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May 31, 2005

Talking Turkey and "Plan B"

Glenn Reynolds links to John O'Sullivan, who has an excellent idea on a way out of the Euro crisis. His idea is simple: the problem with current EU is that it combines economic integration with political and social unification. O'Sullivan's solution is to create a Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Area, or TAFTA, that would include the members of the EU and NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Area). Countries, like Turkey, whose admission to the EU is causing agita in (justifiably) Islamo-phobic Europe, would be offered admission to TAFTA as a booby prize for ending or delaying EU expansion.

It's an interesting idea, and one that should appeal to free traders everywhere. A side benefit is that it would do much to repair frayed trans-Atlantic relations and enhance US influence. Check it out.

May 31, 2005 at 07:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 30, 2005

One Man, One Vote, One Time? Merci, mais non merci.

Yesterday's expected -- but not accepted -- "Non" vote has, in the words of the BBC, "stunned" the French press.

Making the right choice for the wrong reasons?

The press consensus appears to be that an unholy alliance of disaffected elements of French society voted against the proposed EU constitution for a laundry list of (often contradictory reasons), including:

  • Dissatisfaction with Chirac's government

  • High unemployment levels

  • Concern about Turkey's expected admission to the UN

  • Fear of "Anglo-Saxon" style-capitalism and untrammeled economic competition.

But regardless of why 55% of French voters rejected the constitution, the document they consigned to history's trash heap was deeply flawed.

What's so bad about the Proposed Constitution?

First of all, the text is so long as to be virtually unreadable unless you are a lawyer, bureaucrat or europhile, and preferably all three at once. The paperback version of the document is 460 pages long, an inch thick, and weighs 2.6 pounds. By way of comparison, the Cato Institute publishes a pocket version of the US Constitution, with an elaborate forward and including the text of the Declaration of Independence, that is only 58 pages long, 0.2" thick and weighs 1.4 ounces.

Secondly, the text is at once too vague and too specific, which is a difficult feat to accomplish, when you think about it. On the one hand, the document is full of anodyne, feel-good statements like "Everyone has the right to respect for his or her private and family life, home and communications" (Article II-7) or "Every worker has the right to working conditions which respect his or her health, safety and dignity" (Article II-31-1). On the other hand, large parts of the document are made up of Euro-gobbledygook like "The Council of Ministers, on the basis of the reports referred to in paragraph 3 and having received the views of the Employment Committee, shall each year carry out an examination of the implementation of the employment policies of the Member States in the light of the guidelines for employment. The Council of Ministers, on a recommendation from the Commission, may adopt recommendations which it shall address to Member States." (Article III-100-4). Now this particular gobbledygook may be very sensible, and constitute excellent public policy, but does it belong in a constitution? I think not.

Equally troubling is the fact that the rights that are enumerated by this constitution are far from clear. For example, consider Article II-15-1: "Everyone has the right to engage in work and to pursue a freely chosen or accepted occupation." What does this mean? Does a citizen have a right to demand that the EU provide him or her with a job? Is this merely another way of reinforcing the prohibition against slavery (which is already forbidden, along with forced labor, under Article II-5)? If neither of these interpretations are valid, why is this "right" defined in the constitution?

Finally, with the (un-helpful) example provided by US Supreme Court of how even the most vague formulations of "rights" can be interpreted by a court in ways that would have been inconceivable to the framers of the original text, who can blame Europeans for being reluctant to approve a document providing such scope for un-democratic, unappealable "interpretation" by unknown Euro judges and bureaucrats? Since amending this Brobdingnagian document requires agreement by at least 80% of the member states, voters may rightly see approval as being tantamount to forever relinquishing sovereignty and control of their national destiny. Now giving up sovereignty may be the right thing to do, but it would be a good idea to know what it was you were giving it up for and to, neither of which is particularly clear to most European voters.

In Africa, cynics often describe the transistion to "democracy" in newly independent states as: one man, one vote, one time. I guess that at least some of the French voters had seen this game too many times before to want to go along.

Good for them!

May 30, 2005 at 10:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 27, 2005

Cheap Energy From the Ocean?

I had never heard of ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), but if it proves economically viable it could be the coolest thing since nuclear power. This 80 year old mad scientist, who has a very respectable track record of developing new technologies, thinks it's an idea whose time has come.

OTEC is an old, and simple idea: take advantage of the temperature differentials between the depths of the ocean (where the water is a couple of degrees above freezing) and the surface in the equatorial regions, where the water is at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit higher. By pumping cold water up from several kilometers below the surface, the temperature differential can be used to boil ammonia, producing steam that can drive a turbine to generate electricity. The system produces no greenhouse gases -- the only pollution is the discharge of cold seawater on the ocean's surface. These systems can also be used to produce fresh water (through condensation) and cheap refrigeration and air conditioning. John Craven has even been running the cold seawater though underground pipes to cool plant roots, thereby dramatically increasing growth rates and crop yields.

Interestingly, given sufficient investment, the virtually unlimited supplies of cold water could be pumped to the surface, producing pollution free energy and reducing the surface temperatures of the ocean. This cooling effect could be used to offset possible global warming, at least in theory. Interesting stuff.

