Archive for June, 2008
Wow. An excellent, panoramic op-ed by Gary Hart in the NYT. It’s about long cycles in American history, and argues we’re entering a new one now.
But mostly I just liked his reference to “The Candidate”:
Senator Obama has two choices. He can focus on winning the election to the exclusion of all else and, like Robert Redford in “The Candidate,” ask “What do we do now?”
(For some reason this just struck me with force: Media is magic. It’s leverage. It’s the only possible way — the only possible way — for an individual, sans army or vast fortune, to touch the lives of more than a trivial number of people. We in the web-world tend to get a bit desensitized to the scale of our work, but whoah: Tens of thousands of people? Hundreds of thousands? That is a power unknown to generations past — again, except for the tyrants and tycoons. What good timing on our part!)
(Okay, back to work.)
My favorite two pieces in McClatchy’s magisterial investigation of Guantanamo Bay — that is, the pieces that I found most surprising and depressing — were:
- This piece on the ways in which detention centers became de facto recruitment centers for jihadis.
- This piece on “the War Council” of five lawyers that wrote most of the opinions that cleared the way for all these abuses. Seriously, they called themselves “the War Council.”
I’ve been reading the series on the train in the morning, which I don’t recommend, because you spend the rest of the day sorta pissed off.
Great note at the bottom of Chris Anderson’s latest blog post.
The setup: He’s just talked to a guy who runs massive server farms — the kind that acts as substrate for Amazon’s EC2 and similar systems. Many are in Washington and Oregon because of the cheap, clean electricity. The juice is even cheaper and cleaner in Canada… but Mr. Server Farm won’t go north of the border:
Why not? Because of political instability. Canada’s governments shift from right to left too often, he said, and the threat of regional secession was too real to risk putting multi-hundred-million-dollar data facilities there–between changes in the laws to even the slight risk of nationalization should the wrong person be elected, he thought Canada’s political liabilities outweighed its energy assets.
I love that! Because I have officially never thought of Canada as being in any way risky.
And he didn’t just “do” it. He worked over an idea like a diamond cutter with facets and angles and refractions of light. He made you sorry you ever thought you wanted to be a comedian. He was like a train hobo with a chicken bone. When he was done there was nothing left for anybody.
I quite enjoyed the Wired cover story this month, which begins by arguing that a surfeit of data is rendering the notion of scientific modeling basically obsolete, and continues by walking through several ways in which this phenomenon has manifested itself out in the world. I especially enjoyed this mini-essay about the Europe Media Monitor, which looks like a useful potential news source to scan to see what the world is talking about. You can see, for example, that it identified the pre-election violence in Zimbabwe as the biggest story of the day yesterday, and pulls together reports from all over the global press on the subject.
Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) is twittering. Like, really twittering:
He’s the best thing since the Mars Phoenix!
I want to talk about home ownership!
Paul Krugman is back in top form with a column that reminds me why I’m a Krug-fan in the first place.
It’s about the huge preference that U.S. policy expresses for home ownership vs. renting. Krugman goes through all the micro-scale concerns — including a great comparison that likens buying a house to buying stocks on margin — but then there’s an interesting macro-perspective:
Owning a home also ties workers down. Even in the best of times, the costs and hassle of selling one home and buying another — one estimate put the average cost of a house move at more than $60,000 — tend to make workers reluctant to go where the jobs are.
So at the societal scale, do strong policy incentives for home ownership create, on the whole, a less mobile workforce? I think that’s interesting and worth talking about! On one hand, it’s obviously good to support people as they put down roots and become a more permanent part of a community. On the other hand, it’s 2008, and the economic map of the U.S. is changing fast!
Very curious about any questions, ideas, rants, links, etc. on home ownership out there. (Living in San Francisco, the issue is entirely academic, so my aim is to live vicariously through the snarkmatrix.)
I’m in Princeton visiting Dan so it’s good timing that I just ran across a story about the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) — the biggest, most important organization you’ve never heard of.
When we went to Bangladesh back in 2001, it was in part because we were fascinated with the Grameen Bank, a microcredit pioneer that’s well-known in the West, in part simply because they have, uh, really good PR.
By the time we left, Grameen had been totally eclipsed in our esteem by BRAC, which does more, for more people, more efficiently, and (importantly) in a much more holistic way than Grameen. BRAC essentially fills the void left by the corruption and confusion of Bangladesh’s real government. And remember, this really matters: There are more than 150 million people in Bangladesh!
I’m reminded of it by FP’s list of the world’s most powerful NGOs: BRAC is one of five listed, along with the Gates Foundation and Doctors Without Borders. It has an annual budget of half a billion dollars and a staff of 110,000. Wow.