-Canada recently discovered that a whole lot of Gypsies were seeking asylum there after the various problems--otherwise known as racist harrassment--sent them running from the Czech Republic. So Canada responded by making it more difficult for people from the Czech Republic to get into Canada. And for the hell of it, they threw Mexicans on the "get a visa to come here" club.
-12 federal police were found dead in Mexico, apparently killed after a drug boss was arrested. They were tortured first. How you like your drug war, America?
-As if things in Iran weren't already difficult enough, a plane crashed right after taking off from Tehran, and everyone on board died.
-Those Nigerian rebels did the same crazy thing again! Sometime last year, can't remember when, Nigerian rebels attacked and killed some guards and blew up some oil tanks, and then they called a cease fire. Obviously, you see why that's weird--there's something inherently fucked up about killing some people and then saying "just kidding just kidding, cease fire!" But last week, they did it again! The exact same thing! I realize life ain't fair, but c'mon Nigerian rebels. You're cheating.
-A couple of French security officials--and yes, that probably means spies--were kidnapped in Somalia. They were there to advise the only remaining government in the country, but the only remaining government in a failed state controlled by warring jihadist and extremists gangs doesn't ensure much security. They'll go on trial soon, in some kind of kangaroo sharia court.
-South Korean television claims that Kim Jong Il has pancreatic cancer. As always, any hopes of more information on Kim's Eric Clapton worshipping son have gone unrewarded. Come on, journalism. Give me the fatty meat that I crave.
-Now that the United Nations monitors are completely out of the occupied territories in Georgia after accomplishing a sum total of nothing, you can officially say "Russia totally got what it wanted" and nobody can argue with you. (Note: no one is going to talk about this with you.)
-Goldman Sachs turned a crazy huge profit in June, and a whole lot of people with flaming torches met in basements across the world and said "Now?"
-Hey, the deficit cleared a trillion in the US! Hope that "deficits don't matter" guy was right. Because if he was wrong...well, holy shit. I know how to kill my own food. Do you?
-I don't really know how to kill my own food i am so fucked
-General Motors is going to get rid of roughly 30,000 of its American workforce, bail out of about 3000 dealers, but hey, it is out of bankruptcy. Cheering, I'm sure.
-Microsoft is going to give you free Microsoft Office, so now you'll never have an excuse when someone requests a PowerPoint presentation. Oh, well you can still use the "fucking PowerPoint? You want a Counting Crows album with that as well?"
-A variation on an article from a few months ago--that one was a defense of capitalism--this week's cover and major op/ed is an extensive defense/apology for modern economic theory. Due to the Economist's weird position--they were pretty hostile towards the housing bubble, and they've always pushed for smarter financial regulation, but the magazine is still a strong supporter for free markets--the article is a strange hodgepodge of a lot of different ideas, all based around the same general stance one has to take when you talk about Two Live Crew while defending free speech. (You don't like Two Live Crew, but they have to be defended or else you're siding with prissy fascists.)
-Japan will have a general election on August 30th, which gives the Liberal Democratic Party--who have run the contry for years, with only a short break--a scant few weeks to right the ship that may finally go down. The Economist isn't that in love with the party most likely to win, but they, like most of us, are sick and tired of one party running a country for decades.
-Rudyard Kipling once said that if you were wounded in Afghanistan, you should "jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains." The Russians bled and died there for years, thanks in part to America's neverending supply of arms to the local warlords. Now, the Brits are beginning to question whether their commitment should continue. The Economist, who have always liked the Afghan conflict, thinks they should, and as this is an op/ed, don't expect too many strong arguments to the contrary. It's hard to read stuff, and the multiple page briefing doesn't help. Hell, these last four sentences have been hard to read, and I fucking wrote 'em.
-There's a lot of arguments about online gambling this week, and the general argument of the Economist is that the arguments for prohibiting it are based on a government's desire to force its citizens to gamble where they say, when they say--which is not the reason they've given, a science fiction explanation involving being a gambling junkie and having a computer. There's also a background piece on one of the major online gambling sites.
-Because I live in New York, I forget that there are people who believe that the terminally ill should not be allowed to commit suicide. The Economist is a magazine published worldwide, so they have to write for everybody, including people who think cancer patients should be kept alive by all possible means, even when the cancer patient completely disagrees. I think I'd be fired up to debate the subject if I was still in college, but I'm not, and I don't. People's lives are their own, and having seen firsthand the savagery of incurable terminal illness, my contempt for those who believe "in the sanctity of life" has long passed the point where I give a fucking shit about hearing the tired arguments. It's a competition of loathing over here, because I can't stand people who use personal history as a trump card in debates either.
-Yury Fedotov--he's the Russian ambassador stationed in Britain--wrote in to criticize the Economist's tone of contempt in their consistent criticism towards his country. He wants the Economist to treat his country with "goodwill, mutual respect and an honest understanding of each other's interest." He failed to mention whether or not Russia would meet halfway by doing simple things like not shooting journalists and human rights lawyers down in the fucking streets.
-The Economist never liked Dick Cheney, but they hid it pretty well--if I had the old issues from the last couple of years, I'd quote the moments where it bled out, but they're long gone--and now that he's out of the office, they don't like talking about him at all. He's briefly mentioned in this article about the Democratic scalp-hunt (in the form of a torture inquiry), and his face is the art, but even then, you can just feel the sneer in the lines. Not bad, although the fantasy prosecution of high level officials remains a pipe dream.
-The Economist's prelim coverage of Sotomayor is about as predictable as the subject itself: these are motions, and we are going through them. Unless she has a couple of bodies buried in the flower garden, here's your new Supreme Court justice.
-Educational developments in Alabama--the same state that once put a budget increase to the public so that they could refuse it, which resulted in the firings of entire police and fire departments--usually live somewhere between horrible and mind-bendingly horribly, but this online initiative is fantastic stuff. Hope it catches on.
-As more Latinos go evangelical, so goes American Christianity. It's funny how other parts of the world use America as the example of a degraded, decadent society, when the truth is that it remains the number one most unfriendly place to secular thought in post-industrial civiliazation. No other economic power is as religious as Americans. Is that "50% believe in active guardian angels" number still true?
-Lexington's replacement hasn't really introduced her/himself yet, but if this week's column is any indication, it's going to be an uphill climb. Do you want to hear thinly veiled personal anecdotes about sending the kids to a summer camp for atheists? Sure, it's funny to hear about the pathetic "go prove unicorns don't wander the forests" exercises, but it's not that funny. This is the sort of humor that goes better represented when you know there's a dwarf with a hook in the wings.
-Ahh, it must be the water or something, but this slight human-interest piece regarding the successful program started at the Mexico City airport that has hired around 60 disabled workers and put them in meet-the-public type employment put a smile on my face. Besides how good all the employees are at their job--which should come as a shock to no one--it's nice to have a story where a corporation was able to successfully initiate and follow through on a program like this without any government interference or needling whatsoever. This is good works, done correctly.
-Sometimes I get the feeling that the Economist just wants to get all juvenile and point out that Evo Morales looks like a fat chipmunk with a bad haircut--like, 1970's porn haircut. I guess I just did it for them.
-The Uighur crackdown doesn't get leader status, nor does it get top billing in the Asia section. It also doesn't even get its own article. No, it gets mixed with one about Turkish support for the Uighur cause, and while it's somewhat understandable--there's very little news coming out of that area that isn't suspicious--it's still depressing.
-After you've rescued a child soldier, what next? This article, focusing specifically on Sri Lankan Tigers, can't provide an answer beyond "hard work, own reward, holy shit this is fucking sad". This has to be one of the hardest, most soul-eating jobs on the planet.
Middle East and Africa
-The Economist continues their attempt to acknowledge one of the things that George W. Bush did right by pointing out how little Barack Obama has done to change the current Let-Africa-Fix-Itself policy. It's an interesting gesture, but one that continues the inexcusable policy of consistently dealing with the continent in depth through the lens of how the world's super-powers relate to it. The Economist isn't anywhere near as bad as some, and they write more Africa-focused articles than any American news outlet--but still. By consistently talking about Africa in relation to what other countries have to say about Africa, it undercuts the very notion that Africa is capable of handling itself, as if stories about the various countries are only applicable when a Western voice has chimed in.
-Here's your "That's wonderful" article for the week: there will now be a minimum sentence of two years when a man is convicted of "honor" killing in Syria. That term is used when a guy murders a woman who cheated on her husband, or might have cheated on her husband, or hell, just given him lip when he told her not to shred the lettuce. So yeah, two year minimum, if convicted. Which will be hard, since it was a Presidential decree that the judicial system probably won't like, and these crimes barely get reported anyway, much less investigated. Oh, and I saved this for last: the maximum sentence used to be one year.
-Iran: Mir Hosein Mousavi has found a sack of courage that no one expected him to have, and he seems to have decided that, Michael Jackson Distraction or no, he ain't giving up on this election thing yet. On his side, suprisingly, awesomely, are some of the clerics who--you know--actually RUN the country, as well as two former presidents. This may not end well, but the fact that it hasn't ended yet is worth some attention.
-How do other Arab nations feel about Iran, by the way? According to this tiny article that points to a disappointing lack of research, they've stuck to making fun of Ahmadinejad while keeping silent on the serious side of criticism. (As in they aren't about to criticize vote-stealing or theocratic rule, especially since few Arab nations can point to serious relationships with pure democracy.) Still, this article is so incredibly brief, and Middle East affairs are so incredibly complex that the whole piece comes across as a missed opportunity.
-The first three paragraphs of this article on the violence in Chechnya detail two murders, and both of them are about as bad as you can imagine. After that, the article continues to ratchet up the horrible, and by the end, I doubt there's anybody who won't find the whole thing extremely upsetting. It's the most hopeless story this week, because you'll realize before you finish reading it that absolutely nothing is going to change.
-So if Silvio Berlusconi is such a scumbag, why does Italy keep standing by his side? Simple answer, according to the Econ: because he makes it easy to cheat on your taxes. Cheat like a bandit.
-Although the swine flu is starting to look a bit scary in Briain, the death count may only top out the way a regular winter flu does, "perhaps a bit worse". That's interesting, but what if there's also a regular winter flu on top of swine flu? Wouldn't that make it double? Also, since it's "regular", why wasn't this question addressed by the people who write the Economist? I should write a smug letter.
I guess these blog entries are just smug letters. Fie on me.
-It's another not-bad piece from the International squadron, this one focusing on the rarest of stories: something good happening for the indigenous population of the Arctic. Besides Greenland's successful move into independent territory, the Inuit people have what looks like a bold future ahead of them. Despite being beholden to Denmark's tolerant welfare system, the Inuit have plans to go ahead with exporting the estimated 90 billion gallons of oil (and 47 trillion cubic meters of gas) buried within the ice. Considering that the Inuit have a relatively decent policy of looking after the Earth, their claims of working to take care of the land ring truer than most.
-Face Value, the "look at this person" feature, takes a gander at Faisal Al Suwaidi, a forward thinking type who helped create the raging liquid natural gas market only to face the always dramatic construction problems inherent in doing major Middle East business. This seems a good a time as any to plug a book I haven't mentioned in a while: Steve Coll's The Bin Ladens, which is a tremendously informative book detailing the history of that oh-so-famous family. While the back half of the book is (obviously) dedicated to the study of a certain terrorist, the first half deals with one of the most fascinating aspects of Mid East history: how you go about building massive shit in the desert when you have no roads or construction equipment. It's an excellent piece of work, and a book that I'd dare say would interest just about anyone.
-The changing Japanese corporate culture has been a notable story as of late, making this article, which details the proposed merger between two major drinking firms that much more interesting. Armchair viewers--and yes, I consider myself one--often make the mistake of thinking of major Japanese firms in the same language they think of Westernized "national champions." It's an inaccurate assumption--as the magazine has pointed out before, Japan's corporate culture is built around non-compete nationals who fight all foreigners for the right to share the homeland pie. This merger could begin a race to change that, and it's a welcome change that's been long needed.
-After years of being one of the more irritating arguments to be had, some drug companies have finally broken down and made it possible for expensive diarrhea medication to be released generically in poor countries. (Diarrhea is the leading killer of children in poor countries.)
-This article about how hospital operators are offering the Obama administration a massive $155 billion in cuts prior to the request is a pretty worthwhile article when it comes to reviewing the discussion that was had, but there's something iffy about it. It just seems a little MSNBC for my taste.
Finance and Economics
-Hey, the Big Mac Index is back. If you've never seen it, it's a chart that lists how much a Big Mac goes for in multiple countries. Theoretically, exchange rates should equalize the price of a Big Mac. Here's a chart that examines how the price fluctuates around the world, with a couple of loose answers as to why that isn't happening.
-While few people want to read articles about accounting standards, they always want to know how something like Enron happens: easy answer to that one was mark-to-market accounting gone insane. (And considering the insanity of honest mark-to-market, you can imagine how fucked up it gets when you're dealing with corrupt sociopaths.) The latest financial crisis wasn't as definitive in its root causes, but accouting standards help (or obscure) the valuation of debt and assets, making articles about them valuable, despite the obtuse boredom they often cause.
-Another ball-shriveling criticism of NASA, courtesy of the Economist: Born out of the review requested by Obama's administration earlier this year, America's humiliation at having to depend on Russian spaceships when traveling to the International Space Station, and the growing prospects of independent spaceflight by way of start-up business, this article isn't one likely to please children. Thankfully, children don't read the Economist. They should, though. I fucking hate children. The sadder they get, the fatter my pockets.
-Exxon Mobil hung back when other oil companies started clamoring for "green" energy, but they've finally laid their cards on the table: they're going for the algae dollar. They have some crazy smart scientist, the same dude who led the team that "produced the first genetic sequence of a living organism", and that dude may have come up with a way to deliver reliable energy by way of algae. Usually the science articles are a bit of a snore to read, except for when they make fun of that Tipping Point dude, but this one is pure gravy. (Which might mean it's lacking in reliability.)
-I read this entire article about the search for dark matter, and you can too.
Books and Arts
-Is it a surprise that a lawyer who once dug up his dead wife in the middle of the night so that a sculptor--who he'd brought with him to the graveyard--could immortalize her visage also happened to be one of the architects of the 1789 French Revolution? Naah, not really. The French are completely insane.
-Former Economist writer and current editor of Wired published a book called Free. Unlike the Long Tail, which he also wrote, the Economist is less impressed with this one. It lacks "an elegant underlying explanation", which is interesting to me, because I thought The Long Tail was a fundamentally childish book. At the same time, it's Wired, which is a magazine on the same intellectual level as fucking Rolling Stone most of the time.
-You'd think that being able to compare and contrast ancient Biblical texts through the internet would bring the day where large groups of people vocalized how incredibly fucking weird the discrepancies are, but apparently that day is so long away as to not be coming. Oh well: we'll always have Xenu.
-Maybe it's the fallout from doing these Economist round-ups on an intermittent basis, but I don't have anything thoughtlessly sarcastic to say about Bachar, a free climber who met the end while in the midst of his incredibly dangerous (and hard-to-fathom) hobby. It takes a certain breed of human being to live life the way John did, constantly putting himself in mortal danger for no gain beyond a personal one, and while I can't, and won't, pretend to understand it, I'm glad that the world has people like this. "Marched to a different drummer" comes to mind, but it's not accurate enough. This guy was another type of species entirely: not better, not stronger, not smarter--Just different. And no matter what snowflakes tell us, people are rarely as unique as they think. He was.