Popes and rant snippets

It is good to know that in these times of economic crisis our spiritual leaders care for our well-being. From the International Herald Tribune:

Pope Benedict said Monday that saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour was just as important as saving the rainforest from destruction.

Too bad the article does not elaborate on just how pope Benedict wishes to save humanity from homosexual or transsexual “behaviour”. Nor does it answer the question of why Benedict believes that particular kind of “behaviour” is a threat to humanity. I am sure it is not a matter of demography. Too bad, because it is hard to rip an argument apart with so many unknowns. All we know from the quoted snippet is that the pope went on a rant, for the umpteenth time, against homosexual (and transsexual) “behaviour”. Too bad, because my typing fingers are itching…

Instant update: Mail Online has a better article and maybe an explanation of why the pope is so worried:

In a clear reference to homosexuality, he said the failure to respect the union between a man and a woman amounted to the ‘auto destruction of mankind’.

Like I said, it cannot be a demography thing. And there is maybe an explanation of how Benedict would like to see the gay problem solved:

This month the Vatican opposed a proposed UN declaration, backed by all 27 European Union states, calling for an end to the practice of criminalising and punishing people for their sexual orientation. The declaration was seen as an important condemnation of countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality can be punished by death. A Papal spokesman was later forced to clarify that the Vatican continues to condemn the use of the death penalty for any crime, including any related to homosexuality. Instead, the Vatican said its opposition to the UN proposal was driven by concern that countries that prohibit gay marriage would somehow be targeted. The Italian gay rights association Arcigay branded this an ‘excuse’ to distract people from the real intent of criminalising gays.

Guess the people at the Vatican have itchy fingers too. But they do not seem to be for typing. I know I am being populist here, but hey, Benedict is exaggerating too (I hope).

Afterthought: I think gay people are a real pain in the pope’s ass – no pun intended – because their acceptance by modern society (at least legally) subverts his Church’s authority so much. Should secular Western governments at one point reconsider criminalising gays then the Vatican’s stance on gays (or by proxy even women’s rights) would be confirmed. This would then surely reconfirm the Church’s authority and the authority of religion at large. Methinks there is a lot more at stake here than mere reproduction. BTW, wasn’t homophobia criminalized in the EU?

Greece: what if nothing happens?

We’ve seen a lot of hand-wringing over Greece in the last couple of weeks. Various commenters have compared it to 1968 and to 1973, have noted the deep-rooted miseries that this has exposed in Greek society, and have expressed concern that violence may spread to other Mediterranean economies (Italy, Spain) or even to France.

Maybe. Maybe. But let me advance a contrarian suggestion: maybe nothing much is going to happen. Continue reading

Why The IMF’s Decision To Agree A Lavian Bailout Programme Without Devaluation Is A Mistake

The IMF finally announced it’s Latvia “bailout” plan on Friday. The plan involves lending about €1.7 billion ($2.4 billion) to Latvia to stabilise the currency and financial support while the government implements its economic adjustment plan. The loan, which will be in the form of a 27-month stand-by arrangement, is still subject to final approval by the IMF’s Executive Board but is likely to be discussed before the end of this year under the Fund’s fast-track emergency financing procedures, and it is not anticipated that there will be any last minute hitches (although I do imagine some eyebrow raising over the decision to support the continuation of the Lat peg). The Latvian government admits that some of the IMF economists involved in the negotiations advocated a devaluation of the lat as a way of ammeliorating the intense economic pain involved in the now inevitable economic adjustment. But the government in Riga stuck to its guns (supported by the Nordic banks who evidently had a lot to lose in the event of devaluation), arguing that the peg was a major credibility issue, and the cornerstone of their plan to adopt the euro in 2012.

“It (the programme) is centered on the authorities’ objective of maintaining the current exchange rate peg, recognizing that this calls for extraordinarily strong domestic policies, with the support of a broad political and social consensus,” said IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

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artificial eye

On the topic of European innovation, this demo application from the Nokia Forum rocks. Basically, it uses the Sensor API in the latest version of Symbian S60 and the phone camera to detect what you’re pointing the cam at, and show information related to it.

Tagging Barcelona

Tagging Barcelona

Naturally this information could be sucked in from the Web, which opens up the healthy possibility of not just user-generated, but unofficial user-generated markup for the cityscape with constant feedback. A simple implementation might do something like hashing the geographical position of the feature with its direction and appending that to a selected URL.

The real purpose of this is surely the old Surrealist aim, to bring the logic of the visible to the service of the invisible; to put in the horrible details of how that particular bank wants to pass the SKU of the item you just bought back to headquarters with the credit card authorisation request, all for your own good, or how the owners of such-and-such a monster warehouse ordered the staff to moon for the camera because the newspapers wrote bad things about them. (I agree, these examples are prosaic, but then, that’s me.)

The United States, Screwdriver Economy of the Web?

