Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Africa and democracy

There was an interesting article in the NYT recently (last Friday, July 15th) that I'm getting via the Footnotes from the Uganda Underground blog (via, in turn, Uganda-CAN). The author of the article, a Cameroonian journalist named Jean-Claude Shanda Tonme, writes that what Africa needs isn't Live8 (or similar programs aimed at reducing poverty on the continent), but democracy. In typical Merrier World fashion, I plan to attack both the article itself, and then turn around and use the article to attack the blog posting it.

Tonme rightly states that it is Africa's "leaders... who have ruined everything". But there are several glaring errors in the analysis that follows. First, his insistence that Africa can "pull itself up by its own bootstraps" is sorely misguided. "Neither debt relief nor huge amounts of food aid nor an invasion of experts will change anything", he writes. But this neglects the preponderance of evidence supporting the theory that economic development leads to democratization; as a middle class is formed, it increasingly pushes for the right to participate in the political process. Moreover, it's highly unclear that democracy sans development will be stable, and will not revert back to dictatorship within a few election cycles. After all, how many current dictators were elected democratically? Latin America is scattered with such so-called populist dicatators (Castro in Cuba, Garcia in Peru, Allende in Chile, the ape in Venezuela, et al). So debt relief, food, and experts will, indeed, change something if they manage to help along development.

It's simply absurd, moreover, to say that food aid will not help matters. If it manages to reach the hungry, how can it not? What does democracy, when it comes down to it, do for hunger, or poverty? In fact, a benevolent dictator who manages to guide a stable and prosperous economy is to be much favored over a corrupt democracy with stagnant growth and high inflation. In other words, Pinochet is to be favored over Allende.

What good is voting if you can't eat? He writes, "Who here wants a concert against poverty when an African is born, lives and dies without ever being able to vote freely?" I say, those in poverty want such a concert, although the prospering middle class (which no doubt includes Tomne) would probably just as well serve the poor up on a plate.

I don't feel like integrating the following into any coherent sentence structure, so I'll just block quote it, the lazy man's solution:

We Africans know what the problem is, and no one else should speak in our name. Africa has men of letters and science, great thinkers and stifled geniuses who at the risk of torture rise up to declare the truth and demand liberty... It's up to each nation to liberate itself and to help itself.
I'm not sure that's even internally consistent, much less tractable in general. It can't be "up to each nation to liberate itself and to help itself" and at the same time desirable for the First World to "insult [i.e., call for the removal of] [Africa's] leaders, who have ruined everything". If this truly is an internal issue, one purely of internal "revolt", then the actions of the West should be irrelevant, and thus not meretorious of an article. More likely, he's sacrificing logical coherence for the desire to persuade Americans to do more for democracy in Africa and less for poverty.

And now I tire of writing.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

A Second Look at a So-Called "Second Superpower"

It's not fair. The Left has a greater number of hippies within its ranks, and thus readier access to better marijuana than does the Right. So it doesn't even make sense for me to ask, "What are they smoking?" because that just begs the question.

I'm writing in regards to a blog post that identifies the worldwide, unorganized group of political activists as a "second superpower", one endowed with the power to "keep the US in check". I won't even bother to point out what's wrong with this not-even-specious-sounding argument because, well, there's no need. Instead, I'd like to submit this as an example of the paternalism so common among leftist activists, and the degree to which even our top universities have bowed to the intellectual mediocrity that comes from political correctness.

I love it when someone says something unintentionally that points out some flaw in their case. The Freudian slip (as it were) reads: (speaking of the worldwide body of political activists), "This body has a beautiful mind". I can't say whether this is in reference to the movie A Beautiful Mind, but it's certainly not outside the realm of reasonableness. Anyway, the phrase "beautiful mind" in regards to John Nash actually comes from a longer quote, one which reads, "He's an arrogant son-of-a-bitch, but he's got a beautiful mind". This mass of leftist agitators is no less hubristic than Nash.