May 27, 2005 at 06:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Perfidious Democrats

Well, that honeymoon lasted longer than some of Britney Spears' marriages, but only just. It's time for Bill Frist to grow some balls and start taking names.

If the Dems want to try to filibuster Bolton, Frist should make 'em stay in Washington and force them to continue the "debate" on the floor. Get rid of the "two-track" system (whereby other legislative business is allowed to proceed normally) and return to the traditional filibuster. And for Christ's sake, why allow the Senate to adjourn for a ten day vacation when there is important work remaining to do in the Capital?

After all, the US has not had a permanent ambassador to the UN since January. At a time when we are at war and the UN is under investigation for the Oil for Food scandal, it might be a good idea for us to actually have some representation at the world's most over-rated talking shop -- just a thought.

May 27, 2005 at 09:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 26, 2005

Out MoDo-ing MoDo

Tina Brown's syndicated column (which appears occassionally in the NY Sun and WaPo) is the thinking person's version of Maureen Dowd. I don't like her politics any more than I like MoDo's, but she is a lot smarter and has more than just snarkey "aren't Republicans all so dumb and tacky" attitude.

Take her latest column "The Game Of Marketing Fake Realities." She artfully riffs on the Tom Cruise's bogus romance with Katie Holmes, the new reality where everyone is an "insider," and the Bush administration's alleged merchandizing of a false reality.

I don't agree with her, but she's a lot more thoughtful than Dowd, even if she hasn't won a Pulitzer. If the NYT weren't an under-managed, paternalistic, family-run business, Dowd would have been replaced years ago.

May 26, 2005 at 10:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

British Academics Reject Israel Boycott

I was surprised, but pleasantly so, to see that the British Association of University Teachers voted today to repeal their ill-conceived boycott of two Israeli universities. Better late than never.

May 26, 2005 at 05:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 25, 2005

Newsbabe Meltdown

Some personal web pages are like car wrecks -- you're ashamed at yourself for looking at them but can't or won't stop reading. A good example comes from today's Page Six item on former newsbabe Bonnie Behrend: "CNBC EX-ANCHOR LOSING GRIP." The piece quotes liberally from deranged emails Behrend has been sending to NBC's Bob Wright alleging all sorts of wacky stuff. Also quoted (but not linked-to) was Behrend's personal web site.

If you want to see what happens to an aging glamor girl, take a look. (Then again, you might want to just drive on by.)

May 25, 2005 at 08:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 24, 2005

Quick thoughts

I am on jury duty this week, so blogging will be light. (Don't worry, if I see anything interesting at court, you all will be the first to know. So far it's been dull as dishwater and I have yet to see the inside of a courtroom.) Here are a couple of things worth thinking about before I run off to court:

First, this Senate deal to preserve judicial filibusters (which are clearly unconstitutional) stinks. As one commentator remarked, it merely kicks the can down the road.

Second, Nick Kristof has a good piece in today's NYT on the role Chinese bloggers are beginning to play in uncorking the genie of democracy and making government accountable to the people. If you have a broadband connection, Nick's multimedia presentation on Chinese internet crusader Li Xinde is worth watching and listening to.

May 24, 2005 at 06:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 22, 2005

Filibuster dreaming

Over the weekend, to get myself in the mood for the upcoming filibuster show-down in the Senate, I re-watched the old Jimmy Stewart / Frank Capra classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It is still a great movie and it is always wonderful to watch Jimmy Stewart and Claude Raines act. But Senator Smith's famous speech wasn't really a filibuster where a minority speechifies to prevent the closure of debate. Rather, Stewart's character took and held the floor as the member of a minority of one seeking to clear his name after a vicious smear campaign mounted by the nefarious Taylor machine.

Regardless of the parliamentary details, it' s a wonderful film, even if all the Washington scenes were actually shot in LA.

May 22, 2005 at 12:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 19, 2005

Webby Diversions

I spent an unproductive morning reading some excellent blogs and exploring interesting web sites. Here are a few of the best:

  • Tiny Pineapple, a quirky, personal blog by a Provo-based technical writer and divorced father of two daughters. His blog is visually very appealing and he is an excellent writer. (He is such a good writer that even his old Novell Beigepapers are interesting!) His blog reminds me of James Lileks' web site without the politics. He even has an interesting collection of links to old book covers, pictures and various curiousities. A must read is this transcript of his conversation with an AT&T Wireless customer service rep. All that and edukashonal, too! I learned a new word: turophile.

  • Wacky Japanese flash animations with catchy jingles, including Hi-Ho (via Silly Mortal) and Chu-Chu-Rocket.

  • head nurse, the diaryish blog of an amusingly cranky 30-something nurse in a Neuro ICU unit. She writes well, has an interesting life, and describes some interesting cases. Of course, like any good medical blog, she's got the obligatory bad patient stories, including the patient who brought a homeless person back to her room and the charming gentlemen who responds to her explanation of why he's not in a private room with "That's a good line, cunt." She's even got recipes.

  • Some excellent vintage comic strips from James Lileks, including the very bizarre adventures of Mister Coffee Nerves.

  • Oddcast, a software company that can create animated talking heads for your website. Some of the examples of customer sites are pretty cool, and the eyes on the animated heads all seem to track the movement of the cursor around the screen.
Happy surfing.

May 19, 2005 at 02:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack