Maude Barlow In Charge of Global Water?

Maude Barlow named 1st UN water adviser — CBC

Seriously? Will she have some kind of authority to go with that responsibility? I guess “adviser” doesn’t really suggest that she will. Can’t be a bad thing, regardless.

Obama I Suppose, Hibma For Sure

It’s too late for to endorse Barack Obama in the Estados Unidos presidential election. I picked my candidate out a while ago, and I’m sticking to him.

I am however grudgingly backing Barack Obama as the “candidate most likely to be far better than the other candidate”, now that Kucinich appears an unlikely contender. So vote Obama, if you can. He did vote against the war when that meant something, and he does have a reasonableness which seems to escape federal politics generally.

Back when I was settling on Dennis as my true champion in the American arena, Esquire magazine of all magazines did a nice job of cementing my decision. Here’s Esquire again, on why you should probably vote Obama, but probably not be too giddy about it:

Esquire Endorses Barack Obama for President

By contrast, I’m downright excited to be voting in the Canadian election for Dick Hibma of the Green Party in the Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound riding. I don’t know Dick, and I gather his chances aren’t especially good for beating the incumbent Conservative. But I gather he’s the best chance there is. And I’m told the Conservative candidate is in grand need of being beaten. The funny thing is, environment plays well in the rural counties. If you’re a farmer (and if you’re from Bruce-Grey, you probably are), you like that Lary Miller of the Conservatives is also a farmer. But you’re also concerned about development on the escarpment, about corporatization of family farms, about climate uncertainty, about regional wind power development, about the stability of fuel prices, about the fuelization of feed grains, and so on. And so apparently you might just vote Green because of it. When I mentioned to my father, some time back, that he should consider setting up for a run as the Green B-G-O candidate, he allowed that the Greens already had a strong candidate in the riding. So that’s another strong endorsement there.

See Dick Run - Green Party of Canada

All this assumes that my absentee ballot is going to show up in the mail soon. I sent in my application with weeks to go. It will come, right?

I could also have reasonably chosen to vote in Victoria BC, my other Canadian home. But I hear Denise Savoie of the NDP has become firmly established there. I hafta say, last time around it was a pleasure to vote for someone I knew and liked, and see her win. I’m glad she’s going to win again.

And with that, I am officially saturated on electoral politics. Let it all be over as soon as possible.

Francis Fukuyama Meditates on the American Prospect

Newsweek has an article, The Fall of America, Inc., running down the successes, failures and modern challenges of the last century of these United States. Big deal, except this is by Francis “The End of History” Fukuyama hisself. If he’s concerned, I’m concerned.

“Reaganism (or, in its British form, Thatcherism) was right for its time. Since Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s, governments all over the world had only grown bigger and bigger. By the 1970s large welfare states and economies choked by red tape were proving highly dysfunctional. Back then, telephones were expensive and hard to get, air travel was a luxury of the rich, and most people put their savings in bank accounts paying low, regulated rates of interest.
Like all transformative movements, the Reagan revolution lost its way because for many followers it became an unimpeachable ideology, not a pragmatic response to the excesses of the welfare state. Two concepts were sacrosanct: first, that tax cuts would be self-financing, and second, that financial markets could be self-regulating.”

Why Does the Bail-Out Have to Be This Week?

If the goal of the bail-out is to keep the lending system going so that businesses outside the financial sector can maintain their basic operations, then fine, let’s do it. I’m surprised to learn just how much modern small and medium sized businesses depend on short-term loans for basic daily operations, but apparently they do. I’m surprised to learn how quickly the crumbling of a few wall-street financial companies has affected loan availability for regional businesses from regional banks, but apparently it has. And if so I suppose if those loans dry up it’s gonna hurt us all.

If that’s the goal of the bail-out, or at least once outcome of it, fine.

And if another outcome is giving mortgage owners a chance to renegotiate their debt rather than it all going to default on them, then fine, let’s have a bail out. If.

But as I fuzzily understand, the machinations of the bail out plan involve all kinds of reverse-auctioning of debt packages and other obscure financial transactions which are presumably going to take days and weeks and months to fall into place. So it’s not going to solve problems on the scale of this week.

So why the heck are we rushing into this thing like it’s a burning house and Obama and McCain and Paulson and Pelosi and Bush and the rest of them are the ones with buckets of water? It’s hundreds of billions of dollars being spent, and presumably a decadal-scale restructuring of the finance system, and it’s not going to make anything different in the instant term. So why can’t we take until, say, next Tuesday to talk the damn thing through? Surely to God no one has even had time to read the whole thing through.

Sure we need to restore confidence in the system by proving that the government is going to step up to the plate and take big action. But that’s obviously going to happen now, anyone who needed reassurance of that before they could engage confidently in their business can just go ahead and do so. Really, I said it was okay.

Of course, if the bail-out is to save specific financial-sector specific businesses which needed immediate interventions…

But we wouldn’t spend money to save those house-wreckers now would we? Would we?

Absolute Joy in Domains of True Uncertainty

After getting irritated at humankind’s inability to accept that some things are genuinely uncertain, I open my podcasting device and hey presto:

Resilience: Adaptation and Transformation in Turbulent Times — A World Of Possibilities, May 6th

It opens with Buzz Holling (who NRE 580 alumnus will remember for panarchy theory) on adaptation, uncertainy, adeterminism, non-equilibrium, and such like in the general world. Then it moves onto Brian Walker talking about much of the same in ecosystem management, plus control fetishism. Then it moves on from there. Recorded at a Stockhlom conference on applying biology-based resilience theory to social systems. The idea of which is now creeping me out. Except that maybe, just maybe, this is a group of people that can be trusted to think rationally across disciplines. Maybe. Anyhow, it’s good listening.