He writes,
There is an emerging second superpower, but it is not a nation. Instead, it is a new form of international player, constituted by the “will of the people” in a global social movement... This movement has a surprisingly agile and muscular body of citizen activists who identify their interests with world society as a whole—and who recognize that at a fundamental level we are all one. These are people who are attempting to take into account the needs and dreams of all 6.3 billion people in the world—and not just the members of one or another nation.
Gee, now maybe I've been reading too much literature on WWII and the rise of fascism, but Rousseau's whole notion of a single "will of the people" hasn't been looked too favorably upon by many liberals (in the well-defined sense of the word). Leaving that aside, though, one must wonder how successful this "self-less" behavior is as opposed to how genuine it is or appears to be. That is, how much do liberal activists from the First World really know about the interests of those in the Third World?

Sometimes not very much. One doesn't have to look far to find instances of anti-globalization activists not even understanding (or worse yet, wanting to understand) the issues or organizations they are protesting. I have several examples of my own, but more interestingly, there are the anecdotes mentioned in Bagwati's excellent book In Defense of Globalization.

Worse than merely misunderstanding the issues is the fact that in many cases the interests of the activists are out of line with those of those they are supposedly helping. Whether this is unintentional or not is, unforunately, not much consolation to those who are affected. But either way, it requires either a good deal of self-righteousness, or just an attitude of flat-out paternalism, to insist that they know what is best for the Third World. Foreign Policy has a good article called, "NGOs: Fighting Poverty, Hurting the Poor" (registration req'd) which gives several prominent examples of such outcomes.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

NYC police to randomly search bags of subway passengers

This would be a bad idea even if it were implemented well. Don't worry, though: it isn't.

The Washington Post reports today that the NYC police will begin to search the bags of randomly chosen passengers who board the subway system. The obvious problem is that completely random searches are useless. The "average" American isn't carrying around explosives, but without using some sort of profiling, the NYC police are going to spend the lion's share of their time searching the bags of "average" Americans.

The (unconditional) probability of an American being a terrorist is probably far less than hundredths of a percentage point. If you've ever been to an airport and seen an 80 year-old granny getting patted down, you already see the problem with random searches. Many individuals can be ruled out as terrorists a priori, including old people, the Amish, preppy types, etc.

The solution is for cops to use valuable information, namely a profile of likely terrorists (male, Arabic-looking), to narrow down the pool of those subject to a search. Think of it like hiding a marble in a gigantic, table-sized pie. (This is an episode of that show on Nickolodean.) If you randomly take a handful of the pie, what are the chances you'll get the marble? Slim to none. But what if you're told the marble lies in the upper left corner? Well, your odds may not be great, but they're certainly much better. Anyhow, the results would be: 1) to save valuable government policing resources; 2) prevent unnecessary hassle to riders; and 3) dramatically increase the odds of actually catching a terrorist.

But all of the above is predicated on the premise that the NYC program were to be implemented well. It's not, naturally, because of one simple fact:
[Police Commissioner Raymond] Kelly stressed that officers posted at subway entrances would not engage in racial profiling, and that passengers are free to "turn around and leave."
Wow. They don't actually want to catch any terrorists, just deter them until they can find another subway stop.

I must say, though, that I'm fairly impressed at the ineptness here. City bureaucrats in New York City have actually found a way to completely rule out the possibility of catching any terrorists with this program. While this may not be a good thing, their incompetence must at least be admired.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Humphrey-Hawkins

Today, Fed Board Chairman Alan Greenspan made the last (and my "first") of his semi-annual testimonies before Congress about the state of the economy. (They're "Humphrey-Hawkins" testimonies, named after the co-sponsors of the 1978 Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act which mandated such a semi-annual report; although I'm just finding out that the legislation expired in 2000, meaning if nothing else that there's no longer a mandate). Anyway, in its first day, the testimony doesn't seem to have held any surprises. A few things he cautioned on include:
- bubble-ish overtones in the real estate market (something which analysts have been warning about since at least 2002)
- energy prices (which he says have reduced growth in 2005 by about 0.75%)
- rising wages (that's a bad thing?), which could portend an outbreak in inflation
But with unemployment at 5% and growth somewhere in the 3% range, it's hard to be too pessimistic about the economy.

John Robert's Chances

Call me cautious, but I'm not sure I can buy into this whole "Robert's confirmation is inevitable" line that has hit the newswire this evening. The AP insists that, "The possibility of a Democratic filibuster against Supreme Court nominee John Roberts in the Republican-controlled Senate seemed to all but disappear Wednesday". They follow this observation with quotes from prominent Democrats in the Senate which (presumably) back this statement up.

The only problem is, they don't. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committe, "said she did not think the appeals court judge was 'filibuster-able'", and Harry Reid, the Democrats' leader in the Senate, "said he had not heard any senators in his party mention filibustering President Bush's pick".

Correct me if I'm wrong, but those are statements which merely express an opinion on Roberts's chances for being nominated, not his agreeability to Democrats. This leaves me thinking there are one of two possible strategies being followed by the Democratic leadership: 1) they're holding off criticism until they gather more information on him or until the hearings actually start; 2) they're resigned to the fact that enough Democrats will not want to go the filibuster route and thus his nomination is inevitable.

The only piece of truly positive news to come out today about the nomination was a bit from Sen. McCain, who said that Roberts appeared to meet the standard of reasonableness set out in the Group of 14's agreement on the use of filibusters (the one that de-railed the Republicans' use of the so-called "nyoo-cle-ar option"), such that the Democrat co-signers would have to risk the appearance of flip-flopping if they wanted to filibuster Roberts.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Blogroll!

I know "blogroll" (for those of you who don't know, it's a term which describes the list of blogs to which a blog links) is one of those terms that just sort of springs up---that somehow quickly achieves the status of ubiquitous despite being stupid in nature. (Come to think of it, "blog" is in the exact same situation. I still feel kinda stupid saying "blog".)

But "blogroll" reminds me too much of the "roll call" scene from that Simpsons where the family has a variety show, and they replace Lisa with this cheerleader chick. Well anyway, what the roll call consists of is the announcer announcing each character, followed by the character stepping forward, while dancing, and describing him- or herself.
Family: [singing] Come along and bring the family,
Come along and join the fun,
Come along and join the family
Join the family ... Simpson!
Roll Call!
Marge: Remember me, my name is Marge,
[strokes hair] The TV mom whose hair is large!
[holds up Maggie, who sucks her pacifier twice]
Bart: Step back, mom, it's Bart's turn now!
Eat my shorts, don't have a cow!
"Lisa": I'm Lisa, peppy, blonde, and stunning!
Sophomore prom queen five years running!
Go-o-o-o, Lisa! [jumps and shakes her pom-poms, like a
cheerleader]
Now, just replace Marge, Bart, and Lisa with the blogs on your ol' blogroll, and look what sort of ridiculous situation you've gotten yourself into.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Weather Forecasts

I have a complaint about weather forecasts. I don't care that they're always wrong. (Yahoo! predicted rain just about every day in Chicago throughout the month of May, and I think it rained two or three times.) I don't even care if they're goofy (the NBC affiliate in Milwaukee used to use a dolphin puppet to do the weather forecast). The thing that bothers me is the stupid categories, namely "windy" and "cloudy". I mean, there are always clouds in the air, and it's always a little bit windy. Unless it's really freakin' windy, or the entire sky is covered with clouds (in which case it's probably going to rain, making the "lesser" forecast of wind irrelevant), one must wonder how much information is given by such forecasts.

I say, "Very little indeed."

Friday, July 15, 2005

Miscellany

I bought this book the second I read the e-mail. Methodology is great!

In other news, it turns out that chick may not even have been undercover.

The Syntopicon is Great

I can't believe I didn't learn about it until last quarter of senior year. I'll need to scan in the picture of that beast that I have.

Adler even makes it into an adverb (reading "syntopically") in his book on reading well.