A sad and undignified tale from LeWeb3; it’s chilly and the conference WLAN doesn’t work, so a whole gaggle of US microsleb gadgetbloggers staged a queeny flounce. And, of course, it’s all more evidence of the eventual demise of Europe. Isn’t it always? Not so long ago, we were apparently faced with the French civil war as the first wave of the Muslim takeover. Oddly enough, the riots in Greece don’t count – the wrong kind of suntan, I suppose.

Charles Arthur points out, sensibly, that a hell of a lot of the technologies that all the other Web 3.14159 tiddlers rely on are the products of European innovation. Linux started in Finland, Skype in Estonia and Sweden, MySQL in Sweden, PHP with a Dane in Greenland.

But that’s far from an exhaustive list; he could have mentioned Python, which originates at the Dutch National Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science in 1991, the KDE desktop for Linux from Tübingen, the KML geo-descriptive language which underpins Google Earth, Google Maps, and which might have originated with an idea of Chris Lightfoot’s which I can’t now trace, GSM, UMTS and LTE mobile phone networks – so let’s leave it at the OpenStreetMap, the Symbian and UIQ mobile device operating systems, the world’s best political software team at MySociety, and even Internet exchanges themselves.

(It’s just come to mind that I use all of these.)

After all, most of the European delegates at LeWeb3 would have had their own HSPA cellular data dongles on hand; as a regular tech conference attendee, I’d say nothing is more likely than crappy Wi-Fi service, especially if it’s provided by a commercial hotspot firm who happen to have a presence in the building. There is never enough capacity, and usually it’s the combination of the Web server that serves up the login page and the RADIUS (or whatever) box that does the provisioning that fails under pressure.

But, sadly, the US delegates wouldn’t, because they don’t have proper mobile telephony there. Well, I’m taking the piss; there’s a good European company like T-Mobile, who even refused to take part in the illegal call-record analysis. I’m still taking the piss – but only a little now.

Left unsaid

Among the International Monetary Fund recommendations following the mission to Belgium —

Tackle the imbalances inherent in the current fiscal federalism arrangements. Resolving vertical imbalances will require shifting more of the burden of fiscal consolidation and preparation for population aging from federal/social security to community/regional entities. Horizontal imbalances between communities/regions should be reconsidered with a view to providing a better match between spending authority and revenue-raising responsibility and improving the transparency and incentive effects of intergovernmental solidarity mechanisms.

God knows how long it took to draft such a masterful dodging around Belgium’s regional sensitivities, albeit at the expense of a paragraph that will bewilder anyone who doesn’t know much about Belgium.

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City on Fire

On April 16, 1947, the SS Grandcamp exploded in the harbor of Texas City, Texas. The ship was carrying ammonium nitrate as part of Marshall Plan relief for post-war Europe. Ammonium nitrate is both an effective fertilizer and a potent explosive, and the Grandcamp was carrying more than 2300 tons of the substance when a fire below turned into an explosion that produced a mushroom cloud reminiscent of an atomic blast. The Texas City waterfront was also home to chemical plants, and storage facilities for numerous petrochemical products. Many of these also caught fire and exploded in part. Several hundred people died; the exact total is unknown because of the completeness of the destruction at the explosion’s center.
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Why We All Need To Keep A Watchful Eye On What Is Happening In Greece

In view of Greece’s EMU membership, the availability of external financing is not a concern, but the correction of cumulating indebtedness could weigh appreciably on growth going forward. While the risk of transmitting vulnerabilities to the euro area is very small reflecting Greece’s small relative size, large persistent current account deficits would increase the vulnerabilities to a reversal in market sentiment, leading to a corrective retrenchment of private sector balance-sheets in the face of rising indebtedness, and a possible appreciable rise in the cost of funding over time. These developments would have significant negative implications for growth.
Greece: 2007 Article IV Consultation – IMF Staff Report

The above quited paragraph from the IMF is a very good example of what used to be the orthodox wisdom about Greece’s economic imbalances – that given EMU membership the availability of external financing should not be a concern, and that the Greek economy is effectively too small for it to constitute a menace to the stability of the eurozone itself, even on a worst case scenario. Well, if we look at the growing yield spreads you can see in the chart above (please click for better viewing) the first premiss seems to be in real danger of falling, EMU membership no longer gives an automatic guarantee of oncost-free external financing, and if you look at the names of the other countries lining up in the queue behind Greece – Italy, Spain and Portugal in particular – you can begin to see the outline of a contagion mechanism whereby the coming to reality of the worst case Greek scenario might just extend itself into a problem of sufficient magnitude to transmit Greek vulnerabilities across and into the entire euro area. No one is too small to be a problem when it comes to financial crises, and if you think I am exaggerating just look at how the “pipsqueak” Baltic economies have paved the way and opened the door to much bigger problems right across Central and Eastern Europe even as I write.

But just what are the problems Greece faces, and just what are the risks of transmission of these elsewhere? Continue reading