I have recently discovered the Churnalism initiative, that lets you discover “if the news story you’re reading is a product of real journalism or just a spin off of another story posted elsewhere?”. Click here for the British version and here for the US one.
Their website let you paste a URL or an article, and they determine whether the story you are reading is actually rehashed from somewhere else! The extent of material recycling will hopefully been made more apparent!
I once dated a human journalist who, first thing in the morning, would check news agency feeds and other media outlets, to know what stories were interesting, and use that as the basis to write for her own outlet. Endless recycling of stories…
I honestly thought that there was some spiritual background to being the Roman Catholic Pope. You are officially the successor of Saint-Peter, and as such the protector of the Church on Earth. After all you are entitled to the keys to Heaven. I thought that the Pope was elected because the Holy Spirit would induce the bishops to choose the right person for the job.
At least this is a useful explanation to give the Pope some sort of spiritual legitimacy. He’s not simply elected by other men. God nudges those men to elect him. As a result, it seems strange that one could resign from that position. Can you resign from being chosen by God? Or maybe you were not chosen by God in the first place?
Ratzinger’s resignation seems to bring the position to something really administrative. Like any other job, you can resign. Just like any head of State or CEO. Is this because of age? Or because of the strings of scandal that have plagued the Church since his arrival? Or because he hates Twitter?
This week’s Analysis episode (BBC Radio 4) gives listeners who, like me, are unfamiliar with the Middle-East a very good introduction to the Alawis, or Alawites. They are a sect of Islam, considered by Sunnis as heterodox.
They have been a minority, who felt persecuted for several centuries, until they rose to power in Syria after WWII, not little thanks to France’s and Britain’s political approach to the Middle East.
The threat of the Syrian revolution that threatens the Assad dynasty, is perceived as an extinction threat by many Alawis in Syria.
Listening to this programme will help you understand better how the Syrian revolution is slowing turning from political to ethnical conflict, and may well end up in many Alawis being massacred.
We are often told that protectionnism is bad, but not necessarily know why it is bad. There’s a myriad of problems, but the biggest concern is that protectionnism inflates prices. By favouring local companies instead of potentially cheaper foreign ones, protectionnism reduces competition between firms. Local firms have less incentives to price their products competitively.
These higher prices might be seen by some as benign, a small price to pay to defend jobs at home, etc. It is worth remembering that it can very important consequences, especially in the domain of food aid, where by essence, prices are very different in different countries.
In a very interesting post, Owen Barder shows that 70% of US food aid to Cambodia is spent on freight and shipping. Seventy percent. Is this Cambodia problem alone? No, he also explains that on 40% of the US food aid money is actually spent on food. The rest is spent on logistics.
The problem is that US law requires that:
- food aid be bought to American companies;
- at least 50% of it be processed and packed in the US;
- between 50% and 75% of it be shipped by American companies (50% for USAID, 75% for Dept of Agriculture).
This exactly amounts to protectionnism, and surely enough, the US Merchant marine is lobbying hard to preserve this state of affairs from which they benefit tremendously. Very innocently, they lobby to be protected by the US Government. But they make the wrong point by picking at a strawman: they argue that freight is cheaper if procured to private companies, rather than done by USAID/USDA own fleet.
But one needs to take a further step back, and wonder whether food should be shipped at all. The point is that things could be a lot better. Instead of shipping salmon to Cambodia, one could buy the food locally.
- reduce shipping costs dramatically,
- increase quantity of food that can be bought with the same budget,
- channel money to local farmers instead of American food companies.
Of course this is not without negative aspects too. In particular, one should be especially concerned about the distortion and incentives that it would induce in the local economy. (If food aid is bought at locally high prices, it would incentivise farmers to shift from their original crops to food-aid crops. Not mentioning problems of market power by such a giant monopsonist. But surely it cannot be worse for local farmers than having an essentially free competitor.)
Before getting there, a first step would be to stop artificially channelling money in the US freight industry, because it reduces the effectiveness of the food aid budget.
EDIT: there is also a very nice infographic on AJWS’s Reverse Hunger website, with slightly different figures, but making the same point: too much money spent on freight.
I finally let an unearthly sigh of relief as the results of the US presidential elections were announced, plastered, shouted, tweeted, facebooked, broadcast, podcast, all over the world. And the reason I sighed is not because of the winner (although Obama did appear more in touch with reality, facts, stats, etc.). The reason was that elections were finally over.
In my short time on planet Earth, I have witnessed a marked trend to more and more talk about the US elections. To the point that I do think some people know more about US politics than that of their own country. Why is that so?
US elections make full use of professional and social media
All news agency send people there, so it’s easy to hear about it. Candidates have Tweeter accounts, Facebook pages, etc. They even have Google+ pages for heavens’ sake. And now that everyone has smartphones and mics, every step they take, every hand they shake, every word they say, all is available to the entire planet. There is no such thing as off-the-air anymore (Mitt Romney certainly learnt this the hard way).
This omnipresence of communication is fuelled by the arms race the candidates are waging in a country where money buys you time on TV. Candidates spent more than 850 million USD on political ads in this campaign, not far from small country yearly GDP. To that number, you should add all the money that was spent on PR consultants, social media campaigners, etc.
In this context, an ill-chosen word, an awkward photo-op, a hidden camera… something new happens every day and the whole world know about it. Some just watch the campaign like a soap-opera.
It is like a movie
Like any crowd-pleaser from Hollywood, the campaign sets up a hero fighting a villain. And to most of the world, the villain was Mitt Romney. His religious background, pro-business attitude, fake tan (take THAT, Obama), excessive personal wealth and disregard for the poor did not fare too well out there. So the rest of the world watched as the villain gathers his troops and prepares to take over the world. As the polls got narrower and narrower, it looked like that familiar cinema trope when it seems the villain has won the battle. The world gasped for air, clinging to their armchairs as polls started to get all over the place (and the electoral rules made them too complicated to follow). Could Romney really win? Surely the good guy must win in the end, right? Yes he did, phew. But with 50.4 percent for Obama versus 48.1 percent for Romney, let’s say it was a close call and Obama may not have made it, were it not for his sidekick (the electoral system and absurd electoral importance of “swing states”). Like in any good movie.
Much more interesting than deliberations at the European Parliament on what size of screws Europe should use.
It’s the most important country in the world
This week saw the leadership battle in the most powerful country in the world. But we don’t know much about the Chinese elections, so let’s concentrate on America’s instead.
I have heard the argument many times: the US is the most powerful country in the world, so it is only fair that we are interested in the results. The implied reasoning is that the identity of the winner can affect US foreign policy, so we should care even if we do not leave in the US.
Well I do not much about foreign policy, geopolitics and diplomacy. But let’s be honest. If you live in Continental Europe, US foreign policy has almost zero implications for you. Same if you leave in Africa or pretty much anywhere in South America. If you live in Russia or China, your government is almost always going to oppose US influence in the Middle-East, and South-East Asia, regardless of who is President.
If you’re Israeli, you get support even under Democrats. If you’re Turkish or citizen from a relatively safe country in the Middle-East, relax, the US need you for peace in the region. If you’re a citizen from an oil-producing country, you’re safe. You may prefer a Republican head of state because they are less likely to invest in alternative sources of energy, but frankly given the inertia and the dependence of US population on road transportation, you can relax.
And if you’re Mexican and you happen to live next to the border, than yeah, all my sympathies to you because frankly your future looks grim regardless of who’s in charge.
Now it may suck if you’re Canadian, British or Australian. Because Republicans tend to be a more hawkish in foreign relations (to please their military-grade weapons buying voters). And if they stir up trouble, you’re expected to cheerfully join them into getting your soldiers killed. In the name of freedom and badly-designed military interventions, that’s why.
In a nutshell, the identity of the US President probably matters very little to you. Also do not forget that the US are often (unduly) for the invention of checks and balances in political institutions. Which means that:
- even someone like George W Bush could not entirely go berserk on Iran;
- someone educated like B. Obama still has to manage the swarms of culturally-oblivious morons who populate the Department of State and the Department of Defense.
Whenever possible, the add-on prompts your browser to use an encrypted connection with the website you are visiting. It therefore reduces the probability of traffic, passwords, key presses, etc. being intercepted, and therefore makes your navigation safer.
It is very unobtrusive and does not slow anything. Zero cost but positive benefits: no reason not do to it, so install it!
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