Brian Walker’s talk reminded me of a lecture on conservation management from my undergrad, wherein Thom Nudds announced that if you manage to get an ecosystem to not cycle you’ve flatlined it, so congratulations on that.

Dominoes Made of Dominoes Part II

I have nothing to say about the financial crisis, because I discover that as a heavy news reader who has scraped through classes on law, economics and complex systems, and even read some Galbraith on a bus once, I don’t have even first principles to judge what has just happened in the US financial system. The subject–the impenetrable interplay of financial “instruments”–is so inscrutable that any comprehensible narrative one tries to tease out of it by watching the shadows it casts on the wall seems to have more to do with what goes on in one’s own head than what goes on in the stock markets or boardrooms or policy lairs of the world. I just have no idea about where it came from, or what it means, or what should be done, or where it will go. All I’ve learned is that the people who presumably do have the expertise to deal with this, possibly don’t.

But everyone is telling one story or another about it all the same. And they usually boil down to public versus private, government versus market. Here’s a somehow rather heartening thought from commenter HH at Crooked Timber:

The left-right polarization over and private enterprise is overshadowed by the larger conflict between truth and lies. Both free market and planned economic systems can function with reasonable efficiency when operated with competence and integrity. Neither can function when overrun by thieves and liars.

America’s moon landing program and nuclear submarine projects were masterpieces of centrally planned, government sponsored endeavors. France’s nationally controlled nuclear power program achieved great success, while America’s privately managed nuclear power efforts stumbled. It is the animating vigor and functional integrity of a program that is the best predictor of success, not its ideological grounding.

To which I think I would add that we get a somewhat better chance at choosing thoughtful criteria for what ‘success’ means for public enterprises than for private.

Here’s an old-hand financial technician interviewed by Reason magazine people:

(Just incidentally, I’m tickled to note that the Reason blog linked to this little old website a few days back).

I don’t understand how he gets from some of his premises to some of his conclusions. But his central premise feels about right: nobody knows how to value these derivatives, which seem to have absorbed so much of the nations wealth and now may or may not even particularly exist as real entities in the real universe. The old bosses didn’t know how to value them, and the new bosses won’t either, once they’ve sunk so much more of the country’s treasure into getting a chance to try.

But we won’t admit to ourselves that we’re dealing with an uncertainty, will we? Instead we’ll talk ourselves into believing one thing or the other, and forge ahead on that basis.

A separate but related question: how does a country that can’t afford equitable education or health care keep finding hundreds of billions of dollars lying around when there’s a country to be invaded or a bank to be bought out? Where does all this money come from? And why wasn’t it there before?

Narrow Modifications to Make the Law More Clear and Efficient

Obama opposes Bush endangered species proposal — AP

“Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne defended the changes in a call with reporters Monday, calling them narrow modifications to make the law more clear and efficient.

In recent years, both federal agencies and developers have complained that the reviews, which can result in changes to projects that better protect species, have delayed work and increased costs.

The proposed regulations, which will be published Thursday in the Federal Register, included one significant change from the earlier draft: The public comment period was cut in half, from 60 to 30 days.

“In this case, it was determined that we need to move forward in a timely fashion,” said Interior Department spokeswoman Tina Kreisher.”

“In this case, it was determined that we need to move forward in a timely fashion”: worst sentence ever.

‘Kenneth L. Wainstein, the White House adviser on homeland security and counterterrorism, recently visited Denver and St. Paul, a trip that reflected the administration’s interest in the conventions. “In the post-9/11 world, you have to prepare and plan for all contingencies,” Mr. Wainstein said. “That means preparing for everything from a minor disruption and an unruly individual to a broader terrorist event. We need to plan for everything no matter what the threat level is on any particular day.”’

Denver Police Brace for Convention — NYT

NASA: 50 Years of Figuring Out What They Do

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration was signed into existence 50 years ago today. The Economist has a good, reasonably breif, article about the intentions and directions of the agency. Being the Economist, it’s partially speculation about potential private-industry virtues of “space exploration”. But the article is more about the division between the dreams of the manned and unmanned branches of the agency. It also mentions the earth-observing program, which I think is a third NASA branch unto itself. The article suggests the unmanned probe makers may tolerate the manned exploration romantics just as cover and funding-bait. And possibly vice a versa. Maybe the earth-observers can likewise use both the manned and the unmanned missions as an infrastructure to exploit. Either dream is closer to the original mandate of the massive NASA bureaucracy than building satellites to measure the environment, which could be a hard sell on it’s own. Or maybe, nowadays, astronauts and probes both just draw away money and steam it off into space.

Many happy returns? — The Economist

Also see A Rocket to Nowhere, from a few years back.

Guantanamo Justice

The coverage coming out of the first military tribunal at Guantanamo is freakish and disturbing.

The agency name that dare not be spoken — LA Times

“To have an impressive backdrop for the government’s daily spin on the tribunal proceedings, a Pentagon engineering unit built and furnished a press briefing room inside the abandoned hangar that houses journalists covering the Hamdan trial.

At a cost of nearly $50,000, the news-conference room at Camp Justice — as the Expeditionary Legal Complex is known — has one serious problem: You can’t hear a thing when the giant air conditioner is turned on, and you can’t breathe when it isn’t.

The roaring AC is turned off just seconds before the Pentagon public affairs officers approach the podium in front of the Stars and Stripes and the five flags of the uniformed services.”

The Orwell jokes just aren’t funny any more. I’m depressed. Of course there’s plenty of coverage which reports incidental facts, stripped of context. Maybe I should just read that.

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