February 3, 2004

Been out for a while

Sorry, I've been off-line for a couple days. I have some heavy slogging this week, but I think things will pick up by the end. I'm almost done with this book review I've been preparing for AFOE.

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February 4, 2004

Jotted off quickly at AFOE

I don't suppose anybody's watching ARTE tonight?

I ran this off quick last night while watching the tube, but didn't think to link to it here.

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February 5, 2004

Book Review: "European Integration 1950-2003: Superstate or New Market Economy?"

I finally finished that book review for AFOE, so go read it.

Next up: More on African history month here at Pedantry. (Coincidentally enough, February is Black History/African Heritage Month in the US.) Not only will I be blaming neoliberalism for the 17th century fall of Kongo, but I will claim that Kongo was a Swedish-style social democracy.

I'm only a week behind schedule on it, and hopefully this weekend I'll be able to manage it. Stay tuned.

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February 9, 2004

Dona Beatriz and African Social Democracy

This is part two of Pedantry's contribution to Black History Month. This series will run a lot longer than February, since there is at least one more post on the history of Kongo before moving on to Grandpa's life there, which will take up quite a few posts and doubtless run months at the present (very slow) rate. Part one is here.

I had intended to talk about the 1885 Berlin Conference and the Congo Free State in this post, but the story of Kimpa Vita seemed worth telling and didn't fit into a post about the economics and linguistics of colonialism. The next post will take up Kongo's (by then Congo) post-Berlin history and some of the interesting linguistic issues this created. It's about half-written, so I'm hoping to get it up very, very soon.

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February 10, 2004

Is neoconservativism a Trotskyist plot?

This week's The Nation has a book review that is not to be missed: A Tragedy of Errors by Michael Lind, a former editor of The National Interest, reviewing David Frum and Richard Perle's manifesto of neoconservativism An End to Evil. I found it via Early Days of a Better Nation.

Good bits:

Nevertheless, the origins of their ideology on the left are still apparent. The fact that most of the younger neocons were never on the left is irrelevant; they are the intellectual (and, in the case of William Kristol and John Podhoretz, the literal) heirs of older ex-leftists. The idea that the United States and similar societies are dominated by a decadent, postbourgeois "new class" was developed by thinkers in the Trotskyist tradition like James Burnham and Max Schachtman, who influenced an older generation of neocons. The concept of the "global democratic revolution" has its origins in the Trotskyist Fourth International's vision of permanent revolution. The economic determinist idea that liberal democracy is an epiphenomenon of capitalism, promoted by neocons like Michael Novak, is simply Marxism with entrepreneurs substituted for proletarians as the heroic subjects of history.

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February 11, 2004

Some stuff I couldn't resist blogging

I'm stuck with a viciously complicated little problem in linear optimisation that I don't know how to solve. In fact, the whole reason that I have this problem is that I know that there is no linear solution and I haven't got time or resources to find a less constrained solution, so I'm going to have to come up with something half-assed that works anyway. Until I come up with it, I'm stuck. I do have another project, but it's not terribly difficult, requires the help of my office partner, who is at home recovering from surgery, and isn't due for another week when my boss gets back from Norway.

So, I decided to surf the blogs.

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More stuff I couldn't resist

From Frytopia:

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February 13, 2004

Little stuff

Having stirred up some fuss - in English! - over the French headscarf law, on AFOE I've been a bit too overworked and underslept this week to stay and fight. Looks like plenty of other folks have taken up the slack though.

I just don't understand how people who feel this law is justified because girls are being forced to wear headscarves can think that the solution is to force them to take it back off. If I hold a gun to your head and make you do something you don't want to, is the correct police response to hold another gun to your head and tell you not to? What makes otherwise rational people think that the solution lies in that direction?

The other thing I've seen on the web today is this post, particularly the debate over what constitutes a good enough lasagna to "deserve to marry a hot, sexy career woman."

I'm not an afficionado of Italian food and prepare very little lasagna. When I do, it's very much "Soprano family cooking" - Ricotta, spinach, lots of meat. "Hot, sexy career women" often worry about what it will do to their weight, and south Italian food like lasagna is just about the worst.

My alternative: Mix equal parts German beer mustard with quince jelly and a little bit of cider or white wine vinager. Stir thoroughly. Use like a barbecue sauce on pork or lamb, especially fresh lamb. If you use it in the fry pan, keep the temperature fairly low so that the sugar in the jelly doesn't carmelise. Serve with a nice mediterranean vegetable melange (broccoli, artichoke hearts, multi-coloured peppers, courgettes or summer squash, some sliced mushrooms) and homemade oven fries (cut potatoes into wedges, sprinkle with tarragon and olive oil, bake at 175C til done). Low fat, low sugar content, simple tastes, fresh ingredients, simple cooking methods - that is what will score the slacker man the hot career babe of his dreams.

Once upon a time, I contemplated writing a cookbook for young men called Recipes that get you laid. I still think it might sell.

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February 15, 2004

1885 and Africa's final fall

I've decided to extend the discussion of the history of Congo one post longer. This entry in my commentary on Grandpa's autobiography is about the events of 1885 - a red letter year in African history. It was the moment when Africa's fate was finally made completely subject to the will of European states. The first part is here and the second here.

In American high schools, colonialism is seen as something that started in 1492 and rose persistently to a crescendo around WWI. But, this is not exactly the way it happened. The early colonial empires were motivated by a fairly simple mercantilism. Some things were cheaper to take than to buy. Some things could only be produced in distant lands, and investments had to be protected. Some things that were purchased rather than taken travelled on routes that had to be protected with overseas bases. Trade led to dependency, dependency led to insecurity, insecurity led to taking over so that you can minimise the insecurity.

But by the middle of the 19th century, this doctrine was already known to be an economic failure. Richard Cobden - following the ground-breaking doctrines of Adam Smith - pointed out that there was nothing to gain from a colonial empire that could not have been had more cheaply with free trade. As proof, by the mid-19th century Britain's most profitable colony was the United States, a nation it had not ruled for most of a century.

Declining gains had diminished interest in new colonial ventures and Britain shifted its model of colonial administration to one with growing home rule. (As described here.) The UK even considered selling some of its less useful colonies to smaller European states. There was even talk here and there of a multi-national British union, led from London, of course.

Britain ruled the seas and prevented any other state from establishing new colonies without its consent. France was the only other nation with even close to the same level of power, and most of the long running disputes between the two had been resolved. The UK manufactured most of Europe's industrial goods and reaped the benefits of a large trade surplus. There was little for it to gain from new colonies.

Colonialism might have ended there, fading away over the second half of the 19th century because of declining returns. Both the British and French models of colonialism were creating local elites or had simply co-opted existing elites, and the movement towards local rule generally favoured them. Free trade could have replaced foreign control.

But, that's not what happened. Instead, the last three decades of the 19th century saw colonial expansion reach a fervour never seen before. Between 1876 and 1900, European control over Africa went from a paltry 10% of the continent's land mass to some 90%. At the root of this rapid expansion is the convergence of several disparate trends that might, otherwise, have had nothing to do with each other.

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February 16, 2004

Where I get my information

Three of my readers, Aidan Kehoe over here, Brad here, and a new commenter, Mukendi Kakesu Kazumba, here, who is a descendant of the pre-colonial Luba state which, IIRC, was mostly in what is now Kasaï in the central DRC, have all asked where I get the information for some of my recent posts. With some shame, I have to admit it's mostly the Internet.

[Warning - a small spoiler ahead]

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February 17, 2004

The clueless leading the stupid

It seems that there is something of a kerfuffle in this American election year over the growth in overseas outsourcing, especially of computer jobs to India.

Having lived with Silicon Valley's many Randroids for far too long, I'm having some difficulty suppressing my sense of Schadenfreude. "I don't want a union, I prefer to stand on my own skills." Indeed.

Via Brad Delong, I see this article over at Wired. It is, as usual, one paradigm behind the times. Yes, in the long run outsourcing may enable people to be better deployed in more productive industries. Yes, people in India are happy to have the jobs.

What really struck me about this text though was this bit:

As I meet programmers and executives, I hear lots of talk about quality and focus and ISO and CMM certifications and getting the details right. But never - not once - does anybody mention innovation, creativity, or changing the world. Again, it reminds me of Japan in the '80s - dedicated to continuous improvement but often at the expense of bolder leaps of possibility.

And therein lies the opportunity for Americans. It's inevitable that certain things - fabrication, maintenance, testing, upgrades, and other routine knowledge work - will be done overseas. But that leaves plenty for us to do. After all, before these Indian programmers have something to fabricate, maintain, test, or upgrade, that something first must be imagined and invented. And these creations must be explained to customers and marketed to suppliers and entered into the swirl of commerce in a fashion that people notice, all of which require aptitudes that are more difficult to outsource - imagination, empathy, and the ability to forge relationships.

This is something of a standard excuse - it's an extension of the old Yankee know-how cliché that proved to be such a joke when Japanese cars started turning up on the US market. But for the most part, it put me in mind of a South Park episode: Chinpokomon, the episode where the kids of South Park fall under the mind control of a Japanese conglomerate. In particular, I thought of a scene in which an adult in South Park - a toy store owner - realises that something is up with these "Chinpokomon" toys and starts asking questions.

