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Diary
By TheophileEscargot (Sat Dec 13, 2003 at 04:46:46 AM EST) (all tags)
What I'm Reading: Pirates. Space. EU. Web. Yes, it's an extravaganza of content today!

Poll: Space exploration?

WARNING: CROSS-POSTED FROM K5



What I'm Reading
Finished Pirates by David Mitchell. It's a popular history, covering piracy over the last few thousand years, up till the early twentieth century. It's a nice overview, with some interesting stories of the individual pirates. Debunks a few myths, like the female pirates Anne Bonney and Mary Read; who were essentially communal prostitutes rather than the women successfully disguised as men (not too likely on a cramped sailing ship), though they did wear men's clothing for practicality. Mitchell does seem to accept that the pirate utopias, the communities set up in the Caribbean had a degree of truth, with the anarchy working quite successfully thanks to relatively small numbers and fairly abundant resources.

Space
Article linked from slashdot about the new inspection gadgets to fix holes in the Space Shuttle.

It occurs to me that there's a kind of contradiction between two of the arguments that space enthusiasts tend to use. One argument is thanks to the Teflon effect, spin-offs from space travel boosts science and technology as a whole. Another argument is that for the benefit of the future, we need to invest in solving the problems of space flight now.

The thing is, the Teflon effect ought to work both ways. If space technology boosts everyday technology, things ought to work in reverse, so that new developments in everyday technology ought to make space travel easier. So, by that logic we can afford to wait a century or so until the spin-offs from our super-duper frying pans let us do it cheaply and easily.

So in a perverse way it's things like the Challenger and Colombia disasters that actually justify the space programme. They show that there are going to be practical problems that can only be overcome by working through them: you can't just sit and wait for technology to improve.

EU
Well, the constitutional talks have failed. Seems like a good thing: behind all the details and sub-clauses and voting schemes lies a basic fact that people don't want the EU to exist as the vast, bureaucratic, undemocratic, command-and-control system that the Eurocrats want it to be.

In this diary I quoted an editorial pointing out that a "two-speed europe" is actually a pretty good idea. Keep the free-trade and free travel zone as it is; but let France, Germany and their allies unify themselves into the high-tax, high spending superstate that they want so much.

It seems like a sensible way of hedging Europe's bets. As globalisation continues and everyone's jobs are outsourced to India and China, nations perhaps too vast for the wage inflation we've seen in older Asian tigers to reduce their competitive advantage; it might well prove that huge state sectors will secure them a better standard of living than the Anglo-Saxon small-staters: in which case we can gradually join them. Or alternatively, things might just work the other way around.

We've really got to sort out CAP though, and the two-speed Europe concept might be the best way of doing that. Again, let the high-tax Europe subsidize its uncompetitive industries like agriculture, providing they're the ones who pay for it. If it works, they can have a jolly good gallic sneer at us a few decades down the line, we'll eat some humble pie and start reforming our economies to run like theirs.

Or if they happen to be wrong, I'm sure we can manage a few sneers ourselves...

Web
CC hates the Jews: how a subtle bit of anti-semitism got sneaked into a flier. Nice proof-reading, guys. Thing is, I can see how it could happen. When you're in checking-things mode, you do tend to focus on the details: wouldn't be surprised if deep in concentration someone corrected several typos but the headline just didn't register.

Related: Microsoft issues a patch to remove clockwise and anti-clockwise swastikas from one of its symbol fonts. Here though, they're not saying if it was a mistake, or if they intended the swastikas to be used in countries like India and Japan where the ancient symbol has an innocuous meaning.

The Mr Picassohead Flash tool produced a nice entry from JahToasted

Interesting Deutsche Welle editorial on the US banning anti-war nations from reconstruction contracts:

Wolfowitz didn't do anything the now indignant and angry Europeans, who even threatened to invoke international trade law, would not do if put in the same position.

When Europeans hand out development aid, they usually require the recipient to do his shopping with them. "Old Europe" also sulked less than a year ago when the "new Europeans" in Warsaw used EU funds to buy U.S. planes.

Why should Washington do things differently in the case of Iraq? Especially since the money comes from American taxpayers...

When donor nations gathered in Madrid, Germany, France and Russia shone by holding back. The U.S. on the other hand took on two-thirds of the agreed upon $30 billion... So why are Europeans all of a sudden desperate to get a part of the action, which will overwhelmingly be paid for by the Americans?

Me
Very tight deadlines on a project at work. Had a rather awkward meeting with the sub-contractors. They kept saying "we can't make this deadline", and our management kept saying "you've got to make the deadline". Have some sympathy since I'm more used to being on the other side of the table. Can't afford to look like a troublemaker and start telling the truth though. Our bits should be OK anyway.
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Yo Ho Ho And A Bottle Of High-Ethanol Pressed-Sugercane Byproduct | 11 comments (11 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Europe, Space, Pirates... by Metatone (6.00 / 1) #1 Sat Dec 13, 2003 at 06:49:50 AM EST
Certainly a two speed Europe is a necessity, if only because should Poland et. al join they are clearly on a different economic plane to the majority of already established members.

However, a lot of the "constitutional talks" are profoundly necessary, even if you only want to stick with a free trade and free travel Europe. Like it or not, trade and travel requires regulation, maybe you think there can be less than there is now, but plenty remains if you want to retain the current level of freedom.

That remaining portion is not by any means a done deal, especially in the details and thus the question of how decisions are made still remains and is still desperately important. This is where the balancing act of creating democracy lies. It's actually a very analagous situation to the question of state government, the electoral college and the election of the President of the US.

It's interesting that the UK seems to be taking a relatively benign position on this, since it is a richer and more populous state, just like Germany, who are deeply concerned that the new states will, if they have too much voting power, vote to spend everybody else's money in an irresponsible manner. In fact this is the biggest stumbling block to CAP reform. Only if a coalition of states who have their farmers under control (e.g. UK, Germany perhaps, hard to think of many others) can assemble the voting power due to their urban populations will the likes of Poland be kept from prolonging the CAP mess.

On a mischievous note, I often wonder if people realise how many smart Ph.D and IT types in the Eastern European areas speak very good English and will be more than happy to move over here to look for jobs once the joining formalities are complete...

Space... Well, having been a rocket scientist, a few things spring to mind... Firstly, some advances made in carbon fibre composites in racing cars have been successfully applied back to rocketry. Secondly, if you follow the X-Prize saga, you'll note that Mr. Carmack is often to be heard claiming that many things that used to be specialised to rocketry can now be bought/produced off the shelf. So in a way, you are correct...

Of course, there are those of us who think that Mr. Carmack hasn't quite grasped the full nature of the space business (mainly because the X-Prize only requires going to a relatively unambitious height.) There is a theory that it's pushing the boundaries of the possible that advances technology. There will come a day when space travel doesn't do this, but at the moment it still seems to.

To be honest however, it's mostly a way of funnelling money into research. If you want to do X (e.g. send man to mars) (not that I want to, but it's an example) then you're going to have to solve a big pile of research/technology problems, there's no other way to make it happen.

Alternatively, if you're Tefal and you have a big pile of money, probably the best things you can do with it are :

a) Advertise more
b) Spend some money improving your supply chain (both for manufacturing and distribution)
c) Spend a bit on improving the pans, in non-stickiness and longevity.

It's worth noting however that pans probably don't need to be much more non-sticky, they are pretty good already and longevity tends to work against profits overall, so maybe that's not such a good idea either.

To sum up, the research argument for space is really a bit of a red herring. Mostly it just comes from the truism that : "Governments should spend more on basic research, because companies won't and said research works better if it has a goal." One could equally pose "making renewable energy work" as a goal (and whilst not so sexy) given enough money the program would produce some good spin-offs for the rest of life along the way.

Pirates...

Funny that you should mention them... Great article at the LRB about the current rise in piracy of oil tankers and the like:

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v25/n24/glas01_.html

Europe by TheophileEscargot (3.00 / 0) #4 Sat Dec 13, 2003 at 07:51:37 AM EST
Excellent comment...

It is interesting that it's Germany that wants to restrain spending. They seem to have finally woken up to the facts that they're the ones bankrolling the EU, and that their economy isn't invincible. The French benefit too much from CAP to want to amend it.

I suspect that this won't continue though. The global recovering is finally dragging the German economy back into growth... once they've had a year or two of modest growth I think they'll decide they've been proven right after all, and carry on with big taxes, big spending and big deficits until the next downturn.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Germany by komet (5.00 / 1) #5 Sat Dec 13, 2003 at 08:00:03 AM EST
After the reunification of West Germany with East Germany, the country as a whole learnt a unique lesson about what happens when a big chunk of less-developed space suddenly becomes the responsibility of everyone. Over ten years later the economic disparity between the two parts is crippling. Perhaps it's this lesson they're applying here?

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<ni> komet: You are functionally illiterate as regards trashy erotica.
[ Parent ]
It's worth noting... by Metatone (3.00 / 0) #8 Sat Dec 13, 2003 at 08:59:24 AM EST
That the running of deficits during recession times (a la Keynes) has only become even more well acknowledged as the right way to go overall as the evidence of the 80's has been examined.

