Sunday, February 20, 2005

The End

Due to demands of a new job, low traffic and declining motivation I have decided to pause this blog. It's been fun but the novelty has worn off.

I'll end with a couple of quotes that seem appropriate for me now:

The difference between a job and a career is the difference between 40 and 60 hours a week.
Robert Frost

One must think only of one's work. When I began as an apprentice I was in the kitchen at five o'clock in the morning and I didn't stop until eleven at night, with just a couple hours rest in the afternoon. That was my schedule in 1914 at the Hotel Bristol in Paris. It has been my schedule ever since. It's too much, isn't it? But la grande cuisine is pitiless.
Fernand Point

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Why the EU sucks...continued

An excellent piece in The Times today on why and how European politics harms extremely poor people in Africa and completely undermines the holier-than-thou position on aid:

Every year a bureaucrat in Brussels sets the price of sugar for European farmers — at four times the market price. No wonder they produce five million tonnes too much of it, preventing other sugar-growing countries from competing.
Put this another way: for every £3 the EU gives to Mozambique in aid, it takes back £1 in the damage it does to its sugar industry. The women whom Mr Brown met do not want aid. They want their business to thrive.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Italian Mafia...cont.

Following on from my last post on this, two recent pieces in the Telegraph

1 - Marlon Brando almost turned down the Godfather because he did not want to glorify the Mafia.

2 - There was a very interesting quote in a story on the arrest of a particularly stylish Mafia criminal who had a vocal public following. Magistrate Giovanni Corona was quoted:
The guaglioni [footsoldiers] of the clan all dress the same: they wear Nikes, torn jeans and T-shirts resembling the tops of English football uniforms. In their world such details are much more important than we realise. They amount to a trademark to which one belongs, which sets them apart, but also makes them appear like many other kids in the outskirts of town. What we're seeing is an anthropological mutation which has transformed the Camorristi of Secondigliano into cinema gangsters. These are people in their thirties who use violence as a status symbol.

The Wealth of Nations

Given the fuss and show-boating at the G7 summit, Niall Ferguson has an apt piece in the Telegraph, Africa doesn't need handouts: it needs honest governments:

The trouble is that what both Blair and Brown are proposing are mere variations on an old, familiar theme known as "aid". (As Mr Brown's advisers well know, there is no real difference between "debt forgiveness" and handing poor countries a large, gift-wrapped cheque.) But we have been here before. Between 1950 and 1995, Western countries gave away around $1 trillion (in 1985 prices) in aid to poorer countries. But these efforts yielded pitiful results, as New York University economist Bill Easterly has shown, because the recipient countries lacked the political, legal and financial institutions necessary for the money to be used productively

It is probably cliched, but definitely accurate to say that if we don't learn the lessons of history, we are bound to repeat them. The interesting thing is that the timescale of democratic elections promotes a short-termism that inhibits this learning process.
History has shown that political stability and institutions with certain characteristics are necessary for economic growth and health. Placating ill-informed leftist lobbyists, unfortunately, does very little to help the people in question.
Good intentions are not enough - we need better institutions to channel the self-interest of those in power toward more useful ends. Or, and my preference given that such institutional arrangements are extremely rare, we need to decrease the amount of power available, and compartmentalise it.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Rand at 100

Here are some sites celebrating Ayn Rand's birthday:

Will Wilkinson - Cato - Cafe Hayek - Division of Labour - Reason - Marginal Revolution

For me she is an extremely important intellectual figure, primarily for the role her novels played in spreading a popular appreciation of pure capitalism, mainly in America. I also admire her brazen philosophical approach but I am put off by the cultishness of Randians, who in inheriting her black/white world view, alienate themselves. The Randian black or white blinker prohibits true believers from partaking in "normal" complex, messy, everyday life - and perhaps the ultimate evidence of the problems Objectivism can cause as a guide to life is illustrated by Rand's tragic personal life.

So Happy Birthday Ayn Rand and thank you.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Steyn on Iraq

I recommend Mark Steyn's column on Iraq in The Telegraph:

Defying the suicide bombers and head-hackers, courageous Iraqis went to the polls in huge numbers. Before the vote, the naysayers told us that the indelible purple dye on each voter's finger would mark them out for punishment by "insurgents". Instead, it became a defiant symbol of the country's freedom.
I liked the picture of some grizzled beaming Arab so proud of his purple finger that he dipped a second one and then raised both to the camera - flipping the V sign, or so I like to think, to the BBC, to Sir Simon Jenkins, to Do-Nothing Doug Hurd, to those Spanish protesters and the rest of the quagmire fetishists.

The most fascinating detail in the big picture was this: Iraqi expats weren't voting just in Sydney and London and Los Angeles, but also in Syria. Think about that. If you're an Iraqi in Syria, you can vote for the political party of your choice. If you're a Syrian in Syria, you have no choice at all. Which of those arrangements is the one with a future?

I agree with the sentiment of the piece but I think we need to look on a much longer timescale. Those who so freely criticise the democratic process and liberation, whilst essentially correct, are obviously far too short-termist, and the absurdity of their position is clear with the help of even a little historical knowledge. Similarly, to suggest, within only a few days of the election that Iraq has turned the corner is risky. I tend to think that the Arab world might be shocked into reform and/or revolt, but we need to wait and see.