Hirohito: You are American?!
Owner: Yes!
Hirohito: Oh! You must have very big penis!
Owner: Excuse me?! I was just asking you what you're up to with these toys!
Hirohito: Nothing! We are very simple people with very small penis! Mr. Hosek's penis is especially small!
Hosek: He he he! So small!
Hirohito: We cannot achieve much with so small penis! But, you Americans! Wow! Penis so big! SO BIG PENIS!
Owner: Well, I-I guess it is a pretty good size.
Hosek: Menasa! Kit`e! Kit`e! (A bunch of Japaneese women enter) This man has a very big penis! (Women applaud while the Toy Store Owner smiles in pride.) Ho, ho! What an enorm-immense penis!
Owner: Well, it certainly was nice meeting you folk! I just wanted to bring that little malfunction to your attention! Bye, bye!
Hirohio: Goodbye! Thank you for stopping by with your gargantuan penis!
Owner: (Still smilling in pride) Hm, Hmmm! (leaves)
That's all Wired is doing here. By evoking some sort of natural American sense of creativity as the reason why there is nothing to worry about, they are doing nothing more substantial than claiming that their bigger penises will save the day.

What they seem to have failed to grasp is that the folks doing that imagining and creating, the research and development, taking meetings, building networks and selling product, are themselves increasingly foreign nationals. As long as capital kept pouring into the US and work visas were easy to get, it wasn't too hard to just hire the best from overseas and keep them in America. With the student visa restrictions of post-9/11 America - not to mention the unlikelihood of any expansion of the H1-B programme - and the drop in capital inflow from recent currency readjustments, how much longer is America going to be able to rely on that sort of intellectual capital?

Of course, people like me tend to be the winners here. Every time an American CEO starts to think about getting into overseas markets, he (it's almost always a he) thinks language and localisation issues are little details that need barely be mentioned. As a result, he pays more and gets lower quality. Harsh. His overseas employees (and their governments) will sooner or later realise how much more of a clue they have about international markets in addition to their advantages in labour costs. In short, I'll be paid to tell his competitors how to beat the crap out of him.

But all that is in the long run. In the short run, it's a few Indian workers getting jobs working indirectly for American firms and Americans losing them. In the old days (pre-2001), Indian profits from this sort of venture would just return to US capital markets instead of building businesses in India. But, with the dollar tanked, that money is going into European capital markets. I win again.

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February 19, 2004

The politics of stupidity

This post is drawn from two texts, neither of which appears on the surface to have much to do with the other. The first is very much about French politics, and I considered posting it on AFOE, but it gets radical and awfully long, and I don't want to test the collective's tolerance for the verbose radical left too much, especially now that I seem to have such a reputation for agreeing with Edward. Besides, it is something of a continuation of the last post.

The first text appears in this week's Les Inrockuptibles - a French cultural magazine that, at its best, is sort of what Rolling Stone might be if it aimed a bit more up-market - a journal for smart people who read books, but who also listen to pop music and watch TV. It is promoting a petition, signed by, among others former prime minister Michel Rocard, former culture minister Jack (not Jacques) Lang, Jacques Derrida, Bertrand Tavernier, Claude Lanzmann and Daniel Cohn-Bendit (Danny the Red for those who remember May '68).

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February 23, 2004

Congo under the new regime

This is the last part of the history of Congo before returning to Grandpa's biography, with its more first person account of life in Africa. The other parts can be read by following the links to Part I, Part II, and Part III. If you want to read the whole serialisation of Grandpa's autobiography, you can go to this page. This post covers the period from the Berlin Conference to 1953, when Grandpa received an offer to go to the Belgian Congo as a missionary and a teacher.

Update 24 February: I posted this late last night, and I'm fixing its many textual flaws. I've also added a few more pictures and a bit of text. So, if you read it before, I invite you to reread it.

The No. 44 tram line in Brussels runs from Montgomery metro station, near the Parc du Cinquantenaire and the EU quarter in central Brussels, eastwards along Avenue de Tervueren/Tervurenlaan, passing roughly 300m from my front door. From there it continues out beyond the limits of the Brussels capital region into the Flemish suburb of Tervuren. The end of the line is adjacent to the Park van Tervuren, a large green space in the eastern suburbs and the point where Tervurenlaan becomes Leuvensesteenweg/Chaussée de Louvain. Although the line has been rebuilt in many places, powered trams have run from the Parc du Cinquantenaire to the Park van Tervuren since 1897. The line and both parks were built at the same time: to house the 1897 Exposition Internationale de Bruxelles and to shuttle visitors between the two sites.

"World's Fairs" were all the rage in those days. From 1870 to the beginning of WWI, there were usually several every year in different parts of the world. They served several functions. In the days before film - much less TV - they gave people of all social classes a taste of just how big and how diverse the world was. There was also a significant economic function. By offering people access to truly novel items, entrepreneurs could gauge whether or not there was a real market for them. Bananas, for example, first appeared on the American market at a world's fair, as did ice cream cones. They were also tourist attractions, and like the Olympics could raise the profile of a city or a country in search of new investment. Furthermore, since the pavilions at world's fairs were generally sponsored by national governments, they were a way for whole countries to advertise themselves and the investment opportunities in their lands. Sometimes, they even became cultural icons. The Eiffel Tower was originally a temporary structure built for the 1889 Paris World's Fair.

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February 24, 2004


I think I accidentally killed someone's comment on the last post. I don't know for sure, and I don't know whose it was. At any rate, whoever you are, it was an accident and you are not being censored, so feel free to repost it.

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