The Germans are the ones who invented the Stability and Growth pact in the first place, probably because  over the last 20 years (this includes lots of non-Labour time in the UK) Germany has run a substantially similar deficit (or surplus at times) as the UK. I'm tempted to say they did better than we did, but I can't find a decent link to back it up right now.

I never thought the Pact was good policy, being born out of xenophobia towards "slack Latins" more than a real consideration of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Japan has shown all too clearly what can happen if you fail to face up to the reality of a recession.

As I said, unfortunately, I can't find a decent link to compare UK and German budget deficits over the last 20 years or so, but I do urge you to look it up as there's plenty of misinformation about the UK vs. German economy. Your implication that they are generally profligate in their finances is somewhat of an exaggeration I suspect.

The Germans have had high spending, but have historically financed it through high taxes and a healthy economy rather than deficits, until the merger with East Germany. The underperforming nature of the UK economy has tended to prevent us doing the same thing. Lots of long term reasons for that, which probably means we need to be cautious in drawing lessons from it. Likewise, their absorption of East Germany flatters UK economic performance. One suspects that had we had to merge with a former Soviet Bloc country it might have distorted our economic performance also.

FWIW, I agree completely that they are waking up to the reality of bankrolling European excesses and I would even predict that this is likely to result in some changes in the next year or so.

[ Parent ]
Longevity by whazat (3.00 / 0) #9 Sat Dec 13, 2003 at 01:17:50 PM EST
"c) Spend a bit on improving the pans, in non-stickiness and longevity."

I'm not sure what tefal would gain from making their pans last longer, unless they had a rival that was marketing their pans as long-lasting.

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The revolution will not be realised

[ Parent ]
I did actually note that... by Metatone (3.00 / 0) #10 Sun Dec 14, 2003 at 08:20:15 AM EST
a bit further down...

[ Parent ]
Shuttle disasters by ucblockhead (5.00 / 1) #2 Sat Dec 13, 2003 at 06:54:55 AM EST
I don't know that the aftermath of either shuttle disaster taught us much other than that middle managers in large bureacracies tend to ignore problems.

Though there is an interesting parallel with the Dallas "antisemitism". Both reflect the human failure to recheck rigorously.
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[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

But by TheophileEscargot (3.00 / 0) #3 Sat Dec 13, 2003 at 07:39:33 AM EST
Good, mature technology tends to be resilient to human error. Ultimately the technology has to get good enough that it's hard to fuck up... at the moment it's perilously easy.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
the Teflon effect by wiredog (5.00 / 1) #6 Sat Dec 13, 2003 at 08:06:26 AM EST
The funny thing about that is that teflon was an accidental discovery in the late 30's or early 40's which first saw widespread use in the Manhattan Project. It was used for making seals in the uranium hexaflouride processing facilities at Oak Ridge.

RE: Constitution. Sounds as if the varoius countries involved were unable to discover the benefits of a bicameral legislature. One house with representation based on population (House of Representatives) and one representation based on the states (Senate).

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

Not really that sort of constitution by TheophileEscargot (3.00 / 0) #7 Sat Dec 13, 2003 at 08:12:48 AM EST
I wish they'd managed to keep to the original plan of not calling the treaty a constitution... it's more about integrating the new members and changing the between states voting system so that it won't be gridlocked.

The European Parliament is directly elected, and the European Commissioners are appointed by the governments of member states, so I suppose it's already bicameral in that sense.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
proofreading by Kellnerin (6.00 / 1) #11 Mon Dec 15, 2003 at 05:08:18 AM EST
Nice proof-reading, guys. Thing is, I can see how it could happen. When you're in checking-things mode, you do tend to focus on the details: wouldn't be surprised if deep in concentration someone corrected several typos but the headline just didn't register.

Bullshit. There's no excuse for that. I mean, when I'm proofreading a book jacket for the last time, I know I've seen the title a million times, know what it's supposed to be, and know that what I'm seeing is roughly what it's meant to look like. But I still make sure to stare at it closely (sometimes even to the extent of parsing it letter by letter), because there's nothing worse than a fuck-up on the cover (remind me to tell you my cover typo story if I haven't already). Spelling the author's name wrong sucks too, but that's another thing.

Now even if you're just some marketroid wanting to advertise a sale and not an anal editor like me, wouldn't you want to be sure your main message, in huge letters, was presented just right? Isn't that the one thing you might want to take an extra-careful look at? And how does any graphic designer worth their salt not notice when a one-line banner becomes two lines? Blah, I say, blah!

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Wot no sig?

Yo Ho Ho And A Bottle Of High-Ethanol Pressed-Sugercane Byproduct | 11 comments (11 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback