a history or poli-sci dissertation in 2035.

Monday, April 04, 2005

How Can I Get these Genes?

I like my genes okay, but this is just humiliating: 40-year old Norwegian Hilde Petersen and her 16-year old daughter placed third in the nation nordic skiing championships this weekend. There's a chance that both and another daughter will all be on the Norwegian Olympic team next year. Unbelievable.

Nucleah Palooka

As a matter of principle, I'm against nuclear weapons - but only 'cause I don't have one. When I get one, though, I defintely don't want America's "W-76" thermonuclear device, because apparently
But if plutonium is forever (almost), warheads aren't: "As warheads age, the risk of internal rusting, material degradation, corrosion, decay and the embrittling of critical parts increases. The overhaul to forestall such decay is scheduled to go from 2007 to 2017 [and] cost more than $2 billion, say experts who have analyzed federal budget figures." That's a good two billion we might be throwing after untold billions of bad: "Questions also surround the weapon's basic design. Four knowledgeable critics... have recently argued that the weapon is highly unreliable and, if not a complete dud, likely to explode with a force so reduced as to compromise its effectiveness."